Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What-Cha: Ceylon Idulgashinna Hand-Twisted 'Blue Nettle' Oolong Tea, A Tea Review

The pile of WIP on my painting desk is slowly shrinking. See my big plans for Christmas gifts this year are buy a miniature I think the receiver will like and paint it for them. It goes with my usual tradition of making gifts for people, and I wanted an early start. My goal is to get the gifts for family finished first and then do a bit of an open season, open it up to like 15 or so of my online friends and tell them to claim a spot and they get a mini. Thank you Reaper Minis Bones line for being affordable! Also yay for not having a job other than tea rambling, so I can devote a ton of time to painting things for people I care about.

Today's tea is one of the strangest looking ones I have had the pleasure of brewing, and I admit I got it entirely because it was quirky looking. What-Cha's Ceylon Idulgashinna Hand-Twisted 'Blue Nettle' Oolong Tea as you can tell from the title of said tea, it is an Oolong from the Idulgashinna Tea Estate in Sri Lanka, specifically in the Uva region. This fun little tea bundle is hand twisted by workers, though I admit I have no idea what it has to do with nettle since it really looks nothing like the plant...maybe it is a reference to the jellyfish? Regardless it is quite pretty, the leaves tightly curled and showing a great variety of colors. The aroma is fairly light, a blend of apricots and persimmons with a slightly sour note like unripe plum, it blends sweet fruity and sour fruity very well.

I thought about gongfu brewing this little cluster of surprisingly long leaves, but decided it would be best suited in my tea brewing apparatus, I want to see it unfurl! And you know, even after a couple steeps, it stayed tight together, which I found amusing. The aroma of the leaf pile is sweet, like cooked apricots and persimmons with a definite honey note. The liquid smells like apricots and apple blossoms, very light but sweet.

First steep, it is smooth and pleasant, fairly light, but it has one very distinct note. It tastes like summer squash, specifically summer squash drizzled in honey. It is pretty mild, with an apricot finish, but it is also refreshing in its mildness. So, on we go to another steep.

Second steep, the aroma is picking up some malty and squash tones along with the persimmon and apricot. I like how the tea is kinda orange and the things it smells like (malt aside) are all orange. This is truly the tea to usher in Autumn, hey blenders, maybe use this in a pumpkin themed tea...because it no longer tastes like just summer squash, it tastes like pumpkin! It is still a bit light, defintely a tea that both has a presence and can be slurped without paying attention, at one point during the second steep I reached to pour myself more and realized my steeper was empty...and was confused as to where the tea went. Clearly I slurped it up and didn't even notice. I also tossed a couple bundles into my tea infuser (sorry no picture, was really distracted with medical crap that day) and this tea handled the long steep very well, bringing the malt and pumpkin sweetness, it was a great accompaniment to a stressful day...and I have a suspicion I am going to get more of this tea to keep around for travel steeping fun.

MeiMei Fine Teas: West Lake Dragon Well Green Tea (Long Jing), A Tea Review

I had the most delicious plum today, really it was amazing. Not the most informative intros about how my day went, but all thought of the day pre-plum just kinda vanish in a fruit filled haze.

Today we are taking a look at West Lake Dragon Well Green Tea (Long Jing) by MeiMei Fine Teas, ah Dragon Well, you are a tea I have a serious soft spot for, probably one of the spring harvest teas I get most excited over. This specific Long Jing was harvested pre-April 5th, making it a Pre Qing Ming tea, one of the more coveted of harvests. When looking at the leaves I noticed some had wonderful trichome fuzzballs, a sign that yep, these are picked super early and have their young leaf fuzziness, most of the fuzz gets rubbed off during pan firing, but some gets left behind as little fuzzballs. I call them lucky, because whenever I see them I know I am in for a treat. Sniffing the leaves, and hello vegetal! Take bell peppers, green beans and Lima beans and saute them with some sesame seed oil and a touch of sweet honey and you have the aroma for these leaves. Just at the start of the saute process too since the bell pepper note still has its crispness.

The tea has made its way into my dragon gaiwan for its steeping, I kinda lost track of time and steeped it a little longer than I meant to, so hopefully that won't ruin all the things. The aroma of the soggy leaves is very green, keeping that Lima bean, green beans, and bell pepper and adding in some okra and only the slightest touch of sesame seeds. The liquid is light and green, notes of green beans, sesame seeds and bell pepper mix with an undertone of honey.

