Thursday, April 17, 2014 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 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!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Temple Road Tea: Crane Monk Light Oolong, A Tea Review

Ah, last night's eclipse was fantastic. Other than a pretty violent fight with my tripod (I am going to need a new one very soon) and the cold, it was a spectacular showing. I celebrated with a cup of beautifully dark colored Shui Xian to reflect to color of the moon at full eclipse and took some decent photos. Now the weather is turning warm again, and that means tomorrow I am harvesting violets for candied violets. Spring is a very happy time.

Today's tea is very much in the theme of spring time, Crane Monk Light Oolong by Temple Road is a beautiful green oolong from Shan Lin Xi, Nantou County, Taiwan. I snipped open the sample package and was immediately slammed with intense floral aroma, I am not saying it was overwhelming (because flowers make me happy) but it was incredibly intense! The aroma is an incredibly heady mix of orchids and hyacinth flowers with a sweet honeysuckle quality. The floral aroma fades to green vegetation and chestnuts, and from that we have a finish of honeyed bread. The aroma is one of the most intensely floral aromas I have experienced from an Oolong, it is fantastic, the other notes are great as well, but that floral intensity really steals the show.

I tossed my leaves into the gaiwan for a nice steeping (after what seems like an eternity of sniffing) and when I lifted the lid I was again greeted by incredible floral. Hello orchids, hyachinth, honeysuckle, and gardenia. There is a bouquet of flowers and their accompaniment of green vegetation in my gaiwan. There is also a creamy quality to the aroma that gives it a heaviness along with headiness. The liquid is very heady, primarily orchid with a hint of orange blossom and vegetation. It is one of those teas that smells like nature, and that makes me immensely happy.

For the first steep, well, give me a moment I need to come up with words that are not just a pile of inarticulate yummy noises. Sometimes I am not dignified when I am sipping a really good tea. The initial taste is incredibly sweet and floral, orangeblossoms and honeysuckles with rich leafy notes. It tastes like what a conservatory smells like, blending flowers, vegetation, and a heavy warmth that makes you never want to leave. The mouthfeel is buttery smooth and thick, I think I could get lost in this tea.

Second steep time! The aroma is still intensely sweet and heady, also creamy and freshly green. I really enjoy how complex the aroma of the liquid is. FLAVOR MOUTH EXPLOSION! So much intensity, no longer articulate at all. Ben, had to come see what the maniacal laughter was about since I was enjoying myself so much I turned into a super-villain. The intense floral flavor from the previous steep remains, the vegetation (the website decribes it as alpine, a term which I love and agree with!) taste is much stronger, and it is joined with a nice juicy pear. The mouthfeel is still very creamy, a pleasant surprise! Usually with oolongs that have a strong green presence I find the mouthfeel to be sharper, so this is quite unique.

Ok, try to regain some composure for steep number three, because you all know I couldn't stop there. The aroma has calmed a bit, still intense orchid and gardenia with a bit of vegetation. The taste this time is more vegetal and green, a bit of spinach and sage with copious amounts of fresh vegetation. This flows to a delicate sweet floral, it is not as sweet as the previous steep, but the subtle sweetness lingers and is refreshing. Well, Temple Road, you have blown my mind with yet another tea, well done!

Monday, April 14, 2014 and Chakouan: #14 Ureshino Gyokucha-Ochatama, A Tea Review

I am so excited for tonight! Around 2AM (Central Time) a full Lunar Eclipse will be starting, an infamous Blood Moon. It is one of the many things on my 'things I want to photograph' list (it is a huge list), I have my camera and tripod all ready. I also have proper moon viewing tea selected, proper snacks, a large pile of blankets, and cushions ready as well. Sadly the beautiful warm weather decided to wander off and it is going to be practically winter outside tonight, I wonder if I will chicken out and photograph it through a window?

Today's tea is a rather unique offering from and Chakouan Yamaguchi Seichaen Co. #14 Ureshino Gyokucha-Ochatama, what on earth is this mysterious tea you are probably asking right now. Gyukucha, or round tea (or Japanese Gunpowder) is a byproduct of Sencha production, from Ureshino in the Saga Prefecture. This rare and unusual tea is not only a tea but a tasty snack, well, I certainly like snacks! The aroma of this emerald green tea is sweet fresh grass and seaweed with a sharp vaguely floral aroma. It smells warm and a tiny bit chestnut like, it reminds me of a blend between the aroma of Sencha and Gyouro, very tasty aroma.

