August 27, 2015

Afternoon Tea - The Urban Tea Merchant, Vancouver

Vancouver has a very nice tea scene. It is one that I was unable to fully experience. My little travel companions had other ideas! I was pleased to have afternoon tea at The Urban Tea Merchant; it was tea for one, and that was just fine. The store is bright and colorful. The tea room is more sedate but with pops of color provided by the same paper lanterns that decorate the store and the back patio.

I ordered the Traditional Tea Set of tea sandwiches, fresh scones with tea-infused jelly and Devonshire creme, and sweets all prepared daily and in-house. The only exception was the macaron. Macarons sold in the store are flown in daily from Singapore!

Also from Singapore are the teas, specifically from TWG Tea, which was launched in 2008. The year "1837" in the company's logo refers to the year Singapore became a tea trading post. Based on my tea preferences I was presented with three teas. The options were great but I selected the Meleng FBOP Second Flush because it was highly recommended by Emily Guo, my host and online sales manager. The Meleng is a Himalayan black tea. It was delicious. I drank it without milk. The tea was served in a most unusual teapot. Here is a description of the Design Teapot with Filter & Warmer in Black 18ct Gold Plated from The Urban Tea Merchant website:
The TWG Tea Design teapots represent the convenience of modern functional features and the pleasure of serving tea in the classic beauty of an exclusive TWG Tea design. A high-quality polished stainless steel warmer with an inner felt lining envelope the porcelain teapot and keep the tea warm for one hour.
The teapot gave the afternoon tea a couture air.

My favorite sandwich was the tomato and watercress aioli savory. It was very good. I also liked the cucumber and cheese savory. The other savories were the Earl Grey Gentleman Tea Sandwich with Fig Jam and the Smoked Salmon Rosette Tea Sandwich with Wasabi Aioli. An additional tomato sandwich was substituted for the Imperial Lapsang Souchong Chicken Cup.

The use of flowers and fruit to decorate the three-tiered tray reminded me of platings I had seen during my visit to Singapore several years ago.

The scone and sweets tiers were also satisfying. The scone was fresh and warm, soft on the interior with a bit of an exterior crunch. There was also a spiced madeleine. My other favorite was the panna cotta made from Eternal Summer Tea topped with a mousse made from Matcha Nara. Surprisingly, I did not enjoy the the chocolate tart. The white and dark chocolate covered strawberry was a sweet and refreshing way to end the tea set.

Afternoon tea at The Urban Tea Merchant is highly recommended. The food is fresh and delicious, the tea selection is exceptional, the service is great (my teapot was refreshed by adding altogether new leaves and water), and the location in downtown Vancouver is convenient. It was a nice treat for myself but it would be fun to share this tea set with a friend or two.

Traditional Tea Set and New York Breakfast Tea courtesy of The Urban Tea Merchant.

P.S. I am missing New York so will start steeping the NY Breakfast as soon as possible. I purchased the Meleng FBOP to remind me of my tea time at The Urban Tea Merchant.

[Editor's note: This post was edited for accuracy and clarity on August 28, 2015.]

August 25, 2015

Tea Review - Wymm Tea Sheng Pu-erh - 2014 Mangnuo Tengtiao

The 2014 Mangnuo Tengtiao is a beautiful tea. And the leaves kept delivering delicious bowls of liquor. I used water that had been boiled then cooled. The first infusion was 30 seconds and I added 10 seconds for each subsequent steep.

The color of the liquor progressed from a pale green to a deep yellow, even darker than the liquor pictured on the right, then gradually lightening to a pale yellow.

And what of the flavors?

The first infusion yielded a light green color and a licorice finish. The second infusion dry like minerals and rocks and sweet like cassis. The liquor was noticeably darker at the third infusion. The flavors were more intense and raisin was a dominant flavor. I thought, "Boom!" after sipping the liquor from the fourth infusion. The astringency kicked in; there was a lot of fruit flavors including a bitter note like a grapefruit peel. The fifth infusion produced a dry liquor with apricot and stone fruit, raisin, and grapefruit flavors. The liquor smelled a temperate rainforest or a wet woodland. By the sixth infusion, the liquor had begun to lighten in color. The dominant notes became wood and raisin. I would definitely drink more of this pu-erh!

2014 Mangnuo Tengtiao courtesy of Wymm Tea. Interested in other Wymm sheng pu-erhs? Read our review of 2013 1st Spring Jingmai and 2010 Spring Kunlu Mountain.

August 20, 2015

Favorite Tea Ware - Rachel Safko of Sensibilitea

As a tea drinker, and I am sure this is true for you, I adore teaware, from bombillas to matcha whisks. Everyone has their favorites! This series showcases the favorite teaware of folks in the tea blogging community. Today's faves are from Rachel Safko, tea specialist and writes about tea at Sensibilitea. (Rachel is also a finance journalist.)

