168 Tasting Notes

drank Toasted Nut Brulee Oolong by Teavana
168 tasting notes

When my wife and I were out and about on Saturday, we couldn’t resist dropping in at the Teavana store in the mall. Some of our visits are spent by just partaking of the wonderful free tea samples, followed by running out of the store quickly, before we succumb to the great smells and tastes and spend a lot of money. However, every now and then they catch us at a weak moment and we open our wallets. Such was the case on Saturday.

After the Teavana sales associate fanned the aroma of dry Toasted Nut Brulee oolong tea up my nose, I was ready to buy that sucker just to smell if I couldn’t drink it. It had an incredible sweet and nutty odor.

I opened the container of tea this morning and snorted it for several minutes before I snapped out of it and remembered that my purpose of opening it was to drink it. I followed Teavana’s directions and steeped the tea at 195 degrees for three minutes. The brewed color was a bright gold. Although still very pleasant, I found it interesting that the brewed aroma of the tea was quite different from its unbrewed state. The smell was still slightly nutty, but it had a strong cinnamon and fruit accent, almost like apple cider.

My first sip tasted like the brewed smell: a little nutty and a lot fruity like apple cider. The brew passed through my gullet very smoothly. There was no bitterness and a very sweet yet subtle aftertaste floated on my palate. Subsequent sips retained all of the same qualities.

I did like this tea. The brewed flavor, in my mind (and palate), didn’t match the unbrewed aroma, but the taste was sweet, smooth, full, fruity, and nutty. Since I require stronger black teas to kick-start my brain in the morning, I won’t be adding this blend to my breakfast rotation. However, I will be pulling this nice oolong out when friends visit for lunch, dinner, or just dessert.

195 °F / 90 °C 3 min, 0 sec

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drank Pu-erh Classic by Rishi Tea
168 tasting notes

We made our first visit to the semi-new local Whole Foods store on Saturday. It was an interesting place with more “wholesome” food choices than your average major chain. However, if you are looking for many varieties of the good stuff, i.e., chips, cookies, and other wonderful junk food (like I ALWAYS am), Whole Foods will disappoint you.

What I liked most about Whole Foods was that they had a modest selection of loose leaf teas that I hadn’t tried yet. For this trip, I decided to purchase Rishi’s Pu-erh Classic.

My only exposure to Rishi teas up to that point was with Rishi’s Earl Grey, which is my absolute favorite Earl Grey. I was therefore quite excited to try their pu-erh selection.

When I opened the sealed freshness bag, a rich and familiar leathery aroma was released from inside. Side note: Rishi nicely provides a piece of strong tape to reseal the bag after opening.

Following Rishi’s instructions, I steeped the brown earth-colored leaves for five minutes at 212 degrees. The brewed liquor was a deep chocolate brown. There was no obvious aroma emanating from the brew.

My first sip produced an earthy, leathery, and wood-like flavor in my taste buds. The taste was smooth and defined but not strong. I did not detect any bitterness or unpleasant lingering artifacts. I also did not experience the presence of cocoa in this tea. The flavor remained at this level throughout two cups.

This is a nice pu-erh tea with good flavor. The less than robust strength of taste in my first try was my fault. I steeped my usual one TEASPOON of leaves per eight-ounce cup of water and I just noticed that Rishi’s instructions called for one TABLESPOON of leaves per eight-ounce cup of water. (I must have still been asleep at the tea maker.) I have no doubt that the flavor I experienced times three will be more than sufficient for me next time. If I remember (and that’s a HUGE if), I’ll update this tasting note after I boost the amount of leaves in my next brewing of Rishi’s Pu-erh Classic tea.

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec

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I hate to admit it but I’ve become a tea snob. I tend to look down my nose at bagged teas now as I don’t feel that they have the same complexity, freshness, and full flavors possessed by loose leaf teas. To me, bagged teas are like the McDonald’s of the tea world. I enjoy a fast food burger from time to time. But, if I have a choice, I’m going for a thick, medium-rare, juicy, steak burger at a fine restaurant.

My sister-in-law was nice enough to buy this Vail Breakfast Tea for me. So, the least I can do is try it and write a tasting note about it.

The white tea bag appeared to be smaller than the average bag. This isn’t a complaint, just an observation (I’m not THAT much of a snob). The amount of crushed leaves packed into the bag did seem to be normal for a cup of tea.

