Thursday, September 30, 2010

No Earl for Tea

A gold crucifixion scene from the Vienna State Museum

Ho boy, when it rains, it pours [and pours and pours]. The cats gave up on the outdoors and have decided this is a good day for a nap. I decided to make soup and maybe bake something - it is definitely a kitchen day.

And a good day for a cup of tea. I'm having Lavender Earl Grey from Teas Etc. It smells of very smooth lavender, with a piquant edge - I assume from the bergamot. I cannot smell either the tea base or the bergamot. The tea is almost gray with lavender buds. I brewed the usual 3.5 minutes with boiling water, It continued with the floral aroma, but I could catch some tea. Taste wise, this was a very pleasant lavender tea. Quite straightforward. However, the Earl did not come to tea with me and I was sorely disappointed in him.

Simpson and Vail still wins in the lavender Earl Grey department, with its Victorian EG.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Favorite Autumn Things

According to the State Museum in Vienna, this nail [in the gold fame at top middle] is the one used in the left foot of Jesus during his Crucifixion. I sometimes wonder what he would think of all our gold surrounded relics.

It smells like Autumn! There are enough turned leaves, rain, fallen leaves, etc. for that lovely smell to be wafting through the air. If I walk far enough on the edge of the road I can scuff through the leaves and add sound to my list of good autumn things. And in the early morning I can see the deer herd asleep in the meadow. And, I can really enjoy my hot tea!

I ordered a big lot of samples from Culinary Teas and their Imperial Keemun Mao Feng Sacred Garden is on tap for today. Imperial is a quality grade the Chinese use and it is top quality. Since this is not listed as a Keemun Mao Feng "A" it is not the best of the best, according to some. It is considered the best quality of the second grade. I know, all very complicated. I am not sure what makes the difference, perhaps the time of the pluck. For my money, however, I have always preferred the "B" grade, so this is quite fine with me.

This stuff smells terrific! A combination of wine, old wood, and a little smoke, very Keemun. The dry leaves are long and thin, although some are in figure 8s. I brewed this with boiling water and a heaping teaspoon for about 4 minutes. The smokiness disappears in the brewing and the tea now smells of toasted wheat, wood and wine. And very very fresh. It is a very smooth tea, no astringency, but the hints present in the aroma are coming through. The barest hint of smokiness is present, but mostly a deep barrel-aged wineyness. It is a little on the weak side, so next time I am going to throw in an extra spoonful for the pot. It takes a bit of cream very well, but I think I really prefer it plain.

What are your favorite Autumn things?

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Sweet Scents of Autumn

Hapsburg priests dressed well - all that glitters is gold!

Ummmm, apples, that wonderful fall gift. Apples scenting the car, round fat red apples on the counter, apples making sauce. The scent fills the house and I am happy. The deer are happy too, as they scoop up the neighbors' crabapples, leaving none for me. They are amazing creatures - all the fawns are now about 1/2 the size of their mothers and all their coats are that funny gray brown for fall and winter. They were standing next to our fence, which is about 4 feet tall, and just hopped over - no running start, just up and down!

Speaking of wonderful aromas - I bought some Mariage Freres Tea - Wedding Imperial. Oh my goodness, to open the can is to go to tea heaven. The combines smell of chocolate, caramel, tea and I swear, hazelnuts is just wonderful. Believe me, it carries through the brewing and on into the taste of the tea. It is just absolutely delicious. It is lovely with milk and I broke my own rule and added sugar, which only made it better! This would be a great wedding present. Actually, there are several companies which make some sort of wedding blend and you could make up quite a nice present with several blends, a teapot and infuser. Just think of the trend you could start!

Mariage Freres, which means Mariage Brothers in English is one of the triumvirate of French tea companies that are available in the states. The other two are Dammann Freres and Hediard. In my opinion, Mariage and Dammann are neck and neck in the wonderfulness sweeps. Hediard is pleasant but doesn't make me crazy with delight.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Wow Ceylon!

Just a simple jeweled solid gold Bible cover.

We went out to brunch today and I thought about having tea, but said, "Nah, it'll just be teabags and luke warm water" About 3/4 of the way through our meal, someone ordered tea and it was a real pot with real tea and boiling water. That'll teach me, maybe. Next time I'll ask about it.

One of my many tea orders was from Teas Etc, another company that allows you to buy samples before you invest in larger lots. Today I am having their Ceylon OP1, which means Orange Pekoe, a large leaf and the one is either the first pluck of this group or 1st quality or refers to a specific varietal. Ceylon is the largish island off the south tip of India.

