Monday, October 20, 2014

Teavivre, Jasmine Raw Pu-erh Mini Tuocha

Teavivre Description:
TeaVivre introduces you this carefully selected Raw Pu-erh Mini Tuocha. It is from one of the four famous tea producing area of Yunnan, Lincang, made of Yunnan large leaf species, are covered with large quantity of soft golden pekoe.

Harvest Time: 2014
Production Date: 2014

My Review:
This was purchased earlier this year during a sale. I've been trying to work it in to my review schedule for awhile now. This weekend I attended a wedding where smoked pulled pork was served at the reception. I had way too much of it. A little self restraint would have been nice but it is a little late for that. I am hoping a session of raw pu-erh will help.

I have always liked mini touchas. They are the perfect size for mug, gaiwan, or yixing brewing. This one looks dense and slightly shiny up close. Some of the leaf crumbled into dust as I unwrapped. The aroma is fresh field with lovely light jasmine flowers.

I preheated my large yixing pot and added 5 oz of boiling water. Teavivre says to steep this between 3 and 5 minutes with 100 C (212 F) water. With yixing I usually go 30-45 seconds on the first steep. I decided to compromise and go one minute.

As you can see the toucha turned fresh and green. It plumped up nicely but has barely begun to relax.

The brew is a light caramel color. It is orange on Teavivre's website. I did not use a strainer so there is some small amount of debris in the cup. There is not a lot of aroma from the cup. I probably should have listened on the steeping time.

I am not getting a lot of flavor. It has a sticky lip feel. It has a slight stone taste, like sipping water flowing over rocks. I do get a very light floral at the front of the sip.

I know this will do better. For the second cup I am increasing the steep time to two minutes.

Now the brew is a hearty orange color. With this being a raw pu-erh, I would not have considered it turning this dark. The cup has a light jasmine aroma. The toucha in the pot has completely fallen apart covering the bottom in a blanket of leaf pieces. I even see a few jasmine petals.

Wow, two minutes has brought out a lot of young raw pu-erh bite. I decided to calm it with a little sweetener. That really helped. This is almost syrupy feeling. The taste is nutty, and vegetal, with a nice light jasmine floral that is more scent than taste. I am also getting a throat warming sensation. It is not the heat of the liquid and it is not a spiciness. I really don't know how to better describe it. It just is. The aftertaste is kind of tingly and almost like a mild tiequanyin. The initial bitterness aside, this is a really neat cup.

Immediately, I heated more water for round three, also at two minutes. The brew is again deep orange. The wet leaf has taken on a fresh pond water and jasmine aroma. The cup scent is jasmine. The taste is very similar to cup two. I once again added sweetener. I notice a dryness and cheek tingle with this cup. This is way better than I am making it sound.

After my session with this toucha, I read a review by Stephanie on Steepster. She did not encounter the bitterness and found this to be sweet on its own. The big difference is she used cooler water at 180 F. My next time out I will do the same. This is too good not to keep working on the parameters to get it right.

You can find Jasmine Raw Pu-erh Mini Toucha here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Persimmon Tree, Periwinkle

The Tin
The Persimmon Tree Description:
Periwinkle combines the best of two sensations: thick and creamy. The dark, thick black leaves of Assam tea and soothing star shaped vanilla bits create a visually appealing and delicious black and white infusion. Pour a warm cup of this mixture, and enjoy the unique, delicious combination of thick Assam and creamy vanilla.

Organic Black Loose Leaf Tea, White Loose Leaf Tea, Natural Flavors

Sample provided by The Persimmon Tree

My Review:
I have to admit, vanilla teas are not normally something I seek out. I don't dislike them. It is simply not a flavor that hits my radar often. This looked interesting on The Persimmon Tree's website. It is listed as a blend of Assam black tea and white loose leaf, as well as containing 'soothing star shaped vanilla bits'. Too cool to pass up.

