• 16Oct

    My sister recently went on a trip to Turkey and brought back some tea stuff for me: fruity tea bags and some exquisite traditional Turkish tea glasses.

    The tea itself is a blend of black tea and fruit flavors (possibly including a little food coloring). Plain black tea is more popular among the Turks themselves, and it’s typically drunk with a couple of lumps of beet sugar as opposed to cane sugar that’s so ubiquitous in North America. Turkish tea, or çay, is produced on the Black Sea coast rather than a blend of Asian or South Asian black teas.

    The tea my sister brought – shown above, a little battered from its trip across the Atlantic while squished in a suitcase – came in four flavors: apple, blackberry, orange and pomegranate. I decided to try the pomegranate flavored tea first:

    Without an English instructions for preparation I just treated it the same as I do any other black tea in a tea bag; I brought a kettle of water to a roiling boil and steeped the tea for a single cup for 3 minutes.

    The resulting brew was a pleasure to look at with an oh-so-heavenly scent. The taste was similar to other flavored tea bag teas I’ve had – mild, no bitter after taste and with a sweetness already before even adding any sugar.

    It was especially pretty in the ornate teacups, which required a little different handling to drink from. You have to hold the rim of the cup, rather than the slender portion of the body or else you’ll burn your fingers. In fact, it’s best not to fill the cup up entirely to minimize the heat at the top of the glass where you’ll hold it.

    Though I brewed my tea directly in the glass, traditionally a stacked teapot is used like the one in the back ground here:

    Called a çaydanlık, this is part kettle, part teapot. Water is boiled in the lowermost part of the çaydanlık and then some of it is poured over tea leaves in the upper portion, in the much smaller “tea pot”. The resulting brew is very strong, and can be drunk with milk or, more typically, diluted with the remaining water in the kettle portion according to individual tastes for tea strength. Here’s a cool video on how to use a çaydanlık.

  • 18Jul

    The full name of this tea is actually “Arya Estate Early F1 (EX-1) Darjeeling FTGFOP1 (Organic)” imported by Upton Tea. I don’t know whether I should either curtsy or wait for the judge to award “Best in Breed”.

    A sample of this lovely tea was a gift from a friend I met through my spinning wheel group. We’d talk tea, science fiction, wool fibers, writing, acting, farming, podcasting and anything else you can think of. She and her herd of goats, many artisanal cheeses and entirely too much raw wool recently moved to Arizona to be with her new husband, a rancher and farmer.

    I treated this tea like a typical darjeeling, bringing my water to a full rolling boil, then steeping it for about three and a half minutes.

    The brewed tea was a beautiful golden color with a wonderfully mild and smooth, slightly sweet (even without any sweetener) taste. There was nothing too over powering and no aftertaste to speak of. The taste might be a little too mild for some darjeeling lovers but I found this tea went well with everything I had for my afternoon lunch, including a spicy deli meat, crispy raw vegetables and sweet bing cherries and artisanal goat cheese.

    Not bad, and definitely a tea to recommend.

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  • 30Mar

    It’s been so long since I acquired this tea, I don’t even remember where I found it anymore. Although, to be honest, I know I bought it just for the lovely printed wooden box it came in.

    The pamphlet inside reads, “Himalayan Highland Tea Company” … out of Lewisville Texas. Regardless of the packaging and unconfirmed origins, it turns out to be a lovely tea.

    Paleswan is a hearty black tea grown in far eastern Nepal. The included pamphlet describes it as “spicy, aromatic and full bodied without a bitter taste”. Interestingly enough, I thought the dried leaves looked a little “paler” than the darjeelings and assams I’ve been drinking lately and there was an abundance of golden color in the mix.

    The box suggests steeping four teaspoons in seven cups of boiling water for five minutes, but I decided to go with my preference for most black teas and steeped only three teaspoons for three minutes in water I’d brought to a roiling boil.

    It brewed up with a lovely cherry wood color, a deep reddish-brown that I makes me want to use it dye some wool for a sweater. The taste is as lovely as the color: smooth and medium-to-full bodied, with a sort of caramel-chocolate taste that I’m having a hard time really putting my finger on. It’s not really as spicy as I would have expected. (Bearing in mind that this tea has sat in my cabinet for probably ten years now, I was expecting clove or cardamom-type spicy.) The after-taste does remind me a bit of nutmeg. There’s a touch of bitter in that after-taste but nothing unpleasant. Malai chiya dinuhos. (Nepali for “Please give me tea”.)

