Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan

Archive for May, 2009

Weather Or Not

May 26, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

It’s lovely and sunny today, and June is nearly here, but it’s actually quite chilly in my house. The temperature outside has only reached 53 on this sunny afternoon, and in here it’s about the same as it is all winter–66 degrees.

I spend a lot on tea when compared to your average person, though probably not compared to your average tea snob, perhaps $200 a year? (And that’s not counting all the tea I get as gifts.) But tea costs very little when compared to the price of heating the house.

Two winters ago I reduced the temperature on my thermostats from 68 to 66 and decided to drink more hot tea instead. The result was not only my steady tea routine, but a drop in our gas bill that winter of $800. (And the price of gas had gone up, so the usage might have dropped more than indicated by price alone!) Given that I have to run a gas stove to heat the water, that was a very pleasing sum to see. (And also one of the reasons I feel absolutely no guilt about buying as much tea as I like.)

I’m keeping warm on this not-yet-summer day with a sturdy roasted bancha from Holy Mountain. The have it labeled Houjicha (roasted bancha tea). “This tea drink is a bancha that is lightly roasted, which gives it a nutty flavor. Not at all a connoisseur tea, but a fun everyday drink that goes well with Japanese foods,” reads the web site. “Its liquor is a tawny brownish color with a smoky taste.”

I just picked this one up to see if I like it better than the various Sow Mee White Tea cans and batches I’ve ordered from various places, and since used up. As it turns out, I like it about the same. Sow Mee would be slightly sweeter in the cup, but the effect is similar as far as a roasted flavor is concerned.

Actually, I will have to brew this again later, in a porcelain or glass pot, to be sure of what it tastes like. This batch I made in a yixing clay pot, which always imparts a little of the flavor of the clay to the tea. The clay has a slightly chocolate-y taste, on that same axis with the roasted teas and the oxidized oolongs.

In fact, it’s time for me to brew another pot now. It’s still chilly and I’m drinking it fairly quickly to keep warm!

A Rose by Any Other Name

May 19, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

I wrote yesterday about the rose black I bought this weekend at the Ten Ren tea shop in Chinatown NYC. When I arrived home, I found my latest order from Holy Mountain Trading Co. had arrived, too!

Yesterday evening I tried the Dragonfruit and Roses Green, while today I am drinking the Strawberry & Rose Melange Green Tea.

Chinatown, Dollars and Scents

May 18, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

Sunday found me in New York’s Chinatown, where I stopped before heading home after a weekend in the city for both business and pleasure.

This is the Chinatown of my youth, a place my family almost always went when we were in the city for any reason. (That is, after we’d moved to New Jersey from Manhattan when I was around five.) If we had out-of-town guests or family, and had spent the afternoon sightseeing, we would finish the day with dinner in the basement dining room of the Hunan House on Mott Street, or in later years the upstairs eatery of Say Eng Look (“Four Five Six”).

One night we brought my uncle, who was doing post-doctoral work in marine biology at U. of Southern Mississippi, and some of his researcher/grad school friends there, when they were on a road trip from USM to Wood’s Hole in Massachusetts. One of the guys on the trip was from Singapore, and when the waiter brought the hot steamed towels before the meal for our hands, he pushed it into his face and nearly cried. (more…)

Today’s Tea: Big Red Robe

May 13, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

Today I brewed some Big Red Robe for myself. I had already had some bottled tea with my lunch, at a Middle Eastern shop near my house called Wrap-Pro. Very delicious shwarma, baba ghanooj, and falafel at this place which is on Mass. Ave. between Porter Square and Harvard Square. (In Cambridge, Massachusetts, for those of you for whom those landmarks mean nothing.)

I deigned to drink a Lipton bottled tea product which had the word “natural” repeated all over it on the label, which told me it was supposed to be Green Tea with Honey flavor, “Natural Flavoring with Other Natural Flavorings.” (No, I have no idea what exactly that last was referring to, only that it was printed on the bottle.) The overwhelming flavor, natural or not, wasn’t of tea, but of honey. That was actually all right, since it was a very pleasant honey flavor, and honey goes very nicely with middle eastern food.

But as a result I didn’t deem myself to have had TEA yet. On returning home to sit down to write for the afternoon, I brewed up a nice hot pot of Big Red Robe or Da Hung Pao. (more…)

Today’s tea: Something English!

May 12, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

Maybe it was STAR TREK that started the Earl Grey craze? Or maybe it was always so popular and I just never noticed it until Captain Jean-Luc Picard started requesting it from the ship’s replicators all the time.

