Saturday, May 26, 2012

Finum Brewing Basket

Per Finum: Given the delicate tissue structure that makes up the filter, the product may be used for fine teas and coffee alike. The combination of high quality plastic and stainless steel allow the user to have an aromatic enjoyable experience while the tea lid maintains the tea warmer for a longer period of time. Once the brew is complete, the lid can simply be flipped over and used as a drip tray for the used tea filter.

Some people brew their tea by the pot full. My wife and I tend to brew one mug at a time. I drink mostly green and black teas. She drinks decaf or herbal. My teas tend to be whole leaf or large broken pieces. Using a 4 cup French Press has become my primary method for steeping tea. A scoop of leaf and 12oz of water works great in this and clean up is a breeze.

This method doesn’t work well with many herbal teas or finely cut black teas. The screen is fine enough to prevent the leaf particles from passing through and into the mug like it is supposed to, but they do tend to get trapped between the screen and the end plate on the plunger. This makes clean up a lot more work.

I had considered the Finum brewing basket for brewing my tea but thought it might be as messy as using a tea ball at work, dripping on my desk. When my wife started brewing herbals using loose leaf, we decided the basket was worth trying.

We bought this one at Empire Tea Services for a little less than $10. This seems to be the going rate elsewhere as well. It is the medium size basket and fits perfectly in our 12oz mugs. It allows generous room for the water to circulate around the dancing leaf. The lid holds the heat in the cup while steeping. After brewing it serves as a drip tray for the basket. Despite my fears, this is not messy to use. In fact, quite the opposite. Best of all clean up is a snap. The basket is dishwasher safe so you can toss it in when it needs more than just a rinse.

This is a highly effective and useful product.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Empire Tea Services, Earl Grey De La Crème

This is one of two samples I received during my visit to Empire Tea Services. The dry leaf is very finely cut pieces of Ceylon. Also in the mix are blue cornflower petals, and pieces of orange rind . The smell is fantastic. Very chocolate, amplified by the vanilla. The bergamot is understated in the dry scent. In the Earl Green it grabbed you before you could even open the bag.

I used a healthy scoop of leaf and 12oz of boiling water. Steeped for 3 minutes in my French press. ETS says to steep 5 minutes, but for my tastes 3 was sufficient.

The root beer colored liquor, when hot, tastes just like it smells. Chocolate and vanilla with just a hint of bergamot in mid sip. There is also a roasted note in the back of the throat. It’s not smoky, or even roasted like a charcoal firing. It is more like a burnt caramel or like the scent of roasted coffee beans. There is also the sensation of drinking warm milk.

As the cup begins to cool the bergamot comes out of hiding to take center stage but doesn’t forget it is part of a group. The chocolate/vanilla notes become Pips to the bergamot’s Gladys. Sure they can perform solo but together they are magic. The more the cup cools the stronger Gladys becomes until the bergamot nearly reaches the intensity of the Earl Green. Wow! Encore! Encore!

I was going to pass the second cup to a co-worker but I just couldn’t part with it. Yeah, it’s that good. Second cup also three minutes. Cup was half empty before I slowed down to taste it. This steep picked right up where the first cup left off.

I did steep a third cup and I did pass it on. Steeped 4 minutes. I was told it was not weak and that he really liked it. I personally can’t confirm it. A 4th steep between 5 and 6 minutes had nice color but was pretty flavorless until the cup cooled way down.

This is a bit drying but not at all bitter. This is my first crème Earl Grey, so I can’t compare it to other blends. What I can say is this is really, really, really good. A fine Earl Grey with major yum factor. The empty cup even smells amazing. This sample isn’t going to be around long.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fusion Teas, Ginger Darjeeling Peach

Ingredients listed are Ceylon and Organic Darjeeling black, ground ginger, sweet peaches, cinnamon, organic honeybush, cloves, natural flavor.

This sample was included with my recent order. It is my second black tea from Fusion, neither of which were on the website at the time I tried them. Their black tea line, is scheduled to launch at the end of May. The smell of the dry leaf in the pouch is peach and a hint of ginger. Examining the dry leaf, you can pretty well identify most of the ingredients. The black teas are cut pretty fine as is the honeybush. The black tea plumps up when brewing. The honeybush, not so much.

The fineness of the honeybush leaf does create a dilemma. What is the proper steeping vessel? Using my French press, clean up is more work with fine leaf than with full leaf or even large broken pieces. I encounter the same thing when brewing rooibos. I am thinking maybe filter bags might be an option, unless I lose flavor with them. If so, then a little extra clean up time is worth it to get the full flavor.

While I am steeping the first cup, the guy in the office next to mine buzzes on the intercom and asks, “Are you making tea?”
“Yeah, why?”
“I can smell it. It smells peachy”
“Do you like peach?”
“Would you like me to make you some?”
Minutes later I carry a cup next door. The power of tea.

