Monday, June 7, 2010

Stratford Culinary Tour: Tea Workshop with Karen Hartwick

After a delicious lunch prepared and cooked by Chef Neil Baxter of Rundles, I was getting droopy eyes and was feeling a tad too comfortable (nap time?). I'm sure, to a certain extent, everyone at the barn that day felt the same way after lunch.  But who can blame us? The delicious 3-course lunch paired with VQA wine from Niagara was just too good of a combo. So what's the solution? A tea tasting of course - caffeine usually does the trick. Although I'm not an avid tea drinker, I still enjoy tea from time to time. I usually can't escape from tea if I go for dim sum, and it's pretty much standard to have tea when eating out at Chinese restaurants. For relaxation,  I like to sip on a hot cup of tea at home and curl up with a good book. For functional purposes, I also drink tea when I need to stay awake and study (since coffee doesn't seem to work for me). So I guess I drink tea more often than I thought.
We were very lucky to have Karen Hartwick, a certified tea sommelier and accredited by the Specialty Tea Institute in New York, to lead a tea tasting workshop for us that day. More than a tea expert, a tea sommelier is a rigorous designation compared to that of a wine sommelier, and much more rare as well. Karen is also the owner of Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar in Stratford.

Getting set up for the workshop.

If any of you are interested in learning more about teas, feel free to visit Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar's website. Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar began in 2002, and offers over 100 tea and tea accessories. It also offers tea tasting experiences for up to 12 people at a time. They are currently offering a 10% discount on your first online purchase.  Simply visit the website and enter coupon code: DEL522. Offer is good until June 30, 2010.

The list of teas we get to taste.

It was incredible listening to Karen speak to us about tea - it is evident that she is so passionate and knowledgeable about all aspects of tea, whether it is about their history, the different types of teas and their origin, the various brewing techniques involved...I also enjoy listening to her talk about her trips to Asia and her tea brewing experiences. In my opinion, it is always a privilege to hear an expert talk about their field of expertise (besides, it is way more interesting to learn this way than from a textbook).

Here is a collage of the different teas that we tried that day, from white, green, to black tea. We got a chance to sniff and sip on each of the teas (by the way, the same tea leaves, once brewed, can smell different compared to when they were dry!)

My personal favourites are the Genmaicha Matcha-iri and the Jade Oolong. The Genmaicha Matcha-iri had a fresh grassy flavour of green tea with the aroma of roasted rice and had a light yellow hue. I drink Oolong normally (probably not as nice as the Jade Oolong which Karen provided us) so I wasn't surprised that the Jade Oolong from Taiwan would be another one of my favourites - the fragrant and taste of Oolong has always been very calming and relaxing for me. I did not care much for the Pu-erh from China though, it tasted a bit too "earthy" and "muddy" for me. I also realize that I prefer the stronger and darker black teas as opposed to the lighter, white and green teas.

Here, Karen is demonstrating some of the steps involved in a Japanese tea ceremony, also called the Way of Tea. It is a cultural Japanese ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha (powdered green tea), and the principals set forward - harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility, are central to the Japanese tea ceremony.

I'm looking forward to visiting Tea Leaves Tasting Bar next time I'm in Stratford!

My next post will be about the candy making workshop at Chocolate Barr's Candies.