Saturday, 28 February 2015

Northern Tea Merchants: Fine Cut Cuban Peppermint Leaves

 (Unwinding this evening with a nice cup of Fine Cut Cuban Peppermint Leaves)

I do have quite an important announcement to make. And it's one I never thought I'd find myself writing. The big news is ... Laura is now a drinker of peppermint tea. Yes, I never thought it would happen and I guess those of you who read regularly probably would feel the same too! 

These past couple of days I was lucky enough to visit Northern Tea Merchants for a tea tasting (I will be writing more on this later!) and one of the tea's I tried was this refreshing, relaxing and utterly pleasant peppermint tea.

Throughout the tasting process I had explained to James Pogson, who was hosting the tea tasting, that I didn't like peppermint tea. Absolutely hated the stuff. But, with any tea, I'm willing to at least try it. And oh my, am I glad I did.

The problem I have with so many supermarket mint tea's is that they don't taste quite right. For me it's like drinking hot water infused with Wrigleys finest mint chewing gum. Or a melted down Extra Strong Mint. Rather then settle my stomach, they tend to upset it, leaving me feeling nauseous, with a strange "heavy" feeling in my stomach. Not a pleasant experience at all. And I suppose that is why I've avoided mint tea for years. 

Now, I will repeat the mantra that I've mentioned on here quite often lately. Quality, quality, quality. It's as simple as that. And in this case, it has meant the difference from me really enjoying the tea rather then walking away still disliking the stuff!

So, the blend I've tried is Fine Cut Cuban Peppermint Leaves. As the name suggest the leaves are cut extremely finely. As you can see in the photograph above some of them have slightly leaked from the infuser, however, this was not a problem at all and didn't distract from the enjoyment of the tea.

The leaves are a glorious green colour and are extremely attractive to look at, but what strikes me most about this tea is the aroma whenever I take the caddy lid off. It's gorgeously minty, present but not overpoweringly strong, and enticing. 

I put a rather generous, (perhaps a little bit too generous as I experienced some difficulty in placing the lid on the infuser, but hey ho you only live once!) into my trusty Yellow Submarine infuser, poured overly freshly boiled water and stood and waited for the tea to infuse.

The aroma of the gorgeous mint tea filled the kitchen. I had to pop into the living room to say hello to a visitor. Upon stepping back into the kitchen I could really smell the infusion, almost as if I had just cut the mint myself. 

Taking the tea up to bed and settling down to watch the television I took my first sip and loved it as much as I did at the tea tasting. 

What I love about this blend is the fact that although it's a mint tea, it's not overpowering. It's refreshing enough to enjoy without being so strong that it becomes undrinkable. It's mellow and gentle, but at the same time deeply tasty and almost addictive. 

Though this tea is sparky and makes an impression, it's lovely to take to unwind at the end of the day, too. I find this tea as relaxing as any lavender based blend that is often used for those end of the day drinks. And this blend is also caffeine free too, so it won't cause you any problems with sleeping. 

A little fact that I found interesting is that Cuban peppermint is said to contain more peppermint oil in it's leaves then any other type of mint!

This peppermint tea  stand's head, shoulders, (and pretty much everything else) above anything you will purchase in the supermarket. 

It lacks that strange oily element that some mint tea's can contain. When you drink this you feel like you are drinking something completely natural, healthy, and good for you. 

I have just finished another mug after a hectic day and I feel completely relaxed and comfy. It's almost like it's easing you to sleep with it's comforting charms. 

So, now I can stand up and say "I'm Laura, I love mint tea". And I'm proud of it!


Saturday, 21 February 2015

Bluebird Tea: Earl's Paradise

I will admit that this is a rather belated tea review. I had purchased Bluebird Tea Co. Earl's Paradise a few day's before Christmas when I received an email saying if I were to order that day they could guarantee delivery before the big day. Deciding that I'd like some new tea's to enjoy over the Christmas period I purchased Earl's Paradise along with the fun and fruity Strawberry Lemonade and the sharp and snazzy Lemon Sherbert Green Tea.

My tea cupboard in the kitchen is something akin to the wardrobe in the Narnia novels. It's larger then it looks on the outside and once you step in you can go on several different and amazing adventures. But, things can get lost so I had quite forgotten about this till I found it in the back of the cupboard and decided to use up what was left in the packet.

Earl's Paradise is a trendy take on the Earl Grey. Along with the traditional bergamot flavouring you also have lime, jasmine, strawberry and papaya. It's base tea is a black Ceylon.

So, I filled up the tea maker basket and brewed it for the recommended four minutes.

There is absolutely no denying that this is a busy tea. There are a lot of things going on from the papaya and strawberry to the lime and bergamot. It's bursting full with flavours but is that such a good thing?

As I explained yesterday when I reviewed Twining's Plummy Earl Grey I love Earl Grey but I'm not such a traditionalist that I dislike the various spin's on the classic tea. I love trying any Earl Grey blends so I suppose this is why I was drawn to this tea when browsing Bluebird's site in the run up to Christmas.

The tea is a gorgeous tea to look at. It's dark colour is complimented by a burst of red strawberry pieces and tan coloured papaya chunks.

Earl's Paradise also smells devine.

Upon tasting the tea I was somewhat thrown back by the general hub bub of the tea. The various flavour's all tend to dance around in my mouth at once and at times it's hard to pinpoint each of the flavours.

