Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is It Assam or Keemun?

Today's tea is Winey Keemun English Breakfast from Grace Tea Company.  To me, it doesn't smell very winey, more a cross between tobacco and pickles. The leaves are small, black and chopped.  I brewed it, per recommendations, for 3 minutes with boiling water.  The resulting brew is a lovely yellow amber, not quite what I was expecting.

The tea isn't, either.  It smells like an Assam, malty.  There is a spring vegetal edge to it as well.  None of this is unpleasant, just not what I would call a Keemun.  To me, it just doesn't have a winey Keemun presence. Assam, yes.  Drat, I love Keemun.  I like Assam as well, it's just my mouth was ready for Keemun.  Maybe I just got some that wasn't mixed as well as it could be, as it is common for these 2 teas to be blended for English Breakfast.

The big news this weekend is the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas  Korean has sent it's largest delegation ever and there will be a big emphasis on Korean tea, which is generally of very high quality.  They've been making it since at least the 7th century, so they ought to be pretty good at it by now.  They are working to increase the tea world's knowledge of them, increase production and farmer's wages and benefits. Excellent goals.  Almost half of their tea farms are organic, always a plus, as far as I am concerned.

India is also going to be major player, with emphasis on its 4 major growing regions, Nilgiri, Darjeeling, Assam, and Kerala.  They are working towards brand recognition in the world market, emphasizing quality.  They are also pushing for an open route into Pakistan, which would ease delivery to one of their best customers.  Tea producers are also working towards having tea declared India's national drink.  At the moment, India only ranks 53rd in  per capita consumption, about 1 pound a year.  Compare that to the United Arab Emirates folk who, (are you ready?), drink 14 pounds per capita, per year.  I can't imagine drinking that much tea.

I have been very busy in the garden, establishing a lavender bed, planting roses, daylilies, miniature bearded iris and enough annuals to make it look less bare until things are established.  I've also been appreciating natures bounty, as the daisies and garlic mustard are blooming away, the may apples are fruiting and everything is so beautifully green.  Did you know you can make jelly from may apples?  You need a lot more than I have been able to find this year, but it is a lovely delicate confection, highly suitable for elegant tea parties.

On the bird front, there is nearly a daily riot at the feeders, as grackles, blue jays, red wing blackbirds, regular blackbirds and those awful starlings compete.  The woodpeckers come earlier and later, so they have a relatively easy time.  Our turkey population has grown to 3 and the Ernster kitty has been stalking them.  They totally ignore him, walking right past on their way elsewhere.  The first time that happened, he sat down very casually, as if that was his intention, and washed his tail, then bounded for the house for a snack, as though this wasn't a great blow to his hunter's ego!  LOLOLOL.  As if he was not the one doing the stalking.  Cats!

Here we are at Ballenberg Museum in Switzerland.  The woman is hauling a cart of bread from the bake house to the shop.  On the right is a barn with corn stored under it for the animals. Above it are the living quarters.  It is typical of Swiss farmhouses to have house and barn as one - winters are just too severe, otherwise.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lots of Lovely Tea

Yum, yummm green tea ice cream.  We visited some friends near Philadelphia this week and had dinner at our favorite Korean restaurant.  Dinner was delicious, but the ice cream was superb.  it was made with good quality matcha and wasn't too sweet.  Not was it full of too much tea, but a really lovely balance.  It was served with very lightly battered banana chunks that were deep fried.  Altogether a lovely dessert.

There was Korean tea to drink also, which was green, very light and delicate and tasting of spring.  My lack of Korean and our waitress's lack of English prevented me from discovering its name.  We had it before our meal, it never could have stood up to the flavors of the food.

We also went to our favorite Indian restaurant for lunch and savored their masala chai.  It was very milky and heavy on the cinnamon.  The owners of this restaurant are from northwestern India, so it is not surprising their chair is different from that of my friends from southeastern India.  The tea was in an urn on the buffet table, which indicates to me, again, that tea in many forms is gaining a large share of American taste.

Not to leave out breakfast, we had that at Paneras, which has wonderful breads and I had some Tazo Ginger Peach.  The water was actually really hot and the tea was good.  For tea bags, I think most Tazo teas are quite tasty.

