911 Tasting Notes
But, there is one more tea to cover and for that I need the help of my Earl Grey obsessed fiance:
I will admit, I approached this review with some trepidation.
For one, there’s almost eleven months to go until my “traditional” feature on this blog. Amanda wants me to feature more, but I’ll level with you – I’m not sure what I can offer to you guys here. I can enjoy a good cup of tea, and I can REALLY enjoy a low-quality cup of tea, but I don’t have her poetic sense of taste, or her mental library of every sensory experience she’s ever had.
For another, tea crystals. I mean, what? It’s a really strange way of preparing the stuff, and whilst I can see the advantages in some abstract sense (less clean-up than leaves without the problems of bags), I wouldn’t want to sacrifice taste to avoid a little cleanup. Even more concerning – tea crystals have very little smell when unsteeped, so it was impossible for this tea to pass my basic Early Grey test of making people cough.
But never let it be said that I’m not a game sort of Tea Barbarian – I tried a cup. With some measure of trepidation, mind: even fully steeped, at had a very faint aroma, and I was expecting a few bland sips, followed by a heated internal debate about whether to finish the mug or pour it out.
Boy, was I in for a surprise.
The tea has a shockingly rich and balanced taste. The deepness of tea leaves, set off with the sharpness of citrus, without either one getting overpowering or making the other taste bitter. There wasn’t a lot of nuance to its taste, but nuance is largely wasted on me, anyway – I like a rich flavor which is fulfilling in itself and pairs well with any meal I might be having, and this delivered. In short, somehow these crystals managed to be a perfect Earl Grey – in fact, I would happily rank it among my four or five favorites I’ve ever tried! Crystals or no, coughing or no, it’s an excellent tea in a surprising yet convenient package. I can recommend it wholeheartedly.
(I also tried the other two of these teas. It seems like that “lack of nuance” preference of mine may be important here – both were fine, and I didn’t actively dislike them, but they didn’t make the same strong impression that the Earl did, even accounting for my own Earl-oriented preferences.)
Today I am looking at three different teas of a completely different sort than I usually examine, with some help from the Tea Barbarian (aka Ben) since he is my in house expert in all things Earl. I was contacted through Instagram by Pique Tea to try their tea crystals, and I admit I am enough of a tea snob at this point that when I first saw it I was tempted to go a big nope, but I was curious so I investigated further. Unlike the ungodly gross instant tea I occasionally drank in moments of desperation when I was a youngin’ this is organic whole leafed tea, sourced by Roy Fong (of Imperial Tea Court fame) and then crystallized. No sugars or grossness, in theory this is just dehydrated brewed tea waiting to be rehydrated. Kinda sci-fi and I like that, but at the same time and with this introductory caveat I am not sure this is the tea for me, regardless if it is the best thing I have ever had or any spectrum in between. A huge part of the enjoyment of tea for me is the sensory bliss of examining the leaves, the process of brewing (one of the reasons I favor Gongfucha so much) and while I would not go as far as to say that tea is spiritual for me, I wouldn’t say it isn’t either. And while the tea crystals are incredibly easy to brew, they do take what I consider the most fun part out of the equation. But, enough of that, time to find out if they are any good or not!
I tried the Jasmine first, a green tea that has been scented with jasmine, so yay for not blending jasmine oils in with the tea. The crystals themselves have a fairly faint aroma, granted I didn’t want to accidentally inhale them so there was not the full on piggie searching for truffle snuffling that usually happens with leaves. Once I poured the hot water onto the crystals the aroma became very strong of jasmine, its heady scent wafted out of the cup and around my tea-desk like a flowery fog.
The taste was decent, I was not hugely wowed, but in this tea’s favor I have not been wowed by a jasmine in a long while, part of me thinks I have just gotten over jasmine in favor of osmanthus, rose, and tangerine blossom. The jasmine was quite strong and it didn’t taste like perfume, it tasted like flowers with a light green tea base, nothing really stood out as spectacular or awe inspiring. It was very convenient for a quick brew before dashing out the door to run errands, and chilled it becomes a bit sweeter.
