Friday, April 28, 2017

Teaful: Taste of Taiwan Chapter 3, A Tea Reivew

I have really sad news, my camera, my dear Fujifilm S8630 managed to get a scratch on the lens, right on the corner. Luckily it is not messing up my photos, but bah, this annoys me...well I was planning on getting a new camera for birthday/Christmas, if I can manage to save the money. The camera I want is a whopping $699 the Nikon D3400, granted I am getting a bundle because I want the lenses, flash, remote, and all that stuff and it is a bit cheaper to get a bundle. This is kinda a big deal, I have wanted an SLR since I was in high school, but could never justify it, but more and more I am getting irritated by the limitations my camera imposes on me, like not having an external flash so I had to cobble a really ghetto flash difuser...and no remote so all my droplet photos are taken by holding super still...and no macro lens for showing off how beautiful the leaves can be! Don't even get me started on how it limits my nature photography, I am tired of making due, I am worth it and getting that camera!! If you are curious, the scratch came from my attempt at using a desk tripod failing a bit, I was tired of crooked photos.

Oh yeah! One of my favorite tea companies has done it again, made a box of intriguing teas packaged in really smart looking packaging. I know I have said it in the previous chapters, but I really like their packaging. Taste of Taiwan Chapter 3 contains Rhythm 21 Black Tea, Shan Lin Xi Oolong, Four Seasons Oolong, and Muzha Iron Goddess Oolong, long time readers will recognize a few great tea loves of mine in this box, so yeah I was excited to dig in.

First up is the Four Seasons Oolong, an excellent beginner, daily drinker, grandpa steeper, all around good Oolong. The aroma of the green tightly rolled leaves is wonderfully sweet, it blends classic green oolong floral sweetness with (also) classic notes of crushed vegetation and growing things. Notes of spicebush flowers, gardenia, chestnut, honeysuckle, and a bit magnolia nectar blend with crisp and refreshing crushed leaves. It reminds me of walking in an overgrown garden and the smell of all the flowers and leaves as you brush past them. Some Oolongs smell of spring, Four Seasons often reminds me of summer. Once I steep the leaves, the aroma reminds me so much of a poplar, from the leaves to the nectar-filled flowers, it is very nostalgic as I no longer live in an area where this tree grows.

One this I really love about Four Seasons Oolong is how approachable it is, I have on several occasions, introduced people to the glory of Taiwanese Oolongs using this type of tea. It is easy to get and easy to brew, and I am pretty sure it is impossible to mess it up while brewing...and believe me, I have tried, which is why it became a staple for having tea on the go in my travel steeper (aka it is grandpa style.) This particular Four Seasons Oolong is pretty fantastic, possibly one of the sweetest, very strong notes of poplar blossoms and magnolia, with undertones of lilies and tulips. Later steeps bring out the green notes of crushed vegetation and a slightly nutty edamame note, though green it does maintain its sweetness til the very end many steeps later.

SHAN LIN XI!!!! Be still my heart, ah one of my great Oolong loves, one that I pretty much never have around because it gets consumed pretty instantaneously. The aroma is fantastic, blending iris, honey, lilacs, tulips, and chestnuts with undertones of fresh alpine air and misty cloudy mountains. I think that is why SLX is such a favorite of mine, it always reminds me of being in the mountains during spring, calling to mind some of my fondest memories. Brewing the tea fills my tea area up with a heady sweet aroma of flowers and crisp mountain air, I am in a happy place sniffing this tea.

Ughh, that mouthfeel has me seeing stars! Thick and creamy with a velvety finish, this tea is not one you taste it is one you feel in every part of your mouth. The taste from the start is pretty intense, flower nectar dances with crisp green vegetation (more coniferous than deciduous this time) and a lingering sweetness that sticks around forever. Iris, tulips, lilac, and sugarcane notes make me happy, this tea makes me happy!! I admit this is not the most nuanced description I have ever given, but SLX is like that, definitely a tea you need to just experience, trust me.

Next up is a real classic, Muzha Iron Goddess Oolong, aka Tie Kuan Yin (or Tie Guan Yin, or TGY, TKY....the tea that introduced me to tea being an art and not just a drink as a has a lot of names) I adore this stuff, it is a MUST, especially when it is chilly or when I am wishing it was autumn. Roasty toasty notes of chestnuts, roasted sesame seeds, toasted grains, freshly toasted bread, and a bit of woodiness mix for a really comforting and sweet aroma. Brewing the tea brings even more toasty-sweet goodness, like honey drizzled grain heavy bread fresh from the oven!

The taste of this tea is like honey drizzled grain heavy bread straight from the oven, with a side of a gently smoldering campfire, toasted sesame candy, and a pile of freshly raked autumn leaves. Seriously it is like a cup full of autumn, but with a better mouthfeel than falling face first into autumn leaves. It is smooth in the beginning steeps, middle steeps have a tiny bit of a sharpness that I usually associate with roasted teas, and the finish is buttery smooth. It has staying power too, lasting for many steeps (I lost count, but it is in the 10-12 range) with a long lasting sweet aftertaste.

