Monday, May 23, 2016

Interview: Gabrielle Jammal of Tea Sommelier at the Baccarat Hotel, NYC

Gabrielle, left, I'm on the right

A few months ago I had an amazing afternoon tea experience with Jee and Lisa at the Baccarat hotel. We instantly bonded with the tea sommelier Gabrielle, who's passion for tea is clear from the moment you meet her. We had such fun chatting about tea, that we've even found time to meet for lunch away from the hotel. I thought you'd all be interested in learning a little bit about Gabrielle and what she does as a tea sommelier for the hotel. I'm happy to present our interview below.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Review: Mizuba Tea Company Daily Matcha

I recently had the good fortune of attending an online tandem tasting via google hangouts with other lovely tea folk. The tea discussed was Mizuba's daily matcha. The tea friends in attendance were: Geoffrey Norman, Rachana Rachel Carter, Jo Johnson, and Nicole Martin. Now let me explain first that this tasting was taking place at 9pm, and I suffer from frequent battles with insomnia where I spend way too much time contemplating every creaky, creepy sound at 3am. I was worried the matcha would aggravate the insomnia, so I decided to just enjoy everyone's company and sample it on a morning when I had time to savor it. It was torturous to hear everyone's rave review without a bowl of my own, but I've since had my turn to give it a try.

Now I have to admit I enjoy matcha but I don't make it at home as much as I should. My matcha whisking skills are adequate, but require more practice. On the morning I decided to finally taste this acclaimed tea, I was focused on my matcha setup when I felt a presence sniffing about. I looked next to me and the Littlest Tea Critic had grabbed the sample bag and stuck her nose in it. I asked her what she smelled, and she said 'green tea, vegetables'. This kid knows what she's doing.  The first thing that came to my mind when I put my nose to the dry powder was 'matcha cotton candy'. Seriously, if you could create matcha spun sugar, this is how I think it would smell. Sweet, fresh and creamy like white chocolate studded with spring freshly picked sweet peas.

I started whisking and the Littlest Tea Critic was delighted. She asked if she could try her hand at it. I have to say, the kid's got promise...

After whisking, we both gave it a taste. I have to agree with my fellow bloggers, it's an insanely smooth, velvety matcha. Visions of cream and steamed green beans came to mind. The tea only has a whisper of that sweetness from the dry powder, but it's so fresh, so green. The Littlest Tea Critic also had a few sips and her feedback came as contented sighs.

This Mizbuba daily matcha is affordable and a perfect choice for anyone looking for a matcha fix.I'll definitely purchase some of this once my sample is gone. The Littlest Tea Critic wouldn't have it any other way!

Thank you to Geoffrey Norman for the delicious sample and to Rachana Rachel Carter for organizing!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Interview: Allen Han, Co-Founder of Teforia

Teforia co-founders Allen Han and Kris Efland
If you are plugged into the tea world, chances are you've heard about Teforia, a company hoping to change the way we enjoy tea. I'm not sure how I feel about using a fancy machine to make tea, but once I heard about it I knew I had to find out more. Part of the reason I drink tea is to interact with the leaves, and enjoy being an integral part of the brewing process. Without human interaction, tea wouldn't be possible. I suppose Teforia takes this interaction to a new level and I admit I've heard great things about the tea maker. I haven't had the opportunity to try tea brewed through the Teforia yet, but I hope I'll have the chance at the World Tea Expo coming up in June. The tea maker's technology allows the machine to know exactly what tea you are making, and how to extract the best flavor. I find it interesting that the user is able to adjust the level of antioxidants and caffeine in their brewed tea. I didn't believe this was possible, so I asked about it. The response:
Every infusion recipe for Teforia teas that we've crafted with the help of tea masters around the world includes dozens of variables -- from water temperature and steeping time to agitation of the leaves and more. What most don't realize when they're brewing, and what is difficult to achieve through conventional methods, is that subtle changes in these variables can completely alter the level of caffeine, antioxidants, flavor, aroma, and more in every Teforia tea.
It's intriguing stuff. I'm excited to present this interview with Teforia co-founder Allen Han. Learn about the journey to creating Teforia, and decide if it's something you'd try for yourself.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Review: Turvani Assam Golden Tips

I recently opened a box with smart looking samples from Turvani, a new tea company that focuses on enjoying the experience of preparing and sipping a cup of tea. To learn a little more about Turvani, check out my interview with founder Samir Balwani here. I was immediately drawn in by the minimalist design on the packaging. The clean lines and bold logo draws attention to the company, but also piques interest in the tea that lies inside the package.

