Zojirushi CV-DSC40 Electric Kettle

January 22, 2010

I’ve made due with my very basic electric kettle for years to heat my water, it has precisely one button which is “On” and I know it so well that I simply time shutting it off before or during the boil to get my desired temperature. It only holds a max of 1L and I generally refill it numerous times a day and reboil constantly. The cord is finally beginning to break, which started my hunt for a replacement. I’ve been wanting a Zojirushi boiler for a long time, but the expense and slower boil time has always pushed it back again. After hunting through all of my options the vacuum insulation of the Zojirushi CV-DSC40 kept haunting me. The fact that instead of wastefully refilling and reboiling I can fill in 4L and use it throughout the day with little to no energy use was just too much to ignore and I eventually caved.

Zojirushi CV-DSC40 VE

Zojirushi CV-DSC40 VE

Once I’ve received it and had some time to live with it I will post a more detailed review, but my only real concern is the initial boil time. Since this unit is rated at 800 Watts, and most electric kettles are in the 1200-1500 Watt range, it seems it will take about twice as long as an actual kettle. This means it will have to function like a hot water tank more-so than a kettle and some routine will have to be created to make it fit my needs. Hopefully not too big of an adjustment either. I’ll always have a regular kettle just in case. I wish it had an actual clock/timer instead of limited preset hour choices and I don’t see why a variable temperature control would be any harder than the included three settings of 175, 195, and 208 degrees Fahrenheit… but those are minor quibbles. I’ll probably keep it set on 195 and then just let it cool a minute or so before using any delicate greens. I’m not a big black tea drinker so this should suffice even for the occasional cup.

We shall see how it fits into life and tea as I know it. I’m looking forward to it!

GSI Backpacking Tea Kettle

January 4, 2010

I’m an avid outdoorsman and I love to hike, camp, and backpack. I’m pretty strict when it comes to my gear and weights/space as I like to keep as close to ultralight as possible and to bare essentials. I won’t sacrifice safety or thousands of dollars for the newest space-age material that will shave 1-2oz. off of an item I already own, but I do think long and hard before adding an item and try to have it serve two or more uses.

Tea is something that is a part of me. To enjoy a beautiful cup of tea surrounded by nature’s beauty at sunrise, or during a miserably wet and cold day, or on a break from the trail is sublime. Thus far I’ve always settled for simply boiling water in my stainless steel Olicamp Space Saver cup over one of my ultralight stoves (a Snowpeak Ti or Coleman F1) and adding in the leaves. But when I have a companion or a couple of people along, I’ve always struggled… having to waste fuel and time boiling a cup at a time not to mention having to use my cup as the vessel the entire time if they don’t have a suitable cup for the stove. To combat this my lovely wife got me a GSI Tea Kettle for the holidays.

GSI Tea Kettle

The kettle is made from a super-hard alloy called Halulite, and weighs in at only about 6oz. while holding 1 quart/32 ounces. The material is said to transfer heat very rapidly, which saves fuel and time, and it is shaped in a flatter profile to allow more surface area as well as to make for easier packing. While it is essentially a single-purpose item, boiling water is generally the heart of every meal when hiking for dehydrated items or pasta dishes and soups so the utility is worth the 6 ounces and when packed with things the space addition is negligible in all but the lightest packs.

In practice there are, as always, some pros and cons. The lid doesn’t fit tightly so it just sits in place rather than being held firmly by friction or a mechanism which seems like it could have been an easy addition. However, that is really about the only con. In basic indoor testing so far it does indeed boil faster when compared to the stainless steel Olicamp cup with the same volume of water, about 20-30 seconds faster which isn’t hugely significant, but every bit helps… and I could never do more than 12 ounces or so in my cup at once. It’ll also be great over a small campfire for a quick cup during day hikes, with the wider base being easier to deal with and position.

Any old metal tea kettle would do perfectly fine, and I’m never one to perpetuate this notion that enjoying the outdoors requires expensive labels and fancy gadgets, so this is more of a convenience and splurge type item. At only about $16 the utility and tailor made design is well worth it.

