Monthly Archives: February 2012

Mmmm, chai.

Chai tea is one of my all-time favorite things, despite the name being redundant — “chai” simply means tea. What I’m talking about is masala chai, a traditional kind of spiced tea from India. It’s strong, fairly sweet, and packed with spices — good and good for you!

As seems to be the theme with pretty much every type of tea we’ve discussed, masala chai comes in an infinite number of varieties based on region and personal taste. Heck, my own recipe changes every time I make it. Try it yourself!

EL’s Guide to Slapdash Chai

You will need:

Water, milk (half and half or a dairy substitute drink work too), three bags of black tea (quality is irrelevant), a sweetener of some sort (I use honey, but sugar or even maple syrup work really well too), and a host of spices including any or all of the following: cinnamon, ginger, clove, black pepper, vanilla, nutmeg, and cardamom.

1. Fill the pot halfway with milk and most of the rest of the way with water. Chuck in your tea bags and let things start to heat up.

2. Once the mixture is hot, start adding spices. Cinnamon, ginger, clove and pepper are the most vital parts of what you’d recognize as the masala chai flavor, but all the others I listed are commonly used as well and make the drink infinitely more delicious. There are no set proportions to the amount of spicing you should use. Mix in smaller amounts first and keep sampling until everything is as strong and balanced as you like. Experiment away!

3. Be careful not to let the mixture boil over. If the milk scalds it’ll get a nasty film on top.

4. Once things have been heated and steeped for a sufficient amount of time (usually when the mixture’s juuuuust started to boil), take it off the heat. Pour it through a strainer to remove the stray tea bags and spice sludge that’s collected at the bottom of the pot.

5. Serve, and allow people to sweeten the drink as they’d like. If you don’t drink it all, don’t throw it away — it’s excellent chilled over ice too.

If you can’t be bothered to make this mix yourself, try Tazo’s tea packets (you’ll recognize the flavor as the blend used by Starbucks) or Oregon Chai boxed tea concentrate. The latter sounds sketchy but is surprisingly delicious.

Tea of the week: as described above. I got to teach Patrick how to make it, which amuses me to no end. It’s not every day you get to show somebody with a professional culinary background how to prepare a recipe!

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The or cha.

I was going to attempt to make an awful joke about not wanting to write this blog post for “all the tea in China,” but that would be far too melodramatic and possibly culturally insensitive.

Tea (or at least the practice of consuming it) originated somewhere in China and spread throughout Asia via trade routes. Complex tea traditions have developed all across Asia through the ages, from the use of tea bricks as currency in China to its popularity among both samurai and Buddhist monks in feudal Japan to its use as a unique staple food in parts of Tibet and Burma. I really should have broken China and Japan into two different sections in our curriculum because while they’re related geographically, their cultures are their own and should be respected appropriately. Here’s a cool article talking about the differences between types of tea ceremonies in Japan and China.

Tea of the week: Jasmine green loose-leaf stuff from the health food store. Man, this was good. It smelled like a flowery explosion and was really refreshing after the plain black tea with milk I’ve been favoring lately. I still wish I could find a proper infuser so we wouldn’t have all the leaves floating around and getting caught in people’s teeth. A fair number of people don’t care for floral teas because they’re convinced they’ll taste like perfume, but I’d encourage everybody to give them a try — the flavors themselves are often very mild in comparison to the scents, and you might be in for a treat.

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Short commercial break

Several things occurred to me as I was mulling over colloquium plans for this week. Our original plan was to go to Deets as a group and order tea there. However, I’d completely forgotten about Valentines Day.

Deets was very likely to be ridiculously crowded by people getting sugary foods with their significant others or drowning their sorrows regarding their lack of significant others in chocolatey baked goods. Plus, some of our group members had plans tonight with their own significant others, friends, or simply an annual date with a bad romantic comedy or two. In light of this, going to CM might not seem like the most entertaining way to spend the evening.

Our alternate plan was this: we would not meet for CM at the usual time this week. Instead, we got an assignment: go to Deets at some point before next Tuesday, order some sort of tea, and write a short review on your blog. We’d talk about it a bit next week.

