Category Archives: Food

Darjeeling – What tea actually tastes like

On Monday this week, we received a care package from our friend James in London. Alongside The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, he sent us some items from the Borough Market — spices, a sausage that looks like poop, and First Flush Darjeeling tea. As you know from here, here, and here, I like tea.

Darjeeling is called ‘the champagne’ of teas.* It is a black tea grown in the Darjeeling region of northeastern India:

Fun fact: Darjeeling is right next to Assam, the only place outside of China that grew tea plants before the British stole them from the Chinese. They just didn’t know those were tea plants. But that’s a different story. Interestingly, though, Darjeeling tea, unlike most other Indian teas, is made from the imported Chinese breed of tea plant, not the Assam plant.

IMG_5049What makes a ‘First Flush’ Darjeeling? First Flush Darjeeling is harvested in mid-March after the Spring rains. As I can attest, it has a very light colour and a delicate flavour. There is also ‘Second Flush’, harvested in June. It is my understanding that the ‘flush’ term refers to rain. First Flush is the first harvest of the season, and thus the most precious and most delicate.

Darjeeling tea is usually a black tea; however, Wikipedia informs me that due to the withering process used in today’s Darjeeling tea, so much of the original mass of the leaf remains that many top-quality Darjeeling varieties could be designated as Oolong (which is how the Chinese like their black tea and which should, in fact, be infused like green tea, not like black tea).

The tea James sent certainly has some large leaves. Note also the pale colour of the tea:

IMG_5048Now, if you’re used to, say, Red Rose or PG Tips, you’d be a bit taken aback by this Darjeeling. As you pour the water over the leaves, it does not instantly turn brown! You must be patient and wait for the tea to steep. The package says 2-4 minutes. Sometimes I forget and leave mine longer. But have no fear — a high-quality leaf tea such as this will never become bitter.

This is what makes a good Darjeeling so great. What you taste is tea. The flavour that tickles your taste buds is the delicate aroma of black tea. These leaves have not been mashed up by a machine or swept off the floor. This tea is not dust. Look at those leaves! Look at them within a minute of entering my cup:

IMG_5046That make actually be two minutes later — it took a lot of effort to get my camera to produce something not horribly blurry.

Many teas are flavoured/scented. When you drink Earl Grey, for example, which is a Chinese black tea, you taste a lot of bergamot oil, extracted from the bergamot orange. Similarly with Anastasia Tea (from Kusmi in Paris), or a chocolate tea, or Lady Grey, or a vanilla tea (such as Bourbon St Vanilla from the Tea Party in Ottawa) — or whatever. The tea has been flavoured or mixed with something else. Now, I like all of the above teas. But, while black tea is the root and determinant flavour, you get a lot of the others as well.

Many black teas, on the other hand, are low quality. At my church on Sundays, they have resorted to the making of tea by the cup in paper cups rather than by the pot and poured into lovely china mugs. It’s too bad, but that’s life. If you leave the tea bags in the cup for more than a minute or two, the tea becomes terribly bitter. The first time I tried making a single mug of Red Rose, it was virtually undrinkable. Jennie says that the Yorkshire Gold that you get on a lot of trains tastes like paper cups.

Rather than getting the delicate, beautiful flavour of the tea leaf itself in most black teas, especially in tea bags (although that loose ‘Scottish Blend’ available in most stores here is atrocious), what you get is something with a lot of edge that is the result of the powder they put in the blend — the finer the tea, the lower the quality. The bigger the leaf, the higher.

Thus, many people are compelled to add milk and sugar or honey or bergamot oil to their tea in order to make it drinkable.

With a First Flush Darjeeling, on the other hand, the tea itself is what you taste. And it is a fine flavour, one that may be overpowered by the unnecessary addition of milk. I recommend it.

*Like how Canada Dry is the champagne of ginger ales, only better.


As I did last year, so also did I spend August in Paris this year. I made brief references to this fact in some recent posts, but little has been forthcoming in the way of news or reflections. But I did create the Flickr set today! That will updated as time marches on. I hope to rectify this sparseness, now that Juniper has fixed my blog for me.

Monday-Friday in Paris I spent my mornings studying French at the Institut Catholique de Paris. My French certainly improved over the course of the month, and I quite enjoyed myself at la Catho, and met some pretty cool people in my class.

