Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What are Tannins?

If you steep your tea for a long time, you may notice a bitter, astringent aftertaste.  This is causes by tannins, naturally occuring substances that are also found in wine and chocolate.  And interestingly, in rooibos, an herb also known as "bush tea," pictured below.  This herb does not come from the same plant as true teas, but it does have many of the same characteristcs. 

These are not the same as the tannic acid used for preserving leather (those acids are extracted from oak leaves.)  Rather, they are antioxidant-rich bioflavonoids, as well as catechins (which may help you loose weight).   Everybody wants more antioxidants, right?  And to get the most benifit, many sources claim you need to be drinking 8 cups of green or black tea a day (as the different varieties contain different phytochemicals, only some of which are tannins).

There is one possible concern.  Tannins may interfere with iron absorbtion, but this is only something to worry about if you are restricting iron intake (such as if you are vegetarian/vegan) or if you are anemic. 

Tannins are also thought to kill bacteria in your mouth an help prevent bacteria, so if you don't have iron issues, the more unsweetened tea the better.

Some cultures steep tea to intentionally extract more tannins.  An example of this is Thai-style tea, which is steeped for about twenty minutes.  It begins to take on a character similar to coffee, and is then sweetened with a large dose of condensed milk.  This concoction is uaually served iced, and it is only for those with a high tolerance to sweets.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

People In Tea: Brenda Meyers, Sterling Tea

I was able to score a phone interview with Brenda Meyers, founder and owner of Sterling Tea, a local company that specializes in small batch blends of loose-leaf tea. She is a definite people person, and a delightfully gregarious speaker. He here are the highlights:

Q: What got you into the tea business?

A: I started drinking tea when I was 8 years old. I had a wealthy aunt in Michigan, and I would go over to her house, and she would serve me tea in her fine china. It was just Liptons or Red Rose, but I got to use the fine china and no one was afraid I was going to break it. I grew up in a coffee centered household, but I always drank tea. Eventually, I started collecting tea cups. My aunt gave me part of her tea cup collection. In 2006, I opened a tea house. I was repackaging mostly German teas, with the goals of getting Rockwall interested in loose leaf tea. At first, you could hear the crickets, but over time, the interest grew, one person at a time. I love doing the “show and tell,” education work. I started blending my own teas in 2008. It is trial and error, like baking a cake. We have over 60 different blends, and the outlets are growing. We are at Central Market, tea rooms, coffee shops and high end gourmet stores. People may be drinking my teas and not even know it, as we sometimes sell to people who repackage tea for themselves.

Q: Tell me a little bit about Sterling Teas

A: We are a Go TEXAN company. I am very big on using local ingredients when possible. For instance, we use Texas Pecans. We by US produced ingredients (such as Washing State apples, and West Coast peppermint) wherever available. We are also an all-woman company

Q: Do you have a favorite tea? (either yours, or someone else’s)

A: I love to pair my jasmine pearls with dark chocolate, especially in the afternoon. I love the floral hint.

Q: Do you have a favorite teapot or teacup?

A: My favorite teacup is the one my best friend gave me. She knew I loved tea, and gave it to me before I started the tea company. This is that teacup.

Q: What do you love about tea?

A: I love everything about tea. Tea people are the nicest people in the world. I’ve never had a mean customer. We are a growing clan. I do demonstrations weekly, and I find that a lot of people identify themselves as a tea person or a coffee person. More and more people are trying to add tea to their daily lives.

If you are local to the DFW area, you can meet Brenda in person at one of her demonstrations. Brenda’s next demonstration will be:

Central Market, Forth Worth – March 4 – 10:30 AM – 2:30 PM

Get a free sample of sterling tea, and get tea instruction, and general tea info.

Sterling's Apricot Oolong and Yerba Chai

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tea of the Week: Republic of Tea Vanilla Almond

On my latest trip to Whole Foods, I saw this tea.  Real vainlla beans in a black tea blend?  I'm a sucker for that.  And real almond bits?  I just had to try it.  And I'm glad I did.  I took the advice on the cainster and brewed it strong.  The tagline for this tea is, "Sweeten the Mind Tea."  The Republic of Tea may be based out of California, but they specialize in "organic and exotic" teas from around the world.
Liquor --  Deep mahogany

Aroma --  This tea smells just like an almond cookie.

Body --  Medium

Flavors -- There is a bit of natural sweetness (though it's not as sweet as it smells).  It's got a definate almond cookie flavor, but it doesn't overwhelm the black tea base, which is mellow and smooth.

Other -- This tea is a flavored blend.  It is considered a "dessert tea."

