353 Tasting Notes
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
This tea is a very pretty example of FTGFOP black tea, or Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, because tea grading is rather long winded. This particular black tea (with its adorable golden tips) is from Assam, India. The aroma of the leaves is malty and quite sweet, like dried cherries and prunes, with a hint of fresh apricots and a finish of oak wood. Brewing the tea will get you a nice burst of a bright, brisk, and malty aroma. The wet leaves still retain their notes of fruit, but it is not as strong, the wet leaves have more of a wake you up aroma now.
The liquid without its leafy friends is brisk with notes of dried fruit, malt, and oak wood. It smells very rich, perfect for when I have just woken up and need a brisk awakening. The taste is brisk and quite malty with notes of oak wood and a sweet finish of dried fruit. The package said it was good as a straight tea or with milk and sugar, so I decided to honor my British relatives and have myself some milky tea. Adding the milk and sugar makes the briskness vanish and the richness of the malt take center stage, it is delicious with how rich and fruity it is now. I say if you want a black tea that wakes you up, go straight…if you want a black tea that soothes you, go with the milk and sugar.
Flavors: Fruity, Malt
Day two without a working tea kettle, still mostly sane…how did I function without one? Only a few more days until things go back to normal, though watching Espeon’s frantic running around, normal is a stretch. Luckily my cold thing seems to have been very short lived, I joked to my mom that I was so angry that I was getting sick that my rage burned the virus out of my body. Who needs positive thinking when you have Hulk level anger? I am a very silly person.
Today’s tea has the distinct honor of being a tea I have never heard of Jiang Xian Ti Kui from Life In Teacup! You guys know me, I love to do lots of research on tea, so when I run into one I am not familiar with it is super exciting. This green tea is Life In Teacup’s “Green Tea of the Year” an awesome project to bring rarely seen Chinese green teas to a wider audience. I really suggest giving the website a look to see the beautiful photos of the plantation where this tea grows in Anhui Province. The aroma of the dry leaf is very fresh smelling, blending notes of roasted sesame and peanuts with green bean and spinach. There is a tiny hint of sauteed mushrooms at the finish, giving the tea a hint of savory.
Steeping time! The aroma of the now soggy leaves is still very fresh, I am really enjoying the freshness of the aroma, very evocative of nature. It starts out with fresh vegetation, green veggies, and green beans. At the finish there are notes of sharp freshly broken stems and peanuts. The first steep’s liquid is a tasty smelling mix of sauteed vegetables and sesame seeds, this fades to a gentle floral note, like spring flowers being carried in on a warm breeze.
The first steep’s mouthfeel is quite smooth, it was the first thing I noticed, after my initial enjoyment of the mouthfeel I noticed the freshness of the taste, it seems to be a theme with this tea. There are starting notes of green beans and sesame seeds, this build to a honey sweetness that gets stronger until it is almost cookie like in its sweetness.
The aroma of the second steep is nutty and green, like verdant nature and sesame seeds. There is a hint of broken stems giving it a touch of sharpness, along with a tiny hint of bamboo. The taste of this steep is still very sweet, almost a touch fruity, this transitions into nutty sesame seeds and green beans with a sweet finish of sugar cane and bamboo.
For the third steep is mostly green, with notes of sauteed spinach and a green beans. There is also a hint of saltiness which I find intriguing. This time around the taste is less sweet, in fact other than a bit of honey sweetness at the front there is no sweetness. The taste is mostly sauteed spinach, green bean, and sesame seeds, there is a slight kale bitter green at the finish. I really enjoyed how this tea balanced its sweetness and its green notes, plus it is a tea I have never heard of which makes it extra awesome. I recommend giving it a try, it is both very tasty and it is ‘out of the norm’ so you will get hipster points (if you are into that) and you will expand your tea knowledge.