Last from the box is Rhythm 21, a black tea made from a hybrid of Kyang and Keemun cultivars, I have only had this style of tea once and it was fascinating, so I was happy to try it from Teaful! The aroma is light but very nuanced, with notes of saffron, malt, peony flowers, dried tomato, cherries, and a touch of sassafras. It blends savory and sweet really well and the aroma is quite complex, I found myself sniffing it for a while enjoying all the layers. After the leaves steep the aroma leans more towards sweet and fruity with a nutty undertone of hazelnuts that was not present in the dry leaves.

So this one is really fun, it has a gentle taste with a powerful brisk yet smooth mouthfeel, I really liked how it was brisk without being dry or astringent, it was almost effervescent in its mouthfeel, really waking up my mouth. When the cup is first poured the taste is nutty, mixing hazelnuts and a bit of woodiness with an underlying tomato savory quality, but if you let it cool a bit the taste becomes really sweet, it is like drinking a different tea! Strong notes of cocoa, cherries, and caramelized yams take over as the dominant notes and that transition was really cool, caught me off guard but I liked it! Later steeps eventually just take over as sweet from the get-go, but those first couple steeps are a trip! Once again Teaful has given me a grand time with their tea and I keep on loving the teas they have...I keep looking forward to whittling my stash down a bit more so I can justify buying more of my favorites...and speaking of, I am going to go get lost in my remaining SLX now!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ruby Lion Inc: Courageous Tea Blends, A Tea Review

Recently I was sent a bunch of blends from Ruby Lion Inc, an up and coming tea company with a taste for the obscure. Now you might all know by now that blended tea is not really my thing, but also that I love adventure...these two tend to overlap, so when I do look at a blend it has to be unusual. These blends I think run a good spectrum of ones that appeal to people with tame tastes to ones that find culinary experiments to be their main source of adventure (like me!) so I am going to start with the most 'standard' and move to the EXTREME *90s guitar riff*

Min-tea Fresh

We come now to that great moment of struggle: mint. I have often remarked on my really mixed reaction to mint in tea, either I love it and find it soothing or hate it and feel it is way too overwhelming, but this green tea is blended with mint and spearmint...and I freaking love spearmint. The aroma is great, not at all overwhelming, I found the crisp and sweeter notes of the spearmint dominated over the greener and effervescent peppermint. My sinuses were happy for sniffing it, and in allergy season I will take that help any way I can! The green tea adds a mild vegetal and crushed vegetation that just works with the various mints, green tea and mint go together just about as well as chocolate and mint!

The note included with the samples stated that this tea is fantastic iced, so I cold steeped it, and wow is that ever refreshing! Luckily it seems that the spearmint is the dominating taste, and granted the taste of the plants themselves is very similar, spearmint doesn't have as much menthol so I can enjoy the cool minty freshness without feeling like I have inhaled a glacier. Since I am Southern I decided to return to my roots and sweeten it a bit, because it is what we do, I might not live in the South but when I visit family I drink sweet iced tea...some traditions never fade. Plus to me it is very nostalgic, my mom grew sooo many different kinds of mints in her massive garden and spearmint frequently made it into our iced tea, it was either that or lemon and I will not have a lemon in my tea...just no. Anyway, I am rambling, this tea is really good cold, sweet (even before the bit of sugar) spearmint, crushed vegetation from the green tea, and crisp peppermint blend for a very balanced tea.

Lion's Crest

A blend of Darjeeling, Earl Grey, and Ceylon...hoo boy, two of my least favorite teas blended with one that I really have to be in the right mood for. See, I am way too picky for my own good! From the first sniff I was hooked though, it was malty and sweet with gentle bergamot notes, which is good because I find bergamot to be nasty in large quantities. There is a black pepper undertone and none of the metallic undertones I usually associate with Ceylon, you know I should just be open, I have never liked classic Ceylon black teas because they smell and taste vaguely of blood to me and I am just not that much of a Vampire the Masquerade fan to be into that. Brewed up the tea smells of oranges, crisp broken wood, raisins, a tiny touch of metallic undertones, and a nice malty finish.

This tea is decidedly not bad, and I say that as someone who this is the wrong tea for (what with the aforementioned dislike of Ceylons and EG, yes I need to go make offerings of some sort to a shrine of British-ness at the dishonor I am causing that side of my family) It is crisp and brisk in the mouth, every bit a morning tea in texture, but the taste makes it mellow enough to be an afternoon tea. Gentle notes of caramel, malt, raisins, orange peel and cranberries. I find if you let this tea get cold it gets a bit bitter, so chug it hot!

Petal to the Metal

Now, this is a blend after my own heart! Blending rosebuds, cardamom, and black tea, it smells like one of my beloved Persian desserts that I am mildly addicted to. Cardamon and roses just go together so perfectly, especially when paired with a malty and honey sweet tea. The rose is pretty well balanced with the cardamon, rose can be pretty overpowering but since this uses rosebuds and not rose oil it is perfect.

I decided to cold steep this one, with the weather warming up I find myself on the hunt for teas that are good cold steeped, and since one of my favorite (non-tea) drinks is sweet rose milk, drinking it cold seems like a fun plan. The taste is really quite strong, the cardamon stands out strong with the rose taking a backseat. The tea itself is brisk and malty, making a potent base for the other notes. I also had this tea hot and I think that my favorite was cold steeped, especially sipping it out in the sun.


