Monday, July 27, 2015

Oollo Tea, Milky Jinxuan Oolong

Oollo Tea Description:
The true milky Jinxuan oolong tea with natural cream milk accent and luscious texture. The Alishan family farms tea trees that were bought from our family in 1990. They practice zero pesticide natural farming.

Varietal: Jinxuan Oolong
Curator: Grandpa Lo
Location: Alishan, Jiayi County, Taiwan
Elevation: 1200-1800m
Harvest: 2014 Spring

Sample provided by Oollo Tea

My Review:
The brief cool spell has ended way too soon. We are back to heat and humidity. O well, at least my air conditioning is working today. Being as I am all cool and comfortable, it must time for tea.

Today's choice is a milky oolong from Taiwan. I haven't had one of these is a long while. The sample cannot be resealed. Sometimes I use tape but more often a paper clip to hold the bag closed. It won't keep long this way and will need to be steeped soon. The label is simple with pertinent brewing instructions.

Opening the bag, I get a sweet scent of cut and dried field grass. It also leans towards a touch of bread and malt, but just a touch.

The tightly rolled leaf is dark and for some strange reason looks like armor to my brain. I think it is because of dull dark grayish tint and the texture looks kind of like a ninja turtle shell. Yeah, even I think that description is a little off the wall.

Into the press it goes along with 195 F water for a 3 minute steep. The range on the label is 1.5 - 5 minutes. That's a pretty wide range.

Before I write about the liquor or the taste, I have got to mention the wet leaf. Look at the size of it! I have trees in my yard that don't have leaves this big. I am impressed.

Most of the leaf after the first steep is still fairly compressed but as you can see some of it couldn't wait to get out of that tight little ball.

The aroma of the wet leaf is lightly roasted, slightly sweet, and vegetal.

On to the brew!

The tea has steeped very clear and very yellow. It is quite a pretty cup.

The first sip is, at first, light in flavor and texture. It starts with a mineral note that is almost metallic. It quickly morphs into a smooth milky texture. It is very thick feeling. Next, I catch a sensation that I can't think of another way to describe except to say prickly. The problem with saying this is it sounds unpleasant but that is not the case here. As you swallow, floral and vine notes emerge.

There is zero bitterness, but it feels kind of drying. As I think about the taste, I realize I caught hints of the roasting. They don't dominate or even jump out at you. I like the subtle layering of the flavors.

Interesting. The more the cup cools the more I am actually catching a milky taste to go with the texture.

Oollo says this the leaf can be re-steeped to make 4 brews.

You can find Oollo Tea, Milky Jinxuan Oolong here

Friday, July 24, 2015

Little Red Cup Tea, Lapsang Souchong

Little Red Cup Description:
Our Lapsang Souchong (Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, 正山小种) is amazing. We know, that’s a bold statement, and some will disagree. But Lapsang Souchong is a love it or hate it proposition, and we’ve given our hearts to this tea. This is one of our strongest teas, think bridge abutments or skyscraper foundations. This is our most pungent tea — we send it to you in a ziplock bag in addition to our regular packaging.

The black tea is redolent three distinct flavors at once — the black tea base, a hint of longyan (Dragon Eye, a Chinese tree fruit similar to lychee) and the pinewood smoke which is the tea’s most defining element.

Sample provided by Little Red Cup Tea Company

My Review:
I have a box of teas yet to sample from several companies, but when I opened the package from Little Red Cup Tea Co., I was pretty sure I would move this one to the front of the line. I have been craving a cup of lapsang souchong for weeks. It has been really hot here for just as many weeks. Until now. The heat broke and this morning is was a wonderful chilly 60 F on my porch. So right to the front of the line it goes.

At the top is a picture of the tin you get if you order 2.75 oz. I received a sample size in this resealable pouch. It came wrapped inside a ziplock bag to reduce the risk of cross contamination. Lapsang Souchong (LS from here on) is quite potent, so I appreciate the precaution. I could not catch any scent when opening the box - or the ziplock bag.

Once the sample pouch was opened my room was filled with a wonderful sweet pine smoke scent. I always put my used leaf in a compost bowl. That assures me a smoke scented room for days. Love it.

I understand LS is a love it or hate it tea. I used to be scared of it myself. As my tastes grew, I learned to appreciate and love it. Oh, I just read the company description - bridge abutments! Pretty much true.