For those interested, here are the other items in my pack that I mentioned:

Olicamp Space Saver Cup/Pot

Coleman F1 Ultralight Stove

Snow Peak Titanium Gigapower Stove

Lochan Tea Tasting

October 28, 2009

I will be participating in Lochan Tea’s upcoming tasting of an array of their teas. One tasting a day starting on Monday 2nd of November. I will be posting the results from each day here as well as submitting my notes for them. It covers a range of Indian teas with a concentration on Darjeelings. I’m particularly happy because one of the teas in the tasting just won the gold medal at the 2009 Chinese Tea Expo for the Black Tea category.

10 Teas to Start With

October 22, 2009

Now that we have covered some basics of brewing, we need to lay some ground work on determining just what teas to brew. There are thousands of types of tea and even within a specific type of tea there can be hundreds of variations, it can be daunting. Today we’ll try to compile a list of 10 teas that cover a wide enough spectrum that will quickly show you what types and characteristics of tea you, personally, enjoy and which you do not. This will allow you to explore with some confidence from that point without simply relying on luck. So let’s get to it:

1.) Ceylon – Smooth and generally mellow, this tea is probably the closest  to the standard teabag many are familiar with but a nice upgrade in flavor and quality. It is a fairly rich taste with a very slight bit of astringency and bitterness.

2.) Sencha – A Japanese green tea that is very light, bright, and refreshing. This is a true green tea in every sense of the word and miles apart from what is often sold as “green tea” in most stores.

3.) Long Jing – A very popular Chinese green tea with a bright and almost “nutty” flavor. This is a nice contrast to Sencha and showcases a different side of green tea. Also known as Dragonwell.

4.) Shui Xian – This oolong tea is often associated with tea served in Chinese restaurants. It is a nice basic introduction to oolongs and isn’t that radical a departure from many of the flavors of standard teabags, but the medium fermentation and roasting adds complexity. Also known as Shui Hsien, or water sprite.

5.) Tie Guan Yin – A greener oolong with a slightly floral aroma and flavor. The split in oolongs generally runs along the more roasted/fermented/fruity lines such as Shui Xian and the greener/floral ones like this tea. Again comparing this to the Shui Xian should yield a personal affinity towards one or the other, many enjoy both. Also known as Tie Kuan Yin, or Iron Goddess of Mercy.

6.) Silver Needles – White tea is often shrouded in mystery and mystique, but it is really just minimally processed tea leaf that isn’t roasted or fermented, just dried. It is delicate and often has a sweetness. Also known as Bai Hao Yinzhen, or Yin Zhen.

7.) Keemun – A black tea in the Chinese style which is rich, sweet, and full-bodied. This would be a great introduction tea for coffee lovers since it is not as subtle as many of the others. Some keemuns exhibit a smokey flavor which some may find desirable.

8.) Darjeeling – Sometimes referred to as “The Champagne of Teas” this Indian tea exhibits a wonderful array of flavors from sweet to nutty to grape-ish muscatel notes. Within this one category almost anyone can find at least one or two specific teas that matches their preferences. This type alone could be an entire lifelong pursuit, so try a few different ones in this category before making an assessment.

9.) Jasmine Green – I’ve included this option in the list to offer an idea of what flavored tea is really about. Almost all low-end tea and widely available tea is so heavily flavored and imbalanced that many have lost sight of the fact that the tea itself is the star. A delicate jasmine scent added to a quality green tea is a nice balance and gateway between the overpowered offerings in most cafes and the ultimate goal of the unadorned beauty of the leaf itself. Jasmine pearls are often the best choice in this type of tea.

10.) Puer – This is the single-malt Scotch and cigar of tea. It is highly prized and often aged for many years, and has a dedicated following of devotees. If you like earthy, smoky, and oaky flavors in your wines or enjoy the aforementioned Scotch and cigar, this may be a tea for you. If this doesn’t sound like your style you can skip this one altogether or at least try one to say you experienced it. Again, this is a complex group and requires quite a bit of initiative to dig into properly, there are a number of great resources on the web for those interested however. Sometimes spelled puerh or pu-erh.