Before I steeped the tea in my Kyusu, I wanted to test the snack aspect and popped a few of the tea balls into my mouth. First impression, yum! It tastes like seaweed and grassy green tea, it starts out umami and fades to sweetness with a nutty finish. I love these, I want to get a bunch and toss them in with my much loved rice cracker snacks (the kind that has seaweed and such, not the gluten free cracker substitutes). My only complaint is they are a little too crunchy and hard, a complaint I think most wouldn't have, but I have sensitive chompers.

Snack time concluded and into the Kyusu the Gyokucha goes! The wet leaves are even grassier and seaweed heavier than the dry leaves, a really great blend of umami and springtime. There is still a very tiny hint of chestnut at the finish. The liquid is umami kelp to the max! After the initial aroma of seaweed fades there is a faint sweetness like grass and flowers, very field like.

The taste is hard to accurately put into words, it is a taste that evokes imagery. When I first sipped this tea I was immediately struck by how clean and fresh it tasted, it was like drinking raindrops off a blade of grass. It brings the cleanliness of rain and the sweet grass taste. The mouthfeel is creamy and full, nothing short of exquisite. The taste fades to seaweed and sea air giving it an umami finish.

You all know I had to have another dance with this tea, the aroma of the liquid is much the same with the second steep with a touch more of the chestnut quality. This steep is very sweet with a creamy full mouthfeel,, it does not have any of the umami quality, instead it just retains the freshness from the previous steep.There is also a surprise hint of fruit at the very end, leaving a sweet aftertaste. I really enjoyed this tea, not only was the taste amazing, it had the double feature of being a snack and it was unusual.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Communi-tea, A Tea Themed Documentary, The Kickstarter Edition

I am propped on a pile of pillow (abandoned the Tea Lair today for the bed) with the windows open enjoying the siren song of thunderstorms and not so siren song of a whiffling cat. Poor Tao seems to have either forgotten what thunderstorms are or is becoming a coward in her (not really) old age. Perhaps she thinks I am afraid and needs to comfort me and is just making worried noises at each loud thunder-clap for solidarity. Enjoy the pleasant weather while you can my exceptionally large fluff ball, because it is going to snow tonight after all the storms fade away, oh joy!
Photo presented by #communitea
Today's blog post is taking a brief break from the tea reviewing for a bit of a showcasing. Natasha, the venerable Snooty Tea Person and Master of Puns, has a wonderful Kickstarter Campaign all about our extraordinary Tea Community! Presenting: Communi-tea! This documentary will explore all aspects of the tea culture in the US, featuring famous tea bloggers (like Nicole Martin of Tea For Me Please) and tea experts (like Patrick Medina). Exploring the country with one question in mind: Why do you drink tea?

Of course the Master of Puns has all the details on the Kickstarter page (complete with loads of good puns) including all the juicy details on backer rewards (they include tea!). If you think that this documentary is going to be AWESOME (and let's be honest, you do) and want to support the Communi-tea, go become a backer. Or, create awesome Communi-tea Bags to promote the campaign around your home-town. Make sure all your tea loving friends know about it, or use this as an opportunity to get complete strangers interested in tea! That is the best part about Communi-tea, is how it brings us all together for a nice cup of their favorite steeped leaf.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Teavivre: Fengqing Paddy Flavor Raw Pu-erh Cake Tea 2006, A Tea Review

It is so warm! The high temperature today was almost eighty degrees, it has gone from early spring to early summer. Hopefully it was just a nice warm spell and we get back to nice spring weather, or this is Midwest spring weather and I am still clinging to my days in the Northeast. One good thing about this warmth is the promise of storms tonight, I have been stalking the radar and have seen some massive Supercells out in the plains. Also, it seems overnight all the plants have exploded into full green and bloom. Spring is such an exciting season.

