Monday, December 5, 2016

Gopaldhara Tea Estate: Red Thunder 2016, A Tea Review

So yesterday I went to the mall to pick up my nice new heated blanket, it was evening, right after sunset, and I got quite the show. Not Christmas lights (although, they were around) no, in the sky was a beautiful crescent moon and Venus right at the border between night and sunset. Yours truly was so struck by the beauty of the night sky that I just stood in the parking lot looking at the sky for a good five minutes. This happens pretty much anytime I go outside during winter, the winter sky has always been my favorite. About a month ago I went out super late at night to see Orion crest over the horizon for the first time, as is tradition! I don't talk about it as much, but Astronomy has been a passion of mine since I was tiny, my mom would take me outside to look at the sky and (I kid you not) talk to the moon as a toddler.

Today I am looking at a tea from Gopaldhara Tea Estate, their 2016 Red Thunder Darjeeling, a second flush black tea that is a favorite. I had the opportunity to look at the 2014 harvest and fell in love, so I was super hype to try the 2016 harvest.What makes this tea special is frost, harvested late in November high in the mountains, the temperatures get low so overnight the leaves get covered in frost. This causes the leaves to already start the oxidation process while on the bush, making it extra sweet and fruity. Smelling the leaves is quite a treat, notes of malt and cocoa with a strong stewed plums and raisin note. Undertones of baked oat bread give me a distinct notion of raisin bread, which is probably one of my favorite sweet bread variations. I love the strong sweet muscatel notes of this tea, granted I love the fresh grape notes of a first flush, but that richer raisin note of second flush make me swoon.

I decided to have a little fun with my brewing equipment today, using a vintage teapot that is a kitty, I have had it for a while but I am just now using it. Same with the cup, a vintage demitasse cup that absolutely doesn't match the teapot! The aroma of the steeped leaves is heady, not floral heady, but that heady aroma of smelling stewed plums and raisins, very sweet and fruity. Undertones of cocoa and apricots with a gentle distant floral note, like a plumeria bush blooming outside the window and whisps coming in through the window. The liquid is sweet, very fruity raisins and plums with a touch of dried apricots. Along with the fruity sweet notes are gentle notes of malt and distant flowers.

Oh this tea is delicious! It starts with a strong note of honey drenched cooked plums and raisins, like someone stewed them together and then drizzled warm honey all over it. It is thick too, just like warm honey, I am glad yI was drinking this on a cold night because it is very warm and soothing. There is more to this tea than fruity sweetness though, middle notes of brown sugar and malt blend with a gentle cocoa and yam starchy note, then the finish which is yams and a touch of lingering raisins. I was able to get another strong steep from this tea, the second steep being dominated by sweetness and fruit, the yam and cocoa notes being very subdued compared to the previous steep. The previous harvest I had became my favorite second flush, so much so that I used it in my Ravnican Caravan blend I made for Ben, and the 2016 harvest made sure it still claims that spot.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Tea-Historic: Mesozoic Malt, A Tea Review

You know what is just a glorious thing, heated blankets. I was able to get a good deal for a new one thanks to Black Friday sales and it was ready to be picked up from JC Penney today, which Ben and I did. It is wonderfully fuzzy and of course wonderfully warm, much better than my usual heating pad usage since it is bigger and not as scalding. I get angry at the heating pad since even on the lowest setting it can be intense, but the heated blanket is like taking a nice hot...dry...bath, perfect for me! It also means I can go longer without opening the dreaded heating vent!!
Today, you might notice, is a Sunday and not one of the days I usually blog, but I was in the mood to write and have many teas piling up that need their story told, so why not? So I decided to delve into my new favorite company, Tea-Historic, a tea guessed it...themed around dinosaurs! It is quite literally the perfect company for me to geek out over, and not just because thanks to this company existing I now have an ammonoid filled fossil tray and jade cup. They were a birthday present for myself, but along with these awesome pieces came some teas to review!

