Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shaker Peppermints

Pull up a pew and sit down. This was the scene of the third event
of one memorable day in Vienna. First, the Vienna Boys' choir from the nosebleed galleries where you only see them on remote TVs, unless you wish to hang by your toes over the railing. Second,
the amazing Lipizzaner stallions, again the nosebleed seats, but in real time and now, a sung Mozart Mass in a gorgeous Gothic church. There was more to come! We got tired!
Today, being Tuesday, is not really a tea day. Since we have an all morning meeting that involves coffee, it is usually just easier to do that for the day. After bringing in all my houseplants this afternoon, some tea was appealing, so I made myself some peppermint I had bought at the Shaker Museum in Hancock, MA. Nothing added, just a nice soothing, warming, "minty-fresh" cup of herbal pleasure. The herbs themselves were from the remaining Shaker community in Sabbathday Lake, Maine, but they are sold in all their museums. Sometimes there are herb plants for sale, too, both of which I consider super souvenirs.
The Hancock Museum is where the famous, enormous Round Barn is located. Being a farmer's daughter I just had to see it. Although there are only a few cows and calves and assorted fowl wandering around, it was a very satisfactory experience. It is a beautiful, creative, and functional building. The Shakers were a very practical, inventive people. I have admired them for a long time and I am sorry they have almost died out.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Kusmi Russian Breakfast

Another windy, rainy day. Another excuse for some good black tea
- as if I needed one. I recently got a tin of Kusmi's Russian Breakfast no. 24 and hadn't tried it yet, so I thought this would be perfect. It is billed as a blend of China black, Ceylon and Indian teas. It certainly is black, with a few bits of gold thrown in to highlight it. The dry leaves really had very little scent to them, which surprised me, as Russian teas often have a heavy scent. I brewed it up in our "all-day "pot - the big ugly green one, as I was in the mood for a lot of tea. There still wasn't a lot of scent but I could distinguish what I think of as China and Ceylon teas. I can't tell you how they are different, but they smell different to me. The tea had a very pleasant taste, not at all heavy, but very fresh and bold, definitely one deserving a touch of milk and if you are so inclined, some sugar or jelly. It was good with and without the milk and drinkable for a good bit of the day. Definitely good for breakfast, when I like a plainish black.
I really love Kusmi Tea tins. They are nicely decorated and they stack up well. Many other companies tins do not stack well and are forever falling all over each other. Of course, I may have too much tea, but we won't go into that. I can't say that I love all their teas. Some of them are too heavily scented or flavored with what I think are rather odd flavors. These are some of their older teas, probably made more specifically for a Russian clientele, as Kusmi was originally a Russian company, which fled to Paris during their revolution. I don't know this about the earlier teas, so please don't quote me.

The photo today is of one of the many jitneys one can take to tour Vienna. It struck me as "olde worlde" enough to go with Kusmi tea, since I have no Russian photos. I did see one a long while ago that I have always remembered, generally as the world begins to lose color. It was almost black and white, and shades of gray, taken on a winter's day. There was one bright spot - the woman in the picture was carrying a glass jar of borscht. It was stunning.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Black Dragon Lapsang Souchong

The perfect day for a Lapsang Souchong. Nasty, cold, rainy. I brewed
up a pot of Upton's Black Dragon for 5 min at 212 degrees. What a love-
ly tea. The dry leaves were beautiful, large and dark brown, with long silvery buds, covered with down. The scent of it brewing was definitely smoky- that wonderful dark pine fire scent. But there was a hint of sweetness there, too. The liquor was not nearly as heavy as many Lapsang I've had. The blend was, of course, smoky, but there was that sweetness again, with a good, complex tea under it. With it I had some fine mellow bleu cheese. Someone in a sidebar on a teablog I was reading mentioned pairing the two and since I love them both, I thought, why not? I am so glad I did. The two together are wonderful. The cheese smoothed away any rough edges of the tea and the tea seemed to add dimensions to the cheese. Definitely a fortuitous pairing.

For those of you who sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed by tea terms that are thrown around, In Pursuit of Tea's website has a Tea Glossary listed under "About Tea". It is a fairly long list that is certainly helpful.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tea and Scones

A cold day, but it is not raining so off we went to the Apple Fest. There were a few fun things, but it is basically a craft show - not my cup of tea. The lines were too long for the real goodies, the apple fritters, the apple dumplings, the other apple treats. So we settled for Spiedies, Cokes and sweet potato fries. For those of you not from New York, Spiedies started as a State Fair treat. Generally chicken or pork marinated for 2+ days in a vinegar based barbecue sauce, grilled, and served on a bun. Very luscious and now available almost everywhere, at least in NY. If you've not had the fries, get some, they are definitely worth it.

So how do you top that? Since I was cold, I decided to make scones, nice orange currant ones. A treat and a way to warm up the house with the oven. The scones I got from a nifty little book, Simply Scones by Leslie Weinert and Barbara Albright. It is about 5x5 inches and has about 70 scone recipes and 20 spreads for the scones, plus a short but accurate discussion of tea - both the beverage and the meal. Most of the recipes are for sweet scones but there is a goodly section of savory ones as well, including the one I want to try next - Uptown scones with a mix of Italian cheeses, sundried tomato, basil, hot pepper and pinenuts. I think a very strong Ceylon or Keemun might go with these.

