Monday, 31 August 2009

Tea Books, III

Continuing with my sporadic series of reviews of books about tea, today I present my thoughts on a couple of light-weights: Tea by Hattie Ellis, and The New Tea Book by Sara Perry.

These two are - for want of a better term - 'coffee table books'; they are admittedly smaller in size than most of the books that fall into this category but it's the preponderance of pretty pictures (which are very pretty indeed) that makes me classify them thus. A quick flick through Tea, for example, shows that at least 50% of the book is taken up by utterly scrumptious pictures of tea leaves, tea cups, brewed tea, tea canisters and tea pots. Great for inducing teaware envy (sigh), not likely to give me great confidence in the written information contained therein. That said, however, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Tea does not commit the common error of saying that tea is 'fermented' during manufacture when what is really meant is that it is oxidised. The New Tea Book, on the other hand, does conflate these terms, which is slightly irritating.

Both books contain a few pages about the history of tea, information about the manufacture of the different styles of tea, some helpful basic tips on tea preparation and serving, and tea-related recipes -either incorporating tea amongst the ingredients, or to eat alongside.

In the latter category, I'm particularly tempted by the lemon-oatmeal crisps and the cashew shortbread (from The New Tea Book) and the Earl Grey Winter Fruit Salad (from Tea). The New Tea Book also contains some intriguing recipes for tea and herbal blends, such as the 'Rest and Refresh' tea containing chamomile, basil, peppermint, lemon peel and orange peel... sounds interesting, I'm going to have to try it.

Is it worth spending money on these books? Well, seeing as I picked up Tea from a second-hand book fair for $3.00, I have no regrets about that being money well-spent. The New Tea Book was considerably more expensive (about $40 new I think) - again, I am glad to have added it to my slowly-expanding shelf of tea books, but it is not as worthwhile a purchase as The Story of Tea, for example. (My opinion may change once I've had a chance to try some of those recipes, though.) However, these are both lovely books to look through, and ideal for those moments when you are tired and want a no-brainer to curl up with... the non-fiction equivalent of a Tea Shop Mystery, really.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Badamtam STGFOP1 - Mid Flush Darjeeling

A little while ago I was lucky enough to receive a parcel of Darjeeling teas - extremely generous samples! - from Tony of High Teas in London. Shamefully, it has taken me way too long to get around to featuring them on this blog; but I wanted to make sure I had time to do them justice. I've only opened two of the four packets, as I want to keep them as fresh as possible, and I've been drinking pots of these two - an Autumnal from Castleton Estate and the Badamtam Mid-Flush I'm reviewing here - over the last several weeks to try and get a feel for them. Anyway, here goes.

The Badamtam dry leaves are finely twisted as you can hopefully see in the photo; they vary quite a bit in length and range in colour from almost black, through brown and tan, to the numerous pale greeny tips - this is visually a very attractive and delicate looking tea.

The aroma of the dry leaves is hard to describe; it's a little fruity I think, but also with a 'dry' smell that is simultaneously quite rich if you inhale it for long enough. I don't have a better way to describe this; it's almost a citrussy aroma, but then again not quite. It's actually what I think of as 'Darjeeling smell'.

I brewed a rounded teaspoonful in about 300ml filtered water for approximately three-and-a-half minutes. This produced a liquor which was a beautiful, crisp, clear amber in colour, without a trace of muddiness or dullness - which I guess you wouldn't expect from a grade of tea with quite so many letters after its name anyway. Heh.

When I tried the Badamtam cup-for-cup with the Castleton Autumnal the other day, the Badamtam showed up distinctly fruity and quite a bit sweeter than the Castleton (perhaps this is the 'muscatel' flavour I hear so much about as a feature of Darjeeling tea flavour?). Drinking it on its own, though, I found it a bit more difficult to pick up those fruity nuances. However the Badamtam is very smooth, with only the very slightest astringency as you start to get towards the bottom of the pot, and it has a slightly silky texture in the mouth. There's a small amount of sweetness in the aftertaste, but this isn't a dominant aspect of this tea (at least not for me, not today). It's more that it tastes - and again I really can't find the right words, but perhaps that doesn't matter too much - very 'Darjeeling-y'.

Just thinking about this right now I am actually amazed that there is such a thing as a quality of 'Darjeeling-ness' - and there are also qualities of 'sencha-ness' and 'oolong-ness' as well as 'Assam-ness' - how absolutely remarkable that dried leaves steeped in water can display so many unique (yet sometimes similar) characteristics.

I am so awed by tea.

In any case, the Badamtam Mid Flush gets my hearty recommendation; it's a beautiful tea, and thanks so much to Tony for giving me the chance to sample it! I'll be following up with more Darjeeling posts in the not-too-distant future.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Meet your new tea correspondent

Something special arrived on my doorstep this afternoon...

This is Lucky Pinky Dots. She used to live in My Lucky Pal's shop, but I have adopted her and she has come to be the lucky mascot for my Etsy store. With the lucky red thread around her neck and that great big smile, how could she not?

After such a long trip, all the way from the USA, the least I could do was make Lucky Pinky Dots a cup of tea... and she enjoyed it so much she now wants to go and try out all the different places that there are to have tea! What an amazing coincidence. Of course I'm more than happy to help.

Lucky Pinky Dots is going to be making an appearance on the blog every now and then as she has tea adventures around Melbourne. Keep an eye out for her!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Tea Drinks: Not for Purists, II

A while ago on Twitter, Linsey from The Necessiteas sent me a recipe for a drink called a 'London Fog', which is a combination of Earl Grey tea with vanilla syrup and steamed milk. It sounded delicious and I really wanted to try it. Here's Linsey's original recipe, which I would think serves two people:

* 250ml strong brewed Earl Grey, hot
* 250ml steamed milk
* 3-4 tablespoons vanilla syrup (that's American tablespoons; if you're using metric, make it 2-3)

Combine the Earl Grey and the vanilla syrup in 2 tall glasses or mugs, then pour on the steamed milk. Stir and enjoy.

