Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Up above the world so high

A mountainside on the Rhine. Not quite as high as the ones in Nepal, but a mountain. Mountains and hills make me happy.

Ah, Nepal. A country you don't think of often. Great high mountains, sherpas, snow and tea. What? Tea? Yup. In the foothills of those mountains, and Golden Moon has some in their sample pack I purchased earlier. It is very good. Very similar to a Darjeeling, which it is close to, but heavier somehow. This tea is called Nepalese Afternoon Tea. It is an organic black, which I appreciate. I brewed it for about 3 minutes just below boiling. It smells lovely, with a deep honey aroma, set off by sandalwood. I really liked this, it was so smooth. The tea tasted of honey and florals, with a heavy nectar like quality to it, although I wouldn't really call it sweet. It didn't feel like just water in your mouth. The pleasantness lasted quite a while, too. A definite keeper. On Dec. 13 I wrote about another Nepalese tea, which you may care to look up, just for comparison.

It is getting close to the end of one year and the beginning of another. No surprise there, it happens quite often. I always think the beginning of the year should be at a different time of seasons, like the beginning of school in September or the beginning of Spring. But here we are, anyway. I am looking forward to the real beginning of my year – when I plant the first seeds for the garden. This year we are using grow lights and I am excited to see how they will work for us. Our windows are too crowded with plants we brought in to use for seedlings. I am going to experiment with some herb seeds for the house first, before I do the veggies. A lot of catalogs have already arrived, so when our company leaves, I shall begin to dream in earnest. My only fear is certain four-footed ones of us either digging up or eating the seedlings.
Earlier I mentioned that I appreciate organic tea. I feel we should try to be as organic and fair trade as we can. It can be difficult. Organic is often more expensive and sometimes it doesn't look as pretty, but it is better for both land and people. My cousin, a dairy farmer near Utica, NY has recently gotten his organic certification and I know it is a long hard road, but he feels better about his care of his farm and his animals. I am not 100% organic, I confess. If there is a tea I really, really like, I will buy it. Certainly a lot I am sampling is not organic, but in my personal purchases, I try, just as I try to buy locally when it is possible.

We are having more company, so I won't be writing for a few days. Enjoy the New Year's festivities, stay as safe and as sane as you can be

Monday, December 28, 2009

Not Ginger-Peachy

It is a good thing we celebrated the sun yesterday, because it is gone for a few days, with snow to replace it. However, in this monastery, on that day, the sun was with us.

Ginger, peaches, tea, how can you go wrong? Sadly, I will tell you. True to my campaign to broaden my horizons I bought some Ginger Peach Tea from The Tea Smith. As soon as I opened it I knew I was in trouble. There was that familiar “chemical” smell I hate underlying the peach and ginger. You might not notice it, I did. The leaves were all quite small, a mix of brown and black, with pieces of what I think was peach in them. I brewed it for 4 minutes at 212. It brews up to an attractive darkish red brown. The smell has shifted to a gentle ginger with peach overtones. However, there's only the merest hint of either ginger or peach in the plain tea and the tea itself is nothing great. However, with the addition of some sugar, the peach comes out quite a bit and there is a small bite of ginger, if not much taste. For one who really dislikes sugar in their tea, that was too much for what I got out of the cup. If you like your tea sweet, you might like this one, as it did taste fine with the sugar, just not for me.

On a brighter note, I just got the monthly newsletter from the tea lady over at http://www.bellaonline.com/. It was mostly an article about “the Original T-bag Designs”. This is a South African company that was started in about 2000 to help poverty stricken South African women to get out of their dire straights. They use used teabags which they dry, press and paint to make beautiful articles to sell. They are now a 125 person collective which has enabled some women to buy their own homes. You can go to http://www.originaltbagdesigns.com/ to order some of their merchandise or to one of the many retail stores listed to see them first hand. Their goods are beautifully done, one of a kind and make wonderful gifts or something unique for yourself. There is also an address in New Jersey where you can send your used teabags, minus the tea, of course.

Keep an eye open for – My Favorite Cup – a ½ hour TV show about coffee and tea, due to begin airing March 1 on Colours TV [channels 9407 and 9396 on Dish networks] and Capitol Broadcasting Company [primarily in the South] The first broadcast is all about tea. I am certainly looking forward to seeing what it will be like, but since I am neither Southern nor have Dish TV, I may have to wait a while. If any of you see it, please share with me!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy!

