Simple Pleasures

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Something is bigger than we are

Look around and marvel at the beauty of nature

It is all there

Stop, look, and breathe in the elements

The rain that freshens you,

the wind to carry you,

and the sun to shine on you

In the winter of your life

there is warmth and belonging

in familiar company

A meal shared amongst friends

with a view to the lake

Take what you can

of the simple pleasures to be gained

Frail, but very much alive

A mind that is aware,

a soul who still cares

Precious moments

and just being there

A Year’s Supply of Pukka Tea – Part 2

Winning so much tea is a lot of fun when there are so many different varieties to choose from. Now on to the second batch for review!

Love, Womankind, Herbal Collection

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Love

One would think this tea should be saved for Valentine’s Day. It contained camomile flower (25%), lime flower, elderflower, marigold flower, liquorice root, rose flower (5%), and lavender flower (5%).

On drinking it though I was a tad disappointed. Nothing really stood out and it was just another nice mellow, relaxing kind of tea. The familiar liquorice taste was amongst the ingredients, but unfortunately with liquorice being added to so many of the teas it began to taste a bit samey. I didn’t find anything that special about this tea.

Womankind

Now this unusual sounding tea was really quite pleasant. It contained camomile flower, shalavari root, liquorice root, hibiscus flower, marigold flower, beetroot, orange peel, orange essential oil flavour, vanilla pod (4%), rose flower (4%), cranberry (4%).

The tea was kind of misleading as on the outside of the box the description was “a delicate dance of organic cranberry, rose and sweet vanilla. The cranberry was really subtle and delicate – not very detectable for the most part. I thought there would be much more of this flavour. However, it was an extremely nice tea with the sweetness of the vanilla and rose, combined with with the merest hint of cranberry,

Very delicate and soothing and one of my favourites from the range.

Herbal Collection

Three Mint:

This comprised peppermint leaf (34%), spearmint leaf (34%), fieldmint leaf (32%).

This had a fresh but mild and minty taste. It was very refreshing and it was a nice change to have a combination of different mints.

Lemon, Ginger & Manuka Honey:

This tasted very much as it sounded, but on the mellow side, very mellow in fact. I would have preferred a little more oomph to this tea.

The ingredients certainly sounded very invigorating so the overall taste wasn’t quite as expected. Anyway, the ingredients were: elderflower, fennel, ginger, lemon myrtle, manuka, turmeric, lemon, lemon verbena.

Maybe if the lemon had been one of the main ingredients it would have delivered a bit more. I mean, the lemon was sun ripened sicilian lemon which made my mouth water.

Three Ginger, Three Fennel, Three Camomile

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Three Ginger

Now this had some bite to it. I really enjoyed this. The ingredients were: ginger root (51%), galangal root (28%), liquorice root, turmeric root (4%), ginger essential oil flavour (1%).

Another one of my favourite teas, I enjoyed this a lot as it had a nice, brisk ginger taste without being too harsh.

Three Fennel

Another enjoyable drink containing: sweet fennel seed (50%), wild bitter fennel seed (45%), fennel leaf (5%).

This did have a sweetish taste due to the sweet fennel seed. I’ve always enjoyed fennel tea even though it reminds me of the fennel drink I used to give to my children when they were babies.

Fennel is very soothing and good for the digestion. This is a handy tea to have in the cupboard and not just for the pleasant taste.

Three Camomile

This contained: Egyptian camomile flower (90%), Croatian camomile flower (5%), Hungarian camomile flower (5%).

Nice, soothing, mellow and relaxing, just as one would associate with camomile flower. It was very interesting to taste camomile from three different countries.

There is certainly a lot of ingredients sourced from other countries with Pukka. It gives the teas an interesting twist each time. I’m impressed with that aspect of their teas thus far.

A Year’s Supply of Pukka Tea

I won a whole year’s supply of Pukka Tea a few months ago. I couldn’t quite believe how lucky I was to get the chance to try the whole range. So little by little and sip by sip I’m getting to enjoy trying each one with my daughter. There’s twenty teabags in each box with each one individually wrapped, which also means the tea is good for on the go.

Pukka tea is organic and fair-trade so you know you’re getting good quality tea. I’m not sure how many boxes of tea I had but there were well over thirty different ones to try.