Today's Teavivre tea is Fengqing Paddy Flavor Raw Pu-erh Cake Tea 2006, a Pu-erh who is coming up on its tenth birthday! Produced in Fengqing, Yunnan from 30-40 year old Arbor Trees, made from Spring (Ming Qian or Chun Jian) harvested leaves and Autumn (Gu Hua or Paddy Flower) Leaves. Each season's leaves bringing its own unique aroma to the mix. And what an aroma it is! The aroma is strong, like old hay and a slight smoky aroma that fades to old flowers. It has an aroma that reminds me of late summer heat and the sweetness of decaying vegetation.

After the initial rinse and short steep time, the aroma of the wet leaves retains their old flowers and old hay aroma with a hint of barnyard. The liquid, however, smells very sweet and floral, to the point of being heady. There is a finish of smokiness. It seems like the leaves are autumn and the liquid is spring time, a very fascinating transition.

Teavivre says this tea can hold out for fourteen steeps, and I decided to make a day of it. The first steep starts off a bit smoky and a bit metallic, a bit of old hay and a bit of flowers. There are certainly flavors presents but they are faint with a promise of future strength. The mouthfeel is sharp and certainly the most distinct thing about the first steep.

The aroma of the second steep has one of the most complex blend of notes I have ever encountered in a tea. There are notes of anise, faint smoke, spicebush, copper, and crepe myrtle...and all of the notes work really well together. So, this is fascinating, the initial taste is at first metallic and faintly floral, this fades to a sharply bitter taste similar to when you swallow a pill poorly and get that residue in your mouth. This immediately causes a salivary response causing my mouth to flood with sweetness, just like a mouthful of honeysuckle nectar. As the tea cools (like really cools, I left the room and came back to a tiny cup of cold tea) the bitterness has vanished completely and replaced by a pine resin taste. It is really a fascinating experience.

For the third steeping the aroma is very faint pine smoke with anise and Sweet Annie and spicebush. The aroma of this tea keeps transitioning between different flowers and I love it! The taste starts out sweet, like sucking on a piece straw, like the previous steep there is (this time much subdued) bitterness then an explosion of sweetness that lingers for quite a while.

The fourth steep does not have much of a story, the aroma is identical to the previous steep. The taste is all flowers and sweetness, starting with spring time flowers and flowing into honey with a finish of hay. The mouthfeel is not at all sharp anymore, just smoothness.

Steep number six had a pungent surprise for me, the barnyard aroma from the wet leaves has finally showed up in the aroma of the liquid. The taste is a touch bitter with the barnyard aspect, think old hay and the faintest hint of manure. It is like mouth-breathing in farm country, not the most unpleasant experience but certainly not a favorite one.

For steep number seven and eight, I noticed no difference so they are getting lumped together. The aroma has only a barest hint of the pungent at the finish, the rest is all hay and flowers, specifically crepe myrtles, it is quite sweet. The taste is very sweet, blending flower nectar and honey with strong floral qualities. The finish has a bit of a fermented taste, similar to Grecian Honeyed Wine (basically white wine mixed with honey and left to sit for a week) leaving a honey aftertaste.

Steeps nine through fourteen are a fascinating journey of dwindling tea presence. The aroma starts off much like the previous steep, but slowly fades in intensity until there is none left. The taste is much the same, starting out with honey, hay, and flowers and slowly fading to honey and finally a ghost of flowers. This tea was really fascinating, I will not say it is my favorite ever (I am still pretty new to Raw Pu-erh in general) but I loved the journey I went on with this tea, especially with the aroma of some of my favorite flowers. It was like spring flowers and autumn hay and pastoral things.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Teavivre: Superfine Tan Yang Gong Fu Black Tea, A Tea Review

Oh man, I have such terrible spring fever. I can barely sit still, I just want to go frolicking in the flowers and dance in rain of pollen. This happens to me every year, unless I am sick, since I am not I get to revel in the beauties of spring-time. Also the excellent surprise of my new Yixing arriving much sooner than I was expecting. I still have not decided which tea to season it for, I need to stare at it to get a good feel for it.

Today's Teavivre tea is one of Fujian's famous Gong Fu black teas, specifically Superfine Tan Yang Gong Fu Black Tea is considered to be the best. Grown in the Tanyang Village in Fu'an, Fujian, this delightfully fuzzy gold tea was plucked in March of 2013. The aroma is very fruity, strong notes of juicy plums with a side of roasted peanuts and a faint malt at the finish. I really want to make sure everyone knows this tea is very fruity, almost surprisingly so! It does not smell at all like a flavored tea, but like someone placed a plate of sliced plums right next to the leaves.

