February 24, 2017

Book Review - Matcha The Cookbook by Gretha Scholtz

© Matcha - The Cookbook by Gretha Scholtz, published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Photo © Patrycia Lukas

I have been practicing my matcha whisking technique as part of my formal tea studies with ITEI. Even before I had the proper motions, I enjoyed preparing and drinking matcha at home. I like my matcha in between koicha (thick tea) and usucha (thin tea). I have also prepared beverages and baked with matcha. Many of the recipes have come from matcha cookbooks I reviewed on this blog. I was lucky in cases to have culinary grade matcha to prepare the recipes. Currently, I happily have a lot of ceremonial grade matcha. I prefer to use this type of matcha in simple beverages. I think the taste of a ceremonial matcha gets lost in a baked good. For this reason, I gravitated towards the beverages section of Matcha - The Cookbook by Gretha Scholtz. I did go outside the Drinks chapter to make the Superfood Matcha White Chocolate Bark for a school bake sale. I substituted cranberries for goji berries and eliminated the pumpkin seeds and pistachios (nut allergies). The bark was a big hit and sold out quickly. The matcha really stood out in terms of color and taste with the white chocolate base. I also made a semisweet chocolate version.

© Matcha - The Cookbook by Gretha Scholtz, published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Superfood Matcha White Chocolate Bark, Photo © Patrycia Lukas

Matcha - The Cookbook is a sleeveless hardcover. The cover design is striking. White lettering and photos of vibrant matcha pop against the dark purple background. The ends papers are matcha green. The photographs, by Patrycia Lukas, are gorgeous, numerous, and well placed throughout the book. The book is organized in two main parts: history and guide & recipes. Within the former section, the chapters are History of Matcha, Green Tea Utensils and Tips, Japanese Tea Ceremony, How to Make a Cup of Matcha Tea, Why I Love Matcha, and Matcha - How to Recognize Quality. The Recipes section has chapters on Healthy Starts and Snacks, Drinks, Savory Matcha, Sweet Matcha, Baking, and Matcha Spa. All non-fiction/reference style books should have an index, and this cookbook does. This book's subject, matcha recipes, dominates the book. The history and guide section is only nine pages out of a 175 page book. This section presents a quick introduction to matcha rather than a deep dive into the tea. Volume and weight measurements are provided for each recipe. Many of the recipes are accompanied by a set of author's tips. For example, for the No-Bake Matcha Cream Cheese Tart, Gretha recommends using a tart pan with a removable bottom. For the Chocolate Fondants, you can use heatproof espresso or teacups if you don't have ramekins.

© Matcha - The Cookbook by Gretha Scholtz, published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Four-Ingredient Japanese Cheesecake, Photo © Patrycia Lukas

The recipes have a logical order. Moving from snacks to baked goods, the recipes increase in complication. Within a subsection, an ingredient made for one recipe can be used in a later recipe. The matcha syrup prepared for Kiwi Caipirinha on page 55 is used in the Green Tea Gin and Tonic on page 57. Also, stand-alone recipes can be paired. One example is serving the Matcha White Hot Chocolate (p. 42) with the Matcha Marshmallows (p. 118).

You will find the usual suspects and some creative recipes. The matchaccino seems similar to the popular matcha latte but have you had a layered Salted Caramel Coconut Matcha Latte? You've heard of bullet coffee, right? Gretha Scholtz created the Bulletproof Green Tea. The book has a recipe for matcha dusted nuts in the Sweets but in the same chapter has a recipe for White Chocolate Matcha Panna Cotta.

Baking, the final chapter, has many sweet recipes but is distinguished from the prior chapter, Sweets, by the baking process. Most of the recipes in the last chapter are jaw dropping either because of novelty or beautiful presentation or both. Consider the Four-Ingredient Japanese Cheesecake, the Dark Chocolate Triple-Layer Matcha Cake, and the Fully Loaded Matcha Drip Cake. Each element of the latter recipe, which is also the last recipe in Baking, is made with matcha. The cake, chocolate bark, buttercream icing, ganache drizzle, and decorative pieces.

