Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Eco-Cha: An Adventure in Roasted Oolongs

As spring starts to creep in, I find myself wanting to wander to greener pastures...errr....teas, so figured one big roasted Oolong adventure was in store! I mean I say that, but of course what I write about depends on what I get sent, however left to my own drinking habits (with the exception of hongcha and herbals) my tea consumption tends to reflect the seasons. So, let us look at three roasty toasty teas from Eco-Cha! One is from their tea club, which you can find here if you want to try them.

Gold Medal Award Jin Xuan High Mountain Tea

I know that when I think of Jin Xuan, usually I think of that delightfully sweet, milky and floral, green Oolong, and that is just unfair, because it is wonderful roasted! The aroma of the leaves is super nutty and sweet, like peanut brittle and honey sesame candy, sitting next to a bouquet of orchids and hyacinths! It is pretty low on the roast scale, so it still retains its floral notes, while also bringing in that wonderful roasted nuttiness that I love so much in my roasted Oolongs. I decided to gongfu this one, the taste is super sweet, notes of toasted peanuts, sesame honey candies, dried papaya fruit, honeysuckles, and hyacinth with a long lasting aftertaste of orchid. It is the perfect midpoint between roast and floral, so if you are having one of those days where you cannot decide which you want then go for this one, plus it lasts many steeps (as Oolongs tend to do) so it is a good tea to sit with as it evolves from more roasted to more floral over several steeps.

Ming Jian Farmer's Association Award Winning Oolong Tea

I could not find a link for this one, I am not sure they sell this tea or just used it as a add-on, since I could not locate any reference to it...it is a mysterious mystery. From the packaging I know it won an award, and from the first sniff I knew it was roasted, so going in a bit blind, but that can be fun. The aroma is sweet chestnut and roasted fruit wood, with a slight hint of stewed plums. It is a heavier roast than the previous tea, and I decided when I tasted this one that I was in the mood for grandpa steeping, been doing a lot of that lately since most my teaware is packed up and I have been too busy for gongfu, yes everyone may weep for my incredibly first world problem. This was a good idea, it was a sweet and roasty toasty treat (good since I drank it during one of the last winter storms) that tasted of roasted chestnuts, sweet plums and cherries, and a bit of a woody finish. It lasts a while being grandpa'd really going the distance and turning into an all day tea.

Dong Ding Oolong

Now we have gone into the heaviest of the roasts (I realize now I did it in roast order and that was not intentional!) and wooo is this one robust! Strong notes of roasted nuts like hazelnuts and walnuts with the distinct aroma of roasted nut shells, giving it a bit of a char quality. It also smells of toasted wheat bread and a bit of browned butter. Surprise, surprise, the taste is also robust, strong notes of roasted walnuts and hazelnuts, toasted heavy grain bread, toasted butter, and a long lasting charred nut shell finish. The first few sweets are fairly sweet, but later ones lose the sweetness for all roast and a touch of sharp tanginess. This could be a good tea to use to convert a coffee drinker, as it has a lot in common taste-wise (reminding me of a Sumatra if we are going to be specific) and is especially good for people who like their tea super roasted but without the strong smoke and char taste you can get. If you want more of a char taste, brew it hotter, I use 195F for my Oolongs, but if you use boiling you will get a rich dark red tea with a much stronger char taste, I like mine a little lighter and sweeter so go with a cooler temperature.

Tea sent for review.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

TeaBento: Itatsi (Genmaicha Superior) A Tea Review

Name: Itatsi

Company: TeaBento

Type of Tea: Genmaicha made from Fukamushicha a deeply steamed sencha

Description of Dry Leaf: Tiny little leaves and rich golden rice. Fukamushicha has a tendency to look really cheap, since it gets broken up during its deep steaming, but I assure you, it is not a cheap 'tea dust' kind of tea, it is intense in its taste and aroma. The tiny leaves can be a problem for steeping baskets and clogging shiboridashi spouts though!

