Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tea Review 88 - Anteadote Oolong

Tea Review 88 - Anteadote Organic Oolong Tea
Adagio Teas

I don't drink tea with milk, sugar, lemon or anything else. I don't look down my nose at anyone who does - it's just a personal preference. Ditto for bottled teas. Right off the top of my head I can think of a few (lightly) sweetened ones that were okay, but none that really bowled me over. Which is why I like Adagio's Anteadote line of bottled teas so much. No sweeteners.

I've reviewed several of the Anteadote flavors already (black, jasmine, white), but I recently had a chance to try them all again, including the newly released oolong. This one debuted in early October, according to Adagio. It's made with a Ti Kuan Yin tea variety from Fujian, China and, like all Anteadote flavors, contains nothing else but water and citric acid.

I've never been a fan of the heaver, more oxidized oolongs, but fortunately this is not one of those. It has a nice light, slightly floral taste. While it won't unseat Anteadote's white as my favorite of their five flavors, it's good enough to take the second place slot.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tea Board of Experts

Did you know that the United States once had a Tea Board of Experts, a group that was responsible for keeping tabs on the quality of imported tea (which would be nearly all tea consumed here)?

The board was formed in 1897 and stuck around for almost a century, before disbanding in 1996. For (a little) more information, check out these brief pieces from National Geographic and the National Library of Medicine.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tea Quotation - Gutter Swill

Drinks like that (flavored tea) are no more than the swill of gutters and ditches. Still, alas, it is a common practice to make tea that way.

Lu Yu (quoted in The Story of Tea)

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Taiwanese Tea On TV

Even if you've never seen the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern, you can probably deduce that the show is hosted by a guy named Andrew Zimmern who travels around eating bizarre foods.

Taiwan is among the countries Zimmern has visited during the show's second season. While tea hardly qualifies as a "bizarre" food, the Taiwan episode, nonetheless, devotes a segment to the tea industry in and around Pinglin, where the streets are full of tea shops and a giant fountain in the shape of a teapot.

Also on the itinerary, a visit with a tea shop owner and a trip to Beard Tea Farm for a primer on tea production. The last stop on the tour is a restaurant that specializes in dishes made with tea. Among these, buns, pork rubbed with tea, and deep-fried tea leaves.

Here's the Web site for Bizarre Foods. The Taiwan episode is slated to air again on November 14. Check your local listings for details.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tea Information & Resources

If you check in here from time to time you're probably aware that I maintain a large - and growing - list of tea blogs. Thanks to the convenience of RSS, it's possible to scan those sites that publish feeds to see if anything interesting is going on. Although I have to admit that there aren't enough hours in the day to read many of them.

There is one site that I find myself coming back to often. That would be CHA DAO, whose creators describe it thusly - "dedicated to discussion and appreciation of teas, especially those from pacific asia. not a monologic journal, but rather a forum where members can discuss the joys, bewilderments, and mysteries of this most potent infusion."

A collaborative effort, with 17 contributors listed, CHA DAO's articles lean toward the "serious" side of tea drinking and culture, whatever that means. Some articles may even be a bit too technical for the casual tea fancier, but there are plenty of others that are quite entertaining and informative. I especially enjoyed South of the Clouds: A Voyage to Yunnan, which you can read here.

Here's another informative page I ran across recently. Teabits of Information is maintained by and contains a lengthy list of tea resources and information.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

World Tea Festival, Tea Steep-off & More

If you haven't made plans to attend the World Tea Festival, there's still time. It'll be going on in Japan's Shizuoka Prefecture from November 1 - 4. Highlights include the World O-Cha Fair, O-Cha Time Tunnel, Tea Room with a New Sense, and Tea Party of the World’s Cultures. More info here.

From the Toronto Star, here's an article about a tea steep-off, held recently at the Canadian Coffee & Tea Show.

If it never occurred to you that tea pouring might be an art that you could actually learn, check out this article about a youthful pourer from Swampscott, MA.

If you just can't get enough of those "pu-er tea as investment strategy" type articles, here's yet another one, this time from the Wall Street Journal. It'll cost you to read the whole thing, by the way.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Really Expensive Tea

What's the most expensive tea you've encountered? Did you buy some? How was it?

These questions came to mind the other day when I ran across a Darjeeling variety called Royal Himalayan Snowflake. It's offered by MITEA and it goes for $80 per ounce, though you can get a better deal if you spring for a larger quantity.

I can't help but wonder if any tea is really worth $80 per ounce, but at that price I'm not likely to find out anytime soon. If any of you try it, be sure to come back and give us a report.