What did I have with my much more demure scones - Liberteas "Chocolate Rose Romance".Can you tell I didn't get my treat today? Upon opening the tin, I am taken in by the wonderful smell of good chocolate and good tea. It is a pretty tea, with some nice Ceylon leaves, pink rose petals, chocolate nibs, chocolate shavings, tiny chocolate chips, some bits of perhaps dried apple? Can you say "yum"? As it brewed it of course smelled of chocolate. I have to say I am reluctant to taste teas like this because I like to taste the tea itself and I am always afraid they will be sweet, which I don't like. This tea, for me, is a great success. I can taste the very good quality Ceylon, with the chocolate as a lovely embellishment and it is not sweet! Really a great success as far as I am concerned. I added a bit of cream, which brought out more of the chocolate, but no sugar, which perhaps would've brought out more. Why ruin such a good thing? It went very nicely with the scones, too, the chocolate and the orange peel setting each other off nicely.
The photo above is of a Swiss mountain goat; perhaps it is one of Heidi"s?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Italy, India, Formosa

Ah, Italian poppies. They grow everywhere, but especially alongthe railroad lines, making these often dismal areas places of beauty. Not a great picture, but when you're speeding along, with a new camera, you are happy to get anything.

I'vebeen thinking thinking of poppies as I am trying to decide where to plant the few seeds I have of some glorious double red poppies - I only got 2 plants and 3 flowers this year, so I am hoping next year is better.

I am also thinking of doing some research about tea in India, as I do love Indian teas, especially Darjeeling. There doesn't seem to be a lot on line and it doesn't appear there was "tea culture" in the ways that China and Japan have "tea cultures", but I know tea was cultivated in the Assam area long before the British made their plantations. So I am going to see what I can find - I'll keep you posted. If any of you know some good sources, please tell me.

That said, today I was tasting a very nice Oolong - Upton's Fancy Grade Formosa Oolong. In the bag it smelled faintly of woods or Fall earth or the smell of dry leaves on the sidewalk. The leaves themselves were quite large, twisted, silvery, grey and almost black. While brewing it smelled more deeply of these woods and leaves. The wet leaves were wonderful you could see the one leaf and tiny bud, I've not seen tea that clearly before. But the taste - pineapple and honey with a soft earth aftertaste and a tiny hint of astringency - I may have brewed it a tad long. The second infusion brought our more of the sweetness and a much lighter earthiness. A very very nice tea.

I've been reluctant to try Oolongs as my experiences to date have all been unpleasant. However, my mind, maybe even my palate is changing, hooray!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This and that with the Earl


I was reading Sip Locally blog yesterday. They mentioned how much packaging and bits of string you would save by using loose tea. I suddenly remembered clearing things out after my Swiss grandmother died. On the shelf in the big storage cupboard was a box labeled "pieces of string too small to save". That's exactly was it was - all these bitty pieces of string. We had a really good laugh and put them out in the Spring for the birds' nests.
I'm not really sure how much we save ecologically by doing loose tea. I always put my teabags in the compost pile anyway. The staple, if there is one, adds a bit of iron and the tea and paper degrade pretty quickly. However, in the manufacturing, there would be great savings, so I guess that is definitely another one for the good tea, if you're keeping score.
Hit another Chinese buffet today. The tea was just Chinese Restaurant tea - that blend that they all serve. Pleasant and drinkable, but nothing outstanding.
At home I had Devonshire Earl Grey from Upton's - http://www.uptontea.com/. This is their newest Earl Grey and I must say, I like it. It is quality Ceylon tea, with of course, bergamot, bu then they add either lemon oil or lemon peel. It gives the tea more body and a deeper scent and taste, but isn't really distinguishable all on it's own. Love those added dimensions that don't overwhelm!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Flavors enTwining

I had some tea recently that was a very nice tea, except...I could taste the chemical flavor of the flavoring. Not very overt and probably most people wouldn't taste it, but I think it is something I am particularly sensitive to as I have the same problem with cake mix, coffee and other "flavored" things. But is it my problem? have we been sold a bill of goods that says we need chemical flavorings. Maybe it's a general problem that we can't seem to like things that are just flavored with more natural additives, with nuts and berries, fruits and dried herbs or extracts of them? Maybe the flavors would not be so intense. Maybe we could learn to appreciate them for what they are. Probably won't happen but I'd rather have my flavors from nature.
Having said that, my tea for today is Twinings Prince of Wales Tea. I have always loved this and I can't detect if the black currant in it is natural or chemical. Probably, sadly, the latter. But I think it is a well-balanced tea with a nice fresh scent and taste. It is a blend of China teas, mild and pleasant with no smokiness that I know some people object to. It is not in the same class as the recent Darjeelings, but then, it's not supposed to be.
I usually brew 1 teaspoon per cup in boiling water for 3-31/2 minutes. If Twinings is your "cuppa" the English Tea Store is having a sale at the moment - http://www.englishteastore.com/

Darjeeling keeps rolling along

Another Darjeeling day, another Upton's. This one is the Singbulli Estate
Second flush Darjeeling SFTGFOP1 Musc[atel]. Singbulli is another of those estates that produces very fine teas. When I opened the packet, my first thought was "potato chips" Odd for tea, but followed by a nice brown, somewhat autumny smell. The leaves were a good twisted mix of brown shades. The liquor brewed up to a rich golden brown, with a toasted chestnut and yes, a hint of baked potato.

