15 December 2011

All shapes and sizes...

While in NYC I’ve had the opportunity to try some pretty amazing and unusual teas and I thought I would feature a few of them here.

First off, is a personal favourite, In Pursuit of Tea’s Fragrant Leaf Green (raw) Pu’erh which is pictured above, literally wrapped inside a tan-coloured leaf! Inside are pu-erh leaves from China's Yiwu mountains which totally remind me of drinking mulled wine - with spice flavors such as nutmeg and cinnamon - when brewed. A great one for the holidays!

Sitting beside it, is Chicago Tea Garden’s Wild Orange Pu-erh. These pu-erh leaves have been aged inside hollowed-out clementine (a variety of mandarin) rinds at man-made caves in the US. The leaves are originally from China and after the aging process, you’ll taste some nice subtle citrus flavors after brewing.

The final uniquely-shaped tea to make my list is Butiki Tea’s Organic Blue Nettle green tea leaves. The leaves are from Sri Lanka and have been twisted together by hand. So easy to brew, you don’t even have to measure them out! Three of these at a time will brew up a refreshing cup of green, vegetal-tasting tea.

Thanks to all of the lovely tea retailers for taking the time to share some tea!

08 December 2011

Gaga's diamond teacup

What do you buy for the tea lover who has it all this holiday season? How about Lady Gaga's $695.00 Swarvoski crystal encrusted teacup, with a 'diamond' at the bottom! Available at Gaga's Workshop at Barneys New York. It's on my wish list!

24 November 2011

My guilty tea pleasure

Coffee or tea? For some, it's a tough decision but not anymore! Many tea industry retailers are enticing coffee lovers with what many are labeling as ‘coffee bean tea’.

Sun’s Organic Garden is just one of the many tea retailers in the US now offering these ‘coffee bean’ tea blends. Their Ying Yang Coffee Bean tea is a mix of coffee beans, black tea leaves and chocolate pieces. In other words, ALL OF MY ADDICTIONS IN JUST ONE CUP!

Brewed just like a tea (I brewed about 1 tsp in 1 cup boiling water for 3-5 minutes), this cuppa tastes just like it sounds – chocolate, coffee and black tea flavors all swirl pleasantly around in my mouth. In fact, I actually prefer this one without milk – maybe its because I don’t have a proper espresso machine where I can heat the milk, but I think mostly its because on its own, you can actually taste all three of these amazing ingredients. Super decadent, extremely satisfying and now instead of choosing one over the other, I can simply have both.

17 November 2011

Tea lattes?

For all those tea lovers craving something warm and creamy once in awhile, there’s a growing trend towards combining tea and milk. And I don’t mean just the traditional method of pouring some into your cup of Earl Grey…

During my travels in the US, I’ve sampled a number of tea lattes, or tea with steamed milk. Argo (this place is what Starbucks is to coffee here) combines their Armenian mint tea as a base with steamed, frothy milk on request. There’s also a cute little café by me in Brooklyn that does what it calls a London Fog. It’s the same Earl Grey you’re used to drinking but with served in a tall glass with plenty of steamed and super frothy milk.

Of course, the idea of milk and tea is nothing new. In many parts of Asia, they have a tradition of combining condensed milk with black tea, which not only gives it a creamier flavour, but adds a nice sweetness as well. The most popular example of this would of course be Malaysia’s famous Teh Tarik, or pulled tea (pictured above). The act of pouring the tea from one cup to another - at amazing distances!- gives this tea a nice, frothy top very similar to a cup of cappuccino. As much fun to watch as it is to drink!

10 November 2011

Tea good enough to eat?

I recently visited one my ‘hidden’ tea favorites in New York, Sun’s Organic Garden. Located towards the end of a bustling street in Chinatown, most wouldn’t pick it, but the owner Lorna not only has an amazing selection of organic teas, her knowledge about the healing properties of tea is remarkable!

Lorna creates all of her unusual tea blends herself, using either tea leaves or herbs. One of her newest blends, called Five Elements tea, is created with a mix of sultana, gogi, sencha and other secret Chinese berries that have amazing health benefits for just about every part of the body, including the ability to improve eyesight after one month of use – as personally attested to by Lorna who no longer needs her glasses to drive at night!

