Monday, July 21, 2014

Green Terrace Teas, Ali Shan High Mountain Oolong

Vacuum Sealed Sample
Green Terrace Teas Description:
Ali Shan is one of Taiwan’s most famous tea growing areas due to its high elevation and rich soil.  The cool and moist climate allows the tea leaves to grow more slowly, developing a higher level of complexity and flavor.  Our premium grade Ali Shan High Mountain Tea, or “gao shan cha” in Chinese, is grown at elevations of 1,300 meters (4,265 ft) and above.  It has a sweet buttery taste with a creamy body and mild floral undertones.  The tea becomes more vegetal after a few steepings, bringing a pleasant variation of tastes among each infusion.  Overall, this is an exquisite and savory oolong that can be enjoyed at any time of day.

Origin:  Alishan, Chiayi County, Taiwan

Harvest:  Spring 2014

Sample provided by Green Terrace Teas

My Review:
Best laid plans and all aside, my intention was to review this one immediately after sipping the Li Shan for more of a side by side comparison. Instead sandwiched between the two oolongs three days have passed. Two of which were filled with all day shopping sprees, and Sunday was church and family. Normally I would complain about the shopping, but this time we were looking for patio furniture and a new grill, so I kind of got into it. Who am I kidding, it was totally my idea!

Dry Leaf
So, back to tea. I have had both Li Shan and Ali Shan high mountain teas before, but never together. I wasn't sure if I could tell them apart. So I love that I have this opportunity to sample them both this close together. The samples come in identical vacuum sealed packaging. It is a good thing they are clearly labeled.

The open 10 g bag reveals very little of what is to come, only faint scent traces that smell like... light green oolong.  Using my bamboo scoop, I examined the pellets. Again, the two teas appear very similar. The leaves are rolled tightly with the stem exposed.

Steeping Leaves
My intention was to steep both the same way to keep the playing floor even. So once again the mighty crystal teapot sees action. The leaf in the pot, I added 190 F water and steeped 1 1/2 minutes for the first cup.

At this point, I realized I am brewing more tea than would fit in the 5 oz cup that I used last time. I quickly had to shift gears and pull out my clear glass mug.

I can only hope I haven't thrown off the comparison greatly.

The result is a very light manila colored liquor that is bright and clear. The leaf has largely relaxed, but not nearly as much as the Li Shan first cup. The wet leaf has a marine or seaweed aroma.

A strainer was used when pouring to catch the leaf that hasn't fully unfurled. Only one leaf escaped through the narrow spout of the teapot.

The tea in the mug turned slightly more honey colored as I waited for it to cool enough for me to start sipping.
High Mountain Oolong

The sip is immediately different from the Li Shan. While both are creamy, the Li Shan tasted like corn to me. This one has a floral bite or tingle to it that dances towards orchid with slight hints similar to lavender. None of the floral elements are overpowering.

This is a beautiful cup.

As it cools, a more typical green oolong taste is drawn out and mingles with the previous more unique floral tastes. There is also a nice cooling sensation that is highlighted between sips.

Below I have a picture of the wet leaf for those who like a better idea what they are getting. The leaf is already quite bulky and it hasn't even fully relaxed yet. I did not dig through the pile, however I did not notice and small broken pieces in the leaf.

While the Li Shan was quite enjoyable, I have to admit I am much more fascinated by the first cup of this Ali Shan. We must investigate with further cups before drawing any firm conclusions. Oh, the sacrifices I am willing to make for this blog.

Wet Leaf
On cup two I was more observant of how much water was used. I poured this pot without the strainer and had no leaf in my mug. As I poured, the brew had a green tint that quickly changed to white grape in the mug.

With this cup I am noticing a light butteriness and a hint of mint, in addition to the previous floral aspects. This cup is better than the already wonderful first cup. It seems very sweet.

I am going to keep steeping this leaf a while longer but from what I am tasting I can confidently say I prefer this Ali Shan over the Li Shan. Both are very good, so this is a personal preference. Get a sample of both and see for yourself.

