Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Nina's Tea USA, Rouge

Nina's Tea Description:
The tang of oranges infused with the mystery of cinnamon creates a blend that is certain to invigorate and stimulate your mind.

Black tea, Orange, Cinnamon, Safflowers

Sample provided by Nina's Tea for review.

My Review:
Nina's Paris has been around for over 300 years. Just recently they have begun to sell tea in America. You can find at least some of the offerings on Amazon. They also plan to open an ecommerce webstore at  ninasteastore. At the time of this writing the webstore is not open.

So Nina's recently announced they would send 3 samples out to any Steepster folk who were interested. Free tea? Yeah, I think I can handle that one. This is the first of my three samples. It came in a tiny clear plastic zip lock baggie. Just the perfect size to make one cup.

The leaf pieces are small. I considered using my Finum basket, just in case, but the leaf worked fine with my press. The leaf actually plumped up nicely. This is very fragrant of orange and cinnamon. Breathing in the aroma from the press, the black tea base is easily detected. The liquor is a dark golden color in the press and much darker in the mug.

The sip is quite pleasant. Sometimes cinnamon can be overpowering and orange can turn too candy like. Neither is the case with this tea. Given the intensity of the scent, one might expect a bold cup. This is a light cup and very well balanced. If it were any more subtle it would be too light. If it were more flavored, I think it could enter the realm of Constant Comment, not in taste but in intensity.

The only negative I find is my expectations. By Nina's description of invigorate and stimulate, I was expecting a big bold in your face wake up you sleepyhead tea. For my tastes this would not work as a morning cup. This is more a lazy afternoon or early evening tea. It is quite nice for such occasions.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

TeaVivre, Tai Ping Hou Kui

TeaVivre's Description:

TaiPing HouKui green tea has uniquely long, flat leaves that make an amazing sight when brewed in a clear glass – which we strongly recommend!  The tea is made from one bud with two leaves that come from a large leaf variety of the tea plant found only in Anhui province.  During processing the leaves are pressed flat in an oven, giving the tea its unique shape.

TeaVivre's TaiPing KouKui has a fresh, orchid like fragrance with a classic sweet green tea taste.  When brewed it has a bright green color, that combine with the size of the leaves to make a tea that is great to admire in a tall clear glass.  This tea is not bitter in the least, and retains its sweet taste even after many infusions.

Sample provided by TeaVivre for review.

My Review:

I have tried one other taiping houkui in the past. I tried it several times with varying parameters and learned to appreciate the cup but never really reached a point of deeply liking it. When TeaVivre offered this latest round of samples I wanted this one included. I wanted to know if it was the tea I wasn’t crazy about or the particular version.

I opened the sample pouch and sniffed. It is grassy and fresh in aroma. Removing the leaf, the first thing I notice is it is less than 2/3 the length of what I tried previously. That does not mean it is small. It certainly is not. This appears to be longer and broader than dragonwell leaf. It may be that the leaf had to be broken to fit in the sample pouch, or the previous version was just the colossus of leaf.

I used the whole sample in my press and steeped for a little over a minute with 12oz of well below boiling water (175d). The resulting liquor was green tinted in the press but turned honey with a green tint in the cup. The clarity was very good. The wet leaf made me think ocean and vegetal.

I began the sipping with no additives. It was fresh and slightly reminiscent of dragonwell but not really. The flavor bordered on bitter and sour but never crossed the line. The Chinese palate must be trained differently than the American palate as the description says this is not at all bitter, yet most western reviews I have seen mention it. Interesting. Is it possible they mean their taiping houkui is not bitter relative to other taiping houkui's?

The taste, to my poorly trained palate, is somewhere between a cross of bamboo shoots and celery leaf. The aftertaste is long and lingering in a good way.

I enjoyed this without additives but as is my custom I added Splenda to see how it would respond. It added nothing and really was more of a distraction. You will rarely hear me say that.

I can say once again TeaVivre has impressed me. While this may never be a must have staple in my tea drawer, I did greatly enjoy it and would gladly accept a cup if offered.   

Visit the TeaVivre website.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Persimmon Tree, Peach Apple Crisp

The Persimmon Tree Description:
Our Peach Apple Crisp tea offers a flavorful and clean blend of black loose-leaf teas and crisp apple tea flavor while mixing fruity notes of white peach, gala apple, cinnamon, and provides a crisp floral finish.

Biodynamic Black Loose-Leaf Tea, Organic Nilgiri Loose-Leaf Tea, Organic Assam Loose-Leaf Tea, Organic Orange Peel, Fair Trade Organic Rooibos, Roses, Organic Hibiscus, Safflower, Natural Flavors, Apple Crisp Tea Flavor, Peach Crisp

Price: $11.99/2oz

Sample provided by The Persimmon Tree for review.

My Review:
This very generous 1oz sample arrived in a tall, skinny round tin. It is a nice looking and I will be keeping these tins for future storage. The dry leaf looks just like the picture. Its scent is pleasant of fruit and flowers. It is not at all overpowering.

