Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tea and Gardens in the Snow

It is astonishingly beautiful here this morning. We had about 5" inches of snow last night and almost all of it has stuck to the branches of every plant. It is so thick I can't really see very far into any of our woods and spinneys. The sky is that really brilliant dark blue we rarely get in the winter, the sun is out and it is gorgeous! Definitely a day for an appreciative walk.

First, let's have tea. I have read much about (Big) Red Robe Oolong tea and finally decided I had better try some, as it sounded so tasty. I got some in my sampler I bought from the puriTea. The leaves are a reddish black, a mix of spirals and chunks. My first impression is it smelled like the good brown bits from homemade mac and cheese, with a bit of smoke. It brewed up to a medium amber with a kind of raisiny, floral, charred wood scent, which followed right along into the taste, which was sweet, floral and the tiniest bit smokey.

The second infusion was a bit lighter, more floral, not a bit smokey, but had more of a raisin character to it. Not sweet in the usual sense of the word, but carrying that impression. It is quite complex and as it cools it becomes somewhat peachy tasting. I found it to be every bit as interesting cold as it was hot.

This tea is also known as Da Hung Pao, "the Emperor of Tea" and comes from the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian Provnce, China. The trees are over 400 years old. One of the charming myths about these trees is that a Ming Dynasty emperor's mother was ill and a tea made from them cured her. To honor and protect the trees, the emperor sent his imperial red robes to put over them.

For those of you who are Kusmi Tea fans, they have opened a NYC store. It is located at 1037 Third Ave., near 61st Street. I now have a huge list of NYC tea shops and vendors I want to visit next time I can go there.

I am going to hop over to India to review a tea I don't want to forget. It is from Teas Etc and simply named Nilgiri. If you remember, Nilgiri is named for its origin in the "Blue Mountains " of very southern India. The leaves are small and a mix of black and brown. They give off a very pleasant prune smell, which sits well with me, as I love prunes. As it brewed the scent shifted to a baked fruit and fresh outdoor aroma. The tea was definitely no disappointment. It was light and toasty and fruity and sweet. Yum.

This made me think ahead to gardens. When we first began to garden in earnest we were faced with brick-building red clay. What to do? We had read about no-weed, deep mulched gardens put forth by Ruth Stout [sister of mystery writer, Rex, author of the Nero Wolf series] and tried it, never looking back. By the third year we had deep, wonderful soil. The trick is to mulch the soil about 1 foot thick with hay and just add to it every year. We did our potatoes by laying them on the ground and covering them with hay. We'd shove the hay aside to make rows. Yes, there were a few problems. The main one was slugs, which we dealt with by going out in the evening and salting them. Considering the damage they did, we were absolutely heartless. And we had wonderful crops that we did not have to weed nor water. One garden we did have to rake clear for the ground to warm up, but that was minor.

When we were making new flower beds, we were a bit more discreet. In the fall we would lay down a thick layer of wet newspaper and cover it with a "prettier" mulch. By Spring we would've killed the grass and started the process of soil improvement. You see, not only am I a lazy tea lady, I am a lazy gardener.

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