Dec 062014
 

The world of tea is a vast one. For those happy with basic black tea in teabags (or loose) it’s pretty straightforward; every supermarket in the country stocks black tea teabags and loose leaf English Breakfast, Assam and Darjeeling are just as easy to find; Earl Grey (black tea with the addition of essential oil extracted from bergamot orange) is also universally available.

But what if you discover that oolong or green tea are more to your taste? Perhaps you hear about yellow and white teas, aged pu-erh (dark fermented tea made in China’s Yunnan province), genmaicha (Japanese green tea with roasted rice)? You’ve read that matcha and sencha are both green teas but aren’t sure how they differ? How do you learn more about them, and more importantly, how can you sample a wide range to help you narrow down which styles of tea you personally enjoy the most?

Finding out about the different teas is not too complicated. It’s a topic that wikipedia is very useful on – just search for wiki oolong, wiki matcha, wiki sencha… you get the idea. And obviously, many online tea retailers also have guides to the teas on their websites. There are specialist blogs aplenty and if you become really keen, you can buy a specialist book or two. I’ve been eyeing up this one, Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, published earlier this year.

Regular readers know I have been exploring the world of teas for some years, and I have a particular fondness for oolongs and green teas. You can look back through my many tea posts, or take a look at my Christmas tea gift guide from 2012. In that post, I mentioned Adagio Teas, a US company that started to also sell in Europe a few years ago, amongst others.

Adagio Teas offer an extensive selection, covering the range of tea styles.

They’re a great option for those looking to expand their tea repertoire – not only can you pick and choose your own selection, they also provide 9 Tea Samplers, each box containing small packets of four different teas.

Adagio-Teas-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9650
Emperor Sampler Set

The Samplers include Silk Road (Chinese black teas), Raja (Indian and Sri Lankan black teas), Chai (teas blended with a variety of spices and herbs), Tropical (teas blended with fruit), Formosa (Taiwanese green and dark oolongs), Samurai (Japanese green teas), Emperor (top quality green teas) and two more that cover herbal infusions, Garden and Rooibos.

I put three of the Samplers to the test along with two individual teas chosen from the full range.

 

Emperor Sampler Set

The Emperor Sampler Set is £13. Note that the two of four teas currently listed differ from those in my set, delivered a few months ago.

Adagio-Teas-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9652 Adagio-Teas-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9655
From left to right: Silver Sprout, Dragonwell, Gyokuro, Jasmine Yin Hao, The gyokuro brews to an

Silver Sprout brews to a pretty amber and has a rich sweet aroma that reminds me of rice pudding. The taste is mild, smoky and more like an oolong than a typical green tea.

Dragonwell brews to a greeny yellow and smells like a typical green tea – it has rich intense grass, hay notes. On the palate, the grassy taste comes through, but so too does a mild dairy umami that wasn’t obvious to the nose. It’s rich but refreshingly vegetal at the same time.

Gyokuro brews bright yellow and has an uncomplicated green vegetal aroma. The flavours are gentle, a soft grassiness with a mere hint of umami savouriness.

Jasmine Yin Hao is a jasmine-infused silver tip tea – “tip” in this context refers to tiny unfurled buds, given only the lightest of processing. It brews orangey yellow and the only aroma I can detect is a strong floral scent of jasmine. On the palate too, jasmine dominates. This is a lovely floral tea, but be aware that the green tea beneath doesn’t come through very clearly.

 

Samurai Sampler Set

The Samurai Sampler Set is £9.

Adagio-Teas-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9659 Adagio-Teas-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9664
From left to right: Genmaicha, Kukicha, Sencha Overture, Hojicha

Genmaicha is a popular tea in Japan; a combination of green tea and toasted rice. This one brews to a greeny yellow and has a fabulous aroma of roasted rice, like popcorn and marshmallows. It tastes as you’d expect, the rich roasted rice flavours and underneath, the clean vegetal notes of green tea. It’s rich, savoury and very comforting.

Kukicha is a blend of tea leaves and tea leaf stems. It brews to a similar greeny yellow as the genmaicha but could not be more different. The smell is lemon citrus and freshly cut grass. The citrus is on the nose only, the taste is a very light green tea. The umami savouriness is very muted, there’s no bitterness at all, this is a much lighter green than most.

