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-)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lapsang Souchong

I first discovered Lapsang Souchong courtesy of Russian Caravan, one of my favorite teas.  I picked up a sample of the Russian Caravan from Special Teas a few years ago, and was both taken aback and intrigued by the smoke...who had ever heard of smoky tea?  Some minimal research identified the active ingredient, so to speak, as the unique Lapsang Souchong...a black tea from China that is dried over a pine fire, which is both really cool, and a relief, as I'd first assumed artificial smoke flavoring, an evil food additive.  Smoke should be come by honestly!

For a long time, I much preferred Russian Caravan to the straight up smoke of Lapsang Souchong.  Russian Caravan is Lapsang blended with Keemun and other Chinese black teas, which gives it a balanced, all around profile...sort of the way I preferred the smoky but balanced flavor of a Talisker or Springbank to an Islay single malt.  But an odd thing happened this winter...I started to really enjoy smoke!  I found myself really enjoying Islay Scotches, and going to the Russian Caravan more often.  In my first real post here, I made a lot of comparisons between the smoke of Lapsang and that of Scotch whisky, and though there are similarities, it's not really the same kind of smoke... the tea is more reminiscent of burning pine logs in a fireplace or campfire, while an Islay smells and tastes more of a damp peat fire.

So, Friday found the wife and I at Mrs. Bridge's, our local teahouse, and I thought, I've been digging smoke, it's been a good while since I've tried straight Lapsang.  The pot came out, smelling like a campfire, perfect for a chilly March afternoon.  Like all things smoky, Lapsang Souchong is an October through March proposition; I don't crave anything smoky in the summer, but it fits so well in the Fall through early Spring.  The tea was absolutely wonderful:  huge smoke in the nose, with a good body and a surprisingly mellow flavor profile.  I think in my mind, I always picture Lapsang as this big, heavy tea, but behind the phenols, it's actually fairly light; the body is sturdy, but without the full, thick feel of an Assam, and there is really no astringency at all.  Lapsang stands on its own well enough, but I prefer it with the addition of milk and sugar.  The milk thickens the body, while the sweetener provides a really nice balance to the smoke.  I'm not sure what changed in my taste buds over this winter, but Lapsang Souchong has moved up from an occasional cup to a cupboard staple.  Score:  95 (A)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Vanilla Almond Ceylon

The teabag is a modern invention, dating back to the turn of the 20th century.  The first commercial use of the teabag was in 1904, by tea merchant Thomas Sullivan.  The bag was hand sewn silk, and intended simply as a way of packaging small amounts of tea, but consumers began steeping the tea still in the package, and fell in love with the convenience.  Thus, the questionable modern advancement of the teabag was born.  At its inception, the teabag was simply a neat, handy way of steeping tea, but fairly quickly, tea companies realized the teabag made a great way to get rid of tea dust and fannings that were left over from sorting higher quality loose tea.  So, the modern teabag was born and, generations of people grew to believe the chalky, astringent texture of low quality tea was true of all tea.  Thousands of people learned to dislike tea, yet have never had a proper cup of the stuff.

I don't mean to come down too hard on teabags.  Loose tea vs. bag tea is really a question of quality vs. convenience.  Loose tea has a far cleaner texture and more developed flavors, but of course takes more time and effort to make.  Teabags typically brew up with a dirtier texture and less flavor due to the lower grade tea, but are so quick and easy  At home, I almost always go with loose tea, but at work I usually just settle for the quick option of teabags.  A nice compromise between both worlds is the tea sachet, or "pyramid" bag.  The larger volume inside the bag allows for true leaf tea, and gives the leaves a small amount of room to bloom, so to speak.  It's still not full leaf tea blooming inside an entire teapot, but it does make for a better cup of tea than an old fashioned bag.

So, then, today's review is a vanilla almond Ceylon from Tea Nation.  I've tried a vanilla flavored tea from Special Teas once before, and was underwhelmed.  The vanilla was from real Madagascar beans, and smelled absolutely amazing, but dominated the tea completely.  As much as I loved Special Teas for their great blended black teas, they didn't always do so well with flavored teas; it seemed they coulnd't find the right balance between tea and flavoring.  Tea Nation seems a pretty good company, and they got that balance spot on with this tea.  Hints of sweet vanilla and almond complement the tea, yet never overpower it.  The tea is Ceylon, with which I've had mixed results, but I really like this blend.  It's strong and flavorful without becoming overly astringent, and the sweetness from the vanilla and almond is perfect.  I'll add a splash of milk and sugar to most black teas, but this one doesn't need either; the sugar only gets in the way of the more subtle almond and vanilla notes, and milk just dilutes the flavor and weakens the rather delicate body.  For me, a tea that can stand solely on its own merits, not even needing milk or sweetener, is a quality cup of tea.  Score:  85 (B)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Soom Gunpowder Darjeeling

