Monday, September 23, 2013

The Tea Spot: A wino at high tea!

Besides tea, wine is another one of my passions; I enjoy tasting and learning all about it. There are some similarities, particularly the terroir, between tea and wine. As well, both rely on processing and manufacturing methods where timing and temperature play a crucial role. On a more personal note, I've noticed I’m able to recognize general aromas and flavours with wine, such as berries, flowers, and fruit. However, with tea, I am able to get more specific and detect orchids, caramel, seaweed, spinach, even lovely barnyard aromas! I find it all very interesting. 

Yesterday, I participated in another group outing with This time we headed over to the beautiful area of Niagara-On-The-Lake and visited a couple of wineries followed by high tea. A perfect wine and tea combo!

Our first stop was Trius Winery, a place I had already been to previously, but is worth a second visit. They have an amazing cellar and their wines are great.

Wine Cellar

Wine Tasting

The next stop was Reif Estate Winery. The wine and cheesing pairing our group took part in was fantastic! I never would have thought that blue cheese would go so well with ice wine. Wow!

Reif Estate Winery

Reif Wines

Finally, after a leisurely stroll through the main strip of Niagara-On-The-Lake, we sat for high tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel. (They really need their own website!)  This was a very traditional high tea. Our menu included:

Finger Sandwiches
  • Egg Salad
  • Cheddar Cheese and Ham with Mango Chutney 
  • Cucumber and Goat Cheese Swirls
  • Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Spread 

Pastries and Dessert
  • Scones with Raisins
  • Clotted Cream, Strawberry Jam, Butter
  • Lemon Tart with Whipped Cream
  • Coconut and Raspberry Bar

High tea goodies!


This is just the way I like my high tea – more savory, less sweet! I removed the ham from my finger sandwiches and picked out the raisins in my scone. Hey! I have likes and dislikes just like everyone else! Otherwise, everything was delicious and very traditional.

Just desserts

We were offered pots of loose leaf (I asked if it was loose leaf or the bagged variety) tea that had already been steeped of Earl Grey, green, orange pekoe, and a decaf orange pekoe. In a future post, I will be going over exactly what orange pekoe is. It’s not what most people already think it is. I drank cups of the Earl Grey with a little honey. It was perfectly brewed – not bitter, no need for milk to cut away any astringency. A good cuppa to end off a long day!

Earl Grey tea

Pot of tea

A perfect Sunday outing and another great trip organized by Sash!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Teaology 101: Brewing basics for the beginner!

When brewing your tea, there are some things you should consider for optimal benefits. It’s not enough to just pour hot water over tea leaves and drinking it. Tea is an experience unlike coffee which is about getting a quick hit to get you through the next few hours! By making just a few minor adjustments, you can enhance a tea’s aroma and flavour.

What to consider:

Quantity of Tea: The amount of tea leaves you use will depend on the amount of water you use. The basic ratio should be 2 – 3 grams of tea for every 1 cup of water. I don’t recommend brewing up large pots of good, quality tea. Save your tea leaves for smaller teapots. Make several infusions with fresh water each time. Sit back, and enjoy a good book while you sip away!

Quantity of Water: As already stated, the amount of tea leaves will depend on the amount of water.

Water Source: Do you use tap water, mineral water, spring water, cold or hot water? Where your water comes from will impact the final results of your brew. From personal experience, I did notice a difference in taste between tap and several different types of bottled water. Do not to re-boil the water you use. This is dead water. Water should ideally be cold or room temperature.

Water Temperature: Use a kettle to boil your water. Bring it to a full boil, and allow it to cool down if required for the tea you plan to infuse. Use a thermometer if necessary. You do not want to be pouring piping hot water over precious white tea! This will make the taste bitter and the appearance dark.

Steep Time: How long you brew your tea will depend on the type of tea being infused. Brewing too long will make your tea strong and bitter. Not brewing long enough will make your tea weak and thin.

Infusions: The number of infusions you can make from a single batch of tea will depend on the tea type. Some greens can be infused up to 4 times before losing their flavour. Pu-erh may be brewed 15 times or more. Tea goes a long way. More bang for your buck! You may have to increase the steep time by a minute or two for each additional infusion. You may even have to do an initial rinse of your tea before beginning the infusion such as the case of pu-erh or oolong.

