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Och, that’s guid tea! Upton’s Scottish Breakfast Blend

May 20, 2011

Today’s Tea: Scottish Breakfast Blend by Upton Tea

Steeped, highlands style, by: caclob

It’s 6:45 a.m.  I went to bed at 1 a.m.  and have been doing so for the last week.  Despite the bright summer sunlight streaming into my room, I’m much too tired to try and get up.  Finally, knowing that I have to catch the bus to get to work on time, I force myself through my morning routine.  Bleary eyed, I plop down at my desk.  Staring at my booting computer, I know what I need: tea–preferably strong.

For a Christmas present from a friend who knows me quite well, I received a $20 gift certificate to Upton Tea.  This lovely present means sample time!  Upton offers almost, if not all, of their teas in small samples (around 15 grams).  These are usually $1-2 and let you try a lot of new teas without huge commitment.  I’ve been doing this for years, discovering or risking my taste buds on new teas. So, with this batch I bought the Scottish Breakfast Blend (which I think used to be named just Scottish Blend).  It’s a great breakfast tea, because it steeps quickly.  I don’t think it technically is a CTC tea, but the small little little tea leaves unfurl quite quickly.

After steeping for about 3 minutes, you get a beautiful dark tea. The scent is malty like an Assam, but the mix of Ceylon and Yunnan found inside of it give it an extra kick that might not be found in just a normal Assam.  I also normally drink Assams and Breakfast teas with milk, but with this tea there just isn’t any need.  It’s smooth, and yet, still quite strong. Even if you oversteep it (because, hey, you aren’t quite awake yet either), it’ll still work out quite nicely.  10-15 minutes later, I’m happily working away, still sipping the remnants of my tea, looking a lot perkier than I did before.

Overall, this tea is perfect in the morning.  It has a nice gentle caffeine kick with a brilliant flavor.  Just realize, since it’s a small leaf tea, you might get a fair share of little tea leaves at the bottom of your cup.  If that bugs you, you might want to use a really fine mesh tea strainer.

When Earl Grey Plays Dress Up: Earl Grey Bluestar

April 18, 2011

Today’s Tea: Earl Grey Bluestar from Chash Tea

Steeped by: caclob

I received a few free samples from Chash Tea after my first order.  Included was this lovely smelling Earl Grey.  This Earl Grey is a mix of Chinese and Indian black teas, with the usual bergamot oil and some blue flowers, which I assume give it its name.

I’ve professed my love for Earl Grey several times (here and here), so trying a new one is always a nice challenge.  Because of the citrus oil from the bergamot, you often have to be careful, otherwise you end up with a cup of undrinkable perfume.  This challenge is usually quite rewarding if you pay attention to it.  But if you are an absent-minded or lazy tea drinker, you can definitely ruin a few cups out of negligence.  This small sample was enough for a cup of tea and gives me the chance to tell you a bit about it.This Earl Grey is light, actually.  I at first precision steeped it, because of some steeping gone awry.  It wasn’t quite strong enough for me then, so I then just let it steep in the style of realgoodtea (one of the authors on this blog).  In other words, I forgot about it.  When I came back to the tea, I was terribly afraid I would have a mug of perfume on my hands.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find a lightly fragrant black tea.  Even with the accidental oversteeping, it wasn’t ruined.

If you are a classic Earl Grey drinker (“Earl Grey–Hot”, as we geeks might quote), you probably enjoy that heady aroma of bergamot oil and the precision steeping.  This tea might not be the one for you then.  If you want to try a light Earl Grey, or are an open-minded non-Earl Grey drinker, this might be a good cross-over tea.  Or, if you are like realgoodtea and forget about your tea while you are working, this might also fit your bill.  This one really depends on what you personally prefer in your Earl Grey.

