Category Archives: Reviews
Before I look a little break from communicating with the wider world, I had just tried something new for me from the tea world: matcha. More specifically, flavored matcha.
To explain from the start, matcha is very finely ground green tea leaves, the same used for sencha or gyokuro, almost of the same fineness as cornflour. Matcha can be made traditionally using a bamboo whisk to bring it to a froth in a matcha bowl, as a latte with frothed milk, added to smoothies, or even used in baking! And because you’re drinking the whole leaf, the health benefits (i.e., antioxidants, etc.) and caffeine levels are higher than all other teas. I’m mostly interested in the impact of the caffeine in matcha since, following gallbladder surgery, I’ve all but given up coffee, only drinking of the bean very rarely. Now, I’m all about the leaf. The caffeine in tea is glorious: yes, it is a lower amount in milligrams per cup, but it provides the mental alertness and stimulation without the dizzying letdown that caffeine from other sources brings. So a matcha in the morning keeps me feeling mentally and physically active well into the afternoon. And if I don’t have one in the morning, an afternoon matcha smoothie does double duty: a pick-me-up and snack all in one to power me through the rest of the day.
Enter Red Leaf Tea. Through discovering this company on Steepster, I’ve been slowly exploring their vast selection of flavored matchas. I know there are several who mock, disdain, or would like to wage all out war on flavored teas, and flavored matcha in particular. But to each his own. I honestly don’t think I would enjoy the extra-grassy and even seaweed-like flavor of straight matcha first thing in the morning; it’s just not a flavor profile I grew up with for breakfast. It is perfectly normal for those in the Far East, Japan and Korea in particular, so I’m not about to knock it. Let the haters take note: if it brings an interest in tea (or even “new” tea types) for people, that’s a good thing–get over it.
Besides the huge and ever-expanding choices of flavors available from Red Leaf Tea, the beauty of their system is the astounding customization they allow. For every matcha you have the option of choosing your grade (quality) of matcha, regular or organic, and amount of flavoring. (I typically go for the “Robust” level, but I simply like the name of the highest flavoring level: “There’s matcha in there?!”)
So what have I had thus far? The favorite on Steepster is Caramel, so my first order included this flavor and a childhood favorite, boysenberry. Both worthy choices and enjoyable as both lattes and in smoothies. My personal preference is to have the caramel in a smoothie with frozen banana, vanilla yogurt and a good dash of cinnamon to create a Banoffee Tart Smoothie. Really, you have no idea how good that is until you try it.
My next order was for large tins of both French Vanilla and Black Cherry. I expected French Vanilla to be a good “mixer” flavor, and I was right. It goes well with any of the other flavors in a latte, but especially the black cherry. Black Cherry is one of my all-time favorite flavors though, so maybe it’s the black cherry heightening the delight of the vanilla. In any case, I’m still winning here.
My third order is presently on its way, and you’ll gasp in exultation at my choices: Peanut Butter and Belgian Chocolate. Yes, I will start my days with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Latte, and not feel at all guilty about it. Beat that, haters.
Ok, this tea was just too good to believe. Most of this is crossposted from my Steepster tealog.
I was reading Teavivre’s info and Steepster notes for this tea last night and just got so excited that I could hardly wait until morning. Well, things happen with a baby and toddler, so it’s mid morning by the time I’m sitting down to a cup. I followed Teavivre’s suggestion on their site of 4 pearls (and they are big—about 1cm across) and boiling water for 1, 2, and 3mins, using 200ml of water.
1st steep: Opening the sample pack, I knew what to expect from all the reviews but I could hardly believe just how real it was! Every bit the scent of dark cocoa powder, maybe a little sweetened, and then a subtle hay scent coming at the end (maybe that was the sweetness). The wet leaf is full of cocoa and bread. I like where this is going! I was a little concerned when I first started pouring that it wasn’t very dark in the cup. When the cup was full, it turned out to be a dark honey color. The taste—oh my word—semisweet, definitely more like dark cocoa than dark chocolate, but with a little cream or butter, and then finishing with bread. Seriously, look at those as a list of ingredients. It couldn’t have tasted more like a chocolate croissant if I was actually chewing through it! How is this possible?? It’s a straight tea, for Pete’s sake!