Arrrrgh, pirate tea ahoy! Black tea, coconut, and cinnamon blend together for a really fun combination, and might I point out that everything in this blend is HUGE! Really big leaves, chunks of cinnamon, and long coconut shreds, it is a larger than life blend! I am pretty sure I have never mixed cinnamon and coconut and the idea really intrigued me. The aroma is tasty (mmm coconut so good) the warm sweetness of the cinnamon works well with the coconut and the malty black tea undertones. I feel like I need to be wearing my pirate hat for this session. Brewing it up the coconut takes the dominant role, and I am ok with that!

So, one of the problems (such as it is) with coconut in tea is it always gives an oily mouthfeel and leaves a residue, and that is my only complaint with this tea. I really liked it, powerful warm and sweet cinnamon blend with tropical nutty coconut with a base of malty brisk black. I am half tempted to mix this with some spiced rum for a killer hot toddy next time I am under the weather, but only a hint of rum since this tea is a bit on the delicate side.

Hot Lavender

This tea scared the crap out of me, seriously. Blending lavender and black tea with massive peppers had me at equal parts squeeing in excitement for the bonkers idea of this tea and screaming in terror that my stomach would actually murder me for drinking this. Side story, I love the taste of spicy foods (peppers make me so happy) but due to having a stupidly delicate stomach if I try to eat it I pay...dearly, pretty much I can eat Siracha all I want, but anything hotter than that and I wake up with my stomach holding a knife to me threatening me with violence. The aroma is intense, strong notes of lavender and what smells like cayenne pepper (I admit I am not a huge pro at IDing peppers by smell) and red chilis, it smells hot but not sear my nostrils hot. Brewing it mixes the soapy perfume of lavender and the savory heat of peppers beautifully, not a thing I would have ever thought of blending myself but its uniqueness makes it work.

Do not, under any circumstance, drink this with a sore throat. However, if you drink it with a stuffy nose you might be pretty happy because sinus clearing heat incoming! I would put this at around the same heat level as siracha once it has been dispersed into food, a pleasant heat that warms the mouth but does not overwhelm and melt the taste buds or stomach. It is savory and peppery, as one expects, with a soapy sweet lavender taste that is really weird but really tasty. Granted I love lavender so me liking it is no surprise, but it working so well with something so savory as peppers were surprising.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Old Ways Tea Company: A Pair of Rou Gui, A Tea Review

I love Rou Gui, it might be my favorite Yancha, combining (usually) a hefty roast with gentle spice notes just really works for me. Of course, it seems I am in a constant search for a Rou Gui with actual spice notes (to me they almost always are more like nutmeg than cinnamon) frequently I find they are not present or so faint it is barely noticeable, and while the tea might be wonderful it is not what I am wanting from a Rou Gui. But, I have high hopes for Old Ways Tea Company's Rou Gui, and was very lucky that they sent me two samples, one of their standard Rou Gui and one of their Premium Rou Gui, so I will get to try both and see if I can find the elusive spice. Granted I will admit I am a little sad, I ordered a new clay shiboridashi for Yancha, but it has not arrived yet, so I had to use the neglected Yixing teapot for these teas.

The first one I am looking at is the Rou Gui, the aroma right away struck me as delicious. Notes of mineral, burnt nutmegs (like someone actually tossed a bunch of nutmegs into a fire and these are their charred remains) lychees, cooked plums, and woody char all greet me from the curly leaves. Luckily the aroma is strong but not too strong, I learned early in my love of Yancha to not stick your face in them because they can be a bit overwhelming, but this one was mellow enough that I could snuffle around in the leaves for a while. Brewing the tea gets you a strong charred nutmeg note that merges with charred oak wood and a very distant smoke and mineral, it is potent and rich. The liquid holds the sweetness, blending spiced cooked plums and raisins with undertones of charred wood and mineral. Really liking how 'rocky' this Yancha smells, very much like rain splattered slate on a hot day.

Ooh this one starts off like a burst of melted dark chocolate and char, I have compared Yancha's chocolate notes to the same taste of fire burnt chocolate on the edge of a s'more and this one does not disappoint. Then it moves to a charred wood and non-charred wood taste with wet slate and a touch of almonds. Of course, you are probably wondering if the spice from the aroma carried over, and it did. At first it is a light nutmeg note at the finish and aftertaste, but later steeps really ramp up the spice blending it with the char notes to again remind me of the coals of a fire made of nutmegs.

On to the Premium Rou Gui, this one is grown in the Banyan region and promises a stronger roast, and since I am drinking this on a damp cool day, that sounds perfect. I like my Yancha pretty heavily roasted (don't get me wrong, I go a little crazy for a light roast Qilan or Bai Ji Guan, but mostly I like the strong stuff.) The aroma of the leaves is pretty intense though not in the way I was expecting. It is a strong roast with pleasant char and burnt wood notes, but the most potent aspect is the strong spice and sweet honey notes. It is a bit like nutmeg and honey drizzled on lychees that you happen to be eating next to a smoldering fire after a rainstorm, it smells amazing and I had a hard time pulling my nose out of the teapot. Oh sweet Raptor Jesus that smells good once steeped!! I have had some intensely sweet Yancha, but this is by far the spiciest and sweetest Rou Gui, I can definitely smell the nutmeg and for once I even detect a bit of cassia, which is pretty awesome. The liquid is wet slate, charred wood, and lychees covered in nutmeg and honey.

