Friday, June 21, 2013

elderberry tea, culinary teas

Elderberry Tea is a flavored black tea from Culinary Teas, which is a great place to head if you're on a budget, but don't find normal samples quite large enough. Their one ounce packages are in the $1 to $4 range and an ounce goes further than you'd think!
A sour grape-y blueberry thing.

My first introduction to elderberries was, probably like many, in an insult hurled by the French gatekeepers to King Arthur and the knights in Monty Python an the Holy Grail.

"Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!"

Now, lest you think elderberries smell bad, I'll correct this. They smell like most berries. Which is to say sour with just a hint of something sweeter. The something sweeter here is a bit like a cross between a sour grape and a blueberry. (Which coincidentally is the taste, as well). 

This tree is also part of the honeysuckle family and liquors and sodas are made from the sweet elderflowers. The reference being made in Monty Python is actually to the father being a drunk!

Coincidentally, the strongest wand in the Harry Potter universe, the Elder Wand, is made from wood from the same type of tree.

Now, back to the tea. 

The very first thing I noticed is that there are no elderberries in the tea. Instead it is a combination of  "Luxury black tea, Sweetened cranberries, Safflower petals, Blackberry + lime leaves, Natural flavors."  This struck me as a little peculiar, but in the interest in giving it a fair shot I tucked this knowldege away for a little bit.
Vibrant; just like the smell!

The dry leaf here is so pretty! Bright red flowers, wisps of green lime leaf and cranberries dot the dark, twisty Ceylon leaves. The smell is very tart, almost a lemony citrus, but it goes deeper than that. There's a sweetness to it, like blackberry and a richness imparted from the base. It captures the essence of elderberry very well, even if there aren't any present.

My elderberries bring all
the cows to the yard!
The tea brews up coppery on a normal 3 min 30 second steep with boiling water, and not as dark as you might expect from a black tea. The coloration of a 16 hour cold steep was lighter yet. 

The taste of both was tart, but not so much so that lips were puckered. It captures the sett and sour of an elderberry very well. And has a depth to it that I was expecting, where the sour touches you first and then gives way to a sweet and rich berry flavor. There a very slight floral quality to it that also lends itself well here.

The florals of the cold steeped cup were just shy of undrinkable. It's been a while since I've found a loose leaf brew that was so soapy. You can sugar it out to a degree, but it also ruins some of the brighter citrus-like accents. I was a little disappointed by this as I initially felt like it would be a refreshing cold concoction.

Overall, it's a good tea, though. The base is smooth and the flavor is really special in the standard steep. The lack of elderberries didn't seem to change the elderberriness of the cup. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

genmaimatcha, american tea room

This tea combo of Genmaicha and Matcha is a little of both and not quite either. It doesn't really fulfill the craving for matcha, and it doesn't really fulfill the craving for a standalone genmaicha. It's it own delightful little niche.

Would you like a side of rice krispies with your tea?
After reading a tip on Steepster, I've started brewing this tea with extra leaf (about 2 tsp for 8 oz) and sticking with a steep time of about 50-60 seconds at 170F.  It keeps the flavor strong but prevents the sencha or matcha from getting bitter. 

The sencha here is grassy and vegetal, but smooth. And the matcha adds depth and a touch of sweetness. And there's more of than I've seen in similar blends. This is a very green genmaicha (and genmaimatcha)! There is also, of course, abundance of puffed rice which gives this tea a nice toasted brothiness.

I also really like the dusky jade color this tea turns. (Of course I forgot to snap of photo). It truly is a green green tea, which makes is almost as delightful to look at as it is to drink!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

banana coconut, persimmon tree tea

Spring has sprung and as a result, I've been neglectful. Shame on me!

Ahh Rooibos. We meet again.
We're back today though with a brand spanking new review for Banana Coconut, which is an herbal/rooibos blend from Persimmon Tree Tea.

I hestitantly considered this one, because rooibos and I have something of a disagreement when it comes to my tastes and how it tastes. But banana coconut sounded really luxurious and tasty. Luckily, Persimmon Tree Tea has these darling sample packages at affordable prices.

I snipped a small opening in the bag, warily seeking any hint of over-rooibosing. I found none. There wasn't even a hint of it in the dry leaf. Instead I definitely caught chamomile and coconut. Not really much in the way of banana, though.

