154 Tasting Notes
Hmmm, this one is difficult for me to review. I love vanilla rooibos. It has always been my go-to rooibos ever since my old “tea nerd” days where I would buy out the store’s collection of Celestial seasonings and Lipton and call myself a tea nerd.
This rooibos from Upton has natural vanilla flavor and real bourbon vanilla bits (the name for vanilla beans from Madagascar). The problem with this tea is that the authentic vanilla has a really strong, concentrated kind of scent that smells much more like alcohol to me than the creamy vanilla we’re used to in desserts.
After brewing, the vanilla takes on a sort of medicinal… cough syrup kind of smell. I find that I only really like it with a strong dose of sugar. It gets even better with cream (I used heavy whipping cream, because I’m scandalous). At this point, it’s a tolerable enough drink, but I’m not feeling oohed and aahed by it like I usually am with a creamy sweetened cup of vanilla rooibos. I thought that since this one had vanilla bean pieces in it it would have a very authentic and enjoyable vanilla flavor. I’ve enjoyed all vanilla bean desserts and ice creams I’ve had, but those have ground up beans and this has pretty sizable chunks, so maybe there’s the difference in flavor concentration.
I don’t taste or smell the rooibos itself very much. It’s not to say the vanilla flavor is overpowering, because it isn’t very strong compared to others I’ve had. It’s just that the rooibos flavor is either somewhat weak or blends in with the vanilla bean taste quite a bit.
I guess I’m feeling kind of unimpressed with this one because the other rooibos I ordered from Upton was about half the price and 10x as good, and it’s completely unflavored.
With that one tasting so good and being so cheap, I’m struggling to decide the fate of this bag of vanilla rooibos. I really only see myself drinking it to not waste my purchase or to throw off the pattern and let my tastebuds reset instead of drinking my favorite every day. Still, despite that the flavor is different, compared to the Super Grade Rooibos, drinking this one isn’t like… “Mmmm something different today! It’s nice for a change.” It’s more like… “I wish I was drinking that other one.” There are other vanilla rooibos I’ve had that are better than this one, and those ones would be a nice one to switch to from time to time, but this particular one is just not really for me. It may be destined for someone who likes it more than I do… or for sample trades.
I’m giving about as neutral a scoring as possible because while it doesn’t really excite me to drink this tea, it also can taste good with cream and sugar. It really teeters between bad and good for me. I might have a better impression if I hadn’t ordered it along with such an amazing rooibos and only had this one. Hmmm.
Flavors: Alcohol, Medicinal, Vanilla
This is my second Moonlight White experience. My first was with Bana’s loose Moonlight White from Jingmai, which is exquisite.
Compared to that one, this one actually smells and tastes like a puer. The one from Bana didn’t really seem to have any of the musty qualities at all that puer tea has. That said, the Bana one was only two years old. This one may be much older. I am not sure because Upton’s site doesn’t list its age. That said, this is one of those transitional teas that gets argued about a lot when it comes to classification, so many consider it actually a white tea, rather than a puer. Regardless of the technicalities involved in its production, I find that brewing this tea like a puer works much better. I use about 3.5 grams of loose leaf per 100ml of water. The water is 203F/95C and I use flash infusions, water in and right back out. I can’t get anywhere near the depth of flavor from a white tea this way… and brewing Moonlight White like a white tea with lower temperature and longer brew times just seems to muddle the flavors.
Moonlight White has this wonderful perfume to it when you brew it. It’s a little like grapes or a fine wine. There are hints of wood and floral. The taste is creamy with hints of dried fruit and spice. I am usually reminded just a bit of horchata, though this one from Upton has more of the “musty” flavor of a puer tea than the other one did. I think it is welcome and adds complexity to this tea. This moonlight white has a strong note of honey in the second infusion, along with woody aged notes and a lingering sweetness. The mouthfeel is the slightest bit dry, but moderately thick and full feeling. I’m getting a really strong scent of honey in my room as I brew this.
By the fourth infusion the flavor is even more rich and thick like honey. The flavor is backing off a bit by the fifth, signaling that I need to use more and more time if I want to milk the flavor out of this tea, but for now I’m going to end this review and go to enjoy the rest.
I don’t prefer this moonlight white over the other one I’ve tried, but I think it’s a good one nonetheless. This one had more honeyed flavors and more of that “puer mustiness” while the other one has a more creamy flavor with a more fragrant perfume to it.
Flavors: Grapes, Honey, Musty, Perfume
I’ve been delving back into rooibos lately after years of being sidetracked by teas less familiar to me.