Next up was the Mint Sencha, I like mint and I like Sencha, so this seems promising. Like the Jasmine it lacked much in the aroma department, but once I added water to the crystals the mint and slightly vegetal tone of the Sencha made itself well known.
The taste of this one was mild and surprisingly umami, savory notes of spinach and kelp blend with cooling mint and a back taste of kale. It was not bad, it lacked depth but its taste was enjoyable if not a little mild. I think my only real complaint with this tea is its price, and since I know cost value is different for everyone this is not something I bring up often on the blog. See, I am not a person with income so I am always looking for tea that is a bargain while not skimping on taste and quality, take for instance a favorite tea of my, Ailaoshan Black is $6 for 50 grams of tea, if I use roughly 2 grams per 100ml gaiwan that is 25 sessions of tea, and since that tea gets me 3+ steepings each session, well you can see it does not even compare to something that costs almost $10 for 14 cups of tea. To me it is not worth it, but like I said earlier, I am not sure I am this tea’s target audience. But to be fair, let’s look at who this tea’s target audience really is, the bagged tea drinkers, if we are to look at higher end teabags (let’s just say Adagio’s Sencha which is $19 for 15 teabags) things make a bit more sense. Taste wise these teas blow most teabags out of the water, so that is a solid win there, thus ending my tiny foray into economics.
A new friend came home with me today, a new fishy friend, specifically a Gold Gourami. Sadly and recently my Betta left me for another plane (yes, Niv-Mizzet the Firemind became a Planeswalker, only explanation) and after a bit of science I determined I give up on Bettas. The water is too hard and acidic and I think that is why my Bettas kept dying when all other water parameters were fine, it also explains why when I lived in PA with its softer water I was able to have a colony of them. Gouramis like water to be a bit on the acidic side and hard, so that is my new friend. She is quite pretty and amusingly curious, inspecting every single plant and piece of decor in great detail, and whenever I am next to the tank she comes to inspect me, I think she and I will get along wonderfully.
Today’s tea comes from Basilur Tea, a company specializing in Ceylon teas, and I am looking at their Special Tea Caddy. Before I get into the tea itself I want to point out how awesome the packaging is, when I first opened the box I saw the lovely tin with the island of Sri Lanka embossed on its lid. I had a moment of apprehension that I would open the tin and it would be an explosion of loose tea everywhere, but nope, the tea is safe inside a ziptop foil bag with the print of an old style newspaper all about a few of the estates Basilur sources from. It is a neat bit of packaging, but considering this is the company that has book shaped tea tins I am not surprised.
The tea itself comes from the lower elevation of Ceylon, though I do not know specifically which estates it is sourced from. It is of the FBOPF1 grade, so lots of fancy tips that appear silvery rather than gold, an interesting contrast with some of the other teas I drink. The aroma of the little tips is quite pleasant, sweet and rich with an underlying briskness. notes of gentle plum and citrus blend with malt and a touch of woodiness.
After steeping in my steeping aparatus, the now plumped up leaves has a malty and brisk quality, with woody and citrus notes. Underneath there is a touch of plum and a tiny bit of metallic. Not sure why but frequently Ceylon teas come off a bit metallic to me and whether or not I find this pleasant largely depends on the individual tea. The liquid is sweet, brisk, and woody with an undertone of citrus and a touch of malt.
I have had more Ceylons that I found undrinkable than probably any other tea, so I (unfairly) approach all new Ceylons I try with a bit of trepidation, but luckily this time my fear was very misplaced. This is an iconic Ceylon, in fact I shared this with Ben (who drinks a lot more teas in this style) and he said if he were to close his eyes and picture an iconic Ceylon this would be it, and I can’t help but agree. It is brisk and smooth at the front and dry in the mouth towards the end, but it lacks astringency. There are notes of oak wood and sweet potato, plum and lemons, with a metallic finish. The aftertaste is sweet though it does not linger long, just a pleasant memory. I enjoyed this tea, it will be one to enjoy in the afternoons or mornings when I want a mug of tea and not my usual gongfu sessions.
