Saturday, December 31, 2011

Not-So-Good Tea Pairings

I have read many books and blogs about pairing tea with other things to make a great combo – tea and chocolate, tea and almonds, tea and oatmeal, etc. However, what about things that should be avoided while drinking tea? Here is my mental list of not-so-good tea pairings that I have added to over the years (side note – in all combinations the teas were unflavored and consumed while hot):

Black Tea with Cheetos Puffs – While at work one day, I wrestled the vending machine for some cheesy poofs as a mid-morning snack. I tried washing it down with the black tea that I had brought with me to work that morning which resulted in a smoked fake-cheese aftertaste. I was dumb enough to try the same thing with green tea at a different point in time to discover that was even worse. I like cheesy poofs, okay?

Green Tea with Grapefruit – After eating a grapefruit I felt like I wanted to keep this “health food” trend going so I brewed up some green tea only to find the combination was an unpleasant grassy, acidic, bitter taste. However, black tea with grapefruit isn’t bad.

Green Tea with Original Flavor Pringles – I love them both separately, but together the salty/grassy mixture is just… weird.

Green Tea and Peanut Butter – I thought this combination was going to be okay since tea and nutty flavors go well together (I love Dragon Well!). I didn’t find the combo all too pleasant when I tried pairing green tea with peanut butter on toast. Black tea might not be so bad, but I haven’t tried it yet.

Green Tea and Nachos – Yeah… um… no. Just… no.

White Tea and Chicken Alfredo Pasta – I don’t know what I was thinking. I had finished making a cup of white tea at the same time the fiancée had finished dinner, so I brought the cup with me to the table - bad idea. I thought it would be fine considering sometimes pasta Alfredo contains broccoli (which is similar to the vegetal flavor of some white teas). Nope. The combination of white tea and Alfredo sauce doesn’t work for me.

That is all that I can think of at the moment. I am sure I will be adding to this list again soon. I think it is safe to say that I do not like the combo of tea and cheese flavors. However, I am infatuated with both separately.

Do you have any not-so-good pairings that you would like to warn about?

Oolongs and Pu Erhs will probably never make this list because I usually save those to drink only when I have time to dedicate to Gong Fu Cha. Thus, I concentrate on the tea alone and do not pair it with anything else.

Image Reference Links: Cheetos Puffs, Nachos

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The First Casualty

After four years of studying, writing about and drinking tea, the unthinkable happened… for the first time I broke a piece of my teaware.


I feel ashamed and remorseful. It was eight o’clock on Christmas morning and I wanted to make some tea before family arrived at my place to feast and open gifts. In a rush, I grabbed my tea tray with my Tsuki teapot and Holiday mug and headed to the sink to clean them before preparing the tea. After thoroughly rinsing the teapot and giving it one last shake to remove the excess water… it happened. The teapot slipped out of my wet hands and fell into the sink. That is when I heard the ominous sound. I cursed and looked down to confirm my suspicions… yes, what was once an elegant piece of teaware was now two incomplete pieces. My heart broke equally as much.

Ok, so, the break isn’t THAT bad. It is just the handle of the teapot in which a trip to the craft store for the right epoxy will hopefully remedy my clumsiness. At the moment, I am still using the teapot by wrapping a tea towel around it to pick it up and pour.

I would hate to stop using this teapot just because the handle is missing. First of all, I use gaiwans all the time and they don’t even have handles. Second, this teapot is the perfect one cup size, especially for my small Holiday mug. Finally, I just simply like this teapot too much to give up on it even with it now having a minor inconvenience.

So why am I making such a big deal about this injured teapot? The reason is that I look at this as a reminder to slow down. I haven’t even had the time to write about tea in the last few months. Why? Oh, where is my list of excuses? I know it is around here somewhere. I have changed my list of priorities and in doing so I have become rushed, clumsy, lazy, and stressed in other aspects of my life, not just with tea.

This episode is a reminder to get myself back on track with what I do best; developing plans, lists, and structures to organize and prioritize my time so that I am not rushed/stressed and that I do not overlook the details.

I want to get back to thinking and writing about tea on a regular basis. I also have a wedding to plan and implement by the end of September (tea themed, of course!). These are the two major goals on the list for 2012. I just hope that there are no more casualties.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sue and Esther's Tea Room

Last weekend I had to travel six hours north for a corporate party in Michigan. Whilst there, my mother and I decided to make a weekend out of it by visiting the nearby city of Frankenmuth.

The holiday theme shops were gorgeous and a gem to walk through. Even with it being only the beginning of November, seeing all of the Christmas décor definitely put me in the holiday spirit. All of the shopping eventually made us hungry for lunch. Luckily, while browsing for things to do in town, I had come across a tea room that recently opened near the main strip of shops.

Once I stepped inside Sue and Esther’s Tea Room I noticed the interior is much prettier than the exterior, as the tea room is tacked onto the end of a brown brick mini-mall. We were greeted with the friendly face of the owner and shown to a table in the back of the restaurant. The owner was soon replaced with our waitress who not only donned a friendly smiled but a cute tea party hat.

