Monday, June 30, 2014

Tribute Tea Company Yunnan Moonlight Buds

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: large, plump needles covered in silver hairs
Ingredients: white tea
Steep time: 2 minutes
Water Temperature: 200 degrees
Preparation Method: glass teapot
Liquor: pale amber

Out of all of the samples that I received from +Tribute Tea Company, this is probably the one that I was the most excited about. Nearly all Chinese white teas are produced in Fujian but this one hails for Yunnan, land of puerh. The dry leaves looked like a super sized version of silver needle. They were very soft to the touch as well. This is one of those strange teas that really doesn't quite fit into a single category. The product description states that it is technically puerh. I thought that it tasted very much like a mellow and sweet Dian Hong. It even smelled like one and if left to steep for a bit, the color of the liquor turned a bit reddish. Whatever its true identity is, this tea was delicious and it is definitely worth giving a try. You'll want to follow their recommendations for temperature but it never really gets bitter so steep time is not much of a worry. The leaves looked really beautiful floating in the pot while I sipped.

Yunnan Moonlight Buds sample provided by Tribute Tea Company.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Teavivre Bi Luo Chun Green Tea

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: jade green, curled
Ingredients: green tea
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 185 degrees
Preparation Method: glass test tube steeper
Liquor: pale, greenish gold

One surefire way to tell if a Bi Luo Chun is well made is to see how quickly the leaves sink when added to a glass of water. This tea sunk almost immediately. It was actually so fast that I missed it! The taste was incredibly light and sweet with floral notes and a fruity finish. It had just a hint of toasted rice as well. Once the leaves were unfurled they were quite large with lots of visible buds. I still had quite a bit leftover in my sample packet and I didn't want it to go to waste so I threw them in a mason jar for cold brewing. That worked fairly well but I like my iced Bi Luo Chun to be a bit dirtier. I love, love, love that +TeaVivre provides the exact harvest date. It's that attention to detailed that makes them one of my go-to's when it comes to Chinese teas.

Bi Luo Chun Green Tea sample provided by Teavivre.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel

This book has been on my reading list for a while. It was downloaded to my Kindle in the hopes of reading it on the plane to World Tea Expo but somehow that never happened. I am definitely glad that I finally had the chance to dive into it though.

In her debut novel +SHONA PATEL tells the story of Layla Roy, a young girl living in Assam during India's struggle for independence. While it isn't directly related to tea, a good portion of the plot takes place on a fictional tea plantation. The details are very historically accurate, particularly the relationships between plantation staff and the work force.

The characters are exactly as I prefer them, flawed yet lovable at the same time. Although it could be technically categorized as a romance novel, it does not read like one. There is a love story but it's a much more old fashioned affair than what you might expect. Part of that is due to the Hindu and Muslim cultures that play central roles in the story line. I don't consider that to be a bad thing at all. It was nice to read a book that doesn't have a racy love scene added just to move more copies. You might remember that was my one complaint about The Teahouse Fire.

Overall I thought that it was an engaging and interesting read that would be enjoyed by anyone who loves tea. I finished it in seven days during my morning and evening commute to work. I must confess that I stayed up late to finish it because I just had to know how it ended.

You can find out more about this book here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jalam Teas Yiwu Unfermented Puerh

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

I usually have way too much tea but one of my guilty pleasures is my monthly shipment from +JalamTeas. I love the look of the stickers that they've put on the back of my recent selections but I hate ripping that beautiful tree to get to my tea. This cake was very timely because I had just finished reading Puerh Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic, an excellent book that discusses this region extensively. The leaves looked relatively normal but I was surprised at how dark the liquor was. The picture below still doesn't really capture it. I tend to use a lot of leaf and longer infusions but the taste was still fairly mellow, especially for one so young. There were heady notes of straw with an almost menthol-like finish. That cooling affect will make this my go-to puerh when the summer nights start getting hotter.

