Friday, February 29, 2008

Dragon's Beard

Tea: Dragon's Beard
Vendor: Teance
Price: $9.00 / 2 oz
Vendor Description: A ferocious name for a mild tea. Arrives tightly bundled like the whiskers of a Dragon. The tea sticks are broken into three equal pieces. Only a third of a tea stick is brewed at a time. When brewed, the flavor is mostly sweet with slight bitter edge.

This was the first tea that I have tried from Teance. It is actually a very unusual form of tea, it is large leaves and stems tied together tightly with red, white, and blue string. Since this is in a stick form it is almost like having a tea bag without having the actual bag. (Note that I took the picture with the tea in full form instead of the 1/3 to show it's interesting shape)

The flavor of the tea is very typical for a Chinese green tea. It was very smooth and almost naturally sweet, although not quite as much as a Japanese green tea. The aroma was rather mild and reminded me of Dragonwell. In general I was rather unimpressed with the flavor of the tea.

Rating: 6/10

Conclusion: While the tea itself was not spectacular, it was not lacking. The interesting form of this tea lends it to be a portable form of tea. More of a noveltea than anything. Interesting although it is a noveltea.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Passion Island

Tea: Passion Island - 5508
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $5.50 / 50g
Vendor Description: Tea flavored with sour-sweet passion fruit and mango is gently blended with bright petals and floral fragrance.

Every so often I like to change it up with what I am drinking when I don't feel like having another cup of wonderful Japanese green. Currently I've been having this. Passion Island is the very close to the Paradise Green offered by Lupicia, with one main exception. This is a black tea.

The flavor for this is very short lived, but has a very full body to it. It is very fruity tasting and has an aroma to match. Both the aroma and taste are very hard to describe as being a particular flavor, but has a sweetness to it like it was a tropical punch. The flavor is smooth, rising to a lovely cusp of sweetness and tapering off.

Rating: 8/10

Conclusion: A very nice flavored blend, nothing terribly unique about it though. It's a nice change from the norm.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Meng Ding Huang Ya

Tea: Meng Ding Huang Ya
Vendor: Seven Cups
Price: $ 26.10 / 50g
Vendor Description: This rare yellow tea from Sichuan province has been a tribute tea for centuries. It is mostly made from tea buds picked during the early spring to create a nutritious tea with a lightly sweet mild flavor. Enjoy the unique fragrance which comes from the complex processing of this tea. It is ideal for tea drinkers who like green tea for its nutritious and flavor but want to avoid stomach upset that can occur from drinking green tea. Yellow tea is legendary for its healing properties. While this cooling tea is very rich in antioxidants, there are only a few types of yellow tea processed due to the complicated and tedious process in making it. In fact, there are only two rare yellow teas that are still made today including Meng Ding Huang Ya and Jun Shan Yin Zhen. Unfortunately, another rare yellow tea Huo Shan Huang Ya is now only made into green tea. After the complex processing, this lightly oxidized tea has a mild flavor without the grassy smell associated with green tea.

More Vendor Information:
Location: Sichuan Province
Tea Bush: Ming Shan #9
Tea Master: Li Hui
Harvest Time: March 2nd
Picking Standard: 85% tea buds 15% 1 bud to 1 leaf
Brewing vessel: glass cup, gaiwan, glass or porcelain pot,
Brewing Guidelines: 1st infusion 1/2 Tbs per 20 oz 160F for 2 min
Infusions: at least 4 times

This was my first time having yellow tea, and my was it a treat. The buds are so small and uniform, when scooping the tea out it almost seems like you're not measuring tea, but rather like a seed or a bean of some sort. The buds are very uniform and firm, it lacks that risk of breaking like when scooping a White Peony.

The aroma has a certain nuttiness similar to a dragonwell tea. I'm not a very big fan of this aroma, but once I had tried the tea it matched up well with it. It is a delicate aroma though, not overpowering and not overbearing.

The taste of the tea is smooth. That was the first thing that came to mind, it slowly builds up in flavor and then tails off just as slowly as it came. There is a long aftertaste that leaves you with just that slight sense of astringency that makes you notice that you've just finished a nice sip of tea.

Rating: 8/10

Conclusion: While this tea is very delicate and graceful, it has a problem matching the price tag. It is very nice for a special occasion tea, but definitely not a regular every day tea. It's worth trying out, but I wouldn't commit to much of it unless you like Dragonwell.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ariake Yutakamidori

Tea: Ariake Yutakamidori
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $4.50 /50g
Location: Kagoshima, Japan
Vendor Description: An early-summer-picked tea with a lengthy steaming process from Ariake-cho, Oosumi Peninsula, Kagoshima Pref. Its sweet taste similar to sweet potatoes makes it an alluring tea and easy to drink.

