Sunday, July 1, 2012

Culinary Teas Ginger Peach Black Tea

Summer time is fresh fruit time. Currently strawberries and blueberries, I'm eagerly awaiting the week or two until stone fruits are suddenly bursting into ripeness. All throughout the year, I eye the stone fruits in the store, and hell, I'll buy a few plums, nectarines, or apricots here or there, but I'm fascist about my peaches. Fresh and local, or none at all. A hard grocery store peach, picked before ripeness to survive a long shipping journey...blah. But a fresh peach, so soft and juicy that it bruises if you look too hard at, there are just some things on this earth that you get all spiritual about.

I do love peach. It's a unique and versatile flavor, blending wonderfully with green tea, black tea, and more importantly, bourbon. I've even had peach wine, peach lambic, and heard tell of wondeful peach ciders out there. Ginger and peach are often paired together, probably since ginger's earthy spice complements peach's sweet fruit flavors so well. I've had ginger peach as a combo in white, green ,and black teas, but Culinary Tea's ginger peach black tea is easily the best of the lot.

The base is the familiar Metropolitan Tea Ceylon blend, generic black tea flavor, but clean, sturdy, and smooth. The flavor additions are perfectly balanced, a pleasant ginger burn at the back of the throat, mild peach fruitiness, black tea astringency. Nothing stands out, but this is just a perfectly balanced cup, a good cup of hot tea, and a sublime glass of summertime iced tea. In today's food and drink world, so much seems to be about extremes, but this cuppa is so great because it effortlessly finds a balance without being boring. Score:  92 (A-)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Guest Post: Earl Grey Bitter Bottling

Hello there! This is Mark again, just following up on the beer I recently brewed using Earl Grey tea. I'm sure you're all dying to see how it came out, so here's some quick notes on fermentation and bottling.

Charles, 2nd Earl Grey was prime minister of the UK for four years, backing significant reform of the British government (in particular, he architected a redistribution of seats in the House of Commons and an expansion of the right to vote). How he came to lend his name to the famous bergamot-flavored tea is mildly mysterious. Like a lot of historical beer origins, there appear to be a lot of apocryphal tales surrounding Earl Grey tea, usually involving a recipe made by a Chinese mandarin. In some accounts, the mandarin is grateful to Lord Grey because one of his men saved the mandarin's son from drowning. The story that seems more likely to me is that the recipe was specifically formulated to suit the water at Grey's estate. The bergamot apparently offset the lime present in the water there and when Lady Grey used it to entertain guests in London as a political hostess, it became popular enough that Twinings sought to make it a brand. Or something. But enough about stuffy British politicians, let's get to the beer!

Bottling of my Earl Grey bitter commenced after two weeks in the fermenter. From observation of the airlock, fermentation seemed to go well for the first two days, but then it dropped off considerably. Given the low original gravity, this was not too surprising, but I gave it the full two weeks anyway.

The beer turned out to be a little lighter in color than I was expecting (which is not a big deal or anything), but the aroma was quite nice. A lot of citrus in the nose, which is exactly what I was going after. However, I'm not entirely sure how much of that came from the bergamot tea I used in the recipe. I had also used a small amount of orange peel, which certainly contributed something to the flavor, and it's also worth noting that Fuggle hops (even when used in bittering applications like I did) can contribute a soft, fruity aroma/flavor to the beer. I suppose one could call this more of a variant on Earl Grey than anything else - something more like Lady Grey tea, which also has orange (among a few other ingredients). Well, whatever the case, it seems like it will be quite an interesting beer.

Final Gravity came in at around 1.010, and according to my calculations, this works out to around 4% ABV (maybe a little more), which was pretty much the target (a little over 75% attenuation, which is pretty good). I had a bit of a worry when I first took my refractometer reading, as it came in at around 5.4°Bx, but it seems that Final Brix is a bit misleading because the alcohol distorts the readings a bit. With the help of the internets, I was able to correct for that distortion, and all seemed well. I also took a hydrometer reading, which came out a little lower than reported above, thus the beer might be slightly stronger than expected (but still around 4.5% ABV).

Another point of interest is that I primed the beer with around 2.5 oz. corn sugar, about half the normal dose. The style is typically not very highly carbonated, so I didn't want to overdo the priming sugar. Hopefully this will work out to create something with enough carbonation, but still smooth and quaffable. The beer actually tasted ok right now, even in its relatively flat form, so I think a minimum of carbonation would suit this nicely.

That about covers this beer. It's been an interesting exercise and I can't wait to taste the final product in a couple weeks.

