613 Tasting Notes
Rained all day and cold—frost advisory tonight despite the 80F sunglasses n’ crawfish weekend—had this as a remedy when R got home for afternoon tea with Orange Chocolate Chippers (here: http://atlantishome.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/07/orange-chocolate-chippers.html the fresh crumb is what makes them; it’s a little like a drop biscuit or scone at first, pale and piled somewhat high in jumbles, not like a flat chip cookie, plus the orange oil works well with a nice not-too-sweet chocolate without being tart or fruit juice kid-like…the only thing I’d change in the future is maybe cutting back on the number of chocolate chips—seems extravagant to me though husband thinks not, ha). Not a heady vanilla tea at all, just mellow, lets your baked goods shine as it stands back gracefully in the wings. Not exciting and I doubt I’d want it solo very often, but good when you kind of want something black, mild, sweet, and blandly comforting to go with early dessert. Doesn’t have that alcohol burn some vanilla teas do, which is a bonus.
Still super boring thanks to lack of a working nose. Got all these amazing teas to enjoy from Butiki and Shang and Mandala and Harney but grrrr.
Been drinking this every day ‘cause I finally restocked it (yay) so I don’t feel terrible using a cup’s worth of leaves each day (resteep champion!) on this stuffed up, phlegmy, voiceless bag o’ guts. This Friday marks the beginning of what traditionally has been the ushering of For Real Now, No Foolin’, No Turning Back Spring here—the crawfish festival and art walk. Still can’t taste much, still feel blegh. Stupid weeklong cold! But I am looking forward to when I feel better, any moment now, so I can dive into the warm weather, new tea, perfume, and recently mildly redecorated house. So there.
And I’m so grateful for this tea. I can still smell the leather and chocolate and roasty notes, delicious. I’m not sure I’d ever have thought to use pu erh as a sickness tea, but it works rather well.
So I have all these beautiful perfume samples headed my way (I’m taking a weightlifting hiatus which means I can indulge my olfactory sense; when trying to hit a new PR I abstain due to some hearsay, possibly superstitious, about scent affecting hormone levels over time), and splendid tea samples from Stacy, and I’ve been boasting about this being one of the only winters on record I managed to stay well, which means naturally over the weekend I (and my husband) developed a cold that renders my entire head a mere repository for snot. Of course. (At least there’s an obvious reason—we went to the drugstore yesterday for more Nyquil and the lady carded us and then looked at me sympathetically and said “aw, you the sick one?” and I said “yeah, I managed to stay fine all winter and then…” and she goes “yeah, well jeez, this weather’ll do it…can you believe it went from 65F to 40F in a single hour the other day??”)
Been combatting it with my usual—insane amounts of Stash White Christmas (white tea, peppermint, ginger), a box of Kleenex a day, a sack of oranges, chicken soup—but I was so sick of not being able to smell anything! And my illnesses always progress the same way, downward really—they start with congestion and pressure behind my eyes and nose, sinuses, then after a couple days it moves down to my throat, then a full body ache usually with a fever, then finally to my chest/lungs. I’d progressed to “sore muscles” last night and decided to take a long bath. L’Occitane sent me a free “bath sugar cube” a while back, with rosemary, mint, and pine, so last night I soaked in that with a cup of this tea, a Paddywax candle, and Julie Doiron on the stereo low and soft. It was marvelous.
I chose this tea because I have so much of it I don’t feel bad using some while ill/not up to snuff senses-wise, and it resteeps well, and I missed “black tea taste” but knew it’s usually smooth and round enough to keep from upsetting my stomach or throat. And it was perfect. Through the wall of snot (sorry to be gross guys!) I can taste this, TEA, and it soothed me so. So I had some this morning too. I know I’m missing its full glory, but this one’s always been like a blanket, comforting like a hug (I just realized my first note for this was about the time the in-wall space heater could’ve killed us all—this really seems to be what I reach for when things are not their best!). I love how reliable it is.
Last night I was rereading the Harney tea book and getting the strongest craving for a cup of this (our spring continues to be a halting process—one day it’s 75F and I’m in shorts, the next it’s pouring, overcast, and the heater kicks on as I wake with a stuffy head), but it was too late to entertain. So I woke up today and that minisecond when you’re lying in bed anticipating the day was spent dreaming of this, as well as cold pizza and pistachio gelato for breakfast (don’t judge).
I get out of bed to find the freezer door’s been left open, the gelato is melted, and I can’t find my Mandala pu erhs anywhere. Begin panicking because despite how MUCH tea I have, I’m pretty durn organized about it, so losing track of a favorite is hard to believe. Begin combing through everything, still not finding it, getting more agitated by the drawer, all that jazz. Finally find it—hidden behind some tins of Verdant blacks in the hallway curio, tucked into a green box I was seeing past because I don’t store anything else but pu erhs in boxes. Phew.
Enjoying it with milk and a little bourbon smoked sugar (sacrilegious maybe I know, but it’s such a gloomy day, cut me a break!), dreamy eyed, calming down and beginning to get that pu erh buzz. R sniffs the air and asks about it, I laugh and offer him the second steep unsure of what he’ll make of it (he’s never had pu erh), he shyly says “well, if you really don’t mind sharing…” and the next thing I know his nose is buried in his mug, comically glued like a dog in his food bowl, and he’s all “MMMM!” inhaling and happy. Husband likes pu erh! Who’dathunkit. Today’s nice revelation. (Oh, and this is an especially sweet one because he can’t eat most chocolate but he loves the stuff—so this is a heavenly cheat for him!)
This is a good example of why the world of tea is such an awesome one. This is nothing like what you think of when you imagine a white—it lives in this magical, Venn Diagram overlap sweet spot where it has elements of black tea, white tea, oolong tea, just…remarkable. A white tea with the spunky, almost smoldering but clean character of an Indian black (think second flush Darjeeling, with nuttiness)! But the body and tang of a good white (and the hay too)! And the softness and enchanting aroma of an oolong! From Kenya(I love Harney’s Kangaita OP and have been so impressed with Justea’s Kenyan Black, but generally a tea noob would associate Kenya with CTC blacks still, I reckon)! Tea never ceases to surprise me.
As Sil notes, this would make an excellent addition to one’s afternoon tea rotation, a nice option when you’re in the mood for a sparkly light Darjeeling but also a little restless, in want of something different, special.
Stacy is wonderful and sent me a free sample of this with my recent order—thank you!
I believe I like this one more than the Hattialli Golden Lion from last year. It seems to have more flavor, a sweeter chocolate, especially in the initial sips. Less dry wood; it’s quite smooth, polished. Still bready like the previous one. A clean bright flavor emerges towards the end of the cup too—I could just be forgetting (it’s definitely been a while!) but I don’t recall Lion having such noticeable transformative second and third acts as this one. I would recommend if you liked the Lion; you may just find you like this even more.
Brace yourselves guys, ‘cause I’m about to go full-on housewife. This stuff is as close to a miracle product, actually-like-as-seen-on-TV-demos as I’ve ever tried. I’m lazy and used to a routine with my teaware where I just rinse it out daily, and then perhaps 2 times a week I’ll go at it all with the usual suspects—baking soda, white vinegar or lemon juice, occasionally something a touch more exotic like cream of tartar or citric acid or Bon Ami etc. And it does an ok job—respectable but not squeaky,-just-out-of-the-box immaculate and bright. You know, where there’ll be a couple hard to reach spots or ridges or whatever that have faint tannin discoloration no matter what (in particular, I was convinced the tannin stains on the inner bottom of my For Life basket and the thin glass spouts of my teapots were here to stay). Also, the Breville is nice (though I would say now definitively I prefer the Zoji if you have to choose one), but one thing that’s rough is it’s a little bit of a pain to clean (to do it properly you have to leave it overnight and boil and reboil and all that, which means no insta-morning tea!) and stains very easily, with the section behind the magnetic arm that’s nearly impossible to delicately/safely reach to clean well. But I was thinking, you know…a life of tea means some slight stains on a few hard-to-reach spots you just live with. Not a big deal. But I do sometimes get self-conscious when guests are here, wondering if they think those things are filthy or something.
Well no more. Now I know if/when it really matters, bringing everything back to brand spankin’ new condition is no sweat. Today I took a tablespoon of Smart Soak and 8 cups of boiling water (straight from the Zoji!) and submerged or poured it into or onto everything that had those sorts of pesky stains—lots of pouring back and forth between teapots to reach the spouts, dunking brew baskets in and then once they came out pouring that water into tea cups, what have you. And my gosh. I didn’t even have to wait the 10 minute soak time. Everything dipped in when the water was truly hot came out sparkling, factory-new immaculate immediately (the aforementioned For Life basket is so shiny it’s like a looking glass—ALL of it too, the bottom that no amount of scrubbing or homemade remedy chemical reaction could budge, the rim, everything). !!!! I felt like that Billy whatshisname guy from the informercials. And nothing was damaged, no paint or images or anything. No harsh fumes either; simply some effervescence and watching those yellow-brown tannins instantly bleed from the gear into the water. MAGIC. I was worried I’d have to use a lot for it to be effective, or that it’d smell harsh or potentially harmful, or make a mess, or require long soak times. Nope. No cleaning product has ever delivered on what it promised to this extent. I am so, so grateful Dexter3657, Azzrian, and other Steepsters sang its praises enough to convince me to bother to try it. I don’t ever want to be without this stuff—if Mandala ever announces they’re pulling it (the horrors!), I’ll be first in line to stock up on the remaining tubs. Fantastic product (especially on stainless steel, glass, and tumblers, but really everything).
This was a super generous sample Stacy threw in with my order! Thank you!
So, one tea type I wouldn’t have thought to request from Butiki is Darjeeling, not because I haven’t liked the one or two I’ve tried (I definitely have—the Giddahapar Extra Special is one of my all-time favorite Darjs!), but because it’s one of those nostalgic comfort food types I don’t really need luxe versions of to enjoy, if that makes any sense. Plus, I still have approximately 8 billion different kinds from that massive Teabox sampler (I love that thing). I tend to look to Butiki for flavored stuff I can’t find anywhere else, or for some of the, to me anyway as a newbie, innovative or more niche tea types being made around the world (like, who even knew Japan makes pu erh? I didn’t!). Turns out though, this is riiiiiight up my alley. It’s all the things I love in a Darj—it’s got a clean, lightly floral element at the end of the sip, and that woody aspect I adore is so beautiful here, not so much a dry raspy woodiness (although there is that and I’m glad), but also a deeper, almost mossy, damp sort of wood, a little like wet forest bark. And you know how I’m always going on about how some of my favorite black teas straddle the line between the woody astringency of Indian legacy teas and the sweet smooth starchiness of Chinese tea? This does that beautifully; there’s a yeasted bread/grain aroma I associate with Chinese tea and a soft fullness, but it balances with those woody clean Darjeeling notes. A beautiful morning tea that inspires contemplation, ideal given today’s Friday.
ETA: I like Stacy’s description of how it almost feels more like an Assam at the beginning and a Darjeeling at the end. That’s a really good way of putting it! The first whiff is rich and sweet and hints at chocolate like a good Assam, the middle is that woodiness that is both Darj-y but beyond the usual, almost wet, then I get the starchiness, and then the end is when the sparkly clean notes one associates with Darjeeling come in full and linger.
Another fancypants JW tea from boychik, because she’s so generous like that. (:
I like this one more than the JW Dian Hong Congfu, which surprises me a little. It’s been a LONG time, like nearly a year long, since I drank Teavivre’s Bailin Gongfu, but I remember it being rich, hearty, deep, and very full of the caramelized sweet potato and oat profile of nice Chinese black teas. Perhaps a side-by-side comparison is in order for this weekend; boychik sent me enough I can do that (thanks!). This one was sweet too, and had that quality of gentleness but also depth that the nicer Chinese teas often boast. I quite enjoyed it. I don’t know that these sweet potato Chinese black teas will ever be my top favorites, but they have a craft you can taste to them—how they manage to be so sweet with zero bitterness or astringency, soft but also so full of flavor—I’d never deny.
Oof, this was a super thoughtful surprise gift from Dexter3657! Tried it late last night as it’s a tisane (or was it the night before? G’ah). I love a good pear “tea”—Joy’s Teaspoon’s is perhaps still my go-to—but they’re hard to get right, often either too wispy or they turn into something dangerously close to the kind of tart apple tea I for some reason can’t stand. I loved the way this one smelled brewing and the chocolate intrigued me because I adore fresh pear slices with squares of super dark chocolate (the absence of apple or beetroot in the listed ingredients also gave me hope!), but alas, it proved the latter sort of apple-y pear and I struggled to finish it because of that specific apple juice-like tartness I just can’t handle in a hot drink. Aw. What makes this whole experience great though is that there’s a MESS of “Sweet Helen” pear teas, many of them from Frenchy can’t-try-before-I-buy, a-bear-to-obtain brands, and this keeps me from finding out the hard way, buying 100g with pricey shipping. So I’m super grateful to Dexter3657, whew. I have a feeling I’ll agree with Cavocorax, that this might be quite good cold (last fall I found the Berkshire Apple and Fig tea that floats around under various brand names is undrinkably apple juice-tart to me hot, but delicious cold). I’ll coldsteep the rest of the generous sample Dex gave me when it heats up here (any moment now!) and see.