    A bit of Google research turned up one possibility for purchasing a similar tea: Highland Tea. Even the box looks similar. (My little pamphlet says the artwork on my tiny wooden tea chest  is an illustration from The Complete Guide to Ayurveda by Gopi Warrier & Deepika Gunawan, M.D. copyright Element Books Limited 1997.) Unfortunately I could find little else on “paleswan” type teas other than the distinct impression that teas from Nepal are increasingly grown through sustainable agriculture, via cooperative farms and without pesticides. It’s definitely worth investigating a little more.
    नमस्ते (Namaste.)

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  • 17Aug

    After our 51st day of temperatures over 100 degrees here where I live, you’d think that all I’d be drinking would be iced tea.

    Not so! Walk into any building around here and the air-conditioning is running full blast. It’s like a Scandinavian sauna experience in reverse all day. First you freeze your tush off in the air-conditioned indoors, then you walk outside into the blessed warmth and finally take a seat in your sauna-like car. To complete the experience simply run back indoors into the chill – it’s like plunging into a frozen lake.

    So yes, it may seem strange to review a lovely spiced hot tea – one that might be better suited for sipping around a roaring fire and served by Sven The Alpine Ski Instructor (or Svetlana, depending on your preferences)  – in the dog days of summer but hey, it’s freakin’ freezing in here!

    Coco Cardamom Tango (No. 935) is yet another one from SpecialTeas.com:

    Full-leaf black tea with a decadent blend of cocoa bits, cardamom pods and cinnamon. Smooth and delicious.

    935-1

    935-2

    I followed the recommendations for brewing, pouring fresh boiling water over 3 heaping teaspoons in my 3 cup teapot and letting it steep for 2 and a half minutes.

    The resulting tea had a lovely smooth and medium-to-full bodied feel with absolutely no bitterness at all. The spices added a sort of “warming” feel it it all and oh-my-gosh it smells heavenly. It tasted a bit like drinking a gingerbread cookie.

    935-3

    I tried this one with milk too but I think it does fine on its own. In fact, I think it’s better without the milk. I didn’t try a second brewing with this one but I’d suspect it’d do just fine; the black tea seems to be of good enough quality to stand up to a second brew and the spices are hardy enough to impart their flavor one more time.

    Final judgement? Heartily recommended.

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  • 21Mar

    For Valentine’s Day, my husband bought me a set of small sample tins from Adagio Teas. Among them was one of AT’s newest oolong leaf tea, Ali Shan:

    Oolong tea from Taiwan. Formosa, meaning ‘beautiful’ was what the Portuguese explorers called this island. The oolong tea grown here continues to be called as such. The exquisite bouquet of Formosa Oolong tea is regarded to be the finest in the world. Complex floral notes echo on your palate as you enjoy this product of Taiwan’s Ali mountain. Light bodied and softly sweet with an underlying complexity, this oolong will surely come to haunt. Perfect for multiple infusions.

    Who could resist such a description? Besides, I’d just finished a day-long horseback ride through winding hills the previous day. Today’s grey morning seemed to call for a pick-me-up tea that would extend my I’m-on-vacation-experiencing-new-things feeling, so I decided to finally try this.

    alishan1

    alishan2
    Adagio’s preparation directions for this tea recommend steeping in water that’s been brought to 212 degrees (a full rolling boil) for five minutes. I used two teaspoons for my 2.5 cup teapot and followed the recommendations.

    Actually, I may have over-steeped it a bit since I was distracted for a moment, but apparently this tea can take it. The result was a cup with a glowing golden color, a medium-bodied feel and smooth taste despite the long steep time. I detected no real bitterness, though there was something that was either smokey or woodsy to me; maybe “earthy” is the way to describe it. Either way, it was a very subtle note.

    alishan3

    In fact, it reminded me a lot of a green tea. Now that I think about it, this is the second time that I’ve described an oolong tea as reminding me of a green tea. I’m going to have to figure out why that is.

    This was an altogether lovely tea, and I can’t wait to try a second steeping to see how it fares.

    box1_ali_shan

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  • 28Feb

    This past week I was down in San Antonio, Texas. While I was there, I shopped El Mercado, La Villita, and had some great tacos. I also visited with my best friend, Valerie, who lives in SA.

    While I was hunting the web for a nice place to have dinner with Val, I stumbled across the website for The Mad Hatter’s Tea House. Immediately intrigued, I checked out their express lunch menu and found that they did a “high” and “afternoon” tea:

    Tea parties for 2

    Served at your table on a 3 tiered tea service, including 2 iced teas or a pot of hot tea to share.