Aroma of Leaf: Oooh that is nice and green! Savory cut grass and fresh seaweed blend with sweet and nutty toasted rice, with a slight undertone of distant floral notes like apple or cherry tree blossoms. Brewing the tea, the leaves smell like senbei or arare, those delightful rice crackers with bits of seaweed and soy sauce, sniffing the steeped leaves make me super hungry! Man, I really want some rice crackers now.

Aroma of Tea: The first steep is somewhat light, being gentle savory grass and seaweed with nutty roasted rice as an undertone. Later steeps have these same aroma notes but cranked up past 11 for a very aromatic tea.

Preparation Style: So, those of you who cringe at the idea of using really hot water to brew a Japanese green might want to look away. I used 195F and did a very fast flash steep, pretty much pour water, put on the lid, then decant into the cup. I also brewed it at a much cooler temperature and the difference between the two was exciting. Hotter brings out more umami in the early steeps, where cooler brings out more sweetness. So adjust according to preference, this tea can handle the heat as long as you are fast.

Taste: The first steep is light and savory, with notes of rice crackers and seaweed and undertones of kelp. It tastes immensely clean and refreshing, feeling almost like a palate cleanser. Second steep is where things start to get really fun, the tea goes from light green in color to vibrantly green and the taste is an intense explosion, strong notes of sweet cut hay, savory seaweed (I am thinking specifically of the really delicious seaweed salad I had at dinner last night) and nutty toasted rice with a finish of lingering fresh soybeans. It still retains that immensely fresh and clean taste as the first steep. The best part of this tea I found to be its longevity, it just kept going for about six steeps, five really solid ones and one very light but very sweet sixth. I find genmaicha to be one one of those teas that usually dies too early, so I was so glad to have one that went the distance.

Oddball Notes: I admit I am a sucker for genmaicha made with things other than either low-end sencha or bancha, like making it with Fukamushicha, my favorite ever style of sencha, or with hojicha, or tossing in other ingredients like black soybeans or sakura petals. It takes a daily drinker or sushi restaurant style tea to a slightly fancier level, showing that no matter what type of tea it is, it can still be a work of art. This genmaicha also happens to have the distinction of being one of the few that Ben really liked!

How I Acquired The Tea: Sent for review

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Tea and Junk Food Pairings

Pairing tea and food is a fine art, and there is a reason that most fancy articles and tea books focus on haute cuisine tea pairings (inspired by the wine sommeliers that tea sommeliers borrowed their name from.) But let us be honest, most of us are not eating a steak tartare with our regular cups of tea...so what do you pair for everyday munching? This is a result of years of drinking tea and pairing it with regular snacks, because that is what I do, I am a consummate nibbler and I am proud of my perpetually full snack box that resides on the back of my desk.

Red Jade and Snickers- This was discovered entirely by accident, I was munching on a Snickers and Espeon jumped on me at the wrong time causing me to choke on it a bit, so I desperately needed a drink and grabbed the Red Jade I had sitting on my desk. Usually I don't like pairing Red Jade with anything because its taste is so spectacular I don't want to be distracted from it. This works especially well with a Red Jade that is more fruity and Sassafras heavy rather than chocolate, it becomes a sweet explosion bringing the nutty notes from the Snickers to the forefront and giving it a taste of honey and stronger nougat. The tea actually tones down the cloying aspect of the candy and focuses on a more pure sweetness, giving it a slightly more artisanal chocolate taste.

Dian Hong and Goldfish Crackers- I have an unhealthy obsession with this style tea and these crackers, they have been my favorite snack since I was tiny. I have tested so many different teas with these crackers, mostly because they are my favorite quite munch for my desk and found that Dian Hongs work best, especially the really yam and peanut heavy ones. The cheese and saltiness bring out the sweetness of the tea, kinda like a salted caramel, it works wonderfully.

Kabusecha and Arare- So, some of the teas I combine with food are because they contradict in really fascinating ways, others are because the combination is so perfect that not including it seems just wrong. Technically arare tastes good with just about any of the Japanese greens, but since they are a classic Japanese snack that makes sense, but I find that the sweet/umami combination of Kabusecha is perfect with the sweet/umami tastes in arare, especially the ones with extra nori bits and the ones stuffed with peanuts. Pure decadence, especially during the summer!

