Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Its that time again.

I hope to get around to reviewing the new sencha from o-cha, the Chiran, but other than that it is not likely I'll be updating till January. The holidays are here and kicking my ass. Also I'm wrapping up the divorce, and I'll be moving mid December.

If I already had pictures taken and ready, I might still try to squeeze out a few reviews (and I probably will), but for the first time I'm caught up. I feel short on inspiration, I feel tapped out. I expect that the move, being in a new environment will help with that.

Furthermore, I have not been entirely pleased with the direction the blog has taken. It has been fairly random, reviews only on whatever tea finds its way to me, as I haven't been buying much tea myself. On one hand this has been nice, and I've been able to share some unique teas, but I prefer to have a bit more control and focus than that.

In short, updates will resume in January, hopefully stronger and inspired.

In the mean time, check out Adagio's new black teas from China.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fruit Flavored Tea

Brittiny posted this on her blog, My Steeped IdentiTEA, yesterday, and I'm reposting it here 'cause it also expresses my feelings towards tea that doesn't taste like tea. And its just fucking funny.

George Carlin on Fruit-flavored Teas:

I would like to talk to you about fruit-flavored teas. These would be teas that are flavored like fruit. Fruit-flavored teas. You need to understand that. These are not fruits. They’re teas. But they taste like fruit. All right? They have names like strawberry kiwi, lemon berry, orange mango, wild cherry, blackberry and cranberry. They taste like fruit. And they sound like fruits, too, don’t they? They’re not. They’re teas. Fruit-flavored teas. And frankly, I don’t understand this.

Personally, I’ve always been of a mind that if you’re looking for fruit flavor, if you’re genuinely interested in something that tastes like fruit, and you find yourself in the tea section, you’re probably in the wrong aisle. My advice is, if it’s fruit flavor you’re after, play if safe, go ahead and get some fruit. I have found in my experience that fruit almost always turns out to be reliable source of fruit flavor.

Another good place you may wish to look for fruit flavor would be in fruit juice. Fruit juice is made by squeezing the juice out of the fruit. Apparently, the juice that runs out of the fruit has fruit flavor. Perhaps that’s why they call if fruit juice. It doesn’t taste like tea. For tea taste, you would need to get some tea.

So let’s sum this up: If it’s fruit flavor you want, you can’t go wrong with fruit. Or, as I’ve pointed out, fruit juice. Don’t be ordering tea. Tea has tea flavor. It’s not like fruit. It’s more like tea. If you want tea, I say order tea. That’s a different experience. It’s known as “having tea.”

Have you noticed, by the way, there are no tea-flavored fruits? Take a clue from nature.

Brittany, reading that made my whole night better, so thanks for sharing it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hawaiian Black Tea

Onomea Tea Co. is a small and growing "boutique tea estate" in Hawaii. As I recall, their selection includes white, black, oolong, and steamed or pan-fired green tea. One can not yet purchase the tea from their website, but I hope that changes soon, as I would like some more.

It's a black tea, and the leaves smell like black tea. The aroma is a bit generic, ubiquitous, but the leaves are beautiful, like a marriage between yancha and dian hong.

I used three grams four 4 minutes, but I would recommend using more leaf, as much as five grams. In fact I think this tea yearns for gong fu for the best results.

The liquor is a honey brown, like a pale ale.

It has a malty, brisk mouthfeel paired with a thinner body, similar to a ceylon. Honey notes, a subtle sweetness, and no astringency again bring to mind dian hong. The over all flavor has similarities to bai hao oolong. It was much better than I expected. It has the potential of being one of my few favorite black teas.

An afternoon with a book, some coffee, and a walk in the park has left me feeling more relaxed, more centered, than I've been in weeks.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Shikoku Awacha

This tea was given to me, so I don't know much about it other than it is a sencha from Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands of Japan. I presume this tea comes from an area formerly known as Awa, now part of the Tokushima Prefecture.

It has a strong aroma, spicy, cilantro and tomatoes come to mind. The leaves are coarse and thick, with bits of twigs.

It tastes like asamushi, light with subtle hints of karigane, a faint sweet finish, and a whisper of astringency. Yet it has a hearty mouth feel. I like it.

