Friday, September 23, 2016

Grand Tea: Raw Pu-erh Cake- Simao 1998, A Tea Review

I owe Grand Tea an apology, it has taken me forever to drink the sample of the Raw Pu-erh Cake- Simao 1998, and my reason is a little silly. I liked the 1999 Simao, but something that that tea and this one had in common is the smell triggered something in my brain to avoid it. Now don't get me wrong, I liked the smell, but everything in my brain screamed 'do not put this in your mouth' which is an odd reaction for me (what with my strange compulsion to taste non-food things) but it happens sometimes. Usually my reaction to mushrooms (the common Agaricus bisporus, aka button mushrooms, portobello, and cremini is the main culprit) is like this, I had to retrain my brain to recognize them as food, same with yogurt and blue cheese. I decided to let the sample rest for a while before digging in, to see if the more swampy quality would mellow out. I love swamps, have spent large portions of my life playing in them, but swamp water is a microbial nightmare so maybe that is why my brain freaks out.

The minute I stuck my nose in the sample I knew I had made the right call. The aroma was not one of Swamp Thing's basement, instead it smelled a LOT like beets. Juicy, freshly cut and slightly sweet while being rooty and earthy beets. I swear it smells so much like I just ripped a beet out of the earth, brushed the soil off, and took a bite. There is a faint note of old books and wet soil and wood, but it takes a serious backseat to the beet note. Can you tell I am really excited by the beets?

Into my baby gaiwan the compressed leaves go. When I first opened this sample months ago it had a bit of fuzz on it, said fuzz has vanished, now the leaves are dark and compressed, and could sneakily pass for a shou for those not in the know. I hit the leaves with boiling water for a rinse and gave it a flash steep for steep number one, and the aroma of the leaves is pretty fantastic. It is a blend of gentle fresh mushrooms, wet mushroom soil, a very distant note of woodsmoke, wet slate, and of course lots of beet goodness. The aroma of the liquid is sweet and earthy, with notes of mineral, beets, and a light medicinal camphor quality.

The first couple of steeps are pure undiluted beet goodness. Earthy and rooty with an intense sweetness that starts light and sugary at the first steep and is intensely sweet by the the third steep, it is like drinking a sugar beet, or a beet covered in beet sugar. The first steep is pretty much all beet all the time, but the second and third steep bring out notes of wet soil and a bit of a medicinal valerian root bitterness and wet wood. As for physical reactions, the mouthfeel is pretty light, a slight dryness at the back of the throat and sides of the mouth, and a bit of a heaviness in my limbs. One odd thing I noticed is I got a strange pressure feeling in my belly, like I had a massive burp stuck under my lower esophageal sphincter and pushing on my diaphragm. It was not necessarily uncomfortable, just weird.

On to the next several steeps, usually this would be steep four through six, but it is actually all the way through steep ten, since that is when I noticed any real change. The sweetness of the first several steeps is still present, intensely sweet beet and sugar blend with wet wood and a bit of a bitter dry cocoa, like I ate a brownie and found a pocket of unmixed cocoa powder (yes this has happened, I haven't always been a decent baker.) The sweetness reaches its peak at steep five and stays at the same level until steep ten, with underlying shifting notes of wet wood, medicinal herbs (specifically valerian and sweet wormwood) and a bit of wet leather. The mouthfeel is light, no real intense textures except a bit of dryness at the back of the throat and sides of the mouth, creeping up the tongue as well in later steeps. That pressure in my stomach has bloomed into vague nausea and I am starting to get really hot and dizzy, but I had been battling with insomnia and my Fibromyalgia flaring up so it could be unrelated, but since these effects didn't show up until I was drinking this tea I feel it is safe to at the very least mention it.

I went fifteen steeps with this tea, and it didn't seemed to be finished, though by steep ten it was starting to fade, just fade very VERY slowly. I could have probably pushed this tea at least couple more steeps, but honestly I was starting to get bored. I liked the notes present in this tea, especially the beet (which was the dominant) but just because I like beets doesn't mean I want to eat an entire bushel of them in one sitting. Even though this tea was not terribly nuanced I found myself enjoying it, I think this would be a good introductory tea for someone who wants to experience a Sheng with a bit of age on it...or someone who really likes beets!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Golden Tea Leaf: Charcoal Roasted Jade Oolong, A Tea Review

Two little blog announcements before I start off on the tea ramble. First, the blog has received its first donation from a reader, and I have to say a huge THANK YOU!! When Ben gave me the news (since Paypal is connected to his email) I just sat in giddy awe for a bit, that wonderfully generous news put a positive spin on what was turning out to be a dreadful day. The second bit of news is as I am sure my steady readers noticed (or the ones who follow me on facebook and saw the announcement) I missed a day of blogging, boo!! I had hopped that with this new schedule that would not happen, but I didn't take into account multiple days of being under the weather, so to make up for it I will post two reviews.