I used a scoop of leaf in my press with 12oz of near boiling water. I steeped for an estimated 3 minutes. I was busy and forgot to set the timer. The liquor is bronze. I can smell the black tea in the wet leaf. That always makes me happy.

Drawing the cup to my lips and breathing the aroma I catch rose and peach. I also detect the rooibos in the nose but I cannot detect it in the sip. The flavors of the ingredients is very mild. I may not have gotten the time/temp/leaf ratios correct. Even so, I like this.

I can catch brief instances of orange and cinnamon late in the sip. I catch the tea base most in the aftertaste. I am not noticing the hibiscus at all but then I am not overtly sensitive to it. At first I didn't think I was catching the granny smith apple. Then I realized it was flowing right between the rose and the peach.

Normally I associate peach and apple teas with a much bolder flavor. I will try this again with hotter water and a longer steep but honestly if it doesn't increase the fruit flavor I am OK with it, as this is a very nice cup as is. There is no bitterness. Nothing sour, or off. The base is slightly drying without any rough edges. Well done!

Visit the webpage for Peach Apple Crisp tea.

About The Persimmon Tree:
(From their website) The Persimmon Tree® offers our customers some of the world's finest organic teas and botanicals. Not only are most of our fresh high quality teas from around the globe hand-blended and organically grown, some of our teas are also fair trade, ensuring fair working conditions, fair wages, and a better life for tea workers from countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

At The Persimmon Tree®, our mission is simple: to enrich people's lives through the pleasure of tea.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

TeaVivre, Liu An Gua Pian Green Tea

TeaVivre Description:
A great find for those looking for a more green tea with more character!  Like several of our other teas, Liu'an Guapian is deservedly in the list of China's top ten teas.  Made only from larger, mature leaves that are rolled up during processing, the dry leaves have a distinctively plump shape to them – giving rise to its Chinese name of “melon seeds”.  Very uncharacteristic for a green tea, it has a quite sweet taste and strong aroma, that is also overlaid with an almost smoky, spicy tang.

Sample provided by TeaVivre for review.

My Review:
Joy, a new sample from TeaVivre to try! I opened the little packet and sniff. The aroma is fresh and reminds me of a field. I removed half the leaf to examine. It looks greener and darker than the picture. I think it would take brighter light and a white background to reproduce the colors. The appearance is long, straight, fat rolls of leaf. This tea is known as melon seeds in China for good reason.

I steeped the leaf in my press for about 1 1/2 minutes at approximately 175 degrees. The leaf remained on the surface the entire time. The leaf is only partially relaxed after the first infusion. The nose is lightly vegetal. The liquor is pale green with excellent clarity.

From the description I was expecting a strong grassy green. Instead the sip is like buttery beans. Maybe creamy is a better word. This is definitely classic Chinese green tea in flavor. As long as you do not get the water too hot, there is no bitterness, and no harsh edges. The longer you sip the sweeter it becomes. It has a healthy drying affect on the tongue. Strangely for a Chinese green tea, the aftertaste disappears rather quickly.

For cup two I steeped about two minutes. The color and aroma is about the same as the first cup. When I took my first sip I immediately caught a nice amount of a spicy almost floral taste. Though familiar, I couldn’t pull a name for these notes out of my brain today. Let’s just call it tasty. The second cup seems less creamy and more ocean or mineral. Still a good cup. As the cup cools it develops a peppery taste. The aftertaste lasts longer on the this cup.

I only like the grassy taste of Sencha and other Japanese teas but I love the flavor of Chinese greens. This is another fine example of the characteristics I enjoy.

Visit the TeaVivre website.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Persimmon Tree, Lotus

The Persimmon Tree Description:
A unique combination of hand-harvested fresh lotus blossoms blended with green loose leaf tea in an ancient scenting method comprises our Lotus Green tea. Prepared in small batches by Vietnamese traditional artisans, the unique essence of these spring-harvested flowers is released and absorbed directly into the tea. The Lotus green tea brews a pleasant, slightly sharp flavor similar to star anise, with a subtle vanilla finish. Be sure to steep multiple times to fully appreciate the flavor of these sweet, aromatic lotus blossoms infused in our Lotus Flower tea.

Price: $10.99/2oz

Sample provided by The Persimmon Tree for review.

My Review:
I opened the tin and took a deep inhale of the leaf. Wow, not what I expected. Not even close. I have had two previous lotus teas. One was an oolong, the other a green tea. Both had a flowery aroma. This is floral but what you really notice is a licorice type scent. The Persimmon Tree calls this a star anise flavor. Having never smelled star anise I will take their word for it.

The leaf is dark gray-ish twisted curls. The picture is far more brown than the actual leaf. I used a scoop of leaf in my press with well below boiling water. The steep was for about 2 1/2 minutes. The scent of the wet leaf was licorice and vegetal. The color of the liquor is yellow.

