Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Return Of Matcha Madness

A short while back, I had the pleasure of participating in a blind taste testing of a dozen culinary grade powdered teas. I was a bit nervous as I thought I was a little too inexperienced for the challenge. Turns out my insights and opinions lined up fairly well with the more experienced matcha drinkers and bloggers who also participated. So, go me! You can find the original set of reviews here.

Now, a few of us have been given the opportunity to continue on where the first testing ended. There will be three sets of matcha. Each set has been selected to contain similar quality teas, and are intended to progress upward in quality with each. I plan to dedicate one post to each set of samples. The third set may span more than one post. I'll decide about that later. I feel a lot more confident going in to this round.

The Sponsor:
This testing is sponsored by Red Leaf Tea. They supplied all the matcha samples to the testers. At least one of the samples in each set belongs to Red Leaf Tea.

The matcha was divided and packaged in individual aluminum sample bags. A label was affixed to each saying simply "Sample 1",  "Sample 2", etc.. After the testing was completed, I received a file containing the actual product names to match to the appropriate sample.

Each of us is allowed to prepare our matcha as we see fit. It is my intention to treat each in an identical manner (but see below for my mixing goof). My methodology will be the same as I used in the original matcha madness testing:  Measure out 1/4 tsp of matcha into the cup. Add 2 ounces of filtered water heated to 160 F and stir until well mixed.

Testing & Rating Process:
Each dry sample will be examined for color. Traditionally, the deeper green the powder, the better.  Next, I will taste the dry powder. Finally, the matcha will be prepared and tasted.

A rating, will be given  for color, and one for taste, with a rating of 1 being lowest and 10 highest. A third rating is for sweetness /bitterness. Here, a rating of 1 is extreme bitterness, and a 10 is sweet with no bitterness.

Now On To The Sampling:
First, a word about the cup pictures - I changed procedures during the tasting which I should not have done. With the first and second teas, I mixed with a spoon because that is my daily routine when making lattes. For the rest, I used a whisk because we aren't making lattes here, are we? Obviously, the whisk works better at creating a foam. In all fairness the first two will foam nicely when done properly.

The powder is kind of lime green. The dry taste is a good mix of sweet and bitter with a nice leafy taste. The liquor is a murky algae green. The taste is strong and seems a little more bitter than sweet and has some nice grassy hay notes. The aftertaste lingers. This is very inexpensive and a nice latte worthy tea. In fact, this will be my new everyday latte powder very soon. My ratings for this one are lower than my original review, as I am using it as the baseline to compare the others in this set.

Color: 5  Taste: 5  Sweet: 5
Price per bag: $14.99
Price per oz: $0.94

Yes, I recognize this one as Red Leaf Tea Deluxe Matcha. It was my top choice in round one.  The color is a little more green than the first. The dry taste is sweet with floral notes. The liquor is a dark murky algae green. It tastes floral with a nice bite. To me, this is what I imagine a green oolong would taste like if powdered. The aftertaste lingers and is very pleasant with floral and grassy notes.

Color: 6  Taste: 7  Sweet: 6
Price per bag: $24.99
Price per oz: $1.56

This one is very different from the previous two. The dry color is about the same as the first. The dry taste is very dry with no bitterness. I got a nice foam on this one. Tasting this I get almost no bitterness, just a pleasant bite. The taste has a dark green leafy taste. It doesn't make me think spinach exactly but it isn't seaweed either. Kind of in between the two. The aftertaste has a sweet floral and leafy taste.

Color: 6  Taste: 8  Sweet: 6
Price per bag: $19.00
Price per oz: $5.28

Out of the bag, this is the greenest powder I have seen so far. The dry taste had an umami presence, yet reminded me of movie popcorn without all the salt. It mixed well and had great color though still kid of murky. Maybe that is true of all matcha? I have no idea at this point. It isn't bitter or particularly sweet. It is a bit seaweed and again the umami notes. Mostly it is just kind of flat to me due to the lower sweetness, but it is easy to drink. It didn't move me as something I would drink straight but seems perfect for sweetened lattes.

