Monday, February 20, 2017

Tillerman Tea: Wenshan Bao Zhong Winter 2016, A Tea Review

You know, if someone magically had the power to shoehorn me into eating one type of cuisine for the rest of my life, and that cuisine was Middle Eastern, I would be perfectly happy. That whole region has some of the best food...and this is from the person who eats a ton of other cuisines and considers myself a traveler of the world's food. Once a month I treat myself to a feast of this cuisine, luckily Kansas City has a lot of restaurants in this style, from a spectacular Persian restaurant, an award winning Greek, and a wonderful hole-in-the-wall Shawarma place right down the road (and a bunch more I have not tried yet) which has an amazing Shawarma over seasoned rice dish I am fond of. Of course, this has sparked a bit of debate, since Ben loves the Greek restaurant's Tzatziki and I am more partial to the local Shawarma place's, the big difference is they use more dill and a bit of mint which I think compliments the meat.

Today I am taking a look at an Oolong, that to me, is the epitome of spring time, in celebration of all the crocuses in the yard, a Wenshan Bao Zhong, this one from Tillerman Tea, their Winter 216. The aroma of the emerald twisty leaves is very sweet, notes of hyacinth, honeysuckles, and orchids, with undertones of buttery toast, lettuce, celery, and a surprising (but very welcomed) note of almond at the finish. I love the floral aspects of Bao Zhong, but my favorite is definitely when it has a touch of crisp green along with the flowers, it adds a bit of depth and makes the aroma more like a garden rather than just a pile of blossoms. That almond note though, that is fantastic and I really like it, nutty notes make me happy, but doubly so when mixed with spring flowers.

Into my yixing the leaves go and wow, the flowers are intense! Strong notes of honeysuckle and orchid blend with lilacs and hyacinth with a tiny touch of lily flowers. Underneath all those flowers is a bit of buttery cooked lettuce and cooked celery, adding a touch of green. The aroma of the liquid is sweet, notes of lilac and hyacinth with a touch of lettuce and a bit of fresh green sage to add an herbaceous note I love.

Ooh it starts quite smooth, no gentle build up, it starts strong with a buttery mouthfeel and full spring flower taste. Notes of hyacinth and lilies is how the first steep begins, then it moves to sage and celery with a touch of orchids. The finish is a wonderfully sweet honeysuckle and slightly herbaceous sage with a lingering aftertaste of butter and hyacinth.

On to the next steep, as I fight a battle with staying inside the house and not frolicking out in the first spring drizzle. This might be the lily-est Bao Zhong I have had, usually I find they go really heavy in the hyacinth and lilac note and only hints (if at all) but this one tastes and smells like a bouquet of my much loved Asiatic spicy lilies. Also, I note hints if peony flowers with strong buttery lettuce notes at the finish. The aftertaste is a clean celery and hyacinth note and it lasts a while, with several minutes later the spicy lily taste returns. I love the lilies so much. I was able to get several more flowery sweet and crisp green steeps out of this tea!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Origins Tea: Rose Oolong, A Tea Review

It seems as though it is already spring time, all week the weather has been warm and sunny, and my yard is full of crocuses! Granted the early spring brings sadness, because with warm weather comes aloof cats. Neither of my cats want to snuggle with me any longer, they want to stretch out in the window or whatever patch of sun they can find, and I don't blame them, I keep debating going outside with my tea...but then remember my favorite place is in my tea room and decide to just enjoy the open windows. Granted Midwest weather is always a strange thing, so we might get another weird May blizzard again.

Today I am looking at a tea that seems more at home during summer than spring, Rose Oolong from Origins Tea, a green Oolong blended and scented with roses. It is no secret by now that I am a huge fan of roses in my tea, and just roses in general, they bring back many happy childhood memories. The aroma blends gently nutty sweet notes of the Oolong with heady roses, making it smell very similar to rose marzipan, which is a dessert that needs to happen (maybe a weekend baking project for me!) It is very sweet while also being floral, luckily for those who only kinda like rose, it is not super strong, being like rose water in a dessert than a face full of a bouquet.

