Monday, October 14, 2019

Burnt Barley Chocolate

Chocolate bars to welcome autumn
I recently took a trip back to the East Coast. I always bring back a few chocolate bars for loved ones and came across this unique Icelandic concoction of cocoa butter and burnt barley. There isn't any cocoa in it similar to white chocolate. I brought this bar for my father as I love to have him taste new things even if it's a marriage of two familiar flavors.    
Although my rule is to never let the wrapper seduce me,  I have to confess I totally fell for the stylish geometric design of ravens.  As my favorite poem is Wallace Steven's Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackird, I was instantly smitten.  omNom Chocolates is a small batch bean to bar maker out of Reykjavík and they tend to specialize in slightly sweeter bars(milk to 73%) than I normally get. The risk was small, the potential pleasure medium to high.
My mother told me the tastes were very reminiscent of roasted barley tea and we enjoyed the novelty of the roasty malty flavors of this pitch black bar. The extra blackness is from activated charcoal which doesn't add to the flavor.  The tastes were comfortingly amiable with the extra crunch of the barley grains providing some more fun in the mouth. It's definitely a pleasing bar to share at a small dinner party. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Now for something completely different...

Dear Readers,

I been quaffing tea mindlessly and regularly but find squeezing a few words let alone humor out of tea harder and harder and have plied my content creating skills to gaming.

For anyone that has an interest in video games or romance in general might find my latest effort good for at least one chuckle. If you manage to keep a straight face for the entire 4 minutes, well I have failed you.

(Channel link:

Monday, April 22, 2019

Dark Magic of Black Cocoa

Most of us have had plenty of black cocoa knowingly or unknowingly in the outer cookie of a classic oreo which has a unique flavor that isn't quite recognizable as chocolate.

This darker color of cocoa results from a heavier hotter application of the dutch process which mellows out the acidity of cocoa with an alkalizing agent. The "dutch" designation comes from inventor Coenraad Van Houten, the enterprising Dutch chemist  whose father Casparus invented a hydraulic press that would separate cocoa butter from the processed cacao nibs to leave a cake which crumbles into that miraculous powder from which we make hot cocoa.  The son invented the process that makes for a milder less bitter hot chocolate that dissolves more easily. This father and son tag team really made hot cocoa the beloved beverage that it is today.

Unfortunately dutching while taming the astringency progressively destroys the healthful flavanol antioxidants present in cacao  according to this 2008 study(full pdf),  Black cocoa has less than 10% left but not all that is imbibed must provide a health benefit. I'm just glad it doesn't eat brain cells.  As a puerh drinker,  I get my fill of healthful bitter compounds.

Since I got this particular batch bulk packed from Berkeley Bowl labeled only as "Organic Black Cocoa", I have not much to go on about the source of the beans but it's a good guess these are robust Forastero beans most likely from West Africa. Delicacy of heirloom beans would be wasted with such a heavy handed process.

Since black cocoa is used mostly for color in baking in conjunction with a lighter cocoa to provide a more chocolatey base flavor, I wasn't sure what to expect for just an all black hot cocoa.   But the resulting cup enhanced with blackberry honey is velvety and beany in a good Asian dessert sort of way.  It's not hot chocolate the way you would recognize but I welcome it as a more robust alternative.  I was planning to add some natural cocoa or quarter of a chocolate bar but I really enjoy the black cocoa flavor on it's own- not unlike drinking an oreo cookie without the center creme. In years past I would have dismissed such heavy handed processing that destroys the natural fruity flavor of cacao.  But just as the dark roasting of espresso beans make for a rich intense cappucino, heavy dutching has produced a black cocoa with malty charms that has transformed a mundane Monday afternoon into something more magical.