© Matcha - The Cookbook by Gretha Scholtz, published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Green Hollandaise Sauce, Photo © Patrycia Lukas

I would only use poor quality or old matcha for the Spa recipes, and Gretha Scholtz admits to the same. Would you wear a matcha face mask while soaking in a matcha bath? If a matcha spa is not your thing, consider drinking your matcha in Bulletproof Green Tea or Matcha Lemonade. The bulletproof tea was very rich. Definitely add a sweetener; I used honey. The lemonade was refreshing and you can get away with using less sugar. Have more of a savory tooth? Want to stay truer to the umami nature of matcha? The Savory chapter might be your go-to. Much of what appealed to me about this chapter were the sauces and dips. A dip makes eating raw vegetables fun and a sauce can make an ordinary dish outstanding.

What are your favorite matcha recipes?

The cookbook reviewed in this post is courtesy of teNeues Media.

February 21, 2017

Arbor Teas


You can check off a lot of boxes with Arbor Teas. Organic (USDA and Global Organic Alliance) - check. Compostable packaging - check. Carbon Free (with carbon offsetting) - check. Arbor Tea is also is also Fair Trade Certified and Green America Approved. The Ann Arbor based company was founded by Aubrey and Jeremy Lopatin. For those of you who are more interested in how the teas taste, the teas I drank were very good. I received four samples and drank them in the following order: Korean Woojeon, Gyokuro (Japan), High Mountain Oolong (Vietnam), and Hawaii Premium Black.


Korean Woojeon

I would not be able to easily distinguish the taste of this tea from a Japanese sencha. However, the leaves are strikingly different. Sencha are flat needles while woojeon are twisted and curved. Cream and custard fruit came to mind whenever I smelled the dry leaves. What of the smell of the infused woojeon leaves? The toasted fragrance of genmaicha. One teaspoon in 6 ounces of 180-85F water for 2 minutes yielded a shiny, pale yellow green liquor. I prepared the woojeon (and the gyokuro) in a kyusu. The woojeon was smooth and creamy with no astringency. The toasted, nutty liquor left a slight silkiness on the lips. The second infusion of 3 minutes yielded a bolder liquor than the first infusion but it was still smooth. I prepared this tea with different parameters for a second session using 1 teaspoon in 3 ounces of 175F water for 40 and 50 seconds. The 40 second infusion was more flavorful than the tea made using 6 ounces of water and a longer steep time. The 50 second infusion was the best. The liquor was creamy, grassy, vegetal, with a hint of umami, nutty, smooth and had an endnote of fruity floral sweetness. The latter was a surprise. The mouthfeel was thick. I steeped the leaves once more for 60 seconds. The liquor was yellower and cloudier. It had a thinner mouthfeel, was still vegetal with a slight marine mid note, and a sweet, creamy tail note.


Gyokuro

Of the four teas, this was the only one that specified the water volume. I infused 1 teaspoon in 8 ounces of 180-85F water for 2 minutes. The shiny, vibrant green liquor smelled like vegetables which was consistent with the smell of the infused leaves. This vegetal fragrance carried over to the taste which also exhibited some umami. I did not think the "some umami" corresponded to brothiness but according to TEA by Gascoyne et al., intense broth is associated with gyokuro. The tail note was smooth and creamy. The overall mouthfeel was enjoyable.


High Mountain Oolong

A few technical details about this oolong before I share my tasting notes. It was made from the Qing Xin cultivar grown in Lam Dong, Vietnam at 3,200 feet above sea level. The tea was oxidized to 20% making it a green oolong. I steeped 1 teaspoon in 6 ounces of 195F water for 4 minutes. The leaves were large and balled with visible stems. The infused leaves smelled soapy which in my mind is another word for floral. The leaves, very long (and with buds now visible), were not full unfurled after 4 minutes. (I resteeped these leaves several more times in a gaiwan.) The plan gold liquor was fully floral with a spice note. I did not identify the spice. What spice notes have you detected in a green oolong? There was a tart fruit tail note. The liquor coated the front of my mouth; there was almost a numbing effect. When I drank the tea after it had cooled down, I tasted a milker oolong with a citrus undertones.


Hawaii Premium Black

This whole leaf black tea was grown in Hawaii. It is a custom blend of "several different varietals and picking dates" from the Onomea Tea Company. The long twisted leaves are dark with copper flecks and silvery buds. The dry leaves smell of freshly broken stems, malt, and chocolate. This is consistent with the smell of the liquor. I infused approximately 1 teaspoon - it is hard to use teaspoon measures for long leaves - in 6 ounces of 212F water for 3 minutes. The liquor tasted more strongly of chocolate and malt but overall this was a light impact tea with the exception of the ripe banana tail note.


