360 Tasting Notes
I had quite the spider related adventure yesterday, sitting at my desk I noticed a leggy specimen scuttling up the curtain, so I snagged a jar and popped it in. Turns out I had no idea what this spider was, it had legs like a crab spider and the body of a baby fishing spider and the coloring of a fishing spider. I was stumped so I posted photos on facebook which made my mom and grandmother worried it was a brown recluse (I live in the Brown Recluse Belt apparently, yikes) and I was pretty sure it wasn’t (what with it being black and gray and not matching in other aspects) but to be sure I posted photos of it on Bug Guide, a great place to get mystery buggies and arachnids identified. They were able to ID him as the Running Crab Spider (I knew those legs looked crabby!) from the family Philodromidae. I think that my basement lair will be seeing a lot more spiders as it warms up.
Today’s tea only has one thing in common with spiders, they both are found in trees. Fengqing Arbor Tree Ripened Puerh Cake Tea 2010 is made from the leaves of arbor trees that are 50-100 years old, I find that pretty awesome. Hailing from the Puerh home of Yunnan, China, this tea was picked in 2008 and given a nice dry storage for two years. The aroma of these compressed leaves has a great blend of loam, wet pine wood, and leather. There is a sweetness about the leaves that resembles sap, specifically pine sap, and a touch of caramelized sugar. I think my favorite thing about Puerh tea is how they seem to frequently remind me of forests, this one has a forest floor quality.
Once the tea is given a double rinse (first time I have ever done that) and steeped the aroma is much sweeter with notes of caramelized sugar and molasses with warm woody quality and a finish of loam. The liquid also has a sweet quality with notes of cocoa and molasses, and finishes on a warm loam and earthy notes.
The first steeping starts off quite strong with a mix of earthiness and loam. The midtaste is like leather and a hint of pine wood. The finish is molasses like and has a sweet aftertaste. This tea has a very smooth start and is quite tasty.
The aroma of the leaves for the second steeping is sweet and loamy, there is a tiny hint of mushroom at the finish really tying in the forest floor imagery in my head. The liquid also is quite loamy but it also has notes of pine wood and leather. The taste is quite strong, rich leather and loam with a warm finish of pine sap that leaves a lingering sweetness in the mouth.
For the third steep the aroma of the leaves is all loam all the time, it is very foresty and quite nice. The liquid however is mostly pine themed, with a blend of wet pine wood and pine needles. The taste of this steep has a bit of bitterness, a bitter earthiness to be exact, but it fades to loam pretty quickly. The aftertaste is sweet and piney.
I should apologize, according to Teavivre’s website this tea can be steeped up to eleven times, but I only got to four because yours truly decided to leave the tea lair for a snack and then promptly got distracted and then fell asleep. I was going to start all over and redo the steepings today, but with my throat being so sore I worry I could not do it justice. The aroma of the leaves is much the same as the previous steeping, as is the aroma of the liquid. The taste however has much stronger pine qualites giving it a woody sweetness that is fantastic. I have become rather enamored of Puerh tea that tastes like a pine forest and strongly recommend this tea if you are a fan of all things pine. I can certainly see this tea lasting for much longer.
Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Leather, Loam, Pine, Wood
Well it finally happened, I saw the inevitable coming for months now, but it seems the end has finally arrived. My iron has kicked the bucket. Of course it decided to die in the middle of fusing a massive project (luckily it was for myself and not for my shop or worse, a custom order) so my epic tea mat is fused unevenly. It is frustrating but salvageable (I think) when I am able to get a new iron (no idea when that will be, curse you lack of money!!) but I am mostly frustrated because I was feeling inspired to make some awesome perler creations and mini hama creations and now I can’t. Darn. Ah well, at least I still have my origami stars and of course tea to occupy myself with.
Today’s tea from Teavivre is Fengqing Zhuan Cha Raw Puerh Brick Tea 2005 and has the honor of being the oldest Puerh that I have tried. This lovely tea hails from the land of Yunnan, China, an area that is famous for its tea (especially Puerh), it is made from 30-40 year old large leaf arbor tea trees and was picked between May and June of 2005. The aroma of the dry and compressed leaves is sweet like pine wood, loam, and vegetation. It smells like a forest in late summer, mixing abundant growth and decay, humidity and wood. It is a wonderful smell for someone who spent many a day like that deep in a forest drinking up the various aromas that nature provides. I think the best teas are the one’s whose taste or aroma transport you to a place in your memory. Poetic waxing aside, there is a finish of peanuts and cocoa that is extremely faint, almost the ghost of a smell.
