Thursday, April 24, 2014

Life In Teacup: 2006 Chang Tai "Seven Star-Alkaid" Sheng Pu Erh, A Tea Review

It was such a stormy day today! I believe the entire day was nothing but rain and storms, of course the plants loved all the nitrogen from the lightning. The tree buds seem to have become full leaves and everything is vibrantly verdant. Even though I was stuck in bed most the day I really enjoyed the weather and the smell of rain wafting through my window.

Today's tea is Life In Teacup's $1 tea sample for the month of April, 2006 Chang Tai "Seven Star-Alkaid" a Sheng Pu Erh made from Menghai leaves. I am still in the total noob stage when it comes to Sheng Pu Erh, since I have tried a grand total of five different ones, I not entirely sure how I feel about them as a whole yet, I certainly find them intriguing and want to try more! The aroma of this Pu Erh is really intriguing, blending sweet notes of anise, pine needles, hay and wet oak wood. It smells really clean and nature like, the sweetness is that of new growth and anise.

The rinsed and steeped leaves are very sweet, blending anise and pine resin, in fact there is a myrrh like resinous scent as well that blend really well with the anise aroma. There is a little bit of a wet pine wood and wet peat smell as well, I really enjoy the aroma of this Pu Erh's wet leaves. The liquid's aroma is a blend of sweet anise and wet wood, very light and unassuming.

First steeping sip time! The taste is very light and quite smooth in the mouth. The taste is one of sweet hay and honey that fades to a bit of peat. At the end of the taste there is a quick sourness that does that great salivary response I have come to associate with Sheng Pu Erh. Basically there is a sourness that causes you to salivate a lot, this in turn makes the remaining liquid in your mouth to taste very sweet. I believe that this sensation is called Hui Gan.

The liquid's aroma for the second steep is much more pronounced (as expected) with stronger notes of anise and pine loam with a very faint hint of peat. The mouthfeel again is very smooth, and the taste is sweet with anise at first and fades to a rich peat taste. It has a very clean taste, which seems odd when you describe something that tastes like peat, but it tastes like clean peat and not moldy, rotten, peat.

The third steep really comes alive, the aroma of the liquid is more like the wet leaves, having notes of resin and anise with a strong peat presence. This steep has a bit of bitterness to it that fades to sourness and immediately explodes into sweetness. There is a taste of anise and cooling effect that makes this steeping very interesting. The finish is peat and earthy with a touch of old hay. I really enjoyed the complexity of this steep.

For the fourth steep's aroma I notice that it is sweet with a bit of anise and straw, the aroma has a cooling effect on my nose which is very refreshing. The taste is sweet with an earthy backdrop. There are the notes of hay and anise, a bit of peat and a bit of loam.

The fifth and final steeping has a very warm aroma, like sun warmed hay and anise, it is much milder than the previous steep's aroma. The taste is much milder as well, a bit of faint anise and warm hay, there is a bit of bitterness that explodes into sweetness that lingers. I really enjoyed this tea experience, certainly a good investment of a dollar!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

52teas: Gingerbread Smoke, A Tea Review

Last night I spent the entire night folding, it was great, made a few classic designs and tried out some new ones. My favorite of the new modular origami pieces that I worked on was a PHiZZ (pentagon hexagon zig-zag) Dodecahedron, the units are really simple to make, but interlocking the pieces can be a real pain. I foresee lots of them in my future.

Today's tea has a bit of a smoky feel, a Gingerbread Smoke feel to be exact. This blend by 52teas is a combination of Premium Black Teas (including Lapsang Souchong) Ginger Root, and Organic Flavors. The aroma is more or less exactly what I expected from a tea named Gingerbread Smoke, it is quite richly smoky with warm spices and an especially strong kick of ginger. Everything about the aroma of this tea is warm, from the lingering memories of a fire to the spices, good for sniffing on a chilly evening.
Your usually schedules wet leaves have been replaced with origami

Giving the leaves a nice steeping brings out a sweet quality to the spices and ginger, really bringing out the cookie quality of the tea. There is of course lots of smoke, though it is not as strong as the dry leaves. As a finish there is a hint of malt. The liquid is sweet ginger and lots of smoke, it also has a finish of malt...suddenly I am craving ginger snaps.

