Tag Archives: black tea

An Ashland, Oregon Moment

It’s something that occurs every two years, and while some might think of it as a reunion of sorts, I tend to view it more as a pilgrimage. Whatever you want to call it, it is a four-day event that I do whatever I can to attend. It started with my Mom and her sisters and sister-in-law getting together in Ashland, Oregon to enjoy each other’s company and catch up on e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Over time, the daughters have joined in the event, and then daughters-in-law.

Aunt D (who serves as the glue for this ever-growing melange) reserves the biggest rental home she can find, and we all descend from various parts of the country to get together and cook, eat, sing, play music (for those with that talent), hand-sew beautiful baby quilts, knit, crochet adorable play food and animals (again, for those with talent in those areas), attend the world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare festival, go on walks, explore the cute shops (and wine bars) of the picturesque downtown, talk as though it’s going out of style, and this year… enjoy afternoon tea.

At the last Ashland event, I was a brand-new mom there with my tiny baby Edie, and I was in nothing more than survival mode. Being among the most loving, nurturing, encouraging, hilarious women for a few days was the greatest blessing I could have received at that time. So now, being able to leave my ‘big-girl’ Edie to have a father-daughter weekend while I made the journey back to this oasis, I was delighted to be able to bring something fun to the table. (Literally).

With Aunt D providing the perfect mix and match of thrift store tea cups, and Aunt M and new cousin-in-law C as my sous chefs, we whipped up some tasty treats and had quite the table spread. Sandwiches: cucumber and cream cheese with dill; pear and brie; a modified Waldorf salad sandwich; puff pastry with savory salami and goat cheese. Cranberry-orange scones with local raspberry preserves, lemon curd and mock Devonshire cream on the side.  An assortment of berries. And for a little sweetness, shortbread and chocolate cookies. 

 The decision of what teas to present was a snap, thanks to the kindred spirits of American Tea Room. David provided the as-always perfect recommendations.

The table was set, the food laid out, and I carefully brewed each pot according to suggested instructions. The first pot was presented: Ruby Black.  I first experienced this lovely brew on Mother’s Day at the first ever American Tea Room High Tea. In only its 3rd year of re-introduction and production in Taiwan, American Tea Room is the sole purveyor of this tea in the entire United States. You haven’t had amazing black tea until you’ve had this black tea. It is rich and fulfilling, and has a maltiness to it. And as my sister-in-law, S, kept saying after each sip, “It’s so smooth! It’s just so smooth!” Yes. Yes it is.

The second pot: Milk Oolong. I’ve been telling my cousin, H, about this one for nearly a year. Unable to have any dairy, she has been missing cream in her tea, and this, in my opinion, is the best possible solution. Not only is this a most heavenly Oolong with a gentle floral perfume and the subtlest natural sweetness, it is also infused with an inexplicable creaminess though no cream nor anything else is added to this tea. The tea is hand-processed using multiple unique methods, and the result is this magnificent sensation. H, and the rest of the table, was delighted.

The third pot: Immortal Green. Mindful of my measured journey into greens this summer, David suggested this fan favorite. A Japanese sencha with peach and passion fruit infused throughout, this green tea is not only approachable, it is the life of the party! I watched as woman after woman around the table cautiously brought their cup to their lips, bracing themselves for that greenness or grassiness or earthiness or whatever it is that is coming to meet them. And then, with that first, glorious sip, the eyes widen, the face lights up the tinest bit, and they go in for that second sip – which is now no longer just a sip, but a slurp! Success!

And even when the tea party was over, it wasn’t over, as each guest oohed and ahhed over receiving tea to take home. David had sent samples of Choco – Late (cacao husk, vanilla bean and rooibos) and Marrakesh (a Morraccan mint green tea).

The teas and treats were lovingly received, as were each of us around the table. This is what it is all about. As we talk and laugh and share stories or ideas or memories, we weave each other more deeply, more securely into each other’s lives. This is what first made me fall in love with the idea of tea. It is something that gives us a perfect excuse to be together and create these moments that feel so precious and so critical at the same time.

The countdown to Ashland 2012 begins…

Waldorf Salad Sandwich (As requested by the Ashland Gals)

Salad:
3/4 cups walnuts (or pecans) coarsely chopped
3/4 cup Granny Smith apple, diced
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
2 scallions finely sliced
Salt to taste

Dressing:
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

Prepare dressing in small bowl and put in refrigerator to chill. Prepare remaining ingredients and place in larger bowl. When ready to assemble sandwiches, pour salad dressing over other ingredients and combine well. Butter 8 slices of whole wheat bread. Spread salad in a quarter-inch even layer between 2 buttered slices. Cut into quarters.

