Sunday, July 31, 2011

This and That

I've been thinking about a small breakfast tea. Our back porch is lovely in the morning. The tree guys aren't here yet with their noise, it's cool, the birds are about, sometimes even the deer go by. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know morning is not my best time, brain-wise. However, if most of the preparation is done the night before, I should be ok. Set the table with my grandmother's china or my new Satsuma set. We have some pretty silverplate and tablecloth and napkins that actually match, so that's ok.

Of course, we'll have some nice English Breakfast tea and I can make scones if I have all the ingredients ready. We have lots of nice jams and plenty of fresh fruit, including some tiny plums I got at the farmers market. I can put out some ham and cheese and chutney with them and get my husband to make poached eggs. Or I can make a strata the night before. Now all I need is a couple of guests and we'll be all set.

Have you bought into the decaffeinate your own tea in 30 seconds hype? That's all it is, sadly. 30 seconds will take out about 5-10% of the caffeine. To get as much as 80% removed, you need to brew it for 5 minutes or more and I sure wouldn't want to drink the next cup. You'd do better letting the experts handle this one.

If you have certain types of cancer and are taking the drug, Velcade, do NOT drink green tea, as it renders the drug ineffective. This comes from hospital studies on the West Coast. Check with your physicians and caregivers about this.

What sort of tea shop do you prefer? I was thinking about this the other day and I decided it's not the shop so much as it is the tea, the food and the service. I do not like going to a tea shop and being served tea bags. I expect them to go the extra bit and serve top-quality tea. I expect food that is also top quality, presented as nicely as possible. The food doesn't have to be expensive, but must taste really good. Lastly, I want service that is friendly and efficient, without being too chummy. That will do me whether it is the most over done "Olde Englishe Shoppe" all the way to the most slick moderne. Oh, yeah, clean and not too noisy will go far, as well. I want a get away, not somewhere loud and frenetic. How about you? What do you prefer?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A New Experience

The altar from the old church.

Today I had a new tea experience. Sadly, not a pleasant one. My tea tasted like chlorine! Since I had just had a cup of perfectly fine tea, I can only say it is the tea. It is Highland Blend from the Edinburgh Tea and Coffee Company. The dry leaves are clearly CTC or fannings bits and smell very ordinary, with a rough edge. The directions say to brew for 4 minutes and add milk. So I did. The resulting brew was dark as midnight and smelt harsh and strong, which is just what the taste was, although softened by the addition of some half 'n half. It took me back to the summer spent in Great Britiain and all the tea I drank there. However, as the tea cooled it tasted more and more like chlorine. Not a pleasant aftertaste. I guess the mulch pile wins this one.

Have you seen the new Finum Control Pots? Mark T. Wendell at has them, complete with visual directions. I would like to try one, but I don't think I need another tea pot. And if I do, I have my eye on one from a potter at the farmers market.

One of my cousins is a geology professor at a university and her newest course is "As the World Turns: society and sustainability in a time of great change" She and I occasionally talk about this in regards to tea, where it is becoming and issue. I feel it should have been for far longer, as we need to keep in mind that the world is a small place and we need to learn to really care for it and each other quickly, before it is too late. Tea workers produce something we enjoy, we should see to it they are cared for and support them in their struggles.

In line with that, did you know that Teatulia Teas is a single garden organic tea selling directly to markets? It comes from Northern Bangladesh, north of Assam and close to the Himalayas. They offer about 9 different teas, from herbals through blacks. I am going to try some, so watch for reviews.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Testing the Waters

More bits of the 800AD church.

Aaah, a cool day. It is not even supposed to hit 80. My kind of summer day. I know I am in the minority, but there you have it. Morning was further enhanced by seeing a doe with her fawn, who is pretty well-grown by now, but still spotted. I have temporarily foiled them by tying plastic bags to my new plantings, which blow in the breeze and scare them. Putting up fencing is one of our next projects.

If you like reading tea blogs and wonder what ones are on line, go on over to . Katrina has a long list of them, just above her blog writing. She also has a book coming out this fall.

I have heard of mixing wine and tea and have had some myself, but tea and beer is a new one. The Stone Brewing Company from California has worked with some Japanese companies to produce Green Tea IPA (India Pale Ale). All proceeds will go to the Japanese Red Cross to support aid efforts of victims of the earthquake/tsunami. I am not much of a beer drinker, so I won't be reviewing this, but it is a nationally distributed company, so if one of you would like to do a guest blog about it, let me know and we'll arrange it.

Calling all West Coast tea people! There will be a tea festival in Los Angeles August 13-14, sponsored by the Japanese American Museum. For more information, go to .

Speaking of festivals, there just was one in Bratislava, Slovakia. Michal writes about it in . Lots of nice pictures, too.

I have 3 successful ice teas sitting in my fridge at the moment - Tie GuanYin from Dream About Tea, Hajua Sessa Assam from American Tea Room and that lovely Yunnan from Upton Tea I reviewed earlier this week, which is the least tasty - the cold seems to have eliminated the spice and sweetness.

My tea today is an experiment. If you remember, I had a very unhappy tea experience on vacation, trying to use bottled water for my tea. Today I got 2 kinds of water from the grocery store, Fiji, which was recommended in a tea magazine and Poland Spring, which is readily available everywhere in the Northeast. I am using Culinary Teas Lady Londonderry for the experimental tea, as I like it a lot and know what it tastes like. I brought both waters to a boil and brewed the tea for 3 minutes.