Yiwu Unfermented Puerh received through Jalam Teas subscription.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

J-Tea International Bourbon Barrel Oolong

Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: dark, tightly rolled
Ingredients: bourbon scented oolong
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: ceramic teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: amber

My dear blogger friend +Geoffrey Norman was kind enough to give me a bit of this tea when we met up at the World Tea Expo. He knew I was a big fan of the Bourbon Barrel Puerh and I could not wait to dive into this one. The taste was more mellow than I was expecting but it definitely hit the spot. It was nutty, earthy and sweet with a touch of fruity creaminess. I haven't a tea that was quite this complex in a while so it was a real treat. The hints of bourbon were a lot more subtle but I think the roasted oolong worked even better as a base tea than cooked puerh did. Tea is incredibly absorbent of aroma so there are a lot possibilities when it comes barrel storing. I'd love to see something more whiskey inspired (what can I say, I'm a Jack Daniels kind of girl).

Bourbon Barrel Oolong sample gifted by +Geoffrey Norman

Monday, June 23, 2014

Tea People Makaibari Bai Mu Dan

Country of Origin: India
Leaf Appearance: large, scattered needles, varied shades of green
Ingredients: white tea
Steep time: 4 minutes
Water Temperature: 175 degrees
Preparation Method: ceramic teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: pale gold

When I opened a recent batch of sample from +Tea People, this Darjeeling white tea was the first one to jump out at me. It practically begged, "Drink me!". The dry leaves were vaguely reminiscent of Bai Mu Dan but had a bit of a different appearance than their Chinese counterpart. The taste was very mellow, fruity and sweet with subtle nutty notes. Its finish had just a hint of citrus that reminded me of lemons. I found it really light and refreshing, perfect for sipping on a warm summer day. Adding anything to this tea would definitely be a no-no. It's so subtle that you would lose most of its nuances. I've got several other Makaibari teas to review from +Tea People (including an oolong!) so keep an eye out for those soon.

Makaibari Bai Mu Dan sample provided by Tea People.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Whittard of Chelsea Nilgiri Kala Moti

Country of Origin: India
Leaf Appearance: dark,curled
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 5 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: ceramic teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: deep reddish brown

When I had a chance to try some teas from +Whittard of Chelsea, I was immediately drawn to their single estate teas. This one from Nilgiri stood out because of the unusual leaves. The name Kala Moti means black pearls. They had an unusual curled shape that was reminiscent of a gongfu Chinese black tea. The aroma and taste both had some surprising fruity notes. It was earthy and sweet yet brisk enough to serve as a breakfast tea. It was definitely on the mellow side of that spectrum though. After steeping the unfurled leaves were quite beautiful to look at. They were mostly whole with varied shades of green and brown. Sweetening this one would be ok if you were so inclined but I wouldn't suggest using milk or creamers. I haven't had much exposure to teas from Nilgiri but this one and the teas I've tried from +Teaneer Suresh definitely make me want to dive further into them.

Nilgiri Kala Moti sample provided by Whittard of Chelsea.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Handmade Tea Oatmeal Raisin

Country of Origin: Sri Lanka
Leaf Appearance: small, dark
Ingredients: black tea, raisins, organic oatstraw
Steep time: 4 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: ceramic teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: deep reddish brown

I've been so behind on tea reviews that I am several months late in getting to this intriguing shipment from +Handmade Tea. You all know that I'm not the biggest fan of flavored teas but +Caleb Brown's blends are a whole other animal. He blends whole ingredients rather than using artificial flavoring and preservatives. This particular tea features a black tea from Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka blended with mini raisins and oatstraw. The desired affect was definitely achieved. Imagine a really rustic, homemade oatmeal raising cookie. I could almost taste the molasses! The dry tea even smelled like one. Raisins are not something that I've seen in tea before (other than previous blends from Handmade Tea) but they added a really nice fig-like flavor. The base black tea was really aromatic and served as the perfect platform.

You can find out more about Handmade Tea here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Check Me Out On World Tea Podcast!

I'm always on the lookout for podcasts about tea to listen to. Much to my surprise, I discovered a new one at the World Tea Expo when I accidentally walked right into an episode. TJ Williamson was doing a blind tasting experiment with Global Customized Water. It was fascinating to see what a difference the water made. I had never seen such drastic results before. In any case, make sure that you subscribe to TJ's show. He'll be covering a lot more of the tea expo in future episodes!

