TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

April 18, 2013

In my cups: I love (these) coffee cups

Filed under: food,shopping,tea,tea accessories,Tea sites,teacups — by JanisB @ 10:27 am
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I don’t drink coffee. While I absolutely adore the aroma, it seems to me that the aroma promises more than the taste delivers. Far more. In fact, I really don’t like drinking coffee at all.

I drink tea.

And I don’t like drinking tea out of the clunky mugs or heavy cups designed for coffee. No, I much prefer delicate teacups — with handles, without handles, and preferably made of glass. Because a large part of the enjoyment of tea is the visuals — the unfurling of the leaves, the play of light on tea liquor, and the multitude of colours that made tea encompasses.

blog-glass-coffee-cups-largeWhenever I go into a tea shop, an antiques shop, a tableware shop, or any shop that has cups on offer, I’m immediately drawn to the one/s made of glass. Which is how, a good fifteen or so years ago, I came upon my first teacup that was really a coffee cup. I’ve since learned that its proper designation is cappuccino cup, with cappuccino being some sort of coffee affair topped with whipped cream. Inasmuch as I wouldn’t know a cappuccino from a concertino, I bought the tea cup and added it to my collection.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that teacups are generally tapered, with a smaller bottom opening to a wider rim. This is true of both Asian and Western style teacups. Unlike coffee cups, which normally have straight sides so the bottom of the cup is about the same as the top. I’ve been told that teacups have wider tops so the tea cools more quickly at the top; I’ve also been told that it’s so you can enjoy the aroma while you’re sipping.  The cappuccino teacup is similarly small at the bottom and wider at the top, which is pretty much why I presumed it was a teacup.

It was immediately put into service to showcase the many shades of black teas, from ebony to chestnut to auburn to burnt sienna to topaz to gold. While I could have used it for any kind of tea, I tend to drink my black teas from a larger cup than other types of teas — greens, oolongs, white teas.

blog-glass-coffee-cups-smallA few years ago I was shopping at a beautiful homewares shop in Bucuresti, Romania that specialized in Spanish and Italian imports. And there was a cup of the same funnel-like shape as my cappuccino teacup but about one-fourth the size. Yes! Now I had the perfect cup for my green, oolong, and white teas. Even if I have since learned that its proper designation is espresso cup — espresso, again, being some sort of coffee preparation.

The two cups are now amongst the most often used of my good-sized collection of glass teacups. I like everything about them: the size(s), the shape, the handle that lets me hold it when a glass handle, or a handle-less cup, would be too hot.

In my not-so-humble opinion, these cups were mis-named to start with, and I have in fact elevated their status by using them for tea rather than for coffee!

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All content Copyright 2013 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

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April 10, 2013

Ramblings: A tea quandary

Filed under: exotic tea,friends,tea,tea review,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 2:22 pm
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Dictionary.com defines quandary as “a state of perplexity or uncertainty, especially as to what to do; dilemma.”

If the word can be expanded to define a specific place, well … it’s where I am right now.

teapotI like to sample new teas, and I like to review them, and I think I do a reasonably good job reviewing teas as a consumer — a tea drinker, not a tea taster. Apparently a few tea vendors think so too, and have offered me samples in exchange for reviews. Seems like a fair enough bargain when the teas are good and the reviews are honest.

But what about when the teas aren’t so good?

Well, that’s what’s happened: A new — or at least new to me — tea vendor offered me a few teas to sample and review. While I love the familiar folks I do most of my tea business with, it’s very exciting to find a new source. So I said “Sure,” described my picky preferences, and happily waited for the tea to be delivered.

Unfortunately, once the tea arrived things went downhill rather quickly. The individual packages of tea were not airtight — they were barely sealed. Glassine envelopes with the top folded over twice and then stapled shut does not cut it when it comes to tea. Not only does it not keep the tea fresh nor protect it from damage (what if the shipping package were caught in the rain or dropped in a puddle?), this type of semi-permeable paper does nothing to prevent cross-contamination between the different types of teas. This is a particular problem when at least one of the teas is strongly flavoured — scented with flowers, smoked, or with added flavouring — as was one of the teas in the sampler pack. Even tho’ I had made it very clear that I neither drink nor review these types of teas.

