I have always had a sweet-tooth. I’m overly sensitive to sour and bitter flavour profiles, so much so that I find regular wines make my jaw muscles clench in reaction to the taste – to me even those usually described as medium taste far too much like vinegar. It’s also the reason I struggle with beers, especially given the current trend for bitter hop monsters.

So I usually opt for sweeter choices such as dessert wines, sweet sherries and ports. I have a soft spot for liqueurs too, though I’ve not included any in this list. Next time!

Here are my sweet choices for Christmas 2013.

 

Peller Estate Cabernet Franc Icewine (375 ml)

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When I tried this beautiful dusky pink icewine at a Morrisons’ press event, I was amazed to be told that no, it didn’t have any strawberries in it, so clearly did that fruit flavour sing out to me. Raspberries, rhubarb and pomegranate come through too. In fact, this dessert wine is made wholly from Canadian Cabernet Franc grapes, picked when naturally frozen by winter temperatures of around minus 10 C and immediately pressed.

ABV 11.5% – £45 from Morrisons

 

Harveys Pedro Ximenez VORS (50 cl)

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I adore PX; an intensely rich,  gloriously sticky, syrupy-sweet sherry with its flavours of figs, prunes and raisins is utterly redolent of Christmas. Made in Jerez, in the heart of Cadiz province in Andalusia, this is a drink I enjoy all year round. I have tried many brands over the years and this is one I go back to again and again. Harveys’ VORS tag tells us this PX has been aged using the traditional solera process for at least 30 years. A shot over good quality vanilla ice cream makes a simple but decadent dessert.

ABV 16% – £21.00 from Waitrose Direct

 

Neige Core de Glace Premiere Ice Cider (375 ml)

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Listed as ice wine on the Harvey Nichols website, this is more accurately an iced cider – apples are picked and pressed in a frozen condition, using the same techniques applied to grapes to make ice wine. Produced by François Pouliot in his Québec cidery La Face Cachée de la Pomme (The Hidden Face of the Apple), it is described as crisp and sweet and, of course, full of apple fruit flavours. I think it would be a delicious alternative to the usual grape offerings.

ABV 11% – £28.50 from Harvey Nichols

 

Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat (375 ml)

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The muscat grape is not only fabulous to eat, it also produces a wonderfully perfumed wine. This golden Australian muscat is made from partially raisined grapes, and fortified with neutral grape spirit, to preserve the floral and citrus notes inherent in the grape. Beautifully sweet, it’s a classic dessert wine.

ABV 18% – £11.99 from Morrisons

 

Kourtaki Mavrodaphne of Patras (75 cl)

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I was first given a bottle several years ago by a friend who was intrigued by the idea of a properly dark red dessert wine, and one made in Greece at that. I’ve bought it again a number of times since, appreciative of its full-bodied black berries and dried fruits richness. The mavrodaphne is a black grape variety indigenous to the Achaea region of Greece (the capital of which is Patras). The wine is vinified in large vats exposed to the sun; once matured, distillate prepared from previous vintages is added, and then the wine is transferred to underground cellars for maturation; there, the solera method of adding older vintages to new ones is used to create a balanced blend.

ABV 15% – Priced from £5 to £6.50 a bottle, available from major supermarkets including Tesco and Morrisons.

 

Quady Winery Elysium Black Muscat (375 ml)

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Another muscat, produced by Quady Winery in the United States, Elysium Black is, as the name suggests, made from black grapes. I first came across it on a restaurant wine list a few years ago and have enjoyed it a few times since then. Rich and sweet, with a very floral flavour.

ABV 15% – £12.50 from Fortnum & Mason or £12.49 from Majestic Wine (available vintages may vary)

 

Royal Tokaji Aszu Gold Label 2006 (50 cl)

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Tokaji is wine made in the Tokaj wine region of Hungary; Tokaji Aszu is the region’s well known dessert wine. It is produced by harvesting grapes after they’ve been shrivelled by botrytis (noble rot), which concentrates their natural sugar content. Categorised according to sweetness (on a scale of 3 to 6 puttonyos), I’ve particularly enjoyed the sweeter Tokaji Aszu wines I have tried. I’d dearly love to try a Tokaji Aszu Essencia, an even sweeter variant with an unusually high residual sugar count, but am yet to come across this at an affordable price. I’ve not tried this specific 6 puttonyos Aszu from Majestic, but I have loved others by the same brand, The Royal Tokaji Wine Company.

ABV 9% – £28 from Majestic Wine

 

Rubis Chocolate Wine (50 cl)

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I came across this chocolate-flavoured fortified wine at a food festival or show. A nice balance between chocolate and the fruity tempranillo grape, it’s best served chilled. My only criticism of this product is the lack of information about which chocolate is used and how it’s sourced.

ABV 15% – £14.38 (incl. delivery) from Amazon UK

 

Maynard’s 30 Year Old Tawny Port (75 cl)

Aldiport

Tawny Ports are aged in wooden casks rather than in large tanks or bottles, like their Ruby counterparts. The wood gives them a lighter body and colour, and a wonderful smoothness on the palate. I love the nutty sweetness, with far less tannin than other styles of port. Most commonly served at room temperature, I think tawny ports are also lovely chilled. Although I’ve not tried this 30 year old, the Maynard’s 10 year old that Aldi sold last winter was well reviewed.

