Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Pox On Flavored Tea Bags!

This is a picture of the church in Dickshied, Germany, where many of my
 ancestors were christened.  It is sided in part with small sheets of stone,
about half the size of my palm, that is about 2 inches by 4 inches. 
There are very few windows and they are very small. 
 I would love to know when it was built.  I can trace my ancestors there
back to about 1560.

I had a meeting today at a friend's house and had the opportunity to try 2 new teas.  She even had a kettle, so I could have cooler or hotter water.  Only teabags, but you take what you get when you forget to bring your own,

The first was Lipton's Island Mango and Peach White Tea.  The tea came in a nice large bag, big leaves and additions.  I brewed it around 150 degrees, for about 3 minutes.  It was a delicate pinkish yellow - peach or mango color, surprise, surprise.  It had a vaguely fruity taste, pleasant for what it was.  However, I considered it basically tasteless and surely a waste of money.  I am not a great fan of white tea, being more a black tea person, but I can easily appreciate their delicate flavors.  I really do not understand adding any flavoring to it - there is no possible way you could discern the gentle flavors and aromas of white tea.

The second was a tad more successful.  It was Stash Tea's Ginger Breakfast Black Tea.    I used boiling water, 3 minutes and was rewarded with a fairly decent cup.  The tea was strong enough to have some flavor and the ginger was not overwhelming.

Much as I appreciate my friend's efforts to have tea for her non-coffee friends, (and I really do) this was just another nail in the coffin of tea bag teas, as far as I am concerned.  Maybe I should say flavored tea bags, because I do find PG Tips and Typhoo to be pretty good.  In fact, I got some Typhoo Decaf from another friend and I must say, for having 2 strikes against it, it was quite decent.

Yippee! - Spring is really going to come - the sun is finally shining in my kitchen window.  As it makes it swing through the seasons, I hate to see it disappear from there and rejoice when it is once again dancing across my counters.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

China Tea Book, China Tea

Of all the things I do, I love reading the most.  I love to learn new things, love stories about different cultures and people, really love mysteries, and learning about tea.

My latest book is absolutely stunning visually.  Luo Jialin  in his The China Tea Book, has truly wonderufl photos of tea gardens, tea rooms, mountains, forest, rivers and a few people.  There is not a great deal of history or the mechanics of tea manufacture and there are only a few teas discussed in detail.  I am not sure if these are personal favorites or one of the many lists of 10 Best Teas of China.  It doesn't matter.  He discusses briefly not only how they are made, but what spiritual significnce each has, as well as how and when to drink them, according to time of day and time of year.  Somehow, it is a very peaceful book that takes me away to a calm and gentle world.

The second half of the book delves more deeply into the spiritual and aesthetic senses of tea.  I haven't read that far yet, but I'll get back to you.

My only quibble is that fairly often a paragraph is repeated twice in succession.  I think the editors need to sharpen their skills a bit.  I am finding that many books have just huge errors in them, as less careful editing is done, often mechanically. 

Today's tea comes from China, specifically Yunnan.  It comes to me from a tea swap and is Yunnan Imperial from the Wabi-Sabi shop in Taos, New Mexico.  The dry leaves have no particular scent, just fresh tea (Not to be sneezed at).  There is some gold dust in the packet and golden tips on the leaves, which are relatively small.  I brew it my standard 3.5 minutes for teas new to me.

It brews up into a lovely smelling golden brown brew.  There is a hint of wine barrel and one of floral to the aroma.  It is brisk and full bodied, with some spice and some floral, but no chocolate.  Drat, I do like cocoa in my Yunnan.  Nevertheless, it is a decent cup of tea.

This is in the very tiny village of Dickshied, Germany looking across a valley to Hilgenroth.  In the Great Palatine Migration of 1710-12, some of my grandparents left these villages to sail down the Rhine to the "promised land" of the British Colonies in America.  They soon broke with the Brits, who treated them like slaves, and moved from the Hudson River Valley to the frontier of Schoharie Valley (New York State) where they could own their own land and prosper.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Flowers Are My Tea

Wow!  It only took 3days from order to delivery from Upton's.  Pretty snazzy.  Of course, I am having their Nepal Tea Flowers BH84 first, it intrigues me.  That's what's in the packet, dried flowers.  They were once white, now brown,  having been sun-dried..  No surprise there.  I'd say having the aroma of camellias, but having never smelled one, I can't.  Sweet and flowery will have to do.  While not listed as organic, they were produced without chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  Instructions say to brew with 212 degree water for 8! minutes.  So I do.

