Friday, March 27, 2015

The NY Coffee & Tea Festival 2015 Recap

The Scene
The NY Coffee & Tea festival is always a fun place to sample teas, meet tea folks, and explore new companies. I met up with my friend Rit, who was a great sport and we fought through the crowds together. I spoke with new and familiar faces during the festival, and sampled tasty teas.

This year the venue was moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I was hopeful this would mean a bigger space and less crowds. The new venue was definitely brighter with huge windows letting in lots of natural light. Unfortunately, the size was still an issue. Rit and I arrived in the middle of the"VIP" only admission, but it was still chaotic with the line to enter snaking down the block. The new space just wasn't big enough, and by the early afternoon the crush of the crowd was exhausting. But still, we had a great time and sampled loads of tea.

It's difficult to cover every vendor in one post, so I'm going to post some of my tea highlights...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Littlest Critic Visits: Podunk

Why yes, I will 'say yes' to some tea!

Last weekend we were in need of some special tea time, so The Littlest Tea Critic and I decided to check out Podunk Tea Room. I hadn't been to this sweet little spot in the East Village in years, and when Nicole mentioned it recently, I knew it was a great suggestion.

Podunk is a warm and inviting place for a cozy tea experience. The food is all homemade, and you can taste the care and attention that goes into it. I remembered how much I liked the sweets on my last visit and I was eager to try them again. We decided to get a mix of savory and sweet treats.

For our teas, I chose a Russian black tea. It was bold, smoky, and satisfying. We each recieved a good sized teapot. My only gripe is that the leaves sit in the teapot until you are ready to pour each cup. The first cup or two are lovely, but if you are slow to finish your pot, it gets bitter by the end. I was able to remedy this with a little bit of milk for my last cup. The LTC got a vanilla rooibos that she thoroughly enjoyed.

As I mentioned, our food was a mix of savory and sweet. We each had a hearty portion of cucumber sandwiches, cheese biscuits, two delicious slices of cake, and a couple of little cookies. There was lots of jam and cream to accompany the meal. Everything has a rustic, homemade look and taste. My favorite item was actually the cheese biscuits. I love anything in cheese form, and these crispy, flaky, cheesy squares were no exception. I could eat a whole plateful! The cucumber sandwiches were satisfying, and the cakes were the perfect end to the meal with our last sips of tea. We had a tender cake that was laced with cinnamon and sugar, and a melt-in-your-mouth slice that had a strong vanilla flavor and a texture similar to pound-cake. 

The LTC enjoyed the entire experience- the pretty mismatched teaware, relaxed and homey atmosphere, and tasty treats. She liked Podunk far better than our last outing. In fact, she asked me today when we could go back to to the 'yummy tea place'. So we'll be back very soon! 

The tearoom is small, so I'd suggest making a reservation. Especially since they often have larger parties coming in on the weekends. If you are looking for a casual spot for tea, lunch, or brunch, it's a great choice. Especially with a little tea critic in tow.

Podunk Tea Room: 235 E. 5th street, NY, NY 10003
Pros: casual, homey atmosphere, delicious food, good tea selection
Cons: small space, be sure to call ahead on weekends

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Giveaway! Win A Fabulous Tea Ave Prize Package!

Win this gift package!

As promised, the Tea Ave giveaway starts today! I'm happy to present the following package for giveaway (pictured above). It contains an aroma cup set with tray packaged in a Tea Ave box, a $15 gift card to Tea Ave, three oolong samples (Lishan Oolong, Wenshan Baochong Oolong, and Rose Oolong), all in a large tote bag. Check out the rafflecopter entry form below. Leave a comment below on what Tea Ave product you'd like to try most, and enter! You have until midnight on Sunday (3/22) to enter. A winner will be chosen at random and and announced on Monday.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Best of luck to everyone! :)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Interview: Jeff and Heidi Chen, Tea Ave

Photo Courtesy of Tea Ave

If you are a fan of oolong teas chances are you've seen Tea Ave mentioned on blogs, instagram, and steepster. They are a new  company getting noticed for the quality of their teas in beautifully designed packaging. After tasting a few samples I knew we needed to learn more about the company. Check out my interview with founders Jeff and Heidi Chen below. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tasting: Tulsi Teas from Organic India

Tulsi, also known as holy basil is a popular herb for tisanes. It is an herb used in Ayurveda and religious practices, and can also be found in Thai cuisine. If you do a quick search for tulsi online you'll find lots of health claims, such as it reduces stress, supports the immune system, aids digestions, etc, etc. I don't tout any health benefits of tea so putting all of that aside, I recently tasted two Tulsi teas from Organic India. Let's talk about my thoughts on the flavors.

I'm familiar with tulsi because I've purchased this tea from Happy Earth Tea in the past. I wanted something I could drink at night since I'm very sensitive to caffeine, and I hate rooibos. I find tulsi to be soothing and uplifting.

