Sunday, September 29, 2013

Concept Teas, White Peony

Concept Teas Description:
We chose 2012 spring White Peony for you, which has been establishing own characters, with enriched aroma and less grassy tastes, during the past one year.
Early spring (around Qingming Festival) is also the best picking season for top quality White Peony while summer usually offers leaner tea leaves. With advanced gardening, tea leaves harvested during autumn are possible to make relatively high quality White Peony. Both buds and leaves are supposed to be picked up when they are still “young”. White Peony is made mostly from “one bud with one leaf” and supplemented by “one bud with two leaves”. During the process of withering, the leaf veins become red while the rest turns into gray or dark green. Silver buds being embraced by the “colorful” and naturally curly leaves, White Peony looks like the charming flower, as the name indicates.

Origin: Fuding, Fujian Province, China 
Age: 2012 spring

Sample provided by Concept Teas 

My Review:
This is the second sample I received from Concept Teas. As I opened the bag the fresh leaf aroma filled the air. It is like a fresh mowed meadow drenched in morning dew. I scooped out two bamboo spoons of leaf and examined before I put it in my press. This is the best looking white peony leaf I have seen to date.  

Some of this is silver and down covered buds as beautiful as silver needle. The remaining leaves are a mixture - some green, some gray, and some olive colored. The combination of leaf and bud is quite striking. 

I steeped this with filtered water at 175 F for 3 minutes. Most people would probably steep this at around 195 F for 6 minutes. White Peony is usually pretty forgiving, so see what works best for you. The wet leaf is caramel and earth in scent. The resulting liquor is yellow like a fine white wine.

The first thing I noticed when sipping was a slight bite in the sip. Interesting. There is no bitterness and no harsh edges. The taste is fresh hay with malty undertones. This is slightly sweet and easily drinkable. Though white peony produces a mellow cup I find this particular one very well defined with excellent depth. The sweet aftertaste stays with you long after the tea disappears. The more the cup cooled the more fruity this became. At one point it almost tasted like grapefruit.

I am very impressed with this Fujian white peony. Top notch from beginning to end. Highly recommended.

I prepared this today at 190 F with a 2 minute steep. It loses the slight bite and the malty undertones BUT it is amazingly fresh and perfect this way. This is fresh hay like leafy tasting with melon notes. In many ways it reminds me of silver needle but it retains the white peony qualities as well. 190 F makes a much better cup.

Visit Concept Teas website. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Concept Teas, Silver Needle White Tea

Concept Teas Description:
Silver Needle (Bai Hao Yin Zhen in Chinese) is considered as the top grade white tea for its rarity and legendary health benefits. Its name comes from the appearance – tippy all over, needle-shaped and with “shimmering” pure silver color. The top quality Silver Needle is from the first terminal bud, of which the picking season is limited to only a couple of days during early spring (usually before Qingming Festival), when the buds are fresh and bold but not open yet. After spring, the newborn buds are mostly lateral and leaner. There are also some criteria for choosing an ideal day for picking, namely “sunny and lower humidity days preferred” while “rainy or foggy days avoided”. The terminal buds can be picked up alone. Alternatively, they can be picked up as “one bud with one leaf” or “one bud with two leaves”, and then separated afterwards. Historically as royal tribute, Silver Needle nowadays, especially the top grade, is still short of worldwide demand for its geographic exclusivity and limit production volume. It is sometimes used as the “embellishment” in blended tea to “improve” the grade.

Origin: Fuding, Fujian Province, China
Type: white tea, loose leaf
Age: 2013 spring

Sample provided by Concept Teas

My Review:
Concept Teas is another new to me company registered in Sweden with bases in Sweden and China. First, I want to mention the care taken getting this sample to me. I was informed their normal practice is to box up larger quantities of leaf for mailing. Since samples are small, to avoid waste and be affordable, they came in an envelope. Diana at Concept Teas was concerned the air mail trip from China could crunch this precious leaf so she pre-warned me and even emailed me a picture of the envelope.