These 10 teas certainly won’t show you everything tea has to offer, but it will cover a very wide breadth of styles and flavors that will act as a springboard to further exploration and enjoyment. Feel free to ask questions and post comments and most importantly, Have Fun!

Brewing Tea – Water, Temperature, and Time

October 15, 2009

I realize that to many tea brewing begins and ends with dunking a teabag into a mug of variably tepid/boiling water for an indeterminate amount of time and then adding in sugar and/or milk to mask the acrid brew that was just unleashed. I cringe when I see folks at cafes get handed a cup full of improperly heated water with a single-use tea strainer/bag in it and that is where it remains for the duration of the drink. No wonder people don’t get tea or think it needs to be doctored up in myriad ways to become palatable. There are other extremes of thermometers and timers and digital scales too, but as with anything, there is a balance. This post is meant to be a primer, not the final master class, and I plan to continue to cover this in increasing depth to help everyone realize that there is so much more to the world of tea and that it isn’t hard.

Water, Temperature, and Time

Water is one of the most important parts of the whole equation. You want to make sure the water is absent of any flavors or chemicals. Water that is poured from the little orange/red spout from coffee machines might be filtered but it also may have some hints of the coffee present. Water straight from a tap might have chlorine or sulphur. There are many options but two inexpensive options are to buy a simple faucet-mounted filter (Pur, Dupont, Brita, etc.)  or buy the 1, 3, or 5-gallon jugs or containers of spring water. Starting with a solid foundation is the only way to get a great final result.

Temperature can make the same tea brewed the same way taste completely different. Sometimes this range is a good thing and can allow for a range of flavors from the same leaf, sometimes too much heat can destroy a delicate tea. This is a topic that entire books could be written about, so what we are aiming for here is just a good reference point and we will dig into it in more detail in the future. There are also debates on how the water is heated: microwave, gas stove, electric kettle, etc. And while there is some merit to some of these arguments, for right now the method will be ignored and we will just focus on the final water temperature no matter how it got that way.

The basic rule goes like this:

Black tea – full boiling water or just off boil at the least

Oolong tea – small bubbles/almost boiling or boiling water that has been allowed to cool for a minute or so

Green tea – hot but not boiling, allow boiled water to cool for a few minutes before using. You should be able to touch the water without suffering a burn, not literally but as an illustration of the temp we are going for here.

Tisanes/Herbal tea – full boiling water, the hotter the better. This is not tea and as such you are trying to extract everything you can from the herb/flower.

As you can see, the one-size-fits-all orange/red coffee machine lever is not useful for almost anything but green tea and some oolongs. So if you are at a cafe or situation (like an office) where this is the only option, your best bet is to select a green tea or oolong and just make do.

Time is the other important piece in this equation. Again some teas allow for some variation here and will offer up different flavors and complexities depending on how short or long it is steeped, some will become undrinkable (bitter or astringent) if left for too long. Each particular tea within a larger category (green, black, etc.) will have an optimal time and temperature but again we are setting up the basics here.

I start from 30-45 seconds to about 1-2 minutes and an occasional tea will work well with 3-5 minutes, herbal/tisanes always go 3-5 minutes. Start shorter and then try longer brews and find your particular sweet spot for the specific tea. Some do well with even longer 3-5 minute brewings, some become bitter and too strong.  It is all about what tastes good to YOU, not what a package or “expert” states is correct. With the right water and temperature, you can experiment on time to find what works for you… but leaving the tea in the cup for 5+ minutes until you finish it is not really the proper solution for ANY tea.

Quality tea makes a huge difference as well as does the amount used. Start with a solid teaspoon’s worth of leaf if in doubt and adjust from there to your taste.


Recent Roundup

September 22, 2009

Things have been a bit quiet here lately mainly due to a lovely sickness that latched on and left me pretty miserable for far too long. So much for all that tea = health business. With dulled taste buds and little interest in anything but getting better, tea has taken a bit of a back seat as of late. Well not tea in general, just quality teas. Subtlety and nuance don’t quite jibe with antibiotics and a constant metallic taste. However, there has been tea, so this is a roundup of what’s been in the cup.