What a treat! The scent of the dry tea will knock your socks off. It smells of a field after the rain or good red wine or chocolate covered lemon drops, or some combination of them all. The leaves were small to medium, black and somewhat twisted in appearance. As it was brewing for 3.5 minutes there was a combination of fresh wash on the line and good wine barrels, and still that chocolate lemon ending.

The infused tea didn't disappoint either. It was a nice dark brown with a winey, lemony, oaken taste, with hints of chocolate in the aftertaste. Wow, what a super treat this is from first to last. It really coats your mouth with lovely flavors. I've never been one to rave about Ceylon teas, but this is really an exception.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Lovely Oolong

A fountain in the church garden that has the diptych.

I decided I really needed to stretch myself more in the tea making department. I am often too lazy to get the most from my Oolongs and green teas, infusing them only once. Today, however, I decided to closely follow instructions from Gingko Seto, who owns Life in Teacup, and whom I really respect as knowledgeable, and do it her way. I selected her Dong Ding Oolong, Competition Grade III. This is sometimes known elsewhere as Tong Ting. It means it is a high grown Oolong, from Taiwan, grown above 3000 feet. There is a large temperature difference up there between day and night and it is often misty, meaning there is high humidity and filtered sunlight, without a lot of rain. This makes the tea grow slowly, producing more of the stuff that makes it a quality tea. The dry tea is tightly rolled, dark green balls with just hints of a floral, nutty scent. Grade III means it came in 4th in competition.

Gingko believes all tea, green, Oolong, or black can be infused with water just below the boil. So I did. I rinsed the little tea balls - about 3 grams of them -which I always do with Oolongs. This begins the process of relaxing the leaves so they can unfurl. I rinsed and drained and then waited a minute. I don't usually and I think this made a difference in the quality of the first infusion. Altogether I did 3, 20 second and 1, 30 second infusions.

1. It smells of green straw and tasted like fresh dried hay. You must remember I am a farm girl and these are my reference points. I liked it. I always liked to chew on long stalks of hay.

2. A lovely floral scent has come out, with still some straw, but some hazelnut is there as well. The taste incorporates all three, with the floral definitely in the lead.

3. A heavier, fuller, floral smell and taste and the tea seems to be more of a broth than just water. The taste lingers and gains a bit of vegetable greenness.

4. A very light scent of biscuits, that toasted flour/butter aroma. Yum. This is a pretty thin infusion, with just a touch of the biscuit, a little floral, a little vegetable. The taste mostly comes after you swallow and then lingers.

5. I mixed them all, as you might if you had a number of people tasting, and I must say, the combination is quite nice, combining all the scents and flavors of the four infusions.

I have to say that although this was time consuming, it was a lot of fun and I think I gained more of an appreciation for what I was drinking. If you would like to read some of Gingko's writings, just click on the Life in Teacup name to the right and there you'll be!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wonderful, Wonderful

This is a diptych, meaning two panels, hung over the choir stalls in a church in Germany. I had such a good time in the European churches. They just made me happy and mostly, awe-struck with their beauty.

After having so much real fall weather - cool but often sunny, today is scalding hot - over 90. Not a true Indian Summer because we haven't had frost yet. The sunrise was beautiful this am, turning the trees pink. Moonrise last night was especially lovely as well, as the clouds played hide and seek with the moon. I really appreciate living where I can see these events.

I have new teas, so I just can't wait for it to be cool again.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my favorite tea merchants is Dream About Tea, a wonderful tea shop in Evanston, Illinois, that specializes in Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese teas. I have always gotten top-notch tea from them and this is no exception. Today's selection is Golden Silk, from the Yunnan Province of China. I reviewed last year's in January, but this is the 2010 crop. It is grown in the high mountains, which are ideal for tea cultivation and it is only the fine buds and first leaves from the first Spring plucking. It is an attractive tea, with large, almost black leaves and golden buds. I could not identify the smell of the dry leaves, but let me assure you, it is wonderful, like some exquisite food you can't wait to eat. Maybe a touch of very special well-aged wood.

