Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kusmi Irish Blend: A Trip to Sunny Ireland

I just rated this tea on Steepster. It took me quite a while to identify all the flavors/essences I picked up in this tea, but here's what I chose from the pre-set list. (I would have added Heather, but that wasn't an option on Steepster. Not yet, anyway!)

Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Astringent, Brown Toast, Citrus, Dandelion, Floral, Fruit Tree Flowers, Green Melons, Honey, Leather, Marine, Meat, Muscatel, Nuts, Ocean Air, Peat, Rainforest, Root Beer, Sweet, warm grass, Tannic, Tobacco, Wet Wood

My review:

I bought a box of the muslin bags of this tea at the Kusmi store on 3rd Avenue/62nd street in Manhattan. Perhaps they’ve changed the formula, or perhaps it’s my brewing approach, but this is not the undistinguished tea the two reviewers from six years ago described.

I brewed it light and quick, in a 6oz teacup. I think most Kusmi teas come into their own when you use less tea/time and water off the boil for at least a minute. This results in a light but gorgeously scented cup of tea. Before you shrug and say, “Oh, more bark than bite? Next tea please,” I’d like you to entertain the possibility that the enjoyment of a cup of tea can be mostly olfactory. Taste and smell are pretty chummy senses, after all. And this Irish Blend has the power to captivate in its scented steam. I know Kusmi is terrific at scented teas but I believe this one is mostly or perhaps all natural — no perfume from Grasse could cover all the wholesome notes this tea possesses. The label indicates no ingredients except Assam and Darjeeling teas.

Funny thing about this blend is that it’s not what you might expect from the epithet “Irish” — no big malty hug here. It’s a brisk tea, with a soothing and gently predominant honey scent. I imagine the Ireland of this tea is a Russian traveler’s memory of a rare sunny day in the Emerald Isles, the clouds scuttled off to the Irish sea, and feeling the land dilate and relax in the nurturing warmth. Growing against the sheltered southern wall of a stone cottage, an apricot tree soaks in the sun as well as the wet fresh sea air, layering rich flavors into its fuzzy orange-red fruit. The dandelions open, dotting the green hills with bright yellow. The bees pick up scents of a flush of different flowers, nectar on the breeze. Things start to really dry out – the old wooden door, the leather tobacco pouch, the earth itself — releasing a host of subtle, light, harmonious scents you had forgotten they had when everything was perpetually sodden.

Milk dulls some of the scents in this tea, particularly the almond and meat.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy 2013, everyone!

I promised a friend last night that I'd share my eggnog recipe so here it is. I've been making this every holiday season since December 1986, when my freshman roommate Anne found this recipe in her English mother's cookbook. After a few adjustments (like halving the alcohol!), it became a keeper. My family, who are no strangers to good food, call this eggnog "ambrosial."

HOLIDAY EGGNOG (serves 12)

6 eggs, freshest you can find
3/4 cup sugar
1 pint heavy cream
1 pint whole milk
1/2 cup bourbon
1 oz. rum (gold rum is best)
Whole nutmeg
Real vanilla extract

Directions: Prepare a day in advance.
Separate eggs and reserve whites for tomorrow. Beat egg yolks well, using an electric hand blender. Add 1/2 cup of sugar slowly, blending well. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the milk and cream gently, then stir in the bourbon and rum. Add 2 tsp. vanilla and 1 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg and stir. Cover bowl and place in fridge overnight. (Curing the eggnog is essential: the alcohol, butterfat, and sugar need to harmonize with each other overnight. Same day, the mix tastes weird -- "who put eggs and sugar and milk in my bourbon" weird.)

Before serving the next day, whip egg whites (works best if they are at room temperature) until frothy and add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar gradually and beat to soft-peak stage. Fold into egg yolk mixture until fully incorporated; final texture should be foamy and creamy. Grate more fresh nutmeg on top of the bowl and serve! Stir with a spoon to keep mix from separating; eggyolk mix will sink to bottom of serving bowl eventually, and eggwhite will rise to top.

