294 Tasting Notes
Well I ran out of my subpar Ito-en Matcha Love Usucha, so I picked this Kuma Tea up from Amazon. It was available on Prime (meaning I get my matcha fix quicker), had a fair price and good reviews, and it has an adorable bear on it and is named “bear” (kuma) tea in Japanese so, well, they’ve exploited all my weaknesses here! Fast, cheap, high-reviews and cute animals! How could I resist???
I’m absolutely willing to desecrate this ceremonial grade tea by making matcha lattes with it but first I will try it in its intended use. Some reviews said this tea is even good enough to make koicha (thick matcha, which uses twice as much powder and half as much water), and that can typically only be done with really high quality matcha. I am going to make it as usucha (light matcha) this time with just two chashaku of tea, 70ml of water, and a whisk.
Opening the can, the powder color is a nice medium green. Sifting 2 chashaku of the powder into my pre-heated chawan, the aroma is very sweet! I’m getting heavy notes of dates and berries, I’m thinking either blackberry or cherry. Off to a great start here!
After adding the water I’m greeted by a rich umami scent, reminding me of seaweed, then after whisking, this has mellowed out to a scent that reminds me of spiced roasted nuts, still very sweet.
The flavor is not at all what I expected. It starts with sweetness and vegetal flavors like cooked cabbage or brussels sprouts (sweeter than raw ones) . There is a lot of complexity to it with subtle notes of vanilla and coriander. The finish has a lingering tartness and a tiny sting of bitterness. The lingering taste in my mouth is tart and slightly floral, reminding me vaguely of salted sakura leaves (which are similar in taste to the sakura/cherry blossoms but more perfumy and fragrant).
I must say this matcha does not taste at all as I expected it would, and I’m rather pleased with it. The complexity was unexpected, and the balancing umami, vegetal, sour, and bitter notes were not expected. From its sweet scent I expected something more mild-mannered and overall creamy, nutty, and sweet. If I have anything negative to say about this tea it’s that I feel it would be even better with just a bit less of the tartness and bitterness.
So I guess if really mellow matcha is your cup of tea, this one may not be for you. If you like a tea that makes you smack your chops and think “What am I tasting?” because there are layers of nuance, you might like this. When I bought this it was $20/oz so where organic ceremonial grade matcha is concerned, that’s not gonna break the bank. Sure as heck cheaper than buying daily drinks from a coffee/tea shop.
I’ll add an edit to this when I try it as an iced matcha latte, so check back to my review later today if you’re interested!
Flavors: Berries, Bitter, Coriander, Dates, Nuts, Seaweed, Spices, Sweet, Tart, Umami, Vanilla, Vegetables
I’m really surprised this has so few reviews, considering you can buy this at asian grocery stores and health food stores all across America.
Skip this section if you don’t like anecdotes in reviews!
I had the pleasure/honor/curse of reviewing about 70 different matchas in a blind taste test a couple years ago for a company that sells matcha. This was done to help the vendor evaluate their products and decide on new matchas to source. Among the blind samples were also samples from other companies and vendors. The idea was that rating and ranking these teas would help this vendor understand how their matcha compared in quality and value to those from other companies. The experience was really fun, and at the same time daunting, and the end result was I burned out on matcha so badly I didn’t drink it for a year!
Now the matcha spark has been relit in me because I saw a beautiful chawan in an Asian market that I just had to buy. I’ve been broke this past year due to a move to my first house and various other factors, so for me it’s been rare to order or review any new teas. I feel like a ghost here since I used to be so active. Anyway, this matcha love usucha cost me a whopping $6 because Sprouts Farmer’s Market had it on sale for $10 and was running a $4 coupon at the same time. What better opportunity to try it?
Actual review begins here!
This was actually one of the matchas included in a blind taste test I did a couple years ago, but it has been so long since I had matcha that when I bought a tin of this recently I decided to just try this one over again before reading my initial evaluation from that taste test, give it a fresh chance.
I do want to share my initial impression though here. My initial rating for this tea back then was only 40/100. My notes read “This tea doesn’t leave a very strong impression. The scent and color were inviting, but the flavor is lacking and finishes moderately bitter. I’m mostly getting a seaweed impression from the flavor, and it’s a bit creamy as well. The bitter finish is unfortunate and really subtracts from the subtle flavors, which in themselves aren’t that easy to discern.”
Now, trying this again a couple years later, are my impressions the same? Has the company changed their product in any way? Let’s give it a try. I’m preparing this the traditional (a.k.a. ceremonial) way with the matcha whisked in about 2.5 oz of water.
This time around, I’ll start by saying the color and aroma are nice. The powder is a nice jade green. It’s not a very vivid color, but it is at least green and not tending toward the dingy yellows and browns of terrible matchas. The scent is sweet, mild, and nutty. The taste is, let’s be honest, rather unremarkable and difficult to describe. In fact, I’m just going to stick with my original description because I think that was a pretty accurate one!
