Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spice and Everything Nice

A scene from the outdoor museum in Ballenberg, Switzerland. It
is a lot like Mystic Village or Plimoth Plantation, where old buildings and heritage animals [such as that turkey] are preserved and there are costumed people doing all manner of things, like baking bread, tending the animals, playing old games. A really fun place to visit.
I spoke too soon yesterday. We are supposed to get snow flurries for the next several days, with nighttime temperatures in the low 20's. I guess summer is really over.
Brilliant color has been hard to find this fall, but of late, the yellow trees are putting on a really good, stand-out show. One particularly beautiful yellow was hit by a shaft of sunlight this morning, backed up by dark blue clouds - magnificent! My lovely red maple in the back has lost it's leaves and now it is pretty gray out this window. I think I'll put both bird feeders here for something nice to watch.
Sometimes our cats are particularly cute. They've been lined up in a row on the other side of the road, watching the squirrels in a big stand of oak trees. They just watch - maybe they know they'll never catch them or maybe this is "kitty TV". The only other time I've seen them do that was when there was a skunk in the yard and then it was from the safety of the porch. As for me, I am watching a confab of crows in the back yard. They are beautiful intelligent creatures. If they had nice voices we would love them.
This is a perfect day for tea, as what day is not? I'm going with two old friends, Upton's and Yunnan. It is their China Select Tippy Yunnan, Catalogue number ZY88. This lovely stuff smells like peppered old wood and the very best of burleigh tobacco. The leaves are long and twisted with a great abundance of golden tips among them. I could not brew if for the recommended 5 minutes, so I only did 4, using a good 1.5 teaspoons because the leaves are so big. I think I really need to make my scale more accessible, so I can more accurately measure big ones like these. But that has always seemed just too snobby and/or mechanical to me. While it was brewing it gave off a lovely aroma of spiciness, on top of the other, along with a hint of chocolate. Is Yunnan back? The proof is always in the taste.
Oh hooray, this is good stuff! Very thick and smooth with woodsy, spicy tones here and there, a lingering roasty toasty feel, a bit of new pencils, newly sharpened. It is so smooth that the other tastes or sensations are very welcome, lest it slip down too easily. The wet leaves are huge! Personally I think more of the high and low notes come out as it cools. I am doing a second wash, for 5.5 minutes with half the water, as I have found that some black teas will still be good this way, and, given the higher prices, I can make my tea go farther. And, second washes often bring out new tastes. Ah well, not this one, all the good stuff is gone and it hardly even tastes like tea.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Fabulous First

Another Swiss mountain hut.

We're off to China again today, with a white tea from The Tea Spot, named Snowflakes. I hope it is not the precursor to the real things. This is my first white tea prepared properly. On their site, The Tea Spot says this is a single estate tea. It has the highest amount of antioxidants because it is the least processed of all the teas. They go on to say it has the least amount of caffeine, but there is some argument about that.

The dry leaves are a pale green with abundant silvery hairs. I cannot detect a scent. I brewed it up with 175 degree water for about 6 minutes. As it brewed I couldn't catch any aroma, other than a vague floral. The brewed tea is a very pale yellow and has a delightful floral taste, very delicate, but lingering.

My first time with white tea it was brewed in a microwave and I thought, hunh, this is just expensive water. The second time it was flavored with licorice, not a true test, so I really count this as first, and it is good, indeed.

I have led you astray. I told you the Korean teas I have reviewed were from the Korean Tea Company. They were not, they are from the Hankook Tea Company and are distributed by Good Green Tea. My apologies. You can visit their site at

Friday, October 29, 2010

Death of a Prince

A summer storage hut for cheese and milk.

Smoley Hokes, but it is cold today! I felt sorry for the folks at the farmers market. I bought some nice pears and other fruits and veggies. I have my counter full of stuff that is going into something today. Scallion rolls, apple pie, biscotti. If it's cold, cook, it warms you up.

A few days ago I said I was going to try Culinary Teas Prince of Wales Blend. It has taken me this long to get past the smell, which I think is horrid. The tea is kind of pretty, small leaves enlivened by red, white and blue petals. This is called a "Royal Blend" by them and identified as an afternoon tea with hints of black currant.

I am not even going to describe it. In my opinion it is awful! As bad as the smell. Rank, harsh, nasty.

Prince of Wales used to be one of my true favorites but in the past several years I have really not found one that is good, let alone excellent. I don't know if it is my changing tastes or if the good flavorings are no longer available. I like black currants, that is not the issue.

I read in a tea chat room that someone was reluctant to buy an electric kettle because of the difficulty of getting rid of scale. Scale is a whitish layer that forms on the heating or keep warm elements of these kettles from minerals in the water. It really is very easy to get rid of. We have pretty hard water, so every 6-8 weeks I simply run a potful with a hefty dose of lemon juice. Dump it out, rinse well and you're done. Before we moved I only need to do it about every 4 months. It all depends on the water you use.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkins With Coyotes

Yesterday was Summer, today is definitely Autumn, wind, cold,but blue skies and sun.