    High Tea
    With spinach & chicken salad tea sandwiches, smoked jalapeño Tuna Salad Tea Sandwiches, cucumber & cream cheese tea sandwiches, a scone of your choice to share & 2 petite feures $18.00

    Afternoon tea
    With smoked salmon & cream cheese tea sandwiches, cucumber & cream cheese
    tea sandwiches, 2 scones of your choice and 2 petite feures $18.00

    Kids Tea
    with peanut butter & jelly tea sandwiches, ham & cheese tea sandwiches, turkey & cheese tea sandwiches and 3 petite feures $18.00

    Awesome! That cinched it. I was going to have to go there for lunch the next day.

    The first tea house I’d ever been to was on Vancouver Island, about 30 miles northwest of Victoria – a place called The Marginson House. From my diary of the trip:

    We were tired, hot and sweaty, but happy when we finished our hike [around the bay]. I wasn’t sure that we’d be let in at a tea house I’d heard of, but we decided to try.

    Like many Americans I had the mistaken impression that afternoon tea, or high tea,  was necessarily a fancy thing. In reality it’s simply a mid-afternoon or early evening snack – a pick me up of caffeine and food to fend off the afternoon blahs. In working class environments it was simply the main meal after sunset. It’s not as common today, and the term (in the U.S.) has come to sometimes mean an elaborate afternoon tea. That was not the case at the Marginson House or this past week at the Mad Hatter’s Tea House.

    The hostess of the Marginson House had no problem whatsoever with our attire and assured us that others had come by even less dressed. We sat out on the covered porch and had the “high tea”. I started with Earl Grey tea while Jeff (not a tea drinker) had Koala sparkling raspberry-guava juice.

    First our hostess brought out a small tray of mini sandwiches, fruit and tangy cheddar cheese. After our hike, we were starving, and this was just the perfect thing. The tiny crust-less triangle sandwiches were turkey and sorrel, salmon salad, egg salad and cucumber and salmon. There was an “open sandwich” too – smoked salmon, cream cheese and dill on whole grain, a tiny mushroom tart and a curry-stuffed filo triangle. It sounds like a lot, but they were all tiny and really added up to maybe a sandwich and a half.

    When we finished with the sandwiches our hostess brought out scones with clotted cream, pear and ginger jam and blackberry jelly. Lastly, we shared a slice of sponge cake with jam and cream.

    It was wonderful and very leisurely. I had two or three cups of tea which, at the time, was quite a lot of caffeine for me. I joked that I’d be bouncing off the walls and so chatty that Jeff would have to stuff a sock in my mouth. (As it was, it probably just countered all the carbs. )

    The Marginson House was also a Bed and Breakfast, complete with picturesque climbing roses, herb gardens, vegetable gardens and a giant  garden chess set and tennis court. I can’t find the web site for it, so maybe it’s not longer an active B&B; this was nearly ten years ago.

    The Mad Hatter’s Tea House seems to have started out a local breakfast and lunch place for downtown San Antonio workers. Located at 106 Auditorium Circle, and across from the Municipal Auditorium, I found it a bit challenging to find parking but it was generally a nice area.

    In the U.S., “tea house” was often used to denote an alternative to more rowdy and masculine venues and catered to the female traveler, offering soups, salads and sandwiches in a more genteel atmosphere. The Mad Hatter’s Tea House offers the same soup, salad and sandwiches offerings, but in a decidedly more modern, hip (and male friendly) atmosphere. The setting has a lobby-like feel, and is surrounding by the offices for San Antonio’s Men’s chorale, Children’s choir and a dance troupe. There were a couple of comfy seating areas perfect for power lunches or for chatting, traditional tables and high chair, bistro-style seating by the windows.

    I was a bit confused at first, until I realized that I had to go up to register to order. I explained that I knew the afternoon and high tea’s were meant for two, but that I wanted to do that anyway. The guy at the register didn’t seem to think that was odd at all, and told me he could pack up any extra to go for me. Nice.

    I had the high tea, with the single scone and more sandwiches. I chose a “champagne darjeeling” off the menu, which seemed to confuse the person taking my order until he looked at the menu and saw it listed under “oolong”. He then pointed me to a cabinet where I could pick out my own mug or teacup. Feeling silly, I picked out a frilly number.

    The food came out pretty quickly. The blueberry scone with strawberry jam and butter was delicious – one of the better scones I’ve had in a while, in fact. It was the last one they had, so I expect others found it yummy too. The sandwiches came out on the traditional three-tiered tray. All were excellent, but I especially liked the spicy tuna the best. For dessert there was a small square of petit feurs which was a bit overly SWEET for me. I ate only half and snarfed down the strawberries instead.