Use lots of leaf. Good for 2-3 infusions.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

My Favorite Oolong

I almost never buy the same tea twice, aside from one or two exceptions, staples. Even with the best tea, I simply file away its awesomeness for later and move on. This is particularly true with oolong.

But I can't stop drinking the Signature Roasted TGY from Just4Tea. After finishing the initial sample June sent me last December, I've purchased it twice, and soon I will place my third order. This TGY hits the spot for me and has become my favorite oolong; I drink it more days than not.

It's high roasted but not over powering. Similar to yancha, lots of chocolate, but with fruity nuances that bring a subtle complexity. Very smooth, not sour, and only astringent if poorly prepared.

Sometimes I'll brew it using a larger kyusu, which will yield a few delightful but simple infusions, good for meals and casual drinking. Other times I'll gong fu it with a much smaller yixing. I can get a half dozen or more infusions. These tend to be sweeter with more fruit.

Tea Nerd and Bears have also reviewed this tea, among many others.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Taiwan Wuyi

A wuyi oolong varietal from Taiwan. It came from Floating Leaves Tea and was a sample given to me by a kind person who continues to expand my oolong horizons.

The leaves are a dark, rich green with the occasional stem. It smells like berries. I stuffed my little pot and used short infusions.

It tastes like peaches and apricots with a friendly astringency, sweet after taste, and medium mouthfeel. Similar to this dan cong from Tea Spring.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

2008 Nok Ya Won Wild Hadong Ddok Cha

This was a delightful sample of traditional Korean style tea that I received from Matt. If you haven't visited his blog yet, you don't know what you're missing. I often go over there just to see his wonderful photos.

According to Matt, "this tea was produced in eight steps. The first step involves the hand picking of this tea, in the clean and serene Jiri Mountain valley at a wild tea plantation just outside Hadong on the 10th of May, 2008. Secondly, the tea is dried in a large, gas-fired aluminum cauldron for 20 minutes. This acts to partially stop its oxidization. Next, the tea is removed from the cauldron and is placed on a rough, fibrous rush mat where it is violently rolled by hand. At this step the leaves break a little giving way to a reaction between tea and air. Then the tea is shade dried where it is exposed to the open air of the mountain valley for 48 hours. Next, the tea is separated and weighed into 100 gram piles. Then the leaves are steamed to soften them. When the leaves are supple they are pressed into cakes. Finally, they are left to dry in a warm room for 3-5 days."

According to Cha Dao, ddok cha "is a form of Korean compressed tea. The term ddok refers to the pounding method used to process the tea. In tradition, a pestle and mortar or a mallet and plank were employed. The name ddok is popularly thought to come from the sound of pounding with a large, wooden mallet on a large, thick wood plank: ddok, ddok, ddok."

The leaves smell fruity and light, similar to many Chinese greens I've had. When put in a heated kyusu, a caramelized sweetness emerges. The tea itself is light, fruity, sweet, with a distinct green finish and a delicate but full mouthfeel with layers of nuance. Everything that I like about Chinese green tea, only better.

Matt, thanks so much for my first introduction to Korean tea.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Rishi Shu Puerh 125 Gram Cake

This is my first puerh cake. I was kind of excited to get it. I only dabble in pu from time to time, but this one was Fair Trade Certified and affordable, and I had been in the mood for some shu-pu, so I went for it.

I use 5-6 grams for a 5 oz pot.

I put the leaves in a heated yixing to enhance the aroma. Smells like pork, a bit more bacon-esque than the sweet, sausage notes I sometimes get from puerh.

This tea wasn't very good. It wasn't offensive, not like many of the mini tuo cha I've stumbled across, for example, but it was rather bland. Rishi's description of "smooth and mellow" is accurate; there is little to no astringency, but it is completely lacking nuance or complexity.