Last night was sort of disturbing. I think I've mentioned we have coyotes around us. Well, last night they sounded like they were right in our yard, there was so much loud yipping, howling and growling. Of course, one of our cats was out and I was very concerned about him. Especially at 4 am when it sounded like something was being killed right under my bedroom window. So, I leapt up, turned on all the outside lights and saw nothing, but I could still hear one coyote howling and growling nearby. Scary. Mr Andy, the absent cat, strolled in this am, nonchalant as could be. I was glad to see him, but I warned him about night excursions.

Two short reviews today. One from Hankook Korean Tea - Green Tea with Persimmon. It smelled almost minty with woodsy overtones as it was brewing - too small a sample in the packet. When it finished the infusion looked like old gold and smelled of hot metal, with medicinal touches, which is just how it tasted, no matter what I did with it. I did not care for it. I think it must have been persimmon leaves, as I assume the fruit would be, well, fruity and sweet.

The second is from Bigelow's and is their Autumn offering - Pumpkin Spice. The name says it all. It smells nice and spicy and full of pumpkin. I let it brew for 4 minutes and it was lovely. I added cream, but no sugar, as I thought it was sweet enough. However, I thought it would be a bit fuller tasting with some sugar, so I added some and it was. The box says you can make this as an ice tea, but that just doesn't appeal to me. It's a nice treat and could serve as dessert if you want to be careful with calories.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Another Sort of Yellow

I saw two gorgeous trees yesterday.One was a very large Japanese Maple that was a tapestry of bright red, orange and gold. The wind was blowing, so it was constantly shifting in its pattern, almost like watered silk. The other was some kind of oak that was the most stunning yellow I think I've ever seen, especially in an oak, as they often just get brown. The hills are really full of color, but it is muted because it hasn't been really cold over a period of time - only 2 minor frosts.

Today I am trying my first yellow tea. It is from Thunderbolt Teas, which specializes in teas from Darjeeling, India. Yellow teas are rare and particularly if they originate outside of China. This one comes form the Goomtee Estate. Yellow teas are green teas that have been oxidized a bit to rid them of the sometimes overwhelming vegetal scent and taste, they are sort of a sub- category of greens and need to be treated as such.
When I opened the sample Benoy kindly sent me with my order I noticed right away how fresh the large leaves looked, a greenish brown shot through with yellow. They smelled kind of floral, kind of vegetal, I couldn't really make up my mind. I brewed it at about 180 degrees for a minute and then a second time for 1.5 minutes. The first infusion was an old gold color and was still giving off the floral/vegetal scent. That was also the taste. For a short, cool infusion, the tea had a very thick mouth feel and a lingering hint of sweetness. The second infusion was very pale gold and the vegetal taste had pretty much disappeared, as had the thickness. It was very delicate.
I liked this tea, but I think I will stick to the greens I like, as the cost is more in line with my budget. I am grateful I had the opportunity to try it, however. I think I'll give the rest of the sample to a friend who is tiring of his green teas and see what he thinks.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Honey of a Tea

A bench on the church porch in Darstetten. The Swiss are a very tidy people and you'd best be tidy, too, or they will remind you.
I have wanted to be more fair to green and Oolong teas in my reviews, but I just am not in the mood. So here we are with another black tea. This is from Aura Teas, in Vancouver, Canada. If you ever have the chance, this is a beautiful place to visit and you certainly can get good teas there. The tea is Formosa Natural Wuhe Honey Black. And is it a honey!
The dry leaves are very black,and quite twisted. Dry it smells like honey graham crackers or granola, with a floral/ripe fruit overlay. This continues all the way through into the cup, for 3 infusions worth! Powerful stuff. This tea is sooooo smooth and rich tasting. You won't need sugar with it as it is sweet enough on its own. I didn't even use a drop of cream. A dark rich brown, the flavor really mimics the scent and tastes of honey, graham crackers, roasted barley. Very rich, and all this is after only 2 minutes of steeping.
The second steep was 2.5 minutes and as I said, the aroma just kept going. The color was a bit more on the red side and there was a bit of a brioche bread taste to it, along with the honey tastes. I decided I might as well try for a third, so I brewed this next cup for about 3 minutes, using only about half the water. Definitely paler and it has lost a lot of nuances, but that wonderful honey taste is still there. Since this is $8 an ounce, it is nice to know you can get 3 infusions out of it, or the equivalent of 3 ounces of tea for $8, which is pretty cheap for high quality tea.
Something I often do is blend the 3 infusions together, which I did and it is just lovely, heavy, dark, sweet, smooth as silk. I would recommend you drink this as hot as you can, in small cups. As it cools, it seems to lose some of its magic.
This tea comes from Hualien, on the eastern side of the island of Taiwan, up against the central ridge of mountains. It is a new tea, that is raised and processed like Bai Hao [Oriental Beauty] Oolong. That means that the tiny green leaf cicada bugs, attack the leaves, forcing the plant to produce a protective enzyme, which gives the tea its particular flavor. The tea is raised without pesticides and organically.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

From England to the Caribbean

This picture was taken from my grandfather's porch. That streak on the mountain on the other side of the valley is an avalanche run. Did you know that houses in an area of many avalanches are built with the peaks perpendicular to the mountain side so the avalanche will slide down the peaks? There is often a vee shaped structure between the house and mountain also. There will be many ramps and diversion structures built above a village.