Since today is Sunday, I thought a pulpit shot would be good. And... wonder of wonders, the sun is out! When one lives in the great Northeast, one celebrates the sun after November 1st.

I am always up for trying a new Earl Grey. It is one of my forever favorites. I have a new one from the Tea Spot in Denver, the Earl of Grey. I am buying samples from merchants new to me as I felt I was in a rut. The dry tea is pretty - brownish leaves with some blue and gold petals and bits of citrus. It smells very strongly of citrus with some bergamot. I hope it is not another of those heavy “Russian-style” Earl Greys.

The tea brews up to a very dark red. The scent modifies to more of an Earl Grey with citrussy overtones. The taste is reminiscent of a crème Earl Grey, with a hint of vanilla and a sweet floral taste. That is, it has the taste of sweet, without being in anyway really sweet or cloying. Altogether a very nice tea, not at all heavy, medium delicate, I would say.

If you don't know, bergamot is a citrus fruit native to Asia but now coming mostly from southern Italy. It is more sour than a grapefruit, but less than a lemon. The oil from the peel has a lovely scent and aside from its use in tea, it is used in perfumery. It is not the same as the garden plant we refer to as bergamot, monarda or bee balm. They are completely different families.

Y'all know I have cats and must occasionally speak of them. Ernie loves this tea and had to have some in a saucer if I wanted some for myself and didn't want a mess. He and his brother Bert are currently fighting because Ernie was so crass as to interrupt Bert's toe-cleaning. One does not interrupt Bertie's baths or naps unless one wants a good nose scratch. This from the most determinedly ill-behaved kitten I've ever had!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tea on a gray day

I hope all of you had a lovely Christmas Day.We did. Quiet, but very pleasant, enlivened by watching one of our favorite "Brit Coms", "The Vicar of Dibley". The high art of wackiness, as only the Brits can do. We don't generally have tea on Christmas as we have a long tradition of kaffee mit schlage, which is coffee with sweetened whipped cream. It is almost a meal in itself. However, by afternoon, I was ready for some plainish tea.

I chose some from Golden Moon, (such a good name for a company, makes you feel comfortable right off the bat.) I am digging into my sample box I got a week or so ago and I'm trying their Darjeeling, described as an exceptional single garden FTGFOP1S. I assume the S stands for Spring. It has a lovely floral scent and I brewed it the usual way. I may have over brewed it a tad, as it seemed astringent at first, but then that seemed to morph into that slight puckeriness you sometimes get from walnuts. There was a nice fruitiness to it, but I wouldn't really call it muscatel. I'm not sure it was as fresh as it could have been. It was a pleasant tea, but not really great. I think if something comes from a single garden, the company ought to tell you which one right away.

Did you get any nice tea goodies as gifts? I got 2 teapots - both alike. One I will return and get another one I've had my eye on.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Oolong

This is a very old creche scene in a very old church in Germany.

Our poor guest from South Africa will not be visiting as he had spent 2.5 days waiting in various airports only to have to return to Atlanta. For his next attempt, they called him 3 days earlier and said his flight was canceled! So I thought I might as well share some tea with you before the next lot of company arrives

Thanks to tea swaps I have been getting to try a number of Oolongs and I am finding myself enraptured by them. One of the ones I recently got was Summit Tea's Jin Xuan Golden Lily Oolong. This comes from the Fujian Province of China, which the company says yields a more robust and fuller bodied tea than it would from Taiwan. I don't know enough to tell and I don't have the Taiwanese version to compare it to. So it will just have to stand or fall on its own merits.

The dry leaves were small tightly rolled balls with the wonderful scent of a good baked custard or crème brulee. I rinsed it off with nearly boiling water and then let it steep for 2 minutes for the first infusion. The second was for 2.5 minutes with slightly cooler water. The brewing tea smelled of lilacs along with the custard. It tasted custardy and of vanilla and lilac. As it cooled it tasted more like baked vegetable, almost like asparagus. The second infusion was so mild there was almost no taste, just a very faint floral. Put together, the resulting combo didn't taste much different from the first. I may order a sample and try this some more, as it is intriguing.
With many Oolongs and with other teas with big leaves, I find you really have to play around with quantity to get the brew you like best. I brewed all I had, but I might have done differently if I had had more.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas blessings


This Primal Word
is not cramped in tombs
or trapped in hoary creeds,
but moves untamed, free
to raise up prophets
from barren wombs.

