Monday, September 29, 2014

A Mini Vacation

Hello my dear readers! I hope you won't think too little of me for taking a short vacation from blogging. Have no fear, it won't be too long, just a few days at the most. See, yours truly is a bit unwell, or at the very least adapting to an upped dose of my Fibromyalgia medication, I have pretty overwhelming fatigue and brain fog at the moment. 

Granted I could still write about teas, but since I am unable to focus it would be a sub-par review and I feel it would not be doing the teas justice! I figure you would all rather read a coherent review of the tea rather than a jumbled mess. Thank you for waiting and see you all in a few days. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Top 100 Tea Recipes: A Tea Book Review

Today's bit of tea book goodness is Top 100 Tea Recipes by Mary Ward, a collection of recipes that for once is not just food made with tea! A lot of tea books I have read that include recipes focus on food rather than interesting drink concoctions, which is sad because you can get a lot of interesting drinks by blending tea with all sorts of things. I will start by saying the writer's style is quite...archaic? I am not really sure how to describe her 'voice' in this book, but it reminds me of reading older books or ones that have been translated in a more formal tone. This is not a complaint, I actually am rather fond of this style.

So, the book is sorted into different kind of recipes, that is, once you get past the standard first few chapters introducing tea. It starts with a brief history of tea, starting in the Hsia (Xia) period in China, though it does not mention Shennong, instead only Emperor Yu is mentioned. This transitions to how tea is grown, processed, and graded, along with a brief blurb on different types of tea. It is very basic, but a decent starter/refresher chapter. The next chapter is about how to prepare tea, written by Daniel Mantey, it has a good deal of information about tea preparation, additives, and some more history on tea that is just a tiny bit redundant while also being more detailed. Points for saying teaballs should be illegal, it is really a shame how cramped the poor leaves get inside those things. I think they are fine for tiny chopped up leaves or herbals that do not really expand, but there is also the concern of water flow, the mesh teaballs being the best.

Chapter three begins the actual recipes, starting with hot teas! Some of them are tasty blends like mulled tea, and others are teas specific to different cultures, like Billy tea, popcorn tea (genmai cha), German Layered Tea (Ostfriesen Tea) and so forth. I found it a bit sad that the book used more generic names than the actual names for some of the teas. There are also herbal teas in this chapter, most of which look tasty and have easy to acquire ingredients.

Moving on to chapter four we have iced teas! Ah, iced teas, the ambrosia of my childhood and early adult summers, well that and ambrosia salad, living in the South was tasty. One of the recipes made me do a double take, Iced Soda Tea, essentially mixing a rootbeer or other soda float in a blender and then mixing cold tea with it, that sounds incredibly yummy.

Next we have boozy teas, I admit I only skimmed this chapter since my medication makes me unable to drink, and why tempt myself with yummy concoctions? After that is tea and food, yum, starting with Japanese food to go with a Japanese tea ceremony, this moves on to English tea, children's nursery tea and afternoon tea. The book finished off with yummy (not tea themed) treats to go with tea, most of them look very delicious. I like this book, I copied a lot of the recipes to my cookbook and plan on using them at some point.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Musings: Crafts, Geekery, and Randomness

