Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Primula Tea Guilded Lotus

Not sure why this is called Guilded Lotus as Primula lists the ingredients as green tea, marigold, and jasmine.

I prepared this in my French press using 12oz of boiling water. As with all the green tea pods in the Primula variety pack the dry bloom smells strong of jasmine. The bloom was completely intact after adding the water. As it began to open it quickly sank to the bottom and began to release trapped air bubbles. The air had enough force that it knocked several petals of the flower loose. It eventually expanded into a massive yellow flower. Quite pretty.

I let it steep longer than intended as work got in the way. The brew was bright golden in the press and much deeper in the cup. The taste is primarily jasmine at the front of the sip. This is followed by a bit of bitterness and then a rush of sweet floral goodness in the aftertaste. With the following cups I was careful not to over steep. They had the same jasmine followed by sweet floral without the bitterness in the middle. This is maybe the sweetest tea I have tried. An interesting cup.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Puerh - No Middle Ground

I will be adding reviews of several puerhs in the first few weeks of the New Year. I thought before that happens a short primer is in order.

Pronounced pooh – uhr, puerh (or pu-erh, or pu’erh, depending on who is writing the word), is almost unheard of by most people in America. It traditionally comes from Yunnan, China as is named after the town of Puer. These teas start out processed similar to green tea. Then they are steamed and compressed into cakes or bricks of various shapes and sizes. The bricks are put into storage – often for years. Puerh is the only form of tea that reportedly improves which age. Quality bricks, several decades old, can be worth a small fortune.

Earthy, rich, dark, smooth, peaty, & mushroom, are all words often associated with puerh tea by people who enjoy them. Fishy and sweet dirt by those who are less than fans. There is very little room for middle ground here, once you try puerh, you either love or hate it.

The length of time the leaf is exposed to air before being heated (fired) to stop the oxidation process is the main difference between green and black tea. Puerh is different. A bacteria similar to that in a yogurt culture works its magic in the bricks to ferment the leaf. This process does not produce alcohol but does give the tea its unique flavor.

Puerh can be divided into two broad categories – sheng and shu.

Sheng is also called raw or green and has a lighter more delicate flavor that is closer to green tea tasting (but only sort of). The brew is lighter and has a yellowish tint. Sheng can be drank immediately or can be stored for decades. The flavor grows richer and darker with age. Young sheng is a complex drink that some find astringent, sometimes slightly bitter, with grassy or hay characteristics. Sheng is my favorite form of puerh.

Shu is also known as ripe, aged, or cooked. Shu involves a process developed recently in the 1970’s to meet the demand for aged puerh. The process simulates the taste of naturally aged puerh. Shu produces a very rich and dark brew. The darkest cup of tea I have ever encountered was a shu. Be aware, poor quality shu can have a fishy odor. It can also taste and smell musty, moldy, or like compost. Shu properly processed should not have a foul odor or taste. Aging does not improve shu as dramatically as with sheng. The finest shu I personally have tasted had a leather profile to it with floral notes. The attraction of shu is that it rather inexpensively allows one to drink a tea that closely simulates much older rarer leaf.

Both sheng and shu in loose leaf form can withstand multiple infusions. I have brewed as many as ten 12oz mugs of tea from a single spoon of leaf. For the curious, puerh can occasionally be found in bagged form. Numi, Stash (Yamamotoyama), and Foojoy are three brands I have seen in the international food market. You might also look in your local Asian market.

Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice

I started off my day by going to Steak & Shake and ordering the portabello mushroom sausage skillet, bagel (cream cheese of course) and Darjeeling tea. Very good start but left me with onion breath – go figure. Then off to the pet store before swinging by Barnes & Noble. Ordered a cup of this in the cafe. They gave me a paper cup filled with hot water and a tea sachet.

I have read many good reviews of this tea. I was so excited to find out that it really did smell like Red Hots and Big Red gum. HOWEVER, the tea was so hot I burned my tongue and I was still dealing with onion breath. Sat in the window stirring for like forever trying to cool this down. Cinnamon, orange, & clove – some of my favorite add-ons for tea all in one cup. I really enjoyed this. Can’t say I could pick out the taste of the black tea – which looked like CTC in the sachet, not loose leaf – and I probably wouldn’t want this every day but definitely a fun treat. I took the sachet with me and used it to steep a second cup at home. Still pretty good, and this time I didn’t burn my tongue. Click on the link to go to Harney and Sons website.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Primula Tea Wild Flower

Prepared this in my French press with 12oz of boiling water. Having it today with peanut butter fudge and crackers coated with a generous wash of ranch dressing and red pepper (lots of red pepper!) Also have some kind of crumb cake squares covered in lemon icing. Wow. I have tried my best to avoid the holiday snacks but they keep finding me. I have no choice. It’s not my fault. Ok, I’m just weak but I did try to resist… briefly.

Tea report – For all I know, all the blooming teas in China could be made in the same factory. The craftsmanship in all of them is pretty high and frankly they taste way better than I expected. The Primula pods are slightly smaller than the Teavivre ones I’ve tried. What they lack in size this one made up for in jasmine flavor. This one is especially good. The bloom was not as amazing as some of the others but made a pretty display. There is globe amaranth in this but for once I don’t really taste it. Just a lovely mild jasmine tea. I thought all the sweets and spices in my snacks would wash this out but it actually stands up for itself pretty well. Bring on cup two and three, hold the goodies.

This works steeped 12 oz at a time. However, it also works a pot at a time. If you go the cup route and only do three steeps it works out about $0.41/cup. Compared to restaurant tea that isn’t bad but seems a bit steep (pun intended) by loose leaf standards. By the pot it is more reasonable at $0.20/cup.

