433 Tasting Notes
The weather of the Midwest never ceases to amaze me, yesterday and today has been unseasonably warm with a high in the 60s. Even though I am stuck in bed I can have the windows open and enjoy the fresh air. Tomorrow however, it is supposed to drop down into the colds again, when I checked yesterday they were predicting snow but now the weather reports sun. I miss the reliability of East Coast weather.
Today’s tea is Fireside Spice by Della Terra Teas is a wonderfully spiced seasonal tea, that I am reviewing past its season again. I seem to be notorious for logging the tasting notes in my journal and by the time I get around to reviewing it on my blog, the season has passed. This tea is a blend of Chinese Black Tea, Vanilla flavor and Vanilla bits, Ginger bits, Chai Spices, and White Cornflowers. The aroma is powerful, a real kick of spices and sweetness. It reminds me of a heavily spiced snickerdoodle cookie with citrus pomander undertones. The aroma is deliciously sweet and tantalizing.
Once brewed the leaves take on a malty tone, it is still cookie sweet with notes of vanilla, spices, and caramelized sugar. There is still a very faint aroma of oranges as an afterthought. The liquid has such a sweet aroma, the vanilla and spice notes really make it feel like I am sniffing a freshly baked cookie.
The taste is spicy and rich, the notes of vanilla blend with the spices for a sugary sweet treat. I know I keep going on about cookies, but I really feel it is the best description. The tea tastes like warm, freshly baked, snickerdoodles but with extra spice. The cloves and cinnamon give a tingly mouthfeel that fades to a smooth mouthfeel. I prefer this tea with cream and sugar, the additives really cause the vanilla to take center stage and mellows out the spices just a bit. It is a perfect tea for a cold or dreary day, when you need a warm and sweet pick-me-up.
I apologize about the lack of updates the past couple days, I have been a bit under the weather. Luckily, the main thing keeping me from writing (a splitting headache) has eased so I can present a review to my readers. I had the idea to write a few blog posts to have stored away for days when I am either unwell or busy so I can still have daily reviews, something to work on this week. And now, for tea!
Today’s tea is Laoshan Genmaicha from Verdant Tea, it is a blend of Laoshan Green Tea, Toasted Northern Lakes Minnesota Wild Rice, and Organic Toasted Jasmine Rice. Laoshan Green Tea is grown on Laoshan Mountain in Shandong Province and was picked July of 2013. I find myself wondering which lake the Wild Rice came from, I am sad I missed out on harvesting the Wild Rice when I was in the North Woods of Minnesota a few summers ago. The aroma of the tea is rich, the rice has a nutty and toasted aroma that finishes with a sweet, sticky rice aftertone. The leaves’s aroma is very, well, verdant! They smell fresh and green, full of fresh vegetation and a mild vegetal tone. It finished with a gentle hint of caramelized sugar.
The aroma of the steeped leaves in a word, yum! But that is not exactly a description, is it? The rice adds a very toasty quality which blends with the green wonderfully. The green leaves have notes of green beans and a hint of citrus. The aroma is subtle, nothing is overpowering and it is well balanced. The liquid is buttery sweet and creamy with notes of toasted rice and nuttiness with a very mild hint of vegetal.
When tasting the first thing I notice is an initial savory quality that is like a mixture of green beans and sage that fades into a rich, creamy, sweet, nutty taste of toasted rice. It is a very smooth transition between savory and sweet that is punctuated with a hint of citrus that lingers in the mouth for a few. The mouthfeel is very smooth, almost creamy. I really like this tea, it is a new take on the traditional Genmaicha and while they have similar ideas (rice and green tea) they are executed quite differently. My biggest word of advice if trying this tea is do not expect it to taste like the traditional Genmaicha, toss any expectations out the window and be prepared for a new experience.
Well, it is official, I (along with my noisy kettle, lamp, and noisy craft supplies) am being kicked out of the bedroom. Since my sleep schedule is cyclic and Ben’s is not, he is tired of being woken up when I am nocturnal…which is completely fair. So to rectify this he is setting up a nice little nook for me in the (slightly scary) basement so I can make noise without waking him up. Hooray!
