Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Primula Tea Guilded Lotus

Not sure why this is called Guilded Lotus as Primula lists the ingredients as green tea, marigold, and jasmine.

I prepared this in my French press using 12oz of boiling water. As with all the green tea pods in the Primula variety pack the dry bloom smells strong of jasmine. The bloom was completely intact after adding the water. As it began to open it quickly sank to the bottom and began to release trapped air bubbles. The air had enough force that it knocked several petals of the flower loose. It eventually expanded into a massive yellow flower. Quite pretty.

I let it steep longer than intended as work got in the way. The brew was bright golden in the press and much deeper in the cup. The taste is primarily jasmine at the front of the sip. This is followed by a bit of bitterness and then a rush of sweet floral goodness in the aftertaste. With the following cups I was careful not to over steep. They had the same jasmine followed by sweet floral without the bitterness in the middle. This is maybe the sweetest tea I have tried. An interesting cup.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Puerh - No Middle Ground

I will be adding reviews of several puerhs in the first few weeks of the New Year. I thought before that happens a short primer is in order.

Pronounced pooh – uhr, puerh (or pu-erh, or pu’erh, depending on who is writing the word), is almost unheard of by most people in America. It traditionally comes from Yunnan, China as is named after the town of Puer. These teas start out processed similar to green tea. Then they are steamed and compressed into cakes or bricks of various shapes and sizes. The bricks are put into storage – often for years. Puerh is the only form of tea that reportedly improves which age. Quality bricks, several decades old, can be worth a small fortune.

Earthy, rich, dark, smooth, peaty, & mushroom, are all words often associated with puerh tea by people who enjoy them. Fishy and sweet dirt by those who are less than fans. There is very little room for middle ground here, once you try puerh, you either love or hate it.

The length of time the leaf is exposed to air before being heated (fired) to stop the oxidation process is the main difference between green and black tea. Puerh is different. A bacteria similar to that in a yogurt culture works its magic in the bricks to ferment the leaf. This process does not produce alcohol but does give the tea its unique flavor.

Puerh can be divided into two broad categories – sheng and shu.

Sheng is also called raw or green and has a lighter more delicate flavor that is closer to green tea tasting (but only sort of). The brew is lighter and has a yellowish tint. Sheng can be drank immediately or can be stored for decades. The flavor grows richer and darker with age. Young sheng is a complex drink that some find astringent, sometimes slightly bitter, with grassy or hay characteristics. Sheng is my favorite form of puerh.

Shu is also known as ripe, aged, or cooked. Shu involves a process developed recently in the 1970’s to meet the demand for aged puerh. The process simulates the taste of naturally aged puerh. Shu produces a very rich and dark brew. The darkest cup of tea I have ever encountered was a shu. Be aware, poor quality shu can have a fishy odor. It can also taste and smell musty, moldy, or like compost. Shu properly processed should not have a foul odor or taste. Aging does not improve shu as dramatically as with sheng. The finest shu I personally have tasted had a leather profile to it with floral notes. The attraction of shu is that it rather inexpensively allows one to drink a tea that closely simulates much older rarer leaf.

Both sheng and shu in loose leaf form can withstand multiple infusions. I have brewed as many as ten 12oz mugs of tea from a single spoon of leaf. For the curious, puerh can occasionally be found in bagged form. Numi, Stash (Yamamotoyama), and Foojoy are three brands I have seen in the international food market. You might also look in your local Asian market.

Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice

I started off my day by going to Steak & Shake and ordering the portabello mushroom sausage skillet, bagel (cream cheese of course) and Darjeeling tea. Very good start but left me with onion breath – go figure. Then off to the pet store before swinging by Barnes & Noble. Ordered a cup of this in the cafe. They gave me a paper cup filled with hot water and a tea sachet.

I have read many good reviews of this tea. I was so excited to find out that it really did smell like Red Hots and Big Red gum. HOWEVER, the tea was so hot I burned my tongue and I was still dealing with onion breath. Sat in the window stirring for like forever trying to cool this down. Cinnamon, orange, & clove – some of my favorite add-ons for tea all in one cup. I really enjoyed this. Can’t say I could pick out the taste of the black tea – which looked like CTC in the sachet, not loose leaf – and I probably wouldn’t want this every day but definitely a fun treat. I took the sachet with me and used it to steep a second cup at home. Still pretty good, and this time I didn’t burn my tongue. Click on the link to go to Harney and Sons website.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Primula Tea Wild Flower

Prepared this in my French press with 12oz of boiling water. Having it today with peanut butter fudge and crackers coated with a generous wash of ranch dressing and red pepper (lots of red pepper!) Also have some kind of crumb cake squares covered in lemon icing. Wow. I have tried my best to avoid the holiday snacks but they keep finding me. I have no choice. It’s not my fault. Ok, I’m just weak but I did try to resist… briefly.

