Monday, September 1, 2014

Butiki Teas: Red Queen Cupcake, A Tea Review

It has been a day of highs and lows for me so far, the highs are awesome, the lows are pretty frustrating because they affect my tea drinking! First off, pretty sure I have Ben's stupid cold/flu, meaning my sense of taste and smell will be utterly gone for a few days. Second my electric kettle broke, just decided to stop heating things. I feel like I lost a friend, it left me feeling empty and lost...I take my tea gear very seriously. Of course I took to facebook lamenting the death of my kettle, and a dear friend bought me a replacement, how awesome is that! My new kettle will be here on the 5th, I think my sanity will hold until then.

Today's tea is a dessert themed tea from Butiki Teas! Red Queen Cupcake is inspired by one of  the winner of Cupcake War's creations, a cupcake that mixes chocolate and espresso with vanilla frosting and fresh strawberries, that sounds so yummy. This blend is made from Dinjoye Estate Assam, Chocolate Chips (vegan), Freeze-Dried Strawberries, Safflower, Amaranth, Organic Natural Flavorings (vegan) and is Gluten Free, for those seeking cupcake tasting things like I am. The aroma reminds me of truffles (the chocolate, not the mushroom...I know, weird for me to not be talking about mushrooms) rich chocolate and strawberry truffles with a sprinkling of espresso, it pulls to mind a very specific truffle a friend of mine made, they were quite decadent. The aroma is intensely sweet, perfect for those times you are craving chocolate (when am I not craving chocolate?)

Oh man, steeping this tea is fantastic, the aroma of strawberries, chocolate, and espresso fill my tea area. Sniffing the leaves once they are out of the water I also detect a bit of malt and a slight floral hint at the finish. The liquid without its leafy friends is just intense, the strawberry is so sweet and the chocolate is mouthwatering. There are hints of malt and a delightful kick of espresso at the end.

Before anyone goes 'le'gasp! Traitor to tea! Espresso!' keep in mind, I used to work at a coffee shop where I was practically fueled by espresso. I might not drink coffee anymore, and I have always preferred tea, but I still love the taste of espresso. Now that I have gotten that out of the way I can say HOLY MOLEY Chocolate! Wow, it starts out with a rich chocolate sweetness, this moves on to espresso, and then to vanilla and juicy strawberries. Lastly there is a bit of espresso and sweet vanilla at the finish that linger into an aftertaste. Butiki recommends taking this with a bit brown crystal sugar, but I really think it is sweet enough, I am tempted to put a little cream in it to make it extra rich, but again it is already super rich.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Healthy Teas: Green-Black-Herbal-Fruit, A Tea Book Review

Oh man, I feel really off today, not sure if I am catchy Ben's stupid cold/flu thing or if I am about to have a Fibromyalgia flair. Either option is unpleasant, but they will pass with time. If it is a fibro flare, I cannot say I will be surprised, I have been so busy with redoing the bedroom, and baking, and other things that I have worn myself out! I do not think I have just spent a day lounging or relaxing in a while, and I still am not finished with the things I need to accomplish. Soon, I am going to have to take a break!

Today's book is Healthy Teas: Green-Black-Herbal-Fruit by Tammy Safi is a book about the various health benefits of tea. Before you either groan in annoyance or become rapt with excitement, it is not really that fixated on the various miraculous healing properties of tea, most of the health things come from various herbal teas. It has a very tolerable level of health references, like saying that caffeine in tea can help with migraines (but can also be addictive and cause heart problems) that some teas have an alkaline affect on the body making it soothing for people who have ulcers, and that it is a good source of some vitamins and minerals. I am very much so in favor of what can be called 'basic' levels of health claims with regards to tea, but I get offended at the various claims out that that make tea come off as a panacea. It gives my favorite drink bad press and makes the legitimately healthy aspects of tea not taken seriously because of all the sensationalist claims, at least that is how I have felt with regards to it...but I digress...

This book touches briefly on the history of tea (and uses fermentation instead of oxidation...that will never stop annoying me I think) and has a brief introduction to various teas separated by country. I did notice two things that made me a bit sad, first off all oolongs come from Taiwan. No, this statement has completely neglected all the beautiful Wuyi oolongs, that is practically criminal, but my obsession with oolongs make me very biased. The other thing that caught my eye was the brewing instructions, a lot of them said use boiling water for green teas. Oh man, anyone who follows those directions is going to end up with some intensely bitter green teas, this I know from experience.