I decided to brew this tea in my serpentinite gaiwan, really to let those pink petals pop against the dark green stone. The aroma of the wet leaves does increase the rose, smelling like a rose garden in bloom with undertones of sesame, hyacinth, honeysuckle, and almond. It is both sweet and heady with a touch of green. The liquid is sweet and smooth, roses and honeysuckles mix with crushed vegetation and a touch of almonds and sesame seeds.

The first several steeps are all light in both mouthfeel and taste, it takes this tea a while to really show its stuff. This is good for those who don't want a ton of rose, as the first few steeps are fairly light in the rose taste, just adding a bit of sweetness and distant rose in the aftertaste. The majority of the first few steeps showcase the gentle sweet nuttiness and honeysuckle taste with undertones of crushed vegetation and a bit of lettuce.

Now around steep four the roses really decide to show up, taking up both the front and the end of each sip, with the midtaste being almonds, honeysuckles, and a touch of crushed vegetation. If you let the cup go cold the taste becomes sweeter, with a stronger lingering rose taste. I will definitely have to try cold steeping this tea when summer does come around, but with it being it the high seventies, why wait? I thought this tea was a great example of a rose tea that doesn't overshadow the underlying tea, which can be a serious problem sometimes.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Quantitea: Gyokuro From Uji-Tawara, A Tea Review

Hey, guess what, Minecraft drama! I had just finished building one of my new bases in my new world and crash, and then crash again...and again. Looked at the info and from what I could glean from searching it is an error with my graphic card. Now, I hate to admit how incredibly tech stupid I am, but I have no idea how to fix I am trying uninstalling and reinstalling the modpack (thus losing my builds...again...) and starting over, failing that I am done. I will go back to the Xbone with its boring blocks and just build like I always do while lusting after modded blocks like I have been doing for years. Poor pitiful me.

There are some teas I can drink all the time, and some I need to be in the right mood to truly appreciate, Puerh and Green Teas being the main culprits here. It is not really surprising with Puerh, since that is how I have always been with it, but with the greens it is a bit amusing, especially with Japanese greens. For years my favorite teas were the various Japanese greens, Genmaicha was my go-to feel good tea, various types of Sencha were my daily drinkers, and of course bowls of Matcha with wagashi were my special treats, within the past two years my tastes have changed and now I only drink them occasionally. Now don't get me wrong, I still love Japanese greens and get very excited for them when I am in the mood, like the tea I am writing about today, Quantitea's Gyokuro From Uji-Tawara. The tea is described as a gateway introduction to Gyokuro, and I am going to say this now...for a gateway Gyokuro, this is one of the best ones I have had! The aroma of the vibrant leaves is very savory, strong notes of fresh kelp, cooked spinach, soybeans, cut grass, cooked kale, bok choy, and lettuce. It is an explosion of green in my nose, all happily savory and evocative of sauteed fresh greens.

The aroma of the brewed leaves is so savory, makes my mouth water! Notes of kelp, toasted nori, sesame seeds, cooked spinach, bok choy, sauteed soybeans. It smells like stir fried veggies and I admit that anytime I sniff Gyokuro I find myself immensely hungry. The liquid is very savory, bordering on buttery with notes of kelp, nori, soybeans, bok choy and cooked spinach.

It starts with a fantastically thick and buttery soup like mouthfeel, my mouth is coated with a savory explosion. Notes of bok choy, toasted nori, kelp, spinach, soybeans,  and lettuce give this tea a strong umami quality. Now in typical Gyokuro fashion, this tea has a very sweet surprise, the midtaste does a very rapid transition from savory to a burst of sesame, sugarcane, and crisp snap peas, making for an immensely sweet finish. The aftertaste is a blend of sugarcane and very fresh cut grass, both of which last for quite a while. I really liked this tea, I was craving a Gyokuro when I tasted it and it delivered the desired Gyrokuro tastes and much more.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Tea In The City: Rosebay Willowherb, A Tea Review

