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I’ve met my match(a)!

Matcha: The Green Fairy Dust
Image courtesy of chashitsu_lasere (Flickr)

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.

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Fengqing Black Dragon Pearls by Teavivre

 

Fengqing Black Dragon Pearls, image courtesy of Teavivre.

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.

Longbourn Wedding Tea by Bingley’s Teas

Longbourn Wedding Tea,
image courtesy of Bingley’s Teas.

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.

My New Favorite Website: Steepster

I joined Steepster a couple of months ago, but only this week really started getting involved. It’s like a giant online tea party in a vast library–a library just about tea–where you don’t have to keep quiet: you mustn’t keep quiet, or you’ll never hear yourself over all the slurping and chattering. Steepster claims to be the “largest community-edited tea database on the Web.” I really don’t know what kind of competition there is for that title, but I do know there are a number of other lively online tea communities. But Steepster provides these numbers that would seem to support the claim: 29,183 teas listed; 3482 tea companies; 77,887 ratings; and 117,088 tasting notes!

So this is to give you warning: I’ll be posting even more about teas here. Sometimes it’ll be direct crossposting from tealogging I put up on Steepster. Other times I’ll do a shorter review there and post a more complete review here, or it’ll be vice versa. Just depends on my mood, I guess. In any case, come check out the site. And if you think you’ll enjoy it over there, follow me through my tealog.

It’s a tool, not a toy.

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A very necessary tool, I’m finding. It’s our new Breville One-Touch Tea Maker. I got it for us (yes, us) for our anniversary a couple of weeks ago. Now that I’ve had some time with it I can tell you, without a doubt, this thing is awesome. It means that Hubby can go to work in the cold, dark mornings with something to keep him both warm and awake. It’s so easy to use that he only needs to press two buttons and can have tea while still in half-asleep. Or to make it even easier for him (as any wife will tell you is important), I can set it to automatically start for him before I go to bed! And because it can keep the steeped tea warm for an hour, I don’t have to reheat my tea during my nonstop mornings while wrangling a baby and toddler. This is practically life-changing!

Those are the everyday helps, but here are more of the details. It has a 500mL (2 cups) minimum, but you get this machine because you’re a big tea drinker, so one little cup won’t do for you anyway. You put the loose tea into the basket and put the basket lid on that, then the basket is placed on the jug post and held there magnetically. Select one of five preset steeping temperatures (for green, black, white, herbal or oolong tea) or set a custom temperature. Then choose your preferred strength or go custom again! It gets the water to the right temperature and then lowers the tea basket into the water, steeps for the set time, and then raises the basket again, giving a good loud beep to let you know your cup of serenity is ready! What’s more important is this makes really good tea. I get more flavors coming out of each sip. Even a couple of teas that I hadn’t been so keen on before are really enjoyable now.

This of course means that I drink even more tea now, but that’s no bad thing. This morning’s treat: Terrific Toffee from T2 with just a spot of milk. But I remind you, it really is for both of us.