Yesterday I felt the Kashmir Rose, while good and interesting, was missing something that would make it more appealing to more people. I added a bit of cinnamon to my last cup and wow! I thought it really brought it all together, making it warmer, somehow.

Today we're gonna zip over to an English style tea - Queen Mary from Culinary Teas. This is billed as a breakfast tea and indeed it is. After brewing it for less than 4 minutes, with boiling water, it nearly knocked my slippers off. It definitely reminded me of the tea I had the summer I worked in England. I used to run for tea break, hoping I could get some before they put sugar in it. This is a very straightforward tea, with not much in the way of nuances. Dry it smells a bit of chocolate and wine, but that doesn't come through in the cup. It is pretty tannic, which I am not crazy about, either in wine or tea. For me, I will keep it as a morning tea, especially on those mornings when I am just not waking up.

My husband and I came up with something that might do very nicely as part of the goodies for tea. We called it Plantains a Deux. We had 2 ripe - dead black - plantains to use up. We just had them for supper, with some ham.

2 very ripe plantains, mashed and beaten up with
about 1 cup chopped peanuts
about 3/4 cup coconut
2 eggs
1/4-1/2 cup flour, so the batter is about like that for potato pancakes
Lime juice to cut the sweetness a bit,
salt to taste
Sour cream for garnish, with a little sprig of something green or some toasted coconut

Fry in medium hot oil, making the little cakes pretty flat and being careful not to burn them. They should be cooked through, so they'll be a dark tan. Small ones will make about 24. Keep them warm in a 200 degree oven, on a paper towel until ready to serve.

For variation I think you could add a bit of curry powder or a little chili or some fresh coriander/cilantro, whatever sounds good to you.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Spicy Rosie

This very large bell was won by the Abbuhl family in Darstetten,
Switzerland in a singing contest. The red and white badge above the buckle is the town symbol, a castle with two towers.

It has been very interesting to watch the seasons move through their paces. I have been especially fascinated by the light. From my computer I view a short mowed area, backed by spindly trees followed by a swampy area that gives way to a hill. In summer, almost all of that is equally lit, but as fall has progressed, both in the morning and evening the yard and first rank of trees are in shadow, back lit first by the intense yellow of golden rod and then by the red-gold of the trees on the hill.

It has been equally fun to watch the light in the meadow and trees across the road. Now that fall has come, the sun no longer comes up in the eastern window, but shines through the meadow, back lighting the spinney. In the evening the sun goes down, leaving layers of light in great stripes behind these trees. The sad part is the sun barely clears the tops of the trees, except for a few hours in the middle of the day. However, my apricot/red trees are glowing, even when it is gray. There are enough trees that the wind in them causes a great rustling, which is a peaceful sound.

We are supposed to have a "dusting" of snow today. Now that, my friends, is really pushing it!
I think perhaps I had best have some tea to counteract it! Sometimes it is hard to choose, as I have a whole drawer full, claiming my attention. Aha, Kashmir Rose from Simpson and Vail. I reviewed this once before, but I suspect it was old, as it had little flavor. I purchased this in the summer, so I know it's fresh.

It smells wonderful, the note of lemon from cardamom and the rose from Rose Congou, a Chinese tea. I brewed it for 3.5 minutes with boiling water and that super aroma filled the kitchen. In tasting it, my first impression is the cardamom, but that fades into rose, with the solidity of the black tea underlying it. Nice plain or with cream and sweetener. You really should have some sugar cookies, too, but alas, I have none.

Last night I made a really good mushroom soup and as I did I thought what a super starter to a tea party it could be. I had about a pound of regular mushies and some baby bellas, along with 2 kinds of dried that were just hanging around. I sauteed them, in butter and olive oil, added some flour, cooked that a while, then whizzed it in the blender. I added it to some boiling chicken broth and beef broth- about half and half and simmered it for about half an hour, adding a good fat pinch of nutmeg, a little thyme and off the stove, about 1/2 cup of cream. It is so good. Using more than 1 kind of mushie gives it extra flavor. Oh yes, salt and pepper to taste. As a starter I would serve it with thin toast or something equally crunchy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sweet Jasmine

This is a milk station in Darstetten, where the farmers would bring their milk to be collected for
transport to the dairy.

Yesterday was a beautiful Fall day. Today we have the flip side -
cold, dreary, gray. A perfect day for tea. But then, any day is, although some just seem to cry out for warm drinks.

Boston Tea Company has been very generous in sending me samples to review. Today's is Jasmine and I am really looking forward to it. The leaves are a very pretty green, filled with Jasmine blossoms. They are like silk as I run them through my fingers and smell sweetly of Jasmine. Just the right touch, too, not overwhelming or cloying.

Jasmine tea is almost always a green tea, this one is a Chun Mee. After the leaves are dried, they are layered with fresh Jasmine blossoms anywhere from 3-7 days. Usually the flowers are removed each day and a new batch added. Generally the flowers are not included in the final presentation, but these were.

