Thursday, May 28, 2015

Golden Moon Tea: Coconut Pouchong, A #TBT Tea Review

I never have enough time on Thursdays, what was once my favorite day of the week is more and more becoming one of my least favorites. Oddly enough, I am being overwhelmed by gaming, who would have thought? Seafall Playtesting and D&D, while both being immensely enjoyable, just eat up so much time. And with sharing a computer and Ben needing it a lot lately, I have fallen so behind in things that it has become a source of massive stress. Tomorrow is shaping up to be crazy too, going house hunting and such, so maybe...just maybe...this weekend I can catch up on things. What I really need to do is stop letting things overwhelm me, go back to practicing Wu Wei and just chill out, be as water and let things flow.

Philosophy and stress aside, it is Thursday, meaning it is time for a Throwback! Today we are taking a look at Golden Moon Tea's Coconut Pouchong, a blend of Pouchong Oolong (Bao Zhong as it is also called) and Coconut Extract. At the time of procuring this tea, I was having a serious coconut craving and just kept being disappointed by various ones I tried. I should have immediately gone to oolong blended with coconut, but for some reason the idea sounded kinda nasty, in hindsight, maybe it was because I was drinking mostly roasted oolongs at the time, I could see roasted oolong and coconut tasting weird...or really good...not sure. Anyway, I am rambling, the long, curly, and fairly green leaves smell really delicious, like mouthwateringly so, blending creamy sweet coconut (like breaking into a fresh coconut rather than coconut milk or water) with chestnuts, toasted almonds, and a slightly distant floral finish. The aroma is super creamy and rich, bordering on buttery, it is super intense, definitely the most 'coconutty' of the various coconut teas I have sniffed.

In my steeping basket, the entire room smells like coconut. Feel bad for Ben, since he hates coconut with a passion, like he doesn't even like curries with coconut, and those tend to be really mild, so tragic! Really though, it is pervasive, like a tropical breeze slowly drifting out of my cup like a heady mist. All I get is coconut in the wet leaves, the liquid, however is joined by nutty notes of chestnut and a delicate orchid aroma.

First off, let's discuss this mouthfeel, it is super creamy, it is one of those mouthfeels that coats the entire mouth, bordering on oily...much like eating coconuts! The taste, well, unsurprisingly it starts out with a full blast of coconut, like blending fresh coconut and refreshing coconut water (I love that stuff, one time on a 22 hour bus trip I brought two huge containers of it and drank nothing but coconut water, good times) it is intensely rich. The midtaste is chestnuts and sweetness, and the finish has a delicate touch of orchids that lingers. As the tea cools (one of the joys of drinking out of a mug, you get to experience the slow taste change as the tea cools) it brings out more of the floral and chestnut notes.

I went for a second steep, the aroma is still intensely coconutty, but it no longer fills the entire room turning it into a tropical adventure. There is a note of spring vegetation and chestnut as well! The taste is still intensely coconut, and the mouthfeel smooth, but this steep lets the Bao Zhong base shine through more, bringing out more the floral and fresh vegetation notes. Notes of orchid and honeysuckle blend delicately with growing things and fresh leaves. On a whim once I gaiwaned this tea and got a whopping eight steeps out of it before the coconut died, oddly brewing it in a gaiwan made it less nuanced, which I found fascinating. I got this as a sample, loved it, and then bought a large pouch of it...drank a few cups...and then have not touched it since. The coconut is so intense in this tea that you really have to be in the mood for coconut, and this tea satisfied that craving so thoroughly I have not really craved it since. I know I will want it again, which is why I have not traded or gifted it away.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What-Cha: Fujian Golden Buds Tan Yang Gongfu Black Tea, A Tea Review

I have such a love-hate relationship with packing, I really do. There is a part of me that dreads it (mostly because it never fails that I pack a thing up and then an hour later realize I need said thing again) and a large part of me that loves it. It is my favorite part of moving, the nostalgic feeling towards the place you are living as it slowly reverts back to the form you first saw it in, a bare house/apartment/room. Plus you can find a lot of things you just don't need anymore stuffed in storage, in the back of a closet, and so forth, it is freeing. This will be the fifteenth or sixteenth time I have moved in my (almost) thirty years of life, I look forward to the adventure!

