Monday, September 30, 2013

Tea Setter Sweet Fragrance Pu-erh

Photo: Tea Setter
Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: small, dark
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep amber

This tea was wonderfully earthy and robust yet sweet and mild. It was more garden after spring rain than the forest floor taste that is usually associated with this type of tea. The sweet fragrance promised in the name came through as a lingering sweetness in the aftertaste. +Tea Setter's description likened it to sugar cane and I would say that is pretty accurate. There was no bitterness or astringency to speak of. I did three consecutive infusions with my gaiwan but the leaves definitely had more to give. Each steeping was different in its own way. I love a tea that evolves as I drink. The taste became fuller bodied and more rounded over time. Overall this tea was both enjoyable and approachable. It is the puerh for people who think that they don't like puerh. Earlier this year I interviewed +Matt Kitchen from Tea Setter. I've included it below in case you missed it the first time around.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Shan Valley Valley Green Tea

Photo: Shan Valley
Country of Origin: Mynamar
Leaf Appearance: small, very dark green
Ingredients: green tea
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 175 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain teacup
Liquor: gold

I was really excited to try this tea because it was grown in Mynamar, otherwise known as Burma. What can I say, I'm a sucker for unusual terroirs. Packaged in the standard silky pyramid tea bag, the leaves were fairly dark in color for a green tea. The taste was vegetal yet with mellow with faint fruity notes and just a hint of smoke. Although it was fairly astringent I did not find it unpleasant at all. Sometimes life calls for an easy sipping tea and that is exactly what this one was. An unobtrusive, warming cup of tea can often be just what the doctor ordered. Although not certified organic, the packaging states that the tea is grown without chemicals. My tin will soon be following me to the office so that I can share it with my co-workers. In addition to being a family owned company, +Shanvalley is based in my home state of New Jersey. I've got several other reviews of teas from them so keep an eye out for those in the coming weeks.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

David's Tea Kiwi's Big Adventure

Photo: David's Tea
Country of Origin: not given
Leaf Appearance: dark green, somewhat flat. lots of fruit pieces
Ingredients: green tea, apple, kiwi, lemongrass, lemon peel, artificial flavoring
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 180 degrees
Preparation Method: ceramic teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: bright gold

I sampled this tea as part of my David's Tea 24 Days of Tea advent calendar. It was sweet and mellow with fruity notes and a hint of citrus. It wasn't as tart as I thought it would be since that is a flavor that I associate with kiwi. I thought that the apple was much more prevalent and I was definitely able to taste the lemongrass and lemon peel. There a touch of astringency but only so much as to leave a dry finish after each sip. Although it wasn't a bad cup of tea, I definitely found myself wishing for a punch of kiwi. I think that this is another case of a decent blend that doesn't quite live up to its name. This isn't a tea that I'm likely to purchase again but you might enjoy it if you like apple flavored green teas.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Tea for Tyrants Houjicha Bancha

Photo: Tea for Tyrants
Country of Origin: Japan
Leaf Appearance: brown, twiggy
Ingredients: pan roasted sencha
Steep time: 2 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: kyusu
Liquor: dark amber

The interesting thing about Tea for Tyrant's teas is that each tea is paired with music. I previously reviewed their Gyokuro Superior and really enjoyed both the tunes and the tea. This selection was everything that I love about houjicha. The taste was smooth, sweet and toasty with no bitterness or astringency. Although mild in flavor, it held up to resteeping like a champ. Houjicha is an excellent choice for those who don't normally enjoy Japanese green teas (also known as crazy people and/or +Robert Godden). It is low in caffeine so it is perfect for late night tea drinking or for sharing with little ones. This tea was paired with Slow Moving Train by the Marc Higgins Band. It was mellow but upbeat and went fairly well with sipping a comforting cup of tea. I've included a video about Tea for Tyrants below. They have a very unique premise and I hope that they do well in their endeavor to promote quality tea and indie music.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Takeya Classic Black Flash Chill Iced Tea

Country of Origin: India
Leaf Appearance: small, dark
Ingredients: Assam black tea
Steep time: 5 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: Takeya Flash Chill Iced Tea Maker
Liquor: deep reddish brown