Next up is Golden Monkey, or Jin Huo Cha as it is also known, this is a hong cha from Fujian and is also a favorite…and yes, I know at this point you are probably laughing at me since I have an overwhelming obsession with the red teas. The aroma of the curled leaves is strong in the sweet potato department, combine that with molasses and brown sugar and it smells like candied yams with a delicate distant flower note that seems to pop up in these Fujian reds, like distant orchids.
Steeping time, and the tea keeps up the starchy persona with strong notes of sweet potatoes and molasses, with a bit of burned sugar and a distant hint of peanuts. It smells sweet but not too terribly malty, this is more mild than the previous tea but sweeter in aroma. The liquid is sooo sweet, strong notes of sweet potato and peanuts, it is like a peanut crusted baked sweet potato pie with lots of molasses and brown sugar…and it is making me hungry.
This mug of red happiness is very sweet, and holds up to multiple steepings which is win. It starts malty and yammy (it is a word now) and moves to peanuts and molasses and the finish is a honey sweet lingering with a distant flowery quality that is light on the first steep but on the second steep the flowery note shows up in the midtaste and lingers into the aftertaste. It is a mellow red tea, one that I think is more suited to the evening or afternoon than morning, a tea for enjoying when you are more awake to enjoy it.
Today was a day of Dinosaurs, though hilariously not in Ark. I want dinosaur tea pets, specifically a few sea creatures (technically they are mostly reptiles, but shh) and many theropods, my most adored creatures. Problem is, they are either really big and not tea table sized (though it will fit just fine on my desk) or they are grossly old fashioned (few things offend me as much as a vertical Rex) and I will just spend my time glaring daggers at them for being wrong. Mostly my quest was not successful, I found some small friends, but they were a synapsid (hello Dimetrodon) and a pair of sea reptiles, though finding an Elasmosaurus was awesome. Ben found a Palaeoscincus he liked so that kinda counts, but no epic dinos for me…yet. Next up will be to paint my new small friends so they are more fun, because a solid gray derpy Elasmosaurus is just sad.
Today is a double feature from Quantitea, looking at the two red teas from their ‘Starter Set’ flight I got a chance to experience recently. I brewed them using their glass mug and basket that came as part of the flight, giving my gaiwan a bit of a rest and retracing my roots to my early tea drinking days. The first one I am looking at is Hong Jin Luo or Red Golden Spiral, a Dianhong (so a hong cha from Yunnan) with some of the prettiest little leaves, seriously I adore the fuzzy little gold spirals. The aroma of the leaves is malty and sweet, with strong notes of molasses and sweet potatoes with cocoa and roasted peanuts. It is a classic smelling Dianhong, both rich and sweet.
After my steeping and the uncurling of the leaves, the aroma takes on a richer malty and nutty quality, really bringing out the peanut notes that I favor in this style tea. They always remind me of my beloved boiled peanuts but without the copious amounts of brine usually associated with that snack. The liquid is a wonderfully sweet blend of molasses and starchy yams with a honey undertone.
With big mug in tow, I slurped it up while playing Ark, that is my favorite part of this system, I love gongfu, it is my favorite way of enjoying tea, but not always do my hobbies blend perfectly and a mug is required. I was able to get a couple steeps from the leaves, so points for longevity there, the first steeping was rich and sweet, strong woody and molasses notes at the front, middle notes of chocolate and yams, and a nutty finish of peanuts and malt. The second steep focused more heavily on the starchy yam notes and malt, with a brown sugar note that vaguely reminded me of my favorite way to eat sweet potatoes. I had extra of this tea so later gongfu’d it and it is safe to say it is equally delicious that way as well!
