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