I've only tried Darjeeling tea once before, and was severely underwhelmed.  It has a reputation as the "Champagne of teas," but my prior experience with Darjeeling was a bit less than exciting.  Gunpowder Darjeeling from the Soom tea estate is a completely different, and has really opened up a whole new world of teas for me to try.  This was the first tea of five that I tried from the Culinary Teas "Darjeeling Sampler," leaving me with four more Darjeeling estates to sample and write about.

Darjeeling tea comes from a very specific region of India, and is a highly sought after tea.  The relative scarcity as well as the high quality makes Darjeeling rather expensive, and apparently often counterfeited (look for the official Darjeeling Tea association logo).  Darjeeling tea is usually lightly colored and flavored with floral, fruit, and spice notes.  First flush is the first harvest of the season, and has lighter flavors and less astringency, then the second flush, which is typified by stronger muscatel flavors.  There are also Monsoon and Autumnal flushes, which have less strong flavors and are not as often exported, but often show up in blends and bags.  Darjeeling is sold as a black tea, but can technically be considered as an Oolong, since the leaves are only about 90% oxidized.  More confusingly, actual Oolong, green, and white Darjeeling are now becoming available as well.

The Gunpowder Soom Darjeeling is "BPS" grade, or Broken Pekoe Souchong.  Tea grading is confusing at best, and I must admit, I had to look this up, but it's simply an Indian tea grade classification for Broken Orange Pekoe, basically meaning "broken tea leaves."  Gunpowder, as with green tea, means that in the processing, the leaves are tightly rolled into balls (sometimes referred to as "pearls") that unfurl when brewed.  Soom, it turns out, is a well known tea estate in Darjeeling.  Their tea grows on mountain sides, about 5200 feel above sea level, sometimes on slopes approaching 45 degrees, and is actually moved from field to factory by mountain pony!  Some of Soom's tea bushes are estimated to be over 130 years old, yet still producing tea.  The quality is further highlighted by a modernized factory with brand new equipment, the happy result of an unfortunate fire in 1995.

Darjeeling can be more finicky to brew than bolder, sturdier teas.  The leaves are more fragile, and sometimes require a shorter steeping time, though this one in particular brews for about three or four minutes at a full, rolling boil.  Like greens and whites, milk and sweetener would destroy the fragile body and taste of this type of tea; thus, it's best drank by itself, letting the delicate tea speak on its own.

And it does speak!  My first sip of Soom Gunpowder Darjeeling is an unexpected pleasure.  The flavors are mellow, and not as bold as say an Assam, but I find several different delicate and balanced notes that go together very well.  The initial note is a mild natural smokiness.  This is not a smoke dried tea like Lapsang Souchong, but instead, has a naturally dry and smoky characteristic that I find very appealing.  The smoke is balanced with a slight toasted or nutty flavor that I have found in Oolongs, and further back on the tongue, restrained fruit and peppery spices.  All of these flavor notes mingle and complement each other very well.  You can almost feel different aspects of the taste hitting different flavor receptors on the tongue.

Darjeeling tends to have a lighter body, and can have a fair bit of astringency.  These show up in Soom Gunpowder Darjeeling as a light texture and a very refreshing and crisp mouthfeel.  The finish is short, but leaves my mouth feeling clean and reminiscent of the Gunpowder green I had a few months back.

My overall impression of Soom Gunpowder Darjeeling is excellent.  Based on a bad impression a few years back, I've been ignoring Darjeeling, but now I have a whole new world to high quality tea to explore.  Score:  95 (A)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Belated St. Patrick's Day Review -or- Irish Breakfast Tea/Cream Irish Breakfast Tea

The Irish drink more tea per capita than anyone else on Earth--an average of four cups per person per day.  Irish Breakfast tea is often the preferred blend, to the point that a request for "tea" will bring Irish Breakfast.  Barry's and Lyon's are the top competitors in Ireland, while Twinings is the most common Irish Breakfast blend in the states, but aside from bag tea, there are many different fine Irish Breakfast blends available here in America.  I traveled to London and Ireland in 2008 with every intent of drinking many a cup of fine tea.  Unfortunately, between jet lag, lack of sleep from unfamiliar conditions, and the general need to get up and go, I spent the entire trip subsisting on bad instant coffee and never actually had a cup of tea.  It's a matter of some regret; though I probably would have ended up being served bag tea anyway.

