Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Tea Book: Linda Gaylard, A Tea Book Review

Book time! I have been voraciously reading, it is the time of year where I go deep into the books and tend not to come out again until spring. Today's book is The Tea Book by Linda Gaylard and by one of my favorite publishers, DK. See, DK has a tendency to publish really pretty books, their book on Gemstones is still a classic favorite, but this is about tea and not rocks. From the moment I cracked open the book I was impressed with the visuals, it is beautiful!

But looks alone do not make a book (unless it was a photo book, of course) so how is the substance? First off I will say, I think I found THE perfect book for people new to tea and with a voracious appetite for knowledge. This covers so many of the basics, but instead of stopping there it delves deep into various cultures, history, and regions. I was pleased to see coverage on Korean tea and their tea culture, along with Vietnam and Kenya, and not just the typical China, Japan, India, and Sri Lanka.

There is a large section on recipes, but it is not the more trendy cooking with teas but different drinks using tea. Frankly most of them look so delicious, I plan on breaking a few of them out for events when I have to serve tea to a bunch of people. So many delicious looking recipes, plus a method for making popping spheres meaning an upgrade to bubble teas.

Along with lots of juicy information about tea and recipes, there is a section on herbal teas/tisanes. I had mixed feelings on this, on the one hand it was very valuable information (the wheel of healing was my favorite) and herbal teas are definitely a big part of the tea world, but on the other hand this is space that could have been filled with more info about tea!

At times I wish this book would have delved deeper into various topics, mostly because I really enjoy Linda's writing style (I have been following her blog for a while, good reading there!) and would have loved to have seen more of it combined with DK's signature bombastic visuals. I find myself daydreaming about a book of this style devoted entirely to Yunnan's tea culture or Vietnamese tea. Again, I really cannot stress how I think everyone interested in tea should buy this book, even though a lot of the information presented was a refresher for me, I loved reading it because it is so well written and enjoyable.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

3 Leaf Tea: Wild Pu'erh Buds (Ya Bao): A Tea Review

Another day, another day of me frolicking with dinosaurs in pixel land! Today was better than yesterday, I was able to redo my 'Mobile Oppression Yacht" which is a boat with crazy 'Species X' plants that are essentially turrets so I wreck the dinos getting lots of meat, and I tamed a little derpy Dimorphodon to ride on my shoulder. Yesterday would have been the most epic, except for my massive 'hitting the wrong button and ruining everything fail' that I am STILL salty over. I was well into taming a Spinosaur, a very resource intensive process, hit the wrong button and wasted all that time and resources by ruining the tame. There was some serious raging after that!! I also spent a good chunk of today trying to hunt down and tame an Argentavis with no luck, but soon I will be the queen of the skies...and swamp if I get another go at a Spino! Life in Ark is full of hardship and joy.

Today we are looking at a tea that reminds me of prehistoric fuzzy pine cones or maybe little catkins, yes it is the beloved Wild Pu'erh Buds (Ya Bao) this one comes from 3 Leaf Tea. This tea is made from the very young buds of trees from Yunnan in very early spring, way before they have the chance to open into tea leaves. I have seen a bit of debate among vendors and drinkers alike over whether or not this tea (like Moonlight and Yunnan Silver Needle) is a white tea or a puerh, and I like to think that this is just magic stuff that overlaps and joins both types of tea into something epic. I can see a valid case for either side of the debate so I have never been able to make a clear decision. The aroma of the little buds is very crisp and light, this is one of those teas that smells very pure (not saying that others smell unclean, but it is like comparing the clean smell of the air after snowfall and the smell after a spring rain) There is not a lot going on with the aroma, crisp cedar, gentle apricots, and a touch of lettuce. The comparison to a snowy day's aroma is not entirely false, this type of tea has such a winter deep in a forest quality to me, even with the sweet notes of apricot.