After looking over the menu, I found their prices to be reasonable for a typical tea room. I ordered “Sue’s Savory Salad” – greens, tomato, cucumber, cheese, cranberries, almonds, chicken, and house dressing – plus a cup of Ceylon tea. All of that came to around $10 before a T.I.P. The salad was rather large and all of the ingredients tasted fresh. My complaints would be with the chicken – it was dry – and the house dressing – it was spicy. A marinade of brine with the chicken would help.

However, I am not going to pick on the food too much because this is a tea room… in which I expect emphasis on the tea – and there was!

I could not find a list of their tea selection online which worried me if this was going to be another tea’d off disaster. However, once in the restaurant I was more than pleased with their variety of teas. They had a little of everything for just about every style of tea drinker. There were unflavored teas of the basic four; then they had a few flavored teas for each type. They also had iced tea and even bubble tea.

The cup of Ceylon tea that I ordered was perfectly steeped. If we had had more time I would have ordered the endless pot of tea ($3.50 per person) and tried more.

In retrospect I should have ordered the green tea to see if they knew about the correct water temperatures and steep times. Although, I believe the staff is very knowledgeable in the field of tea. I didn’t personally ask any questions, but I overheard a few groups of ladies inquiring about certain types of tea in which the wait staff seemed happy to answer. They described the flavors of tea and even the correct pronunciations which is more than I can say for the last tea room I went to.

Walking to the front of the restaurant to pay the bill, I took a peek into their small gift shop to find a trio of ladies oohing and aahing over pastel colored tea ware. After the cash exchange with the smiley, friendly owner, we were on our way out of the door properly satiated and caffeinated.

Even with the overall girly theme of pastel colors and frilly hats, if I lived near this tea room, I would most certainly be a frequent visitor.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Butiki's Pumpkin Creme Brulee Review

Type: Black
Origin: Ceylon
Price: Free sample (regular price – $8.50 for 2oz)
Vendor: Butiki Tea
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 210°F, steeped for 2.5 minutes
Overall Score: 4.6 out of 5

Pumpkin Creme Brulee is a Ceylon black tea base with pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and natural flavors (which I am assuming is where they get the cream flavor); all of which are organic ingredients. I noticed that the black tea leaves are in huge, twisted pieces - always a good thing. The overall blend is dark with the black leaves and dark orange pumpkin flakes. After failing to find a good pumpkin spice type of tea, I am excited to try this one in hopes of finding a great fall treat.

When I opened the package I felt like I just released autumn. The cinnamon and nutmeg aromas are prominent with the pumpkin aroma not too far behind. One thing I am happy about is that there are no cloves in this blend; not one single annoyingly spicy clove sticking its ugly little head out from amidst the black tea leaves. Anyone who adds cloves to a tea blend thinking that will "spice things up a bit" needs to be kicked in the shin. Hard.

The aroma of the steeped blend is spicy, but not too spicy. The pumpkin aroma is brought out more when hot water is added. The liquor is a nice deep orange color.

The taste is... just what I was looking for in a spiced up pumpkin tea... well, it is pretty darn close. The spices are at the perfect amount. You can taste the flavors and feel the heat without it being too overwhelming. Because of that, this tea is actually refreshing, like tea should be, instead of hot and dry like some other spiced up teas. The only thing I would ask for is a little more pumpkin flavor.

I am not getting much of a cream flavor, but I bet adding a touch of cream - just a touch - would send this tea over the top. Even without cream, I am most enjoying the "no clove" detail about this blend. Happy face.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

White August's The Girl Next Door Review

Type: Green
Origin: Not Stated
Price: Free sample (regular price – 7.95 for 50g)
Vendor: White August Tea Company
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 180°F, steeped for 1-3 minutes
Overall Score: 3.0 out of 5

The description of this tea on White August's web site starts out with "Our hidden love,..." in which they definitely have the word "hidden" correct because they do not describe anything that is in this tea other than a "passion fruit aroma." Thus, with nothing to go on, this is going to be interesting.

Passion fruit it is. Immediately after opening the bag, I am assaulted with the fruity aroma. I don't know why but I always think of the aroma of passion fruits as the aroma of grapes combined with that of lemon. It is citrusy yet earthy at the same time. So, passion fruit, passion fruit, and passion fruit... that is all that I get. The delicate green tea leaves are reeking with it.

The aroma of the freshly steeped batch of leaves is of, but of course, passion fruit. The aroma coming from the liquor, which is a nice greenish-yellow color, is more subtle than that of the dry blend, but it still screams with sweet, fruitiness.

The taste is tart at first then it settles with a sweet flavor that lasts for quite a while. I think this blend might make a nice iced tea because it pretty much tastes like drinking fruit juice. There is nothing from the green tea leaves themselves. I guess that is not a bad thing if you really like passion fruit. After a few sips the sweet flavor builds more and more. If, at this point, you wanted to add sugar... I would have to call you crazy.

