Thursday, 26 February 2009

Green tea, out and about

Not much time to post this week; have been feeling quite under the weather with the virus that seems to be doing the rounds of my office and have had a couple of days home on the couch feeling sorry for myself. Such is life. It did give me the opportunity to put my Yixing teapot to use for the first time, though – and in other exciting news, the two sample packs of oolong tea (10 different kinds in total!) arrived with unexpected swiftness from Tea From Taiwan (only a week after I placed my order, now that’s great service!). I haven’t had the chance to try any of these so far but I hope to on the weekend after our flying trip to Melbourne.

Anyway, I thought I’d post briefly about a couple of pleasant tea experiences which I’ve had when out to dinner over the last few weeks.

The first was at a brilliant little Middle-Eastern café called Mint in Surry Hills (more or less), Sydney, where my friend M and I had a light dinner after our tea-tasting extravaganza at Zensation. As if I hadn’t had enough tea already (which, clearly, I hadn’t), to my friend’s astonishment I ordered a pot of Moroccan mint tea. To my delight I saw the guy behind the bar literally stuffing a huge – really - handful of fresh mint into a white Beehouse teapot; green tea (not sure what sort) was placed to the infuser, and from the sweetness I guess the sugar had been added along with the mint before the water was put in. It was fresh, minty, sweet but not overly so, and perfectly brewed. I loved it!

Having read a few weeks ago about a spiced green tea called kahva on the TeaSpot blog, I was intrigued to find it listed amongst the hot drinks at the little local Indian restaurant just across the road from our house, when my husband and I ate there one Friday night. I was cranky (had just discovered that our gas had been disconnected for no reason), tired and feeling like I was coming down with a cold, so I decided to order some kahva to warm and cheer myself up.

It arrived in one of those strikingly unattractive little metal teapots that are so common in restaurants, accompanied by a couple of lemon wedges, some sugar, and a tiny espresso-sized cup. The restaurant not being very well lit, the only things that I could see in the pot were some green tea leaves (again, not sure what kind) and some whole star anise, which was responsible for the beautiful sweet aroma rising from the pot. The tea was delicious; not bitter or overbrewed at all, despite the fact that I could only pour out one small cup at a time and the remainder was left to continue to steep. The flavour of the star anise added a lovely liquorice sweetness.

My faith in the possibility of ordering decent green tea while out and about - which was seriously crushed a couple of years ago by a hideous café experience involving some gunpowder green tea, ruined with boiling water and left to steep until it was undrinkable; honestly, it would have stripped paint – is gradually being restored. This can only be a good thing.

Monday, 23 February 2009

New toys!

My o-so-thoughtful husband is becoming increasingly responsible for the increasing number of teapots that I posses. I think – count ‘em – I think I have seven now: glass; orange (that one’s at work); green Beehouse; Yixing; Chinesey looking one with brown leaves and red berries; blue Crown Lynn; and – most recently - this beautiful Japanese one with blue leaves, and its two matching cups, that T gave me for Valentines Day.

I’ve used this one a few times already for (what else?) Japanese sencha (the organic one from from T2) and it’s a stunner; it pours perfectly and the mesh infuser inside is a decent size - not to mention that its rim is made from plastic, so I don't burn my fingers when I'm removing it from the pot! I wouldn’t want to brew a tea whose leaves end up enormous with this (or any other) infuser, but for the fine-cut leaves of sencha it works beautifully. It's hard to see under the pattern, but the side of the pot is actually very slightly ridged, so it has a lovely textural feel to it as well. The pale yellow-green of the infusion goes well against the pale greeny-grey of the cups’ interior.

Isn’t it funny how greeny-grey can be so charming in ceramic wares, and yet so off-putting in other circumstances, like food, for example? Something to ponder, at any rate.

I also received this dinky little Japanese gaiwan-style… well, gaiwan… I suppose, for want of a better word. It doesn’t have a saucer like a traditional Chinese gaiwan and is not quite the same shape. I have been googling and googling but am unable to determine what it might properly be called. But I’ve been using it in a similar type of way to a gaiwan to brew small quantities of tea for repeat infusions. It’s quite easy to hold, although I will admit to using two hands, one for the bowl and one for the lid (I believe proper tea masters can manipulate a gaiwan with only one hand?). I just adore the flowers pattern on the side and the lid, it cheers me up just to look at it! 

It’s pictured here in close up with some of the T2 oolong that my husband also gave me, for Christmas. Anyone who can tell me what it's called, I'd be most grateful.

I shall be posting about both these T2 teas at another time, but soon!