It has a pleasantly mild start, the notes of roast are quite present, as are the spice and sweetness, but it has a subtlety to it that was very pleasing. No kicks in the face until the second steep where this tea really wakes up and takes you by the hand and then leads you on an adventure of tastes! With a strong char and crisp mouthfeel, I feel like my mouth is alive (with juices like wine, and yes I am in fact quite wolfishly hungry at the moment) but not overwhelmed, really like how strong this tea is without being too strong. I can taste lychees, honey, cassia, nutmeg, and a bit of dark chocolate alongside the strong roast, and not just a mouthful of char. Usually, I am not huge on food pairings, but I discovered one by accident, this tea is amazing with almond chocolate biscotti, so if you have this tea and a 2lb box of biscotti sitting around (Costco is dangerous) I definitely recommend giving that mix a try.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Yunomi: Kaneroku Matsumoto Tea Garden: Whisky Barrel Wood Smoked Black Tea, A Tea Review

Finally, it is my turn to play Mass Effect: Andromeda! Ben has not finished with the game, but he has gotten far enough in it that me starting will not interrupt watching the story for the first time together. Not that he even cares about that anymore since he is kinda meh on the plot, and true it is not the most original thing ever but I have been enjoying it. Ok, mostly I have been enjoying the beautiful scenery and sexy aliens and dealing with the sad fact that I think the Angarans have replaced the Turians as my favorite alien race. Certainly, Jaal has replaced Garrus as my favorite 'space boyfriend' and I never thought I would say that! I want to steal Peebee's title though, so from now on I am not only a Necromancer I am also a Rogue Academic.

I have mentioned in the past that my favorite Japanese teas are not the expected ones, true I love Matcha and all the types of green, but what really gets me excited are the darker teas, I just find them so fascinating! It takes the usual notes you expect from Japanese teas and changes them into something different, blending familiar and alien all in one experience. Which brought me to Yunomi's Kaneroku Matsumoto Tea Garden: Whisky Barrel Wood Smoked Black Tea, a black tea which has been smoked using wood from whiskey barrels, and frankly that just sounded too awesome to not try. Of course, I had to try it for the first time when Ben was home because he is obsessed with smoky teas, not that his absence stopped me sniffing it! Holy crap, there are smoky teas and then there is this one. It smells like wood smoke, a bit meaty (I swear it smells like bacon and now I want bacon, ahhhhhh!!!) but with a sweet honey whiskey undertone. It is intense, Lapsang Souchong smells like standing near a fire, this tea smells like the Fire Nation just invaded!

Brewing the tea calms down the fire surprisingly well, I expected sniffing the wet leaves to be like sticking my face in a volcano. Usually, wet leaves are stronger than the dry ones, and if a note is missing it usually is in the liquid, though not always. The aroma is smoky, but mild, with strong notes of oak wood, malt, whiskey, and a sweet molasses and honey undertone. I was expecting the liquid to explode with smoke, but nope, it was also mild with wood, malt, and honey with a tiny hint of whiskey at the finish. Since I was lame and totally forgot to take pictures of the wet leaves I will just move right on into the taste. So I was surprised, this tea is wonderfully sweet, like a honey whiskey blended with a nice malty tea that you are drinking while sitting next to a big oak fire. The smoke is definitely present but not as strong as I was expecting from the dry leaves. A second steep brings out a gentle fruity note like distant grilled plums that goes really well with the other notes. I made Ben a mug of the tea western style and he ended up stealing my more gongfu (errr, technically I think this is more in the style of Senchado since it is Japanese) style cup. When brewed western style it is not as sweet or smooth, being quite brisk and way too smoky, all the other notes were drowned out, so if you do try this tea (and I seriously recommend you do, it is pretty awesome) go for a houhin over a mug and use shorter steeps.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Teas Unique: Three Korean Oxidized Teas, A Tea Review

Guys, I am so freaking happy right now, Ben and my lives seem to be going really well lately! Our car problems were fixed under warranty instead of costing a fortune, we got a new mattress finally (a queen sized foam, it is so decadent, I have so much room!!!) and the old bed has become a sort of divan in the tea room, and we are seriously going to visit Ikea next week. This is kinda a bit deal, I have always wanted to go but could not justify buying furniture new, it is not just money, I am big on thrifting and recycling, usually, I can find furniture I want at thrift stores for a fraction of the price I would pay new. That means I can spend my money on more important things like tea and gaming stuff!! Months ago I started hunting shelves for my teaware, I have had no luck and it, so Ben is taking me to Ikea and I am so excited!