You can find this and a nice variety of teas and teaware here.












   

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Green Terrace Teas, Li Shan High Mountain Oolong

Vacuum Sealed Sample
Green Terrace Teas Description:
Li Shan, or “Pear Mountain”, is named after the abundant pear orchards that originally occupied the region. In addition to its rich soil, Li Shan’s high altitude maintains a cool and moist climate that is ideal for creating superior quality tea. Our spring harvest was grown at an elevation of about 2,000 meters, or over 6,500 ft! Tea from Li Shan has a very high demand due to its limited supply and superior quality. Floral and fruity in character, this tea also has a very clean, soft mouth feel and evokes exotic flavors such as mango and tropical fruit. Can be steeped multiple times without losing flavor.

Origin: Lishan, Heping District, Taichong City, Taiwan

Harvest: Spring 2014

Sample provided by Green Terrace Teas

My Review:
I am super excited about my next couple reviews. I have both a Li Shan and an Ali Shan high mountain oolong to review. I have had only a few of each, but enough to believe I am in for something special. It will also be the first time I can compare the two back to back.

Green Terrace Teas is a small tea shop located in Taiwan. Most companies located in Taiwan seem to have very high shipping rates to the US. Green Terrace Teas has free shipping over $49 and a flat $5 shipping rate for smaller orders. Their teas are currently well priced making this a real opportunity to try out what Taiwan has to offer.

Dry Leaf
The golden foil vacuum sealed sample (say that 5 times fast) is 10 g. Cutting the top and removing some of the leaf for examination reveals rolled nuggets with partial stems of varying shades of green and some yellow tones. The scent is of fresh and clean green oolong and a sweet aroma that to me is kind of creamed corn scented.

I used 1/3 of the sample which appears about a level tsp (somewhere between what is in the bamboo scoop and what is on the plate). Once again I rolled out my new favorite glass teapot for the minute and a half steep with 190 F water. The steep was intended to be one minute but I got drawn into the dance of the leaf, and well, as they say, time flies when you are having fun.

The leaf relaxed and expanded quickly!

It is always interesting to see such large leaves appear, almost magically, from those tiny dry pellets. The liquor is clear and a very light cream or manila colored.

Steeping

I poured it into a 5 oz Corelle stoneware cup that is coincidentally made in Taiwan. The brew turned a little more honey colored in the cup. Had I poured when I intended I think the brew would have been nearly clear.

The taste is not what I was expecting based on Steepster reviews. They all seemed to have fruit and floral flavors flying everywhere. I did not have the same result. To me this has a corn like taste. It is smooth and creamy but not overly so. Despite the smoothness this also has a bite. They play off each other and it is interesting.

Now as the cup cools I do begin to detect a fruitiness that is kind of pineapple and coconut? I read one review that said Pina Colada. Yeah, I can see that. It does not jump out and scream it, but it is there.

The aftertaste is slightly drying. In it, I catch the floral element I have been expecting. I have always called it geranium. Those who don't like green oolongs sometimes call it latex. No matter how you feel about green oolong, that flavor is mild and well behaved here.

Sunshine in a cup
The wet leaf, as you can see in the picture below, contains large leaves. Some joined together by the stems. There are some smaller broken pieces but not enough to cause me any concern.

I am looking forward to several more steeps from this leaf so back in the teapot it goes.

The second cup was steeped at one minute. As the water hit the leaf I noticed a spicy fragrance similar to cinnamon. The leaf is now pretty much filling the water in the teapot. The liquor has more of a floral bouquet.  The sip has a nice cooling freshness like mint without the mint taste. I must be starving for vegetables as this taste similar to potato to me. I really do not understand why I am not getting the same results as others recorded, but yeah, potato. Behind it I am getting a green kind of floral, kind of vine like notes. I know it sounds a bit odd but this is really good.