Tonight I am doing something a little special with my tea review, I am reviewing a blend sent to me for Christmas created by my mother (also known as Gumby), a Masala Chai. This is a sort of celebration of what this blog is at its heart, meaning I will review any tea no matter where it came from (be it giant company or someone’s wild invention in their pantry) I want this blog to explore all the teas and give them an honest reviewing. This specific Chai is blended from Cardamon Black Tea (from Ahmad Tea) Green Cardamon Pods, Black Peppercorns, Fennel, Cloves, Cinnamon, Candied Ginger, Star Anise, Ground Coriander, and Love (it is in the ingredient list, it counts!). The aroma of the loose leaf is potent, I had a nice sneeze when I stuck my nose in the jar (I really need to remember to waft with teas that have pepper in them) the most prevalent note is the cardamon which fades into ginger, anise, pepper, and the cinnamon. At the finish there is a malty hint and a promise of briskness, also a very tiny hint of fennel.
Once brewed the aroma of the spices flow out of the leaves, I can almost imagine a chai colored spice cloud drifting from the basket and slowly overtaking the bedroom, and I am not complaining. After all, he who controls the Spice controls the universe. The main spice note is the cardamon still, the other spices sneaking in behind it like troops behind a general. The liquid has a sweet aroma with notes of honey mixed with the spices, cardamon still wins but is joined at the top with the ginger. There is also a very lovely malty tone that leaves a bright feeling in my nose.
Mixed with milk (whole milk and a splash of half & half for the inquisitive minds) and sugar, as per the instructions and the usual way of drinking chai. The taste is surprisingly earthy, other than the Pu Erh Chai I reviewed last month this is the first chai I have had that can be described as earthy. I am going to go out on a limb and say it is from all the ginger, sometimes I notice that it can add an earthy tone to teas and foods. The blend of spices is perfectly balanced, I was expecting the cardamon to be the supreme ruler of the spice brigade, but they all seemed to reach a peaceful agreement and shine equally. The taste is sweet, I barely needed any sugar thanks to the candied ginger, the mouthfeel is very tingly from all the spices and enjoyable. This chai is fantastic, no surprise since she has been blending her own chai for years, sadly I cannot say it is my favorite ever (the Taj Mahal restaurant still wins that) but it is certainly in the top five, possible taking the silver medal of Chais. Perhaps I need to have a Chai Contest?
*If anyone wants to try some of this chai, let me know, I am not sharing my stash, but I do know where the source is ;) *
I have a real love-hate relationship with these mini Hama beads, I feel like I am making no progress what so ever with sorting them and it is frustrating me. But I can’t hate them because they are so pretty, lovely vibrant colors mixed with a tiny size makes me happy, I just wish they would sort themselves because I want to start using them! I also have a real love-hate relationship with tea companies that have seasonal teas that go away and do not necessarily come back. It seems I have found a few of those that I end up loving and have no way of getting my greedy hands on ‘the precious’ again and I am left longing for them. It is one of these teas that I am reviewing today!
Toasted Marshmallow by DAVIDsTEA was sent to me (along with some other yummy spiced teas) from one of my Steepster friends, sadly when I went to their website I realized that it is a seasonal tea, and I had missed the season. Tragic! The tea is a blend of Black Tea, Marshmallows, Cinnamon, Allspice, Brittle Pieces, and Kukicha Green Tea, I am impressed with the use of whole Allspice berries, I have not seen that in a tea before. The aroma is very sweet and spicy with notes of marshmallow, toffee, malt, and cinnamon. There is also a strong note of spiced rum, allspice almost always reminds me of spiced rum. It has more of a mulling spice than a roasting marshmallow aroma, and even though it doesn’t match the name the aroma is quite pleasant.
Once steeped the aroma of allspice fills the room, the leaves loose some of their sugary sweetness and are mostly spiced, specifically rum tinged allspice. It is very rich with a hint of malt and smells extremely smooth and welcoming. The liquid brings back the marshmallow and has notes of spice as well, much sweeter and rich with a strong allspice finish.
The taste is sweet and malty, it is like someone already added cream to my tea. The mouthfeel is extremely smooth and velvety with a slightly sharp finish, but it leaves a slightly waxy feel in the mouth which is not as unpleasant as that sounds. For all that the aroma of allspice and cinnamon are fairly strong, in the cup they are quite perfectly balanced, just enough to let you know you are drinking a spiced tea without being overpowering. I found that letting this tea steep a long time improved it (usually I can’t say that about black teas) I first steeped it for 4 minutes and found that the spices and sweetness were present but the tea taste was not. Letting the tea steep for 6 and a half minutes brought out the malty qualities and made the tea a bit more brisk. Upon tasting I can say that the name doesn’t really match the taste, but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment, I will definitely procure more if it returns!