Stash Tea Company Pomegranate Raspberry Green

I originally wrote this in November. As we approach the New Year it just seems appropriate to add it to my tea review blog. This is the season in America where we reflect on being thankful for the good things of the past year and hopeful for the future of things that are not so good. This morning I realized how long it had been since I drank a tea that was meh. This last summer the world of tea has really opened up to me and I have been, yes, I will say it, blessed to drink some very good tea.

I intentionally grabbed this today to remind me of where I came from, so to speak. My son gave this one to me. I thought I had written a review of it before but couldn’t locate any notes. It is green tea, chamomile, the dreaded hibiscus flowers, orange peel, citric acid, pomegranate flavor, raspberry flavor, and Japanese matcha. So, what the tea is named after is just flavoring? Hmmm. 3m steep. The bag plumps up nicely. That is a plus for a Stash tea – the home of notoriously overpriced and undersized bags.

I don’t do many fruit teas. They scare me. The fruit is almost always way overdone and artificial tasting. Especially raspberry. I can barely taste the tea in this but it isn’t as bad as expected. Reminds me of a hot shaved ice – wrap your mind around that one. The pomegranate tames the raspberry so it isn’t overwhelming. Still, this is oversweet Kool-Aid in a mug. Reminds me of the Republic of Tea pomegranate I had some time back. Something in this is leaving a bitter aftertaste. I didn’t pour the cup out but I don’t want any more of it. Meh. Here is to wonderful future cups!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Stash Christmas Eve Herbal Tea

It’s almost Christmas, so reviewing a Christmas blend seemed like a good idea. This is a blend of spearmint, cinnamon, vanilla, and clove. There is no actual tea in it. That’s part of the problem for me. I am not a tisane (herbal) fan. I also am not a fan of spearmint. Chocolate mint I add to tea often but spearmint is like drinking tea with gum in your mouth. The cinnamon, vanilla, and clove are all interesting flavor ideas but the mint overpowers them. I will say, after it reaches room temperature it isn’t bad. Just not my cup of joy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Primula Tea Camellia Joy

Used a 6 cup pot. The bloom is very pretty, a combination of white and red flowers rising up out of the nest of green tea leaves. It is huge spanning nearly the width of the pot and ¾ of the height.

The smell of jasmine is a bit strong, but in the sip it is a light taste (pleasant). There is also a hint of cinnamon (interesting) and unfortunately a bit of a sour taste that was in the summer bouquet (eewww). Turns out the taste is the globe amaranth. It is not undrinkable. It is just a little off. The liquor is dark for a green.

I left the water in the pot steeping, close to an hour, until I was ready for the second cup. It was very good. A blast of cinnamon followed by jasmine at the back of the sip. The sour nasties have left the brew. Perhaps this is the secret to these teas – let them steep.

Excellent center piece at a table with friends. The bloom rates a 100. The first cup was a 40. The following a solid 70+.

Primula Tea Summer Bouquet

Boiling water. Steeped about 4 minutes. The packet said summer bouquet but the bloom looks like Noble Madam so I am not sure what this is for sure. The pod on this one is oblong. All the others so far have been round. Couldn’t find any willing helpers in sipping this so I used my 4 cup press, which is really two mugs in super-sized America. And before you ask – no I did not use the plunger. The bloom is exquisite. All those long wonderful green tea leaves surrounding a literal bouquet of red flowers. As you can tell I thought this was quite attractive.

The liquor was deep orange-amber. The jasmine smells very strong in the dry pod, so I was a bit nervous. In the sip it is as light as it has been in all of these so far. Unfortunately it was accompanied by a nasty sour taste. Not candy sour – milk sour, eeeeew. I thought maybe I didn’t get all the puerh washed clean from the last use of the press. Poured out the pot. Washed the press. Started over. Steeped about 3 minutes until the liquor was golden amber and poured. The jasmine is still light and the green tea would be pleasant if not for the soured taste. Less prominent but still present. Apparently it is the flowers. On all the other blooming teas I have used a used a six cup pot. That might have helped here. Glad I didn’t try this one first. I would not have tried more.

Primula Tea Butterfly Floret

It still bothers me there are no real brewing instructions on these teas. H2O + pod = tea are not real steeping instruction in any language. I continue to experiment one 36oz pot at a time. This is a green tea so boiling water usually should not be used. The however is, the first blooming green I tried was very slow to open. So boiling water it is. Didn’t make the tea the least bit bitter. The pod bloomed beautifully. I haven’t had any problems with the pod coming apart. The display is so pretty I almost hate to pour it… almost.

This is another very mild Jasmine. It is the predominate flavor but not overwhelmingly so. It blends well with the green tea. I can’t tell that the flowers are adding anything to the flavor of the cup. If they do it is very subtle. Very pale amber brew with a natural sweetness. Honestly I can’t tell the difference between this and the lovers leap I brewed a couple days ago. That’s ok with me because I like it.

The second pot I steeped long and strong on purpose. I was curious to see what would happen. The brew, of course, was much darker. The scent of jasmine was present wafting off the cup. Still no hint of bitterness. Interestingly, the flavor of jasmine seems to have moved to the background and I get just a hint of the flowers now (that could be my imagination). I am also noticing a dryness in my mouth. I prefer the way I steeped the first pot.

I am always leery when someone who does not like Earl Grey recommends an EG to me. So let me make clear, I do not normally like jasmine tea, but I am enjoying these blooming teas by Primula. Just thought you should know.

Primula Tea Earl Grey Black Tea

The friend that gave me this said he really liked it for the bergamot and some kind of berry notes. That sounded excellent. The dry pod does smell nicely of bergamot, not overwhelmingly so, but in a pleasant way. The display opened up nicely. It is a bit drab compared to the colorful Lovers Blossom. Still it is cool.

