515 Tasting Notes
I should have known better than to drink the Samovar sample. It’s a serious problem in that they seem to do black tea exactly the way I like it, so they set the bar so high I want to stop trying other stuff and just go immediately to their online store, do not pass go.
I loved the Samovar Earl Lavender, and this is pretty much the Earl Lavender (as I remember it, it’s been a while though) without the lavender. It has the same brown sugary taste to the base as the Earl Lavender, and the same citrus presence without oiliness or too much perfume. The citrus is definitely there, but it isn’t overpowering.
I don’t recall noticing with the Earl Lavender that the bergamot had a lemony note to it. I usually get an orangey note from bergamot. But I get a sort of lemon/orange from this that is really nice.
Now that I’ve had a lot of loose leaf Earl Greys, I feel confident in saying this one is very special indeed. It’s a little nouveau in flavor owing to the tea base, with depth that more traditional versions don’t have however good they may be. I may need another category of Earl Grey in my harem, just for this. I can see it coexisting with a more traditional two dimensional Earl Grey for the times that’s what I’m wanting.
I’m boosting the rating of the Earl Lavender, too.
Hard to believe I’m the first to write about this one. But here goes.
I’m starting to get to what feels like the mid-point in my Earl Grey exploration before I settle down with some favorites. I’m thinking a regular, a creme/vanilla, a lavendar, a rose, and maybe one or two others for the Earl Grey harem. I may have to reconsider the Upton chocolate since I haven’t seen any other chocolate Earl Greys. Hmm.
I remember liking another French Earl Grey, the one from The O Dor, quite a bit. I’m interested to see how this will compare.
The dry leaves smell very strongly of bergamot, but I’ve learned that isn’t necessarily indicative of how that agent will show up in the flavor. I noticed from the note here that the tea base is Darjeeling, which I suppose is why the tea doesn’t look overly dark in color. It even has some green to it.
The liquor is a light amber, almost a bronzed golden color. Much lighter than the typical Earl, and explained by the Darjeeling base. The aroma is not at all strong on the bergamot, but it does have a sharpness to it, which I associate with Darjeeling.
The bergamot returns in the flavor, where it takes center stage. This is not what I am looking for in an Earl Grey. I like more of an essence of bergamot, a suggestion around the edges, enough to make it obviously and distinctively an Earl Grey (as I’ve also had teas that didn’t have enough bergamot to seem to me allowed to claim to be Earl Greys) but not enough to scream at me. I’m worried this one is going to sit heavily in my stomach. Which is a shame because the little glimpses of the Darjeeling that I get are quite nice. It has a sort of butteriness to it, which if the balance were struck differently enough to make it assert itself more, could be quite lovely.
It should be noted that this tea is very honest. Its notes say that it is “heavily perfumed” so the centrality of the bergamot shouldn’t be surprising.
I suppose I must be something of an Earl Grey purist, as I didn’t care for the only green Earl Grey I tried, either. Bergamot is such a strong flavor to me that it needs something equally sturdy to stand up to it. But those who love strongly bergamot flavored teas (Miss Sweet?) :-) might really like this.
So here’s what happened.
I put this into the Breville to steep, and then forgot about it and took my 4 year old to pre-K. When I came home I remembered, and the timer on the Breville indicated it had been available for drinking for approximately 54 minutes.
I figured it would be cold and probably not very good, but I tasted it anyway.
It was lukewarm. But the first thing I noticed was the mouthfeel. Thick. Not really chewy, but thick and textured, somewhere between broth and syrup. And then, unexpectedly, the most wonderful flavor. Gently smoky, with a naturally sweet, smooth undercurrent of tea that tastes like… bread on the initial sip, and as it rounds out in the mouth, plums?
Enough. I have to go make more of this and see how it is hot.
While it’s making, I’m backtracking to the dry tea. Fairly large, brown tippy leaves. A very smoky smell, that has the salty, meaty smoke thing going on.
And yes, it’s even better hot! The thickness of the mouthfeel isn’t as apparent, but there’s a carby sweetness, sort of yam-like, to both the aroma and the flavor. The smoke is an accent, not the main event, but a noticeable one. There’s a lot of depth and character here, something that reminds me of what I like about Samovar’s black teas. That particular quality is more apparent as the tea cools. Too cold, as my first cup has now become, and the magic goes poof. Would not recommend this as an iced tea. But any range between right out of the pot and lukewarm is delicious. Like a nice wine that’s left to breathe, it changes with time. One flavor may not be better than the others, just different and equally wonderful.
I was moved to give this a 100, but I can’t bring myself to do it on a limited edition. It would just be too sad to have decided on a perfect tea, and then have it be unavailable.
While I’m on a flavored oolong bender, I thought I’d give this a try. It’s my last sample from The NecessiTeas. With this I’ll have tried everything they currently offer in a sample size, and I suspect I will have ordered everything of theirs I am interested in tasting again with the exception of Coco La Ven. They are still out of that. Sigh.
So, as you can see, I’m coming into this with a prejudice against this tea. I just haven’t had great luck with The NecessiTeas with the exception of some of their rooibos and black blends.
