Thursday, December 26, 2013

Teavivre, Rose Dian Hong Black Tea

Teavivre Description:
Rose Black Tea has pink rose flower mixed in the tea leaves, carrying a strong fragrance of roses. After the Dian Hong black tea is made, the tea worker will add rose flower and pure rose extractives in to the tea, giving the black tea a rich rose scent. If you like high floral scent, this Rose Black Tea will be a good choice.

My Review:
I received a sample bag of this tea with my Black Friday order. I stocked up on a couple of staples - Yunnan Dian Hong Golden Tips, and Golden Monkey Black Tea. I also grabbed a jasmine green tea, and some powdered green tea. I won't need to buy tea for a very long while - but I probably will anyway. It's an addiction and I can't deny it.

So on to today's lovely leaf. The picture from Teavivre's site is, as always, a good representation of what you get. My rose bud was mostly cream colored with pink tones below the surface of the outer layer. The leaf is long and twisted with beautiful shades of brown. The aroma is only the faintest of rose. I have only recently started to warm up to rose teas. My early experience was akin to perfume and just too girly. The scent of this is promising.

I used about 3.5 g in my press with water heated to 194 F. The steep was 4 minutes. The liquor is a deep amber/light orange. The wet leaf scent is mostly Dian Hong with the lightest note of rose. The cup aroma is a little heavier on the rose but still in the delicate stage.

I always expect Teavivre to deliver a flavorful tea and this does not disappoint. There is an amazing balance of black tea to rose flavor. Neither dominates. I will say if you are expecting a strong rose presence, this is probably not one for you. Early in the sip I experience the slightly malty/honey/caramel wonder that is Dian Hong. Then mid sip the rose blossoms but remains light and delicate. The flavors meld together in a creamy textured delight that passes into the sweet aftertaste.

Think you don't like flowery teas? You should grab a sample of this with your next order. A very nice tea.

Visit the Teavivre website.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rivertea, Criss Cross

Rivertea Description:
Prepare to reap an abundance of wellness with this gem from the breathtaking peaks of the Anhui Province of China. The refreshing flavor of this tea with notably brisk notes and a slightly sweet aroma will make you feel so alive. The slightly vegetal essence of this Criss Cross green tea translates on your tongue as light and tangy with a fresh green flavor. Enjoy this tea for sunny afternoons; this sparkling cup of jade green is sure to be the highlight of your day while giving your soul the essential boost of wellness it needs!

My Review:
Another I received in my contest win from this new company. I received 50g of this one. Enough to play for a while. The packaging is a cardboard cylinder. Inside the tea is protected by a zip lock bag.

I am not sure how the name Criss Cross came about or what it means to Rivertea. Removing a scoop of leaf reveals dark slender twists. I am not exactly sure what this is but using Anhui Province as a starting point this appears to be Tunxi tea.

The scent is fresh and grassy. I used a scoop in my press with water heated to 158 F per directions. The steep was 2 1/2 minutes. The resulting liquor is very clear and golden green in color. Very pretty. The wet leaf has a steamed spinach/peas scent.

The sip is crisp. Just a touch of mineral and the good kind of bitter. Further sips reveal a fresh vegetal taste. There is a sweet lingering aftertaste. This reminds me of some of the best green teas I have had from China. A very solid offering from Rivertea.

Visit the Rivertea website.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rivertea, Tea Of Kings

Rivertea Description:
Are you looking for a tea regal enough to be worthy of the delicate embrace of your finest china cups? This Lychee black tea is a delightful, refreshing blend from the distant Congou region of China. Your first, intense sip will fill your senses with the succulent flavour of Lychee - the most revered fruit by many Chinese Emperors. Take another sip and you will unlock an entirely new level of flavours, the sharp, enlivening lichee now being caressed by fruity tones of grape, and the sweet, fragrant essence of roses. This black tea called “The tea of kings” is not a cup that can be hastily consumed - it demands respect and attention, and is an experience worth taking the time to get right. Treat yourself to some well deserved time out and add a touch of regality to your day with this fruity, complex delight.

My Description:
Another sample I won from Rivertea in their pre-launch promotion on Steepster.

The Rivertea website had not launched at the time I tasted this. I got the opportunity to inspect some of their product in advance. Yeah me! Their site is up and running now. A link is at the end of the review.

The sample is once again packaged in a resealable zip bag. The label clearly list ingredients and steeping recommendations. Both the zip lock and the label are much appreciated touches.

The leaf is small pieces of cut black tea. The scent is faint of lychee.  I used about 4g of leaf in my press with boiling water. The steep was 3 minutes. The resulting brew is light orangish brown. The fragrance is still lightly of lychee.

I did a little research and found lychee is a tree that grows naturally in Southeast China. The fresh fruit has a "delicate, whitish pulp" with a floral smell and a fragrant, sweet flavor.

The taste of this tea is similar to a cross between rose and lilac in my opinion. The main difference is I often find lilac teas to be overwhelming. While this cup is lightly flavored, I am finding this is not really my thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. The simple truth is it reminds me of the fragrant soapy bath products my wife enjoys.

I would certainly be happy to sip a cup with friends, but it is just a little too girly for me. I used to say that about rose teas and have only recently come to appreciate them. So maybe in the future I will  find this tasty.

Visit the Rivertea website.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

River Tea, Dragon Pearls

River Tea Description:
For those moments when you need some inspiration, this Jasmine Dragon Pearls will bring your imagination to life. Dragon Pearls green tea is a rare specialty from China. Only the youngest and most tender leaves are repeatedly blended with fresh, very fragrant jasmine flowers, a process that is repeated at least 8 times, at the end of which the flower petals are removed and the tea leaves are carefully hand rolled into small, tight pearls. The jasmine aroma is closed in and unfolds fully when infused giving the tea an exquisitely fragrant perfume and taste. Its colour is so intense and palpable that the tea almost appears like a syrup. A pleasure for the eyes, nose and palate, a fragrance that will inspire your days!

My Review:
This is another sample won in the River Teas promotional contest stating what you would do for the last 100g on earth of your favorite tea. You can read my winning entry here.

The entire package is carefully and delightfully wrapped. You get the sense that care went into every detail. The sample itself is a green resealable pouch. Yeah for resealable! The pearls inside are on the small side with only a light scent of jasmine suggesting what might lie ahead. Honestly, the scent of the dry pearls suggested I would not care for this offering. It seemed a bit fake or something.

I used about a tablespoon of pearls. They suggest 1 tsp for 8oz. I am using 12oz and would rather overdo the leaf. The recommended temperature is around 156 F. I set my kettle on the lowest setting (175 F) and shut it off as it reached the recommended temp. I steeped for 3 minutes.

The result is a lovely golden yellow with a nice jasmine fragrance. The pearls are far from relaxed and reveal a nice looking leaf.

Sipping proved my earlier fears were unfounded. This is a lovely and sweet natural tasting jasmine tea. It is not overly perfumey. There is some dryness associated with the sip. There is also a lingering jasmine aftertaste with the green tea separating in the taste.

I am glad I was wrong about this one. I rather like it.

Visit the River Tea website.

Friday, December 13, 2013

RiverTea, Earl Grey Rose

RiverTea Description:
Just like in a romantic movie, this beautiful pairing of the classic Earl Grey and the elegance of sweet rose petals creates an enamoring affair worth talking about. There’s nothing like your favorite black tea blend, geniously complimented with a tantalizing new flavor to switch up your everyday cup. Enjoy the signature flavors of Earl Grey, a rich black tea with the crisp citrus notes of Bergamot oil, dazzled by the sweet, delicate flavors of rose and peony blossoms. Break from your usual routine and add a little romance to your life with an alluring cup of Earl Grey Rose.

Black tea, Peony blossoms, Bergamot flavouring, Rose flavouring

Sample provided by RiverTea

My Review:
Rivertea is a new start up operating out of Berlin. I entered and won a contest they held in preparation of their opening. The contest was to tell what you would do for the last 100g on earth of your favorite tea. You can read my entry here. The prize was 4oz of my choice and 3 samples of my choice. This tea was one of the samples.

The package arrived in about one week after mailing. It arrived in pristine condition. I opened the box and was met by a welcoming sticker holding tissue wrapping in place. Inside covered in packing peanuts were two tins and three samples all in excellent condition. Also included was a small sack tied with ribbon. Inside were three coasters in a leaf shape representing the company logo. All very nice touches and appreciated.

