Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Secret Garden Tea Company, Anniversary Blend Black Tea

The Secret Garden Tea Company Description:
Bergamot, Jasmine and Vanilla: these are a few of our favorite things! We created this blend in celebration of the Secret Garden’s inception. Pairs perfectly with both sweet and savoury delicacies.

Ingredients: Black Tea, natural flavors.

Price: $11.25/100g

Sample provided by The Secret Garden Tea Company

My Review:
This is my last sample provided by The Secret Garden Tea. Since my first review, this new online shop, and established Vancouver tea room, have lowered their shipping to a flat $7. That is pretty much in line with what US shops are charging and very reasonable for Canada.

The sample bags make me think of chewing gum wrappers. They are paper covering an aluminum coating inside. The top is rolled down and fastened with a decorative seal. The name of the blend is handwritten on the label. There are no steeping instructions.

As I remove a scoop of leaf, I smell vanilla. It is a nice scent and not overpowering or medicinal.

The leaf is kind of pretty. There are blue cornflower petals and yellow petals, possibly marigold or jasmine petals.

Using my standard press method with 212 F water and a four minute steep produced a very dark ruby orange brew. It seems darker than in the picture. The scent is lightly vanilla.

I like this but I am not getting much bergamot or any jasmine. It is mainly a light vanilla and a pleasant black base that I am guessing is a Ceylon. It is not bitter. It is moderately drying. Pairing it with a nice snack would probably counter this. I did not feel a need for added sweetener.

I could only find one review of this blend online and it was more of a review of the tea room experience. They only commented it was tasty.

So, I am left trying to decide if what I got from my cup is what one should expect upon ordering. I appreciate the vanilla is kept light so as not to drown out the black tea. I also can appreciate the bergamot is a very light touch. This is not Earl Grey. The citrus is there just to round out the cup. I am disappointed not to be able to detect the jasmine. I guess my final conclusion is that had I not read the ingredient list I would have been quite happy with the cup.

You can find Anniversary Blend here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Starbucks, Green Tea Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino

I am not a coffee drinker. I honestly don't even care for the smell of it. My wife on the other hand, loves coffee. When we are out and about, she often has, not wants - has, to stop in Starbucks. It's like a junkie on crack. The fact that, in my den, I have a four foot cabinet full of tea, tea covering a work table, and boxes of tea on the floor, is totally different. I can quit any time I want. Yeah right.

I have tried some of Starbucks non-coffee drinks and mostly I am not impressed. With their hot tea, I think it is because they over steep everything. Same with most of their iced teas. They are just too bitter.

The Green Tea Frappuccino is another thing all together. Made with matcha stirred into cold milk with their syrup and ice. Most people top it with whipped cream. It is delicious.

It is also jammed full of calories. I order mine with 2% milk, no whipped cream, and only half the usual pumps of syrup. The drink is still really sweet but not quite so bad for you.

Lately, I have grown a little bored with it. Besides, I make a similar breakfast drink with Chinese green tea powder, 2% milk, and a splash of vanilla and caramel sugar free syrups that I found on the coffee aisle at Walmart. I like mine better. It has only the calories of the milk. It is less sweet and still delicious - just different.

Yesterday, while shopping, my wife needed her fix. My son was with us. At first I said I didn't want anything. My son suggested a pumpkin spice latte. I reminded him I don't do coffee. He fired back that they can leave the coffee out. Well, that does sound better, but kind of boring.

That is when the idea popped into my head to combine a coffee-free pumpkin spice with my old standby green tea frappuccino. The Barista and my family flinched when I ordered it. What do they know? They're coffee people. So 2% milk and half the syrup - And just why don't they have sugar free syrup for diabetics and those of us who don't want a 600 calorie cup? But I digress yet again.

This creation isn't on the menu, as far as I am aware, but it should be. This was absolutely delicious. The matcha mixed seamlessly with the pumpkin spice to create a sensation like biting into an actual piece of cold pumpkin pie. I realize their are an endless variety of recipes for pumpkin pie, each tasting a little different. The drink is spot on with the family recipe I grew up eating. This is creamy and lightly spiced. It doesn't just taste of pie spice, it actually has a pumpkin taste. Very satisfying.

