Saturday, January 19, 2008


If you're looking for tea, you came to the wrong place today. Sorry.

My father was a photographer. He was the kind or person who would get an idea to pursue something, and then he would go do it. Get books. Teach himself. Practice. Try to make a living out of it. See also: Magician, Painter, Carpenter. Even in his declining years, when he could no longer work, he took up gardening, roses and tomatoes. The occasional herb.

After he died I inherited his cameras, and for a while it was a hobby of mine. I bought books, equipment. Maybe I was okay at it; my wife says I was. But I never felt so for very long, and eventually I moved on. To tea among other things, so I was delighted when starting a blog allowed for the two interests to merge. You, reader, may or may not like my pictures, but I think if you look at my early posts and compare recent ones, you would likely agree that at least I have improved.

I do get compliments on the pictures from time to time, which pleases me because I try, and they are important to me, not because I think of myself as a great photographer. I'm not. My "improvement" can be attributed two two things: 1) I discovered my camera has a nifty button for close-up shots--who knew? 2) I discovered that good, copious, natural light, fickle as it may be, is the amateur photographer's friend, lover, and soul mate.

Which leads me to how any of this is relevant in any way to this blog. It is winter. Most days by the time I get home from work, my light is gone. The simple solution is to stock up on pictures when I get a day off; I'll photograph a few different tea sessions and write a review later in the week. This is only a problem when I haven't had a day off in a while, which I haven't had in two weeks. This is why there haven't been any new posts this week, and why there won't be any, besides this one, for a while longer. I have depleted my stores.

That I plan the blog around lighting, reveals how important the pictures are to me. There you have it; a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at Another Tea Blog. And of me, I suppose.

Monday, January 14, 2008

New Teaware and Rishi Oolong

Over Christmas I picked up two new items that I was anxious to play with, so I looked through my store's tea selection for a few teas that I could sample and pair with my recent acquisitions. I settled on two oolongs from Rishi.

Yixing "Xishi" Pot and
Rishi Wuyi Oolong (Qi Lan)

I am very picky about yixing pots, which is why I have so few of them, but the Xishi style has always appealed to me. I understand these pots are named after Xi Shi or possibly her breast. This is a nice one from Yunnan Sourcing that a Secret Santa bought for me. It has a fast pour and does not dribble or leak, well, it doesn't leak much. I decided to use it for yan cha.

The Qi Lan smells like cocoa and raisins with a moderately heavy roasted scent. I normally have quite positive results with this tea; it should taste like chocolate and a bit of sugarcane, slightly complex and nuanced, but this tin in particular has yet to yield a decent cup. Possible variables include my inept and sporadic gong fu skills, or perhaps this isn't a "good" batch; I've noticed before that the quality varies sometimes, and I occasionally get a "bad" tin. It could also be the new pot. I will brew this tea again with both my new pot and a gaiwan and compare. Could be interesting.

Adagio's Glass Mug Infuser
and Rishi's Citron Oolong

I bought a glass mug infuser for a variety of reasons, curiosity for one. I wanted to see how glass teaware performed, and Rishi's version has been selling quite well for us. I also wanted a convenient way of brewing scented or flavored tea--I don't always feel like using a gaiwan. But mostly I just can't seem to get enough teaware, and simply must have one of everything.

I chose Adagio's because I found one at Target for a good price, and I liked the infuser more.

Like the infuser mug, I had been curious about the citron oolong, because it had been selling well. It has a thick, sweet lemon aroma, reminds me of Lemon Heads. If you don't like lemon/citrus, you wont like this tea. It tastes like lemon with other assorted citrus fruits in the back ground. As flavored teas go I'd rate this one as decent but not phenomenal. Looking at the wet leaves it appears they use a greener oolong. I think this would be a pleasant tea to drink if you had a cold, as I am reminded of the hot lemon and honey drinks my parents fixed for me when I was ill as a child.

The infuser mug performed well. The strainer is excellent and the glass has better heat retention than I thought it would. After three minutes I used a digital thermometer to compare temperatures between the mug and one of my better kyusu. There was only a two degree difference. I would highly recommend one of these for making tea at work or as a budget, all purpose tea pot for beginners.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Den's Tea Matcha Kaze

Kuro Raku

First I'd like to introduce my new chawan, an early birthday present. It is a kuro (black) raku made in Tokoname, Japan by Shoraku.

I was interested in this one from Hibiki-an, but I wanted to continue to pursue my business relationship with Toru-san from Artistic Nippon. I emailed him a picture of it and asked if it was something he could procure for me, and of course he came through for me again. I think he did an excellent job, and I am very pleased with it.

Interesting coincidence: both bowls have the artist's chop in gold paint/glaze; however, the picture I sent Toru-san did not show the chop, so he couldn't have known.

Matcha Kaze

This is my first matcha from Den's Tea and my first from Shizuoka.

