Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Four Seasons Tea Tie Luo Han

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: dark, twisted
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 15 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep gold

Wuyi oolongs are one of those types of tea that I have fantasies about focusing on exclusively for an extended period of time. Truth be told I love all tea a little too much to do that anytime soon but that just might be my retirement plan. In the meantime, I've definitely enjoyed digging into Four Seasons Tea's catalog.

Tie Luo Han is one of the Si Da Ming Cong, or four famous varieties of Wuyi yancha. The name means Iron Arhat which roughly translates as "warrior monk". Arhat more closely means "noble one" though. It refers to followers of Buddha that have achieved enlightenment. Legend has it that the plants used to produce this tea were found in a cave by a monk with bronze colored skin.

The dry leaves had the typical yancha toastiness but there was also a surprisingly floral quality that I found really intriguing. That aroma was echoed in the taste, accompanied by a pleasantly lingering minerality. Floral notes can be very hard to pin down to a specific type of flower. It wasn't quite orchid like you'd find in a Tie Guan Yin but it was something akin to that. Overall it was very smooth with hardly any astringency. I was able to get a lot out of these leaves, losing track at about the eighth infusion. Wuyi oolongs are usually something I crave in cooler weather but this one had a really nice lightness to it.

As a few others in the tea community have noted, Four Seasons Tea's offerings are far from cheap but they also offer real value. At $5 per serving, I absolutely think it is worth educating your palate on what this tea should taste like. The way I see it, I waste more than that on much more frivolous things than really amazing tea.


Tie Luo Han sample provided for review by Four Seasons Tea.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Podcast Episode 22: What are Tea Pets?

As I'm sure regular readers will already know, I'm just a LITTLE obsessed with tea pets. My menagerie is always growing, whether it's an impulse buy or the generosity of friends. I've counted twelve all together and I'm sure that won't be the end of it either.

I thought it might be fun to do a podcast episode explaining what tea pets are for those who haven't yet been bitten by the bug. Do you have tea pets? Let me know what kind you have in the comments!

Even if you regularly watch episodes here on the blog, I'd really appreciate it if you could subscribe directly on YouTube! I'm trying to grow my channel there in order to reach more tea lovers. If you watch on iTunes, I'd love it if you could leave an honest review there as well.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday Round Up: August 21st and August 27th

Announcing Tea-spiration: My First Book + Pre-order
I'd like to send a big round of applause and congratulations to +Lu Ann Pannunzio. She's releasing her first book. How awesome is that!

Compression and Storage - Why It Matters
Guy with a Gaiwan wrote a great post explaining the importance of compression when it comes to aging puerh tea. This is a subject that often doesn't get much attention but it definitely deserves further exploration.

No-Churn Green Tea Ice Cream
Sometimes I daydream about getting an ice cream maker so that I can make all of the green tea ice cream my heart desires. +Bonnie Eng came up with this dangerously delicious no-churn recipe so I may just get me wish soon.

Tea Processing Chart
+Tony Gebely's tea processing chart is a resource I often refer others to. In this updated version he's changed oolong to wulong and clarified some of the steps. I highly recommend checking it out!

Tasting: Emerald Spring Green Tea from Nepali Tea Traders
+sara shacket discovered a gem of a green tea from one of my favorite Nepalese tea vendors. I love her vivid descriptions of this tea. I can almost taste it myself!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Teavivre 2016 Organic Tian Mu Mao Feng

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: twisted and curled, deep green
Ingredients: green tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 195 degrees
Preparation Method: glass gaiwan
Liquor: pale yellow/green

+TeaVivre just might hold the title for most reviewed company on this blog. This is the 38th review! One of my favorite things about them is the consistently good quality tea that won't break the bank. They also carry a huge variety of Chinese teas from several regions. This is the third Mao Feng that I've written about but all three have been from different locations.

Tian Mu is the name of the mountain where this tea is grown and it translates as eyes on heaven. That's a romantic name for a tea if I ever heard one! There are pools on east and west peak of Tian Mu that look like eyes watching the sky. The farm that produced this tea is certified organic. While this aspect isn't a deal breaker for me, it is nice to know that I don't need to worry about pesticides.

