Friday, January 30, 2015

What-Cha, Georgia Natela's Gold Standard Black Tea

What-Cha Description:
A most unusual hand processed tea with soft tannins and slight malt with hints of toffee.
Natela of Nagobilevi Village makes only 50kgs a year of this tea by hand, utilising methods she perfected over many years with tea leaves she 'borrowed' from the local State Farm during the Soviet era.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
Georgia, Georgia... Yeah, the name just causes Ray Charles voice to sing in my brain. I know, not the same Georgia but I don't care. Just go with me on this one and don't mess with my mood as we journey back to Russia for today's cup.

Reading the company description above, I love that the artist behind this tea perfected her craft on 'borrowed' leaves. It rings familiar of a time when the servants of the rich in colonial America 'borrowed' the steeped leaves for their own home use. I am sure both carried some risk.

As I open the resealable sample bag, the leaf of this has a sweet, fruity, tobacco type aroma that catches my interest . A very nice start.

The leaf is dark chocolate in color with a few golden strands. The leaf is long with some tightly wound and others loosely plump. It has a moderate curl.

I used the press today, for no real reason other than I had just washed it. Filtered water was heated to 203 F. The steep was a little less than 4 minutes. That is longer than I would normally go with a first time black tea. The label said this is sweet and soft, so I went with near the maximum recommended time.

The result is a dark caramel cup. The wet leaf expanded quite a bit revealing some whole leaf and what seems to be large torn pieces. The leaf looks green tinted below the cinnamon colored surface. The cup has a clean sweet fruity scent that reminds me of Darjeeling, but maybe that's just me.

The taste begins light with a slight maltiness. Then the tannins kick up a pleasant storm across the tongue. It is like one of those late summer storms after a drought. It is so welcome and refreshing. Just like a summer storm it passes quickly. It leaves behind a slight toffee taste, that I might have missed if I hadn't known to wait for it. Then the sip ends with a lingering fruitiness.

The bite does not come off as bitter and leaves little in the way of dryness, though some cheek tingle remains like distant rumbles of thunder. Faint reminders of the earlier storm.

The second cup has a stronger malt aroma mixed with fruit. The taste is just as delicious as the first. Sweet, smooth, with a less dramatic storm this time.  The fruity aftertaste remains as does the pleasant tannin tingle on the cheeks.

If you can't tell, this was a very solid black tea that I found quite satisfying.

As the cup finishes I hear Ray once again, "Just an old, sweet song, keeps Georgia on my mind."

You can find What-Cha, Georgia Natela's Gold Standard Black Tea here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Teavivre, Superfine Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea

Teavivre Description:
Keemum Mao Feng, one special variety of Keemun black tea origins from Qi Men County in Anhui province of China, has famous reputation for its peculiar aroma and shape. It has also been made widely familiar as one of the four world’s best black tea.

Sample provided by Teavivre

My Review:
I just received a batch of samples from Teavivre. These are mainly for review on Steepster. This one, however, is a new to me tea. It gets moved to the front of the list to be tasted on The Everyday Tea Blog.

When I review teas, I try to remain neutral. I want to be as impartial as possible, leaving my personal preferences behind. In truth, I am human and certain companies and types of tea just naturally appeal to me more. Everything I have tried from Teavivre has been excellent or very nearly so, and it just so happens that Chinese black tea (red tea in China) is among my very favorite personal teas. So, joy!

I opened the bag and caught a light slightly sweet, slightly sour aroma that at first made me think fresh tobacco, then hay. Keemuns are often a little smoky. This one is not.

The leaf is long, thin, slightly twisted strands. The coloring is dark browns with some golden tips. After some whole leaf pu-erhs I have been drinking lately, this leaf seems small and delicate.

The press was used along with 10oz of water heated to 194F per Teavivre's recommendation.  I used half the sample, or 3.5g. I find I can trust Teavivre for their temperature and steeping guidelines. They tend to call for double the amount of leaf I prefer to use. I tend to stay consistent from tea to tea with the leaf.

The steep was for 2 1/2 minutes. The result is a brass colored liquor. It is light and see through. It is not the heavy dark cup of tea one expects if they are accustomed to tea bag black tea.

The cup and the wet leaf have the same aroma. It is lightly malt drenched in honey. Yum. That's what I love about Chinese black tea.

When tasting, I again get a touch of malt, along with honey. There is a bread or baked quality to the taste, like from cocoa. The liquor feels kind of thick but o so gentle and smooth. There is nothing suggesting harsh, or bitter here. There is only a light drying touch of astringency.

At times I get moments of mineral, like creek rock (not sure why the last few teas I've reviewed have had this note - I can only report what I sense). Other moments I get a taste of fruit, maybe apricot. There are even occasional floral notes.

Given my level of familiarity with the type, I am not convinced I would be able to identify this as a Keemun from tasting alone. Keemun is identified by being produced exclusively in the Qimen County in Anhui province. I am not yet skilled enough to identify a growing region.

I am skilled enough in my tasting abilities to say with confidence this is a really nice tea.