NOTE: I evaluate tea blends on this blog based on what came in the canister, so these tasting notes do not reflect any addition of dairy or sweeteners.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Tea Pot

 A friend of mine had a garage sale, and I scored this hand-painted tea set.  It is stoneware, in the Kioko pattern made for Pier One.  It has been discontinued.  I like the Japanese look and feel of the pot, which is different from most of the other pots in my collection.  It is just begging me to make matcha.  I bought a tea, but I can't read much on the package, except that it says on the back that it is made of, "powdered sencha." I don't actually own a matcha wisk, so I'm going to have to improvise!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Drinking Tea in Plano

When we were in Plano, TX, I visited with Denise Brady (better known as Nee Nee), owner of Nee Nee's Tea Room.  It is a family place, with pictures of Nee Nee's grandchildren up on the wall.  Denise has built the business from the ground up over the last four years.

She creates all her own recipes, and is most well known for her chicken salad and her scones.  We sampled a scone.  It was tender and delicious.

Her goal: Delighting tea drinkers.

The evidence: Her favorite tea pot.  It is actually a music box that plays when the pot is lifted to pour.  She holds down the button when she delivers the pot to the table so as not to spoil the surprise.

Why does Denise love tea?  She says, "I have always loved the experience of the tea room.  It is fun.  I never experienced loose leaf teas before I first visited a tea room."

She now serves loose leaf tea from Sterling Tea, a local producer of hand-blended teas.  She also serves Stash teas.  

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tea of the Week: Twinings Prince of Whales Tea

The Twinings company has been blending tea in London for over 300 years. You can almost taste the history in every cup of their Prince of Whales Tea, a blend reputed to be based on the personal blend of teas devised by Edward, Prince of Whales, who became King Edward VIII. He sold the rights to Twinings in 1921, and they mostly sell it outside of England. The tea is sourced from China, which is a bit unusual, as China is best known for green teas, and this is a black tea blend.

Liquor -- Bright amber

Aroma -- Earthy, with a vegetal undertone

Body -- Medium full

Flavors -- There is a grassy note, with complex vegetal undertones. It is smooth, and not at all astringent.

Other: This is a tea blend.

NOTE: I evaluate tea blends on this blog based on what came in the canister, so these tasting notes do not reflect any addition of dairy or sweeteners.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Eactly What IS a Flush Anyway?

You go shopping for loose teas.  Somebody mentions that this is a first flush green, or that is a second flush oolong.  Have you ever wondered what exactly that means?

A flush refers to the new growth on a tea plant.  It is more specifically the first two leaves and the bud (this is a leaf bud, and has nothing to do with the flowers) on the end of each branch.  If the bushes are harvested regularly, they can produce around seven flushes a season.

However, the taste can be very different, depending on what time of year the flush was produced.  First flush teas tend to have a lighter, greener, more grassy taste, while later flushes become progressively more full-bodied and astringent.

First and second flushes are most desirable.  In India, these come in March and June, respectively.  This is followed by tea produced in the rainy season, (hence the Monsoon flush), and finally the autumnal flush.

In Japan, tea producers use a different naming system.  Sencha, which means, "New Tea," is the name for the first flush of the season.  Bancha ("Coarse Tea") is harvested afterwards (at a time corresponding to a second flush).  This harvest takes older leaves (not just a flush), and produces a more vegetable-tasting, almost "woody" tea.   The next harvest of new flushes is labeled Second Sencha.  A harvester can expect three senchas in a season.

White tea is made, not from a flush of tea, but from the single leaf bud, which makes for an extremely light color and taste.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Drinking Tea In Plano

Yesterday, I was in Plano, Texas, where I stopped in at the Into My Garden Tearoom for a quick pot of Earl Gray (they do Stash teas).  I was able to visit with one of the co-owners, Jennifer Minor, who showed me her two favorite teapots.  They both had an Alice in Wonderland Theme.

  Since last October, Jennifer has introduced Alice in Wonderland tea parties in the tea room.

Why does she love tea?  Jennifer says, "I love tea.  I don't really like coffee, but I like how the coffee culture lets you slow down.  Tea can do the same thing.  I discovered English Breakfast and went from there."  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tea of the Week: Zhena's Gypsy Tea: Hazelnut Chai

I was at World Market a few days ago, where I spotted this unusual blend.  I love hazelnut anything (Ferrero Rocher anyone?).  And I'm a big fan of chai.  This one didn't disappoint.  Zhena's does small batch processing, and their teas are certified organic and fair trade.

Liquor --  Dark russet brown
Aroma --  Spicy and nutty, with highlights on the notes of cinnamon and cloves

Body --  Thick and almost cloudy

Flavors --  You can really taste the cinnamon.  The hazelnut is there  (as are the other spices) but it is more subtle, adding another layer of flavor.  The flavor of the black tea almost disappears, but it does provide a bass note that binds the other flavors together.

Other -- This tea is a flavored blend.
NOTE: I evaluate tea blends on this blog based on what came in the canister, so these tasting notes do not reflect any addition of dairy or sweeteners, even though chai traditionally has them added.