We had a really fabulous tea tasting last weekend.
I’ve mentioned on here several times that I love tea. It all started when I moved to London a few years ago, and, well, it became much harder to get a really good cup of coffee. I was used to drinking a wonderful latte from NYC shops like Joe. While in London, I occasionally grabbed a bus to Borough Market for a really amazing latte, but other than that, I simply started to drink what was everywhere: tea.
At first, I just drank basic black tea, generally English Breakfast or whatever black tea blend was “on tap.” When I came back to the states, Charlie and I gradually began to explore the world of looseleaf teas, and now, a few years later, we have somehow amassed a collection of over 40 looseleaf teas. Most of them we’ve bought, some of them we’ve gotten as samples, and others, I’ve gotten through tea swaps with other people like me who are slightly ridiculous. It has gotten to the point where when friends join us at our house and we offer them a cup, we feel that we should be able to offer them their favorite kind, but instead, they’re so intimidated by the overflowing cabinet, that they instead say, “I’ll just have whatever you’re having.”
Tea, like wine, can be intimidating, so I decided to host a tea tasting at our house last weekend. I picked a variety of my favorite teas, as well as a few that I’d never tried, and arranged them in an order that made sense to me. As we moved through them, Charlie said, “You made a playlist! This is awesome!”
The two places that I usually order tea from are Tea Gschwender and The Tea Table. Tea Gschwender has some really fine teas that are quite delicious, but a little pricey, and unfortunately, they recently changed their minimum order per variety to be a 100g bag, so you really have to commit to it. For some teas that I know I love, that’s fine, but for others, that’s just too much. Tea Gscwender does have some relatively new retail locations in the USA, though, including two stores in New York, one in Chicago, and one in Ann Arbor, so one of these days I’m going to head over to the store to check it out in person and see what the retail experience is like.
The Tea Table has a great selection, and they let you choose exactly how many ounces of tea you want, which I love. They let you choose up to three free samples per order as well, so there’s really an opportunity to try a lot of new things with this company. While some of the flavors are a little less traditional than I would prefer (you will never ever get me to drink a Caramel Cherry Cheesecake Tea), they have plenty of more traditional teas, a wonderful Masala Chai, and some nice (less out-there) flavored teas.
That’s Bo getting ready for the tasting. He’s got one of the worksheets that I prepared with all the different tea names on it so that people could write down their reactions. I know, I’m such a nerd!
Anyway, our tea tasting went as follows.
We started with white tea, the mildest of teas. We had Drum Mountain White Cloud. After that, we moved to green teas, where we tried a flowery Formosa Jasmine. Next was Lavender Butterfly, a tea that is wonderful with a bit of creamed honey stirred into it. We finished the green teas with Japan Genmaicha, which some remarked had an almost malty taste to it.
The black teas were nothing new to me, as I just wanted to share my favorites here, black tea still being what I drink the most frequently. We started with Blood Orange Black Tea, something I’d gotten a sample of, loved, and ordered more of.
We moved to Earl Grey No. 69, a tea heady with bergamot and a great choice when using Earl Grey for cooking (like in these tea cakes or this oatmeal). We went to an Irish Breakfast black tea blend called O’Sullivan’s Favorite , which, in my opinion, is best served with a bit of fresh cream. Black Currant is another English flavor I grew to love when I was there, and I prefer the Tea Gschwender version to The Tea Table kind. We used that to branch from the black teas to the fruitier herbals I’d selected.
We started the herbals with a Lemongrass Blend that I picked up in the bulk section of Wegman’s. I’ve been told that Weg’s carries Rishi in their bulk bins, but I haven’t seen this one on their website, so not sure completely of the origin. Finally, we tried Casablanca, which smelled very strong but mostly tasted like strawberries, and Lady Hannah’s Whole Fruit was a bit more floral.
(I hope all those links work!) I’ll post pictures of the party soon, as well as some delicious food recipes. Our menu was pretty awesome.
We made the Carrot Coconut Scones from Baked Explorations, as well as Honey Whisky Cakes from Scottish Teatime Recipes (both with a few adaptations, such as adding a bit more whisky in the second recipe).
For tea sandwiches, we had an awesome (and strangely realistic) mock tuna, a chutney and cheddar, and of course, cucumber sandwiches. I also made a quiche of spinach, portabello, and broccoli that was very similar to this vegetable tart. In other words, we drank tea and we feasted. It was great. Special thanks to Kira, Traczie with a Z, and Bo for being Kitchen Assistants.
Recipes and photos to follow soon.
Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with any of the tea companies mentioned, and I haven’t gotten any perks for writing about them. I’m just an actual consumer of the products.