June 15, 2017

Tea Pairing 101: White Teas and French Cheeses


I subconsciously donned a white blouse for our photo shoot of white teas paired with cheeses at the French Cheese Board in SoHo. When my collaborators arrived, I noticed that one also wore a white top while the other had styled her outfit with a gorgeous tea leaf necklace. Jee of Oh, How Civilized was the mastermind behind this pairing indulgence and Sara of Tea Happiness secured the venue. Before I detail the pairing event, I would like to thank the French Cheese Board for the space and the delicious cheeses as well as In Pursuit of Tea, Royal Tea New York, and Silver Needle Tea Co. for the teas. You all made this educational, flavorful, and fun experience possible.


THE IDEA

Jee, Sara, and I are enrolled in a tea sommelier course with the International Tea Education Institute. In addition to learning about the history of tea history, cultivation, and preparation we've also been introduced to pairing teas with food. Tea Pairing 101 is our approach to practicing and reinforcing our formal tea education.


THE SETUP

The tea and cheese pairing was a multi-step process beginning with selecting three cheeses to pair with our three teas. The teas we had to pair were Silver Needle courtesy of Silver Needle Tea Co., Nepal White courtesy of Royal Tea NY, and Midnight White courtesy of In Pursuit of Tea. We drank the teas in the order just presented. The cheeses we chose were Beaufort, Brillat-Savarin, and Blue de Chèvre. After choosing the cheeses, we set the table. With her keen aesthetic sensibility, Jee was the artistic director. After setting the table we photographed it, then infused each tea using professional tasting cups, and then tasted each tea with each of the three cheeses. Each of took turns infusing and pouring the teas.


NOTES ON THE TEAS

Three grams* of each tea were steeped in a four-ounce capacity professional cupping set using 185F - 195F degree water for three minutes. Each tea was formally assessed on its own and again paired with each cheese.

Silver Needle - Silver Needle Tea Co.

Dry Leaf: the uniformly sized buds were silver, grey green, and hairy; the un-infused tea smelled sweet, grassy (hay), and fruity (melon)

First Steep: the liquor was pale yellow, shiny, and translucent; both the smell and taste of the liquor were consistent with the smell of the dry leaves -- sweet, grassy, and fruity

Nepal White - Royal Tea New York

Dry Leaf: overall the leaves presented as army camouflage generously sprinkled with silver buds; the tea had a more intense smell than the Silver Needle, the distinguishing characteristic was a muscatel fragrance

First Steep (second session): a Darjeeling in disguise with herbal, sweet, and muscatel notes

Midnight White (Yunnan) - In Pursuit of Tea

Dry Leaf: curious black leaves with hairy undersides and light gold hairy buds without a discernible scent (the infused leaves smelled earthy and sweet)

First steep (second session): The amber liquor smelled sweet and white peppery; the taste was sweet (honey) and deeply fruity (dried cherries and prunes)

*In the first sessions with Nepal White and Midnight White we used two grams on my suggestion. The liquors was better for using three grams!


NOTES ON THE CHEESES

The following characteristics of each cheese were provided by the French Cheese Board.

Beaufort
Firm, buttery, and supple cow's milk cheese with fruit, salty, and floral notes

Brillat-Savarin
Creamy, dense, and damp cow's milk cheese with salty and tangy notes and an earthy (mushroom) aftertaste

Blue de Chèvre
Soft, round goat's milk cheese with moldy notes


NOTES ON THE PAIRINGS

My personal pairing preferences were:

  • Silver Needle + Beaufort (runner up: Brillat-Savarin)
  • Nepal White + Beaufort (runner up: Brillat-Savarin)
  • Midnight White + Brillat-Savarin (runner up: Beaufort)

Jee and Sara preferred the Midnight White + Blue de Chèvre. I wasn't opposed to this pairing; it certainly wasn't as contrarian as the Silver Needle + Blue de Chèvre.

