• 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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  • 26Jan

    Ooh. WANT!

    Unfortunately it appears I’m too late to get the version with the cute little top hat. According to an archived post at DVICE and Popgadget these were available from Signals back in October of 2007. They’re still available from Amazon.com, but without the hat. Rats. It’s just what my Linux-loving, geeky heart desires. And he really looks spiffy in the hat.

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  • 25Jan

    Yet another sexy tea maker, this one from Eva Solo, comes with it very own little neoprene jacket:


    Available from Amazon.com:

    The tea brewer features a unique, patented filter system and a drip-free spout with flip-top lid that snaps open automatically for easy pouring. Insulated, zippered cover keeps tea hot.

    Unfortunately, it’s pricey ($140) and most of the reviews I’ve seen of this item have been fairly negative. Apparently the mechanism for stopping the brewing process doesn’t work as it should. That’s too bad, because the design is lovely, and I’d be tempted to add it to my collection, even if I didn’t use it much.

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  • 25Jan

    I recently tried another Darjeeling that I bought from SpecialTeas. This time it was No. 108, aka “Namring FTGFOP1 First Flush”, and from the amount that I have, considerably less expensive than the Puttabong I had the other day:

    SpecialTeas describes it as such:

    Slightly darker in cup color than both our No.105 Puttabong and No.114 Tukdah, this Namring first flush is deliciously complex. Primarily floral in both liquor and aroma, one can also discern a soft fruity-nutty undertone. A wonderful even plucking of bright green and dark brown leaves with some silvery tips.

    I used 2 level teaspoons for my teapot, heated the water to a roaring boil and steeped for the recommended 3 minutes. The brewed tea was indeed a slightly darker color than the Puttabong:

    The taste however, was completely different. Again, the taste was definitely a Darjeeling, and still had a medium-bodied feel. However, my first steeping was definitely a nutty, almost oaky taste, with just a touch of bitter tannins.

    The second steeping proved to be much better. In fact, it was quite lovely, and considerably more fruity.The third steeping (at almost 4 minutes) was almost still as dark and full of the flavor of the second steeping. I may try this again, but opt for a slighltly shorter steeping time at first, and gradually increasing until it loses its flavor.

    Again, very nice.

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  • 24Jan

    A bit more on the serious side of things, here’s an interesting article about the collapse of the Pu’er tea trade in China. Via The New York Times:

    A County in China Sees Its Fortunes in Tea Leaves Until a Bubble Bursts

    Saudi Arabia has its oil. South Africa has its diamonds. And here in China’s temperate southwest, prosperity has come from the scrubby green tea trees that blanket the mountains of fabled Menghai County.

    Over the past decade, as the nation went wild for the region’s brand of tea, known as Pu’er, farmers bought minivans, manufacturers became millionaires and Chinese citizens plowed their savings into black bricks of compacted Pu’er.

    But that was before the collapse of the tea market turned thousands of farmers and dealers into paupers and provided the nation with a very pungent lesson about gullibility, greed and the perils of the speculative bubble. “Most of us are ruined,” said Fu Wei, 43, one of the few tea traders to survive the implosion of the Pu’er market. “A lot of people behaved like idiots.”

    […]

    At least a third of the 3,000 tea manufacturers and merchants have called it quits in recent months. Farmers have begun replacing newly planted tea trees with more nourishing — and now, more lucrative — staples like corn and rice. Here in Menghai, the newly opened six-story emporium built to house hundreds of buyers and bundlers is a very lonely place.

    […]

    Among those most bruised by the crash are the farmers of Menghai County. Many had never experienced the kind of prosperity common in China’s cities. Villagers built two-story brick homes, equipped them with televisions and refrigerators and sent their children to schools in the district capital. Flush with cash, scores of elderly residents made their first trips to Beijing.

    “Everyone was wearing designer labels,” said Zhelu, 22, a farmer who is a member of the region’s Hani minority and uses only one name. “A lot of people bought cars, but now we can’t afford gas so we just park them.”

    Last week, dozens of vibrantly dressed women from Xinlu sat on the side of the highway hawking their excess tea. There were few takers. The going rate, about $3 a pound for medium-grade Pu’er, was less than a tenth of the peak price. The women said that during the boom years, tea traders from Guangdong Province would come to their village and buy up everyone’s harvest. But last year, they simply stopped showing up.

    Read the complete article here. (Note: The New York Times requires you login and articles are archived after a while.)

    Read more about Pu-erh tea at Wikipedia. I’ve never tried Pu’er, to be honest. I’m not sure if I’d like it, given that I don’t care much for the taste of the slightly fermented Japanese teas that I have. But stay tuned. I’ll post about a tasting, if I can get my hands on some.

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  • 23Jan

    I’m in love.

    One of my favorite online tea stores (fantastic service, great community and cool tea ware – though can be a bit pricey), adagio teas, has put together a section of the site that allows customers to make unique blends for thier online tea store . (As an aside – adagio teas seems to understand how to use social media for it’s business model, with Twitter-delivered coupons and updates, video tea reviews and a vibrant online tea community.) With over 3700 blends, there’s not only a lot to choose from, but ample evidence that tea lovers like to experiment with flavor.

