The Longjing Lineup

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I just realised last week that I have quite a bit of Longjing green tea to consume. TeaVivre had kindly sent over a HUGE package of green tea samples from their Spring range last month, and I’d also received a tin of TeaVivre’s Organic Nonpareil She Qian Dragon Well from imp.

And so, I decided I would taste all of them Longjings at one go.

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In general, all the leaves look gorgeous. Sorry I can’t be more technical about it. But put it this way, I’ve seen what bad, stale Longjing looks like at certain atas hotel cafes that don’t store them properly (brownish, kind of damp-looking and possibly mouldy) and these leaves are just the opposite: green and crunchy looking.

Here’s what I tried:

Organic Superfine Dragon Well: From Tian Mu Mountain. It smelled kind of toasty/smoky so I was surprised that when I drank it, it was smooth bodied and there was this natural honeyed sweetness at the end. A surprising tea.

Premium Grade Dragon Well: From Xi Hu (West Lake). It had that steamed chicken aroma that I’ve come to associate with Longjing, and there were some pleasant umami notes in the brew. It was a little more astringent (‘siap’) compared to the Organic Superfine Dragon Well.

Organic Non Pareil Ming Qian Dragon Well: From Tian Mu Mountain. It had an interesting dewy, smoky aroma and was very mellow and vegetal. A nice kick-back sort of tea.

Organic Nonpareil She Qian Dragon Well: From Tian Mu Mountain. I’ve had this tea several times and I’m always amazed at how sweet it is no matter how crudely I make it. It smells like a steamed lotus paste pao and its chestnutty brew also has this woody depth to it. I think this is my favourite Dragon, ROAR!

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I was actually wondering if they would all taste the same to me, then this would be a really boring review. But hey, they don’t! And once again, I’m amazed at how each tea has all these fascinating nuances, even if they are the same type of tea from the same season!

My 1872 Clipper Tea Review (With An Iced Lychee Mint Recipe!)

Last Month, The 1872 Clipper Tea Co. very kindly gave me a $50 voucher to shop at their online store. I seldom buy tea online, but I generally found their e-store a very pleasing experience with soothing watercolours :) I also like the fact that there’s free delivery for orders above S$50!

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Here’s what I bought:

 

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- Finest Darjeeling (S$25): 100g of Darjeeling Margaret’s Hope (Grade: TGFOP1 2nd flush)

- Lychee Tea (S$11): 24 sachets of black tea flavoured with sweet lychee

- Peppermint (S$12): 20 sachets of peppermint tea

I have to say my selection of teas were pretty fortuitous. For the Darjeeling tea, I’ve already finished almost half the pouch within the month already! A few weeks ago, I caught a nasty “childcare” stomach flu bug from my son and began to crave black sweetened tea when I couldn’t stomach solid food for those few days. My mum used to make me a cup of Lipton tea with two spoonfuls of sugar whenever I had a bad tummy as a child, and I guess it was an old comfort I wanted to revisit. Of course, this time, my black tea had some lovely honeyed muscatel notes, so much so I didn’t see the need to put sugar in it eventually.

This week has been especially hot, and to top things off, the overworked air-conditioners at my place decided to conk out together in solidarity. And it was out of pure “sianness” that I decided to make myself a fancy pitcher of iced tea to cheer myself up – hot weather really gets you in a pissy mood, doesn’t it? I decided to come up with my own concoction of an Iced Lychee Mint tea (undoubtedly inspired by the iced lychee oolong tea I’ve had at Tea Bone Zen Mind) and this concoction even pleased my un-tea, fussy-with-food-and-drink husband who declared it “wonderfully refreshing”.

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Here’s the recipe for my Iced Lychee Mint Tea:

- 1 sachet of Peppermint

- 2 sachets of Lychee Tea

- 500ml of boiling water

- Canned lychee

- Ice cubes

- Optional: syrup

Steep the Peppermint and Lychee Tea sachets for 3 minutes in the boiling water. Let the brew cool down. Top with ice cubes, lychee pieces and a few teaspoonfuls of the syrup from the canned lychee. If you like your iced tea sweet, you can add a bit of your own sugar syrup as well. The lychee black tea, quite obviously, really goes with the chunks of lychee and I really like that minty aftertaste while drinking this tea – it brings cooling down to another level heh. Let me know how it goes if you try preparing this tea at home!

