Saturday, January 30, 2010

Drinking the Tea Journey

Gotta Love those church pews!

I am constantly amazed about the tea I drink. It really is a journey of discovery! I used to be a black tea person, with a foray or two into green – just gunpowder please, a few herbals and some flavored blacks – not too many, of course. However, I have really begun to appreciate Oolongs, although I know very little about them and Chinese greens, again, with little knowledge.

I did manage to read a tea book recently, Green Tea by Mary Lou Heiss, who, with her husband, Robert, wrote an excellent book about tea in general. This one states right up front that is filled with recipes – hot and cold drinks, sweets and savoury foods. She does give us a bit of background on green teas and some tips on brewing, but quickly moves to the basics, the recipes. Almost all use fairly readily available items, like lemon juice, strawberries, or pineapple with a few forays into things like chrysanthemum flowers which are a little harder to come by. Many of the recipes will make you say “now why didn't I think of that”. But I hadn't and so I have this book, which I really, really like. At $12.95, it's a bargain

Having said all that,about green teas, I am going to review a black tea. But it still has an element of discovery, as the tea with and without milk are such different experiences. Both of which are excellent. This wonderful tea comes from Dream About Tea and is called Golden Silk Black. It originates in Yunnan, on high mountains and is mostly buds. It's a real smoothy to drink and has that characteristic “Yunnan” smell, but softer and sweeter than usual, with almost no bite. A bit of milk just makes it a whole 'nuther drink. A delicious treat. It is interesting to me that lately I've had a few teas that seem to be one tea plain and something totally different with milk. I'm not just talking about rounder or smoother, but almost as though they were two different teas. Part of the great journey!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back to the Blog!

Hello Tea Friends

I am back, but for a while it will be about 3 days a week. The anesthesia seems to have fried some of my brain circuits. Otherwise, I am doing well, almost no pain at all, just much too slow for someone used to zooming around, both mentally and physically.

One of the things I really like about tea is that it so many things all at once - comforting, warming, cooling, homey, exotic. Today I was storing my order from Thunderbolt Teas and I just felt exotic. All those strange little packages from half a world away, conjuring up elephants and tigers, oh my. And the neat rows of tea bushes, with women in beautiful, graceful saris, chattering away in an unknown dialect. It's warm there, too, as I look out on the falling snow and rather bleak landscape. I guess I had best have some tea. My brain is not yet up for too much thought on tea, so I won't have this lovely Darjeeling yet, but I will have something to conjure up those lovely gardens.

I don't usually buy decaf tea, but I got some in a tea swap and it sounded good, so I had some Celestial Seasonings Decaf Indian Spice Chai. It smelled lovely in the bag and certainly looked good. I have a new Panasonic hot pot, so I brewed it at 208 for about 5 minutes, I think. I got distracted, so who really knows. It has a very pleasant mild spice scent and I think the mix of spices is right on target, with nothing standing out, except for a bit more of a mildly heavy bottom note I wasn't sure of. There was a sense of chocolate, but no pepper. I found it to be nicely warming all the way down. I may actually have to buy some of this. I often mix my own spices and tea for chai, but this would be so convenient and I know I can get it right here in the village.

We have not one, but 3 little shops that carry teas. One has a small loose leaf and Celestial Seasonings selection, one has Republic of Tea and the other has PG Tips, so I am fixed for tea bags. The Library often has odd tea selections for our book group, so I can practically never leave home without some being handy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I'm home, I feeel pathetic, the dr. is pleased, I am pleased. One of my first acts was a cup of real tea! Nilgiri Blue Mountain Thanks for all notes - very appreciated. It'll be another week or 2 before I write much. Affectionately, M

Saturday, January 16, 2010


My wife, Marlena, has had some emergency surgery; she is recovering nicely. She will be unable to blog for a few weeks and asked me to thank you for your patience. She will be back online soon, and looks forward to being back in touch.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

South African Sunshine

That, my friends, is a Gothic organ, suitable for a sung Mozart mass, I would suppose. It still has a beautiful sound, even if it is about 300 years old. Today it should play the Hallelujah Chorus for all the sun we are having, great warm wonders of it!