The sample bag is green recyclable plastic. The label lists the tea name, ingredients, and steeping instructions. A lot of the samples seem to expect you to go to the internet or guess how to prepare the tea. So again this is appreciated. I started to cut the top off when I realized it was a zip lock bag. Very nice! I never know how to keep a sample fresh if I don't use all of it. Zipping it is much more convenient than my usual paper clip method.

Opening the bag I am met by big petals. Yes, I see them listed in the ingredient list now, but the peony blossoms surprised me. The scent is light of rose and bergamot. I steeped 1 tsp in boiling water for almost 4 minutes per instructions. The result is a bit muddy looking with a light floral aroma.

I am pretty sure I under leafed for the large mug I am using. I'll try again with a 6 oz cup later. For now what I am getting is light and delicate in flavor. I can taste the black base tea. There is a touch of bitterness that I think comes from the long steep. I would normally only steep for 3 minutes with a new black tea. I can smell citrusy bergamot. It's taste is light and well suited to the cup. The rose is even lighter but blends exceptionally well. The more the cup cools the richer the bergamot becomes. The rose remains an accent flavor, present but not dominating. That seems to be a tough thing to pull off with a rose tea.

The bergamot and rose are both listed as flavoring. Both taste very natural.  I need to do a little investigating and find out what flavoring means in this case.

Day two: I poured the remaining sample on a plate and took the picture above. It's pretty, but if you aren't used to the big petals you can understand how I under leafed yesterday. Today I steeped for 3 minutes with boiling water. This has much more bergamot fragrance.

With more leaf there is a definite tartness to the cup. Actually, while hot there is not a lot of difference between yesterday and this more heavily leafed cup. The tea base comes through with a woodsy flavor. The bergamot is the strongest element but not in an overdone manner. Those looking for a citrus blast will have to wait for the cup to cool. I didn't try it but I imagine this would be good iced. The rose again remains a support flavor.

Visit the RiverTea website.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Life In Teacup, An Xi Tie Guan Yin Traditional Charcoal Roast

Life In Teacup Description:
Production Year: 2012
Production Season: Fall
Production Region: Anxi County, Fujian Province
Style: Traditional charcoal roast

Sample provided by Life In Teacup

My Review:
This is the last of my samples provided by Life In Teacup. The sample comes in a vacuum sealed pouch. Inside is another tightly sealed plastic wrapper. The pellets are tightly rolled. Given the label of traditional charcoal roasted, I was expecting a heavier smoked scent. Instead the aroma is green and fresh like hay.

I used about 2/3 of my scoop in the press with boiling water. The steep was approximately one minute. The leaves have barely relaxed and are slightly spicy and seaweed in scent. The liquor is clear sparkling and golden honey colored.

In the sip I am not getting anything like what I expected. This is not a heavy roasted or smoky cup. It is light and savory. There is orchid or floral, there is fruit, and honey in the sip. I am also catching nut or woodsy like notes. Also present is a spicy hint that seems to my palate to be some combination reminiscent of osmanthus, ginger, and cinnamon. The aftertaste is sweet with that fuzzy vine sort of taste common to good green oolongs.

This is priced at $3.99/oz. I have paid more than that for a box of tea bags. According to Life In Teacup each scoop of leaf will steep 5-7 times. Even if you only steep it twice that makes it less expensive than grocery store oolong tea and I pretty much guarantee you this is a whole lot better. A very nice offering with a lot of depth.

Visit the Life In Teacup website.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Simple Loose Leaf, Casablanca Earl Grey Green

Simple Loose Leaf Description:
A unique blend of our nutty Organic Gunpowder and Nilgiri Black Indian Tea flavored with peppermint leaves and citrus bergamot oil. A wonderful and surprisingly delicious variation on the traditional Earl Grey. Enjoy this aromatic cup hot for a delicious uplift, or for a Moroccan twist, add a bit of sugar.

Peppermint, Organic Chinese Gunpowder Green Tea, South Indian Flower Orange Pekoe Black Tea, N/A Bergamot Flavors

Sample Provided by Simple Loose Leaf

My Review:
I LOVE EARL GREY! There I said. Actually, in Internet terms I guess I shouted it. I love Earl Grey black. I love Earl Grey Green. I love it white, smoky, or creme. While I enjoy all manner of tea, from the unpretentious to the exquisite, Earl Grey is the one type I would find most difficult to live without. I usually have several varieties on hand at all times.

When Simple Loose Leaf generously offered to allow me to review their subscription service, this is the first tea I added to my basket. The subscription service is extremely flexible, you get to choose which teas you want, how much, and how many. It is a really cool idea that I have enjoyed and do recommend.

The price of the teas vary depending on your subscription choices. This one for instance, ranges from a high of $0.20/cup at 1oz to a low of $0.07/cup for 4oz of tea. That is pretty inexpensive. So far the teas have been even better than the price suggests.

Now on to the review. First the packaging. The label lists the ingredients and a second label on the back of the pouch offers steeping guidelines. This is much appreciated. The pouch itself has a resealable zip strip top. The back of the pouch has a vent that aids in removing the air trapped inside the pouch when closing. This is a totally awesome addition!

This is a unique blend that includes both black (Nilgiri) and green (gunpowder) teas along with glorious bergamot and peppermint. Peppermint? Sure why not, it sounds interesting.

I opened the bag and removed about 3g of leaf. The leaf is small chopped pieces of leaf. It looks fresh and smells very worthy of the Earl Grey name. I steeped for two minutes in my press with water heated to 180 F. The resulting brew is nicely burnt orange.

I took my first sip. It was nicely (some would say heavily) bergamot. My first reaction was where is the peppermint, but before I could even complete the thought the peppermint came rushing up from underneath. Emphasis on the rush! It leaves a chilling breeze on the lips, just like it should.

I can taste the green tea early in the sip and the black base mostly in the aftertaste. I am not noticing any bitterness or dryness associated with astringency. I did add sweetener for the Moroccan twist as Simple Loose Leaf suggests. Oh, who am I kidding? I added sweetener because it is Earl Grey and I like it sweet.

Interestingly, the cooler the cup becomes the more prominent the peppermint.

This is the only bergamot/peppermint tea I have ever seen. I rather enjoyed it. If you are a weenie this might be too intense of a thrill ride for you. Earl Grey adventure seekers should give this a try.

Visit the Simple Loose Leaf site.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Life In Teacup, Bai Ya Qi Lan Oolong

Life In Teacup Description:
It is from Southern Fujian, made with the same tea cultivar as for Wuyi Qi Lan. However, this tea is nothing similar but everything different from Wuyi Qi Lan. It has gentle yet long lasting orchid fragrance from dry leaves to several infusions later.

Price: $3.99/oz

Sample provided by Life In Teacup

My Review:
First off, I usually don't list the price unless the tea is very expensive or is quite a bargain. If this tea turns out to be tasty then it is in the category of quite a bargain.

The sample is vacuum packed. There is no English on it except the little sticker Gingko at Life In Teacup put on it. Inside the leaf is sealed in a plastic wrapper. Removing it allowed the tightly rolled leaf to slightly expand.

The dry leaf is much darker than I expected. I thought it would be green rather than brown. The scent I can't describe except to say it smells very fresh and alive, like sticking your face into green plants. It is not grassy. It is more vine-like.

I used half the sample - I'm guessing 3.5g. I heated the water to 195 F because I wasn't sure and steeped for 2 minutes. Ginkgo uses only 30s on the first steep and you can see from the picture how light is the color of her liquor. Mine is more golden. The wet leaf is only partially relaxed and has an even deeper vine-like fragrance.

The taste is again difficult to describe. I can taste some very light notes of roasting which is the only similarity I am getting to any Wuyi I have tried. There is an almost pineapple element in the taste. The two combine to give it an earthy quality. A floral fragrance is also making itself known mid sip. Often oolongs, especially tieguanyin have what I call a geranium taste - others who don't care for it have called it latex. Here the floral fragrance is more subdued. Life In Teacup says this is a gentle orchid fragrance. I know nothing about the fragrance of orchids but if this is it then it is wonderful. This ends with a sweet aftertaste.

I love teas that leave me befuddled to describe. This is such a tea. It is green and earthy. It's fruity. Kind of floral and kind of roasty but not too. Sorry folks that is the best I can do. At the price I suggest you just get some and experience it for yourself.

