Wednesday, June 28, 2017

JK Tea: Bai Mu Dan and Imperial Jasmine Silver Needle White Tea, a Tea Review

It is spoiler season, finishing out the beauty that is Amonkhet with the second set Hour of Devastation and I am LOVING it! I have some new mummies that will be going into my black-white mummy deck, some invocations I am lusting over hard, and some fantastic art that I want for my alter collection. Especially all the deserts, I love altering lands about as much as I do zombies, so you know I am going to have to get all of them. Especially a playset of Ifnir Deadlands because I adore the Iffies (as I have decided to call the Ifnir demons) they are just adorable.

Today I am looking at a pair of white teas from JK Tea, Premium White Peony (Bai Mu Dan) and Imperial Jasmine Silver Needle White Tea! Starting with the Bai Mu Dan, one of my favorite teas to drink during the summer, I love how you can do just about anything to BMD and end up with a cooling and usually a quite sweet cup. The aroma of the dry leaves reminds me of summer as well, with notes of melon, hay, wildflower fields, and honey.

After steeping the aroma gets a lovely undertone of white grape, which also shows up in the taste as well! The tea tastes of grapes, lettuce, wildflowers, hay, and melon, with a wonderfully thick mouthfeel and long lingering sweetness. White tea is pretty awesome on how it has a naturally cooling Qi, I always find drinking it refreshing, especially when I am under the weather. When I tasted this tea Ben had a cold and was very happy that I shared with him! You can get four solid strong steeps from this tea and a couple very sweet but very light ones at the finish.

The next tea I looked at was Imperial Jasmine Silver Needle White Tea, a silver needle which has been scented with jasmine flowers. I love scented teas, and I greatly prefer jasmine white tea over jasmine green, so this tea is right up my alley! The aroma is so heady and floral, like a sweet blooming jasmine plant sitting next to me while sniffing a gentle wildflower and hay-scented silver needle.

I feel like I am a hummingbird while drinking this tea, the delicate sweet jasmine nectar with the thick wildflower and hay notes from the tea is just a fun experience. Doubly so when this tea just does not end, usually I find jasmine scented teas lose their jasmine after a couple steeps and you are left with flowery ghosts and if you are lucky just a solid tea for steeps after. This one is still going strong with the jasmine a whopping five steeps later which was surprising and pretty awesome. Also please excuse the messy tea table, I have been under the weather and cleaning it has been pretty low on my priorities, so there are little tea bits all over it!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Teasenz: Wuyi Oolong Sampler - Rock Tea (Yan Cha) Impressions, Part 2, A Tea Review

Recovery is slow, and that frustrates me, but I am glad to be recovering. I am slowly able to eat real food again (my breakfast today was a couple slices of blueberry swirl bread, delicious) and I am feeling less weak, though in typical 'me' fashion, being sick means it has triggered a Fibromyalgia flair so even though I am less wobbly moving is very painful. This means I am spending lots of time painting and drinking tea with near constant stalking of Hour of Devastation spoilers. All the Invocations have been spoiled, unlike last set where there were plenty I liked but none I really wanted, I NEED two from this set, Damnation, and Thoughtsieze, two cards I really want for my Mono-black control deck but with art that is outstanding. Sadly Damnation is $60 and Thoughtsieze is $150...ouch, everyone wish me luck that I pull one or pull something worth trading for one!!

Today is part 2 of my look at Teasenz's Wuyi Oolong Sampler (you can find part 1 here) looking at Da Hong Pao, Huang Mei Gui, and Shui Xian. As previously, two of these I am very familiar with and one only passingly so, but I am going to start off with something I know very well Shu Xian! Probably the first Yancha I experienced what seems like an eternity ago, this one is on the medium side of the roasting scale, with a charred wood, tobacco, grilled fruit and smoked orchid aroma. Yes, smoked orchid, I personally have never thrown an orchid into a fire, but it you combined the smell of coals and flowers you would get this I imagine.

I know I have said it in just about every Yancha I have reviewed, but truly it is a comforting tea, something about the whole lot of them evokes such a happy spectrum of memories and warm fuzzies. As much fun as it would be to describe this tea as emotional reactions, you can't really perceive that if you drink it, so I will tell you its taste, and buckle yourself in because this one is sweet! Like dark honey, molasses, raisins, and a gentle chocolate note blended with a finish of tobacco and wet slate at the finish. The aftertaste is nectar sweetness, a bit like ripe plums and raw honey, that I swear lingers for a truly surprisingly long time. If you are a fan of the more subtle roasted Shui Xians and not the super char heavy ones then this is quite the treat.

Next is the Huang Mei Gui, or Yellow Rose, one that I have only had a few times but love, it is such a delightful Yancha! This one is lightly roasted and has an aroma of chocolate covered plumeria flowers and Graham crackers, the most exotic of desserts! There are undertones of char and mineral, but both are very light, and the floral notes are quite heady, and that pairs wonderfully with the chocolate notes.

So, if you were ever curious what eating raisin bread covered in honey while sitting next to a bowl of blooming orchids and plumeria tasted like, then good news, you can find out with this tea! It is impressively floral for a Yancha, not quite at Dancong levels, but certainly close, with an intense nectar like sweetness that satisfies my perpetual sweets craving. I really liked how light this one was, Yanchas as a whole can be pretty intense, even when brewed lightly, but this one was almost delicate and lasted for many steeps.