Presenting Mesozoic Malt, a GFOP Assam from Chota Tingrai Estate, being both sustainable and organic. Before I get into the tea, let us have a brief side rant into Paleontology...for once it is actually topical! The name Mesozoic is one of geology's laziest names ever, one of two Geological Eras, smack between the Paleozoic (ancient life) and Cenozoic (new life) with Mesozoic's name being 'middle life' which definitely sounds cooler in Greek. It is marked by extinctions, starting after the Great Dying and ending with the K-Pg event, called the 'Age of Reptiles' which is cooler than middle life, but not really correct since it was really dominated by dinosaurs. Or proto-birds if you feel creative. Don't get me wrong, I love the Paleozoic, it has many of my favorite animals and of course my favorite extinction event, but my real passion has always been the Mesozoic! So, this tea, sniffing it I can say this is one of the sweetest Assams I have sniffed! This made me happy, you probably notice I don't drink a ton of Assam, usually I find the brisk and woody notes too strong and the sweetness absent, so having an Assam that has the familiar brisk and woody notes, but also an immensely strong malt and a drizzling of brown sugar made for a happy nose.

I tossed the leaves into my steeping apparatus for the steeping time, I had to set a timer on my phone because I gongfu so much that I will wander off if I brew western style! The aroma is still very sweet, notes of strong malt and molasses with a touch of sweet honey and distant woodiness. There is also a touch of starchy molasses cookies, which adds to the sweetness. The liquid is surprisingly nutty and malty, with an undertone of brown sugar and molasses which again, reminds me of molasses cookies...yum!

The moment of truth, does the sweetness linger...yeah, yeah it does. The description on the website says this is a very sweet Assam and it is not an exaggeration, notes of brown sugar and molasses mix with rich malt and an underyling nuttiness that lingers on in the aftertaste.  As I said earlier, usually I am not a huge Assam fan because of its overwhelming briskness (the same can be said of a lot of Ceylon and African black teas) but this one has gentle briskness and a wonderful mellow quality that had me downing this cup super quick! Also it goes for two strong steeps, which is fantastic. The website says this makes an excellent iced tea and I am tempted to get a bunch to send to my iced tea loving grandmother in the South to enjoy.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Origins Tea: Bao Zhong, A Tea Review

Woo! My Christmas gift from Ben arrived today, early of course, because I don't think we ever give each other gifts on the correct days. From Card Kingdom, a Mythic Treasure Chest, listed as a product for new players, I mostly wanted it to bulk up my personal collection and inspire new decks. I have an odd relationship with MTG, when I was very young (and I mean really young) I collected the cards, I remember when they first showed up at the card store my dad went to get baseball cards. I didn't have anyone to play with, but they were my treasures, sadly they went away because my dad was a monster...oh how I mourn for my Alpha Chaos Orb!! Then in school, I wanted to play but was constantly greeted with the 'girls don't game' nonsense that I just gave up, Last year when Ben and I were getting ready to move (err so we thought) he found his old Magic collection and I asked him to teach me, and I have been having so much fun! His collection is pretty huge, mine is fairly small, I know I will never have a Chaos Orb again, but just having a decent collection is enough for me. Ok, that and killer decks too!

And of course, blending my gaming and tea is what I do, pretty sure I was embroiled in a doomed game of Commander (pseudo really since it was just the two of us) against Ben's stupid Atraxa deck, this tea was all I had to keep me sane. Looking at Origins Tea Bao Zhong, that most evocative of spring Taiwanese Oolong, also the least oxidized of the Oolongs, I always feel like enjoying Bao Zhong is like drinking a little bit of spring. Stuffing my nose into these long emerald leaves the first thing I notice is how nutty the leaves are! Very distinct notes of sesame seeds and honey meaning, yep, this tea smells like my favorite Persian treat, Halva! It is wonderfully sweet and nutty, but there is more to it than a pile of sweet sesame seeds, there are also notes of fresh zucchini, sage leaves, very light basil, hyacinth, lilac, and orchids. The aroma is quite complex with nutty, floral, sweet, and herbaceous...which is how I like my Bao Zhongs.

After the initial steeping in my gaiwan, the aroma of the leaves is pretty intense. Strong notes of chestnut and sesame seeds blend with hyacinth, orchid, and lilac with a finish of crisp green undertones of zucchini. The liquid is all sweetness, with notes of buttery chestnuts and sesame seeds, honeysuckles, lilacs, and a very distant note of sage. It is nectar-like in its sweetness.

As I was hoping, the sweetness present in the aroma transferred into the flavor, yay! But before taste, let me tell you about that mouthfeel, it is smooth and velvety, with a pleasant thickness in the mid-range of tea thickness I would say. I need to clearly make a scale of tea thickness since it seems I do like to go on about that specific texture aspect a lot. The taste starts floral, with notes of lilac and surprisingly strong orchid. After the initial floral burst notes of crisp zucchini and sesame show up, with an undertone of sage and honeysuckle, even with the crisp green and nutty notes it is very sweet. For the finish, there is lilac again which lingers long into the aftertaste!