Color: 8  Taste: 6  Sweet: 4
Price per bag: $7.99
Price per oz: $7.99 ($3.99) 

Oooh, another that is very green out of the bag. Maybe this will be the new normal as we go through the remaining sets of matcha. Hope so. The dry powder tastes smooth and malty with a touch of seaweed. Mixed easily. This tastes good. Not very descriptive I know. I get malt, seaweed and floral with a touch of hay. There is enough bite to be interesting without calling it bitter and mixed with enough sweetness to make it easy to drink. My hands down favorite so far from this set.

Color: 9  Taste: 9  Sweet: 7
Price per bag: $29.90
Price per oz: $8.54 

The powder is as pronounced green as the last. The dry taste is kind of a mix between malt and the umami popcorn I noted earlier. Foams up easily and the color is bright jade green. Now, the taste leans more bitter than I expected. It is malty and leafy green vegetal/seaweed. There may be nothing wrong with this one but I wasn't a fan, which is interesting as this is the most expensive of the set.

Color: 8  Taste: 8  Sweet: 5
Price per bag: $32.50
Price per oz: $9.29 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Oollo Tea, Limited Edition Alishan High Mountain Black Tea

Oollo Tea Description:
Alishan Mountain is known for its amazing mountain oolong teas however it also produces small limited batches of black teas. This particular 2014 harvest brews a prominent cacao chocolate flavour with wooden musky aroma.

Sample provided by Oollo Tea

My Review:
My water heater has been out of commission for two days now. I have a plumber on the way. This has served to once again remind me of how good most of us have it. We take things like hot water for granted.

I think we do the same thing with tea. It is always there and most of us have way too much of it. I encourage you to ponder how the leaf made its way to your teapot. Most of our "good stuff" was had picked and processed. So much work and art go into tea that I find it pretty amazing we can get it at all.

So today I am reviewing a black tea from the Alishan mountain in Taiwan. In the past I have found the black teas of this region to be some of my favorites and as distinctive, and different, as Chinese Yunnan black tea.

Upon opening the sample bag, the scent of malt and baked cocoa is released into the air.  Removing the leaf, shows this one to be very dark, almost like charcoal color, but with areas of cinnamon brown. This looks like something I need to drink, and soon, because it looks so good.

I used half the sample. It appears to be around 3 g. The water was heated to 200 F and I steeped for 3 1/2 minutes. I totally made up these parameters as they do not appear on the sample label or the website. I often use 195 F for my black. Since I do not expect any bitterness here, I bumped it up a little. I seldom  use full boiling water even though that is how most people would prepare it. Just my personal preferences at work here.

OK, so the liquor is orange and bright. It is one of those happy shades, like the outdoors with an icy glass of tea type colors - or is that just me? The wet leaf has a stronger baked cocoa aroma.

As I expected, there is no bitterness present. There is a light bite with little astringency. It tastes as good as it smells. I get some malt, followed by cocoa and honey. There is a woodsy flavor present in the mix as well. I am also noticing floral notes blooming in the aftertaste.

This is not a subtle tea. You do not have to go out of your way to taste it. Yet, this is not an assertive cup like your usual Assam or Ceylon. It reminds me of Fujian black tea but smoother. 

I enjoyed every sip of this one.

You can find Limited Edition Alishan High Mountain Black Tea here.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Wymm Tea, Jingmai Sheng Pu-erh

Wymm Tea Description:
This is a sheng pu-erh that brews bright golden liquor with a heady orchid aroma, and can last for around 15 steeps. First spring leaves make the best-valued tea because of the concentrated nutrients, and the infused liquid emanates strongest aroma and flavour. Picked from the first spring of 2011, our Jingmai pu-erh possesses opulent aroma and intense flavour that is reminiscence of wilderness of Jingmai.

Sample provided by Wymm Tea

My Review:
Today's selection is a raw pu-erh picked from ancient trees in 2011. The trees are very old. The tea is fairly young. Sheng, at least youg sheng, has a tendency to have a sharp bite. Let's see what this one brings.

The leaf itself is gorgeous. At least to my eyes. When I unwrapped the paper, exposing the loose leaf (sample is loose, a bing is available), I was immediately impressed with how fresh it looked. I know it is dried and brown, but it looks so alive. The silvery buds along with the tans and lighter shades have kind of a green cast to them.

I really did not detect an aroma off the dry leaf.

