Monday, November 30, 2009

South of the Border

I was beginning to feel in a bit of a rut with the folks I buy my tea from, so I decided to branch out a bit. I saw The Tea Smith advertised, so I thought I would check him out, as I had also seen some good reviews of his teas. I found some I really wanted to try, so here we go! The first is South of the Border Chocolate Tea. It has chili pepper in it! And it is so good. When I opened the package, all I could smell was deep rich chocolate, with a whiff of cherry – a bit like those chocolate covered cherries we always got Mother for Christmas. The small leaves were black and there were small bits of red pepper. The scent continued through the 3.5 minute brew with boiling water.

My husband loved it! I tasted some of his with the milk and sweetener and it was fine. Far too sweet for me, so I had mine plain. For some strange reason I kept wanting to put a bit of salt in it, so I did – just the tiniest shake and it really brought out the flavor even more. It is very chocolatey, with the tiniest of bites – really more a bit of warmth. It certainly doesn't taste like chili, nor do you need to be afraid of it being spicy. There was not much taste or smell of tea. As it cooled, it seemed to get sweeter, more sweet than I am happy with, so I would be one to drink it quickly. However, I did think about making an ice cream soda with it. Definitely a keeper.

Tea must be becoming more mainstream I think, if the ads and articles I see for it are any indication. A fairly new magazine, Mary Jane's Farm had not 1 but 2 full pages ads for tea companies. Family Circle in July of this year [I just read it] headed its “Health” section with a very brief mini-article on the healthy aspects of daily tea drinking, which can reduce the threat of having a stroke. I am really hoping that more and more people will grow to love tea, either for health or just because it tastes great and opens a whole multifaceted world for us. It is a constant source of wonder to me that one species of plant can produce so much variety.
By the way, that misty mountain in the photo is Vesuvius.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bolivian Black

This morning I decided to try my new purchase of a sample of Bolivian Black Long Leaf Tea from Simpson and Vail. On Saturdays, from 10-4 you can go to their shop in Connecticut and taste 4 different teas. Check out their website for directions . I really like straightforward black teas in the morning and usually I don't try anything new, but I was, for once, wide awake and functional, so I figured – Why not?

In the short month since I last mentioned them, S&V has added 2 more Bolivian teas, a green Orange Pekoe and a Jasmine green. Until very recently the only Bolivian tea you could read about on Google was tea adulterated with coca, from which comes cocaine. However, Bolivia has been producing straight tea for about 70 years. They have an area with a perfect climate for tea growing, where the warm, humid Amazon basin meets the cool high Andes mountains.

The dry leaves are really amazing, very black and huge – about 1.5 inches long. I used about 1.5 teaspoons per cup and brewed it about 3.5 minutes at 212. This is a tea I would use the 2 pot method to brew – you brew the tea without any sort of infuser in one pot and strain it into a second, warmed pot of the same size. It would also work to use one of those pots that drain out the bottom when you put it on a cup. These leaves are huge as they unfurl! As it was brewing it had a complex smell of roasted corn silk, green vegetable, and floral. This continued as I drank it. This is a good sturdy tea with a solid black taste that has one of the nicest florals in it that I have tried. There is just enough astringency in the back corners of your mouth to add a nice fillip to the end. As it begins to cool, more of a vegetal character comes out. It is a thoroughly good beginning offering of premium tea. I hope the Bolivians continue to grow and produce even better teas.
If you are feeling like you have too many boxes from your teas hanging around or need something creative to do, go to this sight for an idea If you do use this idea, make sure you let me know!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sweet Life, Sweet Tea

Did you go shopping on Black Friday? I did, but it was pleasant and unhurried as I was with a bunch of my oldest friends at small shops way in the country. Mostly we laughed and caught up and tried samples of cookies and wished we really did need that basket or this carved swan. We ate fast food, which we never do, but it was quirkily right, and drank tea or coffee at the kitchen table and planned our next get together. We all came away refreshed instead of half-dead.

I decided to try a sample I got with an order from Liber Teas, Sweet Caramel O Mine. The dry leaves are all small, a very pretty warm brown with pieces of caramel. They smell like tobacco with caramel as a top note. I brewed them for the standard 3 min at 212. This is a mild tea and does taste like caramel, with, for me, a bit of chemical mixed in. I seem to be hyper-sensitive to that, so you can probably ignore it. I wasn't really impressed, but I added milk and then I was, a touch of sugar further enhanced it into a very nice tea indeed. For those of you who don't know, caramels are basically cream and sugar boiled together until they make candy. Lovely stuff. I may buy some of this, as a dessert tea for friends, but not for me because I really don't like sweet tea.
By the way, we had out first, brief snow yesterday, up in the hills. Some of them looked quite funny, with little topknots of snow in the tops of the highest clumps of trees.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Turkey day

I will be away for a few days for Thanksgiving. I hope that your holiday is safe , better than you hoped for, and leaving you thankful for many things

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Amazingly, I am still going through my birthday teas from Special Teas. I was in the mood for something a little different, so I thought I would try their Vanilla with Finest Madagascar Vanilla. This is a black tea, with pieces of vanilla and vanilla flavoring added. They call for 2 teaspoons of the tea per 6 oz. Cup brewed for 2-3 minutes in boiling water! So I do, wondering if it will be too strong!