Dry Leaf And A Mystery
Opening the tin immediately releases a strong vanilla scent. Removing a scoop of leaf for exam and pictures, has me scratching my head. I clearly see the black Assam leaf with a fair share of golden tips.

I do not see what appears to be white tea leaf in the mix. I also do not see the vanilla bits. I'm sure this is the correct tea as the scent is pretty much guaranteeing it.

So I did the only logical thing I could think of doing - I dumped half the tin onto a plate. Aha! There I found the soothing star shaped thingy. I still do not see loose white tea leaf.

Dry Leaf Mystery Solved
I am pretty sure the site description is incorrect. The star appears to me to be hand rolled white tea leaf. However, the description does say vanilla bits rather than vanilla scented. So its a mystery. Where is Scooby Doo when you need him?

What I decided to do was ask The Persimmon Tree if perhaps the site description is miss worded. And then after hitting send, I read the description on the tin. It says, "This soothing tea blend combines organic Assam black tea with hand-crafted white tea 'flowers' and vanilla pieces." Well now that makes a lot more sense! I deserve a Scooby Snack!

A Vanilla Cup
With the mystery solved, the leaf went into the press and 205 F water was added for a 3 minute steep. The result is an shiny orange liquor. The wet leaf scent is of caramelized vanilla. Nice.

The taste is lighter than the scent suggests but it is plenty vanilla. What I appreciate about this blend is the vanilla does not overpower the aftertaste, leaving an icky taste. The aftertaste is a clean vanilla that fades away quickly.

The vanilla produces a creamy feeling when sipping. How does a flavor cause that creamy sensation. I have no idea. Some mysteries should just be accepted without solving.

I can't really single out the white tea. I think it is there mostly to look interesting. I think there would need to be a whole lot more stars in the mix to make any significant taste impact.

The Assam black tea is nicely smooth with no rough edges. I used to think that was impossible back in my tea bag only days. I have read reviews of this one that claimed the base was bitter. I don't get that. Of course I was raised on Earl Grey with a harsh Ceylon base, so I may just be immune.

Honestly this caused no stomach burn as some black teas tend to produce. If you do find it a little bitter, add a little sweetener, and maybe a little milk. Oooh, I think I need to try it hot with milk and sugar later.

I thought this was a good solid vanilla tea without the usual strong aftertaste.

You can find Periwinkle here.

Immediately after posting my review which was only minutes after writing The Persimmon Tree, I got this response to my description question -  We apologize for the confusion of the description. We will have to edit it to make it a bit more clear. But essentially, it is an organic assam black tea, white tea in a shape of stars and bits of natural flavors of vanilla essence.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nina's Paris, Earl Grey

Nina's Paris Description:
Bergamot from Sicily. The smoothness of Keemun (Black Tea) together with the freshness of bergamot. An ancient recipe that was handed down by a high dignitary of China to Earl Charles Grey. A classic that definitely shouldn't be missed.

My Review:
I originally reviewed this tea as Nina's Teas USA, Earl Grey. So why am I reviewing it again? Well, Nina's has changed the base tea from a Keemun to a Sri Lanka (Ceylon) leaf. The base has not been revised on the website or in the description above.

Red happens to be my favorite color, so I find the tin especially attractive. The ingredient list is on the bottom of the tin along with a suggested steep time of 3 minutes. The lid fits snugly and is a press fit.

Earl Grey is often highly aromatic. This one I could smell through the tin as I removed it from the box. It is a glorious, peppery, citrus, bergamot. Inside the tin, the tea leaf is further packaged in a plastic bag. Removing a scoop of leaf, shows it to be very dark, nearly black, with some hints of golden tips.

I prepared this with two different parameters just to see how the base would respond. For the first cup the leaf was added to the press with 194 F water and a 2 1/2 minute steep. This is my normal Earl Grey method of late. For the second cup I used 212 F water and the recommended 3 minute steep.

With the earlier Keemun base the cup was highly refined, even civilized. There was no noticeable astringency, and no smoke.