She needn't have worried. The envelope arrived in perfect shape. When I opened the protective bubble-wrap envelope and looked inside, there was a heavy duty aluminum packing bag securely and tightly taped shut. Inside, I found two plastic bag wrapped samples whose leaves were still perfectly formed and whole. Good job on the packing.

The photo above of the leaf was taken by Diana. There is no way I could capture the beauty that is Silver Needle any better than she has already done. It really is exquisite.

The scent of the dry leaf is sweet hay. The fresh aroma hit me the moment I opened the bag. I used two bamboo scoops of leaf in my press and 190 F water with a 3 minute steep per concept teas recommendation. The leaf danced mostly on the surface during steeping. That is why I love a glass press. Watching the leaf and inhaling the aromas are, for me, a very important part of the process.

The resulting liquor is honey yellow and very clear. I noted a few downy silver hairs from the leaf floating in the cup. The wet leaf has changed from silver to shiny pea green. The leaf aroma is vegetal and earthy.

The sip is sweet, hay, and light earthiness. Late in the sip it develops light melon notes. The sweet aftertaste lingers long after the tea is gone. As the cup cooled it took on a more citrus profile that I found appealing.

I had enough of this sample to experiment. I next prepared this in a gaiwan. I again used 190 F filtered water and steeped about 1 min. Holy cow, I did not like the results at all. I am just learning to brew in a gaiwan but to me, the leaf scent was a combination burnt caramel and cigarettes. The sip I felt was lacking and suffering from scorched leaf. I prepared several more infusions each time reducing the water temp and increasing the steep time slightly. It became much better but never really recovered completely.

My third attempt - and my favorite - was again with the glass press. This time I used 175 F filtered water (80 C) and steeped about 1 1/2 minutes. The liquor is very lightly tinted and reminded me of white wine. The sip was fresh and sweet like hay with floral notes. This Fuding white again produces some light earthiness, citrus, and melon that I found pleasant. This is a very fine example of a Fuding Silver Needle.

This has proven to be a very valuable and tasty experience. The results changed drastically with only slight variations of brewing technique. I recommend you experiment with time, temperature, and steeping vessel to find your own sweet spot. Keep notes of what you have done and the results.

Silver needle is far more subtle than the black teas (known as red tea in China) most western taste buds are accustomed to sipping. It does not grab you by the throat like a breakfast tea. It is a tea to sip and fully experience. Yes, it is more expensive than the average everyday tea but re-steeps well and has excellent depth of flavor. In truth, the per cup cost is a lot cheaper than you are paying for an average cup of meh at your local coffee shop and the quality is truly excellent.

Visit Concept Teas website.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Solstice Brews, Gemini- Moroccan Mint Tea

Solstice Brews Description:
Bright. Lively. Cooling
Like a Gemini, the snappy flavors of this Moroccan Mint variant will certainly get you speeding along.
Box of 15 tea bags
Ingredients: Gunpowder green tea, Peppermint, Lemongrass, Spearmint, Tarragon

Price: $4.00

Sample provided by Solstice Brews

My Review:
This is the third in the astrology line I have to review from Solstice Brews. I don't recall ever having a Moroccan mint tea before, so this will be a first for this flavored green tea.

I used 190F water and steeped in a cup for 3 minutes. I then removed the bag. The brew was lightly green tinted toward the surface and more amber looking towards the bottom.

When I removed the bag I noticed it was swollen to the limits. I think next time I will try tearing open the bag and put the contents in a Finum basket or use my press to set the leaf free.

The initial taste was spearmint. That doesn't surprise me. I am not the biggest fan of spearmint. After the initial shock wore off I tasted again. Now it seems much less intense. Next, I get a brief moment of light bite from the gunpowder green tea. I suspect I got the water a little too hot - easily fixable. Next comes tarragon. Tarragon? Yep. Never had that in tea before, except once when trying to make my own blend. It works here much better. I am really bad at blending. I'm thankful others (like Solstice Brews) have the know how. The tarragon adds interest as I really wasn't expecting it. The lemongrass and peppermint I don't particularly single out as they seem to be in the support roles here.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I have never had a Moroccan Mint before. I have no idea if this is a good example. I can tell you it was pleasant and different at the same time. There was definitely enough interaction between the ingredients to give it depth and interest. I have only prepared this once as I have been buried with schoolwork. I hope to update this review after I resample it. I liked it well enough but I think I can get more out of it with a little adjusting on my part.

