Archive for February, 2008

Tea, teapots, and Joey Roth’s Sorapot

24 February 2008

I have been drinking tea for what seems like all my life, though I am sure my mother didn’t let me have any as a small child. I started with Tetley tea with milk and sugar, just like mom drank it. When she decided she wanted to lose weight and stopped adding milk and sugar, I followed her lead soon thereafter. Now I rarely have milk with my tea, and I never take sugar.

I fell in love with loose-leaf tea when I went out for dinner with my parents as a celebration of their wedding anniversary. We went to a restaurant around the corner, and I had tea after dinner. I had never had such marvelous tea! I asked the waiter about it, and he brought me a tiny plastic container of the tea, which was probably an oolong. I had a hard time bringing myself to actually drink that tea, since I both wanted to save it for a special occasion and didn’t know how to obtain any more of it.

I started becoming a connoisseur in college, as I tried all the varieties of teabags available in the dining hall and settling on “China Black” as a favorite. As I became a more sophisticated tea-drinker, I started buying loose teas from Upton Tea Imports. Happily, they provide inexpensive sample sizes, and you can decide which teas you like best without having to buy large quantities. I have discovered that I enjoy oolongs, assams, keemuns (China black, or more properly, China red), yunnans, and every once in a while darjeeling. I very much dislike Lapsang Souchong: the smokiness is not to my taste at all. I will drink Earl Grey, but I prefer the milder versions over the more strongly bergamot-scented ones. I’ll drink green tea sometimes, and I confess to evening indulgences in Celestial Seasonings‘ tisanes and teas: Tension Tamer and Decaf Green Mint Tea are two favorites.

(Aside: If you visit Boulder, CO, you can get a tour of the Celestial Seasonings factory. I dragged my husband there before we were even engaged, and he enjoyed it despite having grave doubts ahead of time. In particular, the opportunity to stand in their Mint Room was an exhilarating experience!)

If you are not going to use tea that comes in prefabricated bags, you need some way to make the tea without getting leaves all stuck in your teeth when you drink it. That leads to infusers and teapots. I have a lot of tea infusers: baskets of some sort with openings too small for tea leaves to pass through (mostly) that allow the leaves to be removed from the mug or pot before drinking. Removal of the leaves both prevents the tea from steeping too long (some teas become bitter when the leaves are soaked too long in boiling hot water) and prevents the tea leaves from winding up in your mouth.

The problem with most infusers is that they restrict the leaves to some extent. Restricted leaves don’t steep as well. One work-around is to simply place your loose leaves in the teapot and either pour through a strainer into your cup (I have a lovely silver tea strainer, but they also come in woven bamboo) or count on the leaves to settle to the bottom of the pot and not have too many come out. Either way, this method requires pouring off all the tea or risking oversteeping.

Tea infusers are mostly utilitarian. I do not buy them for their beauty, but for how well I think they will do their job, leaving me with perfect tea. Teapots, on the other hand, can be highly aesthetic.

I have fallen in love with some teapots.

My first teapot I fell in love with was a Jenaer Glas glass teapot from Germany that was advertised as being in MoMA for its design. Unfortunately, I am now on my third Jena glass teapot, and when I bought the last one I bought the style that didn’t have a protruding spout, since that was the bit that broke off the other two. The one below the spouted one is the current one I own, and it is perfect when serving breakfast tea for 3 or 4 people.

Jenaer Pot #1

Current Jenaer Pot

I have two handmade clay teapots found at craft shows and purchased for me by my parents. One is my “iced tea” pot, as it holds a generous amount. I brew strong tea and stick the pot in the fridge, pulling it out to pour over ice time after time until I finish the pot.

Iced Tea Pot

The other is by potter Marv Bjurlin, which captured me at first glance. Bjurlin presses small found objects into many of his pieces, and the glazing on this pot and the accompanying cups drew me in to the illusion of great depth and mystery. I wish the photo could do them justice!

Bjurlin Pot

All three of the above teapots are used with infusers. The iced tea pot actually has a built-in strainer at the base of the spout, inside the pot, but the holes are so large that lots of fragments get through.

My most recent teapot is Joey Roth‘s Sorapot. I found this one through a roundabout way: a friend of mine became a Slashfood blogger, so I started reading Slashfood. Then a different Slashfood blogger wrote about tea infusers, asking for suggestions. Of course I had to put in some thoughts. Another commenter on that post had a link to the Sorapot. I was drawn to its elegance right away. Since getting my first Jenaer pot I have loved glass as a container for tea, and I had recently been drinking my weekend morning tea out of bodum double-walled glasses, so the glass cylinder that contains the tea was immediately a draw.

