Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas teas

I've found that this festive season, tea has been very important to me when entertaining (mainly because a lot of my guests come to me in the day and drive...) As a result, I've been very impressed with the Christmas teas on offer this year.

A good bet is to buy, where you can, sample sizes of the tea. You don't want to buy a huge container of tea to discover that either a) you hate the stuff or b) you're totally bored of it by Boxing Day. I have a few different teas that I am working my way around.

Cup of Tea's Winter Selection box has been a particular favourite- each of the sachets contains enough tea for a couple of cups, meaning that, selfishly, I get to try the tea at the same time as my guest (I cannot recommend the Oolong Plum Pudding and the Toffee Apple teas highly enough; they are my favourites by far!)

Tea Palace  has an excellent selection of Christmas teas; I have Mulled Spice, Winter Whispers and Palace Christmas, all of which have proved popular with friends, although Mulled Spice seems to be the favourite. Their little caddies contain a really good amount of tea (about 10-20 cups) and are a great present for someone who might just be starting out on a tea adventure.

If you live in the UK or Europe, there is still time to get your order in!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Harrod's Heritage No 18 Georgian Blend

So, I haven't blogged for a while, what with various things going on in my life (I just spent a weekend in Ireland and my boyfriend asked me to marry him yesterday- life has been a bit unexpected!) but I thought I should get back to the important things in life- namely, tea.

Tea is massive in Ireland and, as a gift to the couple who were putting my sister and I up, we decided to buy them some special tea from Harrod's- their special Heritage No. 18 Georgian Blend. We bought the teabags in a caddy and duly presented it at dinner time. Thankfully, John and Margaret loved it and we were served some with some little chocolates after our meal.

The tea went down a treat. It's a smooth blend of Darjeeling, Assam and Sri Lankan teas which, as you would expect from the Harrod's name (and price tag!) is utterly delicious. The combination of teas is harmonious and almost velvety on the tongue. The top note of Darjeeling is definitely noticable- in blends of this sort, the lighter flavour can be lost and the earthier flavour of Assam was a pleasant grounding taste, without being overly 'tacky' or 'sticky'.

An expensive treat which may be perfect as a Christmas present for a great-aunt, perhaps?

Friday, 19 November 2010

Chah- Milk Oolong

Chah is a fabulous site selling high quality Asian teas. What I like about the website is that they have pictures of their travels in the 'About Us' section, which shows a connection with the plantations the tea comes from.

Milk Oolong has interested me since I first heard of it. It's a special tea that is affected by the area in Taiwan where it grows. Due to the climate, the tea grows and develops an interesting taste that is, in accordance with the name, slightly milky. It's a delightful tea with a little bit of sweetness.

When brewed, it has a smell that is common to many oolongs- slightly vegetable and earthy, but very clean (some teas can be 'earthy' in the sense of 'muddy'; not this one!) The taste is fragrant and lovely, the tea giving a gentle flavour on the back of the tongue.

I was a bit unsure as to what to expect, but this is a great oolong for a first timer wanting to venture away from the usual teas and try something a bit different. Very, very yummy!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Yumchaa- Regent's Park

Today is one of my favourite kinds of autumn day- gloomy, crisp and ever so slightly menacing. I like these days because they make staying at home cosy and I find myself baking and reading peacefully, rather than rueing the fact that I have to go out to make the most of the day.

I'm currently drinking a mug of Yumchaa Regent's Park, which I bought at a little market I came across in Soho a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, their website doesn't seem to let you order, but I would think that you would be able to call them if you wanted to buy anything. They also have two cafes (one in Soho and one in Camden) where you can buy the teas.

Anyway, Regent's Park is one of my favourite types of green tea, China green tea. I prefer this because I find it less astringent than Japanese teas, but each has their merits. The tea provides a refreshing base with a hint of grassiness, although this is not overpowering. The tea itself is flavoured with fruits, papaya and pineapple being the most dominant, with strawberry and raspberry hints. Apparently there are also rose petals in the mix, but you can't really taste them, so I think they might just be there for aesthetic purposes. The taste is sweet and fruity, a little bit like posh fruit pastilles without sugar. The aftertaste is clean and sharp.

Overall, a very pleasant tea. Let's hope that they get their website sorted!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A selection of my favourite autumn, winter and festive teas

I love autumn and all the festivity that comes with it. I've decided to list some of my favourite teas that are perfect for the upcoming season:

Cup of Tea is selling a cracking Winter Tea selection. It can be a gamble to choose a tea just by looking at the descriptions on the website, so this little box is a perfect way to try all of their festive blends. For £4.60, you get a selection of 10 loose teas (enough for 2-3 cups of tea in each sachet), including green, black, oolong, rooibos and herbal. My current favourite is the Oolong Plum Pudding- fruity and malty, almost like a Christmas pudding. Yum. The great thing about the pack is that most of the teas are for sale in larger quantities on the site, so if you can't bear the thought of not having your favourite in February, you can order up some more. (I will be reviewing each tea in the box in detail at a later date.)

Grey's Bitter almond with pieces- this one has become a favourite in the house, due to its strong black taste and lovely marzipan/almond flavour. A China black tea that works especially well with cakes, I would recommend this one as a tea to get home to on a dark night. Lovely.

Teapigs Spiced Winter Red- a rooibos, which means caffeine free. I took this with me on a residential trip for work last week (I knew I would be cold!) A decadent spiced tea that certainly warms the cockles and helped me sleep. I was very grateful for it!

Eteaket's Chocolate Abyss- a combination of chocolate and tea with a slightly coconutty taste (and a slightly boozy smell!) this is a delicious black tea. I have it at work to combat any chocolate cravings- I'm trying to give up junk food til December- and have now begun to have it in place of hot chocolate in an evening. The China black tea and the chocolate pieces melt together and it is taste heaven.

Tea Palace have a range of festive blends which I am hoping to try this week. I will get back to you asap on that.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Interview: Stepas Parulis, Adagio Teas Europe

Stepas Parulis runs the European side of the American tea company, Adagio. A company that prides itself on its wide range of quality teas and something to suit just about every tea lover's palate!

1) How did you first become involved in the tea industry?

My adventure in the tea business started when I first visited our company's headquarters a few years ago. The idea of working with something delicious and healthy was what appealed to me at the time and is what continues to drive me.

2) What is your favourite tea a) to work with and b) to drink (and why?)

I enjoy working with flavoured and herbal varieties, because they are a great way to initiate people to gourmet tea. Their taste is easily accessible and a good starting point to the world of tea. On a personal level, I particularly enjoy oolongs, such as Ali Shan, Dancong and Ti Kuan Yin.

3) Where do you think the best tea comes from (e.g. Japan, Sri Lanka) and why do you think that?

Tea has a myriad of aspects that is difficult to rank in an impartial manner. Each region has a rich and unique heritage when it comes to growing and consuming tea. In my opinion, the Fujian province in China and the Darjeeling region in India have some of the finest tea producers out there.

4) Where do you get inspiration for your more 'unusual' blends?

We rely on our staff members to create blends that are fresh and intriguing. We also value our customers' input - it is surprising how passionate and creative some of them are!

5) Why do you think it's important for people to experience good quality tea?

Gourmet tea has an impressive variety of flavour profiles that helps train your palate. It makes us realize that there is more to the crop than fancily packed fannings at a random supermarket. Tea is also a great way to discover distant regions and expand your cultural horizon.