Tea report – For all I know, all the blooming teas in China could be made in the same factory. The craftsmanship in all of them is pretty high and frankly they taste way better than I expected. The Primula pods are slightly smaller than the Teavivre ones I’ve tried. What they lack in size this one made up for in jasmine flavor. This one is especially good. The bloom was not as amazing as some of the others but made a pretty display. There is globe amaranth in this but for once I don’t really taste it. Just a lovely mild jasmine tea. I thought all the sweets and spices in my snacks would wash this out but it actually stands up for itself pretty well. Bring on cup two and three, hold the goodies.

This works steeped 12 oz at a time. However, it also works a pot at a time. If you go the cup route and only do three steeps it works out about $0.41/cup. Compared to restaurant tea that isn’t bad but seems a bit steep (pun intended) by loose leaf standards. By the pot it is more reasonable at $0.20/cup.

Stash Tea Company Pomegranate Raspberry Green

I originally wrote this in November. As we approach the New Year it just seems appropriate to add it to my tea review blog. This is the season in America where we reflect on being thankful for the good things of the past year and hopeful for the future of things that are not so good. This morning I realized how long it had been since I drank a tea that was meh. This last summer the world of tea has really opened up to me and I have been, yes, I will say it, blessed to drink some very good tea.

I intentionally grabbed this today to remind me of where I came from, so to speak. My son gave this one to me. I thought I had written a review of it before but couldn’t locate any notes. It is green tea, chamomile, the dreaded hibiscus flowers, orange peel, citric acid, pomegranate flavor, raspberry flavor, and Japanese matcha. So, what the tea is named after is just flavoring? Hmmm. 3m steep. The bag plumps up nicely. That is a plus for a Stash tea – the home of notoriously overpriced and undersized bags.

I don’t do many fruit teas. They scare me. The fruit is almost always way overdone and artificial tasting. Especially raspberry. I can barely taste the tea in this but it isn’t as bad as expected. Reminds me of a hot shaved ice – wrap your mind around that one. The pomegranate tames the raspberry so it isn’t overwhelming. Still, this is oversweet Kool-Aid in a mug. Reminds me of the Republic of Tea pomegranate I had some time back. Something in this is leaving a bitter aftertaste. I didn’t pour the cup out but I don’t want any more of it. Meh. Here is to wonderful future cups!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Stash Christmas Eve Herbal Tea

It’s almost Christmas, so reviewing a Christmas blend seemed like a good idea. This is a blend of spearmint, cinnamon, vanilla, and clove. There is no actual tea in it. That’s part of the problem for me. I am not a tisane (herbal) fan. I also am not a fan of spearmint. Chocolate mint I add to tea often but spearmint is like drinking tea with gum in your mouth. The cinnamon, vanilla, and clove are all interesting flavor ideas but the mint overpowers them. I will say, after it reaches room temperature it isn’t bad. Just not my cup of joy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Primula Tea Camellia Joy

Used a 6 cup pot. The bloom is very pretty, a combination of white and red flowers rising up out of the nest of green tea leaves. It is huge spanning nearly the width of the pot and ¾ of the height.

The smell of jasmine is a bit strong, but in the sip it is a light taste (pleasant). There is also a hint of cinnamon (interesting) and unfortunately a bit of a sour taste that was in the summer bouquet (eewww). Turns out the taste is the globe amaranth. It is not undrinkable. It is just a little off. The liquor is dark for a green.

I left the water in the pot steeping, close to an hour, until I was ready for the second cup. It was very good. A blast of cinnamon followed by jasmine at the back of the sip. The sour nasties have left the brew. Perhaps this is the secret to these teas – let them steep.

Excellent center piece at a table with friends. The bloom rates a 100. The first cup was a 40. The following a solid 70+.

Primula Tea Summer Bouquet

Boiling water. Steeped about 4 minutes. The packet said summer bouquet but the bloom looks like Noble Madam so I am not sure what this is for sure. The pod on this one is oblong. All the others so far have been round. Couldn’t find any willing helpers in sipping this so I used my 4 cup press, which is really two mugs in super-sized America. And before you ask – no I did not use the plunger. The bloom is exquisite. All those long wonderful green tea leaves surrounding a literal bouquet of red flowers. As you can tell I thought this was quite attractive.

