Friday, March 31, 2006

Earl Grey Overdose

Not to wax too opinionated here, but there are some teas that Tea Guy's just never gonna come to terms with. If you've been reading my prattle for long enough you know that I'm not too terribly keen on anything that falls into the chai category. Nor am I particularly enamored with Lapsang Souchong (Lebanon Bologna tea) or Earl Grey. But that's okay, because we all like what we like.

If you do like Earl Grey you might just want to go easy on the stuff. At least if there's anything to this report from the Bradenton Herald, which asserts that large doses of bergamot - which is used to flavor Earl Grey - may cause muscle cramps.

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Tea Review 62 - Hattialli & Tippy Orthodox

Hattialli Estate GFBOP SPL
Tippy Orthodox GFOP
Upton Tea Imports

Yerba Mate Month is almost upon us, Assam Month is fading and the tea cupboard is almost bare of the latter. Oh, woe. But we'll usher out the month with a bang - specifically with one of the better of the dozen or so Assams I've tasted lately.

Hattialli Estate gets the best in show award, as far as Assam Month goes. It's not cheap. As a matter of fact, at $4.50 for a 15 gram sample, it's the most expensive of the sixty or so Assam varieties that Upton sells. But it's worth it.

This is one of several varieties that Upton offers from this estate. It's overflowing with nice tips, not to mention an outstanding aroma and flavor and a mouth feel that's smooth as silk.

Here's the full description from Upton's site, to which I say a resounding "amen":

"This renowned estate has produced many top-notch teas in recent years. This example has a beautiful, broken leaf, with a high percentage of golden-copper tips. The fresh, invigorating aroma and thick liquor are backed by the full, complex Assam flavor."

If you'd rather not spend so much but you'd still like a nice tasting Assam you could do a lot worse than the Tippy Orthodox. One hundred grams of this one sells for just a little more than the sample of the Hattialli and yet it ranks right up there with some of the other top Assams I've had the pleasure to taste this month.

Recommended in both cases, but if you really want a thrill cough up a little extra cash and go with the Hattialli.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Desert Island Tea 4 - (Author) Diana Rosen

Uh, oh. We have another castaway on the island. No, it's not Brooke Shields, Tom Hanks or anyone named Robinson. This time around it's none other than Diana Rosen, author of such fabulous tea tomes as Meditations With Tea, The Book Of Green Tea, Chai: The Spice Tea Of India and Taking Time For Tea.

If you were stranded on a desert island (an island with clean, fresh water and tea making equipment, of course) what one tea (only one) would you like to have with you and why?

Diana Rosen's Answer:
Only one? Sure hope I'm rescued soon, or at least before the next harvest. Looking at my groaning cupboard with selections from all over the globe makes choosing just one supremely difficult. Today I had an exquisite flowery Darjeeling, yesterday it was a silky Dragonwell, and right now it's a heady Ti Kwan Yin.

What to do? Perhaps an elegant Mao Feng, more properly known as Huang Shan Mao Feng, from one of China's most venerable mountain ranges in the Anhui Province The tea gives multiple infusions, has a sweet, lingering taste, with a rumor of nuttiness. I have drunk pots of this green tea and never tire of it because it has a deep satisfying flavor like no other. Then, again, maybe I should take the......

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Assam & Norway

No obvious connection between these two parts of the world, or none that I'm aware of. Just two short bits here that I thought I'd combine into one entry.

Assam Month is winding down, but it's not dead yet. If you head over to the Dooyoo site, which is apparently a British consumer reviews type resource, you'll find 19 varieties of Assam and related teas listed, many with reviews. I don't recognize some of the names so I'm gathering it's not all stuff that's readily available on these shores.

As for the Norwegians, a piece came out yesterday in Aftenposten, an Oslo newspaper, asserting that Norwegians are "tops in tea-drinking." The article doesn't exactly provide all the figures to support such a claim, but perhaps I'm missing the point. Anyway, tea is quite the popular beverage in Norway, so let's not quibble over such details.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Yerba Mate Month

Assam Month is dwindling, but it's still not quite finished. Tea Guy's got a few more Assams to review, but while we're waiting for those allow me to refer you to some reviews from the archives.

