Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Coffee And Tea Festival Postponed

The Coffee and Tea Festival that was to be held in Atlantic City  Nov 3-4 has been postponed.  This has not yet shown up on some of their websites, but has come through email announcements.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Prayers For The People

It is a sad day for many on the coast.  We've been there and believe me, you have our thoughts and prayers and any help we can send you.  We do know what you're going through - the fear, the despair, the worry, the numbness.  We only hope that things can quickly get back to normal for you.

Having said that, it is hard to return to the more mundane topic of tea.  However, I am reminded that during WWII, tea kept many people going and throughout London, there were tea canteens to lift people's spirits.  There are pictures of even the King and Queen, whom we knew as the Queen Mum, in the canteens, handing out and drinking tea with those suffering in the Blitz.  Tea is not only a ritual and a pleasant moment in the day, it is life-sustaining.  When we were going through the flood and its aftermath last year, a cup of tea really made a difference.

I think in honor of brave people everywhere, I will indeed lift a cup of tea.  It is from Verdant Tea, their Wild-picked Yunnan, Jin Jun Mei.  It is very interesting.  The packet is coated with gold dust and the dry golden leaves smell like sugar cookies!  The leaves are about medium long and twisted.  There aren't many brown or tan ones.  They are very fluffy so I am using about 1.5 teaspoons per cup, with almost boiling water for about 3 minutes.

The brew is a lovely golden amber and smells very fall-ish.  There are dry leaves, a hint of nuts, and a hint of tobacco, but there is a nice edge of sweetness as well.  Perhaps there is also a touch of green in the mix.
The tea has some dryness in my mouth and the bite of walnuts.  At the end, there is a feeling of smoothness left in the mouth.  There is a hint of caramel, which is enhanced by the addition of a bit of cream.  I know many people consider the addition of anything sacrilege, but I like my tea that way, on the whole, although less so than before. 

The pitch pines are now all green and we have a lawn full of tiny gold soldiers, standing ever so erect and at attention.  I didn't realize the wind blew straight down last night.  It sure did howl.  I love storms and we don't get many here.  I know they can cause infinite trouble, but I appreciate their sound and fury anyway.  I even like blizzards, even if I have to shovel.  That said, I would like to see some sun in the forecast.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Earl Gray, Hot

On a facebook post, someone was asking if we would really want to give up tea ritual for a machine that basically does it all for you.  Some mornings, I would love it if I walked in the kitchen and a perfectly prepared cup of tea was handed to me, all without any input from me.  I would love a gizmo like Jean-Luc Picard had where I could just say "Earl Gray, hot" and there it would be.  That's my morning person - a very slow starter, full of fog.

However, once past that, I enjoy tea ritual as it gives small pauses in the day.  Selecting the tea, the cup, the water temperature.  Then there is admiring the different scents and leaf configurations, seeing if this one shines or is muted, deciding whether or not to have milk in it, whether a small snack would compliment it.  I love to watch the leaves unfurl, especially in a glass pot, where they sometimes dance up and down.  I love to sniff the brewing tea and compare that aroma to the dry tea  and wonder if I should let it brew a few more seconds.  It is good for me to be focused on one small part of life.  It is so easy for me to get scattered and this centering is welcome.  My days feel cheated when it doesn't happen.

How about you?  Are you more fond of the Jean Luc method or the ritual method?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Turkey Time Is Coming

A good gray misty morning to you.  See, even we Northeasterners can try to be cheerful about the weather.  I noticed yesterday that the brook which drains our currently spectral bog is once again running happily over its stony bed.  We haven't really seen anything there but damp spots since May.  In fact, we have lately had so much rain that the front yard is beginning to flood. 

Thanksgiving is coming.  I was thinking about our times together when the boys were young.  We had adopted them when they were 8 and 10, so we did not have shared holiday memories.  In fact, as you might imagine, holidays could be difficult, fraught with more baggage than happiness.  One of the things we did to ease things was to incorporate things they did remember happily.  The other, which eased the confrontation of unfamiliar foods, was to make 2 rules:  You didn't have to eat anything you didn't want to, but you had to eat some of the main meal in order to have dessert.  After discussion this was instituted with many friends and family and made for many happier meals, as their children appreciated this luxury as well.