6) Why do you think independent tea blenders and merchants have been gaining popularity in the last few years?

I believe that the way we conceive food and its role in our lives has changed dramatically over the last several years. People have become more knowledgeable and sophisticated about what they eat or drink. Quality and health are central themes for shoppers and producers alike. In this respect, independent tea businesses have been at the forefront of this movement thanks to a product that is both healthy and delicate, and are well positioned to continue to sap this trend as it moves towards the mass market.

7) If you could have any five people at a tea party, who would you have and what would you serve them?

I would have my closest friends from around the world gather in one place to discuss anything from movies to politics. Dancong would be my weapon of choice to keep the conversation brewing.

8) Where do you see the tea industry (and tea itself) heading in the next few years?

Gourmet tea is still in the early stages of adoption across Europe, despite an important heritage in several countries. The key is to continue spreading the word about its diversity of taste and numerous health benefits. The challenge for tea companies in the future will be to adapt this ancient beverage to modern lifestyles. Therefore, one area where I see a lot of potential is the ready-to-drink tea market.

A Good Brew...

I have to admit that I prefer loose leaf teas, but I do hate the mess that they can make! I thought I would run down my favourite (and some more unusual) ways of brewing a good cup of tea. I have used all of these at one point or another, but if you have another way of making your tea, do let me know!

1) The filter bag- these are a really reasonably priced option. At £3.70 for 100, these are perfect for work (where I often use them) and I like them at home, because once I've used them, I can chuck them on the compost bin. I always have a stash of these, because I feel a little bit bereft when I run out of them. You just fill them with tea and then treat them like a normal teabag. Easy peasy!

2) The Ingenuitea Teapot- I had a similar thing to this a couple of years ago when I first got into tea, albeit a much smaller one. They really are fab, especially when brewing oolong, as you can keep the leaves in for a bit to get your multiple infusions. What I like about this one is that you get two cups of tea from it. You simply put your tea leaves and water into the pot, watch the tea brew and then put the pot onto your mug. Hey presto, tea pours into said mug and no mess!

3) Infusing wheel- this is an invaluable part of any tea lover's armour. Put your tea in and treat like a teabag. The only advice I would give you is to be mindful that they can be a little messy (I've had one pop open into the mug of water and have spilt tea leaves down the side of the bin too) and you must clean them really well. However, perfect for those who maybe just have the occassional cup of leaf tea.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Adagio Ti Kuan Yin Oolong

I have never really tried oolong before and so before I tasted Adagio's Ti Kuan Yin, I was a little bit unsure as to what I would experience.

Like many teas, Oolong has attracted a positive press with regards to its health benefits and the fact that it can, apparently, help with skin and weight problems. Whatever the truth, it is a very refreshing and interesting tea to sample.

Ti Kuan Yin is a Chinese goddess; the name translates as 'Iron Goddess of Mercy' or 'compassion'. The tea leaves are grown in Fujan Province and undergo a complex process to make the tea; as a result, this is one of the most sought after in China. Oolong is a tea that is best described as being between black and green and can, in theory, be drunk with milk. I wouldn't recommend milk with this tea though, as it falls more on the 'green' side than black. The interesting thing about oolong tea is that it improves after various infusions- something that can justify what can, at first, look expensive.

Anyway, this tea is a mellow green-ish colour (typical of the colour of traditional Chinese green teas) with a sweet, flowery smell. The taste is interesting; sweet top notes and a slightly floral and also nutty aftertaste. What I liked most about the taste is that it didn't have the bitter, vegetable taste of some green teas. The flavour is refreshing and mild. It's a lovely tea for mid day and would be really nice after lunch, as it's a really cleansing blend.

As an Oolong novice, I would recommend this to a first timer, as it's reasonably priced and is a great introduction to a very interesting tea.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Tiger Spring Tea- Balham Builders' Blend

My absence from the blog over the last week has been due to a cold inhibiting my taste buds. As this was the case, I drank tons of Typhoo tea at work, only caring that the hot liquid might ease my symptoms. Obviously, as I couldn't taste anything, I didn't want to waste any of my review teas!

Yesterday, I was made a cup of Typhoo. Yuck. Bland, overly tannin-y and a weird aftertaste convinced me that I was to search out a better 'builder's blend*' of tea now that I was better. And I think I have found one that I can recommend in good conscience.

Tiger Spring Tea's Balham Builders' Blend is a classic blend of Assam, Ceylon and Darjeeling; the latter tea giving a delicate top flavour to compliment the earthy, malty robust flavours of the Assam and Ceylon teas.

The taste is gorgeous- perfect 'proper' tea (I will have to get a caddy of this to replace the lonely box of PG Tips that I keep for guests who request 'normal' tea. I think they will be converted instantly) and is perfect with or without milk and sugar. The smell is slightly sweet and the aftertaste is mellow and pleasant. Seriously, if you never know what I'm talking about when I discuss aftertaste, which is very important with black teas, buy some of this and then compare with a bog-standard tea bag. You will notice a difference.

This is just lush.

*For those unsure what is meant by 'builder's blend'- a British term for strong, black tea, the sort given to builders when they come and do a job at your house. Also usually fairly sweet, but I don't have sugar, so I can't comment on that bit!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 18

It has been a very busy week this week and so I took a new Earl Grey to work with me. Golden Monkey Tea Co  have a lovely EG (which I had to stop at least one co-worker from stealing some, she liked it so much!) which is very reasonably priced.

The tea has a strong, inviting smell and a really good colour- unlike some EGs, which can look a bit anaemic. As I've found with a few quality Earl Greys, there are cornflower petals in the mix; I'm not entirely sure why they are added, but they look pretty when added to black tea.

The taste itself is classic, good quality Earl Grey through and through. The tea, a luxurious Ceylon OP, gives a strong, malty and robust base flavour which is complemented by a zingy bergamot taste. This is EG at both its basic and finest- no messing about, no fiddling with quantities, just straight up citrus; perfect when you have a cold brewing (which I have had this week). Comforting, warming and delicious. What more could someone want in a no-nonsense, traditional Earl Grey?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Autumnal teas?

I'm looking for some really nice teas that just suit this time of year. Any suggestions?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 17

Every now and then, I come across an Earl Grey that really knocks my socks off. Tea Palace's Organic Earl Grey St Clements is one of those teas.  Tea Palace is a gorgeous tea shop in Covent Garden with an equally gorgeous website; I could happily spend a lot of money there (I am also very tempted to have them create a bespoke blend for me, although I'm unsure as to what I would have in it...)

In homage to the popular- yet, as I discovered, really quite grim- nursery rhyme, the tea itself is a black tea  that is absolutely filled to the brim with real orange and lemon peel. The effect is mouthwatering as the caddy is opened. The smell is wonderful, like old-fashioned, homemade lemon curd. An added bonus was that the scent is cheerful and sunny; perfect on a horrible October's day.

The taste itself is amazing- a rush of black (I think China) tea washes over the tongue, followed by a clean, snappy citrus flavour, the topnote of bergamot nicely complimented by the delicious Just absolutely gorgeous. Afterwards, my mouth felt clean and refreshed, without the bitter aftertaste some black teas can leave in the mouth. So no need for a chopper to chop off your head after this tea.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Interesting teas: English Breakfast

Britain's love affair with tea is legendary- we are the second biggest consumers of tea in the world, narrowly beaten by the Irish. Tea has a firm place in our history, whether it's being chucked off boats in Boston or travelling the Silk Route to eager London tea merchants, desperate to supply to the rich and famous. Tourists still flock to cafes and tea houses to experience a 'proper' tea.

