Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Iced Tea: Bancha w/ Green Rooibos & Lemon Verbena

The temperature in Philadelphia has broken 90 degrees Farenheit for two days in a row now. While I love hot weather (including the extremely humid heat of the east coast of the U.S.), temperatures this high do make me switch to iced tea.

I brewed up my first batch of iced tea of the year, and it was delightful.

The recipe for this batch:
I steeped these in one cup of hot water for 3 minutes, then added three cups of cold water and chilled it.

The brands are not particularly important, which is why I have not featured them prominently; if you wish to make something similar, I would recommend using whatever loose-leaf source you have. I used lemon verbena and green rooibos from Upton Tea Imports, and Hime bancha.

I was drinking this by myself, so I only made four cups worth. The result was delightful: surprisingly lemony, but without being sour, mildly astringent from the bancha, and with a refreshing, grassy aroma. If I could change one thing, I would use slightly more green rooibos. In working out the proportions, I forgot how green rooibos tends to blend into the background when combined with green tea or lemon-scented herbs.

Do you have any favorite iced tea blends that you've made from scratch, either of pure tea, pure herbals, or a blend of tea with herbs?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tap Water: Philadelphia vs. Delaware

Pictured here is some water from the Delaware river:

The Delaware river is widely perceived as a very dirty river, and for good reasons. Much of its length is lined with trash, rusting industrial implements, old tires, not to mention shipping industries, oil refineries. Who knows what invisible pollutants are found in it.

Tap Water in Philadelphia vs. Delaware:

When I lived in Delaware, there was also a public perception that the tap water tasted awful. I agreed. I don't know why, but it just tasted bad. It tasted like chemicals...overly chlorinated perhaps, but it was worse than the straight bad taste of slightly-too-chlorinated tap water. Keep in mind, this wasn't even water taken from the Delaware river--it was taken from a much cleaner, local source. But it still tasted awful, among the worst-tasting tap water I've ever sampled outside of East Germany (the most "sketchy" place I was bold enough to actually taste the water).

Now, the tap water here in Philadelphia tastes much better to me. No noticeable chlorine aroma, no other chemical smells. And it brews better tea. I don't notice it on the strong teas, but when I brew a more mild, delicate tea, I definitely notice a difference. It's not dramatic, but it is well-appreciated. I've especially found it helpful for the milder green teas.

While I appreciate the improvement in taste, I want to draw attention to what matters in the end: that we clean up and protect our environment, including not only water, but all natural resources and natural ecosystems. When we move into an area with cleaner air or water, it may be pleasant for us, but someone else is still breathing that air and drinking that water.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pineapple Sage Overwinters in Delaware!

I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I found my pineapple sage resprout, when visiting my old garden in Delaware (which I have since moved from):

A while back, I wrote about Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, which I use to make a delicious herbal tea. That post shows a picture of the plant from last year.

According to Floridata's sheet on Pineapple sage, this plant is hardy (in the sense of resprouting from the ground) in zones 8 and 9. Northern Delaware lies near the border of USDA Hardiness Zones 7a and 6b. It seemed wishful thinking to keep this plant through the winter, but I tried my best anyway. I had planted the plant in a sunny but protected location, an area near the building with ample winter sun. I applied large quantities of mulch, mostly tea leaf mulch, to the base of the plant.

Although I was surprised to see this plant, pictured above, resprout after surviving the winter, it was a rather mild winter temperature-wise, and the plant was planted in a very sheltered location.

It makes me wonder though: could one grow a tea plant in Delaware? I suspect, with the conditions above, that I probably could, although a colder winter might be problematic for it. Some of the hardiest varieties of Camellia sinensis are reported to be much hardier than the zones specified for pineapple sage.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wintergreen Tones in Black Tea

One of my favorite tea blog posts of all time is Sir William of the Leaf's review of 2006 Haiwan "Purple Leaf"; in which he is astounded by the pork- and bacon-like qualities evident in this Pu-erh cake.

When a person has tried many teas, and they sample a pure tea and encounter an unusual aroma, it often grabs their attention. Today this happened to me for the second time, which sparked me to write about it. The aroma in this case was wintergreen. The first tea I sampled which exhibited wintergreen tones in the aroma was Upton Tea Imports' TC53: Uva Highlands Estate BOP. The second tea, which I sampled today, also from Upton, was TK18: Livingstonia Estate GFBOP. Both of these teas stand out in that I have never even detected more than the faintest suggestion of wintergreen in any tea, which is interesting because wintergreen is an aroma that is relatively common in various plant sources, and is distinct and easily recognizable to me as it is one of my favorite smells or flavors.

What is wintergreen?