Here's a review of a white Assam from Adagio Teas. Good stuff. Also a double review of an Assam from Mangalain Estate, by way of In Pursuit of Tea, and a passably decent bagged Assam from Honest Tea.

As for Yerba Mate Month, that's coming up in a few days. It kicks off on April 1 and I'm not fooling. If you've got any yerba mate samples, information or ideas for articles be sure let me know.

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Tea Sommelier

Well, it sure beats digging ditches. I guess. I've never actually dug ditches for a living but I'd be willing to bet that the post of tea sommelier is the more desirable job.

While we're on the subject of tea sommeliers, why not cruise over to the Chicago Sun-Times site and check out yesterday's profile of Bou Chu. Chu is the tea sommelier at the upscale NoMI restaurant in Chicago's Park Hyatt Hotel.

Included in the article are a few of Chu's recommended tea/food pairings. Among them are hot dogs with Keemun and foie gras with chamomile or rooibos. No word on what to do if you like your hot dogs topped with foie gras, so I guess you'll just have to improvise.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Tea With A Kick

Mixing tea with something a little stronger is not a novel concept. I previously wrote about such blends here and here. Among the suspects mentioned were a pair of tea-flavored vodkas, a green tea liqueur, a "green hard tea" and tea-flavored beer.

Another one to add to your list is Voyant Chai Cream. I haven't tasted this one, but the manufacturer describes it as a blend of "Aged Virgin Island Rum, Fresh Dutch Cream, Black Tea from India, Premium Spirits from Holland and a Distinctive Blend of Spices from Asia."

While we're on the subject, here's a list of drinks over at Webtender that are made with tea. You can also download a collection of drink recipes at the Voyant site. Enjoy, and remember to drink your tea responsibly.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Unwrapping Celestial Seasonings

Itching for a look at what goes on behind the scenes at the Celestial Seasonings tea factory? If you find ever yourself in Boulder, Colorado you could take the grand tour.

If Colorado isn't going to be on your itinerary any time soon keep an eye open for a 2003 episode of Unwrapped that's still be making the rounds. It's called Spices and it features a look at how the business of tea-making is carried out at CS. Even if the topic isn't tea, you should be watching Unwrapped. It's a fun show.

Since it's still Assam Month, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention some of the CS offerings that contain Assam tea:

English Breakfast
Devonshire English Breakfast
Marrakesh Express Vanilla Spice
Victorian Earl Grey

Shop For Celestial Seasonings Tea

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tea Review 61 - Three More Assams

Rembeng Estate TGFOP
Romai Estate TFBOP
Season's Pick Assam Dejoo GFBOP
Upton Tea Imports

Assam Month may be winding down but it ain't dead just yet. This review is a bit of an anticlimax, coming after the quite yummy Khagorijan and Bukhial varieties that I expounded upon last time around, but these three aren't all that bad either.

Not to make too much of this price vs. taste thing that I've been going on about, but the Rembeng Estate, the most expensive of these three, was also the one that impressed me the least. Upton says that it has a pleasant aroma with floral nuances and hints of honey. I found the aroma to be a bit on the harsh side and the taste kind of so-so. Not bad, but just nothing to get worked up about. Upton also sells a cheaper tea from this estate, the Rembeng Estate CTC BOP.

The Romai Estate fared a little better. It was surprisingly smooth and tasty and I found nothing to quibble with in Upton's assertion that it's "a rich Assam with raisin-like aroma and robust character." It appears, just from my cursory research, that Upton is the only merchant - or at least the only merchant with a Web presence - to offer tea from this estate.

The best of this bunch, at least in my humble estimation, was also the least pricey. That would be the Dejoo GFBOP, which is "a blend of select lots from the 2005 Dejoo Estate harvest." There are a lot of tips in this one and I thought that it had a rather light taste for an Assam. Perhaps a bit at odds with Upton's description of it as a "hearty cup," but what the Sam Hill do I know anyway? Well, I know I liked it and that's good enough for me. Upton also carries two other, more expensive, teas from this estate - SFTGFOP1S and SFTGFOP1, which might be worth looking into.

Shop For Assam Tea

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Time For Tea Tunes

Looking for something to listen to while you're sipping your tea? Head on over to Germany's Blue Flame Records and have a look at - and a listen to - their series of four tea-themed releases.

