Monday, November 23, 2015

Interview: Naomi Rosen of Joy's Teaspoon

Naomi Rosen at World Tea Expo
Today's interview is with Naomi Rosen of Joy's Teaspoon. She is an online tea retailer, based in Las Vegas and is involved with the US League of Tea Growers, where she is helping to support our nation's expanding tea farms. Read below to learn about her adventures in tea, and family.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

GIVEAWAY: Chambre De Sucre Gift Pack!

As promised in yesterday's post, it is time for the Chambre de Sucre giveaway! Enter to win the following lovely sugar creations:

- 1 package of 4 diamond sugar stirrers
- 4 piece sucre carrĂ©  gift set
- 1 bottle mini heart sugars
- 3 cup huggers

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck everyone! Contest ends on 11/25. Right in time to start your holiday shopping!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sweet Thoughts

I have fond memories of sitting at my grandmother's table, watching her sip her tea (a no nonsense teabag, made strong) with a sugar cube expertly clutched between her teeth. She was able to keep that cube in place sip after sip. I tried to imitate her, but I could never stop myself from biting through the sugar after one sip. In my mind, my grandmother's skill was an impressive act of restraint.

She was always particular about which sugar cubes she liked to use. They couldn't be the tiny little mini cubes. She liked the larger, more rectangular sugars. They were more substantial for her large cup of tea. To my young mind, I didn't understand why there was a difference. Of course, more sugar would be better, but why would the shape matter? I never realized that the look and feel of the sugar was just as important as the taste.

I've recently been introduced to photos of gorgeous artisanal sugars from Chambre de Sucre on Instagram. I've drooled over these beautiful little works of art that stir my feminine side. There are sugars to suit every style and mood. Little petite hearts and flowers, or more substantial beautifully decorated cubes that my grandmother would have adored. And those cup huggers! I end up making high-pitched happy sounds every time I see them. Browsing through the website makes me feel like a little girl in an enormous toy shop. I want just about everything.

I was lucky enough to receive some of these sugars of my very own, and they are even more beautiful in person. They just beg to be placed on an antique porcelain teacup. One that isn't too ornate, so the sugar can be properly admired and enjoyed. I have to admit I was reluctant to try them because they look so perfect! I didn't want to waste even one. But they are sugar, made to be dissolved in tea or on the palate. I forced myself to try one of the little flower sugars. It's going to sound overly-dramatic, but it was just the perfect little drop of sweetness. You may scoff, but for me it is true.

The sugars on the website come in all different forms and package sizes, and the founder Lisa has created smaller packages designed for gift-giving. Perfect for the holidays, or just to show someone that they are in your thoughts. Lisa has found the perfect way to create a delicate sensory experience to accompany tea (or coffee if you must).

**Stay tuned, tomorrow I'll be hosting a giveaway and you can win a beautiful gift package of various sugars all for yourself, or to give as a special holiday treat!**

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Interview: Nicholas Lozito of Misty Peak Teas

It's amazing how one small moment can forever change your life. This happened to Nicholas Lozito, while travelling alone on the Tea Horse Road through Yunnan, China. He was interested in farming and photography, but wasn't focused on tea. That all changed on a  rainy day hiking through the mountains. He was invited by a young farmer to sit down and have some tea. This one event led him through a multi-year tea journey, and a life-long friendship. His tea exploration resulted in Misty Peak Teas, a tea company focused only on pu'er. Tea from the one farmer he met on a fateful rainy day. Nicholas' story is extremely interesting, and I am excited to share it with you.

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Tandem Tea Tasting of Yellow Teas

Yellow teas have always seemed a bit mysterious to me. They're not green teas, and they're not oolongs. They are a bit difficult to find, and the processing is a bit complicated. I hate to admit it, but it's just not a type of tea I've ever gotten around to tasting before. I was recently invited to an online tandem tea tasting of yellow teas, and I knew I had to participate. My introverted side tried to persuade me against it. But I knew I'd enjoy chatting with tea people, and I successfully ignored her nagging voice.

