Friday, June 29, 2012

Fong Mong Tea, Charcoal-baked Dong Ding Tea

Fong Mong Tea Shop is a Taiwan based distributor that sells on Ebay with a 100% rating! Their offerings are often a bit higher priced than what is normally reviewed on the Everyday Tea Blog. This one is $30.99/150g (about 5 1/2 ounces).  Using 3g of leaf per steep that works out to about $0.62/mug. If you steep the same leaf three times the price is about $0.20/mug.

This tasting was from a sample provided by Fong Mong. It arrived in a heavy duty vacuum sealed packaging with an air absorber inside. I used half the six gram sample for my tasting. The leaf is rolled tight but not as tiny as the blue jade. It has a light smoked aroma. I got a little mixed up on my temperature as I was trying to decide between two different teas this morning. I used boiling water. I held the first steep to 3 minutes. Fong Mong recommends 85-90C water and a 6 minute steep. The leaf began to unfurl and rise in the water. The liquid is clear and dark yellow. The wet leaf is dark green and smells ominously charcoal smoked.

Fong Mong asked me if I liked dark oolongs before they sent this. I told them sure (I didn’t really know). Right now I am hoping it was not a mistake. I do love Yamamotoyama  and Foo Joy Wuyi oolongs in bag form so I am not really too concerned.

The sip – interesting! Not nearly as roasted as it smells. It actually impressed me as more green than smoked. The taste has almost a honey like quality about it. The aftertaste has a neat cooling thing going on like mint or menthol but it is not in the taste. It is just a sensation. As the cup cools the sip becomes to a bit creamy.

On cup two, also at 3 minutes, the leaf has relaxed enough to reveal some stems. I did some research and it appears this is normal for this type tea.  The stems do not prevent the leaf from rising up and doing a happy dance in my press. What I find amazing is that they were able to roll 2” long stems into those tiny little pellets. Boiling water and shorter steeps seems to work fine with this tea. Similar to the first cup except I am noticing the oolong floral notes coming through especially in the aftertaste.

The third cup @ 4 minutes is milder as the flavor is fading. The cooling sensation is actually more noticeable at this point. This cup is still very good but I am calling it quits here.

There is some resemblance between this and the bagged Wuyi oolongs I have enjoyed in the past. Of course they are darker oolongs, where as this is more green. Really, they are only a shadow of what is going on in this tea. It is as if you took the flavor knife and lopped off the ends, then cut what was left in half and discarded the bright happy side of the flavor. I say that, all the while admitting I like those bagged teas. Now that I know what I am missing, I am not as likely to rush into restocking them. I have no idea if this is a good quality example of this type tea. What I do know is I think it is really good.

It brings up a question in my mind. Why do I like the roasted/smoked taste in greens and oolongs but not so much in black teas? I have no answer other than preconceived ideas of how I expect a tea to taste.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fong Mong Tea, Floral (Blue Jade) Oolong Tea

Fong Mong Tea Shop is a Taiwan based distributor that sells on Ebay with a 100% rating! Their offerings are often a bit higher priced than what is normally reviewed on the Everyday Tea Blog. This one is surprisingly affordable at $28.99 for 300g. That is less than $10 for 100g.

This sample was generously provided by Fong Mong Tea Shop. As noted in other reviews of this company, I am impressed with the packaging. The pouch is heavy duty, the sample is vacuum packed, and inside is an oxygen absorber to help maintain freshness. There is 6 grams of tea inside. It all fit in one spoon. I was tempted to use all of it but just in case I mess up something I decided to save half for a later steep. Turns out, 3g is a lot of tea. The leaf is rolled into very tight tiny dark green balls that really expand. The dry leaf did not have much aroma to me.

I brought my water up to temperature and poured over the leaf. Immediately an amazing floral scent began to fill the room. Fong Mong recommends a six minute steep. I could not bring myself to steep it that long and went only three. The liquor is extremely clear and a pale yellow.

