324 Tasting Notes
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.
Ugh, I am having the worst writers block right now, which is so annoying! Usually on days where I don’t do anything constructive (I have had a really off, pain filled day today, yuck) I can think of some clever story or nerdy reference. Nope, not today, sorry everyone but yours truly is off in la-la land with her head in the clouds.
Today’s tea does not have its leaves in the clouds, but is more down to earth and floral. Good Life Tea’s Kyoto Cherry Rose Organic Green is a blend of cherry flavoring, sencha style Chinese green tea (meaning it is steamed rather than pan fried) and rose petals. You all know my weakness for roses in tea, they just smell so wonderful and taste wonderful as well. In theory this tea is a really good green tea for those who are not a fan of teas that are too grassy, vegetal, or just green, a good ‘intro to green teas’ kind of tea. The aroma of this tea is a nice blend of cherries and roses with just a gentle touch of the green base. It is very much the green of fresh vegetation, like the leaves of a rose bush or cherry tree. Sweet and summery, this tea evokes gardens in full bloom.
Once the leaves have been steeped in their little basket, the aroma of roses and cherries practically fills up my tea lair. One thing I will give this tea credit for, the cherries smell like fresh fruit and not fake cherry candy, that is something I always appreciate. Underneath the aroma of cherries and roses there is a gentle hint of vegetation. The liquid without its soggy leafy friends is sweet, a blend of freshly mown hay, honey, roses in full bloom, and fresh cherries.
The taste is, well, light and uninspiring, which is a surprise after such a strong aroma. There is a light rosy taste, a bit of freshly mown hay and green vegetation, and a tiny bit of cherry at the finish. I think if I first sipped this tea without sniffing it first I would not be disappointed, the tea is very light and the flavors are clear, just very delicate. However I did sniff it and was expecting rich roses and sweet cherry juice, more body to this tea. I find myself a bit confused on how to think about this tea, on the one hand I enjoyed its delicate flavor, on the other hand I was expecting more.
Flavors: Cherry, Hay, Honey, Rose
Remember how about a week or so ago I was lamenting my hands and wrists hurting because of writing too much? Well after getting myself some very swank looking wrist guards (I look like a Mortal Kombat Ninja) and only writing when necessary, my wrists are finally pain free. This is extra exciting because I can get back to folding my origami, which I have missed immensely. First thing to work on is my garland of Toshie’s Jewels for my Tea Lair and then I think I am going to make some stars. My Lucky Star jars are totally empty after they all found a new home, so time to refill them.
Today’s tea is Buddha’s Fingers from SerendipiTea, a nice amber oolong (meaning it has a higher oxidation than some of its more vibrantly green friends) from Wen Shan in northern Taiwan. The aroma of the little curled leaves is toasty and tasty! It is a blend of toasted sesame stems and tobacco with a touch of freshly broken green stems and a finish of coal. The aroma is more savory than sweet, reminding me of autumn fires at the end of a day.
Into the gaiwan it goes (fun fact, this was the first time I used this gaiwan after it arrived in the mail) for a nice steeping and slight unfurling. The aroma of the now soggy leaves is quite rich with notes of smoke, tobacco, toasted sesame seeds, and an underlying sweetness. This sweetness is like old orchids and a touch of wildflower honey. The liquid is mild with notes of sweet yeasty bread, butter, toasted sesame seeds, and a tiny touch of orchids at the finish.
This is a smooth tea in mouthfeel but slightly sharp in taste, it is an interesting contrast. The taste starts out with sharp, almost bitter, tabacco and rich toasted sesame seeds. This fades to a caramelized nut taste that lingers for quite a while as a sweet aftertaste.
For the second steeps’s aroma my nose was greeted with a very toasty roasty kick, like a blend of toasted bread and roasted nuts, along with a sweet caramelized sugar finish. The taste is pretty potent, starting out with an almost sour tabacco taste that causes me to salivate a lot, which in turn makes the taste come off as very sweet. After that initial fun flip-flop the taste is toasted sesame and caramelized sugar with a slightly dry finish. This is a pretty potent tea, not for the faint of heart, which I like, and find myself wondering how this tea would hold up to Grandpa Style Brewing.
Flavors: Caramel, Roasted, Toasty, Tobacco
I am so worn out! I spent the day redoing my room to make room for my newest treasure. Ben’s parents wanted to get rid of an antique writing desk that had been in their family for at least three generations, possibly four. In a near spastic fit I claimed that thing in a heartbeat, I have a real weakness for antiques and desks, so it was the double treasure. Now I just need to get another tea kettle so I can have tea in the bedroom and in the tea lair!
Today’s tea is from Yezi Tea, Yi Fu Chun, a tippy golden tea from the Nanhu Mountains in Fujian, China. Apparently these mountains are covered in a dense fog 200 days a year, meaning the tea that grows there is more or less kissed by clouds, it seems to make it a bit whimsical to me. Add the fog to my intense love of fuzzy golden teas (they are just so cute!) and that makes me a happy tea sipper, or at the very least an interested one. Oh my that is a pleasant and heavy aroma, it seems the leaves collected the dense and heavy feeling of fog rather than the wispy one. There are notes of oak wood, molasses, cocoa, and a touch of smoke. It is intense, not sweet, but more like a rich molasses cookie and cocoa powder.
