Thursday, October 30, 2014

What-Cha, Nepal First Flush 2014 Silver Oolong Tea

What-Cha Description:
An exclusive tea only offered by one other seller, a great tasting lightly oxidised oolong with a fruity body and a citrus finish.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
I really intended to make it through all the samples from What-Cha this month. Nope. I didn't quite make it. I am definitely in no hurry. Their teas have taken me new places and I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey. While I am in no hurry to complete the trip, the uncertainty of my future ability to post without a trip to town for public WiFi access, has caused me to tread a little faster.

Today, I picked an oolong for review. It is my first silver oolong. The large resealable mylar bag is as always simply and clearly labelled. I really appreciate the label. It tells me all I need to know. The website adds a little additional information as to the source for those who want to know.

Removing the leaf, I get a faint hint of fruit. This contains a lot of silvery furry leaf. It looks like a white tea. There is also a lot green in the mix as well. The leaf looks only withered with very little twisting or curling being done during processing. Very interesting. This is unlike any oolong I have seen, so I guess the journey continues.

I followed the suggested directions of 176F water (charcoal filtered) and steeped for 3 minutes. I used one third of the 10g sample in my press.

The leaf hung in the water, making for more of a beautiful display than a dance. The leaf is a pale spring shade of green and much more delicate than I think the photograph makes it appear.

Its appearance reminds me of a Chinese green I have had in  the past - possibly it was Xin Yang Mao Jian, but I'm not certain. That comparison is kind of pointless as the aroma off the wet leaf is unlike anything I have previously experienced.

What I experienced was a very definite citrus nose. At first, I was certain it was lemon. As I breathed it in again, I began to think orange. There is nothing but tea here so whatever the scent it is natural. It is also very pleasant.

The liquor is bright and clear. It has a sunshine yellow tint. The wait for my cup to cool, enough to sip, is only minutes but seems to take forever. Finally, I get to take my first sip, while thinking can the taste compete with the nose, or am I about to be let down?

Actually, the taste surpasses the aroma. Seriously good. I get a buttery corn at the front of the sip that turns spring water in the middle and moves right into a lovely citrus finish. Again I say, seriously good.

There is no bitterness. Sometimes I want a little to give the cup character. Here it just doesn't need it. I get no astringency. There is nothing even vaguely off in the taste.

Choosing a favorite from What-Cha would be very difficult. This one is certainly a contender for that title. Unique and lovely, this is a wonderfully refreshing cup.

You can find Nepal First Flush 2014 Silver Oolong Tea here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tuocha Tea, 2008 Menghai 8582 Dayi Raw Pu-erh Cake

Web Photo - not taken from this cake 
Toucha Tea Description:
A classic Menghai tea factory recipe that was first introduced in 1985 for direct sales to Hong Kong Nian Tian company. 8582 Raw Pu-erh Cake use larger mature leaves inside for this cake, the tea has a very refreshingly sweet and smooth aftertaste, gives rich taste and swallows extremely well. Great potential after a few years of aging.

Size & Price:
2008 Menghai *8582* Dayi Raw Pu-erh Cake - 357g, $17.60 (USD)

My Review:
I have had this sample in my pu-erh drawer since spring. I have been so busy it just wasn't fitting in my schedule. Pu-erh waits patiently and instead of losing its appeal, it generally gets better with age. Today is a slow rainy day and it is begging for a sheng.

The leaf on this is mostly loose in the plastic baggie. Originally purchased by a tea friend and sent to me, I believe this was compressed in cake form, as I can find no loose version of this blend for sale.

The leaf is dark but still shows hints of green and I see some whole leaf in the mix. I did not detect any significant aroma to the dry leaf.

I used my Yixing pot and 10 oz of water heated to 212F (100C). I really don't know if I should be using cooler water for a raw tea. I should experiment a little and see what happens. Anyway, I let this steep for about 45 seconds.

A word about my pot - it is big for a Yixing. I know that goes against most people's reasoning for using a clay pot but you know what? That's the way I like to drink my tea. If I use a gaiwan, for instance, I will almost always pour three cups together, so I figure why not just steep it all at once. I use a Yixing simply for the joy it gives me to do so.

The brew starts pouring as a light yellow orange. As it cools it becomes more golden orange. When I poured, I did use a strainer but it turned out to not be necessary. The strainer holes in the pot proved to be sufficient to prevent leaf from escaping.

I have to admit, the wet leaf scent was not very appealing. It kind of smells like a wet carpet. Never encountered that before. The leaf did however turn green and fresh looking. Some of the leaf is whole and appears like it was just picked off the tree.

Tasting the first cup, I am noticing bitterness first, then some astringency in the form of drying. It does seem a little sweet with some woodsy notes trying to come through. Maybe cooler water and definitely a shorter steep is in order. On the other hand, I did not pour off the first cup as a wash. I almost never do, so I'll take the blame for this one.

As the cup cools and I taste while typing, I caught a faint hint of smoke. Promising.

For my second 10 oz pot, I used 200F water and a 10 second steep. The color is only slightly lighter in color. The wet leaf now has a pleasant woodsy mushroom with a hint of smoke aroma. Yeah, that's more like it!

The bitterness is all but gone. Just enough remains to make this interesting. The dryness is also greatly reduced. This is sweet. It feels a bit syrupy. The taste is a combination of stone and mushroom. There is nothing off-putting in the taste. A very enjoyable cup.

Mug three - cup 9, if you gongfu brew - at 20 seconds, is the best yet. A slight bitterness is present. The flavor is again woodsy mushroom with a stone element. The stone is a mineral taste like drinking water poured over rocks. The smoke is light but present late as I exhale.The aftertaste lingers.