I should state up front that I added sweetener at this point. I usually wait until I have at least tasted the tea straight. Today, I knew I was going to add it eventually, so I just got it over with.

The first sip is electric, with a lot going on all at once. When I say electric I mean it literally. There was a numbness and a feeling of shock at the very beginning that I have never experienced before and it was not in later sips. The sip was very floral and sweet. At the same time it struck me as salty. Again this was only an initial reaction. The press and cup were both cleaned and well rinsed just prior to the tasting so it was not something left over from a previous brew. This has the lingering aftertaste typical of green oolongs. One reviewer on Steepster described this as a latex glove taste. I can make that connection but it is far more pleasant and green than it sounds. To me it is more like the taste of the white part of a watermelon rind.

As the cup cools I am getting a better sense of the flavors. It remains intensely floral at the front of the sip. Mid sip there is an underlying earthy quality. The floral notes pick back up towards the end and this dissolves into the lingering aftertaste. I am not sure this qualifies as milky but it does flow smoothly across the tongue. Another thing I am noticing is a dusty sensation on the throat and a tingling in the checks. I would normally associate this with astringency but it does taste astringent.

As the cup reaches near room temperature I get a mineral taste. I hear that description used often but this is the first time I have felt compelled to use the term myself. Interesting.

With the second cup the leaf is still not completely unfurled, yet it hangs in the press making it look full of leaf. It looses the earthy note and the dusty feel on this cup, and settles in at smooth and lingering. By the third cup, the leaf has completely unfurled. It makes for a lot of leaf. I stopped with the fourth steep (making 48oz). It still has a lot of sweet flavor. At $30/300g, using 3g to steep one mug, it works out to $0.30/mug. If you carry it out to the max @4steeps/session, that is $007.5/mug. Fun with math!

I am glad I had the time to spend with this one. It is quite complex. It is also quite tasty. This is a very good tea.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A French Press Tip

As often mentioned on this blog, at work I normally use a French press to steep my tea one 12 ounce mug at a time. It is fast and easy. It takes up very little space. Most important to me, clean up is a breeze. I remove the lid, spread the leaf out on the bottom, and let the press set until the insides dry out a bit. Then it is usually just a matter of turning the press upside down and tapping a couple times and the tea leaf falls right out. A simple wipe and I am ready to go again.

In listening to others talk about using a press, I have noticed many of them have a problem with getting the press to drain. When they pour the tea into their cup some of the liquid is left behind. This is not a normal intended function of a French press. It should drain completely. The problem is caused by the water forming a tight seal against the superfine mesh on the screen. It will not allow the air to flow through and break the suction of the water.

So what can you do? Once you pour what comes out freely, keep the press in the pour position and holding down the lid, pull out just slightly on the plunger. This may seem a bit tricky at first. Once the plunger is pulled out slightly it will suck in air and break the seal. This will release the rest of the tea into your cup.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fong Mong Tea, Lishsan High Mt. Oolong Tea

Fong Mong Tea Shop is a Taiwan based distributor that sells on Ebay with a 100% rating! Their offerings are a bit higher priced than what is normally reviewed on the Everyday Tea Blog. This one is $48/150g (roughly 5.3 oz).

From their webstore:
Lishan High Mountain Oolong Tea is one of the most unique and highest quality Oolong. Grown in the Li Mountains of Taiwan, this tea is harvested at the elevation of 1200 meters in an isolated area. Due to the cold weather and relatively harsh environments, the plants grow at a very slow rate and in small quantity. The tea is either harvested during the winter or summer and sometimes only once during the entire year. After the harvest, the leaves are carefully handled and aerated during the long ride to the nearest tea maker. Despite the difficult growing conditions, the leaves are selected as the highest quality of Oolong.

