Todd & Holland
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Recent Tasting Notes
Sipdown no. 147 of the year 2014.
Friday, my ISP went down in California and it is only now back up. I’m unable to get online through my router, but I can get on through the DSL modem alone.
I hate my ISP. I want to get cable because though I live in Silicon Valley, I can only get the most limited DSL service, 1.5 MBPS in my area. Which sucks. The problem is I’ve had the same ISP for almost 15 years and everyone…. everyone… who has my email address, from banks and doctors to friends and relatives, has this email address for me. I’m not sure what to do about it, but the situation has become intolerable.
In any case, I drank other teas this weekend and even took notes on them, but as this is a sipdown, it’s the only one I think I’m going to post. I’m just really in an awful mood and I don’t want to be a downer through five notes instead of one.
The blend I drank is different from the one currently up on the T&H web site. This one is cranberry only, not the “riot of red fruits.” Perhaps the riot is better.
This was a dark brown tea with small leaves. I believe it was a keemun base, or at least had a lot of keemun in it because it had a smoky aroma when dry and after steeping and there was smoke in the flavor, too. The dry mix had pretty red petals in it and among the smoke was also a berry aroma, but not clearly cranberry.
The tea’s aroma had some maltiness and a berry note. It was a deep reddish brown color.
I had this twice, though I didn’t log it the first time because it was one of the teas that the Original Spice Decaf encroached upon and all I could taste was this weird cinnamon aura. The second time, yesterday, that was not present, thankfully.
Unfortunately, the tea was pretty bitter. I steeped for four minutes and perhaps it would have been less so if I’d only steeped for 3, but since I don’t have more, I can’t try it. I had high hopes for this, but it didn’t do it for me. The underlying tea base just didn’t work with the flavoring agent—too strong, too smoky, and the berry flavor too light, vague almost, with no natural sweetness at all. I can see liking a black cranberry tea with a more amenable base, and it makes me want to try some.
But this, alas, was a total bust for me.
Sipdown no. 146 of the year 2014. Almost to 150! Still hard to believe I’ve hardly made a dent.
This one is very consistent in flavor, which reinforces my thoughts about it from last night. I forgot to mention its steeped color, which is a sort of maple syrup color.
And great, I just poured some down my keyboard. Not on purpose. Grumble grumble.
One more thing worth mentioning about this. It’s strong, and it has a long memory. This morning I steeped the LeafSpa Irish Breakfast in the Breville, after having steeped this last night. There was definitely a cinnamon-y aura around the Irish Breakfast, despite my most excellent rinsing of the filter and pot.
Very strong cinnamon smell from the packet and a blend full of small bits of what appears to be stick cinnamon. After steeping, the cinnamon aroma is sweet and reminiscent of red hot candies, but at the same time there’s a sort of a woody fragrance that is pleasant.
Wow. The tea is very sweetly cinnamon-y, very reminiscent of the Harney Hot Cinnamon Spice—but because it is decaf, with a bit less heft. I haven’t tried the Harney decaf version of the Hot Cinnamon Spice, but I should. I suspect there’s not a need to stock both that and this, but I don’t know how the Harney measures up as a decaf.
This, however, is quite flavorful and in a very good way. As decafs go, it’s better than most I’ve tried. There is hardly any tea flavor that I can discern, but what it lacks in tea flavor it more than makes up for in sweet cinnamon. The tea isn’t the reason to drink this, as it isn’t the reason to drink the Harney Hot Cinnamon Spice.
It gets high marks from me for a decaf. The only reason I’m not rating it a bit higher is I’d like to taste more tea even in a decaf.
Sipdown no. 144 of the year 2014.
I would have liked to hold onto this one a bit longer since T&H doesn’t offer it anymore and it’s one of the better decafs I’ve had, but I have to be ruthless where sipdowns are concerned or I’ll lose my momentum. ;-) I’ve come dangerously close to losing it a couple of times recently and I know it’s going to be a fight to keep going.
The rest of this isn’t about tea, so skip if you’re not interested in my philosophizing for a bit.
Overthem00n and I were talking the other day about “serial obsessions.” Those things certain personality types, such as mine, throw themselves into for periods of time then max out on for a while and move to the next thing. Mine seem to rotate though they don’t follow any particular rotation order. Fiction writing. Voracious reading. Tea. Computer games. Exercising obsessively (i.e., every day without fail even if it means I do it at midnight). Involvement in various types of social media. (There are also the one-offs that I’ve been obsessive about but don’t seem to be in the rotation, like knitting and other needlework and gardening.) I really should google this and see if anything has been written about it.