I didn't need a nap afterwards. I didn't need to loosen my belt. I think I may have found my new old standby at Starbucks. At least through November... I wonder how a candy cane matcha frappaccino will taste? Hmmm.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mellow Monk, Just-Right Roast

Mellow Monk Description:
This is the most flavorful iced tea we have ever tasted — and it can also be cold brewed! Crafted by Kazuo Watanabe, a single-estate tea grower-artisan in Kumamoto, this artisanal tea is made by lightly roasting traditional green tea in just the right way to make it perfect for cold-brewing a tasty, aromatic infusion. You would never think a beverage made from green tea could taste like this, but it does — nutty and slightly savory, with a smoky aroma and nutty overtones. This tea comes in high-quality sachets for quick, easy brewing.

Just-Right Roast won first place in its class at the North American Tea Competition three years in a row — 2012, 2013, and 2014. (Formerly known as Lightly Roasted Iced Green Tea.)

Mellow Monk is a California based business that imports green tea directly from — and only from — independent artisinal tea estates in Kumamoto, Japan. The Everyday Tea Blog was discovered by Mellow Monk through Steepster. I was asked if I would like to try and review one of their teas. I had to admit my familiarity with Japanese tea was woefully lacking but I would love the opportunity to expand my knowledge.

Looking over the selection of teas, I was not sure what I should select. I picked Just-Right Roast because of the following part of the product description:
"the artisan carefully roasts with the just the right light touch. This imparts a nutty roasted flavor while also preserving tantalizing hints of the original green tea flavor, for a unique flavor profile among Japanese hojichas or iced teas, for that matter."
I've had hojicha before. I love green tea and a nutty roasted flavor. Bonus, this is intended as an iced tea and it cold brews well. I know we are knee deep into fall. Most tea drinkers are gearing up with winter teas, but you see, in my family, iced tea is a year round event. Except for some ready to drink bottled stuff, I don't recall ever reviewing a tea intended to be iced. I am also pretty sure this is close to a first if not the first, cold brew.

This one has taken First Place as the North American Tea Champion in 2012, 2013, & 2014.

Cold Brewing In The Refrigerator
The sample bag is a full-sized order of 100g. The bag is a resealable mylar, with clear, how to brew, instructions on the back label. Inside are 18 pyramid sachets. Each bag will steep one quart of tea.

I used two of the sachets in a glass tea jug and added 2 quarts of cool filtered water. The jug was then placed in the refrigerator and left to steep. That is all there is to cold brewing. The directions say to let it set at least 4 hours before drinking. The sachets may remain in the pitcher until the tea is consumed. Talk about no fuss.

I waited about 5 hours after refrigerating, then stirred the tea, before pouring my first glass. The tea itself is a dark yellow with a green tint. It definitely has the roasted hojicha aroma, with which I am familiar.

If you have ever had genmaicha, then the level of roasting is of similar intensity. Mellow Monk says the nutty flavor has hickory overtones. I have hickory trees growing in my yard but I have never eaten one of the nuts. The taste is decidedly nutty even if I can't confirm the specific type. I catch hints of the green tea itself but honestly it is the roasted nuttiness that drives the taste.

My previous experience with hojicha has been limited to inexpensive bagged teas. While it does share many of the same flavor characteristics with the lesser versions, this one has far more depth and complexity. It is savory. Not sweet. I detect no bitterness. It is a little drying but to me that is part of a good iced tea. It is nicely refreshing and unlike any iced tea I have had before.

Before the world wars disrupted trade with Japan, green tea was as popular in the southern US as black tea. Of course in the south, you typically make sweet tea, where it is simply known as tea. So in the interest of historical reenactment I added some sweetener to my glass. I personally don't normally sweeten iced tea. I am far more likely to do so with hot teas. That said, I really thought the refreshment level was raised much higher as a southern sweet tea with the first cup. Seriously, give it a try and see what you think.

I waited until a day later to pour the second glass. The sachets remain in the pitcher. The tea is more golden colored today. The flavors have deepened and smoothed out. There is still no bitterness. The dryness I experienced before is much less present. I felt no desire to add sweetener today, even for historical reasons. This is definitely different than any iced tea you have likely had before. It is also very good. Patience has paid off. I finished this glass with a pickle loaf, colby jack, and jalapeno ketchup, on wheat (I'm weird like that). This tea stood up to the sandwich without flinching.