Oh, and I realised that I forgot to post a picture of the Yixing pot which I bought from Zensation the other week. I used it for the first time today (felt a little intimidated by the whole Yixing/gong fu thing, but I got over it!). Isn't it a beauty? And I just adore the little goldfish on the cup!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Summer Strawberry Tea

I hosted my first formal tea party last Sunday, which was attended in high spirits by three friends (and my husband, naturally), and crowned by the successful production of scones in our Weber BBQ (as our gas oven and stove decided to go kaput late last week, seriously throwing out many of our cooking plans for the weekend). I admit to being dubious initially about the capacity of the BBQ to produce baked goods, but I am now a convert, and possibly likely to become an enthusiast. We’ll see.

Half the fun (or more) is in the preparation for these kinds of events; my mum and I are inveterate colour-coordinators at Christmas time, and I love setting myself a theme to work within, then hunting down the requisite matching stuff: place cards, favours, invitations, table
 linen, whatever else is required. Not to mention the pleasure of rifling through the boxes in the garage, which contain all the antique china that we have no room to store in our current small, insufficiently-provided-with-storage-space house, in order to locate some of my beautiful vintage teacup, saucer and plate sets.

And of course, there was the cooking. Fortunately the scones were the only thing I needed to actually bake on the day; and the chocolate for the pistachio and white-chocolate dipped strawberries could be melted in the microwave (I do usually prefer a saucepan over simmering
 water, but needs must, etc).

Other menu items included cucumber sandwiches, and horseradish-laced mini wraps containing roasted capsicum and salad greens (I think these were my favourites). Turns out my husband had never eaten a proper afternoon-tea style cucumber sandwich, crusts cut off and sliced into fingers, before this auspicious event; well, now he knows what he’s been missing out on. The scones were accompanied by lashings of whipped cream and strawberry jam; and the finale was tiny little teacups made of dark chocolate (acquired from a fantastic deli in north Canberra) and filled with my husband’s home-made strawberry gelato. Exquisite!

To serve with all this I brewed up some spearmint-hibiscus iced tea, fantastically ruby-coloured and refreshing, as well as a large pot of Ceylon tea from the Nandana estate, a lovely twisty OP leaf that gives a coppery liquor with a bright, almost fruity flavour. Once these were all consumed and our capacity for food exhausted (for the time being), I brought out some Pi Lo Chun (which I have written about here) to round things off.
On the whole it seemed to be a resounding success and I am already planning an autumn-themed tea for a couple of months’ time…

And a credit to my husband, who took the photos you see on this page, which is why they are extremely artistic and beautifully shot. Thanks honey!

Monday, 16 February 2009


On to happier tales.

Last weekend, I caught the bus to Sydney in order to attend a tea-tasting workshop thingy (dragging my Sydney-resident friend M along with me) at Zensation tea house (656 Bourke Street, Redfern, 02 9319 2788). This happens to be literally almost around the corner from M’s apartment, but neither of us had any idea it was there until she came across a mention of Zensation in the Sydney Morning Herald. Such is life. Naturally she notified me immediately, and I booked myself bus tickets almost straight away.

I will admit to having a slight pang over abandoning my husband for nearly a whole weekend, primarily to attend a two-and-a-half hour tea tasting with a friend, but I did buy him half a dozen cupcakes from Sparkle (and a few other things that he received on Valentines Day) to help make up for it.

But oh. My. God. It was SO worth it. There are not many reasons why I would consider moving to Sydney but Zensation is one of them.

There were five teas on the tasting menu that we sampled. We started out with iced and slightly sweetened hibiscus herbal tea – beautifully ruby-red and exceptionally refreshing (fortunately it wasn’t too hot on Saturday, but my friend and I
 had spent 3 hours or so wandering round markets and things, and it was good to sit down and sip a cool drink).

Then things kicked off in earnest. Basically we worked our way from lighter to darker, milder to stronger teas. The first was White Peony, a new-style white tea from China, accompanied by the most divine little almond cookies – crumbly, slightly salty and a little bit sweet. This was followed by a green tea – Zensation Jade – with a strong yellow liquor and cleansing, astringent taste. The food accompaniment to this tea was edamame (fresh soy beans boiled in salty water and eaten from the pods); I had never sampled these before but they were delicious and I intend to try and source some to prepare at home.

As each of the teas was being brewed, the tea house’s owner, Mr Raymond Leung, spoke about 
the history of tea, its production and its appreciation, even writing the Chinese characters 
for ‘tea’ and ‘the way of tea’ in beautiful calligraphy on translucent paper for people to take home (naturally, I scored one of those). And once we got to the third tea – a Taiwanese ‘milky oolong’ – we were treated to a demonstration of gong fu brewing by the resident tea master.

