Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fortnum and Mason Assam Superb

The Assam region is in the north of India, and lies at a fairly low elevation.  The low elevation and the heavy yearly rainfall and tropical temperatures in the region bring about a larger, broader leaf than other varieties, and the climate patterns also make the Assam region quite prolific, producing far more tea than other parts of India and China.  Interestingly, the vast amount of tea coming out of the region broadened interest in tea across social classes in Britain.  Prior to the discovery of the Assam sub-variety in India, China was the main source of British tea, but the discovery and development of vastly cheaper tea from the prolific Assam fields meant that tea was no longer just a drink for the upper class.  The Assam sub-variety was reputedly discovered in 1823 by Robert Bruce, a Scottish adventurer, though the leaves had long been steeped and consumed by local Singhpo tribesman.  Bruce died in 1824, but was instrumental in introducing the tea plantation system to India, and Assam tea to Britain.

Fortnum and Mason Assam Superb is a blended offering, featuring a fairly homogenized mix of teas from various estates within the region.  It's a good blend, with a fair bit of golden tips, and brews up a typical cup of Assam, with a thick body, and lots of malt.  Malty flavors and a huge thick body are the hallmarks of the Assam subvariety, and as you might expect, a homogenized blend from the region tastes very typically of those characteristics.  Some single estate Assams have notes of dark fruit, jam or raisins, but the Fortnum and Mason feature notes of mild caramel, malt, oak, and honey. 

Falling back on comparisons to Scotch (of course), this could be likened to a high quality blend; not as distinctive or flavorful as a single malt (single estate), but pleasant and more than serviceable (and usually cheaper).  Score:  90 (A-)

I've gotten a bit behind on reviews, but I have two single estate Assams to review, courtesy of a order of sample sized pouches from Upton Tea Imports.  Coming soon!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mighty Leaf Darjeeling

The only tea I've had from Mighty Leaf is their bagged Darjeeling.  I mentioned Mighty Leaf in my tea seller roundup a few posts back, and noted that they do tea bags quite well:  full leaf tea in large, clean sachets.  Although their selection tends towards the overly fruity and herbal side of things, they also have a fairly extensive selection of loose teas.  They do tend towards the pricier side of things, which is probably why I haven't checked them out all that much, but if I see the bags out and about, they're not a bad hot drink option.

So, I've had fairly mixed success with Darjeeling.  It's such a renowned type of tea that I want to like it, but it just doesn't do much for me.  I find it overly astringent, and I rarely find the muscatel fruit notes that are supposed to be so prevalent.  So, it's kind of a surprise to me that I actually rather like Mighty Leaf's Darjeeling.  The label and site insist it's an estate tea, but puzzlingly do not identify which estate.  This gets a raised eyebrow.  Different Darjeeling estates have fairly different characteristics, and fans of the style probably can easily tell various estates apart.  Given the status in the tea world of estate teas, wouldn't it offer some prestige to identify the origin?  I wonder...it seems odd that a company that puts care into tea production would treat a word that means so much as marketing.  Perhaps they source tea from different estates in different years, or perhaps they source tea from a less regarded estate?

At any rate, I'm not a big enough fan of Darjeeling to care all that much, and besides, I like this Darjeeling better than the loose stuff I've had from various estates.  Blasphemy, maybe, but I have to go with what my taste buds tell me.  Mighty Leaf's Darjeeling is light and smooth, with a mildly astringent finish, but not the kick in the mouth I've come to expect from the region.  The flavors aren't exactly strong, but it has nice mild fruit and floral notes.  It's a pretty pleasant if not exactly remarkable cup.  Really, I would expect this to be a blend of various estates (and not mind!), given that it has such a smooth body and subdued character.  Score:  80 (B-)  Not my favorite, but certainly a pleasant cup if I'm out and about and it's offered.  Mighty Leaf also does an English Breakfast in a bag I'd be curious to try.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Celestial Seasonings Keurig Tea Double Feature

My wife and I bought my parents a Keurig coffee machine for Christmas last year, and that thing is awesome.  You put one of the little K-cups in, press the button, and within seconds, fairly high quality coffee is shooting out.  I don't know exactly how they work; I assume high pressure water like an espresso machine, but Keurig's website is not exactly forthcoming.  It tastes too good to be instant coffee, and magic coffee elves seems probably a bit too far fetched.

We also have two of these machines in our breakroom at work, since a highly caffeinated employee is a productive one.  We have quite a large selection of K-cups, including English Breakfast tea and generic green tea from Celestial Seasonings.  Now, Celestial Seasonings, available in every grocery store I've ever been in, actually makes some nice herbal teas.  Their Sleepytime blend, with spearmint and chamomile, may not actually induce sleep, but is a pretty pleasant and relaxing cup.  I don't exactly hold their tea in high esteem though, and I had doubts at the very concept of tea in K-cups.  I mean, you can quick-brew coffee pretty effectively by raising the water pressure and forcing it through the grounds...as I noted above, this is how espresso machines work, and I'm pretty sure this is the principal at work in the Keurig, too, but I can't really see how this would work with tea.  Tea requires a long steep for the cup to fully brew, unless the tea K-cups are simply packets of instant tea (a strong possibility, as we'll see).  Why try something I strongly suspect will be terrible?  I get bored at work...

So, prep couldn't be easier.  Take K-Cup, place into Keurig machine, select cup size, and press button.  Within seconds, "tea" begins pouring out.  I can't help but be reminded of the scene in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when Arthur Dent tries to get the food replicator to produce a cup of tea, and ends up with a cup of brown liquid, "almost, but not entirely unlike a cup of tea."

Up first, English Breakfast tea!  The liquid comes out a normal reddish brown color, but smells rather off.  Sort of faintly tea-like, like a cup that had been in the same cupboard as proper tea for a few weeks.  After letting it cool for a few minutes and adding a splash of milk and sugar, I took my first, bold sip.  This is quite possibly the worst tea I've ever had.  It's weak, very nearly tasteless, and what taste is there is unpleasant...bitter, but not in nice "cup of tea" way, more like in a bad "scary and unnatural chemical" way.  Is this just instant tea?  Survey says "probably"...in fact, I sort of hope so, since I'd feel bad if real tea tasted this abysmal.  Score:  F

Because I sacrifice my own safety and taste buds in the name of tea writing and science (and I get bored at work) I went ahead and tried the K-cup green tea as well.  The label shouts "blended with white tea for smoothness!" and I'm trying to imagine hand picked and sun dried white tea being ground up and put in this K-cup.  I guess white tea has dust leftover from sorting too.  Surprisingly, though, the green tea isn't quite as bad as the English Breakfast.  While it's nowhere near a good cup of green tea, it at least tastes somewhat like the stuff.  There are really no nuances of flavor, but I'd say it's no worse a cup than the generic green teabags you might find in the grocery store.  Still, I'd only make a cup of this if all other options were exhausted and I really wanted a cup of tea.  Score:  D-

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bird Pick Breakfast Tea

An article I was reading recently divided black tea into two camps:  Chinese black tea vs. so called "British Legacy Teas,"  teas from former British colonies such as India, Sri Lanka, or Kenya.  Although this is a bit of an oversimplification, it does roughly work.  Chinese black teas tend to be lighter in body and cleaner in texture, and as such, work well as afternoon teas.  The right blend of Chinese blacks can make a pretty good breakfast tea, though.  I've mentioned English Breakfast blended solely from Keemun variants in the past, and it's a good, sturdy breakfast cup, as is Harney and Son's Queen Catherine.  I speculated that this was a more traditional breakfast blend, since tea from China was introduced first in Britain.  It looks, however, like I was pretty wrong on that.  According to which origin you pick, English Breakfast tea was first blended in Edinburgh, Scotland, or New York City, around either 1850 or 1870, and was a blend of Assam and a lighter tea, probably a Ceylon.  So much for my theory...the lighter Keemun blends must have come later.  Oh well, I never claim to be an expert, pretty much for this reason...I'm really just learning as I go along.

So, as mentioned last time, Bird Pick is a company out of California that specializes mostly in pretty high quality Chinese and Taiwanese teas.  As might be expected, then, their breakfast teas are usually pretty similar to the fancy Keemun based English Breakfast blends:  a strong flavor, but a light body and clean texture.  Bird Pick Breakfast tea however, is sort of a best of both worlds tea, with a fair bit of Keemun, blended with a light Assam, for an interesting mix of flavors and a round, full flavor profile.  It's a bit smoother than say Harney and Son's "All-Keemun" English Breakfast, but also probably not as strong a cup.  The balance is quite a bit more to the Keemun side of things than any similar breakfast blends I've had, with nice earthy note and a strong hint of Keemun smokiness, and the Assam maltiness lingering in the background.  Bird Pick's website notes citrus flavors, though I don't personally find them here.  I sometimes wonder, is my palate that undeveloped, or do these tea sellers exaggerate just a bit?

