Category Archives: Tea Time

Tea Time: Ti Kuan Yin Oolong (Review)

Well, I finally got to visit the tea shop My Cup of Tea again, after having been away from Montreal for a year. You would think that in Korea I could have visited some nice tea sMy Cup of Teahops and tasted some interesting teas, but though I went to a tea expo, it seemed to be less about tea and more about crockery.

My Cup of Tea

In any case, I wanted to pick up some of their Milky Oolong, which I hadn’t tasted in a long time, so I headed over to China town, where the shop is located on St. Laurent. The staff was helpful as always, and you’re free to smell thMCOT tease tea samples. The boxes of teas also look colourful and inviting. While I was there, I decided to pick up a box of ginseng oolong, which I had already tried, as well as a box of Ti Kuan Yin oolong.

Ti Kuan Yin

This tea is a few dollars pricier than their other teas, at $18 for 100g as opposed to $15, and it is limited edition. When considering the price, however, one should keep in mind that these types of premium, whole leaf, hand-rolled teas can be re-steeped up to 3 times.

Ti Kuan Yin (back)

Ti Kuan Yin (front)

The Chinese Goddess of Mercy

According to the package, this tea is named after the Chinese goddess of mercy, and Kuan Yin is short for Kuan-shi Yinwhich means “observing the sounds (or cries) of the (human) world.” IN one legend, Kuan Yin sets out to save all sentient beings from their unhappy plight. However, since there were so many people who needed to be saved, she struggled so to comprehend their suffering that her head split into eleven pieces. When the budda saw what had happened to her, he gave her eleven heads. After that, she tried to reach out and help all of the beings who were struggling. However, since she only had two hands, they shattered into pieces. Again, the budda helped her, giving her one thousand arms.

While I’m not quite sure what the goddess has to do with this tea, I do enjoy reading such legends.

Taste

This tea has a rather delicate, mild flavour. It does carry a hint of Ti Kuan Yin (leaves)sweetness, but I wouldn’t really describe it as floral. I’d like to try it iced after over steeping it a bit, as I think that may help to draw out its flavour. Ti Kuan Yin does have an interesting mouth-feel and its delicate taste does linger on the tongue, as is described on the box.

Well, ’til next time…enjoy your cup of tea!

Wild Blueberry Scones (Gluten-free)

Wild Blueberry Scones (Gluten-Free)

Recipe from ‘The Allergy-Free Cook Bakes Bread‘. The texture was nice, but I did find they could have been sweeter (not surprising, considering the small amount of sugar the recipe calls for). I did make a few modifications: I used butter instead of vegan spread, and I sprinkled some raw sugar on top of the scones before baking.  I didn’t flatten the scones too much before baking (a good thing,  since they didn’t rise all that much). Finally,  I found the yield was off and would have resulted in giant scones,  so I cut the dough into more pieces.

Orange Spice Cookies (Gluten-free)

image

Recipe from ‘The Allergy-Free Cook Bakes Cakes and Cookies‘.  These turned out really well, both flavour and texture-wise.  I did find they needed to bake quite a bit longer than the recipe recommended.   The only modification I made was sprinkling the cookies with a bit of maple sugar before baking.

Update:  It turns out the baking time may have been accurate after all.  Even though I stored them in a tin, they hardened up quite a bit in the 1 1/2 days between the time I baked them, and the time I served them.  They were still good, but they were quite crunchy!

Foraging Fun: Yarrow, Self-Heal, and Wild Strawberries

Self-healI’ve recently set my mind towards trying to identify which edible (or otherwise useful) plants I could discover growing close to home…whether in my boyfriend’s yard up north, or near my apartment in Verdun.  Getting started with plant identification may not be the easiest thing, but once you learn the name of a certain species you will likely have no problem identifying it when you come across it again, and indeed, if it is a weed, will start to see it everywhere!