Once I rinse and give the leaves a brief steeping the aroma becomes a blend of cooked spinach, rich oak loam, sweet old hay, and a touch of barnyard. This tea took a walking tour of the forest and walked into a farm, a fascinating transition. The liquid is sweet hay in both appearance and aroma, with a sprinkling of pine needles giving it a slightly sharp green and pine sap aroma as well.
Ok, I hope you all are ready because I got a whopping seven steepings out of this tea and I took notes on them all! The first steeping is nothing short of fascinating (I feel I will use this word a lot with this tea) the mouthfeel is thick, not oily, but thick. It feels like with each sip my mouth fills with saliva along with the tea, it is an odd sensation but not unpleasant. The initial taste is faint, like old straw, but by the time it reaches the midtaste it picks up notes of spinach and peanuts. The aftertaste is bold and lingers leaving the taste of faintly sweet peanuts and mild vegetal.
The second steeping has a powerfully vegetal aroma, mixing cooked spinach and beans, it took me a moment to place the specific bean but to me it smells like lima beans. There is also the loam and forest aroma from previously. The liquid, well in my notebook I wrote ‘it smells like hay and liquid gold joy’, I still think it is an accurate description. The taste is still a blend of peanuts, cooked spinach and lima beans, but there is a sourness, like a hint of tamarind, which certainly makes me salivate a lot. It fades to a subtle sweetness at the end.
Third time around the aroma of the leaves and liquid is much the same as the second, except there is a honey quality to the liquid that was not there previously. The taste is a blend of old hay and lima beans with a slightly metallic quality. The midtaste is vegetal like cooked spinach and the aftertaste is sweet and like fresh hay.
The fourth steeping’s leaves are mildly vegetal and fresh hay, not as potent as the previous steeps but still full of aromas. The liquid is honey sweet and fresh hay, golden and pretty. This steep was pretty interesting, there is a bitterness that was not present before, vegetal qualities of lima beans and cooked spinach, it is quite the savory veggie broth. The mouthfeel has gone back to being thick, like the first steep, and the aftertaste is like loam.
The fifth steeping has a faint vegetal and mild, slightly sweet hay aroma to its wet leaves, the liquid has very little aroma, just a hint of sweetness and hay. The taste is initially sweeter, it fades to a sweet vegetal decay (it sounds gross, but think Black Trumpet mushrooms, so yummy) and hay. It now has a dry mouthfeel and sourness to it that lasts into the aftertaste.
The sixth steeping’s leaves have only the aroma of faint vegetal left, the liquid is the same as last steep, faint and barely there. This is the first time the tea starts to loose its footing, it is starting to taste watery with hints of lima beans, spinach, and hay. The aftertaste is faintly sour.
The final steeping is truly the finished tea, there is very little aroma left at all, just the ghost of previous scents. The taste is faint honey sweet hay and a hint of sourness, that is all. This tea was fascinating, I am not really sure I liked it, but I did certainly enjoy the experience. I spent the entire day with this tea and I do not regret it, especially since it gave me a little golden piece of summer.
Flavors: Lima Beans
I have an interesting week planned out for myself. Mostly craft related, I want to do a little perler bead crafting while also folding stars, it is my goal to fill up the large pickle jar I have been working on for the past two weeks. Since I feel like I am trying to catch a cold or something I figure a nice relaxing crafty week with lots of tea is in order. If I am really lucky my other plan of finishing my tea research will be finished this week as well. Good times all around.
Today’s tea starts a week looking at some Black and Pu Erh Teas from Teavivre. Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea-Golden Tips was harvested in March of 2013 in Fengqing County, Yunnan, it is one of the most famous black teas in China, this beautiful gold pile of leaves is the highest grade available. The aroma of this golden tea is a blend of roasted peanuts and cocoa, but it is not the sweet aspects of these things, the aroma is quite savory. There is also a finishing note of beet root that gives the tea a slightly earthy quality.
