Sunday, 16 December 2012

Japanese Tea

The birthplace of beauty, i've felt inspired to look at Japan's teas since I bought a set of these Paperchase greeting cards a couple of Christmases ago...

Koson Ohara 'Willow Bridge'

Japan makes predominately green tea but that's not to say they're the same as the China green teas i've posted about recently.  

Firstly let's look at Organic Gyokuro, which some call Japan's finest tea and this JING example is a whole leaf green tea grown in Kagoshima, Kyushu.  Gyokuro is considered a high grade tea because it's grown in the shade and plucked in the early months of spring!  It also requires specific processing techniques, making it a sensitive tea that should be brewed gently at around 60c.  

getting started with Gyokuro
I know what you're thinking but no, this is not crispy seaweed ha ha!  It has a grassy yet vegetal aroma that seems different to previous China green teas i've tried.  Gyokuro means 'jewel dew' and you can see why, as it brews into a pale green colour below.  It can be re-steeped a good few times and i have to say as i took my time over it and let it cool a little, it started to grow on me.  This is quite in-keeping with the Japanese way of drinking tea and rushing would go against everything they stand for.  A refreshing tea, i could agree with JING's description of a pine forest taste but also found it grassy too.  What stands out though is how creamy and soft this tea is as well as being a little sweet and great for afternoons. 

Jewel Dew
High grade tea isn't everything though and JING's Genmaicha Green Tea is a great choice for the festive period as it boasts a nutty, toasty taste.  This has been one of my favourite's for a long while and the popcorn rice kernals goes down well at my house - I think it has the fun factor! 

Genmaicha Tea with popcorn!
enjoying Genmaicha with a book on a Sunday morning
The idea of mixing Sencha with rice may sound strange but it used to be consumed by the poorer people of Japan as the rice filled out the tea, making it less expensive!  When you taste this tea though, you realise the rice isn't a filler but a nice toasty twist on a refreshing tea and i prefer it quite hot as opposed to the Gyokuro.

Hojicha Green tea is another great choice for the festive and winter times as it's "roasted in a porcelain pot over a charcoal fire turning the leaves a reddish-brown and giving it a rich warming taste".  Don't be afraid to drink this tea if you've had a lot of food (and who hasn't this time of year?!) as it's great with food and also low in caffeine!
Hojicha roasted over charcoal
I found this Hojicha really interesting and different and i had to steep it quite strong and hot to really get the flavours out.  JING describes the appearance as "Havana leaf brown" and it does conjure up an image of sitting around a fire smoking on cigars!  It's sweet but still smooth with an earthy vegetal taste next to a flavour of nutella on toast! 

A delicious Havana leaf brown 
Thanks for taking a break with me to look at these lovely Japanese teas.  If you want to encourage more tea breaks this Christmas (or beyond) then JING is offering free delivery up until Tuesday 18th December.

Also, if you'd like to save some pennies, i can offer you a 10% discount on all orders!!  Just quotes "TEASTREET" when ordering.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Earl Grey continued..!

You might remember last summer i wrote about enjoying a cup of teapigs Earl Grey tea and how surprised i was to like it!  This was a revelation to me because i'd written off Earl Grey as a tea just not suited to my taste buds.  Out of nowhere i couldn't get enough of this tea and was left wondering why the turnaround!  

I'd wondered if it had something to do with the teapigs Earl Grey having a darjeeling tea base, since they claim some other tea brands use a poor quality China tea.  I promised to explore some other brands and see if i could figure it out.  A person of my word, here it what i've found so far, so have a look if you want a break from the Christmas posts!

Left to right: Twinings in teabag, Twinings, teapigs and JING whole leaf teabags
I had two whole leaf silk tea temples from both Twinings and JING to compare directly with the teapigs in their staple silk pyramid and then one with a Twinings Earl Grey in a standard teabag.  teapigs is the only one in this photo without a big sample packet because i'd already gone and bought the pack of 15! 