The tasting was organized by Jo J, and consisted of teas from Seven Cups. I don't have much experience with the company so I was excited to try a few of their teas. Yellow teas are lightly oxidized, which makes them a bit different from green tea. The tea is allowed to oxidize slowly to give the leaves a more yellow appearance. It is difficult to process and harder to find. The processing is supposed to tone down some of that vegetal green tea flavor. A week or so before the tasting I started to feel a little like the shy girl in high school- the whole group is already friendly and I was the 'new girl'. But I was looking forward to seeing some old tea friends face to face, and meet new ones.

I had to join the tasting late, since my husband was away and I had to get the kids to bed. Of course the bedtime routine took longer than usual ('one more book!' 'wait, wait, I have a question for you, mommy!'). Finally I joined the group that consisted of Jo, Nicole Martin, Jen Piccotti, Robert Godden, Geoffrey Norman, Rachel Carter, Darlene Meyers-Perry, and Nicole Schwartz. We were later joined by Linda Gaylard. What an amazing group! By the time I joined, the first tea had been steeped, and they were in the middle of the second.

I quickly started up my kettle and filled my gaiwan with Meng Ding. The scent had cooked vegetable and something...perfume-like and floral.  It was similar to green tea but also had floral oolong notes. The taste was mellow, vegetal, yet...soapy? I was having a cilantro moment- any time I try cilantro it tastes like something I'd wash my hands with. Thankfully Robert Godden mentioned this soapy taste. After a bit of discussion we decided that the soapy flavor could be caused by using too much leaf. It's certainly possible because I quickly filled my gaiwan and probably steeped it a touch too long.

After a few sips of tea my son decided to pay me a visit and announce that he had a bathroom need. well timed, as usual. So I had to leave the discussion for awhile. When I returned we were well into the second yellow tea, Mo Gan Huang Ya. So again I quickly prepared my tea and took a sip. I enjoyed this the more than the Meng Ding. It was much mellower, and I didn't get that soapy taste. It had an interesting soft, almost creamy mouthfeel. It was still slightly vegetal with muted floral notes. I wanted to re-steep this tea a few times, but it was getting quite late and I already have insomnia issues. So I resisted temptation.

In between the tea insights, the chatter drifted towards Star Wars. Ok, this made me feel at ease. These folks all like Star Wars? These are definitely people I can relate to. We chatted about blogging a bit, and then I knew it was time for me to make my exit. It was wonderful to sip with folks that are as enthusiastic about tea as I am.

Thank you to Jo for organizing this tasting! I look forward to attending another.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Tasting: Teabook Dian Hong Black Tea and Glass Tumbler

This week's tasting features a tea from Teabook, a new tea subscription service. I imagine it's very difficult to stand out from the crowd in a market flooded with subscription services, but Teabook is trying with their 'Great tea made easy' slogan. It's all about having high quality tea on the go. I am all about carrying my tea around with me, especially as I commute to work and take the kids out for weekend activities. So for that reason I was particularly interested in Teabook. The first subscription box includes a glass tea tumbler to steep the tea and loose tea divided into single-serve packets. You add the packet of tea to the tumbler, pour water, and then go. If you are interested in learning more about the company and their philosophy you can check out their website here.

I decided to start with the Dian Hong, one of my favorite Chinese black teas for everyday. There is a small amount of tea in the sealed package. I'm not worried about the amount, I'm more concerned about leaving the leaves in the water for an extended amount of time. Will it work? Leaving the leaves directly in the water as you sip is sometimes called 'grandpa style' brewing. The leaves aren't removed, and you simply add fresh hot water when you need a refill. This is a popular way to drink tea in China. My brother-in-law mentioned seeing this style of brewing when he took a trip there a few years ago. He said many people carry around plastic containers with the leaves and water together that they sip from all day.