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The review for the teas is going to be split into four or five separate posts as there are far too many to write about in one blog post. I’m only going to give a brief description of my initial impressions of the tea. I have to say though, my daughter and I are having a great time and having a lot of fun choosing which tea to have next. Although the teas aren’t all technically teas (many of them are herbal infusions/tisanes) I will sometimes use the term tea interchangeably for ease of purpose.

Three Cinnamon, Star Anise & Cinnamon, Wild Apple & Cinnamon

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Three Cinnamon

As the name suggests, there were three types of cinnamon used to make up this herbal infusion. These were: Vietnamese Cinnamon Bark (60%), Indonesian Cinnamon Bark (16%), liquorice root, Indian Cinnamon Bark (10%).

If you love cinnamon then you will love this tea. My daughter did but I did not because it was way too sweet for my taste. But then this tea was exactly what it was supposed to be, three types of cinnamon with the additional sweetness of the liquorice. This is great if you want a sweet fix or sweet pick me up. The sweetness was way too overpowering for me however, and this is not one I shall be rushing back for, though many will.

Star Anise & Cinnamon

Not surprisingly after the previous tisane, this one also had cinnamon bark as the main ingredient (40%), together with ginger root (20%), liquorice root, sencha green tea, star anise (8%), cardamom pod.

This tea has been one of the best I’ve tried so far from the range. Although it has the cinnamon this is not too sweet at all, and adds a nice little flourish at the end of each sip. The gentle spices have been the main taste factor, and I’ve enjoyed this one a great deal.

Wild Apple & Cinnamon

More Cinnamon bark (28%), liquorice root, ginger root (14%), orange peel, chamomile flower, wild apple (6%), cardamom pod, orange essential oil flavour.

Nice juicy sweet apple taste with a hint of cinnamon to finish. This would make a lovely late summer or autumn drink, but really it’s good any time of the year when you want something a little more refreshing.

Liquorice & Cinnamon, Peppermint & Liquorice, Three Liquorice

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Liquorice & Cinnamon

After having three teas containing cinnamon and liquorice, here we are again with a tea named as such. This time of course there was a higher ratio of liquorice to cinnamon  – liquorice root (25%), cocoa bean shell, roasted chicory root, cardamom pod, cinnamon bark (15%), sweet fennel seed.

This was as expected, a blend of the liquorice root and cinnamon bark. It was well balanced but there was far too much sweetness for my taste buds. I would imagine this would have a love it or hate it type of thing going on with it. I got a subtle sense of some other ingredient but it was the liquorice and cinnamon which dominated.

Peppermint & Liquorice

One gets the impression that Pukka use liquorice a lot to sweeten their tisanes. This one has a lot of peppermint leaf though (60%), plus the liquorice root (40%).

This had a nice peppermint taste that was not overshadowed by the liquorice, unlike some other brands that I’ve tried who do a peppermint and liquorice tisane. This was perhaps one of the more enjoyable tisanes I’ve had using this combination of ingredients.

Three Liquorice

Liquorice lovers will be in their element with the teas so far, so often liquorice is a key ingredient. Now there is even more with three types of it: Kazakhstan liquorice root (45%), Pakistani liquorice root (45%), Egyptian liquorice root (10%).

My daughter loves this tea, but again it’s too sweet for my taste palate. Nothing wrong with it per se if you love the sweetness.

So those are my initial impressions thus far of the ones I’ve tried. It’s been fun trying out so many different ones.

Lots more happy tea drinking to come!

Go to Pukka’s website to view the whole range.

http://www.pukkaherbs.com

A Day With Northern Tea Merchants

This summer has been a summer of firsts. It was the first time I had ever taken a trip to the north of England, and it was long overdue. When James Pogson, director of Northern Tea Merchants invited me to come to a tea tasting it was hard to resist, not only because I love tea, but because Northern Tea Merchants are located in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, just a stone’s throw from the beautiful Peak District.

I’ve talked about Northern Tea several times on the blog after tasting some samples of their delicious tea. The thought of tasting many more was making my mouth water, and so I asked my daughter, Sarah, if she would like to accompany me to Chesterfield, to which she agreed. We spent two nights in Chesterfield and two nights in the Peak District in Bakewell, home of the bakewell tart and pudding.