This Living Word
shapes its own law,
forever saving
a fractious world
and preparing ways
untrod before.

This Loving Word
seeks a new-age Eve,
graces young Mary
with a task and Gift
the strong and proud
could not conceive.
© B.D. Prewer 1993

May the God who came as a baby grow in your hearts this season and in all the coming years. May your celebration of Christmas be rich in the things that matter most and may you find peace to share with those around you. Let there be peace so that all mothers and fathers everywhere can raise their children well, without fear and without war.

May Hanukkah have been blessed, Kwanzaa a time of rejoicing and all the other celebrations of this time of year be filled with special meaning for each of you.

Affectionately, Marlena

Yuzu Oolong in the snow

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Not that there is anything I can do about it. I love snow and I love having it cover up all my garden sins, but there is a big problem with it. Our poor guest, a young man from South Africa is stuck in Atlanta airport [aka the hub of the universe]. He got stuck in Charlotte Saturday due to the blizzard and now he is stuck again. He is most unhappy and so are we. In the meantime, I am going to review a delightful tea, whilst I drink another one – Simpson and Vail's China Keemun.

One of the samples I received in a tea swap was Naiveteas Yuzo Oolong. This is an Ali Shan Oolong from the high mountains of Taiwan infused with Pomolo peel (Yuzo). A pomolo is a citrus fruit native to South East Asia. They grow up to 4 pounds apiece with a very thick peel. The dry tea was relatively large balls with some golden strands and a very strong citrus scent, sharp almost. As it brewed, the citrus became less sharp with a floral overtone. I rinsed it first, with almost boiling water and then brewed it for 2 minutes. The first infusion tasted of a gentle citrus with vanilla and an understory of mild astringency, piquancy, really. There was also a bit of sweetness.
The second infusion of 2.5 minutes seemed to meld all the flavors even more, with the citrus note hanging in. As the tea cooled, the citrus and astringency were lost, with a lovely, almost heavy floral sweetness coming to the fore. Surprisingly, my husband, who is not an Oolong fan really liked this tea, especially when the first and second brews were mixed. I will buy some of this. I already like Ali Shan and this is a very nice variant.
Today's picture was taken off my computer's wallpaper offerings, as it is appropriate to the day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

HOBnobbing with the cozies

The nice folks at Thistledown Cozies asked if members of the Association of Tea Bloggers would be interested in trying and reviewing their new teapot cozies, called HOBs. I said I would and expected to receive 1, but I got 2, along with a nifty little tea wallet. When I first saw them, I thought, eeuw, don't like the colors. Then I immediately spilled tea on it and it didn't show or stain, and I thought, hmm, there's some method here. Actually, the Thistledown folks had been to the big World Tea Expo in Las Vegas this year and discovered the new tea drinkers – young women and MEN - were not interested in their very feminine tea cozies. I have two of them and they are fem, but they are also wonderful, as the spout and handle both stick out from the kind I have, so you don't burn your fingers.

They thought they should design a cozy that had a more universal appeal, both in form and color, so now we have the HOB. The original hob, by the way, was a shelf in the back of the fireplace and then the back burner on a wood or coal stove where you would keep your teakettle warm, every ready to pour out a “cuppa”. When I was growing up we still had a big wood stove and it was the best thing – always warm water, you could burn your bits of trash, keep your mittens, kittens, dogs, and boots dry and warm, all sorts of uses. We got rid of it the week before a horrendous ice storm that left us without power for over a week.

I have now used both HOBs and I love them! They keep the tea warm, the handle and spout cool enough to touch, they don't stain, and if you are a guy, they look like a football or soccer ball when they are strapped together. Personally I would like better colors, to my taste. My only real complaint is that for some of my very short spouted pots, I need to be careful when I pour, but then, I should be anyway, right? Oh, they are also very washable, I washed and dried them both and they were fine.

The tea wallet is a neat little gizmo with six pockets in it, to carry your own purchased or homemade tea bags and packets of sweetener. You then fold it up, snap it and tuck it in your pocket or purse. Very handy if you want to take tea traveling with you in a small space and without those glamorous plastic baggies.

To check all these nifty items out, go to http://www.thistledownshop.com/ and see for yourself.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Earl gets goofed again.