Happy day after Valentine's Day everyone, I spent the day of and day before hanging with Ben, like one does with their sweetheart. On the moments between mutual geeking, I was working on modifying a modpack, since I kept running into the problem of a really awesome modpack not having what I wanted. So I learned (and feel free to laugh at me) that duh, you can totally add or remove mods from a modpack (as long as it is for personal use of course) now the fun part is making sure you then don't break the pack. Which I did, several times, and I have a new found respect for modpack creators for sure!! I have simple needs, I just want Biomes o Plenty, Mo Creatures, all the Thaumcraft mods, Botania, Blood Magic, Metallurgy, Chisel, Rockhounding, ExtraUtilities, EnderIO, ChocolateQuest, Tinker's Construct, and JourneyMap...see, not that complicated at all.

Today's tea has become something really special to me, mostly because of what it is, Rosebay Willowherb from Tea In The City. This is a plant of many names and a rich history, known as Rosebay Willowherb in Great Britain, Chamerion augustifolium to the Botany crowd, Koporye Tea, Ivan Chai and Russian Tea in Russia (and other parts of Europe) and to me, it is known as Fireweed. This truly gorgeous flower prefers boreal forests (one of the reasons it is closely linked to Russia and Canada, they like the cold) and has been used by the indigenous people of that region for food and medicinal purposes since time immemorial. Not only is it a flower that likes the cold, a plant with many uses, and gorgeous, it can be processed and oxidized/fermented (some places list as ferment, I am honestly not sure if this is a translation error and it is just oxidized, or if it is mildly fermented as well) like tea. All of these aspects make it special, but what really made this tea steal my heart is familiarity, years ago I had the pleasure to work as a Naturalist in the boreal forest of northern Minnesota, where I saw this flower in its native habitat, so it brought back some very happy memories. The aroma of this beautiful pile of leaves and flowers is amazing, herbaceous leafy notes of parsley blend with elderflowers, ripe mulberries, raisins, dill flowers (very very light) and a heady sweet red wine note. It is very complex, just the right amount of sweetness to herbaceous ratio to keep the nose very enticed.

The first time I steeped this tea I brewed it in my glass teapot, but decided for the review I wanted to try drinking it gongfu style, good news is it is wonderful both ways, you really can't go wrong however you steep it. The brewed leaves and flowers are fascinating, strong notes of mulberry, elderberry and elderflowers, red wine (a bit of elderberry wine too) wildflowers, bee balm, parsley, and a bit of pollen. It is evocative of walks in the forest when these flowers are in bloom, I find myself instantly transported into my memories. The liquid is sweet and musky, like red wine and mulberry with a definite fermented fruit quality, along with elderflowers, oak leaves, and a touch of green reeds.

When I tried this tea western style I was at first a little stumped, not often do I run into a tea or herb where I cannot identify its taste, everything tastes at least a little like something else, and for someone obsessed with tasting everything...running into something that tastes so unfamiliar was astounding! There was a touch of mulberry, elderflower, honey, and red wine...but something distinctly unique and specific to this flower. Brewing it gongfu brings out stronger notes of mulberry and elderflower, with slightly citrus notes of bee balm, a bit of grapes, and a touch of sweetness that almost seems malty. I do not say this lightly but this tea is magical, I can see why it was for years a hugely popular tea substitute in Russia and Europe.

I keep speaking of this tea's Russian heritage, though this specific tea came from Latvia (though I do have some Russian tea from Tea In The City I will be covering soon!) which prompted research into the country, since I have to (with great shame as a historian) admit I didn't really know much about it, you know how much I love having a reason to research something! The second steep is even sweeter, like a combination of mulberries and honey stewed together with underlying wildflower and malty notes. Towards the end a touch of slightly herbaceous slightly green notes of reeds (specifically cattail shoots) shows up, but it is quickly washed away by the sweet mulberry aftertaste. Conveniently drinking it western style will get you at least two solid steeps, gongfucha at least five, not bad at all for a flower!