I brewed the tea at about 180 degrees for about 1.5 minutes, happily sniffing the lovely aroma. The liquor is a beautiful pale green. The tea is very pleasant, well-balanced, sweet. You can taste both the green tea and the flowery Jasmine. While it is not the very best I have ever had, it is very good in its own right. I thought perhaps the leaves and flowers could be ground and added to a good vanilla ice cream. I was also thinking about cooking a delicate sweet with it, but I don't think it would stand up to the high temperatures of baking. However, it might make a very nice jasmine custard to pour over pound cake or poached peaches.

Tea Ceremony

You can't have mountains without valleys.

My friend Joan and I had a delightful experience yesterday. We went to Tea Garden Ithaca for the Japanese tea ceremony. The web address is We were greeted by a kimono clad woman named Sheela who showed us a path to the pond so we could begin to prepare ourselves by just experiencing the beauty of nature, the sun and lovely trees. She then offered us each a poem and a small cup of sweet minty tea while she told us about the ceremony and her kimono and the symbolism of it.

After another cup of tea we rinsed our hands and walked down another meandering path to the tea house. Sheela slid open the shoji screens, asked us to remove our shoes and seated us on benches - my back has been bad and I requested a chair, not kneeling. She then entered by another door, behind a screen and came out with small dishes of sweets. We ate these while she prepared the aromatic fire. Disappearing once again, she then returned with all the utensils for tea ceremony; the tea, lovely bright green matcha, the tea scoop, tongs, a feather fan, a bamboo water scoop, a whisk, a cleaning cloth.

Everything was done with great precision and grace, from the folding and unfolding of clothes to Taking up and putting down the various implements. It was very serene. It truly was a time apart from our normal lives. We could just be in the moment. You felt you needed to speak softly, but it seemed natural, unforced. Sheela was so good about explaining things and answering questions. The bowl I was given was over 300 years old and had come with the story of all its owners on the box it was kept in. Joan's bowl was newly made by Sheela. She liked the contrast of old and new. The tea was a lovely frothy bright green, with some sweetness and something of an asparagus taste.

When the ceremony was over, we were told we could remain or walk through the gardens. We sat for a while and then wended our way home, coming away with peace in our spirits.

Sheela trained in New York and Kyoto to become both a tea ceremony master and teacher of tea ceremony. She views tea ceremony as a way of serving others, of enabling them to be at one in themselves and with each other and nature. I certainly think that was accomplished yesterday.
If you should be near Ithaca, NY and have the time - about 1 1/2 hours, make the reservations and go, I think you'll be glad you did. The cost is $12 per person and well worth it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Off to the Blue Hills of India

Grandpa's house in the mist and trees.

It's a beautiful day in our neighborhood, with the mist finally lifting, the sun shining and all the kitties running out to greet the catch of the day.

My tea catch of the day is from samples I bought from Culinary Teas, those folks who make such good Lady Londonderry. I was going to have their Prince of Wales, but I couldn't stand the smell so early in the morning, so I am trying Nilgiri Nonsuch BOP. The Nilgiri mountains are in the very south of India, straddling the Tamil Nadu border with Kerala.
In English, they would be the "blue mountains". BOP stands for Broken Orange Pekoe. Orange Pekoe is not a flavor, it refers to leaf size - large. Broken means just that, a semi full-leaf and the leaves are smallish, dark and crinkly, smelling wonderfully of raisins, flowers and grain.

I brewed it for 4 minutes with boiling water and it continued to exude a dark warm, sweet aroma, laden with chocolate as well. Nonsuch is a good name, for all the different components. The tea was smooth, dark and heavy with a bright, almost edgy bit of harshness to it., quite improved by cream, which did away with the edges leaving the pleasant sweetness. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it were stronger, so next time I will add a bit more.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Those Monkeys Need More Training!

I truly love mountains, hills, sand dunes, anything that goes "bump" in the geography.

Since it is so grim and gray out, I thought I would go to California for today's tea. It is from TBar part of the Far Western Trading Company. It is Lou's Leaves, Monkey Picked Chinese Black Tea. It originally came from Nan Ping County in Fujian Province, in the heart of the misty mountains. To break down the name a bit for you, apparently Lou, whoever that is, selects certain teas as being of better or more distinct quality. According to legend, monkeys were trained to pick tea leaves from the high branches of very old tea trees or from ones that had grown out of cliff faces. I have never seen any real proof of this, but some Chinese seem to think if something is monkey picked it is better. I have some herbal remedies that sport this claim.

When I opened the packet, I was pleased to see some nice long twisted black leaves, with an abundance of gold buds and gold dust from the fine hairs on them. The tea smelled very similar to a Yunnan - that special combination of fresh, wind-blown wash and old wood in the sun. I brewed up about a teaspoon with boiling water for almost 4 minutes. The taste was smooth and sweet, with a subtle, almost Yunnan taste, minus the pepperiness of a really good one. Sadly, it was on the thin side and really no better than ho-hum.

Some legends have at least a kernel of truth in them. In our Scottish family, those of us who have the legend of "Matchless Martha" Mansfield McDuffee as saviour of Londonderry, N Ireland when it was under siege in 1695ish have so far proven to be the descendants of her and her husband, John McDuffee. She allegedly had squirreled away a quantity of meal that she brought out at just the right time to carry them through until help arrived. If nothing else, it's fun to think we have a heroine in the family

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tea in the Clouds

I must apologize. I wrote this for last Thursday and never put it

The very tiny and tidy cemetery in Meiringen, Switzerland. Typically each gravesite will contain an exquisite small, flowering garden. I was quite taken with them.

