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.

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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.

 

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.

 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)

Adagio-3854 Adagio-3857

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.

EastIndiaCompany-4103 EastIndiaCompany-4095

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)

EastIndiaCompany-4098 EastIndiaCompany-4099

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

NatureTeas-1112

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)

NatureTeas-1138

 

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.

MomoCha-4068

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.

MomoCha-4075 MomoCha-4078

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)

MomoCha-4084

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)

SteenbergTea-2

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
SteenbergTea-3 SteenbergTea-4

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. #

Tregothnan-3755 Tregothnan-3756

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.

WaterlooTea-4114

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

WaterlooTea-4118 WaterlooTea-4127

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.

KenyaTeaBlending-0063

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).

KenyaTeaBlending-0065 KenyaTeaBlending-0069

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.

KenyaTeaBlending-0078

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.

KenyaTeaBlending-0080

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.

KenyaTeaBlending-0083

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.

Jing Nilgiri 1
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.

Jing Nilgiri 2
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!

Nilgiri_Black_New

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.

Jing-3544

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.

Jing-3535
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.

Apr 232010
 

Lahloo Tea is forever twinned in my mind with a quilted lady with chicken legs between her thighs.

No, Lahloo haven’t launched a (bizarre and raunchy) marketing campaign – I’m talking about the surreal and funky window displays at Liberty, where I met Kate Gover, founder of Lahloo, for a tea tasting, along with a handful of other tea lovers. Always paranoid about being late, I arrived before Liberty opened and the collection of strange tableaux kept me entertained until I the doors opened!

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arriving and wandering around

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those window displays!

Lahloo Tea is part of the wonderful tea revolution that’s finally gathering momentum in the UK. As someone absolutely devoted to tea (but a bit meh about coffee) the proliferation of high quality tea suppliers is good news all the way.

So what’s the Lahloo story?

As a child, Kate was convinced she hated tea. Her Yorkshire grandmother made real tea strongly brewed and milky and Kate wasn’t a fan.

And yet, she had a historical connection to tea through her great-great grandfather who worked aboard one of the many tea clippers plying the seas during the 19th century.

Kate didn’t discover that there is more to tea than her grandmother’s cuppa until she was all grown up. After discovering she liked good coffee (and focusing pretty single-mindedly on learning and experience more) she started to think about whether there might also be more to tea than she knew of it. She says, “if I don’t like something I like to try and find out why I don’t like it.”

Her first positive experience with tea was with a Japanese green tea. In her own words, this very intense gyokoro tea “opened my eyes and blew me away!” After that it didn’t take long for a fixation to develop – “an obsession with finding tea that made me want to drink it”.

Her inquisitive nature saw her embarking on a sensory journey that soon saw her travelling regularly to Paris (a hub of the serious tea trade) and further afield just to find great tea and her newly found enthusiasm meant she couldn’t resist introducing others to the riches she had found.

From there it was just a small step to establishing her own business, less than two years ago.

And why Lahloo? Because it was the name of an iconic 19th century tea clipper – the very same one her great-great grandfather sailed aboard and which brought high quality teas back to an appreciative and excited customer base, just as Kate aims to do today.

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the tea tasting begins

Once all four tasters are assembled the tasting begins. The session is a wonderful mix of chatting about our love for tea and, of course, tasting Lahloo Teas while Kate talks us through them, teaches us all kinds of interesting tea facts and tells us about how she came to start the business (see above).

Snow Jewel

A translation of the Chinese name for this white tea, Snow Jewels is a subtle brew. Only the tiniest buds are picked from wild tea plants making it essentially a silver needle tea. Such spring bud teas have a very very brief window for picking, just as the buds shoot through. The window lasts just a couple of weeks, and the buds need to be picked within a day of two of emerging. As it’s a white tea, there’s no processing – the leaves are simply left to wither in the sun for just a couple of days.

Kate recommends brewing this tea in water that’s at about 80 degrees, for about 3 minutes. (Handily, her advice for optimum water temperatures and brewing time is provided with each tea). Smelling the leaves before infusion, I can detect a distinct peachy aroma but it doesn’t carry through to the tasting for me, until the second infusion, when suddenly, that peachy fruitiness comes through to the palate.

It’s always worth remembering that, whilst good quality teas seem expensive on first glance, they can be re-infused several times over the period of a day, making the price per cuppa much more reasonable.

