Monday, June 29, 2015

Ceremonial Grade Matcha Showdown, Part One!

It is time again for an epic Matcha showdown, sponsored by Red Leaf Tea, like last time, we test subjects are giving a pile of Matcha samples in little numbered pouches, the Matcha we are actually testing is not revealed until after the testing is complete. This first set contains the cheapest of the Matcha, the next set will be the middle grade, and the final set the more high grade, but price does not always indicate quality, which is what part of this testing is about.

A quick note on ratings and testing. Scale is from 1-10 with 1 being disgusting (or very bitter) and 10 being the best thing in this group (or very sweet and not bitter) the Matcha is made using 2 chashaku scoops, 70ml of water, and a temperature of 160°.

Name: Red Leaf Tea Starter Matcha

Cost Per Ounce: $.094
Cost: $14.99
Size: 16oz
Location: China
Packaging: Foil Bag

Color: 3
Aroma: 6
Sweetness to Bitterness: 2
Taste: 2
Value: 6
Notes: The aroma of this Matcha and the extremely low cost is really what saves this one from being much lower on the value scale! It has a fairly sweet aroma, a slight papery note mixed with grassy sweetness, it smells very green. And it tastes very green, like pulverized grass and bitter vegetables, it is pretty intense...and not necessarily in a good way. There is a bit of sweetness in the middle of the sipping experience, but that fades to a lingering bitterness. The color is not so exciting either, a bit of an olive drab and fairly pale. But after learning that this is the Starter Matcha, I am not surprised, I think it would work best in lattes, and having tested that (for the sake of curiosity) it is certainly best that way.

Name: Red Leaf Tea Deluxe Matcha

Cost Per Ounce: $1.56
Cost: $24.99
Size: 16oz
Location: China
Packaging: Foil Bag

Color: 8
Aroma: 9
Sweetness to Bitterness: 7
Taste: 8
Value: 7
Notes: Ok, I recognized this Matcha as soon as I opened the sample bag, the distinct aroma of grass and orchids told me immediately that this was RLT's Deluxe Matcha, and I was not wrong. This tea won the Culinary Grade showdown quite handily, with being tasty and quite inexpensive it is a good value. The fairly bright green color and decent froth make it visually appealing. Tasting the tea, it has a hint of bitterness at the outset, then boom flowery sweetness and gentle green notes.

Name: JK Tea Shop Ceremonial Grade Matcha

Cost Per Ounce: $5.28
Cost: $19.00
Size: 3.6oz
Location: Hangzhou, China
Packaging: Foil Bag

Color: 3
Aroma: 4
Sweetness to Bitterness: 6
Taste: 7
Value: 6
Notes: Not a very pretty looking Matcha, the color is pretty drab and when it is whisked it is not the prettiest. The aroma is grassy and vegetal, more so than any Matcha I have had before, but I like the vegetal notes, they add a savory element. The taste is dry but very robust, I was expecting the notes to turn into a punch of bitterness but it never came, there was slight bitterness at the end like a mouthful of kale and spinach. This was a very green Matcha, which was fairly enjoyable.

Name: Red Leaf Tea Classic Matcha

Cost Per Ounce: $7.99 ($3.99)
Cost: $7.99
Size: 1oz
Location: China
Packaging: Foil Package

Color: 8
Aroma: 6
Sweetness to Bitterness: 7
Taste: 8
Value: 8
Notes: This one is green! The aroma is very green, blending grassy notes with vegetal and a hint of hay. The taste reflects the aroma, there is very little bitterness, similar to spinach and kale, but there is no sweetness, it is robust and green with a creamy mouthfeel. As starter Matcha go, this is a good choice.

Name: KIWAMI Supreme Ceremonial Maccha

Cost Per Ounce: $8.54
Cost: $29.90
Size: 3.5oz
Location: Nishio, Japan
Packaging: Foil Bag

Color: 9
Aroma: 7
Sweetness to Bitterness: 6
Taste: 8
Value: 7
Notes: Pretty vibrant Matcha, it smells pretty good too, a little fruity and a little starchy with notes of grass and creaminess as well. The taste is a bit bitter at the front, but it fades to sweet chestnut and hay, with a kelp umami finish. This Matcha is great example of the different flavors a Matcha can possess, having them all in one sip is fascinating. I do find the Amazon listing frustrating with its pile of keywords trying to convince me how healthy Matcha is...guys really, stop, drink it for the flavor, stand on the taste alone and stop relying on trendy buzzwords.