I will say, I have been using this matcha also in soy-milk iced matcha lattes as well as for matcha affogato, and I’ve found both applications to be pretty good. This is not a matcha I’d recommend for traditional use unless you are like me and are scraping the bottom of your savings, yet desperate for matcha. For the modern “froufrou” uses, this one is just fine. I have to say I recall this tasting better a few weeks ago when I opened the tin. I haven’t stored it in refrigeration so I think maybe the powder has just gone “off” a bit since then. I feel pretty neutral about this matcha, so I’ll up my initial review score to a nice even 50. I don’t really feel it is good or bad. It’s just (barely) matcha. Take it or leave it.
I think for the price of this matcha though, you can do better. The tin seems cheaper than others but I only recently realized that it’s also because it is smaller than most that are available Stateside. Most matcha tins I’ve seen hold an ounce, while this one holds just over 2/3 of an ounce. The catch reveals itself.
Flavors: Bitter, Nutty, Seaweed, Vegetal
Edit: Some friends and I had a session with this tea more recently and I absolutely loved it. It had a very strong apricot note that time. Read on for the original review.
This tea isn’t usually on the shelves at Shang Tea, as far as I know, but they have a selection of hidden and unpromoted teas that Shang or friends of Shang have made, if you ask them about it.
From what I was told, this tea is processed like a sheng Puerh tea but made from white tea varietal plants.
I’ve been absent from Steepster for a long time now mostly due to not having much money for new teas in the past year and deciding to drink off most of my collection before trying to buy more soon.
But I did get this tea last year, and even though my palate seems off and I’m a bit out of practice from not generally getting to enjoy much gongfu tea at all last year (I moved to a house and started a food garden and it stole my life), I’ll try.
The first infusion of this tea was rather salty and savory. It had an aftertaste that was maybe like a bitter citrus fruit, grapefruit perhaps. If I smack my tongue a bit it’s almost “cough syrup” like in the aftertaste. I know that’s weird, but as a frame of reference, it seems similar to that.
The second infusion has opened the tea up to more flavors, this time some mineral, muscatel, a little hint of cinnamon (or maybe camphor), lots of straw and prairie grass notes. The finish is a bit tart, astringent, and bitter, but I find these to be in a refreshing way, not an offensive one.
By the third infusion the leaves smell generously of green grapes and golden raisins. The scent of the liquid is definitely camphor now. The flavor is an interesting mix of sweet, umami, and camphor. I almost feel like I’m drinking a delicious dashi broth seasoned with some spices. There are notes of soy milk.
The fourth infusion is even sweeter and a bit-honey like. I think this shift from salty/umami to more sweet is actually due to me using too much leaf in my gaiwan. I’ve been doing very quick steeps and I think the first one or two may have been a bit overbrewed due to just having too many leaves (by my usual tastes anyway). As I pull more infusions without lengthening the time though, it becomes more subtle, and more sweet. There are some orange blossom notes now, and still some notes of salt and bitterness in the finish.
I’ll stop there before I lose your attention. I like this tea a lot in terms of teas from Shang Tea because its flavors are quite different than any of their others. I’ve had their aged white teas and brick aged white teas, and while those have some interesting similarities to Puerh simply due to aging, this tea definitely is closer to Puerh by the flavor profile. I don’t think I could have told you this was made with white tea varietal leaves if someone just gave me a cup and told me to drink it.
I have to ponder the complexity of this tea for having all 5 taste groups involved in such a noticeable way… sweet, tart (sour), umami, salty, and bitter. Pretty cool little trip down taste bud lane.
Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Camphor, Grapefruit, Grass, Hay, Honey, Muscatel, Orange Blossom, Raisins, Salty, Sweet, Tart, Umami
Well, I don’t know the full story behind this one, but if I’m not mistaken it’s from the tea farm of Shang’s friend, which is no longer an active tea farm, but the trees there are let to grow on their own now, so they go over to harvest the wild tea from them sometimes. And I think that’s where this oriental beauty is from, if I remember right. I’m brewing this gongfu style.
The aroma of the leaves after the first infusion is really floral and lovely. It’s a light kind of floral like roses and lychee. The first infusion is sweet and has some of the same quality in its flavor, in addition to honey notes.
The second infusion has more of the honey and floral notes, and also tastes like really sweet squash, like delicatta squash or kabocha. There are dried autumn leaf notes as well.
The third infusion is more honey like and rich in flavor. It has a bit more woody and fallen leaf notes in the flavor now.
I really enjoy this tea. In fact, it might be the best Oriental Beauty tea I’ve had. I haven’t particularly cared for the type in general in the past, but this one has the notes I love.
