Sunday, May 27, 2012

Spring Tea Tasting at Tao's (Part 1)... and prep for World Tea Expo 2012

Last Saturday, my friend, Raymonde and I went to Tao's Tea Leaf for Spring tea tasting.  Both Raymonde and Tao Wu, the owner of Tao Tea Leaf, are Certified Tea Sommeliers too.  Tao just came back from his trip to China with lots of goodies...Spring teas, of course!

So what happens when three Tea Sommeliers get together to taste this season's Spring Teas?  Hours of sipping fun! 

Tao Wu  preparing the Spring teas 

Fresh teas definitely taste quite amazing!  Here is a sampling of the Spring teas we tasted:
Jun Shan Yin Zhen (yellow tea)
Silver needle

Silver Needle (old bush)
Jin Ping Black

An Ji Bai Cha
Phoenix oolong
A fun and interesting way to taste teas, side by side comparison of similar tea, in this case the two Silver Needles:
Silver Needle (left) and Silver Needle -old bush (right)

We had multiple steepings of some of these beautiful teas, in one case as many as nine.  We had to stop since we were starting to experience some serious buzz and still wanted to be able to sleep... eventually that night...

Raymonde and me
Stay tuned for details of the Spring tea tasting in a future post!

Now I have to prepare for WORLD TEA EXPO 2012 (WTE) which will take place in Las Vegas on June 1 - 3.  I'll be flying in a few days!  I still have to narrow down my list of workshops and seminars to cover, tea people and companies to meet.

It's the World Tea Expo's 10th anniversary this year and they are promising no repeats, "all new content".  I went to WTE two years ago and it was a lot of fun, educational, and met some awesome tea people.

Seminars and workshops with titles such as "Will Tea Ever be as Big as Coffee?", "Understanding Puer", various tea and health seminars, focused tastings, tea business related talks, and much more... how can I not attend this year?!  Off to finish choosing what to cover can click here and see what would you choose...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

An Elegant Charity Afternoon Tea with Soroptimist International

The Soroptimist International of Toronto presented a lovely charity afternoon tea featuring a colleague of mine, fellow Certified Tea Sommelier and Culinary Consultant, Ingrid Folkers.  How fitting that on Mother's Day weekend, this group of business and professional women will use the proceeds of the event to help local women and young girls, in this case, the 416 Community Support for Women

Ingrid, a classmate for quite a few of the Tea Sommelier classes at George Brown College, has been a member of Soroptimist for four years.
Ingrid Folkers (left), Rosita Mandeville, organizer (right)

Ingrid received comprehensive hospitality training (including chef training) in Austria prior to her coming to Canada.  She makes all the foods for her afternoon teas, even the macarons!  Although her oven wouldn't cooperate, so she had to use Ruelo Patisserie's macarons for this event.

It was a lovely afternoon tea, yummy treats and good tea in company of friendly ladies for a great cause!

Two teas were served:
Dilmah's Ceylon Earl Grey and Ingrid's own sommelier blended Bourbon Street Vanilla Rooibos  for the non-caffeinated choice.  

The Earl Grey was well blended, strong and rich brew with just the right amount of bergamot.  You can click here for a video to find out the story of Earl Grey tea.  

The rooibos tea was enjoyable with a mild, warming, earthy taste, rich Bourbon vanilla notes, some spices, and had a sweet finish. 

Both teas paired well with the foods.  Yes, I saved bites of food to try with each tea... it must have been quite a funny sight for the other ladies at my table watching me with my camera snapping photos, taking bites of food, sips of tea, taking notes...

Citrus ginger scone, refreshing Lychee Spritzer and Earl grey tea 
the scone was light and tasty
 The afternoon tea tier had many goodies

 from bottom to middle: Mustard Pork loin with chutney on rye, Smoked salmon wheels
from left to right: curried chicken medallions, egg salad, cucumber/dill sandwiches
Mustard Pork Loin with chutney on rye
The sandwiches were really tasty, I particularly enjoyed the pork loin with chutney on rye, not a typical afternoon tea sandwich.  The cucumber sandwiches were very enjoyable too, perfectly thinly sliced, soft bread, nice dill flavour.  The curried chicken medallions were creative with the slices of egg and carrot infused bread.  The breads were slightly sweet, the curry chicken filling was mild, interesting. The egg salad and smoked salmon were more typical afternoon tea style sandwiches.

The sweets: lavender matcha tea cookies, Pot de Creme, French macarons, black velvet cupcakes. 
The rich red velvet cupcake, if you were a cupcake fan, you'd like it very much.  The lavender added a nice touch to the matcha cookies, which I quite enjoyed.  The macaron were yummy, a little bit chewy, lovely raspberry with the chocolate ganache, oh my goodness! 

I really liked the pot de creme, rich dark chocolate cup with light raspberry creme and fresh ripe raspberry, slight bitterness of the chocolate with sweetness of the berry creme, mmm.
Pot de Creme
And of course, what would a charity afternoon tea be without fancy hats and facinators!

A couple of us forgot ours though, aww darn ...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sakura Sakura in Vancouver! (Part 2) ... The tea service!

As mentioned in the previous post, while on vacation in Vancouver during Cherry Blossom Festival time, I invited my friend Drew to The Urban Tea Merchant for their special Sakura Westcoast Tea service. 

The Urban Tea Merchant only carries 100% natural luxury TWG Teas.

Tea Sommelier, Reza Nasooti, will do tastings to help you decide which tea to have with your tea service or purchase for home.