I microwaved a cup of cold filtered water for six minutes on high. The cup looked like a bubbling cauldron after that much time. I immediately dropped the tea bag into the boiling water and let it steep for five minutes.

The brewed color was a deep reddish gold. No discernible aroma emerged from the cup.

My first sip produced a complete and pretty standard Ceylon tea taste. The flavor was pleasant and full. My taste buds didn’t detect any astringency, which I felt was better than average for bagged Ceylon teas. The aftertaste was also benign without bitterness. Subsequent sips throughout the cup remained consistent without offensive or unidentified artifacts in the flavor.

I can’t say that the tea “wowed” me, but I did not find anything to criticize either. I can report that I found it to be an amiable experience. I would have no problem drinking this tea again when I’m in the office with no access to loose leaf and infusers.

Although I do not prefer bagged teas (for my reasons stated above), I want to prove that I can be objective and unbiased against them. I’ve therefore rated this tea NOT as a bagged tea, but by following the same criteria that I use for all teas (loose leaf, bagged, black, green, oolong, etc.). My rating is nothing more (or less) than an analysis of its flavor, consistency, complexity, bitterness/astringency, and aftertaste.

To summarize my evaluation of this tea:

o This is a better than average bagged tea.
o The flavor is full and consistent without bitterness.
o You may not be “wowed” by the flavor but you won’t be disappointed either.

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec

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This is my final The Spice and Tea Exchange (TSTE) entry in the trilogy purchased by my thoughtful wife last weekend. I hate to see these selections come to an end. The first two that I tried, Black Chocolate and Lapsang Souchong, were simply amazing. Let’s see if TSTE can keep the run alive!

When I opened the zip-lock pouch of black leaves with blue, yellow, and brown specks, a very strong fruity/blueberry aroma was instantly revealed. It was a natural smell, not fake or chemical.

I steeped the leaves at 212 degrees for four minutes as recommended in the instructions on the pouch. The brewed color was a deep amber. A robust blueberry odor gushed from the pot.

My first sip produced a sweet, smooth, and very blueberry taste in my mouth. The flavor was much like the smell: sweet, full, and very natural, without any artificial inclinations. The taste was like fresh blueberries had just been picked and squeezed over the tea. The black tea attribute was in the back of the bus at no disadvantage to the great flavor.

The taste remained delightfully unchanged with all subsequent sips (and then gulps). Bitterness was nowhere to be found. The aftertaste was sweet and fruity. It reminded me of the glass of natural blueberry juice I drank a while back.

I wasn’t that fond of fruity teas as most of the ones I tried seem to have a chemical or perfume-like taste. However, the flavor of this tea was excellent. It was wonderful at breakfast and I’m sure it would be equally terrific at lunch, dinner, or iced. This blend was great enough to make me give the fruity tea category another chance!

To say that I am extremely impressed by the quality and flavor of TSTE’s teas would be a gross understatement. As I mentioned in an earlier tasting note, their selections are somewhat pricey at about $5.50 per ounce. Having said that, I also feel that the quality matched the price. All three of the selections that I tried were absolutely incredible. I may need to send my wife on another trip to the Washington, D.C., area soon! :-)

Boiling 4 min, 0 sec

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After sweet black teas, I believe my next favorite category is smoky black teas. I’ve tried a few Lapsang Souchong teas in the past and liked them all. I was looking forward to trying The Spice and Tea Exchange’s (TSTE) entry in this arena. Their black chocolate tea showed me that they know how to load a tea with flavor.

As I opened the zip-lock pouch of thin black tea leaves, my nostrils were instantly slapped soundly by a potent campfire aroma. It was a deep rich odor that almost smelled like burning hickory wood.

I brewed the leaves at 212 degrees for four minutes (my choice as TSTE does not include steeping instructions). The finished liquor was a deep amber color. A strong smoky smell that reminded me of my Boy Scout campout days erupted from the tea pot and filled my kitchen.

The initial sip shot strong smoky signals to my taste buds at the speed of light. Although quite potent, the taste was also smooth and complete. The smoky flavor of this tea was so well defined and complex that I kept trying to identify the components that comprised it. (I’m still leaning toward hickory wood.) There was no bitterness whatsoever. The flavor of each sip was as full and detailed as the one before. The aftertaste delightfully echoed the great flavor. The black tea taste took a backseat as it usually does with good smoky teas.

This is a fantastic Lapsang Souchong tea with all of the elements that you would want in this blend and more. I will be reaching for this selection in the morning again soon. TSTE’s teas are pricey but I don’t feel cheated.

