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.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Tea Crane: A Spectrum of Japanese Teas, A Tea Review

Yesterday was one of the best days EVER!! I finally went to the local Art museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum, for the longest time I avoided it because I thought it was another modern art gallery. No offense to modern art but I am not a fan usually, classical art is my jam. As is history (as long time readers and people who know me are well aware, I am obsessed with history) so you can all laugh at me for taking so long to visit the museum. At said museum, I was able to see a mummy in person (couldn't sniff it sadly, they in theory smell amazing) something I have wanted to do since I started my Egypt obsession at age four, an enormous Guan Yin statue from the Liao or Jin Dynasty (really their collection of Chinese art is amazing, really geeked out of the Warring States period pieces) and what might have been the highlight for me, seeing my favorite painting by my favorite artists...ever. St John in the Wilderness by Caravaggio. It is such a powerful piece and being able to get face to face with it is still mindblowing. I keep periodically squeeing over it and I am already planning my next visit!

Ok, enough art and history geeking out (I really could go on about it all day, just ask Ben!) I am here to geek out about tea! Today I am looking at four fantastic teas from The Tea Crane, a shop specializing in quality Japanese tea. I have been following Tyas Sosen's blog on Japanese tea and culture for a while, so I was tickled to try some of the teas he considers favorites. I was especially pleased that he sent along both Oolong and Wakocha (Black Tea) alongside Roasted Bancha and Sencha. I adore Sencha and pretty much all roasted teas, but find myself regularly seeking out Japanese black, oolong, and dark teas because they fascinate me! Plus I have to give a shout out to the fantastic information cards sent along with the tea, I wish more companies did this!

The first tea I am looking at is Mountain-Grown Organic Roasted Bancha - The Mountain At Rest, and what an evocative name The Mountains At Rest is!The aroma of the big, fluffy, roasted leaves is lovely and so comforting (at least I find it so, but roasted teas are like that for me) note of tobacco, black walnut, gentle burnt cedar wood, autumn leaves, and a slightly sweet toasted bread note. The smell reminds me of bonfires on a cool late summer night up in the North Woods by the lake, it calls to mind very specific memories but lacks the overly strong smoke smell of standing next to the bonfire. The steeped leaves bring in notes of sweet toasted sesame candy and dark honey with undertones of pinto beans (I ate them a lot as a kid, probably another reason why I find roasted teas so comforting!)

Tasting this tea is a real treat, gentle sweet toasted bread blend with black walnuts and cedar wood with a thick and supple mouthfeel. The sweetness is subtle, being similar to very light molasses, this compliments the woody and ever so gentle smokiness that is more the ghost of a fire than actual smokiness. I have always found it hard to accurately describe the transient moment between roasted taste and smoke, it is immensely subtle and not adequately described by either note alone. It is one of those notes that my brain does not register as a taste but more an experience as it draws on many happy memories of autumnal romps and late summer nights. Speaking of summer, this tea is amazing cold steeped, bringing the natural sweetness to the forefront and just being so refreshing and roasted. When I was younger I would frequent the local international market and stock up on imported bottled of Japanese iced tea, my favorite was always the roasted, and having it made from a very quality and rich tea makes it infinitely better.

Minami-Sayaka Organic Oolong is the next tea I looked at, and this tea intrigued me as it appears to be a very green Oolong, compared to the other Japanese Oolongs which have either been roasted or heavily oxidized. The aroma of the curly leaves is quite potent and sweet, blending flowery nectar of hyacinth, orchids, wisteria, and a touch of underlying crisp green vegetation. This tea very much smells like a blooming garden and I am a bee lost amid the flowers. Brewing the leaves intensifies the aroma of flowers, especially the wisteria which made me homesick as it is one of my mom's favorite flowers.

This Oolong has impressive longevity! The smooth and sweet tea sticks around for nine very solid steeps, which I found surprising and pleasant. The dominant taste in this tea was definitely wisteria, with undertones of orchid and crushed vegetation giving it a lingering green taste at the finish. Later steeps have a much stronger floral note, the crushed vegetation fading to be replaced by ghostly orange blossom which was quite tantalizing. Towards the end of this tea's life long lingering notes of wisteria haunted me in the aftertaste. Overall this is a wonderfully refreshing tea, my only regret was drinking it before bed since it lasted more steeps than I was expecting so I ended up staying up later than I meant with it!

The next tea I looked at was Mountain-Grown Native Sencha - The Mountains of Yamato, a very vibrantly green Sencha. The aroma was quite refreshing, with notes of toasted nori, cooked zucchini, sesame seeds, and spinach...typical things you expect from a Sencha. However, there was more to this tea than the typical, notes of spicebush flowers and sweet woodruff blend with a touch of English ivy for what might be the most herbaceous smelling Sencha I have encountered! Steeping the tea really brings out the sweet woodruff and zucchini notes with undertones of apple blossoms.

