Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tea Pairing 101: White Tea And Cheese

When tea friends get together, ideas start flowing. We sip and talk about anything and everything, and of course conversation always comes back to tea. After one of our tea meet-ups, GeorgiaJee, and I decided to work on a special collaboration together. We wanted to combine our passion for tea and our love of food.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tasting: Korean Mt. Jiri Joongjak Hwang Cha by Teas Unique

Tea culture is quite vibrant in Korea, and is heavily influenced by nature and poetry. I just love this idea, and it reminds me of sipping tea in a serene garden, surrounded by poets and artists. Perhaps an outdoor version of the French bohemian lifestyle around the turn of the 20th century. I can feel the grass tickle my feet and hear the scratch of paint brushes on canvas...Ok, pulling my head out of these daydreams, let's focus on Korean tea! I learned a little bit about Korean tea culture and the elegant Darye tea ceremony last year at a presentation at the Hagajae museum, which you can read about here.

Korean teas can be difficult to find. The teas aren't exported as much as they are from other countries, and I don't blame them for keeping all of the beautiful tea for themselves. Most teas from South Korea are grown in the south, as is the case for the tea I'm tasting today. In fact, the first tea seeds brought to Korea from China were planted on Mount Jiri, which is where my sample was grown. You can check out a map on the Teas Unique website for more information on the South Korean tea growing areas.

I randomly chose the Mt. Jiri Joongjak (third pluck) hwang cha for today's tasting. All of the samples were interesting and I couldn't prioritize. This tea is considered a 'lightly oxidized' red tea (black tea), and I was curious to see what it was all about. This tea is a third plucking, and the package says it was plucked 'around April 28 2016' but I imagine it could actually have been a few weeks later since this seems early for a third pluck.

The dry leaves are dark and wiry, averaging about an inch in length. The leaves are quite sweet and a bit fruity. I'm also getting a bit of something reminiscent of forest rocks, which is interesting. Maybe it's minerality? When I added hot water to the tea, the story unfolded a little bit more...

The brewed tea smells quite sweet and tastes super smooth. I served this for the Office Tea Club a few weeks ago and the feedback was 'ooh this is like chocolate, but also grassy!'. There was definitely a chocolatey richness but it's not super strong. Dried grass is the dominant note, with a sweet caramel finish. In the background I definitely detected some 'wet rock' flavor, forest stones after a soaking spring rain. There is a slight astringency to the brew, not really present but it's just enough to keep things interesting.

The second time I enjoyed this tea I over-brewed it a little bit, but it was still very smooth. I decided to pair it with a few French macarons I was gifted (which you can see in the first picture above), and that was actually a mistake. This tea is too delicate to have overpowering sweet flavors accompany it. For a sweet, I'd pick something with milk chocolate (or white chocolate, but I hate white chocolate!). For savory, I'm thinking avocado toast. A nod to the toasty notes, and the creamy avocado would work nicely with the chocolate and slight astringency in this tea. I still have so much to learn about pairing teas with food, but it's such a fun journey!

I think this may be the first Korean tea I've reviewed with the exception of a few sips of the gorgeous Jukro I had at a tasting a few years ago. I still dream about that tea. Thank you to Teas Unique for the sample! I look forward to trying the others that were sent to expand my Korean tea experience.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Ritual of Turkish Tea

Tea is a beverage meant to be shared and enjoyed together. Sharing sips and conversation is the perfect way to spend a happy afternoon. Many cultures have a ritual of sharing tea, and I can't think of a better example than Turkish tea culture. Turks drink more tea per person than any other country. Tea is offered to guests as soon as they arrive, and tea houses and gardens are the social gathering hubs in even the smallest towns. I recently had the pleasure of learning all about how to make Turkish style tea. My son's best friend's mother Özen is Turkish, and she invited us over for an afternoon of tea, treats, and playtime. I got a first hand look at how to make tea the Turkish way, and what foods are traditionally paired with it.

Rize Tea

Tea is a way of life in Turkey. Çay (tea, pronounced 'chai') is always in the house. As I mentioned, it is a necessity when guests arrive, an essential element of hospitality. Turkey is not only the top consumer of tea in the world, they also grow tea in Rize, an area on the eastern Black Sea coast. Turkey exports part of their tea production but they drink most of it themselves. The tea leaves are the CTC variety, and produce a strong, dark brew.

The çaydanlık

There are a few steps to making Turkish tea, and you need the proper equipment. First, you need a special kettle called a çaydanlık (pictured above). It looks like two kettles stacked on top of each other (similar to a Samovar). The large bottom kettle is for boiling water, and the top is for steeping tea. You'll also need Turkish tea, and tulip-shaped glass teacups along with saucers. Little spoons are also a plus!

