Nobel Tea

The “Nobel Museum Tea Blend” caught my eye on the Nobel banquet program.

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Söderblandning (Image Source: The Tea Centre of Stockholm)

There’s no official description but it’s been reported as a blend of Chinese Keemun and Indian Assam, flavoured with Italian bergamot, Swedish raspberries and orange. (Bergamot is the fruit used in Earl Grey tea). It is possible to buy the tea at the Nobel Museum shop but you’ll need to go in person as they don’t take orders by phone or email.

From what I’ve read, the Nobel Museum Tea Blend was created in collaboration with tea specialist Vernon Mauris of The Tea Centre of Stockholm.

Sweden are not heavy consumers of tea but seem to like blended and flavoured teas. In fact in 1979, the same Vernon Mauris created the popular Swedish tea called Söderblandning. In English it is known as the “blend of south Stockholm” but is also  known as “Swedish mistake tea”. Vernon is from Sri Lanka so it is not surprising that Söderblandning has a base of Ceylon blended with Chinese black tea. The ingredients of this blend, again, are not officially stated but it also includes flowers and citrus fruits. Cornflowers, marigold and red berries feature in variations of the popular Swedish tea.

Transparency of tea prices

On my quest for Darjeeling this year, I came across Tee Kampagne. The company was set up in Berlin in 1985 and deals exclusively with Darjeeling loose tea. They reduce packaging and shipping costs by selling in large quantities, online, directly to consumers. What impresses me most is the transparency of the costs and margins. I have not seen this level of disclosure by any other tea company.

Disclosure of Calculation - Tee Kampagne

Disclosure of Calculation – Tee Kampagne (Source)

Their 2014 first flush will only available in August. I’m not sure why it’s so late but from what I’ve read it will be worth the wait.

The Kombucha experiment – Part I

As usual, I’m a couple of years behind the trend. Kombucha is a drink that was extremely fashionable a few years ago but it still has a solid following. It is a tea drink that is made by fermenting sweetened black tea with a culture of yeasts and bacteria. It is also known as Tea Kvass (Russia), Hongchajun (China) and Kocha Kinoko (Japan). Confusingly, in Japan, Kombucha refers to seaweed that is powdered to produce kelp-tea. The two “kombucha” are very different.

Many websites talk about  probiotics and the detoxification and immune boosting properties of Kombucha (see notes on health at the end of article) but it also happens to be a very tasty drink that is naturally carbonated.

DBKB KombuchaWe are lucky in Dublin to have a local, organic, non-flavoured, Kombucha “brewery”. This is a very convenient option especially if you are short on time but I’ve never been one to take the easy route so I decided to experiment and try brewing my own.

A SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) is needed to prepare Kombucha.  The SCOBY is sometimes called a mushroom but it’s just a colony of bacteria and yeast – no fungus. I’ve looked at lots of websites with instructions on how to brew Kombucha and almost all of them say that you start with a SCOBY. I was having some trouble locating a SCOBY but then I came across an article that said you could grow your own SCOBY so I decided to try that. I don’t know how this is going to turn out- we have to wait for two weeks to see if it works or not but here were my steps for preparation.

Kombucha IngredientsI brewed 500ml of tea. I would have preferred to use an organic black tea but I had none so I used a regular Panyong Golden Needle. I left it to steep for 10 mins and then removed the tea leaves, added 1 tsp. of sugar and allowed it to cool for 30 mins. I have since read that heat can be very destructive to the whole scoby-growing process and at 30 minutes it was still warm so this could be a problem. Leaving it for an hour would be a safer bet.

After 30 minutes I added 330ml of raw Kombucha (I used DBKB).   After adding the Kombucha I covered the bowl with a tea towel and put it in a warm dry place. I used a glass bowl because apparantly the acidity of the tea can cause it to absorb harmful elements from containers that are painted, ceramic etc (there has been two reported incidences of lead poisoning where Kombucha tea was brewed in a ceramic pot).

And now I have to wait for 2-3 weeks….

Health Note: Since the early 19th century, Kombucha tea has been promoted as an immunity-boosting tea that can strengthen the body and prevent many ailments. There is no solid scientific evidence to support the health claims of Kombucha tea.  In addition, there are potential health risks from Kombucha (source) but these equally, are not backed by solid scientific research. Because of the potential health risks, people with an immune deficiency or any other medical condition should seek medical advice before drinking the tea. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use this tea.

Masala Chai

Spices for Masala ChaiMasala Chai is spiced and sweetened milk tea. It is mostly associated with India but until the 1900s the spicy mix generally did not contain black tea. In India it is available at every market all year round but for me Chai is a seasonal drink that starts in late October and continues through winter. Its spicy malty heat is perfect for cold winter days.
There are several ways to brew chai – milk only, milk and water, ground spices, whole spices etc. The list of spices varies greatly but black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves seem to always form the foundation. Below is the recipe that I use with some of the health benefits of the spices. This is customised to my own preference for spiciness/sweetness – experimentation is needed to make your own version of Masala Chai.