Self-Heal

I had been wondering about one wildflower with very peculiar purple flowers which I had noticed grows all over my boyfriend’s lawn.  I was finally able to identify it by browsing through some wildflower photos on my wildflowers.com.  I originally checked my Peterson field guide, Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America, but I didn’t have any luck there.  It is called Self-Heal, or Prunella vulgaris, and is also known as All-heal.  After determining the plant’s name, I was easily able to do a all-healbit more research into its possible uses.  It is in the mint family,  and the entire plant is edible.  It contains the vitamins A, C, and K.  Medicinally, it can be used as a poultice to treat wounds, or as a tea for sore throat.  I collected some, and decided to use the flowers and stems to make tea, and to add the leaves to a salad.  The tea, which I drank cold, was quite flavourful and meaty- a bit like stinging nettle tea.  I found it tasted a bit mustardy, as well.  Overall, it was quite pleasant.  The leaves, when added to a salad, were a little unremarkable, but good.

Yarrow

Yarrow (or Achillea millefolium) is another plant which I have seen growing in abundance in the yard.  It has also traditionally been used to help heal wounds (hence another of its common names, ‘soldier’s woundwort’).

Yarrow Identification

yarrow-drawing
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Its fern-like, aromatic leaves, and distinctive flower centers (which are actually made up of small disc flowers) make it fairly easy to identify.  However, one must make sure to positively identify it, as one who is not paying much attention to its distinguishing characteristics may mistake it for poison hemlock.

poison hemlock
Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum)

Conium maculatum

Conium maculatum

In light of this, I would like to present you with two drawings which outline the distinguishing features of each plant. As you can see, they are quite different.  The leaves of the poison hemlock resemble those of carrot or parsley, while those of yarrow are fern-like.  The odor of the poison hemlock is rank, while that of yarrow leaves is pleasant and herbal.

Finally, hemlock flower stalks radiate from single points in umbels (like an umbrella) while yarrow flower stalks are more half-hazard, and, additionally, the yarrowappearance of the individual flowers is quite different.  If you are paying attention ( as you should always be when harvesting food from the wild), it is easy to spot the differences between the two.

Yarrow Uses

Besides its use in wound-healing, it has been used medicinally for pain-relief (for menstrual cramps, headaches, and toothaches), as an anti-inflammatory (to reduce fever), and as a treatment for colds and sore throats.  In the culinary arena, it has traditionally been used in beer-making, to make liquors and bitters, and also as a cooked vegetable and seasoning herb.

After tasting both the flowers and the leaves, I learned that the flowers were quite bitter, while the leaves were rather bitter-sweet and reminded yarrow tinctureme a bit of lavender or rosemary.  I decided to use the flowers to make a tincture, and use the leaves as an herb.  I figured I could use the tincture both as a bitter in cocktails, and medicinally.  The tincture worked out quite well, turning a pretty pale green and becoming quite bitter during the two weeks I let it steep.  I chopped up the yarrow leaves and mixed them with some chopped up onions and mushrooms to make a stuffing for fish, and that was quite good, also.  I’m not quite sure why it is no longer used as an herb, but I plan to collect more this summer, dry it, and use it both as a tea, and a seasoning.

wild strawberries growingWild Strawberries

On to wild strawberries.  These are also easy to identify, as they look just like the strawberries you buy at the store…only they’re much smaller, and more flavourful.  If you’ve ever grown strawberries (or seen them grow) you will immediately recognize their leaves.  In order to find more berries, one must simply follow the runners (shoots the plant produces in order to propagate itself).  The strawberries up north (in the Laurentians) usually appear in July.  They are not as sweet as commercially grown varieties, and their flavour is more concentrated.  Eat them as they are, orwild strawberries (runners) use them in any preparations you wish.  Also, I recently came across a blog, Wellpreserved.ca, which suggests drying strawberry hulls and using them to make tea.  I think that this is an excellent idea!  No waste!

Anyway, until next time, happy foraging!

