515 Tasting Notes
I can’t seem to get the link to the little picture of the bottle on the Ito En site to work. Oh well.
Today, my four year old and I went to Whole Foods to shop and decided to have lunch there. I picked this as the drink to have with my salad for lunch, mostly because unlike a lot of the other things on the shelf this didn’t have any flavorings.
As I have mentioned before I don’t have a lot of iced tea experience and most of what I have had has been on a scale on which the highested end point is unremarkable, and the lowest is retch-inducing. This is certainly better than anything on that scale, and it was a good accompaniment to lunch.
It has a vegetal, mild, sweet taste, with no bitterness and no artificial or chemical odd flavors or aftertaste. It’s only real downside is that it is a little on the ordinary/plain side. I didn’t really have a lot of time to spend with it but that’s my initial impression. I’d drink it again (but in the near term I’d probably pick something different just to gain more experience in RTD teas).
I got a sample of this as part of the same experiment described in my note here:
As I mentioned, I’m now more about de-rooibosing my life except for the very few blends I really really like. So I’m gonna drink this one and say goodbye to it, I expect. It would take something on the order of a miracle for me to want to order plain rooibos. But if anyone could make me do it, Samovar probably could.
Initially though, we’re not off to the best start. I sniffed the dry needles next to the Harney ones and the Harney ones have a more robust smell and a much more pleasing one. The Samovar smells shallow by comparison, and there’s a scary thing about it. Um. Well…. there’s no pretty way to say this. It has a note that reminds me a little of stale urine. Now, before I met pu erhs I might have run screaming from this sort of smell, but fortunately I’ve matured some. And doubly fortunately, the smell is not strong and it goes away after the mixture is exposed to air for a while. Like the time it took to write this much. I wonder whether it had something to do with how the rooibos interacted with the plastic of the sample package?
There’s a sign of redemption after brewing. The color is unbelievable. Deep, ruby red, almost garnet. The aroma is pretty nondescript, which I view as a plus. It signals to me that this may be an obedient rooibos, which may make their rooibos blends work the way I like them. Really, it doesn’t smell like much of anything.
The flavor is, frankly, pretty similar to the aroma. There is a rooibos-like flavor, but it isn’t strong. It has a clever citrus note, which I don’t think I’ve experienced in rooibos before.
Because it is so un-rooibosy, it’s pretty good. It’s the first thing I’ve had from Samovar that hasn’t made me want to rush to order it immediately, and unless someone discovers tomorrow that the Samovar rooibos is in fact the fountain of youth, I will not be buying it. But it does help me understand why some of their rooibos blends have been so popular, and it makes me pretty interested in trying them.
Another of my Dammann Freres purchases from the Doulton led adventure. I still have a few left to taste. Did I go overboard, do you think? (The angel on my should says “of course.” The devil on the other shoulder says “nah..”)
There are huge pink petals and tiny blue ones in among the dry leaves, which smell sweet and flowery and not at all like marzipan. Love those little blue cornflowers in anything. They make me all goofy. ;-)
The tea steeps dark reddish amber, and has a very gentle aroma that is most definitely marzipan. I can smell the sweet almond, down to that somewhat alcoholic scent and taste marzipan sometimes has. Mmmmm.
Taste wise, I get the marzipan as well. It’s not overly sweet or pastry like, which is one of the things I like about it. It truly is marzipan flavored tea, not a cake superimposed on the tea. There’s also a gentle floral taste and feel to it, particularly at the beginning of the sip and there’s also a slight saltiness that is extremely interesting.
It isn’t a heavy taste as marzipan can sometimes be, and was perfectly yummy on a day like today that is bright, sunny and warm. At some point I’ll have to assess all my Dammann Freres experiences and think about which ones are worth repeating through additional purchases, but for now I’m just enjoying drinking my way through them. This one could end up being a rebuy. Time will tell.
I can hold myself back no longer. I have to try this tea. I’m going to use Auggy’s time and temperature settings and see if I get rye bread to form in my cup.
The leaves, as has been said, are unbelievably, almost freakishly, long. I just had to take a ruler to them. Here’s the measurements on a random sample of 3 leaves. Understand that this is from end to end, and they twist and curve like climbing rose vines, so their actual length is longer.
