Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fusion Tea Room, Pumpkin Rooibos

From Fusion Tea Room:

This autumnal blend of genuine pumpkin pieces, sweet potato, freshly hand-milled fall spices, toasted sweet brown rice and organic South African rooibos provides a wonderfully warming seasonal dessert tea that is perfect by itself or with a splash of cream or milk.

Ingredients: organic honeybush, organic rooibos, buckwheat, mace, ginger, toasted rice, cinnamon, candied peanuts, pumpkin pieces, sweet potato, caramel pieces, pumpkin seeds, natural flavors, stevia leaf

This is a rooibos, honeybush blend. Normally, I would try this tisane in the fall but this was included in my samples, so what the heck. I open the sample pouch and I am immediately hit with a wonderful smell like gingerbread. Awesome, now I can’t wait to brew this one.

The dry mix is, well, a bit strange looking. There is the red leaf of honeybush and rooibos. Then there are tiny tan cubes and little white puffs that look like Rice Krispies. There are also slices of seeds. I used a healthy 2tsp of ‘leaf’ for a 12oz mug and steeped in my press for 9 minutes. The brew is a muddy orange red. This smells so good.

I am no expert but just in case, possible allergy warning – this contains cinnamon candied peanuts and ginger.

The sip is rooibos and honeybush at the beginning, followed by ginger mixing with the other spices. At the tail of the sip and especially in the aftertaste you get the pumpkin and sweet potato. This is a delicious and awesomely aromatic rooibos blend. I tried this one at work, so I did not have any milk to add to it which I imagine would have really set this off. It does contain some stevia leaf so take it easy on any sweeteners you might add as I think you could easily overdrive this one. If you are a fan of this type ‘tea’, this one is a winner.

Sample provided by Fusion Tea Room. First time customers at the time of this writing could get 10% off their first order by entering the code 10off.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fusion Tea Room, Tropical Tulsi

From Fusion Tea Room:
The subtle refreshing taste of tulsi is complemented with the tropical flavors as papaya and orange peel to come together for one pleasing blend. The experience begins as the aroma stimulates your sense and calms the nerves. As every Indian home is not complete without a tulsi plant growing in the garden, no tea collection can be completed without this amazing life sustaining herbal tea.

The dry leaf smells a bit like clove but there is no clove listed. The ingredients are Tulsi herb, papaya pieces, apple bits, rosehip peels, orange peel, and flavor. This is a caffeine free herbal drink and not technically tea by purists standards. Tulsi is known as holy basil in India where it is quite commonly grown in family gardens. I gently stirred the contents of the bag up a bit before pouring out enough to brew. The tulsi pieces are small and appeared to settle at the bottom of the bag. I got a good mix this way.

I used 2 tsp for 12 oz of water and steeped for 7 ½ minutes. The liquor is yellow and a lot of the fruit pieces float on the top so a strainer of some kind is necessary when pouring into your drinking vessel. I used a French press and a mug. The aroma is pleasantly fruity and mainly of orange, with the other fruit pieces less dominant in the mix.

The sip is a lot different than the fruity scent suggests. It is slightly tart with the interesting taste of the tulsi lifting up in mid sip. The aftertaste still seems to be lightly clove to me. The taste of the tulsi is a bit difficult to describe. It is both familiar and different at the same time. The best I can do is say it is a pleasant taste. I can pick out the orange and apple influences. I believe the tartness is probably the rosehip. What I am not certain about is the papaya. I believe it adds a touch of sweetness but this is not what I would call a sweet tea. It is just a hint.

This is masterfully blended, which has been true of all the Fusion Teas I have tried. I think for me the downside is I tried it after the Super Fruit Sencha. That one is like a roller coaster ride of fruity goodness. This is more of a porch swing drink in comparison. It is very good but lacks the flash the name suggested to my mind. I recommend it if you are looking for more of a laid back, not too sweet, caffeine free, sip. As with most hot drinks, I think the cooler this gets the more flavor it develops. An interesting cup.

Sample provided by Fusion Tea Room. First time customers at the time of this writing could get 10% off their first order.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fusion Teas, Super Fruit Sencha

This tea was a surprise included in my box of samples. It is not one I would have chosen on my own. It would have been a shame to miss it. Here is what Fusion Tea has to say:

Now here is a combination that will turn heads. Gojiberry - blueberry and pomegranate flavors play the lead rolls in our newest green tea masterpiece. Summer fun-filled bright gojiberries bedded on rich, green Sencha with just the right spritz added by the lemon grass, the splash underlined by royal blue cornflowers. Allow yourself to be thrilled to the last sip: hot or chilled on the rocks a must-have this season!

