TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

February 25, 2010

Ramblings: A cozy cuppa

Filed under: exotic tea,food,tea cosies,tea cozies,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 2:37 pm
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A cozily-covered teapot, serving as a “fairness pitcher” for multiple steeps of Teamania’s Four Seasons Oolong.

I love tea cozies. They are by far the prettiest way to keep the tea in your teapot from cooling off too quickly. A good tea cozy will keep your tea at a drinkable temperature for at least an hour. I like them so much that one of my first blog posts was about tea cozies. (Re-read it here.)

One of the unquestioned true-isms of tea, however, is that it should never be steeped in a teapot covered by a tea cozy. What you do is infuse the tea first, sans cozy. After the tea is ready to drink and all leafery has been removed, only then should you cover the teapot with an appropriately-sized tea cozy (or cosy, if you prefer) to retain the heat.

Steeping tea in a teapot covered by a cozy, we are warned, will “stew” the tea, resulting in a misbegotten, bitter mess of a cup.

I have never questioned this accepted wisdom, and have never steeped tea in a pot covered by a cozy.

Until today. Here’s why:

For the second time in recent memory, when I passed along this cautionary steeping note, I was asked how I can be so sure if I’ve never tried it for myself. To put all doubt to rest — to either prove or disprove the axiom — I did my own test this morning.

I used two two-cup Chatsford teapots. Each pot was “hotted” by pouring in and swirling hot water. While the kettle was heating filtered water, I placed approximately two teaspoonsful of tea into each teapot’s filter basket. When the water boiled, I very quickly filled each teapot before the bubbles dissipated. One teapot was then covered with a popover cozy, the other fitted into a wraparound (“bachelor”) cozy.

The tea I chose for the experiment was Harney & Sons’ Brigitte’s Blend, an elegant blend of black India teas. This is one of my “go-to” teas, a tea that I’ll choose when I cannot decide which tea I want — and it always seems to suit the moment. No “control” infusion was required, as I am quite familiar with the taste and aroma of this tea.

After about 4-1/2 minutes — my usual timing for this blend — I quickly removed the cozies, withdrew each filter holding the tea, and then replaced the cozies. The whole removal operation could not have taken more than about twenty seconds.

The proof of the tea, as they say, is in the drinking. I poured about a tablespoonful of tea from one of the pots into a small glass tasting cup, swirled it around a few times to cool it, then took a sip. Then repeated the process with tea from the other teapot.

Let me save you the trouble of ever duplicating this test for yourself. The resulting “tea” from both pots was thick and revoltingly bitter, and could most charitably be described as swill. Instead of its usual bright, clear liquid, the tea was dull and murky in the cup. The spent leaves also exhibited an odd lifelessness.

In other words, the tea was stewed. I’ve had to consume several cupsful of properly steeped tea to rid my mouth of that horrible taste and texture. I may require professional assistance to get past the memories.

There is one positive result, however: I can now warn tea drinkers unequivocally and with great authority: Do not cover your teapot with a cozy while the tea is steeping because it will stew the tea. Yes, I am absolutely sure of this!

All that remains now is for the swill — I mean tea — to cool enough to be dumped onto our eagerly awaiting begonias, who don’t seem to be too picky about the form of tea they receive. I think this stuff will make them very happy.

And no, for my next trick I will not test whether or not my tongue sticks to a frozen pole, so please don’t ask!

Older, wiser, and slightly sick to my stomach … and determined that I will henceforth use my tea cozies only as they were intended: after the tea is steeped!
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February 18, 2010

Review: A tale of twoolongs

Filed under: exotic tea,food,oolong tea,tea — by JanisB @ 12:20 pm
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For a long time I’ve considered In Pursuit of Tea‘s Nantou oolong my basic go-to oolong. Wonderful floral/orchid aroma in the leaf, echoed in the cup.

It’s the tea by which I judge other green/floral oolongs. Over the years I’ve probably purchased more pounds of this tea than any other — a very good tea at a reasonable price. I sometimes buy a floral oolong or two elsewhere, but always seem to come back to this one.

According to IPOT’s website, they “airfreight new batches of this tea monthly” direct from the farm.

Well, I’m sorry to say that the batch I recently received is not up to the quality I have come to expect.

Orchid aroma is barely a passing whiff, and not discernible at all in the cup. If I didn’t know better (and I hope I do) I would think that they left the tea chest unsealed during transport and/or storage, letting the aroma and flavour fade away.

I have now prepared this batch of tea gong-fu style, modified gong-fu style (combining multiple clay pot infusions into a larger pot), and directly in 2-cup and 4-cup Chatsford teapots. I’ve adjusted water temperature and leaf quantity.

To put it simply, I’ve wasted a lot of time for a mediocre (at best) cup. Not to mention that with previous batches I have had to do essentially no tweaking to produce an excellent cup.

I don’t know if the producer is losing his touch, or if something happened to this batch. Emails to IPOT remain unanswered.

I did, however, at the same time order their (pricier) High Mountain oolong, which has been consistently producing elegant orchid notes in both taste and aroma. No tweaking required, and I’m enjoying it very much. Unfortunately this tea is no longer listed in their web catalogue — presumably sold out.

Very disappointing all around, to say the least.

Guess I’ll be looking for a new oolong vendor very soon.

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February 11, 2010

Tea review: A plum good Ceylon

Filed under: exotic tea,food,tea,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 12:06 pm
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Menikkanda Estate FBOPF (EX-SP) – Ceylon Ruhuna Dist.
Source: Capital Tea, Toronto

Retail and wholesale
Tea photo courtesy of Capital Tea; additional stock photos.

This was one of several teas ordered from Capital Tea in late 2009. I hadn’t opened the sealed package until yesterday, when I found myself having an inexplicable craving for a Ceylon tea. It was the first one I found in the “tea basket” so I opened it up.

Long thin leaves with plenty of silver tips, and some gold tips sprinkled in. Pretty!

First whiff of the dry leaves in the sack was very promising: light cocoa followed by rich and fruity dried plum. It reminded me of a favourite candy I occasionally buy — an individually wrapped Russian-style chocolate from Brooklyn, NY’s “little Odessa.” It’s a dried plum (what we used to call prunes until the name was deemed unmarketable) covered in dark chocolate. The tea’s description describes it as rasberries, but I’m sticking with plums. Okay, maybe dried raspberries. Too fruity to be fresh berries.

The aroma intensified when I poured boiling water over the leaves in the six-cup Chatsford teapot. Following the steeping suggestion of three to four minutes, I let it steep for just under four minutes.

Flavour was very much on the plum/berry side, only a hint of the cocoa, and that more or less disipated by the third cupful. All in all a rich and fruity cup, with fuller body and texture than most Ceylons I’ve sampled.

Although I drink most of my teas unaltered, the description does say that it can handle “a splash of milk.”

Quite nice, and I’m thinking it would also be good chilled. If we ever actually do get some global warming I’ll give it a go ;-).

Available at Capital Tea’s online retail shop. Contact them direct for wholesale information.

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