Saturday, December 31, 2011

Add A Little Chocolate to Your Life

Those wonderful stripes are early spring vineyards on the Rhine River.  These would have to be hand harvested grapes.  I did that a few autumns to make money when I was in college in the Finger Lakes of NYS.  It was hard work on such steep hills and we didn't get paid much.

I can't believe that here it is the last day of the year and I am just now trying my Christmas teas.  Oh well, a good way to see the year out.  Today's is Chocolate Chai, from the Briar Patch, one of our local stores, who thankfully, is coming back to town to reopen.  Her teas are available at  The smallish leaves are black and mixed with spices and the tiniest white and chocolate chips I've ever seen.  I brewed it up for 4 minutes, all the while sniffing the heady aroma of chai with the filip of chocolate.  The chocolate really seems to add something, although the proof is in the brew.

Ah, yes, it is indeed a good brew!  Not only does it smell good, but the spices are nicely balanced, along with the chocolate and they seem to chase each other around my mouth, first one is accented and then another.  The nutmeg and cardamom vie for the ending with the ginger sometimes taking over.  This is not so spicey as to put people off, but it is within range of those of us who prefer more in that department.  If anything, I think the chocolate rounds everything out nicely, without being overwhelming.

I have noticed that chocolate also goes very well with puerh tea and if you want to try puerh, but are a bit afraid of it, you might want to look for some blended that way.  I hesitated about puerh for a long time, but brewed right, it is a very pleasant woodland earthy tea.  If it is brewed too long, some of us find it begins to edge more towards barnyard earthy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Longing for Snow

I hope you all had very nice Christmases, with lots of wonderful tea gifts.  I certainly did.  My sister-in-law gave me a whole tea party, complete with Devonshire cream, lemon curd, scone mix and a pan to bake them in.  We're supposed to have company this week, so I am going to have afternoon tea with some of the goodies.  I'm dying to try the pan. 

My husband and I had to laugh - I bought him a bunch of good coffee and he practically cleaned the shelves of our local tea store.  We got lots of specialty food items as gifts, so we are going to party hearty with our friends.

Speaking of which, I just had a pretty hearty tea.  It is Keemun Encore, from Adagio Teas.  A Chinese black tea, the thin wiry black and brown leaves gave off an aroma of smoke, mixed with roasting corn and, of all things, onions - very faint, but I think it was there.  I brewed it up for 4 minutes with boiling water and the smoke remained, but the scent morphed also into red wine and that unmistakeable fresh tea smell.  You can imagine I was wondering what the taste would be! 

The taste was still smokey and the corn and wine were still there, but no onions.  It was deep and solid and hearty.  I happened to have it with a couple of Christmas cookies and I won't repeat the experience.  They really set each other off in an unpleasant way.  With a small ham sandwich, it was excellent.  I can't say I really liked this tea a lot, but it was certainly an experience.  That's what I like about tea, every cup is like an exotic trip.

See that white stuff on the mountain?  That's snow, which I wish we had.  I can say lots about being forced to notice things more carefully since we are in a gray/brown period, but my heart is longing for snow.  Maybe 6 inches.  Enough to cover everything nicely without it being too hard on  anyone.  Actually, I like lots and lots of snow, but I am trying to be nice  
We went out for dinner on Christmas with a bunch of friends.  We've never done that before, but I think we will again when our kids aren't here.  We had a lovely time, with excellent food, wine and company.  What more can you ask for?  And no prep, no clean-up.  Yum.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas Memories

I've been listening to some wonderful Christmas music, the latest is some of James Galways wonderful offerings. I especially love the song, "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Silent Night" in German.  There are so many.  But I don't like hearing them 6 gazillian times in every store I go into, especially since the recordings are often bad.  The two I mentioned bring back warm memories of Christmas pagents and my grandfather singing that old hymn in the language of his youth, just so my grandmother could hear it again.  The flute music brings to mind my son who is now in Florida and the " Little Drummer Boy" has 2 attached to it.  One is from when I was singing tenor in high school and our only words in that song were "pa rum pum pum".  The other is my older son who loves drums.

When I was a child, we always opened presents at home with one set of grandparents and then went to my mother's parents for dinner.  We never had stockings there, we always had a Christmas Plate.  Often the best thing was a huge orange that was purchased at the Orange Store that opened just after Thanksgiving and had what was then very exotic - pink grapefruit and kumquats.  I don't remember the meals but I do remember the books.  I always got books for Christmas and the afternoon found me lost in them.  When I
was  a child, horses, dogs and Nancy Drew were my favorites.  Mysteries are still my favorite books.

Oh Christmas Tree - my father always waited as long as possible before giving in to mymother and I, pleading for a tree and he always came home with the most pathetic trees, scrawny, scraggly and hard to see which side was the absolute worst.  Even if I was along he picked the worst!  But with my mother putting tinsel on one strand at a time, they usually looked at least ok and it was always a thrill to get out the remembered ornaments.  There were even a few tiny tea pots.  When my parents decided to get an artificial tree, my mother let my father pick it out.  You guessed it - another Charlie Brown tree.  But I gave her a small chubby tabletop tree as well.  We lived on a farm, I don't know why we didn't just go out in the woods and cut one.

There are other wonderful memories of making cookies and sending them off, shopping in department stores with wonderful animated scenes in their windows, buying nuts at the nut store with a revolving Mr. Peanut, going to the fire house for a party and getting a book from Santa, playing an angel in the Christmas pagent, sitting in the church balcony and watching the light from a hundred candles spread through the building, finding just the right present for everyone, especially "Evening in Paris" sets for my mother.  i never did know if she liked them or was just kind.

When we had our own kids I remember the year they picked out the tree from a friend's farm.  It was huge! and our living room was tiny!  We had to move almost all the furniture out and could only see someone else in the room from one or 2 spots.  It was glorious!  Then there was the year we had a new kitten who climbed the tree, so no antique ornaments and she chewed wires, so no lights and tinsel is bad for animals so we used a couple dozen candy canes.  The kids were scathing about how bad it was, and well, it did look peculiar.  But they loved the kitty, so it didn't really matter.

Wheerever you are have a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Earl of Grey

I do love Earl Grey teas and I am always disappointed when they don't live up to their potential.  The Earl of Grey, which I got from The Tea Spot sadly falls into that category, for me.  It is a pretty tea , black, with an attractive sprinkle of flower petals.  The aroma is heavily citrus, almost like what is considered a "Russian" interpretation of the Earl.  So far, so good.

I brewed it up for about 4 minutes with boiling water and was rewarded with a much softer scent, veering towards the creamy.  Now I am feeling a trifle confused, but I press on, my curiosity piqued about what this will taste like.

This is actually a sweet tea, the sweetness coming from the addition of licorice root and vanilla.  Hmm.  It almost tastes like creamsicles - you know- those frozen sweets on a stick composed of vanilla ice cream and orange sherbet or perhaps an Orange Julius drink.  It is quite tasty and I kind of like it, but to me, it is not Earl Grey.  Sorry, Tea Spot.  Having said that, I am sure that many will like it.

I think I am getting very tired of flavored teas.  The vast majority of them I do not like, as I can taste chemicals or they are too sweet, or taste like berries.  What I do really like is TEA.  The pure leaf.  Of course there are exceptions.  For me that includes some flowers, like jasmine or rose and some flavors in the citrus line, like Earl Grey or the one black currant I have found, blended by Tea Forte.  I think I will go back to those for a while.

We are going out for dinner on Christmas day.  We've never done that before but our local gang, those without family around, decided to get together and further decided that cooking and cleanup were low priorities.  I am really looking forward to it.

Those lovely arches are the porch of a monastary church in the German hills.

For all of you for whom this is a celebratory time, have a wonderful, happy time and don't let the inevitable stresses get to you.

By the way, a few days ago, I said we were approaching the winter equinox.  It is not, it is the winter solstice, which is today, the shortest day of the year.  Hooray, hooray, it is all uphill from here!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Baking, Baking, Baking

First of all, my very nice sister-in-law sent me this website that you all need to go look at  So many really good recipes, complete with many videos - a real treasure trove.