And lastly, the classic, Da Hong Pao, the roasty-toastiest of the set. The aroma of this one smells identical to the chocolate chip sourdough bread that one of Ben's relatives sends the family each year...and is promptly demolished upon arrival...we are obsessed with sourdough. It is very chocolaty and very bready, but in a fresh out of the oven way. It has a definite high roast aroma, but none of the char, which I find a plus.

This one tastes of roasted chestnuts, toasted sourdough, chocolate chips, graham crackers, and molasses with a finish of wet slate and an aftertaste of cocoa. Man, I am tea drunk, I started drinking that Shui Xian this morning and it is still going, I think I am on steep 12! This DHP lasts for quite a long time as well, I drank it yesterday and ended up sitting with it for most of the day and it has a fantastic Qi that left me pleasantly floaty while I was painting. Towards the end when this tea finally gives up the ghost the finish is like sweet rainwater on slate with a whisper of molasses. I think this is a great set for the price and quality, if you are new to Yancha you will get a clear example of good quality tea or if you are well-versed in the world of Yancha and like having a variety it is also a good choice. TeaNecromancer seal of tea-drunkness approval!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Beautiful Taiwan Tea Company: Tieguanyin, and the Importance of Recovery Tea

I am not dead, though I swear the other night if I had died I probably would not have noticed, I was just that sick. What started out as an unhappy belly rumbling a few days earlier pretty dramatically cascaded into one of the worst bouts of food poisoning I have ever had, only narrowly beating out the childhood Norovirus which hospitalized me. Don't get me wrong, I have had much more severe stomach bugs, this was so bad because I got it due to my own incredible stupidity! I thought about not mentioning how it happened, and just saying 'oh I ate something bad' but no, I need to shame myself into never doing this again. A couple months ago I bought a thing of olive salad (the stuff you put on muffuletta sandwiches) and had stored it in the fridge because I like my olives cold, but alas the oil had congealed, I thoroughly read the jar and nowhere did it say to refrigerate (plus you see jars of oil preserved stuff sitting on counters at restaurants all the time) so my oily olive goodness lived on my counter for a few days. Approximately 72 hours before this hell started I made myself a cream cheese bagel with my olive salad...and then it all went so wrong. At first I thought the heat was what was making my stomach so happy, my AC broke and the heat was killing me, but no...it soon became clear that this was something BAD. I was at first worried that I had picked up something contagious, then that I had made something bad and poisoned Ben, but he was fine. Lying on the floor, wishing for death it dawned on me what I alone had eaten. Hilariously if you go to the website for the olive salad they say put it in the fridge, not on the jars though, so I am an idiot who is lucky to have gotten away from it with bog-standard food poisoning and not botulism! Oh yea, and when I dumped the offending jar it had totally gone moldy, SO NOT OK!

Ok, enough of that, I am still weak, living off saltines and applesauce and dying for caffeine, but since it has been 24 hours since the last 'incident' I decided I need tea before I murder something. I spent hours while lying in bed yesterday debating what my first tea would be. I knew I wanted something sweet, mild, dark, and on the low end of the caffeine spectrum, which nicely narrows it down to a roasted Oolong. I decided on Beautiful Taiwan Tea Company's Tieguanyin, their Muzha goodness has become one of my big go-to teas when I am feeling like a walking corpse. It is a delicious tea, one of the best TGY's I have had, which is why it has been relegated to be my soothing sickness brew.

I've talked many times about how TGY was the tea that opened my eyes to tea being more than a drink and elevating it to an art obsession as a teenager. For years it has been the tea I want when I need comforting, the one I drink when I am missing my favorite people and want them close, it is like a hug from my mom, a backrub from Ben, breakfast from my grandfather, looking at the stars and moon with my grandmother. Somehow it manages to be the most comforting things in my life in a cup, which is why I need it in my life. Now, I know this isn't really a review of this tea's taste, and more how drinking it causes me to feel warm fuzzies after being sick...but it shows the importance of picking the right tea for the right reason. I hope all my readers have a tea they can turn to when they are in pain, be it physical or mental, because it truly makes the difference.

And it is not just the caffeine!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Kent & Sussex Tea And Coffee Company: Cold Steeping Adventure! A Tea Review

Today was announcement day at Wizards of the Coast, and wow what a doozy it was! Ixalan has pirates and fluffy feathered dinosaurs, we are going back to Dominaria (I am sooo excited about this!) and Hour of Devastation is terrifying looking. There are other things, but that is mostly what I care about, especially the dinosaurs and Dominaria! More tasty Dominiarian swamps and dinosaur tribal deck inevitably incoming.

It is hooooottttt, humid, and gross, so I thought today would be a perfect time to delve into the world of cold steeping with a pair of teas from The Kent & Sussex Tea And Coffee Company! Two very different teas, one black from Africa and one herbal from Crete, starting with Malawi Thyolo Dark Fired Tea.

Malawi makes good tea, I have a perpetual internal debate if Kenya or Malawi is my favorite source for African tea (especially white tea, my weakness) this specific black tea has been fired at a higher temperature, which is where its name comes from. The aroma of the leaves is sweet and malty, with strong notes of molasses and crisp woody tones and a very gentle toast note at the finish.

