Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tea Side: Hong Shui Oolong Tea, A Tea Review

It is STILL freezing rain outside, everything is coated in a beautiful yet crunchy layer of sparkling ice. I am honestly quite surprised and happy we have not lost power, I would be greatly put out and would be in a panic over my fish tank getting too cold. Pretty sure that is every owner of tropical fish tank's greatest fear, the power goes out and the temperature starts to drop. Luckily I have only had to deal with this disaster once, and the death toll was very small, I know people who have lost entire massive aquariums to this very thing, so sad! Of course there is always the problem of no tea since the stove is electric...I wonder if everyone would be cross with me if I made a fire-pit in the backyard so I could still have tea?

Today is a special tea, part of a pile of samples I got from Tea Side, a company specializing in teas from Thailand. Flashback to almost two years ago, I tried my first heavily oxidized without heavily roasted Oolong and I was in love, I found that steeping it bowl style was amazing, and when I ran out I was immensely saddened. So imagine my giggle of happiness when I saw Hong Shui Oolong Tea amidst the samples sent to me! First off, what is Hong Shui? Translating it, it means red water, referring to the dark red color of the brewed tea, not necessarily a reference to the specific kind of tea or varietal. What makes this tea special is the way it is produced, very nuanced amounts of roasting and oxidizing to create a work of art. The aroma of these dark leaves is something else, this is one of those Oolongs that I advise sitting down to sniff, because the sweetness will knock you off your feet. At least it did that for me! Strong notes of sweet fruit blending cooked plums, cherries, and peaches with an underlying creaminess and a tiny hint of leaf loam. The combination of notes reminds me of the harvest, all the excess fruit in autumn baked into a compote.

I had to brew this one bowl style (or grandpa style, so many terms so little time) true, this tea is wonderful gongfu style, but I just absolutely love it steeped for hours in a bowl. The aroma coming out of the bowl is intoxicating, it is so sweet and creamy. Strong notes of stewed plums and peaches, cherries, dates, and a creamy finish that borders on coconut milk. It smells decadent.

The taste starts out immensely sweet which goes wonderfully with the creamy thick mouthfeel, honestly if you are a fan of fruity dessert teas then I say grab some of this because it is intensely sweet. One of the really fun things about this Oolong is bowl steeping can take hot temperature and it never gets bitter, usually I have the temperature a bit lower when I am bowl steeping, but this one can take my usual Oolong temperature of 195°. The taste reminds me of an ice-cream covered fruit cobbler, complete with crust. Sweet notes of peaches, plums, cherries, and dates dance with creamy notes in my mouth, and the aftertaste, oh how it lingers.

Continuing on with many refills of the bowl, the taste stays strong for quite a while. As the fruity notes start to fade towards the end they are replaced with mineral notes and a gentle woody quality. One thing that never fades is the intensely creamy finish and subsequent aftertaste. Even when most of the other notes have faded, the finishing creaminess that borders on coconut milk lingers. This tea is a treat, and one that I wish to never run out of.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Wooree Tea: Imperial Blend Hadong Green Tea, A Tea Review

Ice Ice Baby! Yeah, we are covered in a nice coating of ice, freezing rain has been coating the world since late yesterday, and it looks so beautiful. My only problem with this wintry beauty is poor Ben is out delivering pizzas in it, which of course has me worried. Luckily between deliveries he is texting me and letting me know all is well, which is immensely considerate of him! On the one hand I love the weather when it is like this, on the other, I do not like my perpetual fear of cars to have any justification for being a logical phobia, illogical fear of cars is best I think.