So, this is not your typical vegetal umami Sencha, true it is somewhat umami with notes of toasted nori, zucchini, and cauliflower, but it also had notes of apple blossoms, heady sweet woodruff, distant sweet vanilla, and a long lingering nuttiness. A second steep brings in the more classic umami notes of fresh sea air, cooked spinach, lettuce, bean sprouts, and a finish of zucchini (I do really love zucchini so much) with a finish of cooked tofu that lingers for a bit and honestly drinking this tea made me hungry because it tasted like food! Sadly I tried cold steeping it and most the unique nuances of this tea were lost, so definitely stick to traditional steepings with this one. I do, however, need to try ice steeping this tea, I feel that might be quite intense!

I saved the one I was most excited for last, the Organic First Flush Seed-Grown Wa-Kocha Black Tea, I adore Japanese black teas, I find them so crisp and refreshing, ideal morning teas while still being mellow enough to enjoyed all day (assuming you are like me and more or less intolerant to caffeine) The aroma of this black tea, in particular, is sweet and crisp, notes of sweet potatoes and orange blossoms blend with toffee and undertones of yuzu marmalade. I really like how it blends starchy sweet rich notes with citric crisp notes, that combination really works for me. Once it is steeped the tea takes on a slightly fruitier quality of mangosteen and a bit of (I kid you not) carambola.

What a pleasantly light and crisp mouthfeel! Not astringent or dry, the tea is like eating an orange, being slippery and smooth with an underlying brightness that really livens up the palate. The taste starts out nutty and a bit starchy, with a sesame and yam combination, this pretty quickly switches to mangosteen and orange blossoms with a lingering orange marmalade finish that sticks around into the aftertaste. It sticks around for several solid steeps, keeping my mouth very occupied by the enlivening citrus notes, I find myself tempted to cold steep this one but admit I don't want to take away from my hot tea stash since I find it immensely tasty. All of the teas I tried from The Tea Crane impressed me and left me curious to try some of the other offerings from the shop!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tea In The City: Krasnodar Green and Gold, A Pair of Russian Teas

I am equal parts happy and despondent, my dear friends, Mono-Black Zombies are now a force to be reckoned with in Standard. I am kicking myself so hard for not pre-ordering the zombies I wanted from Amonkhet because now they are the hotness and cost a fortune. Take Dread Wanderer, I opened a single copy in my mostly garbage draws from Amonkhet, I need four for the deck I am planning...it is a $6 card! Now anyone who plays Standard and is reading this is probably laughing at me since they are used to paying a fortune for cards, I am not, I like my barely playable Vorthos casual decks just fine. So happy my zombie bros are getting the attention they deserve, but so sad over pricing.

Today I am looking at a pair of teas from Russia (by way of Tea In The City) both from the Khosta Tea Plantation in Sochi, right on the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. Pretty high on the list of mountain ranges I would love to visit, do yourself a favor and google them for some real eye candy! First up is Krasnodar Green, a very rugged looking green tea, not like the super uniform and specialized leaves you see in Chinese green teas, this one reminds me more of a Bancha or even Hawaiian greens. Large fluffy leaves in various shapes and sizes with a deep vibrant green color, the aroma is really light, a touch of mown grass and fresh hay and that is really about it, this is one of the lightest smelling green teas I have encountered. Once they have been livened up with some steeping the aroma intensifies, notes of sauteed zucchini, asparagus, and eggplant dance around with mown grass and fresh hay. It is a savory tea, not much going on in the sweet department, it certainly smells very green.

Tasting it, however, there is most certainly some sweet! This tea is immensely thick in the mouth with a snappy finish (not dry, but snappy, like fresh veggies) which gives it a lively quality. The taste starts very sweet, similar to cane sugar and snap peas then pretty quickly transitions into cooked eggplant and zucchini with a light grassy finish. Later steeps increase sweetness bringing in sweet peas and a touch of a distant floral note that was maddeningly light and ghostly, I could not pin down what flower it was as it ghosts around. One thing I found very striking about this tea is how pleasantly light it is, it is full of flavor but delicate with a refreshing quality, perfect for sipping on a hot day, especially since it has great longevity for a green lasting a full six steeps with a few extra light ones.

The other tea I am looking at today and quite unique, Krasnodar Gold, a yellow tea, and if the idea of a yellow tea from Russia excites you as much as it did me, well, you picked a good day to read the blog! This tea takes a whopping 71 steps to make, which is a lot of work, making this tea quite the work of art, and you can tell from the first sniff. These leaves have such a unique blend of notes: malt, sauteed zucchini, acorns, cooked plums, hazelnuts, sweet corn, and a touch of cranberry. Now, that might sound like a nose cacophony, but really it all works together quite well, nothing really overpowering and seeming out of place. Once the leaves are steeped, notes of green peppers, lima beans, corn bread, and hazelnuts mix with a delicate floral and malty undertone.

