Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review: Congou Black Tea By Oliver Pluff & Co

I love learning about tea history, there is so much information to discover and digest. I've written a bit about colonial American tea drinking in the past, as well as the historic tea blends of Oliver Pluff & Co. Their blends give a peek inside the teapots of colonial America.

Today's review is for Oliver Pluff & Co.'s Congou. Congou is derived from the word gongfu, meaning a skillfully crafted tea. You may recognize the term from the Chinese gongfu preparation style (prepared with skill), and perhaps you've come across it in tea blends such as dian hong congfu, and bai lin congfu. Oliver Pluff's Congou is a full leaf, finely twisted tea. During colonial times, it was considered very high quality tea.

Jumping back to Colonial America, Congou was one of the black teas imported by the British East India company. It's a tea the American colonists would have seen in local shops. Tea was extremely expensive back in colonial times, and often stored under lock and key. In fact, during the Boston Tea Party in 1773, 15 chests of Congou tea were thrown overboard as part of the protest.

The flavor of the colonial teas must have been quite different from what we'd expect today. In the 18th century,  teas took months to ship from China to England, and then could have sat around in London storage warehouses for months or even years before making its way to the New World. Definitely not what we'd expect when purchasing tea today.

But on to today's tea review! As I mentioned, the dry leaves are twisted, and also contain some golden buds. They have an extremely sweet fragrance with a bit of something starchy, reminding me of sugar cookies fresh from the oven. A warm and comforting aroma.

The brewed tea is sweet and quite smooth. There is a mellow toasty flavor to this tea, with barely a hint of astringency. Oliver Pluff's website describes the flavor as unsweetened baked apples, and I think it's spot on. When I was young, my grandmother often served baked apples, and the flavor of this tea definitely brings me back to her kitchen table. The flavor is also reminiscent of baked sweet potato- there is definitely a bit of earthiness lingering within the sweetness. The flavor is strong enough to work as a morning tea, and appropriate for a bit of milk. I've been drinking it as my morning tea for the past week, and I've enjoyed the sweetness and full body. I usually prefer my teas on the slightly oversteeped side, and this one doesn't get astringent with my aggressive steeping. It's a nice tea to prepare during the chilly winter mornings we've had lately.

To learn more about this product you can visit the Oliver Pluff Website. Also, to learn a bit about the company's founder, you can check out my review here. Thank you Oliver Pluff & Co for providing this tea for review!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Tea For The Super Bowl

Do you enjoy watching football, or is your idea of a Super Bowl using your biggest cereal bowl to make matcha? Well, whether you watch the Super Bowl attentively or sit near the TV while scrolling through Instagram, this weekend is the 'big game' and I thought it would be fun to suggest ways to infuse the festivities with tea. From tea and food pairings, cooking with tea, to straight up 'tea beer', there are many ways to celebrate the day with your favorite beverage.

Tea Pairings
Game-watching food is meant to be grazed- you know you'll be picking at various snacks for a few hours, basically non-stop. The common theme is heavy, greasy, and spicy. There may be some veggies on a platter, but you know they're meant to be dunked in the onion dip. If you'll be nibbling on spicy wings, nachos, and seven-layer dip until the final touchdown, go for a puerh. I'd choose a silky, deep shou to wash down the spicy and greasy treats. Bonus points if you drink your shou gongfu style, set up among the wings and dip.

If you're more likely to stick with chips and a creamy dip, or maybe veggies and cheese for most of the evening, I think a vegetal green tea such as bancha would work well. It's got a bit of astringency to work with through heavy chips and dip, but will also compliment veggies and milder cheeses. Or if you'll stick with noshing on a bowl of potato chips, a White Peony would work quite well (but probably not a Silver Needle). The hay-like flavors will enhance the potato.

If you'll be eating pizza, I think a kombucha would really win the day. Whenever I think about pizza, I just love a good, fizzy drink to go with it. Kombucha's got the fizz,  a sour punch, and a nice sweetness. The perfect foil for that oily pizza, and a great substitute for soda. There are so many different varieties of Kombucha out there, so pick up a few and see what you like. If I had to choose, I'm partial to GTs and Health Ade.

