Yes, this is a tea blog. I don’t want anyone getting scared. But I’ve never been one for beverage bigotry. Being open minded about what can be done with tea opens up new realms of adventure. I was contacted by Howard Sobel (Ohio’s Bean Brain) of Crooked River Coffee out of Cleveland Ohio about pairing his coffee with tea. Tea and coffee together is an adventure I’ve been wanting to go on. Because I know the quality of his coffee is stellar, having had it before, I was even more jazzed by the idea. I’m going to share recipes I tried, benefits of drinking tea and coffee, and details from my chat with Howard on getting the best flavor out of your coffee.
Tea and Coffee Together
Tea and coffee blends aren’t new, they just aren’t super common. Now, tea is of course my best friend, but I‘ll hang with a good coffee sometimes. If you like both combining them is a new taste exploration.
There are benefits to imbibing both tea and coffee. There’s a great (and funny) article by Dave Brummert over at Evolv about the positive impact of chlorogenic acid in coffee and how the benefits in green tea are given a bump with coffee intake.
Another article by Heidi Hackler at the Chopra Center talks about the immunity and other boosts that come from both beverages.
Pairing the right coffee with the right tea is key. Howard sent me three blind samples (I think he was testing me on what I remember about his coffee. It was fun, though I wasn't spot on.)
Beans: small, dry, a medium cocoa brown
Taste: winey with a sweet start and citrusy finish
I thought it was: Tanzania Peaberry
It was really: Ethiopian
I had the right region but the wrong country. Howard said that my taste description was right on for coffees from that region of the world. I used this coffee in a coffee and green tea mix (see recipes below)
Beans: larger beans, dry, medium brown
Taste: fuller bodied, woody, smooth, more of a pleasantly bitter finish
I thought it was: South American. I had a fleeting thought it might be Sumatra, but dismissed it.
It was really: Sumatra!
I should have stuck with that fleeting first impression. This is very versatile coffee. I used it for the Down and Dirty, Dirty Chai and Customized Chai (recipe below)
Beans: mixed sizes, dark, oily
Taste: smooth, initial sweetness gives way to chicory, charred wood, leather, easy finish
I thought it was: a blend, but that’s all I got
It was really: ?? They forgot what they sent me, lol! So it’s the mystery coffee blend of a dark roast and an African coffee.
Here is what I played around with. With the Sumatra, I decided to try a variation on the famous ‘dirty chai’. Chai tea, with all of it’s warm spiciness and creamy deliciousness is a good fit for a coffee blend. A strong, full bodied black tea and spices stand up to the boldness of coffee without getting lost. I did two variations.
Down and Dirty, Dirty Chai
When all you have are basic chai tea bags and brewed coffee, you can still have a take on this more common tea and coffee blend. This is aimed at a 12-16 oz mug. (Does anyone actually drink a 6 oz. cup anymore?)
Customized Dirty Chai
make coffee by preferred method: espresso shot, french press, drip, cold brew….-( I like making a cold brew concentrate, then heating and adding to the chai. I enjoy cold brew coffee best. The lowered acidity means no stomach issues for me.)
Note: You can make the chai in one pot. Simmer spices in water. Then add milk and sweetener. Bring to simmer again, then turn off heat and steep tea in it. Strain into cup and add coffee.
Spices to try for a customized chai:
*These spices don’t do as well with long steeping times. They can become overpowering or change in flavor
Green Tea Coffee
This combo was trending a few years ago. This was a combination I thought could go either way. I mixed Sample A, the Ethiopian coffee, with a Ceylon sencha tea that had matcha in it. I thought the winey and citrusy notes of that coffee would pair well with the green tea, or be the best bet of the three.
It completely surprised me. I enjoyed the mix of the two. I brewed the coffee in a pour-over style and made the tea separately to honor the different water temperatures and brewing styles for each. After brewing, I mixed approximately three quarters green tea with one quarter coffee. The unique personalities of both the tea and the coffee came through the blend.
Then I made a green tea coffee latte:
Similar to the green tea coffee, this is a simple blend. I used a loose black puerh, steeping one teaspoon for 3 minutes. I brewed coffee Sample C, the dark mystery blend, in a pour over style.
