Friday, March 24, 2017

Rivers And Clouds: Roasted Honey Black, Golden Tip Honey Black, and Red Leaf Black, A Tea Review

I am not dead! I am not even lost in Mass Effect: Andromeda world (though my copy is here, waiting for Ben's days off is driving me crazy, I want to play!!) My bit of a disappearance was caused by having a really abysmal weekend and early week. Ok, it wasn't that bad, but in typical 'have I mentioned I am autistic lately' mode, the events totally overwhelmed me and I was in full-on not functioning mode, sadly that meant the blog took a back burner, but it is ok, I am back again! Back and really proud of my self-control for not binging on Andromeda like I have every other Mass Effect game. ME:2 I played more or less in one sitting after drinking a gallon of Thai Iced Tea...it was an awful playthrough and I definitely had to Newgame+ that thing.

Recently Rivers And Clouds, a tea company from Germany focusing on Chinese teas, sent me a trio of Dianhongs, a well-known favorite (read: major obsession) of mine! The first one I looked at was the Roasted Honey Black, it comes from the same trees as the Golden Tip Honey Black but with a different roast using a higher temperature and shorter roasting time. This is a fascinating Dianhong, with expected notes of yams and toasted peanuts. There are also notes of chocolate, but specifically chocolate that has been burnt about, like the edge of a s'more. Along with that are notes of roasted wood and toasted walnuts with a brown sugar finish. It definitely has a stronger roasty note, which works really well with the Dianhong notes. After steeping the tea smells of peanuts, yams, roasted cocoa, and brown sugar with a touch of mineral at the finish.

This is a solid Dianhong, strong notes of malt and roasted peanuts blend with cocoa and brown sugar at the beginning, it has a strong start, which I appreciate. The really fun part starts around steep two, the dominant taste becomes almost identical to malted milk balls or a malted chocolate shake. I've had plenty of both chocolatey and malty Dianhongs, but I have never had one that tasted so much like malted milk balls. Later steeps take on stronger notes of roasted peanuts and a touch of walnuts, but the brown sugar and malt taste remains strong. This tea has quite decent longevity too, lasting a whopping nine steeps before calling it quits, and I am sure you all know by now how much I love it when Dianhongs go the distance.

Next up is the Golden Tip Honey Black, a very pretty leaf with gentle golden fuzzy trichomes. The aroma of the long leaves is very malty with strong notes of sweet potatoes and pine resin. The more I sniff this tea the more earthy notes pop up, with undertones of brown sugar. This tea is not as sweet smelling as the others, being stronger in starchy sweet potato and earthy peanuts. Brewing the leaves makes the tea sweeter, the notes of sweet potatoes and roasted peanuts blend with pine resin and much stronger brown sugar, reminding me a bit of sweet potato casserole...man I must have been hungry when I was taking notes on these teas!

Ben was around when I was tasting this tea, and before I get into my impressions of it, he loved it. After sniffing it and then tasting it, he asked if I would be getting more and I am pretty sure was sadder than I was when the tea finally called it quits after six steeps. This is unusual since usually I outlast him on steeping. The taste is really good, strong notes of pine resin, sweet potatoes, cocoa, and malt with a slight baked cherry note at the finish. I found that the tea didn't have a ton of difference between steeps save strength, but the notes that were present were strong and tasty. One thing that really stood out to me is the nice thick mouthfeel.

The last tea might have been my favorite, because ANTHOCYANINS! Yes, Red Leaf Black is a purple tea, I might have more purple Dianhongs in my collection than not, though I haven't counted lately...I am obsessed with the unique way the tea tastes when compared to other Dianhongs. Notes of red wine, stewed plums, mulberries, cooked cherries, and baked pears blend with gentle malt and cocoa. It is very sweet and fruity with a level of richness that is off the charts...have I mentioned how much I love purple tea lately? Because I do, it smells like a fruit compote. Once steeped the leaves retain their strong stewed fruit notes, but also pick up a hint of tobacco and mineral, which calls to mind some of those oh so yummy Yanchas.

