Monday, August 25, 2014

What-Cha, Kenya Flowery Orange Pekoe Black Tea

Sample Pouch
What-Cha Description:
An earthy black tea with fruity hints which is a big step above the usual black teas to come out of Kenya.

Sample provided by What-Cha

My Review:
This morning I find myself trying to put some order into my almost overwhelming tea collection. I have also made up a few packages to send to friends. I still have a couple yet to assemble. One thing I am noticing is I am no closer to order. Yesterday, I searched most of the day for one of my favorite comfort teas. It was late afternoon before I found it. Eeek! I need a break. Let's drink some tea!

This one is from Africa. A lot of tea comes from Africa but generally it is pulverized into poor quality tea bag dust and sent to your local grocery store. Opening the resealable pouch I catch hints of malt and tobacco leaf.

Large Pieces Of Dry Leaf
Scooping out a third of the sample (about 3g) it is immediately clear this is not your typical CTC (Crush Tear Curl) Kenya black tea found in most grocery store tea bags. The leaf appears much larger than any orthodox produced tea I've seen. It does not say on the label, or the website, but I suspect this may be all or mostly hand picked and processed.

I used my press and water heated to the recommended 95 C (203 F) and steeped it for 2 1/2 minutes. The guidelines say 2-3 minutes.

The result is a nicely orange liquor that sparkles as I pour it.

The Full Cup Before The Incident 
As I move the cup across the room to my computer, I bump a picture on the desk. It falls and hits the cup splashing tea everywhere. Soaked the mouse pad and the desk. Fortunately, no harm done and I managed to regain my composure quickly.

So after the clean up on aisle 3, the tea has cooled to drinking temperature - which is probably cooler than most of you like it but I don't care for extremely hot tea. My first sip is... really nice. This is extremely smooth. Honestly I was expecting a lot of throat grabbing bite. Nope. None. No bitterness. If it is astringent, I am immune. I am also not noticing any problem with stomach burn on an empty stomach. I am sensitive enough to it that I am going to have a light snack just in case. Yeah, any excuse to eat a cookie :)

What I am getting is a really smooth malty sip with a fruitiness mid sip. This dissolves into as close as this gets to bite, which is really more of a woodsy taste. What-Cha calls it an earthy finish.

The Wet Leaf 
The wet leaf is chocolate brown and contains large pieces of broken leaf.

I generally don't resteep most black teas. Usually the results are disappointing. The first cup was so good, I thought I would chance it. I steeped for 3 1/2 minutes. As I was pouring I caught a scent like earthy pond water.

I made it to my desk without incident this time.

While the cup was hotter than I normally like it, I took a sip and thought it was kind of mushroom and pond water. However, as the cup cooled the smooth malt returned at the front of the sip, then finished with earthy woodsy taste blended with the mushroom. The really hot cup was not my style but I quite enjoyed this second cup, once it cooled. It remains very smooth.

 I am once again impressed by the offerings of What-Cha. This is a very delicious black tea. 

You can find Kenya Flowery Orange Pekoe Black Tea here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Teavivre, Fuding Shou Mei White Tea Cake 2013

Sample Pack
Teavivre Description:
Shou Mei tea cake is a kind of white tea. Handpicking fresh tea leaves (one bud with two or three leaves) from Da Bai Cha species as material, the finished tea cakes are graded according to their quality. From high to low, white tea has four grades: Silver Needle – White Peony – Gong Mei or Shou Mei – new technique white tea.

Sample provided by Teavivre.

My Review:
Today's tea is kind of a "what is it?", for me. Apparently, it is common in China to press white tea into cakes. That is not so common in my experience. Another bit of confusion comes when I pull the leaf out of the pouch. It doesn't look like white tea.

Dry Leaf
The leaf has a fall leaf smell. Like raking up a big pile of freshly fallen leaf on a damp cool October morning. It is a wonderful aroma full of visual memories.

The appearance is dark and not at all white tea like. There is some cinnamon and hints of green but it is more bark chips looking than leaf. I find that interesting.

The next issue is what to do with it. The sample label says to use boiling water (212 F) and steep for 6 - 10 minutes. What? That doesn't feel right to me.