But as I have learned, like with most teas, not all Earl Grey’s are created equal. If you’re in the mood for it, you can nearly always get it in the tea bag selection at restaurants and from hotel room service, so it is reliable in that way. And it is a good one for covering up the lingering taste of coffee if your only source of hot water is a coffee maker. But what a fine light flavor it can have when only lightly steeped (two minutes) and served without milk! That is, if it is a good Earl Grey.

Today’s tea: citron oolong

May 11, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

Today I am drinking Rishi brand’s Citron Oolong. I originally bought this tea because I liked the Rishi Orange Blossom blend, but couldn’t find that in the store, so bought this instead.

My first impression of this tea was that it was as lemony as Lemon Pledge. Which is to say, too strong. But now that I am reaching the end of the can, where all the little specks and bits of things are, it tastes fine. This makes me think I might have liked it better all along if it had been run through the spice grinder once quickly before steeping…?

Not only that, I am now on my third steeping of this basket of leaves, and it’s still quite delicious. Maybe I’m just in a more citrus-y mood than I was in all winter, but I think I’ll have to give this tea another try… but mix it better first. Or just go back to the Orange Blossom.

I’ve also really enjoyed their sencha yuzu, which is very expensive, but very very nice if you like yuzu. If you hate the taste of grapefruit, you might want to avoid yuzu flavored things.

UPDATE: Fourth steeping was still quite delicious! I could easily get a fifth out of it that would be a pleasure to drink. I’ll clearly be digging to the bottom of this can the next time I buy it.

On the back burner…

May 10, 2009 By: ctan Category: News & Notes

Look for the following new teas to be reviewed soon. Because I went nuts with my latest order to Holy Mountain Trading Co. They offer free shipping with any order over $50, and sample sizes, so how could I resist?

Chè Sen (Lotus Tea)
Decaffeinated Japanese Sencha
Dragon Eyes Black
Dragonfruit & Roses Green Tea
Flowery Oolong
Herbal Chai (Rooibos)
Honey Lemon Sunburst Green Tea
Houjicha (Roasted Bancha Tea)
Jo Genmai Cha (Excellent Grade Genmai)
Lapsang Souchong (Zengshan Xiaozhong)
Madame Butterfly Green Tea
Magnolia Oolong
Milk Fragrance “Jian Xuan”
Oolong Choice

Heart’s Delight

May 09, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings

We indulged ourselves in one of my favorite weekend “brunch” traditions, which was going to Chinatown for dim sum.

We arrived at the restaurant at noon and I was surprised to find how uncrowded it was. Oh, there was a lively business going on at the dim sum palace known as Chau Chow City, but nothing like what it was like ten years ago, when you had to fight to get in on a weekend day between 10am and 1pm. I don’t know if it’s the economy affecting the crowds or just the tradition of family dim sum for Asian-American families is waning? Several of the Asian markets have closed because fewer and fewer families make the special trip to Chinatown to do their shopping. On the other hand, the huge Asian markets like Super 88 that are located in the suburbs where the vast majority of the Chinese population have moved to are also downsizing. So, I don’t know.

You wouldn’t think the economy would keep people away from dim sum, which is one of the least expensive gourmet meals one can buy. Six of us went this morning, and we were overstuffed at the price of $12 each, and that with leaving a generous tip. $12 each got us approximately 15 different dishes? Let’s see if I can remember:

Today’s tea: “jian xuan” milk oolong

May 08, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

Milk oolong was the first tea I drink regularly that I noticed is best when it is a little cooler. Some teas I like to sip when they can practically scald my tongue, but the sweet creaminess of milk oolong comes out when it has cooled in the cup just a little. Upon discovering this fact, I started trying to taste all my “grassy” oolongs that way, and have gained a whole new sense of enjoyment of them.

Today’s tea is a “jian xuan” milk oolong from Holy Mountain Trading Company. It is fragrant in the cup and sweet on the tongue, but this particular batch of it is not as good as the previous year’s. The milk scent/flavor does not survive to the second steeping very well. But milk oolong is as variable as fine wine, and just like wine is dependent on the weather. Although there are some “milk” oolongs that are actually infused with milk or milk flavor, the classic milk oolong is achieved only through a trick of the weather, (more…)

The mellowness of vanilla

May 07, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

The majority of the vanilla teas I have had are black teas. Both in canned varieties from the Chinatown grocery stores (usually in an oval pink can) and the gourmet flavored teas (like the Mighty Leaf Orange Dulce seem to always mix vanilla with black.

Indeed, one of my favorite recent acquisitions is a black vanilla jasmine from Tealuxe. A friend gave it to me in a sampler pack for my birthday, and not only is the idea of black jasmine a revelation, but the mixture of vanilla with the jasmine makes one of the most incredibly mellow cups ever. Jasmine can sometimes be sharp or the perfume can turn bitter, but not when vanilla is rounding everything out like a white puffy cloud in a blue sky. (more…)