You can find Mellow Monk's Just-Right Roast and other Japanese green teas here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What-Cha, Kenya Premium White Tea

What-Cha Description:
Kenya Premium White Tea is a very unusual and unique tea. It serves as a perfect example of the experimentation and dedication to creating new premium teas that is happening in Kenya. The tea has the lightness and delicacy normally associated with the finest white teas, while having a sweet caramel taste normally associated with the best Golden Monkey teas from China. Kenya White Premium is a truly unique tea which is not to be missed.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
I almost don't even need to taste this tea to know I love it - almost.

The 10g sample bag is a huge resealable mylar. It is, as always, simply and clearly labelled with recommended steeping parameters.

Opening the bag I catch a nice malt and caramel aroma. It also has a grain scent, like maybe corn in a field. I know. It gets better. I removed some leaf for examination and became super attracted. I almost always take more than one picture of the leaf to be sure at least one of my amateurish shots are in focus. I couldn't stop snapping this one. It was like Heidi Klum stepped in front of my camera. ZZ Top's Legs comes to mind... but I digress.

Click on the picture to enlarge it. Isn't that leaf spectacular. Beautiful tans, browns, and silver hairy leaf. They are so long that measuring either takes a scale or a guess. I went with the guess, because I don't own a scale.

I used my press as usual, and water heated to 195F. My steep time was 3 minutes. The leaf expands nicely. The leaf (unless these are huge buds) are whole and unbroken. As I pour the honey caramel liquor into the mug, I am again met with a malty nose.

OK, this is a Kenya white tea. I would never have guessed this had I not read it. The dry leaf looks more like a Chinese Dian Hong. The scent is also very similar to my favorite Chinese black tea type.

Taking my first sip confirms my opening statement that I love this tea. Seriously, if you enjoy Dian Hong black tea from Yunnan in China, you will almost certainly love this white tea from Kenya. So very good with its light caramel and malty notes. I am getting no bitterness. There is a slight bite with some cheek tingle and a drying sensation. I do not mean that in a negative sense. To me this adds to the overall character of the cup. It must be naturally sweet as I have no desire to add sweetener. This is awesome.

Cup two was prepared the same as the first. The taste is a bit different than the first. The malt has stepped to the back with the caramel close in front. The main flavor is what I am going to call corn. It is not the very sweet (but delicious) fresh yellow and white corn on your dinner table. It is more of a grain corn. Hope that makes sense. The aftertaste as changed as well. Before it was caramel/malt, now it is a floral that I can't associate with anything I recognize. Another really nice cup.

I am a little tea logged at the moment, as this is not my first tea of the day. I should have planned ahead. Anyway, I think there is a least one more cup in these leaves but it will have to wait for another day to find out.

Conclusion: An awesome white tea that reminds me of a Chinese black.

You can find Kenya Premium White Tea here. Through the end of October 2014, all What-Cha teas are 20% off. My only association is having tasted and reviewed several of their teas. They are definitely worth checking out.

The Future - at least for the short term

There is still a little over a week left in October. While I am still able to get the message out I thought I would share that there may be an interruption in my ability to post on The Everyday Tea Blog. This will also affect my email capabilities. Hopefully, I will find a quick seamless solution.

Back on April 1st (April Fools day but this was no joke) our internet provider (Millenicom) raised rates about 50%. They blamed this on their carrier, Verizon, for refusing to negotiate with them. Within another month we were told our email service was being discontinued. I already had this blog set up to use gmail so it had no affect with contacting me from here. That appears about to change.

Now, I have learned from a neighbor, Millenicom will no longer have anything to do with our internet as we will be dealing directly with Verizon. My neighbor was informed Verizon would be contacting us with service options. That is all fine and good except the month is almost over and we have heard nothing directly from Millenicom or Verizon. I may find myself without internet access by November 1st.

We live far from any major cities. Just as there are few tea shops in our area, there are even fewer alternatives for internet. We have no DSL, cable, or fiber optics. We did away with our land line as the line quality is so poor it could barely maintain a low dial up service.

So that leaves us with only WiFi or satellite internet. For Wifi only Verizon has a signal in our area. Millenicom used their towers but apparently are no longer welcome to do so. Verizon WiFi data plans are outrageously expensive for very little data - even if they do ever bother contacting us. I am looking into satellite but have a lot to learn as it seems very pricey as well.

With some hope and a prayer, I will find a solution that allows The Everyday Tea Blog to continue operation beyond the first of the month.    

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.