260 Tasting Notes
The Final Sipdown: Day 1.3
The smell of this is knock you out strong. I thought that lavender was supposed to be calming? This smells like walking into one of those stores that sells dried flower arrangements and hand-painted wood signs that say things like, “If you don’t like chocolate, get out of my kitchen,” except the heater’s been on the blitz all day and it’s made the scent of the lavender and cedar potpourris about 20 times stronger than they should be. You know, like g-ma’s closet sachets took steroids and are staging a world takeover. As a half-test and half-joke, I took the empty sample packet and held it in front of my sleeping dog’s nose to see if he would do anything. I scared the living poop out of him and he jumped off the bed. He’s back up there now and fallen asleep again, but I’ll admit that that was mean. Sorry, Tucker.
Moving on. Taking the smell as a very loud hint, I decided to steep this lower than I usually would an herbal. The tea [not really tea] itself seems to be comprised entirely of dried lavender blossoms. If you’ve ever had lavender-infused anything, you’ll be familiar with the flavor of this tea as it does, indeed, taste of lavender. It smells of lavender, too. I’ve never known anything involving lavender, be it soap, lotion, cookies, artisan chocolates, or detergent, to be subtle, and this is no exception. It really comes through when I swish it around or as it goes down. There’s also a hint of an almost bergamot-like citrusy flavor running through it as well. The aftertaste, however is almost…minty. Kind of strange, but extremely refreshing.
Anyhow, the description for this tea doesn’t joke around. It is strong. And, it probably goes without saying, but if you don’t like lavender, you probably shouldn’t even be reading this log. If you’re not opposed to lavender and are prepared for a tea saturated in it, or are up for a rather singular experience, then I would suggest picking up a sample. As for me, I’m not entirely sure I’ll want to be drinking this again anytime soon, but I will leave you with these last three things:
1. The aftertaste really is nice. I’m enjoying it quite a bit.
2. It could be the late hour, but I find myself slipping into a rather relaxed drowsiness [as opposed to the typical drooping fatigue I get when I need to go to bed] and this tea may be the reason. I might, just might have to eventually get another sample packet from Harney to test drive this guy on those nights when I am plagued by insomnia.
3. Pretty. | http://bit.ly/cs5l1d
Samples Downed: 3
The Final Sipdown: Day 1.2
I know that it’s technically a new day [that crept up fast] but here’s sample number two. I’m going to have to up my rating on this because, in a happy mistake, I put waaaay too much tea in le Breville in an effort to finish off the sample and while it has resulted in a bit of an oversteep, it also made the flavor in this considerably stronger and so I think that after I order this I’ll be able to find a VERY happy medium.
Getting a whiff of this as I poured it out of the vessel, it reminded me very strongly of walking by Mrs. Fields in the mall – that freshly baked cookie smell wafting around in a ten foot radius around the small booth. Sugar cookies, almond cookies, chocolate chip cookies…all of them radiating mouth-watering scents as they came out of the ever-running ovens. Granted, I was typically of the mindset that the smells emanating out of that little cubicle of a bakery were better than the cookies, but every once in a while when I could catch sugar cookies just coming out of the oven? Mmm…
But I digress. The point is, that this tea emulates near exactly the delicious mixture of smells created by Mrs. F’s. The taste of the tea, and this is something that I believe was a result of me putting in about 50% more tea than I should have for the quantity of water, was really heavy on the cinnamon and clove. I can feel it, dry and slightly bitter and spicy, in the tea. But underneath that…
Deliciously doughy with a puff of lingering cinnamon and that distinct almond flavor. On the aftertaste, this became stupendously fantastic. It felt like I had just eaten a cookie. Or perhaps a scone, or even biscotti, but you get the picture. Seriously. I mean, you know how after you eat a baked good you can still taste it on your breath? That was how it was after drinking this tea.
And so, while I am going to be sad to momentarily remove this from my cupboard, I know that this is something I will be ordering soon. So freaking tasty.
Samples Downed: 2
All right y’all. I have 43 days before I move to California, and after a discussion with Auggy in which we were bemoaning the number of samples we both have banging around in our respective cupboards [what a problem to have, truly] I realized that I have a whopping 125 samples left from trades, vendors, and the like. One hundred and twenty five.
And thus, we decided to extend a challenge to one another. One sample a day, completely finished no if, ands, or buts [these kids got GUTS] about it. Except after doing a tally I realized that in my case, to be finished with all of these samples before I move, I am going to have to drink three a day for forty-three days. Daunting? Absolutely. Impossible? I think not. And so there we have it – our own personal Julie & Julia type situations laid out before us.
