Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Himalayan Discovery

Wouldn't you love to peek over that old wall? I like the idea of a private courtyard, as I am pretty much of an introvert and like my home to be cosy, even outside.

I came across some more tea I had purchased but hadn't gotten around to trying – I love all these discoveries – it's like getting birthday presents. Today's find was some Simpson and Vail Himalayan Blend. I really like a lot of S&V's teas. This one is an very attractive tea, with dark green, black, gray, brown and pale tan leaves. I brewed a large teaspoon – almost 2 at boiling for 3.5 minutes. It brewed up to a nice dark amber with a very satisfying, deep nutty aroma. The wet leaves maintained their pretty mix of colors. What a nice taste, a very full, deep rich one with a deep chestnut base and, maybe a bit of malt and dry leaves running through it. Quite brisk and it does well with cream. I tasted my husband's and I thought the sweetener in his masked the taste, or changed it too much for my liking. This would be a good breakfast tea or one to have with either sweets or savories. I really liked it. It might be a good one for those friends who are thinking of making the switch from coffee to tea. It's hearty, but not smokey. Just a good straight forward black, but richer and deeper than many.

Tea prices may again rise quite a bit this year. Unusual snow storms in some of China's tea growing regions have damaged new leaves and buds, some quite severely, as the first flush is ready to be picked. There are pictures of the tea bushes covered with about 4 inches of snow and the new leaves are brown and frozen, instead of a nice, lively green. In some of Darjeeling there has not been enough rain over the winter and the evening Spring rains are sparse. These are the only 2 regions I've read about, but you will remember that Taiwan was hit badly by a typhoon several months ago and many tea gardens suffered greatly. All this will affect the price of our tea. More, it affects all the farmers and workers and many will be hurt economically. On a positive note, I heard from Benoy Thapa at Thunderbolt Teas that he has gotten some good First Flush Darjeeling in and it is on sale. Check him out at

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Peepers with my Tea

Another shot of the community building, my several greats-grandfather's
church and the orange panted street cleaner of an earlier picture.

It is a gloomy looking day today, cold, with abundant rain. But I don't mind, as we need the rain. I just hope we don't get too much, as all our creeks and rivers are full to the brim or a bit over.

The peepers are singing!!! If you don't know, these are little frogs with a high croak (a peep) who start in in early Spring, hoping to find themselves a lady-love. It is also a sign that our water is at least fairly clean, as they don't do well in water that is heavily polluted. Peepers are a reason for celebration! Now if I could only see some bright green skunk cabbage, I would know Spring is well and truly here.

One of my swap partners sent me some more Ten Ren tea bags. I was quite happy to try something different once again. Today's is their High Mountain Oolong. I was eager to try this, as in general I like high mountain teas. The bag is paper, with a gusset on the bottom for expansion and comes individually wrapped. I ignored the directions and brewed it at about 190 degrees, instead of boiling. I also only brewed it for about 2 minutes, as it began to smell “done”. This one had a definitely vegetal smell, with no overtones of floral, which was a surprise. It had a very full mouth feel. It is more roasted than I usually prefer Oolongs to be, but I liked it anyway. It seemed like a good all day tea, one you could drink a lot and get tired of it.

I have been watering a lot of plants with leftover tea. So far, none have died and some seem to be a tad healthier. That could also be due to more sun, but tea is somewhat acid and most plants like somewhat acid soil. We'll see. Do any of you use tea on your plants?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Gingko and Jasmine

For some reason, the Blogger has decided not to upload any photos today, so we'll just be plain.

Oh dear, how many favorites can one person have? I think I have found another favorite Jasmine. This delight is a sample given to me by another Tea Blogger and store owner, Gingko, who owns Life in Teacup, at . Even the name of the tea is wonderful – Snowflakes on Green Lake. Also known as Bi Tan Piao Xue in Chinese. This year's supply should be arriving in April. The dry tea is a pretty green with lots of dried jasmine blossoms. This is unusual, as jasmine tea is generally infused with the scent of the flowers, and then they are removed. It smells wonderful and for a bit I couldn't decide if it was just jasmine or if there was a hint of rose as well.

I brewed it at 180 degrees for 1 minute and a second steep for 1 minute and a third for 2 minutes. The first was very very good, as the tea seemed more substantial than most jasmines, with a very satisfying flavor and aroma. The second, oh the second, was absolutely sublime, just infinitely better, more floral, more delicate. The third was beginning to weaken some, but was still really great. This very light green tea is gorgeous stuff. It's even prettier if you fish out a couple of the flowers to float in your cup.

I have several more samples from Gingko to try and if they are anywhere near as good as this one, I will be in tea-piggy heaven. You should read her blog, as well, as she always has very interesting things to say and writes about many, many teas I am not at all familiar with.

If you are interested, you might want to also check out Roy Fong's blog at He has news about this year's harvest and if you scroll down a bit, more news about the purchase of land for his tea estate. It is really exciting that there are so many new tea gardens being established or ones finally old enough to begin production.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thunderbolt Reprise

Oh, to be in the sun, under a tall palm tree! It is cold and miserable
here, perfect weather for staying inside with tea.

Today I am trying Thunderbolt Tea's 2nd Flush Arya Estate SFTGFOP1 for the second time. The last time, the beginning of February, I think I over brewed it and it tasted mostly like tomato soup. This time I was very careful to reduce the water temperature to 200 degrees and the brewing time to 2.5 minutes. I was rewarded with a lovely cup of tea that was slightly woodsy but somewhat floral as well and altogether a very nice cup of tea.

