Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Another couple of random tea notes...

Oh dear – another couple of weeks have crept by with no blog update… things have been so frantically busy both inside and outside of work that it’s been difficult to find the time to sit down and write calmly… in fact a couple of days have gone by when I have not even had the time to make a pot of tea at work! Dark times indeed. Possibly the Apocalypse approaches.

I discovered last night that Teas.com.au has gone live with a new, updated version of their website – check it out here. It looks lovely and I just adore the little row of teapots at the top… hover your mouse over them and the lid tilts up and bubbles move up through the pot! To celebrate the release of the new site they are offering some specials on orders for the next little while… I’m feeling very tempted to get one of their Wulong (oolong) samplers and some Lung Ching Dragonswell also… but I’ll do another stocktake of my tea cupboard first. I really am trying not to have too many open packets of tea on hand at one time…

I have had some marvellous teas from Teas.com.au, actually – their bouquet teas are lovely, particularly the ‘Spring blossom’, which has white tea, lily and osmanthus – it’s sweet and has a taste rather like cinnamon, though there’s no cinnamon in it. I also really love some of their herbal blends – the ‘Cherish’ blend is particularly tasty and beautiful to look at too, with the rose petals and rooibos and chamomile.

I was also excited to discover last night, when I opened up Gmail, that you can now set a ‘theme’ to customise the background and colours of your email inbox, etc. Fantastic – even more so when I found out that one of the themes was ‘teahouse’… a little Japanesey tea house set in a garden of blossom trees. Too cute! Needless to say that was the one that I chose…

What’s in my cup today? So far this morning I have had some rooibos tea (at breakfast time with my lovely husband) and a pot of genmaicha (Japanese green tea with roasted rice). Who knows what else the day will hold?

Monday, 10 November 2008

A couple of random tea notes

Some of you may remember that a while back I wrote about making some Earl Grey tea-soaked prunes. I can safely report that they are delicious! The overall flavour is more subtle than the Nigella Lawson ones that I’ve also made, but that’s mainly because there just is less stuff in this version, plus there’s no added sugar or alcohol. They’re a really nice addition to breakfast but they would also be lovely served with a dessert of some kind, even just the liquid would be great poured over some ice cream or something like that. Once I’ve worked my way through this jar I think I’ll make another… perhaps with orange rind instead of lemon rind, and a few added spices. Lightbulb moment: this could be a good addition to our Christmas hampers this year!

My brother has very kindly pointed me in the direction of an essay written by George Orwell (originally published in 1946) entitled ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’ (and what more enticing heading could there be, I ask you?). In this article Orwell outlines his personal rules for making tea – noting that some of them are controversial. I particularly agree with his assertion that one should always drink tea out of a cylindrical cup rather than a wide flat one, because the latter makes the tea get cold too quickly – and, at the risk of entering a highly-charged debate, I also will come down on the side of putting the tea into the cup and adding milk, rather than the other way around; it’s just too hard to judge the right amount of milk if you put it in first!

I confess I am also intrigued by Orwell’s passing reference to ‘sweeping the carpet’ as a ‘subsidiary use for tealeaves’… what on earth does this mean? The rest of the items on this list make sense, but that one is a mystery to me. Anyone who can answer my question, please feel free to post in the comments…

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Iced tea!

The weather is finally warming up (yes, even in Canberra, hallelujah) and I am finding that hot tea is not always, well, my cup of tea, at the moment, particularly not after I have had to walk home after work on a sunny evening, as happens quite often lately because my husband is working unreasonable hours for the PM (boo!).

So my thoughts have been turning to iced tea. I am lucky enough to have a couple of Bodum iced tea pitchers (birthday presents from kindly friends who chose to feed my addiction rather than thwart it) which make making iced tea much easier than it would otherwise be. These are tall plastic pitchers with a long filter that fits in against one side; you put the tea leaves into this and then fill with water, then it’s simple to remove the filter and the leaves once the brewing time is over. For a picture and another rave review, have a look here.

Because it was sunny and shiny on the northern hemisphere side of the world in mid-July, while I was freezing my toes off in below zero temperatures down here, most of the (American) tea blogs that I read were talking about iced tea at a time when I couldn’t think of anything less appealing, except perhaps walking barefoot through the snow selling matches. I did, however, take note of some of the recommendations made on some of these sites and stored them away in my head for future reference.