Things got underway with Green Tea – Flavored Atmosphere, in which various artists mixed "modern and also Asian sounds with ancient tea tradition." Next up was Green Tea - Sencha Mix and then Green Tea Vol. 3 – Red Flower Mix.

And there's Tchai – Oriental Mix, which mixes "Arabesque rhythms – jewels of the Nu Orient and Downbeats with a loungy atmosphere, beautiful voices, simple murmurs and truly entrancing tunes."


George Bush Sips Darjeeling

Or did he?

I'm not sure how I missed this one, but I did. It's off-topic as far as Assam Month goes, but let's not quibble.

On a visit to India earlier this month, our Commander-In-Chief was served Darjeeling tea at a lunch with the Prime Minister. The reporter who penned this piece in India's Statesman apparently was not able to verify whether or not the President actually drank any of the tea. Also no word on what variety of Darjeeling was served, but I guess one shouldn't expect that level of detail in an article like this.

A shout out to the Tea News from Darjeeling Area blog, where I caught wind of this item. A nice resource, if you're looking to keep up with tea news in this one particular region.

Sip Some Darjeeling Tea

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Merchants Mentioned At TGS

  • Adagio Teas


  • Barry's Tea

  • Bodum USA

  • Bigelow Tea

  • Bonkers International

  • Brand Concepts

  • Bubble House

  • Celestial Seasonings

  • Charbay Winery and Distillery

  • Choice Organic Teas

  • Culinary Teas

  • Dream About Tea

  • English Tea Store

  • Good Earth Teas

  • Great Tea International

  • Guayaki

  • Hanson Tea Company

  • Harney & Sons

  • Hawaii Tea Factory

  • Healthy Beverage Company

  • Hibiki-an

  • Honest Tea

  • Imperial Tea Court

  • Inko's White Tea

  • In Pursuit Of Tea

  • Ito-En

  • Kalahari Limited

  • Kikkoman

  • Kombucha Wonder Drink

  • Kyela Teas

  • Lipton Tea

  • Mark T. Wendell Tea Company

  • Mighty Leaf Tea Company

  • Modern Spirits

  • Nala Tea

  • Natural Latitudes LLC

  • Nothing But Tea

  • Numi Tea

  • Green Tea & Matcha

  • Oregon Chai

  • Peet's Coffee & Tea

  • PG Tips

  • Pure Inventions

  • Republic of Tea

  • Rishi Tea

  • SerendipiTea

  • Serengeti Tea Company

  • Snapple

  • Spotted Leopard Teas

  • Stash Tea Company

  • Tata Tea

  • Tazo

  • TeaGschwender

  • Tealuxe

  • Teaology

  • Tea Treasures

  • Teavana

  • Teavigo

  • Tetley Tea

  • Tempest Tea

  • The Liquid Leaf

  • The Tea Smith

  • The Tea Table

  • Trader Joes

  • Tregothnan Tea

  • Twinings of London

  • Upton Tea Imports

  • Verithe

  • Vitasolve

  • Vong's Thai Kitchen

  • Wisdom Wands

  • Yogi Tea
  • Tea Review 60 - Khagorijan & Bukhial

    Assam - Bukhial Estate
    The Tea Smith

    Assam - Khagorijan Estate STGFOP1 SPL
    Upton Tea Imports

    Sometimes you do get what you pay for. As I've been working my way through Assam Month, I've had the opportunity to taste about a dozen or more samples of tea from this region. I haven't always found a correlation between price and taste, as a few of the more modestly priced items turned out to be surprisingly good.

    But in the case of the Khagorijan Estate there is a correlation between price and flavor. This is one of two teas from this estate that Upton offers. Of the 60 Assam varieties that they currently sell it's the sixth most expensive, just a few notches behind the Khagorijan Estate GFBOP CH SPL, the third priciest.

    And it's well worth it, I should add. I'd rank this one at the top of the Assam heap - so far. I'm not too swift when it comes to devising those clever descriptions of what teas taste like, so I'll quote from Upton's clever description - "a top selection with an elegant, flowery aroma and complex flavor profile. The subtle layers of fruit and maltiness are balanced with a gentle pungency, creating a superb cup."

