Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rishi Organic Dragonwell

Rishi is one of my favorite companies. In an inexpensive way, they make fairly good quality, organic teas available to the public. I think my local Whole Foods would have a very boring tea section without them. The dry leaves of this tea had the usual flat and long shape of a dragonwell tea, also known as Long Jing. They had a strong chestnut smell and taste to them. I brewed this tea in my Breville One-Touch Tea Maker using 180 degree water for three minutes.

The liquor was a light golden color and had a slightly grassy aroma. This tea is everything that a dragonwell should be. Sweet, mellow and roasty; it is just what the doctor ordered on a spring morning. The second infusion didn’t reduce the flavor by much, but I don’t think it would have held up to a third. I’ve been neglecting my greens lately and this one has made me want to make up for lost time. I would definitely recommend this tea.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Japanese Tea Ceremony by A.L. Sadler

I picked a copy of this up on my last visit to Mitsuwa Marketplace but haven’t had a chance to read it until now. While I do own all the accoutrements associated with Cha-No-Yu, I really don’t know a whole lot about it. It’s one of those things that you could spend a lifetime studying and still not know all there is to know. This book read more like a history text book than an instructional guide. If you aren’t careful it is easy to get tripped up by all the Japanese names for people and places. I had an high school teacher who beat it into my head that you don’t need to be able to pronounce names or understand what they mean. Her voice in my head made it a lot easier. Despite those misgivings, I enjoyed this peek into the history and lore of the Japanese tea ceremony. There are lots of tidbits on famous tea masters and pieces of tea ware. I am intrigued by it all. Every movement and every article has a meaning and a purpose. Someday I’d like to take a few classes in Cha-No-Yu but for now this was a decent crash course.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chicago Tea Garden Camel’s Breath Pu-erh Toucha

I have to admit that the name of this tea intimidated me quite a bit. I had to save it for a day when I was feeling brave enough. This tea is compressed into little concave cakes that are individually wrapped in tissue. I brewed this tea in a porcelain gaiwan with 212 degree water using 30 second steepings. The liquor was incredibly dark and almost murky from the very start. I hit my limit after four infusions but this tea definitely could have kept going.
Luckily for me there wasn’t much to worry about. This was actually a very enjoyable tea. It was strong but sweet, reminding me of a good Irish breakfast. The end of each sip had a slight astringency that added a nice bit of interest. Oddly enough I can see where the image of a camel’s breath comes to mind. I used to work at a barn and this tea had a pleasant grassy quality to it that reminds me of horses. I guess a camel wouldn’t be such a stretch. If Chicago Tea Garden keeps this up I may just wind up being a pu-erh convert yet. I would definitely recommend this tea.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Chicago Tea Garden Competition Grade Tie Guan Yin

Tie Guan Yin Competition Grade "Monkey Picked" Oolong

Did I mention that I love the Chicago Tea Garden? This is yet another tea sourced from David Lee Hoffman. This a lightly oxidized oolong tea that is rolled into tight little balls. The dry leaves were varying shades of deep green and had a lightly floral smell to them. I brewed this tea in a porcelain  gaiwan using 190 degree water and 30 second infusions. The resulting liquor was a deep gold color with a sweet aroma. I must have done at least eight steepings.

Even though I am an oolong fanatic, Tie Guan Yin is probably one of my least favorites. I often find the floral aspect of the flavor profile overwhelming. Because of this I’ve only had a handful that I have throughly enjoyed. All I can say about this one is wow. This is probably the best oolong I have ever tasted. The floral flavor was intense but delicate at the same time. It was also slightly vegetal without being bitter. This tea just kept giving in terms of the number of infusions. It was exactly what I needed on a nice spring day like today. I would definitely recommend this tea.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Naivetea Mint Oolong

My name is Nicole and I am a mint addict. I also need a twelve step program for oolong. This tea feeds both of my vices. The dry leaves resembled a typical rolled oolong but oddly enough, I didn’t see any peppermint amongst them. I’d be interested to know how they achieved the flavoring. The leaves had a distinct peppermint patty like smell to them. I steeped this tea with my Breville One-Touch Tea Maker using 195 degree water for 3 minutes. The liquor was a pale yellow and had the same strong aroma.