ABV 20% – £29.99 from Aldi

 

Castelnau de Suduiraut 2009 Sauternes (375 ml)

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I adore Sauternes, with it’s intense floral and citrus honeyed notes and straw honey colour. I’ve tried Château Suduiraut a few times; it’s a much more affordable premier cru classé than it’s neighbour Château d’Yquem. Another to look out for is Château Rieussec, usually a touch more expensive.

ABV 14% – £11.99 from Majestic Wine

 

Please note that this post includes an Amazon affiliate link. The price you pay doesn’t change but I receive a tiny referral commission for items you buy after following such links.

 

Some of you know that my Pete is a keen home brewer. He often writes about his efforts over on Pete Drinks.

On Wednesday, he spent the day at The Bull, a wonderful pub in Highgate with its own brewery on site. With their brewer Jenna and assistant brewer Jack on hand to help, Pete made his own recipe coffee porter, getting properly stuck in at all steps – weighing the ingredients, cleaning and heating the mashtun, adding the ingredients, sparging, transferring to the kettle, boiling the wort, adding hops, boiling, adding the coffee, transferring to the fermenter, adjusting the gravity and pitching the yeast.

He said it was reassuringly like the process he follows at home, just on a larger scale with (slightly) fancier equipment! Read his post on the experience, here.

If you’re London based, please come along to The Bull on the evening of November 12th, when Pete’s Coffee Porter will be launched. You can view the Facebook invitation here.

(Don’t worry if you can’t make it on the night, the beer will remain on tap for a few weeks until it runs out).

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I hope you can join us!

signed,
Mrs Proud Wife

Jun 212013
 

I’m not usually a fan of fruit teas, not least because what are so often described as such are not teas at all but fruit infusions. Call me a stickler but I like to call a spade a spade, a tea a tea and an infusion an infusion…

Real fruit teas (containing fruit and tea) I do like; jasmine green, lychee black and a mango black tea I used to buy from a little old man in Camden market when I was a teenager (in the 1980s) but have seldom found since.

Bluebird sell a range of blends which combine good quality tea leaves with fruits, herbs and other ingredients in a way that struck me as fresh and appealing, so I was happy to accept their offer to review some samples. I asked for them to send small taster pouches rather than full packets of each. Great tea doesn’t keep well and I hate wastage. They did include a couple of full size packets to let me see their packaging.

bluebird-packaging BluebirdTea-0475

The company names comes from a ski term: a bluebird day being one with sunny blue skies and fresh powder snow; ideal ski conditions, in other words. Why skiing? Because founders Krisi and Mike escaped the rat race to become “ski bums” in Canada (as they put it). Krisi had worked in the UK tea industry before their trip and whilst in Canada, found a job in a Canadian tea business selling some innovative tea products which they both really admired. The couple decided to hot foot it back home to set up a tea business of their own. Focusing on blending teas and other ingredients to create unique mixes, they refer to what they do as “tea mixology’; although the term struck me as a bit pretentious at first, it’s grown on me more as I’ve come to know their products and can see how well it fits.

Most of the thirty-plus teas in the range are priced at just £4.50 per 65-75 gram pack, with a couple that are a little more at £6 and £7.50. Delivery is similarly reasonable at £2.95 and free on orders over £30. That makes Bluebird one of the most affordable tea companies I’ve reviewed.

You can explore their full range of teas for yourself on their website, but here are my thoughts on the eight I tried.

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Cherry Lips – Sencha green tea, Rose petals, Cherry

Brews to a traditional green tea pale green colour. Has the pleasant familiar grassy green flavour of green tea with clear real fruit cherry and a floral scent from the rose.

 

bluebird-great-british-cuppa
A Great British Cuppa – Indian Assam black tea, Ceylon black tea, Chinese Yunnan tea

Brews to a rich dark reddish-brown. Blending three black teas from different tea growing regions of the world creates a nicely rounded and rich black tea.

 

bluebird-elderflower-champagne
Elderflower Champagne – Chinese oolong tea, Elderflower, Lemon verbena, Apple pieces, Orange peel, Lemon peel, Hibiscus, Rosehip.

Brews to a pale green with little pools of pink from the hibiscus flowers; mixes to a pinky green. Initially, the smell is of mint and citrus (perhaps the lemon verbena coming through) but as it brews for longer, a clearer tea aroma pervades. When tasting, the apple dominates for me, with little elderflower, citrus or oolong detectable.

 

bluebird-toasted-apple
Toasted Apple – Chinese green tea, Apple, Japanese Genmaicha

Brews to a pretty green colour. The most dominant scent is that of the popped rice from the genmaicha. On the palate, the green tea dominates with a hint of fruit and rice. This is an ideal tea for those who want tea first, fruit second.

 

bluebird-mojitea
MojiTEA – Chinese green tea, Peppermint, Dried lime pieces, Lemongrass, Lime leaves, Stevia

Brews to a pretty pale peach colour. On the nose this tea is intensely minty, indeed little else comes through. I found it similar on the palate, with little evidence of the lime and lemongrass. The stevia gives a hint of sweetness.

