Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Denong Tea: 2016 Denong Commemorative Raw Pu-erh, A Tea Review

Well, other than a futon, installing shelves into my curio cabinet (one day that will get done) and maybe a nice rug, my tea room is done! I christened it by painting for the first time in months, I still desperately need new painting supplies, but I have enough to fiddle around still. It feels so good to have my own space, specifically have space that has SPACE, my bedroom was so cramped, now I actually have floor space which is awesome. Plus I only messed my back and hips up a little from moving furniture, which is astounding for me, usually I mess myself up bad because I can't every wait for help.

Today I am looking at an early spring 2016 Sheng from Denong Tea, their 2016 Denong Commemorative Raw Pu-erh, made from Xishuangbanna material. I have come to really enjoy their teas I have tried, especially the ones from Xishuangbanna, so I was excited to sink my teeth (tea-th?) into this tea. Of course the description says the tea will only improve with age, so really this is like the preview before the movie, and with Puerh I always find having a preview before the main event is just the best, because this is not a type of tea you just buy on a whim, usually it is an investment in both money and time. So, let us see what this tea has to offer! The aroma of the dry leaf had a surprising amount going on, wet hay, a touch of camphor, savory and buttery undertones, bok choy, and my favorite part, the distinct note of rained on peonies. Not just normal peony flowers, but ones that are rained on, bringing out more of the bruised flower and mineral note. It just might be the most floral Sheng I have run into, and to pick one of my favorite flowers to smell like made for a very enjoyable sniffing session.

Into my baby gaiwan the leaves go for their rinse and first steep, the aroma is still pretty potent! Notes of orchid, peony and distant wildflowers blend with watercress, bok choy and tomatoes. It is both savory and floral, which is fun combination, like having a meal next to a bouquet of flowers, and that is classy. The aroma of the liquid is more on the savory side, with bok choy and tomatoes with a hint of cedar wood and distant you are at the same table but someone wandered off with the arrangement and left you with the ghost of a smell.

So this is my kind of Sheng, it is light and sweet and for the first three steeps there is no bitterness at all. I know the hardcore Pu-heads like that bitterness, not me though, it almost always reminds me too much of beer and there are few things in life I loathe more than the taste of beer. Luckily for me I don't have to worry about it, I can just sit back and enjoy the sweet notes of peony nectar, the savory bok choy and watercress, and the touch of cedar wood that pops up towards the end of the third steep. The mouthfeel starts out light, but by the end of the mouth it is smooth and pleasantly cooling, later steeps bring in a subtle thickness that accents rather than distracts from the delicate taste.

The middle three steeps pick up a bit of bitterness, it is more the bitterness of romaine lettuce than hops so I am perfectly ok with that. Can I just take a moment to be amused how some bitter tastes I actively seek out and others make me convulse with disgust? Taste preferences are so weird, I find myself wondering often what causes such contrasting reactions in what is really a small difference. Anyway, tangent for a different time, for now this tea is the focus! The cedar notes from the end of the first part of this session becomes stronger, as does the cooler sensation in my belly. This tea really starts to bloom around steep four, as in it starts to become quite floral, the delicate peony nectar notes intensifies as does the sweetness, and that sweetness just lingers for ever. I had to run an errand between steeps six and seven, and I swear I could still taste that lingering sweetness a good hour later.

The leaves have really fluffed up in these later steeps, barely fitting in my gaiwan, and the golden liquid looks like sunlight, which matches the nectar sweetness really well I think. Mostly here are the end the taste is sweet, peony nectar and a gentle buttery bok choy note with subtle mineral notes. The mouthfeel continues to be smooth and gentle cooling, and the sweet aftertaste continues to linger. This was a really enjoyable tea, not one that was epiphany inducing, but still one that I found very tasty and especially enjoyed the floral notes.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, October 24, 2016

52Teas: When Doves Cry, A Tea Review

What rubbish timing my body has! The last week I have felt increasingly worse, headache that won't quit, increasing body aches, but then the coughing and fever started and all I could do was go 'well crap!' Every Autumn since I was a kid I get a chest infection, either sparked off by allergies or as a secondary infection from a cold or flu, and I am thinking since Ben has been snuffly that it is the latter. Stupid weak lungs, it is getting in the way of me setting up my tea room! Luckily baby Advil (because silly stomach hates pain killers) Robitussin, hot steams, and copious ginger and garlic have helped take the edge off, but I am still rather angry about it.