One of these recommendations was to brew your iced tea with cold water. Now most of the instructions that I’ve seen for making iced tea (e.g. those that came with my pitchers, for example) say that you brew it up with twice the tea leaves (because things taste less strong when they’re cold) and half the hot water that you would normally use, and then add cold water and ice to chill it once it’s finished steeping. This is all very well if you’re organised enough to have ice in your freezer (regrettably, I’m usually not, as we don’t use much of it). So the cold brewing method was a revelation.

I have tried it a few times recently with green and black teas and I have to say it works exceptionally well. It takes a bit longer (you need to leave the tea to steep in the fridge for about 8 hours or overnight – I find this less difficult to organise than having ice in the freezer, surprisingly), but the result is fantastic. One of the aesthetic benefits, if you’re fussed about such things, which I’m not particularly, but I may as well mention it, is that the resulting tea is crystal clear; making tea with hot water extracts higher amounts of polyphenols, and subsequent chilling causes these to precipitate, making the brew look cloudy. However, the slower steeping time at cold temperatures means this doesn’t happen when you cold-brew the tea. Another plus (probably related) – there is a much smaller risk that your tea (particularly green teas) will end up astringent and unpleasant – I always find it a bit harder to judge water temperature and volume when I’m making larger quantities of tea and sometimes it doesn’t come out quite right. There’s a bit more leeway with iced herbal teas, so I think I will probably continue to brew those the hot way, though.

I have had great success with brewing my honey-flavoured sencha from Tea Leaves this way (don’t particularly like it hot, but it’s more palatable cold and with a squeeze of lemon) and also the Assam Dimakusi BOP which I have discussed here – this makes a particularly nice smooth iced tea. I am looking forward to trying some iced Earl Grey as well, perhaps with orange slices in it…

Returned from New Tealand!

Well, New Zealand, technically, but I had so many very pleasant experiences with tea while I was over there that it almost did count as New Tealand, really.

While there were many highlights of our trip, most of them either nerdy (full day LOTR tours, anyone? Bliss!) or foodie (full day tasting tour in Martinborough and surrounds, plus many delicious restaurant meals) I will restrict myself to the tea highlights (tea lights? Hmmm) because those are what this blog is all about, after all.

It proved not very difficult at all to get decent loose-leaf tea in restaurants, particularly in Wellington where most places seemed to stock T Leaf Tea. The branding of this tea is very similar to T2 (black and orange) and they provide a similar range of products but also some that I hadn’t seen before, including quite a good range of single estate black teas and the best variety of beehouse (now known as ‘zero’) teapots I’ve seen – lots of different colours, so pretty! I would particularly like one in pumpkin orange…

One night in Wellington we went to Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, a place that serves really good deep-South of America type food, for dessert and tea. I was delighted to find that the tea itself (a raspberry and vanilla flavoured rooibos, very sweet and pleasant, not overpowering at all) was served in a beautiful blue-flowered Royal Albert tea cup, with matching plate. I am pretty sure that this picture depicts the pattern (it’s from an unnamed set matched with the pattern ‘Marguerite’, which I found thanks to this site.

Now I was also conscious of the need to sample some NZ biscuits, along with my tea, and on the matching plate which came with my tea at Sweet Mother’s Kitchen I tried out an afghan biscuit. These chocolate biscuits with chocolate icing on top seem to be very popular in NZ (there are also supermarket versions, though I skipped those in favour of trying out some Toffeepops, which were yummy). The one I had that evening was absolutely sublime. It had crunchy bits in it (which, after looking at some recipes online, I have deduced to be cornflakes or weeties), it was crumbly and buttery and chocolatey, and the icing was fantastic. Yet overall it wasn’t too sweet either. I am going to have a go at making some of these - here is one recipe, and here is another.

In Auckland, we went shopping to get my husband something nice at a men’s clothing shop called ‘Marvel’ (he bought a very nice striped top) – and I came away with, of all things, a teapot (the owners of the store appear to be collectors of vintage china, particularly Crown Lynn NZ made stuff). It’s a lovely deep sky blue glaze, cream coloured inside, and the most perfect pouring teapot I’ve had – not a drip! I will post a photo of it when I have a chance. So that absolutely made my trip, that’s for sure.

Another tea highlight was when we went out for dinner in Rotorua – we went to an Indian restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet, where we had the best Indian food I’ve eaten since leaving Melbourne last year (seriously). I ordered a cup of their chai masala tea, which was delicious – I think it had quite a bit of black pepper in it, it had quite a kick. I do like my chai with pepper, it always seems more exciting somehow than just with cinnamon and so on. I am going to have a go at blending some of my own at some point.

That’s all the tall tea tales I have time for today folks, but I will return. I have been having great success with iced tea, for example, and I have photos to post, and new teas to try, and many more things to rant about.


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