Classic black perfectly describes this iced tea. It was earthy and full bodied with mild fruity notes. The finish was sweet with just the right amount of astringency. For an Assam it was fairly mellow but it still had a nice boldness. The two quarts that I made disappeared pretty quickly so I wasn't able to gauge how well it keeps over time. I prepared this using my Flash Chill Iced Tea Maker using the hot brewing directions. The drastic temperature change from dumping ice in caused the tea to cloud up pretty quickly. This doesn't affect the taste of the tea so it doesn't bother me in the least. I'm not usually one to sweeten my iced tea but I found myself wishing for just a touch of honey. I really enjoy that this tea comes in pre-measured packets. It removes the guess work and I don't have to go hunting for my tea measuring spoon. I've tried three of Takeya's flash chill iced tea blends and the Coconut Lime Rooibos has definitely been my favorite so far.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Happy Earth Tea Singbulli Organic Darjeeling, Second Flush 2013

Photo: Happy Earth Tea
Country of Origin: India
Leaf Appearance: small, dark and somewhat twisted with scattered golden tips
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 5 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: bright reddish brown

When the cool weather starts to arrive I get some serious cravings for second flush Darjeeling. +Happy Earth Tea is one of my go to sources so I grabbed this tea from the Singbulli Estate when the mood struck. The steeped tea had a beautiful bright coppery red color. It doesn't affect the taste but I always enjoy when a tea is pretty to look at. On my first sip I was immediately able to see why this tea is called "vintage musk". There was a heavy yet earthy floral element that lingered in my palate. Underneath the flower power was alternating notes of muscatel and malt. The finish was naturally sweet and had a pleasant peppery kick. Just the right amount of astringency added a refreshing briskness. Overall this brew was wonderfully complex and full bodied. I definitely see myself reaching for it again as fall rolls onward into the chill of winter. Darjeeling is my comfort tea and this one is a perfect example of that. This is the fourth selection that I've reviewed from this company and I have been very impressed with them all so far.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Yunomi Monoucha Genmaicha

Country of Origin: Japan
Leaf Appearance: deep green, needle like, lots of rice pieces
Ingredients: sencha, toasted rice, rice cracker balls (plain and matcha flavored)
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 195 degrees
Preparation Method: ceramic teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: bright greenish yellow

I receive this tea as part of the July Shipment for +Yunomi.us'sTea Samplers Club. The appearance was somewhat different from other genmaicha that I have had before because of the little rice cracker balls. They looked like fluffy pom poms from my arts and crafts days as a Girl Scout. Novelty is always fun for me, even if it is something silly like that. Their steeping instructions are designed to create a concentrated brew with a short steep and small amount of water. I prefer my genmaicha in larger doses so I went with an average time of 3 minutes. The taste was sweet, vegetal and full of toasty flavor. It had lots of umami and just the right amound of astringency. I always look forward to drinking teas from Yunomi because I love reading the background stories they give about the farmers. This particular tea was produced by Hiroshi Sasaki of Kashima Tea Garden. So far I've been very impressed with the teas that I've received from this subscription service and I highly recommend giving it a try if you'd like to explore Japanese teas.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Teamania Oolong #17 Jade Pearls First Flush

Photo: Teamania
Country of Origin: Thailand
Leaf Appearance: deep green, tightly rolled
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 200 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: gold

+Teamania is one of the only sources that I have found of very good quality teas grown in Thailand. This particular cultivar originated in China. If you are a fan of floral oolongs, you will love this tea. It was heavy with sweet notes of orchid. It had a mild vegetal finish with hardly any astringency. I did three consecutive infusions but the leaves could definitely have gone for a few more rounds. My last steeping developed a pleasant roasted element. I love exploring teas from different regions because terroir really does have an affect on the ultimate product. This is the second Thai oolong that I have tried and they are very different from Chinese or Taiwanese oolongs, even though they are produced from the same cultivars. Teamania shared the story of how oolong came to Thailand on their blog. It's not in English but Google Translate in Chrome quickly remedies that.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Pukka Three Tulsi

