Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fashionista Tea: Organic Masala Chai, A Tea Review

Tonight was Trick or Treat night in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania has this strange habit of having their candy nights on random days in the various small townships, half the time it is never on Halloween. As much as this weirds me out, tonight was a blast thanks to a ghost and an exorcist. My mom dressed like a ghost (much like the ghost figures in the game Ghost Story) and I whipped together a very awkward dress in imitation of a Hanfu, grabbed my old wooden Bokken, and donned my Raiden hat and did my best Exorcism stance. Sadly I did not create any seals, my sword was not peach wood, and I did not have enough Chi, so in the long run, the ghost won. Our crazy antics were a huge hit, and all our candy mysteriously disappeared! 

But enough about my mother and my antics, it is time for tea! Today we have Organic Masala Chai by Fashionista Tea, a blend of Assam, Cardamon, Ginger, Cinnamon, and Cloves, all organic. I have to be careful with my Chai consumption, it usually is stuffed towards the back of my tea shelves, because left alone with Chai, I will drink all of it. The various Indian restaurants I visit in Kansas City know me not by my brilliantly teal hair, but as the girl who drinks at least four cups of Chai and never says no to a refill and always loves a to go cup. The one time I decided to get a lassi instead of a Chai at my favorite restaurant, I think I about gave the server a heart-attack out of shock, and she brought me a Chai on the house anyway! So as you can see, I really love this spicy, rich, drink. The aroma from my little pile of CTC leaves and spices is sweet, spicy, and malty! There is a strong ginger note, a moderately strong note of cardamon, and lastly a mellow note of malt and a finish of cinnamon. 

Into the hot water and steeping basket the leaves go! After a steeping it is time to sniff the soggy leaves, and wow are they bright! A blend of almost effervescent ginger with the slightly brisk and malty notes really wakes up the nose, add the undertones of cinnamon and cardamon and you have for an enjoyable sniff. The liquid is a nice blend of malt, ginger, and cinnamon, I am saddened by the lack of cardamon, but I am a cardamon fiend (yes I eat the pods after I get done steeping them...don't judge me.) 

This is a very mellow Chai, taken traditionally with milk (ok I use Half & Half since I love creaminess) and sugar, I can say that this is a Chai that is very chill. It just brings its spices over and sits down next to you, no massive punches of cinnamon or ginger, it just eases you into the spices. The Assam is bold and malty, it really shows off its true colors, usually in Chai the tea accents the spices, this time the spices accent the tea. There is an aftertaste of ginger that lingers for a while and leaves you feeling warm and slightly tingly. I am not sure this is my favorite Chai ever, I really like a lot of kick and of course lots of Cardamon, but it is a good 'background noise' Chai, much like the music I am listening to, it is enjoyable but not my main focus. So if you want a Chai with a bold base tea and mellow spices, this is the tea for you!

*If you want some fun action shots of the Exorcist vs The Ghost, just follow the links*

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What-Cha: Nepal 2nd Flush 2014 Cannon Ball Green Tea, A Tea Review

Today was going to be my relax and catch up on reading day, all that travel meant that I am really behind on the various blogs and Steepster friends that I follow, instead it was a day of Steampunk Creepers. My mom got a text this morning about the Steampunk texture pack on the Xbox, we both looked at each other and more or less ran to the console. While she is not as a big of a fan of the Steampunk aesthetic as I am, my mom does enjoy it, plus we always get a kick out of new texture packs. After playing Minecraft we decorated for Halloween, and I am still not caught up on my reading!

It is Wednesday, so that means it is time for What-Cha, specifically their Nepal 2nd Flush 2014 Cannon Ball Green Tea from Greenland Organic Farm in the shadow of Mt. Kancghenjunga. I absolutely love the shape of these little tea balls, I am not sure why it is called Cannon Ball except that maybe it is a play off of Gunpowder Green, and these are bigger so they are cannon balls? Until corrected, that shall be my head cannon (yes I am a terrible person for making that pun, no regrets.) The aroma of the leaf balls is very green and quite sweet, there are notes of cut grass, freshly broken green stems, a tiny bit of hay, and a nice sharp finishing note of citrus. It has a very refreshing aroma that I hope carries over to the brewed tea.

