Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Persimmon Tree, Masala Chai

The Persimmon Tree Description:
Our Masala Chai tea combines premium organic Assam black tea leaves with warming cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and other fragrant spices. This tea is finely balanced to create the perfect aromatic blend for you to enjoy black, or as it has been traditionally enjoyed, with milk and sugar.

Organic Black Loose-Leaf Tea, Organic Cardamom, Organic Cinnamon, Organic Cloves, Organic Ginger

Sample provided by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

My Review:
This month, for whatever crazy reason, I selected two teas from The Persimmon Tree that I normally would not drink. The first was French Vanilla Bean. It was really good. Today I am trying Masala Chai.

I have not had much love for chai in the past. Generally, I find it too over spiced for my tastes. I don't mind any of the ingredients in it, however the ginger is usually too heavy for me and a lot of companies add copious amounts of pepper.

I have come to expect The Persimmon Tree to venture off the path a little bit and deliver a balanced tea that is not overwhelming. Let's find out what happens...

I open the tin and the spices are pleasantly drifting into the air. I can make out more than just the ginger, so nice start.

The assam black tea appears to be little pellets. I also see ginger and cinnamon bark. I have no idea what cloves and cardamon look like. Probably, I am looking straight at them and don't know it.

I used my mug with a steel filter basket. The filtered water was heated to 195 F. The steep was, honestly who knows. My wife had me making her toast, as the toaster is in my den. I also heated a sandwich in the microwave. I am guessing 4-5 minutes.

Normally that would concern me, but traditionally chai is simmered on the stove for 8 minutes or so. As you can see mine came out plenty dark, yet it is not harmed.

The traditional method of brewing chai is to simmer it in milk or a combination of milk and water and use lots of sugar. I chose to use water only and make a western cup of black chai.

The taste as prepared is pleasant. The spices are all present but not overpowering. This may not please the purist but I am impressed. Or maybe once again this is what chai was supposed to taste like all along and what I have tried has not been so good?

The strangest part of this cup is that the assam tastes very fruity and almost green. I am thinking it is the interaction of the base with the ginger. I detect no bitterness and really little if any astringency.

Next, I added one packet of sweetener (Splenda), as chai is usually served very sweet. I think this brings out the spices, especially the ginger, without it becoming too heavy handed. The assam still has that interesting fruity green thing going on.

Finally, I added milk. I never add milk (except to my morning green tea powder), but this is chai, so I added milk. Shazam! This is really good. Past experience has been that milk mellows and mutes the flavor in the cup. That is why it is often added to strong bitter breakfast teas. Here it has done just the opposite. The flavors have spread out. I especially notice the cardamon now. Not that it is stronger than the other spices, rather it finally is asserting itself.

For the first time ever, I can say I actually enjoyed a mug of chai. So much so, I intend to try this again by simmering it over the stove in milk with sugar. Call me crazy. The chai monster in me may have just been awakened!

You can find Masala Chai here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bigelow, Ginger Snappish

Bigelow Description:
Savory, sweet and just a bit spicy, our Ginger Snappish herbal tea is the perfect combination of ginger and lemon. Create a new tradition this holiday season, snuggling up with a cup and relaxing by the fire while gazing at fresh fallen snow.

lemongrass, lemon peel, cinnamon, ginger, lemon verbena, rose hips, natural gingersnap, and natural lemon flavor with other natural flavors (soy lecithin), licorice root, citric acid

My Review:
Another that I received as an early Christmas surprise from my friend GG. I did have this before Christmas but am just now getting around to posting. This one appears to be intended as a Christmas themed tea. I do not know if this is available only seasonally, as our local stores don't stock it, in or out of season. Bah Humbug to grocers who ignore the tea drinkers among us.

The tea bag comes wrapped in this bright cheery foil envelope. I only have the one bag, but the box they come in is even more festive. You can see it here.

The scent as I open the wrapper is ginger and lemon. I was expecting more of a ginger snap smell but then the label does say 'with lemon'. The lemon does not make me think lemon fruit, rather it is more lemongrass/lemon verbena.

The string is long enough that you won't have to fish it out of the cup later, and the bag contains almost 2.5g of herbs. Plenty for a real cup of herbal tea.

I steeped this for the recommended 4 minutes. The brew is cloudy yellow. The aroma is a pleasant ginger/lemongrass combination.

Interesting, the taste is far more lemony than I expected. Frankly it is the main flavor. The ginger appears briefly towards the end of each sip, just long enough to add a little heat and then fades rather quickly. This contains licorice root but I do not detect it in the sip.

I added sweetener to see how it affected the taste. Honestly, I preferred this without additions. It is pleasant and soothing, but I have to admit, it does not make me think gingersnap at all. It also does not coincide with any Christmas memories for me. The gingery aftertaste is not enough to bring out the Ho Ho Ho in me, on the other hand, as a quiet lemon cup it is very nice.

I mentioned in my review on Steepster that I would be more inclined to sip this one late at night in the summertime while sitting out under the stars.

You can buy this direct from Bigelow, or just maybe, it will be on your local grocers shelves.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Persimmon Tree, French Vanilla Bean

The Persimmon Tree Description:
Whether you fancy hot or cold with a spoonful of honey or rock sugar, this French Vanilla Bean creamy tea is great either way. This tea offers an impeccably smooth blend of organic black loose-leaf tea and sweet vanilla bean flavor.

Organic Black Loose-Leaf Tea, Vanilla Bean, Coconut, Almonds

Sample provided by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

My Review:
In the past I have tended to avoid vanilla teas. Like my aversion to assam, it is based on years of sipping below par teas. The Persimmon Tree has helped to change my mind on other flavored teas, as they always seem to use quality ingredients, balance, and a lighter touch. Let's see if they can change my mind here as well.