Rooibos is valued quite differently in the USA, where I live, and its origin country, South Africa, where I lived for half a year in my early twenties. Here it is relatively new on the market, and is viewed as a casual drinking tea and a health item. In South Africa, it’s a staple of culture that has a long history and is a part of daily life for many people. Some are purists about how it is prepared and pride themselves as much on preparing rooibos as they do on preparing a braai (open-fire outdoor cooking). There, it is not uncommon to have rooibos boiled and prepared on the stove rather than steeped in a cup, and some will accuse you of criminal activity if you drink your rooibos without a generous dose of milk and enough sugar to sweeten it to your tastes.
All that considered, it is very difficult to find information on the ideal way to brew and drink rooibos tea. You’ll see highly varied opinions. Thankfully, it’s an extremely versatile tea that is impossible to overbrew, so it is easy to experiment with. I certainly haven’t tried enough methods yet to feel I’ve found my ideal brew, but currently I’ve found myself preferring about 2 teaspoons of loose tea in a 6 ounce cup, steeped with boiling water, covered, for 4 minutes. Everywhere I look, I do see people saying that rooibos is better the longer it is brewed. I’m not sure I’m convinced of that yet, but I resteep my tea plenty of times and do enjoy repeated infusions of rooibos. I tend to prefer the first infusion though, so I don’t necessarily think it gets better the longer you wait. What I’ve found is that using a generous amount of leaf gives it a thick body and full flavor even if you only steep for 3 minutes, and that is what is most important to me. No matter how long you steep a teaspoon of rooibos in a teacup, it will still have a thin body. Throw in another teaspoon or two and you’re set up for a mouthwatering thick cup.
This Super Grade rooibos smells better dry than any rooibos I’ve ever encountered, flavored or unflavored. It has a nice woody scent with a strong hit of cinnamon and a creamy dessert quality like toasted creme brulee or butterscotch. It also reminds me of spiced cookies like ginger snaps or pfeffernusse.
The brewed rooibos has lots of delectable scents on the nose, honey, caramel, chocolate, mollasses, tobacco. The flavor is sweet, nutty and slightly woody. It’s quite relaxing and complex, and it tastes very pure. There’s a good thick body to the tea that really coats the mouth and there isn’t a drying feeling after drinking. There is, however, a slight tanginess that lingers for quite a while.
I added some sugar and cream to the second infusion of this tea and I am bowled over by how good it is. It really brought out some of the buttery, creamy qualities of the rooibos itself. This rooibos is fantastic straight or with cream and sugar. You really can’t go wrong. I hope Upton continues selling this product because I very rarely find a company that sells different grades of rooibos and this one clearly excels above others I’ve had.
A final note… I see so many people complain of a medicinal kind of cough syrup taste in rooibos, and I’m not too sure what they are talking about. I’ve never gotten that except with flavored rooibos teas that are flavored with oils that can border on alcohol flavor, so I blame the flavoring. In any case, I don’t feel this rooibos has that kind of quality, and I think its flavor is quite superior to other rooibos that I’ve had, so I think it’s worth a try even for the haters out there.
Flavors: Butterscotch, Caramel, Cinnamon, Nuts, Wood
I thought this was a white tea due to its appearance and had it sitting with my white tea samples. According to the vendor’s site, it’s a green tea. I don’t know the story behind this tea and why the needles appear to have been crimped. Is it part of the processing? Does this occur naturally? Is it dragon magic? I can’t be sure.
The infusion this tea created is very pale, almost colorless, with the slightest yellow. I’m still not convinced this isn’t a white tea. Okay… the smell and taste have convinced me. It has the sort of nutty and grassy smell of a chinese green tea. Taking a sip, it’s a really mellow and nutty kind of green flavor, with hints of green bean or sweet peas. It’s sweet and non-offensive, really easy to drink. I found myself drinking it very quickly because of this. It has a really smooth and juicy mouthfeel and a lingering taste. The flavor’s a little light.
Still almost colorless on a second infusion, there’s a lot less flavor this time. I’m tasting a hint of metallic flavor that I think is just a quality of the water I’m using when heated. There’s hardly anything there to taste at this point, so I’ll end my review here.
I don’t know what to think about this tea overall. The flavor was really nice, but nothing terribly unique. There’s a hint of a peach taste lingering in my mouth and the feeling after drinking this tea is very clean and fresh. It’s a really delicate and easy to enjoy tea, but so delicate that it seemed really lacking in flavor by the second infusion. I guess I’m a little underwhelmed since the appearance was so interesting! I had hoped the flavor would be as unique. Still, it wasn’t a bad tea.
Flavors: Green Beans, Nutty, Peas, Sweet
This is my 150th review! BOOM! FIREWORKS!
I like to review something special and out of ordinary for my reviews that are multiples of 50, so here’s one I’ve had for a bit that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing.
