Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Tea Happiness 2017 Gift Guide

Just like that, Thanksgiving is over and the season of festive holiday gatherings begin. It's a special time to spend with family and friends, and of course everyone likes to come with a gift in hand. If you're still wondering what to get for the tea lover in your life, you've come to the right place! Here are my pics for this year's holiday gift guide. There is a little something for everyone on your list!

Green Tea Set: The beautifully presented green tea assortment from Ippodo Tea makes a perfect gift for someone just starting on their tea journey, or basically anyone that loves Japanese tea. The set pictured above includes three tins of Ippodo tea: a toasty and mellow genmaicha, a nicely creamy, vegetal matcha, and a soothing hojicha. This and other gift sets can be purchased at their NY store, or online.

Matcha Treats: For the matcha lover that already has all the necessary tools, how about matcha candy? I'm a huge fan of matcha kitkats- they are amazing but can be difficult to find. I recently discovered you can get them directly from Amazon, right here. Or for something a little more decadent you can order from Royce, the Japanese chocolatier. They make a fantastic 'macca chocolate' that is available on their website.

Necklace by A Gift Of Tea

Handmade Tea Jewelry: For the person that likes to wear their love of tea, consider the beautiful handmade tea-themed jewelry from A Gift Of Tea. She puts a great deal of love into her work, and it's versatile enough to wear for any occasion.

Traveling With Tea: For the jet-setting tea lover, I've got just the thing. It's difficult to transport loose leaf tea carefully for travel, especially if you are taking more than one type. To travel with your tea in style, this cleverly designed case by The Tea Lover's Archives is just the thing. The case includes two food safe tea tins for loose leaf tea, and there is a pocket on the inner lid is for fillable tea bags, conventional tea bags, or other small essentials. This kit is perfect for taking tea around town, or across the globe. The photos above are courtesy of The Tea Lover's Archives.

Oliver Pluff teas

Going to a holiday party, but don't know what to give the host? Here are a few ideas:
-I like gifting tins of Oliver Pluff & Co colonial tea blends. I love the graphics on the tins, and the blends are a great way to learn about teas often consumed in colonial America. They sell individual tins like you see above, and I also like the Teas Of The Boston Tea Party set.

-If you're already giving tea, how about a teapot to go along with it? I like to keep things simple when I gift teapots, since everyone has different taste. I find that the simple and cheerful color choices of Beehouse teapots are a great option. They are simple but fun. They are also quite sturdy and are great for home or office

Lauku Teas

-For something a little different, what about hand-picked herbal tea grown on a woman-run farm in Latvia? I've been enjoying beautiful herbal tea by Lauku Tea for awhile now, and haven't had a chance to post a review. But these herbal teas are lovely, and support a wonderful company. Lately I've been winding down with Evita's Twilight.

-For something a bit more handmade, I love all the little pins, coasters, paintings, and cards at Tea Thought's etsy shop. They even sell tea themed wrapping paper! I find that Etsy is a great resource in general for teaware and tea themed gifts. 

There are endless other options for tea and gifts. If you're still not sure to get the tea fanatic in your life, feel free to drop me an email, or comment on this post. I'd be happy to help with more suggestions. Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Tea Pairing 101: Oolong and Fruit

It's finally time for the next installment of Tea Pairing 101! This is the series Georgia, Jee, and I have been working diligently on, pairing interesting flavors together while making sure the ideas are easy to recreate at home.

This time around we decided to pair oolongs with fruit. We wanted to use seasonal fruits, and since it is early autumn we chose pears, plums, and persimmons. All three of these fruits have very different flavor profiles, but still paint a picture of early autumn. We decided to include fresh honeycomb on our fruit plate to enhance flavors and appearance. We discovered the honey was a smart addition, which I'll explain later.

We had the unique opportunity to have our pairing session in a super-swanky NYC apartment. Thanks to Lizzie at Compass, we spent the afternoon at 286 Spring Street, a dreamy penthouse filled with natural light, modern fixtures, and terraces for days. Quite an exclusive backdrop for enjoying tea and fruit.

It wasn't easy to pick just three oolongs to use for this pairing. If you're an oolong drinker you know there are many different styles to choose from, and they have a wide range in flavor. Oolongs are typically produced in China, and Taiwan, but you can find oolongs from other tea growing areas. Should we pick a region? Stick with similar oxidation levels? What about roasting? In the end we decided on three oolongs that are good examples of their style, and not difficult to find. The whole point is to enjoy the experience and not get stressed out about finding the most perfect thing.