[I do not know the nutritional profile of this eggnog. Suffice to say it's probably fine if you have it just once a year! I have used raw eggs for this recipe for over a quarter century and nobody ever got sick from it.]

Friday, February 10, 2012

Black tea blend: Baker Street (caffeinated)

Sherlock and Moriarty take tea at Baker Street  ©BBC
Yesterday's tea was Upton's Baker Street blend, a lovely mix of Lapsang Souchong, Keemun, and Darjeeling. "Perfect for an afternoon uplift," says Upton of this lightly smoky tea, "another special whole-leaf blend from our London source of fine teas."

I haven't had a cup of caffeinated tea for a few days, but I threw caution to the wind. I have been Netflixing the BBC's excellent new "Sherlock Holmes" with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, so had 221B Baker Street on the brain. I drank just six ounces of this tea yesterday afternoon but paid for it that night, sleeping poorly, even though I tried to override the caffeine with a big roast chicken dinner and a wee glass of ruby port.

Or maybe it was just the intrigue of the tea prodding my brain to stay awake and figure out some mysteries. It really was a nice cup of tea, and the picture above captures quite a few of the impressions it left on me -- antique book pages, and a wisp of smoke from the cooling fireplace. This would be a good tea to serve during a chess game.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Black tea: Kenilworth Estate OP (caffeinated)

Today's tea is a Ceylon, which was the old colonial name for Sri Lanka, that island off the South East coast of India; tea is a significant export for this republic. The Kenilworth Estate comprises 700 acres in western Sri Lanka, and holds the record auction price for Orange Pekoe. Even though they are grown from the same variety of Camellia sinensis as the Assam teas, Ceylon teas are the lightweight members of the Orange Pekoe clan, and more likely to be described as "brisk" -- their tannins come through more easily since they lack the "malty" or "biscuity" texture/flavor of the straight Assam teas. I understand Ceylon teas are often used in black tea blends; drinking a straight Ceylon like this is a purist's enterprise.

I don't think I'm a Ceylon purist. This tea -- even though brewed for 5'30" -- reminded me of the weakish brew served by my favorite cranky old English guy, my friend Sophie's dad, who wears a grey wool sweater he's darned himself with many different colors of yarn, reserves feelings of devotion for very few things including the BBC, and swears he can tell the difference between a cup of tea whose milk has been poured in at the bottom of the cup and one whose milk was added after the tea was poured. Milk-first is his preference. "The toffs had milk pitchers, but my class had none of that fancy business, so we had to pour in the milk first." With each cuppa, the professor honors his roots and snubs the rich capitalist b@stards.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Black tea: Java Malabar Estate OPS (caffeinated)

Tea Plantation in West Java
Today's breakfast tea. An Orange Pekoe; the folks at Upton say that "'S' stands for 'Souchong,' a larger leaf on the tea plant. I haven't tried tea from Indonesia before, but liked Upton's description of this tea as "refined, with a sweetness and delicate caramel flavor note." They also mentioned it was grown in West Java at an elevation over 1500 meters (nearly 5,000 feet), and I do like a trip to the mountains. I brewed one cupweight (thanks to my new digital tea scale from Upton) in 6 oz water just off the boil for 3'30". I tasted it without milk, and it seemed interesting, but a bit raw-edged from the tannin. A little bit of milk really helped and made this into a very satisfying cup of tea: it was flavorful but not heavy at all, with an interesting note of something that reminded me of chocolate, and a very smooth finish. Really a nice way to start the day, as though someone you like has chucked you gently on the cheek with the nappy grain side of a tan leather glove.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

SFTGFOP2....say what?

This, dear readers, is tea lingo. It means:
Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, 2nd flush.

