300 Tasting Notes
I can’t quite explain this tea. I stumbled over the just-opened Mariage Frères store in London in the fall. I sniffed my way through everything they had. I definitely wasn’t going to buy another rooibos. The only thing I walked away with was this.
What gives, Anna?
I gifted the one I bought to a person who doesn’t really like rooibos at all (but who hilariously hogged it to the extent that the wildest excuses were made to not share any of the tea at all). I then returned in the spring and did EXACTLY THE SAME THING (?!) but kept the tea for myself this time.
It’s nowhere near as pretty as the picture above – forget about seeing even half a rose petal. The scent isn’t particularly strong; there’s a solid, lavender-strewn body with a slight hint of something indistinguishable and vaguely exciting.
It’s not an exceptional tea. It’s an elegant, smooth rooibos that hits a surprisingly bright shade brewed. It tastes… just like it smells.
And yet is has that thing. A wild card, a ghost note, a secret, two pinches of je ne sais quoi.
And I can’t explain it.
And I can’t stop drinking it.
[Purchased at Mariage Frères in London, May 2013.]
This is tea #3 from the selection of four I first talked about in this post: http://steepster.com/clareborn/posts/184829
I’ve had various golden needle teas before, but I’ve never brewed them myself. The long, spiky leaves aren’t really ideal for a one-cup infuser, but it worked out. I was struck by a brief wave of OCD desire to steep them vertically, but I managed to control myself.
Dry, this tea is very much a noseful of hay. Not dry, dead, hay, though, but grassy, sweet and springy. In the cup, it’s a very nice, smooth, elegant black. This is the kind of tea I’d keep at home, if I wanted to have a good basic black tea around – not overly characteristic, but with more sophistication and appeal than the average bag of leaves.
But, as it happens, I don’t feel much of a need to keep a good basic black around. I want more complexity and more surprises. I’ve finished the cup, and it was definitely nice and smooth – yes. I can see myself finishing the roughly 2 oz. I have left, potentially in a breakfast situation – yes. But it doesn’t really excite me, and there are many teas I would pick over it. My lower rating, in other words, has to do with my own preferences and not so much with the quality of the tea itself.
[Purchased/gifted at Teavana in Honolulu, January 2013.]
I find this (Christmas sale) tea frustrating. It’s full of promise – it’s beautifully chunky with fruit and it smells so, so good. There’s just no way all that lusciousness could be lost on the way to the cup.
And yet it is.
Following the on-bag instructions for the hot brew produces a nearly incomprehensibly bland tea. It’s completely flat, with a vague fruity note.
Cooling it, on the other hand, does enhance the flavour, but brings out a bitterness so pronounced it’s like a punch in the face.
I’m so frustrated I’m considering roasting it lightly in the oven and eating it dry as a snack, or an ice cream topping. It seriously can’t be any worse than drinking it.
[Purchased at Teavana in Honolulu, January 2013.]
What I wrote about basic, everyday rooibos teas in this note is applicable here as well: http://steepster.com/teas/tehornan/39015-champagne-gradd-champagne-and-cream
This was my go-to rooibos in the fall, and consequently I have only just a little left. I thought I’d top this canister right up again, but after drinking it nearly back-to-back with the champagne and cream from the same store, I find myself liking that one just a little bit better.
This is similar in that it isn’t overly rooibos:y, and that it has some complexity to it, but I miss the aromatic headiness of the other cup. Still, this is along the lines of what I look for in a sturdy rooibos. The dry tea itself is pretty, studded with whole berries, and the scent has a lightness to it that I really enjoy.
[Purchased at Tehörnan in Uppsala, fall 2012.]
This is the first apple tea I tried (that wasn’t of the super-sweetened Turkish variety) that I really enjoyed. To my nose, there is nothing artificial about the scent of the leaves – this is exactly what it smells like when you’re in your autumn kitchen, peeling harvested apples for jams and chutneys. Long, fragrant ribbons of tart apple peel spiraling to the floor. Dipping my nose into a sample of Tsugaru green, I can almost feel the stickiness on my fingertips.
I’ve said it before, but this is what Lupicia tend to do so well – steer clear of even the slightest note of artificiality.
The flavour is a perfect, mild apple. There is some tartness, but not the kind of tartness all too often found in certain berry teas – the kind that hits your tongue just before you sip the tea down, at the very moment you thought you were safe. No, this is a tonge-tip tartness, dissolving into sweet fruit. I like to let this tea cool a bit to get more flavour out of it. I have yet to try it iced.
[Purchased at Lupicia in Honolulu, December 2012.]
Note to self: add an English translation when this #¤%&/(! month long n00b ban wears off.
Oh, this poor tea. Forgotten at the back of the cupboard. Best before July 2012. Then again, the bags are individually packed in plastic, and what could possibly be better than some half-stale, artificially flavoured rooibos in the evening? It’s organic, after all!
