491 Tasting Notes
Marco Polo TTB
Well, it happened, Microsoft bought Mojang and by extension, Minecraft, when the rumor was first leaked and no ‘damage control’ happened I pretty much assumed it was a done deal. It is not all doom and gloom though, Microsoft has done some awesome things and from the press release details, as few as they are, it seems like they are going to treat Minecraft right. I am cautiously optimistic and look forward to watching Minecraft grow, and hey, maybe the Xbox 360 version will get quicker updates now (doubtful.)
Today’s tea is possibly being reviewed at the wrong time of year, depending on your hemisphere, presenting Spring Fest by RiverTea! Inspired by the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan, this tea is a blend of Green Tea, Papaya Bits, Pineapple Bits, Sour Cherry Halves, Raspberry Bits, Rose Blossoms, Jasmine Blossoms, and Flavorings. The aroma of the leaves is quite fruity, blending cherries and papayas with floral notes of jasmine and roses. It does not really evoke spring to Japan to me, it evokes summer in a more tropical climate to me. Of course how well it matches its name is not really what is important, what is important is rather or not it smells good, I think it does, the fruit and flower notes mix really well, however the cherry aroma is much stronger than the other notes and has a bit of a tart quality that has me nervous.
The steeped leaves are really quite sweet, lots of sweet papaya and cherry notes with a hint of pineapple, the initial fruity sweetness fades to rosy perfume and heady jasmine at the finish. The aroma of the liquid is a mixture of jasmine’s subtle sweetness and floral intensity along with fresh vegetation and a hint of rose. The liquid smells more like a jasmine green tea than a fruity blend.
The taste is very mild and subtle, it starts out floral and sweet with faint notes of roses and jasmine with a hint of vegetation. This transitions into slightly tart cherry and sweet tropical fruit, the aftertaste is rose and tropical fruit. Spring Fest is pretty light and fairly refreshing, one of those teas that is very unassuming and can be used as a ‘background’ noise tea that you want to sip without having to think about. Obviously this is not my favorite type of tea, but they certainly have their purpose and are good to have around when in need.
Flavors: Cherry, Jasmine, Rose, Tropical
Today’s tea themed page turner is The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea by Michael Harney…yes, it is that Harney & Sons, so in all honesty you know that the book is going to be good. I am going to start out by saying this might be my favorite stand alone guide to tasting tea. It is wonderful as a go to refresher for experienced sippers and a fantastic intro to those new to the art of tasting tea.
The best part of this book, the part that makes me check it out from the library time and time again (really the fact that it is not in my collection yet is a bit criminal) is the overwhelmingly casual approach to tea. There are so many instances of the author telling you ‘there are no wrong answers’ ‘everyone tastes differently’ ‘everyone can be a tea taster’ that it practically makes me giddy. It goes along with my philosophy of tea being fun, approachable, and art. I had this philosophy before I read the book and seeing such a well respected tea expert have the same philosophy as me certainly makes me happy.
The book begins with a typical (and maybe the best ever) introduction of the author and the subject matter. After that we get a brief and very thorough explanation on how to taste tea, and from that we go straight into the teas. Each tea section is divided into types of tea, starting with the White Teas, it starts with a brief overall discussion on the group of tea (for example the White Tea section mentions Tricomes or tea fuzzies and some flavor notes you might run into.)
Each tea is given its own handy little table which includes the tea’s name (and a translation when applicable) brewing parameters, a description on the dry leaves, a description of the tea’s liquid (liquor) the aroma, body, and lastly the flavor. Some of flavor notes are a bit giggle worthy, like lemon taffy, sulfur, raspberry jam, and cotton candy. I have no room to talk of course, being a person who uses rather whimsical sounding aroma and taste descriptions. That is the great thing about tea, it reminds each individual of something new and exciting, so where I smell spicebush you might smell gingersnaps, it helps us reflect on our personal experiences. A person with more experiences with tasting tons of foods could find more similarities there, a person who spends way too much time out in nature could find similarities there.