I had a lovely tea today, Huang Shan Cloud from Life in Teacup. I believe it means Yellow Mountain. The tea comes from southern Anhui Province in Eastern China and is a UNESCO World Heritage site, that is known for its clouds and sunsets. In this area of steep mountains there are many temples and stone steps carved into the mountain sides. It is an area known for its mists and fogs, which means the tea receives filtered sunlight, which increases the chlorophyll content of the leaves. These are then only slightly withered before being processed into dry, long, wiry tea. This particular tea was plucked pre-GuYu, that time in the early Spring when the sun is exactly 30 degrees celestial longitude. This year, it means the tea was plucked before April 20.

I first rinsed this lovely green tea in boiling water and then let it brew for 1 1/2 minutes. It was a pale, pale golden green and gave off a lovely orchid smell. The taste was that of floral and asparagus, which went together very well, with more floral coming out as it cooled. The second infusion was paler, but with more floral aroma. The taste was a bright green vegetal with only a hint of flowers. It was a lovely tea, perhaps the first one I have really felt I would like to sip all day long, to continually experience all its nuances.

I went for a walk in the field around our house. In one area, where it had been mowed once in a while, the late asters had only grown about 4 inches, so there was a carpet of blue stars, sooo lovely. I also found the neatest little frog or toad - he was all gold, just like the leaves, so I had a hard time keeping track of him as he hopped about. I had never seen a gold frog before, so altogether, I felt I had a truly blessed walk.

Finally, I am Warm!

Oh Boy! Am I glad to be home - I haven't been warm since we left on Thursday am. Our friends keep their house at 52!!!!!! and the inn where the wedding weekend took place was only warm in the halls and a few public rooms. And it was cold!, with wind and driving rain. No outdoor wedding next to the lake, in the central Adirondacks. But there were lots of Tazo teas and boiling water, so this little tea piggy was quite happy.
The whole event was great fun, with good food at every meal - especially no baked ziti, hooray! A local church opened their doors, turned on the heat and we were all set. There was a piper for all the music - so grand, and lots of handsome Scots in their dress tartans and ladies in clan sashes, rosettes, skirts and tartans. Best of all was the amazing look of love and tenderness for his bride on our Will's face for the entire ceremony.
When I got home the kettle went on and I got out a sample of instant chai. As most of you know, this tea drink originated in India and I have to say it is about the only instant tea I've had that is any good and some is quite wonderful. This particular sample is from the kind folks at Tipu, who asked me to review it. Right from the opening of the packet, it was good - it smelled wonderful, rich and spicy and I swear I could smell the tea, too.
I brewed it up with 8 oz of hot milk and a rounded teaspoon of the mix. It didn't taste quite right to me so I added some half and half and some sugar and aah, perfection. It is quite spicy, just the way I like it, but if you like it milder, use less. I think it may have had some nutmeg in it, but I could certainly taste the cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and just a whisper of clove. I was quite happy about the last, as too much clove ruins things for me - like most Christmas blends. I added the half and half as most Indians I know always recommend whole milk and mine was
1 %. Everyone will be different.
I compared this with my usual chai, which originated in the Hyderabad area of India, whereas Tipu's comes from Gujarat. They are roughly on a SE -NW diagonal from each other geographically. The H chai is a bit smoother and softer, whereas the sample is a bit heartier and you can separate out the spices a little better. I give them both high marks, but I have to say that the ease of preparing Tipu's is a big plus.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New Yunnans

More detail on yesterday's tomb.

Y'all know I really love Yunnan teas. To me they are unique and I have been waiting for this year's crop to arrive. I ordered a few from Uptons Teas and today I am trying their Huang Jin Yunnan. The long twisted leaves are a greeny brown with a goodly portion of silvery buds.
The aroma is that of a floral spice, with some cotton candy thrown in for good measure.

I brewed it up with boiling water for 5 minutes! Yikes, but those were the directions. It gave off a lovely scent of old wood and chocolate. I had high hopes for the taste. Sadly, this was not to be. There was some definite spice and a bit of chocolate, but it was overshadowed by the bitterness of too long a brew. I put some half and half in and that made a huge difference to the good, as it smoothed away the edges. Then I brewed some for only 4 minutes and it was a great improvement, as I could better taste the spice and chocolate and that indefinable something that says "Yunnan" to me. However, this too was improved with the addition of a bit of cream.

I have to note that 2 days ago, when I had no time or inclination to think about tea tasting, just time to enjoy tea, I brewed some of this for my usual 3.5 minutes and my memory is that it was so wonderful, even my husband commented on how good it was. So, I am going to take my own advice and do it 3.5 minutes in the future.

This illustrates something we need to be aware of when having tea - finding the one that suits you. Individual taste is unique to each of us. The folks who reccommend a certain temperature or length of brew may only be giving you a broad outline, however skilled they are in tea brewing. Often you can find someone equally skilled who disagrees completely. Case in point - most people say you should brew Oolong with water at 185 degrees and put a lid n your pot. Gingko Seto says to use boiling water and leave the pot uncovered. Who is right? Both work. You need to experiment for yourself and see what suits you the best.