This shows no signs of giving up but I want to post the review, so I am quitting here for now.

You can find the 2008 Menghai 8582 Dayi Raw Pu-erh Cake here

Monday, October 27, 2014

What-Cha, Kenya Silver Needle White Tea

Resealable and clearly labeled
What-Cha Description:
Our Kenyan Silver Needles hits the usual notes usually associated with good quality Silver Needles while having its own unique characteristics not usually found in other Silver Needles. Kenyan Silver Needles is on the fuller side of the Silver Needle scale and features lovely soft tannins, making it perfect for those who find the more traditional Silver Needles too subtle and overly delicate. Our Kenyan Silver Needles represents a chance to try one of the great Chinese teas grown in the unique terroir of Kenya.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
I started my reviews of the What-Cha samples by an obsession with purple varietals. As I have worked my way through the box, I have developed a similar curiosity and thirst for their white teas. All so different and all so good.

Today is a Kenya white terroir that bares more than a striking resemblance to Chinese Silver Needle. Removing a large scoop of leaf, this is unmistakably a silver needle. It is my favorite type of white, yet What-Cha promises the growing area of Kenya adds some unique tastes of its own. Awesome. Let's get to brewing.

I'm pretty sure I have closer to 4 g of leaf than the 3 I intended, but it's on the plate so let's live crazy. The silver fuzzy leaf looks just like it should, comprised of whole buds. There are a few green leaf in the mix as well. I did not notice them until I looked at the picture.

The scent is fresh dried hay. I used my press with charcoal filtered water heated to 175 F. The steep was 2 1/2 minutes. The leaf clung to the surface for the entire steep. The brew is nearly colorless with only a light honey tint. It does turn a little more golden as it cools.

The wet leaf has a baked aroma. The buds have turned green and lush. They have fattened up but not a lot. Silver needle is so light and fluffy to start with that I didn't expect otherwise.

Waiting for tea to cool enough to sip is always the hardest part of any session for me.

Finally, I get to lift my mug. My first thought was, ah this is much like the Nepali 1st flush I recently reviewed - immediately likable. Then I decided, no, it is much different. Where as the Nepal tea had a woodsy taste, this is more corn like. It is much more naturally sweet. It turns somewhat floral late in the sip along with a stronger fruit note. It doesn't really make me think peach. Than again I understand when you are tasting an unflavored tea any such notes are generally very light.

I am surprised by how different this tastes from Chinese grown silver needle. While this lacks the melon and cucumber notes of the Chinese version, it replaces them with corn and fruit. The natural sweetness and stronger flavor might make this more appealing to those who find white tea to be colored water. This is still white tea so don't expect the throat grabbing assault of a breakfast black. It is a subtle tea.

I get zero bitterness. I am noticing very little in the way of dryness. The aftertaste lingers long after sipping. The longer it goes the more I am tasting sweet hay and, oh wow, even some of the melon notes I did not think were in the cup. Very neat.

You can find Kenya Silver Needle White Tea here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What-Cha, Nepal First Flush 2014 White Tea

What-Cha Description:
The perfect 'everyday' White Tea, on the fuller side compared to the more traditional White Teas with a great apricot taste. It is a wonderful mix of leaves and buds, arriving direct from Greenland Organic Farm in Nepal.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
Today I am back to reviewing a white tea from What-Cha. After that most amazing Kenya Premium White I tasted a few days ago, I am torn between anxious and a bit hesitant to brew this 'everyday' White Tea. Seriously, I have nothing but high praise for What-Cha and especially for Allistair who has been so amazingly quick to answer my crazy questions.

The 10g sample is huge resealable mylar, with a concise, clear, and simple label.

I took out one third of the leaf. The scent is a little... well, latex paint smelling. Or at least that is what it suggests to me. I drink pu-erh, and enjoy it, so I know you can't be too quick to judge.

The leaf is green, dry, and brittle. It is intact. You can see in the lower right corner of the picture that some of the more silvery buds are nicely furry.

I used the little over 3 g sample in my clear glass press along with 195 F water. I steeped for 3 1/2 minutes. As the water hit the leaf a deep almost toasty aroma came forth.

The leaf filled the carafe as it steeped. The liquor is a golden color, like ginger ale, and is quite clear.

The wet leaf has really been revitalized. It has expanded greatly and turned fresh and alive looking. It mainly appears to be a leaf and a bud.

The aroma off the wet leaf reminds me of a wild plant we used to pick as kids and suck the milk out of it. No idea of what that plant was but bonus points for the childhood memory. It is a green planty scent that is kind of prickly, not exactly like okra but sort of.

Tasting, this is immediately likable. It is s white tea, so of course, like most, it is not a boisterous tea. There is no bitterness. I do get a little cheek tingle. It is crisp with a light mineral feel.

For a reference point only, it is far closer to white peony than silver needle in taste. Even that comparison is totally inadequate. It is not vegetal, like the melon or cucumber notes I normally associate with white tea. It isn't floral. This is completely different than the white teas most of us are familiar with sipping.

The best I can come up with is a heftier wood like taste with a subtle fruitiness. What-Cha calls it apricot and I won't disagree. I had no desire to add sweetener, but I suspect it would take it in stride if you are so inclined.

As I ponder the taste, I think it is far closer to tasting like a Nepal black tea, or even Darjeeling, but less intense, than it is to a traditional Chinese white.