The taste is pretty true to the name, at first you get a surprisingly gentle burn of ginger, and of course where there is fire there is usually smoke, so the next taste note is the mild smoke. The tea has a natural sweetness from the ginger, which fades to a hint of oakiness. Usually I am not the biggest fan of 52tea's black tea base (nothing wrong with it, just doesn't do it for me) but this one I like, most likely thanks to the added Lapsang Souchong. Spicy smoky teas are a big win in my book now, certainly going to be on the lookout for more!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Yunomi.us and Yamane-en: Shincha from Onejime, Kagoshima, A Tea Review

I woke up bright and early today thanks to the excessive happy chirping of birds and my cat chirping at the birds. Laying in bed I thought to myself, I should make some origami, and so I got all my paper out of storage and set it up in my craft and tea lair. Of course I promptly went back to sleep and have not actually started folding anything yet, but I am mulling over some projects, I am excited. I have a suspicion that I will hang lots of modular pieces from the rafters.

Today's tea is Shincha from Onejime, Kagoshima from the Yamane-en Tea Shop and Yunomi.us. This particular Shincha (first flush of Sencha, for those unfamiliar with the term) comes from the rare Shouju Cultivar whose name translates to Eternal Happiness. With a name like that I knew I needed to try it, plus have I ever seen a Sencha that I didn't immediately want to try? The aroma is very green, full of life and grass! There is also notes of cedar and straw with a touch of kelp. I am used to Sencha smelling faintly sweet, but these leaves are savory and green, I find it very intriguing and pleasant.

Once the delicate leaves get a dip in warm and fairly short bath, I notice the aroma gets more of a chestnut quality with a strong grassy note. This fades to a kelp and finally fresh sea-side air. I love when the aroma of tea evokes the ocean, it is just such a clean aroma. The liquid mixes the aroma of spring vegetation and sea-side air, primarily fresh grass, there is also a tiny touch of chestnut at the finish.

The first thing I notice about the taste is how sweet it is, surprisingly honey sweet compared to its savory aroma. The sweetness has an almost citrus quality, similar to orange blossom honey mixed with a gently and fresh grass taste. The midtaste is kelp, giving this tea an umami quality. Finishing the experience is a sweet citrus note that lingers in the mouth for quite a while. This tea manages to be very subtle while also being very complex, a quality I find very endearing.

As to be expected I wanted to have another dance with the leaves. The second steep, like the first starts off very sweet, but it differs by being more of a sugar cane sweetness instead of honey. The rest of the taste is buttery smooth and grassy with a gentle hint of hay. The second steep has a whole new level of subtlety that I find very soothing. I can imagine being a leaf absorbing sunlight while drinking this tea, it feels refreshing and soothing in that very manner.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Upton Tea Imports: Baker Street Afternoon Blend, A Tea Review

I hope everyone had a nice Easter yesterday, or if Easter is not your thing, I hope you had a nice Sunday. I miss the Easter of my youth, it was never a religious holiday for me, more of a celebration of spring and family, a time of crafts and bunnies. Yesterday Ben's family had a nice get together with food and familial love, the food was good but I was exceptionally homesick and missing my family. I look forward to this late fall and winter when I get to spend time with my peeps.

Today's tea is a lovely blend straight from London, Upton Tea Import's Baker Street Afternoon Blend, a blend of Lapsang Souching, Keemun, and Darjeeling. A perfect afternoon tea for sipping it one's study, at least in my humble (mostly) English opinion. Sniffing the dry leaves transport me to a Victorian gentleman's library, blending pipe smoke, polished wood, and a comfy leather chair. It is super evocative! There are also faint flora and muscatel notes, the aroma of the blend is quite delicious.

After giving the tea a good steeping and the wet leaves a good nose examination, I notice the aroma of the wet leaves are sweeter and more fruity, a blend of muscatel and dried cherries with smoky notes. It is rich and a bit brisk. The liquid has the aroma of smoke and fruit, it reminds me of the way fruit that has been cooked on a  grill, so now instead of reminding me of a Victorian study, the aroma reminds me of a summer cookout.