THE TAKEAWAY

The Beaufort is a versatile cheese and paired with all three French cheeses we selected but especially with the Silver Needle and Nepal White. The broad flavor profile of the Beaufort complemented the dominant notes in the each of the teas. If you prefer a softer cheese, then the Brillat-Savarin is a strong candidate. This creamy cheese would also pair well with a Japanese green tea.

The Blue de Chèvre, while lovely on its own, overwhelmed these white teas. The pairing with the Silver Needle was antagonistic. I did not detect moldy notes in the Blue de Chèvre, rather, it was saltier than the other two cheeses. I wouldn't mind pairing it with oceanic Japanese green teas or a shou puer. A straight goat cheese, either soft or firm, might have paired better with the white teas.

Read Jee's Tea Pairing 101
Read Sara's Tea Pairing 101

We plan to develop a pairing for each tea type; with white tea accomplished we turn our focus to green tea. Watch this space!

P.S. Are you interested in taking a tea course with the International Tea Education Institute? Check out all the ITEI courses and use the NOTESONTEA10 discount code when you register.

June 14, 2017

Genki Ceremonial Grade Matcha


The adage that there's a season for everything might not apply strictly to matcha. I think it's always a good time of year to drink a cup of matcha. I have several matcha in my tea stash and started my week with Genki Matcha Ceremonial Grade Matcha. Genki's matcha is harvested from Nishio in the Aichi Prefecture of Japan. According to Wikipedia, Nishio is Japan's "leading producer of powdered green tea." However, Uji in Kyoto Prefecture is renowned for producing the best matcha in Japan.


I found the Genki matcha powder to be a beautiful vibrant South American emerald green. It smelled sweet and creamy and sifted to a fine, soft powder. I prepared a hot, thin matcha using two scoops with a chashaku and 4 ounces of approximately 165F water. The matcha veered away from the sweetness of the dry powder to a pronounced but smooth umami taste. The foam retained the color of the powder but beneath this fine bubble layer, was a deeper green liquid.


There are teas that I drink seasonally. I tend to drink iced teas in the summer and green and white Chinese teas in the spring. Matcha, I drink it year round. Do you have a seasonal approach to tea drinking?

Genki Matcha provided the green tea powder for review.

May 25, 2017

Favorite Tea Ware: Ricardo Caicedo of My Japanese Green Tea


As a tea drinker, and I am sure this is true for you, I adore teaware, from the chasen to the yixing teapot. Everyone has their favorites! I designed this series as an opportunity for tea drinkers to showcase the very special tea objects in their personal collections. Today's selections are brought to you by Ricardo Caicedo of My Japanese Green Tea. Ricardo believes that "one day, words like sencha and matcha will be as common as espresso and cappuccino." He's doing his part in this transformation by writing his blog. You can also find Ricardo on Instagram as @kyusuteas, the name of his online tea store based in Colombia.


Japanese tea coasters

I bought them at Maiko Tea, in Kyōtanabe city, Kyoto prefecture. It wasn't easy to obtain these, because most tea shops online have tea cups and teapots only. They were a great find, and I use them daily.


Tokonameyaki Yuzamashi

A yuzamashi is used for cooling the water to the right temperature. I bought it from the online shop of Sugimoto America, because I had seen it previously in pictures but had never actually owned one. I use it when preparing matcha and sencha.


Natsume
This tea caddy for matcha is probably one my most special items that I have. It was a gift from Shizuka Maitani of the Green Tea Newbies Youtube channel. We met in Tokyo. She painted the flowers by hand! Since I drink matcha every morning, I also use it daily.


Bankoyaki mini kyusu

It holds just 120 ml (4 oz) of tea. It's very easy to use because of its small size. I don't use very often, only when brewing very expensive green teas. It's my favorite tea pot. I bought if from Yunomi.life.


Yixing tea pot

Well, I don't know for sure if it's a Yixing tea pot or not. My mother bought it when she visited Japan, which is funny because she bought a Chinese tea pot instead of a Japanese one. She never actually used it, and one day she gave it to me. I mostly drink Japanese tea, but every once in a while I like to try other things, and that's when teaware like this comes in handy.