The taste was very light and refreshing with a clean, lingering sweetness. There was a fairly thick mouthfeel with just the right amount of astringency. If you'd like a bit less of that mouth-puckering feeling, I would recommend lowering your water temperature to about 175 degrees. The second infusion brought piney notes that were really cooling, especially on a hot summer day. Later brews were a bit more savory and brothy but just as tasty.

Having tried it in both a gaiwan and using western brewing methods, I can safely say that this tea is very versatile. I do think I prefer the more concentrated taste of gongfu style steepings but that is something that really comes down to personal preference. At less than $0.15 per gram, this is very affordable Mao Feng while still being organic and high quality.

2016 Organic Tian Mu Mao Feng sample provided for review by Teavivre.



Monday, August 22, 2016

Green Tea: A Quest for Fresh Leaf and Timeless Craft by Hugo Américi, François Marchand, Jasmin Desharnais, and Kevin Gascoyne

I often get asked for recommendations of books to read about tea. Without a doubt, the top of the list for me is always Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. That's why I was so excited when I heard that the guys from Camellia Sinensis were working on a new book. I picked up my copy at the NYC Coffee & Tea Festival and was lucky enough to have it signed by Jasmine and François. Of course, I had to also pick up some of their Dragonwell to go with it.

Most books about tea follow a predictable structure. History, processing, varieties...after a while they all start to sound the same. While there is value in these things for tea drinkers of all levels, it was nice to pick up something a bit outside of the box. After a break introduction to green tea, the book is primarily composed of vignettes focusing on specific tea types. Several regions are covered and the content ranges from first-hand experiences to interviews with tea producers.

The pages are jam-packed with information as well as large, full-color photographs. There are few better ways to learn about tea than with your feet in the fields. For those of us who can't be there in person, these stories are the next best thing. You really get a feel for what a day in the life of a tea buyer is like.

Green tea is often the focus of articles proclaiming its endless health benefits. I was really happy to see that issue addressed in the final chapter. They completed a biochemical analysis of a range of green teas from several different regions. Caffeine concentration, in particular, grabbed my attention because it demonstrated clearly that the category of tea does not always determine how much caffeine ends up in the cup. This kind of work does a lot to dispell the myths that are perpetuated about tea on a regular basis.


I receive a small commission from sales generated by clicks on this ad.


A photo posted by Nicole Martin (@teaformeplease) on

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Round Up: August 14th - August 20th

Mini Matcha Donuts
Nazanin over at Tea Thoughts posted a super tasty sounding recipe for mini matcha donuts. I have a mini donut maker that I've only used a handful of times. I think it's time to dust it off! While you're there, check out her Etsy shop. She sells adorable handmade tea greeting cards.

Bitterleaf Teas: Sabertooth 2015 Feng Qing Ancient Tree Dian Hong Black Tea, A Tea review
+Alexsia Wilson's descriptions of this Yunnan black tea are so vivid that I can almost taste it. I have a bunch of samples from Bitterleaf Teas that I have to work through but once those are done, I definitely think I need to order some of this.

In Pursuit of Tea - Tieguanyin, Medium Roast
+Georgia SS wrote about a TGY that has a special place in my heart. When I first got into tea, In Pursuit of Tea's tiny SoHo shop was a big part of my education. This tea is one that I sipped on regularly.

Oolong Owl's Tea Beauty Product Collection Summer 2016
+Charissa Gascho did a great round up of all of the tea infused beauty products that she has found lately. I'll definitely have to see if I can find the Fuji Green Tea Body Butter at The Body Shop when I'm at the mall later today.

Making tea on a hot day
Scott of Scottea gave us some great pointers about enjoying tea in the summer heat. His reference to Chanoyu's practice of suggesting coolness is definitely on point. As much as I enjoy iced tea, I still need my hot tea fix even when the temperatures start to climb.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Totem Tea Gui Fei Oolong

Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: dark, tightly rolled
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 200 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: amber

I love a good roasted oolong but they seem to be far and few between these days. That's why I was super excited when I pulled this sample out of a recent box from +Totem Tea. Even better, it's also a bug bitten tea. The leaves were attacked by the same wonderful little leafhopper that brings us Bai Hao oolong. I've often seen this variety referred to as Concubine oolong but somehow Gui Fei seems a bit more culturally appropriate. Yang Guifei was known as one of the Four Beauties of Ancient China.

