Saturday, December 20, 2014

My Little Green Teapot

Today's review will be a short one. I just wanted to introduce the newest member of my collection. I mentioned a short time back that I wanted to find a small teapot to brew my black teas. I love my press and use it almost all the time for greens, whites and oolongs. The clear glass of the press is awesome for watching the dance of the leaf during steeping.

The press has also served as my black tea brewing vessel but the time has come to adjust to something more appropriate. I just felt like something that holds the heat better would help bring more depth to my cup.

Today my wife was in Goodwill and found this little 12 ounce beauty on the shelf. There is no identifying markings on the bottom to tell me where it came from originally. The outside has not a scratch or chip on it anywhere. The interior looks pristine after a thorough cleaning.

This very gently used teapot was only $4, quite a bargain, I think. Waiting until the first Saturday of the month, it would have been half that price, if someone else didn't buy it first. I've missed out on a couple others with that tactic. Fortunately, my wife did not wait.

After cleaning and warming the teapot I grabbed some Golden Yunnan from RiverTea for the maiden session. Sadly RiverTea appears to have closed shop, which is a real shame. This slightly smoky Yunnan is an awesome tea. I poured through a steel strainer basket as there is no built in filter in this pot. The little green teapot did an amazing job. The tea did taste even better out of it. The smoke was nicely present in the aroma and it brought out leather notes in the sip I had not noticed before.

This was a well spent $4. Welcome to the collection. You will be used often.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Bigelow, Salted Caramel

Bigelow Description:
Enjoy this popular combination of sweet and salty, now in a teacup. Our all natural blend of hand-picked black tea and succulent caramel with just a hint of salt flavor is the perfect treat. Add a splash of milk and a little sweetener for a sublime guilt-free indulgence.


Black Tea, Natural Flavors (Soy Lecithin), Rose Hips, Chicory Root

My Review:
An early Christmas surprise from my friend GG. Thanks! We are always on the lookout for inexpensive teas that are comforting. Here's hoping on this one!

Bigelow was my introduction to the world of tea beyond Lipton iced tea. Constant Comment was my very first purchase. Earl Grey, Lemon Lift, and Cinnamon Stick, came later - I tried everything the local grocer put on the shelf, and fell in love. So, Bigelow has a special place in my heart, even if we have drifted apart these last few years.

This tea bag is sealed in a foil pouch. That is the only way to go with tea bags if you want them to stay fresh. Pulling out the bag, I notice two things. First, this smells really deliciously of caramel candy. Second, the string is long enough that I know it won't get sucked under when I pour water over the bag. A third, and very important thing was learned while looking at Bigelow's website. Each bag contains almost 2 1/2g of tea. This will make a real cup of tea! Some companies (I'm looking at you Stash and Republic of Tea) put about half that amount of tea in their bags.

I used boiling water and steeped for the recommended 4 minutes. That is longer than I would normally go with a black tea bag. I'm trusting you Bigelow!

The brew is dark reddish brown and the cup aroma is making me hungry. I removed the bag, and yes I did not follow my own rules - I squeezed it. At least I didn't leave it in the cup.

The taste is nice but not spectacular. I can taste the black tea base. It is typical of grocery store black tea. It tastes nice but kind of plain with no depth. Good enough that it will do. The caramel is kind of faint. By the aroma, I thought it would smack me up side the head, in a good way.

So, per the label directions I added sweetener. In my case it was Splenda. Oh my! The caramel jumps out to shouts of Taaa-Daaaa! Yeah, now this is pretty good.

The label also recommends adding milk. Except in my morning green tea frappes, I never add milk. Here goes. Now the cup looks like a melted caramel, you know the milky tan color I'm talking about. The taste is not that much different than just adding the sweetener, but the feel is rich and silky.

I would certainly drink this again. If you love a bargain and find this on your grocer's shelf, I recommend giving this one a try - remember to add your choice of sweetener. Bonus, my fingers smell like caramel from squeezing the bag. Yeah!

You can buy this direct from Bigelow here, but I'm pretty sure you can buy it locally for less.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What-Cha, Malawi Zomba Pearls White Tea

What-Cha Description:
A unique tightly wound white tea from Malawi that produces an equally unique taste of tangy cucumber with a thick buttery texture and no trace of astringency.

