523 Tasting Notes
Try as I might I cannot get much of a smell out of the dry leaves, it could be because I am coming down with a cold my boyfriend so sweetly brought home from work. After steeping, yummm the leaves smell very sweet like fresh hay and ripe cherries. There is a hint of sea air in there as well. The liquid is light, a hint of hay and cherries.
Tasty, tasty! A bit of fresh hay, cut grass, and cherries. That cherry taste lingers in the aftertaste for a while. Has a little bit of a dry mouth at the finish.
As some of you might know, I make tea themed advent calenders each year for Christmas, it started as gifts to friends and has exploded into me selling them. I had to do pre-orders early since I will be in Pennsylvania for the holiday (really three months that also include holidays) and as of now, four days before pre-orders close, I am making ten calenders. I am so excited for all the folding of origami envelopes and awesome tea I am going to be introducing people to. I am like some sort holiday elf spreading tea joy to people, which is really fun.
Today’s tea is Kenyan Silver Needle White Tea by What-Cha, as you can tell by the name, this tea comes from the Mount Kenya region of Kenya, Africa. Usually when you see Silver Needle (Baihao Yinzhen) it comes from Fujian, China, but this fuzzy tea brings a unique twist since it is from a whole new terroir. The aroma of this particular silver needle is nothing short of mouthwatering, which is why I advise pouring the tea you wish to sniff out of the bag, don’t want to ruin tea by drooling. It is incredibly sweet with notes of peaches and sweet corn, this transitions to floral notes that very much so brings to mind blooming peony flowers. This tea is very fragrant and so very sweet!
I decided to go pseudo-gongfu for my first brewing of the leaves. I discovered (thanks to the power of books and experimentation) that if you brew a silver needle at 185 degrees for 15 minutes, it is fantastic. So I used my gaiwan and tiny cups (mainly for aesthetic reasons, I really like my auspicious gaiwan) and just used less leaf than I would for a usual gongfu session. The brewed leaves have a very strong aroma, even more floral with notes of peony being dominant with a touch of honeysuckle and hyacinth. There are also notes of sweet corn giving the tea leaves an extra sweetness and richness. The poured off liquid is very creamy and sweet with notes of sweet corn and honey.
After a slightly long wait (the only real problem with a 15 minute steep) the mouth feel is very smooth with just a hint of fuzz from the leaves. The taste, well it is fantastic, it manages to be delicate and very rich, it fills up the mouth while not overpowering. The tea starts out very sweet with notes of hay and sweet corn, this transitions to sweet sesame seed, like Halva. After the sweetness there is a strong peony blossom that that lingers into a nectar like aftertaste. The finish is surprisingly fuzzy, adding a delightful tickle to the back of the tongue.
I will admit, I have become mildly addicted to this tea, it Grandpa Styles wonderfully and I have found myself sipping on it for hours. As the tea loses its steam it becomes more floral and slightly vegetal with a lettuce tinge at the end. This tea has become one of my go-to teas to use in my travel steeper, especially on my Thursday game nights where everyone comments on the pretty leaves floating in water. For those wondering how it compares to Silver Needles from Fujian, I would say it is definitely sweeter and has a wonderful sweet corn note that the Chinese variety lacks, the Fujian Silver Needle is much milder and tastes more of fresh vegetation and sweet flowers. I still love the Chinese Silver Needle, but Kenyan Needle has stolen my heart.
Baking Frenzy! Yeah, I finally amassed enough ingredients to bake some healthy gluten free snacks and yummies. I wanted to have a stock of food in the freezer that I could just warm things up as I need them. I still have a bunch more cooking to do, but today’s batch mostly turned out delicious. As someone who notoriously botches food, this was a pleasant experience. Only the cheesy millet cakes turned out meh, not sure if it is fault of me or it just not being something I like.
Speaking of things I like, today’s tea! Eco-Cha Artisan Tea surprised me with a few of their spring and summer harvest teas and I am starting off with the first one I cracked into: Dong Ding Oolong Tea (Spring 2014) I thoroughly enjoyed last year’s Dong Ding, and am excited to see how this one compares and to see how my palate has evolved. The aroma of this roasted oolong is yum! Really that is what the first word in my tasting journal says about the tea’s aroma, it says a lot more, but I always consider that a good beginning. It is a blend of roasted notes and floral notes, retaining the original honeysuckle and orchid notes of the pre-roasted tea. The roasted notes start out with sweet caramelized sugar, cashew butter, roasted sesame, and a hint of acorn squash. It is quite sweet and the mild hint of smoke at the finish adds a level of complexity and is a really great finish.