It is taste, however that is the final frontier and this does not disappoint.The tea has a very full mouth feel, with just a bit of astringency thrown in to make you sit up and take notice. There's a hint of leather, a hint of autumn to come (which is probably the muscatel), a bit of sweet teasing around the edges. And there is that baked potato again - around the edges, something definitely warm and toasty. You may not find any potato at all and not like it if you did, but potatoes are my most favorite food in the world, if I could only have one. As it cools, there seems to be the scent of a forest, with a whole lot more sweetness in the mouth.
As you can see, this is a very tough tea to pin down - each mouthful seems to offer something different - a whole tea journey in one or two cups. It is not as superb as yesterday's, but it is definitely an excellent tea.
The picture above is the cloister walk of a monastery in Sorrento, Italy. I loved the ancient vine. All of the columns were rescued from monasteries that have ceased to exist. Eco-friendly.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

SpecialTeas East Friesian Blend

Sunday morning and my birthday. I'm 65! How the heck did that happen?! When I am really only still 27. I remember my aunt telling me, when she was this age, that she thought my Grammie was so old when she died - at 65 -but now that she was 65 it wan't old at all! And I think so too. If I follow the family pattern, I should have another 25-35 years. Think of all the tea I will be able to drink! Pots and pots of it.

This morning I tried one of my birthday teas from SpecialTeas - East Friesien Broken Blend. It is a dark, small broken-leaved blend of Assam, Sumatran and other teas. It brews up, naturally, into a rather dark brew, with the Assam to the forefront in both smell and taste. I am really undecided about this tea. It is much lighter than I expected, as other East Friesians have been more definite and much strongeror heartier, but not tastier. I like this tea - it has grown on me through 2 large mugs worth, but I am really not sure why. Oh dear, I will have to have more to see if I can nail it down - what a hardship! And it is kitten approved! Ernie has given it two whiskers up. I have got to find more stuff he doesn't like.
The big garage sale is over and we actually made some money. But my husband is thinking of continuing it next week, when our town is having its Apple Fest. Apple everything everywhere. Last year it poured rain the whole time and it was still a great success. We even get to taste unpasteurized cider - by far the best! Apparently we can't buy it, which is really a pain

Bet you can't guess what the picture is! It's a parking garage in Sorrento, Italy

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pooh sticks and tea

If you close one eye and sort of squint, the sky looks like a bridge in this photo. Okay, so squint a little more. There!
Yesterday I went for a short walk, just to clear the dust from my throat after getting ready for "the big sale" I was walking along and got to the bridge over our brook and there were some sticks there... And no one was watching.... So I played a short game of Pooh sticks.
For those who cannot remember, this comes from that well-loved children's book Winnie the Pooh. You and a friend, or your bear, each throw a stick in the water on one side of a bridge. Then you run to the other side to see whose stick wins. Lacking both a friend and a bear, I did it myself. I won!
How is this tea related? Well, after such rousing events, Christopher Robin and Pooh bear would have tea. This charming book and A. A. Milne's others with Christopher and Pooh are full of tea. The most famous of which may be the one where Pooh goes to Rabbit's house for tea and eats so much honey he gets stuck in Rabbit's door for several days.
When I was little, my Grannie Grunt and I would have tea with the fairies who lived under the bridge at the bottom of the meadow. This was a serious event that other grownups didn't understand, but my Grannie did and it was wonderful fun! We didn't play Pooh Sticks, as it was quite a climb up to the bridge and across a busy highway.
Sometimes it is good to remember childhood, drink tea and play Pooh Sticks


Instant Masala Chai

Today my neighbor and I are getting ready for that great American
institution - the yard sale. It's in our barn, so that had to be tidied, after whole summer of mad untidiness! We's pooped! Tomorrow is the sale, so I don't think I'll be tea tasting - just guzzling to stay awake and alert. We collect so much junk in our lives that we can't let go of. Sometimes I think I'd like to get rid of it all and just start over with a small house and quit when I have the essentials.

Today isn't really a tea tasting day either, but as I was getting a pick me up cuppa I saw that bottle of Masala Chai spice I bought at the Christmas Tree Shop a couple weeks ago. Hmmm. So I popped in 2 PG Tips in my new Teavana teabrewer, added a good big shake of spices and brewed it up. Oops, the spices made it impossible to drain, so I used a strainer and really, really rinsed out the tea brewer; now this brew got some 1/2 and 1/2 and believe it or not, sugar - yes, I used sugar. That's how you do chai. It is really good. A little light on the cinnamon, so I added some, but nice and spicey, peppery, gingery, everything a chai should be and then some. It is surprising to me that some little thing like this from the CTS would be this good, but it is. I wish I had bought more.

