Tea of the Week: Red Blossom Tea Company’s Grand Scarlet Robe

Chinese New Year is a time when the most enticing foods are served in plenty. If you are looking for a well-rounded cup of Chinese tea to go along with those bites and meals, then there’s no need to look any further. Red Blossom Tea Company’s Heritage Beido, also known as Grand Scarlet Robe, is a rich Wuyi Oolong, grown from cultivars thought to be direct descendents of very rare Da Hong Pao mother trees.
Grand Scarlet Robe…now doesn’t that sound luxurious? Well, in taste and price, it is. Da Hong Pao (the Chinese translation of Grand Scarlet Robe) is the name of the mother trees that this Heritage Beido is thought to have derived from. Often called the world’s most expensive tea or the king of oolongs, Da Hong Pao is usually reserved for wealthy connoisseurs and dignitaries in China. It’s rumored that even President Nixon received some as a gift from Chairman Mao during his visit to China in 1972.
Although some may compare this tea to a smokey Lapsang Souchong, I completely disagree. Whereas I find Lapsang to be over-the-top assertive, where you can literally taste the pine wood fire it’s burned over, this Wuyi Oolong is well-balanced and smooth. When brewed with care, you can taste all of its sweet, savory, fruity, and roasty notes equally. This is one beautifully harmonious sip, one that came highly recommended by the Red Blossom Tea Company staff.

Tasting Notes for Red Blossom Tea Company’s Heritage Beido (Grand Scarlet Robe):

BREWING TIPS:  Rinse the leaves in a small amount of 200 degree F water for 1 second, then drain and discard the liquid. This will help to soften the leaves in preparation for steeping. Steep the leaves at 200 degrees F for 1 minute, 20 seconds for the first infusion. For each subsequent infusion, steep for an additional 30 seconds more than the last infusion. You should be able to get 3-4 flavorful infusions out of these leaves. I like to brew this tea in very small batches, in a small teapot or gaiwan for maximum control during brewing.

THE TEA:  Blackish-brown, wiry, twisted leaves. Some of the leaves are up to 2 1/2 inches in length.

THE SCENT:  Strongly woody, like a whiff of smoldery leaves after a light charring. There’s something tobacco-like about the scent, in the best way possible.

THE STEEP:  A rich, golden amber. Toasty, warm, and reminiscent of peach pit. The tea has a honey-like, floral sweetness with caramel and toffee notes–a result of its traditional “heritage” charcoal roasting.

GET IT:  In San Francisco’s Chinatown at the Red Blossom Tea Company, or online at the Red Blossom Tea Company site.

FOOD PAIRING:  This tea is going to be delicious with Chinese New Year Favorites like Siu Mai Dumplings, BBQ Pork Buns (steamed or baked), or Egg Custard Tarts. For an Asian American twist, serve them with Waffle Cone Fortune Cookies with some auspicious messages tucked inside!

Tea of the Week: Samovar’s Apple Ginseng Oolong

Earlier this year, I visited Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco. To say that it’s a place to get tea is a severe understatement as the shop embodies the idea of serenity in a cup. Samovar is unlike any traditional tea room you’ve ever been to and elevates tea to an almost spiritual pastime. If you are in San Francisco and love tea, it is not to be missed!

Apple Ginseng is one of Samovar’s popular oolong blends. The tea has a wonderfully earthy quality where plentiful chunks of dried apple and mildly sweet licorice root make help to mellow out the soft bitterness of ginseng. If you’ve ever had plain ginseng tea before and didn’t like it or if you’ve never had ginseng tea before and are curious, you should definitely try this blend.

Together, the fragrant Taiwanese oolong and sweet apples lend a floral essence to this blend that the ginseng tea itself wouldn’t have otherwise. The steep has a sunny, honey-like character to it, making it a yummy partner to breakfast items and brunch time baked goods.

I’m presenting this tea to you Samovar-style today, where the guest is offered a small wooden tray with a pot of tea, a teacup, and perhaps some extra tea for additional steepings. This is the signature way that Samovar Tea Lounge serves any brew. It’s a simple, unique way of treating every brew with a sense of ritual, focus, and respect.

The addition of both ginseng and oolong in this blend mean that it has a fair amount of caffeine, so this an excellent AM steep to help get your day moving along. Samovar hails this tea as one that promotes “vital energy and libido.” I can attest that the first part of this equation is true. As for the second part, don’t expect any reports back from me…you’ll just have try some and find out for yourself!