Name: Yunomi Obubu #19 Excellent Kitchen Grade Matcha

Cost Per Ounce: $9.25
Cost: $32.50
Size: 3.5oz
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Packaging: Bag (does not list what kind of bag)

Color: 8
Aroma: 5
Sweetness to Bitterness: 5
Taste: 5
Value: 5
Notes: Eh, this one was a bit of a let down, it was similarly vibrant to the previous Matcha, though a bit paler, the aroma is pretty kelpy and sea air heavy, with just a hint of grass. Tasting the tea, well, I am not really a fan, it is not bad per se, it is green like a blend of fresh kelp and wheat grass, a very distinct flavor but a strange one at that, fading to bitterness at the end. So if you like your Matcha to taste like sea air you might like this one, and as much as I like those notes in my Sencha, not so much in Matcha.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Red Leaf Tea: Matcha Bowl 2, A Tea Gear Review

It has been quite a while since I looked at a piece of tea gear, which is a bit tragic! Also kinda hard since most my tea gear I pick up at thrift stores or super cheap off ebay, so that makes it hard to review...but that does mean I can just do more 'meet my tea gear' showcases. Promises, promises!

Today I am taking a looksie at Matcha Bowl 2, one of three offered by Red Leaf Tea, purchased this lovely using the reward for that Matcha showdown I did a few weeks (or is it months now, ah time you are so fluid) ago, because using random bowls bought with the intention of being a Chawan just wasn't working for me. The picture on the website makes it look pretty white, but the description says it has a turquoise colored glaze, in reality it is a grassy green, almost the color of Matcha foam.

So first off, how does it work as a Matcha bowl...well...not so well. Some people like their Chawan to be small, the smallest I have seen are travel Chawan that measure 6oz, and this one is 7-8oz, so this one is on the small size. I can barely fit my Chasen in it, and whisking into a froth is almost impossible, but perhaps this Chawan would be good for making Koicha since it requires less water and a different motion of the Chasen. After a few attempts I retired this one as a Matcha bowl, which is sad since the image of the foam fading into the color of the bowl was quite lovely.

However, it does make an excellent teacup. The weight on this bowl is quite excellent, it is heavy, with most the weight being at the bottom, it feels well balanced and the texture is enjoyable in my hand. It has a blend of an earthy texture while also being smooth, one of my favorite things about pottery is the different textures. It holds heat really well, and the color is gorgeous with darker teas, especially black teas and oolongs, where you can just barely see the swirling green of the glaze at the bottom of the bowl. So overall, this is an excellent tea bowl, not really for Matcha, but maybe someone else would have better luck with whisking and I just need more space to work my whisk!

Man Cha Teas: White Peony, A Tea Review

My life has become so chaotic and unsure lately, remember my epic adventure I hinted at the other day, well nevermind about that. I will have an epic adventure, but it won't be for at least another year...probably. See, things are crazy! So that means that some days there won't be a blog and some days there will be two. Regardless of craziness, I have an excellent work in progress that I will be working on today...a tea table, yes, it is time to get back to work on my antique table turned into a tea table project. Still need to find a good water proof and heat proof varnish, since my last attempt at a water proof tea tray ended in sadness because the heat warped things.

Today's tea came to me from Hong Kong, which totally made my day because that city is sooo high on my list of places I want to visit! From Man Cha Teas, I present White Peony! Ah, but this is no ordinary pile of fluffy Bai Mu Dan, this is something unique and spherical. From Fuding, China, this tea involves taking the needles and leaves of a typical Bai Mu Dan and gently withering them and wrapping them into a ball, sans any heating or drying. I think this is the first spherical tea I have had, not counting blooming teas, which are totally different. Before I get into the review, I want to point out the little card, one side has a lovely photo and the other a bunch of relevant info to the tea, I LOVE when tea companies include things like this, I tend to keep them as little relics of past teas. So, how does this little ball smell? The aroma is not too terribly strong, I get hints of honey, melon, and cucumber with a touch of sourdough bread and a general yeastiness. The melon and cucumber give the tea a bit of a cool edge, which is great because at the time of taking my tasting notes it was hot! It more I sniff the stronger the notes become, clearly warming it up with my sniffing allows the aroma to escape. 

I decided to use my green gaiwan (easy gaiwan, pseudo houhin, whatever) for this orb of tea, it should have enough room for the ball to explode into a pile of leaves. The aroma of the partially fallen apart orb is pretty melon heavy, like a blend of honeydew and cantaloupe, funny...I kinda hate melon, but I like the notes in white tea. There are also notes of mellow cooling cucumber and a crisp muscatel note reminiscent of white wine. The aroma of the liquid is very mild with sweet spicy notes and a bit of honey.

