Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tasting: Organic Roasted Bancha by The Tea Crane

Last week's weather of 'sweltering hot and humid' seems to be hanging around. That's summer in NYC. I've been trying to catch up on tea reviews lately, which hasn't been easy since I have such an imposing pile to get through. But drinking hot tea actually cools the body, so I've been drinking hot tea just as much as the iced brews. Today's tasting is a roasted bancha tea from The Tea Crane. A mountain grown organic roasted bancha called 'The Mountains At Rest', to be exact. I love this name! It's poetic and quite visual. I can imagine a happily relaxed mountain, carefully tending to her tea trees surrounded by gently rolling mist.

The Tea Crane's owner Tyas Sosen has a wonderful blog that you should follow if you don't already know about it. He's a Belgian ex-pat living in Japan, and has become a certified Japanese tea instructor. His blog is extremely interesting and informative.

The Tea Crane's website describes the tea as:
Bancha employs that more fully-grown tea-leaf which is too mature, and has therefore become too bitter, for use in producing high-quality sencha, and is harvested later; such leaf is first processed just as for sencha – by means of a combination of steaming, rolling and drying – but is then stored until it is required, whereupon it is roasted immediately before packaging and shipping.  

The dry leaves are shades of dark army green and browns. There are some twigs, full, and broken leaves in the mix, which makes sense for a tea of this style. The leaves are quite large, and have an aroma similar to hojicha, but something slightly more vegetal and woody, not just earthy and toasty. I'm thinking of dried beans and old tree branches.

The brew gives off an amazingly strong roasty aroma, it reminds me of coffee. It's earthy but there is a hint of something vegetal. Maybe like those beans I mentioned?

The tea holds on to that roast, and coffee-inspired flavor. It is woodsy, earthy, roasted, with a toasted bread flavor. There is also a slight vegetal something, again I think of beans. I want to just put my feet up and sip it for hours. There is a lingering smoky flavor on my palate. It stuck around for a very long time. Quite impressive! This tea has a nice body and mouthfeel. It's comforting yet complex.

I can't wait to try and cold-brew this tea. I think it'll be incredibly refreshing, similar to the tea I reviewed last week. I would like to pair this tea with something smokey and savory, I'm thinking of a flavorful Chinese BBQ pork bun. Ok, now my tummy is rumbling...

Thank you Tias for the amazing sample! I have a few more to try, so stay tuned. I hope everyone is having a great week.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tasting: Kumagawa from Mellow Monk

In NYC the season changes from spring, to sweltering hot and humid. There isn't much of a ramp up to summer; damp and unbearably hot seems to happen overnight. I like to drink hot tea year round, even on the hottest days but when that humidity gets unbearable, only a cold tea will do. I like to cold brew most of my teas. It's super easy to do and imparts a very smooth flavor. Jee of Oh How Civilized recently published a great how-to on cold brew, check it out here if you need a tutorial.

When I was recently given the choice of samples to review from Mellow Monk tea, Kumagawa caught my eye. This lightly roasted green tea comes in cold-brewable sachets, made for the fridge. I don't normally go for bagged teas but I love cold-brewed hojicha and Paul from Mellow Monk said it was a bit lighter than hojicha, but very refreshing. How could I say no to that? 

This green tea comes from tea maker Kazuo Watanabe, a grower and artisan in Kumamoto. The dry leaf is nutty and roasty, very similar to hojicha. It has a slight something different, something a bit more pungent, but it's difficult to describe. The Mellow Monk site describes a 'hickory' note, so that's what I'll say it is. It's a bit woody but something more savory. Actually the aroma is a bit smoky too, which leads me to think this tea would be good in a barbecue sauce. I'll have to think about that a bit...

I added 3 sachets for a 2 quart pitcher. This is a little more than suggested but I like my iced tea super strong. I popped it in the fridge for about 5-6 hours, and ended up with an extremely refreshing tea. I accidentally left the bags in the pitcher overnight and it was just as good after about 9 more hours of steeping. The brew never got bitter or overpowering. It's nutty, slightly grassy, has a little hint of what I imagine is 'hickory' and smoke, and is extremely refreshing. My family and I have been drinking this tea all week, and I took it on a walk through the park on a typical disgustingly hot, soupy day. It takes a powerful tea to cut through the NYC haze, and this one did the trick. 

This tea is light enough to reach for throughout the day. I don't think I'd start my day with it as I like something with a bit more body and heft, but this is a great choice for mid-morning, through to the evening. It can also be brewed hot, which I haven't tried yet since I love it so much out of the fridge.

To learn more about this tea you can visit the Mellow Monk website here. Thank you to Paul for the sample! I have a few more to review, can't wait to try them.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Steep Thoughts: Ravi Kroesen

I'm so pleased to present my interview with Ravi Kroesen of Royal Tea New York. Ravi has worked at quite a few great tea companies including The Tao of Tea and Bellocq, and is now the Director of Tea Operations for Royal Tea New York.  I recently met Ravi at an evening of tea and cheese pairings, and knew I had to learn more about his tea journey. He has had quite a few fascinating adventures. Read on to learn more about his experience.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tea Pairing 101: White Tea And Cheese

When tea friends get together, ideas start flowing. We sip and talk about anything and everything, and of course conversation always comes back to tea. After one of our tea meet-ups, GeorgiaJee, and I decided to work on a special collaboration together. We wanted to combine our passion for tea and our love of food.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tasting: Korean Mt. Jiri Joongjak Hwang Cha by Teas Unique

Tea culture is quite vibrant in Korea, and is heavily influenced by nature and poetry. I just love this idea, and it reminds me of sipping tea in a serene garden, surrounded by poets and artists. Perhaps an outdoor version of the French bohemian lifestyle around the turn of the 20th century. I can feel the grass tickle my feet and hear the scratch of paint brushes on canvas...Ok, pulling my head out of these daydreams, let's focus on Korean tea! I learned a little bit about Korean tea culture and the elegant Darye tea ceremony last year at a presentation at the Hagajae museum, which you can read about here.