However, this is a nice tea. If you use the exact amount advised on the package and brew it for no longer then four minutes (longer and this tea has the capacity to go bitter and astringent) you will have a tasty and enjoyable cup of tea.

The tea brews to a lovely golden colour.

The flavour I picked up mostly was the strawberry. It's very prominent and holds it's own against the myriad of different flavours that are enclosed in this tea. I was disappointed that I couldn't pick up the papaya though - I feel that would of been a lovely twist to have tasted. However, what one person can pick up another person won't identify, so you possibly will experience a totally different cup of tea, taste wise, to that which I have experienced.

Lime, which is also featured in the tea, gives the tea a gentle kick as a afterbite. It took me ages to work out what it was, then noticing on the website that it included lime soon realised what the zingy element was.

I was left in two minds when it came to Earl's Paradise. I liked it a lot, it was pleasant, fruity and is completely different to the citrus tones that Earl Grey is famous for. However, I also feel that there is a slight overkill in the ingredients. I would of loved to have had the simple Earl Grey with just the strawberry and papaya added so that I could truly experience those fruits. The addition of the lime and jasmine was perhaps a little bit too much.

This tea is perfect for the Earl Grey lovers out there who also enjoy fruit based tea's.

It's a light and refreshing tea and perfect for summer days. It would be brilliant to serve up with salad's and light meal's. The aroma is also extremely inviting.

I think Bluebird have done really well giving their customers their own take on Earl Grey.  It's certainly a exciting and interesting blend.

So, do I like it? Yes, I do. But I do think it could do with trimming back on one or two of the additional flavours so that the papaya and strawberry can really shine.

What I think is interesting and why Bluebird is appealing to so many people that I know is that they are willing to be adventurous and exciting with their flavour combinations. You can certainly say their blends are far from boring.

I'm also glad to have had the chance to try this tea. It certainly one that will leave an impression!

Northern Tea Merchants: Russian Caravan

(Russian Caravan housed in the Royal Wedding Caddy - a caddy reserved for extra special tea's).

Today I was walking around my local branch of Tesco's and it was somewhat indicative of how much tea has become part of my life when I realised that I had two tea's from Northern Tea Merchants that I had yet to try and I felt truly overjoyed.

Tea flow's through my veins as much as blood does. Not only has it become a stable and comforting element in my life but is almost a part of myself as much as my sense of humour or my strongly rooted ethics and morals.

With the mere thought of tea bringing me much happiness you can imagine what I'm like when new tea's drop through the letterbox!

This week the lovely postman brought me my Northern Tea Merchant orders. Included in the order is this really wonderful Russian Caravan blend.

Russian Caravan, despite it's interesting and rather wonderful name, isn't a Russian tea! It's name comes from the caravan's that were used to transport the tea from China to Europe. The tea travelled through Russia on it's journey.

The tea comprises of a Chinese black tea and oolong tea. As always I took this tea black and seeped the tea for around four minutes. Due to my tea maker having options for both black tea's and oolong tea I decided to play it safe and use my yellow submarine infuser instead!

The tea is stunning to look at. It brews to a reddish, coppery colour.

Russian Caravan is one of those tea's that make's me so happy that I take tea black. Without milk masking the depth of tea you can gain a wonderful insight into the tea and how the blends work. I have been drinking a fair amount of flavoured black tea's recently, so it's nice to get back to tea in it's purest state.

This blend is a tea of substance but without the malty, sometimes overpowering taste that you can get with an Assam or English Breakfast blend. Recently, I've tried Northern Tea's gorgeous Yunnan which is a powerful and extremely robust tea. Russian Caravan is just as enjoyable, but is milder.

There is a delicateness to this tea, but no way does this mean it's weak. It's very reminiscent of Northern Tea's Keemun.

The previous Russian Caravan that I have tried also contained Lapsang Souchong therefore making the blend very smoky. Northern Tea does not add Laspsang to their blend giving it a more delicate flavour. Personally, I feel, when Lapsang is added it can overpower other flavours so it's nice to take it without.

Russian Caravan is smooth and mellow and has a very subtle sweetness to it which I found to be extremely enjoyable. As always with Northern Tea there is  no doubt that the tea is the best quality possible which makes it a tasty evenly balanced drink.
I have infused the leaves three times. (I add two teaspoons into the infuser). The second infusion was just as good as the first, albeit slightly sweeter in my opinion, though that could just be my sense of taste. The third infusion is much weaker but still enjoyable, but to get the best out of the blend I would recommend no more then two infusions with this blend.

As I mentioned earlier, recently I've been incredibly lucky to try lots of Northern Merchants tea's. From the impression making Yunnan, to the scrummy delight of Chocolate Tea. And the fruity delights of their apple and strawberry tea's and the wonderfully ladylike Rose Congou tea. And honestly, they are my go to company for black tea in particular. The quality of the tea is second to none for high quality yet affordable black tea.

I'm so glad that I opted to purchase their Russian Caravan blend. I enjoyed it immensely and it made a huge difference from the flavoured tea's that I've been enjoying recently. It is certainly a blend that I will be purchasing on a regular basis.

So, if you're popping into Northern Tea Merchants in Chesterfield, or, if you are purchasing online do add some Russian Caravan to your basket. You won't regret it.