My afternoons and Saturdays were my ulterior motive for visiting Paris, though. As before, I went to the Site Richelieu of the Bibliotheque nationale de France. Last year, I spent most of my hours with actual, physical manuscripts up in the Galerie Mazarine. This year, however, I was down in the Salle Ovale with microfilms. Which are much harder on the eyes, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

I got a lot done, by no means all. However, I believe that I should be able to complete all of the undigitised Parisian material if I go again in 2014. Thankfully. Since, after all, I have to submit this PhD at some point.

And, as always happens when I work with manuscripts, I found some fun things I hope to share with you, like dupplicatio. It’s funny because the p is doubled.

In spare moments, when I wasn’t studying French or mediaeval manuscripts, I did some reading, including Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, volume 2 of Ammianus MarcellinusRes Gestae, and volume 1 of Sidonius Apollinaris. And I watched a little Doctor Who. If you actually follow this blog, you’ll know all of that save Sidonius, though (hence the links).

The rest of the spare moments? Well, these included Free Museum Sunday (first Sunday of the month), on which I visited the Louvre and the Musée de Cluny. I got to see some great stuff I’d seen before and some new things (see photos in that Flickr set!), and even play ‘Guess the Roman Emperor’ with my friends Andrew and Ray! (As opposed to alone as I did last year.) I also took in the Musée Carnavalet, Musée d’Orsay, l’Orangerie, and the best little museum in Paris, the BnF’s collection of coins and other small, exquisite objects (I promise a blog on that!).

Beyond museums, I enjoyed Gothic Paris in my spare time. Revisited Notre-Dame — once to ‘read’ the facade, once to visit the interior. Also visited la Sainte Chapelle, St-Merri, St-Germain l’Auxerrois, St-Denis, as well as the Gothic Chateau de Vincennes. I visited Romanesque Paris at St-Germain-des-Prés and St-Julian-le-pauvre. Was blown away by the sudden appearance of the chapel at the Musée de Cluny, which I had not noticed last time!

I visited Roman Paris — Thermes de Cluny (part of the Musée) and Arenes de Lutece, the old amphitheatre whose sands today are used for the fierce competition of old Frenchmen playing the French version of bocce ball. I’d already visited the Crypte archéologique on Ile-de-la-Cité last year.

And I ate & drank. Crepes. Baguettes. Cheese. Mariage Freres. Kusmi. Wine. Belgian abbey beers. Pains au chocolat. The whole shebang. It was delightful.

No … tea … ?? – Life in Germany

Forget whisky; THIS is the water of life!

This morning at breakfast, a remarkable thing happened that I could not imagine happening in a British dining hall — probably not even a Canadian one.

They ran out of black tea.

And this wasn’t the first time this week when the black tea ran out at breakfast; we faced the same dire situation two days ago, and both times I was too late to get any. Two days ago I watched in sorrow as the girl before me took the last tea bag.

What sorrow!

Now, they nevertheless had the sort of thing people are prone to call tea. There was rooibos, there was camomile, there was some fruity thing. Indeed, there were six or seven boxes of available infusions.

But no black tea!

This is life in Germany. Where I took my German course upon first arriving, there was free tea and coffee for before class and at the break. Five boxes of herbal infusions. One box of black tea. Sometimes there was green tea. Which is, of course, tea. But I’m fond of black tea, the sort of tea Britain got itself addicted to in the 1800s.

It just isn’t really that German a thing, I guess. Although they’d better adjusted my cousin’s workplace for all the Brits and Americans, because one day when I was there, they’d run out of black tea. Perhaps Germany is slowly getting addicted.

But overall, they seem to prefer their fruity things and their camomile or peppermint or other flowers and leaves that quite simply do not come from Camellia sinensis. And I like my fermented, dried, black leaves from Camellia sinensis so very much.

Like Paris, though, Germany does come equipped with specialty tea stores. Unlike Paris, they are stocked almost entirely with these herbal unteas. This is a shame, especially since what black tea they do have comes in maybe three or four varieties (Darjeeling, Assam, Earl Grey, and one more for fun!), none of which has the whimsy or sense of adventure and class of what you can find at Kusmi or Mariage Frères in Paris. And all of which are several times the price of what I could get it for in Edinburgh.

Thankfully, though, the supermarkets sell real tea, in bags and looseleaf, at reasonable prices. I have had no failures such as the soap-flavoured Earl Grey of Paris to grace this trip to the continent!

Hm … now I want a cup of my Darjeeling …

For my tea adventures in Paris, read here!

Today’s scattered thoughts in Tübingen

So. Ich bin in Deutschland, in Tübingen. Morgens, studie ich in Deutschkurs.

Afternoons I do paperwork. Thus far, anyway.