I suppose we need to think about what teas to have that day.  I know I am going with some sort of tea-based punch for appetizers.  I have been thinking about a mix of Red Zinger and Harney's Cranberry Tea.  I don't have the recipe down yet, I have to try it out on a small scale, first.  If I have bleu cheese as part of the appetizer, I may go with hot Lapsang Souchong, as the two go together very nicely.  We all drink wine and water with  the meal, so then it is only dessert to think about.  I will probably have a Yunnan or Keemun as they are sturdy and can go with whatever pies I decide to make.  However, if it is a coconut cream, I may have to think some more about it.  Any suggestions?  I don't want to do a coconut flavored tea, as my pie recipe is pretty intense in that department.  Perhaps one of the fruity or flowery Oolongs.

The pitch pines are looking very raggedy.  They have dropped most of their needles, making the ground a spectacular gold in the sun, but they have enough left that they look like they can't decide whether to go green or blond.  Such a fashion dilemma.

I have gotten the garden about 1/2 ready for winter.  It looks pretty ugly as most plants are still young, so there's not a great deal of structure there.  It's just brown and raggedy.  I hope we get snow soon.  It is so much harder to put a garden to bed than to help it wake up in the spring, when there is so much to look forward to and we cheer each new sprout, entranced by yet another miracle of life.  Guess I'll just be happy with the deer forming new attachments and getting antlers.

One of the things I envied in Germany and elswhere was courtyards, with a house or a group of houses built around them.  From a small child, I always loved secret spaces, where I could play out my fantasies or just feel snug.  I would like a garden like that. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Small Science Experiment

The young sugar maple at the edge of the woods has changed all its leaves to apricot red gold.  It is spectacular in its beauty.  It is best in the dismal grey light we are currently having or in the very early morning, lighting up the mist.  The wild lavender asters are a perfect foil for it.

We did indeed have frost and even the brave little marigolds are now brown and bedraggled.  However, the mounds of sweet allysum are still going strong, although now one must bend over to smell them.  The remaining basil is naught but tattered rags.

Did you ever wonder why your tea tastes differently from the way the packet or web site says it should?  It is probably your water.  There is a good article about that on The English Tea Store's Blog.  Our water is pretty good, but on the days the water board is pouring extra chemicals in it, it is just plain awful.  I use a filter most of the time so that my tea tasting is at least reasonably consistent.

Hmm, maybe I'll just do a little experiment, filtered vs. unfiltered water.  I was as scientific as possible.  I used water just off the boil, identical cups, identical amounts of water and tea bags, as I am assuming they would have as nearly identical amounts of tea as possible.  I brewed them for 4 minutes.  I used DavidsTea English Breakfast.  It's a mix of Assam, Yunnan, Keemun and Uva Highlands Ceylon.

The aroma of both was very, very similar, with the filtered one being a tad fuller and rounder.  Both were somewhat oak/acorn like with a touch of dairyman's special washing compound.  (You can take the girl off the farm, but the farm is still in her).  The unfiltered tea was beginning to be a touch tannic, but was primarily a very nice autumnal tasting tea, with the flavors of nuts and roasted squash predominating, but underlain with a bit of greenish something.  The filtered one was much smoother, but surprisingly lacking in definitive flavors.  Everything seemed muted, shadows of the unfiltered tea.  I was most surprised.  I am going to do this again with other teas and see how they fair.

By the way, both cups are quite good, just markedly different.

I saw a crow on the lawn today who was pretending to be a robin.  You know how robins have that super-intent, crooked-head look when they are listening for a worm or a bug?  This crow  was just like that, which is unusual for the species.  We had blue birds this am at the feeders - they should have left a while ago.  Last year they hung around, but it was very mild with almost no snow.