Next steep time! As my notes grumpily tell me, the game of Commander I started along with this tea is over and I was utterly trampled by that stupid Phyrexian angel horror, so clearly I need to just focus on tea now! Like the first steep the mouthfeel is thick and very smooth, velvety and soft, it is a very pleasant mouthfeel for sure. Starting out is not flowers like last time, but zucchini and sweet snap peas with a hint of sesame, though they do not stay long as a small building note of honeysuckle and lilac ramp up to something intense. Under the strong floral notes is a distant sage note which keeps the flowers from being too strong. The finish is hyacinth and lilac, again it lingers for quite a while.

Sadly, a lot of times I find that Bao Zhongs putter out pretty early, usually after the fourth steep, though once in a whole I get lucky and get a one that lasts longer, such as this tea. I got to go a solid seven steeps before the tea started fading, with the flowers being the first to fade, meaning I was left with sage, sweet peas, and zucchini, very refreshing and crisp. The aftertaste transitioned from flowers to sesame seeds and honey for a lingering sweetness. It was a fantastic tea to drink while I sulked after a very sad showing of my Commander deck!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Teavivre: Yunnan Chrysanthemum Dragon Ball Tea, A Tea Review

Soon, on the Xbone, Ark will be getting some new creatures, including a favorite of mine, the Megalosaurus! In Ark they are adorable nocturnal death machines that you find sleeping curled up like a cat into a little ball during the day, and that is cool and all, but missing one of the best things about Megalosaurus, and that is how it shaped Paleontology! If you are not familiar with the history of Paleontology, Victorian Paleontologist had a really...unique...way of thinking that dinosaurs worked. Megalosaurus was one of the first non-avian dinosaurs named and became an early poster child for bringing awareness to the general public, problem was the was it was presented was so unbelievably wrong that it was hilarious. Originally thought to be a quadrupedal hunch-backed amphibian who were only carnivorous to old and ill animals. Obviously, we have advanced our understanding of dinosaurs, each year some new advancement seems to completely change the way we think they looked or behaved, but in part we have the incredibly derpy early depiction of Megalosaurus to thank for a lot of advancement. 

You all know me, I could go on about dinosaurs all day (I have done this a few times to people foolish enough to get me started talking about them) but this is a tea blog and not a dinosaur blog, so it is on to today's tea! Teavivre's Yunnan Chrysanthemum Dragon Ball Tea, a hand-rolled ball of Dianhong with an addition of a yellow chrysanthemum flower, combining two of my tea loves into one. I have had several blends of Shou and chrysanthemum and it has never really worked for me, I often thought that blending with a Hongcha would be amazing, so when I saw Teavivre had just that, I knew I needed to try it. Sniffing the tightly rolled ball I was greeted with the sweet pollen, aster, and peppery aroma of chrysanthemum flowers along with malt, chocolate, yams, and honey. Oddly the blend of chrysanthemum and Dianhong give a slightly savory finish, though not necessarily like a specific savory food, just a savory quality, which is pretty neat. 

Steeping time! My large engagement gaiwan got some love with this tea since it is a big ball that needs to expand. The aroma after the first steep is very strong, notes of chocolate and white pepper, malt and yams, and of course, chrysanthemum flowers. It, like the dry ball, is surprisingly savory, almost herbaceous. Similar to a white pepper and, well, the herb savory blended together, it is a surprising thing to smell with the more familiar Dianhong but it really works. The liquid lacks the savory quality, instead, it is sweet honey, peppery chrysanthemums, cocoa, and a rich malt, more what I expected this tea to smell like so no surprises there! 

Oooh this tea is fun! First off, that mouthfeel, combining the usual thick and smooth texture of the Dianhong with the thick and cooling texture of the chrysanthemum makes for quite the thick treat, almost like a high mountain Oolong with how thick it is. The taste is pretty unique too, mixing familiar notes of malt, cocoa, and molasses with undertones of yam sweetness with the peppery and pollen note of the chrysanthemum blend together into something unlike anything I have had before. It was so unique that it took my brain a moment to really process it, but it is not a surprise that I ended up really enjoying it. Especially with the pollen and honey aftertaste that lingers. 

I went for another steep of course, the aroma has a stronger cocoa note with a slightly stronger chrysanthemum note as well, which is not surprising since the ball has unfurled a great bit more. The taste is very similar to the first steep, just more! Stronger cocoa and yam, sweeter honey and molasses, and blooming chrysanthemum coat my mouth with soothing cooling tea. 

