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Friday Round Up - October 26th through November 1st

Tea For Me Please - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 06:03
Gaba in Tea +Ricardo Caicedo explains all about GABA, a substance found in some teas with a lot of purported health benefits. I have yet to try one myself but I'm looking forward to his upcoming review. Learning to Understand Hong Cha We all have a certain type of tea that we struggle with but eventually begin to understand. The Dragon's Well talks about their struggles with Chinese red tea. Nicole Martinhttps://plus.google.com/103097147251455801975noreply@blogger.com0

Caramel Apple Flavored Honeybush Iced Tea from Southern Boy Teas

SororiTEA Sisters - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 03:59

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Honeybush

Where to Buy:  Southern Boy Teas

Learn more about this iced tea here.

Learn how to subscribe to SBT’s tea of the week here.

Taster’s Review:

Before I tasted this iced tea, I found myself wondering if honeybush was the right base for the flavors.  But then I thought about those yummy caramel apples that always catch my eye when I pass the bakery in my grocery store.  Those great big apples covered with caramel and then rolled in chopped nuts.  The naturally nutty flavor of the honeybush just might work with the caramel and apple flavors!

To brew this, I used the hot brew method and steeped the teabag in a quart of 195°F water for 9 minutes for the first quart.  For the second quart, I used the same temperature but steeped the bag for 11 minutes.  Because this is a honeybush blend, I don’t have to worry about bitterness.  The tannins in honeybush is low so it doesn’t get bitter when it’s brewed for an extended period.  I do find though, that a lower temperature means that I don’t experience that “sour wood” sort of flavor that I used to taste with rooibos and honeybush that I would brew at boiling temperatures.  A slight decrease in temperature made a vast improvement on the flavor of the tisane.

And this is a tasty iced tea.  I’m tasting more honeybush than I am apple or caramel, and that’s alright.  The top notes are a honeyed sweetness with a warm nutty flavor.  Then I start to pick up on the caramel notes and the apple comes in just beneath the caramel notes.  The sweet-tart apple notes linger in the aftertaste.

I don’t know if it’s my favorite iced tea from Southern Boy Teas, but I’m enjoying it and it is certainly a welcome flavor for the season!

Kuma Green 1228™ Sencha Green Tea from Mellow Monk

SororiTEA Sisters - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 16:00

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Where to Buy:  Mellow Monk

Tea Description:

A brightly herbaceous guricha-style sencha, with a gentle sweetness with fruity highlights — apples, melon, and white wine grapes — as well as citrus notes and a hint of jasmine. [Note that this is not jasmine green tea; the hint of jasmine is naturally present in the tea.] Made from yabukita tea plants grown in the rolling hills of Kuma County, tended and crafted into tea by artisan Kazuo Watanabe.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

The dry leaf of this tea looks and smells like a Japanese Sencha.  Deep, dark forest green leaves that look a bit more like bits of freshly cut grass than leaves (only these leaves are much darker than any grass I’ve ever seen!)  The aroma is grassy with notes of fruit.

Oh wow!  This is a remarkable Japanese Sencha!  Sweet!  The fruity notes as suggested in the above notes are there!  I’m tasting notes of apple, melon and grape!  A faint note of citrus toward the tail – faint but it really brightens the cup.  This is not as “buttery” as many Sencha teas I’ve tried, instead, this is more of a crisp, sweet tea with fruit notes that are interwoven with notes of vegetation.

Often with Japanese Sencha teas, I notice a bittersweet type of note and there is a gentle balance between the sweetness and that savory bitterness.  I’m not getting that here though.  There are some savory qualities to this, particulary with the vegetal notes, but there is absolutely no bitterness.  Just sweet flavors with a slight hint of tartness from that citrus note at the tail.

As I continue to sip, I pick up on the hints of sweet jasmine too.  They are much more delicate than the fruit notes and I think that my palate needed to become acclimated to the fruit flavors I was experiencing before it would let me explore some of the other layers of this tea.

Even though this tea focuses strongly on the sweet flavors and not so much on it’s savory elements, I’m finding this tea to be very satisfying and well-rounded.  It’s very smooth from start to finish.  As the citrus notes approach the palate, I notice a slight astringency.

Subsequent infusions proved to be a little more vegetal than fruit-like, but, I could still taste those fruit notes.  The floral notes emerged a little more.  The second and third infusions are definitely worth the effort with this tea!  I found these cups to be more soothing and rejuvenating.

A really enjoyable tea!  If you’re looking for top-notch Japanese teas, Mellow Monk is a great source, I highly recommend checking them out.