Anna’s recent post about not drinking tea because then she’d have to write a note about it reminded me of how my serial obsessions tend to peter out and then I find myself going on to the next thing. The feel-good pay off isn’t as present as a feeling of obligation, drudgery or frustration. The last time I fell off the Steepster bandwagon for an extended period, it was because of this exact feeling. More work than fun. It happens to me with writing usually after a much longer period of time, but it’s the same principle. It stops being fun and starts being “work.” (It’s always work, but usually it’s fun.) But the problem is that if I stop for a long time, then I never know what would have happened if I kept pushing. Like what if I quit each time, right when it’s getting hard—but it’s getting hard not because of why I think it’s getting hard, I.e., the usual writer frustration and self-doubt, but because I’m about to break through to a new personal best of sorts? What if I’m keeping myself from continuing to improve because I quit when it gets hard?
So this last time it happened, as an experiment, I decided to make myself push through. Keep going to my class, keep doing the exercises each week even if I wrote nothing else. Keep doing that until the enthusiasm returned, because it always does. It’s just that in the past, I’d stop doing it for years at a time until the enthusiasm returned. Okay, this last time I went on hiatus I had a good excuse, two kids born within 21 months of each other and a full time job. But when I think about all the books I read about parenting small children, I recognize that my activities during that period were rather part of the obsession continuum as well. Yeah, I made my own organic baby food. That sort of thing. I’d do it again, too, but in its way, it was part of the same channeling of passion in a particular way.
And I think it’s working. I can feel the enthusiasm for fiction writing coming back. There have been a few external serendipitous things that have worked to push me back toward the enthusiasm, but mostly it’s just time, I think. So I think I’m learning to turn my serial obsessions into something less serial and less obsession-like.
(Now watch me disappear from Steepster for months after saying this. LOL. No, really, I’m not feeling that Steepster is work right now. I’m feeling more that my body is rebelling against too much tea-drinking for some reason. Burn out is another byproduct of obsession, so I intend to push through on this, too, and just drink as much tea as feels right, and write about it if I have something to say. How normal that sounds!)
To give you an idea of how my day has been, I thought I needed to start with something really strong, so I made coffee. A whole pot. Now it’s 8 p.m. and I realize I have not had a single cup from that pot. Nor have I had anything else to drink besides water.
Now it’s too late to drink caffeine, and since I’d mentioned that I had this the other day, fully intending to drink it on the same day as the non-decaf version, I thought it would be a good candidate. But then I went to write a note and it wasn’t in the database. No problem, thought I, I’ll just set up a page. But apparently Todd & Holland no longer sells this, so there’s no picture or info on their site to use to spiff up the page. (Sorry.)
It smells like peach in the packet, but it’s not as rich a peach smell as the caffeinated version. There’s also the sort of chlorine-y note I get from decafs . The first thing I thought when I smelled the tea’s aroma was “cannabis” and but there’s a peachy note too. Very deep red color. Quite pretty.
I was prepared for a very washed out flavor when I smelled the chlorine-y note but surprisingly, that’s not what I’m getting. Though it doesn’t pack the punch of the caffeinated version, there’s nothing washed out about the flavor. It’s a nice round peach flavor, not heavy on the ginger, with a mild Ceylon underneath.
Figures that I’d like this one since it’s no longer available.
I am hopeful things are going to settle down a bit now and I’ll be able to be more attentive to my tea drinking. I fear that I may have to drink my Vanilla Comoro tonight just to get in a sipdown. Ah well, it had to happen sometime. My sipdown strategy seems to be failing abysmally, primarily because I haven’t been drinking enough tea.
Apologies for not being able to read/respond as much lately during this period of high intensity non-tea related commitments.
Sipdown no. 140 of the year 2014. I did not do a sipdown yesterday so I’m going to try to get in two today.
As against other caffeinated teas that are heavy on the peach, this one is very good, but I prefer some others I’ve had recently.
Interestingly, the decaf version stacks up very well against other decaf blacks and I see that I rated that one higher than this one, since it’s being judged on different attributes. That may be the first time that’s ever happened.
It seems I have a sample of this in both a decaf and a non-decaf version, and since it’s still fairly early in the day I thought I’d give the regular version a try and perhaps follow it up this evening with the de-caf just for fun.
In the packet, there’s more peach fragrance than ginger, and a bit of a toasty black tea fragrance underneath. After steeping, I smell mostly a sweet, malty, medium-light bodied tea that’s a really lovely color, almost a ruby red.
The flavor is interesting. The peach is the stronger flavor by far, but I can taste the ginger. The tea is a tad bitter which makes me think I steeped too long and I’ll cut back to three minutes next time, but it’s definitely not occluded by the fruit flavor. I’m intrigued to see how it tastes if it’s steeped for less time and also how the decaf version does.
But I think I kind of have to side with the BF on the thought that peach doesn’t really need ginger, and on balance I prefer a really good single fruit flavored black tea of the peachy variety.
Sipdown no. 153 of the year 2014.
I think I have figured out what Harney tea this reminds me of. Ready?