You can find Teavivre, Superfine Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea, here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Golden Tips, India's Original Masala Chai

Golden Tips Description:
Originating from India, Masala Chai or 'Spiced Tea' is one of the most popular black tea blends in the world. This ancient traditional recipe is prepared by blending a strong & robust black tea with an array of fresh & aromatic spices. Our signature 'Masala Chai Spiced Tea' is symbolic of the original house blend which has been cherished in India for decades now. A combination of Assam CTC & orthodox leaves blended in a varying ratio is taken as the base. The base tea is then blended with exotic and fresh indian spices including crushed cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, long pepper, dry ginger and clove. Widely distinctive from the Chai tea blends produced in western countries, the original indian masala chai tea blend stands out due the superior and distintive properties of spices grown in India.This strong and full-bodied tea is characteristic of a slightly malty flavor with exotic flavor of fresh cardamoms combined with delicate notes of black pepper and clove. Traditionally prepared only with milk, Masala Chai can also be enjoyed and taken without milk. This expertly created blend is not only invigorating and delicious but also stimulates the mind and is known to increase immunity. A must have for all tea lovers.

Sample provided by Golden Tips Tea

My Review:
Today we journey back to India where Masala Chai originates. This tea is listed by Golden Tips as a Signature Blend on the label. I like the resealable bag and the simple yet eye-catching label. With this blend I wish it were a little more thorough. There is no list of ingredients.

It does list this utilizes Assam tea, both CTC and FTGFOP1 leaves. Looking at the dry leaf, I have to go to the product description for clarification. The FTGFOP1 leaf has been orthodox processed, and the result is tiny pellets of leaf.

The description above lists spices including crushed cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, long pepper, dry ginger and clove. I am left wondering what the green thing is that looks like a pistachio shell.

I used my press today, as the screen in it is fine enough to keep tiny leaf out of my cup. This was steeped with boiling water for 3 1/2 minutes.

The result is a pretty cup of tea. It is a deep orange that under light looks a bit burgundy. The scent is spicy but not too spicy.

Traditionally in India this would be prepared with milk. I went with a standard Western mug method using water.

The sip is lightly clove and cardamom with the cinnamon and ginger hanging back some. The pepper does combine with the ginger for a healthy bit of heat at the end of the sip. The base seems smooth and slightly malty.

At this point I add sweetener as I believe chai is traditionally very sweet. I used one packet of Splenda and that is always sweet enough for my tastes. I think, yes, it really livens things up. The flavors are brighter, more even, and cleaner. The base is more prominent as well. The heat remains the same.

Next, I added some milk to sort of imitate how the tea is intended to be prepared. If you look on Golden Tips product page, they have a cup picture. The tea has a very deep color. Yeah, mine is more tan and looks like I just added milk to a cup of tea. That said, it's pretty good.

I think the milk makes the flavors melt back into each other where they remain strong but harder to separate. The ginger and pepper bring a spicy kick to the end of the sip.

To me it is kind of a toss up between this and sweetened only, as to which I like best. I think I'll go with milk for two simple reasons, milk helps comfort the spicy edge, and I find this is easier to chug. I'm pretty sure I could easily down a gallon of it this way.

I really need to take the time soon and prepare Chai on a stove top steeped in milk. I want to know what I'm missing by taking the easy way out.

Finally, I've talked about the spicy heat from the pepper and ginger. I normally don't like the pepper in chai. Turns out I do like it just fine, when done correctly. This doesn't make you sneeze and it didn't burn my throat. It really is a pleasant spicy, just be aware if you have no tolerance for spicy heat.

You can find Golden Tips, India's Original Masala Chai here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Persimmon Tree, Silver Needle White Tea

The Persimmon Tree Description:
Harvested over a few short weeks each year in Fujian, China, Silver Needle white tea is the most sought after of all white teas. Our Silver Needle white tea offers a subtle sweetness, a clean and fresh fragrance, and extraordinary purity in one cup. Be sure to brew these delicate white leaves at the right temperature to fully experience their exquisite flavor.

Sample provided by The Persimmon Tree

My Review:
I chose this tea to review today because it is late January and I am in need of a little fresh air and sunshine. I am going to close my eyes and pretend.

The first thing I noticed, this was currently out of stock. Looks like everyone is in need of some spring, When in stock, this was $9.99/oz. That is not out of line with other sellers especially for an organic tea, and The Persimmon Tree teas all come in a solid tin for storage.

Dry Silver Buds
I popped the top and inhaled. It is sweet and summer hay like. Just what the doctor ordered. All compacted in the tin the aroma is almost minty.

The leaf as you see in the picture has some green present must is mostly ghostly white hairy buds. The buds appear to be a smaller varietal than many I have tried.

I used the prewarmed clear glass teapot and added 180 F water. During the steep, the leaf were fairly inactive. Mostly, it remained near the top of the teapot.

A steep time of 3 minutes resulted in a light golden liquor. It is nicely clean and clear. I used a mesh screen when pouring. I would have had a cup full of leaf without it.  

Green Steeped Buds
The steep washed all the silver fuzz off the leaf. It is plump and dragon well green now. The wet leaf scent is different than I expected. It is kind of more like a green tea. I was expecting melons and hay. This is more grassy and vegetal.

The taste is much more substantial than I expected. That is probably because I steeped this twice as long as I normally would per The Persimmon Tree's recommended parameters.

I am getting flavors that bounce between malt and corn. Even this sugar junkie can tell it is nicely sweet without additives.

There is a touch of bright bite at the end of the sip that turns mineral before it fades into a corn and floral aftertaste. I notice only a mild amount of dryness.

Cup two was prepared much as the first. This time the leaf filled the teapot with half suspended from the surface and the other half standing on the bottom. I love a clear teapot.

This cup is much different than the first. It starts out with a clean mineral rush. Next it becomes earthy, nutty, and lightly mushroom. As the sip reaches an end the taste finishes with a unusual sweet mineral with passing notes of corn.