Tea Time: Tea Sparrow Teas

I like the Tea Sparrow concept: premium loose-leaf teas, carefully selected from various sources, are shipped to your door each month, allowing you to taste varieties that you would perhaps otherwise never sample.  Since Tea Sparrow does not sell the tea, they can independently select those teas which they deem truly special, thus garnering exposure for small producers or blenders, whilst sharing the teas they love with subscribers.  The price per subscription, ($20 per month) may seem a bit steep at first…however, these are premium teas, and the quantity of tea in each packet shipped is enough to allow several cups to be brewed (at least 5 cups, I’d say).  Since you will be getting four different sorts of tea, that adds up to at least twenty cups, which is $1 per cup.  I’d recommend that, if you would like to reduce costs and share your experience, you split your subscription with a like-minded pal.

If you’d like to order one of these teas directly from the supplier, simply click on the tea leaves.

My First Eight Tea Sparrow Selections:

Milk Oolong:

Milky Oolong Although this was definitely an oolong, and smelled deliciously sweet, it was curiously listed as a green tea, and, on top of all of this, was not a Milky Oolong (though I think that it was striving for that), as it was made by steaming the tea leaves with milk.  This was most evident in the mouthfeel of the tea, which was not creamy, as is true milky oolong. It is described on Tea Sparrow as a Formosa Oolong…however, Formosa is a general name for tea from Taiwan, and thus, is not particularly descriptive. Its usage stems from the historical Portuguese name for Taiwan, Ilha Formosa or “Beautiful Island”. This tea is available through Aromatica, a BC-based shop which, a bit curiously, sells fine teas and soap. ‘What is the relationship between soap and tea?’, you might ask. Well, they use green tea to make their soap since it is good for the skin. To Aromatica’s credit, they do specify that the tea is “not classic Milk Oolong”.

Lemon Zest:

Though I did not find this tea to be especiaLemon-Zestlly lemony, I did appreciate the particularly fragrant flavour supplied, I believe, by the honeybush it contains…it reminded me of a tea that I’d tried previously.  I’m not sure if I’d like to order this tea, or just look for some honeybush leaves, or be on the lookout for other teas containing honeybush. Lemon Zest is available through Joy’s Teaspoon, a Chicago-based company which sells both teas and spices. Their website emphasizes their commitment to the environment, and they do offer some organic and/or fair-trade products.

Cali Persian Organic:

Cali-Persian-Rose-Organic A spiced black and green tea blend. The description of this tea given on Tea Sparrow was copied directly from the seller’s website, which I think is a bit sloppy. Anyhow, on to the tea… The spices are very strong- perhaps too much so!  The cardamom is especially potent.  Other ingredients include rose petals, orange peel, bergamot oil, rose flavour, and jasmine flowers. I think that, since I have access to all of the ingredients, I’d prefer to blend a similar tea myself, so that I could adjust the ingredients to fit my taste. This tea is available through Samovar, a tea lounge in San Francisco. Though visually impressed by their website, I don’t think that I’ll be ordering any tea from them, as prices are a little steep. It is also unfortunate that they don’t sell their teas in smaller quantities.

Blueberry Rooibos:

I do like rooibos, but I’ve never really been Blueberry-Rooibos1a rooibos lover- this blend, however, was really nice and fruity, and was a beautiful colour as well.  It has made me reconsider my opinion of rooibos a bit, and has also made me consider getting my hands on this blend…if the shipping is not exorbitant, that is. In addition to rooibos, it contains blueberries (surprise!), schizandra berries, hibiscus, and natural blueberry and strawberry flavours. I don’t remember ever hearing about schizandra (aka ‘five flavour’) berries before, but they seem to be rather interesting fruits. Not only do they contain the five basic flavours (salty, sweet, sour, pungent, and bitter), hence their name, but they can also apparently ‘reduce hunger, thirst and exhaustion’. The basis of the next energy drink craze, perhaps? In any case, Blueberry Rooibos is available through Rishi Tea, a Milwaukee-based outfit. They specialize in fair-trade and organic teas, and seem reasonably priced.