2nd steep: A few hours later, now that I can sit down again. I forgot to mention in the 1st steep that there was a whisper of smoke, but I can’t remember if that was in the wet leaf or in the cup. I’m guessing the wet leaf, because that’s where I find it this time. This steep is also semisweet, but also has a touch of bitterness—but it’s not bad—so I guess that makes it bittersweet! It has the same delicious flavors as the first, but it’s taking them longer to develop on my palate to become that buttery chocolate croissant. But that might not be the tea’s fault. I can feel myself having a hard time relaxing and concentrating on the tea… a migraine is trying to develop. Let me get right on to the next steep before Lil’ Man gets up from his nap.
3rd steep: A good deal thinner feel to this cup. The sweetness is still very much there, but the bitterness seems to be gone. The flavors are all there, too, but they don’t stick around. This time it’s just a cup to sit back and relax with; a cup to help you enjoy doing something else like reading, not a cup to focus on itself. If this was how the tea was from the beginning, I’d be saying, “Eh, yeah, what’s next?” But you know, this tea worked it’s heart out for the first two steeps. I’d say it’s rather entitled to fade off into the sunset.
When I come across something that I really like, my first thoughts are around the lines of “Wow, this is great!” My next thought is normally, “I’ve gotta share this! So-and-so would probably like this!” And so, I’m torn. I have enough for another 3 steeps like this, plus another sample pack that would be enough to do this for two people. Do I hold on to it all and share the full pack with my husband, or send off that full pack to my mom in the US? They’d both be sure to enjoy it. Mom would probably appreciate it more at first, but maybe this tea could encourage Hubby to get more involved (read: “obsessed”) with tea like I am. Maybe I’ll just let them duke it out here.
My mom sent me this as a gift that she included with the box of teas from Adagio I asked her to send over for me. Coincidently, I had just got her a gift of wonderfully named Jane Austen Mafia tea from Adagio (and a bag for myself as well). In the end, we both had two Jane Austen-themed teas from two different companies. A couple of Jane Austen tragics? Yes, I do believe so.
Now don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t order any tea, regardless of its theme or namesake, if I didn’t think it would taste good. It just so happens that the people who developed either of these blends have very good taste (as, of course, most Jane Austen lovers do).
Longbourn Wedding Tea is part of the Jane Austen Tea Series created by Bingley’s Teas. Yes, the company is named after the affable friend of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, but they mainly do non-Austen themed, regular teas. They just extended their love of all things Austen by procuring and/or creating a few particular teas for this series. This tea is a blend of silver needles and pai mu tan white teas with champagne, raspberries (which I think are in the form of raspberry leaves here) and beautiful whole rosebuds. It really is something to marvel at in the dry form. And all the sweet scents of white grapes, berries and roses leap at you in all states of the tea: the dry and wet leaves, as well as the steeped liquid. In the cup, it’s a beautiful sunshine yellow. I haven’t seen a tea like it before. As sweet as all of it sounds, it’s not overwhelming, at least not to me, but I am a Southern girl. All the aromas linger well after the last sip, and I do just feel like I’ve given myself a beautiful evening, even in the midst of the remnants of the day’s chaos.
Even if this wasn’t part of the Jane Austen Tea Series, by the look of the tea, it still begs to be named after a beautiful celebration of some sort. All of the sensations it provides leave me looking forward to the next time I can set aside an evening for this tea and some accompanying delicate enjoyment.
Steeping parameters: 3g for 200ml; 1st steep for 2mins at 70°C, 2nd steep for 3mins at 70°C.
My Steepster tealog for this tea is here.
Cross-posted from Steepster.
Just as I started preparing for this tea, I noticed the lingering cold that I thought was beat had reared its ugly head again. So my senses obviously aren’t what they should be. My first straight Keemun and I didn’t know how I’d feel about it. I knew it was something I needed to at least try though. My prejudices say that I don’t like smokiness, but that’s not a good enough reason to stay ignorant! I’m following the suggested temp of 90°C and 1, 2, & 3min steeps.