The rest of the book is devoted to recipes for various herbal teas, some of which look quite tasty. Luckily the recipes do not include any really rare or hard to find ingredients, pretty much all of then can be found at a local herb shop. This was a cute little book with some nifty recipes, I say if you want a book that is an introduction to tea and focuses on herbal tea, this is a good pick.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Musings: Crafts, Geekery, and Randomness

Is it really Saturday already? Crazy, this week seemed to fly by. I spent it baking, taking care of a sick Ben, and dabbling in crafty stuff. Even though it flew by it seemed fairly uneventful and I have been fairly distracted.

I think my greatest accomplishment was dabbling with paint and paint techniques for my Scourge units. Luckily the starter set which I bought came with a spare Invader APC so I have been using it for practice, it looks awful. I decided to see what different paints looked like together and how different level of watering down looked, so basically it is tacky and pretty crooked. Of course I was painting with a junk brush and while waiting for my nightly muscle relaxers to kick in, so slowly I was losing motor control and my detail work becomes blurry. Painting 10mm scale while slowly being knocked out is really fun, but also really hard.

My other two big projects this week, well, one of them I can't talk about because it involves a friend's birthday present which she won't be getting until next week. The other one, however, I can babble on about! I have been having a great time redesigning the labels for my Adagio Teas Minecraft Mobs Custom Blends and then I will be designing teas for the mobs that are currently missing from my collection. I am hoping the blends will become more popular so they can be made into a fandom sampler. A girl can dream!

On another tea themed note, I went to the thrift store and found some very cute tea themed items for my collection! A classic somewhat rustic looking tea tin (stamped with TEA, for convenience) that is actually just a ruse, it is lined with stainless steel and is quite modern. The big find was an intriguing new tiny teapot, it is some unglazed clay with plum blossoms on one side and calligraphy on the reverse. I am going to season it like it is a yixing, though what it actually is is the question.
Also Espen on  my chair

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Persimmon Tree Tea Company: Peach Apple Crisp, A Tea Review

Have you ever wondered where exactly Hobbits come from? Well, my dear sweetheart (and fellow geek) Ben came up with the best theory ever; Hobbits are spawn of Ungoliant! His theory is this, the various spider spawns and Ungoliant herself are known for their perpetual hunger, in face Ungoliant managed to consume herself she was that hungry. One of the main things we know about Hobbits is that they really REALLY like eating, a grand total of seven (probably large) meals a day is not normal. Clearly their ravenous hunger means they are the long lost descendants of the great spider herself.

One of the biggest problems with being Gluten free is lack of certain favorite desserts from my childhood, my mom used to make the most delicious apple or peach crisps for me. Peach Apple Crisp by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company is a blend of Biodynamic Black Loose-Leaf Tea, Organic Nilgiri Loose-Leaf Tea, Organic Assam Loose-Leaf Tea, Organic Orange Peel, Fair Trade Organic Rooibos, Roses, Organic Hibiscus, Safflower, and Natural Flavors, a sizable list of ingredients! The aroma smells pretty varied, there are notes of roses, delicate peaches and apples, a touch of citrus, a bit of woody rooibis, a tiny bit of tart hibiscus, and lastly a sweet malty and caramel finish. It does not really smell like a crisp, but it does smell sweet and fruity, so I enjoy sniffing it.

The brewed leaves are delightfully sweet, there are notes of apples and peaches (real fruit, not candy or fake fruit, always a big plus!) there is also a rich caramel and malt aroma with a tiny bit of rose at the finish. The liquid without it's leaves is richly malty with accompanying notes of caramel, wood, and fresh peaches and apples. The fruit smells more like cooked fruit than fresh fruit, giving it a bit of a crisp feel.

Tasting the tea, it starts off with a blend of malt, caramel, and woody notes, this gives it a bit of an oatmeal themed crisp crust. This transitions to fairly mild apple and peach with a hint of citrus and an aftertaste of roses. If I close my eyes and imagine I can almost taste the crisp, but with about half as much sugar (which can really easily be fixed with a bit of sweetener) this is one of those teas that is really good at capturing the idea of a crisp without tasting exactly like one. I like it, the tea is a good dessert tea without being overly sweet so it could be a substitute for a dessert or a companion to a sweet dish.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

SerendipiTea: Fu Man Chu, A Tea Review

There has been a role reversal in the house today, instead of Ben having to take care of my sickly self, I got to take care of him today. Poor sickly thing either picked up a super nasty cold or the flu, chances are I am going to get it what with the fever and sore throat I have had all day, but it has not hit me as hard as it has him. I feel really bad since he has one of those amazing immune systems and never gets sick, he just does not know how to deal with it. I have been giving him loads of tea which seems to be helping.