Lastly the book closes with a pretty nifty appendix collection of tea menus for tea tasting, grouping teas by flavor profiles, like floral teas, smoky teas, and chocolaty teas. After that there is a description of the various processing tea leaves go through ‘from tree to tea.’ Next we get a brief history of tea, and it is very short, but full of useful tidbits, my favorite being the dispelling of the myth that the British originally thought that leaves were harvested by monkeys. Lastly there is a small list of tea sources and why they were picked as some of the best.
The only bad thing (if that really) that I have to say about this book is the lack of pictures. I am very much so a visual learner and very much so need pictures when I am learning something new. Luckily we live in a digital age, so I suggest reading this book with the internet open so you can look at pictures of the teas listed in this book.
Oh man, gaming night last night was awesome, but when is it not? Ben got the rule book for Dystopian Wars, an awesome 10mm miniature game that we are picking up along side Dropzone Commander. We are still going to play DZC, but the local community is pretty small and waiting for our units to arrive from the distributor in England is a giant pain…seriously, the local Shaltari player has been waiting two months for his units. Dystopian Wars is huge here, so we will be able to actually play it, yours truly will be picking up Indian Raj with Britania support while I pretend to be Sir Richard Burton.
Today’s tea of choice is Life in Teacup’s 1500m (4500 ft.) Frosty Spring Yunnan Roast Green, arbor tree, First Day Harvest as you can tell from the very descriptive name, this green tea is harvested on March 9th 2014, I am assuming it is still frosty in the evenings there since the name has me thinking that. The aroma of this Yunnan green tea is a blend of toasted and fresh green, there are notes of pepper, toasted sesame seeds, green stems, fresh okra, and a tiny hint of kale. I have noticed that a few of the teas I have sniffed recently have the note of okra, which I find awesome, what with being Southern and eating a ton of okra as a kid.
Once I give the leaves a nice little steeping in the gaiwan the leaves have the aroma of spinach, okra (more cooked than fresh off the stem this time) lima beans and a touch of toast, these leaves smell like my favorite vegetables. The liquid has a mild mixture of sharply vegetal and gently sweet toastiness.
The first steep starts out deliciously savory with notes of sauteed mushrooms bordering on smokiness. This transitions to toasted sesame, giving a bit of sweetness to the steep, there are also hints of okra and a finish of green beans. The mouth feel is quite smooth and this tea is overall rather rich on its first steeping, I really enjoy when green teas have a sauteed mushroom ‘meatiness’ to them.
For the second steeping the aroma is a mix of toasted sesame and kale, specifically cooked kale rather than fresh, meaning some of the edge is taken off of it. This time around the taste does not have its ‘meatiness’ to it, the tea starts out with a touch of toast and cooked okra and then finishes with mild green beans and a touch of pepper. It was especially mild this steep which was a bit of a surprise after such a robust start.
A very strange bit of gaming news crept across my radar this morning as I found myself wondering ‘why in the name of all things holy am I still awake’ that made me switch to wondering ‘have I fallen asleep at my computer and am now just dreaming of weird news?’ I mean I did dream I was a computer simulation and saw the world in coding the other day, so this is entirely possible…but no, upon further investigation, this rumor is not a dream. It seems there is a rumor about Microsoft buying Mojang for $2billion, which is really strange and out of character for Notch. I am worried for the future of Minecraft, but hopefully Microsoft will be smart and not change too many things, it will be interesting to see how this unfolds, but more on my thoughts about this on my Saturday Ramblings post.
Introducing a new feature on the blog: What-Cha Wednesdays! I have a small mountain of their teas to review (and will probably get more once I run out, their teas fascinate me and at times become addictions, so I want to Pokemon it and try them all) and until I run out I shall have this be a weekly thing. Today’s What-Cha is Nepal Monsoon Flush 2014 Pearl Oolong Tea, and everything about it is new to me. It is from Nepal (a tea region I have very little experience with, tragically) and rolled into tight pearls, reminiscent of dragon pearl tea, a shape I have never seen an oolong curled into. There is also the plucking time of Monsoon Flush, which is also referred to as Rainy Tea, it is plucked between the Second and Autumn Flush between July and September, a time of continuous rain. It has been a cool, drizzly, day so I thought the timing to review this tea was perfect. The aroma of the little pearls is not very strong, I catch little whiffs of aromas, much like the tightly curled pearls are hiding their secrets from me. There are gentle notes of nuttiness and fruitiness, a mix of stone fruit and citrus, with just a tiny hint of sesame seeds.