Visit the Life In Teacup website.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Life In Teacup, Ron Gui

Sample provided by Life In Teacup

My Review:
I don't have a description from Life In Teacup for this one. The leaf is big and dark. I used two scoops of leaf as it is hard to judge until it is in the bottom of the press. I used 200 F water and steeped about 3 minutes.

As this was steeping the roasted aroma poured out of the press. It made me notice and say, "Wow!" inside my head. The brew is deep orange almost root beer in color. The wet leaf is even darker now, resembling huge leaves of ripened puerh. This is an oolong to don't panic.

This is a medium-heavy roasted tea. Smelling very much like what I associate with Wuyi oolong. The taste is not what I expected. Sure the roasty flavor is present but along with it is a prickly floral flavor somewhere between mango and geranium in taste. There is also a spicy element I can't put a finger on. I did not find it to be bitter or astringent.

At this point I added sweetener to see how it affected the cup.

I find sweetener often brings out flavors I miss otherwise or takes away some bad elements. Not that there are any bad elements present here and it really did little with this tea anyway. It warmed the flavors so they were more rounded and flowed together. I can definitely pick out the taste I often associate with tieguanyin.  It pulls the roasty notes down in the front of the sip so they explode a bit more at the back.

If you enjoy a darker wuyi oolong this is a nice one.

Visit the Life In Teacup website.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Simple Loose Leaf, Vanilla Decaf Black

Simple Loose Leaf Description:
A delicious whole leaf Ceylon Black Tea, decaffeinated by CO2 natural processing, combined with the smooth flavor of vanilla to create a deliciously sweet and sensual tea, perfect for an after-dinner treat.

Decaffeinated Ceylon Black Tea, Jasmine Flowers, N/A Vanilla Flavor

My Review:
I have been trying to review this tea for a month. Every time I brew a cup the aroma fills the air and my wife smells it and takes the cup out of my hands. I think that is a good sign for Simple Loose Leaf. Not so much for me. So to be perfectly honest, what I am reviewing today is cup number two from the same leaves.

The dry scent is intoxicating - vanilla and light jasmine. Mmmmmm. The leaf is large pieces of leaf. No CTC here. There are a number of jasmine flowers spread throughout the mix. I used one scoop (about 3g) and just boiling water in my press. The steep for the first cup was 3 minutes. I didn't get to taste it. :( The second cup was around 5 minutes.

The cup is a nice orange. The first cup was darker. The first sip reminds me of cotton candy. I love cotton candy. It is not bitter. I did not notice much drying. Being a Ceylon, both surprised me. I added a little sweetener at this point to see what happens.

This is a very warm cup of flavor. It tastes like caramel to my taste buds. Vanilla is a flavor that I tend to taste above everything else. This tea is no exception. Others often say the vanilla is very light but it is always the predominant note I catch. Here though it combines with the jasmine and the Ceylon base and leans heavily towards caramel. I am noticing as the cup cools the Ceylon base is apparent in the aftertaste. Bonus points for tasting the base in a vanilla tea!

My wife avoids caffeine. Me not so much. That said, I can see why she keeps taking my cup. Even though I had the second steep this is very nice.

Simple Loose Leaf is a fairly new company. They initially intended to offer only customized subscription monthly tea service but now sell by the ounce and sample sizes as well. The teas I have tried so far have been a solid value based on cost.

Visit the Simple Loose Leaf website.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Simple Loose Leaf, Lady Earl Grey Black

Simple Loose Leaf Description:
Our very popular Earl Grey blend of citrus bergamot over an extraordinary Nilgiri Black Tea with the added indulgence of Vanilla. This mouthwatering combination is the perfect invigorating treat. For the famed "London Fog" effect, add steamed milk and enjoy a smooth and creamy delight.

South Indian Flower Orange Pekoe Black Tea, Earl Grey Flavor, Vanilla Flavor, Cornflowers

Sample provided by Simple Loose Leaf

My Review:
OK, here's the deal. Simple Loose Leaf has set up a subscription system allowing the customer to pick what teas they will receive. You select the number of teas you would like and the quantity, Simple Loose Leaf then mails one tea per month. If you order beyond a certain amount the shipments are front loaded - meaning you will receive more than one tea per month. It sounds a bit confusing but it really isn't once you read their explanation.

The selection is good and the teas are reasonably priced. In fact the larger your subscription the more discount you receive on the cost. That is all well and good but only if the tea is worthy of being ordered. Let's see.

I received two teas this month. Vanilla Decaf Black for my wife and I to share and this Lady Earl Grey Black tea. As I cut the top off the package, I noticed a faint vanilla fragrance before actually pulling open the recloseable zip strip. Then as I got into the pouch I saw what I at first tought was a hole in the package. My heart sank. Then I realized it was part of a port in the back of the pouch. The apparent purpose seems to be to remove the air from inside the bag. I have never seen this before. It is a pretty cool idea.

The tea leaf is dark small twists with gold and blue petals. I used a scoop of leaf or about 3-4g in my press with water heated at 200F. I probably could have used full boil. The steep was three minutes.

The result is a dark orange liquor. The wet leaf is much larger pieces than I was expecting. My guess is this is orthodox produced leaf rather than CTC. The aroma is vanilla and very inviting.

The vanilla is to me the most noticeable flavor. The bergamot once you stop to analyze what you are slamming down becomes obvious. It is not perfumey or too citrus. From what I'm tasting, I suspect I would greatly enjoy their Earl Grey.

The Nilgiri black tea is smooth. There is a slight tartness but that may be from the bergamot. It is also slightly drying and that may be the vanilla. While it is difficult to single out the base this feels creamy and full.

This is called Lady Earl Grey not to be confused with Lady Grey by Twinings version. This is not the Twinings version. This is a very nice Earl Grey Creme.

If I have a real complaint it is that I wish the vanilla were just a bit toned down so the other elements could stand out. That is not a valid complaint though as I have said that of every vanilla and bergamot tea I have ever tried.

As I was typing this review I finished the first cup and immediately started a second. Except, oops, I forgot to pour it. So cup two has steeped 10 minutes! with full boiling water. The color is interesting depending on the light it is either deep caramel or nearly crimson. Amazingly the long steep has not hurt this at all. In fact I may prefer the second cup. It seems smoother and deeper in flavor. A very nice cup that did not turn bitter.

I am very impressed with the packaging and the leaf quality. This Earl Grey creme otherwise known as Lady Earl Grey is well worth the price.

Since designing my own subscription I notice you can now order tea in 1oz, 2oz, & 4oz increments as well as sample sizes.

Visit the Simple Loose Leaf site.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Life In Teacup, 2010 Da Dian Mang Fei Ancient Tree Sheng

Life In Teacup Description:
Harvested in spring, compressed in autumn using traditional methods.

Sample provided by Life In Teacup

My Review:
It's been awhile since I have reviewed a sheng puerh. I'll be honest. I have no idea what makes for a good sheng. What I can tell you is what I like and what I don't.

I opened the sample pouch and inhaled. The scent was fresh and while not exactly green tea like, it was a very fresh aroma. The sample piece is large and has some green coloration. It pried apart pretty easily without a pick. The picture is what was left of the sample while preparing the first cup.

I used about 4g - approx 1/3 of the sample in my press with boiling water. I was tempted to gong fu brew it with my gaiwan but opted for the lazy less intensive method. I did not do a rinse. Instead I let the leaf rest and absorb the warm moisture in the freshly washed press.

The steep was 1 1/2 minutes. Long for a gaiwan but short by most western standards. The result is golden sunshine in a cup. The leaf is a mixture of green and brown with a marine scent.

The sip is bright and kind of metallic. I say that, but compared to many sheng I have tried this one is nicely civilized. You may not easily make this connection but the taste reminded me of frosted mini wheat cereal. I often eat them dry as a snack.

This has a thick syrupy feel, leaving my lips sticky. There is a nice amount of depth as the flavors morph gently as it is swallowed. The aftertaste is nicely green in flavor. One noteworthy thing is the tingly affect this is having on my cheeks. Puerhs that I tend to like generate a rumbling feeling in my stomach. This is one of those teas.

As the cup cooled I began to pick up on a light amount of leather - I love horse tack leather in the flavor. I found nothing in this that I considered out of place or offensive. This is an enjoyable cup from start to finish.

Obviously this will steep several times. Today I enjoyed two 12oz mugs. The second was as flavorful as the first.