To make your tea, fill the bottom kettle with water, and put about 2 tablespoons of tea in the top kettle. Bring the water to a full boil and then turn off the heat.

Once the water is ready, slowly fill the top kettle (the one with the tea) with the water. Then refill the bottom pot with fresh water, replace on the stove along with the top kettle, and re-boil while the steeping happens. The tea should steep for 10-15 minutes. It'll be good and strong!

Pour tea into the glass cups, and leave room to dilute with the freshly boiled water. The tea is always quite strong, but the depth of the strength can be personalized. Just add as much or as little water to the cup as you like. Özen said the tea is supposed to be the shade of 'Rabbit's blood' which is a little gruesome, but a helpful reference. I guess I like my tea extra-bloody, since I'll take it as strong as I can get.

Sugar is usually served in cubes, but it doesn't have to be used. I added sugar to mine to get the full experience. The tea is strong, bitter, earthy, and sweet. I loved it and drank quite a few cups.

We enjoyed feta cheese and simit (a Turkish bread) with our tea (yes there were also sweet treats afterwards, as you can see in the photo). Bites of tangy, salty cheese combined with the chewy sesame flavor of the simit was the perfect accompaniment to the strong tea. It's very easy to get swept  up in conversation and drink many, many, many cups of tea. I was definitely well fed and caffeinated after our jubilant afternoon!

I think I need to get a çaydanlık and some turkish tea. I love the ritual of preparing this tea and serving it to guests. It is also a satisfying morning or early afternoon sip! The culture of tea may seem different from place to place but it really is quite similar. It comes down to mindfully preparing and enjoying a beautiful beverage. Thank you so much to Özen for teaching me how to properly brew and serve Turkish tea! I am definitely hooked.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Tasting: Kanchanjangha Noir from Nepal Tea

The tea in my new favorite cup
Have you tried teas from Nepal? The terroir there produces unique flavor profiles that can't be found in other areas. There are sometimes whispers of Darjeeling-esqe notes as well, depending on the processing. The culture and tea production in Nepal is quite rich, with so much to learn and experience. It's not easy finding information on tea growing in Nepal, but this is happily changing. I wish I could attend World Tea Expo this year to check out a focused tasting all about Nepalese teas. Alas, I can't be there in person this year, so I expect all of my tea friends to share their Expo experience with me.

I was so excited to try it that I didn't get a picture of the unopened packet!

Since I have Nepal on the brain, I remembered I still had a few samples from Nepal Tea to try. I couldn't decide which to select for this tasting, so marketing won the day. I love the elephant on the label for the Kanchanjangha Noir, so that's what I selected for this tasting. Hey, sometimes you just need to go with the prettiest packaging.

Nepal Tea describes this black tea as:
The high elevation of the tea bushes results in a fresh fruity/ flowery aroma with hints of caramel. The malty flavors and taste notes such as raisins and dark chocolate is prominent in all flushes of KTE black tea.
The dry leaves are extremely sweet, fruity and chocolatey with a slight floral something lingering in the leaves. The infusion smells sweet, of fruit and chocolate. The taste delivers on the sweet fruity flavor, with something reminding me of the muscatel found in Darjeeling black teas, along with raisins, cooked sweet potato, and a little bit of malt. This tea has the comfort of a warm kitchen after roasting root vegetables on a chilly winter evening. Inviting and cozy.

There is also a quiet murmur of something floral in this brew. If I knew more about plants I could tell you what type, but it remains a mystery I hope to unlock some day. I love that there is no astringency whatsoever in this tea. It's round and smooth with a full body. Slightly dry, but just slightly so. After all of the flavors start to dissipate, there is a lingering chocolate note that sticks around. Quite a nuanced, enjoyable sip.

This is a delicious tea that I found myself craving the next day. Looks like I'll have to replenish my supply! Thank you to Nepal Tea for this sample.

If you are attending the World Tea Expo this year, I hope you're able to attend the Nepalese tea tasting. If you do, please enjoy and let me know all about it.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

All About Aroma!

Whenever people ask me about how to learn more about tea, I always say 'taste, taste, taste!'. But there's another important factor- use your nose! It's easy to forget, but aroma and taste of course go hand in hand. You can't fully taste without using your nose. They combine together to give you the full picture.

Think about how you perceive flavors with a stuffed-up nose- flavors appear muted or non-existent. According to this article (and quite a few others I stumbled upon), 80% of what we're tasting is actually coming from our sense of smell. Even without the research, the gorgeous aroma of a lightly oxidized oolong needs to be appreciated just as much as the flavor. Whenever I'm handed a plate of food, I always smell it first. I love getting a first impression through the aromas, and the same is true for tea. Without the aroma, you're not fully tasting the tea. 

