Friday, July 24, 2009

Review: ITI's Assam Cabernet

During a recent visit to LA, I checked out Chado Tea Room in Pasadena. It was cute and fun, but what I'm here to talk about today is the TEA (more specifically, the "wine inspired" Assam Cabernet).

International Tea Importers (ITI) carry six new "wine inspired" teas. I avoid many "trend teas," but I bought Assam Cabernet and Golden Monkey Marsala on the recommendation of a staff person, and I'm glad that I did.

The Leaves

The leaves of Assam Cabernet are small and mostly black, with dark, cinnamon-colored pellets (which I can only assume are the wine flavor EDIT -- THESE ARE CINNAMON BITS.). They have an intense bouquet with notes of dark cherry compote, a big, round California Cabernet, tannins and lots of vanilla.

The Brew

The brew is a bright, coppery color. Its aroma is very full, with notes of stewed cherries, orange rind, malt and ground mace.

The Flavor

Given the bold aroma of this tea, the flavor is very mellow. It's less fruity and sweet than the smell, and is dominated by flavors characteristic of a malty, somewhat tannic second-flush Assam.

The Aftertaste

If the flavor description leaves you saying, "Meh," read on my friend. The lingering aftertaste gets exciting again with floral, fruity, vanilla and tannin flavors.

Had the aftertaste been mediocre, I would not have recommended this tea, but it pulled through and left me a fan. It's not my new favorite, but it's definitely worth checking out if you're interested in both tea and wine. Have you tried it? What do you think?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Article: Tea Time in a Hot Town

As many tea business owners will tell you, summer tends to be a slower time for U.S. tea sales. However, tea business owners in Phoenix are finding way to counter this trend. I talked with them about their tactics that beat the heat. Here are a few they shared:

* A focus on health, including organics, natural flavors, general benefits and
overall lifestyle
* Cooling Ayurvedic or Chinese medicinal blends
* European-style teashops
* Frozen tea treats, like slushes, smoothies, ice creams and gelatos
* Locations in artsy areas, or former coffee shops
* Modern, gender-neutral aesthetics
* Pairing tea with desserts and meals
* Partnerships with herbalists, caterers and other tea-related professionals
* Tea body products, like soaps and lotions
* Tea for rubs, marinades, smoking and other outdoorsy recipes
* Tea cocktails, mocktails and sodas
* Tropical and desert flavors, like passion fruit and prickly pear

Sources indicated that these kinds of tactics may work elsewhere, and shared other tea-in-hot-weather advice for World Tea News in my new article, Tea Time in a Hot Town. In a summer slump? Check it out!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Help Makaibari

I've posted this on Twitter and passed on the news to World Tea News (who did a story on it), but I wanted to post here as well. Darjeeling's Makaibari Tea Estate was hit by a cyclone recently, and there was quite a bit of destruction. IMHO, Makaibari is an incredible tea estate with honorable labor and environmental practices, and excellent teas. (Their Silver Green is phenomenal and their Second Flush Muscatel is one of the highest-priced auction teas in the world.) You can donate to help Makaibari through Eco Prima a wholesale tea company, the sole U.S. importer of Makaibari teas, owned by Anupa Mueller, the sister-in-law of Rajah (Makaibari's owner) and a wonderful person in her own right.

Edit -- I originally mistyped and called Anupa Rajah's sister. She is his sister-in-law. Also, I received the following update:

Anupa -- Makaibari was not the only garden to be hit. The entire sub-district got hit pretty bad. Makaibari is situated in the Kurseong Valley in the district of Darjeeling - the entire valley was affected. (I've provided Rajah's description below).

Rajah -- Castleton had heavy damages in their Dhargaon village. There is a huge landslide which has taken away a considerable portion of their tea. The landslide is so devastating that even today a month after the cyclone hit, the slide continues traumatising all in the vicinity with the sound of the slide. More so in the dead of night, as the sliding earth groans horrifically, like a wounded lion as it cascades downhill. The first few nights were sleepless. On top of Singell tea estate, a massive landslide buried a family. all members died. At Longview tea estate, a massive tree which was uprooted, trapped an adolescent girl for over a day, killing her, as none could extricate her. Goethals school, has lost their entire sports campus. Happy Valley lost a great deal of tea as well as a village near the factory, 6 people died on the spot. Goomtee tea estate suffered enormous damages in their villages- mercifully no deaths. Arya tea estate has lost tea and property damage. The list goes on and on. There were about 50 people who died in the cyclone in the district. The loss to property in the Kurseong subdistrict alone is around 6 million dollars and the sub-district is quite small.

Anupa -- This should give you some idea. And now with the monsoons there, rebuilding is a real problem. They will have to wait until after the rains to get permanent structures built. Thank you for all your efforts. Rajah tells me that his people are overwhelmed at the generosity of people thousands of miles away and have hope that they will come through because of it.

In answer to my question regarding why Makaibari is the only estate that seems to have support here in the states, Makaibari got the press because we (Eco Prima) are here devoted to its cause! Other gardens do not have personal representatives here necessarily and we live at Makaibari and have a market presence here in the U.S. I would not even know how to get relief to the other gardens and there is no district-specific effort that I'm aware of. It makes a difference when the owner lives on the estate and is personally aware of all the grief and damage - it brings it to the forefront and you are more motivated to get attention to it - that's the difference.

(Lindsey -- And because I asked World Tea News to cover it. :) No, really, Anupa has been a much bigger supporter than I. She is very devoted to Makaibari.)

Anupa -- BTW, I concur and would add that Rajah is such a dynamic force that all of Makaibari's devoted fans know of him and his unique compassion for the land and the people of Darjeeling, so there is a human connection to the estate, not JUST the great tea.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tea Punch

If you like a little more than sugar and milk in your tea (nudge, nudge), check out my new Samovar blog post on tea punches. Excerpt:

Tea and punch have a long history together. Some say punch originated in India, where it was made from five key ingredients. (In Hindi, the word for five is “panch.” Many think this is where the word “punch” originated.)

These five key ingredients were: lemon or lime juice, sugar, water, liquor and vaguely defined “spice,” which could mean something we currently think of as “spice” (like nutmeg), something we would probably shun today (like a whale secretion that’s only used is perfume these days) or (yes, yes) tea.

As punch recipes spread across Europe in the 1600s, they evolved. Mixtures of multiple citrus juices and liquors were employed, and green tea and champagne widely replaced water as a core ingredient.

These innovations became much of the groundwork of the art of mixology, which is (gladly) enjoying a revival in San Francisco and other major U.S. cities right now.

Read more on Samovar's tea blog, and happy sipping!