It is a little bit of magic in a mug.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Twinings: Plummy Earl Grey

As most readers will know, I'm a sucker for Earl Grey. And, I will admit,  I find it extremely hard to walk past a tea shelf that has a new Earl Grey that I've not tried and not get some to sample.

I love all the variations of Earl Grey, too. For instance I love Lady Grey, Earl Grey with fruits added to it .... pretty much any Earl Grey.

Yesterday I went on a tea purchasing expedition. I have heard that Tesco's were selling lots of new brands and blends and I couldn't resist popping down and seeing what was on offer. The shelves were groaning under the weight of all manner of exotic and rather more "out there" blends (more of that to come over the next few days ...). Quite frankly, when it comes to supermarket tea, I have not seen so much choice in a long time. And it was quite overwhelming if I'm totally honest.

Twinings Plummy Earl Grey was a blend that I had heard complimented from many different sources. And I had had my eye on it for quite some time. Plum was not a flavour of tea I had experienced often, if at all, so I found it quite interesting a tea to try.

I will admit that the price of tea is prohibitive. It's not something that I would be able to afford to buy on a regular basis. It's priced at £3.49 for just twelve teabags. If you purchase it in loose form you get 100g's for £8.00. So, it will be a tea treat rather then a regular tea in the cupboard. Of course it's worth paying for a tea if you like it, but I will admit I find it a bit steep for just twelve teabags.

It is, however, a lovely tea. I was really impressed by the gorgeous, fruity scent and it is a scent that is appealing as soon as you open the packet. The packet, incidentally, is quite handy as it's resealable so if you don't have a free caddy the tea will keep fresh.

Plummy Earl Grey is a black tea that has plum flavouring and the addition of star anise and bergamot.

When brewed it makes a lovely, dark ebony colour. The instructions on the packet say to brew for 3 to 5 minutes. I found midway, 4 minutes, is about right. A tip though, do not oversteep as it can quickly take on bitter tones.

The plum flavour is extremely rich and is a very different, fruity spin on this traditional tea. And it does make a very pleasant change from the traditional citrus tones that Earl Grey normally has.

Due to the plum flavour it has a deep, robust and full flavour. I think plum works wonderfully well with black tea as I'd love to see more of it. Plum and tea go surprisingly well together, and it's really a lovely match.

Just beyond the plum, you can still taste the citrusy tones of the bergamot but it's a flavour that slightly hangs back as if letting the plum flavour have it's day. So though this is a modern twist it still retains it's traditional bergamot roots.

Surprisingly I found it hard to taste the star anise though, so on that aspect of the tea I can't really comment.

Plummy Earl Grey leaves your mouth feeling lovely and refreshed and has a subtle fruity aftertaste too.

I really enjoyed this tea. And I hope this isn't going to be one of those blends that disappear after a while.

If you love Earl Grey in any of the configurations that it can come in, I think you'll really love this. It's quite different for a Earl Grey but enjoyable none the less. It would go perfectly with a piece of heavy fruit cake, like a Christmas or wedding cake. 

You can take this tea with milk but honestly, it's so plentiful with it's flavouring that drinking it black (in my opinion) is the only way to do it justice. I believe you won't enjoy the depth of flavour if masked with milk - but I do understand that many readers may not be able to take their tea black, it's an acquired taste!

I hope that Plummy Earl Grey stays around for a while. It's enjoyable, refreshing and a delightful addition to the Earl Grey family.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Northern Tea Merchants: Rose Congou Tea

(Rose Congou in it's own caddy)

This morning, with great excitement, I took delivery of my latest order from Northern Tea Merchants.
Each month I treat myself to some of the wonderful tea's they have for sale.

When I browse their site (which is frequently) I often go with a set item in mind to purchase but, as normal for me, I get sidetracked by something else and end up buying something completely different to what I was planning to buy.

Rose Congou is a shining example of this. For months I've been meaning to purchase this lovely rose tea but got sidetracked by other items such as apple tea, strawberry tea, yunnan or keemun.

So, just recently I decided to purchase some of Northern Tea's Rose Congou - a lovely little tea that consists of Chinese black tea delicately blended with rose petals.

I will admit that I am slightly biased as I LOVE rose scented tea's. I love how the addition of rose petals makes for a delicate, gentle and soft tea, whilst, at the same time, retaining the strength that you get from black tea.

But, in my opinion, rose tea, much like Earl Grey, is a tea that is easy to get wrong. And it can go very wrong.

I have tried rose tea's at the cheaper end of the market, like Twinings Rose Garden (which is actually very good) and some ridiculously expensive rose tea's which were foul.

A good rose tea will be delicately flavoured and moreish. A bad rose tea will be strong, taste artificial, and, at the very worst, will make you feel like you are drinking rose perfume. These sorts of tea's will leave a horrible astringent taste in your mouth and will put you off altogether.

But I never let one bad experience put me off. I love throwing myself into new blends or brands so I couldn't wait to get stuck into Northern Tea's take on rose tea.

When I knew the tea was on it's way I found a spare caddy and washed it, so when the tea arrived the first thing I did was decant the tea from it's wrapping into a tin caddy. The aroma of the tea is gorgeous.