And here’s the really amusing thing. I see that I rated this and Queen Catherine the same without realizing at the time what the comparison was.
I had the kids do a sniff test of what was left in this sample bag against what was in the Queen Catherine sample. They both said this one smelled more “green.”
For my 900th tasting note, I thought I’d taste a tea I haven’t tried before.
When I look at my tea stash, it’s pretty clear that most of what I have is black tea or oolong. I have far fewer green teas and fruit or herbals. I may have more white tea than I do green tea. I don’t know whether this accurately reflects the mix of what I bought, but I think not. I do love black tea, but I can’t drink it much after 1 in the afternoon, and I love oolongs, but I don’t always have time to do them justice, so I don’t drink them as much. Greens, whites and herbals/fruits are probably the ones I drink more often because of time of day considerations, but I also think I just bought fewer of them.
In any case, I have a lot of Todd & Holland samples, many of which are black teas. This is one of them. It’s malty-smoky in the package with surprisingly light colored green leaves. The liquor color is a dark sienna color and clear, quite lovely. It has a sweet, malty aroma with berry and chocolate notes.
The taste isn’t as sweet as the aroma, and there is a bit of smoke in the flavor but it isn’t strong. Like the aroma, the flavor has a maltiness and both fruity and chocolate notes. The fruit note is something on the order of blackberry or rasperry, or perhaps black cherry, and the chocolate is a lighter, mild note suggestive of milk chocolate.
It’s very tasty and it has a lot of “personality.” I can’t quite figure out whether I’ve tasted something similar in a Harney Blend, or whether it was some other tea company, but the flavor is familiar.
Am I the only person who finds it almost impossible to keep track of all the black tea blends I like, particularly over long stretches of time?
Flavors: Berries, Chocolate, Malt
We took a vote for an after dinner tisane and this is what won. (I mentioned that raspberry is the BF’s favorite fruit earlier when we tried the Simpson & Vail raspberry flavored black tea.)
There’s an amazing smell in the packet, like a raspberry parfait. It steeps to a reddish orange (I would have expected it to be redder?) and the aroma leads with vanilla and ends with raspberry with only a very slightly discernible rooibos scent.
The flavor has a citrusy tang, and a smoothness from the vanilla. The tang smooths out into raspberry in the finish and the aftertaste. I don’t really taste the rooibos, which makes this a success for me.
My main complaint is I wish the flavor was a bit stronger. It’s fairly light and even slightly watery. Next time I’ll mess with the water/leaf ratio and see if I can get a bit more flavor. If so, I’ll boost the rating. The flavor, such that it is, is very nice.
Sipdown no. 72 of the year 2014.
The metallic note was hitting me some today even though this one has the least of that note of the three bergamot strengths. Perhaps it really does have to do with body chemistry at a given time. Still, a nice, bold Earl to start the day.
Tomorrow, on to some other Earl Greys I haven’t tried or haven’t tried in a while. I found four or so in my stash and I suspect I have even more.
After trying the triple bergamot version two mornings ago and the double bergamot version yesterday, I decided to try the plain old single version today.
But first, I lined up the sample packets and sniffed the dry mix from triple to single. They weren’t kidding. The triple is extremely strong smelling on the citrus/perfume, the single is very gently scented and the double is in between, just as it should be.
In fact, after steeping, the aroma of the bergamot is quite gentle. The tea base comes through more than in the other two versions, and it is sweet and malty. I wonder whether the base is different for this one or it is just the interaction of the stronger bergamot with the same base, but this one tastes much more like it has some Yunnan in the base. The liquor color is beautiful—a sort of a reddish brandy.
The gentler bergamot and sweeter base combine to make this, not surprisingly, my favorite of the three. The metallic note I detected in the others is only barely present here, and the bite is almost nonexistent making this a smoother flavor to my tastebuds.
It’s a very nice tea, and it’s certainly something I would drink again, but I have to make some hard choices about pantry space and there are others that hit my sweet spot better.
Today it’s less metallic and minerally, which seems to support the theory that that flavor is related to something, perhaps the bergamot oil, not being exposed to air and that the more air it gets, the less those notes are present.
I think I’m in sipdown range for tomorrow. Now that I think about it, it’s pretty amusing that I found another packet of this on Ground Hog’s Day. This time when I sipdown, it should stay sipped down. ;-)
Uh-oh. I thought I’d sipped this down. [Twilight Zone Music]
I was going through my tea to see what Earl Greys I hadn’t tried or otherwise had left and I found another sample packet of this. I must have gotten one with the Earl Grey sampler and another with another sampler, perhaps something like breakfast blends?
I’m going to count it as two separate sipdowns anyway since there are two containers. I’m enjoying this this morning. There was more of the mineral note than yesterday. I suspect it is a function of the bergamot oil somehow and that as the oil is more exposed to air and loses volatility the mineral note also gets weaker.
