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.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tea Books

Reading is one of the things I can do mostly upside down, so I have been reading or rereading more carefully, my collection of tea books.  One I can recommend is the 1982(!) The Tea Lover's Treasury by James Norwood Pratt. It is often witty and funny and full of good information.  One tidbit is in the brief tale of the clipper ships - those incredibly fast sailing ships of the tea trade - one ship carried 25,000 square feet of sail - about 10 tennis courts.  He also gives space to not only the Boston Tea Party of revolutionary fame, but the ones in New York, Philadelphia, Greenich, NJ, Annapolis, Charleston and Edonton, NC.  You can get a copy from for not too much.

The second book I have reservations about.  The author is Sara Perry and it is The New Tea Book.  Being the wife of a sometime-editor, I recognize the white space surrounding the print that merely enlarges the book, as well as its cost.  I personally think she is often inaccurate or uses too little information in her descriptions of tea and tea processing.  However, many of her recipes are quite good.

All for today,my six minutes are way up, even counting having lunch and medicating my eye at the same time - such a multi-tasker

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Making A List

I am making a list of what you can do in six minutes.  You can make a cup of tea.  But then you must drink it through a straw, which, for me, means just drinking old faithfuls, as it is hard to think about all its goodnesses whilst almost upside down.  And I have so many teas to try!

You can read books on tea, which I have been doing and will report on.    In the middle of one, I realized how utterly foreign to me is China.  Totally outside my fields of reference,  but it makes me want to learn more.  I will never have their aesthetic sense of tea and tea culture, but I am beginning to learn to appreciate it.

You can almost knit, but then the boring becomes excruciatingly slow and really, really, really not worth it.

You can crochet and so I am, learning to make straight edges.  It is more absorbing than reading, somehow, so I can forget how much my back protests crouched over.  One and a half dishcloths yesterday.  I'll keep the embarassing ones for myself.

My cousin tells me we are having a new baby in the family, so I could crochet a baby blanket, but I can't go get baby yarn.  Hurry down, Oct. 20.

 Ta for now, I am going to fill up and set to heating my 2.5 quart water boiler, so it is easier to make tea.  Thank you for all your kind wishes.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Rose Petal Tea

The Herb Gardener blog for this week has a recipe and directions for Rose Petal Tea.  I am going to keep it for next spring, when I should have more than one rose at a time - all very heady scents!  I'm doing fine, but it's a bit boring - lie on my right side, sit up, lie on my left side.  Oh well, at least I can read and have tea!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The 6 Minute Hours

Hello tea friends - I had my second eye operation today.  It all went well and both doctor and I are pleased.  The only problem is I have to stay as face down as possible for the next 2 weeks, with 6 minutes an hour off for good behavior and neck stretching.  As you might imagine, I probably won't do much blogging, although I will still drink tea.   I am inconvenienced, but fine.

We've had sunshine all day!  And.. we had bluebirds at the bird feeder!  They are so just plain beautiful.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gingerbread Pound Cake and a Confabulation of Crows

We've had non-tea friends here, helping with driving as my eye heals, so I've not sampled anything new, but I did do something new in the way of tea accompaniments.  I'd been wanting some pound cake or gingerbread to go with my Turkish tea, so I decided to have both.  I accomplished this by using my go-to pound cake recipe from Baking with Julia (Child, of course) and splitting the batter.  The first half was the usual, the second I added 1/2 the molasses and spices one would use in gingerbread and Voila!  Gingerbread Pound Cake.  It was a great success.  The key to pound cake I have found is to follow Julia's recipe exactly, as to method, and it works beautifully everytime.

I got my Turkish tea at Amazon.  I believe they have four kinds, perhaps more.  Except for the Earl Gray, it only comes in one pound bags.  I am going to get one of those Turkish samovar type pots sometime soon and make it the traditional way.  Although the teas, to me, are on the earthy , as in clean fresh earth, side, they have no twigs that I can discern, being all very small leaved, perhaps chopped.