First steeping time, did I ruin it by over steeping? Pfft, no, though I think I did remove any chance of the first steep being very sweet. It starts smooth and a little tingly from the trichomes, the taste is mostly savory, only a hint of sweet at the finish that lingers as an aftertaste. Notes of green beans, Lima beans, bell peppers, and artichoke make up the tasting profile. It is crisp and refreshing in its smoothness.

Onward to steep number two! The aroma is vegetal and savory, only a tiny hint of sweetness at the tale end of the sniffing. The taste starts sweet this time, like sesame seeds and a gentle note of honey. This moves on to a strong vegetal and slight nuttiness, and then finishes with sweetness. I did have a third steep, but it was pretty mild and mellow, since I steeped it too long at first steep. Also, fun fact, this tea was awesome in my travel steeper, kept me going through a rather vigorous game of D&D!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Encha: A Trilogy of Matcha, a Matcha Monday Tea Review

Last night was amazing! Not only did I get to photograph the eclipse, I got to share tea and not very tasty (what I get for getting the cheap ones) Mooncakes with Ben (yay for him getting off work at a decent hour) and I got to share this experience with many friends via the internet and phone apps. It was great, lots of moon photos with 'I am drinking this tea' posts, and it gave this wonderful feeling of togetherness, and for the people who were unable to see it, they got to live vicariously through all the photos. Usually I tend not to get all squishy about the epic tea family I am part of, but after the epicness of last night, and the way everyone has been so wonderful to me with my recent bout of health woes, how can I not get the warm fuzzies?

So, it is Monday, meaning time for a Matcha Monday! We are looking at three different Matcha from Encha, specifically their three different grades of Matcha. Before I get into the Matcha, I want to point out the excellent amount of information present on the website, not only do they say where it is from, they also say when it was harvested and ground, how to make it, the mg of caffeine, theanine, and catechins, and while there are some listed health benefits, this is not one of those companies that shoves Matcha being a panacea down my throat. Encha, for that pile of information and transparency, you have my gratitude!

Ok, time to delve into the green! Starting with the Ceremonial Grade Matcha, first thing I notice is the beautiful color and fluffy texture, I barely had to sift it! The aroma is nutty and sweet, with notes of honey and chestnut, this moves to freshly cut bell peppers, and a finish of slightly sweet hay and yeast. Once whisked into a very lovely foam, the aroma is much more green, strong notes of bell pepper and a hint of kelp with an undertone of sweet nuttiness.

Underneath the foam, the color is a rich algae green, like my beloved Marimo (moss balls) that I used to have in my planted aquarium. The mouth is thick and creamy, no graininess (I really hate grainy Matcha) and it starts with a strong umami note, like a mouth full of steamed spinach and kelp, it is not at all bitter, just robustly green. This moves to gentle notes of grass and a touch of lettuce, and the finish is a subtle sweetness that lingers. I find there are two types of Matcha that knock my socks off, ones that are naturally very sweet and ones that are like drinking pure, undiluted chlorophyll, like I am becoming one with the green growing things of the world.

The next Matcha to try is the Vegan Latte-Grade Pure Organic Matcha I was told by the creator of Encha, to give this one a try as a regular Matcha rather than a latte, it is a first harvest and high quality, but much more robust than the Ceremonial Grade. The aroma if the very fluffy Matcha is sweet with a strong brisk green note, a blend of fresh grass and bell peppers, it has a sharpness that reminds me of a summer day where everything is lush and green. 

The whisked up Matcha is still very green with its aroma, mostly green with just a hint of sweetness like honey. The taste is robust indeed! Strong notes of kelp and spinach with a strong umami middle that borders on bitterness but is quickly brought back with a finish of sweetness. I could see this being a fantastic latte, even as a traditional Matcha it is a robust wake up call to the senses.
Lastly is the Culinary-Grade Pure Organic Matcha and this one is destined to be a latte. I decided to make it in my chawan because I did not feel like messing around with my blender, there is a trick, if you want a latte but don't want to blend, make a very thick paste with a bit of hot water and the Matcha, it will remove lumps and make it mixable. Anyway, the aroma of the Matcha is super strong and green, like fresh grass and vegetation, a slight vegetal note as well. 

