Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Story Of My Tea: Blind Tea Tasting Adventure

Story of My Tea has one of the coolest things, a blind tea tasting! This is something I have wanted to do for a while, spurred on by my love of trying to figure out what things are and those years of making mystery tea themed Advent Calendars for friends...problem is I almost always know what it is I am drinking, there is no mystery or surprises for me. They are currently running a Kickstarter and a really intense tea and teaware themed giveaway, and I get to test out one of their kits, so onto the mystery! When ordering my kit I said I wanted no blends, herbal teas, and non herbals (no puerh) and that I prefer gongfu brewing but I am willing to play around with other styles (because let us be honest I totally am) and when listing favorites I picked: Red Jade, Balhyocha, Tusli, Gui Fei, and Kenyan Silver Needle. I will be revealing what the teas are at the end of the blog, I did not look at the cards revealing what the teas are until I took the picture, so I went into this blind.

6014

Looks like an herbal, from the leaves it appears to be a blend of tulsi, cardamon, red peppercorns, orange peel, and rooibos (maybe hawthorn or dried apple bits too). It smells like a shiv to the face of spicy citrus, reminds me of the simmering potpourri and pomander balls my mom would make and have around at Christmas so this tea smells immensely holiday-ish to me. When I said it smelled of Christmas it ended up sending Ben and I into a debate on what exactly that holiday is supposed to smell like since his family was not big on orange spice themed potpourri and pomanders. Maybe this is a Southern thing...or a British thing...my upbringing was weirdly multicultural (no really, I was better at eating with chopsticks as a kid than I was with a fork) Since this was an herbal I brewed it western style, the taste is very warming with orange being the dominant taste, undercurrents of spice and a touch of an herbaceous finish. Orange pretty much drowns everything out, it tastes like what I imagine one of those potpourris tasting like, but much sweeter.

6008

Ok, looks like another herbal, a blend of cinnamon (I don't see any, but I really smell it) apple bits, rosehips, lemongrass, hibiscus and maybe verbena...there is something leafy and herbal and I cannot tell from smelling it because all I smell is cinnamon candy. Seriously this tea smells just like a Red Hot candy....I am nervous because it also has rosehips and hibiscus, and I really hate those ingredients. Not a huge fan of cinnamon candy or apples either. Ok, tasting...it kinda tastes like apple pie with a metric ton of cinnamon, a very tart apple pie, it is very sweet and very tart...it is a weird thing and I am thinking someone who is a fan of tart pies might like it a lot more than I do.

6002

Oh hey another herbal....and...oh god why!!!! It is, what appears to be, a blend of mint, hibiscus, lavender, and chamomile. WHY!!!!!! I like lavender and mint, I like chamomile and lavender, but why in the name of all things holy would anyone mix hibiscus and mint...this has to be a blend that was someone created deliberately to troll me. As I steeped this and the tea turned a deep ruby red I could just feel myself cringing in fear. I know I am being harsh, it is just...lavender is one of my all time favorite flowers to have in tea and hibiscus is my least favorite thing to drink...ever. But, it is part of the experiment, so I tried it...and I did not like it. Mint, hibiscus, and lavender do not belong together, the chamomile was fine and I have nothing to say about it being there. It is immensely tart/sour and minty, with a cloying sweet floral finish that sent my brain into whiplash.

6009

Tea!! Actual tea! Ok, more my specialty too since it appears to be a black tea, from first look it is either an Indian or Ceylon, sniffing it...definitely Indian. A nice blend of malt and underlying muscatel. From just sniffing it I am going to guess 2nd flush Darjeeling (one of my favorites, woo!) Brewing up a nice orange color and I am greeted with a strong muscatel note...definitely a 2nd flush Darjeeling. The taste is rich and sweet, a bit malty and with the taste of cooked pumpkin and of course that signature muscatel taste of stewed raisins. I liked this one, classic 2nd flush!

And here is the reveal!

6014 Tulsi Orange Ginger
6008 Winter Winds
6002 I'm A Gypsy 
6009 Organic Darjeeling Sungma 

This was a fun experience, sadly the herbals and I did not get along at all...I was hoping when I put in herbals it would be more straight herbals (like comparing different mints, or trying to see if what I am drinking is blackberry leaf or raspberry leaf) rather than flavored fruity blends (and if it was blends it would be something more akin to one or two ingredients and not flavored at all) but putting herbals in was clearly a mistake on my part since I am so picky with them. The real question is, is this the kind of product for me...a seasoned tea reviewer that primarily drinks gongfu? And the answer is probably...as long as you fill the questionnaire out accordingly and not give too many variables like I did. I hope to try this again sometime, I would love to see a blind tasting adventure of just different Taiwanese Oolongs, or Chinese Black teas, I think something really focused like that would be amazing. If this seems like something you would like, go check out their Kickstarter, and definitely enter their giveaway!