A friend of mine tells me this tea is a bit sensitive to heat and will become bitter if brewed too hot. I am brewing it at 85C/185F and there’s no bitterness here, so that seems like the right temperature. :3
Edit: I came back to this for another infusion and brewed it more strongly and it gave me more unexpected flavors. It had a really strong presence of nutmeg, clove, and other autumn spices. Totally unexpected! I had some food in between. It may have effected how it tasted to me.
Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Butternut Squash, Honey, Lychee, Rose, Wood
Compared to the Jin Xuan White Tea from the Fragrant Jade series, this tea’s leaves weren’t nearly as aromatic. They have an overall grassy, beany, vegetal smell that you might expect from green tea. The flavor of the first infusion is light, vegetal, nutty, and a bit sweeet. It’s very clean tasting and the infusion is a really pale yellow. I am brewing this gongfu style in a porcelain gaiwan.
Second infusion, more rich umami vegetables. There’s a really subtle hint of clove or camphor that reveals that this is from an oolong cultivar and not the usual green tea cultivars, but aside from that note, and it is a delicate one, this really reminds me a lot of many Chinese green teas I’ve had.
The third infusion got more sweet and nutty and mild. And the fourth did so as well. I enjoyed these two infusions the most.
This is a clean tasting and good green tea. After the first or second infusion, it didn’t have as much of the green bean taste that is rather common in Chinese green tea that I’m not a huge fan of. Clean tasting and light are the two words I’d use to sum up this teas biggest strengths.
Flavors: Green Beans, Nutty, Sweet, Vegetal
Well, if you’re a milk oolong lover or a lover of strange and rare teas, you’re in for a thrill. Just read the description of this tea on its Steepster page, taken from the Taiwan Tea Crafts website.
I love milk oolong and white tea is my favorite type so this seemed like a no-brainer for me. Already, right out of the bag, the leaves are incredibly fragrant. I’m reminded of another aroma that is really familiar but I can’t put my paw on it. It’s a dried fruit aroma of some sort… maybe dried bananas or dried papaya. After the leaves sit in a warm gaiwan they have a really nice nutty aroma. I am so perplexed by the aroma of the wet leaves after the first infusion. They have so much going on, I can hardly describe it. It’s very aromatic… with notes of buttery vegetal and green bean that remind of Chinese green teas coming off the leaves, while the inside of the gaiwan lid smells more fruity.
The tea liquid itself smells creamy, sweet, and nutty, with hints of cooked fruit. The taste is rich and buttery in a similar way to a traditional rolled Jin Xuan oolong. There are rich vegetal flavors, and a very long and flavorful finish. The body is really thick and heavy on the tongue, and the tea leaves your mouth really wet and salivating afterwards due to the recurring flavor and sweetness.
The second infusion is a little more vegetal than the first. There are tiny notes of muscatel grape in the background. There’s a pretty rich nutty flavor, a bit of tanginess, almost grapefruit-like, and a lasting sweetness. It’s also got a good deal of savory/umami flavor.
By the third infusion, I’m tasting more of a muscatel grape note that reminds of first-flush Darjeeling (just like their description says). There are background notes with that mountain vegetation kind of taste that I get from a lot of high mountain oolongs. As the tea cools I’m tasting grapefruit as well.
Fourth infusion has confounded my expectation. I’m tasting toasted sugar primarily, while all the other notes mentioned before blend harmoniously in the background.
Fifth infusion has a lot of the same toasted sugar taste, even a bit caramely or like toffee. Aside from that, it is much like the fourth.
I have to say I’m completely impressed by this tea, and very glad I picked some up. I don’t know how I could know of this tea and not do so! Major compliments to the people who produced this amazing tea.
Flavors: Butter, Caramel, Creamy, Dried Fruit, Grapefruit, Muscatel, Sugar, Sweet, Toasty, Toffee, Umami, Vegetal
Would ya believe I actually went on a hunt for this tea? I’ve enjoyed other Yogi brand teas I’ve bought before, so I went to their website to read the ingredients of various blends and see if I could find one to suit my current situation, which is that I need some herbal teas to drink late at night to help me relax without the caffeine. I also only have one herbal tea right now, another Yogi brand, and just get a little tired of drinking the same one every night, so I wanted to find another. I wanted to find something that wasn’t fruity, minty, or spicy, so that was a challenge aside from just going with the boring old one-ingredient herbal teas.
Well, enough with the anecdotes and on to the review. This tea is pretty unique compared to other herbal teas I’ve tried. The aroma of the dry bag is definitely strongly of lavender and sage. It’s a really refreshing and cool aroma. The tea tastes savory and sweet, with sage and lavender being the predominant flavors, and in fact, I would say the sage is a little bit stronger than the lavender. The aroma and flavor almost suggest pine a bit. The taste isn’t woody like I might expect from a tea like this, and there are some really light smoky hints that I attribute to the chrysanthemum flowers in it. The tea is also very sweet from the stevia leaf in it. Well, I say very sweet from the point of view of someone who very rarely ever sweetens his tea.