As you might imagine, there were no discrete aromas discernible when I opened the individual envelopes of dry leaf. In fact, there was precious little aroma at all. And needless to say — tho’ I’ll say it anyway — this lack of distinction carried into the cups. Yes, against my better judgment at this point, I steeped up each sample tea (except the flavoured). With all the crazy nasty stuff finding its way into edibles these days it took some effort to ignore the poor packaging and forge ahead with tasting the teas.

The results were predictible: Little aroma, little taste. That’s how it works.

I sent an email note to the vendor, describing effective tea packaging, explaining that under the circumstances I would not review the teas, and offering to review more carefully-packed samples. That was last week, and I still haven’t heard back.

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I like to sample new teas, but …

Some of you probably want to know who the vendor is so you can avoid doing business with them. I’m not going to tell you because I don’t think it’s fair to the vendor not to give them a heads-up and a second chance. Some of you will argue that before opening a tea business the vendor should have researched proper packaging methods and materials. And you’re right: it’s not like this information is a big ol’ secret. You’ll further argue that I’m not being fair to consumers — you tea drinkers — if I don’t identify the “culprit.”

Maybe that’s true. And that’s my quandary. And I hope you’ll forgive me but I’m still not going to reveal their identity.

I’d like to say this to all tea vendors and potential tea vendors: We who love tea very much want to sample your products, like them, and write glowing reviews so you can grow your business and keep producing wonderful teas.

And this to both tea vendors and tea consumers: If you notice that I haven’t reviewed a particular tea, it could be for many reasons. Perhaps I haven’t sampled it or haven’t gotten around to reviewing it. Maybe the tea didn’t suit my taste. Maybe I have no reason. Or perhaps the tea, or the packaging, or the service, or all of these were simply bad, and I just don’t want to write a negative review because it may affect somebody’s business.

I think I’ve solved my quandary by leaning towards discretion, and hope you agree with that decision. For me, at least, it was the right one.

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April 7, 2013

Cooking with tea: Curried rice salad

Filed under: cooking,Darjeeling tea,food,tea,tea recipes,Tea sites,vegetarian — by JanisB @ 3:04 pm
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The calendar says it’s spring, and while some of us are still seeing the last of winter’s snow, already the days have become longer — and for most of us, sunnier and warmer.

blog-cooking-with-tea-curry-rice-salad

Black India or Ceylon tea complements this dish nicely.

With the change of weather we’re starting to crave lighter foods rather than the heavier dishes of winter. This salad is something of a transitional dish: hearty enough for late winter, but also bright and fresh with a promise of spring.

For this dish I recommend you use an India black tea — Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri — or a lively Ceylon. Steeped the tea to regular strength. As always in these recipes, one cup of tea refers to an eight-ounce measuring cup. Basmati is a naturally white rice with a light nutty flavour and aroma; you can substitute jasmine — another naturally white rice with a lightly floral aroma — or if you can’t find either one just use plain white rice.

Serve this as an accompaniment to your favourite main dish in place of rice pilaf. Or for a light lunch toss in a protein source when you add the vegetables. For me that’s tofu sautéed in olive oil with a sprinkle of tamari soy sauce. And if you can find fresh spring vegetables like sweet peas or asparagus, toss them in as a substitute for, or in addition to, the celery or the bell pepper according to your taste.

This recipe is easy to double or triple for a crowd and keeps well on a buffet table.

Curried rice salad
About 6 servings as a side dish

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup white Basmati rice
2 teaspoons curry powder (or more to taste)
1 cup steeped black tea
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons tamari (or Kikkoman) soy sauce
1 vegetable bouillon cube or 1 teaspoon dry vegetable bouillon or broth
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon chopped unsalted cashews, preferably raw
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup bell pepper, diced (preferably use two or more colours)
1 scallion, white and green parts, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste, optional

blog-cooking-with-tea-curry-rice-salad2

Curry powder gives this dish a flavourful “kick.”

In a heavy skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for two or three minutes, then add the rice and curry powder and continue to sauté until the onions are tender but not browned. Stir in the tea, water, tamari, and bouillon. Raise heat and bring to a boil (if using a bouillon cube, break it up with a spatula until completely dissolved). Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until all liquid is absorbed, about fifteen or twenty minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the vinegar and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. When the rice is fully cooked, remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the vinegar mixture along with the cashews and vegetables. Toss with a fork and spoon until all ingredients are well mixed. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Transfer to a serving dish or storage container and cool to room temperature or chill in the refrigerator. Serve cool or chilled.

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