Saturday, December 20, 2014

52Teas: Snowflake Gyokuro, A Tea Review

So much groggy in my brain today! I had a really bad allergic reaction (just discovered I am allergic to aloe, this explains so very much about my life) so that means benadryl, which in turn means sleepy. If I did not have a mountain of things to do (ah the holidays) I would curl up in bed with my kindle and catch up on some reading. Currently I am reading a book about using Cognitive Behavioral Theory to help anxiety and depression in adults in the Autism Spectrum, a book about food in the Medieval times, and a book on food allergies. Fascinating stuff, if I finish them up before the end of the year I would have read 96 books this year, I was hoping to hit 100, but alas, I have been too busy!


So today's tea is a wintry blend from 52Teas: Snowflake Gyokuro. Yeah, I did a double take too when I saw it was a blended Gyokuro, I am not sure this is a an act of genius or a horrible sin, I mean it is Gyokuro, that stuff is supposed to be sacred, right? Regardless, I knew I needed to try it for many reasons: it has marshmallow root (best stuff ever), it is winter themed, and it is a blended Gyokuro...I mean when will I get the chance to try that again? So, this is a blend of Gyokuro, Spearmint, Peppermint, Marshmallow Root, and Organic Natural Flavors, I really enjoyed 52Teas other minty, marshmallow green tea Graveyard Mist, so in theory I should like this...problem is, Gyokuro is not always a sweet tasting tea, in fact usually it is pretty umami, so this could be a real adventure. So from the aroma, all I am getting is mint and marshmallow, it is very sweet and the mint clears my sinuses, wintry indeed! I can certainly see snow being represented by the cleanness of mint and the gentle sweetness of marshmallow, but I wonder where the aroma of the Gyokuro is?

I was a bit stumped on how to brew this tea, after much debating I *gasp* just decided on a basket in a teacup, though I did not follow the directions on the package, I have had too many bad encounters with Japanese teas brewed too hot, so I opted for 155. So, I found the Gyokuro after steeping, it is there under the mint and marshmallow, there are notes of spinach, hay, and fresh sea air. Not going to lie, this combination is incredibly odd, not off putting at all, but just not something you expect to run into ever. The liquid is very similar, the mint is mellowed out a bit, the marshmallow is just as sweet, and the Gyokuro is still doing its thing, with the sea air taking on more of a kelp tone.

This tea is hard to describe, and it might win the award for one of the weirdest teas I have reviewed (that is only because I have not reviewed any of 52Teas bacon themed teas on the blog yet, I have the notes though!) Like with the aroma, the combination of things going on in my mouth is not off putting, it is just something I never thought I would mix together. First is mild mint with a cooling sensation that fills up my nose, you can definitely tell it is spearmint and peppermint, then there is the Gyokuro. It is savory, a blend of sea air, kelp, spinach, and mown grass. It is so bizarre, but it actually works really well together. I went for another steep and this time I only got hints of mint and marshmallow and much stronger Gyokuro. If there is any of my stash left come summer time, I might have to try this cold brewed.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Phoenix Herb Company: Dian Hong, A Tea Review

In theory I would be apologizing for no tea blog yesterday, but I am not sorry, TU19 came out yesterday and I was in utter bliss. A bit of backstory, the last 'real' not bugfix update for the Xbox 360 version of Minecraft came out last time I was in Pennsylvania, either in July or August of 2013! I know 4J Studios has been busy making Minecraft for all the other consoles, and that is awesome, but I was seriously gloomy about the lack of update. So as expected, when I saw yesterday that the new update was out, all my plans flew out the window as I went around taming horses and giving mobs really random names.

It is now time for yesterday's tea today! My current home town of Kansas City has a delightful shop which I visit on occasion, Phoenix Herb Company (who will be at the Midwest Tea Fest, hint hint :P ) and I am looking at one of my favorite teas: Dian Hong! Basically Dian Hong translates to Yunnan Red, so this is a fancy red (or black) tea from Yunnan, it is not as fuzzy and golden as some of my favorite red teas, but it makes up for lack of gold by having a powerful flavor and smell. Or at the very least the other Dian Hongs I have had are like that, so time to see how this one compares. The aroma is super sweet, there are notes of raisins, sweet potato, a bit of dark rum, cherries, and some floral in there as well. It has a headiness to it, but more of a fruity sweet headiness than floral, though the distant rose aroma is quite striking.