I do sense a touch of cheek tingle and a warming sensation in my stomach. The interesting thing is long after the sip is gone the warmth remains. Strangely, it also results in a neat cooling sensation on my breath.

I love white tea and this is a good one. It is a somewhat different than others I have tried. While this one has some depth to it, the flavor goes in a different direction than expected.

I hope to experiment with this one a bit. I want to alter the time and temperature to see if I can coax anything new or different out of the leaf.

You can find The Persimmon Tree, Silver Needle White Tea here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

What-Cha, Vietnam 'Fish Hook' Green Tea

What-Cha Description:
A powerful green tea which has a lovely grassy taste with strong astringent tones.
Produced on a small family farm utilising traditional methods of hand-rolling the leaves and using wood fired ovens.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
I really tried to reach into my What-Cha box today and pull out a random tea. I tried. I failed. I mean, come on, Vietnam Fish Hook Green Tea! I am a sucker for an interesting name from a far away place that I know little about.

That's why I love What-Cha, they make it possible to explore a much bigger tea world of amazing tastes than I even knew existed.

OK, resealable aluminum bag with a simple to follow label, yadda, yadda, yadda, let's brew some tea!

Opening the bag for my first sensory impression. I can't come up with words to describe the scent. It is kind of grassy but there is another element. It is kind of halfway between corn and hazelnut to me.

It's show and tell time. I placed a scoop of leaf on a plate. It is unusual in color. It is kind of a battleship gray (or grey if you prefer) coating over a tiny green leaf. Yes, they are kind of kinked and resemble a fish hook.

I placed the leaf into my still warm and wet, from cleaning, clear glass teapot. This really amped the grassy aroma. Then I added water heated to 167 F per the label and steeped for one minute.

The result is a very lightly yellow tinted liquor. There is no cloudiness. The leaf is bright green now and highly scented in a steamed vegetal way.

Taking my first sip leaves an immediate positive impression.

This tea has a grab you, and force you to notice, bite. It is, to my tastes, the good kind of bitter. At this point I am not sure it is astringency as there is very little dryness associated with it. The taste kind of reminds me of halfway between Dragon Well and Tai Ping Hou Kui. Feel free to disagree. It's grassy and not so much buttery but kind of corn tasting.

For those who follow the blog regularly, you may recall I am doing my best to kick the Splenda monkey. I mention this because it is difficult to tell if something is naturally sweet without additives when you are used to sweetener overload. That said, I believe this to have a natural sweetness.

Cup two was steeped for 1 minute 10 seconds. The bite is substantially reduced. This is grass first, then corn, followed by a nice mineral note. I keep thinking I smell floral notes as I sip but as soon as I notice them they vanish. I do notice much more of a cheek tingle with this cup but still minimal dryness.

I liked this one a lot. It is not subtle and it is flavorful. Watch your temperature and your time with this one as I am pretty sure it could get very bitter very quickly. The heavy bite of the first cup could probably be held back by a steep shorter than one minute. I did not try it as I like the bite.

You can find What-Cha, Vietnam 'Fish Hook' Green Tea here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mandala, Temple Stairs 2014 Ripe Pu'er Mini Tuocha

Mandala Description:
We are pleased to present yet another Mandala Tea exclusive ripe pu’er. This creamy and smooth two leaf blend was created using grade one material that was spring-picked and ripened in 2012 and 2013.  Not only were both pickings from plantations that are pesticide free, but the two growing areas (at Bada and Mengsong) are far from any cities or air pollution. This is 100% pure tea and some of the finest ripe tea available.  We also note that the leaf was expertly cared for in the process of fermentation, yielding a perfectly ripened leaf with full integrity.  Teas from these areas are famous for their uplifting nature as well as their qi raising goodness. As this tea warms your lower dan tien (in laymen terms - the “energy bank account”), you will note hints of cocoa in aroma and taste. Flavors of sweet root vegetables with hints of dark brown sugar dance on your tongue alongside the clean and well-rounded essence of minerals.

My Review:
Another acquired from a Steepster tea friend, who I owe some tea, even if she doesn't need it. This is a personal sized toucha. I generally love these things. They are almost as convenient as a tea bag. but far better quality when you get them from a reputable dealer.

This is a ripe pu-erh and each toucha weighs in at about 5.1g. Unwrapped it is a typical nest shape of dark browns with lighter cinnamon colored leaf. It has a typical toucha scent- that means hints of barnyard and earthy but not offensive.

I used a 90ml (3oz) gaiwan today with boiling water. The first steep was 20 seconds. I don't do rinses.

The first cup is a dark orange. It has an aroma similar to the dry leaf. The toucha has swollen but remains almost entirely intact.

The sip is very smooth. There is no sign of the rough edge that often accompanies ripe toucha. this cup has a slight earthiness. It reminds me of the smell while digging up potatoes in the dry soil. I also get a sense of leather but only mildly. It finishes with a wonderful mineral sense. For a first cup this is really nice.

With second cup I poured boiling water into the gaiwan and immediately put on the lid and began to pour. It takes a few seconds to pour from the kettle and the gaiwan - so lets call it 10s. I was shooting for 5.

The brew is as dark brown as coffee. The toucha has pretty much disintegrated. This has a bit rougher edge. It seems more bitter, but not horribly so. I am still not getting the brown sugar or cocoa Mandala mentions. What I am getting is similar to the first cup. Not sure why, but this reminds me of coffee even though it tastes nothing like coffee.

Third cup prepared similar to the last but my pouring was a little quicker. This is still very dark and has more of a burgundy cast to it. The edge is lighter in this cup and as it subsides. drifts into the pleasant leather tone hiding beneath. This has a pleasant calming effect.

