TEAview: Charcoal Roasted Oolong

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At this year’s Toronto Tea Festival I picked up a pouch of Alishan Charcoal Roasted Oolong from Genuine Tea. I am a fan of darker oxidized oolong teas and this one boasted a strong smoky flavour and caramelized sweetness. This award winning oolong tea grows on the famous Ali mountain in Taiwan at an elevation of 2000m.  Genuine Tea sell this for $12 for 25 grams, it is on sale right now for $9 so if you are interested in giving it a try now is a good time.

This tea is a GABA tea, this stands for Gamma Amino Butyric Acid. GABA teas are exposed to nitrogen instead of oxygen during the oxidation process, as a result they accumulate GABA in the leaves. You may be asking yourself “what is GABA?”, just as I was a few moments ago. GABA is an amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. In the brain it inhibits nerve transmission, this calms nervous activity. Some people take GABA as a supplement and believe that it has many benefits to it, some of these proposed benefits include: reducing high blood pressure, relieving stress and anxiety, increasing mental alertness and energy levels and many many more.

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I opened the package to find tightly rolled leaves, mostly uniform in size and color. The smokey smell coming from the dry leaves already very strong, I knew that the steeped liquor was going to have a powerful flavor.

To steep I reached for my gaiwan (a Chinese vessel for infusing tea leaves, consisting of a bowl with lid and saucer). I did 9 steepings at 195o Fahrenheit (90o Celsius), starting with 45 seconds for the first infusion and adding 15 seconds for each following infusion. The next day I steeped this tea again this time using the small tea pot shown in these photos.

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The first cup had a very strong toasted roasty flavor, it was earthy, smooth and creamy with notes or charcoal, nuts and sweetness. The smokey flavors started to mellow around the 4th steeping, the nutty sweet flavors became slightly less prominent and I could now taste some floral notes starting to emerge. This point was my favorite in the steepings, I enjoyed the mix of the nutty and floral flavors with the smokey flavor now more subtle but still clear in the background.

I enjoyed this tea a lot though it is not a tea that I would drink on a daily basis. Because this tea has such comforting flavors I would reach for this tea on days that I need something special to help me relax and recharge.

 

 

Want It Wednesday: March

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(Stasia Burrington)

This Tea Bath art print captures a perfect moment.

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(Kirstin Stride Designs)

Retro Tea Pot Brooch, super cute hand drawn mid 50s teapot.

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(DAVIDsTEA)

An adorable Bunny Infuser friend to help steep your tea.

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(Uncommon Goods)

No tea bag or infuser necessary with these organic dissolvable Tea Drops

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(H.E.A.P.S handworks)

Maybe the cutest eco-friendly flour sack Tea Towels ever.

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(Think Geek)

Celebrate your love of caffeine by sipping your favorite caffeinated beverage from this Caffeine Molecule mug.

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(Acera)

The minimal and modern design One-O-One Tumbler, to take your tea on the go in style.

Why I Love Tea: Emily Vallevand

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Last week my friend Emily Vallevand came over to talk tea. Emily and I first met working at David’s Tea. Emily started working for the company over 5 years ago in Regina. In 2013 she transferred to the Yorkdale mall location in Toronto, where I was working at the time. Even though I have since moved on to new things, Emily and I have stayed in touch getting together for dinners, drinks and of course tea. Emily loves working at David’s Tea, she has stayed on with the company, although she has had to cut back on shifts because of her career as a freelance interior decorator.

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Rachel: Why do you love tea?

Emily: I’ve always thought that tea is what brings people together. When I was little it was the way that our family included us in the grownup aspect of things, after dinner they would say “who wants a tea?” and all the kids would be like “yea I want one!” because you would feel like one of the grown ups. And then I got older and it became a thing with friends to meet up and and have a tea and try this new place or new thing. I think there is so much variety to it that you can like, or appreciate everything and share what you enjoy with others. It brings everyone together, it’s just this warm fun thing you can have together.

Rachel: What is your favorite tea?

Emily: I don’t have a favorite tea, I like tea. I drink different teas for different occasions, different times of the day and for different reasons. If I was going about my daily tea drinking routine: I normally like to start my day with a black tea with a heavier, richer, bolder flavor. I sometimes in the morning enjoy putting a little bit of sugar and a little bit of milk in. In the afternoon I prefer to have a white tea a green tea or sometimes an oolong. White tea is my preference over green tea, but there are a few green teas that I like. In the evening I find I can’t really drink caffeine because it stimulates me too much and I’ll stay up all night. If I need a boost in the late afternoon I will drink a rooibos because it is very high in antioxidants and is very hydrating, I find that it can often give me enough of a boost without the caffeine. Then in the evening I will have a nice herbal tea or another rooibos.  

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Rachel: Why do you prefer white tea over green?

Emily: I prefer the flavor palate of white tea. Green tea has that grassy or oceanic seaweed flavor that sometimes is just a little too much for me. White tea even if it has a little bit of that grassy flavor it is more towards the sweet pea or vegetal side which I prefer.