Sencha Overture is a delicious green tea, and a good introduction to the style; sencha is harvested in spring and early summer and steamed rather than sun dried, which results in a clean but rich vegetal flavour. This one brews pale yellow. On the nose, it delivers a really intense sweetness, like caramelised milk and a mild vegetal scent. On the palate the green vegetable taste comes through clearly.

Sencha is produced in spring and early summer. After that, the full summer harvest creates bancha. Roasting these bancha tea leaves creates Hojicha. Adagio’s hojicha brews a dark red brown. The smell is smoky and woody. On the palate it’s rich, smoky and with hints of tobacco and wood. Very much like a well-flavoured black tea, I find.

 

Formosa Sampler Set + Hsinchu Oriental Beauty + Formosa Ali Shan

The Formosa Sampler Set is £9. A 12 gram box of Hsinchu Oriental Beauty is £9. A 34 gram box of Formosa Ali Shan is £9.

Adagio-Teas-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-8398 Adagio-Teas-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-8409

I find the Formosa oolong (sampler set) disappointing. It’s smoky, one-dimensional black tea, with no richness or complexity of flavour. I don’t get any hint of the raisins or ripe fruits in Adagio’s description.

The Formosa Bai Hao (sampler set) brews to a paler amber than the oolong. It has a slightly more interesting aroma, milky with a little smoke. On the palate it’s a little lighter and sweeter in flavour, with a hint of milky umami. But it’s still not very complex, rich or interesting.

The Hsinchu Oriental Beauty is a world apart from the two above. It’s a highly oxidised premium grade bai hao from Taiwan’s Hsinchu county it is made up of white, green, yellow, red and brown leaves. The colour when brewed is a pale greeny brown and the aroma is amazing, a burst of floral, fruitiness. The taste is even more phenomenal than the smell with intense fruits, flowers and honeyed sweetness. I don’t have the vocabulary to do justice to the roundness of flavours, it seems to satisfy more of my tastebuds than the other teas.

Adagio-Teas-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-8448 Adagio-Teas-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-8450 Adagio-Teas-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-8452

Jade oolong (sampler set) brews yellowy green and has a grassy aroma and smells like sweet milk. The taste – vegetal grassiness and the hint of umami savouriness – is a more typical of a green tea than an oolong; it’s the lighter side of the oolong style.

Pouchong (sampler set) is another lightly oxidised oolong that brews to a yellow green. The smell is intense, much sweeter, like semolina halwa with a hint of vanilla. The taste is less complex than the smell lead me to expect, in fact it’s a disappointly mild and light.

Like the pouchong, the Formosa ali shan has an intense sweet flavour, the same semolina and vanilla – I even took both cups into different rooms to check the scent of one wasn’t influencing the other! This time, the promise of the aromas comes through on the palate. It’s rich, fruity, a little sweet and with the merest hint of green grass, and it fills the palate, much like the Hsinchu bai hao.

 

To recap, the samplers provide a great way to try lots of teas without breaking the bank. Of the ones I tried, the Samurai was my clear favourite. Or, of course, buy any of the teas individually.

Adagio are currently running a pre-Christmas offer of free standard UK delivery on orders over £20 (usually it’s a £30 minimum spend to qualify for free shipping). This offer is available on their website till December 14th!

Kavey Eats received product samples from Adagio Teas.

 

Yao Yao Cha means Shake Shake Tea in Chinese. The naming approach tickles me and certainly the little shop in London’s Seven Dials area has shaken up the local bubble tea market since it opened earlier this year. Yao Yao Cha’s founder and owner Susan Fang was born in Taiwan but has lived in New York, Dubai, Seoul, Beijing and now London (a city she describes as the most vibrant she’s lived in to date; I’ll drink bubble tea to that!)

In launching this business she wanted to bring us an authentic taste from her childhood, adding global influences gleaned from her globetrotting lifestyle.

YYC YaoYaoCha-Bubble-ShavedIce-KaveyEats-(c)KFavelle-6828
The storefront on Earlham Street and Dagaz, our friendly server

The menu offers classic Taiwanese bubble tea options alongside modern, global flavours.

