Monday, April 26, 2010

Sauced Carries "Leaves Pure Teas" by China Mist

Good news! I was able to place an order to Upton Teas today! In addition to my usual Keemun, I have ordered a different Ceylon (FBOP), a Yunnan, and two Assams. So more reviews are soon to come, but of course it will be a few days before I receive my order. I was really itching for a cup today though, so decided to stop by the one place where I know there is a good tea to be found, Sauced! Yes, the pizza and beer bistro has a few very good teas, one of them is the Organic Classic Breakfast from Leaves Pure Teas by China Mist.

I have been fairly successful at keeping my tea containers well stocked, so I haven't bought a packet of this to take home in a long time. Usually I am not crazy about paying 'by the cup' prices for tea. But I was out of tea today so I caved in and tried this one again. This tea comes in nylon sachets, individually wrapped, with the proper measurement for one cup of tea. Upon opening the package, I thought it had the aroma of a nice assam. I did not yet know what kinds of teas were used in this blend. The boiling city water from my house did not release a lot of maltiness from the leaves, but did release a pleasant aroma. At first I could smell the floral scent that I was so missing in my last tea (see last blogs), and it also has a wonderful freshness that I expect from any quality tea.. Once I began recognizing the cocoa-ish aroma I knew there was some China tea inside that teabag. I also was drawn in by the caramel scent that became most noticable once I started sipping.

My mind always wonders while sipping a good tea, and my thoughts were of the joy as well as mourning over the music and life of Jay Reatard. I was lucky enough to talk myself into driving to Dallas last December for what I knew would be about a 45 minute set of my favorite fast catchy punk rock tunes. All together it would be 6 hours of driving for this chance to see Jay Reatard and his new backup band. I did not know that one month later, he would be gone forever. I guess I could sense that his life was very fast paced, which could mean an early departure, so out of all of the concerts that were around that time that I could have went to, I chose this one.

My timing was so perfect. I showed up at the Granada Theater about 15 minutes before Jay's set, and missed both local openers which was my intent for the night. It was the perfect amount of time needed to hit the bathroom, get a beer down and another in hand, and weave my way through the emotionless crowd surrounding the stage. In true Ramones fashion, Jay came out and blistered through each song with raw speed and power. The crowd was completely still, except for me undulating like a tree in a tornado, and maybe two other people moving a limb or two. It was as if the crowd had no idea who it was on stage, what his songs were, or how he had produced over 20 album releases in his short lifetime. As I had predicted, it was 45 minutes of straight to-the-point rock influenced punk-n-roll. A road trip that was so worth the drive.

Halfway through the cup, when I came back to my senses, I was beginning to separate all the different flavors of the tea and enjoying its complexity. The smoky-mocha hints of the China tea were fairly evident, but the caramel flavor that carried through the aroma reminded me more of some of the whole leaf assams I have had. Then there was that pleasant floral-ness I imagined springing from Sri Lanka. Tearing open the sachet to examine the wet leaf, I noticed some larger pieces of CTC-looking leaf. After visiting the website I found out that it is a blend of China and India teas, all organic and kosher! I will probably always fall back on Sauced for the times when I run out of my own favorite teas and need a cup of something enjoyable. This tea from China Mist is much more than just a satisfying replacement for those times, it is a perfect suppliment to my usually well kept tea cabinet. What a nice job the tea blenders did to create this convenient and satisfying tea as a one cup on-the-go solution.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to prepare quality black tea

Today is Tea Class 101. For anyone that doesn't know how to prepare high quality teas, here is your first lesson. We will be preparing my favorite breakfast tea, Keemun First Grade from Upton Teas.

Here is the arsenal: a decent tea kettle to boil the water in, a teapot with an infuser basket (or a strainer), cup and tea.

Keep your tea in an airtight, light tight container so that it doesn't lose quality. This container is made by Bee House. They are expensive, but I think worth it. The latch has never bent in 7 years, the seal hasn't worn out even with vigorous usage, and all of mine have remained chip and crack free!

After filling the kettle and putting it on the burner, measure about 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of tea per normal 'coffee cup' sized cup into the infuser basket. The directions will usually tell you one teaspoon per 8oz cup, but I think coffee cups are a little bigger, and I like a pretty stiff cup of tea anyhow. Adjust to whatever fits your taste. Then remove the infuser from the teapot if it is in it. I use my teapot to hold the basket still while I fill it, but take it out right after.

As the water begins to approach boiling and makes noise, pour a small amount into the EMPTY teapot, and replace the kettle so that it can reach boiling. This process is called 'warming the pot' and helps the water used to make the tea retain heat, and hopefully draw more flavor from the leaf. After swirling the heated water around a bit, and as your kettle gets noisier, pour off the water in the teapot and replace the infuser basket.

When your kettle is at full boil you may now finally introduce water to the leaves. Take notice of how much water goes into the kettle in relation to how much leaf is in the infuser basket. After using your pot many times, you can get a good idea how high the water level has to be to fill your cup and not leave you with thin tea. Replace the teapot lid.

