Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lupicia Budou Green: A Tea Review

About 15 years ago when I was 13 I went on a student exchange to Japan. I'd been learning Japanese for two years and could manage to detail my basic needs, wants, likes, dislikes etc. I was in a what is considered in Japan to be a small city, about half a million people.  Many people I assumed had never in person seen a caucasian or really in my case a very fair haired blue eyed girl. I had many people stare at me just about everywhere I went. I was at the shopping centre with my host family when someone stopped me and made me wait whilst they flipped through a dictionary then pointed at me with the words 'movie star' scrawled on a piece of paper. I just laughed and said 'no'. These days if I was to go to Japan I doubt I'd get that same response.

As a result of my trip my family started to host exchange students. I have many Japanese friends as a result and learnt so much about not just them and their culture but myself too. As I grew up, left home and made my own family and career as a teacher I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I could open my home to exchange students. As part of an annual school trip we hosted a really lovely girl from Japan, lets call her K. K was such a delightful student, so open to new experiences and willing to try anything and everything. I think the thing I liked most about K was that she loved tea just as much as I did. I have this lovely tea, Japanese Morning Dew, that she'd share with me most mornings. Before she left we went to the specialty store where I buy the lovely blend and we purchased some for her take home. I'm sure she could get nicer tea in Japan but it would be a nice memento from her time at our home. Saying goodbye to her was difficult, I'd become rather attached. I tried not to cry as we don't want the kids all crying and blubbering and as she gave me one last hug she placed a little folded letter in my hand. Two and half years on I still carry than letter in my purse because it's just beautiful. 

A few weeks after K had arrived back in Japan I arrived home to a letter saying there was a parcel for me at the post office. I went and picked it up, it was pretty large and was from Japan. When I got home and opened it it was a large gift box containing a dozen decent sized tins of Japanese green tea blends and a lovely letter from K's parents thanking us for everything we had done. The brand was one I was unfamiliar with, of course, but would soon come to love. Lupicia. It does of course have the unfortunate sounding connotation with alopecia however they make lovely teas. I'm still working my way through the teas and have some definite favourites. Tsugaru Green, which is an apple flavoured tea and Tropical Green which is infused with tropical fruit flavours are great however Budou Green is my favourite.

This blend of grape with green sencha has a very strong aroma, much like grape lollies, chewing gum, or even grape Fanta. The aroma is just as sweet when brewed. When you drink the tea however, you lose a little of that fake-grape flavour. It's still a refreshing blend and if you are a lover of fake grape flavour, and I know there are plenty of us out there, then this tea shouldn't disappoint you. I haven't tried it but I believe this would make a nice iced tea too.

About six months ago when all my Lupicia stock was low, I thought it was the end, that I'd never taste this lovely tea again so I decided to ask Google. Lupicia is a Japanese company who through some sort of tea miracle have a retail store in Melbourne and also an Australian online store. They famously boast to have over 400 varieties of tea, perhaps not all on sale at the same time I suspect. The Melbourne store in in the QV Building and looks as thought it is aimed at possibly a touristy market.

Earlier this year as we welcome another group of student from K's school in Japan a girl from the group approached me and handed me a letter. She told me she was K's little sister and this letter was from K. I couldn't help but shed just a tiny little tear when I read her letter and she said she was studying hard so that one day she could come back. When she does she'll be very welcome.

The Verdict

Tea: Lupicia lose leaf Budou Green
Store: Lupicia - online or at the QV building in Melbourne. Google for international stockists.
Rating: 3.5/5
Comment: A wonderfully aromatic tea if you are in to grape flavour. The grape tends to dull on consumption. Brew at 75 degrees celsius for 2-3 minutes. If brewed incorrectly this tea is practically unpalatable.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pickwick's Green Tea with Cherry and Elderflower: A Tea Review

The story of this tea comes in two parts, or three really, if you want to be technical. Essentially, it all harks back to a childhood love of black cherry yoghurt. Commence dreamy flashback music and screen fade now...