I also liked this one mixed 50/50. This puerh has enough body and flavor to stand up to the bitterness of coffee without getting lost. I’d say the puerh even mellowed the coffee.
A Bit About Howard
and Crooked River Coffee
Crooked River roasts their coffees in-house. You can’t ask for fresher unless you pick the beans yourself beforehand (but leave this to the professionals and you can just enjoy the pristine beans.)
Old Fashioned B2C Personality
CRC sells wholesale of course, but also has retail clients they sell to via a farmer’s market and directly. They vend at their local farmer’s market because that is the place they get to engage with the consumer. Howard tries to take new customers from a lackluster experience to a great coffee experience. “We try to get into people’s palates and encourage them to experiment a lot. I like to be a teacher. That’s part of the joy of being in the business for 28 years.” - Howard
They have a website, but the way to order retail through Crooked River Coffee is to call the office at (440) 442-8330 and have a chat. They have a low retail minimum of 2 pounds of coffee per order.
Howard's Tips for the Best Coffee
Starting with fresh beans and grinding before brewing yields the best cup. Make sure the fineness of the grind fits the brewing method. Store beans in an airtight container away from sunlight. Don’t put them in the freezer.
Check out this coffee grind graphic from The National Coffee Association (Note: coarse is good for cold brew too):
If you don’t have a quality water filtration system at home, buy spring water. It’s a quick fix. Though it costs more it ensures you don’t have chlorine, lots of bacteria, scale, or sediment (which will damage your coffee maker).
Keep temperatures between 195 and 205 degrees to avoid scalding
A Note on Blooming: When coffee is fresh it gives off quite a bit of carbon dioxide when brewing. The gas pushes the water away from the coffee as it releases. If you pour a small amount of hot water over the grounds and let them sit for 20-30 seconds before brewing more flavor is released in the brewing process. Give it a try!
If you love quality coffee like you love quality tea check out Crooked River Coffee for some of the freshest, most delightful coffee you can get. Then go wild! Use herbs and other tisanes like chocolatey cacao husk and orange peel to enhance your creations. If you take a dive into this blending fun let us know on Facebook and Twitter what you create.
Thanks to Howard for supplying the coffee for this adventure. There was no other sponsorship or affiliate links in this post.
I stopped by Denong for a tasting and got a bonus sample of their 2019 black tea. One of the aspects that makes this extra interesting is that this is tea from a drought year (2017 was a drought year too). This was harsh for tea farmers in drought regions because of reduced yield. Sadly, even robust old trees died in fires in Yunnan impacting puerh and Kenyan tea growers were only operating for half the week because there was not enough tea to harvest. This is why you’ll see less product and higher prices.
It saddens me that these beautiful tea plants and the people in the industry have suffered. Nature has a way of creating beauty out of chaos though. The drought causes the plants to work harder and results in more concentrated flavor. The leaf becomes very small and flat (as opposed to in a monsoon or rainy season where it plumps up) and because of that you get deeper, richer flavor.
The dry leaves are dark and twig like. The wet leaves smell rich and deep like hot fresh biscuits and a little bit of walking in the forest with moss on the ground minus the damp or mildew smell.
The first steep was light, like a briefly dunked tea biscuit. It had a bit of sweet syrup taste a little bit like maple syrup. I steeped for only 30 seconds with minimal tannin bitterness.
The second steep smelled even sweeter, coated my tongue, and reminded me of how some books smell. I'm not talking about the extremely new ones, or the ones that have gotten old and musty, but the in-between, well-read, well-kept books. Perhaps it's where the books are stored or the type of paper they're made of, but that's what this tea reminded me of on the second steep. Tea and books - they go well together. (So do tea and cats, but if a tea smelled like a cat I'd be concerned.)
The third step was the thickest and most flavorful yet.
As this was a black tea sample I wasn't sure if it was going to stand up to a fourth steeping, but I thought I'd give it a shot. It held up. The flavor did start to back away and say goodbye, but it was still present. The tea coated my tongue for another round adding onto the previous rounds for a satisfying mouthfeel and taste. This fourth steep was still very soft and mild from a tannin standpoint. A little less sweet and biscuit-like than previous steeps, but worth doing.