After letting the tea rest in my fridge overnight, the aroma of the tea is sweet, with notes of malt, berries, molasses, and a bit of a cocoa finish. So I spent the first fifteen years of my life in the South, meaning I know iced black tea...however I have taste and know that Southern style iced tea is terrible, but I do still crave a good iced black tea once in a while. This is a great choice for cold steeping, the taste is strong and rich, but never bitter or astringent (one of the big benefits of cold steeping over straight icing) with notes of molasses, malt, dried blackberries, honey, and a finish of wood and toast. I want to go back in time and give my younger self (and family, of course) the knowledge of cold steeping and this tea, a lot of summers would have been tastier with this tea around.

And now on the entire opposite side of the spectrum, Cretan Blend Tea, a fascinating (and immensely fluffy) blend of herbs all from one of my favorite historical regions of Greece, Crete. It combines Wild Organic Dictamus, Organic Malotira Mountain Tea, Wild Lemon Verbena Leaves, Wild Salvia (sage), Rose petals, and Helichrysum microphyllum, the aroma is truly fascinating! Peppery, herbaceous, rosy, lemony, medicinal, camphoraceous, and a finish of straw. It is complex and smells delicious, if, like me, you find the smell of herb gardens and flowers drool inducing.

Oh man, this is refreshing!! Crisp herbaceous notes of sage and bright notes of lemon verbena blend with undertones of straw flowers, roses, honey, and a wonderful fuzzy and cooling mouthfeel. The ingredients in the blend have a fascinating history, Dictamus was prescribed by Hippocrates for stomach problems and by Aristotle for healing wounds (assuming you were a goat shot by an arrow) Theophrastus and Dioscorides both describe Malotira or Sideritis, whose name means he who is made of iron, as a panacea and prescribed it for just about everything. Helichrysum (also called Curry Plant) and while I cannot find any specific famous Greek philosophers or physicians who used it, it was used in Ancient Greece for pain and wound healing. So when drinking this blend you are not just drinking a tasty tea, you are also drinking something with a fantastic history.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, June 12, 2017

OMG We Love It: All You Need Are Books And Tea T-Shirt, A Tea Accesory Review

My air conditioner has amazingly bad but predictable timing when it comes to breaking! It is a hot week, in the 90s but at least very breezy, so just relying on air movement from keeping me melting is not too terrible, but what a pain! We just got the motor replaced too, and now it is moving air but not cooling, and ACs are something I sadly know nothing about fixing so I have to get the service dude back out here. Now, long time readers know I hate the heat (which is a paradox for someone who grew up in Atlanta and frequently didn't have a working AC) but my threshold for heat hate is pretty high, I want the AC on when it gets above 95, lower than that I can handle as long as 1) the air quality is good (my asthma gets pretty awful on ozone days) and 2) the windows can be open. I actually kinda hate how cold most people keep their houses in the summer and warm in the winter, but I guess I am the odd one out.

Since it is summer it is time for T-shirts! Recently OMG We Love It sent me this very thematically appropriate shirt, with the phrase 'All You Need Are Books And Tea' and that is a sentiment I can get behind! Usually, I do most my reading at night before bed and my tea time accompaniments are gaming and painting (mostly because that is what I do at my tea desk the most) but it is not uncommon to find me on my tea room divan reading my Kindle and drinking tea. That is pretty much all I did last week while my back recovered, just drank tea and read about Elizabeth of York.
Cat fur and wrinkles, cause that is how I roll

I really liked the design of this shirt, the printing is great, the phrase is right up my alley, but the material of the shirt fills me with tiny squishy hate. Before I go further I need to clarify, I am Autistic, one of the things people on the spectrum struggle with is sensory overload, so when a piece of clothing is uncomfortable it is not just unpleasant it is actively painful. It was one of the early signs something was not quite 'normal' with my brain, my mom would try to put me in shirt or something with a material I was not a fan of and I would have a meltdown, break out in hives, and try to claw it off myself in desperation to make it go away. I need my clothes to be immensely soft and with minimal seams or it is just not happening. Now, not everyone reacts as strongly to clothing texture as I do (or many pieces of clothing would not exist) so definitely take this with a grain of salt.

However, I do feel the material of the shirt itself is pretty cheap. It is 100% cotton with a very thin and rough weave that is more than a little translucent when you hold it up to the light. In contrast, my favorite T-shirt from TeeFury (the Dalek PROCRASTINATE! shirt) is soft, thick, and I can't see a lot of light when I hold it up, heck the black shirts they sell at Michael's are better than this shirt. I am really a bit bummed, I really like the design on this shirt but there is no way I can tolerate wearing it. I had hoped that by washing and fabric softening it a few times I could make it wearable, but no, it feels like wearing a burlap sack. Looking at price, this shirt is on the cheaper end of novelty shirts, being only $18.99 with free shipping, so there is that at least. And as I said earlier, not everyone reacts to shirt materials like I do, it could be a perfect shirt for someone who can wear anything and not be bothered (and I envy you!) but for me, I think this shirt is destined to become a throw pillow for my divan.

This shirt was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Teasenz: Wuyi Oolong Sampler - Rock Tea (Yan Cha) Impressions, Part 1, A Tea Review

I have very mixed feelings about my new TENS unit, on the one hand, the sensation of little electrical jolts going into my tissue feels surprisingly soothing and interesting. On the other, it is not doing a bloody thing for pain and in some cases making it worse. I wanted a pain relieving miracle but got a fun stim toy, so not a total waste, but I am still in pain and cranky about it. Luckily though, I have great reading material! I have been thoroughly entrenched in late 14-early 1500s English history lately. It seems all I read anymore is history, having finally just given in to my one true (reading/researching) love!