If you're interested in the pyramids themselves, i found the JING temple silkier to touch but i found it misbehaving when i tried to pull it into a nice pyramid shape!  I wondered if it was slightly smaller than the teapigs and Twinings pyramid, which popped straight into shape, giving the tea lots of room to brew.

I brewed each for 3 minutes but they could probably handle a bigger cup for that so they were on the strong end of a brew!  They were all a deep colour apart from teapigs with the darjeeling base.  Twinings whole leaf was also a little lighter than the other two and the JING and Twinings teabag were a deep mahogany colour.  

teapigs was the only Earl Grey i liked until this tasting and i noted the grassy aroma and peachy flavour typical of darjeeling tea.  This is definitely still Earl Grey though, and the citrus bergamot wrestled with the darjeeling to give it a depth of flavour.  I'd call it a smooth, polite tea and because it's quite light this is probably why i liked it in summer as well!   

JING Earl Grey tea temples are attractive like the teapigs ones with the same good amount of tea inside and a sprinkling of the pretty blue cornflowers.  However, it brews into a dark mahogany colour with a bold flavour to match.  The tea is from Ceylon in Sri Lanka and along with the bergamot flavour i found it to be rich yet smooth both in taste and aftertaste and with a coppery or almost tomato taste to it!  I'd say it could be easily handled straight up if you like the Ceylon teas but it's bold enough to shine with milk added.

In my previous Twinings post, i was happily surprised to learn they were making silk whole leaf pyramids too!  Now there's definitely a strong aroma that comes off this Earl Grey and on tasting i found it to have more distinct levels compared to the teapigs and JING teas which were more smooth teas.  I'd say the Twinings whole leaf Earl Grey was the most to taste of a familiar cup of tea but with a citrus bergamot taste to give it that twist.  The citrus was perhaps a little strong which very slightly reminded me of the 'washing up liquid' taste i don't like.  However, it's a still a soft tea with a woody taste and a well-rounded, long-lasting aftertaste. 

This Twinings Earl Grey teabag was the most like the Earl Greys i remember and struggle with!  The bergmot has the strongest taste out of the selection and it doesn't even attempt to be subtle about it!  I can't taste enough of the tea alongside the citrus flavour for my taste but it's worth noting that this tea is most likely drunk by those of you who like to add milk to their Earl Grey.  I didn't try it with milk but i'd bet it would balance out the citrus taste which i found quite overwhelming.  Otherwise perhaps brew it for less time and see if this is a little lighter. 

However, this is a good excuse to compare the difference between standard teabags and silk tea temples.  Are they worth the price difference?  Well i think so.  The taste between the Twinings Earl Greys are probably easiest to compare since they're the same brand.  Between these two i found the silk temple to have a more balanced tea taste, which had a lasting aftertaste compared to the pokey citrus teabag that i think relies on milk.  The flavour is probably down to the whole leaf tea rather than small dustier tea pieces and the temple allows this whole leaf flavour to swirl around in the brew.  I think these temples are a great way of mixing the convenience of teabags with the quality and taste of whole leaf tea!
Twinings teabag vs. silk pyramid
Overall, i'd say the best for me was between the teapigs Earl Grey as expected and the Twinings silk temple.  The teapigs is a more gentle choice, possibly suited to beginners that don't necessarily want something too strong to start or perhaps for the summer months because it's so refreshing.  The Twinings tastes like a 'proper brew' with an Earl Grey twist, which is a little more bold but makes it great for those winter months or if you want milk involved.  What they have in common is that they're the most familiar and subtle in flavour and therefore good for those who have been overwhelmed by very extraverted Earl Greys in the past.

The JING was lovely but it's down to personal taste and i think this one would be great for those who like a full-bodied Ceylon tea (which you might!).  The only way to find out which suits you is to try different types and for that a sample size might be a good start.  One thing i've learnt is that there's probably an Earl Grey for every taste and no one brand is the same!  Good news for those who think they don't like Earl Grey as it means you just haven't found the one for you yet!

Christmas Afternoon Tea

Saw this 'Time for tea' article in Ideal Home's 'Complete guide to Christmas' magazine!