Giving the teas a steeping in my gaiwan sadly removes the beautiful gold flocking (I know that is not the technical term for the beautiful fuzzy trichomes, but it does seem to fit). The aroma is quite sweet now bringing in notes of cherry and sweet cocoa along with roasted peanuts. The poured off liquid smells buttery sweet and creamy with notes of roasted nuts and a hint of cherries.
The first steeping is quite rich and strong, there is a roasted nuts and dark chocolate quality that leaves a dry mouth and slight bitterness. It almost reminds me of a really high quality coffee (specifically it reminds me of Sumatra Mandheling, the only coffee I still can tolerate) but with a much smoother taste. The tea finished with a sweetness that creeps in at the midtaste and blooms into honey sweetness at the end and lingers.
The second steep has the same roasted nuts and cocoa quality of the first steep but the sweetness shows up significantly earlier. There is still a dry mouthfeel and slight bitterness that wakes up the mouth and makes the taste buds alert and happy. There is also a loamy quality which blends really well with the nuttiness and sweetness present in the tea. I really enjoyed this tea, when I drank it, it was with my dinner, but I can certainly see this as a morning tea.
Flavors: Cocoa, Earth, Honey, Loam, Nuts
I had quite the scare Friday night, I dropped my external hard drive and broke the casing, snapping the usb port off, meaning no access to my external hard drive. That is where I keep all my photos, because my computer has this weird quirk that if I try to edit, upload, or look at photos that are not on my external hard drive it causes my browser to crash. It drove me crazy, taking sometimes an hour just to add photos to a blog post, but there was an easy fix. I thought I would be able to get a replacement casing the next morning but Ben was too busy to take me to the store, and was not sure when he would have time. I was panicking because I wanted to update my blog, but he found time today and got me a spare casing in case of emergency. Hooray!
Today’s tea has a delightfully long name, Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Concubine Oolong by Eco-Cha Artisan Teas. This tea has a fascinating story behind it, its production depends on a small insect (a leaf hopper to be exact) biting the leaves of the tea causing the plant to have an immune response giving the tea a unique taste. This tea is slightly different than the other version of bug bitten tea, Oriental Beauty, by having the leaves tightly rolled rather than curled. The aroma is honey sweet with roasted almonds, sesame seeds, and pine nuts. It reminds me of a snack, specifically those delightful candies made from sesame seeds and honey that might be one of my favorite treats ever. This oolong is a great blend of sweetness and nuttiness, there is also a mild hint of peanut butter on the finish.
Brewing the leaves the aroma is still richly sweet but there are now sharp notes of fruit and osmanthus flowers with roasted nuts and a faint hint of lettuce. The liquid once poured off the leaves and out of the gaiwan after its short little steeping has floral notes and stewed veggies, specifically spinach though there is also notes of lettuce (though not stewed since who stews lettuce?) and the roasted nut aroma that has been present throughout.
The first steeping’s taste is quite rich with a creamy, almost oily mouthfeel. The taste is an intensely floral blend on osmanthus and gardenia. The floral tastes fades to roasted pine nuts and sorrel in the middle, that fades to a wildflower honey taste that lingers in the mouth.
The second steeping’s leaves have an incredibly floral aroma blending osmanthus and gardenia (so glad I bought osmanthus flower a while ago so I know what that smell is, it is very distinct!) The liquid is honey sweet with notes of osmanthus and roasted pine notes. The taste is intense! The mouth feel is dry in comparison to the first steep, the floral note is mostly osmanthus now, but the roasted nuts taste is the most prevalent. It fades to sorrel and ends on a faintly sweet note.
The third steeping has a crisp aroma of osmanthus and pine nuts, the liquid smells much the same as the leaves but with a touch more sweetness. The taste starts off with the roasted nuts and sorrel taste which fades to an osmanthus midtaste. There is an interesting finish blending honey sweet and slight sourness, similar to a citrus sourness but without the citrus taste. This tea is quite fascinating and complex, I have had many oolongs that have nutty, floral, or vegetal qualities, but never all of them at once and so distinct. Looks like being nibbled on by bugs really does make for a unique taste, this does not mean I will let mosquitoes bite me during the summer though.