Recently I was sent quite the awesome collection of teas from Teasenz, including their new Wuyi Oolong Sampler! A collection of six different rock oolongs to really get your Yancha fix on, since it is six teas I decided to break the review into two parts, this first one covering Rou Gui, Qi Lan, and Bei Dou Yi Hao, two of my favorites and one I have not had as much experience with. Let us get right to the Rou Gui, probably my favorite ever Yancha, I love how the good ones taste of spice and distant campfires being so evocative of autumn. This Rou Gui smells of charred nutmeg and cinnamon bark (might be the first time one of these actually smells of cinnamon and not just nutmeg to me) dark chocolate, and an underlying fruit wood quality. It smells heavy and rich, and once steeped those notes are joined with wet slate and roasted cocoa shells.

This is a pleasantly thick Rou Gui, I feel as though my mouth has been completely covered in thick velvety tea goodness. The tea tastes of roasted cinnamon and nutmeg with dark chocolate, distant campfires, and a touch of cookies...specifically graham crackers. Yes, this tea tastes like a spicy s'more, and that is pretty fantastic. Later steeps bring out stronger notes of wet slate and charred wood, but throughout the (surprisingly long) session it retains its chocolate and spices, evoking camping trips and autumn evenings.

Next up is the Qi Lan, and I admit my experience with Qi Lan is all over the place when it comes to roasting level, and I have probably seen the largest variation of roast level with Qi Lan. This one seems to be right in the middle, but erring a bit light, you can smell the char of roast, but it is light compared to the other notes of amber resin, pine wood, autumn leaves, tobacco leaves, and orchid flowers. It is immensely complex as dry leaves and when it is steeped explodes into a different level, with an addition of orange blossoms, baking chocolate bread, and almond cookies. I might have drooled into my tea a little while sniffing it.

So, this Qi Lan is immensely sweet, like someone mixed a rich dark honey with orange blossoms, drizzled it over chocolate bread, and then topped it with almonds. Who needs a decadent dessert when you can drink this thick, sweet, starchy, goodness? Later steeps bring in a bit of a woody resinous taste of pine and amber, which really only increases the richness. Lucky for me, since it is blatantly obvious that I got along swimmingly with this tea, it lasts a long time, many steeps were had and I ended up blissfully tea drunk while reading a book about Elizabeth of York.

I have only had Bei Dou Yi Hao a handful of times, and I am not really sure why it is not a super rare or expensive Yancha, I just never seem to buy it when I am going tea shopping. That might change because WOW is this stuff fantastic! Notes of very strong roasted chestnut and cherries blend with undertones of wet slate and mangosteen. It is very sweet and fruity and becomes even more so when the leaves are soaked.

Tasting the tea was an experience, starting with notes of cherries and wet slate, it blooms into honeysuckles and orchid, with a strong finish of almonds and roasted chestnuts. It is immensely sweet, especially in later steeps where it feels like I just ate a honey glazed roasted chestnut. The roast on this one is very light, showing more as toasted nuts than char and fire, which is good, I love the strong roasted Yanchas but I also like the option of having a lighter roast one around as well. I think that is one thing I really love about Yancha in general, it is such a vast world of roast variation and flavors, that even when I am familiar with a type it can surprise me, and as roasts settle it can almost seem like a whole new tea!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

JusTea: A Pair of Purples, Purple Leaf Tea and Purple Jasmine, A Tea Review

I am feeling a bit better today! My back is still just a mess, but I can sit at my desk for more than a few minutes and that is really all I want. I am excited as my TENS unit is arriving tomorrow and I hope it helps with pain, I know it is controversial, but since conventional medical practices have more or less failed me, time to get experimental! One thing I really like about this, compared to the horrible (and at times I swear outright malicious) side effects I have gotten from medication, the biggest risk I take is losing $30 and possibly getting a small jolt of electricity...I will take that over the last medication kerfuffles that gave me seizures and severe tachycardia! I swear, sometimes I think I am the worst X-Men member, my primary mutation is sickness and my secondary mutation is side-effects...but at least I get to wear a cool yellow suit (and be a host to the Pheonix Force...wait...)

Ok that intro went to a weird place, let us return to the world of tea. Specifically Kenyan Purple Tea from JusTea, their Purple Jasmine ,and Purple Leaf Tea. It is probably well known to long time readers (or people who follow me on Instagram) that I am more than a little obsessed with purple tea, my love of anthocyanins is as vast as my love for the color purple. I go out of my way to get my hands on any purple teas I can find and have a dedicated drawer in my tower 'o tea for just the purples. So let us start with the basics, the Purple Leaf Tea, a beautiful dark leaf processed similarly to a green tea meaning you get to see the color change. One of the things that Purple Tea is famous for (and I think might be part of its popularity) is how if you add citrus (usually lemon) it goes from being purple to pink...similar to that fun science experiment using red cabbage to act as an acid detector. The aroma of the dried leaves is light, reminding me of cooked cabbage, lettuce, a touch of dried berries, and a finish of apple blossoms. This is not one of those super aromatic teas, you really need to work to get the aroma notes...until you steep it. Once it is steeped it becomes much stronger, with notes of cooked cabbage and dried cherries with an underlying nuttiness. I admit it is a little peculiar if you were to compare it to other greens, but if you are well versed in the art of purple it smells great!

