2007 Tasting Notes
Almost there with the T2 Hottest Hearty Brews sampler! I’m pretty sure there’s just one more to go after this one. It’s been an interesting mix – some fruity summer blends, some more wintery or chai-style, some sweet and some savoury. It’s been a good way to try a decent spectrum of T2s flavours, and to get an idea of how they blend.
Today’s choice is one probably better suited to autumn/winter, but I’m going to go ahead and finish it up anyway. Bird & Blend release their summer collection this weekend, so I need to free up some cupboard space for that!
Hot Date Chai is a blend of chocolate, chilli, and date. It’s a black tea, but it doesn’t brew up to any great strength; this isn’t one that would take milk well, I don’t think. There are a lot of cardamom pods in my sample, but I’m not too worried since that’s a flavour I tend to enjoy.
Milk chocolate is the first flavour I can taste, and it comes across really well as actual chocolate, rather than cocoa. I’ve noticed this with other T2 blends, but they also manage to make it a strong, substantial flavour – no watered down chocolate here! This sampler gives me the impression that chocolate is a flavour T2 do well, which is something to bear in mind when I’m making future choices. The chilli develops out of the mid-sip, and gradually builds to a level of spicy background heat that makes for a pleasant pairing with the chocolate.
I’m not getting much in the way of date, which is a shame. Without it, this is really just a chocolate chilli chai, which isn’t especially unique, although the backdrop of traditional chai flavours – cardamon, ginger, clove – is nicely balanced.
If this wasn’t missing the very element that would make it interesting and unique, I’d be more than happy with it. As it stands, I’m feeling the loss.
I’m kind of behind with Bird & Blend’s spring collection, mostly thanks to the cold I got a couple of weeks back. It’s been the lingering kind, and I’m only just starting to feel like I’m finally getting rid of it. The weather also took a turn for the worst at about the same time, and all things considered I just wasn’t feeling spring.
Now things are finally looking up, I decided to give this a go. Bird & Blend (I still type Bluebird every time…) have an amazing looking recipe for Mint Pistachio Gelatte on their website, so that’s what I did. It uses 2 tsp of Mint Pistachio and 1/4 tsp of Ice Cream Matcha. I whisked up the matcha in a splash of water while the Mint Pistachio brewed, the combined them over ice and topped the glass up with milk.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but the end result is pretty good. The mint is the main flavour, in a way that’s reminiscent of moroccan mint without the sugar. I was really pleased to find that the pistachio has a strong presence, too, since I thought it might get drowned out. It’s creamy and mildly nutty, and complements the mint perfectly. The ice cream matcha works nicely as a base flavour, adding a hint of extra sweetness and creaminess. It doesn’t have as much impact on the flavour as I thought it might, but it adds a nice dessert-like backdrop that helps to bring out the best in the other flavours. I imagine a latte without the matcha would be a little flatter and more savoury, although I would probably add some honey and vanilla essence to compensate for that. It’s definitely something I’ll try before I say goodbye to this one.
I’m really pleased with how this worked out, but mostly with how clear both the mint and pistachio were as flavours, and how well they worked in combination. I feel like it’s an unusual pairing, but one I’d seek out again in the future. I hope they bring this back again next year!
I feel like I should take a moment here to appreciate T2’s sample packaging, because it’s the most colourful and functional I’ve seen in a long time. Each sample is sealed in a foil lined pouch, in its own individual serving size; the size, of course, varies according to the type of tea. I think most of their samples come in plain black packaging with the coloured label that denotes which blend they are, but these limited edition ones each have a different pattern, no two the same. Some are very reminiscent of 60s wallpaper, but some are really cute…and on the whole it’s just an extra touch that makes it feel like they’re putting the effort in on presentation. It’s nice. The back of the pouch has a brief description of the blend, and the brewing guidelines, so you don’t have to go searching to find out what inspired it, what it’s supposed to taste like, what kind of tea it is, or any of that stuff.
