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.

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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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June 7, 2013

Ramblings: Recent travels with tea

It’s been a while since this blog has seen a new post, and yes, I missed keeping up with it. There was a good reason, tho’: I’ve been traveling without a dedicated computer.

I didn’t start out computerless. When I first arrived in Bucuresti, Romania for my annual visit, I had my trusty netbook with me. Unfortunately, while browsing the web at a neighbourhood restaurant with wifi, my Vipre security software failed me. When I got back to our apartment and turned on the netbook to recharge the battery I discovered that the operating system was fried, most of my files were corrupted, and I was getting some really scary error messages. That must have been some big bad nasty that attacked my poor little ‘puter. And from that point on I had only intermittent ‘net access at friends’ homes.

Now here I am back home in the USA, very annoyed that we’ve been paying for the Vipre software and and it failed me when I really needed it. Oh well. Maybe it’s time to get a new netbook — or upgrade to some other ‘net appliance.

Other than that, the trip started out well … and not so well. The good news? I met up with a friend for tea my first full day there — tho’ sort of half asleep from jet lag. And then the bad news: I discovered that I had forgotten my camera. So I don’t have any photos of the first tea room I visited in Bucuresti. Bummer, but I still enjoyed going there — and I do have a couple of shots taken by my friend.

la-un-ceai1

At La un ceai in Bucuresti, Romania. Photo courtesy of Andreea Heroiu.

La un ceai — To a Tea — like many other tea rooms in Bucuresti is housed in a former villa.  I met my friend at beautiful Gradina Cismigiu, and then it was a short walk through winding side streets of old apartments and houses to get to the tea room. There we found several charming, peaceful rooms, along with an outdoor terrace, and chose a table in the main salon.

The tea menu was pretty much what it is in most Romanian tea rooms: lots of flavoured teas and tisanes with a few unadulterated teas sprinkled in. Romanians definitely prefer teas with added flavours, so it’s really no surprise. I did find a tea that I don’t see very often, a Darjeeling from the Gielle garden. I’m guessing it was a second flush. It certainly had that distinctive muscat taste and aroma, just not as fresh as I would have liked it. Still it was quite pleasant.

I should explain that Romanian tea rooms generally serve their teas in tea-for-one pots, with the loose leaves tucked into a disposable tea sac. The pot part of the T-F-O is already filled with hot water when it arrives at the table, so I’ve learned to order green or white tea as the water isn’t hot enough to properly infuse an oolong much less a black tea. I thought I’d at least try the Darjeeling, which normally requires lower-temperature water than most black teas. It was a relatively successful choice given the options — ‘tho I would have preferred the water to be hotter.

Tea was served with small gingery cookies. The room was comfortable and cool on this warm day. The company was delightful. And then … We had each ordered a glass of citronada to complement the tea. This is a beverage I very much like when I’m in Romania: it’s a combination of lemonade and orange juice, tho’ occasionally some lime juice or grapefruit juice is mixed in. It’s a terrific thirst quencher. But apparently somebody forgot the sweetener … and when I took my first sip, it was so tart that I nearly choked. Seriously. I think I scared my poor friend with my red-faced coughing fit. Fortunately it finally passed, although I could barely speak for several minutes. Well, maybe that’s a good thing ;-).

Oh, and it led me to discover that the bathroom is nice and clean :-).

Altogether La un ceai is a pleasant place to spend time with a friend, which is a large part of what going out for tea is all about. So I will very likely visit them again during my next year’s trip to Bucuresti. I’ll just be sure not to order the citronada …

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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

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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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