Friday, November 29, 2013

Simple Loose Leaf, Vanilla Decaf Black

Simple Loose Leaf Description:
A delicious whole leaf Ceylon Black Tea, decaffeinated by CO2 natural processing, combined with the smooth flavor of vanilla to create a deliciously sweet and sensual tea, perfect for an after-dinner treat.

Decaffeinated Ceylon Black Tea, Jasmine Flowers, N/A Vanilla Flavor

My Review:
I have been trying to review this tea for a month. Every time I brew a cup the aroma fills the air and my wife smells it and takes the cup out of my hands. I think that is a good sign for Simple Loose Leaf. Not so much for me. So to be perfectly honest, what I am reviewing today is cup number two from the same leaves.

The dry scent is intoxicating - vanilla and light jasmine. Mmmmmm. The leaf is large pieces of leaf. No CTC here. There are a number of jasmine flowers spread throughout the mix. I used one scoop (about 3g) and just boiling water in my press. The steep for the first cup was 3 minutes. I didn't get to taste it. :( The second cup was around 5 minutes.

The cup is a nice orange. The first cup was darker. The first sip reminds me of cotton candy. I love cotton candy. It is not bitter. I did not notice much drying. Being a Ceylon, both surprised me. I added a little sweetener at this point to see what happens.

This is a very warm cup of flavor. It tastes like caramel to my taste buds. Vanilla is a flavor that I tend to taste above everything else. This tea is no exception. Others often say the vanilla is very light but it is always the predominant note I catch. Here though it combines with the jasmine and the Ceylon base and leans heavily towards caramel. I am noticing as the cup cools the Ceylon base is apparent in the aftertaste. Bonus points for tasting the base in a vanilla tea!

My wife avoids caffeine. Me not so much. That said, I can see why she keeps taking my cup. Even though I had the second steep this is very nice.

Simple Loose Leaf is a fairly new company. They initially intended to offer only customized subscription monthly tea service but now sell by the ounce and sample sizes as well. The teas I have tried so far have been a solid value based on cost.

Visit the Simple Loose Leaf website.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Simple Loose Leaf, Lady Earl Grey Black

Simple Loose Leaf Description:
Our very popular Earl Grey blend of citrus bergamot over an extraordinary Nilgiri Black Tea with the added indulgence of Vanilla. This mouthwatering combination is the perfect invigorating treat. For the famed "London Fog" effect, add steamed milk and enjoy a smooth and creamy delight.

South Indian Flower Orange Pekoe Black Tea, Earl Grey Flavor, Vanilla Flavor, Cornflowers

Sample provided by Simple Loose Leaf

My Review:
OK, here's the deal. Simple Loose Leaf has set up a subscription system allowing the customer to pick what teas they will receive. You select the number of teas you would like and the quantity, Simple Loose Leaf then mails one tea per month. If you order beyond a certain amount the shipments are front loaded - meaning you will receive more than one tea per month. It sounds a bit confusing but it really isn't once you read their explanation.

The selection is good and the teas are reasonably priced. In fact the larger your subscription the more discount you receive on the cost. That is all well and good but only if the tea is worthy of being ordered. Let's see.

I received two teas this month. Vanilla Decaf Black for my wife and I to share and this Lady Earl Grey Black tea. As I cut the top off the package, I noticed a faint vanilla fragrance before actually pulling open the recloseable zip strip. Then as I got into the pouch I saw what I at first tought was a hole in the package. My heart sank. Then I realized it was part of a port in the back of the pouch. The apparent purpose seems to be to remove the air from inside the bag. I have never seen this before. It is a pretty cool idea.

The tea leaf is dark small twists with gold and blue petals. I used a scoop of leaf or about 3-4g in my press with water heated at 200F. I probably could have used full boil. The steep was three minutes.

The result is a dark orange liquor. The wet leaf is much larger pieces than I was expecting. My guess is this is orthodox produced leaf rather than CTC. The aroma is vanilla and very inviting.

The vanilla is to me the most noticeable flavor. The bergamot once you stop to analyze what you are slamming down becomes obvious. It is not perfumey or too citrus. From what I'm tasting, I suspect I would greatly enjoy their Earl Grey.