English Breakfast is at the heart of this. I always think of it as a posh way to describe 'normal' tea. A blend of black teas (usually assam or ceylon, sometimes more expensive teas such as keemun), it's designed to perk you up in a morning. English Breakfast is an excellent soother of woes; hunger, hangover, heartache can all be soothed with a nice cup of tea. The beauty of English Breakfast is that its malty taste is designed to go well with milk and sugar. Anything else might be considered odd. I like mine fairly milky, no sugar, which in the health concious 21st century is not perhaps considered too weird. This tea is also the first we are exposed to as a child; as a result, I cannot drink a black tea without milk without feeling a little bit strange. The black teas often benefit from it.

I very rarely drink English Breakfast, but that means that when I drink it, I do appreciate it more; sometimes life does not need scented, fancy teas. Sometimes you just need a strong, macho builders' brew to do the job. I find it amusing then that this blend was originally devised for people with lots of money- now it's the most democratic of beverages.

The tea I tasted for this post was kindly supplied by Cup of Tea

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A nice surpise

I have really cool friends. My friend Charlotte recently got back from a trip the US and mentioned that she'd brought me back a small present from Disneyland. Now, I am a massive Alice fan and so figured it would be something related to this. I never even figured that there might be Alice tea! There have been a couple of varieties of 'Wonderland' tea I've been aware of, but I didn't realise Disney had their own version.

Anyway, I was given a little box of Blueberry green tea (there are eight bags per box) and, admittedly with some trepidation, brewed a cup. I'm guessing it's probably a China green tea, due to the very light colour. The instructions said to boil for 2-3 minutes in boiling water. I ignored the instructions.

The taste is actually really very nice, a little synthetic perhaps (as you might expect from a company not really used to selling tea), but very fruity and actually tastes of blueberries. An enjoyable cup of tea for any unbirthday party.

My two wishes for this tea: a) that it was easily available to buy online and b) that there were more than 8 teabags in each box. Oh well.

Interview: Richard Grey, Grey's Teas

Grey's Teas supply a wide range of exotic and had-to-get teas on their website, which has been trading for ten years. Richard himself is descended from the family of Earl Grey himself, an excellent pedigree for a tea merchant if ever there was one!

1) How did you first become involved in the tea industry?

I worked in a market research company on the Lyons Tetley account. I worked for Whittards in one of their first shops between jobs. I travelled to Darjeeling and Yunnan Province, China.

2) What is your favourite variety of tea a) to work with and b) to drink?

I love working with Oolongs - great variety, ancient history, fabulous legends and grown in magical far flung corners of China To drink, it depends on the time of day. Mornings: Ceylon Dimbulas especially Vinaka - I look forward to their robust body yet uplifting floral aromas. Afternoons: Keemuns especially Jhin Hao - I love their depth of taste, good body and winey character. Late: light delicate white teas especially Dragonwell - I find their gentle buttery tastes exotic and refreshing.

3) Where do you think the best tea comes from (e.g. Japan, Sri Lanka) and why do you think that?

Anhui Province, China - they have been producing wonderful teas there by hand for centuries.

4) Where do you get your inspiration for more 'unusual' blends?

The unique character of the key constituent teas such as oolong in Russian Caravan or Lapsang Souchong in our Good Afternoon blend.

5) Why do you think it is important that people experience good quality teas?

So that they can experience the distinctive characters of the fabulous teas available.

6) Why do you think independent blenders and tea merchants have been gaining popularity in the last few years?

They have been prepared to make little known teas available often where there is no proven market of any size. The internet has helped provide information on these teas to a wider audience and appeal to a more geographically dispersed market.

7) If you could have any five people at a tea party, who would they be and what would you serve them?

Alan Rickman, my favourite 'evil' actor - something mysterious such as Goddess of Mercy Oolong; Matthew Pinsent who as a fellow ex rower I very much admire and comes over well on television - a good robust Assam such as Mangalam, excellent when rising early for rowing practice!; Jerry Robinson, a very human and likeable businessman with immense experience who I like listening to - a good keemun that Britain has been trading with China for centuries such as Mao Feng; Robert Harris, an author whose books such as Enigma and Pompeii I very much enjoy with good characterisation and excellent historical research - I would like his response to our smoky Lapsang Souchong Falcon; Helen Bonham Carter, a brilliant and beautiful actress that is not afraid to look awful for character film roles, a top Darjeeling 1st Flush that would befit her renown costume drama roles such as Margaret's Hope.

8) Where do you predict tea businesses (and tea itself) heading in the next few years?

Tea will become increasingly appreciated for its diversity of taste and its health benefits as a natural drink. Our business will become increasingly known as an online speciality tea retailer and our choice of less well known teas will further grow. We may further develop our wholesale tea supply.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Interesting teas: Lapsang Souchong

When I was little, I always thought that Lapsang Souchong sounded mysterious (a teacher at school used to drink it) I remember its smoky smell and thinking it strange that she didn't drink tea with milk.

I wanted to try it as part of my 'Interesting Teas' series and was kindly sent a sample from Cup of Tea (Tarry Lapsang Souchong). The tea itself is sometimes known as Russian Caravan, which describes the long journey it had to take in the days before reliable trade routes. It's also referred to in quite a few books from early last century (The Age of Innocence is one of them), as it was fashionable to drink in certain areas of society.

It's interesting to note how smells can take you back; the smoky, almost tobacco-like smell reminded me of rainy playtimes at school. It's an interesting smell and one that would seem alien to some Western tea drinkers. The scent is achieved by drying the tea over burning pine wood, or, as in the case of Tarry Lapsang Souchong, over burning pine resin which leads to a stronger smell.

The taste of the Lapsang Souchong is, despite the smell, surprisingly strong. The taste of the black tea washes over the mouth, almost instantly followed by the smoky taste. The flavour itself is difficult to describe, but it's very autumnal- the taste and the smell remind me of bonfires and warmth. It's definitely an acquired taste and probably not one for me, but just as this tea produces strong dislike for some people, there are others that adore it. Horses for courses, I guess!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Earl Grey taste challenge- day 16

I've had a break from the Earl Grey challenge of late, but what with the weather becoming cooler and the nights drawing in, I've turned my evening attentions back to the delights of black tea with a dash of milk. Today's tea is Teapigs Darjeeling Earl Grey, which, to my delight, has a lovely picture of a daschund on the packet (I'm a big dog fan).

The wonderful thing about Teapigs is that they have their 'tea temples', which are more like posh tea pyramids than dodgy old tea bags. This enables the tea leaves to move around and 'breathe', ensuring that the best brew possible is achieved.