1st steep: The wet leaf has a grainy/maltiness that I really enjoyed in the Bailin Gongfu, along with what I can’t tell is either caramel or leather (is that weird?) and a gentle smokiness. Dark coppery liquor. Smooth but thin on mouthfeel (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing) and maybe even a little powdery feeling. Smoky caramel as LiberTEAS mentioned, and some not unpleasant bitter/semisweet fruit flavor. It’s not something I necessarily come running for, but I’m not throwing out the cup by any means. I just need to learn more about it. Moving on…
2nd steep: There’s a more noticeable sweetness in the wet leaf this time, or maybe I’m just getting past the smokiness. In the cup it’s sweeter as well and the smoke is receding, at least to my senses. I’m still getting the same notes as before, but they’re changing position. Ooh, there’s that caramel again. I’m getting more positive about this now. Is that my presuppositions getting dashed and my horizons expanding, or is it the tea talking? This cup got rather cold before I’d finished and now florals are coming out.
3rd steep: For any time-poor parents of babies and toddlers out there, you can understand—I made it to 3 steeps, and I’m proud of that. (On a semi-related note, halfway through the first cup I realised I forgot to have breakfast and I still haven’t fixed that. Too late now.) Sweetness is really coming through and the smokiness is decidedly just an afterthought now. I can sense more of the grains now, and this is just turning out to be a very easy cup to drink. Being the third and final steep of a tea I was originally unsure of, that’s not terribly surprising. But it also gives me the expectation that I’ll enjoy the earlier steeps of this more the next time I make it.
I had planned to treat my 2nd sample of this as a regular breakfast tea with milk and sugar, after I gave this one a good pure test. But now that I’m noticing a change in my perspective, I think I’d like to see what I think after another pure tasting first. Looks like I’ll either need to get another sample or be convinced enough to get a stash before it gets the breakfast treatment.
I like these kind of surprises, especially when they’re educating!
Well, I finally did it. All nine teas of the T2 green tea sampler have been tasted and tested. It took just under a month, which sounds ridiculous, really, but when that time includes a horrendous cold and the endless struggle to find a quiet moment, maybe it’s not so bad after all. In case you need to refresh your memory, or if you’re just joining me now, here are parts 1 and 2 of my reviews.
Marrakech: This is Gunpowder, Moroccan style with mint. And again, I was a bit surprised that I liked this. I steeped it in the glass gaiwan as I did with the original Gunpowder so I could have the pleasure of watching the pellets open up to create the golden liquid. I also happened to have this after a particularly unhealthy meal in the hopes that the peppermint essence would comfort my unhappy stomach. I’d like to think it did, and rather quickly too, as I was feeling much better by the time of my second cup. I was able to get three good steeps out of the leaves. Maybe I could have gotten more, but a child started calling so my peaceful teatime had to come to an end. It was a couple of weeks ago though, so I can’t quite remember if I thought then the leaves would hold up to a fourth steep. Guess I’ll have to try that again. What was unusual was both the freshness of mint and the subtle smokiness of the Gunpowder combining in my mouth. It wasn’t a battle, but more like a swirling dance of aroma and sensation.