The dry leaves are black, in assorted sizes and I can't tell which is tea and which is vanilla. It smells wonderful, like the best of vanilla puddings – creamy and somehow sensuous. There is also a distinct whiff of cherry. There is not, however, that wonderful fresh tea scent. Thankfully, the tea is not too strong or tannic and it does taste of vanilla. But I don't really like it. It is pleasant and it is not bad, I just don't like it. On the whole, after several different vanilla teas, I think I just don't like it – they never seem to live up to expectations. I think I may try making my own, as I just happen to have some vanilla beans. If I do, I'll let you know the result.

I was still needing some tea, unflavored this time, so I got out my Upton's Arya Estate Autumnal Darjeeling, which I have reviewed before. I love Darjeeling teas and this is a particularly nice one. I started up my Darjeeling road with the second flushes. These are perhaps what one could call a late spring/summer tea. I tried first flushes for a bit but thought them too astringent and then I found the rounded winy Autumanls, which I drank almost exclusively for a bit. However, as my palate has grown, I have developed much more fondness for both the first and second flushes, so now I have a whole year of great Darjeelings to look forward to.

It is interesting to me to see how my tastes keep altering over the years. For example, I used to love Black Currant and now, I can't stand the smell. I find that I often go back to a tea I didn't like or only moderately cared for to see how it strikes me now. However, I have never really liked fruity sweet teas or vanilla ones, so I think I can give them all a rest and not feel guilty about them. One of these days I am going to try Gyrokuro again, though. Maybe after I have had more green teas and appreciate them more.
The picture is that of the bishop's chair in Ravenna's cathedral. It may be in a beautiful spot, but it doesn't look too comfy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tea of Life

A while ago I received a tea gift from a friend. The teas were from Tree of life, which is a Sri Lankan [aka Ceylon] company. They are all tea bags individually wrapped in cute little cardboard pyramids. Today I am trying their Jasmine Orange Green tea. The bags are probably nylon, quite large and filled with loosely rolled balls and some twisted leaves of green tea. I am amazed, as I had expected just little bits. There is a very nice scent of Jasmine, not at all light, but not cloying. I brewed up a cup at about 180 degrees for 2 minutes. I was further surprised to discover the tea had not fully unfurled and opened the bag to brew it some more in another cup.

There aren't a lot of nuances to this tea. It is quite drinkable with a very pleasant taste and smell of jasmine, with enough orange to hold its feet on the earth. The tea leaves are clearly two leaves and a bud, which just blew me away. Not what I expected at all. The second cup was pretty weak, but there was still a discernible scent and taste of jasmine. As I often do, I combined them and it was a decent cup.

As you may know, if you've been reading my blog for a while, I am not a big fan of fruited teas. They are usually too sweet, too muddied, too fake, too something or other for me. However, in one of the teablogs I was reading, the author said she deals with this by mashing up some fruit, adding a bit of lemon juice and making ice cubes. When frozen she pops them out into a bag and when she wants fruit in her tea, she uses one of them. Now that I am going to try. I already have some frozen blueberries and blackberries and homemade strawberry freezer jam.

Another idea I saw, but I had been thinking about anyway is rosemary in my tea. I absolutely love rosemary. Sometime when you are cooking fresh carrots, stick a big piece in with them – loverly. Anyway, I have been thinking about mixing it with a Ceylon or a strong Assam and perhaps some orange peel, as that seems a good combo to me. Hopefully this week I'll do that.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sweet Rosy Earl Grey

We all need a little buttressing in our lives and I want to honor a woman who buttressed mine. Today would have been my Gramma Duffee's birthday. Harriet Grace Ottman McDuffee that is. She was born in 1885. She was an adventurous person, getting her ears pierced when she was about 80 – and getting my cousin to do it as well [and in trouble]. She bought her last car at 85 – a bright red convertible, and she had her first motor boat ride when she was 90 . Her cookies were wonderful, and she served them with green tea! Gramma was the only person I had ever met [until I became an adult] who drank green tea, Lipton's loose in a green and white box. So today I will lift my green tea in tribute to a great lady, whom I loved dearly.