The World Tea Expo is next weekend, June 1-3 in Las Vegas.  If you can, I would urge you to go to it.There will be hundreds of exhibiters, many new teas and tea infused products to try, plus a huge range of educational opportunities.  There will also be a Wu-Wo tea ceremony, which is one designed to make all tea drinkers equals.  There is a good description of it on Wikipedia.  At least, I would encourage you to go to and check it out.  It's their 10th anniversary, so there are all sorts of celebrations.

Mountain laurel is blooming and the wild phlox is absolutely riotous this year - I've never seen it this fine.  One of my neighbors has a stand of it fronting some brilliant orange poppies - eye candy.  I have very few lilac blooms this year, but the ones that are here are incredibly intense in smell.

Another photo from the museum at Ballenberg

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tangentially Tea

I have a sad confession to make about my ginger plant.  I put it out too soon and most of its leaves are in a sorry state.  However, it seems to be coming back, so if I can resist putting it out too soon again, perhaps it will be all right.

I have rosemary and tarragon vinegars curing in the closet and red wine vinegar waiting for purple basil if it ever gets more than 2 inches tall.  I have awful luck trying to grow basil from seed.  I think I should just give in and only buy it from a nursery.  I am going to make a lot of herb vinegars this summer.  If you use white balsalmic vinegar as a base, which is much sweeter than the usual, they can be sprinkled on fruit salad to add a bit of pizazz.  I am also going to try mixing some fruit teas with the herbal vinegars for further flavor.  Like a citrus tea, made very strong, with orange mint.

Most of you know that I lean toward organic teas.  On the whole I believe they are better for everyone, from planters to consumers to the earth as a whole.  That doesn't necessarily mean the individual teas are better or worse. That is a whole other tale. I don't think it is just scare stories that the earth and its climate are changing.  Winters are generally milder, flowers are blooming earlier, the climate is weirder. More tornadoes in more places that do not generally have them is an example of this.

Our Master Gardener program, which is part of a Co-Operative Extension program of the land grant universities, such as Cornell, has asked us to keep track of the compost we save each month as a way of proving how much waste we save from landfills.  So far, my husband and I have averaged 66 pounds each month.  Multiply that by composters around the country and you can see how much can be kept out of landfills, since the compost goes right into our gardens (after a year or so) to enrich the soil.  Which is why I am pleased that tea and some teabags and their containers, like those from Teatulia are organic and biodegradable.

The Co-Operative Extension started about 75 years ago to promote good agricultural practises.  My father, uncle and two grandfathers were charter members.  They were part of programs to promote crop rotation, sustainable agriculture, crop comparisons, contour plowing, etc.  I feel like I have taken up a proud legacy by becoming a Master Gardener.  Even in cities like Philadelphia, there is a strong Co-Op, dedicated to urban agriculture, nutrition and other topics related to living well with the earth.

We are going away for a few days, so I won't be back until Thursday.

Again from Ballenberg, an example of the small huts that herdsmen would use in the summers in the high mountain pastures.  The lower level would be given over to cheese making and curing, while the upper level would be sleeping quarters.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tea, Beautiful Tea

Oh lucky me, another nice tea to chat about.  This is Adagio's Huang Jin (yellow flowers) Bolero.  This definitely calls to mind a very mixed bag of images, from the mountains of China to the heat of Spain, from the quiet of the tea fields to the opera.

The dry leaves are almost crinkled into balls and give off a gentle hayfield aroma, mixed with some floral.  The suggested brewing is for boiling water for 5 minutes.  I pretty much trust Adagio, so I do it.  It works!, even though this is a bit unusual for Oolong and not what you should do if you are going for multiple steeps.  The aroma has moved more into the often characteristic orchid smell, along with a bit of fruit. The tea is sweet and mild, with a floral/fruit taste.  There is also an unmistakable greenness to it, along with a hit of mineral.  Altogether very fine.

I finally got smart and decided to buy the squirrels peanuts.  Otherwise I would spend my life chasing them away from the bird feeders.  I put them and things for the ground feeders down near the squirrels' trees and it seems to work.  Even the turkey is happy.