Fourth cup, it occurred to me I was not reviewing this tea on an even playing field. Normally I use a big clay teapot and prepare 8 oz at a time. So, to rectify this I prepared this cup, at 10 seconds, in the gaiwan and poured into my mug, then added enough water from the kettle to make an 8 oz serving. The color is a deep burgundy tinted orange.

The rough edge has been taken off the cup. Now I am back to smooth leather along with earth and sweet hay. It again finishes with a nice rounded mineral taste.

OK, this proves to me I much prefer a Western mug method when preparing touchas. It is also a reminder to you to always be willing to experiment with alternate parameters when you think something can be improved upon - or maybe more so when you are pretty sure it can't. The results might surprise you.

This is a good ripe toucha. It will go more steeps, but this is where I am stopping today.

You can find Mandala Temple Stairs here.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Golden Tips, Avaata Supreme Nilgiri

Golden Tips Description:
An exquisite green tea from the coveted organic Avaata Tea Estate in the Nilgiris in southern India. The perfectly manufactured leaves boast of a light green texture combined with opulent long silver tips. The liquor has a very pale green appearance in the cup. The flavour is extremely smooth and fairly sharp typical of non-fermented green teas but without any hint of bitterness. A sensation of fruits and flowers flush your mouth with every sip of this certified organic green tea.

Sample provided by Golden Tips Tea

My Review:
Today I wasn't really planning on writing a review. I had already had several cups of restaurant bagged tea and a cup at home while straightening out the latest install of a computer game. When the thirstys hit I started rummaging.

Being a sucker for shiny objects I grabbed this one. Actually, I was digging for a green tea as I wanted something lighter in flavor. While the gold metallic pouch does conjure images of C-3PO, it was the words Nilgiri and green that swayed my final decision.

When the resealable pouch was opened my nose detected malt, grass, and hay. The bag is rather large for 10g of leaf. After removing some for steeping it seemed appropriate, even necessary.

The dry leaf looks barely touched. There are large full whole leaves, some silvery buds, and some leaves and buds joined with the stem. It is dry and slightly brittle looking, yet hardly looks withered at all. The magic of firing.

I used the clear glass teapot and 180F water for a 2 1/2 minute steep. During the steep almost all the leaf remained at the top and hung down towards the bottom.

The result is a very lightly tinted brew. It looks like watered down white grape juice. As it cools it becomes more golden.

The wet leaf is now revitalized and takes on a fresh steamed vegative scent. The cup does not have a strong distinctive scent to my nose. It just suggests a gentle green tea.

The sip is very clean and gentle. It starts with a kind of fresh mineral taste that leans towards metallic but never goes there, It seems sharper than it is, juxtaposed against the gentleness of the cup. Then I notice a grassy note joined by what seems a touch malty, mixed with corn, while hot, but closer to nutty as it cools.

The taste kind of ends abruptly, though not jarringly so, then a sweet grassy aftertaste rises lightly and completes your journey with a slight twinge of a good type bite.

There is no bitterness and only mild astringency associated with this cup as prepared. If you are wanting a big, bold, in your face, green tea this is not what you are looking to buy. If you love a quiet green tea that delivers a lot of flavor beneath still waters, then this may well be the tea you are looking for in your meditative moments. It is also priced quite affordably.

You can find Golden Tips Tea Avaata Supreme Nilgiri green tea here.  

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Persimmon Tree, Rooibos Vanilla Chai

The Persimmon Tree Description:
Our Vanilla Rooibos Chai tea features a delightful blend of masala chai spices, red rooibos and a hint of vanilla. Rooibos Vanilla Chai is naturally caffeine, making it a perfect any-time tea. Much like its caffeinated cousin Masala Chai, this tea tastes delicious with milk and sugar.

Organic Rooibos, Vanilla Flavoring, Ginger Pieces, Cinnamon Pieces, Cardamom, Clove, Orange Pieces

Sample provided bt The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

My Review:
Last month I tried The Persimmon Tree's Masala Chai and discovered that just maybe I did like chai after all. I thought their spices were exceptionally well blended to my tastes. I liked it, so I went all crazy and had this vanilla chai with a rooibos base sent for review this month. I am a wild man - red tea and chai, whilst and at the same time. Yep, I'm out of control.

I love The Persimmon Tree tins. They keep the tea fresh for a good long time, and I think they are easy to photograph. Cutting the seal and popping the lid, I am met with the traditional clove and cardamom spices. In addition I catch faint hints of the ginger and also the rooibos. It all flows together well. It verges on potpourri but that is kind of normal for chai, in my opinion.

There are some chunks in the leaf and something resembling twigs. I finally concluded the chunks are orange rind. The twigs I tasted and still am not sure.

Today I used my mug with built in infuser basket. I keep forgetting the mesh is not usually fine enough for rooibos. It turned out OK as I don't notice any floating in my mug.

I used 200F filtered water and a five minute steep. The result is an inviting deep orange colored steamy brew.

The scent is largely cinnamon and orange. I didn't notice either in the dry scent.

The taste with no  additives is cinnamon and rooibos with some orange and the heat from ginger. I think the vanilla tames the rooibos taking the edge off it. It is kind of hard to know for sure as the ginger puts a little edge back in. This is nice, but I think we can do better.

I added sweetener (Splenda in my test). This did brighten the taste quite a bit. Now the orange and ginger are the front notes with the other spices just behind and the rooibos a little more than barely decipherable. I can't say I taste vanilla, yet it seems kind of creamy. Sweetened is better.