Bird Pick's Chinese blacks tend to do well with a slightly shorter steep time, maybe two to three minutes, though the Assam base here provides a little leeway.  As a true breakfast tea should in my book, Bird Picks breakfast tea tastes just right with the addition of milk, though it's not bad on it's own.  Sugar might work too, though I haven't tried it.  All in all, a nice cup, but probably not quite a morning goto.  Still, I like this company, and will have to try more from them in the future.  Score:  85 (B)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tea Seller Roundup

I thought it might be a neat idea to post a round-up of the various places (mostly online) where I get my tea, so in no particular order,  here goes:

Loose Tea

Culinary Teas, where I currently get most of my loose teas; they also do some bag tea.  Culinary Teas is a smallish company that sells a lot of flavored teas, but has a pretty decent selection of traditional teas as well.  Some of their flavored teas are repackaged Metropolitan Tea, but they do blend some of their own teas too.  Culinary Teas is the source of all those "x and cream" teas I've written about.  Their service is good; we've never had even the slightest problem with an order.  They usually offer a :free gift" with most orders, which is usually just a couple of tea bags.  I know, no company is obligated to include a "free gift," I guess I got spoiled by Special Teas, who used to throw in a free 2 oz. sample of loose tea for every order.  Still, these guys are a great company that I've been very pleased with.  They also have a nice enough blog, where they highlight current specials and sales, and do the occasional raffle giveaway.

Harney and Sons is a more recent find.  They do bag tea as well as a great selection of loose teas.  Though Harney and Sons offers some flavored teas, their emphasis seems to be more on unflavored traditional teas.  They offer some estate teas, and some excellent blends.  As I've mentioned before, Harney and Sons' tea and especially their packaging makes them seem an old-fashioned British tea seller, but they're in fact located just over the Connecticut border in New York.  I haven't actually purchased anything online from Harney and Sons, mostly because they show up quite a bit at Mrs. Bridge's, our local tea house, but the impression I get is that their service is excellent, and I really love their teas so far.

Bird Pick Teas is a much more recent find.  My brother gave me a birthday present last year of some Oolong tea and a wee little gongfu clay teapot that I've sadly yet to review from Bird Pick Teas,  a small tea company originally founded in Chinatown, LA that specializes in traditional Chinese and Taiwanese teas.  I've yet to purchase anything from them online yet, but the few teas of theirs I've had were excellent.  The folks at Bird Pick also have a blog, which I don't believe is updated all that often, but has some nice info about some of their teas.

Teavana is a company that I hesitated to include, since I've never bought or consumed anything from them.  They have a reputation for being rather expensive, but they do have an interesting selection and some rather nice teas.  Teavana bought out my old goto for all things tea, SpecialTeas, which was a company based down in Stratford, CT, and had a great site, with a nice selection and some really cool blends that I can't find anywhere else.

Bag Tea

Two Leaves and a Bud makes some pretty great bag tea.  They focus on whole leaf tea in a large, pyramid tea sachet that lets the leaves bloom.  I've had nice experiences with the three teas I've tried from Two Leaves and a Bud, but I do find them a hair expensive.  Their tea tends to end up in discount stores like TJ Maxx or Marshalls, and it's usually a pretty fair price there.

Republic of Tea is similar to Two Leaves and a Bud, but has round tea sachets.  Republic of Tea does a few nice flavored green teas, and some rather strange stuff like chocolate teas, but falls short when it comes to black teas or more traditional, unflavored blends.  Their fruit teas do make nice iced tea, and they're a bit more affordable than Two Leaves and a Bud.  Republic of Tea makes a nice tea to take to work in the summer time.

Tea Nation showed up here in a review on Vanilla Almond Ceylon that discussed the merits of bagged tea vs. loose tea, and while the tea bag from Tea Nation isn't as fancy as the two above, they still make a pretty quality cup.  I've only actually had a couple of teas from this company, but as with the other two above, a nice tea bag to stash in your lunch for work.

Mighty Leaf is another pretty high quality bag tea company, utilizing leaf tea in a large, sachet-type tea bag.  They also sell loose tea, which I didn't realize until today.  Mighty Leaf makes a good cup of tea, but I think their bag selection could be a little bit better.  I think they go heavy on the fruit and flavored stuff, to the detriment of more traditional tea.  They do make a Darjeeling that I actually quite like, and browsing their loose tea selection, I have to note, they have some pretty good stuff in there.  I'll have to check them out in the future, though I don't think they're cheap.  They are the only tea available at Victoria's Station, our local coffee shop, but really, if I'm there, I'm usually getting coffee.  Mighty Leaf also has a blog which is updated rather sporadically, but is usually worth the read.

Bentley's Tea shows up in these pages from time to time, but oddly doesn't have a website.  You can buy the tea from Amazon, or any number of sites, but the company themselves are nowhere to be found on the web.  They do a decent selection of teas, in old fashioned meh teabags, but they're really not that bad, good for a serviceable cup in a hurry.  We tend to find Bentley's in TJ Maxx, though I know I've seen them elsewhere as well.  Bentley's may or may not be made by the Boston Tea company...it's kind of vague and confusing.

And of course, there's Stash Tea, or the wretched Bigelow Tea I find at work, or the surprisingly decent Red Rose.  I don't think this stuff is really exciting enough to warrant more than a mention, though Stash tea does have a nice selection, and I'll always have a soft spot for Red Rose (it's what got me drinking tea, plus they always put an animal figurine in the box, which my mom used to collect).

Tea Shops

Around here, we sadly only have the one:  Mrs. Bridge's Pantry, so named for character on the BBC.  Mrs. Bridge's is a really nice shop/restaurant, offering a pretty wide selection of teas and traditional British lunch fare.  Food can run a little pricey, but is excellent...they do a great Plowman's Lunch, but have sadly stopped offering Scotch eggs.  They do serve tea in the perplexing infinite-steep teapots, so it's best to order a tea that can take the long soak, or I guess drink your tea rather quickly.  Mrs. Bridge's features a lot of tea from Metropolitan Tea, Harney and Sons, Republic of Tea, and a few of their own blends.  Always a great place to gift shop or stop in for lunch.

Stuff I'd Like To Try...

...but haven't gotten around to yet. 

Kusmi Teas is a Russian tea company, based in Paris that offers a lot of traditional Russian blends that look really interesting.

Upton Tea Imports, based right here in Massachusetts, has a large and varied selection, with several teas I'd love to try.  They feature East Frisian tea, which I'm dying to review, and have had trouble finding lately, and it looks like they have a pretty substantial bit of reading material on their website.  Sadly, no physical retail location, which is a shame, as the idea of browsing through a pleasantly cluttered old tea shop is a nice one.

Courtesy of Jacob's review, I'd really like to try out Sakuma Bros. and The Charleston Tea Plantation, particularly the green and white teas from Sakuma Bros.

Adagio Teas has a nice website, fairly standard selection, but also offers "custom blending," where you can create your own blend (with no obligation to purchase) from any number of constituent teas.  I think that's a really cool idea, but I do wonder how effective it is to create a blend over the internet, without the trail and error factor of iterative testing.  Still, a neat idea that no one else seems to offer.

teadog.com appears to be a reseller of teas from all different companies.  I don't really know that much about them, but they get points with me because their name reminds me of Brewdog, a really unique Scottish brewery that makes some "interesting" beers.

And last but not least, Virtuous Teas, who seem to have a pretty good selection, and an actual brick and mortar store pretty much around the corner from where my brother lives.

Huh, that ended up being more extensive than I thought it would.  If I'm missing anything good, let me know!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pumpkin Cream black tea

This, the last for a bit of fruit and cream flavored black teas from Culinary Teas, is absolutely perfect for this time of the year.  Fall in New England means brightly colored foliage (well, at least most years...) and tons of squash and pumpkin.  Now, I have to admit, pumpkin flavored tea sounded odd when I first saw it on the website.  In my experience, mixing pumpkin with other stuff doesn't always work out so well.  Pumpkin coffee is pretty wrong, and pumpkin beers tend to run the range from "Ok, I guess" to "Wow, that's nasty!"  So it's a refreshing surprise that pumpkin and cream flavored tea is actually pretty good.

The tea is the usual Ceylon blend for many of the fruit flavored teas, and while it continues to work quite well, I'm starting to wish for a bit more variety in tea bases.  I know that the tea is meant to play second fiddle to the flavors, but I think a bit more creativity in matching tea bases to added flavors would be more interesting.  Perhaps that's just because I've had so many "x and cream" teas lately.  At any rate, the Ceylon is a good base, and the earthy pumpkin and sweet cream really blend well with the tea.  Although it sounded weird at first glance, after thinking about it, the flavor of pumpkin is probably a more natural fit than sweeter fruits.  The vegetal flavor and mild natural sweetness pair up so well with the similar characteristics in the tea, and as always, the cream provides a touch of vanilla and that amazing velvet texture.  As with all the cream teas, pumpkin cream plays wonderfully with milk and sugar.  One oddity I found with pumpkin cream is that the loose tea itself is a smaller leaf size, which means a slightly faster brew, with stronger flavors from the tea.  I don't know if this was incidental, or if some aspect of the flavoring demanded a faster steep time, but I shaved a minute off the steep time and still got a full bodied, well developed cup.  Score:  90 (A-) All right, it's time for a break from the "whatnot and cream" teas, as excellent as they are!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tukdah Darjeeling TGFOP

At last, I've reached the fifth of five in Culinary Teas' Darjeeling Sampler.  It's been an interesting experience, going through five distinct Darjeeling estates.  I began back in the Spring with pretty low expectations, the only previous Darjeeling I'd had being severely underwhelming, and initially, I was pretty enthusiastic.  My first estate, the Soom, was not what I expected and pretty interesting, but as I worked my way through the teas, I found two things: one, the Darjeelings may have minor differences, but they all tend to have similar features, and two, I don't care for those features that much.  I mean, Darjeelings tend to be pretty high quality teas, but the principal note from each is "Holy astringency, batman!"  And while I don't mind some brightness in my cup, I prefer not to finish a tea with my mouth puckered dry.  So, I enjoyed trying all these teas, and I think I learned a good bit, but in the end, I'm just not much of a Darjeeling fan.