Give it a listen so that you can hear me awkwardly introduce myself and give tasting notes :)

Check out The World Tea Expo: Episode 2

Monday, June 16, 2014

GreaTEAings from Sugimoto America

I've written about every tea product under the sun over the years. That being said, this is definitely the first line of tea greeting cards that I've ever reviewed. The packing is fun, colorful and a just the thing to send to a fellow tea lover.

greeTEAing card "Thank You"
The thank you card contained a silky tea bag of sencha. The leaves were quite small in size. The directions said cooler water less than 175 degrees. I went with a conservative 170 but wished that I had gone a bit higher. The taste was mildly grassy, vegetal and sweet. It wasn't as strong as I had been hoping for even with a longer than recommended steep time.

greeTEAing card "Thinking of You"
The thinking of you card contained a silky tea bag of genmaicha. Right out of the bag the aroma had me inhaling deeply. I went with 195 degrees and a two minute steep. The taste was very similar to the sencha with the addition of comforting toasted rice. That added a bit more body but it was still fairly mellow.

greeTEAing card "Happy Birthday"
The thinking of you card contained a silky tea bag of hojicha. Using the same parameters as the genmaicha, it brewed up quite a bit darker than I thought it would. The taste was woody and sweet without any astringency. I think this was possibly my favorite out of the three.

Samples provided by Sugimoto America.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Growing Tea in New Jersey?

At the World Tea Expo I scored a Ziploc baggie containing seven tea seeds. That's right, actual Camellia Sinensis! Much to my surprise one of the little beauties had already started germinating. From what I've heard getting them to do that in the first place is the hardest part. I live in an urban New Jersey apartment but I do have a bit of a green thumb so we'll see how this goes.

I did some research before planting and stopped by my local garden center for supplies. Tea likes an acidic soil so I picked up some organic potting soil as well as an acidifier. Robert Fortune discovered that tea seeds did well in a Wardian case when he was smuggling them into India. Not having one handy, I figured that an old fish tank would be the next best thing. They are now all planted and settled on my living room windowsill.

I'll be sure to post updates on the blog as my seeds (hopefully) grow. They take a very long time to mature so it will be a while before I'm a full fledged tea farmer :)

Update: Since this post was written I've taken a peak under the soil and there are now three seeds slowly but surely germinating. Exciting!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Global Tea Hut May 2014 - Golden Vajra

I've just recently subscribed to Global Tea Hut. Each month's shipment contains a magazine, sample of tea and a gift. I need more tea like I need another hole in the head but what I was really after is their print magazine. Now that Tea Magazine is no more, I found that I really missed reading about the leaf in print. I've decided that these shipments are my designated fun tea. There won't be any structured reviews but I will write about my experiences with each one.

My first gift was a handy little bamboo scoop with a flat bottom so that it sits nicely on the tea tray. Yunnan red teas (usually called black teas by anyone outside of China) are some of my favorite teas so I was really excited to dig into this one. They recommended bowl brewing since it has large leaves that will settle to the bottom easily. I've heard of brewing tea this way before but had never actually tried it myself.

I was a bit more liberal with the leaves than their recommendation but I like my teas on the strong side. Time slowed down as I sipped and admired the leaves. They were really beautiful as they unfurled. The taste was malty, earthy and sweet with hardly any astringency. It was such a simple and pure way to experience the tea. As much as I love using a gaiwan, I think this might be my new favorite way to make tea. It can't be used for all teas but I think I'll definitely be using this rice bowl a lot more often.

The magazine is packed with some really informative articles. It is full color and very well done. Past issues are available for viewing online on their website at this link:

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tea Places: Laughing Man Coffee & Tea - North End Avenue

+Laughing Man Coffee & Tea has been on my wish list for some time. For those of you who don't know, +Hugh Jackman is one of the founders. I finally got a chance to visit since I've started taking the ferry to work on weekends. Although there was not a huge selection, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they offered about twelve different loose leaf teas. It was a rather warm day I wanted something light and refreshing. Bai Mu Dan sounded like it would hit the spot so I ordered a cup of that along with a raisin scone.

The staff was a bit harried but friendly. I must say that I think they have one of funniest tip jars that I've seen in the city. No one wants to see a child get a mullet but everyone appreciates a good giggle in the morning. Was it the best cup of tea that I've had? Not by a long shot but it was very drinkable. The scone was a huge! It was a little bit dry but otherwise very tasty.

