Friday, May 29, 2015

Oollo Tea, Red Jade Black Tea

Oollo Description:
A perfect marriage between Burma Ashamu and Taiwanese wild tea. The long twisted whole leaves give distinct smooth raisin, date and cinnamon infusions with traces of peppermint.

Sample provided by Oollo Tea

My Review:
As you may have noticed tea reviews have been nonexistent throughout the month of May. With only 3 days left, I hope to stay feeling well enough to brew some good cups.

Oollo contacted me a while back to see if I would like to try their tea. I received some beautiful high mountain oolongs that I will be reviewing soon, as well as a couple black teas from Taiwan. Every black tea from Taiwan I have tried have had amazing flavor. I decided to have dessert first by brewing this one up now.

The sample packaging is simply but attractively labeled including basic brewing directions. The website contains additional detailed information, including gongfu and cold brewing directions. The aluminum sample bag is not resealable.

Opening the bag I catch malt, and grape? No wait. It's raisin and plum. Very fruity and aromatic. There is also a bread note present.

I removed half the leaf for examination. It is very dark. Nearly black. I notice some cinnamon coloration in the mix of these long twisted leaves. Smells good. Must brew....

I used the press that has been thoroughly cleaned after sitting all alone this last month. The water was heated to 195 F and steeped for 2 1/2 minutes.

I chose to hit the middle of the recommended steep time of 1-4 minutes. The result is a dark ale colored tea. It looks manly. The website pic is far more orange. Maybe it's the dark gloomy day or the lighting but, yeah, dark ale. I'm happy with that, besides it smells so good. Oops, I'm repeating myself. Must drink...

I read Oollo's description. That is not particularly what I am getting with the first few sips. Maybe if I had used the whole sample? But then I wouldn't have any left for another session.

What I am getting is pretty amazing anyway. First, I grasp the malt, then the fruity goodness of raisin and plum. There is a touch of spice that pops in late in sip. It does not make me think cinnamon. I don't notice a menthol or cooling, oh, but wait, there is a momentary flash late in the sip that is the lightest bit of cinnamon and peppermint flavor combined. So I guess I can confirm Oollo's description. If it had not been mentioned I might have missed it. Subliminal? Maybe. Good? Yep. I do still catch a baked bread flavor.

This is really an easy to drink cup. There is no trace of bitterness. The spice note that hits as just a small amount of bite, might be astringency but it is certainly not troubling.  The leaves are said to be able to steep two more times. I am still recovering and not going to push myself to try it at the moment... even though my cup is empty and I want more.

You can find Oollo Tea Red Jade here

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Wymm Tea, Mahei Sheng Spring 2011

Wymm Tea Description:
This is a sheng pu-erh that brews bright yellow liquor with a delicate taste and silky texture. The tea is full-bodied with minimal astringency, and brings back a prolonged honey-like aftertaste.

Sample provided by Wymm Tea

My Review:
I received 4 samples from Wymm Tea some time back and before I could review them all I became pretty seriously ill. Having only made it through one so far, I am feeling up to the task today. Bring on the poo!

This is a big leaf ancient tree tea. It is sold in a cake. The sample is probably taken from a cake as it shows some signs of having been compressed, although at first glance it resembles a loose leaf. The sample came wrapped in handmade mulberry paper.

The leaf is gorgeous with lots of golden buds. I even see some streaks of silver. The leaf has a nice fresh scent. It is far more field than farmyard, with just a hint of leather.

The website info on infusions says to use 212 F (100 C) water and 7 grams of leaf per cup. The sample appears to be between 6-8 grams so I tossed it all into my clay pot.

I already know. if I do a rinse, I'll just drink it, so why bother pretending? My first steep time is about 20 seconds. Enough time to walk away from the pot and turn off an alarm on my annoying phone.

The wet leaf is pea green and prettier than my picture suggests. The brew pours an apricot color. I steeped longer than I intended, as it is not the yellow in the description. That makes me a little nervous as this is sheng. Sheng, especially young sheng, tends to be very astringent. What have I done? What have I done?

Actually, nothing bad. The leaf is fresh in scent, having a light leather and asparagus scent with seaweed undertones. I also catch something along the lines of mint or menthol.

The taste has a light bit of smoke. This is the first time I can recall catching a smoke note in the taste even though others record it often. There is a light amount of mineral that morphs later into a fuller bodied bite with a touch of leather. This is followed by only a slight astringency. I am not really getting the usual camphor at this point but there is something mildly cooling in the taste.

I came as close to a flash steep as possible for me on the second cup. Poured the water. Replaced the lid, Poured into the cup. Maybe 5-6 seconds? The cup is just as dark as the first.

The taste has moved some. Now I get a spicy cedar/cinnamon mixed with leather. There is a light metallic brightness behind the leather. The combination is an interesting cooling heat. The aftertaste is sweet. Maybe not honey, but sweet.

What impresses me with these cups is the total lack of throat grabbing bitterness. Instead what I am getting here is a really nice tea buzz also know as qi. Really, it hit me suddenly as I began this paragraph. I would love to indulge it more, unfortunately, with the medication I am taking, I have to watch my caffeine intake. So I have to bid this one farewell today. The leaves will still be here in the morning and ready to go more rounds. This is a good one.

You can find Wymm Tea Mahei Sheng Spring 2011 here

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

TETE, White Tea

TETE Description:
In ancient China, there was a beverage that was so rare that it was reserved solely for royalty. And aptly so. For its leaves were so delicate that the rough hands of the subjects would damage it. For it smell was so intoxicating that it incurred the danger of corrupting less-traveled minds. For its taste was so subtle that only the nuanced taste buds of the aristocracy could appreciate it.

This beverage could only be made by leaves plucked at the end of winter, when the bushes woke up from their hibernation, or at the onset of winter, when the bushes prepared to sleep. It required the most delicate of fingers to spend an entire day plucking a leaf and a bud, which would yield a meager hundred grams of tea. And yet this labor of love was the tea-maker’s prize. He would look forward to stealing some for his own consumption to end of his hard day.

TÊTÊ White Tea is a specimen of that rare refreshment. It is grown and made by utmost care by farmers living at 6,000 metres. The garden where it is grown is magical. It hosts flora whose seeds make birds drunk. We anticipate that once you have a sip of this, you won’t fare much better.

Sample provided by TETE

My Review:
This Himalayan white tea is sourced from a small farm in Nepal. I am terrible at geography, and can only hope the devastation from the earthquake is minimal in the tea farm areas.

TETE has a philosophy of the need to simplify tea. They sell three teas - black, green, and this white tea. They have sourced these to be non-fussy to prepare. There are brewing instructions clearly printed on the back label, however TETE claims if you don't follow the instructions all that closely, you will still get a good cup of tea to enjoy.

The resealable packaging is simple and clearly labeled. One point of complaint is the text is so light in color it is a bit difficult for me to read.

Opening the bag I catch all the wonderful scents I expect from a premium white tea. It is sweet hay, along with fruit and floral notes. I thought I even detected a hint of malt. It scent is very nice.

The leaf itself looks really fresh. It has the silvery buds and a green leaf. Looking at it, you can imagine that it was just plucked. It hardly looks withered at all.

I used my freshly washed clear glass teapot. Along with the leaf, I added filtered water heated to 200 F per instructions. The steep time was 5 minutes. I am used to Chinese parameters that usually call for two minute steep times or something similar so I had to resist pouring early.

During the steep the leaf clung to the surface at the beginning. I was typing and not watching, so I was pretty amazed at the size of the leaf when went back to the pot to pour. The leaf is now spring green and very plump.

You can see in the center of the leaf picture a clear example of the classic two leaves and a bud.

The liquor is golden yellow and clear. Well, there is a little fine downy particles from the white tea buds floating around but that is to be expected and besides they settle quickly.

Finally getting to taste. It is definitely white tea, so the flavors are subtle. According to TETE's description, the fact that I enjoy it must make me part of the aristocracy... or a farmer. I am getting sweet hay notes. There are hints of melon and grape. I am still  catching a touch of malt. It is very light, but it is there. The aftertaste is lightly grassy and sweet like honey.

My son popped in for a visit and wanted to try this. I am more than happy to oblige. My youngest son 'hates' tea, though in reality I can't even get him to try it. To him, tea is that nasty stuff they sell at the restaurant where he works. Oh well, give him time. But I digress, back to my oldest - he took one sip and said, "It kind of tastes like lemon grass." In doesn't but I get what he means. Take out the strong lemon and keep the subtle grassy qualities and you get the basic idea.

He tasted again and said. "I bet this would be good iced." So we made another cup. The problem with that idea is the second cup is far less subtle and far more green tasting. It is good but enough different that it is not what he was wanting.

In the meantime, my cup (the first one) has reached room temperature. It is delicious. So he is most likely correct. The first cup would make an excellent iced tea. I'm not telling him though, as he would just steal my cup.

You can find TETE White Tea here

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

TETE, Green Tea

TETE Description:
Green tea is synonymous with healthy drinking, but not usually with flavor. We sought out to change that, and chose a tea that is made from leaves grown by small farmers who live near Mai Pokhari, one of the most religious lakes of Nepal. The tea-maker pan-roasts the carefully-plucked leaves, rolls them to release the nuanced flavor, and then dries them at just the right moment to lock that flavor in. The tea has a nutty flavor, and each sip will leave you wanting for more. It’s best as an afternoon drink.

Sample provided by TETE

At the time I am writing this the news is showing the rest of the world a country devastated by earthquake. The loss of life and the utter destruction is overwhelming. My heart goes out to the people of Nepal.

My Review:
As I noted when reviewing TETE Black Tea, TETE puts the emphasis on simplicity. They sell exactly 3 teas - Black, Green, and White. This one happens to be the green tea. Their packaging is as simplified as their product line. What I discovered with the black tea is not to let that fool me. Inside is Himalayan Full Leaf Premium Tea, just like it says on the label.

Opening the bag I get my first whiff. It made me stop and look. I also may have gone Ah-Oh. The dry leaf has an intense roasted aroma. I can do roasted but I have to be in the mood. It always makes me think oolong.

The leaf is deep green curled twists. I notice some of the leaf looks a little silvery while others are deep olive. It is a solid good looking leaf. I am getting over my nervousness about the aroma.

I intended to use my clear glass teapot but someone (me) forgot to rinse it out. So out comes the all purpose press. In goes the leaf. 160 F water is added. The steep time is 2 minutes. This is per directions on the back label. TETE's website assure me these teas have been sourced to work well even for those of us who don't always read the instructions, set the temperature, or watch the time. It's like they are in my head.

During the steep the leaf mostly clung to the surface but occasionally a brave dancer would break formation and do a solo pirouette to the bottom. Beautiful.

Now the wet leaf looks green bean in color and the leaf is still holding some wrapped shape. The aroma of the wet leaf is very roasted but upon paying more attention I also notice steamed vegetable and a bit of vine aroma.

The liquor is yellow in color like honey. It is clear and shiny.

So I finally get my first taste. It made me stop and look yet again. I may have said something like Oh Wow! All that worrying I did about the heavy roasting was for nothing. It tastes nothing like its leaf scent.

Here we have a nutty flavor. It is accompanied by a fresh and lively green flavor. It isn't grassy. It isn't viney. It is kind of vegetal. Man I need a new word to describe it. How about awesome. There is just enough bite to excite the palate without crossing the line into bitter or sour.

The aftertaste is lingering and sweet.

My guess is this would taste amazing as an iced tea but I haven't tried it yet.

Based on the dry scent I was not looking forward to tasting this. Had I listened to my nose, my taste buds would have been deprived of an amazing green tea. Now, if you love a heavy roasted flavor, I'm sorry, you'll just have to keep the leaf near by to sniff while sipping.

You can find TETE Green Tea here

Sunday, April 26, 2015

TETE, Black Tea

TETE Description:
The tea where the tea-maker has to spend most effort, black tea is the perfect tea for a healthy jump-start to mornings. To make this tea, the tea-maker has to scrupulously wither the leaves overnight, before delicately rolling them and then oxidizing them until the buds are a perfect shade of golden. This tea comes from a remote tea garden of Nepal, where when the first tractor arrived five years ago, the locals thought it was a buffalo and fed it hay. When brewed, the exquisite black tea smells like a rainforest, and leaves an aftertaste of honey.

Sample provided by TETE

My Review:
TETE is a new to me company. Across the top of the front side of the sample bag is the word "Simplify". On the back of the bag it reads "No Artificial Flavors. No Pesticides. No Tea Dust. Just Tea. Really Good Tea." They carry three teas in their webstore - black, green, and white. That's it. The teas are sourced direct from Nepal as it says in the description.

This review is for the Black Tea - Himalayan Full Leaf Premium Tea. We have all seen gimmicky ads on Amazon listing a million health claims for tea. We have all seen websites with so many black tea choices we feel intimidated and overwhelmed. I am finding the simple approach to quality everyday tea refreshing - if it is any good. Let's see.

The resealable aluminum packaging is simple and attractive. Easy to follow instructions are located on the bag of the bag.

Opening the bag I stop and breathe in several times. I have stated before that I really like Nepalese teas. This one is as fragrant as any I have tried. There is a light maltiness and the aroma of fruit and flowers. I am catching grapes and something wonderfully floral. My first thought was lavender, but I find lavender usually overwhelming and this is much more of a blended scent. Whatever it is, it is worth spending some time just inhaling.

The leaf itself is as gorgeous as the scent. Beautiful golden buds and deep brown leaves. It is kind of like looking at a handful of golden thread.

I used a healthy spoonful of maybe 3 1/2 grams in my press. The instructions call for one spoon per cup. I am using a mug so I increased the leaf. Per instructions, I am using full on boiling water (212F) and the steep time is 5 minutes. Both seem too high to me but their website assures me they sourced these teas to be especially forgiving for those of us who get interrupted a lot, or just don't like to fuss over tea.

The result is a very bright and clear cup of ruby and orange tinted liquor.  My picture does not do this justice. I know so far this sounds like a paid advertisement, but it isn't. I honestly have found no fault with any thing I have encountered so far. As a fan on Nepalese tea this is pretty much exactly what I want in my cup.

The wet leaf is very similar in scent to the dry leaf with possibly more malt. It is a deeper aroma. TETE says it smells like a rainforest. If that is how they smell in Nepal, I guess I would never come out of the woods. The wet leaf is a deep cinnamon color. The full leaf is intact and easy to see.

This is a smooth cup. I don't catch any bitterness. The dryness is fairly minimal for a black tea, though I notice some cheek tingle. I am catching a light bite that I like. The taste is a bit malt with nice notes of grape and floral. The aftertaste is sweet, floral, and lingering.

Given the minimalist approach TETE has taken with their labeling and amount of choices in their offerings, I wasn't sure what to expect. Turns out I am very impressed. This is a wonderful black tea. Simple and not fussy for those who don't want to be bothered, and deep and complex enough to please those of us who love to just get lost in a good cup of tea.

TETE says two to three cups can be brewed from the same leaf. Sadly, I don't get to find out today. My wife made a big pan of stuffed manicotti to take to my mom and dad's house momentarily. They will be serving iced Lipton decaf tea. Sigh.  Yeah, I've tried bringing the good stuff. They don't get the attraction. Again, sigh. But stuffed manicotti people!

You can find TETE black tea here.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Matcha Madness

Matcha! Let The Madness Begin
So this should be really cool. A group of about 10 bloggers agreed to a side by side blind taste testing of 12 different "matcha" samples. Yours truly volunteered for this event.

My experience with matcha is very limited. My first exposure was through the Starbucks Green Tea Frappuccino. This is made with milk, matcha, sweetened syrup, and shaved ice. They are addictive, high in calories, and pricy. I have tried to duplicate them at home without most of the calories and cost. I have tried three different powdered teas. One of those is culinary grade matcha from Japan. The other two are powdered green teas. One is from China, the other is from Thailand. None of them taste like the Starbucks matcha.

With this background you can see I am entering this testing as a matcha newbie. It gets worse. I do not have any of the proper equipment that the experts say are must haves. The most important being a bamboo whisk (chasen). The way I prepare my green tea powder is by stirring with a spoon. I also add sweetener and milk. Rest assured, I will not be adding anything during the testing.

The Sponsor:
This testing is sponsored by Red Leaf Tea. They supplied all the matcha samples to the testers. At least one of the samples is theirs. The rest were bought on Amazon by Red Leaf Tea. The matcha was divided and packaged in individual aluminum sample bags. A label was affixed to each saying simply "Sample 1" to "Sample 12". After the test, we submit our results and then we will receive the actual product information to match the appropriate sample. Red Leaf Tea is confident their matcha will blow the competition away in color, taste, and price. We'll see.

Disclaimer:
Unknown to me at the beginning of the testing, all of the samples are culinary grade. Also, unknown to me, it appears all but two samples, or possibly four, are of Chinese origin. Two samples are from Taiwan based companies. Where the tea is sourced is unclear. Two samples are of Japanese origin. Matcha here then implies a green tea powder and not strictly Japanese tea powder made from tencha.

Methodology:
Each of us is allowed to prepare our matcha as we see fit. I want to make sure I treat each in an identical manner. My methodology will be to measure out 1/4 tsp of matcha into my cup. I will then add 2 ounces of filtered water heated to 160 F. Next, I will stir the water until well mixed. I will not likely be able to produce a foamy mixture as this is made when traditionally prepared with the proper tools.

Note that my research indicates a full tsp is normally used with approximately 2 ounces of water. My experience, with my daily green tea powder, advises me this is way too much tea for a beginner. If after the first cup I find it too weak, I will adjust upwards and repeat the process. I have enough of each sample to make changes as prudent to extract the best, yet equal, results in my comparison. This method is by no means perfect, but it is consistent and fair.

I am including a green Crayola Crayon in each picture I take of the samples (when I remember) as a reference tool in judging actual color.

Testing process:
Each dry sample will be examined for color. Traditionally, the deeper green the powder, the better. Next, I will taste the dry powder - why? Because I like to play with my food. Finally, the matcha will be prepared and tasted.

Rating:
This is a completely personal opinion. I will give two ratings, one for color, and one for taste, with 1 being low and 10 the highest. A third rating is for sweetness, or more precisely bitterness. A rating of 1 is extreme bitterness, and a 10 is sweeter with no bitterness.

Now On To The Sampling:
Remember, this was a blind testing. I did not know the name or price of the matcha teas until after the test was completed and results submitted. 

Day 1, Samples 1-4
Sample 1 

The dry color matches the crayon label not the green crayon itself. This looks very similar to the kitchen grade green tea powders from Taiwan I use daily but it is from China. The dry taste is bitter and leafy. The cup color is muddy light jade and tastes bitter. With sweetener and milk this would be OK but on its own it is lacking.

Color: 5  Taste: 5  Sweetness: 4
Price per bag: $24.95
Price per oz: $6.24

Sample 2

Just looking at it, I can't tell the difference between it and the first sample. The dry taste is also nearly the same. The cup taste though, is completely different. This is much richer and darker tasting. A little bitter but not bad. To me this tasted a lot like the Taiwanese green tea powder I use everyday - turns out it is my daily cup.
Color: 5  Taste: 6  Sweetness: 6
Price per bag: $10.75
Price per oz: $1.22

Sample 3

Again, this is not as dark as I expected from matcha. Maybe my expectations need adjusting? The dry taste is not bitter. It is mellow and smooth. Cup color is light. The cup taste is very much like drinking fresh gyokuro. The aftertaste lingers long and pleasant. Nine more samples to go but I like this one the best so far. This is one of only two sample reviewed that is from Japan. Later on, I used this with milk as my day two morning cup. I did not care that much for it with milk and sweetener.
Color: 4  Taste: 8  Sweetness: 8
Price per bag: $24.00
Price per oz: $6.00

Sample 4

Dry this is a little darker than the crayon label. The dry powder was not bitter, though a little stronger than sample 3. The cup was bitter and dark. It tasted more vegetal but I was not moved. From China.
Color: 6  Taste: 5  Sweetness: 5
Price per bag: $19.99
Price per oz: $2.27

Morning Day 2, Samples 5-8
Sample 5

Dry powder is darker than the crayon label. Dry it is kind of bitter but I don't seem to mind. The cup looks darkest of any so far from memory but I'll have to check the pictures. The taste is strong kind of bitter but clean and vegetal. This is an excellent candidate for a sweetened milk frap. This is from a Thailand based company but may be sourced from China.
Color: 6  Taste: 7  Sweetness: 6
Price per bag: $21.99
Price per oz: $5.50

Sample 6

This looks like how I think matcha should look. The darkest so far. Dry it is only slightly bitter but it is a bitter I like. The prepared cup is definitely the darkest so far. It tastes enough bitter that I notice. It has a flavor I like and a lingering aftertaste. From the Nishio region in Japan.

Color: 7  Taste: 7  Sweetness: 6
Price per bag: $29.99
Price per oz: $8.52

Sample 7
Powder is back to like the first in color. The powder is bitter. I had more trouble getting this to mix than any other so far. The cup is light and tastes OK but bitter and nothing stands out. The aftertaste is nice and leafy.
Color: 5   Taste: 5  Sweetness: 5
Price per bag: $16.99
Price per oz: $1.93

Sample 8

Dry color good. Dry taste not bitter, some depth. Mixed easily. Cup color good. Taste a little bitter but a nice deep flavor. I probably still prefer 3 but this is good.
Color: 6  Taste: 8  Sweetness: 7
Price per bag: $24.71
Price per oz: $2.47
 
Afternoon Day 2, Samples 9-12
Sample 9


Dry color dark and fresh. Dry taste is not bitter and has a sort of hay taste with the feel of cotton candy. Cup color is excellent. Cup taste is mostly smooth. Slight bitter. Good flavor. Short lived aftertaste.
Color: 9 Taste: 8  Sweetness: 7
Price per bag: $25.00
Price per oz: $6.25

Sample 10

Dry color is average. Dry taste slight bitter but OK. Cup color OK. Mixed easy. Cup taste is a bit puckery but decent grassy flavor with long lasting aftertaste.

Color: 6  Taste: 7  Sweetness: 6
Price per bag: $24.99
Price per oz: $6.25

Sample 11

Dry color is dark. Dry taste is not bitter - it's grassy. Cup color is good. Cup taste is smooth and rich. Nice grassy flavor with a long lasting strong aftertaste. Sourced from China. I could easily see me using this in my morning tea/milk.

Color: 8  Taste: 9  Sweetness: 8
Price per bag: $14.99
Price per oz: $0.94

Sample 12

Dry color is excellent. Dry taste not bitter. The powder tastes like tea and reminds me of a Yunnan. Cup color is excellent. The cup taste is really good. Tastes like a green tea with a strong floral aftertaste that clearly says peonies to me. On day 3, as I am putting together my notes, I made my morning tea/milk with sweetener with this matcha. It tasted like Alishan Oolong. Truly awesome. I really do think I will switch to this when my current stash is gone. It is only slightly more expensive and has far more depth and flavor. Turns out this is from China so my references make a little more sense.
Color: 9  Taste: 10  Sweetness: 9
Price per bag: $24.99
Price per oz: $1.56

Conclusions:
The Japanese ceremonial grade matcha lovers will not likely be influenced by this study as all the samples were culinary grade, intended more for lattes, fraps, and recipe use. For the rest of us who just want a simple everyday matcha powder, this proved interesting.
The green tea powder I use everyday was included in this test (sample 2). I ranked it near the bottom. (d'oh) I have always given it extra points for being so economical. There is a wide price gap between the teas tested here from $0.94/oz to $8.52/oz, yet the taste difference was questionably not so vast as to justify the price difference. In fact, the cheapest was my second highest rated sample. The best rated matcha was third in lowest cost per ounce. The tea I currently use was second most economical.
This blind tasting has seriously prompted me to examine my purchasing decisions. I can be drinking a better tasting tea for less, or drinking one I found to be amazing for only a little more money.  The two highest rated matcha are both from Red Leaf Tea.
The charts were generated from my review data and furnished by Red Leaf Tea after the testing was completed.