Watching the little leaf balls slowly turn into a pile of small leaves is rather entertaining, they did not so much unfurl as fall apart, much like a cannon ball hitting a fortress wall. The aroma of the soggy leaf pile is a blend of freshly squeezed citrus (reminds me a bit of Yuzu, actually) and cut grass. The liquid once liberated from the leaves is very fresh and refreshing, the aroma has notes of light citrus, fresh grass, and a very mild touch of pepper at the finish.

The first steep can be summed up best as odd yet refreshing! As with the other teas I have had from What-Cha's Nepal selection, it has a real clean spring water taste to it, I am not sure if it is a terroir thing or a farm specific trait, but I love it. Now I cannot tell you if I love this because of the taste or because it instantly transports me to one of my favorite places, ever, either way it is a powerful effect. There is more than just spring water to this tea, there is also a strong middle presence of green in the middle, it cools my mouth and tastes like broken stems and grass. This passes to citrus at the finish, adding a brightness to the tea and a touch of sweetness.

The second steep's aroma is much like the first, it smells clean and fresh with a strong presence of green grass and citrus, no pepper this time though. The taste is brisk, not brisk like a black tea, but brisk like a stroll on a cool spring evening, it is refreshing and invigorating. There are notes of spinach and cut grass at the front, this transitions to lettuce and broken stems in the middle, and lastly the tea fades to citrus and sweet hay with a slight aftertaste of saltiness that I found pretty neat. With a lot of types of tea you start to see a pattern, similar tasting notes, similar aromas, so I always get a real kick out of teas that shake me out of similarities.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Life In Teacup: Tie Guan Yin Traditional Charcoal Roast, A Tea Review

Today has been a day of tea, I am a wee bit tea drunk at the moment, and I am pretty sure my mom is too. We have been gongfu-ing several different teas that I wanted her to try from my private stash while listening to music and cleaning around the house. You know how it is post travel, no matter how organized and neat the house is when you get home, as soon as you bring in the luggage it ceases to be. It is always a great feeling to have everything in its proper place.

 For the chosen tea on this most pleasant of Tuesdays, I am having a look at Life in Teacup's Tie Guan Yin Traditional Charcoal Roast. So fun story with my relationship with TGY, when I first started drinking it many years ago, I preferred the charcoal roast over its more green variety...then I fell in love with the green variety for about a year...and now I am back to preferring the roasted one again! It is enjoyable to see how desire for certain tastes change over time, sometimes it changes over the seasons and sometimes it changes over longer times, it is a journey. The aroma is quite delicious smelling, it blends baking bread and charcoal with an underlying heady aroma of orchids. The blending of flowers and roast makes for a very interesting aroma, the yeasty notes of baking bread add a level of sweetness to it as well. I always find roasted oolongs that retain their floral notes to be fascinating.

The aroma of the leaves after the first steep is surprisingly floral, very strong heady presence of orchids with a hint of honeysuckle. There are also notes of baking bread and a tiny bit of char and mineral, much like burnt sticks and a freshwater spring. The aroma of the liquid is fairly mild, with notes of buttery baking bread and orchids, there is a finish of fresh vegetation. Surprisingly no empyreumatic notes in the liquid.

The first steeping is very sweet, very strong notes of honey drizzled yeasty bread. The bread notes transition into heady orchids and honeysuckle nectar. Sipping this tea is like eating freshly baked bread while sitting in an orchid filled conservatory. Remind me to add that to my 'to do' list.

On the second steep, the aroma has more of a roasted tea aroma, there are notes of toasted sesame seeds, yeasty bread, and a touch of nutmeg. The taste is very sweet, just like the first steep, but this time it is the sweetness of honey on toast! This transitions to heady orchids and a bit of charcoal with a sweet, flower nectar finish that lingers.

For the third steep, well you can certainly tell this is a charcoal roasted tea, because the char notes are strong. There are also notes of baking bread and honey, the previous notes of flowers have faded. I found all the roasty toasty notes! The taste of this steep is rich with charcoal and toast notes, the mouthfeel is dry, and there is a hint of leaf pile at the midtaste. For the finishing note there is rich raw honey and a hint of toasted sesame. As charcoal roasted teas go, this one is pretty mild, one I would recommend for someone who only wants a little of that char taste in their teas.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Good Life Tea: Citrus & Ginkgo Organic Green Tea, A Tea Review

Monday has arrived, meaning a new week (unless you are someone who prefers to start the week on Sunday, in that case never mind) and a fresh start. I am back in Pennsylvania, as much as I enjoyed my trip to South Carolina, I am glad to be back because I wore myself out! I still have not really relaxed since I left Kansas City, so it will be good to just chill and enjoy the autumn air. Yours truly hopes to go hiking in the mountains before mushrooms go away and all the leaves fall later this week, an exciting prospect!

