Thursday, 10 July 2008

"There's no time like Sleepytime!"

I've realised that I can't really say that I normally focus on one specific topic: mainly because since I began this blog I have only managed to post one entry! Trust me, this will be changing and there are quite a few entries on the way (to be completed with photos from my new obsession with photographing my food!). I've had some lovely food experiences of late that I definitely want to share. Today however, I am choosing to focus on one of my current obsessions: tea. Now, (for those of you outside the UK) you may find it absolutely normal that someone living in the UK might in fact become or be obsessed with tea. To be completely honest however, although tea is an important part of life here (especially for those of you from Yorkshire!) , the tea I'm obsessed with and writing about tonight isn't a speciality of the UK.

I'll begin with today/tonight's discovery. I've been aware of Celestial Seasonings existence all of my life. To me, it was just another tea in a section of the grocery store I didn't (used to!) like unless I was buying Nesquik. So it seems rather strange that at the moment I'm absolutely hooked on their Sleepytime Tea (I chose the tea's motto as the title, come on, a motto for tea, how cool is that?). As it says on the box, it contains chamomile, spearmint, lemon grass, tilia flowers, blackberry leaves, orange blossoms, hawthorn berries, and rosebuds. It's supposed to be soothing and calming. My honest opinion is that it might be the closest to comfort in a cup. The flavours blend together nicely even though the smell of the tea bag itself leads you to believe that the mint, orange and lemon grass could be overwhelming. The best part is that Celestial Seasonings are big believers in ethical trade. Despite the international diversity of their products, they still blend all of their teas in their Boulder, Colorado facility, and for this they gain extra points. On a side note, since I've moved to Glasgow, I've realised how important ethical trading is, and how beneficial local sourcing can be. But back to Sleepytime...I bought the tea at Heart Buchanan (380 Byres Road, West End, Glasgow-a glorious food emporium to be discussed in one of next entries) for £1,85 (10 tea bags), not too bad considering some of the other contender's prices. I give this tea my highest rating (5/5), and am currently enjoying my third cup of the evening.

Next on our list is my venture into green tea territory. I won't pretend like I know what I'm talking about here, because to be honest, I am not the biggest fan of green tea. However, Hob (74 Queen Street, Glasgow-cooking acoutriments for the true epicure) seduced me again. As the photo will prove, the 1000 Day Flower is beautiful (it's an Amaranth flower). The description describes it as a "Chinese artisan green tea" calling its flavour "rich, sweet, and peachy...with a dusting of caramel sugar." Now, judging by all of this (and the £2,50 for one flower price tag) I expected to be in for the treat of my life, figuring that if I did not like this green tea, that probably none will ever suit my fancy. The presentation was lovely. As soon as the flower touched water it began to open, ultimately sinking to the bottom of the clear jug we placed it in. The taste was...wait for it...average! I could not distinguish anything extraordinary, or the so-hyped "peachy" flavours. Andrew, fellow flatmate and green tea lover, was also disappointed. The upside would have been that it could have been re-used up to three times. Unfortunately, before we could use it again it began to give off a most foul odour and grow mould (rather quickly in fact). I give it a 2/5 (and that only for it's beauty and the experience).

Tea #3 is my other guilty pleasure. I say guilty, because it comes from one of the most extortionate, yet absolutely beautiful teashops, I've ever been to in my life. The perpetrator? Mariage Frères (30, rue du Bourg-Tibourg, Le Marais, Paris) The store is always full of tourists and exceedingly snobby shop assistants, but going into the store reminds you of how big a deal (and how much money tea generated) tea was/is. I once wanted to buy a white tea. Finding one with a beautiful smell, I said I would take 100 grams, only to find out that the tea in question was 91 euros per 100 grams. Shocked, I decided to stick with some pre-packaged teas (thus also lessening the need to interact with shop assistants). I ended up with Thé Rouge Bourbon tea bags and a canister of Earl Grey Impèrial(not for me, although I did get to enjoy some of it!) I once had some of this vanilla tea at a café just diagonal to our flat in Paris after an extremely filling meal. Not only did it settle my stomach, it also tasted like how I thought vanilla extract would taste (well, a bit richer perhaps considering it's Bourbon vanilla!) One box (which for the record is also very appealing on the eye) contains 30 muslin tea bags and costs about12 euros. The other tea, (Earl Grey Impèrial) can be bought loose or pre-packaged in a canister. It has a lovely smell loose, and is a surprising twist on Earl Grey. The flavour itself is hard to describe but definitely includes Bergamot. It isn't smoky. It does taste a little bit like regular Earl Grey, but it also doesn't. Most of all it doesn't need sugar at all (yes, I'm the person who generally needs at least two teaspoons of sugar). The flavour is so lovely that adding sugar would be a travesty. Both teas get 5/5.

My final review of the evening, is another tea I picked up in Paris at Le Palais de Thés (a chain that can be found around the city) It's a white tea, and not nearly as pricey as the Mariage Frères one. Before I say more though it is interesting to note that White tea (as I found out) is actually one of the most expensive teas you can buy. The purer it is, the more it costs. The first white tea I had was in Germany at someone's house. I found it to be a milder alternative to drinking black tea in the morning. I didn't realise my new-found pleasure would be such an expensive purchase. Luckily, Palais des Thés has a wide range of teas for every occasion from all over the world. The one I ended up with is called Bai Mu Dan. The label (in english and french, though the french is probably more accurate!) describes this tea (origin: China) as: "A white tea made with broken leaves and silver tips. It has a woody flavour of hazelnuts and chesnuts." While I don't really agree with the nutty flavour description, I will say it definitely is woodsy, almost smelling a bit like fresh hay (not necessarily a bad thing!) The woodsy flavour is also rather sweet. It's a good tea, and definitely mild, but I'm not sure I like it as much as the one I had in Germany. The jury is still out on this one. For now I give it the middle of the line 3/5.

As for other types of tea, (as in store brand versus Twinings and other name brands) I'm not going to go into that tonight, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I won't go into it another. I'm also sure I will find more teas that can't go without a mention. In the meantime happy tea drinking and Goodnight.
Look forward to more entries soon!


Susanne said...

I always wondered about the tea flower - thanks for clearing that up. Next for you: tea companies to support your blog by advertising :-)

rcwitham said...

Your dialogue in tea was thoroughly invigorating. You shall have to pass your knowledge along to me, as I only ever drink English Breakfast. Although I will say I'm smart enough to know that English Breakfast is a combination of three different leaves, I want to say Kenyan and Assam are two of the three, but I won't be quoted. lol.