Sent for review

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Macha Tea Company: Smokers Delight, A Tea Review

I do have one thing good to say about all the perpetual rain lately, it has put me in the mood for Autumn. Oh who am I kidding, I was ready for fall as soon as it became summer, today being the first hot sunny day in...well...weeks actually, has me longing for the cloudy cool days of last week. Granted I could do without the flooding, it has become a daily ritual to check the news and see how far above the record flood level we are each day (7.5 inches above the 100 year flood elevation, so yeah, there is a lot of water) and to see how much rain we are expected to get (2 more inches through tomorrow) fun times! At least this is the last hot day (83F, oh man I am so northern now a-days) predicted for the week so I can get back into the warming roasty teas.

And speaking of roasty teas, today I am looking at a tea from my local tea haunt, Macha Tea Company Smokers Delight, which is not available on their website, but you might be able to get some if you send them a message, they are pretty active on Instagram and quite friendly (as a tea shop should be!) So this tea is a blend of medium roast Tie Guan Yin from Anxi and a dark roast Tie Guan Yin from Sumatra, I love roasted Tie Guan Yin no matter where it is from or how roasted! The aroma of the dark leaves is very toasty, with notes of toasted walnut shells, almonds, pecans (sensing a nutty theme here) caramel, and a finish of bamboo char and toasted grains. It is on the sweet side of roasted Oolongs (as TGYs tend to be) with strong nutty notes that put me in mind of trail mix.

Steeping this goodness up I get notes of intense roasted nutty goodness, especially heavy on the walnuts and pecans, with undertones of gentle floral nectar and char, with a definite sweet quality. It is very aromatic, with a strong autumnal quality, I can practically smell the changing leaves and foggy mornings in these leaves.

This tea is never overpowering, it starts mellow and sweet with roasted nut and gentle wildflower honey notes and finishes off with a delicate orchid aftertaste. As the steeps progress it gets richer pecan taste with a very pleasant thick buttery mouthfeel that is fairly reminiscent of actual nut butter on a very heavy grain piece of perfectly toasted toast. I think since this tea is a blend of heavy and medium roast levels you get a really mellow and heavy taste with a pretty intense sweetness and none of the occasional bitter black walnut and tannic oak wood you get with a full on heavy roast's later steeps, it is just sweetness until the tea gives up the ghost about nine steeps in. It had a very early fall feel too it, one I would want when the air is getting a little chill but has not gotten full on cold (when I want the really heavy roasts and shou pu's) and I have a feeling as the weather continues its slow meander into my favorite times of the year.

Tea gifted to me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Fong Mong Tea: Black and White, Hongyu Ruby 18 and Pekoe White, a Tea Review

It has been an eventful week since my last post, we have been dealing with quite the flood, record breaking in fact. And as I look at the radar and see more rain on the way I can't help but wonder when it will end. For the most part I am safe (I fell in the lake while helping to rescue the dock which was pretty gross since flood water is full of disgusting things) but I am going slightly stir crazy. Today I am looking at a pair of teas from Taiwan, sent my way by Fong Mong Tea, one of which is a long time favorite and the other is something I have wanted to try for quite a while, so let us get to it!

T-18 2017 Organic Hongyu Hongcha Taiwan Nantou Ruby #18 Sun Moon Lake Black Tea

Yesssss, Red Jade!!! (or one of its many other names) It is one of my favorite black tea ever, so whenever I get sent some to try I get very happy. This is a very menthol heavy version of this tea, with strong notes of menthol, cocoa, tomatoes, cinnamon, and sassafras (which is one of the main notes that makes this tea one of my favorites, I love sassafras so much!) It is a very aromatic tea and I could spend all day sniffing the dry leaves...ok not really, I want to drink it! Holy moly is this tea ever intense, not a Red Jade for the faint of heart! It has a strong cooling menthol note that causes a pleasant tingling sensation all the way down to my belly, along with notes of camphor and cinnamon with a finish of sassafras and chocolate and a surprising aftertaste of juicy plum. It is a very bright tea, later steeps calm down the menthol and camphor notes and bring in notes of woodiness and an intense lingering chocolate and plum sweetness, mellowing out, which is one of the reasons I love this as a morning tea. The intense start to the tea really livens my senses and mellows out as I wake up. It is a really great example of Red Jade, definitely one that doesn't pull its punches!

