Friday, March 20, 2015

Simple Loose Leaf, Sheng Cha Oolong

Simple Loose Leaf Description:
Sheng Cha is an oolong tea grown at 1,100 m elevation and is grown wild.  Sheng Cha is made from tea plants left to grow for decades in the wild, this imparts a more earthy palate to the leaf.  Look for notes of sesame seed biscuits, toast and wheat.

Sample provided by Simple Loose Leaf

My Review:
Another short break from my white tea extravaganza. Today we will be looking at a tea I had not heard of before this sample. Sheng Cha. Sounds like a raw puerh. Instead this is an oolong. It does not say as much on Simple Loose Leaf's site, but I believe this tea comes from Taiwan.

The top removed from the resealable pouch causes me to ponder what I am smelling. After a moment I decided it was like the tops of strawberries. It is more than subtle, but not enough to think scented.

Scooping out a spoon of leaf, this looks like typical tieguanyin nuggets. Mainly dark green, with lighter green highlights, and a stem that reminds me of a polliwog tail.

The nuggets look deceptively loosely packed. Turns out they are hiding some massive leaves.

My Bodum press was called into service for this session. I wanted clear glass and lots of room. The press was warm and wet as I added the leaf. The damp aroma was a lot like an American biscuit.

Simple Loose Leaf's steeping parameters offers a range on the temperature from 185 F to 200 F. I used 194 F filtered water, and the 2 minute steep as called for by Simple Loose Leaf.

While steeping the nuggets fizzed, like a carbonated beverage. Pretty cool to watch. The leaf was in constant motion. It was sloooow motion but movement none the less. The leaf slowly began to unfurl. It wasn't until after the liquor was poured into the cup that I realized just how huge the leaf actually was that was packed in those nuggets.

After the first steep most of the leaf was still only slightly relaxed. The wet steeped leaf has an aroma that has again changed. It is kind of a baked bread scent with very light touches of strawberry and apricot marmalade. Slightly stronger is the aroma of light roasting and the floral notes of oolong. It is an interesting mix.

The color of the brew is like that of white grape juice. It has a light fruity and floral scent. The taste is a little of an eye opening, "O Wow!" moment. Not because it is the most amazing tea I have ever tasted, but because of the quick succession of flavors that shoot by. I doubt I caught them all.

First, I tasted biscuit and baked bread, then fruit. Again it reminds me of strawberry tops. I have not seen any other reviews that caught this same note, so it is just for me, and I appreciate it. The next flavor to fly by is a brief moment of walnut shells. Then it settles into a fruity and floral oolong flavor. Mixed throughout I catch brief roasted notes.

It is interestingly kind of tart leaving a little tingle around the lips and gums. It is also a bit sweet. The feel is a bit milky or almost foamy. It is a very curious cup. I can't quit tasting and analyzing.

The second cup calls for 1-2 minute steep. I chose 1 1/2 minute. The flavors seem to follow the first cup pretty close with maybe a touch more tingle.

This is a cool, need to try it, tea. I have read several reviews. All of them have been positive and all of them have interpreted it differently. I expect minor differences but this is all over the place. I find that fascinating.

You can find Simple Loose Leaf, Sheng Cha Oolong here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Nannuoshan, Yin Zhen

Nannuoshan Description:
Yin Zhen is the highest grade of authentic Fujian white tea. Only young buds from selected varieties of tea plants are plucked to manufacture this traditional white tea.
The leaves are covered with white, downy hair. The taste is delicate, with a light sweetness reminiscent of ripe fruits.
Original Yin Zhen is specific to restricted areas in the Fujian province. The small production, the exclusive selection of young buds, picked only under perfect weather conditions, and meticulous withering and drying processes are responsible for its high price.

Sample provided by Nannuoshan

My Review:
The last few days have been absolutely gorgeous. We just got our first healthy taste of spring and I liked it. Reviewing and writing about tea kind of got traded for outdoor activities, especially for my favorite sport - porch sitting. Oh Yeah!

Now back to our white tea extravaganza. This is the fifth and final entry from Nannuoshan. This is an authentic Fujian Silver Needle. One of my personal favorites. White tea in general and specifically silver needle is sometimes seen as too subtle by tea drinkers who are more inclined to drink very brisk or highly flavored teas. Not me. I love getting lost in the cup, and meditating on and with it. Let's get started.

The review samples have all been 6 grams and packaged in brown paper sack looking exteriors with an aluminum/mylar liner. The label tells you only the tea and company names. The website must be used to glean brewing information.

Opening the bag, I smell the usual hay like aroma of silver needle. In this case it is fuller and resembles wine and fruit - maybe apples? Very lovely.

The leaf is beautiful full young silver haired buds. The buds are so soft to the touch and so strikingly nice looking, I really did not notice the green in the leaf that is captured in the picture.

I used my clear glass teapot and half the sample (3 grams). 5 ounces of filtered water (abt 150 ml) was heated to 195 F (90 C). The steep time was 30 seconds.