1. 1.75 inches
2. 1.5 inches
3. 1.75 inches
They’re basically rake-able length leaves. Imagine that. Or maybe don’t. Wouldn’t want anyone inadvertantly to induce a catatonic state while contemplating such pure tea rapture.
They are a very dark green. Like a few shades closer to black than olive drab, and intensified. There are some amazing, silvery buds in there. The leaves have a patina that gives an impression of softness. Really gorgeous. A+ for the look of the dry leaves.
Their smell is toasty, roasty, nutty, green (!), fruity, sweet and there is even a coffee-like note in there. Fragrant, complex, deep. A+ for the smell of the dry leaves.
I’m steeping them in the Breville for 4 minutes at 205. It’s like watching grass grow. I can’t wait! It occurs to me that I may not have put in enough leaf. The Breville comes with its own scoop, which it suggests you use. However, the scoop doesn’t really accomodate leaves that are almost 2 inches long. So there was a lot of white space in there. I’ve decided that if I don’t get a terrific result this time I’m going to call a do over and use a scale measure instead before proceeding. I don’t want to short change this tea.
And the verdict is, I’m not sure. The liquor is very light in color, rather oolongy. I’m thinking that’s not how it’s supposed to be. So I’m going to do it over and make sure I use 3g per serving on the scale. Here goes.
Fascinating. I used 6g for 500ml this time. And I still get a liquor about the same color. This is the yellowest, most un-black-tea-colored black tea I’ve ever brewed! It’s not what I would describe as “crystalline amber” but it does reach amber, on the lighter end of the scale. Do I give it an F in liquor color for not being an example of its class, or an A+ for being different and interesting and true to its description? Pass for now.
The aroma is like the smell of the dry leaves writ small, plus it opens up to give a preview of what one might expect in the taste. I totally get the rye bread! I don’t know if I could have identified it that specifically on my own, but I get the unsweetened bready, grainy aroma (which could also be the barley identified in the description), and right at the beginning there’s a dry, almost sharp note that is very reminiscent of rye. And yet, there’s a fresh, almost green smell as well as a lovely, soft, sweetness around the edges. And gosh, I still get something roasty that’s a little like coffee. A+ for aroma.
Light bodied, but deep flavored. Smooth, but slightly astringent. There’s a complexity that is suprising given the body of this tea. I usually associate complexity with full body, but that association has just been defenestrated.
There’s a sweet, bready, flavor and a dark, black tea taste that sneaks up on you to remind you what this is, just when you thought you were drinking something else. A sweet, coffee-like aftertaste.
Random wet leaf measurement: 2.5 inches! Wow!
I haven’t ever given a perfect score and I’m not sure I’m ready to. But this is definitely an A+ of a tea.
Having the last of my sample of this as my first morning tea today. I need fortification: last field trip of the year for my kindergartener is today and I’m going along for the ride.
I steeped for four minutes this time, and surprisingly I think five works better here. It provides more depth. I’m still not getting an Earl Grey feel. It’s nice, but nothing to write home about.
With a name like Dragon Balls, it’s got to be good (or something like that). I have been intrigued ever since I saw the first post on this. Doulton kindly provided me with a sample ball in my Dammann Freres shipment. I had, as it happened, placed an order with Silk Roads that crossed with the generous sample. So now I’m balled up for at least a while. This is my first attempt, and I can’t wait to be amused.
The ball looks like a fig to me. Or a somewhat worse for wear Hershey’s kiss. It’s round, in an uneven, testicular sort of way, yes. But it’s sort of twisted into a point at what I’m going to call it’s “top.” I’m envisioning it being molded into this shape while damp. I’m thinking tea as papier mache.
Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I’m sniffing a Dragon Ball. Dry, it doesn’t give off a lot of fragrance. Maybe a small amount of oolongy toastiness.
Adding water to Dragon Ball. It’s floating! Little bubbles are forming on its outside and floating upward. And it’s gradually puffing up, so that now it looks like one of those gourd-like seed pods that falls off a tree. By the end of the first steep, it’s starting to look like one of the following (1) a bird’s nest, or (2) me on a bad hair day.