Buying something like a spice at the CTS is fine, sometimes, but don't buy "gourmet" tea there and expect it to be of high quality, because it won't be. You need to remember that a lot of their things are last seasons or overruns, so buy cautiously. That said, I have often bought some name brand herbal teas there that have been fine. But I didn't have high expectations. I'm not much of an herbal person, I keep it for my friends who are or for times when I want something warm, with no caffeine and tastier than hot water.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Crosswords and WikiTEAdia

Today was another bum tum day so all I drank was peppermint tea from
my garden, sparked with a slice or two of candied ginger. Very tasty, if I do say so myself.

Yesterday I bought myself a new NY Times Crossword puzzle book. I love them, even when they make me feel stupid. For me the ones from the late 90s, early 2000s are better, as some of the current ones are just awful to solve! Anyway, this relates to tea because one of the puzzles, from the early 1940's had this quote - "Thank God I was born after there was...[three letters]" That's right people, the correct answer is "tea". I never heard of the person, but I am going to research him and see if I can find out anything. It is not easy doing crosswords from the 1940s - so much related to the war - forgotten ships, slang, battlefields, etc. I am learning a lot and I was thrilled to see that quote.

I'm sure a lot of you use Wikipedia. I do too, for all sorts of information, currently monasteries for some reason. There is a NEW SITE that is only for Tea! It is www.wikiteadia,org and is quite new. Apparently anyone can sign up to join it and contribute, just like its sister site. There is a place for tea merchants and there are a few listed. You can add your favorites. There is some basic information about different teas and a place for different forums and discussions, not too much, so far. This is very new, so don't expect the comprehensiveness of Wikipedia. If you can contribute, I am sure you would be more than welcome.

The picture above is still sailing down the Rhine. Wish I was.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Special Teas Lemon Chiffon Surprise

To market, to market to buy a fat pig. So goes the old rhyme and so we
did, go to market, that is, but we bought no fat pigs. This is an outdoor market in Durlach, Germany. The man in the orange pants is the town street sweeper. Just think how clean we would be and how many more people would have work if we had street sweepers.

I got a very nice surprise today, a box of tea from Special Teas. A most welcome gift from a good friend for my soon-to-be birthday. Yumm. One lured me right into having some right away. I'm not a big herbal fan, except for peppermint and ginger but how can you resist Rooibos Lemon Chiffon (No. 781) Winner in 2008 World Tea Championship? I certainly couldn't and I love lemon.
Sure enough, it smelled just like lemon chiffon, very tasty. It tasted like it too and was even better when I added a bit of milk and a wee bit of sugar. Pie in your cup without calories - who could do better? My only quibble, and it is a small one, is that the chiffon part, if one can separate that out, seemed to have a bit of a "too much" taste in the back of my throat. Nevertheless, I think I will go have some more.

We have a chain of generally very large grocery stores in this area - Wegman's. I was there recently and much to my surprise they had loose leaf tea. All English or Irish - Bewley's, Yorkshire Gold, PG Tips, probably some others. I actually bought some and I have tried the Bewley's - the Irish one. My Granny Grunt would have loved it. Very strong, very forthright British tea. Perfect with milk [and sugar if you must - not me]! It didn't seem to be stale and was in a well-sealed inner bag, although that was not resealable. A good wake up tea for ordinary days, that is days when you feel ordinary, or it's too early to make a tea decision. I save my tea tasting for afternoon, as mornings do not contain a functional brain.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dragonwell comfort

Oh dear, in addition to allergies, I seem to have the summer stomach flu - not conducive to tea drinking. It is hard to concentrate on nuances in tea when one worries if this will occasion a quick trip to the bathroom. Sorry to be so graphic, but there it is.

The picture at the right is an indication of how I've been feeling. It actually is either an obituary or biography on the wall of a church in Germany. I think earlier church folk were more comfortable with death being a part of life, or they were a lot grimmer about it.

However, I did feel recoverd enough to try a green tea - it sounded soothing to the ole tum. I had some Andrews and Dunham Dragonwell that looked good, so I brewed it up. I love the look and feel of the dry leaves - I want to play with them, they are so shiny and slippery. Lovely green leaves that look individually ironed with the greatest of care. This, by the way, is an indication of a quality Dragonwell tea. Dragonwell is one of the "Fifty Famous Teas" of China - teas that have been recognized, perhaps for centuries, as the best. These leaves smell of hay and cocoa. Brewed for 2 1/2 minutes with water about 180/90. The tea brewed into a light brownish/greenish liquor that now smells a bit fishy, as well as of hay. The cocoa smell is gone. This has a fine vegetal taste,with a bit of sweetness, kind and gentle to my aching belly. Thankfully the taste doesn't carry over the fishy smell or I'd be sunk! Still not likely to be a favorite tea, but certainly a good quality. I should let it be known that it would be very difficult to be a big favorite, as I am not really a green tea person, but I am working at expanding my horizons. So far, I am up to 3 that I will probably continue to buy and this may be one of them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sugar Not in My tea

