Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Battle of the Breakfast Blends - Part Two

So... have you all been dying of suspense?? Here they are at last... the tasting notes!

First off, I tried taking photos of each of the different cups of tea... and basically they all looked like this:

The Scottish Breakfast was a little lighter in colour, a little clearer; but they were all pretty similar. The taste though was quite distinct for each!

The basics: I brewed about 3g of leaf in about 200ml water for each tea, for 4 minutes (as recommended on The Tea Centre website). I tasted each black initially and then with the addition of milk, no sugar.

English Breakfast: this is described on The Tea Centre website as 'blend of leaves from India and Ceylon with a strong flavour'. Well, the first part may well be true, but the rest of it is not. English Breakfast tastes and smells like the most basic, traditional tea that you grew up with (if you come from a Western background). It has a good rich burnt umber colour but the flavour is just not that strong, or that interesting for that matter. A touch of astringency which is smoothed out by the milk, but not a great deal of character.

Irish Breakfast: Drinking this black first off, my tastebuds went 'WHOA' and then 'wheee!' and did a little dance. This. Is. Astringent. And strong and a bit bitter. And then, after a short while, nicely sweet and malty. I can't drink a whole cup of this without milk; maybe I could if I brewed it for only 2 minutes, but that's not really the point is it? This is definitely what I think of as a 'breakfast tea' - a really powerful wake-you-up kick... but a genuinely pleasant flavour as well.

Scottish Breakfast: This is possibly the most interesting and unusual of the three blends. I actually thought that it was a Yunnan blend but apparently it's Assam and Kenyan. It's got a deep musky-malty aroma and flavour. I actually prefer this one without milk, and based on my other experiments with it, brewed for a slightly shorter period of time (3 minutes) which lets the fruitier notes of the Kenyan tea through better I think.

To sum up:
English Breakfast - boring, I wouldn't bother.
Irish Breakfast - wham! wakes you up!
Scottish Breakfast - intriguing and enjoyable.

This was fun. I think I'm going to play more teas off against each other in the future.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Upcoming Feature - Behind the Cup

As I wander around the internet tea world I notice that a lot of tea blogs and sites are based in the US (and a few in the UK). There is a wealth of valuable knowledge available about the tea industry, as well as customs and trends - but is it relevant to me?

Living Down Under as I do, I can't help wondering about tea culture and the industry in Australia: where it's at, where it's going, the challenges that tea businesses face. I have my own ideas, of course, but in the interest of exploring some of these issues more broadly, I'm going to start up a series of 'Behind the Cup' interviews with some of my fellow Australian tea bloggers, lovers and entrepreneurs. The first one should be up soon!

I'm hoping to get a wide range of views from both large and small Australian players. Would you like to be involved? Contact me at joiedetea [!at] gmail [dot] com - I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Battle of the Breakfast Blends - Part One

I have recently become consumed with a desire to apprentice myself to a master tea blender and learn oodles of exciting tea-blending secrets... well, that's easier said than done (master tea blenders apparently being thin on the ground in Melbourne - but if you happen to be one, and are reading this, please get in touch), so in the meantime I have decided to do a bit of D.I.Y. blend-tasting and experimentation.

Blends seem to divide tea enthusiasts. By their very nature, branded/named blends are designed to be consistent in flavour across the years. This has advantages for consumers who like consistency in their cup; they can be pretty confident that they're getting what they like (or avoiding what they don't) and not have to worry about the potential variations in quality and flavour that can affect tea harvests.

To some, this consistency goes against the spirit of tea, denying the natural mutability of the tea experience. To others, however, the skill required to combine teas of different grade and origin in order to produce the required result is a cause for celebration. I think there's room for both these views (and, unsurprisingly, that the quality of the teas involved is of paramount importance).

Where to start?

English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast are two classic and popular blends that I have not given much thought to in the past - but I think they deserve a bit of closer attention. And who knew - there's a Scottish Breakfast blend as well. So in a bonanza of UK-tea-orientation I ordered up a small quantity of these three from The Tea Centre.
I've been drinking a bit of each over the last couple of weeks, but I'll save the tasting notes for another time. Today we'll start with a comparison of the dry leaf. [At the time of writing The Tea Centre's website is down... I will update hyperlinks to each of the blends when I can]

Close inspection reveals that each looks quite different...

English Breakfast: mainly very very fine brownish-red particles but with a good proportion of slightly longer, black, finely twisted leaf. The aroma of the dry leaves is light and a little lemony.

Irish Breakfast: mostly dark brown CTC leaf (see the tiny little clumpy balls - looks like the Assam Dimakusi BOP that I've had in the past) mixed with some longer twisty black leaf and a scattering of golden tips. The aroma is warm and slightly spicy.

Scottish Breakfast: full orthodox-style finely twisted leaf, dark browny-black in colour, no tips. The leaves smell fruity and rich.