Visit the Life In Teacup website.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Life In Teacup, Affair of Shui Xian & Rou Gui

Life In Teacup Description:
Blending Shui Xian and Rou Gui is a traditional way of making some "Da Hong Pao" products. Although anybody can blend two teas together, artistic blending can only be achieved by the most skillful and experienced tea workers. Instead of calling this product "Da Hong Pao", we give it its current name to honor the state-of-art blending, to clarify the "ingredients" of this tea, and to distinguish it from our other Da Hong Pao products which are made of Da Hong Pao (Qi Dan) cultivar.

Production Year: 2010
Production Season: Spring
Production Region: Fujian, Wuyi Mountain Region

Sample provided by Life In Teacup

My Review:
I grabbed this sample with no expectations. I had not read the description and was not familiar with the name of this tea. Upon opening the sample I may have gone, "Ooooh" out loud. This cannot be confirmed as there were no witnesses. The leaf is large and dark. The scent is of roasted goodness.

I used a large scoop due to the bulk of leaf in my press with 200 F water. The steep was 2 1/2 minutes which resulted in a root beer colored liquor whose aroma was pleasantly roasted.

This tea is a blend of Shui Xian and Rou Gui. The combination is warm, earthy, and sweet. The roasted aspect is a driving flavor that is balanced in the cup. It does not overwhelm. The aftertaste I am finding to linger with a green leafy aspect that surprises me in such a dark oolong. I have enjoyed a number of cheap bagged wuyi oolongs that are obviously attempting to imitate Da Hong Pao. They are generally pleasant enough but lack depth. This tea on the other hand is not only beautiful to look at, it is also rich in full flavor. Very nice.

Visit the Life In Teacup website.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Last Tea On Earth.

The title sounds ominous doesn't it? Well this post is much more lighthearted. RiverTea is a soon to open new company and in preparation of their website launch they recently held a contest on Steepster. Their question was, "If there were only 100 grams of your favourite tea available in the world, what would you do for it?"

There were a number of entries. RiverTea chose their top five to win 100 grams of their favorite tea of choice and three samples. This was a very generous offer and such a fun contest I could not pass up the opportunity to jump in with my submission. The following is my winning entry for your enjoyment:

For the last 100g of my favorite tea… my first thought was to hide it from everyone while hissing, “My precious.” But that would just lead to stale tea making me sad.
So, my second thought was to take (two) 2g samples and send them to Dr.’s Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler in hopes they could extract some viable DNA for cloning more of the precious leaf. Since Sheldon possesses the DNA of Leonard Nimoy, I feel certain he is very well versed on the subject and Amy probably already knows how to make it happen. The two samples, are not because there are two Drs. involved. It is because I am pretty certain Sheldon could not resist the temptation of trying a hot beverage of the last of this leaf.
With the remaining 96g I would invite my entire small town of 12k people in southern Indiana USA to have tea with me. Since everyone else here thinks all tea comes bagged in a yellow box, they won’t show and I will simply have to sip it all by myself… while hissing, “My precious.”

I'll be reviewing "my precious" RiverTea contest winning tea on this site in the near future. In the meantime, what would you do for the last 100 grams on earth of your favorite tea?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Life In Teacup, Wuyi Jin Jun Mei

Life In Teacup Description:
This Jin Jun Mei is not Zheng Shan Tang brand, whose price in China is about US$1500 per pound. This tea uses leaf materials from Wuyi Mountain and is made by the best tea workers of over 40 years of experience.

Production Year : 2013
Production Season: Spring
Production Region: Fujian Province, Wuyi Mountain region

Sample provided by Life In Teacup

My Review:
Every tea drinker has a favorite type of tea that just the mention of makes them a bit weak kneed. I love assertive Chinese greens and subtle Silver Needle whites, but a Fujian or Yunnan black tea (red tea in China) really gets my motor running.

I opened the sample bag to be greeted by a warm aroma reminiscent of my grandfathers pipe tobacco (minus the cherry) and sweet hay. The leaf is beautiful. Click on the picture above to expand it for a closer look. Simply gorgeous.

I used a scoop of leaf in my press with water heated to 200 F. I steeped for three minutes. These parameters were just a western guess. I'll try a much shorter eastern steep next. The liquor is dark caramel in color and scent.

The sip is honey, caramel/cocoa, and malt. The malt is lighter than some Fujian teas I have sampled but present and pleasant. There is a not really earthy, but more leafy quality to the taste. This is not bitter or biting. It is somewhat drying with a long steep. For those who don't tolerate black tea well this probably should not be sipped on an empty stomach. That is an excuse to nibble on a cookie - just in case you need such an excuse.

For my second cup I reduced the steep time to just over one minute. I found this cup to have more honey sweetness. It was smoother yet just as flavorful as the first cup. I am not detecting the dryness now though I must admit to having recently learned I am kind of immune from initially detecting it. I am more likely to become aware of it only after some gut burning. More cookies? Why, yes, thank you. Even though I did not perceive them as 'medically' necessary. I am not one to buck tradition - especially when it comes to tea and cookies.

I am pretty certain this would steep at least once more, probably even more had I kept the first steep shorter. Unfortunately I won't find out today as I am out of time. Well maybe one more cookie.

I am not a big fan of Assam tea unless it is blended with other less forceful black teas. Ceylon is my go to for flavored tea. Fujian, though I find to be just sublime all on its own and this is a very tasty one.

Visit the Life In Teacup website.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Life In Teacup, Frosty Spring Yunnan Roast Green

Life In Teacup Description:
Production Year - 2013
Production Season - First day harvest of the year, on March 5, 2013
Production Region - Yunan Province, Jing Gu County of Puerh City region
Style - Hong Qing (roasted)
Like most Yunnan green teas, this one is from one of the small-leaf cultivars (green tea cultivars) and not a large-leaf cultivar (puerh cultivar). But the leaves are still larger than leaves of most other green teas. 

Sample provided by Life In Teacup

My Review:
I saw Yunnan in the name of this and immediately invented in my head how this should taste. Yunnan black teas are among my favorite teas. So of course, this being a green tea, I am completely wrong on the taste profile. When will I learn?

I opened the sample bag and pulled out some of the leaf. For Chinese green tea it is huge. It is long, kind of twisted, with some bulk to it. I have to admit I held it under the light and played with the leaf long enough that any non-tea person who would have seen me might start avoiding me. You know, because I'm one of those strange tea people.

I used an overflowing scoop of leaf, in an amount similar to what I would use for white tea. Dry the leaf had only a slight aroma that was slightly grain in nature. I heated the water to 200 F and steeped for 2 1/2 minutes. The result was a beautiful golden liquor. The wet leaf was bright green in color. The aroma of the leaf reminded me of stew beef.

The taste is really difficult to describe. I have never used the word umami in a review as I am not entirely certain I understand the term. I am going to use it here. This tea is quite subtle in taste. It tastes similar to a lot of Chinese green teas with a vegetal taste but not grassy or buttery. It is strangely more savory like meat. The liquor, to my perception at least, had a broth like quality.

The style of this is listed as roasted but I never really caught and roasted, smoky, toasted, qualities in this one. It is an interesting and different (not in a weird way) tea. I don't recall an aftertaste with this one, which is strange. I am not sure I am doing this tea justice. I simply can't come up with a description that makes better sense. How about I just say I enjoy a good mystery.

Visit the Life In Teacup website.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Life In Teacup, White Plum Flower Peak

Life In Teacup Description:
This tea is from an area right next to the producing region of Huang Shan Mao Feng. The appearance of this tea is quite similar to Huang Shan Mao Feng too, due to the similar processing techniques used. But this tea has a lot of nice nuances, floral, herbal, incense, and something subtle and mysterious.

Sample provided by Life In Teacup.

My Review:
Despite the name, this is not a white tea. It contains no plum flavoring or flowers. This review is for the April 4, 2013 production season. Also known as Bai Mei Hua Jian, this is a green tea. The name comes from the mountain range where it grows. A rarity in the west as Life In Teacup believes it is the only vendor offering this leaf outside of China.

Opening the sample pack I caught the aroma of hay but more intense as it was almost a wine alcohol element. The dry leaf is small and brittle with a lot of fine white hair. The leaf in the picture looks like a green tea. Up close the color and appearance is almost like a white tea.

I used a large scoop in my press with filtered water heated to 200F. Life In Teacup said on their website to use above 80C and up to full boil if steeped with the lid off. The dance of the leaf was interesting as most of the leaf hung from the surface early on, then dropped to the bottom as it steeped. I went 2 minutes. The wet leaf is buttery steamed vegetables in scent. The leaf is pea green buds and leaves.

