Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Teabox: Assam Masala Chai, A Tea Review

Ben and I are, after many years, replaying Mass Effect, the whole series. It was my favorite game series ever, well until the infamous ending of Mass Effect 3, which in all honesty burned me out on fiction and games with an RPG element for a while, but I might have taken it too seriously (I do that) With the talks of Mass Effect Andromeda in my future, and having finally gotten over the ending, it was time to revisit my favorite series, but problem is we both wanted to play again. Joint playthrough time! It feels good, very nostalgic, so much so I had to bring my Dropzone Desolator...which just looks like a Reaper...to live on my desk once more.

When one is busily playing video games and snacking on Haldiram's Kaju Mix snacks, one needs a robust Masala Chai to provide sustenance. Today I am looking at Teabox's Assam Masala Chai, a blend of CTC Assam, cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, cloves, and pepper corns. I love Masala Chai blends that include lots of pepper and cardamon, so this blend makes me happy. You can really smell the cardamon and ginger too, the pepper is not faint, and the other spices are robust but less so. A lot of Masala Chai blends tend to go heavy on the cinnamon and cloves, both of which I like, but to me they say Christmas rather than tea, so I am happy for those two being on the milder side. The Assam adds a sweet and robust malty quality that is not totally overpowered by the spices, which is most excellent.

Into a pot of milk and a bit of water the tea goes for a simmer, my kitchen smells great now, strong cardamon and ginger, pepper and cinnamon, and of course a bit of cloves and rich malty tea fill the entire room. Making Masala Chai smells great, and I love how it just inundates the entire area like a spicy potpourri.

I decided to sweeten the Masala Chai with a sugar stick, because I never get the chance to use them, Masala Chai and Ostfriesen Tea are the only time I ever sweeten my tea anymore, or use creamy additives for that matter. This is a wonderful Masala Chai, but I am a sucker for a Masala Chai with an Assam base, it gives the tea a richness and a briskness that I love. The spice blend was quite well balanced, with more focus being put on the cardamon and ginger, with a more gentle accompaniment of pepper and cinnamon, with a bit of cloves. I actually wish the spices would have been a bit stronger, I can always go with more pepper or more cardamon, but for people who like a milder and well balanced chai with a wonderfully tasty base tea I highly recommend it.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Totem Tea: Amber Forest, A Tea Review

Today is a day of pros and cons, the big pro is I have finally found a curio cabinet! For a whopping $30, beautiful combination of chestnut wood and a light...however, it is missing shelves. I thought it would be a piece of cake to get pieces of wood cut to size at the hardware store. I found the wood I liked and they wouldn't cut it, turns out cutting along the length of the board is not something the local harware store was interested in doing. So now the quest goes on to find shelf inserts in a price that is within my budget, so far my quest has been not spectacular, but I have high hopes. Soon my cups (and other teapots and such) will have a protected and easy to access home.

The tea I am looking at today is from Totem Tea, their Amber Forest, which has a wonderfully evocative name, like a forest in autumn with dappled sunlight making the woods glow like amber. It is a Jin Xuan (and it is well known my love of this cultivar) but instead of its usual green glory, it is roasted over longan charcoal. I love LOVE roasted oolongs, and Jin Xuan is one that I only rarely get to indulge in. The aroma of the dry leaves is wonderfully nutty, strong notes of toasted sesame and sweet chestnut with a creamy Jin Xuan notes that are familiar. What really pushes this tea over the edge are notes of pistachio, mochi (with a bit of red bean paste too) and cashew butter, those pistachio notes are killer, seriously, nutty notes are one of my favorite aspects of roasted oolongs.

Gaiwan time! The aroma of the soggy leaves is super nutty, lots of cashew, chestnut, pistachios, and of course toasted sesame seeds. It is very sweet, and very autumnal, I might be sniffing this at the wrong time of year, but I am ok with that. The liquid for the first steep is immensely sweet, notes of honey drenched cashews and pistachios with a tiny bit of buttery toast.

Oh wow, the first steep is so sweet and wonderfully nutty! I feel like this is a tea that someone who really likes eating nuts as a main snack would love...and I do eat a ton of nuts. Notes of sesame butter, cashews, honey, and autumn leaf pile are all tangled together with a wonderful creamy quality that was present both in mouthfeel and in taste. It borders on buttery for the beginning, this is a tea I could crave on cold days.