This is the first oolong I have tried that I know is from Taiwan. The sample pouch is heavy aluminum/mylar. The tea is vacuum packed and there is an oxygen absorber packet in the pouch. I like this attempt at maintaining freshness. The label lists tea type, weight, manufacturer, and origin, but does not give steeping directions. I looked up the company provided information on Steepster.

The sample size is 6g. I decided to split the sample in half for a 3g steep rather than dividing it into three 2g batches. The tea is rolled into very tight nuggets. It looks and smells similar to tiguanyin. I steeped this between 5-6 minutes in 12oz of water at about 90C. The leaf expanded dramatically from the tiny nuggets. After the first steep it still isn’t completely relaxed but appears to be some whole leaf and large pieces.

The color of the brew in the French press is green tinted amber. The smell of the wet leaf is vegetal like steamed broccoli. The liquor in the cup is more orange yellow in color. The taste is a bit sweet and floral. This tea is grown along with pear trees so it will absorb the sweet fragrance of the fruit. This is a lightly oxidized tea with no hint of smoke or roastiness. It is slightly astringent but not bitter. I notice it is leaving my lips feeling numb and tingly. The aftertaste is very fresh and green. As I continue to sip I notice the mouth feel has a light milky quality and the taste is mildly buttery.

For the second steep I went 4 minutes. The flavor did suffer a bit with the shorter steep. It was very similar to the first but less intense and no numbing qualities. The third steep I went 6 minutes. Still flavorful however it is starting to drop off. I think the proper method on this tea would be 4 minutes on the first steep, 5m, & 6m while increasing the temperature slightly each time.

I can certainly find nothing negative to say about this tea, other than the price is higher than I normally feel comfortable paying. If you use 3g as I did that is roughly $1 a mug. If you steep it 3 times it brings the per mug price down to about $0.32. Compared to restauraunt tea that is actually pretty inexpensive.

Sample provided by Fong Mong Tea Shop

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Teavivre, Jasmine Silver Needle White Tea (Mo Li Yin Zhen)

This came as a sample provided by Teavivre. This tea is so light and fluffy it barely fit in the sample bag – seriously. When I opened the bag I was hit with the jasmine scent. I was a little afraid as it seemed very strong, like many of the jasmines I have tried and not liked in the past. Within moments the scent calmed down and mellowed into that beautiful fragrance I love so dearly in their Jasmine Dragon Pearls (my favorite Teavivre tea).

The leaf itself is gorgeous. So light in color and almost brittle looking. Trying to measure out the proper amount for a mug took guesswork. I kept spooning it out until it ‘looked’ like the right amount in the bottom of my French press. In my kettle I heated 12oz of water until it steamed, then let it cool until it stopped making noise and poured. I steeped this for about a minute and a half. The liquor had the faintest yellow tint in the press and looked nearly clear as it poured. The wet leaf gives off an intoxicating aroma somewhere between honeysuckle and grape. Love it.

The sip is jasmine, the good kind – not overwhelming and not medicinal or fake. In addition there is something I did not expect. This tastes and feels very milky to me. It’s almost creamy moving across the tongue. Really nice. At first I was having trouble picking out the white tea. Then I realized it was largely in the aftertaste. It is more noticeable in later steeps. Though the flavor profile is a bit different, this is every bit as delicious as the beloved jasmine pearls. This is seriously good.

Thank you Teavivre for sharing this tea and for showing me again that jasmine (done right) can be a work of art.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Teavivre, Fengqing Dragon Pearl Black Tea

Opening the package and viewing the contents is kind of like journeying to another world and trying to figure it out. The closest comparison I have experienced to these pearls is jasmine pearls but these are much larger. They look like miniature flowering tea pods. I am looking at them and trying to figure out how many do I use? I went with 5 as that seems to be the starting point I have read in other reviews. While I am pondering, I notice these smell like unsweetened chocolate.