The tea brews up a light purple, at the bottom of the gaiwan where the wet leaves are sitting it is much stronger purple (like crushed blueberry purple, not vibrant lilac) and when you add a drop of lemon juice it changes into a lovely magenta. For the photo, I admit I steeped it very incorrectly since I really wanted to show that color change...when I tasted it I used my usual green tea gongfoolery. The taste with lemon is strong, very citrus and green with an herbaceous undertone, I am not a huge fan of it with the lemon, but without I really enjoyed it. Notes of cabbage, lettuce, cherries, and a slightly tart finish made for a very fascinating session. I really liked how it blends the earthier side of the vegetal spectrum (or am I the only one that reads cabbage as earthy?) and blends it with vibrant cherries.

On to the next tea, Purple Jasmine, a blend of Jasmine Green, Kenyan Purple, Cornflowers and Jasmine Flowers. I am always a tiny bit apprehensive with Jasmine teas, often I find them way too overbearing and perfumy (granted that is because they are often blended with oils rather than scented and I loathe blended flower teas, but even scented teas are too much for me at times) so I was very happy when I popped the seal and gave the tea a sniff it smelled like a blooming jasmine bush rather than a bar of soap. Obviously, the dominant note is jasmine, but I swear there is an undertone of fresh juicy strawberries which I thought smelled so good...and have given me really devious culinary ideas.

This is a lovely tea, the jasmine is light and one of those teas you taste more with the nose (yay!) and the focus is on fresh grapes and vegetal notes of leafy lettuce and cherry tree leaves. One thing I really liked is how it tasted like tea...as in the way tea leaves straight from the plant taste before being processed, it is not something I run into that often in tea, but I do find it quite fun when I do. I did try to cold steep this tea with really rubbish success, but I think that is related to the fact that I have never gotten a jasmine tea to taste good cold, other flowers sure, but never jasmine and it is mildly frustrating. I really want to get my hands on their Purple Mint, because that has perfect summer iced tea written all over it!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Well, I Have Done It Again...A Hiatus

People who follow me on Facebook and Instagram have been lucky enough to see my recent tale of woe...I have royally messed up my back. It wasn't even my fault this time! No heavy lifting straining, just cleaning the cat litter and then sitting down to an explosion of pain in my lower back and hip. I know this pain, having experienced it before, and I know what it means. Since I have not been to the doctor/chiropractor for it (as it happened yesterday) I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure it is Sciatica (my old nemesis) since the pain is identical, the inability to sit for any amount of time, the inability to put weight on my leg without collapsing, the inability to find a way to be comfortable...yes my dear readers, I am immensely cranky about this, especially since I cannot paint, sit at my beloved desk and write....soooo glad for some good history books, a bed in my tearoom, and a portable tea table!!

Last time I had this act up it went on for MONTHS, but luckily the first week was the worst, after that, I could go back to (mostly) sitting in my desk chair and only really had problems walking (the walker and cane are going to get some extra love it seems) meaning with all luck my hiatus from writing will only be a week. I have a lap desk for in bed writing which I will use if there is no improvement by next Monday, I don't like to use it because if I use my computer in bed too much my pinched nerve in my neck goes haywire. If you are wondering at the point why my back and neck is so screwy, I have Scoliosis and Lordosis, along with one leg that is shorter than the other (which is why if you have seen me in person, I have a permanent limp) combined with Arthritis I have had since I was tiny and Fibromyalgia, back problems are nothing new. Us, ally I can deal with them pretty easily on my own, but when pressure is put on that Sciatic nerve...well, let's just leave out the long train of expletives.

If, for some reason, you can't get enough of me, I will still be posting to Instagram as I recover. Photos of my tea sessions either at my makeshift table or at my usual desk along with discussing what I am reading as I go on a deep (mostly European) history dive this week.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Tea and Mana, A Magic The Gathering Tea Fusion, Part Three: Allied Colored Guilds

It is that time again, time to return to Ravnica! Actually, it might be soon, for any of you following along with the various stories that story about Mazirek was full of interesting potential! Much as I love the Golgari and could talk about them all day, they are not here today, they can be found here and the original post on pairing tea and Mana can be found here, just in case you missed it and want to know exactly what I am talking about.

Blue-Black House Dimir

They don't exist and therefore do not get a tea...next...
Ok we all know they exist, they are the guild of secrets, assassins, spies, and rogues, with that list of jobs thinking they are a myth is only fitting. Combining Blue's love of knowledge (and the hoarding of it) with Black's need for accumulating power, you would think this would be my favorite guild (what with being Black-Blue-Red) but I never really connected with them. However, I do love their vampires, instead of being blood-sucking undead, they are the Moroii (yes, they share the name with Romania's folklore vampire) they feed on the vitality, memories, and thoughts of their victims...essentially making them the perfect information brokers and I just really like that take on vampires. (Although, in The Secretist one of them does bite Jace, so maybe there is some blood-sucking) I decided to be a little silly with the Dimir's tea, I wanted something that was a tea and also not a tea (since oooh they are spooky and don't exist) which brings us nicely to one of my favorite teas, Yabao. There is a heated debate in the right parts of the teaworld, is this a tea? Is it in fact Camellia taliensis instead of sinensis? Does that even really matter? And no, it really doesn't, all that matters is that it tastes really good, like the stolen memories of winter and forests.

