It is very satisfying to reach for a tin of tea, pop off the top, and be rewarded with the sight of fresh tea spilling out. That was the first thing I noticed about the samples I ordered from Adagio Teas—they were filled to the brim and aesthetically pleasing, like something I’d want to give a friend. By default I’m suspicious of fancy tea packaging, as too often it hides a less-than-superior product. I’m glad to report that’s not the case with Adagio Teas. The high quality of their product matches the thoughtfulness of their fine packaging, which even includes steeping instructions on the bottom.
When Kei Nishida from Japanese Green Tea IN reached out to ask if I’d like to try their product, I knew I couldn’t say no. Sweet and refreshing, Japanese green teas have been a weakness of mine since I was a teenager, drinking Canadian grocery-store brand greens and dreaming of someday traveling to Japan. Now as an adult with some tea experience, I drink a good, dark gyokuro or sencha on a near-daily basis. Japanese Green Tea IN’s teas are a classic example of high-quality, sweet and full-bodied Japanese green teas. That they keep up a close relationship with their tea farmers in Shizuoka prefecture near Mt. Fuji makes me like them all the more.
Four Seasons Tea is a small Canadian company run by Jeff Kovacs. They are dedicated to bringing rare and high-quality Chinese and Taiwanese teas to tea enthusiasts.
In short — It’s Jeff’s job to spoil tea freaks like me.
Happy Tuesday! I’d like to welcome you to the second day of the week by introducing you to a cool company I found for literature and tea lovers while scanning the Internet. I reached out to their CEO and Creative Director Christina who was obliging enough to send me a box to test and also offer a box for a reader giveaway.
Muse Monthly is a subscription service box that sends a hand-picked pairing of tea and book to your door every month.
The February Box
The light and fruity, caffeine-free drink reminds me of driving around Cuba in the heat and pulling up at a roadside shack for a piña colada. Except in reverse. Here it’s freezing outside and the beverage is hot. Still, it’s a nice reminder of the tropics during the winter months.
On the package Amitea recommends trying it brewed double strength with a shot of rum. That’s an idea I can get behind. And also reminds me of Cuba.
I haven’t had a chance to read The High Mountains of Portugal just yet, but a few days ago the New York Times released their take on it. Martel is known for his 2001 book Life of Pi that won the Man Booker Prize.
Muse Monthly is based out of New York City, so I was excited that Martel, who is Canadian, featured in this month’s box. Inside the box Muse Monthly did a great job of presentation: the tea and book were each wrapped separately in black tissue paper and presentation did not not disappoint. This would make a great gift for someone (like me).
So how much do these boxes cost? Well, from what I can tell they’re priced very reasonably. For example, a one-month subscription will cost you $21 USD. The list price for Martel’s book is $27 USD. Plus, you also get the tea. You can read in my interview with Blok below how they work with publishers.
To look at it from a Canadian perspective, right now The High Mountains of Portugal is listed at $32 CAD. You can find it discounted right now at Chapters for $20 CAD. Right now with the low Canadian dollar the $21 USD cost of the box equals about $29 CAD. So the pricing is still a pretty good deal considering you’re also getting the tea and the whole artisan experience.
You can buy a subscription in bulk (3,6 or 12 months) for a slight discount.
Interview with CEO and Creative Director Christina Blok
What made you want to start Muse Monthly?
Muse Monthly really stemmed out of the idea of comfort and relaxation – after a long day at a stressful job, all I wanted was to curl up with my book and the most gigantic cup of tea possible. I knew I wasn’t the only one, so Muse Monthly was born!
When did you get started?
You work with some big name publishers (Tin House Books, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Bloomsbury)! How did you establish those connections?
It was really much easier than expected. I started out researching books that were coming out for the rest of the year – book that were getting some buzz already, or just ones that looked really different from the usual thing you’d find at Barnes & Noble. And from there I just sent emails to publishing companies explaining the concept and asking if they’d be willing to work with me. I’ve been fortunate enough to form some really great relationships since then.
You support female, LGBTQA, trans and POC writers, as well as writers from around the world. What goes into choosing the book of the month?
The first thing I look for is strong writing. That is always the most important thing. I look for stories that are exciting and different, not what everyone else is going to be reading. I think it’s really important to offer books that are challenging and might open readers up to a different worldview. I try to support debut writers as well.
What about the tea?
The tea is paired with the book by what I call “atmosphere” – they’re meant to create an experience. For example, The December Collection included a story called The Blue Between Sky & Water by Susan Abulhawa, which is a story about a Palestinian family. We paired that with Green Tea and Mint from Teapigs, because mint tea is the traditional way to drink tea in Palestine. The hope is that the reader will be transported!