The Korean Woojeon and Gyokuro really shone among the four teas. The oolong performed really well in a gaiwan. Thirty second infusions offered up floral, fruity notes with a thick mouthfeel and silkiness on the lips. The black tea prepared in a gaiwan lingered longer on my palate. I used the remainder of the sample which was a bit over 5 grams in 100 mL of boiling water at 30 second infusions. The first infusion was enjoyably robust because of this gram:volume ratio. The subsequent infusions were semi-sweet chocolate with fruit. If you don't already, give your teas a second chance in a gaiwan.

All four tea samples were provided by Arbor Teas.

P.S. Check out Arbor Teas recipes page.

February 10, 2017

Teaful Taste of Taiwan Chapter 1


Bookish tea drinkers will appreciate that Teaful has branded its tea releases as chapters. Each chapter will contain 4 teas from Taiwan totaling 75 grams. Chapter 1, which I review here, is a selection of four Taiwanese teas: Biluo Chun, a green tea from Sanxia; Jade Oolong from Mingjian in Nantou; Alishan Oolong from Chia Yi; and High Mountain Black Tea also from Nantou County. Dong Dong mountain and Shan Lin Xi are both in Nantou County. Dong Ding is also known as Tung Ting. The Teaful Jade Oolong is a dong ding/tung ting. Ali Shan originates in the Chia Yi district. The first of the teas I drank was the High Mountain Black Tea. I had drunk around the same time a Taiwanese black tea at Te Company (either the Jade Rouge or the Petite Noir or maybe both) and a different Taiwanese black, and Alishan Back, from Unytea. A bit of a tangent here: the Teaful black, I think, is processed from the Alishan cultivar Qing Xin. This same cultivar is the base tea for Te Company's Petite Noir and Unytea's Alishan Black. The Jae Rouge from Te Company is made from the Hongyu/TRES # 18 aka T-18 cultivar. I didn't know any of this by rote. I referred to the company's websites and my tea school textbook, TEA by Gascoyne et al.


High Mountain Black Tea

How did I prepare my first session with the High Mountain Black and what did I think of it? I infused 5 grams in 8 ounces of 195F water for 4 minutes per the label. Oh, the dry leaves were long, dark, and twisted. They smelled sweet and of dark dried fruit, maybe cherries. There was definitely a note of very good unsweetened cocoa powder or maybe cacao nibs. (Did you know that raw cacao powder is derived from cold-pressed unroasted cacao beans while cocoa powder is roasted raw cacao powder?) There was also a note of citrus akin to bergamot but not at all similar to Earl Grey. The dry leaves were very fragrant. The steam off the first infusion smelled so good. The taste was sweet like maple syrup on waffles or like melted cotton candy. There were also floral notes. As I finished the first infusion I also detected dates. Have you ever had Deglet date? Try one. The liquor was all caps fragrant and aromatic. The infused leaves were various shades of brown and quite long. They smelled woodsy and of sweet, dark fruit. I resteeped the leaves for 5 minutes at 200F. The flavor profile was similar though less juicy. Also, there was a drying effect. I infused the leaves for a third time using the same parameters. The steam was still fragrant but the liquor was milder tasting, mostly of honey. The mid-note was of cocoa and wood while the endnote was sweet.


After this experience I was excited to drink the other three teas in Chapter 1. I also had my second session with the black tea. For this session, for each tea, I used 2 grams of tea, 6 ounces of water, and 3.5 minute infusion. I used the water temperature recommended on the labels. I took a closer look at the dry leaves of the black tea. They were dark with copper highlights. Some were twisted but some were flat. The dry leaves smelled of honey and fruit. The infused leaves also smelled this way with the addition of malt and cocoa. The taste of the liquor was sweet like maple syrup, malt, lots of chocolate, and fruit as in fruit liqueurs. It was incredibly aromatic. There were also spice notes, vanilla and possibly cinnamon but cinnamon grown in Vietnam. (I was gifted some 10 years ago.)