This photo is of the main street in Bacharach, Germany, a truly delightful town on the Rhine River.
Do you like sugar cubes? I do.
When I was a child my great-grandmother, Gram Turnbull, was still alive and she was a lady. She always did her work in the morning and then had a bath in the early afternoon and changed into an "afternoon" dress. Then she would have tea. I don't remember the tea, but I was enchanted by the sugar cubes. Those lovely squarish bits of sweet you could either suck or crunch, generally the latter so you could have another one more quickly. I often got caught sneaking one or two out of the cupboard. I still like them only now I like the raw sugar ones. Once in a great while I will put one in a particularly strong cup of tea and just let it slowly melt. Where I really like them is in espresso coffee, but there I will stir them and perhaps add a shot of anisette or a bit of lemon peel. I really prefer my sweets beside my tea, not in it.
When we lived in Southern Pennsylvania I was introduced to Sweet Tea. I thought I was going to die or my teeth instantly rot out of my mouth! There would be a whole cup or more of sugar in a quart of ice tea! I still don't understand how people can drink that stuff, but then I didn't grow up with it. I've heard tell that it really fills the bill with spicey foods, like barbeque. I'll take their word for it. I am sure my Indian friends would love it.
No tea today - tummy troubles

An Earl Grey Day

A gray day on the Rhine, a gray day here, with Earl Grey to lighten it.
Having gotten such a lovely package from LiberTeas I decided to try Anne's Earl Grey Creme. As I opened the package I caught a faint whiff of bergamot and... could it be chocolate mint? Yup, there it was again. The tea itself is very pretty with blue and white flower pettals mixed in. As it brewed there wasn't much scent, a sort of astringent smell and something I could not identify. Kind of a creamy minty smell which reminded me of the mints my great-grandmother would serve to compnay with their tea. The tea tastes very nice, but alas, that elusive Earl's bergamot can't be pinned down. It is a good base tea and there is the cream, mint and cocoa, but where's the Earl? I actually like it , the flavor lasts and it is nicely elusive. The kittens also like it and I was forced to pour some in their dish or risk having it all over my desk.
I just got a "new" book. A Decent Cup of Tea by Malachi McCormick. I got it from Alibris books - http://www.alibris.com/. They have a wonderful selection of books about tea - almost all are used or overruns but if you have a low budget, you should seriously consider them.
Malachi McCormick is an Irishman who bemoans the loss of a good cup of tea, especially in public places and in a very small book, admonishes us to get it together and use real [ie loose] tea, in a teapot and have the good stuff. The book is only 4x6 inches and 80 pages, but in it he manages to cram a short history of tea, the different types, care and selection of tea and all its accouterments and a few recipes. Amazing and a very good read.
In fact, if you are so-minded you can hustle right over to Harney's Teas and buy some "Malachi McCormick's Blend" so you can have a decent cup whilst reading his very decent book.
If you really get into it, the company Malachi buys his tea from is on line and their teas are very inexpensive - www.portorico.com - I've not tried any, but I am going to, just for the sake of completeness and it is located in Greenich Village, NYC, an old stamping ground of mine.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Russians were coming

Well. Today was a Simpson and Vail Day. Two of my 3 teas were froom them. The third was our famous "home brew", mix of tea that isn't much of a favorite. This batch is interesting - some smokiness from some old Lapsang Souchong and some citrus rom who-knows-where. Not very good hot, but really nice on ice. Quell Suprise!
The first Simpson and Vail was Russian Caravan - very inexpensive at $4.60 for 4 oz. but surprisingly tasty. A touch of smoke - all those campfires, you know a hint of China, Ceylon, India and a whiff of bergamot. Not exciting, not super, but a very nice wake up cuppa. The second was their Imperial Yunnan. Very fresh, very good quality tea, with lots of golden tips. A nice warm typical Yunnan smell - that mix of earth and wood and spice, which carried over into the taste of the golden brown liquor. This is not the best tippy Yunnan I've ever had, but is a nice middle of the road selection. Good enough for everyday and maybe Sundays, too.
The photo is of the Liebfraukirche pulpit. Those medieval folk really knew how to dress things up!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oops, sorry Darjeeling

Another lovely day. After a very rainy summer we are all
appreciating these sunny warm days.

I got my big order from Teavana today. This is a shipment I won
in a drawing for subscribing to newsletter. Being one of those people who doesn't win things, this was really exciting. I got 5 teas, a big glass mug and one of those pots that brews your tea and then you set it on your cup and the tea comes out the bottom, leaving the leaves behind. Most of what I got I had not tried before but I did get one Darjeeling that sounded really good. It is called Darjeeling Viyaranya Black, supposedly with a "crisp muscatel flavor" That's as far as I read. If I had read to the bottom of the description I would have seen "first flush". First flush and muscatel do not generally refer to the same Darjeeling. First flush is just that, the very first leaves that are plucked. Muscatel most often refers to the taste of the heavier second flush shading into autumnal Darjeelings.