My random phobias (phobi?) aside, it is time for tea, and I have a special one today: Wooree Tea's Imperial Blend Hadong Green Tea. Why is this particular tea special you might be asking, because it is Korean, and I have a bit of an addiction to Korean tea, an addiction and a perpetual lack of it in my stash. See Korean tea is not impossible to get a hold of, but it is certainly a pain and not at all cheap, especially for the amount I drink when I have it in my collection. Some expensive teas I can drink in moderation, others I just find myself gorging on and then running out super quickly...and I have never met a tea from Korea that I did not do that with! This particular green tea comes from Hadong, Wooree Tea says this is the best and oldest growing region in South Korea, and checking in one of my books on Korean Tea (specifically The Book of Korean Tea) it seems this area is famous for wild growing tea trees in the mountains, which sounds quite beautiful. The aroma of the curly leaves is delightful! Notes of sesame seeds, rice crackers (I believe they are called Arare, and I will inhale them given the chance) peanuts, toasted nori, and an underlying sweetness of sesame butter and a touch of corn silk. This tea is delightfully nutty, and the green notes come from a seaweed quality, which I am sure you all know by now I find delicious.

Into my shiboridashi (it totally counts) the tea goes! The aroma of the plump olive green leaves is so nutty and umami, notes of sesame and peanuts mix with rice crackers, kelp, toasted nori, edamame, and a finish of miso. These leaves smell like food! The liquid blends green and sweet with a touch of savory quite well, with notes of gentle sesame seeds and kelp, sweet freshly cut hay, fresh grass, and a finish of edamame and roasted peanuts.

The thing I really like most about Korean green teas is their crisp, brightness, it is just such a refreshing mouthfeel. Tasting the tea, it starts out savory, with fresh grass and kelp, this moves to toasted nori, rice crackers, peanuts, and a touch of sesame seed sweetness. The finish is a blend of miso and edamame, with a mineral quality at the very tail end that lingers as the aftertaste.

For this steeping, the aroma is nuttier, lots of sesame seeds and roasted peanuts, with rice crackers and just a gentle touch of kelp at the finish. The mouthfeel is crisp and bright, it almost borders on brisk, but it does have a smoothness to it so I would not go as far as to call it brisk. This steep brings out more of the green from the green tea, it starts with notes of spinach and fresh seaweed (like that oh so yummy seaweed salad) and fades to fresh grass and a finish of sweet sesame seeds and rice crackers. The sweetness at the finish lingers for a bit.

Onward to the third steep, fresh notes of kelp and edamame mix with sesame seeds and roasted peanuts. The finish is a savory and sweet blend of rice crackers and a touch of miso. Like the previous steeps, this tea has a crisp and refreshing mouthfeel, I appreciate how it is so crisp but not drying, it is like biting into a juicy veggie. And speaking of veggies, I was greeted by a note of fresh bell pepper along with spinach and edamame at the front. The finish is a blend of rice crackers and sesame, with a sweet, gentle honey finish. This tea has staying power, I got several more steeps out of it before it finished with a mineral green quality.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What-Cha: India Bihar Doke Hand-Made 'Diamond' Green Tea, A Tea Review

Good news! My warranty is covering having my camera fixed...or failing that replaced! Not a disaster after all. Though I am not sure how long it will take to get it backed, meaning I might have to use my phone camera to review new teas, or I will just rely on the rather large perpetual backlog I have...well...logged. I am breathing such a huge sigh of relief that my camera is not totally doomed, and glad I broke it when it was still under warranty!
It has been a while since I looked at a tea from India, so I thought I would rectify that with India Bihar Doke Hand-Made 'Diamond' Green Tea from What-Cha! This unique tea comes from the Doke Tea Garden run by the Lochan family, but what makes this garden so special is it grown in Bihar, an area that until now was not a tea growing region. The tea itself is hand-crafted, giving it a wonderful artisan feel, and also it means really big pretty leaves! The dry leaves are fairly dark, and they smell pretty epic. Strong notes of mango and citrus blend with gentle nuttiness and a slight undertone of leather, for a green tea it has an earthy heaviness which I find unique. One thing I found quite entertaining about the aroma is it was not just mango fruit, there was the definite green sharpness of mango skin, quite fascinating! 

In my steeping apparatus, the leaves are not longer dark, turning vibrantly green while steeping. The aroma of the soggy leaves is intensely sweet, strong notes of mango and papaya for a tropical smelling pile of leaves, the addition of warm honey at the finish pushes the aroma to almost decadent. The liquid is very sweet, like mango nectar and a touch of papaya with honey and a tiny touch of vegetation at the finish, to remind me that this is a green tea and not a fruit.

