Saturday, October 27, 2012

SereniTea Chamomile & Yerba Mate

Name: SereniTea

Ingredients: Chamomile, Yerba Mate
Purveyor: My Tea Company
Preparation: One teabag steeped in about eight ounces of boiling water for 2:30 (as recommended on the box), sipped plain

"Well, that's curious."

That sounds like an appropriate response to noticing a chamomile-yerba mate blend, does it not? Well, such a reaction has the paradoxical effects of heightening expectations of a good shock, and dampening the chances that anything will actually take one by surprise.

Good news, though: the surprise is there, and indeed it is nice, but as it turns out the flavor and texture are so impressive as to make the entire issue of surprise trivial and, largely, forgotten.

The organic SereniTea, by My Tea Company, brews into one of the lightest teas that I have ever seen, much more befitting a chamomile than a mate. The nose, too, is "dominated" by the chamomile (if that word can even be used with such a tea). The primary aroma is sweetness, and the whole thing can be described as having the scent of a cup of chamomile tea with a spoonful of honey already mixed in.

When sipped, the SereniTea tastes at first just like it smells – mirroring the rich texture and flavor of chamomile with a touch of sugar on the tongue – but then, at the back of the palate, one soon begins to perceive a hint of the yerba mate. And sure enough, on subsequent sips, strains of mate become increasingly apparent throughout the mouth. Still, though, chamomile, no patsy, quite handily maintains its status as the main flavor note in the brew. The tea is brisk and malty, albeit in a unique way, not terribly akin to the briskness and maltiness found in a Camellia sinensis. Vanilla sneaks up on the occasional taste bud, and citrus is absent but still felt – decidedly missed, perhaps – as though the forces carving the flavor profile of the tea included a distinctly citrus-shaped spot in the expectation of that note forming an integral part of the mélange, but then the citrus never did show up. The flavor may be absent, but one cannot mistake the contours of the conspicuous hole. Let that not deter anyone, though; the loss belongs to citrus itself, not to the delicious concoction forced to leave it behind.

The body of the tea is light, but firm enough to give proper structure to the flavor notes. The finish is chamomile, appropriately.

The SereniTea is a wonderfully pleasant drink. It is sweet and cozy as only a chamomile can be, yet healthy and stimulating (yes, it is caffeinated) according to yerba mate's renown. It is a very keen blend, and one that works just right. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mexican Altura Coatepec

Name: Mexican Altura Coatepec
Origin: Mexico
Purveyor: McNulty's
Roast: American
Preparation: Freshly ground, French-pressed, sipped black

In general parlance, to say that "there is nothing special about" something is to offer a negative remark. Usually it is not the most scurrilous of insults, but nobody would mistake it for a compliment.

And indeed, in the case of the Mexican Altura Coatepec from McNulty's, I am not overly enthused. Other than in the nose, which is exceedingly complex - earthiness, florals, nuttiness, smoke, all synthesized into one grand note - there is nothing sophisticated about this coffee. The flavor is mild, with a little acid, and not very particular on any note at all. There is nothing special about it.

But none of that, in this case, is to say that the coffee is not good. First of all, it is quite smooth, and as the sip becomes a swallow, it grows from medium-bodied to full-bodied in a very delightful way. Second of all - and the craft coffee community will kindly resist the temptation to go apoplectic here - most people who drink coffee do not really care about what coffee tastes like. My readers may care, I certainly care, and I even spend a good part of my day encouraging others to care. But most people brewing a potta' Joe in their Mr. Coffee machines or Keurigs or whatever, to have a quick cup with breakfast or to serve with cigarettes and gossip for an afternoon, are more than happy with "it tastes like coffee and it doesn't suck". And why would they not have such an attitude? Such folks are more than likely to load up the cup with so much milk and sugar and fancy-schmancy-mocha-caramel-whatever-syrup and, of course, whiskey and Irish cream that it is amazing that there is any room left for the darn coffee in the first place. And you know what? More power to them. We like coffee; they like whiskey and sugar. And the world keeps on spinning.

