Friday, 29 September 2017

Hotel Chocolat: Teaolat Cacao Breakfast Tea

This evening I am wrapped up in bed drinking one of the most luxurious tea's I've ever been fortunate to taste. It is not only extremely tasty and one hell of a treat - it's also stylish and elegant. The Jackie O of the tea world.

This gorgeous blend is from Hotel Chocolat and is a blend called Cacao Breakfast Tea.

I will admit that this is a costly tea. On researching this for the blog I noted it was £5 for ten tea bags. This is luxury and the rest of the box, I have decided, will be held back for Christmas.The tea was given to me by my dear friend, Christine, who had purchased it whilst on holiday earlier in the month. Without her I would not of been able to try this tea and I can only thank you, Chris!

When I was discussing chocolate based tea's with a friend years ago they thought it was simply a case of a chunk of Dairy Milk being chopped up and mixed with tea leaves. However, I can say, it's far more sophisticated then that! This tea consists of malty Assam tea and cacao shells which are the shells that form around the cacao bean. Mostly, it's thrown away but Hotel Chocolat use the shells's for it's rich, luxurious taste. And that is exactly what this tea is.

Tonight, as I have done everytime I've tasted this tea, I opted not to add milk to this blend. This was a brave step for me as I cannot take breakfast blends or Assam tea without milk. They are too strong or too malty for me so I have to add a dash of milk to take the edge off. However, with this blend not only would the milk be superfluous, but would totally distract for the rich, deep flavour of this tea.

When I drink this tea I am totally aware of the luxury. And this is a tea to be savoured and enjoyed at leisure, not gulped back whilst you're heading out of the door. I always give this tea fifteen minutes to fully enjoy, and it deserves only your full attention. You cannot share this tea with anything. That would be scandalous.

The tea comes in silky pyramids and is full to bursting with tea. In the picture above you can see the rich Assam tea leaves with the cacao shells chopped up. They are the pieces that resemble chocolate.

I placed this tea in the mug and let it infuse for three minutes. From the moment the packet is opened the chocolate scent is easily detected. It's gorgeous and surprisingly not sickly as some chocolate teas can be. The tea brews to a dark amber colour.

The base tea in this blend is Assam. Assam is a strong blend easily detected by it's full bodied, malty element. I wasn't sure how this would work using a tea so strong. Would it detract from the chocolate element? Well, I'd say no. In fact it's a partnership that works really well together. The strength of the Assam tea really supports the chocolate taste very well indeed.

I loved the robust Assam used in this tea, it's of a very high quality. It's rich and just mild enough not to be overpowering, however, if you over brew this tea I expect the Assam, and it's slightly bitter edge would ruin the tea. Brewed correctly, however, it's a real delight. I've never been able to drink Assam without milk so it's full flavour is always partially hidden, in this blend I could enjoy it fully.

The cacao shells bring a glorious, smooth chocolate flavour to this tea. It's not quite as smooth as milk chocolate but far less bitter than dark. It's somewhere in between I guess, but I love the rich element to this tea. It's really, really good. Very moreish and you feel as though you're having a real treat when you drink this tea. I love how the chocolate flavour lingers in the mouth long after the tea has been finished - a pleasant reminder of the tea that is, quite frankly, joy, happiness and luxury in a cup.

This is quite a unique tea and it's actually quite hard to describe this tea in words. It has tea like elements from the Assam tea, naturally, but it also has hot chocolate elements too. A weird cross between two drinks, yet somehow it really works.

As I'm watching my weight, and as chocolate is firmly out (till Christmas, at which time I shall loosen up a bit and have one or two Roses) this is a really good substitute. It's devilishly wicked and tempting, however, is wonderfully devoid of all the naughty bits that makes real chocolate bars off limits to me! It's certainly a win win for me! Perfect for those times when only chocolate will do. (Which I admit is quite often!).

This is a glorious tea. And ideal for a winter treat. It's expensive for a relatively small amount of tea, however, on this occasion I certainly believe it's best to have a little less of something that is REALLY GOOD rather then have lots of second rate, cheap tea.

I cannot wait for my next cup, which will be in a few months during the festive season.

If you want pure, indulgent, luxury then with this blend from Hotel Chocolat that is certainly what you get. There is no doubt about that.