To continue that theme I am going to give you "Gramma Geores Blueberry Buckle" That's pronounced Jor-.rees  It's Swedish, but rare.  Supposedly only our relatives here in the US have it, but I have found a few unrelated ones.  Buckle is an old name for a fruited coffee cake, in the same family, sort of, as grunts and slumps.  In my other grandmother's recipe book - the one from Switzerland, who had hotel service training - a coffee cake was made with coffee.

Anyway, back to the recipe.  This is good anytime and is wonderful for tea.

Oven at 350, greased 9x12 pan
Mix in your mixer

3cups flour,
4 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup sugar

Add in the order given, mixing after each

2/3 cup of butter, softened
2 well-beaten eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 pint or more of blueberries

You can use frozen blueberries, but DO NOT thaw them before you add them.

Streusal topping 1/2 cup butter,
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup flour
scant teaspoon cinnamon

There are 2 ways to do the streusal, either right away or 1/2 through the baking.  The former oozes into the cake, the latter remains more on top.  You choose.

Bake 35-40 minutes, turning once or twice for even baking.  Leave it in the pan to cool.

No tea today, I am just not up for tasting, just drinking

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A warm cup for a cold day

This is another German ancestor's church.  The wood work is so striking
I don't require a great deal from an English Breakfast tea.  This is because it is intended for morning consumption and I am a morning zombie.  All I need is for it to be black and not be so nuanced that I have to think about it. Oh, I am assuming it tastes good, too.  Adagio's does just that. 

The smallish leaves are black and twisted and have a slightly smokey aroma, along with something close to tobacco.  Let me hasten to assure you the tea does not taste of either.  I brewed it for 4 minutes with boiling water.  It is very, very nice, smooth, rich, with a bit of a lemony twist.  I didn't bother tasting it without milk, as most "breakfast", which are also known as British-style, teas are made to go with milk and sugar.  I don't do the latter, except in very rare cases.  For me, this is a perfect breakfast cup.

Winter appears to finally be arriving.  There is a skim of ice near the shore on the pond and the ducks have departed.   It snows a little every once in a while and up here on the hill, it is sticking.  The chickadees are still singing in the woods and once in a while our screech owl serenades us.  Serenades is a rather inaccurate word for this tiny owl's call, as it sounds pretty much like a shrill horse's whinny.

It is getting dark far too early, but very soon it will be the winter equinox and the days will begin to lengthen again.  A definite sign of hope in the cold (as is my warm cup of tea).

Friday, December 9, 2011

News of the World

I generally like Ceylon tea and the Kenilworth Estate produces some nice ones. So, I was looking forward to Adagio"s Ceylon Sonata, which hales from there. The classic black leaves gave off a sharp fruit aroma, with a wine undertaste. I brewed it for my standard 3.5 minutes with boiling water. It gave off a faint citrus aroma. However, I was sadly disappointed, as this was nothing special at all. It is supposed to be “ bright, lively, with a medium body and tangy finish” It did have a medium body, but try as I might, I couldn’t find the others. I thought maybe it was just me, but my husband didn’t think much of it, either.  I shall try it again, perhaps with more tea or a longer brewing time.

For you lucky  folks in NYC, Davids Tea, a Montreal based company, is opening 2 retail stores, one on the Upper East Side At 1124 3rd Ave. and one in the Village at 275 Bleecker St.  They are one of the few places in town where you can just get one cup of fresh-brewed tea.

On the other side of the country, the Winter Fancy Food Show is being held January 15-17 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.  This is put on by the National Association of the Specialty Food Trade and features more than 1,300 exhibitors.  This also includes beverages, such as our favorite.

India is strongly considering having one tea label for all it's teas, as Ceylon (Sri Lanka) does.  This is an over-arching label, meant to increase recognition in the international market and will not replace estate labels or company labels, such as Thunderbolt Teas.  Also, in India, for the first time, orthodox teas - full-leaf, often hand picked and processed - will cost less than CTC.  This is due in part to the ban on exporting tea to Pakistan.  Politics strikes again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Snowy Day For Tea

Back in my heart's country, Switzerland.

We had snow again and this time it has lasted all day, all 1 inch of it.  It was very pretty this morning, with the tree branches and pine boughs all outlined and glittering in the sun.

I just got my order from Lupicia Teas and they sent me 4 samples to try.  It is so nice to get these little extras.  We had a really busy day today and I was very ready for some tea by the time we got home.  I decided I might as well try my new stash, so I am having Pettiagalla OP1, which is a Ceylon tea, from Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, the big island off the southwest coast of India.  I love the name Ratnapura, it is so exotic and takes me right across the seas to dream of someday visiting a tea plantation.

The largish black leaves give off an earthy, chocolate aroma which morphs into a floral, piquant citrus one by the time brewing is done - 3 minutes with boiling water.  The light amber liquor is very smooth, with a fairly light body.  The taste is smooth and light, also, with some floral/citrus notes.  A very nice afternoon tea.  I wouldn't put milk in it, as it really does quite nicely alone.

On line, this tea can be found at  You might want to go check them out, as they have some really cute tins and other gifts that are inexpensive, just in time for holiday gifts.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tea and Cookies

I started some Christmas baking today.  First up was Grandma Vopne's Swedish Christmas cake.  I made it in 10 small pans, for gifts.  It's kind of a white fruit cake with a few cherries, white raisins, coconut and almonds.  Then Ma's Molasses Cookies for my husband and my mother's favorite sugar cookies.  The last get rolled in a log and put in the fridge for another day.  I am not much of a cookie baker - too fussy for me.  I will do childhood favorites, remembering the times of baking with my mother and grandmothers, from recipes like Aunt Chrissy's Grandmother's Sour Cream Cookies and Dad's Favorite.  Sometimes I'll even make New Year's Cookies, which are difficult to get the dough just right and then must be individually made on molds, one of which my great-grandfather carved out of wood for my great-grandmother.  They are wonderful if you get them right and very impressive as the small ones are about 3x5" and the hand-made mold ones are about 4x6".  They are something like springerli cookies in taste, but a bit like pie crust in texture.

To go with this great surge of activity I need tea!  I just got some samples from Foxfire Teas  and I am going to try their Foxfire Blend.  It is a lively mix of organic Darjeeling, Keemun, Assam and Nilgiri.  The small black and brown leaves give off a pleasant aroma of fresh tea.  I brewed the tea up for 4 minutes with boiling water.  It's giving off an aroma that reminds me of piquant steamy milk can washing solution.  Remember, I grew up on a dairy farm before things were so mechanized.  For me, this is a cozy, comforting smell, as I loved beng in the barn - anything was better than housework!

Surprisingly, the tea is a very light bodied, light amber colored brew.  It is very pleasant, without having any particular characteristics that stand out.  Foxfire says this is an "all day tea" and I would have to agree.  It could be a gentle awakener and would certainly go with most foods without being intrusive and it's gentle enough  to be a pleasant afternoon companion.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's Good To Be Green

St. Goar's Church on the Rhine River in Germany.

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, not too cold, beautiful blue sky, nice breeze.  The geese are grazing in the meadow and one of my squirrels has returned.  They can be a pain, but they're cute and I am happy to see his return.

It is enhanced by the fact that I have found a flavored green tea I like.  It is Simpson & Vail's Emerald Green Earl Grey, made from a Chinese Sencha.  The dry leaves are a flat and silky mixed green, with a light floral scent of bergamot.  I brew them for 2 minutes with water at 180 degrees.  They unfold to large leaves and stems and leave a very bright soft green liquor, pleasantly smelling of both tea and bergamot!  Actually,  I got to smell the tea before the citrus.  That is amazing.  It is so hard to get bergamot right on, but Simpson & Vail did it.

The tea is pretty wonderful to drink, also.  There is the fresh spring greeniness of grass, with the softest overlay of the floral/citrus bergamot.  Very, very well done.  I put some in the fridge to see how I would like it iced.  It certainly is pretty enough and would go with a lot of summer foods and a lot of tea party fare of the more delicate sort.  Hot, it would be lovely with sugar cookies or lemon cookies or pound cake.  Better stop, I am making myself hungry and we have none of those in the cuppboard.

