Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hot Tea and Hot Weather

In the past couple days, the weather has become dramatically warmer here in the mid-Atlantic. It is currently 81 degrees in northern Delaware, and yesterday the high here was 82 (and it was 85 in Philadelphia).

When it is cold indoors and outdoors, I greatly enjoy the warmth that a cup of hot tea has to offer. But when it's warmer, sometimes even quite hot, I still enjoy drinking hot tea. I definitely treat a hot cup of tea differently when I'm feeling too warm...I tend to set it down a bit farther from me, I tend not to hold the cup closely with my hands, instead taking a brief sip and then setting it down. I also tend to drink it more slowly, allowing it to cool more before drinking it. But overall, the experience of drinking it is still pleasant, even if it is quite hot in my surroundings and I am feeling rather warm already.

Eventually, when the weather gets very hot, I will, at times, drink more iced tea than hot tea. But I don't generally see iced tea as a substitute for hot tea. I tend to make a large pitcher of iced herbal tea, and drink it almost like water. On some of the hottest days, I'll still have a cup of hot tea in the morning.

Tea and Herbal Teas in Tropical Climates

I find it interesting that there are so many cultures from tropical countries, with hot year-round climates, in which both tea and various herbal teas are regularly consumed. There are long traditions of drinking hot liquids in hot weather from many different cultures. Tea is widely consumed throughout the middle east, in South Asia, and various hot drinks are consumed in the tropical parts of South America as well.

Do you still drink a lot of hot tea in hot weather?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

RSS Feeds of Tea Reviews: My Reviews and Others

On my last post Shaia who reviews teas at Teaviews remarked that she enjoys when I post reviews on this blog because she doesn't check RateTea as often as blogs.

I definitely put a lot more effort into RateTea than I do into this blog, as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever. So I wanted to draw some attention to features on RateTea that would be of interest to people who enjoy reading tea reviews:

Review Feeds:

RateTea has a series of RSS feeds for reviews. There's an old news item about RSS feeds on RateTea.com. As a quick summary:

  • For people who enjoy reading lots of reviews, there is a master feed for the site. The amount of reviews here is currently manageable but if the site grows much more it could quickly become unmanageable!

  • Each user or reviewer has a feed. You can read all my latest reviews in my review feed.

  • There are also feeds on the pages for each style of tea and each brand or tea company. You can thus subscribe to feeds of reviews of teas from your favorite company (or if you work for a company, watch people reviewing your own products!) as well as subscribing to feeds of styles of tea that you enjoy, down to a very high level of specificity. For example, you could subscribe to all oolong tea or green tea reviews, or limit yourself to something more specialized, like only kukicha reviews, or only reviews of dancong oolong.

These feeds can be subscribed to like a blog, and will send you all new reviews rolling in, according to whichever feed you subscribed to. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review of Tong Cheng Small Orchid from Life in Teacup

I recently wrote about orchids and tea. It seems natural to follow up with a review. I normally keep reviews out of this blog, instead choosing to put them on RateTea, but this review is of a special tea that is not available for sale, so I am posting this review here:

The tea is Tong Cheng Small Orchid (桐城小蘭花), provided by Life in Teacup, which has a selection of other outstanding Chinese green teas available for purchase.

As Gingko explains in her post about the tea, this is not a commercially produced tea, but rather, it is harvested from the wild, by retired tea farmers, in areas that used to be tea plantations but have been allowed to return to wild forest. This tea is a symbol of the importance of leaving land as wild ecosystems. The land in China, as in many countries, is over-cultivated, and a majority of the original forest cover has been destroyed, replaced by commercial cultivation of plants. But wild forests support a myriad of plants, and some tea can still be harvested in these wild areas from the remaining plants in the forest, without sacrificing the ecological value or integrity of the forests.

The Review:

I am fascinated by the aroma of this tea: it is fresh, highly fruity, and floral. But I do not see this as being very orchid-like. To me, it's more like berries, or even slightly like candy, but more natural. It reminds me a lot of early summer. The flavor is very smooth, with not even a hint of bitterness even drinking the whole cup. Only a very faint bitter aftertaste. Mild-flavored and primarily aromatic.

The aroma of this tea is absolutely delightful.

I experimented with brewing and this tea seemed to come out nearly exactly the same way no matter how I brewed it. The only thing that varied was the strength. I preferred the stronger cups as they had a hint of pleasing astringency and were slightly more full-bodied.

Other green teas from Life in Teacup:

You may not be able to obtain this tea, but there are many outstanding green teas that you can buy from Life in Teacup. If you are interested in reading more reviews of green teas from life in Teacup, you can browse my reviews of green teas from Life in Teacup on RateTea.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tea and Orchids

This post was inspired by a post by Verna L. Hamilton, Worth the Wait - Tea and Orchids.

I find the pairing between tea and orchids to be rather interesting and rich, with more connections than I initially realized. Something about the orchid aroma is particularly evocative. The scent of orchids is light and delicate, but at the same time it somehow grabs the attention. It can even at times be intoxicating.

I have a long familiarity with the fragrance of orchids. My first memory of them is the orchid room at Longwood Gardens, a botanical garden in Kennett Square, PA. Now, I often work from my laptop in Saxby's coffee shop in Newark, Delaware. The owner's wife is an orchid enthusiast and the shop is filled with a diversity of beautiful orchids, such as those pictured here:

The orchids in the above photograph are not particularly fragrant. Many have no detectable scent. However, one orchid in the shop is so strongly aromatic that I often notice it when I'm sitting quite far from it:

Flowers like the one pictured above are the source of the familiar "orchid" fragrance, which closely relates to the aroma of many types of tea.