As before, we took three teas and paired with three foods. We used 3 grams of tea steeped for 2 minutes each in professional tasting cups. We nibbled some fruit then sipped the tea to see how the two worked together.

Tea pairing Round 1: Bao Zhong
Our first tea was Wenshan Bao Zhong (2017) by Tillerman Tea. This is a lightly oxidized tea from Taiwan. Bao Zhong means 'wrapped style' which is the rolling style reflected in the slightly twisted leaves. Quick story: the first time I had a beautifully floral Bao Zhong, it was purchased by my husband for me on our second date! We went to a tea store that called it Pouchong, another way it may be referred to. I remember it being beautifully floral but also vegetal, and the tea from Tillerman also has these qualities.

The dry leaves have a dark military green color, with twisted inch-long leaves. The leaves have a needle-like shape. A floral aroma like a bouquet of fresh flowers emanates off of these leaves.  After steeping the aroma is still floral, but vegetal notes are also sneaking in. 

The tea has many layers of flavor. It's savory, creamy, and floral. We tasted steamed bok choy and creamed spinach. This is a smooth, medium bodied tea without a hint of bitterness. A tea I could drink all afternoon.

For the pairings, we had two options that could work. The pear was mild enough to accent the floral tea and also enhance the savory flavor. However, the pear didn't really add much to the experience. The plum turned out to be a better choice. Its sweetness worked well with the floral and savory notes, but didn't overpower the palate. The tart plum skin transformed the tea flavor, creating an interesting depth. The persimmon didn't work with this tea. The fruit was cloyingly sweet, and strangely the tea canceled out the flavor in the fruit. It was a peculiar experience, and not particularly appealing. The plum was the clear winner for me.

Tea Pairing Round 2: Tie Guan Yin
The Tie Guan Yin (TGY) we used is from NYC's T-Shop. This is a  heavily roasted TGY which is how I prefer to drink it, and is also the more traditional way to process the tea. I'm sure most of you have also had the lighter version of TGY, which is more floral and aromatic.

The dry leaves are tightly rolled dark reddish brown pellets, which is characteristic for this type of tea. The leaves have an aroma of fresh walnuts and dried cherries, reminding me of lazy autumn picnics.

The wet leaves present a roasty aroma, filled with chicory and dry twigs. It feels similar to kukicha in the dominance of that twiggy roasted goodness. The tea's flavor consists of chocolate, roast, and that chicory. A tea that reminds me of falling leaves and crisp mornings.

Time for the fruit pairings. I was expecting the plum to work, mostly because it feels like an early fall fruit. My instinct wasn't correct. The plum didn't have much flavor when paired with this oolong. The tartness didn't combine with the roasty tea. The pear also didn't work well- it was just too bland for the tea. It didn't enhance, and it didn't compliment. The super-sweet persimmon actually worked beautifully with the tea. The cloying sweetness is rounded out by the earthy strength in the tea. The two contrasting flavors played off each other well, making a harmonious pairing. Winner!

Tea with a view of One World Trade Center

Tea Pairing Round 3: Xiao Hong Pao (little red robe):
This tea is from Seven Cups. I'm sure you've heard of Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao), the most famous Wuyi mountain oolong tea. Be sure to visit this page to learn about the processing of the Xiao Hong Pao. According to Seven Cups, the primary difference between Xiao Hong and Da Hong is in the special drying process that keeps the Xiao Hong from tasting too toasty. It allows for other flavors to come through, which is something we noticed more in the aroma than in the flavor of the tea.

The dry leaves are dark brown and quite beautiful- long, twisted, and varying in size. The leaves have a rich chocolate aroma. Very sweet, a little bit of roast, and something a bit syrupy. Lots going on with this tea.

After our infusion the wet leaves were still twisted, which made me think we could steep this tea many times before we really learn its secrets. The aroma of the wet leaves conjures up honey, dried fruit, and roasted butternut squash. Again, an autumn-appropriate tea! The brew tastes quite roasted with that chicory flavor we found in the TGY. It was a little bitter with a pleasing roundness and full body. I found this tea to be very comforting. It was interesting that the aroma was so sweet, but the tea itself was quite roasty. It's possible that we needed to play around with the temperature (we brewed the tea at 212º) and time, to get the brew just right.