For the final challenge, I add milk. This makes for a warm cup of spicy yum. The spices wash past my taste buds and before I can separate which it is, another washes by. The ginger still dominates a little too much for me but I am not a big ginger enthusiast so it doesn't surprise me that I notice it.

My opinion is milk and sugar are definitely the way to go here. While I prefer the standard Masala Chai, this is a fun drink. It makes me want to sit around a fire in the cool night air and sip while chatting.

You can find The Persimmon Tree, Rooibos Vanilla Chai here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What-Cha, Assam 2nd Flush 2014 STGFOP-1 Black Tea

What-Cha Description:
The perfect black tea to wake you up in the morning with a full malty taste and great aroma.

Assam Tea is world famous for the strong malty character of its black teas, however high quality loose leaf tea from Assam is virtually unheard of. The reason for this is the distinct lack of investment into tea in the Assam region which has meant tea producers have lacked the knowledge and tools required to produce good quality loose leaf tea. Recently founded Heritage Tea, have sought to redress these problems by providing by setting up a modern factory for tea processing combined with the knowledge and expertise of Rajen Baruah, who has been a professional tea planter for the past 30 years. The end result is great quality loose leaf tea, the likes of which have not been found in Assam previously.

Sample provided by What-Cha: Tea Redefined

My Review:
Buckle up kiddies, we are about rocket into morning wake up tea. I admit to having little exposure to Assam teas. This is from poor exposure in my early grocery store tea bag days. Assam was just boring and tasted like tea. The monotonous single note of cheap CTC tea underwhelmed me.

I have since experienced a scant few better quality Assams. Enough to know my original perceptions were incorrect. What-Cha has so far provided top notch leaf from many of the less well known areas of the tea growing world. I think it is past due to have a go at a well known tea type and see how it will fare.

The first thing I notice when breaking the seal, is the rich malty scent. Yeah, there is a touch of something fruity as well, but malt! I very much approve of what is coming out of the bag.

A scoop of leaf is removed and it is full of color and definitely not CTC. The twisted leaf is dark and shows lots of cinnamon and tippy tan throughout. Very nice.

I used the green machine ceramic teapot with water heated to 95C (194F). The steep was two minutes. I used abt 3g of leaf (1/3 of the 10g sample) and 10 ounces of water.

The result is a bright shiny orange brew. Very clear. Thinking back to my tea bag days, I was expecting a hazy much darker brew. It is really hard for me to capture just how bright this cup is, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

The wet leaf has exploded in size. What I am seeing is large broken pieces of cinnamon and olive leaf. I pity the teaball that tries to contain this leaf.

The aroma is malt, malt, and more malt. Deliciously wow. There is probably some fruit notes as well, but, malt!

The sip is as nice as the aroma. As you fill your mouth, the nose picks up the malt. Yes, there is also a fruitiness mixed in for your enjoyment.

Really though, what most stands out to me is how smooth textured this is, with pretty much no bitterness or bite. It is somewhat drying but nowhere near the level I have experienced with lesser decimated CTC leaf. Maybe I should stop using that description but it is my reference point, my home. It is what I have known Assam to be, and now it isn't.

Another reference point that appears to need adjusting, is that I am drinking this on an empty stomach, without distress. Next to Diet Coke, Assam was always the biggest offender of stomach burn. I have added no sweetener or milk and feel no need for either. For those of you who have only experienced better quality Assam leaf, you will have trouble grasping just how awesome that really is to me.

Will a black tea go a second steep? Let's find out. I steeped this cup for 4 minutes. The color is only slightly lighter than the first. The aroma is lighter as well.

The taste is a little different. It is not as malty, though there is some present. It leans a little more stone fruit with an earthiness. Not because it needed it but more just to see, I added sweetener. Since I have mostly eliminated additives recently, I find it too sweet now. So my sugar addiction is almost broken and this must be naturally sweet on its own - something I am not yet recognizing since getting the Splenda monkey off my back. To counter the sweetness, I added a splash of milk. It smoothed the cup out well enough. I'm just not sure I liked it. I preferred this tea straight without additions.

If you have never experienced an Assam, or have avoided them like the plague, this is a good one to give a try. If you are an Assam lover already, I think you will be equally impressed.

You can find What-Cha, Assam 2nd Flush 2014 STGFOP-1 Black Tea here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lao Cang, Honeysuckle Flower Ripe Puer Bowl

Lao Cang Description:
These premium mini tuo cha are made from Simao fermented ripe pu-erh. These are about 4-5 grams each. The brewed liquor is a lovely deep red color and the flavor is rich, sweet and smooth. This is a great drink for a dry throat , after a heavy meal, or just for enjoyment alone! In traditional Chinese medicine, honeysuckle is considered one of the most important herbs for releasing poisons from the body and clearing heat from the body.
They are small tea cakes of ripeYunnan large leaf as raw materials Mixed with the Honeysuckle Flower, by fixing, rolling, dry daylight, autoclave refining process and compressed into the bowl shaped cake which you can easily drop into a cup or teapot for a quick and easy brewing of your Pu-erh tea time. Each tea cake is individually wrapped for convenient storage that will make the Pu-erh tea last much longer and easy to carry.

My Review:
This one came my way from a friend, who got it from a friend, who... I have no idea where it was purchased. After some digging I located one source but there are probably many. I found it on Aliexpress from Royal Tea Bay. The store has a pretty high rating but I can't vouch for them or Aliexpress.