So where Ben was sad over the finish of the Golden Tip Honey, I did a sad little pout when this one called it quits after eight steeps, a sad little sigh could be heard from the tea desk. It starts strong and ends abruptly strong, not something unique to this tea, something I have noticed with purple teas is they don't really slowly fade they just abruptly stop, it is a little funny to be honest, like suddenly the tea is like 'I am done with you, go do something else.' Drinking tea is delightfully thick, and velvety in the mouth, with long lasting sweet fruity aftertastes. And oh what a fruity tea this is! Gentle notes of malt blend with intense notes of cooked plums and cherries, mulberries, and a heady red wine and red grape finish. Purple teas always remind me of late summer, mostly because of the fruity notes, though the slightly redder color of the tea itself also helps.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Origins Tea: Jade Oolong, A Tea Review

I got the most awesome thing in the mail today, all the way from Latvia, a big ol' knot of ancient bog oak. Quick primer on Bog Oak: sometime, a long time ago (over 8,000 years ago in some cases) a tree fell into a peat bog, this anaerobic environment has started fossilizing the wood and stains it inky black, it is then dragged out of an ancient bog and loved by artists and collectors. Here is why I got a chunk (and have another piece on the way) Bog Oak is the ultimate Black Mana Princess (yes that is my term for myself, deal with it) item. For those not in the know, Black Mana is a Magic The Gathering thing, you need it to cast spells (like all my zombies) you generate it by playing swamps. I love swamps, I grew up playing in local wetlands in Georgia, I swear I don't play Mono-Black just because I love swamps, but it certainly is a factor. Every good necromancer needs a chunk of bog oak, it is just good sense!

Today is the last of my very long series looking at all of Origins Tea's teas, well until they get new ones, but for now I close out the story with Jade Oolong. The aroma of the leaves gave me quite the giggle, they smell almost identical to Hawaiian sweet bread rolls, sweet and yeasty with a touch of pineapple. There are also more familiar notes of lilac and chestnuts with a touch honey.

My xishi decided it was not getting enough attention, so that is what I used for this session. The brewed leaves smell less like Hawaiian sweet bread rolls, but they still smell yeasty and sweet, with strong notes of sugarcane, papaya, and tulip tree flowers. The aroma of the liquid is sweet and nutty, lilacs and chestnuts with a touch of gardenias!

Sometimes, I think I was really not cut out to be a blogger, because I have the attention span of a marmot. I love making tea and just sitting with it while gaming or reading, the longer I do it, the more I get fed up with taking notes. So for this one I just decided to go based entirely on my memory of the tea. The tea was sweet and thick, this was what stuck out to me the most, but it is always my favorite thing about Oolongs, that mouthfeel always keeps me coming back. The taste is chestnuts, yeasty bread, tulip tree flowers, later steeps bring out snap peas and sugar cane, finally ending with lilac and hyacinth before it fades totally with lingering sweet bread. It was Ben's day off when I was tasting this, so I shared with him, sharing a green Oolong with Ben is tricky, he either really likes it or hates it, this one he liked so it won a place in my heart. Sometimes I like to just drink the tea and then get lost in memories rather than trying to decipher my horrid handwriting.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Japanese Green Tea In: Gokuzyo, A Tea Review

So, as many in the gaming world know, Mass Effect: Andromeda will be out soon. Ben and I have tried to not get too excited about the game after the betrayal of ME3 (no I am still not over it) but both of us being long time Bioware fans, it was only a matter of time before we snapped and got excited. Pre-order has been placed, Ben's birthday weekend of spending the entire several days off work to play the game has been scheduled, and obligatory playing around wth ME3 (no I am not playing the ending again) to get back into combat shape are occurring. Hilariously the character Ben just created to get back into practice with his biotic charge ended up looking like Dennis Rodman, so there have been a LOT of poorly placed basketball puns. So yeah, if I just kinda disappear at the end of the month, no one get worried, I just got sucked back into Mass Effect world.

Earlier this month I looked at Japanese Green Tea In's Issaku, and today I am looking at their Gokuzyo, a green tea from the Arahataen Green Tea Farm. This tea is a Shincha (or Ichibancha) the earliest harvested green tea, in fact, the name Gokuzyo translates to 'the highest grade' so this is the good green stuff. The aroma of the leaves is super green, potent savory notes of snap peas, seaweed, bamboo leaves, cut grass, and soybeans. It has an almost salty quality to the aroma, like sea air but a bit more salt than marine.