Today I am looking at a tea that has nothing to do with being ill, which is good, though I do admit when I am feeling really awful I tend to favor a giant mug of tea over gongfucha, and this tea is perfect mug tea. 52Teas' When Doves Cry, yes, it is a Prince tribute tea, I love Prince and his passing was a punch to the gut, so drinking a tea created in his honor while listening to his music seemed like a great tribute. Though honestly, even if this were not a tribute to one of my favorite musicians I would want it, it is made from White Tea, vanilla bean, dried apricots, and Candied violets...many of those things are favorites of mine and the combination sounded awesome. The tea smells good, with notes of vanilla and honey, apricots, a delicate violet note, and a finish of hay. Just the right amount of sweetness, not cloying but certainly not mild.

Steeping the tea really allows the base white tea to shine, with notes of lettuce, honey, melon, and hay. There are also notes of apricot and vanilla with a gentle sugar cane note at the finish. The incredibly colorful liquid (kinda blue, kinda green, violets turn things fun colors) is sweet and crisp, notes of honey and apricot dance with a distinct lettuce and broken hay note, I am glad the white tea is really standing out, a LOT of blends I have had with white tea just dro
wn it out.

So, it is very fitting that a Prince tribute tea be unique, and this tea certainly is that. The first thing I thought was that it tasted like vanilla ice cream with a topping of apricot jam, it is sweet and rich, doubly so with the candied violets adding sugary sweetness to the mix. After the initial burst of creamy fruity dessert the white tea steps in to say hello with notes of melon and hay with a crisp lettuce note. The end has a wonderful lingering wildflower and vanilla note, the vanilla lingers for quite a while. Usually I don't like my tea sweet, I only add sugar to Masala Chai, Ostfriesen Tea, and the occasional sour herbal, but clearly I liked this one since I tore through my sample super quickly, because sometimes it is good to step out of my 'norm' and have a little fun.

This tea was won in a giveaway.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Wayfair, #PositiviTea, A Tea Introspective

Recently Wayfair contacted me about their interesting #PositiviTea social campaign, spreading the good word about how tea, to many, is very comforting and like a little slice of home. Perfect timing since it is starting to (for at least half the world) move into the colder part of the year, where big mugs of tea and warm fuzzy robes reign supreme, so here is my little slice of tea themed happiness.

I love tea, anyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with the stuff, it is safe to say my life kinda revolves around Camellia sinensis. Years ago I just drank tea for the sake of hydrating myself with something warm (or cold, I am Southern and having a tall glass of sweet iced tea was synonymous with home) and enjoying the taste. It was a morning ritual to have a big mug of a strong Assam with cream and sugar, my day couldn’t start without tea. This eventually evolved into a passion for tea that in a way gave me purpose in life.

I am disabled, and not being able to work grated on my well being, I needed something to keep my occupied and all my attempts up to that point had failed. My mom, who I was sharing tea with at the time, suggested tea blogging, combine my passion of writing with my growing obsession with tea. I am so grateful for its existence, giving me an outlet and a purpose. And an enormous collection of gaiwans, yixing teapots, and adorable tiny cups.

Though I would be a terrible blogger if I just drank tea to ‘give me something to do’ trust me, I love this stuff. The sensory pleasure it brings me is worth more than any money can buy! Smelling or tasting a tea and having it call to mind a half forgotten memory, drinking a tea and have the intensity of taste shake off whatever funk has lodged itself into my brain, the various physical reactions my body has to the tea’s qi, and of course one cannot forget the beauty of the leaves and all the tea brewing tools! I do not drink tea for any health benefits or spiritual reason, no, I drink it because it brings me near infinite sensory enjoyment!

