Tea review: Hotel Chocolat’s Unwind blend

I have a rather special choice of tea for you this week! Instead of a product from any of the well-known tea merchants, I’ve chosen Hotel Chocolat’s Unwind blend. They’re calling their tea products teaolat, but I’m not entirely sure if the name will catch on so a ‘blend’ is a fit description.


Unlike before, when I’ve suggested some of my favourite teas, I’ve never actually tried this one so I’m going on a journey of discovery with you, my readers.

Dry leaves: as it’s not a blend of tea with actual tea leaves, the dry mix is a combination of cacao nibs, chamomile flowers and lemon balm leaves (no, I didn’t know that was a plant either, it’s part of mint family). The aroma is, as you might expect, chocolaty and rich, with a hint of sweetness coming from the chamomile, but the mint doesn’t come through.


Water temperature: 100 degrees Celsius

Amount: one teabag (3.5g)

Brewing time: 4-5 minutes.

Wet leaves: brewing the tea seems to strip the leaves of any sweet aroma, focusing instead on the bitterness of cocoa (not chocolate), with dried fruit and tobacco notes.


Brew: the resulting tea is light bodied, but a bit astringent. The flavour is a combination of dried fruits with burnt notes so the cocoa transfers that way and it leaves quite a similar aftertaste to that of light black teas, just without the malty flavour. I personally liked the combination although I didn’t find it particularly unwinding, but I think it will be a divisive blend in terms of taste. Some will like it, and some won’t.

hotel chocolate unwin teaolat itea

Ready to try it?

You’ll be able to find it in most Hotel Chocolat stores and in their online shop, along with some other flavours. I purchased a single teabag as an impulse buy (sorry, my dear husband, I’ll never be able to resist tea!) from the till area. And I suggest you do that too, just to see if you like it. But you can also buy them as a pack of 10 pyramid teabags for £5 (at the time of writing) or already infused for on-the-go enjoyment.

If you’re looking for a novel gift idea for a tea lover friend or family member, give Hotel Chocolat’s teaolats a go! I think they will be quite surprised.

Thanks for reading!

Anca

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Tea review: Fortnum & Mason’s Afternoon Blend

In honour of Afternoon Tea this week, I’ve decided to review a classic choice for this joyous occasion: the eponymous Afternoon Blend. Many tea merchants will have a variant of this, including Whittard and Twinings, but I have chosen Fortnum & Mason’s blend as it was recently given to me as gift and I like to call Fortnum & Mason The Mothership so I’m probably a bit biased.

If you’re looking for an easy choice to go with your Afternoon Tea this week, or simply need a pick-me-up without the heavy body and strength of a regular English Breakfast, this is your tea. And while you’re at it, why not read more about the Afternoon Tea tradition?

Dry leaves: the aromas of the leaves have that characteristically strong earthy smell of a black tea, with notes of dried tobacco on this particular blend. As with many black teas for general consumption (as opposed to the grand crus and single estate varieties), the leaves are cut quite small to produce a full-bodied liquor.

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Water temperature: 100 degrees Celsius

Amount: one teaspoon or 3-4 grams per cup

Brewing time: 3-5 minutes. It might sound like a lot if you normally use teabags, but this time will give the tea leaves the chance to absorb the water and infuse it.

Wet leaves: the infusion process reveals a much lighter aroma to the leaves, which are now light woody, a bit like balsa wood, rather than earthy. The leaves have now also expanded and you can notice their size a bit better, which is the sign of a good quality loose leaf tea.

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Brew: those adverse to change will be happy to know that the tea tastes a bit like your regular cuppa without the strength, which is why I would suggest not adding milk to it because it won’t hold the taste very well. It’s mouth-filing but smooth, making it a good match and a versatile companion to the sweetness and variety of afternoon tea cakes.

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Ready to try it?

My best recommendation would be to go to Fortnum & Mason and enjoy their full Afternoon Tea package. Don’t worry, I’m in no way paid by them to say that, it’s simply the nicest Afternoon Tea I’ve ever had so it comes from the heart.

However, you can always buy the Afternoon Tea blend that I reviewed, priced at £10.95 for a lovely tin and 250g of tea (or about 80 cups!), bake a fresh batch of Mary Berry’s scones and enjoy a cream tea at home with cream and jam.

Thanks for reading!

An unusual, yet charming place to have Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea is one of my favourite treats ever and I’m not only saying that because it’s Afternoon Tea Week! It’s not just the tea and the cakes, but the daintiness of it all, the opportunity to sit down and take some time to be with friends and family, as well as the sense of occasion to it. It’s not every day you have delicate finger sandwiches and elegant cakes arranged on an elegant tiered stand and tea out of fine bone china cups.

If you want to find out more about where the tradition came from, read my previous post. Today, any luxury hotel or accommodation will offer it and I’m sure you’ve been treated to one at least once in your life, but I want to share with you a slightly unusual location that is close to my heart. Held as Oxfordshire’s secret for a long time, Jane’s Teas is no longer a mystery to many and you’d be wise to book in advance – there are no places left for this year!

Set in the heart of the British countryside, amidst the green next to the Kirtlington quarry, is a really charming Afternoon Tea location by the river. Jane’s Enchanted Tea Garden is run by the delightful, flamboyant and friendly Jane who was awarded the Small Holder of the Year award in 2009.

What makes it so special?

