501 Tasting Notes
It’s Sunday, that means it is time to crack open a tea book for review. Of course I have a cup of tea to sip while writing this (and while reading it) I am on steep number four of some Da Hong Pao and getting a bit tea drunk. Tea Culture: History, Traditions, Celebrations, Recipes & More by Beverly Dubrin is a fairly short book with lots of lovely photographs and little nuggets of tea information.
Sadly I am unable to show lots fun photos of me reading this book because I checked out a digital copy from my library. You guys will have to take my word for it that the photos are pretty good, lots of historical photos and ones of various cultures enjoying tea. I will supply just random tea photos to break up the wall of text.
This would be a good book for someone really new to tea, I mean really new. Have a friend who just bought their first box of teabags from the grocery store and wants to know more about tea, but you are not sure if it is a passing phase or a real interest? I suggest this book for them. After typing that I realize that might seem a bit condescending, but it really was not meant to be. There is nothing wrong with a passing phase, or an introduction to a new subject, we all have to start somewhere!
As you probably noticed from the rather long title, this book has tea history, including the connection to the Opium Wars, too many books gloss over that nasty bit of history, which I find bothersome. Tea culture goes somewhat in depth into Chado (or Chanoyu, Japanese Tea Ceremony) and touches on Morrocan tea, English Tea, Russian tea, and the occasion of having tea at a Chinese Restaurant (apparently it is Jasmine tea? I always was served oolong!) There was no mention of Gongfu Cha, which I found odd…not to mention any of the other tea cultures from around the world. Of course the section on various types of tea drinkers (casual, purists, masters) was a bit annoying, there is no need for labels, if you drink tea you are a tea drinker. That is just a pet peeve of mine.
The rather long section on tea bags make it very clear that the author is a huge fan of the bags, describing their lofty talents of making the perfect cup, since teaballs and infusers do not allow for the best expansion of leaves, and often make the cup bitter because leaves get left behind. Also that the silk pyramid bags are very eco-friendly, sadly perpetuating the myth…they are just plastic, not at all biodegradable. Teabags have been elevated to a new level in both quality of tea and packaging. I am not going to straight up say this is wrong, but I certainly do not agree with these statements. Teabags are fine, even I use them occasionally, but it is almost like drinking a whole different drink and not tea. To me it is like the difference between 4% milk fat cottage cheese and fat free cottage cheese, they are clearly the same thing but they are so different I cannot file them as the same in my brain.
If you are going to give this book a read or you are going to gift it, I honestly suggest skipping the section on processing all together. There are so many inaccuracies that I actually cringed a bit, really there are too many to list. At least the author uses the term oxidation instead of fermentation when describing the process of, well, oxidation. I have seen a lot of books originally written in Chinese translate that incorrectly which has caused some rather confusing bits of information floating around. Also the section on decaffeinating your own tea by rinsing it is so annoyingly untrue that it actually offends me a bit, mainly because it can be a health hazard. Imagine a person who has to limit caffeine intake reads this section and thinks they have a nice decaffeinated cup of tea, yeah, that can only end poorly. At the same time I have to give this book some props for saying that various herbal teas’s health benefits are presumed and not a definite.
As much as it seems like I am tearing this book apart, it does have some good qualities. The brewing guide is decent (no Gongfu style steeping, but not really surprising, this is an entry level book after all) and the recipes for different kinds of tea is pretty cool. I like that it even includes instructions for cooking Boba for bubble tea (they can be surprisingly picky about preparation, silly little balls) and includes both traditional drinks and fun herbal blends and lattes. I actually jotted down a few of the recipes to use later, I think they could be a hit at family gatherings. There are also food recipes so you can have traditional scones and sandwiches for your fancy tea party, which there is also tips on how to plan on of those.
The last section of the book was titled ‘Beyond Tea’ which made me imagine a teapot flying out into space, clearly I watch and read too much Sci-Fi. This section covers other uses for tea, like teabag art, hair and skin care, and general things of that nature. It is super short though, so clearly the flying teapot did not go too far. So, can I recommend this book? Yes and no, like I said earlier, a beginner can get a good start on this book, however the incorrect information makes me cringe and want to snatch the book away before it damages the reader’s perception of tea. On the other hand it has some yummy recipes so I can certainly recommend it as a tea cook book. This book is decent and very problematic.