As suspected, giving the pearls a bath released some of its hidden aroma as they unfurled, though the pearls remind me of baby Cthulhu-esque monsters which endears them to me immensely. The aroma of the leaves is very interesting, notes of dry apricot, sweet wine, and an undertone of pepper drift up from the leaves, it is very sweet and rich while still being light. The liquid is sweet, with a blend of apricot juice and scuppernong fruit, it does not smell like ‘fruit nectar’ but the juices of a ripe fruit as you bite into it.
The first steep is incredibly gentle and light, it tastes like spring rain, mineral laden spring water…specifically it reminds of the taste of the water I would drink from Boiling Spring’s Bubble (an artesian cold spring from limestone rich rock) giving me a powerful case of nostalgia. There is more to this tea than clean water and minerals, there are also notes of ripe apricots and freshly mown hay.
The second and third steep are identical in both aroma and taste. The aroma of the liquid is very sweet, mixing apricots,a touch of citrus, and nice bit of muscatel and minerals at the finish. The taste has the same clean spring water and rain taste of the first steep, but the real show stealing taste this time around is the apricot and fresh citrus notes. I feel like sipping this tea is cleansing, it is very light and refreshing and makes my soul feel good, I shall have to get more and put it aside for special occasions. This tea is a wonderful reminder how diverse tea can be, it is unlike any oolong I have ever had, in fact if I did not know what it was I might label it a white tea or an unusual Darjeeling, tea has so much to teach and I hope to never stop learning.
Flavors: Apricot, Citrus, Mineral, Nuts
For a while, the various white teas in the boxes have been Shou Mei based blends, so it is really fun to taste the tea on its own, I do love a good Shou Mei, there is something so endearing about the large, fluffy, sun dried leaves from Fujian. The aroma is a blend of a dried leaf pile with a touch of muscatel, earthiness, and a hint of spiciness at the finish. Once the leaf pile has been steeped, it still has notes of dried leaves, some muscatel notes, a bit of sourness and earthiness at the finish. The liquid is like sweet wine and honey with a nice leafy finish at the end, I love Shou Mei, the aroma always reminds me of the end of summer when the plants are being harvested and the leaves are just beginning to turn.
And the taste also reminds me of the end of summer, the golden color of the tea reminds of the golden color of sunlight in the late afternoon, I can practically hear the cicadas while sipping….wait, no, the cicadas are just deafening this year and that is all I can hear. All silliness aside, this tea was nummy, very sweet notes of raw honey mixed with fresh grapes and a touch of earthiness and kale at the finish. The second steep is just a little bit sweeter at the start and a nice bit earthier at the finish, bringing that leaf pile aroma from the aroma to the taste.
Fun fact, pekoe originates from Chinese for downy hairs/feathers, so basically Pekoe is the term for my much loved tea fuzz (trichomes for the win!) Of course this Fujian green tea is fuzzy, the aroma is sharply green with notes of spinach, artichoke, okra, and a tiny bit of leafy green. It smells very much so like vegetables and summer growth. Once I give the fluffy leaves a nice steeping, the still very green, lots of fresh vegetation and vegetal notes, I am really digging the okra notes along with the artichoke and spinach. The liquid is not surprisingly pretty green, with notes of spinach, artichoke, and okra.
Starting out with a smooth mouthfeel and slightly peppery taste that transitions to sesame seeds and honey. At the end of the sipping there is a nice distinct romaine lettuce taste. I feel like this tea is getting me all my daily greens requirements from sipping this tea! The second steep is only a touch sweet with lots of vegetal notes, a little bit of okra, a little bit of lettuce, and a touch of sesame seed at the finish. This tea is awesomely smooth and green, I enjoyed every sip and find myself curious to see how it would hold up under
Four Season Oolong is one I just have not had that many sipping sessions with, which is a shame, because it is really a neat tea. Called Four Seasons because this Taiwanese tea produces four flushes each year, but it tastes like a spring flush, which is fancy indeed. The aroma of the tightly rolled tea leaves is very floral with notes of hyacinth, orchid, and honeysuckles, also a hint of fresh vegetation making me wonder if instead of sniffing a tea I in fact stuck my nose in a parallel dimension that is nothing but a heady, flowery hothouse. The brewed leaves take on even more flowers with the added sweetness of lilac and magnolia, it is just a pile of flowers! The liquid sans its very floral smelling leaves is also very floral, but there are also slightly creamy notes and sweetness.