Biluo Chun
I learned this type of green tea as being from Jiangsu, China. Biluochun is also known as green snail spring. Teaful's offering is from Sanxia, New Teipei City in northwestern Taiwan. The dry leaves colored silver, sage, moss, and forest green are long and slightly twisted. A deep inhale releases notes of hay and cream. The infused leaves smell consistently with the dry ones with the addition of deeply vegetal notes. The liquor was a pale sage color, bright and transparent. It tasted sweet and creamy with a creamy mouthfeel, too. There was a quality that I wrote as "meaty" but this taste could have been green bean or even sunflower seed and walnut ascribed to Dong Shan, a green tea processed from the Qun Ti Xiao Ye Zhong cultivar from which Chinese Bilochun is made. The nose was of the flowers or the actual flesh of summer fruit.


Jade Oolong

This oolong consisted of small, tightly rolled beads of dark green leaves with flecks of sage green which smelled like a creamy malt cereal. The clear yellow green liquor also tasted like a creamy malt cereal. The creaminess was in the mouthfeel, too. There was a striking vegetal note.


Alishan Oolong

Larger beads with more visible stems, this oolong also exuded a creamy fragrance. The pale green liquor distinctly floral and fruity. The lingering end note was sweet.


The High Mountain Black Tea was my favorite of these four Taiwanese teas from Teaful. It harmoniously encompasses many of the notes on the flavor wheel. The Bilochun is flavorful and would appeal to a palate that embraces umami forward teas. The two oolongs were delightful. I think they would shine brighter prepared in a gaiwan with less water and maybe more leaf. My next step is to prepare these oolongs gaiwan-style. Teaful just released Chapter 2 with Baozhong, Milk Oolong, Assam, and Ruby 18. Did you raise your eyebrows at Assam? Given that Teaful offered a Taiwanese Bilochun, a Taiwanese Assam should not be surprising. These types of double take moments are what makes this company's tea box stand out from others. They are offering delicious Taiwanese grown teas associated with other regions and countries. Read the Assam story here.

Taste of Taiwan Chapter 1 teas provided by Teaful.

February 08, 2017

Argo Tea Garden Direct Collection


Directly sourced tea from single estate gardens is a holy grail of the tea world. Argo Tea promises this with their new initiative, Garden Direct Collection. I received two teas and one tisane from Argo: Genmaicha, Nilgiri, and Rooibos. The Genmaicha is sourced from Maruei Tea Estate, Mei Perfecture, Japan; the Nilgiri from Parkside Tea Estate, India; and the Rooibos from Western Cape, South Africa. At the time of this post, I have not drunk the Rooibos. This tisane has not agreed with me lately.

Today's review is based on the several cups each I drank of the Nilgiri and Genmaicha. The teas arrived in a tall 4.9 oz glass bottle. My first impression after reading the brewing instructions on the bottle was that each bottle contained a filter and packets of whole leaf tea. I imagined that you could steep your tea on the go and have a reusable bottle to boot. Here are the instructions: "Place loose leaf into infuser....Pour hot water over the premium loose leaf tea. Let steep....Remove infuser...". On reflection it doesn't make sense for the bottle to contain an infuser. The glass bottle is not double walled so it would be scalding hot to hold! Another bottle comment: if you accidentally remove the brown wrapping from the bottle, you will need to store it in a cupboard because the glass is transparent.


Genmaicha

I followed the brewing directions. I steeped 1 teaspoon in 6 ounces of 195F water for 4 minutes. Argo did not specify the water temperature so I used the temperature setting recommended by Aiya for it's genmaicha. (To be precise, Aiya recommends 194F.) The tea is beautiful. The white popcorn pops against the vibrant green sencha and the toasted brown rice. The dry leaves smelled nicely of popcorn, equal parts freshly popped and burned kernel. The liquor smelled strongly of rice; the rice that is stuck to the bottom of the pot and slightly burned. This is a very good smell and taste! I infused the leaves again for 5 minutes. The flavors were a little lighter but the toasted note lingered on my palate.


Nilgiri

This black tea is listed as whole leaf but the small appearance of the leaves might indicate a broken leaf grade (B). The grade is not listed on the label. The leaf color is fairly dark with copper highlights. My first session with this tea I infused 2 teaspoons in boiling water. It was too hot. I then tried steeping 2 teaspoons in 200F water. It was just right. Infusing the leaves for 30 seconds produced the most flavorful liquor. Sweet and fruity with mild astringency. Another way I prepared this tea was infusing 2 teaspoons in 200F water for 1 minute which produced an unpleasantly strong liquor. The best approach is 2 teaspoons in 200F water for 30 seconds. In my gaiwan, I got 3 tasty infusions

The sessions I described above happened over the course of a day. The following day I used the brewing instructions provided on the label. I infused 1 teaspoon of leaves in 6 ounces of 212F (no temperature was specified) for 4 minutes. The color of the liquor was promising but the taste was mild. I detected honey, malt, and fruit but all these flavors were not fully realized. The dark fruit that I smelled on the dry leaves and even on the infused leaves was not found in the liquor. This tea requires more leaf gram to water volume to shine.


