January 17, 2019

How to Drink Darjeeling Tea

There is no one answer to the question of how to drink Darjeeling tea. I have drunk many Darjeeling teas some of which I have reviewed on this blog. I have prepared Darjeeling teas using a cupping set, in a teapot/Western style, and with a gaiwan. I prefer to drink Darjeeling that's been cupped, i.e. prepared in a cupping set.


Before I dive into the teaware, here's what is Darjeeling in three sentences. Darjeeling teas are produced mostly from Camellia sinensis var. sinensis plants grown in Darjeeling region of India. The word Darjeeling translates to "queen of the hills" and Darjeeling the tea is known as the "champagne of teas." By the way, Darjeeling teas were the first Indian product to receive the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (Geographic Indication of Goods) designation.

Steeping Darjeeling in a professional cupping set yields the perfect (small) cup of tea. (I drink mine without milk.) There's a historical connection between the cupping set and Darjeeling. The professional cupping set was developed to evaluate Indian (and Sri Lankan) teas. Tea heads will tell you that the gaiwan (and gongfu method) is the way to prepare loose leaf tea. This is hard dispute in the case of Chinese and Taiwanese oolongs and puerhs. But the cupping set works better for Indian teas. If you have both a cupping set and a gaiwan, pause here and place them side-by-side. See a resemblance? The professional cupping was inspired by the gaiwan! (I didn't know this until I took the ITEI tea sommelier course.) In the same way that the gongfu method with gaiwan of small volume, heavy leaf, and short infusions highlights the transformation in oolongs and puerhs, the cupping process of small volume, light leaf, and long infusion plays to the best of a Darjeeling and other Indian black teas.


Like a gaiwan, the cupping set is challenging on the pour. This is wear the lid can slip and the liquor and leaves spill. The cup handle does give it a leg up on the gaiwan and the thick porcelain of the cupping set doesn't transmit heat as quickly.

Related - Cupping Smith Teamaker's 1st Flush Darjeeling Tumsong

Step-by-step guide to cupping

Weigh 2 grams (or your choice) of tea and add it to the infusion cup.

Pour hot water in a swirling motion into the cup until it brims then cover with the lid.

Infuse the leaves for 3 minutes (or to your preferred time).

To pour, hold the bowl in your hand and tip it 90 degrees. Fit the lidded cup into the bowl then flip the bowl 90 degree counter clockwise and set it down. Or, you could pour the liquor directly from the lidded cup into the bowl as you would a gaiwan or teapot. Either way, drain completely. Flip over the cup to dislodge the leaves so they fall onto the lid.

Smell the infused leaves, then place the lid upside down on the infusion cup to display them, if you like.

Smell the liquor.

Sip, or more accurately slurp, the liquor with a spoon or directly from the bowl.

Drink as you wish.

There are various ratios for leaf:water:steep time. The key is to be consistent. As you prepare tea in a cupping set, you'll figure out if your preference for these variables especially the first and third ones. The typical cupping set includes a cup with a 4-ounce capacity in addition to a lid and a drinking bowl. I like to use 2 grams of tea and infuse for 3 minutes. You can resteep your leaves 1-2 times more adding 30 seconds each time. I use 200-212F for second flush Darjeelings and 195-200F for first flushes. More on the Darjeeling harvests below.

Tea Flushes in Darjeeling

After numerous enjoyable cups of Darjeeling teas, my preference, for now, is Darjeeling Second Flush.There are four harvest per year of tea in Darjeeling. The first flush is in the spring, February to April approximately, and is fairly limited in production. The liquor is light colored and bodies with smell and taste of vegetables, almond, flowers, and fruit. The second flush or summer harvest of May to June is much higher volume production wise. The liquor is dark and copper colored. The tea is malty, woody, fruity, full bodied, and astringent. I don't have much experience with the the fourth (autumn) flush and even less with the third (monsoon) flush. The latter is supposedly woody and spicy with forward ripe fruit and a full body. 

While I've used my cupping sets for comparative tastings as the cupping set was designed to be used, I've also used a set to prepare a Darjeeling to enjoy on its own terms. And without milk! Let me know how you drink your Darjeelings.

