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This tea traveled all the way from South Africa to join my tea stash in Toronto. Better than that? It arrived with two other Tea Merchant teas in tow: Cranberry and Strawberry Cream. They were all intriguing but my family unanimously determined that this was the best smelling of the three, an interesting decision given that everyone else in my family doesn’t like cherries. I, on the other hand, am a cherry fiend and couldn’t wait to dive in. I have now had this tea a few times since it first arrived and I think I like it best cold Read More
Licorice root. Star Anise. Fennel. All ingredients that those who hate licorice fear. They often take over and drown out all other ingredients. I am happy to report, for all licorice haters out there, that is not the case here! Spice and raisin are the shining stars here. Just a hint muscatel to bridge the raisin and rum notes together. Dry but sweet and it pairs nicely with the lingering maple. Mulling spices warm everything up. Alas, there is no cream to be found. The base is a little more brisk than I would like but it connects to the Read More
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: long, dark, spindly
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: reddish amber
For some reason, certain kinds of tea tug at my heartstrings more than others. Ruby #18 is one of them. Just the idea of a black tea from Taiwan really blew my mind when I first discovered it. Growing up in a Lipton Orange Pekoe family, a "self-drinking" black tea was completely new territory. The history behind this variety is also pretty fascinating. I will definitely have to revisit my old "Meet the Tea" series so that I can tell its story in another future blog post.
The taste was malty, as you might expect from a tea made from var. Assamica, but it was also mellow with a lot of natural sweetness. Notes of cinnamon spice and dark cacao danced around a vanilla note that almost gave the tea a creamy quality. By gradually increasing the infusion time I was able to get an impressive number of infusions from 6g of leaves. I found myself still drinking after most of the flavor had faded because it still had a really nice sweetness.
Feel free to experiment with your brew times and leaf ratios. Ruby #18 can take the heat like few other black teas can. Bitterness is rarely an issue, even when they are pushed fairly hard. If you've never had the opportunity to try "red jade" then I highly recommend that you treat yo' self by picking some up. You won't be disappointed. Their Honey Red Jade is also definitely worth trying.
Sun Moon Lake sample provided for review by Golden Leaf Tea.
I often like adding milk to certain black teas, but I’m going to try this one without so I can review the tea as it is. Sipping… this tea is interesting because I’m not getting a whole lot of flavor. I detect a little bit of citrus, but otherwise it just tastes like a black tea.. smooth, but uneventful. I can’t pull apart any individual flavor notes. I think that adding a slice of lemon or some milk would make this tea a bit more interesting. Even though this tea seems to be on the simpler side of things, I Read More
I am fortunate enough to be able to brew and drink tea at work just about all day. For the past few years, I have only brewed black tea western style to sip on throughout the day. I was saving all my gongfu brewing for home, which meant I was only really enjoying some of my favorite teas two or three times a week. I decided to buy a cheap gaiwan and a cup so that I could brew gongfu at work. The setup was simple: I had a kettle already, and I would brew with the gaiwan and use a cup larger than the gaiwan so that I wouldn’t need a pitcher.
The gaiwan and cup arrived–time to enjoy better tea at work! Well, that didn’t work as planned. The tea tasted completely different. At first I was using teas that I was familiar with, and I just couldn’t get them to taste like they do at home. The next thing that I bought was another gram scale. Now, not only did I look crazy for having a tea setup like this at work, but now I also looked like a drug dealer. I had thought that maybe I was underleafing, but it turned out that I was eyeballing the amount of tea pretty close to what I was intending.
Maybe there was a weird taste to the gaiwan? This theory made absolutely no sense to me, as it is made from porcelain. Sure, some of my pots at home are well seasoned to certain teas, but my tea was just tasting completely off. I brought the gaiwan at home and did a side by side comparison with an oolong in a glazed ruyao gaiwan. Both vessels were 100ml, I used 7 grams of tea in both, and brewed both for the exact same times. The difference was hardly noticeable, definitely not as drastic as it was at work.