Oh yes, this is nice iced.  More bergamot comes out and some of the Sencha is lost.  I think I would just go for using it cold, without ice or hot.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

January Tea Review BlogTea Swap

Hey, Y' all It's time to sign up for The Tea Review BlogTea Swap, January 2012!  You may either email me from my profile page or go to  Facebook.  This teaswap has been around for quite a while, thanks to Stephanie, the Tea Guru of the Tea Review Blog.  Here's all the info you need:

Anyone may participate!

Here are the rules for the tea swap:

* Signups for each month are from the 1st through the 30th of each month for the next month’s swap.

* On the 1st or 2nd of each month, everyone will receive an email letting them know who their partner is. Partners are selected randomly, and the person you send to is the person who will be sending to you and vice versa.

What you must include in your package to your partner

1. An assortment of teas, preferably according to your partner’s preferences in the email you will receive. You must send at the MINIMUM the equivalent of 20 tea bags or 2-4 oz of loose tea…but no one likes the minimum! The idea is to make your package REALLY nice and presentable. You may send either bagged or loose tea

2. A tea accessory. This can be a teabag rest, heat seal tea bags, a teaball, tea stir stick, teapot, or anything else that is associated with tea

3. An edible treat – something like a candy bar, candies, granola bars…something that would be nice to snack on while drinking tea! Be absolutely sure that the items you send are unopened, and not past the expiration date.

The idea is to make the package very special for your assigned partner. You receive your partners information during the first week of the month and all packages MUST BE MAILED by the 15th of the month.

I encourage everyone to email their partner once they receive their package to let them know it was received – if you have a blog, you might want to blog about it too!

Now, easily register  for the tea swap by using the form below

Join The Tea Review Blog Free Tea Swap

* Your Name:

* Your Email

* Address


* Zip or Postal Code


* Tell us what your favorite types of tea are:

* What is Your Favorite Candy?

What is Your Favorite Candy Bar?

* What is Your Favorite Color?

Any other special instructions we should give to your tea swap partner?

I have done this several timea and believe me, you always get a very nice package of tea and goodies.  You only sign up on a month-to-month basis, so you can bow out anytime you want.  Just let me know, one way or another.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Summer in the Darjeeling Hills

I think this is a death of Christ scene.  I would guess the bars are to prevent casual theft of the figures.  It was the only thing in the church that was so protected.  In a small German town.

It's a good day to go to an Indian tea estate, via Adagio Tea's Darjeeling Sungma Summer.  As the name indicates, this organic tea was picked during the second, or summer flush of leaves.  That means it has a little more body, , deeper flavor and less astringency than a first flush.  The dry varied brown leaves give off an aroma composed of wine and cork.  I brewed it at 212 dgrees for a little over 4 minutes and was rewarded with a medium brown cup, with a floral aroma reminiscent of a floral Oolong, with a grape edge.

This is a very nice tea with floral, grape and sweet components.  It is juicy in that it makes your mouth feel juicy, as it does when chewing gum.  That makes you want more.  Which is fine with me, as this is a very nice cup of tea, which is needed today, as the gray uglies are back, spitting rain.

One brave little chickadee is singing his heart out at the bird feeder.  They are cheerful little things and don't squabble as the sparrows do. 

My favorite for the moment hibiscus, the double red, is getting ready to bloom again.  They are such gorgeous flowers and easy to care for, easy to start from cuttings and give you such gorgeous flowers.  Their one drawback is they do get a huge number of white flies in the winter, but it doesn't seem to harm them.  I don't think these are the hibiscus in so many herbal tisanes.  They have got to be much too pretty.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Oolong Mystery

Another store in town has gotten on the tea wagon!  They had teas from Stash and Davidson's.  I got some of the latter to try for today, Mountain Copper Oolong.  They come in a nifty folded pasteboard holder which serves as a handle for the teabag within and each folder has the tea brewing instructions on it.  The folder is also a handy bag rea.  I am leaving it bagged, but the dry tea is clearly leaves, not dust.  It is also organic and the tea bag ia made from a perferated paper.  I brewed it for three minutes with water under the boil, following directions.

The liquor is an attractive old copper color and smells like a fairly typical non-floral Oolong, with spicey overtones.  I probably shouldn't say that, since there are so many varieties of Oolong.  However, I have found that many teas, such as Yunnan, Keemun, Oolong, and Assam have scents distinctive to their class, within a fair range.  If you've been drinking tea for a while, don't you find this to be true?

The flavor of this tea is different and I can't quite put my finger on it.  It is not floral and it isn't like one of thos that taste to me as though it were left in the oven too long.  It's not really light, nor is it heavy and its effect on my tongue is fleeting.  It definitely fits in the Oolong class, but I can't nail down the flavor at all.

We have sun and blue sky today and that makes me happy.  It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood and half the population was out for a walk, with their dogs and cats.  The deer were grazing in a far pasture and the geese were flying overhead.  A very good day.

Another holiday memory to share.  My mother did not like chocolate covered cherries and one Christmas I gave them to her, thinking that if I liked them, of course, she would.  She thanked me profusely, but didn't eat them.  Eventually my father clued me in.  However, since we both loved them we always gave her a box every Christmas and she very nicely always gave them to us.

We had another gift tradition.  There was a box that had once held elastic stockings.  Ugly box, very ugly.  Somehow, it got to be the family joke and every year someone would get a gag present in it.  It traveled the country, being passed from one part of the family to another, getting uglier and  shabbier every year.  We couldn't wait until the round of Christmas phone calls began to see who got stuck with it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The November Tropics

I thought I would never say this, but I have found a tea that is better with sugar.  It is Boston Tea Company's Tropical Mango.  It is another sample from this very generous company.  The tea has chunks of mango, which is almost my favorite dried fruit, and lots of safflower petals, making a pretty tea.  It smelled more like banana/mango to me than straight mango.  I brewed it for about 3.5 minutes with boiling water.

The heat seemed to bring out the mango aroma.  Definitely mango, no banana.  At first I wasn't real taken with it.  It just seemed like an ordinary black tea.  Then my husband started raving about it, so I thought I would try a little sugar.  Lo and behold, there's the mango.  Yum.  However, I did notice that as the tea cooled, Mr. Banana was back again and I had fruit salad tea.

This might make a really nice base for a smoothy, to play up the favors of mango and banana.  If you boiled it down and were careful about the sugar, it would make a nice dressing for a fruit salad.  I guess I am thinking more of summer.  It's so gray and grim, summer seems good. 

We are having some cold days, but it hasn't been below freezing yet.  I hope it's enough for the plants to pull all their juices back into their roots before it does freeze.

Downtown Amalfi, Italy from the cathedral steps.  I don't think there is a level place in the whole town.  My husband's family emigrated from here to Ischia about 1,000AD.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Darjeeling Day

 My favorite German church windows - all 90 feet of them.

At last, the weather is beginning to slide into November.  It is getting colder rapidl y, the sky is gray upon gray and it is raining.  Perfect weather for tea.  But then, any weather is perfect for tea, isn't it? 

The Boston Tea Company gifted me with some Darjeeling Tea Bags, so that is on for today.  I do the usual for brewing - 1  tea bag, 212 degrees, 3.5 minutes. It has an intriguing smell, fruity, woodsy and nutty all at once, mostly hazelnuts, I think.  It is a medium amber brew and tastes remarkably of nuts and what I imagine old oak would taste like.  A very interesting flavor in tea.

I have to say I am really surprised and pleased to get such good rich flavor from teabags.  But this is.  Okay, I guess I have to admit I have turned into a tea snob.  But I try to only be one at home.

I am feeling some sort of cross between gratitude and sentiment this season and find myself remembering Thanksgivings and Christmases past.  I thought that this month, I would share some of mine and encourage you to share some of yours.