Now that I have my Das Uber 80s Pop Pandora station blaring on my speakers, it is time to put aside the boxes and have a look at What-Cha's Fujian Golden Buds Tan Yang Gongfu Black Tea! I am kicking myself for not covering this one earlier since it seems Alistair is out of stock on the larger size, I hope that more comes in because I am going to want more. I love What-Cha (like you all couldn't tell by this point) but trying to decide which teas to get at what order is an intense process! This tea is named for its appearance (Golden Buds) where it was grown (Tanyang Village in Fujian, China) and the artistry which created it (Gongfu) and of course the kind of tea (Black Tea!) The aroma of these delicate needles is something else, intense notes of sweet potatoes and acorn squash. There are also notes of roasted peanuts and lesser notes of raisins with a pinch of smoke. Quite the delicious smelling tea, but I have a serious weakness for black teas with sweet potato and roasted peanut notes.

Into my sexy tall gaiwan the leaves go, I mostly got this tea-set with its tall lines because it works for steeping needly teas, would be an utter fail with oolongs! Brewing the leaves makes the tea area I was stationed at smell super rich and delicious, I could practically taste the tea in the air above the gaiwan, I consider that a good sign! There are notes of sweet potatoes and also delicate sweet notes of flowers and fruit, hard to distinguish which ones since it is pretty light, but it is certainly there. The liquid is some good old fashioned sweet taters cooked in a fire, you know, even though they are wrapped super tight with foil, you still get a hint of smoke. Add in a distant hint of sweet stone fruit and you have yourself a yummy smelling tea. 

I took the photos and tasting notes for this tea when I was visiting my mom for Christmas, so she got to try it with me, and seeing the pair of cups in the photos makes me homesick. Luckily for the internet and texting I can talk to her while I am typing this up, yay for technology! The first steep is nice and mellow, with a very well rounded mouthfeel, not too thick, but certainly has a presence. The taste starts off with a hint of malt and a rich sweet potato note, it is yamtastic! Actually the taste is more like yams since it is on the sweet side. The taste moves right along to roasted peanuts and a delightful aftertaste of stewed dark cherries.

Oh man, the aroma this steep is intense! It starts with sweet potatoes and roasted peanuts, and then adds in some definite cherry notes and a cocoa rich finish. The mouthfeel is bright this steep, has a bit of a zinginess with a slightly drying, tingly finish. The taste starts out with the smoked yams, there is a definite smokiness, but it is more distant fire or things cooked on a fire rather than char or eating fire (like Lapsang Souchong can be) the finish is a blend of peanuts and cocoa, like a richer version of a peanut-butter cup.

Third steeping is like a flashback to the first, a gentle smoked sweet potato and definitely cherries with a hint of cocoa at the finish. The mouthfeel has gone back to being well rounded, no more drying, just smooth and slightly thick. The taste is sweet potatoes and cocoa, with a touch of smoke at the finish. This last steep was a little meh, but it was still tasty, just greatly overshadowed by the previous steep. I did a fourth steeping which was mild and sweet, by the fifth steeping I could tell it was done so I traveled no further. As per usual I (almost) never meet a Chinese Black/Red tea I did not enjoy, and this was no exception!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Tea Shelf: Halmari Clonal Assam Black, A Tea Review

As a painter of miniatures, I have finally gotten to the point where one wet palette is not enough. I was using stacking plastic cups, you know the kind that sauce comes in at restaurants, I have a big blending project in my actual wet palette, and these work on the short term, they still dry out pretty quickly. So I saw this tutorial for making stacking wet palettes out of bead sorters, sponges, and palette many wet palettes are in the making, in three different sizes! Hooray for being an ex-jeweler!

Today's tea on this most fanciest of Tuesdays (ha! take that holiday, I know what day it is!) is The Tea Shelf's Halmari Clonal Assam Black. This beautiful fuzzy gold tea is from the Halmari Tea Estate in Assam, an old and fairly iconic tea estate, this tea is all about the tippy goodness, which is where all those glorious golden pieces come from. Plucked during the Monsoon Flush, picking the tea during this heavily rainy season gives it an intensity and richness, also making it a much desired flush. The aroma of this tea is intense indeed! With strong malty notes and a nutty sweetness, like peanut butter made from roasted peanuts and added dates, which sounds utterly delicious to me. There are also lesser notes of distant flowers and a hint of orange at the finish which gives the heavy tea a bit of brightness.