Today I am looking at Golden Tea Leaf's Charcoal Roasted Jade Oolong, a uniquely roasted Oolong. Usually when I run into Oolongs that are charcoal roasted they are dark in color and very strong in the char department, but this one was roasted repeatedly over low heat meaning it retained some of its green while still having iconic charcoal roasted notes. I was surprised when I opened the package to find silk sachets full of tea rather than loose leaf, but was pleased to see the sachet is fairly large meaning the leaves will be able to expand some. The aroma of the leaves inside their little sack is delightfully roasty toasty, with notes of corn silk, roasted barley, sweet toasted buckwheat, and a bit of freshly baked oatcake. It certainly brings the grains and nutty notes, and even has a slight touch of toasted acorns at the finish, which was peculiar but quite fun.

I was torn on how to go about brewing this tea, on the one hand it is in a sachet so it would be so easy to toss it in a mug and call it a day, or grandpa steep it, or cut the bag open and gongfu as normal since my gaiwan was all ready to go. I decided to be silly with it and just gongfu the bag, I mean, why not? The wet bag of leaves smells strongly of toasted grains, like oats, buckwheat, barley, and a bit of cracked wheat. Alongside these sweet and toasted grains is a touch of cooked spinach at the finish. The liquid has notes of honey drizzled buckwheat and sweet corn with a touch of barley and a distant buttery quality. It is light and sweet with a great amount of toast, reminding me of cereal.

The first steep starts with a honey drizzled oatcake note with a side of toasted buckwheat. It is sweet with a toasted buttery grain quality that tastes sooo good, it is like drinking breakfast. Towards the middle the buttery quality increases, as does the buckwheat, it is not as sweet, but that is fine since the grain quality reminds me of toast. At the finish there is a delicate note of spinach that is light, but adds a touch of green and savory to a mostly sweet steep. There is a light honey aftertaste that does not linger for too long.

On to the second steep, which still smells strongly of cereal and a bit of toast. The roast is a bit more present this time, it is still honey sweet but the sweetness takes a step back and lets the notes of toasted grain become the dominant. Notes of toasted oats and roasted buckwheat blend with a touch of rye and wheat. The aroma reminds me a bit of granola and again, makes me think of breakfast.

For the third steep, there was not a ton of change between the second and third, and the third to fourth for that matter. I sat with this tea for several steeps and was amused by the bag stretched to its limit containing the puffed up leaves, though they did not really get to expand to their full size, it was like a leaf corset. Man, I really wish I could draw because that gave me the best mental image...anyway...On a whim I grandpa steeped the bag for its finish and was rewarded with a wonderful buttery, buckweat and honey tea that was both light and wonderfully sweet. It was my last tea session of the day and quite a relaxing one at that, even if I did really want oatcakes afterwards.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Whispering Pines Tea Company: Golden Snail, A Tea Review

Operation redo my entire tea area and most the bedroom began last night accidentally. Friends were getting rid of an awesome set of glass shelves that I gladly took off their hands, my teaware hoard is getting out of hand and taking over every spare surface in the room! Currently the shelf is loaded with my teaware, it will be thinned out a bit as soon as I get my shelf inserts for the curio cabinet (one day) then the tea storage shelf needs to have all the tea transferred to a different shelf which needs cleaning off, it is a big project. What is done though is my painting desk was rearranged, the bulk of the desk held my fishtank which was moved to where the teapots previously lived and now my big tea tray lives there. Sadly I realized too late that my tea tray is in a dark cubby so now I need a desk lamp. The things I do for organization in a very small space.

Today I am looking at a tea that is not only tasty, it is pretty! One of the things that first drew me to Dian Hongs is their beautiful golden trichomes, the fuzzy goodness. Whispering Pines Tea's Golden Snail is definitely a beauty, nice tight little spirals covered in gold with bits of the dark leaf showing through...the color reminds me of my Tortoiseshell cat! Luckily (or sadly) the smell does not remind me of my cat (I wish she smelled like tea) the aroma is lovely, classic notes of malt and cocoa blend with sweet potatoes, maple syrup, and a delicate finish of cherries, walnuts, and cherry blossoms at the finish.  It is sweet with just a slight nuttiness, reminding me of a loaded sweet potato that needs to be eaten by me...I clearly need food.