I liked that they double cupped it and left the lid off. I also prefer fold over tea bags like this one to a dripping T-Sac that most coffee shops in the city use. I am often near this area so now I will have a go to spot that helps me to avoid feeding my chronic Starbucks addiction. It's also located right next door to one of my favorite monuments, the Irish Hunger Memorial. I've included a few photos below of that spot because it really is beautiful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

World Tea Expo 2014: Coming Home

Truth be told I was a bit sad to be returning home. Staying in the beach house with a bunch of crazy tea people was like going away to summer camp. After a very long flight spent watching Law & Order reruns, I took the long way home and crossed the Hudson River by ferry. As much as I loved my stay in California, nothing quite beats that view in my book.

Of course, what tea trip would be complete without some suitcase spillage? The +Adagio Teas crew was kind enough to gift me a jar full of their Black Dragon Pearls at the end of the show. The lid came off in transit and they spilled everywhere! At least it was a bit easier to clean up than when I've had loose leaf spill in the past.

And then there's the obligatory haul photo. I really didn't collect that many samples but then, that wasn't my goal. There is too much tea waiting to be reviewed as is. However, I did get a few things that I can't wait to dig into. Hei cha samples from Tea Source and a goodie bag from +Geoffrey Norman will be among the first to be enjoyed.

All in all this expo was a fantastic experience. I talked to a ton of people and hopefully made some new connections. It's a shame that most of my tea friends live so far away because they are some really awesome people. Next year will be much closer to home in Philadelphia so I will definitely be there. Now it's back to the grind as usual.

Monday, June 9, 2014

World Tea Expo: Tea for Social Good

One thing that I was really glad to see this year was a lot of companies who are using tea for social good. As tea drinkers, especially in a wealthier country like the U.S., I think we have an obligation to help those who produce the leaves we love so much.

Tealet's massive booth featured videos and pictures from their recent Amazing Tea Race. Their goal is to create a bridge between tea growers and tea drinkers, enabling them to make three times more income than they do with the traditional distribution system.

Nepali Tea Traders sources their teas from a co-op that produces high quality loose leaf tea rather than the usual tea bag style CTC. Their profits are reinvesting in the community through the Nepal Youth Foundation.

Satemwa Tea Estates came all of the way from Malawi. Their teas were excellent and I was excited to hear about how well their treat their workers. All of their teas are Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Cerified. They also hold an Ethical Tea Partnership Certificate. I found their Antlers white tea was particularly interesting.
JustTea works to establish small co-operatives in Kenya, enabling tea farmers to hand process high quality tea themselves instead of being forced to sell the raw leaf to factories for low prices. I wasn't able to catch him during the show but they even brought one of their farmers all of the way to Long Beach so that he can tell his story.

Friday, June 6, 2014

World Tea Expo 2014: Day 4

On Saturday I was surprised to find that we were sharing the convention center with a comic convention. There were cos-players everywhere! That is one hobby that I never got into but I was pleased to see some nostalgic movie cars outside.

I was a bit over expo'd at this point so I went for a bit of a walk around downtown Long Beach. Ice cream makes everything better so I grabbed something sweet from Coldstone Creamery. The fresh air, sunshine and sugar rush did the trick and I was ready to get back at it.

Upon returning the convention center I just sort of wandered around and stopped by any booths that I had missed previously. Traversing the floor with +The Snooty Tea Person, we stopped to see a demonstration from the Steampunk brewing machine made by +Alpha Dominche. It really gives the BKON brewer a run for its money and from what I've heard, produces a slightly better cup.

One very cool thing that we spotted was a log of hei cha at Tea Source's booth that was taller than I am. I had only seen smaller ones previously and rarely at that. The affable Bill Waddington had some laughs and shared stories with us about how he first discovered this tea. He had us cracking up with tales of his cutting the log with a chainsaw at last year's show. It was unbelievable how quickly the show tore down once everything was all over. That crew works fast!

Once the show was over, it was time to get the party started. +Tealet played host at the beach house we were staying in. This was probably one of my favorite events of the weekend. I met a ton of new tea loving people and had a blast. Although there was plenty of non-tea beverages being consumed we also took a moment to share some Ju Duo Zai, one of my favorite Phoenix oolongs.