Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Up above the world so high

A mountainside on the Rhine. Not quite as high as the ones in Nepal, but a mountain. Mountains and hills make me happy.

Ah, Nepal. A country you don't think of often. Great high mountains, sherpas, snow and tea. What? Tea? Yup. In the foothills of those mountains, and Golden Moon has some in their sample pack I purchased earlier. It is very good. Very similar to a Darjeeling, which it is close to, but heavier somehow. This tea is called Nepalese Afternoon Tea. It is an organic black, which I appreciate. I brewed it for about 3 minutes just below boiling. It smells lovely, with a deep honey aroma, set off by sandalwood. I really liked this, it was so smooth. The tea tasted of honey and florals, with a heavy nectar like quality to it, although I wouldn't really call it sweet. It didn't feel like just water in your mouth. The pleasantness lasted quite a while, too. A definite keeper. On Dec. 13 I wrote about another Nepalese tea, which you may care to look up, just for comparison.

It is getting close to the end of one year and the beginning of another. No surprise there, it happens quite often. I always think the beginning of the year should be at a different time of seasons, like the beginning of school in September or the beginning of Spring. But here we are, anyway. I am looking forward to the real beginning of my year – when I plant the first seeds for the garden. This year we are using grow lights and I am excited to see how they will work for us. Our windows are too crowded with plants we brought in to use for seedlings. I am going to experiment with some herb seeds for the house first, before I do the veggies. A lot of catalogs have already arrived, so when our company leaves, I shall begin to dream in earnest. My only fear is certain four-footed ones of us either digging up or eating the seedlings.
Earlier I mentioned that I appreciate organic tea. I feel we should try to be as organic and fair trade as we can. It can be difficult. Organic is often more expensive and sometimes it doesn't look as pretty, but it is better for both land and people. My cousin, a dairy farmer near Utica, NY has recently gotten his organic certification and I know it is a long hard road, but he feels better about his care of his farm and his animals. I am not 100% organic, I confess. If there is a tea I really, really like, I will buy it. Certainly a lot I am sampling is not organic, but in my personal purchases, I try, just as I try to buy locally when it is possible.

We are having more company, so I won't be writing for a few days. Enjoy the New Year's festivities, stay as safe and as sane as you can be

Monday, December 28, 2009

Not Ginger-Peachy

It is a good thing we celebrated the sun yesterday, because it is gone for a few days, with snow to replace it. However, in this monastery, on that day, the sun was with us.

Ginger, peaches, tea, how can you go wrong? Sadly, I will tell you. True to my campaign to broaden my horizons I bought some Ginger Peach Tea from The Tea Smith. As soon as I opened it I knew I was in trouble. There was that familiar “chemical” smell I hate underlying the peach and ginger. You might not notice it, I did. The leaves were all quite small, a mix of brown and black, with pieces of what I think was peach in them. I brewed it for 4 minutes at 212. It brews up to an attractive darkish red brown. The smell has shifted to a gentle ginger with peach overtones. However, there's only the merest hint of either ginger or peach in the plain tea and the tea itself is nothing great. However, with the addition of some sugar, the peach comes out quite a bit and there is a small bite of ginger, if not much taste. For one who really dislikes sugar in their tea, that was too much for what I got out of the cup. If you like your tea sweet, you might like this one, as it did taste fine with the sugar, just not for me.

On a brighter note, I just got the monthly newsletter from the tea lady over at http://www.bellaonline.com/. It was mostly an article about “the Original T-bag Designs”. This is a South African company that was started in about 2000 to help poverty stricken South African women to get out of their dire straights. They use used teabags which they dry, press and paint to make beautiful articles to sell. They are now a 125 person collective which has enabled some women to buy their own homes. You can go to http://www.originaltbagdesigns.com/ to order some of their merchandise or to one of the many retail stores listed to see them first hand. Their goods are beautifully done, one of a kind and make wonderful gifts or something unique for yourself. There is also an address in New Jersey where you can send your used teabags, minus the tea, of course.

Keep an eye open for – My Favorite Cup – a ½ hour TV show about coffee and tea, due to begin airing March 1 on Colours TV [channels 9407 and 9396 on Dish networks] and Capitol Broadcasting Company [primarily in the South] The first broadcast is all about tea. I am certainly looking forward to seeing what it will be like, but since I am neither Southern nor have Dish TV, I may have to wait a while. If any of you see it, please share with me!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy!

Since today is Sunday, I thought a pulpit shot would be good. And... wonder of wonders, the sun is out! When one lives in the great Northeast, one celebrates the sun after November 1st.

I am always up for trying a new Earl Grey. It is one of my forever favorites. I have a new one from the Tea Spot in Denver, the Earl of Grey. I am buying samples from merchants new to me as I felt I was in a rut. The dry tea is pretty - brownish leaves with some blue and gold petals and bits of citrus. It smells very strongly of citrus with some bergamot. I hope it is not another of those heavy “Russian-style” Earl Greys.

The tea brews up to a very dark red. The scent modifies to more of an Earl Grey with citrussy overtones. The taste is reminiscent of a crème Earl Grey, with a hint of vanilla and a sweet floral taste. That is, it has the taste of sweet, without being in anyway really sweet or cloying. Altogether a very nice tea, not at all heavy, medium delicate, I would say.

If you don't know, bergamot is a citrus fruit native to Asia but now coming mostly from southern Italy. It is more sour than a grapefruit, but less than a lemon. The oil from the peel has a lovely scent and aside from its use in tea, it is used in perfumery. It is not the same as the garden plant we refer to as bergamot, monarda or bee balm. They are completely different families.

Y'all know I have cats and must occasionally speak of them. Ernie loves this tea and had to have some in a saucer if I wanted some for myself and didn't want a mess. He and his brother Bert are currently fighting because Ernie was so crass as to interrupt Bert's toe-cleaning. One does not interrupt Bertie's baths or naps unless one wants a good nose scratch. This from the most determinedly ill-behaved kitten I've ever had!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tea on a gray day

I hope all of you had a lovely Christmas Day.We did. Quiet, but very pleasant, enlivened by watching one of our favorite "Brit Coms", "The Vicar of Dibley". The high art of wackiness, as only the Brits can do. We don't generally have tea on Christmas as we have a long tradition of kaffee mit schlage, which is coffee with sweetened whipped cream. It is almost a meal in itself. However, by afternoon, I was ready for some plainish tea.

I chose some from Golden Moon, (such a good name for a company, makes you feel comfortable right off the bat.) I am digging into my sample box I got a week or so ago and I'm trying their Darjeeling, described as an exceptional single garden FTGFOP1S. I assume the S stands for Spring. It has a lovely floral scent and I brewed it the usual way. I may have over brewed it a tad, as it seemed astringent at first, but then that seemed to morph into that slight puckeriness you sometimes get from walnuts. There was a nice fruitiness to it, but I wouldn't really call it muscatel. I'm not sure it was as fresh as it could have been. It was a pleasant tea, but not really great. I think if something comes from a single garden, the company ought to tell you which one right away.

Did you get any nice tea goodies as gifts? I got 2 teapots - both alike. One I will return and get another one I've had my eye on.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Oolong

This is a very old creche scene in a very old church in Germany.

Our poor guest from South Africa will not be visiting as he had spent 2.5 days waiting in various airports only to have to return to Atlanta. For his next attempt, they called him 3 days earlier and said his flight was canceled! So I thought I might as well share some tea with you before the next lot of company arrives

Thanks to tea swaps I have been getting to try a number of Oolongs and I am finding myself enraptured by them. One of the ones I recently got was Summit Tea's Jin Xuan Golden Lily Oolong. This comes from the Fujian Province of China, which the company says yields a more robust and fuller bodied tea than it would from Taiwan. I don't know enough to tell and I don't have the Taiwanese version to compare it to. So it will just have to stand or fall on its own merits.