So, Tukdah is the last of five Darjeeling estate teas I tried.  The estate is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, and sounds truly beautiful.  I think I would very much love to visit the state of Darjeeling in northern India, as it sounds fascinating.  Tukdah is a large estate, located in the Teesta valley, which receives high rainfall and cooler temperatures, which produce a lighter tea than other Darjeeling estates or nearby tea regions.  The neighboring Assam region, for instance, is at a much lower altitude, and produces a much heavier, thicker cup of tea.  Up in the Teesta valley, once the monsoons have run through in the early spring, it's time to harvest the first flush, which have more delicate flavors and aromas than later harvests.

The TGFOP (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, fairly large leaves with lots of tips) Tukdah from Culinary Teas is a first flush, and it does have lighter and more delicate notes than some of the other Darjeelings.  As with the others, making this tea requires a bit of care, though no more than making a cup of white or green tea.  I've had the most success with Darjeelings by treating them as Oolongs (which they can technically be considered, since the tea is not 100% oxidized), and steeping them in water at about 205 to 210 degrees C.  The easiest way to achieve this is to bring the kettle to a rolling boil, take it off the heat, and let it sit for about a minute, then pour.  I'm also careful about steeping times; the label says three to five minutes, but I tend to stay to the lower side of that spectrum and brew for about two or three minutes.

The color is pretty nice, as with the other Darjeelings.  I tend to make these in a small, plain white teacup, and the liquor is a really nice deep amber or reddish gold color.  The nose suggests faint nuttiness and a hint of smoke, and the first sip is pleasantly round and clean.  This is a lighter Darjeeling with a slightly fuller mouthfeel.  I get faint hints of smoke as with most of the other Darjeelings, and a really bright, astringent finish.  For the fifth estate, I still fail to really find the muscat notes that Darjeelings are so well known for.  I don't know if it's a colorful use of the descriptor (like calling a single malt "chewy"), or if my palate is just not developed enough to appreciate the notes, but in any case, I don't find any sweet, fruity wine flavors.  Mostly, this tea is a one-two flavor profile:  light and round on the tongue, then the sucker punch of astringency, leaving my mouth puckered and dry.  Score:  80 (B-)

So, the last of the Darjeelings.  The folks at CT have an Assam sampler that I've been eying for a while that should prove interesting, and they have several different Keemuns to try.  The folks over at Harney and Sons have some interesting black teas as well.  I feel as if greens and whites tend to get short shrift here, but it's getting cold, so I would expect a lot of black tea for the next few months.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Vicarious Travel to Darjeeling

This New York Times article is a few years old now, and probably a bit out of date, but still an interesting read.  I really like the idea of a rough vacation to various estates throughout the Darjeeling area.  Darjeeling is certainly not my favorite type of tea, but the region sounds absolutely beautiful, and the descriptions of the estate managers made me smile.  I must say I'm disappointed by the idea of making the rickety bungalows at the various tea gardens more resort-like, but I guess not everyone likes to travel as rough as I do.

Link found via Tea Guy Speaks, a tea blog that seems to be largely about the contemporary side of tea.  Less reviews, more about how tea shows up in various places in modern life...also an interesting read.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake from Culinary Teas is a review that's been waiting to happen for a long time.  It's my wife's favorite tea, and is tied up with our discovery of Culinary Teas, thus having a huge impact on much of this blog.  So, for as long as Erin has been going to Mrs. Bridge's, our local teahouse, she's been getting Strawberry Shortcake, a black tea flavored with strawberries and cream.  Almost every time, she would look through the menu, deliberate, then order "the usual."  Then one day a year or so ago, they were out of Strawberry Shortcake.  And then the next time we went, they were still out.  Did they plan to re-order?  No, not enough demand.  Can we order through them?  No dice.  Thus an internet search ensued, finally leading us to Metropolitan Teas, the producers of Strawberry Shortcake.  We sent them an email, asking if we could order through them, but alas, they only sell in bulk to restaurants or teashops.  However, they kindly appended a list of retailers who sold their flavored teas.  First on the list was Culinary Teas, and the rest is history.

Strawberry Shortcake is a staple in our house, and pretty much every order from Culinary Teas includes at least some amount.  The tea is the same Ceylon blend as Peaches and Cream, flavored with strawberries (oils and actual dried fruit) as well as a good bit of cream flavoring.  The Ceylon blends perfectly with the strawberries and sweet velvety cream, especially with the addition of sugar and milk, or even half and half or actual cream.  For the most part, I agree with the traditional line that you add milk, not cream, to black tea, but the addition of cream flavoring sort of calls off all bets.  It's as if the texture was made for thick, heavy cream.

So, the usual drill for preparing black tea, full rolling boil, heaping teaspoon of tea per mug, steep for about four minutes and strain, sweeten and and add milk to taste.  The resulting mug is pretty amazing.  As I've mentioned in the past, fruit flavored teas often leave me disappointed, but this is a whole different story.  The best way I can describe the flavor is as if I had taken a quality cup of blended black tea, then dissolved homemade strawberry jam and a huge spoonful of sweet cream into it, which in all actuality, is not that far off from reality.  It's a great comfort cup and a solid go to tea.  Shockingly, we've yet to try it as an iced tea, though our recent experience with iced Peaches and Cream suggests it would be a huge success.  Score:  95 (A)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

St. Paul's London Breakfast tea

St. Paul's London Breakfast is a unique and interesting black tea blend from Culinary Teas.   It was created to honor St. Paul's Cathedral, an iconic London landmark, and by extension, the city of London itself.  It's blended from three different teas to reflect three different important growing areas; there is an Assam from India, a Ceylon, and a Chinese tea from Anhui province in China, an area most notable for Keemun, which I suspect is the constituent in St. Paul's.  In addition to the somewhat unorthodox mix of tea regions, the master tea blender felt that some Earl Grey should be included, as it is both a very iconic British tea and the favorite of the Queen of England (apparently...I didn't fact check that).

This is a pretty interesting and novel mix of flavors, and I have to admit, I knew none of this when I ordered it.  I only saw that it was a previously unknown breakfast tea, and as I've mentioned before, I particularly love the concept and style of British breakfast teas.  I did sort of a double take when I opened the package for the first time and smelled the unmistakable bergamot aroma of Earl Grey, but some quick online research filled me in on what was actually going on.  An eyebrow raise and four or five minutes later, I had a steaming cup of tea, ready to see if such an unusual blend would work.  I added milk and sweetener right from the word go; in many cases, I like to try the tea on its own first, but as this is a breakfast tea, albeit an unusual one, I think milk and sugar add to the experience.

The first notes are all Assam, lots of malt and oak, which is quickly followed by the tang of bergamot.  The mix of flavors work quite well, far beyond my expectations.  The Keemun (again, a guess, but it seems likely) contributes to the broad base of the tea, adding roasted cocoa and earth notes to the Assam, while the Ceylon...well, that may just be a delivery vehicle for the Earl Grey-ness, as I don't truly detect any notes in the cup.  I have noted in the past, however, that I am nowhere near as good as I would like to be at picking out teas in a blend.  The surprising use of bergamot in a breakfast tea is restrained, a strong hint of flavor without overpowering the profile, and without the cloying aftertaste it sometimes leaves.  The Assam brings a nice strong body that mixes quite well with milk, giving the tea a good thick mouthfeel.

The malty Assam, earthy Chinese black, and bergamot flavors are beautifully balanced.  Having made a few mediocre attempts of my own at blending a couple of very basic teas, I am very impressed by the skill that went into this blend.  I wouldn't go so far as to make it my daily cup, but I applaud the novelty and the effort at blending, and it is one I will get again.  Though it has a fair bit of Assam and calls itself a breakfast tea, I think this one is good any time of day, but then, I've always been rather partial to bold, strong teas all day.  Score:  95 (A)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Peaches and Cream black tea

I've been less than enthusiastic about fruit flavored teas in the past.  I haven't always had the best experiences with them, ranging from obvious artificial flavors to weak, bland, and overdried actual fruit.  Special Teas, an otherwise great tea company was especially guilty of this, but then they got bought out by Teavana, and I've never had anything from Teavana, since they're pretty expensive.

My wife, however, is quite fond of fruit flavored teas.  Her favorite is Culinary Teas' Strawberry Shortcake, which I've been meaning to review here for a long time, but a close second from Culinary Teas is their Peaches and Cream.  Some of Culinary Teas' flavored offerings come from Metropolitan Teas, and use a common base blend of Ceylon teas.  The reasoning, of course, is that this offers a solid, unremarkable base for the added flavors to shine through, and for the most part, I think this a great strategy.

So, Peaches and Cream is the Ceylon base with peach flavoring and cream added.  Culinary Teas really does the cream flavors well...they don't get that specific on their website, but I believe it's actual freeze dried cream, which lends a really smooth, mildly sweet note to the cup, and of course, is a natural addition to peaches.  We brew in the regular way, rolling boil, steep for four minutes, you know the drill.  The resulting cup is great...I may not have been the biggest fan of fruit teas in the past, but this is done right.  The tea is a strong, broad base, never obtrusive, and the peach is sweet but never overpowering, while the cream brings a velvety texture and a mild hint of vanilla.