In the sample packet, this tea smells pungently fruity, but I wouldn’t describe what I smell as pomegranate so much as a cherry/strawberry fragrance. The tea’s aroma is buttery and in general green oolongy with a sweet fruit note. I would not recognize it as pomegranate in a blindfolded sniff test. But then, I’m not sure I’d recognize even the most pomegranatey pomegranate so that isn’t saying much.
Unfortunately, my prejudices appear to have been well-founded in this case. The underlying tea seems decent enough, though perhaps a little on the thin and weak side in terms of flavor, but the “pomegranate” flavoring is a decidedly fictitious fruit taste. It has a sort of cherry candy/cough drop note to it.
Second steep. 3 min. Pretty much the same.
This smells awesome in the sample packet. It has that planty, earthy smell I get from good Assams with something else as well. It’s not really chocolate, not really vanilla, but it might be a hint of either of those. Not really smoke but could be a hint of that as well. The leaves are really pretty and bird nesty looking like some Ceylons (which is interesting since this doesn’t have Ceylon in it according to the picture at the top of this page).
It makes a dark, mahogany colored tea, with a sweet, smooth and malty aroma. The flavor is really yummy. It is a hearty flavor without a heaviness to it like some of the stouter breakfast teas (e.g., Queen Catherine). I’d describe it as medium bodied leaning toward full. It isn’t overly complex or deep, but it is full flavored, fairly smooth (a got tiny nip at the back of the throat, but it’s not consistent), and not overly sweet despite its malty aroma.
My main problem now is that I’m liking so many black teas, I’m not being very successful at narrowing down what I buy after sampling. With the exception of a few real stand outs, I’m getting a cluster of very goods and excellents and I’m having a hard time cutting them more finely. I also can’t keep them all in my head each time I taste a new one.
Does anyone have a systematic way of doing this successfully?
I haven’t had a great deal of success finding something I love in the flavored oolong category. The GM Sugar Caramel Oolong was a winner, but the others I’ve tried have ranged from meh to ok.
This one creates a worthy first impression. It’s visually enchanting, with the colorful flower petals among the curly or balled up oolong leaves. It smells wonderful. I get the coconut, the chocolate and some pineapple fragrance. And something that smells a little like tomato. The cereal is even there, though exactly what it is is lost on me.
The tea is a light yellow color and clear, very much what I’d expect from a green oolong. It has that flowery, buttery, green oolong smell, too. The flavoring agents don’t present themselves much in the aroma of the steeped tea, which could be either a good thing or a bad thing.
I think it is turning out to be a good thing. And I think I may be turning into a bit of an oolong purist, as I am finding myself to be with green tea with a few exceptions. This may be one of them. I can taste chocolate and coconut in the oolong, which is actually going pretty well with the butter. I get a hint of pineapple, but it’s only a hint, which I think is a good thing.
Compared to my Toasted Nut Brulee experience of last night, this is a nice performance by a flavored oolong. The flavors work with the tea, rather than against it. They don’t fight with it, trying to cover it up.
I’m thinking the Sugar Caramel is still in the front position, but this is up there.
I’m not following the Dammann Freres steeping instructions, by the way. I’m doing my usual oolong in a cup steeping method. First steep 2 minutes, add a minute per additional steep.
Second steep: 3 minutes. Not surprisingly, given what I’ve come to experience with Dammann Freres teas, the blend does what it’s supposed to do (at least what I think it’s supposed to do). The flavor doesn’t all wash away with the first steep. The second has a nice chocolate/coconut note and I do still get a suggestion of pineapple in the aftertaste. And through this, there is also a buttery, sweet, floral tea flavor.
Third steep. 4 minutes. Still doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s as though the tea has been impregnated with the flavor; it’s actually part of the tea, rather than something added to it on the surface that washes away with multiple steeps.
Fourth steep. 5 minutes. The non-tea flavorings finally faded here, and the oolong itself is starting to as well, but a very good run! And the leaves have gone from something reminiscent of ball bearings to a rather amazing length. I’m eyeballing it rather than measuring it, but I’d say one of them is close to 3 inches long.
Another success story from the Dammann Freres sample-fest organized by Doulton.
Another June tea of the month on the classic plan.
It smells terrific in the bag. A sort of nutty, gingery, cinnamony mix. It looks like a typical Teavana mixture with stuff other than tea in it. Big chunky trail mix-like pieces. Not quite as big as some of the other Teavana fruit mixtures that featured almost entire slices of citrus, but chunky nevertheless.
The tea is yellow in color with some orange in it as well. Darkish yellow, and though not entirely opaque, it isn’t clear either. There are little rooibos kitties down at the bottom of the glass. The aroma is fruitier than the dry mix. I can smell the apple (second ingredient) and some other fruit that smells like citrus ( oddly, as there is no citrus listed in the ingredients). I can also detect a faint cinnamon smell.