Sweet Rosie O'Grady. Oops, no, I meant Rosy Earl Grey. The tea. From Teas Etc. Sweet it is, but not sugary. It smells wonderful, more like its rose-scented jasmine component than Earl Grey. It is very pretty too with a mix of green and black leaves and big pink rose petals. I brew it my standard 3.5 minutes with not really boiling water, using a bit more than a teaspoon per cup. It smells delightful as it brews and pours out to a very nice amber. There is not much taste of bergamot, either when it is hot or as it cools. It tastes almost exclusively like a very nice rose-kissed jasmine, with the very barest hint of lemon, which would be the bergamot. It is a very nice tea, just made for a “lady's” afternoon. I had it for a late breakfast with tea breads, does that count? I wonder if Gramma Duffee would like it? Probably too frou-frou for her taste.

The last tree in the neighborhood that has leaves is finally losing them. It has been interesting to watch this beech turn yellow, deepening to gold, then red and finally burgundy. The top is bare now, with just a raggedy frill about the bottom. If we get more rain, it will be bare like all the others.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A lazy day

I included this photo of Italian poppies because it is such a gray day. However, when I was out for a walk, I saw several dandelions, 2 plots of pansies, some phlox and some violas still blloming away. So bright on such a dull day. Did you know that dandelion comes from the French, dentes de lion. meaning lion's teeth, presumably for its outer row of petals?

Oh what a busy day, getting up late, having some lovely Rosy Earl Grey from Teas Etc., doing some genealogy, playing fetch-your-mousey with Ernie, just too busy for words. Trying a new tea.

Thankfully, my cold has abated and I can again taste things. I got out my samples and decided to try Upton's Ding Yang Dong Bei, a Chinese green tea. Don't you just love the name, it's very musical, reminds me of water falling over stones. They recommend 2 teaspoons per cup at 180 degrees for 3 min. I was surprised at the length of time, usually you are instructed to brew for only 2 minutes or less. The dry leaves are very pretty, about ½ inch long, flat and a nice green. They smell gently like newly dried grass, but very fresh.

I am anxious about brewing my tea too long, but I do and it seems ok. I brew a second cup for 4 minutes. The first cup is a very pale green and has a pleasant, almost sweet scent, sort of a cross between cooked green vegetable and perhaps a floral? The taste is gentle, slightly sweet, with an asparagus understory. Now to observe the wet leaves, which have retained their green color, although, after two brews they are getting pale. They are delightful, very clearly 2 young leaves and a bud, with almost no stem attached. The second cup is very pale and has little scent and a faint taste. I add it to the leftover of cup one and together they are very nice. I think next time I will use a bit less leaf.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gingering up Bowdoin College

The nose still doesn't know much, so I will continue to pass on some information and a tea review I have been saving for just such an occasion.

Bowdoin Collge, in Maine, is giving a course in the history of tea! Wowee kazowee! If you go to this link you'll read about it and see a video of the students doing a tea tasting. It's worth it.

If you are interested in attending tea events around the country or world, has them listed! They is part of, which has all sorts of information for tea people.

I am trying another of my stash of teabag teas. It is Tazo's Green Ginger. The ingredients are green tea, ginger, pear and lemon grass. When I opened the well wrapped bag, I was greeted with a wonderful smell I could not identify but it reminded me strongly of Chinese food – perhaps bamboo shoot with lemon. I brewed it at 180 for 2 minutes and it continued to smell very nice. The tea brew itself is a very good balance of flavors, not too gingery, with a warm, not tart flavor of lemon with a hint of sweetness. I think it would be ideal for those who want to drink green tea, but aren't sure they want to taste green tea. I also think it would be a pleasant accompaniment for milder Chinese food, like dumplings or scallion pancakes. Definitely a keeper.

The picture is that of a balcony in a small German church. I doubt we would be accused of sleeping through a service!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

I still can't taste things too well, so I will share some tea news with you and maybe a tea review I have on file. The first piece of news is the good folks at Golden Moon Teas have offered me some samples to review. I am thrilled, as I am beginning to really appreciate Oolongs, after some unpleasant experiences. Also, almost all of the reviews I have read about their teas have been positive. I think black tea will always have a special place in my heart, but the world of tea is so wide!

SerendipiTEA is re-publishing their book SerendipiTEA: the Varieties, Origins and Rituals of Tea , written by the company's co-founder Tomislav Podreka. I remember reading this when it was first published and it is a well-written, worthwhile book. It is being published by the Old English Tea House and will sell for $16. I couldn't find the company on line, but I did find the old edition at Amazon. So it is perhaps not out just yet.

If you are a big fan of teapots, you should check out the blog . Some of the most unusual ones I have ever seen can be found there. My two biggest questions are: Can they pour? And do they drip? I ask these from the perspective of much sad experience. I recently bought a very pretty teapot I hoped to be my new everyday large pot, but you could only fill it half-way or it would cascade all over everything! I have a number of pots that are lovely, pour well, but alas they drip all over! I do have some drip catchers, but after a while, they look rather disgusting. Why can't manufacturers make dripless pots? It is possible, I have the pots to prove it.