Once I have mixed it with some milk for a nice creamy latte, the aroma is unexpectedly milky while still retaining its green notes, but with an added bonus of nuttiness. See, this is what I like to see in a latte, a strong, robust Matcha taste, because if I am drinking a latte I want to taste the Matcha, not just the milk. I added a touch of sugar because I like mine sweet, but even without the taste is great. Strong notes of green, mixing bell pepper and grass with a nutty finish, adding a touch of sugar brings out the nuttiness even more. I really enjoyed being able to compare all three grades, I thought the Ceremonial grade was fantastic, but the other two were also very enjoyable, but oh man, that Ceremonial grade, so good!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Tea Musing: Amanda's Birthday Project, and Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

I am skipping my usual tea reviewing for a bit of tea musing today, starting off with a very hearty Happy Mid-Autumn Festival (or as I incorrectly call it, the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival...I am such a bad Taoist) the end of the autumn harvest, the day of copious Mooncakes (I actually got some this year! Not snowskin since again I forgot to order the molds, but nice red bean paste Mooncakes) and copious amounts of moon viewing while sipping tea. My usual tea for moon viewing is either Yue Guang Bai Cha or Silver Needle, but this year I might do something different. See this year is a once every thirty year eclipse...on a super moon...while it is the festival. If that is not auspicious then I don't know what is, and since the moon will be vibrant red, maybe I will go with a red tea.

So, next bit of musing. this November I am going to turn thirty, which is really kinda cool! I came up with a very 'me' way of celebrating, and yes, it involves tea. The first part of my little plan involves getting some tea from 1985, the obvious choice for this is an Oolong, mainly because it is the only thing I have had any luck with. True I have run into some questionable Puerhs from that year...but yeah, I honestly do not trust it. I am currently waffling between a Dong Ding which is one of my favorite Oolongs and a Bao Zhong, something that I have never had aged and find the idea unique. My plan is to drink it on my birthday and then lock it away in a fancy canister, to only taste it on my birthdays. 

Part two of my devious plan is to get a tea from this year and age it, only to taste it on my birthday. This one I could go a Puerh for very easily, most likely erring on the side of a Sheng if I go that route. It seems out of spirit though, sure I want to delve into the fine art of Pu aging, but why not go for a White Tea (specifically scoring some from Shang's to age) or stick on theme with an Oolong? There are so many options and I am running out of time to narrow things down for certain. Ok, I know for certain no Puerh, only because I want that to be a separate project, also no greens because for the most part they don't age so well, but who knows! The musing shall continue, and hopefully be figured out soon, but for now I have an eclipse to watch!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Tea From Vietnam: Ta Oolong, A Tea Review

You know what, I can't wait til Monday. Apparently my new camera will be delivered then...oh, did I not mention I got a new camera? Well, I was able to make some money and I used that to buy a refurbished Fujifilm S8600, it is not my first choice (really wanted one of those fancy multi-lenses pro $700+ cameras) but with mine dying, the time for saving up for the one I wanted has passed. The new one will be a significant upgrade over my Fujifilm S1800, specifically it has a slimmer profile (unless I unleash the MASSIVE zoom) meaning my tiny hands can grip the thing better for some epic pouring tea photos. The search for the illusive perfect mid-air droplet shot continues. 

Today we are looking at another tea from Tea from Vietnam, specifically Ta Oolong, an oolong that is very uniquely Vietnamese! This is a native oolong, having been grown there for thousands of years, most likely originating as wild grown tea trees of the same stock found growing wild in Yunnan, the place where tea originated. Tea trees are so rude when it comes to borders, they tend to ignore it and wander off to other places. In the 90s a bunch of Taiwanese teas were brought into Vietnam, slowly pushing the Ta Oolong to only be grown in a few small gardens, this one came from a garden in Lam Ha. The aroma of the pretty green leaves is very floral with a hint of sweet cream. Notes of orchid, honeysuckle, osmanthus, spicebush, and a touch of hyacinth and lilies, I feel like I walked into a summer garden or flower filled conservatory. I might have spent more time inhaling the floral explosion than is necessary.

This is a tea that calls for my Xi Shi Yixing Teapot, yeah it is named after that Xi Shi, inspired by her probably very perfect bosom, what with being one of China's great beauties. The leaves, now steeped and unfurled a bit, are a wonderfully flowery explosion, notes of orchids, lilies, honeysuckle and hyacinth are the main flowers, with a gentle crushed vegetation finish. The liquid is honey sweet and creamy, and very, very heady. It is like a garden in full bloom in my cup, just want to sniff and sniff...and yes I dipped my nose in the tea again, it was inevitable.