    That works for me. A superb cup, indeed. As far as I can tell, from doing some cursory research, it's a superb cup that you won't find too readily. In fact, I didn't find any other vendors who handled it, though I didn't quite break my back looking for them either.

    If you're up for another "superb cup" you should take a crack at Bukhial Estate. I obtained a sample of this one from the fine people at Nebraska's The Tea Smith. I'd rank it as only slightly less superb than the Khagorijan and roughly on a par with the Singlijan that I reviewed here.

    And don't even think about spoiling the subtle flavors of these excellent teas with milk, sugar and all that rot. Or, if you absolutely have to, keep it to yourself. I don't think I could take it.

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    Witches In The Tea Garden

    Still about a week and half left to Assam Month. Here are a pair of news articles from the region, both of which are rather on the grim side.

    First up is an article from the Hindu News about a gruesome incident that took place recently in Assam's Sadharu Tea Garden. Apparently five residents there were suspected of practicing witchcraft and were set upon by an angry mob and beheaded.

    Next is a piece that appeared in the Mumbai Mirror. It has to do with politicians in the Assam region who make a practice of getting tea garden workers drunk, presumably to influence their choice of candidates in local elections.

    Cheery stuff.

    Sunday, March 19, 2006

    Russian Prison Tea

    Ever thought you'd be busted for drinking tea? Well, you've apparently never spent much time in a Siberian prison camp. Recently Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was once said to be Russia's wealthiest man and who is now doing time in such a place, was tossed into solitary for the offense of drinking tea in the wrong place.

    Read all about it here, at Radio Free Europe's Web site, or at Toronto's Globe and Mail, right here. Pretty much the same story either place. Neither account mentions what type of tea Khodorkovsky was drinking when he was busted.

    Saturday, March 18, 2006

    Tea Cocktails & Mocktails

    Here's a tea cocktail that uses a lemon-flavored liqueur called Caravella Limoncello. Can't say that I've tried the stuff, but it doesn't sound half bad.

    If the hard stuff's not your style, maybe you'd prefer a tea "mocktail"? Here's an article from the Calcutta Telegraph about a place that's said to be India's first tea mocktail bar.

    Caravella Citrus Tea-Ni

    2 cups water
    2 Madagascar vanilla rooibos tea bags
    1 tsp. candied ginger
    1/2 oz. Caravella Limoncello
    1 oz. orange-flavored rum
    Crushed ice

    Brew tea using two tea bags and 2 cups boiling water. While hot, pour tea into a container, add ginger. Let infuse for at least one hour. Tea mixture makes four servings.

    For each serving, mix 1/2 cup tea mixture with 1 oz. orange-flavored rum, 1/2 oz. Caravella Limoncello and crushed ice. Strain into a martini glass.

    (This recipe was developed for Caravella Limoncello by Deb Fabricant.)

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    The Cup Of The Irish

    I woke up today with the strangest compulsion to write someting about Irish Breakfast tea. I can't imagine why that would be, but I've decided not to fight it. So onward.

    Here's a brief article, from Seeds of Knowledge, about Irish tea traditions. Also five related recipes. Over at Barry's Tea is a recipe for a full Irish Breakfast, which is not recommended for anyone with delicate appetites.

    Here are just a few of the many varities of Irish Breakfast tea. It's still Assam month here at Tea Guy Speaks and since most Irish Breakfast teas are made with at least some Assam tea this entry fits right in in more ways than one.

    Last of all, let me remind you that the Irish put us all to shame when it comes to tea drinking. So everybody run and put the kettle on and we'll do what we can to catch up.

    Adagio Teas (loose) (assorted - loose & bags)

    Barry's Tea (bags)

    Culinary Tea (loose & bags)

    English Tea Store (loose)

    Harney & Sons (loose & bags)

    Mark T. Wendell Tea Company (loose & bags)

    Stash Tea (loose and bags)

    Shop for Irish Breakfast tea and related items

    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    More Assam Books

    Well, sort of. As I was putting together the list of Assam-related books that appeared here a few days ago I overlooked a few titles. Oh, silly me. Granted, these don't have to do specifically with the Assam region but it's close enough for government work, as the old saying goes.