Boiling 4 min, 0 sec

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My sweet wife took a trip to the Washington, D.C., area this weekend and I was unable to go. To make me feel better and missed, she picked up some teas by The Spice and Tea Exchange for me while she was in Annapolis, Maryland. Due to my insatiable sweet teeth (a whole mouth full of them), I naturally reached first for the Black Chocolate tea pouch this morning.

The moment I opened the small zip-lock pouch, a powerful and sweet dark chocolate aroma drifted from it. It smelled so good that I was ready to munch on the short black tea leaves without brewing them!

Finding some restraint, I steeped the leaves at 212 degrees for four minutes (no brewing instructions were on the pouch). A dark amber-colored brew was the result. A strong and inviting chocolate aroma floated from the tea pot.

The very first sip produced a full, sweet, and rich dark chocolate flavor. There was no need to search for the chocolate flavor. It exploded against my taste buds like Fourth of July fireworks.

All sips (and then gulps) after the first one remained consistent, smooth, and steady. The flavor was always sweet, chocolate, and delightful. There was no bitterness lurking in the taste, not even a hint of it in the dark chocolate. The black tea flavor was quiet and in the background. Chocolate was the indisputable star of the show.

The hot chocolate flavor of this tea was so luscious that I was tempted to drop a few marshmallows into it. I thoroughly enjoyed this selection at breakfast, but this blend must also be incredible at lunch or dinner for dessert.

This was my first experience with The Spice and Tea Exchange and it was a terrifically memorable one. If you love chocolate (and who doesn’t?) and are a sweet-a-holic like I am, you won’t be able to drink this tea fast enough…or just enough!

Boiling 4 min, 0 sec

This sounds amazing! I like your comment about a whole mouth full of sweet teeth… I definitely have that as well!


Sugar is my (or one of my) greatest vice, tigress_al. If I ever win a supermarket sweep, I’m hitting the cookie, candy, and ice cream aisles first!

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drank Vanilla Tea by Sandy Creek Herb Co.
168 tasting notes

I had a nice experience with Sandy Creek Herb Company’s Southern Mint Tea that I purchased from our local Provisions store about a month ago. So, I was more than willing to take a chance on their new Vanilla Tea when we dropped by the store last weekend.

I love black tea with sweet flavors so I had high hopes for this one. When I opened the package, a strong (but not overpowering) and sweet vanilla aroma wafted up from the zip-locked container.

Sandy Creek Herb Company doesn’t include brewing instructions for their teas. I called upon my most commonly used black tea settings (212 degrees for four minutes) to steep the sweet-smelling short black leaves.

A slight vanilla aroma emerged from the brewed blend. The color was a bright amber.

With the very first sip, a well-harmonized vanilla and black tea concerto was performed merrily on my taste buds. Every sip thereafter, throughout two cups, was consistently sweet and full-flavored without bitterness or artificial aftertaste.

The vanilla flavor is balanced perfectly with the black tea so that neither outshines the other. And, the smooth black tea taste is expertly complemented by the natural vanilla accompaniment. Although I like to chug my black tea in the morning, this fine selection would also be a big hit as a dessert tea at lunch or dinner.

In summary, this is another great tasting tea from Sandy Creek Herb Co. They are now two for two with the offerings that I have tried. Since two of their Provisions stores are less than a 20-minute drive from my house, I see more Sandy Creek Herb Company teas in my future!

Boiling 4 min, 0 sec

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I was already quite familiar with Teavivre’s pu-erh tea via their Ripened Aged Pu-erh Mini Tuocha (bird’s nest-shaped little tea cake) selection, my absolute favorite pu-erh tea. I liked it so much that I sent away for seven ounces of the product from Teavivre in China a few months ago. When I received the order, the ample amount in the package made me think that I would be tuocha-sufficient through the end of the year. However, I brewed through all of the little birds’ nests in about three weeks! Since I try to maintain Teavivre’s pu-erh and a few of their black varieties in my stash of staple teas, I immediately hit their website to order more pu-erh. This time, I thought I would give their loose leaf Ripened Aged Loose Pu-erh tea a shot, hoping that it would just approach the great quality of the tuochas.

When I opened the package, the strongest pu-erh aroma that I have ever experienced burst forth from the bag. It was a potent, earthy, and leathery smell that screamed pu-erh in several different languages. The long tea leaves looked like shredded landscaping mulch and were a milk chocolate color.