Flavors: Bamboo, Green, Green Beans, Stems, Sugarcane
Crafting the Tea Advent Calenders officially starts today, since yesterday was the final day of gathering supplies. The total amount of calenders I am making this year is 13, that is a ton of origami envelopes to fold, but I am up to the challenge. I estimate that it will take me about a week to cut all the paper and fold them, of course I won’t be doing much of anything else recreational while I am working on it. I am excited for it, but I am a bit of an origami addict.Today’s tea is 2006 Fengqing Raw Pu-erh Tea Tuocha, by Teavivre, a Sheng Pu-erh hailing from Fengqing, Yunnan, home of many great Pu-erh teas. This particular tea was plucked back in April of 2006, I am going to be honest, I do not even remember what I was doing back then! It must be an awesome feeling to pick a tea and process it, knowing that it might be many years before anyone drinks it, and seeing how it changes over those years. The aroma of this tea reminds me of nature, it is like being on the edge of a pine forest and a field right after a summer rain storm. There are notes of wet hay and wet wood, along with fresh pine and camphor, also a little hint of flowers and minerals, much like rain water. It is very sweet and refreshing.
Giving the leaves a brief rinsing and steeping, the now quite soggy leaves smell of wet hay, cooked spinach, camphor, and a bit of a barnyard finish. The liquid is quite sweet, a mix of fresh hay, sugar cane, and camphor. I am really digging the camphor notes, you just don’t run into that often so it is a treat.
The first steep is delicious! It starts of sweet like sucking the juice straight out of a sugar cane. This transitions to a slightly sour taste and a cooling mouthfeel with a finishing zing of camphor. The end of the sip is fresh hay and a cooling sensation that lingers. I think I should drink this when I have a cold, because it feels so clearing to my chest.
For the second steep the aroma is still very sweet, with notes of sugar cane, hay and that oh so invigorating camphor. I want everyone to know that why I am writing this, I am also painting my miniatures, tea and painting go together really well. The taste of this steep starts out with the sour note, which immediately causes a salivary effect making the tea sugar cane sweet. There is a cooling sensation that lasts until right before the end, at which there is a slight bitterness that fades into a sweet aftertaste.
Third time around the aroma is more fresh hay and sweet, with only a hint of camphor at the finish. The taste is intensely sweet and causing so much of a sour salivary mouth response, I love it, this might be one of my favorite things about Sheng Pu Erh. I have noticed that Sheng Pu Erh that has this mouth response and cooling sensation that I do not have any stomach problems, so that is awesome! The finish of this tea is now dry and somewhat bitter. I tried to go for a fourth steep and was greeted with a sweet explosion that immediately turned to intense bitter. I imagine that a more advanced sipper of Sheng could push through this to discover even more epic sweetness and flavor notes, but I am still learning the art of the raw pu erh.
Marco Polo TTB
It has been a day of highs and lows for me so far, the highs are awesome, the lows are pretty frustrating because they affect my tea drinking! First off, pretty sure I have Ben’s stupid cold/flu, meaning my sense of taste and smell will be utterly gone for a few days. Second my electric kettle broke, just decided to stop heating things. I feel like I lost a friend, it left me feeling empty and lost…I take my tea gear very seriously. Of course I took to facebook lamenting the death of my kettle, and a dear friend bought me a replacement, how awesome is that! My new kettle will be here on the 5th, I think my sanity will hold until then.
Today’s tea is a dessert themed tea from Butiki Teas! Red Queen Cupcake is inspired by one of the winner of Cupcake War’s creations, a cupcake that mixes chocolate and espresso with vanilla frosting and fresh strawberries, that sounds so yummy. This blend is made from Dinjoye Estate Assam, Chocolate Chips (vegan), Freeze-Dried Strawberries, Safflower, Amaranth, Organic Natural Flavorings (vegan) and is Gluten Free, for those seeking cupcake tasting things like I am. The aroma reminds me of truffles (the chocolate, not the mushroom…I know, weird for me to not be talking about mushrooms) rich chocolate and strawberry truffles with a sprinkling of espresso, it pulls to mind a very specific truffle a friend of mine made, they were quite decadent. The aroma is intensely sweet, perfect for those times you are craving chocolate (when am I not craving chocolate?)