So, into the gaiwan the leaves go, after their first somewhat short steeping (30 seconds if you are curious) the aroma of the leaves is still sweet, but it takes on a heavy richness. There are notes of cocoa, raisins, dried cherries, molasses, and a nice malty punch at the finish. It is an aroma that wakes you up, which is good, especially after an all-nighter of Minecraft. The liquid is really malty and bright with a distinct cherry undertone and a finish of molasses.

The first steep starts out really brisk and bright, it almost reminds me of an Assam who decided to visit Yunnan and liked it so much they stayed. I could see this becoming a really good breakfast tea. After the initial brisk malt tones, it mellows out to molasses and raisins at the midtaste, this in turn goes to sweet cherries and a touch of smoke at the finish. The smoky finish is so minute that it took me a few sips before I was certain it was there and not just in my head.

For the second steep, the aroma is much maltier and even more brisk, it practically effervesces and wakes me up from sniffing it, definitely a good morning tea! Like the previous steep it starts out brisk, bright, and malty, but it lacks the sharpness of astringency that some really brisk teas can have. After the beginning's zinginess it moves into heavy cherry and raisin sweetness which lingers into the aftertaste. I could see this being a really good wake up tea for someone who wants a milder black but finds most Chinese red teas too mild and more 'Western style' black teas too intense.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What-Cha: Darjeeling 1st Flush 2014 Gopaldhara SFTGFOP1 Black Tea, A Tea Review

So, you may or may not know that I dabble with Influentster, recently they had an ebay related campaign involving creating guides and collections. I finished the collection campaign a week ago and just finished the guides section, meaning I got $10 ebay gift card and have another one on the way. This babbling is inevitably leading up to the thing I bought, Dark Swords Elven Princess, a sculpt inspired by Larry Elmore's (think most Dragonlance covers) art that I am much enamored with. If my plans go...as planned, then I will be doing a little green stuff alteration to make her more like one of my RPG characters.

Excitement about painting aside, I am not feeling too hot today so onto the tea! Specifically What-Cha's Darjeeling 1st Flush 2014 Gopaldhara SFTGFOP1 Black Tea, an exceptionally high grade (special finest tippy golden flowery orange pekoe...that means it is really good) first flush Darjeeling from Gopaldhara Tea Estate. For some reason my brain just cannot register the name of this estate, no many how many times I read it or type it, I will always want to pronounce it Goldaphara...really brain, do try to keep things from getting too jumbled. I think this is why my reviews will always be in text, no one will have to hear my letter jumbling. So, the aroma of this tea is so light and so sweet, it just kinda lays on my nose like a silken scarf. It is a blend of muscatel (specifically very fresh scuppernongs and muscadines) honey, wildflowers, and a tiny touch of pepper at the finish. It reminds me of nasturtiums and growing things and the more milder aspects of summer.

In order to let the leaves dance around and have fun while taking their bath, I decided to steep them in my alchemy equipment (as I have taken to calling my glass double boiler thingy) as they unfurl, the colors of the leaves is quite beautiful, a mixture of greens, browns, and golds. It reminds me of sunlight streaming through leaves. The aroma of the leaves is so fresh, like muscadines straight off the vine, sweet sun warmed honey right off the comb, wildflowers blooming, and peppery nasturtiums. It is such a soothing aroma, and a very happy one at that, at least for me, it reminds me of summers from my younger days. The liquid is delicate and sweet, like honey and nasturtiums with a touch of muscadines. Ah, this is heavenly!

Oh man, I love that nasturtium note! I do not run into that one very often in tea, it is awesome! If you have never had the pleasure of eating nasturtium flowers, they are peppery, a bit sweet, and have a very clean and green heat to them. Similar to a very mild horseradish and flowers. Now this tea is not all spicy flowers, in fact the first bit of taste is the clean nasturtium and then it vanishes, quickly replaces with juicy muscadines and honey. It is just like biting into a sun warmed muscadine picked off the vine, an experience I seriously advise everyone to do at least once! The finish is mild and sweet, a wildflower honey taste that lingers.

