Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Eco-Cha: A Roasted Taiwanese Oolong Tea Review

In my part of the world, it is starting to get chilly! We had a nice inch of snow the other day and today a balmy high temperature of 27F and a low of 13F, and the last of the leaves are starting to fall away from the trees. Yes my friends, we have settled nicely into my favorite time of year which means time for roasty toasty Oolongs! I decided to look at a pair of teas from Eco-Cha today, a Dong Ding Oolong with medium oxidation and medium-heavy roast and a Tieguanyin which is a blend of half TGY and half Jin Xuan made in TGY style, which is pretty cool.

Dong Ding

I have reviewed so many Eco-Cha Dong Dings on my blog, and each harvest is a unique and delicious thing, it is always fun to see how they differ year to year. The aroma of these sizable rolled leaves is rich and immensely aromatic, strong notes of roasted walnuts and chestnuts, hickory wood, toasted grains, and a lingering molasses and dark honey sweetness that haunts my nose like a sugary ghost. The brewed leaves bring in a tanginess along with a surprising floral note reminiscent of honey locust flowers. Oooh, this might be one of the best harvests in a while! It is so sweet and thick, with notes of toasted coconut, walnut candies, sesame butter, and a lingering toasted wheat grain taste. I expected the later steeps to bring in that tangy roast taste, but no, it is sweet thickness all the way down with hints of strong roasted walnut shells. I am not sure my sample is going to make it to the end of the month!

Tieguanyin

Well hello you nutty tea! It is a dark oolong (in both oxidation and roast giving it a very dark color) and it smells dark, with notes of black walnuts, molasses cookies, brown sugar, roasted wheat, and a slight hint of cooked plums. Once steeped the notes remain but bring in a very surprising note of melon which made me do a nose double take.  This tea has a real oomph to it, it has the expected sweetness (with the Jin Xuan and all) like brown sugar baked plums, but it also has a really strong heavy grain toasted bread. You know, one of those breads that boasts having like 20 grains (do 7 different kinds of wheat really count as different grains?) but having been toasted and then given a nice slather of butter. The tea is mostly thick and smooth, but the roasting gives it a little bit of a mouth puckering tangy quality that livens things up, as roasted oolongs can seriously relax me into a fugue state and I need something to keep me lively. Later steeps bring in a touch of a fruity tobacco and even stronger roast somehow giving more oomph to an already strong tea. Both of these teas are great and show how varied roasty teas can be!

Teas sent for review




Tuesday, November 6, 2018

AprTea Mall: Black and White, a Tea Review

I will be so glad when my geranium can go back outside, and yes that is many months away (I am thinking late April if I am lucky) Don't get me wrong, I love my geranium, I got it as a cast-off earlier this year, a sad half dead leggy mess of a plant that I nursed back to health. I have never done that before, I used to be the well known plant murderer. Now the geranium is huge, happy, and healthy, full of its big red bloom balls...that fall off leaving petals everywhere. Especially when I rotate the plant or water it, it becomes a rain of petals, and since I have carpet I can't just sweep them up (vacuuming would just leave a red smear) so I have to pick them all up by hand. Long story short, carpet is the absolute worst and when I am able to own a place there will be no carpet, tile or concrete for all the rooms!

Ok so none of you care about my hatred of carpet, you want tea! Today I am looking at two teas from AprTea Mall, a Keemun Mao Feng Special Grade Black Tea and a 2012 Bai Mu Dan White Tea, two of my favorite styles of tea, though hilariously drank before and after my move so the tea desk looks completely different. That is always funny when that happens I think.

Chinese Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea Special Grade

These are such pretty leaves, I love Keemun when it is super curly, and these are definitely curly and very dark with little hints of gold trichomes. The aroma of the leaves is delicious, super sweet and fruity, with strong notes of dark cherry and plum with a chocolate undertone making it smell like a chocolate fruit tart. Once you steep the leaves their aroma picks up notes of pumpkin and malt which goes well with the fruity chocolate sweetness. The color of the brewed tea is fantastically light which contrasts the intense richness of the taste, strong notes of cherries, plums, and pumpkin bombard my mouth, and I am totally ok with this. The later steeps bring in notes of dark chocolate and stronger notes of cherries that last long into the aftertaste, I think this might be the most cherry heavy tea I have had and that wins it major points in my book. It lasts for many steeps (a solid seven and three very sweet and light ones) which is pretty good for a Keemun.

