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Tonight I improvised a masala chai by steeping Upton Tea Import’s Orange Spice Imperial tea in a teapot, poring the liquor into a saucepan with 2% milk and pure cane sugar, and bringing the mixture to a boil.

Orange Spice Imperial tea according to Upton’s website is “generously scented black tea, with cinnamon, orange peel, vanilla bean, and a bit of clove.” While this tea does not make an authentic Indian masala chai insofar as the ingredients are not quite right, it does make for a delicious treat. I am debating on whether to try Upton’s Chai Spice Tea or just stick with this nicely flavored blend. As some of you know, Upton provides great deals on samples – for as low as $1.00 – so there is no reason for me not to try the Chai Spice. Look here for a comparison over the next couple of months.

Do you want to know all there is to know about masala chai? Read Wikipedia’s entry on the subject here.

I am always looking for new ways to make chai, and even different blends. Let me know your favorites.

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In my new Beehouse teapot for two, the boyfriend and I enjoyed Upton Tea Imports’ Season’s Pick Kenya Blend: his with sugar and mine with milk and sugar.

This tea is rather astringent, which is not surprising for a black tea. It, according to the boyfriend, has an earthy aftertaste. The tea is a little too bold for my palate. I may have overdone the amount of tea leaves with two and a half heaping teaspoons.

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Tonight I review the festive Christmas Tea from Upton Tea Imports. Christmas Tea, or Mélange Noël, is a blend of black tea with cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and cardamom. It is decorated with orange peel, rose petals and almond pieces.

Upon smelling this tea, the first thing that came to mind was potpourri. The taste, however, was not as artificial as the smell. For me, the flavor of cloves really came out in my first brew of this tea. As described above, Mélange Noël is extremely spice heavy, but this adds to the drinking pleasure. It reminded me of a lactose-free chai.

I drank my tea with a slice of homemade banana bread courtesy of the boyfriend. It was a great combination. I especially enjoyed dipping the banana bread in the tea.

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Today I decided to dig into the Assam Orange Pekoe black tea a co-worker had brought back from India. The tea had been sitting on my desk for several weeks, but for some reason I did not get around to brewing it until today.

Knowing that a different co-worker was also a lover of tea, I asked if she was interested in partaking of this personally blended tea. She was interested, so I brewed two cups. I brewed the first cup – my co-worker’s – for about four minutes with 1 1/4 tablespoons of tea. She said the tea was excellent and not too weak. While I steeped mine for 20 seconds shy of four minutes, and found it a little on the weak side. The tea is extremely fresh and of very good quality.

Orange pekoe as you may know is a grade of black tea. For a full list of grade terminologies, please see below.

Grade terminology

Choppy – Tea that contains many leaves of various sizes.
Fannings – Small particles of tea leaves used almost exclusively in tea bags A grade higher than Dust.
Flowery – A large leaf, typically plucked in the second or third flush with an abundance of tips.
Golden Flowery – Tea that includes very young tips or buds (usually golden in colour) that were picked early in the season.
Tippy – Tea that includes an abundance of tips.

Whole leaf grades
The grades for whole leaf orthodox black tea (in ascending order) are:
OP – Orange Pekoe – Main grade in tea production. Can consist of long wiry leaf without tips.
OP sup – Orange Pekoe Superior – Primarily from Indonesia. Similar to OP.
F OP – Flowery Orange Pekoe – High-quality tea with a long leaf and few tips. Considered the second grade in Assam, Dooars, and Bangladesh teas, but the first grade in China
F OP1 – Flowery Orange Pekoe First Grade Leaves – As above but with only the highest quality leaves in the F.O.P classification
GF OP1 – Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe First Grade Leaves- Higher proportion of tip than FOP Top grade in Milima and Marinyn regions; Uncommon in Assam and Darjeeling.
TGF OP – Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – Tea with the highest proportion of tip; Main grade in Darjeeling and Assam.
TGF OP1 – Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – As above, but with only the highest quality leave in the T.G.F.O.P classification
FTGF OP – Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – Highest quality grade. Often hand processed and produced at only the best plantations. Roughly one quarter tips.