The sip is at first like the dry leaf. It is licorice/anise. Then I catch floral notes that slide in to the green tea base. The base is smooth and very creamy. I see what they mean about a subtle vanilla finish, however it would never occur to me to refer to it that way.

The second cup is similar with much less creaminess.

This is not what I expected. It is better. The floral licorice is very nice. I quite like this one.

Visit the webpage for Lotus Green tea.

About The Persimmon Tree:
(From their website) The Persimmon Tree® offers our customers some of the world's finest organic teas and botanicals. Not only are most of our fresh high quality teas from around the globe hand-blended and organically grown, some of our teas are also fair trade, ensuring fair working conditions, fair wages, and a better life for tea workers from countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

At The Persimmon Tree®, our mission is simple: to enrich people's lives through the pleasure of tea.

Monday, February 18, 2013

TeaVivre, Superfine Tan Yang Gong Fu Black Tea

TeaVivre Description:

Being the first one among Fujian’s three best Gong Fu Black Teas (Bai Lin Gong Fu, Zheng He Gong Fu, Tan Yang Gong Fu), Tan Yang Gong Fu Black Tea has tight and thin leaves, looks glossy, which could be seen from TeaVivre’s product photo. When looking at this tea, the golden pekoe is particularly eye-catching, strongly connected to its high quality. Under the effect of photosynthesis, fresh buds contain the largest amount of beneficial substances than other parts. Moreover, the traditional making method of black tea has retained the nutrition in the most volume.

Black tea is renowned with it red leaves and red liquid. The liquid of Tan Yang Gong Fu is bright red, and clean, which brings you a feeling of pureness. The flavor will vary based on different amount of teas and time of infusion. If using gai wan to brew in traditional Chinese way (Recommend Brewing Guide), you will sense the sweet and mellow flavor, and feel a quick sweet aftertaste in your throat. The aroma of Tan Yang Gong Fu will float around you for a long time. The longer you brew, the stronger and mellower the flavor will be.

Sample provided by TeaVivre.

My Review:
I opened the package and took a deep whiff. It is like sweet fresh dried tobacco with maybe a hint of fruit. I want to say cherry but that may be because when I smell tobacco it reminds me of my grandfather and his cherry pipe tobacco. He always wore work pants, even after he retired, and a white V-neck T-shirt. He had his pipe in one hand and a glass of ice tea in the other – always.

He loved to watch the Flintstones. No, it was not because he had grand kids, he just loved the Flintstones. He also had a battery operated toy train engine that you put on the floor and when it hit something it backed up and turned, taking off again in a new direction. He would sit and laugh at it often. Even as a kid I didn't understand how he got that much pleasure out of a simple toy. The train doesn't work anymore but I still have it. Any tea that can evoke this many memories without even tasting it gets many bonus points from me.

Ok, back to this tea – the leaf is thin twisty curls of varying shades of brown. It reminds me of my wife’s needlepoint thread and is quite pretty. I used a generous scoop and steeped per the instructions of 185 d for 1-2 minutes. Once again it just seems all wrong for a black tea but TeaVivre has never led me astray so I am trusting them.

The resulting brew is lighter than most black teas. It is deep golden brown or almost bronze. They call it red. The wet leaf smells of toasted caramel.

I took my first sip, put the cup down and walked away for a moment. I returned, picked it up again and sipped. My mind is trying to reboot. I saw on the label this is a Fujian tea. So I am expecting a certain flavor profile, yet this is altogether different this morning than my preconceived idea.

I am tasting yeast, lots of yeast. I am getting grain. My brain keeps saying beer, no its ale. This tastes like ale without the bubbles, scratchy throat, or hangover. I did add sweetener, and that may bring out these flavors. As the cup cools it turns more towards heavy malt, which is what I expected from this tea.

Cup two at two minutes. I can’t wait to read other reviews on this one. Now this has become a light chocolate malt. A smooth and creamy chocolate malt. Mmmm. I might use that description on a half dozen other teas but this one taste different. It is simply a mellow delight.

Another winner!
Day 2

I decided to have another go at it today. I am not getting the sweet potato notes other reviewers mention and which agrees with TeaVivre’s description. I am also not getting the strong yeast and ale that I noted yesterday in the first cup. Today this is more malt, bread or grain, and honey. It is still very good and so mellow, but I must admit I was looking forward to repeating yesterday’s experience.

I am trying to figure out what I did differently between the 2 days. Both days I used my press, 1/3 of the sample packet of leaf, 12oz water heated to 185d, steeped 2 minutes, and added sweetener. The only difference I can see is before I prepared this yesterday, I removed a few leftover dried up leaves of a highly floral oolong from the press. I then took a brown paper towel (the ones you often see in public washrooms for hand drying) got it wet, then wiped down the press to make sure there were no floral scents left over. This always leaves the press smelling a bit like the wet paper towel. I did not wipe down the empty press today because I was using new leaf from the same sample. I have never noticed the towel affecting the taste before.

