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.