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Recent Tasting Notes
This is one of my favourite teas. It has chunks of chocolate and caramel which perfectly compliment the sweet and smooth taste of Rooibos. I always drink this tea without any sweeteners or milk and it can be steeped as long as you want because of the very low tannin levels. Some people may not enjoy how sweet it is, but it is a delicious treat.
I picked up another sample of this tea as I’m umming and aarghing about buying it. Sometimes it seems to really hit the spot, other times it has a very shallow, superficial flavour with perhaps a little too much astringency. Not sure if I can detect the bergamot amongst the berries, but it has a good, solid tea base.
On paper, berries and EG shouldn’t work but on one or two previous tastings, I have loved the combination. This time round, it didn’t manage to balance the flavours. In addition, traditional EG has an aura of refinement, but I can’t help but feel somewhat unsophisticated when I drink this blend, like the person that mixes coca-cola in an expensive single-malt whisky.
Will try again at some point before I decide if I like this tea or not.
I don’t seem to be doing too well with teas at the moment. Every new flavour I have tried is a bit “meh” and even my old favourites just aren’t doing it for me either.
My cousin has been raving about this tea for months now, but can’t say I’m too impressed. There is a nice aroma of strawberries while the tea is infusing, although admittedly more of a synthetic than a natural strawberry smell. The tea base itself is ok and it’s a fairly full-bodies flavour, but the vinegar-like after-taste and what the company describes as a “tang” just leaves me cold, and is all too reminiscent of the horrific Fortnum & Mason Christmas Tea I had tried last year with its “mulled wine flavourings”.
In fairness, I don’t care for Champagne and I loathe the taste of wine, so I’m probably not the most impartial taste-tester but I think I’ll give this a miss if that’s all the same with you.
A couple of weeks ago I had picked up two Darjeeling samplers – one labeled “1st Flush” and the other “1st Flush Castleton Estate”. Although I was pretty sure it was the Castleton Estate sample I had really enjoyed because of its depth of flavour and balance of fruit and floral flavours, by the time I went to pick up a 50gm bag I couldn’t remember which was the one I had really liked. In the end, I picked up the two samples again and on returning home realised that it was, in fact, the Castleton Estate tea that I had tried and enjoyed.
With lingering memories of an exquisite “Heavenly Earl Grey” sample that had been lurking in my cupboard for months, today had been somewhat disappointing tea-wise. Firstly, I had wanted to try “Quince Sencha” at the Tea Centre for several months and was looking forward to an intense bitter and sweet infusion, only to be left with a mild tea that left a literal bad taste in my mouth. One of the major department stores in Sydney has started stocking Kusmi teas, so today I bought my first tin – the others in my cupboard were the much smaller sample tins – which was a bergamot, lemon and lime blend called “Anastacia” which I wasn’t particularly impressed with either.
I was hoping the Castleton Estate Darjeeling would redeem today’s tea drinking but I’m just not really impressed with it this time round. I brewed it in exactly the same way – i.e. bring the water to the boil and leave to sit for five minutes like I do with green and white tea, but infuse like an Oolong or Black tea for about three or four minutes – but it is not really doing it for me. Sometimes, one particular cup of tea will seem to numb my enjoyment of tea for the remainder of the day and I think I’m having one of those days today.
I’ll purchase another sample and try again another time I think.
I bought a black soursop tea about one year ago, which I enjoyed but I don’t think I have had it for several months now. There has been a two-cup sampler of Soursop-flavoured sencha kicking around in my tea cupboard for a few weeks now which I thought would be appropriate now that winter has drawn to a close.
This is a strongly scented soursop, although the flavour is more restrained. It’s a very dark brew, somewhere between green and orange and, from a distance, could almost pass as a white tea. I like the fact that it doesn’t have that ‘fishy’ smell of many green teas. There’s a nice little tang on the rear edges of the tongue which does linger for sometime.
I will probably need to try this a few more times, because I’m not sure if soursop blends as well with green tea as it does with black tea; I feel that the astringency and depth of black tea is better suited to and a better match for tangy-sweetness of the fruit. Still, not a bad drop.