Matcha has been the most challenging tea to review so far. The vocabulary isn't as established as it is with most tea. I know from reading blogs and what not that with other teas I can expect notes of chocolate or peach, camphor or muscatel, grassy or nutty, whatever the case may be. Realizing that I can bull shit you with vague talk of "green" and "fresh" for only so long, I tried to find other, more descriptive words.

The obvious idea was to look at blogs, see how others describe matcha, but it turns out that unless I plan to bake with it or make frappucinos, I'm out of luck. (If you're reading this, and I missed your brilliant posts on the complex, umami deliciousness of matcha, please leave a link in the comments). In the end I browsed through a few Japanese sites like Ippodo and Hibiki-an, putting together my own list of characteristics, a bit of a scale to help quantify my results.

Checklist isn't the right word, but its the first one that comes to mind.

Aroma: (7/10) It is rich and sweet but subdued compared to the Uji matcha that I've primarily used thus far.

Sweetness: (5/10) Moderate, towards the end it tasted a bit dry.

Astringency: (1/10) Even when using much larger amounts than is recommended for usucha, which I will get to in a sec, I wouldn't describe it as even lightly astringent.

Taste: (6.5/10) Mild would be the most concise word. Not bad or inferior, but not intense or bold. It was clear early on that the 1.5 - 2 scoops wasn't going to cut it for me, too weak, so I increased it to 4-5, koicha quantity. Better, but still as I said, mild. In a way I think this is a testament to the quality of the tea. A low grade usucha should have been bitter, harsh or unpleasant after that amount.

Ultimately this tea wasn't for me, but only because I have to use so much, otherwise it would be a suitable daily matcha. I will try Den's other Shizuoka matcha, the Miyabi, on my next order. I am curious if other Shizuoka matcha is like this.

Every time I make matcha, I learn something. This time it was Don't prepare matcha next to an open window. That green stuff can get every where. For sure I am still going to find it on some of my books months from now. This is funny given the name. Kaze means wind.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Choice Tea

I had been aware of Choice Tea for some time now, since I started getting involved with Fair Trade a few years ago, and I had seen their teas at Whole Foods, but I never got around to trying them. So I was delighted when they offered me a few samples, and of course I chose all Fair Trade teas.

Original Chai

"A loose blend of 'ready to brew' spices and fine black teas." The description doesn't give one much to go on, but it tastes like a fairly traditional blend, cardamom, black pepper, and what not. The spices are evenly chopped and distributed with the tea. In a tea with multiple ingredients, smaller, homogeneous pieces help provide a consistent brew from one cup to the next.

I prepare it with equal parts milk and water, using my People's Brew Basket with a chopstick shoved through it (these baskets are quite versatile; I use it to sift matcha one day, prepare chai the next). Its creamy, a bit of pepper to it, but moderate. On a scale of 1-10, I'd rate this about 6.5 or 7.

Ceylon OP High Grown

This one comes from the Thotulagalla Garden in the Uva District of Sri Lanka.

The dry leaf aroma is fresh, not overly aromatic, but I better than I expect for having spent the last few weeks in a cellophane wrapper. The liquor is brown-orange, which makes me think of crayons when I was a child, the two colors, red-orange and orange-red. This seemed a relevant observation when I wrote it down in my notes.

Taste: It is a Ceylon, which in my opinion equals bland, but this is one is better than most. In spite of the ubiquitous "tea" taste, there are pleasant notes of fruit, and the tea has a natural sweetness. Again, Ceylons are not my thing, but this wasn't a bad cup at all.

And if you just noticed that Ceylon and crayon rhyme, you're as silly as me.

Classic White Peony

My only complaint about this tea is that I only had 1.5 grams of leaf to play with, where as I typically use at least 3. The website does not specify where this tea comes from, but I'm fairly sure it isn't Fujian, as there are no Fair Trade projects there that I am aware of.

The aroma is different, I can't place it, not Fujian. A bit of melon that makes me think of sheng pu. I wonder if this is a Yunnan white. The tea itself is light, not as bold as bai mu dan that I'm used to. Their is an intriguing evanescent astringency, almost an after thought.

Dragon Well and Gunpowder

I drank these two a day later side by side with a pair of gaiwan. The origins of the Dragon Well aren't listed, but the Gunpowder comes from Jianxi. These two interested me because they only FTC teas of their respective types I've come across.

The Dragon Well has a light, fruity aroma, while the Gunpowder's scent is fuller, stone fruit perhaps.

The Dragon Well tastes light, moderately fruity, a tad sweet. There is a hint of something that makes me think of something that reminds me of honey. The Gunpowder is more astringent, but not overly so. Words like "woodsy" and "pine" come to mind.

I am not at all fond of tea bags, but the rep. from Choice specifically asked me to review this one, and I'll drink anything for a good cause. Not only is this tea Fair Trade, but 10 cents per box is donated to help save the Himalayan Kingdom.

The problem is one can't go from fresh, Japanese sencha one day to tea bags the next. You need a decompression stop along the way. Perhaps a nice cup of Chinencha. I will refrain from describing this tea. If you still like teabags, I encourage you to buy a box and try it yourself. Tea drinkers closer to myself already now how it turned out.