For the fruit: The persimmon worked nicely to tame the bitterness, but it didn't do too much for me. I think the flavors were polar opposites (very roasted, and very sweet), and perhaps they were too far apart to truly be a pleasant balance. We had a strange experience with the pear- it seemed to erase the flavor of the tea, but then a moment later the tea lingered on the palate. Jee decided that the pear was similar to a palate cleanser, which was an interesting thought! The plum turned out to be our goldilocks- it created a nicely balanced flavor with the roasted tea. Sweet and tart worked well with the rich, roasted tea.

From left to right: Bao Zhong, TGY, XHP

The Outcome: Sweetness and Seasons
One of the important things we learned in this pairing is that the level of sweetness really makes a difference. The semi-sweet plum paired very differently than cavity-inducing persimmon. Making sure the fruit is ripe and in-season is also key. Fruit that is at the peak of flavor will pair very differently than unripe, bland fruit. The texture also influences the way the flavors feel on the palate. Since the flavor and texture can be unpredictable, it's important to taste all of your fruit to make sure it's how you imagined it would be. Pairings don't need to be limited to flavor profiles (plums with a tea that reminds you of tart plum skin, for example), but consider seasons. Teas that are picked in the same season as the fruit are an interesting study, or try to intentionally contrast the seasons and see how it changes things up.

Epilogue: Honey Is a Super Power:
Remember the honey I mentioned earlier? Honey turned out to be a unifying factor on the fruit plate. The honey always linked the tea and fruit together, and seemed to enhance the flavors. So, if you are using fruit that's perhaps a little out of season or not ripe enough, adding a little honey will work wonders. The pairing doesn't work quite so well? Try adding a little drizzle of honey. I don't think honey should be relied on to make the pairings work, but it is certainly a delicious way to harmonize flavors.

It's also important to remember that there are no right or wrong answers here. If you prefer a different flavor combination, great! Go with what you like. I hope you enjoyed our swanky paring adventure, we certainly did! Don't forget to check out what Georgia and Jee had to say.

You can read about our last two previous pairings here and here. Stay tuned, we'll be brainstorming another Tea Pairing 101 soon.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Flights of Fancy: A Green Tea Tasting


Imagine a day where you get to drink green teas all afternoon, chat with some of your favorite people, and munch on perfectly paired sweets. I won't deny it, being a tea blogger has its advantages. It's always an adventure when tea people get together, and our last tasting is no exception. I had the privilege of joining some of my favorite tea friends for an extremely memorable afternoon, and thought it would be fun to share it with all of you.

To begin the day we started with a tasting of the new Matcha Gyokuro selection at La Colombe, expertly prepared by Alexis of Teaspoons and Petals, the resident tea consultant. She brewed the tea to perfection using a Silverton pour-over brewer, which was also fun to watch. I arrived late to our first tasting, so sadly I didn't get any good images. Needless to say, after a few sips of this well-balanced tea and exchanging hugs with some friends, I was ready for the adventure yet to come. 

We made our way to the International Culinary Center (ICC) and up to library, the perfect venue for our Rishi Tea tasting. The ICC library is a special place. The walls are made of glass and lined with shelves upon shelves of culinary books. I think this is what the library looks like in foodie heaven! We were greeted by the always elegant Keiko from Rishi Tea, and were sat at a long table decorated with flowers and adorned with plates of decadent French macarons and mochi. Like I said earlier, being a tea blogger has its advantages. 

Keiko chose the sweets well. The macaron flavors paired perfectly with each green tea, highlighting savory and vegetal notes. We had the chance to try Rishi green teas of various cultivars, something I've never done before. I don't know as much about Japanese green teas as I should (except that they are delicious), and I was grateful to learn and taste so many high-quality teas. This was a unique opportunity.

The teas were broken down into 'flights', small groups of tastings where we could compare and contrast (many of you have had either tea, beer, or wine flights before, I'm sure). I won't go too deep into specifics so be sure to check out Nicole's post for a look at the entire tea flight menu, as well as more photos from the day. I was focused on the experience and not as much on notes and photography.

The first flight had Sincha Machiko and Matcha Okumidori. The Shizu (aka machiko) cultivar is known for its cherry blossom floral flavor, and the tea certainly kept its promise. It was like tasting a fresh blossom. The okumidori cultivar made a chocolatey thick matcha, which reminded me of a roasted tea. After these two teas, I was eager for more. A great way to start.