A young friend of ours from South Africa was due to visit just before Christmas. Due to the weather, he never got to come. However, the tea he brought me has finally arrived. It is ordinary South African tea, straight from a grocer's shelf. Quite similar to ours, but quite different at the same time.

The first I tried is Five Roses Select African Blend, a mix of Kenya, Central and Southern Africa teas. It comes in tagless teabags, in foil packets. The box suggests you put it in a tin to preserve freshness and keep it from odors. The tea itself is definitely fannings grade – really really tiny bits. Just like a lot of ours. However, there are differences. One is that it smelled very pleasantly of newly cut wood with an herbaceous twist, not at all heavy. The tea master for Five Roses – Dinesh Wijeyawardana suggests brewing it for 3-5 minutes. Oh, right, I said, it'll be so strong and tannic it will be undrinkable. But I got distracted and it did indeed brew for about 5 minutes. I decided to drink it anyway, just to see. Quell suprise, as the French might say! It was not horrific! Instead it was a pleasant straightforward black tea. The kind you'd like in the morning when you can't think or to grab sometime when you just can't make up your mind. Really decent stuff.
The second, again packaged very well was Cedarlife 100% Organic Honeybush, from select mountains of the eastern Cape region of South Africa. This was also to be brewed with boiling water for 5-6 minutes, which I did. It smelled sweet and, well, of honey. Which is also what it tasted like. I put a bit of lemon in it as I am not a big sweet drink fan, but that made it quite nice. They also recommend it iced and I think I will try that this summer.

I hope someday to go to South Africa – it is a beautiful country – but for now, I will content myself with drinking their tea. I wonder what the two together would be like? Thanks to JJ and his mom for getting these to me, in spite of the weather.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Snow in Darjeeling?

I have to say, if you get bored in a Gothic church in Vienna, you really have to work at it, there is so much to see.

It is very cold in Darjeeling, so cold that Benoy Thapa, the owner of Thunderbolt Tea, thinks it may snow! However, it is not snowing here and the sun is out, and I am going to have a cup of Thunderbolt's Arya Estate Emerald, a second flush green tea. A lot of Darjeeling estates are getting into green teas and this is one. The dry tea is so pretty – huge long wiry green, white and tan leaves and buds, smelling of a meadow. I brewed it at about 180 degrees with about 2 teaspoons of tea because the leaves were so large. I also brewed it for about 4 minutes, because every time I tasted it before then it didn't taste “done”. As it brewed there was a lovely delicate floral scent given off, but it was not particularly sweet. There was also some dried herb mixed in the full scent package. The liquor was a really pretty yellow, with a faint tinge of brown.

This is definitely not a Chinese or Japanese green tea, so do not expect anything like them. This must be judged on its own merits. The brewed tea is very delicate and at first it seems as though you are drinking hot water. However, as it cools to the warm side of hot, the flavors begin to come out, somewhat floral, a hint of almond, a hint of sweet. I think you could easily do multiple short infusions of this tea, with water about 160 degrees and be quite happy. I will try that another day. I also think just a tiny bit of lemon would add to it. This is a very nice, very special tea. For someone wanting to try green teas, this would be a good one.
In this month's issue of Tea Time Magazine there are some really cute pewter teabag holders, made by Tin Woodsman Pewter. They are available on and would certainly make neat Valentine's Day gifts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Moaning about tea

I guess I was really fascinated with church pews!

Oh me, I have had a run of not so hot teas. Rather than depress you and myself for days on end, I am just going to get it all over with in one long moan. If you want to skip reading this today, please do so, but come back tomorrow, as I will hopefully have better news.