The Nilgiri black tea is smooth. There is a slight tartness but that may be from the bergamot. It is also slightly drying and that may be the vanilla. While it is difficult to single out the base this feels creamy and full.

This is called Lady Earl Grey not to be confused with Lady Grey by Twinings version. This is not the Twinings version. This is a very nice Earl Grey Creme.

If I have a real complaint it is that I wish the vanilla were just a bit toned down so the other elements could stand out. That is not a valid complaint though as I have said that of every vanilla and bergamot tea I have ever tried.

As I was typing this review I finished the first cup and immediately started a second. Except, oops, I forgot to pour it. So cup two has steeped 10 minutes! with full boiling water. The color is interesting depending on the light it is either deep caramel or nearly crimson. Amazingly the long steep has not hurt this at all. In fact I may prefer the second cup. It seems smoother and deeper in flavor. A very nice cup that did not turn bitter.

I am very impressed with the packaging and the leaf quality. This Earl Grey creme otherwise known as Lady Earl Grey is well worth the price.

Since designing my own subscription I notice you can now order tea in 1oz, 2oz, & 4oz increments as well as sample sizes.

Visit the Simple Loose Leaf site.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Life In Teacup, 2010 Da Dian Mang Fei Ancient Tree Sheng

Life In Teacup Description:
Harvested in spring, compressed in autumn using traditional methods.

Sample provided by Life In Teacup

My Review:
It's been awhile since I have reviewed a sheng puerh. I'll be honest. I have no idea what makes for a good sheng. What I can tell you is what I like and what I don't.

I opened the sample pouch and inhaled. The scent was fresh and while not exactly green tea like, it was a very fresh aroma. The sample piece is large and has some green coloration. It pried apart pretty easily without a pick. The picture is what was left of the sample while preparing the first cup.

I used about 4g - approx 1/3 of the sample in my press with boiling water. I was tempted to gong fu brew it with my gaiwan but opted for the lazy less intensive method. I did not do a rinse. Instead I let the leaf rest and absorb the warm moisture in the freshly washed press.

The steep was 1 1/2 minutes. Long for a gaiwan but short by most western standards. The result is golden sunshine in a cup. The leaf is a mixture of green and brown with a marine scent.

The sip is bright and kind of metallic. I say that, but compared to many sheng I have tried this one is nicely civilized. You may not easily make this connection but the taste reminded me of frosted mini wheat cereal. I often eat them dry as a snack.

This has a thick syrupy feel, leaving my lips sticky. There is a nice amount of depth as the flavors morph gently as it is swallowed. The aftertaste is nicely green in flavor. One noteworthy thing is the tingly affect this is having on my cheeks. Puerhs that I tend to like generate a rumbling feeling in my stomach. This is one of those teas.

As the cup cooled I began to pick up on a light amount of leather - I love horse tack leather in the flavor. I found nothing in this that I considered out of place or offensive. This is an enjoyable cup from start to finish.

Obviously this will steep several times. Today I enjoyed two 12oz mugs. The second was as flavorful as the first.

Visit the Life In Teacup website.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Life In Teacup, Affair of Shui Xian & Rou Gui

Life In Teacup Description:
Blending Shui Xian and Rou Gui is a traditional way of making some "Da Hong Pao" products. Although anybody can blend two teas together, artistic blending can only be achieved by the most skillful and experienced tea workers. Instead of calling this product "Da Hong Pao", we give it its current name to honor the state-of-art blending, to clarify the "ingredients" of this tea, and to distinguish it from our other Da Hong Pao products which are made of Da Hong Pao (Qi Dan) cultivar.

Production Year: 2010
Production Season: Spring
Production Region: Fujian, Wuyi Mountain Region

Sample provided by Life In Teacup

My Review:
I grabbed this sample with no expectations. I had not read the description and was not familiar with the name of this tea. Upon opening the sample I may have gone, "Ooooh" out loud. This cannot be confirmed as there were no witnesses. The leaf is large and dark. The scent is of roasted goodness.

I used a large scoop due to the bulk of leaf in my press with 200 F water. The steep was 2 1/2 minutes which resulted in a root beer colored liquor whose aroma was pleasantly roasted.