The first one that pops up is the first Christmas we were married and flew from Michigan to Rhode Island and then to Schenectady to be with our parents.  Christmas Eve is special in Italian households for the 7 fish dinner that obeserves the fast from meat but also ensures good luck in the coming year.  I hate fish in any way, shape or form.  I can't stand the smell, the feel of it in my mouth nor the taste.  But, hey, these are my very new in-laws and I will be a good daughter-in-law and eat up.  That lasted until, much to my horror, my mother-in-law plopped an enormous hunk of conger eel on my plate.  I tried to eat a bit - euuuw, fish grease - they're very fatty.  I tried to hide it - not enough mashed potatoes in the world would hide that thing.  I even tried to drop it on the floor for the dog, who wouldn't touch it and then I got another piece.  Finally, my laughter-stricken husband told them I didn't like fish and all was forgiven.  Since then, there had always been something non-fishy to eat, as my mother-in-law was one of the most loving people in the world..  So much for the good dughter-in-law gig.

Oh my, fights at the feeder station!  The greedy little sparrows are giving the purple finches the bums rush.  They are feisty, argumentative little buggers.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Java is Not Always Coffee

All you skiers who are anticipating snowfall - in Switzerland, if you go high enough, you can still ski in May!

Aah, Cyber Monday.  Check out your favorite tea venders, most of whom are having some good sales of 15-25% off, some with free shipping, as well.

We had a lovely holiday weekend.  Guests on Thanksgiving brought wine and desserts and lots of fun conversation.  Last night we invited our neighbors for a "Leftover Party" where we combined our leftovers or "made-overs" for a nice meal and again, some good conversation.  We still have leftovers, however.  I guess we'll have turkey quesadillas tonight.

No tea leftovers, however, as no one drank tea!  I have some new samples from Simpson & Vail and so, I am having Java Malabar Plantation.  The leaves are small and mainly dark brown.  There didn't seem to be much scent. I brewed a teaspoon for about 3.5 minutes with boiling water.  It gave off a very malty aroma with something like a coconut edge to it.

The brewed tea somehow tasted of wood, but there was a fruitiness there as well.  The maltiness must come from the fact that the teas grown in Indonesia are from the same type of tea plant that grows in Assam.  It is grown on the island of Java, at 4900 feet, in volcanic soil, all of which go into its flavor.

I liked it better with some cream, as more fruit came out, maybe pineapple.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Darstten Village 
Joy to the World,
The Lord has come!

The season of Advent has begun, the joyous waiting for the celebration of the birth of Christ.

What tea shall I celebrate this with? I don’t like most of the holiday teas because they have too much clove in them, although Stash does a nice one that tastes like those chewy peppermints. Upton’s ZK55 wins for today. It comes from Sichuan Province, Zao Bei Jian Congou. The small black leaves look nothing like the picture in the on-line catalog, which are quite long and twisted - perhaps a shipping issue.  They are black, however, and give off a sharp, winey smell, almost like a Keemun.

I brewed it up for 4 minutes with boiling water. The liquor is a dark, golden amber, with an almost malty smell. Indeed, the first sip reminded me of an Assam. However, there was much more going on here and the further I went in my cup, the more intrigued I was. There was the edginess of dark chocolate, followed by butter brickle and caramel, with a hint of an oak finish. Good grief, I sound like one of the snooty wine tasters, or snooty tea tasters. Well, that is what it tastes like to me. When I added milk it seemed to settle into something reminding me very much of good, homemade butterscotch pudding.

The sun is heading towards sundown and the lovely light is turning the bog trees a misty gold. It is kind of an enchanted moment, with the slim darkness of pitch pines before it.

The nature beat:

I saw a forsythia in bloom today, perhaps in celebration of this time of year? I wish, but it really is because our weather is so peculiar, the poor thing is confused. It was over 60 today - about 25 degrees warmer than it should be at this time of year. We are enjoying it, but we are concerned about the plants and animals.

We were visited by a very lazy bear - it only ate one suet holder, but left a very rank smell behind - even the bears are confused. - They should all be tucked up in their dens, hibernating until spring.

I also saw a flock of Canada geese taking a nap in the sun. There were about 30 of them, with 4 “watch geese” at compass points, alertly viewing the surrounding scene.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Wishes

Dear Tea Friends:  It has become increasingly obvious that I will not be reviewing any tea until next Monday.  I am woefully behind in preparation for out of town guests, a big Thanksgiving and and another party on Sunday.

I hope all of you have the very best celebrations you can manage.  Treasure your friends and family, even if they seem impossible.  Years from now, they will at least provide you with good stories to tell and you may even come to appreciate them.  Life has a way of suddenly becoing too short, make the most of it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tea,Tulips and Panda Poop

My Swiss grandmother's church on a rainy day.

Ya know, people think tea folk are weird for paying $40-50 a pound for good tea. That’s about 240 cups of tea. Really good coffee is at least $15 and that’s only 60 cups. Do the math. And then there are K cups. Unless you got a good deal, it is 75 cents to $1.00 per cup. That's the equivalent of $60 a pound.

However, I just heard about this odd tea in the Nov 25 issue of The Week magazine. A Chinese entrepreneur is going to make tea from panda poop, claiming it will have more antioxidants than green tea, with “a mature nutty taste and a very distinctive aroma.” I bet it will. Supposedly this will retail for about $3,400 a pound. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a review of it here.

The world’s most expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak, hails from Indonesia, and passes through the Asian Palm Civet's digestive track. The civet looks like a golden rat and feeds pretty exclusively on coffee beans. It sells for about $600 a lb. or $50 a cup in some exclusive restaurants. [Civet kitty/rat poop]

People can be very silly. Not this this is new. During the height of Tulip Mania, in the mid 1600s fortunes could be made and lost over one tulip bulb, which could equal the sum of a craftsman’s yearly income.

Let us turn to more prosaic pursuits, a cup of easily purchased tea.  I just ordered a huge bunch of samples from Upton's.  This one is TB30, Kensington Blend, made from Assam, Ceylon and Keemun tea.  The varied brown and black leaves are about 1/2 inch long and give off a very nice malty, woodsy aroma, with a hint of smoke.  I brewed it for about 4.5 minutes - maybe a bit too long.    It is a pleasant dark amber, smelling very much of the Assam, which I assume is its main component.  Uptons says it is a bit lighter than their River Shannon blend and that it is best with milk.  It is a breakfast tea, which I would heartily agree with.  Unless, of course, you are really dragging in the afternoon,

By itself, it tastes, to me, like acorns or what bottled essence of crisp-fall-day might taste like.  It is a bit astringent and certainly strong.  I like my tea with milk, so it is no hardship to have it that way.  I must say the milk mellows it considerably.  I do think this would be ideal for breakfast, standing up well to hearty dishes.  It might be good with a hearty lunch as well.  It is going just fine with a gorgeous fall day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Across the Sea to Japan

Back to the Swiss mountains today.

It's another beautiful day in the neighborhood.  I am going out later to finish some garden cleanup - the chrysanthemums are finally done.  The Sunday after Thanksgiving, I will put up some Christmas decorations on the lamp post and door.  It may not be much.  5 weeks of doing very little has let my house get overrun with stuff and an urgent need to be dusted.

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?  I have my menu set, except for how many desserts I want to do.  We are having 5-6 friends come and they all have their orders on what to bring and how much work they have to do - at least the overnighters.  I still have this bubble in my eye and sometimes it just seems like an overwhelming interference, although my vision improves almost daily.  Sadly, there will be no tea at the meal, as they are all a bunch of super dedicated coffee people who refuse to drink tea.  Bunch of weenies.  However, I do have some very nice coffee from Gimmee Coffee and we'll have that.

At the moment I am kind of bored with black and Oolong teas, so I am having some green tea.  I got it at Wegman's and it is from Japan, Ureshino Tama Ryokucha Tea.  The instructions are to brew 1 teaspoon per cup for 1-1.5 minutes in waterat 175-190.  I follow these directions, as I am not a regular Japanese tea drinker.  However, the first cup brewed for 5 minutes because I forgot to turn on the timer.  It looked and smelled awful, so I threw it out.