The steeped tea in my beloved Petr Novak pot smells super good, notes of walnuts and sweet potatoes (sweeter than the starchy yams) sandalwood, cocoa, and a woody undertone. The liquid is sweet and rich, notes of sweet potato, molasses, peanuts and walnuts, and a touch of cocoa waft up with the steam from my cup.

First steep is wonderfully rich and sweet, with a thickness that coats the mouth with honey and molasses. The dominant taste for the first steep is sweet honey and starchy but not too starchy sweet potatoes, specifically reminding me of those sweet potato patties that you buy frozen in the South (I assume they are elsewhere but I only ran into them growing up) and a bit of a woody cacao nib finish. The aftertaste is a hint of molasses that lingers for a while.

The second steep, while having the thick mouthfeel of the first, is also joined by a tingly camphor like texture, similar to drinking a Sheng, and something that just screams Yunnan to me. Granted some teas from that region have a stronger tingle than others, and processing does have an impact, but once in a while you get a Dian Hong that feels almost effervescent. The taste is very rich, strong notes of molasses and cocoa blend with peanuts and walnuts with just a hint of sweet potato. The dominant note is definitely dark chocolate, think like the 80% dark (I do love that stuff) with an aftertaste of molasses and cocoa.

This steep is pleasantly mellow, still has a thick mouthfeel, but no longer the tingle. The taste has mellowed out a bit as well, still has strong notes of molasses and stronger notes of sweet potato like the first steep, but the dark chocolate notes have calmed down. There is something new, towards the end with a note of peanut there is a delicate note of dried cherry. It kept teasing me in the aroma but has finally shown up in taste! This is a wonderful tea, an excellent example of a Golden Bi Luo Chun (or Hong Jin Luo, it has a couple names) being visually stunning and wonderfully tasting.

This tea was a gift.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

MeiMei Fine Teas: 2006 Yi Wu Shu Pu'erh Tea Cake Tong Qing Hao, A Tea Review

I am full of Indian food! Ben's parents are back from their summer home for a bit for a wedding and other events, so they took us out for food. I'm actually finishing this post up from my phone since next we are off to visit local friends of theirs. Ben and I were amused because the two of us are pooped, mostly because different schedules, but his parents want to party! So atypical! 

'Tis the season for Shou! Well almost, late summer through til spring for me means drinking the ripe stuff, mostly because it is notorious for heating up the body and the last thing I want is extra internal heat when I am already suffering summer's warmth. I spend all summer craving it, sneaking in sessions on cooler nights to quench my cravings, one of those nights I enjoyed MeiMei Fine Teas' 2006 Yi Wu Shu Pu'erh Tea Cake Tong Qing Hao. With a decade's worth of age on it there is no fear of the headache inducing pile aroma/taste, and being from Yiwu it promises that region's sweetness which is always appreciated. The aroma has the classic shou notes of earthy peat and loam, with a touch of wet leather, molasses, and a sweet lingering note of very ripe juicy plums. I think this might be the first shou I have run into with a strong plum note and it works really well with the earthy notes.

After the initial rinse and first steep, the aroma is quite sweet, almost caught me off guard how sweet it is! The wet leaves smell of molasses, honey, caramel, stewed plums and an underlying earthy loam note. It might be one of the least loamy shous I have snuffled! The liquid smells of sweet creamy milk caramel and molasses with a wet leather and gentle loam note.

So, when I started out with this tea I went with my 'molten bowl' a luminous golden wide bowl, expecting a dark inky shou, but no this was a paler shou that practically glowed in the bowl. The tea started out surprisingly strong and thick, I was expecting with such a pale color it would be a gentle build, but the mouthfeel instantly coats my entire mouth with thick almost sticky texture. The tastes are also quite sweet, fruity notes of cooked plums and dark cherries, rich molasses and cocoa, and a creamy almost milky caramel quality. There is a bit of loam, but it does not really show up until the third steep and it is quite light.

The middle steeps bring the earthy notes of loam and rain drenched soil, but it is overshadowed by the sweet notes of cooked plums and cherries with a slight tangy apricot. It very much reminds me of eating fruit on a rainy autumn day with the windows open and the smell of rain kissed earth waft in through the window. I was really pleased with how sweet it is, and light compared to most shous while still being very obviously a shou.