The liquor was deep orange-amber. The jasmine smells very strong in the dry pod, so I was a bit nervous. In the sip it is as light as it has been in all of these so far. Unfortunately it was accompanied by a nasty sour taste. Not candy sour – milk sour, eeeeew. I thought maybe I didn’t get all the puerh washed clean from the last use of the press. Poured out the pot. Washed the press. Started over. Steeped about 3 minutes until the liquor was golden amber and poured. The jasmine is still light and the green tea would be pleasant if not for the soured taste. Less prominent but still present. Apparently it is the flowers. On all the other blooming teas I have used a used a six cup pot. That might have helped here. Glad I didn’t try this one first. I would not have tried more.

Primula Tea Butterfly Floret

It still bothers me there are no real brewing instructions on these teas. H2O + pod = tea are not real steeping instruction in any language. I continue to experiment one 36oz pot at a time. This is a green tea so boiling water usually should not be used. The however is, the first blooming green I tried was very slow to open. So boiling water it is. Didn’t make the tea the least bit bitter. The pod bloomed beautifully. I haven’t had any problems with the pod coming apart. The display is so pretty I almost hate to pour it… almost.

This is another very mild Jasmine. It is the predominate flavor but not overwhelmingly so. It blends well with the green tea. I can’t tell that the flowers are adding anything to the flavor of the cup. If they do it is very subtle. Very pale amber brew with a natural sweetness. Honestly I can’t tell the difference between this and the lovers leap I brewed a couple days ago. That’s ok with me because I like it.

The second pot I steeped long and strong on purpose. I was curious to see what would happen. The brew, of course, was much darker. The scent of jasmine was present wafting off the cup. Still no hint of bitterness. Interestingly, the flavor of jasmine seems to have moved to the background and I get just a hint of the flowers now (that could be my imagination). I am also noticing a dryness in my mouth. I prefer the way I steeped the first pot.

I am always leery when someone who does not like Earl Grey recommends an EG to me. So let me make clear, I do not normally like jasmine tea, but I am enjoying these blooming teas by Primula. Just thought you should know.

Primula Tea Earl Grey Black Tea

The friend that gave me this said he really liked it for the bergamot and some kind of berry notes. That sounded excellent. The dry pod does smell nicely of bergamot, not overwhelmingly so, but in a pleasant way. The display opened up nicely. It is a bit drab compared to the colorful Lovers Blossom. Still it is cool.

The clarity is good. The brew a golden amber. In the sip I get the berry notes my friend mentioned. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I will call it plum for now, maybe a little grapeish. The bergamot takes a major backseat here. It is more on the level of bergamot in Ahmad’s No 1 tea, its there, but way in the background. As an EG this is more than a bit disappointing. If the package only said London Fog I would not have a preconception that is a bit hard to overcome. Ok, if this is not EG, how is it? It is not brisk, bold, or astringent. It is very smooth like Prince of Wales but to my tastes, with the fruitiness, it takes on a Keemun/Ceylon afternoon blend quality. Works well with a little sweetener, which gives it some depth. This is really not bad. While I doubt I will buy this one (cause its not EG), I would definitely drink it if it were offered to me. One pod made two 6 cup pots (36oz each) or 6 medium strength 12oz cups.

Primula Tea Lover's Bloom

My first blooming tea. This was a most thoughtful gift from a friend.

There are no real instructions on the packaging. Water + bloom = tea, is not instructions. I looked on the website and could not find a statement on how large a cup/pot to use. The canister said 12 blooms, 36 infusions, over 250 cups. Doing the math that is about 7 cups per steep. How big do they think a cup is? Is it 4oz, 6oz, – 8oz? I am sure it is not the 12oz I normally use. My kettle came with a 6 cup pot, or roughly 36oz. I figured that was close enough.

I used boiling water. The bloom opened up nicely with minimal debris. A few broken off leaves were due to me pouring the water over the pod in a bit of a brutish manner. The artistry in these things is truly amazing to behold. There is a beautiful tiny red flower at the heart of the bloom. A wonderful conversation piece around a table with friends. Highly recommend for the visual appeal.

Now I have always heard blooming teas are less than spectacular in the taste department. That may be true, however in this case I must say I was thoroughly surprised. You see, I generally don’t care for Jasmine. I have never liked the smell, the taste, or how it settles on my stomach. This tea has the Jasmine smell but the taste is very mellow and subdued. It is so sufficiently sweet on its own that even I was tempted not to add the yellow packet.