After the golden leaves have been steeped (and have left their delicate fuzzies behind) the aroma is still strong in the real of molasses and chocolate, though this time it has a sweetness the dry leaves lacked, also a tiny hint of loam. The liquid is even sweeter, retaining the chocolate notes but adding in some delicious stewed plums and cherries.
I decided to do something a little different with this tea, I brewed it Western Style! The first steep is incredibly sweet, like a bit of peaches and honey mixed with my tea! There are also notes of molasses and oak wood with a slight hint of smoke at the finish. The tea manages to be very rich while maintaining an air of lightness about it.
For the second steep the aroma is sweet, with notes of stewed fruit and roasted peanuts, there is a delicate hint of smoke at the finish. The taste is much richer with notes of oak wood and roasted peanuts, this fades to molasses, and lastly a delicate hint of smoke and peaches. Kind of like the way peaches cooked on a grill tastes, this lingers as an aftertaste. This tea is delicious and very smooth, I like it!
For blog and photos (including my cat pretending to be a secretary) : http://ramblingbutterflythoughts.blogspot.com/2014/07/yezi-tea-yi-fu-chun-black-tea-tea-review.html
Flavors: Honey, Molasses, Peach, Peanut, Smoke
I am revising my review and score just a little bit, I still love this gaiwan and use it constantly…but it does cause me a bit of grief. See it has a fairly tiny rim, meaning teas that require longer steepings really heat the thing up and I end up burning my fingers.
it is one of those I am pouring tea the entire time going ‘ow ow ow ow’ which is not very fun. So I tend to use this one more for cooler teas or ones that require very short steeps. It is still a wonderful tea toy and is perfect for travel. I just wish it had a slightly wider rim…or I had slightly less wimpy fingers.
Ah, freshly dyed hair is always such a good feeling, especially when it is a shade of blue. I have spent most my life envying vibrantly blue birds, wishing my drab Peahen ash blonde hair was more of a Peacock blue. Then I grew up and realized, Holy Plumage Batman, I can dye my hair whatever color I want thanks to the art of science…and cosmetics! So having had my hair pretty much every color of the rainbow, I tend to stick with either Grackle Blue Black or some shade of blue, this time dark teal. Rock on my feathered friends.
Oddly enough, for all my rambling about feathers, this review is centered around bats. Specifically my new amazing tea set procured from China by way of ebay shop StreetShop88. This lovely blue set consists of a Gaiwan, a Cha Hai (or pitcher, fairness cup, or tureen) and a pair of cute cups. A little backstory, I have two other gaiwans…my fish themed travel gaiwan and my now quite chipped white gaiwan, I wanted a third one specifically I wanted a third matched set for everyday use. It took me about a month and a half of window shopping till I found the one I wanted.
I had a few specifications: it needed to be 100ml or less, it had to have a wide rim, it had to be less than $35, and lastly it had to have an awesome design. I had originally settled on a Phoenix themed set from the same store and then I saw the bats and it was all over, I had to have that one. Bats and the round Shou character are very auspicious symbols in Chinese art, five bats, according to A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols by Wolfram Eberhard (my go to source for all Chinese symbolism) represent the Five Blessings-a long life, riches, health, love of virtue, and a natural death. The Shou character represents Longevity, it is a symbol that I like to have around.
Symbolism and aesthtics aside, how does this set function? First off, I don’t burn my sensitive little fingers, I love my fish gaiwan to pieces, but its fairly small rim tends to heat up very quickly meaning on steeps that go on a big long end with me going ‘ouch’ a lot. The really wide rim and equally wide and somewhat squat body means that leaves get to really roll around and unfurl beautifully.
This set was put together beautifully, when you pour off a steep from the gaiwan into the pitcher, there is a perfect amount for both cups. No leftover and no one gets left out, this is the first set I have had where I get that result. The Cha Hai makes me exceptionally happy, it pours wonderfully and looks like a creamer. Also I absolutely adore that inside the gaiwan and cups the Shou character is printed inside.
For the most part there are no real flaws with this set. There are a few errors on the printed design of the key pattern on the rim of the gaiwan’s lid, but oddly I find this a bit endearing. The only other problem is it is fairly thick porcelain so the temperature tends to stay pretty warm, this might make brewing green teas a little difficult, but that is easy to adjust with cooler water or shorter steep time.
Over all I love this thing, I recommend it if you are looking for a new gaiwan tea set, especially if you love bats!