Tasting this tea is quite the treat, it manages to be very smooth and delicate while also being intensely sweet. It starts with mango and freshly cut hay, the mango notes linger and mix with papaya and honey at the midtaste. For the finish there is a mingling of gentle tobacco and a slight nuttiness with a lingering mango sweetness that stays around for a while. This was a unique treat, just the right amount of sweetness, and the tobacco notes at the end give it depth and keep it from being too light.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Joy's Teaspoon: Wellness, A Tea Review

It is a sad day today, my nice shiny new camera took a bit of a tumble and now I have a serious problem. See, my room is rather dark, so I use flash and a diffuser for my photos, and now my flash is not working. Something broke in the fall and it will not register that the flash is a thing that exists, and there is an unnerving rattle. I am still within the warranty time, so tomorrow I will be finding out if it covers it...if not, well, I am not entirely sure what I am going to do. Adjusting the ISO and such does not get it to the level of crispness I like, so far the only thing that works at all is holding my phone's flashlight above the camera, but that is not an optimal solution. Fingers crossed about the warranty!

Tis the season where I have to scare off the sniffles, whenever someone around me so much as sneezes, I pretty much jump to the other side of the room like a terrified cartoon cat, and I am only exaggerating a little bit. So seeing the ingredients in Wellness by Joy's Teaspoon, I had to have some of it: apple pieces, carrot flakes, blackberry leaves, eucalyptus leaves, beetroot pieces, hibiscus flowers, lemongrass, flavoring, freeze-dried tangerine pieces, orange slices. I adore blends with eucalyptus, it makes my lungs happy, and it is so refreshing. And I know, usually I shy away from hibiscus teas, but lately I find I don't mind it as long as it is a very light know, making the tea pink instead of livid crimson. The aroma of the tea is immensely citrus, strong notes of grapefruit, lemon, oranges, and tangerine. It is tangy and bright, with undertones of eucalyptus and a touch of sweet fruitiness from the apples. It smells like summer!

Into my steeping apparatus the tea goes, it is such a colorful blend, and immensely aromatic...and the aroma of citrus and eucalyptus is filling my entire tea area. I think that this could be a great steam treatment next time my asthma gets fussy. The aroma of the herbal and fruit bits once liberated from the liquid is pleasantly citrus, lots of orange and grapefruit with underlying honey sweet and a touch of apples. The liquid has a tartness to it, the hibiscus has shown itself at last, though it is only a touch, and it goes really well with the tangy, almost sour grapefruit, the sweet oranges, and the underlying crispness of the eucalyptus.

In full disclosure of things and stuff, I drank this sweetened with a Chambre de Sucre Diamond Sugar Stick, because I have learned that I only really like hibiscus teas if they are sweetened or chilled, though I did sip it before I sweetened it and you know, the hibiscus does not overwhelm at all, it adds just a hint of tart and slightly metallic (hibiscus always registers as metallic for me, not sure why) notes, so the sugar was not really necessary since the tea is already delicately fruity sweet. But you know, sometimes it is the difference between eating an apple and wanting baked apples, that extra sweetness is just soothing, so I still went with the sugar. The primary note in this tea is the citrus fruit salad, a triple threat of grapefruit, lemon, and tangerine, this blends wonderfully with the crisp cooling eucalyptus. I can see why this tea is named Wellness, I just felt refreshed and clean after drinking it, it is a cheerful blend, that come summertime I think I shall try cold brewed.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lost Pines Yaupon Tea: Dark Roast Yaupon Tea, A Tea Review