Today I am taking a look at three different teas from Teas Unique, a company specializing in Korean Tea. For people new to my rambles, let me tell you this, I am OBSESSED with Korean tea (though oddly I still own very little Korean teaware and that needs to change ASAP) especially the oxidized stuff. Problem is, it is a bit of a pain to get my hands on, I can count vendors of quality Korean tea on one hand, this of course also means it is not as cheap as some of the other favorites of mine and they typically run out of stock quickly. Finding a new source of Korean tea at a decent price makes me very excited, so without further ado, the first one I am looking at is Korean Jeju Island Second Flush 2016 Organic Single Estate Whole Leaf Black Tea With Mandarin Oranges...woo, what a mouthful! I love mandarin oranges, they are probably one of my favorite kinds of citrus to eat and sniff, the idea of mixing it with a Hwang Cha sounded very appealing to me. The aroma of the leaves is surprisingly mild in the orange department, I was expecting a strong citrus burst (most citrus themed teas are very strong) but this was light and sweet, very much so like dried bits of orange. Alongside the orange, there are notes of cocoa, malt, peonies, and a bit of woodiness. It smells really quite delightful, and after steeping continues to smell delightful! The orange is still light, but it has intensified a bit, as have the other notes present with an addition of a slight nuttiness.

The first thing I have to say about this tea is how much I loved how the different notes worked so perfectly in concert, the orange never overpowered the tea and vice versa, I was very impressed by how balanced it tasted. You get the sweet and a touch sour note of the mandarin oranges with mild notes of cocoa and peony blossoms and a finish of malt and woodiness. This is not a strong tea, which I really liked, it was a mellow tea that required all of my focus to pick out all the nuances and intricate layers of taste with each sip. The aftertaste is a very long lasting juicy mandarin orange, very much so like the aftertaste of eating a mandarin orange, and much like munching on oranges I found this tea to be very invigorating to my senses, evoking a warm sunny day.

Next I am taking a look at Korean Mt. Jiri Joongjak (Third Pluck) Hwang Cha (Lightly Oxidized) 2016 Organic Single Estate Tea. This one is nutty! I was very entertained by the strong notes of chestnuts and hazelnuts blending with an almond crusted loaf of bread, malt, and squash blossoms. One of my favorite things with Hwang Cha is they always seem to have a flowery note, this one having notes of squash flowers was unique and blended really well with the nutty and starchy notes. Once the tea has a steeping I found the starchy notes to be stronger, as well as the squash blossoms, now accompanied by actual squash. It was not as sweet either, being more on the rich spectrum than sweet, however, the liquid was quite sweet with a strong edge of honey.

Oh wow, this one is so smooth, I feel a bit like I am melting into my chair it is so smooth! Not a thick tea, the texture is light and airy, but with a wonderfully silky smoothness that borders on slippery, I found myself almost forgetting to focus on the taste I was so enchanted by the mouthfeel. I did eventually get myself to focus on the taste, which was good because the taste is pretty delicious, as expected. The flavor is starchy and rich, with notes of chestnut and squash alongside dark honey and cocoa. The finish is a distant note of sweet potatoes and squash blossoms that linger for quite a while, especially in later steeps. The Hwang Chas I have had in the past usually are quite sweet, this one is probably the least sweet of all the ones I have had, though it is not savory, just the absence of intense sweetness allowing the focus to be on the starchy and nutty notes. I found the flavor notes to be very fascinating and was quite glad that it has decent longevity at five steeps, which is good for a Hwang Cha.

Onward to the Korean Boseong Hwang Cha (Lightly Oxidized) 2016 Organic Single Estate Whole Leaf Tea, a Sejak or second pluck Hwang Cha, making its harvest a bit earlier than the Mt Jiri Hwang Cha. This one is very aromatic, even when comparing it with the other two tea looked at in this post, strong sweet notes of brown sugar caramelized yams, honey drizzled hazelnuts, distant freshly blooming peony blossoms, and a long finish of pumpkin bread. Once steeped the aroma is sweet pumpkin bread, baked yams, brown sugar, and smells like an autumnal dessert!

This tea is thick, where the other one was silky and light, this one is thick and dense, every part of my mouth is coated with this tea and it is great. The taste is very strong and sweet, strong notes of roasted yams covered in brown sugar and a hint of cocoa and woodiness. Throughout the entire taste is an almost effervescent taste of peony flowers, definitely a note I am almost entirely tasting in my nose more so than my mouth. Later steeps manage to be even sweeter, bringing in notes of honey and hazelnuts, by the time the tea has finished on steep six all that is left is a ghost of brown sugar sweetness that I am pretty sure lingered on my tongue for the better part of an hour. I know I will be restocking at least one of these in my stash, but trying to decide which one it will be is going to be a real challenge!

A side note on this style tea, there is a lot of debate as to what exactly it is. Hwang Cha means yellow tea, I see places list it as a red/black, an oolong, or a yellow and the grumbling I have had to deal with every time I drink this tea and put it into a category that someone disagrees with is so tedious! So, let me clear up how I personally look at it...I brew most my reds, oolongs, and yellows at the same temperature 195° and only change time I steep it, having experimented with different times I found it responded best to the way I brew a lot of my reds, with a steep time of 30-30-60-60-90 and so forth. It behaves like a red, tastes most similar to a red (though I can see similarities to both yellow and oolong) and so that is how my brain has decided to categorize it. Of course feel free to stick it into whatever category you want, I personally don't care and don't care to argue it further, I just want to drink my tea in peace!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Tea and Mana, A Magic The Gathering Tea Fusion, Part One

This is part one of a little series I am doing, combining two of my loves: tea and Magic The Gathering. I mean it makes sense, I drink tea while I am gaming, so why not pair tea with the various Mana colors? In this first part, I am going to pair the basic lands to tea, later parts will focus on the Guilds, the Clans (Wedges), and the Shards, but first I need to look at where it all begins. I have a few rules: no blends, flavored teas, or herbal teas, only pure teas. Also teas 'color' will not necessarily match the Mana color, that just makes it too easy!