Happy Friday everyone, I am currently typing this from my nice antique writing desk in the bedroom. Ben was a real sweetheart and set up a temporary ‘tea lair’ for me until we are able to redo the room, so far I am really loving not having to walk up stairs. One thing I am really excited for when setting up the tea lair in the bedroom is I am going to use my writing desk as a dedicated tea station and I will have all my crafts and other stuff on my other desk. It is going to be awesome to a less cluttered tea area.
Today’s tea is Teavivre’s Silver Needle White Tea (Bai Hao Yin Zhen) probably my favorite of the white teas, it is beautifully fuzzy and delicate, and it is amazingly forgiving when brewing. I have been known to take a silver needle and spend the day brewing it in different ways, enjoying all the subtle variations in taste. This particular Bai Hao Yin Zhen is from Fuding, Fujian, China, harvested March 22, 2014 just a few days after the Vernal Equinox. The aroma of these adorable silver fuzzy leaves is like a field of wildflowers, there are notes of fresh vegetation, hay, flower nectar, and wildflowers. There are also notes of honey, sweet corn, and lettuce. Silver Needle is a complex yet delicate smelling pile of leaves, I have always enjoyed that about it.
I decided to brew this tea in the new style that is all the rage with tea sippers, Grandpa Style! Ok, it is not a new style, people in China have been drinking tea this way for ages, it is the way of sipping for the common man. If you have not had the pleasure of trying it, simply get a bowl (or cup, I prefer tea bowls) toss in some leaves, add water and sip your tea. As the day progresses you just add more water until your leaves are done. The aroma of the steeping leaves is delicate and sweet, there are notes of fresh vegetation, hay, and wildflowers with just a hint of lettuce.
It is not really the first steep, but the first sipping is delicate and sweet. There are notes of honey, fresh hay, lettuce, and a touch of wildflowers. The mouthfeel is smooth and slightly tickly from the fuzzy trichomes, I always find myself becoming really happy when I can feel the fuzzies in my mouth, I know some people prefer to strain them out (giving their strainers a nice velveteen coating) because it makes their mouth itch or makes them cough (my mom is in that boat) but not I.
I added more water and sipped on the tea for the better part of three hours, it is hard to translate that into steeps, but my electric kettle politely informed me that I used half a liter. The more I sip the sweeter the tea gets, more honey sweet and a touch of sweet corn. There is also a note of sage that gets stronger and then eventually fades.
When I get to the end of the tea’s life pretty much all that is left is faint honey sweetness and a touch of lettuce. The tea never gets bitter, and if you let it get chilled (be leaving the room to make food, just an example) and come back to it, the taste is still pretty good, though I prefer it warmer. I certainly recommend giving Silver Needle a go Grandpa Style, it is relaxing and refreshing…perfect for a warm summer day.
Flavors: Flowers, Hay, Honey, Lettuce, Sage
A classic tea, jasmine green teas have been sipping in China for an exceptionally long time, far longer than I have been sipping tea (see, I am not a time traveler, I swear) and it just might be a lot of people in the West’s first encounter with green tea. The aroma if this particular jasmine green is quite heady and sweet, it does not have the perfume aroma that some jasmine teas have, instead it has the aroma of fresh jasmine flowers in bloom. Surprisingly there is no aroma of the base green tea at all, the same goes for the brewed leaves. The liquid sans leaves is honey sweet with jasmine headiness and a delicate hint of fresh vegetation.
The first steep is surprisingly sweet, like flower nectar and sugar, there is also a nice heady taste of jasmine that permeates throughout the entire sipping experience. At the end of the taste and into the aftertaste there is a fairly delicate fresh vegetation taste, there is no bitterness at all.
For the second steep the aroma is very jasmine heavy, the fresh vegetation aroma from previously is still present, but it is stronger. The taste starts out sweet and jasmine heavy, this transitions to slightly smoky green, like fresh vegetation and spinach. The smoke is barely present, like a tiny whiff of a distant fire. Again, the tea is mild and not at all bitter. I am always fan of jasmine teas that are not overwhelming.