Stay tuned for the tasting notes. I'll hopefully get a couple done today, before the cold I've been battling fully stuffs up my nose and I can't taste anything, let alone tea...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Learning to Taste Tea

I bought a copy of the wonderful Harney & Sons Guide to Tea a couple of months ago, and I have enjoyed reading it very much. It takes you step by step through the tasting process for a wide range of teas, from white to green to oolong to black and pu'er. It also contains some fascinating information about the ways in which these teas are manufactured, which actually also helps to understand why particular teas exhibit particular flavour characteristics. For example, it's the fast withering process that is partially responsible for the brisk astringency of Assam teas, while the slower, steamier withering of Keemun brings out the smoother mouthfeel and chocolatey notes commonly found in this kind of tea.

Books like this, and also the excellent New Tea Companion by Jane Pettigrew (which  contains tasting notes as well as handy pictures of a huge selection of teas), are extremely useful for learning about tea. I can't help wondering, though, about the limits to their usefulness (these in no particular order) -

- seasonal variations may produce different flavours, not to mention quality, of a given tea;
- the risk of setting up a stringent standard: 'This is the way this tea is supposed to taste, and if you can't taste the same things, you're wrong';
- conversely, the risk of relativism: 'Everyone's tastebuds are different so there's no standard you can actually apply at all, any given tea can taste like anything and there's no 'better' or 'worse'';
- variations in brewing parameters (water, temperature, length of steep, amount of leaf, etc) which can produce a radically different cup;
- (perhaps most importantly) the risk of frustration and (ironically) lack of appreciation for the tea because of being too caught up in trying to 'work out' what it tastes like... rather than just experiencing what it tastes like.

For all these potential problems I think that these tasting note type books - and the tasting notes you find in other sources such as the TeaMail group - remain useful because they can open your eyes to different ways of interpreting the tea you are tasting. For example, it would never have occurred to me to even imagine tropical fruit flavours in an Autumnal Darjeeling... and I haven't specifically noticed any in the Castleton Estate Autumnal I enjoyed so much, but I have identified berries.

It is also an encouragement to pay attention more closely to the other foods and drinks that I consume. Noticing more about their flavours broadens the palate I can bring to my teas. Every little bit of mindfulness helps.

In the end I think that is what it's really all about.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Wishlist Wednesday - Glass Tea Cups

Here are some gorgeous glass teacups for you to enjoy... so delicate, and perfect for showing off the colour of the infused tea!


Glass gaiwan from SanTion House of Tea.


Cups and saucers from Juniper Lodge.

And my personal favourite today:

Friday, 5 March 2010

Made My Day

Running a business is not easy by any means - as I'm sure many of my readers would know. Some days the sales don't come in. Some days my tea-blending creative mojo is just not there. Some days I can't get anything done because Pippin won't settle. It can be very frustrating.

And then on some days I find beautiful messages from my customers, like this one from Karen of MooBeeTees, in my Etsy inbox:
Hi Verity,

I just have to thank you for sending me your divine tea blends. I think I'm in love!! As tea is my only drink beside water, it is so nice to find some beautiful fresh blends that do what they say they do - relax!

I also wanted to let you know that when your package arrived, MooBee [Karen's daughter] wanted to know who it was from. I told her 'Verity'. She thought on your name for a couple of minutes and then asked me, 'Is Verity a fairy? She has a name that only a fairy would have.'

So in our house you are now 'Verity, the tea fairy' :)


Well... so long as I'm someone's Tea Fairy (how awesome is that?)... I can remember that it's all worthwhile!

(If you'd like to read more about what joie de tea customers think of my tea blends, please have a look at my Customer Feedback page!)

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Wishlist Wednesday - Beautiful Black

Craving some new black teas... here's some that are on my list at the moment!

Keemun Mao Feng from Larsen and Thompson. As you may recall I really enjoyed the Keemun that I got from SanTion and I'm keen to try some other Keemuns as well. I like the Larsen and Thompson brand, I've had some really lovely single-estate Darjeeling and Assam from them in the past.

Likewise I would like to try another Golden Yunnan... This one from Rishi Tea sounds delicious, and Rishi Tea is renowned for their high quality, so I'm sure it would taste as wonderful as it sounds!

Earl Grey Grand Classic from Lupicia... This has been recommended to me by a couple of friends, and I had a sniff of it last time I was in at Lupicia's shop at the QV. It smells amazing, both like and unlike 'traditional' Earl Grey. Can't wait to get my hands on some!


And, just because I've never tried it, I'd like to sample some Irish Breakfast, perhaps Taylor's of Harrogate's. Sometimes what you really need is a terrifically bracing cup with milk... I'm sure this would hit the spot!

Which black teas are you craving right now? Would love to hear your picks!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

I'm so high maintenance

Greater love hath no man than this: that he follow his wife's anal tea-brewing instructions to the letter.

My husband (to me, while I'm feeding the baby, having been thwarted in my earlier attempt to make myself some tea): I'll make your tea for you. Shall I put some hot water in the glass jug to warm it up before I put the tea in?

Me: No... put some hot water in the green teapot.

My husband: Green teapot, ok.

Me: Then when the water's boiling fill up the glass jug. Then you need to let the water cool for two minutes. Then you put in the tea and let it steep for two minutes.

My husband: ...ok, so what's the green teapot for?

Me: That's for straining the tea into so it doesn't oversteep...

My husband: My god, this is all so much more baroque than I bargained for.


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