June 30, 2015

Tea Leaves Up Close with Photojojo Lenses

A few years and smartphones ago I thought about buying pro-lenses for my smartphone. I looked at a couple of companies but in the end focused on traditional cameras. More recently I saw Photojojo popping up in my Instagram feed so I reached out to the company to see if they worked with bloggers. I received a discount on the Sampler Set (Wide/Macro, Fisheye & Polarizer).

The instructions for installing a Photojojo lens are straightforward but the implementation is not easy. It took several tries before the ring magnet with adhesive actually stuck to my smartphone. In a couple of my first attempts, removing the lens (which is magnetic) would peel off the ring magnet. What worked for me was after adhering the ring magnet to my phone, placing my phone case over the phone and thus the ring magnet, and not setting the lens on the ring magnet for a couple of days. When I wanted to use a lens, I would remove the phone cover and set the lens. I appreciated all the adhesive ring magnets included in each lens box! Another suggestion: use the metal Magplate (either directly adhered to your phone or attached to the case) instead of the adhesive metal ring. Each lens has a rubber cap and a magnetic disk to cover the lens mount. In the end, I think a clip-on lens would be easier. I'd love to try the Olloclip 4-in-1 Lens or the Macro Cell Lens Band.

I used the 2 in 1 Wide/Macro, Fisheye, and Polarizer lenses with an iPhone 5 to photograph a teaspoon of White Nixon by Bellocq Tea Atelier. (Aside: this tea was in the press bag given at the French Cheese Board Tea & Cheese Pairing event held earlier this month.)

description here
White Nixon tea + iPhone 5 (taken at 1.75 inches above tea)

description here
White Nixon tea + iPhone 5 + Photojojo Macro

description here
White Nixon tea + iPhone 5 (taken at 1.75 inches above tea)

description here
White Nixon tea + iPhone 5 + Photojojo Wide

description here
White Nixon tea + iPhone 5 (taken at 2.5 inches above tea)

description here
White Nixon tea + iPhone 5 + Photojojo Fisheye

description here
White Nixon tea + iPhone 5 (taken at 3.5 in above tea)

description here
White Nixon tea + iPhone 5 + Photojojo Polarize

Verdict: The macro lens is the most useful for tea leaf photography!

Want to see your tea leaves up close? Head over to the Notes on Tea on Instagram for a coupon code for $5 off any single item in the Photojojo store. In addition to smartphone lenses, Photojojo sells traditional camera gear such as straps and mini drives as well as hip items like the Polaroid Zip Instant Mobile Printer.

June 25, 2015

Pairing Bellocq Teas and French Cheeses

I highly recommend pairing tea and cheese! They have a lot in common. Tea and cheese are affected by seasonality, terroir, and processing and aging. Some teas and cheeses are associated with Protected Designation of Origin. And, all teas and cheeses derive from a common base, Camellia sinensis and milk, respectively.

My first formal tea and cheese pairing was at In Pursuit of Tea, in the company's former pop-up shop on Crosby. That was in 2011. I experimented at home, inconsistently. Last year, Alexis of teaspoons & petals paired three teas and three Di Bruno Brothers' cheeses on The Alexis Show. Then a couple of weeks ago, June 4th to be exact, I attended a Bellocq Tea and Cheeses of Europe pairing at the French Cheese Board near Grand Central.

The tasting was panel was composed of Charles Duque, French Cheese Board founding managing director as well as Heidi Johannsen Stewart, Bellocq co-owner, and Bellocq tea expert, Ravi Kroesen.  In preparation for the event, the panel first selected six cheeses then taste tested one to three teas per cheese before deciding on a final slate. The slate presented at the event is below, and note the tea runners-up in italics.

#1 White Peony + Raclette
(2nd) No. 13 Royal Golden Yunnan, (3rd) No. 17 Dragonwell
The Raclette was nutty and gamey while its tea partner was sweet with caramel notes.

#2 Kikuya (Sencha and rose blend) + Brillat Savarin
(2nd) No. 28 Mulberry Leaf
Although the aroma of the tea was rose-heavy, the cream and saltiness of the brie and the seaweed, grassy flavors of the Sencha dulled the rose notes of the tea when drunk. This was one of favorite pairings.

#3 Shui Xian Oolong + Comte Saint Antoine
(2nd) No. 74 Himalayan Rani Bhan Spring
This Wuyi oolong with roasted, mineral, honey, and floral notes plus the hefty, nutty raw cow's milk cheese created a thick mouthfeel.

#4 Gypsy Caravan black tea blend + Camembert
(2nd) No. 22 National Parks Dept.
The blend was bold and dry. The cheese was mushroomy. Together they tasted like mac and cheese with a lingering sweetness in the back of the throat. This pairing was very successful.