The next cup I did properly.  The dry leaves looked like very fine grass clippings, only a much darker green.  They smelled like a cross between hay and dry seaweed.  The brewed liquor was a pretty yellow green, smelling very vegetal with a whiff of seaweed.  It has a full mouth feel, with a small hit of astringency.  To me, it has something of a muddled taste.  I don't want to say it tastes like seaweed, but it reminds me of it.  There is something in it that reminds me of kale or other strong green leafy veggies.  That's as good as I can do.  It is not a delicate tea.

The only references I can find to this tea are on a Czech site and it says it is made in the style of Chinese tea, but the picture looks nothing like the tea I bought as theirs is slightly snail shaped.  Urishino is a town in Japan.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Aah, Sweet Spice

I just can't leave this monastery, it was just so beautiful.

My friend from the Owego Briar Patch, who blends teas and was flooded out of her store, has re-opened in another town, but has the same e address . She has some very nice teas.  (I don't know why that address is not linking, it works elsewhere.)

Bigelow teas is having a "Black Friday" sale from now until November 30.  A lot of their nice gift things are about 20% off.

Finally, we are having a nice day.  It is cool, but the sun is shining brilliantly, making lovely shadows on the lawn.  I've been noticing again, the muted, but lovely palate of late Fall.  There are bits of color everywhere - the gold of Tamaracks, the greeny yellow of some bushes, the red candles of sumac and the blazing of burning bush.  There are still the bright browns of the oaks and a few beech trees.  Nature gives up slowly.

I have finally finished my Master Gardener Program.  I wish I could have attended more, as it was absolutely fascinating.  We had really top-notch people and even things like lawns were interesting.

When the weather turns cold, my thoughts, tea wise, turn to Chai.  I love the stuff, but it never seems right for the summer months.  I happened to have a sample of Samovar's Masala Chai, black tea on hand, so I brewed it up.  Their directions were quite good, but as usual my impatience won out.  I did brew it for 10 minutes ( yes, me) and it is a fine cup, with cream and sugar.  Everything in it, from cardamom to tea is organic, which is a big plus.  The dry tea smells wonderfully of cardamom, which has something of a lemony aroma.  Indeed, there were 4 fat pods in the packet.  There is not enough clove to ruin it for me - I am picky about clove - but there was lots of action from the ginger and pepper.  It was all very polite and not overwhelming.  I would say it's about a 6 on a 1-10 scale of spice.  Samovar's address is   It would be super with sweets, or a nice Indian meal.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Good Black Tea

On November 3, I reviewed a Chim Chim Tea and thought I'd share the comment from their president, in case you missed it and would like to try their tea, also:

 Thank you for tasting and reviewing our Chim Chim tea produced by Kapchebet Tea factory in Kericho, Kenya. We are proud of the quality and flavor of our tea. Our famous blend of four different grades BP1, PF1, PD & D1, is popular for its rich flavor and rich color. We would love for your bloggers to sample our tea, which we are happy to provide. They can visit our website at Happy holiday happy tea tasting.

I am doing another Chim Chim today, as well.  This is their Traditional Kenya Blend.  Immediately upon opening the packet, there is a strong fruity aroma, with a bite on the edge.  Wonderful!  It reminded me of pineapple and carambola/star fruit.  Both are sweet, both have a puckery edge.  I didn't follow directions again and only brewed it for 21/2 minutes with boiling water.  The tea is a CTC, but this time, the little pellets are a bit bigger.

At first, the dark brown liqueur smelled very strongly of a nicely roasting winter squash.  This modified somewhat into just a very pleasant fresh tea aroma.  At first I thought this was only a plain tea, but as I drank it, more nuances came out and I finally decided its smell and taste were really in the honey and pineapple line.  It is quite good with milk and sugar.  It would go with sturdier tea foods such as gingerbread, ham or beef sandwiches and would be lovely for breakfast.  There's enough to it to make you sit up and notice, but not so much so as to overwhelm a feeble morning brain.

In case you are not familiar with starfruit they are about the size of a large lemon with 5 quite tall ridges going up and down the longer sides.  If you cut the fruit across these ridges, you will have pretty, star shaped slices to decorate a fruit bowl, cake, pie, what ever strikes your fancy.  In my never humble opinion, a little is plenty, as they add a piquancy to things, but would be overwhelming in large doses.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Grumpy Gertrude's Tea and Tea Swap

Same monastery, huge rosemary.  I would be jealous, but I was in a monastery!

Aaargh, as Charlie Brown would say.  Do you ever have those days when you really "shoulda stood in bed?"  Well, this one is mine.  I woke up crabby, warning my husband to steer clear of me.  Early sunshine gave way to clouds and not much has gone right since.  I am going to have some tea in the hopes that some sort of joy can be restored.  I did manage to get a number of Christmas presents on line, so all is not lost.

 I am going to make my tea in my new pot that I got at the big day on Saturday.  It is the prettiest aqua.  I saw it as soon as I walked into my favorite store.  It didn't hurt that it was 1/2 price.  The other nice thing was I've been looking for a slanted end spatula for my frying pans for about 15 years and that was there too.  I have one I 've had since we were married 38 years ago and I am always afraid it is going to break.  I can rest a bit easier, now.  I should count my blessings, big and small and not fuss.

 I am having Eiffel Tower, a vanilla flavored black tea from Blue Raven Teas.  Yup, smells like vanilla.  Himself will like this, vanilla fan that he is.  Hmm, this is a much better vanilla than most I've tasted, which I usually really don't like.  This almost moves into the good cake or cookie department.  I brewed it for about 3.5 minutes at 212 degrees.  It seems very sweet to me, so I definitely would not add sugar.  With cream added, it ismuch more rounded.  I still wouldn't buy it for me, but it is well done.

My new pot is a sweetie, very well-mannered - no spitting or dribbling.

Another reminder about the tea swap.  Go to or email me from my profile page. It's fun!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tea Swap, Tea Swap

Hello again!

I forgot to tell you about a new Tea Swap I will evntually be heading up.  It is the one associated with the Tea Review Blog.  You can go to to join or to get information on the rules.  Or you can write me at my email, found with my profile.

I love doing tea swaps, as I find out so many teas I would not have purchased or haven't heard of.  You get to state your preferences and meet some nice folks, who love tea.  Let me know!

Spring In My Cup

One of my favorite places - a monastery in Sorrento, Italy.  The pillars are all reclaimed from other monasteries that closed, some are quite ancient.

Yesterday was a beautiful day in every way.  Some good friends called and wanted to play hooky - of course we would join them.  Downtown Owego was having a "Grand Reopening" of all the stores that are able to and there were sales and music and jugglers, cats and dogs all prettified and the streets crowded with shoppers, not repair trucks.  The shop keepers looked worn, but happy to be functional again and people, including me, were buying presents and other stuff.  It is wonderful to have our town coming back.  There were also a raft of benefits for various churches, the theater, etc. who still need renovation.  The sun shone on a happy day. I noticed in our very local paper, that the Briar Patch, home of some very nice teas, has also re-opened, sadly not here, but she is open and for that, I am thankful

Speaking of tea, Tea Sommelier Cynthia Gold has received a top award from the organization of Women Chefs and Resterauteurs for "Women Who Inspire"  Cynthia has written a cookbook using tea, developed a tea program at one of Boston's big hotels and teaches about tea extensively at culinary schools and conferences.  She was thrilled to receive this award, which usually goes to women in the wine industry.  She feels this is a recognition that tea has come of age in the food and drink world, receiving the recognition we know it deserves.  I am impressed and excited and I hope you are, too.

Alex Zorach has made major changes to his website over at  You might want to go over there and check it out.  This is a really good site and if you haven't checked it out, go and read up on your favorite teas.

Oops - I described yesterday's tea as green, but it really is an Oolong.  I shouldn't make assumptions.