I usually don't mention the medicinal benefits of teas, be they Camellia sinensis or some various herbal tea, because usually, I find the lauded benefits never work for me, so I don't bother, plus I always drink for taste and any benefits that might show up are just an added benefit. I am mentioning it this time because it is said that the tea is mildly sedative, and for once a tea listed as a sedative actually worked, I drank it before bed twice and slept wonderfully...notable since at the time I was dealing with a nasty bout of insomnia...and when I drank it once in the afternoon I felt so relaxed. Overall this tea just made me feel good, I found drinking it made me happy, the taste and appearance alone was enough to put me in a good mood. I have already consumed all of my sample and just ordered more.

One final note on this tea, from a botany standpoint that I find just amazing, this plant is an amazing asset to habitat restoration. Due to its resilience (thanks to its love of cold climates) it is surprisingly hardy, meaning that after oil spills and forest fires this flower comes in and helps resuscitate the land for more fragile native species. I have always found myself drawn to flowers and plants (ok and especially mushrooms) that can come in after disasters and repair the damage, returning things to a previous state of balance.
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This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Origins Tea: Taiwan Assam Black Tea, A Tea Review

It is a beautiful day today, bright and sunny with a pleasant breeze and perfect mid-60s temperature! I have my windows open and have a serious case of restlessness since it feels as though spring is on the way. I am, of course, expressing my restlessness by exploring in Minecraft, finding perfect locations to build various bases after reading that one of the big lag causes is having all your various different mods built on top of each other. So far I have only had one crash on this modpack, which I consider a big win. There are a few other modpacks I want to at least check out, but I feel this is the one I am sticking with.

I can bet you are all surprised that I am looking at yet another Taiwanese hong cha, since it seems lately a lot of my tea drinking has been Taiwanese tea, and I am not showing is just, Taiwanese tea was my first love and I still have so much passion for it! Origins Tea's Taiwan Assam Black Tea is the lucky leaf pile for today's post, a hong cha made from the Assamica varietal, which means big curly leaves! The aroma of this tea is a fun one, blending savory and sweet with notes of dried tomatoes, carob, raisins, saffron, stewed plums, and sourdough bread. I found myself really intrigued with how it is both very sweet and fruity while also bringing the umami.

Time to add more layers of seasoning to my Taiwanese hong cha teapot (well, except for Red Jade, that has its own pot.) The aroma of the steeped leaves is a fascinating thing, strong notes of cumin and cocoa, brisk woodinesss, sweet prunes and cherries, and a finish of slightly earthiness and raisins. Again it mixes savory and sweet. The liquid, however, is immensely sweet, very strong notes of fruity chocolate, along with strong notes of almonds and brown sugar.

Oh my, this tea tastes identical to a fruit nut Cadbury bar, one of my favorite chocolates (mind you I haven't had one in years and it has probably been replaced by Toblerone) but wow, that chocolate, almond, raisin combo is taking me down a nostalgia path. Towards the end a note of cumin adding a bit of earthiness to the sweetness, balancing it out a bit. It has a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel as well.

Well, this tea continues to fascinated me! Instead of being a milk chocolate, it develops a carob and super dark chocolate giving it a touch of that cocoa bitterness which dances with intense raisin sweetness. The sweetness fades pretty quickly leaving a starchy sourdough and cumin note and a finish of distant brown sugar. Here is where it gets peculiar, it tastes like brown sugar but without the sweetness, which is a strange thing to experience!

This tea has some decent longevity, two more steeps of bittersweet chocolate and fruit, followed by four more of sweet milk chocolate Cadbury nut and fruit bar goodness, lastly the final two steeps are delicate brown sugar sweetness. I already drank all my sample, which makes me sad becuase I am craving chocolate and want more. Maybe Ben will bring me a Toblerone if I ask nicely...until then I will strongly contemplate buying a stash of this tea, not that I really need tea...ok I always need tea!!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Immodestea: Tea Of The Month Club, A Tea Review

An update, for anyone who cares about my silly modded Minecraft woes, I seem to have found a pack that works for me. Loads of magic themed mods (yay, Thaumcraft!) a tea themed mod, lots of building goodness, no tech at all (pretty sure it is the tech mods that kept causing the problems, pity since Ender IO has the best inventory management ever) and Biomes o Plenty so I have fun exploring to do. No crashes yet, so I consider this a win, fingers crossed I finally found a non-skyblock modpack I can play for a while.