This tea had me a bit worried before I saw the ingredients, I thought it was a Lady Grey…a tea which I have a very reliable track record of disliking. Luckily this is not a Lady Grey, it is a Lady Earl Grey, made from Nilgiri Black Tea, Bergamot, Vanilla Flavor, and Cornflowers. It is one of those tasty creamy Earls that I tend to like. The aroma is very much so creamy sweet vanilla, bright bergamot, and malty black tea. Not very complex, but still very nice to sniff. The brewed tea is stronger in the citrus department, with the malt and sweet vanilla taking a backseat. And by taking a backseat I mean it sneaked off into the liquid, which is almost all creamy vanilla and malt.
The taste is not bad! It starts out brisk and lemony, just a touch of bitter like lemon pith, this very quickly passes. Afterwards we get a nice, creamy vanilla and malt taste, it is quite sweet. There is a tiny bit of a soapy quality, resident Earl Grey afficianado did not notice it, so your mileage may very on that one. I notice sometimes that teas with bergamot taste a tiny bit soapy to me, that is the only tea ingredient that has every tasted soapy. Earl Greys are not my favorite tea ever, but I still enjoy them ever so often, especially creamy sweet ones.
Oh man, I love blueberries so much, they might be my favorite fruit and they are certainly my favorite fruity additive to various things. This particular tea is a blend of Shou Mei White Tea, Blueberries, Blueberry Flavor, and Cornflowers for a very intensely blueberry tea. When I opened the package I was greeted with a potent blueberry aroma similar to blueberry jam, it is intensely sweet. Under this strong blueberry aroma there is a nice leafy green, like fresh vegetation and lettuce. Brewing the tea turns my tea lair into a blueberry lair! It is sweet and fruity with a gentle hint of vegetation, the liquid without its leafy friends is essentially the same, but with an extra honey sweetness.
The taste is surprisingly gentle and delicate, I was expecting an explosion of blueberries, instead we have a gentle caress of Shou Mei. The taste starts out a blend of fresh vegetation, lettuce, and a touch of earthiness. This transitions to slightly peppery blueberries, but it is like someone squeezed some blueberry juice in my white tea, or I just ate blueberries and then drank some white tea. As the tea chills it takes on a bit of a sage taste to it which goes really well with the blueberries. Absolutely yum!
Remember about a month ago when Ben let me borrow his computer to play the Minecraft demo? I have not been able to go back to the Xbox version since then, I tasted the forbidden fruit and now I cannot go back. Sadly my computer is garbage, so I have come up with a plan…I am going to save my money and get a desktop PC. I will get the cheapest I can (that will still play my beloved Minecraft) and then add to it as I get more money and can upgrade it. My next goal would be to make Let’s Play videos (mainly for my mom to watch, hehe) it is going to take forever, probably about six months before I can do it, but it will be a thing of beauty. Wish me luck!
But enough about my geeky goals, it is time for tea! Today’s tea is from What-Cha, a new tea company from my ancestral homeland of England (ok, not that ancestral since my dad was English.) Before I get into the review I have to point out their company logo. It is a Chinese dragon wearing a top hat and sipping tea…I have never been more in love with a logo EVER, if it ever gets made into a tea-shirt I would wear it constantly.
Anyway, Guangdong Big Black Leaf ‘Da Wu Ye’ Dan Cong Oolong is a lightly roasted curly leaf oolong from Guangdong Province in China. I admit, I did not know much about this particular Dan Cong, so I did a bit of research (like I do) and discovered that Da Wu Ye belongs to the orchid aroma category and it is one of the teas suitable for making the Ginger Flower Fragrance or Jian Hua Xiang. The aroma of the dry leaves is heady and very sweet, there are intense notes of orchid and orange blossom, this sweet flower nectar aroma also has a creamy quality and a hint of lychees and a tiny little blip of toasted sesame at the finish. I might have spent the entire time the tea kettle was heating up with my nose in the leaves, just enjoying their delicious aroma.
And into the gaiwan it goes for a nice, brief steeping. The real trick to get the most out of a Dan Cong is a short first steep and then longer ones on the later steeps, at least if you are brewing it in a gaiwan. After their steeping, the leaves now have a milky and nutty aroma, still sweet but only a fraction of the previous sweetness, it is very rich. The liquid is quite interesting, with notes of milk, black walnuts, honey, and sweet undertones of flower nectar. The aroma has a heaviness to it.