And that means a black tea, probably grown in the Darjeeling or Assam regions of northeast India, composed of whole leaves as well as — up to 25% — the immature terminal buds, i.e. baby leaves, of the tea plant. It will have been processed in the "orthodox" manner of oxidation (lightly crushed, fully oxidized, and rolled; as opposed to the CTC method, which means crush-tear-curl). This tea will be the highest possible quality of this variety, and will have been picked in the second harvest of the season, which is normally considered better than the first.

The next level down will be just FTGFOP (which, some tea cognoscenti joke, means "Far Too Good For Ordinary People") followed by a 1 or 2 to indicate which harvest. There might even be some further classifications like "Clonal" (Cl), which yes, does mean that the plant the tea came from was cloned from some marvelous original. If that isn't enough tea nerdiness for you, visit Or, for a cool flowchart of the major tea processing methods,

I betcha "tip top" and "tippy top" are superlatives borrowed directly from tea classification. I never realized that the tender growing leaf at the top of a tea plant was what I was talking about all the (well, few) times I've used such phrases.

The lower you go on the tea plant, the lower the quality of the tea. Here's a nifty graphic I found on Wikipedia, along with the Chinese names for each grade   these are not translations of "Orange Pekoe," which is a classification assigned to teas grown outside of China. You may be wondering what "Orange Pekoe" means, and I can assure you after exhaustive research that it just means black tea of a standard good quality. It has nothing to do with oranges, neither citrus nor the princely House of Orange-Nassau. I suppose that the ambiguity of what "Orange Pekoe" really means is part of the reason the tea industry was spurred to add so many more epithets to the classification of these teas.

I mention all this because I have posted/will post notes here about some very fine Darjeeling and Assam teas, and will mention these classifications. They look pretty insane and/or fussy, but I'll use them just the same. It seems the proper thing to do as I trip along through some of the most special golden flowery harvests of tea available.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Scottish Breakfast (caffeinated)

I had an old box of Taylors of Harrogate tea that I wanted to contrast with my fresh packet from Upton. I brewed both for 4 minutes at 212F and added milk. The main difference was strength; I put the two cups side by side and could tell, even with the same amount of milk, which was the better brew. I tossed out the Harrogate tea and finished the Upton one. At first it was difficult to enjoy, since I'm still in an Oolong frame of mind (tongue?), and black teas seem rather dull, dusty, and one-dimensioned in comparison. But after about three sips, I was hooked. The Upton Scottish Blend tea, a mix of Assam, Ceylon, and Yunnan (Harrogate was pure Assam), had a sort of meatiness to it, aside from the flavor from the milk. Today, October 12, the weather dipped suddenly into a cool damp phase after a longish stretch of truly lovely clear "Indian Summer" weather (I've been told Indian Summer can only happen after the first frost, which hasn't occurred yet in this region). So it was the perfect day for a cup of Scottish tea. The sheep in the picture above are Soay, a primitive small breed that lives only on the outer isles of Scotland. They are remarkable for their stoic qualities  if not their wool or meat, which are as meager as the land they live on. They are about 55 pounds, as big as a medium-sized dog. Primitive breeds like the Soay shed their outer coat once or twice a year, and you can gather it and spin it if you really want to but it's probably not worth the effort. According to this website, the Soay are "aloof, wary, and graceful," and they also sometimes "stott (sprint-jump on all fours) when alarmed or exuberant." If I ever live on such an island I'll get a few and watch them stott while sipping Scottish tea.

Scotch Pancakes, mmm
The perfect accompaniment to my tea would have been a Scotch pancake. This is not really a pancake as Americans know it, but rather a sweeter, less moist variety that is served room temperature and can be eaten on its own or with jam and clotted cream. (Syrup would be disgusting.)

In the absence of Scotch pancakes (one of the things I could not find locally in NYC, at least not yet, unless I made them myself; I have no need to learn how to make another delicious baked goodie), I satisfied myself with just the tea. Caffeine hit was milder than I expected, 5 out of 10, but I drank the cup slowly over an hour, keeping it warm on my coffee-cup warmer at my desk.