Friday, April 29, 2011

The Golden Buds of Yunnan

In Amalfi,Italy, in the cathedral, workmen discovered ol columns under the
external skin of the building, believed to come from Roman times.

I tried to write yesterday, but due to a severe storm the night before my computer was just totally wacko. We had no phone, either. As I drove around on some errands I could see where many small creeks had flooded badly, including one that ran down the dirt road next to us, making a mess for a long distance.

The river is running very,very high and fast, with a lot of mud and debris. It has gone over the lower and middle banks and in some places has crossed the 3rd and final bank. We are hoping it doesn't go much higher. The farmers are tearing their hair out because they are way behind Spring plowing and planting.

The heat of our two days in the 70's has finally put some green on the trees and shrubs and we definitely are seeing the spring flowers coming along. Of course, up here on the hill, we are lagging behind, but ever so faintly there is some green out my window. Our ground is so saturated that our bird feeders fell over and their holes are filled to the brim with water.

I did wake up in time to see the Royal Wedding. Very nice. Now they must begin the task of learning to live together.

Today I am having Tea Trekker's 2009 PreQing Ming Yunnan Jumbo Golden Buds. Say that 6 times very fast. The dry leaves, well buds, are a lovely gold, with a small bit of brown, really almost nothing. The scent is at once sweet, spicey and sharp, recognizably Yunnan, but also different. I used about 1 Tablespoon per cup and brewed it for 3.5 minutes with water just under the boil. There is still a sharp aroma, almost unpleasant, but not really, with touches of cocoa and nut in it. It was at first, a cloudy pale gold, from the bud dust, which quickly became a dark amber. It seems to have a fairly thin body. It tastes a bit like hazelnuts mixed in with the more usual Yunnan taste. I can't decide if I like it or not. As it cooled, I decided I made it a little too strong and if I made it a bit weaker I'd appreciate it more. So I did and I found it to be much better.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tea With Friends and Sweet Rosy O'Grey

We had the most glorious thunderstorms last night. I love to watch them. Since we are near a river and in the midst of hills, the litghtning and thunder can be pretty spectacular. Sadly, some people experienced quite a bit of destruction from them and that is the downside. I still enjoy them, however.

I found a site you all might be interested in for tea party fare. It is There is a lot of good information there and over on the right is a place to sign up for a free tea party recipe, one every week. That's a great idea, since we all sometimes need a new idea. Angela McCrae, on her blog has been having resipes for tea sanwiches every Saturday. A number of the blogs, in my list to the right, often have recipes for tea.

Most of my birds have been hard at the suet cakes. Not just the woodpeckers, but the titmice, chickadees, red wing blackbirds and "the Bully Boys" although the blue jays prefer peanuts. They also like cat food, but it is raining too much to put any out. I think all the courting and nest building requires a lot of energy.

Yesterday I made ice tea with Teas Etc. Rosy Earl Grey. About 1.5 quarts of water, 10+ teaspoons tea, 5 hours in the fridge. What lovely stuff! Rose, citrus, a delicate but sturdy mix. Well worth doing again and an excellent tea for a summer tea party.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring Has Sprung!

I must say, if I was using green tea to urge Spring into springing forth, I must have overdone it just a tad. Yesterday was cool, bordering on cold, gray, grim, rainy. Today it has just skipped right past warm and gone to hot - 72 and still climbing. In summer time, this would be pleasant, but my body isn't quite ready for it. I even made some ice tea from some rosy Earl Grey I had.

I am slowly working my way through the tea cupboard. I finally got smart and put them in order by company and got them out where I will see and try them again to see if they are compost, giveaways or keepers. A giveaway isn't bad, it's just not to my taste.

Today I am having a green tea again, because it is hot and this is a lighter tea. It is one of the samples I got from the puriTea - Emerald Needle Green. The dry leaves are indeed a fresh green and quite long. I expected them to be rolled into long thin needles, but they weren't. I brewed them for about 2minutes with 170 degree water. The resulting tea was very, very pale, with almost no discernible scent. I couldn't really detect any taste, so I tried 3 minutes - still not much I had to push the leaves to 5 minutes and still there was not much there. A hint of green, a bit of vegetal, just not much. I think I will mix it with something else and make ice tea with it. I really like green ice tea, much more than most black teas. I often find that where they fail hot, they really shine cold. I have often found the opposite to be true of black teas, they often are heavy and overbearing cold, whereas hot, they are sturdy and comforting.