The clarity is good. The brew a golden amber. In the sip I get the berry notes my friend mentioned. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I will call it plum for now, maybe a little grapeish. The bergamot takes a major backseat here. It is more on the level of bergamot in Ahmad’s No 1 tea, its there, but way in the background. As an EG this is more than a bit disappointing. If the package only said London Fog I would not have a preconception that is a bit hard to overcome. Ok, if this is not EG, how is it? It is not brisk, bold, or astringent. It is very smooth like Prince of Wales but to my tastes, with the fruitiness, it takes on a Keemun/Ceylon afternoon blend quality. Works well with a little sweetener, which gives it some depth. This is really not bad. While I doubt I will buy this one (cause its not EG), I would definitely drink it if it were offered to me. One pod made two 6 cup pots (36oz each) or 6 medium strength 12oz cups.

Primula Tea Lover's Bloom

My first blooming tea. This was a most thoughtful gift from a friend.

There are no real instructions on the packaging. Water + bloom = tea, is not instructions. I looked on the website and could not find a statement on how large a cup/pot to use. The canister said 12 blooms, 36 infusions, over 250 cups. Doing the math that is about 7 cups per steep. How big do they think a cup is? Is it 4oz, 6oz, – 8oz? I am sure it is not the 12oz I normally use. My kettle came with a 6 cup pot, or roughly 36oz. I figured that was close enough.

I used boiling water. The bloom opened up nicely with minimal debris. A few broken off leaves were due to me pouring the water over the pod in a bit of a brutish manner. The artistry in these things is truly amazing to behold. There is a beautiful tiny red flower at the heart of the bloom. A wonderful conversation piece around a table with friends. Highly recommend for the visual appeal.

Now I have always heard blooming teas are less than spectacular in the taste department. That may be true, however in this case I must say I was thoroughly surprised. You see, I generally don’t care for Jasmine. I have never liked the smell, the taste, or how it settles on my stomach. This tea has the Jasmine smell but the taste is very mellow and subdued. It is so sufficiently sweet on its own that even I was tempted not to add the yellow packet.

I made two pots out of this but did not try the third pot Primula claims this is capable of going. I suspect it would have worked. If you like an in your face Jasmine, this is not a tea for you. If you think you don’t like Jasmine, you may well enjoy this. I poured and finished 4 cups myself. That’s more Jasmine than I have been able to finish in my whole life. A pleasant cup. Looking forward to more.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Empire Tea Services Ti Kuan Yin

A semi oxidized Chinese tea rolled using a traditional method. Another sample given to me at the shop. I was told this is their most popular oolong. The dry leaf has a faint vegetive sweetness and is rolled pretty tight. The liquor is very light green, almost clear. The brewed leaf is large generally complete pieces. Poured into the cup I can see the bottom. I am so used to bagged tea, which turns the cup black immediately, that this is still freaking me out. The brew has only a slight scent. First sip is very light and semi sweet. It doesn’t taste grassy. There is a kind of fruity taste, that hints of apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Just a hint, lingering after the sip. The oolongs I am most familiar with are dark and earthy. This is very light and airy. The water should be cooler than boiling or there might be a small amount of bitterness. Sweetener is not needed but I add it anyway. This tea will do multiple steeps. I normally go three steeps but it will go five if you are up to it. Empire Tea Services by clicking here.

Empire Tea Services Peach & Apricot Green Tea

Temple of Heaven green tea with peach and apricot flavors. According to the helpful guy at the shop/warehouse who gave me a sample, this tea was just freshly blended. It smells insane of peach and apricot, to the point I was a little nervous. The dry leaf is very black and very tightly rolled. Not having much experience with gunpowder I wasn’t sure how to measure it. I used about 1/2 tsp. It was maybe a little light. The liquor has a light green / amber tint. It appeared clear in the pot. After pouring, there was some residue in the bottom of the cup. The aroma is so delicious. It’s like holding the fruit in your hands. Still nervous. First sip – amazing. The flavor is much less outrageous than expected. It is like biting into the real thing with the added bonus that there is tea in the mix and I can taste it. With the second steep, the green tea jumps out even more. The flavors became even more enjoyable as the cup reached room temperature. Well balanced. It is even excellent iced. I am generally not a fan of fruit or flower flavored teas. I do, however, have a weakness for peach. I have had many, many, bagged and bottled versions. This is way better than any I have tried. I will be ordering more of this. Empire Tea Services by clicking here.

Empire Tea Services English Afternoon

Premium Keemun teas from China blended with high elevation Ceylon teas. I drove 70 miles to pick this tea up at the warehouse. I am not disappointed. This is a loose leaf rotovane tea. That means the leaf is cut into very small pieces. Similar in appearance to tea bag tea but this is not dust. This is quality tea blended to perfection. The leaf smells very rich and sweet like fruit and reminds me of a good tobacco. I don’t smoke – that is not the point. It smells so good I could inhale it all day but then I would miss drinking it. The brew is a very clear medium dark and there is no sediment in the bottom of the cup. Up until now I have not been a big fan of straight black teas. This is one of the few I could drink everyday. I haven’t tried it iced but it would probably be great. There is no bitterness. There is no heavy aftertaste. The Ceylon is a solid foundation for the Keemun to build upon. It adds a fruitiness after the sip. I can chug this or sip it. I can drink it hot or let it reach room temperature. It is just good. Highly recommend especially if you think you don’t like unflavored black tea. You can get two cups from 1 tsp by steeping the first cup 3 minutes and the second for 6 minutes, with only a little flavor loss on the second cup.

I have to add an addendum. I went looking for this particular tea because I had a box of Twinings English Afternoon. I really liked. It’s a bagged version of Ceylon Keemun blend. I wanted loose. After drinking two cups of ETS loose, I brewed a cup of Twinings to compare. It is kind of like chimpanzees and humans. We may share 97% DNA but that 3% makes all the difference in the world. The Twinings dust colored the brew almost immediately. It lacked the fullness and range of flavor but left an aftertaste. It had an annoying bite felt on the sides of the tongue and roof of the mouth. This is a bit of an aha moment. For about the same money, Empire Tea Services blew the doors off Twinings. Find Empire Tea Services by clicking here.