Tea That Stands Up Against a Morning Fry-up

April 1, 2011

Today’s Tea: English Breakfast Tea by Chash

Drunk with milk, no sugar by: caclob

The tea world is a monstrous place: so many companies, so many tea types, so many variations. A friend of mine somehow (still not sure about the details) found Chash Tea while watching a football game.  Since he knows about my love of tea and interest in finding new companies, he passed the info on to me.  I had recently finished my previous English Breakfast Tea, so I needed a new strong black tea for my work day.  While Chash Tea’s new website has its limitations, the tea was quickly ordered and even shipped to the right country (which is always an issue when your billing address is extremely different from the shipping address).

When my package arrived with the tea inside, I was pleasantly surprised to see the foil pouch.  The use of foil pouches isn’t weird in its own right (Upton Tea also uses foil), nor is the use of a zip-close bag unusual (Boston Tea used clear zip bags for samples), but I was impressed by the use of re-sealable foil pouches.  I always transfer my teas to airtight, light-proof containers to make sure that I get the best flavor as long as I can.  But, as anyone who’s ever had to buy one of these containers knows, such containers aren’t that cheap or that easy to find, so the little extra quality packaging is a definite plus for me!

Let’s get down to the tea now.  The tea is definitely a good, solid English Breakfast Tea.  I find that a good English Breakfast Tea has to be able to handle a fry-up.  A full breakfast with scrambled eggs, sausage, black pudding, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, toast, tomato, and who-knows-what-else has to have a tea that actually makes its flavor still known despite the heavy foods.  The very savory ingredients need a savory tea to complement it; a too weak of a tea will simply be like hot water with milk against those foods.  For those of you who drink wine, it’s like drinking a red wine with steak rather than a white–you simply need the stronger flavor.

English Breakfast Tea is also one of the few teas that I add anything to.  The tea simply needs a bit of creaminess from milk to help bring out all of its flavors (still no sugar though).  This tea steeps well and creates a really nice dark liquor after a few minutes.  The leaves can also be reused, with the second steeping still being pretty flavorful.

I see that Chash has a lot of other teas available, and since I like the foil bags, I’m definitely going to get some more teas to see if they stack up as well as this one did against other tea companies.

Conclusion: The English Breakfast Tea is now a staple of my tea collection. Give this new company a go! You might have to e-mail your order instead of using the website if you want to try a couple of teas, but the effort is worth it.

Mum’s The Word

March 1, 2011

Today’s Tea: Instant Chrysanthemum Tea and Instant Plum Tea from Bird Pick Tea & Herb
Picked and Pecked by: sakurae

One cold and crisp night, I went to meet a friend who was doing inventory at a store of the company she worked for and of course, it was a tea store that I hadn’t been to yet! Bird Pick has an adorable pair of birds illustrated by Cindy Chau (of course as my friend, she is awesome LOL) as the mascots of an Asian-themed tea company and growing chain of stores in the Southern California area.  Since I was looking for more herbal teas for the colder evenings of winter, I happened upon the samples of  Instant Chrysanthemum Tea with Honey and Instant Plum Tea with Honey.

Now, I approached these two samples with a bit of trepidation. I knew I would love the chrysanthemum from previous purchases of Chinese chrystanthemum tea but I wasn’t so sure about the plum. I have a love/hate relationship with the tart and sour levels as they vary from tea brand to brand and I find the older I become, the less I can handle the sour taste of Asian plum flavors. Turns out this was the perfect solution because the instant packets include honey and sugar to tone down the tart sours without taking away the rich plum taste, and at $5 a box, you really can’t go wrong in having pre-sweetened tea. It’s a rarity for me to link sweeteners in tea but it works very well for these two teas.

Conclusion: I found these two great instant herbal teas you can drink and pick based on strength of flavors since the Chrysanthemum is a very light tea as I find it much like Chamomile tea while Plum is recommended for the bolder flavor without the sucker punch of tart. Watch out for the unsweetened kind, they’ve got a mean left hook!

Sakura, Sakura: Pickled Cherry Blossom Tea

February 14, 2011

Today’s Tea: Sakura Tea by Obubu Tea

Ceremoniously served by: caclob and goodtea

Sakura, or cherry blossoms, are a well-known symbol of Japanese culture. They can also be found in many foods and dishes, from sakura-flavored KitKats to sweet rice desserts to tea!  Obubu Tea, which sells high quality Japanese teas, offers a special type of sakura tea.  The whole blossom is salt-pickled in plum vinegar–but don’t let this unusual tea scare you away!