I can understand exactly why some people love the delicate, refreshing nature of this tea, however, for my palate, it’s simply too light and subtle. As white teas can be infused for longer, up to 10 minutes without becoming too strong or acrid, I’m going to see if the flavours come through more for me with a longer brewing time, though I’ll need to balance that with the tea being too cold by the time it’s ready.

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Mr Aoki’s

Tea farmer Mr Aoki and his son produce this energising green tea on a small farm in Kyushu, Japan. The tea plants are surrounded by mikan (small satsuma) trees; the soil enriched by a natural, organic fertiliser. Although Mr Aoki steams his green tea (Japanese style) rather than pan frying it (in the Chinese way) he diverges from Japanese sencha by retaining the whole leaf, veins and all.

The first taste, as one sips, is a vividly grassy and mildly acidic flavour; the quintessential characteristic of green tea, in my mind. But the aftertaste, that builds upon the tongue after the tea has been swallowed, is a completely unexpected and surprisingly robust taste of mango – really fruity, wonderful mango! This is new to me, in green tea, and very welcome indeed.

Smelling the leaves, a few minutes after the tea has been poured, gives something else yet again – an intensely meaty, deep umami odour. I’m not disappointed that this doesn’t come through in the taste, I have to admit!

This tea gives a caffeine kick that can be very welcome to combat that flagging feeling during the day. If you prefer less caffeine, discard the first infusion, which should absorb much of the caffeine from the leaves.

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Orchid Oolong

This beautifully aromatic, honey-coloured mi lan xiang oolong tea is from Phoenix Mountain in China’s Guandong province. Oolongs range from lightly oxidised, like green tea, to more heavily so, like black. This one is in the middle and has a complex, mildly smoky flavour that I absolutely adore.

This is one I have been enjoying for a while and remains my favourite of the Lahloo Teas I’ve tried.

For a more lightly oxidised oolong, try Amber, a tie guan yin oolong from Nantou county in Taiwan.


Darjeeling Second Flush

This tea has won best Darjeeling in the World Tea Championship for three years in a row; no mean feat in such a competitive industry. Made in the Himalayas this beautiful tea delivers the complex, full flavours of black tea with a subtlety and delicacy many blacks lack.

it’s a perfect choice for those who’d like a top quality traditional afternoon tea.

Sobacha

Soba means buckwheat and cha means tea. This isn’t a real tea but an infusion of roasted buckwheat nibs from the Japanese mountains. It originated as a peasant tea during a time when real tea was the preserve of emperors only.

Fiona Beckett describes sobacha as “a bacon sandwich in a cup” and that’s the perfect label for this oddly umami cereal water!

I don’t care for it at all, but others at the tasting are much keener.

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Cake

During the tasting we’re treated to fruit loaf and lemon loaf cakes. The lemon was good but, oh my, oh my, the fruit loaf was incredibly good! I really can’t put into words just how good it was. It was soft, moist, dense… the crust was crunchy… it had a light but rich flavour that wasn’t too sweet. Really, really, really good!

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All to soon, our lovely tea tasting comes to an end. A lovely few hours indeed.

Thanks Kate!

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Lahloo Tea @ Liberty’s ground floor cafe

 

I love cheese. And I love tea.

I’d go as far as saying they are very strong contenders indeed for the title of Kavey’s Favourite Food and Kavey’s Favourite Drink, especially if you take into account frequency of ingestion! (Of course – chocolate, mangoes, lamb and sweet liqueurs are in the running too)

I first heard of Henrietta Lovell’s (the lady behind the Rare Tea Co.) occasional cheese and tea tasting events last year. But each time a date and place was announced, I couldn’t make it, much to my disappointment. When, she tweeted about such a tasting to be held at Le Cave A Fromage in South Kensington, I booked a ticket immediately.


Hosted in the shop one cold January Thursday evening, we were talked through four pairings by Henrietta and Todd Bridge (Le Cave’s fromagier and GM).

At each place setting was a slate with cheeses and smoked meat, and a wine glass ready for the tea.

The pairings we tasted were:-

Whole Leaf China White + Comté Reserve
Whole Leaf Chinese Green + Montgomery’s Cheddar
Oolong + Clacbitou
Wild Rooibos + Smoked Venison

The Comté was a wonderfully rich 2 year old. The way maturation creates those lovely little salt crystals and nutty flavour makes this one of my favourite cheeses and there’s often some to be found in our fridge.