After a two minute first steep, it is still at the bird’s nest stage. It has generated a clear, golden yellow liquor, that smells toasty, a little buttery and a tiny bit green, oddly enough. The taste is mild, gentle, and sweet. There is some butter and an unexpected smoke-like note in the aftertaste. But it is not nearly as strong as darker oolongs I have had in the past, and I am wondering whether I used too much water first steep. Will rectify on second steep.
Second steep: 2:30 First, it expanded so much that it knocked up against the sides of my smaller finum filter, so I put it in a bigger one. Then I gave up and just dumped it straight into the cup. It has taken on the look of a Swedish meatball that has been overcooked. I.e., a little ragged, and almost falling apart. A few of the leaves have in fact abandoned ship and floated to the bottom of the cup. Less water does translate into more concentrated aroma. It’s reminding me of the GM Orchid Temple’s aroma, which isn’t a terrific sign as I found that one pretty florally soapy. The taste, however, is not at all soapy and has deepened some. There’s more of that oxidized oolong taste now, some nuttiness, some fruitiness.
Third steep: 3:00 Go Dragon Ball, go! I am stubbornly refusing to prod my Dragon Ball into unfurling before its time. It has, by now, become something that reminds me of the Tasmanian Devil caught in mid-spin. It’s doing a sort of leisurely scarf dance in the cup, taking its sweet time. But aroma and taste wise, this is the best steep yet. The soapiness isn’t there in the aroma anymore and the flavor seems to have intensified and deepened still more as more surface area gets exposed to the water. If I’d stopped after the first or second steep, I would have said this is an interesting novelty but without a great deal of flavor. That’s changing now. I’m now starting to get a dark fruit note that sometimes seems like apricot and sometimes like peach.
Fourth steep: 3:30 Morgie vs. Dragon Ball. We are locked in a battle of wills. It still refuses to deball, however, it is now looking more like an Impressionist rendering of a ball. One more steep and I’m pretty sure I’ll win. And the flavor just gets fruitier, nuttier and more toasty. There are some floral tones, too. The early butter has tapered off in favor of roastiness.
Fifth steep: 4:00 Really more like 5. I forgot to set the timer while I was writing about steep 4. The Dragon Ball is turning out to be a more formidable adversary than I’d thought. It is still not completely unfurled. It is maintaining its flavor, though. It’s just now starting to get that sharp, water as solvent infusion taste that seems to happen in late oolong steeps.
Sixth steep: 5:00 I’m ashamed to admit, I let the Dragon Ball win. I was certain it had become stuck, so I stuck a fork in it and gave it a little shake. It obligingly unfurled completely. Good for six steeps, though, without becoming too weak. The last steep is surprisingly just as dark as the previous one, which is significantly darker than the first. The depth of flavor has lightened and become more floral, but it’s still quite tasty. There is power in them Dragon Balls!
Now I must decide how to rate this and I’m torn. Truly, I think its taste is above average as oxidized oolongs go, but it isn’t bowling me over as astonishingly better than others I’ve had. That said, it does offer a great deal of entertainment value, and it does have an admirable longevity.
Another TeaFrog sample.
Between the time I ordered it and now I’ve pretty much decided not to order mixed black and green teas any more, absent a really compelling reason to do so. It’s just too hard to know how to steep these for maximum benefit, and I am certain I get it somewhere between wildly wrong and not quite right pretty much every time. If I got it very right, I doubt I’d even know. I’d probably figure it could still be better. And then of course, even if I got it very right and knew it, it’s impossible to know whether it would be achievable the next time. Just thinking about it makes my brain hurt.
One thing I don’t need while trying to relax with a cup of tea is a lot of uncertainty. I have enough of that in other aspects of my life. Some things should just be reliably certain, dammit.
Getting off soapbox now.
So I’m going to go with 3 minutes at 200 and see what happens. I find that with these mixes, very hot temperatures obliterate the taste of the green tea, and green tea temperatures make the black tea a shadow of what it could be. Also, steeping too long is dangerous because the green tea can get bitter.
