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.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tasting: Tea Dealers Thurbo 2nd Flush Darjeeling

I have a real soft spot for Darjeeling black teas, specifically 2nd flush or later. Now before you all start telling me that 1st flush Darjeelings are beautiful teas, I know! I love them. My feelings for 2nd flush are so strong because it's the first tea that me realize there was more to tea than those dusty yellow-labeled bags. This happened when I was in my early 20s, in a fancy-ish restaurant. I asked for tea and was presented with one of those large wooden boxes of tea bags. Unsure of what to select, I fished out a Darjeeling tea. I remember being taken with the aroma, which was sweet and not at all like the musty bags I was used to. The flavor was of course vastly different from the dusty stuff as well. After this day, I became curious about tea, and started my journey.

Ever since then, sips of Darjeeling give me an extra wave of comfort. It's like my liquid security blanket. It was my first favorite tea, after all. That's why when Tea Dealers sent me three teas to review, I selected the Thurbo 2nd Flush to try first. This is a 2016 2nd flush, from the Thurbo estate.

The dry leaves are small and twisted, with lots of fuzzy buds. Colors range from silvery, to green, to dark and coppery. Thave a floral aroma mixed with honey and soft muscatel grapes. It's quite inviting. A familiar and welcome aroma.

I decided to steep this in a gaiwan, because, why not? I wanted to extract a good amount of flavor. The liquor has that light grapey thing going on, with a nice hint of spice and wood. It's ever so slightly astringent, and I find the tea quite enjoyable. I'm thinking this would make a lovely sweet simple syrup with the strong honey and grape notes...I can picture it drizzled on pancakes, stirred into sparkling water, or even in a cocktail...I'll get back to you on that. This may need a bit of brainstorming.

This tea is such a pleasant sipping experience. Perfect for an afternoon with a few sweet or savory snacks. I'm imagining it served outside on a picnic blanket, with a plate of fresh grapes and a nutty cheese. Perhaps not the most expected springtime sip, but perfect nonetheless.

Thank you to Tea Dealers for the sample!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Vote For The World Tea Awards 2017!

We're nearing the 2017 World Tea Expo (June 13-15) and part of the festivities is the World Tea Awards honoring achievements in the tea industry. The voting is now open, and you can nominate your favorites in many different categories such as Best Tea Publication, Best Tea Health Advocate, Best Tea Blog (wink, wink!), and Best Tea Community Level Campaign/Program just to name a few. Of course, you should vote for your favorites in every category, but I wanted to bring your attention specifically to the Best Tea Community Level Campaign/Program category.

The World Tea Expo describes this category as:
A program, initiative or group that promotes either the enjoyment of tea consumption and/or in some focused manner the well being of those involved in the supply chain of tea.
This category is dear to me not just as a member of the group, but because it has been such a source of inspiration and support. Last year our Tea Bloggers Roundtable (TBR) was nominated for a World Tea Award which was a huge honor. We want to be sure to get nominated again this year, and I hope we can win! To get the word out, I wanted to highlight what the TBR is, and why we deserve a nomination.

The TBR is an international community of tea bloggers. We all have different interests in tea with different areas of knowledge and study, and most of all we share our passion for tea with our readers. Through tea reviews, interviews, informational posts and videos, stories, and adventures, we promote the enjoyment of tea drinking to the world. Many bloggers have even organized festivals, classes, and tastings. We discuss tea culture and rituals from all over the world. To learn more about each blogger in the community, visit our website. You may even discover a few bloggers you didn't know before!

One of the other things we do, is support each other. We ask fellow bloggers for feedback, answer each other's questions, support bloggers' initiatives...we really are like a big family. I've received so much support from fellow bloggers, it's been a huge positive influence in my life. We have meetups with local tea blogging friends and we do online hangouts as well. Every blogger I've met has been welcoming, supportive, and kind. We all just want to share our love for tea as much as possible.

So I urge you to take a few moments of your time to vote in the 2017 World Tea Awards, and please keep the Tea Blogger Roundtable in mind. To vote, you can visit the Expo website HERE, after reading the categories, be sure to scroll down to the bottom to access the nominations page.

Thanks to everyone for your support! It is truly appreciated.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

GIVEAWAY: Lapsang Souchong from Arbor Teas

Lapsang Souchong is a versatile tea. On its own it can be incredibly smoky with lots of character. I personally enjoy it as-is but it's also great to add to an Assam or Ceylon tea to give it a little hint of smoke while you sip. I also find it interesting to add to Earl Grey, especially since I don't like the bergamot on its own. It can also be fabulous in a tea cocktail. It's also a great item to cook with. Have any of you tried my Lapsang Chili Recipe yet? The tea lends a nice subtle hint of smoke in this vegetarian recipe.

If you're interested in trying some lapsang for yourself, you can now win a 3 oz bag from Arbor Teas!

Contest Rules:
Please 'like' Arbor Teas on Facebook, and follow them on Instagram. You can also follow them on twitter for extra entries! Please enter through Rafflecopter:

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Best of luck to everyone! I will announce the winner next Friday.