The Whole Leaf China White is a fresh, subtle tea. Henrietta told us about it’s place of origin in Fuding village, in the Fujian Mountains. Mr Che uses only first picking leaves, harvested during a very short season indeed, to ensure such high quality.

It’s a very refreshing tea but in truth, I felt it was overwhelmed by the sheer strength of flavour of the Comté. The cheese did, as Henrietta advised, bring out a more musty scent within the tea but I’m not sure it really complemented it.

Montgomery’s Cheddar is another cheese that I’ve purchased, though not nearly as often as the Comté. It’s a rich, buttery, cheddar, matured for 18 months and very fine indeed. Todd says, of this cheese: “When you taste it you taste the stone, the earth – the taste tells you where it has come from.”

The Whole Leaf Chinese Green is a wok fired green tea made from the second pickings from the same tea bushes as the China White. And as there is no electricity on the farm, everything is done by hand using age-old traditional methods. In this case, the tea is wok fired over charcoal. As with many green teas, there’s an underlying grassy flavour, though it’s much softer and more gentle than in some green teas.

Tasting the cheese and tea together softens the grassy nature of the tea further and also takes the edge of that tannin punch in the cheese.

Clacbitou is a rich, goats milk cheese from the Charolais area of Bourgogne. So called because it’s somewhat dry texture and sharp taste makes one suck one’s mouth to enduce the saliva glands, resulting in a kind of clacking sound!

The Oolong is one of my favourite Rare Tea offerings; known as Goddess of Mercy tea. It’s mellow golden colour echoes it’s rounded flavour and aromatic nature. And each brewing of the same leaves brings out different notes. In China, the saying goes that one gives the first infusion to one’s enemies, the second infusion to one’s (beloved) wife and the third one can keep for oneself!

Whilst the Clacbitou is not my favourite cheese of the night individually (though I certainly like it) I think this may be the most successful pairing. The lightly fermented taste of the tea seems to bring out a creaminess that’s not evident in the cheese when eaten on it’s own. And of course, the liquid itself adds moistness, which in itself makes the cheese seem richer.

With the last tea, we taste smoked venison rather than cheese.

But then again, Rooibos isn’t really a tea (camellia sinensis) at all. This “tea” from South Africa has become quite popular in the UK in recent years, and is known both by it’s original language name and the English translation to “red bush”. But what is usually available (both in South Africa and here in the UK) is a pale imitation of the real deal. And that’s because aspalathus linearis (which is actually a legume) thrives in the wilderness in the mountains of the Cedarburg. Commercial farmers aren’t so keen on farming up the sides of mountains so they’ve transplanted the bush to wide flat farmlands. What we call rooibos tea is actually an infusion of the oxidised leaves from this plant.

The slightly spicy, nutty flavour of rooibos is not usually to my taste, but I was willing to try, given Henrietta’s comments about how much better her properly wild supply is compared to the usual stuff. Unfortunately, I can see it’s the actual flavour of rooibos I dislike, high quality or otherwise. What I did appreciate was the conservation stance of the producer Henrietta had only just returned from visiting. He has created a wildlife conservation area to protect the biodiversity of the area and that ecosystem naturally includes rooibos.

Todd explained how they’d struggled to find a really good cheese match for the rooibos. So, given that the tea comes from a truly wild area – where there is little but “leopard poo, bush men, dirt, bucks and mountains” they figured it might work well with something from a similarly wild corner of Italy. The smoked venison was delicious. Lightly smoked and much more moist than many dried meats

In truth, whilst I enjoyed the evening very much (not least for the lovely company and entertaining hosts) I was not convinced about the pairings. I adore Henrietta’s teas but they are so delicate that their complex aromas and flavours are somewhat lost against the wonderful smack-in-the-gob impact of the cheeses.

I’d also say that, for 3 cheeses, a mouthful of smoked venison and 4 teas (even cheeses and teas as fine as these) that £25 per head seemed very expensive to me, though as they sold out, it’s perhaps simply a case of supply and demand.

 

Anyone who reads my blog even in passing will have worked out that I love tea and I love chocolate. So when I was approached a couple of months ago about a soon-to-launch new chocolate business combining the two, I was pretty excited!

The suggestion was that she send some chocolates out to me, ahead of the launch of the business, for me to review.

Whilst a review of the chocolates is all well and good and rather dandy actually (and is provided below) I was really interested in finding out more about the budding project, how it came to be born, and about the person behind it so I suggested we meet up for tea and cakes in London and a chat!