Of course, you know what this means. You’ll be seeing a lot more of me on Steepster. So much, in fact, that you may very well get sick of me, but I am doing this in the name of tea and I think we can all agree that this is a pretty worthy cause, no? So, while Auggy is going to be my Official Sipdown Accountability Buddy I do encourage you all to provide anything from gentle nudging to verbal abuse should I begin to lose steam or fall behind my 3-A-Day goal. I am, of course, assuming that you all deeply care about all of this. [Also, it may go without saying, but for an indefinite period of time I will not be able to participate in any tea swaps.]
Oh, and should you be wondering where the name for this came from it’s because that Europe song [you know the one] has been stuck in my head all week and it is somewhat appropriate even though it doesn’t really make sense [like the best things in life]. Please feel free to imagine that bitchin’ 80’s synthesizer track playing in the background as you read on. And now, it’s time for…
The Final Sipdown: Day 1.1
Unable to choose a tea to start this off, I shut my eyes and grabbed at random, closing in on this one – a sample that I received from teaplz a while back. [Actually, all of these samples are going to be from “a while back,” but do I get points from keeping them sealed in a cool, shut off from light area?] In an effort to keep things fresh, I am going to refrain from reading my prior log, but it’s starting to rush back to me in a not-that-great-way. This tea smells of medicine. Hot theraflu and…cedar?
Sipping it, I get a shot of slightly sour lemon surging through the liquid. The berry taste floats around it, not really loud but not quite soft either. I’m unable to pick out anything specific, except maybe not-quite-ripe-raspberry. The lemon flavor, I’m thinking, is from the hibiscus and maybe tempered by the berry a bit. No vanilla to be found, I’m afraid, though at the back of my tongue I am getting a hint of chalky milk chocolate.
Oh, there we go. At the tip of the tongue, as this tea cools, a smidgeon of vanilla. The mouthfeel is somewhat creamy, and this tea is trying ever-so-desperately to be pleasantly blended, but it just isn’t cutting it. The nice mouthfeel is offset by the now distracting sourness and every time I bring the cup up to sip it I get a whiff of medicine smell. Now the aftertaste…the aftertaste could be nice. I actually get more of a vanilla flavor on the aftertaste than I do with the tea, but sitting naggingly on the back and sides of my tongue is that bitterness that pervades the tea. Drat.
This tea is, indeed, flavorful, but simply not for me. I think it’s rated about right for what I think of it, though, so I’m not going to change it. So there.
And that’s tea number one down! The journey begins! As I just said to Auggy – this is either going to be brilliant, or a hot mess. [THERE IS NO IN BETWEEN!] Certainly, there will be a lot of peeing. But no time to worry about any of that, because I have two more teas I have to drink tonight and now I get to remove this sucka from my cupboard. Who knew that clicking a button could feel so fantastically rewarding?
Samples Downed: 1
Oh, Republic of Tea. Where do I start with you?
As I fished out the [admittedly free] packet enclosed with your catalog, I began to think about your company as a whole. You boast a rather catchy concept in an Old Navy kind of way [coincidentally, they are a sister company of half of RoT’s entrepreneurial past – Banana Republic], thoughtfully designed packaging and imaging, well-written copy, and what I imagine is a pretty powerful marketing team as I’ve seen you prominently displayed in [but not limited to] Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Balducci’s. Indeed, you have cornered the market at Crate and Barrel.
But I most often find myself wishing that your tea stood up to all the hype. I am even in the middle of your book, which while a great deal insightful in its own right and a very interesting read at points, I find mainly overbearing, self-indulgent, and a bit obnoxious. Do you really believe that your tea is the best tea that can be found? That you are traveling to the ends of the earth to bring the most selective quality of leaf to the people of the “Republic”? It’s fascinating, because your levels of confidence are clearly not ultimately displaced, as you all seem to be doing very well for yourselves, but at some point do you not find yourselves pausing to ask, “…Seriously?”
Now that the RoT has begun carrying loose leaf, I suppose it might be worth while to give a tin a try to see how they hold up on that front. But, as I sit here drinking this “sip by sip” as they like to put it, I find myself becoming angry.
This tea is so far past even mediocre, it’s almost insulting. What makes it worse is that a) it smells like a carbon copy of hot apple cider and b) I can see how this might impress a long time drinker of Lipton.
The taste is weak and watery, and I thought it may have been because I only let it sit for three and a half minutes, but given how long others have steeped it that does not seem to be the issue here. The flavors that do emerge are dull and unimpressive. When I think about this tea compared with the also “light” Nishi Sencha that I drank last night, it’s like thinking about the difference between a sloth and a stallion; a Ford Pinto and a Bugatti Veyron; Psyduck and Pikachu. It’s simply not fair to do so.