A great tea for multiple brewing, with it taking in excess of six steeps for the pearls to fully unwind. Another unique tea from Malawi that must be tried.

Sourced direct from Satemwa Tea Estate in Malawi who are dedicated to pushing the boundaries of great tea production while caring for the local environment, providing their employees a fair wage and contributing to the local community.

Sample provided by What-Cha: Tea Redefined

My Review:
Today I am reviewing a white tea from Africa. Most of African tea is destined for the shredders where the dust will be poured into bags. This makes for cheap, one steep tea, and low incomes for the farmers. This tea is different.

Opening the resealable sample bag, I don't notice anything unusual about the scent. It is light and pleasantly grassy. It kind of has a green tea aroma. Scooping out a spoon of leaf convinces me, this is going to be an adventure.

The 'pearls' as What-Cha calls them look amazingly like insects. Hope that doesn't freak you out. To me they look like our 17 year locusts (Cicada). They also kind of look mummified. Around Halloween I Christened these "Zombie Pearls". As you can tell I love (LUV) the look of this dry leaf. The Mr. Spock in me keeps saying, "Fascinating", while I raise one eyebrow. Seriously who doesn't love a zombie insect mummy?

In the press with 175F water, these were steeped for 3 minutes. The directions say to use 4-5 pearls, but I use a 12oz mug instead of a cup so I used about 8. The pearls remained floating on the surface the entire time. I expected they would bubble and fall. As they soaked, and swelled some, they began to look like tent caterpillar cocoons. So, the insect theme continues. Should there be creepy music playing right now? Oh, it's almost Christmas, so never mind.
As you can see in the picture, after the first steep the pearls have barely loosened at all. They are really wound tight. The description above says in excess of 6 steeps to get them to completely unfurl. That will take me a two day session, but I intend to find out. I'll update this post when I make it that far.

The scent of the wet leaf is fresh and green. It does not make me think white tea yet. The liquor is a light yellow with green tint. Despite my need to descale my mug (just washed it and didn't notice), the tea itself is very clear and bright.

Taking my first sip kind of melts me down into my seat. Oh my, this is good. With this first mug I am not getting tangy or cucumber as mentioned on the label. What I am getting is butter, corn, and hay. There is no bitterness and no astringency is the taste, though it does seem slightly drying in the feel.

In the aftertaste there is the tiniest bit of tingle - possibly that is the tangy? The aftertaste doesn't stay long but it is smooth and pleasant.

Mug two was steeped for 3 1/2 minutes. The color and aroma are near identical to the first mug. The taste is likewise very close to the first. There is maybe a little less butter and a little more dryness. This is still a very good cup.

If you did not tell me this was a white tea, I would probably guess it was a green tea. That is not a bad thing. I definitely recommend trying a sample on your own.

You can find Malawi Zomba Pearls White Tea here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Eco-Cha, Red Jade

Eco-Cha Description:
Flavor: Subtle hints of clove, cinnamon and mint. Full-bodied, complex. Substantial brew.
Garden: The maker of this tea is employed by the Yu Chi Township Tea Research Extension Station and his factory produced the winner of the 2011 Black Tea Competition in this area. He is a leading figure in his field and his knowledge and expertise of black tea cultivation in Taiwan is virtually unsurpassed.

My Review:
I do not remember who sent this my way. If it was you, sorry. This was a Steepster Select offering from Eco-Cha. Red Jade is from Nantou Taiwan.

I have had the pleasure of trying a couple teas from the Sun Moon Lake area before and they have been awesome. I'm looking forward to this one. The first thing I notice is this is $12/25g. That probably takes it out of the everyday tea range. Using the recommended 3g/8oz cup that works out to $1.50/cup. You're going to spend that at Starbucks for mediocre tea, some of you everyday, so keep that in mind. The price per cup goes down depending on how many times you re-steep the leaves.

The leaf on this looks kind of luxurious doesn't it? Dark, long twists with just a hint of cinnamon streaks. The dry scent is malt, honey, and sweet potato. Yum.