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Filed under Tea, Tea Recipes, Travel

A Bunco Tea Moment

How does one describe Bunco? I may venture to say it’s the new “Bridge” club for this generation of women. It’s dice rolling, snacking and drinking while catching up on a month’s worth of news with 11 girlfriends. No skill is involved, except perhaps multi-tasking. Can you roll and talk at the same time? Perfect!

This month was my month to host, so I decided to have a California Tea Party, Bunco-Style. Sweet, savory and chocolate-y treats were accompanied by a choice of lemonade, iced Tangier Tea from American Tea Room, iced Strawberry White from DAVIDsTEA and two kinds of Mar-Tea-Ni’s. Who says you can’t have a tea party at night? Not me! Here are my not-at-all secret recipes for Tea-Ni’s:

Mint Tea-Ni

Adapted from Kerry Saretsky of French Revolution.

Boiling water – enough to fill large tea pot
2 mint tea bags (this time, I used Tazo Refresh)
3 Tablespoons loose leaf Ceylon (I used TeaSource’s Ceylon Vithanakanda, FOP)
8 mint leaves, plus 16 mint leaves
1⁄4 cup water
1⁄2 cup sugar
3 shots vodka, very cold (I used Ketel One – how could I not? Their headquarters is in my town!!!)

1. Brew a 6-cup pot of tea, with boiling water, 2 mint tea bags, 3 Tbsp Ceylon tea (contained in infuser for easy leaf removal), and 8 fresh mint leaves. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, then pull out the tea bags and infuser (leave the mint leaves). Allow to cool for several minutes and then refrigerate until very cold.

2. Make the mint syrup by put 16 mint leaves, lightly chopped, into a sauce pot with 1⁄4 cup water and 1⁄2 cup sugar. Heat on medium-high until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is translucent. Set aside to cool, and then drain.

3.  Add the cooled, strained mint syrup and the vodka to the chilled tea pot. Give it all a good stir and pour into martini glass, garnished with fresh mint leaves. If not quite cold enough, shake in martini shaker with ice until chilled.

White Tiger-Tea-Ni

Boiling water – enough to fill large tea pot
% Tablespoons loose leaf White Tiger tea from DAVIDsTEA 
1/3 cup blueberries, plus handful for garnish
1⁄4 cup water
1⁄2 cup sugar
3 shots vodka, very cold (Yep –  Ketel One)

1. Brew a 6-cup pot of tea, with boiling water and 5 Tbsp White Tiger Tea. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, then pull out  infuser. Allow to cool for several minutes and then refrigerate until very cold.

2. Make the blueberry syrup by putting 1/3 cup blueberries into a sauce pot with 1⁄4 cup water and 1⁄2 cup sugar. Heat on medium-high, smash berries and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is a deep purple Set aside to cool, and then drain.

3.  Add the cooled, strained syrup and the vodka to the chilled tea pot. Give it all a good stir and pour into martini glass, garnished with several blueberries skewered on a toothpick. If not quite cold enough, shake in martini shaker with ice until chilled.

Cheers!

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A TeaSource Moment

This week I found myself back in the Twin Cities for a speaking engagement, and of course had to designate some “me time,” also known as “tea time,” before heading home again. Before my last trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Jason Witt had suggested I visit TeaSource, and unfortunately I couldn’t make it work. This time, however, I more than made up for it and may have found my new favorite Twin Cities destination! I contacted Bill Waddington, founder and owner of TeaSource, to see if he might have a few minutes to chat with a tea enthusiast who would be passing through. He graciously agreed, and on Friday afternoon I made my way over to a quaint and cozy corner of St. Paul near the University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University.  This location itself could take me down another anecdotal lane, but I’ll leave that for the moment.