Just like with the previous reviews of White August’s teas, I would really appreciate more information. What little is given is nowhere near enough for me. If passion fruit is all that flavors this tea then that is fine; there is nothing wrong with saying so. An origin of the green tea would be great, as well.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"Facepalm" Moments With Tea

Over the past four years that I have been studying, experimenting with, writing about, talking about, and drinking tea there have been some rather humorous moments regarding the discussion of tea with others. These particular moments would fit under the definition of "facepalm" moments.

What is a facepalm moment? According to Wiktionary (I can't believe this word has its own Wiki page either), facepalm is an action "to bring the palm of one’s hand to one’s face as an expression of mixed humor and disbelief or disgust or shame..."

Here are a few facepalm moments I have experienced so far:

We were having a carry-in at work...
Me: I thought about making a couple of pitchers of iced black tea, probably Assam, to bring in. Do you think people would like that?
Co-worker: Sure. I like McDonald's iced tea, so if it tastes like that I will drink some. But, McDonald's tea is brown, not black.
Me: *facepalm*

Talking about the different kinds of tea...
Me: ...and then there is matcha, which is powdered green tea. They use that in Japanese tea ceremonies.
Guy: What do they do with the powder? Snort it?
Me: *facepalm*

Talking about weight loss...
Girl: Yeah, green tea is good. I have been drinking it instead of Coke to lose weight. *Holds up a Lipton RTD citrus flavored green tea bottle*
Me: You know, that bottle has almost the same amount of calories and sugar as a bottle of Coke. Real green tea is better for you.
Girl: Yeah, I tried that, but I had to add, like, a ton of sugar and even then it was totally gross.
Me: *facepalm*

Classmate sees my clear travel mug full of wuyi oolong (which brews up a pale yellow color)...
Classmate: Are you drinking beer in class?
Me: No, it's tea.
Classmate: Pee?
Me: No, tea! Ugh...
Different Classmate: Is that beer?
Me: *facepalm*

Those are all I can think of at the moment. I know there several more as the concept of good tea really hasn't hit the people of Indiana yet. Because of that, I am sure there will be more comical times ahead.

So, do you have any facepalm moments that you would like to share?

Image reference link: Facepalm girl

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Poll #2: How Many Brewing Vessels?

I would like to thank everyone who participated in the first poll on MySI! This gave me a lot of insight to several things...

First, it let me know more about my readers. Thanks to all who took the time to comment on the poll post. I did not get an answer directly to my "Do you like polls?" questions, but the number of votes and comments alone let me know that people are okay with sharing their opinions. Again, thank you! I loved reading all of your responses and finding out more about fellow tea-lovers.

Second, I think I may have been a little preemptive about the "weekly" portion of the polls. I thought I wanted a weekly feature on this blog, even though it all works in theory, it would just not work for this particular blog. However, I am glad that I tested it out and saw it for myself. The reason I don't think it would work is because I try to post thorough articles less frequently rather than small, asinine posts frequently. Because of that, I am afraid that this blog would house more surveys than informative articles. Thus, I am removing the "weekly" part of the poll and doing it more at random.

Third, all of the comments to the first poll came from the Tea Trade mirrored blog. I both like and dislike that at the same time. I like that because that means Tea Trade is a good source to link blogs with other tea-peeps, but I don't like that because that means more people are going to the crappy-looking mirrored blog than my original blog... the one I have worked so hard to create. This leaves me with issues to ponder...

Anyways, the tallied results of last week's poll was that a good 50% of the voters said that either a handle or no handle was fine because it was more about the design of the tea cup. Very interesting.

On to the second poll question! There is no set time limit to answer this question... it is just whenever I decide to put up a new question.

How many brewing vessels (teapots, gaiwans, yixing, kyusuu, etc.) do you currently have?

I have a total of 20 brewing vessels. Three matcha bowls, four ceramic gaiwans, one glass gaiwan, one cast iron teapot, two ceramic teapots, two glass teapots, two yixing, four kyusuu, and one gourd. Wow, I didn't realize I had so many. As for one ultimate favorite brewing vessel, I am not sure I can pick. However, I have favorites in each category. For example, my red cast iron teapot and glass gaiwan are two vessels that I reach for more than most.

So, how many do you have? What are some of your favorites? Why?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

White August's Camellia Sin (My Happy Place) Review

Type: Herbal
Origin: Not Stated
Price: Free sample (regular price – 16.95 for 50g)
Vendor: White August Tea Company
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 206°F, steeped for 5-7 minutes
Overall Score: 3.2 out of 5

Based on the description of the tea on the package and on White August's website, this herbal tisane is a blend of chamomile and bananas... at least that is the only ingredients that they mention. However, looking at the dry leaf blend there appears to be more to this tisane than just chamomile and bananas.

The dry blend smells sweet and fruity - kind of a mix of apple and banana aromas. I can find the chamomile flowers and banana pieces, but as for the other stuff... hmm... maybe some lemon grass and rooibos? The chamomile definitely gives the floral aroma, but there is a hint of spice somewhere in there.

The aroma of the steeped tisane is very apple-like. It reminds me of hot apple pie between the sweet fruitiness and the background spice aroma. The liquor is a deep orange color.