Empire Tea Services Earl Green

I just recently started this blog and am still in the process of moving my comments here from an older website and Steepster. As such I am several months behind, which works out great as I get to combine several tasting notes together for this review.

A wonderful blend of Emperor’s pride leaf & whole bud green tea from China with bergamot and orange peel. The dry leaf smells of bergamot and tea. The leaf varies from tannish to dark brown. There are bits of orange peel in the blend. According to Empire Tea Service’s website this is good for multiple steeps. I used 1tsp of leaf – approx 2g and I use sweetener. My mug holds 12 ounces.

First steep – 3minutes. The leaves did not appear to have completely opened but this is a full leaf tea. The clarity of the brew is amazingly crystal clear with only a mild amber color. I thought maybe I had not used enough tea or needed to steep longer. Tasting says otherwise. The bergamot is more flowery than citrus and very strong. I couldn’t separate the orange from the bergamot in this or any of the subsequent steeps.

Second steep – 4 minutes. The leaves have opened all the way. The brew is still crystal clear and very light in color. Bergamot still strong.
Third steep – 4 minutes. Starting to taste tea. Bergamot is less intense. This is the best cup so far. A little sediment in the bottom of the cup.
Fourth steep – 4 minutes. Surprised how much the flavor is still present.
Fifth steep – 5 minutes. Very light color. Still flavorful.

Empire tea says 1 tsp will make six cups. They probably mean 6 or 8 ounces per cup but I am using 12. Even so, I am fully convinced this would go another steep but my bladder is not up to the task.

I bought this tea at Empire Tea Service’s warehouse. It had just been blended. As I stated the bergamot was very strong. I learned a valuable lesson in the weeks following my initial tasting, that was confirmed by the writing of another reviewer. This person wrote they avoided flavored teas until they have been out a few weeks so the flavorings have time to soak into the leaf.

At first, the bergamot seemed overwhelming. To tame it I was cutting this tea with my Ti Kuan Yin. The intensity of the bergamot has since balanced so this is no longer necessary. I did learn to appreciate the Ti Kuan Yin (also Empire Tea Services) from this experience and was really glad when I could start enjoying it solo.

Now that the Earl Green has had time to settle, the emperors pride leaf is more pronounced (and delicious) and I realize it is in part responsible for the perfume notes. This is a more flowery bergamot more than it is citrus, even though there is orange rind in the mix. With a little age on the batch this has become a very good tea and a good cup of tea is like a hug on a crappy day. I sometimes need at least three cups.

One of my favorite teas. Earl Grey was my favorite tea for years until I discovered Earl Green. Empire Tea Services is my current favorite. Find Empire Tea Services here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This Changes Everything!

Up until August of 2011, my loose leaf experience was limited to Twinings and Ahmad. The bag versions of these teas are above average grocery store teas. Their loose versions add a bit more sparkle to the cup and the leaf can be steeped twice making them a good bargain. I was perfectly content.

I did have a brief intro to better quality loose leaf a year or so before, when Golden Moon sent me samples of some of their tea to review. (See my reviews of these teas on this blog) At the time my technique was a bit too undeveloped to fully appreciate the depth of these teas. Even so, I knew they were something special. Using a 2” tea ball at the time, I got multiple infusions with each tea.

By the summer of 2011, I was using an electric kettle and had abandoned the tea ball in favor of a French press. I had learned to adjust the water temperature and the steep time to get the best cup out of the leaf.

I had previously located a tea merchant online whose shop was only a couple hours from my home. I hadn’t ordered from them yet and I didn’t know what to expect. I live in rural Indiana, far removed from most big city tea opportunities. Finding someone who sells tea is rare enough. This shop actually blends their own loose leaf teas. One fateful day in August, I made a road trip to Empire Tea Services to check them out. 

The shop was easy to find but much smaller than I had imagined. The fellow in the shop was very helpful and not at all pushy. I already had two teas in mind I wanted to buy before I arrived. I wanted a micro blend Earl Grey green tea and their Afternoon Tea. I asked about some of their other teas and was offered a sample size of each. I got Ti Kuan Yin oolong and Peach Apricot green tea.

The leaf of these teas was so fresh looking and the scent so pleasant I knew we were going to be friends. The Afternoon Tea could be steeped twice like the Twinings loose teas but the flavor was more complex and rich. The other three teas could each be steeped between three and six times. I could use one spoon of leaf and drink all day! Price wise this tea was only a bit more than a tin of Twinings, but because it could be steeped more times it was actually cheaper. The flavor difference was even more impressive.

It was about this time the light came on. Before my trip, I never really thought there was much of a difference between loose leaf and bagged teas. I thought the loose leaf fanatics were just being tea snobs. Suddenly I was faced with the realization the loose tea people were correct. Better quality leaf just makes better tea.

Since August 2011, I have had the opportunity to try a good number of loose leaf teas. They have really won me over. I am not a snob. I still drink bag tea on occasion. I even still enjoy it, but given the choice I have no plans of buying any more bagged tea.

A two hour road trip changed my tea journey forever.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Republic of Tea Cranberry Blood Orange

I like that after the initial fruitiness, the black tea flavor comes through. I liked this it was tasty. But honestly Republic of Tea is simply too expensive for a fairly weak tea mixed with Kool-Aid. I really like Kool-Aid but I can buy it much cheaper and mix it myself. Your mileage may vary.

The Republic of Tea Blueberry Green

The smell of the leaf is really good. I can actually smell the tea for once. Brewed, the blueberry dominates but wonderfully so. The tea (which I can taste) blends well and changes the flavor to more blackberryish. It isn’t an in your face flavor, just pleasant. I would not want this every day but it is something I would enjoy on a regular basis. I know many of you won’t sweeten a green but I think you should try it once with this tea. Yum.