It was still banana-y smelling
enough for Monkey to pop
out and check it out
I brewed this up for 5 minutes at 205F and definitely started smelling the rooibos at the 3 minute mark. Uh oh.

The result? All that worrying for nothing. The chamomile and floral aspect is pretty overwhelming in this tea. Maybe too overwhelming. I get the slightest hint of banana and some toasty tasting coconut, but if I’m not looking for those flavors I complete miss them. It tastes like a pot of sweetened chamomile with a tiny banana aftertaste.

I wasn't ready to give up on this tea yet though! It's got to be called Banana Coconut for a reason, and not an elaborate ruse to drink a cup of chamomile, right?  So, I attempted to bring out the other flavors and beat back the chamomile by adding a drizzle of honey. Success! Banana then chamomile. Still losing a lot of the coconut and caramel to chamomile, but at least I taste banana in my banana tea.
Lovely color!

I also did a cold steep of this one, because I thought the flavor profile might lend itself well to that. I was also hoping that it would draw out some different flavors than the standard steep.

There were definitely some different highlights in the cold brew. I get caramel and a lightly toasted nuttiness (from a combination of rooibos and coconut, if I had to guess) with a really light, natural banana flavor. The chamomile is most certainly there, and still in the forefront even, it just makes sure it shares that spot this way.

This tea is preferable when cold steeped, because the flavors are more true to what banana coconut should taste like. The banana flavor is nice and natural and doesn't remind me of banana suckers or runts or candy and I appreciate that. I would have appreciated more of that natural banananess though.

Persimmon Tree Tea

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

lapsang souchong barbecue sauce

Lapsang Souchong is one of the most divisive teas in the Western world with it's strong flavor and smokiness. You either love it you or you would rather get struck in the head with a campfire log because that's what it tastes like.  Unfortunately I fall into the latter camp. Even more unfortunate is that so does my fiance. And we're stuck with nearly 4oz of this tea. What's a girl to do?

Well, I tried to get creative.

So, having wanted to make pulled turkey sandwiches for a little while now, I decided to go ahead and rock this with a homemade barbecue sauce. Onto the recipe!

4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup tomato ketchup
1/2 cup sugar (or sugar substitute would work too)
1/4 cup yellow mustard
1/4 cup dijon mustard
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon onion salt
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Hot sauce (like tabasco) to taste 
1/2 cup Lapsang Souchong  (1 tbsp Lapsang Souchong leaves & 4oz water)

1. Prepare tea using 4oz boiling water to 1 tbsp leaves and let steep for 2-3 minutes. Set aside.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine all but tea.

3. Bring to boil and simmer for about 5 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and stir in tea.

Seriously. That's it. Quick and easy and really tasty. The smoky flavor imparted by the tea is far more subtle than liquid smoke, in a really good way. It has a richer flavor and adds a depth to this that I appreciated.

Posing in the crockpot with onions
So next time you want to make something that needs barbecue sauce, try making your own! My apartment smells amazing and I'm really happy how this turned out!

Happy sipping!

Monday, April 15, 2013

jun chiyabari himalayan evergreen (first flush), republic of tea

So, this wonderfully unique green tea is from Nepal and I'm hoping I'm not alone in thinking more of  the whole Himalayan thing when I hear Nepal and less of tea and things that are green. But here we are.
That being said, I'm not veering too far in the wrong direction on this one as the estate that produces this tea is about 6,500 ft above sea level. So, unlike the tea growing regions that are adjacent to the Darjeeling district (and climatically and geographically similar) and could be expected to be similar, this one is...different.

The leaves themselves are green and brown with flecks of gold throughout the leaf. It looks more similar to a delicate black than any sort of green tea. And the brewing instructions too (3 minutes at 185) were more similar to a delicate black or Darjeeling as well. The brew itself has a hue that is very green  tea to me though. 
Golden, buttery and perfect.
On the tongue, this tea feels like an oolong in all but name. It's more butttery than any unflavored green tea I remember trying and the flavor is a bit more pronounced. It has a wonderful asparagus-like taste, and finishes with lemon. So lemon-butter asparagus, I guess? Regardless, it works. And it works really well.

This is probably my new tea sipping obsession for now, because I can't get over how unique it is. 

The fact it smashes all of my favorite tea characteristics into one cup helps too.

Friday, April 12, 2013

caramel apple explosion, blue raven tea

It's snowing here.

Way to get my hopes up with those 50 degree days, Wisconsin.