In case you've lost track, Christmas is getting very close. We are getting ready for two lots of much anticipated company, so this may be my last post for a bit. To add to the fun, our car needs transmission work and I
can't go much over 40. So, I'll be here when I can. In the meantime, take some time each day to sit down, have a cup of tea and just relax. We too often let ourselves get crazed and 10-30 minutes to refresh will do wonders for us all. Just think - in 5 years, none of this will even be remembered, let alone important.

I have been thinking about blended or flavored teas lately. To me, each element should be distinctive and harmonize well with the other flavors or the base tea to which the flavor adjuncts are added. Sadly this is often not the case and the results can range from just off to being too similar to other teas or falling far short of the mark.

Simpson and Vail's Summer Time Earl Grey is just such a tea. They say it has a light, smooth, refreshing peach taste, with subtle undertones of Earl Grey. So subtle that, other than a brief whiff of EG scent, the Earl seems to be missing completely. The peach tastes and smells more like that ill-defined “berry” and as it cooled it began to taste a bit like crayons. It is downright unpleasant cold. It is somewhat sweet, light and smooth, but fails to deliver anything else.

By the way. I mentioned I got the Republic of Tea catalog a few days ago. In it is a gingko leaf tea trivet. Swoon. I love gingko leaves. If I get money for Christmas, that is definitely a consideration.
Another “by the way” if you need a simple new treat for Christmas, look up “saltine cracker candy” on Google. It is very easy – takes about 15 minutes, and tastes like chocolate coated toffee. Just be very watchful so you don't burn the sugar or especially yourself. It really is tasty.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A good week

What a great week, a new book and now Fresh Cup has arrived, along with a catalog from the Republic of Tea. I usually only buy their stuff as gifts, although I did get a very nice Yunnan from them for Christmas last year. One of the nice things about them is they always include a sample with the catalog. This one is Comfort and Joy, which I did not like, but I will pass it on to someone else.

I am trying Adagio's Yunnan Noir today. It smells wonderfully of the very best tobacco before I brew it and then of tobacco and bracken, with a touch of dried corn silk and fresh wash on the line as it brews. It is a very attractive tea, crinkly and rolled, in a combination of brown, black and gold to enliven the combo. I brewed it my standard 3 minutes, 212, watching the time, as Yunnans can get bitter if you go much past this. It's a great tea for sniffing on a dull day. But I'd best get on to the taste.

This doesn't seem to be the best year for Yunnans, none of the ones I have had have been top-flight and from what I've been reading, that seems to be true with everyone who writes about them. That is one of the adventures of tea, like all good things to eat or drink, it is dependent on many variables and one must take the bitter with the sweet, as when it is sweet, it is marvelous. This is a case in point. It is unmistakably a Yunnan, earthy in a good way, mouth filling but missing some of the great notes of spice. I am not sure how to describe a “Yunnan” but once you have it, you can tell that is is not a Darjeeling or Assam or Ceylon. I can sometimes confuse Assam and Ceylon and those from Nilgiri. For me this Yunnan seems to have an almost herbaceous quality, not green, but more a browned sort, with a pleasant metallic note to it. It is a very smooth tea and I like it. It's good, but just not great.
Don't forget the Steepster contest http://www.steepster.com/ You will be amazed at what's on offer!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hurry, Hurry, Hurry

Steepster www.steepster.com is having a super contest with something like $800 worth of tea stuff as the prize. This includes one of the most interesting teapots I've seen. Just go there and sign up for it - it's just a drawing so there's not much you have to do.

While you are there, check out the site. It's nifty site for rating teas. Most ratings are brief, unlike my wordy blog. So if you want the short version of me, there I am. You can sign up to join for free and read lots and lots and lots of tea reviews, participate in discussions, keep track of teas in you cupboard,etc. It's a fun site and it's free.

New Tea Book, New Keemun

I just received a new tea book, my favorite thing. It is written by Roy Fong of the Imperial Tea Court store. Since I pre-ordered mine, it is even signed. The Great Teas of China is part memoir, part a discussion of the teas Roy feels are the best. I have only had time to look through it very briefly, but it looks very interesting. What I have read I have thoroughly enjoyed. It would make a great gift for someone you know who loves Chinese tea. It is wonderful for me, as I am only beginning to explore this vast area. I have gotten especially fond of some of the green teas. . Please see www.imperialtea.com or http://camelliasinesisblog.blogspot.com for more on this book or how to order. Today, however, I am going to talk about a black tea.