Flavors: Flowers, Nuts
I made an amazing discovery the other day, in 2011 Thundercats got a reboot. Yes, that Thundercats, the ridiculous 80s cartoon (one not based on a toy line, how unique!) with aliens, cat people, MUM RA THE EVER LIVING, and other awesome things that made it one of my favorite childhood shows. I didn’t have high hopes since the He-Man reboot was awful, but so far it has been amazing! It seems more adult (the death toll is astronomical thanks to all out war) the animation is great, and Snarf is an adorable pet instead of an 80s sidekick abomination. I am a very happy geek.
Today’s tea is a heavily roasted Dong Ding from Eco-Cha Artisan Tea. This tea is from Yong Long Villiage just above the Dong Ding (also spelled Tung Ting, translates to Frozen Summit) mountain at 750m and was gathered autumn of 2013. This will be my first roasted Dong Ding, I am excited since I love unroasted Dong Ding, seeing the transition of flavor and aroma will be enjoyable. The aroma is richly roasted like roasted pine nuts and toasted chestnuts. There are also notes of baking bread, molasses, and an underlying sweetness. As a finishing note there is a roasted coffee like aroma that is very faint but still noticeable.
Giving the tightly curled leaves a soak in my gaiwan reveals strongly roasted notes with toasted nuts and mild dried tobacco notes. There are also hints of roasted chicory and a note of floral. Oddly the floral aroma is also roasted, it is hard to describe other than roasted flowers, but it is quite nice and sweet. The liquid is a mixture of honey and molasses with toasted nuts and a hint of burnt chocolate.
The first steeping is as expected quite roasted with delicious notes of roasted nuts, molasses, cocoa, and honey. There is also strong floral notes of osmanthus which blends really well with the roasted and sweet notes. It is very rich and powerful, this is not a steeping that does ballet across your taste-buds, it break dances.
The second steep brings more unfurling of the leaves and an even stronger roasted quality to the aroma, I would even say it is a bit smoky. The liquid also has a much stronger roasted aroma but with honey sweet notes as well. As for the taste, well, it is intensely roasted and the vaguely smoky notes give the tea a slight bitterness that fades to a sweet aftertaste. There is more than just roast and smoke with this steeping, there is also notes of dried fruit and osmanthus flowers.
The third and final steep, well final for me, I am pretty sure this tea has a few more steepings in it but I am starting to slosh around when moving. The aroma of the leaves that are practically pushing the lid off my gaiwan are roasted and with a sharper roasted chicory note along with a definite pine nut aroma. The liquid is also very nutty and a touch sweet. Tasting the tea fills my mouth with roasted pine nuts and a touch of smoky notes. There is also the faint bitterness accompanied with a dry mouthfeel. This tea can best be described as robust, I would reccomend someone who is making the coffee to tea transition give it a try because it has similar qualities but with the recognizable floral qualities of an oolong. This tea was a fun change of pace from my usual unroasted and heavily sweet and floral oolongs, I can definitely see myself seeking this tea out during fall and winter when I want that robust roasted flavor.
I decided to dye my hair today, not just my usual black dye but a full out color change. First I had to bleach it, which takes forever! I left the tips black and the rest faded from pale blond to dark brown, then the dye application. I am currently the owner of cobalt to black ombre hair, it looks pretty cool. The annoying part is of course my bathtub is the most porous thing in existence and is also blue, so I need to get some heavy scrubbing on after I go to the store for the proper supplies. Usually I am all for the ‘no chemicals’ approach to house cleaning, but there are sometimes when you just need a bottle of bleach.
If you have ever strolled through a supermarket in the US’s tea and coffee aisle you have probably seen a box of Vanilla Chai by Bigelow Tea. Created from black tea, spices, natural and artificial flavoring. I tend to avoid teas with artificial flavoring because I find that they taste fake so I do not have the highest hopes for this little teabag. The aroma of the teabag is very sweet, strong creamy vanilla notes with underlying spices. It smells quite warm and like vanilla fudge. The aroma is rich and very sweet, good if you have a sweet tooth.
The aroma of the steeped tea is very intensely creamy vanilla, like vanilla ice cream with a dusting of spices and an extremely delicate hint of malt. The aroma reminds me of the vanilla non-dairy creamer for coffee that you find in the same section of the grocery store this tea is in. I don’t hate that aroma, in fact I have been known to just drink creamers on occasion, but it is not an aroma I want to associate with tea.