Instead of my usual 'here is what I have been up to today' intro, I am going to dive straight into the tea, with a bit of history and botany! I am finally looking at some Yaupon, but before I do I want to talk about what it actually is. Ilex vomitoria, a member of the Holly family that also has Yerba Mate and Guayusa, however this version is fancy because it is the only native source of caffeine in the states. Grown in the South, this beautiful shrub shows up quite frequently growing wild and as ornamentation, in fact living in Georgia we used to grow the stuff. Sadly I was a youngin' and was unaware of its use as a tea, though I can certainly say the smell of it is immensely familiar. Now before I go much farther, let's take a look at that name, vomitoria...usually when a plant has something along that line in its name it means you will become best friends with your toilet (looking at you Russula emetica) but in this case, it was a misunderstanding. Used as one of the ingredients in Asi (or Black Drink) a ritual drink by the men of several Native American tribes that causes a lot of vomiting, it was assumed that the Yaupon was the cause of this, but clearly that is not the case. 

Since I have two different Yaupons to review, I will save the history lesson (which is all sorts of awesome) for the next one, but now that you know what the plant is, that means it is time to taste the Lost Pines Yaupon Tea Dark Roast Yaupon Tea! The aroma of the finely chopped up leaves is something else, it blends cooked spinach, hemp, toast, holly leaves, olive leaves, boxwood leaves, bark, green is a complex pile of notes! It blends green leafy almost herbaceous tones with sweet roasted ones. I know this smell, recognized it immediately, but it was odd to smell it roasted, odd and comforting.

Brewing time! The aroma of the wet leaves (which float on the top of my brewing apparatus, which amuses me) is a blend of toasted sweetness and herbaceous green. Notes of cooked spinach and hemp blend with artichoke and holly leaves. It has a sharp quality, green and slightly resinous. The liquid sans leaves is a blend of toasted grains, dry fluffy loam, wet hay, and a touch of spinach...and lots of hemp. Fresh hemp twine with that distinct sharpness and earthiness.

I found the taste of this brew incredibly hard to describe, it has an acrid bitterness that is not necessarily unpleasant (like eating an unripe persimmon, THAT is unpleasant) it is very sharp without being mouth drying...after thinking and sipping, I realized I was actually tasting caffeine, I know this because when I was in school I just took caffeine supplements, and that taste lingered in my memory. After that initial acrid sharpness (that also reminds me of chewing on European holly leaves, I was a weird kid that needed to taste everything, this is also why I became obsessed with plant based toxicology) it fades to sweetness, blending herbaceous green notes, honey, cooked spinach, and distinct toasted barley. Yaupon is one of the more strange tasting herbal brews I have sipped, I can see how this was a ceremonial drink at one has an unusual taste blended with a kick to the face of caffeine, I imagine drinking a ton of this in a ceremonial environment being quite the fascinating experience.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Eco-Cha: Jin Xuan Oolong Tea (Spring 2015) A Tea Review

I have returned from my little hiatus! My birthday was all sorts of awesome, good company, good food, mind-boggling awesome presents, and of course good tea. I still feel a little overwhelmed, basking in the afterglow of a wonderful couple of days, but it is time to return to a semblance of normalcy. On non-birthday news, it is frigid! A very chilly day, meaning it is time to break out the toast hand warmers, delightfully plushie kawaii toasts with heating elements in them, they were a Christmas gift from my sister from another mother, and I always get excited for the cold because it means I can wear incredibly cute toasts on my hands.

Today I am going to do something a little different, I have reviewed a lot of Eco-Cha's teas, but I always present them Gongfu style, but that is not the only way I drink it. In fact, bowl style (or Grandpa steeping, both names technically work) is fast becoming my favorite way to drink Jin Xuan, and so with that, why not take a look at the Spring 2015 Jin Xuan brewed up bowl style, time to show off how versatile these leaves can be. Also it shows off how huge they can get when really soaked and given lots of room to move around. Before I can drench the leaves in water, I need to give them a good sniffing, and what a joy that is because these leaves are very pleasantly aromatic. Notes if sweet custard, freshly baked pastry (kinda reminds me of a croissant because it is also very buttery) and a delicate touch of toasted sesame seeds. There is also a delicate undertone of fresh growth and woodiness with a distant hint of wildflowers.