Chinese Keemun tea was first processed about 1875 – a relative newcomer to Chinese teas. My sample comes from Simpson and Vail, part of my latest order. The dry leaves are small and very black. It has a pleasant fresh roast corn scent and I brewed it for about 4 minutes at 212. The first sips run right to the back and sides of my tongue. It is an earthy, coppery taste, that changes frequently as it cools, going through a phase of strong dark fruits, almost like prunes, but not sweet. It ends with a sharp floral taste. What an adventure! A very good tea. http://www.svtea.com/

I think the very good to great teas are like that – every cup is an adventure. It is less so with many of the straightforward black teas, but with some Darjeelings, certainly with Oolongs and greens, there is a lot of flavor nuance with every cup, you never really know where you are going or where you will end up!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Stormy weather

I love to go Christmas caroling and we were going to go out with the church tonight, but I don't think anyone will go, the weather is so awful. We were supposed to have rain, ice pellets, freezing rain, sleet and snow, all in this one poor day. Not even the cats, those great outdoor lovers, will go out beyond the end of the porch roof. I guess I'll stay in and have some nice tea from Nepal.

Nepal is a small landlocked country, south of China and north of the Darjeeling and Assam tea growing regions of northeastern India. It is the world's newest republic, with its first president sworn in in July of 2008. Geographically, Nepal has both low lying humid, hot areas, like Assam and the Himalayan Mountains. It is these mountains which are of interest, as this is where today's tea was grown and processed.

Simpson and Vail http://www.svtea.com/ my old standbys, were among the first to import Nepal black tea, from their only tea estate, Ilam. The leaves are a mix of green and taupe, even though this is classed as a black tea. They seem to have almost a brown paper scent. I have brewed this tea at about 200 for 3.5 minutes, with about 7 teaspoons for a 32 oz pot. The brewing tea smells of some sort of hot grain cereal and is a light clear amber. The wet leaves look primarily chopped.
The flavor of the tea is very, very mild, almost grassy with a touch of barley, a bit of a floral. There is no astringency until it begins to cool. I wouldn't say this tea had any depth or breadth, but it is a pleasant gentle experience. I accidentally put a tiny bit of milk in it which did not seem to affect it. I think it would be a nice tea for a time of quiet thoughtfulness.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Santa's Comin'!

We had a fun day today. There's a community near us with a lot of poor folk. The churches and Grange and community get together to provide a Christmas party where the kids get “Santa dollars” to buy presents for others, decorate ornaments and cookies and get presents from Santa. My husband, with his white beard and mustache, was Santa. I got to sit on his lap, but I didn't get a present. Before we left I carefully made a cup of Jing's Yunnan Tea in my new travel mug. And just as carefully left it in the car. So all I can say about it is it is pretty good cold.

When we came home, I brewed up some Special Teas Earl Grey de la Crème. This is a pretty tea, with cornflower petals and some pale yellow ones to enliven the little black leaves, which I brewed at about 212 degrees for 3 minutes. Both the dry leaves and the brewing ones had a strong smell of bergamot and something like lemon chiffon pudding. In fact, that is what the tea tasted like. It is very mouth-filling and almost feels like you have a creamy coating in your mouth. There isn't a lot of tea taste and to me it really didn't taste like Earl Grey, but I found it quite pleasant. It's a tea I would certainly drink, and could recommend, but not one I would buy. It simply isn't to my taste. I might serve it to guests with a piece of spice cake or molasses cookies, as I feel it would go very well with them.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lilacs in the snow

It is a cold, nasty, blowy, wet day and I was in the mood for something that would take me somewhere else. Having just bought some samples from Simpson and Vail, I thought I would try their Lilac Bouquet. Lilacs are the essence of Spring, right? Some kind soul planted a lot of them around the house and in April and May I leave my doors and windows open so that the whole house smells of them. Blessings on the person who planted them!

At first I wondered what I had done to myself with the tea, as it smelled a little bit like lilac soap, which to me is not pleasant. However, I brewed up the small leaves at 212 for about 3 minutes. As it brewed, the scent modified and darned if it didn't become more like the real deal. Now for the big test – how does it taste? Like lilacs! It is very lilac without being cloying or overdone and it is not sweet. Really a delightful tea. I would serve this only on a special occasion and with something mildly spicy to set off the very floral character of the tea. I have to say I was very happily surprised by the tea and will get more.