From Commodity Online, here's an article about a black tea made by India's Glendale Tea estate. The owners of the estate would like Guinness to recognize it as the world's costliest tea ($600 per kilogram), but apparently it's not that simple. More details in the article.

Four dollars for a teabag may not be a record, but I'd say it's something to grumble about. Which is just what one of the USA Today bloggers did recently. More here.

Last up is a video about some rare tea from China's Wuyi Mountain region (I had a little trouble getting this one to play, but maybe you'll have better luck.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Raffle - Win Darjeeling Tea

We've mentioned Boston Tea Campaign a few times in these pages. For those of you who missed those entries, suffice to say that they're a company that specializes in Darjeeling tea.

If you'd like to get your hands on four 250 gram packages of that tea, as well as one box of BTC's gourmet teabags, take a crack at their raffle. You'll have to fill out a brief survey, but I guess that's a small price to pay for a shot at all that tea.

Here's the link to the raffle/survey.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Product Review - Zarafina Tea Maker Suite

(Update II)
Here's some additional perspective on the Zarafina, courtesy of Gongfu Girl.

If you've ever considered buying a Sunbeam Tea Drop Tea Maker, you might want to check out this piece, recently posted at one of the Wired blogs. Not that "Useless Piece of Garbage" is necessarily a bad thing.

(Update I)
Since reviewing Zarafina's Tea Maker Suite nearly a month ago it's become my tea brewing apparatus of choice. For some insight on how it stacks up against Adagio's TriniTEA (which I haven't tried yet), check out this review at the Tea on Tap site.

(Original Post)
Product Review
Tea Maker Suite

It would seem that they're onto something, these Zarafina people.

I tried to approach this review with an open mind, but I couldn't help being just a bit skeptical about the Tea Maker Suite. After all, the making of a truly good cup of tea can be a rather intricate process, one that can hardly be trusted to a mere piece of machinery, regardless of how many bells and whistles it's outfitted with.

Or can it? Actually, the Zarafina gang seems to have pulled off this rather tricky feat. I've now used the contraption to make a number of varieties of tea. Each time I raised the cup to my lips, expecting to be disappointed, and each time I was pleasantly surprised. I'm actually thinking about giving up my old way of making tea - cheap stovetop kettle and infuser basket - for the Tea Maker Suite.

Which is kind of convenient, now that you mention it. Set a few controls, add water and tea and flick a switch. No worries about over or understeeping the leaves, nor will I ever have to concern myself again with a forgotten tea kettle wreaking havoc on the kitchen (yes, it's happened).

The Tea Maker Suite has a sleek and pleasing appearance and was apparently designed by someone who "speaks" tea. It has three controls - one for loose and (if you must) bagged tea, a strength setting and a switch for choosing between white, green, oolong and black tea and tisanes.

Operation is fairly simple, with one or two cups of water going into a steeping chamber, which also holds a floating infuser basket that actually contains the leaves or bag. Snap the steeping chamber into the base of the unit, flick a switch and go about your business. A few minutes later the tea automatically dispenses into a ceramic pot (included).

Most important of all, as I've mentioned, is that the tea that results from this process is quite good - better, on the whole, than many of my haphazard attempts using the kettle/infuser method. Cleanup is relatively quick and painless too, as is steeping your leaves multiple times.

At $149.99 the Tea Maker Suite probably won't appeal to casual tea drinkers, but if you're serious about tea it might be worth your while.

For more information, including a demo video, check out the Zarafina Web site.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tea Review 87 - Jun Shan Yin Zhen (Yellow Tea)

Jun Shan Yin Zhen (Yellow Tea)
Upton Tea Imports

As I read through the section on yellow tea in Mary Lou and Robert Heiss's excellent book, The Story of Tea, it occurred to me that I'd never actually tasted any yellow tea.

Well, I decided it was time to resolve this matter and set about getting my hands on some. I'm not inclined to buy tea in quantity without tasting it first, so I found myself patronizing Upton Tea Imports, who make all of their stock available in sample sizes (if you know of anyone else who offers yellow tea samples, do tell).

Yellow tea is probably the least known type of tea. According to the Heiss's, it's similar to a green tea, except that after the initial drying and just before the first firing, it goes through a step "called men huan, during which yellow leaf tea is lightly and slowly steamed, then covered with a cloth to allow the leaves to breathe."

Here's what Upton has to say about their Jun Shan Yin Zhen:

"This rare yellow tea from the Hunan province has a rich history, and was once a famous tribute tea. The flavor is light yet richly layered, with floral notes, a light, fruity aroma and a gentle bite on the palate. Very limited supplies."