This tea has longevity, getting many steeps out of with strong chrysanthemum until the fifth steep, at that point the chrysanthemum has mostly faded and what you are left with is a rich chocolate and yam heavy Dianhong. Since I frequently turn to chrysanthemum when I am unwell, I brewed up one of these balls when Ben recently had that nasty sickness, he found it very soothing and the two of us happily spent the day drinking this tea. 

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

CuriosiTea: Lady Earl White Tea, A Tea Review

Friends, it is time for a change, specifically a hair change. Yesterday was root day (aka the day I hide it from the world that I am naturally a blonde) and I realized I needed to touch up my blue tips. Sadly I also realized I was out of blue dye, so I thought...why not change things up a bit? I went to the store to get bleach and some purple and later today I will have purple tips instead of blue. Maybe. Last time I went purple it was not the best choice, but I think since it will be the tips rather than my whole head it will look pretty cool.

Today I am taking a break from my usual gongfoolery to try an Earl Grey variant from CuriosiTea, Lady Earl White Tea. A Blend of Bai Mu Dan, Bergamot Oil. Rose Petals and Lavender. I like my Earls with lavender, I love roses, and am quite fond of Bai Mu Dan so I thought this would be a take on an Earl I like...since usually, I am not a fan of straight up Earl Greys. The aroma of the leaves is quite potent, not really getting much of the white tea, roses, or lavender, just a small explosion of bergamot...this made Ben happy because he loves his bergamot super strong. After this initial citrus burst, undertones of roses pop up, though they are faint next to the powerhouse that is the bergamot.

Into the steeping apparatus the leaves and petals go for their soak, the aroma of bergamot pretty quickly escapes the steeper and wafts around my desk like an orange wave, it is very refreshing. There are notes of roses and wet have in the wet leaves, along with bergamot of course, though the promised lavender has not popped up quite yet. The liquid is a double blend of roses and bergamot with a slight underlying sweetness of honey from the white tea.

Well, if tasting this tea were a battle (I have been reading about European history in the 10-1200s and there are a lot of battles, it is on my mind) I would say hands down the bergamot wins. It is very decisive, I did not really taste anything else until the aftertaste of gentle roses and very distant lavender. Sadly I do not really taste the white tea base, it is totally overshadowed by the bergamot, which is a little sad since I think these flavors together could work well if it were toned down just a bit, Ben, who is well known for being Der Erlkonig felt the same way, really liked the strength of the bergamot but wish the base was stronger or the bergamot were weaker so that the base stood out more. I did give this to my housemate who I am corrupting into the ways of fine loose leaf tea and who was craving an Earl and she liked it, so I am perfectly willing to say this would be a fine introductory tea and that Ben and I are just too picky after all these years!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Origins Tea: Oriental Beauty, A Tea Review

Happy Black Friday everyone! May your shopping be excellent, may all your favorite shops have sales, may everyone who is going out only be met with polite fellow shoppers, may your Thanksgiving leftovers taste even better, and of course...if you are a business, especially a small one, may you cut a fantastic profit today! I only partook of one sale, it involved tea cups of course, since I still needed to get myself a birthday present after my last attempt was a mess, and now I wait...the really hard part!

Today I am looking at Origins Tea Oriental Beauty, one of my favorites of the bug-bitten teas that come from Taiwan, to me this tea embodies autumn, as I think I have said the many other times I have looked at an OB! So onward to sniffing the colorful leaves, the first thing I notice is this tea is super fruity! Notes of cooked apricots and plums with a touch of toasted almonds as the undertone giving it a fruit tart quality. There is a bit of an autumn leaf pile note, along with distant notes of plumeria blossoms and very faint pecans. It is a very sweet aroma, with the sweet not becoming overwhelming thanks to nutty and leafy notes.

Into my little shui ping the tea goes, this teapot is much happier in its new role as my OB pot! Ooh the leaves smell so fruity after their soaking, strong notes of grapes, plums, apricots, and lychees blend with orange blossoms and a distant nuttiness. I can see why a lot of people compare an OB to a Darjeeling, they are similar sharing muscatel notes, though I have to admit OB blows Darjeelings out of the water with their sweetness. The liquid has a slightly creamy note, like someone made a wonderful fruit compote of plums, apricots, and grapes and drizzled a tiny bit of heavy cream on the top, and I want to drink it NOW. I have no impulse control when it comes to naturally sweet goodness in tea.