Rachel: How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?

Emily: I would say, in my normal routine a minimum of five. In the morning when I get to work I could have a cup or two first thing just checking my email. Then throughout the day I usually just keep pouring that kettle, I usually just drink all day.

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Rachel: We are getting ready to enjoy a cup of tea now, what are you making us?
Emily: We are going to have Kenyan Tinderet from David’s Tea. Like I was saying my favorite thing is to start my day with something to eat and a nice cup of strong tea; this is one of my favorites. I drink pretty much exclusively David’s Tea but not because it’s the only tea out there or the best. Even though I am open other companies, I think David’s has a lot of great stuff, and since I work there and I am just always at David’s Tea so that’s where most of my collection is from. The thing I like about Kenyan Tinderet is that is very bold and black but it has a crisp honey note to it. I was thinking about what treats would pair well with it so I also bought pain au chocolat I think the butteriness and the honey flavor will go together really nicely.

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The tea was bold and strong, the snacks were a delicious touch and accompanied the tea perfectly, and the company was just the best.

 

Afternoon Tea at Kitten and the Bear

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A couple of weeks ago I got to spend a Beautiful day with tea nerds Kyra McDonnell and Kelly Bosher sipping and talking about our favorite beverage. Kyra told us that we had to check out this adorable place close by called Kitten and the Bear. So we headed over. Kitten and the Bear makes artisan jams, jellies and marmalades. Their products are made by hand, in small, limited batches using local sustainably grown fruit whenever possible.

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Walking into their Toronto, Queen West location you immediately notice how cute, not only the products they feature are, but the atmosphere over all is. You feel welcome right away. If you are lucky or willing to wait, you can sit down at one of only two tables for their jam and tea service. There is a very limited space and they do not take reservations, however they will give you a call when a table opens up so you can shop in the area while you wait.

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For $17.50 per person sitting down for tea will get you: a selection of jams, delicious fresh buttermilk scones, clotted cream, and coffee or a choice of tea from Sloane Fine Tea Merchants. We got to try a selection of: Sweet Orange & Honeyed Whisky Marmalade, Banana, Bourbon & Vanilla Bean Jam, Pear & House Mulled Wine Jam and my favorite of the day Strawberries & Chocolate Jam. All of the jams were great and the scones were fantastically buttery and fluffy, I am getting hungry just thinking about them now.

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If you are not able to get a table, or if you do and then fall in love with the products, you can purchase the jams, scones, and tea to go and enjoy at home. I brought home a couple of jars of jam as well as a set of adorable tea and jam themed pins. Also available are a selection of tea pots, cups, spoons, berry bowls, and more.

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I have been devouring the jams that I bought and can not wait to see what inventive flavors they are featuring on my next visit.

Why I Love Tea: Kyra McDonnell

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Last week I got to sit down with tea nerd and friend Kyra McDonnell, and talk about where her love of tea comes from. Kyra and I met while we were both attending the tea sommelier program at George Brown College; the two of us as well as Kelly Beitz (another nerd  in the program) quickly became friends. The bond between the three of us grew over the following months in class, although I am sure that our constant chatting and giggling irritated those around us. Though the three of us no longer get to see each other on a weekly basis, whenever we get together the chatting and giggles pick up right where they left off.

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Saturday afternoon I arrived at Kyra’s apartment in Toronto’s Parkdale neighborhood, where she lives with her fiance Tim, for a chat and a nice cup of tea. I was greeted by Emmi their lovable cat, who promptly demanded food from me. Since I had nothing for him I instead spent some time playing with him before our interview started. Kelly and her husband joined us for our tea chat, so there was lots of fun and laughs in the room.

Rachel: Why do you love tea?

Kyra: I like tea because of my grandparents. It is what they used to give me as a child. They died when I was in high school. The way I kept their memory going was by drinking tea. I feel like if I drink it then they are not actually gone. It’s kind of sad now that I think about it.

Rachel: I don’t think that’s sad, that’s a nice way of remembering them, keeping their memory alive.

Kyra: I think that story is kind of depressing, it’s not like a happy story like ‘oh I like tea because it tastes great’ or something like that. To me tea is a comfort, it’s something that when you’re upset, depressed, you have a nice cup of tea to make yourself feel better, to make life a little bit easier. Not like coffee, coffee is just to keep you up.

Kyra always has a great sense of humor and this of course made a room full of tea drinkers laugh.

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Kyra: I love tea not only because of my grandparents and what it meant to them, and the connection I have with them, but also my childhood was not always a happy one. I went through a lot with my parents: separation, 14 years in court, my dad having my mom arrested as a result of his PTSD and his alcoholism. I didn’t cope as you would expect a teenager to, by rebelling and trying to be mischievous and cause problems, I didn’t see it as necessary. What comforted me was drinking tea and then taking a nap. I just didn’t see the point of rebelling against the system because I saw what my parents had done; their rebellion against the system and each other. You’re never going to win and everyone suffers. That’s another reason why I like tea, not only because of the comforting aspect and my grandparents, but  it’s also something that grounds you.