How about you - what is you experience with ice tea versus hot? By the way, I almost always do mine as a cold brew where I put about 10 teaspoons of tea in my pitcher, add cold water and stick it in the fridge. It suits my exceedingly lazy nature.

The Japanese tea harvest is in full swing, but power outages and overly careful government bans may cause this tea to be late in arrival and very expensive.

Several companies, such as Harney and Sons, are putting out teas for the Royal Wedding - I hope you got yours if that is your interest. Once again, it was either more tea or keeping the husband and as usual, he won. LOL

How are you celebrating THE wedding? I think if I manage to be awake enough to watch, that will be a celebration for me. I know many of you are having tea parties that morning - have fun. I could never do that - it takes me 2 hours just to be awake. The thought of having to cook and play hostess in the early morning just wears me right out. Now if it were 11 pm, it would be fine, since I am a night owl.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Oh Bother

Oh Bother! As a certain rotund, honey loving bear would say. Oh Bother indeed. It is raining again. The standing water has standing water on it and every inch of ground squishes. The cats rub their cold wet fur on us, muttering under their breath about being forced out the door, the umbrellas never dry out and I think moss is growing on my clothes. Thank God for goldfinches and daffodils whose brightness doesn't fade. On the plus side, we can now play Pooh Sticks in the ditch in front of the house. As a certin rotund honey loving bear might do.

Or, since I am not a bear, I might just have a nice cup of tea. I received a beautiful sample of Organic Uji Superior Matcha from Aura Teas in my last order, just enough for a nice bowlful. Matcha is powdered bright green tea that is made from the same plants as the carefully tended ones that produce Gyokuro, a fine Japanese tea. Matcha is used in their tea ceremony, although lesser grades are used in cooking, as in green tea ice cream or cookies. The ceremonial matcha can be very expensive.

I brewed this with water that was only about 130 degrees, whipping it up into as much of a froth as I could without proper utensils. You do not brew it, really. You add the water, beat it up and drink. It is very brothy and vegetal, fresh and Spring-like. I really like Matcha and this was excellent, comforting, pleasant, conveying peacefulness. At some point I may have to invest in some utensils for its proper brewing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Blessed Easter To All

Floral carvings on the choir stalls in Meieringen, Switzerland.
They were recently cleaned and look brand new in stead of several
centuries old.

It's another gray grizzly day, and it is pretty cold. The weather site says we won't see the sun for a week. I guess I'd better keep drinking green tea, although I may have to switch to black to warm these old bones.

I am having the Bamboo Tea House Melon Seed Green. This is also known as Liu An Gua Pian and hales from China, usually An Hui Province. I expected the leaves to be melon seed shaped and they weren't. Before I got all critical about that, I looked it up on several internet sites and none of them are. Phew.

The leaves are very green and very large and they smell like popcorn to me. As it brewed, it came to have more of a Cracker Jack aroma. This carried through into the tea, which was light and sweet, but certainly not cloying. There was still a bit of Cracker Jacks in it. It is delightful to have tea have so many aromas and flavors all on its own.

The First Flush Darjeeling harvest is done, so we can expect to see them in our tea merchants offerings within the next month or two. In Taiwan, the lower slope Oolongs have been picked and the high mountain ones should start to be picked in the next week or two.

I have been making a lot of blueberry scones lately and I have found that if I put them in the batter frozen (I have about 5 gallons in the freezer!!!) they do very nicely and come out with a bare minimum of bursting, instead staying a nice plump berry. I had best find some other way to use them, as summer is coming and I will certainly want to pick more.

I wish all of you an ecstatic Easter celebration and I'll see you again on Monday.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chasing Dragons at the Well

Greetings! I know some of you have been concerned about tea from Japan. Roy Fong of Imperial Tea Court was in the Far East on a buying trip and talked with a Japanese tea merchant about this. If you go to his blog you can read about his trip, see some pictures of tea fields and learn there is nothing to fear, as the nearest tea fields to Fukishima are much too far away to be affected.

It seems a great deal of the world is celebrating the upcoming Royal Wedding. Even our little Owego is having a wedding brunch in honor of Will and Kate. has a section where you can read about more celebrations. Even I will probably watch the wedding. This site is aimed mostly at people in the tea business, but there is a lot of information about tea to be had.

Are our teabags really compostable? This is certainly a question I have had, as I compost as much as I can. Good for less trash and truly " Black Gold" for the garden. Apparently some composters have been finding otherwise, in spite of claims on the tea boxes. Paper ones will, but I shall have to examine my compost when it is ready to put on the garden and see if indeed they are. Loose tea is always compostable, another good reason to use it.