I say all of this mostly because they’re regular packaging really sucks. If you buy a “cube” from their website, which is the smallest quantity you can buy of an individual blend (at least in the UK…) you get a cardboard outer box containing a plastic bag of tea. The plastic bag isn’t particularly substantial, and is prone to tearing and splitting, and you can’t pour the tea into the box because it would leak out through the folds in the base. Even if you manage to keep the tea in the bag, it’s not resealable or airtight in any way. No-one is going to get through 50-100g of tea instantly, and they haven’t provided a way of keeping it fresh within its original packaging. I find it hard to believe that the perfectly packaged single-serve samples and the larger, more expensive cubes were designed by the same company. I can’t even begin to make sense of it.
Shall we talk about Sticky Date Delight now? According to the packet, this one’s based on a sticky toffee pudding, with flavours of caramel, toffee sauce, and dates. It’s a rooibos blend, and unfortunately that’s really obvious as soon as you take a sip. It’s brassy and woody and unmistakably rooibos, but I guess that’s always a risk when you use it as a base. It settles fairly quickly, and gives way to a really delicious burnt sugar flavour – it’s sort of caramel, sort of toffee, but reminds me most of all of the sugar crust on a creme brulee – if it had been under the blow torch just a few seconds too long.
The almost-tart sweetness of dried dates is there towards the end of the sip, but it’s mostly overpowered by the sweet sugariness that the toffee/caramel combination provides. I almost get sticky toffee pudding, but I “taste” it somewhere between my nose and throat in the moments after I swallow a sip. The flavour in the mouth is really just rooibos and the rich sweetness of caramelised sugar. After a few sips, it becomes too sweet and cloying to be really enjoyable.
I’m not a huge fan of this one. It’s better as it cools, when the rooibos has settled down as much as its going to, but it’s still not quite as cohesive as a flavoured blend as some of the others I’ve tried from this sampler. I think a different base would have helped, since the rooibos is a real distraction. I think I get what they were trying to achieve, and it’s almost there, but in the end it doesn’t quite make it.
I liked this one a bit more upon second acquaintance. Last time I tried it, I’d been drinking quite a lot of powerful, strongly-flavoured teas at around the same time, and I think that affected my perception of this one quite a bit. It just didn’t stand out much in comparison. Today, I’ve mostly been drinking quieter, more gentle teas; primarily straight whites and oolongs.
In comparison, this green has a bit more about it. It still reminds me very much of white tea, and it is more subtle than other greens I’ve tried. The artichoke flavour is really distinctive, however, and pleasingly unusual. I love artichokes, but I feel like it’s a flavour I rarely encounter in tea. The buttery, smooth green bean flavour that ends the sip is equally pleasant, if more familiar.
I quite enjoy how this one sits somewhere between a white and a green, with the sweet water, hay, and honey leading the way into the vegetal flavours. It’s something I haven’t come across many (maybe any?) times before, and so I’m going to appreciate this one for its differences instead of complaining about its lack of similarity.
I got these tea bags “free” with my flat when I moved in last year, and they’ve basically sat unloved in my cupboard since. Not for any particular reason, I think I just kept forgetting they were there. Since it’s firmly iced tea weather now, I decided to use up a decent handful of these by making sweet tea. The recipe that seems to strike about the right balance for me is 6 tea bags in 2 cups water for 5 minutes, with 1/4 cup of sugar. I then top it up to 2 litres with water.
It’s one of the best ways I know to ensure I get plenty of caffeine without having to drink hot tea all summer. I get caffeine withdrawal headaches if I go more than 3 hours without tea, but I blame my parents for giving it to me as a baby. Talk about addicted. The only problem with sweet tea (and my new best friend, anything cold brewed in lemonade) is the amount of sugar. I’m just glad I don’t have to go to the dentist anytime soon…
Anyway, this tea is strong enough to make a good base for sweet tea. It’s still possible to taste the black tea, rather than just sugar water, but it is still very sweet. It strikes a good balance, which is exactly how I like it. Clipper’s everyday seems more tannic than my usual Twinings, maybe with a tendency to be a little harsher/more astringent. I drank a hot cup with milk last night as part of my using-up spree, and found it malty but with a slight bitterness in the background. I’d not switch from my usual to this, but it’s not a bad substitute by any means.