Oh wow, the first steep is super sweet, starting out with a flower nectar and honey sweetness, it is very clean and clear tasting with a smooth mouthfeel. The initial nectar sweetness transitions to cooling cucumber and finishes off with a delicate sweetness. The initial steep was mild, but the itense sweetness made up for it.

On the second steep, the leaves have really exploded, no more orb to be found, and the color of the liquid has become quite dark and rich. The aroma is like a spicy white wine, makes me wish I knew more about wine so I knew exactly which one to compare it to! The taste is rich with a thick mouthfeel, there are notes of muscadines and honey, it reminds me of the Grecian honeyed wine I used to make and drink, very sweet and heady. The finish is cooling cucumber and a lingering cucumber aftertaste.

For the third steep, the aroma is a bit milder, like gentle honey and cucumbers, with a hint of white wine. The taste is surprisingly not as sweet, it takes on a slightly vegetal savory tone, with notes of cucumber and lettuce being the predominant notes. This transitions to a sweet grape and melon finish with an aftertaste of cucumbers. I enjoyed this sphere of white tea immensely, perfect for a hot day!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Liquid Proust Teas: Experimental Fun and New Shop

You know what I love? When creative people with good taste in teas start creating their own crazy concoctions, it is like mad science and alchemy, a bit of magic, and a ton of randomness...and I think it is awesome! I greatly enjoy featuring artists and new shops, I like seeing what they will do, and have found a few favorites this let us look at our newest find: Liquid Proust Tea! I know this fine chap through steepster, his blog, and instagram, it has been a blast watching and trying some of his experiments as he prepared for the launch of his shop. I was able to try three of his experiments, sadly none of these were deemed worthy of inclusion into the shop, but I thought, why not celebrate the grand opening with a bit of a review?

Watermelon Tie Guan Yin with Gyokuro

Yes, that blend sounds as crazy as you think. I was probably the most apprehensive of this one out of the three, see I have a lifetime hate of watermelon...until about a year ago I ate some and surprisingly loved it, next thing I knew I was devouring slices of watermelon like it was going out of style. The aroma of this tea is pretty peculiar, mixing heady flowers with fresh vegetation, a bit of umami kelp, and delicate watermelon. Like someone is sitting next to you eating watermelon while you are sitting sipping your tea, it does not overwhelm at all, also props for it smelling like the melon and not candy.

I brewed this one in my gaiwan, got several steeps out of it too! The mouthfeel was delightfully creamy and smooth, and the taste was something else. It took the familiar sweet and floral notes of a green TGY and mix it with bright green notes of celery and lettuce, with a hint of buttery and green seaweed note. But where is the watermelon you might ask? Oh it is there, it blooms in the midtaste as a delicate, juicy, watermelon with an accompaniment of the green rind. It does not evolve much over steeps except the buttery Gyokuro notes became stronger, which I loved.

Charcoal Roasted Tie Guan Yin with Orange Mate

I did a bit of a hmmm when deciding how to brew this one, so I defaulted to gaiwan because of course I did. The aroma is delightfully roasty, you know me and my love of char and toasted notes, the added mellow notes of orange peel and the really odd note of mate blend well. Mate is a strange thing, it smells vaguely of sage and burnt pinto beans, herbaceous and strange, but not in an unpleasant way.

I went for a couple steeps with this one too, it was wonderful experiencing the growth of the roasted notes, starting out as toasted sesame and roasted oranges and building to intense notes of char and wood. There was of course the mate, it did not necessarily clash with the oolong, but it is so strange tasting that it takes me out of the moment, the roasty toasty moment. As the steeps progressed the mate taste mellowed out and the orange notes increased, blending really well with the char, overall I had mixed feelings on this peculiar tea.

Blackberry Sage Keemun

Wow, it has been forever since I had either a blackberry tea or a Keemun, sad, Keemun used to be one of my favorite black teas before being ousted by the fuzzy golden Yunnans, I kinda miss it. Oh man, the aroma of this one is intensely blackberry, very sweet and creamy with a bit of a crust aroma, like a blackberry cobbler. There is also a gentle hint of sage at the very end, which is kinda fun, it tickles the nose a bit.

This one was so tasty! Boo that it isn't in the store! The Keemun is mellow and sweet, adding an underlying chocolate and slight floral edge to the intense blackberry notes. It tastes like cobbler and this makes me immensely happy. The sage is pretty mellow, just sneaking in at the finish to add a bit of an herbal depth to the tea. 