This morning I checked in with the university and got a bunch of my paperwork. I took this to the health insurance people and showed them my European Health Insurance Card to save me having to pay. This afternoon I took a bunch of paperwork to the Bürgeramt to register for a visa and tell the German government all there is to know about my person.

Tomorrow I shall go to the finance office of the uni and pay my fees. Then I shall take all of my abundance of paperwork to the matriculation office and actually matriculated.

In two weeks I must return to the Bürgeramt. Presumably they shall shortly thereafter issue me a visa?

I really don’t know.

What I do know is this: 80 cents for a bottle of good beer is a happy madness to have discovered. Right now I’m drinking Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier Naturtrüb. It is tasty and cost me 90 cents.

As well, I can get a nice, large, hot lunch for 2.85.

All of this is good, since in a few weeks my manic tour of German libraries begins . . .

This is Matthew Hoskin signing off for now.

Ginger Beer and Re-trying Stuff

Bundaberg: My ginger beer of choice

Today I was out with a friend, and I happened to have a ginger beer. It reminded me of the first and second times I had ginger beer. The first time was as a child visiting Fort Edmonton, a fantastic historical park that takes you through the whole history of Edmonton. I thought I’d try something new at the store where they sold old-fashioned pop, so I had a ginger beer. After all, I liked ginger ale.

But I didn’t like ginger beer. Not at all. Indeed, I don’t believe I even finished that bottle of ginger beer.

About a year and a half ago, I was walking along, and my stomach was feeling a bit upset. I slipped into a corner store to see if I could buy a ginger ale. But, of course, Scotland doesn’t really carry ginger ale. Out of spite to North Americans, no doubt.

However, knowing that the medicinal properties of ginger ale come from the ginger, I bought a ginger beer. And, you know what? About halfway through, I started to like it. Now I like ginger beer, whereas for many years I avoided it because I didn’t like it.

This story has a moral to it. Of course.

The moral is — try stuff again! When I was a kid I disliked peanuts and mushrooms. Today I do not. How did I come to this knowledge? I tried them again. The world of food that stretches before me has expanded. I can enjoy more things. Therefore, I can enjoy myself more.

So if you as a child disliked, say, apples, or peanut butter, or all fruit, or bananas, or chicken, or the Beatles — try again. Your taste may have changed. We human beings are not static, and that’s a good thing.

And if you think you dislike certain genres — say, murder mysteries or science fiction or fantasy or ancient literature or nineteenth-century novels or poetry in general — try it again. If you disliked Star Wars, try Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or Minority Report or something else to see if, perhaps, you like some science fiction, if not all.

If you dislike ‘classical’ music, try Beethoven’s 4th symphony or one of those ‘best of Wagner’ CDs or Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.

Expand your horizons, be they culinary or cultural! With more to enjoy, the more you’ll enjoy life. I promise.

A Few Joys of Paris

If, perhaps, you’ve only dipped into the Paris posts for The Metro of Doom, Adventures in Tea, and The Heat or not viewed my Flickr photostream, you may think I’m not enjoying my August in the capital of France. Such would be a misconception built around how easy it is to write wry, dramatic blog posts about the lesser things in life.

While I do not enjoy the Métro and probably never will — I dislike the heat (as you know, gentle reader) as well as crowds — there are many parts of Paris life that I have enjoyed, such as the aforeposted Galerie Mazarine and la Salle Ovale, downstairs in another wing of the same site of the Bibliotheque nationale, or the Gothic churches, not only the aforeposted St Denis and Notre Dame but also St Séverin and Ste Clotilde.

The cafés, although expensive, are a treat of Frenchness. You can sit yourself down with a 4 euro cup of coffee and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People et vous vous amusez. For hours. On that one cup of coffee. But I haven’t spent too much time or money at the cafés, due not to lack of desire but lack of time; I am here for French class in the mornings, research in the afternoons and braindeath in the evenings.

Therefore, I more commonly frequent les boulangeries de Paris. A boulangerie is a bakery. All of them sell bread, primarily baguettes, and most also include patisserie (pastry) and viennoiserie (crossaints, pains au chocolat, etc). I have tended to slip either into my neighbourhood artisan boulangerie for a baguette/pain au chocolat/pain suisse or into a location of the chain Paul for the same.

My first experience of Paul was with my fellow Edinburghers shortly after arriving here. Out of zeal for the name of the thing, I purchased une baguette Charlemagne. It was still hot, and as I enjoyed my steaming bread, I imagined the Holy Roman Emperor clad in eighth-century garb with a long, skinny baguette in hand. It’s a jolly image, one that stays in my fecund brain each time I order a baguette Charlemagne.