Photo: Pukka
Country of Origin: not listed bud presumably India
Leaf Appearance: very small, dark
Ingredients: Rama green tulsi leaf, krishna purple tulsi leaf, vana lemon tulsi leaf
Steep time: 5 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: ceramic teacup
Liquor: dark brown

You might remember that I had previously reviewed and enjoyed Pukka's Lemongrass & Ginger. While some might consider me a tea snob, herbal teas do have their place and Tulsi, otherwise known as holy basil, is one my favorites. The taste of this one was earthy, sweet and herbaceous with no astringency. The finish had a pleasant zestiness to it. I believe that I've only ever tried krishna purple tulsi before so I really enjoyed having the chance to try the two other varieties in this blend. The packaging indicates that this herbal infusion is designed to uplift and restore. I definitely did feel the restorative affects by the time I finished my cup. As tulsi is caffeine free this would make a perfect late night sip. Once again, I feel a sense of relief knowing that this herbal tea is certified organic by both the USDA and the Soil Association.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Modern Tea Girl Bramble Rain Black Tea

Photo: Modern Tea Girl
Country of Origin: not listed
Leaf Appearance: small and dark with HUGE blackberries
Ingredients: black tea, blackberries, blackberry leaf, flavoring
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: ceramic teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: deep reddish brown

Modern Tea Girl is an online boutique based out of Ohio. Their tagline is "Tea inspired goods for the tea inspired woman.". I couldn't have put it better myself. In addition to a line of loose leaf teas they carry everything from nail polish named Golden Monkey to pretty dresses and handbags. I had been avidly following their tweets when I saw a promotion on Twitter giving away free tea in exchange for signing up for their newsletter. I'm usually more inclined to unflavored teas but this one really grabbed me when I was picking my selection. I impressed at the size of the freeze dried blackberries. They looked good enough to eat! The base black tea was robust and earthy without being overpowering. It provided the perfect stage for the sweet, juicy blackberry flavor to really shine. I found myself a bit sad when my cup had been finished which is always a good sign. This tea will definitely be coming to the office to get me through those really hectic days.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Adagio Teas Golden Monkey

Photo: Adagio Teas
Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: long, very twisted with lots of golden tips
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 5 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: small clay teapot with built in strainer
Liquor: deep reddish brown

Golden Monkey is probably one of my favorite types of Chinese black tea. Its name comes from the vague resemblance of the leaves to a monkey's paw. This particular one from +Adagio Teas was comprised of rather long and twisted leaves with a ton of fuzzy, golden tips mixed throughout. The taste was rich and malty with major notes of cocoa. A sweet and spicy finish rounded out the flavor profile. Despite being so earthy, the mouth-feel was smooth and there was very little astringency. I really enjoy that the product page lists a breakdown of the per cup price for each package size. This one is somewhat spendy for Adagio but it is mid-range when compared with other retailers. $0.27 per cup still beats a glass of wine or cup of gourmet coffee any day. The steeping directions that came with this tea are for western style brewing but it would lend itself well to gongfu preparation as well. Although this tea is fairly full bodied, I strongly suggest foregoing milk or sugar. Adding anything to your cup could hide much of its nuances.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tealet Gu Ha Sheng Pu'er

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: dark, compressed, lots of buds
Ingredients: sheng puerh tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep gold

I first shared this tea with +Elyse Petersen from +Tealet and +Natasha N from The Snooty Tea Blog during an impromptu food court tea tasting. I was excited to be able to taste it at home since foam cups and not quite hot water isn't the best method of preparation. The first infusion was herbaceous and full bodied with a thick mouthfeel. There was an interesting cooling aftertaste along with a lingering sweetness. As each infusion progressed an earthy astringency came to forefront. That will mellow out with time as it is still fairly young. The sweetness that I tasted early on did not fizzle at all. This tea was grown and produced by Bin family at Misty Peak Tea. It was harvested in the fall after the rainy season. I really wish that I had a bit more so that I could compare it to a spring harvest. There has been a lot of buzz about them and I am happy to see that their teas are just as great as I have been hearing.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Boston Tea Company Tropical Mango Black Tea