It is Saturday, and oh man what a week it has been. I feel much like I have been fighting a battle this week, and not just in the world of gaming. It has been both worrisome and annoying this week because I have been almost crippled with fatigue, it is not an exaggeration when I say that I have collapsed almost fainting several times out of weakness. I was really worried until I came to an awesome (maybe) revelation, I am having a really nasty Fibromyalgia Flair. Usually these are accompanied with pain and of course fatigue, but I am so focused on my pain that the fatigue, brain fog, and weakness are side problems. This is proof that the medication I take for pain is working wonders, I mean I still have pain but it is vastly reduced, and with my doctor upping the dosage, I might be entirely pain free. The only problem is what do I do about this fatigue that makes it so hard to function. If I am not focusing on something I fall asleep, it is ridiculous!
Official Rulebook! 
But I know a lot of you are not here to hear about my various health problems and how I deal with them, you are here for either tea or geekery...and crafts too, can't forget about them! So why was I out till midnight on Thursday you might ask? I was dealing with a pulsar and a stupid space station that got stuck in a time stasis! I am talking about Battlestations, a space themed RPG that is heavily influenced by Star Trek but with more weird aliens. I am a Canosian, these strange things are essentially a giant pile of neurons that crackle with electricity and get tumbled around. They are shy and prefer to stay in corners, after reading suggested names (they are all clicking noises) I decided to 'talk' entirely by tapping my fingernails on the table. Luckily Ben (who was a Whistler, essentially a giant ball of fluff) translated for me, usually he was correct.
It is too cute
Out of character I talked of course, like coming up with the awesome idea to blow up the pulsar. As the ship scientist (and the one that kept having to be told 'it's a game, stop worrying about science, this game has space friction') I figured the time stasis was caused by that! Everyone thought it was an absolutely insane idea that would get us killed, meaning we should totally do it...but the GM (ship computer? not sure what the Battlestations term for the GM is) said no, we are not blowing up the pulsar. I was sad, but we got an overwhelming success on the mission (partially because I was rolling extremely well that night) which was awesome. I look forward to next Thursday's adventure, assuming we are all there to play. It is the one problem I have with RPGs in the tabletop form, if one or more persons is missing it can ruin or cancel the session, so I have seen several groups and campaigns fall apart without the adventure completing.
My Teafrog wants to play
Earlier this week I finished my Cthulhu (ok it is really an Eldritch Demon) and had this really annoying paranoia thing with working on any other paintings. Anyone else ever do that, finish a project and feel apprehension at finishing all your creative 'power' went into this project and everything else will look like crap? Even if my other stuff looks like crap, I love my tentacle monster.
Eyebrows are hard! 
I have been trying to overcome this and work on Lysette because I need to practice painting people. I was lamenting to Ben that painting faces is hard! I was sad because my very much so work in project sexy elf chick looks so amateurish, he pointed out, well yeah it is amateurish! He is right, this is the first humanoid I have painted and only the fourth thing (should I count armies as a whole?) that I have painted. I need to get some white primer so I can paint Autumn Bronzeleaf for my mom as a birthday present. I have two weeks to get my painting projects finished before I go to PA. Wish me luck guys, I am going to need it!

Speaking of painting I have run into a problem with Ben's UCM tanks and stuff from Dropzone Commander. He wanted them to look like Roman Legion tanks (part of his headcannon is this is an alternate reality where the Roman Empire never awesome idea!) and of course I was all for that. He said he wanted them to look battered and war torn while maintaining their bright reds and gold. After I 'finished' one (still have some aging and dirtying up to do) of one of his tanks and part of his dropship he told me it was darker than he expected. The problem is I am both too much of a noob and lacking the supplies to make them brighter, the only thing I know to do is to strip the paint and start over, which I offered to do. He said I didn't need to do them and that he still liked them, but I can tell he is disappointed, which of course means I am afraid to do anymore work on them. Maybe I shouldn't have offered to paint his units until I was more experienced.
Hello green friend!

Last, but not least, of my weekly rambling, I found a bug. I am not entirely sure what it is, it looks like some form of Katydid, but as to exactly which type I am torn. It could be a Common Conehead or possibly a Forked Tailed Bush Katydid, or maybe something else entirely! I am way out of practice with insect identification, especially in this region, I am more familiar with the east coast. If you have a random bug you want IDed, is a really good starting point. Whatever this creature with pretty eyes and vibrant green-ness is, I was happy to see it when I was checking the mail
Espeon stole my box while I was trying to clean :P

Friday, September 26, 2014

Eco-Cha Artisan Teas: Charcoal Roasted Dong Ding (2014) A Tea Review

The last couple days have been crazy hectic for me, but also really fun! Since I am leaving in a few weeks I am tying up loose ends and visiting with people who I won't see for months. Of course I also had my fun at game night, joining a space themed goofy RPG campaign, which in hindsight might have been silly since I will be gone, though they said I can just 'be on leave' and if the campaign is still ongoing I can jump back in as ship scientist. Typing this I realize I am utterly tea drunk after a fun afternoon of trying tea with one of my friends, tea drunk is a wonderful state to be in.

Today's tea is from Eco-Cha Artisan Teas, Charcoal Roasted Dong Ding, specifically the 2014 harvest. Grown at 700m on a small farm in Phoenix Village, free from chemicals and painstakingly roasted in a traditional tea roasting oven. As with all of Eco-Cha's teas I suggest reading the origin of this tea on the website, it is wonderful knowing about the tea and the people who create it. As readers of this blog probably know, I have an addiction to roasted oolongs, Dong Ding with a charcoal persuasion being my favorite, it is my go to comfort tea that always puts me in a better state of mind and body when drinking it. The aroma of the dry leaves is delightfully rich, a blend of tobacco, bamboo coal, wood, earthiness, and a delightfully sweet sesame butter and honey finish. You can tell this tea was created by those who are very proficient in their art because it has the charcoal notes you expect, but they are mellow and it is not a kick to the face with a boot full of coal.

The brewed leaves are great, it is like a gaiwan full of autumn memories! There are notes of smoke, bamboo coal, a touch of honey, a tiny hint of dried orchids, and a sharp finish of tobacco. The aroma of the liquid starts off mild, it will gain intensity as the leaves unfurl. It is sweet with notes of squash, bamboo, sesame seeds, and charcoal.