Looking at the liquor in the teapot it would be easy to think 30 seconds was not enough time. The brew has almost no color. It looks a little cloudy in the picture but you'll have to trust me is was clear.

The wet leaf had a deeper almost fired scent, even though I know that is not the case. It is almost malty.

The wet leaf is now almost completely green and still very fresh looking.

The first sip is melon. It is kind of like the taste when you have eaten all the red fruit from a watermelon slice and begin to scrape into the white rind. Next I am noticing cucumber. There is no bitterness and no bite, as expected. This is slightly sweet and almost salty. It feels heavy on the tongue like it has weight. There are hints of grass and hay, as well as hints of mineral. It is also, at times, leaning towards floral. Some have called it honeysuckle. I can see this but it is faint, so don't expect it to jump out at you. It is causing some light cheek tingle.

OK, who wants another cup? I do! I do! Steep time increased to 45 seconds. The taste is similar to the first but has a deeper darker vibe to it. Especially while still hot, there is a peppery note present.

I wish I had time this afternoon to go another round, but I have to eat something, then run out the door, as I have praise band practice tonight - I play guitar. I can't be late as I have invited an awesome guitarist friend to come out and jam with us tonight.

To wrap up this review. I have tasted many silver needle white teas. This is among the top two or three I've tried. Frankly once you reach that level they get hard to pick a clear winner.

You can find Nannuoshan, Yin Zhen here. I did notice, at the I wrote this note, there were only a few 50g amounts of this year's harvest left.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Nannuoshan, Dian Yin Zhen White Tea

Nannuoshan Description:
This tea is produced in the Yunnan province, where pu’er –the most famous dark tea– comes from. Dian in Chinese is the shorter form of the word Yunnan. The rest of the name refers to the appearance of the leaves; long buds, shaped like a needle (zhen), with a pale, silver hue (Yin).

Dian Yin Zhen is produced from a different tea plant and in a totally different environment than the more famous Yin Zhen from the Fujian province. Despite the similar shape, Dian Yin Zhen has a different aroma. It is an assertive white tea with an inimitable, mellow aroma and a lingering aftertaste.

There is something curious in the taste of all Yunnan teas. White, green, black and pu'er teas, they all have a common aromatic mark, revealing their origin.
So, although white and dark teas are poles apart, you will recognize a common natural tinge in Dian Yin Zhen and pu’er: the taste of Yunnan.

Sample provided by Nannuoshan

My Review:
We are back to our continuing white tea extravaganza! The final two offerings from Nannuoshan are Silver Needle type whites. This one is from Yunnan province in China. As I begin I'm not sure if I have ever tasted a Yunnan Silver Needle. I am certain I have loved virtually every tea I have sampled from the region. I have high hopes for this one.

My first whiff from the sample bag confirms the Yunnan roots (OK leaves) of this one. It's part leather, pepper, and hay. So familiar, yet somehow very different. It's comfortable and at the same time invites exploration.

Removing the leaf, it is again familiar but different. It is obviously all buds. It looks like Silver Needle. It also looks like Yunnan Golden Tips. It is different from both in its unusual color. Neither silver nor gold, this is like downy fur covered straw.

There was some settling of the leaf, resulting in a little dust, but it remains mostly fully intact. The feel of it is so unusual. It is very soft.

I am left in a quandry before brewing. The parameters on Nannuoshan's site call for 3 grams for gaiwan brewing. I don't have a scale. If this sample is 6 grams, I should use half, yet half the sample looks light. I'm trusting that this leaf is denser than it looks and half the sample really is 3 grams.

In the clear glass teapot it goes along with water heated to 90 C (195 F). I let this steep for 30 seconds, then realized I did not know where my strainer was located. A frantic search ensued and the pour was actually at more like 40 seconds.

As I am getting ready to sniff the liquor and the wet leaf, I start catching strong odors of salmon patties coming from the kitchen. You have got to be kidding. Oh, well, my wife and the cat love stinky salmon patties. I'll adjust. What I can catch is an amplified version of the dry scent (and cat food). LOL. My bad, I did not realize it was lunch time when I started.

The liquor seemed almost colorless in the pot, but is a grayish honey color when condensed in my cup.

The taste is everything I love about Yunnan tea. Absolutely no bitterness. It has a warm earthy flavor that lingers between leather, cave mineral, slightly mushroom, and loam. It almost has a smoky presence but I am pretty sure white tea is not fired to halt oxidation. I don't know if I would call this sweet, as other reviewers have, but it certainly isn't umami.

As I sit here enjoying my cup, I realize I have experienced a similar tea before in the form of white puerh. While this one is a white tea, the similarities really are quite apparent. Yep, my love for all teas Yunnan continues.

