Sunday, July 29, 2012

Elderberry Tea

Are you all ready for the Olympics?  I am.  It is the only sports I watch.  Well, perhaps a bit of football  once in a while.  I don't even really care who wins, I just like to see people who are the best of the best struttin' their stuff.  I would love to see more dressage, as I love horses, but it's not a popular sport.  Here's to all of you who have come so far!

Is there an official tea for the Olympics?  I know McDonald's is the official restaurant.  Although it is awful food, it is pretty world wide.  I guess Subway is, also.  They could use a bit of an upgrade in their choices.

Official or not, my tea is from Tea Vivre - Yun Nan Dian Hong, golden tip.  The suggestions on the sample call for water at 185 degrees for 2-3 minutes.  I did 2.5.  An unusually low temp and short brew for a Yunnan.  However, we'll see.  The small packet had a lovely typical Yunnan aroma with a hint of fruitiness and was primarily golden buds and tips, nice big ones.  

As the tea was brewing, it smelt very fresh with a hint of corn that was immediately taken over by the scent of elderberries or concord grapes, if you will, but I think elderberries is much closer.  The liquor was a lovely medium copper color with a bit of a nutty flavor, but mostly elderberry, some grape and a bit of something roasted.  I tried some with a little cream and that brought out a very nice caramel flavor.  A lovely Yunnan. I think I'll keep this brewing method in mind for some of my other Yunnans I wasn't so taken with and see what happens. 

Our little downy and hairy woodpeckers have gotten braver and really give the piggy jays a talking to for being so greedy.  I wish someone would do the same for the squirrels, of which we now have 7.  Too many greedy critters.

The Ernster is over his flare-up of EOS granuloma and is now feeling sociable.  He has parked himself on top of the couch, where a fan can blow cool air over him all day.

More church balconies.  I really like the way German churches are painted.  Ours seem awfully staid.  This morning was our organist's last day with us and he pulled out all the stops on the postlude.  There is something majestic about the floor and you shaking from the power of the vibrations from the big pipes of the organ.  It was wonderful!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Aah, Summer

For lunch today we had what could be considered the quintessential summer meal - corn on the cob, fried green tomatoes with buttermilk dressing, cucumber salad, raspberries and ice tea.  All seasonal, all from either our CSA or the Farmers' Market.  Well, the tea came from Uptons - ZK95, China Keemun Mao Feng Imperial. I made it on the light side and I must say, it is a delightful ice tea soft and winey, with a bit of floral..

In the same publication as yesterday, Delicious Living, I found a recipe for Chai Iced Tea Pops.  I modified the recipe some:

Simmer 8 chai tea bags or the equivalent tea and spices from your own recipe, with 1 cup coconut milk and 2 cups of water for 10 minutes, strain, add sugar to taste, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  let cool for about 30 minutes and pour into pop molds, freeze about 3 hours.  You could also just use regular milk, it would be good either way.

Pop molds are in the grocery store, department store, craft store, almost every place and they are inexpensive - under $10 for 6 -8 of them.

Did you know the ancient Greeks had poetry, art, and architecture Olympics at the same time as the sports Olympics?     Remember the old concept, "sound body, sound mind"?  Greek concept.  In 1912 someone reinstated the poetry part in that year's Olympics.  It lasted until 1952.  It was discontinued mostly because the poetry was so awful.  NPR is having a poetry Olympics. We'll see if the poets are any better or should just fade away.

This morning I saw what looked like a deer family of poppa, momma and fawn, with gorgeous reddish brown coats and spots still on the fawn.  They are beautiful creatures, but I wish they would stick to woodland flowers and shrubs.

The wildflowers are early this year - the wild asters are already beginning to bloom and the purple loosestrife is running riot.  The chicory and Queen Ann's lace is having a superb year, with deep color on the chicory and more lace than usual.

My new lavender is blooming.  Not enough to do much with so I think I will just gather it and put the dried flower heads in with some Early Grey tea.  I first had this with some from Simpson and Vail Tea and I really like the combination.  I am hoping that next year I have a huge amount, both for tea and sleep pillows and all sorts of things

How's this for a casket?  Ravenna, Italy

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Book of Tea For Tea

I was at our local health food store and picked up one of their free publications, Delicious Living.  On page 13 there are 4 ice tea recipes.  Below are the 2 that rang my chimes.

Peach Mint Green Tea
Crush  or wring a bunch of mint - about 2 a heat proof bowl
Brew 2 cups of green tea - they used tea bags - steep 3 minutes.
Pour tea  over mint and steep 5-8 minutes
Strain, pressing on mint to get all the goodies.
Add 1 cup peach nectar and chill.

