Thursday, July 2, 2015

Tasting: Yunnan Noir from Adagio Teas

The dry leaves

A few months ago I was given the opportunity to choose a few teas from Adagio Teas to sample. I don't usually order from their site, so I looked around and tried to find teas that stood out. I noticed their Yunnan noir was part of the 'roots' campaign where you get to 'meet the farmer'. This includes a Q&A with someone associated with the tea farm. I enjoyed reading the info behind these leaves and thought it would be an interesting purchase.  From the Adagio Q&A:
Q What is your favorite part of growing tea? 
A"My favorite part is shaping the Yunnan Noir tea. It has a beautiful shape which is curl and golden. It requires experience and patience. Now I am still young I have a lot to learn from my master who is my father. I am happy when I can make better shape for a new lot. I am sure I can get better and better in the future."
As the above quote mentions, the leaves are beautifully rolled into a snail shape and have a sweet and spicy aroma with hints of cocoa.The brew is super smooth, chocolaty and well balanced. It has a thick mouth feel that is velvety soft. It is fruity, reminiscent of plums and raisins, earthy and slightly bitter. Lots of malt here too, a bit too much for my early morning palate. I would like to have a bit more brightness in the cup, something to cut through the cocoa and malt notes. 

The leaves after 1 steep

I brewed this tea with boiling water for 3 1/2 minutes. I don't think it needed more time as it was starting to get a bit astringent. But I like my morning teas to be strong and I usually over-brew it for reason. But I'd suggest sticking to closer to 3 minutes if you prefer a smoother taste. The leaves have at least one more steep to give, they started to unfurl but look like they have a little more life left in them.

Milk and sweetener can be added to this tea if you so choose. Milk may cut the astringency if that's not your thing. I'm not sure if I'd enjoy the maltiness of this as an iced tea, but I may give it a try. The smooth chocolate notes would create a soothing warm weather option. I am happy to have this tea in my pantry, and will look for it in the mornings, and early afternoon.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Tasting: Blooming Jasmine Tea from Terrace Bloom

Summer is finally here, and that means sunny beach days, impromptu picnics, and children anxious to get out of the house and into a pool. For me, that means I need to savor each small moment of relaxation while I can. Of course that means as much tea as possible. While I do drink cold brewed iced tea in the summer, I still enjoy many cups of it hot, even on the most humid of NYC days.

I recently received beautifully packaged samples from Terrace Bloom, and the vibrant floral envelopes were calling to be (carefully) opened. I decided to try the Blooming Jasmine tea first, to go with the flower theme.

The packaging is actually handmade paper. From their website:
The Terrace Bloom “Down to Earth Collection” utilizes handmade paper in it's beautiful packaging.  Each parcel incorporates paper that is produced traditionally in Yunnan by people from the Dai Minority. 
The dry green tea leaves are tightly rolled, with added dried jasmine flowers. The tea has a luscious jasmine aroma that masks most of the green tea scent. I wished the leaves weren't encased in the teabag, since their beauty can't truly be appreciated and there isn't enough room for the leaves to expand. I cut open the teabag and steeped the leaves loose. Really no reason not to. 

The tea has a delicate jasmine flavor. There is a slight astringency and bitterness, but steeping the tea a minute or so less would help with this. There is a gentle vegetal green tea flavor that reminded me of cooked snap peas. Sweet, green, a nice relaxing cup. It is floral, but not 'in your face' like many other jasmine teas I've tried. This would be a lovely iced tea as well. My recommendation would be to take this tea out of the bag, and enjoy watching the leaves unfurl. They can be steeped a few times this way.

The Terrace Bloom website mentions all of their teas are grown on 'mountainside terraces' in Yunnan. The ingredients come from farmers in Yunnan but I wish there was more information about the specific farmers, and techniques used to create the teas. I would love to learn more.

Tea after one steeping
The company partners with ethnic minority groups in Yunnan to create everything from the tea to the packaging, which I found interesting.
All Terrace Bloom teas and the paper used to package our Down To Earth Collection are produced by people belonging to the minority groups found in China’s Yunnan province.  The specific people we partner with belong to the Hani, Bulang, Lahu, and Dai minorities.  
Thank you to Terrace Bloom for the samples!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Tasting: Tea & Cheese Pairings at The French Cheese Board

All the tea and cheese. Mmmm.