On the Rhine, a small village huddles beneath a castle, now an hotel.  I don't see a road, so does one have to climb up to stay there?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Baked Applesauce and Tea

The weather cannot decide what to do with itself.  The sun shines, but huge black clouds are chasing it and, for a while, they win and it rains and sleets!  Then it is 10 degrees warmer because the sun is back.  But it is clear that the thermometer is only really going in one direction, down, and we will have a killing frost tonight.  I am just as glad.  What few flowers are left are raggedy and worn, time for them to be put to bed in the compost pile.  However, I am left with one glorious nature picture.  A really brilliant maple, shining so brightly in the sun becomes back lit by the very dark clouds and suddenly, brightness is rendered in stark, glowing neon!  Just breath-taking.

The Downies seem to have settled their differences and peace is reigning in our little corner of the world, at least among the feathered.  The furred realm tells a different story - I have been feeding a stray, a really beautiful black male named Black Kitty - really creative, aren't I.  He looked terrible when I started 6 months ago, but now he is gorgeous.  He is very polite and just eats from his dish and generally either takes a short nap or goes right out again.  However, Sarah hisses, Bert swats, and Ernie whines at him.  Neurotic ol' Andy pretends he is terrified.  He ignores them all, being composed of heavy muscle while their laziness -es are pretty wimpy.

I made Baked Apples applesauce today.  I had only bland tasting apples, so as I added cinnamon and cardamom, I thought, hmm I bought these for baked apples, why not... So I added raisins, a little brown sugar and some butter.  Voila,  Baked Apples Sauce.  It's very good.   I had it with some chamomile tea and toast.  The chamomile picks up the apple and they play nicely with each other.  A fortuitous discovery.  If you make very strong chamomile tea and boil it down it makes a lovely addition to a custard, using some of it in place of milk. 

I also had a little leftover Lapsang Souchong and instead of milk in my scrambled eggs, I used the tea.  Just the nicest hint of smoke.  I also use it in beef stews, to replace some of the liquid.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Woodpecker Watching With Chai

Today the great radiant heart of the sun is shining on the lovely gold and apricot trees and it is warm.  However, step into the shade and there's a different story.  Autumn's chill is here.  In fact, I think we had some frost last night - not enough to kill things, but tonight it is supposed to go below freezing.  Maybe I had best dig up that tender lavender and bring it in.  It can join the hibiscus, which are blooming their hearts out.  Great double reds and peaches,  a huge single dark red, almost mahogany in its throat.

Today is a good day for a chai and I have just the thing.  One of my WTE finds is Nature's Guru Instant Cardamom Chai.  I had tried this at the show and liked it, so I got some.  First of all, it is definitely cardamon.  And sweet.   It couldn't be simpler to prepare, open the packet, add hot water, stir.  I really like - so much so I bought a 4 pack from Amazon.  It is also carried by health food stores and Whole Foods Markets.  I am a big fan of chai, anyway and I found this to have a lovely balance.  If you don't like cardoamom, they have several other varieties, some sweetened, some not.  I got the unsweetened, as this was over the top for me.  Himself, of course, thought it was just right.

Did you know that these are the hibiscus you can dry and make into tea?  My friend, Marcel, the chef, dries them, pulverizes them and uses them in sugar to add color and a hint of flavor to fruits and peels he dries and candies.

The Downy Woodpeckers are diminutive - about 4-5 inches long, but they can be scrappy.  We have 4 tiny males battling it out at the suet.  There are 3 feeders and they are so small that each feeder can easily hold 2, but no, fight they must.  From the looks of things, I think it may be a sorely tried papa trying to get his young ones to feed themselves.  The papas and mamas certainly looked tired and bedraggled this summer from their fledglings.

These little birds have an odd habit. They take a long time of looking around to see if it is safe before they feed.  However, they are chirping loudly as they do so, giving the blue jay "bully boys" plenty of time to notice them and swoop in.  I keep thelling them to be quiet, but I guess I don't speak "downy".