So then, today's review is based on a quality blend of Irish Breakfast tea from a small company somewhere in Pennsylvania (a bag given to me by a good friend), but I've had fine cups of the blend from many different companies.  I've mentioned Irish Breakfast here before, often as a point of comparison to other breakfast teas.  The blend is based on Assam, like most other breakfast teas, mixed with Nilgiri (some blends feature Ceylon, which is fine as an addition, but not a replacement for the Nilgiri).  The Assam brings a malty base, while the Nilgiri brings a distinctive toasty aroma and light, fruity flavors to balance the astringent Assam.  This tea brews up an intense dark brown, almost the color of coffee, and has a full, strong flavor.  Irish Breakfast is intense enough that I don't think I'd even try to drink it without milk and sugar.  I find I also need to be careful with steeping time and the amount of tea I use.  The astringent character can almost dry out the tongue, and it's increased by too much tea or too long of a brew.  Again, this is more of a problem in cheaper blends that feature Ceylon in lieu of the more refined Nilgiri.  Sugar helps balance the bitter taste and texture some, but nothing can save a cup that's been steeped too long.  Indeed, the chalky mouthfeel has led me to prefer Scottish Breakfast, but I sometimes get nostalgic for a cup of the Irish Breakfast.  After all, it's the tea that really introduced me to the bigger world of teas outside of generic Red Rose and Lipton bags, many years ago.

Culinary Teas offers an Irish Breakfast blend that I should try sometime, but they also offer a Cream Irish Breakfast tea that is simply amazing.  (This is not to be confused with their Irish Cream tea, which is a less strong tea base flavored with Irish Cream, and is also good, but not as good.)  Cream Irish Breakfast is Irish Breakfast tea flavored with actual cream.  The addition of cream flavoring adds balance and sweetness to the malty and astringent tea.  The resulting brew is nothing short of fantastic;  creamy with a velvety, smooth texture, sweet and strong and astringent all at the same time.  Cream Irish Breakfast may not be strictly traditional with the addition of cream flavoring, but it's one of the best cups of tea I've had in a long time.

Scores:  Irish Breakfast 80 (B-) and Cream Irish Breakfast 95 (A)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Canadian Ice Wine Tea

I don't know much about wine.  I typically enjoy local wines from places like Sharpe Hill, Priam Vineyards, or somewhat less locally, the absolutely wonderful Thousands Islands Winery.  I know the difference between grape varietals and what they should taste like, but I find navigating labels and prices of wines in a liquor store confusing and frequently disappointing.  I thoroughly enjoy going to wine tastings at local wineries, but don't have the knowledge base or patience to become a wine nerd. (Sorry, oenoligist!)

Ice wine is a particular type of white wine, often made in Canada and other northern climates.  The grapes for ice wine are harvested after the first frost, and the cold freezes some of the water in the grapes, concentrating the sugars and flavors in the wine.  Ice wine is intense, with lots of honey sweetness and big grape flavors.  I've never had an actual ice wine, but I've thoroughly enjoyed several late harvest wines, which have similar characteristics  I'd highly recommend an ice wine or a late harvest to anyone who enjoys sweet honey flavors or white wine.

I found Canadian Ice Wine tea browsing through the Culinary Teas website, and was intrigued.  Culinary Teas makes some excellent flavored teas, so I ordered a 1 oz. sampler in the spirit of trying something new and unusual.  The first thing I did with the tea was open the package and sniff.  It has a really nice aroma, mellow tea (Ceylon, unless I miss my guess) mingling with sweet, pleasant wine.  What, then, does the tea actually taste like?  Sadly, not very good!  The first flavor to hit my tongue is of the wine, and it's pleasant enough, but it's almost immediately undercut by the astringency of the tea.  The tea base is not bad, nor is the mildly sweet, grape flavor of the wine; they just don't go together!  The tea and the wine struggle to be heard against each other, and certainly don't complement each other.  I give the tea blenders an A for effort and for the concept, but an F for the execution, which is barely drinkable.  My suggestion is to enjoy a quality cup of tea and a quality glass of wine separately, though I wonder if a sweeter tea and/or a dryer wine might play together better.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fortnum and Mason Royal Blend

Fortnum and Mason, often abbreviated Fortnum's, is an iconic British department store, well known for quality tea blends and fancy (and quite expensive) stocked picnic hampers.  They also claim to have invented the Scotch egg, which is sort of like claiming you invented the hot's plausible, but unlikely.  If you've never had a Scotch egg, and have the chance to try one, go for it.  It's a hard boiled egg encased in a layer of pork sausage and an outside layer of breadcrumbs.  The "Scotch" part of the egg is a nod to the snack's origin as a treat for the working class rather than coming from north of Hadrian's Wall, "Scotch" (and "Welsh") having been used to mean "cheap" or "poor" by the English at one time or another.  Working class fare or not, the Scotch egg is delicious, and I often wonder why it hasn't caught on in the States.