Into my Shigarakiyaki Shiboridashi the leaves went for their steep, like the Issaku this tea gave my shibo some trouble, the leaves were so small that they clogged the filter causing a slow pour and a bit of leftover tea in the bottom. The aroma of the leaves is both savory and sweet, notes of sea air, spinach, soybeans, and cut grass blend with subtle sweet apple and sesame seeds. The aroma has a good balance of sweet and savory, which I enjoy. The liquid smells sweet and nutty, with a distinct sea air and cut grass aroma that gives it that oh so familiar early season Japanese green tea aroma that I tend to crave this time of year. Especially when the weather can't make up its mind what season it is.

This tea starts pleasantly thick in the mouth, with a very nice smooth texture that turns a bit slippery as the tea cools. I took my time sipping this cup, and I am glad I did, the start of the cup when it is still quite warm has a strong savory quality, seaweed and cut grass blending with soybeans and a touch of sweetness from a snappea note. As the tea cools it starts to get sweeter, notes of sesame and a touch of just ripe Gala apples. The real show stopper of this tea is the aftertaste of the tea after it has cooled some, it hits almost a full minute after I have swallowed, but it explodes in a pretty distinct fashion. Intense honeydew melon! I was tasting this tea when Ben was home, we were in the middle of a conversation and I just stopped midsentence and yelled 'holy crap melons!' which took him a bit by surprise (only a bit, he is used to my random thought explosions) but it certainly took me by surprise since it was so out of nowhere. So, my advice is this, if you try this tea definitely let it get a little cool before drinking it so you can get that melon aftertaste, it is so much fun!


This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Tillerman Tea: Organic Chingjin High Mountain Oolong Winter 2016, A Tea Review

I kinda want to play Ark again. Facebook's memory function was kind enough to let me know that last year this time I was all about the Ark, playing on the public server with my small tribe (aka pretty much just my mom at that point, the others had moved on to a different game.) I mostly stopped playing after the whole Halloween disaster and then the constant crashing, I just got sick of it, but I miss my dinosaur friends. I do not miss the at times awful gameplay though, so I am not sure I will give into temptation.

Today I am looking at a tea that I instantly fell in love with, Organic Chingjin High Mountain Oolong Winter 2016 from Tillerman Tea, though my tale of this tea starts a bit sadly. I used to keep all my samples for the blog on the back of my antique secretary desk (my old tea desk) but once I upgraded to my massive antique rolltop I needed to change things up. The secretary desk went to storage and my baskets of organized tea samples went onto the back of my desk, which has become a bit of a warzone. The cats really, really, like being there, not caring that I am using that spot and like to shove my baskets around. Finally one day Espeon knocked over a basket onto my desk, computer, and me...so I upgraded to lidded totes. In this rain of tea samples, the packet of the Gaoshan fell behind my notebooks and was almost lost, luckily I cleaned my desk off and found it, but it was a close call! It was love at first sniff, strong sweetness of chestnuts with crocus, lilacs, tulip trees, apples, pears, honeysuckles, and hyacinth. It smells like a fruity dessert next to a bouquet of spring flowers, it is wonderfully intense and so aromatic. I might have spent an inordinate amount of time just breathing in the aroma of the tea leaves.

After a steeping in my gaiwan, the aroma of the leaves is so heady and sweet, I felt as though I was sinking into a warm blanket of tulip trees, lilacs, baked apples, peaches, and chestnuts. It smells so good, I drew a little heart in my notebook when I was taking the notes, an honor I reserve for my favorite smelling teas. The aroma of the liquid is sweet and heady, blending flowers and fruit, it smells delicious and I almost sniffed it too long risking letting my cup get cold.

So, I had a couple sessions out of my sample, and each time I had a hard time describing the tea. True I can tell you about its immensely viscous mouthfeel and the wonderful heady blend of magnolia and tulips, lilies and hyacinth, apples and pears, with a finish of snap peas...that would be easy. What I am at a loss for describing is the sensation of drinking this tea.

After many steeps with this tea, I found myself getting more and more lost in the sensation while drinking it, each steep making me feel lighter. Drinking this tea is like floating away on a flowery cloud, transporting me to a mountainside after a rainstorm in late spring. I am not sure I would say this tea has a potent Qi or that I got teadrunk off of it, but it did have a unique sensory experience and one I definitely want to repeat. I greatly enjoyed how floaty this tea made me feel, I want to take a travel steeper full and walk in the local gardens, I feel that would be a wonderful experience.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Origins Tea: Dong Ding, A Tea Review

Have I mentioned lately that Midwest weather is weird? I am pretty sure we are getting all the seasons this week. We had the spring storms, early summer warmth, super crisp vaguely autumnal nights...and tomorrow we get winter again! It seems we are going to be treated to a 'late' (we had a blizzard in May once, conventional seasons do not apply here) snow and ice storm which I hopefully will remember to utilize. I am happy about this, but I am pretty sure the flowers in the yard are not going to be, well except the forsythia, but I legitimately think that shrub could survive being lit on fire.