I love the tins in which the teas are packaged. They are attractive and keep the teas fresh for a long time.

When  I popped the top of this tin, I had to check the label. Yep, French Vanilla Bean. You see, when I looked in the tin, the very first thing that caught my attention was a sliver of almond. Of course the second thing I focus on is the chopped tea leaf. It ranges from cinnamon to very dark brown - almost black.

Also in the mix are small whitish looking pieces and several twig segments that are too light in color to be from the leaf.

Yes, this has a vanilla scent but it is mixed with coconut. Looking at the ingredient list, this all begins to make sense. This is not a simple vanilla tea. It does contain almonds, and coconut as well.

The dry scent is very nice. I could probably sniff it the rest of the day... or I could steep some tea. In my little green teapot it goes.

The water was heated to the recommended 195 F. I love that The Persimmon Tree doesn't use full on boil with their black teas. 195 F is my go to temperature when no directions are provided, and I think it generally works really well.

The steep was 3 1/2 minutes. With companies I don't trust (yet) I'll stop at 2 1/2. Here, 3 1/2 seems perfect to me.

The brewed aroma is so fragrant. The liquor is orange/red. I poured through a kitchen strainer. The result is I have some tiny floating stuff in the cup but that won't slow me down. I do need a much finer mesh strainer. The leaf has plumped up nicely and appears a mix of cinnamon and green tones.

The taste begins as a very nice balanced blend of vanilla and coconut. It feels almost creamy. The almond appears as hints as you sip, or maybe it is imagined as I can see it in the leaf. No, I'm pretty certain I am tasting it. I will admit, if I didn't know it was there, I would not be able to identify it.

When you eat something you enjoy, can you identify every ingredient? Probably not, but the addition of each ingredient joins in with the symphony of flavors adding their part at the right moment. So it is here with the almond.

The black tea base is very smooth. As prepared, I detect no bitterness, or astringency. The vanilla and coconut are not overwhelming. In fact, for my tastes, they are at just the right intensity. They are, however, stronger than the black tea base. Though I can taste it, I can't identify it.

I drank this without additives and then with Splenda. If I have to give one the edge over the other, the nod goes to with Splenda. Lately I haven't been saying that much, but this is more of a dessert type tea and sweet just fits my dessert style.

Once again, The Persimmon Tree has made me like a type tea I have never been partial to sipping before today. I'll enjoy sipping this again and again. At $7.99 for two ounces, including the tin, this qualifies as a solid everyday tea.

You can find French Vanilla Bean here.  

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What-Cha, Darjeeling 2nd Flush 2014 Jungpana AV2 Yellow Tea

What-Cha Description:
A brilliant yellow tea from Darjeeling with a delightful hay taste and a slight spice finish. A great example of the brilliant work being done by Jungpana Tea Estate in Darjeeling.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
Today we return to sampling a What-Cha tea. Their teas have been excellent. Though they have teas from regions we all know and love, for me, the excitement builds when tasting from a region I was unaware produced tea, or in this case a type of tea I have never tried. This is my first yellow tea. So, I had to do a little research. Here is what I came up with from Wikipedia:
Yellow tea is a tea processed similarly to green tea, but with a slower drying phase, where the damp tea leaves are allowed to sit and yellow. Typically, the tea has a yellow-green appearance yet a different aroma from both green and white tea.

Opening the sample bag for a first whiff, I get lovely hay. It reminds me of a silver needle white in aroma.

I removed a third of the 10g sample for exam and brewing. The leaf is interesting. I mean, it kind of resembles a blend of white peony and Nepalese black teas. The color range is very broad from green to cinnamon to greyish tipped dark brown.

Today I opted to use my new clear glass teapot. I'm not sure why but this just looked like a tea that will be neat to watch (I was right).

I used filtered water heated to 194 F. The recommended steep time is 3-4 minutes. I shot down the middle at 3:30.

The leaf quickly began to soak up the water and rejuvenate. As it did, it filled the teapot with leaf. At one point my attention focused to a few slightly purple tinted leaves that formed a display like an orchid blossom or a hummingbird fluttering about. That's why I love a clear teapot.

The liquor is very clear and bright with a sunshine yellow gold coloring.

I found the teapot much easier to pour from today, after a little practice. The cup was better than half full before I realized I forgot to use a strainer. Quickly, I grabbed and continued pouring as the teapot does need to be turned way up to drain. Amazingly, only a small amount of leaf was in the strainer - and none in the cup, thank you very much.

The wet leaf was then poured on to a plate. 3g of dry leaf (about 2 tsp) made a humongous amount of wet leaf. There is an abundant amount of large whole leaves. They look like they have just been plucked on a dewy morning. There are also several examples of two small leaves and a tiny bud. They are just as fresh. It has a lightly vegative scent with notes of marine and fruit.

I've written a whole review and I haven't even gotten to the taste yet. That shows how magical the experience has been. This is why I love tea. At its best, tea is so much more than just something to drink.

Now how to describe what I am tasting... I described the appearance of the dry leaf as a blend of white and black teas. For me, this similarly describes the taste. Initially, there is a soft almost stone taste but sweeter and leaning towards hay and fruit. It kind of reminds me of the gentleness of a white tea. Thinking about it, I think nutty might also fit here. As you swallow a sudden wave of good bite fills your mouth. As you smack your lips afterwards you get a sense of floral, that is more vegetation than flower, if that makes sense. You also get a touch of dryness. This is more what I would expect from a Darjeeling black tea. The greenness in the aftertaste stays with you a good long while.

A second cup was prepared, using the same leaf, in a similar manner to the first. Well, this is interesting. The subtle taste of the first cup has been replaced by bolder flavors. To my limited Midwestern palate, this tastes like a raw white potato with maybe the sweetness of corn. The nutty/stone is still present. The aftertaste is more vegetive than grassy. The wave of bite remains intact.