As I walked in the front door, I was greeted by the sight of two entire walls lined with tea cannisters. It’s one of my favorite sights. If I could somehow configure a wall of tea in my own home… Anyway, I acted as a fly on the wall for a moment, admiring the conversation between an employee and two women trying to choose a tea pot, because a third wall was lined with tea pots of various sizes, shapes and materials. The employee was great about finding out exactly what kind of tea they most enjoyed, how much they typically consumed in a sitting, did they like hot tea or cold tea. Then she educated them very succinctly and hospitably about her recommendations. It was a mini lesson in tea pots, but not stuffy or boring. Very accessible and interesting. Nice! Then I noticed a woman placing an order for tea at the counter. She asked for two or three different teas, the names of which were foreign to me. I watched how at ease she was with the place, how comfortable she felt about these teas. Obviously a regular here who had tried many different teas (of the 250 that may be in stock at any given time), had found some current favorites and was stocking up for home.

I was greeted warmly by Bill, and he immediately offered to brew a pot of tea. I asked him his current favorite, knowing very well that “favorite” is a fleeting concept where tea is involved. After a bit of discussion, we decided I should be introduced to Ceylon Vithanakanda, FOP, his current go-to black tea. The dry leaf had, as he described it, a ripe fruit aroma, almost like a cantaloupe at its peak of ripeness so that in just a few hours it would be over-ripe. The steeping pot of tea and two clear tea glasses were placed on a wooden tray with a timer and he carried it out to the casual  seating area at the front of the store. Patrons were seated comfortably at small tables for two or on the bright red sofa in the lounge area. A place to visit, a place to study, a place to reflect, the perfect place for tea.

As the tea steeped, I asked Bill how he got into this world of tea. He explained he has always been a tea drinker, and around his 20’s he began to wonder if there were really, really good teas to be experienced, like there are really good wines or chocolates or cigars. He happened to work in a library at the time, and would occasionally flip through periodicals looking for tea related articles or papers. When he would come across a name of a tea expert, whether a grower or exporter or other, he would write a letter and ask if he could buy some tea from them. These letters would make their way to China, India, Japan, and other tea growing regions around the world. As has been my experience in the tea microcosm, the response to him was very positive. Relationships were formed, Bill was introduced not only to the intricate and nuanced world of tea but to a circle of mentors who would continue to expand his network to this day.

At one point, we realized that we had been in the same tea cupping class in Boston in 2003, he as an assistant to the instructor, Michael Spillane, and I as a student. The tea world, as with all industries, is a small one!

Ceylon Vithanakanda, FOPBut I am forgetting to spotlight the star of this Moment. The Ceylon. Bill had wanted me to try this one because, while not a rare or expensive Ceylon, it is full bodied, with a lot of mouth feel, the fruit tones in the aroma transferring to the liquid itself. He admitted that even with access to much more rare or expensive Ceylons, he found himself coming back to this one again and again. The steeped liquid was a very orange, almost red, amber, and I was very happy to indulge in that first sip… Full, rich, hitting every point on my palate. This was just the kind of cup to start your day with purpose and momentum. I could envision consuming gallons of it in just a day. Yes. I like very much.

While there are many anecdotes I could share from this moment, what I enjoyed the most was being able to sit and chat casually with someone whose passion for tea led him to a life where he can continue to learn, continue to explore, provide education to others and introduce them to this amazing world where he has been led.  And in my search for green teas, he provided his own recommendation that I’m really looking forward to trying!

Run, don’t walk to TeaSource:

St. Paul Store
752 Cleveland Ave. So.
St. Paul, MN 55116
(651) 690-9822
Store Hours:
M-Thurs 10:00–9:00
Fri-Sat 10:00–10:00
Sun: 10:00-5:00

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Filed under Education, Tea, Tea Room, Travel

A Blind Taste Test Moment

Pick a tea. Any tea.

It was the most intriguing invitation. And upon RSVP-ing, I got this more intriguing response, “You’ve said you’re up for some blind tea tasting! So I spent last night filling envelopes with a selection of (hopefully) delicious teas…”  Several days later I received a white paper package from the UK. Inside were 6 brown paper packets. The first five, labeled A – E, had one unmarked and indistinguishable tea bag inside. The 6th, labeled F G H, had 3 hand packed tea bags of loose leaf tea.

My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to conduct a tasting of each of the 8 teas provided, complete my review of each, including score and overall ranking, and send all of my thoughts, photos, etc. back to be considered with the other blind taste testers.

I’ve been a tea drinker for lo these many years, and the thought of an actual blind tasting was exciting. I’ve taken a tea cupping course (think of formal wine tastings – the descriptive words they use, the slurping, the spitting – it’s really quite similar), but I’ve never had this opportunity to compare my taste buds and tea preferences to anyone else.