If chili is on the buffet, I think a Keemun tea would be great. The smooth chocolate note in a good keemun will really round out the chili. Or a malty Assam would be a nice choice as well, to highlight the earthy and spicy notes. Are we getting a bit too highbrow with the pairings? Any tea with a bit of heft will work well with most Super Bowl-approved foods.

Beer Tea?
Apparently, beer tea is a thing. I've seen matcha beer served at 29B in NY, although I haven't tried it. For straight up beer and tea recommendations, I found this page, which lists many varieties of tea beer. No time to order? Check out stores that have a large beer selection, you never know what you'll find! I also noticed that Owl's Brew (they make some very tasty tea cocktail mixers) sells Radlers which are a blend of tea, beer, and other flavors. Now you know!

Make Tea-Infused Chili!
Why not add tea right into your party food? Last spring I posted my recipe for Lapsang Souchong infused chili. It's quite delicious, and perfect for a crowd. The slightly smoky flavor works really nicely with the beans and spices. You can serve it alone or pile it on chips for amazing nachos.

There you have it, lots of different ways to enjoy your tea during the Super Bowl. What's your plan for the big day? I'll be at a party with tea in hand and one eye on the game, and one scrolling through Instagram.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Interview: Joe Muscaglione of Cha Gardens

There are many similarities between the tea and wine industries. Terroir, processing, local expertise, and a keen palate are just a few variables. I recently started corresponding with Joe Muscaglione, a well known wine sommelier that decided to jump into the world of tea. He has helped to set up tea programs in restaurants in Las Vegas, and also currently sells tea online at Cha Gardens. I was fascinated by the overlap in industries, so I knew we had to do an interview. Learn a little bit about the similarities between tea and wine, and the unique tea from the Daba mountain below.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review: Totem Tea Oriental Beauty Reserve

If pressed on what tea I drink most, I almost always say oolong. Usually a more oxidized one. I find them warming in the colder months, and refreshing as a cold-brew when the temperature rises. Today's review is for one of the more oxidized oolongs, Oriental Beauty Reserve from Totem Tea. It's a classic Taiwanese oolong also called bai hao, which translates to white down. This refers to the fuzzy white hairs on the buds.

Bai Hao oolong is a bug-bitten Taiwanese tea. I'm sure you've read about this type of tea before. Little green leafhopper bugs called Jacobiasca formosana munch on the leaves during the summer season, which causes a chemical reaction in the plants. When bitten, the plant releases the chemicals as a defense mechanism. The chemical defense is specifically made for the leaf-hopper critters, and it turns out this process also creates a delicious and aromatic leaf. The aroma and flavor is intensified during the oxidation process of the leaves. According to Totem's website, the tea leaves are oxidized to about 60%. The cultivar for this tea is Qing Xin Dapan.

For me, a good Bai Hao oolong is aromatic and fruity. This version from Totem tea definitely ticks off both boxes. The dry leaves have a muscatel-grape aroma going on, along with something earthy and fruity. Upon inspection there are quite a few of those fuzzy white buds.

The steeped tea s is a lovely amber/light coppery color, and smells juicy and sweet. The first taste reminds me of caramelized...grapes? I've never had caramelized grapes before, but this is what I imagine they would taste like! It's as if the grapes were stewed with honey. Fruity, sweet, a little hint of something sour. The flavor is deep with a full body. There is also a floral note, but as if I'm chewing on a flower petal, not actually steeped in flowers, if that makes sense. I can feel the softness of the petal. As I mentioned earlier, it's got a muscatel grape aroma that is similar to a darjeeling, but it's much darker.

I steeped this tea in a very small teapot, gongfu style. I like brewing oolongs like this in a gaiwan or small teapot, to truly get the essence of the leaves. You may need a few infusions before the leaves start to open up and tell their story. Since this tea can give quite a few steeps, I will often throw the leaves in a pitcher of cool water after my tea session, and put it in the fridge overnight. It makes a delicious iced tea, even when the leaves have been used a few times!