The first thing I wanted to do after checking in to the bed and breakfast was to go and see the famous church with the crooked spire which adorns the packets of Northern Tea. I wanted to get a feel of the place and to try and get a feel for the heart and soul of the people of Chesterfield.

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Northern Tea have been around for quite a while and the charismatic James Pogson, who grew up in Chesterfield, joined the family business (which spans three generations) in 1989.  The company has won many awards over the course of 2014 and 2015  in the Chesterfield/Derbyshire area such as: retailer of the year, food and drink retailer of the year, food hero, lifetime achievement, and best overall business.

James very kindly picked us up on Monday morning and took us to the premises in Chatsworth Road. Here we each had a pot of tea, all presented in the most elegant white teaware. I had the tea of the month which was a Vietnamese oolong (Baolam Dalat Fancy Top Oolong) from the Baolam Dalat estate, shown in the main picture below. This was a beautiful tea that comprised the first and second leaves of the tea plant. The leaves had been rolled tightly into pellets and the overall taste and flavour was like that of a Tie Guan Yin. When the leaves unfurled after brewing we could see the whole leaves and also some stalks. The tea tasted so smooth and creamy.

Sarah had a pot of Ceylon Green Jasmine tea (top right). I’m not a lover of jasmine tea in general but this could easily convert me. The balance of green and jasmine was so clever -the amount of jasmine was just right and it wasn’t overpowering like some jasmine teas. The aroma was drifting along the table and infused the whole room. The smell and taste reminded me of a clear, bright morning.

James had a large leaf english breakfast tea (bottom right) and this was definitely a good substantial breakfast tea to set you up for the day. It was a blend of Indian and China teas and had a wintergreen taste, together with a treacly sweetness.

After spending some time chatting about tea, and James is very knowledgeable and passionate about so many aspects of tea, including the history of tea, we had some lunch from the cafe/shop. This room was filled with every type of tea imaginable, row upon row of tea beautifully packaged in gold foil with an image of the church on the front. Not only is a plethora of tea sold and served up here, but there is also lots of coffee and cocoa. The food menu is filled with all kinds of tasty treats, lunches and cakes.

After lunch it was time to sample more teas, ten in total that Sarah and I were allowed to pick out. These were arranged so that the milder teas were tasted first before getting to the stronger ones. This was done in order to prevent tainting the taste of the milder teas too much. These ten different teas were: Russian Caravan – a blend of China black and oolong teas, Darjeeling First Flush – one of my favourite black teas from India, Gyokuro – a green Japanese tea, Wa-Koucha – a black Japanese tea, Ceylon Uva black tea, Rwanda black tea from East Africa, Rose Congou – a China black tea blended with rose petals, Lady Grey with Cornflowers – a China black tea from the Anhui province blended with oil of bergamot, Formosa Crocodile Lapsang Souchong – a black tea from Taiwan, and a  black Indian Spiced Tea. This was a good variety of teas from around the world.

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The teas were all laid out on the table, and each placed in white tasting cups. Once brewed there were so many different shades and hues of tea liquor.

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The colours were lovely and eye-catching. James told us that women have more taste buds than men, an interesting fact. He also showed us how to slurp the tea from a spoon under the tongue to get the best taste experience.

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For Sarah and I it was like being a couple of kids in a sweet shop. What an utter joy it was to be sampling so many good quality teas. The big surprise for me was the rose congou tea. I’ve had rose teas of varying descriptions in the past which have smelled and tasted quite perfumy. This tea, however, was mind-blowingly good. It was just like being in a rose garden with gentle, aromatic wafts of rose, and with a taste to match. Sarah particularly liked the lapsang souchong – it really stood out for her.

After slurping all these delicious teas it was time to go on an interesting tour of the factory where we saw various machines that make teabags (see below). The bags are made of manila hemp and glued together with mineral glue. There were also hoists and all sorts of other equipment that contribute to the smooth running of the factory. James blends so much of his own tea and sells loose leaf tea as well as teabags.

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The next day James very kindly drove Sarah and I to our bed and breakfast establishment in Bakewell. On the way we had a wonderful tour down some winding roads which would have been hard for us to get to without a vehicle, and we had some magnificent views of the open countryside.