Even if you have a tiny backyard, you can still compost in a bucket or dig a hole and alternate the hole's dirt with what you're composting. Then you have a perfect place to plant something next year. If you have room to grow tomatoes, plant them around your compost bin - they will thrive. In case you're wondering, I was out aerating the compost yesterday, which always brings up the issue. We have 2 compost bins - they look exactly like Darth Vader's head, complete with grill.

That was a far enough wander off the beaten path to tea. What goes with a cold windy day with the sun struggling to shine through? Gotta do greens, to encourage the softer aspects of Spring.

I am having some Dragonwell from Ito En. I got this in a swap from Steph. I just love the leaves, so flat, and they feel like silk sliding on my fingers. They have a very fresh green scent, almost spicy. I brewed it up with a bit over a teaspoon with water about 170 for 2 minutes. The brewing aroma was that of a crisp winter night when everything is frozen and it is about to snow. So much for Spring. It is a lovely pale old gold color. It tastes like a cross between summer squash and asparagus, but not, if you understand. There was almost a metallic edge to it. Words can only approximate. I found it to be very pleasant, somehow a soothing and comforting cup.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Samovar Sample

Bacharach, Germany on a spring day.

Another gray and grizzly day. I so want to get out and garden, but I am afraid of drowning or at the very least, being mired in mud up to my ankles. Enough rain already. The perennials are very slowly moving towards growth, but, of course, the dandelions are forging ahead. When I was "at home" one whole hillside was covered with them and we all thought it was beautiful, the bright green overlain with the bright yellow.

The farmer's pond is finally free of ice and I noticed several ducks and the ubiquitous Canada geese all sailing along on it. The cats have started catching mice and snakes and the blue birds have returned. Our trees in the woods behind, are still pretty gray, although there is one sugar maple that is turning pink with buds.

Speaking of gray, I have yet another Earl Grey to sample. This one is from Samovar Teas. Upon opening the packet, I was nearly overwhelmed by the strong scent of bergamot. Phew! The dry leaves are smallish, mostly black with some brown. I brewed it up for 3.5 minutes with boiling water, using a 6 cup pot for the sample. The aroma was much gentled by this time. The brew is quite dark and very citrussy and quite pleasant, although I found it to be on the sharp side. I added some cream to it and that rounded out its edges, making it a very nice cup, indeed.

A note of caution - if you order samples from Samovar, do not use one sampler for 1 cup, it is enough for 5-6. I wrote them about this and they said they are working to change their labels.

Have any of you heard of Tea Talk Magazine? It is an English publication, probably not available here. However, it is on line at There is a lot of information about tea rooms, tea, tea customs, all sorts of things. Check it out, it's interesting.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Too Much Vanilla!

Kind of what it looks like here - greyish.

Our small flock of 4 grackles has really fascinated me this week. As I said in an earlier post, they are quite beautiful, with glossy black feathers and iridescent blue heads. They are about the size of a blue jay and I consider them one of "The Bully Boys" as they can crowd out smaller birds. They are too big and not built quite right to use either the suet or seed feeders. However, in the past 5-6 days, they have taught themselves to do both. They have been very persistent, overcoming many, many falls and upsets and are now expert feeders. I just wish they wouldn't claim everything and jab others on the head. They are not nearly as ferocious as some of the bossy little sparrows, however. Wow, when they want to hog the feeder, everyone else better look out!

On this very dull day I am having some green tea - green for spring, right? Actually, it is a mix of green and black teas, with jasmine and vanilla. This is Golden Moon's Vanilla Jasmine. You certainly can smell the vanilla, it is almost overwhelming. I don't catch any jasmine in the dry tea. I brewed it for 3 minutes with water off the boil for a minute or so. The brewing tea gave off a much more well-rounded aroma, of jasmine, with a hint of vanilla. I hoped it would taste well-balanced as well. I was not disappointed at first, as both flavors melded well. However, the vanilla, which did become overwhelming, stayed in my mouth looooooooong past the time it was pleasant. I also could not taste the tea, which I do not prefer.

We had "Squirrel Convocation" here this morning. Instead of the usual three, I guess they invited their cousins by the dozens to visit the bird feeder. There's not much there as I got smart and only put out enough for one day. However, superfast Ernie chased them away, once again nearly catching one. I guess we need to do sprint work with him, so he is faster.

The great celebration of Passover begins tonight. Best wishes to all of you who are celebrating. Next year in Jerusalem!