I now have a new 2 part mantra - "Read the whole description, all the way to the end and when brewing, look at the tea, not the directions"

Assuming this was a black Darjeeling, in spite of its greenish looks in the dry leaf and barely discernable scent, I went right ahead and brewed it as if it were black - 212 degrees for 3 minutes. Oh boy, ick. Bitter, tannic, just awful. My husband offered to finish it if I put sweetener and cream in it - the only way he will drink tea - even iced tea - yuck. So I did, taking a sip as I gave it to him. Wow, what a difference! It actually tasted almost good. However, by then I was too yucked out to brew it up again, so I settled for very plain iced tea and called it a day. "Read the whole description, look at the tea you are brewing".

Today's picture is the gold altar in the Liebfraukirche on the Rhine that I mentioned before. It actually means Beloved Lady's Church.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

9 Bends of Black Dragons

This is the beautiful old organ in Stephansdom, the Cathedral of St. Stephan in
Vienna. It is so large that 7,000 people worship there on Christmas Eve.
It is also one of the most lovely and fascinating places I have ever been. I felt like I could've spent forever there and still not absorbed enough of the beauty and holiness that is present.

Today's tea is The Tea Table's 9 Bend Black Dragon. Isn't that a great name? It is indeed black, with a few gold touches to intensify it. It had a lot of twigs, which surprised me. The dry smell immediately made me think of our Chinese restaurant, which is really good and not what you'd expect to find in a town of 1,900.
As it brewed I couldn't pin down the scents - there were hints of woodiness, Chinese restaurant tea, a little fish, that warm steamy smell of a clean laundromat, a touch of leather and earth.
The taste was equally hard to pin down, combining all of the above and ending on the sides of my tounge with a cross between a sour or bitter note. Not unpleasant, just a little fillip. It is a good fresh tea with, obviously, many nuances. This would be a good tea to offset a sweet or to have with Chinese food. I think it would overwhelm Thai food.
It is not to my liking and I won't get it again. I do need to say that except for Lapsang Souchong, I am not a great fan of Chinese black teas. I like how they smell, so wonderously exotic, but their taste is rarely for me. I keep trying them, but so far, have not had a lot of success. I do, however, like many of their greens and some oolongs.

I just found a really interesting site - http://www.buy-loose-tea.com/ It's purpose is, of course, to encourage people to buy loose teas. It does this by having lots of pictures comparing all the kinds of loose teas and sources for them. It does NOT sell tea, but will direct you to a particular site that does. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Meleng Estate Assam

Last night we watched the fireworks from our driveway. They were spectacular. Lots of colors within individual ones, lots of shapes and 2 or 3 storey ones. The cats guarded the underside of the bed.

This am there was no tea as we were late for a meeting and this meeting only serves coffee. Oh well.

This afternoon I am having an Upton's sample - Meleng Estate Assam FTGFOP. The dry leaf is very attractive, with a nice dark brown leaf accented with plenty of golden tips. While it's brewing it has a very clean fresh smell of good tea. Instantly reminded me of all the church suppers I went to or helped at when I was a kid, growing up in a small town/rural environment. Unusually for me, I followed directions and brewed this for 4 min. instead of my usual 3. I am glad I did, I don't think the flavor would have been as apparant otherwise. Next time, I may push it to 5 and see how it is. It brews up into a nice robust brown with tinges of goldy red in its color. The taste is much sweeter and cleaner than many Assams I've had. There is a maltiness and some good apricot and cocoa to it. It ends sort of slowly with almost a winey tinge. I really like this one and it is from a top Assam garden. It is $16.95 for 100 gms.

I think Assam may have faired better weatherwise this year. Many, many tea gardens really suffered from drought or typhoons, mud slides, tornados, hail, all sorts of bad weather. As did we. The farmers market this am had very little - we've had almost no local strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, blueberries, blackberries, etc. We don't realize how dependent we are on weather for our food. It can really make or break any farmer, especially those who have only one crop, such as tea.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor day picnic time

Today is Labor Day. It is also the day of our community picnic,
with firehose fights, a parade - my neighbor's grandmother, 97, is one of the marshalls. There is a chicken barbeque put on by all the churches, antique cars and tractors and fun stuff for the kids, the best of which is a chance to win a gold fish, a very highly sought prize and almost any kid wins one - guaranteed. It's a great day, with really good fireworks to top it all off. Tomorrow we will all rest from our labors and Wed. will be back to school.
Today I am having Harney's "Tippy Yunnan" to start the day. It has that typical Yunnan smell - woodsy, leathery, spicy, warm and a lovely golden brown liquor. There are lots of tips, so many it is almost more golden than brown. The tea itself is all you could ask for in a tippy Yunnan, with the taste echoing the smell. There's a slight touch of astringency to kind of grab you a little. At $7 for a 4 oz tin, it is a real bargain. You can get a sample for just $2.

Back when the Victorians would ask if you preferred China or India tea I wonder what they were offering - does anyone know? Was it Darjeeling or Keemun? Assam or Yunnan? A black and a green?