Cup two I find to be a different cup. This is slightly warmer feeling. The mineral and cheek tingle are reduced. It takes on a slight sweetness. While very hot I notice mushroom notes. As it cools it turns more fruity. This cup seems a little more complex. I believe this will go another round but two are all I have time for today. This is a pretty excellent everyday tea and very different from the normal fare.

You can find Nepal First Flush 2014 White Tea here.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Secret Garden Tea Company, Anniversary Blend Black Tea

The Secret Garden Tea Company Description:
Bergamot, Jasmine and Vanilla: these are a few of our favorite things! We created this blend in celebration of the Secret Garden’s inception. Pairs perfectly with both sweet and savoury delicacies.

Ingredients: Black Tea, natural flavors.

Price: $11.25/100g

Sample provided by The Secret Garden Tea Company

My Review:
This is my last sample provided by The Secret Garden Tea. Since my first review, this new online shop, and established Vancouver tea room, have lowered their shipping to a flat $7. That is pretty much in line with what US shops are charging and very reasonable for Canada.

The sample bags make me think of chewing gum wrappers. They are paper covering an aluminum coating inside. The top is rolled down and fastened with a decorative seal. The name of the blend is handwritten on the label. There are no steeping instructions.

As I remove a scoop of leaf, I smell vanilla. It is a nice scent and not overpowering or medicinal.

The leaf is kind of pretty. There are blue cornflower petals and yellow petals, possibly marigold or jasmine petals.

Using my standard press method with 212 F water and a four minute steep produced a very dark ruby orange brew. It seems darker than in the picture. The scent is lightly vanilla.

I like this but I am not getting much bergamot or any jasmine. It is mainly a light vanilla and a pleasant black base that I am guessing is a Ceylon. It is not bitter. It is moderately drying. Pairing it with a nice snack would probably counter this. I did not feel a need for added sweetener.

I could only find one review of this blend online and it was more of a review of the tea room experience. They only commented it was tasty.

So, I am left trying to decide if what I got from my cup is what one should expect upon ordering. I appreciate the vanilla is kept light so as not to drown out the black tea. I also can appreciate the bergamot is a very light touch. This is not Earl Grey. The citrus is there just to round out the cup. I am disappointed not to be able to detect the jasmine. I guess my final conclusion is that had I not read the ingredient list I would have been quite happy with the cup.

You can find Anniversary Blend here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Starbucks, Green Tea Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino

I am not a coffee drinker. I honestly don't even care for the smell of it. My wife on the other hand, loves coffee. When we are out and about, she often has, not wants - has, to stop in Starbucks. It's like a junkie on crack. The fact that, in my den, I have a four foot cabinet full of tea, tea covering a work table, and boxes of tea on the floor, is totally different. I can quit any time I want. Yeah right.

I have tried some of Starbucks non-coffee drinks and mostly I am not impressed. With their hot tea, I think it is because they over steep everything. Same with most of their iced teas. They are just too bitter.

The Green Tea Frappuccino is another thing all together. Made with matcha stirred into cold milk with their syrup and ice. Most people top it with whipped cream. It is delicious.

It is also jammed full of calories. I order mine with 2% milk, no whipped cream, and only half the usual pumps of syrup. The drink is still really sweet but not quite so bad for you.

Lately, I have grown a little bored with it. Besides, I make a similar breakfast drink with Chinese green tea powder, 2% milk, and a splash of vanilla and caramel sugar free syrups that I found on the coffee aisle at Walmart. I like mine better. It has only the calories of the milk. It is less sweet and still delicious - just different.

Yesterday, while shopping, my wife needed her fix. My son was with us. At first I said I didn't want anything. My son suggested a pumpkin spice latte. I reminded him I don't do coffee. He fired back that they can leave the coffee out. Well, that does sound better, but kind of boring.

That is when the idea popped into my head to combine a coffee-free pumpkin spice with my old standby green tea frappuccino. The Barista and my family flinched when I ordered it. What do they know? They're coffee people. So 2% milk and half the syrup - And just why don't they have sugar free syrup for diabetics and those of us who don't want a 600 calorie cup? But I digress yet again.

This creation isn't on the menu, as far as I am aware, but it should be. This was absolutely delicious. The matcha mixed seamlessly with the pumpkin spice to create a sensation like biting into an actual piece of cold pumpkin pie. I realize their are an endless variety of recipes for pumpkin pie, each tasting a little different. The drink is spot on with the family recipe I grew up eating. This is creamy and lightly spiced. It doesn't just taste of pie spice, it actually has a pumpkin taste. Very satisfying.

I didn't need a nap afterwards. I didn't need to loosen my belt. I think I may have found my new old standby at Starbucks. At least through November... I wonder how a candy cane matcha frappaccino will taste? Hmmm.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mellow Monk, Just-Right Roast

Mellow Monk Description:
This is the most flavorful iced tea we have ever tasted — and it can also be cold brewed! Crafted by Kazuo Watanabe, a single-estate tea grower-artisan in Kumamoto, this artisanal tea is made by lightly roasting traditional green tea in just the right way to make it perfect for cold-brewing a tasty, aromatic infusion. You would never think a beverage made from green tea could taste like this, but it does — nutty and slightly savory, with a smoky aroma and nutty overtones. This tea comes in high-quality sachets for quick, easy brewing.

Just-Right Roast won first place in its class at the North American Tea Competition three years in a row — 2012, 2013, and 2014. (Formerly known as Lightly Roasted Iced Green Tea.)

Mellow Monk is a California based business that imports green tea directly from — and only from — independent artisinal tea estates in Kumamoto, Japan. The Everyday Tea Blog was discovered by Mellow Monk through Steepster. I was asked if I would like to try and review one of their teas. I had to admit my familiarity with Japanese tea was woefully lacking but I would love the opportunity to expand my knowledge.