Thank you to Totem Tea for providing this sample for review. To learn more about the tea, you can visit their website here.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Recipe: Lapsang Souchong Beet Hummus

Happy New Year everyone! I've taken a bit of a blog break, and it's finally time to get back to writing about tea. To start the year off right, I thought it would be fun to share a healthy(ish) tea infused recipe I've been making in huge batches for work lunches and midday snacks. Lapsang Souchong beet hummus! That may sound like a bizarre combination, but let me explain a little bit about how it came to be...

I've always been a fan of hummus; I love the creamy chickpeas and the nutty sesame flavor.  It's easy to make, and works well on sandwiches and as an afternoon snack with veggies and crackers. I've taken to adding a bit of smoky lapsang souchong to my hummus, to change up the flavor and add a nice smoky note. When I was at the grocery store other day I noticed a roasted beet hummus on the shelf. At first I thought it was a strange idea, but then I thought about how the earthy and sweet beets must compliment the smooth chickpeas quite nicely. As I waited in the checkout line, I started thinking about beet hummus (as one does), and realized it would go really well with some added lapsang!  So, I created my own. It may sound a bit out of the ordinary, but I assure you it's quite delicious.

Tea Happiness' Lapsang Souchong Beet Hummus
Serves: 6 to 8

1 large red beet
1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup olive oil
1 can chickpeas (15 oz) drained with liquid reserved or 1 cup cooked dried chickpeas with 1 cup cooking liquid reserved
1 medium sized clove garlic, grated
about 1/3 cup lemon juice (more to taste)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp lapsang souchong tea, ground
1/2 tsp smoked paprika

First, roast the beet- Preheat the oven to 450ยบ. Wash the beet, but don't peel it. Poke a few holes in it, then wrap in tin foil.  Roast for about an hour- testing after 45 minutes for doneness. A knife should easily side into the beet when it's ready. Remove from oven and let it cool slightly, still wrapped in the tin foil. When the beet is cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. I like to use paper towels for this, as your hands will get instantly red if you use your fingers! 

To grind the tea, you can use a mortar and pestle, spice grinder, or just a small bowl and the back of a wooden spoon. Make sure the bits are nice and small, as they will incorporate better into the hummus. 

Assemble the hummus- Once the beet is cool, slice and add to a food processor, along with the remaining ingredients except for the reserved chickpea liquid. Blend the mixture until it's nice and smooth. Taste, and add more lemon juice if desired. I actually like the consistency of the hummus as it is at this stage, but if you'd like to have a thinner hummus, pour in about 1/4 cup or so of the reserved chickpea liquid in while the food processor is running. Transfer to a bowl and serve your gorgeously pink hummus with crackers, veggies, whatever you like!

I think this vibrant hummus really brightens up the gray winter days we've been experiencing lately. You can pair the hummus with any kind of tea, but I prefer a hearty assam, or a sweet hong cha. You'll want something that can stand up to the smoke, but I wouldn't recommend a smoky tea, as it's a bit too much. Whatever you pair it with, I hope you enjoy!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review: Take Flight Tea Case

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season! It's been quite a hectic few weeks for me, but I wanted to post a review of a useful tea product. If you've ever wondered how to tastefully take your tea with you out to dinner or while traveling out of town, there is a perfect little case that fits in a purse, tote bag, or backpack. The Take Flight Tea Case created by the lovely Darlene of The Tea Lover's Archives is something I've needed for a long time. She generously sent me one to review for all of you, and I'm happy to share my findings.

The Problem
I often find myself at restaurants with a mediocre tea situation, wishing I brought my own tea. I know Darlene has been in the same situation many times, and I love that she decided to create something to solve this problem. With this handy travel case, I'll be bringing my own loose leaf teas with me from now on. No more bad restaurant tea!