On tap for today is Serendipitea's Forever Spring Oolong.  These tightly wrapped little green pellets give off an orchid aroma, crossed with a whiff of white kindergarten paste, so I know right away this will be a comforting tea. lol  It is from the Song Bo region of  Nantou, Taiwan, where it is harvested on a nearly year-round basis.  I brewed it with water about 190 degrees for about 2 minutes.  As it brews a more lilac aroma comes out.  This is one of those teas you should use a glass container to brew in - it really is fun to watch these little pebbles stretch and unfold into long stems and leaves.  You find yourself unable tobelieve such big leaves could ever be rolled into such tiny-ness.

The liqueur is a very pretty pale yellow green and after 2 minutes the leaves are not yet fully unfurled.  Oh gosh, I'll have to do a second brew!  The first is a lovely delicate sip, but no clear flavors discovered yet.  I think I will let it cool a bit.  Hmm, that is worth it.  It is subtle tea, honey like with a bit of an astringency, like you might get from eating fresh pineapple.  I think there is definitely some lilac flavor there as well.  The orchid seems to have disappeared.  It is one of those teas that keeps beckoning you onward, to have more and more, as each sip seems to be a bit different from the last.

The second cup has brewed for 2.5 minutes and is a pure, clear, light green, with a faint orchid scent, combined with a plain steamy one, which I can't describe.  There might also bee the barest hint of rose on the far edges.  It is a subtler, more orchid rendition of the first cup, and like it, it calls you onward to have more and more.  So I am going to leave you all and go indulge myself.  If you would like to, go to and get some, it's worth it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Good Bye, Old Friend

OK, so these are spring flowers.  They are still pretty and an antidote to the gray uglies out my window.

What a sad week.  One of my oldest friends has expired.  Before you feel too bad for me, I should say it is my Kitchen Aid mixer.  Only 25, but then my last one which I bought used, lasted for 40 years.  I did get a new one, but I shall miss my old faithful friend who gave me so many wonderful cakes, cookies, scones, bread, mashed potatoes, whipped cream, ice cream, profiteroles.  I'm on my second Cuisinart, also.  It always pays to buy the best you can afford.  I always recommend to new kitchen folks to go to an industrial or professional cookware shop - the stuff is made to last and they have everything one needs to have a well-equipped kitchen.  Or an over-equipped kitchen, as my case may be.

We tried to go for a walk today - I even got out my winter jacket - rats.  It was just too cold, with the wind blowing a howling gale.  I had to hurry home and have some tea to warm my toes and fingers.

I have reviewed this tea before, but it is a new year's batch, so...  It is Pearl Jasmine from the puriTea - yes, that is the way they spell it.  Two minutes at 180, or 3 1/2 if you mess up, like I did.  It didn't matter, which is amazing, since Oolongs and greens can be picky.  This is the same wonderful stuff that smells absolutely like jasmine flowers and tastes like them, too.  It is a green tea that doesn't get bitter if you over do it or if your cup is very large.  It is one of my 2 favorites.  I must warn you, this is comparatively strong, but I don't find it overwhelming and it isn't sickly sweet or like perfume.  it is simply, wonderful.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hot Tea and Cold November

I am again in Amalfi - I am hoping it will warm me up.  LOL

The weather is hustling right along into November normality with cold rain.  Some brave bird is still singing and the geese are flying from night quarters to feeding grounds.  What a huge flock - there must be 100 or more, in waves of chevrons, taking a full minute to cross overhead.  Did you know they take turns being point man?  It is the hardest place, as the others benefit from the point goose's breaking of the air resistence.  The point man goes to the last place when he's tired - the easiest - while the next one steps up and they keep rotating as they fly.  I don't know who steps up to lead when they take off, perhaps the oldest.

Our buck now has 3 points on each side and at the moment seems to have lost his herd, as he is wandering up and down the road alone.  All the deer have transitioned into their gray brown winter coats and it can be hard to see them against the trees.  Not so hard when they are eyeing the bird feeders, however.

Boston Tea Company sent me some samples and with an eye toward Thanksgiving, I am trying one today.  It is Organic Cranberry Lemon, in a "whole leaf sachet".  Sure enough, there are nice big leaves, and bits of cranberry and lemon peel.  The sachet itself is quite large.  There's not much scent, but wait, as it brews, it gives off a milk and lemon sugar cookie aroma.  The medium amber brew tastes sweet, fruity and of lemon peel.  I found it hard to distinguish any cranberry flavor.  In fact, it leaned more toward bubblegum than anything else.  My friends in the fruity tea league will enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Clean Linens and Tea

The Amalfi Coast.

Have you got tea stained linens and don’t know what to do with them? Oxiclean to the rescue. This is available in most grocery stores, and places like Walmart, Target, Sam’s Clubs, etc. I have found that if you soak the items in a solution of Oxiclean and water - the package has directions - for a few days, all or almost all of the stains will come out. It doesn’t hurt the fabric. It will not do anything for burn marks - the fabric is altered forever. It works well on other stains as well -old or new. The Oxiclean people have come out with a spray specifically for old stains as well, but I have found soaking works better, and cheaper. I found that it works well on clothes with old stains, too and some of my treasured tees are now rejuvenated.

I just got my catalog from King Arthur Flour. They have 20 or more scone mixes, pans shaped to make those nice triangles and clotted cream, double Devon cream and lemon curd to put on them. So, if this is your sort of tea goody, hustle over to  and order up.

If you would like a weekly tea party recipe, Dawnya Sassa at sends them out for free. Most of them are quite good, very tasty things. Some don’t appeal to me, but that’s just personal taste.  Signing up for them is free and Dawnya often does podcasts or has classes if you are on the mailing list.

I had the best tea! It’s from Silver Leaf Tea Company, Irish Breakfast Extra Fancy OP1. It is a mix of India and China Teas and upon opening the packet, I was struck by its deep, dark, winey aroma. The longish black and brown leaves are highlighted by golden buds. I brewed this for about 3.5 minutes with boiling water and really appreciated the good fresh tea aroma that fairly burst out of the pot. It is a very roasted aroma that reminds me strongly of all the British Isles tea. This is a very hearty tea with a tannic edge that is nevertheless smooth. It is a very satisfying tea, one that warms you to your toes. It goes wonderfully with milk and it is true to its name, being an excellent morning tea.

I can’t believe our weather. Here it is November 8 and we are finally having Indian summer. This on the heels of a week of heavy frosts. Not good for our plantings, who were all ready to go to sleep for the winter.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I couldn't find my poppy pictures, so I am just showing this Italian church's roof brace.

I've been reading about various Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations on various tea blogs and thought I would add something about our family's cemetery visits.  We lived in NYS so there was no Spanish or Mexican influences, but as children we cheerfully visited cemeteries for Memorial Day or funerals.   We always visited every single relative or old friend and my great-grandmother or grandmother would tell us kids how they were related, who they were named for, stories of their lives and times so we would remember them.  Many years later, I notice that we, in our turn, are telling our children and grands about Gramma and Grandpa Geores, Aunt Ettie, Gram Turnbull, Uncle Art and all the rest of the clan.  I think this is part of the reason I have never been afraid of death - there are all those loved ones and characters there, waiting for me, with stories to tell.

Now that the downed trees are gone and the tree men with them, the deer are back, all set to once again eat up the birdseed.  They look so sweet and innocent with their big ears and dainty feet, but there is evil in their hearts when it comes to black oil sunflower seed.

I've been back to the eye doctor and have only 1 more week of looking at my toes half the day!  Hooray and hooray!  He is very pleased with its healing and I am pleased to be able to see around the bubble that is holding up my retina.  I had best have a celebratory cup of tea, don't you think?  Being in a remembering mood, I am going to use the poppy china, which I got to remind me of the poppies along the railroads in Italy, as well as their enormous fields of bright red, wild poppies.

I am having the puriTea's Oriental Beauty or Bai Hao Oolong.  My  introduction to this tea, several years ago was so spectacularly good that it has been a favorite ever since.  The dry tea is quite pretty, with leaves touched with silver and gold along the edges and a scattering of gold buds.  It has a slightly sweet, somewhat woodsy scent.  As it brews for 3 minutes with water about 190, it gives off a lemony aroma, almost a tea rose, with the woodsiness.  The brew is a fairly dark yellow brown.  I've not been doing multiple infusions with any teas lately - when you only have a half-hour of upright time, it is too time consuming.  But I will get back to it.