Tai Ping Hou Kui and Blue Cornchips- This pairing is wonderful, the naturally sweet and earthy undertones of the cornchips go well with the sweet undertones of the green tea, plus it is like salsa verde without the heat! Definitely skip the salsa with this though, if you add salsa you no longer taste the fairly delicate tea.

Genmaicha and Pocky- Go ahead, call me a weeb, it is a fair assessment, yes I binge watch Naruto while eating this, what of it? I am not sure what it is with chocolate and green tea, but it is really good together, especially the really umami Japanese greens and darker chocolate. Pocky and Genmaicha are a particular fun combo because it oddly makes the Pocky taste vaguely fruity, like persimmon!

Gui Fei Oolong and Potato Chips- Potato Chips are soooo salty (especially the kind I get, I like my salt) and Gui Fei is sooo sweet, combining these two intense tastes mellows both of them out a bit. You get to taste the potato nuances and more of the subtle floral and at times green notes of the Gui Fei. It is not something I do every time I am nomming on chips, but once in a while it is a really fun treat.

Heavy Roasted Dong Ding and Methi Khakhra- If you don't know what that is, it is a essentially a giant cracker commonly eaten in Gujarat and they come in a ton of flavors, my favorite being Methi aka fenugreek leaves (also love cumin too!) usually they are eaten with chutney or a tangy mango masala spice powder. You would think I would pair this with a robust Indian black tea since it is regional, but my favorite way to eat these is with a big ol' bowl of grandpa steeped dong ding and while lounging reading. It is very much so a comfort snack, the nutty sweetness of the tea pairs really well with the tangy, bitter, and spicy tastes of the Khakhra.

Lishan Oolong and Pistachio Macaron- I discovered this beautiful combo last Christmas, Aldi had a thing of Macarons and I got them for 'research purposes' since I want to get decent at making them, when I ate the box I was drinking some very sweet and floral Lishan Oolong, the other flavors were meh with the oolong, but oh man the nutty sweetness of pistachio was a perfect pairing with the sweetness of the floral oolong.

Golden BiLuoChun and Cheese Curds with Honey- Discovered this beauty on my honeymoon, combining fresh squeaky cheese curds, local locust flower honey, and golden biluochun made one of the best breakfasts! The tangy cheese, sweet honey, and malty tea all really compliment each other, bringing out the best aspects of each, without the honey the curds and tea are fine together but that added burst of honey sweetness is what really pushed it into being memorable!

And that is that! There are tons more pairings out there, but these are the ones that seemed really memorable, the next one of these will hopefully be from Madison, where I actually do get fancy and devote a pairing to cheeses!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

TeaBento: Super Spiny (Organic Superfine Keemun) A Tea Review

Name: Super Spiny (Organic Superfine Keemun)

Company: TeaBento

Type of Tea: A high quality Keemun black tea from Anhui, China

Description of Dry Leaf: Small yet full leaves with occasional gold trichomes, true to its name the look like little spines on a very dark hedgehog

Aroma of Leaf: Whoa this tea is complex with its aroma! Dark chocolate sourdough bread fresh out of the oven, a bouquet of roses in the other room, warm honey, a touch of cumin, cherry wood, juicy plums, and a lingering finish of malt. Honestly this kinda smells like how I want complete strangers to perceive my kitchen when they walk in it, just a wonderful blend of smells that evoke the feeling of warmth and happiness. Steeped the leaves emit pretty much the same aroma but with stronger chocolate bread and malt and less rose, smelling less like the idea kitchen and more like you know, a tea.

Aroma of Tea: The liquid itself is not as strong as the leaves, but it is quite pleasant with its chocolate bread and distant roses that have somehow magically been dipped in orange blossom honey, it is lovely and not at all overwhelming.

Preparation Style: Gongfu (honestly do I need to even say it at this point) with 195 F water, 100ml clay teapot (that pretty much only brews keemun and bailin gongfu at this point) with steeping times of 15,30,30,60,60 and so forth. This tea had staying power so I ended up at the end steeping it for five minutes to get every last bit of yum out.