    First up is a work that presents the darker side of tea history, and yes Virginia, it's true - tea is not all frilly and dainty things and wondrous health benefits and all that rot. Like any other commodity that's worth a damn, it has a rather checkered past - and present, now that you mention it.

    But it's the past that Roy Moxham deals with primarily in Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire. I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but I gather that it covers some of the same territory as Empire of Tea, a quite worthwhile work which I have read and never miss an opportunity to plug.

    On a distinctly lighter, and more fragrant, note is Diana Rosen's Chai: The Spice Tea of India. Rosen also brought us The Book of Green Tea, one of many books on this topic. Chai is a lot less likely to bring you down than Moxham's book as it takes a look at the history and background of this distinctive Indian drink, complete with beverage and food recipes that make liberal use of it. Thus far Tea Guy has found himself to be quite resistant to the alleged charms of chai, but that doesn't mean you have to be.

    While we're on the topic of tea and spices and history and India and whatnot, why not take a look at Spice: The History of a Temptation, by Jack Turner?

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Grown In The USA

    No, Assam Month has not run off the tracks. In fact, we'll soon have a review of one of the best Assam teas I've tasted. So stay tuned.

    In the meantime I thought I'd share some information on a lesser known tea growing region - the United States. I touched on the topic briefly in an earlier entry, which also mentioned a tea-growing project in England. You can read that entry here.

    Not long ago Reuters ran a fairly lengthy piece on the Charleston Tea Plantation, which is now owned by tea giant Bigelow and which grows the leaf that makes up American Classic Tea. Read that article here.

    After reading the Reuters article you might think that South Carolina is the only place in the United States where tea grows and on this scale it certainly is. But tea is also starting to turn up in a state that's a lot better known for its homegrown coffee. That would be Hawaii, of course.

    The Associated Press recently ran a piece on tea cultivation in Hawaii, where they are apparently in the early stages of trying to come up with a tea geared more toward connoisseurs. The article ran in the Honolulu Star Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser. It's essentially the same story, regardless, and you can read it here or here.

    While we're on the subject of Hawaii and tea it's as good a time as any to mention Hawaii Tea Factory. Though they don't use any native grown tea, they do make two flavored black teas and an herbal variety with flavorings usually associated with the islands. They've got a Mango Tropical Black Tea, Passion Fruit Black Tea and Pineapple Herbal Tea.

    Click Here For Gourmet Teas!

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Tea Review 59 - Anteadote Black

    Anteadote Pure Black Tea
    Adagio Teas

    It's still Assam Month, but we're going to take another brief detour from the region, this time to China's Yunnan province. It's here that the tea for Anteadote's Pure Black Tea is grown. Whatever they're doing in Yunnan nowadays they need to keep on doing it, as this is one of the more distinctive bottled teas I've tasted.

    Pure Black is one of Anteadote's four flavors - the others are Pure White, Pure Green and Pure Jasmine. Anteadote comes to us from New Jersey's Adagio Teas, who, until now, have mostly been doing loose and bagged gourmet teas and assorted and sundry accessories.

    It's what Anteadote lacks that sets it apart from most bottled teas, and that would be sweeteners. It's billed as "pure black tea unsweetened with no carbs or calories." Ingredients are purified water, black tea and vitamin C. I'm not even going to bother going into one of my "ruining perfectly good tea with sugar" rants. All I have to say about the Anteadote concept is a resounding "amen."

    After saturating myself with a bunch of heavy, malty Assam teas for the past few weeks, Pure Black really caught me off guard. It's got a bright, almost pungent, aroma and a taste to match. The label would have us believe that it's a "smooth peppery taste." After some reflection I've decided that I don't see anything wrong with that description. This is also one with a very long finish, as they say in the trade. That's not a bad thing - it's just a thing. There's also some flavor note in there that I just can't place (as is so often the case with this amateur taster). Frustrating not to be able to identify it, but this is good stuff nonetheless.

    Recommended - and what do you know, it won't be long before iced tea season is upon us.

    Order Adagio Teas

    Sunday, March 12, 2006

    Books On Assam

    As Assam Month rolls on here at Tea Guy Speaks, I thought I'd throw out few resources for anyone who would like to find out more about the region. I've already mentioned and reviewed The Empire of Tea: The Remarkable History of the Plant That Took Over the World, by Alan MacFarlane & Iris MacFarlane, a great book that's merits another mention.