We were all so excited yesterday afternoon to see a large, beautiful Red-Headed Woodpecker at the bird-feeding station.  That is 4 types of woodpeckers who come to feed here.  There is also a Pileated in our woods, but I've not seen him yet.  To add to the nature scene, one young, two-pronged buck has acquired a small harem of 2 does and 2 of this years half-grown fawns.  They are quite lovely, but have too much of an eye for my hard won plantings.  For some reason the crows decided to have a huge meeting this morning and had so many arguements, I could barely think for all the noise.  I guess they have come to an agreement, as all is now silent.

Our flood workers have done a fantastic job.  Most of Owego looks almost normal, if you can ignore people's weariness, the flood lines on the houses, the closed shops, restaurants, the aid stations, the 5,000 people in the surrounding areas who are still displaced, and the boarded up homes.  There is much sadness and grief and anger, but there is hope and encouragement also.  I really cannot say enough good about all the people who have been here and continue to be here to help.  Many have worked to exhaustion to serve others.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Turks and Tea News

These are Swiss mountains near the tiny hamlet if Nidflue in Kanton Bern and look!  the sun is shining.  I wish it would here.

Did you know there is a man aged 110 who is still actively involved in growing tea?  Neither did I.  Arthur Njuguna Komo lives and works in the Kamunyaka Valley in the foothills of Mt. Kenya.  He has been farming tea since 1959, following in his grandfather's foot steps, and personally supervises the training of the teapickers.  He is also heavily involved in workers' rights, supporting and training other farmers, growers and processors.  Through his efforts, the KTDA - Kenya Tea Development Agency was established to work towards increased quality both in the tea and for the people involved in growing and producing it.  One of his grandchildren, Joy Njuguna has created a tea blend to honor him, named "Grandpa's Anytime Tea".  A fitting tribute.  It is available from Royal Tea of Kenya, although only to wholesalers at the moment.  Jane Pettigrew rates it highly.  I am going to keep my eye on them, as their website says it will become available to online buyers soon.

The Tea Spot, some of whose teas I've reviewed here, has received a $460,00 grant to do researrch on biodegradable tea bags/filters for the commercial trade.  Apparently cups, lids and stirrers are, but for some reason, teabags and filters used commercially, are not.  Hats off to them and may they have great success.  I know this is all possible, as one of our biggest farmers' markets has almost every container imagineable biodegradable.  Now, if someone would only do that for paper/styrofoam plates...

Today I am trying 2 more Turkish teas.  One of them I will give to my favorite Turkish restaurant, because they are such good cooks and such sweet people.  I misread the amount of tea I was buying and got 500 grams of each, instead of 50!  I am not brewing it the most traditional way, as I do not have a traditional Turkish tea pot.  See for these directions.  Mine is the western version of one cup, 1 teaspoon, boiling water, three minutes.
My first infusion is of Cayku Filliz Cayi, Special Turkish Tea, Filliz region.  It comes in a big! red bag and the tiny, slivered leaves smell of good clean earth with a hint of floral.  The brewing aroma is much the same, with a bit of leaf mold thrown in. It is a good plain, sturdy tea.  Best, I think in small amounts and perhaps, for mornings.  If you're not aware of it, the Turks usually serve tea in quite small glasses, maybe 2-3 ounces and traditionally, with sugar.  I added some sugar, from Austin Sugar Works, but this is not my cup of tea.  I like it plain better, or with a touch of cream.

The second, in a yellow striped bag is Cayku Rizi Turist Cayi, from the Rizi region.  I brewed both of these the same way, as they both have the same small, slivered leaf configuration.  This one seems to have a much gentler aroma, although definitely in the same earthy, leafmold, floral family.  The taste is somewhat gentler as well and I think I prefer it to the first.  I didn't bother with sugar, but went straight to a dab of cream and liked it very much

As sometimes happens, the taste of the tea follows directly in the foorsteps of the aroma, which to me, is one indication of a good tea.  Although I would not rank either of these in the top standings, they would both be good breakfast tea and would also go well with sandwiches and something like gingerbread or chocolate cake.  Oh gosh, now I made myself hungry and I haven't got either one in the house.  Must be I have to bake, right?