Into my beloved steeping apparatus the beautiful little leaves go, farewell glorious gold, I always miss their lovely fuzz which vanishes into the water as the leaves steep. The aroma of the now soggy and much larger leaves is a delicious smelling blend of malt, yams, dates, and roasted peanuts. It is a very intense aroma that has a rich heaviness to it. The amber liquid is a sweet blend of dates and yams with a rich malty finish.

I forget how much I enjoy a really high quality Assam, I have been called away from the richness that Assam gives by the more delicate Darjeelings, so I am glad to have a dance with this tea, for the sake of memories if nothing else. The taste starts out both rich and robust, with notes of malt and oak wood, a touch of molasses as it transitions to the sweeter midtaste. The middle is sweet dates and a bit of roasted peanuts, as the tea finishes off it has a brisk note of citrus that lingers alongside with the malt at the finish. This is a great morning tea, or afternoon tea when you need a boost, it mixes richness with briskness, all good qualities in a morning tea!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Red Leaf Tea: Manju Matcha, A Matcha Monday Tea Review

Back from my little break only to discover, it is Memorial Day, huh, time really seems to fly! Memorial Day to many is the official start of summer, to me the start has always been 'when it is warm enough to swim in mountain creeks' so some years in Pennsylvania did not have a summer. It is a beautiful day for a holiday (even if the lack of mail will throw my whole week off) and Ben and I spent it mostly painting, lounging, and partaking of a few fancy sales. I hit the thrift and got a new dress and a pair of really beautiful cups (one is Japanese and the other is possibly Korean celadon, yay for half off sales) and went to Michael's for new paint brushes, because I always need more.

Today marks the first ever Matcha Monday! A showcase of all things Matcha, usually just straight up Matcha but possible also food and of course various lattes. The first one to be showcased is Red Leaf Tea's Manju Matcha, they are currently doing this neat promotion where you pay what you want for, a good old Name Your Own Price kinda thing, which is pretty cool. Manju Matcha is from glorious Shizuoka Prefecture, home to Fujiyama and famous for its teas. For a fun bit of trivia, Manju is a Japanese sweet, similar to Mochi, and often filled and made with Matcha. The color of this Matcha is lovely, I do not feel my photography does it justice, it is the vibrant green of spring growth, like someone distilled the season into a fine powder. The aroma of the Matcha is very sweet, almost fruity (like bananas, but very faint, I kept thinking I was just imagining things) with strong notes of sweetgrass, freshly mown hay, a touch of nuttiness and a tiny hint of distant flowers.

After sifting and then whisking the Matcha, the fruity notes have vanished, what is left is sweet hay, sweetgrass, a bit of robust grassiness, and a finish of distant flowers. It is pleasantly sweet to the nose.

Ok, tasting time! I did my first session with this Usucha or thin style, this is the more familiar whisked into a foam style that Matcha is well known for. It is both sweet and brisk, with a thick and smooth mouthfeel. It starts out sweet like sweetgrass, hay, and a touch of flower nectar. The taste then transitions to slightly bitter green like a blend of spinach and kale, adding a bit of an umami element to the Matcha. The finish moves around to sweet again with a blend of honey and flowers. It is a really good Matcha for everyday drinking, blending sweetness and umami in a very perfect balance.

I decided to have another session with this Matcha, but this time I went for Koicha or thick style, this is the hardcore stuff, usually only specific teas are reserved for Koicha, usually this Matcha is extremely costly as it is made from older plants and is usually hand picked. Manju Matcha is not really suited for Koicha, but I wanted to experiment, so, why not? The taste is...intense, both intensely umami and intensely bitter. Like having a mouthful of kale, grass, and sauteed spinach. This slowly fades to a gentle sweetness and and aftertaste of distant flowers long after the sipping experience is over. How does it compare to actual Koicha? No idea, I have never had it...way too poor for that stuff!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Phoenix, Rising and Reborn!

Sometimes one needs to step back from their craft, take a look at it from an outside perspective, and then go back renewed! I am kinda doing that this weekend, going to take a break from ye old tea blog and reviewing.
Not that I am losing my passion for blogging or tea, far from it, I just want a couple days to not have to think. I have been soooo fatigued lately that for the last week blogging has seemed exhausting because I am just so beat, so I am taking a few days to just relax...maybe paint, maybe game, maybe read...maybe just drink tea all day without taking detailed notes about it. I might even have a picnic! One thing I am doing is looking at a possible new house tomorrow, Ben, Fish and myself are super excited about moving in together...this one has three bedrooms and a yard, so I might get my own tea/craft/writing room AND a garden. Wish us luck!!