What a surprise!  I expected a flowery taste and I got something rather different.  I am finding it hard to describe.  Closer to mild Bancha, perhaps, but with some sweetness, maybe a little caramel, with a tiny not quite sour kick at the end.  Intriguing.  But wait, as I breathe into the cup, there is that unmistakable, sweet flowery aroma, it's a lovely scent.  If I breathe and drink just right, I can catch it in the taste.  I really am intrigued by this and I must say I like it.

We are having a typical New York February day.  Gloooooooooooooomy.  A little snow, a little sleet, a little of just about everything except sun!   This morning at church, a bunch of us decided that it is our right as Northerners to bitch about the weather, so we did.  However, on the cheery side, at 6 pm it is still light enough to see, the maple sap is running like crazy, and we have crossed into the time when the overall average temperatures are rising.

I planted herbs to have in the house.  It struck me as on the dumb side to have so may south facing windows and not raise them and then fuss because I am using dried.  The thyme and chives are finally up, but I managed to kill the marigolds a-borning.  Sage is still languishing.  If it doesn't work, I will buy plants  in the spring and remember to keep them for inside.

This is a church garden in Germany.  That lovely rock is a fountain.  It is surrounded by cloisters  filled with lovely old bits from an earlierearlier church.  The style of this one is fairly high Gothis, but I can't remember when that was.  Early, anyway.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Journey In A Teacup

I have learned a lot through the Master Gardener Program, some of which was how little I know.  However, one handy thing I have learned that can apply to tea research, if you are so inclined, is to put ".edu" after an inquiry, such as "tea and"  This connects you with colleges and universities who might be doing research in your query.  Generally colleges and universities will be doing more accurate research than an organization that is funded by a tea company.  They also have links to other institutions doing research.

I love to potz around flea markets and antique shops and sometimes I find some very nice tea things.  We just had a new antiques mall open in town and there I found some very delicate and pretty hand painted cups and saucers, with matching dessert plates.  And they were inexpensive, which is always a huge plus.   I also saw some very expensive ones I lusted after, but a bill-paying session put an end to that.

Bigelow teas is running a contest which could net you some interesting stuff, not the least of which is a Bigelow Tea Chest. Check it out at .  I did and discovered they have loose teas, so I ordered some, from their Charleston Tea Plantation.  When it arrives, I'll let you know how it is.

My Upton's catalog just arrived.  A tea friend refers to it as "The best tea porn".  Indeed it is, inspiring lust and greed.  They have many new offerings and being susceptible, I ordered some.  So you can look forward to that, as well.  One of the ones I ordered is tea flowers from Nepal and I am really eager to try them. 

For now, I am going to content myself with some lovely green tea that somehow got lost in my cupboard.  It is Tong Cheng Small Orchid, semi-wild 800m, Harvested and manually processed in April 2011.  I got it from Life in Teacup, , my favorite shop for green and Oolong teas.  I believe it is pre Qing Ming, but that may not be accurate. The lovely thinly rolled green leaves smell of a combination of orchids and children's library paste.  As it brews, there is the aroma of fresh green life underscoring the orchid and the paste has dropped out.  The first wash, of about a minute, is a very very pale green that tastes of  orchids, but faintly.  The leaves are standing up in their glass pot and barely unfurled.

The next brew is about another minute and more of the green and vegetal aroma and flavor are coming through.  The liquor is meatier and there is a bit of a roastedness to it.  The leaves are much more unfurled and you can see they are 2 tiny leaves and an even smaller bud.

By the third wash, all the leaves are unfurled, the water is a delicate yellowy green and there is a hint of dandelion in the aroma.  That's a new one to me and I like it, clean and a bit sharp. There is a sharp edge to the taste as well, yet it is all of a piece, even though that subtle orchid floral taste has returned.

On my fourth brew, the leaves and I are done.  But it has been quite a journey, in one little tea cup, holding only about 2 ounces.  That is what I love about tea, each cup can be a trip of many nuances, calling to mind many things - flowers and meat, library paste and dandelions, the everyday to the exotic.  May you all have pleasant journeys with your tea.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Have A Book With Your Tea

Have you noticed that when the weather warms above freezing, the birds start singing?  I've been keeping track this winter and it seems to be true.  When it's quite cold, about all we hear are the chickadees, the hawks and the downy and hairy woodpeckers.  The temperature goes up and the sparrows, pileated woodpeckers, the titmice and a host of others start chirping and singing and banging away at their trees.  The crows we seem to always have with us.

I came across a book on tea that I think would be excellent for beginners or casual drinkers who would like to know more about tea.  It's called 19 Lessons on Tea  by 27Press.  The sub-title is become an expert on buying, brewing and drinking the best of tea.