While I was about it, I thought I might as well try another of the teas I purchased from Thunderbolt, another 2nd flush but from the Goomtee Estate in the Muscatel Valley. This is another pretty tea, with many shades of brown and some ivory buds in it. The dry tea smells of fresh corn and also a woodsy and nutty aroma mixed in. I brewed it the same as the Arya Estate and was again rewarded with a wonderful cup of tea. It was a very dark amber with a primarily that same woods and nuts as a base flavor, but a great grapiness in the back of my mouth. I love how good teas have so many scents and tastes. It really is fascinating to me how in one cup there are so many sensations.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thai Tea

I love the colors in this old church.

I went in a different door at the library today and noticed that the door sill is an old piece of maybe limestone, or some other "soft" rock that is weathering. It has all sorts of fossil bits and worm trails in it. Really fascinating to look at. It is, of course, thousands, probably millions of years old and reminds me that this was once the bottom of an ocean.

I am a big fan of Thai food. It not only tastes great, it is always so beautifully arranged and the waitstaff are always very, very pleasant. I even like their ice tea. Not that it really has much tea in it and it is achingly sweet, but it goes with the food. Besides, I am allowed to like tea that isn't top notch – right? Of course, right! As I was packing, I came across my tin of Thai Tea. I purchased this in a Philadelphia Chinese market and the person who directed me to it was clearly not pleased that I bought Thai Tea instead of Chinese.

This particular batch is from DeDe Tea Company and I won't tell you the ingredients. Take my word for it, most are on the edge of awful and tea is way down the list. The packet said you can make it hot, so I did, using one packet per cup, with boiling water and a good stir. It is definitely bright orange and while it does indeed taste like Thai tea, I think it is much better cold, with ice and evaporated milk, at a restaurant, with food. A summer drink for sure, or at least not a hot one at home. But fun, and if it's fun, we need to do it every now and then.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Peachy Day

To market, to market, to buy..... A mix of new trailers for the farmers and the old (1500's) community building.

It's another sunny day! We did, however, have snow last night and it still hasn't melted from the deck. The cats' water dish still has ice on it. Us ole weather possums knew we'd have some more white stuff!

A perfect day for a “sunny” warming cup of Adagio's Peachy Oolong. This particular batch was a gift from Adagio. It comes in a pretty box of 15 teabags with nice big peaches on the front, each bag individually wrapped in something shiny. I never know if it is metal or plastic. The bags are those nice big pyramids and definitely smell like peaches. I brewed it up with boiling water, per instructions, for about 3.5 minutes. The brew is a dark amber that tastes just like fresh peaches, in a way. Nothing really tastes like fresh peaches, but this is good, with a nice, solid tea base. It is not a light fluffy tea, as the base Oolong is a more roasted one. Definitely nice for a bag! I think I will do it at a lower temperature next time, as I think Oolongs are better at about 190 degrees.

Since I am continuing my downsizing, I was packing away some antique tea tins and came across another one with tea in it. I figured, what the heck, the water's hot, let's see how it is. It is Tong's Mandarin Choicest Orange Pekoe Tea, from the Wah Cha Company. Cha is tea in Chinese, hence – The Wah Tea Company. The leaves are all small and most are broken – this is an antique, remember. I brewed it for about 2 minutes with boiling water. One word describes it – ICK. Oh well, win some, lose some. Not that I expected much. It's fun to experiment anyway.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tea with Lord Nelson

Another of those cool Swiss watering troughs.

It's another beautiful day in the neighborhood. The promised snow did not appear and it's not even what you could call cold. I decided to go with my first love – black tea. Today's is from Culinary Teas and is called Trafalgar Anniversary Tea. It was blended originally to celebrate the sea victory of Lord Horatio Nelson over the French at Trafalgar, off the coast of Spain in 1805. I'm not sure why we always have to commemorate war, I think peace is really something to celebrate. Oh well.

This is an attractive tea, a mix of Ceylon, Kenya, Assam and China tea from Anhui Province. As if that were not enough, there are a few rose petals scattered throughout. Culinary says you can brew this as long as seven minutes, but I only did it for 3.5 and that was enough for me. In my opinion, it was already beginning to get a bit tannic. There is not a lot of scent, other than that of very fresh tea. The taste is quite bold and bright, with some maltiness and a bit of astringency. It takes very well to a spot of cream. There's nothing really special about this tea, but it tastes good. It really is just a good all-round black tea. It strikes me as sturdy enough for breakfast, but smooth enough for a pleasant afternoon, which is when I had it. By the way, there is no scent or flavor of roses, they are only decoration.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hats off to Liberteas in Fond Farewell.

This is Mieringen, Switzerland, my grandmother's home. The bell tower and old chapel. Home of meringues and Reichenbach Falls, where Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes met in a fatal fall. Except Holmes, naturally, survived to thwart yet another dirty devil.

I have sad news for you, with a little bit of good mixed in. Liberteas is going out of business. The only bit of good news is that she still has some teas in stock for sale. She makes wonderful blends, which I have reviewed here previously. I am reviewing one today and as of two days ago, she still had some left.
Potpourri looks and smells like its name – a gentle old-fashioned mix of flowers and herbs with a lovely scent. It is made from Gunpowder green tea with jasmine, roses, laurel and lemon myrtle. I brewed it at about 175 degrees for 2.5 minutes and it smelled wonderful. The real test is the taste and this passes with flying colors, as you can taste all the ingredients in a lovely mix, first one, than the other coming in. Overall, I think the lemon myrtle predominated, but that is fine with me, it tasted great! If you think you might like this, hustle on over to and see if there is any left. You'll be glad you did.

