Friday, April 10, 2015

The Little Tea Critic Tastes Happy Earth Teas

The Littlest Tea Critic and I had a special opportunity while visiting family up in Rochester, NY. Enter an industrial building, walk up some stairs and you'll find long hallways with artists' studio doors. Walk through the labyrinth to the end, where you'll find a place that looks mysterious and magical.

Enter inside to find beautiful flower arrangements, works of art, and Happy Earth Tea. Your host Niraj serves up samples of tea with a bright smile.

Look around and you'll see beautiful objects. All handmade right in the studio by Cody Kroll. He uses Eastern pottery traditions and Buddhist philosophies in his art.

The chawan were so tempting, if I had more time to examine them I probably would have taken a few home with me. The colors and textures he creates have energy and emotion. The designs are extremely functional.

Niraj brewed a Gu Mu Lan purple puerh bud tea with us. The dry leaves were floral and surprising. We shared a few steeps of this tea that tasted of alfalfa fields and hay bales. Each steep revealed new characteristics of flavor.

The Littlest Tea Critic liked this tea, but I think she enjoyed serving it even more. She felt special as she was allowed to pour out the tea into our cups. I love that she savored each slurp, and asked for more. She was so interested in the teas that she asked to taste another she thought smelled delicious- the Jasmine pearls. Niraj brewed a little bit up for her, and I watched her taste and smile.

Writing about tea has brought many positive adventures to my life, but my most favorite is meeting new people. All of the tea folk I've met are amazing people, and Niraj is no exception. Thank you so much for sharing your tea with us on a snowy upstate NY Sunday afternoon! The Littlest Tea Critic is still talking about the time we had together.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Interview: Martin Connelly of Little Red Cup Tea Co.

Photo Courtesy of Little Red Cup Tea Co. (Martin is in the middle)

This week's interview is with Martin Connelly of Little Red Cup Tea Co. Little Red Cup offers simple, 'every-day drinking' teas, inspired by the large amount of time Martin spent living in China. He is passionate about tea, and how it evokes history and meaning in each cup.
Part of what we're trying to do is to use tea to communicate a little bit about Chinese Culture -- something beyond the IP infringement, pollution, and political stories that you tend to get in the day-to-day news. It's not that those stories aren't true or important, but I think they create this view of China as a totally alien place.... So if we can use tea to talk about life in China, I think that challenges the image of the country as this big scary monolithic Orient. And if we're going to do that, it makes a lot of sense to import and sell the tea that people actually drink in China.  
Learn more about the company, their sustainable practices, and Martin's earliest tea memory after the jump....

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!