Thursday, September 18, 2014

Life In Teacup: Taiwan Cui Yu Green Jade High Mountain Oolong, A Tea Review

So as you probably know from my endless rambling, I am going to Pennsylvania in a little less than a month. Me being me, I have started packing, or at the very least planning what I am bringing, three months is a long time so I have to make sure I have enough tea and crafty stuff. I decided to ship my origami paper rather than try to tote it along during travel, the box weighed a whopping 17.6 lbs, that is a lot of paper! The real problem will be tea, I am pretty sure I am going to just fill my duffel bag full of the stuff, because I drink a ton of tea.


Today's tea comes from the high mountains of Taiwan by way of Life in Teacup! Taiwan Cui Yu Green Jade High Mountain Oolong is a modern style green oolong from Nantou and was harvested in the winter of 2013. Since this is a nice shiny green oolong the color of jade and spring time, I decided to bring out my yixing teapot seasoned for green oolongs (yes I have three different kinds of oolong yixing teapots, I am silly like that) since I have not given it much love lately. I find myself craving green oolongs in the late winter and early spring, they match my desire for green things since that time of year where I currently live is rather drab and brown. The aroma of the tightly curled leaves is sweet and green, a mixture of green stems, orchids, and yeasty fresh baking bread. As I pull the leaves away from my nose I also get a hint of spicebush and cane sugar.

The steeped leaves smell like a bouquet of spring flowers, with strong notes of honeysuckle, hyacinth, and orchid. There are also notes of fresh stems and a touch of freshly baking bread. The liquid once it is out of my teapot is very sweet, notes of cane sugar, yeasty sweet bread, honeysuckles, and orchids waft out of my cup, it smells delicious!

For the first light steeping my mouth is greeted with a very delicate taste and a buttery mouthfeel. There are notes of fresh green stems, butter, and deliciously sweet flower nectar, it reminds me of eating honeysuckle nectar while still tasting the plant it came from.

No surprises, but I am going in for a second steeping! The aroma is even more floral, reaching headiness in its level of floral. There are still notes of green stems and baking bread, but those are faint in comparison. The taste is still fairly mild, buttery mouthfeel mixed with green notes that border on vegetal. The mid to end taste of the tea is floral and sweet with a slightly mineral note at the finish. It is very soothing.

For the third steep the aroma is very floral, notes of hyacinth and honeysuckle with a hint of stems, it is much milder than before. The taste starts off creamy, almost buttery with a hint of stems, this transitions to gentle floral sweetness and a touch of fresh vegetation. This tea is very much so what you expect when you drink a green oolong, nothing stood out as fantastic, but it was still quite delicious.
Also a Pile of Prowlers

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What-Cha: Kenya Premium White Tea, A Tea Review

Guess who has perfectly dyed vibrantly teal hair? Yeah, ok, no guess really, it is me, for the first time in a long while my hair turned out perfect, it practically glows with the level of brightness. I have Minecraft diamond hair now, which is awesome. What isn't awesome is I went nocturnal and I am spending today staying up very late in hopes that I can flip my schedule back to diurnal, the constant struggle, of course this means I might be a bit more rambling than usual.

 It is Wednesday, meaning it is time for another tea from What-Cha, today's lucky leaf is Kenya Premium White Tea. Alright everyone, stop, collaborate, and listen...this tea might be the most unusual tea I have ever had (that is actually Camellia sinensis and not some strange herbal concoction) seriously, go out and buy yourself some, heck buy me some, because I went through my sample of this unique tea in record time. Looking at the dry leaves, it doesn't look like a white, it looks like a fuzzy golden tea from Yunnan...sniffing the leaves it has the sweet corn notes of a Kenyan Silver Needle, the heady floral notes of an oolong, and the malty, sweet potato, and caramel notes of a golden Yunnan tea. I am confused and totally in love, Ben thought I lost my marbles because of the maniacal giggling coming from me while sniffing the leaves.