 

bluebird-monkey-chops
Monkey Chops – Ceylon Black Tea, Vanilla, Calendula, Banana

This tea brews to a peach colour and smells intensely of sweet popcorn; it’s not an aroma I particularly like but I have a feeling it’s one of those love/ hate kind of smells. On the palate it tastes completely different to the smell, with a rich fruity flavour. I’m disappointed it’s not more obviously banana but it’s certainly fruity. The black tea is lost a little.

 

bluebird-lady-lavender
Lady Lavender – Ceylon black tea, Lavender, Bergamot oil

Brews to a pale peach, paler than I expected from a black tea. Smells of citrus but the typical medicinal tang of lavender comes through on tasting. The bergamot takes a back seat. A nice alternative to the usual Earl or Lady Grey.

 

bluebird-earls-paradise
Earl’s Paradise – Ceylon Black Tea, Papaya, Strawberry, Lime, Jasmine, Bergamot

Brews to a rich dark reddish-brown. Has a heady scent of tropical fruits and flowers, not obviously bergamot. But when you taste it, the bergamot comes through clearly and the fruits are less evident. It’s a lovely version of earl grey, with fruits used to add aroma and a gentle fruitiness to the finish.

 

I’ve enjoyed trying these unusual and inventive blends and am happy to recommend them, especially at the price point. And if you order a sample set you can work out which ones you like best without spending too much and then order larger packs of your favourites.

And for those who like to try something new, the Bluebird matcha is a blend of Japanese matcha (powdered green tea) and Kenyan white matcha (powdered white tea). That’s certainly something I’ve never come across before!

 

Kavey Eats review samples of the products above from the Bluebird Tea Company.

With thanks to Pete for most of the photographs.

 

I don’t order bottled water in restaurants. We are fortunate enough to live in a country with safe, clean and reasonably plentiful drinking water. It strikes me as crazy to pay (financially and environmentally) to drink bottled water instead.

There’s an argument for those who prefer carbonated, in which case buying fizzy bottled water is no different to buying any other soft drink. But personally, I prefer still, so I always ask for tap. Often, it’s the lower end restaurants that get sniffy about it, never the posh ones.

I have occasionally bought bottled water when out and about. It’s a rare thing, as I’m conscious of the cost not to mention the litter.

We live in such a disposable culture. Now that a lot more packaging is labelled recyclable, people seem think there’s no environmental impact to throwing it away. But of course, even when something can be recycled, there’s a huge energy and resource cost to create the original item, to collect and sort the used item and to recycle it into something else. And, for various reasons, probably not least of which is that our recycling efforts are still rather half-hearted, 75% of post-consumer plastic waste in the UK is sent to landfill.

Pink Hydros Bottle

Recently I came across the Hydros Filtering Water Bottle. Instead of buying water, carry a Hydros bottle with you. You can either fill it at home, or if you’d rather not carry the weight around, fill it on the go. More and more restaurants and cafes are willing to fill reusable water bottles for free.

Made from Tritan plastic (BPA free) it has a filter embedded with an anti-microbial, to stop the build-up of bacteria which can be a problem when reusing some bottles. The filters are replaceable and last for about 150 uses. Oh and, best of all, it’s dishwasher friendly.

I like that you can fill from the top or through the side opening, which allows you to fill from a low or awkward tap – it’s a little slower but it works fine. The water passes through the filter into the bottle fairly quickly. Just make sure you close the bottle properly though, as a leaking bottle in your bag definitely won’t put a smile on your face!

The bottles aren’t cheap at £24.95 each. Replacement filters cost £7.94 each or £19.94 for three. However, given the price of bottled water, this doesn’t represent all that many bottles. When you factor in the environmental benefits, it makes the decision easier.

Another pleasing aspect to buying a Hydros bottle is that the company contribute about 60 pence / $1 from each bottle sale to “sustainable water infastructure projects”. They remind us that one in seven people around the world – that’s over a billion people – don’t have access to clean, safe water. They currently partner with Engineers Without Borders to fund rural water projects such as Project Gundom in Cameroon. Visit their website to read their mission statement, criteria for choosing projects and Project Gundom.

 

Other reusable bottles on the market include Give Me Tap (£12 for a metal bottle, no filter), LifeBottle (£12 for a BPA-free stainless steel bottle, no filter), Camelbak Groove (Approx £25 for a plastic bottle with integrated filter), Ohyo (£4.99 for a collapsible plastic bottle, no filter), Brita Fill & Go (£14.99 for a BPA-free plastic bottle with integrated filter), H2Onya Bottle (£8.50-£10.50 depending on size for a stainless steel bottle, no filter), Bobble Bottles (£8.99-£12.99 depending on size, for a BPA-free plastic bottle with integrated filter), Klean Kanteen Wide (£13.50-£26 for a BPA-free stainless steel bottle, no filter included, but compatible with standard filters), Aladdin Papillon (Approx £10 for a plastic bottle, made from recycled material, no filter), Aladdin Aveo (£9for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter). Contigo Autoseal Madison (£Approx £15 for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter), Kor Delta Hydration Vessel (Approx £20 for a plastic bottle, no filter) and Nalgene On The Fly (£Approx £13 for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter).

 

Kavey Eats received a review sample Hydros Filtering Water Bottle.

 

It’s no secret that I love great tea and I’ve shared many fantastic tea suppliers here on Kavey Eats over the years.

A recent find from the BBC Good Food Show was Momo Cha – their High Mountain Oolong tea absolutely blew me away when I first tasted it and every single time I brewed a cup thereafter. As I said in my original review, it’s the best oolong I’ve ever tasted.

