Comparison

Cuppa the Day:

Taurus by Adagio

A smooth oolong and white tea base blend with peach and stone fruit flavors.


Comparison.

From celebrities who are asked audacious questions about their bodies to hearing how our friends speak about themselves, the subtle queues of comparison are all around us.

By and large, when we listen to how we speak about ourselves, the words and tone we use are negative. We know that we ought not compare ourselves to others, but we cannot seem to help ourselves. If you listen closely, you can hear a hidden language. This language betrays the self conscious and tells how we compare our current selves to the vigors of the youth we once held.

It is to this, which I contemplate today.

I am beginning to think that one ought not compare themselves with their former self. Not to say that we should do away with #transformationtuesday or any other day in which we could – and rightly should – celebrate our progress.

Merely, mind how you look at yourself.

Life is short. We are not promised today. We are not promised tomorrow. And even if tomorrow comes, there is no guarantee that it will be like the day before. Things we take for granted today, like the ability to walk, to sing, to feel the warmth of the mug in our hands, can be gone in an instant.

The only thing that stays the same in life is that everything changes.

We were different people yesterday. We have been made who we are today by all of our collected experiences, up to and including yesterday. If we were to compare ourselves as we are today with our former selves, we are not making a fair comparison. It’s like trying to compare a ripe piece of fruit to an unripe one. They are both the same type of fruit, but only the one further long in its journey will be sweet enough to eat.

Therefore, we ought not to compare at all. Not to others or to our yesteryear. Take today as it is. Accept yourself as you are in this moment. Resolve to chose the best things at this moment, choosing to be the best you possible for today.

Hojicha

One of my favorite teas is one that contains zero tea leaves. No, it’s not an herbal, it’s the Japanese green tea, Hojicha. Hojicha contains only stems. Another creation from the early twentieth century, this concoction did not exist before mechanical harvesting. Hand harvesting of tea leaves allows for only the essential parts of the plant (leaves and buds, or tips) to be plucked, leaving stems and older leaves behind. With mechanical harvesting, however, a greater amount of the plant is taken (tips, leaves, and stems). The difference between the two is like trimming a bush leaf by leaf by hand and trimming the bush with a hedge trimmer. Mechanically harvested leaves must be separated from the stems to make tea, and the stems and stalks are often discarded.

Enter, once again, an ingenious Kyoto merchant who took the twiggy remains of the harvest and roasted them. The resulting brew tea, with its dark roasted flavor, has remained popular since.

Brew It

My favorite Hojicha comes from Harney and Sons. They carry only the best quality teas and since they buy directly from growers, you’re always getting a fair price.

The tea itself looks quite different than most green teas. All you get with Hojicha are little golden twigs of varying lengths, fairly uniform copper color. You’ll likely notice the smell of the twigs first as they give a lovely roasted scent.

Steep your twigs at 175 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3 minutes.

As the dried teas will look very different than a standard green tea, so the liquor color differs. Hojicha is a reddish brown, almost like a caramel color. The aromas are warm toasted flavors. It is not smoky like a camp fire, but is more like woodsy roasted scent.

Light bodied, the liquor is smooth with flavors reminiscent of toasted nuts. Rather than a meatiness that one may except with a nut flavor, you’ll experience a pleasant woodiness.

Because of the robustness of this tea, I often use it to introduce coffee drinkers to the expansive world tea.

Contemplative Thoughts

If necessity is the mother of invention, then energy is the father. Recognizing a problem is one thing. Seeking a solution to it is something entirely different. Creating is costly, whether it be a solution to a problem – like making something from the byproducts of mechanical tea production – or a painting a masterpiece, as it takes energy.

Our energy is our most valuable resource.

Renewable, yes, but it should not be spent unwisely. Often people will spend exorbitant amounts of their precious energy on things that do not offer a valuable level of return. Time-sucks, they are often called, because they take up so much of our time, but they really feed on our energy. Tasks that you dread seem to be the hungriest of all.

We ought, therefore, to be conscious of our energy. To manage it versus trying to manage our time, our calendars, or those tasks and people around us.

Bancha

Plucked from the same plants which grow Japanese Sencha tea, Bancha is harvested later in the growing season from succession flushes.

This second harvest from these plants usually occurs about twenty days after the Sencha harvest and any subsequent harvests after that are used as a way to help tidy up the tea plants before winter. This helps explain why the word Bancha translates to mean “last tea”.