And now what I think:

Wow does the dry leaf smell fruity! The scent at first reminded me of strawberries and cherries. Then I read the ingredients and realized I was smelling pomegranate and lemon grass. The sencha leaves are small grass clippings when dry that plump up nicely when steeped in to large lush dark green pieces. There are some stems and fruit pieces in the mix. I steeped per the instructions at 170d for 2 minutes.

The brew is light yellow green and smells really tasty. I am not usually a fruit person, except for bergamot, lemon, and peach, but this is a very inviting aroma. There is a hint of spinach in the wet tea leaf. I almost always use a packet of sweetener (Splenda). I did taste this without it first and maybe because I am not accustomed to unsweetened tea, it was a bit flat to me. A friend said unsweetened it just tastes like green tea without the aftertaste. The sip with a packet of sweetener is greatly enhanced and becomes very fruity. It now tastes like it smells but without the spinach. What stands out about this is there is no lingering nasty or candy aftertaste. The fruit stays on your breath but it is very pleasant.

The leaf smell of the second cup, @ 2 1/2 minutes, was Trix cereal! The brew scent and sip remained consistent with the first cup. This is really good. It surprised me as I was a little leery of trying this one. I thought it would be overwhelming and artificial tasting. It is miles above any of the bagged Republic of Teas fruit teas I have tried, and I kind of liked them at the time. If I could leave the cup alone long enough I would tell you what this tastes like cold. Apparently that will have to wait for another day as the cup keeps emptying while I am not looking. Yum!

Sample provided by Fusion Tea Room. First time customers at the time of this writing could get 10% off their first order by entering the code 10off.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fusion Tea Room, Peach Citrus

When I first visited Fusion Tea Rooms website, this is the tea that immediately grabbed my attention. I love a good peach tea. This one is peach / green tea with some citrus additions. This is what they have to say:

Here we have just taken a basic recipe for pure joy in a cup of tea. When life hands you a lemon, just add peach and the result is delicious with just the right “spritz”. Easy Peachy! Also great as an iced tea.Ingredients: Green Tea (89%), peach pieces, lemon peel, flavor, marigold blossoms

And here is what I think:
The first whiff of the sample packet is an obvious fresh peach scent. The citrus flavors add a nice touch. The tea leaf is flat strips that look like dried grass. There are fruit pieces mixed in with the leaf and the yellow flower petals make it attractive. I brewed this per the instructions, temperature and time wise. I found it a bit hard to eyeball the proper amount of leaf so I added extra. The brew is peachy and planty – not grassy. The liquor is light yellow green. The leaf is large pieces of olive green leaf. There are a small amount of stems present.

The sip is lightly peach. The citrus drops to the background to support the taste. There is a light bit of green tea grassiness in the late sip. This is a lovely drink. It is a lot lighter than I expected. I thought I would be bombarded with flavor but this is far more subtle than overstated. It gains flavor as it cools. I think lightly sweetened and maybe iced, this would make a great sipping tea on the front porch enjoying the spring weather. The taste seemed to me very natural and not at all artificial. Steeped twice. Another nicely done cup.

Sample provided by Fusion Tea Room ( At the time of this writing first time orders qualify for a 10% discount,

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fusion Teas, Premium Earl Grey

Why yes, Fusion Tea apparently does have black tea. It just isn’t on their website yet. The ingredients on this one are listed as premium black tea and bergamot. Here’s what they say about this tea:

This soft, highly aromatic bergamot black tea is of the highest quality. The excellent basis of Ceylon and Yunnan is perfectly in tune with the flavoring. A light and pleasant smokey nuance accompanies the typical bergamot citrus flavor. Experience a top-class Earl Grey Tea

Here is what I think:

Immediately upon opening the sample bag the aroma tells me this one is going to be different. The scent is a bit flowery but mostly it reminds me of fruit candy (grapes and oranges?) or maybe fruit punch. One of the guys at work said it smelled like one of the Hubba Bubba bubble gums he used to chew. Very unusual and different from any Earl Grey I have had before.