In this Earl Grey, Teapigs have used a fine darjeeling tea (as opposed to the Chinese tea that is often found in your usual tea bag), which lends subtlety and a nice base for the bergamot zing to shine through. The taste is light and refreshing, which is what I imagine Teapigs were aiming for. This is a nice, gentle tea, which I think would compliment breakfast or a quick lunch, rather than overwhelm with citrus, which, as mentioned in previous posts, some EGs do unintentionally.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Green Tea- a general (and fairly brief) overview

All of the teas mentioned in this article have been kindly provided by Grey's Teas and is a selection of their best selling green teas. If you have any suggestions of any other tea merchants or varieties I should try, please leave a comment or email me

It is said that the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung first discovered tea when a leaf from the tea plant drifted into some boiling water. In reality, tea probably first migrated from India to China some 1800 years ago. Until relatively recently, green tea was an exotic beverage only drunk by those who travelled to the Far East. It was shrouded in mystery and ritual, revered and highly regarded. Even now, tea ceremonies in Japan draw tourists. Green tea still needs special attention and care given to its preparation in order to produce the best results- over-boiling damages the leaves and thus the taste of the tea.

Green tea has become more widely drunk in the West in the last few years and many people will buy it because of the very real health benefits reported in the media. The problem with green tea becoming a ‘trend’ is that many people have bought low-quality teas and been confronted with a bitter, unpleasant brew. People who only drink green tea for health benefits are missing out on an exciting range of flavours; excellent tea is becoming as highly sought after as fine wines.

Thankfully, however, a range of tea merchants have begun exploring new avenues of green tea and as a result have produced a variety of delicious grades and flavours, each one unique. For example, Grey’s Teas carry interesting teas from the Darjeeling area of India, the Zhejang Province in China and two of the most highly sought after Japanese teas. Each variety has its own unique character.

China exports 80% of the world’s green tea and Chinese green tea is perhaps my favourite of the three varieties. It is the mildest of the three types, with both Pinhead Gunpowder and Tian Mu Quing Ding being excellent examples. Pinhead Gunpowder is the classic green tea from China. It is made of tightly rolled leaves and produces a pale yellow green tea, which is light and refreshing. As an introduction to green tea, this is perfect, as it is not too overpowering for the uninitiated.

Tian Mu Quing Ding produces a similar tea in looks, but in terms of taste, this one is light, summery and has a hint of delicate sweetness. Tian Mu Quing is highly prized, due to the fact that it is only picked for two weeks every year. This means that each cup is very, very special and should be savoured.

Japanese green teas usually have an attractive green colouration- more so than the Darjeeling and Chinese varieties. The teas I tried for this experiment are of the high quality that is expected in Japan, including the celebrated Sencha Gyokuro, also known as ‘Precious Dew’. This variety of tea is unusual, as the tea leaves are grown in the shade and picked early in the harvesting season. As a result, the tea itself has a full bodied, yet delicate taste. This is a also a tea for first thing in the morning, due to an unusually high caffeine content; perfect as a healthier alternative to the first coffee of the day.

Sencha is the most popular form of tea drunk in Japan (it is the powdered Matcha tea which is used in the traditional tea ceremonies) and the Japanese consume it as much as the British tend to drink their black tea with milk. Sencha Fukujyu tea is a refreshing, pale green tea with a refreshing, cleansing taste. Again, this is another tea that would be perfect as an introduction to the different varieties of green tea and a great one for people wanting a genuine Japanese experience.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Yumchaa Teas

Last week, Benn and I were in London to see a show (Avenue Q, if you're interested- very funny!) and on the way to the theatre, we came across a little street market. After wandering around, we came across Yumchaa Teas. I purchased three teas for £12- Notting Hill, a fruity, flowery black tea; Blueberry Hill, a black tea with rhubarb and blueberry; and Regent's Park, a yummy green tea with lots of interesting flavours.

Each one is hand blended, in small batches, meaning that they are fresh when they hit the packet. I've also now put each one in a Kilner jar to keep it fresh- an added bonus is that the teas are very pretty to look at too!

Unfortunately, Yumchaa's website appears to be down, but they do have a Twitter account. If you're in London for the day, do check out their teashops in either Soho or Camden, as all the reviews I've read make it sound fantastic! I will definitely pop in when I'm next up that way...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Interview: Simon at Cup of Tea

Simon Collins is one of the brains behind the fantastic website Cup of Tea, a veritable treasure trove of exotic teas (keep your eyes peeled for the new 'tea travels around the world' starting on the blog in the next couple of days to get an idea of their fantastic range.)

1) How did you first become involved in the tea industry?

Christine, our MD worked for Ronnefeldt in Germany for many years. Ronnefeldt is a traditional tea business which specialises in supplying the very best teas to four and five star hotels and restaurants worldwide. Most people in Great Britain don’t realise that the Germans drink lots of fine teas and the average knowledge of tea there is far higher than in the UK. When Christine came to the UK in 2001 she became the UK distributor for Ronnefeldt and Cup of Tea was born. Since then Cup of Tea has grown to become very well established as an online and wholesale trade supplier of a huge range of quality teas.

2) What is your favourite variety of tea a) to work with and b) to drink

The tea we like to work with is Morning Dew. Because the majority of people here are only accustomed to tea with milk it’s a superb way to introduce people to green tea. It’s refreshing, tasty and easy to drink with no extremes of flavour or aroma.

It’s very hard to pick just one but our favourite tea to drink is Darjeeling First Flush. It’s absolutely delicious – light, delicate, slightly sweet. We drink it at all times because it’s so refreshing.

3) Where do you think the best tea comes from (e.g. Japan, Sri Lanka) and why do you think that?

This question is almost impossible to answer because there are superb teas from nearly all the major growing areas. Most important is the tea is produced using the traditional orthodox method. That means hand picking and processing in small batches relying on the skill of the estate manager to ensure a perfect result. If we really have to choose we would go for Darjeeling. Because of the location in the foothills of the Himalayas almost all production is Orthodox.

4) Where do you get your inspiration for more 'unusual' blends?

It’s the tea taster's job to understand what works with what – and most importantly to understand what’s going to be popular looking forward. It’s his skill that counts in matching what may seem to be strange components.

5) Why do you think it is important that people experience good quality teas?

Because there’s much more to life (and tea) than brown liquid with milk and sugar!

6) Why do you think independent blenders and tea merchants have been gaining popularity in the last few years?

We’ve experienced increasing demand for better quality and diversity in all aspects of consumption. Good tea is driven by the same forces pushing forward artisan cheeses, better wines and other specialist foods.

7) If you could have any five people at a tea party, who would they be and what would you serve them?

The Queen – Queens Tea – a blend specially developed for her during a royal visit to Germany.

Johnny Depp – Oolong. Mostly because the girls want to meet him!

Winston Churchill – Mokalbarie; a gorgeous Assam broken leaf tea suitable to be drunk with milk. Ideal for a classic Englishman.

Chinese Emperor Chen Nung; said to be the inventor of green tea – Yuncui- to see what he thinks of the modern equivalent.

The Mad Hatter – Singell First Flush Darjeeling. A gorgeous tea for a tea expert!

8) Where do you predict tea businesses (and tea itself) heading in the next few years?

We see a great future for specialised businesses like Cup of Tea. There is increasing demand for really good teas and we believe our huge range helps. Tea as a category will also continue to grow as more consumers become aware of what is available outside of dusty teabags! We are increasingly encouraged that more and more people are prepared to brew and drink real loose leaf teas.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Earl Grey taste challenge- day 15

So, in my taste challenge, I've drunk a lot of black tea. I decided, on a pleasant late summer's afternoon that a change was afoot. Tonight I'm drinking Grey's Green Earl Grey, a light China green tea.