Photo: Boston Tea Company
Country of Origin: Sri Lanka
Leaf Appearance: small, dark with very large fruit pieces and tons of bright yellow petals
Ingredients: Ceylon Black Tea, Mango Bits, Sunflower Petals, Natural Mango Flavor
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: ceramic teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: deep reddish brown

I adore mango so I was really excited to try this blend. The dried mango bits were quite large and I loved the punch of color from the sunflower petals. Unfortunately after following the recommended steep time, I found that the fruit flavor was a bit lacking. The Ceylon base was earthy and malty with quite a bit of astringency. Given the name, I was expecting something very tropical. Not one to give up after the first try, I gave this tea another go at five minutes and had much the same results. The three minutes infusion was definitely the more drinkable cup of tea. I'm usually a big fan of teas from Boston Tea Company but this one just didn't do it for me. It's important to keep in mind that one bad apple does spoil the whole bunch and everyone's tastes are different. I'm sure that there are tea drinkers who would enjoy this tea very much.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tea Horse Milk Oolong

Photo: Tea Horse
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: deep green, tightly rolled
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 175 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: gold

Milk oolong is one of those teas that can either be wonderful or really terrible. Thankfully this one from Tea Horse fit the latter category. The taste was only slightly creamy but it had very distinct notes of caramel and buttered popcorn. It had a sweet, fruity finish that reminded me of pineapple without the tartness. I did three consecutive infusions but definitely could have gone for a few more if I had the time. It was obvious that all of the tastes I experienced were naturally inherent to the tea, not the result of a flavored spray as you will find with some lower quality teas. This tea was part of Tea Horse's monthly subscription service but I really enjoy that the teas can be purchased individually. I've been really impressed with the selections that I've tried from them so far. +Ricardo Caicedo of My Japanese Green Tea did an excellent podcast interview with the found of Tea Horse, +Ali Silk. I definitely suggest giving it a listen.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Tea Places: Capital Teas - National Harbor

Such an inviting storefront
 +Capital Teas has been on my wish list for a while and I had a chance to stop by their Nation Harbor location in Oxon Hill, MD this past weekend. I passed this location on the way to an event at the harbor so it was a bit of a happy accident for a tea nerd like me. The store front was very inviting with wide open doors and a sampling station serving up their Calming Tea. I was joined by my boyfriend and two semi-tea curious friends who graciously let me take my time exploring the shop. Although somewhat small, it was well laid out and did not feel cramped at all. The staff was friendly and energetic without being pushy. We were offered samples of a tasty pumpkin chai rooibos almost immediately.

The teas were displayed in a wall of glass jars where guests are invited to sniff to their hearts content. This can be a great way to tell if you would enjoy a tea but an overzealous sniffer could easily overload their senses. It was interesting watching the reactions of Jason and my friends to certain teas and they all had lots of questions for me. Herbal blends were displayed in a separate room which made it easy for newbies to navigate. Their teaware displays were very tempting, especially the reasonably priced yixing teapots and cups. There were quite a few pieces that would have followed me home if there were room in the vacation budget and on my teaware shelves.

I did bring home two ounces of their Capital Breakfast Organic and will be posting the review of it in due course. The warm day left me a bit parched so I also indulged in a cup of their Darjeeling TGFOP Organic on the rocks. Its naturally fruity and sweet flavor was just the pick me up I needed.

I couldn't resist snapping a shot of this teaware display
My iced Darjeeling really hit the spot

You can find out more about Capital Teas here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Yunomi Hojicha Light Roast from Kyoto Obubu Tea Plantations

Photo: Yunomi
Country of Origin: Japan
Leaf Appearance: small, dark and needle-like
Ingredients: green tea
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 180 degrees
Preparation Method: Kyusu
Liquor: dark amber