If that is not the difference then it was just one of those magic moments that happens every now and then that you cannot repeat. It’s all good, because this is a wonderful light Fujian with tremendous aftertaste. The aroma of the wet leaf is calling. Time for round two.

Cup two is same as yesterday chocolate malty yum.

This is an excellent tea.

Visit the TeaVivre website.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bigelow, Darjeeling

Bigelow Description:
Grown on the foothills of the Himalayas, Darjeeling Tea is known throughout the world as the "champagne of teas". 20 individually foil wrapped tea bags per box.

My Review:
I don't remember ever having this before. This is a bagged tea. I have low expectations even though I used to drink Bigelow Earl Grey by the truckload. I opened the envelope and sniffed. The bag smells fruity and of hay. This is a nice start.

I used just below boiling water and steeped for two minutes per instructions. There was a day when I would have used fully boiling water a minimum of a five minute steep. It would have resulted in a strong bitter cup and I wouldn't have known the difference.

Today I got a cup that is fruity Muscat and earthy. This is really pretty good. I am surprised. Steeped correctly this is not bitter. It is lightly drying.

The problem is the bag. It tastes like someone chopped the edges off. Oh why couldn't this be loose leaf so it would have the depth it deserves? If you use bagged tea on a regular basis or when you are in a hurry, this would be a satisfying choice for lovers of black tea. Bigelow can generally be found at your local grocers.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Persimmon Tree, Immortal Nectar

The Persimmon Tree Description:
The rare, premium cave-aged Organic Pu Erh Tea yields a deep brown liquor with a light sherry aroma and a smooth, earthy flavor.

Price: $13.99/2oz

Sample provided by The Persimmon Tree for review.

My Review:
I received a box containing four tins of tea for review. The tins were bubble wrapped for protection. These are solid nice tins and are attractively designed.

I opened this one and poured out about 2.5g of loose leaf. Looking at it makes me think milk chocolate. It appears a little darker than the picture. The leaf pieces are small like I normally associate with black tea. The dry aroma is earthy.

I used 12oz of water in my press with boiling water. My first steep was around one minute. They recommend a 3-5 minute steep. After the first minute it was sufficiently dark in appearance for me. It was ruby red and looked more coffee like in the mug. The aroma is earthy and a bit barnyard. If you are not a puerh drinker that may sound off putting, but I find it pretty typical. There is no fishy aroma as found in poorly produced tea.

The taste, as in most puerh, is nothing like the scent. It is very smooth and lightly sweet. It is earthy - like a forest floor after a spring rain. There is a light amount of old leather book binding without the mustiness. This is not the most complex puerh I have tasted but does have a nice even flavor. There are no foul tastes and no bitterness or astringency associated with this tea. The same leaf can be reused to steep several cups of tea.

If you have tried Numi bagged puerhs or (shudder) cheap grocery store versions and are ready to move up to the next level, this would be a nice one to check out what unflavored puerh is all about.  

Visit the webpage for Immortal Nectar.

About The Persimmon Tree:
(From their website) The Persimmon Tree® offers our customers some of the world's finest organic teas and botanicals. Not only are most of our fresh high quality teas from around the globe hand-blended and organically grown, some of our teas are also fair trade, ensuring fair working conditions, fair wages, and a better life for tea workers from countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

At The Persimmon Tree®, our mission is simple: to enrich people's lives through the pleasure of tea.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ahmad Tea, Green Tea

Ahmad Tea Description:
Reminiscent of summer meadows, this delicate, calming blend has a smooth light taste. Our Green Tea is an ideal health drink with a floral aroma and delicate taste that can be enjoyed any time of the day.

My Review:

OK, I admit it. I am biased towards Ahmad tea. They make some of my favorite bagged teas and my favorite inexpensive comfort loose leaf Earl Grey. That admission aside, this is way better than it has to be for bagged green tea.

Seriously, have you had some of what passes for green tea in the grocery store? Most of it is barely recognizable as tea. Some of it even tastes like paint. This one actually tastes like Chinese green tea, even if it is fannings in a bag.

I removed the bag from the envelope and sniffed. Often bagged tea has little if any scent unless it is a flavored tea. This one has a definite green tea aroma. I steeped for three minutes in well below boiling water. The bag plumped up nicely. The liquor had a green tint, turning darker as it cooled.

The taste is like a simple Chinese green. It does lack the depth of a good loose leaf, but it will do when you need a fix on the quick.

This is the best green tea I have tried in a standard paper bag. I should have expected this, after all it’s from Ahmad Tea.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Simpson & Vail, Kenya Black OP Malaika

Simpson & Vail Description:

This tea is from the Malaika tea factory serving 680 small-scale tea farmers in Kenya. The factory is located just south of the Mt Kenya National Park at an elevation of 5446 ft (1660m) above sea level. In the Swahili language, Malaika means Angel.

The beautifully medium (OP) black twisted leaves contain some marvelous looking tippy leaves of various white & golden hues producing a bright amber cup with a heady aroma. The tea has a strong, full-bodied taste with delicious citral tones.