I picked up this tea with a handful of other samples, but never quite got round to trying it until now. No flowery prose for this one: it’s a fairly nondescript tea, a decent colour, no particular aroma, a slight tanginess from the peaches, but no real flavour. I wouldn’t turn my nose up if it was served to me, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to brew this again and I can’t imagine this growing on me of find myself craving this anytime soon.
And so, back to my solid, dependable Ceylon and Darjeelings . . .
I have an entire tray in the cupboard full of tea samples to try. As today is particularly cold, wet and grey, I thought a chai would hit the spot. The loose leaf tea looks like whole unbroken leaves, but apart from the flower petals, I can’t detect any whole spices so I assuming the “chai” component is flavourings and oils.
I am all too aware that Chai needs a sweetner and milk to bring out and balance the flavours, otherwise the tea just tastes like a mouthful of ground spices, but on this occasion I wanted to really taste the tea so I prepared with milk only. This is ok, although I can’t really taste the vanilla and the spices just leave a slightly bitter aftertaste. I have only found one loose leaf Chai that I enjoyed which was East India Company despite hating their other teas with a passion. I have some chocolate chai which I’ll try with milk and sugar and see if that makes a difference.
It doesn’t taste better or worse without milk, although the colour of the tea is muddy. This is not the worst tea I have had, but it’s nothing spectacular or remarkable.
I can remember so clearly my first experience of Lapsang Souchong in 1999 at the tender age of 20. Although I vaguely recall Twinings Tins with a smoky aroma in my grandparents’ pantry, I can’t say I knew anyone that drank it. After discovering tea in early 1999, when I moved house later in the year I had purchased all of the Twinings loose leaf range at the time in the cute little multi-coloured boxes and after a few weeks got round to LS. The smell itself was revolting and I couldn’t bring myself to drink it, and the description of “a unique tarry flavour” with its images of newly laid roads or damned souls in hell submerged in pitch didn’t help matters. Finally, my flatmates and I forced ourselves to try it, but I threw away the contents of cup after a few mouthfuls. I didn’t try it again until about six years later when literally the only Twinings tea my neighbour at the time would drink was LS. This was in tea-bag form and although I appreciate that tastes change as you get older, this was totally different to how I remembered LS that I am sure Twinings had reformulated their blend. Living in London, I began to enjoy a regular cup of LS served with milk in the colder months but some friends of mine couldn’t be anywhere near when I did as they found the smell revolting.
Then about last year, I started to experiment with more traditional-style LS that was intense and smoky and definitely an acquired taste. I like how it is the polar opposite of the more meditative white teas like Pai Mu Tan or Silver Needles and I don’t know anyone that actually likes it.
It’s been several months since I last had a Lapsang Souchong. Partly because smoked or spiced teas aren’t really appropriate for the sweltering Australian summers, but partly because my last experience of Lapsang Souchong in November had turned me off LS. All I could taste in my cup was smoke and char and this lingered on my tongue for days to the extent that everything I ate tasted revolting.
So it was with some trepidation I am trying it again, hjaving just arrived back from an evening walk. I live in a valley, and the moon was almost full and the valley suitably heavy with fog for autumn and I found myself looking forward to my old smoky friend.
As soon as I poured the hot water into the tea, those familiar smoky fumes filled the kitchen, and also the study when I served the tea. Served black, this particular LS is lighter in colour than previous blends I have tried but the smell is unmistakable. This is not as ‘tarry’ as some blends which is a matter of taste, but after a few moments I get that tingly smokiness and also notes of citrus and pine. I’m sure I would enjoy the odd cup of tarry LS but a lighter cup is more enjoyable I think. The citrus becomes stronger with subsequent sips to the extent that I am wondering if there is actually lemon in the blend.
So far, this is the best LS I have tried but I should also point out that I have only tried a few different brands over the years, and I am sure there are better blends out there. I could easily imagine this being a regular cup during the Autumn and Winter months.
I’ve tried this sample once before, but as I didn’t record my tastings and couldn’t remember what it tasted like, I have picked up a second sample today. What is a Stockholm blend of tea supposed to actually be? Do they even drink tea in Sweden? My in-depth research – in other words, two minutes on wikipedia – seems to indicate that coffee outsells tea by 60% and the Swedes are eighth in the world for coffee consumption per capita. Several tea suppliers sell a blend called “stockholm” but the only similarity seems to be the mix of astringent fruits and various flowers.