After a moment of contemplation on the best way to brew these mysterious chimera like leaves and inevitably settling on my gaiwan, I gave the leaves a good steeping. The aroma of the now quite soggy leaves is delicious, a blend of sweet corn, malt, sweet potatoes, and flowers (specifically peony and orchids) waft out towards my nose. The liquid is much yum, very sweet with notes of peony flowers and sweet corn mixing with malt and cocoa. It is like someone did a cocktail of half Yunnan Gold and half Kenyan Silver Needle...two of my favorite teas, oh dear this might undo me.

If you do heed my advice and buy this tea to try yourself, make sure you are sitting down because this tea will sweep you off your feet. It tastes just like the liquid smells, it starts with sweet corn and peony with delicate mouth tickling trichomes and then transitions to malt, caramel, and cocoa notes. It is quite unlike any tea I have ever experienced before.

Second steep time! The aroma is so wonderful, the sweet corn, peony, and malt notes work really well together, no note overpowers. This steep has more in common with the Yunnan Gold aspects of its personality than the Kenyan White, with notes of malt, caramel, cocoa, and sweet potatoes. At the end there is a strong note of peony and a hint of sweet corn with a lingering aftertaste of molasses.

For the third steep the aroma is very sweet, lots of sweet corn and caramel with a touch of malt. This time the tables turned, the taste is more focused on the Kenyan Silver Needle with more delicate notes of sweet corn and a burst of peony. This fades to a blend of caramel and molasses with lingering sweetness.

Alas I did not take official notes or snap a picture because I was in a hurry and grabbed the first tea off my desk (this lucky one) to toss in my travel infuser for sipping while out and about. Using slightly cooler water (180) and an obviously longer steep (several hours) I noticed that it started out with sweet corn and peony, very delicate and sweet. This grew into malt and molasses notes until the finish of my sipping which was quite robust and very sweet. Teas like this really make me happy, not only do they taste fantastic, they are outside the 'norm' for that type of tea, it reminds me to never go into a tea expecting something, to treat each tea like an adventure...sometimes you get a few new and unusual flavor or aroma notes and sometimes you get something completely unusual and unique.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Teavivre: Lotus Leaf Raw Pu-erh Mini Tuocha, A Tea Review

The time for me to pack my bags and travel off to Pennsylvania for a couple months is fast approaching, and I need to make sure all my projects are finished before I leave in about a month. My biggest concerns are making sure I have Ben's army painted and my tea collection re-organized. I have a whole new system in mind and I need to select which teas I am taking with me to Pennsylvania, three months worth of tea (especially at the rate I drink it) is a sizable amount.

Today marks another step in my Raw/Sheng Pu Erh adventure. Teavivre's Lotus Leaf Raw Pu-erh Mini Tuocha an adorable little tuo (or nest) of Sheng Pu Erh with a nice addition of lotus leaves, from Lincang, Yunnan. The aroma of this little tuo is not very strong, with faint notes of wet hay, sweet freshly mown hay, a bit of yeasty bread, a touch of mineral, and salty lotus leaf. Specifically the lotus notes remind me of the lotus wrapped sticky rice (or lo mai gai) that I love so much when going out for dim sum. Delicious!

After giving the nest a rinsing and steeping, the aroma has a distinctly fermented aroma, with notes of wet hay, lotus leaves, salty cooked spinach, and a touch of straw mushrooms. The more I sniff the wet leaves the more it reminds me of food, clearly I am hungry! The liquid having been freed from the gaiwan and its leafy friends, has a very nice aroma. There are notes of sweet hay, a touch of yeasty bread, and finish of salty lotus leaf.

The first steep is nice and mild, it has a thick mouthfeel with a slightly salty almost broth like taste. This transitions to fresh hay and spinach with a slight sourness. The finish is like a distant breeze bringing in a field of flowers.

The second steep has the aroma of wet straw, straw mushrooms and a pile of leaves after a rain. There is also a bit of sweetness and lotus leaf at the finish. The taste starts off with an intense hui gan, it begins with sourness and cooling and then switches to sweetness. After this initial bit of a mouth party the taste is a mix of sauteed mushrooms and and lotus leaf with a finish of pepper.