We have pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks!  They are such beautiful birds.  As usual, the female is quite drab, but lovely in her own way, having a multitude of browns and speckles.  There are many sparrows and I am having a hard time distinguishing them all, as they don't sit still in good enough poses.  The fur persons seem to have given up bird chasing for mice and voles.  I am happy with that.  The little downies are beginning to look a bit raggedy.  Parenthood is a lot of work!  Sometimes they just sit on the suet, apparently having a breather.  I wonder if the male is a bit of a cross, as he seems to have a lot of touches of yellow on his head, wings, tail and body.  Hmm.  If you are interested in birds, the Cornell site  is a great one

An old coaching inn that was moved to Ballenberg museum.  The stables were in the building to the left. Ballenberg is trying to save as many historic Swiss buildings as they can.  The museum is divided into the regions of the country.  We only got to see the Bernese Alpine region, where my grandparents came from.  The house my grandfather grew up in was built in 1572, but remains in the village it was in, now converted into apartments.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

No Lime in My Coconut

Oh yum, coconut muffins with Golden Moon's Coconut Pouchong Tea.  A regular gilding of the lily, as it were.  This is a flavored tea, with crinkly brown/black leaves smelling distinctly wonderful of very toasted coconut.  The suggestions are for 2 teaspoons of tea per cup, 180 degree water for 4 minutes.  It smells super as it is brewing and I so hope the flavor lives up to the pre-brew razz ma tazz.

Well, this one can razzle dazzle all it wants, it's a success.  Very tasty.  The surprisingly pale green liquor is loaded with a gentle, sweet coconut that partners very well with  the light floral of the Oolong.  There doesn't seem to be any chemical taste, which I abhor, so I would give this high ratings for a flavored tea.  It has more body than I would have expected.  It strikes me as very rich, so I think something along the lines of a fruit salad  - mostly citrus, I think - would be a better pairing than my muffins- definitely too much of a good thing.  A sprinkle of coconut wouldn't hurt, however.

A very interesting altar in the tiniest of churches.  The pews you see are all there are.  This is in the Ballenberg Museum in Switzerland - a huge outdoor museum filled with old buildings,  heritage animals, restaurants serving  traditional foods, outdoor games, working breweries and bake shops and people to explain it all.  Very much a working museum, like Williamsburg.  We spent a day there and perhaps covered about 1/5th of it.  I loved it!

Today has been good - sunny, warm enough, cool enough, so I planted a bunch of herbs and perennials.  I got a little smarter this year and bought small plants so  we wouldn't get hernias hauling all that gravel to make adequate holes - 3" of top soil over limitless gravel.

Oh dear, the starlings have discovered my largesse.  They are one bird I really don't appreciate and keep telling the fur persons to eat them, but so far, I have had no luck.  Our lone turkey is back.  He is very skittish and often runs away, with a funny high pitched kak-kak-kak.  The whipporwills are beginning to call a lot in the evening and sometimes between them, the owls and the frogs, it can be quite noisy.  But it's a nice noise, soothing as I sit on the porch for a last cup of tea, usually an herbal.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Oh No! Stale Tea!

I was going to do a review of Tazo's Earl Grey, a teabag I had in my stash.  I brewed it and it had a very faint scent, smelling more like an Assam tea than anything else.  As I sipped it, it had almost no flavor.  Suddenly, the light dawned!  Stale tea!  I have no idea how long I have had this tea, I think I got it as part of a tea swap.  Therefore, no review of it - it would be totally unfair to Tazo to do so.  But it does bring up another issue, the storage and shelf life of tea.

Tea goes stale!  The less a tea is processed, the shorter the shelf life and the storage conditions need to be as ideal as possible.  The whites, greens, yellows and some Oolongs have a shorter life span than black teas, but black ones can go bad as well.  There are some Oolongs that are kept in perfect storage for many years and then drunk as very special teas, often re-roasted gently before drinking.  I just reviewed one recently, from the 1960s and I thought it was one of the best teas I've ever had, full of flavor and nuances.

By the same token, I have some 6 year old Hu Kwa from Mark T. Wendell, which is a Lapsang Souchong, which I swear gets better and better.  Puerh is another category of tea, which is really made to be drunk both new and after long storage.

However, the storage conditions for Puerh differs greatly from all other teas.  Puerh is kept in a humidity controlled dark environment to age, much like fine cigars.  Often people will break off a small hunk of the stored tea to see how it is progressing.  Our other teas like the dark, the dry and no air circulating around them.