The second steep starts to really bring out the toasted notes, not longer just notes of nuts, now there are notes of gentle char and a touch of toasted grains. It is rich and still quite sweet in the nose. Like the first steep this one starts out wonderfully creamy and nutty, with strong notes of sesame and cashew and an accompaniment of pistachio and chestnut. Alongside the nutty sweet goodness is gentle char and toasted grain heavy bread drizzled in butter, a classic roasted oolong taste that pleases me, the mouthfeel is much creamier on this tea than a lot of other roasted oolongs, probably due to it being Jin Xuan.

The third steep is not much changed from the second, and while there is not much change I can say this, I was able to steep this tea for what seemed like a roasted happy eternity. I was sipping it a night I was unable to sleep, and I can say even though it was hot and I was cranky from the heat, I was in bliss mode because this tea just did not quit. I went through ten steeps before I finally had to call it quits, this tea outlasted me! I love it and must add a large pile of it to my collection, especially for autumn where this tea is going to be guzzled in large quantities.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Taiwan Treat: Rose Oolong & Lavender Pouchong, A Cold Steeping Adventure!

I am perilously close to smashing my computer with a hammer, if it was not for the blog and tea work I need to keep up with, bits of this machine would go flying as I vent my rage against it. It has always been a pretty garbage computer, with a barely functioning mouse, horrid speakers, no memory, and of course a constant phobia of connecting to the internet...but now it seems to be a struggle to get it to function at all. So if I stop writing for a bit either this thing died for good or I finally snapped and bludgeoned it.

Today I am looking at two teas from Taiwan Treat, a company that sends out monthly boxes of Taiwanese yummies, but also has a small selection of tea. Rose Oolong and Lavender Pouchong, a pair of teas from Taiwan with flowery flavorings and in a convenient tea bag. I know, usually I run screaming from teabags, but they do have one really good use...super quick cold steeping on a hot day. Usually cold steeping takes several hours, but with a bag (especially a bag with tea dust and fannings) it can take half an hour to an hour...and when it is sweltering, late at night, and you just want a mug of cold tea without the unpleasantness of making iced tea, this is the way to go. Now, being Southern, I probably just betrayed my heritage, but I really dislike iced tea, because you either water down normal tea by icing it, or making a super strong concentrate which never really tastes good unless you add a bucket of sugar, so cold steeping is my method of choice for a cold cup.

The first one I tasted was the Rose Oolong (which on the bag inside the box said rose black, so who knows) what I smell from this bag is a rose-splosion. Very sweet notes of roses, specifically like the rose syrup concentrate I used to make my beloved Persian Rose Milk. No real sign of the tea, but I certainly smell lots and lots of rose!

Cold steeping this bag led to a pretty amber colored cup of roses, still not really getting much of the tea other than a gentle malty sweetness. What I am getting is a metric ton of roses, it very much so reminds me of the rose milk I used to drink mine the milk, just straight up very sweet rose. I was pretty amazed at how sweet this one was, it tasted very summery to me, and I could see myself drinking more of this when I am feeling super lazy on a hot night.

The next one was Lavender Pouchong (which said Lavender white on the bag, I am so confused) and it is also super strong flowery. Lots of lavender, it smells a bit perfume like, something that rose flavoring can get away with a lot easier than lavender, if it is really strong it just smells like soap to me. I do get a tiny bit of a green tea like undertone, but really all I smell is lavender.

This one did not work quite as well for me, it had a bit of a bitter soapy quality that can sometimes occur when using lots of lavender. While it was sweet and refreshing at the front, the finish and aftertaste was a bit much for me. I did really enjoy the rose though, so not a total loss!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Liquid Proust Teas: A Dark Kitchen Sink, A Tea Review

Ah, tournament time! Today and tomorrow is CEO, one of the big tournaments in the FGC and the last big one before Evo. Currently I am enjoying the finals for Killer Instinct, a game where I occasionally play a Raptor. Killer Instinct was a game I really disliked when I was younger, but the remake has really earned my respect, and not just because it is the first fighting game I have played in a while where my hands don't lock up with tendon cramps. Not sure if they just got better or what, but it makes me happy.