The first steep is light in both mouthfeel and taste, silky, much like a silk scarf in the breeze...and ooh boy it is going to be one of THOSE blog posts where I get all 'poetic' hopefully I just got it out of my system. The taste is fruity, notes of fresh very sweet apples (if I actually ate apples more I could tell you what type, but I don't like eating them, just drinking their sweet juice) with ripe plums and grapes. It then moves to delicate lilies (not the spicy kind, more the heady lily of the valley type aroma)  and a touch of autumn leaf pile. The finish is a lingering sweet dried apricot that hangs around for a while, this pleases me because I adore dried apricots.

Amusingly the second steep's aroma is sweeter and also leafier, like I took a mouth full of stone fruit compote and cream and then jumped into a pile of leaves...see, very autumnal!  The taste and mouthfeel is warmer, silky in texture with a warm Qi in my mouth and belly, it flows quite enjoyably making me very relaxed. Ok the taste is really ramping up the autumn! Plums and grapes take a back note while persimmon and pumpkin takes the reins, it is sweet but not as sweet, it is now richer and starchy. The finish is a blend of lilies and autumn leaves with a finish, again, of sweet dried apricots.

You are probably wondering if I had another steep...well yeah, I did...and several more, because I love OB and will steep it until is is slightly golden sweet water. I could tell by the third steep that it was going to be a long lasting tea, the taste has similar notes to the second steep  but is even richer. With an almost malty quality, the sweetness of pumpkin and persimmon dance with plums and a distant subtle raisin note. As the later steeps continue on the fruit becomes the dominant notes, specifically plum and apricot with a long lasting aftertaste. I greatly enjoyed my session with this tea.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Second Alarm Farm: Orchid Isle Oolong, A Tea Review

If you follow me on Facebook you might have seen that my wonderful plan of having all my Christmas (and my birthday) shopping done blew up spectacularly. Wish my luck that the company actually refunds my money like they said they would! To drown my sorrows and frustrations I did my thing of going to the thriftstore to hunt for treasures. I found a new teapot, it is blue Yixing clay with a cricket on a banged up lid, and I adore it.

Today I am looking at a rather hard to get tea, Orchid Isle Oolong from Second Alarm Farm, a 3-acre farm on the Big Island, Hawaii. Their small batch tea is completely harvested and processed by hand, composted with local rainforest material, nourished by lots of rain and volcanic soils, it is a tea that really captures the terroir. At least I believe it does, I have never been to a Hawaiian rainforest, though I have been in rainforest exhibits at zoos and aquariums, and the smell and taste of the air will stick with me forever. The leaves are a treat to look at, some have fuzzy trichomes, others are green and twisty, others a rainbow of browns, they are fascinating and colorful similar to the way a Bai Hao a looks. The aroma is exactly like an orchid hot house, specifically it reminds me of the orchid and citrus conservatory at the local garden. Of course, it reminds of a rainforest, wet leaves and rain on a warm humid day. There are also notes of cucumbers, magnolias, pine needles, peaches, and a touch of mineral. It is surprisingly evocative!

Into my little shiboridashi the leaves go, once steeped the aroma becomes slightly sweeter with notes of squash blossoms, magnolia blossoms, warm honey, with more green notes of cucumber and zucchini. The liquid has notes of gardenia, plumeria, orchid, with a tropical rainforest after a rainstorm undertone.

The mouthfeel was interesting, slippery in texture and glossy, with a slight thickness. The taste is light and sweet, starting with magnolia nectar and green notes of zucchini. It then moves to a refreshing cucumber and squash blossom with a mineral finish and light magnolia aftertaste. Again this tea is very evocative of its terroir, I really feel like I am drinking a bit of a Hawaiian rainforest.

I decided, of course, to have a second steep. The aroma is much the same, notes of various tropical flowers with gentle mineral and rain water. The taste stays pretty consistent, starting sweet and nectar-like and moving to greener notes while being crisp and not really savory. This seems like the kind of tea you would want to sip on a summer day, it feels vaguely cooling and the crisp vegetal notes blend well with the sweet but not too sweet tropical flower notes.

This tea is somewhat versatile, I found I enjoyed it bowl style as well as gongfu, and it had a decent amount of longevity both styles, and no bitterness which is always pleasant. I think my favorite thing about this tea is how it really does feel like I am drinking a little bit of the rainforest, allowing me to travel somewhere new that chances are I will never see!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.