I can see why these are among Ricardo's favorite tea ware! Each one is beautiful. Thank you for sharing them with us. My favorite from this subset of his collection is the yuzamashi. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing but I appreciate its practical purpose to cool water for infusing matcha and sencha. My kettle's lowest temperature setting is 175F so I usually pour water into a pitcher to cool it but a proper yuzamashi is more appealing than a pyrex measuring cup.

All photos and descriptions courtesy of Ricardo Caicedo.

May 19, 2017

Bana Tea Company Sweet Clarity Puerh

Image: Cover of Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (source)

Have you read the Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See? If you are looking for tea person's perspective on this book, read Nicole Martin's book review. I have. You should, too. Bana Tea Company has prepared a book club tea tasting kit and guide. I'm part of a book club specific to this book. We've only met once and during that session we drank Sweet Clarity Puerh Spring 2016. I did not take any photographs but I think you still should read this tea review.

The dry leaf is oh, so incredibly deeply sweet. I wrote that exactly in my notebook. I used 3 grams and infused it in 195F water. The first steep at 1 minute was sweet and fruity with a lingering tail note of butter and leather with a creamy mouthfeel also experienced on the lips. Smooth.

Infusion number two was 90 seconds long. The liquor was still sweet but the astringent green tea-ness raised its head. The third infusion of 2 minutes was more leather. We walked about food pairings at this point. I offered that this puerh would pair well with an upside down apricot cake (there is such a thing though I have not baked one yet). The puerh had a deep sweetness and apricot jamminess. A sweetness lingered in the back of the throat. We all noted that the tea was feminine, multilayered, complex.

One of the group said the liquor from the fourth infusion (also 2 minutes) smelled like creme brulee. There was also a rocky note; a mineral aspect to the tail note that stuck to my cheeks. The fruity sweetness was still there. This puerh stayed in character but revealed something new in each infusion. We wrapped up our first book club meeting after this infusion but I went on to drink three more cups of this tea. Keep reading.

The fifth infusion was soft and easy to drink. I drank it all before noticing that I hadn't taken any detailed notes. Infusion six smelled "so jammy!" The liquor had a mineral fragrance. The liquor tasted mostly sweet. My lower gums and cheeks were slightly numb during this infusion, pleasantly so. The seventh and final infusion yielded a straw yellow liquor that again was mostly sweet with a faint note of fruit. The last three infusions were made using 200F water. Steep times were 2 minutes, 3 minutes, and 5 minutes, respectively.

I am so thrilled that I have more of Bana's Sweet Clarity!

May 18, 2017

Chai Safari


Back in March when it was still definitely winter, I drank several teas from Chai Safari, specifically Spiced Tulsi Black, Classic Masala Chai, Golden Tips Black, and Handrolled Pearl Green. I'll start with the black teas which I drank separately from the green tea.


My favorite of three black teas was the Golden Tips Black. The dry leaves smelled sweet with notes of chocolate, dates, and tea leaf fuzz. The tea was whole leaf with lots of visible buds. The golden honey liquor also smelled of chocolate with a malt addition and had a light mouthfeel. Both the Classic Masala Chai and the Spiced Tulsi Black required milk to temper their liquors.


The pearled green tea was beautiful and smelled savory of broccoli and cabbage accompanied by a whisper of sweetness. This tea infused per instructions tasted like a Chinese style green tea, savory and nutty but I wanted more depth so I experimented with parameters. The recommended water temperature was 90-95C (195-203F) which to my mind seemed like it would be too hot for a green tea with lots of buds. When I prepared the tea as directed - 1.25t/2.5 grams, 200 mL (6 ounces), 3 minutes - the result wasn't bitter but it wasn't multilayered. (I used the 2.5 gram measure as 1.25t of this tea was more than the given gram weight.) My experiments did not yield good results, though. I used 8 ounces (slightly more than recommended) of 175F water and a 3 minute steep. The liquor was not enjoyable. I tried a gaiwan using 175F and 30 second infusions but the liquor was bitter though the gaiwan lid smelled wonderful, though, of stone fruit and grass. I recommend sticking to the vendor's steeping instructions.
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