Mango Darjeeling Tea
Make 4 cups of Darjeeling Tea using 2 Tablespoons of tea, steeped 2-4 minutes.
Add 2 cups mango nectar and chill

I warn you, both peach and mango nectars are very sweet.  If you would like it less sweet, you could puree fresh ripe peaches and mangoes and add to taste, which is what I will do.

The Sage Group, a Seattle think tank, says we are underestimating tea sales in the US.  They believe we spend over $27 billion a year on tea, importing about 234 million pounds of this wonderful stuff.  Kind of hard to wrap your head around that, isn't it?  Puts my tea cupboard in perspective, but somehow I doubt that Himself will agree.

I was packing up for a trip to the library and realized the bag I was using is one I have had for over 40 years.  That has certainly saved a lot of trees and plastics.  I confess I don't always remember my bags, but I try.  And I recycle boxes I get to send forward for presents and teas swaps.  My family got in on this early as there was a very disreputable box that got traded around for Christmas and birthday presents for years until not even twenty layers of tape could hold it together.

I just finished reading a really good book about tea - The Gunpowder Gardens by Jason Goodwin.  It was written in 1990 and describes his travels through China and India.  He weaves tea drinking, history, production, planting into one very fascinating and personal tale.  It is an easy read and a great way to acquire knowledge of tea without it being painful.  I highly recommend it.  I got it either through Amazon or Alibris for not too much money.

One of the many home churches of my German ancestors. I loved the play of the wood balconies against the walls.  This one is in Obernhoff, in the Rhine area known ad the Pfalz or Palatinate.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Cup Runneth Over (All Over The Place)

As I was pouring water in my tea pot today, I managed to pour it all over the counter, as well, due entirely to inattention.  It got me thinking about what we tea people have done that at least in retrospect, was accidental  or silly and has now become funny.

I am sometimes given to trying to look more knowledgeable than I really am and it almost always backfires and I am shown up as a right twit.  One such occasion, thankfully, long ago, I very smartly ordered both milk and lemon with my tea - two is better than one and ever so much smarter, right?  Umm humm and we all know what happened - the milk curdled and looked disgusting, but I drank it anyway, in a fit of payment rendered for the sin of pride, or something like that.   I think I am still embarrassed.

How about you?  Have you done anything tea related that backfired?  When I was a kid I made blue ice cubes, to make our drinks more colorful.  Oh, they did alright, they looked like something diseased in the ice tea and it was really difficult for our guests to be polite and drink at least some of it.  Object lesson on "We eat (and drink) with our eyes first"  Since then I am a little more careful in how I make things colorful.

I am not drinking a new tea today, but I am trying a new tea candy from Tea Forte' - minteas Results - tea mints for fitness, matcha chai flavor.  They allege that the matcha, which makes them green, is slimming and the cinnamon aids in keeping you fit.  Gosh, I don't know, that seems a  lot for one 1/4 inch mint to do.  I have my doubts.  However, taste wise, they're pretty good, with a big bite of cinnamon.  I can't really taste any matcha, but it may be gentling the cinnamon.  They're tasty and well worth getting if you like that particular spice.  Warning - they are a bit khaki colored, which to me is odd.

This is Vienna, the tall spike in the middle is the cathedral, Stephansdom.  One of the many Hapsburg palaces, this the Belvedere, is just beyond the gardens.  Behind me is another palace, where visitors stayed. The royal family did not allow people, even other royals, to stay in the same palace with them.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Pearl of a Tea

We had company this weekend and took them to our newest favorite Thai restaurant.  They had a selection of about 12 teas, all from Harney's.  I had their Jasmine Pearl.  It came as a teabag with the ubiquitous pot of not too hot water, which is fine for greens.  It had a lovely aroma and tasted very good as well.  There was a good balance of the jasmine flavor and aroma, with that of a pleasant green tea.  I wondered how this would hold its own with the spicy Thai food, but it held its own very pleasantly and complimented the food quite nicely.  Altogether a very nice surprise.

We also took in one of summer's joys - the wonderful farmers' market in Ithaca, NY.  This is reminiscent of European markets, with all sorts of produce, wonderful baked goods, potters, clothiers, wine makers, crafts men and women, plant sellers and cider and cheese makers.  Set at the Southern tip of Cayuga Lake, it is quite a fun outing.

It has finally cooled off a bit and we are MOST thankful.  I was beginning to feel like a wrung out dish rag.

A wonderful old doorway in the summer palace of the Hapsburgs in Vienna, Austria.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tea Among the Lilies

Another hot day in the old town!  Seems to be everybody's story.  While I am not usually a flavored tea fan, I reviewed one a while ago I thought was excellent - Nirvana from the American Tea Room.  I have carefully saved it for the summer, thinking it would make an excellent ice tea for me, as I prefer green or Oolong iced instead of blacks.  This is billed as "A heavenly blend of Japanese Sencha with rose petals, berries, figs and kiwi"  Supposedly  "The perfect tea for inner reflection"  I don't know about that, I am not a particularly reflective person.