    Tea - Legend, Life and Livelihood of India, is a coffee-table book by Gautam Prasad Baroowah. It's being distributed in this neck of the world by Cool Grove Press. It's not listed with the big online book sellers yet, but you can find more information at Cool Grove's Web site and in this piece that appeared in the Calcutta Telegraph a while back.

    In Villages and Tea Gardens: Forty-three Years of Missionary Work in Assam, by O. L Swanson, is a somewhat more obscure work on the region. At last count there were two copies available at Amazon. You might have some luck finding it elsewhere, as well.

    As we veer a little farther from the subject of tea, but still sticking with Assam, there's Ralph Izzard's The Hunt for the Buru. This one tells the tale of a 1948 expedition to Assam in search of a strange reptilian creature.

    While we're veering, why not throw out a quick mention of Darjeeling: A Novel, by Bharti Kirchner? I know, it has nothing to do with Assam and perhaps all that much to do with tea, but there is at least a marginal connection to another great Indian tea-growing region.

    Back to Assam. Here's an article from Tehalka - which appears to be a regional publication - on wildlife preservation and Kaziranga National Park.

    Finally, from, an article on the Lalung people of northeastern India.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006

    Tea Review 58 - Fatikcherra Estate GBOP

    Fatikcherra Estate GBOP (Assam)
    Upton Tea Imports

    Here's an organic Assam tea from Fatikcherra Estate, which Upton's blurb says is "well known for producing teas with a strong character." I'm not sure if I know exactly what that means, nor could I quite fathom the comment that "the enticing cup has a solid flavor, which is enhanced by milk or cream." Ditto for "great for everyday consumption."

    I think what they're getting at here, without coming right out and saying it, is that this one isn't much to get excited about. And it's not. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a bad tea, but I guess "solid flavor" is not so far off the mark after all.

    This one has broken leaves - quite small ones - as the grading would suggest. I used a slightly shorter brew time to compensate, but still came up with a cup that had a slightly harsh aroma and a taste pretty much to match. Okay, maybe harsh is just a bit too strong, but Fatikcherra definitely lacks the mellow taste and nice smooth mouth feel of some of the other Assam teas I've tasted recently. It reminded me of a certain very well known name brand, which I wont name, but you can probably figure it out.

    I wouldn't recommend this for drinking straight up. I'm not a milk, cream or sugar guy so I didn't try that, but I suspect it's shortcomings wouldn't be quite as noticeable that way.

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    Tea Review 57 - Sessa & Sessa (Assam)

    Sessa Estate
    The Tea Smith

    Sessa B Estate STGFOP1 S
    Upton Tea Imports

    As luck would have it, I recently found myself with samples of Assam Sessa Estate from two tea merchants. That's luck, as in good luck, but we'll get to that in a minute.

    When I decided to devote a month to Assam tea I ordered samples from Upton's Web site. With sixty to choose from, I admit that I was a overwhelmed. So I sorted them by price and picked out ten samples from across the range. Not long after, the fine people at Tea Smith (yes, Virginia, there is good tea in Nebraska) were kind enough to contribute a few samples for Assam Month. Lo and behold, there was a bag of Sessa.

    Upton's Sessa is near the low end of the price range and Tea Smith's is also rather affordable. As a general rule, I think we're conditioned that we're going to get what we pay for. Therefore I didn't expect these samples to be anything special. But once again I've found that there is not always a correlation between price and taste (though sometimes that's true). Granted, the Sessa was not up there with some of the better Assams I've tasted - the Singlijan I reviewed here and the Khagorijan that I'll be reviewing soon - but it's not so shabby either.

    I was curious to see if the two samples tasted any different and they didn't, though we could check that up to my relatively unsophisticated palate. Both have relatively large leaves and a lot of nice golden tips. Upton suggest trying theirs without milk - always my preference - and say that it "combines a sweet maltiness with a delightful floral note." It may be the untrained palate talking again, but I didn't really catch the latter. I did notice that both tended toward bitterness when oversteeped even a little, something that I've found that a lot Assams tend to be more forgiving of.

