Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review: Junpgana Second Flush 2018 from Lochan Tea


When you spend time with legendary Tea Man Rajiv Lochan at World Tea Expo, you're sure to be entertained and educated. This 'Ambassador of Tea' sells and grows tea, and is more than happy to talk tea. Rajiv has many years of tea knowledge and his passion for tea comes through loud and clear. If he hands you a sample of tea at World Tea Expo, you know you're in for a treat.

The sample I received is an organic black tea from the Jungpana estate in Darjeeling. This is a 2nd flush tea, picked in late May or early June. The tea was packed on June 6th (World Tea Expo was June 12th-14th), making it extremely fresh. Everyone talks about First Flush Darjeelings, how they are so delicate and lovely. But honestly, give me a 2nd flush (or later in the year), and I'm very happy. I enjoy a more robust tea, and this tea from Jungpana is exactly that.

The dry leaves smell super sweet, fruity, and soft. I love the fuzzy silver buds strewn among the hues of brown. The brewed tea has a very pleasant thickness, and is quite fruity. This combination reminds me of a velvety fruit nectar. It is also a bit floral, with whispers of that 1st flush green-ness. The brew is not nearly as sweet as the dry leaves promised, but still quite enjoyable.

You do need to watch your steeping time with this tea. I used a gaiwan so I could get a real feel for the flavors, but I needed to pay more attention to the steep length. The first time I made it, I got distracted and let the leaves brew for about 30 seconds too long (way too long), and I ended up with a very astringent cup that masked all of the other flavors. Stick with a shorter brewing time and you'll be gifted with a smooth, nuanced cup.

For the catalogue of Lochan teas, you can visit the website here. Thank you for the sample, Rajiv! I look forward to our future conversations.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

World Tea Expo 2018: Tea Pairing Workshop with Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace M.D.

 Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace

One of the most memorable experiences I had at World Tea Expo this year was attending the workshop "Learn To Pair Teas & Build Menus from Scratch" with Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace, M.D. Virginia uses science to explain the art of pairing tea and food, and she is an expert instructor. I love pairing tea and food, as you can tell from the Tea Pairing 101 series I've been doing with Jee and Georgia. Our approach is a bit subjective, as taste is very personal. Actually, if you peruse Virginia's blog, you will see that she takes each of our pairing sessions and explains our findings with science! Virginia's workshop also brought this fascinating scientific approach to tea pairing, and I couldn't believe how useful the information is.

Flavors as Temperatures
The first thing we learned was how the chemicals in food activates our Trigeminal nerve temperature receptors. Basically, flavors we taste will be detected on a temperature scale! Thinking of flavors in terms of temperature is fascinating to me. We discussed words for how we detect the flavors. For example, spicy and peppery foods are on the hottest end of the temperature scale, then drop in temperature to sweet and umami flavors, then down to mellow and balanced foods, finally to cool and milky, refreshing, frozen, and pungent foods at the coolest end of the spectrum. It's important to consider the 'temperature' of the flavors in a dish when selecting a tea to pair it with. Think of a chili pepper vs. a cucumber. They are opposite on the temperature spectrum, and therefore will require a different tea pairing.

Flavors that are opposite on the temperature spectrum may not work well together, or they even can cancel each other out. Just as you can't feel hot and cool simultaneously, you cannot taste a 'hot' and a 'cold' food at the same time. To illustrate this point, Virginia had us put a cinnamon candy in our mouths for a few seconds to get the flavor, and then taste a mint. The minty flavor completely masked the cinnamon! You can't taste them both at the same time. The trigeminal receptors detected the cinnamon as hot, and the mint as cool. Hot receptors are slow to develop, but they linger. The cool receptors are much faster to turn on and off, so once the flavor of the mint candy dissipated, the cinnamon flavor came right back! It actually lingered for quite some time. If paired correctly, food will enhance the tea you are drinking, but if incorrect, flavors can be inhibited.

Tasting Teas
In order to further understand how teas fall on this temperature scale, we naturally had to taste a few! We tasted three teas from Yatra Tea, and one from the Great Mississippi Tea Company. Here's a brief rundown of the teas and the flavors we experienced:

Yatra Fatikcherry Estate Tripura Green Tea, Autumn 2017- Virginia asked for this tea to be a bit oversteeped, so we could taste the astringency. I noted this tea as 'moderate' in bitterness, astringency, and low in sweetness and other flavors. The best part came next- we were asked to taste the tea, and then taste a tiny bit of salt. When I tried this, I actually gasped out loud. The bitterness completely disappeared! I could now taste the floral and green notes of this tea. With the addition of salt it became a 'soothing' tea, flavors were fairly balanced and nothing was particularly dominant. This put the tea in the 'cool' to 'middle' temperature range. I am definitely going to remember how salt masked the bitterness and astringency.  Pro tip: In my notes I wrote that both salty and vanilla flavors tame bitterness.