Wow, what a difference in color. The Poland Spring (PS) was a nice bright amber. The Fiji, a very dark brown, almost black. The taste was also heavy and dark and had a bit of tannin, it actually didn't taste much like Lady L, but was pretty flat - more like a not so hot teabag. The PS tea was lighter and more nuanced, much more true to the taste and aroma of this particular tea. I am going to try some others, just to make sure, but if PS works across the board, it will definitely be my tea traveling water. It is also much cheaper, which is an added plus. This was a blind test, so I wouldn't know which was which.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


An amendment to my review of Mark T. Wendell's Russian Caravan from last Wednesday. Today I brewed it with less tea and it is much better. It is still very slightly smokey, dark and very roasted tasting, but now there is more of a hint of sweetness and freshness about it. Goes to show- sometimes, you have to play with a tea until you get it the way you like it. This time I used about 2 teaspoons of tea in an 18 ounce pot, for 3 minutes and now I like it. I think I still prefer Upton's Finest Russian Caravan, but having 2 to choose from is good.

Black Bear Ices It

The walls of a church built in 800, under the Meieringen,
Switzerland church of my grandmother. You can just walk right in. Amazing!

I hope by now you all realize that my tea tastings are one woman's opinion about a particular tea. Whether you will like the tea I review or not is a matter of your taste, since so many things influence an individual's response to a particular tea. When I was starting on my tea journey, I found that some reviewers seemed to share my tastes and if they recommended a tea, I would probably like it. I am sure that goes for you as well.

I admit, sometimes I will try a new tea simply because I am captivated by its name. Such is the case with Black Bear Jasmine, from Kitchen TLC. Because we have bears and because I've had another black jasmine, I tried it - not a reasonable reason, but there you have it. If I had been smart, I wouldn't have bought it, since I never like teas with vanilla flavoring. But I got it. And I hated it. I gave it three tries. Full strength, it was perfume to drink. Half strength more of the jasmine came out and it was better, so I tried it about half-strength as an ice tea - about 2 teaspoons to 2 cups of water, refridgerated overnight. It's almost good, not much jasmine, more vanilla and something floral I can't identify. It actually is growing on me, iced. I probably wouldn't drink much, but I have friends who would love it, so now I feel it has redeemed itself.

I just found out I can go to World Tea East, Sept 9-10! I am so excited! I have wanted to go to the parent show, the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas for years, but couldn't. Many tea people are thrilled this is happening, as for us Easterners, this is so much more accessible. There are expos of one sort or another in Seattle and Western Canada, but it has been years since there has been one in the East. Be assured I will tell you all about it. What I do know is there will be a number of lectures given by some well-known tea people such as Bruce Richardson, exhibitions, tea competitions, etc. More to come!

If you are interested, Dawnya Sasse from has a webinar on "Starting a Tea Club for Fun or for Profit". Find out more information at Dawnya has a regular email feature of tea recipes and often has these webinars. This will be the first webinar I will have tried, but her recipes are good and creative, so I expect this will be as well. You can sign up for the recipes at her Tea Party Girl website.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yunnan Rules!

The back of a Swiss choir stall.

Steepster, that very good "peer review" tea site, has added some new things, as well as updating their site. One of the newest is "Steepster Select". For $19 a month, you will be sent 3 different teas to taste and review or at least, enjoy, along with appropriate tasting notes and some information about tea. From some of the "tea of the month" offerings I've seen, this is quite inexpensive. Go to to check it out. The initial offering only has 100 spots, so you might want to hurry. I signed up and I'll let you know all about it.

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. All the windows are open, the cats are running in and out, the sun is shining, back lighting the trees at the edge of the lawn. The chicory and golden rod are making a wonderful blue and yellow show, along with some milkweed and Joe Pye weed to add their pinks to the mix. In my garden, I am especially proud of my 7 inch yellow spider daylillies that look so good next to the maroon ones with yellow throats.

The tree people are here with their giant clawed machines, clearing away our 90 poor, dead and dying trees. My favorite tree is gone - it had a lovely configuration of branches. I'll miss it. I hope they take the one that is so cosily leaning against the sugar maple. Shade is a wonderful thing, welcome cooling in the summer's heat.

Have you noticed how many new tea books have been coming out? More than ten in the past year. Surely this is another indication that tea drinking is here to stay and on the upswing! Maybe even more civility in general life. We could all use some of that, and the time to slow down and appreciate the world around us, no matter how busy we are.

I just made German potato salad for our supper. it is from my friend Gerta, who would make 100 pounds of potatoes plus the other ingredients, for our church's strawberry festival. There was never any left. The recipe is for 5 pounds, but it is easily halved or doubled. If any of you want it, let me know, and I'll put it up here, it's easy and sooo good., but not for the super dieter.

Today I am having some more Upton's. It is ZY84, Yunnan Rare Grade. The sample is just enough for my 8 cup pot at 1.5 teaspoons at 212 degrees for 4-5 minutes. Oh my, the dry leaf smells so good, like a flowery, spicy meadow. There is a lot of gold dust from the abundance of fat yellow buds. The brewing aroma is spicy, with a honey twist to it and the tea in the cup - ambrosia! It is sweet, smooth, spicy, with a great hint of cocoa at the end. This is the best Yunnan I've had in a while and I will run right over to their site and buy me some more. Yunnan, as you may know, is one of my all time favorite teas and this one is super.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Black Bear Bombs

A very nice goat in Meieringen, Switzerland.

Today is My 500th blog. "Who'da thunk it", to quote someone I can't remember. For me, that is incredible perseverance.

