Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Plum Deluxe, Mindful Morning Blend

Sample Bag
Plum Deluxe Description:
The mindful morning blend is the Plum Deluxe take on classic Earl Grey.
Everyone loves Earl Grey, but we found a way to make it even better so that we can start every day with a tea blend that is truly luxurious. We began with our absolute favorite black tea, Ceylon – it is a tea from Sri Lanka that has a gentle vanilla flavor to it. We then added a tiny pinch of sweet honey, a bit of flavor and color with the cornflowers, and topped it off with the bergamot oil that makes earl grey so famous. The orange peels give it a final flavor boost.

Sample provided by Plum Deluxe.

My Review:
I was recently contacted by Andy at Plum Deluxe and asked if I would like to review one of their teas. Looking through the online teashop, all of the choices sounded equally inviting. I chose Mindful Morning Blend. Why? Uhmmm, because it has bergamot in it. I am nothing if not predictable.

dry leaf
When the bubble wrapped envelope arrived, it did not escape my attention that it was plum colored. Opening the outer package and removing the ziplock bag, I can already catch hints of the aroma. This smells truly wonderful. More on that later.

The label lists a brief description and the ingredients. Missing are steeping instructions. The base tea is Ceylon, so I'll use standard black tea parameters.

Update - after reading my review, Andy wrote, "When people order they get an email with brewing info, but you're right, it's not on the labels.  It's on the new ones now since people often misplace the email or gift the tea."

I have to admit part of the description made me smile. "Pairs well with quiet moments & good conversation." I can pretty much say, any tea I drink first thing in the morning, will not be accompanied with good conversation. I am not a morning person. Neither is my wife. We tend to avoid each other until both have had their respective morning cup. I will agree as an afternoon tea, the aroma alone would enhance the conversation.

A very full mug
The blend has dark chocolate colored Ceylon leaf, cornflowers, orange peel pieces, and something I have never seen before - honey granules. I really am not detecting the bergamot scent. What I catch is honey and orange. It smells so good, I want to scoop up a handful and eat it.

Instead, I put the leaf in my press with boiling water and steeped for about three minutes. It is a good thing I used more leaf than usual, as there was a little water left in the kettle and I filled my mug a little fuller than intended.

The brew color is dark caramel/orange. I can smell the tea in the wet leaf. The combination is sort of chocolate, orange, and honey. I don't mean to dwell, but it smells so nice and inviting. It isn't candy. It isn't citrus. It isn't floral. It is kind of all these things.

Once it finally cools enough to taste, I am not disappointed. The sweet citrus, and not really chocolate but along that vein, flavors are joined by a vanilla like taste and texture. This does not require added sweetener, yet it is not overly sweet by any means. I am detecting no bitterness. Ceylon teas especially when bergamot is added can be very drying. This one is only mild drying.

Wet Leaf
Now if you are one of those rare tea drinkers who avoid Earl Grey because you don't like bergamot, I think this one will surprise you. Seriously, this is not Earl Grey in the traditional sense. The bergamot is very light in my opinion.

The ingredients are USDA organic and fairtrade certified. Plum Deluxe has a small variety to choose from but they do their own blending. What I get with this cup is not heavy handed or in your face. It is very tastefully blended.

Plum Deluxe was founded in 2007 as an online community to help people create moments that matter. The tea came later. Quoting from information I was given about their tea story:

Tea is a beverage that can’t be rushed – you have to give it a few minutes to steep. By encouraging our readers to drink tea, we’re helping them slow down just a little, and perhaps giving them a minute or two each day to be still.

I completely agree with this philosophy. I can also highly recommend this blend.

You can find Mindful Morning Blend here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Teavivre, Jasmine Bi Luo Chun Green Tea

Teavivre Description:
After the Bi Luo Chun Green Tea is made, they will be put together with large numbers of jasmine flower in a room. That’s why this tea carries a heavy jasmine fragrance. When brewed, it taste refreshing with sweet aftertaste.

My Review:
This tea has three things going for it before I even open the package. First, it is Teavivre - one of my very favorite tea providers. Second, it is Bi Luo Chun - one of my very favorite green teas. And third, this is jasmine. Before tasting Teavivre's high quality offerings, I did not like jasmine, but they do it right. Their jasmine premium dragon pearls are crazy good.

With that introduction, it sounds like this tea almost doesn't have to work to get a good review. You never know something could still go horribly wrong.

Opening the sample releases the scent of jasmine. As always, it is very pleasant and natural. It is rather strong though.

I poured the contents on a plate and was surprised. The Bi Luo Chun I have reviewed before was long twisted curls of loose leaf. This is rolled tight like a mix of dragon pearls and tieguanyin. I see a couple petals of jasmine left over from the scenting process. The color is olive green with silver streaks.

The sample is about 7g so I chose to divide it in half and save some for another day. Into the press it goes with 185F filtered water. The steep was two minutes.

The dance during steeping was pretty interesting. The pellets fell to the bottom and bubbled like an aquarium airstone. After a few moments some of the leaf began to rise while the pellets unfurled and waved in the joy of release.

Then, and this was awesome, some of the whole leaves began to rise up. It reminded me of an old Saturday matinee monster movie. I could hear Godzilla roar in my head while watching. It still resembles a sea monster once safely beached on a plate. Definitely one of my favorite steeping shows in a long time.

I recommend a clear teapot so as not to miss this display.

The liquor is golden and clear. As the scent suggests this is more heavily scented than most of the other jasmine teas I have tried from Teavivre, with the exception of Silver Jasmine Green Tea.

Even though this is fairly strongly scented, it is not over the top, and it tastes natural. I find with 3g of leaf and the two minute steep in a 10oz cup this is a bit drying and brisk. I like the briskness but if you don't, I would recommend starting with a one minute steep and adjust from there. Lowering the temperature a little would help tame it as well.

I can taste the tea beneath the jasmine, especially late in the sip. It gets kind of grassy and in the aftertaste it adds a fruity element. I read one review that suggested melon. I think that sounds accurate. The aftertaste really lingers.

The cup is a little sweet. Even so, if you have a real sweet tooth, I have always thought jasmines take sweetening rather well.

You can find Jasmine Bi Luo Chun Green Tea here.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

What-Cha, Nepal First Flush 2014 Emerald Green Tea

What-Cha Description:
A delightful green tea with a brilliant apricot taste combined with hints of nectarine, one of our favourite green teas.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
November 1st already? What happened to summer? More important at the moment - hurrah! I seem to still have an internet connection at the beginning of the month! My provider went out of business and now I am just waiting to hear from the carrier about future options. Trying to stay positive in an area without many choices.

Today, I reach the bottom of the box What-Cha sent for me to review. I can't say enough nice things about my dealings with What-Cha. Their tastes are similar to my own. Almost all of their offerings are single source natural and unflavored teas. They carry many teas that are more traditional or common types but the majority are off the beaten trail type teas.

Take this one for instance - Emerald Green Tea, from Nepal. I don't see this offered on every other internet site. That peeks my interest.

The leaf is mostly large full leaves and connecting stems. Though dry, they appear fresh. The scent is like fall leaves.

Using my press and charcoal filtered water heated to 176F. The leaves were steeped for 3 1/2 minutes. I was busy getting the computer up and running and missed the dance. The outcome was some of the leaf hung from the surface, while others rested on the bottom. The remainder drifted in between. I'm sorry I didn't get to watch.

The scent was steamed vegetables with a fruit note that upon reading What-Cha's description I can agree is nectarine.

You can see buds in the picture, as well as two and three leaves joined by a stem.

The liquor is a bright and shiny yellow with maybe a hint of green. It kind of depends on the light. (duh)

The taste is light and crisp. At the front it is vegetal with just the slightest bite. This drifts momentarily through spring water before changing to a floral grassy aftertaste that lingers. No bitterness and no astringency.

I do catch hints of apricot in the taste. This might be the power of suggestion as I read the website tasting notes. I caught the nectarine more in the aroma than in the actual sip. Regardless, this is a delicate but very pleasant green tea.

What I love about this tea is it is similar to a lot of the better Chinese green teas I've tried but still unique in its own way. In addition, it amazingly bears no resemblance to the Nepal black or white teas I have tried from What-Cha.

I loved the other teas as well. That is not my point. While all of their Nepali teas are sourced direct from Greenland Organic Farm, all of them taste different. I find that cool. It speaks highly of the artistry of the farmers. Of interest to many of you, all the Nepal teas are chemical and pesticide free.

A huge thanks to Allistair at What-Cha for allowing me to sample and review some of your offerings. Much success to you.

You can find Nepal First Flush 2014 Emerald Green Tea here.

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.