Delightful Tea with Miss Tea Delight (and a sort-of catch-up)

 

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I got to meet another tea blog friend in real life – one of my earliest  and most active commenters (while I was still writing somewhat regularly), Miss Tea Delight this week! One of the first things she asked me was, “Why aren’t you writing on your blog anymore?” and I could only hang my head in shame.

Yes, it’s been a while. In a nutshell, here’s what’s been happening with me tea-wise: I’ve been tea shopping (right now, I’m in love with this 30-year aged oolong from Hojo Tea – it’s my ultimate comfort drink), I’ve been receiving some fantastic tea samples from 1872 Clipper Tea and TeaVivre (their 2014 spring offerings) which I definitely intend to review at some point, I mostly drink tea when I’m feeling antsy, but I also like socialising with tea – I somehow think people become a little more open in some ways.

I will not make any more declarations about how committed I will be to this blog. But I do love you blog, for connecting me in such wonderful ways with other tea-loving folk (and to some great teas as well)!

Tea Loves: Regena Rafelson

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It looks like I’m pretty (virtually) social with tea folks this year! Today, I interview T Ching managing editor, Regena Rafelson. She’s a retired high school English teacher from Hood River, Oregon and she tells us more about her tea life and work in this Tea Loves post.

As some of you might know, I’m a T Ching contributor and have learned much from this tea portal and its global community. Unfortunately, due to current real life commitments, I’m not able to write for them as regularly, but they’ve definitely got a loyal reader in me.

And for now, it’s back to Regena! :)

Tell us more about your editor position at T Ching. 

This is my second stint as managing editor.  When T Ching was a fledgling blog, I edited it for fourteen months in 2008 – 2009.  In April of 2013, the long-time editor, Erika Cilengir, handed the reins back to me.  I love the diversity of T Ching contributors and being able to read their fascinating posts before anyone else gets to!

What is your favourite tea and why? 

My favourite tea is whatever I am drinking!  I like black tea and oolongs of every persuasion.  I am currently having a serious fling with matcha.  When I am hiking, I like Earl Grey in the thermos.

What are your tea habits like? 

My first pot of tea steeps while I build a fire in our woodstove.  I pull my chair and my mug of tea up to the fireplace and drink that first pot while the fire slowly gains strength. I read the day’s post as it goes live on T Ching while I sip the second pot.

What’s the best and worst thing about being an editor of a tea website?

The best thing about being a website editor is the amazing rapport and relationships I build with contributors half a world away.  The worst thing is when those busy contributors are unable to meet deadlines.  Scrambling for posts is an anxiety-laden affair! (I’m sorry Regena for being one of those causing you this stress!)

What do you think people misunderstand the most about tea?

The most misunderstood aspect of tea regards caffeine.  The mainstream western medical community is the worst offender, repeating the “tea-has-more-caffeine-than-coffee” mantra as if it was gospel.  No amount of research budges them from their litany.  I find that irresponsible as well as misleading.

 Describe the most interesting T Ching reader you’ve had. 

The most interesting tea reader would have to be this particular person who heckled me about a post I had written.  Social media is wonderful most of the time, but an insidious aspect of this media is the opportunity for people to be rude without taking responsibility.  I think of it as keyboard rage.

Tea is…

Tea is a beverage which speaks to our better selves, that peaceful part of us.  Tea is like giving yourself a hug.

Review: Chinese Teas from TeaVivre

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I got a lovely surprise in the beginning of the year – a little box of tea samples of TeaVivre, an up and coming online tea retailer who is REALLY serious about tea. Just check any of their product pages and you get encyclopaedic information about each tea variant – such a wonderful resource.

This was the time I was also trying to sort out my teaware, so in this review, you’ll also get to see some of my tea utensils :)

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Superfine Taiwan Moderately-Roasted Dong Ding Oolong

The first tea I tried was their Superfine Taiwan Moderately-Roasted Dong Ding Oolong. I’m trying to be more open to darker teas these days, and I think this was the perfect tea to bridge over to “the dark side”! It’s mellow and toasty, and I was pleasantly surprised by its sweetness as I was expecting something more earthy. I was also particularly frazzled that day and this tea was perfect in helping me to chill out a little.