The dry leaves were small tightly rolled balls with the wonderful scent of a good baked custard or crème brulee. I rinsed it off with nearly boiling water and then let it steep for 2 minutes for the first infusion. The second was for 2.5 minutes with slightly cooler water. The brewing tea smelled of lilacs along with the custard. It tasted custardy and of vanilla and lilac. As it cooled it tasted more like baked vegetable, almost like asparagus. The second infusion was so mild there was almost no taste, just a very faint floral. Put together, the resulting combo didn't taste much different from the first. I may order a sample and try this some more, as it is intriguing.
With many Oolongs and with other teas with big leaves, I find you really have to play around with quantity to get the brew you like best. I brewed all I had, but I might have done differently if I had had more.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas blessings


This Primal Word
is not cramped in tombs
or trapped in hoary creeds,
but moves untamed, free
to raise up prophets
from barren wombs.

This Living Word
shapes its own law,
forever saving
a fractious world
and preparing ways
untrod before.

This Loving Word
seeks a new-age Eve,
graces young Mary
with a task and Gift
the strong and proud
could not conceive.
© B.D. Prewer 1993

May the God who came as a baby grow in your hearts this season and in all the coming years. May your celebration of Christmas be rich in the things that matter most and may you find peace to share with those around you. Let there be peace so that all mothers and fathers everywhere can raise their children well, without fear and without war.

May Hanukkah have been blessed, Kwanzaa a time of rejoicing and all the other celebrations of this time of year be filled with special meaning for each of you.

Affectionately, Marlena

Yuzu Oolong in the snow

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Not that there is anything I can do about it. I love snow and I love having it cover up all my garden sins, but there is a big problem with it. Our poor guest, a young man from South Africa is stuck in Atlanta airport [aka the hub of the universe]. He got stuck in Charlotte Saturday due to the blizzard and now he is stuck again. He is most unhappy and so are we. In the meantime, I am going to review a delightful tea, whilst I drink another one – Simpson and Vail's China Keemun.

One of the samples I received in a tea swap was Naiveteas Yuzo Oolong. This is an Ali Shan Oolong from the high mountains of Taiwan infused with Pomolo peel (Yuzo). A pomolo is a citrus fruit native to South East Asia. They grow up to 4 pounds apiece with a very thick peel. The dry tea was relatively large balls with some golden strands and a very strong citrus scent, sharp almost. As it brewed, the citrus became less sharp with a floral overtone. I rinsed it first, with almost boiling water and then brewed it for 2 minutes. The first infusion tasted of a gentle citrus with vanilla and an understory of mild astringency, piquancy, really. There was also a bit of sweetness.
The second infusion of 2.5 minutes seemed to meld all the flavors even more, with the citrus note hanging in. As the tea cooled, the citrus and astringency were lost, with a lovely, almost heavy floral sweetness coming to the fore. Surprisingly, my husband, who is not an Oolong fan really liked this tea, especially when the first and second brews were mixed. I will buy some of this. I already like Ali Shan and this is a very nice variant.
Today's picture was taken off my computer's wallpaper offerings, as it is appropriate to the day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

HOBnobbing with the cozies

The nice folks at Thistledown Cozies asked if members of the Association of Tea Bloggers would be interested in trying and reviewing their new teapot cozies, called HOBs. I said I would and expected to receive 1, but I got 2, along with a nifty little tea wallet. When I first saw them, I thought, eeuw, don't like the colors. Then I immediately spilled tea on it and it didn't show or stain, and I thought, hmm, there's some method here. Actually, the Thistledown folks had been to the big World Tea Expo in Las Vegas this year and discovered the new tea drinkers – young women and MEN - were not interested in their very feminine tea cozies. I have two of them and they are fem, but they are also wonderful, as the spout and handle both stick out from the kind I have, so you don't burn your fingers.

They thought they should design a cozy that had a more universal appeal, both in form and color, so now we have the HOB. The original hob, by the way, was a shelf in the back of the fireplace and then the back burner on a wood or coal stove where you would keep your teakettle warm, every ready to pour out a “cuppa”. When I was growing up we still had a big wood stove and it was the best thing – always warm water, you could burn your bits of trash, keep your mittens, kittens, dogs, and boots dry and warm, all sorts of uses. We got rid of it the week before a horrendous ice storm that left us without power for over a week.

I have now used both HOBs and I love them! They keep the tea warm, the handle and spout cool enough to touch, they don't stain, and if you are a guy, they look like a football or soccer ball when they are strapped together. Personally I would like better colors, to my taste. My only real complaint is that for some of my very short spouted pots, I need to be careful when I pour, but then, I should be anyway, right? Oh, they are also very washable, I washed and dried them both and they were fine.

The tea wallet is a neat little gizmo with six pockets in it, to carry your own purchased or homemade tea bags and packets of sweetener. You then fold it up, snap it and tuck it in your pocket or purse. Very handy if you want to take tea traveling with you in a small space and without those glamorous plastic baggies.

To check all these nifty items out, go to http://www.thistledownshop.com/ and see for yourself.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Earl gets goofed again.

In case you've lost track, Christmas is getting very close. We are getting ready for two lots of much anticipated company, so this may be my last post for a bit. To add to the fun, our car needs transmission work and I
can't go much over 40. So, I'll be here when I can. In the meantime, take some time each day to sit down, have a cup of tea and just relax. We too often let ourselves get crazed and 10-30 minutes to refresh will do wonders for us all. Just think - in 5 years, none of this will even be remembered, let alone important.

I have been thinking about blended or flavored teas lately. To me, each element should be distinctive and harmonize well with the other flavors or the base tea to which the flavor adjuncts are added. Sadly this is often not the case and the results can range from just off to being too similar to other teas or falling far short of the mark.

Simpson and Vail's Summer Time Earl Grey is just such a tea. They say it has a light, smooth, refreshing peach taste, with subtle undertones of Earl Grey. So subtle that, other than a brief whiff of EG scent, the Earl seems to be missing completely. The peach tastes and smells more like that ill-defined “berry” and as it cooled it began to taste a bit like crayons. It is downright unpleasant cold. It is somewhat sweet, light and smooth, but fails to deliver anything else.

By the way. I mentioned I got the Republic of Tea catalog a few days ago. In it is a gingko leaf tea trivet. Swoon. I love gingko leaves. If I get money for Christmas, that is definitely a consideration.
Another “by the way” if you need a simple new treat for Christmas, look up “saltine cracker candy” on Google. It is very easy – takes about 15 minutes, and tastes like chocolate coated toffee. Just be very watchful so you don't burn the sugar or especially yourself. It really is tasty.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A good week

What a great week, a new book and now Fresh Cup has arrived, along with a catalog from the Republic of Tea. I usually only buy their stuff as gifts, although I did get a very nice Yunnan from them for Christmas last year. One of the nice things about them is they always include a sample with the catalog. This one is Comfort and Joy, which I did not like, but I will pass it on to someone else.

I am trying Adagio's Yunnan Noir today. It smells wonderfully of the very best tobacco before I brew it and then of tobacco and bracken, with a touch of dried corn silk and fresh wash on the line as it brews. It is a very attractive tea, crinkly and rolled, in a combination of brown, black and gold to enliven the combo. I brewed it my standard 3 minutes, 212, watching the time, as Yunnans can get bitter if you go much past this. It's a great tea for sniffing on a dull day. But I'd best get on to the taste.

This doesn't seem to be the best year for Yunnans, none of the ones I have had have been top-flight and from what I've been reading, that seems to be true with everyone who writes about them. That is one of the adventures of tea, like all good things to eat or drink, it is dependent on many variables and one must take the bitter with the sweet, as when it is sweet, it is marvelous. This is a case in point. It is unmistakably a Yunnan, earthy in a good way, mouth filling but missing some of the great notes of spice. I am not sure how to describe a “Yunnan” but once you have it, you can tell that is is not a Darjeeling or Assam or Ceylon. I can sometimes confuse Assam and Ceylon and those from Nilgiri. For me this Yunnan seems to have an almost herbaceous quality, not green, but more a browned sort, with a pleasant metallic note to it. It is a very smooth tea and I like it. It's good, but just not great.
Don't forget the Steepster contest http://www.steepster.com/ You will be amazed at what's on offer!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hurry, Hurry, Hurry

Steepster www.steepster.com is having a super contest with something like $800 worth of tea stuff as the prize. This includes one of the most interesting teapots I've seen. Just go there and sign up for it - it's just a drawing so there's not much you have to do.