This tea is light, fragrant and refreshing. It's a lovely pale yellow-green and has a really nice cleansing effect on the mouth. The tea has a slightly sweet note and the bergamot just sort of 'floats' as a subtle note, rather than a major flavour. I think that this blend suits the more delicate nature of the green tea. I think that green tea is slightly lighter beverage than the good old robust black tea. This is lovely. A rather special tea.

The health benefits of green tea are supposed to be huge, so I like that I'm drinking something that's healthy and delicious (why isn't everything that's healthy delicious?) Also, it's low caffeine, which is a bonus if you want to cut down.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Back to School teas...

So, Wednesday is the start of a new term for me and I'm having issues deciding which teas I want to take to stock up my tea cupboard (I have a special 'tea shelf' in my staffroom cupboard!) I want to get the balance right for the more autumnal weather heading our way, but I also want something that's going to keep me going on long days.

What are your suggestions?

Interview: Teapigs

Teapigs sell a variety of whole leaf tea bags in interesting flavours (my favourite is Chilli Chai) and their mission statement is to get the UK drinking 'real tea'. Louise from Teapigs answered my tricky tea-related questions.

1) How did Teapigs become convinced of the need to persuade Britain to drink 'real tea'?

We are supposed to be a nation of tea drinkers but the average brew drunk in Britain is bog standard slop. Tea is like wine there is really good tea (like a fine wine) and there is really bad tea (cheap plonk). We felt that real tea wasn’t accessible to the regular tea drinker, any café or shop serving a decent cuppa seemed to associated with pomp, ceremony and gold trim. We want people to be able to get good quality tea in their local deli, café, restaurant etc.

2) What is your favourite variety of tea a) to work with and b) to drink?

There are amazing black teas, green teas, oolongs it is really hard to pick a favourite.... I think it is good to have different teas for different times of the day. I can’t start the day without a strong black tea.

3) Where do you think the best tea comes from (e.g. Japan, Sri Lanka) and why do you think that?

All tea producing countries produce good and bad teas, each tea producing country produces a certain unique taste due to the individual climates and soils. Everyone can find their own favourite it really is a personal taste thing.... I love a gutsy tea from Assam, but I also love the delicate flavour of Ceylon teas.

4) Where do you get your inspiration for more 'unusual' blends?

The more unusual ones are inspired by different kinds of foods – a love of liquorice, a love of chocolate, crème caramel etc.

5) How important should ethics be in the modern tea business? How have your ethics shaped your business?

Tea and ethics go hand in hand. The tea industry supports huge communities in developing regions, providing infrastructure – hospitals, schools etc. We have supported an orphapange in Rwanda since our launch. The orphanage is in a village where we source one of our teas from, as the business has grown so have our contributions to the orphanage.

6) Why do you think independent blenders and tea merchants have been gaining popularity in the last few years?

Because of the rise of quality tea – offering a level above the ordinary tea bag.

7) If you could have any five people at a tea party, who would they be and what would you serve them?
The rest of the teapigs – there are five.... And they all make great tea!

8) Where do you predict tea businesses (and tea itself) heading in the next few years?

There will always be a mainstream tea market but we hope that the quality or gourmet tea category will develop and people will become more educated about the vast range of teas and infusions which are available.

The British tea drinkers will begin to demand real tea!
Sign the petition for real tea at

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 14

Lahloo Tea is a Bristol-based tea company, run by Kate Gover. I was delighted to be sent some of the cute little tea tins with their signature Earl Grey blend. I really love the presentation of their teas, whether it's in the travel tins or the bigger packs with a cute little peg. This sort of presentation is what sets British independent tea companies apart from their blander, big company cousins.

On opening the tin, I was greeted by a strong, zesty smell. As today is a very rainy day, it was a welcome, cheery scent that would be great on those mornings where it's cold and dark and grey. I must admit, I did wonder if the taste would be as strong.

The tea itself is a blend of assam and darjeeling, a refreshing blend which makes this a brilliant breakfast blend- warm, inviting and comforting (which EG should be, in my humble opinion) I like this combination of assam and darjeeling, the latter balancing the malty, earthiness of the former into a light tea. The bergamot finely flavours the tea, but does not overwhelm. The tea and oil combine to create a subtle, sophisticated blend.

Apparently, Kate enjoys this tea chilled with lemonade and gin (a 'mar-tea-ni'), something that I am sorely tempted to try over the bank holiday- if this horrendous rain ever stops!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Interview: Mrs Stokes

So, every now and then, I will post an interview with someone involved in the tea industry who I think is rather interesting. Today's interviewee is Catherine, AKA Mrs Stokes, who sells vintage china. She recently got back from Vintage at Goodwood.

1) What would you recommend a tea drinker use for the perfect cuppa?

I read somewhere how curious it is that the British adopted tea as their national drink, rather than coffee as the rest of Europe did. Whatever the reason, us Brits love our tea and drink it in many different ways, so when we talk about a perfect cuppa, it depends on what mood you are in, who you are with and what you are drinking it for. For instance, if you are moving house, or have had a shock or just need a big drink of warming stuff, it’s natural to opt for a mug that you can wrap your hands around, like a hug. But when you are sharing secrets with a girl friend, or tasting tea, or entertaining, only cups and saucers will do because they add refinement and grace to proceedings. But the one thing that mugs and teacups and saucers should always have in common is that they should be made from fine bone china, which aids delicate sipping and therefore appreciation of the tea and the occasion.
2) Why do you think tea tastes so much better in a pretty china cup?

I haven’t tested it scientifically, but I can confirm anecdotally that using fine bone china means you can actually taste the flavour of the tea better than from earthenware or ordinary ceramics. It could be that the thinness of the china means it doesn’t get in the way of the tea’s taste or that that the daintiness of china teacups forces you to slow down and take small sips. Or both. The design of the cup is very important too though because it means you will take much more pleasure from the experience and take five or ten minutes out of your day to relax, which is something we don’t do that often any more.
3) If you could have five guests to your dream tea party, who would they be, what would you serve and what type of tea set would you use?

I love these questions! For my dream tea party I would invite first George Sand, the 19th century French novelist (and first French female novelist to gain a major reputation – plus she wore trousers way ahead of her time and I like a brave woman). I think she would be challenging but stimulating company and could regale us with tales of her tempestuous affair with Chopin. I loved Benedict Cumberpatch in Sherlock recently so he would definitely have to be there along with Marie Antoinette and her love of cake and fine living. Then Paul Merton for his quirky way of seeing the world and finally Lee Mack for his cheeky northern chappy perspective on all the high-flaluting conversation It would all be served from Royal Vale’s cottage collection. It’s a little bit kitsch (well very) but I love the Englishness of the pattern. Or maybe I would go for a full set of either Royal Albert’s Lady Carlye or American Beauty as I love the blowsy big rose design.
4) If money was no object, what tea set would you buy and why?

Just once I saw a stunning handpainted, pink trio (cup, saucer, plate) with the handle shaped like a butterfly. It didn’t have a maker so was probably Victorian. The trio alone was £75, I would love to see and own the whole set.
5) Why do you think vintage china is becoming fashionable?