I steeped the first cup for three minutes at just below boiling. My initial response is the peach level is similar to Peach Citrus, which has a green tea base. Then I decide I didn’t have enough leaf. I added leaf (this is actually the cup I took next door) and steeped 4 minutes. Third cup, number two for me, I went 4 minutes as well.

Now the flavors are popping quite a bit more. Despite filling the office with wonderful peach aroma, this is not an in your face peach blast, but it’s no wimp either. The ginger is just under the peach in intensity. Later in the sip I notice the honeybush, followed by the cinnamon and clove. The clove is really light and you probably wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t know it was there.

This is well crafted. My only complaint is I am not really picking up on the Darjeeling. It doesn’t pop the way the honeybush does. This is a very good cup that stands on its own merits, but it does have Darjeeling in the name. Being aware I think you will find any initial disappointment short lived after a few sips.

My co-worker who had no expectations going in (except peach!) gave it a big thumbs up and with a smile. In fact he later asked if I would make him another cup.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Republic Of Tea, Strawberry Chocolate

Ingredients: rooibos, carob, cocoa kernels, natural chocolate flavor, natural strawberry flavor, sweet blackberry leaves, and bourbon vanilla beans

I have to be honest, I went in to the tasting of this tea with a bad attitude. I am not a big fan of RoT. Generally speaking, I find the bag size is too small and the price tag is too high. Also when I think strawberry and chocolate, I think Neapolitan ice cream. I really don’t care for Neapolitan ice cream. This tea doesn’t stand a chance.

Steeped for 5 minutes. First taste was ok but a bit bland. Added sweetener (which is my usual habit). Sipped again. I have to say, this isn’t bad. In fact I kind of like it. Read the label and noticed this is rooibos. I tried but I can’t taste rooibos in this at all. It is just a pleasant mix of strawberry and chocolate actually more cocoa, with a hint of vanilla. It tastes natural to me, not fake or candy. It is rich enough to enjoy, yet not overbearing in the cup. This is not something I would drink everyday but it is a pleasant caffeine free calorie free desert drink. Glad I tried it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Starbuck’s Green Tea Frappuccino Blended Creme

A unique combination of Premium Matcha green tea, lightly sweetened and blended with milk and ice, topped with whipped cream (optional).

My wife loves Starbuck’s. I hate coffee. Hate is a strong word, but I really don’t even like the smell of the stuff. In the interest of compromise I have tried many Tazo teas while she is satisfying her coffee craving. Tea in a paper cup that has been prepared by coffee people is not my idea of yum but at least I try.

So, one day she says I should try a green tea frap. I’m thinking iced green tea with milk is going to taste like crappucino. Turns out I actually like this. Of course part of the reason is probably because these really aren’t that good for you. There is 430 calories in a 16oz cup. Sure you can save a 100 calories by not adding the whipped crème. That is still a lot of calories. You can also select whole, 2% or skim milk though the difference between whole milk and skim milk is only 20 calories.

So what’s in this that adds all those calories? Sugar, lot’s of sugar. They call it lightly sweetened, yet the calories of three cans of soda are in this thing. On the other hand that is about what one would expect when ordering a chocolate milk shake, right?

Besides the milk, sugar, and ice, there is green tea matcha. This is a powder made from pulverizing the entire tea leaf. Matcha, at least this matcha, has a bit more of an intense flavor than normal Tazo green tea. It also packs a pretty good caffeine punch at 70mg/16oz serving.

With the milk, the consistency is more like a shake than an Icee. It is a sweet, creamy, icy, green tea delight. At least I think it is fun. You have to be careful to drink it slowly. Yeah I got brain freeze.

Monday, May 7, 2012

You Can Reuse Tea Leaves And Tea Bags?

Recently on the Steepster discussion board a new member of the tea community expressed some shock and disbelief at the mention of using the same leaf to brew a second cup. They asked, who would actually do this? The resounding answer was just about every member of the community.

This person’s British tradition seemed to be brewing strong black tea from a tea bag then adding milk and sugar. In this particular situation they may not be able to get multiple cups as they have two strikes against them. The first is the use of a tea bag. The second is brewing black tea.

Most tea bags are filled with fannings. This is tea leaf that has been cut or torn into very tiny pieces. The benefit is the bag releases much of its flavor very quickly. That means there is not much left in the leaf for another go. I have been able to get a second steep on rare occasions depending on the tea and how strong I like it. I have increased my success by using two bags combined that have been previously used once. My advice is to experiment, what have you got to lose?

Black teas, even loose leaf, are often not good resteepers. I suppose it is due in part to their being fully oxidized, but that is just a guess. Most loose black teas are made up of broken leaf (though much larger pieces than fannings). The broken leaf generally limits the ability of the leaf to be reused.