Placing the tea into the caddy also allowed me to get a full picture of the tea and though this tea was not lacking in rose petal's, it was not over running with them either. This is a good sign. The more evenly balanced the tea to rose petal ratio is, the more even the flavour will be. Too few petal's mean's lack of flavour, too many means rose flavour overkill, thus leading to a perfume like taste.

I used my new tea friend - my Sage Tea Maker - and set the timer to infuse for three minutes.

It was totally fun to watch this tea infuse. It's lovely to see the tea swirl in with the water. It's a magical experience which I never get bored of watching.

Once brewed the tea takes on a lovely, sparkling golden colour.  And oh, the aroma. It's gorgeous. I love the element of turkish delight this tea has - all the benefits and none of the calories, you can't go wrong!

So, what of the taste?

I was enthralled with this tea from the first sip. I suppose, due to my previous experiences of rose tea, I wasn't too sure what to expect. But, and this is the norm for Northern Tea, I was not let down.

First of all the quality of the base tea, a Chinese black tea, is gorgeous. It's quite strong but is well rounded. There is no bitterness to the tea at all, due to the quality and it being brewed correctly. It leaves a wonderful feeling in the mouth. It's refreshing and light and is the perfect partnership to the rose petals.

The blending of the rose petal's into the tea is perfect. There is a wonderful fragrant, floral element to this tea as well as a sweetness that is mouthwatering. There is enough rose flavour to be enjoyable, but not too much to make it unpleasant. I was so happy to have tried this tea and so pleased that it was so utterly lovely.

Rose Cognu IS THE PERFECT blend to serve for afternoon tea. Imagine sitting out in your garden, in the spring or summer, with your best vintage tea service and a plateful of homemade scones and other dainty cakes. Well, that is how, on this grey, wet and miserable evening, I imagine drinking this tea. But, until the weather improves, I'm happy to drink it in front of Poirot, curled up on the sofa, with a healthy yoghurt by my side!

Rose Gognu is best served black. Don't make the mistake I made of drinking rose tea with milk. I did this many years ago with Twining's Rose Garden. Milk does not sit well with the rose flavour and it put me off for a entire tea drinking year. Do not do that to yourself, take it without milk. It is down to personal taste of course, but it's just a helpful hint!

I would highly recommend you giving this tea a try. It's available in various sizes as well so if you are unsure you can get it in 50g's. (Though once tried, I can guarantee you'll be hooked!).

I fell in love with this tea, and I'm positive the gentle, floral twang to this tea will make you fall in love with it also. This is the perfect tea to unwind with at the end of a busy day. And is a joy to drink.

You see, it's tea's like Northern Tea's Rose Gognu that make me continually love tea. To experience something so glorious is an experience never to be forgotten. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Essential Items Any Tea Lover Must Own

Yesterday, I was out and about and overheard a young girl on her phone. She had just discovered she was pregnant and was happily chatting away about a kit she had been given that contained all the essential item's she'd need when the baby arrived.

That got me to thinking about what items the average tea lover should have at their disposal to make their tea drinking experience as perfect as it could possibly be.

Available on the internet are loads of items that you can buy. From infusers to tea sets. The list is endless. But what are the basic things that we all need?

1. A Kettle

Obvious, I know. However, it does go a little deeper then just having a kettle that boils your water.

With the huge amount of tea out there now, black, green, white, red, yellow, oolong, herbal, puer and fruit it is easy just to boil the kettle and pour hot water on the leaves.

However, we all should know by now that you simply can't pour boiling water on green or white tea. And oolong doesn't fair too well either. Unlike the robust black tea, green tea's for example, often go extremely bitter when boiling water is used as it scorches the leaves leading to a flat, bitter taste.

There are some fabulous kettles out there that have options that you can set so the kettle boils the water to the perfect temperature that you need for the particular tea that you are drinking.

Of course, at the more expensive end of the market you also have the Sage Tea Maker which pretty much does everything you need at the touch of a button. It really is worth investing in either a kettle or tea maker. It takes the guessing out of the brewing process.

2. Tea Infusers

Tea infusers have been my personal godsend. I have my trusty Floatea (the red one) and a fun, funky Yellow Submarine one which was a much welcomed Christmas gift.

Infusers allow you to enjoy loose tea without all the hassle that comes with making it in a pot. Granted, some pots now do come with infusers built in but many still don't and do you really want the hassle of having to empty out all the loose tea leaves from your pot? It's a time consuming and rather boring job so let these little infusers take all the strain.

Tea infusers vary in price. A simple ball on a chain type can be purchased from Amazon from as little as 10p (obviously not including postage) or as much as £11. You can get all manner of designs.

Although loose tea is available in "tea temples", "pyramids" or "silky triangles" these can work out expensive so why not shop online for some fabulous blends at reasonable prices and treat yourself to a funky, fun infuser.

3. Teaspoon. 

I brought this lovely little teaspoon from Bluebird  when I purchased a selection of tea last year. To get a perfect brew you need to use the perfect amount of tea and I really love this little beauty. Perhaps not the most essential item but it's just nice to have!

4. Caddies

Whether you use loose tea or teabags it's essential to keep your tea as fresh as possible so you get the maximum enjoyment out of your tea.

I find tin tea caddies the best way. They come in a variety of different sizes, shapes and designs and are just a pretty way to store you're tea. They also are airtight which prevents your tea from going stale. Just remember if using loose tea don't leave the tea spoon in the tea as it will tarnish the taste after a while.