This tea wormed its way into my heart pretty immediately, I thought it was delicious, but Ben really loved it and any tea that picky tea barbarian likes become an instant favorite. If you imagine the crossover between a sweet moderately oxidized oolong and a savory green tea, you pretty much get the idea of what this tea tastes likes. Blending floral notes and vegetal, starchy cornbread and sweetness. Notes of peony, corn, lima beans, and a peppery finish make for a truly fascinating tea, but yellow teas are like that, I find they have some of the most unique notes in any tea. I definitely say if you get the chance to try some of this tea to do it, and not just for the bragging rights of having tried a yellow tea from Russia, though that does help!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Lauku Tea: Latvian Sun Sampler, A Tea Review

You know what is just so infuriating? My clumsiness!! Not sure if it is a direct result of having Fibromyalgia or part of the whole Autism Spectrum, but my sense of spatial reasoning is terrible and I run into/bang into things constantly. The most recent accident happened last night around 3AM, I rounded the corner in my tea room and banged my knee full force into the corner in one of those fantastic 'pain so intense my vision goes white' moments. I am pretty furious about it since this also meant I got no sleep last night because my stupid knee was throbbing. And now I have even more of a limp than normal. Of course, this all comes off the day before crashing my head into the car frame by falling into the car...I am such a graceful creature.

Today I am looking at three herbal blends all the way from Latvia, and let me start by saying how awesome the packaging was! Not only does Lauku Tea's Latvian Sun Sampler have all three teas they offer, it also came with an awesome apple wood spoon (from the same trees that make the apple ingredients in the blends) a Riga Rooster honey lollipop, and some cheesecloth bags for brewing (which I ended up not using, but love when boxes think to include things like that.) One thing that Lauku Tea does that I really like is the presentation of their ingredients, each of the blends has a link where it shows what each ingredient looks and tastes like. This is doubly awesome when combined with the knowledge that all these herbs and flowers are grown on a single EU/USDA certified organic family farm. I like the farm and their philosophy, overall this company just struck a good chord with me! (I should point out at this time, I annihilated that lollipop, the rooster was delicious!)

So, first up is Brigita's Daylight Blend, a blend of fermented apple leaves, dried apple. black currant leaves, clover flowers, lemon balm, and mountain ash berries. Some of these ingredients are new to my palate, which I found immensely exciting! Fermented apple leaves and mountain ash berries being completely new to me, I am not sure I have even lived in a region where mountain ash grows. The aroma of the very fluffy leaves is a blend of dried apples, lemon balm, tree leaves, herbaceous green notes, a bit of grass, and wildflower undertones. It smells very refreshing and green, like a summer garden.

I decided since all these blends are made with big fluffy leaves and flowers that it was time to gongfu brew them all, and I am glad I did! The color is perfect for a tea called Daylight since it looks like the glow of early morning, and it is refreshing, which is also perfect for an early in the day drink. The taste starts with a blend of dried and quite sweet apples with crisply green and refreshing lemon balm. The finish is light notes of herbaceous green, wildflowers, and hay. The taste reminds me of summer in my mom's garden with a touch of summers on the farm, it is very evocative.

Next up is Anna's Afternoon Blend, with birch leaf, chamomile, calendula, forest raspberry leaves, lady's mantle, lemon balm, meadowsweet, and mint. The only new one for me is birch leaf, and I hope that it tastes like my much-beloved birch beer (made from the bark and impossible to find in the midwest, sadly.) The aroma of this blend is very green and herbaceous with cool notes of light mint and wintergreen (hello birch!) and underlying notes of peppery flowers and lemon balm.

Ooh this one is tasty! I was little worried about the inclusion of both mint and chamomile, sine I am not a huge fan of them a lot of times, but I will freely admit that most blends that use both these ingredients tend to use crap, and when they are of a high quality both can be fantastic! The mint is light and sweet, and the chamomile adds a sweet hay and wildflower taste, combined with the gentle wintergreen, refreshing lemon balm, and very green herbaceous notes of the rest of the ingredients and this is really tasty. I will say that I did not find it as sweet as the other two, but I do recommend floating a calendula in your cup for extra prettiness.

Last is Evita's Twilight Blend,  combining catnip, calendula, heather, meadowsweet, thyme, valerian, and lemon balm. Nothing new for me in this one, but I was a touch leery of the valerian because it can be so bitter, though really I should have been leery of the catnip! As soon as I opened the pouch my cats descended on me, they would not let me be until I plucked a catnip leaf out for each of them to promptly nom on. Once that was settled I could finally enjoy this tea myself, and the aroma is lovely, the aroma of catnip and lemon balm dominate, but the soothing floral notes and peppery green herbaceous notes take the finish to a lovely place.