One of my Christmas teapots came with 3 blooming teas. If you don't know what these are, they are very cleverly tied tea leaves with a flower or flowers inside that open upon brewing into pretty flower shapes. Some are very imaginative. Most have tea that while bland, is drinkable and some are tasty. Mine, from Primula teas was supposed to be a jasmine tea, which I like. My guest, who had never seen a bloomer, and I decided to try it. It was very pretty, looking like a sea urchin that had captured a red flower. However, we never drank the tea, as it smelled like burning plastic and we couldn't get past it. Oh well, some things are just not meant to be, I guess. I have read good reviews about Primula, so perhaps this was just a bad or old batch, or the new pot.
I had been given a sample of Gyokuro from the nice people at Adagio. Gyokuro is made up of small dark green leaves that look like fresh grass clippings and in deed, when I brewed this tea for 2 min at 160 that is indeed what it smelled like, along with an undertone of seaweed. The liquor was an attractive medium emerald green that was a bit on the murky side. I also tried brewing it at 140 degrees for 2 min. I have to say that while these experiences were better than my previous one, in which I had brewed it far too hot, I really cannot say I like the stuff. I now feel I have done my time with this tea and I don't need to keep trying it. I appreciate all of the folks who took the trouble to write me on Steepster to help me brew this right, but it is just not my cup of tea. On to other tastings and journeys!
I received an ad from the Allure tea people and I went to their site. I love their packaging! I thought I might have to buy some of their teas just for that reason. Like I don't have enough. But I am a real sucker for tins. The prices didn't look too bad. Sadly I later read several very negative reviews, so I won't be getting any. Darn, I just can't justify that much for a tin of mulch.
Okay, enough already, not even I can stand anymore. I hope your tea experiences are happier.
Guess what - it is snowing again! I think this is day 15.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bolder breakfast

This is my face after falling on the ice, hearing the temperature (4 degrees) and learning it will snow again today. Not really, as I do like winter. I just would like it more with lots of sun. If you live in the Northeast, you have to hone your weather-complaint skills. Or not, since the sun did come out and it hasn't snowed yet.

If you are interested in organic tea, please read Babette's comment on yesterday's post.

Bolder Breakfast, doesn't that sound like something you need to get going in the morning? It did to me, too, when I ordered a sample from The Tea Spot. It is a blend of three kinds of tea, to which is added a fourth, Puerh, plus some dark chocolate liquor. Swoon! I loved it, it is so full and rich. Better yet, he who doesn't get excited about tea, loved it! It is so rich and smooth with a bit of sweetness. Those of you who are afraid of Puerh, don't be afraid of this. It just adds a good grounding note to somewhat lighter teas. It is very dark and deep. I am not sure I would like it every morning, as I usually like a fairly plain cup, but as a treat, it would be fine.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tea Addict in the Blue Mountains

What a week, I got the tea I ordered from The Tea Spot as well. I am inundated! They have the best tins! They stack! Without sliding all over the place. The bottoms are recessed to fit the tops and there you are. Hear that all you other tea merchants – stacking tins that don't slide, take note.
But I bet you other folks would like to hear about the tea itself. It is Organic Blue Mountain Nilgiri Black Tea. The Nilgiri estates are in the extreme southwest of India, in the Blue Mountains. I wonder if they have a blue haze, as do the mountains of our own Blue Ridge? The dry tea smells very fresh and is an attractive mostly black that is almost a deep shimmery midnight blue, with a few reddish brown leaves for contrast. I brewed up the usual teaspoon at 212 for about 3.5 minutes. It infuses to a soft light amber. The taste is almost delicate, almost sweet, almost berrylike. It really is a very nice tea, perfect for an afternoon or morning after you have a sturdier black to wake up to. (Some of us don't do morning very well). It is an added plus that it is organic.

I am really torn about organic teas. I do believe we should live as lightly as possible on the earth and do try to buy organic teas. However, I find that some of the ones I like the best are not organic. And some of the organic ones just don't taste as good as their non-organic brethren. So I just muddle along, as you probably do.