So, I added the leaves to the tumbler, poured the water, let it sit and screwed on the cap. I took the tumbler with me on my train ride (I have a commuTEAing series on Instagram if you are interested), and sipped as I rode. My whole commute is about 30 minutes, and I was surprised that the tea never became too bitter. There was definitely a bitter aftertaste, but it was slight. I actually enjoy a bit of bite from my black teas, so I didn't mind. This tea was sweet, malty and bright. A good choice for grandpa-style tea, since it doesn't have much astringency. This is a good quality tea, and the packet gives you just the right amount. A nice Dian Hong, but it doesn't beat my all time favorite from Joseph Wesley Tea.

I do have a few thoughts on the glass tumbler. It is a nice vessel for grandpa-style brewing because it has a metal strainer at the top. This way you're not filtering the leaves with your teeth which makes it easier if you are on the go. I like the double walled glass, it lets you see the leaves dancing in your tea and keeps your fingers cool. The pre-measured packets and tumbler make getting for the workday commute quite simple.

I did have a few problems with this vessel though. I had a major accident the first time I brewed the tea. At 195°, the water is obviously very hot. The instructions don't mention letting the tea cool a bit before you put the top on. I was running late so I added the water, screwed on the top, and then tipped it over to see if it the seal was tight. When I tipped it over, the cap exploded off and everything came rushing out. Thankfully I did this over the sink! I've had had experiences with leaks with a different glass tumbler, which is why I wanted to test this one. I should have realized that using water this hot and screwing on the lid would cause a pressure issue. So, just be very mindful of the water temperature. I didn't have any leaky issues the second time I used the tumbler, and it worked quite well. But the third time I did experience some leaking, which was frustrating.  It's a bit temperamental and I can't recommend leaving it in your bag as you are on the go.

I also don't like that the top is lined in plastic. I could taste the plastic as I sipped the tea. I've had quite a few double-walled tumblers in the past, and many of them are glass all the way up and only plastic in the screw-top that you remove before drinking. I especially like this one from Aquaovo, but be careful, it is not leak-proof either!

A Teabook subscription is $24.99 a month, which gets you a tea tumbler with your first order, and 18 packets of two different types of tea along with a packet of a 'special' tea. I have only tried the Dian Hong, which I quite enjoyed. Stay tuned for my experience with the other two teas in the box. Thank you to Teabook for providing the samples!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tasting Experience: Smith Teamaker

Tony Tellin with some of the teas we tasted

I attempt to keep my mind open to trying new types of tea, especially teas I haven't enjoyed in the past. It can be a struggle to keep the mind open to change, but it can lead to wonderful things. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to taste Smith Teamaker teas and Stumptown coffee. The two Portland, OR based companies collaborated on a special event in one of Stumptown's NYC locations. Smith Teamaker featured 'barrel-scented' holiday blends at this event. The idea of 'barrel scented' tea blends intrigued me, but I also hesitated. I'm not usually a fan of blends, especially those with strong flavors that mask the actual tea. But I was curious to learn more about Smith Teamaker and knew I had to go.

Smith Teamaker was founded in 2009 by the legendary Steven Smith. He was a pioneer in the US tea market. He had a head for business and a passion tea. He sadly died after a battle with liver cancer earlier this year. The New York Times has an informative article about his tea journey here.  At Smith Teamaker everything is done in-house, including the blending and packaging. They create blends with unique combinations. I've heard positive things about the blends, but before this tasting I had only tried their pure teas, which I've enjoyed.

Walking down a quiet West Village street you can't miss Stumptown Coffee Roasters. The bold signage and huge windows tug at your curiosity. The aroma of freshly roasted coffee grabs your nose and pulls you towards the door. Even though I'm mostly a tea drinker, I do enjoy a well made coffee now and again. When I walked in to Stumptown's tasting room  I was greeted with a cup of floral, citrusy Ali Shan oolong. While sipping its buttery smoothness, I was thrilled to see fellow blogger Rachel whom I hadn't seen in awhile. We shared a cheerful moment while sipping our tea. I was then introduced to Tony Tellin, who has stepped into Steven Smith's shoes as head tea maker for the company. Tony worked by Steven Snith's side for 19 years before his passing. I love that when Tony started he had no formal tea experience, but grabbed everyone's attention with his amazing palate.