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Premium Tai Ping Hou Kui

The second tea I tried was their Premium Tai Ping Hou Kui green tea. Initially, I was a little suspicious about how these broad tea leaves were able to fit into the smallish packaging but when I opened it, I was greeted with sweet-smelling, intact tea leaves. This was also delightful to drink – with a creamy texture and this (for lack of better word) sweetbeany taste. A little tip for drinking this tea: steep it in barely warm water (I did half room temperature water, half hot water – sorry, no thermometer to tell you the temperature)  to slowly get its goodness out!

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Superfine Taiwan Qing Xiang Dong Ding Oolong

The third tea I tried was the Superfine Taiwan Qing Xiang Dong Ding Oolong. I only became aware of the existence of such a tea last year, and am not surprised that it has many fans! A very easy light oolong to drink with honeyed vegetal notes and a lovely floral aroma. It also has that nice milky texture.

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Organic Superfine Dragon Well Long Jing

I remember how my friend Jill described Long Jing as “chicken soup”. With TeaVivre’s Organic Superfine Dragon Well Long Jing however, I also got raw chestnut notes along with the usual umami taste profile and I was just so besotted with the dark emerald colour of the leaves. I have friends who have stopped drinking tea because they are concerned with pesticides being sprayed on the leaves – well I’d say this would be a good option for them to make a prodigal return (the tea is certified organic by USDA, EU and JAS – it cannot get more credible than that).

Overall: I’m very impressed with the quality of teas that TeaVivre offers and how it emphasises on how one should make informed, educational choices when buying tea! And judging by the many rave reviews it’s been getting from tea bloggers all over the world, I’m not the only one :) 

Sidenote: I also feature Stella from Tea Vivre in my Tea Loves section. What a wonderful job she has!

Liebster Award Thing!

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My dear friend Dawn has just started blogging regularly and has been writing such affirming, truthful words – it comes as no surprise she got nominated for a Liebster Award! She’s now nominated me for it (thank you!) so here are my answers:

1. Blogging: true connection, attention-seeking, or simply necessary? 

True connection. I think almost everyone who blogs are looking for ways to meet more like-minded people.

2. Why do you blog? 

Probably for true connection as well – and in the years I’ve been sporadically blogging, I’m glad to have “met” people that I genuinely click with. Some I have met in real life…and they have become new friends I am grateful for to have in my life.

3. Describe your blog in three words. 

Tea. Thoughts. Trying.

4. Describe yourself in three words. 

Dreamy. Melancholic. Hopeful.

5. You’re in an awful mood. Who is the first person you call to cheer you up?

I actually try not to call anybody up when I’m blue. I feel it’s something that I need to process in solitude first.

6. Describe your idea of a perfect day.

8-10 hours of sleep.

7. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why?

South America. Because it is a beautiful continent and will challenge all my hang-ups.

8. Given the choice, you would like a year’s supply of _______?  

Having a swimming pool right by my doorstep.

9. If you could spend a day with one person, living or dead, who would it be, and why?

Anyone who has a sense of humour, is open-minded, willing to share his/her life experiences and is a good listener.

10. Truth is ________.

Everyone has their own truths.

Tea Loves: Stella Yan

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Stella (left) at Mengding Organic Tea Garden in Sichuan, China with an 85-year-old tea picker.

I’ve made another tea acquaintance! Stella is from China and does social media marketing for online tea retailer TeaVivre. She recently contacted me to do a tea review (I’m still getting round that, immensely enjoying the samples so far), and was so nice about catering to my tea preferences, I thought I would feature her on Tea Loves! She tells us about why she loves her tea job so much.

Why did you want to work in the tea industry?

I have been working at TeaVivre for more than five years, and helped to build an online presence for this brand internationally. I’m a tea lover and I wanted to work in the tea industry to broaden my tea knowledge. Furthermore, China has some of the best quality teas. By bringing premium Chinese teas to tea lovers all around the world, I can share this tea experience with other people, while also learning more about teas in other countries.