Oh man, steeping this tea is fantastic, the aroma of strawberries, chocolate, and espresso fill my tea area. Sniffing the leaves once they are out of the water I also detect a bit of malt and a slight floral hint at the finish. The liquid without its leafy friends is just intense, the strawberry is so sweet and the chocolate is mouthwatering. There are hints of malt and a delightful kick of espresso at the end.
Before anyone goes ’le’gasp! Traitor to tea! Espresso!’ keep in mind, I used to work at a coffee shop where I was practically fueled by espresso. I might not drink coffee anymore, and I have always preferred tea, but I still love the taste of espresso. Now that I have gotten that out of the way I can say HOLY MOLEY Chocolate! Wow, it starts out with a rich chocolate sweetness, this moves on to espresso, and then to vanilla and juicy strawberries. Lastly there is a bit of espresso and sweet vanilla at the finish that linger into an aftertaste. Butiki recommends taking this with a bit brown crystal sugar, but I really think it is sweet enough, I am tempted to put a little cream in it to make it extra rich, but again it is already super rich.
Flavors: Cake, Chocolate, Espresso, Flowers, Malt, Strawberry
I Had to drop my rating down, after about 9 months my kettle up and died. The little readout still works but it won’t heat up my water anymore. Maybe I used it too much and it exceeded its lifespan…live fast and yard and die young.
I am so bummed about this, since this is pretty much the cheapest variable kettle on the market (with the ability to set and know the temperature) I am probably just going to get another one since it is all I can afford. And of course this happened when I have a million teas to review on my blog, thanks tea kettle…no really, you were awesome…but why did you have to die?
Oh man, I feel really off today, not sure if I am catchy Ben’s stupid cold/flu thing or if I am about to have a Fibromyalgia flair. Either option is unpleasant, but they will pass with time. If it is a fibro flare, I cannot say I will be surprised, I have been so busy with redoing the bedroom, and baking, and other things that I have worn myself out! I do not think I have just spent a day lounging or relaxing in a while, and I still am not finished with the things I need to accomplish. Soon, I am going to have to take a break!
Today’s book is Healthy Teas: Green-Black-Herbal-Fruit by Tammy Safi is a book about the various health benefits of tea. Before you either groan in annoyance or become rapt with excitement, it is not really that fixated on the various miraculous healing properties of tea, most of the health things come from various herbal teas. It has a very tolerable level of health references, like saying that caffeine in tea can help with migraines (but can also be addictive and cause heart problems) that some teas have an alkaline affect on the body making it soothing for people who have ulcers, and that it is a good source of some vitamins and minerals. I am very much so in favor of what can be called ‘basic’ levels of health claims with regards to tea, but I get offended at the various claims out that that make tea come off as a panacea. It gives my favorite drink bad press and makes the legitimately healthy aspects of tea not taken seriously because of all the sensationalist claims, at least that is how I have felt with regards to it…but I digress…
This book touches briefly on the history of tea (and uses fermentation instead of oxidation…that will never stop annoying me I think) and has a brief introduction to various teas separated by country. I did notice two things that made me a bit sad, first off all oolongs come from Taiwan. No, this statement has completely neglected all the beautiful Wuyi oolongs, that is practically criminal, but my obsession with oolongs make me very biased. The other thing that caught my eye was the brewing instructions, a lot of them said use boiling water for green teas. Oh man, anyone who follows those directions is going to end up with some intensely bitter green teas, this I know from experience.
The rest of the book is devoted to recipes for various herbal teas, some of which look quite tasty. Luckily the recipes do not include any really rare or hard to find ingredients, pretty much all of then can be found at a local herb shop. This was a cute little book with some nifty recipes, I say if you want a book that is an introduction to tea and focuses on herbal tea, this is a good pick.