Tellin guided us through a tasting of various teas with a focus on the new holiday blends Smith is about to release. We started with Smith's Mao Feng Shui green tea. A well balanced, delicate sip. The tea sachets contain full leaf tea and are made from bio degradable cornstarch. If you must have teabags, this is a better alternative to the plastic ones. The cornstarch sachets don't impart unwanted flavors into the tea as most other materials do.

We then moved on to the Lord Bergamot black tea, which is Smith's version of Earl Grey. I usually dislike Earl Grey because it has a soapy flavor and texture. It has always reminded me of sipping on a grandmotherly perfume. This tea took me by surprise with its smooth citrusy flavor. The tea is a bold Assam second flush that is well blended with Italian bergamot.

We tried loose and bagged teas during the event

After these introductory teas we went on to the holiday themed blends. The first was White Chrysmas. This is a white tea aged in a white rum barrel for over 2 months. I had no idea what to expect when Tony described the aging process. Yunnan white tea and chrysanthemum flowers are scented with pears that were re-hydrated in brandy. This tea is quite aromatic. Floral, peppery, with a pleasing softness. It has a definite hint of brandy as well. I enjoyed this much more than I was expecting to. It has a nice festive flavor.

The second holiday tea was the Mulled Black. As the name suggests, this tea has mulled, spicy holiday flavors. This is a golden buds Yunnan black tea aged in an aquavit barrel with added roasted hazelnuts, cloves, cranberries, cinnamon and toasted coconut. I'm not very familiar with the flavor of aquavit, I've only had it once or twice and not recently (and I think it can be flavored). But everything mixed together gives a rich, comforting feeling. After a sip I imagined sitting by a cozy fire wrapped in a warm blanket with a cat happily purring my your lap. I would definitely purchase this tea to sip on quiet snowy nights.

The final holiday tea we tasted was a tisane- Irish Moringa. Moringa is an herb grown in India that is supposedly high in antioxidants and minerals. The herb has an interesting flavor, a bizarre mix of licorice and cocoa. This herb was aged in a whiskey barrel. The tea has flavors of vanilla, licorice, cocoa, orange, and whiskey. I was hesitant to try it because I dislike licorice, but the brew was smooth and pleasing.

Masala Chai coming out of the tap!

After this tea tasting we were treated to a few Stumptown brews. After the coffee we had a unique tea treat- Masala Chai Nitro, You could say it is Masala Chai on tap. Not just on tap however, but on 'nitro'. Nitrous Oxide was added to the keg of Masala Chai which gave it a super cold, foamy texture. From what I've gathered, this is a technique that gives beer a smoother, creamy texture. Why not for tea? I enjoyed the unique texture of this 'brew'.  They created a 'dirty' chai that had Stumptown coffee added along with bourbon vanilla, and chocolate malted barley- flavors inspired by the chicory infused coffee found in New Orleans. This was an exciting taste experience.

Masala Chai on nitro

It was an enjoyable morning of tasting tea and meeting friendly folks from Smith Tea and Stumptown. If Smith had a shop in NYC I know I'd be a regular. I'd be back not only to enjoy some of their blends, but to have that super foamy Masala Chai. We received a parting gift of Smith's Georgian Caravan tea along with a jar of huckleberry jam. It is a Russian tradition to sweeten tea with a spoonful of jam, and I have reserved this special package for my Office Tea Club. Stay tuned for a post all about it!

Thank you to Smith Tea and Watershed Communications for inviting me to this event. It has helped to keep my mind open to trying new flavor combinations.