First steeping, oh it is a creamy thing, the oolong's mouthfeel is definitely a thick one, coating the mouth with its texture, and I am totally ok with that. The taste starts out green and a bit buttery but that is very quickly shoved out of the way by a small storm of flowers. If you are imagining a cloud of petals that also rain flower nectar you are on the right track. Notes of lilies (giving a touch of spice) honeysuckles, orchids and osmanthus bloom in my mouth, with a lingering honey aftertaste.

On we go to steep two, the aroma is creamy and sweet, I managed to not dip my nose while sniffing the flowery sweetness. This time the lily note is very present in the aroma, giving it a gentle spiciness. The mouthfeel is still buttery and thick, and very well rounded. The taste skips over the green note and goes straight into the flowery explosion, so many notes of flowers, lilacs, osmanthus, lilies, and honeysuckles, finishing out with a creamy sweetness.

The third steep brings in more of the lily spicy notes, strong floral and honey with a wonderful spicy note that lingers through and through. The mouthfeel still has that buttery texture that I have come to expect, though it is a touch lighter this time. The taste starts out with a touch of green, similar to the first steep, like crushed fresh vegetation. This moves to sweet honeysuckles and nicely strong lilies whose floral spiciness lingers for quite some time. Many steeps were had.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Dachi Tea: No 7 Oriental Beauty Oolong, A Tea Review

I totally fell asleep during my MRIs yesterday, I just want everyone to know this fact. So first was the EEG which all the strobe lights and fast breathing in the world could not make me have a seizure...though I did find out that even when I am asleep my eyes never stop moving so much so that the technician felt the need to point it out, even having it where my eyes were open while I was asleep, which made for some amusing results. Also I had a hard time falling into a deep sleep while being in a dark room with a comfy chair. But, put me in a tube with loud banging and crazy laser noises and I go right to sleep...I should point out this was also after I chugged the entire much needed contents of my travel steeper full of oolong. This just goes to show you that the brain is a weird thing, They think I should have results of the MRIs on Monday, and the way the tech went from cracking jokes to very comforting and not letting me see my brain at the finish has me hoping that he just thought I was exhausted. In all seriousness though, I want an MRI tube to sleep in, they are quite relaxing.

Today we are looking at a tea that I honestly need to look at more, but it seems that I frequently forget it exists, which is pretty unforgivable since it is a bug-bitten beauty. Oriental Beauty to be exact! This is Dachi Tea's No 7 Oriental Beauty Oolong, grown in the northern low elevation triangle (I didn't know there was one of those, which is cool) between Miaoli, Shiding, and Hsinchu, plucked during the summer, once a year, Bai Hao (this tea's other name) is the fancy stuff, like all those bug-bitten treasures it tends to be both rare and pricey. And totally worth the price (I may or may not be obsessed with bug-bitten teas, I blame my love of leafhoppers) I also blame the Concubine Oolong for my tendency for forgetting the graceful Oriental Beauty exists, for shame. So, how does this one smell, so first let me say I got a bit of a surprise with this one, the first note I detect is ever so gentle peppery nasturtiums. After that there is a burst of sweetness, rich brown sugar and sugar cane, scuppernongs, and muscadines, and a finish of honey and delicate flowers. This is a very sweet Oriental Beauty, and with a suitableness I appreciate.

The wet leaves are so colorful, definitely one of my favorite things about Oriental Beauty, shades of browns, greens, and reds remind me of autumn leaves. The aroma is sweet and slightly delicate while being very distinct, it is graceful like a silk scarf in the breeze. Notes of honey and grapes, specifically more like muscadines, and a finish of allspice. The liquid is like sniffing a honey drizzled muscadine grape, ah, like a juicy bite out of my childhood.

The first steep is sweet and very smooth, again the silk scarf in a breeze image comes to my mind, this tea is silky and gentle, distinct while light. The taste starts out with sweetness, a juicy burst of muscadine grapes and and honey sweetness, it starts gently and swells to an intense sweetness. The finish is sweet and the aftertaste is one of grapes.

