189 Tasting Notes
Houjicha of the Autumn Moon
Home-roasted houjicha from Obubu Tea Farms Sencha of the Autumn Moon
This is my second time turning some of my Obubu green tea into houjicha. This one was particularly tantalizing, as it smelled like pumpkins as I was roasting it. It smelled sweet, a bit like yams, and even more like the smell of a freshly carved jack-o-lantern when you’ve got a lit candle in it, perhaps a bit sweeter. I’ve always picked up a pumpkin note in this tea, and roasting it brought it out in the scent even more. It’s great. Definitely autumn, without belonging to the generic “pumpkin spice” persuasion.
The scent of the brewed tea is very caramely and sweet, with a hint of roasty char and cigar tobacco. The taste is mellow and mostly reminds me of cigar tobacco, mildly sweet. It’s really comforting. I tiny hint of the pumpkin taste comes through in the finish.
The second infusion tastes a little more green, with a pistachio like taste and a hint of cucumber, and it has a sweeter lingering aftertaste. I could swim in this cup. It’s so delicious.
The best two houjicha I’ve had now have been the ones I roasted at home from Obubu’s green tea. I may just end up doing that from now on. I’m not sure if houjicha is just better when freshly roasted, or if I’m just using teas that are more to my liking for this type of flavor. Either way, Obubu sells their teas at greatly reduced prices when they aren’t in season, so I’ll be picking up some of these to roast with my next order from their website. Order from them direct. So many people I know order Obubu’s tea from Yunomi, and pay the huge markup that comes with it. I’m not sure why.
Flavors: Cucumber, Nuts, Pumpkin, Roasted, Tobacco
This is my first time brewing a loose full-leaf Assam (have tried a CTC before). As with all loose teas, I am brewing this gongfu style. Even with the Indian and Sri Lankan teas meant for Western style brewing, I just don’t really find myself enjoying them as much when they are brewed really potent. I prefer to fragment the taste into shorter infusions rather than getting it all in one cup.
This Assam reminds me of something between a Yunnan and a Darjeeling. It’s got a nice floral aroma at first, but with deep, rich flavors like molasses and yeast. In the second infusion it’s got a flavor reminiscent of cranberries, with the bitterness to accompany, and it’s slightly astringent.
By the third infusion, the flavor’s seeming kind of flat to me. It’s tangy and bitter, still reminding me of cranberries.
I understand that many tea drinkers drink these heavier Indian black teas with cream and sugar. This may be the way to go in regard to this kind of tea, for me. I may make this East Frisian style and update with another review in a bit.
Update: Okay… so for the sake of like… science and stuff… I brewed some Western style with cream and sugar. I’m just not really sure what to think. It has a bitter finish even with sugar that really sticks in my mouth and I don’t like it. The taste is sort of pruney and woody. It’s not awful, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to drink this tea again. I’ve had bagged black teas that I enjoyed more.
Flavors: Cranberry, Molasses, Yeast
Houjicha of Brightness
Homemade Houjicha from Obubu Tea Farms’ Sencha of Brightness
I wonder what Obubu Tea would call this houjicha if they’d made it themselves? They’ve got Houjicha Amber and Houjicha Gold to refer to some of their Houjicha made from sencha rather than lower grade bancha. Maybe this one would be Houjicha Bronze.
I had some Sencha of Brightness in storage that was getting a little old. It’s January now and it’s a summer harvested tea, so I decided to roast some in a pan and make houjicha. This is my first time making my own houjicha, so I’m excited.
On the nose, there’s a definite scent of cigar tobacco. The taste is milder than most houjicha I’ve had before, and very, very clean, with an almost minty tingle in the finish. The flavor is like a sweet cigar tobacco, with more sweetness and less roasted flavor than most houjicha. The color is a deep copper. Honestly, I can’t stop drinking this quickly. It’s so good and so quenching! I’ve never had houjicha that had such a clean mouthfeel and finish. Wow! And the flavor and scent are so comforting.
The source material, Sencha of Brightness is a partially shade-grown sencha that is definitely a bit on the sweet side. It’s light and delicate and Obubu recommends it being made as iced tea.
On the second infusion, the flavor is even more sweet and creamy with notes of malt and heavy cream.
I’m so happy with how this turned out. This is wonderful. I will be tempted to roast the rest I have left of this tea. Mmm mmm. DIY houjicha may be a new addiction for me.
Flavors: Roasted, Sweet, Tobacco
This is the last of the Obubu sampler I got around to trying. I have to say this may have been my least favorite of their Houjicha. Despite it is made from a higher quality leaf, in this case their Sencha of the Summer Sun rather than bancha, the flavor did not seem more enjoyable to me. This Houjicha Gold is dominated by top notes. Everything registered really high and light on the patate. The darker tones I am used to enjoying with houjicha weren’t there and the body seemed very thin. I got some of the sunflower seed notes and a bit of other light hay-like flavors, but there was also a very strong ashy flavor like cigar ash that resulted even after brewing for only 1 minute with a 2.5g/100ml ratio. To me this tea tasted overly roasted. It’s strange because one of the teas I like more from Obubu is their Dark Roast Houjicha, which despite being roasted more heavily seems to have more mellow notes with a hint of sweetness among the roasty tastes.
Having glanced at some of the other reviews here, I’m kind of surprised I didn’t experience any of the caramel or floral-like notes. Having had Sencha of the Summer Sun before I would have expected some interesting more fragrant notes, but they weren’t present for me.
UPDATE: I have just learned that houjicha is usually brewed for 30 seconds instead of 1 minute, so I will write another review of this when I have more of this tea and can brew it for less time. I plan to order the Obubu Tea Sampler again soon because I enjoyed so many of the teas in it.
Flavors: Ash, Roasted
This is my first time with mugicha, Japanese barley tea. I’ve read it’s a popular iced summer drink. I am drinking it hot and in the winter, so I suppose this’ll be different than the usual.
There’s a cereal this reminds me of… If you’ve been to the USA and have had Honey Smacks or Golden Crisp, I think those cereals are made from popped barley because the flavor and scent is just like this tisane.
The infusion here is a pale gold color, so I’ve definitely brewed this on the lighter side. I only used 3 oz of water, but I had a pretty small sample of it to try. It tastes malty, grain-like, roasted, slightly sweet. It’s very easy to drink. I really could see myself enjoying this more often. It reminds me of houjicha but with more maltiness and grain flavors.
A-OK by my book!
Flavors: Grain, Malt, Roasted Barley
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.
UPDATE: I revisited this for the New Year and I found that adding just a bit of sugar really brought out the nice fruity and floral qualities of this and neutralized the saltiness. I only used about 1/4 teaspoon of sugar in a 5 oz cup with two flowers. It was really nice. I think I’ll be using sugar with Sakurayu from here on.
Flavors: Cherry, Flowers, Plums, Salt