    But, all in all, these are both good teas, especially given the price. Not quite the top of the heap, but recommended nonetheless.

    Thursday, March 09, 2006

    Tea Review 56 - Adagio Osmanthus

    Osmanthus Herbal Tea
    Adagio Teas

    Confession time. Here I am, not even a third of the way into Assam Month and already I'm starting to feel distinctly twitchy. As I've mentioned before, I don't do caffeine so well. Which kind of sucks when tea is really your only vice, but oh well.

    Which is not to suggest that I don't like my Assam, because I certainly do. But it was time to strike a little balance, I thought, and so why not do it with Osmanthus, an herbal selection from Adagio?

    Osmanthus comes in Adagio's pyramid-shaped tea bags, which are good for a large cup or a small pot of tea and are packaged 15 to a box. The tea brews up to a nice pale golden hue with a very distinctive aroma that I still can't quite pin down - I guess you could call it a little bit floral and a little bit weedy.

    As for the taste, that one's kind of tricky too. I think the closest reference point for me would be lemongrass, though with a more subtle flavor.

    Recommended to anyone who wants an herbal beverage that's a little offbeat and on the low key side.

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    Man The Ramparts

    Republic of Tea finds itself profiled in Business Week this week in an article which suggests that a beverage war is brewing in the United States. Wooo...scary.

    As one might expect, Republic's recently released line of Jerry Garcia teas comes in for a mention. Read my review of a few of the Jerry teas here and my initial comments on the line here.

    Monday, March 06, 2006

    Tea Review 55 - Jerry Garcia Teas

    Morning Brew Tea
    Jerry Cherry Tea
    Republic of Tea

    I think this review actually ties in with Assam Month, which is going on for all of March here at Tea Guy Speaks. Bear with me and I'll explain.

    Republic of Tea recently released the J. Garcia (as in Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead) line of artisan teas - a total of five in all. I previously wrote about them here.

    The fine folks over at Republic were kind enough to part with samples of Morning Brew and Jerry Cherry, so here we go. As for that Assam thing, since they both are made with "organic black tea from India" and since they have a distinctly Assam-like flavor that's close enough for me.

    The packaging on these is up to Republic's usual high standards and Garcia - whose artwork is displayed on the canisters - was obviously no slouch in the visual arts department. The tea is packaged 50 bags to a canister and they are Republic's nifty little round tea bags. If you're gonna do tea bags you could do a lot worse.

    As for the tea itself I found that they actually tasted quite similar. I suspect that they use pretty much the same basic blend, with cherry and vanilla flavors added to the Jerry Cherry, but I didn't confirm this with the company. Both teas were actually quite good, with the Jerry Cherry being rather subtly flavored. That, in my opinion, is a good thing, but your mileage may vary.

    I think the only reason I wasn't a little more effusive over these samples is that I've been trying some truly top-notch Assam tea lately - almost to the exclusion of anything else. Though those two varieties don't reach such exalted heights it's probably not fair to even make such a comparison.

    Recommended on both counts.

    Sunday, March 05, 2006

    About Assam

    As Assam Month continues here at Tea Guy Speaks, I thought I'd throw out a few general resources about the Assam region itself.

    The Wikipedia entry for Assam gives a good overview, but only devotes a paragraph or two to tea. However there is a separate Wikipedia article devoted to Assam's most famous product.

    For some armchair travel type information on Assam you might want to try the Assam Tourism site, which is a production of the region's Department of Tourism. Their Industry page takes a somewhat more in-depth look at the tea industry in the region.

    If you'd like to take a crack at recreating some Assamese delicacies, perhaps to sample along with your Assam tea, try the recipe database at

    Saturday, March 04, 2006

    USA Today Does Yerba Mate

    Since we've already done today's Assam Month feature I'm going to break away from the theme for a moment. Yerba mate - the so-called "popular health drink" recently made it to the big time in none other than America's most widely read newspaper - USA Today. Apparently it's been named one of the "top five food trends for 2006." So if that sort of thing is important to you be sure to get on board now. Read the article here.

    There's also a sidebar piece on the health benefits of yerba mate, for as you and I know Americans can't drink or eat anything nowadays unless it has health benefits. Good lord.