Maison Bertaux, thank you for providing a lovely environment for our meeting!

I warmed to American, Katie Christoffers, from her first email (and found her charming in person too). Why? Because her comments made it clear she was a genuine reader of my blog and had taken the time to write a personalised email that referred to my interests and spoke to me directly. (You might not realise how rare that is!)

I was also delighted to find out that she’d taken much of her original inspiration from the creative use of matcha by food bloggers – it’s not something I’ve blogged about personally but it is something I’ve also picked up on in the many blogs I read avidly myself and I agree with Katie that it seems to be almost unique to the world of food blogging – you do see matcha now and again on the occasional restaurant menu but it’s frequent use in baking and confectionaries is far more prevalent in the blogosphere! Katie is a genuine food blog lover and is almost as excited about launching her own blog as the business itself!

You might be surprised to learn that Katie isn’t a chocolatier by training. In fact she has a background in in neuroscience and biochemistry research – you can imagine how helpful the demanding exactitude those fields require has assisted her in the perfecting of her chocolates! Quite a change though, isn’t it?!

She has invested a lot of time and effort in developing her range, creating a brand (and the beautiful associated packaging) and preparing for the launch. It’s quite inspiring to learn that all this has been done out of her home rather than any specialist chocolate-making studio or factory.

The collection she sent me to review, before our face-to-face meeting, is called The Emperor’s Selection. As you can see, Katie has expanded on the initial matcha inspiration to combine chocolate with a much wider range of teas as well as flavourings with which tea is commonly imbued, such as chai spices.

The chocolates arrived beautifully wrapped and packaged. Whilst it’s ultimately the contents that are important, I can’t help but take pleasure from beautiful packaging and the bright, funky colours and patterns were appealing.

So, to the chocolates!

Uji Matcha
“A milk chocolate enrobed square of dark chocolate ganache with an infusion of Uji Matcha green tea- grown in the Uji region of Kyoto, Japan”

Given the name of the business and the role of matcha as the original inspiration, I was surprised that the flavour of matcha didn’t come through more strongly. It was pleasant, but subtle. I’d say a little too subtle for my preferences and I’d like to taste more of a matcha kick.

Midnight Peony
“Milk chocolate ganache with black tea liqueur- slightly smoky and reminiscent of Chinese Lapsang tea. Enrobed in a dark chocolate dome.”

The crack of the gorgeous dark chocolate robe gave way to a lovely smooth and smokey ganache. The smokiness provided an intriguing and complex flavour which I found really unusual. Very nice indeed!

Jasmine Silver Needles
“A white chocolate dome of white chocolate ganache infused with Jasmine tea- one of the most well known Chinese teas.”

To my shock, as someone who is absolutely not a fan of white chocolate (and that’s an understatement!), I absolutely adored this chocolate. Infact, it was my favourite in the box! And yet I had been reluctant to even try it! The chocolate itself is superbly smooth and so creamy as it melts in the mouth. The jasmine, a favourite scent and flavour of mine, comes through loud and clear and is an absolutely perfect partner for the white chocolate. Who would have guessed? Not me but I could happily eat an entire box just of these!

Blackcurrant Bliss
“An all milk chocolate demi-dome infused with a blend of scented blackcurrant tea and an Assam tea. Complimented by blackcurrant puree and topped with a dried blackcurrant.”

This was another subtle one, though the blackcurrant taste was certainly there. I liked it but it would probably be more popular with those who are bigger fans of this fruit; then again they may want a stronger blackcurrant kick.

Masala Chai
“Milk chocolate ganache infused with Chai tea- a traditional blend of black tea infused with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, cloves and aniseed. Enrobed in a dark chocolate dome and topped with a piece of crystallised ginger.”

I can see why this chocolate is the centre piece of all three of Katie’s chocolate collections. I really liked the combination of good quality dark chocolate wtih the spicy ganache and chewy ginger.

Infact, I’d like to suggest that Katie expands her product line to offer a Masala Chai Hot Chocolate, which would surely go down well? What do you think – let me and Katie know in the comments, below!

Katie predominantly uses Valrhona chocolate, not only for it’s high quality but also for it’s policy of sustainable development and social responsibility – she even has her own green policy available for inspection on her website. She particularly likes the way the light roasting style Valrhona employ brings out fruity, floral and herbal flavours in the chocolate which enhances her tea-based fillings. (Higher roasting temperatures tend to result in a stronger, more savoury cocoa flavour). For her white chocolates, Katie is using organic Fairtrade white chocolate from Belcolade, which she likes for it’s citrus and vanilla flavours.