Whew! That was a lot of tea.

Final thoughts: This is the icky ambiguous part. These teas are good, but I've have gathered enough experience to know that there is better tea available, so how to be honest but positive. There should be weight classes for tea vendors, like in boxing or wrestling. When I put it like that: Choice Tea is a clear contender in their class, better than the competing teas you are likely to see on the shelf next to theirs.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Den's Tea Houji-Kukicha

This tea was a pleasant discovery.

I bought it because I needed to add a few dollars to my order to get the free shipping, and I like kukicha, so I was a bit curious about it. And it was cheap, only $4 for 2 oz. I didn't expect much; I didn't expect anything, really. I've never been fond of houjicha. I just assumed I'd drink a cup or two, then let the rest sit there until it was time to throw it away.

See also: Ume Shiso.

I open the bag and I can smell toast, like, with a capital T. It's visceral. Just smelling it I can feel it, taste it on my tongue, hear the sound of it, of toast. If you don't like toast, I can see how this wouldn't be your thing, but I didn't mind a bit. There was also something greener lingering faintly beyond the toasty aroma.

After cautious experimentation, I settle on regular sencha brewing parameters, 4.5 grams/7-8 oz of water for 1.5 minutes. Den's recommends using boiling water, and they aren't wrong.

First infusion tastes like a yan cha, roasted, heavy hints of cacao, and a sweet finish. Its not nuanced or sophisticated but warm and yummy. Its filling, like genmaicha or mugicha. The second infusion is less roasted but much sweeter. I have yet to get a good infusion past the second. Even steeping it as long as 6-7 minutes only yields tea flavored water.

Looking at this picture, I can see bits of green leaves that I didn't notice before.

I think as an every day tea, I will tire of this soon--I have been drinking a lot of it the past few days, but it was a wonderful change of pace, and I look forward to trying other roasted Japanese teas that I have overlooked.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Rishi Matcha

After I posted my review on Rishi's sweet matcha, my rep. sent me an email at work about it, providing more information about the product (the sugar to matcha ratio is 9 to 1), and offering to send me further samples of their matcha line.

My opinion on the Sweet Matcha has not changed with further experimentation. Its just too much sugar to enjoy. The "straight" matcha was more...useful.

It comes packaged in twenty, single-serving wrappers, which are ideal for tea-to-go, convenient. Simply add the tea to a bottle of water, shake, shake, shake, and you have a bottle of RTD tea that is far better than what you can buy at a store. I plan to experiment further with powdered sencha and other teas in the future. I think this may be the answer to my lack of tea at work.

Traditional preparation is where the lack of quality becomes apparent, though to be fair, it has had some tough competition. The wrappers, which are convenient on the go, aren't ideal in this setting. One serving is too much tea for the traditional 3-4 oz of water. The resulting bowl was harsh, overly astringent. Next I emptied a few into a makeshift natsume, scooping out the desired amount, but it didn't taste as fresh, the flavor, diminished.

I don't like posting negative reviews, but Rishi's Matcha was important in establishing a reference point, for me and for my readers. Previously, all the matcha I had been drinking was O-cha's; I had nothing to compare it to, but now I can begin to create a larger frame of reference.

They also sent an ounce of Chiyo Sakae. I have never seen it offered on their website, so I'm not sure what the story is there, if this is something they plan to offer in the future. It was better, not great, but a passable daily matcha, something to sustain me during dry spells.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

T Ching's Morning Dew

It was a pleasure and an experience to once again participate in one of T Ching's online tea tastings. The Morning Dew, a white tea, was one of three teas we tasted this time, including Margaret's Hope Muscatel and a Keemun Hao Ya. I've decided not to publish a detailed review of the two black teas here; though they were both solid examples of their respective types, I didn't find either of them particularly memorable.

This tea comes from Mirik, located in Darjeeling, India. This is the best Indian white tea I have enjoyed so far. The dry leaves are large, light, like a bai mu dan, but a vibrant green. The aroma is fresh and crisp, makes me think of fall apples.

I used a lot of leaves, 3.5 grams, looks like the equivalent of 3-4 tbsp.

The brew is amazing, tart but sweet with a honeysuckle finish. The flavor is bolder than I am used to in a white tea, bolder than some green teas I've tasted.

My only complaint is that it doesn't stand up as well to multiple infusions, which is all that keeps this tea from becoming my new favorite white tea. I've experimented with using more leaf and shorter brewing times, but the tea started to become unpleasantly astringent. I ran out of tea before I could experiment further.

Den's Tea

Theme week? What theme week?

I was all set to move on to the next tea review I've been needing to get to, but my first Den's order came in today, and I've been in green tea heaven.

This is my first order with Den's, and so far I've been very pleased, the freshest Japanese tea I've had from a vendor in the US. I ordered the Shin-Ryoku Sencha, Guricha, Kukicha, Houji-Kukicha, Powdered Sencha, and Matcha Kaze. I'll do reviews on all of them over the next month.