In closing, I'd like to give a shout-out to the International Tea Education Institute (ITEI) Tea Sommelier course I completed. I learned so much. You can use the NOTESONTEA10 discount code if you'd like to take a course with ITEI.

January 10, 2019

Matcha Recipes by the Book

I drink matcha regularly. I drink it at home and at cafes. My homestyle matcha is usucha or thin matcha. My go-to cafe matcha is a matcha latte. When I've branched out at home it to test matcha recipes from tea cookbooks. I  have reviewed four green tea and matcha cookbooks on the blog. The reviews include a recipe or two so it's worth reading each one.

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

Matcha - The Cookbook by Gretha Scholtz

My second favorite of the green tea cookbooks I've reviewed is Matcha - The Cookbook. I love the aesthetics of the book. The recipes are good, too. I am tempted to make again the Superfood Matcha White Chocolate Bark. I've got matcha, white chocolate, and dried fruit in my pantry.

The Matcha Miracle by Dr. Mariza Snyder, Dr. Lauren Clum, and Anna V. Zulaica

If you are looking for simple matcha recipes, then The Matcha Miracle is a good option. Of the recipes I tested, my family's favorite were the Dark Chocolate Matcha Truffles. Even if you've never made truffles before, this is a no-fail recipe. Check out the recipe is in the review.

The Healthy Matcha Cookbook by Miryam Quinn-Doblas

The Healthy Matcha Cookbook by Miryam Quinn-Doblas

My favorite of the matcha cookbooks I've reviewed is The Healthy Matcha Cookbook. I had been following Miryam's Instagram feed long before her cookbook was published. The photographs of her delicious recipes are beautiful.

New Tastes in Green Tea by Mutsuko Tokunaga

The recipes in this cookbook use sencha, gyokuro, and matcha. However most of the recipes in New Tastes in Green Tea are matcha-based. I can recommend the Matcha Coconut Drink!

Share your favorite tea cookbooks and matcha recipes in the comments.

January 02, 2019

Afternoon Tea in Washington DC

Afternoon tea in Washington DC is one of the best things about the city. I went to three afternoon teas there* and recommend them all.

Peacock Alley Tea at the Willard InterContinental

A grand yet intimate space in the 200-year old Willard InterContinental. Special touches like name plates, even at our table for two, were appreciated on this mother-daughter date.

Washington National Cathedral

Get ready to awed by the absolutely majestic Washington National Cathedral. A tour of the building precedes the light afternoon tea service in the Pilgrim Observation Gallery.

The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City

The staff at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City were incredibly accommodating. The decor and location aren't stellar but the food is on point.

If you're looking for a teahouse experience, check out my review of the Ching Ching Cha in Georgetown.

I'd love to hear your Washington DC or Northern Virginia afternoon tea recommendations!

*Technically, the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City is in Virginia.

December 06, 2018

Books that Inspired Tea Book Authors with Jane Pettigrew

The new book review series brings you the books that have influenced some of my favorite tea book authors. Jane Pettigrew is today's guest. Jane is the award-wining author of 17 books about tea. Her most recent book is World of Tea.

Jane Pettigrew's lastest book, World of Tea, is aptly named. I dare you find a more comprehensive resource about the current state of tea. One of the wonderful aspects of World of Tea is the breadth of coverage of tea cultivation. In 434 pages she writes about every country on each continent that produces tea. Almost half of those pages are devoted to Asia which makes sense; China, India, Japan, and Taiwan are tea meccas. There are 17 states in the U.S. producing tea. I hear a lot about Kenyan tea but there are 19 other countries producing tea in Africa. Tea is even produced in Oceania -- Papua New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand. Jane Pettigrew also makes the basics of tea interesting. Her chapter on origin and terroir, species and cultivars, and harvesting and processing is not a regurgitation of information you've read elsewhere. She presents new details about these subjects. Also, the graphics and photographs describing tea processing provide a fresh perspective.

Here are three of the books that have influenced the career of Jane Pettigrew, a well-regarded authority on tea.