While you are there, check out the site. It's nifty site for rating teas. Most ratings are brief, unlike my wordy blog. So if you want the short version of me, there I am. You can sign up to join for free and read lots and lots and lots of tea reviews, participate in discussions, keep track of teas in you cupboard,etc. It's a fun site and it's free.

New Tea Book, New Keemun

I just received a new tea book, my favorite thing. It is written by Roy Fong of the Imperial Tea Court store. Since I pre-ordered mine, it is even signed. The Great Teas of China is part memoir, part a discussion of the teas Roy feels are the best. I have only had time to look through it very briefly, but it looks very interesting. What I have read I have thoroughly enjoyed. It would make a great gift for someone you know who loves Chinese tea. It is wonderful for me, as I am only beginning to explore this vast area. I have gotten especially fond of some of the green teas. . Please see www.imperialtea.com or http://camelliasinesisblog.blogspot.com for more on this book or how to order. Today, however, I am going to talk about a black tea.

Chinese Keemun tea was first processed about 1875 – a relative newcomer to Chinese teas. My sample comes from Simpson and Vail, part of my latest order. The dry leaves are small and very black. It has a pleasant fresh roast corn scent and I brewed it for about 4 minutes at 212. The first sips run right to the back and sides of my tongue. It is an earthy, coppery taste, that changes frequently as it cools, going through a phase of strong dark fruits, almost like prunes, but not sweet. It ends with a sharp floral taste. What an adventure! A very good tea. http://www.svtea.com/

I think the very good to great teas are like that – every cup is an adventure. It is less so with many of the straightforward black teas, but with some Darjeelings, certainly with Oolongs and greens, there is a lot of flavor nuance with every cup, you never really know where you are going or where you will end up!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Stormy weather

I love to go Christmas caroling and we were going to go out with the church tonight, but I don't think anyone will go, the weather is so awful. We were supposed to have rain, ice pellets, freezing rain, sleet and snow, all in this one poor day. Not even the cats, those great outdoor lovers, will go out beyond the end of the porch roof. I guess I'll stay in and have some nice tea from Nepal.

Nepal is a small landlocked country, south of China and north of the Darjeeling and Assam tea growing regions of northeastern India. It is the world's newest republic, with its first president sworn in in July of 2008. Geographically, Nepal has both low lying humid, hot areas, like Assam and the Himalayan Mountains. It is these mountains which are of interest, as this is where today's tea was grown and processed.

Simpson and Vail http://www.svtea.com/ my old standbys, were among the first to import Nepal black tea, from their only tea estate, Ilam. The leaves are a mix of green and taupe, even though this is classed as a black tea. They seem to have almost a brown paper scent. I have brewed this tea at about 200 for 3.5 minutes, with about 7 teaspoons for a 32 oz pot. The brewing tea smells of some sort of hot grain cereal and is a light clear amber. The wet leaves look primarily chopped.
The flavor of the tea is very, very mild, almost grassy with a touch of barley, a bit of a floral. There is no astringency until it begins to cool. I wouldn't say this tea had any depth or breadth, but it is a pleasant gentle experience. I accidentally put a tiny bit of milk in it which did not seem to affect it. I think it would be a nice tea for a time of quiet thoughtfulness.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Santa's Comin'!

We had a fun day today. There's a community near us with a lot of poor folk. The churches and Grange and community get together to provide a Christmas party where the kids get “Santa dollars” to buy presents for others, decorate ornaments and cookies and get presents from Santa. My husband, with his white beard and mustache, was Santa. I got to sit on his lap, but I didn't get a present. Before we left I carefully made a cup of Jing's Yunnan Tea in my new travel mug. And just as carefully left it in the car. So all I can say about it is it is pretty good cold.

When we came home, I brewed up some Special Teas Earl Grey de la Crème. This is a pretty tea, with cornflower petals and some pale yellow ones to enliven the little black leaves, which I brewed at about 212 degrees for 3 minutes. Both the dry leaves and the brewing ones had a strong smell of bergamot and something like lemon chiffon pudding. In fact, that is what the tea tasted like. It is very mouth-filling and almost feels like you have a creamy coating in your mouth. There isn't a lot of tea taste and to me it really didn't taste like Earl Grey, but I found it quite pleasant. It's a tea I would certainly drink, and could recommend, but not one I would buy. It simply isn't to my taste. I might serve it to guests with a piece of spice cake or molasses cookies, as I feel it would go very well with them.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lilacs in the snow

It is a cold, nasty, blowy, wet day and I was in the mood for something that would take me somewhere else. Having just bought some samples from Simpson and Vail, I thought I would try their Lilac Bouquet. Lilacs are the essence of Spring, right? Some kind soul planted a lot of them around the house and in April and May I leave my doors and windows open so that the whole house smells of them. Blessings on the person who planted them!

At first I wondered what I had done to myself with the tea, as it smelled a little bit like lilac soap, which to me is not pleasant. However, I brewed up the small leaves at 212 for about 3 minutes. As it brewed, the scent modified and darned if it didn't become more like the real deal. Now for the big test – how does it taste? Like lilacs! It is very lilac without being cloying or overdone and it is not sweet. Really a delightful tea. I would serve this only on a special occasion and with something mildly spicy to set off the very floral character of the tea. I have to say I was very happily surprised by the tea and will get more.

There is a contest going on about tea moments. You can go here http://www.tea-guy.com/ to find out about it. I don't want to enter the contest, but it has started me thinking. I guess a defining moment for me was about a month or two ago when I actually saw in the wet leaves from a cup of tea, the two small leaves and a leaf bud that indicates at least the beginning of good tea. It suddenly made real what I've read about plucking tea and then processing it. To have these leaves and buds, whole in front of me showed the care with which they had been handled. I could see the hands of the women carefully getting just these small bits of a tea bush and sense the love and pride that went into bringing them to my cup.

Last night we watched Julie and Julia. What a neat movie! I really miss seeing her on TV. She was so funny and such a superb cook. Her recipe for pound cake is the only one I ever use and it always works. Martha Stewart doesn't even come close and she was rude to her on Julia's show. A pox on all her houses!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Kenya tea in the snow

Most of the USA is experiencing snow and I guess will experience snow for most of the week. Ours is very heavy and wet and somehow, the kittens aren't finding it as much fun. They are willingly coming in for a good drying off before venturing out again. It is pretty, though, covering a multitude of sins. I am trying to really appreciate it now as come January or February I won't be appreciating it very much and in fact will be doing a lot of complaining. I hope it lasts until our South African friend arrives next Saturday. He has never seen snow and we thought we would allow him the great treat of shoveling whilst dodging snowballs! He also supposed to bring some local tea!

I really make an effort to try tea from different countries. Both to broaden my experience and to encourage newcomers to the world of fine tea. Some I really like, some are just ho-hum. Sadly, the offering from Simpson and Vail of Kenya Black falls into the ho-hum category. About 4 years ago, I had some from Kenya that was really superb, but only once. Everything since has either been just okay or awful. I brewed the little black leaves for about 3.5 minutes at 212 and it was pleasantly okay. But that is all it was. It is a very plain tea without much nuance or breadth. It would be good for breakfast, with milk or/and sugar. I know that the tea industry in Kenya had been having problems, but I was hoping they were over. I'll keep trying them in hope, as this is an improvement over some I have had! I would encourage you to do the same, both for us and for them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas tree and Golden Moon tea

The Christmas tree on the village green is lit. This year it looks quite lovely. I guess there wasn't much money last year because it really looked like Charlie Brown had decorated it. When I was growing up, we always had “Charlie Brown” trees, as my father hated to get one until the last minute, so only the scraggy ones were left. When my parents decided to go artificial, wouldn't you know it, that's what he got, another pathetic tree.
This year we decided not to do a tree or much decorating as the kittens are still in that crazy destructive phase and we don't want to put temptation in their way. That happened another Christmas when our sons had come from Florida. We put a tree up and before we got anything on it, the kitten was up it and chewing on the light cords. So we put on a couple boxes of candy canes and one string of tiny white lights. It looked very peculiar, but it was a tree. The boys haven't been back for Christmas since. Maybe they should bring a tree.