The tisane is really hot! I got excited and didn't let it cool enough before I took a sip. Let's try this again. The tisane tastes just like it smells... there is a sweet apple flavor but the banana is hard to find. It tastes very similar to apple cider. It has the flavor profile of rooibos, woody and fruity, so I believe my suspicion of the little red flecks in the dry blend being rooibos is correct. I can see this being a dessert tisane as it is super sweet and the flavor is straight to the point.

Just like with the previous reviews of White August’s teas, I would really appreciate more information. What little is given is nowhere near enough for me. It would at least be nice to know all of the ingredients that are in this herbal blend.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Your Opinion on Polls | Weekly Poll #1: Handles?

I have wanted to have a weekly feature on my blog for quite some time, but couldn’t put my finger on exactly what I wanted to do… until now.

Every Sunday night I will post a new poll that will be located at the top of the right hand column of my blog (See it?). I will also make a blog post giving a back story as to why I chose the question while talking about the results of last week’s poll, as well.

All of this sounds great in theory, but it is not going to work unless you are willing to give your opinion. Are you? I personally like answering polls that interest me. However, I am not sure what everyone else thinks about them. Do you like polls? Do you think they are fun and interesting or does that depend on the question and/or source? Would you like to see that kind of interaction on this blog?

What I have in mind so far is that the polls will be mostly related to tea, but I may go off on a tangent and get a little random. Why not? I am also going to try to stay away from questions like “What kind of tea do you like? Green, White… blah blah blah” and “If you were stuck on an island and could only have one type of tea what would it be? Green, White… blarg blarg blarg” because it seems like tea companies have beaten those poll questions mercilessly into the ground via social media.

Now for the first poll question…

Which do you prefer: tea cups with handles or tea cups without handles?

I personally don’t care if the cup has a handle or not. I pick the tea cup that fancies me at the time. I think if I had to choose between the two I would pick a cup without handles just because I think holding a cup by its handle is uncomfortable. Plus, I get to feel the warmth of the freshly made tea when I wrap my fingers around the cup.

My two favorite cups are in each category. The cup I bought from the World Market a long time ago has a small asymmetrical handle near the rim. I usually stick my index finger through the handle while wrapping the rest of my fingers around the cup. Although, when the tea is really hot, the handle comes in, well, handy. The other favorite of mine is a cup my boyfriend bought me several Christmases ago. It does not sport a handle, but it is the perfect size for when I make tea with a gaiwan.

Tell me what you think! After submitting your answer, you can leave a comment on the poll feature itself or on this blog post.

The poll closes Sunday, July 31st, at 7pm EST.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Intact and Complete

Most of the moving and settling in the new place is done. Moving is always a lot of work, but I found this particular experience to be a lot of fun amongst the blood (damn cardboard cuts!), sweat (90 degrees outside!), and tears (so happy!).

Another note that I am happy to report is that there was no broken teaware during the packing, transporting, and unpacking – thank you news paper and bubble wrap! I put the boxes of teaware in my car instead of the moving truck because I was so worried about my precious pieces.

Anyways, my office/tea room is now set up and complete so the blog posts can resume. Lately, I have been so busy with the new place to be on the computer that some people think I have fallen off the face of the online world. Well… I am back, and yes, I have missed you, too.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Charleston Tea Plantation

On Sunday, May 15th I had the opportunity to visit the only tea plantation in the continental US which is located on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina near Charleston. This was also the day in which the Charleston Tea Plantation was hosting their 5th annual First Flush Festival.

The gates opened at 11am but we got there around 10:30am to get a good place in line which would insure a good seating spot. Armed with tickets in one hand, a blanket in the other, and my camera bag on my back I waited eagerly for the third party company who was hired to set up and handle parking and tickets to start checking in people.

Finally the time came to hand over my printed tickets to the young guy with the scanner. As he took my tickets I heard him utter “I hope this works” under his breath as he scanned the page. He let out a small sigh when the scanner beeped reassuringly in his hand. We were then ushered over to get paper bracelets so we could come and go as we pleased.

I wasn’t sure what to expect after this because my first complaint about this whole ordeal was that the Charleston Tea Plantation fails to say anything about the First Flush Festival other than when and where it is happening and how to get tickets. That frustrated me because it was only from one single picture of the last year’s event that I knew to bring a blanket (or chair) to sit on. I also had no idea if there was going to be any food or drinks sold at the festival other than them briefly mentioning free tea. It just really bothered me that this is only the 5th annual festival and it seemed like they expected you to know what to expect. It wouldn’t be that hard to give a description about their plans for this event on their website.

Anyways, as we walked away from the check-in booth we saw another ID verification booth off to the side of the path. I was confused about this at first until I realized they were checking ID’s for those over the age of 21 so they could strap a blue Budweiser bracelet around the wrists of beer drinkers. Fine, I thought. This IS a festival, have a beer stand along with the BBQ stand and the taco stand. That’s fine. It’s going to be all about the tea anyways… or so I thought.