Probably because people want to own small items of value at the moment. We have become far less of a throwaway society and now that people are watching what they spend, their affordable luxuries are changing from a pair of shoes or a handbag to items of heritage, especially those that are handpainted or crafted or of which there are only a few. My trios range from £5-20 at the moment and my boxed teasets from £10-£45 so all are affordable and my customers know they are buying something special and if it is English-made, something of which there are a limited number as many of the big potteries no longer exist.

I think the fashion started a few years ago when china teacups were found two-a-penny in charity shops for next-to-nothing and people realised they were a unique and affordable way to add a twist to their cafes or their homes, plus they realised how pretty they are. But ever since the explosion of antiques programmes you won’t find so many bargains of good quality in charity shops any more because they know the value of the the china, either from an auction point of view or a desirable point of view.
6) Are you a tea drinker? If so, what do you use to drink it in and what's your favourite brew?

Yes I am a tea drinker and at the moment I have a wonderful blend called Earl Grey Blue Lady. It’s loose-leaf tea that I bought from Wiltshire Tea at Green Park Station Market in Bath where I also have a stall. I use a cup and saucer, currently one that was my husband’s grandmother's – the original Mrs Stokes.

For more info about Mrs Stokes Vintage china visit her website

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Eteaket- Blooming Marvellous

Today has been a gloomy day; I haven't been able to focus on my work and it's been chucking it down with rain. I decided I needed a little pick-me-up. I have a few tea samples to choose from, but Eteaket's Blooming Marvellous caught my eye.

I will just say one thing- I am a sucker for tea with flowers in it. Especially roses. So, it was fate. It was the tea I needed there and then. It's a sencha tea (green) and has sunflower and mallow petals in it and promises fruit. Intriguing indeed.

First impressions- the smell is gorgeous; fruity, fun and cheerful were the words that hit me when I first smelled the tea in the packet. What is even nicer is that the aroma hit me by accident as I was getting a teaspoon. But please don't think that it's overpowering- it's not.

I've found people who are worried by a lovely smelling tea. It won't live up to its promise, they say. The smell is just there to lure you in, it tastes like dishwater. Be afraid no more, doubters. This tea lives up to its promise!

I've tried sencha blends before and have found that they can be somewhat lacking in charisma. Blooming Marvellous does not have that problem. The tea is clean and refreshing, providing a platform for a burst of fruity loveliness. At first, the sip is  luscious and smooth and is quickly followed by a burst of fruit flavour. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's a berryness with maybe a hint of citrus... Anyway, it is lush. One of my favourite teas reviewed on the blog so far and my favourite green tea so far.

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 13

An interesting side effect of tasting all the different types of Earl Grey has been that I have become better at identifying different types of flavours in what essentially should be the same recipe. I have been surprised in the range and different interpretations of the 'tradtional' EG flavour.

Today's tea, Wiltshire Tea's Earl Grey  was another surprise. The tea smells like a good quality EG, with the bergamot being particularly present- I think a good EG should have a distinct aroma, especially when you consider the weakness of the 'generic' brands. So, so far, so good!

The blend is a really nice Kenya/Ceylon blend, which lends itself to a strong, robust flavour. The bergamot and tea work together nicely, with each having its own powerful presence. The really interesting element to this tea, though, is the smokiness that comes when I drink it. It's a strange, but pleasant taste that hits the top of the mouth and leaves a faint whisp of an aftertaste. (And before you ask, no, I don't smoke!) This strong flavour is a unique one amongst the teas I have tried thus far. I'm inclined to believe that it is the mixture of Kenyan and Sri Lankan teas that have produced such an unusual, yet enjoyable, taste.

Definitely a tea to stock up with for the forthcoming autumn/winter. I would love to drink this on a cold evening by a wood burning fire!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Earl Grey Challenge- Day 12

So last week I was in Cork and, unlike Dublin, the city doesn't have many tea shops. Not to fear, I decided to write a review of a tea that I've had for a while, but not known what to make of it til now. Revolution Tea  has produced an Earl Grey tea with an unusual twist- Earl Grey with lavender.

At first, the whole combination of lavender and citrus appeared to be something of a paradox. How could an ingredient that is traditionally used to calm people down and help them sleep work with EG's traditional, summery and citrus-y kick? I like EG to wake me up and I have lavender teabags to help me drift off. Hmm, a conundrum indeed. Saying that, one of my favourite cakes is rose and lavender (but I never eat it whilst drinking EG, as the lavender hampers the taste of the tea.)

So, back to the tea. A friend in the US sent me the tea to sample and I was eager to try it. It's made of a mixture of ceylon, darjeeling and oolong tea leaves. I was hoping that this combination would enhance the lavender/bergamot flavour, rather than swamping it with tannin flavour.

The smell is unusually sweet (not in a bad way!) There is clearly a note of lavender on first sniff, with the bergamot coming behind and lifting the floral scent away from being too heavy.

The flavour is heavenly- the lavender and bergamot combine to produce an almost spicy flavour that is refreshing and sweet. The lavender hits the back of the throat and is a soothing flavour, which works extremely well with the perkier flavour of the bergamot, which acts as a natural pick-me-up. The lavender is therefore limited to an enhancing taste, rather than an overpowering one. Yum!

I must admit, after my initial trepidation, this has proved to be a very, very pleasant surprise and one that I recommend even my friend who doesn't 'do' lavender in food has a taste of...

(For UK/European site, click here)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Ronnefeldt Morning Dew

So, we went for a walk this afternoon and got caught in a downpour. What's the perfect solution? Why, tea of course!

I've been drinking a lot of black tea with milk lately (wonder why...?) and decided I needed something a bit different. Then I remembered that I had some Morning Dew tea from Cup of Tea and reckoned that a nice, fruity green tea was just what was on the cards.

The tea is a lovely sencha -the green tea most drunk by the Japanese; 80% of tea produced in Japan is sencha- that contains petals, possibly rose and cornflower, but I could be wrong, and mango/citrus flavours. I must admit, if I'm going for a flavoured green tea, sencha is my favourite. I like the mild taste.

When brewed, the colour is the perfect golden green expected and the smell is fruity, but not overpowering. The mango smell is juicy and inviting and this is the perfect set up for the taste; the tea itself is mild and pleasant. It doesn't quite pack a punch in the same way as green Earl Grey blends do, but it's a lovely tea to drink on a warm and sunny afternoon. For those who like their tea iced, this might be one to try.

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 11

Eteaket looks like the kind of tea boutique that makes it an essential place to visit in Edinburgh (in fact, I might visit one of my favourite cities just to have afternoon tea here...) What pleased me is that they have a cracking website which sells all of their amazing teas, as well as some seriously stylish accessories.

Their Royal Earl Grey is a whole leaf Ceylon tea, flavoured with natural oil of bergamot (another feature I love about their website is that they show you where each tea is sourced on a map). Like a lot of high quality EGs I've come across, cornflower petals add a sophisticated touch to the blend.

First things first- on opening the packet, you are greeted by a wonderful, summery citrus aroma, almost like the best marmalade you've ever tasted. My tastebuds were tingling before the water had hit the cup!

The taste is heavenly- the sharp bergamot taste is delicately balanced by the lower notes of malty, smoky and refreshing tea. I had this tea before my breakfast and it really was a fantastic morning brew. I highly recommend it to those people who like their EG 'just right', it's a regal, yet  cheerful blend that I will come back to again and again.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Teapigs Chilli Chai

On Wednesday, I found myself at my knitting group fairly early- a perfect chance to have a pot of tea to myself! The tea I chose was Teapigs chilli chai, a blend of assam tea, spices and a kick of chilli. I'll admit, I was a little bit hesitant to try at first. Chai is lovely... if it's done right and chilli, well, that's just weird right? Anyway, I decided to take the plunge and figured that if I add chilli to everything I cook, I could take it in my favourite beverage, right?