The Republic of Tea Ginger Peach (White)

Smells very peachy. So yummy. The color is a beautiful amber. The peach taste is way more subdued than the smell would have you expect. After the peach fades you are left with this cardboardy taste. This has been my experience with the three most recent RoT’s I have tried. I am not experiencing the tea. Maybe it isn’t cardboard so much as the taste of tea that has been steeped too many times, yet I only did each of these once. If you are going to use underfilled bags I would suggest Stash instead.

The Republic of Tea Pomegranate Green Tea

First the bad news – I could barely detect the green tea. Now the good news – this is a very pleasant drink. Hot it was soothing and fruity. Smells nice and looks pretty. I imagine this would make a great iced drink.

The Republic of Tea Blackberry Sage

Smells very strong of blackberry. Much more mellow taste but still the main flavor. Initial blast of berry quickly gives way to a rather bland tea/sage combo – not sure how that is possible. Then the the syrupy berry aftertaste kicks in and lingers and lingers.

The Republic of Tea Orange Blossom White Tea

This isn’t horrible. There just isn’t enough of it in the bag to make me care. The orange blossum and flavorings have a kind of candy taste to them and a lingering aftertaste. Rather bland at first but tasted far better as it cooled. The biggest problem with this brand is it is twice the cost and half the tea of other local available teas.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Stash Decaf Vanilla Chai

Bagged tea. Smells nice. Wrapper says for best flavor add milk and sugar. I added only Splenda. I should have rinsed the oolong out of my mug before steeping this tea but I was lazy. The blend of spices in this are nice. Adding milk might really have helped. It seems to me all of the flavor is on top of the sip and then there is this big drop into nothingness. What I mean is the black tea does not grab hold and support the spices. Maybe because it is decaf, maybe because of the oolong taste remaining in the cup. I did notice the cooler the cup got the more balanced it seemed. That leads me to imagine this would make a really great frappachino on a hot steamy day.

Tazo Berryblossom White

A filterbag tea. Smells wonderfully fruity and candylike in the envelope. The brew is a light golden color. The aroma of the cup is much more subdued than the bag suggests. Tazo says this is a delicate tea with hints of blueberry and white cranberry. My initial reaction is it reminds me of Hawaiian shaved ice only hot. You can taste the white tea and it is ok, nothing special. I think all the flavors improve as the cup cools. It will get bitter if you steep too long and it does leave a bit of an aftertaste. I usually don’t care for Tazo teas, except Lotus which I drink often. Most seem to be way overdone. This tea I kind of like simply because it is light and understated.

Foojoy China Classic Oolong

I bought this because it was $2 a box. It is bagged tea. I also bought it because it claims on the box it can be steeped 2 – 3 times, something very few bag teas would even attempt to claim. The bags are sealed in paper envelopes :( The bag smells of generic black tea. Steeped for 3 minutes. The brew is very dark. I like the aroma but my friends who hate all smoky oolongs tell me it stinks. First sip is similar to Yamamotoyama Oolong but has a more earthy quality. It won’t blow your socks off, still this isn’t bad. I use a 12 oz mug and I did get a second cup out of the bag. It was lighter in flavor but it was possible. That pretty much makes this tea a bargain at a nickel a cup.

Ten Ren High Mountain Oolong

This came to me through my son via an exchange student. Very little English on the envelope. A quick web search of the company name led me to believe this was a whole leaf tea. Alas it is definitely not whole leaf. It is a 2g bag of tiny pieces. It is at least a fair amount of tea. Directions say to use boiling water and steep 3 minutes.

I got distracted at work and the first bag steeped more like 12 minutes. It was very strong and astringent. My main oolong is Yamamotoyama (YMY) it doesn’t care how long it is steeped. Obviously Ten Ren is a different animal.
The second bag was carefully timed at 3 minutes with boiling water. It was much improved and just a little harsh. I don’t drink coffee but that is what the flavor brought to mind. The aroma of the Ten Ren is very similar to YMY in that it has a distinct smokiness, yet the two teas taste quite a bit different. YMY is smooth. Ten Ren had a breakfast tea bite and attitude about it. Knowing what I like but not having the tea expertise to back it up, this could be an Assam based oolong.

The bag of tiny pieces plumped up so nicely I decided to attempt a second cup. The brew remained dark but the taste was slightly weak and lacking in the full depth of flavor. It was much smoother. If I had more of this I know I could find the sweet spot where this teas shines. I believe if on the first steep the water was cooled and the steep reduced to no more than 2 minutes, it would allow a second cup of equal taste and depth from one bag. A worthy, not too shabby tea.

Qiandao Yuye, Nannuoshan pu'erh

Update: I have written a newer review of this pu'erh as I discovered the distributor name is Starway. I am leaving this post for reference purposes as the change this tea makes with age is quite amazing.

Please read the whole review. Found this at the local international food market. It is an inexpensive loose leaf tea sold in a nice looking tin.

They say: This tea boasts a smooth and sweet flavor that is dry and has hints of a malty note. The aroma it offers is very clean and fresh. This tea is also called the old tree tea for all the ancient trees that exist in the area where it is harvested. The loose leaf option allows you to better control the potency of your tea, and offers an overall more fresh and aromatic experience.

Now how should I describe it? It is kind of like taking the outer sheet of newspaper that was wrapped around a fish and storing it in the damp dark basement until it is nice and moldy smelling.

I have tried a couple other market pu’erhs and enjoyed them. Yeah they taste like dirt but I liked them anyway. This is just not good. I am going to try adding some flavors and see if I can’t find a way to drink this. If not, well as I said, the tin is nice.

I added a sprig of fresh French Terragon. This helped a lot. It still smells bad but was easily drinkable. The tea is more than up to a second steep but the terragon was not up to the task.