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We also skirted around Chatsworth House and saw many deer and other animals. The lands and views of the house were very impressive. I couldn’t resist taking some pictures of the deer, and also the church.

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Northern Tea Merchants isn’t just any old tea company – there really isn’t any other tea company quite like it. It’s a place that brings people together. It has a quaintness and charm and hospitality, and a throwback to days gone by. And tea is a way of life for many of us and a part of the social fabric of British culture.

It’s a company that goes the extra mile for its customers, and Sarah and I were certainly made to feel very welcome. All of the staff we came across in the tea room/shop and the factory seemed very friendly, as were the people of Derbyshire in general. Having met James in the flesh now and seeing in person how he runs the company, Sarah and I were blown away quite honestly, not just by the quality of the teas and the high standards that the company meets, but by the friendliness and kindness of this very interesting man. Connecting with people it seems, is at the very heart of Northern Tea Merchants.

My daughter thinks of our time in Derbyshire as the “James Pogson experience”. It really was a great experience, and one which will always stay with us. Our memories will be something to treasure and to reminisce about together, over a cup of Northern Tea of course!

Here is the link to the website of this amazing tea company:

http://www.northern-tea.com

 

Keemun Imperial Black Tea – Teavivre

I tried some of Teavivre’s Keemun teas recently. They do several different ones and I got the opportunity to try yet another Keemun tea – this time the Imperial Black Tea.

Only the pure buds and leaves are used for this tea, and it originates from Qimen, Huangshan, Anhui. The leaves were curly and twisted and I could see the lightness of the golden buds which denoted the quality. They smelled of sweet treacle with an ocean breeze freshness.

Harvest time was April 10th 2015 and the tea species was keemun zhuye. The recommended brew time was 3 – 5 minutes at 185ºF or 85℃.

I made the tea in a glass slider infuser using freshly boiled spring water. I did let the water cool very slightly but this was mainly because it made it easier to handle the glassware. A black tea (or red tea as it would be categorised in China) can take hotter water.

The tea liquor was a deep caramel colour. I thought it tasted a little bit like Jin Jun Mei but not as sweet and biscuity. It had a fresh bold taste which I’ve come to associate with Keemun tea. I could also detect slightly fruity, citrussy notes. I couldn’t quite make out the overall taste of the tea but on Teavivre’s website they describe the tea as tasting of sweet potato, which with hindsight, definitely fits with what I tasted.

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I was able to get several infusions of this tea. By the fourth infusion the flavour was starting to become lost. I find with China black tea that there is usually a good burst of flavour in the first couple of brews, and also in the third.

The wet leaves had a black treacly aroma with a hint of smokiness. This was a tea which tasted very much like it smelled. The sweet potato finish does make the tea taste a bit different to other Keemun teas. Surprisingly my partner who loves sweet potato wasn’t so keen on the tea. That doesn’t take anything away from the tea though, as people have different tastes and preferences. It’s not…well…everybody’s cup of tea.

This was a very gentle, relaxing tea to drink, and it didn’t become bitter at any point. It was easy to drink, but not easy to spoil.

Thank you to Alison from Teavivre for the sample, and here is the link to the tea:

http://www.teavivre.com/keemun-imperial-black-tea/

Tie Guan Yin – Northern Tea Merchants

Although I’ve drunk Tie Guan Yin before, it’s been a while. I happily received some a few months ago from Northern Tea Merchants. Tie Guan Yin is a green oolong and I like to brew it in a variety of ways. Sometimes I’ll get the gong fu set out, other times I’ll brew it in a teapot. What never fails to impress me is the way this tea unfolds from the tightly rolled balls into huge leaves (as seen below). It always makes me want to do something with the leaves – like some kind of craft such as leaf printing

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It’s also what I would describe as my go to oolong. I don’t find it as complex as some other oolongs, but I do find it reliably good to taste. It comes from the Anxi province in Fujian, China.

The tightly rolled balls were dark green, and only a few were required each time the tea was made because of the way the leaves unfurled when brewing. I sometimes thought I got a hint of fruit when smelling the tea in the packet, which seemed more pronounced as time went on. I didn’t really pick that up in the actual taste though.