2012 High Mountain Fuding White Peony (Bai Mu Dan)

Hey, an aged white tea, always a favorite! I have a few white teas that I have deliberately forgotten so that I can have more aged goodness, don't get me wrong, fresh white tea is AMAZING, but there is just something wonderful about it getting a bit of age on it. The leaves are very fluffy and fuzzy, but have turned to a dark sage green and a bit of a browning to it. The aroma is a combination of white grapes, hay, and a touch of an earthiness and wet oat straw that reminds me a bit of a mid-aged Sheng pu. Hilariously the wet leaves smell like wet dog, also oat straw, grapes, and honey, but that wet dog note made me laugh a lot. The taste has no notes of dog, it is sweet and well rounded, with notes of ripe persimmons, grapes, and honey with a touch of straw, cucumber, and celery (haha, this BMD still has a bit of its cooling youth in it) though later steeps lose that youth and go all the way to aged with intense rich honey drenched persimmons. It lasts for quite a while, one of those teas I just sat with all day, I was entertained by the cooling start and warming finish, which makes me think that this tea will be even tastier in a few years.

Tea sent for review

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The New Tea Lair!

Well, I am mostly unpacked, in record time if I am to be completely honest. More importantly, at least more relevant to this post, my tea stuff is all set-up and happily back to normal. No offense to the tea set-up at the condo, the view of the lake was lovely but it was always temporary so it never felt right, the view from my tea-desk might just be a vibrantly purple backdrop now, but it is my backdrop!

First off, let me introduce you to where all the fun stuff happens! My tea desk is part of a three part desk cubby that is currently incomplete. I am busily hunting thrift stores for a painting desk to complete the trilogy (and so I can finish unpacking and then get back to painting!) Currently there is the aforementioned tea-desk which suffered a grievous injury when moving, but my quick repair skills (and the best glue in existence) fixed it, though it is a tad shorter now since I had to remove the wheels. I am facing the cold hard facts that I am going to need to replace that desk sometime in the near future because its particle board self is starting to succumb to the grip of entropy, but I going to use this desk until it falls apart. I love it, the backdrop was painted by me after my old fish tank left water stains on it, the top has USB LED lights affixed for even top lighting and the cubbies make good homes for my tea tasting notebook, camera, lightbox, and writing utensils. Next to the tea-desk is my writing desk where I do my journaling and blogging (or will when my WiFi router gets here tomorrow and I don't have to be jacked into my modem on the other side of the room) and of course next to my desk is where my beloved Zojirushi water boiler lives.

On the fish tray (given to me by my mom as a wedding present) is a rather varied collection of characters, the largest and most obvious being my resin Shiva Nataraja. He used to live on my Mandir, but Ben got me a HUGE brass one so this one needed a place to live. There is also a Beholder, a Black Lotus candle holder which acts as a holder for a floaty Lich, my Jace and Liliana miniatures, a Bathalian, a very small Durga, a large collection of miniature tea frogs, a white cobra, and a sea monster. All the miniatures were painted by me, having them live on the tea desk gives me an excuse to keep accumulating them! I am not sure if Lord Shiva is going to stay on the tray, he is very large and does't fit properly and I worry he will take a tumble, I really want a statue the same size as my tiny Durga so that everyone on the desk is roughly the same size(meaning I will probably give the large resin Shiva to my mom.) Plus the nature of my tea tray is always changing, for a while I was matching miniatures to whatever Plane Magic The Gathering was currently on, and right now I wanted D&D monsters, so it will never stay the same miniatures for long.

Of course what is tea without teaware? Leaves and puddles, that is what. My Teaware hoard (horde also works here) lives on my box shelves on the opposite wall, I wanted them closer but baseboard heaters make shelf placements perilous. Luckily for me the opposite wall was heater-less so I can have them flush against the wall. I decided to make my shelves themed, back in KC I just had stuff all willy-nilly, but this time each box has a theme, like my ruyao pieces, or my pieces made from carved stone. Spread among the teaware are old teapets, oddball knickknacks, and a few antiques I have collected from thriftstores. It currently looks like there is no room for new teaware, but there is if I move things around, granted I made it look super full so as to encourage me to only collect pieces that I absolutely have to have and not just pieces that are pretty. Of course the next day I went to the Dig n Save and brought home three new cups, but they are quite spectacular.