Gaiwan time, for no reason other than feeling like using this set I went with my Ru Yao, though I can say with the perfectly clear liquid, my camera had a fun time trying to focus thanks to all the crackles! The aroma of the wet leaves is fairly faint and quite sweet, blending fresh apricot and clover honey with lettuce and cedar. I do love that cedar note, it has a slight sap like quality to it as well. The liquid is sweet and juicy, like a honey drizzled fresh apricot, eaten on a cold day in a cedar forest.

The first steep is as light as the aroma, it is one of the really endearing qualities of Ya Bao, it is a subtle tea. It is smooth in the mouth and starts a bit crisp with notes of cedar wood and lettuce. This moves to wonderful light sweetness like fresh apricot and very light honey. The end of the sipping is crisp and refreshing cooked celery with a little bit of a cedar sap aftertaste.

Second steep and the aroma has gained a bit of a wildflower note, perhaps this tea that is so synonymous with winter is now fading into spring? Nah, it was a false thaw. The taste has the same wonderful crisp cedar notes and sweet fruitiness, but it starts to pick up a cucumber and squash blossom quality at the finish. The aftertaste lingers and at the very end it fades into apricot which is pleasant.

For the third steep nothing really has changed in aroma or taste. I find that Ya Bao does really change in taste notes, but only in intensity. This steep is more mellow, more similar to the first, and the next steep after as well. One of my favorite ways to steep Ya Bao is to grandpa/bowl steep the tea after the first two steepings, I will just transfer the little buds into a bowl or sip them from my gaiwan, it never gets bitter and only ever gets sweeter.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

New Blog Schedule!

Tea is a wonderful thing, a wonderful thing which I love to write about, tea can take minutes or it can take hours...blogging however is never really a quick process. It takes time to research the tea I am drinking (though less if I am more familiar with the tea) take the photos and organize/edit them, and of course time to gather my thoughts and adequately describe the tea and do it justice.

Even though it takes time I still love it, but lately I have found trying to do it everyday to be a bit of a strain and have been having a hard time maintaining the daily blogging structure, so time for something new! I am going to, instead of blogging everyday try out blogging Monday, Wednesday, Friday and if I am feeling adventurous once on the weekend. Is this a definite permanent thing? Not sure, this is me trying it out, seeing how it feels...if I want to write more I will, but with luck having a day to collect my thoughts between blogs posts will mean a less strained me and maintain the blog's quality. Thank you all for the several years of support you have given and continue to give the blog, it means the world to me!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Xin Mu Cha: Taiwan Premium Aged Ginger and Brown Sugar Tea

You know what I need, a new Paleontology themed book, my pocket guide to dinosaurs (in case of time travel emergency) is super out-dated. This of course makes me think of the ways that Ark veers away from current accepted theories, like the way the Beezlebufo is ridable. And has become my favorite mode of transportation. Granted the Beezlebufo was a monstrously big prehistoric froggy, though it sadly was not quite as big as in the game, sadly. I wish it were that big...and still alive...and ridable, because I would definitely use the giant frog as a my way of going everywhere. Not that I really ever leave the house, but still!

Today is the last of my sample pile from Xin Mu Cha, their Taiwan Premium Aged Ginger and Brown Sugar Tea, alas not in their store yet. This is a medicinal tea that is made from aged ginger and brown sugar, though apparently this is drink is commonly made with Chinese brown sugar which tastes different from western stuff. Theoretically this tea is used medicinally to treat PMS symptoms and since it is ginger, belly woes. I consume a lot of ginger to help with my chronic vertigo induced nausea, so I am always pleased to try it in a new way. The aroma of the granular powder is a powerful punch of ginger and sweetness, it very strongly reminds me of the gummy ginger candies I get at the local Chinese market (I call them my car sick treat since I always have since I always keep them in the car) though apparently my brand of choice is actually from Indonesia. It is super sweet and very warming, but I absolutely adore ginger.