The liquor is very light in color - almost colorless until it cools and becomes white grape juice in color. It is extremely clear with no discernible scent.

Life in Teacup's description is pretty accurate, this is similar to Haung Shan Feng but much (much) lighter. The former has a very strong presence. This is quite subtle. I agree this tea has a lot of nice nuances, floral, herbal, incense, and something subtle and mysterious. I enjoy a quiet tea that is full of depth. This is such a tea. For the Assam lover, this could prove to be disappointing. Those who enjoy contemplating the depths of a white tea or very light greens should find this to be an exceptional sip. Knowledge of its rarity outside of China peaks my interest as well.

Having prepared this with my hybrid western approach, I hope to try it later in a gaiwan gongfu session and a full western long steep version as well. I am curious to see if the really nice subtle flavors can be brought out more using a higher leaf to water ratio or a longer steep time.

Visit the Life In Teacup site.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Townshend's Tea Company, #82 Chamomile Classic

Townshend's Tea Company Description:
A soothing tea from Egypt made from sweet chamomile herbs. An added honey-apple aroma gives the flavor of this tea a pleasant accent.

Price: $2.50/ ounce

My Review:
My wife cannot tolerate caffeine. She has her decaf teas she likes but every now and then I'll order something a little different so we can share a cup or two in the evening. This was such an order.

We prepared this in the cup using a Finum basket. I steeped for around 5 minutes. My wife selected dark blue cups so I cannot comment on the brew color. The scent was lightly apple.

To us this was a lightly flavored chamomile. Chamomile has a natural apple type flavor to me anyhow, but this one is enhanced with apple and honey flavors. It made for a pleasant though not spectacular cup.

If you like the idea of chamomile tea but find its taste a little bland, the additional flavors of this might just be what you are seeking. The price is certainly low enough. Townshend's web site could use a little modernizing and they don't take Pay Pal but I was otherwise pleased with our purchase experience.

Visit Townshend's Tea Company.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Celestial Seasonings, Sweet Harvest Pumpkin

Celestial Seasonings Description:
"Just like big piles of pumpkins at roadside stands and perfectly baked pumpkin pies on kitchen tables, Sweet Harvest Pumpkin™ Holiday Black Tea in tea cups everywhere is a sure sign that the holidays are near. Featuring rich black tea, harvest-fresh pumpkin flavor and traditional spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg plus a touch of natural sweetness, this festive blend is a delicious little slice of the season."

Black Tea, Cinnamon, Ginger, Roasted Chicory, Natural Pumpkin Flavor With Other Natural Flavors (Soy Lecithin), Luo Han Guo, Cloves, Nutmeg, Natural Sweetener (Stevia Extract) and Pumpkin.

My Review:
The leaves are turning brilliant colors and covering the yard. The afternoon air has a chill.  Yep, it's fall here. We all know what that means. It's time to break out the fall teas. This one was actually the very first Celestial Seasonings tea I had tried. Apparently, I never reviewed it, so let's do it now.

The bags are packed inside the box in a kind of re-close-able bag, kind of. It doesn't really seal but is better than nothing. The bags themselves are stringless, tagless, and staple free. What that means is you are going to need a spoon to get the hot bag out of the cup.

Dry, the bag smells intensely of spicy pumpkin pie filling. Mmmmmm. I used lightly boiling water and steeped for..... uhm..... a long time. Probably 5 minutes. I was watching the season premiere of Grimm, and got a bit distracted. 

The cup did not suffer with the long steep. It was not bitter and I could actually taste the black tea base. It was nothing amazing, it is just that flavored bagged teas often overpower the actual tea. I was pleased.

The taste does not quite live up to the promise of the scent. Where as the dry aroma is unmistakably pumpkin, the cup is more pumpkin spice chai. The pumpkin just kind of gets lost. Even so, this is very tasty and pretty sweet (contains Stevia). 

This is one of the better bagged teas of the type. Honestly, I have never had a pumpkin pie tea that lived up to my expectation. Then again I have never put a dollop of Cool Whip on top either. So maybe it is my own fault.

Pumpkin tea check. Christmas teas will soon appear on the shelves, then I'm ready for spring.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Little Red Cup Tea Company, Jade Oolong

Little Red Cup Tea Company Description:
Jade Oolong is a marvelous mountain-grown tea from western Hunan Province. It has an appealing aroma, a beautiful green color and a forceful presence. It has a taste profile characteristic of greener oolongs, complex and just a little woody.

Our Jade Oolong is pure whole leaf organic Chinese tea, Fair Trade certified, and utterly delicious. This is a tea to be enjoyed on a regular basis, but also a tea to bring out for special occasions. It is at once familiar and yet a cut above ordinary oolongs, a tea we are certain you will love.

Price: $9.50 / 3 ounces

Sample provided by Little Red Cup Tea Company

My Review:
This is the fourth and final sample I am reviewing from Little Red Cup. Up next is a high mountain oolong from the Hunan Province of China. I love the pictures of the leaf from their site. Very accurate of what is in the bag.

Looking at the color of the tightly twisted pellets this is obviously a lot greener oolong than most. There is only the slightest of floral fragrances present in the dry leaf. I used about 3g of leaf in my press with 200 F water and steeped 3 minutes per recommendations.

The result was a lot of big leaf pieces filling the press. I probably could have used less. The liquor is golden/green in tint. The wet leaf had an aroma like bread and spices. The cup was lightly floral.

When this was hot I was a little disappointed. It really wasn't giving off a lot of flavor for me. I do consider in my assessment that I am on antibiotics for chest congestion so that may be a factor. However, the colder the cup got the more amazing it became.

Once cooled down significantly this became buttery tasting and creamy feeling. The taste lit up with floral oolong goodness. This is sort of tiguanyin but not as geranium/latex flavored. The aftertaste really held on with its floral sweetness.

Both the White Monkey and this Jade Oolong are my favorites. If I had to choose one I guess I would go with the White Monkey as I love that white/green flavor range. All of these are very good and affordable teas.  If you are looking for an everyday oolong that isn't boring - this one is a contender.

Visit Little Red Cup Tea Company.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Little Red Cup Tea Company, White Monkey

Little Red Cup Tea Company Description:
Little Red Cup Tea’s organic White Monkey Tea is a terrific mountain-grown tea from western Hunan Province. Despite its name, White Monkey Tea is, in fact, a green tea — a function of processing — but when steeped, the tightly rolled leaves unfurl yielding a lovely golden brew more akin to white tea than anything else. It is made from the earliest leaves, still covered with downy white hairs for which the tea is named.

Our White Monkey tea is pure whole leaf organic Chinese tea, Fair Trade certified and utterly delicious. A handy tea to have on hand for the green tea enthusiasts and a variety that even the casual tea drinker will enjoy.

Price: $8.00/3.0 oz

Sample provided by Little Red Cup Tea Company

My Review:
I am excited to try this one. I love White Monkey, so named because the dry leaf is said to look like a white-haired monkey's paw - not to me, but apparently to whoever named it. Technically a green tea from its processing, it looks and tastes much closer to a white tea.

I used a healthy scoop of leaf in my press with 175 F water. The steep was about 3 minutes. The wet leaf had an aroma that was plant-like with more than a hint of stew beef. The liquor is deep golden in color.

Sipping, I am not disappointed. It is lightly earthy and very nutty. It has far more heft and body than a white peony. Late in the sip there is a briskness. I wouldn't exactly call it bite. This is more an asserting of its presence. The aftertaste is nicely sweet.

I wholeheartedly recommend this one. Very delicious.

Visit the Little Red Cup Tea Company website.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Little Red Cup Tea Company, Lu Mei Green Tea

Little Red Cup Tea Company Description:
The best Lu Mei (Green Eyebrow Tea) originates in Jiangxi Province, where our Fair Trade certified, Organic Lu Mei Tea is grown. Lu Mei is a distinctive tea with more bite than some green teas, and is named for the characteristic shape of its leaves. Green teas are made with virtually no oxidation, and so our Lu Mei produces a brew light in color with a fresh, sharp taste.

No lightweight, Little Red Cup Lu Mei Tea is a perfect eye-opener, as well as a solid work-day companion. Among green teas, Lu Mei is a strong variety, and we suggest using a smaller amount of tea and a shorter brewing time for a lighter beverage, and a bit more tea coupled with a longer brewing time for a stronger tea.