Looking over the selection of teas, I was not sure what I should select. I picked Just-Right Roast because of the following part of the product description:
"the artisan carefully roasts with the just the right light touch. This imparts a nutty roasted flavor while also preserving tantalizing hints of the original green tea flavor, for a unique flavor profile among Japanese hojichas or iced teas, for that matter."
I've had hojicha before. I love green tea and a nutty roasted flavor. Bonus, this is intended as an iced tea and it cold brews well. I know we are knee deep into fall. Most tea drinkers are gearing up with winter teas, but you see, in my family, iced tea is a year round event. Except for some ready to drink bottled stuff, I don't recall ever reviewing a tea intended to be iced. I am also pretty sure this is close to a first if not the first, cold brew.

This one has taken First Place as the North American Tea Champion in 2012, 2013, & 2014.

Cold Brewing In The Refrigerator
The sample bag is a full-sized order of 100g. The bag is a resealable mylar, with clear, how to brew, instructions on the back label. Inside are 18 pyramid sachets. Each bag will steep one quart of tea.

I used two of the sachets in a glass tea jug and added 2 quarts of cool filtered water. The jug was then placed in the refrigerator and left to steep. That is all there is to cold brewing. The directions say to let it set at least 4 hours before drinking. The sachets may remain in the pitcher until the tea is consumed. Talk about no fuss.

I waited about 5 hours after refrigerating, then stirred the tea, before pouring my first glass. The tea itself is a dark yellow with a green tint. It definitely has the roasted hojicha aroma, with which I am familiar.

If you have ever had genmaicha, then the level of roasting is of similar intensity. Mellow Monk says the nutty flavor has hickory overtones. I have hickory trees growing in my yard but I have never eaten one of the nuts. The taste is decidedly nutty even if I can't confirm the specific type. I catch hints of the green tea itself but honestly it is the roasted nuttiness that drives the taste.

My previous experience with hojicha has been limited to inexpensive bagged teas. While it does share many of the same flavor characteristics with the lesser versions, this one has far more depth and complexity. It is savory. Not sweet. I detect no bitterness. It is a little drying but to me that is part of a good iced tea. It is nicely refreshing and unlike any iced tea I have had before.

Before the world wars disrupted trade with Japan, green tea was as popular in the southern US as black tea. Of course in the south, you typically make sweet tea, where it is simply known as tea. So in the interest of historical reenactment I added some sweetener to my glass. I personally don't normally sweeten iced tea. I am far more likely to do so with hot teas. That said, I really thought the refreshment level was raised much higher as a southern sweet tea with the first cup. Seriously, give it a try and see what you think.

I waited until a day later to pour the second glass. The sachets remain in the pitcher. The tea is more golden colored today. The flavors have deepened and smoothed out. There is still no bitterness. The dryness I experienced before is much less present. I felt no desire to add sweetener today, even for historical reasons. This is definitely different than any iced tea you have likely had before. It is also very good. Patience has paid off. I finished this glass with a pickle loaf, colby jack, and jalapeno ketchup, on wheat (I'm weird like that). This tea stood up to the sandwich without flinching.

You can find Mellow Monk's Just-Right Roast and other Japanese green teas here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What-Cha, Kenya Premium White Tea

What-Cha Description:
Kenya Premium White Tea is a very unusual and unique tea. It serves as a perfect example of the experimentation and dedication to creating new premium teas that is happening in Kenya. The tea has the lightness and delicacy normally associated with the finest white teas, while having a sweet caramel taste normally associated with the best Golden Monkey teas from China. Kenya White Premium is a truly unique tea which is not to be missed.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
I almost don't even need to taste this tea to know I love it - almost.

The 10g sample bag is a huge resealable mylar. It is, as always, simply and clearly labelled with recommended steeping parameters.

Opening the bag I catch a nice malt and caramel aroma. It also has a grain scent, like maybe corn in a field. I know. It gets better. I removed some leaf for examination and became super attracted. I almost always take more than one picture of the leaf to be sure at least one of my amateurish shots are in focus. I couldn't stop snapping this one. It was like Heidi Klum stepped in front of my camera. ZZ Top's Legs comes to mind... but I digress.

Click on the picture to enlarge it. Isn't that leaf spectacular. Beautiful tans, browns, and silver hairy leaf. They are so long that measuring either takes a scale or a guess. I went with the guess, because I don't own a scale.

I used my press as usual, and water heated to 195F. My steep time was 3 minutes. The leaf expands nicely. The leaf (unless these are huge buds) are whole and unbroken. As I pour the honey caramel liquor into the mug, I am again met with a malty nose.

OK, this is a Kenya white tea. I would never have guessed this had I not read it. The dry leaf looks more like a Chinese Dian Hong. The scent is also very similar to my favorite Chinese black tea type.

Taking my first sip confirms my opening statement that I love this tea. Seriously, if you enjoy Dian Hong black tea from Yunnan in China, you will almost certainly love this white tea from Kenya. So very good with its light caramel and malty notes. I am getting no bitterness. There is a slight bite with some cheek tingle and a drying sensation. I do not mean that in a negative sense. To me this adds to the overall character of the cup. It must be naturally sweet as I have no desire to add sweetener. This is awesome.

Cup two was prepared the same as the first. The taste is a bit different than the first. The malt has stepped to the back with the caramel close in front. The main flavor is what I am going to call corn. It is not the very sweet (but delicious) fresh yellow and white corn on your dinner table. It is more of a grain corn. Hope that makes sense. The aftertaste as changed as well. Before it was caramel/malt, now it is a floral that I can't associate with anything I recognize. Another really nice cup.