Bubble tea (aka boba tea), for those who’ve not come across it before, is simply a glass of (usually) sweetened tea with a generous spoonful of tapioca pearls at the bottom. Served with an extra wide straw that allows you to suck the little spheres of tapioca up as you drink. I’ve found that most people either love or hate the chewy texture of the tapioca, with some of my friends describing them as frogspawn (how do they know?) and others delighting in the bounce, as I do.

Most bubble drink cafes sell a variety of drinks, so if tea isn’t your thing (and there are quite a few different teas to choose from) you one of a range of frappés instead. For tea drinkers, there’s matcha green tea, a range of fruit-flavoured jasmine green teas, several black teas including ones flavoured with salted caramel, chocolate, strawberry and lemon. Frappés include blueberry, mango, passion fruit, chocolate and even crème brulée!

The teas can be ordered hot or cold, though personally I think cold works best with bubbles.

Don’t worry if you don’t think you’ll like traditional bubbles either; another option is to order your drink with fruit pop spheres – tiny liquid-filled spheres available in a range of flavours, with not a hint of chewiness to them. Or maybe you’d prefer a flavoured jelly, chopped into teeny tiny cubes?

Teas are £3.50/ £4.50 (regular/ large) and include a portion of tapioca. Frappés are £4.00 and include one flavour of fruit pops or jelly. Extra fruit pops or jellies can be added to any of the drinks.

Oh and, if you visit in the evening, YYC are usually running a 2 for 1 offer on the bubble teas.

YaoYaoCha-Bubble-ShavedIce-KaveyEats-(c)KFavelle-6829 YaoYaoCha-Bubble-ShavedIce-KaveyEats-(c)KFavelle-6832
Sweet milky black tea with lychee pops and salted caramel black tea with tapioca pearls.

Newer to the menu is the range of shaved ice desserts, known as baobing in Chinese and hugely popular across China and much of East Asia.

We had a lovely time chatting to Dagaz who came to London from Taiwan just a few months ago and is really enjoying working in Yao Yao Cha, improving his English and exploring the architecture of London.

On his recommendation, we went for one traditional shaved ice (with condensed milk syrup, taro, crème brulée pudding, tapioca pearls and red bean paste) and one modern option with fruit pops and jellies and a mango fruit syrup.

Tapioca pearls are included for free (if you want them) and the £5 price includes three additional toppings of your choice. Of course, you can add more if you like, for 50 pence per topping. Portions are enormous and one is plenty for two to share, or even three if you’ve just stuffed yourself with huge bowls of ramen, as we had!

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Shaved ice with traditional toppings; shaved ice with mango syrup and a selection of fruit pops and jellies

With lots of great restaurants in the immediate vicinity, I hope lots of Londoners discover the pleasure of a shaved ice dessert. With all the sugary toppings, it’s not a healthier option but it makes a refreshing alternative to the creaminess of ice cream and it’s particularly appealing when the weather is warm.

 

Kavey Eats was a guest of Yao Yao Cha.

 

Do you drink a variety of teas? Black, green, white? Oolong? {whispers} Herbal or fruit? {stops whispering}

How do you make yours?

Do you boil the kettle, pour boiling water over the tea bag or leaves and stir impatiently to make the tea brew faster?

Do you brew directly in the mug?

AdagioTeas-3719 AdagioTeas-3725

I use loose leaf tea in a mug.

I don’t really miss a teapot as I rarely drink more than a mug of tea at a time (and never the same tea as Pete chooses to drink). Tea leaves go into a fine mesh strainer that can easily be lowered into my mug. I reuse the same leaves for at least another brew, often two or three, depending on the tea.

But I am guilty of using boiling water straight from the kettle.

And, as any fule kno, many teas are not at their best when brewed in boiling water.

Black tea (and herbal or fruit infusions, which I snootily don’t consider to be tea) are better suited to brewing at 100°C.

But oolong, green and white teas benefit from lower temperatures.

Flavour-providing amino acids and natural sugars dissolve into water at relatively low temperatures, releasing sweetness as well as a range of rich and complex flavours. Higher water temperatures extract more tannins resulting in bitterness that can easily overwhelm the key flavours of these types of teas.