Broken leaf grades
BT – Broken Tea – Usually a black, open, fleshy leaf that is very bulky. Classification used in Sumatra, Sri Lanka, and some parts of Southern India.
BP – Broken Pekoe- Most common broken pekoe grade. From Indonesia, Ceylon, and Southern India.
BPS – Broken Pekoe Souchong – Term for broken pekoe in Assam and Darjeeling.
FP – Flowery Pekoe – High-quality pekoe. Usually coarser with a fleshier, broken leaf. Produced in Ceylon and Southern India, as well as in some parts of Kenya.
BOP – Broken Orange Pekoe – Main broken grade. Prevalent in Ceylon, Southern India, Java, and China.
F BOP – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe – Coarser and broken with some tips. From Assam, Ceylon, Indonesia, China, and Bangladesh. In South America coarser, black broken.
F BOP F – Finest Broken Orange Pekoe Flowery – The finest broken orange pekoe. Higher proportion of tips. Mainly from Ceylon’s “low districts”.
G BOP – Golden Broken Orange Pekoe – Second grade tea with uneven leaves and few tips.
GF BOP1 – Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe 1 – As above, but with only the highest quality leaves in the GFBOP classification.
TGF BOP1 – Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe 1 – High-quality leaves with a high proportion of tips. Finest broken First Grade Leaves in Darjeeling and some parts of Assam.

Fannings grades
PF – Pekoe Fannings –
OF – Orange Fannings – From Northern India and some parts of Africa and South America.
FOF – Flowery Orange Fannings – Common in Assam, Dooars, and Bangladesh. Some leaf sizes come close to the smaller broken grades.
GFOF – Golden Flowery Orange Fannings- Finest grade in Darjeeling for tea bag production.
TGFOF – Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Fannings.
BOPF – Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings – Main grade in Ceylon, Indonesia, Southern India, Kenya, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and China. Black-leaf tea with few added ingredients, uniform particle size, and no tips.

Dust grades
D1 – Dust 1 – From Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, Africa, South America, and Southern India.
PD – Pekoe Dust
PD1 – Pekoe Dust 1 – Mainly produced in India.

Source: Wikipedia entry on “orange pekoe”

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This evening I sipped on Creme Caramel tea from Upton Tea Imports. As you may recall, I purchased a 15g sample of this black tea over the weekend.

The tea is a blend of caramel pieces with Ceylon, or Sri Lankan, black tea. It has a smooth flavor that coats the mouth. This tea is extremely sensitive and should only be steeped as Upton instructs: four minutes. I can honestly say that I allowed mine to go as long as five minutes, and the bitter aftertaste, while not ever-present, did diminish my opinion of this tea. Adding pure cane sugar brought out the caramel flavor and lessened the bitterness of the oversteeping.

According to the Wikipedia entry on tea in Sri Lanka:

Tea production in Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, is of high importance to the Sri Lankan economy and the world market. The country is the world’s fourth largest producer of tea and the industry is one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange and a significant source of income for laborers, with tea accounting for 15% of the GDP, generating roughly $700 million annually. Sri Lanka was the world’s leading exporter of tea (rather than producer) with 23% of the total world export in 1995 but has since been surpassed by Kenya. The tea sector employs, directly or indirectly over 1 million people in Sri Lanka, and in 1995 directly employed 215,338 on tea plantations and estates. The central highlands of the country, low temperature climate throughout the year, annual rainfall and the level of humidity are more favorable geographical factors for production in high quality tea. The industry was introduced to the country in 1867 by James Taylor, the British planter who arrived in 1852.

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Today I received a box from Upton Tea Imports of tea tins and samples I had purchased over the weekend. As the picture above shows, it is a beautiful thing.

