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!