Price: 4 oz - $9

Sample provided by Little Red Cup Tea Company.

My Review:
The second of four samples from Little Red Cup Tea Company. Fair Trade, Organic, Sustainability are all ideals behind this company.

The samples are all very generous. Definitely enough to try this several times to give it a work out. The dry leaf is twisted into little arched eyebrow shapes. The picture is a good representation of what you get. There is a light grainy aroma.

I steeped this per recommendations of 175 F water for a minute and a half. The result is an amber colored liquor. The wet leaf has a seaweed aroma. The brew is faintly floral.

The sip is mineral and sweet with a bite. Some reviewers see this tea as bitter. I am not one of them. I like a little bite. It adds character and cleanses the palette. It is astringent in that it feels drying.

Others also reported this packs a punch. I am not really getting that either. Assam packs a gut punch. This is more like a tap on the shoulder. The aftertaste lingers long and sweet.

There is not a lot of depth to the cup but it is refreshing. For the price this would make a fine everyday workhorse tea.

Visit Little Red Cub Tea Company today.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Little Red Cup Tea Company, Green Mao Jian

Little Red Cup Tea Company:
Our special organic Green Mao Jian Tea is an unusual mountain-grown tea from western Hunan Province. The tea is named for the abundance of tiny hairs covering the leaves when they are picked in the spring and for the sharply pointed shape of the leaves once rolled in the finishing process.

Green Mao Jian Tea is one of the most delicate green teas we have seen. Steeped normally, it produces a lovely pale green brew with meadow notes and light forest scents. A stronger brew may be obtained using more tea leaves, warmer water and a longer steep time. Even then, this tea is not bitter. An excellent tea for those who want to enjoy a green tea without the punch that so many ordinary greens carry.

Our Green Mao Jian Tea is pure whole leaf organic Chinese tea, Fair Trade certified and sublimely drinkable. A marvelous tea to accompany you throughout a busy morning and into the early afternoon, a tea both for the dedicated tea consumer and one for the casual tea drinker as well.

Price: $8/3 ounces

Sample provided by Little Red Cup Tea Company

My Review:
This is my first experience with Little Red Cup Tea Company. Reading through their "Our Company" page gives some clues what to expect.
First, we want to offer the kinds of teas that our friends routinely drink in China: simple, traditional, whole leaf varieties. You’ll find no Mango-Walnut-Green-Tea-Surprise, no breakfast blends. Though our teas are of fantastic quality, we’ve priced them for everyday consumption.... 
As mentioned in the tea description they are also concerned about Fair Trade and organic. Sustainability is another priority for this company. There is a lot to admire about Little Red Cup Tea Company. Let's see if their tea matches their intentions.

I opened the sample and a grainy scent moved slowly out of the bag. The dry leaf is twisted, dark, and kind of wispy looking. I used about 3g of leaf in my press with filtered water heated to 175F. The steep time was 3 minutes. The result is a lovely golden liquor. The aroma of steamed spinach met me before I removed the lid. The leaves are small and pea green.

The sip revealed a light taste that is fresh and inviting. It has some bite but is not at all bitter. It is not grassy or floral when hot. It is hard to describe. Open is the best word I can come up with. Slightly mineral and lightly fruity. Others had some trouble describing this as well. Many of them noted milky but I am not getting milky with my brewing method while the cup is hot.

Oh, I walked away to play some guitar and when I picked up the cup it was room temperature. Now I get the milky others mentioned. More importantly, I think the flavor has really come alive. This is now very fragrant with almost oolong floral qualities. Very, very nice once cooled. I might need to try this one iced. You can easily get two mugs from the leaf, possibly more.

Summation - When hot it is light in body and mild in taste, at the same time the longer you sip the more you want. Once the cup cools it really comes alive with flavor. A very nice everyday affordable Chinese green tea.

Visit Little Red Cup Tea on the web.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Teavivre, Lu Shan Yun Wu Green Tea

Teavivre Description:
The fresh tea leaves of Lu Shan Yun Wu are picked under strict requirement of one bud with one leaf or one bud with two leaves. After processed, the leaves will shape into tight, curly and strong strips. The liquid presents bright and green color while showing brisk fragrance. The scent of roasted chestnut lasts long. This Lu Shan Yun Wu is better to be brewed with big glass. It will has brisk and refreshing flavor and sweet taste. After several steeps, you will see the tea leaves tenderly stretched and showing its soft and light yellow appearance.

Sample provided by Teavivre

My Review:
Chinese greens are probably my favorite broad category of teas. I mostly want them without any flavorings. There is just something so pure and natural about them that I connect with on some deep level. I am really looking forward to this one so let's get to it.

Opening the sample packet I get a familiar slightly sour leaf aroma. Removing a scoop of leaf I am surprised, amused, and fascinated by the shape. In a pile, it looks like a tangle of green thread. Spread out, it looks more like very fine green wood shavings.

I almost never use as much leaf as Teavivre recommends. Here I used half the sample or about 3g of leaf. I heated a mug of water to 175F and used my press for a 2 minute first steep. This was one of the coolest examples of why you should consider using a clear glass vessel to steep. The leaf was alive on the bottom of the press. At first it was like watching the grass as a child while a bug made its way through the blades. Then it became more intense as the leaf stretched and wriggled to set itself free from the tight bondage of the strips like a butterfly breaking free from its cocoon. What a show!

The wet leaf had a steamed spinach aroma that I find is often true of good Chinese green tea. The liquor was so light in color I double checked the time and then wondered if I under leafed. The tint reminded me of honeysuckle as I poured it into the cup. It did darken as the cup cooled. The cup picture from Teavivre's website looks very much like my results.

The sip is maybe similar to dragon well but not really. It has a briskness to it that provides just the perfect amount of bite. Clean, fresh, refreshing are all words that describe what I'm tasting. Sweet but not overly so. This is not disappointing. I can't wait to see what cup two has to offer.

Cup two at just over a one minute steep has a light golden green tint. A much sweeter cup has developed. Gone is the resemblance to dragon well. I really don't know what chestnuts taste like but maybe this is the flavor Teavivre mentions in their description. To me, it is almost a plant taste and possibly bamboo. The briskness is replaced by a light mineral finish. The aftertaste lingers and is sweet.

Another very nice tea from Teavivre.

Visit the Teavivre website.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Teavivre, Superfine Taiwan Ali Shan Oolong Tea

Teavivre Description:
Taiwan Ali Shan Oolong is a typical kind of Taiwan High Mountain Tea. This tea is from Ali Mountain, which is the birthland of High Mountain Tea.
The tea garden where Taiwan Ali Shan Oolong Tea grows locates at the altitude between 800 meters to 1400 meters. On the high mountain, climate is cold and cloudy. Sunshine time is short, as a result, the astringent substance in the tea leaves is reduced, thus the tea becomes sweeter. In the mean time, temperature in daytime and in night is distinctive, which make the tea tree grows slowly. Therefore, the leaf is soft and thick with high content of pectin substance. This is the unique feature of Ali Shan Oolong Tea as being a type of Taiwan High Mountain Tea. What’s more, the tea trees are irrigated with spring water on Ali Mountain, making the tea carries a sweet flavor of spring water.

Sample provided by Teavivre

My Review:
This is the last sample for Oolong Fest. None of this years oolong have been dark roasted. They have all been floral, sweet, excellent teas and each has been distinctly different from the others. Let's see if the trend continues.

Opening this sample, the aroma was very light and shows no real signs of what is to come. Removing the leaf pellets reveals they are very tightly twisted. I used my clear glass press and boiling water for a two minute steep. I almost used a gaiwan but I am glad I didn't. I would have missed the spectacle that is the dance of the leaves.

The pellets mostly rose to the surface while the remaining pieces sat on the bottom. Occasionally one would race up to the surface or dive to the bottom. They moved very quickly which I have never observed before. Some would rise, release bubbles, then sink again. I have only observed this before with flowering teas. Definitely an enjoyable experience.

I hate repeating myself but the liquor was white grape juice in color. Very light, very alive in appearance. The wet leaf only partially relaxed on this first steep and it had a marine seaweed aroma. The liquor itself is lightly floral in scent.

This is thick like broth. Buttery and vegetal in flavor. Lightly floral. The aftertaste is sweet and nearly immediately geranium plant in nature. It produced a slight tingling sensation especially in my cheeks. The tingle is something I have noticed with all the Taiwan teas.  I don't recall seeing it mentioned in any other reviews online so maybe it is just me.