Today I am looking at a new Tea Club from Immodestea, the month they sent me is all about one of my favorite teas, Dian Hong! Yes, all Yunnan fuzzy tea, all the time, in the box (which, might I add, arrived in brown paper, I am a sucker for packages that arrive wrapped like a vintage parcel) you get four different teas (three pre-packed servings of each, for a total of twelve sessions) a card filled with relevant tea lore and information, and a card with steeping information, feed your brain while drinking your tea. I tasted the teas in the order they show up on the card (ID'ed by colored stickers on their bags) so let's get tea'ing! I used the same Jian Shui gaiwan for all the teas, along with the same steeping paraments of 195° F 15-30-60 and so forth, basically how I always brew my Dian Hongs.

First up is the May 2016 Feng Qing, a machine picked late season Dian Hong, I call these daily drinkers, they are workhorses of teas with classic Dian Hong flavor profiles and a decent amount of longevity, this style tea is the one I like to toss in a travel infuser or have a session going when I am having a really long painting session. The aroma of the leaves are sweet and malty, strong notes of cocoa, cherry wood, yams, peanuts, and a touch of molasses. When I think of a classic DH aroma, these notes come to mind, and when I steep the leaves the aroma of the wet leaves has notes of yam, malt, cherry wood, cocoa, and a stronger peanut finish.

This tea goes for many steeps, starting with a sweet yam and pumpkin with a sprinkling of peanuts (mmm dessert) taste and building to malt and molasses in later steeps. There are also notes of dried cherry, cocoa at the finish, and gentle notes of woodiness that add a bit of briskness to an otherwise very smooth tea. Even though I prefer this tea in a gaiwan, you really can do just about anything to it, Ben had a mug (by a mug I mean four resteepings) of it, and I took one of the packets and drank it bowl style. It never gets bitter, it is super versatile, and it goes forever, in my opinion, a perfect daily drinker.

The next tea is April 2016 Feng Qing, same location but a month earlier, so I can do a real side by side comparison between this one and the previous. The aroma of this tea is subtly different from the May, stronger peanuts and instead of molasses there is caramel, it is also less yammy and sweeter with a slight earthier undertone that I usually associate with Dian Hongs that are nuttier. Once brewed the leaves take on a resinous quality, blending notes of myrrh with the peanuts and malt, the undertones of caramelized sugar and cocoa add a sweetness that lingers in the nose.

The tea starts thick in the mouth, and it stays thick throughout the entire session, which is not as long as the workhorse of the May tea, getting five steeps instead of the nine. Even though the session was quick by comparisson, it peaked really early, instead of using the first steep as a lighter version of what is to come in later steeps, it started very strong with notes of peanuts, cocoa, myrrh, yams, caramel, and a gentle cumin note at the finish. These notes stay with the tea until the end, just gradually fading until nothing. It is very balanced and has a fantastic mouthfeel, so I forgive its short stamina.

Onward to a different region of Yunnan, March 2016 Lin Cang, and before I get into the aroma of the leaves, let me point out how pretty they are! Loaded with golden fuzzy trichomes, this tea is a very visually appealing tea, especially if you find these golden leaves as appealing as I do. The aroma of this tea is very sweet and smooth, strong notes of chocolate and molasses with undertones of brown sugar, walnuts, distant flowers and a finish of delicate black pepper. Steeping the tea really brings out the chocolate notes, it is robust and very sweet, good for those who like their Dian Hongs as a dessert tea.

So I am going to get the only complaint I have with this tea out of the way first, it lacks longevity, I am not going condemn this tea because it only lasts four steeps, but if the tea tastes good I am fine with it lasting all day. And of course, it does taste good. This is one of those teas that tastes like a velvety molasses heavy brownie, very sweet and very rich. The smooth and velvety mouthfeel just adds a level of depth to the tasting experience, along with gentle notes of malt and toasted peanuts at the finish. Ah, I really did like this tea, I was sad when the session was over and it left me craving more, which is the mark of a good tea!