Beyond that question, I have a really serious problem. I want all the tea in China, and Sri Lanka, and India and all the blends and... Well, you get the picture. A terrible sickness, especially when one has a budget, already sadly blown to bits and there are so many other teas! Really, there are so many that sound so good, even as I am learning what I like and what I don't like. Sometimes I'll get suckered in by a name or a tin or it's one I've not tried, or it's an old favorite or a new twist on an old favorite I've run out of. So many excuses, so little time or money. An ad for some huge lottery was on TV last night and wouldn't you know it, I thought about all the tea I could try!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The case of the strange but wonderful Darjeeling

Yesterday I tried some Autumnal Flush Risheet Darjeeling SFTGFOP1 Wiry 09 from Thunderbolt Teas, one of the samples Benoy kindly sent with my order. The dry wiry leaves are a pretty brown with bits of gold buds and green leaves scattered throughout. The scent reminds me of Cracker Jacks, roasted corn and fresh tomatoes just starting to cook, all scents I really like. I brewed up about a teaspoon with boiling water for 3.5 minutes. The brewing tea smelled even more of roasted corn and was a kind of dull yellowy brown. I have to say that it also tasted mostly of roasted corn and was not to my taste. It did not seem to have any of the fruitiness I would have expected from an autumnal flush. Very disappointing. But wait!
Today I tried the Risheet again, using water from a different kettle and a different teapot. It is wonderful. Still with a roasted edge, but very grapey, with a prettier color. It is still a mild, gentle black, just right for those who don't like the heavier or more assertive blacks.

This all brings up the importance of water. Tea is 99% water and if your water is weird, your tea will be, too. I am not sure what caused the very great differences in these two cups of tea but here are the facts: the tea was from the same sample; the water was straight from the tap through the filter I always use; day 1 was from my new Panasonic water boiler in my Adagio Giant cup and saucer; day two was with the water boiled in my old electric teakettle in my Teavana Perfect teamaker. I am going to experiment some more. I don't think it was all the problem of the water boiler, as I had made a cup of Devonshire Earl Grey from Upton's with it yesterday as well and it was superb. And today I had a Ceylon I felt so-so about before and it is much better than the last time when I used water from the electric kettle. Maybe Darjeelings are pickier about their water or their pots. I'll keep you posted. Maybe it is just the innate perversity of matter.

Day 13 of snow, early this am. But now there is SUN!

Friday, January 8, 2010

After the tea, the class

Now, that is one classy candlestick! It is about 5' tall and at least, gold-washed.

I got a sample of the Republic of Tea's Cranberry Blood Orange Black Tea from one of my tea swap friends and I must say, I was disappointed. It seemed to have almost no taste and not much smell. I used 3 teabags in a 14 oz cup of boiling water for about 3 minutes. There was a faint scent of sweetness and there was a bit of taste to the water, but that was it. I even tried adding a bit of honey, thinking it would bring out the flavor more. Alas, it did not.

Tea 101: Did you know that all tea – black, Oolong, green, white, or yellow comes from the same plant? I am not talking about herbal teas like peppermint, Rooibos or Honeybush, they are not tea, even though we call them that, they are tisanes. All real tea comes from a tree or shrub named Camellia Sinensis, which is related to the beautifully flowering camellias in some of our gardens. . There are two main varieties, Camellia Sinensis sinensis, the Chinese one, which grows best in colder climates and Camellia Sinensis assamica, which grows best in more tropical climates. There are endless crossings and recrossings of these two varieties, as farmers and tea estates try to find the best plants for their particular climate and soil. There may even be ones from Java and Ceylon (SriLanka) that are named varieties - there is some conflict about that. But they are all camellias.
Tea plants do flower and their flowers are attractive, but it's the leaves we all want, from barely withered as a white tea, all the way up to the very fully processed blacks. You can purchase tea plants and tea seeds on line, a search will yield several sources, and even make a cup or so of tea from the plants. Just don't expect great tea from your efforts.
I neglected to mention that it did indeed snow yesterday - very late in the day and now it is really, really snowing. It's almost over kitty height and the smaller ones of us are bored, driving the larger ones of us crazy. So is that 12 days of snow now?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Brigitte's Blend in a Giant Cup and Saucer

Now this would be the way to see a beautiful city, quietly, gently.