I only used half the sample. As I steep the second time the leaf has relaxed and there is so much leaf! I cannot see through the press. With the water it appears to be an almost solid mass. Oolongs are cool that way.

The second cup is much like the first but now with some mineral notes. The color of the liquor is more golden. The aftertaste has grown less geranium plant and more floral. Yeah, wrap your head around that last line. Geranium is the term I use for that almost latex like flavor that often accompanies green oolongs but I find the term unappealing - so it is geranium plant.

This will definitely go more steeps and I may get to them after I publish.

I think it is a toss up between this one and the Taiwan High Mountain oolong for my personal favorites during Oolong Fest. What are your favorites?

Visit Teavivre online.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Teavivre, Superfine Taiwan Qing Xiang Dong Ding Oolong Tea

Teavivre Description:
In Taiwan Oolong Tea, Dong Ding Oolong Tea is an excellent kind highly praised by the world. Dong Ding is originally planted on Dongding Mountain, which is a branch of Phoenix Mountain, in Lugu Village, Nantou County, Taiwan. The tea is planted in the area at the altitude of 1000 meters. So this is also a High Mountain tea, which is known as its obvious floral fragrance. This Dong Ding Qing Xiang Oolong Tea is made of the tea leaves from Qing Xin Oolong tea tree. This tea has thick and soft leaf, refreshing tea liquid, with strong osmanthus scent. Meanwhile it has strong sweet aftertaste, which makes High Mountain tea more excellent than low altitude tea. The difference between Dong Ding Qing Xiang Oolong Tea and Moderately-Roasted Dong Ding Oolong Tea is the process of roast. Qing Xiang means that the tea is not roasted.

Sample provided by Teavivre.

My Review:
Oolong Fest continues with this Dong Ding oolong. Immediately upon opening the bag I had to  look this up. I have had Dong Ding before. The aroma out of the sample pack was nothing like I remembered. The last line of Teavivre's description cleared it up. This is Qing Xiang which Teavivre clarifies as meaning not roasted. The dry leaf has only a light oolong aroma and not the heavier charcoal I was expecting. I love learning and being surprised.

The pellets of this oolong appear tightly rolled and are typical of all the Taiwan oolongs I have tried thus far. Instead of the usual dry leaf picture, I decided to offer the wet leaf instead. Oolongs are pretty amazing. A few pellets in the bottom of your brewing vessel can swell enormously when wet. I lost my tea ball years ago and I advise you to do the same. Set the pellets free. They expand so much you can easily pour your cup without getting leaf in your cup.

I used the recommended parameters provided on the sample of one mug of boiling water (212 F / 100 C) and steeped initially for two minutes in my press. The leaf created a liquid forest in my press. The brew is golden with just a touch of green tint.

Oooh, this has a beautiful aroma and taste. After reading Teavivre's description I can definitely make the osmanthus connection. It is still unfamiliar enough to me that I doubt I would have been able to come up with a descriptor on my own. I would have called it something like floral/spicy. It is like it has a light touch of cinnamon and possibly ginger? The floral aspect is the strongest but natural and not overwhelming.

It is not bitter but I find it slightly drying. Again with this oolong my cheeks have a numb feeling from sipping. The aftertaste is sweet and lasts. The further into the mug I get the more the aftertaste develops the geranium taste I associate with oolong. However it does not dominate the mug. I am finding myself fascinated and captivated by this tea.

I quit after three 12oz mugs and this would easily go more. The green oolongs from Teavivre have so far all been light, fresh, floral, and sweet. Each is distinctively different and each has been delicious. On to the next!

Visit the Teavivre website.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Teavivre, Nonpareil Taiwan Li Shan Oolong Tea

Teavivre Description:
A good tea needs attentive observation on its appearance and careful taste on its flavor. This Nonpareil Taiwan Li Shan Oolong Tea is twisted into round particles. Dry tea is in dark green color of glossy appearance. Infuse the tea with 100℃ water. Tea liquid looks transparent in golden yellow color. It tastes full and mellow, with long-lasting sweetness and fresh fragrance in the mouth. The floral aroma and smooth flavor still stays after ten or more steeps. As it cooled, its fragrance and sweetness retains in your cup. This is a special characteristic which only can be found on high grade teas.
Another characteristic of Li Shan High-Mountain Oolong Tea is the natural fruity scent. It is a result of the high mountain and low temperature condition. Unique climate and fertile soil bear the tea trees that are grown with the natural fragrance. Thus the tea’s flavor tastes richer which differs from low grade tea. This is the important fact that the tea can become a representative of Taiwan Gao Leng tea.

Price: $28.90/50g (1.75oz)

Sample provided by Teavivre

My Review:
The third oolong from Teavivre as I continue Oolong Fest! This is a high level Li Shan from Taiwan. I'm looking forward to this one.

The photo I grabbed from Teavivre's website shows the leaf pellets in all their mystery. It amazes me how a bud and two or three leaves connected by a stem can be rolled so tightly.

The dry leaf has a light floral green oolong scent. I used about 3.5g in my press with boiling water for an initial two minute steep. Teavivre recommends twice that amount of leaf. For my tastes, I have never felt it necessary to use so much leaf. The result of my western hybrid brewing method is a very lightly morning sunshine colored liquor with a hint of green. The leaf is relaxing but still quite twisted. The leaf scent is a light floral aroma along with spinach.

The sip is creamy with a spicy floral taste. Late in the sip it develops what I call a geranium note. There is no bitterness and no rough edges. Apparently it is a bit astringent as the inside of my cheeks feel a numbing sensation and it is slightly drying. The aftertaste is very sweet and it is long lasting.

Mug two starts very smooth and a little less creamy. It has developed an earthy plant taste. I can't come up with a better description. The aftertaste continues sweet and swells with the geranium flavor. Some who dislike the taste call it latex. To me, it reminds me of the scent of the geranium plants my neighbor grew when I was a young boy. I love teas that evoke memories.

Most of us will not consider this to be priced in the range of an everyday tea. It is a relatively rare tea to be sipped as a special treat but remember oolongs resteep really well. This one prepared my way is about $2 per 12 oz mug. That is no more expensive than a cup of tea at Starbucks. It will easily steep 3 times, making $0.67/mug. If you use a 6 oz cup that is 6 cups at $0.34. The initial investment needlessly scares a lot of us away from enjoying a rare treat.

Teavivre offers sample sizes of their teas that I generally get two or sometimes three sessions from one bag. It is an affordable way to experience high quality tea without the anxiety.

Visit the Teavivre website.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Teavivre, Taiwan Osmanthus Oolong Tea

Teavivre Description:
Crafted with the tea leaves from Qingxin Oolong tea trees, mixed with natural fragrance extracted from fresh osmanthus, this Osmanthus Oolong Tea has high floral scent, as well as the mellow taste of oolong tea. When brewing this tea, you will first smell the refreshing osmanthus fragrance, and then taste its flavor in the liquid in the mean time feel the sweet flavor. The aroma of osmanthus and oolong will stay in your mouth for a long time. The floral fragrance also brings richer flavor to the oolong tea.

Sample provided by Teavivre

My Review:
I have tried one other Osmanthus Oolong. Afterwards I still was not sure what osmanthus was supposed to taste like. That is definitely not going to be the situation here. When I cut off the top of the sample bag a floral almost perfume scent filled the air. To me, it resembles lavender. Very fragrant.

The pellets are compact with a partial stem showing. They look pretty much like any Taiwan oolong. I used a healthy half scoop in my press and added boiling water for a two minute steep per Teavivre's instruction. I often play with other companies parameters but for my tastes Teavivre gets it right pretty much all the time. The only change I generally make is I use less leaf than they recommend per my tastes.

The result is a white grape colored liquor that is bright and clear. The wet leaf is only partially relaxed. The leaf scent is floral and green. The cup aroma is osmanthus.

The sip starts with the osmanthus, then the green fresh oolong flavor kicks in. This is sweet with no bitterness, bite, or rough edges. I was concerned at first that the dry aroma was so perfumey that the cup would be overpowered. Happily this is not the case. It is far less in your face flavored than most any flavored commercially produced tea. Compared to say a black tea, this is a very lightly flavored cup. It is more intense than a white tea.