Flavour wise, very wet cardboard. That might just be age, though, but decrepitude is hardly to blame for the somewhat vile artificial vanilla.
No, dumping the remaining bags into the emergency travel tea kit. (It’s so ‘emergency’ I think there might even be some Lipton in there. In other words, fit for the apocalypse.)
[Purchased in Gothenburg a very very long time ago.]
So this is the local Uppsala blend – I don’t know if it’s specific for Tehörnan, or if I can find it in other tea shops around town.
I got it as a gift when I bought something else – this is definitely not something I would pick out. It smells vaguely spicy in the bag, the strongest note being cinnamon. In the cup, it’s pretty much the same. Black, generic tea with a hint of cinnamon.
In other words, completely pointless. It might be tastier with milk, but I don’t think it has enough character to make an iced Japanese-style milk tea off, which is what I prefer in terms of milk additions.
Definite instant pour-out.
[Gifted at Tehörnan in Uppsala, fall 2012.]
I’m generally a big fan of Lupicia’s fruity/floral green teas, but this isn’t one of their best. It does smell very good in the bag, although it’s more of a generic, slightly chemical fruit aroma. Thankfully, the chemical note does not in any way carry through into the brewed tea – I’ve never come across a Lupicia tea I’ve found unpleasantly artificial.
This is not a particularly flavourful green, however, and what bookshark already wrote (and which cracked me up), “The berries might have RSVP’d but they certainly didn’t show up.” sums it up well. It’s really mostly apple, and if you want a Lupicia apple tea, you’re better off choosing Tsugaru Green.
As a basic, simple, fruity, everyday green tea it works fine, but it’s not much more than that.
[Purchased at Lupicia in Honolulu, December 2012.]
When I first started out seriously drinking tea (and by that I mean actually emptying the cup, rather than pretending to sip and making faces of disgust when no one was looking) it was always rooibos, and always to accompany something else. So when I find myself drinking straight-forward, sturdy rooibos these days, it’s always a very deprivation-tainted, ‘hey who took my scone?’ kind of experience. It makes me want to throw an elaborate tea party. With individual menus. And five kinds of sandwiches. And three times as many kinds of cakes. More than anything, it makes me crave the afternoon tea at Mount Nelson in Cape Town, and crave it bad.
I love rooibos, but it’s occasion tea for me, not everyday tea. Not because I consider it luxurious – on the contrary I find it rather robust – but because it’s sociable tea. It’s not something I drink in solitude – it’s something I serve friends. (With a plate of scones. And three kinds of cake.)
This is one of my simple rooibos favourites. It smells so good. There’s definitely a creamy headiness to it, that makes me wish there were a floral Bailey’s to be found. It’s pretty, too, with its cornflower petals, but it’s definitely not one of those abundantly chunky teas.
I like this one best when it cools a little, as the smoothness and creaminess of the flavour are subdued in the hotter tea. The strawberry note does by no means dominate, it blends well into the floral redolence, and a hint of vanilla keeps it all together.
[Purchased at Tehörnan in Uppsala, fall 2012.]
I’m used to drinking this one bagged – I got a mixed set of Kusmi tea bags from my friend E., and this was the one that really did it for me. When the airport lounge I spend most of my transfer time at started stocking it, too, it somehow turned into one of my standard go-to teas for travel. I picked up a bag here and a bag there and never actually bought it for myself until this spring. Consequently, I’ve never had it in loose leaf form before.
The scent of the loose leaf is surprising. So much less of the lemon I’m used to from the bags, replaced by a grassiness and the slightest hint of bitter chocolate – both of which I have never encountered in the cup. Drinking it, though, is very familiar. I steep it far less than the recommended 3-4 minutes, as I feel it easily gets a bitter aftertaste. This is nearly completely avoided with a shorter steeping time (and without significant loss of flavour).
The perfect ginger-lemon tea is a bit of a Rosebud thing for me, to be honest.
I’m haunted by this Proustian reminiscence of a perfect bouillabaisse lunch shared with my best friend. We were getting ready to pay and leave when the waitress told us coffee and dessert was included, which was a nice surprise. What we got was a very dense, yet crumbly, beautifully aromatic white chocolate cake. The cup of tea I was given to go with it was an elegant green ginger-lemon; perfect for that cake. Retrospectively, that tea and this Kusmi tea have somehow merged into one, although if I dig deep, I think the restaurant tea was more sophisticated. I had a similar experience at Café Pesto in Hilo. I had a cold coming on and I exchanged my pre-, during-, and post-dinner cocktails (What happens on the island, stays on the island.) for three cups of it, enhanced by local honey. I escaped the cold unscathed. That tea also carried itself with more elegance and sophistication than the Kusmi does.
Until I know for sure, this will be the ginger-lemon green I stock.
[Purchased at Atatürk airport in Istanbul, April 2013.]