Taste: First off let me clarify that staying power bit, most keemuns I have had go up to about six maybe seven steeps at the most, they tend not to be the all day events that some of my other black teas are...I think I met the exception. Eighteen steeps, granted the last ones were super light and steeped for a very long time, but this tea just kept giving, and I am so happy about that because this tea is good like really good. Immensely sweet and chocolately (hello chocolate bread!) rich orange blossom honey and malt, delicate roses and plums, a touch of cherry wood and cumin, and a resinous myrrh finish and aftertaste of malt and honey that just does not go away. The mouthfeel is very delicate too which I liked, it felt like the tea was dancing in my mouth, so light and floaty with a slightly slick lingering mouthfeel. For all its long lasting taste, it is a wonderfully mellow tea, the kind of tea I am happy spending a long afternoon painting with (*sniffles* I miss painting, I am so ready to be done with this move and the long tedium of packing) or just sitting and focusing on the tea. Don't tell anyone, but this might be my new favorite keemun, hah, and here I thought my search for the best keemun was over!

Oddball Notes: So everyone needs to take a moment out of their day to explore TeaBento's website. I am doing something I rarely if ever do and including their product photos as an example of why you need to go look at it. They have managed to make the cutest website, displaying each tea in the shape of an animal...it is adorable and genius! As you can tell I am a fan of this company and again, I can't wait til this move is done so I can go back to ordering tea!!! They have so many I want to try!!
From the TeaBento Website

How I Acquired The Tea: Sent for review

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Breakfast Teas! Greenmax Cereals, a 'Tea' Review

It has been over a year since I visited my favorite all purpose Asian store, International 888, the giant mall sized mostly grocery store where I get most my non-Indian food (they have very little Indian stuff, luckily I have a fantastic Indian market that I go to so much they have started to recognize me there and give recommendations on Indian serials to watch, which is awesome) Anyway, I desperately needed stuff, mostly some herbs and teas (got a bag of Oksusucha big enough to last me the next year) but also some instant cereals. For those who didn't raise me or live with me, I shall let you in on a secret, I hate breakfast...like really hate it. Not sure if it is because a lifetime of stomach woes and nausea or just general contrariness, but I cannot stand eating unless I have been awake at least an hour, but I am totally ok with drinking things. Lately I have been bad at that though, just going straight to pounding back tea on an empty stomach and have...ahem...given myself some issues, so I decided to pick up some of my favorite 'instant breakfasts' while at International 888. Sadly they were out of my favorite Purple Yam and Black Soybean blend, so I picked up two new ones and thought, hey, blog time! I used the Amazon link for these, as the Greenmax store doesn't have an actual store function, but Amazon is super over priced, check your local Asian market first where they are usually around $5 a package.

Almond Tea with Hazelnuts

This is a blend of almond, milk powder, cashew, jelly fungus, hazelnut, yam, walnut, and some secondary ingredients of sugar, vitamins, and minerals. It is a very nutty thing...so nutty, so very very nutty. And also very very sweet, a combination of these nuts being super sweet on their own and the addition of sugar made this taste pretty much like candy in liquid form. The texture is a bit grainy, and kinda needs to be nibbled a bit or it makes me cough, not too bad but I do wish it had been pulverized a bit more. I also wish it would not have been quite so sweet, I think in future I might get a bigger mug (uhh, big mugs are not a favorite of mine) but that is way over the 200ml recommended amount of water. Really like the taste but man I wish it was less sweet, it is however very filling which is nice!

Black Sesame Cereal 

This one is a blend of sugar, black sesame, wheat flour, glucose, oat, guar gum, nutritional additives, minerals, black soybeans, rye, black glutinous rice, brown rice, buckwheat, brown sugar, adlay (job's tears), wheat germ, and yam. You know, for something with three different kinds of sugar you would expect this one to be the sweetest, but it is not, it is much milder in the sweetness department. The taste is great, if you love sesame seeds, which I do, then it is perfect, if not then you might want to skip this one. Black sesame seeds are a lot stronger than the white ones, being both more earthy and nutty, and they are one of my favorite ingredients in baking! The texture is fun, it is thick and gooey with very little grainy texture, so I never had to chew and could just chug it. This one was definitely my favorite!