All in all, I think this is a really relaxing tea. It really gives me thoughts of a forest lush with trees. I’m also reminded of the clean smell of cold winter air.
There seem to be three types of herbal tea blends that are really common on the market… fruit or dessert flavored ones, minty ones like those with mint or tulsi, and spicy ones that have ingredients like ginger, clove, pepper, and chai spices. I was looking for something that didn’t fall into any of those categories, and I’ve definitely found it with this. It’s not the best herbal tea I’ve had. I’m not overjoyed by it, but I do find it unique and really refreshing, so I think it will find a good niche in my humble stock of herbal teas.
Flavors: Lavender, Pine, Sage, Smoke, Sweet
Despite the picture, this tea came in a bag. It seems to be available loose as well from the website. I got this as a sample in the swag bag at Midwest Tea Fest.
I brewed this in a cup for a couple minutes at 85C. It’s got a nice aroma that reminds me of fallen leaves, flowers, and just a hint of white grape and melon. The tea has a nice thick body, tastes very clean, no astringency. It’s got the classic muscatel note of Darjeeling. Pretty low on the woody taste elements. It’s a little bit tangy and has notes of melon. That’s about all I can say. I have trouble discerning nuances as much when Western brewing since I’m so accustomed to Gongfu style. For tea from a bag, this is really nice. The clean quality of the taste matches what I’d expect from organic tea, and it’s Fair Trade, so that’s a plus. In retrospect, I kind of wish I had tore open the bag and just used a brew basket. I feel like I taste paper in the aftertaste.
Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Floral, Melon, Muscatel
Bagged and herbal teas are usually not my thing these days but I’ve been suffering some unfortunate physical effects from caffeine late at night and wanted to try something to calm me down more before bed. Picked this up because I love lavender and the list of ingredients was nice.
The lavender scent is most evident on the dry tea bag unfortunately, and in the pouch after you take the bag out. After you steep the tea, the lavender blends with all the other herbal aromas and is hard to discern. It also doesn’t have anything that I’d call a honey taste or aroma. Mostly I taste mild sweetness from the stevia leaf, a bit of the woodiness of the rooibos that’s in there, a hint of lavender, and some mint.
Unfortunately, when there is mint or holy basil (tulsi) in an herbal tea blend they have the unfortunate fate of all tasting rather the same to me, albeit with slightly different character. This one is really soothing and lightly sweet and does have a very relaxing taste and aroma, even if the lavender doesn’t stand out. I feel a noticeable calm and sedating effect whenever I drink this tea, similar but opposite to how caffeine hits me. I think this blend of herbs may actually have a good combination to biologically induce this, rather than just through enjoyment and aesthetic, as I feel the similar body shift into a more relaxed and lulled state every time I drink it.
The effect part of the tea’s name (stress relief) is a bit more accurate than the flavor descriptor (honey lavender), but I actually really like this tea. I can see myself buying it again. It does what it says it does, for me at least, and that is why I bought it, so I’m a happy big cat.
Still looking for a wonderful herbal tea that soothes and has no mint or tulsi though. I really love things with lavender, but maybe I should veer away from lavender a bit and look for something on the rose flavor spectrum.
Flavors: Lavender, Mint, Rooibos, Sweet
Got this as a sample at the Midwest Tea Fest in the swag bag you get for attending. I usually give away the tea samples I get in these because they are almost always tea bags and nothing loose, and tend to be lower quality (broken leaf) teas.
I held on to a couple that I figured I might enjoy. Rishi has some pretty good loose leaf teas so I thought maybe this would be a good tea. And I should say that the leaves inside of the little pyramid shaped bag here are a mixture of whole and broken leaves. They are rather brown looking though, very dark, and don’t really evoke the idea of green tea much. The brew is the usual pale yellow green tea color at least.
The Jasmine aroma and flavor are nice, about what you’d expect. The taste of the tea leaves is not exceptional. I don’t taste really any vegetal or grassy green tea flavor at all, just a sort of drying astringent quality and a little bit of tart flavor aside from the jasmine.
This tea is about on par with the jasmine tea you’ll probably get if you order a pot at an Asian restaurant. It’s fine, might calm a hungry appetite a bit and pair nicely with some food, but on its own, it’s not particularly good tea and not something you’d probably want to sit down and just reflect on.
For what it’s worth, I’ve had better bagged teas from other companies, which is a bummer, because I like Rishi as a company.
Flavors: Astringent, Jasmine, Tart