From Upton I received the following:

125g tin: Bond Street English Breakfast
Sample: Original Blend Russian Caravan
125g tin: Moroccan Green Mint tea
Sample: Orange Spice Imperial
Sample: Creme Caramel
Sample: Christmas Tea
Sample: Jasmine Pi Lo Chun
Sample: Chinese Oolong Bai Hao Imperial Organic
Sample: Tie-Guan-Yin (Top Competition)

I look forward to digging in and telling you all about it!

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While in theory the Wild Berry Plum green tea from the Republic of Tea seems like a good idea, in execution, it falls flat. To be fair, I did oversteep this delicate green tea, so it was rather bitter near its conclusion. It is hard to correctly brew tea when you are working, but one must live in the present and enjoy the time spent anticipating what one is about to experience in drinking any fine tea.

You must not do too many things at once while steeping green and white teas. Black teas, on the other hand, are very forgiving. While I am not one for tisanes, I have been told that they can be left to steep for hours.

I am finding myself less enthusiastic by blended, fruity teas lately. Perhaps I will have to revisit this subject on a later post. For now, I conclude by saying that the Republic of Tea selections are hit or miss. I do enjoy their Vanilla Almond and English Breakfast black teas, but I would say stay away from the Pink Grapefruit and Wild Berry Plum green teas.

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With much homework to contend for my time, I decided to continue my procrastination by heading to Whole Foods Market for a box of tea. I initially had my mind set on purchasing a selection of Mighty Leaf assorted teas, but for the sake of writing about a new tea, made the decision to spend my tea allowance on Taylors of Harrogate’s English Breakfast Tea.

I had been looking for a good morning tea that I could supplant my soda habit with. An English Breakfast tea is a pretty good, all-purpose tea. I prefer mine taken with milk and sugar. English Breakfast teas are a blend, and the Taylors of Harrogate’s version comes from black teas from India and Africa.

When drinking tea with milk and sugar, it is often hard to make out the natural flavor of the tea, but in this case, I was able to distinguish an ever-so-slight taste that was unmasked by my additions. This black tea has a bolder flavor than what I recall other English Breakfasts having. It reminded me more of an Irish Breakfast. The taste, while bold, was quite enjoyable, and was assuaged as the temperature of the tea cooled.

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Today I am enjoying Mighty Leaf tea’s Orange Dulce.

From the package:
“Like a lusciously rich dessert, Orange Dulce is a dark brew teeming with notes of orange, vanilla and jasmine blossoms.”

Orange Dulce is a black tea that requires four minutes of brewing time. While drinking the liquid very hot from my brew mug (see yesterday’s post), I could really taste the vanilla notes, but the cooler the tea became the more the orange flavor was pronounced. The orange and vanilla combination is fantastic. They really pair well with one another. The jasmine accents were extremely subtle, and almost indistinguishable.

This tea would be great paired with any dessert. I may need to bring a tea bag or two with me when I visit Disney next month. Although I must admit, the offerings of tea at the Disney resorts are quite extensive and – despite being tea bags – are of good quality. Look out for my Disney posts in the coming months.

Jason and I enjoyed a nice lunch at the Museum of Fine Arts this afternoon. I was impressed to find several offerings of Harney & Sons teas at the Galleria, a Parisian style sidewalk–think indoor sidewalk–cafe. Had I not decided to look at the dessert menu, I never would have known that they had a selection of tea, but luckily I brought my appetite with me to the museum.

For the final course, I decided on a Vanilla Bean cheesecake with berry marmalade, which I thought would pair well with the black tea blend English Breakfast. This blend was an organic tea made of Chinese keemun tea leaves.

According to The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, the body of an English Breakfast is full and the flavors vary with the blend, but in general a good one has “hints of orange, clove, smoke, and a little honey.”

I had my tea with milk and sugar, and it was delightful. This is my first foray into the world of Harney & Sons, and I most certainly will be back for another visit.

If you are new to the world of tea, an English Breakfast tea is a great place to start.