Masala Chai

  • ½ cinnamon stick [warms the body and enhances digestion, especially the metabolism of fats]
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 7 whole cardamom pods bruised with pestle and mortar [stimulates digestion]
  • 7 whole cloves [antiseptic and anti-parasitic properties and digestive aid]
  • 7 thin slices of fresh ginger [colon cleansing, stimulates circulation, protects the liver and stomach]
  • 10 black peppercorns, ground
  • ½ tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp. honey [natural antiseptic, promotes energy and healing]
  • 1 tbsp. assam (or other strong black tea)
  • 1 cup low-fat milk

Put spices and water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for a further 5-10 minutes. Add honey and return to the heat again to bring to a boil.

Add tea leaves, remove from heat and set aside for 3 to 5 minutes. Strain through a sieve and then add milk. Heat the full mixture over low heat then serve immediately and enjoy!

7 types of Earl Grey

Earl Grey is a black tea that is flavoured with oil from the rind of bergamot orange, a fruit grown in Italy, France and South East Asia. Variations on the traditional blend include Lady Grey (a blend of earl grey with blue cornflower blossoms), Russian Earl Grey (Earl Grey with pieces of citrus peel and lemongrass) and Red Earl Grey (rooibos and bergamot).

Charles Grey - 2nd Earl Grey

Charles Grey – 2nd Earl Grey (Source)

Responsible for the name of the tea is Charles Grey. Charles was an English aristocrat who was educated in Eton and Cambridge and elected to Parliament at the age of 22. He married Mary Elizabeth Ponsonby (daughter of Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly, Co. Cork) and had six daughter and ten sons. Before he was married he had an illegitimate daughter with the Duchess of Devonshire, which is the subject of the movie “The Duchess”. He was prime minister of England from November 1830 to July 1834 and inherited the title of Earl from his father. Charles Grey was noted for advocating Parliamentary reform and Catholic Emancipation. Two of his most notable reforms were the Reform Act of 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 but interestingly the monopoly of the East India Company in Britain’s trade with China ended while he was prime minister.

 

1928 Advertisement for Earl Grey

1928 Advertisement for Earl Grey (Source)

How he became associated with the tea is unclear. There are stories of good deeds in China that resulted in the recipe for the tea coming to his ownership. Another version tells how the blend was created by accident when a gift of tea and bergamot oranges were shipped together from diplomats in China and the fruit flavour was absorbed by the tea during shipping. Yet another version of the story involves a Chinese mandarin friend of the Earl blending this tea to offset the taste of limescale in the water at his home (at Howick Hall). In reality, it is not absolutely clear why the tea was named after Charles. However, the tea was served by the Greys when they hosted gatherings and Jackson’s of Piccadilly say that they introduced the blend in 1836 to “meet the wishes of a former Earl Grey”.

As a person who claims to not like flavoured tea, I currently have seven different varieties of Earl Grey on my shelf. Last Saturday I brewed all seven to compare and contrast. Among them were four loose leaf teas, one whole-leaf tea bag and two CTC tea bags. Historically, Earl Grey has a reputation for involving low quality teas that are masked by the bergamot  but each of these was absolutely drinkable and most of them were very pleasant. Going through the distinctions of each would get tedious so I’ve shortlisted the best of the crop.

3 of the 7 earl greys

The nicest tea was a blend of Chinese black tea from Tea Palace. It was a beautiful earthy tea that was balanced with a gentle bergamot flavour. Second place went to a blend from Damman Frères. The presence of blue cornflower blossoms and sunflower petals means that technically this is a Lady Grey but it was sold as Earl Grey so we included it. The Chinese black tea in this blend stood up well with the bright citrus flavour and again gave a harmonious flavour. Of the two CTC teabags, the Marks and Spencer brand was the more interesting of the two. It used a Sri Lankan black tea that gave their blend a rich, powerful base.

The most interesting conclusion from tasting all these teas is that aroma of the loose leaf gives very little indication of the taste. The strong perfume smell of the Dammann Frères was off-putting but that overpowering fragrance did not translate to the taste. Similarly, one of the teas was an earl grey lavender and the aroma was distinctly soap-like. But again, that soapiness did not translate to taste.

Some notes on preparing earl grey tea: Freshly boiled water should be used. A steep time of 1.5 minutes is good for the loose leaf teas (3g tea and 150 ml water). The CTC tea bags steep in 40 – 45 seconds (200 ml water). All the teas were drank black.

Tea Brack

I didn’t drink tea when I was young but my first dabbling with the beverage was at the age of twelve and involved soaking sultanas in cold black tea for several hours to make a tea brack. I was a bit of a one-trick pony when it came to baking: every Saturday for several years I made this brack. It never occurred to me to make something different. Why would I? Everyone loved it, it was easy to make and several hundred bracks later, I had fine-tuned that recipe to perfection. I can’t find the worn out sheet of paper that has that magic formula but the recipe below works well and makes a moist, fruity loaf that suits the windy autumn days we’ve been having.