You can find Nannuoshan, Dian Yin Zhen White Tea here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tea Ave, Tie Kwan Yin Oolong

Tea Ave Description:
The story behind Tie Kwan Yin Oolong goes something like this: Many years ago, a tea farmer from Anxi, China, discovered a tea that he took a special liking to. He named it Tie Kwan Yin, drawing from his Buddhist beliefs that the tree was a gift from the Goddess of Mercy, Kwan Yin. Fittingly, as the trees grow, they give off a pleasant aroma reminiscent of iron (tie).

Our Tie Kwan Yin Oolong is grown in Taiwan, not China, where many merchants who offer the tea source it. The terroir, or growing climate and soil conditions, of the Muzha district of Taiwan enables the trees to flourish, growing into a unique, distinctive-tasting tea. With a rich, deep flavor and a subtle bitterness, our Tie Kwan Oolong is pleasantly balanced by mellow, fruity notes, with a touch of sweetness. An opulent, distinct tea, Tie Kwan Yin is a favorite among oolong drinkers in Taiwan. 

Leaves are reddish brown and curled into balls. Tie Kwan Yin Oolong is an MOA organic tea.

Sample provided by Tea Ave

My Review:
One more oolong review before returning to our white tea extravaganza. This is the third sample from Tea Ave. The first two were excellent. Let's see if the trend continues.

This is a moderately roasted Tie Kwan Yin. It is listed as a 5 out of 10 on the roasting level while being a 5-6 on oxidation. When I opened the bag I half expected to be blown over by roasted notes. I was more than pleasantly surprised. I am also beginning to think Tea Ave is messing with me (just kidding). The roasted note is the strongest scent but I also catch fall leaves and a grape like scent. At least that is how my brains interprets the aroma.

I also was expecting the leaf to be the typical deep green shades. This one looks like a tippy black tea rolled into nuggets like an oolong. I am intrigued.

The gaiwan brewing method on the label recommends 2.5 grams of leaf for 110 ml gaiwan. I will be using a 90 ml gaiwan and the awesome aroma cup set I received from Tea Ave with the samples.

I heated the water to 200 F (95 C) and poured it into the tasting cup and then the aroma cup, to warm them, before pouring it into the gaiwan. The steep time was 3 1/2 minutes. Tea Ave recommends 3-5 minutes. That seemed long for a gaiwan but I went with it.

I used the gaiwan to fill the aroma cup, then covered it with the tasting cup. After a few moments I turned the set upside down and slowly lifted the aroma cup to fill the tasting cup.

The aroma cup is then used to catch the scent of the tea. I am not an expert at this method yet. I was mostly getting the roasted notes. I was kind of hmmm at this moment. Then I pulled the aroma cup away and immediately caught a rush of a floral bouquet. I don't know if it was from the wet leaf or the tasting cup. I just know I liked it.

The liquor is light apricot in color. Except for the leaf bits I let escape the gaiwan, the liquor is clear and bright.

The wet leaf is still partially holding onto its rolled shape. It looks like cooked spinach in the gaiwan.

In tasting, I am getting the roasted notes first and they are dark and nutty. Not at all overpowering as I feared with the long steep time. Beyond this I am getting a creamy sensation. I do not recall seeing this mentioned in any other reviews. This is not at all bitter. There is a slight bite. A sweetness runs throughout the sip. Towards the end I notice floral and fruit.

The fruit notes remind me of apricot. The floral I can't narrow down to any one primary scent. It is kind of a greenhouse scent. One thing I notice is what I am not catching, even in later cups. Normally with a Tie Kwan Yin, there is an abundance of what I have always called geranium. Other reviewers with a less favorable opinion call it latex. However you normally interpret this element, I am not detecting it here except as a very faint trace in the lingering aftertaste.

You can find Tea Ave, Tie Kwan Yin Oolong here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tea Ave, Ginger Lily Oolong

Tea Ave description:
Our Ginger Lily Oolong is prepared using the ancient method, in which the tea absorbs the flower fragrance during the baking progress, producing a scented tea that’s aromatic and flavorful without using any additives or chemicals. It’s good for you and delicious. Ginger Lily Oolong has a mild, soothing aroma.

Ginger Lily Oolong is sweet and smooth with a light body. Ginger Lily blossoms from Taiwan are blended with high mountain oolong tea (Alishan Jin Xuan) to yield a tea that has an earthy oolong taste with a light, sweet ginger finish with pleasing honey notes. A lovely, approachable, refreshing tea. Call it summer in a cup.

Sample provided by Tea Ave

My Review:
Today we are taking a short break from our white tea extravaganza to review an oolong.  I want to start by apologizing to Tea Ave for taking so long to get back to their samples. They have not complained, but it has been a month since my first review of Tea Ave. They are a new company operating out of Canada. The sample package they mailed out to several of us for review is more than generous.

The 9 gram sample came packaged in a resealable C-3PO gold colored foil bag with a clear back. The label on this things packs a ton of options for brewing parameters.