Today I am looking at Liquid Proust's A Dark Kitchen Sink, a blend of: golden pu’erh needles, loose ripe pu’erh, dianhong black tea, sunmoon lake black tea, vanilla bean (with flavor residue),roasted oolong, roasted pecans (unsalted), caramel (cane sugar, vanilla extract), cocoa nibs, Indian oolong ,honeybush (very very small amount)...it really is everything but the kitchen sink! The aroma of this tea is, to use fighting game slang, godlike. It smells like pecan pie, fudge, and a tiny bit of earthy loam. It is immensely sweet, caramel and chocolate dance with vanilla. and blissfully it is sweet but not grossly so thanks in part to the loamy notes and nuttiness. I might have drooled just a little, or a lot...either way, it smells really good.

I decided to gongfu it, the tea might be a blend, but it has tea that I frequently gongfu, so why not? I am almost at a loss for words describing this tea's aroma once steeped. The notes are as expected, strong vanilla, caramel, pecan pie, fudge, loam, and malt...but trying to convey how mouthwatering sweet and rich it is, that is a challenge. The aroma of the liquid is also pretty intensely sweet, strong notes of vanilla and fudge with underlying pecan pie and loam. Super sweet and rich!

So, this is possibly the best blend I have had....ever. Seriously. It is dessert in a cup, like liquid Better Than Sex cake (making me calling it orgasmic not really an exaggeration) bringing in notes of fudge, vanilla, caramel, pecans, toffee, and a finish of earthiness and marshmallows...this is an intense tea. It hits all the right notes for me, it is immensely sweet and rich without being cloying, smooth as all get out, and just wow. Ben, being more diplomatic and not wanting to say it is orgasmic, says it is an epiphany in a cup.

You know, one of the things I love about being a person who has a sensory disorder, is how my strongest sensory input comes in the form of taste and smell...it is why I do what I do...sometimes I get overwhelmed by a taste or smell, it washes over me and drags me under, much like the undertow of an ocean wave. I don't necissarily like the intensity of some of my other senses (looking at you sound and frequently touch) but I would not trade my sense of taste and smell for the world, especially when presented with teas like this! The second steep is pretty identical flavor wise, no real change in notes (except...I think the marshmallow finish turned into meringue) but the taste has become more intense.

Around steep three the rich fudge and vanilla notes, while still intense, are mellowing a bit, especially the vanilla. Now I get cherry notes (probably from one of the Hongchas) yams, still very rich nuttiness, and a richer loam note. Towards the finish I get a bit of molasses toffee and pie crust, with lingering sweetness. I got four good steeps out of this tea, and two moderately good steeps as I try to drag any bit of flavor I could from this...and then I needed to buy myself a pouch because delicious. Honestly, Andrew, this was one powerful concoction, bravo!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tea Box Express: June Box, A Tea Subscription Review

Today's review starts with a bit of a story, I am, as many of you probably know, rather Southern. I spent the first 15 years of my life there and my mother's side of the family is Southern, this means that we drank A LOT of iced tea. I mean a lot, even in winter (combine that with the copious amount of tea I drank growing up thanks to the British side of my heritage...well...it is no surprise I turned out the way I did really.) So when Tea Box Express asked me to look at their June box, and I saw the theme was a bit on the Southern side, I got super excited!

For $25.50 a month, you get a box full of tea themed goodies and of course, tea. This month included tea from Alabama based company Piper & Leaf, their Sassyfras Strawberry Green and Front Porch Special. I was at first worried for my teas, someone somewhere in the process of this package making its way to me, had spilled something all over the box. It was immensely soggy, even the adorable burlap bags the tea came in were wet...and worst of all, it reeked. Pretty sure it was a bottle of perfume or incredibly pungent fruit juice. I had to quickly dismantle the box and get the goodies out before I sent the smelly box for the farthest reaches of the recycling bin. Luckily everything survived ok, so yay for good internal packaging! The burlap sacks will be fine after a bit of a wash too, yay!

The goodies included in the box were both functional and delicious. From The Good Batch, Brown Butter Salty Cookies, a pair of sweet and salty shortbread cookies that disappeared really quite quickly. Turns out I was craving cookies, and I loved the salty tinge, took the edge off the sweetness meaning it was very easy to devour the cookies.

The other thing included was the neatest ice tray ever. Silicone Hex Ice Cube Mold, yes, the ice cubes are not cubes but hexagonal prisms! I like the color, I like that it is silicone (so much easier to crack an ice tray if it is not rigid plastic) and it is something I will use. I currently kinda hated my ice tray, I want smaller ice cubes for my brewing of Japanese greens, or sometimes I just want a tiny ice to eat on a hot day. This thing is going to get a lot of use.