More recently, I’ve also tried and enjoyed some of their amazing Korean teas. Also fabulous.

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In the current economic climate, I take my hat off to people like Niels and Mojca, brave enough to create a new business. It must surely be an on-going challenge to bring their products to a wider audience, to get noticed amongst all the others in their niche. But by offering a truly exceptional product, they are building a base of repeat customers who appreciate their quality teas as much as I do.

How did the couple come to launch their tea business? The pair had always dreamed of running a tea house and sharing good quality tea with their customers. During a holiday to Japan, they researched tea production there, and hooked up with a gentleman who’d been trading tea for decades. He helped them plan a specialist trip around Japan, to meet the best producers and farmers. After that, they started selling Japanese teas at Brick Lane, to gauge customer interest; that was two years ago. They also travelled to Taiwan and Korea to find more producers and more top teas. And just over a year ago, they developed their packaging and opened the web shop.

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Several of their teas won one, two or even three star Gold Awards in last year’s Great Taste Awards, great recognition for such a young and small company. I am sure they will be recognised once again in this year’s awards.

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If you’d like to try Momo Cha teas for yourself, do so now using this special Kavey Eats discount code, valid throughout March 2013. The code is “KaveyEats10%” and knocks 10% off your order (excluding postage).

(This isn’t a referral code, I don’t get commission on the orders you place. I simply want to play a tiny part in helping fellow tea lovers discover Momo Cha’s fantastic teas).

 

I love sharing recommendations for great products and great gifts. Here’s last year’s epic gift guide. And a selection of food books I suggested the year before. And the main gift guide from 2010 too. And back in 2009 I shared some great tea products from suppliers including Jing, Lahloo, Rare Tea Company and Teanamu.

It’s certainly well worth reviewing those posts as they’re full of fabulous shopping ideas, most of which are still available.

This year, I’ve encountered more excellent tea from a range of sellers, and decided it was high time to share the very best of those on Kavey Eats – Adagio Teas, East India Company, In Nature, Momo Cha, Steenbergs, Tregothnan and Waterloo Tea.

 

Adagio Teas

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Adagio Teas is an American family business that grew out of a love for Chinese tea. Sophie Kreymerman switched from being a part time manicurist to running her own tea retail business, with her two sons Michael and Ilya. Launched in 1999, the business opened a European website (based in the UK) back in 2008.

I tried a selection of their teas, and found the range and quality very good.

Yunnan Gold is a black tea from Yunnan province in China. The loose leaves have a wonderful caramel aroma which comes through more gently in the flavour once brewed. The liquor is a beautiful bronze colour. The tea has just the merest hint of sweetness to it. This is a mild and light black tea with no bitterness even when brewed strong. (£9 / 43 grams)

AdagioTeas-3719 AdagioTeas-3725

Ti Kuan Yin is one of my favourites, and this example is lovely. The clear liquor has a very subtly floral aroma, but also the typical fresh grassy smell of an oolong. On tasting, it’s similarly subtle and pleasantly refreshing. (£14 / 85 grams)

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The Earl Grey Lavender is a beautifully balanced black tea. The slightly medicinal floral taste of lavender blends beautifully with the citrus notes of the bergamot to create a wholly new flavour. This is rich, sweet and smooth. (£5 / 85 grams)

 

East India Company

The first time I tried a small selection of products from The East India Company, I was disappointed, especially with the tea. The box of The Campbell Darjeeling Loose Leaf I was sent to review was so bland, dusty and so lacking in flavour that I threw it away. (Follow this link to learn about the history of The EIC and read my first review).

However, earlier this year, I went in to the store itself – on Conduit Street, just off Regent Street – and tried a wider range of teas, under the guidance of the East India Tea Company tea master, Lalith Lenadora. Mr Lenadora began his tea career 3 decades ago, as a tea planter in Sri Lanka, and has enormous experience working for some of the great tea estates of his home country. Nowadays, he personally selects and supervises the teas sold by The EIC.

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All the teas I tried were very good (though I didn’t try that Campbell Darjeeling again) and some were truly excellent. I’d recommend going into the store in person, so you can smell the sample leaves for each one and taste the samples they brew each day.

Mi Lan Dan Cong Oolong is also known as Phoenix Honey Orchid and is a black oolong from China. Typically, tasters describe floral and honey notes, but for me the key characteristic that comes through on smell and taste is malty milkiness and then, just a hint of honey. The tea is a pale cream colour when brewed, and needs a fairly long brewing time for the flavours to fully develop. It’s great hot but delicious enjoyed cold. This would be a good choice for someone who usually likes milk in their tea but is looking for a tea to enjoy without it. (£10 / 50 grams – this is the least expensive of EIC’s oolongs, with others priced at £35 / 100 grams and £50 / 100 grams)

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Italian Orange Blossom is listed on EIC’s website as an Iced Tea; I’m not sure why and I brewed it with hot water. Dry, the leaves have a strong orange blossom aroma, which is quite intoxicating. Once brewed, they produce a beautifully orange-coloured tea liquor however the orange blossom flavour is very subtle, giving just a tease of floweriness to a classic black tea. This would suit anyone who loves bright and fragrant blacks and wants to change it up a little, without going down the route of full-on flavoured teas. (£7 / 100 grams).