So under the bright yellow wrapper this appears to be a standard bird nest shape made of tightly compacted leaf. I don't see a lot that says honeysuckle in the dry mix.

I used my clay teapot and 3oz of water heated to boiling. I did not do a leaf rinse. The first steep was at 20s. The result is a gray tinted orange brew. The toucha has plumped but has not really even started to disintegrate. The leaf and cup have a light barnyard scent that might frighten a first time sipper. Trust me, I've drank many that smelled a whole lot worse and they tasted fine.

First Cup Is Very Light
The first cup is light in taste. It is kind of stone like in taste. There is no bitterness and very little if any astringency. I am getting a feeling of heat but it is not a spicy heat. Another flavor comes in towards the end that I can't identify yet, but mixing with the aroma, I am picturing horses. The cup only hints at what is to come.

The second 3oz cup at 12s is a lot darker. It is not quite coffee color but getting close. The toucha is halfway dissolved and has a much stronger barnyard aroma. The cup has a lighter barnyard aroma mixed with cedar. Now the flavor has really picked up. This is a mix of horse tack (leather) and cedar, with a spicy bite late in the sip. I also notice some floral notes, though I admit to not thinking honeysuckle. There is a bit of pucker power to this cup.

Cups three and four were combined to make a 6oz cup. My kettle takes a few seconds to pour and the clay pot pours steady but also takes a few seconds. I wanted about a 6s steep, so after adding water I waited just a couple seconds and began my pour. The brew is coffee in darkness.

The toucha has completely dissolved. I do see the honeysuckle petals in the mix. I am also impressed by the leaf used in this inexpensive pu-erh.

This cup is dusty horse tack with a smooth spicy finish. The best cup so far. The spice and the pucker factor have tamed way down. I am enjoying this one quite a lot. From past experience with flowers added to the mix, I don't notice the honeysuckle so much as credit it with bringing the smoothness to the cup.

This shows no signs of letting up. I will continue to steep for a while.

Concluding thoughts - I have had far more complex pu-erh, but for an everyday convenient and affordable version, it is hard to beat touchas. This happens to be a nice example. The downside is the aroma might scare you off. The upside is this smooths out into an enjoyable cup.    

Monday, January 12, 2015

Golden Tips, Thurbo Moonlight Darjeeling Black Tea Second Flush

Golden Tips Description:
Every season the Thurbo Moonlight has been a favorite among our connoisseur friends from across the world. This Moonlight summer black tea is at part the best and is characteristic of fluffy brown-black leaves with extravagant silver tips. The aroma is sweet and flowery with a bright golden liquoring cup. The flavor is extremely fruity and flushes your mouth with its presence, without any sort of astringency. 
An outstanding second flush Darjeeling.

Sample provided by Golden Tips Tea

My Review:
Today I am continuing to expand my knowledge of tea from Darjeeling, India. This tea come from the Thurbo estate. Pretty much everything you could want to know about this tea is printed on the label.

This is a 10g sample tightly packaged in a resealable bag. When I removed a scoop of leaf, the pouch contents puffed up making it look like I had never gotten in to it.

As you can see I took a generous scoop. I would guess it to be nearly 2 tsp by volume. The leaf looks a lot like crushed fall leaves with greens, and various shades of brown. There are even some silvery tips.

The scent is fruity and hay. The fruit kind of makes me think grapes.

I used my green ceramic teapot and 200F water for a 4 minute steep. The recommended is 3-5.

The result is a neat golden liquor. I tried to capture its beauty, but there is only so much you can do with a cheap digital camera and room lighting. It is far shinier and more complex than I could capture.

Sadly, I can't say I caught much of an aroma off the leaf or the brew. My wife just started a pot of chili in the kitchen and the amazing smell of onions and garlic are kind of overwhelming by nose at the moment.

The wet leaf doubled in size. Not sure I was expecting that out of a fully oxidized tea leaf. If you are a tea ball user, make sure you use a large one, just to be safe. The leaf needs plenty of room to move in the water for a good infusion.

I notice a big taste difference between this and the Giddapahar Muscatel I recently reviewed.

This one is very fruity. It is also kind of floral. Don't let that scare you. It is not like the overwhelming floral of some oolongs. This is a soothing sensation that speaks in a quiet voice.

There is no bitterness. I detect only mild to moderate briskness that leaves a mild dryness.

The aftertaste is a neat swirling of fruit that is grape like, and the delightful floral, that weave in an out of a woodsy leafy taste.

The website states the time of day recommended for sipping this one is afternoon and evening. That makes sense. This is not the kick in the pants of most breakfast teas. It is a solid cup for sitting quietly for a moment or sneaking in a chapter with a good book.

You can find Golden Tips Thurbo Moonlight Darjeeling Black Tea Second Flush here.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Andrews and Dunham, 2014 Damn Fine Holiday Blend

Picture Credit: Andrew and Dunham
Andrews and Dunham Description:
Maybe it's the sudden onset of bone-chilling, cold weather, but we find ourselves posessed by the spirit of the Holiday season! And a good thing too, as we've just blended up a jolly batch of Damn Fine Tea for the occasion.

Slow your roll and take some time to fortify your spirits with the Damn Fine Holiday Blend. Blended from Yunnan, Ceylon and Darjeeling teas, it’s full-bodied and bright, tastes great on its own or with fixin's, and was custom made to attract cookies. Share it with the people you love!

Each tin of Damn Fine Holiday Blend is hewn from only the finest northern wools (not really!) and filled to the brim with a custom blend of truly exceptional tea (really!). No, it's not flavored with anything but pure, delicious tea. Brew it for four minutes in boiling water.