The dry leaves were fairly dark in appearance with a somewhat sweet, nutty aroma. I went with a slightly lower water temperature than my usual since that was their recommendation. That was a safe choice as it kept the brew from being too overpowering. The first infusion was very mellow but really started to open up as my session progressed. I don't usually rinse my oolongs but that might be a good idea if you want more body from the get-go.

The taste was just as toasty as I expected with sweet notes of honey. The floral aspect was there in the background when I looked for it. Lavender was what kept coming to mind but I'm not sure if that is exactly what it tasted like (who eats lavender all of the time anyway?). What surprised me were the bright citrus notes that popped up in the later infusions. They lingered deliciously in the aftertaste. I found myself continuing to drink even after the leaves had just about given their just for that effect.

Gui Fei sample provided for review by Totem Tea.




Monday, August 15, 2016

Raw Puerh vs Cooked Puerh


When I first got into tea, I thought I hated puerh. Part of that was because the first examples I tried were extraordinarily terrible. My revelation came when I discovered sheng, aka raw puerh. My taste buds did a happy dance. There was stuff that didn't taste like fish and dirt! That was many years ago and I've come to enjoy shu as well. I wish someone had explained all of these nuances to me way back when so I thought it might be fun to put a post together that compares the two.

Terroir


All puerh, whether is is raw or cooked, must be produced in southwestern China's Yunnan Province. This creates a bit of a gray area because man-made borders are not permanent things. Neighboring countries like Laos produce very similar tea but technically their teas cannot be called puerh. I've seen fermented teas from a variety of places, even some as far flung as Malawi, labeled as puerh. Hei cha, also known as dark tea, is a more appropriate term. All puerh is hei cha but not all hei cha is puerh.

Yunnan is a fascinating region and the one that I probably enjoy learning about the most. It is the most biologically diverse part of China. Many believe it to be the birthplace of the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis. Each of the mountain areas that produce tea have a distinctive style and taste. Some of the trendier and higher demand regions are all but impossible for the average tea drinker to obtain. Yunnan is also home to twenty-five recognized minority ethnic groups. Each of these groups has their own histories and culture, many of which revolve around tea.

History


It can be difficult to find historical tea information in English. We do know that tea has been grown in Yunnan since at least the Tang Dynasty. Compressed tea was used as currency in China, Tibet, and Russia. The tea of Yunnan was also traded for horses along the Tea Horse Road with Tibet. If you'd like to find out more of this history, I highly recommend Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic by Jinghong Zhang and The Ancient Tea Horse Road by Jeff Fuchs. For the majority of its history, all puerh was of the greener raw variety. 

The important thing to understand here is that there was no emphasis on aging tea like we have now. When demand for aged puerh did rise, a method of speeding up the fermentation process was invented. There were experimental batches as early as the 1950's but the process was not refined until the 1970's. The Menghai and Kunming Tea Factories usually take credit for this discovery. The basic principles were borrowed from Guangxi's Liu Bao, also a type of fermented tea.

Processing


Sheng, also known as raw puerh, is processed very similarly to green tea. The leaves are briefly pan fried before being rolled and laid out in the sun to dry. Unlike the kill-green step that is used for most teas, the goal is to slow down oxidation to a snail's pace. This allows the tea to age slowly over time. If there is too much heat applied the tea will not age as desired. Once dried the tea is called mao cha, or rough tea. It can be left loose but is most often compressed into cakes or bricks.

Shu, also known as cooked puerh, is artificially fermented in order to achieve a dark and earthy taste. You may also see it referred to as ripe. The name is a bit of a misnomer as there is no "cooking" being done to the tea. During the process known as Wò Dūi the tea is piled, moistened with water, and continually turned. This combined with beneficial bacteria like Aspergillus Niger effectively makes a tea compost. The process takes about a month to complete. Afterward, the leaves are dried and then either kept loose or compressed.