Tea People Makaibari First Flush Vintage

Tea For Me Please - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 16:00
Country of Origin: India Leaf Appearance: small, mottled greens and browns Ingredients: black tea Steep time: 3 minutes Water Temperature: 200 degrees Preparation Method: Teavana Perfect Steeper Liquor: amber You all know that I absolutely love Darjeeling. +Tea People was kind enough to send me a batch of samples that included several different selections from the Makaibari Estate. I've Nicole Martinhttps://plus.google.com/103097147251455801975noreply@blogger.com0

Baking peanut butter cookies with Dona Chai

Notes on Tea - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 14:00

Dona Chai is a Brooklyn-made and bottled masala chai concentrate. It is very good - hot or cold, with milk. It is also good in baked goods at least in the peanut butter cookies we made a couple of weeks ago.

The complete gluten-free peanut butter cookie recipe is available on the Whole Foods website. The ingredients are 1 large egg, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 cup creamy unsweetened peanut butter, 1/2 teaspoon gluten-free pure vanilla extract, 1/3 cup chocolate chips (optional). We used less than 1/2 cup sugar and substituted 2 teaspoons of Dona Chai for the vanilla extract. We did not add chocolate chips. Our cookies were ready after 15 minutes in the oven.

The dough is easy to prepare. The cookies bake quickly. They are moist, nutty, and slightly spicy (ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom). The chai concentrate also contributes an earthy base note.

If you bake with Dona Chai let us know in the comments.

Our thanks to Amy for the Dona Chai!

“He’s just pining for the tea-jords”

T Ching - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 12:01

I once was told of a tree, whose needles were said to taste of sausages. It was summer, perhaps four or five years ago, while I was attending summer camp at Camp Nor’wester, on Johns Island in the San Juans. The sausage tree was suppose to be a strange relative of the normal pine tree. Almost unidentifiably different from any other pine tree, it held a secret. That secret was that the needles tasted like a beef frank. One day, I thought I had it. I swear I found a needle that tasted exactly like sausage. Which was why, when I returned to Johns Island this year as part of the camp staff, I was ecstatic when the naturalist responded to my request for a sausage tree by producing two needles. I tasted them, and sure enough, they tasted exactly like sausage. The goal was met.

I started making tisanes from pine needles. These did not taste of sausage, but were intriguingly citrus flavored and aromatic. It was only at the end of the summer that I learned that those two needles had been dipped in sausage grease, and that the ponderosa pine is just surprisingly delicious when boiled in water.

The pine tisane however, was amazing! I tried multiple ways of preparation. The first was about two handfuls of needles, boiled in water for twenty minutes, and then strained. The result was mild but golden-colored, and had a delicious minty note, over a general pine aroma. Next was sun tea, which I left in bright sunlight (with a reflector). The resulting tea was darker and more full-bodied in taste, but lacked the minty lift of the boiled tea. It also carried with it a strong taste of swamp. This method was not really recommended. Third attempt was an overnight soak, indoors without sunlight. The result was similar to method two, but tasted less bitter. In all, boiling was the way to go.

After some research, I found that many people apparently brew pine tisanes regularly.  The Practical Primitive blog gives a recipe for a Pine Needle Tea and a Medicinal Pine Needle tea. The Pine Needle tea is a cup of water poured over the needles, and steeped for 1-2 minutes, while the medicinal tea is the needles boiled for 2-3 minutes. I guess my pine-tisane-first-method was extremely medicinal.

The Swedes have a name for pine tisanes, “Tallstrunt.” A very important part of this is that the Swedish word for “Pine Tree” is “Tall”.

“Oh wow look at that tall!”, or,

“That’s a tall tall!”

In Vancouver, British Columbia, the tea bar O5 Rare Tea Bar is known for it’s brew, “The Grand Fir.” It’s a tisane brewed multiple times from specially treated pine material. The pine used is prepared by being exposed to great heat, in the same way green tea is heated to prevent oxidation. The resulting pine is quite dry but still green, and it is intensely aromatic. It reminds one of Christmas trees.  A twig is used for three brews. The first brew is very clear and mild. It has little flavor, but a clear minty note at the beginning. The second brew is almost twice as full in flavor. It has notes of stone fruit and citrus, as well as the delightful hint of mint. It smells excellently piney. It also exhibits a particular grassyness; this is similar to the one that green tea gives off. The third brew exhibits a smokey, campfire tinge. It has less of a fruity taste, but the strongest piney aroma. Most of my companions there with me tasting the tea at 05 described “The Grand Fir” as “Minty but not too strong,” and “Fresh peppermint.” One person said, “Smells like cod liver oil.” A claim I do not agree with.

The pine tisane is an excellent source of Vitamin C. It can be a little bitter. A good solution I found to the somewhat watery, swampy taste of my third method (pine needles soaked overnight) was to combine the pine tea 50/50 with orange peel sun tea. The two flavors balanced each other perfectly. While the strong citrus tastes powerful at first, it quickly fades. The subtle pine soaks in slowly. The result is a very balanced brew.

In conclusion, go brew some trea.

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The post “He’s just pining for the tea-jords” appeared first on T Ching.