All I can really say is thank you so much Christine for your very kind gift. It meant a lot and tastes delicious. Without you, I'd never think of trying this. I didn't even know Hotel Chocolat did tea!

So, readers, why not treat yourself?

Sssh, though, as this tea is our little secret!

Twist Teas: Banana Shake

The first of tonight's tea reviews is a review of a very interesting blend.

It's from the utterly fabulous company, Twist Teas and is their equally fabulous Banana Shake tea.

Banana Shake comes from their new range of tea called Puds Without Sin. In essence they are all funky dessert based teas but without any of the downsides to actually eating the pudding, for example these tea's contain no sugar or artificial sweeteners. So they are a guilt free treat. And I, for one, am extremely grateful for that!

Earlier this week I was contacted by the lovely Claire offering me a chance to taste a couple of their tea's. I was happy to receive anything but I must admit, being a lover of banana tea, I was especially excited to see that in the box, alongside the Mint Choc Chip I had received the Banana Shake. 

Banana Shake is a rooibos tea. I will state from the start that rooibos and I have had a rocky relationship. When I say rocky, it was truly on a Charles verses Diana level. I hated it. I can't dress it up or lie. I hated it. However, over the past year there has been a distinct thaw in the frosty relationship. I'll admit that I probably wouldn't get on with pure rooibos but I do enjoy it when it's flavoured and there is no better flavour to match then banana.

I love this tea to absolute pieces. After popping out to the local shopping centre, in the middle of a torrential downpour this morning, I got back dripping wet and not particularly happy. So whilst I was changing out of wet jeans and into comfy pyjama's I brewed a cup of this astonishing tea, knowing that I could not resist reviewing this tea this evening. As rooibos can be infused for a longer period of time I left it to brew whilst I got changed and came back to see a beautiful, copper coloured cup of tea waiting for me.

From the moment the infusion process begins this tea makes a stunning impression. How can a tea that brews to such a glorious colour, as seen above, not be inviting? I challenge you to not be tempted by this tea. I am sure you'd fail. It just looks absolutely glorious, sparkling and vibrant. This was love at first sight.

The aroma of banana is strong and mouthwatering. I'm not a fruit lover overall, I prefer vegetables, but I do love banana's and this tea smells fresh, healthy and has that lovely sweetness that you get when banana's are prefectly ripe.

So far, so very good.

By the time I sat down to drink this tea I was frozen through and needed the warmth from the tea as much as the taste. As I cradled the mug in my hands I took a sip, not totally sure what I'd make of it, as it's rooibos after all.

However, I was not disappointed. Not for a second.

The flavour of banana is strong and rich. It's mouthwatering and moreish and once I started sipping I just couldn't stop. With each mouthful I appreciated and enjoyed this tea more and more. It's glorious flavour leaves you wanting more - and so far today I've had seven cups! It's a good job it's caffeine free!

Underneath that gorgeous, fulfilling flavour of banana comes the rooibos distinct taste, which is itself very sweet. I liked how it's almost herbal element brings a depth of flavour to this tea. The two flavours are very rich yet are not sickly or overpowering. They can soothe even the sweetest of teeth and I find it gives that sweet hit that I miss. This tea needs a fine balance, too much of either flavour would be too much, yet Twist Teas find that balance and blend the tea perfectly.

Over the past couple of years dessert tea's have been quite popular. Some have worked, others (like the Twinings range) have not. This tea, however, gets two thumbs up from me. Not only was I so impressed that I came away liking rooibos a LOT more then I did before I tried this, but I firmly believe that if you are dieting, as I am doing, there really is a decent tea out there that can satisfy you as much as your favourite cake or pudding. And that is very impressive.

Banana Shake comes in a silky pyramid bag and is generously filled with tea. But look at it. Oh so pretty and those beautiful colours are ideal for this time of year when autumn is knocking at the door!

I never thought I'd say this about a rooibos tea but I will - I cannot recommend this tea highly enough. It has everything. Yes, it is a tea that does what it says on the box - you genuinely feel as though you are enjoying a nice dessert. It's visually beautiful, it fruity scent fills the kitchen, it tastes so good and it's caffeine free - ideal for me who has been suffering horrendous nightmares lately.

It's warming, comforting and just wonderful. I know as autumn arrives we'll be blasted with lots of pumpkin spice type tea's but I would say this has to be MY tea of autumn. It's relatively simple but executed supremely well.