 

In Nature Teas

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In Nature offer organic teas sourced from China. They sell only loose leaf tea which is grown in high mountain tea estates.

I tried their three oolongs, natural, alpine and floral.

The Natural oolong has a smoky, caramel and condensed milk aroma. On the palate, a creamy, malty milk flavour and gentle smokiness comes through. (£5.45 / 50 grams)

The Alpine oolong brews a greener liquor, and the aroma carries more of a fresh green tea along with that condensed milk smell again. Milk comes through in the taste, along with the grassiness of green tea. (£5.45 / 50 grams)

The Floral oolong is quite unusual in that it brews to a pale amber-pink colour. The aroma is heady with apricots, with a hint of smoke. On tasting, it reminds me of a black tea, with citrus and dried apricots. Brew stronger for a richer colour and taste. (£6.55/ 50 grams)

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Momo Cha Fine Teas

In recent years, I’d grown more and more disillusioned with the Good Food Show, disappointed with the prevalence of big brands, low quality products and even exhibitors that had no connection to food whatsoever. This year, assured that the show’s focus was on high quality and relevant products, with many more smaller producers in the mix, I was persuaded to give the show another try. Sceptical, I went along, only to be genuinely blown away, not just by one or two of the new producers I encountered but by many of them! It was a fantastic day meeting many talented producers offering many fantastic products.

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One of my biggest pleasures of the day was meeting Niels & Mojca of Momo Cha and trying some of their teas. The pair had always dreamed of running a tea house and sharing good quality tea with their customers. During a holiday to Japan, they researched tea production there, and hooked up with a guy who’d been trading tea for decades. He helped plan a specialist trip around Japan, to meet the best producers and farmers. After that, they started selling Japanese teas at Brick Lane, to gauge customer interest; that was two years ago. They also travelled to Taiwan and Korea to find more producers and more top teas. And just one year ago, they developed their packaging and opened the webshop.

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Several of their teas won one, two or even three star Gold Awards in this year’s Great Taste Awards, great recognition for such a young and small company. These are the most expensive teas in my round up, but if you have the budget, I’d strongly urge you to give them a chance.

Happy Sencha is an early harvested green tea from Japan’s Uji region. The aroma is typical cut grass and meaty umami, and when the tea is brewed hot, this comes through clearly in the taste. This is one of the best green teas I’ve tasted, and the flavour is wonderfully intense. It can also be brewed cold for a sweeter, less bitter drink. I still got lots of flavour not just from the first and second hot brew, but from the third and fourth as well. (£22.50 / 50 grams)

I’ve never had anything like the Cherry Tea, which consists of hand-picked and rolled leaves from Japanese cherry trees. It has an amazing floral smell, but not like your typical fruit teas, which smell or taste of the fruits themselves – it’s a woodier sweetness, somewhat musky and reminiscent of tobacco. On tasting, there’s a suggestion of sweetness and a gentle black tea flavour. A very unusual tea. (£11.50  / 30 grams)

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The High Mountain Oolong is, without a doubt, the best oolong I’ve ever tasted. The aromas are just as you’d expect from a high quality oolong – a fresh grassiness, a sweet malted milkiness, the merest hint of smoke and flowers. The taste is incredible – a more intense or vibrant version of the oolongs I regularly enjoy. All the promises of the aroma come through on the palate. Best of all, you can brew the same leaves three or four times during the day, so a little goes a long way. (£13 / 50 grams)

Amacha is a tea made from the Japanese Hortensia plant, which we more commonly call the Hydrangea. The leaves are picked, steamed, dried and hand rolled, just like traditional tea. But unlike regular tea, they are sweet – and not just a little sweet but super sweet! The leaves contain phyllodulcin which is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, hence the name ama-cha, which simply means ‘sweet tea’. That said, as it’s not a true tea and has no caffeine, it would be better thought of as a tisane. In Japan this tea is traditionally served on April 8th, to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. You can enjoy this tea on its own, though the sweetness is very intense, or alternatively you can brew then water down, or mix with regular teas to make your own blend.

 

Steenbergs

I had previously associated Steenbergs, a small family-run business founded in 2003, with high quality herbs and spices but recently learned that they offer tea too. They focus on organic and Fair Trade, with a genuine commitment to ethical sourcing.

SteenbergTea

They offer a wonderfully wide range of teas, and all their teas come in tea caddies and tins rather than packets.

SteenbergTea SteenbergTea-3

Baihao Oolong, also known as Beauty Oolong, is an unusual oolong from Xinhui in Northern Taiwan, a wet and humid region. Dry, the leaves have a strong spicy aroma which reminds me of garam masala. The tea produces a red liquor, typical of a heavily oxidised oolong. Once brewed, the smell of spice resolves into black pepper and nutmeg, and this definitely carries through to the taste. I’ve never encountered this in a tea before! I would recommend it to those who like Indian masala chai. (£8.95 /125 grams)

Produced by the Ambootia Tea Estate is in Darjeeling, in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Green Darjeeling is not at all like traditional Chinese and Japanese green teas. Dry, the smell reminds me of dried fruits and forests, with none of the grassiness of East Asian green teas. The taste is very mild, like a very light black Darjeeling. (£5.95 /125 grams)