All About Tea by William H. Ukers

This two-volume work was one of the first books I came across at The British Library in London when I started researching the history of tea. William Ukers investigated and documented every possible aspect of tea - history, cultivation, processing, ceremonies, tea businesses and tearooms, tea politics, tea regions, and so much more. I was fascinated at the breadth and depth of his writing and of the subject and the more I read, the more I was drawn in.

The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo
A friend gave me a copy of this book in 1988 and I have treasured it ever since. This is the book that captures people's souls and spiritual understanding of the importance of tea in our everyday lives. It is the true tea bible that keeps us on the right path and reminds us constantly of the need for tea in our lives. Anyone who cares about tea should carry this book with them through life.

Tea For The British by Denys Forrest
I discovered this book during my first explorations into tea history at The British Library and found so many references to British history and tea's importance in London, my home town, that I simply had to obtain a copy for myself. That book has been on the shelves of my study since 1985 and I still dip into it from time to time to check a date, a place, or an event that shaped our tea history. Mr Forrest's work led me from an understanding of the British tea story to a desire and need to know more about the tea history of other nations. And I'm still learning.

I am a fan of the botanical illustrations on the cover of Ukers's All About Tea. This book in particular looks like a gem. Thank you Jane for sharing these influential books with us. Share the books that have influenced your journey as a tea drinker, blogger, or book author.

This blog post contains an Amazon affiliate links and images.

November 30, 2018

Blind Tea Tasting with Story of My Tea

Story of My Tea's Blind Tea Tasting pack is billed as "a guessing game for your sense of flavor." The company ran a successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year. I got in on the action with a courtesy box. How well did I do in this tea tasting game?

Each pack includes 4 blind pouches, reveal cards, a tasting wheel, and tea filters. My blind teas were 6009, 6016, 6017, and 6023. By sight and taste, I knew the types of three of the four teas. Teas 6009 and 6023 were black teas. I knew that 6009 was a Darjeeling; it's full name is Organic Darjeeling Sungma SFTGFOP I. I noted that black tea 6023 was not Chinese or Indian (Darjeeling). I noted that it tasted like a Sri Lankan tea. It is St Clair Black, a high-mountain Sri Lankan tea.

The pouches for teas 6016 and 6017 were mislabeled. I knew that the pouch labeled 6016 contained a rolled oolong. It tasted like a milky oolong. The tea in pouch 6106 was actually tea 6017, a Chinese milky oolong processed by steaming the leaves in milk. The tea in the pouch labeled 6017 was a string-style tea. The tea in pouch 6017 was actually tea 6016 is a strip-style oolong, a brandy oolong specifically made from Camellia sinensis assamica.

Here are my blind tasting notes for the four teas in my pack. I should note that I didn't totally figure out the mislabeling until after I had a session or two with the teas for which I used preparation parameters that were probably not ideal for the two oolongs. The information reported below reflects the correct parameters for the two oolongs.

Tea 6023 St Clair Black
  • 1 teaspoon, 8 ounces, 200F water, 5 minutes
  • Light, bright cup of tea without any dark notes

Tea 6017 Milky Oolong
  • 1 teaspoons, 8 ounces, 175F water, 3 minutes
  • Rolled leaves smelled scented like cake batter
  • Liquor was flavored

Tea 6009 Organic Darjeeling Sungma SFTGFOP I
  • 1 teaspoon, 8 ounces, 212F water, 3 minutes
  • Hairy, musky leaves
  • Herbaceous, light muscatel liquor with woody tail note

Tea 6016 Brandy Oolong
  • 1.5 teaspoons, 8 ounces, 195F water, 5 minutes
  • Almost vermillion liquor was light bodied with a red fruit note

The Takeaway
Although I now have my Tea Sommelier certification, I am not a tea master. I did not recognize the strip-style tea as an oolong. My favorite of the teas was the Darjeeling. All of the tea experiences would benefit from a higher leaf to water ratio. My least favorite of the teas was the flavored Chinese Milky Oolong. If you haven't already, try a Taiwanese milk oolong made from the Jin Xuan cultivar.

Blind Tea Tasting pack provided by Story of My Tea.
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