So on Wednesday I mentioned (read: whinged about) that I had a migraine. While the headache has been downgraded from migraine to skull-splitting nuisance, it still is getting in the way of my attempts at being a functioning person. So I decided to hearken back to one of my favorite methods for drinking tea when I have a headache, bowl style/grandpa style! Quick primer: you toss the leaves in a large cup or bowl, add water, repeat when emptied, it is the ultimate 'I feel like crap and don't want to put forth effort' method. I've read this method is also good for meditation, but that is not something I do, I can tell you it is good for when you are lounging though. So that is the fate reserved for Origins Tea Dong Ding, a lightly roasted Oolong that is both toasty and floral. The aroma is nutty and sweet, blending chestnuts and sesame with bamboo wood and brown sugar. There is a touch of yeasty bread and honey. In its dry form there are no flowers present, however, the gentle floral notes show up later.

At first you get lots of sweetness, like honey sesame candies and candied chestnuts, very much so an Oolong that is nutty and sweet, with a pleasant thickness and long lasting aftertaste of nuts. The more the leaves unfurl the more complex the taste gets, notes of distant lilacs and grilled peaches bring fruitiness and a touch of a stronger roast quality. The aftertaste becomes intensely sweet, leaving the realm of nutty and falling face first into warm wildflower honey and wow does the honey linger in my mouth for what seems like an eternity. The mouthfeel stays smooth but picks up a bit of dryness at the finish, one of the things I notice is a usually very smooth oolong tends to become a tad dryer when bowl steeped.

So hilariously, the aftetaste on this tea gets really quirky late into the refills, on the inhale it tastes of honey and the exhale coconut, I was probably way to entertained by this and started breathing weirdly because of it. The other day I had this tea gongfu style and thought it was quite solid, but I am really finding that it stands out brewed bowl style. It lasts many refillings, now I am going to take my mug of leaves and go grumpily nurse my headache in a darker room.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Gongfoolery: Gifts From The Sky

I was going to review a tea today, but it is not going to happen, why? I have a migraine. This blasted thing hit me yesterday and I pretty much slept twelve hours with moments of surreal lucidity when I attempted consciousness. It is bizarre, I remember mumbling to Ben at one point when I dragged myself to the bathroom that my sensory processing was really screwed up, all text I saw was registering as shifting encryption, if it didn't hurt so bad to look at it I think it could have been fun. I believe it is on the way out, my moments of clarity are longer and I can move my head without feeling like my brain is bursting, but I don't really want to think too much.

So instead I am going to relay a fun story that happened Monday. It was a good day, I posted the 1,000th blog, celebrated with some thrifting and mediocre Japanese food and then had a celebratory raucous tea party with my housemates. Right as the tea festivities were ending the first real storm of the season hit...and I mean it really hit. I was doing what I always do when storms are predicted (especially after dark) watching the radar...then I saw a beautiful hook echo heading in my direction. Well mostly in my direction, using my armchair Meteorologist skills I told my housemates (one of which who is terrified of storms, and I get that, I was the same way after hurricane Hugo as a kid) that we had a hook echo on the way and we were going to get clipped by the edge, but don't worry the tornado, if there is one, is going to drop east of us. I then promptly ran outside to watch the storm because I am insane. I am not really an adrenaline junky, in all honesty I am very much so a coward, but nothing quite makes me feel alive like storms (one of the reasons I kinda refuse to move from the Midwest now) It was about the time when the hail squall started and the next town over's tornado sirens (to the east, I was totally right and so smug about it) went off that Ben more or less hauled me to the basement with the cats and everyone else...much to my annoyance.
with bonus yard bits