These were purchased by me (ok technically Ben, but he does not care if I review them)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Eco-Cha: Heirloom Wuyi Black Tea, a Tea Club Review

Name: Heirloom Wuyi Black Tea

Company: Eco-Cha, June 2016 Tea Club Box

Type of Tea: Black tea made from Wuyi plants that were grown in Taiwan in very organic conditions.

Description of Dry Leaf: long and wiry with dark reds and browns, it didn't want to fit in my display dish!

Aroma of Leaf: A bit sharp and a bit sweet, the leaves do not have the strongest aroma ever when they are dry, but what is there is intriguing. Notes of cocoa pods, honey, and a bit of fruit wood. Brewed, there is a lot more going on, it is still a bit woody and brisk, but now there are notes of sweet cumin biscuits, honey, and cocoa with a slight underlying note of toasted grains.

Aroma of Tea: Faint but sweet, honey and cocoa with a touch of stewed plums and a bit of woody briskness.

Preparation Style: Gongfu with my all purpose (mostly dark teas)Tokoname clay kyusu and a my leaf cup with very pretty glaze. 195 F water 30,60,90s etc on steeping times.

Taste: SO this is fun, it does not so much taste like black tea at first, it tastes like warm buckwheat honey with a hint of cocoa powder! It was surprising in its thick sweetness, later in the steeping it becomes a bit more like the familiar tea taste with brisk fruit wood, a touch of malt, and a lingering taste of berries that have been drizzled in rich dark honey. It is not the most potent of teas, but it is smooth and nuanced, a tea I am more likely to go for in the evening or afternoon rather than first thing in the morning when I am too tired to process nuances.

Oddball Notes: To the best of my knowledge you cannot buy this tea from Eco-Cha as it was part of their club, but you might be able to acquire it if you email them. Their club is pretty cool, I was a member for two years (only stopped because I am drowning in tea) and never regretted it or disliked a tea I was sent. I miss being a member of the tea club and hope I can actually manage to drink enough tea to justify joining again!

How I Acquired The Tea: Sent for review

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Japanese Green Tea In: Green Tea With Lemon and Mikan, A Pair of Teas!

Today is a pair of teas that are really pretty cool, two green teas blended with citrus specifically designed by the collaboration of tea masters of Arahataen Tea Gardens and students from a local high school as a way of connecting the younger generation with tea. In Japan, tea has been considered the art of old folks, kids tend to go for bottled tea or other random drinks over a steaming cup, so I certainly appreciate the effort to get more people into tea! These two teas are a blend of Japanese green tea powder, a bit of sugar, and lemon powder or mikan (japanese orange) powder. I love Japanese teas when mixed with citrus, so this is right up my alley! You can have them warm or cold, and since I am contrary I went with luke-warm (80 F) because it is snowing and I wanted kinda warm, but not too warm.

Green Tea with Mikan

So this tea is super vibrant! I was half expecting it to be dull green since usually these instant sweetened teas are really unappealing looking, but no, it practically looks like a piece of vibrant new spring growth sitting in my little wooden dish. The aroma is mostly green tea, I do not smell any citrus, just creamy and grassy green with a hint of sweetness. That changed immediately the moment I added water, with an almost audible woosh I was hit with a very strong wave of citrus! It smells like a mix of tangerine and grapefruit and it is juicy sweet! I kinda eyeballed it suspiciously, half expecting this vibrant green tea to magically poof into a fruit the moment I go to drink it. The taste is pretty spectacular, pleasantly sweet (not too sweet, roughly the same sweetness I would say as a mandarin orange) with a mouth smacking tangy sour orange and grapefruit note. At the end there are notes of creamy sesame and freshly mown grass. This is the kind of tea I want to take on a picnic on a summer day, it is very refreshing and so bright!