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The Organic White tea is an organic Pai Mu Tan, named for the petals of the white peony, and comes from the Fujian province of China. The leaves are dried in the sun and packed immediately, with no oxidisation or rolling. It releases less caffeine on brewing than most teas. Dry, it smells musty, but in a pleasant way, like a freshly rain-drenched forest and there’s also a strange salty sweet aspect to the smell. Brewed, it has a very fresh and leafy taste. (£5.50 /125 grams)

SteenbergTea SteenbergTea-2
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Flowering teas offer a little spectacle in the cup, as well as drink of tea. Sold as tightly wrapped balls, they slowly unfurl once hot water is poured gently over them. Steenbergs Jasmine Silver Balls are hand crafted in China’s Chongquing Province; long white-mottled leaves are selected, tied together, shaped by cutting and then formed into a ball before being steamed and dried with fresh jasmine flowers. For me, the flavour was 100% wonderfully intense jasmine – I couldn’t detect the tea at all. My only disappointment was that the ball started to disintegrate almost immediately, even though I’d poured the water very gently down the sides of the glass. It didn’t unfurl into the beautiful flower shape more common of these balls. (£7.95 / 70 grams)

 

Tregothnan

Tregothnan grow tea in England. Yes, it really does grow here! Two hundred years ago, this estate was the first place in England to grow ornamental Camellia. The team made their first, experimental teas back in 2000 with those original camellia plants. Now, they grow Camellia sinensis tea in a number of locations on their Cornish estate, and at additional farms in Cornwall. #

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Manuka is usually associated with New Zealand but Tregothnan grow it here too, and use the leaves to make their herbal tisane, called Manuka Infusion . Caffeine free and rich in antioxidants, this is not a strictly a tea, but adds welcome variety to the range. (Loose leaf caddy £5 / 25 grams or £3.50 / 10 sachets)

I also tried Classic Tea, a breakfast blend black tea, and Earl Grey, both of which are good quality every day teas.

 

Waterloo Tea

How I came across Waterloo Tea is a lovely story to share. Last year, my sister and her friends held a memorial charity fundraiser in the name of a very dear friend who was tragically killed in a car accident 10 years previously. Asked to help secure auction prizes for the event, I turned to twitter and my request was generously shared by others. That’s how it came to the attention of Kasim Ali, director of Waterloo Tea in Cardiff, Wales. Having never interacted with me online, let alone met in person, Kas generously donated some of her teas for the auction, knowing that there wouldn’t be any media coverage. She did it just to be nice. Having read Waterloo Tea’s website, I knew these teas were high quality, and of course, I wanted to bid on some of the auction items myself, and contribute to the fundraising total, so I bid on these teas … and won them! The memorial event raised £3579.57 for The Chicken Shed Theatre.

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Kas chose four Indian black teas, having secured Grand Reserve lots, which are the best available.

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I’ve already enjoyed 2 of the packets in the selection but opened the Darjeeling Second Flush Makaibari Estate, Grand Reserve to include in this review. Dry, the leaves have an incredibly intense aroma of dried figs and a hint of tobacco or wood. It’s a really heady, intoxicating smell. What we call black tea here is known as hong cha or red tea in China, where it originated. When you see the beautiful red-orange colour of this freshly brewed tea, it’s obvious why. Once brewed, the fruit takes a back seat and the tea smells much more like a regular black tea. On the palate too, it’s a light, elegant black tea. (£8.50 / 100 grams)

The next tea I want to try from Waterloo Tea is the incredible sounding Yuzu Oolong, made by infusing Taiwanese high mountain alishan oolong with citrus peel. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

 

Kavey Eats received review samples from some the suppliers above, along with others which I’ve chosen not to include, as they did not impress.

 

Earlier this year, Valrhona released what they’re calling the fourth chocolate (after dark, milk and white) and that is blond chocolate.

They’ve named it Dulcey, though I can’t tell you how that’s pronounced. At the London-based launch event, some Valrhona staff pronounced it with a soft “s” and others with a hard “ch“. “Dulsey” or “Dulchi“, take your pick.

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Although home cooks and dessert chefs have been caramelising white chocolate for many years, Valrhona seem to be taking credit for inventing it, and even trot out the unlikely story of it being an accidental discovery on the part of a Valrhona chocolatier who forgot some white chocolate in an oven for a few hours. Who knows for certain, but came over as pure marketing story-weaving!

Regardless of the true origins, it’s definitely a fascinating product.

The sweet, butterscotch fudge flavours are reminiscent of childhood confectionery Caramac, though a side by side comparison by a friend makes it abundantly clear that the two products are nothing alike. As we all agreed, Caramac tastes of sugar and cheap fat, with a slightly grainy texture. Dulcey is silky smooth, with a far richer, more complex and delicious flavour.

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You could eat it on its own, if you have a sweet tooth. It’ll probably appeal more to fans of white chocolate than dark, of course. However, where it comes into its own is as an ingredient for desserts. At the launch, we tried a range of dainty treats such as panna cottas, tarts and chocolate truffles, all showcasing the Dulcey and all very good.

Leaving the launch, we were given a small sample to take home. Going through ideas for recipes, I considered making Cookies of Dreams, chocolate ice cream or a chocolate fondue, all of which I think would work very well.

In the end, I decided to make some quick and simple hot chocolate.

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Caramelised White Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

Ingredients
40 grams of caramelised white chocolate
500 ml milk, whole, semi or skimmed as you prefer

Note: If you can’t readily find Valrhona Dulcey, you can caramelise white chocolate at home. Here’s a handy YouTube tutorial.

Method

  • Heat the milk to just below boiling point. I used a microwave, but you could also use a small saucepan over a medium heat.
  • Whilst the milk is heating, break the chocolate into small pieces.
  • Remove the milk from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate is melted and completely combined.
  • Pour into mugs and serve.

Of course, this is the same way I make dark hot chocolate too, and you can ring the changes by making this with the many great flavoured chocolates available such as Green & Black’s Maya Gold, which works really well.

 

A light industrial estate in Cirencester is probably not the first place you’d look for a high quality coffee shop, but that’s just where you’ll find Rave Coffee in Stirling Works, Love Lane.

Suppliers of wholesale coffee, Rob and Vikki Hodge also sell coffee, tea and cakes to individual customers to drink in or takeaway, and have built up a loyal following of local workers as well as customers who visit from further afield.

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In the front of the store is a coffee counter graced by a beautiful Expobar Diamant coffee machine, a couple of comfy sofas and stools and a few shelves displaying coffee syrups and teas available to purchase.

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Behind a full width wall of clear glass is the working area where Rob roasts and blends sacks of coffee beans to meet customer requirements.

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So good was the coffee we enjoyed on our first visit, we made a second visit the very next day. Those of who usually have sugar in our coffee were particularly impressed with the lack of bitterness in our full flavour coffees.

If you’re in the general area, would definitely recommend you pay a visit, especially if you also want to buy some beans or ground coffee to enjoy at home.

Sep 212012
 

We don’t go to Hackney often, as it’s not the easiest journey for us on public transport, but we were invited by Justina, founder of The Craft Beer Social Club to attend one of her beer and food pairing events at new brewpub, Duke’s Brew & Cue and were keen to give both the social club and the brewpub a try.

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Founded by Byron Knight and Logan Plant (fab names, no?), the brewery is called Beavertown (after an nickname for the area, honest!) and it supplies both the pub itself and a handful of other outlets with an interesting mix of mainly American-inspired craft beers. Like our local favourite, The Bull in Highgate, the brewery is squeezed into a corner of the kitchen – you can see it if you peer in.

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The setting is rough and ready, what I’m starting to think of as dive bar chic, so prevalent has it become lately. But it looks good, and the place was absolutely buzzing on the Tuesday night of our visit.

Although we had a nice chat with Byron, his partner Logan, who looks after the brewery, wasn’t around. However, cellar master Hannah did an amazing job of introducing the beers and telling us all about them. In fact, her knowledge and huge personality was a big part of the attraction of the place, for me.

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Food wise, it was a mixed bag. The chef had laid on a special menu for the tasting.

Garlic bruschetta, and two goat’s cheese nibbles were mediocre. They were bland rather than offensive but I was disappointed.

The next dish, Sweet Spicy Miso Cod turned things around. Fantastically flavoured, succulent and simply presented with pak choi, this was just delightful and I could have eaten three plates of it in a row! The only sad news is that’s not a normal menu item, so it’s unlikely I (or you) would be able to order it on a future visit.

Next came absolutely enormous Succulent Smoked Beef Ribs. These were great, served with coleslaw and pickled gherkin though I’d have liked a portion of chips along side. These definitely brought out the cave man in everyone, and were good a match for the feel of the place and the wide range of beers on offer.

Dessert was another let down, with a dry and overly sweet chocolate brownie served with candied espresso beans and caramel ice cream. The espresso beans were good and the caramel ice cream pleasant enough, but the brownie was a crime against chocolate.

The normal menu is short and sweet, with pulled pork sliders, pork ribs and beef ribs, a range of steaks, a couple of American salads and a lone veggie burger. Sides include fried pickles and okra with ranch dressing, pit smoked baked beans and pork, seasoned fries, creamed spinach and macaroni cheese. Solidly American and popular with the local crowd.

I’d like to go back and try more of this, as those beef ribs were tasty!

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Read more about the beer in Pete’s review.

 

The Craft Beer Social Club runs beer tasting and brewer events around London. Kavey Eats and Pete Drinks were their guests for the evening.

 

Last month, Pete and I attended the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2012, held in Leeds. (I know I only occasionally post about beer, but of course, Pete Drinks writes about beer every week).

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image courtesy of The Ormskirk Baron

Nearly 100 beer bloggers plus representatives from breweries and other related industries came together for a weekend of beer drinking and discussing, organised by Zephyr Adventures.

Highlights included the two evening dinners organised by main sponsors MolsonCoors UK and Pilsner Urquell, the former served with a terrific selection of Sharp’s Connoisseurs Choice range and the latter hosted in the magnificent Anthony’s Piazza restaurant, within the stunning Corn Exchange building. (The whole sides of salmon were absolutely beautiful, both visually and to eat).

The agenda featured some excellent sessions including an unusually good technology one on blog platforms and website design by Leonard Austin, the night of international beers (for which kind European attendees brought stocks of a range of fascinating beers including a couple from Sweden that Pete will blog in coming weeks), a fascinating talk on taking blogging to the next level by Mark Dredge, Marverine Cole, and Zak Avery and a talk on the current state of the hops industry, by Paul Corbett, MD of Charles Faram.