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Rishi Tea for Me

One of the really good teas I got to try at World Tea East was Rishi Tea's Earl Grey.  The aroma was spectacular.  It was perfume wafting on the wind, it was sweet, citrussy, everything you want an Earl Grey to be.  The taste was the same, with just a hint of something like chamomile.  This is easily the best Earl Grey I've ever had.  And that is going some.  So I tried their Earl Grey Green.  Another winner.  The aroma was the same, though underlaid with green-ness.  The EG taste was not as strong, so that the green tea came through as well.  Every bit as good, maybe even a bit better as it was all more subtle.  Since I was on a roll, I tried some Long Jing Dragonwell.  It was so good, I was almost speechless.  I love Dragonwell and most of what I've had has been excellent, but I think this was in the "most excellent" category.

There are many awards for teas.  The Grandaddy of them are the awards from the Tea Association of North America but our own Association ofTea Bloggers has begun to recognize the ones we particularly like.

TheTea Bloggers Choice Awards for 2012 :

Unblended/Unflavored Black : Teavivre Yunnan Dian Hong Golden Tip
Blended/Flavored Black: Harney and Sons Earl Grey Supreme
Unblended/Unflavored Green: Den's Tea Gyokuro Kin
Blended/Flavored Green: Aiya Tea Matcha Infused Sencha
Unblended/Unflavored Oolong: Teavivre Jin Xuan Milk Oolong
Blended/Flavored Oolong: Naivetea Lychee Oolong
Unblended/Unflavored White: Rishi-Silver Needle Premium
Blended/Flavored White: Art of Tea Coconut Creme White Tea
Unblended/Unflavored Puerh: Rishi Ancient Puerh Classic
Blended/Flavored Puerh: Stash Black Forest Cake Puerh
Herb Blend: David's Tea Chocolate Rocket
Single Herb: David's Tea Spearmint

Some of the Tea Bloggers will be at the Coffee and Tea Festival in Atlantic City Nov 3-4 and wil be judging teas and tea accessories there.  Tickets are $20 and the first 1500 people will be getting goody bags.  For more information, go to  and

It is a cold, sort of ugly day today, but I am warm and the woods are lovely - all peachy apricot from the sugar maples.  The ground is golden from the Pine tree needle drop and lots of small birds are at the feeders.  It is going to be abit of a race among the trees on the hills for the greenest ones to turn color before the others lose their leaves.  A nice long colorful fall, just my cup of tea.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Wonderful World Tea East

World Tea Expo - I had such a great time.  I drank enough tea to swish as I walked, I wore out my back and my feet and I talked with some of the very nicest people.  I came home with a number of samples or teas I purchased and over the coming days, I will report on most of them. 

What impressed me the most - the interest, kindness and willingness to talk and share tea without pressure to buy or write about them.  These vendors, whether they were tea merchants or accessory merchants, were proud of their wares and eager to share them.  I really only met one who was unnecessarily unpleasant and it was too bad, as her product had a great deal to recommend it.  The well-known folk, like the Harneys, Jane Pettigrew, Nigel Mellican, and James Norwood Pratt were all willing to meet and chat and have their pictures taken and acted as if it were the most wonderful time in the world.  In my experience, that is often rare among big name folk.

I talked to a number of people who attended the classes and the Monday all day tea tasting and they were one and all positive about their experiences.  That was really good to hear.

I had so many wonderful teas, it was like going from mountain top to mountain top.  There was a small company that has just started marketing tea flavored ice cream, Tea.Rrific Ice Cream Company, that is just absolutely exquisite.  They had 5 kinds there - Chamomile, Chunky London Mist, London Mist, Masala Chai and Ginger Matcha.  I tried them all and was so very, very impressed.  The London Mist is Earl Grey and the Chunky one has chocolate flakes and pecans added.  The others you can figure out on your own.  They are smooth, rich tasting and the owners have done a tea-rrific job of blending them just about perfectly, with the tea flavors evident, but not so much that they ruin the ice cream.   To date, they are only available in the NY City, Long Island and lower Hudson Valley areas, but I sure do hope they soon spread to other locations.  I will be waiting, spoon in hand.

In all fairness, I have to say there were some problems at WTE, but I am concentrating on the good stuff.

Stay tuned for some more wonderful WTE writings.