Cover the teapot as soon as possible with a tea cosy or a thick kitchen towel to help the pot retain heat as it steeps. This tea is going to steep for about 4 minutes. You don't have to be real accurate with black tea, it will not likely go bitter from minimal oversteeping.

Use the rest of the water to warm your cup, it will help to keep your tea hot and sippable! Pour the water out of the cup right before filling it with tea.

After steeping, pour into your empty cup. If you like milk in your tea, putting the milk 'in first' is a somewhat popular method in the tea world. Pouring the slight drizzle of milk into the hot cup before the tea may scold the milk slightly, a desired effect by some.

I usually like to observe the color of the tea as I pour the milk in and stir so that I won't overpower the tea with the milk or get it too thin. I also prefer a level teaspoon of demerara in my tea.

Finally, all that work pays off!
So, any questions? :-D


'T' Urban Teahouse Ceylon Breakfast Re-revisited

I had been really hoping that my tap water at home was the cause of the flavorless tea I was brewing. But now I have to accept that my two ounces of Ceylon Breakfast from 'T' An Urban Teahouse is either an old batch that has been left open too many times, or just an inferior tea than what I am used to , for twice the price. I always take my container of tea to work with me because the water there seems to have a good oxygen content and brews some pretty good tea. I am never late to work, sometimes even early, because I can't wait to brew myself a good cup. I know my water at home is bad, but didn't think it could be bad enough to completely un-flatter a quality whole leaf Ceylon tea. I was right, it wasn't my water.

While brewing a cup at work did make it slightly more flavorful and fuller bodied, it never achieved the scent or taste that the 'champagne of teas' is famous for. There was never a pleasant aroma lifting from the cup, more like a stale cardboard box aroma. The flavor was still just a little better than a bag of Lipton. I tried it two days in a row, and I increased the measure of tea by about a half teaspoon the second day. This did not bring out any more flavor at all, but it did give it a bit heavier body which I enjoy. I did notice that there was a bit of a frothy malty top to the leaves in the infuser basket, which is a treat that I never get at home. Still this leaves me hoping this is an exception and not a norm for the teas carried by 'T'. I am going back soon to have them prepare me a cup of their Golden Monkey, which is one of my favorite 'rare treats'. That will be the deciding factor, to see if that tea will be a fresh high quality Golden Monkey, or something I would rather not pay $22 for 2oz of. Until then, I'm stuck finishing off this stash of Ceylon Breakfast from 'T' An Urban Teahouse.

Enjoy a nice cup for me will you please.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

‘T’ An Urban Tea House, First Visit

Finally the long awaited ‘T- An Urban Tea House’ is open! The spot has been under preparation for a long while, and everything is set up nicely and ready for you to come in and have a great cup of tea prepared for you. They immediately hold an advantage over any other tea house because of their Curits water aerator system. Oklahoma City water is so vacant of oxygen that the tea I prepare at home with it is often bordering on flavorless. So anything that can be done to get more flavor out of those leaves is a big plus. It is really nice to know that there is a teahouse in Oklahoma City now that cares enough about its tea process to have 2 water aerator machines set up, one at 212 for black tea and one at 192 for oolong or green tea. The tea is kept in airtight and lightproof containers with a narrow opening at the top. When they are opened, I think they let less air out than the hat box looking containers at Teavanna. The customer’s area is really clean and uncluttered, with tons of space for your cup, pot or press, and reading material. The d├ęcor is really nice too, there is a soothing feel to the color scheme on the walls and counter area. It appears all the work put into its look has resulted in a teahouse with a comfort level that ranks above any Starbucks type atmosphere.

Thanks to my financial situation, I will not be placing an order from Upton for at least a week. So my purchase plan from ‘T’ was a small package of something affordable yet drinkable. I did not plan to sit and have a cup in the teahouse at this time, but I will be going back for that soon. Their bulk tea prices are too high to put it bluntly, as are Teavanna’s prices. The Golden Monkey was over $22 for 2oz, which is more than double the price of Upton Tea’s Golden Monkey Pekoe. ‘T’s Golden Monkey is priced at $4.50 for a cup, so yes the cup price is set quite high too. But in the inner city where the water is chlorinated and treated to the point of complete sterilization, the availability of a well steeped cup of tea becomes more valuable. I intend on visiting again soon to have a cup made from their ‘special’ water just to see how well these machines work.

The Ceylon tea I bought was a little less than $6 for 2oz, not a great price. I didn’t think it quite had the dry aroma of what I am used to as I poured it into my Bee House container, although I recognized the leaf color and uniformity from other Ceylon OP. I set my kettle of Central OKC swill water on the heated burner and scooped out 1 ½ tsp rounded into my strainer basket. Pouring the boiling water over the leaves didn’t release the aroma so much, and the 4 min steep time didn’t seem to help it much either. Of course, no malty bubbles on the top of the infuser basket, but there never is with that water. After adding a spot of milk and light dose of demerara, the fun began.

