December 23, 2020

Tea Advent Day 23

I am fussy about cherries. I very much like a sour cherry flavour, and I loathe bakewell tart. I can eat fresh cherries by the crate. This penultimate advent tea is one sneaky final green tea flavoured with Sencha Wild Cherry. A delicate pretty leaf, decorated with rose petals, and a strong aroma of cherry before water is even added to it, and I’ve made enough of it for Pete to have a cup as well, because it’s always good to have a second opinion.

The tea is golden yellow and tastes just as the smell indicates that it is going to – which if you’ve ever made a fruit or herbal tea from a teabag you will know is quite a special thing. The flavour is delicate and fresh enough that while it does remind me of the bakewell tart, it’s still pleasant to drink. Perhaps not one I would rush back to, but certainly a brief moment of sakura in wintry Wokingham.

Your penultimate advent mug celebrates Kettlewell Village Hall. Kettlewell is a village in the Yorkshire Dales, to which I have no attachment and of which I have very little knowledge. Pete’s mum presented the mug to Pete as though there it told some important story, so it’s kind of sad that I don’t really know what that story is. Perhaps he should have written the post today. What I do like about Kettlewell Village Hall is that it looks like exactly the kind of place you would book to run an antenatal class, and its cupboards are probably full of these mugs, so that the local antenatal teacher doesn’t have to store a plastic box of them in her garage.

  • Comments: 1
  • Kettlewell was one of the places we regularly stayed in when we went on holidays to the Da... - Pete
December 22, 2020

Tea Advent Day 22

And so the box is nearly empty, and our time together in the context of advent tea will soon come to an end. I have had a crazy busy morning, and before I embark on a similarly jam-packed afternoon, I’m taking a few minutes to sit down and sip a cup of Yunnan Imperial. I have high hopes for this tea, with a name like that. It’s a good strong name for a tea.

Much is made of the geographical origins of this tea, on the high, misty plateau, in the red soil of the Lancang River etc, making me long to leave town, leave the country, and lay my eyes on mountains and lakes once more. This is a tea of daydreams amid the busy humdrum of winter lockdown and/or the frantic festive preparation that includes me making a yule log, and Pete making balloon animals.

The tea is fabulous, smooth and complex, with flavours beyond my comprehension. I’m sad it’s over, along with my window of peace. Today I struggled to find you an interesting mug, and settled for the “World’s Greatest 30 Year Old,” which is a good 20 years out of date for me, and in fact was a birthday gift to Pete a mere ten years ago, from his colleagues on the occasion of his 30th birthday. Still a spring chicken, it says. Good looking and youthful. It’s all true.

December 21, 2020

Tea Advent Day 21

It is the shortest day, and yet days have never felt longer. By 4pm I’m thinking about making dinner because I have done everything else, but then we have an endless evening illuminated only by Schitts Creek and, apparently now, Minecraft. I don’t have a lot of actual work to do, but I haven’t booked leave today because that’s an even bleaker prospect. Remember when we thought we were saved because a vaccine was coming?

I am down to the last four teas, two of which are green, one of which is today’s tea: Jasmine Monkey King. Monkey. Hehe. I don’t like green teas, as we know, but I do like jasmine. Once a long time ago I went to China and one of the things I brought back was a packet of pretty jasmine tea. A few weeks later Pete opened the packet to brew up some tea, and a cloud of insects flew out of it. I wouldn’t have told that story if it had happened in 2020.

This tea is satisfyingly, prettily golden and smells of gardens and the summer, making it a necessary salve for this overcast dreary season. I’m thinking about making an order from Imperial Teas of Lincoln to cheer up my January, and if I do then this will be on it. I do have quite a lot of tea already, though. There is a very long explanation of the process on the box, which you can read in full here. TL;DR: night-blooming jasmine, picked at dawn. An absolutely lovely, fragrant tea.

The mug I’m drinking from is one of those that you see in music shops as a generic “gift for music lovers.” It was given to Pete by my dad, on the basis of Pete’s a musician, obviously he needs a mug with treble clefs on. I think there were matching socks. Now that he knows Pete better, Dad likes to gift him second-hand biographies of random musicians, most of which Pete reads even when he has absolutely no interest in Echo & The Bunnymen or the UK Subs or whoever’s book has most recently fallen into the Dove House Charity Shop. Not that Jonny Rotten book, though, that’s been declared unfit for human consumption by Dr Pockless, who has received at least two copies of it via the same source.

n.b. If the mug had had a bass clef, it might not have been relegated to the box in the garage.

December 20, 2020

Tea Advent Day 20

Shall we have a cup of tea? asked Pete, desperately thrashing about for something to do now that we’re in Tier 4. I gave him very clear instructions about which tea to make, and he made a different one altogether, claiming not to have heard me. He then went on to fix himself a scone slathered in this hybrid cream/jam gloop provided as part of his office christmas party, while also claiming moral and scientific superiority over the matter of whether the cream or the jam went on first, and insulted me live on twitter.