There is a contest going on about tea moments. You can go here http://www.tea-guy.com/ to find out about it. I don't want to enter the contest, but it has started me thinking. I guess a defining moment for me was about a month or two ago when I actually saw in the wet leaves from a cup of tea, the two small leaves and a leaf bud that indicates at least the beginning of good tea. It suddenly made real what I've read about plucking tea and then processing it. To have these leaves and buds, whole in front of me showed the care with which they had been handled. I could see the hands of the women carefully getting just these small bits of a tea bush and sense the love and pride that went into bringing them to my cup.

Last night we watched Julie and Julia. What a neat movie! I really miss seeing her on TV. She was so funny and such a superb cook. Her recipe for pound cake is the only one I ever use and it always works. Martha Stewart doesn't even come close and she was rude to her on Julia's show. A pox on all her houses!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Kenya tea in the snow

Most of the USA is experiencing snow and I guess will experience snow for most of the week. Ours is very heavy and wet and somehow, the kittens aren't finding it as much fun. They are willingly coming in for a good drying off before venturing out again. It is pretty, though, covering a multitude of sins. I am trying to really appreciate it now as come January or February I won't be appreciating it very much and in fact will be doing a lot of complaining. I hope it lasts until our South African friend arrives next Saturday. He has never seen snow and we thought we would allow him the great treat of shoveling whilst dodging snowballs! He also supposed to bring some local tea!

I really make an effort to try tea from different countries. Both to broaden my experience and to encourage newcomers to the world of fine tea. Some I really like, some are just ho-hum. Sadly, the offering from Simpson and Vail of Kenya Black falls into the ho-hum category. About 4 years ago, I had some from Kenya that was really superb, but only once. Everything since has either been just okay or awful. I brewed the little black leaves for about 3.5 minutes at 212 and it was pleasantly okay. But that is all it was. It is a very plain tea without much nuance or breadth. It would be good for breakfast, with milk or/and sugar. I know that the tea industry in Kenya had been having problems, but I was hoping they were over. I'll keep trying them in hope, as this is an improvement over some I have had! I would encourage you to do the same, both for us and for them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas tree and Golden Moon tea

The Christmas tree on the village green is lit. This year it looks quite lovely. I guess there wasn't much money last year because it really looked like Charlie Brown had decorated it. When I was growing up, we always had “Charlie Brown” trees, as my father hated to get one until the last minute, so only the scraggy ones were left. When my parents decided to go artificial, wouldn't you know it, that's what he got, another pathetic tree.
This year we decided not to do a tree or much decorating as the kittens are still in that crazy destructive phase and we don't want to put temptation in their way. That happened another Christmas when our sons had come from Florida. We put a tree up and before we got anything on it, the kitten was up it and chewing on the light cords. So we put on a couple boxes of candy canes and one string of tiny white lights. It looked very peculiar, but it was a tree. The boys haven't been back for Christmas since. Maybe they should bring a tree.

I saw this great offer from Golden Moon teas, 31 samples for $19. Fits in my poor beleaguered budget, so I thought, why not. They came in a nice woven basket, even, so no one knows just how much tea this crazy woman has! The first one I tried was Moroccan mint. Green Gunpowder tea with mint oil and mint leaves. Ho boy, minty! The scent, everything is quite minty, but in a really pleasant way. Really delicious. Not much taste of green tea, but it is very tasty and warming.
My husband loves licorice and it just so happens that another of the samples included White Licorice. As soon as I opened the packet it smelled very much of licorice. The dry leaves and buds were huge and there were nice big chunks of star anise, which is licorice flavor. The scent lessened somewhat as it brewed for 4 minutes just below boiling, but was still very present. I am not a big licorice fan, but I tasted it and although it was delicate, it was not shy and it was quite good. My husband really liked it. Aha, Christmas present!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Welcoming Ava Rose

Today is a super good day! We welcome to the world, Ava Rose, our first great- niece! We are all very excited – it's been a long time since we have had a baby in the family.
I think an appropriate tea to celebrate would be Simpson and Vail's Rose-Kissed Jasmine. This smells like the old-fashioned, but still popular, shrub Mock Orange aka Syringa or Philadelpheus, to be proper.
These shrubs bloom about May/June where we are and they smell absolutely wonderful. So does this tea. It is a green tea, scented with roses and jasmine and tastes just as good as it smells. I usually brew a big teaspoon in about 180 degree water for 2 minutes. You need to be careful as it does get bitter easily, which really spoils it. This is definitely one of S&V's successes.
I was making my first batch of Christmas cookies, for my book club meeting, and this was a perfect tea to have with some of the “home cookies” - those that have gone over to the dark side or the leftover scraps I really shouldn't roll anymore.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Travel mug with Vicky's Earl