If there is one tea you should buy to get you through the change of season's into the colder weather, it has to be this fun blend. I am super impressed and am already craving another cup!

I'll end this review by saying a huge thank you to Claire from Twist Teas for sending this out to me. I can assure you, it really has gone to a good home!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Whittard: Blend No 97: Breakfast Earl Grey

Over the summer quite a lot has been going on here at Laura's Tea Room so I haven't been blogging quite so much. I still felt passionate about tea and passionate about bringing tea reviews to my readers, but, quite honestly, I was tired, stressed and whenever I attempted to blog it was with a half heart.

But recently I've tried a selection of tea's new to me and all of these fantastic new blends have well and truly reignited my love for all things tea and I have missed blogging so much that I am now back, fully refreshed and eager to go!

Throughout my absence I have had several emails from a reader named Tony who simply wanted nothing but to check in and see how I was doing. He, and his wife, are absolute tea addicts but who sometimes feel lost in the huge range of tea that is out there. So, with Tony in mind, and with his dedication to Earl Grey, I thought it fitting the first tea I review is a Earl Grey.

I have never hidden my love for Earl Grey. I've always been upfront and honest that I am totally obsessed with the blend. I love it's rich, full flavour. I've drunk some exquisite Earl Greys and some downright awful ones. And my honest opinion of Whittard's Breakfast Earl Grey is that it sits, smack dab in the middle of that spectrum.

At the end of August, a dear friend from Blackpool, where I used to live, had come to London with her daughter to visit the sites and see a couple of shows, so one of the day's she kept free and we had a wonderful day out, drinking plenty of tea and catching up. I hadn't seen her in three years and it was as if not a day had passed without us seeing each other - I guess that is what a real friendship is all about. No matter the time or distance it stays rock solid.

A lot of the day was spent meandering around Covent Garden - an area that despite being a Londoner I hadn't visited often but have gotten to know well since I moved back. And of course, no visit to Covent Garden would be complete without a trip to Whittard's.

My friend was very patient as it took me ages to pick a tea. Somewhat lost in the choice I fell back on a Earl Grey. It was, I thought, a safe option. So, I went back home and boiled the kettle. Sat back and almost instantly that familiar, much loved Earl Grey scent filled the kitchen.

Breakfast Earl Grey, according to Whittard, is designed to be a stronger version of it's normal Earl Grey. Something to give you a kick start in the morning. I suppose it's slightly akin to having Assam instead of Breakfast tea in the morning. It is supposed to have oomph, to have the same effect as that early morning coffee. It's designed, I suppose, to get you up and going in the morning.

But does it do just that? Is it so radically different?

I have to say yes, it is!

Firstly, lets talk about the technical aspects of the tea. As far as I can tell the tea is only available in a pack of 50 teabags. I didn't notice the tea having a loose leaf option in the shop and it only brings up teabags on the website so I'm assuming that is all the tea is available in. Despite what the picture shows above, the teabags are actually slightly coloured so I am assuming they are unbleached though I cannot say for definate. Inside the box the tea bags come in a foil back to preserve freshness. I would highly recommend that you keep the bags within it's original foil packaging as it's quite strong and the flavour may seep into more delicate tea's if kept together.

I have long become used to using loose leaf tea and making my own teabags so I will admit having a ready made bag is a wee bit more convenient in the mornings when I'm only half awake. Slight laziness on my part I will happily admit!

The tea is an absolute joy to watch as it infuses. It starts off as a light amber colour and then develops into a rich copper colour. From my experience of this tea, I would say that once it reaches the copper stage that is when the tea is infused enough and the teabag is ready to come out. Of course that is my personal choice, you may find you'd like it in longer, but when this tea is described as being stronger than normal Earl Grey Whittard are not lying!

I don't actually think that even I was prepared for the strength of this tea. It pretty much knocked my socks off. Yes, I drink my tea black so of course it would appear strong then to those who add a splash of milk to their tea, but my god it really does pack a punch.

The base tea's used in this blend are a very good mixture. There is a strong and malty Assam tea, a rather more mellow Ceylon tea and a brisk, fresh and bold Kenyan tea. Mixed together they form a tea strong enough to take the Earl Grey flavour.