This time I took 2 grams of leaf (1 tsp) and 5 fresh chocolate mint leaves steeped 3 minutes. Added sweetener (Splenda). Wow! This is really good. The stink is gone. The hint of chocolate in the mint really comes through. Tea and herb both are up to a second steep. The mint would not go a third, though the puerh was still ok but getting weak. I could drink this every day. Don’t throw away bad tea. Experiment with it. It might surprise you.

Mother Parkers Darjeeling

This is the bagged tea they bring you at the local Steak and Shake. I usually don’t order hot tea in a restaurant because I know I will be dissapointed. This is a pleasant surprise. Yeah, its bagged and the water in the tiny metal pitcher is not boiling but still this is a pleasant tea. It has a nice Dajeeling bite without being bitter. For what it is, it is very nice. I would (and will) order it again.

Tetley Orange Pekoe

Pretty sure this is what they are serving at Red Lobster when I order iced tea. I get it unsweetened without lemon. I am reviewing this because when a restaurant prepares tea well it should get noticed. The tea at our nearby RL is always fresh, and always has enough bite to be interesting. Maybe it is their water, or the temp, or the timing – maybe it is all of them. I have had so many sour or instant tasting bad teas at restaurants that this one stands out.

Twinings Lady Grey

Ok there is little new I can add to all the reviews of Lady Grey. I hadn’t sipped this in a long time. I forgot how good this is. The base is tasty. The bergamot just right. What really sets this apart is the orange and lemon zest. I needs me some more Lady Grey. You can get this in bags or in a loose leaf tin. I will always recommend loose leaf.

Bigelow English Teatime

Bigelow was my introduction to tea beyond Lipton. Back in the day, I lived on Constant Comment and Earl Grey. This started my Earl Grey addiction. Even liked Lemon Lift and Cinnamon Stick. When I was given a bag of English Teatime it took me back a few decades (even though I have never heard of this particular tea). So I put on appropriate music – BTO’s Sledgehammer and started brewing. First off this appears to be a 2g bag. Most Bigelow is a wimpy 1.6g anymore. Second I did not read the instructions – I steeped for 5 minutes. Should have steeped less. The pucker factor was pretty high. This was followed by a moment of blandness but surprisingly the aftertaste was very pleasant. I don’t drink a lot of unflavored blacks because of the aftertaste. I found this tea enjoyable. I would definitely add sweetener and maybe a bit of milk.

Lipton White Tea with Island Mango and Peach Flavor

Given to me at work. Made the mistake of looking at the date on the box. Good grief – amateurs… Even expired this was actually pretty good. It smells nice. The taste of the mango and peach can be easily separated and the flavorings don’t hide the tea flavor. The tea pieces are pretty small but a lot larger than usual tea fannings. Nicely done.

Tazo Joy

Got this from my son. Not as tasty as Stash Christmas Morning but I found it entertaining. My son warned me not to brew too long so I steeped about 4 minutes. The water temp was just under boiling. The Darjeeling is the predominate taste here with the green kind of hiding in the background. At first I couldn’t detect the oolong but as the cup cooled I began to catch it in the aftertaste then in the sip itself. I definitely would drink this again if it occurred to me but in reality it probably won’t very often.

Tazo Green Ginger

I want to like Tazo. I really do. I want Starbuck’s to do for tea what it did for coffee but I think Tazo is more concerned with appearing all hip and mystically rather than concentrating on the important stuff, the tea. My opinion – your image isn’t whimsical its just dumb.

As for this tea, it smells like medicine. Reading other reviews, I was unaware the natural flavors listed on the label meant pear. That probably explains my dislike of the smell. The taste reminds me of incense. Now in my incense burning days I might have liked that image. Today, not so much. The lemongrass, ginger, and ‘natural flavors’ blend together well enough but overwhelm the green tea base. It isn’t totally disgusting. It’s just not interesting enough for me to want again.

When I think of ginger I think of Vernors Ginger Ale. One of the oldest American soft drinks still in production. Barrel aged for three years. It used to be aged for longer but the company has traded hands a few times and changed some to remain competitive. It still is highly carbonated but nothing like it used to be when it came in glass bottles. I believe it was impossible to drink without the bubbles making you cough – in a glorious good way. Even in its present shadow of its former self it still stands miles above Canada Dry and Seven Up. Love it or hate it, this is a classic.

That’s what I want Starbuck’s to do for tea. Make it a fine vintage drink to be proud of and not some quirky unsatisfying half hearted attempt at tea. Make it worth my nearly $2/cup. Make the tea great and you won’t have to hide it in a gimmicky box.

Lipton Diet Green Tea With Citrus

I know I can’t even pronounce most of what is listed in the ingredients. I know this doesn’t taste much like tea. I know it is over sweetened. I know it is more soft drink than tea. I know there is probably no real citrus in it. I just can’t help myself. Dog gone it I like this stuff and I am not ashamed to admit it. It is cold and refreshing and especially handy when I am too lazy to accomplish more than twisting the cap off the bottle. Tea is listed as an ingredient, so I can almost convince myself this is better for me than the Dr. Pepper I almost grabbed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Twinings Vanilla

This tea was removed from the Twinings lineup but here is my review anyway. This reminds me of Vanilla Coke without the bubbles. Not that they taste the same but rather they suffer from the same problem. Both are way over done. This is simply too much of a good thing. Often I take a Coke and add a tiny portion of vanilla syrup to it and the result is quite tasty but the canned product I find nearly undrinkable. I think the same thing applies to Twinings Vanilla. Half the vanilla would have been more than adequate.

Twinings Pure White Tea

Another of their Origins teas. I have only seen it in a bagged tea version. I don't think I have ever met a white tea I didn't like. This tea I love. No bitterness. No aftertaste. Smooth and delicious.. Made from handpicked buds and air dried this tea rocks. If I weren't seriously addicted to Earl Grey I could easily drink this every day. Let me explain how you can get the most out of it. Not that long ago I would have steeped it for 4-5 minutes in boiling water. It always tasted like a mild mellow black tea and I was content with that. Today, I steeped for 1 ½ minutes in below boiling water. I think this is a pleasant cup. It does not have the depth of a loose leaf white but still, given that it is a bag, it is quite nice. Remember to use a short steep and cool temperature.