I was given three samples and decided to try their Assam Golden Tips first. I've had a few different Assams lately and thought I'd give this one a try to see how it stacks up. The dry leaves are super sweet, and I could detect honey with a hint of malt. A little bit of sweet dried fruit as well, and something rich and gooey, like molasses. The leaves have pretty golden tips vying for attention, but they were well outnumbered by the darker leaves.

After a steep, the fragrance was malty and velvety, retaining that honey note. The infused tea is very soft, smooth, and comforting. It has a mellow streak from the honey but a stronger malty flavor that gives it some power. This isn't a bad thing, it has a nice bit of punch which makes it perfect for a morning or early afternoon cup. It's slightly woodsy, and when I close my eyes the flavor takes me to sitting in a forest in early autumn while wrapped in a warm fleecy blanket, eating toast topped with honey. I told you it was comforting!

This is a nice basic morning tea that delivers flavor and energy. It would also be a solid, basic iced tea. With the sweet flavors I wouldn't want to add sweetener, but I can see that adding a little bit would enhance the dried fruit and molasses notes even more. Since it's an Assam a little bit of milk could also be added, but that's something you'll have to try for yourself. I'm not a fan of milk in my tea. Don't tell any of my British friends!

Thank you to Turvani for the sample. I look forward to trying the other two!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Interview: Samir Balwani of Turvani

Samir Balwani and his Wife

I'm pleased to present this interview with Samir from Turvani teas. Turvani is a company new to the tea scene, and I was curious to learn more about Samir and his journey to becoming a tea vendor. Samir is an optimistic and cheerful person dedicated to spreading his love for tea. Learn all about his passion for the tea-drinking experience in our interview below.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Visit: T2 SoHo

Over the last year or so I'd walk down Prince street in SoHo and notice a jewel box of a store selling tea and teaware. The displays were always colorful and inviting. Every time I passed by I wanted to pop in, but I was always rushing somewhere. T2 is a successful global chain that started off small and grew impressively. They were recently purchased by Unilever and will undoubtedly be expanding even further. I first tried T2 a few years ago when my husband brought back a couple of teas from a business trip to Australia. This was back when they were an Australian chain. I remember we had a breakfast blend that was quite strong and flavorful. T2 is known for inventive blends but they also have a huge inventory of teas and teaware. I was recently invited for a tasting at the SoHo store and was happy to finally find a time for a visit.

The day I visited was chilly and dreary, the sky was thick and grey. One of those days when NYC broods and sulks. It was quite a contrast to walk inside a T2. The store is chock full of colorful, quirky tea displays with interesting items to see at every turn. I had fun looking at teapots and teacups of every size and shape. The vibrant hues reminded me of another popular tea chain, but the design and customer service is a bit different.

If you are curious about a tea you haven't tried, you can taste before you buy. It's one thing to observe and smell a tea, but without tasting it you are basically buying it blindly. I always appreciate the stores that brew up a taste to help you decide what to purchase. I like that the tea is prepared right in front of you in a translucent vessel so you can watch the leaves dance as they steep. I tried the Yunnan golden tips, which is a malty and bright tea with a sweet raisin note. Was it better than Yunnan black teas I've had from my favorite vendors? Not exactly, but it is still a very pleasing cup. I took home their Morning Red blend, which is a zippy blend of keemun and Assam. This tea is smooth with a hint of smoke and honey. I'm very picky with my morning tea, and this one wasn't as bright and bold as I'd like, but for me it's a great mid-morning or afternoon tea pick-me-up.