A relatively cool spot on a shelf or in a cupboard will do, carefully separating out flavored teas from the others. I find tins with air-tight lids to be perfect and I have a large collection of them.

Matcha, that lovely powdered green tea, is often recommended to be kept in the refrigerator.  It has a very short shelf-life and this seems to extend that a bit.

Let's turn to tea bags.  Tea bags are generally made from very tiny bits of tea.  Because of this, they brew up very quickly.  However, they also go stale very quickly.  They should also be kept in the same manner as other teas - no air, no light, no damp.  You need to be aware they have often been on the shelves already for a long time, so if you buy them, do so in small quantities.  Better yet, try some loose-leaf teas from a reputable company.  Many of you only have ready access from grocery stores, so buyer, beware.  I live near a small town and while there is a wonderful Wegman's not too far away, I do most of my tea buying on line and have come to figure out, at least a little, where to get the "good stuff" that's within my price range.

Speaking of which, if you compare prices of teabags versus prices of  good loose leaf teas, you will find the latter are cheaper, unless you are using the very, very expensive teas.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cucumbers In The Rain

Pouring rain.  Gray skies.  Wet cats.  Tea to the rescue!

Tea Forte is ever expanding its line and I was gifted with one of the newbies.  It is Cucumber Mint  "green tea for youth recovery".  Gosh, I don't know if I really should, as I am pretty content being older.  Oh well, it can't really hurt.  Besides, it also has blueberries in it and antioxidants and its supposed to do something for my skin. All  that in one tiny teabag!

I use water at a near boil and steep it for three minutes.  It has a rather odd aroma of guess what - mint and blueberry!  I can't decide if I like it.  The tea is a bit odd as well.  At first, I really couldn't say what it tasted like, but then different aspects will come forth to be recognized, clearly cucumber or mint or the sharp/sweet of the fruit.  It's intriguing and I am definitely going to keep drinking it.  I am going to cool some and see how it will be as ice tea.

Some of the rhododendrons across the street are blooming, but a lot got frozen out, as did our lilacs, which is a great grief to me.  Our neighbors early rhodys got frozen into an ugly brown mess and it looks like the plants aren't doing well.  I think our currents and gooseberries managed to hit it right, as they seem to be producing some fruit.  Hopefully more than the six currents we got last year.  Elderberries are finally growing, but the rose seem to be in sad shape.  Sigh, weather can't be controlled, but gardeners live into hope.

A cheeseman at the farmers market in Bern, Switzerland.  Good stuff!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

A Happy Mother's Day to all you mamas.  Love your children extravagantly and let them go into the big world, knowing you did your best.  I learned that with our kids - that my parents did their best, for who they were and I did my best for who I was.  Not perfect and not always wonderful and maybe, at times, not my best.  But we all learned to forgive each other and go on.  Love covers so much that isn't perfect.

It's a good day for having some celebratory tea.  I am having another of Upton's teas.  It is Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe China Yunnan, ZY40.  I haven't ever seen one with the Golden etc. designation, as that is usually Indian or Ceylon teas.  They consider it the best of the commonly available grades.

 I am making it in one of my two new Mother's Day teapots.  This one is pottery from a local potter and is shades of blue and purple.  I am in love with it's colors.  I hope to buy some matching cups.  The other is Sheffield silver.  That is, an English silverplate over copper.

The dry tea has a mild, sweet aroma.  I am brewing it with water just off the boil, for 4 minutes.  The tea is a light yellow-amber, still with a mild sweet smell.  It is indeed a mild tea, a bit on the brisk side, with some of the characteristic Yunnan taste, with just the barest hint of spice.  It would be an easy introduction to this type of tea for those who might be hesitant to think outside the bag.  It is not at all astringent and goes nicely with cream.  I would not hesitate to serve it at a tea party.

The wild phlox and the buttercups are blooming!  Our woods are such lovely greens - I was beginning to despair of their ever being anything but gray.  I finally got all the bird feeders up and have been rewarded with a myriad of songs and tweets.  The woods are filled with them and with the sounds of so many, many woodpeckers, drumming away.  One is so fast and low, it sounds just like a cat purring.  The catbirds are crying, too and I am often running to see what's up.  Just a bird.  Our lone turkey is moving further afield and getting closer to the big flock - I hope he finds them.