I followed the steeping instructions for the amount of leaf and the water temperature, which was a little below boiling. I did, however, shorten the time to three minutes instead of the four to five listed on the package. I am always cautious of a new black tea until I know how I will react to it.

The brew is root beer brown and clear (not cloudy and no floating sediment). The bergamot aroma is accompanied by the fruity wine-like scent of the black tea. The sip is very balanced There are equal parts tea and bergamot. In an Earl Grey like Harney & Sons, the citrus seems to be more in the background to support the black tea. With say Twinings just the opposite is true. Here they are equal partners in the flavor of the cup. I find that sense of balance is what I like about Fusion Teas. The taste of the bergamot is fruity – maybe peach and orange. Again, not like any Earl Grey I have had before.

The tea base reminds me of Empire Tea Services English Afternoon, which is a blend of Ceylon and Keemun teas. There is some dry mouth astringency in the cup. The leaf itself is good sized broken pieces, and definitely not fannings.

The second cup I steeped for four minutes. I really like this better than the first cup. It is still very balanced but I find it more traditional tasting. Or maybe I have just adjusted to it.

I am anxious to try this one again tomorrow, now that I know what to expect, to see my reaction. I think the real key to enjoying this tea is to get all the preconceived notions out of your head. It is unique. With that understanding this is a complex yet finely balanced cup

Update – I had 2 cups today. It is an interestingly different take on a classic. I offered a tea drinking friend some of the sample. His take was this was this is good, where do I buy it good.

Sample provided by Fusion Tea Room (

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tea Dust Experiment And A Lesson Learned

Tea Bag Dust
Recently I grabbed a Foojoy China Classic Oolong teabag for my morning cup. While in the drawer I also grabbed my bottle of dried chocolate mint. I steeped the tea with 5 leaves of mint. The result was very good. The oolong is a dark wuyi oolong and has a roasted taste. The mint has a light peppermint taste with a hint of chocolate. The combination really worked for me.

I enjoyed the Foojoy oolong/chocolate mint so much I decided to continue to experiment. This time I went with a bag of Yamamotoyama Hoji-cha. Next, I grabbed my old tea ball which hasn’t seen the light of day in a long time. I intended to put the chocolate mint in the ball to make it easier to remove from the cup. While at it, I figured I might as well free the tea from the bag. I tore open the bag and poured it into… and through… the tea ball. Oops. I learned there is a big difference between the fannings of my usual bagged teas and the dust in this one. This is one time the term dust accurately applied.

Rather than waste the tea I scooped it up and put it into my press. I knew clean up would be a bit of a hassle, but live and learn. The lesson wasn’t over yet. The aroma wafting out of the press was pretty eye opening. This tea is also roasted (supposedly over high temperature charcoal). The smell while steeping was intensely smoky. Nothing like leaving it in the bag. The cup aroma was heavily roasted but not smoky. The sip was really, really good, except I added more sweetener than intended. But, this is the chocolatiest experience I have had yet with the addition of chocolate mint. The roastiness and chocolate blend perfectly. The mint is very mild and in the background. I would give my experiment a 90+ if it were its own blend.

I needed to try this again to see if my perceptions were correct. This time I left the Hoji-cha tea bag intact and added the chocolate mint to the cup. The bag instructions say to boil the water but I have learned using water well below boiling makes a better cup with this tea. The steeping aroma is nowhere near as intense as when I prepared this in the press. The cup smell stays about the same. The sip is good but not as great as before. Less chocolate and a bit more minty. The roasty tea has kind of lost its edge. Looks like removing the dust from the bag really does improve the cup.

This has been a fun experiment. What I learned is if I remove the tea from the bag and add the chocolate mint, this takes on the characteristics of a brand new flavor. But when left in the bag, it tastes like the bag tea with the mint added. More testing needs to be conducted but my thoughts are that the tea bag may be a bigger flavor killer than the tea dust that usually gets the blame.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tetley, English Blend Decaffeinated

I recently decided I needed to go caffeine free in the evenings after more than a few nights of staring at the ceiling. I love my caffeine but I love sleeping maybe a little more. I wanted a cold beverage but not soda and not a herbal or tisane drink. I wanted straight unflavored black tea. I started with Lipton Decaf. My family always drank Lipton. People who consider themselves to be serious tea drinkers largely claim to detest Lipton tea. Personally, I generally enjoy it, but drinking it every evening I was soon craving something different. So I grabbed this one. It is still a readily available and inexpensive grocery store brand.