I saw this great offer from Golden Moon teas, 31 samples for $19. Fits in my poor beleaguered budget, so I thought, why not. They came in a nice woven basket, even, so no one knows just how much tea this crazy woman has! The first one I tried was Moroccan mint. Green Gunpowder tea with mint oil and mint leaves. Ho boy, minty! The scent, everything is quite minty, but in a really pleasant way. Really delicious. Not much taste of green tea, but it is very tasty and warming.
My husband loves licorice and it just so happens that another of the samples included White Licorice. As soon as I opened the packet it smelled very much of licorice. The dry leaves and buds were huge and there were nice big chunks of star anise, which is licorice flavor. The scent lessened somewhat as it brewed for 4 minutes just below boiling, but was still very present. I am not a big licorice fan, but I tasted it and although it was delicate, it was not shy and it was quite good. My husband really liked it. Aha, Christmas present!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Welcoming Ava Rose

Today is a super good day! We welcome to the world, Ava Rose, our first great- niece! We are all very excited – it's been a long time since we have had a baby in the family.
I think an appropriate tea to celebrate would be Simpson and Vail's Rose-Kissed Jasmine. This smells like the old-fashioned, but still popular, shrub Mock Orange aka Syringa or Philadelpheus, to be proper.
These shrubs bloom about May/June where we are and they smell absolutely wonderful. So does this tea. It is a green tea, scented with roses and jasmine and tastes just as good as it smells. I usually brew a big teaspoon in about 180 degree water for 2 minutes. You need to be careful as it does get bitter easily, which really spoils it. This is definitely one of S&V's successes.
I was making my first batch of Christmas cookies, for my book club meeting, and this was a perfect tea to have with some of the “home cookies” - those that have gone over to the dark side or the leftover scraps I really shouldn't roll anymore.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Travel mug with Vicky's Earl

I bought some Christmas gifts from Golden Moon teas and while I was at it I bought myself a travel infuser/cup. It is made by Bodum, the famous coffee press people. It is double walled plastic of some sort and you put your tea in the bottom, pour in your water, screw on the top and when your tea has brewed, push down the plunger, which settles into a nice little hollow in the lid. To keep your tea hottest, leave the flip lid you drink out of closed, or leave it open to cool. Because of the double walls, it doesn't get hot on the outside, just a bit warm, while your tea is very hot. It fits in your car cupholder and holds 16 oz of tea. I was looking for one about this size, 12 oz is too small. Although I was sad to see my old travel cup broken, I do like this one better, as I can brew in it and the outside remains cool. It is 17.95 from http://www.goldenmoontea.com/. I must take extra care not to break this one.

Well, what did I put in it? Simpson and Vail's Victorian Earl Grey, from my stash of best-loved teas. To date, this is what I think is the best of the lavender scented Earl Greys, because you can taste both the lavender and the bergamot. There is also a touch of rose and something herbal. I went and looked at their website and that is rosemary. You brew it just like a regular black tea – 3.5 min at 212, 1 teaspoon per cup. It smells wonderful, tastes wonderful and almost everyone I have ever given it to has liked it. Personally I like it in the afternoon with a few cookies or scones and it is very nice after a big meal – it has just enough astringency/herbalness to settle things in.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Adagio in the snow

It's snowing! It's sticking! The kind of snow that goes on for a while, slowly drifting down coating every twig and branch. The kittens are wild! It's almost as good as a mouse. Well, maybe.

I know I have complained about chai that doesn't taste like chai to me and that it has to be a certain way or I won't like it but I found a chai that is a bit nontraditional that I do like. It is Adagio's Thai Chai, which I received in a tea swap. The dry mix is very mixed with what looks like lemongrass, lemon or orange peel, cinnamon and other spices. It smells lemony with a very clean clear spiciness. I brewed 2 teaspoons for about 5 min at 212. The scent basically remained unchanged. The tea seems to be a good basic black, with very nice well blended and well rounded spices. The lemongrass gives it a good fillip. Instead of milk and sugar, I added some eggnog to it and it was super. Well done.

Now we will do the not so good Adagio Masala Chai, which I got in the same swap. The scent was much sharper with more of a citrus bite. In fact, there were a lot of citrus peel bits in it. I brewed it the same way I did the other and it continued to smell fairly good. Plain, it was awful! Far, far too much lemon peel, no spice. I added a teaspoon of sugar and some milk, hoping it wouldn't curdle, and that really toned down the lemon peel and brought out the spices, but it still wasn't very good. I've had many that are far better.

Does anyone know for sure what countries traditionally drink chai? We all know that it is an Indian drink, but are there other South Asian lands that also have drunk it for an extended time i.e. not just a current phenomenon? Also, does anyone know for sure about regional variations? Or is it something that varies from household to household? From cooking I know there are many dishes which are considered practically “national” dishes with many regional variations. There are some that are clearly something cooks did to clean out the larder, and the food went on to be standardized. Cassoulet, a French bean and duck dish, is one that comes to mind. Please let me know about the chai.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas kicks with the Blacksmith's Blend

Tonight is the official kick-off of the Christmas season in our small town. It begins with caroling, the lighting of our tree on the green, a concert by all our church choirs and, of course Santa. He's having breakfast tomorrow at our church. There are special events and concerts all weekend.

The Tea Smith does it again! Makes a good tea, that is. It's called Blacksmith's Blend and the leaves are black and the brew is dark, but...It's not heavy or malty or bitter or smokey or any of those things you sometimes say about really black teas. In fact, it is delicious and it's driving me nuts because I can't pin down either the flavor or scent of the brewed tea. The dry stuff was pretty easy – rich, dark, leather, wood, tobacco. The liquor was not as black as I expected. I think there was a hint of some green herb, maybe clover or hay, but I just couldn't get it. Oh gee, must be I'll have to drink lots more so I can. What a hardship! This is good stuff.

Did you know that you are a tassophile? Bet you don't even know what that is. It's a person who is really into tea. It is interesting that the 3 languages I am most familiar with all have a similar word for cup – French is tasse, Italian is tazza and Spanish is taza. So, if some snobby person asks you your profession, tell them you are a tassophile, smile enigmatically and sashay away. Snicker! Tea hee!
Some 1,800 professional chefs have declared that in 2010 menus will be carrying a lot more local and sustainable foods and beverages. They also said that specialty tea drinks – mostly iced – will be making a strong showing. Tea is not local, but more of it is becoming sustainable. That basically means caring for the land, the plants and the people who raise and process the tea. That has to be a good move forward.. We live in an ever increasingly small world.
The kittens are very funny today. Ernie is sitting on the back of a chair crying because he can't reach the light cord to play with it and Bert is doing his carousel ride imitation – head back, tail flying, paws in a gallop mode – all while sound asleep.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Crabby ole tea person writing

"Tis the season” when everyone comes out with their teas for the holidays and everything else “just for the holidays” I am curmudgeonly enough that I begin to get tired of it very quickly. However, I was on a “gallivanting” with good friends and saw some Republic of Tea's Comfort and Joy traveler's tins so I bought one – that is 5 teabags in a little round tin. Cheaper in the store than on line from them, even, but expensive for what you get--. I was hoping the cloves in it weren't too strong. And they weren't. The tea has black tea, cinnamon, flavorings, cloves, licorice root and apple pieces. It is a little sweet, a little spicy, not too much clove but just okay. Certainly nothing I would ever buy again. Why bother? To me it tastes like 50 others I've had, nothing at all distinctive, even the name is borrowed from a popular Christmas carol. There, now I don't have to try any more Christmas teas, I've done my bit for this year.

Poor you folks, two days in a row of panning something - I'll try to be nice tomorrow!