Adding cream and a touch of sugar since this is a chai makes the tea taste like vanilla cream and a touch of nuttiness and the most delicate hint of spices. Not surprisingly the tea tastes like the non-dairy vanilla creamer that it smelled like, but with a hint of spice and black tea malt. This tea isn’t terrible, if I was at a restaurant and was given a mug of this instead of Lipton (cringe) I would be thrilled, but I do not see myself seeking this out of my own volition.
The sky outside is crazy dark, it looks like a massive amount of storms are heading my way. Of course I have no idea if it will storm, but I really hope it does, thunderstorms are my favorite form of weather. It really feels like spring today, which I am sure cannot last, but all the snow melting has made everything into mud, which makes for some happy mold spores. But let us focus on a different time of year today.
Today’s tea is Dark Roast Houjicha from Yunomi.us and grown by Obubu Tea Farms in Kyoto Prefecture. This is the third strongest roast of the Houjicha presented by Obubu Tea Farms, described as having a smoky flavor that is both light and sweet, that sounds like my kind of tea. The aroma of this tea is in one word, yummy. But that is a boring description, the aroma is very roasted and mildly smoky with notes of cedar wood and autumn leaves. It very much so smells like the clean and smoky autumn air in a forest, it makes me nostalgic and full of longing for autumn in the mountains.
Brewing the leaves makes the aroma much richer with stronger notes of cedar and hints of earthiness. The tea leaves smell savory, like dried oak leaves and roasted wood. Again it is very evocative of autumn air. The liquid however is sweeter, like freshly mown hay and roasted nuts. There is still notes of cedar smoke but it is much fainter.
Perhaps tasting this tea will infuse me with the essence of autumn, I have no idea what that would even mean but maybe it will take away the longing for mountains. The taste is richly roasted, intensely so, though not intensely smoky like their Smoky Roast Houjicha. There is a mild hint of cedar smoke that blends well with the roasted tea flavor. The tea starts off savory and roasted and fades to sweetness so it is like a hint of honey by the end of the sip. As the tea cools I notice a woody quality and a hint of astringency. Overall I think I like this one just a little more than the Smoky Roast, but I will have to try the other roast levels before I officially name a favorite.
Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Cedar, Honey
I am eating the most delicious bread before I get into my tea. It is a Ciabatta that is baked with Feta cheese and Kalamata olives and it is to die for. I also gained enough points using Bing’s reward thingy (I do a lot of searches related to tea, no surprise there) to get a gift card for Amazon, so I bought a (used) book I have had my eye on. Read and Write Chinese by Rita Mei-Wah Choy, I like it because it is really well organized, has both Mandarin and Cantonese, and you can look up character by Chinese, English, and stroke count. It will be so useful for translation. It has been a good day and I am happy.
Today’s tea is Spring Sencha Teabags from Takeo Family Tea Farms and Yunomi.us. As I am sure you can glean from the name this tea is harvested in spring time (first harvest actually), but who wants to just stop at that little nugget of information. The tea was harvested in the Mie Prefecture, which is part of the Kansai region on the island of Honshu. This beautiful coastal prefecture is home to the Meoto Iwa (Wedded Rocks) which is really high on my list of ‘must see places’ list. The aroma of this tea that is in a bag is faint but distinct. There are notes of gentle sweetness, spinach, and fresh grass. Primarily the aroma is more of a savory sencha quality than a sweet one with a very slight finishing note of fresh pine needles. Luckily I did not notice the teabag itself adding any aroma to the tea, it is always so annoying when I can smell bag.
Once the tea gets a steeping in some nice warm water the aroma becomes stronger and quite spring like blending vegetal spinach and grassy green with a bit of kelp. There is also a slightly sweet citrus finish as the teabag is pulled away from my questing nose. The liquid is quite sweet, smelling more like fresh hay than veggies of any sort. There is a very slight hint of kelp hiding under the hay.