The entire sample (6 grams) was added to the pot and boiling water added. I don't bother with rinses. The first steep was at 10 seconds. I am preparing this in small amounts in my press to fill my gaiwan for drinking. Why didn't I just use the gaiwan to start with? I have no idea.

Now I catch an aroma off the leaf. It is floral and leafy. It has some of the young sheng aquarium water scent - not fishy, but like a living watery habitat.

The liquor is clear and a nice honey color.

Bracing myself for the taste, I quickly relax. Ooh, this is nice. I was expecting a bright metallic bite. Not even close. The first thing I notice is a light hint of a smoky edge. Then the flavor springs out like, well, spring. It is a really lovely floral. It is not alarmingly so. I detect no rough edges, or off flavors. It feels thick on the tongue. It leans slightly towards sweet. The second cup is pretty much the same. I am noticing very little astringency which is unusual for the shengs I have tried.

Cup 3, 4, & 5 introduce a shot of pepperiness. The smoke note is now moved to the aftertaste and remains very light. The flavor is now more vegetal and floral and the astringency has picked up a tiny amount but remains far more controlled than I am use to tasting in sheng. An apricot note is also present in the sip. The aftertaste is floral.

As usual for me, I prefer the development of the flavors as the cup cools.

Wymm Tea says this will go 15 steeps. I'll not be able to find out today.

Bottom line: I found this to be a very pleasant and easy to drink sheng.  

You can find Wymm Tea Jingmai Sheng here.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Golden Tips Tea, Arya Ruby Darjeeling Black Tea Second Flush

Golden Tips Description:
Our second flush 'Arya Ruby Black Tea' is a classic example of Darjeeling summer royalty. The well-made leaves are wiry and have a delightful appearance with plenty of silver tips. Manufactured to perfection, the tea boasts of an immensely complex character with abundance of muscatel flavor. The fruit-flowery notes flush your mouth with a sweetness that is pleasant and comforting. The aroma scents of rich caramel with a slightly woody character. The nose is sharp and slightly fruity which resonates muscatel richness. Overall, the tea has a fantastic texture, a balanced and rounded body with an extremely smooth flavor that leaves a sweet lingering aftertaste in your mouth. An excellent limited edition Darjeeling second flush black tea.

Sample provided by Golden Tips Tea

My Review:
I prepared this one yesterday but wasn't satisfied with my results. Today I am upping the amount of leaf, the water temperature, and the steep time and see how that changes my opinion. All the previous Golden Tips Teas have been very delicious. This one was a little too understated for my tastes. So let's have at it, again.

The sample came in a resealable pouch with all the pertinent label information, including the steeping parameters and even the picking date.

Opening the pouch, I smell tea, tobacco, and hay.

The leaf is long withered and slightly twisted pieces. There are some silvery tips present.

Yesterday, I used 2 grams of leaf. The water was heated to 195 F and I steeped for 3 minutes. Not being satisfied with the overly subtle result, today I am using 3+ grams, 205 F water, and a 4 minute steep. I used my Bodum press as the steeping vessel.

The result is a deep caramel colored liquor. It is not the dark orange/red one normally associates with black tea, but is typical of my experience with Darjeeling tea.

The wet leaf was a deep woodsy aroma. The leaf reveals itself to be large broken pieces even with the FTFGOP1 Ruby designation on the grading. I was expecting full intact leaves.

Up front I first notice a peppery bite. It is not overwhelming but enough to make you take notice. As the bite settles, the notes turn to woodsy autumn leaves. There is a small amount of fruitiness present.

This is pleasant enough, it just isn't making a memorable impression. I like subtle teas when I can detect great depth to them. Others have raved on this tea. It just isn't speaking to me again today.

I decided to add sweetener to pump up the cup. It did. Really this is quite enjoyable sweetened. I am not noticing any new flavors, just more off what was already in the cup. I could drink the sweetened cup often. My feeling is it would taste good iced as well.

As I said, other reviews on this are very favorable. For me personally, it was just OK.