After having a pretty terrible allergy attack, I was in need of copious amounts of tea. Something comforting and toasty was exactly what I needed to get back on my feet and hojicha definitely fit the bill. This particular tea was from the July Shipment for Yunomi's  Tea Samplers Club. Obubu Tea is a farm that I am pretty familiar with thanks to +Yunomi.us and +Tealet. I've enjoyed their teas in the past so I knew that this would be a safe choice. The taste was just as toasty as expected with woodsy notes and hints of smoke. There was also a light vegetal sweetness that helped to balance the flavor profile. After refilling my kyusu not once but twice, I was on track to feel like myself again.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Peony Tea Shop Pre-Qing Ming Dongting Bilouchun

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: sage green, very small, mostly buds
Ingredients: green tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 175 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: very pale, greenish

The name of this tea comes from the Dongting mountain where it is grown and it is one of China's top ten famous teas. I could not believe how positively tiny the leaves of this tea were. It consisted almost entirely of buds and many of them were covered in silver hairs. They felt almost soft to the touch. It was delicate and sweetly vegetal with mild fruity and floral notes. There was just a touch of astringency but only enough to leave a clean, somewhat dry finish. I found the taste a bit hard to describe, maybe edamame without the salt? I did three consecutive rounds in the gaiwan but I probably could have squeezed out a few more. I highly suggest brewing it in a glass vessel because the agony of the leaves is truly beautiful to watch. +Derek Chew of +Peony Tea S. wrote an excellent article on the origins of this tea that I definitely recommend checking out. I don't often have the time to play around with taking pictures and what not while I'm reviewing but I did with this one so I'm including them below.

Stay tuned to the blog tomorrow. I'll have something really exciting to share!

You can find out more about this tea here.





Saturday, September 21, 2013

Happy Earth Tea Sungma Organic 1st Flush Darjeeling 2013

Photo: Happy Earth Tea
Country of Origin: India
Leaf Appearance: small, green and somewhat curly
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 5 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: ceramic teapot and mesh infuser
Liquor: pale amber

First flush Darjeeling is something that has only recently started to grow on me due to some early bad experiences. Now I've got a major soft spot for it, especially the teas that come from +Happy Earth Tea. This one hails from the Sungma Estate and I am so glad to hear that it is organic. The dry leaves were very green in appearance with lots of young buds. The grade of this tea is SFTGFOP1. It was floral, herbaceous and malty with strong notes of muscatel. There was also an underlying spiciness typical of Darjeeling. The finish had a lingering sweetness and just the right amount of astringency. Overall it was wonderfully complex and full bodied. This would make an excellent iced tea if you were so inclined. It is definitely not a tea that you should add milk or sugar too. To find out more about Darjeeling, check out my article, Meet the Tea: Darjeeling.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Norbu Tea 2009 Norbu Lao Cha Tou

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: dark, tightly compressed
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: very dark amber

Puerh is just the thing when I've had a little too much to eat and today was one of those days. Norbu Tea's website gives a very interesting description of this tea:

Lao Cha Tou translates loosely as 'Old Tea Nugget.'  Cha Tou are small nuggets of clumped-together tea leaves that are formed as a result of the heat and pressure that is generated by the piles of tea when they are undergoing fermentation.  At the end of the 40-60 day fermentation process the newly fermented tea is sorted into grades based on size using impressive wind tunnel sorting machines.  The nuggets are found toward the bottom of the pile usually after sorting, and are just a small portion of a batch of ripened Pu'er.

The cake was so tightly compressed that I had a hard time breaking off a chunk. Eventually I succeeded by chiseling it with a butter knife and hammer. My family's reaction to tea is always humorous and my uncle was convinced that this one bore a strong resemblance to an illegal substance. Once I was finally able to get started, I found it to be mellow and sweet with a pleasant earthiness. Although it was not very complex there was still a nice roundness in each sip. The mouth-feel was smooth and there was no bitterness to speak of. The leaves were very slow to unfurl. It was a little late at night when I drank this so I was only able to get in  four gaiwans of tea. Their site indicates that it would have been able to handle fifteen or more infusions. I don't believe that I've ever had a tea made from Cha Tou before but it was very enjoyable.