Rain, blessed rain! We have been so dry and so hot. It is still hot, but it is almost manageable. This morning we planted 2 berry bushes and the rain will settle them in nicely. To think that only a short while ago, we felt like we wer drowning.

The Tea House Times, a tea magazine that publishes every 2 months, is now on line. They also have tea courses for both pros and enthusiasts. Go to for more information on these and the other things they offer.

Looking for candy that combines your 2 great loves, chocolate and tea? Look no further, has a great selection. They have 9! tea infused chocolate bars, including chai, Early Gray green, jasmine and herbals that we often call tea, such as Mate, rooibus, and chamomile. They also carry a wide range of teas, many of which are organic.

I must say, Kitchen TLC, out in Bozeman, MT, is fast. I got my order 2 days after I placed it, with 2 free samples. I could not resist Black Bear Jasmine, which is organic, consisting of black and green teas, jasmine and vanilla flavoring. The dry tea is quite attractive, with the tea colors and the small buds of jasmine. The aroma is intense and very, very perfumey, almost too much so. I brewed 1 teaspoon at 195 degrees for just 3 minutes. It is unlike any Jasmine I have ever had. The flavor is incredibly intense and basically tastes like perfume. I did not care for it. I am going to try it again, with less tea or more water and see if that helps. At the moment, it is definitely not a winner.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

We're Having a Heat Wave!

Lovely mountains and sky in Berne, Switzerland.

Today it is too hot to write, even in the house. I've mentioned Kitchen TLC (tea, life, chocolate) a few times and I finally decided to order some of their teas. I just did this Thursday and they are here already! They included two free samples, which is very kind of them.

I am only having ice tea today, which in this particular case is a melange of leftover brewed tea. It is going down very nicely. I made some sugar syrup to have on hand for tonight's guests, as I know they like theirs sweetened, but who wants to stir forever?

Perhaps by Monday I will have the cool to again do some tea tasting. I certainly hope so.

At the farmers market, not only was their new squash, but new potatoes and new corn! Did anyone say feast?

Here's something to try if you are grilling. lightly grill some peaches or nectarines and pop the slices in your tea. The grilling brings out their sweetness, adds a little caramel and if you're lucky, not much in the way of smoke. If you're like me, a bit of smoke is fine. Yum.

Have a happy weekend, drink lots of tea and keep cool.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tea on the Grill and in the Medicine Chest

No pictures today, the blogger thingy seems to be on vacation.

Oh my, it is definitely hot again today, upper 90's. The humidity is low, so it is not as bad as it could be. The Ernster cat is stretched out on my dresser where the air conditioning can blow on his tummy. Maybe I should try that.

If you are thinking of grilling, why not try marinating your meat in some fresh-brewed black tea? Add whatever herbs and spices you like and let it sit for an hour or so. The tea will tenderize it somewhat and if you use a meat fork to poke it all over, the marinade will penetrate more of it. Lapsang Souchong would be good, as would a Keemun or Assam. For chicken you might try one of the greens or a Darjeeling. If you use the Lapsang, make up a bit of bleu cheese butter for your steak, as the tea and bleu cheese go very well together. For dessert you could have grilled peaches or nectarines with some green tea ice cream. You could probably make your own by whizzing some vanilla ice cream with some matcha in a food processor until it is pale green and refreezing it. Do it quickly, so the ice cream doesn't melt too much.

Tea is also good for summer's mishaps, like bug bites and poison ivy. It helps stop the pain and itch and speeds along the drying of the ivy rash. If your eyes are tired and red, a cold wet tea bag does wonders. I can remember my grandmother using them that way very effectively, over 50 years ago.

Today was just cool enough that I could decide on a tea. But I am still not up for adventure, so I selected Upton's ZK17, China Congou, Keemun Hong Tao. The tea is organic, produced by a small group of Chinese farmers dedicated to organic farming. Upton's also says it is in the style of Anhui Province Keemun, which leads me to believe it is from another area. The Chinese say only Keemun from Anhui is authentic. I am all in favor of keeping these distinctions and I applaud Upton's for indicating this. For me, Swiss cheese, for example, comes from Switzerland, all others are Swiss type and simply don't have the same flavor. I am not enough of a tea person to know the differences, but I am sure that others are. It is a matter of terroir, the infinite variables of soil, water, air, that are only found in one area, whether it is French wine, Swiss Cheese or Chinese tea.

I followed instructions of 1 teaspoon, 5 minutes, boiling water. The dry leaves were quite small, an equal mix of tan and black. They gave off a subtle aroma of smoke, sweet and earthy. As it brewed, the scent shifted into a roasty, earthy one. The tea pretty much tastes that way. It is gentle, but a definite Keemun, with a solid earthy base, overlain with some sweetness. Those of you who don't like smoke, will like this one as that disappears. A very pleasant drink.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Keeping Cool

More Swiss flowers - at Spiez Castle on Lake Thun.

Are y'all hot enough today? We're expecting temperatures in the upper 90's and maybe hitting 100. I am very thankful for air conditioning. For once, even the cats think it is a "cool" idea. What are you doing to keep cool? One trick I learned, when I was in NYC in my first job, was to take cold baths. As cold as you could stand them. Now I might amend that to cool baths. Drink lots of liquids.

It is very easy to get dehydrated in such hot weather and one way you can tell if that is beginning to happen is to pinch up the skin on the back of your hand. If it goes back quickly, you're fine. If it goes slowly, drink a large glass of water (or ice tea).