Korean teas can be difficult to find. The teas aren't exported as much as they are from other countries, and I don't blame them for keeping all of the beautiful tea for themselves. Most teas from South Korea are grown in the south, as is the case for the tea I'm tasting today. In fact, the first tea seeds brought to Korea from China were planted on Mount Jiri, which is where my sample was grown. You can check out a map on the Teas Unique website for more information on the South Korean tea growing areas.

I randomly chose the Mt. Jiri Joongjak (third pluck) hwang cha for today's tasting. All of the samples were interesting and I couldn't prioritize. This tea is considered a 'lightly oxidized' red tea (black tea), and I was curious to see what it was all about. This tea is a third plucking, and the package says it was plucked 'around April 28 2016' but I imagine it could actually have been a few weeks later since this seems early for a third pluck.

The dry leaves are dark and wiry, averaging about an inch in length. The leaves are quite sweet and a bit fruity. I'm also getting a bit of something reminiscent of forest rocks, which is interesting. Maybe it's minerality? When I added hot water to the tea, the story unfolded a little bit more...

The brewed tea smells quite sweet and tastes super smooth. I served this for the Office Tea Club a few weeks ago and the feedback was 'ooh this is like chocolate, but also grassy!'. There was definitely a chocolatey richness but it's not super strong. Dried grass is the dominant note, with a sweet caramel finish. In the background I definitely detected some 'wet rock' flavor, forest stones after a soaking spring rain. There is a slight astringency to the brew, not really present but it's just enough to keep things interesting.

The second time I enjoyed this tea I over-brewed it a little bit, but it was still very smooth. I decided to pair it with a few French macarons I was gifted (which you can see in the first picture above), and that was actually a mistake. This tea is too delicate to have overpowering sweet flavors accompany it. For a sweet, I'd pick something with milk chocolate (or white chocolate, but I hate white chocolate!). For savory, I'm thinking avocado toast. A nod to the toasty notes, and the creamy avocado would work nicely with the chocolate and slight astringency in this tea. I still have so much to learn about pairing teas with food, but it's such a fun journey!

I think this may be the first Korean tea I've reviewed with the exception of a few sips of the gorgeous Jukro I had at a tasting a few years ago. I still dream about that tea. Thank you to Teas Unique for the sample! I look forward to trying the others that were sent to expand my Korean tea experience.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Ritual of Turkish Tea

Tea is a beverage meant to be shared and enjoyed together. Sharing sips and conversation is the perfect way to spend a happy afternoon. Many cultures have a ritual of sharing tea, and I can't think of a better example than Turkish tea culture. Turks drink more tea per person than any other country. Tea is offered to guests as soon as they arrive, and tea houses and gardens are the social gathering hubs in even the smallest towns. I recently had the pleasure of learning all about how to make Turkish style tea. My son's best friend's mother Özen is Turkish, and she invited us over for an afternoon of tea, treats, and playtime. I got a first hand look at how to make tea the Turkish way, and what foods are traditionally paired with it.

Rize Tea

Tea is a way of life in Turkey. Çay (tea, pronounced 'chai') is always in the house. As I mentioned, it is a necessity when guests arrive, an essential element of hospitality. Turkey is not only the top consumer of tea in the world, they also grow tea in Rize, an area on the eastern Black Sea coast. Turkey exports part of their tea production but they drink most of it themselves. The tea leaves are the CTC variety, and produce a strong, dark brew.

The çaydanlık

There are a few steps to making Turkish tea, and you need the proper equipment. First, you need a special kettle called a çaydanlık (pictured above). It looks like two kettles stacked on top of each other (similar to a Samovar). The large bottom kettle is for boiling water, and the top is for steeping tea. You'll also need Turkish tea, and tulip-shaped glass teacups along with saucers. Little spoons are also a plus!

To make your tea, fill the bottom kettle with water, and put about 2 tablespoons of tea in the top kettle. Bring the water to a full boil and then turn off the heat.

Once the water is ready, slowly fill the top kettle (the one with the tea) with the water. Then refill the bottom pot with fresh water, replace on the stove along with the top kettle, and re-boil while the steeping happens. The tea should steep for 10-15 minutes. It'll be good and strong!

Pour tea into the glass cups, and leave room to dilute with the freshly boiled water. The tea is always quite strong, but the depth of the strength can be personalized. Just add as much or as little water to the cup as you like. Özen said the tea is supposed to be the shade of 'Rabbit's blood' which is a little gruesome, but a helpful reference. I guess I like my tea extra-bloody, since I'll take it as strong as I can get.

Sugar is usually served in cubes, but it doesn't have to be used. I added sugar to mine to get the full experience. The tea is strong, bitter, earthy, and sweet. I loved it and drank quite a few cups.

We enjoyed feta cheese and simit (a Turkish bread) with our tea (yes there were also sweet treats afterwards, as you can see in the photo). Bites of tangy, salty cheese combined with the chewy sesame flavor of the simit was the perfect accompaniment to the strong tea. It's very easy to get swept  up in conversation and drink many, many, many cups of tea. I was definitely well fed and caffeinated after our jubilant afternoon!

I think I need to get a çaydanlık and some turkish tea. I love the ritual of preparing this tea and serving it to guests. It is also a satisfying morning or early afternoon sip! The culture of tea may seem different from place to place but it really is quite similar. It comes down to mindfully preparing and enjoying a beautiful beverage. Thank you so much to Özen for teaching me how to properly brew and serve Turkish tea! I am definitely hooked.

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.