All my tea lives on top of the shelves, this is not the most ideal, mostly because a few of the tall ones I can't reach as I am fairly short. I either need a step-stool or to get a few more of these plastic drawer towers that are shorter. Mostly I really like having the tea over the teaware, I can select the tea then select the appropriate piece of teaware to go with it.

Lastly I leave you all with my favorite teapets, Espeon and Tao, who seem quite happy with the way I have things setup! I will be back to reviews next week!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Internet Woes, Moving, and Life

Ahhh, moving, that most onerous of tasks. The time in my life where I suddenly hate all my stuff, question my sanity (do I really need all this art supplies, all these clothes, all these cups? Yes...yes I do) and feel a rolling sense of exhaustion. This isn't like my move back in April where I just had to worry about packing and then minimal unpacking while I was staying at the temporary condo, this is the big thing, and I am understandably pooped.
Ancient photo, dredged from Facebook, it felt too weird to have no pictures 

I was going to do my normal blog tomorrow but received an email that my internet hook-up was delayed by a day so yeah, no real blog this week. I am sitting on the floor of my temporary condo taking a break while I finish last-minute stuff (you know, a deep clean of everything, paint touch up if needed, sponging internet before I go back to my house which is unplugged from the world except for my phone...I am so spoiled) and I technically could write a proper blog post...it would have no pictures and it would be me doing tasting notes entirely from memory without my notebook for references, but that would be lame. So next week I will return, maybe my return blog will be me showing off my new tea set-up? Anyone interested in that?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

What-Cha Tea: A Global Tea Adventure! A Tea Review

It has been an interesting week since last I wrote. Ben and I found a place to move so no more temporary housing (I am going to miss my lake view, but I am so excited to get back to having a sense of normalcy in my house) it is a bit outside of the city, but I am ok with that.  I truly hope this place I am moving to is perfect and Ben and I stay there until we are ready to buy a small house because I really do not want to move again, 17 times in 33 years is more than enough! Though I am not looking forward to repacking the teaware I unpacked. Today is a What-Cha day! I recently restocked some favorites and had a few samples sent along with my order, and in typical What-Cha style they are from all over the place. One thing I love about What-Cha is their selection of 'off the beaten path' teas. On the little adventure I am going on today, I am looking at a tea from Nepal, one from Georgia, and one from Malawi, so let us dig in!

Nepal Jun Chiyabari 'Winter Special' Oolong Tea

I love tea from Nepal, it always has a wonderfully clean and crisp quality, like it brought the mountains they were grown on with them. This Oolong is a winter flush, and I think that with the intense sweetness of this tea it might be a frost tea, but I am not sure. The aroma is intense, strong notes of walnut and hazelnuts combine with stewed peach and cherry giving the tea a wonderful sweet nutty cobbler aroma. It smelled so good and it made my mouth water, I happily spent way too long just snuffling this tea. I am just going to be honest, I am kinda furious at Alistair for sending me a sample of this because now I want more, this could definitely become a favorite tea staple and I already have too many of those!! The mouthfeel is light and airy, with a refreshing quality, which surprises me because the taste is dense. Like biting into a compote made from cherries, peaches, apricots, and almonds. There are also undertones of flowers, orange blossom and tulips which turn into a very long lasting aftertaste. I loved this tea, I want more of it and need to get some as soon as I can!!

Georgia Davit's 'Phoenix' Black Tea

Ah tea from Georgia, one of my favorite tea producing regions up there with Russia, they are also teas that are kind of a pain in m neck to get a hold of. This tea (and other teas from Georgia) are quite unique, it is unmistakably a black tea, but not like any others I have had. The aroma of the leaves is starchy and malty, with notes of roasted oats, beets, and chocolate with a delicate finish of cumin. Brewed the leaves smell of milk chocolate, oats, and cumin giving it a combination of pastry and earthy aroma that just works so well. The taste the paradox of being both brisk and smooth, tasting of sweet cream and chocolate oat cookies with a nutty long lasting aftertaste, at least that was the first steep. The second steep took me on an adventure to quince and plum with a long lasting dark honey aftertaste, the sweetness was intense, I was really surprised by the length and intensity of the aftertaste. I really like this tea, a definite fantastic example of the quality of Georgian tea!