Today was a beautiful day, warm weather (meaning no cold side of the head and ears, mohawk woes) and clear skies…combine that with getting a good night’s sleep (and being woken up by the smell of blooming flowers) for the first time in over a week made for a having a lovely day. I had an adventure to a part of town I don’t normally venture to procure some fried chicken and okra, because nothing says comfort food on a warm day like fried yummies. I am Southern after all, it is what my people feast on, well that and collards but that is sadly harder to find this time of year outside of a can. Now I sit and blog between waiting for coats of paint to try on my miniatures, fun times for me!
Today concludes my week of Teavivre teas with one that is very appropriate to the weather, Zheng Wei Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea, a Fujian Oolong from the An Shan Tea Garden. This Oolong is an autumn harvest and is said to be different from their other Tie Guan Yin by being less green and more floral, and considering their other TGY is pretty floral that is an impressive boast. From the moment I cut open the package I realized this boast was true, this TGY is hands down the most floral smelling one (possibly the most floral tea) I have ever sniffed. It was potent, heady, and intoxicating, notes of hyacinth, orchid, lilac, and daffodils. The last one made me immensely happy because that is not a note I get very often in teas, and I absolutely love daffodil, alongside all these flowers is a touch of green vegetation, the accompanying leaves to all the blossoms in a bouquet.
Once the leaves have steeped (and thoroughly poofed up in my xishi) the aroma takes on a delightful sweetness, one that reminds me of caramel, which I admit surprised me though not in a bad way. Alongside this sweetness was the heady elixir of hyacinth, daffodil, and orchid blossoms and the green notes of bamboo leaves and vegetation. The liquid has a buttery sweet quality, reminding me of buttery cookies and flowers, it is heady and sweet, no greenness to be detected in the steeped liquid.
Holy cow that is one buttery mouthfeel, it took me a moment to focus on what I was tasting because I was too distracted by the buttery goodness, so smooth! The taste, when I finally focused, was light, typical for a first steep, gentle notes of hyacinth and orchid with a daffodil note as well. This moves to a celery leaf almost savory quality at the finish with a lingering flowery note in the aftertaste.
I feel like I am sniffing pure undiluted liquid spring-time, it is intensely floral with green notes as well, really it is spring in a cup. The mouthfeel is still intensely buttery but with a slight slickness at the finish. The taste is light, though not as light as the first, it is intensely floral, so many flowers, like walking in a spring garden when everything is blooming. The midtaste brings in more green, notes of bamboo leaves and a touch of celery leaves, for the finish it is all sweetness, like flower nectar and honey with a very strong orchid aftertaste.
For the third steep I still feel like I am in a garden, like I am slowly sinking into a flowery field, being lulled into a heady slumber in a flower patch, it borders on being narcotic like some flowers can be. This steep is just as floral, but it takes on a real nectar quality, I feel like a hummingbird supping from various flowers in a garden. There is very little green to this steep, just a hint of bamboo. The real shine from this steep is the aftertaste, where the earlier sipping has a nectar quality, the end has a heady orchid note that stays around forever, seriously the aftertaste on this steep just would not stop, it was epic! This might be my new favorite green Tie Guan Yin, it gives many steeps and is like drinking spring.
Yesterday was Ben’s birthday, we celebrated in a nerdy fashion, we played with our miniatures all day. He worked on some of his Malifaux assembly and modification and I worked on putting together my Age of Sigmar box, (I said I would eventually fall into Warhammer and it happened, totally Ben’s fault) It feels so good to be painting again! Working on two separate game armies, random miniatures, presents for friends, and Ben’s armies, my paint table runneth over and it pleases me, maybe I will have all my current projects finished by the time my Reaper kickstarter arrives in October, but I doubt it!
