Thursday, March 29, 2012

Yummy Yunnan

Wow, I am having a tea that is the most interesting and one of the best I've had in a while.  I got it through Steepster Select's monthly program.  It is from the Tea Valley Company and is Phoenix Yunnan Gold.  The dry leaves gave off an aroma of chocolate, subtly laced with wine.  I brewed it for 2 1/2 minutes with boiling water, which is a little short for Yunnans, but recommended.

The resulting brew was a medium amber, with gold highlights around the edges.  It smelled fresh and a touch earthy.  The tea was deep and rich, with a piquant edge, somewhat earthy with the barest hint of peanut.  At this point, I am thinking it's okay, but not great.  So, I put some cream in it and entered a whole different dimension!  There was now a definite plum taste with an oak like aroma.  It was smooth and rounded and as I continued to drink, it morphed somewhat into a pineapple flavor, only one without bite, all the edges rounded off.

What a treat!  I think I used a tad too much tea and next time, I will be more careful in measuring.  I think, too, that brewing it any longer would ruin it.

The lilies in the pond down the hill are beginning to poke their heads above the waterline, and the ducks have returned to nest.  The blue herons are back in their rookery in the river.  Our little flock of goldfinches is very busy at the feeders.  First the females come and then the brighter colored males, all gossiping and singing.  It is indeed early spring, with wild swings of temperature and weather.  We had almost 80 one day last week and Tuesday  it was 16 when I got up.  The only plant to apparently suffer was the autumn clematis, which I am hoping will cover the front porch this year.  It doesn't flower until September and smells wonderful, a great farewell to summer.

There you are, pansies for Spring

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New Teas

2012 First Flush Darjeeling is now available from  They send it out the day you order it - check them out!

Thunderbolt Teas isn't quite ready to market their first flushes, but it should be any day now.  On their blog is a great picture of a Darjeeling tea field.

I haven't found anyone else with this year's teas for sale.  If you know of any, please let me know so I can tell everyone.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Irish Breakfast for Afternoon Tea, With Ramblings

This has been one of those days where I've been asleep since I got up, so I thought Irish Breakfast from Adagio might help the situation.  This is a blend of their Ceylon Sonata and Assam Melody teas.  The dry leaves are all pretty dark brown to black in color.  They have a definite aroma of chocolate, of all things.  I brewed it for 4 minutes with boiling water. 

I was surprised the tea was a fairly light colored amber.  I expected it to be almost black.  Sadly, it lost its chocolate scent and just smelled like good, fresh tea.  Oh well.  The tea was fairly lightweight in both body and taste.  I guess I set my expectations too high, as I was hoping for a real jolt.  It tastes just fine, but I have always read that of the 3 British  Breakfast teas, the Irish was the strongest and this wasn't.  I would consider it more an afternoon tea.  It goes very nicely with a cake I made for a party - Grandpa's Birthday Cake, which is a fairly rich cross between a yellow cake and a pound cake, further enriched by pouring hot butter, orange juice and sugar over it and letting it soak in.  Definitely an occasional treat.

The willows are a spectacular pale, but quite intense yellow-green.  They really show up against the still gray hills.  They mix well with the red buds of the maples, too.  I noticed the coltsfoot on the corner is blooming - another early spring sign of life. They got called that because folks thought the round leaves looked like a colts foot.  It doesn't to me, but that doesn't matter.

I've mentioned before that it is easy to grow your own mint, but that one needs to be careful, as it spreads mightily.  I was cleaning up in the garden today and found peppermint runners and tiny plants 3 feet from the original quite small plant - this is after only 1 year.  Lots of plants for the plant sale.  All my seeds have sprouted, so much faster than last year.  I'm already hungry for fresh basil.

Bird wise, I think the Orioles are back, as is the red wing blackbird and the northern flicker and the brown thrasher.  We are so fortunate to be surrounded by so much life!  The peepers have gotten quieter.  I gues they are too busy mating to sing as much.

A German Church where some of my ancestors were christened.  I am such a "mutt" as my husband says, that I could visit most of the European countries and call them home.  One half Swiss and the rest is German, French, Norwegian, Italian, Scots, Irish, maybe English, Swedish, Flemish, Belgian, Dutch and Mohawk Indian.  Those are the ones I know about.  Oh, early Canadian as well, which might be the English.  My own little melting pot, all in one person.  My husband, he of the "pure Italian" is a blond, blue-eyed Southern Italian with a red beard, go figure.  His mother's cooking had Greek and other Eastern Mediterranean elements.  The world is not nearly so distinct as we'd like to think. 