A twist on the traditional afternoon tea, this is a great idea for entertaining guests around Christmas (or a nice bit of R&R for yourself)!  Ideal Homes recommend mismatched vintage china and decorations of mistletoe and ivy, with these beautiful photos to illustrate.  Or you might already have some Christmas tableware itching to be used!

I hadn't thought of Christmas Afternoon Tea before and think you could go for one of Twinings Christmas teas, along with your mince pies, Christmas cake or even Stollen!  There's also lots of recipe ideas in this magazine if you're making your own Christmas cakes!

If you decide to have a go, don't forget you can add your experiences to Tea Street blog's facebook page!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cutty Sark Tea Clipper

It's the year of the Cutty Sark

A part of the Royal Museums of Greenwich, the Cutty Sark ship was re-opened on April 25th by Her Majesty the Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.  For pictures of the official re-opening click here.  Obviously there was a lot of motivation to get the clipper tourist-ready with the London 2012 Olympic games this year, but this couldn't have been easy after the fire it endured in 2007.  

Talking of the Queen, if you saw Young Apprentice on the BBC last week, you'd have noticed that Lord Shugges himself took the young apprentices to the Cutty Sark for a project briefing!  This ship and Tea share a rich history, so it was a fitting destination because the task was to create and serve an Afternoon Tea at Blenheim Palace!  To see this episode of Young Apprentice again, click here.

Right so the Queen, Lord Sugar and then... Tea Street blog arrives!  Now let's be honest, if you don't live in London you're not going to train it in and not stop for a cup of tea first!  So on to the Cutty Sark cafe below!  

You sit under here for the cafe - what a view!

Love the choice of teaware, no pretty cups but proper crew mugs!  Never thought to use an old treacle tin as a napkin holder, note to selves!

Back to work!  On the ground floor and by the cafe you find interactive displays telling you the Cutty Sark is a Clipper ship used to import tea from China in the 1800s and that 'Clipper' was used to describe a fast vessel that could 'go at a clip', or go quickly.  

British shipbuilders may have been influenced by the Clipper ships coming from America, but they very much did their own thing and by the mid 1800s Britain had a new style of Clipper that typically had "a long narrow hull, a sharp bow, a yacht-like appearance, raking masts and a very, very large sail area." (Cutty Sark Souvenir Guide).  This design took over as a way of getting Tea from China for several years but there was still more to come.. 

Commissioned by John Willis and launched in 1869, The Cutty Sark was named after a Robert Burns poem about a beautiful witch!  

top right: Beautiful witch holding horses tail
The Cutty Sark design was different to other clippers as it was made of a composite of both wood and iron, rather than just one or the other.  With the wrought-iron frame onto which wooden planks were bolted, the hull was durable and spacious since there weren't big wooden beams taking up space.  This meant more room for cargo and became the principle method for building ships that would sail to China.  These Cutty Sark designs are on display and to buy too which looked good.

You can see the structure inside the ship as well as displays about tea production.
tea box foor panels
In the museum you can look at maps of the route from China to London and even have a go sailing the route by computer!  You can also learn about the famous clipper tea races where ships raced each other back to London with first flush tea, which would then be sold to the Victorians at the highest price.  

Many clipper ships in late 1800s were wrecked, foundered or lost within first few years and by the mid-1920's the Cutty Sark was the only one still afloat!  A ship of many talents, the Cutty Sark took cargo other than tea (like wool) while Steam ships became the more popular ship to transport tea.  Not necessarily fast in these early days but steam instead of sails meant they could keep to a reliable schedule. 

If you're interested in the history of tea and tea importing, you learn so much just by looking at the Cutty Sarks eventful career.  I think it's fascinating to see the ship sitting in Greenwich after all this time and looking so magnificant!  

Right in town with its own tube stop!

I don't know why, but i was expecting the ship to be huge and was surprised at how yacht-like it was.  It's nice to climb aboard and take in the craftsmanship that went into the clippers of this day when function didn't necessarily take away from its beauty. 

love the woodwork
tea making
Some more info can be found at the National Maritime Museum just up the road... 

