Sunday, August 30, 2009

Golden Pearls and Green Camels

These bells are from the Meiringen Lutheran church in Switzerland,where my grandmother was baptized. Meiringen is famous for the Reichenbach Falls where Sherlock Holmes met his "death" and for creating meringues, those lovely confections of air, egg white and sugar. In the town, they are often served with ice cream and raspberry sauce.

I was reading Jane Pettigrew's Tea Companion - the first edition that came out in 2004. It is a wonderful book, sparely full of great information about a wide range of teas, how to make tea, a brief history of tea, etc. Something I really noticed was that PuErh tea was given only a partial sentence. Five years later, it is a very hot topic. Such a short time for it to have achieved such eminence, in the western world. The New Tea Companion, put out the next year [2005], with Bruce Richardsoon of Elmwood Inn Teas had a great deal more to say about PuErh, but certainly not up to the standards of most conoisseurs. This covers a few of the same teas, but is much broader in scope, covering more teas and more countries. Someday I am going to pusue PuErh, but not yet. I have enough with just thinking about Greens, Oolongs and Whites.

First, there was morning tea - Golden Pearls from Teas Etc. $19.95/3oz. Really a beautiful tea from Yunnan, China - rolled multi-hued golden balls that smell of toast, a good
Chinese restaurant, a citrus edge. The balls unfurl quickly into a deep rich liquor still with the toasty, Chinese smell and that unique malty Yunnan tang with a hint of smokiness. There is also a vegetal smell, something like summer squash cooking on the grill. It has a mellow Yunnan taste, but there isn't the spice you get with a true Golden Yunnan, it is more both laid back and somehow hearty. There is a nice lingering taste in the back of my mouth that I can't really describe. An excellent morning tea for special times - because it is pretty expensive. As it cools, the flavor seems to come out even more and it's even fuller than before.

Afternoon tea was a green gunpowder - Camel brand, imported from China - I think it was one of my Asian Market buys. I compared its looks to some Twinings Gunpowder, as well as the smell. No comparison. The Twinings had few actual rolled balls and smelt rather flat - I may have had it too long. Anyway, the Camel brand looked and smelled the way a gunpowder should - tightly curled small balls giving off a nice fresh green scent. I brewed 3 teaspoons in 2 cups of 170 degree water for 90 seconds, stirred it around and poured it out. It is surprisingly brownish with atinge of yellow and nice bubbles around the edges. It has a pleasant, almost jasmine, floral scent with a good full feel in your mouth and a warm vegetal flavor, almost toasty but not quite with a little lingering bit of floral. A very nice, probably quite inexpensive green tea. I made it in a small tetsubin pot, to hold the heat - it's my green tea pot.

In search of a Prince

I have always loved Prince of Wales tea. I think it may have been the first "real" tea I had a name for - by Twining's, of course and in the looseleaf can! For a long while it was impossible to get so I started searching for it among other purveyors. What a sad journey! Almost all of them put so much black currant in their tea that they invariably smelled like a male cat had sprayed it. And they didn't taste very good, either. Somehow, Twining's managed to make what I thought of as the good blend.

However, I am continuing the search and may have found another good blend of the Prince. I purchased a sample of Prince of Wales from The Tea Table. When I opened it it didn't smell too bad, almost a balance, still too heavy a scent of black currant, but not bad. For some reason it has yellow flower petals in it. As it brewed it didn't smell bad either, but the proof is in the taste, right? It actually may contend with Twinings, as all the different teas and flavorings come together to make a balanced whole! And it doesn't taste like cat spray, either - not that I've sampled any.
Neither of these Princes is an exquisite tea, rather they are pleasant and fill a sentimental, if you will, tea slot, so they are nice to find and to return to when a cup of comfort is neeed.
The lady in the picture is there because the Prince was such a lady's man - Edward that is, Victoria's son. She lives in the garden at the summer palace in Vienna. He probably would have found her charming.
I just finished reading an excellent book on tea - The True History of Tea by Victor H Mair and Erling Hoh. It covers everything, probably far more than most people want to know, from beginnings in China, India, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey, Kenya and almost everywhere else. It is very thorough and actually covers very recent things about tea. I found it a bit over heavy on names and dates I will never remember, but if the budget only allows for one history book, this is a good one. I found that reading a chapter at a time allowed me to absorb it all better and I thik I am going to re-read it so I get more from it. I got my copy from Amazon.
Speaking of booksellers, has a wonderful selection of used tea books and they aren't all about how to have tea parties. They have old and new selections and you can make up a wish list. Their prices are quite good, I think.