One last thing before I go lose myself in a big ol' pile of chips and salsa, yours truly loves structure when it comes to blogging and research, so I am giving a new spin to the blog. Sundays will once again be devoted to tea 'stuff' featuring events (hint hint, big Midwest Tea Fest post coming soon!) tea gear, tea books, and tea food. Mondays (for as long as I have the stuff) will be Matcha Mondays, featuring different Matcha. Wednesdays will continue to be What-Cha days, Thursdays will be #TBT days to slowly go through the massive backlog, and all the other days will be just normal old blog days. I still hope to do random theme weeks here and there, so if you are a fan of those they will stick around.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

SerendipiTea: Dahl House, A #TBT Tea Review

Happy Thursday, internet! Yours truly had a long and tiring day of playtesting and I am greatly glad to be home and only a few short hours away from sleep. I got very little of the Zzzzz's last night because someone poisoned me (or I caught a stomach bug) but it sounds more dramatic to yell 'who hath poisoned me?!?' than 'where did this virus come from?' it is always about which is more dramatic. I think when this playtesting and such is over I am going to take a vacation, just not do anything for a week other than drink tea and maybe play Minecraft, and lay in bed a lot. It will be gloriously lazy.

Today's tea is SerendipiTea's Dahl House, inspired by much loved novelist Roald Dahl, I was never a huge fan of his work, but I can certainly say they were influential and helped shape many children's lives. One of these work's was James and the Giant Peach, I mean, who doesn't love the idea of sailing away inside of a giant peach, I am pretty sure that is every Southern child's dream (or at the very least mine) especially with talking bugs. The first thing I notice about the aroma is the real, fresh, peach smell that is wafting out of the dry leaves. I love when peach flavored teas actually smell like peaches and not peach candy, it makes for a happy me. There are also notes of malt, honey, and a really nice zingy ginger aroma that makes the tea smell very warm.

Into the steeping basket the leaves go, and the aroma of peaches and ginger fill the room. I admit, I miss my tea lair, but I do no miss the basement at all, so many spiders...ok I liked the spiders. The peaches still smell like warm, juicy, fresh peaches but with an addition of ginger and malt, with a slight bit of oak wood at the finish. The liquid is super peachy and sweet, though the ginger is milder, a tickling warmth at the back of the nose. The malt is right up there with peaches in strength, making for a very rich aroma.

The first thing noticed upon sipping this tea is it is very rich and malty, with a delicate honey sweetness and a tiny hint of roasted peanuts...but where is the peach...wait, found it! Not even to the midtaste, the peaches explode, much like biting into a ripe very juicy peach. This is no sad peach you bought at the super market when you had a 2 A.M. craving, no this is a fresh from the orchard roadside-stand in the middle of South Carolina peach! A very real distinction that we Southerners get bent out of shape over, we are a bit obsessive with our peaches. After that massive pile of peach to the face the flavor has a wonderful warming ginger burn that lasts into the aftertaste where it lingers as a nice tingly feeling in the belly. I was quite fond of this tea, it reminded me of home, and I liked the addition of ginger, it blended nicely with the peach!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What-Cha: Korea Jeong Jae Yeun's Hwangcha 2014 Balhyocha Tea, A Tea Review

My body and I are not on speaking terms again, the jerk has decided to take a dive into the deep end if the fatigue pool. I feel like I am constantly walking through pudding, and the pudding is not translucent so everything feels foggy, the brain fog is real, yo. It has been this way off and on for a little over a month, instead of my usual 'once a week I am really fatigued, usually from doing stuff' it is the other way around, which is really lame! In a perfect world my next visit to the doctor will consist of blood work and I will need some vitamin or something, I will take a vitamin deficiency any day over having to be put on some new medication. My body and meds tend to have a VERY rocky relationship, and a lot of the drugs used to help Fibromyalgia are ones that have given me pretty severe reactions. Or maybe I just need to drink more tea, yeah, I like that solution the best!