I have such a terrible case of the winter ‘blahs’ and it is seriously sapping my desire to do much of anything other than play Terraria (because it is so green and full of life! sometimes). As soon as the weather stops being insanely cold (it was -18 degrees here the other day) I am going to haul myself outside and find a speck of green and just sit next to it. This may prove awkward for my neighbor who has the only pine tree in a several mile radius. I do not think my SAD is related to sunlight, having Lupus means the sun hates me, but the lack of green things and most of nature being asleep does make me want to hibernate. So, like yesterday, I am pulling a tea that reminds me of livelier times from my notebook to review.
Today we are looking at Rose Ti Kuan Yin by Tian Hu Shan. I came across a jar full of this tea at my favorite Asian Market and was so enchanted by the idea of mixing rose (one of my favorite tea additives) and Tie Guan Yin (and all its spelling permutations) that I had to grab it, plus I loved the jar it was in. I pop off the lid and give the leaves a good sniff and alas, I am disappointed. With rosebuds that size I was expecting the aroma to be intense and like stepping into a rose garden during summer, instead it was like coming across a single dried rose leftover on the vine from last summer. Dry, mildly floral, and a little perfumed. The Ti Kuan Yin had the aroma of sweet, baking bread and a hint of roast, it was also pretty mild.
Brewing the tea does help both the oolong and the roses have more distinct aromas, the rose is very much so an English rose style and not a spicy wild rose (I might sniff too many flowers) and has a soapy, perfumed quality. The oolong has notes of green beans, chestnuts, and yeasty bread with a fading hint of orchid. The liquid is mostly oolong with a hint of rose as the finish, sweet with notes of chestnut and oddly a hint of popcorn.
The flavor is sadly, a bit uninspiring. The rose is fairly mild, a finishing note instead of being front and center. There are very mild notes of orchid and chestnuts, but mostly what I am getting is yeasty sweet notes, like baking bread, and roasted notes. I was disappointed and put it back on my shelf until my gaiwan arrived, perhaps giving it a Gongfu steeping instead of Western would change things up a bit. The flavors were a little stronger but still nothing spectacular. It was a beautiful tea to look at but uninspiring to sip, the quest for a rosy Tie Guan Yin continues!
I have been binging on Terraria the last day and a half, after multiple tries I finally beat the Wall of Flesh (for those not in the know, yes it is as creepy as it sounds) and unlocked Hardmode. I have then, of course, spent the intervening time dying nigh constantly. The frustrations of a gamer’s life are endless as the hoards of monsters trying to eat me. Since it is bitterly cold in the Midwest at the moment, I am pulling a very springtime tea out of the annals of my notebook to review today.
Pre-Chingming Top Pai Mu Tan by Upton Tea Imports is a special tea, Pre-Chingming means it was harvested before the festival of Chingming (usually celebrated the first week of April) one of a few holidays in the Chinese calender for honoring one’s ancestors. It is famous in tea culture for producing more subtle aromas and flavors than teas picked later in the year. I should mention that the designation of Pre-Chingming was originally applied to green teas, specifically Lung Ching and Bi Luo Chun. This tea has a mild and vaguely spicy aroma, like pepper and sage. There is also the aroma of dried oak leaves and a hint of paper. The aroma is very mild and fresh.
Once the leaves have been steeped they become sweet and fresh, like new growth and not at all like dried leaves. There is still a hint of pepper, but now it is more like the aroma of a peppery lettuce instead of the spice. The liquid sans leaves however has very little aroma, there is a faint sweetness and that is all.
The taste surprised me a bit, it is fruity, starting off tart and fading to honeydew melon. I was not necessarily happy about the melon notes, I do not like melon at all. The midtaste is sweet vegetal like a delicate note of artichoke and fresh leaves, the tea finished with a peppery note and leaves a gentle, sweet, aftertaste. This tea is very subtle and mild, I probably would have loved it if not for the melon taste. This is another of those teas that I can say ’it’s not you it’s me’ to it and recommend it but with the caveat that I was not a fan.
I have had an utterly run of the mill day, woke up in the afternoon, sorted some mini hama beads, logged some tea review notes in my journal, watched some videos on youtube, got into yet another long winded Tolkien themed debate with Ben, and cooked some food. It was a completely standard day for me and I enjoyed the relaxed pace of it. Sadly that means I have no exciting stories and interesting anecdotes share, so I will make up for it with an interesting tea from my tea notebook.