My Review:
Another I recently received in the mail from a friend. Just looking at the leaf, I'm pretty sure this Andrews and Dunham blend is a guaranteed winner with me. Just look at that beautiful leaf! It has a lot of golden tips and enough dark chocolate to make a grown man squeal with glee (only a slight exaggeration).

As it says in the description, this is a blend of Yunnan (my very favorite type of straight black tea), Ceylon (my very favorite type of leaf for flavored teas), and Darjeeling (one I haven't explored near enough).

It has an awesome aroma of malt, hay, honey, and chocolate. Mmmmmmm.

I want this. I want it now.

The green ceramic teapot was used along with about 4g of leaf and 10 ounces of filtered water. Per recommendation the water was heated to boiling and the steep time was 4 minutes.

The result is a hearty mug of deep red/orange tea. The scent is much like the dry leaf.

In the wet leaf I can see large green pieces that appear to be the Darjeeling. I think I can also separate the Yunnan from the Ceylon.

The taste is mostly just what I expect. That is a good thing. Yunnan makes for a beautiful smooth and complex cup. This is all that, with its malt, honey, and baked bread notes. The Ceylon adds some bite to the sip that stays with you long into the aftertaste. I catch fruity notes like a woodsy plum at the end of the sip from the Darjeeling. From somewhere in the blend comes just a hint of smoke. You have to watch for it, but I like it.

I am not sure what makes this a holiday blend, and I don't even care to analyze it. Seriously, how many orange or peppermint spicy teas does one need during the holidays? I think what you really need is something hearty that goes with all the food lying around during the holidays.

Now, of course, the problem is the holidays are over by now and all we have to look forward to is the long cold winter. Bah! But wait. That's the beauty of this blend. It doesn't lock you in to a tiny moment in time. This will still be just as fantastic in January and February, while your simply trying to keep warm.

As I stated at the beginning, this is a guaranteed winner with me.

You can find Andrews and Dunham 2014 Damn Fine Holiday Blend here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

What-Cha, Vietnam 'Wild Boar' Black Tea

What-Cha Description:
A brilliant wild growing black tea with a rich taste of chocolate and malt.
The wild growing tea leaves are picked by local hill tribes who bring the leaves into town where they are processed. The tea is named after the wild boar which roam the area.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
So a little about my day. When I awoke, I sat on the edge of the bed. My wife walked in and asked why I was just sitting there. I told her it was because I wasn't sure where I was going. Yeah, this guy needs caffeine.

When I got to my tea stash, I discovered I never cleaned the green machine teapot from yesterday. Note to self: Never, ever, again brew CTC tea in this little pot. I did not think it would ever come clean.

I have learned I really do enjoy a small ceramic teapot for black teas. If I stumble on a great deal, I would like one with a large mesh filter basket built in. Back to tea...

Forgetting my new rule that I would randomly select my next tea from the box, I dug through specifically looking for black tea. This one promises smooth, malty, chocolate. It says so right on the label.

Opening the resealable aluminum bag releases the malty scent of the dry leaf. Yeah!

The leaf is mostly dark chocolate brown with almost like a frosty coating. There are some brown tips to be seen in the leaf.

The leaf is long mostly narrow twists. There are a few that are partially unfurled.

Into the freshly sparkling tiny green teapot go the leaves, along with 8oz of 203F bottled water enhanced with minerals. I am trying to determine if a change in water from our filtered county water, will enhance the taste.

The steep time was 3 1/2 minutes. The brew is a sparkly clear and bright orange in color.

The wet leaf has turned green and cinnamon in color. I see some pieces but also some full leaves. It has really expanded.

The aroma is malty and baked smelling. It is sort of reminiscent of unsweetened chocolate.

I did not add sweetener or milk to the mug. I always try it straight first. I determined this was rich enough in flavor that I did not feel it necessary to add anything.

I can taste the malt and baked unsweet chocolate and it is similar to the aroma but light. There is a briskness to the cup that is more than welcome. This reassures me I may yet wake up. It begins early in the sip at the front of the tongue and spreads out and around the sides. This gives way to a sharper finish. It leaves a little dryness in the fruity aftertaste.

About mid sip, I catch a fruity almost muscat flavor that reminds me quite a bit of the Darjeeling I tried a few days ago. The taste is kind of woodsy and like fall leaves.

Pu-erh, oolong, and white teas I always expect to get multiple cups from the same leaf. Good green tea should go at least twice. Often more. Black teas are hit and miss. You should always try. Some Yunnan teas can be steeped five or six times.

With that in mind, the second cup from the same leaves is much lighter in color. The scent is kind of mushroom. I am finding the taste to be similar. It is woodsy, mushroom, and creek leaf in taste. It is drinkable but not what most people would expect from a black tea. Really it is kind of like a deep sheng (raw) pu-erh taste. It even has the sharpness of a sheng. I like it but you may not.

Although this is far more complex and flavorful than anything you are likely to grab off the grocer's shelves, it is a tea that I think the first cup would be easily accessible to your non-tea friends.

You can find What-Cha Vietnam 'Wild Boar' Black Tea  here.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lupicia, Cookie

Lupicia Description:
Black tea scented with an image of freshly baked caramel cookies. Best served with milk. Contains Allergen: Almond

Black tea, Almond, flavourings,

My Review:
I received a sample of this tea, by Lupicia, from a friend. I love serious teas. The kind you have to meditate on while being one with the universe to grasp its complexities. A lot of my blog reviews have been serious teas.