Tasting Notes for Samovar’s Apple Ginseng Oolong Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  212 degrees F for 5 minutes. I generally like to drink any ginseng tea hot. Good for several steepings.

THE BLEND:  A mix of Taiwanese oolong, dried chunks of organic apple, organic white ginseng, organic licorice root, and natural apple flavor.

THE SCENT:  Smells of wood, tree branches, and earthy fallen leaves. Like a serene autumn walk through the woods.

THE STEEP:  Each sip starts with slight astringency from the ginseng root. The astringency is followed by the woody, earthy taste of oolong, and then tamed by gentle sweetness from the apples. This is a sunny, refreshing alternative to your morning cup of Joe.

GET IT:  You’ll find this blend at all of Samovar’s vibrant tea lounges in San Francisco, except for their latest Tea Bar on Valencia St. The tea is also available online at Samovar’s website or on Amazon.

FOOD PAIRING:  Apple Ginseng Oolong pairs perfectly with fall breakfast treats like french toast, pancakes, or a thick slice of Maple Brick Toast. It’s also exceptionally delicious with Mochi Banana Bread or my favorite fall treat…Crisp Apple Strudels!

The cute sticker comes tucked inside the box of tea!

Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco

Earlier this month, I shared a recipe for Russian Tea inspired by the Sochi Olympics.  A good black tea infused with homemade blackberry jam is a simple, straightforward way to drink tea as the Russians do: with full flavor and a maximum amount of caffeine!

Today I’m sharing with you the inspiration behind my Russian Tea post:  Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco.  San Francisco is known for their tart sourdough, rich chocolates, and fresh clam chowder, but what they should also be known for is their tea!

Tucked away in the Yerba Buena Gardens not far from Union Square is Samovar Tea Lounge.  A tea experience at Samovar is rooted in a deep reverence for all aspects of tea.  Amidst the techno music and urban vibes, they’ve managed to marry the ritualistic with the casual here.

Notice that Samovar isn’t called a tea room…it’s called a tea lounge.   This wouldn’t be such an important difference except that is it is unlike other places that serve tea or afternoon tea.  Samovar is not a tea establishment of the “pinkies up” variety.  Samovar is modern, eclectic, and undeniably masculine.

From how the tea is sourced to how thoughtfully each cup is brewed, every aspect of drinking tea at Samovar speaks of respect and appreciation for the ancient beverage.  The staff at Samovar are extremely knowledgeable and friendly, as if they are sharing their tea with you, not just serving you.  Tea is brought to your table and placed front and center, with food items placed at the sides.  This way, there’s no way to deny that tea is the real star of the show.  My choice?  Tolstoy’s Sip, a mix of Lapsang Souchong, Lychee Black, and English Breakfast teas…I needed a boost after all that shopping in Union Square!

They offer 7 tea services at Samovar, each themed according to a country’s tea customs and foods.  And although their scones are delicious, we aren’t talking just scones here!  Depending on which place you want to take your taste buds on a culinary vacation to, Samovar has a tea-inspired meal for you.

From Japanese seaweed salad to Indian curry to Russian pickled eggs, the tea foods at Samovar definitely won’t leave you bored.   And for those who are just wanting a taste and not a full tea service, there are other light food items to choose from, some for pairing with tea and others infused with it, like my husband’s choice of a green tea mousse.It’s so hard to choose which tea to try at Samovar because they are all so rare and special.  Each tea is thoughtfully hand-blended in small batches.  Some of the best sellers at Samovar are their large selection of organic teas.

I walked away with their Apple Ginseng Oolong, a “love” tea of sorts, a blend inspired by Adam and Eve, brimming with sweet dried apples.  If you check out the Samovar site, they offer suggestions on what to serve with each of their unique teas.  Looks like I should be enjoying my Apple Ginseng Oolong with some French toast or chocolate cake!

The next time you are in San Francisco make some time to stop by Samovar Tea Lounge.  With 3 locations in the city, Samovar is the place to go to when you want to slow down, relax, and steep in the lifestyle of tea.  In the words of Jesse Jacobs, owner and creator of Samovar Tea Lounge, an experience at Samovar will remind you to “Drink Tea, Mindfully.”  Oh, and as a friendly reminder, don’t forget to turn off those cell phones!  After you sink into your second cup of Monkey Picked Oolong uninterrupted by the outside world, you’ll be wishing you were in distant lands picking your own oolong instead of having to rely on those monkeys (FYI, a monkey didn’t pick that oolong…it’s a myth)!