I decided to venture off on my own and brew this freestyle. I'm going with my gut here. I used half the 10g sample. I did use boiling water (10 oz). I only steeped for two minutes. Had the leaf been loose, I probably would have used cooler water. My gut seems to think it knows what it is doing. We'll see.
  
A Cup Of Yum
The brew is an amber color, somewhere between honey and ale. It is clear and bright. I am not sure how well that shows up in my picture.

The wet leaf pile is huge. This really swelled with brewing. The leaf aroma still reminds me of fall leaves.

Onward to the tasting. I think this may be my first Shou Mei. I really don't know what to expect. This may not have resembled white tea at any point so far, but one taste and I become convinced. The flavor to me is stronger than Silver Needle or White Peony. Those teas are far more subtle but make up for it in layers of complexity.

This one has a strong hay like flavor with grassy notes mixed in along with those fall leaves. It is around 90 today. With the humidity it feels like 100 F. So just maybe the fall leaf smell is me trying to cope but I don't think so. There is also a nice fruity bouquet late in the sip. Sometimes I thought it was grape and other times apricot, so lets just stick with fruit. A time or two I thought I caught malt and once a brief moment of leather.

I am getting zero bitterness and zero astringency.  It is crisp and clean with a fresh spring water, slightly mineral, flavor under the hay and fruit. This is by no means a simple tea but it is easy to grasp. I like this one.

A Lot Of Wet Leaf
For the second 10 oz mug, I steeped either two minutes or three. The puppy and I were having a battle to decide alpha status. I am not convinced she thinks I won. Anyway, I am not certain of the time. The mug is darker and almost orange.

The second cup is more muted than the first. It isn't really mushroom but leans that direction. It is good but not as great as the first cup.

From reading other reviews I learned that if you follow Teavivre's long steep time you get a really nice honey sweet tea with many of the same notes I caught but amplified. Others reported brewing this in a gong fu style (short steeps, small amount of water) and getting 6 or so very consistent cups. Every review I have seen really liked this one no matter how they chose to brew it.

You can find Fuding Shou Mei White Tea Cake 2013 here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What-Cha, Nepal 2nd Flush 2014 Golden Tips Black Tea

Nepal Golden Tips
What-Cha Description:
An incredible black tea made entirely of young buds, the smoothest black tea we have tried with a refined malty taste and no bitterness or astringency. 

We are proud to source all our Nepal teas direct from Greenland Organic Farm, who are very much at the forefront of a burgeoning Nepali tea industry dedicated to producing high quality artisanal teas. Greenland Organic Farm are completely pesticide and chemical free farm dedicated to producing tea in an ethical and fair manner. Greenland Organic Farm is located in East Nepal in the shadows of Mt. Kancghenjunga at an altitude of 3,000m.

Sample provided by What-Cha.

My Review:
I love tea. That's kind of obvious. I have to admit, I have a tendency to like almost everything that hits my cup. What I don't love, I try to be objective about it and determine if it is really not a good tea or if it is simply not to my personal tastes. I assure you it was not even a question on this tea.

Beautiful Golden Tips
When I opened the resealable pouch I fell head over heels in love. This may well be the single most malt smelling leaf I have yet encountered. Maybe there were others. They escape me at the moment. Love does that.

Then I scooped out the leaf. It is magnificent. This is from Nepal? My picture barely does this justice. It is a little less orange and more tan than Teavivre's Yunnan Golden Tips but it is every bit as beautiful.

I used 1/3 of the 10 g sample in my clear glass press with 10 oz of water heated to 185 F. I let it steep for 2 minutes. The water immediately began to turn as it hit the leaf. I suspected it would result in a very dark brew. When it was first poured it was orange. As it briefly cooled it took on a ruby tint before settling in at dark caramel. When hot it was slightly cloudy but cleared up very quickly with a bright shine.

Liquid Malt
I gave the honors of the first sip to my wife who was passing through. Her reaction? "Whoa! It's got a strength that hits you immediately, but I can't figure out what it is..." I asked, "Malted Milk Balls?" "Exactly!" So there you have my wife's full review.

