Monday, May 16, 2016

Teavana Oprah Chai (and a mini-rant having nothing to do with the actual tea)

I’m going to preface this review with a rant:
I started my tea business in 2013, so at this point I would expect most of my friends to know that I sell tea. I carry over 50 different types of tea, and my home is filled with teas I’ve picked up while traveling to various tea festivals and trade shows.  Therefore, it boggles my mind as to why people go to Teavana at the mall to buy me gifts!  Most of that stuff I have already, and chances are I paid less for it.  

It also boggles my mind that people keep tagging me on Facebook and/or posting on my wall every time they see some other company selling a tea infuser shaped like an animal.  Lately I’ve started replying with: “I sell lots of cute tea infusers too if you are interested!”  I know they mean well, and that they think of me when they see anything tea-related, but at the same time, I wonder how they would feel if I started posting on their FB wall every time their business competitors came out with a new product or service!  They would probably be (rightly) puzzled and annoyed! 

That said, I do enjoy trying out other companies’ products so that I know what they’re up to and what the latest trends are, and also because I am, first and foremost, a tea lover.  And to be fair, it’s actually been a big eye-opener for me to learn how obsessed people are with novelty tea infusers!  I’ve just stocked up on several new infuser shapes to tap into this market.

All of this brings us to the tin of Oprah Chai I received as a gift.  For a while, Oprah Chai was actually my drink of choice when I’d go to Starbucks.  However, I always felt that it didn’t have enough flavor or “zing”; that it was just a watered-down, Americanized version of the spicy Indian chai.  Just the fact that the tin bears the redundant "chai tea" in its name is enough to set my teeth on edge!

This morning I was in a Chai mood, so I pulled out the big tin, cut open the wrapper inside the tin and was met by – SURPRISE! – big chunks of spices along with the curls of black tea leaf!  The label states that this chai is a “bold infusion of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom + cloves blended with loose leaf black tea and rooibos.”  The ingredients list also mentions black pepper, carob pieces, chicory root, and natural flavors.  I’ve never thought about carob or chicory as tea ingredients and had no idea they were in here when I drank it at Starbucks. I’ve also ranted in the past about how Starbucks’ regular chai does not have any noticeable black pepper flavor in it, so I’m pleased that this one includes it.

The brewing instructions suggest one to two teaspoons per eight ounces of 195-205 degree water (90-96C) and a 3-4 minute steep time.  This contrasted sharply with the telepathic message I received from the spices in the bowl you see below, and my own knowledge of proper steeping of teas and spices.  I could hear them crying out to be simmered in a mix of boiling water and milk for five minutes, so that’s what I did.

I opted for 3 heaping teaspoons of the chai, one cup of water, and one cup of Flax milk (purchased at the soon-to-be-out-of-business Fresh Market).  I brought the liquids to a boil, turned the burner down to low, added the tea, covered with a lid and simmered for five minutes.  Then I strained the light-brown liquor and added one packet of Splenda (since I’m trying to cut down on sweets because my A1-C is high).

The top note of cinnamon hit my nostrils first, and the cinnamon is equally dominant in the flavor.  It and the ginger, pepper and clove combine to create a tingling sensation on the tongue and in the esophagus.  The carob and rooibos lend a strange and not altogether agreeable aftertaste.  Or maybe that was the Splenda?

Anyway, this is not my favorite chai blend in the world, but it will do in a pinch!  The next time the chai craving hits, this will definitely serve the purpose.  Next time I’ll try it as the label recommends and note any differences.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge the huge contribution that Oprah Winfrey has made in the world.  She’s been a remarkable success story and I can’t help but admire her.  Four dollars from the sale of each tin go to her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation: a good cause!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

For Richer, for Puerh

This morning, when I went to prepare my customary cup of black tea with milk/cream/soy milk/coconut half & half, I realized I was out!  Since I needed caffeine and I wasn't in the mood for green tea, the only logical choice was puerh.