You can find Golden Tips Tea, Arya Ruby Darjeeling Black Tea Second Flush, here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wymm Tea, Menghai Wangshuji Shou Pu-erh in Seventh Grade 2008

Wymm Tea Description:
This shou pu-erh brews with a rich and honey flavor and long-lasting jasmine rice aroma. Full tea leaves from high mountains in Menghai County, located in west of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, are picked to make the tea in 2008. Pu-erh tea has the potential to ferment over time, and this tea has been post-fermented for 6 years since production. Post-fermentation gives the tea vibrant flavours and richer aroma as well as deep wine colour.

Note: First grade contains the smallest leaves while seventh grade contains the largest leaves. There is marginal difference in the taste; first grade has a slightly stronger and woodier flavour, while the seventh grade has a milder and sweeter flavour. The third and fifth grades fall in between of the first and seventh grade.

Sample provided by Wymm Tea

My Review:
Woke up this morning and decided it was shou time!

This sample from Wymm Tea came wrapped and tucked inside a proper paper wrapping, allowing the leaf to breathe. With most tea leaf, air is a bad thing. With pu-erh it helps with the aging process.

The leaf is loose and of large size. It is mostly dark and resembles tree bark. In the picture I notice some twigs. There is not a lot of scent. It is mildly barn, with hay and some composting scent, along with a touch of leather.

I used boiling water and about a 10 second steep for the first cup. I prepared this for western mug because I just didn't feel like a bunch of tiny steeps - as I would just pour them together anyway.

As you can see from the picture the first cup is light. Here it looks orangish. In reality, it was the same color as my Sue Bee Honey which is just out of camera range.

The steeped leaf is nearly black and has that shiny neoprene look. The leaf has a strong barnyard aroma.

The sip is immediately likable. I am getting zero rough edges prepared my way. There are no off flavors.

This is very smooth. It is also quite creamy. The flavor note is mainly earthy forest wood. There is a bit of dryness on my lips, which I find interesting since this is so creamy. It is mildly sweet with just a touch of honey flavor.

The second mug was also steeped at about 10 seconds. It is darker than the first and still lighter than expected. The flavors while hot are very similar to the first with more of a spicy note with a unidentified fruity note - maybe it's cherry. Once the cup cools the spiciness fades. I did not get to taste the first mug while really hot, as I was distracted, so this note might also exist in the first.

I believe there are many steeps left in the leaf. I'll stop the review here but continue on tasting later today.

Conclusion: This Mehghai from Wymm is an easy sipper, worthy of trying.

You can find Wymm Tea, Menghai Wangshuji Shou Pu-erh in Seventh Grade 2008 here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

What-Cha, Korea Dong Cheon Daejak Sparrow's Tongue 'Jakseol' Green Tea

What-Cha Description:
A more affordable, yet still brilliant Korean green tea from the Daejak picking.

A larger leaf Korean tea from the Daejak (fourth) flush, subsequent flushes are less prestigious and hence cheaper than previous flushes. As the leaves are bigger than earlier flushes, a greater number of steeps can be achieved.

Sourced at a discounted rate from another UK retailer who imported it direct from Dong Cheon, Korea. Dong Cheon is a tea factory which processes tea from a co-operative of over 80 farmers. It is the factory processing which makes Dong Cheon teas more affordable compared to other Korean teas.

Sample provided by What-Cha Tea Redefined

My Review:
I'm starting this review with an apology to What-Cha, even though I know Alistair understands. I've been fighting health issues for a while and my box of What-Cha samples have sat untouched for a while. Apparently a long while, as this tea is currently out of stock. In the expectation it will be restocked, I will proceed with the review. Beside who doesn't want to try Jack Sparrow tongue green tea? Yeah, I know that's not the real name, but that's how my twisted brain read it.

I don't recall saying this before but I appreciate What-Cha listing the steeping temperature in both Celsius and Fahrenheit on the label. Especially true with this tea as the temp is really low. No clumsy conversions needed.

The first note coming from the open bag is a light roasted scent.

The leaf is really dark. It is kind of battleship gray with a darker purplish tint. It is an unusual color. The leaf is lightly twisted curls.

I used about 3g of leaf (abt 1 1/2 tsp) in my press. The tricky part here is the recommended water temperature is 158 F. I fired up the kettle and watched as the thermometer climbed. Turning it off moments early and letting momentum do its thing. The steep time was 1 1/2 minutes.