Reza brought several tins of their special teas us to sample:


 - Sakura! Sakura!
 - Paris Breakfast
 - 1837 Black

Sakura Sakura!

Drew smelling the tea
Paris Breakfast

Tasting Sakura! Sakura!  I enjoyed it!  Aromatic, sweet, refreshing

Paris Breakfast

And with the tastings all done, time to decide which tea to have with our 
Sakura Westcoast Tea Service...

Our server comes to get us and we are led to the dining area.  We pass a beautiful teapot waterfall. 

 We are told that our service will start with the sommelier's choice of chilled tea in a champagne flute glass.  Today's was the Sakura! Sakura! green tea, how fitting.  I wanted to try another tea, so  I selected the Brother's Club.  It was very nice, a little nutty, a bit sweet, reminded me of a fine smooth whisky.  Drew selected the very pleasant 1837 Black which is TWG's signature tea.

(Photo:Drew Taylor)
The Sakura Westcoast Tea Service!   (Photo: Drew Taylor)

Spring rice roll with honey & balsamic, shitake mushroom and crisp vegetables

Miso-maple glazed sable fish wrapped in butter lettuce - so delicious!

Smoked salmon and wasabi aioli with in-house ponzu jelly with flicks of lemon zest was yummy.  Definitely a nice yummy twist to the usual smoked salmon tea sandwich.                                  (Photo: Drew Taylor)

Japanese fish crackers, crisp soba noodles with tangy seaweed salad and sesame crumble - chewy, interesting

lovely tea-infused macaroons, chocolate truffles, fresh fruits, and edible flowers

Tea-infused jelly - light pear sweet taste.  The edible flower was fun to eat.  This went really well with a sip of the chilled Sakura! Sakura! tea.

Chevron strawberry - strawberry was perfectly ripe with the chocolate... mmm...
Both teas paired nicely with our food, but I preferred the Brother's Club.  I thought it was able to round out some of the flavours slightly better.  We saved the chocolate truffle (with a brandy-like tasting centre) for close to the end.  It was mmm, wow! oh my goodness good!  

A final piece of watermelon waited for a last sip of chilled Sakura! Sakura! tea to make the perfect well-balanced refreshing ending of a marvelous tea service.

I would definitely go back to The Urban Tea Merchant next time I'm back in Vancouver.  Try another tea service and some more of the fine TWG teas.  Unfortunately, since it's past Cherry Blossom season, the Sakura Westcoast Tea Service will have to wait for next year.  

But I'm sure they've got something special planned for Mother's Day!  

And Drew... how successful was I in making a new tea convert?  Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, have a look and you tell me...

Drew is also a local actor, will be performing in "Farragut North" at the Havana Theatre in Vancouver from May 15-26.  You can catch him there, enjoy a good play, support the local art scene ... and ask him yourself...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sakura Sakura in Vancouver!

Just came back from holidays in Vancouver, British Columbia.  This Canadian West Coast city, known for its gloomy rainy gloomy?  Imagine, the heavens open up and just poured for days and days on end.

Days become weeks... and weeks become months, until suddenly the torrential downpour finally subsides and becomes a gentle pitter patter, the clouds soon start to part and warm golden beams of sunlight flood in to signal Spring.  It is about this time that you will notice little tufts of white and pale pink fluff start to cover the trees all around the city.

There are many flowering trees that start to wake up around this time in Vancouver, such as plum, magnolia trees, but the star attraction, without a doubt are their famous cherry trees!  Oh, the beautiful Sakura in Vancouver!

It all started with a gift of 500 cherry trees from Japan in the early 1930s to honour the soldiers who died in WWI.  Over the years, many more were planted, now with approximately 37,000 trees that line the city's public and private parks, streets and laneways, the cherry blossoms act as a symbol of Spring that greets Vancouverites and visitors, like me, each year.

Following the Japanese tradition of Hanami, cherry blossom viewing, became so popular that each year Vancouver holds a Cherry Blossom Festival.  I got into town mid-April, so missed alot of the organized festivities.  So I went about town in search for cherry trees and the perfect place to have a picnic under the blossoms.  And when I read that The Urban Tea Merchant was offering a special "Sakura Westcoast Tea Service", it fit the bill perfectly.

On West Georgia Street, just outside The Urban Tea Merchant
Look up...aaahhh...

Front entrance
Courtyard and side entrance
Upon entering The Urban Tea Merchant, your eyes will feast on a roomy, beautiful and luxurious tea, tea lifestyle store!  with all sort of tea ware, tea linens, books, decorations, treats, and of course, TEA!  

The Urban Tea Merchant only carries the high quality, luxury TWG Tea line from Singapore.

Look at that huge wall of tea!  (that's on my wish list)

I met their resident Tea Sommelier, Reza Nasooti, when I first visited the teashop last December.

Reza is also one of the two instructors for the Certified Tea Sommelier program at the Vancouver Community College.  When I made my reservation for tea, I also made a reservation for a quick tea tasting with Reza to help my guest and me in selecting the tea we'll be enjoying at our tea service.

Reza ponders which teas to select from their extensive wall of teas

I had invited my friend, Drew, to join me on my Sakura tea adventure.  Drew is more of a coffee drinker, and very occasional tea drinker.  I thought this would be a fun way to introduce him to more teas, some tea infused food, and traditions...and who know, maybe leave as a new tea convert!?

Stay tuned for Part Two for our tea tasting with Reza and the Sakura West Coast Tea Service at The Urban Tea Merchant.  And see if there may be a new tea convert in our mist...