Ok, time to get my British out, oh who am I kidding, it is always out! The taste is rich, smoky and muscatel with a tiny hint of cherry with an oak wood aftertaste. The mouthfeel is bright and smooth, a very nice afternoon tea. I wish it was a bit smokier, but I am a sucker for smoky teas, the smoke taste is very mild, so if you want a tea that only has a touch of smoke then this is your brew. I decided to add some cream and sugar, it is not bad, certainly more English tasting, but it takes away the some of the more subtle notes of fruit.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Eco-Cha Artisan Tea: Red Jade Tea, A Tea Review

Spring time mean tea harvest for those lovely places in the world, one of those parts in the lush island of Taiwan. One of my favorite tea companies (Eco-Cha Arisan Teas) was awesome enough to keep a record of their tea production this year in a series of handy Harvest Reports and Facebook Photos. I certainly suggest checking it out of you have a passion for tea or a love of beautiful photography. Consider it a journey into the secret world of the tea leaf, experience the process it goes through from ground to cup!

Speaking of journeys to cups, today's tea Red Jade Tea by Eco-Cha Artisan Tea, is a very fascinating red tea. Also known as Taiwan Tea No. 18, this particular tea is a hybrid of wild tea treas that grow on the mountains of Taiwan and the Assam tea plant. Created by the Tea Research Extension Station in the Sun Moon Lake region of Nantou, this tea's hybridization gives it a natural immunity to some of the buggies that enjoy munching on tea plants. The aroma of the curly long leaves is nothing short of complex, blending rich cocoa, roasted peanuts, cloves, a bit of barley, and a woody quality. The aroma is more savory than sweet, in fact it is all savory instead of sweet, with a strong and heavy presence. This is a tea that will be noticed!

Adding the tea to the gaiwan and giving it a bath brought out some very interesting aroma notes, a strong showing from the cocoa and cloves, but also mint and cinnamon. This might be one of the more complex and unusual red teas I have experienced. The liquid's aroma is lighter, with creamy cocoa and rich cloves, there is a finish of licorice and mint. If I could use any terms other than aroma notes to describe the way the tea smells I would say it is bold and snappy, it makes itself known and has a bright cooling affect at the same time.

With the first sip I am immediately struck by the complexity. At first there is a smooth woody and roasted nut quality with a hint of cloves. This fades to a mint and licorice midtaste that has a cooling sensation, not like actually eating or drinking mint, but the way your mouth is cooled when you switch from breathing through your nose to a deep breath through your mouth. I found it to be an incredibly refreshing sensation. The arftertaste is a tiny bit sweet and a bit like sassafras.

The second steep's aroma is much sharper and snappy, there are still strong cocoa and clove notes, but the mint is much more prominent, as is the aroma of sassafras. The taste is rich and I would even say herbaceous but more woody herbaceous than leafy herbaceous. Think sassafras bark and roasted peanuts with hints of cloves and mint. It has a malty beginning and a malty finish. This steeping has no sweetness at all, it is all savory and rich.
Fun fact: Red Jade is a Trade Name for the Gemstone Carnelian, Jade is mostly only green
The third steep's aroma is much the same as the second, I did not notice any differences between the two. The taste however is different, it still has the same flavor notes as the previous steep, but instead of it being all savory and rich, it is milder and has a subtle sweetness. I really enjoyed this tea (but I don't say Eco-Cha is one of my favorite companies lightly, I have loved all of their teas) and found the unusual and complex notes to be both exciting and relaxing.
I totally staged this so I could get a photo for my Facebook Tea Group, but wanted to share :)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Teavivre: Bi Luo Chun, A Tea Review

Another beautiful day in the Midwest, really, spring time out here reminds me of the things that I like about this are, it turns out though that most places are pretty in spring. I have a busy weekend ahead of me: big family gathering, candied violets to make, British flapjacks to cook myself, and of course some sort of art project. I am feeling inspired to do something crafty, just not sure exactly what yet.

Today's tea is a delightfully fuzzy green tea from Teavivre, Bi Luo Chun (or Pi Lo Chun, depending on dialect) from Mt Dongting in Jiangsu Province. The translation of this tea is Green Snail Spring, referring to the curly shape of the leaves. The aroma of the dry leaves is sweet and fresh, blending artichoke and lychee with a delicate hint of floral at the end. This tea smells like nature in springtime, bringing in the notes of fruits, flowers, and vegetation. It makes my nose happy.

