Sunday, March 31, 2013

Signs of Spring

Those who know more than I about weather and plants and such things, say this long slow start to Spring is good for all the growers and I will take their word for it.  I am just impatient and I do know they're right.

On my travels, I see that the willows and alders are yellowing, a sure sign of our best season.  Everyday, there are more and more little bits of green sticking up out of the cold, cold earth and I must fight with myself not to go out and scrape away the detritus that is protecting them.  The ducks are returning to our ponds, the turtle doves are mating and the geese are flying overhead in great numbers.  The grass is even just barely green and it must be good - every morning and evening our little herd of 9 deer grazes eastward and then westward on it.  If only they could be trained to eat weeds!  Up here in the Owego Alps, we have no buds on the trees, but down in the valley, by the river, they are suddenly discernible.

Oh drat, another tea I am not impressed by.  Another sample from World Tea East, which will be in Atlanta this year.  This is a Jasmine Green sample from the Lotus Leaf Artisan Tea Collection,   It is a teabag, of the pyramid nylon type.  I brewed it with water about 170 degrees for about 2 minutes.  At first it had a rather peculiar aroma, reminiscent of seaweed, but with no hint of jasmine.  I am sorry to say it did not taste very good.  I don't think the tea type and the jasmine went well together.  It could also be my fault, for waiting so long to try it, even though I did have it sealed up, even beyond their individual wrapper.  I have some other samples I got from them, so I'll try some others.

All decked out for a Sunday Stroll in Vienna!  Actually, I think these toppers are to keep flies away from eyes and ears.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Snails For Tea

Today's tea is Upton's "Season's Pick" Yunnan ZY07  Black Snail.  When I opened the packet, I was greeted with a winey, moist earth aroma, with an understory of tangy floral.  Already I am intrigued.  The little tightly rolled almost balls of greenish black tea resemble the "snail" Oolongs, but are not as carefully and tightly rolled.  They seem a good transition into Spring teas, and the smell is intriguing.

I brewed the tea for 4 1/2 minutes, with boiling water.  The result is a very dark liqueur and even with the extended time, many of the fairly large leaves have not unfurled, so I brewed them again, this time for 51/2 minutes.  We'll see how it is.  As it brewed, the first lot smelled wonderfully fresh, still with that sweet undertone.  The tea is a tad sweet, tasting somewhat spicey and nutty and of wet bark in the spring.  It takes milk really well, which rounded off some of the tannic edges.  Four minutes and a little less tea would have made this ideal.  The second wash is nowhere near as good as the first, but it will water plants just fine.

The Season's Pick teas are ones that Upton's packages for retail.  Bigger packages mean a somewhat lower price.  This one for which I would gladly pay full price.

Today is Maundy Thursday in the Western Christian world.  It is part of Holy Week, the time from Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem through his "trial", crucifixtion and resurrection, celebrated on Easter day.  This will be my last post until Monday, as I spend much of this time in prayer, meditation and worship.  I hope that all of you will have a blessed and meaningful Easter and that you will also experience your own resurrection and re-birth.

This is the main altar in the Hapsburg Chapel in Vienna, Austria

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Oh, I'm Hap-Hap-Happy

Today is a happy tea day - I got my order of S.D. Bell's Breakfast Tea from Best International Tea, along with some samples and a big box of samples from Life in Teacup.  Oh happy da-ay.  Lots of exciting things to try.

I had a small treat today I've not had before.  I am a big fan of baklava.  Today I had some made with chocolate.  The phyllo sheets were quite dark with cocoa and I think there was some cinnamon in it as well.  It was Dee-lish!  What's not to like - honey, butter, nuts, chocolate, all in one bite.  Another of my favorite Middle Eastern pastries is borecki, which I probably didn't spell right.  Think of a big shredded wheat bisquit taken apart and "glorified" with some pastry cream, some nuts, some honey syrup.  Yum.  All would go very well with some good solid Breakfast Tea, to off set the sweetness.

Yellow tea is a fairly new offering on the American market.  As far as I know, it is only made in China, not much is made and very little gets exported.  I have some Ancient Yellow Buds from Rishi Tea and I must say, I like this lovely delicate tea.  The ancient refers to the trees it comes from.  The dry tea is not really yellow, just faintly so over a gray to beige coloring of the buds, which are long and slender.  It is processed somewhat simlarly to green tea, but it is piled up for a day or two, so the buds dry a little and yellow from lack of sun, much as that pile of weeds does if you don't pitch them right away.   

