February 02, 2016

Endangered Species Chocolate Bars and Spreads Review + A Giveaway

Last year I taste tested three chocolate bars by Endangered Species Chocolate and professed my love of the Owl, a dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds bar. Endangered Species Chocolate has a great ethos. On the production side, its chocolate products are made with certified fairly traded, kosher, and GMO free ingredients. The company goes beyond sustainable sourcing; it donated 10% of net profits to support two wildlife conservation organizations, African Wildlife Foundation and The Xerxes Society

Given the quality of their chocolate and their environmental orientation, I gladly accepted the opportunity to review more of their chocolate. I chose the Rhino, a dark chocolate with hazelnut toffee bar. In addition, I also selected two spreads, almond with cocoa and hazelnut with cocoa. The lion is featured on the almond spread while the African elephant is pictured on the hazelnut spread label.

The Rhino bar is rich and smooth with a slight dried fruit flavor. The bits of toffee are buttery and crunchy. It's quite a good combination. The rhino feared on the chocolate bar is the Black Rhino (Dicers bicornis) of southern Africa. Horn poaching is the biggest threat to the rhino; the horn is in demand in China for traditional medicine and in Vietnam where it is believed to cure cancer and hangovers and is a luxury gift.  Endangered Species Chocolate has highlighted the role of the International Rhino Foundation working in Africa and Asia.

In graduate school, a couple of girlfriends and I would eat a popular hazelnut spread on toast and drink hot Milo. When I realized the impacts of palm oil farming on Southeast Asian forest ecosystems, I more or less stopped eating that popular hazelnut spread or any hazelnut spread for that matter. I  have been looking for a high quality hazelnut spread without palm oil and the Endangered Species Chocolate hazelnut spread delivers. The spread is deliciously creamy. Although hazelnuts are the third ingredient, you can taste their nutty, sweet notes.

The almond spread is also very good. The flavor layering of almond and chocolate excellently satisfies your sweet and salt receptors.

Endangered Species Chocolate is sponsoring a sustainably sweet chocolate bar and spread raffle. There are two prize packs, each contains a bar and a spread. The pairings are (1) the Rhino bar (dark chocolate with hazelnut toffee) + the hazelnut spread and (2) the Owl bar (dark chocolate with sea salt & almonds) + the almond spread. Enter the giveaway below, and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

January 31, 2016

Hot Tea Month - Owl's Brew The Famous Mint Tea with The Famous Grouse Scotch Whisky

Never was a Scotch whisky drinker but The Famous Mint Tea cocktail is very drinkable. The cocktail features the Owl's Brew mixer, The Famous Mint Tea, which was developed to pair with The Famous Grouse Scotch whisky. We have made several batches experimenting with different ratios.

The recommended ratio is 2 parts mixer to 1 part whisky. This is our preferred blend, and we serve it on "wet rocks" meaning ice that has bee rinsed in a glass and not totally drained. We also tried a 1:1 ratio and 1:2 ratio. The former was manageable. The latter was too strong. These modified ratios are for regular Scotch whisky drinkers.

The ingredients in the tea mixer and the flavor profile of the whisky make this pairing a good one. Both have citrus notes. The peppermint and agave in the mixer round out and cool the spicy, earthy notes of the whisky.

If you would like to move beyond the 2-ingredient cocktail, try the Northern Star. It is a hot toddy for Hot Tea Month! The cocktail was created by Marco Zappia of Eat Street Social and Scena Tavern in Minneapolis.

- Ingredients -
1.5 oz The Famous Grouse
.5 oz Ginger Syrup
.25 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
5 oz The Owl’s Brew Famous Mint Tea
2 Dashes Bittercube Jamaican #1 Bitters
Garnish: Mint Leaf, Star Anise and Lemon Peel

- Instructions -
Boil water and bring to a simmer. Place The Famous Grouse, Ginger Syrup, Fresh Lemon Juice and Bitters in a large tin, add simmering water to a smaller tin, placing the larger tin on top of the smaller tin- creating a poor man’s “bain marie.” Add remaining simmering water to mug to preheat glass. Heat The Owl’s Brew Famous Mint Tea on the stove and bring to 180 degrees, then add to rest of cocktail “bain marie” and stir together. Remove water from mug, pour contents from “bain marie” into a mug, garnish with Mint Leaf, Star Anise and Lemon Peel and serve.

If you are not a spirits imbiber, The Famous Mint Tea mixer is good on its own.

Owl's Brew The Famous Mint Tea and The Famou Grouse Scotch whiskey provided for review.