This is nice enough but it could go either of two ways – viz. it will grow on me, or I’ll rate this as just another fruity and floral blend like any other and never given another thought. That’s not to say it is bad, just not particularly remarkable. The tea base is fine, although the colour of the black tea is somewhat brownish and earthy which is not exactly ideal. Prior to infusing, the leaves are small and uniform BOP flecked with a few petals. I can smell and taste the orange and there is an underlying sweet astringency of peaches although I can’t detect the flowers which is probably a good thing as I’ve gone off floral teas in a big way of late.
At any rate, I will have to see if this grows on me. The Tea Centre also sell a Stockholm blend in both standard black and blended with Pai Mu Tan which might be worth trying.
EDIT: On a recent splurge about a month or two ago, I purchased both the black Stockholm Blend and the Pai Mu Tan Stockholm blend and I have fallen completely in love with them both.
After a particularly god-awful day in the office – which wasn’t helped by the autumn rain making me all too painfully aware that the sole of one of my shoes had a gaping big hole in it – I had been looking forward to relaxing with a solacing and uplifting Ceylon. Unfortunately, my early evening pre-dinner cup of tea was just the latest in a long line of crappy mishaps today.
Come to think of it, I really should have been forewarned when I saw that the grade of the tea which was barely above fanning or dust. The colour is a deep, almost opaque, maroon which probably indicates that it has become bitter and as for the taste, acrid and metallic is probably what comes to mind. In fairness, I only realised afterwards that the tea should have been infused for three minutes rather than four, but I really don’t think a reduced infusion time would particularly improve the flavour as I really can’t taste anything except the tannin.
Courtesy of “The Story of Tea”, the Lover’s Leap estate comes highly recommended and I would think that this sample is just the dregs. I would be willing to try a better quality grade some time in the future.
Yunnan tea . . . somewhere, someplace, I had a magical cup of Yunnan which has lingered at the periphery of my consciousness. Rather frustratingly, I could never recall the time and place, or which estate the tea was sourced from. Or maybe I dreamt it . . . who knows . . . .
The Tea Centre in Sydney CBD offer three varieties of Yunnan black tea – an OP, a FOP and a finest FOP with varying degrees of tips. I had purchased the the FOP rather than the more expensive finest FOP but wasn’t overly impressed with it. This was a few months ago and within that time I don’t think I have had more than two or three cups.
I was rather intrigued by a two-cup sample at Adore Tea. Initially, I was under the impression that this was a green tea because of the colour and I had to check on their website. It is a very light, almost greenish grey and despite the item description, they are loosely rolled with no particular smell. The name “golden monkey” derives from its alleged resemblance to monkey claws but I can’t actually see this, nor can I detect the supposed flavours of nuts and chocolate.
The infused tea is a medium-strength flavour and full-bodied mouthfeel and deep-red colour. There is an element of smokiness with very little tannin and I can immediately see that this is where Russian Caravan derives its unique flavour; all the leading brands of Russian Caravan seem to be predominantly Yunnan tea blended with various other black teas. This is a nice, smooth blend with a vague whiff of the embers of a campfire in winter.
I will probably have to try this a few more times to see if I like it but I can imagine this as the perfect accompaniment on a clear, glacial autumn night.
When I first became a tea convert in the late 1990s, my essential teas were Twining’s Earl Grey, Prince of Wales, Irish Breakfast, Ceylon Orange Pekoe and Russian Caravan. I would only drink tea with milk as I found black tea to astringent and ‘coppery’; it was only in the last year or so I have enjoyed tea served black as I have gradually explored teas from different origins and experimented with serving sizes and steeping times. Unfortunately, Twinings just didn’t make the grade anymore but I still carried a sentimental soft spot for good old Russian Caravan which was grandfather’s drink of choice. I had picked up two Russian Caravan samples by Adore Tea – one ‘traditional’ (whatever that means) and one smoky to compare, and in the figurative game of heads-or-tails tonight, the smoky blend won.