What comes first – book or tea?
Usually the book comes first, but not always!
What’s your favourite kind of tea?
Personally, I really loved the Earl Grey Lavender from Rishi tea that we included in the August box!
Why are books awesome?
Books are awesome because they expand your mind and expose you to new thoughts and feelings! Books make you smarter, and being smart is badass.
Giveaway – One Free Month of Muse Monthly’s March Collection!
We’re so lucky! Christina has agreed to give one reader the March box for free! Just enter below by February 21 to be entered to win. For March they’re teaming up with author V.E. Schwab who’s upcoming novel A Gathering of Shadows will be released on February 23.
A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in her Shades of Magic series. The first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, has just been acquired by Gerard Butler’s production company, G-Base, for tv series production.
There are a few ways to enter. Each one you do puts your name in the draw! Do one or all four for your best chance of winning.
Enter to win the March Collection from Muse Monthly featuring author V.E. Schwab:
Four Seasons Tea Co. is a brand new Canadian tea company specializing in Chinese teas.
I first met founder Jeff Kovac when he was my instructor during the Tea 101 module of my tea sommelier training with the Tea Association of Canada.
When I first met him (via Skype), I was struck not only by how personable Jeff is, but also by his knowledge of Chinese tea and the Chinese tea industry.
He lived in China for a number of years, and his knowledge of the region gives the Four Seasons Tea Co. a unique advantage.
He knows everything about the tea he’s selling.
Both the Gan Lu and the Jasmine samples Jeff sent me come from Mt. Meng in Sichuan Province. Tea cultivation on Mt. Meng began over 2,000 years ago during the Han dynasty. It’s thought to be one of the first places on earth where tea was cultivated.
The leaves picked for the Four Seasons Tea Co.’s Meng Ding Gan Lu and their signature Snowflake Jasmine are grown in the misty peaks of the mountain. It’s about 800+ metres above sea level for the Gan Lu leaves, and 600-800 metres for those found in the Snowflake Jasmine.
Meng Ding Gan Lu
Gan Lu means ‘sweet dew’. This tea from Mt. Meng is famous for its sweet aftertaste. People have been making it for thousands of years.
I can see right away that the curly, dry tea leaves have a light silver fuzz. This is a good sign.
A note from Jeff:
“In Sichuan, a lot of Meng Ding Gan Lu is blended with a Bai Hao cultivar. My teas are just high mountain tips ONLY. Not blended.”
Here is the unfurled leaf after infusion. The tips don’t lie.
I had a very pure, bright green-yellow liquor, with a clear, velvety soft taste. There is nothing blended in to dilute the flavour. It slides right over your tongue and hugs your mouth.
There’s a sweet but toasty aftertaste, like green peas or chestnuts.
I can see the jasmine flowers!
It’s funny, but this is an important checkmark for me. I’ve had jasmine tea that has no jasmine flowers in it. That always makes me suspicious – where is the scent supposed to come from?
Here, the tiny white buds unfurl beautifully along with the tea. Beautiful fragrance – not too heavy – and a nice, clean taste from the underlying tea. The warmth of the chestnut flavour works well with the floral.
This is a local favourite in Sichuan.
Jeff told me this Jasmine was incredible and I have to agree. I’m very picky with scented teas because I don’t usually drink them (Earl Grey being the exception), but I’ll definitely be finishing this sample.
Here are three different methods for preparation:
- Gaiwan for short infusions: 3 g for 60 ml of water. Pour the tea from the gaiwan into another cup. Do longer and longer infusions. 6s, 8s, 10s, 14s… etc.
- Gaiwan with tea: 3 grams for 120 ml of water. Sip and enjoy.
- Tall glass with tea: 3 grams just about a cup of water. Leave the tea leaves in while you drink it.
Don’t make your water too hot. 80˚C should do the trick.
Try all three and let me know what you think. I tried both short infusions in the gaiwan, and in a tall glass (mason jar for me).
Four Seasons Tea Co.
This is a brand new Canadian tea company, and I’m very excited about them. I think Jeff will continue to produce high-quality tea informed by his knowledge of the Chinese tea industry, and I look forward to drinking more from them.
Right now they only sell their teas in 100g quantities. That might seem like a lot, but the quality is such that you’ll be wanting more to drink anyway.
Jeff was kind enough to include a discount code for readers to use on their website store. You can get 12% off your order by using the code: MelhadTea12
The code is valid for the next two weeks. From today until Friday, November 27.