The problem with having successfully cold brewed in lemonade is that I now want to cold brew everything in lemonade. If I hadn’t ran out yesterday, that’s exactly what I would have done, although it’s got to be a lot healthier to go back to water for a couple of days. It’s not like I need all that extra sugar.
So that left me looking through my cupboard for something interesting to drink cold, which I wasn’t desperate to put in lemonade. This one – from Bird & Blend’s new summer collection – seemed to fit the bill (although largely because I knew I’d have enough left to use in lemonade once I get some more.)
I have a love-hate relationship with hibiscus, that, to be honest, is mostly hate. It’s rare that I appreciate its presence, but it does happen occasionally. A tea almost entirely composed of hibiscus fills me with fear…but when I think of it paired with mint, it suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. In theory.
In practice, it’s…okay. The hibiscus is, of course, highly tart and sour. There aren’t even any berries trying their best to redeem it. I find hibiscus quite a flat, uncompromising flavour. It’s not juicy, it isn’t sweet, and it comes across very one-dimensional when it’s all on its own. The mint helps to a certain extent. It freshens up the flavour, adds a hint of cool that’s very welcome on a hot day, and generally helps to make this thing taste a little brighter. It’s pretty well overpowered for the most part, though – I can only really taste it towards the end of the sip, but when I can taste it it’s a nice counterpoint to the hibiscus.
It sounds strange to say it given how I’ve just described things, but I don’t dislike this one. Considering hibiscus is my nemesis, it’s actually not terrible. It’s a little lacking in its present state, just cold brewed in water, but I think it’s going to be a whole lot better in lemonade. Some sugar will surely help.
Clearly, I have a new addiction.
This one’s currently in my focus pile, since it was a sample size and should be a relatively easy sipdown. I need a few of those if I’m to keep my sanity with my 365 days of tea challenge! It may have re-inspired me when it comes to tea, but it also means I have a lot of “active” teas – those I’ve opened but not made much headway with. I’m not doing too badly, but I still have enough stuff lying around now I’m close to 200 days in that it’s making me feel a bit overwhelmed. So, any progress is good progress!
I feel the same about this one as I did last time I drank it. It’s a little muted when freshly brewed, but it really starts to shine as it cools. It reminds me a bit of nutella – there’s milk chocolate, strong and smooth, combined with a nutty undertone. Delicious!
This happens to be my 2000th tasting note, and it feels kind of fitting that it’s for a tea I keep returning to, year after year. Maybe it’s also fitting that this time I’m doing something different with it – after yesterday’s success with Raspberry Liquorice Laces, I decided to cold brew this one in lemonade too. Given the name, it feels like a match!
My first sip of this reminded me instantly of ice pops. It’s totally artificial and totally delicious! It’s strange, because when I drink this one straight as a hot tea, or just cold brewed in water, the strawberry comes across as quite natural and even a little muted. It’s tart, thanks to the hibiscus, and even a little sour. Substitute lemonade for water, and the strawberry suddenly comes alive. It tastes like its name (I suppose it is it’s name…), but it’s also super-sweet and candy-like. I can tell there’s hibicus, but it doesn’t bother me at all – if anything, it’s actually adding a pleasantly sour edge that tempers the otherwise OTT sweetness just perfectly.
This one wanted to be a lemonade all along, and I just didn’t realise until now. I suppose that makes me pretty dense, since the clue was right there in the name. It honestly didn’t occur to me until recently that I could cold brew in anything but water, strange as that sounds. All of the recipe suggestions for this from a few years ago are for either icing or cold brewing in water, and then adding lemonade or sparkling water in a 50:50 ratio. That works, but it does result in something far more watery and thin-tasting than this, which is obviously far more concentrated, but also bright, vibrant, and inexpressibly happy. Something about leaving it in all that sugar overnight has really worked here.