I'm a little disappointed it didn't turn out better, but not surprised. Puerh is not Rishi's strong suit, in my opinion, which is a shame, since it is about the only Fair Trade Certified pu I've seen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Teance "Monkey Picked" Tai Guan Yin Medium Roast

First things first, "monkey picked." Tea vendors will use this phrase to indicate that the particular tea is high quality, and perhaps also as in attempt to add a little exotic appeal to the product. This phrase should instill in you the same warm fuzzies I get from McDonald's "Premium" Coffee. It's a bygone phrase ('cause seriously, have you seen what monkey's do with their hands all day? Do you want them picking you tea?) from a time when supposedly they used trained monkey's to climb to the tops of trees to pick the tea leaves (now China can just use kids).

Yes, a company can add the phrase to a legitimately superior tea, that is quite good and worth your money; buyer beware, that's all I'm saying. If you find yourself thinking, "oooh, monkey picked," your bull-shit detector may need adjusting.

Second, medium roast my ass; this, and to be fair to Teance, every other medium roasted TGY I've tried, tastes lightly roasted at best to me. Maybe there is something I don't understand about roasting.

The aroma is somewhat typical but more complex than usual, sweet, toasted grain, caramel and honey with greener bits that come and go. The aroma of the rinsed leaves reveal a surprising and faint hint of peach.

The first time I brewed the tea, it was indeed peachy, like a dan cong, and I was very pleased, but I have since been unable to replicate it. It has a flavor similar to a gao shan, but not as floral and with a heavier body and thicker mouth feel.

I'm still hunting for roasted TGYs, but they seem to be going out of style.

And on the subject of Chinese mythology, meet Yu Zhi, daughter of Xiwangmu, Queen Mother of the West. The pictures is taken from a Ukiyo e woodcut by Nishikawa Sukenobu. Just the outline so far, color in about a month.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hibiki-an's Houji Karigane

I'll cut to the chase. This tea is good, but it failed to elicit the same excitement and passion for houjicha that Den's Houji Kukicha awoke in me earlier this year.

Nice and toasty, a sweet finish, no astringency to speak of, but somehow lacks the pizazz of Den's. The prices are comparable, but you can only buy Hibiki's in 200 grams, meaning if you choose to try it, you better have plans to drink it for a while. Also, Hibiki's is less flexible. With Den's, I couldn't make a bad cup, but this one has turned on me once or twice.

Still, as I said, this is a good tea, but I'd rather have Den's. It would be interesting to try the two side by side and see if I'm full of shit.

Edit: I realised later that I wrote this assuming who ever reads it knows what kukicha and karigane are, which are essentially the same thing, Japanese twig tea. Kuki (twig) cha (tea). Karigane translates to wild goose or something. From what I have heard, karigane generally refers to kukicha from Uji. If you didn't know this, you might have been wondering why I was comparing kukicha to karigane.

Please read the comments for further disscusion on the true nature of karigane vs kukicha.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Rishi's Jade Cloud

It's been a while since I've talked about one of my earliest tea passions, Fair Trade, but the conversation on TeaChat today has inspired me to get off my ass and finally post this review. (I took these pictures three months ago).

There have been two recent changes with Rishi's line of Green Tea Retail Tins. 1) They've been packaging the tea with an inner bag to increase freshness (pictured), and 2) The tea gardens in Hubei, China where they source the Jade Cloud and a few others is now Fair Trade Certified.

Jade Cloud is harvested in the early spring using organic farming, grown at high elevation in tea gardens situated in natural pine and bamboo forests.

The aroma is nutty, sharp, vegital--asparagus perhaps.

The tea is mellow but has a pleasant and rich mouth feel and a desirable, low-level astringency. Nutty up front followed by a slight sweetness, which becomes more apparent in subsequent infusions, and a vegital finish. It tastes like it smells. As my palate is more accustomed to Japanese green tea, I'd say the overall flavor and strength is comparable to a good asamushi.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Georgian Old Gentlemen

Thanks to Mary, I've had the chance to try something new, a black tea from Georgia. I didn't even know they grew tea in Eastern Europe.

This tea is made by Iuri in the village of Nasakirali and was picked in the Spring. The leaves look more like a yancha than any other black tea I've seen, long and twisted, fluffy. It has a very mild aroma, just a bit of fruit.

I think the parameters of 3g per 8 0z for 4 min. was perfect, though gong fu would be nice, too. The liquor is a beautiful honey brown.