This is a complex, unique, and interesting combination, of subtle, bold, and explosive, making it hard to define and worth trying.

You can find Darjeeling 2nd Flush 2014 Jungpana AV2 Yellow Tea here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Numi, Teahouse Glass Teapot

Numi Description:
Our unique, hand-blown glass teapot is the best way to watch a Flowering Teas™ bloom. It serves up to 14 ounces (420 ml.) of tea. This teapot's dimensions: 4.25 in. (h) x 5.25 in. (w) x 4.25 in. (d)

My Review:
This is the latest addition to my teaware collection. Sometime back I broke my clear glass teapot. I loved the shape and pretty much everything about that teapot, except, from the beginning I was concerned about how delicate it felt. One day, while cleaning it, I accidentally bumped the sink faucet with it and cracked the spout. A short time later, same circumstances, except this time I broke the spout off. I was heartbroken.

I immediately started looking for a replacement. I wanted a small, single cup, clear, glass teapot for blooming teas and greens where I want to watch the leaf dance. Everything I found was either way too large or much too fragile. Then I found this one on Amazon.

It claims to hold 14 ounces. I think 12 is more realistic, if you actually want to pick the full pot up. I'm fine with that, as in fact 10 ounces is what I was looking to purchase, and what I used in the picture above. The handle on this is comfortable and solid. The spout is a pitcher type and I have to admit this reminds me of the Kool-Aid pitcher. So bonus for kid memories. The spout poured easily and drip free in my test. The glass is clear and relatively distortion free allowing for an excellent display of the test bloom - Sunshine by The Persimmon Tree.

I did find some things that I consider less that optimal. The lid fits a little loose. That is not a big issue with me, but you do need to be careful to keep a hand on the lid while pouring. That is true of most teapots. The bigger issue is the globe shape. It makes pouring a bit awkward. The teapot ends up nearly upside down to empty the contents. Holding the pot in one hand, the lid with the other, all while balancing over a strainer, is going to take a little practice to master.

While the earlier clear glass teapot was far more elegant, this one seems far more sturdy to put up with my real life clumsy activities. Until I find something practical that works better, I think this will serve my needs.    

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Twinings, Pure Peppermint

Twinings Description:
A refreshing herbal tea expertly blended using only 100% pure peppermint to deliver an invigorating tea with an uplifting aroma and fresh mint taste.

My Review:
I have no idea where this teabag came from. I am guessing my son put it in my pile. Today's short review is not so much about this herbal tea as it is my hoped for outcome.

This afternoon my wife wanted grilled cheese sandwiches. I am not a big fan. I ate them anyway. Now I am in severe agony. My poor gut is knotted up in pain.

I have heard peppermint is good for calming the stomach. We'll see.

This is a simple no nonsense tea bag filled with pure peppermint leaves and nothing else. The wrapper is some kind of waxed paper type thing. The string is long enough to not get pulled under when adding water. The steeping instructions must be on the box as I don't see any on the wrapper.

I used boiling water and just let it steep. I left the bag in the cup. Since this does not contain actual tea leaves, I don't have to worry about it turning bitter.

The brew is dark orange/brown. It looks like tea. It smells like peppermint. Hmmm. This isn't as strong as I expected. Possibly it is quite old. I added sweetener because I think it needs it.

This is obviously peppermint. The cup is warm and soothing. The mint is cool and refreshing, however, due to its apparent age it just tastes kind of meh. I don't think that is Twinings fault. Their teas tend to be some of the better ones available in the local grocery store.

I did get some momentary relief as I began drinking. Halfway through the cup the pain returned and nearly made me double over. As I reach the bottom of the cup it is beginning to subside again. Did it help? I don't know. It sure didn't hurt and I do like peppermint.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

My Little Green Teapot

Today's review will be a short one. I just wanted to introduce the newest member of my collection. I mentioned a short time back that I wanted to find a small teapot to brew my black teas. I love my press and use it almost all the time for greens, whites and oolongs. The clear glass of the press is awesome for watching the dance of the leaf during steeping.

The press has also served as my black tea brewing vessel but the time has come to adjust to something more appropriate. I just felt like something that holds the heat better would help bring more depth to my cup.

Today my wife was in Goodwill and found this little 12 ounce beauty on the shelf. There is no identifying markings on the bottom to tell me where it came from originally. The outside has not a scratch or chip on it anywhere. The interior looks pristine after a thorough cleaning.

This very gently used teapot was only $4, quite a bargain, I think. Waiting until the first Saturday of the month, it would have been half that price, if someone else didn't buy it first. I've missed out on a couple others with that tactic. Fortunately, my wife did not wait.

After cleaning and warming the teapot I grabbed some Golden Yunnan from RiverTea for the maiden session. Sadly RiverTea appears to have closed shop, which is a real shame. This slightly smoky Yunnan is an awesome tea. I poured through a steel strainer basket as there is no built in filter in this pot. The little green teapot did an amazing job. The tea did taste even better out of it. The smoke was nicely present in the aroma and it brought out leather notes in the sip I had not noticed before.

This was a well spent $4. Welcome to the collection. You will be used often.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Bigelow, Salted Caramel

Bigelow Description:
Enjoy this popular combination of sweet and salty, now in a teacup. Our all natural blend of hand-picked black tea and succulent caramel with just a hint of salt flavor is the perfect treat. Add a splash of milk and a little sweetener for a sublime guilt-free indulgence.


Black Tea, Natural Flavors (Soy Lecithin), Rose Hips, Chicory Root

My Review:
An early Christmas surprise from my friend GG. Thanks! We are always on the lookout for inexpensive teas that are comforting. Here's hoping on this one!