It is hard to describe what exactly was wrong with the tea, but it definitely tasted bitterer and almost burnt. Every tea was coming out almost chemical tasting. Brewing black tea in a big mug was fine, but it seems like such a strong tea covers up any imperfection anyways. One day I was in a coworker’s office and noticed he had a 24 pack of bottled water on his chair. I asked him why he has that considering we have a water filtration system in our breakroom. “Gross, that water might as well be hooked up directly to a swimming pool” he said. That’s it, the water! I asked him if I could have a bottle of water to make tea. He looked at me really strangely, but said OK.
I filled my kettle with his bottled water and made tea. Perfect, this is how tea is supposed to taste! Now, I can’t stand to use bottled water as I see it as a huge waste, but at least I figured out that the water is what was wrong with my tea setup at work. Now, we do have a water filtration system, so I asked maintenance if they could replace the water filter. He said he can’t remember the last time that it was replaced. No wonder it tasted like a swimming pool, the water was full of chlorine.
Two days later, we had a new filter, time to make good tasting tea right? No, my tea in newly filtered water was horribly watery and weak. I did a bit of research and learned that our filtration system is a reverse osmosis system. Reverse osmosis removes all impurities from water, and this includes any mineral content from the water. Tea needs minerals in the water in order for it to bind and give a full infusion. The tea just tasted flat and uninteresting, and all aroma was completely gone.
My water at home tastes just fine and I use water straight from the tap filtered through a Brita. I bought another Brita filter online and brought it to work. The next day at work I filled the Brita with tap water and made tea. PERFECT, the tea tasted as it should! Even my western-style black tea tasted better. My tea was so strong that I wasn’t detecting the chlorine at first, but once I used quality water, the tea actually tasted a bit more complex. All of this headache was due to the water not being right. It really showed me the importance of good quality water in making tea. Water is the main ingredient in tea after all.
This morning’s pick, Earl Grey Manhattan, has won awards, guys. Awards. And not just “whoops!” awards where the award went to them accidentally. (Oscar joke! Timely!) A real “best earl grey” at the North American Tea Championship. The competition looked like this (Original Artwork by Super Starling!) And I can see why it did such a great job. The tea is obviously really high quality — it has deep earth, flower, and chocolate/raisin notes, a complexity that you just can’t get from a cheap-o tea bag off the street. (Or, I guess, in a supermarket. There probably aren’t a lot Read More
This is a tasty chai, but I can’t taste the rose. Which totally stresses me out, guys. I want to be like “the rose notes are a pink rose, first bloom of spring, a tender, easy rose, like the kind you buy for a fresh love.” Or perhaps “this rose is a sultry red, the color of midnight kisses and lipstick on the collar. It’s the last wisp of your lover’s perfume on your clothes as you drive away into the shuddering rain, alone.” But I can’t taste that. I’m getting a lot of spices. Which is totally what a Read More
My only experience with oolong teas has been black oolong tea. To be honest, I didn’t know there were any other types. It seems silly that I thought that now, but I clearly still have a lot to learn about teas! This tea is very delicate, when it brews it is a light caramel color and has a very delicate flavor. Other oolongs I’ve had have had a much richer, roasted and in some cases smoky flavor. I drank this tea straight with no sweetener or cream. I really enjoyed the mild flavor. I like that green tea is lower Read More
This is a lovely black tea with vanilla/cream flavoring. It’s beautiful, with real nuts and flower petals inside. It feels SO ENGLISH and DECADENT. Like you’re at your lovely aunt’s home in London drinking out of real teacups, not some geek mug at your desk. You want to flip your pinkie out and take up embroidery. As I was sipping this, I thought “wait… haven’t I tried this?” So I did some research, and I had. I tried a few samples from Vampyre Teas back in the day because — obviously — Vampyre Teas. Come on, guys. Vampyres. My friend Read More
Reflecting on the day serenely with a cup of tea in hand is a great way to spend an evening, but that isn’t always what we’re looking for. Sometimes a little more excitement is needed. One of my favorite pastimes is board gaming, and the social elements of tea and games mesh together incredibly well (socializing, introducing guests to new experiences, food, etc.). One way to make it even better? Play a board game about tea!