I am hoping for a teapot with violets on it for Christmas. I have managed to acquire 4 different violet cups and saucers and I would like a teapot to go with them. None of them match, so the pot doesn't need to either. My favorite is a handleless one, which in spite of not having a handle, doesn't seem to be that old. I was very fortunate that several years ago a friend was moving and gave me a large portion of her teacup collection. My favorites are ways the ones that feel so extra smooth. I am not sure why, but the china feels like satin against my skin. We are on a kick of “lightening our load” so some of the ones that are not particular favorites will probably go.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tea with Dorothy

I have a cold and everything tastes like library paste, so I'll just share a story about a dear friend, Dorothy Connelly, who loved tea. She is gone now, but she was a delight in many ways. She grew up with “old money” and was the only person I ever met who could peel and eat a banana using only her knife and fork, no fingers. She had lovely huge brown eyes, but her mother didn’t consider her either beautiful or brainy, like her sisters, [she could so the Sunday NY Times Crossword in pen in one sitting] so she was the one assigned to be “amiable”. Her attitude concerning housework was “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow,” one which I heartily endorse.
I truly admired her taking tea with children. Walter and Dorothy never had any, but they opened their home to the children of the neighborhood at tea time. She would make a large pot of tea in her best teapot, get out her porcelain teacups and saucers, add the sterling spoons, and the creamer and sugar bowl. These, along with some lovely treats, would all be put on a grand tray she would carry into the living room.
Soon, all the kids would arrive. They had to wash their hands and often their faces and maybe, comb their hair. Then they would be served tea and everyone would tell Walter and Dorothy about their day. They had to behave like ladies and gentlemen. Some of the smaller ones would usually play with Walter's hunting dog or listen to one of his tales about fishing or hunting. After an hour, they would all go home. Most of those children came for tea until they went to college or got jobs elsewhere. Whenever they were home, though, they arrived in time for tea.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Now, That's Chai

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. This morning there was mist rising from the river, wild geese were flying overhead, some headed for the South, others for local feeding grounds, i.e. farmers' cornfields. It's that time of year between harvest and snowfall when the leaves are gone, the weeds have died down and the “bones” of the land can be seen – the hidden swales and valleys, the smaller hillocks, the old trails you might walk on a good day such as this.

It is a time to think about cozy things, like spicy teas. Yesterday I panned a so-called chai, today I will praise one. I love spicy things and I especially love Indian food and drink. To me it so exotic, so complex that it is enthralling. I love their art, which is complex down to the smallest detail. I love the color and pattern of their saris.

I have noticed that our local grocers have begun carrying various types of chai. That is, spiced tea. Chai is the most recognizable Indian word for tea, so if you ask for “Chai tea” you are really asking for “tea tea”. It would correctly be called masala chai. Masala basically means mixture, usually of spices. However, for the vast majority of us, chai is used to denote this type of tea accented by certain spices. I have begun to collect various chai varieties, in hopes of finding a “regular”. I may have done that. I am a traditionalist in some ways. I want my chai to have Indian spices and remind me of the chai I have had with friends or in my favorite restaurants. I don't want a lot of added flavors and fruits. Even green tea seems too far from the original to be allowed, although Rooibos or some other caffeine free herb or tea may be acceptable, although I probably wouldn't drink it.

Indians, on the whole do not drink their most wonderful teas – they export them so the likes of you and me can enjoy them. Their masala chai is made from very ordinary tea bag tea or inexpensive CTC tea. I have read a lot of their recipes for masala chai which contain a number of spices, the most common being ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper and sometimes star anise. I am pleased to report that Tazo's Organic Chai contains them all, as well as black tea. That's it, tea and spices.

The teabags are wrapped individually and as you unwrap them, you are surrounded by their heady spicy scent. As you brew the tea with boiling water for 5minutes, the kitchen fills with it. My first sip of the plain tea is a bit of a disappointment, as the taste is a bit thin. Ah, wait a moment, chai needs milk, it needs sugar. I pour and stir and sip. Yes indeed, masala chai as the chai wallahs and my friend Raj intended, rich and full of depth, with a little zing of pepper to liven the tongue, and warm my tum. Not too spicy, not too weak, but all in balance and just right.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oh My, Not MY Chai

There are a couple of redesigned/new tea sites you might be interested in. The first is a more general site, having tea sets, filters, pots, teabags and some loose teas. It is aimed at the newer or average run of tea drinkers and can be found at It is not an online store, but directs you to stores to purchase the item you want. They compare types and prices. The companion site is for people who prefer loose tea and that is all there is - loose tea. There are several categories and subcategories and again, this is not a store, but allows you to compare prices and select a store. It can be found at They do say they are newly reorganized and that they will be adding to their selections.

There aren't a lot of teas I hate right off the bat, but I have found one. I realize others may love it and that is okay. Awhile ago I won a certificate to Teavana and bought some teas, a cup and a teapot with it. The cup and teapot are great. I haven't been superbly happy with their teas and today's I think is downright awful.