Oh, how surprised I was- I should be more adventurous! The taste was warm and soothing; I will have to buy a box of this for the winter, because I think that on those snowy days or horrible, wet and windy autumn days, this will really put the feeling back in your fingers. It's also a nice alternative to sugary, over-the-top-milky chai lattes (which I love, but not good for the waistline!) I drank it with milk, in order to calm it down sliiiiightly, but oh, it was gorgeous. Seriously, the next time I send tea to my friends abroad, I will include some of this. It is amazing!

Friday, 30 July 2010

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 10

A good quality Earl Grey really speaks for itself and I have recently enjoyed one that does just that- Grey's Teas- Earl Grey. This tea is a fine blend of China Keemun tea and Indian Darjeeling (I must admit, I really like knowing where my tea is coming from and it seems that the best quality teas don't mind telling you this) with a really nice balance of bergamot- refreshing and sharp, another sign of this tea's high quality. At the moment, this is my favourite EG tea that I've tried so far- and I don't say that lightly. The balance between tea and bergamot is just right, the tea flavour is smooth and delicious and the bergamot kick is just perfect.
This tea is refined and refreshing. I love it.

As a side note, something to send the tea enthusiast's heart a-fluttering is that the company's founder not only has a long career in tea, but is also a descendant of the Earl Grey, Charles Grey after whom the blend is founded. If that's not an exceptional pedigree, I don't know what is!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

China in (my) hands...

Remember I had china envy last week? Well, thanks to the delightful discovery of Mrs Stoke's Vintage China, I am now the proud owner of two very spiffing tea trios:

This one is made by Foley and dates from about 1908. It's so pretty and dainty, I worry that I might accidentally break it. I shall have to learn to behave like a lady at tea time.

This one has a pattern called 'Pagoda'. I'm not sure when it was made, but it is totally lovely and, as an added bonus for me, the saucer and plate have birds on them! Herons to be precise.

Now all I need is a milk jug...

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- day 9

So, I've been fairly consistent in my love for Palais des Thes, as they were the first tea company that made me realise that tea can be something really lovely and worth taking time over.

Their The des Lords tea is amazing. A perfect Earl Grey for a serious tea drinker. The scent is floral and sharp, but mellowed by the tea itself. PTD have a range of EG teas, but this one is the strongest in terms of bergamot. The taste is quintessentially what I would expect from a good quality EG blend- strong, but not artificial and of high quality. The aftertaste is fruity, but not cloying.

I have often turned to this blend when I've not been feeling well; I personally find Earl Grey to be very comforting when I feel a bit sniffly or grumpy, and this really improves my mood. If you like your EGs strong, this is definitely the one for you!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

I so want this to be true....

There are internet rumours abound that Lady Gaga is in talks to launch a brand of tea. As a massive Gaga fan and a devoted tea blogger, I would be very interested in this venture. What do other people think? What type of tea would you expect from her? And would you buy it?

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 8

So, as previously mentioned, I have become acquainted with Metrodeco's teas and I couldn't resist the opportunity to try their 'Shades of Grey' Earl Grey tea.

What sets Shades of Grey apart is that it has rose petals in there, to give an interesting dimension to the familiar EG taste. The smell is lovely, not overpowering or over the top.

The taste is interesting (in a good way)- the bergamot is definitely there, but there is a slight hint of rose too, which makes for an elegant and ladylike brew. I know Metrodeco are a 30's specialist and I could imagine one of the stars of the period (Joan Crawford, Bette Davies, Jean Harlow) drinking some of this from some fabulous Art Deco teacups in Hollywood. A very nice tea for grown ups who like their tea sophisticated and a bit special!

Treacle and Co.

I have found a new tea/cake shop in Hove, which although I would like it to stay a secret, I think is well worth a visit. Treacle and Co. is, to quote someone in Mary Poppins 'practically perfect in everyway', luscious cakes and a gorgeous 1930's feel to the place make it a really nice place to sit and relax.

And the tea is just fantastic. I tried three teas whilst I was there (one was not for sale, but I like to be nosy when tea is involved.) I will discuss one here and one in my next Earl Grey Challenge.

The main tea I tried was from Metrodeco, a tea shop based in Kemptown. I had the Parisian Floral Calm, a highly perfumed and decadent infusion that involved (I think) chamomile and rose, amongst other things. I am a massive perfumed tea fan and this ticked all my boxes- the smell was like a posy of wildflowers and the taste was just, well, heavenly. I will definitely be buying some of this when I get paid! It was. gorgeous.

It looks like a green tea, but I'm pretty sure it's not. Anyway, it is lovely and one I might buy to add to my low/non-caffeine collection.
 Also, see that teapot in the background? Isn't it gorgeous? As is the china- everything is beautifully presented and I now have serious china-envy. I need new tea cups!

A close up of the gorgeous teapot:

I also had a mini pecan and maple tart, but it didn't last long enough for me to take a photo... There is a whole list of cakes; my ambition over the summer is to try as many as I can, even if it means doing exercise on a regular basis..

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Earl Grey Challenge- Day 7

So, I have quite a collection of teas now, thanks to the blog and I have a backlog of Earl Grey teas. As I break up for summer next week, I'm hoping that my energy levels will perk up and I can write more reviews!

Today's EG is from Lipton, a brand I know features in a lot of hotels around the world (having not been very well travelled, I have to take my friend's word for it.) It's one of those teas that people have a strong opinion of and that 'proper' tea drinkers seem to distain.

So, I decided to give it a go as someone who is completely neutral and has never tried the brand before.

Lookswise, the tea is fine, a nice colour, nothing special. There's not a strong smell, but that doesn't always put me off. There's a hint of bergamot, which is fine. (Notice the repetition of 'fine' here?)

The taste is OK. A bit watery and thin, but OK. I can see why this is given in hotels- it's not offensive, it's pleasant and it does the job. The taste is slightly flowery and leaves a nice aftertaste. It's a good EG for people who maybe haven't tried it before, but to someone who likes EG to pack a bit of a punch in one way or another it's just... OK. I would drink this when on holiday if nothing else was on offer. I don't dislike it at all. I just don't have remarkably strong feelings for it either way.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Tea adverts from the past- Part 1

1920's Japanese advert for tea suitable for pregnant and nursing women. Apparently it was also good for colds!

Nice Dutch tea advert from 1920's/30's. I really like this because it's fairly simplistic and the girl looks like she's really enjoying her cuppa.

Blog will be back to reviewing tomorrow- green tea and another Earl Grey are the next ones up!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Earl Grey Taste Challenge- Day 6

So, after a hiatus due to heat, I am taking advantage of a cooler evening to try my sixth Earl Grey. I'm finding, that as part of this experiment that I am becoming picky about EG already. Maybe that's not a bad thing.

Anyway, today's Earl Grey comes from Hampstead Tea. Hampstead Tea is organic and good quality, but really reasonably priced.