I brewed it for 3 minutes with boiling water, using about 1.5 teaspoons per cup. I really should have weighed it, but I've gotten pretty good at guessing with big leaves. The scent of the brewing tea was very much Yunnan, but with a very smooooooth edge that carries a touch of floral. The brewed tea was a real shock. Usually you can describe Chinese teas as a "red" tea, as they do, because they are some sort of reddish brown, but this was such a dark brown I would have to call it black. Oh my, what a wonderful taste! Very Yunnan, but not the spicey sort. It is more woodsy with some honey around the edges and then has a touch of astringency to ground it. But it is the smoothest Yunnan I think I've ever had. Wonderful, wonderful. What's even more wonderful is it is only $7.00 for 2 ounces, which is quite inexpensive in this year's tea market.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oh Canada!

This is Hilgenroth, Germany which I mentioned on Tuesday.

I have given up trying to match my tea to the weather. One day it is hot, the next, cold and mornings are definitely toe tinglers. Our trees are fast approaching peak coloration in some spots, with others kind of la-de-dahing around. It is my favorite time of the year. But so is spring and winter. Summer is tolerated as a necessity.

I put in a large order of one ounce samples to Culinary Teas and they came today, along with some nice samples of other things. So, of course, I have to dive right in. I chose Canadian Breakfast, as I had not heard of that blend before. We'll get to it soon, but first I wanted to tell you a bit about Culinary Teas. They have an amazing selection of what I might call British teas, some of which I think are the best of their type, like Lady Londonderry or today's trial. They sell one ounce sample of all their teas, so for not a huge outlay, you can try scads of teas. I love companies that sell in small lots, because if you get 4oz of something you hate, that is very expensive mulch.

On to Canada. I have done some traveling around in Canada and I highly recommend it. It is beautiful and the people are very nice. Which can also be said about this tea. The small dry leaves are chopped and give off an intriguing scent of wheat, asparagus and a touch of woodsiness. This aroma continues as it brews for about 3.5 minutes with 212 degrees water. It brews up to a really dark reddish mahogany, which is quite beautiful. In the cup, more of the woodsy smell comes out, which spills over into the taste. This is a smooth tea, with a good hit of malt, that woodsiness with some floral overtones and maybe a hint of roasted corn. It is delicious., a tea I'd really reach for in the morning or anytime on a cold raw day. It would definitely hold its own with a hearty breakfast or with some scones or desserts. I wouldn't brew it for more than 3.5-4 minutes, as I think it would get tannic.

I just finished a fun, small book - Steeped in the World of Tea. There is no editor listed nor any one author, as it was written by many people. It includes poetry, short reminiscences about tea, a few more factual essays and some bits about brewing tea. It is short and quite interesting, as the authors come from all over the world. It is the sort of book you can read an essay at a time, put it down and take it up again, without losing track of the flow of things.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Great Disappointment

My many greats-grandfather Schaeffer came from here in the
great Palatinate emigration to the American colonies in 1710. This is Dickshied, Germany. I am standing in Hilgenroth, Germany, where his wife was from. I like knowing my roots.

I also like knowing where my tea is coming from and some vendors do a really good job with that, others don't. I ordered some Golden Pearls from Teas Etc. and all it says is that it is "an elegant smooth hand-rolled Chinese black tea. However, they no longer have it on their website, so I can't find out any more. This makes me wonder - did they not get much or is this last year's tea?

I reviewed this last year on Aug. 9 and gave it really high marks, as it was exquisite. This however, is rather hum drum, with few nuances, an ok smell and nothing to excite me. It's maybe even a touch sour or acrid. Rats, I thought I was getting something wonderful and it's below ordinary. I will try it on another day and hope for the best.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Birthday Party!

I love the half timbering on these houses. I love the fact they've been there for 400 years.

I got my new license today - good for 8 years. It should be - it cost enough. I even look good. Most of the time I either look crazy or like some criminal. I don't know why that is, but it seems to happen to most people.

Tonight there is a birthday party at our house for 4 of us friends who are celebrating this month. There will be at least 2 cakes and of course, tea! I am letting people choose their own, as most are not much into tea or only drink herbal or decaf. I made a maraschino cherry nut pond cake ans I think there will also be a pineapple upside down one as well. These two are my husband's favorites, so he's in heaven.

However, this afternoon I had some tea from Simpson and Vail, Kenya Milima Estate Black. Dry there wasn't a lot of scent and the leaves were tiny. At first I thought they were the little CTC ones, but after they brewed I could see they were just chopped. I used heaping spoonfuls and I was only going to brew it for 2 minutes, but got distracted, so it went for about 3.5. Oh oh, I thought, but I was pleasantly surprised, as the tea was almost sweet and definitely mild and pleasant. It smelled almost of chocolate, with a very deep dark cherry edge. None of that came out in the taste, sadly, but this would definitely make a nice afternoon tea.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Who's Your Favorite?