White Mana- Represented by sprawling plains and symbolized by a sunburst, white is the color of order, structure, morality, law, and the community. White is full of angels and cats, knights and spirits, you play White if you want lifegain and flying, they are great for those kinds of decks. White is all about community, putting the concerns of the group before the individuality, they want peace and unity above all else. This sounds all well and good, but sadly there is a dark side to all light, and in its extremes, it can be xenophobic and rigid. It is tragic that I am starting with the color that I understand the least, but that is the way the color pie is setup, so that is the order I am going it. What is the tea that represents order and morality...Tie Guan Yin Oolong. It has a double reason here, first off the name, which is the easy part. Named after the Goddess of Mercy herself, Guan Yin, what a perfect fit for the color of peace through structure. Going based on taste this tea (I am specifically calling to mind the green version of this Oolong) evokes relaxation, peace, and calm. It is a tea I find myself wanting on chaotic days where I really just want a calm storm in a port, and I think that evokes White perfectly. Of course a good runner up is a very hay note heavy Silver Needle since it calls to mind the epic plains from which this Mana is drawn from.

Blue Mana- The land used to cast Blue is an island, the symbol is a water droplet...yes, this is the water themed color. Even though this is the color of fishes and Merfolk, there is so much more to this color than water. To sum it up 'Blue seeks perfection through knowledge' this is the color of invention, a near maniacal obsession with learning, blue wants to control and change the universe by using the knowledge it much as it is water themed, going with the flow is not something blue really does. This philosophy is reflected in play, a blue deck is heavy with counter-spells, control, and illusions, you are lucky when playing against a blue deck if you can actually get your spells to cast and not just flounder your resources. Like all things, there is a negative, blue can tend to see emotions as dangerous and will become cold, giving into logic over all else. Picking a tea for Blue meant I needed something that requires both a lot of focus and precision for a spectacular result, so bring in the Dancong Oolongs. I am cheating a bit by using all of them, but since they are the masters of illusion and mimicry I think it fits, plus if you get lost in thought while brewing a Dancong rather than paying attention to it you end up with a truly foul cup of tea. Dancongs are so finicky, each one seems to demand its own subtle differences, no plug and go like a lot of other Oolongs, and let me tell you...if you are playing against a blue deck and you are not paying will get destroyed. A good runner up is Tai Ping Hou Kui, a tea that requires an enormous amount of detail and artistry to create.

Black Mana- Swamps! Skulls! Necromancy! Yeah, this is my color of choice, the one I know the most about lore and gameplaywise,  so I will try to be brief. The defining characteristics of black is ambition and self-interest, they always look out for number one rather than the community. They are not idealists, they see the bad in the world and instead of trying to change its focus on survival and rising to the top. They are amoral, if someone close to them needs saving it is not done 'because it is right' but because the person is important to them, Black is also pretty rampantly hedonistic, which fits nicely in their theme of self-interest. Black frequently gets a reputation of villainy and true, these characteristics can be used for evil, but can't everything when it is in its extreme? Gameplay, Black brings the zombie hoards and makes fell bargains with demons, with traits like lifelink (for the nonplayers, this means damage dealt gives you the same amount of life, I adore lifelink) sacrifice, and creature destruction, Black decks will happily destroy their life total and creatures if it means they will win in the end. Long ago I once called a wet stored 90s era Sheng Puerh as the ultimate necromancer tea since it tastes and smells like a fetid swamp...and I stick by that. No tea in my experience has ever matched swamp as thoroughly as old Sheng, plus in the Puerh world age and rarity is power, you can drink that last cake of some ancient rare tea and know with a certain glee that you deprived someone of the pleasure...or you can use it as a bargaining chip to get tea that actually tastes good. As a runner up (because I want a Black Mana tea I will actually drink) Laoshan Black, because it tastes like a decadent brownie and I am a hedonist.

Red Mana- Represented by Mountains and a fireball, this is the color of fiery passion! Probably the most on the nose of color representation out of the lot. Red desires freedom, lives by emotional extremes (and just extremes in general), and constantly craves new experiences! They are chaotic, living in the moment and not really thinking ahead, this is probably their greatest strength and weakness, you know, like lighting your house on fire to keep warm, great at the time...bad in the long run. Red brings Goblins and Dragons to the table, with effects like haste and first-strike, they want to attack first and attack hard. Where Blue controls the game, Red just pummels you with Lightning Bolts and Stone Rain, leaving you with no resources and an overwhelming desire to throttle your opponent. I tease, but Red is fun, I respect their blind passion and extremes. The tea I am picking for them is completely obvious, Lapsang Souchong, the fire roasted kind. It is not just because this color is obsessed with fire that I picked this (though it does help) but also this is an extreme tea, brisk and smoky with a potent caffeine punch. Many game nights have been kept going longer with extreme endings with the help of Lapsang Souchong. The runner up for this color is young Sheng Puerh, because that tea even at its most delicate (think Yiwu) is extreme.