I happened to have some Maiden Puerh sitting around that was given to me at the annual coffee and tea exchange party I host for my Tea and Conversation with Friends meetup group ( ), so I thought I'd give it a try.

As you can see from the photos, the nice person who gave me this tea typed up a little info sheet on puerh for those at the party who were unfamiliar with this type of tea.  Puerh is a "post-fermented" or aged tea, which means that it goes through one more process after the oxidation and drying of black tea.  Like good cheese or a fine wine, puerh is fermented with bacteria, yeast and mold, which gives it a distinctive flavor that's not everyone's "cup of tea". Also like a good cheese or fine wine, puerh actually gets better with age.

Generally, when you are preparing puerh, you're supposed to do one to three rinses of it (presumably to remove mold and activate the flavor), but the instructions for this one did not call for a rinse. I hope I don't die! (If you don't see any more posts from me, assume the worst!)

I steeped this one at 200 degrees F for 4 minutes. The dry leaves had that distinctive puerh smell that reminds me of compost tea, or my kitchen when I forget to take out the trash.  By contrast, the flavor of this puerh is actually rather mild and smooth, with only a hint of that "compost pile" flavor.  As you can see from the photo, the liquor has a rich, coppery color.  The woodsy notes are quite pleasant.
A second steeping produced the same forest floor flavor, albeit milder.  I am going to save the leaves for a third steeping, so stay tuned!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Making Kahwah (Afghani Tea)

Last month's selection for my ladies' book club was An American Bride in Kabul by Phyllis Chesler. Everyone is supposed to bring a food or beverage item that somehow relates to the book of the month.  Being The Tea Mistress, I naturally offered to bring tea.  

I was originally planning to make some sort of an Afghani version of Masala Chai, because I have a lovely memory of walking around South Street in Philadelphia with my husband several years ago and popping into a little cafe on a side street.  The owner of the cafe, who was from Afghanistan, asked us if we would like some chai.  I said yes (because it's one of my favorite types of tea) but my husband said no (because it's not one of his favorite types of tea).  The shop owner replied, "Ah! That's because you have never had mine! This will be the best chai you have ever tasted!"  And off he ran into the back of the store.  He was gone for a good fifteen to twenty minutes and we were looking at each other, wondering if we should leave.  (This was in the days before Smart Phones, so you can imagine how bored we were with nothing to do but talk to each other!)  Finally he returned with two large, steaming hot cups of an incredibly delicious chai! My husband promptly declared it the best chai he had ever tasted.

It was with the memory of this tastebud-tantalizing experience that I searched the Internet for Afghani chai recipes.  I was especially looking forward to trying this one: . Alas, my attempt to replicate the delicious chai of my Philly memory was thwarted by the lack of milk in my refrigerator and the lack of time to run to the store and get more!

Luckily this Wikipedia entry saved the day: and Plan B was put into motion!  As you can see, the "Preparation" section does not contain an actual recipe with proportions, nor does it specify which type of green tea to use.

I surmised that a gunpowder green tea would be a logical choice, since that's the type of tea used in Moroccan mint tea.  I also figured that its strong flavor would stand up well to the sweetness of the other ingredients, in the same way that the tartness of Granny Smith apples works well in many desserts.

Although the webpage recommended a samovar, I don't own one yet. Instead I decided to prepare the tea in my Turkish double-boiler tea kettles, although I didn't do it the traditional way (e.g. making the tea itself in the smaller top pot and steaming it over the larger pot) because I wanted to make the tea in a container that I could transport easily to our book club hostess's home.  I came up with the solution of preparing the tea directly into the larger kettle.

Now, normally when I prepare tea for book club, nobody drinks it. I assumed that they'd mostly be drinking coffee since it was a Sunday brunch time of day.  Therefore I decided to make 6 cups of tea and have it "tested" by my husband and me prior to transporting it.

Here's the recipe I came up with, based on the rough guidelines in Wikipedia:
6 cups boiling water
6 teaspoons of gunpowder green tea
1 cinnamon stick
1 cardamom pods, cracked open with mortar & pestle
4-5 threads of saffron
6 rosebuds (from Vietnamese tea shop in Houston)

Bring water in kettle to rolling boil. Add tea (in muslin bags) and all other ingredients. Simmer for five minutes. Turn off heat.