The second flight was dedicated to teas of the Sae Midori cultivar.  We had a hand-picked shincha which surprised me with its delicate flavor. It wasn't grassy or the slightest bit bitter. We then had an extremely savory and light gyokuro, and a matcha that was a touch more bitter than the first, but still chocolatey with an interesting buckwheat note. I usually stick with fairly cool water for teas such as these, but I was surprised to learn that Keiko slightly warmer water for the gyokuro, at 170°. It's a good reminder to keep an open mind about water temperature- experimenting a little bit can help enhance the flavor of the tea, or at least change the flavor to something your palate prefers. 

We then moved to the Yabukita flight, a cultivar that is more common than the others. But these teas were anything but standard. This flight started with a super sweet shincha without a hint of bitterness. We then moved to an even sweeter 'Nishi family Shincha' that was a bit deeper, with a little hint of bitterness. Oh and in case you were wondering, all the sips were interspersed with mochi and macaron goodness. Tough day, right? Unfortunately I had to leave the festivities early because responsibilities were calling. I didn't have a chance to try a few of the teas, but Keiko made sure I tasted one more before I left.

I finished the afternoon on a perfectly sweet note. Keiko whipped up Matcha Hekisui for me, and it tasted like vibrant sweet peas. It was my favorite of the various matchas we had. It wasn't easy to leave such a cheerful room of fabulous women, but obligations were calling.

Needless to say I was flying high on tea happiness by the end of our tasting, feeling grateful to have so many amazing women in my life. Thank you to La Colombe, Rishi, Keiko, and the ICC for such a dreamy afternoon. Being a tea blogger is, to quote Larry David, pretty, pretty, pretty... pretty good.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tea Recipe: Chocolate Masala Chai With Turmeric

The past few weeks have been unusually warm and humid here in NYC, but I know the chilly weather is creeping in. The wish for fall weather has left me craving warm and comforting sips.  The other day I wanted something chocolatey and spicy, and decided to take my favorite masala chai and give it a few tweaks. I was looking for something tasty but also a little different. I decided to add unsweetened cocoa powder, and on a whim, a wedge of fresh turmeric. I was hoping that the earthy turmeric would play well with the chocolate and spices. It did! The other unexpected ingredient I added is salt. I like to add a pinch of salt whenever I'm baking with chocolate so I thought I'd give it a try here too. I don't know the chemistry behind it, but it really enhances the flavor. It does the same in this recipe! Just a small pinch of salt will do. Since this worked so well, I decided to share the recipe with everyone. I love cooking and baking but I don't share many recipes. Let's change that.

I recommend using fresh ginger and turmeric for this recipe, it makes a huge difference. But you can use dried versions if you'd prefer. It's not always easy to find fresh turmeric! I was really happy with how this recipe turned out. It was so good that my kids greedily slurped up every bit that I gave them, and asked for more. Even my husband who isn't a fan of sweets was impressed with the flavor. Of course, I also saved a generous mug for myself.

Tea Happiness' Homemade Chocolate Masala Chai
Serves: about 2 Time: about 12 minutes

1 1/2 cups whole milk (any milk of choice will do, but I prefer cow's, almond, or coconut)
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tbsp. loose black tea (or 2-3 tea bags)
6 cardamom pods
1 small cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, or 1/2 tsp dried
1/2 inch piece of fresh turmeric, or 1/4 tsp dried

2-3 tbsp. granulated sugar (or to taste)
pinch of salt

Make the tea: In a small saucepan heat the milk and water slowly over low heat until it starts to get warm and slightly bubbly around the edges. Don't do this over high heat, or the liquid will erupt onto the stovetop! Once warm, whisk in the cocoa powder until combined. Then add the tea, spices (I like to crack open the cardamom pods for more flavor), ginger, and turmeric. Let everything lightly simmer (remember, that milk can bubble over!) for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add 2 tbsp of sugar and the pinch of salt. Stir gently until dissolved. Taste, and add more sugar if desired. I like to start with less, and then add more if necessary. Once you have enough sugar stirred in, strain into mugs and sip happily!

Alterations: If you'd like to eliminate the tea to serve it to kids, you can use rooibos, or simply leave the tea out altogether. You can always add a little more cocoa if that's the case. You can also add other flavors to the tea as well, vanilla works nicely.

I'll definitely be making this treat on gray afternoons, and after snowy adventures. Or on warm fall days when I'm wishing it was a bit cooler outside. My kids have already requested this tea for this weekend! I'd love to know what twists you make on masala chai, feel free to share with me in the comments.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Teaware Review: Aloha Aina Ceramics Cup

Teaware is quite personal. Some people prefer fancy porcelain cups and pots, while others want everything necessary for a traditional gongfu session. Teaware fanatics like me want all of it! It's not necessary to have lots of teaware, a few simple pieces will do. But many of us like to collect it and I'm always looking out for potters and artisans that create special pieces.