The Chai Palace is a Canadian tea company based in Mississauga, Ontario. All their tea is blended and packaged in Canada. According to their website, many of their teas are sourced through the Ethical Tea Partnership, which aims to improve the lives of tea farmers in source countries and maintain a sustainable industry.
Owner Reema Farooqui grew up in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, where tea culture is abundant and blending your own chai is the norm. After being disappointed with the artificial tastes and flavours she found in stores here, she decided to start blending her own chai using recipes handed down in her family, and The Chai Palace was born.
Farooqui sent me three 25g samples of their teas.
Lemon Mint Chai
Blend: gunpowder green tea, peppermint, spearmint, lemon peel
In this blend you have the shiny, tiny pearls of smokey Chinese gunpowder green contrasted with fresh mint and a pop of lemon.
Often when gunpowder green is used as a blending base or hidden in a tea bag, you’ll find dull, loose pearls (indicative of not a very good quality of gunpowder, or rolled with older leaves), but that was not the case here! The tiny balls shone and gave a nice honey-amber base to the liquor.
One thing I immediately loved about this blend was the large pieces of dried lemon rind that jump out at you. That’s definitely real lemon.
My tip with this tea would be to make sure you blend it at a cooler temperature (~85˚) and not to steep it too long. 3 minutes should be more than enough. Both mint and green tea you need to be careful with, as over-steeping can quickly lead to a bitter brew.
This was a lovely little pick-me-up in the middle of a study session. You could easily add a little extra lemon or honey too, if you had a cold and wanted something to soothe your throat.
Keep in mind when you are measuring out the dry tea that the green tea pearls will unfurl to be much larger, so you might not need as much as you think.
Classic Chamomile Tea
Blend: lemongrass, chamomile, orange peel, peppermint
An aromatic, caffeine-free tisane. Chamomile is one of our oldest known herbs. Today it’s best known for its calming and anti-anxiety properties, and was a favourite medical infusion of the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.
The large, Egypt-sourced chamomile flowers stand out in this blend. Adding peppermint and lemongrass to this timeless beverage is a nice touch that leaves a clean, refreshing aftertaste on your palate as you exhale. When you smell the dry infusion, the orange peel stands out, but after steeping is much more faint. Try exhaling through your nose to get that citrus finish.
The liquor is nice and clear. You could let this sit and infuse for longer if you like. The suggested time on the bag is 3-5 minutes, but you can extend that to 7-10 minutes to get a stronger brew. There is a nice balance here. The lemongrass and mint don’t overwhelm the chamomile.
Royal Rose Chai
Blend: black Assam tea, rose buds, rose petals, cinnamon, cloves
This was my personal favourite of the three teas I tried, and the most unique blend to my palate. I had never tried a rose chai before. What a treat!
The Assam was brisk, malty and bright. When combined with the warming cloves and cinnamon, this would make a lovely tea for when it’s cold outside.
This blend could brighten an otherwise chilly and dreary winter afternoon: The fragrance of roses is a natural mood-enhancer, and you have the cinnamon and cloves to get your blood flowing. The rose aroma of the tea is uplifting.
This also makes a lovely base for a milk tea. I’m not a big milk blender, but warm, spicy assam just begs to be tried with milk. If you’re feeling fancy, you can sprinkle a bit of extra cinnamon or rose petals on top.
I was also embarrasingly excited about finally having a ‘Royal’ tea to use with my ‘Royaltea’ teacup (admitted tea nerd).
The Chai Palace deserves an aesthetic nod for their dry tea. In addition to blending these for taste, all three samples I received are beautiful to look at as well.
The Classic Chamomile is so good-looking with its large Egyptian flowers that it could almost be left out as a table decoration. Maybe they should start a line of tea potpourri. I’d buy that.
Many thanks again to The Chai Palace for providing this tea for my review. Reema has also kindly included a discount code, compliments of The Chai Palace.
Use the code: Happychai for a 15% discount on their website. Valid until December 31, 2015.
They’re also in the middle of running a 20% discount fall. Use the code: pumpkin2015. Valid until October 12, 2015.
You can also follow The Chai Palace Twitter account where they post new deals and trade tea quips with their customers.
One of the best things about the arrival of fall is that it’s prime tea-drinking season. I’m always mug-in-hand on my way to class, and drink more of the spicy and warming teas. I look forward to having more teas like the Royal Rose Chai.
With an average price of ~$6 per 50g bag, their product is very reasonably priced. I think it’s a good deal for what you’re getting.
If you have a tea you’d like me to try, feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org