Peaches and Cream also makes a great cup of iced tea.  For most iced teas, I'll brew double strength tea and dilute with ice, though for this batch, my wife made a huge batch in the dutch oven, strained the tea out, and we chilled it in a pitcher in the fridge.  It came out a hair strong, so we added plenty of sugar, and unusually for iced tea, cream.  I've only really come across cream or milk in iced tea in Thai tea, but in the right cup, it's a great addition, and of course, cream goes great with, well, cream.  Score:  90 (A-)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Harney and Sons Queen Catherine black tea

Harney and Sons, a great tea company that I recently discovered is actually somewhat local, has been featured quite a bit recently.  Quite a bit is a relative turn of phrase, considering I find the free time to write about twice a month.  But regardless, I've found myself writing about Harney and Sons a lot lately mostly because I really like their teas.  Today's review is no exception:  Queen Catherine black tea is a blend of three (non-specified) Chinese black teas, and is one heck of a cup of tea.

Queen Catherine is named for one of England's queens, but which one?  At last count, I think England has had at least 91 queens named Catherine, and that's not counting off spellings like "Katherine."  (91 may be a little off, but we're busy people, far too busy for fact checking.)  What actually is fact is that Queen Catherine is named for Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of Charles II, who first introduced tea to England.  (Catherine, that is, not Charles II, who spent years in exile thanks to Cromwell beheading his father and later dissolved Parliament for dissenting with his opinion.)  A nice tribute to the lady responsible for bringing tea to the British Isles, and a fairly fitting blend, since all the early tea in Britain would have been Chinese.

I make this with the usual parameters for black tea:  a rounded teaspoon to a mug, water at a full boil, steeped for about four minutes.  As with other full bodied Chinese black teas, Queen Catherine is good with or without milk, and I expect might do well enough with sugar, though I barely use the stuff these days.

I'd love to actually know what the three teas to go into this blend were, as it would be a fun exercise to try them individually.  I suspect there's some Keemun in here, but as I've mentioned in the past, I'm woefully bad at picking out teas from a blend.  At any rate, this is an excellent blend, a strong cup with hints of earthy cocoa, pleasantly bitter coffee, and mild smoke.  Although it's not specifically a breakfast blend, and of course has no Assam like we often find in breakfast teas, this makes a solid morning tea.  The body is full, especially for a Chinese black, which I sometimes find thin, and the mouthfeel again reminds me slightly of coffee.  In fact, I think the full body, strong flavors, and hints of coffee make this a great cup for someone hoping to switch over to tea.

Score:  95 (A)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Two Leaves and a Bud Organic White Peony

White Peony is a classic Chinese white tea, harvested early in the Spring before the buds have truly opened, then gently processed.  White Peony is a direct translation of the Mandarin bai mudan, which means "white peony."  According to the wiki article on White Peony, it's a very broad type of white tea from Fujian province in the Southeast of China.  In fact, Drum Mountain white, which I have had a long time ago, is a type of White Peony.  The tea itself generally has a soft, gentle taste, with delicate floral notes and a mild natural sweetness.

Two Leaves and a Bud is a high end tea company, selling both loose and bag tea (most if not all organic).  They are not cheap, but they do put out good tea, and offer some of the best bag tea I've found anywhere...actual full leaf tea in large pyramid-ish sachets that let the tea bloom as it steeps.  This is probably as close as you can get to loose tea without actually crossing over.  The high price tag is a stumbling block, but we usually find Two Leaves and a Bud on clearance at stores like Marshalls or TJ Maxx, and at $4 for a box of 15 high quality tea bags, I feel like I'm getting an acceptable deal.  My wife and I have also tried Two Leaves' Assam and Jasmine Green, both of which were excellent.  Perhaps my largest quibble with Two Leaves is for the price tag, I think I'd prefer to see estate teas, rather than homogenized blends.

So, then, Organic White Peony from Two Leaves and a Bud.  The box and website recommend brewing at a "light boil," which confuses the scientist in me...what is a "light boil?"  Water is either boiling or not.  I suppose what they mean is a hair under actually boiling...about 160-170 degrees Fahrenheit, or to follow my rule of thumb, steaming briskly but not bubbling.  Steeping times can vary with whites, but less than two minutes is a good benchmark.  I didn't try it here, but a lot of white teas respond well to multiple infusions.  But how does it taste?  I think this is the classic White Peony flavor...mild, with a little bit of floral notes, and some natural sweetness.  The sweetness grew on me throughout the cup, developing into a faint suggestion of honey.  The tea has a medium and very clean body, with no astringency at all.  Overall, clean and somewhat sweet, but could use more flavor...it's not quite boring, but not exactly exciting.  Score: 80 (B-)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Second Flush Mim Darjeeling

Mim Darjeeling is the fourth of five in Culinary Teas' Darjeeling sampler.  So far, I've tried the Soom, the Castleton, and the Margaret's Hope.  The experience has greatly expanded my knowledge and appreciation of this Northern Indian sub-variety of tea, but it's still not my favorite.  That being said, the Mim is the best of the lot so far, with a complex and beautifully balanced flavor profile.

Mim in from a tea estate in the North of India, located at 6800 feet above sea level.  Apparently, on a clear day, you can see Mt. Everest from the tea garden, which is just cool!  The tea is grown at a pretty high altitude, in relatively cool weather, which means a short growing season, and fairly high prices.  This also means a fairly renowned reputation, and should mean a highly developed flavor, particularly this tea, a second flush, which should have the strongest flavors of the harvest.

So, as with other Darjeeling estates, is this tea worthy of such a reputation?  I brewed a cup the other morning to try and answer this question.  I brewed the tea along similar lines to the other Darjeelings, water brought to a boil and allowed to sit for about a minute (roughly 205 - 210 degrees F), steeped for about three minutes in my Paris infuser.  The resulting liquor is a really nice reddish brown color, with a pleasant aroma.  But how does it taste?

Thumbing through some recent reviews, it's clear that one of the things that I really value lately in a tea is a clean texture and flavor profile.  Darjeeling doesn't disappoint in this regard; all of the estates I've tried deliver a high quality tea with no muddiness or chalkiness, and the Mim is probably the best of lot so far, with a faint natural smokiness.  That being said, I still struggle to find the muscat flavor that Darjeeling is famous for.  I've had wine made from the muscat grape, and it's all been sweet and fruity, with huge grape flavors, while the predominate texture here is in fact a crisp dryness.  Darjeelings seem to be bright and rather astringent, with little of the natural sweetness that I find in other teas.  Perhaps my palate just isn't that nuanced, but maybe I'm just not that big a fan of Darjeeling.  The Mim does have a wonderfully balanced flavor, and really is a quality cup of tea...on the whole, though, I think I'd rather a quality Chinese white.  Score:  82 (B-)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Republic of Tea Silver Rain white tea

It's hard to believe this is my first review of a true, unflavored, loose leaf white tea, one of my favorite types of tea.  While Darjeeling is commonly referred to as the "Champagne of teas," I've always felt quality white tea should really be granted that status...it's smoother, cleaner, and simply more elegant than Darjeeling.  White tea is almost exclusively Chinese, and is the least processed of any type of tea.  For example, black teas are picked, bruised to expose the essential oils, then allowed to oxidize (a process that is frequently and incorrectly called "fermentation."  Actual fermented tea is called Pu-erh, and is a story for another day.)  Green tea is picked, allowed to wilt, and then usually heated to halt any further oxidation.  White tea is picked and allowed to wilt, then dried to halt oxidation, sometimes in steam, but in the highest quality teas, in nothing more than direct sunlight.  The resulting leaves are minimally processed, and brew up a liquor that is fresh and clean, often with lots of natural sweetness and floral notes.  Perhaps not surprisingly, white tea is often the priciest of teas, due to a limited harvesting window and non-mechanized processing.  Though the price is a stumbling block, I still think everyone should try a quality white tea.  The taste and texture are similar in some ways to many green teas, but without the strong vegetal and mineral notes that often show up in greens, and with more natural sweetness and fruit or floral elements.

So, then, on a recent trip to Mrs. Bridges, the mood for a white struck, and I decided to try the Silver Rain from The Republic of Tea.  I'll admit, I tried the tea on name alone; one of the best teas I've ever had is a famous Chinese white called Silver Needle...it's absolutely amazing, and rather outrageously priced.  So, I thought, Silver Rain is close to Silver Needle, but won't break the wallet.  And it was close.  Silver Rain is a high quality tea, and while I won't put it on the same level as Silver Needle, it's almost there.  It brews up a fresh and clean cup, with natural sweetness and plenty of hints of fruit.  I find Silver Needle to have more floral notes and a more complex profile, while Silver Rain has more straightforward sweetness and fruit.

While I didn't brew this cup myself experience has taught me that brewing white tea is every bit as tricky as green.  It requires a lower steeping temperature and careful attention to steeping times, and usually requires more loose tea...one variant I tried in the past called for two full "soup spoons" per cup!  As for temperature, it will vary from tea to tea, but briskly steaming (not bubbling) water is a good rule of thumb.  Most white should only steep for a minute or two.  However, all this attention to detail (as well as the steep price) is at least somewhat offset by the fact that most white teas respond very well to multiple infusions.  All that is required is a slightly longer brew for each new infusion.  Though I didn't try it with the Silver Rain, the Silver Needle was usually good for four infusions per cup.  The tea may cost an arm and a leg, but that's still a bargain you won 't find with black tea!