Opening the sample I smell biscuits, oats, and a little roasting. This is Alishan. Why do I smell biscuits and oats? Interesting. The roasting level is listed as a 1 on a scale from 0-10. Light but noticeable.

The leaf is rolled into typical green oolong nuggets with a tan stem exposed. I would say the leaf color in reality is darker than the picture appears on my computer screen. It is a more uniform deep green, in natural light, to my eyes.

I used half the sample (about 4.5 grams) in my clear glass teapot. Tea Ave calls for 8 grams of leaf with 130 ml of water (about 4 ounces). I know how I like my oolongs, and for me that is way too much leaf. I would normally use about 3 grams but decided to go heavier as a compromise.

I used about 150 ml of 100 C water (5 ounces and 212 F). The steep was 30 seconds per the gaiwan brewing method listed on the label.

The leaf gently moved about the water as it slowly unfurled. The leaf nearly filled the water. It was graceful to watch. I highly recommend a clear brewing vessel so you don't miss the show.

Pouring the clear honey colored liquor created two distinct aromas. The first is the wet leaf. It has a very noticeable roasted scent. I am not a fan of highly roasted tea so this stands out to me. It is lightly roasted but I notice anyway. The second aroma is from the liquor itself. Yes, this is Alishan. What a lovely floral aroma. Sweet and flowery. I can't wait for this to cool.

While the cup is cooling I poured the wet leaf out on a plate. It is a lot of huge leaf and it isn't even completely relaxed. For me, I made the right call in reducing the leaf.

Finally I get to taste. Oh, this is lovely. It is more subtle than I expected. Up front there is a wave of floral typical of better quality Taiwan high mountain oolong. Yet, it is more because it is delicately enhanced by the ginger lily fragrance that was absorbed during processing. To me it is different than what I normally associate with ginger. It isn't spicy or hot. It is sweet.

The sip continues as this becomes quite milky in taste and feel. It is followed by just a touch of the roasting note. It gives it a nutty flavor. It really works here.

The aftertaste swirls and transitions through all the wonderful flavors found in the sip. I love Tea Ave's description of this as, "summer in a cup." It's just what I'm looking for today. This will steep 3-4 times (at least) and I intend to find out.

You can find Tea Ave, Ginger Lily Oolong here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Nannuoshan, Bai Mu Dan 2008

Nannuoshan Description:
This aged Bai Mu Dan, produced in 2008, is three years older than our regular Bai Mu Dan. The difference is clear. The leaves are darker, as the tea changed during storage. Bai Mu Dan 2008 is mature, more intense and lingering; a full-bodied white tea, pleasantly sweet.

Sample provided by Nannuoshan

My Review:
Continuing with this month's white tea extravaganza, this is the third of my samples from Nannuoshan. Today's tea is different from the Bai Mu Dan reviewed here yesterday as this one is aged. I see tea conversations often where someone will comment they drink their white tea samples first because it will go bad fast, or something similar. Many of the tea companies I talk with tell me something quite different. White tea, like Puerh, often improves with age.

Somewhere back in the past I was told white tea often peaks at about 7-8 years. If this is true, then this tea is at its prime. I'm looking forward to finding out.

Cutting off the sample top, I now catch a complex blending of scents. This is at once, leafy and deeply earthy. There is a touch of sour mixed with sweet. I also catch the fragrance of hay with floral overtones.

The leaf is very dark compared to their other, and younger, Bai Mu Dan offering. It looks more mature and sturdy.  The silver buds are covered in fine downy hair. The leaves have only a slight hint of green. Mostly they are darker shades of brown, looking more like black tea at this point.

I used half the 6 gram sample and my clear glass teapot for this session. 5 ounces of filtered water were heated to 195 F. My first steep was 30 seconds.

This results in a liquor that is clear with only a light tinting of yellow. The leaf remained mostly on the top of the water during the steep. After emptying the teapot, the leaves can be seen as chocolate brown and cinnamon.

The aroma is very suggestive of a black tea. Along with the leafy and peony floral notes, I detect a healthy dose of malt.

The taste is really hard for me to identify. It is very much different than the dry or wet aromas suggest. There is a green leafy note up front, followed by maybe a touch of ginger without the heat. After this it turns a mellow mineral, followed by the mystery taste. It isn't potato but reminds me of that kind of starchy goodness when you bite into a raw potato. I am thinking maybe water chestnut, but not really. What is that familiar flavor?

This seems to pack a lot of cha qi. After one cup, I feel warm and fuzzy, very mellow, yet very focused. Must have more.

Second cup, also at 30 seconds, had a plum aroma as I poured. The taste continues where the first cup left off. There is the addition of a peppery spice note up front. This one is also much more floral. It isn't an upfront fragrance overdose. This is a pleasant peony taste.

The Nannuoshan Bai Mu Dan teas have the distinction of being the first white peony teas I ever tried where I understood the peony reference.