This one is probably my favorite, I just love the way the lemon balm, catnip, and meadowsweet blend together for a very sweet yet herbaceous drink. It is also the one with the best mouthfeel and longest lasting aftertaste, which I find kinda perfect for an evening blend, drinking it made me feel like I was sinking in my chair. I also made a cup of this western style, mostly for Ben to drink, but I stole a sip and still really enjoyed it, though my favorite was gongfu since it was sweeter and the floral notes were stronger. Overall I enjoyed all three, now that it is getting warmer I am curious to see how they might taste cold steeped, as iced herbal teas were a staple of mine growing up. If you like herbal blends I really cannot recommend these enough!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Tea and Mana, A Magic The Gathering Tea Fusion, Part Two: Enemy Colored Guilds

I love Ravnica, the city-wide plane inspired by Slavic folklore/culture where everything is neatly sorted into Guilds just works so well for me. If I could planeswalk, chances are it would be very high on the list of places I would settle down...that or Innistrad, but Innistrad is a whole level of chaos, especially after the whole Emrakul thing. I thought about doing all the Guilds in one post, but quickly realized that would be a ridiculous post...so enemy colors first...why? Because those are some of my favorites! (Also as tempting as it would be to pair them entirely with Slavic teas I am so not doing that...though that would be fun, but no) Pay no mind to the Living Guild Pact in the photos, Jace likes to think he is relevant, but he is just pretty.

White-Black Orzhov Syndicate

Ready for some creepy ghost-mafia goodness? I love the Orzhov, but man are they terrible, in my opinion mixing some of the worst of both Black and White. True they are fantastic repositories of tradition and have great dealings with the dead, but they hoard their knowledge and manipulate from beyond the grave. One of their mechanics, Extort is a very flavorful example of how they suck the life out of those who seek assistance from them to extend their own ghostly existence. For their tea I needed something with crazy longevity, a steep price that makes your wallet weep and tempts you to make fell bargains indebting yourself to anyone to get this tea, and of course something old. I decided a nice aged Shou, one of the ones that cost a fortune (thinking one of those bricks from the 90s that cost several hundreds) granted all my shou is on the cheap-ish end, so I guess I am not truly worthy of the Gift of Orzhova. (Fine by me, I don't like those guys)

Blue-Red Izzet League

Probably the most fun of the Guilds, at least flavor-text wise, the crazed mad scientists who have an uncanny love for lightning (looking at you Ral Zarek) and who have possibly the best/worst boss in all of history. Niv-Mizzet! Niv-Mizzet is ridiculously arrogant, even by dragon standards, and I admit a bit reason why I love this Guild and would be very torn between joining it and my other favorite (which we will get to soon) is largely in part to that dragon. As a Guild that mixes the blue hunger and pursuit of knowledge with the red intensity and single-mindedness, I feel a great kinship with these artificers, inventors, and knowledge seekers. With a Guild like this you need something intense, loaded with a metric ton of caffeine (for those all night projects) and with enough variation in taste and nuances that the drinker will never get bored...so I picked Red Jade! It also has the added benefit of being a tea that is finicky and needing attention while brewing, and an Izzet member needs that or they get sucked up into some other project, forgetting their tea.

Green-Black Golgari Swarm

This is Necromancy done right! The guild of celebrating life from death, recycling dead things into perfectly usable (though probably smell) fungus covered zombies. The whole reason I love the idea of Necromancy is how anti-waste it is, and on a place that is also a giant city, you need good uses for dead things. Plus I love their mechanics of Dredge and Scavenge, so much graveyard shenanigan, as it should be! Yes, if I was a citizen of Ravnica I would wander into the undercity and join the Golgari, maybe be a Deathrite Shaman, just like my dream. I love you Golgari, your synergy of life and death really is quite beautiful. The absolute perfect tea for this is Fu Zhuan, the tea that's whole deal is golden flowers...aka...colonies of mold and bacteria that have been specially cultivated in this tea. Granted, I personally despise this tea (or at least all of it I have tried) but I do admit the fungal growth on it truly fascinates me. The tea in the photos is from an ancient teabag that I had no intention of drinking (not even sure why I had it) that immediately went to the graveyard, I sadly? lacked any of the showy golden flowers.

Blue-Green Simic Combine

What do you get when you combine Green's desire to preserve life and Blue's desire to understand it, you get the Simic! They are an odd bunch, in charge of Ravnica's health and well-being, they are fantastic doctors but also really like perfecting life through mutations and biomancy. The thing about Simic I like the most is their peculiar history, the original Simic Combine were wiped out after that whole fiasco with Project Kraj (thanks, Svogthir) this of course left a bit of a power gap. At this time merfolk came out of the paved over ocean and were all like 'holy crap we thought you had all wiped yourselves out ages ago' and the people on Ravnica sad much the same to them, so the merfolk took over as the new Simic, I am sure bringing a lot of bizarre fish mutant snacks to the food trade. I wanted a tea that blended specialized breeding of cultivars and farming, and strong ocean flare, so the oh so umami taste of Gyokuro immediately came to mind. Plus it pairs well with Simic Slaw, so that is always nice.