The taste of the first steep is like drinking a bouquet of flowers, there are so many floral notes that my mind is blown a bit, it manages to be light and not at all perfume like or ‘soapy’ in its floral taste. It is also quite sweet with a creamy mouthfeel. The second steep is nigh identical in aroma, and very floral and sweet in taste, but there is an added bit of fresh vegetation and dryness at the finish mellowing out the floral a tad.
Marco Polo TTB
Guys, I finally did it, I figured out the perfect Tea Triage for my blog! I have been stressing for a bit over posting order because I have a ton of teas to review from different companies. Since it is just good policy to review teas sent by companies rather than ones bought/gifted first, this is my usual order, but for the first time ever I got a bunch of different teas from a bunch of different companies all at once. And I thought the spring harvest was a busy time for tea bloggers, this is just awesome! My main problem really is just making sure none of the tea companies feel neglected or forgotten, so I set up a Tea Triage (tea-age, treage, this doesn’t make for good punnery) that I am happy with.
So for today we have Yunnan Sourcing’s Jinggu Golden Strand Pure Bud Yunnan Black Tea Spring 2014 a gloriously fuzzy golden tea (my biggest weakness, maybe) I just love the appearance of fuzzy teas, the gold ones in particular just fill me with happiness when looking at them. According to Yunnan Sourcing, this particular batch of Hong Cha (red tea) is the fuzziest they have sold, awesome! This particular fuzzy gold tea is from Jinggu, Yunnan, and is made with the highest grade Yunnan large leaf buds. After my usual period of staring at the tea oohing and ahhing at the adorable tea I got around to sniffing it. The aroma is…well, it is awesome, there are notes of dried cherries and apricots, with more subtle notes of sweet potatoes, roasted peanuts, and lastly a tiny hint of cream. It is very much so iconic for a Yunnan black tea, at least for me it is, it has all the notes I expect when sniffing a fuzzy gold tea, but with a cleaner and crisper edge.
And into the gaiwan the leaves go, it is always a little sad since this means the gold fuzz will go away (and by go away I mean go into my cup for me to sip, mmm fuzzies) but it is also happy because it means I am about to drink tea. The aroma of the now steeped leaves is sweet, pretty intensely sweet, blending notes of stewed apricots and cherries with a touch of molasses, malt, sweet potatoes, roasted peanuts and a finish of wood. The poured off liquid from the first steep is creamy sweet with notes of sweet potatoes and acorn squash (almost verging on pumpkin) and a finish that is almost floral, like very distant flowers.
The first steep starts out juicy and sweet, it reminds me of biting into a perfectly ripe plum and then it transitions to malt and molasses. After this there is a delicious kick of pumpkin, I had a funny moment when sipping this tea where I actually shouted out Pumpkin! and promptly handed Ben the cup to taste, where he agreed that yes, this tea had pumpkin notes and promptly went back to reading. The finish of the tea is floral, with almost a rose like touch, the mouthfeel starts out creamy and fades to a dry slightly fuzzy feel at the end.
Second steeping time, and the aroma of this steep’s aroma is rich and sweet. There are notes of sweet potatoes, stewed plums, and a touch of raw honey at the finish. The taste is quite rich, it starts off with malt and molasses this time with only a hint of fresh plum. This transitions into pumpkin and a touch of roasted peanuts with a finish of honey. The mouthfeel starts off more dry than last time, but there is still a hint of the smoothness at the beginning.
