Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pique Tea: Mint Sencha, Jasmine, and Earl Grey, A Tea Review With The Tea Barbarian

Today I am looking at three different teas of a completely different sort than I usually examine, with some help from the Tea Barbarian (aka Ben) since he is my in house expert in all things Earl. I was contacted through Instagram by Pique Tea to try their tea crystals, and I admit I am enough of a tea snob at this point that when I first saw it I was tempted to go a big nope, but I was curious so I investigated further. Unlike the ungodly gross instant tea I occasionally drank in moments of desperation when I was a youngin' this is organic whole leafed tea, sourced by Roy Fong (of Imperial Tea Court fame) and then crystallized. No sugars or grossness, in theory this is just dehydrated brewed tea waiting to be rehydrated. Kinda sci-fi and I like that, but at the same time and with this introductory caveat I am not sure this is the tea for me, regardless if it is the best thing I have ever had or any spectrum in between. A huge part of the enjoyment of tea for me is the sensory bliss of examining the leaves, the process of brewing (one of the reasons I favor Gongfucha so much) and while I would not go as far as to say that tea is spiritual for me, I wouldn't say it isn't either. And while the tea crystals are incredibly easy to brew, they do take what I consider the most fun part out of the equation. But, enough of that, time to find out if they are any good or not!

I tried the Jasmine first, a green tea that has been scented with jasmine, so yay for not blending jasmine oils in with the tea. The crystals themselves have a fairly faint aroma, granted I didn't want to accidentally inhale them so there was not the full on piggie searching for truffle snuffling that usually happens with leaves. Once I poured the hot water onto the crystals the aroma became very strong of jasmine, its heady scent wafted out of the cup and around my tea-desk like a flowery fog.

The taste was decent, I was not hugely wowed, but in this tea's favor I have not been wowed by a jasmine in a long while, part of me thinks I have just gotten over jasmine in favor of osmanthus, rose, and tangerine blossom. The jasmine was quite strong and it didn't taste like perfume, it tasted like flowers with a light green tea base, nothing really stood out as spectacular or awe inspiring. It was very convenient for a quick brew before dashing out the door to run errands, and chilled it becomes a bit sweeter.

Next up was the Mint Sencha, I like mint and I like Sencha, so this seems promising. Like the Jasmine it lacked much in the aroma department, but once I added water to the crystals the mint and slightly vegetal tone of the Sencha made itself well known.

The taste of this one was mild and surprisingly umami, savory notes of spinach and kelp blend with cooling mint and a back taste of kale. It was not bad, it lacked depth but its taste was enjoyable if not a little mild. I think my only real complaint with this tea is its price, and since I know cost value is different for everyone this is not something I bring up often on the blog. See, I am not a person with income so I am always looking for tea that is a bargain while not skimping on taste and quality, take for instance a favorite tea of my, Ailaoshan Black is $6 for 50 grams of tea, if I use roughly 2 grams per 100ml gaiwan that is 25 sessions of tea, and since that tea gets me 3+ steepings each session, well you can see it does not even compare to something that costs almost $10 for 14 cups of tea. To me it is not worth it, but like I said earlier, I am not sure I am this tea's target audience. But to be fair, let's look at who this tea's target audience really is, the bagged tea drinkers, if we are to look at higher end teabags (let's just say Adagio's Sencha which is $19 for 15 teabags) things make a bit more sense. Taste wise these teas blow most teabags out of the water, so that is a solid win there, thus ending my tiny foray into economics.

But, there is one more tea to cover and for that I need the help of my Earl Grey obsessed fiance:

I will admit, I approached this review with some trepidation.

For one, there's almost eleven months to go until my “traditional” feature on this blog.  Amanda wants me to feature more, but I'll level with you – I'm not sure what I can offer to you guys here.  I can enjoy a good cup of tea, and I can REALLY enjoy a low-quality cup of tea, but I don't have her poetic sense of taste, or her mental library of every sensory experience she's ever had.

For another, tea crystals.  I mean, what?  It's a really strange way of preparing the stuff, and whilst I can see the advantages in some abstract sense (less clean-up than leaves without the problems of bags), I wouldn't want to sacrifice taste to avoid a little cleanup.  Even more concerning – tea crystals have very little smell when unsteeped, so it was impossible for this tea to pass my basic Early Grey test of making people cough.

But never let it be said that I'm not a game sort of Tea Barbarian – I tried a cup.  With some measure of trepidation, mind: even fully steeped, at had a very faint aroma, and I was expecting a few bland sips, followed by a heated internal debate about whether to finish the mug or pour it out.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

The tea has a shockingly rich and balanced taste.  The deepness of tea leaves, set off with the sharpness of citrus, without either one getting overpowering or making the other taste bitter.  There wasn't a lot of nuance to its taste, but nuance is largely wasted on me, anyway – I like a rich flavor which is fulfilling in itself and pairs well with any meal I might be having, and this delivered.  In short, somehow these crystals managed to be a perfect Earl Grey – in fact, I would happily rank it among my four or five favorites I've ever tried!  Crystals or no, coughing or no, it's an excellent tea in a surprising yet convenient package.  I can recommend it wholeheartedly.

(I also tried the other two of these teas.  It seems like that “lack of nuance” preference of mine may be important here – both were fine, and I didn't actively dislike them, but they didn't make the same strong impression that the Earl did, even accounting for my own Earl-oriented preferences.)

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

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