Green tea in a green season. The grass is finally growing - all of about 1/2 inch. Cute little spears poking up to greet the sun - or the snow predicted for this week in these parts. Our creeks and rivers are very high and we watch them closely, as 4 years ago we had terrible flooding in the area. It was what is considered a 100 year flood, meaning only once in a hundred years. Except the last one was in 1935. Every 70 years still isn't bad, in the over-all scheme of things, but if you are going through it, it is awful. One year in Ohio, we had 10 inches of rain in 15 minutes. The flooding was terrible, just unbelieveable, tiny streams, only a foot or two wide suddenly had the power to sweep away buildings. We pulled together and helped each other and that was good.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Russian in the Rain

Today is a rainy day, a perfect day for tea. I have some Kusmi Bouquet of Flowers I bought to lift my spirits. This is a French company whose origins as Kousmichoff began in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1867. When the Russian Revolution began in 1917, one of the owners of the company fled to London and then Paris and continued their tea company there. I love their tins, which are short wide rounds, decorated with curlicues and arabesques – very old world looking. Their older line, originally for the Russian market, I assume, also seems very old world to me, as well. Bouquet des Fleurs (the French name)is one of those.

The dry leaves are on the small size, very dark, with almost a green wash over them. They give off a slight floral smell. I brewed them at 212 degrees for about 3.5 minutes. This is a blend of China and Ceylon teas, scented with bergamot, citrus and flowers. You can pretty much taste and smell them all, but it is so completely blended that I cannot sort them out one by one. I can smell and taste that the tea is fresh and perhaps the citrus dominates, but the flowers are not lost.

I really am sure there is some sort of secret ingredient that conveys “Russian” to me, as most teas that are labeled that way have a certain heavy undernote that just says that to me, even if it is not a tea by Kusmi. I find it pleasant and it immediately takes me across the sea to sit by a samovar, drinking tea from a glass, perhaps with a sugar cube or a spoonful of jelly.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fresh Herbs for a Sunny Day

There's another mountain I'd like to put in my backyard.

Although it started out a bit grim, the sun is out once again. I went to look at my "lavender garden" - 7 plants - and it seems most survived the ground they're in and the winter. Now we'll see if they survive the spring.

This little visit reminded me of some tea I have to review, and once again a tea swap provides it . This time it is Chamomile and Lavender from Teas Etc. This is from the Etc. part, as it is a tisane, not tea from Camellia Sinensis. It is just what it says, a blend of the two herbs, with what looks like more of the chamomile. I brewed up about 1.5 teaspoons to a cup of water at almost boiling, for 5 minutes. Herbs take longer to develop their flavor than most teas. It was a messy tea, as the chamomile gave up a lot of stamens and it was hard to strain them all out. It is a very balanced blend, so that you can taste both herbs, neither of which is overwhelming. Both these herbs are known for their relaxing properties. However, I did not care for the taste, thinking it would be better in a small pillow, which I may do, and that will be pleasant at bedtime.

After the tea, I went out to see if the chamomile was up, but it is on a darker side of the house and nothing in that bed has even poked out a bit.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


On March 4, I reviewed a tea made for my sister-in-law by Madam Potts of PersonaliTea. I incorrectly spelled Madam with an "e" on the end. I am sorry and have corrected it. No one likes their name spelled wrong.

What the bag lady drank

I want my own mountain! Probably not gonna happen, though.

I am still a [tea]bag lady today. I tried two quite different offerings from my stash, Harney's Winter White Earl Gray and Mighty Leaf's Chocolate Mint Truffle.

The Chocolate Mint Truffle is really an herbal tisane, made of rooibos, chocolate nibs, and mint. It comes in a cellophane individually wrapped cotton teabag and is brewed with boiling water for 5 minutes. It smells and tastes just like its name. Very, very tasty. I liked it plain, but it has enough strength you could add some cream and sugar if you wanted to. It would make a great after dinner drink or something nice for your kids after school.

Harney's offering is another story, as this is a real tea, made from the camellia sinensis plant. It is bergamot blended with Chinese Mutan tea. I did not find it to be so much a bergamot scent and flavor as a gentle lemon. I tried, but I could not really get the taste of the white tea. Bergamot can be tricky. I bought some of this quite a while ago and I wasn't really impressed then either. However, for those of you who really like very mild teas, this may be for you.

I belong to a number of different tea groups. In one of them I came across an offer from Suffuse Teas, USA. They are a South African manufacturer of Rooisbos teas. They offered me some to try and they just arrived yesterday, so you will soon be hearing about them. In fact, you'll be hearing about a lot of different teas, as I have received a number of samples from several companies. Lots of fun to look forward to!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jasmine for Celebration

Spring, Spring, Spring. Crocuses are up! Trees along the river are budding! Hooray!

Jasmine tea has long been one of my favorites, in spite of there being so many that aren't particularly good and my taking so long to learn how to brew it without bitterness. So, I am having another one today, to celebrate Spring. I think I may have found one of the best – Golden Moon Tea's Jasmine Pearls. It smells divine, it tastes divine, and it is not overly expensive, what more can I ask for.