I was surprised (and a little concerned) when I saw that the instructions recommended three to four teaspoons of the leaves for each eight-ounce cup. I was afraid that I would empty the entire package twice as fast as with the tuochas. However, Teavivre’s instructions always seem to suit my taste buds, so I used their recommended amount (three tablespoons), temperature (212 degrees), and brewing time (two minutes).

The steeped brew was a deep dark brown. A fragrant medium-strength pu-erh tea aroma arose from the pot.

The flavor of the tea was absolutely, thoroughly, and incredibly delicious. It was rich, powerful, smooth, and exploding with flavor. The taste was fresh and earthy with a full-bodied leather quality. Bitterness was not in this tea’s vocabulary. The aftertaste lingered blissfully without annoyance.

I would give this tea a rating of 200 if that choice were available. I will do my best to make sure that this tea is NEVER missing from my daily stash.

Boiling 2 min, 0 sec

Oh my goodness! I am drinking one of their wonderful puerhs right this minute, but I am adding this one to my wish list!


It’s a great one, ashmanra! I’ll be looking forward to your tasting note!

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I stumbled upon this little gem at our local Provisions store. This tea comes from a company that I was familiar with for its herbs and spices, but not teas. These folks knew what they were doing when they decided to whip up a blend of black tea and mint herbs.

When I opened the two-ounce packet of leaves, a very fresh spearmint/peppermint (both herbs are in this blend) aroma was present. There was such a generous portion of mint in this selection that I had to read the ingredients on the packet to verify that this was black tea and not green tea. The leaves were very short, almost like pipe tobacco.

There were no steeping instructions on the packet so I brewed the tea for three minutes at 205 degrees. I thought maybe I should go a little easier on the mint than full steam boiling. The color of the steeped tea was a golden reddish mix.

Although there wasn’t a strong mint aroma spewing from the cup, the taste of this tea was just loaded with mint. The spearmint/peppermint infusion was perfect. It was fresh and potent without becoming obnoxious. I couldn’t identify a tea taste per se, but it didn’t matter. The flavor was just a wonderful waltz of mint. The aftertaste was a pleasing mint symphony that I wished had lingered longer.

I thoroughly enjoyed four cups of this tea in the morning. The next time the leaves hit my tea maker will be in the afternoon. I’m going to pour it over ice after brewing. I’m sure this will be an excellent iced tea to which Southerners I know will happily say, “Y’all come back, hear?”

205 °F / 96 °C 3 min, 0 sec

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Thanks once more to TeaVivre and Angel for this sample!

Again I must preface this note with a disclaimer that I am not a green tea aficionado. As an allergy sufferer, I need strong smells and tastes to penetrate my constantly tormented sinuses and taste buds. A lot of green tea selections seem to have flavors that are much weaker than the black tea powerhouses that I prefer. Plus, I require a more electrifying caffeine jolt in the morning to bring me back to life.

When I opened this package, I noticed the fresh quality of the long green tea leaves. This is probably because the harvest was less than two months ago. The unbrewed odor was very faint and somewhat grassy.

I steeped the leaves for two minutes at 185 degrees as directed on the package. The color of the brewed tea was an extremely pale greenish gold, just a tad darker than clear. I didn’t detect any aroma emanating from my cup, even when I pushed my snozz deep inside of it.

The flavor was…there…but it lacked definition, depth, and power. It wasn’t unpleasant. It wasn’t bitter. It was illusive. After really concentrating and focusing hard during a cup and a half of sips, I was finally able to register a ghostly sweet and lightly grassy taste on my palate.

If green teas are your preference, and your sinuses are in much better shape than mine, you probably won’t find anything dislikable about this selection. However, if you are olfactorily challenged (as I am), you may find yourself pining for TeaVivre’s Premium Keemun Hao Ya or Yun Nan Dian Hong – Golden Tip black teas (as I did).

185 °F / 85 °C 2 min, 0 sec

It has been good to see you back in Steepster, Stoo!


Thanks, ashmanra! It’s very kind of you to say that! I’ve missed being here! My birthday is coming up in a few months. Hopefully I’ll get more new teas to write about! :-)


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I ventured into the world of serious tea drinking in the Summer of 2011. I started out slowly and gently with bagged tea but climbed to the incredible flavorful heights of loose leaf teas in October of that year. Once you go leaf, you never go bag (except when you get free samples)!


South Carolina, USA

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