Visit the Solstice Brews website.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Solstice Brews, Cancer- Caramel Pecan Rooibos Tea

Solstice Brews Description:
Comforting. Rich. Creamy.
Cancers are a big fan of comfort foods, hence why this decadent treat is modeled after pecan pie.
Box of 15 tea bags
Ingredients: Rooibos, Caramel pieces, Pecan oil, Red Clover Blossoms

Price: $4.00

Sample provided by Solstice Brews

My Review:
This is the second of three Solstice Brews teas I will be reviewing. This is from their astrology line. This is also a rooibos blend. I have not reviewed a 'red' tea in a long time. Not actually a tea since it contains no camellia sinensis leaf. Rooibos is a bush grown in South Africa. It starts out green and is oxidized similarly to tea resulting in the familiar red color.

I poured boiling water over the bag and steeped for 6 minutes before tasting. I actually left the bag in the cup the entire time I was sipping. The brew is the familiar dark reddish brown. Likewise the scent is familiar to all who have tasted rooibos.

As an aside, I have heard various pronunciations of rooibos. The preferred, I believe, being roy-bus. Feel free to disagree.

Tasting is immediately rooibos. Of course, if you have never done so, that means little. It is very difficult to describe. Instead of a horizontal palette, I think of rooibos as a vertical spike. It is sweet like honey, woodsy, spicy - kind of like cinnamon, and caramel. Honestly it is its own thing and you will have to experience it yourself to decide if it appeals to you.

Where as a straight rooibos often grabs the back of my throat like sandpaper, a good blend will calm that behavior down. This is such a blend. After the initial spike of red tea it mellows into a pecan and caramel mixture. I don't know what the red clover is doing in the mix but I assume adding a touch of sweetness. 

I found myself pulling the cup away from my lips to look at it and contemplate. That is a good thing. This was different, interesting, and delicious.

If you have a dislike of all things rooibos, be warned. This is definitely red tea. If you find it comforting and you are avoiding caffeine, this is a warm rich blend. Nicely done.

Visit the Solstice Brews website.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Solstice Brews, Sagittarius- Cranberry Chamomile Tea

Solstice Brews Description:
Cheery. Vivacious. Golden.
A bright, tangy blend is just the cup of tea for the adventuresome Sagittarius.
15 tea bags
Ingredients: Lemongrass, Orange Peel, Cranberries, Chamomile

Price: $4

Sample provided by Solstice Brews

My Review:
Today The Everyday Tea Blog takes a look at a new to me company Solstice Brew. They offer both tea and coffee selections. I'll leave the coffee to someone else to review.

From their about page: Focusing on fantasy and science fiction inspired tea, Solstice Brews aspires to introduce you to innovative blends that you can’t just get off the grocery store shelf... I wanted to offer the quirky blends of loose leaf in tea bag form using quality herbs and a flair for fantasy.

The first tea (tisane) that I will be reviewing is from their astrology line. The bag is tagless and stringless. It is a nicely plump bag and I can just make out some of the ingredients through the paper.

I boiled my water and poured over the bag in a 6 oz cup. The steep time was 6 minutes before first taste. Because it is a tisane, I left the bag in the cup without fear of bitterness.

The cup was lightly yellow colored. The flavor was equally delicate. The main note was cranberry. This made for a quiet, slightly tart, but pleasant cup. This is quite different than I was expecting from their description. I actually preferred this over the loud, boisterous, hibiscus driven flavors I normally encounter in herbal blends.

After a few sips, as is my custom, I added some Splenda. The addition of sweetener completely changed the cup. This was about as radical of a transformation as I have noted.