The dry tea is very tightly rolled balls of green and white, smelling of very fresh jasmine blossoms. I brewed it for about 2.5 minutes with water at about 175. I kept tasting it after a minute and a half to make sure I didn't brew it too long, as my sample was small. The leaves had not finished unfurling so I quickly got out another cup and added more water for a second steep. It was better than the first! With more floral coming out. This tea has a nice mouth feel, very light and delicate without being wimpy. It just is an all round great cup of jasmine tea.
I have to say that most of the teas I have had from this sample pack have been really top-notch. Good work, Golden Moon. This sampler pack is $19.95 and you get 31 samples in a handy lidded basket. The only drawback is it makes me want to buy more tea, which I really should not.

Some new teas have been added to the upper ranks of tea - Ceremonie Teas. They come in individual little black boxes with gorgeous colorful seals on them. They look very classy. The Teatropolitan blog has more info on them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jasmine in the Spring

Spring, glorious Spring.

In spite of this morning's frost, we are all still happy that the sun is shining. The creeks are all bubbling away and more and more birds arrive every day. It's hard to stay inside, even long enough to taste a new tea!

I'm hitting the teabags again – I've gotten quite a few in swaps and I want to use them up – gotta down-size, you know! LOL. Ten Ren Tea packages their bags in bright colorful individual wraps. The one I am trying – Jasmine Oolong is in a pretty two tone green one. It is a mix of Jasmine tea and Oolong tea, not jasmine scented Oolong, as I thought. When I opened it I immediately smelled the Jasmine, with an overlay that I can only describe as Oriental. Reminded me of shopping in an Asian store – maybe a scent of incense. Yes, that's it, jasmine flower and jasmine incense. But evocative, not hit you over the nose. I brewed it with water about 195 degrees for about 2 minutes and the aroma stayed the same throughout. Very pleasant. The taste was true to the scent – jasmine flower with that teasing waft of incense. It was quite good until it began to cool and then there was a big whack of bitterness that you get when something is over brewed or your water is too hot. Phooey. I wish I had more so I could experiment, because this is a very nice tea. Actually, if I had gone to their site first I would have brewed it at a lower temp. Doh!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Erin go Braagh

A small cheese hut where Swiss farmers would store their cheese until it is collected by the cooperative.

Sure and Begorrah but 'tis a lovely day for the wearin' of the green and havin' a nice pot o' cabbage and taties wit' a hunk o' corned beef. I honestly have a bit of Irish in me, so I guess I can say that without getting in too much trouble. Half of me is Swiss and the other half is very mixed, from Norwegian to Mohawk Indian and lots else in between. About all I don't have is English.

In honor of the day, of course, I did have Irish Breakfast tea and I made it “trottin' mouse” strong – that is, so strong you can trot a mouse across it. Not on purpose, mind you, but I got a wee bit carried away with my measuring. I am not even sure what company I bought it from, as it is in an old tin. Nevertheless, it was very fresh and very tasty and it certainly will keep me AWAKE.

I have been reading my assortment of tea magazines and the tea news on line and I am amazed how many people grow tea. There are over 50 countries! The US now has 2 tea plantations – the older one in South Carolina and a new one in Washington state. Roy Fong of the Imperial Tea Court is in the process of purchasing land to grow tea here, also. A company in New Zeeland is growing and processing a tea they call Zealong, an Oolong they are using Taiwanese plants and expertise to manufacture. This new tea will be launched at the World Tea Expo in June, in Las Vegas. Wish I could go.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Is Winter Really Over?

Still in Switzerland. If I were rich I would winter in Southern Italy and summer in the Alps. New York is pretty close, isn't it?

I could certainly tell Spring was in the air as the street cleaner blew dust all over everything, far too early this morning. We only have the cleaners when someone decides winter is indeed over and all that sand has to be scooped up. Once that is done, they go somewhere else. The rest of us aren't quite ready to trust the weather, remembering, as we do, the year we got a 3 foot snow storm on St. Patrick's day. That distrust doesn't stop us from hoping! It certainly didn't stop the two little girls down the street from blowing soap bubbles.

It hasn't stopped the tea pickers, either, as they go to work in Assam, some parts of Darjeeling and some of the more southern areas of China's tea-growing regions. Sadly, some of the northern areas got hit badly by the cold and some of the finest tea plants have been ruined, at least for this year. Weather is a hard master for farmers.

Earl Grey is one of my all time favorite teas. Hmm, I seem to say that a lot. I'm allowed. Today I tried Tippy Earl Grey from Golden Moon, which is a pretty tea, with long leaves and lots of golden buds for contrast – the tippy part. The dry scent of bergamot is almost overwhelming in such a small amount, almost raw smelling. As I brewed it the standard 3.5 minutes with boiling water, the aroma settled down somewhat and my first sips were pretty tasty. However, as we went along, it again seemed overwhelming, although some milk and sweetener tamed it. However again, I really don't like my tea sweet. This will not be my favorite Earl Grey by any means, but if you like strong bergamot, this may indeed be your cup of tea.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tea and Orphans

This is a very old inn in the village of Darstetten, Switzerland where my grandfather lived.

I am a big fan of the things I buy doing double duty, not only giving me something but helping the poor in some way. That is why I often buy from people like SERRV, Ten Thousand Villages, Heifer Project, etc. Well, I found another one – Ajiri Tea's Kenyan Black Tea at The tea comes from the Kisili district of Kenya and is grown by poor farmers, with 1 or 2 acres of tea plants and then processed in the farmer owned Nyansiongo Tea Factory. 100% of the profits are returned to the community to provide educational assistance for orphans. The boxes the tea comes in, the beads and twine used to close the interior bags are all crafted by women in the area. They are quite beautiful, in a rustic, handcrafted way. Ajiri, by the way, means “to employ” in Swahili, Kenya's official language. But I suppose you would like to hear about the tea.