Pekoe White Shan Bai Cha Premium Selected Taiwanese White Tea (1 Bud 2 Leaves)

Ok, so this tea is awesome, it is a Taiwanese white tea, made from large beautiful fluffy leaves grown at a high elevation. Taiwanese white tea has been on my to try list for a while, it is a bit of a pain to get, as it is somewhat rare, so I am so excited to finally get some! The leaves are immensely aromatic, very strong notes of cantaloupe, peach, hay, camphor, sugar cookies, and milk. It is really weird but in a good way, unlike any white tea I have had the pleasure of sniffing before. This tea is bizarre! It is so sweet, almost like cookies made from peach and cantaloupe, but with a gentle milk and hay note...this is not what I was expecting from a white tea. It tastes almost like candy with an aftertaste of caramel, it is wacky but I love it. Later steeps bring in more traditional notes of hay and peony flowers, but for the most part it tastes like some sort of magical otherworldly fruity candy. I only had enough tea for one session, but I am very tempted to get more and experiment, I feel this tea would be epic cold-steeped and bowl steeped as well as the gongfu style I steeped. Fong Mong Tea sent me a bunch of teas to review, and I am pretty sure I am going to have to go on a shopping spree to get more of what I have tried. Stay tuned, soon I will be covering a bunch of their Oolongs!

Tea sent for review

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Nio Teas: Three Japanese Green Teas: Bancha, Gyokuro, and Fukamushicha, A Tea Review

Today I am writing about Japanese teas, I am also watching a YouTube series about a British dude who lives in Japan and goes around eating and showing off different things. I try to never idolize other cultures (because let us be honest, all of them have some problems and nothing is perfect) but I do wish the US would incorporate into our culture. Like being able to leave things around and not have them be stolen, or bathhouses, or most importantly not randomly touching people (I hate handshakes) and wearing face-masks not getting your shunned during allergy season. I have had several friends that lived and schooled in Japan and all of them said I would love the all the social etiquette and general politeness of Japan and I hope one day I get to visit and see for myself! Until then I drink Japanese tea and eat a lot of Japanese food! The teas I am looking at today are from Nio Teas (also check out their Instagram, it is full of informative videos about the organic tea they are sourcing) so onto the teas!

Sasa Hime Gyokuro

This Gyokuro comes from Kagoshima, and I know the name means Princess....something, I failed at finding out what Sasa meant. What I do know is this tea is so beautifully dark green, and it smells really good. Notes of fresh grass, rice, edamame, and finish of vegetal spinach and sprouts and a distant floral undertone that reminds me a bit of lemon flowers. So the taste....holy moly the taste, this tea manages to be immensely umami and also immensely sweet. I kinda went all cosmic mind when drinking it since the taste was so unique, usually when I drink Gyokuro  I get a steep that is light and sweet and one that is an umami bomb, I have never had one that had both in the same steep! I think I am in love. The taste blends notes of creamy sweet cashew butter, lettuce, edamame, spinach, bean sprouts, tofu, and a lingering aftertaste of delicate fruitiness and zucchini. A ways after another aftertaste shows up of lemons which caught me off guard but in a very pleasant way! It also pairs really well with Hello Panda chocolate cookies.

Fukamushicha Yamaga

So this tea and the next is not in their store yet, but I am sure if you ping them on IG they can get you some. Oh Fukamushicha, you deep steamed deliciousness! I often times say it might be my favorite style of Japanese Green (though that Gyokuro is giving it a run for its money) being a bit of a midway point between Sencha and Gyokuro with an extra thickness I find the steaming gives the tea. The aroma of this tea is a bit on the sweet side with a delicate fresh hay and cherry blossom note with intense pine needle, sesame seeds, and fresh seaweed. As expected, this tea is thick, having a very dense mouthfeel with a wonderfully alpine clean pine taste, along with notes of green beans, alfalfa sprouts, cherry blossoms, and a finish of edamame that lingers for quite a while. Really loved the pine notes of this tea, usually Fukamushicha reminds me of summer, but this one reminded me of summer high in the mountains!