Sipdown no. 53 for the year 2014. Dismissing the lesser nobility from the cupboard this morning.
In sum: prefer it to the triple, like the single slightly better, it’s a solid Earl Grey and a good alternative in case one in the pantheon becomes unavailable or otherwise falls from grace.
Flavors: Flowers, Malt, Metallic, Mineral
Having said goodbye to the triple yesterday, I’ve moved to Mr. (Ms.?) double for this morning.
The first thing I wanted to check was the color, because I had this weird experience where the tea liquor seemed to get darker from triple to single bergamot versions, but then I decided it was probably either a fluke or just an inability to remember exactly since I didn’t put them side by side. The liquor in this one, today, looks the same color as in the triple version yesterday, or close enough to same to make me think that really was just a weird one-off color thing.
The tea base in this one tastes to me a bit richer and sweeter than I’d remembered it, more like the base in the single version. I don’t know whether all three versions share a base. I assumed they did at first, but there’s no reason that should be true.
However, it does make sense that the “lighter” the bergamot, the more the base would shine through regardless of whether it’s the same. That’s what I’m getting here.
Conclusion: the triple bergamot’s bergamot isn’t so much stronger as generally “more” in terms of balance between bergamot flavor and tea flavor, while the double lets the tea flavor through a medium amount and the single lets it through the most.
After trying the triple bergamot yesterday, I thought I’d see if I could taste a difference between it and this.
I will say that sniffing the two packets together, there’s an obvious difference in bergamot level between the two. The triple gives off much more citrus/perfume. I didn’t smell that metallic note in the double.
I don’t have good enough olfactory memory to remember the steeped aroma of the triple while smelling the aroma of the double at the same time (it seems almost like trying to remember the tune to a song when other music is playing) but this has the same malty note as the triple and a mellow citrus as well. I called the color of the triple’s liquor reddish amber—this looks like cherry wood red (which makes me want to look at the triple’s color again).
The flavor strikes me as quite similar to the triple bergamot, but with perhaps less of that mineral note I found in the triple, which earns it a couple of additional rating points. What I like most about this blend as well as the triple is that the bergamot seems well-integrated into the flavor instead of sitting on the top.
As with the triple, there are other Earl Greys I like better, but that’s not because of the level of bergamot. I don’t find the level here overly strong compared to some I’ve tasted—perhaps that’s as a result of the integration factor I mentioned.
My preference has more to do with the tea base. There’s something that is, for lack of a better word, warmer in the base of the Earl Greys by Samovar and American Tea Room as examples, even those that don’t have a Yunnan base. I don’t know what the base of this tea is, but I believe it is the same as the triple bergamot, and from what I can find on the internet, it appears to be a blend. It has a bit of a bite, which makes me think there is Assam in the blend, and which could account for my preference as I tend to gravitate toward Ceylon and Yunnan based Earl Greys.
Sipdown no. 47 for the year 2014. 50 is in sight! I should definitely make it over the weekend, maybe even by the end of the day.
Under the light of my desk lamp, where I ordinarily sit when on the computer, the liquor today is redder than it looked in sunlight yesterday, closer to the way I described the liquor of the Double Bergamot. I think there must have been a steeping fluke on my first tasting that resulted in a lighter, yellower liquor.
In any case, though my Earl Grey pantheon is full, I will enjoy this while it lasts.
I brought this with me on the drive down to work today. It’s pretty much the same as my assessment in my initial note, with the exception of the description of the liquor. I described that as dark amber. It’s really darker than that, more like a medium maple syrup color. I’m looking at it through glass as I was in the original note but under different light, and I think it is in fact a somewhat different color than the double and single versions, which looked darker to me.
Given my previous statements about how I feel about bergamot in Earl Grey (basically that it should sit quietly and not interrupt) I cannot explain adequately why I even have this. My only explanation is that it is tea, and don’t we all want to TRY ALL THE TEA?
The bergamot scent in sample bag is strong, but not overpowering—a little on the perfumey side with something of a metallic note. The tea steeps to a reddish amber. Despite the triple threat, the bergamot isn’t overwhelming in the aroma and I no longer smell the metallic note I did from the dry leaves. The aroma is, in my view, very promising because I smell a malty note that I think means I’m going to like the tea base.
And I do, for the most part. There’s something about the taste that reminds me of the Tavalon Earl Grey Reserve. There’s a bit of a minerally edge that could be either raw potato or metal, but it isn’t nearly as strong as that taste in the Tavalon and there is, as well, a sweetish, malty note. I think I may have slightly underleafed and will try more next time.
The good news for me is that the bergamot doesn’t strike me as overly strong despite the name. That would also be bad news for someone looking for a really really strong bergamot.
It’s a nice tea. Not among my favorite Earl Greys, but I’ll drink the rest happily.