January 29, 2016

Defining Tea + Cat Spring Yaupon Tea Review

Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews on location in Salzburg during the filming of The Sound of Music, 1964
via Wikimedia Commons

One of my favorite definitions of tea is from the Sound of Music. "Tea, a drink with jam and bread," sang Maria played by Julie Andrews. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has several definitions:
1a: a shrub (Camellia sinensis of the family Theaceae, the tea family) cultivated especially in China, Japan, and the East Indies
1b: the leaves, leaf buds, and internodes of the tea plant prepared and cured for the market, classed according to method of manufacture into one set of types (as green tea, black tea, or oolong), and graded according to leaf size into another (as orange pekoe, pekoe, or souchong)
2: an aromatic beverage prepared from tea leaves by infusion with boiling water
3a: any of various plants somewhat resembling tea in properties; also: an infusion of their leaves used medicinally or as a beverage
3b: tea rose
4a: refreshments usually including tea with sandwiches, crackers, or cookies served in late afternoon
4b: a reception, snack, or meal at which tea is served
5 (slang): marijuana
Leaves of Camellia sinensis varieties
via Wikimedia Commons

Leaving aside definitions 3b through 5, it seems that the primary definitions of tea are (1a) the actual plant, Camellia sinensis, and its varieties and cultivars; (1b, 2) the beverage derived from steeping the leaves of C. sinensis in hot water (but cold infusions are very good, too); and (3a) other beverages prepared with plants that are not C. sinensis. The latter are known as tisanes or herbals and can be made with herbs and spices, singly or combined. Even legumes are used in herbals. Rooibos, Aspalathus linearis, is a member of the legume family.

There is some concern in the C. sinensis camp that tisanes/herbals are being incorrectly classified as tea. It's rather like the discussion about appellation d'origins contrôlée (AOC) for various foods and beverages. I don't think there are any C. sinensis derived teas with an AOC but Darjeeling is a candidate and tea producers in that region are seeking certification according to Jeff Koehler in Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea. However, I don't think a designation has ever been applied (or sought) for a beverage category. In any case, I refer to C. sinensis derived teas as tea and try to use tisane or herbal when describing non C. sinensis derived beverages but it's not something I strictly adhere to.

There is another piece to the distinction between tea and tisane/herbal. Caffeine. The latter are typically caffeine free. The leaves of the C. sinensis plant contain 5-6% caffeine. There are other plants that are prepared as tea that contain caffeine but don't fall into the traditional tisane/herbal category. One is yerba mate. I am familiar with yerba mate and I think most of you reading this post have either heard of the drink or have drunk it. Yerba mate is derived from a rainforest holly native to South America. Another plant that contains caffeine which is prepared as a tea is guarana. I don't have any experience with this plant. Yet a third caffeine containing plant is yaupon. This is a new-to-me tea beverage. Yaupon, also a holly, is native to the SE US.

Cat Spring Tea Yaupon

I prepared two types of Yaupon Tea, both loose leaf: Black and It's Not Easy Being Green. The latter was blended with organic green rooibos, organic ginger, organic lemongrass, and organic compliant lime flavoring. Admittedly, I did not enjoy my first session with either tea. The black yaupon was very smoky. The second time I prepared it, and I cannot say what I did differently, the smoky note was less intense. I detected a chicory note both times which with milk and sugar might make it taste like a New Orleans style coffee. Black yaupon might be a candidate for an American style Iribancha.

The dry green yaupon has the warming aroma of one of my favorite spices, ginger. Unfortunately for me, lemongrass was the primary taste in the liquor. I sweetened the tea with maple syrup which successfully masked the lemongrass. The lemongrass was also prominent during the second session. but I also detected lime. I am wary of flavorings in tea so am a bit concerned about the lime. This is a hypocritical stance since I know I consume foods with added flavor.

The story behind Cat Spring Tea is a compelling one. I like that the company is small and women owned. Also, the artworks on their pouches are really cool and are reprints of vividly colored paper collages by the American artist Dolan Geiman.

Update: This post was edited on Jan. 31, 2016: *Disclosure: The Latin name for yaupon is Ilex vomitoria. I listened to the NPR Tea Tuesday feature on Cat Spring Tea and yaupon while writing this post. The plant is not emetic according to the story, however, the USDA says otherwise. The NPR story notes Yaupon's Latin name is a misnomer because the plant is not an emetic. Ingesting the leaves does not cause vomiting, but eating the berries can cause nausea and vomiting according to this USDA Yaupon factsheet. My sincere apologies for not reporting on the specific part of the plant that is emetic. I did not mean to imply that Yaupon tea can result in vomiting. I would like to thank Maridel Martinez of Texas Yaupon Tea for her email which prompted me to read the factsheet again and to update this post.

Teas courtesy of Cat Spring Tea.

January 26, 2016

Tea Review - Rosali Tea Milk Oolong and Assam

Rosali Tea is a young subscription tea company founded by Rosa Li. The company successfully raised $22,977 in October 2015 using Kickstarter. Teas were first shipped in December 2015. I was lucky enough to receive one of the company's early shipments of tea. In my box were milk oolong, Assam, and jasmine pearls. I will review the first two here.

Milk oolong

I'll start with the milk oolong. I really enjoyed drinking this tea. I recorded two of my three sessions. During the second session, I infused a serving of the leaves six times. The first three infusions were 2 minutes long in 185F water. The liquor was sweet -- honey, almost butterscotch -- and buttery like good popcorn. Also, the liquid was creamy. For the fourth infusion, I bumped up the temperature to 195F and only steeped the leaves for 1 minute. The popcorn flavor was front and center on this infusion but I liked the complexity of the tea at 185F. The next infusion was made at 185F for 2 minutes. The liquor was dry with a lingering (not water) melon flavor. I infused the leaves one more time. The flavors had largely dissipated.