Second steep time, the color is as rich as autumn leaves, and the aroma is sweet and wonderfully muscatel, honey and grapes mix with just a touch of sugar cane. The taste is sweet and gentle, me thinks that is a theme with this tea, along with its silky mouthfeel. It starts with notes of honey and juicy muscadines and moves into rich honey and a touch of allspice. This finishes with muscadines and a sweet lingering honey.

The third steep comes in with beautifully large leaves in a practical rainbow of leafy colors. The taste keeps in theme, silky, gentle and sweet. I found it did not really evolve much throughout steeping, just sweet muscadines and honey with occasional spices. It is pleasant, the muscadine notes remind me of late summer feasting during my childhood and the gentle sweetness I found to be peaceful.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What-Cha: Vietnam Flowery Oolong Tea, A Tea Review

OMG I am filled with nervousness, tomorrow is the big day folks, I get sensors on my scalp and stuck in a tube. EEG and MRIs incoming! I have to get very little sleep tonight, that part is easy, the no caffeine before the testing is going to be brutal. For years caffeine has been the only thing that makes my chronic headaches manageable, in fear that it was caffeine causing them I went a year with no caffeine, and I had some of the worst headaches. So basically feel bad for Ben and anyone who has to deal with me til after my testing. And fingers crossed that my seizures and such are caused by something easily treatable or just a sign of me going bonkers and not something degenerative.

On a funny note, I found Espeon, who has an obsession with my tea table...specifically walking across it to either get to my lap or using it as a bridge to the window, it drives me crazy...totally asleep cat-loaf style in the middle of me tea tray. I couldn't help but laugh at this ridiculous cat trying to be the largest of my teapets, I wish I had gotten a picture. Today is Wednesday, meaning time for a tea from What-Cha, specifically their Vietnam Flowery Oolong Tea, a green Oolong from Son La Province in Vietnam. The name is very fitting, it is quite the flowery oolong, notes of hyacinth, orchid, spicebush and a touch of sassafras blossoms. Underneath this pile of flowers is a slight buttery vegetal note reminiscent of steamed buttery peas. It is a slightly odd combo of scents, but it is quite pleasant.

Good heavens, the photos are bad today, soon, very soon my new camera will arrive! Though honestly these bad photos are all me, bad lighting and hand tremors make for some blur. Anywho, the aroma is very sweet, strong notes of spicebush and flowers drenched in honey. It is like spring nectar with hyacinth and orchids, with that peculiar touch of sassafras at the finish. The liquid is buttery and sweet, like freshly blended honey butter and distant spicebush and sassafras.

First steep is incredibly smooth and buttery, one of those oolongs that feel like a mouth massage with its smoothness. The taste is a flowery and slightly spicy explosion, strong notes of hyacinth and orchid, mellow notes of spicebush, and an incredibly honey sweet finish that lingers.

The second steeps' aroma does not change much, except that peculiar sassafras note is all but gone, stull very sweet and buttery though. The taste is still super smooth and flowery, this is one of those oolongs that is the ideal of flowery, if you like green oolongs with no vegetal note and just springtime flowers and sweetness, this one is a good choice.

Third steeping time, still the same aroma, the honey and butter with distant flowers is still going on strong. The mouthfeel for this steep is more silky than buttery, but the taste is not really changing. I went through several steeps and until the end I found the taste did not really alter that much, which is great if you are into a sweet flowery oolong and want it to never end, and believe me, sometimes I am very in the mood for that!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Whispering Pines Tea Co: Earl Gold, A Tea Review (Featuring The Tea Barbarian)

Today I was given a reminder as to why I stopped taking care of fish. Anyone who ever says they are easy is full of it or not doing it right. Years ago I had a ton of tanks, I was rescuing Bettas from local pet stores and trying to rehabilitate them, but one month I was sick, like really really sick. I lost pretty much all my tanks except for my self-sufficient 20 gallon, it was devastating. After that I had a Betta here and there that I rescued and loved for a couple years, by no more massive tanks. Recently the bug bit me and I want to get back into tank management, hardcore, I have two small ones but when I move I expect my tea room to also be filled with aquariums, cleaning water is a really good workout after all. What all of this about is I woke up to a dead Ugin the Spirit Dragon this morning, no idea why, he seemed fine the night before happy and healthy, with fine water. I am filled with sadness at the loss of my fish, debating cleaning the tank, moving the Otoclinus in with the other Betta and his ghost shrimp and retiring that tank, or just getting a new Betta. Time will tell.