I do reccommend that your first cup of a new tea should follow the merchant's suggestion, or go with what is generally suggested for a certain typeof tea and then play with it until you like it. Again, you need to bear in mind that merchants and their staff are people, too andtheir suggestions come from their tastes, which may not be yours.

Tomorrow will be my last post until next Monday. We are going to visit friends on our way to a family wedding. The men will all be in kilts, the women in clan dress of some sort, there will be a piper and this all will be in the Adirondak Mountains of New York amidst beautiful fall color. Such fun!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Not So Peachy Mango

The tomb of one of the Hapsburg kings. The figures are all life size.

Well, my friends, we had Indian leftovers with some other friends last night. All told, 10 people ate what I cooked for 3. I guess I did get carried away! Sure was good though, as was the converstion. It is nice to have friends that will eat leftovers.

It is another really gorgeous fall day, all red and gold and blue. I am tasting two teas today - sample teabags I got in an order. They are Mlesna Tea - Naurally the Best. . This is a Sri Lankan company, but, as you may know, all their teas go by the country's old name of Ceylon. It is an island off the most southern east coast of India. One is Peach apricot and the other is Mango. The peach apricot smells just like that, but the mango just smells sweet, with the barest hint of the fruit. I used boiling water and infused them about 2 minutes. I don't like to infuse teabags too long as I feel they get nasty quickly, as they are genrally made of very tiny bits of tea.

In the cup, the peach apricot has almost no outstanding flavor, merely a hint of what it is supposed to be. The mango doesn't taste like much of anything, but what there was, wasn't pleasant. I don't know if this is a problem with the tea itself or the packaging, as they were sent to me as is - in thin paper wrappings, so they have been exposed to air for a while. This doesn't do good things for any tea. This is not a good way to encourage people to try something new. They may have fared better in cellophane or a plastic bag in transit.

I made a discovery last night - I had no dessert, so I just made up a tray of what nuts, dried fruit and plain chocolate candy bars I had around. It was a great conclusion to the meal, as it was basically light, didn't clash with all those exotic tastes, and encouraged people to sit around and yak. We didn't get up from the table until 10 pm.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fall, Glorious Fall!

Pretty fancy church pews, but they don't look too comfy.

What a grand fall day! One of those really perfect ones where it is sunny and warmish, the trees are bright, the sky is a deep blue and you feel quite wonderfully alive.

We had a wonderful Indian meal last night, but there is a slight problem - lots of leftovers - I got a little carried away! Guess we'll have to have more people over to eat them.

Aura Teas does it again! Today's offering is their Organic Chamong Black Tea FTGFOP1, which hails from Chamong, Rungbang Valley, India, which is in Darjeeling, in the North North West part of India, east of Delhi. The altitude there is from 3,500 to almost 7,000 feet. All those letters after the name are clues to what you are getting , teawise. In this case, Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe . The one may refer to either the first picking or best grade.

This is a tea that dry is almost too good smelling and looking to brew. The small twisted leaves are a mix of shades of brown and tan with some silvery gray to spark it. The smell is wonderful - it reminds me of the heavy aroma of a green plant I can't remember the name of, with a heady mix of dark chocolate. Another sniff is chocolate with the aroma of forest floor. I brewed it the standard 1 teaspoon, 8 0z, three minutes and while it was brewing, it smelled woody with hints of jasmine and chocolate. It is a very smooth tea with a full body. There are indeed wood tones, with chocolate and floral. One of the best Darjeelings I've had in a while.

If you like to can peaches and you like ginger, can them with slices of ginger or candied ginger - about 5-6 per quart. If you get yours at the grocery store, pour off the juice and boil it up with the ginger, add the peaches and simmer for about a minute. Very tasty. They make a nice filling for a plain cake, perhaps with a few drops of almond flavoring.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sorry, Blogger thingy isn't doing doing paragraphs today.

Gothic abounds!

I saw a John Scheepers bulb catalogue yesterday and I am finally going to do what I have wanted to for ages - order me some amaryllis and paper white narcissi. I will get one named Amalfi for my husband and one named for butterflies that is a bit odd. And enough narcissi to make the house smell lovely.

No tea tasting today - I am making a big Indian feast and I only wanted old standbys. We're having chicken cooked with coconut and sweet spices, potatoes from the Mumbai region, spinach creamed with coconut milk and cashews, naan, a tomato and an orange raita, chutney and homemade mango ice cream, which I have to say is truly fantastic.

However, yesterday I did try some Green Tea Mints - fresh breath therapy! I believe the brand is Sen Cha and I think they came as a little gift in my order from T Bar Teas. They are cute little things, shaped like tea leaves and are made from organic green tea extract, jasmine, sweet fennel, tea tree oil, flavors, colors and Lo Han Guo, which I have not heard of. There are also some natural sweeteners. You can definitely taste the green tea and maybe the jasmine. They're a bit odd, to my taste and I don't know what they have done for my breath, but I do know both the Chinese and Japanese have used green tea for centuries to deal with bad breath. My mouth feels fresher, but there's no one around to breathe on at the moment.