In Japan, this sakura blossom tisane is called Sakurayu. It’s made by picking fresh cherry blossoms in the spring and preserving them in salt and plum vinegar. The preparation method is a little tricky because of the salt. The method I’ve tried that worked best is to soak the flowers in hot water for about 5 minutes to remove the salt. This should be hot water like you’d draw from the tap. Maybe 140F degrees or less. You aren’t looking to steep the flowers, but to remove the salt. After this, you should put the blossoms directly into your teacup and pour on boiling water. Let them steep another 3 to 5 minutes.
The resulting drink is very light in color, but slightly yellow. The floating blossoms are gorgeous when they open into little fine poofs of pink. The scent and taste are surprisingly more like cherries than I’d imagine. I thought it’d be a bit more floral. I think some of this is actually plum flavor coming from the plum vinegar. There’s a hint of saltiness to this tea that is subtle, but if you save the initial brine from the flower that was soaked in hot water, you can scoop back in a little of this salty and flavorful brine a bit at a time if you want your drink to be a little more salty and flavorful. I personally enjoy it without putting any of this brine back in. It’s very delicate and spring-like.
I have also tried using these flowers to flavor sake. I soaked them in hot water for a few minutes to remove the salt, then put the flowers into my sake carafe and poured some sake in. The carafe was moved to a tall pot of water and then almost brought to a simmer to heat the sake inside. After this, I poured it back into the sake bottle, used a special pump that sucks the air back out, and put it into the fridge for a few hours to chill. I served it chilled and the sake was very sweet with a subtle cherry/floral taste and a really thick creamy texture. There was a tiny hint of saltiness, but it was not as detectable among the sweet flavor of the sake. These petals look just as beautiful in clear (filtered) sake as they do in water, and the flavor is even more delicious, if you like sake.
I really recommend these to any lovers of flowers, cherry trees, cherries, or Japan. This is a soothing spring beverage you can enjoy any time of the year.
Flavors: Cherry, Flowers, Plums, Salt
This being a Japanese tea, I really wanted to brew it in my tokoname-yaki Kyusu. The tiny noodle-like pieces of tea however, I was worried they’d get stuck in the fine ceramic strainer so I’m using a small thin-walled porcelain gaiwan instead.
This is a really unique tea in many ways. The shape is odd. These pieces of tea are a byproduct of matcha. The tea is ground into a paste and pushed through a mesh to create these little green tea noodles. The infusion is a deep, murky yellow. The flavor is unlike any green tea I’ve had. It starts with the slight woody fruity quality of dried goji berries or wolf berries. In fact, you’ll find that brewing goji/wolf berries as a tisane will produce a very similar smelling and tasting infusion to this kokeicha. The difference is in the finish. Where the berries produce a sweet and sugary finish, the kokeicha produces a tangy, sour finish that tastes like tart citrus fruit. There’s no bitterness and the mouthfeel is fine. It isn’t particularly smooth and neither is it dry. The front end of the taste also reminds me of Chinese gunpowder tea in its slight leather and earthy qualities.
On the second infusion, which I only did at half the length of the first, the flavor is less woody and earthy and almost all tangy and sour. It tastes like very tart cherries and even has a bit of cherry flavor in the finish.
On the third infusion, I’m getting more of the cherry flavor, still quite tart, still quite flavorful. I decided to dilute this infusion after a taste to see what it would be like had I used less leaf. It takes the tartness away and it begins to taste much more like a low-grade gunpowder green tea kind of thing. I think brewing it stronger is the way to go with this tea, as I find the tart, mouth-watering flavors really interesting, while I don’t really get much flavor after adding just a bit of extra water to it.
My score for this tea is difficult. I think I would rate it higher based on uniqueness, but on taste quality alone I don’t think I can push it much higher than it’s at. It’s really an interesting tea to try and I feel happy to have tried it. I doubt I’d ever purchase any for myself.
Flavors: Cherry, Earth, Goji, Tart, Wood
I’m brewing this Gongfu style. This is a pretty strongly roasted oolong. In fact, it is so heavily roasted that the flavor reminds me of Houjicha. I don’t taste anything distinctly “oolong” about it, or maybe there’s the subtlest hint of flowers in the background. Compared to most other rolled oolongs I’ve tried, this one overbrews quite easily. It has a bit of a drying, astringent finish only two or three infusions in, and as dry as it leaves my mouth feeling, I’m not too compelled to do a fourth infusion. I will anyway, for the sake of curiosity…
The fourth infusion seems to have really lost flavor for the most part. I’m not getting much out of it, but it is still really dry feeling in the mouth, and has a bitter finish like orange blossom tea.