Today I am continueing my look at some of Teavivre’s teas, with a long time favorite tea style of both Ben and me, a moonlight! Moonlight Beauty Raw Pu-erh Loose Tea is a lovely pile of silvery buds that could pass for a Baihao Yinzhen, but this is from Xishuangbanna in Yunnan, and while it is similar in production to white tea, it is technically a Puerh. Of course the real difference is in aroma and taste, and the aroma of these fuzzy leaves is grand. Notes of hay and honey blend with savory (the herb rather than the descriptor) sage, tomato leaves (moonlight always smells vaguely like tomato leaves and I have no idea why) and a finish of pollen and wildflowers. It is mellow but very distinct and sweet with herbaceous qualities.
I got to use my big engagement gaiwan for this session since I was sharing with Ben, the aroma of the not so fuzzy leaves blends sweet and savory notes pretty well, with pollen, hay, and honey on the sweet side and lettuce, sage, and tomato leaves on the more savory side. The liquid however is all sweetness, with notes of wildflowers, hay, honey, and pollen. It has a distinct summery quality, like being in a field when all the flowers are in bloom.
For a tea called moonlight, I have always thought it looks like a cup of sunlight. It kinda tastes like sunlight, mixing smooth honey and pollen with lettuce and sage, and a finish of hay. It has a wildflower aftertaste that lingers for some time, it reminds me of a field again, which is great.
Onward to the second steep without delay, the aroma has taken a creamy note, like creamy raw honey with definite wildflower and pollen notes and a finish of hay and lettuce. The taste does not change much from steep to steep, it stays strong with notes of honey and hay with the lingering wildflower notes that do not quit. Of course the best part of this tea is its staying power, it just goes for a while, I think I got eight steeps before it started fading away.
Console exclusive games infuriate me to no end, seriously. I have an Xbox, both the One and the 360, mostly because the only people I ever play with have those systems have them and I have gotten used to the Xbox, I like it and will continue to play them, but I really wish I lived in a world where the console war and exclusive games didn’t exist. I love Ark, but I am so sad that it is no available to PS4 players…but they get to have access to two games I want but can’t have because of being on the Xbox. Street Fighter V and more importantly No Man’s Sky, I want that game so badly, it looks amazing but I can’t play it. I AM CRYING BITTER TEARS ON MY CONTROLLER!! It really would be simpler if I had a gaming PC, but that will be something for the future, maybe. Ok, end nerd rant, tea time!
Continuing on with Teavivre week, today I am looking at Yunnan Gongfu Fragrant Black Tea, a hong cha from Fengqing, Yunnan, one of my favorite regions for making the glorious red teas that I’m hopelessly addicted to. Dianhongs are my drug, no lies. The name of this tea is no exaggeration, it is immensely fragrant, you open the bag and whoosh, face full of aroma! There are notes of intensely sweet cocoa and yams with brown sugar, malt, and a finish of gentle woody notes. It is very sweet and rich without being too much of either. I might have giggled with glee sniffing this tea while awaiting my kettle’s heating.
Into my teapot the oh so fragrant leaves go for their first steep, upon steeping it is time once again for sniffing. The notes coming off the wet leaves is intense! Notes of malt, cocoa, yams, peanut, pumpkin, mineral, molasses, and a very tiny hint of rose. It is really complex, pretty much every note I associate with Dianghong is present, which is impressive. The liquid is a touch lighter, sweet notes of brown sugar and pumpkin with a delicate pastry and chocolate note, it is quite sweet.
The first steep surprised me, for such a strong fragrance the taste is really light. Starting with gentle mineral notes and almost effervescent sweetness that dances across my palate. It is reminiscent of both cane sugar and brown sugar with a delicate cocoa woodiness. The finish is sweet and lingering with a light honey quality.
Second steep is where it is at! The aroma stays strong with notes of cocoa and brown sugar with a definite pumpkin and yam quality. Well, the taste takes a hint and brings in the yams and toasted peanuts, but imagine that with notes of pastry and cocoa and a finish of brown sugar and mineral. It almost reminds me of peanut brittle now that I think about it, but with sweet potatoes and cocoa, delicious!