The tea leaves are remarkably tiny, what I think is called fannings in the trade. They look like very small black coffee grounds, but they smell like very, very fresh tea. They continue to smell nice and fresh as they are brewed with boiling water for 2 minutes. I am afraid to brew the tea longer, as a I know that such tiny particles can get quite tannic quickly. I am very pleasantly surprised by the taste of this tea. I expected it to either be ho-hum or nastily tannic, or at the least, not very good. But it's not! It is a perfectly good, pleasant cup of tea. Not nuanced or anything to write reams of paeans about, but a good tea for breakfast or when you just want a nice plain cup. Sometimes I get tired of reviewing teas and just want a cup of reliable black tea and this is certainly one I will turn to many times. My only complaint is I wish the interior bag were easily resealable. Not a biggy.

There are many of these service agencies which sell teas from small farmers or small farm co-operatives. If it is your inclination to have your tea money do double duty, I would urge you to check them out! If their tea is as good as this one, we've all won!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gingering Up The Day

I love covered bridges!

I was looking through my tea stash today and came across a bag of Tea Forte's Ginger Lemongrass. Since I like both these herbs, I thought I might as well try it. These are very cute, stiff pyramid shaped bags with a little green covered wire stem and leaf to secure the bag to the cup, so you don't need to fish it out with your fingers. All I could think was, no wonder these are so expensive. It was also wrapped in thin cardboard. The ingredients were ginger, lemongrass, licorice root, lemon peel and spearmint, all organic.

I brewed it as for any herb tea – boiling water for about 5 minutes. It's a nice tisane, tasting and smelling like ginger. The bag allows the herbs contents to expand. It tastes like good quality ginger, with the very barest hint of lemon and a bit of bitterness from the peel. Pleasant, cute, expensive (about $1.00 a bag or more); I can buy good enough ginger tea locally for 1/20th the price, so I don't think I'll be buying any. I got this one in a tea swap.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Jazzy Jasmine

That's kinda what it looks like here today, but Switzerland's moun-
tains are prettier.

Jasmine tea has long been one of my favorites, in spite of there being so many that aren't particularly good and my taking so long to learn how to brew it without bitterness. I think I may have found one of the best – Golden Moon Tea's Jasmine Pearls. It smells divine, it tastes divine, and it is not overly expensive, what more can I ask for.
The dry tea is very tightly rolled balls of green and white, smelling of very fresh jasmine blossoms. I brewed it for about 2.5 minutes with water at about 175. I kept tasting it after a minute and a half to make sure I didn't brew it too long, as my sample was small and green tea can get nasty if you over steep. The leaves had not finished unfurling so I quickly got out another cup and added more water for a second steep. It was better than the first! With more floral coming out. This tea has a nice mouth feel, very light and delicate without being wimpy. It just is an all round great cup of jasmine tea.

I have to say that most of the teas I have had from this sample pack have been really top-notch. Good work, Golden Moon. This sampler pack is $19.95 and you get 31 samples in a handy lidded basket. The only drawback is it makes me want to buy more tea, which I really should not.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cooks Tasting Tea

The hills are alive with the sound of music!

Not as stellar a day as yesterday – car trouble, probably expensive car trouble. It always is. But the sun is shining!

As I mentioned a while ago, I am going through my teabag stash to see what really is fit for my baggy friends and what is not. Today I have some Republic of Tea British Breakfast tea. I love to read their catalogs, I love the hype and find it fun. It may not be intended that way, but I take it so. I also use them for gifts, as I have friends who love their tea, but won't bother with loose tea.
Back to the Brits. The teabag is unbleached paper of some sort, individually enclosed in one of those foil/paper packets. It is a mix of Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling and African. All that in one tiny bag! There's not much smell to it, either dry or brewing. I brewed it up for about 2.5 minutes with boiling water. It really is about what I expected – a strong, somewhat tannic black tea, suitable for breakfast for the baggy crowd. Better than average, and while not super, I'll keep it, at least for a while.

As I've mentioned, we are going to move this year and so, we have been downsizing. This excruciating process means getting rid of about half your “stuff”. All those things you thought you'd have forever – stupid, I know, but we all live in la-la land to a degree. But it is amazing the things you find, like a three year old article on tea tasting from Cook's Illustrated magazine.
In their tasting, they compared supermarket teas with ones from Harney's, Upton's, Mariage Freres, Mighty Leaf and Adagio. They used either plain black or English breakfast varieties.

They had 2 categories – with and without milk. Mighty leaf won in the without milk category and Harney's in the with milk . The supermarket winners for plain tea were Twinings loose, PG Tips, Novus by Bigelow, Lipton Black Pearl and Stash loose. The with milk winners were Tazo Awake loose, Tetely Specialty Tea, Red Rose loose, and ordinary Liptons. I was kind of amazed,as my grocery doesn't carry most of those, just the two Liptons and the PG Tips. Then I noticed these were Boston-area supermarkets. I guess big cities do have some advantages.

Speaking of English Breakfast Tea, The Tea Spot has a new one called Shagadelic English Breakfast. Just heard about it today.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Do you Pu-erh?

A view of the mountains from my Swiss family's village.

Yesterday I told you I had gotten my order from Tony Gebely's new venture, Chicago Tea Garden. Today I am trying one of those offerings. It is Wild Orange Pu-erh. I am not normally a Pu-erh drinker, as it seems you must have a far more sophisticated palate than mine to even start down that road and then I think it is one of those love or hate things, like Lapsang Souchong.