Brew tea at 212º – steep for 3 minutes.

Price: $8.65/4oz

My Review:
I picked up this one and several others when a fellow tea lover was trying to get her stash under control. Her generosity doubled the size of my black tea collection. A serious thank you!

The leaf is twisted dark curls of broken leaf with rust colored buds well represented through out. I used about 2/3 scoop of leaf, which looked to be about 2.5g. I used fully boiling water and a 3 minute steep in my press.

The brew is a pretty deep reddish orange. I sniffed the wet leaf and I can’t quite place the familiar scent. It is maybe like cocoa or caramel and sugar that has been burnt in the bottom of a pan. A better smell than maybe it sounds.

The sip is familiar and different at the same time. There is an underlying note that reminds me of hazel nut. There are also honey and caramel notes. It has a nice bite. The aftertaste is light and malty. This has some similarities to Golden Monkey but with much more subtle flavoring. It has more similarities to a breakfast Assam but it is not as in your face.

I steeped cup two for 4 minutes and it was was bronze in color and still flavorful. This cup tasted less honey and cocoa and more planty.

A nice tea I would definitely not turn down.

Visit Simpson & Vail.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Simpson & Vail, Blue Mist

Simpson & Vail Description:
Blue Mist Tea is a blend of Jackfruit (a fruit from India with an aroma of banana and pineapple), Apricot and Mango black teas that brews to a deep amber cup with a sweet, fresh fruit aroma and taste. It’s the perfect cup for summer days when the tastes and aromas of fresh fruit are so prevalent around us. Try it hot or iced!

Ingredients: Black teas, cornflower petals, marigold petals and flavoring.

Brew tea at 212º – steep for 3 minutes.

Price: $6.40/4oz

My Review:
Another from a tea friend – thanks! The leaf is kind of pretty to look at with the blue cornflower and marigold petals. There is also some white or silver colored something in there. This reminds me of  Della Terra mellow mango, because, well, its mellow and tastes of mango. This really is a very light flavored tea. I think sweetener is a must if you want to bring the fruit flavor out. When a tea is this subtle it needs to be really complex to draw you in. This is ok but not great.

Visit Simpson & Vail.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Twinings, Ceylon Orange Pekoe

Twinings Description:
Ceylon Tea comes from the country that today is known as Sri Lanka. Twinings Ceylon tea is made using the finest quality high grown teas from the Dimbula region in western Sri Lanka. In the 1870s, Ceylon became a major tea producing area after the coffee crop failed. Its tea is still referred to as "Ceylon" despite the country changing its name to Sri Lanka in 1972 following independence. Ceylon is ideal to drink at any time of day and is great for ice tea too. Drink black, with a little milk and sweeten to taste.

Ingredients: Black Tea

My Review:
This is the first time I have had this one. It is the bagged version. I thought I had a good handle on what Ceylon tea tasted like. Ahmad uses Ceylon as the base of many of their black teas. Ahmad has bite. Empire Tea Services uses it as the base of many of their fine loose leaf teas. In those it tastes rich and full. Here it is pretty light and thin. The reviews of the Twinings version on the web often mentioned malty. I didn't get that at all. It does remind me of Charleston Plantation's black tea. The aftertaste is kind of fruity. It is a bit drying. I can't say it is bad. It is just not what I expected.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Della Terra Teas, Mellow Mango Peach

Della Terra Description:
When it’s time to relax and “mellow out” it’s time for our Mellow Mango Peach. Perfect for summertime, the real pieces of mango and peach along with the rose petals also make this perfect for anytime.

Price $8.50/2oz

My Review:
This is my first Della Terra tea, thanks to the sharing of a tea friend. I don’t have a list of ingredients during the tasting so I am not sure what all is in this one. This smells very peachy. I do see some kind of flower petals. They look like rose. This is an aromatic tea that I imagine would leech in to nearby leaf. I store my powerful blends far removed from the unflavored teas and each other. I used about 2.5g of leaf. This is small broken pieces and definitely not dust. I used 12oz of boiling water and steeped about 4 minutes. The resulting brew is light for a black and orange in color.

As peach as this smells, the taste is unexpectedly muted. Normally I expect one of two things with peach tea. I expect to taste the fuzz on the peach with the deliciously outrageous blends, or for it to taste artificial like most bagged versions. This is neither. The mango and other ingredients seem to be offsetting the peach rendering this super mellow. The peach taste does come back and linger long and hard in the aftertaste.

Hmmm. Possibly this sample is old and has lost its flavor. I need to check other reviews to get a better idea on this tea. If it is intended to be this mellow, it is too mellow for me. I might be ok with it if I could taste the tea base. 
So here is the skinny. Others tell me this tea is best cold brewed or iced. They agree the flavor of this served hot is less than spectacular.

I let the cup set and reach room temperature. I can now say this is pretty tasty. The flavor pops more in the cold cup. Interesting. I often find teas taste better to me once they cool off. This one is a leading example. Peach tea makes an awesome iced tea so it’s all good.