I really envy so many under 30's who are developing a tea palate now. As we age, our tongue begins to lose the ability to discriminate tastes. I wish I had started a long time ago. Oh well, there it is, I'll do what I can and taste as much as I can of the new stuff soming out!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Samovar Blend Tsarina

This is another Austrian nobility ceremonial robe. Those Hapsburgs had
some gorgeous stuff.

I thought this would be appropriate as today's tea is Samovar Blend Tsarina from the Tea Table, "formulated in the late 19th century for the czars of Russia" "It is a blend of tippy Yunnan and Assam teas with hand rolled green tea pearls." Upon opening the package it smells kind of woodsy and chocolatey, a little deep and mysterious. The leaves are a nice glowing brown with long golden tips and perhaps 5% of beautiful tightly rolled green pearls. The brewing aroma is wonderful, It instantly reminded me of the smell of my great-Uncle John's cabin - a great smell of fine tobacco, deep rich cocoa, wood logs and a hint of floral. Just super.
The tea itself pours out into a deep rich brown with wonderful creamy bubbles along the edges and the taste is super fine also, with the hints of wood and cocoa, maybe a touch of leather with a bit of a light astringency at the end. My second cup I had with a spot of milk which brought out the leather and floral. All in all, a great cup of tea! Definately getting more of this.

Uncle John was quite old by the time I remember him. He lived in a small cabin on a pond near us and I loved to visit him. He would tell tales of "the old country" Switzerland, where his heart still lived and would make me cups of an odd strong cocoa while I explored the treasures he had, such as a basket make from an armadillo skin with it's tail as a handle. he always had wildflowers and herbs drying from the ceiling and it was just a great place to wander around in.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lazy day with the Earl

Still the church in Ravenna.

I was lazy today and the only tea I had is Teas etc. Lavender Earl Grey mixed half and half with Adagio's Earl Grey Bravo, in order to taste more Earl Grey [see previous post]. Didn't work, the lavender still overpowers the Earl. Oh well. Maybe Teas Etc. should call it Dowager Dutchess Lavender Grey. Just kidding, as I really like it.

I went to the local Christmas Tree shop and found some powdered "Tea Masala", distributed by Raja Foods. It smells like chai spices and I am going to try it tomorrow or later this afternoon. I think I have some ordinary Assam floating around - it would overwhelm a Darjeeling and I don't think the tastes would be at all compatible.

If you are in the market for nice but not expensive teapots, both the Christmas tree Shop and TJ Maxx or Marshalls [same company] often have them, some made by Chantal, some by other names you might recognize. Sometimes they have the nicely done Polish pottery or tetsubin pots. The prices are good and if you are careful you can find yourself some very decent pots.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The case of the missing Earl

It's cooler today and I thought I'd return to my samples. I got out Upton's Earl Grey Ceylon select. When I opened the package, a very big scent of bergamot wafted out, along with a strong smell of fresh Ceylon. Brewed it up as usual, took a sniff as I was fishing out the infuser and wait a minute - what happened to his Lordship? Not a whiff! I rechecked the package - there is was, Earl Grey. But not in my cup. How peculiar. The tea itself is a very nice Ceylon - obviously of good quality, almost light, almost floral, with a pleasing slightly astringent toasty finish, but his Lordship has moved on.
The pot I used today is one of my favorites that my friend Darlene gave me for Christmas. It is about a 5"glass globe, resting in a plastic harness that includes the top and handle. It came with it's own infuser basket and a spoon that measures the corrct amount for the pot. It holds about 1 and 1/2 mugs worth - just the amount I like to drink at one time. I think she got it on QVC. Just a very handy little thing and cute, too.
Speaking of teapots, we have 3 green ones, each uglier than the last. One is huge and is an all-dayer for the two of us. The others are smallish. But really ugly greens. I don't really know why we bought them. I am on the lookout for just the right all day teapot to replace this one and I would really like it if it were pretty. Utilitarian doesn't have to be ugly.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mango Tea and Pear Tea