Most of all, tea makes me happy! It is impossible to not smile when admiring my collection of teaware, or hearing my kettle roaring to life. Even on my worst days, tea is always there to bring me comfort and even though my way of enjoying it has dramatically evolved over the years, it has always been there to comfort me.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Taiwan Treat: Amber Oolong Loose-Leafed Tea, A Tea Review

My life has taken an awesome and chaotic turn. First bit of awesome information, turns out that Rita's tour in Peace Corp is ending sooner than expected, this means that Ben and I can get married next Halloween! We were thinking it would be 2018 before things would work out, but nope, now I have to actually plan and not just ogle pretty dresses. A more immediate bit of awesome is that during Rita's brief visit she said once she left we can use her room for whatever, so it is getting turned into our bedroom...and the current bedroom is getting turned into my personal tea and gaming lair. I could have turned her room into my tea lair, but I really don't want to move all my tea gear until next year when we are moving, I just have way too much to move more than necessary!

Ah, Autumn, the season of roasted Oolongs! At least it is for me, it goes hand in hand, the color of the tea matches the color of the falling leaves, the taste matches the taste of the air, and of course the warmth is welcome on the increasingly chilly nights. When people call tea a hug in a cup, roasted Oolongs are always the ones that come to mind, which brings us to today's tea, Taiwan Treat's Amber Oolong. This is a good starting point if you are new to the world of roasted Oolongs, it is very approachable. The aroma of the leaves is very roasty and toasty, with strong notes of roasted grains (buckwheat, oats, and wheat come to mind) with a nutty sweet and honey undertone.

After the first steeping the aroma takes on a char note, along with the roasted grains and nutty sweetness, though it is more the aroma of sweet grains instead of honey as the roast takes over as the main note. The liquid reminds me, hilariously, of burnt cornflakes. Yes I know what that smells like, I lit one on fire as a teenager to settle a bet as to whether or not it would smell like burnt popcorn, it does not, it smells more like toast. There is also a note of sweetness and of Autumn leaves, keeping the thematic correct.

The first steep is pleasantly sweet, with notes of...well...cornflakes! There is also a note of char and burnt sugar in the middle, but it is light as roasted teas go, the main note is definitely corn related. With the cereal quality and smooth mouthfeel I almost want to say that this tea is a balanced breakfast, but that would be ridiculous, it does evoke breakfast though so maybe pair it with some pancakes!

The second steep takes the notes of the previous steep and increases them, stronger note of cornflakes (and even a bit of corn silk) and burnt sugar. There is still char, though since the other notes are stronger it seems that this steep is milder, focusing on the grain notes. Speaking of grains this steep is not all cornflakes all the time, there are also notes of buckwheat and toasted red wheat, giving it a nice toasted bread quality.

The third steep doesn't have a ton going on in taste or aroma, light cornflakes and gentle freshly toasted bread with a sweet and mineral undertone. I found this was really great in the evening before sleep, where I wanted a tea but did not necessarily want to sit around for a dozen steeps, and sadly leaving the leaves to the next morning doesn't always work because Espeon really loves tea. I don't want my cat to eat my tea leaves, she already tries to 'groom' my tea tray! I found this tea to be very comforting, even if it was not terribly nuanced.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Eco-Cha Tea Club: Dragon Boat Green Tea, A Tea Review

No real intro to today's blog, I feel a migraine that has been threatening to show up for the last couple days is finally hitting, and I can only barely see out of my left eye at the moment. Good thing I had most of this written earlier in the night!

Oh man, I am so behind on writing about the tea clubs I am in, which is one of the best examples of #teabloggerproblems (or #firstworldproblems, both count.) This one came in July, Eco-Cha's Dragon Boat Green Tea, named for the day it was picked on the Dragon Boat Festival between 10 am and 2 pm, because this is the most Yang time of the year, so it is thought this tea will be excellent for removing damp cold from the body...Traditional Chinese Medicine is all about balancing heat and cold, dry and wet, or at its most distilled form Yin and Yang. I knew from the little spoilers that Eco-Cha gives about their monthly club that July's box of goodies held a green tea made from Jin Xuan, but waited until it arrived before I spoiled myself on all the interesting details. When I opened the pouch I was honestly very surprised, it looked just like a rolled green Oolong, not a twisty leaf green I was expecting. I've only had one other green tea that looked like this before and it was from Indonesia, the Taiwanese green teas I have had looked more like Baozhong. I of course then proceeded to stick my nose in the leaves and inhale, I then proceeded to let out a very 90s 'whoa' in response. The aroma is immensely sweet, I can certainly tell this is a Jin Xuan with its sugar cane almost creamy sweetness, hints of buttery sugar cookies and sesame seeds. There are green notes as well, of crisp lettuce, fresh bamboo leaves, and snap peas. Seriously though, this tea is so sweet, it smells exactly like what I would hope a green Jin Xuan would smell like.

