Wednesday, May 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, May 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

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 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 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 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 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.