Speaking of tea I was trying some Mark T. Wendell's Russian Caravan. It smelled good in the tin, slightly smokey, slightly sweet. It was very dark and seemed to be a very mixed bag of leaves and dust. Because of the dust, I only brewed it for 3 minutes, using 1 teaspoon per cup.

It was not a success, it was far too strong and not very tasty. Adding cream didn't improve it. However, I rebrewed the leaves and turned the whole thing into ice tea. It is still too strong and I like strong tea! I can see I have to play with this one - I'll let you know the results. I have to say I am disappointed, as I have had others of their teas and they have been quite good, especially the Hu Kwa, their marvelous Lapsang Souchong.

Did you know that Teavana is offering its stock for sale? At about $15 a share, some of you may want to invest in this tea company that is apparently doing quite well.

Kitchen TLC at has a wonderful selection of tea infused products - jams and jellies, scones, chocolate. How can a tea person go wrong? From what I can see on their site, their prices are reasonable. They even have a black bear creamy jasmine. Do you suppose if I set some out for the bears, they would leave my suet alone? Maybe I should get some.

Another company that has wonderful jams and jellies is Marmalady's Tea at She has a nice selection of books, aprons, apron patterns and tea cosy patterns as well.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Orange Blossoms and Strawberries

It's a flower day!

Oh boy, did I have some really nice tea today, part of the Wegman's stash. It is from Rishi Teas, Organic Green Orange Blossom. It contains sweet osthmanthus flowers (aka orange flowers), lemongrass and a host of other things in very small amounts. All of it is wild harvested and the tea comes from Hubei Province, China. There is even a small map for those of us whose Chinese geography is weak.

The tin is double sealed, with an inside lid. The dry tea is dark from the green tea and has lots of lemon grass and gold and white bits that I assume are the flowers. It has a strong sweet citrus scent with a tart edge to liven it. The directions call for 1 tablespoon per 8 oz. of water, at about 180 degrees. The pale gold liquid has a very citrussy scent, but the orange flowers are definitely there, along with perhaps a bit of rose or jasmine to soften it.

The captivating aroma carries right on into the actual liquid, which is delicious, light, citrussy, flowery, but not like perfume. This would be an excellent tea with sweets or to lure tea newbies into green tea. I am going to make it my next ice tea, as I think all the flavors will come through. I may put a drop of orange flower water in if it needs livening from the cold.

Speaking of which, if you have some strawberries that aren't quite flavorful enough, add a few drops of orange flower water. It enhances their fragrance, which in turn, kicks up the taste. A bit of rose water can do wonders as well, but I would rather add that to my pound cake.

I went to the farmers' market Friday and the first tomatoes are in! Oh, the sublime taste of a fresh summer tomato. They are so early because the farmer grafts seedlings onto old roots and then performs magic. But there were nice green ones for fried green tomatoes and cherries for pie. I also got some beet greens, with tiny beets attached. I was thinking that tiny beets and mandarin oranges with tiny spring greens would make a stunning small composed salad for a tea party course, with a few toasted pine nuts and a crumble or two of a mild cheese.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

News With Tea

Beauty can be found in many shapes.

Contest Lovers -Teavana is having a contest for those who like to blend their own tea. Create the best summer blend to win new Teavana iced teas and accessories. Go to for details.

Over at there is a new blog article about the mechanics of taste from the seminar they had at the World Tea Expo in June. They are also having a sale on teas for ice tea.

I discovered an interesting site . It is primarily a British site, but often carries US news as well. It has tea and tea shop reviews and recipes too.

The Tea Trekker has just announced that Korean green teas have arrived in their shop. They have 2 kinds available. These are the folks who wrote that excellent book The Story of Tea, a Cultural History and Drinking Guide, plus 3 others, all top notch. Their teas are excellent as well.

At the moment, however, I am going to turn to Upton Teas ZK95 China Keemun Mao Feng Imperial. What an aroma the dry leaves have, strong, mellow, roasted, like curing tobacco, with a slight floral edge. I did 1 teaspoon for 4 minutes and the scent shifted somewhat to an earthy, roasty, vegetable one. Sadly, for me I didn't think this had much of a Keemun taste, it seemed like it had been over-roasted. I was so busy being disappointed I didn't really taste it for itself, but I didn't like it. I shall have to try again and see what it's like without expectations, if i can manage it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

"Quoth the Raven"

Last night I was reading on the back porch and noticed how quiet it was. There was no wind, the trees were absolutely still. There were no lawn mowers, only a soft sound of conversation somewhere and the birds' chirpings fading as they readied themselves for the night. One small goldfinch feeding and the last rosy rays of sundown were all the activity to be seen. A moment to savor.

I see that Ajiri Tea, which I have reviewed before has again won an award for its lovely packaging. This company is a cooperative of farmers in Kenya and its profits go to provide schooling for orphans. Their tea is good, too. Please check them out at
Their tea is inexpensive at $9 for about a quarter pound.

Not too long ago, I reviewed some teas from Blue Raven Tea Company. Today I am moving on to Black Raven, from the Eastern Shore Tea Company. This is a black currant flavored tea, "darkly delicious", in honor of Edgar Allen Poe, who penned those famous words,"quoth the raven, nevermore". The package receives high marks for uniqueness and attractiveness, as does all their line. This one has, of course, a raven on the front and is tied with a purple ribbon. The teabags are individually wrapped in metallic plastic. They are filled with small bits of tea and smell (rats!) like cat spray, which seems to be an unfortunate scent many black currant teas have.