Terraced vineyards just outside of the town of Forio, Ischia Island, Italy

Monday, May 7, 2012

Of Tea and Churches

Mother's Day is coming soon.  Are any of you doing something special  for a mother in your life?  All my mothers and grandmothers have gone on and the one I kind of adopted is far away, so all I am doing is sending cards.  However, when I go see her later on, we are gong to tea at one of our favorite places - Thyme for Tea in Lansdale, PA.  They have a great assortment of teas and their food is wonderful.  They also have a very nice little gift shop.  I am in hopes they will have a violet sprinkled tea pot, as I have cups, but no pot.

Today is perfect for a hot cuppa.  It is gloomy and cold and I am going crazy trying to make my house as kitty fur and clutter-free as possible.  My cousins are going to visit and they are allergic to the little darlings.  So, of course, we all know they will climb all over them, they who have raised ignoring people to a fine art.

I'm taking tea with Upton's again.  It is TD60, Premium Darjeeling Blend.  I brewed it for 3.5 minutes with boiling water.  The dry leaves are definitely a blend, with black, brown, green leaves and some stems here and there.  There really wasn't much scent other than "tea".  As it brewed, however, there was that fresh-wash-on-the-line aroma, coupled with a bit of toast and muscatel.  At first I thought this gentle tea tasted a bit like bamboo with a hint of green, then there was some sort of wet wood/vegetation taste.  It is a pleasant tea, light and suitable for afternoons, but it isn't anything special and I don't know that I would label it premium.  But then, quite a while ago, I seemed to have lost my taste for Darjeeling, unless it is superb.

Yet another Italian church, filled with inlaid marble, this one is also on Ischia Island.  This is more to my taste, as it is less fussy.  The little church I attended as a child was plainer than plain, with huge clear glass windows, the better to watch birds during boring sermons.  It had a long shed behind, for stabling horses, a holdover from years ago and now filled with the junk such structures seem to acquire.  To this day, when an institution fires up its gas ovens or burners, the smell returns me immediately to the church suppers held in the basement.  It was a good time and place.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tea Among the Beautiful

Today has been a day of visual and olfactory wonders.  It began with the utter stillness of the river mirroring the soft greens and silvers and whites of middle spring.  It was beautifully disturbed by a lone oarsman, sculling his way downriver, the sun glinting off his head.  There was pink honeysuckle blooming by the road side and further in,  wild dogwood was tracing its whiteness through the barely covered branches.  Then there were the lilacs, lovely purple and white pannicles scenting the air.  At home ours are still budding.  I can't wait for them to bloom, but meanwhile I am content with some white clover sweetening the morning and smiling at the lollipops of dandelion fuzz waiting to scatter.  A lovely morning.

My tea is quite nice, also, being Upton's China Pre Ching-Ming Golden Pekoe.  I use 2-3 teaspoons of these long slender buds/leaves per cup, meanwhile admiring the gold dust and the sweet, somewhat spicy, somewhat tobaccoey aroma .  I brew it boldly for 5 minutes with boiling water and I am rewarded with a lovely cup that is woodsy, sweet, delicate but strong.  It is smooth and delicious.  It goes very nicely either plain or with some milk.

This afternoon I had some Simpson and Vail's Rose-Kissed Jasmine.  This is one of my all time favorite green teas.  The jasmine is good quality and the rose kisses with it remind me of my favorite shrub, the Mock Orange, which will bloom soon.  It has always been wonderful, in my opinion.

I planted a strawberry tower this afternoon and decided where I want to plant my new daylilies and peonies.  Some of the former are fragrant.  One is a spider type.  That will go on the other side of the walk from the yellow spider I got last year.  It is a huge flower and really shines when it blooms.  I also got some cranesbill geraniums and some yellow creeping plant to go under the black leafed one I got last year.  I added two new colors to my miniature German bearded iris - NOT to be confused with miniature iris - a totally different plant.  Now all I really need are some Caesar's Brother iris and I am all set.  Well, the lavender for the new bed and the rose for its middle - Bright Corsair.

Mother's Day is coming, so I thought I would show you how one church in Forio, Ischia Island, Italy, decorated for their celebration of the day.  The statues have real hair.  This is the church with the pyramidal baptismal font I pictured a few days ago. We visited many churches in Forio, as that is the township Frank's grandfather came from.