Malawi 2018 Leafy Ripe Dark Tea

I have had the Malawi Dark Tea before, years ago on another harvest, at the time I really liked it, so I was excited to try the 2018 version. The aroma is very dark, earthy notes of wet leaves, beet roots, and that fantastic forest floor after a summer rain smell that makes my heart happy with dark teas. After a rinse the leaves take on a really fun strong lactic note, like sweet cream and chocolate with a strong pine sap finish. The cloudy liquid tastes so much like dark chocolate it is a little mind boggling, not one of those 80% cocoa bars, more like 60% leaving a bit of that sweet milk creaminess with the bitterness of cocoa. I am not sure why, but I love when certain dark teas have a milky undertone, I also get those notes in Lao Cha Tuo Shou, my other favorite type of dark. This is the perfect dark tea for people who want to content with longer steeps and not have it turn into a bitter bomb, want a dark tea that is not so earthy, or like them sweet. Also you get the novelty of drinking a dark tea from Malawi, something that a lot of tea drinkers don't get the chance to do.

Tea sent as samples with an order


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

New China Road: Dehua Kiln Loop Handle Teaset With Round Tea Tray, A Teaware Review

Last night I had one of the most whimsical things happen to me. Ben and I had gone to the Co-Op, he wheeling me in my chair (I make for a good backup shopping cart like this) and on the way back two older dudes who were sitting in their van stopped us and started serenading us with some classic soul music, and an impromptu dance number. I had not encountered something so delightfully surreal and random since I lived in Atlanta (where impromptu song and dance numbers are just more of an occurrence there, and one of the things I miss about it) and it made me so happy, they finished their routine by giving Ben and I great big hugs and we went on our way. A block later we ran into a tiny baby snake (not sure if it was a king or garter since it was super dark) that we had to usher off the sidewalk, which also made me very happy. I want more surreal and honestly pretty magical occurrences like that in my life, it reminds me that there is a reason to leave my house!

Today I am taking a look at a teaset, I love teaware reviews and it is always a pleasure to do them! New China Road sent me a really awesome set to look at that comprises of a tea tray, teapot and set of four cups, all in porcelain so unlike my fancy clay stuff I can use it for whatever. Lately I had been thinking I wanted a set with a small tray to use either for going out or when I want to serve tea to more than just myself but don't want to drag my massive tray to wherever the tea will be happening.

 First up, the tray, it arrived a bit broken and (as is their policy) they offered to send me a new one and I declined, because with a bit of epoxy it is good as new, so if you see a bit of a ding in it that is why. How it got damaged is beyond me because the packaging was pristine (I bought a cup from them month ago, the sparkly one I use quite often, anyway their packaging is really impressive) and everything else was fine. Regardless of its damage, I love this tea tray, it has a fairly deep well allowing for a decent amount of sloshing or pouring off of the wash, plus it is easier to pour out when it is full unlike the shallow plastic tray of my main tea tray. I like the solid weight of the tray, it doesn't feel at all flimsy or cheap, and the bamboo looks so good against that pure while porcelain. 

The teapot has some pros and cons, but I suppose all teapots do, as I have rarely run into ones that I would say are absolutely perfect. First off I love the top handle, my favorite style of handle is the side handle, but when you are taking photos with your right hand and pouring with your left you are quick to realize that side handle pots are not really ambidextrous, top handle though, you can pour with both hands and switch angles at ease. I love the shape of the pot, the round body and wide mouth with the point spout makes for an aesthetically pleasing piece. The cons though, well this makes or breaks it for a lot of people, it has a slow pour and dribbles out the lid when pouring, and if you have it at too far of an angle it will dribble up the handle and onto your hand if you are holding it forward. The slow pour is not too much of a problem for me, I will mostly be using it for guests or when I want a pot of something big (as it is 240ml) so I will be using teas that can take a lazy pour or can take grandpa style steeping. The dribbling I am not a fan of, but so many pots do it that I honestly consider the ones that manage to not dribble the exception, one of the benefits of always using a tea tray! 

The cups are lovely, lovely to look at and use. They are wide and flat and hold 45ml, and more importantly, the matte style glaze of the porcelain gives it a silky smooth texture that feels great to hold and when touching the lips. Cup texture is something that I think a lot of places don't take into consideration, I have a few cups that are gorgeous but I tend to not want to use them because they feel super weird. I have nothing bad at all to say about the cups! Now, the big question, do I think this set is worth the price tag? Absolutely, it is currently on sale for $41 with free shipping, and for a nice white porcelain set with a really spectacular tea tray, finding a better deal will be hard. 

