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! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Good Life Tea: C of Tranquility, A Tea Review

Ben and I are in the middle of a very silly research project, Stellar Coronae! It started when we were discussing decals to use on the side of his UCM tanks and wanted an eclipse with a blue corona, I said I was not sure that blue stars have blue coronae because I could not remember if it was caused by elements, heat, or something else. It has been a long time since I brushed up on astronomy, so I am enjoying my little bit of science research.

Since it fits into the subject at hand, today's tea is C of Tranquility by Good Life Tea, an herbal blend with citrus, tartness, and superfruits. For those not into Astronomy, the Sea of Tranqulity (or Mare Tranquillitatis) is one of the dark spots on the moon which early Astronomers mistook for water. I have a little bit of fear with this tea, you all probably know by this time that I am not a fan of Hibiscus or tart teas, but you also know that I am willing to try anything and everything, because you never know, sometimes I like things I thought I would not. The aroma is very berry filled, like dried cherries, elderberries, and blueberries. It has a sweet and tart quality with a nice citrus burst at the finish. The tartness is more of a fruity tartness rather than a hibiscus tartness, my fear is lessened.

The brewed leaves (and fruity bits) have a very sweet and fruity aroma, it is like a collection of berries with a side of citrus and a tiny hint of tart. The liquid is very berry filled sweet with a bit of that fruity tartness you get from dried berries (especially ones like cherries and cranberries) there is also a nice bit of citrus at the finish.

Ok, time to taste! It is vibrantly red and  usually vibrantly red teas are filled with hibiscus tartness. I love the color of hibiscus, it is so pretty and vibrant, I could ogle it all day. The taste starts out with a punch of slightly metallic tartness (hibiscus always tastes a little metallic to me) which of course makes my salivary glands more or less explode. The tartness is very quick, it fades almost immediately to sweet berries and slightly sour lemony notes, the finish is sweet with berry notes that linger. I don't hate it, I actually finished the cup, though it did give me a bit of heartburn (another reason I don't like hibiscus and rose hips, they are a little too acidic) so I do not think I would seek it out because of that. Taste wise I could see myself drinking it on occasion, especially when I am in the mood for berries.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Book of Green Tea: A Tea Book Review

Today's nugget of tea knowledge is The Book of Green Tea by Christine Dattner and it is, problematic. Probably not the best way to start out a review, but I just can't think of any other way to introduce this book. It claims to be the book of green tea (it is right there in the title after all) but it spends an equal amount of time talking about other teas, and the time it spends on its intended subject matter is...problematic.

I know, I know...I keep using that word, let me explain why. First off, this book needed editing, at first I thought it needed editing by someone more versed in tea, but the more I read the more I realized that it needed editing by someone who was looking for consistencies. Oh man, so many inconsistencies, some exciting examples are Gyokuro being translated as precious rose in one place and precious dew in another...or my favorite calling Huang Shan Mu Dang (or Huang Shan Lu Mu Dan as I know it, translation error?) Huang Shan Mao Feng earlier in the book. Maybe it was because I had a splitting headache when I was reading this book and my tolerance was low, but the mistakes made me audibly groan.

There were also a lot of things that were just incorrect, but this is one of those things that I am not sure if it is due to a lack of easy to obtain information at the time. On the one hand I feel like in 2003 (when this book was written) that there were enough books and information on the internet that you could have gotten correct information on Gong Fu Cha and basic tea facts. However I will give it the benefit of the doubt, at least until I finish my time machine and can go back to 2003 to check for myself. So take that with a grain of salt.

This book is not all bad though, it is actually quite pretty and has some decent info. For instance I love the amount of detail it goes into for Moroccan tea, there are several pages devoted to Moroccan tea culture and history with some very nice photos. The various brewing instructions for the various teas is spot on, especially pleased to see Darjeeling shown at a lower temperature than other black teas. There are also some delicious looking tea themed recipes, a couple of them I might actually try.

So long story short, do I recommend this book? Well, no. It is not bad, there is certainly some moments where I actually contemplated adding this book to my collection, but all of this info is available in other books, other more correct and edited books. I say buy it if you think tea books are like Pokemon and you have to catch them all, if not, then I say search elsewhere.