Score:  90 (A-)  I think I talked as much about Silver Needle as I did Silver Rain, which is perhaps unfair; Silver Rain is a decent, quality tea in it's own right, and at least somewhat cheaper than Silver Needle.  Also worth noting, white teas are naturally low in caffeine, usually as low as 5 - 20 mg per cup.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Harney and Sons Organic Peach bottled iced tea

Another one from Harney and Sons!  It's unusual for me to drink a premade bottled iced tea, let alone review it, but this wasn't actually all that bad.

As I noted last time, Harney and Sons is a pretty good quality, semi-local company.  I've liked everything I've had of theirs, and this is no exception.  The ingredient list is simple and clean, filtered water, organic tea, organic cane sugar, organic honey, and natural flavors (presumably peach?).  The label states no preservatives, but they do throw in ascorbic acid, citric acid, and sodium citrate...not what I'd usually put in my cup of tea, but as non-preservative preservatives, I suppose they could do worse...those things at least occur in food.

The teas that went into making this are not specified.  The label says they are a blend of the "world's finest teas," and while I suspect that's a load of marketing, I don't really mind.  I don't look for fancy flavors in my iced tea, particularly if there's fruit on board.  Iced tea to me is all about a very cold, refreshing drink for the summer time, and not about the nuances of fancy, first flush teas.

Luckily, this fits the bill.  The tea is non-descript, but pleasant and clean, without any chalkiness or astringency, and the sweetener is judiciously applied, which gives Harney and Sons points in my book.  My two major issues with bottled iced tea are:  not using real brewed tea, and way oversweetening, but here, the cane sugar and honey provide just enough lift to make a nice bottle of tea perfectly refreshing.  The peach flavor is nice...perhaps a bit understated, but at least it tastes like real peach.  Attention Nestea and Snapple, this is how you bottle iced tea.

Score:  85 (B) Worth noting, although this tea is sweetened with both cane sugar and honey, a full bottle (2 servings, which is silly, who doesn't drink the whole bottle?) contains only 10 grams of sugar, which is not half bad.  I prefer to make my own iced tea, but this is a pretty quality product that I don't mind at all.  Someday soon I'll have to try a bottled iced tea from HonesTea, another clean, mildly sweetened bottled iced tea that I've heard good things about.

(Hmm, as another afterthought, peach iced tea mixes amazingly well with bourbon.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Harney and Sons English Breakfast

I've encountered teas from Harney and Sons from time to time, and always thought to myself, "What a nice, proper English tea company."  Harney and Sons it turns out is based just over the border in New York, and is about as English as, well, apple pie.  They are however, a great company, with a lot of blends, both traditional and rather innovative, by the looks of it.  I've only had a few of their blends thus far:  the Queen Catherine, and the subject of today's review, their English Breakfast.  Now, a while back, in a discussion of breakfast teas, I noted that while today most English Breakfast teas heavily feature Assam, there are some "fancy" blends that are composed solely of Keemun, a Chinese black tea, often known for a wine or fruit taste.  As it turns out, English Breakfast  blended from Keemun teas is in fact much more traditional, and probably dates from before Indian teas were featured so heavily in Britain.  Harney and Sons English Breakfast is just such a blend, giving me the opportunity to try something both traditional and new to me.

The tea itself is high quality loose leaf tea.  I'm always impressed with Chinese black teas, and this is no exception.  Though they tend to be a bit less forgiving than Indian teas, I find Chinese black teas to have some really unique and clean flavors.  I made a single cup of this over the weekend, using the old tea ball:  a rounded teaspoon's worth of English Breakfast in the tea ball, freshly boiling water, steep for about 4 minutes, add a splash of milk, and ready to go.  As a breakfast blend, I suspect this would play well enough with sugar, but I don't find it necessary myself.

As I've noted somewhere before, the Keemun I've had had a strong, unique taste, reminiscent of a dry red wine or roasted fruit.  What then, would a breakfast tea made up solely of Keemun taste like?  Surprisingly, a lot like most other English Breakfast blends I've had, with a sort of crisp, biscuit-like note to the flavor, suggestive maybe of buttered toast.  I will say this has a far cleaner, more refined flavor profile than cheaper blends that I've had in the past.  There's no muddiness here, just a clean, fairly bright mouthfeel, with the faintest hint of smoke that lingers through a moderate and pleasant finish.  There's only some mild astringency, but nothing to pucker the mouth or dry out the tongue.  I don't know that I'd make this a goto for my morning mug anytime soon, but it's definitely a great tea, worthy of the occasional cup.  It also goes to show, I have an awful lot to discover about Keemun...reviews to come someday.  Score:  90 (A-)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Brodies Famous Edinburgh

Brodies Famous Edinburgh is a black tea blend from Scotland.  I've only been able to find it in bags, which is a shame, as I'd really love to try a smoother loose leaf version of this, but we'll make do.  The tea is available all over the internet, but I've only seen it in person at Mrs. Bridge's, our local tea house.  Though I've never been intrigued enough to purchase it myself, it's become a favorite of my Mom's, and I'll usually make a cup when we're there visiting.

My favorite quality of Scottish teas is the flavor attributes they sometimes share with Scotch, and the Famous Edinburgh is no exception.  The base of the tea is most likely Assam, lending some malt and oak, much like Scottish Breakfast, but the Assam is blended with something lighter and spicier, probably a Ceylon variant.  The resulting blend is interesting:  malty, oaky, and a little spicy.  The addition of milk and a sweetener, preferably honey, brings about a halfway decent cup of tea, at least somewhat reminiscent of a complex single malt.

I did have some quibbles with an otherwise pleasant tea.  As mentioned above, this is a bag tea, and not the highest quality.  The bags themselves are rough paper, and the tea is not exactly full leaf, but my biggest issue is that they're small...I find myself doubling up two bags to make one cup of tea.  Another reviewer was perplexed at the weak cup of tea one bag produced, and actually ripped apart tea bags from Brodies as well as several other companies, and found the Brodies had about half as much tea as most other companies.  Perplexing...were they truly looking to validate old fashioned Scottish stereotypes?

So then, I like the blend, but not the questionable quality or the rather parsimonious portioning.  I'll have to continue my search for a malty, spicy Scottish tea that more closely resembles a good single malt.  Score:  75 (C)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Matcha Green Tea

The folks over at Culinary Teas, whom I may have mentioned a time or two, have a nice blog, where one of the owners of the company writes about teas she is enjoying and current specials.  They also sometimes do a sort of hat raffle give-away, where if you're interested, you post on the blog entry, then she puts all the names in a hat and picks a winner.  Some months back, the give-away was Matcha green tea, something I've always wanted to try, and to my surprise, I won!

So, then Matcha is a finely milled green tea.  The leaves are essentially ground into a fine powder, which is then whisked into hot water to create a unique cup of tea.  The fact that you're consuming the tea leaf itself puts Matcha pretty high up there in the good-for-you scale, but sadly makes it pretty difficult to make.  I don't own a "tea whisk" and don't have current plans to shell out money for an apparatus that's really only useful for a small bag of one type of tea.  My attempts at Matcha without a whisk were...well, hot water with clumps of tea in it.  Not exactly appetizing.  So the tea sat in the cupboard for a few months, while I wondered what, exactly, I would do with it.

As one of my other selves, when I'm not being a highly renowned tea expert and writer*, I spend a good chunk of time running.  I run more days than not, and sometimes for very long distances.  I find running enjoyable for a lot of reasons, but a downside is that it can leave your legs pretty sore, especially if you've spent two or three hours pounding away at rocky trails.  A while back, I read a suggestion that protein, consumed as quickly as possible after exercise, can ease some of the muscle aches, since the muscles repair themselves more quickly with ample protein.  So, like a ridiculous body builder, I buy and consume whey protein.  And it works...really well.  Unless I actually damage myself, I'm rarely sore, even the day after a rather punishing run.

I write this not to brag about my running "prowess" **, but because one morning, looking for my big canister of powder, I noticed the Matcha sitting in the cupboard, looking all lonely and forlorn.  I then looked at my vanilla flavored whey protein and the milk, and thought, hmm, why not?  Vanilla green tea protein smoothie is pretty good, it turns out.***  I'm sure it's kind of a waste of quality green tea, but it was just sitting on my shelf otherwise, and Matcha is used to flavor ice cream and other foods.  The tea itself has what I consider a typical Japanese green flavor profile, mild natural sweetness, and a fair bit of vegetal plant flavor, but not nearly as much as some teas I've had.  The vegetal notes are pretty washed out when mixed with vanilla protein powder and milk or water, leaving a more run-of-the-mill green tea flavor.  Overall, though, a great use of an otherwise wasted tea.  I don't think I'll grade the tea, this seems a bit outside the box for a tea review.

*In my own special fantasy world, I get paid to write about tea.  And Scotch.