Anyhow, the Mexican Altura Coatepec, being as it is not emanating with powerful florals, pungent fruits, or (as in a dark roast) leaden charcoal, makes for a perfect blank slate upon which the sweet-toothed masses can concoct their favorite morning grogs or preferred afternoon drinking candies, and call it coffee. It will be faux coffee - it will taste like anything but coffee - and it will be delicious and make for good times, I am sure.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Onabay Striper White

Producer: Onabay Vineyards
Name: Striper White
Varietals: Unknown
Region: Long Island, USA
Vintage: Unknown
Tasted: September 27, 2012
ABV: 12.5%

For just about my entire life people have said that I am what in Yiddish is called a kvetch, which is to say not just a complainer but a professional complainer, a complainer par excellence, a complainer's complainer. So maybe it is just that side of me coming out, but no matter how delicious Onabay's Striper White is (which is a lot), and no matter how versatile it can be (which is also a lot), I simply cannot get past the fact that they put neither a vintage year nor a varietal list on the label. Not even a year! This is wine, not fruit punch. Some things are just not acceptable.

What we do have, though, is a wonderful white wine to sip. The color is somewhere between pale gold and full straw. The nose is of white table grapes, citrus, and melon, more crisp than acidic. Actually, it almost approaches the nose of a red wine. The palate has a delightful fruitiness to it, like a fusion of tropical berry and tropical citrus. There is the very slightest bit of oakiness around the edges. The acid is there, but it feels very smooth, not acidic at all. One feels a slight bite right on the tip of the tongue - this is alcohol, after all - but mostly it is nice, relaxed, and sweet, reminiscent of lazy tropical days. The finish is of melon and apples. After breathing for twenty minutes, it does not change very much at all.

While Striper White's flavor implies balmy beach bumming, it would actually pair well with a variety not only of foods (chicken or seafood grilled with citrus, or with a tropical marinade like mango or papaya), but of scenes as well. I would be equally comfortable sipping this wine at a hot poolside barbecue or on a boat out on the sound on a cool, breezy day. In fact, this white can easily carry from the summer right through the fall.

But for goodness's sake, put a year on the label!

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Origin: Japan
Type: Green Tea
Style: Gyokuro
Purveyor: The Green Teahouse
Preparation: One teaspoon steeped in about eight ounces of boiling water for 2:30, sipped plain

China is generally held to be the world's main producer of green tea (and of tea in general), and accurate or not, the conception is understandable given the scope and history of Chinese tea production. But when it comes to green tea, Japan takes a back seat to absolutely nobody. The Japanese have their own tea-producing traditions spanning centuries, and in fact boast the most refined approach to serving and enjoying.

Japan is home to an impressive catalogue of tea grades and varieties. Among the highest regarded of these is gyokuro, which translates alternately as "jade-dew" or "jewel-dew." With a history dating back to prior to the Meiji Restoration, gyokuro continues to stand out among green teas from all over the world to this day. A key part of what makes it different is that it is grown in the shade for two to three weeks prior to harvesting. Certain compounds, including caffeine, amino acids, and various others, increase as a result, and a delectable sweetness is created.

The dry leaves that I got from The Green Teahouse are a deep, luscious forest green. They are flat and straight, not unlike small blades of grass. Actually, at first glance, one gets a real visual impression of evergreen leaves. And they smell exactly like green tea ice cream.

When brewed, these gyokuro leaves produce a light green liquid that is frankly more akin to yellow. It is limpid, simple – it offers the same sensation as a lake or bay that is so entirely transparent that it appears shallow even when deep. The brew's aroma evokes a childhood trot through a wooded area fresh after a rain. The palate is sweet, with tannins and slight maltiness. It is savory, smooth, and full-bodied.

This gyokuro is delicate, delightful, and thoroughly thoughtful. To sip it is inspiring in the same way that being near an old, wise man is: one is moved to calmly let the world outside, and thoughts inside, pass by in a moment of removed, relaxed reflection.

Those who drink green tea can hardly do better.