We'll start with the name – Samurai Chai Mate – Samurai is Japanese, Chai is Indian and Mate is South American. We generally refer to Chai as the spiced Indian tea drink. So that confusion of names put me off right away. Then there was the ingredients list: green mate, Rooibos, cinnamon, pineapple and papaya bits, orange peel, lemon grass, coriander, cardamom and almond flakes. A bit lengthy and not too chai sounding, to me. Then there was the smell, which was peculiar, I really couldn't identify it. It also looked peculiar, with lots of tiny bits and some longish pieces. Brewing did not help the smell. But I persevered! I had 3 big swallows and threw it out. I think it is horrible, from beginning to end. The reason I think so is that everything is just too confused, nothing stands out, nothing is really blended well together. It's like those times when I clean out the fridge to make soup and don' t think through how it all goes together - too many things to really be good.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Elaine's Blend

One of the many samples I bought from Harney’s this fall was Elaine’s Blend. This tea was created by and sold in honor of Elaine Cogan, “one of the early founders of the modern tea revolution.” One of the things I like about smallish or family companies are these little tidbits they include about their teas. It is a black tea blend, but I don’t know which ones.

The dry leaf had no discernible scent and the leaves were, of course, a mix of greenish, black with touches of gold. The wet leaves gave off a pleasant tea scent with a whiff of leather. They were very mixed, with some appearing chopped and some small whole ones. The tea tasted of very pleasant cooked vegetable with a hint of old, sun-warmed wood. It was a pleasant tea, but not exceptional. I may get more, however, as there are lots of times when all you want is a pleasant cup that doesn't require anything from you.

My husband and I have been trying to brew tea a different way, We got this brand new 4 cup drip coffee maker and decided to do tea in it. We tried some huge ice tea bags – even he thought it was awful. We tried some smaller ones. He thought it was passable, I was polite. We tried some of that enormous, overbought stash of CTC tea from the Indian market. Almost okay, for morning tea, for someone else doing it reluctantly, on a not very good day anyway, on a remote hill in Turkestan, on.... Well, you get the picture. I am all for scouring it out and using it for coffee. He wants to try some more. Dear Friends, do not try this at home. Even so, we are still married.

Bits of news: I read a number of tea blogs every day and I just saw the cutest tea pots ever, from a very serious tea merchant – the Imperial Tea Court. Scoot over there and check out their blog and the pots. Http:// My favorites are the lucky mice, although I wouldn't turn down the other two. I also was reading the UK Tea Council blog and they said that 98% of people use milk in their tea, but only 30% use sugar. I wonder if that is true in the US as well.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Let's have a nice cuppa tea

How about a cuppa of celery? I'll bet the vast majority of us don't think about celery much. We all have it in the fridge and we use it to add crunch to things or as one of those veggies that add some flavor to a sauce or stuffing, along with many others. It's one of those standbys with dips or to make us feel full when we are on a diet. A few of us may braise it as a vegetable on its own, but that's about the extent of its use. Certainly no one drinks it!
Well, that has changed. A group of us from the Association of Tea Bloggers heard about a study of green tea flavors and with Jason Walker leading, we decided to try 10 of the flavors and blog about them. Last week, Katrina from Tea Pages blogged about asparagus. This week I did celery.

I used McCormack's Celery Flakes, 1.5 grams – about a teaspoon to 8 ounces of water at 212 degrees, brewed for three minutes, then strained into a cup. Just as I would do a cup of tea. Meanwhile, I set up 5 green teas I had on hand to compare with it. I brewed them all according to their particular needs – on average 1 teaspoon for about 2 minutes at 170 degrees. One, Celestial Seasonings Authentic Green tea, I brewed a little longer. The other 4 were: Twinings Gunpowder Green; Teavana's Dao Ren Mao Feng Green; Andrews and Dunham Dragonwell and Special Teas China Fine Lung Ching.
The way I tested them was to have a big sip of celery, wait a little bit and then have a sip of tea, to make sure I remembered the taste of celery. One thing I discovered is that celery flakes treated like tea are actually pretty good. By the time I finished the cup of celery I was surprised to find all sorts of nuances in it and really beginning to appreciate it! It was all very very interesting.
Of the five, only two teas had any celery taste. Andrews and Dunham had the merest hint and Teavana's Dao Ren Mao Feng had a definite hint. At the end, I decided to put all the teas together in one pot, minus the celery tea. It was a pleasant brew, but the biggest surprise was, it had a real hit of celery. Not overwhelmingly so and I may not have noticed it if I weren't doing this experiment, but definitely there.
Being pretty new to green teas, I am very glad to have done this – the whole experiment is opening up a new world to me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I guess this is the week for corrections.

Yesterday I received a communique from the people who do the press releases for the Eight Cranes tea steeper which I mentioned in my post Oct 20. Apparently the company had not told them the tea steeper should NOT have boiling water poured into it. Also, it will indeed break if it is dropped. I have gone back to that post and amended it and now you can read it here. The double wall construction is solely to keep you from burning your hands.