Blending the powder with water and giving it a stir gives me a rich amber color liquid and fills the room with sweet ginger aroma. Man, this stuff was awesome, a really potent ginger mixed with a wonderful warm and rich sweetness. It tastes exactly like the ginger candies I love, but if you are not familiar it is somewhat like gingerbeer but not cold and certainly not fizzy. I was sent three packets of this and I tore through it super quickly, it was really easy to make (hot water and stir, done) which made for an excellent late night sweet treat for pre-sleep laziness. The only thing I can say is avoid like the plague if you dislike strong ginger, but if you like it definitely get some, it is super sweet and rich and I loved it. I WANT MORE!!!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Second Alarm Farm: Hawaiian Green Tea, A Tea Review

Now that I have a Carno in Ark, I find myself contemplating my next dinosaur goals. On the one hand Rexes are a classic favorite (I slept with a humongous plastic T-Rex as a kid) and have a ton of health and stamina, but on the other they are made of fail in water. Spinos are like the all rounders, great on land and water but a little weaker, but they are everywhere around our base and slightly easier to tame. In a game as resource management intensive as Ark, having a slightly lower drain on resources is a win. Now, if you are wondering why a Carnotaurus is not enough of a hunting beast, I tried taking down a Paraceratherium with him (his name is Pimento if you were curious) and we both almost died, where a Spino or Rex can take down pretty much everything by a Gigantasuarus or one of the big horrifying sea monsters and some of the soon to be added in dinos. If you are wondering why I just don't get a Gigantasaurus, they are stupid rare and hard to get...so maybe one day.

Contrary to popular (and by popular I just mean all the signs at the Charleston Tea Estate) there are several tea farms around the United States, and Hawaii is very well known for its rich volcanic soil creating some epic tea. Problem is this tea is rather niche and fairly hard to get, since a lot of it gets sold to tourists and it is not cheap, but luckily I have tea friends that get access to some cool stuff and they like to share. Smash cut to Second Alarm Farm, a tea farm who grows both tea and coffee in Pahoa, Hawaii, from what I gather they are currently distributing their teas to local shops, but they are in the works with Tealet so we might see them soon. The leaves are massive and fluffy, they look like they were picked and dried off the tea plant yesterday, I am so amused by fluffy leaves. The aroma of these leaves are the most 'tea' I have ever sniffed, it is like taking a leaf from my tea plant and letting it dry and then sniffing it. It is pure leafy green and slightly sharp vegetation, it smells like spring time and a tea farm. Not incredibly nuanced, but if you want to sniff a tea that clearly smells like a fresh from the plant leaf, this is as close as you can get without visiting a farm or owning a tea plant.

I decided to brew this one in my gaiwan, because why not? The aroma of the now soggy leaves is very green and very fresh, still strongly resembles freshly plucked and dried tea leaves, but with an underlying honey sweetness and a touch of very distant pine needles. The liquid is fresh and crisp, with notes of lettuce and bell pepper and an underlying sweet buttery note.

The first steeping is light in both taste and mouthfeel, it reminds me of licking rain water off a large plant leaf. The taste is a blend of sweet and vegetal, very light acacia honey mixed with sharp fresh bell peppers, fresh cabbage, and crisp broken vegetation. It is immensely refreshing and very organic tasting, I feel as though I am tasting the tea at a very pure state.

Second steeping brings a slightly stronger aroma, still primarily lettuce and bell pepper, but also a hint of cabbage and broken leaves. The taste again reminds me of rainwater and growing things, with an addition of bell peppers and cabbage, the finish is light and sweet with a lingering mineral aftertaste.

For the final steep, the lightness of this tea dominates, the aroma is mostly notes of distant bell pepper and a touch of broken leaves. The taste is rain water and gentle crushed leaves, it tastes like summer storms and I find that very refreshing, even if the taste is a bit lacking.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Xin Mu Cha: Premium Fried Black Bean Tea, A Tea Review

Yep, I am still marathoning Ark: Survival Evolved, my obsessive tendencies and a game that is so much fun is just a wonderful combination, but I do occasionally do other things. Like just last I finally talked Ben into watching Beetlejuice, see he is not a huge Tim Burton fan having not grown up with him and lacking the nostalgia and also coming into his oeuvre once it has (at least in my opinion) gone really stale, so he was not really interested in it. This movie was a favorite of mine as a kid, so I was glad I was able to convince him, and it turns out he liked it. Certainly made me nostalgic for days when his style was more unique and not so saturated in itself!

