Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mellow Monk, Just-Right Roast

Mellow Monk Description:
This is the most flavorful iced tea we have ever tasted — and it can also be cold brewed! Crafted by Kazuo Watanabe, a single-estate tea grower-artisan in Kumamoto, this artisanal tea is made by lightly roasting traditional green tea in just the right way to make it perfect for cold-brewing a tasty, aromatic infusion. You would never think a beverage made from green tea could taste like this, but it does — nutty and slightly savory, with a smoky aroma and nutty overtones. This tea comes in high-quality sachets for quick, easy brewing.

Just-Right Roast won first place in its class at the North American Tea Competition three years in a row — 2012, 2013, and 2014. (Formerly known as Lightly Roasted Iced Green Tea.)

Mellow Monk is a California based business that imports green tea directly from — and only from — independent artisinal tea estates in Kumamoto, Japan. The Everyday Tea Blog was discovered by Mellow Monk through Steepster. I was asked if I would like to try and review one of their teas. I had to admit my familiarity with Japanese tea was woefully lacking but I would love the opportunity to expand my knowledge.

Looking over the selection of teas, I was not sure what I should select. I picked Just-Right Roast because of the following part of the product description:
"the artisan carefully roasts with the just the right light touch. This imparts a nutty roasted flavor while also preserving tantalizing hints of the original green tea flavor, for a unique flavor profile among Japanese hojichas or iced teas, for that matter."
I've had hojicha before. I love green tea and a nutty roasted flavor. Bonus, this is intended as an iced tea and it cold brews well. I know we are knee deep into fall. Most tea drinkers are gearing up with winter teas, but you see, in my family, iced tea is a year round event. Except for some ready to drink bottled stuff, I don't recall ever reviewing a tea intended to be iced. I am also pretty sure this is close to a first if not the first, cold brew.

This one has taken First Place as the North American Tea Champion in 2012, 2013, & 2014.

Cold Brewing In The Refrigerator
The sample bag is a full-sized order of 100g. The bag is a resealable mylar, with clear, how to brew, instructions on the back label. Inside are 18 pyramid sachets. Each bag will steep one quart of tea.

I used two of the sachets in a glass tea jug and added 2 quarts of cool filtered water. The jug was then placed in the refrigerator and left to steep. That is all there is to cold brewing. The directions say to let it set at least 4 hours before drinking. The sachets may remain in the pitcher until the tea is consumed. Talk about no fuss.

I waited about 5 hours after refrigerating, then stirred the tea, before pouring my first glass. The tea itself is a dark yellow with a green tint. It definitely has the roasted hojicha aroma, with which I am familiar.

If you have ever had genmaicha, then the level of roasting is of similar intensity. Mellow Monk says the nutty flavor has hickory overtones. I have hickory trees growing in my yard but I have never eaten one of the nuts. The taste is decidedly nutty even if I can't confirm the specific type. I catch hints of the green tea itself but honestly it is the roasted nuttiness that drives the taste.

My previous experience with hojicha has been limited to inexpensive bagged teas. While it does share many of the same flavor characteristics with the lesser versions, this one has far more depth and complexity. It is savory. Not sweet. I detect no bitterness. It is a little drying but to me that is part of a good iced tea. It is nicely refreshing and unlike any iced tea I have had before.

Before the world wars disrupted trade with Japan, green tea was as popular in the southern US as black tea. Of course in the south, you typically make sweet tea, where it is simply known as tea. So in the interest of historical reenactment I added some sweetener to my glass. I personally don't normally sweeten iced tea. I am far more likely to do so with hot teas. That said, I really thought the refreshment level was raised much higher as a southern sweet tea with the first cup. Seriously, give it a try and see what you think.

I waited until a day later to pour the second glass. The sachets remain in the pitcher. The tea is more golden colored today. The flavors have deepened and smoothed out. There is still no bitterness. The dryness I experienced before is much less present. I felt no desire to add sweetener today, even for historical reasons. This is definitely different than any iced tea you have likely had before. It is also very good. Patience has paid off. I finished this glass with a pickle loaf, colby jack, and jalapeno ketchup, on wheat (I'm weird like that). This tea stood up to the sandwich without flinching.

You can find Mellow Monk's Just-Right Roast and other Japanese green teas here.

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