Saturday, February 27, 2016

My Cuppa: The perfect after dinner mint!

About a month ago, I volunteered at the Toronto Tea Festival. The great thing about volunteering is that you can add the experience to your résumé for enhancement, rub elbows with industry professionals, and gain further tea knowledge. Upon completing our shifts at this year’s event, show organizers provided all volunteers with a package of tea to show their appreciation to us and just say “thank you”. How nice!

This year, we were allowed to pick the tea or tisane of our choice, from a company called The Chai Palace. I decided to go out of the norm and selected a tisane for a change. Hey! I’ve got so much tea at home they are just pouring out of my cupboards. Besides, I really liked the sound of the combination of the ingredients in the tisane I chose. It’s called Cinnamint Tea, and it contains a mixture of peppermint leaves, cinnamon, and cardamoms. It’s almost like a traditional Masala Chai minus the tea leaves, and yes, its name is incorrect. Cinnamint would’ve been just fine, no?


Opening up the package released an intoxicating aroma of spicy, minty freshness. I was instantly transported to a spa! The blend contained nice large pieces of each ingredient. I prepared the tisane according to the instructions on the package, and received exactly what I was expecting: a refreshing and aromatic, golden infusion. It tasted just like it smelled. I found it to be the perfect drink to have after a big meal at night. Soothing and relaxing.

After dinner mint!

The great thing about most tisanes is that they are not as sensitive to quantities used and brew times like many teas are. They also work very well combined with various ingredients. Even the leaves may be used a few times over. The results are just as good. Experiment with what works for you and enjoy a tisane once in a while!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

We’re going Japanese, again!

At last night’s tea gathering, the group and I revisited Japan. I’ve always preferred Japanese green teas over Chinese green teas, so this was an event I was really looking forward to. It’s not that the Chinese teas are bad, but, I just find the Japanese teas fresher and greener. I love the grassy, vegetal, and seaweed flavours and scents that are far stronger in Japanese green teas. To me at least. 

I heart Tencha!

Our host came prepared with Banchas, Senchas, and Matchas, as well as a couple of surprises. One of those surprises were maps of Japan to show us where the teas originated, and logbooks with checklists for tea evaluation. Cool! Though, I was a little concerned we might get a pop quiz at the end! Ugh! 

Keeping notes!

Some of the teas we drank included:
  • Genmaicha
  • Bata Bata Bancha
  • Tosa Bancha
  • Matcha-dusted Sencha
  • Giant Leaf Sencha
  • Tencha
  • A Spring, Summer, and Fall Matcha
  • A Guatemalan Black Tea

Genmaicha wet leaves.

Naturally, since we congregated at our usual hangout, Infuse Café, we had two versions of some of the teas. A traditional brew and a BKON brew. For the most part, both versions worked very well. The BKON infusions, as usual, were more intense.

I’m a big fan of Matcha, unlike some of my fellow tea comrades. It’s so flavourful and healthy, but, yes, it is an acquired taste. It was nice to get a tasting of three different brews based on the season each was harvested. You could really see the difference in colour with the greener one harvested in Spring. The Spring picked leaves were also more flavourful with strong vegetal and earthy notes. I liked it.

The Matcha trio!

Matcha-dusted Sencha.

A surprise tea we were treated to was a Guatemalan Black Tea. Yup! We steered off the map of Japan. The tea leaves were twice-aged in a barrel that once stored Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. Thus, the tea leaves took on some of the aroma and flavour of the rum. Not enough to get us plastered! It was quite good. It was sweet and spicy with hints of caramel. A perfect drink to end off a wonderful evening!

Roll out the barrel!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Tea Tech: TeaBOT, I'll have a half-caf of decaf with a twist of lemon!

A short time ago, I was asked for my opinion on the teas offered by a company called TeaBOT. I had never heard of TeaBOT, but I was intrigued after visiting their website and watching a video demonstrating their product. TeaBOT is a local company, and one of their kiosks just happened to be planted downtown on the grounds at the University of Toronto. I went out to investigate!

I, TeaBOT!

Pick a tea, any tea!

The TeaBOT kiosk is the tea lover’s answer to the coffee vending machine. It dispenses your choice of blended teas which you pay on the spot using credit card or debit card all in the absence of an actual human being. Here are the basic steps:
  1.   Pick a desired tea by choosing one of the popular blends or make your own
  2.   Select the concentration of the tea blends to combine 
  3.   Choose the strength and water temperature or go with the suggested recommendation
  4.   Grab a cup and place it under the spouts, pay, and watch your tea dispense
  5.   Add sugar if needed, place a filtered lid on your cup, and enjoy your beverage

This Oolong is Nuts for me!

Some of this, some of that!

Ready to go!

I chose a popular blend called “This Oolong is Nuts”, which was a mixture of Masala Chai and a Caramel Nut Oolong. I went with a 40% Masala Chai and 60% Oolong ratio, at regular strength, with a water temperature of 83°C. After paying by credit card, and requesting that a receipt of my order details be e-mailed to me, I then placed a cup under the spouts and excitedly watched the magic begin! 

You could really see the ingredients of the tea and smell the spices. I waited for about 5 minutes to allow for proper infusion before drinking. The filtered lids provided were great! It made for easy sipping by separating the particles from being consumed. Though, I wondered if it was a good idea to let 
the tea leaves stew away in the cup.

Have a look!

Pretty cool system I gotta say! Now about my tea. I found my drink bland, weak, and flavourless. It seemed as though I were drinking warm water. Perhaps I should have made it stronger and at a higher temperature? Maybe I should have infused it longer than 5 minutes? I think some more tea leaves would have helped. Upon finishing off my drink, I noticed there really weren’t much tea leaves in the cup. The result was a bit disappointing but I certainly wouldn’t reject this concept.

This TeaBOT product is a great idea, but I was left with some questions after the whole experience:
  1.   How often is the kiosk maintained? What happens if a certain tea is running low?
  2.   What if I wanted milk as well as the sugar? Sugar packets were available, but no milk.
  3.   Is there no concern for stolen cups and filters? These can easily be taken by someone to use for other beverages.
  4.   How fresh are the tea leaves and where are they sourced from?
  5.   How’s the cleanliness? I could've easily touched all the cups, lids, and sleeves with filthy hands and just make a whole mess on the table.
What I’m envisioning is an enclosure, much like a vending machine, where you select your tea, request the strength and water temperature, and have it add milk and sugar if desired. Out comes your beverage in a cup and already lidded and sleeved. Nothing is out in the open. All the work is done for you.

Product shot!

It’s nice to see all the new developments in the tea industry. I will definitely be keeping an eye on TeaBOT and seeing how they improve further to create something even more outstanding.

Monday, February 8, 2016

My Cuppa: Blending bonanza brew 2!

Okay! I’m ready to taste brew number 2 made during my blending bonanza session at T-Buds a few months back. I’ve already tasted “Seduced by Sencha”, the first blend, which really wasn’t that bad at all. This time, I’m trying “My Chai to Die For”.

This blend contained the following ingredients:

  • Assam Tea BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe)
  • Ceylon Tea FBOP (Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe)
  • Ginger
  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon
  • Pepper
  • Clove
  • T-Buds Chai Mix
  • Rose Petals

I will die for you!

Looks like another list of long ingredients, but really, this is a fairly classic Masala Chai with the exception of the rose petals which were just added to make the mix look pretty. The T-Buds Chai Mix is just a combination of the other spices listed, in a powder form. The aroma was intoxicating! Not a strong, over-powering of spices. Just lovely, light hits of ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon. It was nice. Oh, and here's my post for an explanation on the acronyms BOP and FBOP.

I prepared 
“My Chai to Die For” the same way as I do for Assam. I made two cuppings of this blend . One to drink on its own, and the other, with a little milk and sugar added. 

Double your pleasure!

The infusion produced a golden, reddish-brown liquor. It was sparkling! It tasted good on its own. Much like it smelled. Not strong and with just a little astringency near the end. 

Naked tea!

Combined with milk and sugar did no harm to the tea. It cut down the astringency and created a creamy, smooth finish. I liked both results. 

Tea all dressed!

I find many of the spiced teas on the market way too strong. They really overdo it on the ingredients thinking that’s what makes a good spiced tea. This chai is to die for! Two down, two more to go!