Unsurprisingly, this tea went into my gaiwan, and after a brief steeping the aroma of the tea filled my tea area. Tao, my fat fluffball of a cat actually woke up and had to come give it a sniff. Taking a cue from my cat and sniffing the wet leaves, I notice that it is a touch smokier now and also not as sweet. There is a strong cooked acorn squash (possibly grilled with that touch of smoke) along with toasted sesame and pine nuts. The liquid is where most the sweetness went, there are notes of honey, roasted sesame and cashew butter. At the end there is a distant whiff of honeysuckle nectar.
Before I get into the taste of the first steep, let me tell you a little about my relationship with roasted Dong Ding Oolongs. I always have to have some on hand, even if it is a low quality (though I of course prefer the good stuff) it is the tea I drink when I feel bad, it is the tea I drink when I am homesick, I reach for this tea on cold winter mornings and chilly autumn evenings, I sip it during summer when I am longing for autumn, this is my feel good tea…but enough of that! The taste of the first steep is sweet with a smooth mouthfeel, there are notes of roasted corn, acorn squash, and cashew butter. The initial sweet almost grain like quality at the beginning transitions to roasted nuts and a finish of spicebush* that lingers.
I should warn you all, I steeped this tea a lot, so strap in as we move onto steep two. The aroma of the liquid is a blend of sweet spicebush and cashew butter with a hint of smoke at the finish. The taste is smokier and sharper, it has a slight dryness at the finish that has a lip smacking quality. It starts out with smoke and then moves to roasted nuts, acorn squash and cashew butter, the spicebush is there at the finish again. This steep was a bit richer than the first steep.
Time for a third steeping, and the aroma of the liquid this time around is quite sweet, more so than the previous steeps. There are notes of spicebush, burnt sugar, and cashew butter, there is also just a tiny hint of smoke at the finish, but it is very faint. The taste starts out smoky, though not as strong as the previous steep, there is hint of tobacco and a finish of burnt sugar and roasted sesame. The mouthfeel starts out smooth and finishes with a slight dryness.
For the fourth steep the aroma is gentle, with subtle notes of burnt sugar and spicebush, there is a whiff of smoke at the finish. This steep is by far the mildest, it is gentle, like drifting off to sleep, the taste of smoke at the finish is faint, it fades to burnt sugar and cashew butter sweetness that lingers into the aftertaste. Recently on Twitter I was asked which roasted Dong Ding is my favorite, I listed Eco-Cha’s as part of my top three based on last year’s harvest, tasting this year’s I might have to change it to my favorite.
*A brief note on spicebush, since I have had a few people wondering what that is. I am reffering to the plant Calycanthus occidentalis which has extremely fragrant red flowers whose fragrance (at least to me) is a mixture of allspice, exotic flowers, musk, and a rich heaviness like spiced red wine. In one of the houses I lived in back in Georgia, there was a hedgerow of spicebushes between my yard and a forest, when they would bloom the aroma was intense!
Ben and I are in the middle of a very silly research project, Stellar Coronae! It started when we were discussing decals to use on the side of his UCM tanks and wanted an eclipse with a blue corona, I said I was not sure that blue stars have blue coronae because I could not remember if it was caused by elements, heat, or something else. It has been a long time since I brushed up on astronomy, so I am enjoying my little bit of science research.
Since it fits into the subject at hand, today’s tea is C of Tranquility by Good Life Tea, an herbal blend with citrus, tartness, and superfruits. For those not into Astronomy, the Sea of Tranqulity (or Mare Tranquillitatis) is one of the dark spots on the moon which early Astronomers mistook for water. I have a little bit of fear with this tea, you all probably know by this time that I am not a fan of Hibiscus or tart teas, but you also know that I am willing to try anything and everything, because you never know, sometimes I like things I thought I would not. The aroma is very berry filled, like dried cherries, elderberries, and blueberries. It has a sweet and tart quality with a nice citrus burst at the finish. The tartness is more of a fruity tartness rather than a hibiscus tartness, my fear is lessened.
The brewed leaves (and fruity bits) have a very sweet and fruity aroma, it is like a collection of berries with a side of citrus and a tiny hint of tart. The liquid is very berry filled sweet with a bit of that fruity tartness you get from dried berries (especially ones like cherries and cranberries) there is also a nice bit of citrus at the finish.
Ok, time to taste! It is vibrantly red and usually vibrantly red teas are filled with hibiscus tartness. I love the color of hibiscus, it is so pretty and vibrant, I could ogle it all day. The taste starts out with a punch of slightly metallic tartness (hibiscus always tastes a little metallic to me) which of course makes my salivary glands more or less explode. The tartness is very quick, it fades almost immediately to sweet berries and slightly sour lemony notes, the finish is sweet with berry notes that linger. I don’t hate it, I actually finished the cup, though it did give me a bit of heartburn (another reason I don’t like hibiscus and rose hips, they are a little too acidic) so I do not think I would seek it out because of that. Taste wise I could see myself drinking it on occasion, especially when I am in the mood for berries.