But the trick is…you need to eat the tea after you’ve steeped it (about 1 tbsp for five minutes in 1 cup boiling water) and enjoyed many cups throughout the day. The actual taste of this tea is quite sour at first – to me, it looks and tastes a bit like pink lemonade. But since it’s said to detox and boost my immunity, I drink up and then move on to eating the tea itself - but be warned, unless you've brewed this several times, it will be very sour! Lorna’s customers swear by this tea, so much so, it’s become a best-seller.

08 November 2011

Tea-infused cooking and cocktails in SoHo

In a city where Earl Grey is quickly becoming a popular flavour for martinis, ice cream and cookies, and even your craving for a green tea doughnut can be satisfied, I was particularly excited to sit down to an entire meal where tea was the star flavour.

Sanctuary T, located in SoHo, New York, not only offers great cups of loose leaf tea, it uses tea as the star ingredient in many of its savoury dishes and cocktails. I went with a friend for lunch recently and we both dined on roasted bell capsicums stuffed with oregano basil vegetables, perfectly capped off with a rooibos tea-infused tomato sauce. The rooibos gave the sauce a lovely sweetness but for anyone wanting to spice things up, you could always sprinkle some chilli pepper rooibos or tahitian green ‘t dust’ found on every table in lieu of salt and pepper shakers. We also gave the popcorn spiced with tea-infused butter a go – really yummy, especially if you decide to order one of their tea cocktails…

My green tea margarita, made with matcha green tea, tequila, peach schnapps, triple sec and a touch of lime – packed a bit more punch than expected! But perfect for adventurous tea drinkers looking to relax after some serious New York shopping.

09 October 2011

Tea made with flowers

Before my 24-hour plane ride to New York, I stopped by My Tea House in Sydney to say goodbye. The owner, Raymond, happened to have some new chrysanthemum tea, perfect for drinking before a long flight.

Chrysanthemum flowers are technically not a tea (it’s a tisane or herbal tea) and therefore have no caffeine. They look beautiful and have a rich aroma and taste (the scent is very pungent, almost like mustard seed but the taste is very smooth and slightly sweet). This particular flower is called blood or snow chrysanthemum and it grows at high-altitudes of more than 3,000 metres north of Tibet. It’s easy to make – brew at least five minutes in boiling water.

But it’s not the taste that makes me think I’m drinking the perfect cup of tea before my long flight. Health benefits of chrysanthemum tea include cooling the body temperature, relaxation, improving sinus congestion and detoxifying the blood. It is especially good for varicose veins, so I can only assume that it’s a good drink before a very long international flight. If only you could get it on board!

06 October 2011

Does white tea really prevent ageing?

As loose leaf tea surges in popularity, there’s been much talk of its health benefits. White tea (the least processed of the six different varieties) is supposedly high in antioxidants which attack those nasty free radicals that can cause premature ageing in our skin. So does white tea really make you younger?

In the US, cosmetic companies like Sephora sell cosmetics and fragrances with white tea, including everything from facial cleansers to eye cream to perfume. And there does seem to be some scientific evidence to back up its anti-ageing claims. A recent Kingston University (London) study seems to suggest that white tea does in fact help prevent wrinkles.

So what should you look out for when buying and drinking white tea? White tea is one of my favourites. When drinking, it has a rich, velvety texture with soft, sweet honey notes. Very decadent! And yes, the scent of fresh, white tea leaves is beautifully fragrant (hence its growing popularity as an ingredient in everything from scented candles to perfume). I recently had the privilege of smelling the aroma of a freshly opened bag of Silver Needle white tea, recently picked in China, at My Tea House (pictured above). I could have fallen into a deep sleep, I was that relaxed by it. Leaves with a strong, pungent scent and vibrant colour are always the best indicators of fresh, high-quality tea. And if you store white tea in a tin, it should keep fresh for a few months – just enough time to see if it actually keeps you looking young!