Champagne White tea :

White-Tea-Champaign-Tea This is classified as a green tea…I’m not sure why tea sparrow seems to make such mistakes so often? I guess they got the champagne moniker from the use of currants?  Otherwise I don’t see many similarities between this tea and champagne.   That said, I’ve never been a white tea fan, but this tea is very nice.  It’s quite fruity without being overly acidic, and thus is very drinkable. Besides white tea, it contains black and white currants, lemon balm, lemongrass, cornflower, and sunflower petals.   It’s available through Tea Desire, yet another BC-based company.

Buddah Bamboo:

I’m not sure whether the bamboo Buddha-Bamboo-Tealeaves add much (or anything) to the flavour of this tea, which I find to be dominated by the lemongrass, with perhaps some fruity notes (though I think that, in a blind taste test, I would be hard-pressed to pick those out).  The tea sparrow description of currant-strawberry-vanilla definitely does not ring true for me. This tea is also available through Tea Desire.

Coconut Milky Oolong:

Coconut Milky Oolong Tea The coconut doesn’t add much to the equation, here, but what’s evident is that this is a true milky oolong, complete with the requisite creamy flavour.  If you are a coconut fan, I would recommend perhaps mixing the tea with some coconut milk, as the coconut flavour is almost undetectable. This tea is available through The Tea Spot, a Colorado-based company which sells tea as well as some interesting ‘steepware’ products.

Thé des Lords: 

A very bergamot-y Earl Grey.  The The-des-Lords-Teasafflower petals seem there just to add a bit of colour. This tea is sold by Le Palais des Thés, a Parisian tea company.  On their website they emphasize the importance of their relationship with their suppliers, as well as their ethically minded tea purchasing policy.

Well, that’s it for Tea Time today.  Until next time…

Tea Time: Milky Oolong

My Cup of Tea

My Cup of Tea- Milky OolongI happened to be in Chinatown one day, and came across a nice looking tea shop called My Cup of Tea. My interest piqued, I decided to go in, and encountered a thoughtfully laid out space: a rectangular room lined with shelves showcasing different varieties of tea, most of which were packaged in cute little chinese takeout container-shaped boxes.

There were some samples of the different teas next to their boxes on the shelves, but due to their increased exposure to air, the samples were not that fresh, and thus, not very fragrant, so they did not provide much assistance when selecting a variety of tea to purchase.  The young man working there, however, was very helpful and was clearly passionate about tea.

The company has its own tea farCup of Milky Oolong team in China, which allows them greater control over the quality of their product.  The leaves are also hand-picked, and hand-rolled.  The tea is grown ‘chemical free’, so I guess it is organic (or almost so), though it is not certified as such in Canada, nor does the word appear anywhere on their packaging.

Oolong Tea

Oolong teas are semi-fermented, and are processed almost like black teas.   The difference lies in the degree of oxidation of the tea leaves.  Black teas are fully oxidized, while white teas are barely oxidized at all.  Oolong teas are closer to black teas than any other type of tea in this respect, and are a lovely yellow colour when brewed.  I had tried oolong tea before walking into My Cup of Tea, but their milky oolong really blew me away.

Milky oolong tea leaves
The tea actually stays surprisingly fresh in the paper cup.

 

 

Milky Oolong

Some fascinating information on Milky Oolongs can be found on the Tea Trekker website.  The tea comes from a particular tea cultivar, called Jin Xuan.  Although this cultivar is relatively new (it has only been around since the 1980s!)  it has become very popular, and is now one of Taiwan’s four main tea cultivars.  It has a creamy, sweet flavour like that of no tea I have ever tasted before.  I’m not sure it has an ‘orchid aftertaste’ as is claimed on the box, but it can be infused multiple times, which is pretty cool (and economical)!

I recommend passing by one of their two locations, if you can, but you can also purchase tea from My Cup of Tea online.  ‘Till next time, enjoy your cuppa!