Not before I got myself a small bucket of hail. Sitting in the basement, happily tracking the storm system, I debated the best way to use the hail...Ben had already fussed at me for licking them because hail is pretty filthy, especially after pelting into the ground! I, of course, wanted to make tea, but knew I needed to boil it and filter it...and by filter, I mean run it through a very fine sieve to catch any ground bits that I might have missed. I chose Malawi Bvumbwe White Peony, a tea I am rather familiar with and that can take hot water really well. The taste was not really changed from a normal session, but the mouthfeel was vastly different. It had a crispness that is usually not there, and a purity of taste...it tasted electric. I am completely willing to admit that might be in my imagination, and that the water is not ionized, but it certainly felt like I was drinking storm clouds. Clearly, I need to test this with other types of precipitation.
Look at those rings...I mean in the hail

On a completely serious note, if the start if the storm season (and new record for the earliest tornado in Missori's recorded history) is anything to go by, this spring is going to be a violent one. Luckily where I live in Kansas City is fairly unlikely to actually be hit by a tornado, the city's heat island usually causes them to drop to the east of us if they drop at all, the closest I have come is seeing plenty of rotation and the start of a funnel in the distance, it ended up dropping about 20 miles to the east so I was safe. The only damage we sustained was hail smashed crocuses and I got a bruised foot from a very well placed hail stone. Sadly, though, a lot of people are not, the EF3 that dropped on Monday did a lot of damage and it is being predicted that this will be one of the worst tornado seasons. So if you are feeling charitable, keep in mind the Red Cross is doing disaster relief and can use all the help they can get.
There is STILL hail in my yard

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Thousand Posts Later...

Holy crap you guys, I have written a thousand blog posts...I could have written a novel (or two) with the amount of rambling I churned out since this blog started back in 2012, where the blog was just about my gaming and craft projects with occasional rants on things in my life. If you ever get really bored go back and read my pre-tea blog posts when I was writing with the expectations of just my mom reading the blog, they are at times really silly. I have often thought about going back and deleting the old posts, but then I remembered this blog was always about me, and as totally random as those old posts are, they are still me.

Oh how to celebrate 1,000 posts, I thought the best way was to reflect on what the blog as become and what I plan to do with in the future. Some things need to change if I am going to make another Thousand Posts Later update. So first off, THANK YOU!!! This blog has grown in ways I never expected!! I started it for two reasons, the first one that I have never made a secret, I was bored. I was in that nasty state of life where I had finally accepted that yes I am disabled thanks to a messed up body and a quirky brain, but I was always the type of person that has to do -something- and usually have about four projects going at once. Like right now, between writing bits on this blog I am looking at recipes, folding origami, drinking tea, editing photos, and listening to Minecraft Let's Plays. I was, back in August of 2013, visiting my mom lamenting how my life had no direction or purpose. One thing led to another and she said, 'start a tea blog...you are always writing about tea in your notebooks, why not start a blog? You are the person we (meaning my friends and family) go to when we want to know what to drink, maybe your blog will help someone find a new favorite tea.' And so I did. That segues nicely into the other reason I started a tea blog, I love introducing people to new teas, find out later that one of my rambles helped them find a tea that was more than just tasty but an EXPERIENCE, well that is just the best thing ever.
Yowza

I was in for a surprise, apparently, people actually like reading my rambles, I achieved a level of internet fame that I really never expected. My reaction to this is fluctuating awe and terror! This notoriety brought a level of attention that I frequently find a little overwhelming, being an autistic agoraphobe with chronic health problems, the amount of interacting I have to do with people has been staggering. Now please, please, don't get me wrong....my readers and people I have met in the tea community are by and large amazing, I am so glad to have met them, but I never set out to join a community. I tried dabbling in it, realizing now that I was a big fancy tea blogger I had a responsibility to the community and other bloggers to maintain an air of professionalism and friendly openness to all. I have to admit, this might have been a mistake. I am not at all social, and have been finding the whole thing overwhelming and have been pulling myself away from the social aspect of the tea community. I rarely post on Steepster or the Tea Drinkers group I started years ago, and friends on Instagram might have noticed I am not as talkative as I used to be. Heh, this is sounding like I am breaking up with the tea community (it's not you, it's me) I swear I am not, I am just becoming an old tea hermit who also has a blog. This is why my housemates have named my tea room 'The Cave.'