The picture in the corner is of an altar dating from 800 AD found in the cellar of the church in Meieringen, Switzerland, a few years ago. The church people were slowly excavating it and a sister altar from 1100. It is amazing in that you can walk right up to it and touch it, it's not behind plexiglass, there's no charge to wander around. It is beautiful in its strength and simplicity.

There will be no more tea tasting this afternoon. After a trip to the picnic we both reek of barbeque smoke, and so does the house, as this is a small town and our windows were open. Oh well, it was fun, the little kids were all having a great time, I got to watch some dog agility trials and pet some beautiful animals, eat barbeque and visit with my neighbors, a pleasant official end to summer.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Liber-TEAS La Vert Pear

As I mentioned yesterday, I just got a shipment from Liber-TEAS. I couldn't wait to try one because they all smelled so good and are so pretty to look at. I decided to try Anne's green tea with pear - La Vert Pear [there's a bit of Franglish for you]. What a nice tea. The smell is a delicate combination of really fresh pear, [ just as if you were eating one, perhaps one a tiny bit green, so that it is not all a sweet scent, but has a very small bite, like a fresh pear off a tree], and then there is the nice earthy grassy scent of green tea. It is attractive to look at too, with some very nice almost shiney green leaves offset by pear bits and sunflower petals. As it brews there is no strong scent and in the cup there is no strong scent either, but just pleasant whiffs of pear and green. The taste is delicate, but so well rounded, all the parts melding into one really delicious whole. An excellent tea.

When this tea was throughly cooled, it had quite a different character. It was much heavier and sweeter, a bit more pear-y. The sweetness I could not pin down to a particular taste. It sort of reminded me of hard candies that don't have one identifiable taste. But it was much nicer, of better quality than that. Very interesting, still excellent. Don't know which I like better.

Diamond tea bags

I just read on the UK Tea Council site that Boodles Jewelers has made a diamond PG Tips pyramid Tea Bag to celebrate their 75th year of operation. Sells for about $15,000! Now that would really be a wake - me -up!

Lazy dayz of summer

Today is a perfect, late summer - early fall day. Perfect day to transplant the lavender and iris and make one more batch of pesto for the freezer, repot the rosemary, feel the sun and the breeze on your back - aaah, perfection.

Another lazy day, tea wise. Tried the Earl Grey Rose and Lavender from yesterday iced and it was soooooo strong. It finally dawned on me I made it too strong, so another day I will try again.

Breakfast tea was just PG Tips in a bag - really a pyramid. When a non-tea drinker makes it for you, make it easy for him! For a non-specialty tea, in a bag, these are my go tos. Sure, they are not great tea, but they are definately more than adequate. Afternoon tea is just one of my favorites - Culinary Teas Lady Londonderry, which I love and I wasn't feeling one bit experimental. It also is very fresh and crisp/soft on the palate.

However, my package from Liber-Teas finally arrived - due to bureaucratic snafus, it's been a while. Anne, the company's owner and tea crafter, has been marvelously patient. If there is a contest for packaging, she wins! The box was like opening a present - all this marvelous purple tissue paper with little samples and candies - oh my! And the teas are in wonderful purple tins with silver ribbons and pretty labels. Really day brightening. I had to sniff all the teas I got, so I just may have to sample one or two, as they smelled alluring! I have high expectations for her teas as I have read her tea reviews and have found them thoughtful and imaginative.

This summer I bought something new from Lipton's - cold-brew ice tea bags. Use two per quart, brew in cold water for 3 minutes. Voila, your typical American summer ice tea. Not to be confused with super duper tea on ice, but for those of you who don't want to fuss, want it NOW, etc., like my husband, they are perfect. Having never been a big fan of ice tea - I really like water or Squirt - this is fine with me too.

Aah, Squirt soda, you can hardly find it anymore. When I was a child growing up on the farm, it was kept in the big milk coolers where the 30 gallon cans of milk were stored until the milk truck came. The coolers were filled with very cold circulating water and the lids were about 3x5 feet. I could lift them to sneak a soda, but I could never get the lid back down, as all the cans would bob up in the water. But I had an indulgent grandfather who would rescue me, shut the lid and not tell on me. Every child should have one.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Damn fine tea with roses and lavender.

Now this is a sidewalk! Still in Ischia. No wonder all those old ladies are so sprightly.
I am so surpised, speaking of Italy - there is actually an "Italian Association for Tea Appreciation" I didn't know they drank anything but coffee! The English section of their website is not really up and running and I can only manage a bit of Italian, but it covers some tea educational projects and what looks like public tea tastings. Wow, this is exciting news! If they do as well with tea as they do with espresso, it'll be great. It is a real hoot to order coffee to go at an Italian rail station and be given the tiniest little paper cup with a shot of espresso. I wish I had kept it - one of those "can you believe this?" souvenirs.
A while ago I purchased the first set of the "Damnably Awesome Teas" from Andrews and Dunham' Damn Fine Teas. I keep going back to the Ceylon offering as several tea reviewers are quite taken with it. I wasn't at first, but I think I am more so now. In the can it has a lovely deep winey, almost tobacco smell. It smells lovely brewing, too. For me, it is a light Ceylon without the usual heavy maltiness. The taste is very good, winey, with that tobacco hint and maybe some berry in it. A good tea, but not superb, and really not very good cold. Nice packaging though.