Twinings Pumpkin Spice Chai

My son brewed a cup of this for me when I wasn’t feeling well. He didn’t really prepare this correctly. He used the microwave, which I am opposed to using for tea. The water was not boiling. I added a splash of milk and some artificial sweetener. I am certain this would be better under more controlled preparation. Even so, this was quite tasty. The spices were balanced and pleasant. I only want a pumpkin tea a couple times a year. I am glad my son thought to spring this one on me.

Twinings English Afternoon

A black tea blend of Ceylon and Keemun. I have seen this tea on the shelf before but was never tempted to try it. I am not a big fan of English breakfast teas as I find them uneventful. I expected Twinings English Afternoon to be a toned down version of the same. I was very wrong. The liquor is a beautiful deep reddish brown. The instructions say to add milk and sweetener. I added only sweetener. The first sip is clean and brisk. It has a natural sweetness that adding sweetener only amplifies. Next I notice a fruity flavor in the brew. Other reviews note Keemun tea has a lotus undertone. I did not get that impression to me it was almost a subtle apple, either way it is very good. The taste has an almost Darjeeling quality about it. Keemun is called the burgandy of teas for a reason. I continued to enjoy every sip as the cup cooled to room temperature. It left no unpleasant aftertaste. I feel comfortable highly recommending this tea.

Twinings Earl Grey Green

I really enjoyed this tea when I first discovered it. I had it hidden away everywhere. Then they discontinued sales in the United States for a time. I was sad but I moved on after a time of mourning. Now it is back (who knows for how long). I immediately grabbed a box to celebrate its return. Seems the time off was to reformulate the blend. It is a 3% bergamot flavored tea. I personally liked my memories of the old formula much better. There is enough actual tea in the bag (2g) that I can make a strong enough cup for my tastes but I prefer a slightly less amount of the citrus flavor. I am sure they have done their research. I hope they do well. It is not that it is bad, it isn’t. It is just not my, ahem, cup of tea. Oh, come on you knew I was eventually going to say it.

Twinings Earl Grey

I switched to this tea from Bigelow brand because this is a bergamot flavored tea rather than containing the actual oil of bergamot. That might sound strange to some but I made the change on purpose. The Bigelow oil has a more complex taste but it seemed to be harder on my system. Your mileage may vary. Twinings Earl Grey allowed me to continue to indulge. I am pretty sure Twinings recently reformulated this blend, (even if they say they didn't), and increased the bergamot flavoring. I liked the original better but maybe you will enjoy the change (they didn't make). It is still very good - just different. The citrus is brighter, and a little more tart, in the new fomulation. There is 2g of good quality black tea in the bag. Or use the loose leaf for more flavor.

Twinings China Oolong

This tea is one of Twinings Origins blends which according to the press release means it is made of the finest teas from the world's best tea growing regions. This particular tea is not for everyone. Unless you are the adventurous type you might want to avoid China Oolong. Don't get me wrong, I like this tea. I just don't want to mislead any one. This tea has a slightly sweet flavor. It has a earthy taste that reminds me of the smell of a forest floor. Oolong is partially oxidized and that may explain the taste. This is only my second Oolong and is very different from anything else I have tried. To really enjoy this tea I personally prefer to prepare it differently than per the instructions on the box of pouring fresh boiling water over the tea bag. Labeled to be a light flavor tea I find it is a little too bold for my tastes prepared by the directions. I pour near boiling water into the cup and let it cool a few degrees before adding the bag. This is similar to the way a white tea should be brewed. I like most teas strong but find this one works better if the brew is not so in your face. A cooler starting temperature mellows out this blend nicely. Still it is not a tea for everyone.

Twinings Chai

Ingredients listed are black tea, natural chai, cinnamon & ginger flavors, other natural flavors, cardamom, clove. This is kind of like Lady Grey meets Constant Comment. It is a very enjoyable cup of flavor. The black tea is bold and like other Twinings offerings is not bitter and leaves no nasty aftertaste to ruin the pleasure. My first cup I used only a little sweetener and it was good. The second cup I added a little French Vanilla creamer to the mix and it made a night and day difference. At first it seemed a little peppery tasting, which I wasn’t sure I liked but as it cooled it took on new life and became quite nice. If you enjoy Chai teas I highly recommend this blend.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Yamamotoyama Pu-erh Tea

Here it is called an Oolong tea, which is lightly oxidized. Pu-erh is generally considered a green tea. After drying and rolling, it is compressed into bricks and aged. High dollar tea is aged for years. This is not high dollar tea. During aging, microbes ferment the tea. Here that aging does give it a mild oolong taste. It makes a dark cup of tea. The leaf pieces in the bag look black after steeping. The taste is very mellow with a light earthiness. I have read other reviews that claim this tea, while not a great tea, captures the essence of pu-erh. It doesn’t taste exactly like ‘normal’ tea. It is mildly exotic. It is also a little bland in my opinion especially compared to loose or cake pu-erhs. I did get two cups from one bag and must admit the second was a much earthier tasting, which I did enjoy. If you have been curious about pu-erh tea, this is a relatively inexpensive opportunity to try it. They have reportedly been blending tea since 1690. Yamamotoyama of America has owned Stash Tea Company for several years now and distributes their Yamamotoyama tea under the Stash banner.

