TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

July 29, 2013

Yummy fresh summer soup … made with tea of course!

Fresh cornHere we are again at midsummer. There are so many beautiful fruits and vegetables in our gardens and in the farm markets — the bounty can almost be overwhelming!

If you have a vegetable and herb garden, pick each one just before you’re going to use it so it’s at its freshest and tastiest. Don’t have a garden, or grow only a few kinds of fresh produce? Then pay a visit to your local farmers’ market.

If you’re not sure what to buy first, may I suggest corn? The season for fresh corn runs from about mid-summer to the end of September depending on where you live. Take advantage of its availability while you can, and this soup is good start. No cooking is required, and once you prepare the vegetables you can just toss everything into the food processor.

There are tools designed specifically for removing kernels from an ear of corn, but we find that our method works just fine: break each ear in half, hold upright on a cutting board, and cut straight down with a very sharp knife as close to the cob as possible. Bell peppersI prefer yellow or bi-colour corn for this recipe; I thought white corn was too sweet and less flavourful, but make your own decision.

In this recipe the tea should impart just a subtle flavour so infuse it at regular strength. I used a Japanese sencha and it perfectly complemented the flavourful fresh vegetables

If you’re interested in herbal remedies, don’t throw away the corn silk. Cut off the dark brown ends and preserve the remaining silk by drying or freezing. Herbalists recommend cornsilk, which is very high in sulphur, in infusion form for bladder infections and simple cystitis. (Of course consult your health-care professional before treating any ailment.)

Some folks think eating raw corn is scandalous, tho’ I often prefer raw to cooked so long as the corn is fresh and the sugars haven’t turned to starch. The kernels fairly burst with flavour! After fixing and enjoying this soup, try tossing raw corn kernels into a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers for another delicious way to enjoy summer in a bowl :-).

Fresh corn and pepper soup
About 4 servings

3 cups corn kernels (about four ears), divided
1 cup green tea prepared at regular strength
1 cup cold water
1 Tablespoon tamari soy sauce
1 medium red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into chunks
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaf (Italian style)
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Japanese senchaCombine two cups of corn with the water and tamari in a food processor or blender. Process for a minute or so until you get a somewhat chunky purée. Add the bell pepper, herbs, and remaining corn and process for another thirty seconds. Add salt and pepper to taste, then process for another ten seconds or so to blend in the seasonings. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container in the ‘fridge for one to two hours and serve chilled.

Variations:

> Garnish with halved cherry or grape tomatoes, or with a sprinkling of additional parsley, cilantro, or a mixture.
> To make this soup into a light meal, top each bowlful with about 1/4 cup cooked and cooled edamame (green soybeans). You can find these in the freezer section of your supermarket or natural food store, and sometimes they’re available fresh in Japanese groceries. Cook in boiling water or broth for five minutes; if they’re in the pod remove the pods after cooking.
> Spice things up by adding a small jalapeño pepper with the bell pepper. This variation was a big hit!

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July 25, 2013

Reviews: Teamania’s Oolong Four Seasons from Thailand

oolong-four-seasons-teamania

Oolong Four Seasons (photo courtesy of Teamania)

While there is none of the tradition of tea in Thailand that exists in neighbouring Asian countries, more and more excellent Thai teas are finding their way to Western markets. A handful of European tea entrepreneurs have discovered the high quality leaf that growers in Thailand are producing. Entrepreneurs like the folks at Teamania.

Many of the cultivars, and the growers themselves, are originally from China, although the oolong processes used are largely in the Taiwan style. Like this exquisite pouchong-oolong. Light fermentation (or, if you prefer, oxidation) followed by a gentle roast produces this absolutely delightful tea.

Aroma out of the package of this Oolong Four Seasons is richly flower-ful and slightly fruity (dried apricot?), and further evoking that ethereal “iron” quality that presents itself in only a select few teas. Aroma and taste carry through to the cup. Leaves are bright, shiny, and tightly rolled, opening large and earthy when infused.

As usual when sampling oolongs and pouchongs, I prepared the tea in my one-cup ducky-design clay pot. I generally cover the bottom of the pot with leaf; the leaves expand with each infusion until they fill the whole pot, which is the general idea of gongfu style tea preparation: lots of leaf and short successive steeps. After briefly rinsing the tea, I pour the rinse water into the fairness or sharing vessel (usually my two-cup Chatsford teapot) and then into my teacup to warm them before discarding the rinse water.

teamania-four-seasons2Following each infusion I pour the made tea into the two-cup pot, diverting a couple of mouthfuls into my teacup. In this way I can appreciate the evolution of the tea throughout the tasting and still have a pot of tea for uninterrupted drinking. Two infusions at a time are blended together in this manner.