I have another new toy! Sent to me by Adagio Teas. It is their “Giant Cup and Saucer.” A very accurate name, as it is indeed huge. I think it is made from that now famous borosilicate glass. It holds about 12-14 ounces of tea, comes with a stainless steel infuser and a lid the fits over the infuser perfectly, going on to very neatly flip over and hold the infuser when you are done brewing. I love it! The infuser, filled with the tiniest holes, to hold the tiniest leaves, fills and empties perfectly and quickly, with no mess. I was skeptical about the cup, however, as it is quite wide across the top and I thought my tea would very quickly get cold. Not so! It kept it hotter, longer, than my usual mugs do. I have to buy one for my husband as well.
I didn't use an Adagio tea to try this out – bad me. Instead, I was trying a sample I bought from Harney's, Brigitte's blend. This is named for Mike Harney's wife, Brigitte and echoes the breakfast teas of her birth country, France. The tea is made up of mostly tiny leaves, predominately a soft brown with some silvery touches.. It smells very fresh with a good whiff of chocolate. It is a rich blend of Ceylon and Assam. I think it is a very well done blend as nothing really sticks out, it has a very slight chocolate taste, is very mellow and bright, and is almost sweet, but not quite. They did a good job with this one and it would be a really enjoyable drink for either breakfast or afternoon, preferably in the shadow of Notre Dame de Paris or on the “Boule Miche.”

"On the 1oth day of snowing, my true love gave to me, a very hot pot of tea" If you think you're sick of this, think of me!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Paradise in a Snowstorm

That tall lovely pillar is a single piece of malachite, one of my all-time favorite rocks. I love the way the shades of green swirl around each other. It is over 57% copper. This is one of the many sidewalk exhibits in Vienna.

I took part in a tea swap recently and received so many wonderful teas! Today I decided to try Boston Tea Company's Pineapple Paradise. It definitely smells of pineapple and there are pineapple pieces, orange peel and blue and pink flowers strewn through the green tea. Very attractive! I brewed it about 170 for about 2.5 minutes. The water immediately turned a pretty lime green. The brew tasted and smelled like ripe pineapple, with a bit of berry and floral. The water became murky looking after a bit, which was a surprise, after the fresh green color and as it cooled, it got pink. Is this some sort of mutant tea? I certainly don't know, but it did not affect the taste. The pineapple flavor faded some as it cooled and left just the berry taste, which was, for me, actually pleasant. I think berry tea people might like this one on ice, as the last bit I had was very cold, indeed.

I often mention how dry teas look, if they are attractive or colorful or pretty. I do the same with the brewing tea. The reason for this is something I learned as a caterer – people eat with their eyes first. If a plate of food or a beverage looks odd or ugly, we are much less inclined to want to try it. I actually began to learn this as a child when I made trays of colored ice cubes. The red and green ones were okay, but no one wanted the blue ones. The same is true of how things smell. If something doesn't smell right to us, we don't want it. Smell is also a huge component of taste. People who have no sense of smell can barely taste anything – it all is the same to them. If our teas look too peculiar or if they have a scent we don't like, it can be hard to try them. Thankfully, most of the teas on the market have both scent and eye appeal.

I mentioned earlier this week that January is Hot Tea Month. If you would like a list of 31 ways to celebrate, go to and then type in “hot tea month”in their search box and about halfway down the next page you'll find it.

9th straight day of snow.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I don't resolve, but I will drink tea

This sort of looks like the sky around here, but we have no rosettes, rats. The color is pretty close, though.

It is still close enough to be the New Year, so I have a question for you – are you a New Year's resolution person or not? I am most definitely not. At least one reason is that I could never keep the silly things for even as long as the first week, sometimes, not even the next day. Yah, I know, I probably have an extreme character deficiency. But who really does make them and keep them? Are there really enough people out there making them and being good enough doobies to keep them so as to warrant even a passing moment? The mere thought is enough to drive me to drink. So I will. Tea, of course. If you are indeed one of the admirable people who keeps New Year's resolutions, I would love to hear from you. I do admire people who can do this, especially since I can't. So if you are one of the select, please drop me a comment.