 

Tea Brack Recipe (loosely adapted from Odlums recipe for tea brack)

teapot and brackIngredients:

250ml strong black tea (cold)

10ml Irish whiskey (optional)

400g sultanas

150g light brown castor sugar

30g butter (melted)

1 egg (lightly beaten)

275g self-raising flour

 

 

The tea should be a solid black tea like an Assam or a Kenyan (none of those delicate Darjeelings) and needs to be strong, strong, strong. As a one-time exemption, ignore everything I’ve ever said about not over-steeping tea ;-).

Place sultanas in bowl and cover with the cold black tea (and whiskey, if using). Leave for at least four hours and preferably overnight.

After soaking, preheat the oven to 175°C/347°F/Gas 5.

Add the sugar and egg and melted butter.

Sieve the flour into fruit mixture and combine.

Grease a loaf tin with butter and place the raw cake batter in the tin. Flatten the top with the back of spoon and bake in the pre-heated oven for 75 minutes or until cooked through (when knife or skewer is inserted into the centre of the cake and comes out clean).

 

Brack SlicesMy teenage self would probably call this a very rough attempt at a tea brack but it’s not bad at all. I’ll re-post in a couple of years when I’m finished fine-tuning!!

 

Nepalese tea – First Flush SFTGFOP

Until 2000, Nepal’s tea exports accounted for only about 150,000 kg per annum. However, due to liberalisation, the Nepalese tea industry has witnessed an exponential rise in tea exports in the last ten years. At present, Nepal produces approximately 18 million kilograms of tea per annum on an area of 18,149 hectares. The climate, soil and unpolluted air in Nepal are said to be ideal for tea and production is incentivised through government subsidies for machinery. CTC manufacturing accounts for 87% of production. The remaining 13% of Nepalese orthodox tea has a reputation for being outstanding.

Nepal First Flush Side ViewI received some tea samples last week from a Nepalese colleague who was kind enough to bring some back from his travels. There were a number of samples but one in particular caught my eye: a first flush SFTGFOP Black tea. As a first flush it was probably picked sometime in March or April and these teas are generally a milder and gentler tea than the leaves that are plucked later in the year.

Nepal First Flush The leaves are short and wiry and although the leaves are mostly brown you can see from the photo the white buds and some partially oxidised green leaves. The smell of the dry tea is strong and grassy.

Preparation: To prepare this tea, I put 3g of the tea in a gaiwan. After rinsing the leaves, I add the boiling water for 30 seconds but I felt it needed a little longer so I left it for about 40 seconds.

First steepThe first cup is sweet-smelling, light yellow and the taste is crisp and light with that very distinctive musky taste. Pungent is a word that suits this tea well (especially the second and third steeping) but not pungent in the usual sense of overpowering sourness but softly pungent as an interesting background that deepens the taste. This tea held well for six steepings with increasing steeping durations each time.

Among the rest of the samples is an Autumn SFTGFOP and I’m looking forward doing a comparison taste in the coming days.

 

Grading Black Tea

I’ve been tasting a lot of black tea over the past couple of weeks but before I start talking  TGFOP and BOP, I thought it would be worthwhile to have a reference article to go through one of the most common grading systems for black tea. The grading system has four separate scales that are based around the size of the leaf. Size is not directly correlated to quality but it is used as an indicator.

 ORTHODOX TEA

Whole leaf – the leaf remains intact during production (not broken or torn)

  • SFTGFOP – Special, Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • FTGFOP – Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • TGFOP – Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • GFOP – Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • FOP – Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • FP – Flowery Pekoe
  • OP – Orange Pekoe

Broken leaf – the leaf has been torn or broken

  • GFBOP – Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
  • GBOP – Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
  • FBOP – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
  • BOP – Broken Orange Pekoe
  • BPS – Broken Pekoe Souchong

Fannings are broken pieces of tea that have a granular texture. The small pieces mean that they release their taste and colour quickly, which makes them suitable for teabags.

  • FBOPF – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings
  • BOPF – Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings
  • FOF – Flowery Orange Fannings
  • GOF – Golden Orange Fannings
  • PF – Pekoe Fannings

Dust is a powder tea that is smaller in size than fannings.

  • OPD – Orange Pekoe Dust
  • BOPD – Broken Orange Pekoe Dust
  • PD – Pekoe Dust
  • D – Dust

 

CTC  stands for Crush Tear Curl and is a modern manufacturing method where the tea leaf is chopped to small uniform pieces while it is being oxidised to black tea. This gives small granular pellets. There is a separate grading system for CTC tea that is also broken down into Broken Leaf, Fannings and Dust.

A few notes on the terms:

Orange – Orange does not refer to the citrus fruit or to an orange flavour. It comes from “House of Orange” which was the royal Dutch family where the finest teas were presented in the 1600s.

Tippy refers to the proportion of buds in the tea

Flowery mean that larger leaves as well as buds are present