Flavors: Berries, Citrusy, Dried Fruit, Hibiscus, Metallic, Sweet, Tart
Today’s nugget of tea knowledge is The Book of Green Tea by Christine Dattner and it is, problematic. Probably not the best way to start out a review, but I just can’t think of any other way to introduce this book. It claims to be the book of green tea (it is right there in the title after all) but it spends an equal amount of time talking about other teas, and the time it spends on its intended subject matter is…problematic.
I know, I know…I keep using that word, let me explain why. First off, this book needed editing, at first I thought it needed editing by someone more versed in tea, but the more I read the more I realized that it needed editing by someone who was looking for consistencies. Oh man, so many inconsistencies, some exciting examples are Gyokuro being translated as precious rose in one place and precious dew in another…or my favorite calling Huang Shan Mu Dang (or Huang Shan Lu Mu Dan as I know it, translation error?) Huang Shan Mao Feng earlier in the book. Maybe it was because I had a splitting headache when I was reading this book and my tolerance was low, but the mistakes made me audibly groan.
There were also a lot of things that were just incorrect, but this is one of those things that I am not sure if it is due to a lack of easy to obtain information at the time. On the one hand I feel like in 2003 (when this book was written) that there were enough books and information on the internet that you could have gotten correct information on Gong Fu Cha and basic tea facts. However I will give it the benefit of the doubt, at least until I finish my time machine and can go back to 2003 to check for myself. So take that with a grain of salt.
This book is not all bad though, it is actually quite pretty and has some decent info. For instance I love the amount of detail it goes into for Moroccan tea, there are several pages devoted to Moroccan tea culture and history with some very nice photos. The various brewing instructions for the various teas is spot on, especially pleased to see Darjeeling shown at a lower temperature than other black teas. There are also some delicious looking tea themed recipes, a couple of them I might actually try.
So long story short, do I recommend this book? Well, no. It is not bad, there is certainly some moments where I actually contemplated adding this book to my collection, but all of this info is available in other books, other more correct and edited books. I say buy it if you think tea books are like Pokemon and you have to catch them all, if not, then I say search elsewhere.
Last night was just awesome, it was Thursday meaning Board Game Night at Tabletop, and it was certainly one of the better nights I have had there. I played so many good games (will be discussing some of those tomorrow on my weekly Geeky rambling post) and then after gaming just hung around with friends talking until almost 3AM. I feel wretched today and my sleep schedule is all messed up, but it is totally worth it.Today’s tea is Fengqing Ancient Tree Raw Pu-erh Cake 2014 from Teavivre, a Sheng Pu-erh from Alihou Village in Fenging, Yunnan. The leaves were harvested in April-May of 2014 from Large Leaf trees that were 300-600 years old, making this the youngest Pu-Erh I have had the pleasure of meeting. I still have a lot to learn about Sheng Pu-erh, having only had a few examples so far. The aroma of the dry leaf is quite potent and a little pungent, but in a good way. The aroma is at first very sweet, like fresh hay and apricots, this transitions to more of a wet hay mushroom aroma with a strong honey note. There is also a very faint saltiness to it which is quite interesting.
Once I give the leaves a rinsing and then a brief steeping their aroma is still sweet and just a little bit fruity, but it is mostly wet hay, a bit of barnyard, and a sharp almost sour quality that does not really have a familiar aroma note, it is more of a sensation in my nose. I should state that it is not an unpleasant sensation, but it is an unfamiliar one. The liquid is very sweet, a mix of apricots, freshly mown hay, and honey. I was surprised at sweet it smelled.
The taste of the first steep is both sharp and sweet, it causes a very strong salivary response and an intense cooling sensation which is very refreshing. The flavor notes are freshly mown hay, apricot, and a finish of vegetation and a tiny bit of bitterness. There is a sweet honey aftertaste that lingers for a while.
Onto steep two! The aroma is sweet apricot and freshly mown hay, this still might be the sweetest smelling Sheng Pu-Erh that I have ever sniffed, I find that really kinda awesome. The taste this time around is a lot more mellow, no sharpness, no bitterness, no cooling salivary response, just smooth sweetness. The flavors are wet hay, fresh vegetation, and apricots. At the finish there is a tiny bit of camphor, which is something I do not get to say very often.