These succession leaves are processed identically to the spring Sencha: steam fixed, rolled, and dried. So it may be logical to a drinker that a succession leaf from same plant, using the same processing methods, should produce the same flavors, body, and aromas as the first flush leaves. That cannot be further than the truth.

Why? Because of the leaves.

By the time Bancha leaves are harvested, they are older and tougher than the leaves of the first harvest. This toughness is why a side by side comparison of Bancha and Sencha leaves reveals the Bancha leaves to be larger and, on occasion, whole. These older leaves also contain less caffeine than the first flush leaves, as the plant sends an extra boost of caffeine from the roots into the first new leaves of the spring to help the plant explode with new growth. After the initial burst of energy following the time of winter dormancy, the plant sends less caffeine through its branches.

The resulting brew tends to carry more lemon notes, but can have some more harsh undertones as compared with Sencha. These tones help make it a a wonderful base tea for Genmaicha.

Brew It

I procured this batch of Bancha from Harney & Sons. At the time of this post Harney & Sons has available several types of Bancha, each with its own unique characteristics. I am not certain, however, I believe that part of the reason for this large variety is because the Japanese have several grades of Bancha tea that are marketed and sold globally.

The leaves of the Bancha I purchased are a rich dark green spears that are of varying sizes (harken back to the tougher leaves being more difficult to process to be identical sizes, like a Sencha).

Like most green teas, Bancha will taste best when steeped at 175 degrees Fahrenheit for two to three minutes.

Bancha liquor is a light yellow with a small hint of green. Light bodied with almost no astringency, it is almost like a light broth. The broth attitude is emphasized by the aroma of leafy greens. It has a clean vegetable scent to it.

The brew’s flavors are like a steamed broccoli or a green bell pepper. It’s got a lovely clean bite to it that is reminiscent of fresh sautéed green beans. There can be a tiny hint of fishiness, but I haven’t always picked up this flavor on all cups. And if you hold the liquor in your mouth you’ll experience the astringency increasing.

Contemplative Thoughts

There isn’t anything super outstanding about Bancha. It’s just a good cup of green tea. So if you’re not picky and want just a good cup of green tea, definitely give Bancha a try.

But just because it is ordinary doesn’t make it any less magical than any other type of tea. So often in America we are found chasing the extreme moments in life. Whether it is pressure of social media to have the online image of a perfect life or pressures within ourselves to have the best life we possibly can, we often find ourselves feeling like something is missing.

I’m beginning to think that what is missing is the magic in the ordinary. When we focus on what is to come or on trying to make things look perfect, we fail to be able to grasp the peace and serenity of the moment. But slowing down and simply enjoying the moment as it is, savoring the sensations and flavors as they happen, not trying to cling to them, we can experience the extraordinary.

So today, slow down and really savor your cup. Take notice of the way the cup fits in your hand; how the steam rises off the surface of the liquor and dances in the sunlight; the moment the smooth liquid touches your tongue and truly savor every last drop. Give yourself the gift to simply enjoy the magic of the moment.

Genmaicha

Though often marketed as a pure green tea, Genmaicha is actually a blend made from Bancha green tea and rice. The name “Genmaicha” translates to “brown rice tea”, likely due to the color of the added dried rice. Relatively new by the history of tea, it was created in the 1920’s by a Kyoto merchant who was trying to sell some Bancha tea that was moving slowly through his inventory. Upon invention, its popularity soared among the working class and became known to the masses as a “peasant” drink. Combining tea with the common commodity of rice created a less expensive alternative to pure teas and was a creative way for people to stretch their tea dollars. In more recent years, however, it has gained popularity in all classes.

Genmaicha remains a popular drink among those fasting or individuals who go a long time between meals, as the rice gives a thicker body to the tea and makes the brew very filling.

Brew It

The best Genmaicha I’ve tasted came from Harney and Sons. The short forest green leaves are mixed with little brown dehydrated rice kernels. There are also a few white popped kernels that look like popcorn. The mixture has a bit of a dusty finish to it.

You’ll want to steep your tea for three minutes at 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Listen closely as you pour the hot water onto your tea and during the first few moments of steeping, as the rice makes a soft, pleasant crackle and popping sound as it soaks and expands.

Genmaicha’s liquor is dark green/ yellow and has a hint of cloudiness. The aroma is absolutely delicious. A hint of vegetal, but the resounding scent is reminiscent of toasted popcorn over a fire (side note: popcorn as a snack pairs well with this tea). The flavor, however, is of toasted vegetables.