I was wrong. The fact that this festival was held on a tea plantation was really the only thing “tea” about this. There were three beer vendors. Three! These were accompanied by only one tea stand which was the place to get free sweetened or unsweetened black iced tea. Further more, I saw a couple of comments on the Charleston Tea Plantation’s Facebook page that said they would like to see more beer vendors at next year’s festival. What? That is like saying, “I want to see more strawberry vendors at the blueberry festival.” It is called the First Flush Festival… it is supposed to be celebrating the first harvest of the year. If you want to drink beer, then go to a damn brewery.

So, we find a place to sit; a nice, cool, shady place amongst a few trees. Before too many people arrived I decide to walk around and take some pictures of the tea and the land. We end up making our way into the store and getting asked to join the factory tour that was about to start. I will have to say this was the best part of the whole visit. Through windows we saw the withering bed, oxidation bed, and sorting area. The aroma alone coming from the factory was worth it. This tour only took about 15 minutes then we exited through the store.

We headed back to our blanket to listen to bands that played on two stages – they switched every 30-45 minutes or so. One five dollar taco and two free cups of tea later, I was bored. The bands were okay… too soft for my kind of music and the plantation was getting crowded by the second. We ended up packing up and leaving around 4:00pm (the festival didn’t end until 8pm) and there wasn’t a bare spot on the lawn; we had to step over people as we were leaving. What’s more, there was still a line of people coming in… and three lines 20 people deep for the beer vendors.

Is the Charleston Tea Plantation worth seeing for a tea aficionado? Yes. Is it worth seeing during the First Flush Festival for a tea aficionado? No. They used the plantation tour bus to haul people from their cars to the check-in booth and, as a result, they were not giving field tours with it. I wasn’t too disappointed not to take a field tour because I’m sure they would just talk about tea information I already knew. Plus, they allowed people to walk anywhere on the plantation while at the festival anyways.

There were way too many people there. The atmosphere of the festival had nothing to do with tea; in fact I think they ruined what little it did have. Three beer vendors? I mean, come on! They could have done so much better. Instead of huge cups of one type of iced tea, why not slightly smaller cups of different types or flavors of tea? Not only would this help sales of the dry leaf stuff they sell in the store, but it would at least make the festival more about tea. For $25 a ticket (and that was the early ticket price) I was disappointed in the festivities… but at least I got a t-shirt.

Just so you know the Charleston Tea Plantation is NOT the only tea plantation in the whole United States… only the continental US. There is the Mauna Kea Tea Plantation on Hilo, Hawaii (the big island).

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Making tea with a Keurig

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend invested in a Keurig (the Special Edition Brewing System) for a couple of good reasons. One, his love for coffee eclipses his love for tea and two, he noticed that the long term cost of buying a Keurig would be less than stopping at local coffee shops for the same quality beverage.

He has made several cups of coffee with it using the K-cups and so far he loves it. I am not much of a coffee drinker, but I tried a few different blends and I will say that this shiny little toy isn’t half bad.

Here is where I become skeptical: the Keurig also brews tea. I have watched it make a delicious cup of coffee in under a minute (minus the 3-4 minutes it takes the water to heat up). For coffee, that is pretty cool. However, for tea, there are strict times and temperatures to follow. Tea involves more of a patient steeping process… slightly different than that of coffee.

So, I pulled out the manual (the shopping guide that comes with the brewer is actually thicker than the user manual) and read what it had to say about tea… which isn’t much. The water temperature can be set between 187°F and 192°F in 5° increments. I want to point out that those temperatures aren’t low enough for green tea (should be around 160°F to 180°F) and aren’t high enough for black tea (should be around 195°F to 212°F)… at least for the ideal conditions anyway. However, that is the perfect range for oolongs.

The sample K-cup pack that comes with the brewer has a Celestial Seasonings English Breakfast black tea K-cup. I have been dying to try it out, but I wanted to wait until I had time to sit down and write up this review so I could note my initial thoughts and reactions.

Let’s do this!

So far I am impressed. It took less than a minute and I am holding a cup of black tea that looks and smells just like tea that has been steeped for five minutes. After eagerly taking a sip, I find the flavor severely lacking. I keep sipping, hoping to find something, anything, but all I really get is astringency. It’s flat, very flat. No body, no complexity, no life to this tea. I am sad.

Now I am not sure what to think. I am not very familiar with the Celestial Seasonings brand so I am not sure if the tea is to blame or the machine.

I went back to the machine and plucked the used black tea K-cup from the apparatuses. I ripped back the foil to confirm my suspicions… CTC grade tea leaves – what you would find in a tea bag. What was I expecting? Whole leaf goodness? No, of course not, but at least now I know that it is more plausible to blame the tea than the Keurig.

I am sure this grade of tea is what you will find in all of the tea K-cups because of the fast brewing time. Smaller leaves give you a quicker, but flavorless brew. This proves that you can’t cut corners when it comes to making good tea. The only automatic machine that I know of that makes a great cup of tea is the Breville One Touch Tea Maker.

I guess for now, when it comes to making tea, I will stick with my teapots, kyusus, and gaiwans (oh my!). That is, until I try out the “My K-Cup” accessory.