The first sipping is delicate, with a flowery beginning of orchids and nectar sweetness. This fades to a creamy fruitiness that is a blend of lychees and scuppernongs. The finish is fun, it has a sharp taste and mouthfeel that reminds me of black walnuts. It is a bit uncanny how the finish is just like I ate a handful of black walnuts, such delicious and intense nuts.
For the second steeping, the aroma is much more floral than the first steeping, there are sweet notes of orange blossom and orchid, the finish is nutty. The taste starts out sweet and smooth, with floral notes and a touch of honey. This transitions to black walnuts with a sharp, slightly dry finish. The black walnut taste lingers as an aftertaste.
Third steeping time! The aroma is faintly sweet, a bit of nuttiness and a bit of floral. It is pretty faint compared to the previous steep’s aroma. The taste this time around starts off with black walnut, there is still a touch of sharpness, but it is not as strong. This fades to a gentle orange blossom sweetness that lingers as an aftertaste. Well, what I have learned from this is I really need to try more Dan Cong Oolongs, all the ones I have had have been unique and very enjoyable. I also look forward to trying more of the samples that What-Cha sent my way.
Flavors: Honey, Orange Blossom, Orchid, Walnut
Happy Monday everyone, I feel absolutely awful, when I go to the Rheumatologist next week I am going to have to have a long conversation on why the medication he gave me stopped working and why I keep progressively feeling worse. Despite the pain I am in a good mood, I feel creative and inspired to do crafty things, a positive outlook (and copious amounts of tea) does make things better in the long run.
Today’s Tea is SerendipiTea’s Really Goethe, an award winning tea inspired by famous writer, philosopher, and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This tea blends together Chinese Green Tea, Jasmine Petals, Laurel, Lemon Myrtle, and Rose Petals for a very pretty looking pile of leaves. The aroma is very floral and refreshing, with notes of heady roses and jasmine and a strong citrus note from the lemon myrtle. There are hints of honey sweetness and fresh vegetation as well.
The brewed tea has a nice zing of lemon myrtle, it is a fascinating scent blending the aroma of fresh lemon and a touch of crushed leaves. There are also hints of roses and jasmine with a touch of honey. The liquid is gently sweet and herbaceous with accompanying notes of roses and lemon myrtle.
Tasting the tea, it is quite delicate and refreshing, it blends the taste of fresh herbs and vegetation, floral notes and a bright citrus. It starts unassuming with the green notes and then transitions to roses and jasmine (like journeying from stem to blossom) and then finishes with lemon and a sweet, flower nectar aftertaste. This tea is really good on a day when you want something flavorful while not being overpowering, something that is gentle on the senses.
Today’s tea is not one you drink with your mouth, but one you drink with your mind. Ok, you can drink your tea book if you really want to, but as much as I love the smell of paper, I do not think it tastes the best. The other day when I posted on Twitter that I was thinking about reviewing the tea books I own (and ones I can get at my library) I asked if anyone had any requests…and the response was ‘my favorite’ which is a challenge in itself!Tea Sommelier by Gabriella Lombardi and Fabio Petroni just might fill that bill. When I first saw this book last Christmas while browsing at Barnes and Noble I knew I had to add it to my collection, I flipped through it every time I visited the bookstore (which is a lot, Ben and my favorite dates always end up with us at a bookstore…we have a thing for books) and waiting till the price on Amazon dropped to something I could afford. I just procured this book for my collection last week, and I am pleased as punch, because it is a beauty!
Looks alone do not make a book, unless it is a book that is specifically about visuals, which this one is not. Even though it has the look and incredible photography of a coffee table book, it is loaded with useful information. Tea Sommelier approaches the art of sipping tea very much so like it is an art and from a professional taster’s perspective. Borrowing much of the jargon from the Wine Sommelier world and shaping it to fit the world of tea.
The book is divided into a typical brief introduction on the history of tea, the tea plant itself, various methods of preparing tea, a decent sized section on professional tea tasting (including ISO cupping standards) a whopping 135 pages devoted to different kinds of tea, and lastly a colorful selection of gourmet recipes.