Visit the Della Terra Teas website. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Twinings, Irish Breakfast

Twinings Description:
A strong, full-bodied black tea from the regions of Ceylon and Assam expertly blended with a hearty flavor and delightful aroma.

The Irish really love their tea and are amongst the most frequent drinkers of tea around the world. In celebration of this tea drinking tradition, Twinings blended a special Irish Breakfast Blend. This tea is best taken with milk and sweetened to taste to bring out the best flavor

My Review:

I know in years past I have had this tea. It is one of the few Twinings teas that the local grocers routinely put on their shelves along with Earl Grey, Lady Grey, Prince of Wales, and English Breakfast. I even see it in loose leaf on occasion, yet I have no notes of ever having tasted this one. So I was excited when I received a bag in the mail in a swap.

Twinings Irish Breakfast is often reviewed as being like a punch in the face, or a kick in the butt. The reviews also often note it being highly malty in taste. I have to say my experience was different.

I heated my cup of water and added the bag. I let it steep for three or four minutes. I tasted it and found it to be fairly light in flavor, so I put the bag back in the cup and left it. Some minutes later I tasted again. Now it is a lot more flavorful. It is not bitter but it is astringent now. It has a definite drying feeling. I left the bag in the cup until it was empty. This accounts for the dryness.

I do taste some malt but nothing like a good Yunnan tea. It has a small amount of fruitiness late in the sip. I personally am not finding this to be a brisk tea at all. The near smoothness and the intensity of the cup is closer to Prince of Wales than it is to Harney and Sons Irish Breakfast.

This is not a bad cup at all. For me personally though, it is not the kick in the pants I was expecting.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Harney and Sons, Irish Breakfast

Harney Description:
100% Assam, like most traditional Irish blends, this is a good way to start your morning. Like cereal, it takes milk and sugar well. In contrast to other vendors, ours is a little more refined.

Price: $6.25/4oz

My Review:
I journey further into the land of Irish Breakfast teas today with this offering from Harney & Sons. The first thing I noticed was how fine cut the leaf is in this tea. I know CTC is not in itself an indicator of low quality. Still, I just wonder why India and Ceylon black teas are not usually complete unbroken leaf. Most of the Chinese black teas I sip are unbroken leaf and they are amazing for it. I really need to do some research on this topic.

Anyway, back to this tea. It is mainly dark leaf with some gold specks in the mix. I used 2/3 scoop or about 2.5g in my press with 12oz of boiling water. The steep time was three minutes. They say 4-5. I am not that brave. This is very aromatic and fruity. It is also one of the most beautiful brews I have seen in a while. Seriously, this is a deep burgundy in color. It turns darker in the mug.

Sipping this I notice something strange. My brain processes the end of the sip first. I know that doesn’t make sense, but its true. This has bite! It will make you flinch. Then I notice it is extremely dry like a red wine. Can you say milk and sugar? Wow, this is what I picture when I imagine what Irish Breakfast tea should taste like. You could remove paint with this stuff. This is one stout cup of morning tea. After surviving the initial punch in the face, I notice the fruitiness of the early sip. I don’t really detect malt in the taste although I can catch it in the aroma.

The end of the cup got cold because I got busy and forgot it. At room temperature this was extremely good.  It would probably make a great iced tea.

I tried a second mug. The taste was far weaker. I would compare it to the taste of North Carolina grown tea. Not bad but not the monster Irish Breakfast of the first cup.

This is a solid Assam at a very reasonable price. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Grace Tea Company, Pure Assam Irish Breakfast

Grace Tea Company Description:
Assam is the base of most of the great Indian tea blends because of its strength, full flavor and deep color. We are one of the few tea blenders to offer 100% pure Assam as an offering. Our Pure Assam Irish Breakfast is a connoisseur’s delight and a popular breakfast tea with a surprisingly delicate character. This tea has malty overtones, which take well to milk and sugar. Our blend is an unforgettable cup to help start your day.

Price: 1 oz. Cupping Taster – $2.00

My Review:
I am getting a lesson in Irish Breakfast and Assam tea in general thanks to generous gifts from a couple of Steepster friends. I have always avoided Assam, apparently without reason. I thought they were harsh and bitter. Or that they were beige – as in my experiences with bagged English Breakfast teas. That is not what I am getting with these fine teas. Possibly the difference is because these are a better grade of tea. Possibly it is because these are loose leaf. Or just maybe all this time I have been accusing Assam teas, it was actually something else in the bag. Who knows? My journey and my learning continue.

This tea is finely cut pieces of brown malt scented leaf with flecks of golden buds throughout. I used about 2.5g or roughly 2/3 of my scoop in my press. 12oz of water was heated to boiling and after pouring over the leaf I left it to steep for three minutes. The scent of the leaf is mainly malt. The wet leaf is still very small – like half the size of Twinings loose leaf after steeping.