Just a note - tea tree oil does not come from tea bushes - Camellia sinensis - it comes from Melaleuca alternifolia, which grows in Australia, not where most tea comes from.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I Say Keemun, You Say Qi Men

Nice bit of Gothic soaring.

The hills are finally beginning to color more, but as we've not yet had frost, it's not too impressive - one of those falls that kind of limps along, so that you see trees here and there that are brilliant, but no masses of super-color.

My friend D has decided to raise Italian Volpinos - Google them, they are super gorgeous. On both her and her pup's maiden trip to the show ring - with no preparation, the divine Miss G took 16 ribbons! Including something like 12 firsts. Way to go Giovanna! D didn't trip or do anything to detract from her dog, either!

I have been on a Keemun kick lately. I do love the stuff and I ordered a bunch of it from different sources. Today's comes from Aura Teas, one of my favorite companies and this is their Organic Keemun Black. I love the tins it comes in. This particular tea comes from Wuyan, Jianxi, China. It is also known as Qi Men Hong Cha, Qi Hong or Prince Tea. It is only picked in the Spring and Summer and then only the first 2 leaves and the end bud. The processed tea is a shiny black, consisting of tightly rolled leaves. I also love having all this information.

This particular Keemun's dry leaves are not so smokey as others I have had, there is more of the characteristic deep wine, with a sweet scent. I didn't quite follow directions, as I had an impatient husband waiting, but I brewed it fairly close to 1 teaspoon per 4 ounces of 203 degree water for 2 minutes and a second brew with an additional 20 seconds [really closer to 30].
Yum, a lovely sweet and floral aroma that carries over into the taste, but there is still that underlying weight of some wine. This first infusion is very smooth. The second infusion reminds me at first of dried corn with a hint of a green autumnal taste. It is also very smooth. I like them both with milk, as there is yet another taste sensation. An excellent tea for a cool Fall day!
This is not the best Keemun I've had this year, but I would rank it up with the top three.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Will You Have A or B?

A memorial in Vienna to the end of the plague.

Oh my, but I hate shopping. Especially if it is one of those trips where you wind up going to a dozen stores - well, 3 or 4 at least, to find something. The internet is much more my speed, most of the time. I am really glad there is so much good tea to be found there.

Just last Wednesday, I was talking about the difference between Keeman Hao Ya "A" and "B" or unlabled. Today I was tidying my tea tasting cupboard and found some of the "A" from Upton's - samples I purchased this fall. So, why not do a bit of comparing? This smells much more smokey than the other and more deeply woodsy. The leaves are about the same, small and very black. I brewed up a pot using 1 teaspoon per cup for 31/2 minutes. As it brews the smoke disappears to be replaced by a deep floral aroma, with some good earthy, woodsiness under it. This one doesn't need any extra spoonsful for the pot, it stands quite well on the usual amount.

The taste strikes me as quite earthy, with an almost sour kick to it. Not a bad sour, a good sour. I have to say that because it is not a citrus nor any sort of fruit. The smoke has disappeared. This is heavy tea, suitable for cool weather or breakfast or with a somewhat substantial meal. I tried it with cream and what a difference! The floral notes come out and it loses a lot of its heaviness. I am still leaning toward the "B" or unlabeled category - all unlabeled are "Bs", but this is really going to give them a run for their money. Once again, I am astonished by how many tastes there are in a cup of tea!

As I was listing labels I realized there are many types of Keemun. Hao Ya, Mao Feng, Heng Ru, Ji Hong, probably more. And I don't know the difference! Perhaps I had best find out. If I do, I will let you know. If you know, please put a note in the comment section and tell me.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I just read in The Darjeeling Tea News that a company in India is beginning to market an oil that keeps bugs off tea leaves. It somes from the same petroleum base that winds up as oil for your car. One more reason to go as organic as possible with my teas. I think they will be doing it first in Assam and later on, in Nilgiri. Dreadful news.

Ok, Ok, It's Fall

The Royal Hapsburg emblem - the double-headed eagle.

Okay, even I will admit it is Fall - the sun is low, and there is almost-frost on the grass in the morning. I love Fall, but I guess I am running ahead of myself as usual and anticipating the gray days, which I really hate. I should work at just living in and appreciating the moment - especially when so much of it is beautiful.

Towards that end, I am trying Boston Tea Company's Autumn Harvest. These kind folks have given me sooo many samples. This is really what is considered a tisane or herbal infusion, as the base is rooibos -"red bush" in Afrikaans, one of the many languages of South Africa, the country of origin. The closest pronunciation would be "roy-boo-s". Rooibos has been used for hundreds of years by native peoples but has only been really noticed in this country in the last 10 years. It makes a very good base for flavors, as it doesn't seem to compete with them. In this case, the flavor comes from lemongrass, dried apples cinnamon and rose hips, all of which not only taste good, but are good for you.