16 September 2011

Spring in a teacup

Enjoyed a beautiful cup of Zealong oolong this morning and couldn't believe the size my leaves got to by my third brew!

25 August 2011

Is Japanese green tea safe to drink?

I was watching SBS’s Dateline this past Sunday when I suddenly took notice of an update on Japan’s radiation levels. The report stated that green tea grown in the famous Shizuoka prefecture was testing positive for high levels of radiation. Since I had just enjoyed some great Japanese green tea the day before, it got me thinking about alternatives to Japanese green teas grown in Shizuoka, especially its famous Sencha tea.

Although many types of famous Japanese green teas, including Sencha, Matcha and Genmaicha are grown in the Shizuoka region, other Japanese green teas such as Gyokuro, are grown in the Fukuoka and Kyoto prefectures. Gyokuro is very similar in taste to Sencha, with a sweet, grassy flavour. As far as I could tell, radiation hasn’t affected this area, so Gyokuro is a great alternative to Sencha tea. You can find it at most tea shops, especially Taka Tea Garden.

If you’re lucky enough to live in Australia, you can also buy Australian-grown Sencha. This green tea is grown in Victoria and sold at The Tea Centre. The flavour is a bit richer and less grassy than Sencha, but very tasty!

The other alternative of course is to drink Chinese green teas, such as the famous Longjing or Dragonwell tea. Although I personally don’t find Chinese green teas as grassy as Japanese greens, their fuller body and rich, buttery texture make them some of my favourites! You can buy online at My Tea House.

15 July 2011

Secret tea cocktails

No, this isn’t a photo of a random restaurant in Chinatown. It’s one of Chinatown, New York’s ‘secret’ bars called Apotheke. Notice that the doors on this storefront are a little too nice to fit in? That’s because it’s the entrance to a dimly lit bar whose vibe and décor makes you feel like you’ve stepped back into the 1930s. And the secret to their success? Mixing herbs (tisanes) like lavender and sage with alcohol to create unique cocktails.

The night I dropped by I tried their Lavender Fields cocktail from the “Stress Reliever” category of their cocktail menu. A mix of Tequila, lime, Kalamanci fruit (a tart fruit from the Philippines) and lavender herbal tea, this drink certainly provides some instant relaxation after a long day! It’s very sour, but goes down easy. If you’re a mojito or margarita lover like me, then you know what I mean. Curious to try this one at home, I asked the bartender how it was made. Instead of infusing the Tequila with lavender like you would do with say tea leaves and vodka, they actually just mix lavender infused herbal tea with all of the ingredients.

Make sure you drop by if you’re planning a trip to NYC – and don’t forget which doors to look out for!

16 June 2011

Best teas for winter

It got pretty cold and rainy this week in Sydney and a warm cup of tea became a necessity. Usually I drink tea based on what type of flavour I’m craving that day, but pu-erh is my tea of choice when it gets cold. You can get ten pots out of just one teaspoon of leaves (I’m saving for a beach holiday!), so this tea is a perfect companion to your laptop, sofa or wherever else you hide from the cold! In fact all of the cups of tea in the above photo (courtesy of Raymond at My Tea House) came from just one teaspoon of pu-erh leaves, and many, many teapots after!

So what is pu-erh? It’s probably the least well-known of Chinese teas here in the West, yet it can sell for thousands of dollars in China (many Chinese families have put children through school on it!) Similar to a fine wine, this loose leaf tea is allowed to age – and of course the older it gets, the better it tastes. There are two kinds available at good tea shops here: raw pu-erh and cooked pu-erh, both of which come in the form of compressed tea cakes. Raw pu-erh tends to have more preserved fruit notes like plum while cooked pu-erh has a much richer, sometimes mushroom-soup like flavour quality. Regardless of which one you choose, it will warm up your entire body. And it has great winter helath benefits too – aiding with the digestion of all those fatty winter foods.

Click here for simple brewing instructions you can use anywhere, anytime.