**I may not be fast, but I usually have a smile on my face.

***The protein powder mixes very well with black coffee, too.  I usually get the standard whatever you can find at Walmart, but Trader Joe's makes a protein powder as well, with fewer weird chemicals in it, that we get from time to time. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Iced Tea Double Feature

It's been a busy couple of months!  Cups of tea, let alone the time to write about them have been few and far between, but a few weeks ago, the wife and I did make a couple of excellent pitchers of iced white tea.  In each case, we filled a big pot partway with water (~2.5 quarts in a 5 quart pot), approximated the number of tea bags for a good strong brew (about 25, though it depends on the tea), and steeped for about 2 minutes (white tea is fragile and usually doesn't overbrew well, especially bag tea).  We scooped the tea bags out, sweetened lightly, and chilled.

Bentley's Ginger Peach White Tea

As a stand alone cup of hot tea, I don't think I'd have that much to say about this tea.  It's pleasant, but pretty unremarkable.  As a well brewed, slightly sweetened ice tea, however, it really shines.  The touch of sweetener, agave nectar in this case, really brings the peach to the forefront, while the tingle of the ginger and the brightness of the tea balance out the profile.  White tea can be finicky and bitter if brewed too long or too hot, or even if it's just not a high enough quality, but I find Bentley's to be decent quality tea, especially for a bag, and a bit more forgiving than some other brands.

Overall, a great cup of summertime iced tea, and pretty easy to make. B+

Tea Nation Raspberry White Tea

Tea Nation's Raspberry White was the second big batch we tried, and it was a bit more finicky than the Bentley's, but with some creativity, came out great.  After our initial steeping in the big pot, I fished out the 25 or so tea bags, and sweetened with some regular old sugar (couldn't find the agave nectar), and taste tested.  My initial impression was that we'd overdone some aspect, and it had come out a hair bitter.  Not wanting to waste a huge pot of fresh tea, my wife did some quick thinking, and grabbed a bag of frozen raspberries from the freezer (I love raspberries, so we're not often without them in some form) and chucked them in the still warm tea.  We let them sit for a few hours to thaw and let the flavors mingle, then chilled the whole thing.  The result was really excellent...more an ice tea based fruit drink than true iced tea, but semantics aside, it was great!  The tea provided a nice astringent backbone for the huge raspberry flavor, and the raspberries were of course, delicious.

I have to give the tea itself a C, as it was kind of finicky and unexciting, but the end result was far better than that, thanks to the wife's quick thinking.

I started writing this entry over a month ago!  Children certainly are free time vampires...it's good to be writing again, though, even if it's not as often as I'd like.  I hope to be posting a bit more often over the next few months, though I'll just have to take it as it comes.  I have a few good posts hanging out in the back of my mind, as well as another project in the background (running related), but all these things depend on the whims of a colicky infant.  Anyway, hopefully more to come in the near future.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Charleston Tea Plantation American Classic Breakfast

Charleston Tea Plantation boasts of being "America's only tea garden" with over 100 acres of tea bushes.  Tea is not a hardy plant, and the South Carolina low country provides the right combination of heat, rain, and soil the plant needs to thrive.  Now, a Googling will reveal that amateur (and at least one other commerical) growers outside of South Carolina have had some success with growing tea, but while visiting the Tea Plantation it is nice to think that it is the one magical location in North America where tea can grow.

My family and I visited the plantation on a recent vacation to Charleston.  The driveway to the gift shop was perfect South Carolina with sprawling live oaks covered in Spanish moss, but the fields of tea bushes were themselves pedestrian.  Even up close, the tea bush looks like an ordinary hedge bush for a cottage.

The gift shop fronts the tea factory, and there is a free self-guided tour where one views videos at several stops describing the tea production process.  The process is surprisingly complex and involves custom harvesting equipment to clip the tops of the tea bushes.  The gift shop offers free iced tea and is a nice place to shuffle around for a while.  My ultimate purchase was a tin of their signature American Classic Charleston Breakfast tea. 

The first thing to notice with the American Classic tea is that it is cut more finely than most loose leaf teas.  It feels fluffy and lacks stems or veins.  It also tastes more mild than other black teas.  For a typical cup of black tea, I brew one rounded teaspoon for 3 minutes.  With American Classic, I found this to produce an overly mild cup, and I have since settled upon two teaspoons of tea at 5 minutes of brew time.  Even with the additional brew time, there is no bitterness in the tea.  The tea flavor is fairly straighforward but tastes on the "green" side, as if you just picked the tea leaves yesterday.  There might be a slight nuttiness to the tea, but otherwise it is uncomplicated. 

Overall: delicate for a black tea, but fresh-tasting and without bitterness.  Score:  85 (B).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

coffee and more coffee for a while

I expect it will be a while before I get back to posting regularly.  Our son Phineas came along April 29th, about a month early, and my wife and I finally got home from the hospital today.

It turns out that newborn children are actually part of a government experiment in sleep deprivation, so I imagine I'll be living on loads of coffee, without much time for tea drinking or writing, but I'll be back to posting regularly in a few months.

In the meantime, catch up on Scotch and beer.  Cheers!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Margaret's Hope Darjeeling

With three down and two to go in my Culinary Tea's Darjeeling sampler, I'm a bit concerned I've already reached the point of diminishing returns.  Margaret's Hope is clearly a high quality, excellent tea, but I honestly struggled to find that much of a difference in flavors between this and the Castleton Darjeeling.  Don't get me wrong, this is a fine, super high quality tea, and I'm glad that I'm finally developing a better taste and appreciation for Darjeelings in general.  It's just that while the Soom was distinct and quite different, these last two have been a bit similar.  I have two more to try, the Mim and the Tukdai, so perhaps there will be more variation to be found in the last two samples.

So, then Margaret's Hope Darjeeling is a second flush, FTGFOP tea.  Second flushes typically have more developed flavors, and FTGFOP is fine tippy golden flowery orange pekoe, full leaves composed mostly of the higher quality tips.  Bearing in mind my difficulties with the Castleton, I brewed the Margaret's Hope like an Oolong, at water just under a boil for about three minutes, and met with success.  The tea brewed up a pale brown, with a delicate, clean nose.  The flavors were distinct, as with all the Darjeeling I've tried so far,  and the profile is nicely balanced.  Floral notes predominate, without much of the "Muscat" wine-like note that Darjeeling is most famous for, and also none of the natural crisp smokiness of the Soom.

Margaret's hope is really a high quality cup of tea, but not the most exciting cup I've had, even within the constraints of the Darjeeling area.  It's mellow and clean, with mild astringency and natural dryness.  On the whole, though, I think I'd reach for a quality green or white before this one.  Score:  83 (B-)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Maple Cream tea

Perhaps I should call this post "Maple Tea revisited."  Maple Cream tea is pretty much a loose tea version of last month's review subject, maple tea.  I really enjoyed the maple tea, and figured, a loose version with cream added would be even better.  Surprisingly, the cream didn't add much to the tea.  True, it is loose tea, and so brews up a higher quality cup, with less astringency, but flavorwise, I have to say, it's pretty much the same.  Don't get me wrong, it's a great cup of tea, it's just that in every other case, the addition of cream flavoring makes for an absolutely amazing cup of tea with the addition of sweetness and a velvety texture.  Score:  85 (B)

That may well go on record as my shortest review ever, so I'll throw out the notion of my latest brainstorm.  I've been slowly gathering interest in blending my own teas, and it has occurred to me that all of the basic flavor elements in Talisker, a truly excellent single malt from the Isle of Skye, are notes of particular teas.  We have smoke via Lapsang Souchong, malt and oak via Assam and Keemun, and pepper with Yunnan (aka Dian Hong).  Given my less than amazing success at replicating Irish Breakfast, a fairly basic blend, it may not quite be the amazing cup I hope for, but it should prove an interesting project.  Updates to come.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Irish Breakfast Green

Irish Breakfast green tea is a blend of three green teas from Culinary Teas.  The intent was to create a blended green tea with a strong body and bold flavors, reminiscent of Irish Breakfast tea.  The tea went on special right around St. Patrick's Day, appropriately enough, and I was intrigued by the idea, enough so to give it a shot.  The tea itself is made from three distinct greens:  A Kenyan green, a Hoji-cha Japanese green, and a Gunpowder green.  Each tea brings something to the table; the Kenyan (who knew Kenya produced green tea?) brings a nice solid body, the Hoji-cha a toasty flavor, necessary if we're to emulate true Irish Breakfast, and the Gunpowder a crisp texture and a hint of natural smokiness.

As with all green tea, brewing requires a hair more caution than black...I use briskly steaming (not boiling!) water, and brew for no more than 2 or 3 minutes.  Hotter water or longer brew times run the risk of scorched, bitter tea...I suspect this blend is a bit hardier than some, but still, it pays to be careful.  The tea brews up a nice dark green color, a bit darker than I've come to expect from greens, and has a nice body and a full flavor.  As with all greens and whites, no additions are necessary...milk or sweetener would mask the delicate flavors, and defeat the purpose of drinking high quality tea like this in the first place.

There's definitely a complex and balanced profile.  The Gunpowder brings some nice crispness and the suggestion of smoke to the table, and the Hoji-cha definitely lends a roasty, faintly nutty note that doesn't exactly taste like Irish Breakfast, but is at least reminiscent of it...perhaps in the way rooibos reminds one of true Camella Sinensis tea, but doesn't quite taste like the real thing.  The toasty note remains through the finish, which is mildly astringent and refreshingly clean, as I tend to find with quality greens.  There's none of the hints of fruit or flowers as in some un-oxidized teas, but then, such notes would be out of place here anyway.  So, does it remind me of Irish Breakfast tea?  Sort of...it's perhaps more suggestive of Irish Breakfast than a straight up green version of the stuff.