Sencha Quince: I didn’t know what to expect with this tea. I already knew it was a favorite amongst T2’s flavored green teas. But I have a longstanding passion for all things peach, and maybe I just felt a bit jealous for the Sencha Peach that it got left out of this pack in favor of the Quince. This was certainly pretty when dry though, both in appearance and scent. Lovely leaves of brilliant green sencha with beautiful blue cornflowers and gorgeous purple mallow flowers. There was a floral scent on top of vanilla, but the vanilla note could have simply come from the Sencha Vanilla that was also in the larger tin containing all the samples. In any case, these were closely followed by the scent of sweet-tart fruit, all on a background of the fresh sencha. It was fascinating to be able to notice one scent passing on to the next, creating the entire scent profile. And while all these scents are strong in their own right, I never once felt overpowered by any of them or by their combination. It just all seemed so natural. The steeped tea was all of these scents in the same order, but the florals were more muted and the aromas overall were gentler. I could see myself picking up this one in the shop for my stash if it wasn’t for…
Gorgeous Geisha: Now this one is T2’s most popular flavored green tea, and no questions about that here! Let me stick this little disclaimer in first before I get to the review: I really wanted to find an unflavored tea from this pack to make my stand-by green tea. I’ve liked all of them, but maybe I’m just not enough of a purist to really choose one over some of the great flavored varieties that T2 does so well. Or maybe I just haven’t found my straight green tea yet. Now back to Gorgeous Geisha… WOW! Charlotte has learned to come running every time I open a tin of tea, calling out, “Smell! Smell!” This time I really joined her. Sharp, sweet strawberries hit you first, with just a spot of cream and then even less of the sencha bringing up the rear. This both excited and dismayed me. I want to take this tea tasting thing seriously, but then there are these flavors and blends that smell so good. They just don’t necessarily smell like tea, and that doesn’t make it sound like I’m all that serious. But when the tea is steeped, the fears step aside. Now all the flavors take the stage, brilliantly singing their parts. Still the sweetest strawberries begin the song, softly supported by the cream, not too much, just giving the right amount harmony. And in saunters the sencha, providing the baritone (if green tea could be allowed to sing those lower notes). They all take their turns seamlessly, and well after the sip the aromas continue to sing more combined than before, like one of the great swelling pieces in a good opera: each performer singing a different story yet intertwining with their stage companions. Have I waxed lyrical enough?
There you have it. I wasn’t sure I’d be a fan of green tea, but I took a shot anyway. I’m glad I did. I have found teas that are great with meals, teas that soothe, and teas that just make you feel like you’re having a treat. And when it’s with the goodness of green tea, well, that really is a treat.
This post is the second of my taste testing through the T2 green sampler I got for my birthday. The original review of the pack (truly a first impression, before any tasting) is here. So here are teas four to six as I’ve tasted them.
China Jasmine: I tried this in preparation for the Jasmine Pearls I ordered from Yunnan Sourcing and Teavivre. It really was a lovely scent that still had more going on than just a massive floral attack on the nose. A couple days later when suffering through a migraine, I still had a craving for a green tea moment and chose to have this one again. It required nothing more of me than to sit and relax. Quite friendly, that.
Genmaicha Sencha: This has been the clear winner for me so far. The instant I poured the water over the leaves and into the pot came the incredible scent of roasted grains from the roasted and puffed rice in the tea. I didn’t even have time to close the lid first! When I poured the tea I was amazed by how light the color was, palest green and crystal-like. Drinking it took me back many years when I spent a summer in South Korea. That was the first time I had green tea, and the roasted cereal aroma and taste are what I remember, but this is really pumping up the volume. This would go perfectly with almost any Asian meal, but would also be just as great when you really want a snack but want to keep it light. Can’t get much lighter than a cup of tea!
Sencha Vanilla: I would have tried the Marrakesh (minty gunpowder) first, but Matt was home and I could make a larger amount of this knowing he would want some. I was amazed at how well the Sencha aromas of straw, cooked greens, and seaweed mingled and played with the vanilla. Pleasant and gentle, we both enjoyed the break it provided.
I’m working through the remaining three teas in this pack, all rather highly flavored. Though “working through” makes it sound harder and much less enjoyable than it is. The results of those tastings will be here soon, but right now I’ve got to get rid of a bad cold that hit me a couple of days ago. When all my senses are back, so will be the reviews!
I’ve had my T2 green tea sampler for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve tried six of the nine teas now. That sounds like I’m going slowly on it, and maybe I am. I have a baby and a toddler that demand my attention, and I also don’t want to try any of the teas when I’m not feeling well (I deal with chronic migraines); I want to give each tea its fullest opportunity to show off to me. So I am truly taking my time when I make my first cup or pot of each of the teas, getting the full experience of the dry leaves, the aromas, colors and tastes. It’s been really enlightening and completely enjoyable. I’ve kept The Tea Drinker’s Handbook by my side as both a means of educating my palate and testing my senses.
I decided to try the unflavored teas first so I could get a true feeling of what flavors I’d be encountering (and also to stay in my tradition of saving the best for last: in this case, teas I was more likely to enjoy). So here are my thoughts thus far, in the order I have tried them. I’ll start with the first three today.