03 June 2011

Mint pea soup with peppermint tea

I did a tea tasting last week at my friend Claire’s house and for dinner she made a beautiful mint pea soup. I looked up the recipe online last night and decided to make it myself – but with tea. Instead of using a mint leaf to taste, I decided to substitute organic peppermint leaves. A teaspoonful gave my soup a subtle minty zest, so I’m sure if you increased this, your soup would be even more refreshing. Organic leaves are probably best, especially given you mix these in at the end in the food processor. Obviously, it’s also best to bring the soup mixture to a boil before you toss it all in, so the leaves can expand and emit a strong minty flavour. I served mine in a large pink teacup with a few dry peppermint leaves on top for full effect.

Click here for the recipe, taken from Jamie Oliver’s food forum.

27 May 2011

From coffee addict to tea lover

I used to need one cup of coffee to wake up in the morning and at least another two to get through the day. The smell of fresh roasted coffee beans made me salivate. And I’ll admit, although I love the variety and health benefits of loose leaf tea now much more than coffee, I still miss that fresh roasted aroma, thick, milky latte texture and spooning off the foamy bit from the top!

But on my recent trip to New Zealand to visit the country’s only tea plantation, Zealong, I made two new tea discoveries that woke up the coffee addict inside. The first was the fresh, roasted aroma and taste of Zealong’s Dark Oolong tea. Opening up a foil sealed bag of this tea will instantly put your coffee cravings at ease – it has that same fresh, roasted aroma that somehow soothes the soul. And the taste doesn’t disappoint either. It has a rich, nutty taste that leaves a slightly buttery texture in the back of the mouth. And if that description doesn’t satisfy your craving, then check out my recent review for Teaviews.

The second discovery was a Maylasian style tea house called Apego in Auckland. Loose leaf tea replaces coffee beans in the expresso machines here and gets brewed up into a tea latte (pictured above - how good does it look?) – complete with that frothy, foamy milk I used to love spooning off the top! I tried the oolong latte just because I was so curious to see how this variety of tea would work with milk (oolong ranges in flavour from sweet and floral to nutty and caramel). Wow! The sweet, floral flavor of the oolong tea leaves actually combined with the warm milk to create a decadent, dessert-style tea. So despite the super-sized tea cup that it came in, I could’ve easily had another. The flavour was a ‘sweet surprise’ and I got that creamy texture I’d been missing. My inner coffee addict loves nothing better than waking up to a nice cup of tea now.

11 May 2011

Buying and storing green tea

I recently searched the streets of Sydney for Gyokuro, a very high-quality Japanese green tea, for a client tasting. Japanese green tea is known for its strong vegetal flavour, but it’s also known for losing it’s taste if not stored properly. But given Gyokuro’s high price tag (between $25 - $45 for 50 grams or approximately 10-15 teaspoons) I wanted to share my findings.

I purchased two lots of 50g worth of Gyokuro – one from a well-known shop that stores its tea in tins (directly inside the tin and without any plastic, which is so, so bad for loose leaf!) and another from a specialty Japanese tea shop that sells Gyokuro in air-tight, foil-sealed bags. Both had a vibrant green, leafy colour and sweet aroma. But there was a slight difference in the taste. The Gyokuro stored in the tin had mellowed in taste due to air exposure, meaning my foil-sealed Gyokuro had a stronger, vegetal flavour. It’s not that the tin Gyokuro was bad, it just had a more rounded, slightly richer flavour than the other, which was much more true to its famous grassy and vegetal taste qualities.

Now I know there are many green loose leaf tea drinkers out there, so following are my tips for buying and storing quality green teas:

1. Foil-sealed bags are best for freshness, as the tea leaves have had limited air exposure
2. After opening, store in an air-tight tin where the leaves won’t be exposed to sunlight or heat (ie not in the cupboard over the stove!)
3. It’s best to store green teas at a constant temperature, meaning if you haven’t been storing them in the fridge, don’t! A change in temperature can sometimes affect the flavour more than storing in the fridge
4. The jury is still out regarding whether the fridge keeps green tea fresher. If you do store it here, try not to expose it to any strong odours
5. Drink green tea soon after opening as the flavour will change over time and may lose it’s fresh, crisp vegetal taste. If you prefer a mellower flavour, then this tea can be stored for about two years