Tea and French cheese have quite a bit in common. Both start with simple ingredients, and the flavors can change based on various factors. Processing, aging, temperature, seasonality, and terroir are influencing factors in both. I learned all about this and had the opportunity to taste fantastic tea and cheese pairings at a unique opportunity at The French Cheese Board. Cheese is one of my most favorite foods, so with the tea pairings I was in absolute heaven.

Walking in the space I was tempted by the cheese in the small 'shop' up front. Two cases filled with various cheeses. Past the shop was the gallery space, with plenty of room for exhibits. The current show features French female sports professionals expressing their feelings for cheese. These portraits ranged from cheeky to stoic. It was fun to gaze at each painting and wonder what the models' creative process was to express her feelings for cheese.

The cheeses were waiting for us on a plate when we were seated, singing their siren song of lactose-filled goodness. Each tea was presented separately, brewed fresh for each pairing. In order to select the pairings for the event, they started off with the cheeses and sampled many different teas to see what worked well together.

Heidi Johannsen Stewart and Charles Duque
During the tasting, Bellocq co-founder Heidi Johannsen Stewart and Managing Director of the French Dairy Board Charles Duque discussed tea, cheese, and how the flavors worked together. There was serious magic happening with each nibble and sip. The teas enhanced the cheese, bringing out flavors, and muting aggressive ones. Here are the clever pairings we enjoyed:

2004 Aged White Peony tea with a Raclette: The cheese brought out the spice and sweetness of this tea. The woodsy flavor paired perfectly with the raclette. A nice way to wake up the palate.

Kikyua blended tea with Brillat Savarin: Oh the aroma of this tea! It was soft, floral, vegetal, gentle and romantic. The tea accentuated the buttery gorgeous cheese. It was a sensual, sweet, and savory experience. This was one of my favorite combinations. I'm not usually a fan of rose flavor in tea and I was surprised at how much I liked it, especially with this cheese.  We all decided this was a sexy pairing!

Shui Xian Oolong with Comté: This was a dynamic flavor combination. The medium roasted 'rock' tea was mineraly and roasty which brought out the sweetness in the cheese. The cheese was meaty with a little bit of funk, which was calmed by the tea.

Gypsy Caravan with Camembert: The tea was surprisingly soothing and mellow. It felt like a warm hug. The slightly smoky, mushroom-y tea dissolved a bit of the creaminess of the cheese and enhanced the earthiness. It was a smart pairing, giving fuller flavor to such a rich cheese.

Darjeeling Second Flush with Bleu d'Auvergne: Up to this point I found that the teas would bring out certain flavors in the cheese, but in this pairing the pungent cheese brought out the sweetness in the tea. The muscatel of the Darjeeling came through after a nibble of cheese. The cheese was grassy and very salty which was also mellowed a little by the tea. I'm not terribly fond of bleu cheese, but this one was much quieter than most that I've had. It was very enjoyable.

Golden Puerh with Epoisses: I was hesitant to try this combination! Pungent puerh and a funkalicious cheese together? Could that really work? My first few tastes were a bit overwhelming, but after my palate adapted to what it was tasting, I started to enjoy it. The 'bold on bold' combination ended up blending and calming each other, instead of battling. The chocolaty, leathery tea stood up to the stinky cheese. It was an interesting choice, and a fun way to end the tasting session.

The discussion got into specifics of taste and even how your perception of flavors change based on time of day and what you've eaten previously. I was left floating in a haze of harmonious flavors, my belly happy with all of the tea and cheese.

Each pairing was carefully thought out, and worked very well. This was an educational and enjoyable evening. I often find myself near the French Cheese Board, and the cheese will be singing my name until I go back for more. To learn more about their events, you can visit their website here. For more on Bellocq teas, you can also visit their website.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Tasting: Red-Tailed Hawk from Andrews & Dunham Damn Fine Tea

I had a chance to meet the guys behind Andrews & Dunham Damn Fine Tea at the Coffee & Tea festival earlier this year. They are fun, lively guys with tasty tea blends. I had the chance to take home the red-tailed hawk tea, and I finally have a moment to write about it.

This tea is a blend of black teas from 'The mountains of India" so the Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri regions come to mind. The dry leaves are floral with the scent of dried raisins and apricots. There is a grapey muscatel aroma which is most likely from the Darjeeling leaves. Very sweet and mouth watering. There is a sweetness and maltiness as well.