Oh yes, this is a nice tea.  It tastes like lemon-kissed roses with perhaps some rose stem thrown in to ground it,  something in the woodsy end at any rate.  I can imagine this with some Indian dishes, especially their rice pudding or some of the milder curries.  I think it would go well with most tea sandwiches or desserts and probably with Mediterranean dishes as well.  Hmm, I would imagine it would compliment white chocolate, too.  We can't leave out chocolate, can we.

Oriental Beauty is a case for environmentally sound tea culture.  It is a lowly bug which gives it its characteristic taste.  The bugs (a form of leaf hopper) bites the leaves, the leaves produce an enzyme to thwart the bugs and we all benefit from the tea.  Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hooray For Darjeeling

The scissor cutter's art

Some good news from Darjeeling:  The European Union, and hence, the World Trade Organization, has granted Darjeeling status as a Protected Geographical Indication or PGI.  This will put an end to fraudulent claims from tea growers in other areas.  This is much the same issue that has plagued food and wine producers, with  companies from other areas riding on the coattails of highly regarded and well known commodities, while not having the same quality, or just being different.  I am personally all for this.  I want my Swiss cheese to be from Switzerland ( yes, Virginia, there IS a difference), my French champagne to be from its home.  The final product, in wine, cheese and tea is a result of specific factors related to the concept of terroir, the minerals in the soil, the components of the air, the amount of rainfall or cloud cover etc. - all those infinitesimal things that produce that specific food or wine or tea from that area.  This PGI protects and enhances and encourages the reputation of growers and producers.

I know this is something that can be argued on either side.  I have nothing against Iowa Swiss cheese, as long as it is labelled Swiss type, for instance.  For what it is, it is very good.  But it is not Emmentaler or Gruyere.  Similarly, I don't want tea from Rwanda labelled Darjeeling.  It gives people the wrong impression, especially if the quality is poor.  We have few enough orthodox tea producers and I think we need to support them, lest we lose them.  So I say "Hooray for PGI and Darjeeling"

Which leads me right into today's tea, an Upton's Darjeeling, TM52, Kangra SFTGFOP1 from the Wah Estate in Darjeeling, India.  This is a first flush from this spring.  The smallish leaves are a mix sliding from green into brown and smell of fruit peels - maybe lemon - and drying vegetation with some orchid in there for good measure.  The suggested brew time is 3 minutes with boiling water, but I have done that before with a first flush and it's been awful, so I decided to do 2.5 minutes at about 190. 

Lucky me, I was rewarded with a very nice cup, with the aroma of an orchid Oolong, along with a green, vegetative scent.  The tea did indeed taste like one of the orchid Oolongs - a natural flavor, not something added.  It was smooth and flowery, with an undergirding of Springy greenness and a touch of astringency to perk it up.  I would really recommend that if you are brewing first flushes that you treat them more like greens and Oolongs and not like sturdier blacks.  It's been my experience that they are almost always much better that way

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Off to Kenya

Aah, Schweiz.

But we are going elsewhere today, for some Kenyan tea, kindly sent to me.  It is Chimchim Tea and hails from the evergreen Kericho Highlands.  This particular sample was marked D1.  The tea is very, very finely cut, almost, dare I say it, dust?  It gives of a scent of dry twig and hearty tea.  The suggested brew time is 3 minutes, but I only did 2, as I was sure 3 minutes on tea this fine would yield an awful cup.  Two was just fine.

The brewing aroma  was metallic with a roasted winter squash component.  The liquid was very, very dark brown.  This is really quite a plain tea, which takes milk and cream quite happily.  It would be a good breakfast tea, but remember -just 2 minutes.

We are hastening towards a winter look once again, all gray and brown.  We still have a few touches of rust, magenta and some red.  By far the most brilliant is the bright gold of the tamaracks.  They are classified as evergreens, but lose their needles in the late fall, leaving the ground looking like cloth of gold.  The burning bushes are all aflame and the ornamental grasses are blooming, so there is lots to see.

For some reason our squirrels seem to have disappeared.  maybe their nest tree was felled.  They often annoyed me greatly, but they were also amusing and I miss the cheeky little buggers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Around the World With Food and Drink

More Switzerland.  I do love the country and the mountains.

We had pizza last night and I started wondering what tea you could serve with it. I always think of pizza and beer or pizza and coke. We decided that hot tea would be too weird, that maybe a fruity tea would work, definitely a black. Maybe a Ceylon or Keemun or a very muscatel autumnal Darjeeling, although I’m not sure that would ever be sturdy enough. Assam is too malty, Lapsang Souchong made us both go eeuw.  What do you think? Personally, I’m going to stick with cola, Dr. Pepper, root beer or beer, hide-bound traditionalist that I guess I am.

We have a Swedish recipe for pot roast that calls for a cup of strong coffee with cream and sugar for the liquid. It is delicious. I was thinking that this would be the place to try a strong cup of Assam or Lapsang with cream and sugar. I think next pot roast, I will try it. The tea would help tenderize the meat, just as the coffee does and the resulting gravy would still have a hearty flavor. I’ll let you know.

India is nearing completion of a billion dollar public/private endeavor to upgrade tea fields and factories. Wow, that is a lot of money! Some is going to help farmers replant, as many tea bushes are so old they are no longer as productive. Factories will be re-tooled and there will be an emphasis on better marketing. I hope there will also be an emphasis on care for their workers.

In that vein, Tetulia Teas has been recognized by the United Nations for its humanitarian and environmentally sound tea farming in Bangladesh. It runs the only USDA approved organic tea farm in that area. Their teas are very tasty, as well.

Today, however, I am trying some Pu-erh, from the Verdant Tea company in Minneapolis  This a new company to me and comes via my monthly Steepster Select program.  Its official name is Diyi Cornfields Shu and comes in small nest like shapes called toucha.  It is individually wrapped in small printed pieces of thin paper.  The tea is grown between rows of corn, which gives it some shade and also imparts flavors of corn and butter, which new pu-erh drinkers, like me seem to enjoy.  it certainly smells like earth and corn, with a sweet overlay, kind of like that combination at the movies of buttered popcorn and sweetness given off by the candy and soda.  I brewed it with boiling water for 5minutes, one toucha per 12 oz. of water - perfect for my ever-so-English teapot.  I probably shouldn't say it, but I keep wanting to call it Do-It-Yourself Pu-erh.  Really bad, eh?

It is a very dark brew and smells wonderful.  It tastes that way too, really buttery, earthy and of corn.  It is almost overwhelming in the way it all comes together and lingers in your mouth.  This results in the flavors intensifying as you sip.  I like it, but for my personal drinking, I would like it a bit more dilute.  However, I think it would make a wonderful liquid for the Swedish pot roast, but without the cream and sugar.  This has enough going on to not need embellishment.

Monday, October 31, 2011

May The Great Pumpkin Rise In Your Pumpkin Patch

Looking across the valley
Some of you may have heard about blue tea and wondered what it is.  While I was reading my tea books I discovered that back in the early days of tea shipping to foreign merchants, some Chinese discovered that if they added a blue dye, perhaps made from mallow flowers, to their tea, they could claim it was something very special and so, charge more.  Once this was discovered, the market disappeared.  Sometimes Oolong was referred to as "blue-green tea" because in processing, it is between green and black.  I've tried looking it up on line, with no great or satisfactory results, although there is a discussion on Tea Chat about the translation of Chinese words relating to this.  If any of you know more about this, please let me know.  Currently, this is not something generally used to describe a class of tea.

For those of you who are close enough, the Ottawa Tea Festival is coming up this Saturday, November 5.  The entrance fee covers all the free tea you can drink, plus a number of speakers and exhibits from around the world.  Workshops are extra and cover things like pairing tea and chocolate, tea and food and tea blending.  Sorry to give you such short notice, but I only heard about it today.