I brewed it for 2 minutes with 180 degree water.  The aroma is a quiet mix of lemon and flowers.  The flavor has a bit of tang, but nowhere near anything called citrus.  There is a hint of flowers, a hint of bright clean straw and something that speaks of spring.  It's not quite warm, but carries a bit of cold lingering in the shadows.  Because these are buds, do not expect unfurling - it won't happen.  It is well worth at least trying, even if you don't want to run the expense of a big order.

A gold Bible cover.  Those Hapsburgs lived very well.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

When Life Gives You Lemons...Make Tea

Oh dear.  Our church has been trying pretty successfully to become more contemporary in it's worship.  This means an increasing use of electronics.  Wouldn't you know, today when much was planned, much went wrong, from the internet refusing to function, to sick performers to.... you name it, it went wrong.  But folks trooped on and we all could see the lesson about who's really in charge.  Sometimes you just need to grin and bear it and tell the troopers thanks for being so willing to step up and carry on.

Today's tea has little to do with that, but it is a nod towards spring.  The weatherman says it will be warmer this week, so I am drinking some green tea today in the hopes of encouraging it.  It is Lemon Myrtle Green Tea from Foxfire Teas.  It contains organic lemon grass, lemon myrtle, natural rose oil and green tea.  The packet smells heavenly, of roses and lemons.  I brewed it for 4 minutes with 180 degree water.  The aroma was almost identical to the packet, rosey lemons.  It brews up a bright, soft orange, and tastes wonderful, of a soft, soft, gentle lemon with just the right touch of rose to round it off.  Very well done.

Lest you think I have lost my curmudgeonly streak - although this has a lovely taste and I really like it - where's the tea?  No taste of tea.  Ah well, picky, picky.

If you wanted to make this yourself,  lemon myrtle can be purchased from herb sellers and rose essential oils can be as well.  You can easily grow lemon grass in your home (if your cat doesn't eat it all).  Being lazy, I'll just buy the tea.  Lemon grass can also be used in cooking, especially Asian dishes.  If you can find some with roots still attached in an Asian store, grab them and plant them in a biggish pot, keeping it well-watered and sunned.

This is a canyon in the middle of Sorrento, Italy.  Under all that greenery are ancient, abandoned houses. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Best Tea

Perhaps you have seen an ad for S.D. Bell's Tea in one of the tea magazines.  Robert Milo had been a tea drinker for over 40 years, but when a friend gifted him with some of Bell's tea, he liked it so much he became their exclusive US importer.  The website is and obviously, he thinks that's just what this is, the best tea.  The web site opens with a plain black tea, but there are many others to choose from, in both leaf and bag.

My sample is just a tea bag, one of those round ones, the plain black tea, which really is Breakfast Tea.  I brewed it with boiling water for about 2 minutes and my, how dark it is!  It is very hearty, very much in the British style, ready to accept and thrive on milk and sugar.  It quite takes me right back to the summer I worked in England and would run to the break room so I could get a "cuppa" without sugar.  It really is very, very good.  It's the tea that saw countless English, Scots, Irish and Welsh folks through the wars and sustained them every day.  It is full-bodied, flavorful and doesn't fall over into being more tannic than wanted.   I think I just found my new breakfast tea.  Best of all, it's on sale at the moment  and they also have chocolates!  Two favorite foods, you can't go wrong.  Indeed, I have to agree with Rob Milo, it's the BEST.

We are ever so cautiously approaching Spring.  The sune shines, a minute amount of snow falls, the wind comes up, the sun shines, it's warm, it's cold.  March came in somewhat lamb-like, but it is roaring out.  Even so, when I see those little green leaves, my heart leaps in joy!

Italian fishmongers on one of the market streets.  As one who absolutely detests fish, not a job for me.  I like the aprons, however.

Friday, March 22, 2013

New Doesn't Always Mean Good

A small square in Sorrento, Italy.  Looks nicely exotic, doesn't it?

The tea industry is forever trying to capture new customers.  Of course they need to, just as any business must.  I am trying one of their new ideas that I picked up at World Tea East last fall.  It is a packet of  liquid tea concentrate from The Asian Sun Tea Company .  This particular one is decaf green with raspberry flavoring and sweetener added.  There's about a teaspoon of concentrate in the packet and comes out a deep red-amber.  it doesn't smell like raspberries, or tea.  I pour on hot water and now have kind of a pinky orange brew that smells vaguely fruity.