At about the age of 14 I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance. This was devastating for me considering my great love of milkshakes, thick shakes, soft serve ice cream buffets and black cherry yoghurt. Off to the boring world of lactose free and soy yoghurt I trudged with its generic flavours of vanilla, strawberry, vanilla oh and did I say vanilla?

Approximately 20 years on from that fateful diagnosis I found myself in England, the land of "cherry flavour". After several trips to Tesco I was in a cherry soy yoghurt coma. Now I don't know what it is about cherry flavour that I love so much, perhaps it's the sweetness with that ever slight bit of tart?  Perhaps it's because it's not orange flavour! Whatever it is I just love it. When I returned home I was disappointed at our serious lack of variety when it came to catering for people with special food needs. More so, I was disappointed with the serious lack of cherry flavoured anything. Four years on not a lot has changed, apart from my occasional trip to the specialty sugar heaven of the Harry Potter-esque lolly shop near my house, I don't even know what it's called but I know they sell Cherry Coke Zero and I know it's ridiculously overpriced but sometimes I just need that completely fake flavour, fake sugar hit. Don't judge me, I know you've been there! So basically, if you want something cherry flavoured in Australia, forget about it!

On to part two: During the same time period that I was in a cherry soy yoghurt coma I discovered something else incredible. I popped into a cafe to grab some lunch and noticed this drink in the fridge 'elderflower' something. 'Hmm' I thought to myself, 'these weird Brits drink old flowers?' The picture on the contained was pretty enough, they kind of looked like jasmine flowers so I thought I'd give it a whirl. From then on I was enamoured with this 'elderflower'. If you have never tried it before, and most Australian's haven't, it has a slightly sweet florally taste but it also a little tart. It is very refreshing. Again, when I got back to Australia do you think I could find it anywhere? The closest I came was a pear and elderflower sparkling water at $10 a bottle from a specialty water store, it was imported from the UK. Then, about two years ago my local supermarket began to stock Elderflower cordial, it wasn't cheap at $9 for less than half a litre, which is equivalent to about 6 pounds, but I purchased it anyway. Mix it with some sparkling water and it's beautiful on a warm summer day. Since then I have converted many an Australian to elderflower, it's also great with some lemon and mint in a kind of mojito - virgin or not. You can also put a little on fruit salad to give it some zing!

Fast forward to the present day where I find myself in the UK again. I don't know about you but when I travel I love going into the supermarkets and looking at the food and also the tea. The tea isle in this supermarket was rather large, which I appreciate in some respects but then in others it's difficult to make a selection in under 10 minutes with so much variety. This day however it took me all of about two minutes of browsing to decide which tea I wanted. Like a shining beacon I was drawn to a box of green tea bags with a cherry on the front. As I got closer, I could not believe my eyes, green tea with cherry AND elderflower! Now, dear reader, if you are in fact from the UK or Europe you might think I'm rather odd for celebrating this but just remember the two other parts that make up this story!

Pickwicks tea is relatively unavailable in Australia. It is not commonly stocked in the major supermarkets and I have not been able to find this variety of tea in an online store. Pickwicks has an interesting heritage and literary connections. Originally called Douwe Egberts, the company started in 1753. In the 1930's they decided they needed a more British sounding name for their tea. They chose Pickwicks from the Dickens novel the Pickwick Papers. I can't say I'm familiar with this work however people embraced this British name and the company has grown.

Back to the tea. Sometimes, you have expectations of something and they are so high that many times they are never reached, that was not so much the case here. Yes, it is but a humble inexpensive tea bag however after two days of terrible airplane tea and a four year deprivation of cherry flavour it was just what I needed. It is a lovely aromatic blend of mild green tea with the sweetness and tartness of both the cherry and elderflower giving in a mild fruit flavour. It is a nice refreshing and uplifting green tea blend which would be perfect for summer and I imagine it would make a lovely iced tea too.

Now for my next challenge; getting this tea back to Australia!

Update: I got this tea back into Australia without any issues!

Pictures to come soon