Blue-White- Azorius Senate

What do you get when you combine Blue's knowledge obsession and White's desperate need to instill order? You get the tasty depths of bureaucratic hell! That is unfair, the Azorius are not that bad, and someone needs to act as a mediator to the chaos that is the Guilds constantly bickering with each other, they spend hours creating decrees (many of which are blatantly ignored) and most of Ravnica is not a huge fan of the Azorius. Though without them there would be no Guilds, it was Grad Arbiter Azor I an inordinately huge chunk of fantasy time ago (ughhh 10,000 years ago) who wrote the Guildpact...though he did rig the plane to explode if things go wrong because of course he did.
I like the Azorius Senate, I find them an interesting concept but have found their implications kinda boring. The tea I chose for them is not boring, it is the light, delicate, expensive, beauty that is Bai Ji Guan. It is one of those teas that when drinking brings great inspiration (I like to drink it grandpa style while going on deep research dives) but clears my mind and brings me peace, a perfect combination of White and Blue.

Black-Red- Cult of Rakdos

This is, in my opinion, one of the worst guilds. The Cult of Rakdos is a BDSM themed circus of demon worshippers who throw wild parties and shows which often kill members of the audience (why on earth would you even go if you are not a member of Rakdos is beyond me) Red is the color of personal freedom and Black of personal empowerment and I do not see how joining a demon cult embodies either of those aspects. I want to like the Black-Red since those are two of my main colors, but no, I am very much not impressed. Deciding what tea to pick was surprisingly easy, since Rakdos clearly wants to be a really bad 80s Heavy Metal album (seriously, look at Rakdos cult art, it is ridiculous) so I needed a tea that was really intense, really on fire, and very metal...so I went with the cheapest Shui Xian Yancha from Sea Dyke I could find. It tastes like an inferno, is very intense, and very cheap...it is a tea I am greatly fond of when I have a cold and can't really taste anything.

Red-Green- Gruul Clans

This Guild started out as group in charge of taking care of Ravnica's wild spaces and keeping the expanse of civilization in check, as you can imagine on a plane that is a giant city they pretty quickly lost their jobs. They went a little organic Mad Max and really gave up on civilization, dividing into clans out in the Wastes and ineffectually plot the downfall of the plane. They are chaos incarnate and even though there is not much going on, I can respect that, especially since the various guilds took away their wild spaces and eventually wrote them out of the law, they got a seriously raw deal. For them, I wanted a tea that was intense and simple, something you would grab in a mug on your way to sowing chaos, but something that is cheap and not necessarily refined. I chose a black orange pekoe, steeping it will give you a quick strong cup with little nuance and a lot of caffeine.

Green-White- Selesnya Conclave

Do you like trees? Dryads? Joining a brainwashing nature cult? Then let me introduce you to the Selesnya Conclave! Long ago, the dryad leaders of Selesnya joined together into a massive magical tree hive mind, and they think that eventually, we can all achieve the peace and harmony of nature that they have...I like nature but I do find that a little creepy...too much, dial it down a bit Mat'Selesnya! The Selesnya gets a lot of hate in the fandom, and it is sad, they might be a nature cult but the core ideas of merging peace and nature is beautiful and reminds me of my mom, so I picked one of her favorite teas to represent it. Jin Xuan Oolong, that delightfully sweet Taiwanese Oolong she often compares to her love of gardens and spring.

Next installment will take us to Tarkir to look at the truly fantastic clans, and I promise I won't complain too much about how Dragon's Tarkir is not as awesome as Khan's Tarkir. Stupid Ugin ruins everything.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Yunnan Sourcing: Comparing Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong Black Teas, A Tea Review

Last night I altered one of my favorite cards for my Mono-Black casual zombie deck, Graf Harvest! I love that my zombies get Menace and I can use it for token generation, creating a hoard is what I do after all. This card is from Eldritch Moon on Innistrad and while altering it I noticed something very odd...the art depicts a skeleton lich (possibly a skeleton warrior or wizard, but spoilers I think it is the same skeleton as Paragon of Open Graves) and as far as I know, liches are not a thing on Innistrad. Sure we get a one-off mention of Liliana studying under them during Origins, but that is it, no mention in the Planeswalker Guides or the artbooks, so it might not have been on Innistrad she studied under said liches, where did he come from? Also, I have decided his name is Gustav, and I want to know his story! Is he just a very powerful Ghoul doing work for his Necromancer master? Some sort of Emrakul weirdness? SO MANY QUESTIONS!!

Ok, enough Vorthos ranting, today I am comparing the two Spring 2016 Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong Black Teas from Yunnan Sourcing. Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong of Wu Yi Fujian Black tea vs Premium AA Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong of Wu Yi Fujian Black tea. The Premium is differentiated from the not premium (let us just call it the regular from now on) by being plucked during a two day period where the buds and leaves are small and tender, and by being processed by the head of the Li family (who has been processing Wuyi tea for four generations.) I broke out the mini gaiwans to test them side by side, regular on the left and premium on the right. From the appearance, the difference is clear, the premium's leaves are larger and longer and the regular has a bit more golden trichomes, the aroma is night and day (as is the taste but I will get to that!) The regular is fruity and chocolatey, very much so the smell of stewed plums and cherries drizzled in chocolate with undertones of starchy bread and a rich malty finish. The aroma of the premium is light with dancing notes of orange blossoms and fresh cherries, for all that the notes are airy in nature, the density of the aroma is pretty potent and this tea is very aromatic and seemed to linger in my nose for a while. One is rich and heavy and the other potent and light, a fun contrast!
From a later steeping, but it really shows the contrast in leaves

Steeping the pair up makes for a happy me, because these teas smell fantastic! The regular smells of cocoa, plums, raisin bread, and malt...it is a rich and heavy dessert (and there is a reason this tea is one of my go-to teas when I feel like crap because it is so good.) The premium blends notes of cherries, raspberries, black pepper, cumin, oranges, and mango peels. There is a lot going on in both of the teas, but they are very different with fruit being the main overlapping note. The tea itself, free from its leaves is very light on the premium, gentle orange blossoms, and very light cherry notes, where the regular has strong notes of peanuts and cocoa.