What is your favourite tea and why?

My favourite is Taiwan High Mountain Oolong Tea. It grows at an altitude of over 1,000 metres. As a result, this tea is naturally aromatic, mellow and brisk; and it can be steeped several times without losing its flavour.

What is your tea ritual like?

Every morning, I love to start work with a cup of green tea. For leisure, I enjoy sipping a cup of oolong while reading a book under the warm afternoon sun. When I have friends visiting, I will share my tea collection with them.

What’s the best and worst thing about working in the tea industry?

The best thing would be meeting tea lovers from all over the world. We talk about tea and exchange ideas about tea. It is very satisfying to see more and more tea lovers praising TeaVivre’s products and services.

The worst part about my job would be shipping delays due to holidays or other reasons we cannot control. I get as anxious as the customers waiting for their packages!

What do you think people misunderstand the most about tea?

I often see people regarding expensive tea as good tea, resulting in tea getting more expensive in the market e.g. pu-erh tea getting hyped up to ten thousand yuan a cake. However, in my opinion, choosing a tea should be based on your taste preferences. Quality is more important than price.

What are your tips on what makes a “good” tea then?

The leaf quality, water temperature, steeping time, amount of tea, and even the maker’s emotion all come into play. Generally, I think good tea should just be your favourite tea.

Tea is …

Tea is like life. It tastes thin at first, then builds up in character, and gradually reaches its strongest point. After that peak period, it will slowly become light, and finally loses all its flavour.

Thank you for sharing your fascinating tea thoughts with us, Stella! :)  

Tea Loves: Alison Appleton

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I recently made the virtual acquaintance of Alison Appleton, a tea ware designer from Liverpool. She has created gorgeous tea equipment for brands such as Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, and La Cafetière. Alison is also a hardcore tea aficionado who has travelled to tea plantations in China. I love her work, and am so glad to know a fellow tea lover who is bringing more good tea and tea ware to her part of the world! I hope you get a chance to know her as well through this interview :)

Hi Alison! Tell us about how you fell in love with tea.
I come from a very sociable family. The kettle was always on, and there was always lots of gossip going on over cups of tea! My grandmother always made loose leaf tea and gave it to all the children in the family with milk and sugar.

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How did you get into tea ware design?
I worked as a design consultant to La Cafetière for 10 years, and they sold products dealing with coffee, tea and hot chocolate. This sparked an interest in the history of the tea trade. I then made a few visits to China and fell in love with tea.

I think the story of tea (and all the beautiful products that have been created in order to serve it) is amazing. The history of the tea trade and tea’s extraordinary popularity of being in almost every home around the world makes it a subject worth studying.

At the same time, it is very important for me to make things that are useful as there is a lot of unnecessary ‘stuff’ in the world. I want my pots to be enjoyed and used all the time, not just for special occasions.

You’re “anti-teabag” but the teabag is such a British institution – how do you deal with this?
Unfortunately, the teabag is the most common way to make tea in the UK because it is perceived as being quick and convenient. As a result, many people are used to the very blunt taste of (mostly poor quality) teabag tea.

However, I am very happy to report that there is a growing interest and appreciation of loose leaf teas. We hold monthly tea tasting sessions in our studio during which we take a look around the world and taste a huge variety of Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, African and other teas. We have also selected a range of blended and flavoured black teas. Once our visitors taste these teas, they realise how much finer they are compared to the standard teabag.

They also see how very easy it is to prepare loose leaf tea without any fuss or mess.

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Some of your tea ware designs incorporate Chinese and Japanese tea ceremony elements – what sparked your interest in these aspects of tea culture?
My first collection was inspired by the history of the tea trade in the UK. As tea was introduced to the UK, Chinese decoration motifs were used everywhere. This period saw the birth of British Chinoiserie, Ming vases, Chinese wallpaper, Thomas Chippendale furniture used by famous characters such as Jane Austen and Earl Grey. It seemed like an obvious place to start. My first collection was Darcy, named after the famous literary hero himself. Jane Austen would have drunk tea all day long and it would have been Chinese tea bought from Twinings.