Yatra Goomtee Estate First Flush Darjeeling, April 2017- this tea also hit the 'middle' temperatures for me. It was not bitter or astringent, but delicate with sweet, nutty, and floral notes. Virginia pointed out that first flush Darjeelings are in a similar temperature level as oolongs, activating the 'medium-warm' trigeminal nerve receptors. This made sense to me, since they are both partially oxidized (just as there is a range of oxidation, there is also a range of medium temperatures).

Yatra Halmari Estate Second Flush Assam, 2017- my note for this tea is 'hearty'. It was strong in sweetness and nuttiness. It wasn't super astringent though. A rich black tea such as this assam activates the warmer temperature receptors, for sure.

Great Mississippi Tea Company Black Magnolia- I've had this tea before, and really enjoy it. My notes for this tea includes no bitterness, with moderate sweetness, and strong nuttiness. I circled both 'soothing' and 'hearty' on my rating sheet, as it's sort of in-between. It's not as 'hot' as an Assam; it's more delicate, but still on the hotter end of the temperature spectrum.

Pairing Teas
Snack time! After assessing the teas alone, we then paired them with a few different bites. We had blueberry, raisin, and chocolate scones, along with blueberry, strawberry, and raspberry jams. The variety of scones were important, as pairing tea and scones is a classic afternoon tea choice. But not all scones go with all teas! When creating a tea menu you need to decide what flavors you'd like to emphasize, and what flavors to dampen. Then you can start to figure out how to pair.
Here are some of the flavor highlights:

Green tea went really well with blueberry! The sweetness of the tea was enhanced, and the bitterness disappeared. The green flavors were also highlighted with the blueberry. So if you are selecting a scone to go with your green tea, go for blueberry if you can! The other teas didn't work as well with the blueberry. We learned that blueberries activate cold receptors just like green tea does.

Darjeeling tea worked well with the raisin scone, and also when the strawberry jam was added. This brought out the floral notes. Darjeeling activates the 'warm' receptors, as does the raisins and strawberries, so it makes sense that this pairing worked so well.

The best pairing for me was the Black Magnolia tea with the chocolate scone and raspberry jam. It was heavenly! Very balanced, floral, and rich. Why is this? Chocolate and raspberries activate the hot receptors, which is where the black tea falls on the temperature scale. Fascinating, right?

In the case of the tea and scones, if you activate both the 'hot' and 'cold' receptors at the same time (say pairing the green tea with chocolate), it clashes, and doesn't work at all. When building a tea and food menu, it's important to take these things into consideration. Of course, it's difficult to offer only certain teas with certain foods, but if you are armed with the temperature receptor information, you'll know how to choose your foods wisely, and create successful pairings. As a class, we decided that the best way to offer successful tea and food pairings is to have a 'tea tapas' restaurant where the diner can choose one tea and one small plate of food at a time. Quick, someone run with that idea!

As you can see, this workshop was an amazing experience. I cannot wait to put this knowledge to good use! A huge thank you to Virginia for letting me attend the workshop! I hope I can attend more of them in the future.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Shake It Up! How To Flash-Chill Your Tea

We're in the middle of a heat wave here in NYC, and iced tea has been on the menu for a few days. I usually have a cold-brew going in the fridge all summer long, but sometimes I get a craving for a particular tea iced and I don't have the patience to wait a few hours. That's where flash-chilling comes to the rescue! It's similar to brewing a tea hot at extra strength, and chilling it. But it's way more fun.

What You'll Need:
-Tea of your choice (either 1-2 large tea bags or 2 tbsp loose tea) and 10 ounces of water. I used Good & Proper Iced Hibiscus Tea With Rose Hip And Ginger for this post.
-Steeping vessel (I use a small teapot or even a large mug)
-Cocktail shaker or large durable jar with a tight-sealing lid (you will be shaking ice in there, so make sure it won't break)

Step 1: brew about your tea as you normally would- I usually make it double strength, so about 2 tbsp of tea for 10 ounces of water. You don't want to put too much water in the cocktail shaker, as you want to fill it with lots of ice!