San Francisco International Tea Festival returns to the Bay Area in November

The Hour For Tea - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 08:02
The 3rd Annual San Francisco International Tea Festival is scheduled for Sunday, November 16 at 10 a.m. Held at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, the festival is a gathering of tea vendors other related business owners, along with tea … Continue reading →

Assam 2nd Flush 2014 Silver Needle White Tea from What-Cha Tea

SororiTEA Sisters - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 03:59

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  White

Where to Buy:  What-Cha Tea

Tea Description:

A great tasting Silver Needle with a delicate sweet taste and no detectable astringency.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

This Assam 2nd Flush Silver Needle White Tea is quite unlike any other Silver Needle White tea I’ve tried to date.   So to brew it, I decided to follow the purveyor’s suggested parameters and heat the water to 175°F (OK, the parameters suggest 176°F, but my Breville heats water at 5 degree intervals, and I figured 1° wasn’t going to make or break the tea.)  I measured two pinches of tea into the bowl of my gaiwan and steeped the tea for 1 1/2 minutes for the first infusion, adding 15 seconds onto each subsequent infusion.

Note:  The steep time and the measurements that I used were my own, not the purveyor’s suggested parameters.  I only used their temperature suggestions.  What-Cha suggested 2 minutes steep time and 1 teaspoon per cup.  But because I was using my gaiwan, I went with slightly more tea and slightly less time.

As I said, this tea is quite unlike any other Silver Needle Tea that I’ve experienced until now.  Yes, there are some similarities to the Silver Needle teas I’ve had in the past.  First of all, the leaves look very much like a silver needle, except that these are probably a little darker green than the silvery pale green that I’m used to seeing with a Silver Needle.

And there is a distinct hay-like aroma and flavor to this Assam Silver Needle, and that’s something that I typically experience with other Silver Needle teas.  But the hay-like aroma here, especially in the dry leaf, is intense!  It smells like the air of the countryside after a field of hay has been cut.  Like within the hour of the hay cutting!  It’s a strong scent.  The fragrance softens when the tea is brewed, but there are still some strong hay-like notes to the cup.

And to the flavor!  The hay notes are strong in the taste as well.  It’s sweet and delicate – like a Silver Needle – but those sweet and hay-like flavors are stronger than in a typical Silver Needle.

If compared to a Silver Needle tea, this Assam Silver Needle would not be considered a delicate tea.  But if compared to an Assam Black, then yes, this is definitely delicate in comparison.

Interestingly enough, I think that it’s appropriate to compare this Assam white tea to an Assam black because there are some similarities to the “more familiar” black tea from the Assam region.  For example, I can taste notes of malt to this.  I didn’t expect to.  Sure, it’s an Assam tea, but, it’s a white tea … and I figured this Silver Needle would be far too delicate to detect the malty flavors.  But no!  There is a lovely malty sweetness to this cup.

It’s a smooth, calming drink.  As the above description suggests, there is no astringency to this.  It starts out sweet.  The texture is silky.  The aftertaste offers a delicate sweetness.  I also pick up on a subtle citrus note in the aftertaste.

In later infusions, I began to notice the hay-like flavors begin to soften somewhat, not really waning, but instead, melding with the other flavors and allowing those other notes to come into focus.  I started to pick up on gentle fruit notes and a lovely floral note.

A really delightful, deliciously different Silver Needle!   This is another MUST TRY from What-Cha Tea.  They are becoming THE source for some very unusual marvels of the tea world!

Sleepy Hollow Pumpkin Chai from Culinary Teas

SororiTEA Sisters - Wed, 10/29/2014 - 16:00

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Culinary Teas

Tea Description: 

So, what goes into a tea named after the terrifying tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman? Pumpkin, of course. (The story goes that the horseman had the head of a pumpkin.) Add to this a select blend of herbs and spices, chai mix, cinnamon and ginger pieces. The taste of Sleepy Hollow Pumpkin Chai, it goes without saying, is to die for!

Learn more about this chai blend here.

Taster’s Review:

I previously reviewed the Sleepy Hollow Pumpkin Chai from Culinary Teas, however, this appears to be a slightly different tea!  The tea that I reviewed back in 2011 had candy sprinkles in it, and this doesn’t.  Perhaps everything else is the same except for the sprinkles … if that is the case, then I’m revisiting this chai!

To brew this, I used my Kati tumbler.  I placed a heaping bamboo scoop of tea into the basket and then I poured boiling water into the tumbler.  I let it steep for 3 1/2 minutes.  And the aroma wafting out of my tea tumbler right now is warm and spicy and pumpkin-y and … so delightfully autumnal!

This is really yummy.  I like that I taste the ginger and I can taste the cinnamon.  The spices are very warm; the ginger packs a peppery punch!  I suspect that there may be pepper in this too, although the website doesn’t offer an ingredient list so I can’t be certain.  But there is definitely some peppery heat that warms the back of the throat.  Don’t take that as my inferring that this is too spicy, though, because it’s a moderate heat, there’s just a really pleasant gingery/peppery note to it.

