Thursday, December 31, 2015

The last cup!

Here we are again! Another year coming to a close. A little too quickly methinks! My 2015 didn’t start off on a good note. However, like tea leaves slowly unfolding themselves in water and creating something better and different with each infusion, so too did my year.

I did some cool things over the year. I read 28 books, most of which we great, a few not so much. I got re-acquainted with some old hobbies and began working on building new skills. I’ve gone to some amazing tea events, from which I enjoyed consuming a variety of teas, learned some new things about each tea, and met some great people. Along the way, I acquired so much tea I could easily setup my very own mini-mart!

My plan for 2016 is to progress on the new path my life is currently on. Doubt and second-guessing everything still runs through my mind at times, but, I’m trying my best to be my true, authentic self. So, hopefully I’ll unlock the right doors and make a good entrance each time. I’ve got a few goals I want to focus on and accomplish this time around too. I’m glad about this especially as I didn’t really have any goals from the previous two years and just allowed things to go in any direction.

Just a few more hours remaining now for 2015. Hope everyone has a great 2016! I’m off to make another pot of tea! Cheers!



Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tea Readings: All for the love of tea!

This is a lovely poem I came across a while back. Strange that something as normal as the simple act of making tea for a loved one can be expressed so beautifully. Enjoy!


Tea

I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.


~ Carol Ann Duffy, Rapture



Sunday, December 20, 2015

Chai Wares: Obi Gaiwan Kenobi!

The Toronto tea tasting troopers were out in full force to yet another event held at Infuse Café. The purpose of this session was to sip some oolongs with the aid of a gaiwan. A gaiwan is a set of Chinese dishes specifically made to prepare teas in small quantities. It is especially good for oolongs which may be infused many times over. 

A gaiwan set.

The basic gaiwan set comes in 3 pieces:

Gai = Lid
Wan = Bowl
Die = Saucer

We sampled a selection of 4 different oolongs:
  1. Tieguanyin or Iron Goddess of Mercy
  2. Alishan
  3. Ruby River, a tea by Rishi Tea
  4. Dong Ding

Add some tea leaves.


Allow to infuse.

These oolongs were all made in two very different ways. The first, using a gaiwan. The second, using the BKON method. The BKON brews were really good! Much like the white teas we enjoyed last month, I do believe that the more delicate teas really work well with the BKON. The gaiwan infusions were wonderful, of course! Cannot mess with tradition.

A perfect cup!

So how do you use a gaiwan? There are no tricks. All you need is a steady hand and some confidenc
e. “Your focus determines your reality”. Here are some simple steps to use as a guideline:

1.   Have some boiled water ready and available in a teapot or pitcher.

2.   Rinse the gaiwan with the hot water to make it warm. Discard this water.

3.   Place your tea leaves in the gaiwan. About 2 teaspoons should be enough.

4.   Pour some water over the leaves and cover the bowl with the lid.

5.   Depending on the tea used, allow the appropriate time for the infusion process.

6.   When the tea is ready, position the lid askew to the bowl, hold your thumb on the lid, and a couple of fingers on the underside of the bowl, hold the vessel upside down, and pour the liquor into a pitcher.

7.   Pour infused tea from the pitcher into your cup for consumption.

8.   Repeat the process for multiple infusions. Step 2 may be skipped at this point.

I know what some of you may be thinking: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”. Don’t worry! “Do. Or do not. There is no try”. SO DO! You will have an awesome tea drinking experience. Not only will you be enjoying your teas that taste different with each infusion, but you’ll witness the slow unfurling of the tea leaves as they expand within the tiny gaiwan. Trust me. These oolongs were coiled tighter than Princess Leia’s double-bun hairdo! With each infusion, the tea leaves began to reveal their true identity. 

Looks like a tiny toilet! Ha!


The revelation!

Once you’ve mastered the basics of using a gaiwan, you can use your Jedi-like skills and play around with temperatures, timings, quantities, proper warming and cleaning of the vessel, and a variety of other rituals associated with the gaiwan.

As the year quickly winds down, so too does our tea tasting sessions. The Empire Strikes Back in the New Year, so until then, “May the force be with you”!



Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A brew with a good pour!

Last night I headed out to meet some friends at a local pub for some feasting and to try their alcoholic beverages flavoured with tea. Stout Irish Pub, has a few tea enhanced beers, but not all were available on this evening. I choose the Lemon Tea Beer by Mill Street Brewery which contained a combo of orange pekoe – a black tea of some sort – and Earl Grey

Lemon Tea Beer

I’m more of a wine drinker, but will occasionally enjoy a cold beer once in a while. It wasn’t bad. I wasn’t sure of what to expect. I couldn’t really smell any aroma of the teas, but I could detect the taste of tea at the end of each sip. It wasn’t overpowering. It was a typical beer taste with an iced-tea flavour. Even the lemon flavour was faint. The beer went very well with my falafel pita pub grub. 

The perfect pour!

The next time I find myself at Stout, I would definitely go for this beer, but would really like to try their other tea spiked booze as well. Best part of going to Stout was the fact that it’s located right in my neighbourhood. Perfect for those evenings of heavy drinking where I can easily stagger home!



Monday, November 30, 2015

A blending bonanza with my brew buddies!

November is ending off on a crazy note! The last couple of weeks for me have been a frenzy running around attending various tea events. Only a day after a tea tasting session, I attended a tea blending event to learn about the art of mixing teas and a variety of other ingredients to create a unique product. The lesson was held at T-Buds, a sweet little tea shop I’ve been to before and just love for the great service, delicious food and teas, and friendly staff.


I’ve done a bit of blending on my own in the past by just reading and learning about how to achieve the best results with what ingredients I chose. However, it’s always good to learn from others for new ideas and better ways of doing things. Plus, this was just a fun event. A little messy, but definitely fun.


Some explaining to do!


Our host from T-Buds was great. He started off by explaining how blending became trendy in the last 10 years and is all the rage right now. You can see this with the dominance of tea shops like David’s Tea with their range of tutti-fruity, nutty, and colourful tea blends. I’ve always stated that I’m not a big fan of these teas, preferring the purity and true essence of the tea itself, but, I do understand the appeal. Some of them aren’t too bad. Others are way too overwhelming with everything but the tea!

All available options.

Upon the wrap-up of instructions on ratios, proper portioning, using items just for visual effect, and mixing in various spray essences, we began preparing 4 different blends as outlined in recipes with allowance to adjust and play around with items as we wished. As the evening wore on, the room began to fill with the intoxicating aromas of chocolate, mint, coconut, ginger, strawberries, and so many other wonderful scents. 

Are we doing this right?


Yeah, looks good!

Once completed, each group gave funky names to their blends accordingly. My group came up with the following names for our blends:

Hey, I think we could easily market this stuff, no?

Time for a taste test!

We did get a chance to try a couple of our blends, the Sencha and Masala Chai, in our case. They were pretty good. Not really overpowering in ingredients outside of the tea, which is the star. However, blends do need time to settle and mingle before getting a true taste of them. I will try each one sometime in the future and give my review then.

Whew! So glad for a little breather as we enter a new month.




Sunday, November 29, 2015

Go to the light!

At the latest tea event, held again at Infuse Café, the group and I tasted some amazing white teas! I gotta say, the BKON brews weren’t too bad this time around. I was iffy about the technology when we were comparing dark teas last month, but I am still learning about BKON. I still prefer the traditional steeping methods for the whites we had though.

We tasted a selection of 4 white teas, 2 of which I had previously. The teas included:

  • Peach Blossom (Blend)
  • Shou Mei
  • Silver Needle
  • White Peony (Wild Harvest)

Peach Blossom Leaves.

Peach Blossom Tea.

I’m not a big fan of flavoured teas, but, this Peach Blossom blend was pretty good. Not too fruity which is always off putting for me. The Silver Needle and White Peony teas are what most people go for in white teas. They are the most popular. Silver Needle is what I normally purchase. Not as often as I’d like to, however, as it is rather pricey. The Shou Mei tea was the most interesting in appearance. It’s a brick tea that looked more like a Pu-erh. It’s at the complete opposite end of Silver Needle in terms of taste, aroma, and price. Not a horrible cup, but, I wouldn’t run out to buy this right away.