The picture -Still in Ravenna, same church, side aisle.
We canned peaches today. I love the smell and the wonderful
satisfaction of opening them in the depths of winter. I feel conn
-ected to all those women before me who provided for their families. I put some candied ginger in with them and they are
Decided I needed a tea to go with the smell in the house, but lacking a peach tea, I looked through my samples that I am trying to try,[ so I can go on to the new ones - so disciplined!] and found a mango Ceylon.
This particular sample is from Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse in Colorado. I don't know when or where I got it, but it's been a while. Upon opening it, there was a very clear smell of a very fresh Ceylon with a nice breath of good dried mango. The leaves were small and very very black. I brewed it the standard, for me 212 degrees for 3 minutes. It was really good, with a very nice mango flavor on top of a surprisingly good Ceylon.
When I went to their website, they no longer had this particular tea, but they had another mango that sounded just like it - I may have to buy some.
I bought some new storage tins and one of the new teas I got was going in one - Simpson and Vail's Pear. The smell is wonderful - really like pears, not pear candy or fake pear flavor, but good dried pears. Can't wait to try it but I am going to make myself wait until I make the Swiss dried pear bread I bought the tea to go with. Isn't that an awful sentence?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gyokuro and chai

Today I had some Gyokuro tea from my sample collection. This is the
famous and expensive shade grown green tea from Japan. The sample is from Upton's. I brewed it at 170 degrees for 90 seconds. When I opened the pkg, it smelled wonderful, spinachy and with a slight floral edge, very fresh and green. When I went to pour it out the spinach scent was more pronounced with a stronger green note. The tea looked very thick, almost soupy. So far, so good. Then I sipped it. I hated it! It tasted like bad spinach. I kept sipping it and rolling it around in my mouth. Still awful. So I did another infusion. Weaker, but I didn't like it one bit more. Perhaps it is just as well, as it is very expensive stuff.
Later today I am going to have some no name pinhead gunpowder that I bought in the Asian market in Albany, NY. I know I like that. I say it is no name because I cannot read the Chinese characters. I love to go to Asian markets and buy a bunch of teas. They are usually inexpensive, as these markets usually cater to ordinary folk. The packaging is always colorful and there is a sense of adventure becuase I never know what I am going to get.
I have to say this is not true of the Indian market teas. In the ones I have gone to, there is usually a small selection of Lipton's, red, yellow or green label. I don't think there is much difference between them, although I believe the green label is more expensive -$8 a pound. They usually are in tins. There is also another brand that is more Indian appearing, but the tea is about the same. They are all CTC -crush, torn, curled teas and brew up very quickly. That, however may be their only virtue.
Well, no, they are a good base for chai. The only chai I have ever had has been made by my young friend, Raj Devathala from the Hyderabad area of Southern India - that is the nearest big city we would recognize. It has always been excellent. Some of it's charm has of course, been the company, but it could certainly stand on its own and is a fitting finish to a fiery South Indian meal. The Devathalas tell me that Indians are so fond of excessively sweet things as they are because it is a perfect antidote to the fire. The fire and sweet even each other out to produce a nice sense of well-being after a meal. And this is definately true, as well as delicious.

Today's picture is of the mosaic on the ceiling of one of the churches in Ravenna, Italy, a city famous for mosaics. This particular church was built about 600 AD and the mosaics are still absolutely, jaw-droppingly glitteringly fanatastic! Absolutely superbly beautiful and worth every second you can spare to gawk. I could say this after a huge surfeit of church viewing.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lady Londonderry and Limoncello

Today is the wedding of some young friends, Jules and Jeanne. Since we could not be there, I decided to lift a cup of Lady Londonderry to them. Long life and much happiness to you! This was supposedly Princess Diana's favorite tea, with hints of strawberry and lemon. It seemed an appropriately romantic and wedding-y sort of tea. Usually I buy mine from Culinary Teas and I like that very much. This time I though I would try some from
The Tea Table.
It is not quite the same, but it is a very nice tea. I think the lemon overpowers, in the gentlest way, the strawberry, so it is not as well balanced as Culinary's, but is is quite good, nevertheless.
For someone who claims to prefer unflavored black and oolongs, I certainly am out in the flower fields a lot this week. I think that is because it has been so hot and humid and my brain has been sozzled from the outside in. However, the basil, thyme and the white rose think this weather is marvelous, so all is not lost.
I was reading the UK Tea Council blog and they say that 96% of people in the UK use teabags only!!!!!!!!!!! Wow, is that a switch. What happened to this bastion of tea drinkers? The first time I was there, I was staying with friends for the weekend and they asked my friend and I to make "elevenses" for their workers. We had never made tea in a teapot and had no clue whatsoever how to do this, as it was LOOSE TEA and not tea bags. But we soldiered on. The workers drank it, with a great deal of puzzlement, but for the rest of our stay over several weekends, we were teased unmercifully and, funny thing, they didn't ask us to make tea again.