I made two pots out of this but did not try the third pot Primula claims this is capable of going. I suspect it would have worked. If you like an in your face Jasmine, this is not a tea for you. If you think you don’t like Jasmine, you may well enjoy this. I poured and finished 4 cups myself. That’s more Jasmine than I have been able to finish in my whole life. A pleasant cup. Looking forward to more.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Empire Tea Services Ti Kuan Yin

A semi oxidized Chinese tea rolled using a traditional method. Another sample given to me at the shop. I was told this is their most popular oolong. The dry leaf has a faint vegetive sweetness and is rolled pretty tight. The liquor is very light green, almost clear. The brewed leaf is large generally complete pieces. Poured into the cup I can see the bottom. I am so used to bagged tea, which turns the cup black immediately, that this is still freaking me out. The brew has only a slight scent. First sip is very light and semi sweet. It doesn’t taste grassy. There is a kind of fruity taste, that hints of apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Just a hint, lingering after the sip. The oolongs I am most familiar with are dark and earthy. This is very light and airy. The water should be cooler than boiling or there might be a small amount of bitterness. Sweetener is not needed but I add it anyway. This tea will do multiple steeps. I normally go three steeps but it will go five if you are up to it. Empire Tea Services by clicking here.

Empire Tea Services Peach & Apricot Green Tea

Temple of Heaven green tea with peach and apricot flavors. According to the helpful guy at the shop/warehouse who gave me a sample, this tea was just freshly blended. It smells insane of peach and apricot, to the point I was a little nervous. The dry leaf is very black and very tightly rolled. Not having much experience with gunpowder I wasn’t sure how to measure it. I used about 1/2 tsp. It was maybe a little light. The liquor has a light green / amber tint. It appeared clear in the pot. After pouring, there was some residue in the bottom of the cup. The aroma is so delicious. It’s like holding the fruit in your hands. Still nervous. First sip – amazing. The flavor is much less outrageous than expected. It is like biting into the real thing with the added bonus that there is tea in the mix and I can taste it. With the second steep, the green tea jumps out even more. The flavors became even more enjoyable as the cup reached room temperature. Well balanced. It is even excellent iced. I am generally not a fan of fruit or flower flavored teas. I do, however, have a weakness for peach. I have had many, many, bagged and bottled versions. This is way better than any I have tried. I will be ordering more of this. Empire Tea Services by clicking here.

Empire Tea Services English Afternoon

Premium Keemun teas from China blended with high elevation Ceylon teas. I drove 70 miles to pick this tea up at the warehouse. I am not disappointed. This is a loose leaf rotovane tea. That means the leaf is cut into very small pieces. Similar in appearance to tea bag tea but this is not dust. This is quality tea blended to perfection. The leaf smells very rich and sweet like fruit and reminds me of a good tobacco. I don’t smoke – that is not the point. It smells so good I could inhale it all day but then I would miss drinking it. The brew is a very clear medium dark and there is no sediment in the bottom of the cup. Up until now I have not been a big fan of straight black teas. This is one of the few I could drink everyday. I haven’t tried it iced but it would probably be great. There is no bitterness. There is no heavy aftertaste. The Ceylon is a solid foundation for the Keemun to build upon. It adds a fruitiness after the sip. I can chug this or sip it. I can drink it hot or let it reach room temperature. It is just good. Highly recommend especially if you think you don’t like unflavored black tea. You can get two cups from 1 tsp by steeping the first cup 3 minutes and the second for 6 minutes, with only a little flavor loss on the second cup.

I have to add an addendum. I went looking for this particular tea because I had a box of Twinings English Afternoon. I really liked. It’s a bagged version of Ceylon Keemun blend. I wanted loose. After drinking two cups of ETS loose, I brewed a cup of Twinings to compare. It is kind of like chimpanzees and humans. We may share 97% DNA but that 3% makes all the difference in the world. The Twinings dust colored the brew almost immediately. It lacked the fullness and range of flavor but left an aftertaste. It had an annoying bite felt on the sides of the tongue and roof of the mouth. This is a bit of an aha moment. For about the same money, Empire Tea Services blew the doors off Twinings. Find Empire Tea Services by clicking here.

Empire Tea Services Earl Green

I just recently started this blog and am still in the process of moving my comments here from an older website and Steepster. As such I am several months behind, which works out great as I get to combine several tasting notes together for this review.

A wonderful blend of Emperor’s pride leaf & whole bud green tea from China with bergamot and orange peel. The dry leaf smells of bergamot and tea. The leaf varies from tannish to dark brown. There are bits of orange peel in the blend. According to Empire Tea Service’s website this is good for multiple steeps. I used 1tsp of leaf – approx 2g and I use sweetener. My mug holds 12 ounces.