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My favourite design is your Golden Carp Series – how did you get your inspiration for that?
As my collection is quite small, I wanted to ensure there was some variety in the range. This one is the most glamorous and has a bit of bling! For Golden Carp, I wanted to fuse a European shape with Oriental imagery. Everything about this set symbolises good fortune: the carp, lotus and gold are all auspicious.

What kind of message do you want to send about tea with the kind of tea ware that you create?
That tea is special and we should make it properly. When you consider the effort that goes into growing, picking, drying and rolling a whole variety of exquisite teas, it is only correct that we brew them in lovely tea ware.

Good loose leaf teas are relatively inexpensive and can be enjoyed by everyone. I see the new interest in tea as being similar to the recent growth in the coffee business. Today, a huge proportion of people in the UK have espresso makers at home and enjoy a variety of espresso based coffee drinks every day. I hope that one day, consumers will be more demanding when it comes to drinking good quality tea.

What is your most memorable tea experience so far?
I visited a Longjing tea plantation as a guest of a family who had a share in that plantation. They gave me a delicious lunch, and after that, we drank pre Qing Ming Longjing tea all afternoon while sitting outside in the sunshine on a warm autumn day. The plantation looked beautiful and everything was delicious. I felt very lucky to have such an experience.

What is your tea ritual?
I usually drink Uva Pekoe from Sri Lanka for breakfast. This has a strong and malty flavour that goes very well with sourdough toast or my usual bowl of porridge with honey. Mid morning, I will make a pot of Da Hong Pao or another Oolong. Lunchtime, I’ll go for something like a black tea with rose.

In the afternoon, I will always drink green teas as they give me a lift. Before bed I like something light and delicate like a white tea.

Tea is …
Tea is a comfort. It revives and soothes, and always features at important occasions when friends and family are together.

Images courtesy of Alison Appleton

Connect with Alison (@AlisonAppleton) on Twitter

Meeting Liz Steel for Tea

One of the most popular posts on this blog is my Tea Loves interview with Liz Steel. I’m guessing it’s because of all her beautiful tea sketches! (I’ve also written about her on T Ching.)

I finally had to chance to meet her in real life when she swung by Singapore last week and we had a lovely tea tasting session at Tea Bone Zen Mind (TBZM).

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TBZM’s owner, Carrie, was so enchanted by her sketching; she said it was refreshing to look at “art without ego” (I guess she expressed it a lot more poetically than how I yap about Liz’s “happy drawings”). She kindly let us try many special things, including an aged 40-year-old kukicha and an intriguing tea salt infusion!

I’m glad I introduced the two like-minded ladies to each other – both tea lovers and inspiring artists in their own right :)

Top Tea Moments of 2013

Oh my! Yet another year is coming to an end. I am drinking Longjing tea right now while trying to come up with a sum-up post of sorts. I am also trying to come up with some healthy new-year resolutions involving tea. But in the meantime, here are my favourite moments with tea this year:

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My first cup of tea in Taipei.
I was terribly groggy. I’d just gone bookshop shopping at Eslite. I sat down in this little basement stall of a shopping mall where a guy very carefully brewed a mug of Shan Lin Xi oolong using thermometers, measuring cups and ceramic teaware. And I sipped it very slowly while browsing through my new books.

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Tea grazing.
One of my most relaxing 2013 afternoons with casual tea tasting with the ladies of Pekoe & Imp. If you don’t already know by now, Imp is pretty slick in tea brewing and uses both cheem algebra and mystical “leaf coaxing” to come up with some lovely teas.

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Using my most expensive teaware for the first time.
I bought a Hakka Blue Pear Pot Set as a Christmas present for myself after attending the Tea Time in Taiwan fair. I’m not sure if it was psychological, but I thought I came up with a pretty exquisite brew of Tieguanyin and my non-tea husband also felt very happy drinking from this very pretty tea set.

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Pomelo tea at Cafe Pal.
It was a rainy day and this was the perfect pulpy tangy hot drink after some awesome Thai food and catching up with an old friend.

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Iced lychee oolong at Tea Bone Zen Mind.
It was a scorching hot afternoon. I always buy several bags of of lychee oolong back after every visit!

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