Teaware sent for review

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Fong Mong Tea: A Tale of Gaoshan Oolongs, A Tea Review

Oh man, my geek is showing hard this month. As many of you are aware (and many more are about to become aware) it is Inktober, a month devoted to taking a new prompt each day and doing an ink drawing of it, it is a time to practice skills and show off (seriously, the actual artists out there blow my mind) I am just a doodler who wants to get better so for me it is all about practice. But, I can never just follow along with the game at hand, I have to make it my own, so all the prompts will be interpreted into some sort of Dungeons and Dragons theme, so far I have a Myconid and a Flumph, because monsters are my jam. Also my jam: Gaoshan Oolongs, so today I am looking at four different ones from Fong Mong Tea.

Spring 2018 Taiwan Alishan Jinxuan Oolong Tea

One of my favorite cultivars on one of my favorite mountains, yes please! I do so adore real 'milk oolong' with its sweet vanilla and cream notes that combine with lilies and honeysuckles. This particular one is very sweet and creamy, with an added bonus of freshly cooked rice, it is very aromatic. Once steeped the tea takes on stronger notes of lilies and honeysuckles with a distinct and very sweet note of spongecake (and this is going to be a trend with Fong Mong's Oolongs, they frequently taste or smell like a dessert of some type!) Blissfully that spongecake and sweet cream note transfers into the taste for an immensely thick and sweet tea, the finish brings in a delicate spicebush note that combines with an aftertaste of starchy rice. It manages to be both very sweet and thick while also being refreshing and light, I drank this sample on a rather hot day and was so thankful for its refreshing quality. Plus it had the distinction of being one of my favorite Jin Xuan Oolongs in a while!

Spring 2018 Gaoshan Qingxiang Taiwan Lishan High Mt. Oolong

Drinking this one had me thinking, why do I not constantly have a stash of Lishan Oolong on hand? Back when I first got into Taiwanese green Oolongs, Lishan was my favorite, and still is, even if I tend to bury my face in Alishan or Shan Lin Xi more often. The aroma of these leaves is very sweet and floral, with strong notes of  hyacinth, wildflowers, honeysuckle, and daffodils, the real kicker though is the building aroma of fresh juicy pears. This wonderful pear note definitely sticks around in the taste, making for an intensely juicy sweet tea, combined with the floral notes and an aftertaste of sweet pie crust I would swear I was eating a pear pie. One thing that really struck me with this tea is the incredibly long lasting mouthfeel, I could feel its thickness and that sweet pear aftertaste for what felt like hours after I finished this tea.

Spring 2018 Shanlinxi Taiwan Sun-Link-Sea High Mt. Oolong Tea

I am not going to waste time describing my love of SLX, it is well known, I am going to dive straight into the immensely heady aroma of this tea. It does have the (at least to me)iconic aroma of fresh alpine air and pine trees, but also a full bouquet of spring flowers, it brings the honeysuckle, hyacinth, lilies, daffodils, and tulips. It smells so much like a pile of flowers that it is a bit mind boggling. Tasting this tea brings the flower nectar, I feel like a hummingbird drinking this stuff, it is very thick and sweet with a lingering aftertaste of tulip tree flower nectar. Later steeps bring in more of the alpine notes and green, and also finish out with a great taste of Thai basil which is not something I really associate with sweet floral teas but I am totally ok with that note being there.

Winter 2017 Zhu Lu Taiwan Alishan High Mt. Oolong
Hello Alishan! Probably the Oolong I have reviewed the most on the blog, I drink a lot of it and always enjoy getting to try more offerings. The aroma of this Alishan is very sweet, like sweet Hawaiian bread with an undertone of thyme and basil, the finish is a combination of sweet cream and honeysuckles. When steeped there arises a note of dandelion flowers, which compliments both the sweet and green aspects of this tea nicely. So this tea was fun and a bit unusual, usually Alishan starts sweet, goes to green, and then goes back to sweet as it is finishing of, this one started green and herbaceous and transitioned into flowery sweetness. I really enjoyed how refreshing and green this one started off as, with notes of thyme and basil and a finish of fresh vegetation, the transition into sweet spring flowers and yeasty bread was awesome, like dessert after a meal!

Teas sent for review