TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

January 9, 2014

Ramblings: The making of a tea drinker

I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice before how my dear husband used to roll his eyes every time I mentioned tea, bought tea, or bought new tea ware. Although he didn’t drink tea at home, to his credit he did join me on several visits to tea rooms.

Cafe-at-Frontenac-Quebec

The Cafe at Chateau Frontenac in Quebec (temporarily closed for renovation). Photo courtesy of Chateau Frontenac.

One of the first tea rooms we visited together was at the magnificent and historic Chateau Frontenac in Quebec. In a beautiful dining parlour overlooking the St. Laurence River we enjoyed a luxurious tea time, complete with white-glove service. I think it was the rich miniature pastries and the glass of sherry that first gave him pause to consider that this “tea thing” might not be so bad.

After that were numerous tea times in New York at the late lamented Teabox at Takashimaya and at the wonderful Franchia. We explored various tea spots — now long gone — in Montreal, where we used to visit twice a year when we lived up North. We even visited the Montreal Botanical Gardens to observe a Japanese tea ceremony. And there were several visits to tea rooms in Bucuresti, Romania, with his father often and happily accompanying us.

Yet still … he didn’t drink tea at home.

tea-leaves_and-cupThen in the autumn of 2002 we were invited for a semi-private tasting of India teas — Darjeelings and a couple of Assams — by Kevin Gascoyne, who was then proprietor of Kyela Tea. He fixed about a dozen of his excellent teas for us to taste. This was around the time when different processes of Darjeeling teas were just being introduced here in North America, and we sampled greens, whites, and oolongs in addition to the familiar black teas of the region. Through Kevin’s gentle guidance, we discovered the nuances resulting from the different methods of processing “the champagne of teas,” as Darjeelings are often called.

This event, for me, was a revelation: these “alternative” teas were extraordinary, and led to my long and continuing journey through these varieties. For my dear husband, tho’, it was the dawn of his appreciation of fine teas, and of understanding why I loved them so.

Since then we’ve spent nearly every weekend and holiday morning quietly together enjoying our teas, and it’s a rare day when DH doesn’t sip his way through two potsful of one of his favoured rich black teas. Recently when we did some exhausting remodeling in the house, finishing at nearly midnight on New Year’s Eve, my dear husband turned down my suggestion of a glass of wine and instead asked me to fix him a pot of tea. (He still doesn’t fix his own tea — after all, his wife does it better. ;-) )

teaHe even has his own favourite cups — and, like me, he prefers his tea served in glass.

Although he doesn’t pretend to know a great deal about tea, he does know which ones he prefers. Generally he likes the more assertively-flavoured black teas. However …

During a business trip to Stockholm many years ago he stopped in at Tea Centre of Stockholm and brought home one of those cute little tins of their signature Soderblandning. I liked it (I was still drinking flavoured teas at this time) and he ended up adoring it. For several years it was his favourite cup — until the regular trips to Sweden were discontinued and obtaining this tea became rather difficult and costly. I took this as an opportunity to expand his repertoire of the flavourful black teas he favoured. And so …

Along with Darjeelings (preferably Second or Autumnal flushes), he likes nectar-y Assams. Amongst his favourites are Assam Golden Tips, Nahorhabi Assam, and Mangalam Assam, all from Harney & Sons; Vithanakande, Pothotuwa, and Pettiagalla estate Ceylons via Capital Tea Limited; and of course just about any black tea from Camellia Sinensis, where Kevin is now a partner and continues his tradition of fine teas.

Recently I’ve introduced him to a few teas from Simpson & Vail that he very much enjoys: a long-time favourite of mine, Orangajuli Assam; their proprietary Dunmore East Blend, one of the very few blended teas I care to drink; and what has recently become his preferred cup: Nepal Aarubotay, which he likes despite its being organically grown ;-). This really is a delightful tea, reminiscent of an autumnal Darjeeling but, as DH puts it, “more so.” Which reminds me that I have to reorder this one …

Kevin has since gone on to write a very well-received book about tea, and has become something of a tea rock star, regularly speaking and presenting tastings at World Tea Expo. Tho’ I’ll always think of him as the tea man who made a tea drinker of my husband.

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All content Copyright 2014 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

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November 7, 2013

Ramblings: Shopping at home … for tea!

Filed under: food,men drinking tea,shopping,tea,Tea sites — by teaguide @ 2:22 pm
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This is not an article about online shopping … that’s coming up in a week or two with TeaGuide‘s suggestions for Christmas and Chanukah tea-gift-giving.

No, this is about shopping completely inside your home. Most of us have done this at some point. For example, you’re cleaning out a drawer and discover a shirt or scarf you completely forgot you owned. Maybe you got it as a gift, or you might have bought it yourself — and then tucked it away because you didn’t have anything to wear it with at the time. Fortunately you do now, and you’ve got a “new” shirt or scarf by “shopping” at home!

Unless you are far more organized than most people, you’ve occasionally come across a forgotten box of pasta in the pantry, a piece of jewelry inexplicably stuffed into your “stuff” drawer, a nifty pair of boots hidden at the back of the closet, or perhaps a pretty teacup obscured by several other pieces of china in your breakfront.