Some tea sellers also give you the option of purchasing the tea in caddies rather then packets so always check out the pricing and purchasing options when ordering online.  A caddy can cost only a few pounds extra so why not treat yourself occasionally and keep your tea super fresh!

5. Travel Mug

Travel cups are essential pieces of kit! Whether you are going on a long journey and want to ensure you have a decent cup of tea or if your workplace doesn't stock the tea you like and you can't bear what they have in the staff room then a travel mug will help you.

I treated myself to a Bodum when visiting Twinings, who had them on sale, and I honestly wouldn't be without it. My travel mug has been to my WeightWatchers classes, on the National Express and I'll be taking it on a couple of train trips I've planned this year.

Bodum's keep your tea hot for ages and are easy to wash up and keep clean. There are, of course, other brands available in all manner of funky patterns and colours. I would honestly be lost without mine.

6. Everyday Essentials

I always keep a stock of everyday essentials in my cupboard for several reason's.

For instance sometimes I may be going out and just need a quick cup before I leave, sometimes we may have visitors who are not so keen on my more fancier tea's and want something a little more "normal".

Whatever your everyday essential is, be it Twinigns, Tetley, Yorkshire Tea or Typhoo, it's always handy to keep some in.

7. Comfy Cup.

I have four or five mugs that I usually rotate. But I have to say my "comfy cup" is my Halloween mug. In times of stress, upset or worry I turn to it as it's a bit comforting and reassuring and familiar. I also like spooky things this is perfect for me.

I think most of us have a favourite mug or cup that we always go back to in the end!

8. Last But Not Least ... Good Quality Tea.

I have two go to companies for my tea. 

Northern Tea Merchants are my favourite's for black tea.

Kensington Tea Company is perfect for green tea.

In my opinion, of course, it's essential to purchase the best quality tea you can afford. Whether your "thing" is black tea, green tea, white tea, herbal tea or fruit tea, you deserve to have the best tea.

But high quality tea doesn't have to be expensive. Take Northern Tea Merchants for example. They sell some of the freshest, best quality black tea going and yet, you can get some of their wonderful blends for as little as £1.70 for 50g's. I have not tasted anything as divine as their Keemun and Yunnan blends.

Likewise with Kensington Tea Company their Christmas Spice blend is thoroughly a wonderful treat but affordable, too.

So, here are a few tips for the essential items that can help your tea drinking life be as perfect as it can possibly be!

White Two Tea: Apple Scruffs 2014 Puer

(Apple Scruffs tea before preperation).

This week has been one of those wonderful weeks in which I have tried two new types of tea. Firstly I tried a lovely oolong and today I have tried my first ever Puer tea.

I will admit that I have been really frightened and somewhat intimidated to try Puer tea. It's a slightly more complicated tea to prepare and I have felt hopelessly lost, but today I bit the bullet and dived right in.

Earlier in the week I wrote a blog in which I had explained that I had received some wonderful tea samples for a lovely chap called Paul from White2tea. Several weeks ago, I received a email from Paul in which he said he had seen that I was a huge fan of George Harrison and that he had a tea that would be perfect for me!

Paul explained that he named some of his tea's after songs. Now, Apple Scruffs is not a apple flavoured tea, it's named after a song which George wrote and which appeared on his first solo album, All Things Must Pass.

Apple Scruffs is a lovely song which George wrote about the small group of dedicated fans who used to hang around outside the famous Abbey Road studio's. These fan's would give all the Beatles presents for Christmas and their birthday's and were incredibly loyal to the fab four. In return, the Beatles were loyal to them too and as a gift George immortalised them in song. It's great little song and Paul explained in his email it was a favourite of his.

Anyway, back to the tea.

Puer is a tea I know little about so I researched the tea on the internet and thankfully Paul was on hand to give me tips on how to prepare this tea.

Apple Scruffs is a young puer tea which came from the autumn 2014 harvest. According to White2tea's website it can be taken fresh or left to age for eight to tea years.

There are two ways of preparing puer tea. There is the Gongfu method or the Western method. I do not have the equipment sadly to brew this tea in the traditional gongfu method so I have had to prepare it Western style.

Now, first of all I took a substantial amount of the tea and placed it in the infuser section of my one cup tea pot.

I then boiled the water to 85c. This is where my Sage tea maker comes in handy. I used the boil only button on the tea maker and waited till it reached 85c.

It is very important  first of all rinse or wash the leaves before drinking. This is done to clean the leaves and rinse off any loose debris that may of settled onto the tea. So I gave the leaves a rinse and poured away the water.

What I found interesting was that I was advised that as a beginner such as I am, it only needed a very brief steeping of just ten seconds. So I timed it perfectly and brewed it for a short while.

With regards to puer tea I have heard that it's a either love it or hate it type of tea. Some people adore it, others can't quite get on with it. So what would it taste like? I was intrigued and couldn't wait to try.

I loved this tea. There were so many reason's why that I can barely keep up.

There is a intense freshness to this tea. Now, of course, knowing that it was harvested only last year I would say that wouldn't I? Well, no. Even if I did not know the date of it's harvest you can just taste how fresh this tea is. It's light and tasty and if you were to compare the freshness to some of the tea's available on supermarket shelves you will immediately spot the difference.