When Lori and I did the official tasting of this tea we tried it two ways. First, as I described above (just tea and water). The resulting brew was light bodied and had very little astringency.

The second way we tried this tea was (at Lori’s brilliant suggestion) with the addition of a pinch of salt. As odd as it sounds, adding a pinch of salt (per 6 ounces of water, or your personal preference) to your water isn’t all that unusual. In the classic tea book, The Book of Tea, Kakuzo Okakura suggests salting the water during the “first boil”.

Scientifically, adding salt will increase the boiling temperature of the water. I’m sure someone much more knowledgeable than I would be able to step in and explain what that does to our tea leaves.

For our purposes today, I can tell you that adding salt not only will enhance the flavor of the tea, but it also will increase the body of the tea. In the case of Genmaicha, the addition of salt makes the resulting brew more broth like and even more filling. It gives your body the feeling of being nourished more than most cups of tea could sufficiently provide.

Contemplative Thoughts

The addition of salt changes this good cup of tea and turns it into an amazing one. For thousands of years salt has been a necessary ingredient in our world. It has even been said that without salt “life cannot be lived humanely” (Pliny the Elder, Roman author and philosopher). Our bodies need it for survival. Our foods need it for texturizing, flavoring, and preservation. Likewise our souls need it.

The Bible says “You are the salt of the earth”. We are each here for a reason. God created and ordained for a purpose. And even if you doubt God or your purpose on this planet, know that you are more valuable than mere grains of salt. You add flavor, texture, and depth to this world. Your very presence does more than preserve. It sustains. And you are a desperately needed member of your family and your friend group. This world would not be the same without you.

Gratefully yours, my dear tea friend.

~Elaine

Five Lessons From One Cup of Tea

I made tea the other day. I’m being serious.

I. *made*. tea.

Quite literally, I tried my hand at turning raw tea leaves into a drinkable brew. I have read plentifully on the subject of tea processing, watched countless videos online, and had come to the conclusion that tea making is a subtle science. Experience, though, has taught me otherwise. In reality, this process resides closer to alchemy.

It began, once again, with my little apothecary garden teaching me an unexpected lesson. I’ve been feeling spring creep into my bones like a dense morning fog, but still being mid March, thought I had more time to plan and prepare. My intention was to let Gimli and Legolas, my two Camellia Sinensis var. sinensis plants, continue to establish themselves and get through the winter before giving them a much needed trim. I thought mid to late March for a trim would be best, as it is not uncommon for my area to get a terrible cold snap and see some snow before the month is done.

As I walked though the garden a few days ago, contemplating my plans for the spring, I saw that Gimli and Legolas not only had well survived the winter (thanks to the indispensable winter protection advice from Monica at Windy Hollow), but the warmer temperatures had them already pushing out the beginnings of new growth.

I was late before I had even started. First lesson learned.

So to trimming I went. Most of the trimmings were older growth, which from my readings, would have produced a wretchedly bitter brew. The fresh new leaves, however, might turn into something special. I carefully plucked the baby leaves off the stems by hand and set them aside.

I say “carefully”, but the truth of the matter is these are tough plants! I felt like I was having to rip the leaves off the stem. Second lesson learned.

Here are the new leaves:

I quickly decided to try making a green tea. Partially because I thought it might be a tiny bit easier since the leaves would require less processing than a black or an oolong. And quite frankly, with my schedule, I didn’t have much time available to spend lots of time on processing.

So I sat the leaves outside on my back porch to enjoy the afternoon for a couple of hours. Surely by then they would have wilted bit for some hand rolling.

Nope.

So I let them wilt overnight (a good 16 hours after plucking). And the edges of two of the leaves were a wee bit wilted. Obviously, my environmental conditions were not quite right for wilting. Third lesson learned.

Needing to leave for work, I had a quick decision to make. To continue to wilt and hope all turns out alright or to venture to outrageous fortune and brew as the leaves were. That was my question.

Fearing that they would wilt too much and become not good (because, let’s face it, I have no idea what would happen if they wilted for another 12 hours), I decided to quickly finish the processing before I left for work.

