8 Tasting Notes
Got this just now from a tea swap. Have never had honeybush before! It brews up a clear rich reddish-brown, like oolong, and while both the dried bag and the final result are sweetly aromatic, the scent doesn’t resemble honey at all to my nose. What it is like is the slightly medicinal-fruity sweetness of dried longan meat or red dates, as used in Chinese soups and fortifying drinks. Based on that I’d assume honeybush is “heaty”. My mother says she finds it acidic, but I don’t. It doesn’t taste like much, actually (and it’s been steeping for 6 minutes at this point), but that’s fine with me in a late-night uncaffeinated brew.
Earl Grey is hit or miss for me. I used to love it as a wee tea drinker, and at some point I simply stopped liking it (I’ve never heard anyone else call it a “gateway tea”, but…). The bergamot in this is very subtle, though, more flavouring the chocolate than the tea itself – analogous to dark chocolate with traces of candied orange peel. There’s a sweet raspberry note, and the chocolate is a pleasant “dry” cocoa in the style of Italian biscuits (rooibos, cocoa shells, carob). All in all it’s a very well-balanced blend.
This is from Four O’Clock’s organic line – it’s one of those little silky pyramid bags rather than a paper tea bag.
The most WYSIWYG of teas: 2/3 fine loose leaf Indian black tea, 1/3 dried lavender flowers (eyeballing, by volume). You could blend it yourself if you wanted. This came in an upscale 90g tin but my Indian-style cardamom black tea purchased in an airtight foil block from the ethnic supermarket followed the same principle of blessed simplicity.
I sweeten this with the lavender sugar I bought from Fuchsia ( www.flowergrocery.com ). I’m a big fan of lavender, in case the bias here wasn’t apparent.
I love saffron, but only recently – when I bought a couple of grams from the Iran Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo – did I realize one can infuse and drink it as an herbal tea. Nicely warming and soothing, especially with a spoonful of honey or yellow sugar. Reputedly good for feminine complaints. Permeates the entire kitchen, the charm of saffron being that it smells like nothing much very penetratingly. The Krocus Kozanis box conveys the scent even unopened in the grocery store, through the plastic wrap.
Greek saffron, according to the paper slip, has been in production since Minoan Crete (1600 BC) and is recognized as the best quality in the world. In my experience, every spice-producing country claims theirs to be the best, and Greeks claim everything of theirs to be the best and the oldest – but this stuff does punch above its weight. There’s a floweriness to it that makes one think of a living plant rather than a dry spice, and it’s not even whole stamens. Possibly the herbs and honey (boy is it honey-tastic) in the traditional recipe bring out the fragrance.
(Incidentally, the non-bookmark-friendly Flash doohickey on the Krocus Kozanis web site gives the following recipe for iced saffron fruit tea from scratch:
1 cup thyme honey
1 litre ice-cold water
3-4 slices lemon
5-6 slices orange
5-6 slices apple (unpeeled)
2 tbsp lemon juice
3-4 spearmint twigs, well rinsed
Soak saffron in a cup of warm water for a few hours. Remove from water and place in a sizeable glass jug with the thyme honey and ice-cold water. [Ed.— it makes no sense to me to discard the first infusion, but that’s what it says.] Stir well to dissolve honey and taste for desired sweetness. Add the orange, apple, and lemon slices to the jug. Add lemon juice and a few ice cubes. Finally, add the spearmint twigs and stir well.)
4.70$CAN for ten teabags is pricey, but saffron always is – and one bag should be good for several infusions, if my experience with the from-scratch version counts for anything.
For a wintry Canadian evening one wants something piping hot, soothing, but full-bodied – a creamy black tea, like Tania’s nameless Kusmi-esque blends, in lieu of hot cocoa (too many calories) or tisane (too acidic, too thin…). Then again, creamy black teas are too caffeinated, unless one has a good reason to stay up late. One doesn’t want to mess about with loose leaves either; it’s probably been a long day. All of which to say I try to keep a box of decaf dessert tea bags around: caramel rooibos, almond carob, that sort of flavour. It’s always the first thing to run out. Picked up this Celestial Seasonings box today, thinking it would be right up my alley.