The black tea is smooth and rich.  It’s not quite as robust as I would have expected, but I like the smooth flavor and it’s nicely round.  It’s a satisfying flavor.  There’s not a lot of astringency to the tea.  It’s really pleasant.

I found the pumpkin to be somewhat reserved a flavor at first.  It wasn’t until I had consumed about 1/4th of the cup that I started to pick up on the sweet-savory pumpkin notes and at that point, they were rather delicate.  As I continued to sip, the pumpkin notes developed and now I’m discovering more delicious pumpkin-y flavor.

This chai is a really delightful Halloween treat!

Seven Cups Huang Guan Yin Wulong 2012

Tea For Me Please - Wed, 10/29/2014 - 16:00
Country of Origin: China Leaf Appearance: small, dark brown Ingredients: oolong tea Steep time: 30 seconds Water Temperature: 212 degrees Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan Liquor: dark amber A few weeks ago I posted that Seven Cups chose me as their customer of the month for October. After I was done fan girling, I was faced with a major dilemma. Which tea out of their extensive catalog Nicole Martinhttps://plus.google.com/103097147251455801975noreply@blogger.com0

The mother of Tea

T Ching - Wed, 10/29/2014 - 12:01

Water is the “Mother of Tea.”  It supports and nourishes the essence of tea, as it also does for all life.  Nothing improves the quality of tea more than changing where you get water and how you store it.  After years of hiking into the mountains to get spring water, we’ve noticed that besides the obvious ways in which the water has transformed our physical lives and spiritual journey through tea, the trips themselves have also had a huge impact on our lives.

Try storing your water in an urn, and give it prayers of light and gratitude before drinking.  You can experiment with crystals that have been put out in the sun, or full moon and see what effect they have on the water.  Alternatively, make your morning Tea and then leave a glass jar of the same water out overnight under the full moon.  The next day brew the same Tea again.  You will be amazed at the difference.  And recognizing that the moon gets into our water, into us, is a part of awakening the harmony to Nature that is our healing.

People have always utilized prayer-filled water in healing, at churches or temples, in blessings and other holy rites.  Water is the essence of life, even deeper and more elemental than plants.  More than 90% of a bowl of Tea is water, so it is huge force in the healing medicine of Tea and can’t be ignored.  As it makes up the vast majority of our bodies, an attention to it is a healing of us individually and globally.  The sickness of the fresh water on this planet is a testament to our sickness, and is an omen from Mother Earth that we are in danger and need medicine.

VOICES FROM THE HUT:  Water for Tea by Nick Hudis, May 2014.   Global Tea Hut has generously granted permission to T Ching to publish past articles from their publication each week.  These appear on Wednesdays.

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Green Detox Tea from Monarch Tea Co.

SororiTEA Sisters - Wed, 10/29/2014 - 03:59

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Where to Buy:  Monarch Tea Co. or Monarch Tea Co. on Etsy

Tea Description:

The powerful duo of lemon and green tea combine in this refreshing and detoxifying blend.  Detox and refresh while boosting your metabolism through the power of green tea. 

Ingredients:  green tea, lemongrass, dried lemon.

Learn more about subscribing to Postal Teas here.

Taster’s Review:

This tea looks a lot different than I expected it to.  The green tea looks almost like a CTC black tea.  The leaves are very small and darker in color than most green teas that I’ve encountered.  I studied them before brewing and again after brewing to see if the teensy tiny leaves would “open” – if these were in fact very small gunpowder green tea leaves that have been rolled into pellets that are the size of a small grain of sand or if they’re just very finely chopped leaves.  The wet leaves do not appear to have “opened” at all so I think that these are just very finely chopped leaves.

Tossed with these tiny bits of green tea leaves (that look more like black tea leaves than green!) are pieces of lemongrass and very small bits of dried lemon.  The aroma is earthy and vegetal.  Like green tea.  I don’t smell much from the lemon or lemongrass.

To brew this, I used my Breville One-Touch tea maker and put about 1 1/2 bamboo scoops of tea into the basket.  Because this is such a fine CTC tea, you want to measure out a little less than you normally would because there is more surface area to be exposed to the water and because more tea actually fits in the scoop with such a fine cut.  Using more tea would have resulted in a very strong tea.  I found that the 1 1/2 scoops made a very tasty tea with 500ml of water, 175°F and 2 minutes brew time.

The brewed tea is light greenish-yellow and smells a bit more lemon-y than the dry leaf did.  The lemon notes are still rather subdued, I smell more “green tea” than I do lemon.

And this remains true for the taste:  the lemon flavor is delicate.  I taste more of the lemon in the aftertaste than I do in the actual sip.  During the sip, there is a very subtle note of lemon.  It’s tart but softened somewhat by the presence of the buttery lemongrass.  The aftertaste is tart and tingly.