As you might guess, she takes a great deal of care when sourcing her teas too!

In her fillings Katie sticks to organic cream and butter (not vegetable oils), fresh herbs and fresh fruit purees. As she does not add any artificial preservatives the chocolates have a two week life shelflife, though I’ll be impressed if you manage to make them last that long!

Katie will initially be selling her chocolates online via her new Matcha Chocolat website where you can buy the chocolates I reviewed above*.

You can also buy her Chocolate Parasols – solid chocolate disks featuring common tea flavourings such as bergamot (utterly, addictively delicious) and kashmiri chai (cardamom, almond, cinammon and nutmeg). These are seriously, seriously good and I’m rationing myself to make them last as long as I can!

*The Emperor’s Selection is available until the end of May. In June and August Katie will be offering The Jade Selection (Sencha, Liquid Jade, China Rose, Strawberry Summer and Masala Chai). From September you can purchase The Lotus Selection (Genmaicha, April Snow, Secret Garden, Keemun Mango, Masala Chai).

Competition
Katie has kindly offered a box of four giant tea chocolates to one of my lucky readers! To enter, just leave a comment telling us about your favourite chocolate recipe or idea for combining chocolate with another ingredient. (If you leave more than one comment, I’ll take your first one as your entry). The competition closes on the 21st March 2010 (midnight GMT) and I’ll announce the winner shortly afterwards. (Open to UK mainland residents only).

Nov 282009
 

I am an avowed teaphile. In a nation that’s taken more and more to the allure of the coffee shop over the last decade or two, I’m delighted and excited by the rise of tea specialists and what I’m calling (in a rather linguistically challenged way) teafés.

So I thought I’d share some of great tea suppliers with you, by highlighting those products from each that I think would make fabulous gifts for those tea lovers in your lives. Or for yourselves!

First up are Jing Tea. I confess, I haven’t yet tried their teas, though they’re on my list to try soon, but with such a large selection in the cupboard, Pete is “encouraging” me to reduce my stock before adding to it any further. (And I have to concede, he may have a point!) But I absolutely love their double walled tea cups and mugs and they’re firmly on my own Christmas wishlist.

From the modern to the traditional with Lahloo Tea‘s beautiful tea infusers. My favourite is the Six Cranes design, above. Combine one of these with a selection of their teas for a gift pack that whispers peace and relaxation.

The Rare Tea Company, who I’ve mentioned before on Kavey Eats, also has a range of pretty teaware, with both modern glass and dainty porcelain items. But it’s Henrietta’s teas I can’t get enough of. I love her Jasmine Silver Tip Tea, made by steaming fine silvery-white tips of tea with fresh jasmine flowers, and her Emperor’s Breakfast black China tea is pretty marvellous too, as are her delicate Oolong Tea and her refreshing Green Leaf Tea.

You may recall me mentioning Teapigs before too, and not just for the cute name! Self-confessed tea evangelists, their mission is to bring really fine quality tea to everyone, even those who are new to or nervous about loose leaf tea. They have a great range of teas (both loose and in specially designed tea bags) including some novel ones such as chocolate flake tea and spiced winter red tea.

Tiny Teas is another tea specialist I’ve recently come across but haven’t yet tried myself. However, I’m intrigued by the idea of their apple crumble tea which is described as a mix of green and oolong tea with the flavour of apples, cinnamon and marzipan.

And I’m saving a real treat for last. I have posted before about my serendipitous friendship with Pei Wang from Teanamu. Pei has established his own tea business with a somewhat different slant to those above. Although he does indeed sell very fine quality tea and hand-selected teawares (I can personally recommend the phoenix eye jasmine and the lychee black and isn’t the petite elegance black pot adorable?) he also runs the most amazing tea appreciation sessions and tea cookery workshops. I’ve attended both of these myself and cannot recommend them highly enough for any tea lovers out there. I’m planning to purchase some teanamu magic for one of my nearest and dearest this Christmas.

Here are some photos taken at Teanamu’s tea appreciation ceremony (from a couple of months ago) and the tea cookery workshop, that I attended more recently:




Teanamu cookery workshop
Teanamu Tea Appreciation


Teanamu Oolong madeleines

I hope you find some tea inspiration in this selection and perhaps the perfect tea gifts to treat either yourself, or your friends and family, this Christmas. Enjoy!

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