Into the gaiwan the leaves go, I decided to use my serpentinite gaiwan for this session, because I love the way green pops against the dark stone. The aroma maintains its sugar cane sweetness from the dry leaves, but takes on more green qualities with stronger notes of snap peas and lettuce and a touch of buttery asparagus. The liquid is buttery sweet sugar cookies and sugar cane with an accompaniment of bamboo leaves and a bit of lettuce. The liquid is where the sweetness shines the most. sugarcane and gentle butter cookies with a crisp undertone of bamboo leaves and snap peas.

This is a surprisingly tea, it truly is like a green and an oolong had a wild night and this is the result, combining notes from both. The first thing I really noticed and found not so much distracting but very intense was the thick oily mouthfeel, it is seriously thick, coating all my mouth with buttery sweetness. For all that the mouthfeel is super intense, the taste is fairly light. Gentle notes of fresh sugarcane and bamboo leaf with a snap pea and lily blossom finish. The aftertaste is a distant remnant of the blooming lily that lingers for a while.

The second steep really amazed me with how balanced it is, blending notes of buttery peas, asparagus and bamboo leaves with sesame seed candies, sugarcane, and lilies. It really is like a combination of a green (specifically I am reminded of Liu An Gua Pian) and of course a Jin Xuan Oolong, with notes of both, though more of a mouthfeel of the Jin Xuan. The aftertaste is like the first, a ghost of lily flower lingering after the cup has been emptied.

One thing about this tea that struck me (ok that is a lie, the mouthfeel knocked my socks off as well) was how refreshing it was. It tasted like the way swimming in a mountain stream on a hot summer day feels like, energizing and just happy, this tea made me happy while drinking it. The few times I have enjoyed it I kept finding myself having a hard time paying attention to the taste of the tea and just enjoying the cheery disposition it seemed to leave me with. I have decided to reserve the rest of my stash for days where I am in a foul mood!

This tea was purchased by me.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Teavivre: Black Tartary Buckwheat Tea Whole Embryo, A Tea Review

And now everyone has gone, Rita has returned to Peru and Ben's parents have returned to their other home in Madison. This means I have the house to myself, well for a little bit, at the beginning of November Ben's awesome cousin and his fiance will probably be turning into housemates, which is fun. Luckily they are both really cool people, so sharing the house with them will be fine with me (not that I leave the bedroom very often, but still) plus more people to share tea with!

Today's tea is not a tea, well it is in the whole 'it is a thing you steep then drink' sense, but it is not made from Camellia so technically it is not a tea, semantics! Teavivre's Black Tartary Buckwheat Tea Whole Embryo is a fantastic little grain that can do double duty as a drink and a breakfast. Fagopyrum tataricum is a species of buckwheat, meaning it is not a gluten having grass, it is also considered to be bitterer than common buckwheat, though I have never found it so. I adore this stuff, of the various grains I have steeped Tartary Buckwheat is probably my favorite. The aroma of the kernels is delicious, it smells like peanuts, toasted wheat, honey, and...well...buckwheat! The aroma reminds me a bit of peanut butter Captain Crunch, but unlike that cereal I can enjoy it without it cutting my mouth (seriously Captain Crunch, you kill my mouth.)

Into a pretty glass teapot the kernels go, usually I have problems with this teapot's astronomically slow pour, but since it is really hard to oversteep this stuff I was not sad about using it. After they have steeped and the kernels have softened and expanded, the aroma is very tasty, if you are a fan of cereal. Which I am. There are notes of toasted grains, honey, cereal, and definitely peanut butter. The liquid without its seedy goodness is very sweet, strong notes of peanuts and toasted wheat with a caramel and honey finish. I adore how sweet this stuff is, and how it smells like peanuts.