White-Red Boros Legion

I have mixed feelings on the Boros Legion, on the one hand, they are justice seeking cops who stop at nothing to bring peace to Ravnica (quite the feat) on the other they are self-righteous crusaders led by an Angel who has no problems using a flaming sword to smite the unworthy. I promise my distrust of the Boros Legion has nothing to do with my mostly Black alignment. One thing I say in their favor is they feel very cohesive and could fool me into thinking that White and Red are not enemy colors since righteous fury just works on a fundamental level. And of course, there is part of me that greatly admires the heroic justice bringers that smite evil, as long as the thing they are smiting is without a doubt evil. I actually had to call on Ben's expertise on this one, he just gets Boros more than I do (what with being a lot more White aligned than me, as he is Blue-Red-White) he suggested a tea that combines harmony with intensity, the halfway point between a white tea and a red, so I thought, Kenyan White Rhino, which is very much a combo of those two teas. I could easily imagine Auralia, The War Leader sipping this tea, relaxed while smiting.

Next installment will talk about allied colors, which I admit will be a bit more of a challenge for me since they are probably my least favorite of the guilds.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tea Side: Red Teas From Thailand, A Tea Review

We just had the loveliest little storm, very torrential rains and a bit of rumbling, and far too brief for my liking. Sadly this spring the storms have been really weak, granted the last two years were a little bonkers with the constant storming, but still! Storms are my favorite part of this time of year and the main reason I like living in Kansas City. But, my time here might be growing short, in a little under a year Ben and I need to move and we are debating heading north, I miss real winters and boreal forests...and water...so maybe we will live in Madison near his family (who also escaped to find more winter and water!)No matter where I move it will be a headache though with my teaware and really heavy antique desk.

Today I am going to look at a trio of teas from Thailand, courtesy of Tea Side! Sadly only one of the teas is on their website, but I am sure if you gave them an email you could get the ones I am writing about. I am going to start with Red Tea #1, not in the store so I know nothing about it, so this tea's story is going to come from sensory feedback, the leaves have a great rugged appearance, big and curly with a smattering of golden trichomes. The aroma of the leaves is resinous and woody, notes of maple, myrrh, sandalwood, and apple wood blend with a touch of cocoa and a malty finish. It is not very sweet, brisker and woody with a bit of depth from the resinous notes. The aroma once steeped is very aromatic, strong notes of myrrh and sandalwood, camphor and various woods, and a finish of malt, chocolate, and molasses. It is a triple threat of brisk, woody, and rich! The liquid has a creamy sweet quality with strong resinous and woody notes that linger in my nose for a while.

First off, I apologize for the level of messy my tea tray is in this photos, sometimes you don't realize how badly it needs scrubbing until the flash photography is used. I was expecting for a tea that smells so brisk, the mouthfeel and taste would also be brisk, but no! It is mellow, surprisingly so, flavorful but smooth in texture. The notes drift between velvety dark chocolate, stewed cherries, myrrh, baked sweet potatoes, a bit of a rye bread note, and a finish of malt. The tea does not have a whole ton of longevity, puttering out after four steeps, but those steeps are immensely flavorful and smooth, never a hint of briskness. Drinking it is like sinking into a warm blanket on a cold day, I found myself wanting to nap after my session with the tea had finished.

The next red tea on our adventure is Roanji Black, I don't know anything about this tea other than it is a hongcha and it is from Thailand, mysterious mysteries! Where the previous tea smelled brisk and woody, this one smells very sweet and fruity! Notes of lychee and cherry blend with orange blossoms and chocolate for a really decadent smelling dry tea. The soggy leaves pick up a strong note of dark honey and molasses with a touch of tobacco leaves and a strong malty finish, sadly the lychee note is faint, but luckily the orange blossom note transferred entirely the liquid so that makes me happy. I love orange blossom anything.

The taste is almost identical to toasted chocolate cherry bread, with dark molasses notes and a side of walnuts. The finish has a strong lychee juiciness that lingers for a surprisingly long time, and that was just the first steep. For the second steep a nearly instantaneous explosion of orange blossoms, combined with the slippery smooth mouthfeel, this tea woke my mouth up in a good way! It has a headiness that rivals oolongs with its floral intensity, not something I run into very often with hongcha but I am not complaining at all. Luckily for me it has a decent longevity, so I was able to enjoy this tea for a while and was not too sad by the time it finally called it quits.