I pried the cup out of her hands and shewed her away. Not really. She reacts badly to caffeine and never takes more than a sip. Fortunately for me, I don't have issues with large amounts of tea.

This really does taste like the insides of a malted milk ball. Because it is so obvious, I keep imagining I taste the milk chocolate coating around the outside. I don't think it is really there but the image is nearly impossible to shake.

Knowing I didn't really want to add sweetener, I did it anyway. I am trying to decide if I really am catching milk chocolate or imagining it. Sweetener only made it sweet. D'oh. So I really can't firmly deny or confirm this, but my heart says I really am tasting the coating along with the definite malt core.

Spikey Wet Leaf
There is zero bitterness and zero astringency in this as prepared. This is exceptionally smooth. Can you tell I like it?

The wet leaf contains a lot of spikey buds and some twigs. I find the wet leaf almost as impressive as the dry leaf on this one.

This tea is from the same plantation that produced the 1st Flush Clonal Black Tea. It was a very solid black, representative of what I expected. This is so different it is hard to imagine they come from the same place.

After finishing the first mug, I immediately steeped a second. This time I steeped for three minutes.  This mug is much less malt and has a slight edge. Still very flavorful but different. There is a touch of mineral and a fruitiness that comes forth in the aftertaste. My thought here is to steep the first cup at one minute and try and save some of the malt for cup two.

If I did not have 50 pounds of tea piled up around my den - an exaggeration, but only barely, this would have a permanent place in my collection. I do keep a mental list for when I finally get my collection under control. This is on it. The first cup is just WOW!

You can find Nepal 2nd Flush 2014 Golden Tips Black Tea here.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Teavivre, Lotus Leaf Raw Pu-erh Mini Tuocha

Raw Lotus Pu-erh
Teavivre Description:
Unlike many other teas which should be consumed shortly after production, such as green and white teas, Pu-erh tea can either be brewed immediately or it can be stored and aged for many years, much like a fine wine. Most Pu-erh teas are classified by the year they were produced and the region they were grown in, much like many wine vintages. In fact, when it comes to Pu-erh tea, the longer it is stored and aged properly, the more complex the flavor and the more valuable the tea gets.

My Review:
I picked up 50 g of this during Teavivre's 3rd anniversary sale. These were not on sale the day I bought them, but you know how it is when you are close to getting free shipping... 50 g gets you 10 mini touchas ($0.59 each). I like the convenience of not having to measure. 1 toucha per session. I realize many serious gong fu drinkers report using 10 g at a time. Personally, if I measure, I am more likely to use 3 g, so this is a good compromise.

Green And Mostly Intact After 1st Steep
When I removed these from the sealed aluminum bag, the scent was incredible. It is intensely a bread aroma. I put one of the little bird nests into my yixing teapot and added 5 oz of boiling water. I did not do a rinse - I figure why bother, I'm just going to drink it anyway. My first steep was around 40 seconds.

The toucha has barely begun to dissolve. It has turned very green. The loose leaf bits in the pot remind me of chopped celery leaves.

I didn't think to strain as I poured, so I did get some bits of leaf in my cup. Not so many as to be annoying, and they did sink to the bottom and stay there. The first steep is very light in color with a honey tint. The shot on Teavivre's website is much lighter and almost creamy colored, so they must have used a much shorter steep time. The label for western brewing says 3 to 5 minutes.

Honey Colored Liquor
The taste of the first cup makes me think hazelnut. I did not expect it. Raw pu-erh usually has a strong astringent bite that comes off as metallic to my tastes. This one has near zero astringency and no metallic taste. I was not really expecting a lotus flavor as I detected no floral in their ripe rose toucha. The flower addition seems to really soften the more harsh notes of pu-erh. This does have a crisp mineral taste like fresh spring water that rises up towards the end of the sip.

For round two, I steeped 30 seconds. The tea is now darker and more apricot colored leaning towards orange. The toucha is shedding layers of green pieces of leaf but remains largely intact.

The hazelnut note seems to be gone when hot but comes back once the cup cools. This now tastes more like a young raw pu-erh without the harshness or bitterness that is typical. It feels thick and syrupy. I am getting some sticky lip feel from it. I also notice the astringency has risen some but remains manageable. There is a fruit flavor, possibly apricot, towards the end of the sip. The aftertaste is sweet and green tea tasting.