My Favorite Tea Ware
I don’t often consciously think about tea ware, but have been so delighted by this series and the chance to explore my own quirky little tea habits with readers. I think my approach to tea ware is pretty spare (if eclectic.)

Beehouse Cutie & Rose Cup
The first thing I do every morning is brew an Assam, Keemun or favorite blend-of-the-moment in my well-worn yellow Beehouse teapot (made in Japan and picked up by me at the Harney & Sons shop down in Soho.) Note that Sara Shacket of Tea Happiness also listed this cozy little number in her top picks! I have a slightly larger one in metallic gold that I sometimes use for parties (and am also completely indebted to my Zojirushi electric water kettle, which I set to 205 degrees every night, and change throughout the course of the day for brewing different kinds of tea. I steep a lot of oolongs when I’m writing). I still haven’t learned how to turn off the ditty it sings with every temperature change but my husband seems to have accepted that by now, and it’s grown on me. Back to the teapot: I love its bright, cheerful vibe. It’s a natural go-to for me, along with my tiny rose cup (also pictured), which I bought online from Camellia Sinensis’ beautiful selection of tea ware. I’m hardly ever without this cup at home (no one ever drinks from it but me) and I’m currently eyeing this Lethe cup from Marie Serreau. Maybe for Christmas.

Trusty Gaiwan
This simple Gaiwan (from my neighborhood tea atelier Bellocq) is my other must-have. I use it a lot, usually when I’m being a bit more mindful about brewing, and really notice the difference when I do. It’s great for serving tea to friends and for regular afternoon breaks. Tea and little snacks are such a great everyday luxury for me—I am very much a grazer—and do tend to pause a few times a day for an oolong and shortbread, chocolate or nuts, even when working from my office at Rockefeller Center. This photo features a canelé I got from Jacques Torres and a Palais des Thés’ Montagne Bleue.

Formal (Tea) Ware
I recently finished a series of courses with the World Tea Academy (I’m a tea specialist now and continuing with my studies as a sommelier.) One of my absolute favorite aspects of the program has been tasting teas by doing formal cuppings. Whenever this set comes out, it means I’m about to get serious! (The tray itself is an antique from my husband’s grandmother. I keep it on top of two old chests I have in my bedroom with separate drawers for each kind of tea. And do sometimes think of my room as a tea chamber, like women had in the old days, whereas my husband uses our basement as a man cave to house his extensive whiskey collection.) I enjoy the practice of measuring, focusing purely on tasting and taking actual notes, since I’m often much looser about brewing and tend to go by feeling on most days. I do all of my tastings at my meditation cushion and altar.

Matcha by Me
I don’t drink as much matcha as I used to, despite the recent craze in New York (I went on a major kick several years ago after bringing back a bunch from Kyoto.) But do sometimes pull out this cup I made at a Mother’s Day pottery class at Choplet studios in Williamsburg. I’m quite proud of it –it’s the perfect size to cradle in your hands.

Creative Vintage Ware
I adore vintage tea ware (from all around the world) and sometimes receive gorgeous teapots from friends and family that I don’t use to brew tea. Like this early twentieth century beauty from the Ohio-based company Hall that’s so lovely as a centerpiece. Just look at that marvelous design!

Thank you for sharing your favorite tea objects with us, Rachel. I like the flare of your vintage teapot. All photos and stories provided by Rachel Safko.

Want more Favorite Tea Ware? Read about the favorites of Sara Shackett of Tea Happiness, Theresa Wong of T ShopJo Johnson of A Gift of TeaAlexis Siemons of teaspoons & petals, Nicole Martin of Tea for Me Please, and Jee Choe of Oh How Civilized. And stay tuned for more!

July 30, 2015

Tea Review - Wymm Tea Sheng Pu-erhs - 2013 1st Spring Jingmai and 2010 Spring Kunlu Mountain

Pu-erh is an acquired taste, at least, so I thought until I learned that there is sheng (raw) and shou (cooked) puerhs. My first experience with puerh was with a not every well made sho puerh. I think it was a shou; it tasted like a barnyard. My second experience with puerh was with the guidance of Thesera of T Shop. I drank a white and puerh blend as well as a Banuo raw puerh. Both were very good.

One day I saw on Wymm Tea's Instagram a photo of the company's Mangnuo Tengtiao "Cane" Sheng Pu-Erh. When I read "cane" I thought of sugarcane (my Caribbean roots showing up). I asked the company for more information about the origin of the Mangnuo Tengtiao "Cane" tea which they provided as well as samples of four raw puerhs. The Mangnuo Tengtiao "Cane" Sheng Pu-Erh from Ancient Tea Tree 2014 First Spring is one. Another is Bingdao Laozhai Huangpian Sheng Ancient Tea Tree Pu-erh 2014. The third and fourth are the 2013 1st Spring Jingmai and 2010 Spring Kunlu Mountain which are the subject of this review.