The tea starts off with a lackluster, bland flavor akin to…argh. I don’t even know. It reminds me of the time when I bit into an Apple Gone Wrong [as I called it] – a fruit that wasn’t bad in that it was mealy and rotten, but truly was an apple that had no apple flavor in it whatsoever. No sweetness, no crispy tartness, nothing. Just watery blahness that was met by the disgusted faces of the people who I made try it. Following that is an unimpressive spice-like flavor and an aftertaste that tastes like some kind of bizarre mix of hot lemon water and chamomile.
And therein lies the reason why it’s proving so difficult for me to get through the RoT book. It would be a quick and easy read if their tea lived up to all the lovely promises portrayed by the eager authors, but when I drink something like this, it makes me wonder. Is this simply an earnest effort made by people whose opinion of tea is truly that far misplaced by my own tastes? Or is it a marketing ploy constructed by a team of people who learned from experience that in the American market sometimes all you need is a cleverly crafted image to sell a shoddy product, therefore resulting in a ridiculously high profit margin?
I can’t even rate this higher than the “devil tea” [Tazo’s Wild Orange] because that at least had flavor. The inaptly named “Comfort and Joy” is just…is just…a flaccid excuse for a tea. The only reason I would recommend to a friend to keep this around would be if they were selling their house during fall or winter and they wanted to have something sitting around to make it smell homey and inviting but they didn’t want to waste good cider. And in all seriousness, that is hardly a reason to buy tea.
Just for the sake of discussion, and for the more practically minded of us out there, let us consider something. Comfort and Joy can be purchased in the amount of 50 tea bags [2.8 oz, says the tin] for $11.50. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, we’ll say that this weight reflects only the tea and not the bags. So, you are essentially paying $4.10/oz [rounding down] of this tea. A brand perhaps considered notoriously expensive in the tea world, Mariage Frères’ Marco Polo can be purchased on average at $20 for a tin, which holds 100 g, or 3.5 ounces. Comparing this in the same manner, you are looking at $5.72/oz. However, let’s assume that you resteep this tea [I have had success with one resteeping], not even all the time, but about half the time that you make it. Already you are down to $4.29/oz [rounding up]. Yunnan Golden Bud is a tea that I typically resteep about three or so times on average when drinking, but even considering it being resteeped only twice, it’s down to $5.88/oz [jumping down to $3.92/oz for three steeps per use]. If I were to buy Comfort and Joy [and I won’t be] it is most definitely not a tea that I would find use in resteeping. Tea bags rarely lend themselves to this kind of use anyhow, as I find most of the flavor is typically extracted during the first steep and besides, it’s a bit psychologically disconcerting to reuse the dried, wrinkly, mushy bag another time. Even my parents, who are avid drinkers of bagged tea, do not reuse their tea bags. The convenience lies in the ease of the use-and-toss.
This is a point I want to make because, while we all hear about how fairly inexpensive tea actually is when you price it per cup, who here actually sits there and makes these calculations when you are buying tea? I certainly don’t. And even then, I very rarely go on tea buying benders where I buy teas from several different companies at the same time.
I believe that most of us subscribe to the idea that we are willing to pay a little bit more for things we like more. Comparing an $11.50 price tag to a $20.00 one or especially a $47.00 can seem like an incredible difference, but when you think about how much you will use these teas realistically [not even comparing opinion of flavor at this point], it truly becomes much less of a price jump. In life, I am one who considers it more cost effective to pay a little bit more in the beginning and get something of quality, than to save money at the point of sale and have to replace it more often later on down the line. This does not mean that the higher price point always belies a proportional difference in quality and that you shouldn’t research things – especially life’s bigger purchases – but all in all I find that the philosophy holds and it has served me well. Granted, there will be some people who enjoy Comfort and Joy, or who will always balk at the prospect of paying an undeniably higher price for something up front. That’s fine, but this point is, certainly, something worth considering.
Lastly, because I couldn’t resist, I decided to document this admittedly contemptuous account with a picture. For your viewing pleasure, please behold Comfort and Joy as compared to Mariage Frère’s Marco Polo and Samovar’s Yunnan Golden Bud. | http://bit.ly/bUcdVC
So here’s the thing about this tea – it’s very light, subtle, but surprisingly well-rounded.
Being accustomed to the more deeply-steamed senchas, most of the senchas I have had are strong, robust, and bursting with flavor. This is a much more restrained fare, but I find it growing on me more and more.
The coloring foreshadows the sparkling, almost weightless qualities the flavors hold; it brews into a very pale yellow-green. The scent is a bit more vivid. Though slightly faded in comparison to some other senchas, it still holds that roasty, grassy quality along with something else underneath that’s difficult to place. It’s kind of sweet and a little salty. Hyacinth mixed with the ocean.
And then the main event. As I started drinking this, I thought it tasted okay, but that it was weak. Then the flavors started to build up as my taste buds became accustomed to it; it is a deceptively lively tea. First off, I will say that the aftertaste on this is rather amazing; a hint of bitter that is counterbalanced with a fresh sweetness that found me staring, openmouthed, at the wall for a few minutes before my dog nudged me out of it for some belly rubs. I probably looked like I was having a stroke, but it caught me off guard and it’s taking me a very long time to finish this cup because I keep on riding the aftertaste.
The flavor of the liquid reminds me of biting into iceberg lettuce, or a sweet green pepper. The finish as I swallow is more a roasted and makes me think of corn.
This is something to drink slowly and savor – especially the aftertaste, which is kind of magical. And I don’t know if it’s the tea or the fact that it feels really good to be home or some combination of both, but I had a very frenzied day at work today and I find myself feeling incredibly relaxed at the moment.
Time to go for a second steep.
Okay, much better. Much, much better. I’m not sure whether this tea simply doesn’t play well with the higher temperature, the longer steep time, or both, but I figured it wasn’t worth wasting the sample on that so I reduced everything on all fronts [including using less tea]. What may have happened was an overcompensation that resulted in a relatively weak brew, but I have a little bit of it left so I’ll play with it later.
First things first, the hue of this tea is really colored like maple syrup. Not that I think that was necessarily on purpose or anything, but it’s a neat tie-through. It has a darting sweetness about it and a slippery, almost oily, mouth feel. There is a hint of malt in it, and when this combines with the, like Auggy said, not-quite-sugary sweetness, it makes for a nice carameled tone [as the description states]. There is quite a bit of watery taste surrounding everything, but I do believe that’s because I wimped out when I made this cup and I’m hoping to Goldilocks the last bit of my sample.
Again, like Auggy said, I’m not positive I would be able to say this tasted of maple syrup, exCEPT on the aftertaste. That is when this tea is most clearly maple for me, and that is when it is best.
For when the mood suits me, this tea could become something I want to keep around if I manage to nail a stronger flavor to it whence next I make it. The only thing that is keeping me from considering a purchase more seriously is, and this is not fault of the tea’s, that scene from Super Troopers where they’re chugging the syrup. Again, not the tea’s fault. And despite having watched that movie several times I still find occasions meow and then when I really just want some damn maple syrup. Meow I want to go watch that movie again. And I was thinking that I’d save the last of this tea for later, but I’m about to make pancakes and meow I’m thinking that I’m going to give this tea one last go with dinner. Three logs on the same tea in one day? If it goes down, I promise the last log will be short. Like one sentence short. Meow.
Picture or it didn’t happen. [Enjoy the syrupy color. It’s quite beautiful.] | http://bit.ly/9IuAcu
Auggy sent me this tea ages ago and we’re just not going to ask questions about “Exactly how long ago was that?” or “Why has it taken you so long to get around to trying it?” or “Why do you suck like a Dyson D28? Why? WHY?”
I don’t know! I don’t know! And I especially don’t know why I am so aware of the Dyson product line model numbers! My brain is a sponge and I have no control over what it absorbs! Leave me alone!
I’m sorry. I’ve got to get it together. Give me a moment to compose myself.
Okay, so the tea. That’s why we’re all here, after all. I’m fairly certain I messed this cup up, so I’m going to leave the rating off and try again later.
Actually, I’m going to try again right now, because I can’t finish this cup. You can probably guess where this is going [nowhere good].
It’s a beautiful autumn day in Virginia. The temperature is moderate, the leaves have, for the most part, changed, and the buzz of leaf blowers is permeating throughout the neighborhood’s usual ambience. In digging through my box o’ samples, I thought that a tea named “Maple” would be fitting for today, especially since I am contemplating making breakfast for dinner tonight [picked up a tin of this earlier and I’m admittedly excited – http://bit.ly/c0eCd2 – Viva la Contessa!].
Cracking open the container, it does indeed smell of extract/alcohol as Auggy mentioned. And then…
You will probably not be surprised to learn that at one point during my childhood my mother washed my mouth out with soap. Can’t say I really blame her. I was a good kid for the most part, but if I was ever told to do something that I didn’t want to do [or I felt that I had been slighted by one of the many injustices done unto me by my brother] I could be quite manipulative. I knew how to push people’s buttons, I took great pleasure in doing it, and my mother hated it when I swore. I think you can get the gist of what occurred on the fateful soap day, but I will elaborate to say that I had recently learned a fantastically versatile four-letter word.