The notes for the first infusion of the second session are: "It's so good! Cream, floral, popcorn butter." I can't say what the flower note was but it wasn't overwhelming. I used the last of the leaves in the pouch, almost 3 grams, in 195F water for 2 minutes. Although I liked the diversity of notes that came out using 185F water in the second session, because I had less leaves for this session, I thought I should use a higher water temperature. The second and third infusions had less wow than the first but the creamy mouthfeel was there. On the fourth infusion I detected steamed spinach. It was a pleasant discovery. The leaves began to mellow out by the fifth infusion. The liquor was still smooth and there were subtle vegetable and butter notes. I made a sixth infusion but this was largely flavorless.


I also had three sessions from the Assam. In retrospect, I should have used a gram measurement to prepare the sessions for all the teas. It's useful to have a measure (pun intended) of consistency between sessions and across tea types. I received my scale after I began preparing these teas and so I wasn't in the habit of weighing my leaves. Also, I need to find a reliable guide for gram measurements for different tea types.

Like the milk oolong, I only have notes for two of the three sessions. I'm going to share a direct quote from my tasting notes, again. After I rinsed the leaves, I wrote: "What a great smell -- malty, semi-sweet chocolate." I prepared three infusions with 195F water. The first two were 2 minutes long and the third was 3 minutes long. I tasted honeycomb candy during the second infusion! The leaves were exhausted by the third infusion (I should have used more leaves).

Given my experience during the second session, I used a lot more leaves for the third session. I used the remainder of the leaves which amounted to almost 4 grams. (I should note here that the serving size recommended by the company for the oolong, black, and green teas is 1 teaspoon.)  For this session I used 195F water. The first, second, and third infusions were 2 minutes; the fourth was three minutes; and the fifth steep was 10 minutes long. The rinse smelled like milk stout beer! The first infusion tasted of bread dough. It was dry. The honeycomb candy flavor was present too. The second infusion was similar but I tasted banana bread. The leaves had expanded and filled up the gaiwan. In the third and fourth infusion there was a peek-a-boo dried fruit flavor which I couldn't name (and still can't). The Assam is a heady tea; I felt tea drunk by the end of the third infusion. The flavors were starting to peter out so I thought I long infusion was extract more flavor. It did and color too. The fifth infusion was similar to an Irish Breakfast Blend. The liquor was dry and brisk and tasted of dried cherry. The bread dough note reemerged.

Based on my sessions of milk oolong and Assam, I would recommend Rosali Tea. You can subscribe to Rosali Tea here. I look forward to seeing what other teas the company will offer.

Tea box of three teas courtesy of Rosali Tea.

January 21, 2016

Favorite Tea Ware - Kym Cooper of The Steepery in Australia

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, this series goes beyond North America to Australia with Kym Cooper's favorite objects. Kym is the founder of The Steepery Tea Co. and a Certified Tea Master. 

I really love teawares. There are a couple of qualities that I look out for when acquiring teawares, its shape and form (I am partial to handcrafted pieces), functionality and its ability to authentically prepare or serve tea. Here are my favourites:

Tea sink
My first experience meeting a tea master in Singapore resulted in the purchase of this tea sink and all the Gong Fu Cha paraphernalia. I was clearly tea drunk and easily coerced into making such an expensive purchase! A special piece as this really started me on my tea journey.

Small teacup and aroma cup
I switch between brewing vessels (large teapots, gaiwans, express steepers and yixing teapots) when tea brewing but I always drink tea with a small teacup and aroma cup present. I find having these on hand is useful when I frequently mix drinking tea for enjoyment and more ‘serious’ cupping and tea tasting. I like to revisit aromas and flavour profiles regularly.

A talented ceramic artist from Melbourne (Australia), Yesha Macdonald, made my chawan for me. I have never owned a chawan until earlier this year and I have never had a ceramic piece made especially for me. This chawan has incredible form, feels organic in the hands and allows for the most incredibly frothy jade matcha to be whisked up.

Milk pot
I am a bit partial to a hot drink and a sweet treat after dinner. It is probably the little bit of indulgence I have almost every night. A good portion of those evenings I like to brew chai masala. To best replicate the Chai Wallahs of India without the scale I like to use my white enamel milk pot. It is a little deeper than a saucepan and manages to contain my haphazard stirring and uncontrolled simmering. I have tried many methods for chai masala preparation but nothing is better than making it on the stovetop as a decoction to extract the spices.

Stainless steel teapot
Often given a bad wrap, black tea features high on my list of favourite teas. My sister bought this teapot for me many years ago. We use it every morning to prepare a strong black tea (i.e., Assam single estate). This pot holds about 500mL and pours perfectly.

I am thrilled that Kym agreed to share her favorite teaware. I am partial to her milk pot. And don't you just love the fish eye view of Kym's outdoor space seen in the stainless steel pot? All photos and stories courtesy of Kym Cooper.
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