Now that I have finally pulled my nose out of the leaves, it is time to steep! For Jin Xuan grandpa style I tend to use 190° water, it can take hotter but it tends to be more savory than sweet that way, and tends to finish quicker. The aroma that comes out of my bowl as I want the leaves dance around is quite yummy, buttery and sweet with rich notes of pastry and sesame seeds, and of course the familiar Jin Xuan custard and spicy lily notes that I adore so much. My first draining of the bowl starts light and sweet, with a creamy mouth. The taste is a blend of buttery pasty and sweet custard, similar to sesame seed custard with a gentle floral and green finish.

The more the leaves unfurl the stronger the tea gets, several bowls later a really unique thing I have only experienced with grandpa style Jin Xuan happens, it gets salty. Not salty as in, someone trolled me and poured salt on my tea, salty in the way that I just licked a rock and it has that mineral salt taste. It is earthy and blends wonderfully with the now quite strong green notes and buttery thickness. This is very distinct, I have had plenty of oolongs give me a mineral slate note, but only bowl style Jin Xuan gives me that saltiness and I absolutely love it, even if the first time I encountered it really surprised me. I got many refills of the tea, it is a tea that is perfect for those days where I want the oolong but either I am lounging in bed, out and about using my travel steeper, or busy painting/writing and don't want to split my focus between what I am doing and gongfu cha. This is a tea you can spend the whole day with, easily.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Yunomi: Takeo Tea Farm: Limited Organic Shincha (Isecha), #3 "Ume" A Tea Review

I got the best news from my phone today, clearly the weather gods have heard my cries, because guess what is happening on Friday? Yes, snow! It will only be an inch and technically it is a day after my birthday, but whatever, until I move far to the north (or in the mountains) this might be as close as I get to a blizzard on my birthday! If all goes well it will be late at night so I can get my gallivanting done early in the day and then just enjoy the snowy night.

Today's tea is a bit of an opposite to the weather, here we are on the cusp of winter, and I am talking about one of the iconic spring teas! Yunomi's Takeo Tea Farm: Limited Organic Shincha (Isecha), #3 "Ume" it is a Shincha, or the earliest harvest, is probably some of the most coveted Sencha, it is immensely fresh and a bit of a pain to get stateside, I am usually lucky to get a sample of it a year, and this is my 2015 Shincha. I got my sample right at the same time that Yunomi switched website, and my only complaint about the new site is the lack of interesting information, it used to be each of the teas would have a lot of details about them, now only some do...and this particular one is sparse on details. The aroma of the leaves is, well, it is also a bit sparse, very faint notes of kelp and spinach with a touch of fresh lettuce, but really this is a faint, faint, Shincha.

Into my tiny kyusu the leaves go for a nice steeping, one day I will have the shiboridashi I ordered, but slow shipping is slow. I love these tiny leaves, but they are a pain to clean out of the screen, so I look forward to a shiboridashi. The aroma of the leaves is still really mild, notes of spinach and kelp with a gentle grassiness at the finish. The liquid has almost no aroma at all, I was beginning to worry my nose had failed me, but after sniffing some familiar things I was sad to admit that this tea just smells like faint grass water.

I admit to some apprehension, see taste is mostly smell, the olfactory system is so intertwined with the sense of taste (the gustatory system) that usually if it is lacking, the food is lacking. One of the reasons I loathe having a stuffy nose, I tend to panic if I can't smell or taste properly, not sure if that is an offshoot of my sensory disorder or a normal reaction, clearly I need to take a poll! Ok, enough waffling, this tea did not live up to my past experiences with Shincha...and I find myself wondering if I accidentally ordered the 2014 harvest, but since I remember getting the 2015 and my package did not have the harvest date on it I can't be sure. The taste is like buttery spinach water and a gentle nutty finish, and that is it. I tried for a second steep just to see if a higher temperature would help, but nope, this tea was just not on its game. This is the first time I have been disappointed by a tea from Yunomi, but I didn't want the rest of my sample to go to waste, I gave it to a friend who absolutely loved it...proving once again, that taste is subjective and there is a tea for everyone out there somewhere.