So to rolling, I went! It took a few minuets to figure out how the leaves rolled best. I first attempted with rubbing my palms along the length of my hands (like rolling a log), but found that the leaves didn’t roll much and had a tendency to escape my fingers. I attempted just using the fingers of one hand against the other’s palm, but discovered that process to be excruciatingly slow. I finally obtained a bit of satisfaction in rolling the leaves in a circular pattern between my palms, as if rolling a ball. I rolled like this for about 15 min and finally gave up due to time constraints and my hands having reached a sufficient level of exfoliation (tough leaves, remember). Fourth lesson learned.

Here is my feeble attempt at rolling the leaves:

Terrible! But given my constraints and limited (‘rapidly diminishing’ may be more accurate) knowledge and experience, I’m rather pleased with the results.

Finally came the moment I had been waiting for!! To brew!!

I steeped the loosely rolled leaves for 3 minutes in 175 degree water.

The liquor was a very pale yellow-green and the flavor was a resounding green bean. It was actually quite refreshing. Light body and no astringency; the brew had a crispness about it that I really liked. I can only equate it to eating a raw green bean.

My only regret from this whole process? I only had enough leaves to make about a half cup. Fifth lesson learned.

Contemplative Thoughts

Five lessons learned from one cup of tea. But more so than just the educational experience, I now hold a greater appreciation and respect for artisans across the globe who grow and process teas by hand. This is hard work and a definite labor of love. Not one for the weary or the easily discouraged.

I know I am not alone in gratitude toward the Jackson brothers who created the first tea-rolling machine back in the 1870s. A miracle machine, is what that is.

To those who have dedicated their lives to studying and crafting this incredible elixir, I extend my sincere thanks.

Sláinte!

Ichiban Sencha

Ichiban Sencha, or as Lori and I lovingly call it “Icky-ban Sencha”, is a prime example of how easily you can mess up making a cup of tea. It’s refreshing to read even the most experienced tea connoisseurs and experts can incorrectly make a cup of tea the first time they brew a cup. The first time I made this sencha, I’ll admit, it was horrible. So much so, I was dreading this post. The second attempt, I’m pleased to report, was much more pleasant. 

Ichiban Sencha is possibly the most assertive of all senchas. Made from the first flush of new growth in the spring, the word Ichiban means “the first”. Unlike the single estate Matsuda’s Sencha, this is a blend of teas grown in the Kakegawa area of Shizuoka, Japan.

Made in a more modern (post World War II) style, this tea is deep steamed using  fukumushi method, where the tea is steamed an additional 30 seconds longer than the traditional method. Those extra few seconds further breaks down the leaves making a stronger brew. Today most senchas are produced using this method.

Brew It

Harney & Sons once again came to the rescue on this tea. Since there are no shops locally to source high quality teas, I do my tea shopping online, from a list quality vendors that I have grown to love. And Harney & Sons always has one of the best selections on pure teas available in the States. 

The leaves of Ichiban Sencha are a mix of rich green needles and more fine, almost powdery, bits. 

As you can see from my first attempt at the brew, the liquor is a darker green, and cloudy from the powdery leaves (this should have been my first clue that I made the cup a wee bit too strong). My second attempt matched closer to the expected intense green color (albeit still a bit on the cloudy side). 

On both attempts, the aromas of the steeped leaves is a unique mix of woodsy citrus with a vegetal undertone. 

Medium bodied on both attempts, but the flavors couldn’t be more different. The initial attempt was so astringent that Lori nor I could adequately pick out any flavors. It was like eating a lemon. Or more accurately, like a punch in the face. We did discover that as you held the liquor in your mouth, the flavors would evolve. The brew became less astringent and a warm spice flavor, almost a sweet-cinnamon or nutmeg-like, would pair with the citrus vegetable on the finish. 

My second attempt proved much more pleasant (no punch in the face!). I made the tea a little bit lighter. This made the tea slightly more lighter bodied, but also took out the worst of the astringency. As a result I was able to pick up more on the lemon and spinach / turnip green flavors. As on the first attempt, the longer that I held the liquor in my mouth, the more the flavors evolved, becoming less astringent still, letting the vegetal flavors really shine. The warm spice flavors were not as prevalent, but I definitely suggest trying yourself to see what flavors your tongue can taste. 

Contemplative Thoughts

Perfectionistic to a fault, I was certain when I first made Ichiban Sencha that I made it correctly. After all, I followed the instructions, so how could this have  gone wrong? But aray it went. 

I spent weeks brooding over this post. Dreading knowing what was down the pike. I procrastinated knowing that I would need to make another cup of this wretched brew to confirm what I had already tasted and recorded in my notes to adequately record my thoughts for you.  