Modern board games (sometimes called “hobby games” or “designer board games”) are much more diverse than the local Target or Wal-Mart give them credit for, and board game themes can range anywhere from a simple “Uno”-style numbers-and-colors card game to battling Lovecraftian monsters to curing diseases to even wild west shootouts. One of my favorite games is literally about waiting in line. But did you know that board games about tea are a niche within the niche of board gaming? Here are three you should check out next time you need a bit more pizzazz at your next tea gathering.
Elevenses, designed by David Harding and published by Grail Games, is a game about having the best morning tea service. You will be playing tea, cakes, silverware, and more to your “tablecloth” to make a better spread than your opponents. Each card also has a special ability that will allow you to rearrange cards to maximize your score, or to hinder your opponents. It even comes with wooden “sugar” cubes! There is also a solitaire version of the game for those of use who like a tea party for one. The solitaire version is also an app for Android and iOS. Pair this game with an Earl Grey for sure!
Matcha, another game by Grail Games, and also designed by David Harding, this time revolving around matcha. This is a set collection game in which you need to get all of the necessary tools to make your perfect cup of matcha. Play your cards secretly in front of your opponent, and then you both simultaneously reveal your cards, either helping you or hindering your opponent. This is a bluffing game about trying to fake out your opponent and getting them to play the wrong card. Quick and strategic, and the art is very pretty. Pair this game with–what else?–a cup of matcha. And the loser has to make the victor that cup of matcha!Yunnan
This one is my personal favorite. This game, designed by Aaron Haag and published by Argentum Verlag, has the players take the role of tea traders, attempting to expand their tea dynasty all along the Tea-Horse-Road and become the best tea merchants in Yunnan. Players will be bidding on resources in cutthroat auctions, pushing their workers further along the map to collect more tea, building teahouses, and even bribing the tea inspector with your political influence to shut down the other traders. This is definitely a harder game with a lot of strategy and some “take that”-style mechanisms. If you are a fan of strategy games, this is not one to miss. Pair this game with a smooth pu-erh.
Okay, so maybe that last game doesn’t sound like the relaxing afternoon with a cup of tea you were hoping for–but if you’re looking for something new to try and don’t mind flexing your gray matter while drinking a beverage that can boost that gray matter, check out some of these tea-themed games.
I found out today that gunpowder green teas are called “gunpowder” because they’re a little smoky — not because they’re going to violently pop open when they unfurl. Which is sort of disappointing, because I wanted to watch some sort of mayhem in my steeper this morning. I also found out, while locating this tea on the Tea Spot’s site, that gunpowder tea is “commonly used by athletes to improve endurance over periods of 3-6 hours.” Well, then, this tea has found its audience, because I am a HUGE ATHLETE. Like, super-beefy. I spend upwards of 8 hours a day Read More
In the mornings, I typically drink a cup of two of coffee before I leave the house. For my commute to work, I always bring some form of hot tea and my matcha smoothie. But to get me out of bed-which is no small task- coffee is usually what I drink. (My hubby actually brings me my first cup in bed to help me get up. He is such a sweetheart!) But lately, the coffee just hasn’t tasted right. I recently had the flu and I think my stomach is still a bit wonky from that experience because coffee Read More
Dining Tutorial at The Townsend Hotel: Etiquette Program featuring Barb's Tea Service and many lovely guests!
Barb's Tea Service presenting etiquette at the Townsend
Last Saturday, Barb's Tea Service presented a "Dining Tutorial", second in a monthly etiquette series at Birmingham's Townsend Hotel. As part of the afternoon tea, we presented a short program on proper protocol for a multi-course formal dinner.
During the program, guests enjoy scones and savories.
Guests were treated to spectacular afternoon tea fare: tasty scones, savory sandwiches and extraordinary mini-pastries all served up with bottomless pots of deliciously brewed tea.