Taste


I often describe sheng to people who've never had it as a green tea that punches you in the face. That sounds a bit extreme but the astringency that puerh packs can be alarming to the uninitiated. Since the leaf is green vegetal tastes are usually at the forefront but a wide range of flavor notes can also occur. I've tasted everything from camphor and smoke to flowers and stone fruits. Raw puerh is famous for having hui gan, a comeback sweetness in the throat. The younger the tea is, the more likely it will be to have some bite. Lower water temperatures and shorter steep times can help dial down this aspect.

Shu puerh, on the other hand, has an earthy and woodsy taste. Mushroom is the tasting note that I hear most often but I've had teas that taste like cacao and brown sugar too. One of the things I enjoy the most about this type of tea is that they usually have soothing natural sweetness. Cooked puerh brews up extremely dark and it's often even darker on the second infusion. Beware a poor quality tea (aka anything you'll find on the shelf of the local Asian grocery). They will most assuredly taste like a mushroom infested swamp.

Are you more of a sheng or shu person? Let me know in the comments!


Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday Round Up: August 7th - August 13th

Who ARE these people?
+Robert Godden did a bit of investigating into the people behind the tea quotes that are often bandied about. The part about Arthur Wing Pinero was particularly interesting to me.

Interview with James Grayland of Wan Ling Tea House
I've heard quite a bit about Wan Ling Tea House from my friends in the U.K. Mehmet at Chapedia interviewed one of the owners on his blog this week.

Agarwood Puerh, and the Tale of Two J(G)e(o)ffreys
+Geoffrey Norman got to try a very exclusive puerh. I remember having a wee bit of tea envy at World Tea Expo. Living vicariously through this blog post is good enough I suppose. 😛

Minto Island Tea Company Tour
+Heather Porter went on a tour of Oregon's first tea farm. Those pictures look amazing! This is probably the closest I'll come to seeing a real tea field for a while so I'm taking in each and every one of them.

Matcha Green Tea Slushie
It can be hard to cope with sweltering summer heat but these slushies from +Lu Ann Pannunzio sound like just the thing. I never would have thought of making matcha ice cubes. This is such a neat idea!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Jalam Teas Mengsong Sheng

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: mixed greens with visible buds, loosely compressed
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep gold

I'm slowing working my way through my collection of cakes from +JalamTeas. I feel like I've really gotten to know both the people and the tea of Yunnan over the years. Each time we return to a particular region, it's like reconnecting with an old friend. The last Mengsong tea that I reviewed here was posted a little over two years ago. Back then I was really just toeing the waters of puerh. Now I feel like I've dived in, although I'm still swimming in the shallow end of the pool.

This tea had a lot of strength to it. My usual "go hard or go home" brewing style (8g in a 150ml gaiwan with 30 second brews from the get go) brought out a bit more of that bite. It never bordered on unpleasant or overly astringent, though. Part of that is because this tea was harvested a few years ago, giving it time to settle down a bit. If you like your puerh on the lighter side, I'd suggest cutting back to 5g with 15 second infusions. The wonderful thing about tea is that there is no wrong way to do it. You should always feel free to adjust to your own personal preferences.

As my session progressed, I was surprised when things turned suddenly fruity. Stone fruits, especially peach, came to mind. It was downright juicy though there was more crispness than sweet. Eight infusions later and I was certifiably tea drunk. Even my happy pig tea pet, Zhu, got his fill. I very rarely ice puerh since it's not really my thing but I have a feeling that this one would work nicely. Those sweeter notes  just might become more pronounced.

Mengsong Sheng sample provided by Jalam Teas.




A photo posted by Nicole Martin (@teaformeplease) on

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Hazards of Tea Blogging


The other day I stumbled upon a VERY old article about the hazards of blogging. They recommended staying anonymous, avoiding making public profiles and advised bloggers to never, ever use their pictures online. My how things have changed! Most of the tidbits they offered were the opposite of the way things are done now but it got me thinking, what are the hazards of tea blogging? This is all meant to be a bit tongue in cheek of course!