Following the secret family instructions for preparing ice tea, we boil about 16 oz of water on the stove in a sauce pan. 8 tea bags are added to the pan which is removed from the heat and left to age until the pan begins to walk on its own. The tea is then poured into the pitcher and fresh cool water is added.

When I first started doing this, the tea would go stale before I drank it, because grabbing a can of pop was far easier than getting a glass of tea. I solved this by emptying the pitcher into glass drinking jars with tight fitting lids. Now it is just as easy to grab tea as it is pop.

So how is it? Well it is a basic grocery store black tea without the buzz. It has intentionally been blended to be middle of the road nondescript bland to appeal to the widest array of consumers. In other words it won’t wow your taste buds especially if you are a premium tea drinker. It is not blended to be a wow tea, it is blended to be an everyday drinking tea. In that regard it does a good job. I find it to be very similar to Lipton but is has a much fresher smell to it while drinking.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Starway, Nannuoshan Pu-erh

This is a bit of a miracle in a can.

Regular readers may recognize the picture for this tea, as I reviewed it previously under the company name Qiandao Yuye. I was pretty sure at the time I might have the company name wrong. On Steepster I had reviewed this same under the company name Nannuoshan. Recently I read a couple tea reviews by the same company on Alex Zorach’s tea blog. He listed it as Starway. So I looked very closely at the tin and it does list Starway as the distributor of this tea. In my own defense most of the writing is in Chinese. What is in English is very difficult to read as the color of the type is very close to the color of the tin. Whatever the name, the tin is pretty distinctive so is it is easy to spot on the shelf.

This tin has been in my tea drawer for months without being touched. When I bought it, the smell and the taste were really bad – read my previous review. So bad in fact, I cut it with various herbs until I hit upon using Chocolate mint. Together the pair made for a wonderful drink. A fellow Steepster member mentioned how he once bought a cheap shu and that with some age it had actually became quite nice. This puerh is slightly less that two years old but I thought I would see if it had improved.

Here’s my updated review:

The leaf is chocolate brown and has no distinctive odor. That’s a good start. I did a 6 second wash, poured and let the leaf rest for a moment, then I did a 30 second drinking steep with boiling water. I have always loved the color of this tea. The first cup is burgundy, and very wine-like. I poured and sniffed the leaf. The moldy fish odor is gone! It has been replaced with a mild shu odor :^)

The sip… Holy metamorphosis Batman, I can’t believe this is the same tea! Absolutely none of the nasties that were present last summer. It has been replaced with very mild yet leathery goodness. A few more sips and I am getting that sticky lip feel with my tummy rumbling in appreciation. This is aging into a pretty nice tea.

Cup two, one minute steep. Darker, more root beer colored. This is a richer more flavorful cup. The longer steep definitely brings out a lot more flavor. There really isn’t anything I would call earthy, or for that matter mushroom. Just clean leather. I like this.

Cup three, one minute steep. Same root beer color. This is the last cup I have time for today and it’s a good thing as the flavor drops off becoming very light. So two good steeps with this one.

With a better quality puerh you can get a lot more cups out of your leaf but at $6 (as I recall) for this 6oz tin it has turned into a pretty tasty bargain.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Microwave Redeemed!

In my page linked at the top entitled, “No More Bad Office Tea” I blame all the evils of the world, well ok, maybe just most of the evils of bad office tea on the use of the microwave to heat the water. I am going to edit the page as I recently found a way to use the microwave to nuke the water and get the tea to still taste mostly like tea. I’ll get to that in a moment.

My experience with bad office tea tells me there are a few key reasons why it happens, and the use of a bag is not at the top of the list. Often the tea has been in the cabinet so long no one even remembers where it came from. The simple answer is use fresh tea. Yes, the better quality the leaf to start with, the better the chances of a great cup of tea, but stale is stale.

The next problem with an easy solve is especially true of bag users – over steeping. Bag users are notorious for leaving the bag in the cup until it is empty. Admit it, you have done it too. Removing the tea from the brew at the proper time will reduce, and often eliminate, the bitterness and stomach burn found regularly in office tea. To those of you who put the bag in the cup before using the microwave to heat it – well, you deserve what happens and I am not even going to try to change you.