There are some things about this book that I absolutely love. It is beautiful, a work of art showcasing fantastic teas, tea gear, and photography. The history of tea mentioning all three of the myths concerning the creation of tea was especially amusing, too many books skip over Bodhidharma (Daruma) tearing off his eyelids in a fit of rage after falling asleep and said eyelids growing into tea trees. It is a weird myth but everything concerning Daruma is a little quirky. I love how it pairs each tea with foods that it tastes good with, as the person who is always in charge of matching tea to whatever foods and people’s tastes at family events…it is very nice to have a handy guide to turn to.
There are, however, some things that make me go ‘eh’ as well, nothing is ever perfect and I tend to be picky with books. For all that the photos in this book are fantastic works of art, I really get annoyed with lightbox photography. Some of the colors of the tea just seem wrong, either too dark or too vibrantly green, I have never seen some of the delicate Chinese green teas in that shade of green either in my own sipping experience or online, it is really a minor gripe, it just weirds me out a bit. My big gripe is the whole language and approach to tea in this book seems, well, unapproachable, similar to the way gourmet cuisine and wine tasting can seem very unapproachable to someone not already in the know. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially for someone who is already well into tea world, but if you are new to the tea world it might seem a but imposing. I suppose this is part of a greater rant that certain aspects of the tea world (lovingly and not so lovingly at times call tea snobbery) tend to come off as unwelcoming to newcomers, which is something I am strongly against. I am very much so in the ‘oh hey, want to try tea, let me shower you with yummies until you find your favorite’ mindset.
One thing about this book that has sent me into a near tizzy researching is the approach to the tea Huang Shan Huo Ya. Everywhere on the internet and every book I have read has called it a Yellow Tea, Tea Sommlier calls it a green tea that commonly gets labeled as a yellow tea due to poor translation. Since I was unable to find any other factual inconsistencies anywhere else in the book I really find myself wanting to know. So far, no luck.
So, why is this book still my favorite? Because it is beautiful, because it treats tea as an art, because I still dream of one day being a Tea Sommelier. Do I recommend it? Heck yes! If you are a newbie to tea just approach with caution…the tea world is not all fancy teas, elegant teapots, and lofty concepts…we are also lovers of quirky blends, teabags, herbal teas, and re-purposed coffee mugs. Don’t feel intimidated by tasting terms and Grand Cru teas. If you are a well seasoned sipper (or a well seasoned Yixing Teapot that has gained sentience) then this book is a great reference tool. Either way, the overwhelming prettiness of this book is certainly a plus!
So, I have a new plan for my blog…drumroll…weekends are going to have a new bit of fun attached to them! Saturdays are going to be geek and craft days, meaning I will review/ramble/showcase something geeky or craft related (or both) and Sundays are going to be Tea Book Days! I have a decent amount of tea books in my collection and have a bunch at my local library, plus I am always looking for more. I am excited about this!
For blog and photos (photos of photos in a book, that is so meta): http://ramblingbutterflythoughts.blogspot.com/2014/08/tea-sommelier-tea-book-review.html
Finally, I have finished the pile of Toshie’s Jewels for my planned garland. Though finishing my garland I think it is too big for my Tea Lair and I will put it in the bedroom instead. If I am lucky Espeon will not take up acrobatics to attack it, if not, well it will be entertaining to watch. The paper I used is probably some of the prettiest origami paper I have used, the detail on the patterns is just spectacular, I want more but it is obnoxiously hard to find and really expensive. It was luck and ebay that got me the paper in the first place.
Today’s tea is Lotus from The Persimmon Tree Tea Company, a Vietnamese green tea scented in the traditional way with lotus blossoms giving this tea an ancient feel. The process of scenting a tea is really quite neat, for Lotus scent, the green tea is stuffed into a lotus blossom overnight or the stamens are taken from the lotus flowers and placed in a jar overnight with the tea, there they absorb its aroma and lends a floral taste to the tea. The website advises multiple steeps, so you know what that means, gaiwan time! The aroma of the dry leaves is pretty intense, very strong anise aroma with touches of honey, yeasty bread, green stems, and just the faintest hint of pepper. It is strange to call such a spicy aroma heady, but it is like sniffing a spicy flower.