Bigelow was my introduction to the world of tea beyond Lipton iced tea. Constant Comment was my very first purchase. Earl Grey, Lemon Lift, and Cinnamon Stick, came later - I tried everything the local grocer put on the shelf, and fell in love. So, Bigelow has a special place in my heart, even if we have drifted apart these last few years.

This tea bag is sealed in a foil pouch. That is the only way to go with tea bags if you want them to stay fresh. Pulling out the bag, I notice two things. First, this smells really deliciously of caramel candy. Second, the string is long enough that I know it won't get sucked under when I pour water over the bag. A third, and very important thing was learned while looking at Bigelow's website. Each bag contains almost 2 1/2g of tea. This will make a real cup of tea! Some companies (I'm looking at you Stash and Republic of Tea) put about half that amount of tea in their bags.

I used boiling water and steeped for the recommended 4 minutes. That is longer than I would normally go with a black tea bag. I'm trusting you Bigelow!

The brew is dark reddish brown and the cup aroma is making me hungry. I removed the bag, and yes I did not follow my own rules - I squeezed it. At least I didn't leave it in the cup.

The taste is nice but not spectacular. I can taste the black tea base. It is typical of grocery store black tea. It tastes nice but kind of plain with no depth. Good enough that it will do. The caramel is kind of faint. By the aroma, I thought it would smack me up side the head, in a good way.

So, per the label directions I added sweetener. In my case it was Splenda. Oh my! The caramel jumps out to shouts of Taaa-Daaaa! Yeah, now this is pretty good.

The label also recommends adding milk. Except in my morning green tea frappes, I never add milk. Here goes. Now the cup looks like a melted caramel, you know the milky tan color I'm talking about. The taste is not that much different than just adding the sweetener, but the feel is rich and silky.

I would certainly drink this again. If you love a bargain and find this on your grocer's shelf, I recommend giving this one a try - remember to add your choice of sweetener. Bonus, my fingers smell like caramel from squeezing the bag. Yeah!

You can buy this direct from Bigelow here, but I'm pretty sure you can buy it locally for less.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What-Cha, Malawi Zomba Pearls White Tea

What-Cha Description:
A unique tightly wound white tea from Malawi that produces an equally unique taste of tangy cucumber with a thick buttery texture and no trace of astringency.

A great tea for multiple brewing, with it taking in excess of six steeps for the pearls to fully unwind. Another unique tea from Malawi that must be tried.

Sourced direct from Satemwa Tea Estate in Malawi who are dedicated to pushing the boundaries of great tea production while caring for the local environment, providing their employees a fair wage and contributing to the local community.

Sample provided by What-Cha: Tea Redefined

My Review:
Today I am reviewing a white tea from Africa. Most of African tea is destined for the shredders where the dust will be poured into bags. This makes for cheap, one steep tea, and low incomes for the farmers. This tea is different.

Opening the resealable sample bag, I don't notice anything unusual about the scent. It is light and pleasantly grassy. It kind of has a green tea aroma. Scooping out a spoon of leaf convinces me, this is going to be an adventure.

The 'pearls' as What-Cha calls them look amazingly like insects. Hope that doesn't freak you out. To me they look like our 17 year locusts (Cicada). They also kind of look mummified. Around Halloween I Christened these "Zombie Pearls". As you can tell I love (LUV) the look of this dry leaf. The Mr. Spock in me keeps saying, "Fascinating", while I raise one eyebrow. Seriously who doesn't love a zombie insect mummy?

In the press with 175F water, these were steeped for 3 minutes. The directions say to use 4-5 pearls, but I use a 12oz mug instead of a cup so I used about 8. The pearls remained floating on the surface the entire time. I expected they would bubble and fall. As they soaked, and swelled some, they began to look like tent caterpillar cocoons. So, the insect theme continues. Should there be creepy music playing right now? Oh, it's almost Christmas, so never mind.
As you can see in the picture, after the first steep the pearls have barely loosened at all. They are really wound tight. The description above says in excess of 6 steeps to get them to completely unfurl. That will take me a two day session, but I intend to find out. I'll update this post when I make it that far.

The scent of the wet leaf is fresh and green. It does not make me think white tea yet. The liquor is a light yellow with green tint. Despite my need to descale my mug (just washed it and didn't notice), the tea itself is very clear and bright.

Taking my first sip kind of melts me down into my seat. Oh my, this is good. With this first mug I am not getting tangy or cucumber as mentioned on the label. What I am getting is butter, corn, and hay. There is no bitterness and no astringency is the taste, though it does seem slightly drying in the feel.

In the aftertaste there is the tiniest bit of tingle - possibly that is the tangy? The aftertaste doesn't stay long but it is smooth and pleasant.

Mug two was steeped for 3 1/2 minutes. The color and aroma are near identical to the first mug. The taste is likewise very close to the first. There is maybe a little less butter and a little more dryness. This is still a very good cup.

If you did not tell me this was a white tea, I would probably guess it was a green tea. That is not a bad thing. I definitely recommend trying a sample on your own.

You can find Malawi Zomba Pearls White Tea here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Eco-Cha, Red Jade

Eco-Cha Description:
Flavor: Subtle hints of clove, cinnamon and mint. Full-bodied, complex. Substantial brew.
Garden: The maker of this tea is employed by the Yu Chi Township Tea Research Extension Station and his factory produced the winner of the 2011 Black Tea Competition in this area. He is a leading figure in his field and his knowledge and expertise of black tea cultivation in Taiwan is virtually unsurpassed.

My Review:
I do not remember who sent this my way. If it was you, sorry. This was a Steepster Select offering from Eco-Cha. Red Jade is from Nantou Taiwan.

