I’ll confess that sometimes I can be a snarky bastard.
Many of those times, some of that snark bleeds through onto this blog, or into other parts of my life where it’s not entirely welcome. Case in point: Social media. If ever there was a platform where my snarky nature can’t help but thrive, it’s there. Often to my detriment and to the undeserved.
Allow me to highlight such an example.
A few weeks ago, the lovely, gracefully-wordy, and diplomatic Jen Piccotti wrote a blog covering an announcement from Scotland. Many of the new tea growers – including one I was familiar with, Dalreoch (aka. The Wee Tea Plantation) – staged their first ever Scottish Tea Growers Association meeting.
And I couldn’t contain my snark. I left a rather trolling comment to the tune of, “Their prices, though . . . “
To which, I received a gracious reply from the Dalreoch grower, Tam O’Braan, which explained why the prices were the way they were – cost of living and production. But he also pointed me in the direction of their new Dalreoch Highland Christmas Chai, and its more comparable price point of under-$30 USD.
I never replied.
Roughly a week later, though, I received an e-mail from Tam. He wondered if I was willing to do a piece on their Scottish Tea Growers Association meet-up. Included in the e-mail were several photos, the press release, and additional information. He also joked that their beech wood smoker, Billy McLean, was still a might cross with me after the stock image I used in my last Scottish tea article.
This image, to be precise.
At least, I think he was joking.
Tam O’Braan also offered to send me their Christmas Chai as an aside. Unfortunately, I told him that I didn’t use my blog to cover press releases. It wasn’t my thing. My niche in the tea community was telling stories, particularly ones that I had some involvement in. That and Jen Piccotti had already done a wonderful job with the coverage. The next logical chapter in that story (for me) was possibly going to Scotland, talking to the growers firsthand, attending such a growers meeting . . . and getting punched in the face by Billy McLean.
Plus, I told him that he didn’t have to send me anything. However, I did leave my address in the e-mail; just in case. I also added the promise that I would fast-track any teas grown in Scotland for an article.
I never got a reply, and I assumed the matter was closed.
Another week went by, and I received a package in the mail from the UK. Funny, since I wasn’t expecting anything. Not even from a certain British girl. I tore into it that evening, and was greeted by these.
Not one Scottish grown tea, but three! The first was the aforementioned Christmas Chai, the second was a smoked black tea blended with rose petals, and the third was a green tea they were experimenting with. The rose-smoked black smelled man-gasmic. A half a month would go by before I found the time to go through them, though. And the week I finally did . . . just so happened to be Christmas week.
At first glance, the Dalreoch Highland Chistmas Chai looked like a citrus-heavy tisane. I saw nothing but dried orange slices. Not orange peel, like with some American blends . . . straight-up huge wedges of orange. On closer inspection, there was plenty of black tea for the base, and they were rounded out by other things. The only other pieces – besides Scottish black tea and orange – that I noticed were the dried cranberries.
Everything else – the cloves, cinnamon, star anise and ginger kept themselves blended in. But, oy! They showed up on smell. Everything about this screamed like a masala chai. As mentioned above, a more citrus-heavy chai, but I tended to enjoy those the most, anyway.
Next was my favorite-smelling one, the Dalreoch Rose Smoked Black Tea. This was a far simpler blend, made up of simply Scottish black tea, pink rose petals, and – my favorite bit – oak smoke. I wondered if their beech-smoker, Billy, had a hand in this. By the description of the product, I couldn’t tell if they smoked the black tea first before blending it with the rose, smoked the entire blend, or smoked the black tea over rose then blended it.
It didn’t matter really because the results smelled for themselves. The oak smoke and the rose created this poetic aroma, reminiscent of a flowerbed on fire, or the aftermath therein. I sniffed the bag, maybe, twenty times before this brew-up.
The last was the loveliest looking of the bunch, the new green tea they were playing around with – Dalreoch Gael Green Tea. The dried green leaves were whole and huge. The rolling technique employed seemed both crafty and wild. On sight alone it reminded me of a Nilgiri green tea I’d come across. On smell, though? Just . . . ooooh, my bonnie.
I don’t run into many green teas I know I’ll like based on smell. I think I’ve encountered three. Their Gael Green smelled of grapes, honey and . . . highlands. The terroir of this tea came through loud and clear.
Both of the black tea blends called for at least 200F water and (at most) a three-minute steep. The Gael Green required a two-minute steep in 185F water. For the sake of ease, I brewed the green tea first, then re-heated the kettle at a boil for the two blacks.
First, the Gael Green.
The liquor brewed to a clear, crisp yellow-green with an aroma akin to lemon verbena – slightly citrusy with an herbaceous finishing fragrance. The only green teas I’d encountered with that aromatic profile were from Taiwan and . . . Russia? (Weird.) As for the flavor, it was like the scent distilled into a liquid form, but with some added tricks up its sleeve.
The intro had a bit of a grassy lean, but smoothed out immediately into a dual grapy-citrusy top note, which trailed off into a creamy/minty finish with a lingering aftertaste of vanilla and moss. My tongue felt quite velvety afterwards, like it had flirted with a sea monster. That . . . made a lot more sense in my head.
Next up, the one I was impatiently waiting to get to – the Rose Smoked Black.
This burly ballerina brewed bold copper red, enough to put any robust Assam or Keemun to shame. The aroma was also a lot like a Keemun, but a far cry smokier. But not nearly as smoky as – say – a Lapsang Souchong. It was like this was roasted over wood rather than smoked – at least as far as fragrances went. That Billy sure is an expert subtle-smoker. That is, if it was Billy. (Don’t punch me, Billy.)
On taste, it was hard to tell if it had been smoked at all. The first thing to show up was the naturally astringent, malty notes of the black tea. Oh yes, this was a strong black tea – Scottish Breakfast strong. However, it wasn’t bitter like the morning’s namesake. Rose-scenting showed up somewhere in the middle, but it was rather understated compared to other rosy blends, like Rose Congou. It worked to compliment the fusion, rather than usurp it.
Before I could ask, “Where’s the smoke?” There it was. Hot on the trail of the sip, rounding it out with this hickory steak-like finish. Some oak-smoked blends I’ve come across tend to be really strong on the wood. Like whiskey barrel strong. This was far more nuanced, rounding out the blend in a deliciously meaty fashion.
And last, but certainly not least, the Dalreoch Highland Christmas Chai.
The liquor brewed up a far softer red than the Rose Smoked Black, unusual considering the black tea base was the same. This was more Darjeeling second flush red, rather than Assam red in color. The aroma was very clove and citrus heavy, with a dash of ginger on the back-whiff. As for taste, the front was all orange . . . and nothing but orange. After it made its monologue and took its bow, it let other elements of the blend have their due. The ginger and black tea base played nice together, and formed a solid foundation in which to let the spicier parts play out. The whole blend – aside from the really bold citrus profile intro – fused rather nicely. But, like with many chai blends, I felt something was missing.
In this case, Scottish biscuits!
My mother – bless her heart – had sent me a double-decker bus of Scottish biscuits direct from the UK. I couldn’t think of a better thing to have with a Scottish grown chai. And as I suspected, a citrus strong chai and cookies (of any kind) are perfect companions. For the record, that was my breakfast during this writing. Further for the record, I was wearing flannel pajamas the whole time.
So, for the better part of two hours, my snarky nature was silenced by Scottish grown tea and cookies. Probably because my mouth was full the entire time. However, I like to think that I give such kindnesses their day in court. And by “court”, I mean “ an opinionated tea blog of a snarky bastard”.