My notes and rankings. Nearly as nerve-wracking as the SAT's

One by one, I steeped the tea in my special cupping set. One by one, I slurped, considered, slurped again, jotted notes on color, flavor, what it made me think of, and whether I liked it or not. On a scale of 1 to 10, the lowest score I gave was a 3. I gave two 10’s. All were black teas. All were similar yet very different. I kept thinking, “I wonder if the reason I like this so much (or am unimpressed) is completely different from the ‘experts.'” I’m dying to know.

In a way, I feel that my credibility as a tea enthusiast could be at stake. What if the teas I enjoyed the most were thought of as mediocre by the rest of the group. Or what if the ones I found to be either thin or Lipton-esque are actually the fan favorites. The anticipation is killing me.

But then I must remember, for me, tea is about a moment to pause. A way to regroup, to reconnect, to re-energize. Whether my amateur taste buds agree with the great tea palates of the world is not of great importance.

But it will sure be interesting to find out.

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A New Tea Cupboard Moment

A Cupboard Full of Tea. Happy Thought.

It’s a New Year. All right, it’s a few weeks into a New Year, and my tea cupboard was calling. As new and exciting teas have been introduced to me, I had found myself lining them all up on the kitchen counter top to have them all within easy reach each morning. I found myself looking less and less often into my actual designated tea cupboard, and it was time to evaluate why.

I’ve preferred loose leaf tea to bagged tea for quite a number of years now, but laziness and ease had allowed for several boxes of bagged tea to sit amongst ‘the good stuff.’ What was lounging in the cupboard were those old tea bags – forlorn, forgotten and ultimately snubbed. And so, out with the old, in with the new. I purged, sorted, and reconfigured. I am tickled to no end to see how far I’ve come since beginning this tea blog last April, and also to see the myriad choices my tea cupboard now has to offer. I confess, I did keep a few stray bags of lemon infusion – something my husband and I both tend toward at night, during bad colds, but they have been relegated to an ‘other’ shelf.

So, what is your pleasure? A strong breakfast blend? A fabulous Darjeeling? A premium white blend? Milk oolong, perhaps, or an exotic blend with floral or subtle fruit notes? I can even find some interesting greens in there (yes, plural). Whatever strikes your fancy, or mine, I certainly have options. And not one stinker (my opinion) in the lot! I’m ready for this year. Bring it on!

Add your comment to any of my blog entries & Win Gift Package of 2009 Award Winning Tea from An International Tea Moment! See details at http://wp.me/pv8CX-3x

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A Moment to Define Favorites

It’s been such a fun year of exploring teas, reflecting on past tea moments, creating and experiencing new ones. Discovering the tea ‘underworld’ has been a thrilling surprise, and I’ve been blown away at the generosity, humor, and knowledge I’ve found there.

As a result of this sharing and community-building, I’m proud to announce that on January 22nd, I will be unveiling An International Tea Moment’s “Best Of” 2009 winners for black tea, black flavored tea, white tea, oolong tea, and green tea blends.

And, for those of you who have been joining me on this journey, I’ve got a gift for you! Anyone submitting comments between January 1, 2010 and January 22, 2010 to any of my blog entries will be eligible to receive a sampler of all the award winners – so please take a read down memory lane and comment on your favorite post or on as many posts as you like. There’s no limit to your number of entries into this drawing.

Thank you, and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the 22nd!

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Filed under Drawings, Tea

A Tea-Rum-Pa-Pum-Pum Moment

A Pirate's Life For Me

A new chapter has begun in our familial saga! Yesterday, the K family came over for drinks and appetizers. Their son is about a year older than 19-month-old Edie. And for the first time in our collective experience as parents, we were able to sit together as grown-ups while the kids played together in the next room! We caught each other several times throughout the visit staring in amazement at the situation. Kids playing without a hovering ‘on-duty’ parent to ensure that they don’t injure themselves or others. Magical.

And in the course of this very enjoyable evening of uninterrupted conversation, Gene and the K’s were willing test subjects for my experiment with tea and spiced rum. The results were delightful and just in time for the holidays. Starting with a strong black tea blend (in this case, Notting Hill from American Tea Room), I added a shot of spiced rum (a little Captain), and a twist of lemon. A quick stir, and voila! A warm concoction to warm your heart and your belly.

This new development of being able to entertain without the sole focus of placating babies is opening a world of opportunities for the new year. Christmas came early this year!

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