However, I am determined to try the tea and proceed, following directions to brew for 5 minutes. The aroma has settled down considerably, so I am encouraged. Actually, in spite of my fears, this does taste good, nice and fruity, with a bit of a bite at the end, which is black currant. It doesn't come close to Tea Forte's black currant, but it's quite drinkable. This is pretty high marks from one who is very critical of most offerings of this type.

Speaking of currants, we had 14 of these berries this year. Hopefully, next year, when they are in their permanent home, we will have more. The roses are blooming and theJapanese beetles are eating them. The deer have eaten more of my new little tree so I put a bag over it last night to thwart them and I'll continue to do that until I can put a fence around it. I enjoy our wildlife, but they can be destructive.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The interior of the Meieringen Church, with its perfect acoustics.

I have discovered a new use for my large tea sock. If you don't know what this is, it is a handy little gadget that looks like the toe and arch part of a sock, with a metal ring around the top. I first discovered these when my friend, Ruth, married her husband, who is from Puerto Rico, where such socks are used to brew coffee. Upton's carries them in 2 sizes - mug and teapot.

I have not been happy with my usual way of making ice tea directly in the pitcher as it involved pouring the tea through a strainer into another container and then back into my pitcher. It always seemed to involve spilling enough to be annoying. I tried using my largest teapot and it was okay, but still lacking. However, this method works very well, the ring rests on an inner ring in the pitcher, secured by the sock's hook. When I am done, I squeeze the sock, turn it inside out over the compost, rinse well and I am done. I only need two - one for green and one for black.

While I was at Wegman's, I noticed they had an aisle just for bottled teas. I usually ignore these, as they tend to be awful. However, I noticed that they had some from Ito En, which has a good reputation. They were also unsweetened, hooray, hooray.! I decided to try the Jasmine Green Tea. It comes in an attractive, recyclable plastic bottle. The label states there is only green tea, jasmine flowers and ascorbic acid in it. It further states it is brewed tea. The tea is a pretty pale gold and smells like jasmine. It tastes like a good jasmine tea, delicate and flowery, with a good balance between the flowers and the tea. You can actually taste that you are drinking green tea. I think I shall have to try some more, since this is so good.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Good Life at the Grocery Store

Mountains, lakes, life is good.

The gang is out so I am sneaking some time to write. We went to Wegman's today - think super grocery store - and I checked out the tea aisles (yes, aisles as in three). Be still my heart. They had about 50 loose teas in big steel canisters, very nice sealable bags to put them in and a weight/sticker machine that not only gave the price, but brewing instructions as well. So, of course, I got several samples to try and bought some tea from the Eastern Shore Tea Co., as well. About 1/3 of the teas were Japanese and there were several organic teas, along with a fairly wide selection of storage canisters and many tea gizmos and pots.

One of the samples I purchased was Nilgiri Select Black Tea from southwestern India. The leaves were a long dark brown, very twisted. The scent was unremarkable - just tea. I brewed it for 4 minutes with 212 degree water and many of the leaves were not yet unfurled. I think I should have brewed it closer to the upper limit of six minutes, as the tea was pleasant, but bland. I was smart enough to make my samples large enough to do several pots, so I will try more another day.

I was pleased to see the tea in stainless steel containers, protected from the light and each had its own scooping spoon to avoid cross-contamination. Someone at Wegman's has paid attention to the basics of tea. From what I could see in a very quick perusal, the other teas were all tea bags, but I was in a hurry and will need to go back to check them out some more.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Quartet of Curds

The ancient great bells of Meieringen, Switzerland, church.

I was very pleased to see that one of my favorite tea rooms, The Whistling Kettle Tea Lounge and Cafe in Ballston Spa, NY, is featured in an article in the newest issue of Tea Time Magazine. They really deserve mention, as everything they serve is done well and the teas they have are top notch. I gave a short review of them almost 2 years ago. If you are going to Saratoga Springs for the races or the summer music season, they are only a short drive away.

You've all heard of that wonderful cake and tart filler, lemon curd. I hope you have had some as well, it is wonderful stuff. Now there is orange curd, available from . They also have lemon, raspberry and lime curds, for $7.95. I saw they lots of other treats and recipes.

In the tea section of is an article about the dangers of Bubble Tea. There are no sources listed, so I don't know how accurate this is, and you may wish to check carefully before you trust it. I can take issue with the statement that wheat gluten may be bad for you. If so, we'd best not eat anything ever again that is made from flour.

Currently, there is a young, newly fledged Blue Jay sitting on the suet feeder, trying to figure out how to eat the suet without falling off. Oops, he needs to try again. I'm sure he will master it, Jays are very intelligent birds.

Today I am again having some tea from Gay Grace Teas in Natick, MA. It is from Kenya, Tinderet Single Estate Black. The small dry leaves smell of licorice, which changes to a roasted aroma as the tea is brewing. There is a roasted barley or corn flavor to this very dark brew, but on the whole it is on the bland side. At the same time it is hearty and sturdy. I guess there just aren't a lot of nuances. It would be a pleasant afternoon tea.

My Florida son called me at 8:30 this morning to say they were 4 hours from here and would see us for lunch - they were due tomorrow night. So I had best go finish the preparations for them. I will not be posting again until Wednesday or Thursday. In the meantime, drink lots of tea and have blessed days.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ice Tea Pops and India

The Ar River, on the way to Meieringen, Switzerland, with my beloved
mountains in the rear.