17 April 2011

Liquid lunch? There's a cupcake in my tea cup

While I love that more and more of us are recognizing the amazing health benefits of loose leaf tea, these leaves have some amazing natural flavours as well! As I gear up for my Mother's Day custom blending sessions where not only can you learn more about natural tea flavours like honey, hazelnut and plum, but you can work with me to create a personalised tea blend that suits your flavour palette, I thought I should talk a bit more about what good tea really tastes like! Recently I visited New Zealand’s only tea plantation, Zealong (I’ll be doing a series on how loose leaf tea is made soon!) and had the chance to taste some beautiful natural tea flavours. In fact, their Pure oolong tea tasted a bit like eating an orchid cupcake – check out my review on Teaviews. And it made me think about all of the great flavours tea has naturally, without having to add anything artificial. Now I’m not bagging out those of you who enjoy a cup of Blueberry Cheesecake, Tiramisu or Mexican Chilli (oh yes, these all exist!). It’s just worth noting all of the great flavours that can be achieved in loose leaf tea when you understand how to brew it properly and/or create a custom blend.

Firstly, white tea. Many of you probably think this has a thin and ‘barely there’ flavour right? Wrong. High-quality white tea when brewed properly should taste like honey or melon and has a decadent, velvety smooth texture. And there’s more…like oolong tea that tastes like hazelnut, black tea that has a lovely fruity apricot flavour and pu-erh tea which warms you up in winter with a unique plum taste. And if that doesn’t wet your appetite, custom blends using natural loose leaf tea and tisane (herb) flavours can also create unique tastes including everything from an After Dinner Chocolate Mint to Cherry Chocolate Chai. In fact, I recently tried a Taiwanese oolong tea that tasted like sucking on a sour lolly! Not a personal favourite, but definitely better for me than eating the real thing! Interested in learning more about tea’s natural flavours? I’ll be doing group tea tastings every Saturday beginning in May. But if you want to explore flavours sourced specific to your personal tastes, then a custom blending session where you can create your own loose leaf tea might be for you!

28 March 2011

A brew for peace: The Japanese tea ceremony

Given the recent events in Japan and other countries, I wanted to post something that I wrote awhile back about the peaceful, meditative effects of attending a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at Cha-An, one of my favourite tea houses in New York (scroll below for a video clip from a traditional Japanese tea ceremony).

The Japanese tea ceremony, known as ‘chu-no-yu’ in Japan is based on the principals of ‘harmony, respect, purity and tranquility’. Traditionally the host will invite guests into their home for sweets and matcha (Japanese green tea leaves ground into a fine powder) or for a bigger meal accompanied by many teas which can last for up to four hours. At Cha-An, they have a separate little room decorated in traditional Japanese style with woven mats on the floor where they hold the ceremony. I’m asked to take my shoes off before climbing into what feels like a kid-size temple. My host comes shortly after, dressed in full kimono.

First I’m invited to eat sweets and then she prepares the matcha. Every hand gesture is thoughtfully done, her hand and arm gracefully moving through the air, like a tea ballet. Technically she’s doing something we perform in our kitchen every morning (albeit with an electric kettle) but it’s so beautiful to watch I fall into a trans-like meditative state – perfect for tasting all of the subtle nuances in my lovingly prepared bowl of matcha. My host goes on to explain that it was actually samurais that popularized the tea ceremony in ancient Japan. Apparently even they got tired of all the fighting and saw the ceremony as a respite from the cruel tragedy of war! Which is why she explains, no politics, nasty comments or any unpleasant words are ever discussed at a tea ceremony! For both the host and guest, it’s a pleasant, peaceful respite from our everyday worries.

Please spare some peaceful thoughts for Japan during your next ‘tea break’. Donate to http://www.redcross.org.au/.

Japanese tea ceremony: Tea At Koken WITH SOUND

25 February 2011

Tea & cheese? Why wine lovers are missing out...