Cup  three was steeped for 45 seconds. Weird, it is back to having a malty aroma with a much lighter plum note. This tastes much like the second, except the spicy note is much less pronounced. The plum that I caught in the aroma is also drifting in to the taste.  

This is very different than a more youthful white peony. I am not catching melon or cucumber like I normally find, and I don't mind. The flavors that are present are complex and changing. This is a white tea and therefore the taste is far more subtle than found in flavored or breakfast teas. If you are a white tea enthusiast, this is a slightly different and yet very good one to try.

You can find Nannuoshan, Bai Mu Dan 2008 here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Nannuoshan, Bai Mu Dan

Nannuoshan Description:
Bai Mu Dan is the second grade of authentic Fujian white tea. Buds and the first open leaf of the tea plant are plucked together to produce it. Yin Zhen, the first grade, is made with buds only.
Bai Mu Dan is processed as carefully as Yin Zhen, but the withering phase is longer and the leaves more oxidized.
Bai Mu Dan has a fuller body and more intense taste than Yin Zhen; it is less delicate, yet characterize by the natural, light sweetness typical of prime Fujian white tea.

Sample provided by Nannuoshan

My Review:
The second of five Nannuoshan white teas to be reviewed as part of my white tea extravaganza! Bai Mu Dan is more commonly known as White Peony. When done well, Bai Mu Dan is an excellent tea. A little more boisterous in flavor than silver needle, it is still considered a subtle sip when compared to most green and black teas.

This came as a 6 gram sample. Which is sufficient for one pot of tea or a couple gaiwan sessions.

Opening the bag, I catch sweet and slightly sour notes of fresh cut hay.

Removing 3 grams of leaf for examination, I am impressed with what I see. The leaf ranges from light green to olive, while the buds are silvery and covered in fine downy hair.

Today I put aside my gaiwan. I think I can get better control using my press with my hybrid mug method. I hear the scoffing from some of you. I will be using gaiwan parameters just the same.

So, into the press goes the leaf along with water heated to 194 F (90 C). The first steep is a quick 30 seconds.

The result is a very light yellow liquor. The tiny fuzzy hairs are seen throughout the mug. Once the tea cools for a moment the fuzz all settles to the bottom leaving an otherwise clear brew.

The wet leaf I had to sniff more than once. I wanted to make sure it was not my imagination. What I am experiencing is our side yard when I was maybe 10. Mom had peony bushes that had big red blooms. This leaf scent matches my memory as close as any I have experienced.

The wet leaf itself is now almost all green. In the mix can be seen whole buds, some attached to a single intact leaf. As in the dry leaf there are some broken pieces.

Sipping I get a light melon/cucumber taste. There is some amount of floral notes that are more in the background. The longer I sip the more I pick up on the slightly sweet hay noted in the dry leaf aroma. It is not at all bitter but is slightly drying.

This is a very good cup of tea but I'm curious to see if it can be improved upon by lengthening the steep time. The website says to use 45 seconds for the second cup. I am going to go 1 1/2 minutes.

The mug is a much darker golden color with a green tint. The flavor seems to match the first cup but far more intense. It is accompanied by a peppery spice note at the front of the sip. I catch fleeting glimpses of fruit. It seems to jump back out of range before I can fully lock in on it and identify exactly what type fruit.

What the longer steep proved to me is that it will change what you taste. Turns out I found the more subtle short steep to be more to my liking. Never be afraid to experiment with the parameters.

You can find Nannuoshan, Bai Mu Dan here.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Nannuoshan, Xue Ya

6 g Sample Packet
Nannuoshan Description:
Xue Ya tea leaves are picked before April 19-21; one leaf and a bud at each pick. The dry leaves are straight, light green in colour and covered by soft downy hair. It is hard to find broken leaves.
The taste is fresh, slightly sweet and grassy, with a pleasant umami tinge.

Sample provided by Nannuoshan

My Review:
Welcome to the first of my white tea extravaganza. At this time I have 10 different white teas to review in the coming weeks. I love white tea. For those of you who aren't so crazy about them, well, I will be mixing in reviews of other types as well. So don't run off.

Xue Ya in English means snow buds. This one originates in Yixing, Jiangsu, China. I tried to study up on Xue Ya and quickly became very confused. Is it a white tea? Yellow? Green? Is it an old tea type as Nannuoshan says on their website, or was it invented in the 80's? It seems to depend on who is processing the leaf and where they are located.

Dry Leaf
Opening the sample, the dry leaf scent is slightly sweet, and equal parts grassy and oats.

Examining the leaf, This appears to be one leaf and a bud. The leaf is a basically straight and faded green, while the buds are silvery. Looking very closely, the young buds are covered in downy hair. First glance had me wondering, but the closer look convinces me this is indeed a white tea.

When acquiring the samples, it was recommended to use a gaiwan in the reviews. I prefer my western hybrid mug method and may switch later but for now I will begin with a 90 ml gaiwan.

