Monday, 25 August 2008

Tea thought of the day

‘There must come a time when we have learned enough about the kinds of tea and the ways they are processed. We also know a lot about how to brew tea: what amount to put it, what temperature water to use, etc. At that point, the wise person realises that the only aspect of the tea left to improve, at the end of the day, is him or herself.’ – Vegetable Tea, by Thomas Leons, in The Leaf, Issue 3 (

Monday, 18 August 2008

A biscuit is a biscuit...

…or so you would think. Apparently, however, it is not that simple. This is what I have discovered since I read Nicey and Wifey’s book Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down, a most inspired present from my wonderful husband, who, I would also like to point out, commonly refers to me as ‘wifey’ ever since we got married (rather to the horror of some friends of ours). Nice as my husband is, though, I don’t call him ‘Nicey’ in turn, for fear of copyright infringement and/or a surfeit of symmetry.

I have to say that I don’t eat a lot of biscuits, even with my cups of tea, but the NCOTAASD book (and website!) is enough to inspire me to start. I would have to do so at home, though; the standard of biscuits which are supplied at my work is not a terribly high one, and (in my experience, anyway) they only make an appearance at training sessions that run for longer than a couple of hours and consequently need to include a morning tea break.

The biscuits provided at these sessions are invariably Arnotts Assorted Creams (Australian readers will know exactly what I mean and not have to click on the link). Not all of the biscuits in this collection are awful, but really the only decent ones are the Kingstons and the Monte Carlos (and the Kingstons are better), and there are never enough of them. Perhaps the best solution would be to buy ONLY packets of Kingstons and Monte Carlos, but I doubt that this will ever happen.

My sister, who works for one of the State departments, told me a story (a couple of years ago now) about how she had been lucky enough to attend a meeting important enough to have Tim Tams present. Apparently Tim Tams were once a fairly regular sight at her workplace, but they became more of a rarity, only to be brought out at high-level events, after a newspaper ran an expose revealing the (apparently enormous) sums of public money being spent by this department on Tim Tams when cheaper biscuits were available.

This story continues to cause me unbridled hilarity, but it raises interesting issues which Nicey and Wifey also tackle in their most excellent book: the question of which biscuits count as a luxury and which don’t. This appears to be a more complicated issue in Britain because of the VAT, which means that biscuits with chocolate on the outside are taxed as ‘luxury items’, but ones with their chocolate on the inside (as chocolate chips or filling) are considered ‘basic’, and not taxed.

This situation seems vaguely – ok, well, quite clearly – ludicrous to me, because it appears perfectly possible to have some very very very good quality, luxurious biscuits that don’t involve a chocolate coating and would therefore avoid the ‘luxury’ tax, and some really quite appalling and down-market biscuits which are nonetheless chocolate-coated (albeit with crappy chocolate) and taxed. I am sure this causes endless headaches for the tax people in Britain, and I’m glad that the situation is rather less silly down under.

But back to the NCOTAASD book. It is a really fun read, with lots of useful tips, for example on dunking – which biscuits hold up best, the most efficient and effective way to dunk, etc – on having tea in public (and the importance of sitting down), how to ostracise people who like sugar in their tea, and so on. Plus the biscuit reviews are great. It is solely as a result of reading this book and the reviews on the NCOTAASD website that I decided to try McVities HobNobs, just because they got such a good write up – and truly, for a non-home-made biscuit, the milk chocolate-coated ones really are a splendid accompaniment to a nice cup of tea. Better than Tim Tams, even.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

New Tea - Lapsang Souchong

I spent last weekend in Melbourne, where I was lucky enough to be able to make a trip up to the Dandenongs (where it snowed!!) with my family for lunch, after which I stopped in at Tea Leaves to have a browse and possibly a purchase. I came away with a couple of different teas, a couple of tins to store them in, and a tea cosy (pictures to come soon!). The teas I bought were Lapsang Souchong, and a honey-flavoured sencha. I haven’t had the chance to give the sencha a proper go yet – the water at work would ruin it, I should think – but I brought in the Lapsang to give it a try.

Well. It’s powerful stuff, that’s all I can say. Lapsang is a black tea from Fukien province in China, and it is smoked over cypress and pine branches, which gives it an amazingly intense smoky scent and flavour which lingers in your throat and nose a bit after you’ve swallowed – not in an unpleasant way though. You get the taste of lovely fresh woodsmoke without the scratchy, choking feeling of breathing it in. It’s a little medicinal-smelling in the cup too – that would be from the pine branches, I suppose.