Third cup, also at 30 seconds, is slightly darker than the last. The toucha is stubbornly holding together but much more loosely now. I can see the leaf is much larger and far more intact than the early shedding suggested.

This cup is stronger. There is more edge. It is not harsh but has a bitterness that I like. I feel the astringency on the inside of my cheeks. When it was hot I momentarily thought I caught brief leather notes. After it begins to cool it develops a mineral and almost cave like flavor. The cooler it got the more I again catch the hazelnut at the end of the sip.

This is a really interesting and complex toucha. I know it has several steeps left in it and I will get to them later. Based on what I have already tasted, I give this two thumbs up. This is a tasty young raw pu-erh.

You can find Lotus Leaf Raw Pu-erh Mini Tuocha here.


Monday, August 18, 2014

What-Cha, Nepal 1st Flush 2014 Clonal Delight Black Tea

Nepal 1st Flush Black
What-Cha Description:
A well rounded smooth black tea with apricot tones, makes a great afternoon and evening tea.

We are proud to source all our Nepal teas direct from Greenland Organic Farm, who are very much at the forefront of a burgeoning Nepali tea industry dedicated to producing high quality artisanal teas. Greenland Organic Farm are completely pesticide and chemical free farm dedicated to producing tea in an ethical and fair manner. Greenland Organic Farm is located in East Nepal in the shadows of Mt. Kancghenjunga at an altitude of 3,000m.

Sample provided by What-Cha.

My Review:
My session with this tea was interrupted today by the contractor who will be building a porch onto our home. The pounding should start in a couple days. My dogs will not be happy. Things were further delayed by the mail carrier delivering more tea! So, yeah, good day so far. I hope it won't impact this review. Most of what I want to say was already in my head before getting sidetracked.

Dry Leaf
I am slightly familiar with Nepal black tea, having tasted a few in the past with favorable outcomes. This one is a 1st flush. Could I tell the difference between a 1st and 2nd? Hmmm. Well, we may find out down the road as I believe I have a 2nd flush to do a comparison. But that is a project for later.

Opening the resealable pouch, I notice a light malty, bread aroma with a fruity touch that reminds me of grape or possibly plum. It is a good fresh clean scent. The leaf pieces are small yet typical sized for most orthodox black teas I have seen from Nepal, India, Ceylon, and Kenya. It is dark brown with lots of cinnamon highlights.

Orange Liquor
I used approximately 3 g of leaf in my press with 10 oz of water heated to 203 F, per the instructions on the label. The steep time was 3 minutes.

The result is a dark honey orange liquor bordering on shades of ruby as it cools. It seems slightly cloudy while hot, but not so much once it starts to cool.

The aroma of the wet leaf is malt and, I am not sure how to adequately describe it, sort of like baking meat. At least that is how it hit me. It is the kind of umami aroma that leaves you ready for lunch. :)

You can see from the wet leaf picture how much the leaf plumps up after steeping. I found the color change in the leaf interesting. The wet leaf has a lot of olive green tones in it. Generally, I see leaf starting out dark green and turning brown when steeped.

Wet Leaf
The taste has characteristics of teas found both to the North in China and South in India. It has a malty taste, even more so as it cools, that reminds me of Yunnan black tea. It is a mellow tea with just a touch of edge for interest that reminds me of a good Assam but the body is much lighter. The edge, or bite, has a fruitiness that is similar to apricot. This tea seems smoother and lighter than any Darjeeling tea I've tasted though Nepali teas are characteristically considered similar to Darjeeling. Another difference, is that although I thought the dry leaf had a grapey scent, the brew shows no evidence of a Muscat grape taste.

Reading back that last paragraph, I am not sure I have really captured the essence of this tea. I have enjoyed every Nepali tea I have tried so far. I can add this one to the list. In fact, I once again had no desire to add sweetener to the cup, although I feel comfortable saying it would take it with ease if you are so inclined. If you have never tried a Nepal black, I highly recommend them and this one is another winner from What-Cha.