Step 2: Add 1 1/2 cup of ice to a cocktail shaker, and then pour in the tea.

Step 3: Shake! And Shake! And Shake! The more vigorously you shake, the more foam you'll create.

Step 4: Pour out the brew into a glass with some ice, making sure to get all of the foamy goodness. I've noticed it's easier to take off the entire top of the shaker to get all of the foam. Taking off just the little cap does not allow the foam to pour out as easily, at least with my cocktail shaker.

pouring with the cap on my shaker doesn't allow enough foam to come through

I like to pour my tea into either tall iced tea glasses, or champagne coupe glasses. The coupe just makes things look a bit classier, don't you think?

You can garnish with fruit or herbs. I like to actually use edible leaves and flowers for a more unique look. I grow nasturtiums in my garden and both the leaves and flowers are edible. You can plan them from seeds and they with start growing within a couple of weeks. Flash-chilling tea is also a great way to make a tea cocktail. Just add your booze of choice before you shake it up.

hibiscus tea with nasturtium leaves

That's it! So now you know how to create delicious, elegant looked flash-chilled teas. You can customize them in all sorts of ways, and are a great way to serve iced tea to a crowd. I'd love to know what combinations you come up with, please feel free to share either in the comments, or on Instagram.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Feeling The Tea Love At World Tea Expo 2018

It's tough to break down the entire experience of World Tea Expo (WTE) into a concise post or two. I've been trying to write this post for over a week, and keep adding and deleting things. People from all walks of life gather at WTE, and I wanted to take in all they had to tell. My goal this year was to make meaningful connections with people who bring tea to the world. This post will highlight a few of the fantastic people I encountered, and many of the teas we shared together.

The first evening I arrived I had a memorable dinner with a few of my favorite tea people- Jo, Angela, and Rachel. I also met my Instagram tea-friend Alex in person, who immediately became my Tea Expo Buddy- we ended up navigating the entire three days together. Alex has a gleeful exuberance for tea, and it's quite infectious.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Interview: Kevin Gascoyne

Kevin Gascoyne (photo courtesy of Kevin Gascoyne)

When I started diving deeper into learning about tea, Kevin Gascoyne's name popped up regularly. I pored over the book he co-wrote, Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties which basically became my 'tea bible', and read numerous articles he's written over the years. I knew the tea house Camellia Sinensis he co-owns was one I needed to add to my list of places to visit. I've had the pleasure of meeting Kevin briefly at various tea events, and at this year's NY Coffee & Tea festival I realized I needed to ask him to schedule an interview. I was nervous speaking with someone who has done so much, and knew so much. But talk with Kevin and you'll instantly realize he's the guy you want to hang out with; drinking endless cups of tea and chatting about all manner of things. We recently had an hour-long phone conversation where Kevin's passion for tea came through in everything we talked about. We discussed his new collaboration on the Tea Studio project, his favorite tea memory, his opinion on tea education, and so much more. Highlights from our interview are posted below.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Tea Pairing 101: Black Tea and Tea Sandwiches

That's me, steeping our first tea, capture by Jee

I'm pleased to finally present the next Tea Pairing 101 installment. You may remember this is the series that fellow tea bloggers Jee, Georgia, and I have been working on. We take three variations of one type of tea, and pair them with a specific type of food. It's always a fun and delicious afternoon.

This time we focused on black tea. Black tea can be paired with a range of different things from savory to sweet. I almost always pick a black tea when I'm enjoying an afternoon tea spread (unless an oolong steals my heart), because it will usually pair well with a range of sweet and savory items. We decided to run with this idea and pair black teas with savory tea sandwiches, the type that you'd typically serve for afternoon tea.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Tea History 101: What Is Smouch?

Dong Ding Oolong leaves- the real thing, not sloe!

Steeping tea during its infancy in Europe and the American colonies was akin to living in the Wild West- no rules. Tea wasn't checked for quality, no one had a reference for proper preparation, and you couldn't be sure what was really in your tea blend. To add to the disarray, tea was in high-demand, and counterfeits were widely created.

In the 18th and 19th centuries tea was bulked up with sneaky additives and used leaves were dried and resold. I hadn't given this too much thought until I came across a book during a family trip to Charleston. I leafed through Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey's Lady's Book while waiting for my kids to pillage the gift shop in a historic fort. My eyes rested on a small section called "Economy of the Tea Table [1863]" where I read: