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109 Tasting Notes

Butiki Teas is having an awesome “Create-Your-Own-Blend” tea contest. I was honored to have one of my submissions nominated by her panel of judges.

You can view the teas and vote here: http://www.butikiteas.com/Contest.html

Here is my submission:

Grateful Castaway’s Chilipaya Sweet Tropical Heat
Autumn, 1645

You, an intrepid tea trader caught in a storm in the Atlantic and blown wildly off course. Your mast torn, you drift for days, surviving by eating dry tea leaves and drinking rainwater captured in your tiny yixing teapot. At sunset, you see a speck of land on the horizon. You feel elated that your journey of hardship is over. However, hunger, thirst, and delirium overtake you and you drift helplessly off to sleep dreaming of better days to come. Hours later, you awake to a hot sun beating down on you. You are on a sandy beach clutching your last tea chest, out of the corner of your eye you spot the remnants of your ship smashed against some nearby rocks. With no tools, and no strength, you cannot access your only source of nourishment-your Nilgiri Frost Oolong tea leaves. Too weak to stand, you contemplate the last hours of your life. Suddenly, a crash right next to your ear! Just missing your head, your tea chest has been smashed open by a falling coconut! Landing within arms reach, you see the coconut has been cracked open as well and you find some of your tea leaves steeping in the coconut shell. Your stomach is not ready for solid food, so you guzzle the coconut milk tea with all your remaining constitution. Invigorated from the unusual drink, you arise and survey your surroundings. The beach is deserted, save for the lone, sparse coconut tree. The island appears uninhabited. You grab the last two coconuts and decide to move inland to search the distant forest for fresh water. It is essential to keep hydrated until the inevitable rescue of the important tea trader occurs. Inside the forest, you find myriad types of ripened fruit within arms reach or on the ground-papayas, mangos, limes, sucking every last drop of juice before you devour their flesh. The sugar rush is intense and you begin to ramble through the dense forest somewhat recklessly, picking up various fruits as you go. You encounter an unusual bush with a pretty little orange-red fruit. You take a bite and experience so much fire down your throat that you drop the fruit and fall backwards, spilling all of your tropical comestibles. Could this be the “hellfire habanero” you had seen mentioned in Magellan’s journals? Uprighting yourself, you frantically grab your coconut milk tea to cool off, only to realize as you gulp that the dreaded firebomb along with your other fruits has fallen into the drink. Strangely, the other fruits seem to tame the “devil fruit” in your tea. Although your throat still feels a little bit of heat, the succulent papaya fuses wonderfully into this serendipitous concoction, soothing your throat and heartburn. You calm down and start to notice the unique flavors. The unusual combination of sweet tropical fruits with the devil heat is amazing! Mangos, limes, habanero peppers, papaya, coconut and tea blending together as one. Papaya, habanero, and coconut are most prominent, but all the fruits are also identifiable separately. You thank fate for bestowing upon you this nectar of the gods as you continue to imbibe. You savor the sweetness and spice without getting the sugar high or burning throat as when eating all those tropical delights whole. Feeling relaxed, a quiet alertness takes over, your senses finely tuned. You see a creek that leads to a lush waterfall. Huge butterflies of every color casually flutter around you. A rainbow of delicate flowers emerges in every direction. Birds and trees of such beauty and rarity abound. You meander down to the stream gathering some crystal-clear water to make a cup of proper Nilgiri Frost Oolong in your coconut shell. As it steeps, you cannot help yourself, you are compelled to start throwing pieces of papaya, mango, lime, and yes, even a piece of that devil habanero into the shell! You ponder your fate while you sip this magical elixir. Away from the frenetic world, alone in this tropical paradise, your fears of survival until rescue evaporate and instead you, the grateful castaway, wonder “Do I ever WANT to be rescued?”

Grateful Castaway’s Chilipaya Sweet Tropical Heat is concocted by a fortuitous melange of Nilgiri Frost Oolong tea from the Blue Mountains of South India, red habanero peppers, papaya chunks, coconut shreds, mango pieces, lime and minute amounts of ginger bits and freeze-dried garlic. Daydreams of tropical paradise included at no extra charge.

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100

This was the most fun I’ve ever had since I got into tea.

I had been wanting a Chili-Chocolate black tea for two years ever since TG discontinued theirs. There are others out there-but many are chais (which I don’t want), and some are not vegan and others I’m just not sure about the ingredients.

Enter Stacy, of Butiki Teas, who offered to do a vegan custom blend for me. Because the teas and other ingredients were things that she normally had on hand, she was able to give me some great prices and smaller amounts-less than $4 an ounce for this blend. In fact, it was even cheaper because the deal was for 2 ounces each but she wound up with 2.5 ounces on one blend and almost 3 ounces on the other blend. I’ve paid the same or more for blends that weren’t custom made with lots of personal attention.

Basically, Stacy and I exchanged several messages-she asked what I was looking for in a custom blend and she offered suggestions on bases and ingredients. She also asked for any suggestions I might have. It really felt like a collaboration. Like maybe Larry David was taking your suggestions and writing a Seinfeld for you. After settling on the bases, ingredients and spice-sweetness levels she went to work.

Every few days I would get an update from Stacy-when she blended, when she tasted, additional blending, settling, etc. She even sent me a pic of one of the teas in progress-so exciting! She did all this on her own-not once did I ever have to ask her how things were going-she was SO conscientious. When the teas were done, I even got to name them-it was so cool to see my tea names on the distinctive Butiki Teas labels!

I probably should have let the teas settle a bit, but, they arrived Saturday and it was raining all day, so I couldn’t wait.

This tea has a Kundaly (Nilgiri) base and is loaded with mini-chocolate chips and chili strips hand-grated by Stacy. I couldn’t smell the chili too well so I went with 1.5 teaspoons of dry leaf for an 8-10 ounce cup (you could just use 1 tsp for less heat). The liquor brews and orangish-reddish color and is closer to translucent than opaque.

You can drink this straight, but I feel that a teaspoon or so of brown crystal sugar (rock sugar) brings out the chocolate flavor better and really completes the chili-chocolate fusion. On the sip, I first taste a little chocolate on the tip of my tongue, followed quickly by spicy tingling in the sides, eventually lingering in the back of my throat after the swallow. With the rock sugar, the chocolate taste is there until the swallow. The tea blends in perfectly with everything. At first, I thought the 1.5 teaspoons was a bit too spicy for me-which is not Stacy’s fault because I told her I’d rather have too spicy than not spicy enough. Now, I am getting used to the 1.5 teaspoons and loving the heat. It’s not so hot that you would need to drink something else or eat something to tone it down. However, you might not want to sip too fast as it cools because of the lingering heat. It might not be a bad idea to reduce the spice here 10% or so, but not too much. It’s still good and spicy with just one teaspoon-but it will more likely need a teaspoon of sweetener. Still, 15 calories of sweetener is better than a 300 calorie chili-chocolate bar!

I’m really happy to have Chili-Chocolate tea again and I hope the weather cools down soon because it seems such a great drink for the fall and winter-maybe with a touch of soymilk and some vegan marshmallows.

Working with Stacy has been a great experience-professional, friendly, and responsive. If you have an idea for a tea that no one has, consider asking Stacy about a custom blend. She’s a mad tea-ologist who loves to experiment! She also will try to work within your budget-she won’t tell you that you need a $15 an ounce tea for a base. It could be a great gift idea for a loved one as well. Thanks, Stacy for all your hard work! Hope to do another custom blend in the future.

I can’t really separate the tea from the experience because of the personal service. The tea is really great and the service is outstanding.

Preparation
Boiling 4 min, 0 sec
Alphakitty

This blend sounds amazing! I agree with everything you said about making a custom tea with Stacy, it’s such a fun and personal experience.

Butiki Teas

Scott-I’m so glad you are enjoying the tea & process of making the tea! I had a lot of fun and love the Kundaly version of the chocolate chilli tea. I can see myself drinking this all fall and winter long. Its great to work with you and I certainly appreciate all the feedback. I’m hoping to have a permanent chilli chocolate tea for our fall selection. I would love to work with you again anytime. :)

Alphakitty-Thanks, I such a great time working with you and I’m so happy with the results. Tamarind Pop has been a wonderful addition to our tea selection. :)

Scott B

It really is, Alphakitty. Most people here are so serious about their tea that this is a treat they should consider trying at least once.

Stacy- I’m glad you feel my feedback has been helpful. I look forward to a permanent supply of chili chocolate in the near future :) Runs off to think of mad ideas for tea blends

Butiki Teas

Scott-Mad ideas are always welcome. :D

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75

I have a few breakfast teas that I enjoy-most notably Butiki’s Organic Irish Breakfast and Mark T. Wendell’s Indonesian. However, I am not one to have the same cup or two day after day-I do like my variety.

I’ve also been on a kick buying some teas that are popular in Ireland and the UK-such as PG Tips, ToH Yorkshire teas, etc. It’s fun to try what people in other countries like-even if it is not necessarily high quality loose leaf.

Anyhow, Barry’s is apparently the big tea in Ireland, so I had to try that. The tea is a blend of Kenyan and Assam teas. Breakfast blends are generally not much to look at, but this is even less so-the CTC process makes this loose tea look like grape nuts cereal. Had I known this was just a CTC, I probably would have bought the bag form of this sold in a local grocery store. Anyhow, as I’ve been noticing while buying teas popular in Ireland and the UK, Kenyan tea is included in all of these. In the States, I don’t recall coming across an Irish Breakfast or English Breakfast with Kenyan in it. This tea distinguishes itself from the EB’s because it has a higher ratio of Kenyan than the EB’s I have tried. This makes it a little stronger, but in my opinion, a little less flavorful. Also, as Kenyan teas (in general) have a little more caffeine than their Assamica cousins from India (because the Kenyan tea trees are younger) this should mean a bit more caffeine and a bit more energy if you need it to start your day.

The cup brews dark brownish copper in 3 minutes or so. I’ve gone up to 4 on this. It’s strong, but I didn’t really have to adjust to it like I did with say, an East Frisian Blend. With more Kenyan, the flavor seems a bit roastier and not as lively. Not really bland, but not exciting. I don’t really taste any bitterness or astringency, but there is a tannic taste on the back end. I’m sure that in Ireland most people drink this with some sort of milk and sugar. That’s not really my thing-I like even breakfast teas straight and plain. I did try it once with soymilk and sugar and it was okay. Different, but not better. It might help you get the cup down if this is too strong for you or if you don’t care for the taste. For me, the only tea I NEEDED soymilk to get through it was TG’s EB.

Overall, it’s a decent tea. It’s in my rotation because I bought so much of it. I’ve had this at least half a dozen times by now. I can’t say that it’s growing on me though. So far, I feel about the same about it as when I first tried it. Maybe that will change over time. If you like a good dose of Kenyan in your Breakfast tea or if you want to try a blend popular in Ireland, this might be something you’d like to try.

I bought this from The English Tea Store. It only came in 250 gram boxes-which is A LOT of tea when you have as much as I have. I’d never buy it in such great quantity ever again. I THINK the bag inside the box is foil-I just bought a big tea tin for it. It’s possible other places online have this in a smaller quantity if you don’t want that much. Or check your grocery store for the teabag version.

Preparation
Boiling 3 min, 0 sec

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74

This tea was brutalized in shipping. I have not had this tea before, so I cannot say whether this has affected the flavor.

This is only the 2nd Scottish Breakfast tea that I have tried-Upton’s being the first. I bought a 4 ounce pouch. The pouch is a re-sealable and made out of a plastic-y film and not foiled-lined on the inside. Not sure what teas are in this blend, but it doesn’t taste like Asssam, Ceylon, and Yunnan. Maybe just Assman and Yunnan? Keemun? The dry leaves are full and have a malty and slightly smoky aroma.

The liquor is more brown than orange in color. This flavor is malty and really peppery (black)-especially when the tea is hottest. No smokiness in the flavor, so probably no Keemun in it. It’s somewhat lively, and although not weak, definitely not “smash you in the face” strong. An acceptable first cup-but I have better options. The level of tannins is surprising low. Not bitter or astringent.

I want to note about the shipping here. The box was literally beat to hell in shipping. The top flaps of the box were peaked up almost like an A-Frame house and there was a big dent in the side. I realize that UPS/USPS etc, handle the packages and not the tea shop. However, I have placed dozens of tea orders by now and have never had a box like this show up on my door. My orders from China and Taiwan have never looked anything but great.

The packaging issue is ETS fault. The cardboard was not sturdy and the box was too big for the order. The box had only some brown kraft paper on one side for “cushioning”. This did not work at all and the pouch of this tea had a gouge in it about one-half inch deep and 1.5 inches long (although the pouch was not actually punctured). If this had been an expensive signature tea instead of a ridiculously cheap $1 an ounce blend I would have sent it back un-opened. This company has several other online businesses and I picture all their stuff at a big warehouse-not stored properly and obviously not packed by people who know and/or care about tea. This tea is okay, but not good enough to make me ever want to buy from this company again.

NB – Rating number is for the tea alone. The other issues did not factor into the number.

Preparation
Boiling 4 min, 0 sec

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75
drank Crimson Grove by Mellow Monk
109 tasting notes

Mellow Monk really wasn’t high on my list of tea companies to order from until I looked at their web site. I liked the idea of all their teas being grown by small, family-owned farms, imported directly from Japan. All of their teas are first flush. I also like it that all their tea comes from the southern island of Kyushu, which never had high levels of radiation last year. I’m impressed that MM only chooses teas that are popular locally and not primarily produced for export. They shipped really fast. My tea arrived safe and sound but I’d appreciate a little sturdier packaging than a plain, brown kraft envelope.

So, a black tea from Japan seemed like such an anomaly that I had to try it. Upon opening the pouch, I am hit with a slightly smoky scent that reminds me a bit of a Formosa Keemun and/or Dark Roasted Oolong. The dry leaves are short and mostly chocolate brown with a smattering of chestnut colored tips or bits of twig in the mix.

The brewed leaves smelled a bit like a Taiwanese Ruby Red-slightly malty and minty. The liquor is fairly light-darker than a FF Darjeeling, but not much else. It has hues of burnt orange, amber, and chestnut brown.

The flavor is very smooth, zero bitterness or astringency, and about as mellow as you can get with a black tea. As for specific notes, I am having a hard time gleaning those. I can’t say that my cupping mimics what MM describes. To me, it tastes mostly similar to a Formosa Keemun (not exactly like) but I feel like I am still figuring this out. I think my rating number may change the more I drink this.

Brewing based on MM’s instructions, I got two cups of tea. I think maybe I can get a third if brew a little longer.

I wouldn’t recommend this based on the smoke alone, because I don’t think there’s enough of it for those who really enjoy smoky notes. However, if you like milder black teas or just enjoy the idea of a black tea from Japan made with green tea varietals, you may like this tea.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 3 min, 0 sec

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90
drank Raspberry Truffle by Butiki Teas
109 tasting notes

Brew temp 208

I have too many teas.

That must be the reason that I don’t drink this delicious tea every day. I’ve had many different chocolate teas before-and even chocolate raspberry teas before and this is the only chocolate tea that I have ever had that has actual chocolate chips in it! And this has real raspberries too.

The Kundaly Nilgiri base fuses well with the chocolate and the raspberry. You can taste all the flavors. I have no idea what the natural flavoring is, but it is definitely very natural tasting. The tea is sweet-as you would expect in this type of blend-but not cloying. It tastes great plain, but a teaspoon or so of sweetener (like rock sugar) enhances the flavors very nicely. Of course it is very smooth and has zero bitterness or astringency. Chocolate and raspberry is a kind of classic flavor combination to me-something that I would always come back to over time. I’m sure that I’ll be buying this in the future after my current batch runs out. Excellent.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 4 min, 0 sec

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68

Brew temp 208

I have no idea why I am buying a decaff Irish Breakfast tea.

I guess it’s for those days when I want to chain drink tea. I pretty much limit myself to 4-6 cups of caffeinated tea a day (depending on how caffeinated they are). When I have a high quality tea that re-steeps multiple times (like a Dian Hong), I can hit the 4-6 cups ceiling really fast. My herbals and other decaffs are all sweet in one way or another and I like a more traditional option such as this.

Anyhow, this is just okay. It’s not bitter or astringent. It has a reasonable, but not tremendous, amount of flavor. The first Irish Breakfast I ever had was Ceylon and Assam and I pretty much expect them to all be that way, but of course this is not the case. This is Assam, Kenyan and possibly others. To me, it doesn’t taste a lot different than an English Breakfast with Assam and Kenyan such as PG Tips. Another strike against this is that the bags are only 2 grams-PG Tips and Taylor’s Yorkshire blends have 3 gram bags. I’m not excited about this, but still, I think this will do on one of those days when I really NEED a lot of tea, but need to watch the caffeine and don’t want lots of sweet herbals. However, I think I will look for a higher quality, loose leaf, decaff straight tea like an Assam in the future.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 3 min, 0 sec

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51

I just don’t care for this. The chocolate and banana can’t drown out the medicinal flavor most rooibos blends have. The only rooibos I have really liked was heavy on spices-like a masala chai. I do taste what seems like black pepper here (from the pink peppercorn?), but it’s not enough to overcome the medicine-y taste and it certainly does not complement the chocolate and banana flavors either. Maybe I’ll try an extra long steep, but I probably won’t be buying this again.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 5 min, 0 sec

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drank Black Currant by Harney & Sons
109 tasting notes

Wow, so I found a second coffee shop in town that carries Harney & Sons tea!

Unfortunately, only in bags. I wonder if H&S sells the teas to shops as a package because it looked like the exact same list I saw at the other coffee shop. I was hoping to try their Golden Monkey, but I guess they think it’s too expensive for people to buy-or because they sell their teas in one price package to shops and it’s too expensive for Harney to include it. The choices are mostly not interesting, but Black Currant was new, so I tried that.

It’s really hard to give a number rating because they put in just one bag for a 12 ounce cup, which is a little watered down from what I’d have at home (8-10 ounces in a cup). I don’t think that I’ve ever had a black currant tea, so I was mystified as why the black currant taste in the tea was so familiar. Eventually, I figured it out-they must put the black currant flavoring in their Paris tea! I don’t know if that’s well-known or not. When I got home, I opened up my Paris and took a whiff-definitely some blackcurrant in there. Anyhow, this tea is okay. I’d be willing to buy a sample from Harney’s to make at home under controlled conditions, but I won’t buy it again at a shop where their cup sizes are too big and they dilute the bags. Maybe they could just sell me a bag to take home? It was only $1.75. We’ll see. I’m not exactly excited enough about this to run out and do it. Maybe next time I’m out that way.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 4 min, 0 sec
Alphakitty

One of my local grocery stores carries H&S teas, but just bagged in the pretty colored tins. I think loose-leaf is online/in-store only. And yes, blackcurrant is the flavor in Paris!

Scott B

I’m not sure how it all works. There’s a tea shop near where my parents live that sells Harney loose-but it’s just a shop, not a place to drink tea. I’ve never been fortunate enough to find it in a grocery store near me-just these two coffee shops. I’ve never even had a Harney tin.

Yeah, I was really surprised when I started thinking Paris! I thought that many earlier reviews of Paris were unsure what made it so distinctive. Berries and citrus usually work pretty well.

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36
drank Snow Geisha by Teavana
109 tasting notes

Another stop at the same Teavana.

I was wanting a tea with some real cherries in it and Teavana has this. I knew the reviews on Steepster were pretty bad, but I thought one to-go cup wouldn’t hurt. Don’t know how long they brewed this, but they said brew temp was 175.

This started out okay. I was sipping in store and I didn’t taste the cough medicine-type flavor people complained of. It seemed promising, if not exactly as exciting as its appearance. However, after just a couple minutes of slight cooling, the nasty flavor came through. Not sure I would say cough syrup, but something akin to it-very artificial tasting.

I bought one Teavana storage tin (had to buy an 8 ounce tin because they discontinued the 6 ounce tin inside stores-in a sneaky effort to upsell your tea purchases, no doubt). As I left, I continued sipping until I could taste nothing but the artificial tasting cherry flavor. It was just overpowering. I wound up dumping about half the cup.

The customer service at this Teavana is good and not pushy-I even looked at the cast iron kettles to see what would happen and they just let me look. However, when I asked a question, they were right on top of it. Unfortunately, they had the same 6 boring samples as the last time I ventured that way a few weeks ago-and I’m not spending $12-15 just to try 3 teas in to-go cups, so nothing other than that cup purchased today.

Hard to call this tea disappointing, since ratings are so low, but it’s still kinda disappointing anyway.

Preparation
175 °F / 79 °C
Autumn Hearth

Yeah I’m not sure how some people love this, people I work with even. I keep on hoping it will be retired or at least reformulated but I guess they sell enough of it, though I wonder how many people end up still liking it once they take it home. I prefer the Sakura Allure green tea as far as cherry goes (though it does have quite a bit of hibiscus). I’m sure other companies have better blends, David’s Sakura seems to be popular.

Scott B

I’ve seen a few Sencha Sakuras out there-I suppose I’ll try one one of these days.

Indigobloom

I’m not a big sencha fan so fat chance of me loving this one.

Scott B

Indigo-this tea has a white tea base. Sencha sakura was mentioned because it was another cherry tea. Still, you probably wouldn’t like this one anyway-almost no one does.

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Profile

Bio

Started drinking tea for health benefits maybe 5 years ago-exclusively bagged tea. Usually went for various Celestial Seasonings type of stuff. I bought a tea infuser at a gourmet shop once and then I realized there was almost no loose tea available. Eventually tiring of bags, I started ordering loose tea online and I have never gone back. Initially, I was exploring all the wild and exotic flavor combinations, but now I mostly drink straight teas. I still enjoy blended teas-but prefer those without “flavoring”. Hope to learn here and find some new teas I might not otherwise find. Am a vegan, so “milk” generally means “soymilk” to me. If it’s almond, rice, or coconut, I will mention that fact.

I am new here, and new to reviewing tea. Many of my initial reviews will be from memory and may not be very detailed at all. I hope to write more informative reviews on current and future teas.

I won’t let external factors affect my rating of the tea-such as slow shipping, too expensive, etc. I’ll mention any customer service problems in my reviews. I also won’t let my mistakes in not following the seller’s recommended parameters affect a rating. I can’t believe people who say “I forgot about it and oversteeped it” and then give it a rating. If I brew outside the parameters, I will wait until I brew it right before I give it a rating.

TEMPORARY RATING SYSTEM- Don’t hold me to these numbers and descriptions-like George Bluth, I like to tweak.

90+ It’s awesome, right?? I’ll probably try to keep it on hand.

80-89 – I really like this and will buy it again at some point, but there are so many teas to try!

70-79 – This is a pretty good tea and I may buy it again based on my mood, what tea store I am buying from, and what kind of deal I can get.

60-69 – This is okay. I finished the bag. I would drink it again if offered, but would not buy it again.

40-59 – IF I finished the bag, I recall this tea thinking “Why in the hell did I finish the bag?”

1-39 – Did not finish the bag. Maybe not even the cup. Tea was given away or discarded.

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