The dry mix smells fruity to me, which is bizarre because there is nothing identified as fruit in it. For whatever reason I’m getting that grape Tootsie-Pop smell Rabs identified in one of her notes. (Lots of things are smelling fruity to me today that shouldn’t. Wonder if one of the kids stuffed a roll-up up my nose while I was sleeping?) What it seems I should have smelled, from the jasmine and rose ingredients, is flowers, and this I didn’t smell. The rose petals in this one must be a white rose or at least not red, as all petals appear to be varying shades of white, tending toward the creamy or yellow end.
In the tea’s aroma, the grapey, candy smell opens up into something more like jasmine. There’s a hint of vegetal greenness in the aroma, but mostly what I’m smelling is fruity black tea.
Surprisingly, I can taste the green tea here. It adds a vegetal taste to a jasminy, fruity, black tea.
It isn’t at all bad. It just isn’t enough to compel me to order a green/black blend.
Oh, and I went and read the other notes on this just now and I am so relieved to see I’m not the only one who got fruit here. You have no idea how relieved I am. ;-)
What an interesting smell this dry leaf mixture has. I can definitely smell the cashew, something creamy and buttery (must be the white chocolate), and there’s also a sharp note that I can’t identify but that I’m sure is a flavoring component. I’m not getting what Ricky smelled, but I can see where his comment came from. I can’t really explain it well. The best I can do is to say the interaction between the cashew smell and the white chocolate smell makes the cashews smell different than straight cashew would.
The white chocolate chips startled me at first as they are huge. Well really, they’re the size of normal chocolate chips, but most teas that I’ve had with chips in them have the tiny ones so these seemed staggeringly gynormous by comparison. At first I thought they were cashews buried in the black tea, until I scooped one out and could see its shape. The cashews look like your basic cashew halves, split down the middle. The tea in this one has large, long, pretty dark leaves.
The tea liquor looks like weak coffee with milk in it. It’s virtually opaque and a tan/orange color. I am guessing this is the influence of the (now melted) white chocolate chips. It has an unexpected aroma. Fruity. Fruity surrounding the cashews. Though the tea doesn’t have much in common with it really, I made an association with Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut bars.
The flavor is just what it purports to be, and in a really satisfying way. The cashew flavor is subtle and powerful at the same time. Not quite sure how that happened, but it did. I haven’t had cashew flavored tea before and I was concerned I’d be getting more of a generic nut flavor, but no, this is most definitely cashew. The white chocolate surrounds it without blotting it out. I can even taste the tea under it all, though it certainly isn’t the main event but rather the stage on which the event takes place.
I threw a little salt in as LiberTEAS suggested. Made a little difference, but not as much as I’d expected. This may be, however, because I’d just eaten pretzels and so had already had the effect of added salt before adding more. :-)
This is a very nice tea that accomplishes what it sets out to do and I give it a lot of credit for that. White chocolate isn’t my favorite flavor and I think if this had had regular chocolate instead I would have been reduced to speechlessness.
I’ve been wanting to try this one for a while now and today seemed like the day. This is also my first Kusmi, so I’m excited.
The dry leaves smell wonderful, but surprisingly it’s not just any old caramel I’m smelling. It’s buttery and nutty and… just yum. It must be that French thing. They can make anything elegant. That’s what this smell is: elegant. This isn’t your Halloween candy caramel. It’s a caramel from a very high end box of candies, indeed.
The tea’s aroma is mostly that same, very buttery and nutty caramel with a vanilla note. It steeps to a lighter color than I’d thought it would, but a pretty one. A sort of rosy amber.
I’m tasting a sweet, smooth, caramel-laced tea, with an extra caramel boost at the tail of the sip and it is terrifically comforting.
Now. How does this compare to Caramel-Toffee by Dammann Freres? Gosh, I might have to try them next to each other to say for sure. They’re both really delicious. I suspect the Dammann Freres may be creamier and that it may ultimately win out, but it may be one of those things where they’re similar but just different enough so that you can’t really choose one over the other and it’s really about what mood you’re in (like Florence and The Du Loup).
Drinking the last of this tonight. It remains the best bagged straight green tea I’ve tried (whole leaf version). I don’t forsee buying more as I have discovered Chinese green loose leaf teas I prefer, but this is one of the better choices if one is in need of a bagged green tea. I don’t know whether it is available in whole leaf other than in Starbucks stores and I haven’t tried the non-whole leaf version.