The green tea is the real focus of this blend.  It’s a sweet, refreshing green tea flavor that’s very lightly vegetal.  It’s more earthy than vegetal, and it has a gentle smoky quality to it.  It’s got some drying astringency toward the tail and I find that this dry sensation accentuates the aforementioned tartness of the lemon in the aftertaste.

As for the “detox” part, I am not sure how true that is.  I don’t generally drink tea to detox.  I drink tea for enjoyment and I find that this tea is quite enjoyable to drink.  The lemon-y notes are not fake or artificial tasting, rather, it tastes as though I added a thin slice of lemon to my cup of green tea.  It’s pleasant.  It’s an uplifting drink.

Assam Green Tea from Starglory

SororiTEA Sisters - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 16:00

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Where to Buy:  Starglory on Amazon

Tea Description:

Green Tea is also known as health tea . Rich in antioxidants green tea helps in fighting and controlling many human diseases. Regular consumptions Green tea helps in keeping body fit and slim. This best Assam Green Tea is sourced from Upper Assam Garden.

Learn more about Starglory Tea here.

Taster’s Review:


The aroma of the dry leaf is distinctly grassy/vegetal.  The brewed tea has a much softer scent and I pick up on very few of those strong grassy and vegetal tones that I noticed in the dry leaf.

To brew this tea, I used my Breville One-Touch.  I measured out 2 bamboo scoops of tea into the basket of the tea maker and then poured fresh, cool water into the jug.  The settings:  175°F for 1 1/2 minutes.

The results:  The liquid is quite pale.  A very pale, clear green.  The aroma is soft, as I already mentioned.  The flavor is really quite pleasant.

It’s sweet and smooth.  There is very little astringency to it.  It’s an energizing drink but it is also soothing and relaxing to sip.  It’s as if it revitalizes you from the inside out.  It doesn’t get you jumping but gives you that gentle nudge to get through the rest of the day.

The sip starts out sweet with hints of a honey-like note.  I then notice a slight buttery/nutty note.  It’s vegetal but not bitter.  The vegetal tones are something between sweet grass and mild steamed veggies.  The aftertaste has a light, citrusy note.

This is the kind of green tea that I would like to have in my pantry regularly for everyday drinking.  It’s a smooth, sweet and even flavor, something that tastes great before, during or after meals, and all those moments in between.  It’s a really enjoyable tea.  I found it to be a really refreshing iced tea as well.

Teas to Celebrate Halloween

Tea For Me Please - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 16:00
It's almost time for trick or treating already. Here are some tasty teas that bring the season to mind. Of course pumpkin teas are a must but nothing says fall like cinnamon and chai spices. These are some of my favorites. What will you be drinking this Halloween? Let me know about it in the comments!   Nicole Martinhttps://plus.google.com/103097147251455801975noreply@blogger.com0

Afternoon Tea: The St. Regis New York

Notes on Tea - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 14:30

I was very excited to join Jee and Sara at the St. Regis New York earlier this month for a traditional afternoon tea. This type of tea service is special, I think. (Read Jee's review.)

The hotel is located off 5th Avenue so the walk from the subway puts you amid the sophisticated hustle and bustle of the city. Tea is served in the King Cole Salon which is a grand room - tall ceiling with murals, gold trim, and crystal chandeliers. However, it's not a feminine room. The seating and floor decor is decidedly dark and masculine.

The staff was patient and polite. There was a minor issue with the sandwiches. We were not given an opportunity select our sandwiches. Roast beef and salmon sandwiches were served which I could not eat because I don't eat meat. However, our server accommodated my request for additional vegetarian options. The sandwiches and quiche were quite good - freshly made and the right amount of everything.

I don't think the scones were memorable as I can't recall anything beyond that they were accompanied by cream, preserves, and lemon curd.

Four types of sweet pastries were served - red fruit tarts, macarons, eclairs, and ginger cakes. The tart and eclair were my favorites. Jee noticed that the tart had a hidden pocket of matcha. Delicious.

Last, but not least, the tea. A generous selection of teas is offered. The list is dominated by blacks which makes sense for a traditional afternoon service. The complete tea menu is available here.

I look forward to experiencing the other hotel afternoon teas in New York. Check out my reviews of traditional hotel afternoon tea at the Boston Harbor Hotel and the Rittenhouse Hotel,

Fear and loathing on Wuyi Mountain

T Ching - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 12:02

Austin Hodge has already written a fantastic article about Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong that contains all the historical information you could reasonably want to know about the topic. I suggest you all read it before proceeding. I am going to write not about the tea, but about my experience accidentally stumbling upon Tong Mu having no idea what it was.

We went to Wuyi Mountain looking for oolong: Big Red Robe, and the mysterious pantheon of hardy cliff teas collectively known as Yan Cha. Our connection to Fujian, and Wuyi Mountain, was through Ms. L* *** ***, our white tea contact, who I knew through Yu Xi Hong, who I knew through Zhuang Peng, all the way over in Chengdu. We had followed the rainbow road of guanxi all the way to a subterranean wholesale tea shopping mall filled with dozens of stores, each specializing in something very specific. One store sold fermented Hunan jinhua tea bricks, another only teapots. Ms. L* *** ***’s place was the cleanest and most brightly lit of these tea caves and it was there that she introduced us to the opulence of Fuding white tea; a story for another day.