However, this is  scrumptious iced.  I put about 9 teaspoons in my sort of 2 quart pitcher and poured over cold water, sealed it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge.  4 hours later, there is a lovely cool, pale green liquid begging to be drunk.  Who am I to quibble?  Unlike the hot tea, it is impossible to single out and one flavor.  It is perhaps closest to a fruity bubblegum, with the barest hint of perfume.  A touch of lemon juice raises it to sublime.  I may even buy more.  Maybe I'll even begin some reflection.

At the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, the Best New Product is based on the cold brew tea method. It comes fro Swirl Tea and it is a small packet of tea in a paper container with thousands of holes.  Insert into ice cold water bottle, shake for a minute and there you have it.  There are 4 flavors - Original, Mango, Mint and Peach.  I haven't tried it yet, but if I see some, I'll get it and let you know.  There are several other companies coming out with similar products, most of which are fairly well-reviewed by others.

My daylilies are so absolutely beautiful.  Most of them are in the pink/peach/apricot/nectarine shades, but near the front door they have shaded into reds and yellows, crowned with 3 huge "spider" form dayliies in lovely yellow, one streaked with red, another fragrant and the third just a beautiful huge soft yellow.  Coupled with the allysum at their feet, going out the door is a heady experience.  Tonight I am planting some miniature German Bearded Iris I just got in the mail.  I am completely won over by these little gems, which follow on the heels of the other miniature iris in bloom sequence.  I also got a stupendous red Japanese iris called Shogun.  Lots of big adjectives today.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Kool Kitties and Hot Tea

Although this is a summer picture, I know there is snow up above us and I am remembering the cool!
I had heard good things about Tea Vivre, so I ordered some sample packets from them.  Today I am having Organic Superfine Keemun Fragrant Black Tea.  It brewed in the time it took to type the name.  lol  It certainly is fragrant.  Sometimes flowery, sometimes biscuity, sometimes a bit like roasted corn, there's a lot going on here.  I brewed a pot with the sample at 194 (90C) degrees for 21/2 minutes.  The flavor is doing the same thing.  Each sip seems to have its own character.  Sometimes a trace of floral, sometimes biscuits, sometimes the roasted corn comes to the fore.  I am not getting any winey-ness and that I would like.  Nevertheless, it is a fine tea.

I know we are all hot.  I can tell - all the cats are lying in the breeze of the air conditioning.  Including one on the dresser, where it blows across his tummy.  He may no longer be the "good" kitty, but the Ernster is now the "smart" kitty.

It has been a regular riot out on the bird feeders, with everyone bringing their families to eat.  The poor little woodpeckers have gone to my neighbors to eat, there are too many jays and grackles here.  The adult jays have such a soft voice when they are talking to their young, it is amazing, since they really are terrible loudmouths the rest of the time.  The red-bellied woodpeckers are still here - no one wants to mess with their big bills.

I find myself practically somnolent in the afternoons - it feels like the heat just sits on my head and all I can think of is iced tea, a hammock and a simple book.  Not a time for improving my mind.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tea With the Tots

Ah, the fledglings are coming to the feeders.  The young blue jays, who have gray tummies instead of the white of their parents are all clustered on the seed feeder, watching their parents cling to the suet feeders.  A young female hairy is trying to figure out how to eat and hold on at the same time.  She hasn't quite caught on that she needs to move down the suet feeder a bit to reach the suet, so she is trying to stretch her neck too far, with no result.  In the pine tree, a young blackbird is trying to convince its parent to feed it, while the parent eats a juicy morsel in front of it.  Growing up is tough.

We went to see the movie about the Marigold Hotel.  It is funny, sad, sweet, colorful, and a testimony to life.  There is also a charming scene about tea with Judy Dench.  I would urge you to go out and see it.  You'll be glad you did.

Another Tea Trekker Tea.  I have discovered that I slowly have inched up the quantity of tea I was using, in search of more taste, while I was unhappy with the filter I was using.  Now I am making it too strong and it is less pleasant.  Today I was more careful with my Yunnan 4 year old Wild Arbor Tea.  The leaves are huge and a beautiful mix of mostly black with some gold and brown.  It smells of cherries and new school notebooks with a touch of wine.  I brewed it for 4 minutes and was rewarded with a rich scent of nuts or bran and cooking oatmeal.  The taste was equally rich and smooth with all the nuts and oatmeal and bran in it.  It has a nice thick mouth feel.  I tried it with milk and it really wasn't very good at all, so don't bother.

