TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

October 8, 2014

Review: A new tea book

I recently received a copy of Modern Tea: A fresh look at an ancient beverage, the new book by Lisa Boalt Richardson, who is best known in the cyberworld as Lisa Knows Tea. As I had gotten out of the habit of blogging for some time it seemed like the perfect opportunity — or perhaps inspiration? — to resume my ruminations on tea and all things related to tea by reviewing this charming little book.

Modern Tea: A fresh look at an ancient beverageYou might think that with all the books about tea already on the market there is nothing new to say on the subject. Well, you would be mistaken. While Modern Tea is chock-full of the usual introductory tea topics — tea origins, types of teas,  how to purchase, steeping and storing recommendations — it also goes well beyond the basics.

For those who are beginning their journey into fine tea — or who you might want to lure into the world of tea! — Modern Tea provides everything they’ll need to know within its 164 pages. Lisa’s breezy writing style draws the reader in, as do the lush photos (by Jenifer Altman). Don’t be fooled by its slimness and casual demeanor, however; there’s good, in-depth content here.

And for those readers who are too cool for school, who know all the basic stuff, there are lots of details about the art of tea tasting, pairing tea with foods, and cooking with tea; on the other end of the process there’s a section on dark teas and tea processing in general, along with historical tidbits.

For me, the highlights of this book are the many personal reminiscences the author shares with us about her travels to tea-origin countries and her experiences in the tea fields and tea factories and tea houses. I’ve pretty much come to accept that it is unlikely that I will ever travel to the tea lands of Taiwan, India, Japan, and Sri Lanka, so these vicarious experiences are about as close as I’m ever going to get — and Lisa’s descriptions are so clearly painted that it really is almost like being there with her.

Whether you’re a tea newby, an old pro, or somewhere in between, you’re sure to find something new and interesting in Modern Tea. Drink up!

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All content Copyright 2014 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

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November 21, 2013

Reviews: Tea for Chanukah

ChanukiahFirst off, I want to make it clear that Chanukah is not “the Jewish Christmas.” The fact that these two holidays generally happen around the same time of year does not mean that they are in any way related. Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of their Messiah. Chanukah is a celebration of the Jewish victory over the invading Greeks, and the miracle of one day’s worth of holy oil lasting to light up the Temple for eight days. Christians have their holiday. Jewish people have theirs.

The tradition of giving gifts on Christmas derives from the gifts brought by the three kings. There is a tradition of giving on Chanukah too, tho’ generally we give money rather than gifts, usually in the form of coins, and as a reward for studying Torah (the first five books of the Bible). One gift tradition that is shared on both holidays is giving to those in need.


Image courtesy of Wissotsky Tea http://www.wtea.com

Giving to charities does not mean that you can’t also give a gift to friends celebrating Chanukah. If you don’t want to give real coins, you can always give foil-covered chocolate coins. For a friend or family member who is a tea lover, you might want to give them a gift of tea or a “munch” to go along with the tea.

There are many good vendors who sell excellent tea. For Chanukah, tho’, I’d recommend giving a gift of kosher tea or scones — or both! (Not sure what “kosher” means? See “The aleph-beit-gimels of kosher tea.”)

One of the original kosher tea companies is Wissotsky, which has been in business since 1849. They carry a wide assortment of teas and tisanes in traditional and pyramid-shaped teabags, and offer a number of gift collections.


Image courtesy of Simpson & Vail http://www.svtea.com

For the tea lover who prefers loose leaf tea, try these two of my favourite vendors. Simpson & Vail received their kosher certification last year and offer a large selection of excellent, high-quality teas and tisanes, including exclusive blends. You’ll find another wide selection of kosher teas at Harney & Sons. Both merchants also carry better-quality teabags and pyramid teabags as well as gift boxes. One caveat is that they also carry products from other manufacturers and these may not be kosher; read the product descriptions!


Image courtesy of Victorian House Scones http://www.victorianhousescones.com

Now what’s tea without yummy, delicious scones and shortbread cookies? Earlier this year our friends at Victorian House Scones received their kosher certification. Their easy-to-fix mixes come in a variety of flavours, which you can prepare “as is” or browse their recipe collection for inspirations for mix-ins. The doughs can be made ahead of time and frozen, to be popped into the oven when you’re ready to serve them — a time-saving convenience during the busy Chanukah season. They’ve also got muffin, biscuit, and pancake mixes, any of which would be welcome gifts to enjoy at family breakfasts. (Currently their chai flavoured mixes are the only ones that are not kosher, but they’re working on it.)

Chanukah begins this year at sundown on Wednesday, November 27th, and continues through nightfall on Thursday, December 5th, so you have plenty of time to order and give kosher Chanukah gifts.

Now I’d like to leave you with this story of a very special and beautiful Chanukah tea tradition.


Photo courtesy of npr.org

By the 1790s, Jewish people in Russia were subject to many restrictions. Most Jewish people were banished by 1799 by Catherine the Great to the Pale of Settlement — an area encompassing parts of Russia and Poland. They were forbidden to practice most of the more lucrative professions, with the result that most of the Jewish population were deeply impoverished. Only a small number of Jewish professionals — physicians, for example —  were permitted to stay in the cities. It was they who developed this lovely Chanukah ritual:  Each guest was given a glass of tea and a brandy-soaked sugar cube on a spoon. The sugar cubes were then lit on fire. The guests held the flaming cubes while they sang Chanukah songs. When the songs were finished, all of the guests simultaneously dropped their flaming sugar cubes into their tea — and then stirred the tea and drank it with great enjoyment.

This lovely tradition is still practiced in some communities, and is a fitting custom for a holiday known as The Festival of Lights.

Happy Chanukah!

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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.


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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