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Weblog and Kaedrin Beer Blog)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Guest Post: Adventures in Brewing - Earl Grey Bitter

Greetings! My name is Mark, and I love beer. This may seem odd given that we're on a Tea blog, but I recently brewed a batch of beer that made use of Earl Grey Tea as an ingredient and Padraic thought his readers would be interested. So at his request, I'm going to cross post my tedious recap of the brewing process below. Also, just to note the obvious deficiency in my recipe: Yes, I used prepackaged tea bags. I realize bag tea is usually very low quality tea-crumbs and fannings, but it's what I had and it was convenient. Plus, I was really hoping to get more bergamot than tea flavoring, though I do think the tea will impart a subtle complexity to the style of beer I chose (which can often be a little tea like to start with). Anyway, I hope all the beer talk doesn't bore you to tears:

So I've had this crazy idea for a while. I like beer. I like Earl Grey tea. Why not combine the two? The thing that makes Earl Grey tea distinctive is bergamot, which is a sorta orange-like citrus fruit. Very nice aroma and flavor, as evidenced by the famous Earl Grey tea. I love a little citrus in my beer, so my first thought was that I should just go out and buy some bergamot oil, and add a tsp or two to the wort towards the end of the boil. Unfortunately, food grade bergamot oil is not as common as I thought. Everything I found was for aromatherapy or skincare - for external use only. Now, I didn't exactly want to make tea beer, but it looks like that's what I'm going to end up doing. And in fact, I had some Stash Double Bergamot tea laying around, so I figured I could use that to impart some bergamotty character (with the tea hopefully being drowned out by all the malt and hops and whatnot).

The next question was what to use for the base beer. In looking around, I see that I'm not the first person to think of this idea, but other folks seemed to be doing this with something like a Belgian Wit beer. This would certainly highlight the bergamot and tea flavors in the finished product, but I didn't want a beer dominated by those flavors, so I looked around at some other options. Since I was making an Earl Grey beer, I thought I should try to use an English style as the base. This was also in keeping with my recent affinity for lower gravity beers (or, at least, non-face-melting beer), and I eventually settled on the English Bitter style. The name is a bit of a misnomer - these are not super-bitter beers, though perhaps there's more hop character than usual for low ABV styles. Still, it seems like a beer that would take on the nice flavors of the bergamot and tea without being overwhelmed either way. In searching around, I found this nice kit from Northern Brewer called The Innkeeper, which sounds rather awesome. I added in some of my tea and, for good measure, some Bitter Orange Peel that I had leftover from previous beers. Here's the final recipe:

Beer #8: Earl Grey Bitter
March 10, 2012

4 Bags Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey Tea
0.25 lb. English Extra Dark Crystal (specialty grain)
0.25 lb. Belgian Biscuit Malt (specialty grain)
3.15 lb. Pilsen LME
1 lb. Pilsen DME
1 lb. Corn Sugar
1 oz. US Fuggle (Bittering @ 5.2% AA)
1 oz. UK Kent Goldings (Bittering/Flavor @ 5.8% AA)
1 oz. Styrian Goldings (Aroma)
1 tsp. Bitter Orange peel
Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale

It's a mildly unusual recipe to start with and I'm adding my own unusual elements too. Here's to hoping it turns out well. I started by bringing 2.5 gallons of water to around 150°F - 155°F, then I began steeping both the specialty grains and 3 of the tea bags (I was reserving one for the end of the boil). My hope was that adding the tea this early in the process would yield an interesting, but not overpowering flavor to the beer (after all, I imagine a lot of the character will be lost in the boil). I only steeped the tea for about 5 minutes, leaving the grains to steep for another 15 or so minutes.

Brought the mixture to a boil, added all of the malt extract and corn sugar, waited (again) for it to return to boiling, then added the Fuggle hops. The strangest thing about this recipe is that the second hop addition comes a mere 15 minutes later. This seems like it would provide more bittering than flavor, but I assume both will be present in the finished product (normally flavor hops are added no less than 30 minutes into the boil, as the flavor compounds are lost after long boils). Finally, with about 5 minutes left, I added the Styrian Goldings. About a minute later, I added the last teabag (though I didn't keep it in the whole time - in retrospect, I should have probably just made a cup of tea separately, then poured it into the boil). And while I was at it, I threw in some bitter orange peel, just to amp up the citrus a bit (in case the tea didn't provide it).