I did a second steep for this tea and it was very similar to the first, the notes of honey were stronger and the peppery notes were almost diminished, it reminded me a little of daikon without the root taste. I was in one of those great tea bliss moments and as my notes finish for this tea, my usually barely legible handwriting just becomes a sideways mess. This was (le gasp) my first ever first flush Darjeeling, and I can see why so many people are hooked on it! I need more, lots more, if the taste is that intoxicating!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Life In Teacup: 2009 Guan Zi Zai Xiao Man Shu, A Tea Review

The tree has achieved awesome status! Yes, it is that time of year where we drag a dead fir tree into the house, cover it in lights and ornaments, and happily stare at it while being pleased at our work. This year's tree has no theme other than absolute chaos! Lots of colors and almost all the ornaments are origami creations I have made. I am hoping to make some more ornaments, but alas I have not felt inspired to fold much.

Since it is a day of coniferous joy, I decided that the perfect tea to review is one that has been languishing in my notebook since late summer just waiting for the perfect opportunity. Life in Teacup's 2009 Guan Zi Zai Xiao Man Shu is a Shu (or Shou, Ripe) Pu Erh from Yunnan (of course) produced by the Guan Zi Zai factory. Other than where it is from, what type of Pu it is and what year it is from, that is all I know about this tea. Sometimes I feel like studying the world of Pu Erh is like studying the entire world of tea, it is amazingly complex and at times very hard to navigate. I believe I will be a novice for all eternity at times! So, why is this the tea that gets reviewed on a day when I have been dealing with a sticky fir tree? Because the aroma is so evocative of a coniferous forest that for a moment I can transport myself to the forest I used to romp in as a teenager. It was a mixed forest, but since this was the South, a large portion of the forest was pine, so I am very familiar with the at times almost intoxicating aroma of pine loam, wet pine wood, resin, needles, and sap. That is what the aroma of this tea evokes, it is like a hot, wet, rainy day in a pine forest where all those smells waft out of the earth and the trees around you.

After the tea's rinsing and first short steep, the aroma of the soggy leaves is sweet and resinous, much like pine sap and a hint of molasses. There are also notes of wet wood and loam, and a tony hint of anise. The liquid also has that hint of anise, how fascinating! There are also the expected notes of wet pine wood, loam, and a touch of sweet sap.

The first steep is rather delicate and sweet, with a slightly sharp and tingly mouthfeel, almost like the sensation of eating pine sap (yes I have done it and I am a weirdo.) There are flavor notes of wet pine, rich molasses, a bit of loam, and a finish of anise. That anise is quite unexpected and fun!

Second steep time, the aroma takes on a creamy anise and loam tone, it is both sweet and earthy, mixing pine and wet earth. It has a heaviness to it, like I am sinking into the soil on a rainy day. The taste for this steep is as expected quite a bit more intense than last. It starts out a tiny bit bitter, much like wet wood can have a bitterness to it, not an off-putting bitterness. Around the middle of the sip the taste turns to sweetness and richness, like molasses and loam. At the finish there is a touch of the fermented mushroom soil taste that goes really well with the forest floor taste.

The aroma of the third steep is very sweet, a mix of sweet, resinous, pine loam and very sweet molasses bordering on raw sugar. This is a detoxing Pu! Something about this tea has a great heating affect causing me to feel warm and sweaty, gross I know, but I get really lucky and sometimes Pu Erhs just feel like they are cleaning out any gross things from my body, I feel better after drinking them. The taste is heavy, like deep loam and a touch of peat, this transfers to sweet molasses and a touch of anise again. The finish is pine sap and a touch of a cooling sensation at the finish. So, a perfectly piney tea for a tree decorating day.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Trader Leaf: Chocolate Coconut Bon Bon, A Tea Review

There is a tree outside! Ok, that was a little vague, there is a five foot balsam fir sitting on the porch waiting to be brought inside for decorating. There is also a stash of gluten free flour and accouterments for baking, exciting! I might be a real Grinch when it comes to Christmas (so much so that I am cancelling it after this year in favor of a new holiday of my own invention) but that does not stop my enjoyment of baking and coniferous trees. I really need to get a tiny needly tree to live on my desk, or at the very least a candle that smells EXACTLY like a fir tree...also I need to pick up some blue and purple lights for my bedroom, the little lights make me immensely happy. Also, guys, I really need a dainty snow themed teacup or teapot for my collection, it is of extreme importance.