The picture above is one of Limoncello makers of Sorrento, Italy. This is a lemon liquer, made from the lemon trees that grow all over the town and surrounding hills. You can walk up and down the streets, sampling them until you can't walk anymore - it is strong. We made a lemon sauce for pasta when we were there and the lemon oil just leapt out of the skins. It was soooo good. These lemons are large and quite a bit sweeter than we see here in the grocery store. There is also a Crema di Limoncello, which is also a wonderful drink. Keep them both in the fridge and serve on a hot summer evening. In very small glasses, however.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ice tea

It's too hot to do much today so I am just having some iced "tea mix" my husband brewed. This is our own blend of teas. Ones that are too old, too weak, too strong, too flowery, too something we don't like. A cupboard cleanout. We then mix them with a so so assam or Ceylon until it is acceptable and use it when we are too lazy to think about tea or for iced tea. Or sometimes we just say ugh and pitch it. Since it is never a huge amount, this is not too painful. This particular mix is a little smokey, a little floral and it is making a very nice ice tea.
This picture is of the side altar in the "Liebfrau Kirche" on the Rhine River in Germany, in a small town north of St. Goar. It is one of the loveliest churches I have ever seen, very serene and feminine, but with a great deal of strength. The main altar windows are over 80 feet high and someday I will show you a picture of them.

Gingko leaf sugar tongs

Have you seen the gingko leaf sugar tongs on Ito En's website - under tea accessories?!!!!!!
They are exquisite. I love gingko tree leaves, they are one of nature's true masterpieces, each one perfect in itself. If I had $100 to spend on anything I wanted, I would be soooooooooooo tempted to get these. Just to look at - maybe I'd even have a lump of sugar in my tea to celebrate.
I have a friend, Lee, who is a rosarian [see Der Rosenmeister] who has at least 11 varieties of gingko. They are truly amazing. It is always so refreshing to be around him, he has so many enthusiasms.
So, this has little to do with tea, but surely sugar tongs count?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Two from The Tea Table

This is the pulpit of a church in Obernhof, Germany from which my ancestors emigrated in about 1710, part of the great Palatine movement to this country.

I just got a box of teas from The Tea Table, a new vendor to me and I thought I'd try 2 of their teas.

The first was their Champagne Formosa Oolong. which they described as completely hand made, tending toward black and quite sweet. When I opened the package there was a very strong smell of dark oolong and the dry leaves were very attractive with a mix of palish brown and greeny almost black. There were quite a few twigs, which surprised me. I followed the inadequate instructions and the tea brewed up very dark, with a pronounced earthy, toasty smell with a hint of something perhaps floral. It was a very strong oolong, with few nuances and I really could not get even a hint of sweet. The second brew was pretty much the same. Not worth it, I decided. However, I am going to try it again, without following their directions.

The second offering for today was Emperor's Seven Teasures, described as an exquisite blend of black and green teas with a peachy taste. If I had not seen the picture, I would have assumed the peachy part came from the tea. Alas, it was from flower petals and dried peaches. The dried fruit was from very fresh good quality stuff, however. The dry tea was pretty and smelled very strongly of peach, not peach flavoring. It's a very nice tea and I would reccommend it to anyone who likes flavored teas. I would like it on an occasional basis. In the end I combined the 2 and had a very nice cup of tea.

About the Tea Table - they seem to be a good reliable company, but a little short on accuarate descriptions of their teas and their directions for making the teas would leave newbies with some yucky stuff.