The final tea, March 2016 Lin Cang, and no I am not repeating myself, this one is from the same region and month but is hand picked and very uniform, according to the little info card it gives way to 'a flavor most refined.' This one is the exact opposite of the other Lin Cang, where that was rich and sweet, this one is resinous and a bit herbaceous with only an undertone of sweetness. Notes of myrrh, cumin, dried tomato, and malt blend with raisins and honey at the finish. I kinda love those teas that smell of resin, especially myrrh, it is one of my favorite smells. Once the leaves are steeped they become sweeter, the notes of honey and molasses over taking the dried tomato and cumin, though the myrrh is still quite present, as is a little bit of cocoa.

Like the previous tea this one is not as long lasting, sticking around for five steeps, I need to rummage through my various tea notes to see if maybe Lin Cang Dian Hongs don't last all that long, I know some regions last longer than others, but (and forgive me) I don't feel like filtering through my massive pile of tea notebooks at the moment. The flavors it does bring with its short life are pretty fantastic though, very strong notes of nuts (going in a hazelnut instead of peanut direction) and dark chocolate, the good stuff. The end of the sip brings in resinous pine and myrrh with a lingering aftertaste of honey Towards the end of the session the dark chocolate is sweeter and honey takes a more predominant place, it ends very sweetly and has an aftertaste that sticks around like a pleasant memory.
Tea stains are all me, also the brush decided it needed attention

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Nepal Tea: Kathmandu Cosmos, A Tea Review

I am getting really fed up with playing Skyblocks, I mean they are kinda fun for a while, but I like exploring and making big builds! So now my quest is to find a modpack that has the mods I like and doesn't make my computer cry, so far no luck. Of course, if it doesn't work I can always go back to the Xbox, Ramble has plenty of buildings that need expanding, like my seemingly endless road and bridges project. Hopefully, the one I am trying now works, simply because it has a tea themed mod where I have to process tea leaves I grow, which is win.

Today I am looking at another tea from Nepal Tea, their Kathmandu Cosmos which blends Golden Tip Black Tea with a myriad of spices, such as pepper, lemongrass, cardamon, ginger, orange peel and other things grown in the farmer's garden. The ingredients are a mystery, which I find exciting. The aroma of the leaves and spices is...well...very spicy! Not for the faint of nose, that is for sure, strong notes of citrus, cloves, ginger, coriander, malt, and what seems to me to be curry leaf and tulsi, but it could be some other spice or herb I am not familiar with from that region that smells similar. It is quite a tasty smelling level of spice, makes my sinuses all warm and tingly, which was great, since I tried this tea on a cold day and was glad for the extra warmth.

I decided to brew this tea in a kyusu I recieved as a Christmas gift, mostly because this tea has a lot of small particles and spice bits, so I needed something with a fine mesh, and the filter on this pot has a fantastic filter. The aroma of the steeped tea is soooo spicy, it is intense!! Strong notes of sweet masala chai style spices (especially the clove) and coriander with undertones of a more herbaceous spice of curry and cumin. Something about this blend of spices is very soothing to me, probably why I eat so many foods that feature similar profiles. The liquid is very sweet smelling, along with a strong spice, specifically spices that come off as very warm, not spicy like a chili pepper but very warm like chewing on a cinnamon stick.

Wow, the taste is pretty potent, very strong spice notes of cloves, ginger, and what seems like corianger and cumin. It has a very pleasant cinnamon style burn that makes the tea have a tingly mouthfeel, with a smooth slightly thick finish. There is a lot going on with this tea, it took me a while to really get a handle on the tea because it was a cascade of different flavors, ranging from warmth to sweetness, herbeceous to malty, it really is fantastically varied with the herbs and spices mixed with the tea. If this seems like a tea you would like to try, select it as one of the rewards for their current Kickstarter, at the very least your mouth will have a serious adventure and you will be supporting a good cause!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.