This tea is a blend of Shui Xian and Rou Gui. The combination is warm, earthy, and sweet. The roasted aspect is a driving flavor that is balanced in the cup. It does not overwhelm. The aftertaste I am finding to linger with a green leafy aspect that surprises me in such a dark oolong. I have enjoyed a number of cheap bagged wuyi oolongs that are obviously attempting to imitate Da Hong Pao. They are generally pleasant enough but lack depth. This tea on the other hand is not only beautiful to look at, it is also rich in full flavor. Very nice.

Visit the Life In Teacup website.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Last Tea On Earth.

The title sounds ominous doesn't it? Well this post is much more lighthearted. RiverTea is a soon to open new company and in preparation of their website launch they recently held a contest on Steepster. Their question was, "If there were only 100 grams of your favourite tea available in the world, what would you do for it?"

There were a number of entries. RiverTea chose their top five to win 100 grams of their favorite tea of choice and three samples. This was a very generous offer and such a fun contest I could not pass up the opportunity to jump in with my submission. The following is my winning entry for your enjoyment:

For the last 100g of my favorite tea… my first thought was to hide it from everyone while hissing, “My precious.” But that would just lead to stale tea making me sad.
So, my second thought was to take (two) 2g samples and send them to Dr.’s Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler in hopes they could extract some viable DNA for cloning more of the precious leaf. Since Sheldon possesses the DNA of Leonard Nimoy, I feel certain he is very well versed on the subject and Amy probably already knows how to make it happen. The two samples, are not because there are two Drs. involved. It is because I am pretty certain Sheldon could not resist the temptation of trying a hot beverage of the last of this leaf.
With the remaining 96g I would invite my entire small town of 12k people in southern Indiana USA to have tea with me. Since everyone else here thinks all tea comes bagged in a yellow box, they won’t show and I will simply have to sip it all by myself… while hissing, “My precious.”

I'll be reviewing "my precious" RiverTea contest winning tea on this site in the near future. In the meantime, what would you do for the last 100 grams on earth of your favorite tea?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Life In Teacup, Wuyi Jin Jun Mei

Life In Teacup Description:
This Jin Jun Mei is not Zheng Shan Tang brand, whose price in China is about US$1500 per pound. This tea uses leaf materials from Wuyi Mountain and is made by the best tea workers of over 40 years of experience.

Production Year : 2013
Production Season: Spring
Production Region: Fujian Province, Wuyi Mountain region

Sample provided by Life In Teacup

My Review:
Every tea drinker has a favorite type of tea that just the mention of makes them a bit weak kneed. I love assertive Chinese greens and subtle Silver Needle whites, but a Fujian or Yunnan black tea (red tea in China) really gets my motor running.

I opened the sample bag to be greeted by a warm aroma reminiscent of my grandfathers pipe tobacco (minus the cherry) and sweet hay. The leaf is beautiful. Click on the picture above to expand it for a closer look. Simply gorgeous.

I used a scoop of leaf in my press with water heated to 200 F. I steeped for three minutes. These parameters were just a western guess. I'll try a much shorter eastern steep next. The liquor is dark caramel in color and scent.

The sip is honey, caramel/cocoa, and malt. The malt is lighter than some Fujian teas I have sampled but present and pleasant. There is a not really earthy, but more leafy quality to the taste. This is not bitter or biting. It is somewhat drying with a long steep. For those who don't tolerate black tea well this probably should not be sipped on an empty stomach. That is an excuse to nibble on a cookie - just in case you need such an excuse.

For my second cup I reduced the steep time to just over one minute. I found this cup to have more honey sweetness. It was smoother yet just as flavorful as the first cup. I am not detecting the dryness now though I must admit to having recently learned I am kind of immune from initially detecting it. I am more likely to become aware of it only after some gut burning. More cookies? Why, yes, thank you. Even though I did not perceive them as 'medically' necessary. I am not one to buck tradition - especially when it comes to tea and cookies.

I am pretty certain this would steep at least once more, probably even more had I kept the first steep shorter. Unfortunately I won't find out today as I am out of time. Well maybe one more cookie.

I am not a big fan of Assam tea unless it is blended with other less forceful black teas. Ceylon is my go to for flavored tea. Fujian, though I find to be just sublime all on its own and this is a very tasty one.