If this is what the experimental rejects are like then I am super excited for the ones that passed the test! There are so many that look super tasty, especially the Dark Chocolate Oolong, Jackseed Gyokuro, Elixir #9, and 7 Oolong Blend!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What-Cha: Malawi Bvumbwe Handmade Treasure Black Tea, A Tea Review

So, this was supposed to be posted yesterday, but I was super busy, swamped even, with deciding what I am doing with my life. No really, yours truly might be going on an epic adventure pretty soon! No spoilers yet, because I do not have all the details and such, but I can safely say I am excited and a little scared. Unless something goes drastically wrong (like my computer explodes again) it won't affect the blog long term, there might be a week or so where I don't update, but I will be sure to let everyone know ahead of time.

Since I missed my What-Cha Wednesday review, this will be a rare What-Cha Thursday! Today it is time to revisit the country of Malawi with Malawi Bvumbwe Handmade Treasure Black Tea, I was really blow away by their Antler and Peony White Teas, so I am super excited to dive into the Satemwa Estate's Handmade Treasure Black Tea. For a while I was rather apprehensive about trying new black teas from Africa, a few nasty run-ins with some particularly dirty tasting Kenyan black teas unfairly soured me on the whole continent for a while. Really, quite narrow minded of me, but they were really gross. Anyway, onto more pleasant things, like these lovely twisted dark leaves! The aroma is pretty rich, blending notes of an oak brandy cask with roasted peanuts and yams, and a touch of loam and spice. Something about the way this tea smells reminds me of home, not any homes that I have lived in, but a feel of 'home' yes people, this tea smells like a concept to me.

After steeping the leaves (they get rather huge post steeping) and giving them a good sniffing, I am pleasantly surprised by the fruity notes that have now shown up. It has the oak wood and slight earthiness of the dry leaves, but now with a blend of cherries and orange zest with a hint of cocoa, oh yeah, and a spice finish. A little like allspice and a little like nutmeg, with a faint sweetness to go with it. The liquid has a lot more of the spice notes, definitely allspice with pepper, and a tiny hint of nutmeg. There are also strong notes of cocoa and cherry, with just a delicate hint of orange zest and distant flowers.

The tea has a definite briskness to it, and is quite bright, the texture is light and it really livens up the mouth, kinda like liquid sunshine for a morning wake up, without being really overbearing. I am really picky about how brisk and astringent I like my black teas, and not just because they tend to give me a belly ache, I find when they are really intense they are just too overbearing, much like some people find mint too much or flowery teas. I like my black teas (more traditional western style ones, not the delicate Chinese reds) to have just a little bite to them. The taste is both robust and sweet, blending creamy notes of cocoa (bordering between milk and dark) and peanut butter, with earthy notes of sweet potatoes and woody notes of oak. The finish is a delicate mix of cherries and orange zest with a citrus aftertaste that lingers. I feel this tea has the potential to be a really iconic morning tea, proving once again that the Satemwa Tea Estate has some mad skills.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TanLong Premium Tea Collection: Orange Pekoe Wild YunNan Old Tree Golden Heaven Black Tea, A Tea Review

Ah what a day, what a lovely day! Ok no, I did not do anything Mad Max related, except plant my War Boy potato (things are weird like that sometimes) no, I just took an exceptionally lovely nap. I also am very pleased with myself, even though I am still feeling pretty rough I managed to write two blogs today! I do have a question my friendly readers, would an occasional double post be of any interest? I do not think I have the time or energy (sad, I know) to write two lengthy reviews every day, but once in a while? Maybe twice a week? My reasoning is, I have a lot of teas to review, and I always feel that I do not have enough days in the week to get all the reviews I want to out. So, please, a bit of feedback would be most helpful.

So, today's tea is from TanLong Premium Tea Collection, a Canadian company with a specialty in (as the name says) premium Chinese teas, the particular tea I am looking at today is Orange Pekoe Wild YunNan Old Tree Golden Heaven Black Tea. This black tea hails from a rugged, hard to reach, mountainous region in Yunnan (wait, isn't all of Yunnan mountains? Isn't that why it is so awesome for tea growing? Clearly I need to visit to find out for myself!) from 50 year old trees. The Orange Pekoe refers to the lovely golden fuzz that coats some of the leaves, my love for the fuzzy golden trichomes is never ending. The aroma of the large curly leaves is pretty delicious, strong notes of dark chocolate and dried cherry, with an accompaniment of tobacco and delicate distant flowers. The aroma is strong, I greatly enjoyed sniffing this tea, even though it does not have a ton of notes, the ones that are present are rather intense.