Have you ever wondered where exactly Hobbits come from? Well, my dear sweetheart (and fellow geek) Ben came up with the best theory ever; Hobbits are spawn of Ungoliant! His theory is this, the various spider spawns and Ungoliant herself are known for their perpetual hunger, in face Ungoliant managed to consume herself she was that hungry. One of the main things we know about Hobbits is that they really REALLY like eating, a grand total of seven (probably large) meals a day is not normal. Clearly their ravenous hunger means they are the long lost descendants of the great spider herself.
One of the biggest problems with being Gluten free is lack of certain favorite desserts from my childhood, my mom used to make the most delicious apple or peach crisps for me. Peach Apple Crisp by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company is a blend of Biodynamic Black Loose-Leaf Tea, Organic Nilgiri Loose-Leaf Tea, Organic Assam Loose-Leaf Tea, Organic Orange Peel, Fair Trade Organic Rooibos, Roses, Organic Hibiscus, Safflower, and Natural Flavors, a sizable list of ingredients! The aroma smells pretty varied, there are notes of roses, delicate peaches and apples, a touch of citrus, a bit of woody rooibis, a tiny bit of tart hibiscus, and lastly a sweet malty and caramel finish. It does not really smell like a crisp, but it does smell sweet and fruity, so I enjoy sniffing it.
The brewed leaves are delightfully sweet, there are notes of apples and peaches (real fruit, not candy or fake fruit, always a big plus!) there is also a rich caramel and malt aroma with a tiny bit of rose at the finish. The liquid without it’s leaves is richly malty with accompanying notes of caramel, wood, and fresh peaches and apples. The fruit smells more like cooked fruit than fresh fruit, giving it a bit of a crisp feel.
Tasting the tea, it starts off with a blend of malt, caramel, and woody notes, this gives it a bit of an oatmeal themed crisp crust. This transitions to fairly mild apple and peach with a hint of citrus and an aftertaste of roses. If I close my eyes and imagine I can almost taste the crisp, but with about half as much sugar (which can really easily be fixed with a bit of sweetener) this is one of those teas that is really good at capturing the idea of a crisp without tasting exactly like one. I like it, the tea is a good dessert tea without being overly sweet so it could be a substitute for a dessert or a companion to a sweet dish.
There has been a role reversal in the house today, instead of Ben having to take care of my sickly self, I got to take care of him today. Poor sickly thing either picked up a super nasty cold or the flu, chances are I am going to get it what with the fever and sore throat I have had all day, but it has not hit me as hard as it has him. I feel really bad since he has one of those amazing immune systems and never gets sick, he just does not know how to deal with it. I have been giving him loads of tea which seems to be helping.
Today’s tea is Fu Man Chu, by Serendipitea, a blend of Organic Jasmine Petals, Organic Pouchong, and Organic Pu-erh. I need to start this review by saying that I have always wanted a Fu Man Chu mustache, I mean it is just so cool! Yeah I am one of those nerdy chicks with mustache envy, I think because it just looks fun to twirl while contemplating, I could twirl it while contemplating this tea! The aroma of this tea is quite unique, a blend of heady jasmine and earthy pu-erh. It is like a blend of blooming flowers and a garden after rain, it has that mineral and wet earth aroma. This tea smells like laying on one’s back in a summer garden, a very interesting concept.
Once the tea has been brewed the wet leaves get a bit of that market smell that I associate with some pu-erh, it is a bit metallic, earthy, and has a tiny bit of a wet river mud aroma at the finish. There is also a pretty potent jasmine aroma followed by a honeysuckle sweetness. The liquid is a heady blend of jasmine and orchid with an underlying earthiness and honey sweetness. It is pretty intense!
The taste if this tea is certainly interesting! It starts off sweet and heady, with a strong taste of orchid, honeysuckle, and jasmine. This transitions to earthy pu-erh with a touch of metallic and a slightly bitter finish. Sadly, even though I am always a fan of the unusual, I did not find this particular blend worked for me. It was too contrasting of tastes for me. I do recommend giving it a try though, it is so unusual that it is a tea that needs to be experienced at least once!