Today's tea is all about having a functioning brain, Good Life Tea's Citrus & Ginkgo Organic Green Tea blends Green Tea from India, Lemongrass, Citrus Peels, and of course Ginkgo. This pungent herb has been used for quite a while to stimulate the brain, I remember back in my school days I would eat strange tasting Ginkgo candies I bought at the local Asian Market, no idea if they helped my perpetually distracted mind though! The aroma of this tea is pretty potently citrus, lots and lots of lemon! Luckily it is not a fake lemon aroma, it smells much like I just stuck my nose inside a crate full of fresh lemons along with the aroma of crushed lemon leaves. There is just a tiny hint of herbal notes and a delicate note of vegetation.

The brewed leaves are much more balanced, I can smell the other elements of the tea, including lemons, fresh vegetation, and pungent herbal notes. There is also a note of pepper and a hint of sharpness that is a bit hard to place, like a mix of green wood and broken grass. The liquid smells more or less identical to the wet leaves, there is just a slight honey sweetness that was not present in the leaves.

The taste is, well it is a bit odd. As with most things that contain herbs, sometimes the taste is nothing short of strange, there is a reason the term herbaceous exists, because it is the best description for it. The tea is a bit sour, both from the lemons and the slightly pungent ginkgo, along with a touch of pepper, and a finish of gentle green notes and smoke. I am not sure how to feel about this tea, it was not my favorite tea ever, but it was not bad, just not necessarily the taste for me.
Ginkgo Trees are beautiful in autumn!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Meet My Tea Gear: South Carolina Edition

So, my family and I are notorious thrift store and bargain hunters, we love spending all day popping from store to store hunting the most awesome things to add to our stash. I usually go to thrift stores hunting one thing (when I am not looking for clothes) tea gear, most of my tea gear has come from secondhand places, and I love it! This is going to be a show off of all the new tea gear (or things that will be used as tea gear) that I found while visiting South Carolina. I will be sad to leave tomorrow, and not just because I have to get up at 5am!

First up (and excuse the less than stellar photography, but I am traveling and using a bench as a desk) is this adorable little teacup and saucer set. I have been hunting a nice set for a while, all of my teacups lack saucers, and that seems wrong. This is Tulip by Sango, and I love the gold gilding.
My mom and grandmother both hated me a little for finding this first, it is a super tiny gaiwan! It has no markings so I will certainly have my work cut out for me researching this thing's age and where exactly it came from. You all know me, I will love the challenge of finding out this gaiwan's origins. 
So, when my grandmother found this basket for me, I originally thought it was a food basket, and decided it would be neat for carrying tea gear around. After noticing that it had a "made in Shanghai" and a delightfully vintage feel, I decided to research it. Turns out it is a Wedding Basket, a tradition that is part of Chinese weddings that I was unaware existed. I am still going to use it to carry tea gear and snacks places though, it is perfect for it!
Meet my new tea bowl! I am going to use it as a chawan, it is the perfect size and shape for it, plus I have a desire to have one for each season and this is perfect for summer. I once visited a wetlands park that had a lake filled with lotus flowers, the aroma of their blooms in summer was beautiful. 
This is the last little friend procured from thrifting. It was a gift from my mom and I know it is probably an Irish Coffee cup, but you know, I like strangely shaped cups. Sadly there is also a new tray that I will be using for tea, but I forgot to take a picture of it and it is already packed up in the car. It is a delightfully vintage tray with inlaid coral and abalone shell in the pattern of tropical fish. I am very enamored of it even if it is really beat up and needs some repairs. Hopefully there will be a post tomorrow, we will be on the road all day and I might be too tired to write when we get home, if so see you all on Monday!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Eco-Cha & Indiegogo: Promote Sustainability

Today's blog is one that is surprisingly selfish...one of my favorite tea stores, Eco-Cha just started an Indiegogo Campaign called Promote Sustainability - Get Great Tea, and I very much so want it to succeed. This is just not because I want the perk I am backing (I used almost all my vacation money on the Brew In Style perk, and I have no regrets) or because they are a much loved store...no, I want them to succeed because their campaign is amazing.