Sorapot Steeping

I read more of Joey Roth’s site, and learned that he is a recent graduate of Swarthmore College, my alma mater. I enjoyed his various designs and I was impressed that he was working to put his design into production on his own, without being part of some corporation. I decided to pre-order from his original run of 300 pots, though the total price seemed initially expensive: $180 for a teapot? Well, once Joey Roth is famous, I imagine his designs will run a lot more. Want an Eames molded plywood chair? Prepare to spend $400. For plywood. How often will I use the Sorapot? It is a convenient size, and I drink tea every day. We own a Wii which costs a lot more than $180 and does not get used every day. I’ll probably use my Sorapot as often as the Wii gets used. Besides, I like this guy. I want him to get a foothold in the design world and make more useful, elegant things, and I want to be on his mailing list when he sells them.

So, I am now using my Sorapot. You can see how here.

If you look around on the internet, you will find that most mentions of the Sorapot talk about its “sexy design” and not about using it. To me, design must be useful, so I will discuss my experiences with actually using the pot!

I love watching the tea leaves unfurl in the Sorapot. The glass cylinder becomes a lens when filled with water, and the color of the tea is glorious. The cylinder takes about 11 oz. of water, which will over-fill even my large mugs. Since the leaves stay in the pot (it is its own infuser, with a steel mesh built-in at the pouring end) it is important to pour off all the tea at once. I am thinking of getting a larger bodum double-walled glass, just to use with this pot. Roth has designed glasses to go with, but they are not yet available.

I have tried the Sorapot with three different types of tea so far: Golden Monkey (a favorite Chinese tea), darjeeling (Mokaibari estate), and oolong. Roth intended the Sorapot to be used for oolongs and green teas which take a lower temperature water, and the steel acts as a heat sink to avoid “cooking” the tea. I found that it worked well with the Golden Monkey and with the darjeeling, even though those teas require water at a full rolling boil.

It is mesmerizing to watch the leaves unfurl and the tea liquor turn gold, orange, or red. I always use filtered tap water for my tea, and as a result my tea is never dark brown or black. Most of the leaves sink as they get saturated with water, but a few smaller ones drift lazily upwards. I don’t know why that happens.

The capacity is a little much. In order to pour off all the tea at once, I wind up with some of the tea getting cool in my cup before I drink it. This doesn’t happen with my regular “2-cup” teapot and bodum cup, since I put a tea cozy on the pot and the bodum cup retains heat extremely well with its double-wall structure. I think the solution is to fill the Sorapot less or get a bigger bodum cup.

The pour takes getting used to. The tea emerges as a trickle initially, as the water in the spout exits. Then the stream increases as tea starts coming through the mesh. It is possible to tip the pot too much and get a flood, and toward the end the tea may stop coming out (this happened this morning) due to a combination of the small holes in the mesh preventing Rayleigh-Taylor instability (this is why ketchup can be difficult to get out of a glass bottle) and the leaves settling to the mesh end and blocking the flow. However, I think I have mostly gotten the hang of it. After the first time using it, I have done much better pouring it.

I have enjoyed filling the pot a second and third time, to re-use each set of leaves. I get to watch the steeping all over again, and more yummy tea (with less caffeine on each subsequent steep). I have never been a great fan of re-using tea, mostly because I really want the caffeine in addition to all the other great things about tea, like its flavor. The antioxidants are a nice side benefit, but they are not why I drink tea!

The teapot is heavy for its size, due to the steel. Yet, it looks delicate, due to the arching shape and the glass insert. When I wash it, I am a little nervous about the glass. I am also a little nervous when tightening the tension rod, before filling the teapot with water. If I tighten it too much, will it break the glass? If I don’t tighten it enough, will it leak? So far I have not had either problem, but those of you who know me well know that I am a habitual worrier.

Would I recommend Sorapot? If you love tea, and love tea in clear glass, and have someone to share each “pour” with, this is a good teapot. Or, if you don’t mind drinking 11 oz. of tea at once this is good for you even if you don’t have someone to share with. If you like elegant and useful design, have enough disposable income not to mind spending that much money on a teapot (the price includes shipping) and want to support a young designer, please do buy Sorapot. Roth plans on an additional run of 300 pots, and you can get on his list by dropping him a line. Will I use this pot often, as I anticipated when I ordered it? Probably…at least until I fall in love with another teapot!