Following the label instructions, I used half the sample in boiling filtered water (212F) for 3 minutes.

The wet leaf has a baked brownie scent. It's making me hungry. The dark orange brew aroma is similar to the dry leaf - malty sweet potato.

The wet leaf surprises me a little. By the look of the dry leaf, I expected whole leaves to unfold in the pot. Instead this is large, some of which is very large, pieces of broken leaf.

The cup has cooled and it is time for my first sip. Mmmmm, this is good. It is lightly malty, woodsy, sweet potato. I do not get the mint mentioned in the description but I prepared this western mug style. My understanding is that gaiwan brewing results in a ruby red liquor and a minty sensation (without the taste).

At first I thought I didn't detect the cinnamon or clove. Then I read a review on Steepster from a baker who pointed out cinnamon and clove are not sweet on their own. Most of us relate the taste as combined with sugar. Going back with that mindset, yes, I do taste both. Thank you BrewTEAlly Sweet!

This has a dryness like white wine that surprises me. There is a long lasting cheek tingle. I find it strange and interesting. Strange because I have never experienced it lasting so long.

The after taste is honey, and sweet potato. It lingers as well, but evenually gets lost in the tingle. I am now convinced this is what the description means by mint - the sensation and not the taste.

Cup two with the same leaf was steeped for 4 minutes. The color is more caramel now. The leaf aroma is more pronounced having a mix of apricot and spice. The cup aroma is more like rye bread.

The tongue and cheeks are all a tingle as the minty sensation is amplified. Accompanied by a bit of bite, this will get your attention. What I called woodsy in the first cup is now much stronger as well, and it has become more of a fruit flavor without the sweetness. I want to say apricot.

I sucked the first cup straight down and dove right into the second. My cheeks are numb and my mouth is dry. Now, I find myself in a conundrum. I drank this so quickly, I had to enjoy it, yet I find I am not craving more of it. What does that mean? I have no idea.

You can find Red Jade here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What-Cha, Assam 2nd Flush 2014 Green Tea

What-Cha Description:
A brilliant green tea with a wonderful mango aroma, fruity taste and citrus finish. Perfect as an 'everyday' green tea.

Assam Tea is world famous for the strong malty character of its black teas, however the green and white tea produced in Assam is virtually unheard of. The reason for this is the distinct lack of investment into tea in the Assam region which has meant tea producers have lacked the knowledge and tools required to produce good quality loose leaf tea in particular non-black teas. Recently founded Heritage Tea, have sought to redress these problems by providing by setting up a modern factory for tea processing combined with the knowledge and expertise of Rajen Baruah, who has been a professional tea planter for the past 30 years. The end result is great quality loose leaf tea, the likes of which have not been found in Assam previously.

Assam 2nd Flush Green Tea is a really unique green tea as it has been produced from Camellia sinensis var. assamica, the tea varietal which is native to Assam and is known for its larger sized leaves as can be seen by the brewed leaves above. The tea very much delivers on all fronts with an unbelievable aroma combined with fruit hints and a lemon citrus finish.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
Assam. The mention of it makes me shudder from my early years of poor quality bagged breakfast teas. I know better quality tea, especially loose leaf, is nothing like my memory, but I can't quite relax just yet.

This one is a green tea. Did you catch that? A GREEN Assam. Seriously? Is that even possible? Most Assam tea is destined for the big tea machine that grinds it in to dust and bags it for sale in grocery stores across the globe. It is usually black tea and almost entirely CTC. This one is different.

This one excites me the moment I open the sample bag. Oh, and I realized why I love the labels on What-Cha's resealable aluminum bags - the print is large and simply laid out enough so that I can see it without my glasses. Thank you! I can't tell you the number of samples I hold under a light trying to decipher the label. So back to this one, the leaf scent in the bag is malt and oat cereal. I love the dry scent.

Removing a scoop for picture time only increases my interest. This isn't dust! It isn't even small broken pieces. This is real tea leaf. The color is dark olive green with some lighter highlights. Some of it is lightly twisted and some of it appears simply dried. It's beautiful. Assam Green, I love you already.