Oh my, this is very sweet.  Especially for one who doesn't use any sweetener in her tea.  The concentrate is also  for iced tea, so maybe it is more sweet for that reason.  However, it doesn't taste like anything, neither raspberry, nor tea and only very mildly of perhaps fruity.  I have to say, why would you bother to drink it?

I noticed yesterday that the hollyhocks by the front porch are putting out very tiny leaves.  They had a lot of seedlings last fall, but it was so crazy, weather-wise, that I am not sure if any survived.  They are the black hollyhocks and a nice foil for the pink and yellow day lilies in front of them.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

As Captain Jean-Luc Pickard Would Say

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.  Since I am living in the 21st century instead of his, I have had to use a tea pot, water and tea leaves, instead of a replicator, although the tea was sent by Think Geek.  The dry tea has a heavy bergamot aroma, that I tend to associate with Russian blends.  There are some blue flower petals and what appears to be orange peel.  Bergamot is an oil made from the rind of  bergamot oranges, once grown in Asia, now, for the tea market, pretty much grown in Southern Italy.  I brewed the tea for 3.33 minutes with boiling water.

As it brewed the aroma was much, much lighter than I expected, almost lemony.  The liqueur was a fairly light amber.  I'm not sure about the taste.  There is definitely something more than the usual bergamot to it.  It remind's me of St. Isaac's Blend, which has orange, lemon and grapefruit in it.  There is a small hint of flowers.  I don't really think this is what I would call Earl Grey, but I like it and find it quite refreshing.  I think it would make an excellent ice tea.

 Lest I get too excited about the snow being gone, Ma Nature gave us 8  inches last night.  Today we had something like freezing rain after almost a full day of sun, glorious sun.  However, on the green side, there are a few leaves of a day lily poking up.

This is a narrow side street in Sorrento, Italy.  The little tree in a pot in the center is a lemon tree.  they are all over the streets, even growing up through restaurants.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Spring Is Coming

It is indeed almost Spring - we have ants in the kitchen.  I whipped out my Terra ant killer and they are feasting and tomorrow will be dead ants!  So there.

I was bemoaning the fact that my neighbors had seen a robin, but I had not.  However, yesterday when I came home from errand running, there were 15 on my front lawn, enjoying the sun!  And I heard a red wing blackbird, who is a sure sign of Spring approaching.  The ice is almost gone from the pond and there are only a few clumps of snow here and there.  The creeks are running and the river is quite high.  Our neighbor's snowdrops are blooming.  I really want it to be Spring, in case you can't tell.

We have been having "wait-a-minute" weather.  Wait a minute and it's different. We had sun, snow, rain, sun and what the weatherman calls dibbles - which I think are clumps of snow flakes that look like hail, but aren't.  At the moment it is misting with an occasional snowflake or rain drop.

I have no new tea to report on, but I will soon, as I have ordered some early greens from Life in Teacup.  Last year I had pre-Qing Ming and and another very early tea from Gingko and I understood why these are so precious - absolutely delicious!  One was plucked and processed on March 5!  I guess their Spring was a lot earlier than ours this year.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Make It So

What Ho, Star Trek and Earl Grey tea fans!  There is a company that sells Captain Pickard's favorite beverage and it has good reviews.  It is Think Geek,  and the tea is.....Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.  I ordered some to try and will report for duty when it arrives in my ready room.  They also have a number of rather odd, but interesting things there.

As a result, I am finding myself wanting some Earl Grey.  But, there is not a scrap, not even a tea bag of it to be found.  Oh,Woe is I.  I am consoling my self with Upton's Finest Russian Caravan,TB70, a blend of teas from India, China and Formosa.  Unlike many others, there is no smokiness to this tea, which is supposed to emulate the scent of all those campfires on the way from China to Russian in the old days.  No "odour de camel sweat", either, for which I am quite happy.  Instead, the dry tan, grey and black leaves smell mostly of corn silage in the silo, which to this farm chick, was always a pleasant aroma.

I brewed the tea for 4 minutes, with boiling water.  It smells like a pleasantly damp woods with some green hints and some roasted corn hints.  The liqueur is a pleasant amber and does indeed taste roasty and woodsy, with a bit of spice and a long, smooth finish.  It does well with a bit of milk in it as well.  A very nice drink on a wet, cold, gloomy day.