This tea was overwhelmingly mint, so much so that it all but consumed the oolong. The cooling taste lingered after each sip. After three infusions the flavor was just as strong. While I enjoyed this tea I found myself wishing that the oolong was more apparent. That being said it is hard to achieve that in a  mint blend, even with a stronger background tea. It did have a creamy texture that can definitely be attributed to the oolong. I would probably recommend this tea.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Breville One-Touch Tea Maker (BTM800XL)

I was lucky enough to win one of these at a recent Steepster Meetup. This review has been much delayed but I really wanted to put it through its paces. I’ve had a Zarafina for years and still like it a lot but I feel that I’ve outgrown it in a lot of ways. Plus who doesn’t like to have something shiny and new? I have to say that this is just about the coolest tea gadget I have ever owned. Here is a list of everything I love about it :)

  • It looks great. The combination of the glass and stainless steel is great to look at. I’ve already had several guests exclaim “Wow, what is that?”
  • There are both preset times and customizable settings as well as a hot water button
  • There is a timer function, i.e. you can set it to have tea ready for you in the morning
  • It has a “keep warm” button
  • It emits a fairly loud but not annoying beep when done
  • It’s super easy to clean. The plastic on my Zarafina stained easily
  • Watching the basket mechanism in action is vastly entertaining
  • It has a small footprint. Space is at a premium in my kitchen so I appreciate that isn’t gigantic
  • The glass kettle (made of good thick glass too I might add) is very portable
  • Water circulates through the tea leaves very well

Honestly, one of the only faults that I could find was that the measurements are in milliliters. Being the silly American that I am this leaves me completely clueless. The minimum line is 500mL which works out to be a little over two cups. The line is so low that I constantly feel as though it isn’t enough even though two cups is more than ample for a single tea drinker. I don’t think I shall ever actually fill it to the maximum line. I also slightly wish that it boiled the water and then cooled it down rather than just heating it to the desired temp. These two are pretty minor complaints though. The Breville really is one of the best tea makers I’ve come across. Bottom line, even though this baby is pricey it is definitely worth it if you are in the market for a tea maker.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Naivetea Strawberry Oolong


I was immediately struck by the wonderful scent of this tea. Both the oolong and the strawberry were easily discernable. I brewed it using my Breville One-Touch Tea Maker. The liquor was a light gold color and had the same aroma as the dry leaves. My first attempt with this tea was disappointingly weak. Whenever I have a bad experience with a tea I tend to try, try again until I get it right. The third time was the charm and I finally found the right brewing parameters. This tea came out best when treated like a black tea. My final temp and time was 212 degrees for four minutes.

When I finally did get it right, the flavor of this tea was really nice. Each sip started out tasting like vaguely floral oolong and ended strawberry. The flavor stayed in my palate in a pleasant way.It wasn’t sickeningly sweet like a lot of fruit flavored teas are. There was very little astringency, but perhaps that is what was missing. Strawberries are sweet but they are also a little tart. This blend was just a little too candy like. It wasn’t something I’d seek out on my own but I would probably recommend this tea.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Chicago Tea Garden Sticky Rice Toucha

Even though I drink as much tea as I do, the complexity of Pu-erh intimidates me so I don’t have it very often. Every once in a while I will get brave and order a sample or two. This tea is yet another one sourced from David Lee Hoffman. If any tea can be described as cute it is the pu-erh toucha. These neat little compressed balls of tea are simply adorable. I was immediately struck by the rich and nutty aroma, even before steeping. According to Chicago Tea Garden this is caused by it being stored with the herb Nuomixiang for several months. I brewed this tea using a gaiwan and boiling water. All of my infusions were for 30 seconds.

The liquor was a deep gold color and smelled exactly like sticky rice. The first infusion was quite bitter and grassy tasting but after that it mellowed out dramatically. It was reminiscent of genmaicha but even nuttier tasting. There was a lingering sweetness in the back of my throat after each sip. I lost count at six steepings and the flavor did not dissipate in a noticeable way. My gaiwan pouring technique isn’t so great so there were lots of tiny leaf particles. That was quickly remedied with a strainer. I would definitely recommend this tea.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Naivetea Lavender Oolong


I have a weak spot for lavender in tea because it never fails to relax me but it doesn’t knock me out the way chamomile can sometimes. Being an oolong fanatic, this tea was the best of both worlds. The leaves had the appearance of a typical rolled oolong with the occasional lavender flower visible among the green. The aroma wasn’t as intense as I had heard it would be. However, that could also be the fault of my allergy suffering sniffer. I made this in my brand new Breville One –Touch Tea Maker using 195 degree water for three minutes.