She also introduced us to the proprietors of a neighboring store specializing in Wuyi teas. After a few hours of the customary tea tasting and cigarette smoking contests, the proprietors agreed to put us in touch with their farmers on the mountain. These farmers produced both Yan Cha and Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, which I knew only to be the Chinese name for Lapsang Souchong. They gave me the phone number of some vague relative. They told me the relatives were from a place called Tong Mu. I just smiled and nodded and put my last cigarette out in a clay frog’s mouth.

A long train ride later and we were in the city of Wuyishan, essentially a bleak suburban slum nestled amongst the outsized infrastructure of what was supposed to be a much bigger town. Outdoor food vendors set up stalls two rows deep in the unnecessarily wide streets. These businesses flocked in well before the sun set to hawk giant fish balls filled with pork. Enormous teapot statues marched parade-like down the broad median.

We met our mystery contact one misty Saturday morning. He came to our hotel and we stood smoking and smiling in the lobby as the hotel staff patiently mopped around us. He said it was too foggy to safely ascend the mountain, and that we would have to turn around and go back if we tried. He promised that the weather would be better, “tomorrow.” But he warned gravely, “if we plan to go tomorrow, we have to go tomorrow, because we might not have another chance.”

What I know now, that I didn’t then, is that Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong is remarkable not only for being a smoked tea, but also for being the first black tea in history. Its birthplace is a narrow valley called Tong Mu on Wuyi Mountain. Our guide explained all this to me on the car ride up, but everyone in China tells you that their special local thing is the “oldest,” or “the best,” or, “the only one.” Early on I learned that this claim is not necessarily true; also I was distracted by the increasingly improbable-looking cliffs that rose like Escherian towers from the woods as we approached the mountain.

We ascended a road built alongside a blue and white mountain stream that cut through the rock. With its pine forests and huge white boulders, it looked like northern California except for the bamboo and monkeys. As we approached Tong Mu, the little wood houses built on the mountainside became more and more sparse. Finally we reached a checkpoint with armed guards: the entrance to Tong Mu. This is why our guide had been so adamant we stick with our plan. I later learned, when my friend Mike tried to go to Tong Mu, that “foreigners aren’t allowed in Tong Mu,” because it’s a UNESCO world heritage site and access is restricted. Our liaison had cleared our visit ahead of time, and if we had failed to take advantage of it in a timely fashion we probably wouldn’t have been able to reschedule; and more importantly, it would reflect poorly on him, our sponsor. We waited in the car as he showed the documents to the guards.

Once past the gate, the little settlements all but disappeared from the landscape. An unbroken wilderness, the kind of place that is beautiful not just because of the things you see but because of the weird, fantastical animals that you feel – rather than see – their presence. Eventually we turned a corner beyond which was a strikingly beautiful little valley, with a small settlement along one side with a large, traditional wooden building facing the creek and the tea laden hills beyond. This was our destination, and we were greeted by a friendly, cartoon-like dog and the taciturn Mr. Chen, the tea master. A man in his late 50’s, dressed in mismatched Chinese military garb, Chen had already been growing and processing Xiao Zhong (their abbreviation for it) for decades when the valley became a UNESCO site in 1999. He says the farm had to appeal to the government – and the UNESCO foundation – to be allowed to continue growing and smoking tea in the delicate, protected ecosystem.

We followed him to the great wooden smokehouse, three stories tall, that we had seen from the road. The structure was situated on a raised stone furnace. Huge chunks of raw, unseasoned pine lay in front of it in neat stacks. The wood used to be local, he said, but since the area became protected (originally by the Chinese government in the 1970’s) they’ve had to start bringing their pine in from outside the area. By way of demonstration, he stabbed a huge iron pitchfork into one of the chunks and tossed it into the shimmering fire.

He took us up the creaking wooden stairs onto the first floor, where smoke was seeping from underneath the bolted door. Chen opened it and clouds of smoke came billowing out. The floors were made of woven bamboo to allow the rising smoke to permeate them. Tea leaves lay in thick drifts on the floor like black snow. He disappeared into the miasma and reappeared with a handful of fragrant tea. The tea would spend varying amounts of time on different floors, absorbing varying amounts of smoke as the leaves completed particular steps of the curing process. We went back to his little cabin down the road and he tossed his handful of freshly-smoked tea into a plain white porcelain gaiwan. We sat and drank cup after cup of the sweet, smoky, rich-tasting tea that lends that peculiar effervescent tingle to the throat that the Chinese call “bing leng.” It tasted like fire, stars, wood, rock, the bamboo and the monkeys, and the mountain stream. The kind of tea that you keep tasting long after you’ve swallowed it.