While studying tea in New York, I became friendly with the owners of a great tea shop in SoHo called In Pursuit of Tea. And besides having an amazing selection of high quality teas, they also host some pretty unique tea events. I recently went to a tea and cheese tasting – YES, tea and cheese! And I was astounded at how much better the tea brought out the flavour in the cheese than a glass of wine.

The evening included six tea and cheese pairings, hand selected by Melanie Franks, Chef Instructor at New York’s French Culinary Institute. The pairing of a fragrant White Peony from China or Dong Ding Oolong from Taiwan highlighted the sweetness and pineapple sub-notes of what would otherwise be some pretty salty cheese. And a beautifully mellow Pu-erh from Yunnan China paired with a Vaquero Blue cheese (normally so hard to pair with a wine) made the cheese melt like butter in my mouth. So why is cheese a better mate? Melanie explained that the acidity in wine doesn’t have the same ability to cut through the ‘fatty taste notes’ like tea does. I can attest to that!

Tips for pairing tea and cheese:

  • Try to balance sweet and salty flavours, for example a floral tea goes well with a salty cheese

  • Always try to match the ‘sub-notes’ in the cheese – you want the tea to bring out new flavours in the cheese, not just replicate the same taste

  • Cut the ‘fattiness’ with a tea to bring out a cheese’s sweeter notes, for example the Japanese Sencha tea complimented a creamy Adith Mae Chevre goats’ milk cheese nicely

03 February 2011

Green tea, Hollywood's secret weight loss weapon

Is one of Hollywood's biggest stars flattening his abs for some steamy scenes? My most recent celebriTEA sighting is Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp, who is reportedly on a green tea diet to lose weight for an upcoming film role in Tim Burton's Dark Shadows. Why green tea? A recent study by the American Society of Nutrition published in 2009 suggests that adding green tea to your diet will aid in weight loss when combined with moderate exercise. Published in the Journal of Nutrition, the study suggests that the catechins, a chemical compund found in green tea, can aid in exercise-reduced loss of adominal fat. Definitely food for thought for anyone heading to the beach in Sydney's intense heatwave! In addition to reports of aiding weight loss, green tea has also been found to aid in cancer and diabetes prevention.

For a full download of the study visit http://jn.nutrition.org/content/139/2/264.short

05 January 2011

The Teaguy introduces the difference between bagged & loose tea

Cutting loose in 2011...loose leaf vs tea bags, round 1

New year, new resolutions! And I’m pretty certain that for most of you out there one of those has something to do with your health. Not only is tea the second most popular beverage on the planet after water, but it’s also one of the healthiest. Studies suggest tea can help with everything from boosting immunity, losing weight, fighting off wrinkles, aiding digestion and even protecting you against some forms of cancer. Well, if you’re drinking loose leaf tea that is.

There’s many reasons why you should cut loose from the bag in 2011. Here’s a quick snapshot of why loose leaf tea is so much better for you:

Loose leaf tea has more nutrients – tea bags contain fannings or ‘dust’. These small particles contain very little of the nutrients and health benefits found in loose leaf tea. Loose leaf tea contains actual leaves which when steeped, release much more good stuff into your cup. Just think about it – would you prefer a whole vegetable or just some ground-up, processed bits?

Loose leaf tea has more flavour – the ‘dust’ found in tea bags tends to be quite bitter (think about all that milk you normally add to it!) and has very little of the flavour that a more preserved piece of tea leaf has. When tea leaves are steeped and allowed to unfurl in hot water, they release an amazing variety of flavours – everything from sweet floral to rich, buttery notes.

Loose leaf tea is less processed- a lot of processing goes into creating just one tea bag, meaning you’re paying for the packaging not the product. Tea bags may also contain chemicals. But loose leaf tea is freshly picked and doesn’t create the same type of waste as bagged tea.

Loose leaf tea is way more fun!- bagged teas contain very little flavour, and very little chance of you changing that flavour to something you enjoy more! Loose leaf teas allow you to mix and match with healthy herbs, chocolate cacao or even spices to create a flavour that’s just right for you.