Good quality tea should be treated with respect.

I really ought to know better, having benefited from the wonderful expertise of many a top tea master over the years. I have tasted exquisite teas from China to Japan, Taiwan to Korea, India to East Africa and enjoyed them at their optimum. And yet the best I’ve managed when making tea at home is to leave the kettle for a few minutes after boiling, to allow the temperature of the water to drop a little. Of course, I never have any idea of just how much it’s dropped.

It’s criminal really, given that I happily spend money on excellent tea. My current favourite is still Momo Cha Fine Teas’ High Mountain Oolong, but I’m also enjoying a delicious genmai-cha from The East India Company and an elderly but surprisingly well preserved oolong from Teanamu (my fault: I found it, forgotten, at the bottom of a box of tea).

For over a year, I’ve loosely been investigating smart kettles – the kind that allow you to heat the water to a number of different temperatures. A friend of mine has one and I’ve been coveting my own but I never get farther than an idle internet browse. I’ve not even made a shortlist, let alone picked a winner and placed an order.

sage by heston tea maker 2

Lucky day, then, when Sage by Heston Blumenthal asked me if I’d be interested in trying their Tea Maker, a specialist kettle with tea making function built in. The Tea Maker has a number of pre-sets and the option to use customised settings too. You can use it simply as a kettle, heating the water to your desired temperature. It also offers a brewing function: place tea leaves into the basket provided and the Tea Maker will lower the leaves into the heating water for a specific amount of time, dependent again on the type of tea. Lastly, the Tea Maker can keep the tea (or water) warm for up to an hour.

I probably won’t use the brewing function very often, as it’s recommended for a larger volume of water than I’d want to brew at a time. But the adjustable brewing temperature is an easy way for me to enjoy my favourite teas at their very best.

 

You can find more information about the Sage by Heston Blumenthal Tea Maker here, including a video of Heston explaining how it works. To hear Heston talk in more detail about tea, see this #TalkTeaWithHeston Youtube video.

Kavey Eats received a sample Tea Maker from Sage by Heston Blumenthal. All opinions expressed are my own.

 

Long before my (relatively recent) obsession with Japan I developed a taste for matcha, the very finely powdered green tea that is at the heart of the Japanese tea ceremony.

There are a number of different types of green tea in Japan. Tea leaves for gyokuro are deliberately grown in shade (as opposed to those for sencha, which are grown in the full sun). This slows down growth and stimulates increased chlorophyll levels, resulting in darker leaves and higher levels of amino acids. L-Theanine in particular provides a rich umami flavour which is a key aspect of gyokuro. Once the leaves have been dried, they are either sold as gyokuro, or they are de-veined and de-stemmed before being stone ground very finely to create the vivid green powder known as matcha.

Matcha, the drink, is prepared by whisking matcha powder into hot (not boiling) water until smooth. This rich green tea is quite bitter, so it is often served with wagashi – traditional Japanese sweets.

These days, matcha is also very popular as a cooking ingredient in all kinds of sweet and savoury dishes such as mochi, dango, cakes and biscuits, noodles and even mixed with salt as a condiment.

One of the most popular recipes is ice cream, with the vivid green colour as much of an attraction as the grassy green tea taste.

Matcha-Ice-Cream-KFavelle-KaveyEats-2014-6325-Text

I’ve been meaning to make matcha ice cream for the longest time and realised it was a perfect fit for May’s Bloggers Scream For Challenge – the theme this month is Inspired By Hot Drinks.

Most recipes call for making an egg custard from scratch, whisking the matcha in with the other ingredients during the process. However, I decided to see if I could create a quick version of recipe using fresh ready made custard, available from my supermarket. I added a little extra sugar, as freezing tends to dull sweetness a little and I wanted lots of sweetness to balance the bitterness of the tea. I also added a little sake, to help keep the ice cream softer on freezing.

 

Quick & Easy Matcha (Green Tea) Ice Cream

Ingredients
500 ml good quality fresh vanilla custard
3 teaspoons matcha
3 teaspoons caster or granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon sake (or vodka)

Note: I used a good quality full-flavoured matcha but taste your custard once you’ve added the sugar and matcha, and add more to taste, if required.