Loading and images 2, 3, 4 provided by contributor.  Image 1: 

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Pumpkin Chai Blend from 52Teas

SororiTEA Sisters - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 03:59

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Zoomdweebies

Tea Description:

This week’s tea is a new blend of Indian, Ceylon and Chinese whole leaf teas with ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, black peppercorns, cloves, and organic pumpkin flavors. If this doesn’t get you in the mood for fall, nothing will.

Learn more about this blend here.

Taster’s Review:

I know that 52Teas was planning on working on a new black tea base to use with their black tea blends – I wonder if this is the blend?  It’s a little difficult to judge a black tea blend when it’s in a chai because the spices tend to be the star of the show, so it will be difficult to give you a clear idea of what I think of this “new blend,” but I’ll do my best!

This is actually a really tasty cup.  The black tea base is strong, smooth and robust.  There is some astringency to it, but I’m not finding it to be overly astringent.  It’s got a rich, full flavor.

But as I said in the first paragraph, the spices tend to be the star of the show when it comes to a chai and that’s certainly true here.  I like the way the spices come through here – it’s spicy and warm.  There’s a good balance of spice flavors:  I taste all the components.  I guess if I could change anything about the spices that have been used in this blend, I’d want just a tad more pepper.  Maybe instead of using “whole peppercorns” – crack them so that more of the peppery aspect comes through.  But, I like that there isn’t too much cinnamon or ginger.  I like that I can taste the cardamom and cloves.  Overall, I’m enjoying the way the spices present themselves in this blend.

And I like that I’m tasting pumpkin too!  The pumpkin tastes sweet and has a certain savory element to it too, and I like the way the pumpkin and spices taste together.

This is good served straight but even better when served with a dollop of honey to bring out the flavor of the spices.  If you want to go for a serious yum factor:  go latte – the creaminess of the dairy adds something to the pumpkin to make it more pumpkin pie-ish.

Secret Garden’s Secret Black Tea from The Secret Garden Tea Company

SororiTEA Sisters - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 16:00

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  The Secret Garden Tea Co.

Tea Description:

One of our bestsellers! Vanilla and a secret sweet ingredient. Fruity and dessert-like, it pairs wonderfully with raspberry cheesecake, almond trifle, chocolate mousse, and other sweet treats.

Ingredients: Black tea, natural flavors.

Learn more about this blend here.

Taster’s Review:

The dry leaf smells delicious with soft notes of vanilla and a fruity, berry essence.  The brewed tea smells more like black tea.  I can pick up on faint notes of vanilla, but none of the fruity notes that I could smell in the aroma of the dry tea.

I brewed this secret tea in my Breville One-Touch.  I added 2 bamboo scoops of the tea into the basket and poured 500ml of water into the jug and set the timer for 2 1/2 minutes and the temperature to boil (212°F).

Mmm!  This is tasty.  I taste strawberry!  I also taste a very subtle chocolate note along with the touch of vanilla.  The strawberry is sweet but has that tart berry note toward the end of the sip.  The vanilla softens the cup, giving it a smooth and delicately creamy taste and texture.  The chocolate is very subtle.  There’s just enough chocolate in there to make your taste buds perk up and say, “whoa, what was that?  Was that chocolate?”

The black tea has some lovely notes of malt to it.  It’s a rich black tea with a medium-to-full-bodied taste.  There are hints of flower within the layers of flavor from the tea and it has a certain robustness to it – I think that I could reach for this as my first cup of the day and be quite satisfied with it.

I love the way this tea teases and tempts the palate.  I taste strawberry and then it hides from me because the next sip is where I pick up on chocolate.  It’s a fun tea to sip.  And there is another note in this … almost nutty.  I’m not sure if it’s a nuance from the tea or if it’s another secret flavor, but every once in a while, I pick up on a slight “nutty” tone.

After the tea cooled slightly, I could pick up on more of the rich chocolate-y notes and the nutty notes.  It’s really quite a delicious and a fun tea to drink.  I’m really glad I tried this one!

Ippodo Tea Co. Unro Sencha - Take Two

Tea For Me Please - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 16:00
Country of Origin: Japan Leaf Appearance: small, deep green Ingredients: green tea Steep time: 30 seconds Water Temperature: 212 degrees Preparation Method: kyusu Liquor: bright green When I'm craving a really good Japanese green tea, Ippodo's NY shop is always my go to place. I was super psyched when they recently sent me samples of two of their senchas. I reviewed this tea previously back inNicole Martinhttps://plus.google.com/103097147251455801975noreply@blogger.com0

Trekking for tea

T Ching - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 12:02

Think of trekking in the mountains and sipping tea whilst you get lost in the surrounding mountain peaks and you won’t be wrong for thinking that the following piece is set in the Himalayas. Worlds away from tea plantations and miles away from the “roof top” of the world, I spent my summer vacation in the Canadian Rockies.