The Christian world is getting for our great celebration of Easter. I will not be writing anything on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as I take the first 2 days for a time of preparation and Sunday is filled with celebration. For those of you also celebrating, may it be a time of great joy and renewal for you all.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Yes, Virginia, Good Can Come in a Teabag

Spring in Switzerland.

Ah, yes, true spring is upon us. The trees have finally started really budding, the willows have gone from yellow to green, the brushy understory in the woods below us are beginning to get baby leaves. Up here, 200 feet higher, we need to wait a while. Yesterday was so nice we got our back porch ready to use, almost having lunch there, but it was a bit too cold. Today it is very cold, windy, rainy and tomorrow - ta-da - we might have snow! Ah, spring.

I ordered some tea from the company I get my vitamins from, Puritan's Pride, They mostly deal in vitamins and such like, but once in a while, they take a fling into other areas, like aromatherapy and now tea. Mine is Silkenty Morning Tea, a handpicked 2 leaves and a bud from Ceylon, complete with the Ceylon export seal, a lion rampant. I was quite impressed with the dry teabags - very large, made of silk, with largish leaves that smelled of tea! As it brewed for 3 minutes, it gave off a pleasant aroma of good wood and earth. I brewed up very dark and it is definitely a morning tea. It is strong and hearty with a kind of nutty, earthy taste, but it is very smooth and pleasant. I would certainly get this one again. I like to have tea bags around in the morning because some mornings, I am just not functional and they are quick and undemanding.

I was most unhappy with one of our young kitties - Ernie. He made a spectacular 5 foot leap straight up from the ground and snatched a bird. Of course, it was one of the pretty little goldfinches. I instructed him to do starlings next time or one of the Bully Boys. I think he just said yeah, yeah, yeah.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Out in the Provinces

The new organ in Stephansdom, the Vienna cathedral.

Good morning all. It is a beautiful day today, with 50+ temperatures, sunny skies, naughty squirrels and flowers blooming. The colts foot is among them. It was named that way because the leaves reminded early folk of the hoofprint of colts. It is either the first or among the first of wild flowers to bloom. We've also seen some early tulips and daffodils. Hooray!

I am back among the Keemuns today, with the Tea Trekker's Keemun Congou. This is an organic tea, from Anhui Province in China, the home of Keemusn. The leaves are tiny, very black and have a smokey, winey, woodsy aroma. As it brewed there was more an aroma of cornsilk. The liquor was a very dark amber. The tea had a very full mouth feel and to me, tasted primarily of roasted corn. I think I brewed it too long, as it was beginning to get tannic. All the tes were brewed for 3.5 minutes with boiling water.

The next is Upton's ZK22 from Hubei Province, China - Keemun Ji Hong. Purists say this is not really Keemun as it doesn't come from Anhui Province. I would agree, it should be called Keemun style. I am in favor of foods being labeled according to their origin and others known as XXXtype or XXXstyle. I'm all for individuality in these cases. The dry leaves are a bit bigger , black mixxed with a bit of brown. They give off an odor of wet wood or wet hay, with some tobacco mixed in, altogether a very pleasant aroma. This carried through to the brewing scent. However, it doesn't really make it into the tea liquor, which just tastes like wet wood, while at the same time it is lightlysmokey. It's okay, but nothing to get excited about, although it is better cooler.

The last of the Keemuns I believe I have reviewed before. It is from Aura Teas and is their Organic Keemun, from Wuyan, Jianxi, China. It has the largest leaves and the greatest amount of brown ones. This one has an earthy, woody aroma. It brewed up the lightest amber and reminded me of my great-uncle John's cabin - a mix of earth, flowers, things aging gently in the sun. It is again a rather plain tea, with almost a citrus edge to it.

On the whole, I would rank these three near the bottom of the 7 Keemun chart, whereas the other four I've had in the past week would all rank at the top and I'm not at all sure where I would place them. You might have a very different reaction to all of them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Keep Those Keemun Coming

How's that for a bit of Gothic tracery, complete with a saint on a pillar?

Blimey, but the birds are all a-twitter this morning, as are the peepers. I guess they are desperate for mates. The "bully boys" - grackles, blue jays, starlings - have been at the feeder, but the little birds just keep plugging away.

The deer are just too tame. Yesterday morning I chased them away from the bird feeders 6 times in the space of about 30 minutes. The feeders are only about 15 feet from the house, so you can see what I mean.

I am regularly hearing a pileated woodpecker and I am hoping that I will see one this year. A few trees are beginning to get reddish twigs and some have a few buds. It is supposed to be quite warm this week, so maybe we'll actually see some flowers and leaf buds. My church's daffodils will bloom this week for sure.