This particular Pu-erh comes from Guandong Province, China and is sourced by David Lee Hoffman. It comes in tiny, hollowed out clementine skins, which are then aged with the tea inside them. These were imported in 2005 and have been aged in Pu-erh caves in the US ever since. They were so cute, I had to try them, and they weren't super expensive. (Ok, ok, I'm a sucker) They do indeed smell like earthy oranges and I brewed according to directions – 1 teaspoon of tea, a piece of orange skin, boiling water. I rinsed the leaves off and brewed the first infusion for 30 seconds and the second one 30 seconds as well.

This is only my 3rd experience with Pu-erh tea, so you can see I am no expert. The tea smells, looks and tastes earthy, but it is the good clean earth of a forest. I thought the first infusion smelled a bit of pine needles. The second had more of an orange smell and taste, but it was still quite smooth, in fact, smoother and gentler. I doubt this will ever be a go-to tea for me – I would have to be in the mood, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this tea. My husband disliked it very much. Like I said, love it or hate it. I think this would be an excellent introduction to Pu-erh for many people.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Three For Tea

Another gorgeous old organ, 300 years old and still playing beauti-
fully. This was my many greats-grandfather's church in Durlach and we worshipped here one Sun day. It is amazing to worship, walk, eat in the places where someone you are related to lived nearly 300 years ago. But let us move on to this century and some tea!

Another sunny day, another group of Aura Tea samples, Ti Guan Yins, #1, #2 and #3 Green. Please note, these are all considered green teas, not the more usual TGY Oolong. I thought I would do these all together, as, judging by their names, they are somewhat similar. They are all pretty teas, made up of small tightly wound green balls. I brewed them all at about 185 degrees for 2 minutes.

Number 1 smelled wonderful, with a nice floral scent overlaying a solid but pleasant vegetal base. The liquor was a pretty pale gold and I did 2 infusions, the second a little longer than the first. The tea was light, but smooth, with that vegetal base and lovely floral taste. The second infusion was more of a green citrussy taste, quite different from the first, but every bit as good.

Number two was a disappointment. First of all it smelled very heavily vegetal, with no floral at all. A bit like baked asparagus, with something like a Japanese green tea taste, which I am not fond of. It was also a pretty yellow and I hoped the taste would be an improvement. Sadly, it was not to be, as it tasted more and more like an almost seaweed Japanese green with too much dried weed or something or veggie. I don't know if this reflects the quality of the tea or just my personal preference. Probably the latter.

By the time I got to #3 I was a bit leery, but I needn't have been. This has the most floral scent of all, as well as the most floral taste. I don't think it was as nuanced as #1, but it would be a real toss-up for me to try and choose between them, although I think #1 has an edge because it is somewhat more complex. The second infusion was somewhat lighter, but with a bit more flavor, if that makes sense. The two infusions together were very good.

I got my order from Tony Gebely's new company, Chicago Tea Garden. It came in 2 days and was packaged very nicely indeed, with shrink wrap over the canisters, a picture of the tea on the front and cards telling you not only how to brew the tea, but having a space on the back for “Tasting Notes”. High marks for all of that. I am “tea-ed out” for the day, so tasting will have to wait until tomorrow.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Honey in Mud Season

The Catholic Church in Durlach. I love churches, as you may have guessed. Notice the green leaves!

Ah yes, another sign that Spring is coming, at least for us in the Northeast – Mud Season! This is between winter and spring, when the frozen ground begins to thaw and we all wear boots, sometimes with 5 pounds of mud caked on the bottom. But the creeks are beginning to flow and soon we will hear the peepers calling to their potential mates. It's worth the extra work, the extra pounds to haul around, to know that soon there will be peepers and skunk cabbage and pussy willows.

Aura Teas has kindly sent a number of people some samples of their teas. This one is Formosa Natural Wuhe Honey Black. It is from the Hualien area of that island, on the west side of the Central Mountain Range, looking toward the Pacific ocean. It is said to be the most beautiful area of Taiwan (Formosa). This tea is grown without pesticides and is therefore attacked by the same bug that causes other tea plants to produce an enzyme that eventually gives us Bai Hao or Oriental Beauty Tea ( another on my long list of favorites.) This enzyme causes the leaves to be sweeter. Good bugs, keep up your work.

I have never had black tea from Formosa, so I was really looking forward to this. It is indeed black, with twisted leaves and a few brown ones for color. I brewed a teaspoon and a half with water just below boiling for 2 minutes. It smelled of burnt sugar, or crème brulee with some dried corn silk edges. The leaves were not done unfurling, so I moved them to another cup for a second steep. The tea is a nice dark amber and very very smooth, quite unlike many black teas. There is no smokiness to it, but a deep comforting brown taste with a delicate honeyed overlay. A very,very nice tea, good for any time of day. The second cup was not as deep, but it was a tad sweeter and you could see the tiny bug bites on the edges of the leaves, which shows their authenticity. This tea was one of the “Top Ten Teas of Formosa” in 2007. Worthy of that honor, in my opinion.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nepal and the Blacksmith

Just another pretty street.

A while ago I reviewed Blacksmith Blend from the Tea Smith and couldn't identify the flavors. Well, here I am, many cups later, and I still can't. However, it is a good sturdy black, strong, but not overwhelming and quite smooth. You try some and tell me what you think.