Yunnan Golden Tips

The T2 store is great for gifts, as the selection is vast and much of the tea comes festive in brightly patterned boxes. The teaware is all designed for T2, and they often add new designs. If you're purchasing a gift, they'll wrap everything up in cheerful paper. The array of colors and products can be a bit overwhelming, but everything is well organized and the staff is quite knowledgeable. There are some nice Mother's Day gift options I was tempted to pick up for my mom, since she's a fan of tea blends. The set called Love, Friendship & Tea comes with a fun cup and saucer, French Earl Grey, and a strainer (which is really too small to actually use). I think my mom would enjoy the experience of opening this pretty package, and I could see her using the tea with the cup and saucer daily. There is also a gift pack called Breakfast In Bed that has two breakfast teas in a trippy box reminiscent of a lava lamp. Having tea in bed sounds like an ideal way to start Mother's Day (hint, hint, Mr. Tea Happiness).

As I mentioned the tea selection is immense, and I was actually interested in trying some of the herbals. I'm not usually an herbal tisane gal, but there are a few with ingredients native to Australia that looked very interesting. I also took home a tisane comprised only of jasmine flowers, which I found intriguing. I've never seen this as a tisane before. I noticed other pure flowers as well, all of which would be fun to use for blending.

I was tempted by a 17-ounce stainless steel flask that looks quite rugged and perfect for my klutzy ways. It has a removable strainer and can be used for both hot and cold teas. You can bring the flask into the store every Friday and they'll fill it up with a tea for free. I certainly wouldn't say no to that.

T2 is a few blocks away from Harney & Sons, and not far from a few places where you can sit down and have afternoon tea. I'm glad to see that there is another tea buying option in the area, especially since Palais des Thés has sadly closed its doors. T2 may be owned by a tea giant, but I really enjoyed my experience in this vibrant store.

I have quite a few more teas to taste and review from T2, so stay tuned. Some may also be making an appearance at the Office Tea Club. Have you tried anything from T2? I'd love to know your feedback on the teas, and the store. Also, let me know if you've noticed any change in the tea quality after the Unilever ownership. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts since I don't have enough experience with them to compare.

Thank you to Jennine and T2 for showing me around the store and for all of the products.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: East Indian Tea & A Little More History

Today's review is the East Indian Tea from Oliver Pluff & Co. Before I gave it a taste, I asked owner Kyle Brown a little more about this tea, and he told me the East Indian tea is grown in Assam from tea gardens containing plants combined from wild-growing tea trees discovered by the British, and the finer Chinese tea tree varieties that they brought over. This is of course a tea that was imported into the American colonies. I enjoyed this little snippet from the package:
When the ship Britannia arrived in Charles Town in November, 1774 with seven chests of East Indian tea, Charles Town tea merchants were “induced” to destroy their own tea by breaking open the chests and dumping them overboard into the Cooper River, an event now known as the Charleston Tea Party.
The Charleston Tea Party was a protest of that infamous British tea tax, perhaps not the most famous protest, but still an important one for the record books. I read a little more about tea drinking in Charleston, and it turns out most of the tea brought into the city was smuggled in so the colonists could avoid the taxes. This smuggled tea was of course illegal. I found an interesting snipped about tea smuggling from my new favorite book A Social History of Tea, quoting a famous tea name I'm sure you will recognize:
In his Observations on the Tea & Window Act and on the Tea Trade, 1784, Richard Twining commented that "The smuggler has become so formidable a rival [to the East India Copmpany] that, upon the most moderate computation, they shared the Tea-trade equally between them; and according to some calculations, the smuggler had two thirds of it."
I could go on about tea smuggling but I'll save it for another post. Time to discuss the East Indian tea!
The dry leaves smell quite sweet with a malty, dry aroma of dried wheat. I also get a little bit of dried apricot. The combination gives me a sunny, bright feeling of relaxing in a meadow of late summer grass.

The wet leaves are again sweet and malty, with a bit of barley, honey. and roasted sweet potatoes.  
The infusion is quite bold, with a slight astringency. It is a little dry, but mellow, malty, and smooth. There is a lingering gentle malty flavor with a bit of astringency. The tea has an unexpected lightness to it.

I was surprised at the roundness of this tea. It is well balanced and smooth. It has a good amount of strength, as Assam does, but I was expecting it to be more astringent and punchy. It's a very pleasing tea, and I've had it almost every morning this week. It strong enough for sleepy-eyed mornings, but has a nice mellow finish that tames my anxious thoughts about the day ahead.  This is a good everyday drinking tea, and I of course love the history behind it.

Thank you to Oliver Pluff & Co for providing this tea for review!