By default, the location for my summer travels was determined when I learned my cousin was getting married – and the Canadian Rocky Mountains are conveniently on his doorstep. While surfing the guidebook I came across the “Tea House Trek” as one of the top 20 things to do in Lake Louise.  The “Tea House Trek” is found in Lake Louise within a part of Banff National Park that is located in Alberta, Canada.

The Rocky Mountains are a majestic mountain range, the third longest in the world and the longest range in North America. The mountains stretch 3000 miles starting in Canada and running the length of the American west all the way through to New Mexico.

The trek is a combination of two separate hikes that can be completed separately but if you’re looking for a challenge and set out early enough one can certainly combine both into the day, visiting two teahouses offering stunning views and quality tea.

We started our trek at Lake Louise. Chateau lake Louise forms the major landmark that has views over this most magnificent piece of nature.  Starting out, you follow the lake and the incline increases as you pass through the forest. The alpine air and the crisp smell of the alpine trees is abundant, as is a distinctive scent of citrus.

After two hours and 5.5 km of walking amongst breath-taking scenery, you reach Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse in need of a strong cup of tea and hot food. The teahouse is set at an elevation of 2100m and was originally built by two Swiss guides for the Canadian pacific railway company.

The teahouse is designed as a Swiss chalet and reflects the early influence of the Swiss guides who pioneered the hiking and climbing in the area. The house was purchased by Joy Kimball in1959 and has been operated by the family since.

The structure has two levels and space is at a premium – you will be lucky if you can find a table. Thankfully, there was a table going spare as we arrived, offering us a wonderful view of Victoria Glacier.

The menu is well stocked with hearty fare: soup of the day, freshly made bread, home made pies and desserts – are just some of the foods that weary hikers can choose from. I ordered the soup of the day, which was a mix of kidney beans, potatoes and carrots; some warm homemade bread; and a quinoa salad for good measure – to help fuel the final push from the teahouse to glacier.

The tea available came from Banff Tea Co., presented in pyramid tea bags. A good selection was offered, from which I chose a Chai.  A strong cup of Chai in the mountain air while overlooking Victoria glacier is an amazing experience.

Although some may be disappointed to note that no loose-leaf tea is served, understand that the teahouse is quite remote; no road accesses for cars to service it. The house relies on an annual airdrop of propane and other dry stores. The staff makes regular weekly trips using the same trail we hiked up to restock other supplies.

After refueling, we pushed another 1.6km to view the glaciers. The maintained trail ends half-way to the pass. A pair of good walking boots is necessary to navigate the moraine slopes. No sign marks the end of the trail but hikers are aware when they reach the grandstand view of Abbott’s pass and Death Valley below.

Our journey is only half complete as we head back down the same path. We push on to Lake Agnes to complete the trek. Heading down, hikers are treated to the breathtaking views of Lake Louise and Chateau Lake Louise where we started our trek. To reach the Lake Agnes Tea House one must take the Highland Trail branch partway down.  Hikers walk above the glacier trail from the first leg of the journey. Again, the views of lakes and the surrounding scenery is amazing. The air is crisp and the smell of fresh pine is wonderful.

The final push to the Lake Agnes Teahouse is up a very steep 400m climb. I found this to be the most energy-sapping part of the hike. A flight of stairs marks the final route to the teahouse – we were all glad to see these anticipated final steps! Hikers climb the final flight of steps to the teahouse visible in front of you, with Lake Agnes on your left and the sound of a waterfall in the background. The elevation here is 7000 feet.  The teahouse has been here since 1905; today it is a family run business, staffed by college students from all over the world.

We arrived half an hour before closing, and thankfully it was not as crowded as the Six Glaciers. Lake Agnes offers loose leaf teas with a very impressive list of 100 loose-leaf teas for hikers to choose from.  I was delighted to see “Rare Adams Peak white tea” being served and had to try a taste of home!  I started with a strong robust English breakfast tea. We also took the waiter’s recommendation and grabbed the final piece of homemade apple crumble.

The views from the tea house are breath taking, on one side Lake Agnes sits reflecting the sun light with a 360 degree view of Lake Louise. The sound of waterfall crashing in the distance was appropriate sound track for the scenery.

I was eager to try the Adams peak silver tips and found the taste to be excellent. It is clear that the teahouse places a real emphasis on serving great tea – and both the silver tips and the English breakfast were fantastic teas, living up to the house standard.

The staff at the tea house make the experience so much more memorable, and they where kind enough to show us the kitchen which reminded me a lot of the tea house kitchens that one finds at the foot hills of Adams peak in Sri Lanka.

With Lake Agnes Teahouse staff: Freddy, Fredrick, Jessica and Serena

After sipping and savouring one of my favourite teas we headed back down to the trail to Lake Louise. A great day of hiking and seeing some excellent views was made complete by sipping excellent tea in a most unlikely locations. I would thoroughly recommend this hike to any one visiting Banff National Park and Lake Louise.

Happy Sipping.

Images courtesy of Dananjaya Silva.

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