But not just yet. I am grumpy about the “holidays”. I might just as well say it. I hate Christmas stuff in October. After Thanksgiving is soon enough. I hate people only giving to the poor, needy, unhappy only at the holidays. I hate the amount of money that people spend on just stuff, and yes, I've done it and that is probably why I am sick of it. For me, Thanksgiving is a time to be reminded of what we are thankful for, not just a time to pig out and watch football. Christmas for me is a religious celebration. I don't want them lost in “sparkle season” and 29 cents a pound turkey. Goodness, what a crab, guess I better go have some chamomile tea and calm down. May I say in my defense that I like to go caroling, give gifts and when there are no small kittens, decorate a tree. It's the hype I can't stand.
Today's picture is a small part of the mosaics in a Ravenna, Italy, church. It doesn't come close to portraying how magnificent they are.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fresh Tea

I have some of Bigelow's Sweet Dreams herbal tea/tisane on tap for today. It contains chamomile, hibiscus, peppermint, rose petals, spearmint, spice and orange blossoms. It has a pleasant, mostly minty smell, with an underlying thickish floral scent. I brew it for 5 minutes with almost boiling water. The scent continues. The taste reminds me of why I don't care for most herb teas. It is sort of pleasant, sort of minty, but over all it is far too muddied a flavor for me to think of it as really good. It tastes like a hundred other herb teas I have had. If I am going to have a “sleep prep” herbal I would much prefer the one I got from Wild Thyme Whole Food and Tea http://www.wildthymetea.com/ in Ballston Spa, NY. It is blended by the tea master there she has done an excellent job with it. All of the teas I purchased there were organic and reasonably inexpensive, but of high quality.

Speaking of high quality, how do you maintain that at home? The 3 biggest enemies of tea are light, air and smell. Light and air will make your tea go staler, faster. Keep your tea in an air tight container that is either metal or porcelain or in the zip lock foil bags they come in. If all you have is glass, put them in a dark, cool cupboard. Please don't put them in plastic, the tea will absorb off odors and you'll have wasted your money. This is because tea really absorbs odors so well. That is how the manufacturers make Earl Grey, rose, jasmine and the other lovely scented teas. Some just absorb scent from the plants they are grown with. Almost all tea vendors will have some sort of canister that will keep tea well. The best are ones with a rubber gasket. They are, however, expensive. If you buy a large quantity of tea , break it up into smaller containers to keep the air out, since every time you open it, the air flows right in.

McCormack's, that old familiar spice company, is coming out with a line of teas. So far, they are in Central America and the Caribbean and in San Francisco. Maybe they will come East, as well. Something new to look for. The tea is flavored with cinnamon, with Jamaican Sorrel and with lemongrass. Could be interesting.

Monday, November 30, 2009

South of the Border

I was beginning to feel in a bit of a rut with the folks I buy my tea from, so I decided to branch out a bit. I saw The Tea Smith advertised, so I thought I would check him out, as I had also seen some good reviews of his teas. I found some I really wanted to try, so here we go! The first is South of the Border Chocolate Tea. It has chili pepper in it! And it is so good. When I opened the package, all I could smell was deep rich chocolate, with a whiff of cherry – a bit like those chocolate covered cherries we always got Mother for Christmas. The small leaves were black and there were small bits of red pepper. The scent continued through the 3.5 minute brew with boiling water.

My husband loved it! I tasted some of his with the milk and sweetener and it was fine. Far too sweet for me, so I had mine plain. For some strange reason I kept wanting to put a bit of salt in it, so I did – just the tiniest shake and it really brought out the flavor even more. It is very chocolatey, with the tiniest of bites – really more a bit of warmth. It certainly doesn't taste like chili, nor do you need to be afraid of it being spicy. There was not much taste or smell of tea. As it cooled, it seemed to get sweeter, more sweet than I am happy with, so I would be one to drink it quickly. However, I did think about making an ice cream soda with it. Definitely a keeper.

Tea must be becoming more mainstream I think, if the ads and articles I see for it are any indication. A fairly new magazine, Mary Jane's Farm had not 1 but 2 full pages ads for tea companies. Family Circle in July of this year [I just read it] headed its “Health” section with a very brief mini-article on the healthy aspects of daily tea drinking, which can reduce the threat of having a stroke. I am really hoping that more and more people will grow to love tea, either for health or just because it tastes great and opens a whole multifaceted world for us. It is a constant source of wonder to me that one species of plant can produce so much variety.
By the way, that misty mountain in the photo is Vesuvius.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bolivian Black

This morning I decided to try my new purchase of a sample of Bolivian Black Long Leaf Tea from Simpson and Vail. On Saturdays, from 10-4 you can go to their shop in Connecticut and taste 4 different teas. Check out their website for directions http://www.svtea.com/ . I really like straightforward black teas in the morning and usually I don't try anything new, but I was, for once, wide awake and functional, so I figured – Why not?

In the short month since I last mentioned them, S&V has added 2 more Bolivian teas, a green Orange Pekoe and a Jasmine green. Until very recently the only Bolivian tea you could read about on Google was tea adulterated with coca, from which comes cocaine. However, Bolivia has been producing straight tea for about 70 years. They have an area with a perfect climate for tea growing, where the warm, humid Amazon basin meets the cool high Andes mountains.

The dry leaves are really amazing, very black and huge – about 1.5 inches long. I used about 1.5 teaspoons per cup and brewed it about 3.5 minutes at 212. This is a tea I would use the 2 pot method to brew – you brew the tea without any sort of infuser in one pot and strain it into a second, warmed pot of the same size. It would also work to use one of those pots that drain out the bottom when you put it on a cup. These leaves are huge as they unfurl! As it was brewing it had a complex smell of roasted corn silk, green vegetable, and floral. This continued as I drank it. This is a good sturdy tea with a solid black taste that has one of the nicest florals in it that I have tried. There is just enough astringency in the back corners of your mouth to add a nice fillip to the end. As it begins to cool, more of a vegetal character comes out. It is a thoroughly good beginning offering of premium tea. I hope the Bolivians continue to grow and produce even better teas.
If you are feeling like you have too many boxes from your teas hanging around or need something creative to do, go to this sight for an idea http://multivu.prnewswire.com/mnr/celestialtea/23388 If you do use this idea, make sure you let me know!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sweet Life, Sweet Tea

Did you go shopping on Black Friday? I did, but it was pleasant and unhurried as I was with a bunch of my oldest friends at small shops way in the country. Mostly we laughed and caught up and tried samples of cookies and wished we really did need that basket or this carved swan. We ate fast food, which we never do, but it was quirkily right, and drank tea or coffee at the kitchen table and planned our next get together. We all came away refreshed instead of half-dead.

I decided to try a sample I got with an order from Liber Teas, Sweet Caramel O Mine. The dry leaves are all small, a very pretty warm brown with pieces of caramel. They smell like tobacco with caramel as a top note. I brewed them for the standard 3 min at 212. This is a mild tea and does taste like caramel, with, for me, a bit of chemical mixed in. I seem to be hyper-sensitive to that, so you can probably ignore it. I wasn't really impressed, but I added milk and then I was, a touch of sugar further enhanced it into a very nice tea indeed. For those of you who don't know, caramels are basically cream and sugar boiled together until they make candy. Lovely stuff. I may buy some of this, as a dessert tea for friends, but not for me because I really don't like sweet tea.
By the way, we had out first, brief snow yesterday, up in the hills. Some of them looked quite funny, with little topknots of snow in the tops of the highest clumps of trees.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Turkey day

I will be away for a few days for Thanksgiving. I hope that your holiday is safe , better than you hoped for, and leaving you thankful for many things

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Amazingly, I am still going through my birthday teas from Special Teas. I was in the mood for something a little different, so I thought I would try their Vanilla with Finest Madagascar Vanilla. This is a black tea, with pieces of vanilla and vanilla flavoring added. They call for 2 teaspoons of the tea per 6 oz. Cup brewed for 2-3 minutes in boiling water! So I do, wondering if it will be too strong!

The dry leaves are black, in assorted sizes and I can't tell which is tea and which is vanilla. It smells wonderful, like the best of vanilla puddings – creamy and somehow sensuous. There is also a distinct whiff of cherry. There is not, however, that wonderful fresh tea scent. Thankfully, the tea is not too strong or tannic and it does taste of vanilla. But I don't really like it. It is pleasant and it is not bad, I just don't like it. On the whole, after several different vanilla teas, I think I just don't like it – they never seem to live up to expectations. I think I may try making my own, as I just happen to have some vanilla beans. If I do, I'll let you know the result.