You can find out more about this tea here.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Tea: History, Terroirs and Varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, Francois Marchand and Jasmin Desharnais

Photo: Camelia Sinensis
This book has been on my wish list for some time. I finally picked up a copy at the New York Coffee and Tea Festival where I got it signed by Kevin Gascoyne. This is a truly beautiful book that could easily double as a coffee table style book thanks to all of the beautiful full-color photographs. It was written by the knowledgeable crew from Camelia Sinensis Tea House. I love that it is not one big advertisement for their company. It was one of the most thorough books on tea that I have read yet. The well organized chapters cover every aspect of tea from the bush to the cup.

History, terroirs and varieties are indeed the bulk of the subject matter. It is written a simple and easy to understand manner without dumbing down the content. Each growing region is discussed in a pretty in depth way. You could easily write a book about each of them but I think they did a nice job of shrinking down the information. This book offers a little bit of something for every tea drinker, whether you are just starting out or if you've reached +Tea Geek status. I particularly loved the chemical analysis chapter towards the end. It provides the ultimate argument to give those who promote the health benefits of tea too heavily.
"..We think it wiser to advise the tea enthusiast to choose a tea according to taste and personal preference, giving first priority to sensory pleasure."
All I can say is Amen to that! The final chapter is filled with delicious sounding tea infused recipes. All in all, I would definitely recommend this book for any tea lover. It would make a great gift.

You can find out more about this book here.

The Republic of Tea Sungma Turzum Oolong

Photo: The Republic of Tea
Country of Origin: India
Leaf Appearance: dark, somewhat curled with buds and white tips scattered throughout
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 5 minutes
Water Temperature: 200 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: orangish amber

+The Republic of Tea is often associated with their iconic round tea bags but did you know that they also have some really great loose leaf tea? Indian oolong is something that I just can't resist so I had to give this one a try. It hails from the Sungma Turzum Estate in Darjeeling. The dry leaves were beautiful to look at and the liquor was a really bright orange shade of amber. Its overall appearance was quite unlike any oolong that I've tried before, even those from other Darjeeling estates. The taste was mellow and well rounded with notes of rose and citrus. There was also a really nice underlying spiciness. I wouldn't exactly call it cinnamon but it was close to it. It had a somewhat dry finish but it was not bitter or unpleasant. Although not terribly complex, this was a really enjoyable cup of tea. The leaves expanded quite a bit so I'll be infusing this tea in a teapot or gaiwan in the future. You've got to give those leaves room to stretch their legs.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Dry Leaves
Steeped Leaves

Thursday, September 19, 2013

JING Tea Dragonwell Supreme Organic Green Tea

Photo: JING Tea
Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: jade green, flat, some leaf fuzz
Ingredients: green tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 160 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: very pale

According to +JING Tea's website this is their highest quality Dragonwell selection for 2013. The leaves were picked between the 6th and 8th April 2013 from Fengwu tea garden, near the ancient Chinese city of Hangzhou. The taste was mellow, vegetal and refreshing. Notes of chestnut and citrus led to a lingering sweet finish. The mouth-feel was fairly thick with hardly any astringency. I did three consecutive infusions with a gaiwan and it developed a pleasant grassiness as each steep progressed. The leaves were still very plump and definitely could have gone on for a few more rounds. Earlier this year I did a blind tasting, pitting this Dragonwell against an Organic Dragonwell from the same vendor. I only just got around to publishing this review now due to the size of my backlog but rest assured that the tea was drunk several months ago while it was still very fresh. This tea was the more delicate of the two which I enjoyed because it forced me to really take my time and pay attention to each sip.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Yunomi #01 Kurihara Heritage Gyokuro

Photo: Yunomi
Country of Origin: Japan
Leaf Appearance: deep green, needle-like
Ingredients: green tea
Steep time: 2 minutes
Water Temperature: 120 degrees
Preparation Method: Hagi glazed houjin
Liquor: bright green