As I take my first steep you can hear me sigh with relief, well if you were in the same room as me you would hear it. The taste is mild, it starts off with creamy sesame butter and orchids with a touch of tobacco, this transitions to bamboo coal and dried fruit giving the first steep a sweet finish. The mouthfeel starts smooth and transitions to a slight dryness.

And on to the second steep we go, you know me, I can never stop at just one. The aroma of the liquid is a blend of tobacco, coal, bamboo, and toasted pine nuts with an underlying sweetness that ties all the notes together. Once I finally manage to pull my nose out of the teacup (a hard task) and take a sip, I notice the mouthfeel has a sparkling quality, it does not bubble or feel like a soda, but it has that tingly dryness I associate with fizz, it is quite subtle but enjoyable. The taste is sweet, like plums that have been roasted over hot coals and then sprinkled with a bit of floral spice. This transitions to toasted sesame seeds and a touch of pine nuts with a smoky finish.

The aroma of the third steep is gently smoky and sweet with notes of bamboo, pine nuts, and honey. It blends sweetness, smoke, and nuttiness very well. The taste starts out with sharp notes of coal and tobacco and quickly mellow out to mild coal, bamboo and sweetness. This steep is certainly the most coal filled so far, it is mostly smoky until the finish where the aftertaste is delicately fruity.

Onward to the fourth steeping! The aroma is a mellow blend of coal, bamboo, pine nuts, and a bit of tobacco, there is no sweetness here. The taste is strong, almost entirely coal and tobacco, the mouthfeel is dry and sharp. The fun thing is when I move on to the fifth steeping, the aroma is yeasty bread and only a hint of coal. The taste is mild with a touch of bamboo and minerals with a delicate sweet finish. This tea is an experience that should not be missed, especially if you are a fan of charcoal roasted teas, the essence of this tea is balance, it keeps the coal notes balanced with the others as it grows in intensity.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What-Cha: Nepal 1st Flush 2014 Silver Oolong Tea, A Tea Review

I have a slight conundrum, earlier in the week I decided to paint a Cthulhu (yes it will show up in my tea reviews alongside my tea frog and Prowlers) and I am so pleased with it. I might add some slime to his raggedy wings and tentacles, but if I left it untouched as it is now, I would be content. Problem is, this is the first of the miniatures I have painted that I consider finished, and now I am for some reason terrified to work on any of the other ones. It is silly, I am so convinced that I am going to screw them up, that all my creative talent went into my Eldritch Horror...I am sure it will pass in a day or so, but it is a very odd feeling. Any other artists ever have that feeling when they complete something?

Today's tea for What-Cha Wednesday is Nepal 1st Flush 2014 Silver Oolong, silver oolong just sounds pretty, like the oolong is made of moonlight or something incredibly whimsical. Grown at Greenland Organic Farm in Nepal, near Mt Kancghenjunga at an altitude of 3,000m, looking at the photo of the farm on What-Cha's page for this tea, perhaps this oolong is made from snow, clouds, and silvery mist. I find myself pleased to try more teas from Nepal, expanding my tea education is a joy! The aroma of these fluffy and silvery leaves is summed up as light, with notes of orange blossoms, cane sugar, a touch of undefined flowers, and a tiny hint of herbaceous green. It is like a blend of white tea, oolong, and delicate green tea, when I say that it is light, the aroma itself is very defined and has a presence, just the notes themselves are very light and airy.

Into the gaiwan it goes! I felt bad for my first gaiwan, poor chipped thing has been mostly replaced by my auspicious bat gaiwan, so I decided to give it some love, plus the delicate white porcelain seemed perfect for such a delicate seeming oolong. The aroma of the now steeped leaves is a mix of orange blossom, sage, and lettuce, again with a distant hint of floral. The liquid is very similar to the brewed leaves, except there is more of a green, fresh vegetation aroma that accompanies the flowers. I am especially fond of of the orange blossom aroma, I do not run into that very often.

The first steeping is delightfully light and clean tasting, with a start of cane sugar and orange blossoms, this transitions to fresh vegetation and steam. Ok, steam, yeah that sounds weird, but have you ever been in a conservatory or greenhouse that is steamy and it is that mix of flowers, growing things, and water that you can taste when breathing through your mouth? That kind of steam, it is quite evocative and refreshing. This steeping reminds me of white tea, oolong, and green tea took their most delicate and mellow notes and combined them into this cup.

