Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Littlest Tea Critic: Alice's Tea Cup

I'd like to introduce you to the Littlest Tea Critic, my almost-seven-year-old tea-loving daughter. She has a discerning palate often better than my own. A few weeks ago she asked if we could have a 'fancy tea' together and I couldn't decide if I should take her for a real afternoon tea experience or not. Afternoon tea can be an expensive affair and quite a lot of food for even an adventurous almost-seven-year-old. I decided on trying Alice's Tea Cup, since they do a 'wee tea' for children along with the regular afternoon tea offerings. I had only been there once or twice in the past, and never really had a stellar experience. But I figured I'd see what the Littlest Tea Critic (LTC) had to say about the place.

There was a wait when we arrived (I don't understand why this place is always so crowded), so we walked around awhile until the host called us to say our table was ready (a nice perk). The best part of the 'wee tea' experience happens when you first arrive. Children have their choice of fairy wings to wear and get 'fairy dust' sprinkled over them before sitting down. The LTC was delighted. Sadly, this was the highlight of our tea experience.

I decided to order the afternoon tea for one, and the 'wee tea', of course. Both came with a pot of tea, a savory component, a scone, and cookies for me, and chocolate mousse for the 'wee' one (why wouldn't kids want cookies?). The tea menu is quite large and there are many herbal teas for the little ones to choose from. I ordered an English breakfast which was flat and dull. According to the LTC, her mango rooibos 'tasted weird, like chemicals'. Our food arrived and things got worse. Her chicken fingers were rubbery and greasy, she gave them a thumb's down. She didn't touch the scone, and thought the chocolate mousse was 'sweet and creamy...ok'. My tea sandwich was dry, stale, and basically just taking up too much space. The LTC didn't even want to try it. The scone wasn't bad, it had some moisture and really, what isn't good with a little dollop of clotted cream? The cookies were passable, but nothing I'd order again.

I'd only recommend Alice's Tea Cup for tea and a scone, or if you are looking for a diversion with a child that doesn't mind mediocre food. During our visit, the LTC was the only child there- the tables were packed with brunching adults, and there was even a bridal shower in the next room. Perhaps it's more popular with children during the week. I remain baffled by their popularity.

Next time I will not underestimate the LTC's love for food and tea, and take her for a proper experience. Any suggestions on where to take her for our next outing?

Alice's Tea Cup  (multiple locations): 
Pros: friendly service, twee atmosphere, kid friendly, large tea menu
Cons: mediocre food, overpriced
Not recommended

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tea Drunk's New Spring Teas

If you are in the NYC area and haven't had the pleasure of enjoying tea at tea drunk, this needs to change. Immediately! A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of previewing their new spring teas. Owner Shunan traveled to plantations in China and hand selected teas to bring back. She plucked and processed many of the teas she brought back!

We sampled 6 fresh, vibrant teas. They were all so good that I had a hard time choosing my favorite. They each have unique flavors which are of course a direct result from the location, weather, and processing. The teas we had were:

Bai Mu Dan: From Dian Tou, Fu Ding. This is a rare white tea which was almost wiped out after a drought in the 70s. I love that the call it "little veggie tea". I'm not usually drawn to white teas, but this one was gentle yet complex.

Huang Ya:  From Golden Rooster Mountain, Huo Shan. This is a wild, traditionally handmade yellow tea. This tea requires patience during processing. I think I accidentally skipped this one, but everyone seemed to enjoy it immensely.

Shui Xian: From Wu Dong,  Pheonix Mountain. A true origin oolong tea. It has been grown and processed in this location for almost 1200 years! This is an aromatic, woody tea. Definitely not to be missed.

Tie Luo Han: A cliff oolong that has a satisfying deeply roasted flavor. It also has a notable thickness on the palate. I enjoyed the darker characteristics of this tea.

Dian Hong: This is a red (black) tea Shunan herself helped to produce. She told the story of how difficult it was to combat the hot sun and tediously pick out the drying leaves that weren't the ideal fermentation level. This was one of my favorite teas, it was sweet but gentle. You can get many steepings out of this tea, which in my experience is unique for a red tea.

Dong Nong: A fresh pu er from outside of Bing Dao village. This was a super fresh and light pu erh, perfect for the hot summertime weather. This was my other favorite, for sure.

I noted an interesting proverb I learned from Shunan regarding tea preparation (these are not her words)- preparing good tea involves listening to the tea. Poor tea preparation occurs when the tea listens to you. So true!

Tasting the teas at this unique shop is a special experience. You cannot find these teas or teaware anywhere else in the area. I was tempted to take home a tea pet, I wish I had!