I was still needing some tea, unflavored this time, so I got out my Upton's Arya Estate Autumnal Darjeeling, which I have reviewed before. I love Darjeeling teas and this is a particularly nice one. I started up my Darjeeling road with the second flushes. These are perhaps what one could call a late spring/summer tea. I tried first flushes for a bit but thought them too astringent and then I found the rounded winy Autumanls, which I drank almost exclusively for a bit. However, as my palate has grown, I have developed much more fondness for both the first and second flushes, so now I have a whole year of great Darjeelings to look forward to.

It is interesting to me to see how my tastes keep altering over the years. For example, I used to love Black Currant and now, I can't stand the smell. I find that I often go back to a tea I didn't like or only moderately cared for to see how it strikes me now. However, I have never really liked fruity sweet teas or vanilla ones, so I think I can give them all a rest and not feel guilty about them. One of these days I am going to try Gyrokuro again, though. Maybe after I have had more green teas and appreciate them more.
The picture is that of the bishop's chair in Ravenna's cathedral. It may be in a beautiful spot, but it doesn't look too comfy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tea of Life

A while ago I received a tea gift from a friend. The teas were from Tree of life, which is a Sri Lankan [aka Ceylon] company. They are all tea bags individually wrapped in cute little cardboard pyramids. Today I am trying their Jasmine Orange Green tea. The bags are probably nylon, quite large and filled with loosely rolled balls and some twisted leaves of green tea. I am amazed, as I had expected just little bits. There is a very nice scent of Jasmine, not at all light, but not cloying. I brewed up a cup at about 180 degrees for 2 minutes. I was further surprised to discover the tea had not fully unfurled and opened the bag to brew it some more in another cup.

There aren't a lot of nuances to this tea. It is quite drinkable with a very pleasant taste and smell of jasmine, with enough orange to hold its feet on the earth. The tea leaves are clearly two leaves and a bud, which just blew me away. Not what I expected at all. The second cup was pretty weak, but there was still a discernible scent and taste of jasmine. As I often do, I combined them and it was a decent cup.

As you may know, if you've been reading my blog for a while, I am not a big fan of fruited teas. They are usually too sweet, too muddied, too fake, too something or other for me. However, in one of the teablogs I was reading, the author said she deals with this by mashing up some fruit, adding a bit of lemon juice and making ice cubes. When frozen she pops them out into a bag and when she wants fruit in her tea, she uses one of them. Now that I am going to try. I already have some frozen blueberries and blackberries and homemade strawberry freezer jam.

Another idea I saw, but I had been thinking about anyway is rosemary in my tea. I absolutely love rosemary. Sometime when you are cooking fresh carrots, stick a big piece in with them – loverly. Anyway, I have been thinking about mixing it with a Ceylon or a strong Assam and perhaps some orange peel, as that seems a good combo to me. Hopefully this week I'll do that.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sweet Rosy Earl Grey

We all need a little buttressing in our lives and I want to honor a woman who buttressed mine. Today would have been my Gramma Duffee's birthday. Harriet Grace Ottman McDuffee that is. She was born in 1885. She was an adventurous person, getting her ears pierced when she was about 80 – and getting my cousin to do it as well [and in trouble]. She bought her last car at 85 – a bright red convertible, and she had her first motor boat ride when she was 90 . Her cookies were wonderful, and she served them with green tea! Gramma was the only person I had ever met [until I became an adult] who drank green tea, Lipton's loose in a green and white box. So today I will lift my green tea in tribute to a great lady, whom I loved dearly.

Sweet Rosie O'Grady. Oops, no, I meant Rosy Earl Grey. The tea. From Teas Etc. Sweet it is, but not sugary. It smells wonderful, more like its rose-scented jasmine component than Earl Grey. It is very pretty too with a mix of green and black leaves and big pink rose petals. I brew it my standard 3.5 minutes with not really boiling water, using a bit more than a teaspoon per cup. It smells delightful as it brews and pours out to a very nice amber. There is not much taste of bergamot, either when it is hot or as it cools. It tastes almost exclusively like a very nice rose-kissed jasmine, with the very barest hint of lemon, which would be the bergamot. It is a very nice tea, just made for a “lady's” afternoon. I had it for a late breakfast with tea breads, does that count? I wonder if Gramma Duffee would like it? Probably too frou-frou for her taste.

The last tree in the neighborhood that has leaves is finally losing them. It has been interesting to watch this beech turn yellow, deepening to gold, then red and finally burgundy. The top is bare now, with just a raggedy frill about the bottom. If we get more rain, it will be bare like all the others.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A lazy day

I included this photo of Italian poppies because it is such a gray day. However, when I was out for a walk, I saw several dandelions, 2 plots of pansies, some phlox and some violas still blloming away. So bright on such a dull day. Did you know that dandelion comes from the French, dentes de lion. meaning lion's teeth, presumably for its outer row of petals?

Oh what a busy day, getting up late, having some lovely Rosy Earl Grey from Teas Etc., doing some genealogy, playing fetch-your-mousey with Ernie, just too busy for words. Trying a new tea.

Thankfully, my cold has abated and I can again taste things. I got out my samples and decided to try Upton's Ding Yang Dong Bei, a Chinese green tea. Don't you just love the name, it's very musical, reminds me of water falling over stones. They recommend 2 teaspoons per cup at 180 degrees for 3 min. I was surprised at the length of time, usually you are instructed to brew for only 2 minutes or less. The dry leaves are very pretty, about ½ inch long, flat and a nice green. They smell gently like newly dried grass, but very fresh.

I am anxious about brewing my tea too long, but I do and it seems ok. I brew a second cup for 4 minutes. The first cup is a very pale green and has a pleasant, almost sweet scent, sort of a cross between cooked green vegetable and perhaps a floral? The taste is gentle, slightly sweet, with an asparagus understory. Now to observe the wet leaves, which have retained their green color, although, after two brews they are getting pale. They are delightful, very clearly 2 young leaves and a bud, with almost no stem attached. The second cup is very pale and has little scent and a faint taste. I add it to the leftover of cup one and together they are very nice. I think next time I will use a bit less leaf.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gingering up Bowdoin College

The nose still doesn't know much, so I will continue to pass on some information and a tea review I have been saving for just such an occasion.

Bowdoin Collge, in Maine, is giving a course in the history of tea! Wowee kazowee! If you go to this link you'll read about it and see a video of the students doing a tea tasting. It's worth it. www.bowdoin.edu/news/archives/1academicnews/006879.shtml

If you are interested in attending tea events around the country or world, http://www.teaeventscalendar.com/ has them listed! They is part of http://www.teaguide.net/, which has all sorts of information for tea people.

I am trying another of my stash of teabag teas. It is Tazo's Green Ginger. The ingredients are green tea, ginger, pear and lemon grass. When I opened the well wrapped bag, I was greeted with a wonderful smell I could not identify but it reminded me strongly of Chinese food – perhaps bamboo shoot with lemon. I brewed it at 180 for 2 minutes and it continued to smell very nice. The tea brew itself is a very good balance of flavors, not too gingery, with a warm, not tart flavor of lemon with a hint of sweetness. I think it would be ideal for those who want to drink green tea, but aren't sure they want to taste green tea. I also think it would be a pleasant accompaniment for milder Chinese food, like dumplings or scallion pancakes. Definitely a keeper.

The picture is that of a balcony in a small German church. I doubt we would be accused of sleeping through a service!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

I still can't taste things too well, so I will share some tea news with you and maybe a tea review I have on file. The first piece of news is the good folks at Golden Moon Teas http://www.goldenmoontea.com/ have offered me some samples to review. I am thrilled, as I am beginning to really appreciate Oolongs, after some unpleasant experiences. Also, almost all of the reviews I have read about their teas have been positive. I think black tea will always have a special place in my heart, but the world of tea is so wide!