Wet Leaf

Cup three was prepared on day 2 with the same leaf and a one minute steep. This cup is much lighter than yesterday's cups but is nicely floral. When I first sipped this cup while hot I noticed a kind of earthy or maybe even cave flavor. It was gentle, well mannered, and pleasant. As the cup cooled the earthy note fades and this becomes a gentle bouquet of floral notes.

The fourth, and final cup, was steeped for two minutes. It is a little darker than cup three and has the same floral scent. The taste is also quite similar to the third cup with the addition of a spicy note.

You can find this and a nice variety of teas and teaware here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tea For One

In this post I am continuing to share more of my teaware collection. Here is my tea for one pot and mug. I bought this at an auction at our church. I wasn't looking for such an item and I didn't need one, but the opportunity presented itself and it was for a worthy cause. So, why not.

Tea For One 

What appears to be dark brown staining seems to actually be permanent. I scrubbed it several times and even took bleach cleanser to it but the darker area remains. Ah, it adds character.

Tea For One Pot And Mug

The pot looks smaller than the mug. It is not. The walls on the mug are very thick and the two hold about the same amount - roughly 12 ounces. That is my standard mug size though I usually only fill a mug to around 10 ounces. I find the thickness of this mug to be uncomfortable to sip from and find it better suited to soup or oatmeal. 

Crackled Interior

I have not used the teapot very many times. In fact I recently decided to retire this pot. The reason may not show up clearly, even if you click the picture above to expand it to full size. The glazing on the inside of the pot has a crackled appearance. The safety of such glazing seems to be cause for great debate on various pottery sites. It may be safe to use but I am not taking any chances. This one has been moved to display only mode.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Persimmon Tree, Butterscotch

Butterscotch Tin
The Persimmon Tree Description:
Now available as a delectable tea-time treat, our Butterscotch brew takes the buttery goodness of butterscotch and lightens it up into a white tea infusion. Taste the classic favorite of butterscotch in an fresh brew that smoothly and lightly dances down your throat.

Ingredients:
Organic White Tea Leaves, Organic Cinnamon, Organic Pink Peppercorn, Organic Merigolds, Organic Flavors

Sample provided by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

My Review:
One of my fondest memories of my grandmother, on my dad's side, was her butterscotch pie. It was made from scratch and oh, so good. Mom swears today that I am remembering her (mom's) pies and not my Nana's. Sorry mom, I love you, but your butterscotch pie was a pale comparison to the real thing.

So we go into this review knowing we have a preconceived ideal that I cannot set aside. Yes, I know this is butterscotch and not butterscotch pie. I will try to relate the tea more to the candy my grandfather always had in the dish along side his recliner. I'll try, but come on... pie... you know?

Dry Leaf
Removing the seal and opening the tin I am met with an interesting looking blend. There is white tea leaf running from silver, through green, and into brown. The leaf appears to be various sized leaf, much of it whole. Then I notice the marigold petals. I don't know how much flavor they add but they sure pretty up a blend. There are also pink peppercorns. I never notice them as being obtrusive or particularly spicy in a tea, though I do understand why their presence may scare some people.

The dry leaf scent does not remind me of pie. :( It also doesn't really read grandpa's candy discs either. It has kind of an alcohol or medicinal aroma. At least it is pretty to look at.

Steeping
I used a healthy scoop and a half of leaf - because it is white tea - in my glass teapot. To it was added 180 F water. I steeped per the middle of the recommended guidelines for white tea on the back of the tin, which was 3 minutes.

You can see most of the leaf stayed at or near the surface. The liquor is clear and actually a little darker than it appears in the picture.

Once poured into the mug it turned a little more golden in color.

While steamy hot this tastes like the dry scent. To me it is more alcohol flavored than butterscotch. I read one of the reviews on The Persimmon Tree's website that said they mixed this tea half and half with a straight white tea as they found this too potent. So I will try that later.

The Steepster reviews are generally highly favorable but I did note some of them said this leaned more towards scotch (the alcohol) than the buttery dime store candy. So I guess it depends on your expectations how you will react.

I cannot separate the peppercorns in the taste. There is cinnamon in the ingredient list and I can catch hints of it swirling around.

Butterscotch Steeped Leaf
During my tasting of this tea my son needed a ride to pick up his car at the mechanics. I had to abandon the half full mug. By the time I returned, the tea was room temperature. I found I liked it much better this way. The initial taste of it cold is a combination of scotch and white tea. The aftertaste is more of what I associate with butterscotch. I also notice there is more of a creamy feel to the cup now.

This is not Nana's world famous (in my mind) butterscotch pie. It does however have potential. I am going to experiment with different times and temperatures, and maybe try cutting it with another white tea to see if I can find a balance point for my tastes. Most reviewers liked it just the way it is, so as usual, it is a personal thing.

You can find Butterscotch here.

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Update: The next day after posting this review, I prepared this tea again. This time I used my standard steeping parameters for Bai Mu Dan of 195 F for 1 minute. This is much more to my personal liking. The scotch alcohol taste is greatly reduced and replaced with more of a dime store buttery candy taste. It doesn't hit the mark exactly but it is close. I think the white tea gives it a little twist. A sweet dessert in a mug without the guilt.

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About The Persimmon Tree:
(From their website) The Persimmon Tree® offers our customers some of the world's finest organic teas and botanicals. Not only are most of our fresh high quality teas from around the globe hand-blended and organically grown, some of our teas are also fair trade, ensuring fair working conditions, fair wages, and a better life for tea workers from countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

At The Persimmon Tree®, our mission is simple: to enrich people's lives through the pleasure of tea.

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Gaiwan

My gaiwan with a mug for size reference
Teavivre Description:
This gongfu gaiwan is custom made by TeaVivre’s careful selection. The gaiwan looks exquisite, is comfortable to hold. It is well made, pour our water smoothly. The white color is elegant. The lid is printed with TeaVivre logo. On the body of the gaiwan, there is a representative icon of Chinese tea ceramany, (cha dao).

Capacity: 90ml / 3.04oz

This beautiful gaiwan was a gift from the awesome Teavivre team. Thanks!

My Review:
Things may be a little different today. I am going a lot more picture heavy with this post. I received this beautiful gaiwan some time ago from Teavivre and have never given it a proper review. Until very recently I have been content simply brewing all my teas in my clear glass Bodum French Press. It works super well for all types of tea. Why use anything else?

Well, one day I saw a really inexpensive Yixing teapot online and thought I'd have some fun. At the same time I ordered a clear glass teapot for flowering teas. Having never been a teapot person, I really didn't see the need, but proceeded to order anyway. Making this long story shorter - I got hooked. My press still gets a work out but not nearly as much as before the teapots arrived.

Adding Leaf
So now I am starting to bring the gaiwan into the rotation. I'll be honest, the reason I have not devoted more time to it already is my sweetener addiction. This gaiwan holds 90 ml, that is around 3 ounces - that and sweetener do not mix easily.

So the secret to using it is finding teas that I don't feel the need to sweeten. Now that I am getting into enjoying teapots and alternate brewing styles, the time is right.

For today's session I chose In Nature's White Moon Tea. The leaf looks like Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) but it is slightly oxidized (like White Monkey) under moonlight. Then it is post fermented like puerh - technically like a dark tea as this is not from the puerh area in China.

I used a very healthy scoop of leaf  that filled the gaiwan about a third of the way. It was slightly more than I would typically use with my press. My normal cup size generally runs about 10-12 oz. So here I am using around 1/4 the water per steep. As a point of reference a standard bathroom Dixie Cup comes in two sizes - 5 and 3 oz. We in the west are so used to supersizing everything. Truth is 3 oz is still a lot of liquid.

Check out how nice the leaf looks in the gaiwan.

White Moon Leaf


Some people drink from the gaiwan. Not me. I can't sip anything that is near boiling. I choose to pour into a cup (a pitcher should be used when sharing). Today I am using a very pretty little cup and saucer my wife bought for me at a local antique store. I know nothing about it other than it says Japan on the bottom and it holds 90 ml, or 3 oz. A perfect match. The reflections make it hard to see but the designs are all jade green with gold trim.

Pretty Little Cup From My Wife
The inside of the cup looks like a pearl with its various streaked tones of color. Once the tea had steeped for about 20 seconds, I poured it into the cup. With the shape of the inside and the pearlized finish, the resulting brew resembled a sunflower bloom. At least I thought so.

The Brew Looks Like A Sunflower Bloom
A word about pouring a gaiwan. What I read online said to grasp the rim with the thumb and middle finger while holding the top of the lid with the first finger. The lid is slightly lifted to pour while not allowing the leaf to get in the cup. The saucer stays on the table. Yep, that's the way most people do it. I get burned doing it this way. I found it easier to place my pinky, middle, and ring finger under the saucer and hold the lid with my thumb. The gaiwan gets very hot, very fast. So be careful. 

The wet leaf plumps up beautifully in the gaiwan. I have not tried oolong in my gaiwan yet, but I have seen pictures of the gaiwan being completely filled with huge leaves after they have unfurled.

The Wet Leaf
So now comes the big question - does using a gaiwan make the tea taste any different? Absolutely. Using a more leaf to water ratio and extremely short steeps, intensifies the flavors. The layers of flavor are released slowly so each cup tastes different. In my previous review of this tea, I noted how it tasted like white tea but more intense. The tea for that review was prepared in my press and poured into a 12 oz mug. Using the gaiwan the flavor of the early cup is apple wine, and that is with out any sweetener. With the gaiwan, a quality tea should resteep many times. Yep, I think I'm going to like brewing with this gaiwan.

If using a gaiwan sounds like something you would like to try, you can find one like mine at Teavivre.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Green Terrace Teas, Li Shan Black Tea

Li Shan Black Tea Leaf
Green Terrace Teas Description:
Our founder's favorite tea - this is a rare and unique cultivar available only in Taiwan. Grown at elevations of over 2,000 meters, our spring harvest is both exquisite and complex in character. Non-astringent and mildly sweet, this black tea has floral and fruity undertones with notes of peach and honey. Its aroma of sweet, ripe fruit is strong and noticeable instantly after the leaves come in contact with hot water. If you've never had a quality black tea before, this variety is a must try. Best brewed with multiple, short infusions.

Sample provided by Green Terrace Teas

My Review:
This is my second tea from Green Terrace Teas. The first Honey Black was everything I hoped it would be, so I am excited to try this Li Shan Black Tea. I received this through an offer on Steepster to trade samples for reviews. As always, that does not sway me. I'll give you my honest opinion, but based on my previous review this one is most likely going to be a good one.

This one is hand picked from a local farm in Lishan, Heping District, Taichong City, Taiwan. It is then vacuum sealed for freshness. I like the vacuum sealing. I have only seen it done with oolongs previously. I cut the top and allowed the contents to puff up a bit. Inhaling this is sweet and makes me think of some of the better Chinese greens I've reviewed. The leaf is dark with some milk chocolate colored tips.

Li Shan Black Tea Steeping
I used 3.5 g of leaf (about one third of the sample), 10 oz of 195 F water and a 2 minute steep. That seemed a good compromise between Eastern and Western methods. The result is a light caramel colored brew that turns root beer in the mug. The nose of the wet leaf is sweet and malty with a fruity element that to me images grapes. Not like a Darjeeling muscatel but good old regular grapes. Terrace Green Teas says its peach. Maybe it is the way I prepared it but I get grape. Either way the aroma is really fine. The leaf relaxed and expanded nicely.

Waiting for this to cool left me impatient. The aroma of the cup is cinnamon raisin whole wheat bagel. Get in my belly! First sip is very smooth with a slightly spicy feel around the tongue. The taste is malt and wheat, with cinnamon and raisin. It is wonderfully sweet like honey. As I continue to sip I notice a neat cooling sensation on my breath and in my lungs. That is always a welcome tasting element from me.

At this point I added sweetener to see how it changed the cup. My advice is it is really unnecessary. In fact it detracts from the cup as the sweetness is a little too intense. If you must use additions, go very lightly and taste before adding more. This is really one of the few black teas that I honestly advise no sugar - and I am addicted to the stuff.

I steeped the same leaf three times for a total of 30 oz. The second was at 2 minutes and was similar in taste but lighter than the first. The third I went in the neighborhood of 5 minutes as I didn't time it. The brew was darker than the second but still light in taste. It was similar to the previous cups with the addition of a slight mineral element.

This is definitely a worthy tea.

You can find Li Shan Black Tea here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Persimmon Tree Tea, Lapsang Souchong

Lapsang Souchong Tin
The Persimmon Tree Tea Description:
Lapsang Souchong is a perfect blend for the travel-weary and day-weary alike. The tea's organic loose leaves have been smoked over pine needles, infusing the leave with a signature smoky aroma. Lapsang Souchong will make you feel like you're drinking warmth by a cozy fire.

Sample Provided by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

My Review:
Lapsang Souchong generates a wide range of reaction from tea drinkers. Very few have a neutral response when asked what they think. Lapsang Souchong is traditionally prepared by drying the courser fourth and fifth leaves of the tea plant in a bamboo basket over a burning pinewood fire. This infuses the leaf with a sweet smoky aroma and taste.

Many teas have a much less intense smoky element to them. I recall my first exposure was a Keemun. The smoke caused me to panic and back away momentarily. With a little time I came to appreciate the taste. I later recognized how light the smoke actually was in that tea. By the time I experienced my first Lapsang Souchong I was prepared and looking forward to the experience. So count me in the group with a positive reaction.

I love The Persimmon Tree Tea's tins. They seal tight and do a great job of keeping the leaf fresh. I have a tin with just a little Lotus in the bottom that I've had for a couple years and it is just now losing some strength. So yeah, I need to drink it up soon.

Lapsang Souchong Leaf
Once I broke the seal on the lid and just cracked the top open, I immediately caught a strong fragrance of smoke. It is not like the smell of ashes. It is sweet and similar to the fragrance of a camp fire.

The leaf is very dark and intense smelling. I used the recommended temp of 195 F and steeped for about 4 minutes. This is in the middle of the 3 to 5 minute range printed on the back of the tin.

The resulting liquor is initially much lighter in color than expected as is kind of a coppery amber. As the mug cools it darkens up to a more familiar deep orange brown.

I am also surprised by the taste. It is lighter than the aroma would lead you to expect. I detect no bitterness and it does not strike me as astringent. There is a small amount of bite. I usually go easy on the time when trying a new black as I am easily prone to stomach burn from the tannins. This one caused me no grief.

The taste is not a light weight. It is smoky. It is sweet. It is also layered. By that I mean there is depth to the smoke. As you sip the smoke grows and maneuvers through layers, occasionally just reaching an ash quality then quickly pulling back into a gentle sweetness.

I have had lesser Lapsang Souchong that tasted grossly of ash tray. I have had some that were a little more refined but they cost twice as much. This is an excellent quality smoky tea at this price point and I look forward to many happy morning cups when I am craving a Lapsang Souchong.

You can find The Persimmon Tree's Lapsang Souchong here.

About The Persimmon Tree:
(From their website) The Persimmon Tree® offers our customers some of the world's finest organic teas and botanicals. Not only are most of our fresh high quality teas from around the globe hand-blended and organically grown, some of our teas are also fair trade, ensuring fair working conditions, fair wages, and a better life for tea workers from countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

At The Persimmon Tree®, our mission is simple: to enrich people's lives through the pleasure of tea.