This weekend is going to be very warm and, of course, there is ice tea in the fridge. However, I have been on a Popsicle kick of late. I happened to come across a recipe for a Peach Iced Tea frozen pop recipe in the magazine Every Day With Rachel Ray. Here it is:

Peach Iced Tea Pops - makes 10

1/2 cup sugar
3 bags English Breakfast tea
2 large sprigs mint
3/4 cup chilled peach nectar
1/2 cup drained diced canned peaches

1. Bring sugar and 2 cups of water to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Add the tea bags and mint and steep for 10 minutes. Discard the teabags and mint. Stir in the peach nectar.
2. Divide the peaches among the molds and fill with the mixture, freeze for about an hour and then redistribute the peaches to suspend them, if you want to. Put in the sticks and freeze until solid, about 4 hours. Run the molds under hot water to remove the pops.

I am sure by altering the type of tea and type of fruit, you could use this as a basic recipe for many kinds of tea pops. You can buy molds in a number of places like Walmart, Target, TJ Maxx and the like, they are quite inexpensive. You can get very snazzy ones on line.

I am reading an interesting book, Curries and Bugles by Jennifer Brennan, who grew up in the last days of the British Raj - before India got its freedom from the British Empire. It is part cookbook, part memoir. There is a chapter about afternoon tea.

She writes "As a meal, tea served more than the mere social habit of meeting and gossiping. It began to fulfil a uniquely useful function of providing an occasion wherein people could be entertained without the rigid social structures that invaded luncheons and dinners." It brought "home" to them every day and their cooks loved it because they could show off their skills with "sugar confectionery". She gives several recipes that are British and some that show the influence of India. The book is out of print, but you can get it at , which has a huge assortment of tea books, good prices and good service.

I guess I had best have an Indian tea with this book. My selection is Upton Teas TM53, Wah Estate 1st Flush, Kangra SFTGFOP1. It comes from the Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh, near Dharmashala, in the far northeast, the land of the Dali Lama. It is one of the first spots that China tea plants were farmed. Unusual for a first flush, Upton's recommends 3 minutes at 212 degrees.

The dry scent is a very strong, almost pungent, green; perhaps like fresh-cut tangy weeds. The leaves are on the small side, ranging from a light, silvery green to very dark. It brews up to an ecru color and the aroma has morphed into something approaching asparagus, with a hint of lemon and toasted marshmallows. I really like the flavor, but I can't pin it down. It is unlike any first flush I have had, not that I have had a great many. It is definitely vegetal, but not grassy, a bit like roast corn, but not, perhaps more straw like. There is a bit of sweetness to it, but only a bit. I think I will just say it is very good and I am intrigued by its elusiveness.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Swiss Tea and Tea News

A Swiss church door to go with the Swiss tea for today.

While on our Cape Cod trip, one of the things I found very pleasing, tea wise, is that all three of the tea shops we visited carried very good quality teas to purchase; Harney & Sons, Grace Tea Company, Mark T. Wendell, PG Tips are the ones I remember and all of them are excellent. They also had many beyond the most familiar and basic teas, like Lapsang Souchong and Russian Caravan. Hopefully, the days of producing poor quality teas to sell to unsuspecting tourists are gone. It seems to me that having really good teas for "tourist" purchase would be an excellent way to promote one's company, as well as to educate people's palates.

Having said that, I bought the ever-present salt water taffy to foist on the "folks back home". Partly in jest, but that is what one buys when one"goes to the shore". I confess I like small amounts of it, but it really is awful stuff.

Jayshree, a huge tea company in India, is buying up tea lands in Uganda and Rwanda in Africa. Tea prices in India have risen exhorbitantly and they are looking to produce tea more cheaply. Labor costs are low in Africa. I am glad the Africans will have more jobs available, but I am afraid they will all be incredibly low paying.

Over at site, the Tea From Taiwan people have an excellent site including visits to the high mountain regions, history of Taiwanese tea, descriptions of many kinds of their tea and a chance to purchase them, perhaps knowing a bit more than you did about what you are getting. It is well worth a visit, even if you buy nothing.

What Ho! Gevalia, purveyor of some very good coffees, is now selling tea! The vast majority are fruity flavored ones, so I probably won't be trying any. If this is of interest to you, go to .

Another day of tea. Shall I have a Globe Amaranth tisane or one of the 12 tisane and teabags I received in a swap with a woman from Emmen, Switzerland? Just a reminder, if the "tea" does not come from the Camellia sinensis plant, the infusion is, strictly speaking, a tisane. However, unless we are being formal, most of us call all sorts of herbals, tea.

The Swiss tea won. I am am having Coop Green Tea. If I remember correctly, Coop is a big chain of grocery stores, about the same as any of ours. They even have a very small selection of peanut butter and a much better selection of things like Nutella, of which I am very fond. The tea bag is double sided, with a goodly amount of tea within. I used water about 175, for 2 minutes. The resulting brew is a medium honey color and on the opaque side. It smells a bit of citrus, even though that is not stated on the wrapper. Nope, it smells like sassafras and that is what it tastes like. Think "kindergarten, white paste" and you have a similar taste. It is not unpleasant - I always liked the stuff - but it doesn't taste like green tea.

A note of community pride to end with: the pilot of the last space shuttle, which took off today, is an Owego hometown boy. There are signd all over town wishing him well.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Not Much New

Ravenna again, the Bishop's chair. Give that man a pillow!

I just got a postcard for World Tea East, which is being held in Philadelphia in September. This is an offshoot of the World Tea Expo that is held in June in Las Vegas. I am hoping I will be able to go for at least one day. We were planning a trip to Philly this summer, anyway, so I hope this will work out.