Returned to this one last night, because I’m determined to make it work for me before I’m done with the bag. I did a bit of “research” on Bluebird’s Instagram page, and apparently you won’t get halfway decent results unless you have a good balance of ingredients in each scoop – and no more than 2 butterfly pea flowers per cup. So basically, you have to fussy pick the leaf. While I can appreciate that loose leaf teas settle, though, I don’t think there’s the right balance of ingredients even within the bag I have; I mean, my 50g is mostly butterfly pea flowers, then raspberries, with green tea very much in the minority. If I’m to follow Bluebird’s advice, surely there should have been a lot more green tea, and far less flowers – otherwise, I’m going to run out of green tea long before I run out of flowers, and then no amount of fussy picking is going to help?
My plan was to make a unicorn fizz again, since I’m determined to make a drinkable cup. I took 3 tsp of leaf out of the bag and tipped it onto the counter, picked out the flowers and returned all but 2 of them to the bag. I had more like 10 to begin with, and previously they would all have gone into my infuser without a second thought. I had three raspberries, so I left the biggest one and some fragments, and put the rest back again. Then I went back to the bag and took a fourth scoop of leaf, put everything back besides the green tea, and then added everything that was left to my infuser. High maintenance, but I suppose it is a unicorn…
I gave the leaf 3 minutes in 150ml of 80 degree water, added 1 tsp of honey, and poured it over ice. I topped it off with lemonade, so the result was around 50% tea and 50% lemonade. It’s a much paler blue/purple than my previous cups have been, but the flavour was, admittedly, much better. The whole thing was less funky-tasting, and the sour raspberry really shines. It’s maybe still a little too sour for me, but I can probably fix that with a bit more honey.
My big problem here is that I’m fairly familiar with tea in general, and I couldn’t get this one to work properly without help. I think Bluebird need to put the guidance about the quantities of ingredients on the outside of the bag – like, for optimum results make sure you have no more than two flowers and one raspberry per cup. I also feel like the quality control might need a bit of work when it comes to this one, because the mixture of ingredients in the bag should reflect better the balance you’re going to need when you make it. That at least would give people a fighting chance of getting it right to begin with, and it would also cut down on waste – I have a feeling I’m going to have a lot of left over flowers when I’m done.
I really like the idea of this one, and last night’s cup was refreshing and pleasant to drink. I’ve increased my rating a little because I did enjoy it, and now I have a solid basis from which I can experiment a little more. I just wish it wasn’t such a pain to get right.
Finally getting back to Bluebird’s spring collection, now the weather has improved. I’m not a huge liquorice fan, so the idea of this one as a hot tea filled me with trepidation. Instead, I decided to cold brew 4 tsp in lemonade, and I’m actually quite pleased with the result. It’s sweet, for sure, but I was expecting that; what I like is that the sweetness is mostly coming from the lemonade. Even though I can tell there’s liquorice root in here, I’m not finding it as cloying as I usually do. I’m not really sure why – maybe lemonade and liquorice are just a good combination? It’s like the impact of the liquorice has somehow been toned down, and that’s something I can definitely appreciate!
As for raspberry liquorice laces? I don’t think it’s quite there in flavour terms. The sweets are so super artificial, and the raspberry flavouring here is almost too natural to really nail it. That seems like an odd thing to say, but there you go. Taken out of context, I actually like that the raspberry is fresh and flavour-accurate; it’s a touch tart, a touch sour, fruity, and refreshing. Basically, an ideal spring/summer cold brew. The sweetness of the liquorice and lemonade bring things towards a sweeter, more candy-like conclusion, but it’s not a flavour doppleganger for the sweets. I don’t think it would even be possible to capture that flavour exactly in a liquid, unless you were willing to use more chemical or artificial flavour constituents, and that’s not something Bluebird do. Instead, it’s a sweet, fresh-tasting, raspberry lemonade, and I’m happy with that. It’s another I’ll be sad to say goodbye to this weekend, when the collection retires.