Bancha

Ah, the tea that started this adventure! I commented on Nio Teas' IG post on this Bancha and they sent me it (and the others) to sample and review. Bancha is great as an evening tea if you are caffeine sensitive, since the larger older Bancha leaves have less caffeine. I am a big fan of it because it has a distinct 'country' taste, not having the super refined taste you get with Sencha and such, it tastes more raw and outdoorsy, like something I want to drink while off-trail hiking or after gardening. Not many teas can impart that sensation while drinking it and I appreciate it. The aroma is very much so a summer day out in the grass, with undertones of starchy rice, broken leaves, and fresh vegetation. Not so much vegetal, but very green! The taste is wonderfully refreshing with notes of fresh snap peas, bamboo leaves, fresh hay, and a finish of sweet red bean paste and mochi (yes it tastes like a dessert at the finish) and it lingers. All three of these teas impressed me, they showed a real dedication to finding excellent organic teas and I look forward to seeing what other unique teas they find, maybe if I am lucky they will find some yummy Japanese oolongs!

Tea sent for review

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Yunomi: Tencha and Sakura Sencha, Two Tastes of Spring, A Tea Review

Dungeons and Dragons strikes again! Ben has a bunch of new stresses in his life (all good, but still stressful) and to keep him focuses and chill we have been indulging in one of his favorite past times, DnD, which is conveniently one of mine. The only problem is I still don't have a permanent art station yet so no miniatures to show off, however I have been getting crafty making spell templates (my character is a Tiefling Warlock) and next up a pair of massive horns to wear while gaming. But enough about gaming, today I am looking at two teas from Yunomi, both Japanese green teas but pretty different, one is a Tencha and the other a Sakura Sencha, so let us dig in!


So, I have a slight problem with this tea, the listing says it is just green tea mixed with sakura blossoms (something that is truly delicious) the photo shows Sencha mixed with heather flowers, and the packaging (once it arrived) says it is heather and flavoring with the Sencha. Crud. I am not overly fond of flavored teas and would not have selected it if the website had listed that it was a flavored tea in the ingredients. But, ever curious, I decided to try it and not just shove it in the back of the tea stash and forget about it. The aroma is very sweet, strong notes of cherry (kinda like cherry ice cream) and undertones of a slight floral and seafoam umami notes and fresh grass from the Sencha. So the taste is not half bad, it does taste a bit like candy (aka a bit fake) but overall the Sencha stands out the most with notes of grass, fresh hay, seaweed, summer leaves, and a crisp edamame finish. The cherry notes taste like very sweet fresh cherries along with cherry candies and just a tiny hint of the heather blossoms. While this was not my favorite tea ever (I wanted the nutty subtle sweetness of sakura) I think this tea could be really good for someone who likes flavored greens but wants the flavoring on the lighter side.

Azuma Tea Garden: Tencha Samidori

Yay!! More Tencha!! Tencha is awesome, it is essentially Matcha you steep rather than whisk in a bowl, and as much as I love the green powdery goodness, sometimes I just want the taste without the hassle of whisking and drinking quickly so I don't get all the sediment, and then making sure the water isn't too hot. Because dear tea friends, if you do it right, you can totally steep this stuff at 95F and get an immensely sweet and green cup of tea. There are two options, and both involve speed, either you get a teapot that pours really fast and flash steep it (think immediately water on and then pour off) or you get a steeping basket and dunk it a couple times. The aroma of the leaves is wonderfully savory, notes of edamame, bamboo leaves, sweet peas, and nutty toasted nori blend together for an intense vegetal and green aroma. It honestly makes me a little hungry sniffing it. This tea is really and truly delicious, I am torn between saving it and savoring it over a long period or just brewing all of it and chugging monstrous amounts. The taste is very nutty and sweet, like almonds and cashews with honey with the aftertaste of alfalfa sprouts and edamame, the mouthfeel is super thick and almost slippery in its texture. Later steeps get a bit more green, with strong notes of lettuce and edamame and a touch of seaweed, but never any of the more bitter green aspects you get with more vegetal tea. I really REALLY loved this Tencha, it just might be my favorite one I have had yet!

Tea sent for review

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

AprTea Mall: White and Yellow, A Pair of Needle Teas, A Review

Lately I have been in a creative slump, not even really wanting to journal because of this stupid headache that never seems to end (I swear it is like this every summer, I thought moving away from the heat would help...so clearly it is the sunlight...whatever) so to keep myself occupied I have been indulging in gaming. Specifically a game on my Kindle called Townsmen, a city building simulator (like SimCity 2000, one of my favorite games from my youth) but set in feudal Europe and (which is very refreshing for a tablet game) it isn't pay to play. It is a fun little strategy game that while it isn't soul-crushingly hard can be quite a challenge at times, especially while playing scenarios that have crazy time limits. I love games where I can build things, makes me feel productive and creative when I am otherwise unable to be. I have also been drinking a lot of tea, my stomach is better so I can go back to drinking whatever I want again, and to celebrate I have been chugging the stuff!