Shou Mei Leaves.

Shou Mei Tea.

As with the dark teas, the BKON brews produced very pronounced white teas in colour, taste, and aroma. Everything about these teas were heightened, and as I said, they weren’t too bad. I didn’t find them overly bitter which is always my concern, and I was wondering if this method was the best choice for such delicate teas. I don’t know, but, I suspect because white teas are so delicate, is the reason they produced decent cups with the BKON. It’s done in one shot extracting all the flavour from the leaves. You could really detect the different tastes of the teas: nutty, flowery, fruity, and even a little spicy.

Silver Needle Leaves.

Silver Needle Tea.

I really enjoyed these whites teas brewed old school though! Some things you just can’t touch. This tasting session was a learning lesson for me. The brews were far better than what I’ve had in the past. I don’t think I was steeping my white tea leaves long enough in order to get a good, flavourful cup. I always found the liquor subtle. Not bad, but, not as strong as I’d like. I’ve learned that an extended infusion time didn’t hurt the results. We even had second infusions of some of the teas and they were just as good. The tastes and aromas were equally as good as the BKON brews, however, I preferred the way the liquors coated my tongue with the traditional brews. They were softer and creamier than the BKONs. Perhaps it’s the way the water is handled? 

White Peony Leaves.

White Peony Tea.

I believe that our tea tasting events will normally be held at Infuse Café from now on. This is a good thing for me as I only live about a 5 minute walk from it. Woo-hoo! Also, I’m really becoming more and more interested in this whole BKON technology. It’s definitely interesting and fun comparing the brewing methods of the teas, with traditional infusions outweighing the BKON brews, for now at least, for me.




Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Tea Spot: An Afternoon at Nicol’s for Tea!

Today I hung out with a small group of gals for Afternoon Tea at a shop located just outside of Toronto called Nicol’s Pastry Shop. It had been a while since I’ve gone out for tea and treats, so I was looking forward to spending a chilly day with others for cups of tea and great conversation.

Though Nicol’s was easily accessible and a fairly decent size, it was obvious as the clock ticked that they are far better known for their sweets rather than a place to enjoy Afternoon Tea. The tea event was really nothing special. It consisted of a few sandwiches, scones, quiche, and some sweet treats. 



Typical treats.

Not bad, but I’ve had better. I thought the best item was the blueberry scone. Slathered with clotted-cream, it was divine! The salmon sandwich and cucumber roll could have been presented better. 

Quiche and sandwiches.

The lemon meringue tart, raspberry tart, and chocolate brownie cake were good, but didn’t have that “wow” factor like some of the other tea spots I’ve been to in the past. The service wasn’t the greatest either. Our hostess was pleasant enough, but a little vacant at times. 

Lemon meringue tart.

I hate to say this, but I thought the tea was terrible! The teas offered were by a brand called Mighty Leaf. I’ve heard of this company but have never had their teas. The tea pouches just didn’t do it for me. I had a black tea called Vanilla Bean which indicated it was a “full-bodied cup” with an “intoxicating aroma of wild Madagascar vanilla beans”. Hmmm…I didn’t get this. I thought the aroma was weak and the flavour completely bland! The second steeping was even worse which produced a muddy colour. 

Not so mighty tea!

The conversation around the table was wonderful! We talked about everything from reliable transportation, JFK, royalty, over-population of the world, UFO’s and aliens, and strippers serving tea! This is what really makes attending Afternoon Tea events worthwhile. As for Nicol’s?  Well, I wasn't impressed.  It was just not my cup of tea!





Monday, November 9, 2015

My Cuppa: Matcha in an instant!

Though I don’t drink them very often, occasionally I like to indulge in one of those fancy beverages offered at various cafés. I’m talking about lattés, Frappuccinos, and mocha-hottie whatevers! They are rather pricey and just the fact that I have to go out and get one deters me from enjoying them more frequently.

One day whilst I was out grocery shopping and strolling through the tea and coffee aisle, I came across packages of Matcha Lattés by Emperor Love on display. 