Apple Scruffs is a invigorating tea that feels healthy and pure. When I was drinking this I felt I was drinking something wonderfully healthy, very similar to the feeling you get when you drink a really fresh green tea.

Although the infusion period was so short, and despite this being a delicate tea, I found it to be incredibly flavoursome and has a slightly earthy flavour. It has a slightly sweet aftertaste and it's glorious flavour lingers pleasantly in the mouth for some time after you have taken your last sip.

Incredibly refreshing and light this is perfect to take in the early evening. It's the perfect tea to unwind to after a long day. It's also incredibly moreish and before long I was up making a second cup.

Due to the initial infusion's light flavour I decided to brew the second cup for a little longer and brewed it for a minute. Naturally, the flavour is a lot stronger and I will admit I preferred the tea when it had a more delicate flavour and since experimenting with it pretty much all day settled for a infusion time of about 30 seconds.

There will be some readers out there who will prefer to brew the tea for longer to have a stronger flavoured cup but personally, I preferred the lighter element to the tea. Just like anything else in the tea world it's down to personal taste and there is no right or wrong way. It's okay to drink it how you like as long as you enjoy it that's all that matters!

I feel incredibly privileged to have tried this tea. According to Paul from White2tea it's been incredibly popular and has been a brilliant seller and I can totally understand that. I found it to be both tasty and delicate. Gentle and fulfilling. And I was more then happily surprised on my first experiment with puer tea.

And finally, if you'd like to hear the song that this tea is named after, then click here!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Why It's Worth Broadening Your Tea Horizon's

Just the other week I wrote about how, after years of disliking Lapsang Souchong, I had enjoyed a cup of fresh Lapsang that was sent to me by the lovely folk at Teavivre.

For years I had hated the stuff. I had tried Twinings version of the blend and it was not to my tastes. In fact, it reminded me smoked kippers! I never thought I'd willingly sit down and drink a mug but that is exactly what I did. And I enjoyed it.

Of course, had I not summoned up the courage to actually try the blend after all those years I'd be missing out on something really marvelous.

By nature, I am a creature of habit. I like what I like and I'm hard to budge. I gain my security from routine, from keeping familiar things around me and I rarely step out of my comfort zone. It's a big world out there and sometimes, I'll admit, I'm a bit scared of it! Though sometimes I do surprise myself and do something exciting and normally end up thoroughly enjoying myself!

However, when it comes to tea, I love experimenting. Trying new things. Experiencing new brands. And I think it's important to do so because there is just so many lovely tea's out there that to have a closed mind is to deny yourself something wonderful.

Before I started this blog I would have one or two different types of tea and would stick with them but it wasn't very long before I realised that it's okay to take a break from my favourite tea and dip my toe into the water see what else was out there.

Nothing can quite describe the feeling that I get when a new tea pops through the door. It's akin to how some women are when they buy a new pair of shoes or a new handbag. For instance today I ordered two new tea's from my favourite teashop, Northern Tea Merchants,  and I literally cannot wait to receive them so I can plug in the Sage tea maker and experience whatever delights the tea will reveal.

On the internet there are hundreds of tea companies, all with some marvelous, exotic and downright sexy tea's on sale. There are black tea's, green tea's, white tea's, oolong, fruity and herbal. The world is your oyster, practically every taste is catered for.

But that is not to say you should discard your favourite, comfy brew. After all there is nothing nicer then snuggling down with a cup of Yorkshire Gold, Tetley ... or whatever your choice blend is. We all like familiar things and that is just lovely.

I have never, ever regretted trying different types of tea. At times it has been expensive, sometimes that blend I waited anxiously to arrive turns out to be a let down. Occasionally I have brought tea on a friends recommendation and realised it wasn't for me.

But, oh, tea is so much fun! And you may hit on the odd dud but I can promise you that for every tea you try that you may not like you'll find at least five you will love.

The tea world is massive. And it can be confusing at times. You may hear a lot of talk about oolong, puer and not know where to start. But that's where experimenting is so much fun.

So enjoy the tea world and enjoy trying all those new things. It's fun out there!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

It's All About The Grey At The Moment ... Apparantly.

There is no way to currently escape it.

The "it" being the hotly awaited release of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie.

Over here, in the UK at least, it is everywhere. On television and radio. Advertising for the erotic movie is splashed across every bus shelter I walk past, in every newspaper and it's giggled about on television.

Yes, I have read the book. And it wasn't my kind of thing. Why I read it, I will never know.

Of course, it's all down to personal taste. What is one woman's rubbish is another woman's treasure. And of course, it wouldn't do if we were all the same, and I'm only really being somewhat cheeky in this post.

On a serious level though there is only one Grey I care about. That's Earl Grey. And, it seems, I'm not the only one. I love this little graphic.

Awww ... now that's more like it!

White Two Tea: Orchid Dancong Oolong

Sometimes in life, it's really funny how things pan out. Only the day before yesterday I was musing about the blog and tea in general, and I realised that I haven't had the chance to review a oolong tea. And, in fact, haven't been able to try out the oolong option on my Sage Tea Maker.

Then, low and behold, today I received a parcel of samples from China which were kindly sent to me from a tea company called White Two Tea which included amongst other delicious sounding tea's a wonderful oolong called Orchid Dancong.

I have to admit I've virtually no experience of oolong tea so you may just have to bear with me here!