Once the leaves have been rinsed and steeped for their quick bath (a whopping five seconds!) the aroma pf the wet leaves is more predominantly roasted peanuts and malt with a finish of stewed plums. They have gone from fresh plums to cooked and rich plums. I am perfectly ok with that. The poured off liquid is surprisingly floral, a blend of sweet roses and honeysuckle with strong plums and peanuts. Very delicious smelling, I admit that I cannot wait to taste it.

The first thing I notice is the smooth mouthfeel, very smooth and a tiny bit fuzzy from the tricomes on the leaves. The initial steep is very mild, almost a bit too mild for my liking (it was only a five second steep, I guess I am not that refined yet) there was plum sweetness and roasted peanuts, but they seemed delicate preludes to the future.

For the second steep the aroma of the liquid is less floral and more stewed plums. It is very rich and sweet. Hello sweetness! The taste is much bolder than the previous steep, the roasted peanut is more prominent in the middle which fades to a sweet aftertaste.

The third steep's aroma is very sweet still, but with the floral notes no longer present and a strong roasted nut presence. It starts out with very sweet juicy stewed plums and roasted peanuts, this fades to a slightly peppery finish and has a fruity aftertaste that lingers for a while. The tea still has a very smooth mouthfeel.

For the fourth steep's aroma is still of stewed plums and roasted peanuts, but there is a peppery note and I notice it is not as sweet as the previous steep's aromas. The taste is just as sweet as before, but instead of being just stewed plums there is also a rich honey taste. This fades to malt and sweet potatoes and finishes with a peppery aftertaste. I really feel like the tea really shined this steeping.

The fifth steep, I really have nothing to add, it was almost identical in aroma and taste to the fourth steep. I savored every drop. I did notice the malt taste was a little weaker and the honey a little stronger, but the amount was minuscule.

And with the sixth steep I call it quits, the tea is fading and I am tea drunk. The aroma is fruity and sweet, blending stewed plums and bit of honey. The taste is pretty much the same as the aroma, plums and honey with a delicate peppery finish.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Teavivre: Organic Dehydrated Camellia, A Tea Review

I found a nice new paradise today. Located downtown-ish is a lovely walled in garden with a conservatory and loads of beautiful flowers. The Kauffman Memorial Gardens is going to be my new haven when I am desperately seeking an environment that is more nature filled, hopefully come summer there will be the occasional mushroom peaking out from amid the flowers.

Speaking of flowers, today's tea from Teavivre is one! Organic Dehydrated Camellia from the Lin'an Tea Garden in Zhejiang, is the dried flower of a member of the Camellia family, the same family that the beloved Camellia Sinensis comes from. I am not sure if this is the flower from the tea plant or one of the other Camellia variants, regardless, drinking tea (or tisane if you are fancy) made from flowers is one of my great passions. The aroma is a bit surprising, instead of smelling like flowers it smells like a blend of baking bread, cooked squash, and dried persimmons. It is really quite a fascinating aroma, very warm and almost autumnal in its quality.

The now quite soggy flowers are sweet and toasty, quite similar to actual toast with a hint of burnt marshmallow and a finish of cooked fruit. The liquid without the flowers smells exactly the same as the wet flowers, the aroma is very warm and welcoming. One of those times it feels like the aroma is reaching out and giving me a nice warm hug.

My first word of advice, don't treat these like a normal herbal tea, in other words, boiling is a no go. I am sure that Teavivre has steeping instructions on the website, but for all my staring at it I just could not find it. I attempted boiling water and four minutes for my first attempt and, well, I won't go into too much details about how it tasted. Long story short, it was not too pleasant. After browsing around the interwebs I discovered the best option is between 180-190 degrees for two minutes. That result was significantly better!

The taste is honey sweet, specifically it reminds me of the richness of clover honey and the sweetness of straw. If you have ever chewed on a piece of straw you know it has that distinctly warm sweetness, and this tea shares it. It fades to ripe persimmon fruit and the idea of flowers. A strange description, but it does not taste like flowers, it is very much so a sensation that is more aroma than taste, and very faint at that. The aftertaste is that of corn silk. A perfectly floral end to a floral day.