For photos and blog (including my blue hair!) http://ramblingbutterflythoughts.blogspot.com/2014/07/an-auspicious-tea-set-tea-gear-review.html
Well here I am, mostly back in the proverbial tea saddle, by which I mean my desk chair and not lounging in bed. I am still a bit out of it from my Endoscopy and of course have to wait for the results of my biopsy, but first impressions have pros and cons. It looks like I may not have Celiac disease, just Gluten Intolerance and IBS…which is the good part, bad part is my stomach has some nasty inflammation and ulceration, if I am lucky it is just from medication or bile reflux, if I am unlucky the H. pylori never did get knocked out of my system all the way. I will never wish that infection on anyone, the methods to remove it are as bad as the infection, at least it was to me. No use counting evil chickens before they hatch though, for now I am just going to relax with tea.
And speaking of tea we have today’s tea from SerendipiTea (whose name makes me smile) who recently sent me a nice pile of samples to try out, I wanted something relaxing so I decided The Big Sleep was the way to go today. An herbal blend of Anise, Brahmi, Coconut, Honeybush, Pomegranate Peel, and Vanilla Bean (all organic) blended with the aim of putting the sipper into a nice dream state. I really like SerendipiTea’s use of references, as a massive Geek I always appreciate them, even if I have not read The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (or seen the movie inspired by the book) I certainly recognize the reference. The aroma of the dry leaves is pretty interesting, a blend of herbaceous and spice notes with a touch of sweet vanilla, nutty coconut, woody honeybush, and a hint of fruity tartness at the finish. It is quite unlike any blend I have sniffed before, I especially like how well the anise and coconut compliment each other.
Giving the tea a nice long steeping (which is so unusual when I do so much Gongfu brewing, it feels just so long!) the aroma from the wet leaves waft up to my nose. The aroma is a blend of sweetness and spices, it reminds me of my favorite Indian market’s spice aisle, but with an addition of coconuts. It smells soothing it me, but that could be because I am having a nice nostalgia. The liquid without its leafy friends (or more herbs and spice friends) has an aroma very similar to the wet leaves, but it is woodier.
Ahh, this tea is quite soothing. It has an oily coating from the coconut and dryness from the honeybush, it is an interesting mouthfeel, since it starts out oily and fades to dry at the finish. The taste is a mild blend of sweet vanilla and caramel and gentle anise. There is an herbal taste to it as well that reminds me a bit of fennel seeds. I am not sure if it is the tea or convenient luck, but I am feeling very relaxed and wanting to go curl up and nap. There is also a slight tingly feeling in my throat, similar to the tingling of cloves, which is nice. This is a nice sipping before sleep tea, it is tasty without being overpowering.
Flavors: Anise, Caramel, Coconut, Fennel Seed, Sweet, Vanilla, Wood
I am going to apologize in advance if there is no blog post tomorrow, because I am going in for an Endoscopy, and they tend to leave you a bit dopey and derpy afterwards. Man, my doctor group that I currently have is awesome, I was expecting to have to wait at the very least a week before I could get a biopsy, but only a day, that is so crazy. Color me impressed, though slightly cranky about not being able to eat or drink after midnight. No late night sipping for me tonight.
Today’s tea is Desi Masala Chai from Tea People, a blend of Assam tea, Cardamon, Ginger, Cinnamon, and Cloves. I am so enamored of Chai that is loaded with big chunks of spices and whole cardamon pods, I tend to giggle maniacally when I get my greedy little fingers on some like that. Not only does this chai have some awesome looking ingredients, Tea People is one of those companies that is really focuses doing good things for tea growers, I suggest giving their website a looking over, it is pretty nifty. The aroma of the tea is expectantly spicy, deliciously so, I would go as far as mouth-wateringly so, but it is no secret that I go gaga for spices. The Assam is rich and malty with notes of molasses as well, it is quite sweet, also the spices are strong but well balanced. None of this cinnamon elbowing its way to the front or the ginger tripping the cardamon so it can be the bell of the ball. We all know cardamon is polite and would never do anything to be a dominating aroma.
After giving the dry leaves and spices a nice steeping, the now wet leaves (and accouterments) still smell aaaamazing. Very rich and malty with sweet molasses and intense spices. As with the dry leaves the spices dance together perfectly and do not engage is spicy slap fighting for dominance. The liquid (pre-cream and sugar) is very rich, almost heady (or at the very least intoxicating) with strong notes of malt and molasses and intense and well balanced spice. I am practically bouncing with excitement to try this this.
Adding cream (actually half and half) and sugar for a traditional chai, my favorite way to sip this spicy, Indian tea. Oh man, this is one delicious chai, it is extremely rich and malty with sweet notes of molasses and an almost earthy finish to it. Of course the spices are having a party across my palate, the cardamon and ginger seem to be dominate and the cinnamon and cloves takes a backseat. Even though those two dominate they still seem really balanced, it is not a kick in the face of ginger or cardamon (cardamon can do no wrong!!) but more of a gentle strength. Personally I am a very big fan of Chai that are more dominated by cardamon (no surprise there) or ginger, but I think those who are also fans of the other spices will not feel neglected.
Flavors: Malt, Molasses, Spicy