All in all, not my favorite, but a well executed combination of three teas.  While with black teas I sometimes do favor carefully constructed blends, with greens and whites, I prefer unblended, stand-alone teas, though I really like the concept of Irish Breakfast green, and applaud the effort in creating it.  I would love to try more blends along these lines in the future, but I think I'm even more curious to taste each of these teas on their own.  Score:  80 (B-)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Castleton Darjeeling Second Flush FTGFOP -or - What's with all those letters?

So, what is with all those letters?  FTGFOP means Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, which is a lot of words to describe high grade tea.  Orthodox tea grading is based on a standard size of Orange Pekoe, which is a small leaf size, rather than a flavor or variant of tea.  In my limited experience, orthodox tea grading is a cumulative system, in that the more descriptors we add, the better the quality of the leaf.  (I may be over simplifying this a bit.)  There are other systems of grading tea, but the old fashioned Orange Pekoe based system is still in use for a lot of high quality teas.

So, FTGFOP Castleton is pretty high grade stuff, and additionally, it comes from a highly regarded estate.  So, it was a bit of a letdown when my first cup was a complete bust.  I brewed the tea at a full boil, like I did with the Soom Darjeeling, and the tea was completely scorched:  burnt, smoky, and flat.  I did some research, and found that brewing Darjeeling is even trickier than I originally thought:  tea from different estates is processed differently, and therefore needs to steep at different temperatures.  So, I gave the Castelton a second go, brewing at a much lower temperature, but it turned out to be too low, and the tea came out weak and bland.

Success came when I treated the Castleton as an Oolong, and brewed the tea with water at just under a boil.  Finally the Castleton was delicate and nuanced, with a nice interplay of flavors: a hint of dry smokiness, mild natural sweetness and a hint of fruit.  The texture is delicate and astringent, and the finish is excellent, leaving a slightly sweet and extremely clean mouthfeel.  This is a very nice tea, but I'm not sure it's quite the cream of the crop, so to speak, that it's reputation claims.  I like it, but I don't quite taste anything that sets it that far above what I've found of Darjeeling thus far.  Then again, perhaps my palate just isn't nuanced enough.  Score:  88 (B+)

Friday, April 8, 2011

a Review, in which we Discuss Baroness Grey Tea, and thereby conclude Earl Grey week

Blends such as Baroness Grey are almost as old as Earl Grey itself.  Lady Grey is a proprietary blend made by Twinings, an old school English tea company, featuring lemon and orange peel in addition to the usual bergamot.  Baroness Grey (note the strikingly similar, yet non-trademark-infringing name) is modeled rather closely after Lady Grey, featuring lemon and Seville orange peel, as well as oil of bergamot.

Even the name of Baroness Grey tea is girly.  It brings to mind ladies sitting in a garden in England, sipping citrusy tea from wee tiny little tea cups with flowers.  Well, we don't roll that way.  I drank this tea from my manly coffee cup, stained with motor oil and sawdust., while discussing cutting down trees and working construction.  Ok, not really; my mug is actually covered with mathematical equations, and I think I actually discussed baby clothes whilst drinking from it.  But I stand by my initial assessment, Baroness Grey is a somewhat frilly tea.  It's standard Earl Grey (a China black and/or Ceylon blend, scented with bergamot) with the addition of lemon and Seville orange peel.  (Seville orange, aka bitter orange, is a variant of the regular orange that is far less sweet, utilized mostly for it's flavorful peel...think quality marmalade.)  The flavor components are similar to the Russian Earl Grey, yet I find I far prefer the bolder, more complex profile of the Russian variant.  Whereas with the Russian Earl Grey, the flavors blend together and complement one another, in the Baroness Grey, the citrus flavors support the bergamot, rather than mingle in the forefront.

Perhaps the least attractive feature of Earl Grey variants is the tendency of bergamot oil to leave a cloying aftertaste.  In the better variants (Cream Earl Grey, Russian Earl Grey, Smoky Earl Grey) there are other notes in the profile that balance out the sticky, somewhat cloying aspect of bergamot.  Here, the citrus takes second fiddle to the bergamot, supporting rather than balancing, and the taste kind of sticks around for a while.  It's not unpleasant, but it's not my favorite.  Score:  78 (B-)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Earl Grey week continues with: What the heck is Rooibos?

Rooibos, sometimes found under the name "red tea," is not tea at all, but rather a wild plant found in Africa.  As with most herbal teas, it is completely caffeine free, a plus for those of us that suffer from insomnia.  Rooibos brews up almost the exact same color as tea, and tastes...similar, I guess, to actual tea.  With herbal teas, I find it's best not to think of them as teas, but as something all their own, so that I'm not disappointed when they don't actually taste like tea.  Rooibos on its own terms is actually quite good; it has a really pleasant natural sweetness, especially when paired with honeybush, a similar plant that grows in South Africa as well that has a natural honey taste.  Rooibos has become more common across the world in recent years, and can now be found in "green" unoxidized varieties as well, though I've yet to try one.

So, Earl Grey rooibos, then, is "red" oxidized rooibos, with the addition of cornflower petals, and mild bergamot.  Although I've already had enough bergamot this week to last me the next year or so, the use here is restrained and mild, which I must say, I appreciate.  The Earl Grey-ness, so to speak, blends really well with the natural sweetness and roast fruit flavor of the rooibos.  Earl Grey rooibos is a middleweight in body, comparable to regular Earl Grey, and unlike true tea, there is really no astringency here.  The finish is quite long, but mostly honey sweetness from the tea, and just a hint of the bergamot and cornflower.

I've tried three different varieties of rooibos (Earl Grey, Bourbon Vanilla, and Chai), and the Earl Grey is my favorite so far.  I really enjoy the blend of bergamot with the naturally sweet tea, and I also like that I can drink it right before bedtime.  In fact, there are claims that rooibos can actually help with sleep problems, but I'd probably file those under unsubstantiated.  Health claims aside, it's easily the best herbal tea I've tried yet, and something I'll likely keep on hand from now on.  Score:  85 (B)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

чай. Эрл Грей. горячий. - Part Two of Earl Grey week

Earl Grey week continues!  So, first of all, if anybody who speaks or reads Russian ever comes by here, my apologies, all I did was type the words "Tea.  Earl Grey.  Hot." into Google translator, and I'm sure I butchered the job.

Apologies to the Russian speaking population aside, today's review picks up where Cream Earl Grey left off, with another variant on the Earl Grey blend:  Russian Earl Grey.  I first had what I thought was Russian Earl Grey at Mrs. Bridge's, our local tea house.  No offense to their fine establishment, but I think they mislabeled a tea, or perhaps their vendor sent them the wrong tea.  The cup I got was Earl Grey, but the tea was blended with a smoked variant, probably Lapsang.  I didn't question it, smoky Russian Caravan being the only other Russian blend I had actually tried, until I purchased a pouch to try on my own and found it a completely different tea.  After doing some research, I found that Russian Earl Grey is not made from a smoked tea, but there is a common (not Russian) variant called "Smoky Earl Grey" that is.  This must be what I had for that first cup.  It was excellent; I'll have to find that variant online, so I can post a review.

What, then, of Russian Earl Grey?  It turns out to be an Earl Grey blend, flavored with bergamot, Thai lemongrass, and orange peel.  Russia has a fine tea culture, dating back to the 17th century, and features almost exclusively Chinese teas, often flavored.  Tea is brewed in ornate vessels called samovars, and served in ornate glass and metal cups.  I love the look of those cups, and have always wanted one since first seeing them in The Hunt for Red October.  The tea itself is very often flavored; smoke is the key flavor in Russian Caravan, but not the predominate flavoring in other Russian teas, which are often flavored with citrus fruit.  Russian tea was once drank with a spoonful of jam, or whilst holding a lump of sugar between your teeth, though I don't know how widespread this once was, or how common it is today.

So, there isn't any smoke in Russian Earl Grey, but there is lots of citrus, and a nice tea backbone, a blend of Ceylon and China teas.  Russian Earl Grey is quite similar to Baroness Grey, yet another Earl Grey variant, but is sturdier, with bolder flavors.  The orange peel and lemongrass bring really nice citrus notes to the table, sweet, yet some complexity; the lemongrass is an interesting choice, bringing a slightly different flavor than lemon peel might have.  Lemongrass in tea seems strange at first blush, but a different Russian tea I found while researching is flavored with buffalo grass.  The orange and lemongrass mix really well with the bergamot, balancing out that piney taste, and while the texture isn't as velvety as the Cream Earl Grey, the tea has a clean finish, with only a mild pleasant aftertaste.

Russian Earl Grey is a nice cup of tea, but probably not quite a staple that I'll keep on hand.  I'm very curious to track down that Smoky Earl Grey and give that another whirl...I'll be sure to post my notes here when I do.  Score:  85 (B)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. -or- It's Earl Grey week here at Tempest!

Ok, sorry for the Jean-Luc Picard reference, it felt obligatory.  I have notes on several different Earl Grey teas, and I thought it would be fun to spread them across a week...thus, Earl Grey week is born.

Earl Grey is one of those ubiquitous teas that everyone seems to know.  It's probably the most well known flavored tea; the unmistakable citrus, pine aroma and taste come from the peel of the bergamot orange, a citrus plant native to southeast Asia, but also grown in Italy and France.  There are several different stories regarding how Earl Grey tea was introduced to England, all of them probably apocryphal...Prime Ministers saving Chinese emperor's lives and whatnot. What is fact is that Earl Grey tea was first given as a gift to the eponymous 2nd Earl Grey in the early 1800's, and spread throughout England's upper class from there.