Several evergreen leafy plants bear the name wintergreen. The wintergreen that I know, Gaultheria procumbens, is an evergreen leafy plant that grows in heavily-shaded areas of forests, especially those with poor soil and heavy accumulation of needle litter from pine, hemlock, and other dense evergreen trees. The plant, which tends to grow along the ground, has tiny, starchy red berries, and tough, but strongly aromatic leaves.

This public domain photograph was taken by Mike Serfas; original on wikimedia commons.

There is a lesson about tea here as well. The evergreen nature of wintergreen, just like the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is primarily an adaptation to the low nutrient levels: by holding onto its leaves for multiple years, this plant conserves nutrients in an environment where nitrogen in particular is in short supply. Recall that tea plants are able to grow wild in areas, such as exposed rocks high in the Wuyi mountains, where there are very low nutrient levels.

The distinctive wintergreen aroma is actually due to a single chemical, methyl salicylate, which according to Wikipedia makes up 98% of the essential oil of the wintergreen plant. This chemical occurs in numerous other plants as well, including the bark of birch trees, and is responsible for the commonalities in aroma between wintergreen tea and birch beer, as well as some of the medicinal effects of plants containing this chemical, which is closely related to salicylic acid, the chemical in willow bark that originally spawned the development of aspirin. Methyl salicylate is also responsible for the "spark-in-the-dark" phenomenon that can be observed when crunching wintergreen Life Savers in between your teeth. The chemical is toxic in high doses.

I did some digging and found that pure black tea naturally contains methyl salicylate. I found this absolutely fascinating. So it was not just all in my head!

More about the teas:

I must say, I absolutely love the Livingstonia Estate GFBOP. This tea is from Tanzania. Upton points out that most tea produced in Tanzania is CTC (Crush-Tear-Curl), mechanically processed tea, and this tea, using orthodox production methods, is rather unusual. I found this tea to be delightfully complex, strong, but balanced. Another interesting tone besides wintergreen that I detected in the aroma of this tea was Queen Anne's lace, a distinctive-scented wildflower which is actually the wild version of the domestic carrot. ( my review )

The Uva Highlands Estate BOP was a tea that I was less excited about. I found that tea to be rather tannic, and easily became too bitter and astringent if brewed for more than a couple minutes. Its aroma was less complex; the main distinguishing feature I noticed about this tea was the wintergreen tones in the aroma, which were stronger and more well-defined than the Tanzanian tea. This alone made the tea interesting and worth trying. ( My review )

Have you ever noticed wintergreen in the aroma of any black tea, or any tea for that matter? It's in there, at least, somewhere, in some black teas!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Common Cold Interferes with Taste and Smell

Apologies for the dearth of updates. I have recently moved from Delaware to Philadelphia, which has been time consuming, and I have not kept up with updating all my sites. I will write more about the move later, as there are some tea-related points to moving! But for now, I want to write about another thing which has slowed me down a bit from writing about tea: I came down with a cold last week. Colds are mainly an annoyance. But when it comes to tasting tea, they are more than an annoyance, they actually stop me from being able to experience a cup of tea the way I normally do.

People often complain that their sense of taste and smell is changed when they have a cold, and that in general, they cannot smell things as effectively. A cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract, which includes the parts of the nose which are responsible for our senses of smell. I find that when I come down with a cold, my sense of smell is often among the last things to return to normal.

I have a bunch of tea samples sitting in my cupboard, waiting to be tasted, but I feel they would be wasted for me to drink them until I'm 100% better.

Teas I drink when I have a cold:

I do drink tea a lot when I have a cold, but my experience of it is rather different. When I am sick, it is primarily the hot fluid that I seek out. I find that I prefer strong-tasting teas, and I tend to not enjoy oolong or white tea as much. Often, when I am thinking of what tea to make, I'll reach for a usual favorite and then think: "No, I'll save that till when I'm well."

I often drink a lot of additional herbal tea in addition to the usual number of cups of black or green teas. Many herbal teas I find help with cold symptoms. Blends containing peppermint or eucalyptus can greatly clear out the sinuses, and I find those containing rooibos to help with breathing. There is also something pleasing about these strong aromas: even if my sense of smell is inhibited, these aromas are able to get through and I am able to experience a pleasingly aromatic hot drink. I also tend to seek out lemony herbs, and I tend to like to prepare them rather strongly. When I have access to a fresh supply of it, I will typically make teas from lemon balm, but here I have been drinking mostly lemon verbena (which I have found I enjoy more than lemongrass).

I also find that my sense of taste changes, in addition to smell. I tend to seek out salty foods, possibly because my body is losing more salt if I'm blowing my nose. I also notice that I often want to add honey to tea, especially when the cold is at its worst.

How does your tense of taste and smell change when you have a cold? And how does your experience of drinking tea change, and how do your choices of what teas to drink change?