Shopping-in-your-own-houseJust to be clear: I’m not talking about things you know you lost and have been looking for, like your keys or the coupon for 20% off at your favourite shop. This is about things you’ve forgotten about that become “new” again when you find them!

A couple of years ago I came across several sealed, never-opened packages of tea that a long-defunct tea company called Junglesque had sent to me years before. They were all China teas and as I no longer consume anything sourced from China I’m going to leave them where I found them for now, tho’ will probably give them away eventually.

Recently, and more serendipitously, I did some more “tea shopping” at home.

As I’ve mentioned, when we moved from the New York City area to the Southlands, we bought some land and had a house built on part of it. The layout of the house included a room that we designated as our library and tea room. We built bookshelves around the walls; decorations included a set of wooden storage boxes. Several shelves, and one of the boxes, are dedicated to storing tea, tea ware, and tea books. Whenever I buy tea, it is stored in a seagrass bin on one of the shelves, or in the wooden box.

Before we built the house we were living in apartments, and teas were stored in the drawers of a rolling kitchen cart. The cart now holds our bread-making machine. I thought I had removed all of the tea packages from the drawers, but apparently not. When I opened one of them the other day, I found several packages of tea that I had forgotten about.

tea in cup top viewWe used this cart for storing tea until we moved into our house in March of 2006, which means that the teas in it pre-date that date. I really wasn’t expecting any of the teas to still be drinkable given their age, and some of them weren’t. I tossed the “Russian Georgian” tea that I used to adore, along with a couple of others, all of which had been packaged in non-airtight sacks. A few other teas, however, were still sealed in their original airtight sacks, unopened.

Several of these teas were full-size or sample-size from Capital Tea in Toronto. Knowing that Capital’s teas are very fresh and of a consistently high quality, and that their packaging is strong and airtight, I opened a couple of them up. Sure enough, they were still good to drink! I was particularly impressed with the Pothotuwa Estate Ceylon tea that I had marked as being purchased in 2004. I cut the sack open and was rewarded with a very clear aroma of dried fruit — mostly plum with a hint of apricot. Amazing! So I fixed a pot of the tea; the aroma continued through the steeping, and produced an extremely flavourful cup of plummy-nectary delight. The husband and I have enjoyed several potsful — this tea is particularly nice with something rich and chocolate-y. And we have enough left for several more potsful until we need to re-order.

Yes indeed, it’s very nice to shop without leaving home — and you never know what goodies you will find!

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September 27, 2013

Reviews: Three seasons of Four Seasons from Taiwan Tea Crafts

I recently had the fortuitous opportunity to sample and compare Taiwan teas produced from the Si Ji Chun cultivar and Baguashan terroir through three different types of processing … which I perceived as a passage from spring to summer to early autumn.

The first tea was a green style, generally my preferred style of Taiwan oolong.  For a number of years I’ve happily started my day with a potful — or two or three or more — of very lightly oxidized pouchong. Four Seasons is one of the best of the pouchongs, and this particular sample did not disappoint. Plucked this past May, it is everything a spring pouchong should be: fresh, light, and extraordinarily floral in both aroma — like spring itself — and in the cup. Preparing it in the kitchen I happily found myself enveloped in a delightful springtime garden. And of course that freshness that I’ve come to rely on from Taiwan Tea Crafts.

TTC-oolongs2

Taiwan black tea (left) and baked pouchong (right). Accompanied by toast and homemade jam.

Next was a gently baked version of the same pouchong. As I said, I generally prefer the light green style, but this tea simply blew me away as it segued from spring to summer. Baking brings out a sweetness, like spring flowers that mature in the sultry summer sunshine. It is a heady, and heavenly, experience. I may have to change my mind about preferring green oolongs!

And at last the black tea. Although the leaves were plucked a few weeks before the pouchong, the sensation was definitely autumnal. If you’ve never sampled Taiwan black tea, let me tell you that there is no other tea quite like it. And you just might want to start your tasting journey with this one. It combines the sweet summer-flower qualities of the baked pouchong with an element of fruitiness. Orange? Tangerine? Yes, but also a touch of late-summer peach. The taste and aroma work their way through the palate and the nose, and the sensation lingers … and lingers some more. Whatever you call beyond extraordinary, this is it. While I’ve sampled any number of teas that finish long, this was something else again. Superb!

Do click through the links to Taiwan Tea Crafts for more detailed information about each of their teas, terroirs, cultivars, and processes, and their very poetic descriptions of the teas themselves.

This would be a good time to remind tea drinkers that Taiwan teas are reknowned for their exquisite aromas. Take a whiff of the dry leaves when you first open the package. Breathe in the scent when the hot water first hits the leaves. Sniff your cup for a moment just before you sip. If you have an aroma cup, be sure to use it. Or try this method for appreciating the aromas: When your teapot is empty and still warm — especially after the last drops of tea have dried — lift the lid, inhale, and savour the intoxicating aromas.

Taiwan Tea Crafts is currently offering a Moon Festival sale — you have until 11.59pm Sunday, September 29 to receive a minimum 20% discount on top-quality teas, with discounts up to 32% depending on the quantity you purchase. Their beautiful tea wares are also on sale. If you spend $50 on tea (or $75 on tea ware) and use coupon code FREESHIP50 shipping around the globe is free. See their website for details. Don’t miss out.

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All content Copyright 2013 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

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