The brew- I like my black teas brisk, so I brewed this for a little more than the suggested 3-ish minutes. The brew smells malty like Assam but with that hint of Darjeeling muscatel as well. The tea is astringent but very pleasing. It is malty, hearty, and a bit bad-ass like the red-tailed hawk.It is still smooth, and very bright similar to some Nilgiris I've had before. A good eye-opening tea, but smooth enough to drink in the afternoon as well. There is a nice sweetness in the background which keeps the dried fruits in my mind. The tea is strong enough to hold up to milk and sweetener if that's what you prefer. A very nice blend.

You can read about this tea here, The descriptive hawk story is a good reflection of the company. As for the packaging, all of their canisters are artist-designed. This one is as awesome as the rest. I love the bold, colorful graphics and the sinister hawk. He's beautiful, but he's intense and bite-y. Just like the tea.

To learn more about Andrews & Dunham Damn Fine Teas, you can visit their website here.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Tasting: Finest Kind 1960 Tea Mixer

One of my favorite summertime drinks is a half black tea, half lemonade mix (often called a half and half or an Arnold Palmer). The only way I can think of improving on this mixture is to add a bit of gin and possibly some bubbles. Awhile back Finest Kind sent me a few samples of their tea mixers and the 1960 which is black tea, lemon juice, and cane sugar caught my eye.

I have enjoyed similar mixers in the past and wondered how this one would measure up. The blend is nice and concentrated with a smooth texture. I found the black tea flavor to be very balanced, much more present than in other brands that I've tried. It is sweet, but not overly so. The lemon is strong but not overpowering. Mixed with gin, tonic, and a bit of extra lemon, it is a delicious summertime (or let's face it, all year round) boozy drink. I like the simplicity of just the mixer with gin, tonic, and lemon but it could be used in any number of cocktail recipes. It's also tasty just straight up with seltzer water. Or I might even add it to a glass of lemonade. There are many possibilities...

This is a product I will keep in my cupboard for summertime beach visits and picnics in the park. Let's not forget year round tea cocktails too. To learn more about these tea mixers you can visit the Finest Kind site here

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Interview: Lucy Yung of Silver Needle Tea Co.

Photo Courtesy of Lucy Yung
I've seen gorgeous pictures of Silver Needle Tea Co. products all over social media for the past few months and was intrigued to learn more. I recently had a chance to meet founder Lucy Yung and sample a few of her teas at the NY Coffee & Tea Festival this year, and knew we needed to do an interview. Lucy agreed, and I'm happy to present our interview. Through her company, she shares her love for creating a luxurious tea experience for the consumer.
...The tea estate on that mountain top was over seven thousand feet above sea level, and it was then I realized the tea is beyond what’s in a cup, it’s about the environment it’s grown in and the culture that surrounds the tea estate, and when I drink that tea I’m absorbing that pristine air through the leaves and it also allows me to travel to exotic origin where the tea is grown....
Read our whole interview after the jump.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tasting: TÊTÊ Black Tea

TÊTÊ is a new company that offers three varieties of tea from small farmers in Nepal: White, Green, and Black. They endeavor simplicity and high quality over quantity. This dedication to quality is easy to believe with just three teas to focus on. To learn a little more about this interesting company, the founder Raunak Agarwal tells their story here.

In the description of the tea on the TÊTÊ website, I love this little ancedote:

This tea comes from a remote tea garden of Nepal, where when the first tractor arrived five years ago, the locals thought it was a buffalo and fed it hay.

The dry leaves are stunning to look at, and are extremely aromatic. My nose was flooded with a mixture of malt, floral, and muscatel notes when I opened the vacuum sealed package. It is reminiscent of a Darjeeling. The scent was so delicious, I'd use it as a perfume if I could!

The brew is light and subtle. It's very lemony and feels warm and sunny. It is gentle yet with a slight astringency that I found pleasing and refreshing. A lingering honey floral note leaves me wanting another cup. This is a high quality, beautiful tea. A perfect light summer cup. I will try it iced and see if it holds up. I expect it will.

To learn more about the tea and this unique company, visit the TÊTÊ website here. With all of the tragic events in Nepal over the last few weeks, I have been drinking this tea, and sending them healing thoughts. This is a good resource if you are interested in donating to earthquake relief.