I steeped 5 pearls in my French press with 12oz boiling water for a minute and a half. The time and temperature are per Teavivre’s instructions and they have not let me down yet. The pearls immediately begin to bubble and then expand and open in the hot water. It was fun to watch. In the press the brew is as amber as it is brown. Once poured it looks much darker in the cup. The leaf smells of lightly smoked chocolate hay.

While the tea is hot I get a light malt and a bit of tongue tingle in the sip. Surprisingly not much else given the aroma wafting off the cup. I am catching the smoke in the aftertaste. I am not usually a smoky taste fan but this is at a very pleasant level. As the cup cools it develops a roastiness from the mid to end sip.

This is pleasant but not as full bodied as I was expecting. The amount of expanded chocolate brown leaf in the bottom of my press tells me I used a sufficient amount. So, either this is a very light bodied tea, or I need to increase the steep time.

I went 3 minutes on the second cup. The wet leaf and the brew have the same aromas as on the first cup. Now I catch a hint of smoke early in the sip and it is still quite pleasant.

I think the novelty of brewing this amazed me far more than the actual tasting. Don’t misunderstand, this is quite good. It just didn’t knock my socks off like almost everything else I have tried from Teavivre. I might add that my fellow reviewers at Steepster loved this particular tea.

Generous sample provided by Teavivre.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Faint Fuzzies

Venus Transit
This post was inspired by Alex Zorach’s Grasping The Aesthetic Of A Tea Company. It wasn’t anything he said, though he is often quite interesting. It was the picture he included of a nebula. You see I am a bit of a geek. I have an 8” dobsonian telescope and a 5 ½” short tube reflector on a computerized mount with GPS. The 8” scope was actually bought for my youngest son. He recently built solar filters for both scopes so we could view the Venus transit. If you missed it, it will not happen again in your lifetime. He took this picture with a webcam attached to the eyepiece. Yes, he has snatched the nerd pebble from my hand and yes, I am so proud.

During the summer, we take our scopes out into the night air and turn them upward to view distant galaxies and nebula. These are affectionately known as faint fuzzies to backyard astronomers. Why? Because that is exactly how they appear. You have seen the Hubble pictures with all the glorious color and great detail. Well, from your backyard, if you can find it, the same object will most likely appear as the faintest puff of smoke with no great detail. It is just a gray wisp that often you can only catch with averted vision. That means much of the time you can’t even look directly at it.

Why bother?

With the fabulous Hubble pictures on the Internet why go seaching for faint fuzzies? For some it is the hunt - The thrill of star hopping across the sky to point your scope at an elusive object that only a few people in the world have ever seen. For others it is the awe of knowing how unimaginably large and distant is that tiny dim object in the eyepiece. Even knowing the facts, you realize it is still impossible to truly grasp. For me looking up at the sky has always been a spiritual experience.

What does this have to do with tea?

The majority of tea consumed in America is Lipton and served over ice. Some of it is prepared well, most of it is not. The masses go through their day unaware, or at least unconcerned, that there are other teas. This is like the city dweller who has seen the moon and little else other than the sky glow from the city lights and is obliviously ok with it.

Some do branch out and grab a box of Bigelow, Twinings, Celestial Seasonings, or whatever else might be on their grocers shelves. These are equivalent to those who have seen the stars with their eyes and can find the big dipper and Orion’s belt. I have no figures to back it up but I imagine the proportion of the population that can claim even this level of achievement is not that large.

Once you move into loose leaf it is like backyard astronomy with a scope or binoculars. Yes, binoculars will reveal an incredible amount of the heavens and most people already own a pair. As in astronomy, with tea you are limited only by the amount of time you put into it and what you can afford. Even at the conservative end of the frugal loose leaf scale, where the Everyday Tea Drinker here often resides, there are plenty of truly amazing tastes, aromas, and adventures awaiting.

Every now and then you have a night where the sky just cooperates. The atmosphere is clear and steady. You get the opportunity to view something you have never been able to catch before and you are inspired and amazed. I have had steeping sessions like that. Where everything comes together and notes never even hinted at before pop out in the sip. These are moments when all you can do is set back and go wow!