I definitely recommend a visit! 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Tea Street's Favourite Things for Christmas

 (like Oprah does but without the car give-aways!)

Christmas time is nearly upon us and this is a great excuse for me to round up some key items i've posted about this year that could inspire some lovely tea gifts!  So get your cup of tea and mince pies and happy reading...

(See pic below) If you saw my blog post on JING tea you may have noticed my bamboo tea tray.  Well i love it, it's as smooth as a baby's bottom and looks very well made.  I keep mine out on my 'coffee table', bring out my tea gear and if i want to tip some water away i just pour it through the lid.  I can then empty it when i've finished, rather than getting up and down.  It really is very convenient.  Sometimes i'd have a pot that i've steeped too long by accident (oops!)  and then pour the rest away and start again - so good for beginners too!  It also looks great! 

Glass teaware and Flowering Tea: 
My glass teapot is from Exotic Teapot and it's great because tea is so attractive you want to actually see it!  If you're looking for stocking fillers then Flowering tea is a great choice as it's so different and pretty!  This one is from My Cup of Tea in Montreal but you can also shop at Exotic Teapot, Choi Time (which offers pretty tea caddies) and JING tea to name a few.  What i love about these flowering bulbs is that you can re-steep them a few times and it doesn't go bitter!

Tea Tray as above
Tea Party favours:
I bought these fabric party favour bags (hiding in the bowls under the crackers!) and put in loose tea for a Christmas dinner surprise!  This is a nice little touch as receiving a gift when people sit down starts things off on the right foot and it's a good conversation starter!

For the favour bags,  Twinings Christmas tea would be perfect, it's an Assam tea with lots of spices - so is the tea version of mulled wine really! The other good thing about Christmas tea is if you're feeling a bit cheeky or like Uncle Albert, you can add some whisky for some extra Christmas spirit!  It's surprisingly nice (over 18 or 21 only)! 

These are from Glover and Smith and are a lovely personal gift as you can choose a teaspoon in the theme that suits the person you are giving them to.  

Cool Camping book:
You can see from my blog post Road Trip to Wales, that camping and Tea is like peas and carrots!  If you, or someone you know loves camping then a Cool Camping book is a great idea!  Cool Camping do a well laid out list of  'pros and cons' and 'nearest pub' and also locations grouped into 'allow camp fires' or 'by the beach'.  They also feature Glamping, which is glam and camping together! 

If you like camp fires while you're camping or you have a wood burner at home, a chimnea or an Aga - ok anything heaty - then a Cast Iron Teapot would be another great idea for your list to Santa!  You can use these as a kettle as they go directly on the heat and keep water warm for longer, great for winter nights.

Tea Stocking Fillers: 
Tea can be reasonably priced and can come in small attractive boxes and packages which means they make good stocking fillers!  You may have found a tea you like and think someone would like to try it without spending a lot on the experiment!  One Christmas i walked through the snow down to the post office and picked up a large box of teapigs tea.  On the box was 'real tea in transit' and the shopkeeper asked me about it.  I said it's lovely tea and they should definitely try it!  I then gave friends and family a box of Chocolate flake tea for Christmas! 

teapigs stocking fillers

Tea Gifts for Men:
Chateau Rouge Tea is a luxury tea brand and stylish enough for men too!  I was so impressed with their rooibos tea and think they'd make great gifts or stocking fillers!

Gift cards:
A gift card towards an Afternoon Tea experience like at Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa would make a lovely Christmas present!

The Vintage Tea Party Book:
I received this last Christmas and it's such a beautiful book with vintage photos, teaware and loads of recipes for vintage inspired breakfasts, lunches, afternoon tea and entertaining.  It also has ideas for vintage style make-up and clothes!  I even strayed from the tea recipes and made a gorgous white chocolate mocha! Angel Adoree has bought out a new one this year called The Vintage Tea Party Year with more ideas.  Although i haven't read it yet, it looks like another brilliant book that's as much party planner as recipe book!  

Thanks for reading!