high tea | the house of herbs and roses, dural

Sketch That

Another high tea! And this one very different from the Japanese style one at Azuma – mainly because it was a bit more traditional. So from the name, this location sounds like a really hippy dippy sort of place – where they’d sell vegan food and herbal teas. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the eating area was lovely – with a classic interior – dark wooden furniture, prints on the walls, and large mirrors to give the illusion of more space.

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Since we were there for a birthday, they set up a table in a small function room – already arrayed with cutlery and china. The china is really pretty as well – makes you feel fancy.

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There is an extensive selection of tea – ranging from fruit infused to the more traditional. They have quite fun names as well ‘congo bongo’, ‘cha cha chai’ and ‘once…

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At a Glance: Where to Get Tea in Iowa City

At first glance Iowa doesn’t seem to have much to offer as far as teas go. Midwesterners rely on their coffee as per tradition. But in the more urban areas (since it’s Iowa I’m using “urban” in a loose sense), shops are beginning to offer more varieties of teas, loose and bagged.

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Photo courtesy of leafkitchen.weebly.com

Leaf Kitchen is your best option if you want a nice British afternoon tea. Leaf Kitchen offers great breakfast and lunch options, and they have a hefty list of teas on their menu, including one with rose that’s really nice. With a reservation, you can do a full afternoon tea with scones, finger sandwiches, a mini-cake, a truffle and a pot of tea. They also do a British cream with scones, clotted cream, jam and a pot of tea.

 

The Java House is the most popular coffee shop in Iowa City, with three city locations and three locations in the university hospital. They sell tea paraphernalia at the main downtown store, including several kinds of teapots (with a couple of cast iron offerings!), bamboo tea scoops, and handmade mugs.

The tea selection they have to offer is good, too. You can get a 2-cup pot of mate, silver needle, rooibos, English breakfast, Iron Goddess and more.

This ends up being tragic, because they serve the tea to you in a tea house pot still steeping. This is fine with herbal teas like rooibos and mate, which can sit in water forever and taste fine, but if you order a green, white or black tea, there’s a good chance your tea could already be bitter and over-steeped by the time it’s handed over to you. Then you’re left to try to pick out the metal basket with your fingers without scorching them and pray that they didn’t burn your leaves. My tea has always tasted over-steeped and awful when I’ve gone here. It’s a damn shame, because Java House treats their beans with such respect. I wish camellia sinensis got the same kind of treatment there.

Photo courtesy of highgroundcafe.com

Photo courtesy of highgroundcafe.com

Which is why I’m glad there are coffee shops like High Ground Cafe. They can brew up a damn good cappuccino but also have a wide variety of Numi tea to offer and serve it up well. Their Ti Kuan Yin is served loose in a pitcher, and you just pour the tea over a mesh filter and into your mug when it’s steeped to your liking. Unlike the Java House, they serve the tea to you at the right temperature and right away so you can control the steep time and ensure that your tea isn’t bitter and undrinkable.

They also give you the choice between loose or bagged teas. Their bagged teas are better than the run of the mill offerings. There are several pu erhs, as well as savory herbal teas that taste like a warming broth if you add a little salt to them.

They also offering a flowering tea, which you can steep for several pots. It’s ideal for a long sit-in with an essay assignment or a good book.

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Photo courtesy of prairielights.com

Prairie Lights Bookstore is an Iowa City institution, and it also boosts a nice cafe upstairs. They have about 20 different kinds of Rishi organic teas and serve them up in adorably mismatched teapots with little glass teacups on a tray. Alas, the cafe at Prairie Lights can fall prey to the same problem The Java House has. The strainer is in the teapot, so unless you pick it out precariously, your second and third cups of tea will be unbearably bitter unless you are guzzling that tea down your throat. And who wants to do that after you’ve been book browsing and found a nice stack to sift through as you sip your tea?

 

I guess my takeaway from this little excursion from Iowa City’s tea vendors is that it doesn’t matter what quality of tea you serve if you don’t prepare it right! If you’re shelling out for a pot of silver needle tea, you want it to taste good. Sure, it’s not that hard to get a fork or a knife and pry the little metal basket out of your teapot, but it can feel ridiculous when you just want to relax with your pot of tea. Still, the tea options are growing. The fact that I can walk into a coffee shop and order a pu erh or a Ti Kuan Yin and not get a funny look is a sign that even the Midwest is starting to get interested in the world of tea!