Green Tea with Lemon

Again, so vibrant! And again the aroma of the tea itself starts very lightly green with a subtle sweetness, add water and then boom! Facefull of lemons, like the old THX commercials but with lemon aroma rather than sound. This one I was a bit iffy on, mostly because I don't like sweet lemons...yes I am a weirdo who likes my lemons savory (I snack on lemons with salt occasionally) and have always kinda hated lemonade. Sadly this one tastes like someone has made perfectly fresh picnic ready lemonade and mixed it with green tea, and granted the green tea makes it taste so much better, but I can't help but wish for this one with less or no sugar. But if you are a person who likes lemonade then seriously go get this tea, it tastes uncannily like freshly squeezed lemonade. It is really good, and I am saying this as someone who doesn't like sweet lemons!

And really that is the best thing about these two teas, how they manage to taste so much like fresh fruit juice mixed with really good quality green tea...not something I expect from an instant tea. It honestly has made me rethink my prejudice on instant teas, as they clearly can be made to taste delicious....clearly these kids and tea masters know what they are doing!

Tea sent for review

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Golden Tea Leaf: Gui Fei Oolong (Duchess Oolong), A Tea Review

Name: Gui Fei Oolong (Duchess Oolong)

Company: Golden Tea Leaf

Type of Tea: Nantou Taiwan Oolong that has been nibbled by leaf hoppers

Description of Dry Leaf: Dark in color, a medium brown and somewhat loosely rolled. A bit of green and white here and there, delightfully mottled from bug biting.

Aroma of Leaf: It smells so sweet, seriously it is intense! Rich thick caramel and honey with sweet toasted sesame and almond blend with a slight orchid undertone, and just a tiny hint of dried fruit. It smells immensely decadent and more like a dessert than a tea.

Aroma of Tea: Oh my, this is so sweet! Not cloying like say, a poptart, but rich and decadent like a Greek honey cake. I almost don't have the right words to describe how wonderfully sweet it is while not being gross, and trust me it is a fine line between intense pleasant sweet and intense cloying. It blends notes of roasted nuts and stone fruit with honey and caramel, distant orchids and honeysuckle show up as well.

Preparation Style: Gongfucha, the usual 195 F with a 100ml zisha teapot (re-purposed teapot, it was shou but was re-seasoned just for bug bitten oolongs) and using my oil spot jian zhan cup. There is a bit of a rumor flying around that jian zhan makes tea taste soooo much better, and it is a rumor. Clearly I should do a gongfoolery on that!

Taste: In a word, sweet. But just saying sweet is not helpful, or particularly interesting, it starts with honey and caramelized sugar, dates, lychees, honeysuckles, orchids, roasted plums, toasted sesames, almonds, and pecans. There is a lot going on and it changes each steep, this is one of those tea that truly evolves, not just more of a note with later steeps as the leaves unfold, but changes. The second steep has a toasted note of chestnut and the fruity notes leave, the third steep brings in a vast bouquet of flowers like magnolia and plumeria, the third brings in papaya and mangos with toasted plums...it goes on like this for six steeps then finally mellows out to a solid sugar cane and honey coasted sesame until the end several steeps later. I adored this tea, it is probably now my favorite Gui Fei, beating out my previous favorite with its delicious taste and incredible variety of flavor notes.

Oddball Notes:  So about that Gui Fei from Taiwan note, real Gui Fei can only be from Nantou, everything else is just a  bug bitten oolong. It was the result of a tragedy bringing about beauty, a monstrous earthquake hit Taiwan and as one expects, the tea fields were not top priority as people focused on clean up and rescue. This means a bunch of friendly leafhoppers went all happy and nibbled the leaves. This causes a chemical reaction in the leaves, which in turn partially oxidizes them when they are still on the plant and makes it much sweeter. The leafhoppers are not a huge fan of this so they leave and you get tea leaves with little nibbles rather than a completely chewed up leaf. Hilariously my favorite 'Gui Fei' (well second favorite now) is from Vietnam, meaning it is not a true Gui Fei, this is also a little funny since a lot of Taiwanese tea sold by less than honest people is imported from Vietnam. There was recently-ish a bit of a scandal when one of the growers in Nantou entered his tea in a competition and placed, but then it was revealed that he imported it from Vietnam. The tea world is a seedy place when you get past the delicious tea and into the politics!

How I Acquired The Tea: From a friend as a gift