This tea was actually from the July shipment of Yunomi's Tea Samplers Club. I've got a bit of a back log so I wasn't able to get it published until now. Gyokuro is a rare treat and I dove into this one with gusto. It was nothing short of exquisite. The taste was sweet and grassy with a buttery mouth-feel. There no bitterness at all. The umami (strong savory taste caused by high levels of theanine) became stronger as the tea cooled. This is a tea that calls for closing your eyes and taking deep breaths between sips. For my second and third infusions, I followed +Yunomi.us's directions and steeped the tea for 20 seconds at 175 degrees. These cups were more astringent but just as delicious. I love how much background information was included about the family farm that produced this tea. The Kurihara family has been growing tea in the Yame region of Japan since 1942. This particular tea comes from one specific field with leave that are cut about regular Heritage Gyokuro.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Single Origin Teas Jun Chiyabari Second Flush Nepal

Photo: Single Origin Teas
Country of Origin: Nepal
Leaf Appearance: small and dark, somewhat curly with some golden and white tips
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: clay gongfu sized teapot
Liquor: amber

I still get pretty excited about samples of Nepalese teas because I don't get them very often. Single Origin Teas is a new to me company whose premise is to source high quality teas from specific locations at a reasonable price. This particular tea comes from Jun Chiyabari. It is a fairly young tea estate, planted in the early 2000's, and is smaller than most of the plantations see in India or Sri Lanka. Although this is technically a 2nd flush black tea, it was a bit more mellow than I would have expected. There were earthy and sweet notes with just a hint of floral that became stronger with each infusion. I always wait until after I've written my review before reading the tasting notes on a vendor's website and was happy to find that my thoughts were correct. They've pegged this one pretty well as being reminiscent of maple and rose. It's an interesting combo and one that I don't think I've experienced elsewhere. A tea like this would work well when brewed western style but I still prefer using my little Tsuki Teapot.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Tandem Tea Tasting: SerendipiTea Fu Man Chu

Photo: Instagram - teaformeplease
The Tandem Tea Tasters are at it again. This month we tasted Fu Man Chu from SerendipiTea. I previously reviewed this tea back in May and hadn't tasted it since. It was nice to revisit such an enjoyable blend, especially when sharing it with great company. This time it was just the ladies as Sir +Geoffrey Norman was occupied for the evening.

I steeped the tea in my usual loosey goosey way using a ceramic teacup with a mesh infuser. +Rachana Rachel Carter opted for a gaiwan to steep her sample. The taste was just as wonderfully complex as I had remembered. Our initial sips brought many oohs and aahs, especially from those among us that had never tried it before. We all agreed that the jasmine was a surprisingly pleasant addition. These are not ingredients that we would have ever thought of combining. The earthiness of the puerh and a slight fruitiness were also noticed. +Jo J experimented with keeping the leaves in the water rather than removing them and it resulted in an overpowering brew. +Darlene Meyers-Perry enjoyed her cup so much that she lost her mind for a moment :). The steeped leaves were absolutely gorgeous and I could resist snapping the picture at the bottom of this post.

Our topics of conversation ranged from current events in the tea world to crafting and my upcoming visit to Washington, D.C. We all had the usual giggle fits and bouts of silliness, most of which we blamed on the jasmine. The wonderful thing about Hangouts on Google+ is that they are pretty close to sitting down with a cup of tea in person. Next month our tasting will be very fall inspired and I am looking forward to it. As per usual, I'll be adding everyone's blog posts as they get published.

+Jo J of Scandalous Tea, An Evening with Fu Man Chu Tandem Tea Tasting
+Rachana Rachel Carter of +iHeartTeas, Fu Man Chu Time - Tadem Tea Tating #2
+Darlene Meyers-Perry of The Tea Enthusiast's Scrapbook


You can read about our last tandem tea tasting here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Adagio Teas Dancong Aria

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: dark, long and twisted
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 195 degrees
Preparation Method: clay gongfu sized teapot
Liquor: pale amber

I think that I'm in love. Dancong is on of my favorite types of oolong and this selection is a great example of why I adore it so much. This tea was wonderfully complex and lent itself perfectly to gongfu style brewing. At first there was a strong aroma of almond. This transitioned into a honeyed apricot taste that is often associated with dancong. The finish had a long orchid note that lingered in my palate after each sip. An earthy undertone kept everything balanced. It had major staying power as I enjoyed infusion after infusion over the course of an afternoon. This tea is part of +Adagio Teas' Roots Campaign which I love because it gives the tea drinker an opportunity to get to know the farmer that produced their tea. Their interview with Pan Hui Huang gives me an even deeper appreciation for each cup that I make. Although it would lend itself to western style brewing, this tea really shines when prepared gongfu style. I used a very small teapot when writing this review but you could also use a gaiwan or even a yixing that is dedicated to this type of tea.