The last major obstacle is the water temperature. The hot water spigot on the office coffee machine is probably not hot enough for black tea. Although for greens and white I find it works well. So what do you do if you need hotter water. You go straight to the microwave with your cup and the result is often flat boring tea.

While not a complete cure, I discovered how to greatly improve the taste while brewing loose leaf at home. I filled a cup with water and heated it for 2 minutes in the microwave. Our machine will heat the water to boiling in that length of time – you may need to adjust accordingly. Then I removed the cup and poured it into my French Press. This simple act changed the taste of the tea. Why? During the pour the water splashed around the press and this infused oxygen into the water. It may seem like a bit of work using a heating vessel and a steeping one, especially if you are using a bag, but this method is quite effective.

I have been told that you can also greatly improve the water by placing a chop stick or wooden popsicle stick in the cup while heating. This will break the surface tension and the rough surface of the wood encourages air bubbles to form. This helps the water boil. Microwaving water can be hazardous. There have been instances where super heated microwave water has exploded when the door is open. This happens when the water can’t bubble. It happens very rarely but the addition of the stick will reduce the possibility.

If you can't avoid the microwave, you can at least make using it worthy of your leaf.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Primula, Floral Passion

The pod on this on is different. It is kind of mushroom shaped. I added the pod to the boiling water thinking this would help protect the bloom. Even with the precaution there was a large amount of debris floating in the press. That is not typical of my experience with flowering teas. The scent of the brew is lightly jasmine. The bloom is actually quite lovely. Surrounded by the green tea is a red lily. I steep for about 3 minutes and the brew is light amber in color.

I actually like the taste of this quite a lot. The lack of globe amaranth is a big plus as I don’t care for it. The lily does add to the flavor, though I can’t really describe the taste. It is not a heavy floral taste. If you think of the jasmine as carrying the high notes and the green tea being the low, then the lily kind of fills in the mid parts.
Flowering teas I usually have to be in the mood to drink, but this one I think I could brew up on a regular basis. I enjoyed sipping it and found myself gulping it a few times. I had three - 12 oz mugs of this today and it was still going strong.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tea Blogger’s Dilemma

I have been drinking tea since the 1970’s. Back then it was mostly Bigelow teas. There wasn’t much else to choose from in small town America. Years passed things began to change as I started to find Twinings and Stash among other brands at the grocer and local specialty shops. One day it occurred to me how many teas I had tried. It also occurred to me that I couldn’t remember all of them or what I had thought of them at the time.

I was relatively new to the Internet back then and loved writing web pages. It seemed natural to combine journaling my tea experience with a website. My first couple sites contained a lot of reviews and a lot of bad information. Hopefully, I have improved a bit. With the Internet also came exposure to loose leaf tea. Grocery stores began to follow suit by stocking some Twinings loose tins. I was thrilled to discover an International food market nearby that occasionally stocked Ahmad loose tins.

When I joined the Steepster online community I was still drinking mostly bagged tea along with some grocery store loose leaf. It was here that the doors of premium grade tea were flung open wide. This is the point where I abandoned web pages and began to blog. This is also where the dilemma comes in.

A friend of mine has six tins of grocery store tea in his drawer. He is completely happy. I have maybe 50 samples and tins in my drawer and I am pondering the next. (I know people who have over 500!) At the same time I have some favorites I would like to keep around. If I buy them, I have to drink them. If I drink them, I am not drinking new teas. If I am not drinking new teas how can I write new material for a review blog?

We have all seen blogs that have a handful of excited entries that are a few years old. I always wonder what happened. Were they abducted by aliens or did they just lose interest? Possibly when they realized the world was not going to beat their door down to give them free tea they just gave up trying? Who knows.

I have seen blogs that are supposed to be about tea that have wandered so far off course they are no longer recognizable by their intended audience. Do they lack focus or material? Again who knows.

I can tell you staying current and relevant is more difficult than it sounds. This blog was set up to be fun. I love tea. I love sharing about tea. So I write. I think the trick is finding balance between meeting the never ending need for new material and enjoying the tea journey along the way. Otherwise it just becomes work. The last time I checked, no one was paying me to do this.

There are some professional bloggers out there running successful sites, but more often than not, most are just enthusiastic amateurs. The next time you enjoy one of their posts, tell them so. It is encouraging to hear from readers.

Fellow writers, how about you – how do you maintain balance between writing new material and enjoying your tea journey?