In Ballston Spa, NY, near Saratoga, [which is much better known] there are 2 tea emporiums - very very different. The Whistling Kettle is a small tea and lunch establishment with many, many types of tea to choose from. The food is excellant, the service the same and if you choose a tea you don't like, they'll give you something else. They are most noted for their sandwiches and soups and the winter squash soup is superb. Every sandwich I have had there has been very very good, as are the scones and desserts. The sandwiches are substantial enough so that the guys can't quibble. They have all their teas in small glass containers so you can sniff them all, which doesn't do a lot for the tea, but it's a fun thing to do while waiting for lunch. Most of them smelled like my father's tobacco, according to my cousin, but we did try their wild strawberry tea. I was really leery of it, as I know what wild strawberries taste like. Amazingly, it did and it was good. They also have a very nice Prince of Wales, which is hard to find, I think. If you go, go early or late, as it is a very [deservedly] popular spot.

The other shop "Wild Thyme Natural Foods and Tea Company" is primarily a natural foods store, with a small but excellant selection of organic teas. They had the best BaiHao I have ever had, at a fairly reasonable price. They have a few herbals, including a nice before bed tisane and a small selection of Yi Xing pots, some obviously for the American trade. Their tea master is knowledgeable and quite happy to spend time discussing tea with you.

So, if you are in Saratoga for the races, make a little side trip to Ballston Spa and have some nice tea and good food. Just be careful going through the roundabout - it's very peculiar coming from the South.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

St. Isaac's Blend from Upton"s

This exotic looking building is Karle's Kirche in Vienna, Austria, late in the evening. The little dot in the upper middle is the full moon. This is a truly beau-
tiful church in a beautiful city.

Which brings me to today's tea - St. Isaac's Blend from Upton's teas. Offered as an alternative to the more usual Earl Grey. It is a black tea scented with assorted citrus, with a Russian twist. I have often found that any bergamot tea with other citrussy notes is described as Russian. When I opened the package, there was a faint whiff of bergamot and other citrus but the dominant note was what I can only describe as astringency. Sort of like the bite of a whiff of ammonia. But, I hasten to add, it did NOT smell nor taste of ammonia. There was also a touch of heaviness, which I have come to associate with Russian-type teas. I really don't know what that means, as I cannot describe it very well. Even in the midst of light citrus scents there is a faint background of old incense, perhaps wafting from ancient church walls and settling in the tea. How's that for a description?

Once brewed, the first cup smelled pleasantly teaish, still astringent, still faintly citrussy, perhaps a bit more grapefruit than anything else. In drinking it I found it to be quite strong, with just a touch of astringency and a touch of citrus, but not enough to impress. As it cooled, I could taste more of the citrus on the back and sides of my tongue. All in all, it's ok, but nothing to get too excited over.

However, I am excited by Upton's. I have been a customer of theirs for many years and I have always been pleased with the range of teas and the quality of their service. They have almost everything and you can ask all sorts of questions and they'll answer quickly. My one quibble is that their web page is not the easiest to deal with, but that is minor. They will send you a nice fat paper catelog quarterly which has a continuing story of many aspects of tea and tea merchants. The best thing is their samples. Every tea can be purchased as a sample and the price is given first in the chart. On the whole they are quite cheap - especially if you want to try a very expensive tea for which a sample may be $5 - much better than paying $50 for 70 grams and hating it. Most samples are $1

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tea with Julia

This photo is of the Swiss mountains, near Darstetten in the Kanton of Bern, the hometown of my family. What you can't hear are the ringing of all the bells, large and small on all the animals - their sound fills the air with a constant lovely background.

I am a new blogger and this blog really is about tea. I've been reading a lot of blogs on the subject and thought I would add my 2 cups worth.

I was introduced to tea by my grandmothers, kind of gave it up in order to switch to the more "sophisticated" coffee in college. About 15 years ago I got serious about it and have had a great time ever since.

The blogger from Teavana reminded me that Julia Child would've been 97 today so naturally I had to raise a cup to her! After all, through her books and tv shows, she taught me to cook and perhaps more importently, to make light of mistakes - remember the dropped chicken? Julia was a spy during WWII, stationed on what is now the island of Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon and the origin of Ceylon tea.

The only Ceylon I happened to have was Teas Etc. Ceylon OPI, which I had ordered as a sample. I wish I had some Kenilworth Estate, as that is where Julia was stationed. However, I made do. This is a pleasant tea - very dark dry leaves with an unremarkable but pleasant aroma. It brews up to a dark liquid, again nothing remarkable. The taste is the same, good but not great - the kind of tea to have for those folk who really are not adventurous. I will probably get some more to have on hand for days when I don't feel adventurous either.