The aroma from the tea pot is immediately and unmistakably identifiable as a lapsang souchong blend. I brewed this for three minutes rather than the usual four or five minutes for a milder taste. I have a love-hate relationship with smoked teas – sometimes I enjoy the intensity but other times I find it bothersome and I get rather fed up with the smoky taste I can’t get out of my mouth. I haven’t had a cup of LS for about six months at least.
The colour is a deep, reddish-bronze and I am drinking the tea black. One thing that has slipped my mind is how smooth a good-quality smoked tea can be. Perhaps smoking the tea leaves reduces the tannins somehow? I would estimate the Lapsang Souchong to be about 10-15% of the blend but there is no escaping the smokiness that overwhelms any nuances that may be present in the tea. Having said that, it is debatable whether anyone would actually use top quality tea to for a Lapsang Souchong or any other smoked tea in the first place. At any rate, I’m not sure how I feel about this tea. It’s not “bad” by any means, but I will have to try this several times over the course of a few months.
From what I understand, Russian Caravan was originally marketed as a complementary blend to Prince of Wales tea – whereas PoW was a blend of Keemun teas with Assam, RC was a blend of Keemun with Yunnan. I am sure that the ‘smoke’ is a recent modification.
For the second cup, I try this with soy milk, which for some purists is a heresy akin to Catharism. It’s a beautiful colour and has a lovely, smooth and creamy texture. The smokiness is still present in the foreground, but somewhat tempered with notes of chocolate and hazelnuts. I think I could actually quite get a liking for this although I don’t really care for the lingering smokiness. The after-taste continues to tingle on the tongue and I’m not sure if I like that aspect of it.
On balance, thumbs up for old smokey served with milk. Undecided for black.
This two-cup sample from Adore Tea was just one of many chocolate-flavoured teas I purchased on a whim. Served with milk, I was, at first, a bit put off by the off-white colour rather than the typical deep, bronze of milk tea or at least the way we make it in our household. I don’t think that it was brewed weak as I could taste the flavourings, but it may benefit from being made with less water, if only for the sake of appearances.
This tea is pleasant enough, but nothing special compared to any other half-decent brand of flavoured ‘dessert’ tea. There was the definite taste of chocolate, but not nearly strong enough to appeal to those with a sweet tooth and not nearly bitter enough for the gourmets. The tea base is fine, but not particularly noticeable and I can barely taste the toffee or caramel apart from a trace of sweetness.
I am sure this tea will be fine for the milk-and-two-sugars set but if you’re looking for something stronger, sweeter or unique, you can safely give this a miss.
During one of the many wasteful hours spent browsing tea-related website on the internet, my interest was piqued by the idea of mango-flavoured tea. This is rather surprising as I never cared for mangoes – too sickly sweet for my liking, prefering, as in life, the bitter-sweet or the sweet-and-sour – which made me something of an oddity in Australia. It was seeing the rather cute little wooden tea-chests that Mlesna/Metropolitan Tea Company package their teas in that I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, all of the Mlesna teas I have tried are rather disappointing with the possible exception of their Russian Caravan, so the mango tea remained untouched in the back cupboard under a mountain of tea that I have hoarded these last few months.
At the Adore Tea stall in Chatswood, Sydney I was tempted to give the mango tea another try as I was not wanting to waste the nice little Mlesna box. Their mango tea was one of about twenty two-cup samplers I have picked up over the last couple of weeks but haven’t got round to trying as yet.
The fragrance of the tea prior to infusing is that unmistakable, if somewhat overbearing, tropical smell of mango. The leaves seem to be standard broken orange pekoe, and flecked with shards of orange and yellow in various shades. After infusing in the standard manner – water just off the boil and left to stand for four minutes – the liquor is a deep, dark bronze and the aroma of the mango is muted.
Served black, this is a smooth, slightly sweet tea with no bitterness and slightly tingling sensation in the middle of the tongue. I can’t really place the origin of the tea base – at a guess, I would say a mix of Chinese black teas. Realistically, no one drinks flavoured teas for the actual tea so I wouldn’t say the lack of a definite identity or terroir is a negative unless it was ‘bad’ tea or I wasn’t actually able to taste the tea-flavour. In this case, the tea base is very mild and unremarkable but pleasant enough, and there is no bitterness or astringency.