For the third steep I am greeted with the aroma sweet honey and wet hay and a hint of salty lotus leaves. The taste starts out the same as the previous steep, my mouth is cooled and given a kick of bitter and sourness before being turned sweet. It is a very interesting sensation and I am still not quite sure if I like it or not! There is a slight taste of hops, it took me a moment to realize what it was since I do not drink beer and it has been years since I even tasted any. Not a big fan of the hops, but it fades pretty quickly to sweet hay and a touch of spinach. This tea was pretty interesting, I certainly think the added lotus gives the tea an added layer of depth.

Monday, September 15, 2014

RiverTea: Spring Fest, A Tea Review

Well, it happened, Microsoft bought Mojang and by extension, Minecraft, when the rumor was first leaked and no 'damage control' happened I pretty much assumed it was a done deal. It is not all doom and gloom though, Microsoft has done some awesome things and from the press release details, as few as they are, it seems like they are going to treat Minecraft right. I am cautiously optimistic and look forward to watching Minecraft grow, and hey, maybe the Xbox 360 version will get quicker updates now (doubtful.)

Today's tea is possibly being reviewed at the wrong time of year, depending on your hemisphere, presenting Spring Fest by RiverTea! Inspired by the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan, this tea is a blend of Green Tea, Papaya Bits, Pineapple Bits, Sour Cherry Halves, Raspberry Bits, Rose Blossoms, Jasmine Blossoms, and Flavorings. The aroma of the leaves is quite fruity, blending cherries and papayas with floral notes of jasmine and roses. It does not really evoke spring to Japan to me, it evokes summer in a more tropical climate to me. Of course how well it matches its name is not really what is important, what is important is rather or not it smells good, I think it does, the fruit and flower notes mix really well, however the cherry aroma is much stronger than the other notes and has a bit of a tart quality that has me nervous.

The steeped leaves are really quite sweet, lots of sweet papaya and cherry notes with a hint of pineapple, the initial fruity sweetness fades to rosy perfume and heady jasmine at the finish. The aroma of the liquid is a mixture of jasmine's subtle sweetness and floral intensity along with fresh vegetation and a hint of rose. The liquid smells more like a jasmine green tea than a fruity blend.

The taste is very mild and subtle, it starts out floral and sweet with faint notes of roses and jasmine with a hint of vegetation. This transitions into slightly tart cherry and sweet tropical fruit, the aftertaste is rose and tropical fruit. Spring Fest is pretty light and fairly refreshing, one of those teas that is very unassuming and can be used as a 'background' noise tea that you want to sip without having to think about. Obviously this is not my favorite type of tea, but they certainly have their purpose and are good to have around when in need.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Harney & Sons Guide To Tea: A Tea Book Review

Today's tea themed page turner is The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea by Michael Harney...yes, it is that Harney & Sons, so in all honesty you know that the book is going to be good. I am going to start out by saying this might be my favorite stand alone guide to tasting tea. It is wonderful as a go to refresher for experienced sippers and a fantastic intro to those new to the art of tasting tea.

The best part of this book, the part that makes me check it out from the library time and time again (really the fact that it is not in my collection yet is a bit criminal) is the overwhelmingly casual approach to tea. There are so many instances of the author telling you 'there are no wrong answers' 'everyone tastes differently' 'everyone can be a tea taster' that it practically makes me giddy. It goes along with my philosophy of tea being fun, approachable, and art. I had this philosophy before I read the book and seeing such a well respected tea expert have the same philosophy as me certainly makes me happy.

The book begins with a typical (and maybe the best ever) introduction of the author and the subject matter. After that we get a brief and very thorough explanation on how to taste tea, and from that we go straight into the teas. Each tea section is divided into types of tea, starting with the White Teas, it starts with a brief overall discussion on the group of tea (for example the White Tea section mentions Tricomes or tea fuzzies and some flavor notes you might run into.)

Each tea is given its own handy little table which includes the tea's name (and a translation when applicable) brewing parameters, a description on the dry leaves, a description of the tea's liquid (liquor) the aroma, body, and lastly the flavor. Some of flavor notes are a bit giggle worthy, like lemon taffy, sulfur, raspberry jam, and cotton candy. I have no room to talk of course, being a person who uses rather whimsical sounding aroma and taste descriptions. That is the great thing about tea, it reminds each individual of something new and exciting, so where I smell spicebush you might smell gingersnaps, it helps us reflect on our personal experiences. A person with more experiences with tasting tons of foods could find more similarities there, a person who spends way too much time out in nature could find similarities there.