I am a little tea logged at the moment, as this is not my first tea of the day. I should have planned ahead. Anyway, I think there is a least one more cup in these leaves but it will have to wait for another day to find out.

Conclusion: An awesome white tea that reminds me of a Chinese black.

You can find Kenya Premium White Tea here. Through the end of October 2014, all What-Cha teas are 20% off. My only association is having tasted and reviewed several of their teas. They are definitely worth checking out.

The Future - at least for the short term

There is still a little over a week left in October. While I am still able to get the message out I thought I would share that there may be an interruption in my ability to post on The Everyday Tea Blog. This will also affect my email capabilities. Hopefully, I will find a quick seamless solution.

Back on April 1st (April Fools day but this was no joke) our internet provider (Millenicom) raised rates about 50%. They blamed this on their carrier, Verizon, for refusing to negotiate with them. Within another month we were told our email service was being discontinued. I already had this blog set up to use gmail so it had no affect with contacting me from here. That appears about to change.

Now, I have learned from a neighbor, Millenicom will no longer have anything to do with our internet as we will be dealing directly with Verizon. My neighbor was informed Verizon would be contacting us with service options. That is all fine and good except the month is almost over and we have heard nothing directly from Millenicom or Verizon. I may find myself without internet access by November 1st.

We live far from any major cities. Just as there are few tea shops in our area, there are even fewer alternatives for internet. We have no DSL, cable, or fiber optics. We did away with our land line as the line quality is so poor it could barely maintain a low dial up service.

So that leaves us with only WiFi or satellite internet. For Wifi only Verizon has a signal in our area. Millenicom used their towers but apparently are no longer welcome to do so. Verizon WiFi data plans are outrageously expensive for very little data - even if they do ever bother contacting us. I am looking into satellite but have a lot to learn as it seems very pricey as well.

With some hope and a prayer, I will find a solution that allows The Everyday Tea Blog to continue operation beyond the first of the month.    

Monday, October 20, 2014

Teavivre, Jasmine Raw Pu-erh Mini Tuocha

Teavivre Description:
TeaVivre introduces you this carefully selected Raw Pu-erh Mini Tuocha. It is from one of the four famous tea producing area of Yunnan, Lincang, made of Yunnan large leaf species, are covered with large quantity of soft golden pekoe.

Harvest Time: 2014
Production Date: 2014

My Review:
This was purchased earlier this year during a sale. I've been trying to work it in to my review schedule for awhile now. This weekend I attended a wedding where smoked pulled pork was served at the reception. I had way too much of it. A little self restraint would have been nice but it is a little late for that. I am hoping a session of raw pu-erh will help.

I have always liked mini touchas. They are the perfect size for mug, gaiwan, or yixing brewing. This one looks dense and slightly shiny up close. Some of the leaf crumbled into dust as I unwrapped. The aroma is fresh field with lovely light jasmine flowers.

I preheated my large yixing pot and added 5 oz of boiling water. Teavivre says to steep this between 3 and 5 minutes with 100 C (212 F) water. With yixing I usually go 30-45 seconds on the first steep. I decided to compromise and go one minute.

As you can see the toucha turned fresh and green. It plumped up nicely but has barely begun to relax.

The brew is a light caramel color. It is orange on Teavivre's website. I did not use a strainer so there is some small amount of debris in the cup. There is not a lot of aroma from the cup. I probably should have listened on the steeping time.

I am not getting a lot of flavor. It has a sticky lip feel. It has a slight stone taste, like sipping water flowing over rocks. I do get a very light floral at the front of the sip.

I know this will do better. For the second cup I am increasing the steep time to two minutes.

Now the brew is a hearty orange color. With this being a raw pu-erh, I would not have considered it turning this dark. The cup has a light jasmine aroma. The toucha in the pot has completely fallen apart covering the bottom in a blanket of leaf pieces. I even see a few jasmine petals.

Wow, two minutes has brought out a lot of young raw pu-erh bite. I decided to calm it with a little sweetener. That really helped. This is almost syrupy feeling. The taste is nutty, and vegetal, with a nice light jasmine floral that is more scent than taste. I am also getting a throat warming sensation. It is not the heat of the liquid and it is not a spiciness. I really don't know how to better describe it. It just is. The aftertaste is kind of tingly and almost like a mild tiequanyin. The initial bitterness aside, this is a really neat cup.

Immediately, I heated more water for round three, also at two minutes. The brew is again deep orange. The wet leaf has taken on a fresh pond water and jasmine aroma. The cup scent is jasmine. The taste is very similar to cup two. I once again added sweetener. I notice a dryness and cheek tingle with this cup. This is way better than I am making it sound.

After my session with this toucha, I read a review by Stephanie on Steepster. She did not encounter the bitterness and found this to be sweet on its own. The big difference is she used cooler water at 180 F. My next time out I will do the same. This is too good not to keep working on the parameters to get it right.

You can find Jasmine Raw Pu-erh Mini Toucha here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Persimmon Tree, Periwinkle

The Tin
The Persimmon Tree Description:
Periwinkle combines the best of two sensations: thick and creamy. The dark, thick black leaves of Assam tea and soothing star shaped vanilla bits create a visually appealing and delicious black and white infusion. Pour a warm cup of this mixture, and enjoy the unique, delicious combination of thick Assam and creamy vanilla.