Green Mana-With deep forests and the symbol of the tree, this is the color of nature and growth. Ben once made the argument that Green Mana is the most Taoist of the colors, since it really enjoys going with the flow, letting nature take its course, and I think he has a really good point. Green relies on instinct, it does not wish to impose its thoughts and beliefs on others, it just wants to go wander in the forest and enjoy the birds. Unless threatened, then Green will dump a pile of angry bears on you, then promptly going to back wandering. Since it is a product of nature, it is not a fan of machines and artifice, and is also acutely aware of the harshness of nature...survival of the fittest and the cycle of predation. Sadly their hatred of the artificial can cause nasty discrimination and narrowing of options. They are not flaky tree-huggers, but rational elves and giant spiders, with a large helping of snakes and saprolings. In play, Green likes growth, big stompy monsters, venom, and creature tokens, it is not at all uncommon when playing against Green to just be overwhelmed by a giant pack of wolves or bears. I thought for Green you are going to want a tea that is super minimally processed, especially with their dislike of technology, so I picked Bai Mu Dan. The wild looking fluffy leaves taste great when steeped grandpa style, something I could imagine a Llanowar Elf doing while looking disdainfully at a gaiwan as being too artificial. As an alternative there is Matcha, true there is more processing and tools involved, but you are consuming the entire plant, and that is as close to tea as you can get!

For anyone curious, I align as a pretty even split between Black and Blue, with a tiny bit of Red, primarily I play Mono Black with dabbling in Black Green and prefer to build not entirely functional Vorthos decks (though my Zombie Tribal deck is pretty deadly most the time!)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Adagio Teas: Masters Collection Part 2, A Tea Review

Thank you so much to KCPL, they rescued me from the dread of not having electricity. I slept in today, not feeling too well, and did my usual walk to my chair and fill/plug in the Zojirushi. While waiting for its 'pleasing chime' to sound and signal me to have tea I heard a loud hum and a pop...and the power went out. I looked outside (having recognized the sound of a transformer blowing, thanks to growing up in hurricane country) and sure enough, all along the street the power was out, so I reported and outage and waited. It is crazy windy today, gusts of 45mph, so I was not too surprised, but very annoyed because I am very reliant on electricity. Both my kettles, my stove, my wifi and computer, the Xbox, and of course lighting (it is a dark and rainy day) means I could not do anything. Even my usual standby of 'just go sit outside and read until the lights come back' didn't work because my book would have been blown away! I could not paint because I could not see, I was feeling the cold and unfamiliar grip of boredom sneaking in...but luckily the power company was quick, turned it back on in a little over an sanity was saved! I once told Ben that I expected the world to end before I get bored, I am usually very good at entertaining myself, but it is hard to do when the lighting is bad!

Ok, enough about my ever increasing First World Problems (I am turning into Jay-Z at this rate, not quite to 99 First World Problems yet) and on to the tea at hand. Looking at the other half of the teas I received in my little create my own Masters Collection set from Adagio Teas, looking at Formosa Pouchong, Fujian Silver Needle, and Fujian Ti Kuan Yin.

First one on the blogging docket is the Formosa Pouchong, and I will not keep it a secret, I am super picky with my Baozhongs, I find they can be either the most fantastically complex tea...or just unbelievable boring. I previously looked at their other Pouchong and was sadly not too impressed, so was curious if the Masters Collection could sway my opinion. The aroma in the tin is pretty sad, a touch of sage (like all the other tins, which still kinda baffles me) and a distant hint of lilacs. It smells exactly like lilacs that have already finished their bloom and are dried on the bush...a sad smell because I love my lilac bush when it is in bloom! Even adding the leaves to a warm gaiwan cannot coax out more smell, that is pretty much all she wrote. After steeping the aroma gets a little stronger, lilacs in bloom with a bit of hyacinth, no sage though. The tea itself smells a bit of hyacinth and that is pretty much it.

Sadly, I have to confess that this one also did not wow me. I got one solid steep out of it, and even that one was very mild, not an overwhelming complex burst of springtime I come to expect from high-end Baozhongs. There are delicate notes of hyacinth and lilac with a slight touch of melon rind and sage. The notes that are present are pleasant, but the combination of having no longevity and being very weak had me craving more. I tried pushing the leaves harder than I am comfortable with a Baozhong, using extra leaf, longer steep times, and even boiling water, but could not get them to magically give back.

Next, I am looking at the Fujian Silver Needle, I have high hopes after the Yunnan White was pleasant. The leaves are on the small size, bit of broken bits too, but it is very obviously a Fujian silver needle, all silver and fuzzy. The aroma is a blend of sage, wildflowers, melons, and a bit of dust...aka...I inhaled some trichomes. Always an occupational hazard with silver needles, I find their aroma at times is not super strong so you need to really get your nose in the leaves...and then end up with plant fuzzies up your nose. After steeping the aroma is stronger, notes of sweet honey and wildflowers with melons and a bit of fresh hay, it is pleasant. The liquid is sweet and gentle, wildflowers and honey with a touch of melon.