First Steep
The directions found on Nannoushan's Xue Ya page are for a 150 ml cup. Since mine is only 90 ml (about 3 ounces), I will adjust the leaf amount down from 3 grams to 2 grams. The water temperature was 90 C or 195 F.

The first steep was 30 seconds. You can see from the picture that the liquor has very little color. I wondered if would taste like water.

The simple answer is no. I sniffed the underside of the lid as I removed it. There was a scent like stewed meat. Mmmmm. Along with it is a vegetal, or actually, a more vine like aroma.

You can see in the picture below how green the wet leaf turned after steeping.

The first sip caused my eyes to open a little wide as I said, whoa! Don't let the lack of color fool you. This packs a big taste.

Wet Leaf
The taste is mildly sweet. It is sort of grassy, but the taste is bigger than that simple word. The word I need to use and always hesitate on, is bitter. Generally that has a negative connotation. Here it is a good thing. The bitter is the crisp refreshing type that is pleasing to the palate.

Nannuoshan uses the word umami in their description. I can agree. It has the sensation of having been seasoned with salt but without the salty taste. Yeah, I know, that is a hard concept to grasp.

The second cup at 45 seconds has an entirely different aroma. It is more earthy, and white tea like, but at the same time reminds me (and I know this is the strangest description I've ever used), of an old electric fan smell. Told you it was strange. The taste is very different as well. The good bitter of the first cup is moved to the aftertaste along with some grassiness. The sip itself has a strong umami presence with an almost metallic bite. My cup was empty before I realized, so obviously in my puzzlement, I must have enjoyed it.

The third cup at 60 seconds morphs once more. The aroma is quite vegetal, seeming more like a Chinese green tea. The color of the liquor is still a very pail manila in the cup. The taste is a combination of flavors. I get earthy/mushroom, mineral, umami, and grass. The aftertaste is cooling while tasting lightly sweet, and a good bitter grass.

Yes, I do like this one. To my tastes it seems more like a green tea than a white. I can see why the debate rages on.

You can find Nannuoshan, Xue Ya here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Simple Loose Leaf, Mint Chamomile Rooibus

Simple Loose Leaf Description:
Our Mint Chamomile tea will put a smile on your face regardless of the day you are having.  Brew a cup of this floral, sweet and soothing tea and enjoy a wonderfully fresh finish of this beautiful cup of tea.

Chamomile Flowers, Roobius Tea, Peppermint Leaves, Natural Vanilla Flavor

Sample provided by Simple Loose Leaf

My Review:
Another from the monthly subscription box for review. This box contained 5 samples. The number varies from 4-6 depending on what is included in that month's box. Monthly plans range from $13 to $15 depending on how many months you purchase (1, 3, or 6 month plans).

Today's tea is actually a herbal. It comes, as you can see, in a simple resealable pouch. The label is decorative and lists ingredients, a description, brewing information, as well as contact info.

I do notice one minor issue. The company lists part of the name as Rooibus. The ingredient list spells it Roobius. While they can name this anything they like, to my knowledge the correct spelling is Rooibos. I understand typos. You will probably find plenty on each page of this blog. I do try to catch them. The ones that get away seem glaring once published.

Opening the sample, I smell mint. I love peppermint. Something in the rest of the ingredients, probably the vanilla, is making this smell much like a Peppermint Patty. It is not quite as distinctively chocolate, but it wasn't just me either, my wife sniffed the bag and said the same thing.

I filled my mesh basket with leaf and set it in the mug. Boiling water was used for a 5 minute steep.

The result is a dark honey caramel brew. It is mostly clear with very little sediment making its way into the mug.

Tasting is a little different from the initial scent. First comes the peppermint. Often peppermint can be a bit... overwhelming. Despite its strong aroma it plays nicely here. It quickly steps back and allows a creamy sensation to take over. I suspect this is the vanilla, although I can't say I actually taste it.

Next, I notice the apple like flavor of the chamomile. At a five minute steep it is a light taste. My wife doesn't care for long steeped chamomile because to her the apple is too much flavor. She normally only steeps it three minutes. I thought it perfect at 5 minutes.

The rooibos is faint. It appears briefly late in the sip adding a sweet fullness to the taste. I am not a big fan of straight rooibos. I find it harsh, medicinal, and scratchy, like drinking sawdust. When done well, as with this tea, it adds a nice enhancement without dominating.

The aftertaste sees the cooling peppermint step back into the lead.

I enjoyed this and would drink it again. In fact, I have plans to add some cacao nibs for a little touch of decadence to this otherwise tasty cup.

You can find Simple Loose Leaf Mint Chamomile Rooibus here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Persimmon Tree, Berries 'n' Cream

The Persimmon Tree Description:
Our Berries 'n' Cream tea takes a rooibos base and transforms it into a vanilla truffle-like treat with succulent black currents, creamy white chocolate blossoms, and organic hibiscus. This naturally caffeine-free tea makes the perfect after-dinner dessert tea when sweetened with a little rock sugar.

