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 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 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" 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'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. 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)