The base tea's form a rich, earthy, almost coffee like flavour. It has a slightly roasted element about it too. I like the fact that it's really flavoursome and has depth. However, I do find that some of the bags really allowed you to taste and experience the base tea's whereas other bags tasted more of the bergamot element. I'm not sure if this is a blending issue or even if it is just a change in my tastebuds but I would of preferred, overall, to experience the rich flavour of the tea far more than I have done so far - and I'm about half way through the packet.

So what of the bergamot flavour? Well the bergamot orange is what is used to give Earl Grey it's distinctive taste. And this is very strong indeed. In fact I would say at times the flavour is almost overpowering. Though it's lovely and I adore that familiarity I would have to say it's the strongest Earl Grey I've yet to try and sometimes it's just a bit too much. Even to the point where I can't always finish a mug, other times I can drink it down almost in one.

This is such a odd tea for me to blog because it is such a changeable tea. Now it could be again down to my taste buds but sometimes it all feels just too much other times it's just right and perfect. And I swear blind that the blending of tea varies between each teabag.

I would also pay much attention to the making of this tea. I infuse this blend for three minutes exactly. Even a half minute more can turn this tea from a pleasant Earl Grey to a bitter, nasty mess. So in a way, this tea is extremely delicate in as much as it needs to be handled carefully, almost mollycoddled through the infusion process. If you leave this tea to infuse whilst you go off to answer that phone call or go to pick your mail up off the mat - do it at your own peril as it could mean the difference between a lovely cup of tea and a horrid one.

I cannot decide if I like this Earl Grey or not. The quality of the ingredients are very good. The actual base tea is delicous. Yet, the strength of the Earl Grey is slightly off putting. Sometimes it's fragrant, sometimes it leaves a oddly perfume like flavour in your mouth. Sometimes it works for me, other times it doesn't. Not much help to you, the reader, I understand. But it's one of the oddest tea's I've ever experienced because I just can't decide whether it's my thing or not. On paper it should be. In my heart though, it's not hitting the spot.

To sum this blend up, I think you'll love it if you like your tea strong, you like the perfume element of Earl Grey and you take your tea with a splash of milk. It may not work for you if you drink your tea black, dislike the floral element to Earl Grey or don't like strong, overpowering flavours.

I think this is a blend that I shall leave you to make your own mind up about. And I will continue drinking this till I have emptied the box, however, I don't think I'll purchase this again. I'd much rather buy a refill of Bohemian Raspberry, my personal favourite blend that Whittard sell (now that is a blend that makes my mouth water!).

This tea is interesting in as much as it's really made me think about tea. And it's put me at odds with myself. I'd love to hear your views if you decide to try this tea.

And for Tony, if you've not tried this yet, you need to!

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A Hello From Laura

I've just spotted that it's been a few months since I last blogged about tea. How time flies when you get older, eh?

This summer has been crazy and busy. And I have been tired to a level that has been unbelievable. Tea drinking has been constant, but I've lacked the energy and gumption to blog about tea. That passion has never, ever left me and I've truly missed blogging but I just couldn't seem to summon up the energy to do it. In addition it's been a really hot summer as well which hasn't helped.

However, things have settled (and cooled) down a little bit and I am very eager and keen to get back to my two major passions - tea and writing about tea. I just love it and it makes me happy

This week I've been on holiday from work and have drunk pot after pot after pot of tea. And it brings me as much joy as it always does. Rummaging through the tardis of a tea cupboard I've discovered tea's that I have forgotten that I had and it's like discovering them all over again.And I have loved every second.

Today I received a email that both surprised me, shocked me and probably is the main spark that has ignited my excitement for tea blogging - CHRISTMAS! Amazingly Twining's are the first tea company to put this year's Christmas blends out on their website. From what I can see they are exactly the same as last years, but I will be checking back to see if anything new and exciting is added.

As autumn rolls in, the nights get darker and the air crisper I cannot wait to see what this autumn brings in the line of new tea's. I'm beyond excited at the prospect. There is so much opportunity out there for companies to create fabulous tea's and for us who love tea to enjoy them.

And into the new year there is the next National Tea Day which I will (hopefully) be attending.

So things are looking exciting in the tea world and I can't wait to get started to bringing these reviews to all of you lovely folk who read this blog.

And I'd also like to take this chance to thank those readers who wrote in asking how I was doing after noticing a lack of posts since June. Your thoughtful emails and concern was very touching indeed.

So, here's to more tea drinking and tea reviews. I am so excited to get started!