Saturday, June 22, 2013

Finding Drinkable Tea In Oklahoma City Pt. 1

Please join me for my first in a series of tea excursions, this one into the deep dark clutches of Oklahoma City's 'Classen Curve'. I shall try to fetch some drinkable tea without having to place an online order and wait for a week. My first trip will be Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods carries a nice selection of loose leaf tea, when compared to other options in OKC. I want to check on their black tea and their oolongs. I have taken a Ceylon from this store. The Ceylon whole leaf tea sold at Whole Foods in OKC is almost exactly like several of my favorite estate ceylons like Kenilworth. The price is competitive, and the bonus is there is no shipping. It is a very brisk and refreshing tea. My blog post called "Upton Teas I Have Ordered The Most" goes in to slightly more detail about this type of tea.

Oolongs are not my favorite, and I cannot drink them for a morning tea, but I do enjoy them, especially with sushi. Pictured above is the oolong tea in the baggie. I used 2 large teaspoons in the infuser basket, and it was brewed with the fine tap water at my OKC office that makes all of these wonderful teas! Here is a closeup of the tea just before being dumped into the teapot.

A nice choice it was, a poached salmon roll with Whole Foods finest oolong.

It pleasantly brings several things to my nose that I enjoy with these teas; the nutty, earthy flavor associated with formosa oolongs, and the floral scent of the Chinese oolong. This one is actually the Rishi Wuyi Organinc Oolong. From their website..
"The Wuyi Mountains are the birthplace of oolong tea and the Shui Xian "Water Sprite" tea bush cultivar. This sloping, mountainous appellation, with mineral-rich soils, produces teas with a smooth mouthfeel and pleasant aftertaste. Wuyi teas are classically roasted to develop a sweet, caramelized flavor."
The flavor comes forward immediately with this tea, nutty and fresh. After a few more sips, some depth comes through, and the lighter, sweeter notes are revealed to the nose and palate. It is easy to tell that this is not a lower quality oolong. But, unlike very fine oolongs, its flavors are quickly noticeable, and it does not have to be prepared gong fu style to experience its finer flavors.

The wet leaf is still large and doesn't fall apart after the infusion, revealing more about the high quality of this oolong. It still holds a nice aroma and I felt I could probably brew one more smaller cup reusing this leaf. It would probably work well prepared gong fu style.

Nice experience, both the tea and the sushi!

Now, here is the bag of the Rishi Golden Assam.

Here is the closeup of the Golden Assam. You can see there are lots of golden tips in this tea, and they are still in tact and unbroken.

The estate assam is pricey even for a fancy grocery store such as Whole Foods, but it does make a nice statement about its quality upon first steep. It was pleasing to see the froth layer in my leaf basket. The aroma from the teapot filled my section of the crowded office with brisk, velvety notes. It offers depth for the picky palates such as mine, and has some caramel and mocha notes that I like. The golden tips are beautiful to admire in the teapot, and certainly add to the very nice depth of this tea. The flavor is comparable to some of the single estate teas that I have bought online, but more like the modestly priced assams, and not quite up to par with some of the higher priced whole leaf assams I have tried in the past. I'm not ready to call this the best tea in OKC yet, but it is going up for consideration.

Soon I will be off on my next tea search. I have a few leads and ideas, so expect a report soon!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Herbals As Iced Tea

Christmas is the only holiday that people go shopping for gifts for me that aren't in my immediate, close family. I'm sure it's tough for them. They already know not to touch music, clothing, literature or tech gadgetry when buying for me, knowing my taste is too obscure for them to be able to pick correctly. However, most of them do not realize that tea is included in this list. I have tried to get across my tea snobbery at family events before. But somehow, this is one area that the wonderful people that do buy gifts for me feel that they can take a shot at. Consequentially, my tea cabinet has become cluttered with boxes of tea that aren't up to my normal drinking standard, so I have had to try to find alternate uses for the tea.

One problem I face is that I usually end up with a lot of green tea, which I can't drink. I like green tea, but, as I stated in my previous blog post, it makes me sick when I drink it, so I have to stick with black or a well-fermented oolong. My wife will drink it, so I keep it around for her. She is not a regular tea drinker, so it tends to sit and occupy space more than it gets steeped. Along with the green tea in the usual outlet store variety pack, there are often several herbal teas. These are usually flavored with some fruity type of herbs such as hibiscus, lemon grass and others. Other times they actually have flavoring, dried juice or fruit. And sometimes I get to rescue a box or two that fit my criteria for drinkability, and use them for a caffeine free iced tea!

The picture above is of a box of tea I was given and I found it to make good iced tea. It mainly consisted of hibiscus and blackberry, but this tea also contained some apple pulp, and blackcurrent pulp, leaves and juice. I always liked the "Raspberry Zinger" from Celestial Seasonings on ice. It was probably my first herbal iced tea that I favored. It also contains some hibiscus and blackberry leaves, and has some added fruit product. Because of the added fruit and juice, these kinds of teas can be brewed fairly strong, and retain their flavor after being iced. I usually brew iced herbal tea about one half bag too strong. That is to say, to make 2 cups of iced herbal tea I would use 3 single cup sized bags. I still like to let it cool for a while before pouring over ice so that it won't become too diluted. It's also pretty hard to over steep one of these teas. After about 5 minutes of steeping, the extra time doesn't change the tea much anymore. So there is not any advantage to be gained by a long steep.

Iced chamomile and mint works very well together, but it is hard to get the strength right without letting the tea cool naturally. On a hot day it is very refreshing and easy to drink, maybe more so than one of the herbals listed above. There are some good bagged chamomile teas, or you can just get the chamomile and make tea yourself.  If you do desire to make your own flavored herbal tea, starting with hibiscus gives it a fruity note. Lemon grass or peel will give it a lemony, citrus side. And as you chose other herbs to add, you may also want to add fruit product to your tea during refrigeration. Fruit peel will flavor your herbal tea nicely. sometimes just as well as the actual fruit! Some fresh fruit works well in herbal teas too. I like to put berries in a large pitcher of a lighter colored tea both for the flavor and the visual effect.

I find myself to be stubborn about my morning tea and afternoon hot tea, but I usually stay experimental when doing iced tea. I like it sweet or unsweet, flavorful or just mellow. Black and green teas do make great iced teas, but I have found that using an herbal tea gives it a sweet flavor with or without sweetener. And without the caffeine, the herbal iced tea is more refreshing in the long term because it is not a diuretic. So for yardwork, golfing or any outdoor activities in the heat, my highest recommendation for staying cool is a nice big supply of freshly made herbal iced tea!