Other things you may want to consider include the vessel being used and brewing procedures. Should you use glass, metal, clay, or porcelain to infuse your tea in? I’ve been sticking with glass and will eventually experiment with other materials as I continue to educate myself. Some tea aficionados suggest you pour water over the tea, while others suggest placing tea into the water. Do what feels right for you. I’ve not detected anything better or worse using either method, but of course, I am not a tea master!

Below is a quick chart that can be used for guidance when brewing your tea. I have a similar card-sized copy in my wallet. What do you have in your wallet? 

This chart is from a couple of sources with a few modifications I made as a suggestion from my own experience. There is not hard and fast rule really. When you purchase tea, read the brewing instructions on the package or talk to the tea seller. Also, it depends on what tea you are brewing. Is it Japanese Sencha or Chinese Longjing? Indian Darjeeling or Assam? I did quite a bit of research on what other bloggers and tea supplier sites were suggesting…I noticed some differences in steep time, water temperature, and the number of infusions, but there was nothing extreme. 

In the end it’s your own taste buds that will determine how you plan to prepare your tea. I prefer a stronger black tea and will therefore steep it for a much longer duration. I like my green tea mellow and so will brew it for a shorter length of time and at a lower temperature. Change up all your options and see what works for you. What you want to achieve is the best tea experience for yourself. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Teaology 101: How do you make tea?

Time to get into the nitty gritty stuff!  This post is all about how tea is made.  All teas are processed the same way but with some modifications depending on the tea being produced. Some teas are processed for a certain length of time.  Others may repeat steps. Still others may skip steps entirely.  There may even be some completely new steps added such is the case for Matcha.

There are two methods involved in tea production: Orthodox and Unorthodox.  Orthodox involves using the whole leaf that is carefully shaped keeping its integrity.  When re-hydrated, the rolled tea leaves unfurl revealing themselves whole once again. Unorthodox process involves feeding the tea leaves through a machine and pulverizing them into small particles called fannings which are used for tea bags. 

Tea-processing steps:

Plucking: Fresh leaves are either hand-picked or mechanically-picked. The parts that are picked can include the bud, leaves, and even stems. 

Sorting/Weighing: Leaves are sorted according to size, broken leaves, whole leaves, stems, and weighed.  This procedure may occur again near the end of a processing cycle by either hand or machine.

Withering/Wilting: Tea leaves are spread on flat bamboo trays allowing them to wilt in order to reduce the moisture content.  Wilting can take place outside under the sun or indoors and perhaps even a combination of both.  Withering allows the leaves to become soft and pliable.

Shaking: The leaves may be tossed on the trays or through a machine causing the leaves to bruise, releasing their juices, and breaking their cell walls allowing for oxidation to occur. 

Oxidation: This is a process where the leaves react to the oxygen causing chemical changes that result in the teas unique aroma, flavour, and colour. 

Fermentation: This is similar to oxidation but involves microbial activity occurring in the absence of oxygen.  Think of it like composting.  Pu-erh is a perfect example of a tea that goes through a process of oxidation and fermentation.

Steaming: Some teas are steamed.  Steaming applies light heat to the leaves to help halt the oxidation.  This provides very distinct aroma, flavour, and colour to certain teas.  Some green teas are noted for their grassy scents as a result of steaming.

Rolling: The soft leaves are rolled either by hand or machine to give each tea their unique shape.  Some leaves are made into round pellets, whiles others are folded into long strips or needles.  The leaves may crack causing further oxidation and the release of essential oils. This results in additional flavour and aroma development.

Shredding: For unorthodox teas, the leaves are fed through a machine and pulverized into small particles.  These are called CTC (crush-tear-curl) teas.

Firing: In order to preserve the composition and remove any remaining moisture, heat is applied to the tea leaves.  This can be done by roasting, baking, or pan-frying the leaves.

Flavouring: Some teas may be flavoured during the final firing stage. Jasmine, rose petals, mint or other ingredients are added to the tea leaves to create their flavour profile. 

Quality Assurance: The tea undergoes a taste test, evaluation, and grading.

Packing/Shipping: The final product is packed and shipped ready for the market.

Remember, not every tea will go through all these steps.  White teas, which are very delicate, are just allowed to wilt.  Oolongs are semi-oxidized while black teas are fully-oxidized in order to provide a richer flavour and darker colour.  Pu-erh goes through a very interesting aging process.  Matcha is another special case in that the leaves are grind into a fine green power after the final drying.  You literally consume the whole leaf. 

From freshly picked tea leaves all the way to your cup!  I’ll get into more detailed process methods that apply for the type of tea when I start discussing them individually.