To be continued…

Image reference links: Keurig, K-cups

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Reflecting with Gongfu Cha

The past six months of my life have been one hell of a ride for my normally quaint and boring life.

I bought a brand new car, the boyfriend and I both landed steadier and better paying jobs, we both survived the holidays along with one of the worst flues we have had in a while, and I have been preparing for a vacation and a move this summer. That may not sound like a lot, but after feeling like my life has been in limbo for the past four years (being either unemployed or under employed while still in college) these are major changes taking place.

It is nice that everything is finally changing for the better, but it seems like it is happening all at once. Thus, I am taking some time to slow down and reflect on everything that has happened with a Gongfu Cha session.

Filling and starting the kettle.

I can’t even remember how long it has been since I have spent some quality time with my one and only yixing pot. He is now sitting on my tea table along with my two favorite tasting cups which are accompanied by my pitcher (or fairness cup) and strainer.

The water is ready… just under a boil.

I poured the hot water in the empty yixing pot, replaced the lid, swirled it around and dumped it into the pitcher. I then poured the water from the pitcher to the cups, and then dumped the cups. After pre-heating the tea ware, I filled the yixing pot about 1/3 full of leaves; the tea of choice being the deliciously awesome Bai Lin Gongfu from Canton Tea Company. I rinsed the leaves by pouring hot water into the yixing pot, waiting a few seconds, then pouring the water out. I gave the leaves fresh hot water, let them steep for about 40 seconds, poured this brew into the pitcher, and then into the cups.

Smelling and tasting the sweet, caramel scent and flavor that is Bai Lin made me wonder why I waited so long to sit down for a gongfu cha session. Has my life really been THAT busy?

Let’s see…

I HAD to get a new car. It didn’t really have to get a brand new one, but for me it was the better route to take. This purchase gave me a car payment that I didn’t have with my old car, but it was either that or pay more than what my old car was worth to fix it. I am really not sad to see my old car go because I love my new little wintergreen Chevy Aveo5.

Pouring hot water on the leaves and steeping a second time for 40 seconds.

My boyfriend obtained a well-paying job… which changed everything for us. I can still remember the day he told me he got the job… I felt like we had just won the lottery. A couple of months later I received a better position with slightly better pay which helped us even more. We aren’t millionaires by any means, but at least we are no longer starving and struggling college grads. These opportunities are bitter sweet, though. Neither of our current jobs have anything to do with our college degrees or our long term career goals, but at least it is a start. I finally don’t feel guilty and ashamed for the next three days after impulse-buying a candy bar.

Definitely less astringency and more caramel flavor in the second steep.

I remember 2011 did not start out that great. Both the boyfriend and I had seriously bad flues with fevers, coughing, sneezing, and terrible body aches. On New Years Eve we were in bed by 11pm, incapable of staying up and joining in the festivities. However, starting out the new year like that means it can only get better – and it has!

Heating water for the third steep.

I am currently planning a vacation to Charleston, SC to visit the only tea plantation in the United States. This is something I have wanted to see, but never thought I would be capable of doing it this year. It is exciting, but it is a lot of work planning the week long visit.

The major thing on my mind is the move. After four years of dating, the boyfriend and I finally get to move in together this summer. It has taken us this long because we wanted to secure good, reliable incomes before taking this huge step. This move means that I will be on the road less and have my tea stuff with me more… which also means… you guessed it… more blog posts! I have lived in the same house since I was two years old, so I find each step of the moving process fun and fascinating.

The third steep still has a lot of body to it. Not watery at all.

I think the tea could go on, but I am done. My thirst is quenched and I am out of things to write about. Charles Dickens was right… tea does clear “my muddle of a head.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

White August's Mango Away Review

Type: Black
Origin: India
Price: Free sample (regular price – 7.95 for 50g)
Vendor: White August Tea Company
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 206°F, steeped for 3-5 minutes
Overall Score: 4.2 out of 5

Mango Away is a black tea base blended with mangos and calendula flowers. The aroma of the dry blend is more subtle than I imagined. I really have to put my nose to the bowl of leaves in order to smell the sweet mango scent given off by this blend. The dark black tea leaves make the yellow calendula flowers pop. The tea leaves are of average size, but there are a lot of stems in this particular blend.

Just like with the dry blend, the freshly steeped leaves are not very aromatic. I have to hover over the cup to breathe the sweet and fruity scent of mangos. The liquor is a deep orange color.

The taste is incredibly sweet. It has a mellow mango flavor which is enough to work with the black tea flavor instead of masking it. I like this fruit flavored tea because of its subtlety. Usually I come across flavored teas that are so pungent and over flavored that you might as well drink a glass of fruit juice. I drink tea because I like tea – don’t cover it up.

This blend is a good example of a flavored tea that has been perfectly blended. The mango flavor walks hand in hand beside the black tea, not in front of it.

Again, the description is lacking a lot. I did manage to get the origin information this time, but I want more.