I have had the pleasure of trying a couple teas from the Sun Moon Lake area before and they have been awesome. I'm looking forward to this one. The first thing I notice is this is $12/25g. That probably takes it out of the everyday tea range. Using the recommended 3g/8oz cup that works out to $1.50/cup. You're going to spend that at Starbucks for mediocre tea, some of you everyday, so keep that in mind. The price per cup goes down depending on how many times you re-steep the leaves.

The leaf on this looks kind of luxurious doesn't it? Dark, long twists with just a hint of cinnamon streaks. The dry scent is malt, honey, and sweet potato. Yum.

Following the label instructions, I used half the sample in boiling filtered water (212F) for 3 minutes.

The wet leaf has a baked brownie scent. It's making me hungry. The dark orange brew aroma is similar to the dry leaf - malty sweet potato.

The wet leaf surprises me a little. By the look of the dry leaf, I expected whole leaves to unfold in the pot. Instead this is large, some of which is very large, pieces of broken leaf.

The cup has cooled and it is time for my first sip. Mmmmm, this is good. It is lightly malty, woodsy, sweet potato. I do not get the mint mentioned in the description but I prepared this western mug style. My understanding is that gaiwan brewing results in a ruby red liquor and a minty sensation (without the taste).

At first I thought I didn't detect the cinnamon or clove. Then I read a review on Steepster from a baker who pointed out cinnamon and clove are not sweet on their own. Most of us relate the taste as combined with sugar. Going back with that mindset, yes, I do taste both. Thank you BrewTEAlly Sweet!

This has a dryness like white wine that surprises me. There is a long lasting cheek tingle. I find it strange and interesting. Strange because I have never experienced it lasting so long.

The after taste is honey, and sweet potato. It lingers as well, but evenually gets lost in the tingle. I am now convinced this is what the description means by mint - the sensation and not the taste.

Cup two with the same leaf was steeped for 4 minutes. The color is more caramel now. The leaf aroma is more pronounced having a mix of apricot and spice. The cup aroma is more like rye bread.

The tongue and cheeks are all a tingle as the minty sensation is amplified. Accompanied by a bit of bite, this will get your attention. What I called woodsy in the first cup is now much stronger as well, and it has become more of a fruit flavor without the sweetness. I want to say apricot.

I sucked the first cup straight down and dove right into the second. My cheeks are numb and my mouth is dry. Now, I find myself in a conundrum. I drank this so quickly, I had to enjoy it, yet I find I am not craving more of it. What does that mean? I have no idea.

You can find Red Jade here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What-Cha, Assam 2nd Flush 2014 Green Tea

What-Cha Description:
A brilliant green tea with a wonderful mango aroma, fruity taste and citrus finish. Perfect as an 'everyday' green tea.

Assam Tea is world famous for the strong malty character of its black teas, however the green and white tea produced in Assam is virtually unheard of. The reason for this is the distinct lack of investment into tea in the Assam region which has meant tea producers have lacked the knowledge and tools required to produce good quality loose leaf tea in particular non-black teas. Recently founded Heritage Tea, have sought to redress these problems by providing by setting up a modern factory for tea processing combined with the knowledge and expertise of Rajen Baruah, who has been a professional tea planter for the past 30 years. The end result is great quality loose leaf tea, the likes of which have not been found in Assam previously.

Assam 2nd Flush Green Tea is a really unique green tea as it has been produced from Camellia sinensis var. assamica, the tea varietal which is native to Assam and is known for its larger sized leaves as can be seen by the brewed leaves above. The tea very much delivers on all fronts with an unbelievable aroma combined with fruit hints and a lemon citrus finish.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
Assam. The mention of it makes me shudder from my early years of poor quality bagged breakfast teas. I know better quality tea, especially loose leaf, is nothing like my memory, but I can't quite relax just yet.

This one is a green tea. Did you catch that? A GREEN Assam. Seriously? Is that even possible? Most Assam tea is destined for the big tea machine that grinds it in to dust and bags it for sale in grocery stores across the globe. It is usually black tea and almost entirely CTC. This one is different.

This one excites me the moment I open the sample bag. Oh, and I realized why I love the labels on What-Cha's resealable aluminum bags - the print is large and simply laid out enough so that I can see it without my glasses. Thank you! I can't tell you the number of samples I hold under a light trying to decipher the label. So back to this one, the leaf scent in the bag is malt and oat cereal. I love the dry scent.

Removing a scoop for picture time only increases my interest. This isn't dust! It isn't even small broken pieces. This is real tea leaf. The color is dark olive green with some lighter highlights. Some of it is lightly twisted and some of it appears simply dried. It's beautiful. Assam Green, I love you already.

The press was used with 175 F filtered water for a 2 1/2 minute steep. The leaf stayed pretty much on the bottom. I thought I could faintly hear it singing, "I won't dance, don't ask me."

After pouring, the white grape juice colored brew (it turns more golden upon cooling), the wet leaf had a vegetal aroma along with a freshness that reminded me of what I imagine the ocean air smells like. Later I decided I was catching citrus notes. Very clean and satisfying.

The wet leaf has become much lighter green in color reminding me of snap peas. I still can't get over whole leaves from an Assam. What will they think of next?

After letting the tea cool, I finally get to taste. I have used this description before and I fear it fails miserably to describe my experience. When I was a kid, we camped. At one park the gang of kids would ride our bikes and stop at this one water fountain. The water from it had magic properties. The water tasted like it was drawn straight from a mountain stream where the waters poured over the rocks. I am not saying this tastes like water. I am saying it takes me back to that refreshing moment when I was 12. Tea that evokes strong memories is the best I think.

Moving back to present time, there is a neat light astringency and a mild bitterness that really add to the sip. I am also catching notes of citrus. It is kind lemony but only slightly so. Beyond this, the aftertaste is really long lingering with a grassy taste.