Visit the Life In Teacup website.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Life In Teacup, Frosty Spring Yunnan Roast Green

Life In Teacup Description:
Production Year - 2013
Production Season - First day harvest of the year, on March 5, 2013
Production Region - Yunan Province, Jing Gu County of Puerh City region
Style - Hong Qing (roasted)
Like most Yunnan green teas, this one is from one of the small-leaf cultivars (green tea cultivars) and not a large-leaf cultivar (puerh cultivar). But the leaves are still larger than leaves of most other green teas. 

Sample provided by Life In Teacup

My Review:
I saw Yunnan in the name of this and immediately invented in my head how this should taste. Yunnan black teas are among my favorite teas. So of course, this being a green tea, I am completely wrong on the taste profile. When will I learn?

I opened the sample bag and pulled out some of the leaf. For Chinese green tea it is huge. It is long, kind of twisted, with some bulk to it. I have to admit I held it under the light and played with the leaf long enough that any non-tea person who would have seen me might start avoiding me. You know, because I'm one of those strange tea people.

I used an overflowing scoop of leaf, in an amount similar to what I would use for white tea. Dry the leaf had only a slight aroma that was slightly grain in nature. I heated the water to 200 F and steeped for 2 1/2 minutes. The result was a beautiful golden liquor. The wet leaf was bright green in color. The aroma of the leaf reminded me of stew beef.

The taste is really difficult to describe. I have never used the word umami in a review as I am not entirely certain I understand the term. I am going to use it here. This tea is quite subtle in taste. It tastes similar to a lot of Chinese green teas with a vegetal taste but not grassy or buttery. It is strangely more savory like meat. The liquor, to my perception at least, had a broth like quality.

The style of this is listed as roasted but I never really caught and roasted, smoky, toasted, qualities in this one. It is an interesting and different (not in a weird way) tea. I don't recall an aftertaste with this one, which is strange. I am not sure I am doing this tea justice. I simply can't come up with a description that makes better sense. How about I just say I enjoy a good mystery.

Visit the Life In Teacup website.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Life In Teacup, White Plum Flower Peak

Life In Teacup Description:
This tea is from an area right next to the producing region of Huang Shan Mao Feng. The appearance of this tea is quite similar to Huang Shan Mao Feng too, due to the similar processing techniques used. But this tea has a lot of nice nuances, floral, herbal, incense, and something subtle and mysterious.

Sample provided by Life In Teacup.

My Review:
Despite the name, this is not a white tea. It contains no plum flavoring or flowers. This review is for the April 4, 2013 production season. Also known as Bai Mei Hua Jian, this is a green tea. The name comes from the mountain range where it grows. A rarity in the west as Life In Teacup believes it is the only vendor offering this leaf outside of China.

Opening the sample pack I caught the aroma of hay but more intense as it was almost a wine alcohol element. The dry leaf is small and brittle with a lot of fine white hair. The leaf in the picture looks like a green tea. Up close the color and appearance is almost like a white tea.

I used a large scoop in my press with filtered water heated to 200F. Life In Teacup said on their website to use above 80C and up to full boil if steeped with the lid off. The dance of the leaf was interesting as most of the leaf hung from the surface early on, then dropped to the bottom as it steeped. I went 2 minutes. The wet leaf is buttery steamed vegetables in scent. The leaf is pea green buds and leaves.

The liquor is very light in color - almost colorless until it cools and becomes white grape juice in color. It is extremely clear with no discernible scent.

Life in Teacup's description is pretty accurate, this is similar to Haung Shan Feng but much (much) lighter. The former has a very strong presence. This is quite subtle. I agree this tea has a lot of nice nuances, floral, herbal, incense, and something subtle and mysterious. I enjoy a quiet tea that is full of depth. This is such a tea. For the Assam lover, this could prove to be disappointing. Those who enjoy contemplating the depths of a white tea or very light greens should find this to be an exceptional sip. Knowledge of its rarity outside of China peaks my interest as well.

Having prepared this with my hybrid western approach, I hope to try it later in a gaiwan gongfu session and a full western long steep version as well. I am curious to see if the really nice subtle flavors can be brought out more using a higher leaf to water ratio or a longer steep time.

Visit the Life In Teacup site.