This table had one special birthday girl. Everyone asked a lot of great questions!
There was a great turnout of absolutely wonderful guests. Two young ladies were celebrating birthdays.
Wonderful group of ladies enjoying afternoon tea together at The Townsend
In the "Dining Tutorial" we discussed the three different toasts that can take place in a formal dinner. In that spirit, we ended with a toast of our own: "To all the special ladies and gentlemen who attended this month's tea and etiquette program. Cheers to all!"
Special celebration with these lovely ladies and another delightful birthday girl!
We hope you will join us for our next etiquette program at The Townsend Hotel on April 8th! We'll cover "Eating Various Foods" including, oysters, lobster, corn on the cob, shrimp and kumquats. (Don't always play it safe with grilled chicken breasts and simple cake!). For more information, see The Townsend Hotel Afternoon Tea page on The Townsend's website.
This tea is interesting. It comes in a little packet, and it’s been crystallized so it’s a powder. But it isn’t a powder like Matcha that needs to be whisked or stirred vigorously. It dissolves immediately in hot water, I barely had to stir! Right away I smelled mint and it immediately woke up my senses. I love mint tea so much for it’s ability to wake up my senses and make me ready for the day. It’s both stimulating and relaxing. What I really like about this particular tea is that while the mint flavor is definitely front and Read More
Humans have been cultivating and drinking tea for thousands of years. Green tea was the only type that existed for the majority of that time. Sichuan Province is generally considered to be the birthplace of the smaller leaved var. Sinensis. Tea cultivation and its use as a medicine soon spread to surrounding areas.
Prior to the Ming Dynasty, it was a bit different than the form that we know today. The leaves were pressed into cakes, then ground into a powder, and whisked into a froth. This preparation method was later adapted by Japan to make matcha. The Tang Dynasty brought tea drinking to a whole new level as it became a cultural art form.
Many people don't realize that the first tea exported from China was green tea. Spring picked "Hyson" and "Singlo" were favored by the well to do of England and America. A significant amount of green tea was even dumped into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party. More oxidized tea varieties eventually became more favored by the western world because they were better able to survive the long sea voyage.
There are more types of green tea than I could possibly list here. Green tea is produced in many other corners of the globe. China and Japan are the dominant producers, though. This makes sense as they have the longest history of tea growing. These are my favorite kinds:
Let me know in the comments if there is a tea I missed that should be on this list!
Green tea is defined as a tea that is not oxidized. The leaves are withered for several hours in order to reduce the moisture content. This process also softens them, making them more malleable. Heat is then applied in some way in order denature the enzymes that cause oxidation. This step is often referred to as the "kill green" for that reason.
Chinese green teas are usually heated in a wok-like pan whereas Japanese green teas are steamed for a short period of time. Some types of green tea, such as Dragonwell and Bi Luo Chun, are shaped during this period. The leaves might also be dried afterward using an oven or commercial dryer.
Green tea is generally described as having a vegetal taste. They can certainly be more complex than that. I feel like green tea sometimes gets ignored in favor of sexier, more aromatic teas like oolong. Although the taste can be much more delicate a good green tea is well worth the effort. Chinese green teas will often have a floral, nutty character. Japanese green teas, on the other hand, are almost oceanic tasting.
How to Brew It
Green tea is almost always brewed with lower temperature water. When using a western method, water temperatures are usually around 175° Fahrenheit. Steep times can vary between 1 and 3 minutes depending on the tea. Leaf volume might vary a bit but most teas will call for 2 to 2.5 grams of leaf per 8oz cup of water.
Green teas can be brewing using gongfu methods but they do require a bit more care. Your water temperature should be in the 175° to 185° range with infusion times no longer than 30 seconds. I don't recommend using yixing clay or other thick-walled vessels because they retain too much heat. Glass is a great way to go for that reason but keeping the lid off of your brewing vessel in between infusions can help a lot as well.