The taste is at first that of kelp giving it an umami quality that is quite appealing, especially as it fades to a fresh grass sweetness in the aftertastes. Of course there is a midtaste in between, and it is a blend of spinach and kale, but without the bitter quality that kale has when raw. This tea is quite good for bagged tea and is, of course, the quality I expect from Yunomi.us. I received the teabag as a sample in a previous order and could see myself ordering more for when I travel or don’t feel like breaking out the Kyusu and making a big deal of drinking my Sencha.
I was given a lovely new journal today for logging tea notes because, yes, I filled up another one! It is a beautiful shade of cobalt (one of my favorite colors) with an embossed peacock on the cover. The cover is made with rubbery pseudo suede which has the best texture, I keep rubbing the cover because it is so soft! I will certainly enjoy writing about tea in this lovely journal.
Today I am going to be your Chai Wallah, ok not really, I am not that cool. Chad’s Original Black Chai by the titular Chad’s Chai is a blend of Full Leaf Indian Tea, Organic Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Clove, Organic Chili Peper, Ginger, Star Anise, and Organic Cardamon. The first this I notice about the aroma is how intense it is, I really dumbly put my nose right into the package instead of wafting and ended up with a hilarious sneezing fit. The chili pepper and black pepper really pack a punch, so don’t do like me and stick your nose in it! After my schnoz calms down and I can analyse the aroma from a distance I notice that the tea smells rich and a bit earthy with potent spices. Primarily ginger and peppers with a secondary kick of cinnamon. The cardamon and star anise is very faint and there is a mild finish of malt.
Once I give the leaves a good soaking the leaves have an earthy, malty, and spicy aroma. The spices are a bit diminished, but there is a still an intense kick of pepper. This tea smells hot and warms me down to my toes. The liquid has a rich and sweet aroma, less earthy and more of a melange of spices since no one spice stands out.
Since this is a chai is is brewed with the traditional sugar and cream (ok, Half & Half is my cow product of choice, so not exactly cream) The first thing I notice is the initial warm kick of spices, it is not unpleasantly hot, just enough spiciness to warm my mouth up. This quickly fades to a blend of gentler ginger and cinnamon with a mix of earthy and malty. The tea finished with a kick of peppers again so it leaves a pleasant burn in the mouth. This is a good chai, but it is not really the type that rocks my world. I prefer my cardamon and anise to be the prominent spice and the more ‘hot’ spices to be secondary. I also really thought the base tea was quite good.
Flavors: Cinnamon, Earth, Malt, Peppercorn
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone (or Lupercalia if you are reading this from Ancient Rome) I hope your day is filled with love and happiness. Since today is all about hearts and romance…and quite frequently flowers, why not look at a thematically appropriate tea? I do love doing thematically appropriate reviews, though I doubt I will come up with a good one for President’s Day.Dark Rose Tea by Tea Source is a delightfully heart shaped compressed block of dark tea. What is dark tea, you might be asking, well in short dark tea (or Heicha) is fermented tea that is not from Yunnan. Technically Pu Erh is still a dark tea, but it is so specialized that it more or less gets its own category. This specific dark tea comes from Hunan and is mixed with roses, my personal favorite flower to have in tea. The aroma is a bit musty, like dry loam and old wood, similar to a forest that has not seen rain in a while. There is also a touch of leather and a very faint and delicate rose aroma.
Sadly upon steeping the compressed tea it no longer looks like a cute little heart, but this is expected. The aroma has become quite rosy and malty with only a touch of loam and oak wood. It is beginning to smell more like a moist forest floor in summer than a dry one. The liquid without the leaves steeping in them have a bright quality with strong notes of rose and sweet malt. It smells heavy and rich, not at all light and buoyant.
The first steeping of the little heart shaped nugget of tea happiness is quite rich and filling. Drinking it makes my mouth feel smooth and full, it is a slightly odd sensation because it also has a sense of weight to it. The taste is at first rosy and sweet, but this fades to oak wood and a mild astringency. The taste reminds me more of a strong black tea than the dark teas I am used to.
Giving the crumbled heart another dunking causes the mild astringency to vanish and makes the already smooth tea even more so, almost making it feel velvety. It does lose the weighty feel and now is just a bright tea. There is only the barest hint of roses and the tea has a finish of copper. I really do think this tea would be great for people who are scared off of Pu Erhs and other dark teas by their earthy quality, but for people who love that aspect it is a bit of a let down.
Flavors: Flowers, Loam, Malt, Wood