As a side note, it will also probably come at no surprise to any of you that the soap didn’t do one lick of good to reduce my vulgarity when it comes to the spoken [or written] word. Though I will say that I make an effort to be mindful about curbing my penchant towards obscenities here on Steepster.
When I took my first sip of this tea, that is what I thought of – the soap. It was bitter and kind of filmy and not pleasant tasting at all. For those of you who have NOT had soap in your mouth, perhaps you have drank something out of a glass that was not quite rinsed of detergent completely? Same idea, just intensify.
So there was no sweetness, no maple taste, no malty flavor I was hoping to get from the black tea. Just…soap. NOT FUN.
Funny thing is, the aftertaste on my breath was rather maple-y [this is an Auggy sent tea, so I figure I can use Auggy isms like -y words] and so I think I am going to tack this batch down to user error. Hopefully the next trial will be met with more success and less BLECHing and making of faces.
Ahhh, Wednesday. I find myself with the day off today [yes, the glories of retail are numerous and boundless] and have been sipping on this sucka for the majority of the morning. Here is what I have discovered:
1. I like this tea hot better than I like it cooled. Cooled, it gets a bit astringent. Sometimes, I like astringency; it can work to contrast with the flavors the tea has to offer and heightens its better aspects. But in the case of this particular one, the astringency is a bit too close to its profile and it’s kind of unpleasant.
2. That being said, hot, it is rather tasty.
3. The creamy, milky notes are deep, soft, and billowy, however…
4. The floral notes are loud and somewhat overwhelm everything. It pervades both the scent and the taste.
5. On the tongue, I find it difficult to concentrate on other flavors past the floral taste. It’s like…one part gardenia, one part hyacinth, one part roses, one part lilies. I love every single one of those flowers in their own right, but if you put them all together it’s overwhelming in more ways that one.
6. When the creamy aspects of the tea shine, it’s brilliant. They are always there, lending a rounded, opaque sense to the overall flavor of the tea, but I wish that it was more consistently dominant. This could have everything to do with how I brewed it, though, so I’m curious to see what happens in consequent steepings.
7. On the nose, the florals blend with a nearly-just-as-loud fruity component. I’m on the fence as to whether I really like it, or it makes me just a teensy bit queasy. In whole, the scent is strong, young Skywalker.
8. The aftertaste is sweet, and, again, floral. Maybe with a light hint of fruit. Like…an apricot, perhaps.
To round this up, my verdict is positive. It’s a nice tea, and from what I’ve seen thus far I think I’ll be brewing it in smallish quantities so I can enjoy it hot. And next time, I’ll have to remember to use le sorapot.
Slightly saturated but mostly accurate picture from this A.M. | http://bit.ly/a5p6yD
Work was absolutely exhausting today. Lots of running around. Lots of difficult people. Felt like the walking dead by the time it was over and caught myself several times staring at nothing in a trance for what could very well have been minutes. Drove home in a zombie-like state.
If there is anything on this planet that could shake me out of the funk caked on from this kind of a day, it would be winning the lottery. Since I didn’t even buy a ticket, however, I figured some tea would have to do. Very little snaps me awake like a cup of good tea.
Turns out I picked the right one. Kukicha has become a favorite tea of mine, and I decided to give Halcyon’s a whirl since I haven’t cracked it open since I brought it home. Tearing open the seal on the bag, I gave it a whiff and was greeted by sweet, grassy freshness that made me excited to give it a try. Too tired to go get my kyusu, I dumped a large quantity into my Breville thingy and set it.
I haven’t had kukicha for a while, and drinking this made me wonder why the hell I’ve kept it out of my life. This one tastes buttery, with a definite hint of popcorn, and a grassy sweetness throughout. There is an astringency to it, but it isn’t overpowering, and it actually works to bring the other flavors out – notably the sweeter tones in the tea. The aftertaste rings of chlorophyll, but then it mellows out a bit and becomes like…kind of like after you brush your teeth and the sharp mint flavor fades away and you’re left with that soft, sweet flavor in your mouth.
I got very small quantities of all the tea I brought back from Halcyon, mainly because I wasn’t sure how well they would travel cramped into my suitcase. This is going on the list of teas to replenish after I move, though. I’m glad I have some left, because I plan on trying this out again tomorrow – in my kyusu, and alongside Samovar’s to see how the two shoulder up to one another. I suspect it may be a draw because they are tasty in different ways, but hey, I can think of fifty-seven reasons why I want to have a couple of awesome kukichas readily available.