SerendipiTEA is re-publishing their book SerendipiTEA: the Varieties, Origins and Rituals of Tea , written by the company's co-founder Tomislav Podreka. I remember reading this when it was first published and it is a well-written, worthwhile book. It is being published by the Old English Tea House and will sell for $16. I couldn't find the company on line, but I did find the old edition at Amazon. So it is perhaps not out just yet.

If you are a big fan of teapots, you should check out the blog http://teapotsteapotsteapots.blogspot.com/ . Some of the most unusual ones I have ever seen can be found there. My two biggest questions are: Can they pour? And do they drip? I ask these from the perspective of much sad experience. I recently bought a very pretty teapot I hoped to be my new everyday large pot, but you could only fill it half-way or it would cascade all over everything! I have a number of pots that are lovely, pour well, but alas they drip all over! I do have some drip catchers, but after a while, they look rather disgusting. Why can't manufacturers make dripless pots? It is possible, I have the pots to prove it.

I am hoping for a teapot with violets on it for Christmas. I have managed to acquire 4 different violet cups and saucers and I would like a teapot to go with them. None of them match, so the pot doesn't need to either. My favorite is a handleless one, which in spite of not having a handle, doesn't seem to be that old. I was very fortunate that several years ago a friend was moving and gave me a large portion of her teacup collection. My favorites are ways the ones that feel so extra smooth. I am not sure why, but the china feels like satin against my skin. We are on a kick of “lightening our load” so some of the ones that are not particular favorites will probably go.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tea with Dorothy

I have a cold and everything tastes like library paste, so I'll just share a story about a dear friend, Dorothy Connelly, who loved tea. She is gone now, but she was a delight in many ways. She grew up with “old money” and was the only person I ever met who could peel and eat a banana using only her knife and fork, no fingers. She had lovely huge brown eyes, but her mother didn’t consider her either beautiful or brainy, like her sisters, [she could so the Sunday NY Times Crossword in pen in one sitting] so she was the one assigned to be “amiable”. Her attitude concerning housework was “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow,” one which I heartily endorse.
I truly admired her taking tea with children. Walter and Dorothy never had any, but they opened their home to the children of the neighborhood at tea time. She would make a large pot of tea in her best teapot, get out her porcelain teacups and saucers, add the sterling spoons, and the creamer and sugar bowl. These, along with some lovely treats, would all be put on a grand tray she would carry into the living room.
Soon, all the kids would arrive. They had to wash their hands and often their faces and maybe, comb their hair. Then they would be served tea and everyone would tell Walter and Dorothy about their day. They had to behave like ladies and gentlemen. Some of the smaller ones would usually play with Walter's hunting dog or listen to one of his tales about fishing or hunting. After an hour, they would all go home. Most of those children came for tea until they went to college or got jobs elsewhere. Whenever they were home, though, they arrived in time for tea.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Now, That's Chai

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. This morning there was mist rising from the river, wild geese were flying overhead, some headed for the South, others for local feeding grounds, i.e. farmers' cornfields. It's that time of year between harvest and snowfall when the leaves are gone, the weeds have died down and the “bones” of the land can be seen – the hidden swales and valleys, the smaller hillocks, the old trails you might walk on a good day such as this.

It is a time to think about cozy things, like spicy teas. Yesterday I panned a so-called chai, today I will praise one. I love spicy things and I especially love Indian food and drink. To me it so exotic, so complex that it is enthralling. I love their art, which is complex down to the smallest detail. I love the color and pattern of their saris.

I have noticed that our local grocers have begun carrying various types of chai. That is, spiced tea. Chai is the most recognizable Indian word for tea, so if you ask for “Chai tea” you are really asking for “tea tea”. It would correctly be called masala chai. Masala basically means mixture, usually of spices. However, for the vast majority of us, chai is used to denote this type of tea accented by certain spices. I have begun to collect various chai varieties, in hopes of finding a “regular”. I may have done that. I am a traditionalist in some ways. I want my chai to have Indian spices and remind me of the chai I have had with friends or in my favorite restaurants. I don't want a lot of added flavors and fruits. Even green tea seems too far from the original to be allowed, although Rooibos or some other caffeine free herb or tea may be acceptable, although I probably wouldn't drink it.

Indians, on the whole do not drink their most wonderful teas – they export them so the likes of you and me can enjoy them. Their masala chai is made from very ordinary tea bag tea or inexpensive CTC tea. I have read a lot of their recipes for masala chai which contain a number of spices, the most common being ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper and sometimes star anise. I am pleased to report that Tazo's Organic Chai contains them all, as well as black tea. That's it, tea and spices.

The teabags are wrapped individually and as you unwrap them, you are surrounded by their heady spicy scent. As you brew the tea with boiling water for 5minutes, the kitchen fills with it. My first sip of the plain tea is a bit of a disappointment, as the taste is a bit thin. Ah, wait a moment, chai needs milk, it needs sugar. I pour and stir and sip. Yes indeed, masala chai as the chai wallahs and my friend Raj intended, rich and full of depth, with a little zing of pepper to liven the tongue, and warm my tum. Not too spicy, not too weak, but all in balance and just right.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oh My, Not MY Chai

There are a couple of redesigned/new tea sites you might be interested in. The first is a more general site, having tea sets, filters, pots, teabags and some loose teas. It is aimed at the newer or average run of tea drinkers and can be found at http://www.buy-tea-online.com/. It is not an online store, but directs you to stores to purchase the item you want. They compare types and prices. The companion site is for people who prefer loose tea and that is all there is - loose tea. There are several categories and subcategories and again, this is not a store, but allows you to compare prices and select a store. It can be found at http://www.buy-loose-tea.com/ They do say they are newly reorganized and that they will be adding to their selections.

There aren't a lot of teas I hate right off the bat, but I have found one. I realize others may love it and that is okay. Awhile ago I won a certificate to Teavana and bought some teas, a cup and a teapot with it. The cup and teapot are great. I haven't been superbly happy with their teas and today's I think is downright awful.

We'll start with the name – Samurai Chai Mate – Samurai is Japanese, Chai is Indian and Mate is South American. We generally refer to Chai as the spiced Indian tea drink. So that confusion of names put me off right away. Then there was the ingredients list: green mate, Rooibos, cinnamon, pineapple and papaya bits, orange peel, lemon grass, coriander, cardamom and almond flakes. A bit lengthy and not too chai sounding, to me. Then there was the smell, which was peculiar, I really couldn't identify it. It also looked peculiar, with lots of tiny bits and some longish pieces. Brewing did not help the smell. But I persevered! I had 3 big swallows and threw it out. I think it is horrible, from beginning to end. The reason I think so is that everything is just too confused, nothing stands out, nothing is really blended well together. It's like those times when I clean out the fridge to make soup and don' t think through how it all goes together - too many things to really be good.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Elaine's Blend

One of the many samples I bought from Harney’s this fall was Elaine’s Blend. This tea was created by and sold in honor of Elaine Cogan, “one of the early founders of the modern tea revolution.” One of the things I like about smallish or family companies are these little tidbits they include about their teas. It is a black tea blend, but I don’t know which ones.

The dry leaf had no discernible scent and the leaves were, of course, a mix of greenish, black with touches of gold. The wet leaves gave off a pleasant tea scent with a whiff of leather. They were very mixed, with some appearing chopped and some small whole ones. The tea tasted of very pleasant cooked vegetable with a hint of old, sun-warmed wood. It was a pleasant tea, but not exceptional. I may get more, however, as there are lots of times when all you want is a pleasant cup that doesn't require anything from you.

My husband and I have been trying to brew tea a different way, We got this brand new 4 cup drip coffee maker and decided to do tea in it. We tried some huge ice tea bags – even he thought it was awful. We tried some smaller ones. He thought it was passable, I was polite. We tried some of that enormous, overbought stash of CTC tea from the Indian market. Almost okay, for morning tea, for someone else doing it reluctantly, on a not very good day anyway, on a remote hill in Turkestan, on.... Well, you get the picture. I am all for scouring it out and using it for coffee. He wants to try some more. Dear Friends, do not try this at home. Even so, we are still married.