Ginger Dragon. This tisane was prepared at a Moroccan coffee shop where I went to hear some great music a few nights ago. It was essentially just pure ginger root steeped strongly with honey. It was a fiery, peppery, yellow brew which did wonders for my sore throat but wreaked havoc on my easily nauseated stomach. Just near the end of the generous glass the strength and flavor became a bit too much and too harsh, but I did finish it and it is always my mother’s go-to cure for sore throats so I couldn’t have passed it up.

Turkish Coffee. Not tea at all, but that same coffee shop offered great Turkish coffee hand prepared properly with the little copper Ibrik. It’s a sweet little coffee treat. A real coffee treat not the watered-down variety of national chains and syrups. Super-finely ground coffee is repeatedly boiled with sugar and water in the little vessel, allowed to settle, and then poured into a small demitasse cup for sheer joy. I’m not much of a coffee drinker and it is just sublime. My own Ibrik will be coming soon and I plan on enjoying more of this in the comfort of my own home.

Red Bamboo honey and Luzianne Tea. My personal sick-day standby. The tea is merely a vehicle for transporting the amazingly deep and complex red bamboo honey. I get this tea from a local beekeeper so I don’t know about the availability outside of PA/WV area, but if you can find some, try it. As for the Luzianne, I know it is meant for iced tea and I don’t care. I think it has the most flavor and character of all American teabags and pairs really well with honey of all types.

Matcha Kit-Kats. A Japanese friend recently brought back a box of these little delights. It could just be my dead palate but there isn’t much green tea present, it’s more like a green colored white chocolate kit-kat, which there’s nothing wrong with in my book. I had been hoping for a more bitter and vegetal experience but they are good enough that I went back for more and would probably devour the whole lot if it weren’t in bad taste.

So that’s the roundup, there will be some more coverage of my recent black/red tea foray soon.

Thai Deodorant Stones

August 17, 2009

This is totally not about tea, but fear not, my shipment of new tea will be at my door when I get home tonight. In the meantime I had to make a post about something else that has completely won me over: Thai deodorant stones/crystals. I recently went on a trip and the silly liquid restrictions for flights annoys me to no end. I already have too many important items to keep track of in the hurried rush of TSA checkpoints that I don’t like having to deal with another in the form of a Ziploc bag with tiny bottles in it. I can survive any length of time (even in modern society) with just two items: Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and some deodorant. The Dr. Bronner’s is good for toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and even a bubble bath of sorts. I usually use it in liquid soap form but I can buy a solid bar. I’m never sure if deodorant needs to be in the Ziploc or not and I just hate dealing with something that could melt and leave a waxy perfumy mess. I all-around just hate scented deodorants in general and especially when I am hiking/camping or travelling.

Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap

Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap

In some research on alternatives I came across a number of travellers who swore by Thai deodorant stones. Being a fan of many things Thai I looked into it further. Basically, it is a quartz-looking whitish/clear stone that you slightly wet and apply like deodorant. The upsides are many… it contains no aluminum, it is completely clear, dries instantly, no scent, no residue, no staining, it’s solid, a single stone lasts a year or more of daily use, it weighs almost nothing, and it packs small. A travel size option is about the size of half of a tube of lipstick! I like to pack ultralight when I go camping so this was a boon for that as well. But would it work?

Thai Deodorant Stone Crystal

Thai Deodorant Stone Crystal

One other thing I should mention is that I do not use anti-perspirant at all, just deodorant, and that is what this is designed to replace. Clogging up pores is not my idea of a smart solution, it’s natural to sweat. And you will still sweat but the Thai crystal eliminates the bacteria which causes odor issues. It does this so well I will never go back to chemical laden deodorants again. Not just for travel but every day. I am 100% satisfied and amazed at how well this works, so much so, that like my new-found soy blueberry yogurt, I wanted to share it with everyone even if it might not be a direct fit for my usual content. I promise new tea coverage is on it’s way!