Grandpa style is my absolute favorite ways to drink green tea. There's nothing better than slowly sipping tea while watching the leaves dance in a tall glass. The key to avoiding bitterness is making sure that you use just barely enough leave to cover the bottom of the cup.
What is your favorite green tea? Let me know about it in the comments!
Two things to disclose before we jump into this tea review, friends: 1. I’ve never actually drank this tea hot (WHAT. I know. I promise I can still give you a good review). 2. It doesn’t actually taste like fruity pebbles, as the packaging claims. While my breakfast-cereal-loving heart is a bit dismayed by this, I can get over it for now. I’ve talked about this before, but I’m not a huge fan of teas that make claims– detoxing, dieting, etc. While I think herbs can be healing and great supplements to living healthfully, I immediately get a little side-eye Read More
I have bashed the tea bag for years. “Let your leaves dance,” I say…but I may have just met my match.
Chiki Tea has agreed to a licensing deal to open in Connecticut, and our partner rocked up with a box full of handmade organic muslin reusable teabags. My first thought was, “didn’t you read my book Green is the New Black which categorically says DITCH THE BAG!?”
These organic teabags are cute, I’ll give him that–but do they work? And why on earth would someone go through the trouble to clean out the wet leaves then wash it when a strainer is so much easier?
“Holly, people identify with teabags and beginners can understand it, so having a reusable organic one makes eco-sense and is friendly on the wallet. Once they experiment with Japanese tea, chances are they will elevate their taste preferences and with it, their brewing methods…but people need to start somewhere.”
I couldn’t argue against that point. He’s right. Let’s get folks sipping any way we can, and educate, educate, educate, as we go.
After this encounter with reusable teabags, I’ve been seeing many other ways to make tea.
At the O-cha Matsuri in Shizuoka, a company was offering a mock “Chemex” pour-over cone-shaped pot, which is designed for coffee, but they were steeping tea in the same way. The leaves were placed in the cone filter and water was being poured very slowly with a long-spout kettle just like most coffee houses in Japan. Interesting idea, but I just couldn’t get my umami on with this method. Mind you, I only had two samples and didn’t personally try the steeping myself so I might explore this idea down the line. It’s a fabulous looking thing, I’ll admit that!
Adagio’s IngenuiTEA, while quite a manly-looking device, is probably the most well-known tea brewing gadget on the market. You put the leaves in, add water, and when the steeping time is up, just set it on a mug or serving teapot and it releases the tea into the vessel. I bought one just to see what all the fuss was about. It’s fun and it works, but it doesn’t offer me the same mesmerizing experience of using a Tokoname clay pot and manipulating the leaves as I pour, slowing down if I see they haven’t fully opened. But I might just give it for Father’s day to my engineer dad.
One of the latest innovations to show up in tea shops in Japan is a glass teapot with a glass basket featuring thin lines cut vertically into the base edge of the basket. Upon first blush, you aren’t sure if it’s just a decoration or actual holes sliced through it. Initially we thought the glass basket was a cute yuzamashi to cool the water and heat the teapot. But no, that didn’t work. You put the leaves in the basket, pour the water in and some of it leaks out into the main teapot while most of the leaves are in the glass basket infusing. When the steep time is up, slowly lift it out. This teapot is really adorable and is good for beginners who may not fully appreciate the levels of taste that can be produced by manipulating the leaves using a strainer-free glass teapot.
And finally, the one that blows my mind the most: a coffee house in Shibuya that offers green tea blasted through their espresso machine! That scares me but you can bet that the next time I’m in Tokyo, I’m heading there to taste it!
I’d love to hear what you use to steep. Leave me your comments!
I served a number of teas to some friends yesterday and this one came out as the favorite flavored blend we tried. No big surprise since 52Teas is one of the best tea blending companies I have come across. I like the black tea base. It doesn’t bow down and disappear, but sails right along with the flavors. It isn’t super astringent like a lot of black tea bases in flavored blends. The cinnamon was nice – not red hot candy cinnamon but the kind of cinnamon levels you would expect in Grandma’s fruit pie. The pear aspect was a little harder for me because Read More