And now for the really sad part, at least in part, blogging is really not fun for me anymore, it has become a tedious slog. Granted not all the time, I run into some fantastic teas that inspire me to long rambles, but a large portion of what I write about (while being very enjoyable) doesn't necessarily inspire me (mostly because I feel for a lot of teas, other than noting a few differences, I have said everything I need to about that type of tea) and I do not feel that is fair to my readers or the tea. I want to give it my all or not at all. Some things need to change in order for me to keep on blogging, which is something I very much want to do, but first I need to get through my backlog of all the teas I have been sent! (Though, of course, just the idea that I am going to be shaking things up has made me feel inspired again, so I think that is a good start!) So don't expect any changes to be immediate, it will take at least a month.

My plans are to focus more on quality over quantity, so I will be going back to three blogs a week. I also plan on bringing back more tea-themed things (like gongfoolery and teaware reviews, and a crazy new idea I have pairing Magic decks with teas, and how to incorporate tea into gaming, as well as cooking with tea) I still plan on reviewing teas, but want to focus on teas that inspire me and do more side by side focus tastings comparing harvests to each other and the like. I hope you all continue to enjoy my rambling, and that I can inspire you to take tea themed adventures! Here's to another thousand posts!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Origins Tea: Milk Oolong, A Tea Review

I have a new obsession that started yesterday, I am utterly entranced by watching Let's Plays of The Long Dark (aka the Canada Simulator) It is a survival game set in the Canadian wilderness after a geomagnetic apocalypse knocks out all of the technology. Something might have caused an ice age (or it is north Canada) since I believe it is forever winter as well. Unlike a lot of other survival games, it isn't full of monsters (just the occasional starving wolf or bear since forever winter) the main threat is the elements, nature trying to kill you at its best. I used to be obsessed with nature survivalism, it was always a dream to see if I could survive on skill alone (back before I came to terms with being a blasted invalid) so I like seeing how accurate this game is. And it is brutal! I have been glued to the screen instead of my usual having videos as background noise, I am tempted to play it but I don't need another time sink game!

Today, as I peel myself away from watching the Canada Simulator, I look at Origin Teas Milk Oolong. I have said many times in the past that I have mixed feelings on flavored/scented Milk Oolong, I absolutely adore Jin Xuan with its distinctive Nai Xiang (aka, milk fragrance) in all its natural glory, but not all Jin Xuans have this so I see the need to make a consistent flavored one. However, just like the things it reminds me of, I really need to be craving it to enjoy it. The aroma of this one hits me like an explosion of vanilla ice cream, buttered popcorn, and cheesecake, there is a hint of lily flowers, but for the most part it is a carnival of sweetness and popcorn.

After enjoying the dessert aroma, I stuffed it into my gaiwan for steeping. The aroma of the steeped leaves is very sweet and potent, strong notes of vanilla ice cream, cheesecake, buttered popcorn, and a touch of buttered toast. Butter and creamy things are the dominant notes for sure. The liquid is also super sweet and buttery, with strong notes of cream and ice cream, it smells like dessert at the movies.

The first couple steeps really showcase the flavoring of the tea, strong smooth notes of sweet cream and vanilla ice cream dance with buttered popcorn and even a hint of cheesecake. Towards the end of the steeps gentle notes of crushed vegetation and flowers show up, but they are light compared to the explosion of popcorn and dessert. The aftertaste brings in a long lingering butter note that sticks around for a while.

In typical flavored tea fashion, the later steeps showcase the base tea, since the flavoring has died down or gone away. In this case it mostly dies down, but it still present with buttery popcorn and ice cream notes as a background. The majority of the later steeps taste of gentle lilies and honeysuckle with a touch of papaya and crushed vegetation. I am not a huge fan of enhanced milk oolong, but this one is one of the best I have had, so if you like this style milk I say give it a try!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Teaful: Taste of Taiwan Chapter 2, A Tea Review

We are deep in spoiler season for Modern Masters 2017, aka the set I won't buy from and what is keeping me occupied until Amonkhet. I don't play modern (or competitive really, I am a casual player with a serious obsession with Vorthos decks) but it doesn't stop me from loving the meta and watching the market...it is a weird side hobby of mine. What I have seen so far from Modern Masters that has me excited is the reprint of Abrupt Decay, a card I want a playset for my (actually standard legal) Golgari deck, the problem is my Golgari deck is stupidly overpriced in its wip state, currently it is an unplayable mess relying entirely on my single Deathrite Shaman. The cards I want to fix this deck will cost me about $30 (which is nothing, but I play casual, so that is a lot to spend on a deck I rarely play, relying on my mono black decks the most) and blah, I am cheap. Long story short, Tarmogoyf is getting a reprint which means the copy that Ben has is going back in the Helvault until the price spikes in a year...grumble grumble. Yes, the place we keep our valuable cards is called the Helvault.