Silver Buds Yabao by Verdant Tea is one of the great mysteries of the tea world (at least to me it is) picked in 2008 from winter buds in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan it manages to be both a white tea and a pu’er. You can see how I find it so mysterious, the buds look like adorable little catkins and is labeled by some as a white tea, but Verdant’s Yabao is aged and like pu’er, has aging potential (quoted from the website). To say I was intrigued by it was selling it short, I needed to try these ‘bud treasures’ as soon as possible. The aroma of this tea can be described as crisp, with strong notes of cedar and pine resin. There are lesser notes of pepper and sage and finished with a mild sweetness that tickles the nose as it leaves.
Once the buds are brewed their aroma becomes even more herbaceous, the notes of sage and hint of basil become the dominant aroma followed by under tones of cedar and pine resin. Again it finishes with sweetness. In the liquid I can pin down what that sweetness is, it is the aroma of fresh pine sap. The aroma of the liquid is very mellow and the notes of pine are sweet and delicate.
I was describing this tea to my grandmother the other day and I described it as ‘tasting like a winter forest smells’ which I enjoy, I love when a tea tastes very clearly of the season it was harvested in, like it captured a piece of time in their leaves. The initial tastes is sugar sweetness that fades fairly quickly to sage and then almost explodes into cedar. This tea leaves the mouth tasting like cedar long after sipping has finished. The mouth feel is tingly from the trichomes (plant fuzz for the non-botany savvy) and as the tea cools it becomes sweeter.
With the second steep the aroma wafting out of my teacup is even stronger notes of cedar and pine than the first steep. The taste is even sweeter that the first as well and when it transitions from sweet to cedar taste it had a very quick twinge of tart sweetness like sour apple which made my salivary glands twinge in a not unpleasant manner. The taste and aroma still remind me of winter in a pine forest, very crisp and clean.
The third and final steep has the aroma still being strong though not as much so, notes of cedar and sage with a hint of sweetness. The taste is mostly subdued, mild notes of cedar, sugar, and sage blending together. The finish is crisp and feels clean, I feel refreshed after drinking this tea. When I recorded the tasting notes for this tea it was a long way until winter (during a heat wave no less) and I was brewing it Western style. I recently received more tea for Christmas and plan on revisiting this tea Gongfu style to see if there are any major differences. This tea has a permanent place in my collection now.
I almost didn’t get a tea review written today, I spent most the day in a state of brain fog making most of my attempts to communicate a garbled mess. Many cups of tea, a hearty serving of beans and toast and several hours of castle renovation in Terraria were needed before I felt comfortable with describing a tea. I am going to blame my brain being foggy on the obnoxious cold weather (all cold, no snow, totally unfair) but at least it is good tea sipping weather.
Today’s tea is Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Black Tea by Eco-Cha Artisan Teas, harvested in Winter 2012, this tea is, as the website describes it, an anomaly. Created when oolong was being oxidized and accidently forgotten about meaning it was oxidized to the point of almost being a black (or red) tea. The aroma of this tea is intense! Bright notes with floral tones at first, but the more I sniff the tea the more I detect; oak notes, and cocoa changing to fruity and sweet, ending with a hint of tobacco leaves. I will be honest, I am amazed by the complexity of the aroma of this tea, it manages to blend the oaky and cocoa notes I associate with black teas with sweet, floral notes of an oolong.
Once brewed the already fluffy leaves just explode, barely fitting in my steeping basket, for once I am glad I did not brew Gongfu because I think my gaiwan could not contain the immensity of the leaves. The aroma is at first oaky and loamy with an undertone of baking bread that fades into a gentle sweetness. The liquid has a sweet and fruity aroma reminiscent of lychees that fade to honey and then cocoa. It certainly smells delicious!
The first steep is very bright with almost fruit like tartness that fades to sweet lychee with an midtaste of oak and a very tiny hint of tobacco. The aftertaste is lightly muscatel and sweet, as it cools the fruit flavors becomes stronger. This steeping even though is very bright is also very smooth with a pleasant mouthfeel with no dryness.
The second steeping has a sweet and stone fruit aroma with hints of honey and oak. The first thing I notice is the tart aspect from the first steep is gone and is replaced by rich sweetness. The tea is very smooth blending mescatel notes with honey and oak wood. The mouthfeel is almost buttery in its smoothness, drinking it is extremely enjoyable. This is another one of those teas that I have fallen in love with but could not drink everyday because it is so intense, when drinking it I feel like I could get lost in the experience. It is a tea I would recommend to everyone because it is complex but also approachable, someone with an ‘unrefined tea palette’ would enjoy it (I tested this on Ben) as well as experienced tea sippers.