Then there are times when you research a tea and learn where it comes from and how rare it is, and about the conditions in which it is grown. You get a glimpse of how difficult it really was just to bring that leaf to your cup and you are amazed. It is like studying one of the faint fuzzies and grasping for the first time what you are seeing.

My favorite times with tea are similar to my favorite nights of stargazing. When my steeping becomes a spiritual event. When attention to detail pays off in enjoyment of the dance of the leaf and all the aromas wafting above the liquid ambrosia. I take the warm cup in hand, bring it to my lips and sip. The world around me ceases to exist in that instant, as I drink in the moment. I meditate on the smell, the taste, and the feel of the liquor as it glides over the tongue. I am at once relaxed, refreshed, and renewed. Then I find myself energized to take on the rest of the day. These transcendent moments, like the faint fuzzies, take effort but are worth the effort.

If your tea journey parallels one of your hobbies, I would love to hear about it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Teavivre, Yunnan Dian Hong Black Tea

When Teavivre offered their latest round of very generous samples, I asked for this one specifically. This is the lowest priced level of the 3 Dian Hong black teas they sell. Even at the low cost this is still a quality loose leaf tea with a fair amount of golden tips mixed in with darker leaf. The dry leaf is a bit malty and has some tobacco leaf scent. I used about 3g (a healthy spoon) and just below boiling water, steeping for 3 minutes in my French press. The liquor is a dark and clear caramel. The wet leaf scent reminds me of brownies. Like baked caramelized sugar and chocolate. (yeah, I know - Yum! Right?)

Comparing this to Golden Tips or Sun Moon Lake is unfair, but I can’t help it as I just reviewed the latter. So let me get this out of my system - This does not have the wonderful sweet potato notes of the Golden Tips, and it does not have the amazing honey and mint of the Sun Moon Lake. So, in this unfair comparison this tea starts off by sounding a little bland. Yet it is a mere $6.90/100g compared to $16.90 and $29.99 respectively. The truth is this is a really good tea on its own strengths. It is smooth and malty. I don’t know how this is processed and fired but I detect a very light amount of smoke in the cup. That adds character and depth. The cooler the cup gets the more the flavor pops.

At the price point of this tea, having a nice Dian Hong for everyday would be enough. Yet, I haven’t even gotten to the reason I requested this sample. I had a hunch about this tea that I just had to try. I brewed the second cup and poured it over ice. As I suspected, this made a refreshing light glass of iced tea. Where as the mighty Golden Tips faltered over ice, this frugal version took it in stride. No sweetener or lemon required. There was one problem with it – my glass emptied way too fast :)

One last thing, I steeped this 3 times and it was still going strong. Let’s see Twinings do that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fong Mong Tea Shop, Sun Moon Lake Black Tea

Fong Mong Tea Shop is a seller of high quality Taiwan Formosa teas, specializing in oolongs (though today’s review is a black tea). Recently, they offered for a limited time to send samples to reviewers. I grabbed at the chance to try their tea. On the Everyday Tea Blog, I tend to concentrate on teas I consider to be frugal choices. That means I look for the best quality for the money. That generally means teas that are priced at $2-5/oz or roughly $6-14 for 100g (3.5oz). Fong Mong teas are higher, running $30 for 100g. Now before you let that scare you away consider that with multiple steeps and using 3g/cup that brings the cost to a reasonable $0.30/cup.

This is the first sample I grabbed out of box. It is also my first black tea from Taiwan, at least that I am aware. I want to mention the packaging. The samples are vacuum packed in very heavy silver pouches. Once cut open, the first thing I notice is an oxygen absorber in the pouch. That’s different. The tea type is listed on the label but there are no steeping instructions. I had to go online to locate this information from their web store.