This wasn't much of a tea blog, but there you are!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Springing Into Assam

I am squeezing in this column whilst waiting for my pear and ginger scones to bake.  Then we shall have tea!  Today's is Kama Black from Foxfire Teas .  It hails from Assam and the suggestionis for boiling water for 5 minutes.  I think I shall do 4, as I seem to remember that Assam can get to be a bit much if it goes too long.  The leaves are quite large, with kind of a woodsy, winey, cooking pasta aroma.

Ah, the scones are done, I can brew the tea.  The pears are dried and have made the scones quite sweet.  This is a variation on the recipe I shared with you about 2 weeks ago.  The tea is done also and has a rich malty aroma.  It's color is much lighter than I expected, a light toasty amber.  Very nice flavor, malty and rich, with overtones of walnut.  It goes very, very nicely with my scone.  An excellent tea for a tea party

The phoebes are here, along with the robins and the bluebirds.  I love Spring.  I would prefer it
to be an ordinary cool Spring, as with this heat (upper 70s in Upstate New York), our flowers fade and wither in about 3 days, instead of 2 weeks.  So we must enjoy while we can.  I spotted some chiondoxa today, little blue stars.  I am thinking of digging out a small section - what a lot of work, hauling all that gravel! - and using it just for some spring bulbs, as I do love daffodils,  the blue stars, and the old wild tulips.  It looks like everything except one hollyhock has survived.

A joke for your younger children, told me by a first grader;  Mrs. A., did you know you can tune a piano?  Yes. FG - But you can't tune a fish.  Much laughter.  I love it when kids tell me jokes and get so caught up in laughing about them.

On the Amalfi Drive again, yet another place I wouldn't mind living.  I am not a big fan of endless miles of beach.  I am a lover of rocky coasts and crashing surf.  That is probably because I am one of those people who just burn and don't bother tanning.  And I like weather extremes.  However, should I find myself at the beach, I love to watch the little sand pipers and the other birds, even the gulls.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Conventions With Tea

We have been hosting a three day crow convention.  There seemed to be discussions on territory and food supply and classes for the youngsters in feather care, recognizing good carrion,  and the avoidance of cars.  I believe there was also a lengthy seminar on nest building and one on making and using tools. 

Between their momentous discussions, the early morning drumming of the woodpeckers, the dawn chorus of the other birds, and the vocalizations of approximately 370 trillion peepers, it gets pretty noisy out here in the quiet countryside.  But I don't mind, our own small ecosystem seems to be working well enough, and for that I am glad.  If the peepers are peeping, it means the bog is still pretty healthy.

Nevertheless, it is all enough to drive me to drink - tea, that is - Harney & Sons Pussimbing Autumnal Darjeeling.  Darjeeling has a three season pluck - first flush, second flush and autumn.  First flush you almost need to treat like a green, I've found.  Of the 3, most of the time I prefer the heartier autumnals.  This one has a nice mix of brown and gold dry leaves, with a floral and wine-like scent.  I brewed it for 3.5 minutes with boiling water, which is generally my starting point for new teas.  It brews up to a medium amber and has a hearty roasted aroma.  It has a hearty flavor as well, kind of nutty and woodsy, but it's not really anything special.  Just okay tea.  Did you know there is a Darjeeling tea estate named Okayti?  I am sure it does not mean the same in whichever of the several hundred Indian languages spoken there, especially since the Hindi word for tea is chai.

The Amalfi Coast.  If I were rich I would live there in the winter and early spring, living the rest of the time in Switzerland.  Since I am not, I will just live here.

Alex Zorach was right, now that the ginger I planted has the hang of growing, it is pushing out leaves like crazy.  Of course, we have had those rare Northeastern items, sun and warmth, which helps.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My New Kentucky Home

A while ago I told you Bruce Richardson had been named the Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Museum. His company, Elmwood Inn Fine Teas has blended a new tea for this - American Revolutionery War Boston Tea Party.  However, today I am having their Kentucky Blend that I got in a tea swap.  The dry leaves are small and mostly black.  It's a small sample and doesn't smell like much, which is about right for small samples.  It is composed of teas from Yunnan and Anhui Provinces, China.  I brewed it for about 3.5 minutes with boiling water.