Off to the ice bath for cooling, which is something I think I've got a better handle on these days. I think some of the issues with my early beers were partially due to poor temperature control. And I'd guess that part of the reason my last few batches have come out so much better is that I've gotten much better about cooling the wort in an ice bath (I use much more ice now, basically, and it helps that I'm doing this during late winter, when I can open my windows and drop the room temperature quickly). Anyways, got this stuff down to about 80°F - 90°F, strained it into the bucket, and topped off with some room temperature and cold water, bringing final volume up to 50 gallons.

Apparently one of the things that makes this recipe distinctive is the yeast, which seems to have relatively low attenuation (certainly lower than the American and Belgian yeast strains I've been using of late), but given the relatively low gravity nature of the recipe, and the sizeable simple sugar addition, I think the result will still be dry enough. The yeast was packaged on 1/16/12, so it's relatively fresh.

Original Gravity: 1.042 (around 10°Bx). I got sick of using my hydrometer, so I invested in a fancy new refractometer. Unfortunately, I got the variety that only displays measurements in Brix, but the conversion is somewhat straighforward and I have an easier time reading this than my hydrometer. The gravity came in a little below the target, but it should be fine. If all goes well, this should produce a beer at around 4% ABV (maybe even less). Given the alcohol and simple sugar addition, I'm looking at a light (in body, not color), quaffable beer. Fingers crossed.

I plan to bottle in about two weeks time (could probably do so earlier because of the low gravity, but I'll keep it at two weeks). Since the style isn't supposed to be heavily carbonated, I'll probably end up using less priming sugar than usual, maybe 2-3 oz (as opposed to 5).

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Weblog and Kaedrin Beer Blog)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

East Frisian tea

East Frisian tea comes from Ostfriesland, or well, East Frisia.  Ostfriesland is a culturally and linguistically distinct region in Germany.  Situated on the Western side of the country near the Netherlands, Ostfriesland is apparently a rather cool and rainy place, and folks from the region drink more tea per capita than even the Irish, which is all the more remarkable in Germany, a nation given by and large to coffee consumption.  Frisian can be considered a dialect in the German language continuum, and interestingly, despite a rather heavy Dutch influence over the centuries, it is the closest living relative to English.  In fact, Beowulf was written about a hero from these parts, and without the years of Dutch influence, Anglo-Saxon Old English and Frisian would probably be mutually intelligible.  The region's location on the Dutch border explains both the propensity for tea drinking and the composition of the blend itself.  At first part of Germany, the common folk drank beer and lots of it as a daily beverage.  The Dutch conquered the region at one point or another, however, and disapproved of alcohol consumption, and introduced first coffee, then tea.  The Dutch East India company was in full swing, and cheap tea was pouring in from India and also Java, another Dutch colony, thus the common folk could afford a strong malty blend of Assam and Java teas.  Ostfriesland fell under German rule again, but the tea habit stuck.

I first discovered East Frisian tea in a BOP blend from Special Teas, and loved it from the outset.  Special Teas got taken over, and this thick, dark, strong blend disappeared, until I discovered Upton Tea Imports this fall.  Appropriately enough, the tea came in on a cold, rainy day, and to my pleasant surprise, Upton Teas' blend is even better than the one I remember from Special Teas.  East Frisian blends are typically made from a malty, tippy Assam and Java teas.  Assam is familiar ground, but I must admit, I was only dimly aware that tea even came from Java, an island probably far better known for its coffee.  I also purchased a sample pack of Java, to better understand the blend, and its an ok tea in its own right, but nothing spectacular.

Brewed at a rolling boil, steeped for three or four minutes, and served with milk (or even cream, as is traditional in Frisia) and sugar.  Brown rock sugar, known locally as kluntjes is served over there, and you can purchase the stuff online, but my need for authenticity only goes so far...I'm unlikely to shell out for a special kind of sugar that goes best with one tea, especially since I barely use the stuff.  Served traditionally, the tea is steeped, then poured over the rock sugar, and cream is floated on top, the notion being a layered beverage.  Well, I like doing things correctly and all, but I added a teaspoonfull of gold old white sugar and a tablespoon or so of whole milk and stirred everything together.

This is a strong and dark tea.  In fact, I first tried it because it was described as "stronger and darker" than Irish Breakfast.  Upton Teas' blend, though, is something truly special, huge and thick, with an amazing body and mouthfeel, and flavors of malt, coffee, and cocoa.  Despite my love of tea, I drink about two cups of coffee almost every day, have since I was a teenager, and would hate to give it up, but if I had to, this blend could replace the coffee.  The combination of malt from the Assam and coffee/cocoa from the Java is truly special, and perfectly executed.  Java on its own was kind of muddy and bland, but put up against a strong Assam, and, well, harmony is a wonderful thing.