You can find out more about this tea here.

Interview with JusTea and Fundrazr Campaign

Earlier this year I interviewed Britta from +Jus Tea on Episode 2 of my podcast. They are now entering the second phase of their fundraising campaign. Grayson and Paul Bane took some time to answer my questions about their mission, the Kenyan tea industry and more. Please give it a read and consider contributing to their campaign on Fundrazr. It is companies like JusTea that are transforming the industry and making the word a better place for tea farmers. The beautiful pictures scattered throughout this post are from the Bane family's trip to Kenya in February. Make sure you watch their update video at the bottom of this post. I'll be reviewing some of their teas very soon.


Has your family always been tea drinkers?
We have not always been avid tea drinkers, but since learning more about tea and the culture behind it, we
have all developed an immense appreciation for it. Now it's rare that you won't find a stray tea leaf or two on the kitchen counter!

What inspired you to start JusTea?
I (Grayson) have started many businesses, and not wanting to retire, I wondered with my entrepreneurial skills whether a business could be started in a country such as Kenya. It was upon travelling there and meeting a tea farmer named Davison that sparked the idea. Him and his family were so gracious, so kind, that we built a lasting relationship. JusTea is founded on just that - relationships.

How is what JusTea plans to do different from other Kenyan grown tea?
In the traditional model, tea is grown on small farms and sold at very low prices to massive corporate tea processing plants. The leaves are then processed (by machine - known as CTC (crush, tear, curl)), sold, and shipped at grossly elevated prices, leaving very little profit for the farmers. JusTea is going to build small, cooperative processing 'kitchens' at the farmer level so that the end product will be a higher quality, hand rolled, whole leaf tea. This results in more profit for the farmers, and a better, fresher tea for the consumer.

Why is it important to support small farmers?
More than 500 000 tea farmers in Kenya live on less than $2 a day. Equipping them with the right training and tools will provide better education for their children, and a higher quality of life for the whole village.

How much progress have you made since the last round of fundraising?
The first round of fundraising allowed us to set up infrastructure and partnerships here (Vancouver) and in Kenya. There are many political and cultural barriers that take a great deal of time and effort to break through. Currently, everyone working full time with JusTea are volunteers.

How have the Kenyan tea farmers benefited from your program so far?
We have acquired a tea exporting license for our partners in Kenya and established the infrastructure to export tea in November. But more than that, the relationships we have made are worth more than any dollar amount. In November the farmers will be expertly trained in hand processing their own whole leaf tea and will receive better than fair trade prices for the tea we purchase from them.

What are your goals for this next round of fundraising?
We aim to raise $20 000 to purchase equipment, build the facility, and hire a trainer. We managed to find one of the leading experts on hand processing black tea from Darjeeling, India. As luck would have it, his name is Buddha. He will be leading us through the construction of the 'kitchen' and teaching the farmer and his family the best methods for processing.

Are there new types of tea that you are introducing in Kenya?
We will only be using what tea is already growing there. There can be risks with introducing new plants/species to an environment. What will be different, however, is the process it goes through. Almost 99% of tea from Kenya is ground up CTC for tea bags, JusTea farmers will be processing tea by hand, the end product is a higher-quality, fresher, WHOLE leaf tea.

What can the average tea drinker do to help?
The best way to support is to purchase some tea from the website, and tell all your friends about it. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and help spread the word!

What do you see in the future of the Kenyan tea industry?
We hope to see more equitable sharing and partnering process with the growers. We are starting with one of these 'kitchens,' but hope to implement more and more tea kitchen co-ops as JusTea grows. Equipping the farmers with the right knowledge and materials will enable them to have a greater ownership of their tea and increase their tea earnings for their families.

You can find out more about JusTea here.

Contribute to their fundraising campaign here.