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Rachel: What is your favourite tea, and will you make us a cup?

Kyra: Earl Grey Twinings, because that is what my grandparents used to give me as a child.

Rachel: How do you take your tea, do you like it just by itself?

Kyra: I can drink it by itself maybe with a little bit of lemon. I do prefer to have it with some milk, actually I have almond milk since I gave up milk. I think the flavor of it is so light it’s just enough that you don’t need to add anything to it if you don’t want to, but I grew up having builders tea, you have the milk and you have the sugar, so if i’m ever really upset that is my comfort.

Rachel: Is builder’s tea what your grandparents made you?

Kyra: Yea, where you put the milk a bunch of sugar and the tea.. Its really comforting, like this past week has been really stressful for me at work so every day I have been having a black tea with milk and sugar, and it’s like nectar to me. Like if you had nectar before from a flower, I feel like that’s what tea is, it nourishes your soul and being; t just makes you feel a lot better. I don’t always do it but if I am ever having a bad day, that is what I do.

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Although I never myself put milk or sugar in my tea, I asked Kyra to make me a cup of her favorite tea the way that she likes to drink it. It was sweet, creamy and incredibly comforting. It was a beautiful afternoon surrounded by good friends, good stories and good tea.

Is Tea The Cure To Bad Breath?

Did you forgot to brush your teeth before leaving the house this morning? Don’t judge me, it happens. Are you on your way to a meeting and not sure about how fresh your breath is? On a date and ate too much onion? We have all been in situations where we are not confident in how fresh our breath is. What if the solution was as easy as sipping a cup of tea, I mean you were going to have one anyways.

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Do a quick search online and you will find people advising that tea will deodorize just about anything: rooms, shoes, skin and even breath. Tea is naturally great at absorbing odors, that is one of the reasons that taking care to store your tea away from strong smelling items like spices is important. Not only is tea fragrant and good at absorbing odors, there is an increasing body of evidence indicating a beneficial role of tea and its polyphenols in oral health.

In a 2015 study using green tea extract, evidence was found that suggests polyphenols that are found in tea have a number of properties that reduce and inhibit S. moorei, a bacterium that is a contributor to halitosis. 

In a 2008 study, researchers compared green tea powder, as well as other foods which claimed to control halitosis and their effectiveness on reducing volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). VSCs are produced in the mouth and are one of the causes of halitosis. They found the green tea powder to be very effective in reducing VSCs. 
I want to finish off this post by saying that while I do think tea has benefits, I believe through the spread of misinformation the benefits we often hear about are exaggerated and misleading. I urge you to remember that many findings in scientific studies have been later shown to not be true or to not be the whole picture. That being said, while having a cup of tea may not be a cure all for every ailment, It is delicious, brings you pleasure and it doesn’t hurt.

Toronto Tea Festival 2016

 

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This past weekend I got the chance to attend the 4th annual Toronto Tea Festival. I spent the day surrounded by tea, tea wares and tea nerds and it was amazing. The festival is held each year at the Toronto Reference Library and this was my 3rd year in attendance. In addition to the many fantastic vendors selling everything from: tea, to pots and cups to steep your tea, to books on tea, to cookies to enjoy with your tea. There were beautiful tea ceremonies from different cultures, presentations on different aspects of tea and the tea industry, and even a tea tasting competition.

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On Saturday I arrived at 10am; I had my ticket, my schedule, and a travel mug with my morning steep in hand. I first did a round getting a quick idea of what the vendors had to offer. Wanting to allow myself a chance to think about what I was going to purchase (instead of spending all my money at once), I headed over to see the Chinese tea ceremony.
Chinese, Japanese, and Korean tea ceremonies were performed multiple times throughout the day with a quick explanation of the tools involved and their purpose, and followed by a quick Q&A period. The ceremonies were beautifully done and a great peek into traditions from these cultures that most of us are not exposed to in our day to day lives.  

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A great addition to the schedule this year was the Tea tasting competition. The competition, accessible to people with any level of knowledge about tea, added a fun and interactive element to the festival. Contestants tasted different teas attempting to identify not only what kind of tea they were drinking but also the country of origin.

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Later in the afternoon,  after attending some presentations given by incredibly knowledgeable and interesting speakers, I headed back out to the vendors to do some shopping. There was so much tea to sniff and sample that I quickly got overwhelmed and was at risk of buying way too much. The venue had filled up with people and getting a good look at all the vendors was harder this time around. It was great to see the turnout and that so many people are interested in tea. The Reference Library is great venue, but I think that a bigger location is needed to give the attendees a little more room and ease while enjoying the festival. In the end I chose a collection of teas that I am very excited to try; stay tuned for reviews.

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Whether you are already well versed in the world of tea, or new to it and hoping to learn more, a tea festival will give you the chance to further explore the world of tea surrounded by others just as passionate as yourself.