For the third steep the aroma stays strong, but starts to pick up woody and a slight camphor note, at the finish there is a hint of pepper and a stronger mineral note as well, making it less sweet but more complex. This steep surprised me a bit, where the mouthfeel earlier was smooth and a bit thick, this one is thick and slippery with a salivary affect giving it an extra thickness. The taste is woodier, the intense sweetness is replaced with a woody richness reminiscent of cacao shells and a touch of very distant camphor. The finish and aftertaste is where all the sweetness of this steep is, ending with brown sugar and delicate yams. This tea went for several more steeps before giving up the ghost, finishing out with a very pleasant mineral quality.
An Ark update is headed my way that has me full of excitement! Not because of the horribly hard caves or wooly rhinos, not because of breeding phase 2 or the Eurypterid, no my friends, it is for the Dunkleosteus! One of my favorite deep sea monstrosities from the Devonian age, this giant fish had no teeth, instead it had interlocking bony plates and an armored head, but more importantly it had a crazy fast bite speed, making its mouth deadly. Since the only real fossil record is of its bony face, we don’t have a clear idea of what its body looked like, it could have been a longish fish or if you are like me and come up with wild theories, it could have been an eel! Like I said, wild theory that is wildly unlikely, but very fun, I love the Dunkleosteus and I am glad it is getting some Ark love, can’t wait to tame one!
Time to put down the dinosaur geeking and move on to my other major geek out source, tea! Today I am looking at Teavivre’s Tangerine Peel White Tea, a Shoumei White Tea from 2010 shoved into a tangerine peel and then dried in the sun, at least I think these are dried in the sun since that is how Shou shoved in a tangerine is created. It is said that the tangerine peel is good for cough and chest complaints, and white tea is known to have cooling Qi, so I was thinking this would be a great tea to drink during allergy season, plus I love tangerines, so blending the flavor with white tea seems most excellent. The aroma of the leaves and peel is intensely sweet, the comparison the website makes to orange candies is not far off, though conveniently it smells like tangerine and not artificial flavor like so many candies have. Actually candies is not entirely fair, it is more like candied orange peel with a strong honey note. There are underlying notes of hay and melon, but mostly the dry leaves really showcase the citrus.
I tossed the fluffy leaves and peel bits into a teapot and gave them a steeping, the aroma of the leaves is still heavy on the tangerine and intense honey sweetness, but now there are also notes of lettuce and a touch of celery. The liquid is a blend of lettuce, freshly broken hay, tangerine, and sticky sweet honey. It smells warm and sweet and I cannot wait to drink it.
The first steep is very mild, I was expecting a giant tangerine explosion in my face, but the tangerine is more in the aroma and aftertaste. The main notes in this steep are gentle melon sweetness, lettuce crispness, and a sun-warmed hay finish. It has a smooth mouthfeel and a gentle cooling feel in my chest and stomach, refreshing on a warm day!
The aroma of the second steep manages to be even more tangerine, mixing fresh juicy tangerine and candied orange peel with honey and a touch of lettuce and melon. Wow, this steep brings the citrus! It has notes of honey drenched tangerine, slightly sour orange (hello salivary glands) and a definite candied peel note that lasts forever. This tea is not all citrus goodness though, there are also strong notes of lettuce and hay with a slight melon note at the midtaste. It is delightfully sweet and smooth and has a bit of a thickness to its mouthfeel.
For the third steep, the aroma does not change really, pretty sure you could stick the second and third steep under my nose and I would not know the difference. Tasting is pretty similar too, it lacks any sour notes and is all candied orange peel and tangerine sweetness, with strong honey notes and delicate melon. It manages to be both warming and cooling, though the warming comes mostly from the sunny notes present in the citrus, it always registers as summery and warm in my mind. The sensation of cooling is pleasant, not as intense as some shengs can get, but certainly feels soothing on my insides. This tea went for several more steeps, eventually the orange notes faded and I was left with lots of sweet white tea, I really enjoyed it and plan on saving the rest of my sample for a cold steep experiment come summer time!