Sometimes though, every one just needs to stop being so serious and have some fun. Today's tea is simply called Cookie. What could be more fun? C is for Cookie, that's good enough for me...

The black tea base is interesting to me. There is what seems to be CTC leaf that I expect, but intermixed are larger pieces of leaf. Curious. Not going to analyze, just going to enjoy it. Also mixed in are tiny pieces of almond. This smells really good.

Into the magical green machine ceramic teapot it goes (the pot is not really magical - don't tell). I added boiling water and fidgeted for 3 long minutes. I poured through a screen basket.

The tea is a beautiful deep red color - much prettier than my picture makes it appear. The leaf in the teapot smells like, well like, browned cookies. Really, It is a deep browned almost brownie smell. Yum.

The taste is similar. I think mom left the cookies in the oven a couple minutes longer than she should. You can literally taste the caramelized bottom crust of the cookie. So good.

I could enjoy the entire cup this way, but the description says this is best with milk. So I add a splash and some sweetener, because, well, Cookie!

If you just pour the milk in it mixes with the tea but leaves a layer of undisturbed tea at the top. Kind of fun. I found a spoon and mixed thoroughly.

This really smooths out the flavors. It is a caramel and almond cookie that is slightly burnt on the bottom. Just like homemade. It almost has a coffee like aftertaste but not that strong and not bitter.

This was neat and a pleasant break from deep concentration. I would quickly say yes to this if offered.

You can find Lupicia Cookie here.  You can also finf it on Amazon but it appears to be twice as expensive.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Teavivre, Ripened Chrysanthemum Pu-erh Mini Tuocha

Teavivre Description:
Infused with a beautiful tiny Chrysanthemum flower in each tea cake, these Mini Pu-erh Tuocha (or tea cakes) are created with our premium ripened Yunnan Pu-erh tea, harvested in 2008.  The warm mellow and earthy flavored Pu-erh tea flakes are compressed into a beautiful bird's nest shape then individually wrapped for proper storage.  The light Chrysanthemum lends a light and aromatic floral tone to the more earthy flavor of the Pu-erh, and the tea cakes are a convenient way to brew your tea by dropping one tea cake into your cup or teapot.  When brewed, the Chrysanthemum flower is revealed, and the tea is infused with its flavor and aroma.

My Review:
It has been too long since I have reviewed a puerh. It has been even longer since I have reviewed a ripe one. Today's tea is from Teavivre.  I got it through a botched trade with a Steepster friend. I sent her the wrong tea. I realized it the day after putting it in the mail. She was more than gracious and sent this along with several surprises to be reviewed later.

So, toucha are just cool. Single serving size. No Fuss. No measuring. They are wrapped in thin paper as pu-erh needs to breathe. Removing the paper reveals a little nest made of dark post fermented leaf and chrysanthemum petals. I detect no real aroma from the dry toucha.

I decided to use my 90 ml gaiwan for today's session. Why? Because I can. Filtered water was heated to 100C (212F) and poured around the edges of the gaiwan. The lid put in place, I steeped for 12s. I did not do the recommended rinse first. The liquor is wine like burgundy as it pours, turning more of an orange/brown as it cools.

The wet toucha has only partially disintegrated. The aroma is like that of battered and deep fried fish and fries. I have not seen that description used anywhere in connection with this pu-erh (or any other), but I can only offer what I experience. It is a strange scent, that made me hungry.

The taste of the first cup is really very similar to the aroma. It is like fish and chips meets hazel nut. Very unusual yet somehow I like it. Again, I did not rinse the leaf.

The second cup at 10s is a completely different tea. The moment the water hit the leaf, it turned very dark, like silky dark chocolate. The aroma is a bit barnyard. That normally doesn't concern me, as it is seldom an indicator of the taste.

This time the aroma does match the taste. In addition, it is bitter, with a strong spiciness. I also detect cedar and some sense of old leather. About now I questioning if I should have used a western mug method instead of the gaiwan.

Third cup was steeped for 5s. The tea pours a beautiful red wine color. There is no off odor in this cup. It is rich, earthy, and cedar. Once again the taste coincides with the scent. The spice note seems more connected to the cedar in this cup and the leather is less noticeable. This cup is not bitter.

One thing is for sure, this tea is a roller coaster ride - frightening one moment, exhilarating the next. Holding my hands up high and preparing to scream real loud with a smile on my face, it's time for round four.

Steeped at 10s, this is the best cup yet. There is no bitterness or barnyard. This is rich spicy cedar, and much smoother than the previous cup. The leather is more prominent this time.

Can we ride the coaster again? Can we? Huh? Can we? Yes please!

Cup five @ abt 12s. The tea continues to pour burgundy but looks much darker in the cup. This is almost a mirror of the previous cup. The spicy cedar and the leather are now more equal. The leather revealing itself to be more of an old book leather. Another excellent cup.

My kidneys are now taking the role of mom and saying, "That's enough, let's go." Meanwhile my taste buds are the gang of friends I'm hanging out with. They are all like, "Pretend you didn't hear her and ride one more time." What to do? What to do? Yep, one more time! I'm a bad boy. I'll be grounded later, but it will be worth it.

Cup six @ abt 15s. The tea is slightly lighter in color. The cedar is now less intense and the spiciness now clings to the old book leather. Very nice.

Mom now has a firm hold on my arm and says I'm done. I'm trying not to cry in front of my friends. I do manage to mudder under my breath, "I never get to have any fun!" ;) Until next time.

 You can find Teavivre Ripened Chrysanthemum Pu-erh Mini Tuocha here.