I bought some Christmas gifts from Golden Moon teas and while I was at it I bought myself a travel infuser/cup. It is made by Bodum, the famous coffee press people. It is double walled plastic of some sort and you put your tea in the bottom, pour in your water, screw on the top and when your tea has brewed, push down the plunger, which settles into a nice little hollow in the lid. To keep your tea hottest, leave the flip lid you drink out of closed, or leave it open to cool. Because of the double walls, it doesn't get hot on the outside, just a bit warm, while your tea is very hot. It fits in your car cupholder and holds 16 oz of tea. I was looking for one about this size, 12 oz is too small. Although I was sad to see my old travel cup broken, I do like this one better, as I can brew in it and the outside remains cool. It is 17.95 from http://www.goldenmoontea.com/. I must take extra care not to break this one.

Well, what did I put in it? Simpson and Vail's Victorian Earl Grey, from my stash of best-loved teas. To date, this is what I think is the best of the lavender scented Earl Greys, because you can taste both the lavender and the bergamot. There is also a touch of rose and something herbal. I went and looked at their website and that is rosemary. You brew it just like a regular black tea – 3.5 min at 212, 1 teaspoon per cup. It smells wonderful, tastes wonderful and almost everyone I have ever given it to has liked it. Personally I like it in the afternoon with a few cookies or scones and it is very nice after a big meal – it has just enough astringency/herbalness to settle things in.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Adagio in the snow

It's snowing! It's sticking! The kind of snow that goes on for a while, slowly drifting down coating every twig and branch. The kittens are wild! It's almost as good as a mouse. Well, maybe.

I know I have complained about chai that doesn't taste like chai to me and that it has to be a certain way or I won't like it but I found a chai that is a bit nontraditional that I do like. It is Adagio's Thai Chai, which I received in a tea swap. The dry mix is very mixed with what looks like lemongrass, lemon or orange peel, cinnamon and other spices. It smells lemony with a very clean clear spiciness. I brewed 2 teaspoons for about 5 min at 212. The scent basically remained unchanged. The tea seems to be a good basic black, with very nice well blended and well rounded spices. The lemongrass gives it a good fillip. Instead of milk and sugar, I added some eggnog to it and it was super. Well done.

Now we will do the not so good Adagio Masala Chai, which I got in the same swap. The scent was much sharper with more of a citrus bite. In fact, there were a lot of citrus peel bits in it. I brewed it the same way I did the other and it continued to smell fairly good. Plain, it was awful! Far, far too much lemon peel, no spice. I added a teaspoon of sugar and some milk, hoping it wouldn't curdle, and that really toned down the lemon peel and brought out the spices, but it still wasn't very good. I've had many that are far better.

Does anyone know for sure what countries traditionally drink chai? We all know that it is an Indian drink, but are there other South Asian lands that also have drunk it for an extended time i.e. not just a current phenomenon? Also, does anyone know for sure about regional variations? Or is it something that varies from household to household? From cooking I know there are many dishes which are considered practically “national” dishes with many regional variations. There are some that are clearly something cooks did to clean out the larder, and the food went on to be standardized. Cassoulet, a French bean and duck dish, is one that comes to mind. Please let me know about the chai.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas kicks with the Blacksmith's Blend

Tonight is the official kick-off of the Christmas season in our small town. It begins with caroling, the lighting of our tree on the green, a concert by all our church choirs and, of course Santa. He's having breakfast tomorrow at our church. There are special events and concerts all weekend.

The Tea Smith does it again! Makes a good tea, that is. It's called Blacksmith's Blend and the leaves are black and the brew is dark, but...It's not heavy or malty or bitter or smokey or any of those things you sometimes say about really black teas. In fact, it is delicious and it's driving me nuts because I can't pin down either the flavor or scent of the brewed tea. The dry stuff was pretty easy – rich, dark, leather, wood, tobacco. The liquor was not as black as I expected. I think there was a hint of some green herb, maybe clover or hay, but I just couldn't get it. Oh gee, must be I'll have to drink lots more so I can. What a hardship! This is good stuff.