Earl Grey was originally solely blended from Chinese black teas, but these days I find it's mostly Ceylon, which is probably less finicky and better suited for blending than Chinese black.  The bergamot aroma is unique, sort of like a cross between Seville orange and fresh white pine needles.  (As an aside, you can make an herbal tea by boiling white pine needles in water.  It's startlingly high in Vitamin C, and must taste horrible.)  A good Earl Grey will have mild floral notes from the tea, which should blend with the bergamot,  rather than simply get lost in the mix.  The tea should have a bite of astringency, and plays well with the addition of lemon, though to be honest, I usually add milk.  It's not as traditional, but it goes well enough.  Earl Grey is a traditionally an afternoon tea, and the bergamot aroma is pretty relaxing.  I find the tea a bit too "tangy" for a morning cup, but others' mileage may vary.

Truthfully, until my wife discovered Cream Earl Grey earlier this year, I hadn't had a cup of Earl Grey in a long time.  Earl Grey was one of my first favorites, along with Irish Breakfast, when I really started drinking tea, but I got burnt out on the citrusy/piney taste quickly.  Cream Earl Grey offers a slightly different take on the tea, with the cream offering more sweetness and that velvety texture to balance out the bergamot "tang."  Cream Earl Grey, as with several different Earl Grey variants, has cornflower petals blended in with the tea.  I cannot for the life of me figure out if this is simply ornamental, or if the cornflower actually adds to the taste of the tea.  They're a nice shade of blue, anyway.  The tea has a long, smooth finish, and leaves a sweet, creamy aftertaste.

Cream Earl Grey is a great cup of tea, and has become a fast favorite in our household.  Though traditional Earl Grey doesn't feel like a breakfast tea, we can drink the cream variant any time of day.  Score:  92 (A-)

Stay tuned for more Earl Grey variants: Russian Earl Grey, and Baroness Grey!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A First attempt at Mixology

In my review of Nilgiri, I noted that it was a key component in Irish Breakfast, a common and flavorful blend.  In fact, the two most basic components of Irish Breakfast, Nilgiri and Assam, were sitting right next to each other in my cupboard, so it was only a matter of time until I decided to give mixing my own Irish Breakfast tea a go.  This past weekend found me at a loss as to which tea I felt like making, and I decided, today was the day.

I've read a little here or there about mixing teas, and it's as simple as mixing two or more teas together, but also a bit more complicated than that.  Different teas, and especially different leaf sizes will require different brewing times, so we have to be sure that the leaves of each constituent tea are as close in size as possible, then figure out just how long we're going to brew our creation.  Luckily, my Assam and my Nilgiri are roughly the same tea grade, and they both brew for about three or four minutes, so for my first attempt, a lot of the guesswork is taken out of it.

With a sense of "Let's just do it, and see what happens" (this may be why I am not an engineer), I dumped about half a teaspoon of Assam and half a teaspoon of Nilgiri in my pot, added boiling water, and steeped.  The result was a cup that tasted close to, if not exactly like Irish Breakfast.  The flavor was close enough to encourage me to keep trying, yet far enough off to make me wonder what I did wrong.  Am I missing an ingredient?  I know some Irish Breakfast blends feature Ceylon, but I didn't think it was obligatory.  I do think I could use some work on my ratios; I think I probably added too much Nilgiri and not enough Assam.

So, then, my first attempt at mixing my own blend was not a rousing success, but neither was it an abject failure.  I'll keep at the Irish Breakfast, I think, until I get it down, before I try something more complicated.

Coming up next, a week devoted to Earl Grey!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bentley's Flavored Green Tea Double Feature

I like Bentley's.  I've never had anything spectacular from them, but they produce some decent bag teas that I enjoy at work, where I don't have a proper tea kettle or the time to make quality tea.  I'd like it if they made the step up from flat tea bags to sachets or tea pyramids, but still and all, they make a pretty decent cup of tea.  So, today's review is a double feature from Bentley's:  Pomegranate green and Acai Blackberry green.

Pomegranate Green Tea

In an earlier post, I reviewed Bentley's Pomegranate black tea, and I spent a fair bit of time pointing out how irksome it is when a trendy new "miracle fruit" starts showing up everywhere.  I won't rehash any of that here, since a) I already kind of drove the point into the ground, and b) this is a pretty good tea.  I think that green tea plays better with fruit flavors than black tea, and here, the sweet and tart flavor of the pomegranate mingles well with the clean taste of the tea.  The tea itself is nothing fancy, just basic "no frills" green tea.  It's mellow and somewhat astringent, and has a very clean mouthfeel.  The fruit flavors complement the mild floral notes of the tea, and provide a sweet contrast to the mildly bitterness.  The finish is short and astringent, but not unpleasant.  Score:  80 (B-)

Acai Blackberry Green Tea

Right, I promised I wouldn't go on and on about trendy fruits, so I'll leave alone the addition of Acai, a South American berry with a rather sharp, tart taste.  This tea is actually a whole lot like the Pomegranate green, but I find the fruit additions to work even better than the pomegranate.  I taste more blackberry than Acai, which is great; blackberry and raspberry are two of my favorite flavors.  The berry blends even better than the pomegranate with the mellow floral notes and astringency of the tea.  I'm not usually one for iced green tea, but I can't wait to try this tea ice cold, with a splash of sweetener, on a really hot summer day.  Score:  85 (B)

Overall, two decent teas...nothing fancy about them, other than the inclusion of the latest in trendy fruit, but both make a clean, refreshing cup.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dunbar Tea and Room

Sandwich, Massachusetts is one of my favorite towns to visit.  In addition to the sea-side charm you hope for in a small Cape Cod town, the center includes several museums and shops.  The Heritage Museums and Gardens includes exhibits for antique cars, American folk art, and the Cape Cod League baseball Hall of Fame, and the gardens and landscaping are themselves nearly worth the price of admission.  The Sandwich Glass Museum is much more interesting than you would expect, and the free Thornton Burgess Museum is worth a quick stop.  Across from the Burgess museum is Dunbar Tea Room, where you should stop for a nice lunch and tea if you are touring the town.  Try the Ploughman's Lunch and you'll be inspired to eat simple cheese and salad-based dinners for a while (which is how I like to think Hobbits eat).

The tea room will likely be filled with little old ladies, but don't let that scare you away.  The mode of tea serving is interesting: a pot filled with loose leaf tea and a miniature sieve (there must be some tea-specific name for this).  You pour the tea through the sieve and into your cup, then use tongs to place the desired number of sugar cubes as sweetener.  The pot has enough tea for two and a half cups, though the last half cup is likely to be overly bitter as the brew time reaches 30 minutes.  Order a tea that takes excessive brew time well.

Dunbar offers many standard teas I'd expect to find in a tea shop, but they also offer their own eponymous blend.  This is the best tea I have tasted from the shop; a medium-strength black tea with cranberry and almond.  The cranberry is obvious but not so strong to make this a "fruit tea".  The tea gives a wonderful aroma that also includes vanilla, roasted nuts, and breakfast pastries.  The cranberry and vanilla balance well with the tea base, and the result is a smooth, slightly creamy tea on the palate.  The cranberry adds some delightful tartness to the finish.  A perfect afternoon tea.  Score: 94 points (A). 

Nilgiri, India's "other" self-drinking tea

In tea parlance, a "self-drinking" tea is a tea that is easily drinkable on it's own, capable of standing on its own merits without being blended with other teas or additions.  India is well known for several such stand alone teas: Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri.  Nilgiri gets less attention than the other two, often showing up only in blends; it's a key part of a quality Irish Breakfast blend, and the toasty aroma is immediately familiar because I've had so very much Irish Breakfast tea.  Due to it's relative scarcity, Nilgiri can sometimes fetch a high price in the market, but it's lesser known status can work in the buyer's favor as well.

I must admit, I expected a strong malty flavor from Nilgiri.  After all, Irish Breakfast is a dark, intense blend, and Nilgiri has such a toasty smell that I expected a similar flavor profile.  Surprisingly, Nilgiri is a light, fruity tea, with very little astringency; it's role in Irish Breakfast is clearly to provide sweetness and balance to the stronger, maltier Assam.  I found the Nilgiri to have a clean texture, and mild lemon and floral notes.  In fact, the same fruit and flowery notes often sought after in Ceylon, but with none of the astringency.  I've had poor luck with Ceylon.  I find it to be rather finicky, turning overly astringent far too easily.  Nilgiri seems to be a middle road of Indian/Sri Lankan teas, fruity and floral like Ceylon, sturdy like an Assam, yet smooth and clean like Darjeeling.

This was another Culinary Teas purchase, their Nilgiri Nonesuch, a BOP or "Broken Orange Pekoe" tea.  I brewed it along the regular parameters, full rolling boil, three to four minutes steeping, a splash of milk and sugar, though Nilgiri might drink well enough without the additions.  This tea was a great find, and I look forward to getting it again.  I also have been eying this and a tin of Assam in my cupboard, pondering mixing the two in an attempt to make my own Irish Breakfast.  I'll be sure to post my results here, though my expectations of my own mixing capabilities are not exactly high.  Score:  90 (A-)