Organic Fair Trade Rooibos, Organic Hibiscus, Organic Currants, White Chocolate, Natural Flavors

Sample provided by The Persimmon Tree

My Review:
I stated in my review of Detox Blend that my wife chose this month's The Persimmon Tree offerings to be reviewed. She loves herbal and rooibos. I am a little stand offish and have to be won over.

When she told me Berries 'n' Cream I thought ooooh, strawberries and cream. Then I read the ingredients. I have had exactly one black currant tea. I did not like it. Hibiscus is an ingredient that usually is overdone and too tart for my tastes. About now, I'm wondering what have I gotten myself into? Man, I'm trying to keep a neutral attitude going into this but it is going to be easy.

I removed the lid and took a whiff. Hmmm. This is a rooibos but the scent is vanilla and berry or possibly cherry. There is no vanilla listed in the ingredients. It has to be the combination of white chocolate, black currant, and hibiscus yet... I think I might, sort of, kind of, like it.

Looking at the leaf, the rooibos is easy to spot. Also visible is the hibiscus and black currant. What isn't showing up in my picture is the white chocolate. Had I realized this while taking the picture, I would have rearranged the scene. There really is little curls of white chocolate but I guess you'll have to take my word for it.

I used a Finum basket, to catch the rooibos, placed in my cup as boiling water was added. The covered steep was 5 minutes.

The result is a dark brew that at first resembles coffee. As the cup is tilted and the brew spread out, it takes on a more reddish purple tint.

Notice there is surface particles. At first I thought some of the rooibos made it through the mesh. Stirring with a spoon and looking closer, I am pretty sure it is from the white chocolate.

The aroma is much like the dry scent.

My first sip is pleasant but a little lighter than I would have guessed. I added some sweetener to see what would happen. I'll tell you what happened - Awesomeness! Ya, that surprises me too.

Once sweetened this came alive. The black currant and the hibiscus combine to give a taste that I can't nail down but drifts between blueberry, cherry, and grape. I do taste just the slightest tartness but honestly it works here. This is creamy, probably from the white chocolate. I do taste the rooibos but it is not the main note. It adds to the overall mix with a touch of spicy sweetness.

I think I can best sum up my perception of this blend by telling you that I went into this review not expecting much from these ingredients. I thought, I'll try to keep an open mind but will settle on just getting through it. I ended up gulping the last half of the cup down and can't wait to have another. Surprisingly delicious.

You can find The Persimmon Tree Berries 'n' Cream here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What-Cha, Darjeeling 1st Flush 2014 Giddapahar Black Tea

What-Cha Description:
Another great top-end First Flush Darjeeling Tea; with a sweet start, spicy finish and slight briskness with light tannins..

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
Today we are back to India for some much needed caffeine and theanine. I recently reviewed an autumnal flush Darjeeling from this same estate. I am very curious to open up this sample and see the difference between a first flush and a third. I'm also hoping I can tell the difference, because, you know, I sort of review teas a lot. This could be very embarrassing.

What-Cha's samples are a generous 10 grams. Depending on how much leaf you are accustomed to using, you can get up to five steeping sessions. I generally use around 3 grams, so I can easily get three separate sessions with each. I try to always mention the sample bags are resealable as not every company packages their product this thoughtfully. Steeping instructions are clearly displayed on the label.

Opening the bag, I get my first clue that this will definitely be a different experience than the autumn flush tea. The aroma here is straw and grass with a healthy dose of fruit and floral. It smells like orange blossoms to me.

Removing a large scoop of leaf provides my second clue this is different. If you sat this in front of me and said guess, I would suspect a green tea or possibly a white peony. Nothing about the appearance shouts black tea. The leaf is various shades of green with a few cinnamon colored tips to keep me confused - in a good way.

My press was just cleaned and is still hot and wet inside. Adding the leaf to the wet press, while the kettle heats, releases the first notes reminiscent of a Darjeeling. The water was heated to 195 F and the steep time was 3 minutes.

The leaf has really come alive. It is green and moist. I still don't visualize black tea.

The leaf grade is labeled as SFTGOP1 or Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. I believe the 1 stands for finest quality. That basically means when this was originally graded and packed it contained whole leaves and buds.

Some settling has occurred and now some of the leaf is still full and intact while others are large pieces. I don't notice any really small pieces. Certainly nothing suggesting this is anything but a high quality leaf.

The liquor is honey yellow with a green tint. The label says black tea, but it continues to mock me.

So I finally taste. Oh there you are. The What-Cha description on the sample label nails this tea, "A brilliant sweet start with a spicy finish." Attempting to expand on this a little - after the sweetness I catch the first notes of muscatel. It is a light grape leaf like flavor. It fades quickly into a moment of mineral. Just as quickly it moves right into that spicy finish with the leaf taste moving below the spice.

The aftertaste lingers well in a sweet fruity note, as just a touch of cheek tingle moves in to further please the senses.