But what about the teas you are probably wondering? It is not a surprise that at this point in my tea drinking life I mostly drink blended and flavored teas as cold steep, it has just become my favorite way of consuming them, mostly because if I am drinking a tea hot I want to be gongfu-ing it and you can't do that very often with flavored teas.

So into the cold steeping they went as I waited patiently (ok not really) for them to steep enough. I even popped a few hexagonal prism cubes into the cup I poured the tea into for decoration! The first one up is the oh so evocative Front Porch Special, which is basically an Earl Grey with spearmint and jasmine...ah nothing quite beats a fresh glass of iced tea with mint on a hot day, it is so nostalgic for me. This makes a mean iced tea, just the right amount of briskness and bergamot with the cooling sweetness of mint and jasmine. Luckily the bergamot and jasmine are both fairly light, so I don't have to worry about being overwhelmed by two flavors I am only lukewarm on. I tried to foist this off on Ben to try, but he is not a drinker of cold tea, what with being from the north (like really north.)

The next one had me whooping with joy, it is a tea with ACTUAL SASSAFRAS in it!! I love the sassy, in fact it is what makes Red Jade one of my favorite teas, I just love it...having a backyard with the little trees in it was a big reason why, plus it just tastes really good. It smells really good too, this tea is super heavy on the strawberry, I can barely make out the sassy at all, but it is there lightly.

So this tea brewed pink, which was fun, thank you beets! The taste is pretty good, a little bit tart strawberry, but mostly sweet strawberry and refreshing green with a sassafras finish. My only complaint is that the sassafras is not stronger, but I am pretty sure most people who drink it are fine with the levels, I just really, really like sassafras. I have a sneaking suspicion that this tea will be a cold-steep staple for outings on hot days.

Overall, I give this box a serious thumbs up. If I was more financially able I would subscribe to it, I am a sucker for themed boxes and fun snacks and trinkets, though I admit most the boxes would probably have me giving the tea away to friends and family who prefer flavored tea, since I rarely drink it, but you know I would eat the snacks the minute the box arrived. If this peaks your interest and you want in on this subscription, Tea Box Express was awesome enough to offer my readers a coupon, use TEAHAPPY20 for 20% the first box with a monthly subscription.

This tea box was sent by the company for a review.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Teanami: Bu Lang (Raw 2011) A Tea Review

Last night I discovered something wonderful, tater tots taste amazing with coriander chutney! I am such a huge fan of chutney (coriander, mint, mango, and onion being my favorites) that I get excited when I find something new to eat with it. The same can be said of horseradish and various pickles, but that is a different story. Sometimes I wonder if I should create a side blog reviewing pickled things, I eat them about as much as I drink tea.

Today I am taking a look at Teanami's Bu Lang (2011 Raw) a Sheng Puerh made from ancient trees. And when I first saw they were made from 'ancient trees' I cringed, that is such a hot topic on the interwebs lately and has become a really unpleasant bit of marketing, but they say their trees are at least 100 years old and that is so much more believable. I've known a lot of trees in the 200-500 range when I lived in the mountains, and I am pretty sure the massive spruce in the yard is almost 100 since it is as old as the house...but I am getting off on a tree tangent. Anyway, Bulang, I have so far only had Shou from this mountain, honestly staying away from the Sheng because it has a reputation to be rather bitter, but it eases off the bitter as it gets some age to it, and with my Sheng drinking being limited (thanks ya jerk of a stomach) I go for the sweet or camphorous stuff. But I do love a tea adventure, so here we go! So, this tea does not smell like something that will be bitter, it smells like fresh white grapes, cut sunwarmed hay, a tiny touch of leather, honey, dried apricots, and a tiny almost undetectable (took me a few sniffs) camphor note. I was pleasantly surprised at how sweet this tea smells!

Cranking the kettle to 200°F and giving the tea a rinse, the aroma of the leaves is a bit on the pungent side with wet hay, lemon rind, apricots, and a touch of spinach. The aroma of the first steeping is pleasantly light and sweet, with an undertone of lemon and hops and a tiny hint of camphor.