The resulting liquer is very dark, with a somewhat golden cast around the dges.  It has a wonderfully fresh, woodsy, nutty aroma.  Taste wise, it is definitely walnut to me, with a bit of floral and some fresh spring woods to add to the mix.  I think there's a trace of lemon bisquit in the back as well.  I do love complex teas, they keep you intrigued.  But I also like simple teas, especially if I need a boost and don't want to think about my tea very much, just enjoy it.

Aren't these houses painted prettily?  Sorrento, Italy.  Sadly, it is only in the tourist areas.  Most of the rest of the town has really ugly slabs of apartment buildings.  Actually, almost anywhere there was much WWII bombing is like that.  There was not the reconstruction money that Germany, for example, had access to.

In just 2 days, the understory of the woods near the river has begun to green, the willows have shifted to new green, the cottonwoods are fluffing out the ends of their branches and the oaks are doing their spring leaf drop.  The hills are pale green and red and yellow,  topped with broad strips of still gray trees.  We're mostly in that strip.  Since yesterday our berry bushes have gone from "yeah, there's buds there" to tiny leaves.  It's supposed to be very warm all week, but I am sure we'll have cold again, so I am only doing the most minimal stuff in the garden.  When it is cool again, I'll plant my peas - in containers - I got some real short ones that are supposed to be good for that.  We'll see.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Oh Happy Day

Good News - Benoy Thapa from Thunderbolt Teas tells us that  First Flush Darjeelings are being picked - the lower slopes, that is.  Tea Season is beginning!  Oh Happy Day!  Over at there is a schedule of when teas are generally picked and processed.  It all depends on the weather, of course, and other things, like workers striking and all the things that go into farming.

Life in Teacup is taking orders for the earliest of the China greens, which may be pre-Qing Ming, depending on the weather.  I am getting a small amount of Da Fo Long Jing (Dragonwell).  Check around the different merchants if you want to be first or if this is something you really like.  I am also going to get some Arya Estate from Upton's   I have been looking through my tea notebooks and have found time and again that the Darjeelings I have given the highest marks to have been the ones from that Estate.

World Tea News has been keeping track of tea trends and there are six - three have to do with green tea, one is more interest in tea-enhancing wares and the best, as far as I am concerned is that more people are interested in better quality teas!  They also are more interested in tea shops where they can see and taste the teas before they buy.  I wish we had some around here.  I love living in a small town/rural area, but I do miss some of the advantages of a large city.

World Tea Expo is coming!  June 1-3 in Las Vegas.  go to and check out the offerings.  It is the 10th anniversary year, so I am sure it will be very special.  Some advance notice - World Tea East will be October 2-3 in the Philadelphia Conference Center.  I am  hoping we won't have another flood this year so I can go to it.

That's all for today - I am going out to garden!  I'm not taking off my snow tires until the end of the month, though - just in case!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Likely Pair

I had a very nice herbal today from The English Tea Shop.  It is a mix of Lemongrass and Ginger, which is its name.  I brewed it with boiling water for about 5 minutes.  Although there is no sweetener listed, the resulting brew was quite sweet.  The lemongrass and ginger were in a perfect balance, with neither one being too aggressive.  This would make a lovely summer ice tea for you herbal drinkers.  Even for me, when I don't want caffeine.  In fact, I have some in the fridge right now, as it is a warm, warm Spring day.

My, yes, Spring is taking off.  The skunk cabbage is unfurling its bright bright green leaves - a sure sign the season has arrived!  The willows are yellowing, a few are almost green.  Some of the trees are pushing out fat red buds, the understory is turning its twigs red as well.  Two of my hollyhocks are up and the first tiny frilly-pleated fans of the lupines are showing.  I think  all  my berries survived and my poor pathetic little tree that got broken, tornadoed and eaten off twice is showing some buds.  I've seen the first daffodils, but no crocus yet.  Up here on our hill, things are a bit slower than 200 feet below us near the river, but we're doing just fine.  And the sun is shining, what more can I ask for?