Hindsight is always 20/20. And I now see that was part of the reason for delaying my writing. I found other things on which to spend my time. Making excuses for why something else was more important. But in the end, I was merely delaying the inevitable. 

Sometimes life throws you curveballs. Things happen that you don’t want, that you can’t prevent. And quite frankly, sometimes there’s no way to contend against them. Pummeled, we chose not to do what we can to push through, to press forward. We just turtle up, back against the ropes, hoping it will stop soon. 

But it won’t. 

And then we face the decision: Do I chose to stay cowering in the corner? Or do I pull myself up to my full height and fight back with everything within me?

Today, I chose to fight. But first, tea.

Matsuda’s Sencha

Single estate teas are growing in popularity, but finding them can still be a challenge. Many small estates will pluck their tea leaves by hand, but it is often more economical for them to either outsource the production of the leaves to another party or to join with several other small tea estates at a central facility for processing.

So finding a tea that is plucked and processed by a single estate, like Matsuda’s Sencha, is a gem.

Yoshihiro Matsuda, his wife, and his Mom create this first flush tea in Japan’s Uji region from start to finish. Unlike many neighboring farms which cover the tea plants during the spring growing season to increase chlorophyll and amino acid production of the plant to make the resulting brew sweeter, Matsuda choses more traditional ways of cultivating a good crop: lots of sunshine and good soil. And the resulting Sencha is proof of the effort.

Brew It

This amazing tea is a Harney & Sons exclusive. The leaves are like a pile of lovely dark green, silky soft needles.

Like any Sencha, you will want to steep it for about two minutes at 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

The aromas of the leaves change drastically. When dried they smell exactly like sweet okra. However when steeped, they take on a spinach scent mixed with a meaty vegetable flavor akin to collard or turnip greens.

The pale yellow-green liquor has a light to medium body. The flavors, similar to the aromas, are vegetal leaning toward a boiled turnip green flavor with a hint of spinach. The flavors are brief on the tongue and fade quickly, but they leave you wishing to take another sip. You may pick up on a tiny hint of bitter from the light astringency.

Contemplative Thoughts

I adore the idea of a single estate tea. And I love how the Matsuda family constructs this tea from start to finish. After my first attempt at an apothecary garden in my backyard last summer, I can only imagine the volume of pride that they have in their tea and the dedication it takes to remember the end result as they send their tea to be steeped into mugs around the world. Sharing your prize is hard. Sharing your prize with the world, I can only imagine, is infinitely more difficult.

Too often I feel the need to draw within myself, close the door, and keep to myself the gifts which have such value in my heart. In these moments I have to remind myself of the purpose of these gifts: to bless others. What good is the peppermint on my shelf if I don’t share it with a friend with a feverish child? Or the lemon balm tisane blend I can whip up in a moment for a friend who is feeling down? None of it does any good hoarded on my shelf.

And so I open my heart, herb jars, and the Pandora’s box known as my tea cabinet to others. May they be blessed by the work of my hands and the endeavors of my mind.

Gunpowder

Gunpowder tea is one of my favorite green teas. Partially for the name (everyone sounds macho when they say they drink gunpowder for breakfast!) and partially for the grounding flavors.

Grown predominately in the Zhejiang province in China, this tea dates back to the Tang Dynasty. It is called gunpowder as the leaves are tightly rolled into tiny green-grey pearls that are vaguely reminiscent of gunpowder pellets (imagination is needed on this one). The tight rolling made this tea less susceptible to damage and allowed the pellets to retain more of the flavors and aroma than other green teas. As a result, this was one of the few green teas that was stable enough to find its way outside of China in the days before faster transport and sealed packaging.

Another little fact about this tea is, even to this today, it is created as an export tea and very little is drank in China. Instead, the majority of it makes its way overseas and is the base for Moroccan Mint tea.

Brew It

Since this tea is made from summer flushes (not the first, prized growth after the winter season) and many growers process this type, not all Gunpowder teas are made the same and quality widely varies. You’ll know you’ve found a lower quality tea if the liquor is bright yellow and has acrid, smoky flavors. By contrast, higher quality teas will have a charred vegetal flavor. Knowing how quality varies so widely, for this tasting I procured this tea from Harney and Sons to ensure that I would receive a good quality tea.

The leaves are tiny pellets, tightly rolled, but not perfectly round. They are a greenish-greyish color.