After a nice visit with some warm water in the gaiwan, the now wet leaves’s aroma fills my tea lair with anise and pepper. The aroma is a paradox, it manages to be both heavy and light, it is one of the few times I have a hard time explaining the effect. The intensity gives it weight, but the notes in the aroma make it seem light, it is a pretty cool sniffing experience. The liquid has notes of cream, anise, honey, pepper, and a touch of refreshing green at the finish.
The first steep starts off quite sweet and rich, like honey drizzled yeasty bread that was baked with loads of anise. This initial spicy sweetness fades to a mildly peppery and cooked spinach finish. The mouthfeel starts out smooth then fades to just a tiny bit dry at the end.
Second steeping time! The aroma is not as strong, the anise and pepper notes are very delicate and there is an aroma of fresh vegetation, very reminiscent of walking through a garden after a rain storm. The taste is also more green than the previous, it starts with fresh vegetation and spinach. This fades to anise and pepper and then finished with a fairly potent honey aftertaste.
And now it is time for the final dance with this scented tea, the aroma of the third steep has gone around to being anise heavy, with accompaniment of raw honey and fresh vegetation. The mouthfeel starts a bit dry, almost sharp, but that changes to smooth fairly quickly. All that is left of this tea is anise and a touch of pepper, the blend of just anise and pepper this time around reminds me more of spicebush than actual anise. There is a hint of raw honey at the aftertaste that lingers for a bit. This is truly a unique tea, if you have never experienced Lotus scented tea I would definitely recommend it.
For photos (including origami! woo!) and blog: http://ramblingbutterflythoughts.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-persimmon-tree-tea-company-lotus.html
Flavors: Anise, Pepper, Spinach, Stems
It is time to admit defeat and take up Paper Craft. Try as I might I cannot think of a way to make a Minecraft Blaze out of Perler Beads and not have it look really bad, same with the new Guardian mobs. I simply must have these for my desk, so my other option is to buy ink for my printer, a new Xacto knife, and some decent paper and make them. The reason I have been hesitant is because I know this will turn into an obsession and next thing you know I will end up having a huge Minecraft diorama on one of my shelves…and I am not sure I can spare the space just yet. Clearly I will just have to get a new set of shelves.
Today’s tea is quite appealing to my inner child, Chocolate A-Peel (ing) actually! A blend of Kenyan black tea, Rooibos, Citrus, and Chocolate and creamy goodies from SerendipiTea, a substitute for my favorite childhood candies, chocolate oranges! You know, the kind that comes in foil that you smash onto a table to separate it into little chocolate slices, really whoever thought of mixing chocolate and oranges together was a genius. The aroma of this particular dessert tea is pretty rich, with strong notes of woody rooibos, creamy cocoa with almost a chocolate liqueur tinge to it, a bit of caramel, a bit of apple, and lastly a potent zing of oranges. It is very sweet and rich, but not too sweet, very much so the difference between a yummy slice of chocolate and a giant chocolate cake.
After submerging the leaves into their hot bath (you’re in hot water now, bub…really threatening leaves helps…ok no it doesn’t, even if it is caused Agony of the Leaf) and letting them steep, it is time to sniff some soggy leaves! The aroma is still pretty sweet, also very woody with strong notes of orange and chocolate. It is really funny, the more I sniff Rooibos the more I like it, I went through a phase a few years ago where I really disliked it, so glad that has passed. The liquid is so much chocolate, it is like sniffing a bar of chocolate with notes of malt and oranges with a slightly woody finish.
As is usual with teas that have bits of chocolate as part of their ingredients, the top has a bit of an oily film, giving it a slightly oily mouthfeel. However, the rest of the mouthfeel is quite smooth, none of the dryness that usually accompanies Rooibos. The taste is super rich, it starts out malty and woody with strong notes of chocolate and caramel, this turns into a bright zing of orange which is like a little bit of sunshine in the dense night of chocolate. Lastly the tea finishes off with lingering caramel and creamy sweetness, definitely a tea for someone with a sweet-tooth or a sugar craving (which conveniently I have both of at the moment). Although I am still craving chocolate oranges, I think I am going to have to stock up on them this holiday season and try to not eat them all before New Years.