For the latter steeps, the last three, the tea starts to fade fairly noticeably around steep seven and is essentially done by steep nine. The end is all sweetness and gentle fruit, gentle molasses and cooked plums eventually drift off to gentle mineral and faded caramelized sugar. This tea fascinated me, on the one hand I would say this is the most noob friendly shou I have had, none of the rank 'fishy death' of a lot of the shous that people new to puerh get the 'joy' of experiencing (feel the sarcasm) and not an overwhelming earthiness that I have seen a lot of people be put off by. At the same time this tea was wonderful, and I say that as someone who has happily quaffed a bunch of shou. Usually I like to drink this type of tea before sleep since I find it very relaxing and warming (like a hot bath but drinkable! I mean you can drink bathwater, but eww) but something about this one says 'breakfast' to me, probably because it reminded of some of the more fruity Dian Hongs I love. I only wish it would have lasted a bit longer, but sometimes lovely things die too soon, like butterflies.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Green Tea Guru: The Classic 58, A Tea Review

Guess who was up all night looking at Magic cards for deck planning? Ugh, it is that time of my sleep schedule cycle where my body insists on staying up later and sleeping later, meaning that in a few days I will have one of those days where I get no sleep then sleep for like 14 hours and my cycle resets. It is obnoxious but at least there is a pattern! I did, in my searching, found a card I was unaware of and want for my in progress Mono Black Commander deck, Army of the Damned! Because dropping 13 2/2 zombies on my opponent late game and seeing the look of anguish on their face. #Unlifegoals

Today I am looking at Green Tea Guru's The Classic 58, a Dian Hong which hails from Feng Qing, Lincang and is created by the Feng Qing Tea Factory. The name is a reference to the recipe developed by the factory back in 1958, the leaves are hand picked and processed from 50-70 year old bushes. There is a reason this is a classic, and not just the emulation of style, it is a perfect example of what Dian Hongs can offer. If I was introducing someone to this style of tea for this first time, this is definitely one I would recommend as a starting point. The long needles have an equal blend of fuzzy gold and dark leaf color, and the aroma is oomph. Strong notes of malt and cocoa blend with brown sugar and molasses with a mineral and woody undertone. The very tail end of the sniff gives a bit of yams and myrrh, finishing off with sweet starchiness and resinous richness.

I thought on a whim I would play some of the top musical hits of 1958, but sadly I found out I was not a huge fan of that year, so I jumped ahead in the future and sipped this tea while listening to my Acid Rock (it is called Low pH, it also has a good bit of Swamp Rock, which is funny since the blackwater swamps of the South are more acidic, I AM SUCH A DORK) station on Pandora. Musical accompaniment aside, the aroma of the leaves is sweet! Notes of brown sugar, malt, and cocoa dance together with a whiff of myrrh and a touch of camphor. I am impressed with how strong the malt note is, it is definitely the dominant note on the wet leaves. The liquid is also pretty malty, but the dominant note is brown sugar sweetness and roasted peanuts with a resinous pine sap and myrrh undertone.

The first steep is a tiny bit brisk, but falls pretty abruptly into smooth and slippery, leaving the initial briskness as a memory. The first note that pops up is brown sugar, it lingers for pretty much the entire sip, but it is dominant at the front. In the middle there are notes of camphor and myrrh with a peanut and specifically peanut shell woodiness. The finish is cocoa and sweet, it is very rich and the brown sugar lingers happily in my mouth.

Ever had one of those teas that smell so good that while sniffing it you dip your nose into the tea, yeah that happened to me...again. It was worth it for those notes of brown sugar, peanut, and resin.  I am not surprised that a tea that prides itself on replicating a recipe from 1958 delivers on consistency. There is no real change between steeps with tasting notes, the addition of molasses at the finish being the most noticeable change. However there is a taste in texture, instead of an initial briskness and slipperiness, it is all smooth and thick, like warm watered down honey.

The third steep takes its cues from the second, not altering much in notes that are present, but it does change in level of intensity. The peanut and cocoa note are stronger, as is the molasses, with the brown sugar and and malt taking a bow and being there in lightness.  This tea became an instant favorite, it is called a classic for a reason, it has the iconic notes I associate with Dian Hong and it is not a surprise that I only have a little bit of my sample left!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

MeiMei Fine Teas: Artisan Liu An Gua Pian (Sunflower Seeds) Green Tea, A Tea Review

Last night while playing Ark: Scorched Earth, I finally ran into a Death Worm, and then several other Death Worms, and then an Alpha Death Worm. I find this very amusing since it has taken me forever to find one, let alone several! The trick was using a Wyvern (specifically my really OP Fire Wyvern named Nicol Bolas) and flying at full speed, you see them pop onto screen for just a second while things render in, then I lander and teased one out of the sand and proceeded to eat its face. My first encounter went a bit differently though, I was on my Lightning Wyvern (whose name is Kolagan, yes I have themed all the names around Tarkir) and was out hunting new high level eggs in the World Scar when I landed and out popped a worm! It was very exciting!

