Monday, August 3, 2015

Interview: Gay Hughes of Gay Grace Teas


Photo Courtesy of Gay Grace Teas

While on vacation with my family, we visited a crafts fair and I happily stumbled upon a tea booth. This booth stood out with a romantic, afternoon tea vibe. I loved the setup, and also the use of 'sniff bottles' to smell the tea leaves. Clever! I had a brief conversation with the owner, Gay Hughes. The Littest Tea Critic was curious to see more of the fair, and pulled me away. But I was left hoping to learn more about the woman behind the lovely tea booth. Turns out that she's had some very interesting tea experiences that started from childhood, and even owned a tea truck! Learn more about Gay Geiger Hughes and her company Gay Grace Teas below...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tasting: Saffron & Green Tea from Buddha Teas


Buddha Teas has a large selection of traditional and herbal teas focusing on wellness for body and mind. They sell teas that contain organic and/or wild grown ingredients.

From their website:
The name “Buddha Teas” was chosen not to reflect a religion, but a philosophy. One of the key aspects of Buddhism is living a life in harmony with the world, one of simplicity, generosity and filled with compassion for all life. As a company devoted to offering natural teas that are healthy for consumers and for the environment, this philosophy was a perfect fit. By taking from the earth no more than what we need, and giving back to it through recycling and compostable products, Buddha Teas would strive not to profit from the earth, but to honor it and its many blessings.
The company recently sent me their saffron and green tea blend. I've never had saffron in tea before, and I was intrigued. Saffron is an expensive ingredient and I was curious to see how much was actually added to the tea. The tea is bagged, so I opened one and had a look at the leaves.


You can see quite a few bright orange saffron strands within the bits of green tea. The dry leaves have a sweet and vegetal aroma. The steeped tea is earthy, a little bit sweet, and a little savory. There is a steamed green vegetable flavor from the green tea. Overall it reminds me of steamed rice. This could be because I often have saffron in rice dishes. My favorite part of drinking this tea is the cheerful bright yellow liquid it produces. It's sunny and brings an immediate smile to my face. The saffron and green tea work nicely together creating a calming experience. The flavors don't compete or mask one another.

This creates a unique flavor. Not something I'd drink every day, but a nice change of pace. The color alone would be a helpful remedy for grey winter months. The savory flavor would also work well in recipes, and I might give it a try with a rice dish or two. 

Each tea tag has an inspirational quote. This could feel cliche, but it actually adds to the meditative experience. The last cup I had said 'Positive mind positive vibes positive life'. A nice little reminder for cranky work days and chore filled weekends.

I'm not usually a big fan of herbal teas and do not promote any wellness information. But I admit I am curious to try some of the relaxation teas that Buddha Teas offers, to see if they are at all helpful. These days I can use all the help I can get!

Thank you to Buddha Teas for the box of tea!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Tasting: Tracy Stern Tea & Co Iced Tea No. 6 Worth


This week's tasting is from Tracy Stern Tea & Co, a company showcasing blends specifically made for iced tea. The blends are categorized by location -NY, Paris, and Palm Beach. I was given a choice of tea to sample, and I chose 'No. 6 Worth' which is from the Palm Beach collection. This is a black tea and raspberry blend. I usually shy away from flavored blends, but when it comes to iced tea, I tend to be a bit more adventurous. I often find fruity flavors work well with cold teas. Very unlike me, I know!

I received an eye catching bright pink tin, a color quite suitable for Palm Beach. The tin contains 6 very large tea bags. These are made to be used for 8 cups of iced tea. The ingredients list black tea, raspberry leaf, strawberry leaf, and natural flavoring.

The dry tea has a very strong 'berry' flavor that I've come to recognize from 'berry' blends. It's hard to say if it was specifically raspberry, but ripe red berries definitely come to mind. The directions note to steep the bag in 2 cups of hot water for 12 minutes, and then pour in 6 cups of cold water. I love cold brewing tea so I tried that first. I left the teabag in 8 cups of water overnight. The resulting tea had a strong berry flavor. Juicy, a little tart, and a bit of sweetness. But there was also a strange aftertaste that I couldn't identify. For the second round I followed the directions on the package to make the iced tea. I was surprised that the results were much better. The berry flavor was full and smooth. It's more on the subtle side, which some folks may not appreciate but I prefer it for flavored blends. This way the added flavor isn't punching you in the face. My contact at the company mentioned I could steep the tea in the full 8 cups of water for 15 minutes for a stronger brew. I was fine with these results though.