Today's tea is Fu Man Chu, by Serendipitea, a blend of Organic Jasmine Petals, Organic Pouchong, and Organic Pu-erh. I need to start this review by saying that I have always wanted a Fu Man Chu mustache, I mean it is just so cool! Yeah I am one of those nerdy chicks with mustache envy, I think because it just looks fun to twirl while contemplating, I could twirl it while contemplating this tea! The aroma of this tea is quite unique, a blend of heady jasmine and earthy pu-erh. It is like a blend of blooming flowers and a garden after rain, it has that mineral and wet earth aroma. This tea smells like laying on one's back in a summer garden, a very interesting concept.

Once the tea has been brewed the wet leaves get a bit of that market smell that I associate with some pu-erh, it is a bit metallic, earthy, and has a tiny bit of a wet river mud aroma at the finish. There is also a pretty potent jasmine aroma followed by a honeysuckle sweetness. The liquid is a heady blend of jasmine and orchid with an underlying earthiness and honey sweetness. It is pretty intense!

The taste if this tea is certainly interesting! It starts off sweet and heady, with a strong taste of orchid, honeysuckle, and jasmine. This transitions to earthy pu-erh with a touch of metallic and a slightly bitter finish. Sadly, even though I am always a fan of the unusual, I did not find this particular blend worked for me. It was too contrasting of tastes for me. I do recommend giving it a try though, it is so unusual that it is a tea that needs to be experienced at least once!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What-Cha: Kenyan Silver Needle White Tea, A Tea Review

As some of you might know, I make tea themed advent calenders each year for Christmas, it started as gifts to friends and has exploded into me selling them. I had to do pre-orders early since I will be in Pennsylvania for the holiday (really three months that also include holidays) and as of now, four days before pre-orders close, I am making ten calenders. I am so excited for all the folding of origami envelopes and awesome tea I am going to be introducing people to. I am like some sort holiday elf spreading tea joy to people, which is really fun. 
Today's tea is Kenyan Silver Needle White Tea by What-Cha, as you can tell by the name, this tea comes from the Mount Kenya region of Kenya, Africa. Usually when you see Silver Needle (Baihao Yinzhen) it comes from Fujian, China, but this fuzzy tea brings a unique twist since it is from a whole new terroir. The aroma of this particular silver needle is nothing short of mouthwatering, which is why I advise pouring the tea you wish to sniff out of the bag, don't want to ruin tea by drooling. It is incredibly sweet with notes of peaches and sweet corn, this transitions to floral notes that very much so brings to mind blooming peony flowers. This tea is very fragrant and so very sweet!

I decided to go pseudo-gongfu for my first brewing of the leaves. I discovered (thanks to the power of books and experimentation) that if you brew a silver needle at 185 degrees for 15 minutes, it is fantastic. So I used my gaiwan and tiny cups (mainly for aesthetic reasons, I really like my auspicious gaiwan) and just used less leaf than I would for a usual gongfu session. The brewed leaves have a very strong aroma, even more floral with notes of peony being dominant with a touch of honeysuckle and hyacinth. There are also notes of sweet corn giving the tea leaves an extra sweetness and richness. The poured off liquid is very creamy and sweet with notes of sweet corn and honey.   

After a slightly long wait (the only real problem with a 15 minute steep) the mouth feel is very smooth with just a hint of fuzz from the leaves. The taste, well it is fantastic, it manages to be delicate and very rich, it fills up the mouth while not overpowering. The tea starts out very sweet with notes of hay and sweet corn, this transitions to sweet sesame seed, like Halva. After the sweetness there is a strong peony blossom that that lingers into a nectar like aftertaste. The finish is surprisingly fuzzy, adding a delightful tickle to the back of the tongue. 