A German street scene in Bacharach, a Rhine River town.

Cold and gray today, perfect for tea. I have some samples from Gingko at Life in Teacup to try and I thought I'd do her 2010 Red Tea Dan Cong. The leaves are huge and wiry, about 2.5 inches long. In the packet they have a rich strong grain-like smell, with some tree bark thrown in.

I covered the bottom of my Vietnamese mug's infuser with leaves and then threw in a few more, as I wasn't sure at all of how many to use. I brewed them for about 2.5 minutes, with boiling water. As you might expect, they barely unfurled. But they are wondrously large and some are only 1 bud and a leaf, while others are the more usual 2 leaves and a bud.

The brew is an old gold color and there isn't a lot of scent. What there is still smells of grain with a bit of floral and citrus. The taste is unlike any tea I've had, it is very light, again with a grainy taste and a little bit more of the citrus/floral coming through. Intriguing. It almost doesn't taste like tea, but with the next sip, I think, definitely a China tea. As it cools, more of a woody flavor comes through.

I brewed this a second time, for about 3.5 minutes. The color remains the same, but the scent seems to have faded. This one's taste is definitely woody-floral with just the barest hint of citrus. Definitely a really interesting and very good tea. I would not serve it with food, as its nuances deserve to be noticed all on their own.

A while ago I was trying to name my ten favorite teas and failed miserably, as there are far too many of them. But I can do my 10 favorite merchants: Upton's, Simpson and Vail, Life in Teacup, Aura Teas, Culinary Teas, Thunderbolt for Darjeelings, The Tea Spot, The Tea Smith, Harney's, Damman Freres. There, only 10. I won't mention the others, since I said I would do 10. Now it is your turn, I would really like to hear from you, dear readers, about your favorite teas or tea merchants.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oh, Happy Day

An ancient carved pulpit, about 10 feet above the floor of the
church in St Goar, Germany, an old Rhine River port. It is just past what once was the treacherous waters of the Lorelei Rocks. Sailors making it through this passage would burn offerings or give money to some pagan diety for safe passage. St. Goar, an Irish missionery, thought the church might prosper and so, he established a mission here. Today, going through the Lorelei by boat mostly involves the captain playing an awful recording of the famous song, to which everyone sings along. Tacky, but fun.

It's always a good day when the tea is good. We went to lunch at what is becoming our favorite local Asian buffet, the Buffet Star on Old Vestal Road in Binghamton, NY. The tea today was really good. A very dark roast Oolong, with a lovely smokey scent and taste that really went very well with the food. I still haven't been able to find anyone there who speaks enough English to tell me the brand.

Later we had a very nice Upton's Keemun sample from last year, which I already reviewed. It has been so cool that a sturdy black tea is very appealing.

The deer are beginning to form herds and the yearling bucks are beginning to get horns, along with their winter coat, which is mostly a drab tan. A few of the younger ones still have summer's red, but it won't be for long. All three of the fawns have pretty much lost their spots. they come to graze in our backyard and on the edges of our road, so we can see all the changes they go through. They are beautiful animals, but I don't feel very kindly towards them when they eat my flower buds.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Elusive Earl

More ancient frescoes. I believe this and the one from last week are both
from St. Peter's Church in Bacharach, Germany.

Our weather is keeping us alert. Today started out warm and sunny, then got very cold, poured down rain and then threw in some humongous hail to make sure we were on our toes. Now it is sunny and warm again. The cats informed us that this was certainly not acceptable. The geraniums in front are looking very sad from the beating they received.

Those kind folks at Boston Tea Company sent me more free samples to try! The first one up is Earl Grey Citrus. Earl Grey is one of my all time favorites. and I was eager to try this. It is a mix of Assam tea from India, bergamot, blue flower petals and orange peel bits, making it on the pretty side. The leaves are dark and small, which means they are probably chopped, as Assam plants have very large leaves.

The scent in the packet was wonderful, very strong, sharp bergamot with an almost equally hefty citrus aroma. Wow, I thought, what am I getting myself in for, here? I brewed it up with a heaping teaspoon per cup, for 31/2 minutes with boiling water. As it brewed, all the bergamot and citrus went away! Oh no! However, the Assam smelt wonderful, clean and clear and fresh.
When I finally sipped some, there was no bergamot taste, but a very nice citrus one, very muted. The tea base was excellent, however. Phoo, I was hoping for more.