At the beginning of the tea session, well, you could fool me that this tea is bitter. Granted I do brew it at less than boiling which makes me different from the real pu-heads, but I like it that way. I would describe it as tangy rather than bitter, like lemon rind but not as sour, with accompaniments of spinach and cooling light camphor. It has a thickness and a touch of a dry mouth, and the aftertaste reminds me of the taste of leather. Around steep three it starts to get a bit of that bitterness, though lucky for me it is the bitterness of kale rather than of hops, like some bitter shengs can get, and I really dislike hops.

Ah, this sheng is doing that fun thing where it flip flops from bitter to sweet in a drool induced instant. Like going from kale leaves covered in lemon to dried apricots and hay with a leather finish. Sadly around steep four I am getting that obnoxious dull ache in my guts which makes me so happy for my tiny baby gaiwan. A little farther into the steeping session brings out a tobacco note, which blends well with the aftertaste of leather.

Whelp, this is a tea that definitely outlasted me, nine steeps in and the leaves have only barely unfurled. It is starting to ramp up the bitter notes. The bitterness is pleasant, really wakes up the palate and causes a great salivary sweetness. Sadly this is definitely one of those Shengs that kills my stomach, which angers me because I really wanted to see how far I could stretch this tea out. I am curious if it would be milder on my stomach with more age, perhaps I will come back to it in a decade!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Totem Tea: Ruby 18 Taiwanese Black, A Tea Review

Ugh, I am not feeling too hot today, ok actually I am too hot (what with it being summer) but that is not my problem. Luckily I feel better than I did an hour or so ago where I did not think I would be up to writing tonight. But, here I am, and glad to be feeling a bit better at that! I tend to get immensely frustrated when my various health woes get in the way of my cognitive function (thanks Fibro-fog, or whatever you are) it is one thing to be in pain, it is quite another to be a walking pile of derp, because then I can't really do anything and I get very bored.

Today we are looking at a tea of a thousand names (ok really just like five) from a new to me company that has very quickly endeared itself to me by carrying some awesome teas! Ruby 18 (or Red Jade, Sun Moon Lake Tea, Hong Yu...) is a cross between native wild Qingxin and Assamica, and we have the the Taiwan Tea Research and Extension Station to thank for that! This tea is a thing of beauty and a serious favorite of mine, one of the few specific teas that gets its own teapot (Gui Fei and Tangerine Blossom Red being the others) the leaves alone are worthy of admiration, and that is before I get into the sniffing. The aroma of the leaves is pretty intense, strong notes of sassafras, yam, and red pepper combine with cocoa and cinnamon, classic Red Jade notes. What made this one different than the usual was the accompanying notes of okra, dried tomato, cherry, and very very light black licorice. I am in love! Going to spend a while sniffing the leaves, be back later.

After I finally pulled my nose out of the leaves and brewed them, the aroma of the soggy leaves is a classic explosion of sassafras, menthol (it is super weird, smells like menthol but not mint, it blows my mind) cinnamon, and a bit of red pepper, cocoa, yams, and cherries. Smells delicious! The first steep's aroma is very sweet, like honey drizzled sassafras, cocoa, cherries, and yams with a brisk malty finish.

The first steep is wonderfully smooth, and pleasantly strong without being too strong. I find sometimes with Red Jade you have to have a slightly lighter hand with brewing or it gets really brisk and almost too strong, that did not happen with this tea at all. It starts with robust malt and sassafras notes, then moves to cocoa and cherry with linger well into the finish and aftertaste. They are joined at the finish with sweet, syrupy honey and tangy dried tomatoes. The sweetness sticks around into the aftertaste for quite a while.

For the second steep, the aroma is very sweet and super rich, notes of cocoa, cherries, and malt blend with a gentle sassafras note, or as I describe in my tea notebook, this tea is a little sassy smelling. Somehow this steep manages to be even more rich than the previous one, strong notes of sassafras dance with yams and cherries with a strong cocoa note. Around the middle a strong brown sugar note creeps in and lingers til the end.

Third steep's aroma is pretty similar to the second, but a stronger note of cherry and malt with an underlying pie crust note that really has me craving cherry pie...and Warrant, but I always want bad 80s (techincally 1990, but come on) music. This steep really ramps up the sassafras and malt, it is wonderful, I never get sick of that note, reminds me of growing up in the south and the wonderful sassafras trees in my backyard. I also noticed a surprisingly fun note that I have never encountered in tea and it took me a minute to nail down, there was just a delicate hint in the middle of strawberry leaf. I got several more steeps out of this tea, I sat with it for quite a while enjoying its depth and was sad when the tea finally called it quits.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.