So when I say these teas are night and day, I do not necessarily mean they are that different in taste, true they are noticeably different, but they are still identifiably Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong. I want to drink the premium in the morning, to liven my senses and wake up my palate, I want to drink the regular in the evening as a rich finish to a long day, it feels heavy and sleepy. The regular has a very thick mouthfeel, with strong notes of malt, molasses, cocoa, myrrh, and a finish of yammy goodness and lingering gentle stewed plums. The premium has notes of orange blossom, gentle nuttiness, plums, cherries, and a slight starchy finish. Its mouthfeel is very crisp and smooth and much lighter than the regular.

Both teas really stick around for a while, with the premium lasting nine steeps and the regular lasting eight. The regular stays pretty consistent with its notes for the entire session, the premium changes things up as it goes, getting sweeter and a bit richer (still maintaining that lively brightness throughout) with touches of cocoa and malt. Towards the end of both tea's lives, they were very similar, granted I was getting very tea drunk at that point and the world was becoming a tasty blur, especially since I had paired these with some music and painting, I was in a happy place...though I admit not necessarily coherent by the finish!
Gustav! Where did you come from?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Teasenz: A Pair of Greens, Tai Ping Hou Kui and Zhu Ye Qing, A Tea Review

So, it is inevitable that since I am obsessed with altering cards that I would want to get all the ones I can depicting my two (three if you count Ral Zarek, but he is not a main character, sadly) favorite Planeswalkers (not their Planeswalker cards because pricey!) On the one hand I can get most the Jace cards pretty easily, I think there is maybe one that is above fifty cents...not so much with Liliana! Oh wow, same with Ugin (stupid spirit dragon!!) and I have a hard time justifying getting a card I only want for the art. I might make an exception for Rise of the Dark Realms though since I need that card for my Commander zombie deck because graveyard to the battlefield is killer.

Today I am looking at a pair of green teas from Teasenz, the first one is Zhu Ye Qing, or Bamboo Leaf Green, named for the tea's resemblance to fresh bamboo leaf shoots. I have long been fond of Zhu Ye Qing, having some of the prettiest leaves in green tea I cannot resist ogling them when I have the chance to drink them. The aroma of the emerald buds is very green, strong notes of edamame, eggplant, zucchini, and sauteed mushrooms and bok choy with a tiny hint of flowers at the finish. Once steeped the tea is strong in the edamame and sweet peas, more green vegetal than savory vegetal with a nice crisp finish of lettuce and bok choy.

The first steep of this tea starts out sweet and crisp, like snap peas and lettuce with a bit of distant floral and undertones of bamboo leaves, it is very much the ideal of light green, gentle in every way with subtlety as its defining feature. The second steep is a different story, it becomes thick and smooth, with very strong savory zucchini and grilled eggplant followed up by undertones of sauteed bok choy and a finish of sweet peas that lingers for quite a while. The following steep is all peas all the time, it is a good thing I am rather fond of peas because wow is it ever distinct, and that is how the tea finished out a couple steeps later, just gentle sweet peas with a smooth mouthfeel.

The next tea I had the pleasure of enjoying is their Tai Ping Hou Kui, that famously flat tea with massive leaves. This is such a fun tea to both look at and drink, partially because it gives me an excuse to use the tall glass method for brewing. The aroma of the long leaves is delightfully crisp and floral, notes of lettuce, bell peppers, and raw broccoli blend with a gentle undertone of orchid flowers. Brewing the leaves fills my tea area up with the aroma of spring time green tea, it is very seasonally appropriate.

I was able to get several refillings and pour of the cup of leaves, I hesitate to call them steeps since I never truly empty the cup, it is a modified grandpa style if you will. It starts out very light and crisp, in both taste and mouthfeel, being a blend of lettuce and bell peppers. Later steeps bring in stronger vegetal notes, though they remain crisp and never truly go into savory or bitter, only staying in the green and sweet spectrum with a touch of a floral quality. this was truly a very refreshing session. I admit I did not pay as much attention to the nuances of taste as I probably should have, I was washed away in how refreshing the tea was and it ended up fueling my painting binge, so I call that a win!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Yunomi: Seikoen Tea Factory: Echigo Bocha, Roasted Stem Tea, A Tea Review

I should probably offer up an apology to my Instagram followers, the last few days you all have been inundated with my newest obsession...altering Magic cards. I love painting miniatures but have been getting increasingly frustrated with their cost, running out of places to put them, accidentally breaking them (I sat on my Malifaux Izamu's Naginata after it had fallen off the shelf, not cool) and oh god dusting them, I wanted something to paint between miniatures and altering magic cards just seemed perfect. I was really nervous about it and delayed a while, my mom and grandmother are the canvas painters...I always looked at a canvas and could not figure out depth. Oddly learning to paint by using miniatures really gave me skills to paint a 2D surface and not have it be flat. So yeah, sorry about the flood of zombies and general Black Mana nonsense...it is far from over!!