    But what really won over my geeky little heart was the set of twenty-six Signature Blends by Austin Browncoats, (a fan organization turned 501(c)(3) non-profit fundraiser organization for charities.)

    How can I possibly resist Serenitea: Kaylee:

    “Goin’ on a year now I ain’t had nothin’ twixt my nethers weren’t run on batteries!” Well, don’t you worry any longer about twixed nethers, because this tea is sheer happiness in a cup. A perfect combination for our favorite ship’s mechanic: a red vanilla tea with lots of wild strawberries. This is a “glass half full” kind of dessert tea, and we think Kaylee would call it “shiny!” (rooibos vanilla, wild strawberry)

    Or Serenitea: River:

    “You take care of me, Simon. You’ve always taken care of me. My turn.” Once River was able to make sense of the memories that weren’t hers to carry, she was able to see things with some well deserved clarity. And kick a whole lot of reaver butt! While we hope the fruity oaty bar jingle will no longer cause her to go all kick crazy on innocent bystanders, we have a feeling this brilliantly complex character is still a might unpredictable. This blend melds together black teas from different regions, allowing a deep, smoky background which is fused with the sweet, sultriness of caramel and the delightful unexpected addition of almonds. Dark, sweet and just a tad bit nutty, just like River. (ceylon sonata, peach, apple)

    or even Serenitea: Jayne:

    ‘Sure would be nice to have some grenades right now!’ Ok, so maybe not grenades, but how about a bold tea, strong enough for the Hero of Canton? This tea is mostly Assam which gives the cup a nice reddish tinge (and as River notes ‘he looks better in red’). Throw in a bit of chestnut and the smoky, tobacco taste of lapsang souchong and we think we have Jayne figured out: always in a bit of trouble, kinda crazy and definitely an acquired taste. (assam melody, chestnut, lapsang souchong)

    Shiny.

    The blends seem to be thoughtful combinations that would be a delightful tour through the many varieties of tea even without the wonderfully quirky Firefly theme. I’m hoping adagio teas decides to go with my suggestion to offer 1 oz sizes of the custom blends, since I’d love to try this whole set, as well as many others by fellow tea lovers, albeit in smaller “taste-test” amounts.

    P.S. You can check out the Austin Browncoat’s web site here.

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  • 22Jan

    Oh, that’s cute.

    Tea Illustration of Commander in Chief Obama

    Obama Tea Art in Rooibos

    Obama Tea Art in rooiboss thistle and dried fruits by Jack Cheng.

    Via A Nice Cuppa.

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  • 22Jan

    Another gorgeous design, this time from designer Lotte Alpert:

    The Lazy Teapot:

    A porcelain teapot is put in its associated holding device where it can be swayed forward well, directed so that the tea can be easily poured into a cup without having to lift the teapot. Furthermore the holding device is able to boil up the liquid in the teapot and to keep it warm precisely on different temperatures. The measured temperatures are read at the diodes in the region of the operational controls and compared with the temperature that was manually chosen. – Yanko Design

    It’s perhaps interesting to note that every review I’ve read so far of this concept design (it’s not available to buy) remarks that it is indeed pretty, but useless. Who would be so lazy that they would not need to lift a teapot?

    Well, maybe not lazy. Having spent a decade-and-a-half advocating for accessible web design, I can right away see a practical use for those who love their tea, but suffer from arthritis, or the grip weakness that comes with advanced age. There were a couple of times recently when I had trouble lifting a medium-sized teapot (filled with boiling hot water no less) safely – even with two hands – because of the osteoarthritis in my right hand.

    I hope this concept design see actual production, and finds its niche in accessible design.

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  • 21Jan

    Allergies and a sore back conspired with some ibuprofen to give me a late start to my day. So naturally I turned to some tea to perk me up a bit and get me moving. I chose a single estate Darjeeling that I’d aquired from SpecialTeas, but hadn’t tried yet:

    Special Teas no longer lists this tea as #105. (Listing 105 as “Darjeeling Yashodhara FTGFOP1 1st Flush” instead. I’m not sure if this is from the same estate or not.) I seem to recall that this was a particularly expensive tea. (Which would explain why I only have a 1/2 oz of it.)

    I used 2 level teaspoons for my teapot, heated the water to a roaring boil and steeped for the recommended 3 minutes. The brewed tea came out a lovely golden color:

    The taste was definitely a Darjeeling, musky and floral with an incredibly smooth and medium-bodied feel. Though I brewed for a full three minutes, there was absolutely no hint of bitter tannins at all. It’s too bad this tea is no longer listed, because it was absolutely lovely and I’m going to run out of it quickly. After a quick search I found that Holy Mountain Trading Company and Dragonwater Tea Company both list this tea. I was right, it’s pretty expensive, but I think I can agree with the one site that listed this as the “champagne of teas”. I haven’t tried a second steeping yet, but given the price, I will!

    All in all, a lovely way to start the day.

    Postscript: I did try a second and a third steeping. The second was as lovely as the first. Still fairly full-bodied and smooth, and the taste still came through. The third steeping was a noticably paler color and it had lost much of its body and flavor, though there were still no bitter tannins to be had.

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