Last night and most of today my internet was dead, turns out something was off with my wifi modem and it needed updating (or reinstalling…my much more tech-savvy sweetheart fixed it) before it was on speaking terms with the internet again. It was harrowing, I felt so cut off from the world, so I spent the time without the internet tasting new teas and playing Terraria, with intermittent mini Hama bead sorting (that is going to take forever!!!) it turned out to be a good day. To celebrate the return of the internet, here is a review of a Taiwanese tea.
Tsui Yu Jade Oolong by Eco-Cha Artisan Teas is an unroasted Oolong grown at 400m, which is fairly low allowing for machine harvesting, I suggest checking out the origin tab on their website for all the details on how this tea is harvested, it is fascinating! Tsui Yu Jade is also known as Kingfisher Jade, or Formosa Tea No.13. The aroma of this tea is sweet and herbaceous with a warm, yeasty undertone. The aroma reminds me of baking herb bread with a finishing hint of nuttiness that is very faint.
Once I steep the leaves however the tone becomes intensely vegetal with undertones of sage and a lingering sweetness that ends becomes heady as I pulled the steeped leaves away from my nose. It is one of those teas that when I take the lid off of my gaiwan to enjoy the aroma it wafts out and fills the room. The liquid after pouring it into my cup is herbaceous and sweet with faint floral tones.
The first steep is nutty and mild, the taste is green like fresh vegetation but fades into mellow sweetness. The mouthfeel is pleasantly smooth. This steep is mild and subtle, a good initiation to what promises to be a complex tea. The flavors and aromas reminds me of the first warm day of early spring.
The second steep is, as predicted, more complex. The aroma of the leaves is savory herbs, primarily sage with a hint of thyme fading into fresh vegetation. The aroma of the liquid is honey sweet with sage undertones. The taste is incredibly smooth and herbaceous, there are notes of fresh vegetation that fades into floral notes of hyacinth with an aftertaste of sweetness. I really like how this tea starts of savory and fades into floral sweet.
The third steep’s leaves are almost primarily herbaceous with an after aroma of orchid. The liquid’s aroma is heady and sweet. The taste is at first honey sweet with a buttery mouthfeel that fades into vegetal tones, primarily the note of green beans and a hint of spinach. The midtaste is sage and it fades into a floral aftertaste. This tea takes you on a journey of flavor starting herbal and vegetal and moving to floral and sweet, it is like an adventure in my mouth!
Last night, reliving an old tradition, I went to see Desolation of Smaug, to celebrate I am reviewing a thematic tea! I am not going to talk about the movie though, my reasoning is I could write several blog posts analyzing the ins and outs of what I did and did not like about it. Yes, I am one of those people, a Tolkien scholar that reads the Silmarillion for fun and has an entire bookshelf devoted to Tolkien themed books. So to save you all the pain and suffering of my Middle Earth ranting, here is some tea reviewing!
Smaug Tea by 52Teas is a blend of Dragonwell, Cinnamon, Cayenne Pepper, and a hint of Lapsang Souchong, a fiery dedication to the last of the great Winged Fire Drakes. The aroma of this tea is intense, it actually made me sneeze. The tea is spicy and strong, with intense notes of cinnamon and cayenne pepper ending with a very delicate hint of smokiness. I did not notice any vegetal aroma from the Dragonwell, it is all power and fury. I think a mere sniff of this tea would turn a Cold Drake into a Fire Drake in no time.
The brewed leaves are still incredibly spicy and potent but now with a sweet undertone. There are vegetal notes present now as well that are faint but do blend nicely with the heat from the spice. The aroma of the liquid is much milder but still pleasantly spiced with sweet cinnamon fading to hot cayenne pepper. There is a buttery vegetal tone and a slight smoky hint as well.
Oh My Glaurung that is an intense tea! First there is a sweet vegetal taste mixing spinach and artichoke, as you swallow the midtaste becomes cinnamon warmth and then fades into hot cayenne fire in the back of your throat. It burns like dragon’s fire, though not unpleasantly so. There is a slight aftertaste of smoke and sweetness, I wish there would have been a touch more smoke (a personal preference since I love smoky teas) but as it usually is with dragons there is no room for smoke, only fire. This tea is a fitting tribute to Smaug, it is powerful while still being enjoyable, I do not reccomend any dwarves sip this tea though, it could end badly.