Today's review is Fortnum's Royal Blend, a strong malty blend of Assam and Ceylon teas first created for King Edward VII during the early 20th century.  Edward VII became King following Queen Victoria's death in 1901, so we can't properly call this tea blend "Victorian,"  but it's close.  The actual historical period is "Edwardian," which it turns out is the brief period between Queen Victoria's death and World War I.

The tea is a blend of a strong, malty Assam and a lighter Ceylon, and in all actuality, is not that different from several different breakfast teas I've had.  The Assam lends notes of malt and oak, and the Ceylon balances out the Assam with a little bit of a floral or grassy note.  It's a strong and pleasant, if not unique cup of tea, and offers a nice, old fashioned looking tin and a bit of a history lesson.  On the whole, I'd probably go for Scottish Breakfast, which has similar flavors but offers a touch more complexity, but still, not a bad cup of tea at all.  Score:  80 (B-)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Scottish Breakfast Tea -or- A Tea for Scotch

As I've noted before, I thoroughly enjoy breakfast teas.  I like the bold flavors and the malty Assam teas that tend to dominate the style, and I like how well the blends go with milk and a little sweetener.  Of the breakfast teas I've had, I usually pick Scottish breakfast as my favorite.  It has a fuller flavor profile than Irish or English breakfast, with more malt and fruit notes, and a hint of oak....all tasting notes shared with the world of Scotch, which may help explain why I'm such a big fan of this tea.  If I had to guess, I'd say there are Ceylon and possibly Keemun teas mixed with the Assam, but I'm far from an expert at picking out teas in a blend.  Scottish Breakfast tends to be a bit harder to find loose than its cousins, but happily, Culinary Teas (pretty much my go-to for loose tea these days) has it in stock.

Nothing unusual in the brewing.  Typical for a blended black tea, one rounded teaspoon per mug, water at a rolling boil into a warmed teapot, steep for about four minutes.  Scottish Breakfast brews up as dark as Irish Breakfast, but lacks the sharp astringent note I often find in Irish Breakfast blends.  The flavor is bold, round, and strong, with lots of malt and some pleasant oak. It's a great cup with a big breakfast, or on a chilly winter afternoon (I've never been one for so-called "afternoon" teas anyway).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Scottish Breakfast makes a fantastic hot toddy type of drink when mixed with Scotch, especially a sweeter malt.  The similar flavor notes blend together and complement each other very well.  Now, I can't exactly endorse mixing a good single malt with tea, as I'm a firm believer in not diluting fine whisky in any way, but a smooth blend or maybe a bargain single malt would go well.  A cup brewed a bit strong, with plenty of milk and sugar, and a generous measure of whisky makes a great restorative hot drink to ward off the chill or soothe nasty cold symptoms.  Be wary, though--strong, sweet tea can hide a fair bit of whisky, and this drink is so good, it's easy to forget it's also pretty strong.  Score:  90 (A-)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Turkish Coffee

About a year ago, I stumbled across a small package of Turkish coffee in a discount store.  I'd read about it several times, and was eager to try it, as it is usually described as strong or intense.  Turkish coffee is very finely ground, and steeps right in the pot with the water (and sugar, if desired).  Bringing my purchase home, I hit my first stumbling block;  Turkish coffee is made in a special pot, called a cezve or briki, and of course, I had no such pot.

Helpfully, the package also described an alternate way to make this coffee: Israeli mud coffee.  Turkish coffee is of course not just Turkish, it is enjoyed across the Middle East, Greece, the Balkans, and parts of Russia.  As it turns out, and for reasons I can't seem to fathom, in Israel, they prefer to make it as "mud coffee."  I must say, this is truly a lazy man's way to make coffee.  The steps consist of:  place coffee and sugar in cup, add boiling water, stir, let settle.  This is not instant coffee, which is instead made from freeze dried prepared coffee...these are just finely ground coffee beans.  The results is...well, mud coffee is a good name.  It's strong, murky, lacking any nuance of flavor, and the grounds form a thick sludge along the bottom.  In short, it's coffee my Dad would love, but then, he's been known to cheerfully drink coffee that's been sitting out overnight.