For the second steep the aroma is very sweet, like orange blossoms and orange zest, after that it fades to fresh vegetation. The taste of this steep has a definite boost of body in comparison to the first, it starts a bit dry and sharp with a definite taste of fresh spring water, complete with minerals. This transitions to a mix of spring water and orange blossoms, with a tiny hint of kale. At the finish you get a sweet burst of orange and cane sugar that lingers for quite a while. Like the previous Nepalese oolong, I feel clean and refreshed after sipping this tea.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Whispering Pines Tea Co: S'mores! A Tea Review

Happy first day of Autumn (or spring if you are in the other side of the world from me) everyone! This is my favorite season, by far, I love the leaves and crisp feeling in the air, the excuse to break out my fuzzy blankets and the way the world smells. It just makes me happy, doubly so this year because I will be back in the mountains during peak leaf season, though three months away from Ben and my cats is going to be rough.

I wanted to start the season off with a tea that makes me think of campfires and happy memories, so I chose S'mores! by Whispering Pines Tea Co. This tea is a blend of Fujian Black Tea, Pine Peaks Keemun, Ashes of Autumn Black Tea, Organic Cinnamon Pieces, and Organic Marshmallow Root, mad props for using marshmallow root, too few marshmallow themed things use the root of the mallow, which is sad because it is extremely tasty. The dry leaves smell like an autumn evening sitting next to a crackling fire while eating s'mores! There are notes of smoke, cinnamon, marshmallow sweetness, and a finish of rich cocoa. The leaves smell quite rich and not overwhelmingly sweet, just the way I like my desserts!

Giving the tea a nice steeping, I notice that the wet leaves have a really nice malt note that goes well with the cocoa, marshmallow, and cinnamon notes. The smoke is still there, but it no longer smells like I am sitting next to the campfire, clearly I have wandered off with my s'more. The liquid, oh my, that is very rich! Creamy chocolate, gentle cinnamon warmth, far away smoke, and marshmallow sweetness combine for a nose dance of epic yum. I may have moaned a bit while sniffing this tea, the cats looked at me like I was crazy, their loss.

OMG guys, this tea is too good! It hits that perfect balance of sweet and rich, warming and smoky, and oh so evocative. I can feel the warmth of the campfire from the cinnamon, the smoke of the fire from the Ashes of Autumn tea, and of course the rich cocoa notes and marshmallow root with a nice finish of malt. I like that it is not overly sweet, so it is good on its own or with a dessert as an extra rich treat. My favorite thing about this tea is how evocative it is, I love that it transports me to a place in my memories that makes me happy, really homesick, but happy. But wait, what about graham crackers? I admit the taste of the crackers is not really strong, the malt notes give the 'essence' so to speak of graham crackers, but it is not as clear as having the crackers. I am tempted to find some gluten free graham crackers to eat while sipping this tea for extra perfection.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mahamosa Gourmet Teas, Spices & Herbs: Caramel, A Tea Review

Yuck, yuck, yuck, I have no motivation to do anything today. I feel as though my brain and body is trapped inside a Slime and that Slime is too lazy to move, the fatigue is real, yo. Me thinks after I write this tea's review I shall make like a pile of leaves and take a nice long soak in hot water. Preferably while reading a book, maybe I will bring some tea to sip as well, just submit myself to complete relaxation. Ah memories, when I was a kid, the most decadent thing I could think to do was to take a hot bath while eating ice cream, especially if it was pistachio ice cream, if you have not tried eating ice cream while soaking I most certainly recommend it.

Today we are taking a look at Mahamosa Gourmet Teas, Spices & Herbs Caramel, an herbal dessert tea. A blend of Rooibos, Cream Caramel Pieces, Brittle (specifically hazelnut) pieces, and Flavoring, this tea sounds like a real sweet treat. The aroma of the dry leaves certainly has me believing that it will be a sweet treat, with notes of caramel, sweet nuttiness, and woody, slightly sour, rooibos as a base. It is very sweet, the caramel plays well off the naturally caramel notes of the rooibos.

Steeping the tea leaves fills my room with an intense sweetness. The little red leaves smell woody and sweet with notes of caramel, nuttiness, and a bit like a caramel latte, complete with coffee. The liquid is creamy and sweet with very strong notes of caramel, it smells like candy and richness.

Tasting time, luckily for me I am having a sweetness craving, so if this tea tastes as sweet as it smells I will be in a very happy place. The sipping starts off sweet and woody, like a typically sweet, woody, and dry rooibos with an extra caramel coating. This turns into a creamy midtaste and toasted nuttiness that gives it that bit of a latte flair. The finish is dry and woody, just like I expect from a rooibos, the tea was not cloyingly sweet like a mouthful of caramel, but it is quite sweet so it certainly fits its goal of being a dessert tea. Plus you can sip it before sleep thanks to it not having caffeine!