The sip is very smooth up front. Later in the sip some bite appears, yet not like the bagged teas I’ve tried. There is no bitterness. It is a little drying and I believe it could be hard on my stomach if I drank too much without eating with it. The taste is malty. There is another taste that isn’t exactly fruity. It reminds me more of hazelnut but it is light and stays in the background.

I am not likely to ever prefer Assam over Chinese black (red) teas but I am intrigued by my learning experience. This is a good cup of tea. This is the kind of tea I would enjoy with bacon and eggs. Of course it also just went well with some peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.

Visit Grace Tea at  https://gracetea.com/

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Book Review - The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook

Tea Enthusiast's Handbook: A Guide to the World's Best Teas

Authors: Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss

Publisher: Ten Speed Press

Publisher Description:

Did you know that tea is the most widely consumed beverage on the planet after water? Or that all of the world's tea originates from only three varieties of a single plant? While a cup of tea may be a simple pleasure for most of us, there are a dizzying number of tastes from which to choose. And every tea, whether a delicately sweet green tea from Japan or a bracing, brisk Darjeeling black, tells a story in the cup about the land that nurtured it and the tea-making skills that transformed it. 

In this authoritative guide, veteran tea professionals Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss provide decades of expertise on understanding tea and its origins, the many ways to buy tea, and how to explore and enjoy the six classes of tea (green, yellow, white, oolong, black, and Pu-erh). Additional advice on steeping the perfect cup and storing tea at home, alongside a gallery of more than thirty-five individual teas with tasting notes and descriptions make The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook a singular source of both practical information and rich detail about this fascinating beverage.

My Review:
I recently went to the library. I walked out with an updated library card and this book. The library is in a small town of about 5,000 people. I really never expected to find anything tea related.

Right up front let me say this is probably not the best book for a beginning tea drinker. This is a book written, as the title says, with the enthusiast in mind. Once you move away from the grocery store shelves and start noticing and caring where your tea comes from, then you are more likely to benefit from this handbook.

I found myself engrossed from the very beginning of the book on through to the end. What the authors had to say about terroirs and cultivars and their affect on the flavor of tea was fascinating. The very basic differences between eastern and westerner brewing techniques are covered. The six types of tea - green, white, yellow oolong, black, and puerh - are discussed in enough detail to help the enthusiast think about and appreciate the leaf in the pot, and how it is processed.

Herbals are not covered at all – this is a book about tea. Flavored teas are limited to jasmine teas. I must say I gained a whole new appreciation for jasmine dragon pearls which is already a favorite. There are reviews of some 30 different teas. Interwoven in the text are some explanations of terminology that I found exceptionally helpful. There is also information on what to look for when buying and helpful how to's on storing when you get your leaf home.

The one point where I really felt a stumble was at the end of the last chapter. I get to the bottom of the last page expecting a conclusion or a wrap up to the book. I turn the page only to find the glossary. It felt very abrupt. I guess the decision was made to leave them wanting more.

This is a worthy read. The work and art involved in bringing tea to the cup goes far too unnoticed by most of us. Having the process explained adds a new level of understanding that only increases my delight in my favorite beverage. As my experience increases with time, I would be interested in reading this again to see what further nuggets I might find.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Southern Season, Irish Breakfast

My Review:
Normally I have a description of the tea as written by the seller. This tea was gifted to me by a very generous friend. It comes from A Southern Season, which is a gourmet emporium and mail-order store based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The problem is this tea is not on the website. Then why bother with the review? It is a record for me to refer in the future. Possibly you, like me, just may be interested in reading about Irish Breakfast tea. While unlikely, it is possible you may live in the area, and there is always the chance this may be added to their site later.

I know I have had Twinings Irish Breakfast sometime in the past. It looks like I never recorded the event. I may have to rectify that in the future. Anyway that is the only Irish Breakfast I recall having before now. I had to look up what makes this tea different than English Breakfast. According to my research, English Breakfast is usually a blend of Assam and Keemun or Ceylon tea (or other balck teas depending on the company). Irish Breakfast is traditionally a blend of Assams (again other teas might be used - read the label).

This one is small leaf pieces and looks similar to Twinings black teas. I used about 2.5 grams of leaf in my press with 12oz of boiling water.  I was afraid this might hurt my stomach as I am sometimes sensitive to black teas, so I held the first steep to about 3 minutes.

I expected this to taste very harsh, I mean it's a breakfast tea after all. I was wrong. This is very smooth. No bite and no bitterness. It is slightly malty. Mostly what really caught my attention is the fruity taste. I really found myself enjoying this cup. If you are already a grocery store black tea drinker, then this will at least taste familiar to you, though it is way smoother and more flavorful.

For cup two I found my self not afraid to steep four minutes. The first cup had no ill affect on me. The second, is just as smooth as the first. The fruitiness is enhanced. I look forward to trying more Irish Breakfast teas. This was very good.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ahmad Tea, Strawberry Sensation

Ahmad Description:
The delicious taste of this classic summer fruit fused with black tea makes an unusually refreshing drink - the perfect complement to a hot summer’s day.