Today I am looking at one of my favorite types of Chinese green teas, Artisan Liu An Gua Pian (Sunflower Seeds) Green Tea from MeiMei Fine Teas. It is a fascinating type of tea, hailing from Anhui, instead of the usual buds that are used for green, this tea uses the second leaf and it is plucked so that all of the leaf stem (or petiole for the botany types) is left behind. It is then fried on a wok and rolled giving it the iconic seed shape. The aroma is lovely, you can smell the roasting of the green for sure, giving it a toasted sesame and sunflower seed aroma along with crisp notes of zucchini, peas, asparagus and a very distant savory kelp note. It is very fresh and green, with the toasted notes giving it a sweetness. 

One of the things that makes this tea a favorite is its versatility in brewing, you can do just about anything to this tea and it still tastes good. I love gongfu-ing this tea, but my real favorite way of drinking it is good ol' bowl style, just tossing the leaves into a bowl or travel steeper and topping off with hot water as the day goes on is wonderful. Part of the thing that makes it so enjoyable is the appearance of the vibrant green leaves floating in the water, they are beautifully emerald. Of course the smell isn't half bad either! It is a blend of savory asparagus and bok choy with slightly sweet and green peas and a tiny bit of cooked spinach. You can tell this is a green vegetal tea, with only a hint of nuttiness. 

The first emptying of the bowl (or in my case very large clay rabbit cup) is wonderfully green and refreshing! It has a touch of thickness, but mostly the mouthfeel is smooth and light, which compliments the vegetal notes well I think. There are touches of sweet chestnut and snap peas, a crisp note of asparagus and spinach, with a buttery vegetal finish of bok choy and peas with a tiny hint of cooked zucchini. The aftertaste is sweet, lingering chestnut in the mouth which outlasted my patience for more sips (what? I was thirsty!)

Later refills really bring the sweetness, with crisp notes of snap peas and raw bell peppers (think just the juicy inside and not the skin) with a tiny bit of bean sprouts and a lingering sweet chestnut. Definitely the tea to lazily sip on a hot day since it is so refreshing, even though it is warm, the crisp vegetal notes always seem very cool to me. Even though I am writing this (and sipping at the same time, I started writing and realized 'hey I want some of that') on a cool day it still is very refreshing. 

I definitely recommend trying it this way, it is a great way to enjoy a quality tea. The finishing refills are buttery and almost savory, with lingering light spinach and bok choy notes and sweet chestnut linger aftertaste. It lasted for a few refills, like most greens it does not have a ton of longevity (when compared to the likes of Oolongs and Puerh) but when it is around it is great. 

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Liquid Proust Teas: Berry Genmaicha, A Tea Review

Oh I am so sleepy today! I stayed up late playing MTG with Ben, mostly building and testing my new Mono Black Control deck. It needs work, but the supplies to build it were light on the ground so for what I had it works well. I want it to be themed around specters and horrors, with lots of annoying discard for my opponent, it will be a fun alternative to my zombie hoard, though I still need to make a blue black zombie deck. So many deck ideas and so little time.

Today I am looking at another blend by Liquid Proust Teas, Berry Genmaicha, which is a blend of genmaicha and strawberries with flavoring. I have a real weakness for blended Genmaicha, something it tends to just work for me...or on a few occasions fail spectacularly. Success or failure, the adventure is always fun! The aroma of this genmaicha is pretty much identical to Captain Crunch berries, I kid you not, if you stuck a box of this cereal under my nose and this tea I doubt I could tell you which is which. The resemblance is pretty hilarious, but upon further sniffing and warming the leaves with my snuffling I can pick out the toasted rice and a bit of grassy green, but for the most part this is crunch berries.

Woo, my tea area smells like Captain Crunch! It is making me laugh a bit since that was not a smell I expected to ever come out of my little houhin! Along with the very sweet crunch berries there are gentle notes of hay and spinach with a touch of rice. The liquid is all berries all the time! Super sweet and a touch of rice, but mostly it smells like a bowl of milkless cereal.

Well, this tea is both tart and sour, it is very berry but not the kind of berry I like. I love my berries very sweet, if I buy a thing of strawberries or blueberries and they are tart or sour, well, it is safe to say my day is not really ruined but certainly not improved. I was so hoping for a sweet berry burst, but alas, it was not to be. I tried a second steep and got the same result, but with more of the grassy and spinach green tea base with a nice finish of toasted rice. Sadly this blend was not for me, really, but I am sure someone who likes their berries tart would love this!

This tea was purchased by me.