I guess the crows want more as they have been having a 2 day discussion of something important, judging by the racket they are making.  The grackles are back!  They are so beautiful, their feathers are an incredibly shiny iridescent blue black - more blue on their heads. The tiny little titmouse has been singing away by the feeder.  It's actually more of a whistle, but it's pretty.

I'm not sure St. Barbara has a lot to do with Spring, but I love the fact that a Swiss museum paints its walls orange

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

We All Win

The North American Tea Championships were held Feb 28-29.  More than 50 business submitted over 230 of their teas to this professionally judged competition.  It is the only one in North America.  Rishi Teas did really well with 6 First, 2 Seconds and 6 Third place winners!  Congratulations to them.  Q Trade Teas followed close behind with 4 First prize winners.

Other tea companies that placed first in at least one category were: Florapharm Tea, KIMCHA Tea, Naivetea, Newby Teas of London, Rare Tea Celler, Silk Road Tea, Yogic Chai and Sipping Streams.  Many of these are familiar to us.  The participants are thrilled to have professional judging by top tea tasters in the field.  It gives everyone bench marks to aim for.  If you go to the World Tea News site, you will be able to see the full list of winners.

Competitions such as this enables all tea drinkers to win as we can drink the winners, knowing they are the best in their category.  it also gives us something to compare other teas to.  As more and more people are drinking tea, many will want this kind of guidance. 

We could also do a Winners' Tea Party, perhaps for Derby Day and serve the winning teas after the "Run for the Roses"  Just a thought.  It would certainly work for any other contest you might want to celebrate.  It might also work for a graduation party, if you have a tea drinking teen.

One of the tea chat groups - Afternoon Tea Across America - has been discussing doing a tea based on the British Comedy "Keeping Up Appearences".  Only from the side of Hyncinth's rather lower class sister and brother-in-law, Daisy and Onslow.   They'd have [chipped] heavy mugs, The Racing Times, romance novels, bacon sarnies (sandwiches) crisps, maybe fish and chips.  All served with a deadly strong black tea with milk and sugar, the TV on in the background.  But with lots of good cakes.  It could be very, very funny with all participants having a good laugh..

Poppies along the Italian railroad.

My hollyhocks have come up.  These are the almost black ones, faced with re phlox, if it surviived and then yellow daylillies in fron of them.  I am tired of always beginning gardens and never seeing them mature.  Hopefully we will live long enough here that that won't be the case.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Wow!  The windows and doors are all open to a light breeze, the sun is shining, the grass turned GREEN overnight and....the peepers are peeping themselves crazy.  These are tiny frogs with big voices - the best voices get the best chickies, if they have a musical ear, I suppose.  Wonderful, wonderful.  I will have to go and check my plants to see if anyone has come up.

On the ginger pot scene, the largest leaf spike is unfurling one, so exciting.

My new chiropractor, who is quite young, but excellent is getting into tea.  Little does he know what might come his way from this tea freak!  All good, of course.

That's it for today, folks, too much cleaning, not enough tea-ing.  I'll be back Thurs of Fri.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring is Sprung, No Grass is Riz, But I Know Where the Birdies is!

I saw snowdrops blooming today!  And the "dawn chorus" of birds isdefinitely swelling.  My neighbor is planting peas tomorrow - he has real soil and the air temperatures have been in the 50s and 60s.  I am going to try some "Tom Thumb" peas in one of my containers, we have quite literally 3 inches of topsoil over gravel and I will try to plant perennials, but I am not doing a full fledged garden..  I guess we are having an early spring.

I got some Yunnans from Upton's and today's is their ZY47 China Yunnan Imperial Gen Ben Shi.  It is billed as a "classic" Yunnan.  The dry leaves are very crinkled, mostly black, with some gold buds.  It has a deep, nutty, woodsy smell, with a bit of roasted eggplant thrown in.  I brewed it for 5 minutes with boiling water, which yielded a very dark brown brew, which again smelled wonderfully nutty and toasty.

The tea has some spice in it, as well as the nuts and toasted/roastedness.  There is also a definite vegetal edge - almost an autumnal edge to it.  It is hearty, but delicate, you really have to close your eyes and concentrate on the subtle nuances.  This is a little difficult to do, as it is a very smooth tea.   It is only when I held the tea in my mouth for a bit that I noticed there was also a bit of astringency - just enough to be piquant.  An altogether very nice tea indeed.