It lasts for several steeps, and they are very enjoyable. Solid notes of wildflowers, honey, hay, and melon blend with a touch of cucumber and lettuce at the finish. Later steeps bring more focus to the green aspects of the tea, giving it a very refreshing quality. The mouthfeel is smooth and the sensation cooling, I found myself wanting this on a warm day rather than a cold one. It is not terribly nuanced, and fits very well into my daily drinker style requirements for taste (aka a tea I can drink when I am painting or gaming, tastes good but not one I have to pay a lot of attention to) though it is not daily drinker in price, for about the same price I can get 7oz of my favorite Silver Needle and that one is not a daily drinker. I will say that if you brew this one western style you get a much more potent cup, though the trade off is you only get a single cup from it, where gongfu you get four.

Lastly, my old friend, the Fujian Ti Kuan Yin, although usually, I prefer my TKY's roasted, I do on occasion (aka usually in spring and summer) get a wicked craving for the green version, it is seasonal. The aroma is a blend of orchids, gentle chestnuts, and a touch of a paper quality and sage. If you sniff it in a warmed teapot the orchids become quite strong and much sweeter, which is enjoyable. Brewing the tea brings stronger notes of orchids and chestnuts with a wonderful note of yeasty sweet bread. The liquid is light and flowery with a sage green undertone.

This tea, was by far, the best of the bunch (and I mean out of all six) by being flavorful and long-lasting...really that is all I want out of a tea. It stuck around for eight steeps, though the last two were really faint, but sweet. The mouthfeel was smooth, as was the taste, blending notes of orchid and honeysuckles, with gentle chestnuts and buttery bread, and a finish of crisp broken vegetation. It has a lingering aftertaste of orchids that stick around for a nice long while. It is s solid daily drinker, though it does have the same price problem that the Silver Needle has...for roughly the same price I can get almost 17 oz of a comparable in quality TKY, ouch.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Old Ways Tea Company: Black and White, A Wuyi Tea Review

Instead of starting my blog with a little quip on how my day has been, I am jumping straight into the tea at hand, because I have no desire to talk about my life at the moment. I am suffering an abundance of first world problems and it is silly, so instead...TEA! Recently new to me company, Old Ways Tea Company sent me a message about looking at their tea, and this blog is looking at two of those teas. They specialize in teas from Wuyi, and while I do have some of their Yancha to look at, I wanted to start off with a side by side look at two polar opposites, a black tea and a white tea!

First off, their Wild Style Black Tea, and can I first point out how I love that they say that the trees the tea comes from are not wild, but grown spaced apart and grown in a more 'wild' manner. None of that 'look we found an ancient tea plantation in the wild and decided to harvest it' like I see some places claiming. The aroma of the large curly leaves is really appealing, strong notes of lychee and pomelo, with undertones of starchy brownies, and a finish of sweet honey and malt. It is wonderfully aromatic, the citrus tones blended really well with the sweet notes, and of course I am always a fan of anything that tastes of chocolate. As expected, brewing it is immensely aromatic, notes of lychee and orange blossom blend with malt and cocoa, it has a slight undertone of resin, like an unlit incense, it is amazing. tea is something else! I think the reason I love tea so much is because if you get a good one, it can be sweeter than candy or fruit and incredibly nuanced. This tea is a grand example of nuanced, with strong notes of orange blossom and brown sugar, lychees, and a fantastic finish of cocoa. The later steeps become surprisingly richer, with the floral notes dying down and replaced with a rich resinous myrrh note. The finish brings in a distant touch of roses and a slight creaminess. Throughout the session, the mouthfeel was smooth with a brightness similar to its vibrant color, really vibrant is a great way to describe this tea, it tastes cheerful and left me feeling quite happy once I was finished. And of course, it passes my test of longevity and lasts a long eight steeps.

Few things get me quite as excited as a rare or unexpected tea, give me a tea produced by a region that is well known for something else and I get all excited. Which brings us to Organic Wuyi White Tea, a Da Hong Pao processed as a white tea, in the Baimudan style, it is very awesome. I could tell from first look that these were different, with leaves that look more like a Moonlight with leaves that are black and silver with bits of green. They are very pretty leaves! They smell fascinating, with familiar notes of melon and cucumber with gentle smoke, wet bamboo, and undertones of a hay barn. Once brewed, the leaves have no more smoke, but much stronger wet hay and barn, with cucumber and melon, the liquid, however, is pure undiluted wildflower honey and it is intense.

The first thing I noticed was the immensely thick mouthfeel, it is a bit unreal, like melted honey water or thick consomme, not that it tastes like consomme because that would be a little odd. It starts out like cucumber and winter melon with a strong hay note. Around the midtaste the taste pretty much explodes into wildflower honey. It is really kinda confounding how strong the thick honey is. Another fascinating thing about this tea is how later steeps bring out a woody note of sweet resin, but specifically amber resin, but it appears more the nose than in the mouth, I always find that fascinating. It lasts for many steeps, and even when the taste has faded the thickness sticks around. One thing that was odd, I made it western style for Ben before work, expecting it to be super strong sweetness, and the sweetness was there but the taste of barn was as well, and while I liked it, Ben was not a fan...granted he didn't spend a lot of time in farm country like I did, so the familiarity is not as nostalgic for him. I definitely recommend giving this one a try, especially if you like unique teas.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.