To fully appreciate this tea, I think it must go unadulterated, lest you over power the nuances. It has the simplicity of a good Ceylon with the honey-sweetness of a dian hong and hints of fruit and spice in the finish. Classy, to use an emotive descriptor.

By the way, those seedless concord grapes were amazing.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

POKKA Oolong

No shit, the single best canned or bottled RTD tea I've ever had. Dr. Weil can go back to his day job. I found it at Whole Foods yesterday, and bought one with low expectations, expecting something greenish, astringent, and unremarkable.


Yancha. Perfectly balanced yancha. Not too mild or watery and without the astringent bite that many unsweetened RTD's possess. I'd place it on par with Rishi's Wuyi Oolong. Not a lot of depth or nuance, but a very good, classic example. Great Flavor. It's Wuyi cha better than I could brew it.

No sugar, preservatives, calories, or coloring. Thanks Pokka!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bubbies Green Tea Mochi Ice Cream

Mochi is a rice cake made from glutinous rice, and is used to make many of the Japanese sweets, Wagashi served with tea. Mochitsuki is the traditional process of making Mochi.

Mochi ice cream is relatively new, having started in the early 80's in Japan. It's a ball of mochi with an ice cream core available in a variety of flavors. Recently we started carrying the green tea mochi from Bubbies, a Hawaiian company. A Japanese sweet using tea; all the excuse I needed to consume a whole box. You know, for research.

The outer layer is chewy, doughy, and the ice cream, well, it's ice cream, sweet, creamy and tastes of awesomeness with a very distinct green tea profile. It tastes like they use food grade matcha, and not just powdered sencha. A unique and fun treat.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ito En's Fujian Jin Xuan

Jin Xuan is a high mountain oolong typically from Taiwan, however Ito En's comes from Fujian, China. This is one of my favorite types of oolong, beautiful three-leaf clusters rolled into tiny, green pellets.

This tea has the usual aromas I find in green oolong, honey, toasted bits of cereal, followed by vegital and floral notes that just smell green.

This Jin Xuan is flexible, hard to over brew, and has an over all mild flavor, delicate, soft. Hints of honey and floral nuances, with a sweet mouth-feel and vegital finish. Refreshing and pleasant.

I bought one of the Bodum Pavina double wall glasses today, and I'm very much in love with it. It was a spontaneous purchase. I've seen them used by other tea drinkers on TeaChat, and I had hoped it would provide clearer photographs.

This one is a perfect size, 9 0z, suitable for almost every tea pot and gaiwan I have. The glass is light weight and just feels nice in the hand. Not as artsy or as wabi sabi as my other tea cups, but a pleasure to use, nonetheless.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Multiple Infusions

Through out the world, tea is a drink of fellowship, something to be shared with friends, strangers and loved ones. But here it is often a solitary pastime. We drink alone, sometimes to the jeers of our families and co-workers. You may wish to share your passion with others, but inevitably their preconceptions and misconceptions get in the way.

So for companionship we turn to the Internet. Hell, I'm sure that's why tea blogs do well, so we can in some way share a cup of tea with friends we will never meet, but who nonetheless understand a part of us that those closest to us will always fail to get.

In this spirit I am grateful for those tea vendors and tea drinkers who do their part to bring us together. People like Lewis from Multiple Infusions. Thank you for helping create a place where us tea enthusiasts can gather.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

O-cha's Yutaka Midori (Shincha)

I know it's July, so it's a little late for shincha* reviews, but that's the moral of today's post, shelf life. In my experience the best, freshest green tea has a rather short life span. Even within two weeks of opening it, the tea will not be as good as the first few cups.

I've had the midori for six weeks, so its safe to say the tea I drank today is past its optimal prime. This isn't to say it has gone bad, only that it doesn't bake my cookies the same way it did in May.

That being said, this is the best sencha I've ever had. The aroma is sweet, rich and grassy. It smells like you'd want Spring to.

Shincha is bold, so use lower temperature and mind your steeping time. I prefer water at least as cool as 160-165 and will go up from there. I start with a minute for the first infusion, the second I only rinse the leaves, pouring immediately. Yutaka Midori doesn't have the same longevity in my opinion as the Hatsumi, for example; I only get three good steeps generally.