The Gunpowder’s liquor is a light caramel colored, almost an orange, with a hint of green. The wet leaves smell of roasted vegetables; like grilled brussel sprouts or artichoke. By contrast, the dry leaves smell sweeter and give your nose the illusion that the resulting brew will be a bit sweeter.

Medium bodied, the liquor has a mild astringency that builds a bit as you hold it in your mouth and as you drink it. The astringency is quite complementary to the flavor hint of vegetables roasted over an open fire.

Contemplative Thoughts

Like China, we often use our talents to create things for others. It could be daily tasks at your job, cooking a meal for a sick neighbor, tending to the needs of your family (like laundry, cleaning, or yard work). But how often do you take those same talents and enjoy them?

The tasks you complete may not be the most joyful, but when you slow your pace you can open an avenue for gratefulness. If nothing else, we can take a moment to enjoy how our bodies are able to do so many tasks, from strong physical labor to gently rocking babies to sleep. We can appreciate our minds and the speed from which they can swiftly move from one complex thought to the next. Our emotional well-being should never be underestimated; having the empathy to reach out to a friend in need, near or far, has the ability to bridge gaps that no man could separate.

So as you sit and sip a cuppa gunpowder, remember this: You are strong. You are gentle. You are wise. And right now, you are enough.

Dragon Pearl Jasmine

Grown in the Fujian province of China, Dragon Pearl Jasmine is a very special tea. For centuries, the Chinese have been using jasmine to enhance some of their teas. But, I warn you, not all jasmine teas are the same. Many that you’ll find in Chinese restaurants or on the tea isle in your local grocery store are made spraying the tea leaves with a jasmine flavored chemical. These teas may give you the flavor of jasmine, but the quality of the tea will likely be lacking.

One of the things I love about the tea that I tasted for this post is that there is no jasmine flowers in any of the pearls. Nor has the tea been sprayed with any flavorings.  Instead, these pears are hand-rolled by a group of women and then dried on racks. Every day fresh jasmine flowers are brought in and dried on racks in between the racks of tea leaving the small room heavily perfumed with the smell of the jasmine flowers, and thus, infusing the tea with the floral scent.

Brew It

As with many of the teas in my collection, Harney and Sons comes through with finding great quality teas at reasonable prices; Dragon Pearl Jasmine is no different.

The tightly hand-rolled dark green pearls are streaked with white. Once brewed, the pearls unfurl to be the precious green leaves and buds of the Da Bai cultivar, proving the quality of the this tippy tea.

The liquor is a golden color, like a pale copper with a strong floral jasmine and honey aroma. As the leaves cool you may also pick up the a warm spice flavor that Lori and I could only describe as “the scent of a good looking man”. Lori’s nose also picked out a light grassy scent. We both agreed the aroma was a perfect balance of manly and floral scents.

The flavor of the tea is nearly identical to the aroma: strong of jasmine, it is a fresh floral flavor with a hint of honey. The liquor is surprisingly strong bodied (must be the manliness) and has very little astringency or bitterness.

Contemplative Thoughts

Sweet and floral, but surprisingly full bodied and filling, this tea makes me think of the complex balance of a woman. Women in general are ridiculously resilient creatures. They can stand strong on their own when others fail to do so; they are fierce in battle and delicate and soft at the same time. Wrong her and she will cut you down; treat her with kindness and you’ll have won a friend for life. It is said that a woman is like tea: you never know how strong she is until she is put in hot water. Likewise, women are also like whisky in a teacup. Sweet and proper on the outside, but on the inside they are full of passion and fire.

Blaze on.

ZenTea Hot Toddy Class

Last week Lori (my tasting partner) and I had the pleasure of taking a wee bit of time off from work and heading to Chamblee, GA to attend the Hot Toddy Class at ZenTea Tea House. We had such a blast!

We arrived a good 45 minutes before the class and I’m so glad we did because it gave us time to soak in the serene atmosphere and explore the shop. The selection of teas the owner, Connie, has pulled together is incredible! She has procured a wide selection of common blends and varieties as well as more rare teas. I was in heaven as I walked around her shop.

As we waited Connie steeped some tea for us. Lori had a pot of Mate Roasted CocoHazelnut while I enjoyed the most glorious Oolong Pouchong. Heavy on the honeysuckle, this tea took me back to days of my youth, playing outside in the hot summer sun sucking honeysuckle nectar right off the vine.