A Sri Lanka base is what most of my favorite Earl Grey teas have used. It often tends to have a little rougher edge. As I have stated in other reviews, I am a bit of a barbarian when it comes to Earl Grey. Nina's are masterful blenders and the blends I have reviewed thus far have been very smooth. So let's see how they handle it here.

What I can tell you immediately is the time and temperature difference between my two cups today did not make as big a difference as I expected.

They both produced a very beautiful ruby red cup that turned a little more root beer color as they cooled. The bergamot in both has a wonderful scent, and when hot are moderately light in flavor. With both, the citrus picks up as the cup cools.

Now the differences. The lower temp and time actually seemed slightly more astringent as the sip was moderately drying. I did not notice this drying with the boiling water and longer steep. That surprised me.

Another surprise was the lack of a rough edge that is characteristic of the lower grade Ceylon teas I am very familiar with drinking. I like the edge, however, I have recently started using a lower temperature to reign it in a bit. That is not all that necessary here.

What didn't surprise me was the longer steep brought out more of the bergamot flavor. I highly recommend the second approach.

But the question that remains is how does this compare to the earlier Keemun version? I personally prefer the new Sri Lanka base. While it does not have a rough edge, it does have more character in my opinion. However, those who love Nina's traditional smooth and refined approach may easily disagree with me here. Bottom line, while this is definitely not my usual barbarian cup, it is Earl Grey the way I like it - strong and with character.

You can find Nina's Earl Grey here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teavivre, Chamomile Rose Silver Needle White Tea

Sample Bag
Teavivre Description:
Chamomile rose needle white tea is made of Fuding white tea, mixed with rose and chamomile. It is a floral fragrant tea, combining the flavor of white tea and flowers. With the strong floral fragrance, and rich aroma and taste, this tea is enjoyable for both tea lovers and people cares about health.

My Review:
I selected this sample with a recent order. I am a guy, so rose teas didn't always appeal to me. They are growing on me. Much like I learned with jasmine tea, the quality really does make a difference. One thing Teavivre consistently does well is quality. Their Silver Needle white tea is among the very best that I have had the pleasure to experience.

A Fragrant Bouquet 
Upon opening the sample bag the fragrance of rose drifts out and fills your senses. Along with it is a slightly sweet, slightly sour, apple like scent of chamomile. The leaf is an absolutely beautiful bouquet of rose buds and chamomile flowers, surrounded by the silvery haired buds of the Fuding white tea.

The leaf was placed in the press with enough 185 F water added to steep a 5 oz cup of tea. The steep time was about 2 minutes. For this first cup I used half the sample.

The aroma of the wet leaf is very similar to the dry. It is a little powerful, however, I have enough experience with Teavivre to expect the taste to be refined and not perfume water. The tea leaf itself is revitalized, plump, and green.

The brew, prepared in my western style, is a lot darker than the yellow liquor from the gong fu prepared cup on Teavivre's website. It is kind of a light greyish brown.

The Wet Leaf
As I taste, I first catch the rose. It is soft, delicate, and altogether natural. As the rose fades a little I pick up on the apple, honey, notes of the chamomile. There is a spice taste that kind of reminds me of allspice maybe. To me, it is kind of cinnamon, kind of clove. I asked my wife to taste it without telling her what I tasted. Her reaction was 'minty'. Not sure how to explain it except it is the interaction of white tea, rose, and chamomile, as that is all the ingredients found in this cup.

Because my first cup, while good, did not match the comments I recall others making, I decided to add the rest of the sample for cup two. The color was similar. The taste is not. Cup two starts out strongly of apple with edges of honey. The chamomile is leading the way on this cup. The change to rose is not sudden but glides into it, though never completely, as the chamomile steps sideways to travel along side the rose.

A Dark Cup For A White
I can catch only hints of the white tea at this early stage in the steepings. There is an underlying touch of hay and cucumber but they are not nearly as obvious as in a straight cup of Silver Needle. Teavivre could cut a corner and use a lesser grade of leaf but they choose not to lessen the quality. Thank you for that.