But I am not a movie reviewer, my specialty is why you are all here, usually nerdy intro paragraph aside.  Today is an herbal tea from Xin Mu Cha, not yet on their website, it is Premium Fried Black Bean Tea, yes this is another one of those roasted grain teas that are very popular in Asia, and with good reason they taste amazing. Giving this a bit of a look up since it was new to me, I found out it is usually made from Kuromame or black soy beans and is touted as a weight loss aide, but considering I would prefer to gain weight perhaps I will just look at this for its taste like I usually do with teas. These arrived in a teabag but I preferred to brew them in a steeping basket, so out of their little bag they came for a good sniffing. The aroma is super roasted, strong notes of soy beans, burnt beans, and a tiny bit like coffee beans. It is a blend of savory and sweet and even though it smells a little bit like pinto beans left on the stove and burnt a bit, the aroma is mouthwatering, but I really like eating beans.

Into my cup of hot water the basket goes, since this tea is popular in Japan among other places I decided to use my bamboo steeping basket and Somayaki cup, because I can be thematic once in a while! The steeped beans smell, well, like beans, with a toasted coffee and burnt undertone and a subtle sweetness. The liquid is much the same, it is beans all the way down with this brew.

This is an odd thing, but odd in a very pleasant way! The roasting of the beans brings out a sweetness that reminds me a bit of adzuki beans, but with a powerful roasted undertone. It goes from this initial sweet to a richer nuttier roast, again reminding me a bit of coffee's smell but not its taste. The aftertaste on this brew is very rich, nutty and sweet with a hint of pinto beans that lingers for a while. I really enjoyed this stuff and foresee myself either buying more or roasting my own, there is something just so incredibly comforting about roasted grains on a cold night before sleep/

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Adagio Teas: Minecraft Charged Creeper Custom Blend, A Tea Review

You know, Ark: Survival Evolved is definitely the kinda game that is geared towards people with no lives, especially when you look at the taming mechanic. Currently I am taming a Carnotaurus, after more or less giving up on ever finding one I just took my raptor (named Diego from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, because he can turn into a raptor) out hunting and lo and behold, Carno time! So after shooting it full of tranq arrows and loading it with meat and narcotics I sit and wait and make sure nothing tries to eat it or me...for two and a half hours. True there are quicker tames, like using kibble, but I lacked the proper amount of Anklyo eggs, so I play the long game. This game makes me feel like I am accomplishing something with my life and this pleases me.

Today we are looking at one of Adagio Tea's custom blends, designed by yours truly, because my love of Minecraft is endless and I wanted teas to match my obsession. This one is the Charged Creeper, basically you take a Creeper and strike it with lightning and what you get is a glowing blue super charged explosion. It is a blend of Gunpowder Green (for the explosion of course) Houjicha (because they are said to feel crunchy like autumn leaves) Green Chai (for the spicy extra explosion) and to evoke the blue glow some Blueberries and Cornflowers. The aroma of this blend is very sweet and toasty, the Houjicha mixed with chai spices gives a real warmth and toasted marshmallow quality, while the sweet notes of blueberries linger underneath. At the very end there is a touch of orange and very gentle smoke.

The aroma of the brewed leaves and berries is still pretty toasty and sweet, again reminding me of marshmallows with a touch of smoke and a slight vegetal undertone. Really strong Houjicha notes, the addition of blueberry vaguely reminds me of pie. The liquid once freed from the leafy embrace is pretty similar, strong notes of toasted marshmallow and blueberries.

Tasting this tea, it is pretty roasty toasty and a bit smoky! It starts with marshmallow sweetness and toasted grain and then moves on to smoke and gentle vegetal notes, it is a pretty mellow tea. Around the midpoint notes of gentle spice and oranges show up and at the finish is a nice juicy burst of blueberry. I think the most fun I had with this tea was the color, it is so purple and dark, not quite the color I envisioned for a Charged Creeper, and the green notes from the other teas really don't show through much, but the mix of toast and blueberries is quite tasty.