Removing a scoop of leaf for pictures and steeping, shows this to be a good looking black tea. There a plenty of gold tips and lightly twisted broken leaf.

The scent is sweet but not like bacon as some LS tend to be. It definitely says campfire, especially if you get too close.

Into the pot it goes along with boiling water for a 4 minute steep.

After pouring and removing the lid of the press to release the heat and the aroma, the senses are flooded with smoke. For a moment I think it might be too much. Never fear the cup is a little different.

The brew color is close to what I see in the picture on my computer but in reality it has a deeper color with dark cherry tints.

Obviously, the primary tasting note is going to be that smoke. If you enjoy LS then you will find this sweet and not as heavily smoked as one would expect. If you hate LS then you probably aren't reading this anyway. The smoke at the front of the sip feels like it is rising above liquid. The sip has a slight peppery spice taste and feel. At the same time it feels smooth and mineral. This may be what Little Red Cup calls a hint of longyan. I am not familiar with its taste. At the end of the sip the smoke moves in to fill the taste buds. The aftertaste lingers quite long of smoke and pepper.

This could not have arrived on my doorstep at a better time. My craving has been well satisfied - for today. It is supposed to head back into the 90's starting tomorrow. I guess that means I'll be looking forward to the next cool morning so I can break this one out once again.

You can find Little Red Cup Tea, Lapsang Souchong here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Chi Whole Leaf, Tea Powder

Taking a short break from Matcha Madness to introduce you to a similar concept in Chi Whole Leaf Tea and their herbal powdered 'teas'. Each of their blends is a mix of herbs and spices (or tea leaves in Green Mint), ground into a fine powder. They are prepared simply by whisking them into water similar to how you prepare matcha.

Currently there are five selections in the product line - Ginger Chai, Yerba Mate, Green Mint, Floral Herb, and Chamomile. Green Mint contains Darjeeling green tea blended with herbs. Green Mint and Yerba Mate both contain caffeine. The rest are caffeine free.

Each of these powder blends can be stirred into hot or cold water like matcha. Of course you could also use a touch of milk and sweetener for a latte.

The sample packets look tiny, but I quickly found there is enough powder for a few cups. It only takes 1/4 - 1/2 tsp of powder.

At the time of this writing, Chi Whole Leaf is giving away samples of all 5 blends. They are that sure we will like it enough to order more. Let's find out.

Samples provided by Chi Whole Leaf

On To The Sampling:

This is a blend of Darjeeling green tea, peppermint, eucalyptus leaf, and milk thistle. I used about 3/8 tsp in 6 ounces of water heated to, well, it was intended to be 160 F, but the kettle got away from me, so, it is more like 180 F.

The powder is a brown tinted green. It is very fine and mixed easily. The cup is a bit different than your usual cup of green tea. It is a murky muddy green, but honestly, some of the culinary matcha I have had look very similar.

I first tasted this without additives. The mint is the predominant flavor and is cooling and refreshing without overwhelming the senses. I can't separate the green tea from the eucalyptus. They blend well with the mint and the mix of flavors emerges mid sip. I do taste the tea in the aftertaste. There is no bitterness or rough edges present in the taste.

This is similar to a Moroccan mint, which is traditionally served very sweet like southern sweet tea. I added Splenda. This really gives the peppermint a boost. It becomes much bolder and fills your senses with cooling mint.

Next, I used a 3/8 tsp in a water bottle with 6 ounces of cold water. Put the lid on and shook the bottle. Cool way to prepare it! It mixed extremely well and foamed up even better. Immediately, you know this is peppermint, but it is nicely subdued yet cooling. I can now make out the eucalyptus. I have never had it before and it is a bit difficult to describe. It is kind of spicy, maybe like mint, licorice, and ginger. I can also taste the tea. Yeah, cold is the way to go with this one. Very refreshing. It disappeared quickly.        

This is a blend of yerba mate, licorice root, ginkgo, and eleuthero root, ground into a fine brownish tinted powder. Tasting the dry powder, I notice it seems very sweet. It also has an almost rooibos taste to it combined with something a little more bitter. I used about 3/8 tsp in 6 ounces of water heated to 160 F. It mixed easily but would not hold a foam.

This makes for a brownish green tinted and murky cup. It reminds me of creek water when you stir up the bottom silt. Smells inviting though.

In tasting, I notice first a dusty earthiness. This is quickly followed by the sweetness of the licorice. The taste of the licorice is mild, so if you normally avoid it, you might find the level acceptable here.  