I tried the Tulsi Sweet Rose tea first since it is caffeine free and sounded interesting. The ingredients are an organic tulsi blend, organic chamomile, organic rose, organic lemon myrtle leaf, and organic stevia leaf. The dry leaves had a strong herbaceous, citrusy scent. There were notes of mellow rose and chamomile as well. I wasn't getting much tulsi, but there was quite a lot going on in the mix. The brewed tisane was slightly sweet but barely so, which is nice. I was worried that all I would taste is sweetness but it worked out well. There was a nice floral rose note which was very gentle (if you read my blog regularly you know I only like subtle rose flavors). There was definitely earthiness from the tulsi with a grassy undertone. This tea was very soothing, and is something I'll consider drinking in the evenings. It felt sunny, yet calming. The Littlest Tea Critic loves chamomile tea and I think she'll like this one as well.

I prepared the Tulsi Breakfast tea in the morning, to see how it worked as a first tea of the day. This tea is a blend of organic tulsi leaves and organic black tea. The dry leaves had an earthy, grassy, herbaceous aroma. The herb-like flavors of the tulsi were smoothed out by black tea. The flavors were pure and simple, nothing complex. I can't say that I'd drink this as a breakfast tea since I like a super bold, punchy tea in the morning. Something that will get my mind, body, and taste buds going. I'm sure this tea would wake up my mind nicely, but I think I'll save it for an afternoon pick me up.

Organic India has an interesting story that you can read about here. I was pleasantly surprised to read that the founders worked to train impoverished farmers in India to produce their products with sustainable practices. I have a couple more varieties of tulsi teas to try, and I'm curious to see how they are. Thank you to Organic India for all of the teas!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Spotlight: Raj Vable of Young Mountain Tea Company

Photo courtesy of Young Mountain Tea Company

Last week I mentioned it was nice to see so many new tea companies popping up that concentrate on high quality, single estate teas. I'd like to also add that it's nice to see so many new tea companies popping up that not only offer high quality teas, but are out to make a difference.

Today I'm featuring Young Mountain Tea Company. The Company's philosophy is 'The best teas grow out of the best practices'. The company's founder Raj Vable has a unique vision. He is creating tea in Kumaon, in the Indian Himalayans by creating jobs and using sustainable farming techniques to increase the income of the farmers. As for the tea itself, he decided to focus on white peony (bai mu dan) tea. It's rare to find this type of tea processed in India, which makes his choice all the more interesting. Raj started the company to create teas that taste delicious, support the farmers, and benefit the planet.

Young Mountain started a kickstarter campaign to raise money for their efforts, and they have reached their original goal. They have now started a stretch goal in order to expand the project from the original plot of land to start working with three different villages.

When Raj sent me information about the kickstarter, I had many questions about the project. The questions grew into a full interview. I sent him my questions and he gave informative answers I'm happy to share with everyone. Here is out detailed, fascinating interview.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Tasting: Tea Ave Rose Oolong


It's nice to see so many new tea companies popping up these days, many of which are focusing on high quality teas sourced directly from the farmers. Tea Ave, a company that just launched their website this month focuses on high quality Taiwanese oolongs.

Today's tasting is a sample of the rose oolong, which is a combination of Alishan Jin Xuan oolong and Taiwanese roses. From their website,
Our scented oolongs are prepared using the ancient method, which means the tea leaves absorb the flower fragrance during the baking process, producing a scented tea that’s aromatic and flavorful without using any additives or chemicals. 
I received a delightful promotional package which included an aroma cup set along with the samples. I decided to use this to taste the tea. I wasn't completely clear on how to use the set (do I brew the tea in the aroma cup like in a gaiwan and pour into the tasting cup?), and I found this handy YouTube video. The tea is actually brewed in a separate vessel, so I'm glad I did some research first. Armed with this new information, I was ready to sample the tea.

The dry leaves had a mellow soft rose scent along with sweet candy and a light green grassy finish. It conjured up visions of strolling through a rose garden on a sunny cloudless day. The first infusion was similar to the dry leaves but grassier and floral-- less specifically rose, more of a floral oolong aroma that I've become familiar with.

Aroma Cup Set
The taste was buttery, sweet and creamy. I also kept picking up on a citrus note along with a rose/floral taste. It was soothing and delicate. I kept imagining fuzzy rose petals pressed up against my cheek. 

I did a second steeping which had the rose/floral and citrus components but with a strong woodsy note. It additionally had a honeydew melon element, and was less buttery. I think I liked the second steep more than the first, it was more complex.

I've actually never been a huge fan of rose in food or beverages. I love it as a perfume, but I've never enjoyed eating it. I found it soothing in this oolong, and not overpowering. This may not be a tea I'd order for myself, but I can definitely appreciate it. I'd recommend it for those that enjoy a rose flavor.

The promotional package I mentioned early sent by Tea Ave contained tea samples, the aroma cup set in an attractive box, a gift card, and a tote bag. Quite the package. I'm happy to report I have a duplicate package for a giveaway. I'll be posting the giveaway next week so stay tuned! I also have two more oolongs to review and I will be featuring an interview with the Tea Ave company founders.

Thank you to Tea Ave for the package.