With sweetener the chamomile influence came forth and mixed with the orange, lemongrass, and cranberry tasted (to me at least) like the warm cinnamon flavored apple sauce my grandmother used to serve. I loved this. Maybe you will have a completely different reaction to this cup, which is the beauty of an interesting cup. Anytime you can transport me back through time to enjoy a moment with a beloved long passed grandmother, you get extra points from me. Can a slice of her lemon pie be far behind?

Oh, and be sure to visit Soltice Brews website.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Justea, African Chai

Justea Description:
Our African Chai is whole leaf Kenyan black tea with organic African spices and rose/safflower petals.

“The fennel, clove, coriander and liquorice root makes this chai smooth and silky on the palate. This African chai is balanced – it has a tea hit first and then a sweet finish”
~Brendan Waye, Tea Sommelier

Sample provided by Justea

My Review:
This is my third sample from JusTea. The first two, both loose leaf prepared in the orthodox method, were very good. The majority of all black tea is grown in Kenya but almost all of it is ground to dust and put in a tea bag. I had no idea how amazingly tasty it could be when processed in this manner.

I am a bit anxious about this review. I am not a big chai fan. I drink it on occasion but never really crave it. Removing the top of the sample pouch introduces me to the spicy aroma of this tea. I actually find the scent appealing. First I notice clove and it briefly reminds me of Constant Comment. The similarity ends there as I next get notes of fennel, maybe pepper and cinnamon. Neither are listed as ingredients so it may just be my mind trying to comprehend all the aromas.

I used about 2 tsp in my press with 190 F water and steeped for 3 minutes. The result is an orange brew that makes me think fall. The air outside is quite cool today so perfect timing. The wet leaf has more of a potpourri smell.

Wow, the sip is nothing like the dry or wet aroma. My first thought was hot spiced apple cider. There is a pepperiness late in the sip that adds adventure to the sip. I could see the rose and safflower petals expand while brewing but I cannot single them out in the cup. I was curious how the fennel and licorice would play out as I understand not everyone likes these flavors. You needn't fear, they also do not over exert themselves. The tea base is mostly sensed in the aftertaste. Sipping through half the cup I stand by my original thought of hot spiced apple cider.

At this point I added a splash of milk. It is my understanding the traditional method of preparing chai is to boil the tea in the milk. Not going to try doing it that way. The splash of milk turned the cup a cloudy vanilla caramel color. It changed the flavor as well. Now it more resembles what I picture when I think of chai. I don't know the spice flavors well enough to explain it better.

Honestly, I can't tell you if this is good chai because it is not a type of tea I understand enough to know. I can say the Kenyan black tea and Kathryne Earl Grey were both excellent in my opinion. Based on those teas I fell comfortable recommending this one. I would drink it without the milk as I really liked the spicy cider taste.

A note on JusTea. They are a non-profit organization whose goal is to train the local Kenyan farmers to process the leaf themselves. This will allow the farmers to earn more from their farms, giving them the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. This is an excellent program worthy of support. The bonus for the tea drinker is Kenyan tea properly processed is really, really, good.

Visit the JusTea website to help a good cause.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Justea, Kathryne Kenyan Earl Grey

Justea Description:
Our Kathryne Earl Grey tea is whole leaf Kenyan black tea leaves cold-pressed with organic Mediterranean bergamot oil.

“Rich, robust, clean, mouthy…has a lot of body to it. This is going to make a fantastic cup of rich, rich African Earl Grey!”
~Brendan Waye, Tea Sommelier

Sample provided by Justea

My Review:
JusTea is a non-profit organization whose goal is to help the small tea farmer of Kenya. This is to be accomplished by teaching the farmers to process their own leaf rather than selling the raw leaf to the factories. The average farmer, according to JusTea, makes roughly $2 a day from their efforts. By selling direct through JusTea, the farmer will earn half the selling price of the tea instead of 1%.

I have already sampled the black tea and found it to be superb and beyond my expectations. This tea will be the true test for me as I not only love Earl Grey but have some very definite opinions of how it should taste. I am proceeding with cautious optimism.

The sample came sealed in simple looking brown non-resealable pouch. As I understand it, if you order this tea it does come in a resealable pouch. I cut the top off and took a deep whiff. Glorious bergamot and a hint of spice and pepper. Interesting.