Tea of the week: Deet’s Green Earl Grey. I like their regular Earl Grey (a traditional black tea blend made with bergamot oil, which is a type of lemony citrus fruit) but I hadn’t tried the green variety. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work for me. Certain kinds of green tea, if oversteeped, can taste remarkably like cigarettes, and because I kept my bag in the water for too long, I got some of that, which didn’t complement the citrus flavor well at all. One thing I do like, though: Deets actually uses loose tea in filter-paper bags instead of pre-packaged bags. The one downside is the part where the bags soak up boiling water and and drips it onto your hand. Alas. I’d give it a try again, but I’d much prefer to get the dry tea leaves and make it myself so I can avoid a drink that seems like it’s approaching thermonuclear fusion on the temperature scale.

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How to make a proper cup of tea.

Probably the most important part of learning about tea is learning how to make a proper cup of tea.

Technically, making tea just involves soaking leaves in hot water, but there’s an amusing amount of controversy over various aspects of the process. Should the water be boiling or just below boiling? How much tea should you add and how long should you steep it? Should you add milk before or after you add tea to your cup? (This last point is really the only one I’m obnoxious about: milk goes in first, darn it. That way it doesn’t scald and you get an auto-stir.)

Here’s a site that’s got a helpful write-up on the subject:

Tea of the week: Harney and Sons’ Pomegranate Oolong. This was really, really good! I haven’t had a lot of oolong, but this was nice and actually tasted like pomegranate — a lot of fruit-flavored teas can be artificially sweetened and taste nothing like what they’re trying to imitate. Harney and Sons is probably my favorite “fancy” tea brand — it’s on the expensive side, but their Earl Grey and lapsang souchong are to die for. I’d definitely go for more of this.

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EL’s Guide to RSS Feeds (or how I learned to stop grouching and love the blog)

Hey guys! I’m writing this post in an effort to make this whole blogging thing more interesting and interactive for everybody.

You all are making some funny, insightful, and generally brilliant entries, so why is nobody commenting on them? Part of the problem is that there’s no good way to keep track of your friends’ new entries like on Tumblr, Facebook or other more conventional blogging sites. If you don’t see the information, you’re not going to comment on it, so the awesome discussions that could be happening simply aren’t. At this point I think we’re all frustrated with feeling like we’re typing into empty air.

Let’s fix that. My proposed solution: an RSS feed.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, an RSS feed is a way to track other people’s new blog entries. Check out my sidebar — the “Fellow Writers” column is a constantly-updating stream of new posts from people who write interesting things. It’s just like your friends page, newsfeed or dashboard on other sites — only this is a feed you have to set up yourself. Unfortunately WordPress is rather obtuse at times and doesn’t have a good built-in system, so last Saturday I sat down and devised a way to make this work.

Follow these steps and you’ll have a feed of your own set up in no time!


Setting Up The Feed

1. Go find blogs that you’re interested in tracking. Ask your friends for their addresses, or collect the links of other sites you’d like to follow.

2. Make a list of the blogs’ URLs in a Word or Notepad document for easy access. We’re going to copy and paste them shortly.

3. Add /feed/ to the end of each of the URLs. For example: .

4. Go to, an easy-to-use site that’ll walk you through the most important part of this process.

5. Copy and paste your list of URLs into the box on the site and hit “Create“.

6. The next screen will tell you that the blogs you’ve been listed have been added. (If a 301 error or another message comes up, that’s okay — try hitting the back button and making sure all your slashes were in the right place.) Under that it will say, “Mix Created! Your new RSS file is here.” Click that link and wait for it to open in a new window.

7. Do not be afraid of the jumbled wall of HTML that appears! It’s harmless, I promise. It’s just the link in the URL that you want. Copy the URL in the searchbar.

 8. Go to your WordPress dashboard. Click on Appearance in the left-hand menu, then click on Widgets.

9. Your RSS Feed widget is probably at the bottom of the screen in the Inactive Widgets list. Click and drag it into one of the sidebar columns on the right-hand side of your screen.

10. Click on the downward-facing triangle on the right side of the RSS Feed widget. This should open it and give you options to enter an RSS feed URL, title your feed, and adjust the number and content of the posts that will show up.

11. Paste your RSS feed’s URL into the appropriate place, think of a clever title, adjust the number of posts to you liking, and then hit save.

12. Go to your blog and check out your newly created feed. Rock on.


And that’s it! Now go forth and run snide commentary on one another’s entries and let the actual conversations begin.

If you’ve got any questions about the process, let me know and I’ll do my best to help out. Cheers!


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