So, today is a day of fuzzy needles, a pair of Yinzhen teas, one yellow and one white, both from AprTea Mall a shop in Anxi, China specializing in Chinese teas. I thought it would be fun to directly compare these teas, since they are equal parts similar and different.

Yellow Tea Junshan Yinzhen Ching Ming before Tender Buds Grade one

I love Yellow Teas, I think it might be one of my favorite kinds of teas, but they are a real pain to get in any volume since they just might be the rarest form of tea. This one is on the greener side, having its distinct yellow qualities but with a lot of similarities to classic green teas. The aroma is sweet, with notes of edamame, snap peas, zucchini and a hint of honeysuckles and sugarcane. Steeping the tea up brings out stronger green notes, with bell peppers and broccoli with a bit of hay at the finish. The taste is that great middle point between green and yellow, with notes of snap peas, sweet hay, bell peppers, honeysuckles, and a finish of lingering sweet marshmallows that I really liked. The mouthfeel was light and very gentle, and you can get a lot of steeps out of this tea but for the most part there is not a lot of change between the steeps.

Fuding WhiteTea Baihao Yinzhen Special Grade

Onward to some classic Silver Needle White Tea, another long time favorite that I especially love to drink during the summer where its cooling nature keeps me from igniting. The aroma of the long and fuzzy tea needles is super crisp and fresh, I feel like they came straight from the tea fields. Notes of honeydew melon, sweet hay, wildflowers, and cucumber blend together for a refreshing combination. Brewing the tea brings out subtle peony notes that add a level of sweetness to the mostly crisp aroma. The taste is wonderfully crisp and cooling, with notes of cucumber and hay with a finish of wildflowers and peony flowers. This tea also goes for many steeps, it does alter a bit with later steeps, bringing in more flowery sweetness and losing the crisp cucumber notes while still being refreshing and cooling. I had a nice evening with this tea and was sad when I finally squeezed all the flavor out of the leaves.

Tea sent for review

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Golden Tea Leaf: Forever Spring Oolong, A Tea Review

How is everyone's week so far? Mine is off to a good start, as I finally got to go swimming yesterday and I am trying to see if I can squeeze in a swim today. The lake has finally cleared up and the beach which is a couple blocks from my current place of residence keeps all the lake weeds out of the swimming zone. It was delightful, the water was nice and cool (I hate swimming in warm water, it just feels gross) and the air was a nice 80F, it was between thunderstorms so the sky was gorgeous, truly a wonderful experience...especially with this trio of girls that were practicing pro-wrestling moves and pretending to be John Cena. I did run into one slight problems, I have this thing where if my ears get at all cold I get a splitting headache, during the winter I just wear my earmuffs but I don't know how to keep my ears warm if I go underwater, Ben suggested a bathysphere but I am not sure that is the best call.

Before I skitter off to go swimming I need to write about a tea I have been enjoying lately, Golden Tea Leaf's Forever Spring Oolong, the new 2018 harvest. This is one of those teas with a few names: Si Ji Chun and Four Seasons, it is famous because you can get several harvests off of it and they all have a very consistent feel. It is one of those everyday kinda Oolongs, you can gongfu it, coldsteep it, grandpa it...it is one of those teas that doesn't punish you of your attention span is elsewhere. The aroma of these leaves is very green and very floral, blending notes of orchid and honeysuckle with fresh grass and bellpepper. It smells of summer days where everything is in full bloom and green!

I gongfu'd this tea this time, I have cold steeped it and definitely recommend doing that if you like cold steeped oolongs! The mouthfeel is light with an edge of thickness, it is very refreshing with its floaty texture. The taste is great, very sweet notes of honeysuckle, apples, orchids, and green notes of fresh vegetation and a touch of peppers. It has a wonderfully sweet aftertaste that lingers for a while, which means I like to take time between sips to let that aftertaste really kick in. It lasts for several steeps with a building green note that fades back off to sweet floral being dominant towards the end of the session. Overall I really love how forgiving this tea is, I can let it steep long or short and I still get a delicious cup, the only thing that changes is the texture and level of greenness to the taste. It really is a tea for all seasons.

Sent for review