The press was used with 175 F filtered water for a 2 1/2 minute steep. The leaf stayed pretty much on the bottom. I thought I could faintly hear it singing, "I won't dance, don't ask me."

After pouring, the white grape juice colored brew (it turns more golden upon cooling), the wet leaf had a vegetal aroma along with a freshness that reminded me of what I imagine the ocean air smells like. Later I decided I was catching citrus notes. Very clean and satisfying.

The wet leaf has become much lighter green in color reminding me of snap peas. I still can't get over whole leaves from an Assam. What will they think of next?

After letting the tea cool, I finally get to taste. I have used this description before and I fear it fails miserably to describe my experience. When I was a kid, we camped. At one park the gang of kids would ride our bikes and stop at this one water fountain. The water from it had magic properties. The water tasted like it was drawn straight from a mountain stream where the waters poured over the rocks. I am not saying this tastes like water. I am saying it takes me back to that refreshing moment when I was 12. Tea that evokes strong memories is the best I think.

Moving back to present time, there is a neat light astringency and a mild bitterness that really add to the sip. I am also catching notes of citrus. It is kind lemony but only slightly so. Beyond this, the aftertaste is really long lingering with a grassy taste.

Cup two, using the same leaf and temperature, was steeped for 3 minutes.  It appears more yellow than before. I don't notice much aroma from the cup itself. The flavor is more prominent than with the first mug. If I had time I feel certain my spoon of leaf would make a third western mug. The taste is much more vegetal along with a touch of cave or sort of mushroom. The aftertaste is again lingering and grassy.

I'm very impressed by this tea. Unlike my early bagged black tea experience, this loose green tea delivers a wonderful amount of flavor without hurting my stomach. There is no need to flinch with this one. This would make a great everyday green, and it is an Assam. Brilliant!

You can find Assam 2nd Flush 2014 Green Tea here.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tradition, Green Tea Powder

Tradition Description:
Delicious Tradition Green Tea Powder has full of fresh green tea benefits, including great weight loss. Matcha is getting popular in the world now.

My Review:
Let it be stated clearly from the beginning - this is green tea powder and not matcha, which is made from a specific type of Japanese tea leaf. This green tea powder is a product of Taiwan.

Often companies will label their food grade green tea powder as matcha. Tradition avoids this misrepresentation on the package although the product description on Amazon is a little fuzzy.

I start every day with a cold green tea powder drink, having been originally inspired by my quest to imitate Starbucks Green Tea Frappuccino. Green Tea Powder, at least the ones I have used, do not have the same deep flavor of the Starbucks version. That is not to say they do not make a great drink. You just have to accept they taste different. Coke does not taste like Pepsi. Same here. Similar products.Different taste.

I start with 1 tsp of powder. If you are new to GTP, I suggest using 1/4 tsp until you become accustomed to the taste. Next, I add an ounce or two of room temperature water, whisking until the powder is completely dissolved. Then, I stir in a half glass of 2% milk. You can use soy, or whatever type you like.

At this point I add a splash of sugar-free vanilla and caramel syrup. I find this on the coffee aisle at the grocery store. I add this after the milk because the sugar-free variety of these syrups use xantham gum as a thickening agent. Adding it before the milk can result in the powder forming clumps that are near impossible to break up. After adding the syrup, I fill the glass the rest of the way with milk.

Instead of syrup you can use fruit, yogurt, the kitchen sink, or nothing at all. Find a taste you like and refine it for your own breakfast drink. One fellow told me recently, he uses cocoa and sugar. So have fun with it.

If you are a matcha enthusiast, you can see by the picture this powder does not have the deep green color found in high grade matcha. It is sort of yellowish green. It can be bitter. That is not such an issue for use in a milk based beverage.

Honestly, at first I was disappointed in the taste of green tea powder - because it did not taste like a green tea frap. As I continued to drink it each morning, I slowly decided I liked it better, and bonus, I can control the sweetness. Starbucks is now entirely too sweet for me.