Emperor Love Matcha Latté

They were big bags that contained 12 individual packets of latté for single servings in each bag. The price wasn’t bad, so I purchase a bag. 

For singles!

It was quite simple to make. Just place the contents of the packet into a cup, pour in 50°C water, and mix. That’s it! It actually wasn’t bad at all. The colour of the powder was much like Matcha, but of course, it contains other ingredients such as sugar, whey powder, and a bunch of preservatives. 

Looks like Matcha!

The result was a sweet and creamy drink that really hit the spot! The package indicated that these lattés can be prepared both hot or cold over ice. I think having it iced would be perfect! 

Tastes like Matcha too!

I definitely would not drink these lattés every day because of the sugar content. However, they are great when you want instant gratification but can’t be bothered running to your nearest café and paying a pretty penny for.



Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tea Readings: Chai Tea Sunday

A novel I finished just recently is called Chai Tea Sunday by Heather A. Clark. Obviously, I picked up this book for its title. I actually enjoyed it very much even though I found it rushed and predictable at times and especially so near the end. I also thought the title selected was not the best. It’s rather weak.

Chai Tea Sunday

The book centres around a woman named Nicky who along with her husband, Eric, finally become expectant parents after many years of failed attempts of starting a family, only to suffer the devastating loss of that child shortly after birth. Nicky goes through a moment of depression while Eric pours himself into his work in order to put this experience behind him. The pair become less and less communicative and finally decide to separate to start new lives.

Nicky, still feeling the loss of the daughter that could have been, decides to escape by taking a volunteering position as a teacher at an orphanage in a small community in Kenya. She becomes close to her host family in particular the matriarch, Mama Bu. As the relationship flourishes, Nicky slowly opens up and shares her story with Mama Bu over cups of chai. At the same time, Nicky discovers issues surrounding the orphanage and is determined to resolve them, and rightly so. Again, long, deep, discussions occur over cups of chai.

It’s a good, light read. However, as I said, the title is rather weak. Sure, the characters are consuming chai during deep talks, but it’s not all the time and not necessarily on Sunday’s either. I think a stronger title that gives some description of the plot would have worked much better. Plus, it’s a redundant title. You may recall my chai versus tea write-up some time ago.

Tea is very much a social drink to be enjoyed with others. You see this in formal settings like Afternoon Tea or a Japanese Tea Ceremony. Friends and couples enjoy it over chit chat in cafés. Words are exchanged whilst lingering over cups of tea. I loved this one quote in the book: there is nothing that a big, steaming cup of chai can’t make better. So true.



Sunday, October 25, 2015

Come over to the dark side!

Last night I headed out to another tea tasting event with my fellow tea lovers. This time, we were invited to cross over to the dark side. Halloween is just around the corner after all. Moohoohaha! Actually, we had the pleasure of tasting a few different black teas. Please do read an earlier post I wrote about regarding the terminology of black and red tea. The difference in meaning is geographical.

The teas we had included:
  • Oku Yame Black from Japan
  • Keemun from China
  • Golden Assam from India
  • Vanilla Bean Black from USA. This is a blend.

The tastings were quite interesting and there was a lot of chatter around the tables about our experiences with each brew. Our event took place in a new tea establishment called Infuse Café. This tea shop uses the BKON method to brew their teas. 


Just the facts please!

I’ve never heard of this technology so I can’t say too much about it other than the fact that there is a noticeable difference in flavour, aroma, and colour of the infusions compared to traditional brewing methods. BKON is something I’m definitely going to look into further in order to form a better opinion. 

Infuse!

We were provided with two tastings of each tea. One brewed using a regular steep and filter method, the other using the BKON method. What a difference! 

All done!


Can you see the difference?

The BKON brews of each tea were bolder and stronger in every sense. Like most Westerners, I’m a milk and sugar kinda gal for some black teas, particularly Assam. We didn’t take our tea with any additives so I’m sure the astringency and aroma of the BKON infused Assam would have been subdued with milk and sugar. It made a lovely cup with a regular steeping.

Take these leaves...

