Saturday Morning Tea

Happy first day of Spring, my friends! Outside my window, birds flit across the bright blue sky, welcoming the season with their lovely songs.

For my morning cuppa, I chose a black tea from Assam in northeastern India. It’s from the Harishpur estate.  The Assam tea growing region is the only area in the world, besides southern China, that has native tea plants.

I chose this particular tea because of some correspondence I had with a customer this past week. He had purchased this tea and found it had an unpleasant burnt aftertaste. So, we decided to do some testing by steeping the leaves at 3, 4 and 5 minutes, respectively. I repeated this test at home this morning.

Usually, I will steep a whole leaf Assam, as this is, for 4-5 minutes, reserving a 3 minute steep for the broken leaf teas. What I found out this morning from my testing is how very individual teas really are and it’s important to experiment with steeping times for each tea.

The 3 minute steep was rich yet quite smooth with some malty and fruity notes. No need for milk or sweetener, the tea tasted wonderful plain. I didn’t detect any aftertaste.

The 4 minute steep, while retaining some of the flavor notes of the 3 min. steep, was starting to exhibit a sharp astringency which I’ve always described as a taste I can feel in my teeth.

The 5 minute steep was incredibly astringent and left a sharp, yes, almost burnt taste in my mouth for awhile. Even when I put a little milk in it, it was still in my opinion, oversteeped.

As you can see, the tea liquor is the same color – a deep amber – no matter how long the steeping time.

One of the things I love about my job (and there are many things!) is that I have the opportunity to converse with tea lovers from all over the country. Each moment is a learning experience and my tea journey is constantly expanding with new knowledge and ways of seeing the world.

I encourage you to be open and experiment with your teas and would love to hear of your experiences!

“How gently the winds blow!  Scarce can these tranquil air currents be called winds.  They seem the very breath of Nature, whispering peace to every living thing.” ~John Muir

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Saturday Morning Tea

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As our weather changes over from the warmth of summer to the crispness of autumn, I’ve been thinking about exactly what is the most ideal weather conditions for growing tea.

A study conducted at Zhejiang Agricultural University on famous tea growing areas in China came up with these ecological climactic characteristics:

“…more amounts of clouds and fog, less percentage of sunshine, abundant rainfall and high relative humidity in the air, temperatures that rise and fall slowly, daily and annual temperature ranges that are smaller, more days that are suitable for tea growing and low wind speeds in the lee-sides and valleys of mountains. All of these factors are favorable for growth of tea trees.”

It appears that high humidity, abundant rainfall, and a smaller range of temperature variables that rise and fall slowly are key to producing the best quality tea.

Another reason I was thinking about the weather is that the conditions in the Assam tea growing region in India this year were not ideal. Drought conditions resulted in a smaller crop and tea that has a harsher, much more intense and astringent flavor to it.

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My morning tea is a black tea called Meleng estate Assam. The Meleng tea estate, founded by a Mr. J.E. Jood in 1852, takes its name from a river that runs through the garden. Tea is planted on both sides of the river.

I find myself gravitating towards darker teas as the weather gets cooler and the light levels fall. Why is that, I wonder? Darker weather, darker tea?

With the more intense, astringent flavor in mind, I steeped my Assam leaves in 212 degree F (boiling point) water for only 3 minutes instead of my usual 4-5 minutes.

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I was delightfully surprised by how much the astringent factor was mellowed out at the shorter steeping time. The flavor was much smoother, revealing a whisper of cocoa. The leaves have a rich, malty aroma and, after steeping, a cooked sugar note wafted up from my teapot.

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The deep russet color of the tea blends with the glorious blue sky reflection in my teapot resulting in a dreamy lavender patch.

I love the colors of tea.

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I drank the whole pot of tea without a drop of milk. That said, my second pot will be steeped longer and enjoyed with milk.

Ah, the variations and joys of tea experimentation…

Only the heart knows how to find what is precious.

~Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Saturday Morning Tea on Sunday

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This week we’ve experienced January weather with temps down into the high teens at night and a slight rise to the 20s during the day. Brrrrrr. A cold wind has swept all of the remaining leaves from the trees so I gaze out upon a stark, winter-like landscape as I sip my morning tea, a dark, rich Assam from the Banaspaty estate.

banaspatyassamwet112308The tea leaves are fully oxidized, giving the wet leaf a deep mahogany color. When I first opened my tea packet, I was treated to a darkly sweet, malty aroma with hints of fruit. This tea has been cultivated organically at the Banaspaty tea estate, located in the heart of the Assam Valley in northeastern India. Fair Trade certification has given estate workers the opportunity to establish a wide range of social initiatives such as a scholarship fund so their children may attend school and a local pharmacy that helps raise the standard of their healthcare.

Here is an interesting 1850 engraving showing the stages of Assam tea production.

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banaspatyassamteapot112308The russet tea liquor glows like a rich jewel in my glass teapot. A strong malty aroma wafts up as I remove the lid to pour my first cup of the day. This tea is very full-bodied with a malty flavor and characteristic Assam astringency. To smooth out the astringency, I add a dollop of milk to my cup after a few sips. Even though I will add a little milk to most full-bodied black teas such as Assams, Ceylons and China blacks, I like to taste the tea plain first so I can detect some of the subtle flavor notes. This tea has a hint of fruitiness which I had originally detected in the dry leaf aroma.

banaspatyassamteacup112308I have a confession to make. I have developed quite a fondness for Social tea biscuits lately, especially for dunking in my milk laced black teas. I am discovering that there is an art to how long to leave the biscuit in the tea. Too short and the biscuit is still hard, too long and it falls in your teacup (oh my!). So, I have been working on my timing to achieve the right melt in your mouth softness to my biscuit.

My jewelry show yesterday went very well and I had a lot of fun. I caught up with old friends, made some new ones and sold a bunch of jewelry. My primary observation is that these challenging economic times have caused shoppers to be more discerning with their choices, with most looking in the lower end of the price range spectrum. I sold mostly earrings in the $5-$30 range and a few bracelets in the $40-$50 range. I didn’t sell any necklaces, including the faux jade chokers I created a couple of weeks ago. I have been considering opening an Etsy shop for awhile now and this just might be the right time to do it.

What is your Etsy experience?

Saturday Morning Tea

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Every morning this week when I’ve left for work, I’ve been hit with a blast of frigid air as I step outside into a world of ice and snow. I hurry to my car and as I turn the ignition, numbers in the single digits and teens flashed on my rearview mirror. 9. 12. 15. Brrrr… It is bundling up weather so I wrap myself in a big fluffy coat, a handknit fuzzy scarf and a mint green fleece hat topped with a pompom. This is also weather perfect for a hearty black tea so this morning I am “wrapping” myself in the rich malty aroma and taste of an Assam tea from the Mangalam estate.

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Assam Indian black teas are noted for their full body and thick dark liquor. This tea is a broken leaf grade so it brews up quicker than whole leaf counterparts since more leaf area is exposed to the water. I steeped the leaves for 4 minutes in boiling water. Notes of spice and bittersweet cocoa fill my mouth as I take my first sip. The leaf and liquor lend a dash of rich color to a cold winter morning.

Today is my polymer clay guild meeting where I will experiment with making glazed face cabochons. I will share my results in a future post!