The procedure for pickled sakura tea is a bit different than normal teas, so I’m going to include the instructions shown on the Obubu site here:

  1. Take one sakura blossom and soak it in warm water for about 5 minutes to remove the salt.
  2. After you have removed the salt, place the petal in your tea cup.
  3. Pour hot water into the tea cup with the blossom inside, then use a spoon to add the salted water to according to taste.

The resulting tea is a fragrant, but not too flowery, lightly salty tisane.  This may sound very bizarre to many Western tea drinkers, but the salt turns what might be an extremely floral tea into a more subtle, mature drink.  If you have trouble stomaching the idea of a salty tea, think of it as a broth or soup–suddenly, it’ll be delicious! A benefit of removing the salt in a separate cup in Step 2 is that you can then season your main drinking cup to taste. And consider pairing this tea with something sweet–the contrast might delight you.

Beneath the saltiness, you’ll find the unique taste of sakura blossoms–a sort of light, airy, but fragrant sweetness. If you’ve ever had sakuramochi or even sakura-flavored KitKat bars, you’ll recognize it right away.  As the Obubu website says, this flavor “is quite different from the cherry fruit flavor so common in Western sweets (as well as many ‘Japanese cherry green teas’ where the ‘cherry’ is actually cherry fruit flavoring)” and not the delicate cherry blossom!

The cherry blossom floating in your cup also makes for a striking image. We wish we had glass tea cups on hand to better enjoy the view! It’s a bit early for hanami, the traditional springtime cherry blossom viewing, so we’ll settle for gazing at the pale-pink flowers in our tea cups instead.

Conclusion: This sakura tea offers an authentic taste of Japan. It’s a unique tea that holds its own in terms of flavor.  At $7.99 for shipping for the equivalent of 15-20 cups of tea, this tea may become a welcome diversion from all those green and black teas that you have in your cupboard. (Obubu’s Sampler Pack also includes a small pack of cherry blossoms.)

Marzipan Tea in Lübeck

February 4, 2011

Today’s Shop: Café Niederegger in Lübeck, Germany
Visited by: goodtea

Niederegger tea setSome time ago, I visited Lübeck, Germany. It’s a port city connected to the Baltic Sea via the Trave River. Once described as the “Queen” of the Hanseatic League that dominated trading in Northern Europe in the Middle Ages, Lübeck’s lovely architecture has made it an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  There are also a number of interesting museums, such as the almost magical Museum of Theatre Puppets and the iconic Holsentor gate. (The city is well worth a visit for a day trip if you’re in Hamburg or even Berlin.)

Lübeck is also famous for one delicious food, though–MARZIPAN! There are several marzipan producers in Lübeck, though the most well-known one is Niederegger. The company makes marzipan in all sorts of variations, from cute marzipan dinosaurs or piggies to elegant chocolate pralines and crunchy cookies. And of course, they have marzipan-flavored coffees and teas, too!

Read more…

“Berry” Good Strainer

December 8, 2010

Today’s Equipment: Trudeau Silicone Fruit-shaped Tea Strainer

Tested by: caclob

Since I drink such large amounts of tea, especially in the frigid Swiss winters, I’m on the look-out for new tea paraphernalia at nearly all times.  A new tea strainer definitely is a nice addition.   The Trudeau silicone tea strainer was just so cute looking that I couldn’t resist the urge to buy it.  For about $7.50, you can get this lovely reusable tea strainer. Everything is silicone, so it’s microwave and dishwasher safe, making it easier to clean and letting you use it in more ways.

The strainer is a berry shape that is easily filled.  The strainer handle is silicone and can be tied around the mug handle, so you don’t lose the strainer in the mug.  A lid/saucer in the shape of a slice of citrus is also silicone and can be put over the tea while steeping and as a saucer.  Cleanup is so simple.