The aroma for the third steep is honey sweet, apricots, and fresh hay. There is a little touch of wet hay and barnyard this time, but it is very faint. The taste is very sweet and rich, the cooling sensation has returned along with tastes of fresh hay, honey, and apricot. I think this tea still has quite a few steeps in it, but sadly after the second steep I started noticing stomach spasms and knew after steep three that I had to call it quits. This has NOTHING to do with the tea, sometimes my stomach decides to freak out, and I have noticed that it has a mixed track record with Sheng, so don’t let my belly stop you! I really thought this tea was enjoyable, especially with how sweet it is.
So I tried something new and exciting today, I made popped amaranth! It is pretty tasty, similar to popcorn but with an earthier taste, I certainly think I like it better than popcorn…plus no annoying kernels being stuck in my teeth! This is part of my experimenting trying to find easy to make, relatively cheap, naturally gluten free (not a substitute like gluten free waffles or crackers) snacks. My next experiment will be toasted millet, though I do find myself wondering what these toasted and popped grains would be like in Genmaicha.
So, have you ever found yourself craving Chai right before bed but knew there was no way you would sleep if you drank one? The Persimmon Tree Tea Company’s Rooibos Vanilla Chai might just be a solution for midnight Chai cravings. Made from Organic Rooibos, Vanilla Flavoring, Ginger Pieces, Cinnamon Pieces, Cardamon, Cloves, and Orange Pieces. The aroma is very sweet and spice, as expected from a Chai! There are notes of vanilla, woody rooibos, caramel, and mostly well balanced spices. I say mostly because the ginger is a bit stronger than the other spices.
After giving the tea a good steeping, the aroma is very spicy, heavy notes of clove and ginger. It reminds me of the holidays, very warm and comforting aroma. There are also fairly gentle notes of vanilla and sweet, woody, rooibos. The liquid is mellow, a nice sweet blend of rooibos, spices, vanilla, and a tiny hint of orange.
I find myself frequently craving night time Chai in the colder months, the warming spices and richness of the tea is very soothing when the weather is cold and you are snuggling under blankets with a cup of tea. It is many months away from winter, but I can certainly imagine it when sipping this tea! Since this is a Chai I made it with my usual cream and sugar, but only a hint of sugar since a pre-additive sip let me know that this tea is already quite sweet. The spices are nicely balanced, as with the aroma there is a little more ginger and clove than the other spices, which blends really well with the woodiness of the rooibos. Of course the cream brings out the vanilla giving the tea an extra richness.At the finish there is a bit of orange, which adds an extra layer of warmth to tea. I really like that this is a caffeine free Chai, I am a great lover of Chai both traditional and fun new takes on the tea.
This one did not have too much of an aroma, just a bit of toasted nuts and green beans. Steeping the leaves brings out a sharp vegetal aroma, like kale and artichoke. The liquid is green beans and spinach, not a very sweet smelling dragonwell.
This doesn’t taste like any dragonwell I have ever had, it tastes more like a yun wu with cherry and lychee notes and distinct spinach and Brussels sprout taste. There is a tiny hint of the expected toasty taste, but mostly it is all vegetal and slightly sweet.
The second steep has more of the typical toasted sesame and green bean taste that I am used to, but it does still have a strong spinach and Brussels sprout taste, which is a neat take on it. I kinda like it!
So this is a tea that has been on my ‘to try’ list for over a year, I was fascinated by the elevated GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma-Aminobutyric_acid ) in the tea. Fun and totally useless fact, my main medication for controlling my Fibromyalgia (and other things…added benefit) is Gabapentin, yep, same GABA! Luckily the amount is pretty small (average 280mg per 100g) so I don’t have to worry about OD’ing or anything. The aroma of the wet leaves is pretty sweet, like burnt sugar, plums, and a touch of toast. After steeping the leaves have a very distinct stewed plums and cherry aroma, it smells more like dessert than tea! The liquid is a blend of stewed plums, cherries, apricot (what is this, a compote?) and spicebush.
How interesting! It doesn’t taste like any oolong I have ever had, it is woody, sweet, and fruity with a distinctly sour cherry finish. Makes my salivary glands happy, though as of steep one I am not sure what I think of the taste. It is really mild but still has distinct flavors. My mouth is confused!!!
The aroma of the second steep is still very fruity and the spice is stronger (why do I suddenly hear sandworms in the distance?) the taste is sweet, not that sourness from the first steep…well, certainly not as strong. At the finish there is still some sourness. The majority of the taste is fruity but there is still not much going on, it tastes almost watered down which is surprising considering the leaves are pushing the lid of my gaiwan up. There is also a slight bitterness at the finish. I still do not know what to think of this tea.