Young Hyson: T2 calls this an all-rounder and good for drinking throughout the day. I’d have to agree. It has no tastes or aromas that sound at first unappealing to a new green tea drinker (I’m talking to you, marine and gamy aromas). It was also my first recognition of what astringency really was: a dry or powdery feeling in your mouth, particularly on the sides of the tongue. Astringency at first sounded like something I would rather avoid, but it actually kind of gave a fresh feeling in my mouth.
Sencha: The typical Japanese tea taught me that maybe those marine aromas in tea weren’t so bad after all. In fact, they could be quite pleasing when paired with the other sensations in the cup. I could see myself drinking this quite happily alongside a big bowl of stir-fried noodles.
Gunpowder: Because of what I’d read, I really wasn’t expecting to want to drink much of this past the first small cup. Learning that it is often made with mediocre leaves, I waited until I had received my glass gaiwan in the mail so I could at least get some visual enjoyment out of it. But I needn’t have worried. Besides the pleasure of seeing the little pellets (hence the name) unfurl in the water to reveal mostly whole leaves, this proved to be a good, sturdy drop.
So far, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised; I wasn’t sure that I’d actually like green tea enough to consider it a mid afternoon treat, but instead I look forward to more. The flavored greens are coming up, but these “straight” teas have been very welcome eye-openers.
As much fun as it is having the surprise of opening a present, admit it: it’s pretty fun to pick your own. This year that’s what I got to do, so I chose T2’s Nine Green Tea pack and this gorgeous little Japanese-inspired tea cup.
I want to learn more about different kinds of tea, having mainly stuck to flavoured teas up to this point. So I figured the best way to start was with a sampler of several teas of the same general type, and decided to “go green”, if you will. This pack has nine tiny tins of tea, all snugly fitting into a larger tin embossed with the T2 logotype and then cleverly wrapped in a folded box. On the inside lid of the big tin are a full description, ingredient list, and steeping instructions for each of the teas. Opening the tin I got a massive attack of floral, mint and fruit scents as each tea did its best to reach me first.
Now let me be honest. I do think the price for this pack is steep, considering there is between 22g to 38g of each tea. (By my calculations, there’s just over $30 worth of tea included.) I accept that the packaging is especially nice for a gift, but if you’re just wanting to try a bunch of teas yourself, you don’t need all the extra cost of packaging. You’d much rather spend that money on more tea! Each little tin is filled to the brim with tea, but since it is only a small amount of tea in the first place, you can’t very well use the tins later for more tea unless you want to store the same tea in multiple tins. Not to mention the fact that it is rather difficult to scoop out tea from the tin without making a mess.
Also, for unexplainable reasons, the two free single-cup samples (that T2 customarily includes in packages) this time were for two teas that were already part of this sampler! I had planned on asking for a sample of either Buddha’s Tears or Sencha Sensation when I placed my order, but there was no place to leave a comment. So I trusted that I would be given a sample of something else to entice me to make another purchase. Oh well. That’s not so much a complaint, but it doesn’t really do any favours for a customer or the company.
All that being said, I do love T2. Their tea is great. My current tea stash includes eight different teas from T2, including three quite large tins, and that’s of course not including this new sampler! They do a good job of marketing and their newly launched Tea Society features brilliant special events. I just wish they added an option of purchasing samples of about 3-4 steeped cups’ worth and put them in little ziplock bags–like they used to give me when I visited in store. For ordering online, the samples wouldn’t need to be posted in the nice big black boxes; the padded or tough bags are fine. I’d buy a ton more samples then and naturally that would lead me (and many others, I imagine) to more and bigger purchases. Just a thought.
Right now I’ve just finished my first pot of Young Hyson. T2 says that it’s a “medium-bodied all-rounder” and that sounded like a good place to start. We’re both right. All in all, I’m sure going to enjoy this. You’ll know more of how it goes as I do.
BTW: The underside of the cup says it’s by Alison Appleton. A gorgeous design, and lovely to hold and use. I’ll be looking for more from her in the future. No website launched yet, but her Facebook page is here.
Update (Aug. 7, 2012): Alison Appleton got in touch with me via Twitter following this post! She was able to direct me to her so-newly-launched-that-it-wasn’t-there-two-days-earlier website, alisonappleton.com. There’s too much that’s too gorgeous!