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 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 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 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 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

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Teavivre: A Flight of Keemun, Picking a New Favorite

Guys, I drink a lot of Keemun, it is one of my favorite teas and when I start to run low I get antsy. A while back I got a big bag of Fragrant Snail Keemun from Teavivre, partially on a whim and partially because I liked the name, and it has been my favorite ever since....but is that fair? I have not tried Teavivre's other Keemuns, so I decided to have an adventure with almost all of them, and of course I had to blog about this adventure. For brewing I used my usual 195 F, a small 50ml clay shiboridashi, hat style cups, and 30-60-60-90 seconds for steeping. Let the games begin!

Keemun Grade 1
This is the bargain Keemun, quality but not super high quality, a daily drinker if you will, perfect for both gongfu and western style. The aroma is nutty and sweet, with notes of coconut, brown sugar, almonds, and a bit of molasses. The taste is brisk but sweet, combining malt, molasses, and peanuts with a slight aftertaste of wood and almonds. On a whim I brewed up a mug of this (and grade 2) for Ben on his days off and stole a sip, it is really solid brewed that style as well, a touch more brisk and stronger molasses. This is a really tasty daily drinker!

Keemun Grade 2
Perfect for making Milk Tea...hmmm, maybe gongfuing this one will be a mistake...but why not? This one is all about being approachable and multi-use, and I can respect that in a tea, even if I prefer super fancy stuff. The aroma is super strong, possibly the strongest of the Keemuns I have tried from this batch, notes of sweet cocoa, caramel, and peanuts reminded me a bit of candy. The taste is a bit brisk, not as much as I was expecting it to be, with strong notes of caramelized peanuts and a bit of a woodsy cocoa shell finish. Of the two mugs of western style I gave Ben, this was his favorite...and I am tempted to make this into milk tea, but as gongfu this is also pretty tasty.

Premium Keemun Hao Ya
I might have spent far too much time sniffing this one, we are definitely getting into the higher tier grade stuff now and it tells with the level of nuances in the aroma. It is woodsy, very sweet like butterscotch and caramelized plums, and a finish of toasted hazelnuts. It smells delicious! The taste is subtle but very good, notes of sweet caramelized hazelnuts, gentle distant flowers, thick chocolate, and mellow plums dance in my mouth. This tea goes the distance too, lasting a whopping seven steeps. This tea was a delight!

Keemun Aromatic Snail
Hello beloved snail! You are delightfully curly leaved hongcha goodness! The aroma of the tea is complex, with notes of cocoa pods, toasted cumin, sandalwood, myrrh, dried cherries, molasses, and raw honey. There is a lot going on here, and all the notes blend together wonderfully and smell so tantalizing, especially that cumin note, I love cumin in sweet things as well as in savory. The taste, well, there is a reason this one has been my favorite that I have not really strayed from, with strong notes of pistachios, cumin, molasses, myrrh, cocoa, cherries, and a rich dark honey and woody finish that lasts forever. Plus the mouthfeel is super smooth, this tea does happy things to my brain.

Keemun Imperial
The leaves on this tea are so pretty, curly and with hints of golden fuzz, truly these are beautiful leaves that deserve ogling. The aroma of this Keemun is super nutty and starchy! Notes of hazelnuts and peanuts blend with sweet potatoes and brown sugar, sniffing this tea made me rather hungry. The taste borders on creaminess with its smoothness, thick notes of sweet potato and brown sugar mix with hazelnut and peanuts, the finish is a long lasting honey sweetness that sticks around for a while. The taste and aroma of this Keemun is amazing, though it reminds me more of a Bailin Gongfu than a Keemun, but that is not a bad thing.

Superfine Keemun Mao Feng
The description of this Keemun says it combines bold flavor with intense aromatics, sounding like a perfect combination of all the ones I have already tried, this excited me! The aroma is a combination of sweet starchy pumpkin bread, caramelized plums, and a hint of cumin seeds, it is very sweet and subtly earthy...I like! The taste is pretty fantastic, it is quite bold, strong notes of pumpkin pie and plums, chocolate and cumin, and a touch of pine and sandalwood. It lasts for many steeps too, sticking around for six really solid steeps and a few more very light ones.

So, which will I be getting to replace my stash once it runs out? On the one hand, they are all good and quite enjoyable...I could save money by getting the solid Grade 1 or go for the most steepings with the Hao Ya...stick with the old familiar Snail or go with something new. Ok I will be honest, I am truly torn, the Snail and Superfine Mao Feng really were my favorites and they luckily cost roughly the same (though you can only get the Superfine in 3.5oz rather than 1.75oz) so knowing me, I will probably just get both! Do you have a favorite or for that matter, which would you pick?

All tea but the Snail were sent by Teavivre for review, the Snail was bought by me.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Tillerman Tea: Dong Ding Roasted Winter 2017, A Tea Review

Name: Dong Ding Roasted Winter 2017

Company: Tillerman Tea

Type of Tea: Roasted (40%) Dong Ding Oolong, Qing Xin cultivar

Description of Dry Leaf: Tightly rolled and dark brown, you can definitely tell this is a heavily roasted tea, some of the leaves look quite large and have a few stem bits still attached.

Aroma of Leaf: Nutty! Like roasted chestnuts and peanuts with a bit of honey sesame candy, very strong roast with a lot of underlying sweetness. No char notes, just roast and strong nutty notes. It is the kind of Oolong I want to spend all day sniffing, assuming that day is late autumn or winter and I am wrapped up under a blanket.

Aroma of Tea: Sweet and nutty, like toasted sesame and chestnuts, or roasted peanuts and honey on a piece of toasted heavy grain bread. Very warm and filling smelling, these heavily roasted Oolongs always make me feel like I am about to sit down to a very hearty meal.

Preparation Style: I am a bit under the weather, not as sick as I thought I was going to be after Ben woke up half dead with what seemed like the flu. Luckily for me I have just been my usual Fibro self and a bit sniffly with more of a headache, I can work with that! However when I am feeling a bit blech, my favorite method for brewing (since I usually don't like sitting at my desk, I really need a new chair, my current one is trying to kill my back) is good old reliable grandpa or bowl style. Toss some leaves in a bowl or mug, add water, drink around the leaves, refill until leaves stop having a taste. It is an immensely convenient way to brew tea and it gives you an interesting perspective on how a tea changes over time.

Taste: This is a really REALLY good tea for bowl steeping, holy mackerel! It is so sweet, like toffee and roasted chestnuts, honey drizzled toast, a touch of autumn leaves, and a hint of very distant lily flowers. It has a pleasant buttery thickness, that is really soothing when your throat is scratchy, and it has a warming chaqi, drinking it is like wearing a fuzzy robe on a snowy morning. Later after the leaves have really unfurled and it starts to get really strong, the tea tastes like grilled fruit and lychees as well as all the toasted nutty goodness.

Oddball Notes: You might have noticed that I did not use one of my big bowls for steeping this, well bad news everyone, my teaware might seem a bit same-y for a bit as I am getting ready to move soon and packed up the non-essential teaware. So right now all I have out is the stuff I use the most and a few all-rounder pieces, like the mug I am using today. It is neat, got it for a quarter in Madison at the Dig-n-Save thrift store. I got it because I forgot to bring a decent cup with me when I traveled there and it has become one of my favorite cups. Everyone keep their fingers crossed that Ben gets his work transfer in time so I don't have to move across town for a few months and THEN to Madison!

How I Acquired The Tea: Sent for review