They’re cute, come in a variety of colors, work well, and aren’t too unreasonable in price. I recommend them fully.

First I was like, whoa.

November 29, 2010

Today’s Tea: Earl Grey with Lavender by The Pacific Place Tea Garden Cafe Hawaii
Liberally Whoa!ed by: sakurae

Then I was like WHOA!

Then I was like …whoa.

Welcome to my review of The Pacific Place Hawaii Tea’s Earl Grey with Maui Lavender.

And yes, I was watching Finding Nemo before I wrote this review. Crush the Sea Turtle just seemed like the perfect voice to channel for this smooth Earl Grey with some rigtheous Lavender from a beautiful island. I received this tea a while back as a birthday gift from wonderful friends Kitsy and KimonoStereo of Nemu-Nemu webcomic purveyors of cute and natives of the tropical islands. As fellow Cute Stuff™ connoisseurs, we share of a love of many things which includes good beverages!

Read more…

Fantastic Fennel

November 23, 2010

Today’s Tea: Organic Fennel Tea by Tea Gschwendner
Imbibed by: goodtea

As chilly winter weather takes over much of the Northern Hemisphere, the time has come to fight off the cold with a hot cup of tea. If you want a hot cuppa on a cold evening–but without the caffeine–a nice herbal infusion will do the trick.

Today I made a cup of fennel tea. Fennel tea is traditionally used in some parts of the world to help improve eyesight, though who knows if that’s true. (Always take health claims for teas with a grain of salt!) Fennel tea is also (supposedly) good for freshening your breath and preventing bloating, which would make it the perfect after-dinner drink, too.

The light-colored fennel seeds (which, apparently, are actually whole fennel “fruits”) smell like sweet, dry hay–most appropriate, since the word “fennel” derives from the Latin word for “hay.” I let the fennel seeds steep for about six minutes in boiling water and got a lovely, light yellow-green infusion out of it. A faint hay smell remains, but sweeter, with a biting note of anise, too.

The flavor is remarkable. It is light on the tongue, but with a very potent flavor. It’s fairly sweet with hints of anise and a sort of peppery, tingling feeling on the tongue–rather invigorating! The infusion takes honey very well if you’d like it even sweeter.

Sadly, I don’t see this tea available in Tea Gschwendner’s USA online shop, and the new design of the German website prevents me from linking to the tea directly. It’s tea number 1236 at Tea Gschwendners, if you’re interested. You can surely find other fennel teas elsewhere, or just brew it yourself with culinary grade fennel from your spice rack.

Conclusion: A sweet-and-spicy, caffeine-free treat for a cold winter day.

It’s a Thai Oolong…but not really

November 15, 2010

Today’s Tea: Ruan Zhi Oolong from Upton Teas

Sipped by: caclob

Most oolongs in the world are from Fujian or Taiwan.  This tea from Upton is actually from Thailand.  Why would I be drinking a Thai Oolong?  Since the Formosa (Taiwanese) tea style  is very popular, the demand is so high that teas have to come from other areas as well.  This Thai grown tea is made and grown in a traditional Formosa style, so despite its unique location, it has a well established pedigree.

This oolong is pressed in the less common of the two oolong shapes.  It’s rolled into a ball, rather than the curly dragon-like shape often seen.  When steeped at 190˚F for 3 minutes, the leaves unfurl to show a lovely whole tea leaf,  green and gorgeous.  The tea has a very vegetal taste, which I find unusual for oolongs.  Oolongs tend to have a more roasted flavor generally, but this one tastes very much like a strong green tea.  But before someone claims that it is just a weird green tea, it does have the strong, slightly better taste that oolongs require.  It’s just grassier than normal.

The tea is a dark greeny-brown color and steeps quickly.  The tea leaves can also be resteeped at least once more, which I always like for economical reasons.  It doesn’t need milk or sugar, and honestly, it might taste a bit weird with milk and sugar.

Overall, I like this tea quite a bit.  The grassy flavor is refreshing, but not too delicate either.  Great tea for drinking during the work day.