I decided to make my own vanilla syrup, combining equal parts sugar and water and scraping in the seeds from a fresh vanilla bean. Sounds great? Well, I wouldn't know because while I was waiting for it to cool, ants infested it... and it's very difficult to tell the difference between ants and vanilla bean seeds when they're both floating in clear syrupy liquid... so I had to discard the whole lot.

Slightly discouraged, I decided a few days later to have a go using some vanilla extract and a little vanilla sugar in place of the syrup. The result was extremely tasty, perhaps a little on the sweet side for my taste, but a very nice desserty type drink.

A couple of weeks after that I thought I would try using some T2 French Earl Grey (a sweeter, more flowery Earl Grey) instead of Twinings regular old Earl Grey (yes, I know it's a boring supermarket brand, but I happen to like this one, so long as it's not in teabags), no sugar, and soy milk instead of regular milk. The result was perfect. I made another one for myself this morning, and the recipe follows below...

It's a bit of a mixture, I guess - a 'London Fog' made with 'French Earl Grey', in Melbourne (!) and so in honour of the damp, grey morning that I woke up to today, I have renamed this version a 'Melbourne Mist'. This quantity serves 1 person (if that person is me).

Melbourne Mist:
* 250ml strong-brewed French Earl Grey from T2 (I used about 2.5 tsp to one cup water, brewed 3 minutes), hot
* approximately 125ml soy milk, heated and frothed
* 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Combine vanilla extract and tea in a tall glass or mug, pour in the frothy soy milk, stir and drink.

This would preferably be accompanied by wholemeal toast with tahini and homemade marmalade. The perfect breakfast? I think so!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Cocoro Japanese Pottery & Cafe

Last Friday my sister and my husband and I were out on Smith St Fitzroy in search of dessert. It's been a long time since I was last on Smith St; not since before I went to Canberra, in fact, which makes it a good couple of years. So imagine my excitement* when I discovered Cocoro - a Japanese restaurant also serving Japanese tea, including matcha.

There were quite a few people in the cafe still having dinner at the small tables - but we were able to ensconce ourselves on a small couch at the front of the cafe area very comfortably. I opted for matcha and ordered some of the kukicha for my husband. Much to my surprise both teas arrived in kyusu pots, accompanied by small narrow cups; I wasn't aware that matcha could be prepared in a pot - and I confess to being slightly disappointed that I wasn't getting a nice frothy bowl of matcha, but as it turned out there was no need to be disappointed, because the steeped matcha was delicious, delicate and sweet. I also had a couple of sips of my husband's kukicha - and that was also just lovely - delicate pale yellow-green twigs that produced a subtle green flavour with no hints of bitterness or toastiness.

All in all I can't wait to go back. The pottery is gorgeous, and I would like to try their food as well - the meals we saw being served looked and smelt terrific - and also to investigate the other teas that they have on offer, including their matcha lattes... And the teas are available to purchase as well... may have to invest at some point in the near future, when I have a little more space in the pantry for tea (yes I AM capable of restraint where tea is concerned).

(Pictures courtesy of my husband's iPhone! Thank you Mr T!)

*For those of you having trouble imagining this excitement, it largely involved squeaking noises, bouncing up and down, and a little skip every now and then as we headed a little further on in our dessert quest, following assurances by my husband and sister that we would come back to Cocoro for tea afterwards.

Monday, 3 August 2009

A blog award - thank you!

I was recently delighted to received a ‘Kreativ Blogger’ award from Jamie D at Tea on Tap – see her very kind mention here!

It really is a pleasure for me to blog about tea, and knowing that other people enjoy reading my musings, comments, occasional recipes (and occasional rants) is very special. So thanks to all of you who pop in here regularly to see what I’m drinking and writing about at any given time – I appreciate your company and comments, always!

In keeping with the requirements of this award, I hereby list seven of my favourite things:

c\_/ my husband and the other wonderful members of my family;

c\_/ tea, because what’s the point otherwise really;

c\_/ my cat Beren, especially when sleeping on my lap with his chin resting possessively on my arm;

c\_/ my friends, wherever they are across different states and countries;

c\_/ Melbourne (no offense to Canberra, but Melbourne is just better and it is SO GOOD to be back);

c\_/ chocolate; and

c\_/ walking in the sunshine.

I’m also meant to nominate seven other blogs to receive this award… which is tricky because there are so many wonderful blogs out there on tea and other matters, but here goes in no particular order:

TeaSpot NYC – for Ana Dane’s creative and delicious recipes, equally succulent photography, and dry sense of humour, this blog never fails to delight;

The Half-Dipper - for glorious photography and beautifully-written reviews of tea and more;

Twilight Spells - Ruth makes the most gorgeous candles out of teacups, and as well as posting about her two etsy shops she puts together wonderfully creative compilations of other etsy items;

Tea Geek - for refreshingly accessible evidence-oriented articles on tea and related topics;

Canberra on the Moon - Something is odd in the nation’s capital... and Southpaw doesn’t hesitate to point it out;

Chocolate and Zucchini - for more delicious and creative recipes and a really interesting series of posts on French ‘edible idioms’;

Cake Wrecks - for a spot of sheer hilarity in your day, take a look at this collection of professionally-decorated cakes gone horribly, horribly wrong… where creativity meets the Bad Idea Bears.

Enjoy (with a cup of tea in hand of course)!


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