I recently received a beautiful cup from Aloha Aina Ceramics, so it's time for a teaware review! Aloha Aina Ceramics is based in the south of Mexico. The company was started by Alex Krotkov a teaware obsessive that decided to start making and selling cups (I checked in with Alex and they were not hit by the terrible earthquake). Alex is Russian, and the cups are made using a traditional Russian technique that involves multiple firings. According to Alex, the first two are at about 950° celsius, and then a third at a lower temperature that uses the addition of milk to give the clay additional protection and a unique distressed/wooden look. Alex told me this technique was used in Russia centuries ago and in some workshops they keep passing that technology.

The cup is a perfect size for my daily use. It's about 7 ounces, and holds a full pour from the gaiwan I regularly use. I like this as I can use just one large cup when I'm having a tea session just for me. It's a luxurious feeling to have the large cup of tea all to myself! It also makes it easier if I'm taking my tea set outside since I wouldn't need a separate pitcher.

The cup is perfect to use with any type of tea, as the thick walls will keep the heat in but also spare your fingers. It's easy to hold in both hands (or it'll fit in one, of course) to cozy up with on a chilly day. The designs on the outside of the cup are organic and reflect objects found in nature. The appearance makes it a nice piece to use for a tea meditation. My cup also has a nice crackle glaze on the inside. I can see myself taking this cup along for some tea in the park, or after a hike in the woods. Alex also sent a smaller cup as well, which could be used if you want to share your tea, or give a little tea critic a taste. It's very sweet and I love the designs on it.

Thank you to Alex and Aloha Aina Ceramics for this beautiful cup! If you would like to learn more about the company, you can visit the etsy store here.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Review: everydayteas 2016 Nan Nuo Shan

I love to share tea and do so weekly with my Office Tea Club. Today's review is for a tea we recently enjoyed, a 2016 Nan Nuo Shan by everydayteas. This tea turned out to be quite popular among the Tea Club members, and I think it's because it's a sheng puerh that suits many different palates. It's balanced yet 'punchy' and vegetal, with a hint of something sweet.

The Company
On their site, everydayteas considers their product 'Quality teas for the daily drinker'. The site is simple, clean and easy to navigate. The look and feel is reflected in the teas they offer. I like that this clear vision that carries through to the tea.

The Tea
The tea is a 2016 raw puerh from Nan Nuo mountain, in the village of Ban Po Xin Zhai. According to everydayteas, the Puer cakes are stored here in the northeast US in a climate controlled room with 70% Humidity and a temperature of 70ºF year round. This ensures the tea won't dry out during our unfortunate northeast winter weather (my skin feels dry just thinking about it).

We were so quick to dive in to this tea that I didn't take notes on the dry leaves (my apologies!). The wet leaves smelled of steamed spinach and wet rocks. The tea itself tastes strongly of deep green vegetables. Tea Club members observed flavors of kale and cooked spinach. There is also a little bit of what I like to call 'leather', a sharp peaty-scotch essence that reminds me of a leather jacket. Not super strong, but definitely there. I think this essence plus a bit of astringency is what gives it that 'punchy' feeling I described earlier.

The Verdict
These leaves have many steeps to share. We only had a limited amount of time during Office Tea Club, and I enjoyed a few more steeps of the tea after our break was over. As I mentioned before, this tea is satisfying, and...punchy. It has the presence of a young sheng you'd expect, and it's well balanced. A good daily drinker. I can definitely see myself steeping this tea throughout the day, or serving it to friends during a long afternoon of relaxed conversation.

Thank you to everydayteas for the sample! You can learn more about this tea here, and I found out that they'll soon have the 2017 Nan Nuo from the same farmer. I have two more teas from them to share with you, reviews will be coming soon.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

5 Things You Might Not Know About Me

Recently Nicole from Tea For Me Please posted a '5 Things You Might Not Know About Me' post, and asked bloggers to jump in and do the same. I noticed Anna The Tea Squirrel posted one as well, and I thought it would be fun to introduce myself on a more personal level. I am always curious to learn the interests of others, so I figured I'd start by sharing mine. You know I love tea, but here are 5 things that you may not know about me, in no particular order...