Yamamotoyama China Oolong

The only ingredient listed on the bag is pure China oolong. This is a dark oolong and they can take a little getting used to. The earthy damp forest floor taste may not appeal to everyone. The brew is clear and chocolately in color. The aroma is mildly earthy with a hint of smokiness that is not like ashes but more like a campfire. It is subtle but present. It is quite pleasing mellow but flavorful and complex. I don’t care that it is 2g of dust. It is just plain good. It is also very forgiving. I can use boiling water or much cooler water. I can steep two minutes or fifteen. Other grocery store blends don’t even come close. I have heard this tea comes from Brazil – I can’t verify it so maybe not but it does not taste like any other brand I have tried. It tastes great hot and at room temperature. Never tried iced but imagine I would like it. I have only seen it in bag form. This is a good choice for the curious. Yamamotoyama of America has owned Stash Tea Company for several years now and distributes their Yamamotoyama tea under the Stash banner. They have reportedly been blending tea since 1690.

Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold

An English chap tried to convince me that when the British sit down to tea this is their drink. From an American point of view, I don’t think it makes a good iced tea, however as a hot tea it shines. This is especially suited in my opinion as a morning replacement to coffee. A blend of black teas, their oversized bags make for a strong brew that tastes stout. I suggest using a bigger cup. This is not a tea for wusses.

Tazo Zen

Ingredients: green tea, lemon verbena, spearmint leaves, lemongrass and natural flavors. I tend to avoid teas with cute names. I also tend to avoid teas with spearmint. Since I have come to respect and appreciate a couple Tazo blends recently, I thought I would violate both of my rules and try this blend. Hoping their idea of spearmint was like the invisible untasteable bergamot in their Earl Grey, I tore open the envelope. The smell is heavily spearmint. Brewed for 3 minutes. The aroma is spearmint. On the first sip, I tasted the spearmint followed by a hint of the lemon and then the green tea. The spearmint is much more subdued than it smells and is supported yet tempered by the other ingredients. I have to admit this is the first cup of spearmint tea I have ever finished, and more important, I actually enjoyed it.

Tazo Chai

Ingredients: black teas, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, and star anise. Like other Tazo teas I have tried there is a generous portion of tea in each bag. The aroma of the brew is quite nice. The liquor is dark brown. At first the taste is not at all what I expected. It is far more tea like than the aroma suggests. After a few more sips the cinnamon and black pepper slowly begin to dominate. At this point I added some creamer. Big mistake. The tea taste completely disappeared and the pepper jumped out as the predominate flavor which is typical of the chai teas I have tried. While this seems to be a good quality tea, I am just not a big fan.

Tazo Orange Blossom

My wife wanted Starbuck’s. I thought sure I can have a nice cup of tea. Wrong. Wish I had read the reviews first. As a general rule I avoid tea with more than say 3 ingredients. This rule has served me well. Too bad I violated it. Another rule is tea shouldn’t be served in paper cups. The leaf looks interesting in the sachet. It smells interesting – kind of orangey. The taste at first was too bland. I can’t taste any tea. Put the bag in to steep longer. Now the fennel and licorice overwhelmed the brew causing my mouth to pucker and I still couldn’t taste tea.

Tazo Lotus

A blend of naturally decaffeinated green tea and natural lotus flower flavor. This is my second Lotus tea. The first was Ethnic Gourmet’s “Honey Lotus Oolong”. That tea was sheer heaven in a cup. This tea I like but, in my opinion, it is not a great tea when comparing the two. On my first attempt at brewing, I thought there was not enough tea in the bag to make a flavorful cup but at 2+ grams that should not be the case. I understand they were going for a light flavor but I thought this was simply too light. On the second attempt I heated the water as for black tea – boiling. This made a world of difference and released a lot more flavor. The green tea is a typical grassy blend. The redeeming factor of this blend is the lotus. It adds a wonderful delicate aroma and taste without overpowering. Adding honey to the cup really brings it to life. Other reviews say do not over brew or it will become bitter. That was not my experience. It required hotter water than other greens I have tried and close to 5 minutes steeping time. I will buy this again, at least until I find a lotus blend I like better.

Tazo Earl Grey

You should be able to tell by now that if I am out where tea is on the menu, I am going to go for the Earl Grey before anything else. So when my son forced me into going into a Starbucks against my will, I ordered my favorite blend. I was underwhelmed. If it said English Breakfast on the label I might consider it a passable cup of tea, but it doesn't. I detected no bergamot flavoring or oil at all. If it is in there it is in such small quantities as to be of no value. My first thought was the tea had been on the coffee shop shelf too long and lost its flavor but my son brought a box, he had bought elsewhere, home to try and the flavor was the same. It is strong black tea that leaves the standard black tea aftertaste but there is no citrus flavor to this blend. It might have made a pleasant iced tea but it is a not worthy of the name Earl Grey.

May 2012 update -
I just read on Tea for Today a similar experience with this tea. The author claims it is the result of stale tea. I am open to entertaining the idea that our Starbucks sells so little tea that it is stale. I wish you a better cup of tea than I have experienced.

September 2012 update -
A coworker went to a fancy smancy dinner party held by the company his wife works for, and Tazo is the tea they served. He grabbed some for me – I have a bit of a tea reputation at work :) I have tried this Earl Grey a half dozen times in the past, always to poor results. Apparently, our local Starbucks and Wal-Mart stores don’t sell enough for it to be fresh, as I have never, ever, and I mean never, smelled or tasted bergamot in this stuff. So, I open the envelope. It smells a bit peppery and of lavenderish bergamot. Hey, so far so good. I steep three minutes and added my sweetener (why put it off, I know I am going to do it eventually). Wait for it to cool. Waiting, Waiting. Take a sip and… flowery, lavender tasting bergamot! Hallelujah! Except, wait a minute… have I just crossed the line into tea snobbery? This tastes kind of like the paper bag. I mean it isn’t horrible, and its Earl Grey – with freakin’ bergamot flavor, but the tea base is paper flavored. It’s muffled like someone talking with their hand over their mouth. As the cup cools the bergamot pops even more but the base just never develops. This is the best cup of Tazo I have ever had, but sadly (or happily), I know this is just ok tea. I did like the bergamot. Glad I could finally taste it.