If you can't use boiling water and I would probably only use it for black tea to travel, guess I won't be buying one.

Yogi tea and cookies

I didn't really have any time for tea tasting today, but I went to my book club and got to try something new to me anyway. It was Yogi Tea's Mayan Cocoa Spice. The list of ingredients took up about half of the back of the teabag wrapping, so we'll just say there was chocolate, lots of spices, vanilla and stevia. I couldn't find tea or rooibos in the list, so I guess the roasted chicory was the tisane base. I assume the Mayan is a reference to the South American indigenous empire's use of chocolate, which was then taken to Europe by explorers
Right off the bat, I loved the smell – it was just like the dough for my great-aunt Ettie's molasses cookies, a heady mix of the round comfort of cinnamon and clove with the sharpness of dark molasses. Aunt Ettie was the only one who made these huge cookies just right. She always baked them at 500 degrees and stood in front of the oven waiting to grab them out the instant they were done. I have the recipe and I have made them a few times. They taste really good, but not like hers – I haven't had the nerve to push the heat up to 500.
Back to the tea – it smelled divine and tasted the same. Very sharply spicy and warming. The flavor was nicely rounded, but I could discern very little chocolate, despite that being one of the dominant ingredients. Perhaps the chocolate was what gave it such a rounded flavor. Unfortunately, I found the stevia made it too sweet and the flavor lingered in my mouth long after I was done with it. Probably small quibbles, but there they are.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

French tea and a correction

I am afraid I led you astray yesterday. Keemun/Qiman/Qihong tea is not old. I was developed about 1875 in the Southern Anhui Province of China. It is about 5,000 years too new to be considered ancient. Thanks to Jason for correcting me.

There are three [that I know of] major French tea companies, Hediard, Mariage Freres, and Dammann Freres. For many years, it was next to impossible to find them in this country and importing them carried a heavy postal tariff. They are now available, although they are expensive. The easiest way to find a source is to Google them and compare prices.

I have some Dammann Freres Framboise that I bought from the Seattle Teacup. If French is not your language, that is Dammann Brothers Raspberry Tea. And it certainly is. The dry leaves smell of the freshest berries, with a good whiff of the leaf thrown in. The tea leaves are black with bits of gold, mostly small, with a few long twisted ones thrown in for interest.
After 4 minutes at 212, the leaves brew up into a dark reddish gold, still with that distinct fresh raspberry scent. The liquid tea does not disappoint, as it tastes of the freshest of berries, eaten off the canes, in the sun on a June day. I had a bit of sugar with it and I thought it made the tea terrible. I did not try it with milk, as I was enjoying it too much as it. I would definitely recommend this for you berry lovers.

Someday I hope I can return to Paris and have tea at all of these famous companies. Then I will go to the famous chocolate shops. If I walk to all of them, I should be okay. If not, I shall be very very round.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lavender Fields Forever

Today is a wonderfull gift. It is warm - up in the 60's, which is
certainly unusual for around here in November - and an almost
shirt-tail cousin dropped in and we had a good gab about our mutual Swiss ancestors. One of his friends over there said that the
difference between our two countries is their society is based on trust and ours is based on mistrust. Sadly, I can see his point. However, on to happier things, like tea.

I’ve said before that I really love lavender. It has a lovely scent, some of the plants are really beautiful and it has remarkable calming properties, often used to help people sleep. There are at least 2 major groupings of scent, one that is more along the camphorous line and one that is sweetly floral. The latter is used in perfumes, oils and in cooking.

All this is in preface to tasting Lavender Dreams from Teavana, part of my winnings in a drawing. It is a white tea blended with Lavender, candied violets and flavoring. The dry tea is quite pale, with a few brighter touches of the violets, making it a very girly tea. The scent is delicate, reminding me of old lavender sachets. I brewed it at about 170 for just a few minutes. As one might expect, it had a very delicate, but very pleasant lavender taste. I could discern no hint of the white tea base and I am not sure it mattered, as it was not the best of whites, which are made only from the unopened bud. It is a very nice gentle tea, to serve to your best friend on a cozy afternoon, perhaps with tiny scones and some Devonshire cream.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bali Calling

I have a bunch of teas I keep for my die-hard teabag friends and I thought I would try some over the next few weeks. I need to know if they’re swill and should go out with the compost or if I can keep serving them. I kind of like Roastaroma, it’s pleasant and nostalgic, as I said.

Today I tried another Celestial Seasoning offer, Bali Black Raspberry. Black raspberries are my favorite summer fruit, along with regular raspberries. I have always enjoyed Celestial's packaging and the sayings they include. They are very colorful and relate well to the tea inside. This tea has the ubiquitous hibiscus, blackberry leaves, black raspberries, natural flavorings and raspberries. I have never understood the inclusion of blackberry or raspberry leaves. I’ll ask Celestial and see what they say.