I use fish-eye temperature water and increase the infusion time with each subsequent steep. How long do I let it steep? I couldn’t say exactly; just long enough. The wonderful aroma and taste have so far lasted through four infusions, and there seems to be enough life left in the leaves for at least another two infusions.

Teamania is located in Switzerland and prices are listed in Swiss francs which are currently converting at about US$1.08 to one CHF. One thing I definitely like about Thai teas is that they are very well priced for the quality: this tea is currently listed at about US$21 for 200g or a little over seven ounces.

Highly recommended!

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July 19, 2013

Reviews: The best of the best oolongs

Filed under: food,oolong tea,tea review,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 3:51 pm
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What a miserable month it’s been! Just the right combination of rain and sun started everything to bloom. Which may be wonderful for many of you, but to those of us with spring fever it means constant stuffed-up noses and scratchy throats. Most days I could be drinking the best-quality tea in the world and wouldn’t know it, because smell is such an important part of taste. My dear husband kept telling me that everything I fixed was over-seasoned, but I couldn’t tell: Essentially everything I tasted — if I could even taste it — was like yuck.

Now that heavy rains (almost enough to build an ark this year!) have washed away early-summer allergies, I can again enjoy smelling and tasting my food and drink. DH is no longer afraid to put a fork to the dinner on his plate. And I’m blissfully back to sampling a bunch of absolutely wonderful teas.

Lishan-oolong-Taiwan Tea Crafts

A potful and cup of Taiwan Tea Crafts Lishan Cui Fong oolong, posed in front of my hand-tea-crafted tea-dyed Tea Shirt.

Lishan oolong is considered by many tea drinkers to be the crème de la crème of Taiwan oolongs. Grown high up — 5,000 to 8,000 feet — in the mountains of Taiwan, the combination of growing conditions in the Lishan tea area results in a smooth and lightly sweet cup that fairly bursts with all the flowers of a spring garden.

Here’s where I have to admit that I had no idea that there was more than one type of Lishan oolong. Never having seen more than one Lishan listed at any other vendor, it seemed that all the tea from this region was grown the same and exhibited the same qualities. I have since learned that the Lishan growing region encompasses plantings at different altitudes — and yes, the altitude clearly does make a difference. Depending on where the plant grows it may get more or less exposure to the sun, and this affects the intensity of the taste and aroma put forth by the leaf.

I sampled two of these green-style oolongs, or pouchongs, courtesy of Taiwan Tea Crafts: Lishan High Mountain Spirit Lot 230 and Lishan Cui Fong Lot 217. Both have beautiful aromatic tightly rolled leaves that open into a lovely bright green colour.

The first of these imparts a lovely flowery taste and aroma: flowers with just a hint of spice and nuts, as if you were eating a flower. I’m on my sixth infusion of this tea and it’s fading a bit, but its qualities still come through as clearly as when I first opened the package. It’s like enjoying a spring garden without any of the allergy worries!

Lishan-oolong-Taiwan Tea Crafts

I’m still on the second infusion of the Cui Fong, and it’s just as lovely as the Spirit. Grown at a slightly higher elevation where the plants enjoy more sunshine, the floral gardenia-type notes are more pronounced, with almost none of the flowery spice. I imagine that it will also last through at least six infusions.

Tea drinkers may disagree on which particular tea they like best, but there can be no disagreement when it comes to freshness: the fresher the tea, the more intense the aroma and the more exuberant the taste. These teas were plucked and processed in May, and reached me just weeks later, and both exhibit a headiness that simply isn’t there in teas that are less fresh.

For those who are interested, I steeped these teas in my duck-design clay teapot in what I call modified gongfu style; that is, I rinse the leaves, steep up the first potful, and transfer it to a larger vessel (in this case a two-cup Chatsford teapot). After each steeping, before I blend them together (two infusions at a time), I pour enough into my glass cup to better appreciate the evolving colour, aroma, and taste. To my mind there is tasting tea and drinking tea, and having a teapotful makes it easier to drink after tasting.

Two things I like about Taiwan Tea Crafts are that freshness of their teas and the details they provide about each one. You can buy oolongs from many vendors, but they don’t all identify the garden, the plucking date, how it was plucked (by hand or machine), garden elevation, even the cultivars that produced the particular lot (or invoice) of tea. A lot of vendors do not provide this kind of information, and it’s greatly appreciated by true tea-o-philes (otherwise known as tea nerds).

Taiwan Tea Crafts has recently revised their shipping policy, making their teas and tea ware much more affordable and accessible to those of us who live outside of Taiwan. And they now offer sample sizes of each of their teas. Definitely worth checking out.

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