The tea tastes strong but clean, full, moderately sweet, flavorful with little astringency. There's a pseudo vegginess that always makes me think of apples.

*For those who don't know...shincha is the very first tea harvest of the year in Japan, not to be confused with first flush. All shincha is first flush, but not all first flush harvests are shincha.

Friday, June 27, 2008

New Vithanakande "Extra Special"

This is one of two teas that I will review from Portsmouth Tea Company. New Vithanakande is an estate in (Ceylon) Sri Lanka, from the Ratnapura area/district/region, what have you.

The dry leaf aroma is woodsy, sawdust-y, not pine, but oak or mahogany, at first, then it smells more rich, sweeter, like tobacco. Once put in the preheated pot, I can smell stone fruits and honey that blends with the wood.

For a Ceylon, this tea is quite nice. Fans of Indian Tea and British styles will be fond of it, while proponents of Chinese hong cha will find something lacking, I suspect. In my opinion, a "fault" generally inherent to Indian, African and Sri Lankan teas.

There are nuances of something or the other whispering faintly in the background. The tea needs a touch of something, nothing as offensive as sugar, but...something. I tried a lemon. Tasty and soothing.

I didn't see this until after I compiled my tasting notes, but if you look at this post from last year, you'll see that my opinion of New Vithanakande tea hasn't changed much.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ice Tea

Today I experimented further with ice infusions, digging through my tea stash for anything interesting. Making ice tea has been a great way of disposing of less than stellar tea samples or anything I have a bit too much of.

Someone suggested using crushed ice to speed things up. Unfortunately I do not have ready access to crushed ice, but I do have a shovel, a bag of ice, and a bit of pent up angst. Note, if you try this, wrap the bag of ice in a towel to cushion and disperse the impact.

Zhen Qu: Very nice, light, bits of honey and lemon, sweet and refreshing.

Roasted TGY: Roasted Chocolate. This one was all right, but not my favorite.

Milk Oolong: Tasted exactly like it smells, milky sweet and floral.

Kukicha: This one was kind of gross, marine and grassy, not a good grassy--when I was five, I built a home for my Cringer/Battle Cat toy in a bucket filled with water and grass (I know, wtf?) and left him there for a few weeks. I've never forgotten the smell when I went to retrieve him. That kind of grassy.

Tip: Rolled oolong wont unfurl in cold water. For a better infusion try rinsing in boiling water first.
If you think this is starting to sound a bit labor intensive, you're not the only one.

Monday, June 23, 2008

White Tip Oolong

This tea from New Mexico Tea Co. was a gift. I am unfamiliar with the company, but this tea was good, and I totally want these cups.

It's a Formosan oolong from the Tung Ting province. The rinsed leaves smell like baked fruit, cherries or something.

The brew is malty, reminiscent of a dian hong, similar mouth feel as well. When gong fu-ed, there are sweeter notes of molasses. Delightfully smooth and moderately complex. Yields about five to six, maybe seven, infusions depending on taste. Well worth the price.

On a personal note...

Regular readers may have noticed that the blog is limping along. June is almost over and this only the third post this month, by far the slowest since the beginning. I assure you that the blog is not dying, or in (much) danger of an extended hiatus. We are merely experiencing a period of decreased activity.

The biggest reason for this is that I am getting divorced. And while I will say that it has been a remarkably amicable affair, it has left me often feeling distracted and unfocused. My tea consumption in general had decreased dramatically, probably only a cup or two every three days or so. In short, tea just hasn't been on my mind, so there hasn't been much to write about.

However, through this I have learned two things, that I will now share with you.

Tip #1 DO NOT leave spent sencha in a pot for more than a week. That is not an aroma you want lingering.

Tip #2 When rigorously cleaning said pot with boiling water that you then spill on you hand, gently set down the pot first, then feel pain.

Lastly, to my regular readers, thank you. If not for your continuous support and interest in this blog, I'd have given up a while ago.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Teance Roasted Twig Oolong

So far I have been unimpressed with the teas coming in from Teance; they have been average at best, though to be fair, my idea of "average" sets the bar kind of high. Nonetheless I found myself more than a little excited to try their Roasted Twig Oolong.