I’m always amazed at how much work and how many people are involved in bringing me my cup of tea. I respect all of that coordinated effort. If you are interested in trying a tea from a drought year, bear in mind the smaller yield which may be reflected in the price. If you have had one of these teas, let the tea community know on Tea Deviant Facebook or Twitter which tea you’ve had and what you thought of it.
This is just touching on the impact of drought. I may go further into this subject and how it changes things for the industry and the consumer, if there is interest.
For more on making a great cup of tea check out these posts:
Does your Tea Taste Like Crap? We can Fix That
Are You Having a Tea Crisis?
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I love discovering new tastes and my friend Elexis brought me back this new experience from Peru that I am excited to share with you. Cacao husk tea is the shell of the cacao bean after it has been fermented, dried and roasted and then broken off from the bean itself. The bean is used for our beloved chocolate, but the husks have amazing flavor and nutrients when steeped.
The look: Cacao husk tea looks more like potpourri than tea or herb, really. Lightweight, sizeable, medium brown pieces dotted with whole dried stevia leaves.
The scent: This is one of those times when the dry, in this case ‘husks’ rather than ‘leaves’, smell the same as the steeped tea does: like a fresh, good quality milk chocolate bar. Other reviews said ‘dark chocolate’, but I smelled milk chocolate. Who knows what you’ll smell when you try it! Fudge? (Elexis has also been offering me great fudge lately, so I have fudge on the brain. I’m hoping it doesn’t go anywhere else. )
The color: It came out a beautiful amber color. Like that prehistoric bug encased in amber in Jurassic Park, but without the bug part.
Steeping: There wasn’t any steeping advice on the package. In one way that’s annoying but in another way it leaves the door for experimentation wide open...and of course, internet searching. Generally, most sources said to use boiling water, as with most herbs, and to steep between 5-10 minutes. After experimenting I found I liked the 5-7 minute range best.
Taste: It resulted in a soft, aromatic cocoa taste that has just a hint of sour at the end. It even felt a bit creamy even though there is nothing creamy in it. More time brought out more of that sourness and that just isn’t my thing.
I tried adding sweetener first and then milk but found I liked it best plain. In the 5 minute steep the sweetener was ok. I used honey once and sugar another time. I think the sugar paired better. Honey is a bit too, “Look at me!” (Yeah, honey, I love ya.)
The particular brand I had includes dried stevia leaves for natural sweetness and they perform beautifully. The chocolate scent and flavor is enhanced by the stevia. Those who are used to sugar, honey or just greater sweet taste in general will want to add their sweetener of choice.
The milk covered the lovely chocolate flavor rather than enhanced it. Extending the steep time didn’t really change this. It just made the tea more sour instead of more robust.
Is it caffeinated?: No, it doesn’t have caffeine like tea or coffee, but like tea it does have theobromine, a slower acting, weaker stimulant.
Nutrients/minerals: It is high in magnesium, antioxidants and has the “bliss chemical” anandamide.
My internet search also revealed that cacao husk flavor is impacted by it’s origin and conditions like our beloved camelia-sinensis is:
“Depending on where the husk is from, there's subtle variation in the taste and aroma of the brew. Each single origin husk taking on its own unique flavour profile.”
More options: I mixed the cacao husk with black tea and really liked it. They work well together. Another idea I had but haven’t yet tried is to steep the husks in simmering milk directly to see if a latte-like taste could be achieved.
Elexis also told me about a crazy fruit she had in Peru that looked kind of like brains but tasted great. She was surprised to find some at a local market here and got me one so I could have the sweet grey jiggling experience myself.
The fruit is called granadilla. Though the look of it on the inside is a bit funky, the great taste is worth it. The flavor reminded me a bit of lychee, perhaps slightly less sweet and the texture like a passion fruit (it is in the same family). It was juicy and had seeds that gave a satisfying crunchy texture.
Have you ever had cacao husk tea or a granadilla? Have you ever visited Peru? Let us know. If you’d like to see more, my friend took some great pictures on her trip and you can view them on her Instagram.