The real crime here is obviously the cream/jam gloop, which may or may not have been ineffectively chilled during transit, so has a slightly unpleasant curdled appearance, although smells and tastes fine. Whether you normally apply the jam first or the cream first, the individual textures contribute important elements to the scone experience, and how hard would it have been for them to send a jar of jam and a pot of clotted cream, which we could have amalgamated ourselves should we have taken leave of our senses and wished to do so? Nonetheless I am grateful for the box of cakes and scones and think that’s a lovely way for a company to celebrate christmas with its employees.

Meanwhile, the tea “accidentally” selected is the Tarry Lapsang Crocodile, which disappointingly contains no crocodile, but is very lapsang. The smokey aroma fills the room and almost makes your eyes water as though you’re standing over a campfire with a marshmallow on the end of a pointy stick. Yesterday the tea wasn’t smokey enough; today it’s too smokey. What are the chances that tomorrow’s green tea (which I should have been drinking today, you know) will be the goldilocks of smokey teas? This is why I like to blend teas to my own taste. Pete made a large potful, so I have tried it both with and without milk, and it works well both ways. One of my biggest worries about going into Tier 4 was how to cope when the milk ran out, so I am now reassured on that point.

Pete also chose today’s mug, after questioning yesterday why I hadn’t brought this one out yet; before the hydrangea mug (day 1) this was my tea mug of choice. Again, very much about the size and shape, not the decoration. I used to work for a social audit company attached to a lab where they did safety testing on toys and household items. Every few weeks there would be a “sale,” where in return for a charity donation, you could help yourself to those testing samples that had survived the process. I always made it a point to select one item that was still in its plain packaging, for the fun of finding out later what it was. And hence the Kellogs mug came home to brew.

December 19, 2020

Tea Advent Day 19

I’m aware that these posts are becoming like those deeply, deeply irritating recipe blogs where you have to go with the writer on a twelve day trek through the Andes to discover the finest lemons nature has to offer, before experiencing first hand the pure ecstacy of a soup made from winter roots and snow yams lovingly crafted by a wizened crone whose children have all left for the city, and how the writer painstakingly recreates the recipe on their return to civilisation where only avocados are available.

So I won’t bore you with the highlights of existence in Casa Uborka on a winter Saturday during lockdown, apart from to mention that Tesco accidentally delivered several tins of their finest chocolate-covered biscuits, and I, being slow-thinking and stupidly truthful, sent them back because they weren’t on my order. We recovered from this momentary dance with decadent dishonesty by making a cup of tea.

Despite its being a sound cup of tea with hints of chocolate, rose etc etc, what I like most about Russian Caravan is its romantic story. RC is the tea of Tsars, the leaves that first travelled to Russia from China on camel trains in the 17th Century. It would be prepared in a samovar, which is basically a fancy tea urn, quite a lot fancier than the ones you get in church halls. In Russia one might take ones tea with jam, so we have paired this refreshing delight with Aldi Sloe Gin Mince Tarts and a good dollop of brandy butter. This particular RC is not really smokey enough, but happily I’ve got a massive tin of properly smokey Tea Palace Russian Caravan in the cupboard, and I might have a cup of that purely for the sake of scientific comparison, later on.

My mug collection fails to include anything remotely Russian-looking to drink it from; I imagine some small glass cup in a filigree holder, don’t you? So I’ve pulled a real vintage number from the box, this one having been acquired when I was working at the South Bank Jazz Festival, in the summer after I finished university. That sounds majorly cool until you look closer and see that the bank was situated to the south of the River Humber, not the Thames.

December 18, 2020

Tea Advent: Day 18

Today was supposed to be the last day of term, and as I don’t work Fridays (because of a surplus of leave days to use up after four months on furlough), I planned a relaxing day of pottering about, maybe heading into town for lunch at the Blue Orchid with Pete, before we drop back into Tier 3 tomorrow night. Meanwhile I’ve been hopefully anticipating that the schools would actually close a week early, to give a proper pre-christmas firebreak and protect all the poor old grandparents being visited by their disease vectoring family over the break; not so much for us, we’re not planning to travel 200 miles to attract or indeed spread covid cooties, we’re keeping them to ourselves – but just for society in general and not forgetting the creaking NHS. In fact we’ve been fortunate not to have experienced any school closures that affected Bernard this term, though he’s been off “sick” a couple of times while we’ve waited for test results after a mild bout of coughing or a slightly sore throat. His school did however decide that lessons today would be online, so bang goes my lazy day.

