Around the World With Tea a hot treat at the Denver Botanic Gardens

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Yesterday was the last Sunday to see the Henry Moore sculptures in the Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York Street -- but the people in the Around the World With Tea class were (wisely) holed up inside, where it was warm, sipping on seven different tea varietals, occasionally paired with a snack.

Judy Williams, the tea specialist who runs the class, also does tea talks on everything from pairing chocolate with tea to the health benefits of tea to the cultural impact of tea. This class seemed more like an overview; Williams discussed how tea is produced and how it spread around the world from its origins/first discovery in China in 2737 A.D.

We started with a Dragon Well (Longjing) green tea from China, a crisp tea with a smooth flavor that was paired with a traditional bean cake (pictured). Then Williams explained how tea made its way to Japan, and we tried a Sencha green tea from that region, which the class proclaimed had a more seaweed-like flavor.

From there, we went to India to try a Darjeeling black tea, as Williams described how tea began its climb toward popularity in the West and British colonizers brought tea to India to grow. Darjeeling comes from (surprise!) the Darjeeling region in West Bengal; it was a beautifully floral tea with a sweet aftertaste. (Word to the wise: The amount of tea sold as Darjeeling exceeds 40,000 tons every year, but the actual Darjeeling region only produces 8,000 to 11,000 tons of tea per year, which includes the tea consumed locally; look for the Tea Board of India's Darjeeling certification mark.)

Next was another Indian specialty, masala chai latte, which Williams made at home and brought using a carafe; her recipe contains Assam (usually) black tea, anise, cloves, fennel, cinnamon, green cardamom and ginger, and was pretty tasty, although Boulder's own Bhakti chai is an organic, fair-trade company with unbelievable chai (not nearly as sweet as most varieties on the market) and is well worth trying for chai enthusiasts.

Taiwan came up next with a delicious jade oolong tea from Nantou; it was floral, light and, Williams noted, pairs very well with food, as does the Darjeeling. After that, we visited Russia with the smoky, flavorful lapsang souchong and the tale of how this tea came to be: Before mass transportation, merchants carted the tea to Russia more than a thousand miles, and it absorbed the flavor and odor of the smoky campfires the merchants built on the way. The region kept its taste for smoky, strong teas, which are generally sipped through a sugar cube or some jam held in the mouth.

Finally, we ended with a blended black English breakfast tea from English Tealeaves in Parker, which was served with scones and clotted cream. There was no milk provided so we could taste the flavors inherent in the tea itself.

Williams offered a list of places to obtain quality loose-leaf tea locally, including English Tealeaves in Parker, Capital Tea, Seven Cups (specializing in Chinese teas), Wystone's World Teas in Lakewood and, of course, the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House; we also discussed how mate, rooibos and herbal teas fit into the tea world, as well as the meaning behind such terms as "orange ceylon" tea and why so many teas have jasmine flavoring. It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Williams is certainly knowledgeable about the topic, and after two hours talking and tasting tea, we still didn't get through her entire base of wisdom. Learn more about her and her tea talks at www.teatalks.com.

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