Doesn't that shade look inviting?  It is the porch of the chapel for my grandmother's church in Meieringen, Switzerland.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Filtered Happiness

I am once again an official "Happy Camper".  For some reason, PUR water filters will no longer stay on my water faucet.  So, I thought I would try Brita filter pitchers.  I thought they made my tea seem flat and somehow all tasting the same.  Then I discovered that PUR makes filter pitchers, also and now my teas again taste wonderful!  Happy tea, happy me.

Today I was waiting in the grocery line and spotted this tea party idea in a magazine:  when you are offering tea, offer a basket of edible flowers and herb stalks that people can choose to add to their teas, such as roses, nasturtiums, violas, pansies, thyme, mint, borage, and some of the others I've discussed before.  Probably best at a somewhat informal affair.  You could also add a few slices of ripe fruit or berries for folks to choose from..

Today I am having the first of my newly purchased Tea Trekker teas - Longevity Keemun, an organic black tea from Anhui Province, China.  In the packet it smells of fresh hay, but hay that has absorbed the aroma of wine barrels.  The leaves are a pretty mixed black, grey, brown and are somewhat long and twisted.  I used a heaping teaspoon per cup and water a bit under the boil, brewing it for 4 minutes.  It gave off a lovely aroma of dried corn/fresh wash, under girded with the wine barrel hay of the dry leaf.

This is a heavy, solid tea, going well with our fleeting coolness after a storm.  There is wine and dried corn, almost a heavily roasted taste.  Then it seems to soften and lighten, giving only fleeting hints of such things.  An intriguing tea!

This lovely church, Karl's Kirche, is in Vienna, one of the world's best cities.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tea Punch

I have come across a punch recipe that incorporates tea.  This is from an old book Herb Gardening in Five Seasons  by Adelma Grenier Simmons, published in 1964 by E.P. Dutton.  I think I have had this book since about 1975 and turn to it often as my interest in herbs waxes and wanes.  Mrs. Simmons was the owner of Caprilands Herb Farm, which I visited several times when we lived in Connecticut.  I can't tell if it is still functioning from what I have seen on the Internet.

The punch uses my old favorite, orange mint. and is considered good for a summer punch, it certainly appeals to me on these hot days.

Mix 1 cup orange mint leaves, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 2 cups water in a large pan and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add to this pan 12 cups boiling water and either 6  teabags or 6 teaspoons of loose tea.  Let cool. Strain and add 2 6 ounce cans of frozen orange juice, thawed, and a cup of rum, stirring well.  Pour over ice.  I think and Earl Grey would be good with this or one of the citrusy Zinger teas.  If you don't want rum, use a bit of rum flavoring or just ignore it.  You could decorate it with edible flowers, like lemon marigolds, violas, or borage.

If you like, try this variation, using 2 cups of mint leaves, simmered in 6 cups of water for 30 minutes and adding the tea only for the last 10 minutes.  Dilute the orange juice as usual. You can substitute !/4 cup mint or basil vinegar for the rum.  This is very minty and you may have to add more sugar, carefully, to make it taste right to you.

A small church in Western Austria.  It looks cool in the heat haze.

I know many of you are suffering from the heat and/or worry of fires.  My heart and prayers are with you.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

From the Silk Road to the Southern Tier

Hi - we're back from the Berkshire Mountains.  Glad to be home, but with some lovely memories.  I can highly recommend Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.  Incredibly good, with music from the various cultures along the way.  The Silk Road was, for hundreds of years, the main trade route between China and Russia, Turkey and points west.  Huge camel caravans would leave China loaded with tea, silk and other goods and arrive anywhere from a year to 18 months later in eastern Russia.  A similar tea came to be known as Russian Caravan, although I am sure what we drink today by that name is much more refined - less camel and not as much smokey campfire. 

We also had the opportunity to view an exhibit of Chinese wares and a tomb from the Silk Road era, on exhibit in the Clark Museum in Williamstown, MA.  Some of the grave objects were exquisite - a thousand years later.    One was a charming bull, complete with long curving horns.  It's hard to imagine that much time for such things to survive.   

We had lovely food, but not much tea, except for a good cup of what is often called "Chinese  Restaurant Tea" in the Spicey Dragon in Pittsfield.  It was quite good, and the food was superb.  Well, the appetizers, which is all we ate, were wonderful, all 5 of them.     

However, I did go to the Tea Trekker's new store in Northampton, MA.  It is small but mighty in its tea selection.  I bought many teas and had a nice chat with Mary Lou Heiss, who is a lovely warm person, so knowledgeable about tea.  She gave me a sample of her favorite tea, a most wonderful smelling Oolong.  You will be hearing about these soon.      

The cats welcomed us home with the usual pathos and/or disregard.  "No one fed me, no one petted me, I was a prisoner for 7 days, how could you do this to me!"  Meow, meow, meow!   Only my sweet Ernie was glad to see me and followed my every step, waiting for the opportunity to cuddle.