Lastly I am looking at the tea that is available in their shop at the moment  Red Tea #2, the only thing that the listing says about this tea is it came from old trees, more mysterious mysteries (I really need to stop saying that.) These leaves, like the Red Tea #1 look rugged and wild, I kinda love teas that look like that, not really sure why but I do. The aroma is really fun, imagine mixing sassafras and berry cobbler with a touch of apple pie and lemons and you have this tea, it is very sweet with a slight sharpness from the sassafras note and honestly, it has me craving pie something fierce. Brewing the leaves make it smell like sassafrass and fruit leather, it is so sweet! I am getting mostly plums, apples, and persimmons with pears. goji berries, and strawberries in the liquid.

Wow, this tea is smooth, like biting into a baked plum smooth, it is pretty thick too which really cements the intensely rich taste of the tea. Yes, that taste, holy crap that taste. It starts with a slight walnut and sassafrass note then more or less combusts into fruit leather, plums and persimmons do a dance on my tongue and goji berries and lychees pirouette down my throat. Middle steeps get a bit of a briskness and give a cooling sensation in my belly which I usually associate with white teas, which is fun...that is the best way to describe this tea, it is just fun!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Vouch Tea Co: Oolong and a Pair of Shous, A Tea Review

I had the most bonkers game of Magic the other day! Ben was running his Orzhov control and I was running my mono black zombies (as usual) Things looked bleak for me, I was super mana flooded (13 swamps, ughhh) with 1 life remaining, only keeping the inevitable at bay with Lord of the Undead, Gavony Unhallowed, Gray Merchant, and Paragon of Open Graves combined with Graf Harvest getting me a slow trickle of zombies with menace. I knew this was my last turn, Ben had just played his win condition and if I didn't draw something other than a swamp I was done...I drew Dark Salvation...which meant I got to kill his win condition that turn, and then obliterate his life total with a massive menacing zombie hoard with so much +1/+1 the next. I have had some pretty amazing comebacks before, but nothing quite like that. My other decks are kinda fail, but my zombies are such a powerhouse!

Today I am looking at a trio of teas from Vouch Tea Co, and what they all have in common is a bit of age on them, though one is a bit younger than the others, we can just let it sneak in on a technicality. Starting with the oldest, Dates For Days, a 1998 CNNP Ripe Brick. Do you remember what you were doing in 1998? I was still living in Georgia, going from my Hippie phase to my Goth phase, as so many teenagers do, but my story can wait, instead, how does this tea smell? Earthy, like a fresh bag of potting soil and leaf litter mixed with a very strong note of figs and dates, it is quite true to its name! I did find the aroma surprisingly light, usually, Shou is very strong, but age has mellowed this one out quite a bit. Brewing the tea brings out the aroma of old books and a bit of a swampy wetness with very strong sweet dates, it is so sweet and strong and it works with the earthy qualities.

I will say one thing for this tea, holy crap does it go the distance, thirteen steeps in and it was still giving back...sadly I wanted to go to bed and I am not a fan of leaving tea overnight (I don't trust my cats) so I finished before it did. It starts off very earthy with an almost peppery undertone with hints of cumin and old books, then towards the aftertaste, the dates show up and start a thick sweet party in my mouth. The more steeps in the more the earthiness fades and the dates show up earlier til the final (for me) steeps where it is all dates all the time. The date notes is fascinating, wavering between Jujube (aka Chinese dates) and Medjool dates, both very sweet and with underlying earthiness in their own right. Around the middle, when the tea is probably at its strongest, there is a touch of a metallic taste, specifically the taste of slightly rusted iron which I found fascinating and reminded me of the way the air tastes after a particularly lighting heavy storm.

Next, we are traveling to 1999 with Barely A Wrinkle, an Oriental Beauty hidden away from the ravages of time. I make it no secret, I love OB, I've only had one other one from the 90s and it was quite unique, apparently, OB fades pretty quickly if not stored properly, I never have my stash last long enough to find out! The aroma of these leaves is very sweet, even for an OB, it is intense with notes of raisins, white grapes, honey, plums, apples, and a bit of peach. Immensely fruity, it smells thick and heavy. So here is where it gets fun, once steeped the notes stay very similar, but with added notes of old books, camphor, apple wood, and sugarcane. It is still very sweet, but that added aged smell is fascinating, reminds me of eating fruit in a library.

The tea starts subtly, with delicate notes of honey drizzled dried apples and sugar cane, building to a finish of stewed plums and autumn leaves. After that first delicate sweet steep, it gets intense! Notes of baked pumpkin, grapes, plums, apples, and honey blend for a really sweet and thick tea, really the mouthfeel is quite thick and velvety. I feel very heavy while drinking this tea, like sinking into dessert and autumn leaves, the notes I usually love and associate with OB are very much present but with an added unique depth to them. Clearly maturity is good for an OB if done right, it lasts a decent while as well, getting six solid steeps and a few extra light ones...I didn't want it to end so I pushed every bit of flavor out of those leaves.