Another aspect of daily life I quite enjoy in Paris is the architecture. A simple block of flats that in some cities I know would be dressed stone/concrete straight and flat all the way up will in Paris have a few frills and windowboxes. Between this reality and the Gothic churches dotting the place, Paris is visually pleasing. As I walk around, I need only look up to find something to delight the eye and warm the heart in the deadening August heat that leaves my heat cold and misanthropic.

Music on the Métro makes it more bearable. There’s no guarantee you’ll get music, of course. And most of the time I ride the Métro, there is barely room to stand as we sweat against one another through the subterranean world beneath the city. Nonetheless, one of my first nights in Paris a very happy-looking woman with an accordion got into the train and began playing les chansons traditionelles for us. It was great! I gave her some change. This happy occurance has transpired a few more times for me, and it always makes me smile. Ethan claims to have encountered a jazz ensemble on the Métro. It certainly beats the beggars. (I still don’t like the Métro. Maybe if it had as many seats as the Toronto Subway…)

Besides the sites, parks, and museums, besides some good times with my fellow Edinburghers and classmates, these are a few of the notable things that have made Paris a lovely place to be.

Adventures in Tea

Living in Scotland, a person gets used to having a variety of drinkable tea available at the supermarket as well as affordable tea from specialtea shops. And, having grown up in Canada, it is a similar situation there, although our tea-drinking culture is not as strong as the Scots’.

Well, such is not the case in Paris.

Once I had moved into my own, wee studio apartment, I went to the Monoprix a few minutes away to do my grocery shopping. There, I purchased 200 g of Lipton’s loose leaf Earl Grey (not Early Grey, contrary to what I posted on Facebook). That evening, I decided to relax with a nice cup of tea.

That tastes like soap.

How disappointing! To sit down with a nice, warm cup of Earl Grey, only to find that it tastes like a bath product. I later discovered the problem — the ingredients list a mysterious item ‘bergamot flavouring’. Thus, in the factory, they sprayed the tea leaves with something meant to give the tea the flavour of bergamot. Ick.

I am not the only person to have had tea woes in Paris, though. My friend Catherine purchased the store brand tea at Carrefour. With milk in it, this tea tastes like warm milk. Without milk, it tastes like hot water. Fantastic.

I had, however, been informed of Kusmi Tea before coming here. Kusmi is Russian aristocrat tea that costs 12 euros per tin. Nonetheless, given the state of affairs at the supermarkets, it was decided to splurge on this tea! As a souvenir, of sorts.

So, after French class one afternoon and before my day’s excursion to the Bibliotheque nationale, we found a Kusmi shop in the 6e. I purchased 150 g of Anastasia tea. It is a blend of Earl Grey, lemon and orange blossom. The flavouring of the tea is delicately done, so that it still tastes like tea, just with citrus and bergamot. The way un thé parfumé should taste.

Not like soap, in other words.

On Saturday, the Edinburghers wandered our way to the original shop of Parisian tea merchants Mariage Frères. They have over 350 varieties of tea in the shop, lining the walls in large, black cylinders of awesome.

I smelled a good number of the teas, both scented and black. I believe they will pass muster, but I am waiting till Jennie is here, and she can choose a fancy tea of her own. Catherine, however, bought a Darjeeling. It smelled good; I imagine it tastes good as well.

Later, we discovered that there is another shop in the 6e much closer to Ethan’s stomping grounds. That’s the way it goes. You traipse across the city and through a street lined with sex shops only to learn that you could have stayed closer to home to buy the same thing.

The question that has been bothering me about the supermarket teas — be they Lipton (!!) or store brand — is why on earth they are so bad. The British know how to blend a good tea. They are probably the famous people on earth for drinking tea. Why not import good, British blends? The British are perfectly capable of importing good, French wines.

It was Julia who pointed out the difference — the French don’t really drink tea, whereas the British do drink wine. Therefore, the market for high quality teas is much smaller here. The French — despite the Mariage Frères book L’Art Français du Thé — do not drink tea, so it matters less the quality thereof.

Nonetheless, we have access to nice teas, even if pricy! I am drinking my Anastasia Tea right now and liking it!

To close, a quotation from Henri Mariage, co-founder of Mariage Frères: Un parfum d’aventure et de poésie s’évade à l’infini de chaque tasse de thé.

The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervades each cup of tea.