I haven’t been brewing the tea very strong, but even so it’s a bit overpowering and I’m finding I can only drink it in small quantities and quite slowly. At the moment I’m having some of it mixed with rooibos, which takes a bit off the edge of the flavour and rounds it out a little. Still, at present I feel that, for me at least, this is not a tea that drinks particularly well on its own. I did just finish off a cup while eating some bread and baba ghanoush (smoky eggplant dip), and that was excellent. So I think I will be saving this up mostly to drink with strong-flavoured foods.

A Google search suggests that Lapsang is a tea that people like to use in cooking quite a lot. Here are a few links to recipes which I found (and may try soon – especially the tacos and the truffles, they sound great!):

Lapsang Souchong Smoked Quail

Black Bean Soft Tacos

Luscious Lapsang Souchong Seitan

Lapsang Souchong Chocolate Sauce

Lapsang Souchong Chilli Truffles

Sunday, 3 August 2008


As promised, here are a (very) few photos which I took today, to try and brighten up the look of my blog. Despite a most prodigious amount of rain on Friday (and more forecast for the week ahead I believe), we were blessed with a most sunny weekend in Canberra which provided me with some good opportunities for taking photos. 

I do apologise for the mediocrity of my photography, which compares very poorly with any of the photos that I look at with admiration and envy at Tea Nerd... do check them out.

Firstly, on the right, some Berries of the Forest, brewed 
in my glass teapot and reposing casually in a bit of garden near my front door (the most foresty setting I could come up with). 

On the left, Berries of the Forest in a glass and a teapot on my front step - I was trying to get a decent picture of the shadows and the light shining through the tea. 
I think it worked out not too badly...

Finally, a photo of a Burmese oolong which was a very kind Christmas present last year from my husband's godmother. I haven't had a lot of different kinds of oolong, but this one is interesting to look at because of the variable size and colouring of its leaves - they are quite irregular and only very loosely twisted, and the colour ranges from pale browny-green to almost entirely black. This is not a sweet tea, in fact its aroma and flavour are slightly smoky, which makes it quite robust-tasting and a good accompaniment to Asian foods, particularly spicy ones like a Thai red curry, in my experience.

This tea is a Larsen and Thompson tea (scroll down after clicking the link until you come to it in the list). It comes in a nifty green ceramic pot with a little wooden lid, which is very picturesque but not the absolute best for keeping the tea fresh; fortunately the tea is actually packed in a plastic bag inside the pot so that helps, anyway.

Hope you are all enjoying your weekend and getting in plenty of tea. I'm off to polish off a pot of rooibos myself right now...

Friday, 1 August 2008

Assam Dimakusi CTCBOP

I’ve been drinking a fair bit of this over the last few days – it has become my work staple black tea. It’s a CTC (cut-tear-curl) broken leaf tea which I purchased a few weeks ago from The Tea Centre (the picture below is originally from their website).

The Tea Centre website describes this as a ‘dark, malty, strong’ tea. I am not 100% sure about the ‘malty’ bit myself, not being much of a seasoned taster, but it is certainly strong, in any case, producing a lovely dark red cup. I particularly like the look of the leaves after they’ve been steeped – they have the colour of red soil after heavy rain.

Another description comes from Imperial Teas, which describes it as having ‘a doughy note to its aroma with a heavy and spicy taste.’ I think I see what they mean, but again with my limited palette I’m not entirely sure. Clearly, a great deal more testing is required, and I am of course willing to make this sacrifice for my loyal readers.

That said, this is not one of the best teas I’ve ever had – I prefer something a bit more flowery and fresh tasting. I don’t know if it’s because this is machine-processed, but I feel that it lacks subtlety. It’s not terribly astringent, though (although I tend to brew mine a bit short of the 4 to 5 minutes recommended by Imperial Teas), and takes a bit of milk and a little sugar quite well. At least partly for this reason, it would probably be a good ‘transitional’ tea for people who are trying to wean themselves off supermarket teabags and on to something better.
One last note which I should make is that - as I found having left some of this tea to go cold on my desk while I was at a meeting - the Dimakusi is possibly better cold than hot. The flavour seems sharper and clearer. I will keep this one in mind for when summer (eventually) comes back!


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