As far as the dry leaf goes, Jun Shan Yin Zhen is reminiscent of white tea, with small, narrow leaves that may or may not have a yellowish cast to them. It seemed that they might, but perhaps I was just in a suggestible state.

The aroma of the dry leaf, as well as the brewed tea, is very subtle and the latter has a light golden/yellow color. The flavor is just as low-key, though my perception might be affected by the fact that I've been drinking a lot of heavy Assam teas lately.

Mouth feel is exceptionally smooth, without even a hint of bite or bitterness. The best part was a lingering, sweet aftertaste that was still around a half hour later and may have lingered longer if I hadn't taken a drink of water.

If you're a fan of full-flavored teas only, Jun Shan Yin Zhen is probably not what you're looking for. For those who like white and light green teas, it may be worth a try.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Darjeeling Visit & Ceylon History

No, I didn't visit Darjeeling, as the headline of this piece might have led you to believe. But Matt Gross did, and he wrote a fairly substantial article about the experience for the New York Times Travel section. Among the stops on his trip, Darjeeling's Makaibari, Glenburn and Goomtee estates.

If it's info on Ceylon tea that you seek, check out this Web site devoted to the history of tea production and culture there. There's quite a lot of information on hand, all of it brought to us by the good people at Sri Lanka's Dilmah Tea.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

The Book of Korean Tea

I didn't know Korea was a player when it comes to tea. Obviously, they're overshadowed by larger producers like India, China, Africa, and Japan. If you're also in the dark when it comes to the Korean tea scene and would like to remedy this deficiency, you might want to have a look at The Book of Korean Tea, by Yang-Seok (Fred) Yoo.

The book was released recently by the Myung Won Cultural Foundation and is billed as "a pioneering and excellent cultural guide about Korea, Korean tea and Korean tea ceremonies. The history, culture, philosophy, tea and tea ceremony are marvelously woven together to capture the true spirit of the Korean tea culture." Mr. Yoo is a Senior Advisor to the Myung Won Cultural Foundation, and a contributing writer for The World of Tea, the leading tea culture magazine in Korea.

The Book of Korean Tea

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

London Tea Tour

Unique Tea and Tea History Tour to London
(from a press release)

Denise LeCroy, tea tour developer and owner of Tea in London, will again lead a tea and tea history tour to London, England March 29-April 6, 2008.

Among other things, Tea in London will include historic house and garden tours; a daytrip to Bedfordshire and Woburn Abbey, the “birthplace” of the tradition of Afternoon Tea; afternoon teas at places like Fortnum & Mason and The Ritz; a private tea tour through the Victoria & Albert museum; and much, much more.

Registration for Tea in London can be made via their website or for further information contact LeCroy.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Tea Infusion Tea Bar And Cafe

Far be it from me to pass on a visit to a tea bar, at least not if I can help it. So when I found out that Tea Infusion Tea Bar and Cafe had opened in the new Tempe Marketplace, in Tempe, Arizona, I made a point to check it out.

Since I didn't have a camera on hand, you'll have to do with the power of visualization. Tea Infusion is located in a small, narrow space and is outfitted in a pleasingly spare modern style. As the name suggests, food is served, but I didn't pay much attention to that, preferring to focus on the tea.

The tea menu is reasonably wide-ranging. I personally could do without all the flavored blends, but to each his/her own. Menu categories include flavored black tea, chai, rooibus (?), herbal, mate, black, white, green, and oolong.

Among the varieties that caught my eye were organic Assam, Keemun, and Yunnan. Also, Darjeeling White Tips, Silver Needles, and White Ginger, the only flavored blend that stood out for me. I managed to narrow things down to Gyokuro or Dragonwell and ultimately decided to go with the latter. The menu describes it as "a First Grade version" of Dragonwell Requiem.

Which was quite good, actually, even though I got it to go, in a paper cup (groan) and it seemed to have been brewed with water that was too hot.

Not a bad experience, overall, though I found it odd that the serving sizes - in addition to small and large pots - were limited to 16 and 20 ounces.

Tea Infusion apparently doesn't have a Web site yet, but you can find out more about the Tempe Marketplace here.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tea Timer & Cuppa

Tired of wandering off and leaving your tea to overbrew? Check out this nifty thingy from Adagio Teas. It's called the Tea Timer and it's a small computer program you can download from their site for free.

The program is simple enough. Click on the tea you're brewing and the timer is preset and ready to go. Click start when you actually begin steeping the tea. You can also access info on brewing temperatures and a description of each tea. The program comes preloaded with all of Adagio's teas and you can also customize your own.

Don't despair, Mac users. Nathanatos Software has a similar application available at their Web site. It's called the Cuppa. Check it out here.