There is tea that is enjoyable, that tantalizes the senses, and there is tea that is art, that soothes the soul and takes you on an unforgettable journey with each sip. Every tea I have had from Eco-Cha has fallen into the art category. Their teas are not just a wonderful sensory experience, they are also all about small scale, organic, traditional tea farming practices. They have a relationship with the farmers and tea artisans, and I feel this truly shows in the tea.

Let me introduce to you Mr. Lin, he has been in the tea industry for 30 years, like many people in any industry he started small, making oolong in his hometown (ok not everyone does the oolong step) and then moved to making the more financially beneficial factory setting in the high mountains. He is now returning to his family lands to build a certified organic tea farm, this will allow him to use his experience to make tea more in line with his values.

Eco-Cha's goal is to purchase the entire winter harvest produced by Mr. Lin. This will allow the tea to be on a larger more global market, rather than being mostly distributed locally and through various stores. This will show that it is possible to have small, sustainable, organic farms and that large factory productions are not necessary. Not only is this good for the environment, it also preserves tradition and artistry.

I certainly suggest visiting the campaign page and watching the video, Taiwan is a beautiful country and watching the production of tea is fascinating. By supporting the campaign you can get some pretty awesome loot and a truly unique tea. Whether or not you are supporting it for the chance to try a new tea or because you believe in the cause, you can be sure it will be worth your time and money. I hope to see you all in December when the tea arrives, you can be certain it will be making an appearance on my blog.

*Photos provided by Eco-Cha, sadly I was unable to travel to Taiwan to photograph the farm myself*

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What-Cha: Darjeeling Autumn Flush 2013 Jungpana Black Tea, A Tea Review

I have a confession that some of my friends back in Kansas City are going to hate me for, I really don't like their BBQ, sorry guys! I grew up in the South on delicious Southern style BBQ, and then I left and have not had any for almost fifteen years. Until today. I had BBQ so good that I actually cried, no lie, I sat at the table eating my food while crying. I tolerated other types of BBQ because I craved it, but really, in my book nothing compares to it. So that is my confession, I hope I don't make too many enemies!

Travel has taken a toll on my perception of time, so What-Cha Wednesday is on a Thursday this week, and the particular tea has an autumnal flair, Darjeeling Autumn Flush 2013 Jungpana Black Tea, which is perfect for this time if year. There is something about Darjeeling teas and autumn that go perfectly together, doubly so if it is an autumn flush. The aroma of the dry leaves is sweet and muscatel, it reminds me a little of white wine and scuppernongs, with a rich undertone of sweet potatoes and roasted peanuts. I think spending time in the South is having an effect on my nose, those are such Southern foods! Regardless of my nose's current influence, the smells is quite good and of course sweet.

Brewing the leaves seems to make the aroma even richer, very sweet and immensely rich, it has a real depth to it with notes of muscatel, molasses, sweet potatoes, and a tiny hint of distant flowers. The liquid is still sweet and rich, but it has a lightness where the leaves had depth. There are notes of sweet potatoes and scuppernongs with a finish of chocolate and flowers.

This is a Darjeeling to sip while lounging somewhere you can peacefully contemplate something, be it the tea you are sipping or your surroundings, or just the glories of cheese. It has that feeling when you sip it, the tea is a perfect companion for getting lost in thought because its journey through flavor notes is gentle. It starts with a rich molasses and sweet potato, after this the flavor turns light and sweet with a distinct note of golden raises and honey. The end has a cooling effect and a hint of loam with honey sweetness. Surprisingly I gave the rest of my sample to a friend who wanted more experience with Darjeeling, even though I wanted it all for myself I knew it was the perfect Darjeeling to use as either an introductory tea or one to get more experience with. My reasoning for this is it has the distinct notes associated with an Autumn Flush Darjeeling while having a reasonable price and very clear flavor notes. It is also good for experienced sippers because yum.

*if you want to see all my photos from my South Carolina adventures, I have a nice little album dedicated to it*