Bits of news: I read a number of tea blogs every day and I just saw the cutest tea pots ever, from a very serious tea merchant – the Imperial Tea Court. Scoot over there and check out their blog and the pots. Http://cameliasinensisblog.blogspot.com My favorites are the lucky mice, although I wouldn't turn down the other two. I also was reading the UK Tea Council blog and they said that 98% of people use milk in their tea, but only 30% use sugar. I wonder if that is true in the US as well.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Let's have a nice cuppa tea

How about a cuppa of celery? I'll bet the vast majority of us don't think about celery much. We all have it in the fridge and we use it to add crunch to things or as one of those veggies that add some flavor to a sauce or stuffing, along with many others. It's one of those standbys with dips or to make us feel full when we are on a diet. A few of us may braise it as a vegetable on its own, but that's about the extent of its use. Certainly no one drinks it!
Well, that has changed. A group of us from the Association of Tea Bloggers heard about a study of green tea flavors and with Jason Walker leading, we decided to try 10 of the flavors and blog about them. Last week, Katrina from Tea Pages blogged about asparagus. This week I did celery.

I used McCormack's Celery Flakes, 1.5 grams – about a teaspoon to 8 ounces of water at 212 degrees, brewed for three minutes, then strained into a cup. Just as I would do a cup of tea. Meanwhile, I set up 5 green teas I had on hand to compare with it. I brewed them all according to their particular needs – on average 1 teaspoon for about 2 minutes at 170 degrees. One, Celestial Seasonings Authentic Green tea, I brewed a little longer. The other 4 were: Twinings Gunpowder Green; Teavana's Dao Ren Mao Feng Green; Andrews and Dunham Dragonwell and Special Teas China Fine Lung Ching.
The way I tested them was to have a big sip of celery, wait a little bit and then have a sip of tea, to make sure I remembered the taste of celery. One thing I discovered is that celery flakes treated like tea are actually pretty good. By the time I finished the cup of celery I was surprised to find all sorts of nuances in it and really beginning to appreciate it! It was all very very interesting.
Of the five, only two teas had any celery taste. Andrews and Dunham had the merest hint and Teavana's Dao Ren Mao Feng had a definite hint. At the end, I decided to put all the teas together in one pot, minus the celery tea. It was a pleasant brew, but the biggest surprise was, it had a real hit of celery. Not overwhelmingly so and I may not have noticed it if I weren't doing this experiment, but definitely there.
Being pretty new to green teas, I am very glad to have done this – the whole experiment is opening up a new world to me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I guess this is the week for corrections.

Yesterday I received a communique from the people who do the press releases for the Eight Cranes tea steeper which I mentioned in my post Oct 20. Apparently the company had not told them the tea steeper should NOT have boiling water poured into it. Also, it will indeed break if it is dropped. I have gone back to that post and amended it and now you can read it here. The double wall construction is solely to keep you from burning your hands.

If you can't use boiling water and I would probably only use it for black tea to travel, guess I won't be buying one.

Yogi tea and cookies

I didn't really have any time for tea tasting today, but I went to my book club and got to try something new to me anyway. It was Yogi Tea's Mayan Cocoa Spice. The list of ingredients took up about half of the back of the teabag wrapping, so we'll just say there was chocolate, lots of spices, vanilla and stevia. I couldn't find tea or rooibos in the list, so I guess the roasted chicory was the tisane base. I assume the Mayan is a reference to the South American indigenous empire's use of chocolate, which was then taken to Europe by explorers
Right off the bat, I loved the smell – it was just like the dough for my great-aunt Ettie's molasses cookies, a heady mix of the round comfort of cinnamon and clove with the sharpness of dark molasses. Aunt Ettie was the only one who made these huge cookies just right. She always baked them at 500 degrees and stood in front of the oven waiting to grab them out the instant they were done. I have the recipe and I have made them a few times. They taste really good, but not like hers – I haven't had the nerve to push the heat up to 500.
Back to the tea – it smelled divine and tasted the same. Very sharply spicy and warming. The flavor was nicely rounded, but I could discern very little chocolate, despite that being one of the dominant ingredients. Perhaps the chocolate was what gave it such a rounded flavor. Unfortunately, I found the stevia made it too sweet and the flavor lingered in my mouth long after I was done with it. Probably small quibbles, but there they are.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

French tea and a correction

I am afraid I led you astray yesterday. Keemun/Qiman/Qihong tea is not old. I was developed about 1875 in the Southern Anhui Province of China. It is about 5,000 years too new to be considered ancient. Thanks to Jason www.walkerteareview.com for correcting me.

There are three [that I know of] major French tea companies, Hediard, Mariage Freres, and Dammann Freres. For many years, it was next to impossible to find them in this country and importing them carried a heavy postal tariff. They are now available, although they are expensive. The easiest way to find a source is to Google them and compare prices.

I have some Dammann Freres Framboise that I bought from the Seattle Teacup. If French is not your language, that is Dammann Brothers Raspberry Tea. And it certainly is. The dry leaves smell of the freshest berries, with a good whiff of the leaf thrown in. The tea leaves are black with bits of gold, mostly small, with a few long twisted ones thrown in for interest.
After 4 minutes at 212, the leaves brew up into a dark reddish gold, still with that distinct fresh raspberry scent. The liquid tea does not disappoint, as it tastes of the freshest of berries, eaten off the canes, in the sun on a June day. I had a bit of sugar with it and I thought it made the tea terrible. I did not try it with milk, as I was enjoying it too much as it. I would definitely recommend this for you berry lovers.

Someday I hope I can return to Paris and have tea at all of these famous companies. Then I will go to the famous chocolate shops. If I walk to all of them, I should be okay. If not, I shall be very very round.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lavender Fields Forever

Today is a wonderfull gift. It is warm - up in the 60's, which is
certainly unusual for around here in November - and an almost
shirt-tail cousin dropped in and we had a good gab about our mutual Swiss ancestors. One of his friends over there said that the
difference between our two countries is their society is based on trust and ours is based on mistrust. Sadly, I can see his point. However, on to happier things, like tea.

I’ve said before that I really love lavender. It has a lovely scent, some of the plants are really beautiful and it has remarkable calming properties, often used to help people sleep. There are at least 2 major groupings of scent, one that is more along the camphorous line and one that is sweetly floral. The latter is used in perfumes, oils and in cooking.

All this is in preface to tasting Lavender Dreams from Teavana, part of my winnings in a drawing. It is a white tea blended with Lavender, candied violets and flavoring. The dry tea is quite pale, with a few brighter touches of the violets, making it a very girly tea. The scent is delicate, reminding me of old lavender sachets. I brewed it at about 170 for just a few minutes. As one might expect, it had a very delicate, but very pleasant lavender taste. I could discern no hint of the white tea base and I am not sure it mattered, as it was not the best of whites, which are made only from the unopened bud. It is a very nice gentle tea, to serve to your best friend on a cozy afternoon, perhaps with tiny scones and some Devonshire cream.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bali Calling

I have a bunch of teas I keep for my die-hard teabag friends and I thought I would try some over the next few weeks. I need to know if they’re swill and should go out with the compost or if I can keep serving them. I kind of like Roastaroma, it’s pleasant and nostalgic, as I said.

Today I tried another Celestial Seasoning offer, Bali Black Raspberry. Black raspberries are my favorite summer fruit, along with regular raspberries. I have always enjoyed Celestial's packaging and the sayings they include. They are very colorful and relate well to the tea inside. This tea has the ubiquitous hibiscus, blackberry leaves, black raspberries, natural flavorings and raspberries. I have never understood the inclusion of blackberry or raspberry leaves. I’ll ask Celestial and see what they say.

The dry leaves give off a definite black raspberry smell, which is pleasant and of course, fruity. Unfortunately, for my taste, the flavor was too much, coming across as soapy or perhaps what perfume might taste like. I am, as you know, not a fruit tea person, so that is a factor. Mulch pile. It is too bad, as I love the smell.
No, I’ll put it in the potpourri I am making.
As you know. or should, if you don't, tea absorbs scents and flavors easily, which is why we are aways encouraged to keep them in airtight, light restricting containers. The best are either the foil packets they sometimes come in, metal or pottery canisters. Please, please don't put them in plastic. Over time they will absorb any odor or flavor present and taste awful.