Monday, April 25, 2011

White August's Summer Picnic Review

Type: Black
Origin: Not Stated
Price: Free sample (regular price – 9.95 for 50g)
Vendor: White August Tea Company
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 206°F, steeped for 3-5 minutes
Overall Score: 3.8 out of 5

Summer Picnic is a black tea base blended with juniper berries, black currants, cranberries, and strawberries. I barely opened the package before I could smell the berry tartness of the blend. The aroma is sweet with the strawberries and cranberries fighting it out to be the most prominent scent. The dry blend has an overall dark brown hue with the black tea leaves and dried pieces of juniper berries, cranberries, and black currants that I can see.

The tartness of the berries really comes out in the aroma while the blend is steeping. The liquor is a dark caramel color.

The first thing I taste is the sweet/tart combination of the collection of berries in this blend. The strawberries and cranberries stand out more than the rest. It is not bitter, but I get a bit of astringency from the black tea. The black tea taste is pretty much hidden by the other ingredients, but the fruitiness is not as overwhelming as I thought it would be.

If you are going to add anything to this tea, let it be ice. No need for sugar, sweeteners, or milk. Ice, however, would spunk up this tea and make it a nice, refreshing summer treat.

Just like with the previous reviews of White August’s teas, I would really appreciate more information. Three sentences describe this tea, but that is nowhere near enough for me. Because this actually involves tea leaves (unlike herbal blends) I would like to see some origin or estate information.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

White August's Walk in the Park Review

Type: Herbal
Origin: Not Stated
Price: Free sample (regular price – 8.95 for 50g)
Vendor: White August Tea Company
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 206°F, steeped for 5-7 minutes
Overall Score: 3.8 out of 5

According to White August’s website this herbal blend consists of “a medley of tangy berries and essence of roses.” It doesn’t specify what kind of berries are in the blend. I can identify raspberries by scent, but the rest of the “medley” is a mystery to me. Pieces of rose petals can be seen throughout the blend. This combined with the dried berries gives the blend an overall purple hue and a sweet, fruity aroma.

The herbal blend smells fruity while steeping; kind of like warm berry pie or how Jell-o smells before putting it into the refrigerator to chill. The liquor is a beautiful bright red color.

The herbal infusion tastes incredibly sweet. I am drinking this hot, but I can tell it would be much better iced. It tastes a lot like a berry Kool-Aid except it is naturally sweet enough in which there is no need to add sugar. I can’t really taste much of a rose or floral essence, but the berries come through nicely. Yes, grab some ice and get ready for a low-calorie sweet treat with this herbal blend.

I am dropping a few points not because of the taste or quality of the blend, but because of the lack of information. A one sentence description is all that is given. There is no actual tea involved with this blend so it is not the origin or estate I am concern about, but I am not too pleased with just the word “medley.” A list of the actual berries would suffice and I doubt would be that hard to add to the description.

P.S. I let the tisane sit until it was room temperature then I poured it over ice. Oh yeah, it is so much better when cold.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Amigurumi Teaware

Lately, I have been combing my two loves: tea and crocheting. I have only been crocheting for almost a year now, but I have quickly picked up the techniques for amigurumi.

Amigurumi is the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals, creatures, or objects. The word is derived from a combination of the Japanese words ami, meaning crocheted or knitted, and nuigurumi, meaning stuffed doll.

Through my self teaching of amigurumi I have managed to make a doll for my boyfriend’s niece, a creature resembling “Sack Boy” from the video game “Little Big Planet 2” for my boyfriend, and a candy bowl with lid for my grandma. Even though I find crocheting projects to give to others fun and rewarding, I decided to make a few things for myself.

I took the pattern from Ana Paula Rimoli's book “Amigurumi Two!” for a teapot and gave it some of my own touches. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad for my first attempt. In the same book is a pattern for a sugar bowl that goes with the tea set. After becoming familiar with the technique of crocheting in the round, I modified the sugar bowl pattern to make a gaiwan. I thought it turned out cute.

I hope to make some cups to accompany the teapot and gaiwan. However, for now I am happy with the two sitting in their own special spots on the shelf.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

White August’s Morning Geisha Review

Type: Green
Origin: Not Stated
Price: Free sample (regular price – 11.95 for 50g)
Vendor: White August Tea Company
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 180°F, steeped for 1-3 minutes
Overall Score: 3.7 out of 5

Morning Geisha is a green tea base blended with raspberries and pomegranate. Wow, as soon as I begin to tear the package open I am bombarded with sweet, berry aromas. The pomegranate barely out weighs the raspberry scent I realize after a few more sniffs. The overall aroma is not unlike a freshly made batch of Kool-Aid. The green tea leaves are good size for being a flavored tea. There are a few dried bits of raspberry and pomegranate throughout.

The aroma coming from the kyusuu is very berry. It is sweet and tart at the same time. The color of the liquor resembles a deep yellow honey.

The taste is incredibly sweet at first then the tartness settles on my tongue. I can definitely identify the pomegranate flavor, the raspberry is hard to find, though. There is absolutely no bitterness and only a little astringency.