Cup two, using the same leaf and temperature, was steeped for 3 minutes.  It appears more yellow than before. I don't notice much aroma from the cup itself. The flavor is more prominent than with the first mug. If I had time I feel certain my spoon of leaf would make a third western mug. The taste is much more vegetal along with a touch of cave or sort of mushroom. The aftertaste is again lingering and grassy.

I'm very impressed by this tea. Unlike my early bagged black tea experience, this loose green tea delivers a wonderful amount of flavor without hurting my stomach. There is no need to flinch with this one. This would make a great everyday green, and it is an Assam. Brilliant!

You can find Assam 2nd Flush 2014 Green Tea here.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tradition, Green Tea Powder

Tradition Description:
Delicious Tradition Green Tea Powder has full of fresh green tea benefits, including great weight loss. Matcha is getting popular in the world now.

My Review:
Let it be stated clearly from the beginning - this is green tea powder and not matcha, which is made from a specific type of Japanese tea leaf. This green tea powder is a product of Taiwan.

Often companies will label their food grade green tea powder as matcha. Tradition avoids this misrepresentation on the package although the product description on Amazon is a little fuzzy.

I start every day with a cold green tea powder drink, having been originally inspired by my quest to imitate Starbucks Green Tea Frappuccino. Green Tea Powder, at least the ones I have used, do not have the same deep flavor of the Starbucks version. That is not to say they do not make a great drink. You just have to accept they taste different. Coke does not taste like Pepsi. Same here. Similar products.Different taste.

I start with 1 tsp of powder. If you are new to GTP, I suggest using 1/4 tsp until you become accustomed to the taste. Next, I add an ounce or two of room temperature water, whisking until the powder is completely dissolved. Then, I stir in a half glass of 2% milk. You can use soy, or whatever type you like.

At this point I add a splash of sugar-free vanilla and caramel syrup. I find this on the coffee aisle at the grocery store. I add this after the milk because the sugar-free variety of these syrups use xantham gum as a thickening agent. Adding it before the milk can result in the powder forming clumps that are near impossible to break up. After adding the syrup, I fill the glass the rest of the way with milk.

Instead of syrup you can use fruit, yogurt, the kitchen sink, or nothing at all. Find a taste you like and refine it for your own breakfast drink. One fellow told me recently, he uses cocoa and sugar. So have fun with it.

If you are a matcha enthusiast, you can see by the picture this powder does not have the deep green color found in high grade matcha. It is sort of yellowish green. It can be bitter. That is not such an issue for use in a milk based beverage.

Honestly, at first I was disappointed in the taste of green tea powder - because it did not taste like a green tea frap. As I continued to drink it each morning, I slowly decided I liked it better, and bonus, I can control the sweetness. Starbucks is now entirely too sweet for me.

This is half the price, on Amazon, as the green tea powder I used previously. I think I paid $10.50 for 250 grams (8.8 ounces). That is pretty cheap. Compared to the other versions I've used, this is a little less potent. It is also a little harder to mix thoroughly. For the price, the difference is pretty insignificant.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What-Cha, Russia Large Leaf Dagomys Tea Estate Black Tea

What-Cha Description:
A smooth Russian black tea with a sweet raisin taste.

Don't miss a unique opportunity to try a Russian black tea as it was very hard to source and it may not reappear once sold out.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
Did you know they grow tea in Russia? I didn't, until recently. This will be a very rare treat for me and this blog. I plan to give this my full undivided attention.

First off, my sample is labeled Krasnodar, which as it turns out, is the city in Russia near where the Dagomys Tea Estate is located. What-Cha's website has this tea listed as Russia Large Leaf. Same tea, slightly different name.

Dagomys plantation is located near Sochi in Russia (winter Olympics XXII), very near the Black Sea. It is far to the north and west of the areas I normally associate with tea growing. It also happens to be one of the northernmost tea growing areas in the world. The trees were developed to be cold resistant. Even so, the plants would almost certainly not survive our Indiana winters without some shelter from the cold. So I have already learned a little about tea, geography, and southern Russian climate. Let's open the bag and see what other surprises it holds.

The resealable aluminum sample bag is once again clearly labeled. I notice the steep time is shown as 4 minutes. That will be tough for me to do. Black teas make me nervous the first time I try them. I should know better by now, but all the years of drinking lesser grocery store teas makes it difficult to trust the tea won't hurt my stomach. What-Cha has not led me astray so far, so I can do this...

Opening the bag and inhaling I get sweet (honey) and malt, along with a grain like note.

Removing a large scoop of leaf - this is really a good looking leaf. I guess I was expecting tiny pieces like how most Assam and Ceylon blacks seem to be produced. Instead this is large pieces reminiscent of a Chinese black (red) tea. The leaf is dark, nearly black, with some cinnamon coloring streaking through the leaf.

Into the press it goes for 4 minutes (I can do this) in 203 F filtered water.

I really need to stop by Goodwill and see if I can find a small secondhand ceramic teapot just for black teas. The press works well but is really not the proper tool for the job. The press is excellent for white and green teas. It cools a little too easily for proper black preparation.

The 4 minute mark is reached (yeah me!) and the result is an orange brew that turns a little more ruby colored as it cools. The aroma is lighter than the dry scent but similarly malt and grain.

Looking at the wet leaf it looks far more twiggy in the picture than it does in person. I was impressed with how much the leaf expanded. This is large pieces of broken leaf. See picture below.

What I expect this to taste like, based on the caricature image I have in my head of Russians drinking tea, is a really strong musclebound cup of bitter tannins that require massive amounts of milk and sugar to calm the cup down to my drinking level. That's what I envisioned. That is not even close to what is in my mug.