On a very different note, today I was trying, finally, some of Andrews and Dunham Damn Fine Tea, the Nepal from their first offering. This is such an attractive tea – a gorgeous combination of white buds with shades of green and brown leaves. It smells good, too, with a combination of chalk and cocoa with a good whiff of hay. I tried to brew it for 3 minutes at 212, but somehow wound up doing it for 4 and I think the tea suffered from it, as it would up a bit on the tannic side.

The brewed tea had that wonderful fresh scent of laundry blowing in the wind that I associate with really good, fresh tea. It was a very pretty light golden amber. This tea, not surprisingly reminded me of a first flush Darjeeling, shading over into a second flush. It is a light tea, without a lot of nuances, but it tastes just fine. I don't think it is as worthy of the hype or the price it has gotten, but it is good. It also comes in a nifty tin. I don't know if it is still available, as A&D has come out with their fourth lot of special teas. Check them out at

Friday, March 5, 2010

Covering France, Ireland and Switzerland With Tea

Wish I could see the courtyard behind the big doors.

I'm back with the Golden Moon Tea sampler I ordered and today I am going to compare their French Breakfast with their Irish Breakfast Special Reserve. These are both excellent teas, worthy of a good morning, but they are quite different in character.

The French Breakfast is a high mountain Ceylon and dry it smells like very good tobacco with a very small whiff of perhaps cherry and a hint of cinnamon. I brewed it for about 3.5 minutes with boiling water. It has a nice smooth, almost light taste, with perhaps the barest hint of lemon. There is no bitterness to the tea. It is improved by some cream and a bit of sweet.

The Irish Breakfast was quite different, smelling like good quality hay or chestnuts when it was dry. I steeped this one the same as the French and added a bit of cream. It has a deep fruity taste, like plums or prunes or dark cherries. A bit of sweet brought out even more of the flavor. It is heartier than the French, but not too much.

Both of these teas were a surprise. Somehow, I expected the French to have a bit of cocoa in it and the Irish to be almost bitter and very very strong. Neither was true. I really liked both of them and felt they were excellent choices for mornings or, really, anytime of day. They are both strong enough, sturdy enough and that is their beauty – enough, not too much.

I just had to make a big pot of tea in addition to the 2 cups we tasted because I just received my BIG Swissgold teapot infuser! I think I am in love with it. It fits all my big teapots, it has a handy, dandy top that becomes its drip catcher and I can make 9 cups of tea at once in it with no loss of flavor, because it is so BIG and holds all those leaves with space to unfurl. Hooray!

It is indeed becoming Spring. The skunks have begun to come out of hibernation. Sadly it means a number of them are killed on the road. They may smell bad, but they do a good job keeping down mice and insects. We once lived in a small town with a huge population of them and we all learned to get along without incident. In the evenings, both people and skunks would stroll the sidewalks.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Going to (Tea) Pot with Madam Potts

The tower in the distance was erected in the 1200's and it is still
guarding the village entrance.

Woo Hoo, it is Spring somewhere in the world. I have heard it on the tea vine that in China the first flush harvest is beginning and in Darjeeling it is about to begin. I sure hope they all have better weather this year.

Also, a fellow blogger, Tony Gebely and his partner, Erin Murphy, have opened an on-line tea store to be found at . Early reviews of his teas are very, very positive, so you might want to check out his offerings. So far, there are only nine, so it won't take long. I personally have my eye on those little clementines stuffed with Pu-erh. Shipping is free until April 2. You can check out some reviews at

I gave my sister-in-law a tea gift for her birthday. I had read some good reviews about Madam Potts and her PersonaliTeas, so I thought I would give her a whirl. What she does is send the lucky person a questionnaire and then blends a tea just for them. For E. she made one called Sweet Sweet Hawaii. As a bonus, the person ordering the gift gets some samples, in this case, me.

Sweet, Sweet Hawaii is a blend of white tea, lemongrass, hibiscus, stevia, pineapple, papaya, peppermint, cardamom, ginger and coconut. Mine came in teabags. The scent was definitely a fruity floral with just a hint of mint. There were nice big pieces of fruit and coconut. I brewed it at about 185 for 3 minutes and it was the prettiest light green I've seen in a tea. That is, until the hibiscus gave up it's color and then it was murky. If it were me, I'd leave it out, because the green is so attractive. This is a pleasant cup, sweet, fruity and with the barest hint of mint. Towards the end of each sip, the coconut really comes out. This is a very well done blend, as it is difficult to keep mint from taking over anything it is in and except for the coconut kick, nothing stands out so much that everything else is dwarfed, it just all very smoothly goes together. I really liked that tag-a-long of the coconut. I never would have thought of adding the peppermint, either and that is another nice, unusual touch.

If you would like to try Madam Potts' special PersonaliTeas you can find her at You will also find access to her blog and signature blends. Happy Hunting!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Russians are Coming!

Those Germans do very good gardening in small spaces!

Life is certainly sometimes serendipitous. Yesterday I read a review about a Czar Nikolas II tea, looked it up on, and today I received some in the mail, in a tea swap. So, of course, I knew I just had to try it. On one website it is described as Ceylon tea, blended with spices and fruits in the traditional Russian manner. I think I might add perfume, as the scent reminded me of old expensive perfume bottles you might find in your mother's or grandmother's closet to make her best clothes and furs smell wonderful. I could not identify it, but it was definitely intriguing.