The wet leaf remains somewhat twisted at this point. It has turned a lush green, so the unusual dry color is from the processing. I can't tell at this point if this is whole leaf or large broken pieces. Either way, it looks lush. The scent of the wet leaf is roasted like the dry leaf.

The liquor is the color of lemon aid with maybe a shot of lime tossed in. It certainly looks refreshing on this hot summer day.

 One thing I can immediately say is a steeping temperature of 158 F works great for me to begin sipping right away. I have no idea how those of you who like it really hot, keep from hurting yourselves. I'm a temp wimp.

So the first sip, I'm tasting the roasting. Come on, it is not THAT roasted. I have noticed that notes I love, and one's that I am not so crazy for (roasting), tend to take over my experience when tasting. I have read other's reviews of this tea. They barely, if at all, mention it. In fact, one called this a must have tea. Time to put on the big boy pants and try again.

OK, now I am catching corn notes up front. This abruptly shifts to a momentary metallic taste. Not to worry as it glides gently into a grassy finish. There is no bitterness. I do notice some dryness, that I kind of like.

Time to move on to mug two. If I were gongfu gaiwan brewing this would be like cup five through ten. I just much prefer my big western mug.

Interesting, I wasn't expecting this much difference between the first and second mug. This one is a combination of seaweed (Nori, if that makes it sound more appealing to you), corn, and grass. The light roasting is gone (Hallelujah!) as is the metallic note.

This is an interesting and more complex tea than one might expect at the price. It is not going to make my must have list but I am glad to have tried it.

You can find What-Cha, Korea Dong Cheon Daejak Sparrow's Tongue 'Jakseol' Green Tea here.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Oollo Tea, Alishan

Oollo Description:
From the world renowned Alisan Mountain comes the unpretentious high mountain oolong. The Alisan family farms tea trees that were bought from our family in 1990. They practice zero pesticide natural farming.

Varietal: Qingxin Oolong
Curator: Grandpa Lo
Location: Alisan, Jiayi County, Taiwan
Elevation: 1200-1800m
Date: 2014 Winter

Sample provided by Oollo Tea

My Review:
I do not want another month slipping by without reviews. So let's get started.

Dry Leaf
It is a scorcher here today with highs hitting the low 90's F. I want something that sounds light and refreshing while having solid flavor. This Alishan spoke to me saying it would fit my desire.

As you can see in the sample picture above, the packaging is a sealed aluminum bag. The label is simple and clean, showing basic brewing parameters. The one thing I notice, the label shows 5g in the brewing section, however Oollo's website calls for 3g for 12oz. The website more closely matches how I like my tea.

Opening the bag, I don't find much in the way of aroma to suggest what is to come. There is a light dried field scent and a touch of corn aroma. The leaf is quite dark green. I actually lightened the dry leaf picture some so the leaf would be easier to see. It is tightly rolled pellets with a partial exposed stem.

Wet Leaf
I used my glass press as the brewing vessel of the day. The water was heated to 195 F. With the lid in place, I steeped for 2 minutes.

The liquor is golden yellow with just the lightest tint of green. It is as clear as our extreme hard water will allow.

The wet leaf expanded nicely to reveal two or three whole leaves on each stem. It always amazes me how the artists process all that leaf into that tiny pellet by hand.

The wet leaf has a roasted aroma. I was expecting it to be more floral. Let's see where the sip takes us.

The first taste starts with a spiciness that is sort of a combination of mint and cinnamon. Not really the taste, rather the feel. It is icy and hot at the same time. This passes into the floral notes I was expecting. This one, however, is a little different, as it doesn't knock you over with floral. To me, that fits perfectly on this hot day. I am also tasting some creamy corn notes.

My wife popped in during my tasting asking me to help her plan some things unrelated to tea. While I am helping, I noticed how long the aftertaste was lingering. Nice.

I like Oollo's description of unpretentious, as that fits perfectly. It is not a wallflower, but it is not trying to be the center of the universe either. It does not knock you over with floral and does not have that strong latex aftertaste some green oolongs possess. What you get here is a solid cup of alishan with sufficient depth to keep you interested. For me personally, the cooler it got, the more I liked it. This leads me to believe it might work chilled.

Like most oolongs this should resteep well.

You can find Oollo Tea, Alishan high mountain oolong here.