I am also trying The Tea Table's "Earl Grey Rose and Lavender". In the container it has that wonderful very fresh lavender smell they do so well, with a good bit of sharp bergamot. There are some rose petals scattered throughout, so it is a pretty tea. Once wet, the petals are just kinda brown, as is the tea. The brewing aroma is definately lavender with a lemony understory. The tea itself somehow doesn't work. The lavender is there, the Earl is there, the lemon and rose are there but they are all very muddled. As it cools the flavors seem to blend better. I'll try it iced and let you know. Drat, I was really hoping this would be wonderful - my new go to special Earl Grey.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Oolong Surprise, Indian market teas

Today was another of "those" days which seem to go forever without a lot being accomplished.

We had gone up to Albany to do the doctor specialist thing. Pretty drive, through some of my favorite country - the Upper Susquehanna River Valley.

The only tea I had all day was at lunch at the Capitol Buffet on Wolf Road. It is one of the best Chinese buffets I've ever been to. It even has a Mongolian grill. These were originally Mongol shields turned upide down over a campfire. Now they are huge circular pieces of spun metal heated up to a high temperature over a gas fire. You make a selection of meats, veggies and sauces and the grill master walks around the grill, constantly turning your food over until after 1 circuit, it is finished - very very good.

The tea was a real surprise. It was a lovely oolong, spicey, floral, a touch smokey, nothing like the usual stuff that comes out of those big urns. It didn't stand up to the strong tastes of the excellent food, but I appreciated it several times by just sniffing it and rolling it around my tongue. It was a much appreciated oasis in the day. And wonderful with fortune cookies.
We also hit the Indian store to get my husband his beloved CTC Lipton's tea - he is uninterested in improving his lot, tea wise, but graciously drinks what I offer as long as he can have this stuff most of the time. The blacker and stronger, the better. Here was another surpise. Not only were there many more selections of tea - all ctc - but there were many sorts of teabags and powdered tea, including chai teabags. My friend, the proprietor said that with so many women working, there is not time to always do things slowly. I should not have been surprised - Indian markets have the largest selection of mixes for just about any food they eat. I pride myself on the fact I've never used Hamburger Helper, but I have used a lot of Indian mixes and some of them are very good. Albany has a very large Indian and Pakistani population - enough so that the local JoAnn fabric has a huge section of sari mateial. Such beautiful stuff it is.
The picture today is of a home on the one of the many cliffs on Ischia Island, Italy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tea by Lydia Gautier

Isn't that a cool old doorway?

Today was a really bad day for reasons not related to tea. Therefore I am not going to review any teas but I will review a book.

The book is Tea: Aromas and Flavors Around the World by Lydia Gautier. Ms. Gautier is an agricultural engineer who has done extensive work with viticulture and tea culture. The book is of the large coffee table type, with lots of very beautiful pictures. While it is beautiful, the book more than adequately covers a brief history of tea around the world, tea culture in many nations, some chemical facts etc. She compares it to wine, both in culture and drinking, as well as in cooking. There are a few very good recipes and perhaps, best of all a list of 50 "grand cru" teas with hints for brewing and serving and suggestions for pairing them with foods. In wine "grand cru" refers to the very best wineries or wines, so one can assume that is also the meaning for the teas she lists. The book has a very European slant to it, perhaps because Ms. Gautier is French. It is definately part of its charm.

I got this book as a present so I can't advise you to run out and plunk down $40 for it, but it is certainly worth getting out of the library and reading. It is an excellent book that covers a very wide range of tea information succinctly and well.

Actually, as I write this I am drinking Fujian Black from Adagio Teas. I made it in a new pot and it is too weak but it is good and it is working the usual comforting magic of a good tea. It has that clean mellow smell of Fujian/Yunnan teas, but I can't say more as I goofed on the brewing.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Raspberry Tart

This on the island of Ischia, in the northern half of the Bay of Naples, Italy. My husband's grandfather was from this lovely place.

Today's tea choice is another sample - Raspberry Tart from Teas Etc.

It smelled divine in the package, very raspberryish with perhaps a hint of chocolate and a whiff of good fresh tea. I brewed it up and it still smelled fine, with perhaps a touch of astingency from the tea. The liquor was a nice medium red-brown. However, the taste was not to my liking. Tasted of raspberries with a hint of chocolate, but I just didn't like it. I added a small bit of sugar to it and that just made it worse. I will say the quality of the tea is quite good.
Oh well, I should remember I am not a big fruity fan, but raspberries are my favorite summer fruit. Sigh.

News flash! Bert, the bratty kitten, just swilled down a bunch of this tea. Two kittens who like tea is two much!!

Oh my goodness, I won Teaviews August $100 shopping spree! So I happily went to Teavana's site and drooled over what I might get. Woo hoo! Everyone who signs up for Teaviews newsletter is entered. So you at least get a nice newsletter out of the deal.