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.

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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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March 13, 2013

Don’t leave home without your tea!

Filed under: tea,tea accessories,tea gifts,tea review,travel,white tea — by JanisB @ 11:46 am
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If you travel much — whether it’s a weekend getaway or a lengthier trip — you know how difficult it can be in some places to get a good cup of tea. It’s when you’re visiting those kinds of places that a tea travel kit can be a life saver.

For many years I rigged up my own tea travel kit; maybe you do the same. A well-stocked kit comprises tea, something to steep it in, a cup to drink it from, and any other accessories you include in your own personal tea ritual (strainer, filter bags, sweetener …), and of course some kind of bag or box to carry it in. Then I discovered that there are much more elegant ways to go about it.

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My compact Taiwan-made tea travel kit.

Some years ago I purchased a small tea travel kit made in Taiwan from a vendor who is no longer selling them, sorry to say. The kit comprises a gaiwan, a water/fairness pitcher, several tiny cups, and a tweezers, all packed into a well-padded round bag. Generally I pack an ounce or two of tea in a small plastic bag that tucks nicely into the gaiwan. I’ve used it several times, mostly when I’ve stayed at a hotel whose idea of tea is a basketful of assorted teabags, and mostly herbals at that.

The nice thing about this travel kit is that it’s very compact and can tuck into a large purse or a small carry-on type of suitcase. That same compactness also limits the amount of tea I can steep up, and sip, at any one time. It’s not a major limitation for tea varieties that lend themselves to multiple steepings, but it is a bit of a nuisance when I want a big cup of hearty black tea.

A few weeks ago I received a somewhat different type of tea travel kit. This one, from Thistledown Cozies, is dubbed The Brick for its, well, brick-like shape. Like all Thistledown products, this kit is made in the USA and is exceptionally well-made: not a stitch out of place, no loose threads, and will no doubt last for many years. The fabric is exceptional too: mine is in pretty pattern #11 (scroll down on their page to see fabric selections).

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The Brick tea travel kit. The portable tea steeping cup is not included, but the tea tins are. You can also see the elastic straps and the pocket under one of the tea tins.

The kit is rather larger than my Taiwan-made kit, tho’ easier to transport on its own thanks to a built-in handle. Thistledown’s take on the necessities for tea is somewhat different: this one focuses on transporting tea and lets you choose the steeping and sipping vessels and other accoutrements.

Four tins are included in this travel kit — fill ’em with teas, or put tea in three tins and your powder/granulated sweetener in the fourth. Elastic straps of varying size hold a travel steeping/drinking cup and other accoutrements that you supply yourself according to your preferences. There are also pockets under the tea tins that let you tuck in paper filters, packets of sweetener, or even teabags.

Two different concepts of a tea travel kit. Choose the one that’s right for your needs. I like the size of the Taiwan kit and that it contains both steeping and drinking vessels. I like the versatility of the Thistledown kit; I was thinking that I could fill the cup with water and cold-infuse my tea. (I never steep tea with hot water in any kind of plastic vessel.) The cold-infusion method works best with white and oolong teas, which are less prone to becoming bitter from lengthy steeps.

Although my Taiwan-made kit is no longer available from the retailer where I bought it, you can find similar kits at many other retailers, both online and walk-in shops. Perhaps your favourite tea vendor sells them. Thistledown distributes via wholesale only; visit their website to locate a retailer who carries them.

Now if only someone could figure out how to include a hot-water kettle!!

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Relative size of the two tea travel kits.

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