Ok that was a really depressing intro, I am sorry about that, so I am going to make it up to you all with some really pretty happy tea, yep, it is a fuzzy golden tea, this time with an epic twist! Whispering Pines Tea Co's Earl Gold, a blend of Golden Snail (one of those Yunnan fuzzies I rave about quite often, and WPTC's is something else) and cold pressed Bergamot oil, and then it was aged for 30 days. Before I get too into this review, you might have noticed I do not review a ton of Earl Grey Tea, turns out I am not really a huge fan of it, the real Erlk├Ânig (think folklore not Goethe) is Ben, he is a connoisseur of the stuff. With that in mind, allow me to describe these fuzzy coils' aroma, they smell really good, like really good. Blend cocoa and malt, chocolate and roasted peanuts, and underneath all of that is bergamot's citrus zing that grows and grows until it is like having my nose pressed into a bergamot fruit. I like how it is not an immediate punch to the face with bergamot, since that is usually what I don't like about earls.

Into the gaiwan the tea goes, yeah, this is going to be a gongfu earl session, that might be a first for me. The wet leaves are very sweet, notes of yams, cocoa, peanuts, and rich malt blend seamlessly with bergamot. The aroma reminds me of like the best ever chocolate orange, man I love those things so much. The liquid is a delicate blend of peanuts, yams, and cocoa, and hello bergamot at the finish, it just sits there and is friendly, not at all overbearing.

First steep, oh that is smooth, very smooth and very sweet. Not what I ever expected to encounter from an Earl, the expected bliss from the Golden Snails with a really crisp and tangy bergamot blend together really well. It starts with malt, cocoa, and peanuts, this builds to a really strong cocoa sweetness and honey, with a lingering honey finish. And then there is the bergamot, it starts mild and builds, underneath the other notes and never overpowering them. Again, it reminds me of the best chocolate orange.

Second steep, the leaves have more or less totally unfurled now, and the tea area smells really good. The aroma is a balance of cocoa and bergamot, like a perfect balance, it is rich and sweet and mouthwatering. I am salivating over an earl, what has the world come to? The taste is rich, very rich, hello malt and cocoa, and of course bergamot. This steep is not as sweet, and the bergamot has a touch of sourness that really wakes my mouth up, and it lingers for a while.

Third steep! Strong cocoa and bergamot reaches my nose from the cup, tea blenders, please, make more EG that is a citrus themed nose caress and not a punch! The punch is nice for some, but I really like being able to tell how good the base tea is. The taste is very rich and balanced, the sweetness returns and blends well with the cocoa and malt notes. The finish is citrus and lingers. Ben and I had many steeps of this and both became quite tea drunk. So what does the Tea Barbarian have to say for himself when it comes to this tea?

"Like all the best Earls Grey, I could smell the Bergamot from across the room as soon as Amanda unsealed the package. That's a promising start, even if it didn't make her cough when she sniffed it as some past favorites have. Actually drinking it was an unusual experience - Earls are, of course, usually made with 'Western Standard' teas from South India, which tend to be strong nearly to the point of overpowering. As a tea barbarian, that's the sort of thing I'm used to. The fuzzy gold used here is much more mild - enough so that I'm not sure I would call it an Earl Grey, exactly.  However, to my pleasant surprise (and unlike several other "Early Grey but with fancier leaves" experiments I've tried before), it actually works really well. Whether Gongfu-style or Western, the milder leaves compliment the Bergamot, rather than being overwhelmed by it - the result is a smooth, earthy Earl variant less suited to kicking you into gear before exploring ancient ruins than to soothing contemplation atop a throne of skulls. An Ambassador Grey, if you will.
All the powers in the world couldn't convince me to review an ANYTHING Grey going strictly by Gongfu - an insistence upon English-style* steeping is part of why I called myself a Tea Barbarian in the first place - but there's one further surprise there.  Don't tell Amanda, but this tea actually remains much more flavorful when taken Gongfu.  It's a very unique Grey variant, all-round."

* Okay, fine, it predates the English using it.  In fact, Amanda tells me the Mongols were the first to brew tea that way, so that's EXTRA barbaric.  Though I use rather less milk than either the Mongols or the English tend to.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Yunomi: Onocha: Mochi Rice Genmaicha, A Tea Review

Today has been an utterly lumpy day. I have pretty much spent the entire time I have been awake staring at my screen, a big lump in my chair, wrapped in a fuzzy sweater. The very ideal lazy Sunday, which is nice since I did not sleep so well last night. I do not indulge very often, but some days just doing nothing is refreshing.

