I received an impromptu visit from my great friend Corinne Trang last night. She’s formidable, beautiful, simpatico, highly accomplished in every one of her many areas of expertise. Truth be told, she’s become our third sister. (She was also a subject I interviewed for my book Love in the Second Act, True Stories of Romance, Midlife and Beyond, Section: ACT TWO, SCENE FOUR – COMFORT AND STABILITY – “I tried everything else.” – though it happened to be her then husband, not Corinne, who had reached ‘midlife’ at the time. She was about 30 then.)
When Corinne’s surprise call came, I took off my pajamas and put my day clothes back on though I needn’t have. Once inside she tossed off her shoes and seated herself on my rust-colored rug. While we caught up on news, she removed two tiny ever-ready white porcelain teacups along with a tiny tea pot from a cloth carrier. From a silver flask, she filled the tea pot. After briefly letting the pot sit, she poured a thimbleful of deep golden, maybe amber-colored tea into each cup.
So mesmerized by the graceful way she had of pouring thin streams of liquid gold, I referred to her as a ‘master’ and the tiny cups and pot as a ‘tea set’. She quickly corrected me:
CT: My pot is called ‘gaiwan’ in China. the cups are traditional small, like espresso cups, if not smaller. You shoot back the tea in three sips. And … I prefer being called a tea professional not a master. I don’t like the idea of being a master…
ALG: Would you call yourself a tea purveyor perhaps?
CT: Yeah, that’s more like it. A purveyor, an enthusiast … I love tea for its meditative qualities.
We were on either side of my deco table with its cobalt blue glass (cracked) top, she sitting on the floor, me on my couch. I took a sip – tasted a mellow, slightly perfumed, appealing flavor.
ALG: What are we drinking?
CT: Jin Jun Mei from Fujian in China.
ALG: It’s very smooth.
CT: Yes, it’s excellent. … a sweet, floral flavor, like honey nectar on your tongue …
I wish I could have described it as well. The light in the room is dim, there’s not much street noise. The ESB is lit up in two shades of blue for reasons I can’t fathom. She’s right, the atmosphere has become meditative. Corinne pours. We sip. We pause, then she pours some more. I lose count.
CT: We’re into our seventh tea soup ….
I ask if she means that she’s poured seven cups.
CT: Yes, it’s a sign of clean, balanced, high quality tea served in multiple infusions … or ‘soups’ … an excellent tea.
Soon we’ve heated more hot water, drunk ten soups each.
CT: In Asian culture tea is always offered at home. Ten soups of tea – a sign of an excellent visit.
ALG: An excellent friendship too.
A little background: Corinne is an award-winning author of nine cookbooks, a chef and expert on Asian cuisines, a certified holistic health and nutrition counselor, and yoga and meditation instructor over 20 years in personal practice. Born in France’s Loire Valley of a French mother and a Cambodian-Chinese father, Corinne Trang was raised in Phnom Penh, Paris, and New York. Here’s how she describes her interest in tea on her new LiquidGoldTea.com website:
It was only a matter of time until tea started flowing through my lips. Tea came to me at an early age, though it wasn’t until much later in life that I started truly appreciating this elegant beverage of humble beginnings.
As a child, I remember my parents always offering tea to guests, and being offered tea when visiting friends and family. In Asian culture, tea is a way of life, and no greeting, no visit, personal or professional, is complete without a cup of tea. I have come to love it so much that a few years ago I started incorporating tea drinking into my daily spiritual practice. I have spent long hours contemplating the leaves, learning about them with the guidance of wonderful tea masters. I am fascinated still…
How is it that a single plant, camellia sinensis, and the caring hands that come in contact with it from harvest to technique, have brought to life dozens of tea varieties over many centuries?
Big or small, twisted, curled, or rolled, smooth or fuzzy, the colorful leaves are truly beautiful. The way they unfurl before your eyes as they undergo several steeps, the varied textures and flavors, some with a thick buttery mouthfeel that lingers, awakening the senses while salivating.
The characteristics of tea are many from delicate to robust, savory to sweet, buttery to grassy, and so much more. Like music, there are crescendos, peaks, overtones, undertones, and I become more curious as I select the teas you will find here. Out of roughly 100 varieties I have recently tasted, you will only find 20 or so on my menu. Quality over quantity is my motto. I look for top quality leaves that are beautiful when dry and equally so when wet. To please the eyes is essential. I expect multiple steeps, at least 5 and often experience 9 or more with every tea you see here. The “soup” should always be crystal clear, whether yellow, green, orange or red (depending on the type of tea). I also look for a flavor that is balanced and clean. The cha qi (tea’s energy) will reveal itself gradually and when it does there will be a certain “ah ha” moment. We love a fragrant bouquet (nose) but sometimes, like wine, the flavor and aroma surprise you. I promise that my teas will surprise you in the most wonderful ways over and over again. Last but not least, because I want to keep it interesting and fun, I only acquire small quantities from select farmers. When the tea is gone, it is gone; a practice in non-attachment. To appreciate the taste in the present moment and be able to let go and move on is a gift. Tea facilitates this practice. The yearning may be there for a little while, but curiosity grows and makes it possible for us to try something new.
When I sip tea, I am transported to a different place and time. Indeed, tea is filled with secrets revealed over time and time we all have.
As it happens, a workshop is scheduled on October 23rd from 3 pm – 6 pm in Chinatown. For details, see: LiquidGoldTea.com