Distinct "Orchid" Fragrances in Tea:

Many cultivars of tea plant and styles of tea, such as qi lan, have been developed over years to imitate the fragrance of orchids. I must say, some of them are quite convincing, and the ones that do not resemble actual orchids are often still often very pleasing.

There are a number of distinct "orchid aromas" associated with various teas. Gingko Seto of Life in Teacup has a fascinating blog post, meng ding snow orchid, in which she explains about the orchid aroma associated with certain green teas.

I find many of the greener oolongs, including some Tie Guan Yin and some Taiwanese oolongs such as Dong Ding, often resemble orchids to some degree in their aroma. It was so pronounced that once at a dance, I danced with someone wearing orchid perfume and the first thought that popped into my head was...this person smells like that tea I drank earlier today, could she possibly be wearing tea-scented perfume? But I realized in a second that this was probably not the case: more likely it was an orchid fragrance, and the tea had been imitating the orchid, not the other way around.

The orchid aroma associated with orchid-like greener oolongs is certainly very different from the orchid aroma of the "orchid" green teas. Yet another tea with a different sort of orchid aroma was the Mt. Wu Dong Honey Orchid Dancong Oolong I recently tried, courtesy of Life in Teacup. This tea was orchid-like, but was a much darker oolong, distinct from both the greener oolongs and green teas.

I personally find the green oolongs to resemble actual orchids much more closely than green teas or dark oolongs like dancong or a dark qi lan. However, I find all of these types of "orchid tea" to be quite delightful.

How do you perceive the fragrance of orchids, and what has been your experience with "orchid" teas?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Confidence in Writing About Tea

One thing that I take for granted sometimes is confidence in writing reviews about tea, or about any type of food or drink for that matter. I'm not necessarily the best writer, but I tend to be pretty confident putting my thoughts and ideas on paper. I also have a number of years of experience writing about drinks, as a reviewer on RateBeer, and writing mostly about restaurants on Yelp, and I review all sorts of products on Amazon. Sometimes I'm surprised though that people seem to trust and respect my reviews. I think to myself: "I'm no expert on this topic. Why do people trust my opinion?" But then I realize that I do have a good dose of confidence when it comes to my own ability to write about what my experience is.

What do people want to read? Do they want an expert, a connoisseur who knows what is "best" in some more objective sense? I cannot offer this, at least, not yet. All I can offer is an honest description of what my own experience was.

People often feel intimidated by the idea of writing reviews:

When I tell people about RateTea, they are often interested, but a vast majority express a sense of intimidation about writing a review. The people who feel intimidated surprise me, as they include among their ranks people whom I consider to be outstanding writers (far better and more experienced than I am) and people who are outstanding cooks, and regular tea drinkers who prefer high-quality loose-leaf tea. Yet many of these people, including those who fall into all three categories, express the same sentiment:

"I just don't know what to write."

Another common remark I hear is:

"Teas all taste the same to me. They just taste like tea."

I do believe that most people actually know more about food, drink, and have greater potential for distinguishing and talking and writing about taste than they give themselves credit for. Recently I served Rishi Tea's Wuyi Oolong to a couple of my friends without . One of them remarked: "This tastes like oolong tea!" I found this encouraging -- it certainly establishes that my friend possesses some ability to identify teas by taste, including teas that she does not often drink.

People often don't give themselves enough credit--many Americans don't even know that oolong is a type of tea.

How can you establish more confidence in writing about tea?

A while back, I created a page writing about tea which offered a few concrete tips. But I think that it's not specific advice that most people need.

The best way to become more confident in writing about tea is to write more about tea.

If you don't know what to write, a good tip is to write down the first thing that pops into your head when you're drinking a tea. Remember, tastes and descriptions of aromas are inherently subjective. There is no right or wrong, as different people perceive taste differently, and people also have different preferences about what qualities they prefer, and different associations of what various aromas remind them of.

Sometimes you don't even need to say much. Ask yourself do you like the tea? Do you like it more or less than any other tea you've tried recently? Talking about how much or how little you like about a tea is one of the key aspects of a review. If you don't have much reaction to a tea at all, then say that! Many teas just aren't that interesting; often, I'll try a tea and I will find it a bit boring, so I write that. It's a simple reality of statistics that the majority of teas are going to be be rather close to average. While it's sometimes good to look for interesting things to say about an average tea, there is no need to do so, and in a sense, if the tea is pretty typical and unremarkable, the most honest thing you can do is to say so in plain language.

Other times, I enjoy a tea and find it interesting, but I struggle to find words. It's okay to say: "I like this tea, but I can't find words to describe why I like it." That's honest, worthwhile to write and to share with others, and in my opinion, a better course of action than making up something about what you think you "should" write.

Try it out:

If you are one of these people who avoids writing reviews because you are too intimidated, I would encourage you to push yourself to write a few reviews! Write reviews of tea, or of anything, post them on your blog, on RateTea.com, or on any review website! Or just write a brief review for yourself as practice and see how it works. You may be surprised that once you start writing, you develop a new confidence and you start more easily finding words with which to express yourself.