The smell is perfect EG- sharp, tangy and crisp. The colour is bright and not insipid (something that I've noticed a lot of EG can be). The taste is excellent and reflects the smell; it's definitely a grown-up's tea. The taste is sophisticated and natural. After my first sip, my mouth felt refreshed and there was no stickiness. This tea is perfect with biscuits and cakes (actually, I ate stroopwaffles with a cup earlier) as it's not sweet or sickly, so it compliments the choice of treat, rather than battles for the notice of your tastebuds.

A really nice, grown up tea!

Tetley green tea with honey

In Britain, I think a lot of people were first introduced to green tea by Tetley (which also had an advert for green tea banned after claiming it had super-duper health benefits) and I know that I was disappointed when I did; I was nearly put off green tea for life, had it not been for the tea that's served in Japanese restaurants. I remember that the mint green tea tasted a bit like toothpaste and the lemon, well, let's just say that there was more than a hint of bathroom cleaner to that one.

Anyway, I'd seen a sample of their green tea with honey knocking around the staffroom at work for a few weeks and decided I would nick it, all in the name of research, obv. Maybe Tetley's green tea had improved in the last few years?

So, I made the tea in my usual manner. First off, the smell is, well, non-existent. There is maybe a tiny whiff of honey, but it's miniscule. The colour is nice enough, though.

On the back of the sample packet, Tetley proudly say that green tea can be a bit bitter, which is why they've 'specially blended a smoother, more gentle-tasting green tea.' In fact, it's so gentle, it hardly tastes of anything. I mean, it's clearly not water, but there is no obvious green tea taste. Again, the honey is there, I suppose, but only just. If it was an actor, it would be described as phoning in its performance. Nothing there.

Now, I don't mind subtle teas; in fact, I often rather like them. But there has to be something there to like. This is just bland.  It's like the James Blunt of green tea...

Monday, 5 July 2010

'A Nice Cup of Tea'

George Orwell is one of my all-time favourite authors and I know that he was a big tea fan. So I was pleased to stumble across his famous essay 'A Nice Cup of Tea' and read his thoughts on the taking of tea, particularly as it relates to tea drinking in the time of rationing. I thought you might like to have a read, it's fairly quick and it has Orwell's eleven top tips for the perfect cuppa.

I'm hoping to put up some lovely recipes to accompany various types of tea soon, once I get my baking mojo back. Any suggestions?

Sunday, 4 July 2010


Today, I visited Alfriston with my aunt and my grandma (my favourite ever bookshop, Much Ado Books, is there, so any excuse to visit is fine by me!)

After we arrived, we stopped for lunch and, of course, tea was involved.

I decided against going for my usual type of cuppa and was tempted by Toppers Teas Treasure Chocolate- a blend of rooibos tea, chocolate, vanilla, almond and coconut, with a dash of black tea thrown in for good measure.

I've only ever tried rooibos once, when I drank a chocolate/peppermint blend; I guess the natural sweetness goes well with a chocolatey blend.

The smell was lovely and chocolatey and the distinctive smell of rooibos was instantly recognisable. I added milk and what looked to be small flecks of chocolate floated to the surface of the tea. This was surprising, but not unpleasantly so, it just made me want to taste the chocolate!

The taste was very smooth, the rooibois again coming to the fore. It has been a while since I drank rooibos and this tea makes me think I should drink more. It really does have a lovely sweetness to it, which was complemented, not overpowered by, the combination of other flavours. Another factor that works in rooibos' favour is that fact that it is low caffeine and that it's healthier in other respects too. I may have to order myself some of this.

Also, whilst in Much Ado, I bought The History of Tea, which looks at literary portrayals of tea (hopefully you know what I mean...) and has some recipes based on scenesin which tea is taken, such as Mary Poppins and The Importance of Being Earnest. As the holidays fast approach, I am hoping for some time to bake and read. I shall let you know what I think of the book as soon as I read it!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Earl Grey Challenge- Day Five

I've hardly had time to breathe this week- meetings, parents' evenings, leaving dos. So today, I thought I would take a quick breath and tell you about my latest EG. This one is from Cup of Tea, the website of which I can highly recommend (some tea websites are nothing but confusion. This website makes my lazy perfectionist brain happy) For this review, I am trying their loose EG tea. For the record, I love loose tea, probably because I love all of the accessories and ritual that comes with carefully preparing each bag.

The smell is delicious. Subtle, understated and classy. The colour is a very pretty gold. All in all, this is a very inviting cup of tea.

One criticism I find I often have of Earl Grey is that the taste can be, well, offensively violent. Cup of Tea's EG is far from this- in fact, it is very delicate delicate and delicious. The flavour itself is refreshing and cleansing. Unlike many of the other teas I have tried so far, this one has no sticky aftertaste.  My favourite thing about the taste of this tea is that it has a lovely hint of sweetness after the initial taste of the tea and bergamot. I don't know why, but it just makes me happy. This is the sort of tea I would love to drink as part of Afternoon Tea.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Japanese Tea Ceremony Photos

I love the way how in this one, subtle colours are picked out and that you have to really, really look to see them.

This one is my favourite. She looks like she is concentrating, yet very serene. I also love the crazy colouring used- why be delicate when you can go Day-Glo?

Two of my obsessions are tea and Japan. I think that these pictures capture that perfectly.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Earl Grey Challenge- Day 4

I woke up stupidly early for a Sunday morning and decided to take advantage of the cool temperature to have a sneaky cup of Earl Grey. Clipper is one of my favourite tea brands for many reasons; good, clean tastes, Fairtrade and they sell Alice in Wonderland themed tea.

I also love the artwork on Clipper boxes. It's a fairly new design, but I just think that it's simple and elegant (I always like to pretend I'm elegant, until I bang into something.)

The first thing I noticed when opening this box was the smell. Put simply, it smells like sunshine- citrusy, heady and fruity. Just the thing when I'd got up at 6.45.

The taste is fantastic- smooth, with the balance of tea/bergamot just right. Neither taste dominates, which means that the flavour is just right for a summer cuppa. The tea is tinged by a soft citrus flavour that sort of travels to the back of the throat. If I knew how to talk about wine, I suppose I would know how to describe that. As it is, I'm just a tea geek... The aftertaste is pleasant, slightly 'sticky', but in a good way. As in, the taste is so lovely, you don't mind it hanging around for a while. Just like its packaging, Clipper Earl Grey is simple, elegant and sophisticated. Yum.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Interesting tea things...

So, it's very warm here, too warm for me (I drank some tea at work the other day and felt like I was melting inside...) Because I love looking at tea and tea accessories as much as I do drinking it, I thought I would show you some really cool stuff:

I love this Owl tea set from Stash Teas. But then, I just love owls. I think it's pretty cool and would cheer me up on a rubbish morning!

How cute are these Oriental tea cups? They come in a range of colours and are just so sweet! Not sure how much tea you would get into them, but you'd be stylish drinking from them (there is also a matching teapot..)

I use DIY teabags all the time for loose tea- they're great as you can just sling them on a compost heap or in the garden (tea leaves are very good plant food) I also find that metal strainers are a bit of a faff to empty and clean and can also leave a metallic taste in some lighter teas.

Finally, I love this print, which is available from Etsy- perfect for a tea-lover's kitchen!

I shall be posting lots of tea reviews later today and tomorrow. If you've seen any cool tea stuff or interesting teas, email me. I'd love to hear from you!