My Review:
I have avoided strawberry tea for the longest time as I expected to hate it. A good tea friend sent an award winner of a very inexpensive strawberry tea bag my way and it changed my mind. Strawberry and tea are excellent companions. Now this one by Ahmad is one I had planned to buy the first time I saw it. Ahmad is hands down my favorite company for tea bag tea. They just seem to get it right more often than not. It just so happened that before I could find this to buy, a new tea friend sent this my way.

I opened the envelope and swore I had just opened a box strawberries out of the fridge. The aroma is awesome! I boiled my water and steeped this for 4 or 5 minutes. I am pretty loose with my parameters with Ahmad tea because it always forgives and produces a good cup.

The taste is lighter than the smell but the flavor is pretty close to the real deal. I actually like that the strawberry is light enough that I can taste the tea. It gets bonus points for that. If you are going to drink bagged tea it might as well be a good one. I will still buy this when I see it in the store. My taste buds rate this a high yum factor.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ahmad Tea, Lemon and Lime Twist

Ahmad Description:
The zesty flavour of lemons lend this tea a warm aroma and generous flavour, which can be appreciated either warm or iced.

Ingredients: Black Tea, lemon peel, lime peel, lemon and lime flavoring

My Review:
I slept in late the morning of this review. Now I need tea. I was just recently permanently laid off from my job of 31 years. I know, I know, but I had a couple months warning which is more than most people get. Of course that meant bringing home years of accumulation including nearly all of my teas.

This morning most of my tea stuff is still packed up. Happily I found the tea bags I intended to take on my last day of work but had forgotten them on the counter (It's all good, I borrowed some from a friend). Today, I can't locate my kettle so I heated the water in the microwave (which I try to avoid) and steeped for… uhmmm... well until the water was getting cool. You would think I had never done this before. This tea took it in stride. It is pretty forgiving.

The first thing I notice is the lime really pops. Lime is not a flavor I am used to tasting.  It kind of opened my eyes. Next I taste the lemon. The lemon and lime are actually well balanced after the initial shock. The big bonus for me is I can taste the tea. A lot of grocery store bagged teas aren’t balanced. Ahmad generally does a great job as they have done here. Lemon and lime are never flavors I have on their own so I think they taste natural in this but maybe you would disagree. Anyway the taste is very flavorful. The base seems mellow for Ahmad. In their Earl Grey the base has rougher edges. For a no fuss cup this worked well.

When life hands you lemons (and lime) make some tea!

Friday, February 1, 2013

TeaVivre, Organic Dehydrated Camellia

Teavivre Description:

Origin: Lin’an, Zhejiang, China

Ingredients: Organic Dehydrated Camellia

Harvest time: Oct 15, 2012

Taste: Gentle taste, soft and smooth, with the aftertaste of dry persimmon

Brew: 10 to 15 pieces for one brew

Health Benefits: Camellia helps to control the excitement of nerves in a normal limit, improve your sleeping quality, and anti-ages. Also camellia can help to clean wastes in intestines and stomach, loss weight, reduce blood pressure, protect liver and kidney, clear heat and help you keeping fit. It’s an optimistic option for middle ages and elders.

Sample provided by TeaVivre for review.

My review:
Camellia?? What is camellia? I requested this one from TeaVivre because I was curious. In the pictures it kind of looks like chamomile. It is listed on TeaVivre’s website as an herbal tea.  I’ve not seen this on other tea sites or even heard of it before. So I did some tea research (or tea-search, a word coined by one Steepster reviewer). It turns out Camellia is the flower of the tea plant camellia sinensis. The same plant all true teas come from. According to my research, most tea trees on a plantation do not flower because the leaves are plucked, so no flowers can grow.

Since it is from the tea plant, is it tea or is it a tisane? What do you think?

More importantly, what does it taste like, right?

I quickly looked at the picture on the website before opening the sample and thought what came out of the bag would be hard like nuts. Nope. It is really soft and fluffy. I steeped with below boiling water for maybe three minutes per instructions.

The resulting brew is nearly clear. It has a little bit of honey color but not much. Looking at it, I’m wondering should I have used boiling water? TeaVivre has always been spot on with their directions. I also wonder will this have any flavor? Never fear of course it does.

The website says it has a dry persimmon aftertaste. I was expecting it to be closer to chamomile. To me personally, it does not taste anything like the persimmons we grow in our yard. Maybe Chinese persimmons are completely different. This definitely does not taste like chamomile.

The taste is something very similar to white tea. It is subtle but deep. There are light melon and cucumber notes. This is a very light caffeine free sip. Perfect for relaxing in the evening. It is lightly sweet.

I saved the petals overnight.  The second cup is darker in color. It looks like a cup of white tea. It is still very see through but with a golden tint. This has no bitterness. It still makes me think white tea. This has a cooling effect making my lungs feel more open.

I love quiet subtle teas if they have depth. I thought this cup pulled off subtle very well. If you like white tea, I think you would enjoy this one.

Visit the TeaVivre website.