The dry leaves give off a definite black raspberry smell, which is pleasant and of course, fruity. Unfortunately, for my taste, the flavor was too much, coming across as soapy or perhaps what perfume might taste like. I am, as you know, not a fruit tea person, so that is a factor. Mulch pile. It is too bad, as I love the smell.
No, I’ll put it in the potpourri I am making.
As you know. or should, if you don't, tea absorbs scents and flavors easily, which is why we are aways encouraged to keep them in airtight, light restricting containers. The best are either the foil packets they sometimes come in, metal or pottery canisters. Please, please don't put them in plastic. Over time they will absorb any odor or flavor present and taste awful.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How do I Love Yunnan Gold

How do I love thee, let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my [taste] can reach. My apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whose sonnet I just borrowed. I am referring to my all time, always beloved Yunnan. I love it in all its forms, but the height, as far as I am concerned in Yunnan Gold, which is almost exclusively the buds, sometimes with a few first leaves.

This particular Gold is from Adagio, part of my summer/fall buying spree. It is pure gold, too, with a dry scent of a newly filled haymow. This is a wonderful scent to me, taking me back to my childhood when I would sneak into the hay barn in the evenings and just smell that wondrous odor of newly dry hay. It was the smell of sunshine and blue skies.

The brewing tea continues that with what I can only describe as a good fresh Golden Yunnan smell. As it is the buds, there is much less wood or spice to it, it is on the delicate side. The liquor is a lovely golden green amber, as opposed to a ruddy amber and the scent has shifted to include honey and fruit. The taste is that of timothy – a kind of hay, which has a long stem that one can chew as one walks through the fields. Along with it is a lingering spiciness with just the tiniest touch of what I call “green milk”, the milk from cows newly turned out to Spring grasses. Having said that, I have to say it is not the very best Yunnan I have had, but it is very good and I am glad I got lots. The taste lingers, filling my mouth, teasing my tongue. How very nice.

Clearly this description may seem very foreign to many of you. But we can only relate taste and scent to the things we have tasted or smelled. My background is primarily rural or garden oriented, so these are my reference points.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tea estates, Oolong and a Book

That's me - rocky. Actually it is early Roman ruins in front of the Palace in the middle of Vienna.

Did you know that there are 2 tea growing estates in Great Britain? I had heard of the first one, the Tregothnan estate in Cornwall. The second one I discovered when I looked at a blog by the Pembroke Tea Company in Wales. They have started several small tea gardens scattered throughout Pembrokeshire and the gardens have begun to produce. They expect to be in full production by 2021. You can even order tea from them now, containing about 12% of their own leaves at .

Several days ago I was talking about some confusion regarding Teavana’s Six Summits Oolong tea, which I really liked. I was adding my bit on Steepster and saw that it was flavored with raspberries, which I didn’t perceive at all. A kind woman from Teavana has cleared this up for me. They very recently started adding raspberries to the tea, which was not the case when I bought it. In my opinion this is ruining a good thing, although I think the raspberries will go with this Oolong.

I found a new tea book at the library. Well, new to me. The Tea Drinker’s Handbook was written by Francois-Xavier Delmas et al. It is again, a French publication with many nice pictures. The authors cover a great deal more of the biological/scientific side of tea, such a growing conditions, soil type, the physiology of taste, etc. Nevertheless, it is not boring at all, but really informative. They give the clearest descriptions of processing the 5 main types of tea that I have seen. They finish with a list of the 50 best teas with really clear directions on their preparation, having already given very clear verbal and pictorial directions for preparing teas in the Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Western styles. For me, one of the best parts was a “Tea-taster’s vocabulary”, as I am often at a loss as how to describe something I have tasted. I doubt that I would buy this book, as it is quite expensive. However, I just found it at Amazon for about $15. So, maybe I will buy it.
Today is not a tea tasting day, I just want old comforts, like my Hu Kwa Lapsang Souchong. Such lovely stuff.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Meditations with Grenadine

Today’s tea has grenadine in it, but I couldn’t remember what that was. Back when I thought I needed to impress people, I remember buying it and feeling oh, so sophisticated. It’s a good thing we grow up.

According to Wikipedia, grenadine is a syrup made from pomegranates. It is often used as the “cherry” in cherry cokes. Today it was used, along with some vanilla in my tea, The Tea Table’s Monks’ Blend. Supposedly the monks [don’t know who they are] blended this with Ceylon tea to keep them awake during long meditations.

Upon opening the package I was hit with a very strong fruity smell that seemed ultra sweet and was off-putting. It’s taken me days to finally taste this tea because of that. The tea is basic black enlivened with some bright gold flowers. I brewed a teaspoon for 4 min at boiling. By then, the scent had softened to a mellow, softly sweet fruitiness. The liquor was very dark. Sad to say, I thought this tea tasted awful, primarily medicinal, with a sweet edge. I could detect no vanilla and no taste of the tea itself. Not one I will be buying again.