Today I am going to look at another unusual tea from Yunomi, their Seikoen Tea Factory: Echigo Bocha, Roasted Stem Tea, a roasted Kukicha blended with toasted rice to make an extra toasty Genmaicha, that in of itself is not what makes it unusual (though the difficulty of finding a Hojicha style Genmaicha is one I have bemoaned many times.) What makes this tea unique is how it is stored, aged in a Yukimuro or 'snow room' which is, you guessed it, a room stuffed full of last season's snow and kept at a balmy just below zero. You can find a bunch of high-end Japanese products advertised as being aged in a Yukimuro, it is thought that the snow (rather than just using a freezer) gives a smoother and sweeter taste and richer aroma while removing any unpleasant aromas from storage. A thing born of necessity in cold Niigata in a time before electricity has been turned into an art. My thoughts when opening the package and sniffing the leaves: Oooooh yum! Gentle smoky sticks blend with toasted rice give a slightly burnt toast, roasted nuts, and autumn leaves, it is very soothing and a decent bit savory.

Brewing the leaves makes my tea area smell like burnt popcorn and toast, with undertones of rice crackers and nuttiness. It smells like food and honestly, the smell of it steeping is making me salivate. The liquid free of the stems is just straight up rice cakes and popcorn, it has me really hungry, I legit have used Hojicha and Genmaicha as a food substitute when I have been too sick to eat, they were staples when I was recovering from gallbladder exodus and tonsil removal surgeries. It is liquid comfort.

The taste is really quite good, the roasted stems bring in notes of gentle smoke and grain, while the toasted rice brings in notes of popcorn and rice cakes. It starts savory then fades into gentle sweetness, and if you are like me and wander away from a cup and come back after it has cooled a bit you will find the taste is even sweeter. I really like there is no wrong way to brew this tea...want it super strong in the roast department, then steep it forever...want it really light and sweet, then give it short steeps, no matter what you do to it you end up with a tasty tea. Did the storage in the Yukimuro make a difference? I honestly can't say, I would love to get ahold of this tea not stored in the snow room to do a comparison, but I will say that it is a delicous roasted tea that delivers a strong and nuanced taste and if you are a fan of roasted teas get some...I know I plan on getting more!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Kora Tea And Crafts: Black Beauty and Autumn Leaves, A Tea Review

Ben and I are about to delve into something very stupid, we are going to start playing Standard. Last week we went on a grand tour of all the various Magic The Gathering themed shops in the area and unsurprisingly Standard is the main thing everyone plays, with a bit of Legacy and Commander scattered about. As much as I love my seemingly endless games of casuals against Ben, I do need to get out of the house once in a while (this is hard since I am a recluse) so we have decided to dabble in Standard. We figure we can make a couple of playable (not competitive because no way am I dropping $300 on a deck I can only play for a limited time) decks for a decent price. He will be playing red-green delirium and I will be playing white-black mummies, eventually sneaking back to mono black with either a mountain of zombies or going control (I just want to play with mummies for a bit because I adore mummies.) I am hoping that sticking with a single color will help me rotate cards in and out as sets rotate, we shall see! Chances are I chicken out and just hide under a table though.

I have written many times of my love of Nepalese tea, how it always tastes so clean and pure to me, it is one of those regions where the tea itself really captures the environment and I feel like I am being refreshed by the beautiful mountain air. So I was very pleased to try two teas offered by Kora Tea And Crafts, a black and a green, both from Ilam but from different estates. Starting off with the Autumn Leaves, an oxidized green tea from La Mandala Estate, the leaves look like the first touch of Autumn after a hot summer, still green but with that curl of red and brown along the edges. The aroma is immensely light, like dried leaves with a slight underlying crispness. Steeping the leaves brings out some notes other than dried leaves, bell pepper, spicebush, and a bit of a menthol finish make up the bulk of the mostly delicate aroma. The finish has a bit of a buttery and floral note, but it is faint.

The first time I brewed this tea I used a lower temperature like I usually do for greens, but it was so light that I decided to push it with more heat bringing the temperature to 195° and I am glad I did because this tea can handle the heat. The mouthfeel is immensely crisp, like biting into a cucumber crisp, and that is a fair comparison since there are notes of cucumber, lettuce, spring water, peony blossoms, and a bit of eggplant. It is very refreshing, especially on a hot day where its gentle cooling sensation in my belly was quite welcome. Later steeps bring in a more smooth mouthfeel, bordering on buttery, with longer lasting floral notes that linger well into the aftertaste.

Black Beauty is black tea from Jasbire Estate and of course, I was very excited about it because I adore Nepalese black teas! The aroma is more than a little mouthwatering, with notes of chocolate bread, yams, roasted pecans, peanuts, and a bit of a malty finish. It is very rich and sweet, so exactly what I like in my black tea! Steeping the tea just makes it richer, stronger notes of yams and chocolate bread blend with an underlying floral note that gives it a lovely decadent sweetness, I might have had my nose in the gaiwan sniffing the leaves longer than strictly necessary.

So, you can tell I liked this tea a lot because my sample of it is already gone, something about black teas that are smooth, sweet, and rich...they never stick around very long. It starts with gentle floral notes of peony and a bit of osmanthus but drizzled in dark chocolate with a helping dose of yams and starchy bread. Later steeps bring in a bit of woodiness and malt with stronger dark chocolate notes but lighter flower ones, it is a touch less sweet towards the finish as well, focusing on the richer notes. I am sad I have already drunk all of this tea and predict I will get more, and at $25 for 100g I probably won't run out for a while...maybe...

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.