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 450º. 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!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Tea Pairing 101: Oolong and Fruit

It's finally time for the next installment of Tea Pairing 101! This is the series Georgia, Jee, and I have been working diligently on, pairing interesting flavors together while making sure the ideas are easy to recreate at home.

This time around we decided to pair oolongs with fruit. We wanted to use seasonal fruits, and since it is early autumn we chose pears, plums, and persimmons. All three of these fruits have very different flavor profiles, but still paint a picture of early autumn. We decided to include fresh honeycomb on our fruit plate to enhance flavors and appearance. We discovered the honey was a smart addition, which I'll explain later.

We had the unique opportunity to have our pairing session in a super-swanky NYC apartment. Thanks to Lizzie at Compass, we spent the afternoon at 286 Spring Street, a dreamy penthouse filled with natural light, modern fixtures, and terraces for days. Quite an exclusive backdrop for enjoying tea and fruit.

It wasn't easy to pick just three oolongs to use for this pairing. If you're an oolong drinker you know there are many different styles to choose from, and they have a wide range in flavor. Oolongs are typically produced in China, and Taiwan, but you can find oolongs from other tea growing areas. Should we pick a region? Stick with similar oxidation levels? What about roasting? In the end we decided on three oolongs that are good examples of their style, and not difficult to find. The whole point is to enjoy the experience and not get stressed out about finding the most perfect thing.

As before, we took three teas and paired with three foods. We used 3 grams of tea steeped for 2 minutes each in professional tasting cups. We nibbled some fruit then sipped the tea to see how the two worked together.

Tea pairing Round 1: Bao Zhong
Our first tea was Wenshan Bao Zhong (2017) by Tillerman Tea. This is a lightly oxidized tea from Taiwan. Bao Zhong means 'wrapped style' which is the rolling style reflected in the slightly twisted leaves. Quick story: the first time I had a beautifully floral Bao Zhong, it was purchased by my husband for me on our second date! We went to a tea store that called it Pouchong, another way it may be referred to. I remember it being beautifully floral but also vegetal, and the tea from Tillerman also has these qualities.

The dry leaves have a dark military green color, with twisted inch-long leaves. The leaves have a needle-like shape. A floral aroma like a bouquet of fresh flowers emanates off of these leaves.  After steeping the aroma is still floral, but vegetal notes are also sneaking in. 

The tea has many layers of flavor. It's savory, creamy, and floral. We tasted steamed bok choy and creamed spinach. This is a smooth, medium bodied tea without a hint of bitterness. A tea I could drink all afternoon.

For the pairings, we had two options that could work. The pear was mild enough to accent the floral tea and also enhance the savory flavor. However, the pear didn't really add much to the experience. The plum turned out to be a better choice. Its sweetness worked well with the floral and savory notes, but didn't overpower the palate. The tart plum skin transformed the tea flavor, creating an interesting depth. The persimmon didn't work with this tea. The fruit was cloyingly sweet, and strangely the tea canceled out the flavor in the fruit. It was a peculiar experience, and not particularly appealing. The plum was the clear winner for me.

Tea Pairing Round 2: Tie Guan Yin
The Tie Guan Yin (TGY) we used is from NYC's T-Shop. This is a  heavily roasted TGY which is how I prefer to drink it, and is also the more traditional way to process the tea. I'm sure most of you have also had the lighter version of TGY, which is more floral and aromatic.

The dry leaves are tightly rolled dark reddish brown pellets, which is characteristic for this type of tea. The leaves have an aroma of fresh walnuts and dried cherries, reminding me of lazy autumn picnics.

The wet leaves present a roasty aroma, filled with chicory and dry twigs. It feels similar to kukicha in the dominance of that twiggy roasted goodness. The tea's flavor consists of chocolate, roast, and that chicory. A tea that reminds me of falling leaves and crisp mornings.

Time for the fruit pairings. I was expecting the plum to work, mostly because it feels like an early fall fruit. My instinct wasn't correct. The plum didn't have much flavor when paired with this oolong. The tartness didn't combine with the roasty tea. The pear also didn't work well- it was just too bland for the tea. It didn't enhance, and it didn't compliment. The super-sweet persimmon actually worked beautifully with the tea. The cloying sweetness is rounded out by the earthy strength in the tea. The two contrasting flavors played off each other well, making a harmonious pairing. Winner!

Tea with a view of One World Trade Center

Tea Pairing Round 3: Xiao Hong Pao (little red robe):
This tea is from Seven Cups. I'm sure you've heard of Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao), the most famous Wuyi mountain oolong tea. Be sure to visit this page to learn about the processing of the Xiao Hong Pao. According to Seven Cups, the primary difference between Xiao Hong and Da Hong is in the special drying process that keeps the Xiao Hong from tasting too toasty. It allows for other flavors to come through, which is something we noticed more in the aroma than in the flavor of the tea.

