Monday, February 28, 2011

Slow Food tea-tasting

I was lucky enough to hold a tea-tasting last week, with the sponsorship and support of Slow Food Tufts. The turnout was a bit low, but this has a lot to do with the date chosen, President's Day, when a lot of people are gone for the weekend. Still, the company was lovely and we had some great teas!

Preparing for the event, I headed down to the Tea Zone at 15 Elm Street, Somerville, where I was amazed by the selection of teas. After careful browsing, I finally purchased 2 oz. of peach white, 2 oz. of Milima estate black, 2 oz. of cream Earl Grey, and 1 oz. of gyokuro green. The guy behind the counter was really nice, and I was unhappy to notice a "for lease" sign on the front window as I walked out.

I then went to the supermarket and got ingredients, out of which I made blueberry muffins and new-to-me cucumber sandwiches, which were just those little pumpernickel cocktail breads, with chive cream cheese and cucumber slices on top. Recipes for those vary somewhat; this was my own variation.

In attendance was Elana Brochin who brought with her a minty "tisane" (or herbal tea), Isaac Anderson (engineering grad student) who brought his delicious homemade chai latte, Catherine Owens who brought a smorgasbord of teas from her travels in Bolivia as well as some deluxe jasmine green tea, and Becca Weaver who dashed over from a flurry of meetings to join us.

We started with the gyokuro green, a premium Japanese tea that called for just two minutes of steeping with comparatively cool, 140 degree F water. This produced a very light brew with a surprisingly rich, earthy flavor. Next was the jasmine green tea that Catherine brought with her, which, simply upon opening the tin in which the tea came, elicited oo's and sighs from everyone around the table. The jasmine was indeed very strong in that pot and left my apartment with a pleasant after-smell, which was complemented well by the next pot we brewed, the peppermint-clove tisane brought by Elana. We made the collective decision that an herbal, non-caffeinated tea would be good for our next round, and it was a good choice, with the herbs opening up our throats and tasting like a summer garden.

It was at this point that Elana had to leave our company and we were sad to see her go. After that, our tea-time looked more like this:At this point, we made the decision to get into the teas of which I'm particularly fond: the black teas. Most commonly, these are your Liptons and Tetleys, etc. However, I had purchased the Milima estate black earlier and was raring to give it a try. Kenyan teas are generally of the Assam variety (generally what is used to make Irish breakfast teas), making very strong, dark brews. Unfortunately, I simply overdid the steeping time while my favorite teapot's spout became clogged. As a result, this was our least successful pot, becoming bitter with tannins, though it made an excellent case for the value of milk or cream in darker black teas.

Around this time, we all start getting both a bit giggly from caffeine and a bit groggy from two hours of tea-drinking, but we pressed on to one of my favorite teas, and probably my very favorite flavored tea: cream Earl Grey. Tealuxe sells this as Creme de la Earl Grey, but they are made the same way, by adding vanilla oil to Earl Grey tea, which is usually black tea with bergamot (a kind of citrus) oil on it. The result is a truly creamy taste (including the texture which is very slightly oily due to the added flavors), and Becca noted aptly its similarity to yellow birthday cake.

Though that sounded like dessert, we decided at that point that our tea-tasting needed to wind down, as we all noted emerging hiccups and general fa-tea-gue. It was time for one more treat: Isaac's homemade chai latte. Boxed Oregon Chai is simply no replacement for authentic chai latte, but even less so for it being freshly made and brought to your home in a glass jar. As we finished, we all breathed a sigh of relief, and also gradually realized that three hours had passed, with us simply sitting in one place, enjoying novel flavors and each other's company without noticing President's Day slowly passing us by. Numerous cucumber sandwiches, almost a whole pan of muffins, and five pots of tea plus a jar of chai latte later, my friends went home with some extra of their favorite new discoveries in tow and the feeling of freshness and subtle elation that tea delivers. I very sincerely hope that we can do this again soon.

Thanks to Slow Food Tufts for your sponsorship of this event!

-Jeff Hake

1 comment:

  1. As Jeff conveyed, it was a feast for the senses! And of course, it helped that we were in no rush to take it all in :) -Isaac