457 Tasting Notes
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
I cannot think of a good opening to today’s tea review so I will tell you a few random facts about myself, fun! I collect gemstones, absolutely love studying Mineralogy and Geology, the highlight in my collection is a pale pink Danburite crystal about the length of my palm. For all that I love animals of all shapes and sizes, my favorites are aquatic life, specifically crabs, octopuses, squids, and jellyfish. I even sleep with a stuffed squid every night and own a giant stuffed Octopus. I didn’t like reading fiction till I was a teenager, I read tons and tons of nonfiction, but stories I considered a waster of time since I was not learning something. So there, now you know me a little better, on to tea!
By tea I technically mean a tisane since today’s brew of choice is a pile of roots. Burdock Tea No.3 on the Red Leaf Tea sampler, is made from the chopped up roots of the Burdock plant, or Arctium lappa, or Niubangzi. This plant is well known for its burrs and being a general nuisance for hikers in the Western part of the world, but in the Eastern part it is used as food and medicine. The aroma is caramelized dirt, slightly sweet like caramelized sugar and very much so like dirt. This is not necessarily a bad thing since I like the smell of dirt and it smells a lot better than most root based herbal teas I have tried. At the very tail end of the sniff I can detect a bit of horseradish.
Brewing the little root bits (there was no brewing info on the package, maybe there was and I can’t read Chinese yet, so upon research I decided on 212 degrees for 6 minutes) the aroma is still strongly of dirt and horseradish, but with more of the bitter root smell I associate with herbs like Dong Quai and Valerian, usually meaning the taste will be awful. The liquid sans roots is surprisingly sweet like caramelized sugar and of course the dirt and horseradish aroma.
Time to taste, I am a little worried, I have enough experience with TCM to know herbal teas made from roots taste like death. Well, color me surprised, because the flavor is not half bad! The taste is like a mixture of very mild horseradish (think the taste without the spice) lettuce, and corn husk. The taste fades to a gentle sweetness that lingers in the mouth for a bit. The mouthfeel is smooth and soothing, absolutely no bitterness or dirt taste what so ever. Not bad little root bits, not bad. I cannot speak for any health benefits associated with drinking this tea, the reasons I tried it for were not alleviated at all, but the taste was good so I am not complaining. I am tempted to add this to a root vegetable themed soup next time I make one, I think it would add an interesting note.
Flavors: Corn Husk
Remember about a week ago I mentioned a little project I was working on, cataloging all the teas of the world. I foolishly thought I would be finished by now, but thirty pages later and I am still finding little nuggets of information to add…and I am loving every minute of it! I love when a new subject comes up for me to obsessively research, learning new things is my passion and when it pertains to one of my other passions than the results are even sweeter.
Today’s tea is a spicy kick and possibly a little sweet if the name Hot Sweet Cinnamon by Art of Tea is to be believed. It is a blend of (all organic) Black tea, Cinnamon bits, Orange Peel, Cloves, and Natural flavors, it is a tea that I usually label as a pomander or potpourri tea because the aroma (and ingredients) were always used in pomanders and potpourri around my house growing up. The aroma is very spicy, lots of cinnamon and clove and a hint of rum or liqueur just sneaking in.
The brewed leaves are very spicy and loaded with cinnamon, it smells like Christmas and a hint of a typical ‘black tea’ aroma at the end. I can detect a very mild hint of oranges, but it is barely there hiding behind the muscled arms of the cinnamon and cloves. Think of the oranges as a wilting ingenue and the spices are her buff body guards. The liquid without its leaves is fairly sweet and cinnamon and immediately reminds me of Red Hots, those obnoxiously addictive candies that I have eaten far too many of in my life.
The taste is surprisingly bitter, though not in a way you would usually expect in a black tea (which is good because it would mean I failed at brewing it correctly) it is the bitterness of too much spice. I find my mouth going numb and my stomach growing annoyed almost immediately. Turns out there can be a thing as too much spice, tragic as that sounds. The taste after the initial clove kick in the face (at least I didn’t feel it) is fairly sweet and cinnamony, again a lot like Red Hots. The base Black tea is pretty weak, I barely tasted it around the spices. It was not my cup of tea, sadly.
Flavors: Cinnamon, Cloves
I had the best day, not only did I get to fill my day with Minecraft, I was able to spend the day playing Minecraft with my mom! It was awesome, first we toured my work in progress castle and then we started a new survival world and chaos ensued. Creepers exploded, zombies chewed on us, villages were looted. Good times all around geeking out with my mom.
Today’s tea is White Peony King from Shang Tea, a local company that I am lucky enough to visit when I run out of their tea. They conveniently also sell their tea online and at a few local shops, so I have options if I don’t want to go downtown! The aroma of this tea is quite mild mixing notes of fresh vegetation, a delicate hint of floral, and a finish of paper. It is a very mild tea evocative of very early spring and all the subtleties you would expect of that season.
The brewed leaves have a vaguely mineral aroma that reminds me of spring water, there are also notes of fresh vegetation and sage. The liquid is incredibly mild and subtle with notes of sage. The aroma is clean, smelling it makes me feel refreshed and cleansed.
The taste is mild (I have used that word a lot with this tea!) and a bit citrusy. There are hints of sage and minerals with just a tiny wisp of copper at the midtaste. There is a subtle underlying sweetness like a splash of honey that rests just underneath all the other flavors. The tea leaves my mouth feeling clean and refreshed, it is quite lovely. I fell like with each sip you can taste the clean soil and water used to grow the tea plants. This is not the most spectacular white tea I have ever had, but it does have a wonderfully clean feeling that most other White Peony (or Bai Mu Dan) teas do not seem to have.