I poured the tea into my Turkish tea glasses (because I don't have any Afghani tea glasses) and served it with a sugar cube (for me) and honey (for my husband).  He loved it so much that he drank two glasses of it! I enjoyed it as well.  Despite the photograph below, my dog Lilly did not actually drink any of the tea.

I wrapped up the kettle containing the remaining tea and carefully transported it to book club inside of a large stockpot.  I brought with me a set of six Turkish tea glasses and spoons as well as a box of sugar cubes.

To my surprise the tea was a big hit!  I wasn't expecting anyone to drink it, but I think the novelty of the delicate-looking tea glasses and spoons intrigued the ladies.  They drank every last drop of that tea and left me wishing I had made more!  

Our lunch consisted of turnip pancakes, plain yogurt, cabbage salad, couscous, lentil salad, potatoes in paprika, homemade bread, hummus and pita, rice pilaf, and some delicious desserts.

 Please excuse the burners which really need to be scrubbed and repainted!  One of these days I'll learn how to crop a photo.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fit to be Thai

Last week I was in a Thai Iced Tea kind of mood.  There's nothing like that combination of sweet, cold and brisk!
At home I have a box of Wangderm brand thai iced tea bags that I picked up in an Asian supermarket (Hong Kong Market, in case you're in the Houston area and need to know!) and it seemed like a good day to make a cup of it.
The tea bags have a very sweet aroma, like vanilla cream.  Indeed, the ingredients consist of black tea and vanilla flavor, so that's understandable.
I added 8 ounces of boiling water to one teabag and steeped it for five minutes.
The color of the steeped tea was that typical orange coppery color that we all know and love.  Unfortunately this can be attributed to the other ingredient listed on the box (FD&C Yellow #5) rather than to some mysterious and exoti

c traditional plant from Thailand!
The aroma of the steeped tea was that of sweet vanilla cream, and the vanilla was present in the flavor too. The black tea base is very mild.  It's mildly sweet on its own, but I added coconut sugar to make it sweeter.
Thai Iced Tea in restaurants is usually made with sweetened condensed milk (sometimes half and half or regular whole milk).  However, due to food allergies, I can't have milk very often, so I opted to make mine with So Delicious brand coconut-almond milk.  In retrospect, this choice proved to be a little too watery and thin and didn't add enough texture or body to the tea.  Since the nut milk also effectively diluted the tea, that also probably cut down on the flavor.
All in all, I was a bit disappointed, but I blame the coconut milk. I also would like to try either making it as a concentrate (with less water) or steeping it directly in hot milk next time in order to get more flavor.
That night my husband and I went out for Asian food and I ended up ordering a Thai iced tea at the restaurant. No doubt it was made with real milk, so the flavor was much better. I didn't feel too good the next day, but it was worth it as a special treat, just this once!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cinnamon Tea: Get It While It's Hot!

If you've never been to Houston, Texas, it's probably hard for you to imagine just how big and spread-out this city really is. According to Wikipedia, Houston proper is 1295 square miles, and Houston Metro Area (which includes several suburbs) measures 10,000 square miles!  My suburb lies about 25 miles Southeast of Downtown Houston, so understandably I rarely visit the areas to the north.
In the summer of 2014, one of the Meetup groups I belong to was having a lunch at Crossroads Tea Room in Old Town Spring.  In my ten years of living in the Houston area, Old Town Spring was one place I had been meaning to visit but hadn't had the opportunity yet.  Friends? Lunch? A tea room? It was the perfect excuse!
Lunch with the other ladies was delightful!  One of the teas we enjoyed was the Old Town Spice, a black tea flavored with sweet cinnamon oil!  I loved this tea so much that I bought a bag of it for myself and a bag of their decaf for my mother-in-law!
(The rest of Old Town Spring was great, by the way!  Lots of quaint little shops, including a German store and a Dutch Store (Little Dutch Girl), where I was able to purchase several food items that I had enjoyed as a child when I lived in Holland.)