The Live Blogging session was great fun. Ten beers in 50 minutes, giving each brewery just 5 short minutes at each table in which to serve their beer and tell us a little about it. I opted for micro-blogging via twitter and even that was tough in the time frame!

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Spiegelau Beer Classics Connoisseur Set

But my favourite session of the conference was a Comparative Beer and Glass Tasting with Spiegelau lead by Jon Gamble.

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images courtesy of The Ormskirk Baron

When we entered the room, each place had been set with a box containing Spiegelau’s Beer Classics Connoisseur Set and a selection of four beers.

Like many of the conference attendees, Pete and I were a little sceptical about how much difference the glasses would really make. Yes, it’s not uncommon to use different sizes and shapes of glass for drinking different wines, but this is beer we’re talking about!

As well as the four specialist glasses we were also provided with a regular pint glass – the kind you find in most pubs across the UK. In comparison with the Spiegelau glasses, the first thing we noticed was the thickness of the regular pint glass, including, of course, the rim.

We learned that the thick lip of the glass doesn’t deliver the beer to the right regions on the tongue for the very best beer tasting experience. In addition, the aromas of many beers dissipate quickly because of the shape of the glass. And the thicker glass makes it harder to admire the appearance of the beer within, especially when using the even thicker tankard-style beer mugs. Also, the thicker the glass, the longer it takes for the glass to adjust to the same temperature as the beer.

The Spiegelau glasses, by contrast, are thin and delicate, right up to the rim and the lip is narrow, allowing the beer to slip very smoothly into the mouth. This is said to improve mouthfeel of the beer. Being so smooth inside also helps beers keep their carbonation and head for longer.

For each of the four beers we were invited to try them in the fat pint glass and in a couple of the specialist glasses. The difference that the shapes of the glasses made not only to the aroma but, even more surprisingly, to the taste of the beers was a huge surprise.

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Wheat beer glass

Our first beer was a Camden Brewery wheat beer. The recommended glass was the tallest in the set, the Wheat Beer glass. Designed with the classic shape of a Bavarian wheat beer glass, the wide opening at the top enhances the aromas in traditional wheat beers, spiced beers and sour fruit lambics. We were instructed to pour slowly and gently to start and finish with a direct pour to create a thick and creamy foam head.

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Pilsner glass

Our second beer was Krombacher Pilsner. The Tall Pilsner glass is again a classic shape designed to suit German and Bohemian-style pilsners. The shape accentuates the hoppy aromas and bitterness of these dry beers, whilst also showing off the pretty pale golden colour and carbonation.

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Lager glass

Next up was Ilkley Brewery’s Lotus IPA for which we were recommended the served in our Lager glass. Created to bring out the subtleties of pale lagers, it’s also a good choice for ales and stouts. The shape, slightly wider at the mouth than the foot, also brings balance to the hoppy nose of the powerful IPAs that are so popular at the moment.

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Tulip glass

Last, we tried Ilkley Brewery’s Stout Mary in the Beer Tulip. The shape of the glass is particularly good at preserving aromas in the glass whether that’s hops or malt, or perhaps the hints of vanilla and bourbon from a bourbon cask-aged beer. We were told that the aromas are best enjoyed when the glass is filled only half way up. This glass was recommended for pilsner, Belgian style ales and powerful stouts.

We were not alone in being really pleasantly surprised at just how much difference the glasses made to the beer drinking experience and were thrilled when Spiegelau told the audience that the boxed sets were ours to take home with us.

 

WIN!

Win a Spiegelau Beer Classics Connoisseur Set containing one each of the wheat beer glass, the pilsner glass, the lager glass and the tulip glass. Delivery to any UK mainland address is also included.

 

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 2 ways.

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, answering the following question:
What beer would you recommend we try next in the Spiegelau Classic Connoisseur Tulip Beer Glass?

Entry 2 – Twitter
First follow both @SpiegelauUK and @KaveyF accounts. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter!
Then tweet the (exact) sentence below:
I’d love to win a set of @SpiegelauUK beer glasses from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/4ygm5 #KaveyEatsSpiegelau

 

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 29th June 2012.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • The prize is a Spiegelau Beer Classics Connoisseur Set containing one each of the wheat beer glass, the pilsner glass, the lager glass and the tulip glass and includes delivery to a UK mainland address only.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for cash.
  • The prize is offered directly by RSN.UK Ltd (trading as Riedel, Spiegelau and Nachtmann).
  • One blog entry per person only. One twitter entry per person only. You do not have to enter both ways for your entries to be valid.
  • For twitter entries, winners must be following both @SpiegelauUK and @KaveyF at the time of notification, as this will be sent by Direct Message.
  • Blog comment entries must provide an email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email or twitter. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

This competition is now closed. Winner = Sharon McGuinness (entry via blog).

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Lastly, a big wave to a few beer friends, new and old. We met lots of wonderful people at #EBBC12 but our weekend was made particularly enjoyable by the time we spent with Chris Routledge, Chris Wildman (Paganum), Jonas Andersson (Pilsner Nu), Marverine Cole (Beer Beauty), Pete Alexander (Tandleman), Steve Lamond (Beers I’ve Known) and The Ormskirk Baron. Check our their sites for some great beer writing.

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