Teapot, boiling water, a proper long steep (it was 4-6 minutes on the box). The creamy vanilla note hits one in the face as soon as it’s poured. It’s not very maple-tastic, however: the maple is there, but I’m used to Les Délices de l’Érable’s store blend’s trompe-la-langue shot-of-syrup scent. The cream in this one is more like… something toasted? There’s roasted barley and chicory and carob in this thing. I thought of vanilla sugar on hot oatmeal, vanilla spread on challah bread French toast. It is quite pleasant.
On the tongue it’s much weaker than the nose was. But I did eke out a whole pot, and one’s probably supposed to make just the one cup. The teabag doesn’t even have a little string attached.
Background: osmanthus is to Shanghai, where I was born, what lilacs are to Paris (except that it blooms in early autumn). It’s used to flavour a number of traditional regional dishes and desserts. Osmanthus tea isn’t really one of them – it’s not a tea-growing area, although it’s a city of oolong-drinkers by and large – but the scent triggers abject nostalgia. A cup of this to me as madeleines to Proust. Plus it just smells really freaking nice.
Dried osmanthus blossoms (little curled up yellow bits) have less staying power than jasmine. They lose their scent if shelved too long. This makes buying osmanthus tea, which I do whenever possible, a frustrating exercise. Ready blends were hard to find in Shanghai itself the last time I was there in ‘06. Then again, in ’06 it was hard to find osmanthus tea in Canada, and thankfully that’s no longer the case.
This Golden Dragon stuff is the cheapest, most generic option – $5/canister in the South Shore Asian grocery, iirc – and it’s definitely been shelved too long. Did no favours to the green tea itself, either; this ain’t gunpowder, which I’m convinced could actually be entombed for centuries and still taste fine when the archaeologists unearth it (not that this describes one or two pantry experiences I’ve had or anything). A long hard steep and/or multiple applications of hot water unlocks the osmanthus scent, though, and that’s really all I’m looking for. Still, a domain in which you tend to get your money’s worth.
(The classic method of preserving osmanthus isn’t drying at all, but candying in sugar syrup. Why don’t I get a jar of that from Chinatown and dump a teaspoonful in when I brew regular green or oolong? Reasonable question. The cultural injunction against sugaring Chinese teas is too strong, I guess. Ping me on Steepster if you try it.)
Incidentally – and the fact that I’m stretching the defined bounds of the software right now suggests that this is functionality Steepster’s social networking gurus ought to consider, perhaps with a nice Google Map as accompaniment – the best cup of osmanthus tea I’ve found in Montreal to date is the Brûlerie Saint-Denis near Côte-des-Neiges metro station, under the Renaud-Bray, which has a massive selection of loose leafs. I don’t know what company they source from.
looks askance at photo Is this the only Twinings blackcurrant black tea? I’ve only had this at Eric’s – twice – three times – and his box doesn’t look like this. Perhaps it dates from 2008.
Anyhow! This does what it says on the package. It’s like a nice Assam (not too robust) with a shot of Ribena, only not as sweet as I imagine that to be. No acidity as there can be with fruit-flavoured teas (but when is blackcurrant ever acidic?). I don’t know how other people do it but with flavoured black teas I usually steep for a minute max the first go-round, or the flavouring doesn’t last until the second steeping.
Yr classik genmaicha wot I have been drinking steadily for years – in fact I know I took some pretty pictures of it ages ago I will unearth and upload sometime. The packaging says to steep with boiling water for 60 seconds, then pour out completely (Japanese style). In practice I find boiling water kills the lovely delicate green colour of the first infusion (before it turns green-tinged gold), so I let the water sit in the kettle for a minute first. To make a jumbo-sized cup for myself I use 1.5 teaspoonfuls in one of those empty sachets they sell at the Korean grocery (also v. good for holding bouquet garnis for soup and such), and just take the sachet out after a minute. One sachet can be infused 2-4 times, increasing the steeping period each time. The last one won’t be much good tea-wise, but it’ll still have the distinctive brown rice scent and flavour.