It is now the most dangerous part of any Wednesday, going to What-Cha's website to get the relevant info and linkage for the tea I am going to cover, because I always drift over to the new tea section and there always seems to be something new that I want, it never fails! Today's tea is Korea Jeong Jae Yeun's Hwangcha 2014 Balhyocha Tea, ok before I get too far, remember when I reviewed Korea Dong Cheon Daejak 2013 Sparrow's Tongue 'Jakseol' Green Tea and talked about how it was an amazing tea that as soon as I could I ended up buying a bunch more...and how I was worried I would not do the tea justice? Yeah, well, it happened again, I am beginning to think that Korea might make my favorite teas, clearly I am going to need to test them ALL to be sure! It is good that I bought more of this tea (and not just because I have been on a binge since it arrived) because the notes I took for this one are almost illegible, especially the third steep where my words just kinda trail off the page, I consider that a good sign!! Ok, so this tea is the only tea created by hand by tea artist Jeong Jae Yeun, who (after a bit of digging around) is described as the epitome of grandma tea artisans, which is what I want to be when I grow up I think. Apparently her tea is rather popular with Korean monks, which is also pretty awesome! Ok, now to address the elephant in the teapot, what the heck is a Hwangcha and Balhyocha? To put it in the most simplest of terms, they are the same thing a tea that has gone through fermentation (translation only, really it is oxidation) and Hwangcha is not the same as Chinese yellow teas, Tony Gebely wrote a fantastic article on the tea as did Morning Crane Tea and Mattcha, the subject is really dense, one I could devote an entire blog post to! So, onto the leaves, the pretty curly dark leaves, they smell really good! Super creamy and sweet, with strong notes of honey, roasted peanuts, lychee, papaya, distant flowers, a touch of malt,, this tea has everything! It has one of the most complex aromas I have had the pleasure of sticking my nose in. I think I spent the entire time waiting for my kettle to warm up sniffing this tea, it felt like I was going down the rabbit hole and each new sniff revealed something new while not overpowering the previous notes. 

Into the gaiwan the leaves go, and my little tea region has been turned into an aromatic fun zone, the notes that are drifting out of my gaiwan have me super excited to try this tea (ok I already was) the aroma of the wet leaves is intensely creamy, it reminds me of a decadent creamy sweet treat. The intense creaminess is accompanied by floral notes, papaya, and a rich cocoa and malt undertone. The liquid is unsurprisingly creamy sweet as well, with notes of papaya and a fruity musk that is not quite identifiable, it is something from a long distant memory. There is a finish of cocoa adding extra richness to an already rich aroma. 

I am glad I do most of my tea tasting sitting down, because I would have been knocked off my feet by this one (intense tastes and smells make me go all fainting goat sometimes) the mouthfeel is so thick and creamy, it is both very heavy and bright. The taste hits my tongue in waves, first the intense creaminess combined with cocoa and distant flowers (a hint of rose I think?) this moves on to fruit, hello lychee and papaya! The finish is an explosion of sweet cream and malt, which lingers, oh how it lingers! 

Second steep time! The aroma is sweet, nice notes of lychee, cocoa, sweet cream, and a tiny bit of spicebush at the finish. Yes, I did accidentally dip my nose in the tea while sniffing it, what of it? This taste is pretty similar to the first, it did not grow or change much, the mouthfeel is still super creamy and thick. The main difference between this steep and the first was an intense build of malt towards the finish that lingered, giving more of a boost at the finish. 

Third steeping, this one is totally illegible in my notebook, so I had to imbibe more, not that I mind of course! The aroma this time is replaced with cocoa and cream, but instead of lychee there is a stronger papaya and spicebush. The taste is still riding that delightful sweet cream train, but it is a bit less of a cream explosion and more of a smooth creaminess. The midtaste is all fruit and cocoa, papaya and lychee being the dominant, but I am pretty sure I also detected a tiny bit of coconut as well, which is fascinating. The finish is malt and cocoa, the cocoa lingers for a while.

This tea does not evoke any strong emotional response, and it does not change a whole bunch between steepings, but it is delicious! I tried it western style as a comparison and it was intense, like the first steep but all the notes went all 90s and became eXtreme. In theory this tea should not be a favorite, since it does not evolve or elicit a strong emotional or nostalgic response, but I cannot help but love it, it just tastes THAT good.