 Rah rah go chives go!
Of course it got up the hopes of the chives in my little herb pot too. So, I'm rooting them on. It looks a little bit like everything else gave up. Not that I blame them. I'm ready to toss in the towel and smuggle myself south, too!

So, after having a couple what I'll call wishful thinking cups of tea this morning (fruity white teas that reminded of somewhere warmer), I decided to drink something that fit the weather better a rich creamy cup of apples and cinnamon sounded just about right.
These are some of the nicer black leaves
I've seen in flavored black tea.

The very first thing I noticed is that it didn't smell nearly as sweet or apple-y as I was expecting especially considering the big chunks of apple in there.

Then I added the 212 degree water and there was my apple!

I steeped for 3 minutes and was welcomed with a really warming cinnamon and apple smell, highlighted with sweetness.

The tea itself brewed a really rich red-brown and had a nice creamy mouthfeel. The initial taste that hit me was the apple, followed by some cinnamon and sweetness then ended off on a milky note. While some tea tastes better once it's cooled, as you can taste it better, this one tasted best piping hot.

It doesn't have a great second steep as most of the flavor comes out in the first cup and you just end up with a sadder, weaker version of the first.

Hello winter comfort in a cup.
I really like this tea. It's creamy, it's dessert, it's got this really awesome warming quality to it, but I'm not quite sure about the Caramel Apple Explosion bit. This tea tasted more like apple pie and ice cream rolled into my cup, which is a combination I like even more but wasn't banking on here.

My next experiment with the tea will probably be one of the most delicious tea lattes I've ever had. I only wish I thought of that first :9

Blue Raven Tea

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

la vie en rose, american tea room

If there's anything I've learned from tea sampling, it's that floral flavors are overwhelming if not done carefully. Jasmine can taste a bit like soap, and rose can taste a bit like perfume, and hibiscus is just their tart unfortunate cousin.

So, while Turkish delight might taste like rose jelly, it doesn't smell like perfume.  Rose tea, on the other hand, where you first taste with your nose can definitely come across like perfume.
These delectable sticky cubes of
rose water somehow don't taste like perfume.

Now, don't take this as me not liking these flavors. A well done Jasmine or Rose tea is heavenly. And I was excited to find a white rose tea without fruit in it!

It's a colorful and gorgeous tea with large leaves and
full rosebuds. 
This tea is described as a Bai Mu Dan style white tea with wild-harvested fushia rosebuds. And luckily it was just that heavenly floral cup I was looking for!

Opening the bag, I was a little concerned because of the immediate hit of rose to my nostrils, (of course after our freak snowfall last night, the smell of a flowery spring was welcome.) but I pressed forward.

Lovely and golden.
American Tea Room says to brew this for 5 minutes at 190 degrees, and while this seems like a bit long for a white tea, one look at the large full leaves and I knew it could stand up to it. Following those instructions, I was greeted with a light gold cup of tea that smelled of rose, but also of slightly earthy undertones.

The initial flavor I tasted was that of the rose, but that immediately gave way to the delicate almost loamy flavor of the white tea. There was very little astringency and the more I drank this tea, the more I tasted the subtleties of the white tea against its floral counterpart. It was a dusky very slightly vegetal taste that finished again on the perfumed note. The white tea more than stood up to the rose.

I could see myself really enjoying this tea in a bubble bath or with a box of chocolates. It has a  luxuriousness that I would want to save for treating myself or special occasions, but might sneak cups in to spoil myself anyway.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

red dragon pearrl, thepuriTEA

Unblended black tea is something that doesn't run in shades of grey for me. I either adore it, or I never want it to touch my tongue again. So, when I find a black tea that has me gushing, I want more. This tea was so far into the former category, that I was extremely fortunate to find that I could get about three infusions out of  the leaves before they started fading.

Not chocolate maltballs. Do not eat.

The tea is a gorgeous chocolate brown with flecks of gold and green, tightly wound into perfect little balls. The smell was sweet, dry and malty and had a chocolate tobacco-like quality (chocolate tobacco is probably not a thing, but if you smell this tea you now know what it would smell like).

I steeped 6 pearls in 16 oz of 212 degree water for two minutes for the first infusion, and three for each following. While steeping, the tea had a sort of rich earth and caramel smell, remaining sweet, but less dry. The first infusion led to a burgandy brown colored cup. The first cup was sweet and had the slightest hint of cocoa and malt. There was also a slight earty tobacco flavor that rounded it nicely. The finish isn't what I would call astringent, but it has a dry quality that melts away nicely.