This time of year just calls for this kind of drink, autumn and toasted grain goes together like peanut butter and bread. Which conveniently is what this steeped kernels kinda tastes like! With a thick and smooth mouthfeel and a soothing feel, this is the best thing to drink at 4AM when your region of the world is experiencing its first freeze. The taste is wonderfully sweet, like a honey and peanut butter sandwich on a nice toasted grain heavy bread. Unlike a lot of herbal teas I found I could get more than one steep, though the later steeps require a very long steep time so the liquid is rather cool by that point. Still super tasty though when chilled! One of the best features of course is the cleanup of the buckwheat, just grab a spoon and eat a tasty midnight snack.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Teavivre: Huizhou Emperor Chrysanthemum Tea, A Tea Review

Ah, autumn! I am loving the weather, it is cool and crisp, the leaves are turning, and there are pumpkins everywhere. Also skulls. This Halloween skulls are super in, and I am fighting the urge to buy up every piece of interesting skull decor for my tea desk and future wedding, but it is hard! The hunt is, of course, still on for the perfect 'spooky' piece of teaware from the thrift stores, no luck yet!

Today's tea will always make me think of the Tang Dynasty, mostly because of the movie Curse of the Golden Flower (or Curse of the Golden Corset as I call it) because they really had an obsession with Chrysanthemums. The movie, while beautiful, is certainly not one of my favorites...but the Tang Dynasty will always be my favorite period of Chinese history, rivaled by the Three Kingdoms Period of course. This really has nothing to do with anything, save a love of an aesthetic, so without further ado, Teavivre's Huizhou Emperor Chrysanthemum Tea! A beautiful single blossom individually packaged, it made me feel like royalty with the presentation, it also meant that the risk of the flower being crushed into oblivion was minimal which is always nice. The aroma of the flower is very lovely and pure, as though I have a fresh chrysanthemum sitting next to me. Trying to describe the aroma is a challenge, because it smells like chrysanthemums, describing tea is easy since it almost always has notes of other things, but for some reason this particular flower has always challenged me. I will try, assuming the reader has never sniffed one, to find a comparison. There are notes of daisy, wild flowers, pollen, lettuce, white pepper, straw, and gentle almost creamy sweetness. It smells like autumn and nostalgia, a very happy smell for me.

Now I could have gongfu'd this flower, I have thrown many a chrysanthemum into a gaiwan and steeped as such, but since this one is so special I thought I would go for a clear cup and just let it float around while I sipped it. Again, talk about feeling like royalty, there is something very princess like about drinking a cup of flower. The aroma is much like the dry flower but stronger and sweeter, it lacks some of the more potent sharp notes that some yellow chrysanthemums (especially Tai Ju, which are mostly buds) have.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, chrysanthemum has quite the reputation for being a cooling herb, it is also one of the few medicinal herbs I drink not just for taste but for its usefulness, especially this time of year. I am not sure which of the chemical compounds in this flower it is (because of course the internet has conflicting info and I no longer have my books on TCM) but one of them does wonders for sore throats and as an expectorant, making it a must have around during allergy season. It also settles my stomach so I drink it after big meals or before bed, granted I am not one to recommend medical stuff since my body is super weird (and they do not help Ben's allergies at all) but it is an interesting bit of trivia. Plus it helped me pass the time waiting for the flower to steep!

The taste and mouthfeel is fantastic! Like a chrysanthemum flower should be, the texture of the liquid is thick and slippery, coating my mouth in a nice cooling sensation, like the world's mildest Biotene mouth spray. Honestly the texture reminds me of that as well, but with no mint to be found...which is completely fine with me! Some chrysanthemum flowers are very sweet, others are very pungent and medicinal, this one is way on the sweet spectrum. None of the sharp more medicinal qualities are really present, just the wonderfully sweet nectar of fresh golden chrysanthemum. With notes of honey, pollen, wildflowers, daisies, straw, and a lingering aftertaste of sugar.

One fantastic thing about this single flower that really struck me was how many refillings of the cup I could get before it finally faded out, it has some great resteep value going on. I got four very flavorful cups and at least three more very mild but pleasant ones. At first, when looking at the price, I thought it a bit too steep for my blood, but after seeing how much life I could get out of it I realized it was not bad at all. Plus, taste aside, part of the price does come from the spectacular presentation, it looks spectacular while steeping. I found it so lovely that when I had sucked every bit of flavor from the blossom I stuck it in a different cup of tea just to extend the visual enjoyment.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.