    The only down side to the experience was that they forgot to bring me my tea! I had to get a glass of water at first and then remind them of the tea. But once I did they brought it out pretty quickly. It was a nice, loose-leaf tea, properly steeping with a timer on the tray next to the cast iron teapot. I’m pretty sure it was a green tea and not a Darjeeling, but I could have be mistaken. It was a nice, though I tasted some bitter tannins – I wasn’t paying attention and I think I oversteeped it.

    I think I can forgive them the little misstep there – I may have caught them at an off moment, since they were dealing with a cantankerous register. Judging by the many awards for the place, and the long line that started forming at 11:30 a.m., it’s certainly a popular place. I’d like to try them again, and this time have one of their many sandwiches.

    Mad Hatter’s Tea House serves high tea starting at 11:00 am. Breakfast begins earlier and while the web site (as of this blog post) says they close at 2 p.m. they’re now open til 9 p.m. for dinner. Friendly service, nice atmosphere, I’d recommend it if you’re ever in San Antonio.

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  • 16Feb

    When Adagio Teas tweeted a while ago that they had added a few new flavors to their gourmet teabag line, I decided to try one: Golden Monkey.

    goldenmonkey1

    From the Adagio Teas website:

    Black tea from the Fujian province of China. Golden Monkey tea is hand-processed each spring with a careful plucking of only one leaf and one bud. It is among the finest Chinese black teas available today. The name comes from its unique appearance: the leaves resemble monkey claws. If you enjoy full-bodied teas with an abundance of flavor, we urge you to give this tea a try. Full-leaf tea in portable, individually wrapped bags – superior taste and maximum convenience.

    The indivudal teabags are the triangular kind that allow a bit more room for the tea leaf to foat in and expand fully.

    picture-3

    I was surprised at the rather long recommended steep time – five minutes in water that was brought to a full roaring boil – but also pleasantly surprised when I tasted it. It had the usual smooth, musky and slightly woodsy taste of a china black tea but without too many tannins (though I did detect some bitterness.) It brewed up quite dark looking.

    goldenmonkey2

    I added a little milk at the end of the first cup. I’ve always thought that a black tea with milk tastes a bit like a smooth dark chocolate, and after I’d finished my first cup, I checked the teabag pouch once again:

    “[a] rare Chinese treat with auburn leaves and sumptuous taste of dark chocolate”

    Well then! I completely agree. The only slight bitterness in that first cup is nearly the same as the slight bitterness of a 75% caco dark chocolate.

    I tried a second cup with the same teabag, and same steep time. This time the bitter tannins had disappeared, but not the flavor. It still had a nice, smooth dark chocolate taste to it. Lovely!

    I’d definitely recommend this tea, and I especially recommend it to anyone who wants to try gourmet teas but it not ready to move from the teabag format to loose leaf teas.

  • 10Feb

    Not feeling terribly adventurous today, I pulled out another Darjeeling that I bought from SpecialTeas. (Yes, yes – I have a LOT of teas from this particular online store.) This time it was No. 118, aka “Tukdah FTGFOP-1 First Flush”, a nice dependable tea that I’ve tried many times before.

    tea114-1

    SpecialTeas describes it as such:

    Very tippy dry leaf with a wonderful aroma! This top grade first flush is lighter in cup color than our 105 Puttabong, but very complex with a peach blossom fragrance that carries through and lingers on the palate. Enjoy this tea when you have time to savor each and every sip.

    I used the recommended amount, putting 2 level teaspoons into my tiny teapot. I wasn’t paying attention to my electric kettle however, and let it come to a roaring boil. Not particularly picky today, I decided to just go with it rather than following the recommendation to use steaming briskly (195ºF). I  let the tea steep for two-and-a-half minutes.

    The color of the steeped tea was a lovely amber:

    tea114-2

    And as I suspected, this tea did not disappoint. It’s a light-to-medium bodied, smooth and fruity tasting tea. I’d agree with the description on this one, as it reminds me just slightly of Republic of Tea’s Ginger Peach. I’d go so far as to describe this tea as “cuddly”. It was just the thing I needed to get started on a grey morning such as this one. This is a highly recommended, dependable tea.

    Now, my umpteeth attempt at making poached eggs? *eyes resulting blob* Not so cuddly. *sigh*

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  • 30Jan

    I found myself in Austin’s North Lamar Central Market a few days ago, and as always, I had to peek at the tea aisle. This particular store has a tea bar where you can bag your own amount of some popular brands, and there were several half ounce samples of each ready to go. I noticed that, this time, at least three of them were rose-infused teas. What a perfect gift idea for Valentine’s Day for any tea lover! I grabbed a sample of all three blends and tried them the very next day.