I have read this short book and I must say, it really does a pretty good job.  You are not going to become an expert by its end, but you will know a lot more and probably have a lot more confidence.  It covers how different teas are made, the various grades of tea, tea rituals, teapots, tea utensils, pairing tea with food, where to buy tea and find tea tastings.  There is a bit of history, mostly in short footnotes.  To find more, they refer you to their website.

There is a bit of repitition, but not too much.  Many books on tea have so much about history that unless you are really interested, you either skip it or get bored and don't bother getting to the other stuff.  Likewise with how tea is grown and processed.  There's enough here so you know a bit more than the average bear, but not so much that your head is swimming from an overload.  In other words, it's manageable.  The chapters are short, so you can just do a few minutes at a time, or read the whole thing in about an hour.

This is a book you should enjoy with a brisk cup of tea, to make sure you are awake and aware.  I would reccommend a godd hearty English Breakfast.  I just happen to have some by Bigelow.  My tea swap partners often send lots of tea bags and who am I to pass them up?  This one came in a nice expandable bag and had a good fresh tea aroma.  I brewed it for 2.5 minutes, which is long, but I am in the mood for strong!
My, it smells good with lots of lemon and stone fruit components.  It has a nice flavor, too, with elements of Keeman and Assam in a good balance.  I am sure to be awake and aware by the time I finish it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Secret Places, Superb Teas

I've read two things recently which have touched me.  One was The Wind in the Willows, that delightful children's classic, with Ratty and Moley and Toad of Toad Hall.  It is filled with many cosy scenes centered around tea time, with scones and tea sandwiches and a blazing fire or lovely picnics on the gentle river, or in a secret forest glade.  The other was an article in the NY Times Magazine which ended with the author's hope that his two daughter's search for secret places would leave enough room for him to join them, sometimes.

When I was a child, I had 2 secret places, one in our yard, where a group of trees had branches to the ground and I had a little house, with dishes and tea things and some toys.  The other was way up a tree over the creek, (or crick, as we farmers said).  The main trunk was slanted so my dog would come up too, and there were wide branches to sit on for reading and a hole to stash treasures in.  They were wonderful places to play pretend, to dream, to think, just to be.

I don't have secret places anymore, I don't really need them, but I remember them with great fondness.  Today if I had one, I would stock it with a good tea kettle, my best teas, some books and my best friend, Himself.  Actually, I guess I do have one, my living room in winter and my back porch in summer, where we can drink tea and dream away the afternoons, when our work is done.  Afternoon tea draws us together, gives us a quiet, pleasant ritual and deepens our love, as we share our lives.

Today's comes with an old tea - 11 years old to be exact, a Tie Guan Yin I got at World Tea East.  It comes in a small vacuum packed package, but only has Chinese writing on it, so I can't even tell you who it is from.  It is, however, billed a Famous tea of China and indeed, it is one that is always on the top 10 list of great teas.  The tea is tightly wrapped in itself, tiny green balls with little tails.  I brew it with water about 195 - just as the water is moving into big bubbles, but before it gets quiet and bursts into boiling.  I rinse it quickly and then brew it for 2 minutes.  Oh, the aroma that is given off! So sweet, so floral, it is just wonderful.  The flavor is also superb, a mix of orchid and somehow a meatiness, but without a meat flavor.  A heartiness perhaps?  The second wash for another thirty seconds, is more delicate overall, but the wonderful sweet flowery-ness is still there, along with a whiff of roast, earth and a bit of hyacinth.  This is as far as I got today, but I have more and next time, I am going to see how far I can push it.

Annother Amalfi view.  If I had money, I'd never go to Florida for the winter, I'd go here  and develop great calves from climbing the hills - there are no flat places.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Waiting for Spring

As a gardener, I am awaiting Spring with ill-concealed impatience.  It all started before Christmas, when the first catalogs arrived and the dreaming and planning started.  Then came the ordering of some seeds, and a few plants and then Agway had the first of its seeds in and then, I just HAD to plant something.  The basil is doing nicely, but it is soooooo tiny.  Hard to believe it will someday be a foot tall.  There are some orchids blooming and 3 are throwing out blossom stems and there is one hyacinth from the bulbs I forced in the fall.  I am not bereft of flowers and color and there is all that lovely snow.

As a tea drinker, I find my self in that same agony of anticipation.  In China and India and Japan, the teafields are preparing to awaken and soon, in the beginning of April or, in some parts of China, the end of March, the first leaves will be plucked and processed so that tea lovers the world over can rejoice in the wonderful first flush or pre Qing Ming tea.  There is nothing like them for freshness and lovely flavor.