I used about double what was called for - 3 teaspoons per cup, as I know I like things on the strong side, and I brewed it at the upper limit - 8 minutes, using almost boiling water. This orange tea (yup, a Fall color, even) smelled wonderfully of cinnamon, with a slight zing, probably from the rose hips. As it brewed it smelled more like sweet baked cinnamon with apples. And that is just what it tasted like! Very soothing and definitely in the "comfort food" range. It created a warming and cosy atmosphere, something good to have when you are "tea-ed out" but want a warm drink, as there is no caffeine in it. I did not like it with cream and I don't think it would need sweetener, unless you really like sweet things, as the apple and cinnamon seem to do a good enough job in that department.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

One of the ceremonial robes of Hapsburg Royalty in the State Museum in

I was reading one of the many tea blogs I like to keep up with and on there are pictures of a couple of interesting new tea things - a yellow submarine tea infuser - always appropriate to use when listening to the Beatles - and some bracelets made from tea cups, which are very pretty. You will need to scroll down a few entries to see them, but they are worth a quick look-see.

I was also reading Tea and Coffee magazine this am. There is an article in there about sustainable coffee manufacture, from farmers to vendors shelves. It was quite interesting, as I know the tea industry is also working in that direction - that of caring for the land and the growers well-being. I have to applaud this movement, as I care about what I eat and drink and about the people who produce it. I have noticed that organic tea is a little more expensive - generally about $1 more per quarter pound. That comes out to about 1 1/2 cents a cup. Not nearly enough to make a fuss about. If you are already paying a higher price for top quality tea, another dollar is not nearly too much. Organic does not necessarily mean the end product is better, you still need to taste and discover for yourself what you think is best.

I got an order from Aura Teas earlier this week and they kindly sent me 4 samples to try. They are generous samples - enough for about 3-4 cups of tea. Today I am trying their Formosa Nostalgia Dong Ding. A few days ago I tried one from Life in Teacup. I cannot really compare them as this one I decided to infuse for 2 minutes. I used nearly boiling water and the whole sample, which was a bit over a teaspoon per cup. The tea is smallish rolled green balls, with a stem, as is supposedly typical of this tea. It is a high mountain tea, sometimes also known as Tong Ting. I first washed it for a few seconds and then drained it, which is much facilitated by using one of those nifty pots that drains from the bottom when you place it on a cup. Several teashops carry them such as Teavana and others.

The tea brewed up to a lovely golden color, smelling of roasted orchids, with a sturdy green underpinning. It smelled so good that I almost wanted to just do that. The leaves unfurled to be about 2 or more inches and there were anywhere from 2-4 per stem, which is where the Nostalgia comes in as this is an old style of this Oolong. What was surprising was how quickly they unfurled, less than a minute. But on to the taste. At first, there was a strong roasted one, but as the tea passed over my tongue it became floral - very interesting. Then there were hints of nuttiness and greenness and a little bit of astringency. Towards the end of the cup it acquired something of a roast veggie scent and taste.

The second cup, which I brewed for about 3 minutes, is a pale gold and smells distinctly nutty, but still has a very nice orchid overlay. While something of a pale shadow of its former self, the nuttiness really comes out, with the floral and astringent parts as the tail end of each sip. As it cools, more floral scent comes out and the nutty taste becomes more orchid-like.

It is so fascinating to me to have cups of tea give up so many tastes and nuances and how much they can change, even in one sip, let alone a cup or two or three. It is what keeps me wanting to try more and more new teas as well as appreciating the old. Sometimes you just want a "cuppa", one that doesn't require thought or seeking to identify an aroma or flavor. Both are equally worthwhile. One may appeal to one person or both to the same person, depending on mood or circumstance. Tea is wonderful in that it accommodates every bit of that spectrum. Hooray for tea!!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sun After Rain

A platter about 21 inches in diameter, made from one piece of
alabaster. Again, the Vienna State Museum.

I guess the whole East Coast really got a storm yesterday! The wind howled and the rain fell in sheets. Cats and dogs even. The Susquehanna is about 2-3 feet higher than it was on Wed. In fact, I think it rose perhaps another foot in just the two hours from when I left until I came home today - that's a lot of water! Today, however, the sun is once again out and the meadow on the other side of our spinney is shining gold. With the gray tree trunks in front and some bright orange leaves, it is quite a tapestry.

My very kind tea friend, Gingko, from Life in Teacup, sent me some samples, which arrived today, oh happy day. The first one I spyed was Yunnan Golden Bud and that is as far as I got, as Yunnan is my uber-favorite. And there were lots of golden buds, nice big fat, crinkly ones. I immediately set water to boil and opened the packet and had a good big sniff. What a nice fresh, spicy, almost lemony smell. I almost sneezed! I brewed it for 3 minutes, but I don't think that was enough, as it seemed a bit weak. However, as it cooled, more of that lovely woodsy, spicy Yunnan taste came through. It is a lovely golden brown. Then I did something I don't usually do with black teas, I rebrewed the leaves. I used half as much water and brewed it for six minutes. My, this is good. There aren't a lot of nuances, but it seems to have acquired a depth it didn't have the first time around, a fuller, more grounded earthiness.

As good as this is, this is not the Yunnan of a few years ago. It is a muted shadow of those great teas. This is not surprising, as the weather in Yunnan was not conducive to a top crop this year, as it was in many parts of the tea producing world. It is easy for us to forget that tea is an herbal crop and subject to things like weather. Those of us who are gardeners know what it is to lose a crop to drought or bugs or an early or late frost.