The taste is, in fact, much better than the aroma at least at first. Interestingly, it’s a third thing altogether. It doesn’t have a lot in common with either the dry aroma or the steeped one. Here I really taste the toasted nutty flavor I was expecting from the name (since oolongs often have a toasted nutty flavor, it seemed a natural fit for this type of flavoring). It’s got a sweetness to it, and some gingery spiciness as well. There’s a strange orangey note that has no real explanation. It seems to be tied to the cinnamon, somehow. Maybe it’s a result of the combination of the various fruit pieces. I can’t say I taste pineapple or papaya.
It’s true, as someone else said, that the initial sips are the best. After the initial nuttiness and toasty flavor, the cinnamon and apple/weird orange note take over. It’s not bad, it’s just not as good as the first sips, and starts to seem more like a Constant Comment echo.
Second steep, three minutes. Pretty much all the flavoring agents were washed away in the first steep it seems, except for a slight apply/cinnamony flavor. Usually at this point at least I’d get an oolong flavor, but unfortunately, the apple/cinnamon flavor is so distracting I can’t even tell whether the tea is bringing anything to the party.
I should disclose that I put about twice as much of the mix in as would ordinarily be recommended, as I find that otherwise the size of the pieces in these mixtures makes for a weak steep.
Not the worst flavored oolong by any stretch, but doesn’t live up to the promise of its name.
I went through an ordering phase not long ago where I stuck anything that had the word chocolate in it in my shopping basket any time I bought anything from anyplace. Ok, maybe that’s a tiny exaggeration, but it was certainly true of online tea shopping. I was kidnapped by the chocolate tea nymphs and made to do all sorts of unimaginable things.
That explains why I voluntarily ordered rooibos from Teavana.
The mixture is kind of funky. I found what looked like about half of a stick of cinnamon in among the pumpkin-seed looking green cardamom, almost purple colored flakes that must be the chocolate, red rooibos, something that looked like chocolate chips (carob?), and assorted other hunks ’o stuff.
The tea looks a lot like apple cider, the kind that’s opaque. Oddly it doesn’t smell very chocolatey. There’s some chocolate right at the beginning, then a lull of almost no aroma, then the spiciness at the end, with a black pepper exclamation point.
The flavor is pretty much the same. It’s surprisingly vacant right in the middle, with flavor at the beginning and the end of the sip. I wonder whether, like other Teavana blends, I should increase the mixture/water ratio?
Better yet, I think I should make this on the stovetop with milk and sweetener and see how it comes out. It does have a lot of similarity with a chocolate chai, without the caffeine.
Further experimentation will be necessary. Though I’m not getting a lot of rooibos thanks to the spiciness of the blend, this would not be a top choice for me among tisanes just drinking it straight up.
This is a sample in a tea bag that I got with a Tavalon order a while back. I didn’t pick it, it just showed up.
The bag looks like a little evening bag. It has a string that attaches in two places rather than one, so it looks like a little gauzy pocketbook. The bag itself looks scarily like a bandage. On the plus side, it has an opening that is folded over, and if you feel curious you can peek inside and see the tea rather than having to hold it up to the light to get a feel for what the tea looks like.
This genmai cha has more “popped kernals” than others I’ve had. It really does have a popcorny look about it, and I should know, having just eaten a bag at Toy Story 3 last night. (Great movie, by the way. Enjoyed it at least as much as my kids did.)
I’m having this at work, and yes, I did forget to bring a thermometer yet again. I have a mental block about it, I think. I figure the water quality is going to suck anyway, so trying to control for other variables isn’t going to make the brewing conditions perfect no matter what I do.
The tea’s aroma is curiously sweet, giving the tea an almost kettle corny smell. Almost. I don’t mean to suggest it’s bordering on cracker jacks by any stretch.
It has the expected toasty rice flavor over a mild, slightly buttery green tea. It’s not as toasty and nutty as some other genmai cha’s I’ve had, but it has more tea flavor than some others.
I suspect I’m going to settle in on Den’s as my genmai cha provider of choice with an occasional dip into others like the Samovar Ryokucha, but I’m glad I got a chance to try this.
This is another of the June teas of the month on the Teavana classic tea of the month plan. I tried it today using the Samovar stovetop method with Leafspa Yunan Gold as the extra black tea.
This is a sort of in-between chai on my scale. It’s not too spicy, but it’s hardly mild. It has a little kick at the end. The spiciness must come from the ginger and cardamom as there’s no pepper listed in the ingredients. It’s also got a decent amount of tea flavor to it, though there’s a tad of harshness to it even through the milk and sweetener. There is vanilla listed among the ingredients, and if I close my eyes and try hard I can taste the vanilla, but it’s not among the stronger flavors in this. It’s hard to say what flavor is the strongest, really. It’s probably the ginger, tied with the cinnamon.
If I hadn’t gotten this as part of the tea of the month club I probably would not have tried it. At this point in my chai experience I’ve narrowed things down enough to know that if it doesn’t have black pepper it’s not going to be able to compete with my favorites in chailand. Even so, I’m glad I got a chance to try this and I’m even gladder it wasn’t just a sample size so I’ll have another shot at it. At it happens, I made this then had to put the 4 year old down for nap, and fell asleep next to him so this was pretty much lukewarm by the time I got to it. I’m sure it’s improved by being hotter.