English tea, you can't beat it for being right up front. In a tea swap I received some Harrod's, Knightsbridge (a part of London) Empire Blend #34. It is billed as 100% pure Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri. It is, as you might expect, a blend of black, brown, tannish leaves with a few twigs and a very pleasant “fresh tea” scent. The brewed tea certainly was fresh, and it was more mild than forthright, which was a surprise. I think the Darjeeling and perhaps the Nilgiri softened the Assam. This would be an excellent tea for when you would like a black tea but a softer one than usual. It is very much an "English" tea, good with milk and perhaps sugar, if that is your taste.

You're probably sick of my kittens – animal lovers can be real ditzes about their pets – but this one I have to tell you. When we had our first snow I saw Bert playing with the snow, pushing it together and then batting it around. Noone believed me, of course. Then my husband threw a snowball at the 2 of them, which they played with and now, others have seen it – they make snowballs with their paws and noses and play with them. I truly have never seen animals do this!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

January is Hot Tea Month, Hooray!

This is the main altar in the Hapsburg Chapel in the main palace in Central Vienna. The Hapsburg family was the last of the Austrian kings. We heard a sung Mozart Mass here one Sunday, after we heard the Vienna Boys' Choir in the main chapel and watched the Lipizzaner stallions across the courtyard. A true Gothic wonder!

January is Hot Tea Month. I am not sure who designates days or months as having a particular title or function, but here we are. It is an appropriate month for hot tea, at least for those of us who live in cold climates. Here, it is snowing again, for the 6th day in a row, a gentle, persistent snow, unending, building up bit by bit. The “plow guy” has been, leaving a small mound. I wonder if it will be as high as last year's – almost 8 feet tall and easily as wide. Good days for being inside. Good days for making pots of hot tea, to keep us warm in 10 degree weather. January is a time for rest, reflection, a re-gathering of forces for the year to come. Even the cats only poke out a nose, sneeze and give me one of “those” looks before turning around to their favorite nap spot.

This is a perfect time for chai. I have some new ones I got in a tea swap, so I tried the newest, Mountain Rose Herbs' Oregon Organic Chai. The instructions say it tastes best gently boiled, so I, of course, had to try it that way and a standard brew. Wonder of wonders, the gentle boil is best. The tea looks interesting with lots of cardamom pods and all sorts of bits and pieces of spices. The smell in the bag is big, full of spice and pepper. As it brews there is an ephemeral hint of greenery. The actual drink itself is on the mild side, but full of flavor, a worthy chai! I have bought many things from this company and I find them to be reliable and service oriented.

January is bearable, but we must look ahead to February, which is really a “crazy-making” month. For all its brevity, the reality of winter settles in unrelentingly and you begin to feel it will never end. Our New Year's guests and we decided we would give ourselves a break and visit our local butterfly conservatory in Oneonta, NY; wonderful, colorful, tropical, a perfect antidote for white, cold, and depressing. You can find out more about it here .

Friday, January 1, 2010

Rosemary tea

I am experimenting. I have been meaning to try Rosemary in my tea and since my rosemary plants needed a trim, I thought, “Why not?” I stripped the leaves from one branch and put it in a pot with some Darjeeling tea. I used water at 208 degrees and brewed for about 3 minutes. It certainly tastes like rosemary! I think I used too much, as a modest scent and taste would have been better. I generally do tend to go overboard – more fun. Next time I am going to measure it so I can work on it and really be a “tea blender”. Ho ho.

I am experimenting in general as I got a Panasonic hot water boiler/keeper for Christmas. I am going to be trying all sorts of my teas with this to see if keeping water hot all day makes the tea better, worse or the same. Or if I can even tell, given that mine is not the best palate in the world. It arrived just in time, as the switch on my electric kettle is giving up the ghost.

On this New Year's Day, may this coming year be one in which we all strive to live in love, truth, kindness, peace, patience, hard work and enjoy it while we do it. Let us reach out to others and be able to look back on Dec 31, 2010 and say “It was a very good year.”