The only way I can tell it is green tea is from the subtle, delicate flavor and light body. I can’t taste any grassiness or vegetal components. The fruit flavors pretty much take over. Therefore, if you like teas that don’t really taste like tea… then you might want to try this one.

Another thing I don’t like about this tea is that there is very little information about it on the company’s website. A short description is provided, but not much else. It could very well be possible that I missed it, but I searched most of the site and could not find the place of origin or estate that this tea came from. This lack of information might not matter so much to a casual tea drinker… but it bothers me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How to Pronounce Rooibos

Throughout my research of tea, I have come across several different pronunciations of the African herbal “tea” known as Rooibos. The question that I pose is which one is correct… or does it even matter?

First, I want to mention that Rooibos really isn’t tea when the word “tea” is used to describe the goodness that comes from the Camellia Sinensis [third picture] or Camellia Assamica plans. Rooibos [first picture] or “red tea,” as it is sometimes referred to (mostly because they can’t figure out how to pronounce Rooibos), comes from the Calicotome Villosa plant [second picture] or “redbush.” Because of this, Rooibos does not have the same nutrients and health benefits as tea. Rooibos is classified as herbal “tea” because of its lack of caffeine and its own bag of tricks when it comes to health benefits.*

Second, I would like to point out that some definitions classify the word “tea” as anything that is steeped in water and drank. It is not necessarily hot water as there are cold brewing methods, as well. I am indifferent to this definition because when I think of the word “tea,” I think of what comes from the Camellia Sinensis or Camellia Assamica plant. Thus, when I hear or see the word “tea” being used to describe the steeping of other herbs and spices in water, my left eye starts to twitch.** This twitching is normally reserved for when I see the wrong uses of words such as “your/you’re, their/they’re/there, etc.”

Therefore, I try to stick with referring to this particular kind of substance as Rooibos and avoid using the “red tea” terminology.

With all of that said, it brings me to my original question: How does one pronounce Rooibos?

These are the pronunciations that I have heard thus far:

The conclusion I have made is the first pronunciation (ROY-boss) seems to be the most popular way of saying Rooibos according to my Wiki and Google searches.

This is how I have always pronounced it. Although, I have caught myself saying ROY-bohs instead of boss. Oh well. I guess I would rather learn how to say a slightly difficult word than say “red tea,” confuse people with the difference between real tea and herbal “tea,” and start twitching again.

*I am not going to go into detail about the health benefits of Rooibos because I personally don’t care about them… I like to focus more on taste. If you would like to know the specifics then look them up. Google or Wiki is a good place to start.

**Ok, not really. I was just trying to get my point across.

Image References: Calicotome Villosa, Camellia Sinensis

Monday, March 14, 2011

EIC’s Nuwara Eliya Pedro Pekoe Review

Type: Black
Origin: Pedro Estate, Sri Lanka
Price: Free sample (regular price – £5.00 for 50g)
Vendor: East India Company
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 212°F, steeped for 4-5 minutes
Overall Score: 4.5 out of 5

Nuwara Eliya Pedro Pekoe is a black tea which was picked from 100 year old tea bushes on the Pedro Estate. The dry leaves smell fresh and clean with a roasted aroma. There is also a sweet, chocolaty aroma along with the freshness that the dry leaves exude. The leaves are incredibly large compared to other black teas because of the pekoe leaf grade. This means that most of the leaves will be whole, instead of bits of broken pieces.

The smell coming from the teapot while the leaves are steeping is sweet and malty. It also has a honey-like aroma to it. The liquor is in step with the aroma with its orangey, honey color.

The taste is not as subtle as the aroma. The savory, malty flavors hit me first, followed by the chocolaty sweetness in the finish. The tea isn’t bitter, but it is quite astringent… which I noticed only after the first sip. After about four sips, an apricot fruitiness starts to build along with the other flavors.

This is a good example of not letting the light color of the tea fool you. This black tea from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) may be lighter than other Ceylon teas I have had, but it does not lack the punch.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Arbor Tea's Greenfield Estate Ceylon Review

Type: Black
Origin: Sri Lanka
Price: Free sample (regular price - $9.50 for 3oz.)
Vendor: Arbor Teas
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 212°F, steeped for 3-5 minutes
Overall Score: 4.8 out of 5

Greenfield Estate Ceylon is a high-grown black tea from the Uva District in Sri Lanka. The aroma of the dry leaves is interesting – kind of a mix between caramel and peach. It smells deliciously fruity for being an unflavored black tea. The leaves are medium size, dark brown, rolled, twisted pieces. The color of the leaves is consistent throughout the blend, but the aroma is quite complex.

The steeped tea smells chocolaty with hints of fruitiness in the background. It smells sweet, not smoky. The liquor is an orangey red color.

The taste is sweet, with a lot of fruity notes… especially peach and apricot. It has a very nice chocolaty finish. Dryness is present, but not too much to be an issue. It is definitely not bitter.

I really enjoy this tea. I finished the cup and wanted more. It has such a sweet, but not too sweet, flavor. I didn’t realize so many fruity flavors could be in one tea. It is bold without being too strong; no need to add sweeteners.