25 Tasting Notes


Last year, I tried an Earl Grey Creme by Art of Tea that has left an indelible positive impression, and I’ve been searching for its equal ever since. Perhaps it’s better in my memory than in truth (I’ve ordered some to find out), but upon opening this Vanilla Creme Earl Grey, the fragrance alone was a let down. The Earl Grey base wasn’t as complex as I prefer; I enjoy being able to identify each ingredient—the base tea, the bergamot, the flower petals, the vanilla—while savoring how well they marry, and this one was, um, muddy?

My first cup was steeped a little long, to be honest, so it was more tannic than creamy. So, I tried again the next day. And it’s a decent tea. But I wouldn’t drink it for the decadence I want from a creme tea, and I wouldn’t choose it as an Earl Grey. Other teahouses offer better Earls. Other teahouses offer better cremes. The descriptions on the California Teahouse website are so personable and fun that I wanted to love this tea, but it just didn’t happen for me.

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This tea confused me. With its chocolate chunks, hazelnut and cinnamon, I was expecting a round, warm, spicy, mildly sweet dessert tea. And dry, it smelled as though that’s what it would be. Oddly, when I brewed it, it tasted like a fruit tea—chocolate with apples? I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Thinking I’d accidentally steeped the wrong sample and got a fruit tea instead, I looked through my stash and verified that this was the one labeled “Snow Day.” The ingredients looked right. So I took it to a friend, wondering if my palette was a little funny. Also a non-smoker, foodie and tea-drinker, he smelled it, tasted, and replied, “Apricot? But you don’t like fruit teas.”

No, I don’t generally care for fruit tea, and, for whatever reason, since this comes across as one, I didn’t care for it. I imagine it was a combination of the sugar in the chocolate and the hazelnut that made it seem that way. I like my hazelnut toastier, nuttier, and my chocolate darker or unsweetened. I also am discovering that I don’t care for candy in my tea (chocolate, caramel, peppermints). I prefer the impressions of sweetness left by cocao husks, peppermint leaves or vanilla, to which I can add my own sweetener should I so choose.

However, I would expect people who do like sweets, candies, fruit teas, etc, to enjoy this as it was balanced and interesting.

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A new perspective for summertime. This was my new favorite when I discovered Lemoncello during the wet and cold of an unseasonably long winter. But now that summer is suddenly here in full force, it’s the one tea that has bridged the weather with me. Lemoncello is excellent chilled. It’s not the bold, tangy zing of other cold citrus or fruit teas, though, and it shouldn’t be iced if you can help it—but if brewed to its strongest and let to chill in the fridge, it’s perfect. At its strongest, this tea is not ever bold, which is why I don’t dilute it with ice. The lemon makes it refreshing enough, but the vaguely creamy, sweet quality gives one the impression of luxury, indulgence, relaxation. As a matter of fact, after trying this cold, I literally moved my hammock into my bedroom for the summer, and have been relaxing on it with a chilled glass of this in my hand as I wind down on these hot summer nights. Aah, a revelation of a tea, I tell you.

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Lack of flavor isn’t something I’ve experienced in American Tea Room products. Usually, I open the package, and scarcely have to inhale for the aroma of any one of their teas to gloriously fill my senses. Their teas are characteristically extremely fresh, I’ve found. However, either this tea is extremely subtle, or simpy not as fresh as the others. It didn’t smell stale, but it had little nose, little flavor. Their basic rooibos has a wonderful flavor, so it seems to me that any of their rooibos based teas would at least have something to ponder. And green teas are usually at least, well, green if nothing else. This one—almost nothing. However, I’ve had such excellent experiences with American Tea Room products, I’m not going to give this tea a rating until I’ve had a chance to order another sample that will hopefully be from another batch. and then I’ll try again.

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I don’t think of chai’s as bedtime teas because, however cozy, they are spicy, scintillting by nature. This chai is indeed a bedtime tea, yet not in the traditional sense of “Sleepytime” or the more common chamomile-mint blends. California Tea House calls it a “knock-out” tea, and they are not kidding. The valerian root is prominent; at first I thought I was tasting kava, and that very notion made me want to go to sleep. Both roots have a subtle chalky-sweet aftertaste, which is more reassuring to someone desiring sleep than offensive. The valerian flavor isn’t too strong, though—no stronger than the cinnamon, chamomile, vanilla or nutmeg. The honeybush base is woody, nutty, and goes wonderfully with the spices. As for tea critiquing, I hesitate to say much as I would consider this a tasty medicinal drink—a sleep-aid disguised as tea. Very well done.

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I’d been drinking a lot of rooibos when I first tried this tea, so my steeping habits were lax, to say the least—it’s hard to oversteep rooibos. Unfortunately, too long a steeping time with too hot of water severely affected this Milk Oolong, and I was very disappointed… with myself. When I initially opened the package, the scent was so buttery, it reminded me of caramel—delectible. I couldn’t wait. Boiled some water, dropped in the ball infuser, and promptly forgot about it. This is too good and pricey of a tea to be taken so lightly. I threw out that cup (it tasted like spinach), and decided to wait until I had time to “contemplate” this tea as it deserved.

Now I sit in a comfortable chair, having just enoyed a perfectly brewed cup of the stuff, a very subtle, pale gold liquid that is more like drinking a fragrance than a beverage. This cup has to be savored for its subtlty because there is little tangible about it. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s ephemeral, like a childhood memory of an event you know you enjoyed but can’t quite recall. As you drink sip after sip, you just begin to understand the tea’s details when it slips away once again. I loved it—almost milky, creamy, sweet, caramelly, buttery with a hint of green woodiness. I’d have to drink it a hundred more times to unravel its mysteries, and yet I suspect they would evade me still.

Strictly respect the steeping time and temperature. And I’d advise a large infuser that allows the leaves space to unfurl, which they do very quickly.

175 °F / 79 °C 2 min, 0 sec
American Tea Room

I might even suggest a gong fu teapot or a teapot with an large strainer as the leaves are enormous. Glad you liked it.

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I was looking forward to this tea – warm, nutty rooibos with a hint of cream. The problem is, the vanilla was so heavy, there was no “hint”-ing involved. I felt hit over the head with the vanilla instead. Good quality vanilla, to be sure, but not a seamless enough marriage of balanced flavors for my taste. Perhaps a different kind of vanilla would have been better?

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I love this tea. Earl Grey is among my favorites, as is rooibos for its warmth and the phenomenon that you simply can’t oversteep it. So, to have an Earl Grey that is difficult to oversteep, and yet has all the complexities of the traditional without the heavy-handedness of black tea, it’s like a dream come true. I’ve tried several Earl Grey rooibos teas, and American Tea Room’s is by the far the best I’ve yet had. It really does taste like Earl Grey – an improvement on it even, if you like rooibos.

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The aroma alone is enough to give a person a cavity. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I’m not partial to teas that are literally sweet instead of just giving an impression of decadence. This tea was sweet, very rich, very good. A touch of honey made it into the perfect dessert. Yet, since I don’t like sweets, I wouldn’t choose to drink this tea again. The smell of the dry tea was so good, though, I’d almost buy the tea so I could inhale it in lieu of eating dessert. I suspect tea drinkers with a sweet tooth would love this tea.

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Hibiscus – I just don’t like it. And unfortunately, if it’s in there, I can’t taste much else. I’ll have to try this tea again later when I’ve recovered from the Hibiscus ambush!

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Northern California

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