Once given a steeping in my bat gaiwan, the dark leaves take on a whole new level of epic aroma. Starting with notes of dark chocolate and cherries, the aroma then transitions to candied yams, sweet cream, distant flowers, and a nice heavy finish of malt. The wet leaves put me in a very happy place, but honestly, as much as I love other types of tea, Yunnan black teas really put me in a state of bliss unlike any other. The liquid is creamy sweet with notes of yams, dark cocoa, flowers (like a slightly rosy and spring garden blend) with a nice finish of brown sugar.

First sip of the first steep and omg that is good, like really good. The tea has a heaviness to it I was not expecting from a first steep, thick in mouthfeel and taste. It starts with a blend of malt and tobacco that quickly transitions to sweet dried cherries and dark chocolate, it is pleasantly rich, though not overly sweet at first, but as the flavor builds so does the creamy sweetness. The finish is delicate flowery notes who linger with a slight cooling effect.

Well, onto the second steep! I was torn whether or not I wanted to linger over each steep or quickly move onward to the next to see how it builds. I have this problem a lot with really tasty teas, being torn between savoring and gorging. I have that same problem with food too! The aroma of the tea is very malty and sweet, blending cocoa with a touch of woody briskness and cream. The taste matches the aroma nigh perfectly, the mouthfeel is creamy, which is a fun contrast to the brisk woodiness of the taste. This quickly moves to malt and sweet cream with a delightful rose note reminiscent of candied rose petals. The finish is sweet cream and cocoa, with a lingering camphorous cooling note, typical of Yunnan teas.

Third steeping time, the aroma of this steep was a bit milder and sweeter, the woody notes have all but vanished, with solid notes of sweet cream, dark chocolate and yams as the dominant notes. At the finish I get a tiny whiff of cherries. The taste is milder as well, I feel like the majority of the tea's oomph went into the last steeping, but this steep perhaps is only really mild in comparison and not mild as in giving up the ghost. It is very sweet, blending sweet cream and yams, chocolate and cherries, with a pleasant camphor finish. This tea is surprisingly cheap, 100g for $20, that is a sizable amount of tea, making this a great choice for an everyday drinker...and so going on my shopping list!

UniversOtea: 2003 Yibang Big Tree Langhe Tea Company, A Tea Review

So here it is folks, the much talked about Shou that kept being skipped over, poor thing! I think timing will work where this post can go up in the morning and the other at night. Tempted to do that anyway but I think too much of my rambling might make you all sick of me, and that would be sad! Here is UniversOtea's 2003 Yibang Big Tree Langhe Tea Company, a Shou or Ripe Puerh from Yibang Mountain, and produced by the Langhe Tea Company, one of the factories of Menghai. I do not know much about this tea, it was sent to me along with several other samples of Shou from the Langhe Tea Co, as a way to get a feel for their storage and tastes, so I picked this one totally at random from the samples. So, time to get crackin!

The aroma of the richly dark and nicely compressed leaves, well it smells like it looks. A blend of peat and loam, wet wood, and leather. It always amuses me how Shou looks like it was cut from a peat bog, and sometimes if you get lucky it has that slightly sharp edge to the loamy notes, much like a peat bog. There is also a slight mustiness, like an old wooden steamer trunk, but not quite musty like an old basement, which is for the best. The finishing notes are a touch of molasses sweetness and a bit of clean soil.

Into the much neglected as of late elephant pot the shou goes! Whoa, the aroma went heavy into the molasses department after steeping! The wet leaves also have notes of pine needle loam, oak wood just smells like a forest floor with a variety of different tree types, blending sweetness and sharpness of the different forms of wet wood and leaf loam. The liquid has the aroma of wet wood primarily, with a bit of soil, and a confounding note of dry beans. Not at all unpleasant, just, well, it was a new and unexpected note.

The taste of the first steep is surprisingly light, even by first steep standards, with a light taste and mouthfeel. It starts with a delicate sweet molasses and pine loam note that is quickly overshadowed by wet wood and oak loam. The finish is a bit of a cedar trunk, a touch of mustiness, but not unpleasantly so. I actually find that aroma and taste very nostalgic, I spent a lot of time as a kid playing in my old steamer trunk.

Onward to the second steeping, the aroma is quite sweet and woody, no dry beans this time, but definitely soil and molasses, with a finish of wet wood. The taste has more body this steep, as expected, in both texture and actual taste. Starting off with sweet pine wood loam and sap and moving on to a general mixed wood forest floor. The finish is sweet molasses and a lingering woodiness.

The third steep and so forth, up until steep six, when I called it a night (I was starting to slosh, it is why I need a smaller shou pot, no offense elephant!) really didn't change much, it got a bit richer and woodier towards the middle and then sweeter towards the end. I look forward to seeing more from this factory, I like its mellow quality.