Lastly the book closes with a pretty nifty appendix collection of tea menus for tea tasting, grouping teas by flavor profiles, like floral teas, smoky teas, and chocolaty teas. After that there is a description of the various processing tea leaves go through 'from tree to tea.' Next we get a brief history of tea, and it is very short, but full of useful tidbits, my favorite being the dispelling of the myth that the British originally thought that leaves were harvested by monkeys. Lastly there is a small list of tea sources and why they were picked as some of the best.

The only bad thing (if that really) that I have to say about this book is the lack of pictures. I am very much so a visual learner and very much so need pictures when I am learning something new. Luckily we live in a digital age, so I suggest reading this book with the internet open so you can look at pictures of the teas listed in this book.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Musings: Crafts, Geekery, and Randomness

The weather right now is fantastic, nice and chilly, which means huddling under blankets and having my lap full of a cat seeking warmth. I love the cold, it might make me a bit (ok a lot) achy, but I will take that any day over the misery that is weather above 85 degrees. But you guys are well aware by now that I hate hot weather and would be more content wearing a coat while living in a large freezer.
Sorry anyone who has arachnophobia 

I have good news! I have had babies! Ok, not me, but the adorable Common House Spider I rescued from the floor drain in the basement. I was cleaning up down there and saw she had a little web with a pair of egg sacks in the worst location, so I put a few nature-y things in a large jar and scooped her and the egg cases inside where she has spent the last week making a messy web and protecting her eggs. While examining the habitat yesterday I noticed one of the sacks had opened and there were hundreds of baby spiders clustered together, so I took the jar outside to let them balloon off to their new lives. Turns out they were having none of it, after a day of them sitting outside instead of flying off they clumped closer together...I suppose it was too cold for them. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and warm, so I will try to set them free again. 
there is some gorgeous paper in here

Another little piece of good news, I am pretty much done with the Advent Calenders! I ran out of ribbon, so I need to pick a little more of that up, but if all goes well come Monday they will be on their way to their respective homes. But oh man, folding that many envelopes and then stuffing them full of bags of tea has ruined my shoulders, which sucks because I found a 'book' of origami paper at Half Priced Books that is just begging for folding. Time to give my shoulders a much needed rest...
Powlers are so cute until they fill you with plasma

...by painting miniatures. Yeah I am bad at taking rests! I decided to work on my Scourge units today while Ben and one of his friends played around with the new D&D 5th edition rules set, I could have gamed but I realllllly wanted to paint. It has been seductively calling me from the drawer all my painting stuff lives in for the better part of a month, so I gave in and started working on the detailing. Sadly my attempt at a mottled affect didn't really work, I guess the green I used was too dark or the paint too watered down, but the models are all the same flat green. It is ok though, I am really liking how they are coming along, though I am unsure if I want to add a bit of lightning purple and if I want to make the eyes metallic teal or bronze colored (to mimic Jumping Spiders) I was told that I was crazy for the amount of detail work I am doing...personally I find it very relaxing. 

Those submarines have saws! I love the Vanguard!
Speaking of Miniatures, Ben and I have been persuaded (begged, bullied, cajoled, manhandled) into playing Dystopian Wars. It was a big debate when we were first starting War Gaming (something we both put off for years because good lord it has a steep buy it, but that is changing now that there is more than just Warhammer dominating the market...but I digress) if we were going to go Dystopian Wars or Dropzone Commander...well we chose DZC because the models are amazing (I mean Prowlers are the cutest things ever) the rules are very streamline, and it involves space ships...at the time Ben was burned out of Steampunk (I tend to go in obsessive waves over it) and I was hungry for some Sci-Fi. Turns out though that the local gaming people are REALLY into Dystopian Wars, so if we want to play we need to pick that up too.
Indian Raj Not the color scheme I would be going with
So he got the rule book and we are going for a demo game next week and to watch a tournament the first of October. We are trying to figure out a way to have an army fielded for the tournament, but it is doubtful since the faction I want to play is only half available (Indian Raj is not available yet...I don't think) and Ben can't get over the inevitability that he will be playing Antarctica (he wants 'real' history) because their cheaty rules breaking play-style is his favorite. I was originally going to play Prussia but then realized, I could be India with a heavy Britannia support and pretend I am Sir Richard Burton, well that changed my mind. Of course I told Ben to focus on developing his army first since I won't even be around to play it until January. 
My favorite build, Temple of Remembered Starlight, for my Enderman friends 