I have begun to wonder if the bergamot that tea makers have available to them is of lesser quality than it used to be. If you've been reading this for a while, you know I've been trying a lot of them and my most constant complaint is the lack of flavor. Great smell, but not much in the cup. If it were only one or two, well, everyone has an off day, but instead it is only a few who have the flavor.

This weekend a group of friends is getting together to celebrate birthdays and share life stories. The birthday folk get 10 minutes and 10 pictures to convey their life. Yikes, I've lived too long, how can I squeeze it all in?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tea from Korea

I was fascinated by the many types of church steeples we saw.
This one was in Austria on the way to Zurich.

A new friend, who is Korean, stopped in yesterday and we shared a cup of tea from samples I was sent from the Hankook Korean Tea Company, . I received 4 samples, 2 green, a persimmon and an Oolong. We tried the green one labeled Teuk Seon. There was only enough for one cup, which I brewed at about 160 degrees for 2 minutes. Neither of us was really taken with the taste, although Mae liked it better than I. To me, it tasted and smelled sort of seaweedy. However, hours later I finished it and cold, it was very flavorful, a nice combination of earthy and floral. I doubt I will be purchasing any. At $90 for 2 ounces, it is way beyond my price range.

Mae told me this is typical of Korean tea, that only the first plucking is considered good enough for tea and much of it is exported to Japan. She had lived in Japan for quite a while and said that Korean tea there was even more expensive than what comes into the US. She said most Koreans drank barley tea or corn tea or teas they made themselves from things in the garden, like mint or chamomile. Unless one was very wealthy, green tea was just too expensive. Mae told me the persimmon tea was something easily made at home and generally used for medicine, as it was quite bitter.

It has been very lovely here in the early morning and early evening. Across the road, the sun shines on the field of goldenrod and it is just brilliant through the dark trees of the spinney. At night, the sun is gone from our yard, but still shines in the swale beyond our thin strip of trees and again, there is that bright gold through the dark tree trunks.

Skipping around a bit, we'll now go to the Assam region of India, where many small landholders are newly growing tea and forming associations to market and manufacture their tea. They currently receive little if any help from the government, but it is promised to them and they hope for it so they can be more organized and earn more from their mini- estates. About 25% of Assam tea comes from these small farms. [Excerpted from Darjeeling Tea News]

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cold Wind, Warm Tea

Remains of a fresco on an archway in a German church. I am glad they
are working to preserve their heritage, these things should not be com-
pletely lost.

It is quite chilly today, with a cold wind blowing. When I looked up at the hills above us, I noticed how many of the trees are beginning to turn. It's too early, too fast!

Ah well, I will comfort myself with going to a warm country for a visit via my teacup. Thanks to Simpson and Vail I will go to the Kertasarie Tea Estate on Java. Java is the largest island in the Indonesian archipelago, home of the capitol of Jakarta and center of the old Dutch East Indies. The soil is volcanic and they use Javanese, Sumatran and China varietals of Camellia sinensis for their teas.

This particular tea is composed of small, very black leaves, with a number of twigs present. It has a wonderful dry scent of licorice and grilled veggies, which continues through the brewing process. I used boiling water for about 31/2 minutes and the tea was quite a dark reddish brown. Taste-wise, It was very close to a Ceylon. although it was not a bit malty, it had more of a roasted edge to it. I think it would have been better if I had brewed it for another minute. I also felt more of the taste cam out as it cooled. It is a pleasant tea, but not an exciting one.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Japan Goes Black

My favorite monastery courtyard and tower, in Sorrento, Italy. The
pillars are all taken from defunct monasteries. Now, that's recycling!

The trees are already starting to lose their leaves. Two of them down the road have lost at least half. The farmer has gotten a third cutting of hay and his corn is beginning to move towards harvest color. It didn't get very big, due to the dryness. Fall is definately let us know it's lurking.

For the past week the blue jays and crows have been incredibly noisy, for what seems like hours. Their constant raucous cries have really gotten annoying. I haven't heard much from any song birds. I guess now that the young are raised, they may be off to more fertile climates. Or they are getting ready to leave. I saw one of those huge flocks birds make when they begin to head South. It always amazes me when they can wheel in near-formation. They are amazing creatures.