Organic Black Loose Leaf Tea, White Loose Leaf Tea, Natural Flavors

Sample provided by The Persimmon Tree

My Review:
I have to admit, vanilla teas are not normally something I seek out. I don't dislike them. It is simply not a flavor that hits my radar often. This looked interesting on The Persimmon Tree's website. It is listed as a blend of Assam black tea and white loose leaf, as well as containing 'soothing star shaped vanilla bits'. Too cool to pass up.

Dry Leaf And A Mystery
Opening the tin immediately releases a strong vanilla scent. Removing a scoop of leaf for exam and pictures, has me scratching my head. I clearly see the black Assam leaf with a fair share of golden tips.

I do not see what appears to be white tea leaf in the mix. I also do not see the vanilla bits. I'm sure this is the correct tea as the scent is pretty much guaranteeing it.

So I did the only logical thing I could think of doing - I dumped half the tin onto a plate. Aha! There I found the soothing star shaped thingy. I still do not see loose white tea leaf.

Dry Leaf Mystery Solved
I am pretty sure the site description is incorrect. The star appears to me to be hand rolled white tea leaf. However, the description does say vanilla bits rather than vanilla scented. So its a mystery. Where is Scooby Doo when you need him?

What I decided to do was ask The Persimmon Tree if perhaps the site description is miss worded. And then after hitting send, I read the description on the tin. It says, "This soothing tea blend combines organic Assam black tea with hand-crafted white tea 'flowers' and vanilla pieces." Well now that makes a lot more sense! I deserve a Scooby Snack!

A Vanilla Cup
With the mystery solved, the leaf went into the press and 205 F water was added for a 3 minute steep. The result is an shiny orange liquor. The wet leaf scent is of caramelized vanilla. Nice.

The taste is lighter than the scent suggests but it is plenty vanilla. What I appreciate about this blend is the vanilla does not overpower the aftertaste, leaving an icky taste. The aftertaste is a clean vanilla that fades away quickly.

The vanilla produces a creamy feeling when sipping. How does a flavor cause that creamy sensation. I have no idea. Some mysteries should just be accepted without solving.

I can't really single out the white tea. I think it is there mostly to look interesting. I think there would need to be a whole lot more stars in the mix to make any significant taste impact.

The Assam black tea is nicely smooth with no rough edges. I used to think that was impossible back in my tea bag only days. I have read reviews of this one that claimed the base was bitter. I don't get that. Of course I was raised on Earl Grey with a harsh Ceylon base, so I may just be immune.

Honestly this caused no stomach burn as some black teas tend to produce. If you do find it a little bitter, add a little sweetener, and maybe a little milk. Oooh, I think I need to try it hot with milk and sugar later.

I thought this was a good solid vanilla tea without the usual strong aftertaste.

You can find Periwinkle here.

Immediately after posting my review which was only minutes after writing The Persimmon Tree, I got this response to my description question -  We apologize for the confusion of the description. We will have to edit it to make it a bit more clear. But essentially, it is an organic assam black tea, white tea in a shape of stars and bits of natural flavors of vanilla essence.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nina's Paris, Earl Grey

Nina's Paris Description:
Bergamot from Sicily. The smoothness of Keemun (Black Tea) together with the freshness of bergamot. An ancient recipe that was handed down by a high dignitary of China to Earl Charles Grey. A classic that definitely shouldn't be missed.

My Review:
I originally reviewed this tea as Nina's Teas USA, Earl Grey. So why am I reviewing it again? Well, Nina's has changed the base tea from a Keemun to a Sri Lanka (Ceylon) leaf. The base has not been revised on the website or in the description above.

Red happens to be my favorite color, so I find the tin especially attractive. The ingredient list is on the bottom of the tin along with a suggested steep time of 3 minutes. The lid fits snugly and is a press fit.

Earl Grey is often highly aromatic. This one I could smell through the tin as I removed it from the box. It is a glorious, peppery, citrus, bergamot. Inside the tin, the tea leaf is further packaged in a plastic bag. Removing a scoop of leaf, shows it to be very dark, nearly black, with some hints of golden tips.

I prepared this with two different parameters just to see how the base would respond. For the first cup the leaf was added to the press with 194 F water and a 2 1/2 minute steep. This is my normal Earl Grey method of late. For the second cup I used 212 F water and the recommended 3 minute steep.

With the earlier Keemun base the cup was highly refined, even civilized. There was no noticeable astringency, and no smoke.

A Sri Lanka base is what most of my favorite Earl Grey teas have used. It often tends to have a little rougher edge. As I have stated in other reviews, I am a bit of a barbarian when it comes to Earl Grey. Nina's are masterful blenders and the blends I have reviewed thus far have been very smooth. So let's see how they handle it here.

What I can tell you immediately is the time and temperature difference between my two cups today did not make as big a difference as I expected.

They both produced a very beautiful ruby red cup that turned a little more root beer color as they cooled. The bergamot in both has a wonderful scent, and when hot are moderately light in flavor. With both, the citrus picks up as the cup cools.

Now the differences. The lower temp and time actually seemed slightly more astringent as the sip was moderately drying. I did not notice this drying with the boiling water and longer steep. That surprised me.

Another surprise was the lack of a rough edge that is characteristic of the lower grade Ceylon teas I am very familiar with drinking. I like the edge, however, I have recently started using a lower temperature to reign it in a bit. That is not all that necessary here.

What didn't surprise me was the longer steep brought out more of the bergamot flavor. I highly recommend the second approach.