For today's tea I am taking a look at Yunomi's Onocha's Mochi Rice Genmaicha, a classic tea with a slightly unusual twist, and you all probably know by now, I really like atypical Genmaicha, I find them fun. Yunomi recently redid their website, and their usual wealth of information about the tea is not present yet, though there is a bit about Onocha and its history. From what I can gather about this tea, it is good old fashioned Green Tea (probably Bancha) with Mochi Rice, though this is not too uncommon, but it seems for the most bog standard Genmaicha it is toasted brown rice with popped sorghum to give it the 'popcorn' appeal. Once in a while you get one with mochi rice. The aroma of the rice and tea blend is a great blend of toast, fresh grass, and a gentle sweet nuttiness much like you get when you open a steamer full of rice. Hilariously it smells nothing like the Mochiko flour I use for my various baking projects.

Into the tiny kyusu the leaves and rice go for their bath, and I can smell the toasty aroma creeping ever closer from my tea desk to my computer desk, it is quite nice. No surprise the leaves are very toasted smelling, strong notes of toasted rice and grain with an equally strong grassy green aroma, this is a robust Genmaicha. The liquid is a balance of grass, umami rich kelp, and toasted rice. This is an aroma that is very much so savory and not at all sweet.

The taste is very rice heavy, a perfect blend of toasted rice and slightly sweet steamed rice. After this initial rice burst is savory kelp, fresh and slightly sharp grass, and a bit of a grainy finish. It is rich and refreshing, one of those teas that to me tastes like a warm comfy sweater, probably because years ago when I was recovering from surgery I pretty much lived off of Genmaicha. I will say this one is more savory than most I have had, but brewing at a lower temperature I find brings out the sweetness, so take that as you will.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Puerh Junky: 2013 Sweet Brick, Shancheng Tea Co, A Tea Review

I recently discovered something that might prove to be very dangerous. A beautiful little thing called Hero Forge, a site where you can design and then have created, a miniature based on your creation. This of course is geared towards people with RPG characters that just do not fit the various other minis out there, or for my purposes, creating a miniature of something that already exists but not in mini form. I have spent the better part of a year trying to find a miniature I can tweak into Prince Elien from Summoner Wars board game. Because Ben and I are total dorks we started with this as a competitive game, and very quickly weaved it into a massive story and RPG, His Royal Grumpiness as I affectionately call him, is one of the main players in this RPG and I wanted a mini, so soon I will finally have one.

Since the weather is getting cooler, my desire to drink Shou is stronger, I want that warming Qi to cuddle my insides like a fuzzy blanket, so today we are looking at Puerh Junky's 2013 Sweet Brick, Shancheng Tea Co. a Shou that is apparently an economy brand by Langhe Tea Factory. So far I have enjoyed the Shous I have had from Langhe Tea Factory because they blend sweetness with loamy notes, and they get me crazy tea drunk, but that could be because I was using my monster sized Elephant Duanni for Shou. The aroma of these tightly compressed leaves is very sweet, bordering on caramel and molasses, with sharp dry oak wood, and a touch of well loved leather. This Shou smells dry, not at all like a loamy forest floor, more like a cabin during summer.

So, introducing my newest friend, a teeny tiny micro pot, perfect for doing a ton of steeps of Shou, The liquid is thick, notes of molasses and malt, caramel, a touch of wet leather, and a tiny hint of wet slate waft from the still pretty compressed leaves. The liquid is sweet and woody, with a touch of loam, a nice burst of caramelized sugar, and a finish of slate and leather.

This tea starts thick and sweet, strong notes of molasses which almost makes me think of molasses with the texture. The initial sweetness moves to woodiness blending wet wood, dry wood, and a touch of loam. The finish is wet leather and lingers.

And right on to the second steep! The aroma is woody and sweet, and I can swear there is a cocoa note alone with the caramelized sugar and a hint of loam. The taste starts loamy and sweet, still a thick mouthfeel and thick Qi, I have that great sinking into my chair feeling I get when drinking a Shou, always makes me think of sinking into a pile of loam on a summer day. The finish is oak wood and a touch of wet leather which lingers. 