 

 

Cha Cha Cha! : A Three Tea Review

For a while, green tea was green tea for me. Then I tried some gyokuro, a high-grade Japanese green tea, and it was like seeing a whole new universe. I didn’t know green tea could have such a strong, oceanic flavor to it. Since then I’ve been hooked on Japanese green teas.

Why do Japanese green teas taste different from Chinese greens? It’s mainly due to the production. The Chinese method of tea production often involves drying the leaves in a wok. This gives the tea a nuttier, sometimes toasty or smoky flavor. The Japanese generally steam their tea leaves, which gives it a fresher vegetal taste. Both varieties are good for different moods or tastes.

I decided to pull out and profile the three Japanese teas currently in my collection. They’re all very distinct from each other. Let us compare and contrast!

I brewed up a cup each of kukicha, hojicha, and genmaicha, three unique Japanese teas. Let’s take a look at each one:

Kukicha

Kukicha before steeping

Kukicha before steeping

Kukicha translates to “twig tea.” It’s made up of the stems, stalks and twigs, and it usually comes from the production of sencha or matcha. At first this might sound like it’s the haggis of tea world, using the thrown-off parts of the tea plant out of sheer pragmatism. But actually, it’s really delicious and good for several steeps! It’s also unique in that it has very little caffeine in it. I’m presuming this is because the leaf isn’t involved in kukicha.

Kukicha after steeping

Kukicha after steeping

 

 

 

The Tasting: I got my kukicha from one of the few physical Adagio tea shops when I was in Chicago. I had only heard of it before, but the smell was too good to pass up. Pre-steeped kukicha has a bright, vegetal aroma to it. My immediate thought was, “It’s like gyokuro’s kooky cousin.” (Get it? Kooky-cha? I’ll stop now.)

Before steeping it looks almost like lemongrass, since, like that plant, it’s mostly twigs and stems. When steeped, the liquor is a clear yellow. I love its bright, refreshing taste. It’s one of those teas that you can guzzle right up because it’s so refreshing, and you don’t get any of that tannin mouthfeel on your tongue or teeth. I read somewhere that the Japanese sometimes mix kukicha in with fruit juice to make a drink for kids. I will have to experiment with that this summer–I think the bright, vegetal notes would go really well with some sweet fruit notes. YUM.

Hojicha

Fun to say and fun to drink! Hojicha is a bancha tea. Bancha is produced in the late summer-early fall harvest. To make hojicha, the bancha leaves are roasted for a few minutes. This strips the leaves of a lot of their health properties, but it gives the leaves a honeyed taste, sort of like hazelnuts. It also turns the leaves a brassy color, making it a rather unusual looking and tasting green tea.

The Tasting: This hojicha is another Adagio tea–I nabbed a free sample of it with another tea purchase, and I’m glad I did. You can definitely smell the toasted quality before you steep hojicha. When steeped, the liquor is amber with almost a pinkish tinge to it. I like the light toastiness in the flavor and its rounder, sweeter taste. You get a little bit of that vegetal taste from the green tea in there as well, but it’s completely different from a straight up Japanese green tea.

Hojicha before steeping

Hojicha before steeping

Hojicha after steeping

Hojicha after steeping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genmaicha

Genmaicha was the first Japanese tea I had that wasn’t just a “plain” green tea. It was originally a peasant’s tea. Poor Japanese tea drinkers would add toasted brown rice to their tea leaves to make the tea last longer. And as it turns out, toasted rice and green tea is a pretty delicious combination. Now it’s one of the most established teas of Japan, made with either sencha or bancha leaf.

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Genmaicha after steeping

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Genmaicha before steeping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Tasting: I got my genmaicha from the bulk section at my local co-op grocery, so it’s not particularly high-grade, but it was still pretty tasty. Genmaicha has this really savory aroma from the rice. When you steep it, the result of this combo is a clean-tasting tea with a hint of toasty nuttiness from the rice. It’s an strange tea, and it might not be up everyone’s alley, but I’m a huge fan. It has the unusual distinction of being both really refreshing and really warming and comforting. The liquor of genmaicha is a clear olive-green, and as you drink the steamed rice smell hits your nose and makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a warm kitchen with stir fry on the stove.

Out of the three of these, do I have a favorite? Tough call. They are all tasty and have different merits depending on what you’re in the mood for. So, I recommend to you:

  • Have a cup of kukicha when you want something bright and refreshing. Try it iced on a summer day for a tasty way of hydrating.
  • Make some hojicha when you want a comforting, toasty drink. Wrap your hands around a mug of it as you pull a blanket around you and read a book.
  • Brew up some genmaicha if you want a satisfying, clean-tasting companion to your savory or sweet food.