The taste you get from the cup appears to depend on the amount of leaf you choose to steep. Whether predominantly rose or chamomile, this makes an excellent cup of beautiful liquid relaxation. I am not sure how many times this can be resteeped. I do intend to keep going a good while longer.

You can find Chamomile Rose Silver Needle White Tea here.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

What-Cha, Nepal 2nd Flush 2014 Cannon Ball Green Tea

What-Cha Description:
A unique tightly rolled green tea with a citrus nose and well defined lemon blossom taste, a rare and unusual tea which is not to be missed.

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:
Our building project over the summer has really gotten me behind on my reviews. Apologies to What-Cha and the other tea companies on my list for not being able to keep up the pace.

Today is another exciting and unique offering from Nepal. Why is it called Cannon Ball? Only guessing here, but pouring out some of these monster balls of leaf, it just sort of fits. As you can see in the picture the balls are not particularly even in size. The smaller ones are about the size of your average oolong nugget. The bigger ones, well see for yourself - right below the monster at the top left of the picture is an oolong sized nugget that is partially hidden.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The leaf is packaged in aluminum resealable pouch that is simply and clearly labelled. The leaf sent is very delicious. It is kind of a mix of bread, honey, malt, and hay. I want to eat that smell!

The instructions say to use 4-5 balls per cup. Well, my cup is actually a mug and I use 10 oz of water, so I'm using 7 cannon balls. I used 167 F water and steeped for 2 1/2 minutes.

The leaf was interesting to watch. It did not dance in the water, instead it sort of mushroomed. Bubbles gassed out of the balls as they slowly expanded. You can see in the wet leaf picture that the leaf is still holding on to the tightly wound ball shape.

The scent of the wet leaf, and actually the appearance, reminded me of steamed veggies. I used to call it spinach, which I only eat raw, so I think steamed is way more intense than this. It is a very nice steamed flavor whatever the scent.

The brew is a white grape color when poured and turns a little more golden as it cools. The little bit of cloudiness I got was my fault. I removed the strainer to examine the leaf and drained a little remaining tea out of the bottom without straining. Maybe not as attractive but definitely does no harm.

The taste of the first cup is crisp, vegetal, and savory. It is not even suggestive of the aroma of the dry leaf. It is similar in many ways to other green teas, yet unique as well. There is a dryness (astringency) that doesn't really stand out at first but becomes more noticeable as you continue to sip. There's also a bite that hinges on good bitter without crossing the line. Late in the sip, and on into the aftertaste, is a citrus note. What-Cha calls it lemon blossom. I have never been privileged to that scent, so I'll take their word for it.

This appears to be a prime candidate for resteeping. I fired up the kettle and went for round two. Some of the leaf rose to the occasion but mostly it unfurled and made a leaf bed on the bottom. As the press was turned to get a better view, the bed wiggled and swayed like jello. The scent is more intensely lemon now. I didn't notice the dryness as much but the bitterness was more intense. It crossed the line a little much for me. To be fair I used only 8 oz of water this time with the extra leaf. I added a little sweetener to tame the taste. It balanced out well. Now the citrus really pops and I get a fairly strong nuttiness early in the sip and a healthy dose of grassy vegetal late, before once again turning citrus in the aftertaste with floral notes drifting in between the grass and the citrus. This really took to sweetening well.

I may come back to this one later. I have read reviews that claim the third steep is the best. I look forward to finding out for myself. Right now though, meatloaf is being served in the kitchen and it just happens to be one of my very favorite meals. It's a good day when you can have great tea and a great meal.    

This is a unique green tea and worth giving a try. You can find Nepal 2nd Flush 2014 Cannon Ball Green Tea here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Secret Garden Tea Company, Wild Strawberry Green Tea

The Secret Garden Tea Company Description:
Sweet strawberries blended with green tea: the next best thing to enjoying sun-ripened berries fresh from the patch. Pairs wonderfully with mild dishes such as lemon-buttered halibut or berry muffins.