I was hoping to talk more about the rumors of Microsoft buying Minecraft for more money than my brain can really process, but there has been no news on the subject, other than the massive community freak out. I honestly am ok with it, as long Minecraft mostly stays the course...so help me if it turns out to be 'from  now on Minecraft 2, Minecraft 3' instead of updates, I will flip out...and so will most the people who play it. Console gamers are very familiar with this tactic, in fact I have talked to several people who don't play the craft of mine and they are surprised that updates are free, especially ones that completely redefine game-play rather than just a patch. I very much so want the creators of Minecraft to be happy, and if selling the game is what they need to do, then by all means...however I do not want my favorite game....EVER....to change too much. Though to be honest, having seen the way that the Xbox versions were handled, and considering the size of the Minecraft community, really dramatic changes that isolate the fanbase seem like an incredibly dumb business move. 
CHEEEEEEESSE

Lastly a bit of tea. I mentioned earlier that Ben's friend (ok he is my friend too, but he is more so Ben's because they have been best friends for years) was over for a visit, it is a tradition to make Lapsang Souchong for all of us to sip while gaming...this time I decided to pair it with some Smoked Gouda, which is very much so one of my favorite cheeses. The pairing was a success, those two flavors go wonderfully together! I suggest mixing your smoky tea and smoky cheese together whenever possible. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Life In Teacup: 1500m (4500 ft.) Frosty Spring Yunnan Roast Green, arbor tree, First Day Harvest, A Tea Review

Oh man, gaming night last night was awesome, but when is it not? Ben got the rule book for Dystopian Wars, an awesome 10mm miniature game that we are picking up along side Dropzone Commander. We are still going to play DZC, but the local community is pretty small and waiting for our units to arrive from the distributor in England is a giant pain...seriously, the local Shaltari player has been waiting two months for his units. Dystopian Wars is huge here, so we will be able to actually play it, yours truly will be picking up Indian Raj with Britania support while I pretend to be Sir Richard Burton.

Today's tea of choice is Life in Teacup's 1500m (4500 ft.) Frosty Spring Yunnan Roast Green, arbor tree, First Day Harvest as you can tell from the very descriptive name, this green tea is harvested on March 9th 2014, I am assuming it is still frosty in the evenings there since the name has me thinking that. The aroma of this Yunnan green tea is a blend of toasted and fresh green, there are notes of pepper, toasted sesame seeds, green stems, fresh okra, and a tiny hint of kale. I have noticed that a few of the teas I have sniffed recently have the note of okra, which I find awesome, what with being Southern and eating a ton of okra as a kid.

Once I give the leaves a nice little steeping in the gaiwan the leaves have the aroma of spinach, okra (more cooked than fresh off the stem this time) lima beans and a touch of toast, these leaves smell like my favorite vegetables. The liquid has a mild mixture of sharply vegetal and gently sweet toastiness.

The first steep starts out deliciously savory with notes of sauteed mushrooms bordering on smokiness. This transitions to toasted sesame, giving a bit of sweetness to the steep, there are also hints of okra and a finish of green beans. The mouth feel is quite smooth and this tea is overall rather rich on its first steeping, I really enjoy when green teas have a sauteed mushroom 'meatiness' to them.

For the second steeping the aroma is a mix of toasted sesame and kale, specifically cooked kale rather than fresh, meaning some of the edge is taken off of it. This time around the taste does not have its 'meatiness' to it, the tea starts out with a touch of toast and cooked okra and then finishes with mild green beans and a touch of pepper. It was especially mild this steep which was a bit of a surprise after such a robust start.