Grammy Wilma

18 February 2008

On Saturday, I attended the memorial service for my maternal grandmother, Grammy Wilma. The service was in the Florida town where she had made her home for most of her life–where she had been a businesswoman and an actor/director and a pillar of the community. I cannot do justice to her life in this blog post, but I can at least post a couple of photos, one of which was taken at my wedding, and the other is from the late 1920’s, when my grandmother was a teenager. I wore that necklace to her memorial – it is a favorite of mine.

Things I remember about her:

  • She came to hear me give the first talk I ever gave at a national meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers, when I was in college
  • She sent me oranges from her grove in the winter, also when I was in college
  • She always welcomed me to come and visit, even on my own as a pre-teen. Once after a busy day I fell asleep on her sofa, and she had to drag me into the bedroom. I have no idea how she got me into the bed!
  • She never forgot the Fourth of July that I spent with her. I refused to use the very stinky port-a-potties at the park where we spent the day (and watched fireworks that night) and she was very impressed by how long I was able to “hold it.” I still have a steel bladder, which comes in very handy as a teacher!

Grammy Wilma is fondly remembered by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as well as by the community theater people of St. Lucie county and the Women’s Club in Fort Pierce. She died on December 8, 2007, at the age of 93.

Left photo ©2005, John Shetron Photography

Wilma, 2005

Wilma, 1928-ish

The inscription on the right photo reads “Love Always, Jus’ Wilma” in her impeccable copperplate handwriting.

Sorapot!

12 February 2008

Ooh! Ooh! My sorapot teapot just arrived by UPS! I will post more after I have had some time to try it out, and I will post photos!

Early Dismissal

12 February 2008

I grew up in Buffalo. I remember a day when it was so snowy and windy that I couldn’t see a foot in front of me as I walked to the bus stop. A tree had blown over, and I nearly got entangled in the top branches because I didn’t see them until I was in them. We had a regular day of school that day.

Today, school let out early. I was able to leave by noon, when there was a VERY LIGHT dusting of snow on the ground. I didn’t even have to brush off my car. Freezing rain was in the forecast, but from where I am now sitting, cozy in my home office watching a few fluffy snowflakes drifting down onto the bird feeder, I just have to shake my head and sigh.

So, am I catching up on schoolwork? Sleep? Neatening the house and cleaning the bathroom? Washing the soup pot from Sunday that I still haven’t taken care of? No, I am blogging. This is why this blog was a bad idea.

But I think I can afford the time to tell you about the exciting online course I am taking.

I’m taking a course from North Carolina State University called Matter and Interactions. That’s also the name of the textbook, and one of the book’s authors, Dr. Bruce Sherwood, is the instructor. This particular course is intended for high school teachers, and it is introducing us to several ideas that we may not have applied in our teaching before.

(1) Physics in the modern era acknowledges that major advances occurred in the 20th century, changing the traditional “Newtonian” model.

(2) Physics in the modern era relies as much on computational methods as it does on experiment and theory.

(3) There are several fundamental principles that form the core of physics knowledge and which are applicable from atoms to galaxies, and these should be the principles that form the core of the curriculum.

As teachers, we are viewing lectures, reading the textbook, solving homework problems, and writing computer programs to model physical systems, and we are reflecting on how what we are learning might affect the way we teach.

I am thrilled to be learning some computer programming! You might think that it is not a very useful sort of computer programming (excuse me, coding), because I will not end up with any java applets for use in my class or applications for the web, or cute little games. I am learning to use vpython, which is a part of the python programming language that makes little visual models. For example, last week I had to make a program that included a spaceship, planet Earth, and Earth’s moon. The spaceship started out near Earth (in the picture, it is where the yellow line begins, on the left) and had a certain initial velocity. Due to gravitational interactions, it had an unpredictable but calculable path between the Earth and moon until it crashed into Earth (the green arrow coming off the Earth actually shows the spaceship’s momentum at the moment of crashing.) Depending on what I gave the spaceship for initial velocity, the path of the spaceship had a lot of different shapes that I explored in the course of the assignment.

Here is what one spaceship path looked like:

orbit crash

Notice that the Earth (blue dot on the left) and the moon (gray/white dot on the right) don’t move, so this is an unrealistic representation…but I will eventually program that stuff in also.

One of the reasons that this kind of computer model is so exciting is that you CAN’T solve this problem using calculus. You CAN’T send spaceship after spaceship out with a different initial velocity and see where it goes. But you CAN let a computer take its time and calculate the same little calculation over and over again with slightly changed conditions, and see where you wind up afterward!