Carpal Tunnel

Hours spent in front of the computer writing blog posts can definitely take a toll on the body. I've only noticed this cropping up recently but I've definitely got some carpal tunnel syndrome going on. For now, it's just some numbness in my fingers but I'll have to be careful to keep it from becoming painful. Blog writing can also put a big strain on the back and eyes. Fellow bloggers, make sure that you take frequent breaks!

Tea Taking Over

We all start off with a single shelf where we stash our first few prized teas. Slowly but surely, tea will take over every nook and cranny of your house. I think my fiance can vouch for that being the truth. When we moved in together he was totally unprepared for the sheer amount of tea and tea-related objects that I own and continue to accumulate. I would say about 1/4 of our apartment is dedicated to my love of the leaf. To his credit, he's very understanding about it all most of the time.

Caffeine Addiction

When caffeine addiction is mentioned the typical coffee drinker, jonesing for his fix, is often what comes to mind. The effect of tea on the body is much milder but I do find myself a bit addicted at times. If there's a day where I'm a bit out of sorts, it's usually either because I'm hangry or because I haven't had any tea yet (frequently a combination of the two). Other sources of caffeine (energy drinks, soda, etc.) never seem to lift my spirits so I'll just pretend what I'm really addicted to is L-Theanine.

Budget Limitations

The trouble with being a tea blogger is that despite receiving free samples, there are always teas to covet. We're constantly in search of things that are new and exciting. Our significant others will never understand why needed that new White2Tea cake when there's already a ton of puerh in the house. Jason is pretty understanding MOST of the time. He's even enabled me a bit from time to time but I think there are still moments where he questions my sanity. I find that we all have a bit of a teaware hoarding problem as well (see the Tea Taking Over section of this post).

Data Overages

For those of us who aren't lucky enough to have unlimited data plans (curse you, Verizon!), blogging can present a real danger. Most months I get extremely close to going over my measly 2GB. When I look at what apps use the most data on my phone, they are almost always the ones that I use for blogging. Instagram and more recently SnapChat are the biggest culprits. It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for my very long commute. Scrolling through Hootsuite helps me cope with riding on the crowded subway every day, 

Is there a hazard of tea blogging that I missed? Let me know about it in the comments!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday Round Up: July 31st - August 6th

2016 Diving Duck Sheng Puer from White2Tea - Tea Review
+Charissa Gascho always seems to have the best props for her tea reviews. An adorable sailor tea owl with his own matching boat was definitely required as she reviewed one of +White2Tea's newest teas.

Tea Review - Teanami Bu Lang 2011 Raw
I love reading reviews of a tea that I've tasted in order to compare notes. +Georgia SS and I had different experiences but we also used different brewing parameters. My own write-up of this tea is in the works.

Westholme Tea Farm - Canadian Tea Releases
Sherra at Tea And Scandal was lucky enough to attend the release of the first commercially available harvest of Canadian grown tea. So exciting!

Tasting: Spring 2016 Sheng by Misty Peak Tea
+sara shacket did a tasting of perennial favorite, +Misty Peak Teas. Yiwu is one of my favorite regions and I adore the apricot notes that she picked up in this tea. The analogy of comparing her tea journey to a rhizome is perfect too.

Oriental Beauty and Other Bug Bitten Teas: Fact or Fiction?
+Eric Scott dropped some science on +Tony Gebely's blog this week. I love bug bitten teas but there are a lot of fakes out there. I really love how he addressed the claim that Oriental Beauty is always an organic tea.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cinnamon Girl Matcha Single Serve Packets

Country of Origin: Japan
Leaf Appearance: bright green powder
Ingredients: green tea
Water Temperature: 165 degrees
Preparation Method: traditional whisking
Liquor: deep green, frothy

I think at this point everyone is aware of my matcha addiction, especially if the green stuff is from Uji. When Ireland based Cinnamon Girl Matcha offered me a chance to try their single serve packets, all I could say was, "Yes, Please!". I loved reading on their website how the owner, Karolina, was an obsessive coffee drinker before matcha converted her. It's a similar story to what I often hear from my customers at work.