I love the look of Orchid Dancong tea. It's utterly gorgeous. The leaves are very long and are a lovely dark colour. The aroma of the tea, as I opened the packet, is really lovely and earthy.

I popped two rather large teaspoons into the infuser. I boiled the water and let it cool for a short while and left the tea to infuse for a just over a couple of minutes.

As soon as I took my first sip I knew this was a tea that would appeal to me. I love tea's that smell and taste earthy, natural and pure. As you all know I love scented tea's such as Earl and Lady Grey,  but sometimes it's good to get back to basic's (for want of a better term) and really experience a tea in it's purest form.

Orchid Dancong oolong is just stunning. It has a very delicate and mellow flavour and is perfect for relaxing with at the end of the day. It's a tea that reminds me of a perfectly made fairy cake - light and refreshing and incredibly moreish.

The tea is smooth and has a very delicate roasted element to it. I served this tea with a slice of gluten free tea cake and it worked really well. The heaviness and the fruitiness of the cake seemed, (oddly because on paper they don't sit well) to compliment the lightness of the tea. A perfect afternoon tea!

There is also a lovely sweet after taste with this tea which is just so pleasant. I really enjoyed the tea and have several cups of it this afternoon already.

This is my first real experience with oolong and I can now understand why so many people rave about it on places such as Twitter. It's a gorgeous tea and was left feeling happy and relaxed after having a cup of this tea.

I would highly recommend this tea, it's absolutely fabulous, and while you're there, why not treat yourself to the tea in a lovely caddy, too!

I love hearing from tea companies so thanks to Paul from White Two Tea for sending me the samples. I can't wait to try the rest of the tea in the package!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Laura's Tea Travels: Valence House Museum, Essex.

(The drive way and entrance to Valence House Museum).

Where I live, I'm a stone's throw away from London. Just 25 minutes away on the tube I can be in the Capital, visiting Madame Tussauds, the National Portrait Galley or Buckingham Palace.

Yet, strangely, ten minutes from where I live, in the middle of a Essex housing estate, sits this little gem. And it's one of the loveliest places to visit.

Valence House has been owned by several families and several generations of each family. Now sitting amongst housing estates, it once ruled over farm land and was once even the location of a very successful stud farm.

Now, though, it's a museum and is enjoyed by school children and adult visitors alike, and it's FREE, too!

I first visited last week, and returned for a second visit today. I've made friends with Colin, the curator, and today we had a hour long conversation about the bizarre death rituals of the Victorian's, Jack the Ripper, ghosts and London's famous cemeteries. A slightly mixed bag.

First of all, before exploring I decided to visit the museum's cafe, which is council owned. It's called the Oasis cafe and is a brilliant little place.

It's spotlessly clean and very, very cheap, so it's a really affordable place to visit. And, early on a Saturday morning it was really busy with dog walkers and museum visitors alike. It was a freezing cold day so I couldn't wait to grab a cup of tea to warm up with before I hit the museum.

As you can see the cafe is really clean. I chose a Twinings Earl Grey tea, which comes under "speciality tea". I paid a mere £1 for the cup of tea. If you wanted bog standard PG tips they charged you just 90p a cup. It's staggering how cheap the drinks are.

The choices of the speciality tea's where Earl Grey, Cranberry, Peppermint, Lady Grey, Camomile and Nettle. Obviously as you can see I opted for the Earl Grey. You can't beat an Earl Grey on a cold day.

I also treated myself to this chocolate bar, and it only cost 50p!

I was a really, really good girl and opted for the two finger option. However, if you wanted to be really naughty and go the whole hog they sold the larger, four fingered chocolate bars. The temptation was there, but thankfully I resisted.

I discreetly timed the infusion process and let the tea brew for a couple of minutes before removing the teabag and I have to say it was a wonderfully brewed cup of tea. And, when no one was looking, dunked my Kit-Kat into the tea and it was gorgeous.

There was nothing nicer, or more relaxing, then sitting in the warm cafe, drinking good tea and looking out over the museum and it's herb garden's. I felt really happy.

Now, this is where it gets really interesting, but, upon entering the museum what was the first thing I saw? .... this little beauty ....

Isn't it utterly gorgeous? It's so tiny as well but was actually a practical teapot. This little sweetie was given to the daughter of the first owner of the house on the occasion of her wedding in 1767. What the photograph doesn't pick up on is the gorgeous gold paint that is used through the design. It's stunning, really beautiful and I wouldn't mind owning it.

Within the museum are a cornucopia of items. We have the famous Dagenham idol, a wooden carving of a male figure dating from 2250 BC. There is also a skeleton, portraits of all the families that lived in the property, clothes and objet d'art.

But the part I like the most is the exhibitions that deal with wartime Dagenham. And in the reconstruction of a 1940's kitchen I saw these lovely little items.

Here is a shining example of a famous "Brown Betty" teapot and a packet of Choice Blend Indian Ceylon tea! How cool is that! Colin the curator reliably informed me that all of the items in the 1940's kitchen and living room came from a actual house in Dagenham. The elderly resident died five years ago and when the council entered the property to clear it found a time warp of wartime items. In the next couple of pictures all the items you can see, from the chair to the tapioca jars were being used right up to 2010 (ish). I was also told that the doors and windows from the house were also taken and some are on display and some in storage.