In addition to coding, we are doing the traditional introductory physics topics in a very untraditional way. After a brief review of vectors, we immediately jumped into momentum (a topic often covered fairly late in mechanics). The relativistic expression of momentum, that is:

p = γmv

where γ (the greek letter gamma) is the factor

gamma

and c is the speed of light.

Usually, in introductory physics, relativity is an afterthought. At the end of the year, if we still have some time, we do some relativity. And maybe we get to the relativistic momentum, and maybe we don’t. I am also looking forward to the promised material on statistical mechanics, which I have never felt very comfortable with.

So far I am liking the different approach. And I keep getting ideas, which is great fun!

Snowdrop!

10 February 2008

This morning when I went out to get the newspaper, I noticed a little bit of green poking up from the ground. So I bent over and started looking closely at all the places I’d planted bulbs last Thanksgiving and found a snowdrop in bloom! My friend who shared her bulb order with me last fall had some snowdrops bloom a couple of weeks ago, so I have been looking out for them whenever I am outdoors in daylight (not often enough) and I am very happy not to have missed my first one!

Flowers and coming home from work when it is still light out are things I look forward to every spring!

Odd Saturday

9 February 2008

I got out of bed after 11 AM today. Admittedly, it was my second time getting out of bed for the day. I got up the first time around 7-something, had my breakfast and tea, read the paper, read tomorrow’s comics pages, and then went back to bed.

I can’t remember the last time I slept in that late.

For the past two weeks I have had a very strict Saturday routine: up and have breakfast before 7, so I can take my tea to my home office and work from 7 to noon on the courses I am taking. Then, start the laundry and eat lunch. Spend the rest of the day making sure the laundry gets done, doing various “neaten the house a little” tasks, fretting over the schoolwork I haven’t done yet, etc. Last weekend I had to include cooking our potluck contribution, showering and dressing, and making sure I knew where we were going and how long it would take to get there.

I feel like I OUGHT to have done that same routine today as well, minus the potluck business and replacing it with going to the English-Scottish Ball over at Swarthmore College (one of my favorite balls of the year, and not just because I am an alumna). However, this has been “one of those weeks.”

Final grades for the second marking period were due Wednesday, and I had a backlog of lab reports to grade. Plus I kept assigning work for my students to do and collecting that as well this week, plus I gave a test to three of my classes that I now have to grade. I had meetings after school on Wednesday and Thursday, an exam to take in one of the online graduate courses I’m taking this semester, a night event at school Thursday, and a meeting all day Friday. That meant I had to prepare lessons for Friday that a substitute could handle. So it was not a really good week for sleeping well or for sleeping 7-8 hours per night.

Today, I am relaxing. I am writing in this blog, drinking more tea (Romai Estate Assam TGFOP1, from Upton Tea Imports, a smooth and relaxing tea), not doing laundry (which means I’ll do it tomorrow), and procrastinating on my coursework for the week (but it will get done this weekend). I’m going to make pea soup for dinner, one of my all-time favorite foods, using my own adaptation of my mom’s recipe. I’m going to luxuriate in my shower, pamper myself with lotions and creams, and feel beautiful for the ball tonight. And I’m going to get a lot done tomorrow, I promise!

Mom’s Pea Soup (vegetarian adaptation by me)

1 package green or yellow split peas
1 onion, diced
“several” cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 tsp “Better than Bouillon” vegetable base
2 qts water
dried dill
salt and pepper to taste
2 or 3 carrots, sliced

1. Look over peas and remove any stones or other foreign objects, rinse.
2. In a soup pot or dutch oven, combine peas, onion, garlic, celery, vegetable base, salt, pepper, and water. Sprinkle dill on the water until it mostly covers the surface of the water. Heat to boiling, then simmer for about an hour.
3. Add the carrots, adjust salt and pepper if necessary, and simmer another hour.
4. Remove lid from pot and continue cooking on medium-low heat (stirring occasionally) until the soup is the desired thickness.

OK, So I decided to blog.

3 February 2008

Hi everyone,

The purpose of this blog is to have conversations with the people in my life who I never see, either because we don’t live nearby, or because our schedules don’t mesh, or because I am too busy to go anywhere. In order for the conversations to be conversations, you need to comment.

Since I am really doing this right now as procrastination, I am going to stop doing this and go work on what I am SUPPOSED to be doing today, which is grading lab reports. Woo hoo! Don’t you wish you could be here to help?

I will try to post at least weekly with some sort of thoughts/news/hellos.