I had read that a 2.5 minute steep was all it needed and I remembered that samovars , while very hot, were not boiling, so that is what I did. Lovely. The brewing tea just smelled very, very fresh, with very little of it's earlier aroma. But the brewed tea tasted wonderful. It is a delicate tea, a medium pale amber that is very floral, with a sharpness and some heavy undertones that to me always says “Russian”. There is perhaps a hint of raspberry and certainly some bergamot and perhaps some other citrus. But the blend is so well done, with such a good base tea, that no one thing stands out. I like my tea to taste first of tea and then to have whatever is blended with it to accompany it, not be overwhelming. This one does a pretty good job, but it is unmistakably Russian, as it should be, given the name. A good afternoon tea, with perhaps, some tea cakes or a blini or two, or more, at least until the pot is done.

This is also not an expensive tea. I googled this and other Czar Nikolas II teas and found them to be about $9.00 for a half pound. Kusmi Russian blends are more than double that. I shall have to see if I can compare them side by side, as I do have a tin of Kusmi's flower blend in the cupboard.

Today I came across as SERRV catalog and looked them up on the web at This is an organization that sells goods from impoverished villages across the third world. I have gotten a number of tea pots, cups and infusers from them that I really like. I learned they are now carrying teas and I intend to purchase some, as they are quite inexpensive. Some are loose and some are bagged. They are fair trade and sometimes organic.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

March Came in Like a Lamb

An old gravestone I liked. If you turn your head sideways, is that Adam and Eve dancing under a tree? Probably not.
Hey, hey, it is March and around here it came in like a lamb, with warmer temperatures, sunshine, snow melting. It makes your heart lift and shout "Yes!!!" Spring is really coming in. Two more weeks to daylight saving time, two more weeks and the Frog Pond, our local farmers market, will be open, complete with a whole raft of new piglets, chicks and bunnies.

I am trying a sample I got with my order from the Tea Spot. It is called Boulder Blues and surprisingly, it is a green tea flavored with strawberry and rhubarb. I am amazed I am trying it, as I dislike strawberry/rhubarb pie or jam. I much prefer raspberry with rhubarb or any of the three on their own. I am also a bit taken aback, because I would have expected this to be a black tea. However, here we are, with a most attractive tea, lovely fresh, long leaves of the Chinese Dragon Well variety and a few bits of strawberry. It smells like ripe berries. Following directions I brew it for 2 minutes at about 170. I don't think it's quite done, so I do it for another minute. Don't faint, but I actually liked this tea. It tasted like very ripe berries, but it was saved from being cloying by a good dollop of tartness from the rhubarb. I couldn't decide if it really tasted like a combination of the two or not. You can taste the freshness of the green tea as well and that makes this, in my opinion, very well done. I think it would make an excellent, refreshing, cold tea for summer. The Tea Spot recommends having it with dark chocolate. That sounds like a plan for my next pot!

I am looking for a new infuser for a large teapot, so I decided to go to – every one's go-to-one-spot-shopping mecca to see what I could find. I quit after 300 and there were still pages and pages to go. Everything from tiny stars, seashells, hearts, through very strange concoctions by Copco and others, on through Finum and Swissgold. This last one is what I will get. It is large, it is Swiss, it is gold, what more could you ask for? A lower price. But, you can't have everything and I want to use my pot without using two infusers, especially if there is anyone but us chickens having tea. I shouldn't give in to the desire to look good, but I did anyway. So much for becoming an eccentric old lady.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Plain Tea and Sugar

The church in Durlach.

I received a list of tea reviews that really got to me. The teas had names like Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, Lemon Chiffon Pie, Coconut Cream Pie and Root Beer Float. All I could think is – Have we gone nuts?! If tea is the flavor of everything else, aren't we losing the essence of tea? Tea on its own certainly has enough different flavors. Think of the differences in Gyokuro, Dragon Well, Darjeeling, Ceylon. Even if tea is scented, there should be the taste of the tea under girding it. I need time to recover. I shall go and have some Yunnan, which tastes exactly like what it is – Yunnan tea.

In the meantime, I want to call your attention to a seller of quality teas, herbs and other good stuff for cooking and food/tea storage. This is Frontier Co-Op, selling all-natural, organic, fair trade goods. I have dealt with them for years and have found them to be good reliable merchants. The only problem with the teas is that many of them can only be purchased by the pound, although they have more and more of which you can purchase a small amount. They have very nice metal tins for tea storage. Check them out at I am in no way connected to them except as a satisfied customer. If you do buy herbs from them in 1 lb. lots, beware – it can be a huge amount. For example, a pound of oregano is about the size of a stuffed pillowcase.

Another merchant who also sells teas as part of an overall line of organic, fair trade items is Mountain Rose Herbs. Some things are not organic, but they are labeled. They have a small selection of teas and tisanes that are worth looking into. One of the nice things they have are reusable muslin tea bags in both small and large sizes. I have used muslin tea sacks – complete with a metal ring and handle and they do a great job for infusing tea. They have a huge selection of other things and you may want to order a paper catalog. I always do because I prefer them. I order herbs and essential oils to add to my teas and for other things, like potpourri. If you have pets, they even have some goodies for them, including super catnip. They may be found at

My friend, Mary does a huge amount of entertaining, mostly for folk in need of comfort. She likes to make things attractive for them and always uses her nicest china and silver. One idea I borrowed from her I will pass on to you for a tea party. She adds a few spoons of multi-color sugar to her sugar bowl and stirs it up. This is just the sugar you'd put on cookies. It's just a small touch, but it indicates thoughtfulness and care, and it adds a small bright note to the day.