    For some additional perspective on yerba mate let me refer you back to my article on the very same topic, as it appeared in the pages of the not quite so widely read site, Epicurean Online.

    And, as mentioned in these pages previously, here's an article in which London's Independent also "discovers" yerba mate.

    Carbon Credits & Assam Tea

    Haven't got the slightest idea what carbon credits are? Neither did I, at least not until I read a recent article in the Calcutta Telegraph.

    Apparently this is a way to encourage countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Countries that exceed their quota for reducing said gases can take their surplus credits and sell them in the global market.

    Where do Assam's tea-growers fit into this? Well, it has to do with the "pollution-enhancing coal-fired machinery" that's used in the tea industry. But rather than me rewriting the entire article go ahead and read all about it here.

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    Tea Review 54 - Decaffeinated Assam

    Decaffeinated Assam
    Upton Tea Imports

    My one-word review of this tea - nasty.

    My two-word review of this tea - colored water.

    Okay, you get the point.

    When I'm reviewing tea I generally try to accentuate the positive and not engage in the "bashing as entertainment" style of reviewing that seems to have its fair share of adherents. But this is just not a very good tea and there's no way around it.

    That's too bad, really, because I wanted to like it and I wanted it to be wonderful and and I wanted it to be that elusive tea that has all the flavor of a great Assam without any of the caffeine that inevitably leaves me with that pummeled feeling. But friends, this ain't the one.

    I'm beginning to suspect that there really is no way to get the caffeine out of tea without taking with it a substantial chunk of the flavor, but if you have information to the contrary or if you have a recommendation, please do tell.

    As for this one, I'm sorry to have to give it a "not recommended."

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    Tea Review 53 - Singlijan Estate TGFOP1

    Singlijan Estate TGFOP1 (Assam)
    Upton Tea Imports

    For yours truly, the measure of whether a tea is good - yes, I know that "good" is a subjective concept - is how long it lingers in my tea cabinet. I currently have a few items in the old cabinet that have been around for a while and probably aren't going anywhere soon. I can't bring myself to throw away tea, but there are some teas I can't bring myself to finish.

    Then there are teas like Singlijan Estate, the first of many Assam varieties we'll be featuring this month. This one vanished from my tea cabinet in no time at all, though I only started with a fifteen gram sampler in the first place.

    Here's Upton's description of Singlijan: "The leaves are wiry and well-twisted, with light-golden tips. The cup has an aroma reminiscent of chocolate, and a flavor note of ripe apples with a clean finish. This tea can be best enjoyed plain."

    I'd agree with that, for the most part, though my untrained palate wasn't slick enough to pick out chocolate or apples. My verdict would be "a very pleasant aroma with faintly fruity overtones and a very full-bodied flavor, with the same subtle hints of fruit." Something else that I noted was that Singlijan had a very smooth flavor, with not even a hint of astringency or bitterness, not even when it's oversteeped by a minute or two.

    I have yet to make it through all the Assam samples on hand, but of the ones I've tasted thus far Singlijan Estate is head and shoulders above the pack. What's interesting to note, if you're looking for a correlation between flavor and price, is that this one is ranked 17th cheapest of the 60 Assam teas Upton currently offers.

    I tried to find out something about Singlijan Estate or Singlijan, but didn't have much luck. Here's all I was able to come up with on short notice.

    Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    Assam Month Kicks Off

    Let's do some Assam.

    As I mentioned a while back the month of March here at Tea Guy Speaks will be devoted to India's Assam region and its most famous product. Here's a clue - starts with a "t" and ends with an "a".

    I'd like to say that I'm doing this as a way to focus on this part of the world and its many charms and to highlight the importance of tea growing to the region and also to the world's history and economy and all that sort of high-falutin' educated sounding stuff. But if the truth be told, I'm probably just doing it so I'll have an excuse to guzzle a wide variety of Assam tea. Well, so be it.

    Be sure to check back as the month unfurls. My goal is to post something Assam-related each and every day, but we'll see how it goes. I'm working my way through a heap of samples right now, and more are on the way. Oh, be still my beating heart. The reviews segment kicks off either today or tomorrow with one of the best Assam teas I've tasted thus far.