But the question that remains is how does this compare to the earlier Keemun version? I personally prefer the new Sri Lanka base. While it does not have a rough edge, it does have more character in my opinion. However, those who love Nina's traditional smooth and refined approach may easily disagree with me here. Bottom line, while this is definitely not my usual barbarian cup, it is Earl Grey the way I like it - strong and with character.

You can find Nina's Earl Grey here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teavivre, Chamomile Rose Silver Needle White Tea

Sample Bag
Teavivre Description:
Chamomile rose needle white tea is made of Fuding white tea, mixed with rose and chamomile. It is a floral fragrant tea, combining the flavor of white tea and flowers. With the strong floral fragrance, and rich aroma and taste, this tea is enjoyable for both tea lovers and people cares about health.

My Review:
I selected this sample with a recent order. I am a guy, so rose teas didn't always appeal to me. They are growing on me. Much like I learned with jasmine tea, the quality really does make a difference. One thing Teavivre consistently does well is quality. Their Silver Needle white tea is among the very best that I have had the pleasure to experience.

A Fragrant Bouquet 
Upon opening the sample bag the fragrance of rose drifts out and fills your senses. Along with it is a slightly sweet, slightly sour, apple like scent of chamomile. The leaf is an absolutely beautiful bouquet of rose buds and chamomile flowers, surrounded by the silvery haired buds of the Fuding white tea.

The leaf was placed in the press with enough 185 F water added to steep a 5 oz cup of tea. The steep time was about 2 minutes. For this first cup I used half the sample.

The aroma of the wet leaf is very similar to the dry. It is a little powerful, however, I have enough experience with Teavivre to expect the taste to be refined and not perfume water. The tea leaf itself is revitalized, plump, and green.

The brew, prepared in my western style, is a lot darker than the yellow liquor from the gong fu prepared cup on Teavivre's website. It is kind of a light greyish brown.

The Wet Leaf
As I taste, I first catch the rose. It is soft, delicate, and altogether natural. As the rose fades a little I pick up on the apple, honey, notes of the chamomile. There is a spice taste that kind of reminds me of allspice maybe. To me, it is kind of cinnamon, kind of clove. I asked my wife to taste it without telling her what I tasted. Her reaction was 'minty'. Not sure how to explain it except it is the interaction of white tea, rose, and chamomile, as that is all the ingredients found in this cup.

Because my first cup, while good, did not match the comments I recall others making, I decided to add the rest of the sample for cup two. The color was similar. The taste is not. Cup two starts out strongly of apple with edges of honey. The chamomile is leading the way on this cup. The change to rose is not sudden but glides into it, though never completely, as the chamomile steps sideways to travel along side the rose.

A Dark Cup For A White
I can catch only hints of the white tea at this early stage in the steepings. There is an underlying touch of hay and cucumber but they are not nearly as obvious as in a straight cup of Silver Needle. Teavivre could cut a corner and use a lesser grade of leaf but they choose not to lessen the quality. Thank you for that.

The taste you get from the cup appears to depend on the amount of leaf you choose to steep. Whether predominantly rose or chamomile, this makes an excellent cup of beautiful liquid relaxation. I am not sure how many times this can be resteeped. I do intend to keep going a good while longer.

You can find Chamomile Rose Silver Needle White Tea here.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

What-Cha, Nepal 2nd Flush 2014 Cannon Ball Green Tea

What-Cha Description:
A unique tightly rolled green tea with a citrus nose and well defined lemon blossom taste, a rare and unusual tea which is not to be missed.

We are proud to source all our Nepal teas direct from Greenland Organic Farm, who are very much at the forefront of a burgeoning Nepali tea industry dedicated to producing high quality artisanal teas. Greenland Organic Farm are completely pesticide and chemical free farm dedicated to producing tea in an ethical and fair manner. Greenland Organic Farm is located in East Nepal in the shadows of Mt. Kancghenjunga at an altitude of 3,000m.

Sample provided by What-Cha

My Review:
Our building project over the summer has really gotten me behind on my reviews. Apologies to What-Cha and the other tea companies on my list for not being able to keep up the pace.

Today is another exciting and unique offering from Nepal. Why is it called Cannon Ball? Only guessing here, but pouring out some of these monster balls of leaf, it just sort of fits. As you can see in the picture the balls are not particularly even in size. The smaller ones are about the size of your average oolong nugget. The bigger ones, well see for yourself - right below the monster at the top left of the picture is an oolong sized nugget that is partially hidden.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The leaf is packaged in aluminum resealable pouch that is simply and clearly labelled. The leaf sent is very delicious. It is kind of a mix of bread, honey, malt, and hay. I want to eat that smell!

The instructions say to use 4-5 balls per cup. Well, my cup is actually a mug and I use 10 oz of water, so I'm using 7 cannon balls. I used 167 F water and steeped for 2 1/2 minutes.

The leaf was interesting to watch. It did not dance in the water, instead it sort of mushroomed. Bubbles gassed out of the balls as they slowly expanded. You can see in the wet leaf picture that the leaf is still holding on to the tightly wound ball shape.

The scent of the wet leaf, and actually the appearance, reminded me of steamed veggies. I used to call it spinach, which I only eat raw, so I think steamed is way more intense than this. It is a very nice steamed flavor whatever the scent.

The brew is a white grape color when poured and turns a little more golden as it cools. The little bit of cloudiness I got was my fault. I removed the strainer to examine the leaf and drained a little remaining tea out of the bottom without straining. Maybe not as attractive but definitely does no harm.