The dry leaves are dark brown and quite beautiful- long, twisted, and varying in size. The leaves have a rich chocolate aroma. Very sweet, a little bit of roast, and something a bit syrupy. Lots going on with this tea.

After our infusion the wet leaves were still twisted, which made me think we could steep this tea many times before we really learn its secrets. The aroma of the wet leaves conjures up honey, dried fruit, and roasted butternut squash. Again, an autumn-appropriate tea! The brew tastes quite roasted with that chicory flavor we found in the TGY. It was a little bitter with a pleasing roundness and full body. I found this tea to be very comforting. It was interesting that the aroma was so sweet, but the tea itself was quite roasty. It's possible that we needed to play around with the temperature (we brewed the tea at 212º) and time, to get the brew just right.

For the fruit: The persimmon worked nicely to tame the bitterness, but it didn't do too much for me. I think the flavors were polar opposites (very roasted, and very sweet), and perhaps they were too far apart to truly be a pleasant balance. We had a strange experience with the pear- it seemed to erase the flavor of the tea, but then a moment later the tea lingered on the palate. Jee decided that the pear was similar to a palate cleanser, which was an interesting thought! The plum turned out to be our goldilocks- it created a nicely balanced flavor with the roasted tea. Sweet and tart worked well with the rich, roasted tea.

From left to right: Bao Zhong, TGY, XHP

The Outcome: Sweetness and Seasons
One of the important things we learned in this pairing is that the level of sweetness really makes a difference. The semi-sweet plum paired very differently than cavity-inducing persimmon. Making sure the fruit is ripe and in-season is also key. Fruit that is at the peak of flavor will pair very differently than unripe, bland fruit. The texture also influences the way the flavors feel on the palate. Since the flavor and texture can be unpredictable, it's important to taste all of your fruit to make sure it's how you imagined it would be. Pairings don't need to be limited to flavor profiles (plums with a tea that reminds you of tart plum skin, for example), but consider seasons. Teas that are picked in the same season as the fruit are an interesting study, or try to intentionally contrast the seasons and see how it changes things up.

Epilogue: Honey Is a Super Power:
Remember the honey I mentioned earlier? Honey turned out to be a unifying factor on the fruit plate. The honey always linked the tea and fruit together, and seemed to enhance the flavors. So, if you are using fruit that's perhaps a little out of season or not ripe enough, adding a little honey will work wonders. The pairing doesn't work quite so well? Try adding a little drizzle of honey. I don't think honey should be relied on to make the pairings work, but it is certainly a delicious way to harmonize flavors.

It's also important to remember that there are no right or wrong answers here. If you prefer a different flavor combination, great! Go with what you like. I hope you enjoyed our swanky paring adventure, we certainly did! Don't forget to check out what Georgia and Jee had to say.

You can read about our last two previous pairings here and here. Stay tuned, we'll be brainstorming another Tea Pairing 101 soon.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Flights of Fancy: A Green Tea Tasting


Imagine a day where you get to drink green teas all afternoon, chat with some of your favorite people, and munch on perfectly paired sweets. I won't deny it, being a tea blogger has its advantages. It's always an adventure when tea people get together, and our last tasting is no exception. I had the privilege of joining some of my favorite tea friends for an extremely memorable afternoon, and thought it would be fun to share it with all of you.

To begin the day we started with a tasting of the new Matcha Gyokuro selection at La Colombe, expertly prepared by Alexis of Teaspoons and Petals, the resident tea consultant. She brewed the tea to perfection using a Silverton pour-over brewer, which was also fun to watch. I arrived late to our first tasting, so sadly I didn't get any good images. Needless to say, after a few sips of this well-balanced tea and exchanging hugs with some friends, I was ready for the adventure yet to come. 

We made our way to the International Culinary Center (ICC) and up to library, the perfect venue for our Rishi Tea tasting. The ICC library is a special place. The walls are made of glass and lined with shelves upon shelves of culinary books. I think this is what the library looks like in foodie heaven! We were greeted by the always elegant Keiko from Rishi Tea, and were sat at a long table decorated with flowers and adorned with plates of decadent French macarons and mochi. Like I said earlier, being a tea blogger has its advantages. 

Keiko chose the sweets well. The macaron flavors paired perfectly with each green tea, highlighting savory and vegetal notes. We had the chance to try Rishi green teas of various cultivars, something I've never done before. I don't know as much about Japanese green teas as I should (except that they are delicious), and I was grateful to learn and taste so many high-quality teas. This was a unique opportunity.

The teas were broken down into 'flights', small groups of tastings where we could compare and contrast (many of you have had either tea, beer, or wine flights before, I'm sure). I won't go too deep into specifics so be sure to check out Nicole's post for a look at the entire tea flight menu, as well as more photos from the day. I was focused on the experience and not as much on notes and photography.