    Since I bought samples without any suggestions as to brewing and steeping times, I chose to use 2 level teaspoons of each for my little two-cup teapot and a brew time of 2.5 minutes with fresh boiling water.

    First up was Rishi’s White Tea Rose Mélange:

    Rishi describes their tea thusly:

    A blend of jasmine and wild rose scented white teas infused with rejuvenating peppermint and calming lavender. It’s floral with a fresh minty finish. (Organic roses, Organic white tea, Organic green tea, Organic peppermint, Organic lavender and Organic jasmine flowers.)



    I should have looked this one up earlier, because they also suggest using 1 tablespoon per 8 ounces of water heated to 190°F and steeping for 4 minutes. While I didn’t follow these directions, I was still delighted with the results.

    The scent was heavenly, but not overpowering. The taste was mild an pleasant with none of the bitter or sour than can sometimes come with a less-than-perfect green tea. This medium-bodied tea brought visions of Valentines day while I was drinking it. Highly recommended.

    Next up was Serendipitea’s Really Goethe:

    The description on the Serendipitea site:

    Like a celestial wind from the blue heavens, combining the jasmine, myrtle & rose, in a base of green tea to make a sweet aromatic cup. Robust foundation ~ divine fragrance. (Rose Buds & Petals, Jasmine (Petals), Laurel, Pouchong, Chinese Green Tea, Lemon Myrtle, Gunpowder.)



    Again, the website for this tea had a recommended preparation (one level teaspoon per cup, water heated to just before boiling and a steep time of three minutes).

    I found a review of this particular blend on the The NIBBLE Gourmet Food Magazine site:

    Green tea with a gorgeous blend of jasmine petals, laurel, lemon myrtle and rose buds and petals, this tea could be mistaken for potpourri (photo at right). But we’d rather brew it for its delicately sweet flavors and floral aroma. Inspired by a poem by Johann van Goethe (pronounced ger-te), the great 18th-century German poet who made important discoveries in connection with plant life, this fragrant tea is romantic as well as beautiful and tasty.

    I have to agree that the tea leaves make a wonderful potpourri. The scent is heavenly, but not overly perfumed like some potpourris can be. But as a tea? Oy. Mine brewed up a lovely medium-dark color but with a strong rather department-store-perfume-counter scent that I found unappealing. And the taste? Well, the taste in addition to the scent made me think of furniture polish. I definitely didn’t like this one. In fact, I couldn’t even finish the cup; I poured it back into the teapot.

    Finally I tried Teance’s Rose Red Black Tea:

    Teance’s description of this tea is rather spare: “Rose Red Black Tea, Higher Caffeine, Guangdong, China, Steepings: 5. “The fragrance and sweetness of rose petals in a Chinese Red Tea base.”

    I may have been lucky to get any of this tea, as it’s out of stock on the Teance site and I was unable to find it anywhere else online (at the time I wrote this review).

    This cup on one turned out very dark, and I fully expected a rather bitter taste. I was pleasantly surprised. I couldn’t detect much in the way of perfume (but by this time Central Texas was under the assault of some serious cedar pollen and I was probably not smelling anything anymore). The taste was a typical black tea but with a floral finish and no bitter tannins. It certainly wasn’t as fabulous as the Rishi tea, but definitely drinkable. I might try this one again, but with milk.

    In the end, it was the Rishi blend that blew me away. Lovely, tasty and romantic looking to boot. I’d reccomend the Rishi’s White Tea Rose Mélange to anyone looking for a tea for Valentine’s Day.

    And if you’re looking to create your own rose-infused tea blend, you might might consider simply adding some organic rose buds to your favorite tea. The English Tea Store carries organic rosebuds, perfect for adding to your own tea.

  • 28Jan

    I could spend all day with my nose stuck in this custom blend from Phonecia’s Mediterranean grocery store. The scent is just heavenly.

    Zorba’s Ceylon Tea Blend includes ceylon (black) tea and spices (allspice, red peppercorns, cinnamon bark). There were no suggestion as to brewing time, so I chose to bring water to a full roiling boil, then steep 2 level teaspoons for my teapot for 2 minutes. The brewed tea turned out a lovely, dark shade.

    Even though this tea has a very rich and spicy scent, the actual brewed tea was quite a bit milder than I expected. Very light-bodied, the flavor was very subtle, with the cinnamon and allspice at the fore and nothing bitter at all. I think this worked best with quite a bit of milk and sugar – it felt almost like a chai tea then. I wouldn’t recommend a second or third steeping though – I could barely taste the flavor of the tea by then.

    This would be a lovely tea for those days when you’re just not feeling your best. The scent and lightly spiced flavor are very comforting.

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