I am pleased to see that our local tea emporium, The Briar Patch, is selling its tea in more and more of our local Owego, NY shops. This is definitely a hopeful sign. Another is our grocery store, which is selling more of the top rated tea bags, like Stash, Numi and some others I can't think of at the moment. The only loose ones they carry are Twinings, which are okay, but not top notch. Not that I would expect a grocery store to do that.

Our local Chinese restaurant has changed hands and the food is really good. Their tea, however, is bland. It is a teabag from Good Tea Bag Company and doesn't even say what kind it is. Which is ok, because I can't tell either.

Our little Downy Woodpeckers are so brave. They just keep on eating when the 3 times larger blue jay hollers at them to leave. The blue jays are too smart - they know I am inside and won't leave when I try to shoo them. So far the other bully boys haven't caught on.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Like My Tea With Honey...

Mosaic work in Ravenna, Italy.

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know I almost never use any sort of sweetener in my tea. I know many of you do and when I was in our local Agway, I noticed they had honey for sale. They had apple blossom, clover, buckwheat, mixed wildflower and raspberry. On my shelf at home I have generic honey and lavender and rosemarry honeys. At the farmers' market last fall I bought some honey locust honey. No that isn't an error, it is from the honey locust tree, which smells divine and which may be the best honey I've ever had. I am sure many of you have had orange blossom honey, which is another very nice one.

These are not flavored honeys, but they derive their different tastes from the flower nectars the bees use to make honey. Each has a subtly different flavor and would bring out different aspects of your tea. For instance, apple blossom is pale and soft and just the tiniest bit floral, suitable for a more delicate tea. Buckwheat is very strong and you may not even be able to use it in tea and then only in a good, sturdy black, such as a Kenyan or Bolivian. Lavender honey goes very nicely with Earl Grey. If you like your tea sweet, get some different honeys and see how they affect its flavor. You might even try one of the Wuyi Honey Black teas with this lovely sweetener and see if it enhances it.

When I was at the Cape, I bought some Before the Rain Flowery Jasmine tea from Grace Rare Tea Company, now owned by Mark T. Wendell Teas. The name indicates that this green tea was probably among the first pluckings of the year, harvested, processed minimally and then stored until it could be infused with Jasmine flowers. The dry leaves are so dark, it looks like a black tea. The jasmine aroma is very heady and the petals that were left in the tea add to its overall charm. I brewed it for 2 minutes at about 175 degrees.

As the tea infused, my kitchen was filled with the heady scent of jasmine and I could hardly wait to taste it. I was rewarded with a fine cup of tea, a beautiful pale amber with a very floral, but not perfumey jasmine. An excellent cup. To date I would rate it third in my Jasmine listing, as Life in Teacup and PuriTeas offerings share first place.

Be careful when you brew this, do not let the water boil. If you do, please let it cool. Otherwise your tea will not be very good, as the jasmine will have to battle with the bitterness of overcooked green tea. The very dark green of the leaves could fool you. I think Grace Tea should label this as a green tea, because lots of tea newbies or those just expanding their tea horizons would think it is a black tea and get a bad cup, which would be a real shame, this is such nice tea.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Black Tea, Green Tea, Which Shall I Have

A prettier view view of the Sorrento port,
on the Bay of Naples.

Yesterday I made some ice tea from leftover teabags from Tea Forte, about half Citrus Mint and half Chamomile Citron. I just put them in my pitcher, added cold water and stuck them in the fridge. The result is ok for mint tea, with the barest hint of citrus. Nothing to rave about, but the mint is pleasant on this very warm day. I just added some black tea and it all tastes pretty good. I really don't think Tea Forte teabags are worth their very expensive, in many ways, cost. However, I still think their loose leaf Black Current is the tops.

Today is a green day. Another offering from Blue Raven Teas, Strawberry Clouds. It does indeed smell like strawberries, with maybe a hint of rosewater or some other floral. it is quite attractive, with shades of green and what looks like black tea, accented with dried strawberries, maybe rose petals and dried apple peel?.

I brewed it for two minutes with water about 175 degrees. It is a pale amber and continues to give off the scent of warm strawberries. And that, indeed, is what it tastes like, strawberries kissed by the sun,with a mild underlay of tea. I imagine it would make a nice ice tea and that is what I am going to do with the rest of my sample.

Today we excavated holes for elderberries and rambling roses, which are all by the front fence. It is so exhausting digging huge holes in heavy soil and gravel, then filling them and mulching the plants. I hope next year we will think it is all worth it. I do love elderberries, which I am sure no one who lives in the city or suburbs even thinks about. But they make a lovely jelly and a really nice pie, as well as a pretty vinegar. They must be cooked to be eaten and need a bit of vinegar or lemon to bring out their flavor. Next comes the currants and gooseberries. I am planting berries that stores and farmers' markets don't carry, or if they do, they are horrendously expensive. Next year I will do black caps/black raspberries and maybe red or yellow raspberries.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Weeds in a Vase, Weeds in My Tea

Last week, when I commented that weeds can make a nice flower arrangement for your tea table, Alex asked me what I have in my yard. Today was the first chance I've had to do a survey. I have lots of white clover, which I do not consider a weed, since I planted a lot of it myself. It draws honey bees and is a good "nurse grass" for other types. And it smells wonderful. If you don't use pesticides on your lawn, it can add a pleasant note of sweetness to a light tea. If you have little kids, you don't want it, but it can be charming in a small bouquet, along with some equally tiny blue heal-all and some barren strawberry, all of which we have.