The only draw back to all this is the rise in prices.  In both Darjeeling and much of China, prices are expected to rise by as much as 15%.  Some has to do with weather, some is greed and some because tea is rapidly gaining a very secure and sought after place in Western countries.  Even so, tea is a very cheap luxury.  You get at least 240 cups of tea from a pound, more if you  infuse the leaves more than once, so even  a very expensive tea that is perhaps $100 or more per pound, comes out to 40 or 50 cents a cup.

We usually think of re-infusing only green or Oolong tea, but I have found that really good black teas can also be re-infused.  To do that, I usually use half the water and about 1 1/2 times the brewing time.  If it doesn't work, you've not really lost much and you can water your plants with it.

Having said that, today I am going with Eastern Shore Tea Company's Ginger Pear Tea, which is a tea bag.  It was a gift and it smells wonderful, full of both the fruit and the herb.  I took the tea out of the bags and put it in a trusty tea sock so I wouldn't have to fish it out of the pot, as there are no strings attached.  (For those of you who don't know, a tea sock is made from fine stockinette, shaped like the toe of a sock and attached to a ring and handle, which keeps it out of the pot or cup.  It is washable, reusable and cheap.  Utpton's carries them in both cup and pot sizes).  Due to the size of the leaves, I am only brewing this for 2.5 minutes.

Hmm, this is quite nice.  They have managed to capture both pear and ginger, the sweetness and the spice into a very pleasing whole.  But it makes me want to have gingerbread with it, perhaps with some dried pears cut up in it or some Swiss pear bread.  Hmm, it would be nice to add this to the bread while it is being made.  Guess I had better make some.

While we were having all our tummy troubles, I made a very quickie soup that went down very well - chicken stock, lots of ginger garlic paste - or chopped ginger and garlic, diced veggies.  Simmer until veggies are the way you want them.  The ginger and garlic helped ease our tummies and it all was very comforting.

How's that for a winter picture?  It's Amalfi, Himself's original family home.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why, Oh Why

Tell me why:
It's your best sock the laundry loses,
It's your favorite shoe the dog chews,
You can't find your keys only when you're already late,
And the only teapot you chip, crack or smash is one you really like.

The cupboards are crammed with pots that are too big, too ugly, too drippy, too something awful and there they are, pristine, while the treasured ones look like a small version of Armageddon ran through.  Well, that last is an exaggeration, but you get the picture.  I know, I know, it's that disgusting law of averages again, but I still find it really annoying and sometimes, heart-breaking - like the two bunnies doing a tango - my Valentine pot, sadly smashed to smithereens.

We are awaiting "The Big Storm".  Come on, folks, it's winter.  Winter has storms.  I have my tea and toast all lined up and my boots are ready, so I can go out and appreciate it, both it's howling wind and the quiet of new snow.  If it's too bad, I'll even wear my pink ski hat and frighten all the neighbors.

However, at the moment, I am enjoying a pot of  Kenya Black Highland, from Royal Tea of Kenya  I have reviewed this before, but since I discovered something new about it, I had to do it again.  It is a very finely cut CTC tea and normally, I brew these for about 2 minutes.  However, due to inattention, this went for 3 minutes and how fortuitous that was.  What emerged with the longer brew is a delightful flowery-ness, almost akin to one of the finer Oolongs.  It's wonderful!  Well worth pushing the tea.  It is, of course, underscored by a nice, sturdy blackness, but I love the high notes.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Tea Lemon

The wind is screaming and roaring around the house, tearing at the pines, whose branches are bent as far as they can go to get away from the onslaught.  The dead leaves of even the oaks are running down the road, fighting with the dust and tiny hail to get as far as they can from this monster.  Bare branches are laughing as the torrent just sieves through them and they gracefully bend and point, bend and point.

Another good day for tea, the perfect accompaniment to storm watching.  I really love storms.  When I was a kid, I loved to be on our porch and watch the storms roar down the hillside across the lane from the house.  There would be curtains of rain and wild wind!

However, back to tea.  I got some Lemon Black Tea in a swap.  It is from Wegman's, the wonder store!  The first time I made it, I was a bit, well, a lot, disappointed, as it was such a strong lemon peel taste, I couldn't really drink it.  The second time, today, I got smart and diluted it with a scoop of English Breakfast to two scoops of the lemon.  Next time I think I will do half and half. As you can tell, I wasn't very taken with it originally.  I think the lemon peel had too much of the white pith left on it, which made it bitter, although there was  lemon flavoring that was trying very hard to overcome this.  The aroma was delightful, although there was that bitterness.  The second time I had it, there was more flavor and less bitterness, but I think the blenders need to reassess and try again.