My cousins are coming for a few days and I need to really scrub my house - one is quite allergic to cats and we have 4 of the little darlings.  Wouldn't you know that the kitties who never sleep in the guest room, have all gone in there to sleep all this week?  Cats, who can figure?

A very old church in Ravenna, Italy, which has the most creative parking I have ever seen.  If there is a space, no matter how small, use it and climb out the roof.  If not, park in the sidewalk.  Our hotel room, including the nightstands and all the doors was beautiful pink veined marble.  No window screens, but NO bugs.  Why are we so blessed with bugs?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Signs of Spring

Today I am having a lovely smooth tea from Uptons (ZK55) from the Sichuan Province of China - Zao Bei Jian Congou.  You can tell from the Congou this is a black tea.  When I opened the packet there was a sweet smell of silage, with a tiny edge of sourness or acidity.  The leaves are quite tiny, a mix of brown and black.  I brewed it with boiling water for 4 minutes.  The brew gives off a pleasant fresh wash aroma of good tea.  There is a bit of nuttiness and the merest whiff of spice, but it's overwhelming characteristic is smooth silkiness.  It strikes me as a perfect cup for a tea party, as I think it would go very well with both sweets and savories.  It takes milk nicely, but I like it just plain and pleasant.  Although it is plain, I really am liking it as I drink more of it.

This morning started out beautifully, with the sun rising to bejewel the frost.  There was mist in the valleys and the smoke of the farmsteads was rising in the calm air.  One of those moments in time that easily dissipates.

Since then, it has been quite blustery., but flowers are coming up and I heard a prothonotary warbler singing it's heart out.  The mourning doves are courting, as are the crows.  The two pairs of downy woodpeckers are giving each other dirty looks and do a bit of squabbling before they settle down to eat and the pileated woodpecker is going crazy with his drumming.  Even the cats are restless and run in and out and out and in.

These are wildflowers in the cliffs of Sorrento, Italy. I think the blue ones are some form of Canterbury Bells, but I don't know what the pink ones are.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Intrigue In A Teacup

Did you ever have a tea you can't make up your mind about?  I am having Phoenix Teas Royal Golden Safari Black.The leaves are very long with lots and lots of golden buds.  The dry tea smells intensely fresh and toasty and very much like walnuts, complete with that slight astringent or acidic edge they can have.  The first time I brewed this, I think I used too much and I wasn't happy about it at all.  The next time I used a scale and did 3 grams for an 8 ounce cup.  I used boiling water and brewed it for 3.5 minutes. 

The result was a medium red-amber cup that gave off an aroma of walnuts and earth, but not nearly as overwhelming as that first cup I really disliked.  There was also the merest trace of sweetness there also.  The tea did indeed taste like walnuts and earth, but also baked squash and some kind of baked sweets.  I really can't tell if I like it - I think I am more intrigued than anything.  It does not go well with milk and I thought it was not a tea for ice tea, although the flavor settled down to just walnuts by the end.  I think I will continue to experiment with it.

Yesterday was St. David's Day.  He is the patron Saint of Wales.  One of our neighbors had an impromptu party where we brought foods that approximated something that might be served in Wales - but no leeks - none of the stores had them.  Then we sang all the hymns we could find that had Welsh tunes.  It was a really fun evening.

All our woodpeckers are back and you should see the little Downies scatter when the big Red-Bellied Woodpecker lands on the suet.  He has a huge bill, about 2/3 the size of the little ones. The Downies are about 4-5 inches long and the Red-Bellied is about 10.  I can hear the Pileated drumming in the woods, but I have yet to see him.  The bluebirds are returning, although I know some hang around all winter.  Yesterday the crows were having one of their confabs, all yelling and posturing.

This is one of my favorite pictures.  It is in the courtyard of a monastary in Sorrento, Italy.  They also have a 5 foot rosemary there, which makes me die of jealousy.  I couldn't even get mine to overwinter this year.

Continuing report on the potted ginger.  There are now 5 spears of leaves-to-be in the pot, but they are growing very slowly - only about 1-1.5 inches high.  They need some real sun, which we only have about every 4 days.