I was so absorbed in the teas, I didn't take too many pictures. But you can see my original review here for more about tea drunk. It was a lovely afternoon of tea drinking, and I was able to meet fellow tea enthusiasts that I hope to see again soon.

If you are in the NYC area and haven't been to tea drunk, go now!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Spotlight: PMD Tea

Have you heard of PMD Tea? If you live in the UK you have probably seen their teas at restaurants and shops.The family run company is trying to break into the lackluster US restaurant and hotel tea market. I cannot wait to start seeing their teas locally.

I've had the pleasure of trying a selection of their teas. The Ceylon teas are high quality and fresh. Definitely better than many I've had in the past. I was delighted to try so many different single estate Ceylon teas. You can see the attention to detail in these carefully selected teas. Flavors ranged from bold and malty to gentle and sweet with honey, caramel, and dried fruit notes. The Planters' Breakfast and New Vithanakand were two that really stood out for me. I adore robust black teas with some subtle sweetness and these did not disappoint. I even enjoyed their version of Earl Grey, the Planters' Earl Grey, when it's not a tea I usually prefer. The bergamot was not overpowering. I've recently realized I have a strong preference for black teas, and the flavor profiles in the PMD teas hit just the right notes on my palate.

I recently corresponded with Managing Director Dananjaya Silva who gave very thoughtful answers to my questions. I learned all about the family company, how their source their teas, and their ethical and sustainable values. Our informative in-depth interview is after the jump:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Little Tea Box Subscription Service

Do you have a monthly tea subscription? The idea of opening a mystery box of tea every month is very enticing. But with all the options out there, it's hard to choose. Little Tea Box recently contacted me to see if I'd like to try one of their monthly boxes. When I agreed they promptly sent a sweet little box over for review.

Gina Mortimer started Little Tea Box to share her love of tea with the world. She sources the teas from a company in California specializing in fair trade teas from Japan, China, and Sri Lanka. She also sources herbs from a natural grower in her native Bahamas. She selectss teas based on season and uniqueness. Each box is $12.99, which is less than most services I've encountered. In the box I received, I found three teas plus a little bonus tea. The two loose teas are a plum oolong blend, 'ancient forest' blend, a blooming floral ball, and the 'bonus blend' called Serene-tea which is peppermint, lemon grass, and' Bahamian leaves and spices'.

The Ancient Forest is a Yunnan black tea harvested from old tea tress in Jingmai Manging's blue mountains. I've had wild Yunnan black tea before, and it reminds me of this one- very earthy and bold. There is a honey sweetness with a slightly malty, deep richness. The earthy flavor almost reminds me of a pu erh, but not quite as pronounced.This is a satisfying tea I'd love to have in my tea cabinet for early morning wake ups.

The plum oolong's sweet fruity aroma hit me as soon as I opened the package. Unfortunately the sweet plum scent raised a red flag for me. I'm not a fan of scented teas, so I was a bit reluctant to try it. This tea contains oolong (doesn't specify type), schizandra berries and 'essence of plum'. I had a feeling this was going to be too sweet and 'flavored' for me. The berries far outnumbered the tea leaves, which also left me hesitant. I gave it a try and although it was too sweet for me, it did have a nice tartness for balance. It is a good choice for anyone that likes flavored, fruity teas.

I haven't tried the blooming tea yet, I didn't have an opportunity to brew with a glass vessel to see the bloom unfurl. The Serene-tea has a lovely aroma- I don't usually care for peppermint in tea, but the dry leaves have a lemongrass and cinnamon aroma, more warming than a cup of straight peppermint tea. The brew has pleasant warming spices and just a quiet hint of peppermint. This tea definitely allows the Bahamian spices to shine.

The company offers credits for anyone that sends the box back to be recycled. I like the attention to green detail! In our correspondence Gina mentioned she is also passionate about the health benefits of tea. I wish her luck in growing her Little Tea Box audience! It is definitely a developing part of the tea industry.

Little Tea Box Tea Subscription Service:

Pros: low cost, interesting teas, focus on recycling
Cons: not enough information on the teas or where they come from. Website could offer more information as well.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Are You A teapig?

Have you tried teapigs yet? They are merry tea folks with a great aesthetic and delicious high quality tea. The UK company was founded in 2006. I've seen their products in a few local stores here in the states and they recently launched a US website. The new US site is fun to look at and easy to navigate. Of course I also love the company name. How can you ever forget a name like teapigs? I know I can certainly be a piggy when it comes to tea.

love the packaging!
One of the enjoyable aspects of the new website is a search for tea based on mood. I was feeling a bit grumpy, so that's what I clicked on, curious to see the recommendations. The one that caught my eye was 'chocolate flake tea'. Hmm chocolate and Assam together would lift my mood considerably (note to self: order this tea)! To give this feature a spin yourself, check out the moodometer.