The Specs
The nylon zipper case contains two food safe tins for loose leaf tea that slip into their own little pockets. There is also a scoop, and a pouch to store fillable tea sachets or tea bags. It's a simple and stylish way to carry tea around town.  Take out your tin of tea, fill up a sachet, and you are ready to brew.  Just ask the server for hot water.

My Honest Opinion
I really like the two refillable loose leaf tins. They are the perfect size, nice and airtight and also lightweight. The tea scoop is also a great addition, to measure out the tea with care. The tins slip right into their respective pockets, making sure everything is secure and doesn't move around with travel.

I also like the design of the case. It's simple, and a nice size to carry around. The TEA plaque on the outside is a nice touch. I've used this case a few times already- it's so nice to know I can have a good cup of tea no matter where I go.

Thank you to Darlene for providing this case for review. If you are interested in learning more about The Take Flight Tea Case, visit her website here, and feel free to ask me questions in the comments.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Tea Happiness 2017 Gift Guide

Just like that, Thanksgiving is over and the season of festive holiday gatherings begin. It's a special time to spend with family and friends, and of course everyone likes to come with a gift in hand. If you're still wondering what to get for the tea lover in your life, you've come to the right place! Here are my pics for this year's holiday gift guide. There is a little something for everyone on your list!

Green Tea Set: The beautifully presented green tea assortment from Ippodo Tea makes a perfect gift for someone just starting on their tea journey, or basically anyone that loves Japanese tea. The set pictured above includes three tins of Ippodo tea: a toasty and mellow genmaicha, a nicely creamy, vegetal matcha, and a soothing hojicha. This and other gift sets can be purchased at their NY store, or online.

Matcha Treats: For the matcha lover that already has all the necessary tools, how about matcha candy? I'm a huge fan of matcha kitkats- they are amazing but can be difficult to find. I recently discovered you can get them directly from Amazon, right here. Or for something a little more decadent you can order from Royce, the Japanese chocolatier. They make a fantastic 'macca chocolate' that is available on their website.

Necklace by A Gift Of Tea

Handmade Tea Jewelry: For the person that likes to wear their love of tea, consider the beautiful handmade tea-themed jewelry from A Gift Of Tea. She puts a great deal of love into her work, and it's versatile enough to wear for any occasion.

Traveling With Tea: For the jet-setting tea lover, I've got just the thing. It's difficult to transport loose leaf tea carefully for travel, especially if you are taking more than one type. To travel with your tea in style, this cleverly designed case by The Tea Lover's Archives is just the thing. The case includes two food safe tea tins for loose leaf tea, and there is a pocket on the inner lid is for fillable tea bags, conventional tea bags, or other small essentials. This kit is perfect for taking tea around town, or across the globe. The photos above are courtesy of The Tea Lover's Archives.

Oliver Pluff teas

Going to a holiday party, but don't know what to give the host? Here are a few ideas:
-I like gifting tins of Oliver Pluff & Co colonial tea blends. I love the graphics on the tins, and the blends are a great way to learn about teas often consumed in colonial America. They sell individual tins like you see above, and I also like the Teas Of The Boston Tea Party set.

-If you're already giving tea, how about a teapot to go along with it? I like to keep things simple when I gift teapots, since everyone has different taste. I find that the simple and cheerful color choices of Beehouse teapots are a great option. They are simple but fun. They are also quite sturdy and are great for home or office

Lauku Teas

-For something a little different, what about hand-picked herbal tea grown on a woman-run farm in Latvia? I've been enjoying beautiful herbal tea by Lauku Tea for awhile now, and haven't had a chance to post a review. But these herbal teas are lovely, and support a wonderful company. Lately I've been winding down with Evita's Twilight.

-For something a bit more handmade, I love all the little pins, coasters, paintings, and cards at Tea Thought's etsy shop. They even sell tea themed wrapping paper! I find that Etsy is a great resource in general for teaware and tea themed gifts. 

There are endless other options for tea and gifts. If you're still not sure to get the tea fanatic in your life, feel free to drop me an email, or comment on this post. I'd be happy to help with more suggestions. Happy Holidays everyone!