Two steepings in, the balls started to fall apart.

The pearls were still (mostly) together at the end of the first steeping, just starting to lazily unfurl. By the end of the second they were fully separated, but still brewed a rich golden brown cup. The tea still tasted subtle and the sweetness was more pronounced over the earthy quality. The third steeping was a caramel color and was similar to the second cup, only more delicate.

Overall this was an amazing tea and very highly recommended!


Thursday, April 4, 2013

pineapple cilantro cream, butiki teas

The best thing about reviewing tea on a blog, is that it's rekindling a passion I've had for years and leading me to explore even more tea. Also, I get to drag my fiance along on parts this journey, so that's always a bonus.

This tea, however, is one I'm glad I didn't bring my fiance on for, because I'm pretty sure I just became hooked and maybe a little selfish because I definitely don't feel like sharing.

This beauty is all miiiiiiine.
My first impression of this tea when I opened the bag was that it smelled like ocean water and comfort -- it's sweet and seductive, but not cloying or unnatural. My second was that it was really lovely. There were chunks of pineapple and little flecks of pink flowers throughout.

I followed the direction on the bag and heated my water to 180 and put three teaspoons in my 16oz ingenuiTEA and waited three and a half anxious minutes (because something that smells that good has to taste good too).

After the three and a half minutes I was left with leaves that looked like, well, tea leaves. And a lovely golden cup of tea ambrosia.

Liquid escapism!

The first sip felt like an escape from a 45 degree spring in the midwest US and like being whisked to a private tropical hideaway. This tea has an almost creamy mouthfeel, which I loved. The pineapple also came through really well, and the cilantro came across as more of a nuanced herbal highlight than actual cilantro, on a delicate white base which tied everything together harmoniously. I did notice some very mild astringency while drinking. The aftertaste was sweet and initially strong, but fades quickly (which really just left me wanting another cup).

So, good bye reality. I'm going to go lose myself in another cup.

Butiki Teas

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

giddapahar musk '09, thunderbolt tea

Admittedly, I did rely on the magic of the internet to help me find Thunderbolt Tea. But I absolutely do not regret that nor find shame in it. So, if you're like me and haven't heard much about them, let me just start by explaining Thunderbolt and how they work.

Thunderbolt Tea is a direct distributor of high-quality single-estate Darjeelings. (Straight from Darjeeling). The prices are affordable and the teas are superb. The only catch is that you need a $75 purchase to receive free shipping, lest the shipping cost as much as the tea. After $75, your purchase is eligible for free shipping via IndiaSpeedPost. Now, they said my order would take 14-20 days to get here...

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when it got here in 7. Not only did my three purchases make it here, they were also kind enough to enclose several small sample packages. I'm excited for these as well :)

The Thunderbolt site is a serious fountainhead of knowledge, so even if you don't feel like tea, or care for tea (why are you here?!), the back-stories of each estate and tea are still pretty interesting.
This one just happens to be a second flush Darjeeling, which are plucked in May. Second flush teas typically yield a mature and mellow brew.

Now, onto the tea itself.

Isn't it beautiful?

The leaves are long and wiry. The yellows, browns and greens present were all beautiful and smelled thick and musky, but very sweet, with heavy notes of chocolate, flowers, wine and wood.

I brought some water to just below a boil and steeped about 1tbsp in 16oz of water and steeped for about three minutes.

It brewed deep amber-gold. Quite light for a black tea, actually. ( Of course some time after I enjoyed this first (second, and third) cuppa, I learned that most unblended Darjeeling teas are not fully oxidized; and therefore bear more resemblance to an oolong in processing, thus this lighter, more delicate flavor.)

As indicated by it's name, the tea was musky, but also persisting were those notes of chocolate and floral, as well as sweet and nutty. The flavor here is divine and wonderfully nuanced. I don't quite know where to start. It was musky, flowery, toast, nutty, a little smoky, with a sweet floral finish that lingered and lingered.

I sipped this tea, really just enjoying each taste. This is a particularly flavorful and aromatic tea, and a thoroughly dazzling drinking experience.

To view the vendor's website, please follow this link.

This review (with edits) was originally published May 2010 on my original teablog, UNCERTAIN-TEA.