When enjoying the aroma of tea, you can reference an aroma wheel to clearly identify what you're sniffing. That's probably a professional thing to do, but I like to just close my eyes and let the aroma tell me its story. Just like taste, aroma also has a powerful element of memory and nostalgia. I once had a light oolong that brought me back to childhood at my parents' house, hiding under the crab apple tree. It reminded me of a carefree, happy time. These days aromas usually bring me to a food, or a fruit, or flower. 

To get into things a little deeper, there are two phenomena that happen when you sniff and then sip your tea. Retronasal olfaction, and orthonasal olfaction. From a JAMA article from 2005
Retronasal olfaction is the perception of odors emanating from the oral cavity during eating and drinking, as opposed to orthonasal olfaction, which occurs during sniffing.1 The retronasal olfactory pathway, which contributes to the flavor of foods or drinks, is commonly associated with the sense of taste. 
My aroma set

Ok, that's as deep as I'll get into the sciency stuff...for now. While thinking about aroma, I realized I have an aroma set, designed to enjoy the scent of brewed tea. I'd only used it a few times since I'm not usually patient enough to sit and really meditate on the aroma before taking that first anticipated sip. The aroma cup is a neat little tool though. The tall cup (pictured above) is designed to capture the concentrated aroma, waiting for the user to discover hidden stories of the tea. It allows the tea drinker to experience aromas that may not be as apparent just from sniffing the surface of the tea.

Since I'm a klutz by nature, I need a bit more practice with the cups, but below is a little video on how to use it. First, you need to brew your tea- I used a gaiwan, and then poured the brew into a sharing pitcher. Then, you pour into the long cup, place the tasting cup on top, so the whole thing looks like a tall mushroom. Then you flip it over, and remove the tall cup. After the tall cup is emptied, bring it to your nose and inhale the beautiful aromas (that's the one thing you can't see in my video). Once you've experienced all the aroma, feel free to sniff and slurp the tea you've been waiting for.


I needed to sample Dancong Aria by Adagio, so this is what I decided to use for the aroma cup. Oolongs are so nuanced that they are great to use this way. As soon as I opened the bag, I was hit with a strong peach scent. It was so powerful I thought it may have been a flavored tea! But no, it was just the natural goodness of the mighty leaves. After brewing the tea and using the aroma cup, I was gifted with the aroma of peach, almonds, flowers, and dark chocolate. Even though the tea had left the aroma cup, it left a beautiful perfume behind. 

Dancong Aria
The aroma cup gives you an immense sensory experience without taste to change your perception. It is also a fun way to add an interactive step to your tea session. That is, if you can wait before diving in to that cup of tea! It might be a nice way to delay drinking a roasted oolong, when the water is so hot it could burn your tongue. I will definitely be using the aroma set for an upcoming Office Tea Club meeting.

Have you used an aroma set before? Did it enhance your tea session? How did it change your perception of the tea after you had a taste? Would love to hear your experience with it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

An Evening of Tea And Cheese At The French Cheese Board

I'm that person, the one that's always thinking about my next meal. "What will I cook? Where can I shop for the best ingredient? Where are we going to eat?" are just a few of the insufferable thoughts always in my mind. But because of this, pairing food and tea has become a fascination of mine. So of course when I was invited to a tea and cheese pairing at the French Cheese Board in SoHo, I immediately cleared my schedule.

Since taste is subjective, it's difficult to critique a tea and food pairing. But, when the pairings work particularly well, it's easy to praise. I have quite a bit of praise for this particular tea and cheese event. I love having hot teas with cheese. I find that the warmth of the tea uncovers hidden flavors in cheese that may go unnoticed when nibbling with a cold beverage.

The decor at the French Cheese Board

The cheese of course came from the French Cheese Board and the teas were provided by Royal Tea New York. I had the pleasure of meeting Ravi Kroesen, the Director of Tea Operations. He's had some incredible tea adventures, and selected thought provoking tea pairings for each cheese. I was so happy to see two fellow bloggers at this event! Nicole from Tea For Me Please (check out her writeup of this event), and Natasha who has done some fantastic video tea reviews and has spent quite a bit of time in France.

The first duo was a light sencha paired with epoisses (the first picture above). The sencha is a slightly steamed (asamushi) tea grown in southern Kagoshima. One sip and you can hear the ocean and taste gentle marine mist and steamed greens. Epoisses is a washed-rind cheese from Burgundy that pretends to be a bit stinky, but really is just gooey and gorgeous. I just loved this pairing- the creamy epoisses has a bit of tang and saltiness that worked really nicely with the green yet oceanic sencha. There is a creaminess to this Kagoshima grown tea that enhanced the texture and flavor of the cheese. Quite a way to start the tasting!