The leaf is dark and thick. The smell is similar to a Yunnan Dian Hong but more wine like. Kind of like a chocolate wine would smell. Very nice. I brewed for 3 minutes with just below boiling water in my French Press. The resulting liquor is a beautiful clear dark caramel. Fong Mong calls the color carmine, which is a vivid red. Scent is the same as the dry leaf.

With the first sip the sensation was instantly caramel, then grapes, and then Yunnan black. There is a healthy dose of malt in the smell and in the taste. While I don’t detect it in the scent, I noticed the cooling sensation of mint in mid sip and can taste it on my breath. This tea has a natural sweetness to it that tastes like honey on the lips. Strangely, considering the sweetness, it seems slightly drying like a red wine. There is not even a hint of bitterness in this cup. This is so good.

I find I have been programmed by years of English breakfast teas to expect a black tea to taste strong with a heavy bite that verges on and often surpasses bitterness. Not even close to what you’ll get from this tea. The China blacks and now this from Taiwan have shown me I have been missing an entire delicious side of black tea. This is excellent. I know reviews often read like propaganda written by an advertisement department, but this tea really is as amazingly good as it sounds. I am honored to have experienced it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Teavivre, Mengku Palace Ripened Golden Buds Loose Puerh 2007

I tried to not open my latest round of samples from Teavivre until I had finished a few of my open teas. I tried. I really did. We had a lot of fatty foods at work because of a birthday celebration (not mine). There are free Cokes but puerh just sounded better for dealing with the oncoming food abuse.

The loose leaf is on the small side and a good mix of dark chocolate brown to golden cocoa in color. You can tell it is golden buds. The scent is (ahem) horse barn, yeah, yeah, I know, people who drink puerh must be crazy people. I offer no excuse except we can’t help ourselves. I steeped the leaf for a little over a minute in boiling water. I did not do a rinse. We shall see if that was a mistake. The brew began to pour out as a root beer colored liquor that halfway through the pour suddenly gushed forth the darkest chocolate brown. The full cup looks like coffee. The wet leaf scent is as the dry leaf.

The sip is smooth horse tack along with the sensation of mint without the taste of mint. A rinse is definitely not necessary and might be considered a crime in certain crowds. It seems to have a natural sweetness of its own. I added sweetener anyway. It really didn’t improve the flavor. That’s interesting. Usually I find it amplifies notes I was missing. Not this time.

Halfway through the first mug, I get the first tummy rumblings. I have mentioned the rumblings in other reviews but I have never explained it. Puerh is not a laxative. It works similar to yogurt by encouraging healthy intestinal cultures used in digestion. Great for preparing your gut for fatty abuse.

Second cup I went two minutes and the liquor looks like ink in the cup. The wet leaf now smells mostly of horse tack. With the first sip I notice a sticky lip feel. I don’t know what causes it but I always like it. This cup takes right off where the first left off. There is nothing foul or off-putting in the taste. Just wonderful leathery goodness.

Cup three at about 2 1/2 minutes. The brew in the French press is orange red. It now looks like tea in the mug. The sip, in addition to the leather which is decreasing in strength, has now developed some mushroom notes and a bit of creaminess to the mouth feel.

Cup four, I think I went 4 minutes. Lighter than the third but still reasonably dark and flavorful. I think the leaf might go another but I can’t so this is where I am quitting.

This is so much smoother than Teavivre’s touchas, and while the flavor is similar, here there are no sharp edges. Just a good leathery shu.

Friday, June 8, 2012

TeaVivre, Monkey Picked (Ma Liu Mie) Tie Guan Yin Oolong

Seriously, who could resist trying a tea with this clever name? I did not intend to break into my latest round of samples from TeaVivre this soon, but they were there. Well you know how it is. Actually this sample pouch was not completely sealed. I might not have noticed but there were monkey droppings in the bottom of the bigger pouch in which it was packed ;) Being sealed in the larger pouch, the tea is still fresh and no harm done. Since it is open let’s have at it.