I want this for my front door!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

It's A Lovely Day Today

It's a lovely day in the neighborhood.  The sun is shining, I remembered to set the clocks ahead and spring is in the air.  Quite literally, as there are returning birds flying around and singing their hearts out.  The phoebes are back, with their distinctive song, for which they were named.  I realized this morning that although I have been singing the praises of snow, I am sick of winter and want to move forward.  I want to see the bulbs poking up noses with the promise of flowers, I want to know if the lavender survived and will there be enough tarragon, all those green things.

Having said that, I am not quite ready to switch to primarily green teas.  It is still too cold.  However, I noticed a sample of Jasmine Pearls tea from the Tea Spot and I haven't had Jasmine tea in a while, so...  I am as changeable as our weather.

In the packet, the pretty little green and white balls gave off a sweet simple jasmine aroma.  I brewed it for 3 minutes with water about 170 degrees.  There was that same gentle aroma!    This tea is lovely, a very gentle jasmine, sweet, but not overwhelming and definitely not one of the cloying ones.  Just about perfect, I would say.

How's this for a fancy, schmancy altar?  I believe it is in Sorrento, Italy.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Intrigue In A Tea Cup

I have often contemplated trying to grow my own tea bush.  This could be a problem as I live in New York and we can have sustained periods of below zero temperature.  I know you can bring them inside, but I already have 4 gargantuan pots to haul around and I'm not sure I really want another one, especially one which has to be brought in when the temperature goes below 50.  I am simply not that organized.  I did hear a good idea about big pots, which I will pass on to you.

If your plant(s) are shallow rooted, you can put all those peanuts you get in packages in plastic bags and then put them in your pot and then add soil, so your pot is lighter to carry about.  If you don't have peanuts, use perlite.  The other thing you can do is cut a piece of styrofoam to fit inside your pot at the depth you want, making sure to add some drainage holes.  I don't know if this would wok with a tea plant, because I don't know anything about their root system.

I ordered some teas from Siam Tea, which specializes in teas from Northern Thailand.  This company is new to me and owned by Thomas Kaspar, who writes for the English Tea Store blog.  I was very pleased with their service.  The first tea I am trying is Shi Er Black Pearls, Doi Mai Salong, North Thailand.  Black they are, little balls, with some tails attached.  I wasn't thinking and just bunged them in my tea strainer for 3.5 minutes.  When I went to pull it out, it was absolutely stuffed with big  leaves.  Live and learn.

This is easily the most intriguing tea.  The dry tea smelled of roasted wood - not burned, roasted, as if it were meat.  There was also a bit of dark toast and roasted corn.  As it was brewing it gave off a woodsy, flowery, toasted acorn aroma.  The tea was a fairly light golden brown.  To try and describe the flavor is almost impossible.  The nearest I can come up with is flowery toasted acorns.  It was delicious.  One thing to watch out for and that is to drink it in small cups, because as it cools it loses some of its interest and the flavor gets very muted.  Not that that's bad, I just prefer more depth.  Next time I am going to go for multiple brews and give those leaves some room!

I have finished The China Tea Book by Luo Jialin, which I reviewed a few days ago.  The second half was on the aesthetics of tea, setting the mood, which tea pots and cups to use, the role of floral arrangements and calligraphic art.  It was fascinating.  I may apply some of his thoughts, at least as far as tablescapes.  I can't do much about walls and furniture.  Again, there were many beautiful pictures.  One of the best things about the book is that it seems to create a calm oasis in me.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Two Grumps and Two Goodies

I have been in a bit of a grumpy mood lately, and for once, tea related things did little to elevate it.  I got this month's issue of a tea magazine, filled with lovely tea party settings and wonderful food.  I saw some china that I admired and looked in their sources column for the manufacturer.  Ow, ow, ow!  A plate - one plate was $650.  Another I liked was one plate, $450.  Get real.  How many of us are going to spend that much on a plate?  It would be nice if they were a little more realistic.  There are pretty things that are not the cost of a plane ticket to Europe.

To continue my rant.  Tea itself.  I got this in a tea swap I am part of and I know the person was trying to please and I am not ungrateful.  I just hate this tea and couldn't get too much past the first few sips.  Even my husband, who is no tea snob, asked if I was sure this was tea.  The tea was DavidsTea Saigon Chai.  The base is Assam, cardamom, pink peppercorns, cinnamon, clove, maybe orange and lots of other stuff mixed in.  It smelled sweet with hints of pineapple, pepper, cinnamon and other things I could not identify.  The brewed cup tasted like that and more - just a mess.  In my very prejudiced opinion, any flavoring should let the taste of tea come through.