The difference between this first flush and the autumn flush are day and night apart in almost every way. I just checked and What-Cha does carry the autumn flush as well as this first flush. Before I recently started reviewing a wide range of Darjeeling teas, I thought I had a good handle on what they tasted like. In truth, I had no idea. I Seriously suggest trying a sample of both teas mentioned here, from this same estate. The difference will astound you. Just so you know, both are excellent.

You can find What-Cha, Darjeeling 1st Flush 2014 Giddapahar Black Tea here.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Simple Loose Leaf, Lemon Grass Herbal

Simple Loose Leaf Description:
Lemon Grass is a native herb of Southeast Asia.  It is said to help with digestion, calms the nerves, and helps with high blood pressure.  Our Lemon Grass has a delicate Meyer lemon flavor with a hint of sweet ginger and an uplifting floral aroma.

Sample provided by Simple Loose Leaf

My Review:
Today is one of those days when I probably should just walk away from the kettle before someone (me) gets hurt. Wow, seriously. I dropped the scoop of leaf on the desk - not once, but twice. I dropped the open bag. I almost dropped the camera into the cup - while it was full. Fortunately I did not get injured and the loss of leaf was minimal, but seriously, what a day.

OK, deep breath, this one is a caffeine free herbal. The only ingredient is lemon grass. I find that surprising. I have had lemon grass many times, blended with other ingredients. It is a good solid flavoring.

What surprised me is when I opened the sample, I smelled lemon grass and ginger. There was also a touch of grass. All the times I have sipped it, I never knew it had a ginger note.

I removed the aforementioned dropped leaf from the resealable pouch and eventually got in on the plate. Yeah, it looks like wood shavings and dried grass. Some of the leaf is now a very fine dust. Maybe I did that with my clumsiness. No idea.

My wife has already been into this leaf. What did she think? Well, all I got out of her was, "I want it back after you have a cup." I think that means she liked it.

I should have used a Finum basket to keep the fine sediment out of my cup. I should have, but the previously mentioned wife has both in use at the moment. So, instead I used my cup with the stainless mesh basket. The mesh is not fine enough for this leaf but I figure it is just added fiber.

The water is boiled and poured over the leaf, covered, then steeped for about five minutes. The brew is a very fragrant deep honey colored. The bottom of the cup has some sediment from my steeping choice, otherwise the liquor is clear.

The taste is strong and fragrant with lemon. My olfactory is basking in the sweet floral notes that accompany the taste. The lemon gives way to a warm hint that is ginger like, with out the heat and scratchy qualities. The lemon stays strong but blends with a grassiness at the end.

I did not realize how pleasant lemon grass tasted on its own. I can see why my wife has claimed it for her very own.

You can find Simple Loose Leaf, Lemongrass Herbal here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Persimmon Tree, Detox Blend

The Persimmon Tree Description:
When over-indulgence becomes overwhelming, this mild tea takes a hot cupful of natural, organic botanicals to cure your body of its ills. Fused with an array of healing herbs and botanicals, the tisane warms you up, dissolves you of drowsiness, and puts your senses on the path to recovery. Let the Detox Blend recover all the aspects of your body and mind.

Organic Coriander Seed, Organic fennel Seed, Organic Milk Thistle, Organic Chicory Root, Organic Burdok Root, Organic Dandelion Root

Sample provided by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

My Review:
Today we are going decaf. I let my wife select this month's offerings from The Persimmon Tree because she cannot tolerate caffeine except in extremely small amounts. She even avoids chocolate to make sure she doesn't encounter more than she can handle.

The list of spices, in particular coriander seed, is what caught her attention with this herbal. She has already been into the tin 3 times. I think that means she likes it. Of course she refuses to write the review :)

Left on my own, I will attempt to review this, though I am out of my realm. Popping the lid I catch a whiff of fennel and something much darker and richer - it is almost coffee like.

Removing a scoop of leaf, I recognize fennel from pizza, I also recognize coriander seed. I picked one up and tasted. It was kind of floral, almost soapy, and reminded me of a light lavender taste. Everything else in the mix is a mystery to me.

I used a Finum basket placed in a mug and poured boiling water over the herbs and spices. The steep time was 5 minutes.

The result is a very dark brew. It looks like a cup of coffee and smells like pizza :) Seriously, my brain takes the fennel seed and some bready elements and thinks it is time to eat.

The taste is fennel and coriander. It leans heavier on the fennel. The coriander is more hit and run. Beyond this, I taste something darker, richer, and more earthy. I am really not coming up with words to identify the taste. It has a slight edge but I can't tell where it originates. Ultimately, to me this tastes like what it is, a cup of seeds and spices.

I didn't mind the taste but I don't see me craving it either. As I said though, my wife has been into it 3 times and has claimed the rest as her own. The difference here is she loves herbals and I love camellia sinensis leaves otherwise known as tea.

If herbals are your thing, you can find The Persimmon Tree Detox Blend here.