After our two other classmates arrived, our Hot Toddy Class began.

First, Connie served us a delicious spread with sandwiches, crackers, nuts, and some sweet treats to snack on as she made toddy after toddy for us to taste.

We learned that a good toddy is made of 4 ingredients:

1. Tea (proper tea or tisane)

2. Whisky

3. Citrus (typically lemon, orange, or lime)

4. Sweetener (normally honey, sugar, or maple syrup)

It was fascinating experiencing ways to pair different flavors. We smelled every tea before it was brewed and got to sample a few of the teas and the whiskys separately before combining the ingredients. I have never been adventurous in trying new combinations of foods and flavors, so this process is interesting to me. There were several flavors that, when tasted separately, I would have never thought would pair well. However, the concoction that resulted from the blend was delicious.

Mint Ginger Lemon Toddy

First up in the flight was the most medicinal. This toddy was made with a tisane of Mint, Lemon, & Ginger with a bit of extra ginger root and mint, fresh lemon juice, a little bit of sugar, and a shot of vodka. High in vitamin C, this toddy was sweet and refreshing. After my first sip I was hooked and drained my cup. Definitely one of my favorites. 

Cranberry Apple Toddy

Second, was Lori’s favorite (and another of my favorites). An amazingly delicious toddy that tasted like liquid joy. Made with Cranberry Apple tea, apple cider, cranberry juice, and vodka garnished with a clove laden orange slice, it was a soul warming, reminiscent of the cheer of yore, brew.

Green Apple Pie with Bourbon

Made with Green Apple Pie tea (a delicious tea on its own), bourbon, brown sugar, and a slice of granny smith apple made for a tart treat with a stout kick. It was a stark contrast to the sweeter first drinks where the vodka seemed to almost disappear among the other flavors. In this toddy, you were definitely reminded of the bourbon’s presence.

Hot Buttered Rum

I had heard often of hot buttered rum, but had never tried one until this class. This one was made with a Black Russian Spice tea, a shot of light rum, a wee bit of maple syrup, and a spoonful of a spiced creamed butter. We garnished it with a cinnamon stick and a star of anise. The addition of the butter gave this toddy a very think and filling body, which gave great contrast to the previous drinks that had lighter body.

Holiday Spice Toddy

This toddy, with Holiday Spice tea, orange juice, brandy, and agave, was very similar to the Cranberry Apple that we had tried earlier in the evening. Not quite as “cheery” as the former, the addition of the brandy gave this drink a heavier body. Sweeter than the bourbon and rum concoctions of the evening, this drink became another favorite for both Lori and I.

Chocolate Whisky with Cream Toddy

Made in the likeness of the Irish Coffee, the Chocolate Whisky with Cream toddy was a delicious treat. The base was Black Connie’s Choice tea with a wee bit of a chocolate flavored Irish whisky. A pinch of sugar and a dollop of whipped cream made this thick, frothy brew. I can definitely see bringing this toddy around to celebrate St. Patty’s Day or any time you need a thick cup to relax.

This was also the moment when Lori’s and my tongues decided to differ.  The flavor of the whisky was too pungent for Lori’s taste, where as I found it stout, but very grounding and calming. I reckoned that the whisky taps into the highlander blood that runs through my veins.

Oolong with Aged Whisky

Lastly, in what might have been my most favorite pairing of the evening, the oolong with 12 year old single malt scotch, won my heart. Served separately, this simple toddy had only two ingredients: tea and whisky. No citrus and no sweetener.

A lover of oolongs, the Da Hong Pao, with it’s light to medium body, ranges toward the darker side of the oolong spectrum. Alone it was smooth and naturally sweet with an oak-like finish. The scotch, on its own (which happened to be my first sip of scotch), instantly cleared the sinuses, gave a wonderful woody flavor and left a smooth, clean finish. Initially, I thought the two flavors would be too much and the scotch would overpower the more delicate flavors of the oolong. When combined, though, this simple drink was a wonderful melody of a stout and sweet woody flavors; perfect for quiet contemplation.

Lori with her favorite cup, the Cranberry Apple.

And I with my first ever toddy, the Mint Lemon.

This class was a flavorful adventure. We learned a lot, laughed a bunch during the process, and tasted ways to have fun with our tea. If you’re ever in the Atlanta area, a stop at ZenTea is a must. You’ll get amazing tea, great service, and walk away as friend.

And no matter where life takes you, keep exploring tea.