I find I can reuse most loose black teas for a second cup. I do this often with Twinings, Ahmad, and similar quality black teas. Ounce per ounce these teas sell for about the same whether bagged or loose. The good news is with resteeping the loose leaf is a much more frugal choice. The second cup generally tastes just like the first.

Some better quality Chinese black teas I have tried will steep 3 to 6 times. Even though they initially cost more, they may be less expensive per cup when you include reusing the leaf.

Most loose green teas will steep 3 to 4 times and some a lot more. What is interesting here is each cup may have a bit different flavor. That is part of the experience in learning to enjoy them. White tea is similar to green in its steeping ability.

Oolongs resteep well. Getting 4 to 6 cups is common. I recently had an Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong that I quit at 8 or 9 and it was still going strong.

Puerh is another type tea that is excellent for reusing. Once you learn to appreciate the taste of a puerh, 10 cups is not uncommon from one serving of leaf.

The experts say to toss the leaf at the end of the day. The fear is the moisture in the leaf can encourage harmful bacteria or mold growth. I have kept my leaf overnight successfully many times. I drain the leaf as much as possible, then spread it out in the bottom of my press so air can get to it and dry it. I am not recommending this to others. I am just telling you what I often do with my leaf. Others tell me they cover the leaf and stick it in the fridge. If you have any doubt about the safety of your leaf toss it out. The hospital charges a lot more than the tea shop!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Christiani-Tea, Orange Oolong

From their website: Christiani-Tea is Tea with a Higher Purpose. Your tea purchase goes to support faith based organizations that are making an impact around the globe. Christiani-Tea is using tea to change the world!

This one came from a recent tea swap. It is oolong, orange peel, and flavor. The dry leaf is very dark, nearly black, thick and twisted. There are tiny chunks of orange peel in the mix. Smells of orange flavoring. There were no instructions printed on the sample packaging. The website steeping instructions said to use boiling water and a 4 minute steep. I chose not to follow instructions on the first cup. Instead I went somewhere between what I use for green and a full boil. The wet leaf did not fully open on the first steep. The liquor is dark like a black tea and smells of flavoring and smoked/roasted tea (Wuyi?). There is a bit of an earthy scent.

The sip is an interesting clash of flavors. The oolong taste is dark, rich, and earthy. For $2.75/oz, the leaf is actually better than I expected. The flavoring is pretty much exactly what I expected. It is a bit overdone and a touch artificial. The orange reminds me of Stash’s approach at flavored teas. If you enjoy Stash then you might like this one. As the cup cools the orange taste comes out more and tastes like, well, orange.

Second steep I used the recommended boiling water and 4 minute steep. The taste in this cup is a little closer to natural, though not entirely. I am not really catching the heavy flavored scent now. I could just be immune. Actually, I can’t tell if the flavor is really off or if maybe orange just doesn’t mix well with a highly oxidized roasted oolong like this one. I do think if I had some lemon grass or verbena to round this out it would be much improved. I have lemon balm growing in our herb garden but it will be awhile before I can cut some of it. I will revisit this one when the herb is ready to harvest.

With every steep the brew gets a little lighter in color. The third steep is a beautiful reddish bronze and you can see the bottom of the cup. With this cup, the roastiness is pretty much gone and the earthiness that was present from the beginning begins to resemble a mild sheng puerh – sticky lip feel and all. Combined with the light remnants of the orange, this produced the best cup so far. In fact it was an outstanding cup.

I doubt I would reorder this particular tea BUT based the quality of the leaf and the great price, I would not hesitate to try some of their other blends.

This is my second attempt at this one. I started with a healthy spoon of leaf, and added 12oz of boiling water for a one minute steep in my press. The sip is much improved over the last time. Using boiling water is necessary to open the leaf and I find the short steep time is crucial to keep both the heavy roastiness of the oolong and the orange flavor from becoming overwhelming. Especially as it cools, this is easily drinkable. There is a bit of a cool blast on the throat like mint. I think orange with a greener oolong would be much more relaxing but ignoring the website recommended steeping instructions and going with my own has made this a pleasant drink.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Lipton Green Tea Superfruit, Acai, Dragonfruit, and Melon

I notice Lipton teas seldom get a fair review on tea blogs. In my reviews I attempt to objectively look at each tea based on what it is trying to achieve. This is a mass produced tea aimed at appealing to as large a segment of the general public as possible. It is not micro-blended for the most discriminating of tastes, to be sold only in small quantities in specialty shops. With that being said, lets check it out.

The bags for this one come in paper envelopes. Almost all other companies are now using mylar envelopes that hold in the freshness. Paper envelopes while biodegradable allow the tea to go stale quickly. The tag is taped to the bag. I find this is irritating as I have ripped the bag in the past trying to get the tag loose. The bag is the flo-thru variety which makes it appear there is very little actual tea in it.