I am doing two more Keemuns today. I did do a scond wash on Tea Trekkers Keemun Mao Feng, but I don't know how long it brewed yesterday, as I got distracted. Maybe as long as 10 minutes. It didn't hurt it, as it was just so soft and smooth, really delicious. So, even though TT are a bit expensive, if you can get a good second brewing, the cost is really halved.

Today I am brewing up Tea Trekker's Keemun HaoYa 'A'. The leaves are tiny, black, mixed with some borwn. They have a faint wine smell. It brews up to a dark amber after 3.5 minutes and gives of an aroma that is somewhat earthy, somewhat fruity and floral. The taste is a earthy and with a bit of briskness, maybe something bisquity. It is a robust tea, suitable for mornings, but ones when you are awake enough to appreciate it.

The second offering is Upton's ZK15, China Keemun Hen Ru. Dry, it is floral and woody smelling at the same time. As it brews it gives off a floral and wet wood aroma, along with that of corn. The taste is also somewhat woody and while, okay, that's about as far as I could go with it.

On our walk today, we saw several neighbors' crocus blloming. It is so good to see flowers again.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Keemun to the Left of Me, Qimen to the Right of Me

An ancient house of the winemakers guild in Bacharach Germany

It's almost warm today and the weathermen say we will have a bit of sun. I sure hope so, it's been on the gloomy side around here. I have gotten a number of plants by mail in the assumptions we are ready to plant them. Hardly. I don't think the frost is out of the ground. So today I will be potting them up and will begin the great Spring Porch Shuffle. Plants out in the am, in before dark. By real planting time, I will be very sick of them all. Such is gardening. The rest of the shipped bits were only roots and they can go in the fridge.

I discovered I have 7-8 different Keemun or Qimen samples, so for the next several days I will be comparing groups. Or maybe just reporting, as they are all different. I brewed them all for 4 minutes with water about 205 degrees. They all come from Anhui Province, China

First up is Upton's ZK20 Keemun FOP, meaning Flowery Orange Pekoe, which in turn means it came from large leaves. Four minutes was a bit too long, as it has tannic edges, my standard 3.5 would have been better. The dry leaves were quite small, very black and smelled strongly of old barn wood, very rich. As it brewed the tea became very dark, with a smooth earthy aroma with a hint of cocoa. The tea is smooth, with the very very barest trace of smoke, maybe a touch of spice - one of the warm ones, like nutmeg. In spite of the tannic edge, it leaves an almost sweet finish in your mouth.

Next is Tea Trekker's Keemun Mao Feng Premium, an organic tea. The leaves are long and wirey, tightly held. The dry aroma is winey, and woody. After brewing, it was clear that not all had unfurled, so I will do a second wash. By now there was what I can only describe as a corn and wet bracken scent, maybe a cultured earthiness? This tea is considerably lighter in color and much sweeter with some real cocoa hints , although I might describe it as Nestle's Quick, that ubiquitous childhood chocolate milk maker. I loved it, so that is by no means a put down. There were still some elements of corn to it. It is very smooth and leaves your mouth wanting more.

I would not want to have to choose between these two, but I am a little more weighted towards the latter, for what that's worth.

Tomorrow I will do Upton's Keemun Hen Ru and tea trekker's Keemun Hao Ya 'A'.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Come Fly With Me

Apparently I forgot to post this o my apologies!

A very cool church steeple in Austria

50 years ago on April 12, 1961 the first manned space flight took place. It was by the Russian, Yuri Gagarian and lasted 108 minutes. How utterly amazing that was. On April 12, 1981 the first US space shuttle orbited the earth. I often think of my grandmother, who went from horse and buggy to seeing man set foot on the moon. What an enormous change in one life time. Next Tuesday, the 12th, there are going to be many celebrations world-wide, called Yuri Nights in honor of this great achievement. I wonder if Yuri had any tea with him? It would certainly be fitting to have a tea party or two to celebrate.

Today, however, I am just raising my cup to Spring. All the snow is finally gone and my "garage" flowers are beginning to appear. These are tall yellow flowers that I seem to have only seen planted by garages. They are helio- somethings, but I have never been able to figure out which one. I got them from my grandmother's garden long ago and they have trailed around with me ever since. She had a huge stand of them and when we played croquet we were delighted to send an opponents ball flying into them.