In tea news, The Republic of Tea is coming out with seven new Rooibus flavors, plus a bunch of other new herbal flavors, if that is your cup of tea. I have purchased some of their black teas in the past and found them to be modestly good. I rarely drink herbals, so I really can’t say much about them, but the plain rooibus I tried I thought was good for what it was. I don’t mean to sound nasty or anything, I just have little experience in this area of tea.
How do you like the fancy doo-hickies on those horses? They are actually functional, helping to keep flies out of their eyes and ears.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nostalgia with Roastaroma

I have made an interesting discovery with regards to tea. I have been observing myself and my appreciation of teas and the nuances I sense in them. On the days that I really relax with my tea, when I give it my full attention, I appreciate it more, I seem to find more in it, the subtleties come out more, and the whole experience just takes on added depth. Now the trick will be to actually slow down and give myself over to taking tea.

Having said that, I have to admit Tuesdays are kind of a whirl and I usually just have coffee, my husband’s drink of choice, and what’s available at the all morning meeting we go to. The alternative there is some really old teabags. Morning is not a time for me to make tea, as it would likely end up on the floor, unless I have the time to really think about what I am doing.

When I came home today I wanted neither coffee nor tea, but I spied the box of Celestial Seasonings Roastaroma that I had bought in a fit of nostalgia. It seemed just the thing. For many of us on the edges of the Hippie movement of the late 60s and early 70s, brews like Roastaroma can call up the whole natural foods, natural way of life, free love, etc time. It was coffee for those who really wanted coffee but didn’t drink it because of the principles of the movement – coffee was way too establishment. It basically allowed us to pretend we were hipper than we were.

Today, the very scent of Roastaroma takes me back to the health food stores and restaurants of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where that phase of my life ended. Roastaroma is an herbal brew of roasted chicory, barley and carob, spiced with cinnamon, all spice and Chinese star anise. Roasted chicory and barley are often used as coffee substitutes or additions. The tisane is brewed one hefty [5gm] bag per cup for 4-6 minutes in boiling water. I did 5. As you might expect, it is a warm, spicy, roasty, toasty flavor. It is not subtle, it tastes just like its ingredients. A little harsh, a little strong, plenty sweet on its own and it is very agreeable over all.
Just a reminder, herb “teas” are not tea, as they do not come from the Camellia Sinensis bush. They are rightfully called “tisanes” to save on confusion. Most tea merchants who carry them do call them herbal teas because they have been known as that for a long time and who would want to be frou-frou enough to call them tisanes?
That lovely bush is a 5 foot tall rosemary bush in southern Italy. I am soooooooo jealous. If mine make it to 18 inches and live I think I am a master gardener.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Russian Country

Sometimes I take little trips around the web to see what I can see about
tea. I was on the PG Tips site and found a very funny video ad. Their
site is . On the left, click on Playtime to get to the video. I hope you will find it amusing, if not hilarious, as I did.

I also happened upon a site for women called Bella Online. The tea portion is There are a number of discussion topics for tea, as well as a host of other information ranging from sewing to auto repair. I believe it is a fairly new site

On to the drinking of tea - Today's adventure is Harney and Sons Russian Country. As I opened the packet, there was a very strong smoky smell, that wonderful characteristic Lapsang Souchong blast. The leaves were quite small and, of course, black. I brewed it for a standard 3.5 minutes in boiling water. The scent of the brew had morphed into something like that of the tang of horse harness. The liquor was a fairly dark amber and at first tasted like licorice, of all things. As it cooled, more of the smokiness came out and even more so with the addition of a bit of milk. However, I didn't feel this really was a particularly good tea. There was a lack of clarity in taste and smell and otherwise, it was on the blah side.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hissy fits and Red roses

Man, you have never experienced a hissy fit until you have four cats mad at you! Yesterday was Halloween and I always keep my kitties in from about 3 pm until morning. Well, they said! Let’s dump over the wastebasket. No, let’s pull out all the paper from the recycling. No, let’s all scream at once. Let’s chew the plants. I have it, climb the plant we broke last week! No! NO! I will have kitty stew for supper!

We gave out an enormous 5 gallon pot of candy and that only covered the first hour of festivities! The cutest costume was a kangaroo, complete with enormous tail and baby roo. Very clever. I do like to see the little ones - they are so excited to be out. But I am just as happy it’s over and I can go buy half-price chocolate. That IS the real Halloween for grown-ups, right?

All that has nothing to do with tea, but a lot to do with the need for “a nice cup of tea and a sit down”. A nice soothing cup of chamomile would be just the thing..

Today’s tea was had out and it was just a pleasant pot of Red Rose – a brand many of us grew up on. Nothing to rave about, just something warm on a cold day