The first flight had Sincha Machiko and Matcha Okumidori. The Shizu (aka machiko) cultivar is known for its cherry blossom floral flavor, and the tea certainly kept its promise. It was like tasting a fresh blossom. The okumidori cultivar made a chocolatey thick matcha, which reminded me of a roasted tea. After these two teas, I was eager for more. A great way to start.

The second flight was dedicated to teas of the Sae Midori cultivar.  We had a hand-picked shincha which surprised me with its delicate flavor. It wasn't grassy or the slightest bit bitter. We then had an extremely savory and light gyokuro, and a matcha that was a touch more bitter than the first, but still chocolatey with an interesting buckwheat note. I usually stick with fairly cool water for teas such as these, but I was surprised to learn that Keiko slightly warmer water for the gyokuro, at 170°. It's a good reminder to keep an open mind about water temperature- experimenting a little bit can help enhance the flavor of the tea, or at least change the flavor to something your palate prefers. 

We then moved to the Yabukita flight, a cultivar that is more common than the others. But these teas were anything but standard. This flight started with a super sweet shincha without a hint of bitterness. We then moved to an even sweeter 'Nishi family Shincha' that was a bit deeper, with a little hint of bitterness. Oh and in case you were wondering, all the sips were interspersed with mochi and macaron goodness. Tough day, right? Unfortunately I had to leave the festivities early because responsibilities were calling. I didn't have a chance to try a few of the teas, but Keiko made sure I tasted one more before I left.

I finished the afternoon on a perfectly sweet note. Keiko whipped up Matcha Hekisui for me, and it tasted like vibrant sweet peas. It was my favorite of the various matchas we had. It wasn't easy to leave such a cheerful room of fabulous women, but obligations were calling.

Needless to say I was flying high on tea happiness by the end of our tasting, feeling grateful to have so many amazing women in my life. Thank you to La Colombe, Rishi, Keiko, and the ICC for such a dreamy afternoon. Being a tea blogger is, to quote Larry David, pretty, pretty, pretty... pretty good.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tea Recipe: Chocolate Masala Chai With Turmeric

The past few weeks have been unusually warm and humid here in NYC, but I know the chilly weather is creeping in. The wish for fall weather has left me craving warm and comforting sips.  The other day I wanted something chocolatey and spicy, and decided to take my favorite masala chai and give it a few tweaks. I was looking for something tasty but also a little different. I decided to add unsweetened cocoa powder, and on a whim, a wedge of fresh turmeric. I was hoping that the earthy turmeric would play well with the chocolate and spices. It did! The other unexpected ingredient I added is salt. I like to add a pinch of salt whenever I'm baking with chocolate so I thought I'd give it a try here too. I don't know the chemistry behind it, but it really enhances the flavor. It does the same in this recipe! Just a small pinch of salt will do. Since this worked so well, I decided to share the recipe with everyone. I love cooking and baking but I don't share many recipes. Let's change that.

I recommend using fresh ginger and turmeric for this recipe, it makes a huge difference. But you can use dried versions if you'd prefer. It's not always easy to find fresh turmeric! I was really happy with how this recipe turned out. It was so good that my kids greedily slurped up every bit that I gave them, and asked for more. Even my husband who isn't a fan of sweets was impressed with the flavor. Of course, I also saved a generous mug for myself.

Tea Happiness' Homemade Chocolate Masala Chai
Serves: about 2 Time: about 12 minutes

1 1/2 cups whole milk (any milk of choice will do, but I prefer cow's, almond, or coconut)
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tbsp. loose black tea (or 2-3 tea bags)
6 cardamom pods
1 small cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, or 1/2 tsp dried
1/2 inch piece of fresh turmeric, or 1/4 tsp dried

2-3 tbsp. granulated sugar (or to taste)
pinch of salt

Make the tea: In a small saucepan heat the milk and water slowly over low heat until it starts to get warm and slightly bubbly around the edges. Don't do this over high heat, or the liquid will erupt onto the stovetop! Once warm, whisk in the cocoa powder until combined. Then add the tea, spices (I like to crack open the cardamom pods for more flavor), ginger, and turmeric. Let everything lightly simmer (remember, that milk can bubble over!) for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add 2 tbsp of sugar and the pinch of salt. Stir gently until dissolved. Taste, and add more sugar if desired. I like to start with less, and then add more if necessary. Once you have enough sugar stirred in, strain into mugs and sip happily!

Alterations: If you'd like to eliminate the tea to serve it to kids, you can use rooibos, or simply leave the tea out altogether. You can always add a little more cocoa if that's the case. You can also add other flavors to the tea as well, vanilla works nicely.

I'll definitely be making this treat on gray afternoons, and after snowy adventures. Or on warm fall days when I'm wishing it was a bit cooler outside. My kids have already requested this tea for this weekend! I'd love to know what twists you make on masala chai, feel free to share with me in the comments.