My tea today is Upton's TC76, Cecilliayan Estate, FBOPF ExSP, which I interpret as Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe F? Extra Special. It certainly smells that way, as the dry leaves give off an aroma of very, very, good tobacco and tasty blackstrap molasses. The small leaves seem somehow very precise and are adorned with some golden buds. I brewed it for the usual 3.5 minutes with boiling water and was rewarded with an excellent cup. It was rich and sturdy, with a deep malty taste edged with the tobacco and molasses. Yum, indeed.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

From the Heights

A Gothic soaring goes with today's high mountain tea.

Mt. Everest makes one think of Nepal, and that may be where this tea comes from. Alas, the Bamboo Tea House doesn't give any information, so I don't know. I do know it doesn't grow that high - nothing does except ice crystals. This attractive mix of small black, gold and brown leaves gives off a rich aroma of tobacco, wine and good, clean earth, but not in the sense that Puerh is earthy.

I used a biggish teaspoon of tea and brewed it for 3.5 minutes with boiling water. The brew was a lot lighter amber color than I expected. So was the taste. There were not a lot of nuances to it, which in my book makes it an ideal morning tea. It was mild, with a little earthiness and quite smooth. It went well with some cream.

Yesterday we had one lone Tom Turkey eating the spilled seeds around the bird feeder. This is unusual, as turkeys usually are only seen as a flock. He may be one the eldest tom kicked out to find his own harem or one that is too old and a young turk kicked him out. Or maybe he's just lost. Turkeys are not known for being brainy. We also have a lone blue jay who doesn't seem to be very happy with me and comes to the window to scold. The feeders are too small for him to really be able to get seed and he is too snazzy to eat from the ground.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tea Party Goodies for Special Diets

Having recently started a low carbohydrate diet, I have started to think about what one does for us folks and diabetics at a tea party. Tea and cream are perfect and need no change. I have successfully made 2 batches of scones using low carb ingredients - special flours and sweeteners (I use a Splenda type sweetener that has fiber in it and brings the calorie and carb count for sweetening to zero) that have turned out very nicely, with very little loss of flavor, although the texture is a wee bit different. Stuffed mushrooms, pates, different kinds of deviled eggs, custards, soups without pasta all come to mind. You can make cookies and crusts from finely ground nuts. I haven't tried a cake yet, however.

There are low carb items like tortillas, pita bread and bars available in some grocery stores, certainly at Walmart. There is even halfway decent ice cream, called Carb Smart by Breyers that some grocers have. Fresh berries with whipped cream are excellent desserts. If you want to consider doing this for a friend(s) for a tea, Dana Carpender has authored an excellent cookbook, 500 Low Carb Recipes, that I know many libraries have or can order for you. There are many diabetic cookbooks that have very good recipes in them. If you want to make things requiring more specialized items, check a health food store or got to online (which is where I get special flour)and click on low carb. One of the good things about them is they ship anything anywhere in the continental US for only $4.95.

There are also many people with gluten problems that would make a standard tea difficult if not impossible. Again, there is much on line and in libraries to help with this. There are also currently many, many mixes available at health food sores, Walmart and grocery stores to make really good stuff. My husband is allergic to wheat and I got a recipe for a flour mix off the internet that generally works quite well. His is not a full-blown gluten problem or celiac disease, so this is relatively easy. I don't know enough about the others to comment, so I won't.

I always ask if people really hate anything or have allergies or special needs when I invite them and then do my best to accomodate them. I suppose it is easier for me, since my kids and my husband were all allergic to different things and sometimes I felt a bit crazed trying to come up with meals everyone could eat. But we all survived, even thrived. Fortunately no one is allergic to tea, although many need to watch their caffeine intake.

Easing Into Breakfast

An ancient fresco of Christ in Bacharach.

Since I am awake for once after arising, I thought I would share with you some Breakfast Blend Black from Samovar Tea. It is organic, which I always appreciate. The dry leaves are small and black. I measured the tea in the sample and indeed it does make about 5-6 cups . This tea smells like a mix of Asssam, Yunnan and Keemun. It has a deep winey aroma with a hint of typical Yunnan. Brewing, there is the added aroma of old wood in the sun. The liquor is a medium amber. What a nice morning cup this is. It is winey, malty, nutty and very, very smooth. It is strong, but not joltingly so, and the smoothness kind of eases you into the day.

99 years ago today cargo was beginning to be loaded onto the ill-fated ship, Titanic. There were 437 casks of tea included. By the way, the movie "Titanic" was so unreal. There is no way there would have been any contact between steerage passengers and first class. Class structure was far more rigid in those days and doors would have been firmly locked, as well as stewards only too ready to throw out a steerage passenger. Most would have been far too cowed to try, anyway.