This is a delicious and mild cup of black tea. Who knew? My first thought is, this is similar to a Dian Hong, but not really. The smoothness and the total lack of bitterness is similar, along with light malt notes. It is completely different as well, as this does not have the sweet potatoes or cocoa/caramel notes of a Yunnan black.

Wet Leaf
It is kind of like a Nepal black tea, but only kind of. This has a mild woodsy note along with a raisin flavor that suggest a Nepal connection. The mellow smoothness is too different to make the leap.

Western mug number two was also steeped for 4 minutes. This is still a wonderfully gentle smooth cup of tea, however the flavor is way more pronounced. The raisin note is strong in this one. I am also getting a mushroom and earth flavor late in the sip, along with mineral. This is just completely different than the first mug. It also washes away any reference I have to any other teas.

The growing region really gives this tea its own flavor profile. Similar and accessible compared to old favorites but unique in its own way.

Based on this tea, I look forward to experiencing other teas from Russia. What-Cha states their supply is limited and they are not certain they will be able to secure more, so if experiencing tea from lesser know regions excites you (and it should), don't wait too long.

The next time you brew a cup of tea, I encourage you to consider where on earth your tea actually was grown. I am finding tea makes this world a lot smaller and more connected than I ever imagined.

You can find Russia Large Leaf Dagomys Tea Estate Black Tea here.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Teavivre, Peach Jasmine Dragon Pearl Green Tea

Teavivre Description:
With the sweet and fresh fragrance of peach and the shape of small pearl, this Peach Jasmine Dragon Pearl Green Tea has similar appearance with Jasmine Dragon Pearl Green Tea. Yet the two are very distinct from each other. When seeing this Peach Jasmine Dragon Pearl, you will feel surprised with the sweet peach fragrance.

My Review:
I got this sample with an order a few months ago. Now that warm fruity tea weather is only a memory, I am finally getting to taste this one.

I absolutely love Teavivre's Premium Jasmine Dragon Pearls. In fact all their jasmine teas have been of the highest quality. This tea combines jasmine dragon pearls with the fragrance of peach. I happen to love peach tea, so I have high hopes and expectations going in to this session.

Removing half the sample pearls for examination and brewing. I notice the contrast between the dark outer wrap of leaf and the tan/white streak that reminds me of cream filling.

The scent off the dry leaf is incredibly peachy. To me it is quite fresh and natural. It's almost like sniffing the fruit itself. Nice.

I used 185 F filtered water and a steep time of 2 minutes for a western mug of about 10 oz. This is right in the middle of the 1-3 recommended on the label.

The  brew is a deep golden color. It has a lovely though lighter peach fragrance.

The wet leaf has only partially relaxed. An occasional stem and two leaves can be seen as well as some that are still mostly pearls. This is typical of my experience with Teavivre pearl teas. They are tightly rolled and it takes a few infusions to fully relax the leaf.

The wet leaf is highly peach scented. I am not detecting the jasmine at this point, but I am OK with that as the peach is lovely.

The sip takes the experience to a whole new place. The peach is more discernible than an other flavor but it is not overwhelming. It melds in with the jasmine in hard to define ways. It kind of bounces around, reminding me of vanilla, then caramel, then wine, then back to peach. If I did not know this was scented with jasmine along with peach, I am not sure I would make the connection in this first cup.

It is light and refreshing with no bitterness as prepared. There is only a slight amount of cheek tingle. Since recently learning to drink my tea without sweetener, I find I do notice the tingle a bit more. I am not detecting a lot of obvious green tea notes.

Second western mug was steeped for more than 3 minutes (I picked up a guitar and kind of forgot to watch closely). Anyway, the wet leaf scent is far more vegetal now with fruit and floral notes falling way off.

The taste reflects the less than ideal attention paid to steep time. Here I am getting far more green tea flavor with an increase in astringency. It is not out of control, and in fact I kind of like it this way. The jasmine is now the background note. It is there, but barely detectable. The peach flavor is now the secondary note. It is pleasant, natural, and light.  

As with pretty much all of Teavivre's flavored teas, this is well balanced and mature in flavor. It is not overdone, fake, or candy like. I find this particular combination of peach and jasmine to be a very interesting combination. This is not as amazing as the Premium Jasmine Dragon Pearls, but is a really nice peach tea.

You can find Peach Jasmine Dragon Pearls Green Tea here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What-Cha, Vietnam Wild 'Tiger Monkey' Green Tea

What-Cha Description:
A wild growing green tea with a woody taste which develops with subsequent steeps.
Unusually, it does not use a drum oven to fire and dry the tea but rather it is done by hand utilising a wood fired cast iron pan.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
Getting to today's review has been more difficult than usual. It quickly became needed as a distraction and sanity break from dealing with bureaucracy. When dealing with the government, losing your old email account before you are able to update your profile with them, means you become trapped in a parallel universe that seemingly will never reconnect with this one. I shall prevail, I am just not sure how - yet.

Once I was able to actually brew this tea the first time, I was endlessly interrupted by well meaning but otherwise oblivious and apparently really bored family members. I tried to involve them in a little tea tasting session. That quickly devolved into a pointless endeavor. I finally gave up for the day and had to just walk away. Fortunately, I have more of this tea and a little quiet time (O please let it be so) where I can concentrate and keep things simple.

dry leaf
One of the glorious things about tea is, though it may take some skill to brew a good cup, it is not so complicated as to become frustrating. In fact, I find tea is usually quite forgiving and the time and effort is rewarded with a relaxing clarity. To me, tea is spiritual in nature, joining earth, man, and art, with the divine. But enough rambling. On to the tea-

As always, love the resealable aluminum bag and clear printed label. Opening the bag I catch very light roasted notes. The label mentions hints of smoke. To me, it is roasted nuts with vegetal notes. It almost reminds me of hojicha but way more subdued. Really the scent is very light.

wet leaf
When I removed a scoop of leaf, it looked to me exactly like the leaf used in a Vietnamese lotus scented tea that I love. I quickly grabbed some of that leaf to compare and I am pretty sure the leaf is either from the same farm or processed so similarly as to appear identical in its olive color, with both having the same leaf twist and curl. This one is unscented, so the comparison will end here.