Score:  99 (A+)  This is a pantry staple, especially in the colder months.  In fact, having sampled probably more than a hundred distinct teas, I can easily say that this is one of my top three, along with last week's Banaspaty Assam and the so far unreviewed Silver Needle White.  I'm also very curious to try full leaf East Frisian...the full leaves would mean a less intense cup, but would also bring more nuances of flavor.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Single Estate Assams

Happy (rather belated) one year birthday, tea blog.  Many happy returns.

I haven't forgotten or forsaken the tea blog, just been on a bit of a hiatus.  Babies, work, lots of cups of coffee, trying to squeeze the occasional condensed exercise in there somewhere, but very little tea, and no writing to speak of.  I've worked my way through an order of samples from Upton Tea Imports, so I have notes to write a few good reviews, but not so much the time lately.

So, Upton Teas is a local, Massachusetts company with a large warehouse less than an hour from here.  I've looked at their site from time to time, but never really gotten around to ordering, at least until the weather got cold and I got a hankering for East Frisian tea, a dark, thick, malty blend that's perfect for dismal, wet weather.  East Frisian blends can be hard to find, but a cursory web search brought me to Upton Teas, and I thought to myself, I've been meaning to try them for a while.  Now, I subscribe to the notion that if you're going to get a small amount of tea, why not get a small amount of a bunch of teas?  It costs very little, is a great way to explore new teas, and it gives me lots and lots to write about.  Luckily, Upton has a huge selection, and I ended up with ten small sample pouches at my door in less than 48 hours.  Great service, and as it turns out, great tea...this company takes loose tea pretty seriously.

To start working my way through my backlog of notes, let's talk Assam...single estate Assam.  In tea parlance, single estate means the tea comes from only one plantation.  In the past, I've compared them to single malts, though do to the seasonal nature of tea, most batches are also from only one year or growing season, so perhaps a single barrel whisky is a more apt comparison.  We've talked about Assam a little bit before.  In the past, I've always found it to be a sturdy, robust tea that takes well to milk and serves as the backbone for many a strong, bold breakfast cup.  It's solid, reliable, and can be a bit bland.  I thought the last until I finally tried some single estate Assam, anyway.

Banaspaty TGBOP
Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe, quality broken leaf pieces with plenty of golden tips.  Broken leaf teas lose perhaps some nuance of flavor in exchange for a stronger, more intense cup, so I'd be very curious to try a full leaf variety here, but no matter, as is this is possibly the best cup of tea I've ever had.  Dark, reddish brown in the cup, with a full, chewy yet never chalky mouthfeel.  The flavor is malty and fruity at once, with a wonderful natural sweetness.  Malt and oak, perfectly balanced with an amazing thick blackberry jam flavor.  Banaspaty kept bringing to mind port wood aged Speyside malts with its combination of malt and dark fruit.  It was excellent both black and more so with milk, and the jam notes really shone with the addition of a little sugar...maybe half or a full teaspoon.  I would get this tea again and again, though there are of course many other Assam estates to try.  Score: 99 (A+)

Brewed with water at a full rolling boil,  one teaspoon to a six ounce cup, and a shorter steep time than most black teas, at only three minutes.  The smaller leaf size does tend to brew up rather quickly, and I suspect five minutes might allow some bitterness to seep in.

Numalighur TGFOP1
Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, full leaves with plenty of golden tips...the 1 denotes highest quality.  A full leaf tea, which brews up a slightly lighter cup than the Banaspaty.  The Numalighur has a more complex profile than the Banaspaty, with sweet malt notes mingling with dark raisins, easily reminiscent of a sherry aged Speyside or Highland malt.  Less oak than the Banaspaty, and a touch drier in the mouth.  Although the body is a little lighter, the finish lingers a bit longer.  I hesitate to use the word, but a more "elegant" cup than the Banaspaty, though not necessarily better.  Another tea I will definitely get again!  Score:  95 (A)

Brewed with the same parameters as the Banaspaty, but the full leaf size calls for a longer steep...I had success with five minutes.  Again excellent black, as well with milk and a bit of sugar.  I think the sugar made less of a difference here than with the Banaspaty.

These are two truly fantastic teas.  I should never have waited so long to try single estate Assams...I think I have a lot more exploration through the area, and I currently have a new favorite tea.  More to come!