Jane grows as much as possible in her own garden, including the flowers she puts on every table, to give her produce a real local quality and the taste… mmm… her cakes and scones are just divine! Everything is fresh and produced for the bookings, so I’ll be surprised if there is ever as much as a crumb left.

Entering the garden is like entering a childhood fantasy land with little statues, multi-coloured ribbons floating in the wind, old cups and creamer hung on the rails and in the trees and lots and lots of fairy lights. The atmosphere lives up to the name – enchanted – and it feels as much of a treat as a high-end hotel restaurant just with mix-and-match fine bone china instead. The whole place has a homemade but delicate feel to it and it’s an experience you can’t quite have anywhere else!

How to get there?

My personal recommendation would be to park somewhere at the top of the hill or lane and take the 10 minute walk to the garden on the road. Then, having enjoyed Jane’s scrumptious cakes and goodies, burn some calories by walking along the South Oxford canal through the woods. When you get to the old quarry, take the steps up and you’ll get back to the road where you parked the car.

If you need any proof as to how remarkable this place is, just read the outpour of love on their Facebook page.

Thanks for reading!

Tea review: Green Tea & Apple Blend

After one of my most recent posts on how to recognise good quality tea, I’ll bet you’ll judge my pictures below with fresh eyes!

This review is dedicated to one of my favourite summer teas, which my generous husband indulged me with for my birthday this year. He knows how much I love Fortnum & Mason (which I have nicknamed ‘The Mothership’), so he couldn’t go wrong with buying me one of their teas. And it’s become an instant success.

I also recommend it if you’re just starting to experiment with alternative teas to your regular black cup of tea. A fruity blend is naturally sweetened and more pleasing to the palette so you should find it an easy experiment.

How to enjoy the Green Tea & Apple Blend

Dry leaves: small dark and light green leaves with a potent apple fragrance

Green Tea & Apple blend
Water temperature: 80 degrees (you can use a thermometer or you can wait until the bubbles start to form and stop it). Always use freshly poured water!

Amount: 3-4g or a teaspoon per cup. Hunt for some apple pieces too for a flavourful brew, or double up the quantity if you’re making ice tea (recipe for that here).

Brewing time: 2-3 minutes

Wet leaves: expanded light green leaves, with a fresh, dewy aroma and a slight fruity tone. You’ll notice the dry leaves smell much stronger of apple. It’s common for many fruit and flower blends that the scent is stronger before undergoing the brewing process.

Green Tea & Apple blend
Brew: Fresh and zingy, this tea has the familiar earthy or grassy taste of a green tea with a sweet and sour fruity twist. The apple flavour is actually a lot milder than you might expect, but it complements the green tea beautifully, livening it up a bit. And it’s a brilliant ice tea blend!

Green Tea & Apple blend infusion

Ready to try it?

Of course, green tea and apple is not the exclusive blend of a particular company, so you might be able to find it from your favourite supplier. The one I’ve use for this post and love is from Fortnum & Mason, priced at £6.25 per 125g (at the time of writing) – it should be enough for at least 30 cups.

Tea review: Milk Oolong 

Now that we’ve discussed some of the basics of tea and tea equipment, it’s time to get into our first review before we move on. No one likes all theory and no fun.

The first tea I want to introduce you to is Milk Oolong (or its Chinese and much more difficult to pronounce name Jin Xuan Wu Long). The reason I’ve chosen it – apart from being one of my favourite teas – is that it’s a very popular one with non-adventurous tea drinkers while still being a very different brew to their daily cuppa!

This tea usually originates from Taiwan, though you will find some produced in China too like the one I have, and it takes the name from its natural milky taste. You’ll also find some Milk Oolongs are flavoured by steeping the leaves in milk before the firing stage to intensify the flavour.

How to enjoy Milk Oolong

Dry leaves: small dark green pellets with a potent buttery smell

Milk Oolong dry

Water temperature: 80 degrees (or just as the small bubbles are starting to come to surface in the kettle). Always use freshly poured water!

Amount: 2g or about half a teaspoon. Make sure you give it enough space to brew because it unfurls into really big leaves.

Brewing time*: 2-3 minutes

*Asian cultures have a different method of brewing tea. They make many short brews (e.g. 30 seconds), bin the first one and consider the true aroma and taste are only revealed after the third brew. However, in the Western world we don’t really take (or have) time for tea ceremonies all the time so I’ve adopted the Western brewing method in all my reviews.

Wet leaves: unfurled dark green leaves with lengths of 3-5 cm – Yes! Learn more about your wet brew by smelling and touching and studying the wet leaves. It might sounds weird, but trust me! You’ll learn more about the quality of it and what makes a particular blend a good one.

Milk Oolong wet leaves

 

Brew: It’s a pale yellow colour and I like to say it smells like buttery popcorn! You don’t get the grassiness of a green tea, nor the astringency (that feeling that your mouth is dry and bitter). Instead, you get a very smooth drink with mellow tones and a comforting aroma. If hugs would be a drink, they would be a Milk Oolong.

Milk Oolong Brew

Ready to try it?

If you’re interested in giving it a go, the tea I reviewed above is from Whittard. I have a local Whittard store about 100 metres away from my home so most of my tea comes from there; it will be a name that pops up again and again!

You can buy it on this page or in their store, priced at £6.50 (at the time of writing) for 50g, which should be enough for about 25 cups.