I just read an interesting article by Tony Gebley about touting tea for health uses. To do so puts it in the category of a drug and the FDA can get very snippy about that. Also, who really wants to drink tea as a drug or cure-all? Shades of snake oil! It can be and there are hundreds of good, bad and awful studies about that. Let us drink tea because it tastes good and provides us with a calm oasis in the day. Let us have tea parties for celebration and friendship and not politics.

We have grackles around the bird feeder. They are such beautiful sleek black birds, with their brilliant irridescent bue heads. Sometimes their body feathers seem to be irridescent as well.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Peep, Peep, Peep

I wonder where this knight traveled - notice the monkey crouched at his feet. There aren't many monkeys in Germany.

Spring has had such a stop and start mentality this year. Just a small example - last night, for the first time, I heard the peepers calling for a mate - today it is snowing. If you don't know, peepers are tiny brown or green frogs that raise a racket competing for mates by calling for them. They are one of the true signs of early Spring

We went to get maple syrup from our friends, the Bakers. This is a good year for sap, as already they have 1,600 gallons done and the season is not over yet. Last year they only had 800 altogether.

Supercat Ernie very nearly caught one of the marauding squirrels, missing him by about 6 inches. If he had been a little more decisive, chomp - one less squirrel.

This is a great month, as the early teas are beginning to arrive. You might want to check with your preferred tea merchants to see what is coming in with them. Some of the Pre Qing Ming (before the Spring rains) are due the end of this week. Even some of the lovely Yunnan buds are due the middle of the month. Prices should be fairly decent, as China has had good weather in its tea-growing areas.

I have some tea I just got from the Tea Trekker that is last year's Yunnan Golden Tips, Dian Hong. Now remember last year, a lot of Yunnan had weather problems, so it is different from this years. The dry leaves were a surprise, as they were smaller and greener than I am used to seeing in Yunnans. However, they did have a characteristic smell. The aroma of the brewing tea was very soft and smelled of old wood, with a touch of spice. The brewed cup was quite different from the Yunnans that I have had, in that it almost tasted like those plain English biscuits. There was the barest hint of any spice, but a bit of nuttiness. Altogether it was a very gentle, soothing cup. I am really eager to see what this years will taste like.

Monday, April 4, 2011

TwoTeas for Spring

Yesterday I mentioned going to the Agway farm store. I think next to libraries, they are my favorite places. So full of possibilities, the mere aroma of feed and dirt and fertilizer starts me dreaming of what might be. There is so much there that is useful or even fanciful. Libraries are so amazing, also - all that knowledge, free for the taking. Again, just the smell of one fills me with satisfaction. All those worlds and times to explore.

Tea is like that. All those countries, all those varieties, all those different processes, different years. The cup of tea may be one that has many nuances that change from moment to moment or from infusion to the next. A tea store or even one's own tea stores are so satisfying.

Today I am going to expand that a bit and discuss 2 teas I have from Life in Teacup. The first is Tong Chang, Small Orchid. This is a green tea with flat leaves, some of which are wavy or 2 leaves and a bud. Their smell is of butter and they have such a good feel in my fingers as I measure them out in my little pot. I tried brewing it for a minute, but that didn't seem long enough, so I pushed it to two. Even so, it is very delicate and reminds me of the taste of the first slivers of grass in the spring that have just barely turned from yellow to green. The second infusion I pushed to 3 minutes and its is still just barely green, but now it has a bit of a floral aroma, along with something like asparagus or celery and that is how it tastes, very refreshing.

The second I must apologize to Gingko for not trying it sooner. It is a 2010 Pre-Qing Ming Weng Jin Shan, Shi Feng Long Jing. I love Long Jing leaves, they so silky, slippery smooth, flat, as though each one was ironed by the very best ladies' maid. They were hand harvested and hand-processed, so that is very close to their treatment. The first infusion, for a little over 1 minute is ethereal in color and scent. It is grass-like, flowery, but ever so delicately. Truly a tea to be savored. The second wash was about 1.5 minutes and the color has just barely come up to pale green. The aroma is still flowery but very crisp, almost flinty, if that makes sense. Not a soft floweriness. The flavor is right there with that also. More flower than grass, but crisp and clean. I certainly see why such a fuss is made over Pre-Qing Ming teas!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

St. Peter's church in Bacharach, Germany. I like how they are restoring it to its original colors. I also think the stairway is lovely.