Having said that, it’s not as though we see a lot of him. The only evidence he’s around is the sound of the wheels of his desk chair when he occasionally shifts in his seat, or the murmer of him chatting online with godknowswho. Pete toyed with having a pyjama day, as neither of us had to get up to chivvy the boy to have breakfast, and then sensibly ruled it out, but did at least bring me a cup of tea (Tesco own brand assam teabag, since you asked) in bed. I checked the boy was doing his online lessons, then bimbled into town to pick up lunch and bits, as you do. Bernard’s lunch order was very specific: Waitrose sushi and a banoffi shake from the Brown Bag. This doubled the number of supermarkets and cafes I needed to visit, which isn’t great in the middle of a pandemic, but I’m a kind mum so that’s what I did. I dropped into the Blue Orchid, which is one of the local businesses who provided free school meals over October half term, and also makes delicious and crispy one-person quiches and sausage rolls. I don’t think I’ve been there that often, but the man behind the counter greeted me with great warmth, informed his colleague that I should have a quiche loyalty card, and gave me a free quiche. Meanwhile the other cafe, where I had to wait for five minutes for the shake, is absolutely crammed and uncomfortable and I don’t plan to return until we’ve all been vaccinated.

So that’s how my day’s going, and now in this gloomy post-lunch lull before the Uborka Supergroup gets back together for cocktail hour at 5pm, I thought I’d have my cup of tea. This is called Deer Valley Blue Gabalong Oolong. The “gaba” part refers to something called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, which is part of the mammalian central nervous system, and accumulates in tealeaves as a result of a particular type of fermentation. Here’s a picture to prove it:

While sources agree that GABA found in tea doesn’t penetrate the blood-brain barrier, the good people at Imperial Teas of Lincoln adhere to the Uborka motto of never letting the truth stand in the way of a good story, and list 12 different health benefits of this tea, including deeper sleep and relaxation. So while my morning might not have been as restful as I had planned, I may now be taking an unscheduled nap, which actually is a super way to pass a December afternoon.

This tea is taken without milk and in the mug Pete was grumbling about yesterday, which reminds me of a scene in the Mike Myers movie So I married an axe murderer. The tea tastes like honey and chocolate, and the flavour gets more complex as the liquid cools, which is why it’s quite nice to have a bucket of it. Health benefits or no, it’s nice to drink. The mug was a birthday gift a few years ago from my little sister, who accompanied it with a spectacularly beautiful blooming tea. Pete’s right, it doesn’t really get used often enough to justify its place in the cupboard, but I do quite like it for a soup when it’s just me in the house, which is never.

  • Comments: 2
  • For a tea that is taken without milk, it has a peculiar colour. - Pete
  • To join the cocktail hour, use this zoom meeting ID: 871 7065 4010 - Karen
December 17, 2020

Tea Advent Day 17

This is an exciting tea. Dambusters 617 Blend has a story connected to the Lancaster bomber, and is described as “heroic, yet workman-like.” It is mainly an assam leaf, but with this extra funny little teaball, a thing I have never encountered before, and ironically after yesterday, is impossible to google because all results relate to infusers. I’ll show you a photo of the teaball:

I crushed it in the mortar that wasn’t washed after I crushed coriander seeds in it last night, but I don’t think it has much of a coriander taint; and I added it to the rest of the leaves. The brew is a satisfying chestnut brown, and for once I completely agree with the description: a touch of honey, sweet tobacco and malt. Probably the best tea so far, and I need it after a frustrating two-hour meeting in which the person leading a certain project seems determined to keep the plan secret, which mystery is spiced up no end by the fact that today is her last day with us. I was gasping for this tea and it has been worth the wait.

Furthermore, and you will like this bit, the third of yesterday’s online Christmas Parties had a Secret Santa element, and guess what I got? A new mug! Just when we were all worried that I don’t have enough mugs to take us to the 24th. It’s a very nice mug with a cat on it, though bottom-heavy making it slightly awkward to hold. I now have to relegate another of the kitchen mugs to the box in the garage; let me know which one you think doesn’t earn its space.

  • Comments: 3
  • I've not even had that one out yet, but you could be right. - Karen
  • Maybe we just need to get a bigger kitchen - Pete
  • That big one that's the size of a soup bowl seems surplus to requirements. - Pete
December 16, 2020

Tea Advent Day 16

It’s another green tea, and as has been established, I don’t like green tea. This is Japan Benifuuki Green Tea, which leaves me wondering how you would pronounce that, but not wondering it enough to google it. The box is back to form, with details of the laborious oxidisation process that apparently gives this tea allergy and eczema-fighting properties. Again, not engaged enough with the matter to search for a peer-reviewed study on that; feel free.

I don’t like green tea, and yet… like the last one and the white tea before it, this is a pleasant drink that I would go back for more of, so maybe I’m wrong about green tea, or I’ve been drinking the wrong green tea. I am almost at the point where I would consider keeping a caddy of this stuff. There is one more in the box, and then perhaps we can pick a favourite.

You will note from the photograph (with apologies for the lack of crispness, among the things I can’t be arsed to do this morning is switch the light on to get a better picture), that the tea does not look green but brown. So, erm, there’s that.

I picked another of Bernard’s mugs today, for some reason under the impression that Moshi Monsters was a Japanese thing. And I did bother to check this for you, which is perhaps why I’m so drained now, and it turns out Moshi Monsters is a British thing, so this mug has no rhyme or reason and he never uses it anyway so I might go and add it to the box in the garage when I’ve washed it.