Other than the first infusion, I didn’t enjoy this tea at all. The first infusion was great and reminded me of some of the better Houjicha I’ve had, but after that there were some astringent and sour qualities that were so overwhelming to me I didn’t really feel compelled to try to describe the subtleties. It’s not that I don’t like the roasted flavors this tea has… it’s just that I’ve had lots of other teas that have similar roasted flavors without all the biting qualities of this one, so to me… I wouldn’t revisit this tea.
Flavors: Astringent, Roasted
I have strong feelings about this tisane. I didn’t really think I was difficult to please with rooibos until I had this tisane. I’ve liked rooibos for years. My entry point was Celestial Seasonings Madagascar Vanilla. Then in 2008 I lived in South Africa near Cape Town for half a year and got to try lots of local blends from the farmers in the Cedarberg Mountains, the cream of the crop. South Africans drink a lot of rooibos. It is available nearly everywhere you go to dine and is a frequent refreshment at events. I had already liked it before my trip there, but I came to really love it during that time.
Let’s get on with this Red Rocks review though. Dry, the needles smell like vanilla and pipe tobacco. While brewing, the aroma is rather intoxicating. Oh, if only this tisane tasted like it smelled, It’d be heaven. The scent is like warm sugar cookies or a packet of fruit and cream flavored instant oatmeal after you’ve added the water.
The flavor, unfortunately has some major offenses. First of all… I don’t taste rooibos. I don’t taste vanilla. I don’t taste almonds. Funny, since those are the only three ingredients! What I taste is something akin to cherry pipe tobacco. It’s creamy, but tart, oh so tart. Adding sugar only makes it more tart, and it leaves a tartness in my mouth for several minutes after I drink it. To me this is the worst aspect of this tisane. I end up salivating like I just sucked on a lemon, or like there’s a penny in my mouth.
I have never had tisane with almond pieces in it before, and from this experience alone I don’t think I’ll ever trust another tisane with nuts in it at all. I felt skeptical at first and imagined they were filler because as hard and thick as nuts are, I didn’t imagine they’d really saturate and release much flavor in just a few minutes steeping in hot water. I think I was wrong though, because I couldn’t figure out where this tisane gets its tartness from until I ate one of the almonds. Yuck! I should mention that this tin of tisane (which I purchased at Whole Foods) doesn’t have an expiration date or manufacturing date on it, which should have been a red flag for me. Nuts expire. I didn’t even know that until about a year ago when someone mentioned it in a nutrition class. Then I went to taste months-old nuts I had in my pantry and realized… wow, they do taste off after a while. The almonds in this tisane taste really off to me, as if they may just be old and acrid. Or maybe they’re just not great almonds to begin with. I can only wonder.
I should have returned this to the store when I first drank it, since they are pretty lax about returns if you don’t like something, but I live far away from there and don’t have reliable transportation, so I decided to just give it some more chances. I have since removed all the little almond pieces from the tisane and find that it is a bit better than before, though it doesn’t taste much different and it still does not have the signature woody qualities I am used to in rooibos. I find that adding sugar and cream together makes this tisane more enjoyable for me, but it still has that lingering tartness that just kills me. I’m not a purist in the sense that I won’t add sugar or cream to a tea or tisane, but I am a purist in the sense that if I can’t drink a tea or tisane WITHOUT cream or sugar, then to hell with it. Rooibos has always been a gentle and refreshing drink to me with nothing offensive about it. The fact that this blend has an offensive quality to it is a major bummer, and as rooibos goes, this wasn’t exactly a reasonably priced one either.
I tried it with varying amounts of tea and varying times and could never really find a balance, so…. meh.
I’m on a quest now to find a rooibos that is perfect for me, and will be following some leads from other reviews and a forum post I made. Wish me luck!
Flavors: Cherry, Creamy, Tart, Tobacco
This Puer starts out very strong and in-your-face, with notes of wood, cork, and cigar ash. In later infusions notes of ocean spray and clay emerge and in even later infusions it becomes more mellow and sweet with notes of tobacco.
It’s very dynamic from one infusion to the next, but I don’t think it’s really my tastes simply because of how pungent it is at the start. I used flash infusions and it was still rather intense from the get-go.
Flavors: Ash, Clay, Ocean Breeze, Tobacco, Wood
Very apparent in this tea is the taste and scent of green beans. It has other subtle nutty qualities as well and seems to stray from the leafier end of the green spectrum to the dense vegetable side. There’s almost no bitterness. It’s pleasant, but really this is on the lower end of green tea quality, from my experience. That’s not to say people won’t like it, but this is one I wouldn’t buy more of. It has some taste similarities to Temple of Heaven gunpowder tea. It isn’t really the kind of flavor I look for in a green tea.
Flavors: Green Beans, Nutty