Each packet contains exactly 2 grams of tea. I really like the idea of packaging matcha this way. Not only does it keep the tea fresher but it's great for grabbing when you're on the go. Just empty the packet into a bottle of water and shake, an instant pick me up! I've been stashing some in my purse for caffeine emergencies. Of course, the matcha can also be whisked with hot water the old fashioned way.

The first thing I noticed about this matcha was the aroma. It was deeply vegetal and very fresh. That's always something that I look for when gauging quality. If you can't smell your matcha, it is more likely to be a lower grade or well past its prime. Buyer beware when it comes to that dusty can you found sitting on a shelf in the local Asian supermarket.

The taste was vegetal and smooth with just the right amount of astringency. It packed a bit more of a punch than some Uji matchas that I've tried before but it never bordered on unpleasant. A welcome dose of umami helped to keep things balanced. There was also a really nice creamy texture that had me savoring every sip.

If you're planning on whisking your matcha, I'd definitely still recommend sifting it first to avoid clumps. This also helps to improve the texture and froth-ability. The tea dispersed pretty well when shaken in a water bottle but taking a few swigs first will help to avoid getting matcha all over the top of your bottle.

Make sure that you follow their gorgeously curated Instagram: @cinnamongirlmatcha.

Matcha Single Serve Packets were provided for review by Cinnamon Girl Matcha.





Monday, August 1, 2016

Crowd Funding and Tea


Lately, I've been inundated with requests to write about and share Kickstarter campaigns on my social media channels. Although this is a seemingly innocuous question, there are some issues that I think need to be addressed:

The market is flooded 

I've received requests for promotion from six different companies this week. I have serious doubts as to whether the North American tea market can support such a boom. There a lot of tea companies out there, most of them operating online without the overhead costs of a brick and mortar location. Although tea is on the rise here in the U.S., speciality tea is still a very niche product with a narrow customer base.

They don't have start-up capital 

Customers should never be responsible for completely funding a business. If a company couldn't fund their business in more traditional ways, it makes me think that it might be a sign of not having a viable business plan. There's an enormous amount of legwork that goes into running a successful tea company. Crowd funding can seem like an easy shortcut for those who haven't done their homework. The ones that actually have a thorough background in tea always seem to be far and few b


Accountability 

Often I find that these Kickstarters are being run by relative unknowns in the industry. It all seems a bit fly-by-night to me. If there's no real connection to the tea community then there is also very little accountability. Historically speaking, there have been hucksters who took the money and ran. While I've never heard of a tea-focused campaign doing this, there is an enormous amount of trust involved in this kind of funding. We have no guarantee if the product is what was promised or if it will even be delivered. In most cases, I feel that my money is better spent making a purchase through a trusted vendor.

Uniqueness 

Every Kickstarter campaign that I hear from really and truly believes that they have a unique product to offer. In most cases, this smacks of a lack of market research. There are lots of people selling fair trade and organic tea. There are lots of people selling Nepalese teas. There are lots of people selling tea in order to promote a social cause. And they are LOTS of people selling the same blends that all of the big distributors carry. There are very, very few campaigns that made me stand up and shout, "Take my money!".

I've made it a policy to not write about crowdfunding campaigns unless I am personally involved (i.e. the recent Tea Journey Kickstarter) for these very reasons. Just as I am completely honest with my tea reviews, I would never recommend something to my readers without having tested it myself. Yet I'm often asked to do exactly that (with free advertising to boot!).

The point of this post isn't to call out any particular company or make anyone feel bad about the steps that they have taken. It takes guts and passion in order to start a business and I have a great deal of respect for anyone who takes that plunge. What I'm saying is, please think twice before asking others to fund YOUR dream. After running this blog for almost eight years, I feel like a bit of a defensive momma bear when it comes to the tea community. We can only give so much. Those who take, without contributing back with anything other than stuff, reflect poorly on the industry as a whole.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Let's get some healthy discussion going!