Although I don’t think I will be drinking this every day, or even every week, this is definitely worth having again.
As much as I have always enjoyed a good cup of tea, my first exploration outside of the supermarket brands and traditional blends – not to mention my obsession with trying new teas and collecting tins and boxes – came only eight months ago via a tin of Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon tea. The smell of cinnamon emanating from the tin, even as I stood one metre away from the shelf in the department store was too much to resist. Each cup, brewed with or without the addition of some stevia, had this incredible depth of flavour and warming heat from the spices and I went through the 20 sachets in now time. I didn’t immediately try to replace the tea as we were were in the grip of a sweltering Australian summer, but I did purchase – rather half-heartedly – some Rooibos tea flavoured with orange peel and spices from the Tea Centre in the Sydney CBD. The Rooibos with cinnamon just didn’t really do it for me, perhaps because the flavours didn’t seem to blend well or stand out particularly.
And so, moving on to another two-cup sampler courtesy of Adore Tea, this time Apple & Cinnamon. More so than the cinnamon, the smell of the apple – a typically dried apple aroma – dominates both the brewed and unbrewed tea. In terms of the flavour, there is a definite tingling sensation from the cinnamon which is tempered by the sweetness of the apples. It’s enjoyable enough on its own terms and I will perhaps indulge in the occasional cup, but I was really looking for an intense cinnamon flavour and aroma. Interestingly, I never cared for cinnamon as a child especially in the typical western-style cream- or custard-laden dessert; my conversion came via its use in savoury-style Indian and Ceylon dishes.
And now, as winter closes in here in Sydney, I find myself longing more and more for H&S Hot Cinnamon . . .
Since finishing the Harney & Sons Vanilla Comorro, I have tried several varieties of Vanilla-flavoured teas looking for my new favourite. The Mlesna tea didn’t particularly impress me. I had brewed some more of the Mlesna last night and I’ve decided I’m going to write it off and continue my search for the perfect cup of vanilla tea. After all, life is too short to drink bad tea.
After thirty years of drinking artificially flavoured ‘vanilla’ drinks and sweets, I have started to re-assess what vanilla actually tastes like. Perhaps I am expecting my vanilla tea to taste like the ‘vanilla’ in vanilla coke or ice cream and the natural extract may be nothing of the sort much like the artificially flavour of “liquorice” or aniseed sweets would give a false impression of chewing on a liquorice root or real aniseed. Wikipedia informs me that vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron – which would explain the proliferation of adulterated or artificially flavoured extracts – and should have somewhat floral, spicy aroma and savoury taste which I detected in the H&S Vanilla Comorro.
This afternoon, I have picked up a number of two-cup samples from Adore Tea in Chatswood including their black tea with vanilla. On a side note, I really wish T2 and The Tea Centre would provide samplers; although T2 has a handful of free teas in their shop, the smallest size available is 100gm and while the Tea Centre has 50gm sizes available, they charge a whooping $4-$5.00 to try a pot of one of their teas in the Sydney CBD store.
My first cup was served with soy milk and medium strong, served in my lovely Royal Doulton Moonlight Rose cup and saucer that I am obsessed with. The tea base is fine – reasonable quality leaf with a nice malty flavour. It takes a few sips for the vanilla flavour to develop but is somewhat muted by the soy milk.
The second cup is served black. The colour is a reddish-brown which is not overly inviting. I am unable to smell this “floral bouquet” that I am promised as the fragrance of the black tea is quite strong. At a guess, I would say a mix of Ceylon tea with maybe an Assam and/or a standard Chinese black tea. As to the flavour, I would characterise it as sweet and slightly spicy and ‘tingling’ like a dark chocolate tea, with a smooth if astringent texture, but perhaps overwhelmed by the tea base. The tannins in the tea are evident, but I wouldn’t describe it as bitter or unpleasant. I have noticed that just this two-cup sampler has produced a fair bit of sediment and dust.
The weakness of this tea is that the vanilla can’t stand up to the brisk tea base. I wouldn’t imagine that playing around with the quantities or brewing times would really change this, so the search for that elusive cup continues.
For the first time in years, however, I am craving a can of Vanilla Coke.