My intent was to steep both teas until their end but in the heat I quickly became lightheaded. I infused the Kunlu three times (and prepared the leaves for a cold brew overnight) and infused the Jingmai seven times (and also prepared its leaves for an overnight cold brew). [Editor's note: the cold brews were fantastic!]

The aroma of the Kunlu after a 25 second steep was woodsy and caramel-like. It had an earthy (baby portobello mushrooms cooked in a cast iron skillet) taste and a long finish.  At the 30 second steep, a bark-like flavor emerged. The liquor was dry and smelled of dried fruit. The third infusion for 35 seconds yielded umami notes and stained my cheeks.

The Jingmai grabbed my attention almost immediately. After a rinse, the wet leaves released an aroma of apricots. There was also the sweetness of dried fruit like cherries and plums. This very pleasing aroma disappeared with the first infusion but the liquor had a lingering sweetness. I steeped the leaves for a second time for 30 seconds then a third time for 35 seconds. At the latter, there was a crescendo of flavors including a floral note (it's supposed to be orchid). The liquor was dry and had a long finish. At the 40 second mark, the liquor was still dry but a nutty note emerged, similar to marzipan. The fifth infusion at 50 seconds was fruit heavy. The array of flavors tapered off at 50 seconds and were mostly gone by 60 seconds. I think this was due primarily to the fact that I was experiencing tea drunkenness.

The Jingmai was my favorite of the two raw puerhs reviewed here. I look forward to preparing the other two puerhs.

Puerhs courtesy of Wymm Tea. Thank you.

July 23, 2015

Palais des Thes Grand Cru Tasting

A bit of background about Palais des Thes before the review of four Grand Cru teas. The original Palais des Thes boutique is located in the Marais, described by PdT's marketing manager, Ines Bejot, as the "most charming place of Paris." There are 35 shops worldwide with half in France and five of these located in Paris. The shops outside of France are located in tea producing or tea drinking countries. PdT founder Francois-Xavier Delmas travels to the growers that supply tea to the company and blogs about his trips at Discovering Tea.

I had the pleasure of taking a Grand Cru tea class with tea master Cynthia Chovet. The Grand Cru Tasting is one of four classes offered at the Palais des Thes Tea School. Cynthia has many years of experience in the food and beverage industry. I was surprised to learn that she has only been with Pdt for one year; she spoke knowledgeably and passionately about the company. Cynthia's approach to the class was great! She spoke about the company, tea-ware, and the tea types and their regions, but waited for Ines and I to talk about what we tasted in each tea before offering her observations.

Four teas were prepared during the class: Silver Needle, Tawaramine Shincha Ichibancha 2015, Bao Zhong Antique 1999 (!), and Jukro.You read the year 1999 correctly. This oolong was aged for over 15 years, but I will provide more detail later on the post.

Silver Needle

Also known as Yinzhen, this Fujian white tea is made only of buds. Look at all those silvery white hairs! Even after steeping, many of the leaves remained in their original state with prominent hairs. The liquor tasted of woodsmoke and chestnuts with a sweet finish. As the tea cooled, I detected notes of green like conifer needles, specifically juniper and pine.

Tawaramine Shincha Ichibancha 2015

I felt fortunate to be able to taste a Spring 2015 Shincha! The dried leaves smelled heavenly with a deep sweet and cream aroma. The leaves appeared to leave a sort of resin on the interior of the canister. The liquor tasted like steamed spinach and mussels as well as fresh seaweed. The shincha had a long finish; the liquor stained my cheeks.

Bao Zhong Antique 1999

The antique version of Baozhong, a Taiwanese oolong, is created through a yearly refiring. The non-aged version of this tea is Bao Zhong Imperial. The steeped leaves of the Antique smelled of charred wood with a cherry aroma at the end. It was an astringent tea. Its taste is also big and bold like a California red wine.


Coincidentally, we had the best tea at the end of the tasting. Korean black teas are unusual. This tea tastes heavily of chocolate! The dried leaves smell of chocolate and the liquor tastes of chocolate cake (Cynthia) and molten brownie (Ines). Cynthia detected a nutty flavor. I detected a floral note. The PdT website offers rose geranium as a possibility. With its berry undertone, the tea reminded of a single origin 72-80% chocolate bar.

Thinking about tea and cheese pairings, I asked Cynthia for a cheese recommendation for the Jukro, and teas in general. She suggested identifying the note you want to highlight and finding a cheese with a similar flavor profile to make a match. Here's a pairing she recommends: Challerhocker, a nutty Swiss cheese, with Longjing. Cynthia's husband is a cheesemonger in Darien, Connecticut!

Grand Cru Tasting Class courtesy of Palais des Thes. Thank you.

P.S. Tea and cheese pairings at French Cheese Board and at In Pursuit of Tea.