Thursday, October 30, 2014

What-Cha, Nepal First Flush 2014 Silver Oolong Tea

What-Cha Description:
An exclusive tea only offered by one other seller, a great tasting lightly oxidised oolong with a fruity body and a citrus finish.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
I really intended to make it through all the samples from What-Cha this month. Nope. I didn't quite make it. I am definitely in no hurry. Their teas have taken me new places and I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey. While I am in no hurry to complete the trip, the uncertainty of my future ability to post without a trip to town for public WiFi access, has caused me to tread a little faster.

Today, I picked an oolong for review. It is my first silver oolong. The large resealable mylar bag is as always simply and clearly labelled. I really appreciate the label. It tells me all I need to know. The website adds a little additional information as to the source for those who want to know.

Removing the leaf, I get a faint hint of fruit. This contains a lot of silvery furry leaf. It looks like a white tea. There is also a lot green in the mix as well. The leaf looks only withered with very little twisting or curling being done during processing. Very interesting. This is unlike any oolong I have seen, so I guess the journey continues.

I followed the suggested directions of 176F water (charcoal filtered) and steeped for 3 minutes. I used one third of the 10g sample in my press.

The leaf hung in the water, making for more of a beautiful display than a dance. The leaf is a pale spring shade of green and much more delicate than I think the photograph makes it appear.

Its appearance reminds me of a Chinese green I have had in  the past - possibly it was Xin Yang Mao Jian, but I'm not certain. That comparison is kind of pointless as the aroma off the wet leaf is unlike anything I have previously experienced.

What I experienced was a very definite citrus nose. At first, I was certain it was lemon. As I breathed it in again, I began to think orange. There is nothing but tea here so whatever the scent it is natural. It is also very pleasant.

The liquor is bright and clear. It has a sunshine yellow tint. The wait for my cup to cool, enough to sip, is only minutes but seems to take forever. Finally, I get to take my first sip, while thinking can the taste compete with the nose, or am I about to be let down?

Actually, the taste surpasses the aroma. Seriously good. I get a buttery corn at the front of the sip that turns spring water in the middle and moves right into a lovely citrus finish. Again I say, seriously good.

There is no bitterness. Sometimes I want a little to give the cup character. Here it just doesn't need it. I get no astringency. There is nothing even vaguely off in the taste.

Choosing a favorite from What-Cha would be very difficult. This one is certainly a contender for that title. Unique and lovely, this is a wonderfully refreshing cup.

You can find Nepal First Flush 2014 Silver Oolong Tea here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tuocha Tea, 2008 Menghai 8582 Dayi Raw Pu-erh Cake

Web Photo - not taken from this cake 
Toucha Tea Description:
A classic Menghai tea factory recipe that was first introduced in 1985 for direct sales to Hong Kong Nian Tian company. 8582 Raw Pu-erh Cake use larger mature leaves inside for this cake, the tea has a very refreshingly sweet and smooth aftertaste, gives rich taste and swallows extremely well. Great potential after a few years of aging.

Size & Price:
2008 Menghai *8582* Dayi Raw Pu-erh Cake - 357g, $17.60 (USD)

My Review:
I have had this sample in my pu-erh drawer since spring. I have been so busy it just wasn't fitting in my schedule. Pu-erh waits patiently and instead of losing its appeal, it generally gets better with age. Today is a slow rainy day and it is begging for a sheng.

The leaf on this is mostly loose in the plastic baggie. Originally purchased by a tea friend and sent to me, I believe this was compressed in cake form, as I can find no loose version of this blend for sale.

The leaf is dark but still shows hints of green and I see some whole leaf in the mix. I did not detect any significant aroma to the dry leaf.

I used my Yixing pot and 10 oz of water heated to 212F (100C). I really don't know if I should be using cooler water for a raw tea. I should experiment a little and see what happens. Anyway, I let this steep for about 45 seconds.

A word about my pot - it is big for a Yixing. I know that goes against most people's reasoning for using a clay pot but you know what? That's the way I like to drink my tea. If I use a gaiwan, for instance, I will almost always pour three cups together, so I figure why not just steep it all at once. I use a Yixing simply for the joy it gives me to do so.

The brew starts pouring as a light yellow orange. As it cools it becomes more golden orange. When I poured, I did use a strainer but it turned out to not be necessary. The strainer holes in the pot proved to be sufficient to prevent leaf from escaping.

I have to admit, the wet leaf scent was not very appealing. It kind of smells like a wet carpet. Never encountered that before. The leaf did however turn green and fresh looking. Some of the leaf is whole and appears like it was just picked off the tree.

Tasting the first cup, I am noticing bitterness first, then some astringency in the form of drying. It does seem a little sweet with some woodsy notes trying to come through. Maybe cooler water and definitely a shorter steep is in order. On the other hand, I did not pour off the first cup as a wash. I almost never do, so I'll take the blame for this one.

As the cup cools and I taste while typing, I caught a faint hint of smoke. Promising.

For my second 10 oz pot, I used 200F water and a 10 second steep. The color is only slightly lighter in color. The wet leaf now has a pleasant woodsy mushroom with a hint of smoke aroma. Yeah, that's more like it!

The bitterness is all but gone. Just enough remains to make this interesting. The dryness is also greatly reduced. This is sweet. It feels a bit syrupy. The taste is a combination of stone and mushroom. There is nothing off-putting in the taste. A very enjoyable cup.

Mug three - cup 9, if you gongfu brew - at 20 seconds, is the best yet. A slight bitterness is present. The flavor is again woodsy mushroom with a stone element. The stone is a mineral taste like drinking water poured over rocks. The smoke is light but present late as I exhale.The aftertaste lingers.

This shows no signs of giving up but I want to post the review, so I am quitting here for now.