Before I start my review, for those who are interested in how this tea got its name - there is a fun article on the Gong Fu Girl blog, titled Monkeys, Tea Leaves and Lies.

The nuggets look like normal tiguanyin. I forgot to sniff the dry leaf. Steeped in my press for 3 minutes with boiling water. The brew is a green tinted amber. It is extremely clear yet dense. That probably makes no sense but I stared through the press at it for a few seconds as I found its beauty fascinating. This is my first monkey picked oolong. The rich roasted aroma coming off the brew caught me by surprise. I try not to read other reviews or company flavor profiles before tasting. You can also catch the oolong in the scent. The leaf did not fully open on the first steep.

The sip is like a wave crashing over the tongue. It begins as a hearty roasted blast breaking on the taste buds. Next, splashing up is a moment of intense milkiness. Then as the flavor begins to recede, the tiguanyin is revealed. The aftertaste is somewhere between tgy and watermelon rind.

Second cup I went 1 minute. I got interrupted and the cup sat after I poured for several minutes. This cup is very different from the first. The roasted notes are much more subdued. This tastes like a mild genmaicha has been brewed with tiguanyin. There is also another note, not exactly earthy, but not really woodsy in mid sip that others are calling nutty.

Third cup back at 3 minutes. Pretty much this is now a straight mild tiguanin. Sweet. It has a nice lingering fruity aftertaste. There is still a lot of flavor and more steeps left in this but I have to call it quits for the day.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Twinings, Darjeeling

I have been drinking Twinings tea for years. I am not sure how I have missed trying this one until now. Then again, I have only drank two other Darjeeling teas. The first was by Ahmad. It is a terrific inexpensive tea. The second I have on most Saturdays at our local Steak N Shake. The Mother Parkers tea bags they use make a delicious cup that takes cream and sugar very well. I am looking forward to trying Twinings take on this tea. I am using the loose leaf version.

I open the tin and sniff. The dry leaf smells of straw. That is a different smell than hay. Straw smells less sweet and less green. I used a generous ½ scoop (my scoop is the 7g scoop that comes with the Bodum press), boiling water, and a 3 minute steep. The brew is a neat orange root beer color. This is very finely cut CTC but bigger than dust, so it didn’t make too much of a mess in the French press. Any finer and it would require a Finum filter basket for easier clean up. CTC or Cut Torn Curled is typical of many typical black teas. Dust is typical of tea bagged tea.

The sip yields a light bodied cup with mild fruity notes. It has a bit of the flavor of the grape leaves our local Chinese restaurant uses in some of their dishes. As the cup cools I am noticing a malt scent as I sip. This is a very drying tea. It is not bitter, just very astringent. If you are sensitive to black teas, it is not a good idea to sip this on an empty stomach.

I have to say I prefer Ahmad and Mother Parkers over this offering from Twinings. It’s not horrible. I just think you can do better. The flavor is thinner than I like. Although it does improve considerably as the cup cools. It is too astringent, at least for me, and having it instead of breakfast left me with a burning sensation. Nice fruity aftertaste though.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Empire Tea Services, Tea & Herb

Ingredients: Ceylon de-caf black tea, Chamomile, Orange peel, Lemon Myrtle, Lemon grass, Hibiscus, Spearmint, Rose petals, Lavender flowers, Anise, Cinnamon, Apple bits and Strawberry flavoring.

Check out how pretty the blend is in the picture. According to the label on the package, this is a decaf black tea with fruit pieces, cinnamon, and orange rind. I wrote Empire Tea Services to find out what else is in this as this tea is not on their website. They wrote back quickly with the complete ingredient list shown above. They also stated they are in the process of planning a major web update. Their website has always been a bit confusing, so I am looking forward to the redesigned layout. This tea will be added to their site at that time.

My wife bought this one. She is always on the lookout for a good caffeine free cup. Normally that means herbal. Not today! The first time we brewed this we over steeped a bit. The color of the brew was almost grape Kool-Aid. The next time I only went two minutes. The brew on a short steep is honey colored.