So, Magic rambling aside, it is time to look at another collection of tea from Teaful, their Taste of Taiwan Chapter 2 Box! This one arrived when I wasn't flailing with the flu, so I actually got a decent picture to show off their classy packaging. I really like how the teas are presented, the boxes with closing stickers that name the tea inside, then opening the box to show a vacuum sealed bag which contains steeping instructions and names of the tea are a really good touch. Honestly, the little name stickers make me happy, it is just that little extra touch that puts the packaging over the edge of good to great. Now that I have gushed over the box, I suppose I should tell you what is in it: Baozhong Green Oolong, Milk Oolong, Assam Black Tea, and Ruby 18 Black Tea. Yes, long time readers will notice that those are favorites of mine, so I was a bit excited by this collection.

First up is the Baozhong Green Oolong, the greenest of the green Oolongs, a tea I have always thought of as being the most spring like of the Oolongs. The aroma of this tea is pleasantly complex, notes of lilac and hyacinth blend with cucumbers, sage and a hint of buttery cooked bok choy. I love Baozhongs when they are green and herbaceous along with their intense floral quality, I usually find ones that smell that way tend to last longer than just the floral ones.

As expected, this Baozhong goes the distance, I got a solid five steeps from it, which is good for a Baozhong. It is a tea that delivers on the sweetness and floral qualities, with notes of cocuses, lilac, gardenia, and lilies...like I said...it is a cup of spring time! After the initial flowery burst I am greeted with notes of sweet peas, cucumbers, and fresh oregano (without the bite, so cooked oregano.) Later steeps bring in a more savory quality of bok choy, but it still has a strong floral sweetness that lingers long in the aftertaste.

Next on my little tea adventure is Milk Oolong, this one is a natural Milk Oolong, meaning it has not been scented or flavored, relying on the Jin Xuan's natural creamy quality. I have really mixed feelings on the artificial milks, but a legit milk will make me super happy. I <3 Jin Xuan so much. The aroma of this tea is wonderfully sweet and creamy, like rice milk and chestnuts with a bamboo shoot undertone, and of course a nice floral burst of lilies at the finish. It smells like a delicate dessert, one that you know you can just eat and eat without it ever becoming too sweet.

Oh man, this is a sweet tea! Strong notes of rice milk and chestnut with gentle lilies, so a standard milky, but what makes this one stand out to me is the really outstanding note of pineapple. In fact, it kinda reminds me of the well known Taiwanese treat called pineapple cake. Later steeps have a bit of a green crushed vegetation quality adding a touch of savory to an otherwise very sweet tea. I got a really enjoyable ten steeps from this one, so it goes the distance.

Onward to the Assam Black Tea, a black tea from Taiwan, so spoilers I am going to like it because they are one of my favorite kinds of teas ever. The aroma of the leaves is a blend of malt, pine resin, sun dried tomatoes. cumin, and chocolate. It is resinous and spicy with a subtle sweetness, a pleasant tea for those who want a more brisk smelling tea over a super sweet one.

This tea is very sweet once steeped, but it has a crisp briskness that makes it seem not too sweet. Notes of creaminess and a slight sassafrass quality blend with malt and a hint of cumin for a really great tea. Later steeps err more to creamy and less brisk, with a distinct gentle fruitiness that comes through at the aftertaste. I really enjoyed this one and I am doing my best to not drink it all quickly, though since it has decent longevity I don't have to try too hard.

Did I save the best for last? Well maybe, my overwhelming love for Ruby #18 Black Tea (or Red Jade as I usually call it) is no secret, whenever I get to have some I do a little happy dance because I adore it. Probably because each one I have had is distinctly different while being recognizable as a Ruby #18, it is so fascinating. The aroma of this one is surprisingly nutty, like toasted almonds and walnuts with a strong side of stewed cherries and a strong note of sassafras and cloves. The finish has a gentle cocoa note that lingers in my nose.