For the third steep we have a creamy pumpkin and sweet potato aroma, in fact the aroma reminds me of sweet potato patties I used to eat like crazy as a kid, (are they just a thing in the South, because I never see them anymore) so yay for nostalgia points. The mouthfeel starts out creamy and stays creamy, it is very mellow, actually everything about this steep is mellow. It starts out gently fruity and honey sweet and fades to malt and molasses, at the finish there is a bit of pumpkin and a refreshing cooling effect. So yeah, I enjoyed this tea, but have I ever met a fuzzy tea from Yunnan that I did not enjoy immensely?
Flavors: Honey, Malt, Molasses, Plums, Pumpkin, Stewed Fruits, Sweet Potatoes
Today tasty cup of tea book is The Green Tea User’s Manual by Helen Gustafson, noted Tea Sommelier from Chez Panisse Restaurant. I have never heard of this restaurant, but from what I can glean from the menu is it is very fancy, in Berkeley, and rather pricey, the food looks tasty though! This is a fairly short book all about Green Tea, and unlike some of the other books that claim to be all about Green Tea, this one actually sticks to theme. There are very few mentions of other types of tea, in fact there is very little mention of tea’s history (except green) and the tea plant.
This book does some things very right, for one thing it calls the process of exposing tea to air oxidation instead of fermentation, even going as far to say that calling it fermentation is incorrect. It gives the correct temperatures to brew different kinds of green, stating that all teas are a little bit different and it takes experimenting to find the ‘sugar spot’ for the best cup. I enjoy the section explaining how to observe water and judge its temperature by looking at the bubbles. This method was invaluable to me before I got my temperature control kettle. It also just presents some good information about tea, which is always a plus in my book.
However, I am exceptionally picky when it comes to book, I tend to get very nit-picky, which is a little funny in comparison to my taste in tea. I might have a very discerning nose and palate, but it turns out I am not at all picky, which is awesome because I enjoy most the teas I try. I wish I were the same with books, it would make some of the time I spend on terrible novels a lot more enjoyable. And I am getting off on a tangent again…anyway, back on subject! The negative aspects of this book are pretty few, there are times when the wording seems a little cutesy bordering on demeaning (like saying in reference of Japanese teas: ‘these chippy-choppy names skip across the pages like chubby kittens’) now I always appreciate a little whimsy, but it seems so out of place with the tone of the book. The really big problem was in the ‘health section’ in reference to decaffeinating your tea by rinsing it. I want to go back in time, find out who started perpetrating this myth, and hit them with a sack of tea. It makes me angry, like few other things do, when I see this…I take it so personal because in my younger days I read this and believed it. At the time I was on medication that did not mix well with caffeine, let’s just say the result made for a miserable experience.
This is really a great little beginners guide to Green Tea, I would go as far as to say this has been the best stand alone guide to Green Tea I have run into. There might be better ones out there, but I have not found one yet. It is one of those books that I feel is a ‘seed planter’ it acts as a good base for people with a passing interest, but if you gave this book to someone who developing an obsession with tea…it would plant so many research seeds in their brain that they would spend hours looking things up.
Ah, nothing like chai before bed time, a nice soothing spice without tons of caffeine, always a pleasure. This particular chai is a blend of Rooibos, Cardamon, Cinnamon, Ginger root, Cloves, and Black peppercorns…a traditional blend with an herbal twist. The aroma…well, this is definitely not a stick your nose in the bag kind of tea, very potent spices which will make you sneeze a lot if you are a goof like me. It is intensely peppery and gingery, very sweet too with all its spices and rooibos. The brewed leaves bring out more of the woody quality of the rooibos along with a potent note of cardamon, pepper, and ginger. The other spices are not as strong as those three, but they are definitely present.
After adding the customary milk and sugar, the aroma is still very spicy with strong notes of pepper and ginger, along with woody sweet rooibos. The taste is pretty awesome, very strong in the spice department starting off with warming pepper and ginger, moving on the cardamon, and finishing with mouth tingling cloves and cinammon. Luckily the cinnamon is not too strong, I find that a lot of spiced teas make the mistake of having cinnamon be the alpha spice. The rooibos is present as well, around the midtaste you get caramel notes and it finished with woody sweetness and a slight dryness at the finish. A perfect sip for a cool rainy day (like it is for me today.)
Flavors: Caramel, Cardamon, Clove, Ginger, Pepper, Wood