The last tea I am looking at is not in the store yet, but I am told it will be soon, a 2013 Xiaguan Ripe Tuocha (bit of an age gap compared to the others.) The aroma of this Shou is very earthy, strong notes of loam, dry books, dusty pine wood, wet leaves, with a hint of jujubes and dried pear at the finish. Steeped, the tea brings in a surprisingly strong metallic note with undertones of wet pine and brown sugar, balancing earthy and sweet pretty well.

You know what I love about Shou? I love how on cold damp days it makes me feel warm, more so than any tea, I think it might be the style of fermentation, but since I don't know the exact reasons I can just be glad about it. I drank this on what might be the last truly cold wet day of the season, so I made sure to savor it, as I really don't drink much Shou once it gets warm. The taste is smooth, blending thick notes of loam and wet pine wood with a touch of slightly sour oak wood and a finish of wet copper. Later steeps bring in a very strong note of brown sugar and molasses, however, it does increase the metallic taste which I could have done without. It is one of those tastes that really depends on my mood, sometimes I don't mind it at all and find it electrifying, other times not so much. By the sixth steep the metallic taste had wandered off and I was left with heavy, thick, brown sugar and loamy goodness, exactly what I want in my Shou.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Teas Unique: A Trio of Korean Green Teas and Chocolate, A Tea Review

One thing has led to another and I have sent myself on a knowledge quest...where the heck did Ammit come from? Ammit (in case you are not into Egyptian mythology) is a lion, crocodile, hippo hybrid that eats the hearts (and the rest) of those judged unworthy when weighed against the feather of Ma'at on the scales, she just happily sits under those scales waiting for a tasty snack, and that is all well and good, but where did she come from? Did Osiris and the gang just wake up one morning and find Ammit sitting under the scales and unanimously agree to just leave the monster? Did they put out a wanted ad on the Egyptian equivalence of Craigslist? Did Tawret just show up with her one day all 'hey guys I have a present for you' and that is where she came from? Egyptian mythology is usually good at saying where a specific thing comes from, but not with Ammit and I find that a little odd!!

Enough of my weird mythology musing, it is time for some Korean green goodness! I am looking at the green teas sent from Teas Unique, starting off with Korean Mt. Jiri Sejak (Second Pluck) 2016 Organic Single Estate Green Tea. First off, can I just say I love the way Korean green tea looks? I find the leaves to be very pretty with their curls and shades of green, they are very appealing to my eyes. This tea is also pretty easy on the nose as well, with a wonderful blend of savory and green, mixing bell peppers, lima beans, green peas, with toasted soybeans, a touch of toasted nori, and hands down my favorite aspect of Korean green tea...rice crackers. I have said it before, Korean green tea reminds me of arare, those oh so addictive Japanese rice cracker snacks. Brewing the tea brings out stronger green notes, pushing the starchy notes into the back but still maintaining a solid savory aroma.

This tea is a perfect balance of sweet and savory, combined with a thick and smooth mouthfeel you end up with a mouth full of enjoyment. It starts sweet and nutty, with a slight fried rice (as in just rice that has been fried, not the meal of fried rice) and sesame seed note, this moves to vibrant green bell peppers and peas with buttery zucchini note. The finish is crisp yet smooth sauteed bok choy and butterhead lettuce with a sweet chestnut aftertaste that lingers for quite a while. It lasts for several steeps, I find that Korean greens last a little longer than most Chinese greens, that middle steeps are more savory and the later steeps are sweeter, taking you on a journey between tastes.

Next up, Korean Jeju Island Second Flush 2016 Organic Single Estate Green Tea Powder (Matcha), yes, Korean Matcha. I have not experienced this before, and you all know how I love trying new things! The color is sage, and the texture is soft, very surprisingly fine powder that barely needed sifting. The aroma is fascinating, notes of sage, cucumber, spinach, lettuce, white pepper, and a touch of toasted sesame blends together for something that is very green but also mellow, I really like the cucumber note! Once I whisked it up the aroma took on a slight floral note along with the notes present in the dry tea.

First off, the foam is really nice, as is the smooth mouthfeel (it is well known how I dislike chalky Matcha) even though the color is a little on the pale side. The taste is fun, it is like a Korean green tea but as a Matcha, complete with the toasted nut and rice notes with lettuce and cucumber and a slight bitter romaine lettuce finish. I have seen some people say never have Matcha unless it comes from Japan (granted Chinese 'Matcha' is usually pretty awful) but the Korean stuff is pretty good, granted it is fairly different in taste from Japanese Matcha, being a lot more roasted in taste. So if you ever find yourself wanting a Matcha with more of a roasted taste and less of an in your face green this could be a really good option.