Matcha-Ice-Cream-KFavelle-KaveyEats-2014-5554 Matcha-Ice-Cream-KFavelle-KaveyEats-2014-5552 Matcha-Ice-Cream-KFavelle-KaveyEats-2014-5553

Method

  • Combine custard, matcha and sugar in a pan and heat gently on a low heat, whisking regularly.

Matcha-Ice-Cream-KFavelle-KaveyEats-2014-5555 Matcha-Ice-Cream-KFavelle-KaveyEats-2014-5559

  • Once the sugar has dissolved and the matcha has properly mixed into the custard, remove from the heat and whisk in the sake.
  • Cool the mixture in an ice bowl or in the fridge.

Matcha-Ice-Cream-KFavelle-KaveyEats-2014-5562

  • Transfer to an ice cream machine and churn, according to instructions for your machine. Mine took about 25 minutes.

Matcha-Ice-Cream-KFavelle-KaveyEats-2014-5565

  • Once the ice cream is ready, either serve immediately or transfer to the freezer to solidify further. My machine makes slightly soft ice cream, so I like to freeze to achieve a firmer texture.

Matcha-Ice-Cream-KFavelle-KaveyEats-2014-6344

This is my entry into BSFIC.

IceCreamChallenge

There’s still time to enter the challenge, so please check this post for more details.

Happy ice cream making!

 

Quite a few recipes call for tying up flavouring ingredients such as herbs and whole spices inside muslin to add to the pot during cooking; this makes them easier to fish out once the flavours have infused, ensuring no one bites down on a clove, cardamom pod or piece of cinnamon stick when the dish is served.

teabagspice (1 of 1)

For years, I’ve been using a shortcut – instead of faffing about with muslin and string, I just pop my spices and herbs into little single-use pouches intended as home-made teabags.

I first found these in a Chinese grocery store but they are readily available from many suppliers, in a variety of different designs. Of course, I also use them to make handy teabags from my favourite loose leaf teas for taking in to work or when travelling.

The ones I usually buy are most like these pouches, with a lip that folds back over to seal them, much like a pillow case.

cropped-diyteabag1 cropped-diyteabag3
1, 2

1)  Tea Bag Filters 2) Tea Pockets

There are also several in this drawstring style:

cropped-diyteabag2 cropped-diyteabag4
cropped-diyteabag5
3, 4, 5

3) DIY Teabags 4) Tea Pockets 5) Fill Your Own Tea Bags

 

The ones I’ve shared above are all for sale on Amazon, either sold directly by Amazon or from one of the many other sellers with online shops there. I recommend checking delivery charges when comparing prices, as they vary wildly between products.

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.

BluebirdTea-0476 BluebirdTea-0480
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.

 

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.

MomoCha-4072

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.

 MomoCha-4075

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.

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

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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)

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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.

Apr 192012
 

I love tea and I love history. I even love browsing through antiques fairs and admiring beautiful old things such as Georgian wooden tea caddies. But I’ve never thought much about the way in which tea was consumed in the past, though I do know that tea drinkers used to buy loose tea and blended different varieties and styles together themselves to create their perfect brew.

Today, it seems that only the big tea companies retain the art of blending, which is primarily a way for them to ensure consistency of taste for their consumers in the face of differences in the quality and flavours of every harvest.

But of course, tea is also still blended by tea masters – artisans, if you like – looking to create something that is more than the sum of its parts.

Just like in the world of whisky, there is something to be said for blends and there is something to be said for single estate teas. The former allows a master blender to achieve a more complex finished tea, with the best possible aroma, mouthfeel and taste. The latter allows the consumer to enjoy the distinctions that come from different climates and growing techniques, what the French describe as terroir, and appreciate the skills of the individual producer.

I’ve always loved tea, and have been enjoying a wide range of loose leaf teas since I was a teenager, when I used to buy packets of assam and darjeeling and mango tea from an elderly stall holder in Camden Market. But I’ve never thought to combine more than one together to create my own blend.

The Tea Board of Kenya sent me three Kenyan black teas to try just that.

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On the left is Kaamba, in the middle Marinyn GFBOP and on the right Kenya Estate Milima.