The brew smells a bit spearminty. I only slightly detect that element in the sip. The decaf Ceylon base is very light. I can’t single out chamomile but it is in here as is rose and lavender and orange. Yes, it has hibiscus but it is well behaved, adding only the slightest tartness. I am not a tart fan so I would complain if it were. I am not doing a good job describing this as I cannot quite place the taste. The best I can do is say this is a tasty late night fruity desert sip. I really enjoyed this with a bit of sweetener, and my wife is happy with it so I will gladly sip this with her in the evening .

Update: After drinking this several times I am now learning to separate some of the flavors. The spearmint is light and is used to support the combination of rose and lavender. The hibiscus as I mentioned earlier adds just a hint of tartness. The strawberry, apple, orange, and lemon give it a healthy fruity base. This is kind of like Kool-Aid for grown-ups.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Empire Tea Services, Scent Of Bergamot

The ingredients listed on the sample are a bit different than that on the website: Black tea, lavender, lemon myrtle, orange peel, Spanish safflower, red berries, flavors.

This was a sample given to me with my recent purchase. The leaf is really interesting to look at. It resembles herbal tea. The pieces are all fine and feathery – like potpourri. I am not sure how they came up with the name for this, as bergamot is not a listed ingredient. I do taste the lemon myrtle. I was concerned that the lavender would be too much but that is not the case. If you add sweeteners, take it easy as this has a natural sweetness but I don’t think it contains stevia as I don’t detect any bitterness. It isn’t tart. If there is hibiscus in this it is very well done. I actually like this. Too bad it isn’t decaf. It kind of reminds me of a flavored rooibos but not really. It’s kind of cherry but not really. The best I can describe it is Yankee Candle meets dried flower craft aisle meets hippie incense. Far out man. Peace!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Empire Tea Services, Earl Grey Pai Mu Tan Chinese White

This tea is the main reason I recently drove 65 miles to Empire Tea Services. I have had several of their teas and all have been exceptional. This one, like most of their offerings, was $8.00 for 3 1/2oz (100g). I have never had a white Earl Grey before so I really don’t know what to expect with this one. The Earl Green I bought last trip has an outstanding leaf base and is heavily bergamot flavored with peppery notes. The De La Crème is wonderfully chocolate and vanilla. The bergamot starts more subdued but brightens into a delicious creamy cup of Ceylon based Earl Grey.

On to this tea. Taking the leaf out of the bag I see long wiry, almost black strands (stems?), along with the traditional looking green/white fuzzy leaf. The dry leaf smells of bergamot. It is a just guess at how much leaf to use. I don’t have a scale and this is so wiry I had to judge by how it looked in the bottom of the press.

I ignored the brewing directions on the package. I have enough experience with Empire to know I like tea prepared differently than they prescribe. I used just steaming water and a two minute steep. The liquor is bright and clear with a beautiful yellow/green tint. The wet leaf is Empire’s bergamot and a fresh green leaf scent.

There are three guys at work that I rotate sharing my tea with. Today’s lucky taster’s reaction to this was, “flowers”. The bergamot is strong but not overpowering. It is not bright or tart and not perfumey. This is a white tea. You can taste the tea base. You just aren’t going to pick out melon or cucumber subtleties. That's the downside of a flavored tea. Three solid steeps. The fourth was weak until it really cooled off.

This is like earl green lite minus the pepper notes. Resteeps well. A pretty good value. I liked this a lot but was not immediately blown away. I tried it again a couple days later and learned a few things. This is better than I first thought. The first time, I had it immediately after drinking De La Creme Earl Grey. That one overpowered this one, making it seem less than it is. Second, I learned the vast majority of the stems were in the top of my tea pouch. I think I got the bottom of the bag. I could have picked them out but they really were only a visual issue. So to save time I just mixed them in with the rest of the tea.