Sunday, September 14, 2014

What-Cha, Nepal 1st Flush 2014 Oolong Tea

Resealable Sample!
What-Cha Description:
We are proud to source all our Nepal teas direct from Greenland Organic Farm, who are very much at the forefront of a burgeoning Nepali tea industry dedicated to producing high quality artisanal teas. Greenland Organic Farm are completely pesticide and chemical free farm dedicated to producing tea in an ethical and fair manner. Greenland Organic Farm is located in East Nepal in the shadows of Mt. Kancghenjunga at an altitude of 3,000m.

Sample provided by What-Cha.

My Review:
I haven't had much opportunity to sit and quietly sip tea of late. Today I am doing my best to stay out of the way of the construction crew building my porch. The pounding on the roof is only a little distracting - in a good way. We have waited 24 years for this porch addition.

So, back to focusing on tea. I know oolong is a generic term meaning the leaf is oxidized more than green tea and less than black tea. That is a wide spread from about 8% oxidation to 85%. There is even debate on these numbers. Doesn't matter, I know oolong when I see it - unless it is from Kenya, or in this case, Nepal.

The Dry Leaf
Oolong isn't always rolled into little balls. This one is interesting to look at fresh out of the bag. If you told me it was a white tea or even a green, I would believe you. There are ample amounts of silvery buds and olive green leaves. There are also light brown and dark brown leaves. They are large pieces, and lightly twisted. The aroma is somewhere between dried fall leaves and fresh dried tobacco leaf.

I used 1/3 of the sample or approximately 3 g in my press with water heated to 196 F. The steep time was supposed to be 3 minutes but, well you know, squirrel! So it was more like 4 minutes. The brew turned out a shiny caramel color.

A Caramel Brew
How to describe this tea? This is light tea. By that I mean the flavor isn't big and bold like a morning blend. This has more of a lazy afternoon taste. My brain thinks it is similar to a Formosa oolong that I remember from years past but memories are often wrong.

As prepared here, there is has no bitterness or astringency. It is smooth and without bite. As with the dry leaf aroma, the taste reminds me of fall leaves. It simply has a woodsy taste. You do not have to search for the flavor but it doesn't beat you over the head.

The mouth feel is mildly creamy which matches the description on their website. I do not get the orange notes they mention, just pleasant woodsy leaves.

I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something, since I used more water than I intended - around 12 ounces. There were a couple of ounces left over in the kettle, that I did not remember leaving, so the mug was fuller than expected.

Leaves After Brewing
Trying again, with the same amount of leaf, the only thing I planned to change was the amount of water - this time I used six ounces. I kind of got distracted (again) researching on Google and let this steep for about five minutes instead of the intended three.

What I got with this time was a very bitter cup. The flavor otherwise was still similar to the first, light and woodsy.

My words of warning are don't over steep this one.

I tend to really enjoy light straight teas, especially complex white teas. For me this tea was fine though not overly complex. If you love big, bold, highly flavored teas, this one may prove too light for you to enjoy.  If on the other hand a quieter simple woodsy flavor appeals to you, this might be a good fit.

You can find Nepal 1st Flush 2014 Oolong Tea here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Good Life Tea, Angel Falls Mist

Good Life Tea Description:
Rising from an internationally sourced collection; the extraordinary blend of flavors in our Angel Falls Mist tea is not for the faint of flavor. Rather, it will delight even the most dubious lover of rich flavor collections. Think you're the man who's tried it all? The woman who's love of tapestric fruity profiles could never be satisfied? The connoisseur who knows just what the day has in store when he's confronted with a tea with more than six point sources of flavor in its collection? Think again. Angel Falls Mist describes such complexity in an herbal tisane, you'll hardly be done with your first hot cup before you're ready to ice a batch.
That's how versatile this blend is. Iced, hot: it's ready to surprise you. Can you imagine the accent that this tea would have if it could speak? Hailing from Canada, the U.S., Thailand, and Spain; its ingredients bring variety to a cohesive point: it's fruity, reflective collection.

Sample provided by Good Life Tea

My Review:
This is the last of the three samples I received from Good Life Tea for review. This is listed as a Tisane Fruit Tea on the Good Life Tea website. The ingredients as far as I can tell are dried apple, hibiscus petals, rosehip pieces, strawberry pieces, dried orange, calendula petals, and natural flavors.

I have to be honest, as soon as I opened the sample and caught the scent of the leaf, I knew I would not like this one. I can pick out the hibiscus right away. I just don't like it. Sorry Good Life Tea. I'll do my best to proceed. It also has an aroma of fruit, but not really what is listed. Yeah, maybe I pick out a hint of strawberry but to me it is more like a raspberry/blueberry blend or black currant.

I used my cup with infuser basket. I added all the sample and 8 oz of boiling water. I put the lid on the cup and let it steep for 6 minutes.

The result is a purplish tinted cup. I actually like the looks of it. It reminds me of juice or even wine. My picture appears out of focus. The reality is the lens fogged over on all my shots and this is the best I could do. It is very gray outside and I had to use the lightbox. That made for a bright setting and a hot and humid one as well.

On to the taste. You recall how I said earlier, I knew I wouldn't like this one? Well, I haven't changed my mind. It is kind of tart from the hibiscus. The apple, I think, is the other main flavor I am detecting. I can't single out the orange or strawberry and to be truthful, I don't want to try. I just don't like these type drinks.

That said, my wife who cannot have caffeine, loved this one. She likes the superberry type tisanes. This fit right in that category for her. She slammed down the first cup and had me steep another. She iced that one and insisted I try it. It is cold and watered down from the ice but it still does not taste good to me. She disagrees. So there you have it. Based on the list of ingredients you will know which side of the fence you want to stand.

If you enjoy fruit tisanes, you can find Angel Falls Mist here.

Friday, September 5, 2014

What-Cha, Kenya Silver Needle Purple Varietal White Tea

Sample Bag
What-Cha Description:
A most unique white tea which has been produced from purple varietal tea plants. This gives the tea a unique plum like taste alongside the delicate subtle fruity tones expected from a silver needle tea. A very rare and newly developed tea which is not to be missed.

Sample provide by What-Cha

My Review:
Oh look, a purple tea! Or is it a white tea? Taa Daa, it's both! This tea originates in the Mount Kenya Region. Having never experienced a white tea from Kenya, I have no idea what to expect, so let's get started.

All the What-Cha teas I have reviewed have come in aluminum ziplock bags to keep the tea fresh. They are clearly labeled with brewing instructions. There is a best by date on the label but not a harvest or processing date. I personally don't mind, but know some of you expect such information.

Dry Leaf
I opened the bag and breathed in what I can only describe as hay and plums. The dry leaf really does smell wonderful. I tried to use my bamboo scoop to pull out about 3 g or 1/3 of the sample. The leaf is so long I kind of gave up and just grabbed it with my fingers.

The leaf is gorgeous isn't it? Long silvery buds covered in fine hair. It is almost to beautiful to steep... almost.

So in the press it goes with water heated to the recommended 176 F. I steeped for 2 1/2 minutes. I noticed all the leaf was floating at the top of the water. The wet leaf has swelled some and turned a little greener but hasn't changed drastically in appearance.

White Tea Liquor
The liquor is almost entirely colorless. Looking very closely it has fine white hair from the leaf floating in it. I quickly checked What-Cha's website and their picture matches my results. The wet leaf had a fresh hay and plum aroma so I figured I was on the right track.

Once it cooled enough for me, I took my first sip. Hmmm. Maybe I should have steeped longer, or used less water? I like subtle teas. They draw me in an take me places I never experience with bold teas, especially highly flavored ones. This one, I am finding to be too subtle even for me.

The flavor is extremely light and I really cannot identify what little I am catching. Hmmmm.

Deciding I just prepared this incorrectly, I tried again. I used way less water and heated it to about 190 F. I let it steep for about 5 minutes.

Wet Leaf
The liquor was equally light as the first (about the color of Karo corn syrup). I did not see any fine bud hair in this, the second cup.

The taste is still pretty much missing. What light notes I am getting are kind of reminding me of potato with a slightly sweet aftertaste.

I really don't understand what is going on. Every other tea I have tried from What-Cha has been exceptional. By all appearances this one should be equally amazing.

I'll contact What-Cha and see if they have an suggestions. If I can bring this one to life, I am more than willing to do a rewrite. At the moment I have to say this one, as beautiful as it is, left me wanting.

You can find Kenya Silver Needle Purple Varietal White Tea here.

After the less than stellar results yesterday, I decided to give this tea another go today. This time I am using a 90 ml gaiwan. I poured the remaining leaf from the 10 g sample into a plate and divided it in half. It turns out I did use pretty close to 1/3 of the leaf yesterday - so good eyeball.

I put a little over 3 g in the gaiwan with water heated to 176 F. I let it steep for 3 minutes. The result was a liquor that was a little more colorful than my previous attempt. The wet leaf had a sort of bread scent to it. The tea now has some flavor. It still reminds me of potato but in addition there is more of a white peony flavor as well. This fades into what I can only call a pine note. Later cups develop a dry floral almost oolong aftertaste. In many ways this reminds me of camellia flowers but lighter in taste.

While I could not make this tea work western style yesterday, it does produce some light and interesting flavors in a gaiwan with longer steep times of 3 minutes. I think the real delight of this tea is knowing you are drinking a purple varietal white tea from Kenya.  It is still going to be too light for most people's tastes. This might work as a western steep with a really long steep time of 8 minutes or so. Further research to be done with the remaining leaf.

Further Update:
After several days of no time to experiment with teas, I finally had an opportunity to get back to this one before moving on to the next.

Today I am retrying this western mug style. I took out my press, the last of my sample leaf, and around 8 oz of water heated to 190 F.  I let it steep for 8 minutes. The result is similar to what I experienced with the gaiwan. It tastes a little less of potato and more white tea like with some fruity notes late in the sip.  Definitely use hotter water and a longer steep to pull flavor out of this one.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Good Life Tea, Belgian Chocolate - Rooibos Tea

Sample Bag and Leaf
Good Life Tea Description:
A supple, vitamin-rich, fat-free Rooibos base meets a cacao infusion and the results are as tantalizing as the blend of South African and Belgian implies. Calendula and other natural flavors add to the unique, brassy, rich flavor collection as a whole. Cederberg is known for the lingering, incomparable flavor of its Rooibos leaves. This “red bush” is known to South Africans as a relaxant, antioxidant, and provider of a flush, melty flavor. In this case, the always-blendable Rooibos plays off of the coal-ish, insular pleasures of cacao to form what is often described as a “truffle” note.
A medium-flavored "red tea", Belgian Chocolate is a quirky treat, especially for those who have already discovered the pleasures of Rooibos. Perfect as a luxury tea (and perennial gift favorite), Belgian Chocolate is a tea to be savored. Which makes it such a pleasant surprise that it's lineup of health benefits includes an impressively-broad vitamin scale.

Sample provided by Good Life Tea

My Review:
Sample Label
The last few weeks have been very hectic. I've been with my wife as she has had one medical exam after another. More than a few thousand dollars later the conclusion is acid reflux. Thankful it wasn't more serious, but honestly, couldn't they have tried treating it first and then do tests if it didn't ease up? We are also having a porch built on our home. Finding time to drink tea hasn't been easy.

It's 90 F today and feels like 100, but that isn't going to stop me from enjoying a cup of rooibos. This one has cocao in it. Opening the sample packet this smells insanely chocolate.

In addition to the rooibos and cacoa, there are also thin petals in the mix. The description above mentions calendula, I Googled it and discovered calendula is also called pot marigold. I don't think the petals add a lot to the scent or flavor but it does add interest and color.

I used my mug with an infuser basket. The basket as it turns out is not quite fine enough mesh for the tiniest of rooibos pieces but it did hold back most of it. I used boiling water and steeped for about 4 minutes.

Dark Chocolaty Goodness
The brew is dark and resembles coffee. The wet leaf aroma is strong of rooibos. The mug scent is chocolate.

I first tried this with no additives. It starts out rooibos flavored but without the usual harsh ending to the sip. About midway into the sip it switches to light chocolate. It has an almost minty feel. The taste is thinner than I expected based on the strong scents. It has a mineral element that reminds me of spring water.

Next I added sweetener to it. I haven't been using much Splenda lately but hey, this is chocolate. To me that implies sweet indulgence. So into the mug goes a packet of Splenda. My wife would say I just ruined it. I have to disagree.

The flavor pops out of the cup now. I mean it is the same, just bigger. In one sip the flavor bounces back and forth between rooibos and chocolate and swirling in minty fresh notes as it does. As I get closer to the bottom of the cup, I notice the color is a beautiful deep orange burgundy.

I can count on one hand the rooibos teas I have tried and actually would enjoy sipping again. This is one of them. It is a very pleasant chocolate treat without the guilt.

You can find Belgian Chocolate - Rooibos Tea here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Teavivre, Xi Gui Ancient Tree Raw Pu-erh Cake 2013

Sample Pack
Teavivre Description:
Xi Gui Raw Pu-erh 2013 is quite changeful in taste. Maybe you are familiar with the typical bold and unconstrained features of raw tea, or have tasted the mild and gentle characteristic brought by our Wild Tree Pu-erh. But this Xi Gui tea is a combination of both.

The initial several steeps bring high aroma and pure sweetness, also a hint of stringency, followed by a quick sweet aftertaste. The tea liquid leaves sweet and rich fragrance, lingering wonderfully in the throat. You can feel saliva secreting spontaneously in your month.

About seven or eight steeps later, the teas shows more tender and mild flavor, carrying a light orchid fragrance, tastes mellow and pure, along with a long, sustained aftertaste.

Sample provided by Teavivre.

10 g Dry Leaf
My Review:
Today we start the month of September with a pu-erh. This is a raw pu-erh, harvested and produced in 2013, so it is quite young. Very young raw pu-erh can be quite astringent and bitter. We shall see how this one behaves after steeping.

Upon opening the sample, the leaf is lightly compressed and much of it is loose. It is various shades of silver, brown, and olive green. The leaf is mainly long and lightly twisted. Some of it is flat strips and with the coloring pattern it reminds me of bacon. Yeah, I'm such a guy. The leaf has a floral aroma mixed with hay.

Honey Colored Liquor
I decided to sort of follow Teavivre's suggestion and use the entire 10 g sample in my Yixing pot. I did use a lot more water than suggested. They used a 100 ml gaiwan (a little over 3 oz), I chose to use 8 oz as my large Yixing will hold at least that much. Boiling water was added and the first steep was 20 seconds.

I was rewarded with a honey colored liquor.  Using the gaiwan, Teavivre shows the color as light yellow. Possibly mine would have as well if I had taken the picture in a white cup, but I doubt it.

The wet leaf has a definite seaweed aroma. There are no off scents in the leaf or the cup. The leaf appears to be two leaves and occasionally two leaves and a bud, which explains the silver in the dry leaf.

Bracing myself I take the first sip... I can relax now. This is actually quite mild. Sure it is slightly bright like raw sheng tends to be but not in an overpowering way. It is slightly mineral and slightly mushroom, yet neither are strong or offensive. Crisp, I think fits this nicely. The aftertaste really hangs on and seems floral to me.

A Huge Pile Of Wet Leaf
I noticed on the second cup it started out light yellow but by the time I was through pouring it was back to honey. So my slow pour is adding some steep time. Tastewise this is very similar to the first cup but stronger and a little more astringent. The aftertaste reminds me of tieguanyin oolong. I am also noticing brief notes of leather as I exhale after sipping. I caught this on the first cup as well and thought it was just wishful thinking (I love leather in pu-erh).

Cup three was the sharpest so far, but still good young sheng flavors.

Cup four returns to a more mellow cup by reducing the bright puckering bite. It now begins to pick up a more fruity flavor like maybe apricot. The aftertaste still lingers with an oolong like floral quality.

This shows no signs of letting up but that is a lot of tea in one setting so I'm going to stop here with the review.

If you enjoy raw pu-erh, or are just curious, this is a really nice one.

You can find Xi Gui Ancient Tree Raw Pu-erh Cake 2013 here.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Good Life Tea, Cream Of Earl Grey

Empty Sample Bag
Good Life Tea Description:
A twist on the English classic with the addition of "creamy" vanilla.  There is no cream in this tea, but you certainly can add it. Totally delicious.

Sample provided by Good Life Tea.

My Review:
Good Life Tea offered to send 3 samples to 14 people one Steepster who would agree to review their teas. Hey, that's what I do. Looking over their website I found this on the About Us page:
All our web orders will include 3 free samples of tea.  We want you to experience a new tea with every order.  If you are ordering up to 8 ounces of tea only, we can keep your shipping costs low by using US Postal Service 1st Class shipping. Please allow up to 7 days transit time. This option is a low $2.89.
The samples arrived in an envelope with each in its own resealable clear plastic bag. The top of the bag is folded over and fastened to the back with a small label with clear brewing instructions. Once opened the pleasant smell of vanilla and bergamot drift out of the bag.

Dry Leaf
Removing the leaf it shows some signs of abuse by the postal system. Bubble wrap mailers would have prevented this and I feel confident actual orders are better packaged. The uncrushed portion of the sample appears to be orthodox machine processed leaf. This is typical of most flavored black teas. It also has blue safflower petals which are always pretty in a blend.

I prepared this in my Bodum press. I used the entire sample steeped in boiling water for 4 minutes. The recommended steep time is 3 to 7 minutes. I couldn't bring myself to go the full 7 minutes for fear of stomach burn. At 4 minutes, the result is an orange liquor with a pleasant Creamy Earl Grey fragrance.

A Mug Of Cream Of Earl Grey
The sip is quite smooth. It is slightly drying. I am so used to my normal Earl Grey of choice that has a strong bite. This one does not. The black tea base is present and pleasant enough but remains a bit in the background. There is a fair balance of vanilla to bergamot. I can easily taste both and neither overpowers the other.

At this point I added some sweetener. This really brightened the flavors without making them more intense. It also brought out a floral/fruity kind of spicy note that reminded me first of cinnamon, and then Orange Creamsicle.

The more I sip, the more the black tea is present in the aftertaste. It remains a smooth pleasant taste. I do notice the insides of my cheeks are tingling which along with the dryness indicates astringency. That said, it seems like normal to low levels for an Earl Grey to me.

Final thoughts: I like that this doesn't overwhelm me with vanilla. I enjoy how smooth it tastes. I personally would like to see the bergamot be a bit more assertive but I understand a lot of people feel just the opposite about bergamot. For me, the lower bergamot is offset in this one by the Orange Creamsicle taste that appeared once I added sweetener.

You can find Cream of Earl Grey here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

What-Cha, Kenya Flowery Orange Pekoe Black Tea

Sample Pouch
What-Cha Description:
An earthy black tea with fruity hints which is a big step above the usual black teas to come out of Kenya.

Sample provided by What-Cha

My Review:
This morning I find myself trying to put some order into my almost overwhelming tea collection. I have also made up a few packages to send to friends. I still have a couple yet to assemble. One thing I am noticing is I am no closer to order. Yesterday, I searched most of the day for one of my favorite comfort teas. It was late afternoon before I found it. Eeek! I need a break. Let's drink some tea!

This one is from Africa. A lot of tea comes from Africa but generally it is pulverized into poor quality tea bag dust and sent to your local grocery store. Opening the resealable pouch I catch hints of malt and tobacco leaf.

Large Pieces Of Dry Leaf
Scooping out a third of the sample (about 3g) it is immediately clear this is not your typical CTC (Crush Tear Curl) Kenya black tea found in most grocery store tea bags. The leaf appears much larger than any orthodox produced tea I've seen. It does not say on the label, or the website, but I suspect this may be all or mostly hand picked and processed.

I used my press and water heated to the recommended 95 C (203 F) and steeped it for 2 1/2 minutes. The guidelines say 2-3 minutes.

The result is a nicely orange liquor that sparkles as I pour it.

The Full Cup Before The Incident 
As I move the cup across the room to my computer, I bump a picture on the desk. It falls and hits the cup splashing tea everywhere. Soaked the mouse pad and the desk. Fortunately, no harm done and I managed to regain my composure quickly.

So after the clean up on aisle 3, the tea has cooled to drinking temperature - which is probably cooler than most of you like it but I don't care for extremely hot tea. My first sip is... really nice. This is extremely smooth. Honestly I was expecting a lot of throat grabbing bite. Nope. None. No bitterness. If it is astringent, I am immune. I am also not noticing any problem with stomach burn on an empty stomach. I am sensitive enough to it that I am going to have a light snack just in case. Yeah, any excuse to eat a cookie :)

What I am getting is a really smooth malty sip with a fruitiness mid sip. This dissolves into as close as this gets to bite, which is really more of a woodsy taste. What-Cha calls it an earthy finish.

The Wet Leaf 
The wet leaf is chocolate brown and contains large pieces of broken leaf.

I generally don't resteep most black teas. Usually the results are disappointing. The first cup was so good, I thought I would chance it. I steeped for 3 1/2 minutes. As I was pouring I caught a scent like earthy pond water.

I made it to my desk without incident this time.

While the cup was hotter than I normally like it, I took a sip and thought it was kind of mushroom and pond water. However, as the cup cooled the smooth malt returned at the front of the sip, then finished with earthy woodsy taste blended with the mushroom. The really hot cup was not my style but I quite enjoyed this second cup, once it cooled. It remains very smooth.

 I am once again impressed by the offerings of What-Cha. This is a very delicious black tea. 

You can find Kenya Flowery Orange Pekoe Black Tea here.