This is half the price, on Amazon, as the green tea powder I used previously. I think I paid $10.50 for 250 grams (8.8 ounces). That is pretty cheap. Compared to the other versions I've used, this is a little less potent. It is also a little harder to mix thoroughly. For the price, the difference is pretty insignificant.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What-Cha, Russia Large Leaf Dagomys Tea Estate Black Tea

What-Cha Description:
A smooth Russian black tea with a sweet raisin taste.

Don't miss a unique opportunity to try a Russian black tea as it was very hard to source and it may not reappear once sold out.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
Did you know they grow tea in Russia? I didn't, until recently. This will be a very rare treat for me and this blog. I plan to give this my full undivided attention.

First off, my sample is labeled Krasnodar, which as it turns out, is the city in Russia near where the Dagomys Tea Estate is located. What-Cha's website has this tea listed as Russia Large Leaf. Same tea, slightly different name.

Dagomys plantation is located near Sochi in Russia (winter Olympics XXII), very near the Black Sea. It is far to the north and west of the areas I normally associate with tea growing. It also happens to be one of the northernmost tea growing areas in the world. The trees were developed to be cold resistant. Even so, the plants would almost certainly not survive our Indiana winters without some shelter from the cold. So I have already learned a little about tea, geography, and southern Russian climate. Let's open the bag and see what other surprises it holds.

The resealable aluminum sample bag is once again clearly labeled. I notice the steep time is shown as 4 minutes. That will be tough for me to do. Black teas make me nervous the first time I try them. I should know better by now, but all the years of drinking lesser grocery store teas makes it difficult to trust the tea won't hurt my stomach. What-Cha has not led me astray so far, so I can do this...

Opening the bag and inhaling I get sweet (honey) and malt, along with a grain like note.

Removing a large scoop of leaf - this is really a good looking leaf. I guess I was expecting tiny pieces like how most Assam and Ceylon blacks seem to be produced. Instead this is large pieces reminiscent of a Chinese black (red) tea. The leaf is dark, nearly black, with some cinnamon coloring streaking through the leaf.

Into the press it goes for 4 minutes (I can do this) in 203 F filtered water.

I really need to stop by Goodwill and see if I can find a small secondhand ceramic teapot just for black teas. The press works well but is really not the proper tool for the job. The press is excellent for white and green teas. It cools a little too easily for proper black preparation.

The 4 minute mark is reached (yeah me!) and the result is an orange brew that turns a little more ruby colored as it cools. The aroma is lighter than the dry scent but similarly malt and grain.

Looking at the wet leaf it looks far more twiggy in the picture than it does in person. I was impressed with how much the leaf expanded. This is large pieces of broken leaf. See picture below.

What I expect this to taste like, based on the caricature image I have in my head of Russians drinking tea, is a really strong musclebound cup of bitter tannins that require massive amounts of milk and sugar to calm the cup down to my drinking level. That's what I envisioned. That is not even close to what is in my mug.

This is a delicious and mild cup of black tea. Who knew? My first thought is, this is similar to a Dian Hong, but not really. The smoothness and the total lack of bitterness is similar, along with light malt notes. It is completely different as well, as this does not have the sweet potatoes or cocoa/caramel notes of a Yunnan black.

Wet Leaf
It is kind of like a Nepal black tea, but only kind of. This has a mild woodsy note along with a raisin flavor that suggest a Nepal connection. The mellow smoothness is too different to make the leap.

Western mug number two was also steeped for 4 minutes. This is still a wonderfully gentle smooth cup of tea, however the flavor is way more pronounced. The raisin note is strong in this one. I am also getting a mushroom and earth flavor late in the sip, along with mineral. This is just completely different than the first mug. It also washes away any reference I have to any other teas.

The growing region really gives this tea its own flavor profile. Similar and accessible compared to old favorites but unique in its own way.

Based on this tea, I look forward to experiencing other teas from Russia. What-Cha states their supply is limited and they are not certain they will be able to secure more, so if experiencing tea from lesser know regions excites you (and it should), don't wait too long.

The next time you brew a cup of tea, I encourage you to consider where on earth your tea actually was grown. I am finding tea makes this world a lot smaller and more connected than I ever imagined.

You can find Russia Large Leaf Dagomys Tea Estate Black Tea here.