I extended my yard to the woods in back and the edge of the road in front, so I could include buttercups, daisies, daisy fleabane, evening lychinis, trefoil, Queen Ann's lace, elderberry, black-eyed Susan, great mullein, wild roses, purple loosestrife, crown vetch , bind weed and a magnificent purple thistle which is tucked up against the house. As soon as it blooms, I will cut it down, but I love its flowers, one of the many Scottish emblems. Many riches, although none do much for turning into tea. However, they add some beauty to our days, whether in situ or on my table. Oops, almost forgot dandelions - there is one lone flower blooming at the edge of the flower bed. Lemon verbena could probably be considered a weed, as it happily seeds itself everywhere and then some. That, however, does make a very nice tea or addition to other teas. We also have several mints, which next year I will probably call a weed, as it is also invasive, but also great in tea and other things.

At the moment, however, I am very taken with my first blooming day lily, a particularly pretty double peach. Did you know you can fry the buds up and eat them as a snack? Many Asian countries do just that. They would certainly be a novelty on the tea table. I have had them before and by themselves they are rather bland and a little sweet. You just stir fry them quickly and sprinkle on whatever seasoning appeals to you, draining them on paper towels. You can also dip them in a tempura style batter. They are very last minute.

I have so many teas in my"to be tasted" drawer that I couldn't decide, so I closed my eyes and grabbed. What came up was Upton's Kenya Black Tea, Kaimosi TGFOPl, which translates to Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe First plucking. This tea is similar to an Assam. The leaves are longish, black, with gold buds and brownish tips. It smells fresh and smooth, with hints of tobacco and hot sand. That last may be a bit fanciful. I brewed the tea for 3 minutes, as Kenyans seem to take less time to reach their potential.

The tea is a medium amber and the smooth tobacco aroma appears to linger, along with a definite fruitiness, maybe something like grape. Umm, nice tea, very smooth, sweet, a hint of acorn, a hint of grape. Not spectacular, but quite good. It takes milk and sweetener quite well, if that is how you like it. I am happy to support Kenyan teas on their road to becoming better. About ten years ago they were producing some excellent tea, but then they went in a slump and turned out some awful stuff. I am glad to see they are recovering.

Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of our country and the many wonderful freedoms we have. As you celebrate, remember the reason, drink tea and have a good time! Here's to freedom fighters wherever they are in the world, from whatever nation!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cranberry Saturday

That vague moutain peak in the distance is Vesuvius. The water
is Naples Bay.

News from the bird world. Most of the woodpecker young have gotten eating and flying down pretty well. Stopping, short hops, and good aim are still on the to-do list. They use their wings in amazing ways to kind of grasp the pole the suet feeder is on so they don't fall off or slide down it.

Yesterday morning my neighbor saw a mama black bear and three! cubs cross the road and go into the woods on the other side. I wish I had seen them and I am glad to know I am not crazy when I think we have been "beared". It is unusual for a bear to have more than two cubs.

Today I am having some of the tea I got on vacation. This one is a special blend called Dunbar Tea, from the shop of the same name in Sandwich, MA. It was blended by Harney's and consists of black tea, cranberry and essence of almond. This is not the same as their Cranberry Autumn, which has orange and other things in it. The mostly black leaves have a soft sheen and smell very fruity. I could not distinguish the almond, but it may be there, rounding off the edges of the sharp cranberry. I brewed it for the usual 3.5 minutes with boiling water, about a teaspoon per cup. As soon as the water hit the tea, the aroma of almond came out and persisted, giving a very pleasant floral note to the fruit.

This is a rather sweet tea all on its own, so you sweetener adders best check it out before doing so. When it is quite hot, the almond is to the fore. As it cools, the cranberry comes more into play. The almond really does take the sharp edge that carnberries have and softens it remarkably well. Adding milk is not tasty. For myself, I think this would make an excellent ice tea, but it is not one I would like very often hot. That is just me, as I am not a fan of fruit and sweet in my tea. Having said that, I think this is a well-made, well-balanced tea.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Life Is Bursting Out All Over

Piers in Sorrento, Italy

Yesterday was just so perfect - warm, but not hot, sunny, a small breeze. We went on a boat trip to celebrate a friend's birthday. While it was infinitely pleasant on the river, the trip was just as much improved by the sighting of a Bald Eagle and its eaglet, which is about as big as the parents. We also saw a Great Blue Heron, winging its way back to the rookery west of us.

All of our woodpeckers - the Red-bellied, the Hairy and the Downy have brought their children to the suet feeders. The little Downy fledgling seems the quickest to catch on about feeding himself. I feel very priveleged to be close enough to witness all this.

In the flower department, the double peach hibiscus is blooming and in the grocery store I saw a new orchid. It is called Blue Diamond and the individual blooms are about 5" across, white, streaked with blue, as if it had sucked up colored water. The center, where the stamens and pistol are is very dark blue with touches of an orangey red. It was quite spectacular, but looked like a fake flower. At $40 a pot, I didn't buy one and, hence, have lived to tell about it.

We had a very nice ice tea with our birthday cake yesterday, an herbal raspberry from Celestial Seasonings. A pleasant, mild flavor, lightly sweetened with Stevia. I can't really say it was all that much of a raspberry flavor, although you could tell it was a berry. It seemed just perfect for the sort of day it was and much appreciated. Although I am enamored of what might be considered the heavier black teas, I find that in the summer I really like my ice tea made from green, oolong or herbals.