This past Sunday, I made a pot of the Old Town Spice tea to share with my husband. He also enjoys this one a lot, because it reminds him of those cinnamon red hot candies.
The dry tea leaf pieces are very small and tightly rolled, like a Middle Eastern or Indian-style black tea.  The dry aroma is overwhelmingly red-hot cinnamon.
I used 1 tablespoon of tea to 3 cups of boiling water and steeped the tea for 4 1/2 minutes.
The result was a stunning rich cinnamon-red-brown liquor with the ever-present cinnamon scent.
This is a nice strong black tea with a delightful tongue-tingling cinnamon flavor!  There is sweetness in the cinnamon flavoring, so you do not even need to add sugar. (Diabetics be warned!)
This is definitely one of my favorite teas ever.
If the description of this tea sounds uncannily like the Cinnamon Spice Tea from Harney and Sons, you're not the only one who sees the resemblance!  I'm not sure who came up with this concept first, Harney's or Crossroads Tea.  But either way, I'm glad this style of tea exists under multiple brand names!

Crossroads' website is down at the moment, but here's the link:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Masala Chai Tea Bags are my Guilty Pleasure!

There! I said it!  They say the first step is admitting you have a problem.  I confess I have an addiction to masala chai tea bags from Indian groceries!  My favorite at the moment is Masala Chai from Tea India.  At just $4.99 for a box of 72 tea bags, it's a pretty good deal!

These are round tea bags (like the ones from Republic of Tea). Ingredients are: black tea, ginger root, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, and "natural flavors".  In other words, typical masala chai ingredients.

The aroma of the teabags before steeping is predominantly cloves, cinnamon and ginger.  Directions call for 1 cup of boiling water per tea bag, steep for 3 to 5 minutes.  I tend to steep my black tea on the longer side if I'm just doing a single steeping, because I like that "bite" that stands up to milk and sugar.

The steeped tea smells like a lemony black tea with cloves, I don't really smell the other ingredients, but I do taste them!  This is a nice brisk tannic, jammy tea with a heavy clove flavor. What I love about masala chai from India as opposed to the more American-style blends (like Starbucks) are the cloves and black pepper: those spices both give it a kick and really add substance and essence.  This tea yields a beautiful cinnamon-brown-colored liquor.

This morning I added some coconut sugar and some coconut-almond milk. I've had it before with regular white sugar and cow's milk and it's delicious like that too.

Now that you know my secret, do you still respect me?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Honey Black Tea from TECA Tea

Today I review honey black tea from TECA Tea in Houston, Texas.  Formerly Ten Ren Tea, this shop in Southwest Houston/Bellaire's Chinatown is now called Ten Yen Tea. TECA Tea is their own line of tea.  The owners, Richard and Pauline, are Taiwanese Tea Masters who speak multiple languages.  It's a beautiful shop with a choice selection of quality teas and teaware.  If you've been looking for supplies for gong fu cha (Chinese tea ceremony), you'll go crazy in here! There's usually something tasty to sample while you shop.

Anyway, back to the tea!  This is one of three teas I bought the last time I was there with my Meetup Group (Tea and Conversation with Friends Meetup (Houston Metro Area).  There is not a lot of information on the label, but from what I can tell, it's not actually honey-flavored.  It appears to be a mild Chinese black tea with a naturally sweet aroma.

Per the instructions on the label, I did the first steeping (1 teaspoon in 8 ounces of water) at 200 degrees for 3 minutes. It yielded an amber liquor with a smooth, floral flavor.  I tasted notes of jasmine, roses, and honeysuckle.  There is no bitterness to this tea at all, but it's highly astringent. After a few sips, I got that telltale dry mouthfeel.

This tea does NOT need milk and sugar!  I believe it would overpower the delicacy of this black tea.  However, I did add a little honey to the second steeping.

Oh! Before I forget, here's the link to TECA Tea: