Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tea Tasting Saturday #22 - Wenshan BaoZhong

Surprisingly, I found myself missing the green teas I said goodbye to last week, but one taste of this week's tea and it was "Hello, Mr. Oolong!"

Category: Oolong Tea

Purveyor: Harney & Sons

When purchased: May 2009

Dry leaf appearance:
Long, ultra dark green tea leaves. I noticed when measuring they seemed especially rigid and didn't have any "give" to them.

Wet leaf appearance: Dark olive green tea leaves that struck me as very large (1-1/2 inches or so) compared to those of recent weeks.

Steeping temperature and time: 1 teaspoon of tea, 205 degrees, 3 minutes.

Scent: Dry, this tea definitely made me think of classic black tea as soon as I sniffed it. Once steeped, the leaves took on a slightly woodsy/roasted note. (The Harney book, interestingly, differs with me a great deal on this point, describing the tea's scent as "so fragrant, it is hard to stop smelling its blend of gardenia, jasmine, and butter aromas." That wasn't my experience, but I have no complaints with this tea.)

Color: Pale yellow.

Flavor: Wonderful! I've had oolong teas before, but this one had an especially nice "mouth feel" and just seemed richer, fuller somehow. I resteeped the leaves and ended up having five cups of it before the day was over. I even drank this with dinner!

Additional notes: From "The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea" -- "One of the oldest Taiwanese oolongs, BaoZhong grows just outside bustling Taipei, the island's capital. The gardens lie to the south of the city, in a quiet mountainside spot where the air is clear of urban smog and mist almost always cloaks the gardens."

Next week's tea: Ali Shan

Friday, May 29, 2009

Simply, "Tea"

One day this week, my friend Susan called me at work to say her sister Beth, another longtime tea-lover friend, had found something for me and that I could either A) keep it if I didn't already have one or B) give it away as a gift on the blog if it was a duplicate! Isn't that incredibly generous, and I love that she was thinking not only of me but also of you! (Alas, I did not have one of these, so no giveaway on this. But I'll do another giveaway soon and help "pay it forward," as the saying goes.)

I love that this piece comes with small holes for hanging, and I've been mulling over precisely where it should go. Under or over a tea-themed piece of art? Next to another piece of black ironwork that holds teacups and saucers? But then it would also look great hanging on my tea cabinet, the one where I pile teacups and accoutrements and tins of tea. So ... if someone had given you this lovely item as a gift, what would *you* do with it? Ideas welcome!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Filet Crochet Teapot Potholders

Recently I was crocheting a small blanket as a gift for a family member. The pattern is a simple filet crochet heart design, in which you use open spaces and solid spaces much as you do with cross-stitch or needlepoint to create a design. As I was working on it, I wondered why I have never seen a crocheted afghan with a filet crochet teapot design. "Maybe I'll make one," I thought (like I don't have enough to keep me busy!). The next day, I was trolling Etsy for old tea stuff and found not one but two teapot potholders in filet crochet -- somebody obviously had the idea long before I did -- and best of all, they were just $1 each! This one with a large teapot is my favorite.

But I also like this one with its smaller center teapot and the stylized flowers, at least I think they're flowers, in the corners. (Be sure to double-click if you're a needleworker who wants to see more detail.) Both of them are backed with light blue cotton and have some sort of filling inside, but I won't be using these for anything without a thorough soaking in detergent first! I still think I'd like to chart my own design and crochet a teapot afghan, maybe as a project for this fall or winter. Unless, that is, I find the afghan already made for $1 on Etsy!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Teatime Linzer Cookies

A new "toy" has arrived, and although I haven't quite mastered it yet, I can't wait any longer and simply must share! You see, I always liked the idea of making those cute Linzer cookies with cutouts that let you see the jam, but the tea-themed cookie cutters I have are so large you'd have to make a plate-sized cookie for it to be large enough to contain a regular cookie-sized cutout. Then last week, I discovered some tea and coffee themed Linzer cookie cutters and placed an order. (I got mine here, and they're available from a variety of vendors on the internet.)

Are you interested in the history of Linzer cookies? OK, good! Linzer torte, the famous pastry in which the pretty fruit filling peeks through a lattice crust, hails from Linz, a town in Austria. The Linzer cookie, with its fruit filling peeking through the top cookie with a cutout design, is a variation on that idea.

The recipe printed on the back of the cookie cutter box did not work for me. The cookies had too much butter in them and were swimming on the cookie sheet by the end of baking time. So, I returned to a never-fail sugar cookie recipe I've been using (from the marvelous book "Cookie Craft"). It worked perfectly. I baked bottoms first, then the fun part, the cutouts. The tiny (less than one inch) impressions lock into place on the cookie cutter and pop out with a spring mechanism. There were no instructions, but it was pretty easy to figure out. I used seedless raspberry jam on the bottom cookies, then added the tops which I had dusted with powdered sugar (sifted through a tea strainer!) and yum -- Teatime Linzer Cookies! DH and I both thought they were really good.

Happily, the cookie cutters all cleaned up easily in hot soap and water. I think I need to perfect my technique so as to get a "crisper" design in the middle, but for my first effort I'm pretty pleased!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Teacup organizer

The other morning I was seated at my vanity in the bathroom blowdrying my hair. I didn't have any reading material within arm's reach, so I began to notice all the stray earrings that were scattered here and there on a tole tray. I'd been looking for an earring tree to organize pierced earrings, but suddenly it dawned on me I had the perfect organizational tool right at my fingertips. I removed all the tubes of lipstick, tweezers, etc. it had been holding, and soon my organizer was ready for its new use.

I started lining them up (even the hoops I wear almost every day slide right over the rim), and I was thrilled at this discovery! The "tea" earrings I wear most often are these silver dangling ones with fish hook wires that are perfect for this type of "organizing tool."

And recently I needed gold earrings and wore these rose and teapot ones, even though they're a tad on the gaudy side. I was happy to see that posts with a "disc" style back can prop on the teacup rim as well. Do you have any interesting uses for orphaned teacups? I'd love to hear them!

Monday, May 25, 2009

An easy Memorial Day treat

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY! I hope you are planning to enjoy this year's observance of Memorial Day, and I thought it might be appropriate to share a quick and easy dessert idea I made this weekend.

Almost every year at Christmas, I serve this glorious English Trifle that is made with angel food cake, red currant jelly, and this divinely thick, slightly tricky velvet cream custard that is super rich thanks to the 12 eggs yolks it contains. It is always a huge hit, and I think it is worth all the effort that goes into it. Well, this is *not* that recipe. This is that recipe's low-rent country cousin -- one you can run to the grocery store and assemble in under 5 minutes -- but for a fast and easy warm-weather treat, I was surprisingly satisfied with it!

Easy Fruit Trifle

1 large (20-ounce) can chunk pineapple, drained
1 small (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained
1 angel food cake
1 4-pack of ready-to-serve, individual serving size Sugar-Free Jell-O Vanilla Pudding
1 small (8-ounce) container of Sugar-Free Cool Whip

First, slice about a third of the angel food cake into "cake size" slices, and then cut slices into cubes. Distribute cubes among 8 small individual-size trifle bowls. (I used cute plastic footed cups from Dollar Tree, but clear glass teacups could be used as well.)

Next, mix the drained pineapple and oranges, and scoop about two tablespoons of the fruit into the cups on top of the angel food cake cubes. Spoon in half of an individual serving size pudding cup. Top with Cool Whip and refrigerate until time to serve. As DH says, these are great and also guilt-free!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tea Tasting Saturday #21 - Matcha (Thin Grade)

If I'd paid attention to the tea catalog, I wouldn't have been so surprised that this tea came in a tin.

Anyone here read Japanese? I'm being cautioned about something, but what? On the other side of this little piece of paper is more Japanese text and a graphic of hands carefully opening the pull-tab can. I'll bet the Japanese lawyers made them do that.

So I *cautiously* opened the can so the powdered tea wouldn't spill all over the place. It didn't, because it's still in the bag!

After opening the bag of Matcha, I carefully measured out just under half a teaspoon (the directions said half a teaspoon for 6 ounces of water, and my little tea-tasting glass is 5 ounces).

My first "whisking" didn't result in too much foam, so I decided I'd probably done it wrong and tried again.

Number two looked only slightly foamier, so I decided it was time to drink up and move on. Besides, this may be what "thin" Matcha looks like anyway!

* * *
I have to tell you, "Matcha Saturday" almost didn't happen! First, I realized late last Friday I had failed to place a new order with Harney and hurriedly went online to play catch up. Bless 'em, it arrived Wednesday, so I'm good for tea tastings for at least a few more months, Lord willing. Then yesterday, I realized I failed to order a Matcha whisk, and the local tea shop is out of Matcha whisks, but I read on the Internet you could use an ordinary wire whisk instead if you had to. (Later, when I read the book, Michael Harney said the same thing.) So I figured with my mini-wire whisk this Matcha process wouldn't exactly be "authentic," but at least I could give the Matcha a whirl. (So to speak.) I don't know how much of a difference it makes that I bought the cheaper thin grade rather than the more expensive thick grade of Matcha, but hey, I was trying to be economical!

Category: Japanese Green Tea

Purveyor: Harney & Sons

When purchased: May 2009

Appearance: A rather bright apple green powdered tea. I'd like a T-shirt this color.

Steeping temperature and time: Just under 1/2 teaspoon of tea, 175 degrees, 30 seconds (or however long it took to whisk the tea).

Scent: I had to force myself not to think about the powdery appearance, but when steeped I realized that oh, it smelled just like green tea.

Color: Deep olive green.

Flavor: I did not enjoy my first sip at all, as I "felt" the powder swirling around and the tea was too strong and bitter. But after a minute or so, once some of the powder settled in the bottom of the teacup, I sipped again and it tasted just like good green tea. Of course, I am going to *have* to get a Matcha whisk now and see if it makes any difference in the foam level. We won't call it a re-match but a re-Matcha! (Also, I want to try some recipes that use Matcha as an ingredient.)

Additional notes: Michael Harney tells of visiting a factory where Matcha is made and says he had to "don protective clothing as if heading into surgery. I even had to pause in an airlock where machines blew off from the protective clothing any particulate matter that might contaminate the powder."

Next week's tea: First of the oolongs, Wenshan BaoZhong

And if, like me, you would enjoy seeing how someone who knows what they're doing prepares Matcha, check out this brief video on YouTube!

Friday, May 22, 2009

The English Roses: Charlotte's Blend

Do you remember several years ago when, in one of her ever-changing stages of life, Madonna began to try her hand at writing children's books? I never actually bought one of the books, but I did flip through them at the bookstores enough to know they were called "The English Roses" and had various girl characters. I was intrigued by the books, as I am by Madonna herself, and I was equally intrigued by the fact Harney and Sons came out with a line of teas based on the books. I never bought one of the teas, either, but I did receive one as a gift from a friend recently.

"Charlotte's Blend" is a caffeine-free "tea" that is raspberry flavored. When I opened the tin, I couldn't help thinking the sachets look like little packets of birdseed.

Lucky for me, this raspberry blend tastes quite nice. I love raspberry tea but often find it to be so sour it's downright pucker-worthy. This was just a nice, mellow, raspberry flavored tea. Harney doesn't appear to carry this in its catalog anymore, so I'm lucky I got a tin before they've disappeared.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Tea Bag Teapot

Two weeks ago, when some friends and I went to Atlanta for a special birthday lunch, we also visited two antique stores before heading back home. At one of them, I found this little 4-1/2-inch-tall teapot that is, I can only surmise, a tea bag holder.

Have you ever seen anything like this? I hadn't. It has sort of a sixties vibe to me. A week after I bought it, I saw in another antique mall a mug that had a very similar design dated 1964 (a vintage I share, incidentally), so I'm guessing that's about how old this piece is. It does have a working spout and could actually be used as a teapot, but I think I am going to use it to hold teabags for all that iced tea I will begin drinking soon. I especially liked the lid, with its little teacup design, and the price: $6.

The sticker on the bottom says "Handpainted TILSO JAPAN." Tilso is a company I've never heard of before. It's times like this I wish I was friends with the staff at "Antiques Roadshow" so I could get some answers about the sometimes puzzling world of teawares!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A guest blogger reports from Epcot!

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: What you readers have to say is very often more interesting than anything I have to say, and that was definitely the case when my “Tea With Friends” friend Ginger Cato of North Carolina e-mailed me about her recent trip to Walt Disney World’s Epcot. Her husband was there for a conference, so she and her son “tagged along,” she said, and wait until you see her gorgeous photos! With her kind permission, I’m going to just get out of the way and let her tell you about her trip:

“The Flower and Garden Festival was going on and it's always
nice to look at. I don't know if you are familiar with Epcot or not.
In the UK pavilion Twinings has a tea shop. They sell loose and
boxed teas (some that you can only get in the UK), a few Twinings logo
pieces (tea pots, cups, etc.) and a small amount of china. Behind the
tea shop is a garden. During the Flower and Garden Festival they
always do a special display. This year it was teas in cute tea cup
planters. I thought you might like to see my pictures.”

Ginger continues, “Also take a look at the cute Flower and Garden Festival mug shaped like a flower pot. I love the butterflies on it. I met the artist that painted them and got her to autograph my mug.”

“I also bought myself a tea for one set featuring Alice in Wonderland. I bought some Alice in Wonderland tea in Matter Hatter flavor. It's a loose black tea with flowers and fruit in it.”

(Angela again. I haven't been to Disney in more than a decade, but seeing all these great photos sure makes me want to visit during the Flower and Garden Festival. Thanks so much for sharing, Ginger!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's "Hello, Yellow!" Tuesday

When Steph first wrote of the special color-themed Tuesdays she is hosting over at her Steph's Cup of Tea blog, I wondered if I would have anything to contribute. Last week I knew I could come up with a few things in robin's egg blue, but yellow? Well, I started looking around and discovered I have quite a few yellow things related to tea, including a piece from my most-treasured tea set, my Royal Winton Welbeck teapot.

Other yellow goodies: These napkins my mom made for me in a Welbeck print fabric found at Jo-Ann about 10 years ago or so.

A French glass candy jar still bearing a few leftover Easter candy corns.

A tablecloth I found on Etsy a while back (but to be honest, I thought the photos were accurate and expected an *ivory* background. If I'd only read the description more carefully!).

Sandy Lynam Clough hatboxes on a shelf in my bathroom.

And a favorite tole tray, also in the bathroom.

Finally, I love the yellow and orange bits (pineapple chunks and dried orange peel) dotting the landscape of my favorite tea in the world, Emperor's Bride from The Tea Room in Savannah (recently restocked thanks to a generous gift from my friend Kathy).

And please note: Tomorrow "Tea With Friends" will have a special guest blogger you won't want to miss!

Monday, May 18, 2009

My favorite "tea" bracelet

OK. I know. I have probably written about tea-themed jewelry a bit overmuch in recent weeks, so if you'll forgive me just one more jeweled post, I'll cool it, I promise! But with the last of my birthday funds I splurged on what instantly became my most favorite tea bracelet ever, and I just had to share this tea party charm bracelet from the amazing fashion designer Betsey Johnson!

I "met" Betsey years ago thanks to a dear friend who taped a program featuring Betsey that aired on the Style network, I believe. My friend had been in the habit of taping Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic programs, and when she happened across the flower child/passionate collector/Bohemian girly girl Betsey, she thought I might like her too, and I did. It's not the fashions I'm interested in, it's Betsey herself. When I first saw her, she had yellow hair tinged with hot pink, and she was in the habit of collecting tiny shoes and dying old lace hot pink. How can you not love a woman 60-plus who still ends her runway shows by performing a cartwheel? Yet I somehow missed the memo when her "Tea Party" line of jewelry debuted last year, but I ran across this bracelet online and had to have it. A slice of cake with "layers" of pink rhinestones? Love it!

And this pink teacup is plenty cute on its own, but inside ...

... is a sweet little red heart!

This robin's egg blue teapot charm is just adorable, and this bracelet has so much of all the jewelry things I love -- rhinestones, pearls, a sparkling rose, a pink crystal, a dangling heart -- I felt she made it just for me. I can't help wondering what inspired Betsey to design a line of tea-themed jewelry, but I'm certainly delighted she did.