A few months later, my wife spotted a Turkish coffee pot in the store for about $8.  It's not a traditional one with the long handle, but it works, and can also be used to make homemade hot chocolate, a nice side benefit.  So, after several months, I get to try the real thing.

This is not lazy man's coffee!  Preparing Turkish coffee takes multiple steps.  First, we put water (and sugar, if it's desired) in the pot, and bring the water to a boil.  Next, we take the pot off the heat and add two big teaspoonfuls of coffee and stir.  The pot needs to sit for a few minutes to let the grounds settle and cool a little.  Now, we put the pot back on the heat, and slowly bring it back to a boil, then take it off the heat, cool, and boil once more.  If done right, a nice reddish brown layer of foam appears on top, very much like the foam on a cup of espresso.  I'm still working on the foam...I think it requires a slow, patient boil for the second and third boiling, and I'm not always a patient man.

The resulting cup of coffee is strong and unique.  The spout on the cezve catches (most of) the grounds, leaving a far cleaner cup then with the "mud coffee," and the extra boilings help the flavor develop fully.  The taste is very bold and earthy, and the coffee has a huge, full feel on the tongue.  Much like French press coffee, various oils, esters, and other compounds are retained rather than being lost in a filter, lending a nice complexity to the flavor and texture.

Properly made Turkish coffee is not exactly for a busy morning, but it makes a nice treat when you have the time.  The coffee itself is relatively cheap, and seems to turn up in discount stores and ethnic food sections, and a reasonable facsimile of a real cezve can be found for less than $10.

Maple Tea (from Metropolitan Teas)

I'm a little behind on tea reviews.  It's been a busy month for whisky.  At last weekend's wonderful yearly event, Whisk(e)y-a-Go-Go, I met up with my good friend Jacob, who was the inspiration for last month's experiment in sweetening  a Canadian breakfast tea with maple syrup.  He noted in a comment that the maple themed gift shop near his new house also sold maple tea, and in fact came down to the whisky tasting with a generous surprise gift of a box of maple tea and a bottle of maple syrup.  The timing is perfect.  Here in New England, it's officially maple season...the temperature is starting to go up, and the sap is running.

The base of the maple tea is Ceylon.  Ceylon is an archaic name for Sri Lanka,an island nation off the coast of India.  Like so many tea producing areas, Sri Lanka is a former British colony, gaining independence shortly after World War II, and officially changing its name to Sri Lanka in 1972.  Though the nation changed its name, the tea kept the old appellation, and is still known throughout the world as Ceylon.  Ceylon tea, like Darjeeling and Earl Grey, is commonly labeled an "afternoon tea," which usually means a milder tea than the bolder, maltier British breakfast teas.  Indeed, Ceylon often has hints of fruit or floral overtones, but I find it is not nearly as delicate as Darjeeling.

Ceylon is an interesting choice for a maple tea.  At first thought, I would have expected a pairing with a heartier, maltier blend featuring a lot of Assam.  After all, I associate the flavor of maple with hearty, warming winter breakfasts that fight off the chill and clog our arteries.  However, the Ceylon works well, even if it is an afternoon tea with some delicate notes.  It doesn't fall apart at the mere hint of other flavors, and I suspect Assam or something equally as malty might distract from the real star in this tea, the maple syrup.  I often forget that the target audience for a flavored tea probably cares mostly about the added flavor, and less about how it blends with the tea base, though I must say, this tea works far better than all those fruit flavored teas I've had.

So, we brew in the usual way, water at a rolling boil, two teabags for my overly large mug (covered with mathematical and scientific equations...I will have to post a picture sometime), brew for about four minutes, add milk and sweetener.  So far, I've tried sugar, and my usual sweetener of choice, agave nectar.  I haven't dared add actual maple syrup to maple tea yet...I'll post a comment when I feel ready to tackle that much maple at once.  The resulting cup is quite pleasant.  The Ceylon provides a solid but unobtrusive base.  Any actual fruit or floral hints are lost behind the maple, but the maple flavor really shines, and blends quite nicely.  I get a slightly thin body and some minor astringency, but that's likely from the fannings.  I've spoiled myself a bit with loose tea over the last few months, and milk thickens up the mouthfeel pretty well.  All in all, a good cup, perfect for a New England winter morning or afternoon.  85 points (a solid B)