English breakfast tea temple

I love that teapigs calls their tea bags 'tea temples'. The temples are biodegradable mesh derived from cornstarch. Much better than many of the other toxic teabags used in the industry. The bags also contain whole leaves.
silver tips white tea
Teapigs generously sent me a package of tea temples for my birthday (first picture above). I was immediately taken with the fun graphics on the packaging. It's rare to find a tea brand that adds whimsy to the packaging while still keeping the overall image sleek and professional. Not only is the packaging joyful to look at, it's also environmentally friendly.

I've tried a few of the teas in my package and they all are fresh and high quality. I particularly liked the English Breakfast, tung ting oolong, and the silver tips white. I was impressed with the flavors produced by a bagged tea. The breakfast tea was malty and a little bit sweet with a strong punch- a classic English breakfast. The oolong grabbed me with a gorgeous floral aroma which translated to the brewed tea. Perfect for an afternoon tea moment. The white tea was gentle but not subtle. Slightly grassy, with the sweet flavors of stone fruit. These tea bags are a fantastic choice for travelling or whenever you don't have access to loose leaf tea.

If you're looking for a new tea experience, definitely check out teapigs! 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Giving Oprah's Chai a Try

You've probably heard the news that Oprah Winfrey has created her own chai blend, sold through Teavana and Starbucks. I've read a few articles and watched a video of Oprah brewing her chai. Starbucks rolled out Oprah's beverages today, so of course I had to check them out.

I can't remember the last time I was in a Starbucks. Their teas are fine in a pinch, but I don't seek them out. A friend and I headed over to our local store to try out the chai. The drink is available hot or iced as a latte or just straight tea. Canisters of the blend are also available for purchase. I decided to try the latte, since I have a hard time finding one that I like. The last time I had a chai latte at Starbucks it was far too sweet for my taste. Oprah's latte is definitely a tad less sweet, but still a bit cloying. This could be easily remedied by asking for less sugar, or even going without it completely. The regular chai latte was a bit heavy, the foam masking some of the spices. But if you don't like your chai spicy it's not a bad thing. I will say I enjoyed the spice blend used in this chai. I could distinctly taste the ginger, clove, cinnamon and cardamom. The ginger and cloves lingered on my tongue long after I finished the drink. I think the blend is supposed to have rooibos as well as black tea, but I didn't taste the rooibos. This is fine with me, since I don't prefer it.

I enjoy creating my own chai at home, where I can control the spices and sweetness. Some mornings I'll make a large pot of it and take it to work in a thermos. But I will say this chai latte will definitely do if I'm out and about, craving something a little sweet and spicy. Perhaps now you'll spot me at Starbucks more than once a year.

A small portion of each chai product sold will be donated to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Of course this is great press for Oprah but it's nice to know you're doing a little bit of good while sipping your latte. Like her or not, it's wonderful that Oprah is putting tea in the spotlight. Hopefully it'll urge more folks to give it a try.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Visit: Puff Cha

Tucked away on a quiet street in Hell's Kitchen is a new Thai cafe offering a tasty spin on the classic curry puff, along with other Thai dishes. More importantly, they have a large tea menu that's worth some attention.

I was happy to see a few selections of black, oolong, green, white, and pu-erh teas. There is also chai and lots of herbal choices. My friends and I all wanted different teas so we chose a cup each instead of a pot. When the teas arrived they smelled wonderful and tasted just as good.  I chose a Darjeeling oolong which was delicate and flavorful. On a separate trip I had the organic pu-erh which was also quite nice and a great pairing with the greasy (but delicious) puffs. My companions enjoyed their teas as well.

I did however have two small gripes. First, the cups don't have handles and are extremely hot to the touch. A thin napkin wrapped around the outside didn't help (seen in the first photo above). We had to wait quite a bit for the tea to cool before we could touch the cups. My second issue is with the infusers. I don't like using small restrictive infusers since the leaves don't get a chance to open and breathe. However, our teas were still quite tasty and satisfying. Our server was also attentive with hot water refills.

Pu-erh leaves
Puff Cha has a narrow but cheerful dining area. The staff is friendly and let you sit as long as you like. It's a cute place for lunch or a cup of tea and a pastry. If you are going to try a few of the curry puffs I'd recommend a pu-erh tea to wash it down, as eating more than one will definitely exceed your daily grease allotment. Next time I go back I will probably order a pot of tea, and one of the tempting sweets.

Puff Cha: 457 50th street NY, NY 10019- Recommended for a pot of tea and treats