Okay, even I will admit we really are in Spring. Kids are riding their bikes, I did some cleaning up in the garden and I went to Agway (farm and garden) and spent beaucoup bucks on seeds, bulbs, potting soil, the whole shebang. I planted my saved forever tomato seeds and I am good to go. We have saved these seeds, which we call Peter's tomatoes after a friend of a friend, for over 30 years. They are so good, a type of Polish Paste, big, long, meaty. We have only saved seeds from the sweetest and tastiest. Now we need to work on making them more prolific. I also have some cherry tomato seed that I really like.

I celebrated with some Oasis from Tea Forte. This is a mix of green tea, spring flowers and citrus. I brewed it for about 2.4 minutes with 180 degree water and it is citrussy, but very pleasantly so. The liquor is a pale gold and is slightly sweet, with a mild citrus flavor that is well-undergirded with the green tea. Altogether a very pleasant and successful blend. By which I mean you can taste the tea as well as the flavoring. I really don't like tea that only tastes like flavoring. I don't see the point of drinking it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tea for Cherry Blossom Time

What Ho, gang! It didn't snow! And the sun is shining! My faith in Spring is restored. It is a good thing I don't live in Alaska. There is still snow in the woods and along the edges where the plows piled it up, but there is hope that we really are moving into flower time. The birds certainly think so. The gold finches have morphed back into their bright gold coloring and the purple finches are looking much brighter. I have heard 4 distinctly different drummings of the woodpeckers in the woods - one is a pileated, our largest woodpecker. It makes me soooo jealous that others, including my husband, have seen it and I haven't.

Good news from Darjeeling. Some of the workers' associations broke off from the main group and settled for a considerable raise, all the way up to a little over $2.00 a day. I don't know how this fits in with average wages in India. This affects 42 gardens, but I do not know which ones. The larger group of associations is still on strike. I hope it can be settled amicably, and the workers receive what they need.

I know many tea enthusiasts are also gardeners and a rosarian friend of mine, Lee Ginenthal, has started a blog about roses, Thorny Issues, which can be found at I like to blend roses with my tea, as well as lavender. I will be planting some of Lee's roses this spring, as well as some lavender. I am intending to only plant things which smell good, if I can find enough of them the deer don't like.

For those of you who have ordered tea from the Imperial Tea Court, Stephanie, from Steph's Cup of Tea - see the list at right for her address - just visited and took some great pictures.

To celebrate the sun and spring hopes, I am going to try some Sencha Green Cherry Rose from the Briar Patch here in Owego. It's a pretty tea, with rose petals in the green leaves. It smells mostly of cherry and green tea, with just a touch of rose, and not cherry candy, either, hooray. This carries through in the brewing, with the same delicate scent. The brewed tea is a soft, greenish old gold color. Much as I am not a fan of fruity tea, I find this to be a very good blend, where both the tea and the flavoring meld into one lovely taste. This would be a perfect tea to have in among the cherry blossoms. There was no rose taste, but the petals made the tea pretty, and sometimes, pretty is enough.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Over The Top

A detail of yesterday's altar.

I've not been tasting any teas this week, as I had some sort of bug, which left me with no brain and no palate. But I think I am back to as normal as I ever am. Also, I am finding it difficult to get too excited about Spring when it keeps snowing. We had some yesterday and we're due to have more tonight. I can say that most of last week's foot of snow is gone and the birds are singing from early morning until after sundown. Perhaps I should pay attention to them! I did notice that our lupines are raising tiny fans of new leaves above the ground and the bee balm seedlings are beginning to look as though they will survive.

Very much on the positive side, last week I received samples I had ordered from 3 more companies: Samovar Life, Tea Trekker and the Bamboo Tea House. Most of them are black, since my husband is really not a fan of greens and Oolongs.

I am trying Samovar's Lychee Black today. I don't think I have ever had lychee flavored tea. The small leaves are quite dark and have a fruity, sort of citrussy aroma. The instructions on my sample say to brew the contents of the packet in 16 ounces of water for 2-5 minutes. I did 3.5, in an 18 ounce pot. As it brewed, it gave off a strong scent I didn't recognize - probably the lychee. I can only describe it as sharp. The tea is a very very dark amber and quite heavy tasting, nearly tannic, nothing like the light body, smooth, rosy, honey tasting brew the site describes. I found it nearly undrinkable, it was so strong. You know I like strong tea, but this was just awful.

Okay, a lot of the fault was mine, for following directions, instead of using common sense. The packet really contained enough for about a 5-6 cup pot. so I warn you - use your sense of how much tea is enough for your pot. I am going to write the company and tell them they need to do something about their directions, as all of their samples carry the same ones. I am going to try another one tomorrow and do what I feel is best. So stay tuned.