So today we are having another visit with Trader Leaf, specifically we are taking a little looksie at Chocolate Coconut Bon Bon a blend of  black tea, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, broken cocoa bits, coconut flakes, and flavoring, some of my favorite ingredients...I do just adore chocolate and coconut. The aroma, oddly enough, is really loaded with almonds! Maybe that is what the flavoring is, because it is super nutty. There are also strong notes of chocolate and slightly toasted coconut. It reminds me a little of a bon bon, but it has been so long since I had one, which is tragic with my great love of chocolate. Really though, the aroma reminds me of cookies with a malt and molasses finish, so it might be a slightly different dessert, but it is sweet regardless.

The brewed tea is super duper sweet! No surprise with it being a dessert tea, but wow, that aroma is so sweet. It is a blend of rich sweet chocolate, molasses, coconut, and almond cookies. The liquid is nigh inseparable from the brewed leaves, the only real difference is the aroma gains sugary sweetness from the melted chocolate.

Of course the tea has a delightful oily film which makes for an excellent mouthfeel, but it is annoying to clean off the teacup! I know some people get really grossed out by the texture of melted chocolate and coconut in tea, but I find it soothing, it reminds me of my childhood tradition of getting a spoonful of goose-grease when I had a sore throat. My grandmother would give it too many and for some reason I always got a sore throat when visiting! Ok, greasiness aside, the taste is surprisingly not that sweet, which is fine by me. Oh don't get me wrong, it is sweet, but not the sweet of biting into a bon bon, it is the sweetness of coconut and a small amount of chocolate. The coconut is very pronounced, there are also notes of cocoa butter and of course chocolate, especially into the aftertaste where it mixes a bit with malt and molasses. This tea was enjoyable, but it did lack potency, I wish either the black tea would have been stronger or possibly the chocolate, but I am never opposed to more chocolate. If you have an interest in trying this tea yourself, Trader Leaf very awesomely has a pair of coupons for my readers: for free shipping use code 'amanda' and for $10 off all orders over $40 use code 'butterflies' so yay for discounts!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Teavivre: Superfine Taiwan Ali Shan Oolong Tea, A Tea Review

Hey all, still not feeling 100% yet, something about the transition from moderately warm and cold to full on constant cold winter always throws my body for a loop. Luckily taking a chill and getting some much needed sleep last night definitely seemed to help, along with a little thrift store therapy. I found some adorable new tea gear for an amazing price, I will have to have another tea gear show off soon! I am hoping after the 'Christmas rush' slows down I can get back to reviewing tea gear and tea books, but for now it is all tea all the time. I hope you all do not mind too terribly much.

So for today we are finishing up the Oolong tasting event from Teavivre with Superfine Taiwan Ali Shan Oolong Tea! This Gao Shan is from the 1,000 meter zone of Ali Shan, this particular tea is a Jin Xuan varietal (one of my personal favorites, in case you were curious) and apparently irrigated with fresh spring water. I want to be irrigated with fresh spring water, that stuff is delicious and so clean tasting, but I am not a plant so I must live vicariously through tea. The aroma of this tea is really quite sweet, like sesame candies with honey (ever had those things, they are delicious!) along with a touch of honeysuckle nectar and sweet cream, the cream notes border on buttery. Ok, so this just might be a Southern thing, but it reminds me a little of that super creamy honey butter for biscuits, yes I have been guilty of just eating the butter and forgoing the biscuit.