There really is no need to test this with sweetener. Even my super sweet tooth is satisfied. I find the juxtaposition of earthy and sweet interesting. I have never had yerba mate before so I am not sure what it is supposed to taste like. I'm pretty sure this isn't for everybody, but I am kind of digging it.

Next, I prepared this cold in a water bottle. Man, that makes such easy work of thoroughly mixing it, with the added benefit of turning it super foamy. I have to say though, with this one I preferred the hot version. The sweetness is much lower and the dusty earthiness is more potent. One neat difference is the addition of a fruit or floral note. I could not pin it down and only assume it is the ginkgo presenting itself.

This is a take on traditional Chai with a caffeine free rooibos base. It is a blend of rooibos, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. When the samples arrived, I could smell this one through the envelope. Word of caution - when you open the plastic sample bag, do not stick it under your nose to sniff. The fine powder will send cinnamon straight through your sinuses. Not that I tried this... more than once.

The dry powder is the color of rooibos. The dry taste is a pleasant balanced mix of all the ingredients. Same prep as before, 6 oz of 160 F water and 3/8 tsp of powder. I pretty much give up trying to make a lasting foam with a kitchen whisk. It just doesn't last. The color, not surprisingly is cinnamon and rooibos. It looks a bit like fresh apple cider.

The no additives taste is very mild. It is cinnamon/clove, and rooibos. This is nicely smooth with no harsh edges, but a little too light for my tastes. I added a little sweetener. Wow. That really brings out the heat in the ginger. Next because this is Chai, I added a splash of milk. Now, I really like this. The rooibos moves way to the back. This is gentle mix of cinnamom and clove with the ginger adding a touch of heat at the end.

Finally, I prepared this cold in a water bottle. This makes for a major foam head. The unaltered taste is much like the initial unaltered hot cup. It is not strong enough. Possibly more powder would fix this, but with the resources I have, my favorite was the hot cup with sweetener and milk.

This has the most ingredients of the set. Contains chamomile, peppermint, passionflower, St. John's Wort, and lemongrass. The dry powder is lightly sweet and tastes of peppermint and chamomile. It is very mild.

Prepared hot the same as previous cups. My wife, who is the herbal drinker in our house, said this needs to be hotter and needs strained. Hotter? Maybe, I was just using my matcha parameters. As for straining, the powder is so fine I don't know if straining is possible. maybe through a cloth of some kind - or a coffee filter. The chamomile in this does not fully dissolve. All of these have some grit. This has the most silt of all of them.

Despite the less than desirable appearance, the taste of this is pretty good. No additions, it is once again mild. I can make out the peppermint. Everything else kind of blends together. So the taste is muddy but pleasant. My wife agrees. Next I add just a touch of sweetener. Seriously, a touch. It was maybe 1/4 of a Splenda packet - the equivalent of 1/2 tsp of sugar. This really livens up the cup. I can separate the peppermint, chamomile, and lemongrass. It is still not a bold cup but it is relaxing. The chamomile does not drift into apple tartness (which I like and my wife does not). My wife asked if there was enough left for her to try at bedtime. So, foul ball with the dregs on this one, but a homerun taste wise.

I am not going to make a water bottle version. We both agree it is perfect as prepared with sweetener. Besides, mama needs her bedtime cuppa, and daddy is no fool.

This is the final sample. A blend of rose petals, hibiscus, and jasmine. The dry leaf has a dusty rose color. There is little dry scent to the sample. Dry, it tastes like rose. I used hotter water this round (180 F) in 6 oz with 3/8 tsp.

The powder mixed well, though as with all of these there is some sediment in the cup. The color in the cup reminds me of something I drank as a kid. It is kind of a fuchsia color. Definitely the prettiest of the bunch.

The sip starts gentle rose then turns tart from the hibiscus. It tastes OK. So I add 1/4 packet of Splenda and it breathes some air and space into the cup. As the cup cools, the hibiscus calms and I can catch just hints of the jasmine mixing with the
rose. My guess is this is the most likely candidate to be a hit with the herbal drink enthusiasts.

In the cold water bottle test, the taste was similar to the cooling hot cup. Again, I liked it best with a bit of sweetener. Not really my cup of herbal, but I think it may well be the most successful blend of the samples.