After a week of very high temperatures, today is quite different. Instead of being over 90, it may not even reach 70. The wind is blowing and the sky is gray instead of what has seemed like an oppressive blue. An ideal time for....You guessed it, TEA. And do I have tea. Yesterday I received 3 different lots. Two I had purchased and one was a gift of samples from the Boston Tea Company. The big problem now will be which to choose. I think I am going to go with a Japanese black tea.

I would bet you thought I made a mistake - Japan doesn't make black tea. Well, apparently they do. A new-to-me company in California, Far West Trading Company carries it under their T Bar brand. It is called Kocha. Cha is tea in Japanese, so ko must be black, as in kohl, which is used as eye liner. The company is located in Graton, CA, in Sonoma County, which is more famous for wine.

But on to the tea itself. The dry leaves are very black, tiny and with a lot of dust. I don't know if this is travel fatigue or just the way it is. They have an intense, sweet nutty smell, perhaps closest to hazelnut. There is also a strong scent of cooked squash. Both these aromas lasted all the way through the first and second cups. The directions say to brew for 1-3 minutes, with water just under the boil. Well, I decided to do all three, pouring out a cup at each minute mark.

The first was pretty bland and quite bitter. The second tasted more of squash than nuts, with a bitter edge. The third, brewed for 3 minutes was, for me, the best. The bitterness had disappeared and the nuttiness and squash seemed to have found their places, with the nuttiness most forward. There was also an understorey of clean earthiness, almost an old woody quality.
While this was very interesting, I don't think it will ever be a favorite, but I would probably serve it with a Chinese meal - I don't know how to cook Japanese, except for sukiyaki, with which this would go well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Taking tea with the Earl

I'm not sure who this chickie is, but I think that's a sword in her hand.
Today is so warm and sultry, it just conjures up "languid summer afternoon" A perfect day for swinging on the porch, reading a novel,
drinking tea.
I have found a very refreshing one. One of the few flavored teas I like is Earl Grey and I like it even more with lavender in it. One of my new Upton's purchases is filling the bill quite nicely. It's name is Earl Grey Tea, Lavender. No bell and whistles.
Upon opening the packet I am met with a lovely lavender scent. It's not the usual flowery, perfumey one, but one that is more herbal, almost minty. It's not very strong, either, more like homemade potpourri. The leaves are a uniform black, with some lavender buds. I brewed it up for about 3.5 minutes with water just under the boil.
There wasn't a lot of scent, mostly just the fresh tea, with hints of bergamot and lavender. The tea is a pretty golden brown and tastes wonderful. There's not a lot of either bergamot or lavender, but together they produce a warm, comforting herby taste to go with a very gentle tea. It's a light tea, perfect for a lazy afternoon. My husband really liked it. Wow. I think I will try it iced when I am finished with the one that's currently in the fridge - a blend of Darjeeling second flush and a Chinese Dragonwell - nice and light. I don't usually drink my cold tea with ice, so I don't make it very hearty.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Green Afternoon

This is a tiny church on Ischia Island, where the statues have real hair.
It is the church of St. Francis and I wonder if it is the one my grandfather-in-law was christened in. The main body of the building is round.

Have any of you used a tea sock? Not t-sac, sock? These simple handy gadgets are basically a sac of something like stockinet attached to a ring with a handle, for brewing tea. No little bits escape and they are very easy to turn inside out, rinse and reuse. I first saw these in Puerto Rican bodegas in NYC, used for coffee brewing, but they woork equally as well for tea. Isn't it amazing the number of gadgets there are for getting our tea out of the packet and into our cups?

I just used an ordinary Finum filter to make my cup of Temple of Heaven Gunpowder green tea from Golden Moon - another one of those samples. The tightly rolled little balls smell mostly of hay, with a tiny whiff of smoke. I used water at about 180 degrees for about 2.5 minutes. It is a pleasant pale gold. As it brews, the tea smells more vegetal, but still with that slight hint of smoke. This strikes me as unusual in Green teas. Maybe it's the leftover gunpowder. I hope you know that's a small bad joke. Supposedly the tea is called "gunpowder" because it is in such tiny balls, that is what it looks like. I would say more like fine guage shotgun pellets. Anyway, the tea itself is quite refreshing, tasting very green, with no seaweediness or fishiness, for which I am thankful. Amazingly enough, the hint of smoke has carried through to the taste. There's almost a hint of asparagus and there is definitely a full mouth feel to it. Nicely done.