Into the basket the fuzzy little leaves go for a nice bath. Sadly this means the fuzzies go away, such is the fate of tea leaves. Holy Lychee, Batman! The wet leaves are so sweet and fruity that it is nothing short of mouthwatering. There is also a touch of artichoke and hay, giving the tea a more vegetal quality at the end of the sniff. The liquid is mild with delicate notes of artichoke and sweet lychee, floating on the top of the tea are the fuzzy trichomes.

The taste is quite delicate (that seems to be the key word with this tea) with a sweet citrus taste reminiscent of lychees. There is also a very mild hint of nuts that fades to a green bean vegetal taste. Of course the trichomes tickle the inside of my mouth making me giggle when I sip the tea. This tea is very mild and refreshing, it reminds me of spring rain.

Giving the tea a second steeping (we meet again curly leaves!) and I notice the aroma of the liquid is much sweeter and heavier of lychee. The taste is also sweeter, instead of being reminiscent of lychees it actually tastes like lychees. There is also a surprising note of violets, and almost no vegetal taste. As the tea cools it gets even sweeter and floral. This tea did not really wow me in taste, but it certainly wowed me at how delicate and nuanced it is. I find this is a tea for special occasions with nuanced tasters, sadly I served it to a bunch of non-tea drinkers and they thought it had no taste. Tragic. At the time of writing these tasting notes in my tea-journal I did not yet have a gaiwan, I am curious to try this tea again with a gaiwan and see how much of a difference it makes.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Yunomi.us and Yaname-en: Genmaicha Ingredients: Toasted Uruchi Rice and Tokachi Black Soybeans, A Tea Review

As you might have noticed, there was no blog yesterday. I was at a Passover Seder, replacing my usual tea for a bit of wine. Ben is half Jewish and very close friends of the family are Jewish, and they host a very awesome Seder every year. Of course they host other fantastic Jewish feasts, but Passover has always been a favorite, I am so glad they always think to include my Shiksa (which also means meal in Korean) self. Even going far enough to reward me a sweet five dollars (I feel rich!) for the Afikoman! I love exploring cultures that are different than mine, especially when they enjoy including 'outsiders' who want to learn!

Today's blog is going to be a bit of an adventure, since I am reviewing an ingredient! Specifically Genamicha Ingredients by Yunomi.us and Yaname-en Tea Shop, made from Toasted Uruchi Rice and Tokachi Black Soybeans. Toasted Uruchi rice (or Uruchi-Mai) is a short grain polished rice that is most commonly eaten in Japan, the soybeans are from the Tokachi region of Hokkaido. I decided to mix the ingredients with three different teas (for a start, I know I will come up with more blends) giving a nice demonstration of how the rice and soybeans perform under heat.

The first blend is using Sencha of the Summer Sun, by Obubu Tea. The aroma is exactly what you expect, a nice toasted rice aroma that blends really well with the sweet and grassy aroma of the sencha. The taste is like sticky rice and popcorn with a slight bean taste that fades into the grassy sweet and slight seaweed umami taste. I noticed that adding the Genmai to the Cha that it brings out more of the sweetness from the sencha. I call this blend a success. 

For the second experiment I did something I always wanted to try, Houji Genmaicha! The aroma is the wonderfully toasty roasty, blending the toasted and slightly smoky aroma of the Houjicha with the toasted rice makes the tea smell just like autumn. The taste is fantastic, I almost don't have words other than yummy, yummy, yummy. The smoky and roasted flavors of houjicha blend perfectly with the toasted rice sweetness, there is also a hint of the soybeans which adds an earthy quality. The taste, like the aroma, is very autumnal, bringing the idea of falling leaves, distant fires, and harvest. 

For the final experiment I went with Sakura Sencha. You might remember from my review of Sakura Blossom Tea that I mixed the Sakura blossoms with Genmaicha and Sencha and really liked both of them, so I deiced to mix my Sakura Sencha with Genmaicha. The result is very similar to the Sakura blended Genmaicha, slightly salty and nutty with roasted rice and a floral finish. Very much the taste of spring!

I enjoyed this little experiment with rice and tea, I can't wait to come up with some new concoctions using this tasty roasted rice. I liked the addition of the soybeans, it added an extra nutty and earthy quality to the tea, definitely a new favorite!