There are no steeping instructions on the envelope and my son has the box these came in. I went online and according to Lipton I should use boiling water. Normally I use cooler water for greens. I let it steep 3 minutes. The brew is a pale green. It turned orange as it cooled. The bag plumped up some but not much. The smell is light and fruity.

I found the sip to be very pleasant. It is fruity but not overly so. It is actually quite light. At first, the taste makes me think pomegranate. Then it reminds me of a Jolly Rancher watermelon stick without being overly sweet. There is a lingering fruity aftertaste that I liked.

The green tea taste is more hint than flavor. I have had an unflavored Lipton green tea before and I did catch its flavor in this, but it is very subtle. I thought this would be non-offensive to someone who thinks they don’t care for green tea. So I tested it on a co-worker who claims to hate green tea and he said, “This is really good. I would buy a box of this to keep around.”

I had to look dragonfruit up because I had never heard of it. Yes, I have seen them in the grocery store, and yes they do look alien. Since I have never tasted one I can’t say if it is accurately represented in this tea.

I like this tea. I admit it does not come close to the fruity goodness of Fusion Teas Super Fruit Sencha. On the other hand I liked it more than any of the Republic of Teas fruit flavors I have tried. It would be good iced. If you are looking for a tasty light fruit tea, give this one a try.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Tazo Rest

An Herbal Infusion: A lulling blend of rose petals, valerian root, & citrusy herbs.

The complete list of ingredients listed on the envelope is a long read – lemon balm, rose petals, honeybush, orange peel, lemon myrtle, lemon verbena, licorice root, lavender, valerian root, natural flavors, ginger, orange essence oil, and Chinese geranium oil.

Today I thought I would try this herbal bagged stuff. How bad can it be? I open the envelope and the scent is bad. It smells kind of gross – at least for drinking. It makes me think ladies bathroom. All powdery and rosy. I let it air out while I am boiling the water and some citrus notes begin to rise out of the bag of impending doom.

I steeped for about 5 minutes. That is just a guess as there are no instructions printed on the envelope. I added sweetener because I am not brave enough to go this alone. The first sip begins as gross as the initial smell – rose, lavender, powdery, gag me with a tea spoon. Later in the sip the citrus picks up and it is kind of nice. On the second sip, it is just a pleasant citrusy lemon, orange, licorice taste. But when sitting the cup down, I am again smelling perfumed powder.

My wife said this one has been discontinued. My own thoughts are I can clearly see why. This is just too weird. I did find it strangely calming and restful but that smell is just too much to overcome. Once again Tazo, you have over engineered.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Yogi, Chai Rooibos

The ingredients listed on the bag include: organic rooibos leaf, organic cardamom seed, organic cinnamon bark, organic ginger root, organic clove bud, and organic stevia leaf.

Over the years I have picked up a handful of Yogi bags from the try me free display at the local world food mart. I have never cared much for any of them once they were brewed. My expectations are rather low, even though I like all the ingredients except I could do without the stevia (it is bitter).

I open the envelope and the bag smells nice but seems a bit thin. The instructions say to use boiling water and a 5 to 10 minute steep. I went 7 1/2. The bag actually plumped up nicer than expected. The brew is a murky reddish brown, typical of rooibos.

Wow, this isn’t bad. The flavors are pretty well balanced. Ok, the clove seems a little more obvious but I am ok with that. I have never had cardamom by itself but as I understand it tastes similar to clove and cinnamon. The rooibos is present in the sip but acts more as supporting cast rather than the star. I am ok with that as well. There is a bit of numbing mouth feel that I am going to attribute to the ginger. This is much better than expected. A nice rooibos chai.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Choice, Organic Chai Spice Black Tea

A single bag of this came in a recent tea swap. I have had a couple Choice teas before and found them to be pretty good bag teas. I did notice right away that there are no ingredients or steeping instructions listed on the envelope containing the bag. I opened the lined paper envelope and caught the pleasant scent of cinnamon and clove. I sat the bag down while preparing the water and noticed it leeched a little spice dust on the desk. I looked in the bag and noticed the same. This probably happens often but it is the first time it caught my attention.

I used my typical black tea method of boiling water and a three minute steep. The bag plumped up nicely. The brew is dark and shiny. Not at all murky. Apparently the spicy dust dissolves completely. The smell is light and not overwhelming.

The sip is where I can really tell this is a Choice tea. The spices are very balanced with the cinnamon just ever so slightly more prominent in the aftertaste. More importantly, I can taste the tea base. I never crave chai tea but this one is very nice. I could drink this regularly if it were offered to me.

I thought I would try one final test. Most people add milk to their chai. I didn’t have any milk at work but I did have French vanilla creamer. Close enough. This didn’t really add anything to the experience for me. It did introduce a mild pepper note that is not present in the straight version.