On to the good things.  Newspapers are still favorites of mine and I like having them in print.  I like the feel and smell and heft of them.  Not to mention their ability to be used underneath any mess I may be making.
Plus, they often have articles on tea.  Our local paper had a good one on the rise of the importance of tea and last week's NY Times had a full page on East Frisian tea.  Which, by the way, can put any Breakfast tea under the table in terms of strength.  East Frisia is known for being cold, damp and windy, which probably explains it.  Wow!  It's really wonderful to see tea getting mainstreamed.

I think this is Austria - I loved the steeple.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Birds, Mud and Tea

Today was hawk sighting day.  I saw a harrier, a red-shouldered and a red-tailed hawk plus 2 others I couldn't identify.  I'm also pretty sure I saw a golden eagle on the river, near where they nest.  A good day for the birds.  In our woods, not only is the pileated woodpecker busy, but 2 others.  You can tell the difference, if you can't see them, by the rapidity and cadence of their drumming.   The squirrels have been noticeablyy absent and I kind of miss them.

We are beginning mud season.  One of the many we Northerners get in addition to the usual four.  We've been flirting with pothole season, but this year wasn't too bad.  Mud season lasts from when our heavy clay soil begins to thaw until you can actually walk on the ground with out stopping every three steps to clean the mud off your boots.  It's the season that adds about a pound for every step you take, if it doesn't suck your shoes off.  Driving can be very interesting on our back roads, as you can feel the car slithering along and you slow down to about 4 miles an hour, in the hopes you can stay on those curves switch backing down the hills.  If it's a really good year for this season, you may still need to be dragged out of a mud puddle in May.

In spite of which, there is no one happier than a Northerner to see the sun  and count down to seed-starting, garden tilling, or the first blue birds arriving.  We even welcome false summer, the next season, when it is 90 degrees in April just before it is 26 and the daffodils have only lasted for 2 days, again!

The solution to all of this is just to drink tea.  It is good to celebrate the sun, calming for those necessary boot scraping sessions, comforting when it is gray and nasty.  Tea is always available for any excuse.

Mine is another of the Charleston Tea Plantation teas.  It is Charleston Breakfast, a black tea.  The chopped leaves smell like dark fresh wood or rough tree bark.  There was also a touch of cucumber and a hint of malt.  I brewed it for 3.5 minutes with boiling water.  It smelled quite malty while brewing, with a sharp edge.

The tea was somewhat lighter than I expected and at first, I wasn't too taken with it.  It seemed to be a bit sharp, or harsh.  Then I remembered, that breakfast teas are generally in the style that is known as "English", that is, to be taken with milk and sugar.  So in went the half & half  and out came a much better cup of tea.  It was now hearty, almost flowery and altogether much better behaved.  I would rate this on the light side of breakfast teas, which tend to be much heftier.  However, they are also generally a blend of China and Indian teas and this  was labeled as only from Charleston Plantation.  Therefore, if you find most breakfast teas too much of an awakening, you might want to try this one and come to consciousness more slowly.

The pleasant German river town of Bacharach.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Raspberry Tea

This is house in Dickshied where you can see the stone siding.  All those gray shingles covering the wood are pieces of stone.  The siding on the church, in the last post, was in considerably better repair.

Cold and nasty it is today, as Yoda would say.  It snows at night and then sort of thaws during the day and sometimes it snows again, but it is all gray.  My heart yearns for bright sun on the frozen white fields, as I didn't get my fill of it this winter.  But my heart is also yearning for Spring and as I listen to the rapid beats of a drumming Pileated Woodpecker and the matings calls of the owls in the woods, I know it will soon be here. 

I discovered that Bigelow's Charleston Tea Plantation  is finally selling looseleaf teas, so I got some.  The one I am having today is Rockville Raspberry.  When I opend the tine, I was disappointed, as there was a strong smell of chemical raspberry.  Rats.  However, I persevered and brewed some up.  I wasn't paying attention and brewed it for 5.5 minutes.  Nevertheless, it wasn't bad and the flavor was not nearly as chemically as I was expecting.  Of course, it wasn't really raspberry to my mind, that mingling of sweet and tart and intense flavor.  I really find Mariages Freres does a much better job with their raspberry.