This might be the most chocolatey and nutty Ruby #18 I have had, such strong notes of dark chocolate and roasted almonds, from the first steep to the last. It starts strong, with a slight briskness to the mouth that finishes with a creaminess in texture. There are also notes of cherry and sassafras with a strong note of malt, especially in the middle before the tea starts to dwindle away around steep eight. Yeah, this tea went the distance, which I was relly glad for since I ended up loving its rich sweetness.  Like Chapter 1, this box of tea really impressed me, each of the teas were very enjoyable and I certainly enjoyed drinking them! I cannot wait to see what other future boxes contain!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Japanese Green Tea In: Issaku, A Tea Review

Ugh, Fibromyalgia is giving me a good walloping again, my usual constant pain is up to a level where I am immensely unhappy with it. Fibro is weird, at least my case is, this particular disorder affects everyone differently (which is why it is so hard to treat) and mine is no exception. Each time I flair it seems some part of my body goes into stupid mode, and this one seems to be bad (though not unusual) abdominal pain, like my entire abdominal region is one giant pulled muscle and catch. Now the reason I am saying all this is because my dear little Espeon is amazing. She always gets very worried when I am flaring, becoming extra clingy, just a moment ago she hopped into my lap and started kneading my abdomen, and the little kitty massage was so nice. I have no idea if she comprehends how soothing that was, but it certainly made my foul mood a bit better.

Today's tea is a green one, continuing my acknowledgment of the early return of spring,  Japanese Green Tea In's Issaku. From the Arahataen Green Tea Farm, this tea is grown using the Chagasuba Method, an old technique using local grasses and sugar cane to make a mulch, which in turn makes a really good soil. As anyone who gardens will tell you, soil health is vital to plant health, a real skilled gardener (like my mom) can tell you the health of the soil by looking at it and then tell you what it needs to flourish. As a side note, can I just say how entertaining it is to be from a family of champion gardeners and the only thing I can grow is moss (sometimes) and fungi? Another fun thing about this tea is it is processed as Kuradashi Cha 'Tea taken out of the granary' another old technique! Back in the day the tea was harvested in spring, and we all sadly know that Japanese greens (especially Shincha) does not have a ton of shelf-life, especially back in the day before proper storage, so special warehouses were built to store the tea keeping them cool while also subtly aging them. So, now that I have cleared up what this tea is, let me tell you what it is like! The aroma of the vibrant leaves is very intense, I feel like when I opened the pouch I was hit with a full on wave of green, I didn't need to stick my nose in this tea to get the aroma. Notes of toasted nori, fresh kelp, tomato leaves, buttery spinach, sesame seeds, and edamame waft up in a green cloud towards my nose. It is very savory with just a hint of sweetness from the nutty quality.

Into my shiboridashi the leaves go, and this is the first tea that has given my shibo problems, they are very fine and the pour ended up being sluggish at the end, so I let the last slow trickle fall into a separate cup since I was worried about over-steeping. The aroma of the steeped leaves is so savory, strong buttery green spinach and bok choy with kelp and edamame. The aroma of the brewed tea is pretty complex, it has a sweet almost floral (think really light flowering fruit trees) and sweet snap pea quality with a strong savory burst of spinach and edamame, the finish is sea air and kelp, I can almost taste the salty ocean spray when I sniff it.

The first thing I notice when I take a sip is wow, that is an immensely smooth tea! Similar to a Gyokuro in thickness and smoothness, it is quite soupy in its texture and I love that. This tea is an umami bomb, intense kelp, toasted nori, cooked buttery spinach and bok choy, and edamame explode in my mouth, I am pretty sure while drinking this I just saw a green haze, it was so savory and intense. But here is where it gets fun, see Japanese greens are more likely to reach cool temperature before you finish the cup more so than other teas, thanks to the cooler brewing temperature. I put my cup down for a couple minutes to take some notes and when I came back was greeted with quite the surprise, the umami bomb is still pretty umami at the front, but the finish is an explosion of sweetness. Sugar cane and distant apples creep out of the savory and linger for quite a while, I was in the end torn if I liked it better hot or cooled a bit.

This, of course, means I had to cold steep it. The result was a tea that was not as smooth or thick (unsurprising) as the standard brewing, but it was quite sweet! I think I preferred the sweetness from the slightly cooled version more, since it had the umami explosion at the front of the taste, where cold steeping just gave me a delicate umami taste. It is a solid cold steeped tea, but I definitely think I will brew the last of my sample in my shibo for sure, granted I have to admit that cold steeping a Japanese green was never my favorite, if I want it cold I will (assuming I have the time for it) ice steep it, which gives you an immensely intense small shot of tea.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.