The taste of the first cup is crisp, vegetal, and savory. It is not even suggestive of the aroma of the dry leaf. It is similar in many ways to other green teas, yet unique as well. There is a dryness (astringency) that doesn't really stand out at first but becomes more noticeable as you continue to sip. There's also a bite that hinges on good bitter without crossing the line. Late in the sip, and on into the aftertaste, is a citrus note. What-Cha calls it lemon blossom. I have never been privileged to that scent, so I'll take their word for it.

This appears to be a prime candidate for resteeping. I fired up the kettle and went for round two. Some of the leaf rose to the occasion but mostly it unfurled and made a leaf bed on the bottom. As the press was turned to get a better view, the bed wiggled and swayed like jello. The scent is more intensely lemon now. I didn't notice the dryness as much but the bitterness was more intense. It crossed the line a little much for me. To be fair I used only 8 oz of water this time with the extra leaf. I added a little sweetener to tame the taste. It balanced out well. Now the citrus really pops and I get a fairly strong nuttiness early in the sip and a healthy dose of grassy vegetal late, before once again turning citrus in the aftertaste with floral notes drifting in between the grass and the citrus. This really took to sweetening well.

I may come back to this one later. I have read reviews that claim the third steep is the best. I look forward to finding out for myself. Right now though, meatloaf is being served in the kitchen and it just happens to be one of my very favorite meals. It's a good day when you can have great tea and a great meal.    

This is a unique green tea and worth giving a try. You can find Nepal 2nd Flush 2014 Cannon Ball Green Tea here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Secret Garden Tea Company, Wild Strawberry Green Tea

The Secret Garden Tea Company Description:
Sweet strawberries blended with green tea: the next best thing to enjoying sun-ripened berries fresh from the patch. Pairs wonderfully with mild dishes such as lemon-buttered halibut or berry muffins.

Ingredients: Green tea, strawberry pieces, safflower petals, natural flavors

Price: $10.95/100g

Sample provided by The Secret Garden Tea Company

My Review:
The Secret Garden Tea Company is the newly opened online store side of Vancouver BC's The Secret Garden Tea Room. They generously furnished several large samples of their tea for my honest review.

Today I am reviewing their Wild Strawberry. I have high hopes for this one. Removing the seal on the aluminum lined paper sample bag, I am met with strawberry. Duh, you say? You know it doesn't always turn out that way. Sometimes I really have to search for the expected aroma. Not so here, and it smells like the real deal.

Removing a scoop of leaf, there are a few small dried strawberry pieces here. This is a good thing. It gives enough visual image without becoming filler. The leaf is flat and dried grass in appearance. I am assuming it is sencha, though I see nothing in the description to confirm it.

The leaf was steeped with 180 F water for three minutes in my press.  A grassy leaf scent could be detected along side the wonderful strawberry aroma.

The liquor is honey yellow or maybe a little lighter. There is a lot of unexpected dust in the water that settles to the bottom after moments. I am not sure what this is from as the leaf itself is nice size pieces of broken leaf. The scent is again natural strawberry.

The taste is just what I wanted. Strawberry. Not just strawberry, real tasting strawberry. It is not puckering tart like the real thing. On the other hand it is very natural tasting. The green tea is present but stays far out of the limelight. Often I want more balance in my flavored teas. Not today. This is strawberry.

I have thought a couple of my reviews of The Secret Garden Tea Company products have been a bit harsh - but in my defense, as honest as I could make them. This tea however, I really do like. I have enjoyed it so much I am about to steep up another cup. I believe I will use more leaf and see if I can imagine the tartness of biting into a fresh ripe strawberry.  

You can find Wild Strawberry Green Tea here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Secret Garden Tea Company, French Earl Grey

 The Secret Garden Tea Company Description:
Classic bergamot-infused Earl Grey tea layered with the gentle scent of rose petals.

Black tea, bergamot, mallow flower, hibiscus, rose petals, and sunflower petals

Sample provided by The Secret Garden Tea Company

My Review:
Today we are reviewing another offering from the newly opened webstore, The Secret Garden Tea Company. As you can see, handwriting the tea name on the label sounds like a great personal touch. In practice, a little moisture on the tea drinker's fingers can turn it into a smeary mess.

The sample bag has a paper exterior with an aluminum interior. The top is folded over and secured on the back with a sticker seal. This will work short term but longer storage will require something more substantial to maintain freshness.

The name to me suggests an Earl Grey Creme, but that is not what this blend contains. Opening the bag reveals the scent of rose. It is not really a fresh rose fragrance. To me it is more of a strong rose powder.

The leaf is pretty to look at. The black tea is surrounded by rose, mallow, sunflower, and hibiscus petals. Bergamot is listed as the second ingredient after black tea, however I can't detect it in the scent.

I used boiling water today and a 3 minute steep. The result is an orange cup that is shiny and clear. The wet leaf has an interesting aroma that suggests mango. That is not a listed ingredient, so I am not sure where that is coming from.

The taste is mainly dusty rose with a lighter note that still reminds me of mango or peach and apricot. Could it be the bergamot and hibiscus interacting? There is a slight tartness that is not offensive, present in the sip, as well as a bit of bite. I find this to be kind of drying. It does feel sort of thick like cream. I suspect the mallow is bringing that to the cup.

The black tea base is hard to single out at first. It reminds me of the Ceylon I reviewed yesterday. When it comes out of hiding it has a woodsy taste that is quite mellow.

I have to admit to being disappointed that I can't detect the bergamot. As an Earl Grey addict of many decades, having Earl Grey in the name brings certain expectations. I would have named this French Rose or something similar. On the plus side, wherever the tropical flavor is coming from, it raises this up a notch for me.

This tea is not something I am likely to crave but it is interesting.

You can find French Earl Grey here