I love twig tea, karigane or kukicha, roasted or green, this kind of tea is a staple, always gotta have it in stock. Unfortunately this Taiwanese tea lacks the unique magic of its more prolific, Japanese counterparts. What kukicha brings to sencha, this tea fails to deliver.

The leaves/twigs smell wonderful, like warm, toasted honey, only it doesn't taste as good as it smells. It has the same problem I often find in lighter oolong. Like push up bras, enticing yes, but they only build you up for a let down.

Still...its not all bad, pleasant, light with bits of fruit, with honey in the finish, no astringency. I find its good for 2-3 infusions.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ice-Infused Shincha

A year ago I experimented with cold brewing sencha, and now that another Texas summer is here, I have revisited this quirky, refreshing method, this time using a significantly better tea, Shincha Yutaka Midori.

The idea is simple, add tea leaves and ice cubes to your pot and let the ice melt, giving it at least fifteen to twenty minutes. The colder temperature keeps the tea from turning bitter.

This time I thoroughly preheated the pot first, hoping to speed things up just a bit. When using this method I find its best to leave it outside or out on the porch.

The tea is strong, but not astringent, sweet, flavorful, very vegital. There is nothing grassy about this, but like biting into fresh produce. Cold-brewing reveals characteristics of the tea that you wouldn't find otherwise.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Just so you know...

So I took a hiatus after all. There is just too much else going on right now. I'm taking a small vacation at the end of the month to go return home for a bit. Posts should resume June 1, when I get it back.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tea Mind

Tea Mind, a new blog from Chamekke .

Chamekke has been on Tea Chat for a while, and in a word, she's brilliant. Her knowledge of Japanese tea and culture leaves me in awe and not a little envy. I haven't been this excited about a new blog since Matt introduced us to the over-looked (at least by me) world of Korean tea.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Okayti Darjeeling Autumn Flush Oolong

To be honest when I think of Mighty Leaf, I don't think of quality; its more like...fu-fu tea in pretty teabags. But perhaps I haven't been drinking the right tea from them, because this stuff is good.

My experience with Darjeeling teas have been almost exclusively from Makaibari, with only a few, unknown exceptions.

Darjeeling leaves always make me think of fall, and these are particularly nice, larger, bits of green and silver tips. The dry leaves have a clean, fruit/grain aroma that makes me think of raisin bran.

The tea has a sharp, crisp, clean feel. As it cools the sharpness becomes more of a pronounced astringent finish. Fruity, not quite raisin, not quite grape; I imagine this is the 'muscatel' so often used to describe Darjeeling. I liked it. It was hardy, easy to brew, and delivered I nice solid flavor.

The wet leaves look like a pile of autumn leaves after a rain.

Friday, May 2, 2008

70's Vietnamese Liao Fu San Cha

This tea was with my samples in an unmarked baggie. Wasn't sure what it was, but figured I'd find out later and tossed it in the pot.

Well. Damn.

Had I known at the time that this was a Vietnamese puerh from the 70's, I would have paid a little more attention to it, perhaps a bit more caution in brewing it. As it were my tastings notes went about like this.

First Infusion: Whoa, that tastes like dirt.

Second Infusion: Still tastes like dirt.

Third Infusion: Yep, dirt. Fuck this tea.

Don't I feel silly.

Perhaps I was too hasty in judging this tea and missed hidden subtleties and nuances it had to offer. Perhaps if I had more experience with puerh, I would have appreciated this one more. Or perhaps by not knowing much at all, I was able to give a more direct, unbiased opinion.


For a second opinion: Houd De.

2007 Da Ye Wuyi

This is a lightly roasted yancha from TeaCuppa.

They describe it as an affordable, daily oolong made from leaves that are not qualified for higher grade teas such as da hong pao.

I stuffed my tiny pot with leaves.

All the flavor is up front, light and floral, with bits of honey. This is a time to use bull shit adjectives like unpretentious in order to convey this tea's positive, unassuming simplicity. Not very nuanced, but pleasant; a beer with the guys kind of tea.

For me the leaves pay out after about four infusions.