An example of a wartime living room, with actual items from the 1940's, even the white door is of it's time.

Amazing to think that the cupboards and ceramic jars were being used as little as five years ago!

I had an amazing day. The museum was brilliant but I can only compliment the council and all the staff who run the wonderful Oasis Cafe. It was clean, tidy, the staff were friendly and the brew was really, really good.

And finally, just check out these stairs. Whilst Colin the curator and I were discussing the building of the house, we both felt really cold and a overpowering smell of lavender hit us. Make of that what you will, but I think there certainly were people in the museum today that we couldn't see! Maybe I should book a ticket on their overnight ghost hunt to see what lurks there when the museum is closed for the night!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Musing Over Tea.

(My Dad with my two brothers - as you can tell by the brown's and oranges it was the seventies!)

This evening I was nursing a nice, hot cup of tea and thinking about my late Dad. I've mentioned him a few times on here, and he was, just like his father was, a tea addict.

At Christmas times, for instance, when he wasn't working our kettle was never cold. I remember, quite vividly, a few years before he died, the kettle blowing up at 5.00 the Saturday before Easter Sunday and the sheer panic spreading across his face at the prospect of having no kettle for an entire day.

When I was a child I amused my Dad because I had inherited my mum's spark. I will admit I was stubborn as a mule and wouldn't, for instance, apologise if I thought I right, even if that meant a telling off from one or both of my parents.

One day, my Dad called me into the living room and told me somebody had written a song about me. Of course they hadn't, but my Dad thought that Tom Petty's "I Wont Back Down" was very appropriate for me! Here is the song if you haven't heard it. It's fab and the video stars another love of my life, George Harrison.

Tom Petty: I Won't Back Down

You see, this is why I love tea. It holds such happy memories for me, with each sip I can think of a thousand memories of my parents, my childhood and all the happy times I've had in my life. And while I drink it, I plan all the things that will make happy memories in the future, too.

I know this is a little bit of a soppy post, but it just shows the power of tea. Well, for me, at least.

I've often said it's more then a drink for me. And I'd be utterly lost without it.

TeaVivre: Smoky Black Lapsang Souchong

About three years ago I brought a box of Twining's Lapsang Souchong from my local Tesco's. I was excited by it's exotic name and at a loss for something new to try I brought a box. It was, quite honestly, vile. It was a odd shade of orange and no matter what I did with it, it reminded me of smoked kippers. I was, I thought, put off for life.

Last month I received a lovely email from the fab people at TeaVivre. I have previously sampled some of their wonderfully earthy, gorgeous and very pure green tea's. (I actually still have some left to review).  They kindly offered to send me some of their black tea's this time to sample and I, with much enthusiasm, accepted.

Within the packet were two samples of their Lapsang Souchong tea. Unusually for me, the samples were not binned. I kept them and today had the urge to try one. This surprised even me. As a lifelong Souchong hater why did I want to try this? I couldn't really answer it, but an hour ago I was filling up my infuser and inhaling the scent of the delicate smokiness.

The instructions said to brew this between 1 to 5 minutes. As a novice I went for three just to be sure I wouldn't have a cup that was too strong.

Here is a picture of the lovely dark leaves.

The aroma of this tea however is far different to that which I experienced with Twinings. It has a lot softer smokiness to it. Instead of being right out there, stinking out your kitchen, this had a interesting scent, a subtle smokiness that enhanced but did not overpower the tea.

I was, I'll admit, somewhat relieved that the aroma to this tea was far more natural then what I had experienced previously with Lapsang Souchong. But, I was nervous about trying the tea. What if the taste was hugely different to the scent. What if it just tasted of smokiness and nothing else.

I need not of worried. I fell in love with this the minute I tried it. And there are many reason's why.

As with all of TeaVivre's tea's the base tea - a black Chinese tea - is of impressively high quality. And this tea is no different. Due to the smokiness being very delicate I could actually taste the tea behind the exotic flavour.

So what of it's flavour? Well it has a wonderful earthiness to this tea and a full bodied flavour that I really, really liked. It's a strong, unforgettable tea, but not because it had loads of artificial flavouring added but because it holds it's own in quality, it's delicately flavoured and incredibly moreish.

I think Lapsang Souchong is one of those blends where it pays to buy the highest quality blend you can afford. I think most of the mainstream tea's available in supermarkets will not do the blend justice - and it's exactly why I'll never drink a lot of Lapsang Souchong simply because I can't trust that the supermarket versions will be of a higher quality like TeaVivre's is.

Nobody was more surprised then me that I have actually enjoyed Lapsang Souchong. I wouldn't of said that when I woke this morning. And I'm so glad that I got to experience a high quality, but more importantly, a nice blend.

If you are thinking of trying Lapsang, try TeaVivre's wonderful blend. It's smokiness is sexy and attractive, alluring even. If you visit the supermarket you won't be getting the same experience at all.

I'm off to have another cup of tea and enjoy a tea I never thought I would.

Have You Seen Twinings New Packaging?

Earlier on this week I was in the supermarket, browsing the tea aisle and noticed that Twinings have repackaged their Earl Grey tea. I really like the funky, modern new design and I think the top hat is a funny touch.

As far as I could see it's only their Earl Grey and English Breakfast that has been rebranded so far.

So, if these are your chosen blends or brands keep an eye out for the new packaging!