The aroma of the brewed leaves is unsurprisingly very sweet, they smell like a blend of honeysuckles and fresh growing things in summer. There are also notes of yeasty baking bread and a touch of chestnuts. The blend of bread and chestnut makes me want to bake, I absolutely love chestnuts, but they are obnoxiously expensive and I was spoiled as a kid since I lived near a chestnut tree. The liquid is no where near as intense as the wet leaves, it is mild and sweet with baking bread notes and a touch of slightly creamy honeysuckle.

The first steep is light in taste but powerful in mouth feel. It is so smooth that I will go out of a limb and say it is silky, it does not fill the mouth, it caresses. The taste is sweet, blending yeasty bread and honeysuckles with a distinct green quality, not vegetal, just green. I find myself wondering if the taste is really that mild or if the sensation of the tea is so intense that I am distracted by it, a very real possibility.

Whoa, the aroma of the second steep really steps up its game, where the previous steep was pretty mild, this one is sweet and yeasty with flower notes and a touch of sweet cream. Surprisingly, the taste is not really sweet, it blends notes of spinach, growing green things, and bread. Specifically either a really mild sourdough or country farm bread. At the finish there is a hint of sweet flowers and chestnuts. I love how bread like this tea tastes, I do not run into a more savory green oolong very often, so it is a bit fun!

The third steep is similar to the second with its delightfully sweet and floral aroma, specifically it is the aroma of honeysuckles, one of my favorite summer flowers. The taste surprises again, it starts off similar to the second, not as green and primarily yeasty. Then it blooms into honeysuckles and honey which lingers to the finish where it is joined with chestnuts at the aftertaste. This is not my favorite ever Oolong, but it is quite enjoyable.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Influentster & Celestial Seasonings: Candy Cane Lane, A Tea Review

Today is such a yuck day, yuck, yuck, yuck! I went shopping for noms this morning after not getting much sleep (it has been one of those weeks) and progressively felt ickier as the day went on. Not wanting to abandon the blog without a post today, I decided to have a little bit of easy fun.
I love their art, as a kid I collected the boxes for storage because they were so cool
So I was included in Influenster's #FrostyVoxBox, a box of really cool products to try out and review (you guys have probably seen me feature past boxes if you have been reading a while) usually I do all of it in one big review, but since one of the things included with it was tea, well, I had to do it separately. Celestial Seasonings Candy Cane Lane Green Tea Decaffeinated, a holiday tea straight out of my memories. This is a blend of peppermint, decaffeinated green tea, orange peel, natural vanilla and mint flavors with other natural flavors, cinnamon, milk thistle, blackberry leaves, roasted carob, roasted chicory, and vanilla bean, and since it is a tea bag, it is the exact level of easy I am in the mood for on this most blah of days. So I know when I was younger I would drink a lot if Celestial Seasonings teas, but I cannot remember if I ever drank this one, fun adventure time, maybe! The aroma of the tea is minty and vanill-y (Minty Vanilli, the holiday themed Milli Vanilli comeback was also lip-synced) a little sweet, and a little papery from the bag. One of the tragedies of teabags is they can smell and taste like the bag, but you do at times make sacrifices for being lazy.

One thing I will give the packaging credit for, it does not say to use boiling water, in fact it says using cooler water with green tea will result in a smoother, more delicate flavor. Yay! Certain other bagged tea companies say boil everything, and people wonder why some people think green tea is bitter gross death. The aroma of the tea is minty and mellow, with vanilla and a roasted undertone along with a tiny hint of sugar cookies. The mint is the primary aroma, but it is not a kick in the face of mint.

The taste is not bad, it is minty and sweet with a hint of vanilla and honey and a slight bit of a roasted taste at the end. The green tea base is really generic, I am not sure how to describe it other than 'generic bagged green tea I have been drinking since I was a kid' taste. It is a really mild tea, the mint is cooling, but other than that there is nothing really powerful about it, I do not want to say it tastes watered down, but it does certainly lack oomph. Since this is a decaf tea, I can see this being a tea I could drink before bed or when I feel icky...the tastes are mellow, the mint cools my guts and clears my nose, and the warmth just feels good. In fact I am going to take the rest of this cup and go lay in bed while playing some Minecraft.

As per Influenster's rules:  I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.