Did you know that you are a tassophile? Bet you don't even know what that is. It's a person who is really into tea. It is interesting that the 3 languages I am most familiar with all have a similar word for cup – French is tasse, Italian is tazza and Spanish is taza. So, if some snobby person asks you your profession, tell them you are a tassophile, smile enigmatically and sashay away. Snicker! Tea hee!
Some 1,800 professional chefs have declared that in 2010 menus will be carrying a lot more local and sustainable foods and beverages. They also said that specialty tea drinks – mostly iced – will be making a strong showing. Tea is not local, but more of it is becoming sustainable. That basically means caring for the land, the plants and the people who raise and process the tea. That has to be a good move forward.. We live in an ever increasingly small world.
The kittens are very funny today. Ernie is sitting on the back of a chair crying because he can't reach the light cord to play with it and Bert is doing his carousel ride imitation – head back, tail flying, paws in a gallop mode – all while sound asleep.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Crabby ole tea person writing

"Tis the season” when everyone comes out with their teas for the holidays and everything else “just for the holidays” I am curmudgeonly enough that I begin to get tired of it very quickly. However, I was on a “gallivanting” with good friends and saw some Republic of Tea's Comfort and Joy traveler's tins so I bought one – that is 5 teabags in a little round tin. Cheaper in the store than on line from them, even, but expensive for what you get--. I was hoping the cloves in it weren't too strong. And they weren't. The tea has black tea, cinnamon, flavorings, cloves, licorice root and apple pieces. It is a little sweet, a little spicy, not too much clove but just okay. Certainly nothing I would ever buy again. Why bother? To me it tastes like 50 others I've had, nothing at all distinctive, even the name is borrowed from a popular Christmas carol. There, now I don't have to try any more Christmas teas, I've done my bit for this year.

Poor you folks, two days in a row of panning something - I'll try to be nice tomorrow!

But not just yet. I am grumpy about the “holidays”. I might just as well say it. I hate Christmas stuff in October. After Thanksgiving is soon enough. I hate people only giving to the poor, needy, unhappy only at the holidays. I hate the amount of money that people spend on just stuff, and yes, I've done it and that is probably why I am sick of it. For me, Thanksgiving is a time to be reminded of what we are thankful for, not just a time to pig out and watch football. Christmas for me is a religious celebration. I don't want them lost in “sparkle season” and 29 cents a pound turkey. Goodness, what a crab, guess I better go have some chamomile tea and calm down. May I say in my defense that I like to go caroling, give gifts and when there are no small kittens, decorate a tree. It's the hype I can't stand.
Today's picture is a small part of the mosaics in a Ravenna, Italy, church. It doesn't come close to portraying how magnificent they are.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fresh Tea

I have some of Bigelow's Sweet Dreams herbal tea/tisane on tap for today. It contains chamomile, hibiscus, peppermint, rose petals, spearmint, spice and orange blossoms. It has a pleasant, mostly minty smell, with an underlying thickish floral scent. I brew it for 5 minutes with almost boiling water. The scent continues. The taste reminds me of why I don't care for most herb teas. It is sort of pleasant, sort of minty, but over all it is far too muddied a flavor for me to think of it as really good. It tastes like a hundred other herb teas I have had. If I am going to have a “sleep prep” herbal I would much prefer the one I got from Wild Thyme Whole Food and Tea http://www.wildthymetea.com/ in Ballston Spa, NY. It is blended by the tea master there she has done an excellent job with it. All of the teas I purchased there were organic and reasonably inexpensive, but of high quality.

Speaking of high quality, how do you maintain that at home? The 3 biggest enemies of tea are light, air and smell. Light and air will make your tea go staler, faster. Keep your tea in an air tight container that is either metal or porcelain or in the zip lock foil bags they come in. If all you have is glass, put them in a dark, cool cupboard. Please don't put them in plastic, the tea will absorb off odors and you'll have wasted your money. This is because tea really absorbs odors so well. That is how the manufacturers make Earl Grey, rose, jasmine and the other lovely scented teas. Some just absorb scent from the plants they are grown with. Almost all tea vendors will have some sort of canister that will keep tea well. The best are ones with a rubber gasket. They are, however, expensive. If you buy a large quantity of tea , break it up into smaller containers to keep the air out, since every time you open it, the air flows right in.

McCormack's, that old familiar spice company, is coming out with a line of teas. So far, they are in Central America and the Caribbean and in San Francisco. Maybe they will come East, as well. Something new to look for. The tea is flavored with cinnamon, with Jamaican Sorrel and with lemongrass. Could be interesting.