Since it is Great Pumpkin Day, aka Halloween, I decided to try some Pumpkin Spice tea from the Boston Tea Company.  They very kindly sent me this and two other blends.  This one is "Ceylon tea flavored with pumpkin, exotic spices and sunflowers".  It smells like pumpkin, with the usual array of spices one puts in a pie and its looks are enhanced by what I would guess are sunflower petals.  There is a slight chemical hint to the scent.  I am doing it with boiling water for 3.5 minutes.  As it brews the hint of chemistry dissipates and the dark liquor is very pleasant smelling, indeed.  Sweet is the first thing that comes to mind as I sip the tea, the pumpkin and spices come in at the end.  However, they linger so that as I continue to sip, they make a whole, well-rounded impression of a perfectly spiced pumpkin.  I added half & half and that did it no service at all.  I added some sugar and that again rounded out the taste.  For myself, I will drink it plain.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Snow, Another Good Reason For Tea

More of Grandpa's view
Saturday it snowed - just enough to leave about an inch on things in the morning. By noon, the lovely, warm, bright sun has dissipated it all. The fur persons all ran out, tails up, noses twitching, to see this new thing. But wait! It is cold on the paws and it sticks. Meee- oooow! So they all rush in again, to warm their toes on our legs. Best have some tea, says I.

Silver Leaf Tea Company is offering a black tea from the Kenilworth Estate in Sri Lanka, still known as Ceylon in the tea world. The leaves are a pretty good size, almost all black with hints of brown. They have a deep throat-catching winey scent. I only brew it for 3 minutes, as my experience of both Ceylon and Assam is that they get nasty if brewed too long. All the tannin comes out and one could even say it was stewed. The resulting liquor is a very dark amber which gives off a combination of oak, fall vegetative matter and a roastiness. The tea itself, however, is only so-so, with no particular taste. It is much improved with a spot of half & half, which seems to bring out the oakiness and lift it into the pretty good realm.

Tea is always amazing me. Sometimes, with really good teas, you just get your socks knocked off, they ‘re so good. Some are subtle, some change their taste from the beginning of the cup to the end. Some teas are wonderful hot and dreadful iced. Some taste best with cream, others are awful that way. It is always an adventure and a comfort to have tea.

I bought some good coffee for my “best beau” and ya know what? All this tea drinking has sharpened my palette so that now I am better at coffee nuances as well. “Who’da thunk it?” If you have coffee drinkers in your house, the company is Gimmee Coffee, which originated in NYC, but I get it locally in Ithaca or on line at . The prices aren’t bad, the service is excellent and the coffee is roasted by them within a few days of delivery.

Since the flood, I have noticed that my water filter has been getting used about up 2-3 times as quickly and it is having a hard time filtering out all the chlorine. It’s a good thing we weren’t drinking it for several weeks.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Oooh, Oolong

Another view from Grandpa's porch
I just got my latest issue of "Tea Time" magazine, with its reminder of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas to come.  Not to mention Kwanzaa and many other holidays in the next 2 months.  The one thing that struck me was their mention of Harney and Sons carrying Kosher teas.  I don't know what one must do to make tea Kosher, do you?  If so, please tell me.

Harney & Sons just happens to be the purveyor of today's tea, Da Hong Pao, an Oolong from Wuyi, China.  It is part of the Steepster Select group for October.  (I haven't reported on September's batch, as I got behind due to the flood and my eye.)  The heavily twisted dark brown to black leaves smell like one of the "heavier" wine barrels, maybe a dark sherry, but there is that somewhat characteristic orchid aroma around the edges.  Following directions, I brewed it for 4 minutes with boiling water.  Unusual, I know.  The resulting liquor is quite a light brown and guess what - smells like orchids, with a charred aged whiskey/wine barrel kick to it.  The Harney site says it has been oxidized about 40%.  It tastes just fine; soft, smooth, with the orchid and roasty/toasty flavors mingling just right.  Tastes like "more". This particular selection comes from the "3 famous trees" of Chinese legend.  Which I don't know, but will try to find out.

This month has also been Breast Cancer Awareness month and Harney's has tea for it. Jane's Garden Tea, is a blend of roses and green tea.  Some of the cost for each order of this tea goes to a fund they established as a memorial to Jane Lloyd, who worked for them before her untimely death from cancer.  The Boston Tea Company also has a Tea Leaves For Life sampler , part of which proceeds go for cancer research.

It's always nice to be able to get more than your money's worth, isn't it?

Friday, October 28, 2011

We're Off To See The Wegmans, The Wonderful Wegmans Of...

This is a photo of the scenery from my grandfather's porch in Switzerland.  How I would love to see that every morning.

We had snow!  It snowed for about 2 hours, but none of it stuck, as the ground hasn't frozen yet.  Quite dutifully, I thought, we had frost last night, the really truly end of summer.

Another Yunnan today.  This is from that great culinary haven, Wegmans, their Yunnan English Breakfast Black Tea.  I discovered they also have Double Devon Cream and Clotted Cream.  As my friend Bev and I had already been pretty bad with cheeses and olives, I passed it up, for now.  However....

Back to the main object of the day.  The dry tea smells very typically Yunnan, sort of earthy, with a touch of cocoa, maybe a lick of spice.  The mostly brown twisted leaves are enlivened by some gold buds.  I brewed it for nearly 5 minutes, at a little below boiling.  The resulting brew is very dark and smells like the inside of a cobbler's shop - tanned leather, shoe dye, but still with that hint of cocoa.  Odd, I know, but it is an aroma I like, so don't be put off by it.  Oh yum, this is a nice tea.  The chocolate comes out in the liquor, it is the first thing I can taste.  Then the spice comes in and some tannic action here as well - the latter probably from brewing it a bit too long and maybe a bit too much extra tea.  I added some half and half and was quite pleased.  This is sturdy enough for breakfast and while it has some complexities, you could drink it in a somewhat somnolent state and not feel you were doing it a huge injustice.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Lovely Yunnan

Swiss valley and Mountains
 Ta Da!  I am back to tasting tea!  I've been longing for some new tea and finally feel like I have enough brain to give it the proper attention.

I was down in Owego this morning and while outwardly, much has returned to normal there are still many closed stores, a lot of stuff on the street sides to be taken away and lots of repair trucks of all sorts.

I got today's tea from Upton's before the flood.  It is their ZY84, Yunnan Rare Grade.  It has a lovely aroma in the packet, like fresh hay with a spicey twist.  The leaves are gold and green and brown, with lots of buds.

I brewed if for about 4 minutes and 15 seconds.  It gave off a complex aroma of roasted sweet corn, cocoa and earth.  The liquor is a nice bright brown.  The tea is somewhat sweet and slides down as smooth as silk.  It is hard to describe, as there are elements of spice and cocoa, but it seems as though there are other nuances as well, but they disappear before I can put a name to them.  I think I will just enjoy it.  It's not the absolute best I've had, I can only afford that once in a while, but it is a pleasant everyday Yunnan.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Moving Towards Normal

Hooray and Hooray and Hooray!  I had my 2 week post-op visit with my doctor and I can now be upright for 30 minutes of every hour!  Long enough to taste tea while actually drinking it from a cup.  I can also drive, but I have to be sensible.  I will try around our neighborhood before I go anywhere.  During the day, when all the kids are in school.  I even have some vision back, a bit odd around the edges, but to have it at all is wonderful.

I got to take a brief walk today and it smelled wonderful - that lovely toasty smell of dry leaves and earth.  I even saw some tiny blue wild asters.

I just finished my book Tea and Chinese Culture.  Ling Wang, the author covers a huge amount of ground. Of necessity, it is a mere skimming, but he has tried to get as much flavor in his book as possible.  Tea was/is used for so many things - respect, honor, spirituality, bride prices,  sealing of weddings, gifts, as well as everyday drinking.  Even in the everyday, tea was appreciated in a way it seldom is in this country.  This was a good introductery book.   It made me feel sad, however, as  we seem to have "thrown out the baby with the bath water" in our modern hurry and rush and pressured lives.  I am hoping to continue my study of China, it really fascinates me, especially as it relates to tea.  I am also resolving to take more time to appreciate tea, its accompaniments and other things in my life.