The liquor was a very pale yellow and the lavender aroma was much more apparent. This tea was smooth and sweet with no noticeable astringency. Each sip started out tasting like oolong and ended with lavender. The second infusion had the best balance of flavors out of the three that I did. It had a really nice, cooling aftertaste that stayed with me for some time. I wished that I could have kept going but six cups of tea is the limit before I get that “I’m going to explode if I take one more sip” feeling. I would definitely recommend this tea.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tea GW Travel Pillow

Travel PillowsI’ve heard of pillows filled with just about everything, but tea? Tea GW is offering a line of pillows that are exactly that. According to the manufacturer the tea inside the pillows inhibits and kills bacteria in addition to stimulating relaxtion. They are also purported to to improve eyesight, calm the nerves and help alleviate allergy symptoms. Each pillow is covered in a removable zippered pillow case with an elastic strap that allows you to attach it to head rests of cars, airplane seats or chairs. The pillowcase is a great feature because it can easily be washed if need be.
The two that I received were filled with lavender and tie guan yin oolong teas. Both of them smelled amazing. Whether or not these pillows will work for you depends on your firmness preference. They are very firm, reminiscent of the trendy buckwheat pillows from a few years back. I tried them out on a long road trip as well as just lounging around at home and I really liked them. They made a great air freshener for the car too! The packaging for these pillows was absolutely beautiful. If you are looking to give a unique gift for a tea lover, they certainly fit the bill.

Tea GW Travel Pillow sample provided by Tea GW

Friday, May 7, 2010

PG Tips Pyramid Tea Bags

PG Tips Pyramid Teabags, 40 ct box

PG Tips has been an established brand in the United Kingdom since 1930 but has just recently offered their teas to tea drinkers in the United States. These tea bags are a little different in that they are pyramid style but constructed of the a paper-like material typical of tea bags. Tiny holes are visible throughout the bag. I brewed this tea the plain old fashioned way with boiling water and a coffee mug, allowing it to infuse for about a minute. I do miss the presence of a string but a spoon is an easy enough remedy for that.

I was surprised by how much I liked this tea. The flavor was full, rich and nutty without being overly bitter. This is a well balanced black tea with just the right amount of astringency. While I consider myself a loose leaf convert I’m not above using a tea bag at work or when I on the run. However, it is hard to find a tea bag that I enjoy very much. I absolutely loved this tea iced. Since New Jersey’s recent heat wave has hit I’ve been making big pitchers of it on a regular basis. They also happen to have the cutest monkey mascot ever! I would definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Chicago Tea Garden David’s Green Tea Private Reserve

This tea is a private reserve tea from David Lee Hoffman’s Phoenix Collection. According to Chicago Tea Garden, it is comprised entirely of buds that have been pan fired in Fujian province. The dry leaves had a crisp, clean aroma. I brewed them in a gaiwan using four consecutive one minute steepings with 170 degree water. Once steeped the leaves plumped up really well, they appeared fresh and green as though they had just been picked. There were very few broken pieces visible. The resulting liquor was a pale yellow-green color.

This tea was surprisingly mellow. The taste was unique in that it leaned more towards the sweet end of the spectrum than vegetal. There was some of the nutty flavor typical of dragonwell but it was more of an undertone. There was very little astringency here, even in the last steeping. There wasn’t a great reduction in strength between steepings either. Who wouldn’t love a green tea that just keeps on giving? I have been on a major green tea kick lately and this tea only served to feed the addiction. I would definitely recommend it. Chicago Tea Garden is a fairly new player in the huge field of tea vendors but I have to say that I’ve been really impressed by their offerings so far.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Steepster Meetup

The wonderful people who run Steepster held a meetup at Radiance Tea House and Books. It is a rare day that I get to share my tea passion in person so it was a really enjoyable gathering. Dan did a really nice tea tasting for us. We sampled several pots of each of these:


  • Silver Needle white tea
  • Dragonwell green tea
  • Golden Lily oolong tea
  • Phoneix oolong tea
  • Lapsang Souchong black tea

  • I also had a bowl of their yummy summer noodles since a lot of tea always makes me hungry. Afterwards, we indulged in three additional pots of tea (sencha, keemun and a honeybush fruit blend). Comparing tasting notes on the spot was really interesting, especially the descriptions we had for some of the tastes we experienced. By the end of it all I felt as if I would float away if I had one more sip. The best part was that I won a coveted Breville One-Touch Tea Maker. I cannot wait until it gets here. My teaware fetish cannot be contained when I go to Radiance so I wound up coming home with two of the adorable goldfish cups pictured in this post.