I will admit, I have become mildly addicted to this tea, it Grandpa Styles wonderfully and I have found myself sipping on it for hours. As the tea loses its steam it becomes more floral and slightly vegetal with a lettuce tinge at the end. This tea has become one of my go-to teas to use in my travel steeper, especially on my Thursday game nights where everyone comments on the pretty leaves floating in water. For those wondering how it compares to Silver Needles from Fujian, I would say it is definitely sweeter and has a wonderful sweet corn note that the Chinese variety lacks, the Fujian Silver Needle is much milder and tastes more of fresh vegetation and sweet flowers. I still love the Chinese Silver Needle, but Kenyan Needle has stolen my heart. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Eco-Cha Artisan Teas: Dong Ding Oolong Tea (Spring 2014) A Tea Review

Baking Frenzy! Yeah, I finally amassed enough ingredients to bake some healthy gluten free snacks and yummies. I wanted to have a stock of food in the freezer that I could just warm things up as I need them. I still have a bunch more cooking to do, but today's batch mostly turned out delicious. As someone who notoriously botches food, this was a pleasant experience. Only the cheesy millet cakes turned out meh, not sure if it is fault of me or it just not being something I like. 
 Speaking of things I like, today's tea! Eco-Cha Artisan Tea surprised me with a few of their spring and summer harvest teas and I am starting off with the first one I cracked into: Dong Ding Oolong Tea (Spring 2014)  I thoroughly enjoyed last year's Dong Ding, and am excited to see how this one compares and to see how my palate has evolved. The aroma of this roasted oolong is yum! Really that is what the first word in my tasting journal says about the tea's aroma, it says a lot more, but I always consider that a good beginning. It is a blend of roasted notes and floral notes, retaining the original honeysuckle and orchid notes of the pre-roasted tea. The roasted notes start out with sweet caramelized sugar, cashew butter, roasted sesame, and a hint of acorn squash. It is quite sweet and the mild hint of smoke at the finish adds a level of complexity and is a really great finish.

Unsurprisingly, this tea went into my gaiwan, and after a brief steeping the aroma of the tea filled my tea area. Tao, my fat fluffball of a cat actually woke up and had to come give it a sniff. Taking a cue from my cat and sniffing the wet leaves, I notice that it is a touch smokier now and also not as sweet. There is a strong cooked acorn squash (possibly grilled with that touch of smoke) along with toasted sesame and pine nuts. The liquid is where most the sweetness went, there are notes of honey, roasted sesame and cashew butter. At the end there is a distant whiff of honeysuckle nectar. 

Before I get into the taste of the first steep, let me tell you a little about my relationship with roasted Dong Ding Oolongs. I always have to have some on hand, even if it is a low quality (though I of course prefer the good stuff) it is the tea I drink when I feel bad, it is the tea I drink when I am homesick, I reach for this tea on cold winter mornings and chilly autumn evenings, I sip it during summer when I am longing for autumn, this is my feel good tea...but enough of that! The taste of the first steep is sweet with a smooth mouthfeel, there are notes of roasted corn, acorn squash, and cashew butter. The initial sweet almost grain like quality at the beginning transitions to roasted nuts and a finish of spicebush* that lingers. 

I should warn you all, I steeped this tea a lot, so strap in as we move onto steep two. The aroma of the liquid is a blend of sweet spicebush and cashew butter with a hint of smoke at the finish. The taste is smokier and sharper, it has a slight dryness at the finish that has a lip smacking quality. It starts out with smoke and then moves to roasted nuts, acorn squash and cashew butter, the spicebush is there at the finish again. This steep was a bit richer than the first steep.

Time for a third steeping, and the aroma of the liquid this time around is quite sweet, more so than the previous steeps. There are notes of spicebush, burnt sugar, and cashew butter, there is also just a tiny hint of smoke at the finish, but it is very faint. The taste starts out smoky, though not as strong as the previous steep, there is hint of tobacco and a finish of burnt sugar and roasted sesame. The mouthfeel starts out smooth and finishes with a slight dryness.

For the fourth steep the aroma is gentle, with subtle notes of burnt sugar and spicebush, there is a whiff of smoke at the finish. This steep is by far the mildest, it is gentle, like drifting off to sleep, the taste of smoke at the finish is faint, it fades to burnt sugar and cashew butter sweetness that lingers into the aftertaste. Recently on Twitter I was asked which roasted Dong Ding is my favorite, I listed Eco-Cha's as part of my top three based on last year's harvest, tasting this year's I might have to change it to my favorite. 

*A brief note on spicebush, since I have had a few people wondering what that is. I am reffering to the plant Calycanthus occidentalis which has extremely fragrant red flowers whose fragrance (at least to me) is a mixture of allspice, exotic flowers, musk, and a rich heaviness like spiced red wine. In one of the houses I lived in back in Georgia, there was a hedgerow of spicebushes between my yard and a forest, when they would bloom the aroma was intense!