Wishing you continued adventures in tea and life!
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Expected tea is an event to look forward to; unexpected tea is a surprise joy.
I had heard from a couple of people that Denong had opened a teahouse in the area. I had first experienced their tea at the Los Angeles International Tea Festival. They specialize in puerh tea and what I tasted at the fest was lovely and memorable. I made a mental note to visit their shop. Weeks later on a holiday I was exploring in the area I heard it was in. I thought why not at least see where it is even though they won’t be open. [Note - if you are not familiar with puerh you may want to start with this post.
The shop is subtly placed, discovered by aligned chance or with focused intent. The sign on the door said ‘open’. I thought, “no way, they must have left the sign flipped”. Then I noticed the door was cracked open too. I couldn’t see anyone inside, but entered anyway. I am very glad I did. Jeffrey came out to greet me. I had picked the perfect time for a first experience as there was no one else there this late on a holiday night.
The space is spacious and open while feeling welcoming and intimate. It is a live room with a good dose of ping, so I am curious to experience the music of it at a busy time. The beautiful wood furniture is minimalist and elegant. The cabinets are filled with teaware, art and tea including a puerh cake from 1996. I didn’t look through all of it though. I thought I’d save myself some treasures for the next time I visit. There are pictures on the walls of the company founder, workers, the tea gardens and other tea houses that tell a story of Denong’s evolution.
The menu is of two parts - the main menu listing: Raw selections, Ripe selections, Famous Mountain list and their single, unique black tea; and the recent harvest menu. Jeffrey told me that list will eventually move to the main menu when a new harvest menu arrives. Prices listed are for a tasting and for a cake of the tea. There is even a Reserve & Vintage tasting session available.
I described to Jeffrey some of the flavors/notes I was interested in at the moment (much like describing wine): minerally, some earthiness but not mushroom-y, and a bit of sweetness. He suggested three teas to me and I chose Commemorative Edition 2016 from the Raw menu.
While the kettle was boiling Jeffrey walked me over to a wall of photos and gave me a brief rundown of Denong’s history and highlights. We talked a lot about the lack of information about tea. How a consumer must become self-educated to be able to acquire quality tea, which is one of my goals. He said the he himself had gone through a rough time trying to acquire quality tea, even becoming ill at one point from poor quality tea. This is particularly important with puerh as it is the only tea that can be aged. If aged properly puerh has health benefits and even becomes an investment worth a hefty amount of dosh. If processed or stored improperly, instead of the beneficial enzymes puerh is prized for, unhealthy bacteria can invade the tea.
One of the elements I appreciate about Denong is that the company is part of the whole process. They own tea gardens and there is no mystery step between those and where the tea is sold. That is gold! To know where the tea you are drinking is grown, how it is grown, how it is harvested, even to the cleanliness of the facility in which it is processed and stored - every step through to your drinking of it. It is a rare thing.
Jeffrey described how employees who work directly with the tea change clothes multiple times a day (I believe he said 3 times a shift) and he showed me a picture of them wearing masks and hair coverings and gloves - all intended to keep unwanted smells and contaminants from the tea.
The experience of having the tea was enhanced by beautiful teaware and a focused reverential serving. It looked like there was a galaxy at the bottom of the gorgeous glass cup. I got the feeling that here you could meditate while having your tea, or as I did, have a great conversation about the notes and the joy of it. It is very cool to be served tea by someone who knows so much about it and has a clear passion for it without pretense. Jeffrey was great!
Spring water was used and the tea given a quick rinse, but considering Denong’s practices this was probably one of the cleanest puerhs I have ever had. There were 5 steepings and as the tea opened up I went from feeling like I was walking through a forest after a light rain to sitting on rocks that have been washed by ocean tides. The notes of earthiness, minerality and sweetness all hit at different times.
Jeffrey put the leaves in a biodegradable container for me as I suspected they had more flavor to give (I did some more steepings that night). I love that. I look forward to working my way through their menu.
If you love puerh or want to start exploring it you can check out my earlier puerh post - A Puerh Primer and visit Denong online or at one of their locations in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or in the US - one location in Pasadena with another coming to the westside of LA in 2019!
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