Ingredients: Green tea, strawberry pieces, safflower petals, natural flavors

Price: $10.95/100g

Sample provided by The Secret Garden Tea Company

My Review:
The Secret Garden Tea Company is the newly opened online store side of Vancouver BC's The Secret Garden Tea Room. They generously furnished several large samples of their tea for my honest review.

Today I am reviewing their Wild Strawberry. I have high hopes for this one. Removing the seal on the aluminum lined paper sample bag, I am met with strawberry. Duh, you say? You know it doesn't always turn out that way. Sometimes I really have to search for the expected aroma. Not so here, and it smells like the real deal.

Removing a scoop of leaf, there are a few small dried strawberry pieces here. This is a good thing. It gives enough visual image without becoming filler. The leaf is flat and dried grass in appearance. I am assuming it is sencha, though I see nothing in the description to confirm it.

The leaf was steeped with 180 F water for three minutes in my press.  A grassy leaf scent could be detected along side the wonderful strawberry aroma.

The liquor is honey yellow or maybe a little lighter. There is a lot of unexpected dust in the water that settles to the bottom after moments. I am not sure what this is from as the leaf itself is nice size pieces of broken leaf. The scent is again natural strawberry.

The taste is just what I wanted. Strawberry. Not just strawberry, real tasting strawberry. It is not puckering tart like the real thing. On the other hand it is very natural tasting. The green tea is present but stays far out of the limelight. Often I want more balance in my flavored teas. Not today. This is strawberry.

I have thought a couple of my reviews of The Secret Garden Tea Company products have been a bit harsh - but in my defense, as honest as I could make them. This tea however, I really do like. I have enjoyed it so much I am about to steep up another cup. I believe I will use more leaf and see if I can imagine the tartness of biting into a fresh ripe strawberry.  

You can find Wild Strawberry Green Tea here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Secret Garden Tea Company, French Earl Grey

 The Secret Garden Tea Company Description:
Classic bergamot-infused Earl Grey tea layered with the gentle scent of rose petals.

Black tea, bergamot, mallow flower, hibiscus, rose petals, and sunflower petals

Sample provided by The Secret Garden Tea Company

My Review:
Today we are reviewing another offering from the newly opened webstore, The Secret Garden Tea Company. As you can see, handwriting the tea name on the label sounds like a great personal touch. In practice, a little moisture on the tea drinker's fingers can turn it into a smeary mess.

The sample bag has a paper exterior with an aluminum interior. The top is folded over and secured on the back with a sticker seal. This will work short term but longer storage will require something more substantial to maintain freshness.

The name to me suggests an Earl Grey Creme, but that is not what this blend contains. Opening the bag reveals the scent of rose. It is not really a fresh rose fragrance. To me it is more of a strong rose powder.

The leaf is pretty to look at. The black tea is surrounded by rose, mallow, sunflower, and hibiscus petals. Bergamot is listed as the second ingredient after black tea, however I can't detect it in the scent.

I used boiling water today and a 3 minute steep. The result is an orange cup that is shiny and clear. The wet leaf has an interesting aroma that suggests mango. That is not a listed ingredient, so I am not sure where that is coming from.

The taste is mainly dusty rose with a lighter note that still reminds me of mango or peach and apricot. Could it be the bergamot and hibiscus interacting? There is a slight tartness that is not offensive, present in the sip, as well as a bit of bite. I find this to be kind of drying. It does feel sort of thick like cream. I suspect the mallow is bringing that to the cup.

The black tea base is hard to single out at first. It reminds me of the Ceylon I reviewed yesterday. When it comes out of hiding it has a woodsy taste that is quite mellow.

I have to admit to being disappointed that I can't detect the bergamot. As an Earl Grey addict of many decades, having Earl Grey in the name brings certain expectations. I would have named this French Rose or something similar. On the plus side, wherever the tropical flavor is coming from, it raises this up a notch for me.

This tea is not something I am likely to crave but it is interesting.

You can find French Earl Grey here