The aftertaste is very long lasting, floral, and very sweet. This is one of the few hot teas I have not wanted to add sweetener to the cup. I always try to review them without additions first. If you add sweetener it is kind of too much even for a sweet tooth junkie. However the addition causes the osmanthus to taste something like grape candy.

For round two I steeped another 12 ounces for two minutes. On this cup the oolong moves to the forefront and the osmanthus recedes, still present but not dominant. This cup has an earthy or woodsy quality to it. The aftertaste is still very sweet of osmanthus and it lingers on and on.

At first I was not sure what I thought of this, but it sips easily and as I sipped I noticed the cup went empty very quickly.

Visit the Teavivre website.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Teavivre, Taiwan High Mountain Oolong

Teavivre Description:
Although Taiwan originates from Fujian, China, its flavor is quite distinct with Fujian Oolong tea. Like this Taiwan High Mountain Oolong Tea, it is recommended for beginners of Taiwan oolong. Different from the high aroma of Fujian Oolong, this tea has light floral fragrance.

Sample provided by Teavivre

My Review:
I am getting ready to start an oolong fest with several samples from Teavivre. First up is this May 2013, High Mountain oolong, from Nantou, Taiwan.

The pellets are nicely tight and look typical of oolongs. I did not note an aroma of the dry leaf. I used my press and water heated to boiling per Teavivre instructions. The steep time was 2 minutes on the first cup. 

The leaf only partially relaxed and has a seaweed/spinach aroma. The color of the liquor reminds me of white grape juice. It is softly yellow but very light. The cup aroma stands out above the leaf and is floral. It is not the heavy floral I often associate with Taiwan oolong. It is much more delicate.

The sip reveals buttery spinach with a hint of bite. It is only slightly sweet. There is no bitterness, astringency, or rough edges. The aftertaste swells to a floral wave that subsides leaving a long lasting sweeter than expected floral taste.

With the second 12 ounce mug the leaf has almost completely relaxed. It is beautiful full leaves that look so green and fresh you could almost imagine they were just picked off the tree especially for this cup. The taste is every bit as full and flavorful as the first. I am nearly certain this would go at least one more steep, unfortunately I am out of time today.

While this may be less complex than some Taiwan oolongs, it will still blow the doors off any you have tried in a bag. This is my idea of an everyday oolong.  The taste, aroma, and aftertaste are all solid without becoming overwhelming or unbalanced. A very nice tea and a great start to oolong fest.

Visit Teavivre online.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Brita Filter Pitcher – Attempting To Fix Boring Flat Tea

I live in the country. Before I was downsized into retirement* I worked in town. My work tea was usually marvelous. In fact, I did almost all of my serious tasting at work.  At home I drank soda in aluminum cans because tea was boring. I blamed the microwave and it turns out it was only part of the problem. The bigger issue is our county water.

The wells the city and county pump their water from are only a few hundred feet apart. The taste is not so close. The waters are pumped in opposite directions to two different filtering plants. Our county water smells highly chlorinated and contains a lot of floating minerals. It tastes bad and it makes flat tasting boring tea.

My wife won’t drink our tap water. She switched to bottled water years ago. I am too stubborn and cheap to use expensive bottled water. There is also the concern of our landfills overflowing with those plastic bottles.

I have fought the battle of boring tea for years. It has become an especially important war to win now that I am at home. Enter the newest weapon in my arsenal – The Brita filter pitcher. This is the simple 5 cup version. It was $10 at Wal-Mart and came with one cartridge filter. The Brita replacement filters are $6. Cheap enough if it works. The Great Value cartridges that I have not tried yet are around $4.

Fresh cold tap water is poured into the top reservoir where it filters through the activated charcoal cartridge into the pitcher at the bottom. That's really all there is to it. You are supposed to change the cartridge every 40 gallons. That involves presoaking the cartridge for 15 minutes and then rinsing before loading it into the pitcher.

So far, I am very pleased. The water is clear with not floaters. The annoying bleach smell is brought under control. I would say it is gone but I really need to wait for one of our bad weeks to know for certain. Most importantly my tea has come alive. Seriously, the difference is day and night. The cup has more aroma. The sip is fuller and crisper. I should have bought this pitcher years ago.

I can’t guarantee you the same results but if you are not experiencing the subtleties of your cup a filter pitcher is an inexpensive possible solution.  I would be interested to hear your experience and solution to flat boring tea.

* On being downsized – at first I was very hurt, angry, and scared. You know what? I survived and learned to adjust rather quickly. Most people complain about their jobs. I did as well. Part of me warns you be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Another part of me has become aware of what a destructive toxic environment I actually walked into each day. Turns out one of the best things the company ever did for me was to push me out the door. I am so much happier and content now. So, thank you!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Eastern Shore Tea Company, Cherry Blossom

Eastern Shore Tea Description:
A “Vintage Blend” of Keemun, the burgundy of teas, and an exceptionally fine “winey” cherry tea. Very aromatic, it’s nice served as a demitasse after dinner. Flavored black tea. Contains caffeine. 20 Foil wrapped tea bags in our classic white ribbon bag.

My Review:
First off let me say I am not sure the description above is for this tea. It is a best guess. There is no Cherry Blossom tea listed on the website. In fact when you click on any of the bagged tea options it takes you to a Baltimore Coffee & Tea webpage. This tea came my way in the mail from a friend who got it from a friend kind of thing.

This came in a gold metallic envelope. Once opened, it is a tagless, stringless plain white bag. The aroma is like cherry candy.

Steeped with 190F water for 3 or 4 imprecise minutes. The resulting brew appeared more cherry cider than tea like. It is clear with a reddish tint.

The taste in not entirely natural. It is more like a cherry candy but it is pleasant enough. Often teas like this can go horribly wrong and end up being cough syrup. This is better behaved. It reminds me of Jolly Rancher cherry candy. If that appeals to you, this would be a good fit.

I can taste the tea, especially in the aftertaste but only lightly. I was not sure if this was green or black based so I took it easy on the water temperature. Pretty sure it is a black tea. There is no hint of bitterness or astringency so it could have taken hotter water without complaint. I left the bag in the mug the entire time and it never became harsh.

There is not a lot of depth to the taste but it is enjoyable.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Concept Teas, White Peony

Concept Teas Description:
We chose 2012 spring White Peony for you, which has been establishing own characters, with enriched aroma and less grassy tastes, during the past one year.
Early spring (around Qingming Festival) is also the best picking season for top quality White Peony while summer usually offers leaner tea leaves. With advanced gardening, tea leaves harvested during autumn are possible to make relatively high quality White Peony. Both buds and leaves are supposed to be picked up when they are still “young”. White Peony is made mostly from “one bud with one leaf” and supplemented by “one bud with two leaves”. During the process of withering, the leaf veins become red while the rest turns into gray or dark green. Silver buds being embraced by the “colorful” and naturally curly leaves, White Peony looks like the charming flower, as the name indicates.

Origin: Fuding, Fujian Province, China 
Age: 2012 spring

Sample provided by Concept Teas 

My Review:
This is the second sample I received from Concept Teas. As I opened the bag the fresh leaf aroma filled the air. It is like a fresh mowed meadow drenched in morning dew. I scooped out two bamboo spoons of leaf and examined before I put it in my press. This is the best looking white peony leaf I have seen to date.  

Some of this is silver and down covered buds as beautiful as silver needle. The remaining leaves are a mixture - some green, some gray, and some olive colored. The combination of leaf and bud is quite striking. 

I steeped this with filtered water at 175 F for 3 minutes. Most people would probably steep this at around 195 F for 6 minutes. White Peony is usually pretty forgiving, so see what works best for you. The wet leaf is caramel and earth in scent. The resulting liquor is yellow like a fine white wine.

The first thing I noticed when sipping was a slight bite in the sip. Interesting. There is no bitterness and no harsh edges. The taste is fresh hay with malty undertones. This is slightly sweet and easily drinkable. Though white peony produces a mellow cup I find this particular one very well defined with excellent depth. The sweet aftertaste stays with you long after the tea disappears. The more the cup cooled the more fruity this became. At one point it almost tasted like grapefruit.

I am very impressed with this Fujian white peony. Top notch from beginning to end. Highly recommended.

I prepared this today at 190 F with a 2 minute steep. It loses the slight bite and the malty undertones BUT it is amazingly fresh and perfect this way. This is fresh hay like leafy tasting with melon notes. In many ways it reminds me of silver needle but it retains the white peony qualities as well. 190 F makes a much better cup.

Visit Concept Teas website.