Next came a wedge of mimolette with Phoenix oolong. This Dancong oolong is more specifically called mi lan xiang, or honey orchid fragrance. The tea is fruity and sweet and has a nice roasty comforting hug. The mimolette is a hard cheese from Pas-de-Calais that has deep fruity smoothness and a nutty aroma from a nice bit of aging. These two complimented each other quite nicely. When I closed my eyes, the heat of the tea made me think the cheese was actually a fruity butterscotch candy.

Our third pairing was an organic 2nd flush Darjeeling from the Phuguri estate with a chèvre from Loire valley. If you read one of my recent tasting reviews, you'll know 2nd flush Darjeeling is a particularly nostalgic tea for me. This one was quite nice, with the sweetness and muscatel flavors I love in a Darjeeling. It had the right amount of astringency I was looking for as well. This chèvre was a Bûche de Chèvre, which is a soft ripened goat's cheese. Let me admit I usually can't stand fresh goat's cheese. It just tastes like dirt to me. I've tried and tried to like it, but usually come up short (and why is it always ruining a good beet salad??). The only exception was a very hard, aged goat's cheese I had a few years ago. This cheese was very similar- it didn't have that dirt-gamey flavor I associate with goat's cheese! A gamey flavor was whispering in the background, but not screaming to take over. It had a pleasant tang and was quite milder than I expected and quite sweet. The sweetness in the tea complimented the cheese, and the astringency helped cut through the creaminess.

The final pairing was perfectly placed, because it tasted like dessert! Golden Yunnan tea was served with a cracker topped with Brillat-Savarin from Ile de France. Golden Yunnan tea is one I always enjoy, and I was happy to see it on the agenda. This one was smooth and sweet with sticky sweet potato and strong notes of chocolate. The Brillat-Savarin may sound familiar, as it's named after the famous french gastronome known for the phrase "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are". This cheese elicited happy noises from the group. Another soft-ripened cheese, this one is just the epitome of fromage decadence. Creamy, smooth, and very satisfying. The cheese and tea together made me immediately think 'chocolate cheesecake!!'. What else needs to be said?

I wish I had thought to take home some of that heavenly cheese! I'll definitely be stopping by to pick some up next time I'm in the area. To learn more about the cheese you can visit The Cheeses of France website. For the teas, go to Royal Tea New York.

Thank you to Royal Tea NY and the French Cheese Board for a creative and delicious event! I enjoyed seeing tea friends, meeting new ones, and filling my palate with interesting flavors.

Curious to see more about tea and food pairings? Well, stay tuned- a couple of my blogger friends and I are creating a fun series that will debut soon.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Office Tea Club Tasting: Yunnan Jig by Adagio

It's tea-tasting Thursday (yes, I decided that's going to be a thing. And yes, I taste tea every day but it sounds kinda catchy, right?), and today we're going to look at a black tea from Fengqin,Yunnan. I recently received a few samples from Adagio Teas, and decided to brew up Yunnan Jig for our Office Tea Club. I try to serve a wide variety to the tea clubbers, and realized we hadn't done a Chinese black tea in a while. This tea is part of the Adagio 'roots' campaign where the consumers get to learn a little bit about the farmer behind the tea. Scroll down on the tea's product page to read a Q&A with one of the tea farmers.

This is an attractive black tea with lots of fuzzy golden tips. The dry leaves are quite sweet with notes of cocoa, citrus, and hay. There is a brightness to the aroma, which makes me think it will be smooth but flavorful.

The liquor delivers on that sweet promise. Tea clubbers detected smooth chocolate, caramel, and malt coming through. There was also tobacco and earth. Something slightly fruity was lingering, perhaps a muscatel flavor. The brew was super smooth and thick, with a slight citrusy/astringent dryness that helps make this tea a bit more interesting to me. As it lingered there was a peppery finish. The wet infused leaves radiated chocolatey goodness, along with burnt toast giving it a slight smokey aroma. There was malt and caramel in the mix too.

This was an extremely popular tea with the Tea Club folks. Everyone enjoyed it, and we drank quite a few rounds. I didn't have any snacks to pair at the time, but I think I'd like to nibble on a bit of cheese with this tea. Last night I attended a tea and cheese tasting (more on this soon!), and so I have cheese on the brain. I think this tea would pair nicely with something super-creamy (we had a very similar pairing last night) but since the tea's mouthfeel is so smooth I'd like a cheese with a little bit of a tang to it to liven things up. Perhaps a creamy sheep's milk cheese. I wish I knew more about cheese so I could name an exact type...

The mellow smoothness of this tea would make it a nice late-morning or afternoon cup. I don't think I'd reach for it in the early morning since it's a bit too smooth and soft to wake me up. But once I've had my morning tea, I'd happily switch to this one.

Thank you to Adagio for providing the sample.