No doubt you're like me — the first order of business upon relocating to a new workplace or school is to evaluate the available and nearby tea options. It took some doing, to my surprise, upon relocating to UC-San Diego. My previous campus, the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago, had a decent coffee stand next door to my office building, with loose-leaf tea options. It wasn't great quality, but it was at least loose-leaf and served with a modicum of care.
Now at UCSD I finally found (among the campus's plethora of coffee stands, noodle shacks, and even bars) the Muir Woods Coffee House. Basement location: awesome. Prices: lowest on campus (just a buck for a tall tea if you bring your own reusable mug). Loose-leaf teas: pretty great. Their main supplier is a tea joint in downtown SD, Cafe Virtuoso, with a fair stock of estate-grown picks. The English Breakfast is superb, with a fresh floral note that contributes to one's waking. Life-saving and life-enriching on beautiful SoCal winter mornings like this one ...
I've no idea who these high school kids are, but from the notes on the YouTube link and the performance cues the scenario here seems to be this: Sniffly cameragirl had a bad day, and boyfriend-of-the-year candidate attempts to cheer her up by singing about green tea. It's sweet, it's stupid, it's all of that, even the part about burned kitties ...
Nice! Finally, a tea-related app that actually does something super-useful — turns on (or keeps warm) the kettle!
The iKettle calls itself the "world's first wifi kettle," an unsurprising boast. You can program it to put itself to boil in the a.m., and it'll send you the only wake-up text you really want. When you get home — and your phone hits your network — the iKettle asks you if you want it to start up again. Effing genius! Just don't forget to refill it after each use ...
My apologies for rubbing it in, to all you Midwestern folks shivering in wind chills and buried in snow, but I had to share the January view from my study window. That large, blooming tree is a camellia — not sure what variety, but a relative of the tea plant. I wasn't sure about that identification until its soft-pink, carnation-like blossoms started popping out early in December. A winter bloomer, here in beautiful SoCal!
Meanwhile, I'm engaged in my favorite wintertime activity: planning the garden. We've got a long, sunny terrace level at this new house, which I'm plotting full of herbs and veggies — and a tea plant or two, if I can (a) find an appropriate one and (b) keep it alive. We shall see.
Months ago, I acquired some of the intriguing Himalayan Wine Tea from Darjeeling TeaXpress — part of their occasional "exotic" offerings — and it was certainly worth seeking out and raving about. This being January, they're out of stock now, of course, but the seller says they'll order more after this year's second flush. Nonetheless, the tale ...
The Himalayan Wine Tea came with this explanation: "A very unusual tea – which is best served with wine. Mellow yet bold with a strong after taste, it provides a melody of hints in your palate that can only be manufactured in Darjeeling. If Darjeeling is considered to be the champagne of teas, then this is the true champagne of Darjeeling. The Reddish/coppery cup that is generally associated with autumn flush Darjeeling creates a complex taste in your mouth. This variety is highly recommended for wine lovers."
The tea itself brewed up exceptionally strong — my kinda tea — and alarmingly hearty, dark, and yeasty. Dry, it reeked of dark chocolate. In the cup, it smelled like the tea you make while traveling — in the hotel-room coffee maker that, try as you might, you can't wash the coffee taste out of. But not as bad as that sounds. It was high in tannins, and closed with a bold but not appalling bitterness couched within a surprisingly smooth, chocolatey rush. It really wouldn't be bad on its own. In fact, this might actually be a tea to pair with tira misu, or make it with!
Initially, I wasn't sure what to make of the "served with wine" instruction. I had to know more, and I wrote the company for details. The response: "This tea is originally produced by Goomtee plantation - aimed for their Japanese customers who pair it with wine. The flavour/taste profile of it makes it an excellent companion. But not everyone would like this combination, I have been warned by our tasters - so I would highly encourage you to try that. The Japanese drink it with their traditional Japanese wine, most prominent among them is Yamanashi red wine. I personally have not tasted that wine yet, but a mild red wine would pair well."
I first tasted the tea paired with a medium-bodied Louis Jadot beaujolais. Alternating the slightly chilled red with the warm-to-hot tea was an oddity on the tongue, but once a rhythm was found between tea, wine, and nosh, a cocoa-y undertone seemed to establish itself and enhance certain foods (veggies, no; meats, oh yes). I tried another pot later with a stronger wine, am Australian shiraz, which seemed to fare even better — the chocolate tones embracing each other instead of dueling, and bringing out each other's best qualities (muskiness in the tea, an aged quality in the wine).
For kicks, on the first tasting, I tried going one further: I poured the remaining cool tea directly into my half-full glass of beaujolais. The aroma was extraordinary — baking currants, sage, cumin, as if a dessert recipe had been made savory — though the taste was less exciting — thin, of course, and a slight balsalmic flavor, maybe even lime and/or mint, like a wine mojito. Bizarre.
Here's a delightful and warm scene for your wintry blues — made by an illustrator named Francesca Buchko, who describes her inspiration here as being the two tea-drinking cats at the Verdant Tea shop in Minneapolis. A lovely story there, and the more I gaze at this piece the more I love it.
Dig her site with loads of similarly charming work.
If you're not a new reader here, you know this is not a teetotaling tea blog. Many's the post singing the praises of whiskey and black tea — great highballs, even my homemade chai liqueur — and over the holidays I found myself repeating a simple routine that returned much happiness.
Ahead of the season, I'd ordered the Christmas Tea blend from TG. I don't do blends much anymore (one of my few tea-snobbish allowances) but I thought some visitors might enjoy it during the seasonal merriment. It being a decent blend — black teas mixed with vanilla pieces, citrus peels, cloves a hint of nutmeg — I started making some afternoon pots around the house. Inevitably, I wouldn't get too far through the pot before it went cold. So as the cocktail hour approached one evening, I dropped a slug of whiskey into a cold cup of the Christmas Tea. Pow! The flavors popped, putting on a united front in a way they hadn't before. I started purposely pouring and ignoring the pots. I've done this with chais and other similar, spicy teas, to similar effect, but not with the zing this particular blend delivered. Forget the name, this will be a seasonal warmer through the equinox.