The milky oolong was my favourite. What am I saying? It was sublime, a revelation of exquisiteness. Incredibly floral and peachy flavoured, with a buttery taste coming through in the second and third infusions that made me and M think of Danish pastries and apple or apricot pie. Not that we needed any of those; we got custard tarts instead. This was one of the most beautiful teas I have ever tasted; I bought some to take home.

Next on the list was a cooked puerh. I can’t remember how long this one had been aged for. It was a deep coppery colour with a strong earthy taste, almost a little coffee-like in flavour, not astringent at all. I haven’t had proper pu-erh before so I was curious to see how I would like this one. 

I think at present I currently still prefer oolong, green and regular black teas, but I will be intrigued to try more pu-erh in future. This one was served with steamed dim sims – my friend is vegetarian, so we passed on those, and instead sampled some taro-flavoured cream wafers (interesting!).

The finale was a bouquet tea ball brewed in a glass teapot over a small candle warmer; a waving mass of green leaves sewn together with globe amaranth, lily and jasmine flowers floating above them. The sticky rice flour dumpling filled with sweet red bean paste was delicious and paired beautifully.

The whole tea house is gorgeously set up – the walls are filled with tea canisters, pu-erh beengs, Yixing teapots in fanciful shapes and varying sizes, gorgeous gong fu cups, incense and other Chinese wares. I came away with a Yixing pot shaped like a pumpkin, a set of gong fu cups decorated with goldfish, and the milky oolong… but I’ll be back for more whenever I can manage it.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Red Cross

This post actually has nothing to do with tea, but please read on anyway. There have been terrible bushfires raging in Victoria, my home state, over the last several days. A large number of people have died and many, many more are now homeless and bereft. It’s so shocking that I can’t find any words to describe it apart from ‘tragic’.

If you have a spare moment and some spare cash, please consider donating it to the Red Cross who are working round the clock to try and bring relief to the people affected by this disaster. Online donations can be made through

Friday, 6 February 2009

Musings for a Friday

At Cha Dao today, a fascinating consideration by the inimitable Corax of some of the factors that make the same tea taste so different at different times – even when variables like amount of leaf, water temperature etc. are the same. I’ve noticed this myself – sometimes it’s disappointing – you go to make a cup of tea, looking to recreate an experience you’ve had, or that you remember yourself as having, with a particular tea at a particular time, and it’s just not the same! Of course that’s not to say that it’s necessarily bad, but it’s not what you’re looking for at that time. Amazing how so many variables can affect the perception of dried leaves in water.

And on my lunch break today, flicking through a little book of ‘things to be grateful for’ at the local newsagent, I came across this one: ‘The written word and endless cups of tea.’ So true! I’m grateful for both these things every day; I don’t know where I would be without them.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Quest for summer sanity, via iced tea, continues

It's a relatively cool evening, thanks to the delightful breeze that's wafting through the open windows (it doesn't seem to be wafting too many mosquitoes through the tatty flywire at the moment, an added bonus). 

It's been a relatively lazy weekend which saw me and my husband and our cat piled on the couch for a post-lunch snooze this afternoon... although I did get up early to do some baking: inspired at the prospect of having blackberry-basil iced tea at breakfast, I decided to make some blackberry muffins to accompany it. They were very good; and the tea was fantastic.

The recipe for the blackberry-basil syrup is courtesy of the delightfully whimsical TeaSpot NYC blog and I knew I just had to try it as soon as I read about it. It's a beautiful balance of sweet and tart and the colour is amazing - I should've taken photos, but was too busy enjoying my breakfast to bother. (There is some blackberry-basil syrup left, though, so I still have the option - maybe tomorrow.)

The tea itself was a Ceylon single estate tea, Nandana Orange Pekoe, which I bought in NZ from T Leaf Tea, cold brewed overnight. Cold-brewing this tea yields a beautifully pale amber liquor, very mild (it's redder and stronger tasting when hot) and combined with the syrup it was truly a taste sensation. The basil added such a striking spicy, aromatic note. I think it would also go well with strawberries if blackberries aren't available (mind you I used frozen ones).

Then this afternoon I made myself a pot of spearmint and hibiscus (a teaspoon of each herb per cup), hot-brewed, steeped strong and then poured over ice. Minty and sour, 100% refreshing.

And now I'm finishing off the day with a few glasses of iced Haru-Poro-Poro (cold-brewed over the course of the day). This is a combination of sencha, green rooibos and raspberry flavouring - it's astringent (in a good way), sweet and the raspberry flavour is not overpowering. It really is delicious iced. It's from Lupicia - a wonderful shop in Melbourne which I visited at Christmas time.  They have loads of beautiful oolongs and greens that I would love to try; I'll have to see if I can schedule another trip when I'm next in Melbourne.


Related Posts with Thumbnails