The Oku Yame on the other hand was like night and day. It was as though we were drinking two completely different teas. The BKON yielded an astringent, smoky cup whereas the filtered method produced a sour almost lemony flavour. Interesting! 

...and brew them old school...

The Keemun and vanilla bean blend teas weren’t too bad either way though I did lean more towards the traditional brews for their mild tastes and light aromas. The BKON brews were far stronger. 

It was definitely a fun event with lively discussion. Always fascinating to see the latest technologies even in the world of tea. It will be very interesting to see where systems like the BKON will take us tea lovers. 

...to get this cuppa!

However, I’m not entirely keen on tea becoming the next coffee where it involves speed. I like taking my time in preparing a good cup of tea, watching the leaves slowly unfold revealing themselves and changing the colour of the water. Still, I’m not dismissing BKON, and will learn more about it.



Sunday, October 11, 2015

More Celebrity Mug Shots!

A while back, I did a post featuring pictures of famous people enjoying their cups of tea. I found so many photos, I thought I'd dedicate another post to them. Really, it's just a fun article, so I hope you enjoy it!



Lady Gaga goes googoo for her tea!



"May the force be with you" Mr. Ford!



"Live long and prosper" with a cup of tea!



Rolling with the Stones!  Could tea be the key to their longevity?



House M.D. actor Hugh Lauire knows that tea is just what the doctor ordered!



Alfred Hitchcock presents tea, and a strange looking dog!



Saturday, October 3, 2015

My Cuppa: Another Shade of Earl Grey!

On my tea trek a few weeks ago, I did end up making a purchase. Pippins was the one shop I had been wanting to visit. It’s a sweet little shop with a British-centric atmosphere. I thought the shop owner was such a delight to chit-chat with. She even provided everyone in our group with a recyclable bag to collect our purchases along our route for the day. I just had to buy something for her graciousness. The top selling tea at Pippins is Cream Earl Grey. Sure, it doesn’t sound very extraordinary, but after viewing the contents of the canister and being allowed to smell the tea, I was sold.

Of course I’ve had Earl Grey many times. As I mentioned in an earlier post about Earl Grey, there are many variations of the tea. The package I purchased from Pippins is quite different from the few other Earl Grey teas I have had. The appearance of the dry leaves was dark and rich with specs of blue cornflowers. The aroma was just incredible. A strong perfume of floral and citrus notes wafted out of the canister. I even detected hints of vanilla.

Creamy Earl Grey.

To make a cuppa, simply bring water to a full boil, and measure out 1 teaspoon of tea leaves for 1 cup of water. I always wait for about 3 minutes for the water to cool down before pouring over tea leaves, but it’s not necessary for Earl Grey. Feel free to use the water right off the boil. Steep for 5 minutes before removing the leaves from the liquor.

The beautiful golden-reddish coloured liquor had a light, sweet scent, much like the dry leaves. I thought the taste was so light that it did not require any milk, but just a touch of sugar to subdue the slight astringency at the end of each sip. It was a lovely cup. I did make a stronger cup later on by using more tea leaves and brewing a little longer just so that I could try it with milk and sugar. The creamy tea was just as good.

Golden goodness!

Earl Grey tea is quite versatile. Try the many variations on their own or in your cooking and baking. You will notice the differences and always end up with something just a little new.



Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Cuppa: A Bancha goodness in a cup!

Today I enjoyed a tea one of my fellow tea lovers provided me with. Bancha, a tea quite similar to Sencha, is actually a great tea despite what you may have heard about. Bancha is often considered a low quality, cheap tea, mainly because it is harvested much later in the season, usually Summer to Autumn, using older leaves. Hey, if it still makes a good cup, I’m up for it! The wonderful tea I had is called Sweet Willow Bancha. This is a 2014 Summer tea harvested in Wazuka, Japan, by the Nakai Seicha Company. 

Just a Bancha leaves!

Harvested from second flush Sencha leaves, Bancha is processed much like Sencha. Brewing is so simple in that you could use water close to boiling point with a short infusion time. This makes Bancha a great everyday tea for consumption where you don’t have to concern yourself with temperature control and how long to infuse, when all you want is a cup of tea right away!

I prepared my tea according to the instructions on the package with a little tweaking in the temperature. The 85°C is suggested, but, I really recommend cooling the water down to 70°C - 75°C. You get a much sweeter taste! I used 1 teaspoon for each cup I drank and infused for 1 minute. In this 1 minute, I saw the colour of the water change to yellow-green right away, so don’t think 1 minute is not long enough. I was rewarded with a very aromatic and flavourful cup! I could detect seaweed and hints of hay without any bitterness or aftertaste. The second infusion was just as good even after increasing the infusion time by another minute.

A Bancha sips to enjoy!

My Bancha was a great tea to drink along with my meal of sushi. The combination of the various rolls and the seaweed flavour of the tea went so well together. Much better than what’s normally offered as tea in some of the sushi restaurants. Bancha is definitely not something to pass on. It’s a good everyday green tea without the fuss!



Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Tea Spot: A tea trek in Toronto!

On this pleasant Sunday, the weather was just perfect for a tea outing. This wasn’t my usual Afternoon Tea out with a bunch of tea lovers. This was a Tea Safari! A day of tea store hopping, shopping, and sipping. My good friend Lisa organized a meetup where we headed off to the many different tea shops in Toronto. I was really looking forward to this day because I wanted to check out some of the tea shops I had heard of but never got around to going to. We even went to a place I didn’t know about.

The list of shops that were planned for visiting were kept a secret by Lisa which added to the fun. Here’s where our tea trek took us:

Pippins
I have been wanting to check out Pippins for the longest time! It’s been mentioned so often by my fellow tea lovers so I’m glad to see this was on the list. Pippins is a very British inspired tea shop that not only has many teas available, but also has teapots and cups, jams, creams, cookies, aprons, greeting cards, and even refrigerator magnets for purchase. The owner was very nice and provided each one of us with a reusable bag. 

Pippins Tea

Rooster Mugs!

Polka Dot Teapot!


David’s Tea
Okay, not everyone was too thrilled to be heading off to David’s Tea, but c’mon!They had a spot just a few doors down from Pippins, so why not? David’s Tea is all over the place much like Starbucks and have even cracked the American market. They are known for the tutti fruiti blends with funky names like “Read My Lips”, “Pink Flamingo” and “Nutty By Nature”, which makes many tea purists cringe! 

David's Tea.

Tea Filter.


Majesteas
This is another British inspired tea shop that is actually run by a fellow Tea Sommelier who graduated a couple of years ahead of me from tea program at George Brown College. Nice to see what he’s accomplished since graduating! Much like Pippins, Majesteas also has many tea accessories with an English twist. I was also awestruck by the potted tea plant they had sitting on their counter which they recently acquired. Very difficult to grow in Canada, but it is possible. 

Treats!

Tea Plant.


Niche Coffee & Tea Company
I had passed by Niche a few times in the past, but had never stopped by. We didn’t stay for very long here. Niche has a bar like atmosphere but has a great little patio out back. The teas offered are actually provided by a local company called Pluck. Their food menu wasn’t bad. I’d swing by for brunch or a light lunch to go along with a pot of tea.

Tea for drinking.


Tealish
I have been to Tealish a few times. It’s a nice little place with a cozy sit down area in the back where you can enjoy tea infused smoothies. Beside the ever present blended teas, Tealish also has a line of orthodox teas for those tea purists! 

Pretty cup.

Blue Teapot.


El Almacen
I’ve never heard of El Almacen, but boy am I glad we dropped by here. Just like Niche, this also has a bar like feel to it. The walls are displayed with beautiful paintings that may be purchased. El Almacen is known for their Yerba Mate. They also serve delicious South American food including empanadas. I enjoyed a yummy chicken empanada that really hit the spot after all the shop hopping. It was warm and flaky with just a little kick of spice. Nice!

Wall Painting.

Store Art.

Yerba Mate anyone?

Working the counter!

That was our day! A few tea shops at our service in my city. This doesn’t even cover half of them. There are still many more shops to check out, and with tea becoming more and more popular, there will be plenty new places to visit. Looking forward to each and every one of them.