My family gave this tea a thumb's up. This is a fun go-to tea flavor for backyard sprinkler play-dates and beach picnics. I still prefer pure teas even for iced, but I'm happy to have tried something a bit different.

Thank you to Tracy Stern Tea & Co for the samples.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Gift of Tea's Pu'er Tea Academy


Wouldn't a few hours of learning, tasting, and talking tea with experts and enthusiasts be the perfect afternoon activity? I recently had the pleasure of attending White Spring Tea, an event created by tea luminary Jo Johnson, where we did just that. She has been presenting the White Spring Tea for many years, and I am glad to finally attend one. I am not very experienced with pu'er, and when I found out this year's event was all about it, I knew I had to attend. 


Upon entering the comfortable event space, I was welcomed with tea and snacks. I greatly enjoyed Jo's own pu'er 'Earth Morning' blend along with sweets from the always delicious Tiny Pinecone. Lisa from Tiny Pinecone was in attendance and it was lovely to chat with her. When we sat down for the tasting and discussion, everything was well thought out- we were given notebooks to write down our thoughts on the teas, and each tea had a designated page. Every table had a tea tray with gaiwan, ready for brewing. I was at a table with some amazing tea folks. Theresa from T-Shop was our head tea brewer. I sat next to Serious Eats senior features editor and writer Max Falkowitz. I've read most of Max's tea articles for serious eats, and this guy knows his stuff. Also seated at our table was a friendly and enthusiastic tea lover whose name I'm unfortunately not sure how to spell. But if you see a young man travelling the streets of NYC with a wooden box of tea and teaware on his back, make sure you say hello. You will not be disappointed.

pu'er and a tea pet hand made by Jo Johnson
Knowledgeable pu'er experts Evan Draper and Brandon Hale discussed processing and history while we had the opportunity to taste different teas from JalamMisty Peaks and a CNNP shou. We alternated between sheng and shou which gave the palate a diversity of flavors. In my limited experience I usually gravitate towards the more delicate flavors of sheng pu'er, but I was surprised at how much I liked the shou that was presented. During the tasting Theresa said she often finds shou to taste like sticky rice. She was spot on, and I've been thinking about that flavor ever since. It never occurred to me to link the flavor to sticky rice. I love how subjective tasting teas can be based on palate, culture, and experience. 

One of the many interesting tidbits I took with me was the idea of 'the more you taste, the more you understand'. The idea of simply trying as much pu'er as you can, to learn what you like. You'll begin to recognize similarities and anomalies in the various teas. Trust your taste, not authenticity. 

The teas we enjoyed:

Bada Mountain Raw Sheng, summer 2014 harvest (Jalam Teas)- this tea was super peachy to me. I enjoyed the fruity, clean flavor. It had sweet and sour notes with a bit of astringency.

Bada Mountain Fermented Shou, spring 2012 (Jalam Teas)- this tea had that sticky rice quality. Sweet, starchy, woodsy with barley notes. Also leathery, which I usually notice with shou pu'er. 

Sheng Green Raw 2014 Loose Leaf (Misty Peak Teas)- this old tree tea was dry, leathery, astringent, and woodsy. It had a vegetal aroma and a tingly mouthfeel. This tea is the same year as the first sheng but the taste is very different. Theresa mentioned the way the leaves are pressed into cakes can cause it to age differently. 

Yunnan Chitsu Pingcha CNNP shou (2005)- this was a very subtle shou- crisp, clean, with fruit and chocolate notes. CNNP stands for China National Native Product. 

I enjoyed comparing the teas based on aging, processing, and age of the tea tree. I could have sat all day long sipping these delicious teas. We were also treated to an aged white tea, something I had never experienced before. It was bitter with burnt caramel notes coating the palate. The sweet aroma lingered in the cup long after the tea was gone. A unique experience.

Tea blogger Darlene Meyers-Perry discussed pu'er books she's been reading. Every day I am learning something new about tea, and I look forward to reading some of the books she mentioned. Tea blogger extraordinaire Nicole Martin was also in attendance, and one of the designated brewers. I was happy to have a quick hello with her as well.

All of my senses were soothed and heightened from the event. This was such an enjoyable and educational experience, I look forward to attending more of them.  

Are you a fan of pu'er? Do you prefer sheng or shou? Or both? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 





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.

Temptation
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.