#5 Darjeeling 2nd Flush + Bleu d'Avergne
no runner up
This blue is less salty and robust than other types of blue cheese. Combined with the Darjeeling, you experienced layers of sweetness and saltiness. The muscatel flavors of the Darjeeling became more pronounced as the tea cooled.

#6 Golden Puerh + Epoisses Berthaut
(2nd) No. 61 Keemun Imperial Black Snail
Epoisses has a strong aroma; you might know it as a "stinky cheese." I think I'd like to try it with a Keemun. Cooked puerhs are one of my least favorite teas.

If you can source the teas and cheeses above, it is worthwhile to recreate the pairings, especially the first five. "Darjeelings are a failsafe; they go with everything," said Ravi Kroesen. Other teas that work well with cheese are gunpowder and genmeicha. If you want to experiment with herbal teas, consider cold brewing them to accentuate the delicate flavors. A final tip from Bellocq, use Poland Springs water to steep your teas.

The French Cheese Board has posted fuller descriptions of the teas and cheeses than I did here. Read Sara of Tea Happiness' take on the pairings.

June 16, 2015

Matcha Tools and Preparation

It has been so nice to prepare thin matcha at home! From the Ippodo Matcha Nodate I brought home a chasen and a small tin of matcha powder. Included in the gift bag were matcha preparation instructions. (Did you know that Mrs. Miyako Watanabe is the calligraphy artist for Ippodo's packaging and menus?) I followed the instructions to the letter including those for cleaning up my tools.

Add 1-1/2 heaping tea ladles of matcha powder to a tea bowl. The first time I prepared the matcha I used 1 tea ladle but subsequently I used 2 tea ladles. I sifted my matcha.

Pour 60 mL of 176F water over the matcha powder. Mix the water and the powder with the bamboo whisk in an "m" motion. Enjoy the matcha before the particles settled at the bottom of the tea bowl. It is even more enjoyable with a Royce' Nama Chocolate au Lait eaten beforehand!

For more nuances to matcha preparation, read All About Tea Ceremony at Japan Info (hat tip: a Tea for Me Please tweet).

June 11, 2015

Ippodo Matcha Nodate

Last Wednesday's breakfast was very special. I participated in a Nodate, an outdoor Japanese tea ceremony, hosted by Ippodo Tea at the Gramercy Park Hotel Terrace. The guest of honor was Mrs. Miyako Watanabe. Preceding the Nodate was a generous breakfast of yogurt cups, fruit smoothies, freshly squeezed juices and milks, and a bagel bar with salmon, cream cheese, and jams. We refreshed our palettes with Shincha served in whiskey glasses and lemon jellies.

After breakfast we adjourned to a section of the terrace that had been laid with a rug.

Through an interpreter, Michael McAteer, Mrs. Watanabe described the steps of the tea ceremony. (Mr. McAteer was born in Kyoto but lives in NY and hosts a popular show recorded in Japanese. Mrs. Watanabe is a fan of his show and sought him as an interpreter.) The bowl of thin matcha Mrs. Watanabe prepared as part of the ceremony was served to one of the guests. The remaining guests were served matcha prepared by Ippodo staff from the Manhattan store. Mrs. Watanabe also took questions and she was just as graceful in her answers as she was when performing the Nodate.

Mrs. Watanabe has been studying the way of the tea ceremony for 15 years. She is a teacher of the ceremony but also has her own teacher! She is also skilled in the art of flower arrangement or kado. If you follow the Ippodo Tea Instagram feed, you may have noticed her arrangements. Like flower arrangements, the objects used in the tea ceremony reflect the season.

The chabako or tea box she brought with her is very beautiful. However, she encouraged us to not to worry about the container in which we carry our matcha tools. The more important aspect of the Nodate is being outdoors. One of her stories was of her mountain hikes; she takes along a thermos of hot water, a whisk, a bowl, and matcha. At the top of the mountain, she prepares a bowl of matcha. Someone asked about the best implement for whisking the matcha. She told us that sieving the matcha is essential in preparing good matcha! I don't have a matcha furui but I think my tea strainer will work well.

Have you ever been part of a Nodate? And what's in your matcha toolkit?

P.S. We were served cold Iribancha after the matcha. It was very good, too.

June 09, 2015

Tea Review: TÊTÊ Himalayan Full Leaf Black Tea

TÊTÊ Black Tea is good plain. I didn't think about adding milk. This black tea is a Darjeeling clonal prepared like an oolong (or a clonal oolong variant of Darjeeling). I tasted spicy, sweet, and fruit flavors. Chocolate, muscatel, dried cherry, dark maple syrup

The long twists of leaves are shades of gold, green, and black. In contrast, the wet leaves are short and wide, thought retain a curl at the narrowest part of the leaf. The liquor is a pleasing red-orange color.

Although the tea is pictured in a tasting cup set, I prepared it in a glass teapot. Read our review of TETE's white tea, and look out for our notes on the company's green tea.