Sitting down to my computer desk, I cued up the Acid Mothers Temple CD, “Recurring Dream and Apocalypse of Darkness“. Before taking a bite of my wheat bread with almond butter, I took my first whiff and taste of the tea. Keeping in mind that tea made at home is always less flavorful, I really found this tea pretty flavorless upon first sip I’m sorry to say. With a little almond butter, and an ‘E’ power chord that drones for a good 12 minutes with the Japanese Hendrix wailing over the top of it, the flavor increased to a pleasant ‘better than bagged’ level. There never was that great high region Ceylon aroma rising from the steam. And as the 5 minutes of single note feedback cooled my cup, the flavors just didn’t quite stand out enough to consider buying this one again. The 36 minute and 30 second grunge fest that sounds like the beginning of ‘War Pigs’, with Sabbath forgetting to ever going into the verse part, outlasted my cup of tea. But I enjoyed the abuse of my eardrums a bit more than I did my cup of Ceylon Breakfast from T-An Urban Tea House. I am going to give it another try at my workplace where there is good water. I expect the results will be a little better there, and I will post an update when I do.

Until then... happy sipping!


Friday, April 16, 2010

Upton Teas I Have Ordered The Most

When I first graduated from tea bags and into whole leaf teas, I started my journey ordering from Special Teas. Now I order mostly from Upton Teas because their selection and customer service is quite superior to Special Teas. They carry most all of the teas that the other online stores have, and they often offer very high quality tea in samples, and I am more likely to order small quantities of very expensive tea. There are two teas that I order larger quantities of almost every time, they are Upton’s China Keemun First Grade and Ceylon Kenilworth Estate OP.

My favorite tea and standard for morning is the Keemun First Grade. This is China’s most exported tea, and much of it goes to England. The leaves are tightly rolled by skilled preparers of the tea, and this process locks in flavors and produces a rich cup. I am drawn to its smoky mocha characteristics it is known for, even though the flavor is much more complex than simply that. The natural floral aroma and clean taste is not overcome by its unique flavors. Much like roasting a marshmellow, the process actually amplifies the natural flavors. Because it is moderately priced, I can afford to drink it daily. It is the standard by which I measure all other China Black ‘congu’ teas.

When I want to surprise someone who has never had good tea before, and is maybe not very adventurous but likes iced tea, I boil a pot of Kenilworth. Ceylon tea is what usually comes in ice tea bags, but only small broken leaf particles go in to those bags. Kenilworth Estate OP is a great example of what those tea leaves might have produced if they were left as whole. It is a very uniform looking tea, all of the leaf is very dark. The liquor is fairly light for black tea, but the flavor is still nicely bold and brisk. It is picked during the early months of the year after being drenched by the monsoon during August and September. Iced tea made from Kenilworth OP tastes so refreshing and bold that people who drink my iced tea always want to know which brand I use. I am to nice to misdirect them into scouring the Wal-Mart shelves for a brand of iced tea named Kenilworth, so I try to keep extra on hand. It is one of the lowest priced teas that I order, and still one I cannot do without on my tea rack.

Next time I hope to have a nice Yunnan and a choice Assam to report to your tastebuds about. I will probably have to stop somewhere local for a quick fix though, so I'll be back soon with a blog about that! Til then...


Monday, April 12, 2010

Black Tea, Black Flag, and toast.

I may be one odd character to do tea reviews, but I have done it quite a bit and so I've decided to blog my reviews. This first time though I will reprint some early reviews from Upton Tea and Special Teas(just to get things rolling). Keep in mind these are short reviews and very dated, so they are just here to show what I usually like and dislike. Aside from reviewing online tea, I will be offering reviews of some 'lesser' tea available in the OKC area for anyone looking for a cup while on the go.
Upton Tea
ZK20: China Organic Keemun 4 stars
Dry Leaf: Good, Infused Leaf: Good,
Liquor: Very Good, Value: Very Good
"The leaves are not tightly rolled like a high grade keemun, but it tastes like a decent keemun. It has a clean flavor, and slightly lighter body that usual for this type of tea. I drink a whole lotta keemun, and this is a good value tea."
Upton Tea
TA40: Tippy Orthodox GFOP Assam 3 stars
Dry Leaf: Good, Infused Leaf: Very Good,
Liquor: Good, Value: Good
"Clean taste but lacks depth."
Upton Tea
ZG71: Long-Jing (Lung-Ching) Green (Superfine) 5 stars
Dry Leaf: Excellent, Infused Leaf: Excellent,
Liquor: Excellent, Value: Excellent
"My favorite green tea."
Special Teas
319 Ceylon Vithanakande FBOPF (EX) 5 stars
This is about the prettiest tea Ive ever seen. Has qualities of nice, brisk Ceylon; boldness of Assam; and, a little hint of chocolate like China black. Great value!!
Upton Tea
ZY42: Yunnan Harvest Time Golden 4 stars
Dry Leaf: Good, Infused Leaf: Very Good,
Liquor: Very Good, Value: Excellent
"This is a good typical Yunnan tea. Not as complex as some, but great for the price."

See you as soon as my next order arrives!!