Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wonderful White Tea Surprise

I found myself stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. I could go to one of the local diners, which almost certainly would have only a bland orange pekoe in a bag and perhaps one or two herbal selections that had sat on the shelf for the past six months. Or, I could patronize that behemoth coffee company in the hope of a tea bag with at least something a little better in it. To paraphrase the American poet laureate, I chose the latter and it made all the difference.

The Tazo Teas stocked by Starbucks are usually passable without being memorable. Green Tea is not one of my favorite varietals to begin with, notwithstanding the health benefits it brings to the cup, but the Tazo Green Tea does not stand out as either superior or less than the others. So it was with some ease that I selected a Tea other than the green or an herbal infusion of questionable pedigree.

The moment I opened the envelope containing the bag of Berryblossom White the aroma drew me in. I couldn't wait to taste the Tea it would produce and continually nosed the cup as it steeped in the not quite hot enough water. Tazo has brought together a unique blend of White Tea and blueberry and white cranberry flavors. The blueberry takes the forefront and frankly made it difficult for me to make out the cranberry, but that was fine with me. I cannot imagine that a cranberry flavor competing with the blueberry would be an improvement on this cup.

White Tea is always a treat. The carefully selected young leaves and berries are delicately processed and produce a delicately flavored brew. Unfortunately many of the nuances of the White are not present or are overshadowed in the Berryblossom White. Contrastly, I would readily admit that it would not be as good of a drink if made with Black or, worse yet, Green Tea.

Drinking the Tazo Berryblossom is like enjoying a fine tea with a slender slice of Mum's blueberry pie. The nose boasts pleasant blueberry which swirls together with the blended taste of the Tea and blueberry flavor. I most enjoy the aroma and taste of the Tea itself, without interference from flavorings, herbs and other infusions. But the Tazo Berryblossom provides the perfect excuse for granting an exception to that rule in order to enjoy a unique flavored Tea experience.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Gifts of Tea and TV

I have been the fortunate recipient of several gifts during the past week. Mum always said, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." But, then again, she never had Yogi Tea's "Breathe Deep."

A friend of mine bestowed three bags of "Breathe Deep" on me, but now I wonder if it was because she couldn't drink it either. To be fair, even Yogi Tea doesn't claim this is Tea -- although the use of "Tea" in the firm name may create that impression. The fine print notes that it is an "herbal supplement" and caffeine free -- two sound indications that the stuff ground up in the bag isn't really Tea but an infusion of leaves and twigs -- quite literally. In fact, it's just about everything except Tea. There's some roots -- licorice, ginger, elecampane; some leaves -- eucalyptus, basil, thyme, peppermint, mullein; bark (cinnamon), cardamon seeds and licorice flavor.

The astute reader will notice that licorice made the list twice, but a drinker of "Breathe Deep" could not be convinced that licorice is in there less than three score to one as to any other ingredient. I would suggest to the Yogis that they save money by eliminating all of the ingredients other than licorice which are hardly perceptible over the anise. like licorice. But this has the distinction of being the first cup of hot infusion or Tea that I couldn't finish because that flavor was so overpowering. And the fact that it is all organic doesn't resurrect this infusion. In fact, this was so awful that I can't wait to try Yogi Tea's other products which stand to be far preferable.

Fear not. I was gracious in accepting the gift and reciprocated by sending my friend a fine black tea infusion.

For the sake of full disclosure, this black tea infusion was also a gift. This one came from a friend across the pond that found it in a retail shop called Teavana. Tea encourages the mystical naming, I suppose, like this variation on Nirvana and terms like Yogi. This was the shop's Raspberry Black Tea and it was quite exquisite. The raspberry flavor was perfectly balanced with a quality black tea. My only complaint, albeit a minor one, is that it took quite a bit of product to steep to adequate strength. I look forward to more of this Tea.

I was also able to enjoy the Raspberry Black with yet another gift, this one from a fellow blogger, Mr. Tapscott. He provided me with a dvd of the latest show from Mr. Derren Brown, mentalist extraordinaire, titled, "The System". Visit Mr. Tapscott's blog,, but beware the spoiler for the main trick -- Mr. Brown convincing a single mother working two jobs to wager 4000 pounds on his horseracing system. In addition to that main event, Mr. Brown performs several other feats of cunning which still baffle me. Mr. Brown is one of the two or three finest magician/mentalists around. The hour I spent watching The System, while enjoying the Raspberry Black from the States, infused me with a lasting Tea memory.

All this talk of Tea has created a stirring in me to sample more of my dwindling supply of Raspberry Black. Must go and put the kettle on.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Open Yourself To Broad Tea Experiences

I never stray too far from Earl Grey. As I write this, I have the cup in front of me and the mixed smell of black tea and bergamot oil is unmistakable and inviting. To be sure there are a multitude of different Teas, blends, adjuncts and other infusions, but it is that gift to Lord Charles Grey nearly two hundred years ago that I always return to and think of first when I think of "Tea."

It is both hard work and immensely more pleasurable to avoid becoming a Tea snob. When the love of something becomes very strong I think it only human nature to want that object in its purest state and at its highest quality. Thus, wine snobs hold disdain for blends and seek the very best varietals. So it can be with Tea. But snobbery lays a trap that serves to deprive the enthusiast of vast enjoyments. Limiting one's Tea experiences to varietals, and eschewing adjuncts, severely limits the Tea lover's sensory experiences. Indeed, even Earl Grey would not be available to a varietal-limited drinker, since the adjunct that gives it distinction - oil of bergamot - would offend.

Similarly, limiting your drink to only the finest Teas will cause many great experiences to be missed while waiting for the pinnacle. That is not to say that I do not strive for the highest quality Tea available -- I do. As an example, though, I strongly favor infused loose Tea to a dunked bag due both to the infusion method and quality of the Tea (more thoughts on this in future posts). But I do not reject the opportunity for a calming Tea while passing through an airport even if it is bundled in a stapled bag and steeped in a paper cup by a chain beverage retailer. The experience easily bests going without my beverage altogether.

There are few times in one's life that are not bettered by a cup of Tea. Though my favorite has always been and remains during the last couple of hours before retiring to bed. I am one of the fortunate whose sleep is sound and goes uninterrupted by the invigorating effects of caffeine. For those less fortunate herbal alternatives become a necessary compromise. A fine pot of Earl Grey, or my ad hoc blend of Teas from the cupboard, with a few biscuits (never underestimate the contribution of the biscuit), can soothe the day's worst malady, unburden my mind and loosen the tightness that has creeped down my neck and across my shoulders. Tea provides a placid background for more philosophical contemplations without the noise of routine daily events.

Some may feel that I have extolled the virtues of Tea too strongly. Those are the readers that have found these pages in error. The true enthusiast will recognize the qualities that I have described and the enjoyment that Tea brings to them. To those I say "Welcome, I am glad we have found each other. I look forward to our conversations to come about Tea (and biscuits).