The Bodum press once again served the mighty mission. 175 F filtered water was used and the recommended two minute steep. The wet leaf is plump and alive. It looks so thick, fresh, and green. The aroma of the leaf does now contain a light smoky element.

The brew is golden in color. When it is first poured I see tiny little leaf fuzz floating throughout the mug. This quickly settles and disappears.

Ooohhh, this is such a mellow cup. It is lightly vegetal, slightly sweet, with a hint of smoke. There is a light touch of cheek tingle. It has a mild green tea bite but doesn't even hint at bitter. This is a very nice cup.

For my second cup, I steeped about 2 1/2 minutes. The color of the brew was very similar to the first. Again I catch hints of smoke in the wet leaf but more vegetal this time. The sip differs from the first by adding a mineral note that is almost salty. It has slightly more bite. I notice nuts in the aftertaste along with a grassiness. Another solid cup.

Here is something I am learning from my experience with What-Cha, China and Japan are not the only tea growing areas that do green tea and do them well. This one from Vietnam is a really worthy example. I highly recommend grabbing some samplers from different regions and broadening your horizons.

You can find Vietnam Wild 'Tiger Monkey' Green Tea here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What-Cha, Vietnam (Ha Giang) 2007 Wild 'Dark Forest' Dark Tea

What-Cha Description:
A brilliant wild growing dark tea with a smooth and lingering wood taste.

It is prepared in a smilar fashion to a cooked (shou) puer with the exception that the leaves are left to ferment over many years rather than being fully dried. It is made from wild growing leaves (from trees aged 200-800 years old) from Ha Giang province which shares a 270km border with Yunnan.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
Christmas came early at my house. Just before Thanksgiving, a big new box of samples arrived from What-Cha. There was a bit of an altercation between my mailbox, two boxes arriving the same day, and our substitute mail carrier. The contents of my What-Cha box are unharmed. I cannot say the same for the exterior. Speaks well of the bubble wrap packaging on What-Cha's part.

Like a giddy school girl (I don't know what that phrase means either) I tore into the box this morning. I had made up my mind not to sort these in any order. I would just grab the top one and work my way down. Yeah, that was the plan. I don't remember the first I grabbed because my eye saw the one just under it. Dark Tea! Awesome. I haven't had a dark tea in quite a while. So I guess the new rule is I pick the first bag under the top one - ha.

Dry Leaf
Pu-erh is a dark tea but not all dark tea is pu-erh. Dark tea is the bigger family name of post fermented tea. It is an acquired taste. This particular tea comes from trees that are 200-800 years old. For those with an open mind, let's see how this one brews up.

I always make a point of noting the simple layout of the What-Cha sample label. I always check the website for the company description and other information, but it is nice to know I don't have to journey beyond the packaging to know how to brew the tea.

Opening the bag I catch the scent of big old damp logs slowly decaying on the forest floor. There is also another scent that is not charcoal, and not ash either. It is kind of like a log the day after putting the fire out. Somehow that is an insufficient wording, as it is actually a good pleasing scent to my tastes. There is nothing 'off' in the aroma as can be the case with poorly produced leaf.

Alien Wet Leaf
The dry leaf is small pieces of dark cinnamon and browns. It looks similar to several loose pu-erh teas I have sampled. I used about 3 g in my press with 200 F filtered water and steeped for 2 1/2 minutes.

Digressing for a moment, as I am prone to do, in anticipation of today's tea, I dismantled my press this morning and gave it a much needed thorough cleansing. It sparkles like new from top to bottom.

The wet leaf fascinated me. I know it is hard to see in the picture, even if you click on it to enlarge. It is so dark, black really. It has a shiny look like a neoprene diving suit. It also has a sharp crystalline texture about its appearance. Of course it is soft and squishy if you play with it (yes, I do that sometimes). The dark shininess of the leaf reminded me of the monster in Alien.

A Cup Of Dark Tea
The tea brewed up to a lighter than expected orange tint. It looks very much like, well, tea. It has a slightly musty/dusty aroma. Being a cooked dark tea I expected the 2 1/2 minute steep to produce an inky black soup.

The taste is wood. Not fresh lumber, but old wood that has begun its transition into rich soil. I am not good at identifying a particular wood but my best guess is cedar. In addition, It does have some spicy notes under the cedar. Like the cup aroma I catch dusty/musty notes that just seem to fit.

Based on the dry aroma, I expected this to have a smoky presence, but that is not really the case. I catch some elements of a charcoal flavor as I exhale. The earthy aftertaste lingers long.

There is no noticeable astringency or bitterness. This is very smooth and easy to sip. I have had far less and far more complex cups of cooked pu-erh. This seems to fit in somewhere in the middle and at the price, would make a solid everyday cup.

You can find Vietnam (Ha Giang) 2007 Wild 'Dark Forest' Dark Tea here.


This morning I grabbed yesterday's leaf and had the second western mug that I didn't have time to prepare before posting the original review. I have changed my mind. I like this even more today. I brewed the second mug for 3 minutes at 200 F. The color is lighter and more caramel than orange. The dusty/musty flavor is still present and rests on top of a stone like taste. Beneath this is a wonderfully sweet fruitiness with cedar and spice notes. Very earthy. Very good. The other thing I notice today is how syrupy thick it feels. This was very good yesterday. Today, maybe I am just more in tuned or something, but I find this cup amazing.