You can find the 2008 Menghai 8582 Dayi Raw Pu-erh Cake here

Monday, October 27, 2014

What-Cha, Kenya Silver Needle White Tea

Resealable and clearly labeled
What-Cha Description:
Our Kenyan Silver Needles hits the usual notes usually associated with good quality Silver Needles while having its own unique characteristics not usually found in other Silver Needles. Kenyan Silver Needles is on the fuller side of the Silver Needle scale and features lovely soft tannins, making it perfect for those who find the more traditional Silver Needles too subtle and overly delicate. Our Kenyan Silver Needles represents a chance to try one of the great Chinese teas grown in the unique terroir of Kenya.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
I started my reviews of the What-Cha samples by an obsession with purple varietals. As I have worked my way through the box, I have developed a similar curiosity and thirst for their white teas. All so different and all so good.

Today is a Kenya white terroir that bares more than a striking resemblance to Chinese Silver Needle. Removing a large scoop of leaf, this is unmistakably a silver needle. It is my favorite type of white, yet What-Cha promises the growing area of Kenya adds some unique tastes of its own. Awesome. Let's get to brewing.

I'm pretty sure I have closer to 4 g of leaf than the 3 I intended, but it's on the plate so let's live crazy. The silver fuzzy leaf looks just like it should, comprised of whole buds. There are a few green leaf in the mix as well. I did not notice them until I looked at the picture.

The scent is fresh dried hay. I used my press with charcoal filtered water heated to 175 F. The steep was 2 1/2 minutes. The leaf clung to the surface for the entire steep. The brew is nearly colorless with only a light honey tint. It does turn a little more golden as it cools.

The wet leaf has a baked aroma. The buds have turned green and lush. They have fattened up but not a lot. Silver needle is so light and fluffy to start with that I didn't expect otherwise.

Waiting for tea to cool enough to sip is always the hardest part of any session for me.

Finally, I get to lift my mug. My first thought was, ah this is much like the Nepali 1st flush I recently reviewed - immediately likable. Then I decided, no, it is much different. Where as the Nepal tea had a woodsy taste, this is more corn like. It is much more naturally sweet. It turns somewhat floral late in the sip along with a stronger fruit note. It doesn't really make me think peach. Than again I understand when you are tasting an unflavored tea any such notes are generally very light.

I am surprised by how different this tastes from Chinese grown silver needle. While this lacks the melon and cucumber notes of the Chinese version, it replaces them with corn and fruit. The natural sweetness and stronger flavor might make this more appealing to those who find white tea to be colored water. This is still white tea so don't expect the throat grabbing assault of a breakfast black. It is a subtle tea.

I get zero bitterness. I am noticing very little in the way of dryness. The aftertaste lingers long after sipping. The longer it goes the more I am tasting sweet hay and, oh wow, even some of the melon notes I did not think were in the cup. Very neat.

You can find Kenya Silver Needle White Tea here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What-Cha, Nepal First Flush 2014 White Tea

What-Cha Description:
The perfect 'everyday' White Tea, on the fuller side compared to the more traditional White Teas with a great apricot taste. It is a wonderful mix of leaves and buds, arriving direct from Greenland Organic Farm in Nepal.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
Today I am back to reviewing a white tea from What-Cha. After that most amazing Kenya Premium White I tasted a few days ago, I am torn between anxious and a bit hesitant to brew this 'everyday' White Tea. Seriously, I have nothing but high praise for What-Cha and especially for Allistair who has been so amazingly quick to answer my crazy questions.

The 10g sample is huge resealable mylar, with a concise, clear, and simple label.

I took out one third of the leaf. The scent is a little... well, latex paint smelling. Or at least that is what it suggests to me. I drink pu-erh, and enjoy it, so I know you can't be too quick to judge.

The leaf is green, dry, and brittle. It is intact. You can see in the lower right corner of the picture that some of the more silvery buds are nicely furry.

I used the little over 3 g sample in my clear glass press along with 195 F water. I steeped for 3 1/2 minutes. As the water hit the leaf a deep almost toasty aroma came forth.

The leaf filled the carafe as it steeped. The liquor is a golden color, like ginger ale, and is quite clear.

The wet leaf has really been revitalized. It has expanded greatly and turned fresh and alive looking. It mainly appears to be a leaf and a bud.

The aroma off the wet leaf reminds me of a wild plant we used to pick as kids and suck the milk out of it. No idea of what that plant was but bonus points for the childhood memory. It is a green planty scent that is kind of prickly, not exactly like okra but sort of.

Tasting, this is immediately likable. It is s white tea, so of course, like most, it is not a boisterous tea. There is no bitterness. I do get a little cheek tingle. It is crisp with a light mineral feel.

For a reference point only, it is far closer to white peony than silver needle in taste. Even that comparison is totally inadequate. It is not vegetal, like the melon or cucumber notes I normally associate with white tea. It isn't floral. This is completely different than the white teas most of us are familiar with sipping.

The best I can come up with is a heftier wood like taste with a subtle fruitiness. What-Cha calls it apricot and I won't disagree. I had no desire to add sweetener, but I suspect it would take it in stride if you are so inclined.

As I ponder the taste, I think it is far closer to tasting like a Nepal black tea, or even Darjeeling, but less intense, than it is to a traditional Chinese white.

Cup two I find to be a different cup. This is slightly warmer feeling. The mineral and cheek tingle are reduced. It takes on a slight sweetness. While very hot I notice mushroom notes. As it cools it turns more fruity. This cup seems a little more complex. I believe this will go another round but two are all I have time for today. This is a pretty excellent everyday tea and very different from the normal fare.

You can find Nepal First Flush 2014 White Tea here.

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.