(Addendum: My husband the morning after tried a little of my black cocoa almond butter and he recoiled a bit at it's bitterness.  I cannot detect bitterness in it at all which is probably why I can glug down sheng. )

More reading for those interested:

Monday, April 01, 2019

Ding Gu Da Fang on a Rainy Day

The pleasure of being a tea pack rat is that one routinely finds various manner of forgotten packets that can cheer up a rainy day.   Another of China's storied teas attributed to that tea active monk Da Fang,  Ding Gu Da Fang is wok fried and shaped similar to longjing.  At first glance, I mistook it for longjing when I peered at the unbrewed leaves.  The tint is a bit more golden indicating longer roast times.  A few slightly burnt minuscule spots on the brewed unfurled leaves confirm work processing.  And the taste is also not too distant from longjing except more buttery, more artichoke. 

The noted floral aromatics for this tea are somewhat mute in this specimen although they may have fled by now. This Anhui green's peak taste was probably last year at the year of processing but I'm glad I at least caught the window within 12 months and not a decade later. When one's majority stake in tea is in aged goods, it's easy for freshies to get lost.  No knowing if these leaves are indeed from Huangshan or an reasonable imposter from nearby.

I was at one time looking for Da Fang's other tea gift to humankind, Songluo tea. James A. Benn describes it so alluringly in his "Tea in China:A Religious and Cultural history",
"The color of Songluo tea was compared to pear blossom and it's fragrance to bean stamens; "drinking it was said to be like munching snowflakes".
I've munched on plenty of snowflakes, sniffed plenty of bean stamens and gazed upon pear blossoms in my mini-orchard but never all at the same time. This trifecta of odd sensory delights will have to wait until next year due to my purchase ban.  Aging puerh has trained me well, drained me of urgency.  There is pleasure in delaying and reserve novelty as there are plenty of decades left in me and only so many tea types in the world.

The rains in the Bay Area have now stopped although the hills are muddy and one has to trod carefully.
Gaining the vistas of SF require strong iron haunches.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Overbrewing 06 CuiYuan Nannuo By the Sea

 It's winter in the Bay Area which thankfully this year means rain.  What better way to welcome the new tea year than to cozy up with cups of puerh in a rustic cabin by the sea. Instead of agonizing and carefully curating a tea selection for this trip, I just took a grab bag of puerh- whatever happened to be handy in sample bags.

On the second day, I randomly put a chunk of Nannuo in my thermos for a hike. Much to my surprise- after the second hour of heating in the thermos,  thicker more complex flavors emerged that I didn't get from gongfu for this tea- this brew became redolent of the orange blossom notes in orange blossom honey.  This batch is purported to be from century old trees of a 4000kg production ($24 in 2006 if you must know) is a delicate weak assed tea- just the way I like it. I concluded it's definitely more old tree than young plantation due to it's exceedingly gentle nature.  In thinking about it some more, it makes sense that quick successive gong fu infusions may not extract all the story of an aged leaf.

We normally avoid overbrewing to avoid the bitterness and astringency of tannins- but sheng has a bitter profile anyway and using less leaf reduces the astringency. It's not just grandpa style but a delayed grandpa style- i.e. drinking after more than 1 hour of brewing with some agitation (I'm not sure if sloshing from vigorous hiking was a factor).  I'm kind of excited to try more this way.  I've accidentally brewed oolongs this way with much success and I don't know why I haven't pushed this further.  For shu, I've noticed if I forget a brew in a pot, it develops more herbal flavors and even if I have to water it down with hot water to make it drinkable.

Beyond technique, I realize a more laid back approach to puerh drinking has rendered more enjoyment for me.  Drats. This all along this had been my husband's approach to drinking- never taxing his brain cells with tea analysis.  Well he doesn't read this blog so I don't have to put up with any spousal smug satisfaction. Connoisseurship and deep vertical appreciation for puerh is for the very few and I've given up climbing that mountain long ago. It doesn't mean one can't enjoy the views from the valley below.

 (These cabins are part of the California Park system unaffected by the dreadful federal government shutdown. They have no running water or electricity perfect for detoxing from your devices. See here for more details. )