Onward to Korean Boseong Sejak (Second Pluck) 2016 Organic Single Estate Whole Leaf Green Tea, I found it pretty neat that this tea is the same pluck as the Mt. Jiri, but from a different region, so the differences will be from where it is grown. The aroma of the bright little curly leaves is quite savory, strong notes of toasted nori and sesame seeds with a side of toasted rice and sauteed bok choy, it is green and starchy! Once I steep it the aroma picks up more green, edamame and a touch of fresh spinach join the other notes for a very crisp smelling tea.

So where the Mt. Jiri Sejak was very thick and smooth, this one is light and crisp with a softer smoothness, it is the difference between sauteed veggies and raw veggies. One thing I really liked about this tea is how it is not a weak green, from the first steep it is a burst of edamame, sesame seeds, lettuce, and bok choy, but there is no bitterness at all, just strong savory green and a touch of nutty sweetness. The aftertaste is gentle peony and butterhead lettuce which I really liked, any tea that tastes like peony is an instant win in my book.

Lastly a brief look at something that vanished in record time, Matchacolate Roasted Green Tea Matcha White Chocolate Bar. I am, some say unhealthily, addicted to chocolate, I can tear through a bag of chocolate like the Tasmanian Devil tears through a wall, I have very little impulse control as it is and with chocolate, it is just gone. I tried to get good tasting notes from this bar, but I admit, I did not...I ate it too quickly!! I really did enjoy it though (sadly I was the only person in the house who did, but that is not surprising. It is not terribly sweet (good for binging) and doesn't taste much like any chocolate I have had...it is strongly roasted with crisp green notes. It tastes like drinking Hojicha while eating not sweet as usual white chocolate and I really liked how unusual it tasted...I want more but they are sold out *cries*

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tora Tea: Ceremonial Matcha, A Tea Review

It is kinda chilly today, and because of this Espeon has been pretty much glued to me! I need to enjoy the cool weather while I can, as soon as it gets warmer she gets very aloof and I get no cuddles, though I admit I am very much so looking forward to wearing my sundresses and skirts again, and of course warm weather...not hot though, I really do still hate the heat. Spring is the best, it is warm and so pretty, except today, it is cold and pretty.

I don't write about Matcha very often anymore, I got a bit burned out with the crazy Matcha showdowns and product testing I have done...the more I tasted the more I realized I had become a serious Matcha snob. Unless it passed my increasingly high standards I didn't bother blogging about them...and then they either get tossed into baking projects or lattes, no Usucha for me. When I was contacted by Tora Tea to try their Ceremonial Matcha I almost didn't take them up on the offer, because I was tired of being disappointed by Matcha. However, the description intrigued me 'creamy, bold, and nutty' is EXACTLY what I like in my Matcha so I took a chance and decided to give it a try!

The color is beautiful, vividly green and very vibrant, like the new shoots of grass rather than full grown blades, the texture of the tea is soft and powdery, not at all grainy which is a huge plus to me as it makes sifting a breeze and usually means the texture once whisked is going to be very pleasant. The smell of the Matcha is sweet and creamy, like matcha cake rather than just plain matcha, with an added undertone of chestnuts, edamame, and very distant white pepper and corn silk. Once I added water and gave it a vigorous whisking, the aroma increases in the sweetness department, creamy and nutty with undertones of freshly cut hay and edamame with a slight touch of lima beans and white pepper. The foam is gorgeous, some of the prettiest foam I have gotten in a while and the algae green liquid that peeks through the foam is so lovely, like a bit of summer in my chawan.

The moment of truth, tasting, the moment where it can all go horribly wrong...but the stars aligned and I was greeted with a glorious bowl of green goodness. Truly, this Matcha was perfect in every way...at least perfect to me, Matcha tastes can vary pretty wildly I have found. First off, that texture, I have had some fantastic tasting Matcha that have been ruined by grainy or weird textures, Tora's is smooth and if you let the bowl get cold when it gets to the dregs it is still smooth with only a touch of a powdery texture.

The taste is fantastic, I am not exaggerating when I say I was blown away and immediately messaged the owner of the company and one of my good friends who is Matcha obsessed about how good it was. The taste is a perfect balance of sweet and green, freshly mown hay and edamame blend with sesame seeds, sugar cane, a touch of rice and a very faint touch of both broccoli and miso, giving it a hint of bitterness and umami. Overall this is very much so the Matcha to drink if you prefer sweet over savory or very green, and except for specific circumstances this is very much so me, I like the Matcha to have the savory, strong green, and bitter notes, but I want them to take the backseat to the sweet.

I decided to make a latte (a small one, this is my new go-to Usucha, I am not wasting it!) because I like lattes and I know a lot of people also do, so why not? No sugar, just Matcha and cold lactose-free milk frothed up with my little milk frother, I specify lactose-free milk because my brand (I get it from Aldi, it is the 2% ) is sweeter than normal milk. I really preferred it as Usucha, but it does make a wonderfully sweet and smooth latte with a distinct nuttiness.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.