You can find Nepal 1st Flush Clonal Delight Black Tea here. At the time of this writing the Nepal teas are 20% off.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Teavivre, Organic White Peony (Bai MuDan) Tea

White Peony Sample
Teavivre Description:
A certified organic, gold medal winning Bai Mudan white tea from Mt. Taimu in Fujian.  With an amazingly light and refreshing taste and aroma, TeaVivre's Bai Mudan is a great way to experience high quality Chinese white teas.

Sample provided by Teavivre

My Review:
I have been wanting to try this tea for a very long time. On a recent order I actually had it in my shopping cart - or so I thought. I kind of grabbed a different one because I wasn't paying attention. So when Angel Chen offered to send it in this summer's white tea and puerh sample round, I got all happy.

Dry Leaf
I opened the sample and filled my lungs with a fresh hay and grassy aroma. I decided to prepare this in the gaiwan for a back to back comparison of yesterday's Nepal white tea from What-Cha. I checked Teavivre's website and it recommended 5 g of leaf for a 90 ml gaiwan.

Pouring the leaf into the gaiwan I noticed first that 5 g is a lot of leaf. Second I noticed this sample contains a lot of broken leaf. None of my other samples have been crushed looking and they all came in the same box. Looking at the product page on Teavivre's website suggests my sample got smushed before shipping.

If you click on the picture it expands and you can better see the large amount of white down on the buds. Broken leaf aside, this is a good looking leaf.

Steeping Leaf
My instinct was to use only half the leaf because I prefer a light subtle cup, but I opted to continue with Teavivre's instruction.

I heated the water to 195 F (90 C) and steeped in the gaiwan for 25 seconds. The leaf filled the gaiwan.

The aroma is strong and leaves me totally unable to explain what it resembles. Certainly not the hay, grass, melon, notes I normally think. This is a heavier vegetable scent and umami or meat like.

Darker Than Expected
I poured the liquor into a tiny china cup revealing a dark yellow, almost orange brew. I waited for it to cool for a few moments. The first sip is bitter. Maybe I should have used 10 seconds, a lower temperature, or half the leaf. I don't know. I do know I did not enjoy this cup. The bitterness was puckeringly so. The taste lacked the depth I expected. This comes off as mostly wood pulp tasting as prepared.

I have never given Teavivre a negative review before. I am willing to believe once I work with the parameters I will find this much improved.

Finishing the cup, and I admit I almost didn't, I poured the leaf on my exam plate. Man, that is a lot of leaf. Many people prefer it this way. I am not one of them.

A Lot More Leaf Than It Appears
The leaf is full and fresh but it definitely looks chopped or crushed with very few intact leaves. That is also a first for my experience with Teavivre. I have always been extremely impressed with their tea.

For the next steep I decided to make a change. The gaiwan went back on the shelf and out came my trusty glass French press.

I also chose to lower the water temperature down to 180 F and used more of it (10 oz).

Second steep was 25 seconds.

I poured the bright yellow liquor into a mug and let it cool.

In The Mug
This is much improved. The bitterness is gone. The flavor is much more gentle. What I get now is a really nice grassy fresh alfalfa hay. It has a very mild apricot taste note mixed in with the hay. The aftertaste is nicely lingering.

I guess my problem is I expected more out of this one. When the parameters get adjusted to suit me, it is pleasant enough. It just doesn't have the depth I want from white tea.

I have enough to try this again. Next time I'll do it my way - half the sample and lower temperature. If I change my opinion, I'll come back and update this post.

Sorry Teavivre, but for the first time I am not overly impressed. While your Silver Needle remains one of my favorites, this white peony is just OK. It is probably because I am still flinching from the first steep.

Visit the Teavivre website here.