(GFBOP = Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe, learn more here).

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I opt to leave the leaf tea at the bottom of the cups, where it quickly settles during the brewing time.

Before I can do any blending, I need to assess the individual teas.

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The Tea Board of Kenya describes Kaamba tea as having “a very malty flavour with light hints of currant“. I find just a hint of malt, and a fair bit of tannin. The overall taste is very one dimensional; it strikes me as a very simple “black tea” kind of taste. The tea liquor is the darkest of the three.

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Of the Marinyn GFBOP, they tell me that it’s grown in the highlands at altitudes of up to 9000 feet and is a “strong, brightly flavoured tea with a sweet quality“. Certainly it has a sweetness on the nose and in the taste. It’s a far more complex tea than both the others, with a lovely hint of citrus reminiscent of bergamot. The colour of the tea is a pretty copper or amber.

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Apparently the Kenya Estate Milima is a very rare tea with a large loose leaf, has a “full, slightly malty flavour” and is “fruity and spicy with some sweet floral notes”. I do get lots of malt in the aroma but it doesn’t come through on the palate. In fact, this tea has very little flavour at all and I certainly don’t detect malt, fruit, spice or flowers.

My Blend

Because the Kenya Estate Milima tastes of so little, I exclude it from my blend and combine one part Kaamba to two parts Marinyn GFBOP. Immediately, I see that the tea has a rounder flavour. The Kaamba provides a rich backbone onto which the Marinyn GFBOP layers its sweet, floral properties.

With so many loose leaf teas in my cupboard, I’m certainly enthused to try my hand at blending teas from different growing countries and regions and even different types of teas such as black, oolong, green and white.

Have you ever blended two or more loose leaf teas to create your own cuppa? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

Kavey Eats received tea samples courtesy of The Tea Board of Kenya.

 

Last month, I attended the launch of JING‘s Coonoor Estate Nilgiri Black tea, hosted by The Cinnamon Club.

I’d never heard of Nilgiri before so was curious to taste and learn more about this lesser-known Indian tea.

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David Hepburn, who introduced me to a range of Jing oolong and puerh teas a few months ago, told us about his April visit to Tamil Nadu in Southern India and the resulting addition to Jing’s product range.

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David Hepburn

Jing were looking for a producer creating a high-quality, loose, whole-leaf tea that expresses the best characteristics of Nilgiri tea – a rich fragrance and full body.

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image from Jing’s presentation

The Coonoor Estate is located in ‘The Nilgiris’, which literally translates to ‘Blue Mountains’, named for a local shrub that blossoms once every twelve years, covering the hillsides in purple-blue flowers. The region offers a perfect climate for tea growing, but perhaps its teas have been undervalued – Nilgiri teas have predominantly been used in blends and teabags.

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image from Jing’s presentation

The Coonoor Estate tea plants grow in a 46-acre organic-certified plantation at an elevation of 6,500 feet. Producer, Indi Khanna, has a wealth of experience and knowledge and manages a highly skilled team working in a state-of-the-art purpose-built factory. We see pictures; it looks amazing!

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The leaves of the resulting tea are exceptionally large and produce a wonderfully fragrant and rich-yet-light black tea with an appealing amber colour.

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David recommends brewing a generous tablespoon or so of the tea for between two and two and a half minutes, though says it can be brewed a little stronger if you prefer.

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The scent has hints of citrus; the taste is toffee rich. It’s delicious!

In the last couple of years, I’ve drunk far less black tea than I used to and far more oolong – I love it’s combination of freshness and richness and the merest hint of smokiness.

So it is genuinely quite a revelation to taste a black that so forcibly tempts me back to the world of black teas!
I figured I’d find it decent enough, but I really didn’t expect to fall in love with it.

Lucky me, then, that guests are sent off with goodie bags containing the Nilgiri Black as well as a fragrant Earl Grey. I can also pick up more for £7.00 a 50 gram pack.

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One of the tea-based cocktails served during the evening; it was delicious but I can’t remember what it was

Whilst the oolongs and puerhs I tried with David a few months ago didn’t make a strong impression, this Nilgiri Black is really rather special and one I’m very happy to recommend.

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