I will continue to drink both teas. The Nilgiri will fit right into our "breakfast tea" stash. The flavor profile of the Genmeicha makes it perfect for mid-morning or early afternoon snack time. This green tea would be a nice one to serve to guests, especially displaying it in a Japanese version of the cha he.

Garden Direct tea collection courtesy of Argo Tea.

February 04, 2017

Blind Taste Test - Three Flat Bags of Green Tea


The assignment
A recent assignment for my tea course was to compare three green teas packaged in flat tea bags. One of the teas was provided by the tea school. The brands will be revealed later. My husband prepared the blind tasting for me. I will note here that I knew I would recognize one of the brands from its tea bag design. This brand is classified as a luxury brand.

Methods
The parameters for the tasting were: prepare 3 white cups to steep 3 different tea bags using exactly the same water volume (I used 6 ounces), 80 degrees Celsius (176F), and 3 minutes infusion. I was asked to describe the liquors based on color, brightness, aroma (smell), and taste. I shared the steeping and tasting process via an Instagram Story. I used a chart to record my notes which I replicated below, followed by a discussion.

Findings

Discussion
The three brands of tea were: Uji No Tsuyu Sen-Cha Green Tea (#1); Sri Lanka-based Elephantea Organic Green Tea which I picked up at the Ceylon Tea Festival in Washington, DC (#2); and KEIKO Kabuse Konacha (#3). Keiko is the luxury brand I mentioned in the Assignment section. In the photograph of dissected bags below, you can quickly distinguish the Keiko bag from the bags of the other two brands. The bag material appears to be of higher quality and almost fabric-like with larger pore sizes and the top is stitched rather than folded and stapled. Considering the tea material itself, the Keiko tea is the only one that resembles green tea. The leaf material is actually green. The liquor of the Keiko tea was the cloudiest of the three teas. This is a good thing. Kabusecha teas are supposed to yield a liquor that is "clouded by a thick haze of suspended particles" (Gascoyne et al., 2014). Are you wondering about the meanings of kabuse and konacha? I was, too. Let's define them. Konacha is "the milled tea buds and small leaves that are left behind after processing species of green teas such as Sencha, Gyokuro, Kabuse, etc.". Kabuse is semi-shaded tea. Whereas Gyokuro tea is shaded for 21 days, Kabuse tea is shaded for a shorter period of time; Gascoyne et al. (2014) give an average of 12 days. So Kabuse Konacha is made from the leftover buds and leaves of processed semi-shaded tea plants. Going in reverse order, Sri Lanka is known for its black teas. The country is the fourth largest tea grower in the world! The style of tea in the Elephantea bag is reminiscent of a CTC black tea. The same is true for the Uji No Tsuyu Sen-cha but here one expects more because the company is based in Kyoto. Another consideration is that the teas were infused for 3 minutes. The long steep time was purposely selected to push the limits of each tea. The steep time recommended for the Uji No Tsuyu tea bag is 1 minute. Also, take a look at the image of the Elephantea Green Tea liquor on the company's website. It is a yellow orange.


Conclusions
Even as I was writing this post I was aware that this was a rather unfair comparison. These teas are not on a level playing field. I think most flat green tea bags would not have fared well against this Keiko tea bag. Brands that package their green teas in pyramidal bags might be more competitive with this Keiko tea bag. For example, Harney & Sons Japanese Sencha and Smith Teamaker No. 51 Sencha. Keiko also sells pyramidal tea bags so perhaps there's another blind taste test of green tea, and this time all of Japanese origin, in the works. If a Keiko representative is reading this post, please reach out to me.

P.S. To learn more about Kabusecha, download this Japanese Semi-Shaded Tea brochure [pdf] produced by Keiko.

P.P.S. My instructor commented that she would have liked to know if brewing instructions, organic status, and country of origin were shown in the outer packaging. In addition, she would have like to know if the inner packaging was of foil or not as foil can protect against deterioration in freshness, taste, smell, and color.
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