I brewed it in a teapot for three minutes using filtered water that had not reached boiling point. Sometimes I boiled the water and let it cool, but this time I just guessed what would be about the right temperature.

The liquor was a very pale yellow-green colour with a delicious aroma. I could see why this tea is a traditional tea commonly drunk in China.

This Tie Guan Yin had a nice clean, mellow taste. It had a soft vegetal taste with hints of floral, and a kind of gentle bean like taste. It’s the kind of tea which has a uniqueness about it which lets you know you are drinking it. It had a slightly creamy mouth feel with a hint of sweetness.

I recently had my son to stay with me and we went out and explored new places. It was nice to make new memories and look at the photos later whilst drinking a cup of this premium quality oolong tea. There’s something very comforting about this tea, and it’s ideal to relax with.

There is interesting information on Northern Tea’s website about how the tea is processed, and also some interesting legends associated with the tea. To read about this here is the link to the website:

http://www.northern-tea.com/product/tie_guan_yin.asp

Thank you so much to James as always for allowing me to sample this wonderful tea.

Keemun Tea – Grade 1 and Premium Keemun Hao Ya Black Tea – Teavivre

After tasting keemun tea for the first time last summer, and being suitably impressed with it, I was excited to receive two keemun black teas from Teavivre a few months back. I was hoping to blog about these two teas a while ago, but so much has been happening lately that it’s only just recently I’ve had some moments to sit and write.

Teavivre do a range of keemun teas, of different grades and quality in the pecking order of keemun teas. However, I have never sampled a tea that was not good from this company, and don’t expect to quite frankly based on my experience with them. I had Keemun Grade 1 tea to try and their Premium Keemun Hao Ya. I thought it would be interesting to compare them.

Keemun Black Tea – Grade 1 

Keemun is the most popular black tea in China. This tea was from Qimen county in the Anhui province of China, harvested in 2015. Teavivre have a Grade 2 keemun with a less expensive price point than the Grade 1 but as they point out this does not mean inferior quality. Even a ‘lower quality’ keemun tea is good quality with Teavivre, and I have absolutely no reason to doubt them.

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I first made this Grade 1 keemun tea in a gaiwan. I think I put in way too much tea (at least for my taste) because it was quite strong and astringent, even after a short 15 – 20 second brew time. I like my tea on the lighter side and this was way too strong. I gave it another quick brew and ran into the same problem as before – way too strong and astringent.

When I made the tea again with just a simple infuser in a mug of tea this was more like the kind of keemun I had known and loved last summer. It was bold and fruity with a nice clean taste, and it had the merest hint of sweetness. This is an afternoon tea to have with a slice of lemon drizzle cake, or lemon meringue pie. It cuts through the sweetness of a dessert so nicely. I much prefer afternoon teas to breakfast teas, and this tea certainly makes the grade so long as it is brewed correctly. With slightly less tea to water ratio and a shorter brew time for infuser teas (no more than three minutes) this was ideal for my taste palate. When it’s good it’s very good is all I can say.

Premium Keemun Hao Ya Black Tea

I didn’t have any problems with this tea from the get go. This tea was also from Qimen county in Anhui, China, harvested in 2015. I could see a few golden tips interspersed with the rest of the leaves which denoted its superior quality, although the picture really doesn’t do it justice.

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I brewed it in a teapot for 3 minutes. It was much smoother than the previous tea and it had a honey sweetness combined with a floral and fruity taste.  I could see myself having this tea with some maple and pecan pie or something similar. This tea also had a clean taste, and it was also a tea I would take in the afternoon. I would just pair it with a slightly different dessert or pie.

This tea is more expensive and a higher quality than the Grade 1 keemun, and this was reflected in the smoother, more honeyed taste from the tips of the tea. Nonetheless, both teas really have their place, and it is all a matter of what one is in the mood for. I could happily drink both of these teas. I would have the Grade 1 for a sharper, cleaner, brisk taste, and the Premium Hao Ya for when I want something a bit sweeter, and maybe perhaps something a bit more comforting.

Two great teas from Teavivre. To see their impressive range of teas go to the website:

http://www.teavivre.com

Many thanks to Alison for sending the samples.