Third steep! The aroma is woody and malty, with a nice burst of cocoa and caramelized sugar. The mouthfeel is still thick but it takes on a creaminess this time as well, the taste starts with loam and molasses and moves to an even stronger loam note with a touch of cocoa and woodiness. No leather this time, just loam, cocoa and a finish of sweet woodiness that lingers. I got many more steeps out of this before it fades to nothing.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Dachi Tea: No 11 Sun Moon Lake #18, A Tea Review

I have a fun story to tell today, a story about little ol me, specifically very little me. See, my mom has a nickname for me, 'moonshine' short for both 'pumpkin moonshine' and 'moonshine girl' so yeah, nothing to do with mountain booze, all about moons. This name came about when I was still toddling around, when we would visit my grandparents in Augusta (we lived in Aiken, SC, so really close) I would insist on wandering off in the evening to talk to the moon in some random made up language. I was especially drawn to moon viewing and chatting while there because they lived on a hill and I swear the moon was massive and frequently pumpkin orange, a magical looking thing to a tiny child. My obsession with the moon did not end as I grew up, you can still find me outside when everyone is asleep conversing with the moon in my own made up languages. And yes, the Tasha Tudor book by the same name was also a childhood favorite, but I think most her books were. 

Today's tea is one of many names, Red Jade, Sun Moon Lake Tea, #18, Ruby Red, Hong Yu, and I know there has to be something I am missing. Dachi Tea's No 11 Sun Moon Lake #18, a tea with a unique story, see what makes this tea so special is it is a blend of native Taiwanese tea trees and the Assamica cultivar, usually this tea comes from the valley around Sun Moon Lake (name drop!) but this tea was sourced from their grower in Pinglin, adding a unique spin to the familiar tea. This tea is also a tea of many faces, if you look at a dozen vendor's descriptions they all list it as distinct, but they all seem to have similar yet different notes: cloves, mint, cinnamon, eucalyptus...but none ever list the note that makes this tea iconic to me, and I admit it took me tasting it a few times before I facepalmed realizing that note that kept escaping me was one right out of my childhood. Sassafras! I had sassafras trees all over my yard in Georgia, their differently shaped leaves and wonderful smelling bark was a staple, that I would nibble on more often than I probably should have. If I am doing my quick and very scan-heavy research correctly, Safrole is chemically similar to cloves, bay, cinnamon, and a ton of other things, fascinating! Anyway, tangent aside, leaves! The aroma is complex, strong notes of sassafras with an accompaniment of cinnamon, sweet potatoes, peanuts, honey, and a touch of menthol and pepper at the finish. 

Brewing time, and whoa, that is a potent pile of soggy leaves. Strong notes of cinnamon and menthol waft out with the steam, alongside cloves and peanuts, with a finish of sassafras. There is a hint of woodsiness at the finish as well. The liquid is nutty and sweet, peanuts and cloves, and a distinct woody sassafras note at the finish. Definitely smells like I just broke some sassafras sticks under my nose. 

The first steep is yum, it is smooth and rich, and very sweet. Starting out with notes of cinnamon and sassafras, it moves on to yams and honey. The finish is a lingering sweetness of honey, a touch of malt, and a delicate roasted peanut earthiness. The aftertaste of honey lingers for quite a while, making me feel all fancy and contemplative. 

Second steep, the aroma is strong with the sweet potatoes, and I find it amusing that the smell is sweet potato and the taste is yam, such a subtle yet important distinction. Alongside the sweet potato is sassafras and a touch of honey. The taste is ramping up, the sassafras notes and cinnamon notes are joined by cloves and a touch of menthol at the front. The midtaste brings with yams and honey and still really potent sassafras and cloves...kinda makes me want candied yams. The finish is all honey and lingering sweetness, with just a tiny tiny hint of malt. This steep has some oomph to it. 

Third steep, and wow, it is still going strong and also getting stronger, I was not sure that was possible because the aroma is already pretty intense. Strong notes of sweet potato and cloves, sassafras and honey great my nose. The taste is still ramping up, strong notes of malt, sassafras and cloves take the forefront. The midtaste is woody and yam heavy with a note of peanuts. The finish, like before is lingering sweet honey. I went on for a couple more steeps, and yeah, I got very tea drunk from it, this is an intense #18!