Wrap Up
Chi Whole Leaf has come up with a unique idea with these powdered blends.  As a tea drinker, my personal favorite was Green Mint. My wife, as the caffeine free herbal person, preferred the Chamomile. That said, I will again mention I believe Floral Herb is likely the most successful blend based on reviews and reactions from the Steepster crowd.

You can find the entire Chi Whole Leaf collection here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Return Of Matcha Madness - Set Two

Alrighty, we continue our journey of blind taste testing various matcha. The original Matcha Madness was a comparison of lower end culinary grade powders suited for use in lattes and cooking. Although, frankly, there was at least one that I enjoyed straight without additives (Red Leaf Tea Deluxe Matcha). In The Return Of Matcha Madnesss, we stepped up a notch to better culinary grade tea. Now with the current round (set two of three) we move up another step to middle grade matcha. There are 9 samples in this set. All matcha samples have been supplied by Red Leaf Tea. Having a sponsor in no way influenced my reviews as I was not aware of what or who's each tea was until after completing the tastings.

Now on to the sampling:

The dry powder was green, though not as green as some of the Set One teas. The dry smell was hay, grass, and a combination of nuts and popcorn. The dry taste was nuts and popcorn with no bitterness. The powder mixed easily and made a nice thick foam. The color was a cloudy but bright jade green. The taste was of seaweed and kale. It ends with a bite of bitter. Has a nice sweetness.

Since this is the first sample, I am setting all the scores to 5, and all other teas in this round will be adjusted accordingly.
Aroma: 5  Color: 5  Taste: 5  Sweet to Bitter: 5
Price per ounce: $9.99 ($4.99 volume discount)
Price per bag: $9.99

Nice green powder here. It is a little brighter than the first in this set. The dry scent was not as aromatic as the first. It was a mix popcorn and bread. The dry taste was similar. I had a little more trouble getting this to mix but did get a good foam. The cup is bright green in color. The taste was too similar to the first for my limited ability to taste the difference.

Aroma: 4  Color: 6  Taste: 5  Sweet to Bitter: 5
Price per Ounce: $10.55
Price per tin: $29.74

The color is just a tick more yellow than the last. The dry scent is interesting. It is a mix  of the popcorn and nuts from the first along with the bread of the second. Truly, it smells like banana nut bread. The dry taste is more buttery popcorn. The cup isn't as brightly green but a definite improvement over the lower level powders. The taste is more vegetal and grassy to my tastes. There is enough bitterness to be interesting but leans towards sweet. It is good but just feels a little subdued. Maybe I'm just disappointed it doesn't taste like the dry aroma.

Aroma: 7  Color: 4  Taste: 4  Sweet to Bitter: 5
Price per Ounce: $12.51
Price per tin: $32.11

This one seems the most green so far. Bright spring green. The dry powder smells of hay, grass, and chocolate? Yes, I had to open the sample a second time to check. The dry taste is of buttery popcorn and nuts. This mixed easily but I felt I had to work at getting a good foam. The cup color is very nice. Very little bitterness. It feels creamy. The taste is hard for me to come up with comparisons. It is almost like drinking a mild vegetal green tea with a little seaweed and kale. This is a mild cup but I like this one.

Aroma: 8  Color: 7  Taste: 7  Sweet to Bitter: 7
Price per ounce: $12.83
Price per bag: $44.90

This one is a duller green than the others have been but still more green than the average run of the mill culinary grade tea. The dry aroma is lightly nutty. Actually, the aroma is just overall light. The dry taste is... earthy? With no bitterness. Interesting. The cup color leans towards a darker algae green. The taste is leafy, seaweed, and kale. There is a solid touch of bitter and a creamy sweetness. Based on what I have read on various websites, this is what matcha is supposed to taste like, but my rating reflects my personal unrefined tastes.

Aroma: 4  Color: 4  Taste: 5  Sweet to Bitter: 5
Price per ounce: $13.99 ($6.99)
Price per bag: $13.99

The dry powder on this one is yellow green. The aroma is oddly attractive, and not so much, at the same time. Initially it hits as kind of a fresh latex paint smell but then it is recognizable as fruity, like strawberry. The dry taste has little, to no, bitterness and has a popcorn and leafy green taste. This mixed easily enough but failed to develop a good foam. The color of the cup is drab algae. That said, I liked the taste of this one. There is little, to no, bitterness in the cup. It is green and leafy and reminds me of tender fresh uncooked spinach leaves. Sweet with a pleasant aftertaste.