I used about 2 tsp in my press and 190F water. The steep was 3 minutes. The liquor is the same beautiful red orange that I noted of the black tea. The aroma is definite Earl Grey but not in an overpowering way.

The sip is quite lovely. My normal everyday Earl uses Ceylon tea and has a heavy bite to it. This is so opposite but instantly likeable. The Kenyan tea base is very smooth and malty. The bergamot is much lighter than the pouch smell would suggest, yet the level matches the base perfectly. It is somewhere between floral and fruity and not fake or perfumey.

Out of curiosity I iced down the tea. I would normally have used less water while brewing so the ice would not water down the glass. Even though this is a little weak from the ice it holds its flavor and is very refreshing. I noted the colder it got the more enjoyable it became.

Neither hot or iced resulted in any bitterness or tongue grabbing astringency. It is slightly drying.

I really liked this version of the classic. Kathryne Earl Grey is a gentler smoother version that is flavorful but not overly heavy on the bergamot (by my standards). I definitely recommend this to the Earl Grey connoisseurs out there.

Visit the JusTea website to help a good cause.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Justea, Kenyan Black Tea

Justea Description:
Our whole leaf Kenyan black tea is malty, fresh, clean and full bodied.

“The fresh factor makes it explode on the palate! It cups out as being very very good tea… I think we got a winner here.”
~Brendan Waye, Tea Sommelier

Sample provided by JusTea

My Review:
This tea is about more than just tea. This is about giving the little guy an opportunity to succeed. I did not realize Kenya was the major supplier of black tea found in most tea bags. The majority of that tea is grown on small farms. It is then sold to the factories for processing. The farmer ends up making approximately 1% of the final selling price. Even with the bonus system in place in Kenya most farmers live in poverty.

JusTea is a non-profit organization hoping to change this cycle for as many farmers as they can. Their dream is to teach the farmers to hand process the leaf themselves in the orthodox method. This will allow the farmers to increase profits and provide a better future for their families.

So how is the tea? I opened the sample bag and set the leaf free. This is definitely not standard CTC dust found in your average grocery store bag. This is broken pieces of pekoe. Think about the size of Twinings loose leaf. The scent is nicely malt and seems very fresh.

I used 2 tsp and water heated to 190F, steeping for 3 minutes. The resulting brew was much deeper towards the red end of the orange scale than it appears in this picture. It is really pretty.

The taste is very surprising. I was expecting tea - you know, Lipton or some other common tasting brew. Nope, not even close. This is wonderfully malty. It is slightly sweet and not at all bitter. This has no rough edges. It is silky smooth and very full flavored. The way I prepared it, this is slightly drying but does not seem astringent.

I am very surprised and impressed by this tea. Why on earth have the factories been grinding this up into powder and hiding it in a bag? Ordering from the JusTea partnership allows you to support the farmers directly. It is a good cause and an excellent tea.

Visit the JusTea website.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Blue Raven Tea Company, Maiden's Mead

Blue Raven Description:
A pleasing taste of honey and ginger. Ingredients: green tea, ginger bits, flavoring.

My Review:
I got this one in a mystery box. It was unopened, and I have no idea how old the package. I also could not find this one on the Blue Raven website. Oh well, that has never stopped me before.

This is an obvious green tea. If you notice in the picture, there are some twigs. They are not the color of the leaf so I am not sure if they are part of the tea or were added later. The aroma of the dry leaf is lightly licorice but that is not listed as an ingredient. I used a healthy scoop of leaf and water heated to 190F for a three minute steep. The result is a cloudy honey colored steaming cup. The nose is pleasantly floral with hints of licorice.

The sip is interesting. It is a lightly bitter green tea (I may have over heated the water) with a primary note of ginger and a lighter sweet note of honey. Late in the sip the licorice reemerges.

I am not sure what I think of this one. It is different and interesting. The flavors are well balanced. Despite the presence of the twigs this seems to be a quality offering. I just don't think it appeals to my tastes. I really can't say why. I like all the elements present, apparently just not combined together.

Visit the Blue Raven Tea Company site.