First steep – 3minutes. The leaves did not appear to have completely opened but this is a full leaf tea. The clarity of the brew is amazingly crystal clear with only a mild amber color. I thought maybe I had not used enough tea or needed to steep longer. Tasting says otherwise. The bergamot is more flowery than citrus and very strong. I couldn’t separate the orange from the bergamot in this or any of the subsequent steeps.

Second steep – 4 minutes. The leaves have opened all the way. The brew is still crystal clear and very light in color. Bergamot still strong.
Third steep – 4 minutes. Starting to taste tea. Bergamot is less intense. This is the best cup so far. A little sediment in the bottom of the cup.
Fourth steep – 4 minutes. Surprised how much the flavor is still present.
Fifth steep – 5 minutes. Very light color. Still flavorful.

Empire tea says 1 tsp will make six cups. They probably mean 6 or 8 ounces per cup but I am using 12. Even so, I am fully convinced this would go another steep but my bladder is not up to the task.

I bought this tea at Empire Tea Service’s warehouse. It had just been blended. As I stated the bergamot was very strong. I learned a valuable lesson in the weeks following my initial tasting, that was confirmed by the writing of another reviewer. This person wrote they avoided flavored teas until they have been out a few weeks so the flavorings have time to soak into the leaf.

At first, the bergamot seemed overwhelming. To tame it I was cutting this tea with my Ti Kuan Yin. The intensity of the bergamot has since balanced so this is no longer necessary. I did learn to appreciate the Ti Kuan Yin (also Empire Tea Services) from this experience and was really glad when I could start enjoying it solo.

Now that the Earl Green has had time to settle, the emperors pride leaf is more pronounced (and delicious) and I realize it is in part responsible for the perfume notes. This is a more flowery bergamot more than it is citrus, even though there is orange rind in the mix. With a little age on the batch this has become a very good tea and a good cup of tea is like a hug on a crappy day. I sometimes need at least three cups.

One of my favorite teas. Earl Grey was my favorite tea for years until I discovered Earl Green. Empire Tea Services is my current favorite. Find Empire Tea Services here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This Changes Everything!

Up until August of 2011, my loose leaf experience was limited to Twinings and Ahmad. The bag versions of these teas are above average grocery store teas. Their loose versions add a bit more sparkle to the cup and the leaf can be steeped twice making them a good bargain. I was perfectly content.

I did have a brief intro to better quality loose leaf a year or so before, when Golden Moon sent me samples of some of their tea to review. (See my reviews of these teas on this blog) At the time my technique was a bit too undeveloped to fully appreciate the depth of these teas. Even so, I knew they were something special. Using a 2” tea ball at the time, I got multiple infusions with each tea.

By the summer of 2011, I was using an electric kettle and had abandoned the tea ball in favor of a French press. I had learned to adjust the water temperature and the steep time to get the best cup out of the leaf.

I had previously located a tea merchant online whose shop was only a couple hours from my home. I hadn’t ordered from them yet and I didn’t know what to expect. I live in rural Indiana, far removed from most big city tea opportunities. Finding someone who sells tea is rare enough. This shop actually blends their own loose leaf teas. One fateful day in August, I made a road trip to Empire Tea Services to check them out. 

The shop was easy to find but much smaller than I had imagined. The fellow in the shop was very helpful and not at all pushy. I already had two teas in mind I wanted to buy before I arrived. I wanted a micro blend Earl Grey green tea and their Afternoon Tea. I asked about some of their other teas and was offered a sample size of each. I got Ti Kuan Yin oolong and Peach Apricot green tea.

The leaf of these teas was so fresh looking and the scent so pleasant I knew we were going to be friends. The Afternoon Tea could be steeped twice like the Twinings loose teas but the flavor was more complex and rich. The other three teas could each be steeped between three and six times. I could use one spoon of leaf and drink all day! Price wise this tea was only a bit more than a tin of Twinings, but because it could be steeped more times it was actually cheaper. The flavor difference was even more impressive.

It was about this time the light came on. Before my trip, I never really thought there was much of a difference between loose leaf and bagged teas. I thought the loose leaf fanatics were just being tea snobs. Suddenly I was faced with the realization the loose tea people were correct. Better quality leaf just makes better tea.

Since August 2011, I have had the opportunity to try a good number of loose leaf teas. They have really won me over. I am not a snob. I still drink bag tea on occasion. I even still enjoy it, but given the choice I have no plans of buying any more bagged tea.

A two hour road trip changed my tea journey forever.