Aroma: 5  Color: 4  Taste: 6  Sweet to Bitter: 8
Price per ounce: $14.99 ($7.49)
Price per bag: $14.99

The dry color is leaning towards brown. The aroma lacks the fruitiness of the previous sample, leaving only the latex paint scent. The dry taste is bitter. This mixed easily but failed to hold the foam once it was whisked up. The color is drab algae. Nothing about this sounds right, but I like the taste. It has a little bitterness. The taste is a simple fresh green leafy tea with a sweet finish.

Aroma: 3  Color: 3  Taste: 6  Sweet to Bitter: 7
Price per ounce: $14.99 ($7.49)
Price per bag: $14.99

Hey, we are back to vibrant green again! I am not getting a lot of scent off the dry powder. I maybe a victim of the paint fumes ;) What I am catching is nutty and buttery. The dry taste is popcorn and malt. Yes ladies and gentlemen - malt. Mixed easily and foamed well. The color is back to jade green. Tasting I get seaweed, kale, and green leafy tea with malt in the background. I thought I also detected brief hints of chocolate. It is creamy with enough bitterness to be interesting. The sweet leafy aftertaste lingers on this one. I think this is my pick of this set, just edging out Kuzama.

Aroma: 5  Color: 7  Taste: 7  Sweet to Bitter: 7
Price per ounce: $15.99 ($7.99)
Price per bag: $15.99

This is as nicely green as the last sample. The scent is similar. I am noting hay and malt. Along with the nutty and buttery popcorn notes. The dry taste is again much like the last, malt and popcorn with just a hint of bitterness. Mixed easily. Foamed well. Pretty jade green color. A little bitter. A little sweet. Creamy. This is certainly easy to sip. The problem with it is that after tasting all these teas in a row, this one doesn't stand out. It is grassy and pleasant. It may be a victim of being overshadowed by the previous sample. I certainly can't find a fault with it.

Aroma: 5  Color: 7  Taste: 6  Sweet to Bitter: 7
Price per ounce: $16.99 ($8.49)
Price per bag: $16.99

Monday, July 6, 2015

Golden Tips Tea, Jungpana Premium Darjeeling

Golden Tips Description:
A first-rate Autumnal from the paradisiacal tea plantations of Jungpana. Amber liquoring with a riveting aroma, this is sure to become your favorite morning cuppa. Fittingly robust and bodied, the tea brings in whiffs & undertones of muscatel complimented by distinctive maltiness unique to Darjeeling black teas through the pre-winter harvests. Taste buds capitulate to the bold slightly-earthy character of the tea as it flushes your mouth with its dominant character. A slight palatableness engulfs as you roll the liquor. Floral and dark chocolaty notes are sustained during the entire experience. An excellent tea and among our best-sellers every season.

Sample provided by Golden Tips Tea

My Review:
Today we travel to paradise, at least according to the rather colorful description by Golden Tips for this autumnal flush Darjeeling. Let's see if it lives up to the words.

As with all the samples from Golden Tip Tea I have reviewed, the resealable pouch has one of the most thorough labels out there.

The dry leaf has a fruity scent with a slight sour grassiness.

The leaf looks like tea. It has more cinnamon coloring and even some green, than say a Ceylon or Assam. This is large broken pieces of leaf that is lightly twisted. You know, tea.

I used my French press as normal, with 200 F water. The leaf amount is 3-4 g. My steep time was 4 minutes.

Once steeped the leaf has notes of toast and chocolate, along with some hints of malt.

The brew is a dark honey/orange. This is how most of the Darjeeling black teas I have tried look once steeped. It is clear with no obvious cloudiness.

When tasting, I first notice the bite. It is not an overly tannin bite, rather more like a spicy gravely thing. Wow, that makes no sense. Taste it you'll see.

It is not bitter and the bite fades quickly into a smooth muscatel along with a woodsy flavor. I do get the floral notes mid sip and on into the sweet finish. The chocolate I get, but can't say if it is subliminal, due to the description and the wet leaf scent I experienced earlier. Maybe it really is there. Maybe I just want it to be.

This is a pleasant, easy to drink Darjeeling. If your first cup needs to shock your eyes open, then I would wait and make this a late morning, early afternoon, cup. Personally, I like a more gentle nudge in the morning. I could see me on the porch at 6:00 AM with a cup of this tea.      

You can find Golden Tips Tea, Jungpana Premium Darjeeling here.