--------------------

Update!
The day after originally posting this review I decided I would try again. This time I did it my way. I used half the sample packet (2.5g) and 10 oz of water heated to 180F. The steep was 1 minute. The difference is day and night. The liquor is clear, bright, and yellow. It has the wonderful alfalfa hay aroma. The sip reminds me of the dehydrated camellia flowers I have previously tried from Teavivre. I liked them because they were different. The taste is slightly dry and though it still makes me think wood pulp, it is a very pleasant experience today. I still get cucumber/melon notes. The aftertaste lingers and grows sweeter. My only negative comment with this session today is the leaf from this second sample packet also looks like mulch. It probably does not negatively impact the flavor but it does impact the aesthetics of the tea. Watching the leaf is important to me and I love to look at beautiful full leaf. This one lacks that aspect. Otherwise I did very much enjoy today's cup.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What-Cha, Nepal First Flush 2014 Spring Buds White Tea

Nepal White Tea Sample
What-Cha Description:
Another great White Tea from Nepal, Spring Buds has a higher bud count while still having some large leaves. This results in a more subtle yet complex tea. Spring Buds is not to be missed.

We are proud to source all our Nepali teas direct from Greenland Organic Farm, who is very much at the forefront of a burgeoning Nepali tea industry dedicated to producing high quality artisanal teas. Greenland Organic Farm is a completely pesticide and chemical free farm dedicated to producing tea in an ethical and fair manner. Greenland Organic Farm is located in East Nepal in the shadows of Mt. Kancghenjunga at an altitude of 3,000m.

Sample provided by What-Cha.

My Review:
I am in the mood for a subtle white tea. To my knowledge, every white tea I ever had have been Chinese in origin. This one is from Nepal, which is located between India to the South and China to the North. I have had Nepalese black tea before and enjoyed it immensely. I am curious to see how this white tea fares.

Dry Leaf
As now expected, What-Cha provides the sample in a resealable aluminum pouch that is clearly labeled with basic information including brewing recommendations. Upon opening and even before having the chance to get the leaf close to my nose, I am met with a sweet grassy/melon medley of scents that is fresh and wonderful.

I removed about a third of the sample leaf (about 3 g) and placed it on a review plate. The appearance reminds me of White Peony with its silvery hairy buds and large green leaf.

The recommended brewing instructions are 1-2 tsp in 175 F water for 3 minutes. I opted to begin instead by using a gaiwan. The 3 g went in the gaiwan along with about 3 ounces (90 ml) of water heated to 175 F. I steeped for 15 seconds.

A Gaiwan Full Of Leaf
The leaf came alive, swelling, and looking fresher and greener. The liquor is nearly clear with only the faintest yellow tint.

If you are more accustomed to bold black teas then I can understand how white tea might seem too subtle. To me the depth of the flavors more than makes up for it. Where breakfast type teas are meant to shock you into a conscious state, white tea is for moments when you want (or need) to be carried away. Save it for a time when you can be quiet with your cup and enjoy it slowly.

My first sip does take me on a journey where the world shuts down around me leaving just me, the moment, and the tea. I am catching notes of melon and cucumber, fresh grass, and a certain amount of savory like umami. The umami is a taste. The other notes are more part of the scent, but the interesting thing is your mind pulls it all together in a way that you perceive it as a whole. Or at least that is the way it works for me.

Wet Leaf
The second cup was prepared the same as the first with equally excellent results.

With the third cup, I moved the leaf to the glass press, added 6 oz of 175F water and steeped according to the directions on the sample label (3 minutes).

Now the brew is darker, looking more honey like. The taste is stronger, with a drying woodsy or possibly nuttiness. I am not getting the melon or cucumber notes of the first cups but in fairness of disclosure my wife has been laying material samples in front of me the last several minutes, for a project she is working on. I tried to help, but I am almost useless in such matters. Now the tea is nearly room temperature and may have simply lost the subtle nuances because of it.

The First cup Is Quite Delicate Looking
Fourth and final steep at 4 minutes. Just me and the cup for this one. :) I was careful to note the nose of this one has a definite apricot fruitiness. The color is lighter than the previous cup. The taste while hot does still retain the melon and cucumber. A mineral note and a cooling sensation are also present. The inside of my cheeks are tingling. A good finish to a satisfying tea session.

Here is the bottom line: This tea is easily comparable to Bai Mu Dan, more commonly known as White Peony. It is similarly made of silvery buds and leaves. The flavor of this one is excellent. The price is reasonable. I love white tea and found this one most enjoyable.    

You can find What-Cha, Nepal First Flush 2014 Spring Buds White Tea here.