I was very skeptical when it came time to try out this tea. I figured the description that it had a taste reminiscent of sweet potatoes was well, a stretch of the imagination to say the least. Amusingly I was actually quite off.

Upon the first infusion of this tea, it seemed quite pale and weak. That was my first impression at least, but as I noticed the full flavor of the tea more, the sweet potato flavor really did prove true to it's name. Toward the later portion of the taste there is a very distinct and very strong sweetness that is best described as sweet potatoes. The tea finishes on a sweet note with almost no astringency and having had almost replaced any sense of bitterness with the sweetness of the sweet potato flavor.

Amused by this tea, I decided to do a second infusion for review. The second infusion had a considerably different taste. It had a strong bitterness to it and a much higher sense of astringency, and almost no sweet potato flavor to it at all, a complete switch of the first infusion.

Rating: 9/10

Conclusion: While i'm not sure if sweet potato is the best flavor for my tea, considering this is not a flavored tea it was quite remarkable. This tea is almost like a grab bag, you don't know what you're going to taste from one infusion to the next. I liked it a lot though, the sweetness of the first and then the strong bold flavors of the second. I will definitely be buying this one again.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Darjeeling - Badamtam FTGFOP1

Tea: Badamtam FTGFOP1/07-DJ6
Vendor: Lupicia USA

This tea was part of a package deal and it seems that it is not on the Lupicia website. I believe that the plantation specified Darjeelings are a store only item for now.

This was actually the first Darjeeling that I have ever had. It turns out that as I started learning more about Darjeelings, I started out with the bar fairly high. The Badamtam estate is in the Darjeeling West area of Darjeeling, India. While I will probably do a post later in more detail about Darjeeling teas I will cut the description of Darjeeling short for today.

While I haven't had enough Darjeeling to have a very good comparison to review here, I very much enjoyed this tea. It has a very light flavor to it, with a certain loftiness which is a quality that I find very hard to describe. Much as Darjeeling is referred to as the Champagne of Teas, how do you describe the flavor of champagne to someone? The flavor of the tea is very much floral and fruity, but nothing like any flower or fruit that I know of. It has a certain crispness that is not due to a bitterness or particular astringent nature, but just is there.

Rating: 10/10

Conclusion: While I absolutely love this tea, I cannot find myself a way to describe how and why, aside from I just do love it. Hopefully I will be able to develop a stronger baseline of what a Darjeeling should taste like and why this tea is wonderful, but for now, it is.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

White Peony

Tea: White Peony
Vendor: Cha'a

This tea was a gift from a friend of mine. I'm not quite sure where it is from as the vendor name seems to return quite a few hits on google (for obvious reasons). This tea comes packaged in a tin which, interestingly does not form an airtight seal once opened. During packaging and shipping it looks as though there is a somewhat airtight seal created through a few precisely fitted metal pieces. The main can portion holds a smaller cup for holding the stainless steel infuser that comes with the tea, which is then topped by a lid. The lid and the can itself fit together, but do not have an airtight seal, simply the tape / stickers holding it in place.

Everything about this tea seemed to be quite average. The aroma was what I have come to expect from a white peony aka Bai Mu Dan. It has the normal sweetness of a smell as other white teas do, and the somewhat normal strength of smell compared to a silver needle. The color was also quite representative of a Bai Mu Dan.

The taste of this tea as well was well, quite average. It has the appropriate sweetness and strength of a Bai Mu Dan, with little to no astringency and no bitterness. This tea is really neither remarkable nor does it have any great faults.

Rating: 4/10

Conclusion: While this tea is not remarkable, it does not seem to contain any particular faults. The lack of particularly good packaging seems to not have effected this tea. This is a good baseline white tea for any wishing to try out or know the traits of a white tea. For those who know what white tea is like, you know what this tea is like.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Review - The Tea Companion

This review is about The Tea Companion by Jane Pettigrew. When I first saw this book, I was rather intrigued by it. I thought it had some pretty good potential as a book on Tea. The most unique portion of this book was the areas of focus on it.

The book is divided into two main portions, The story of tea and a Global Tea Directory. The first section in my opinion was the better of the two. Like most tea books it covers the origins of tea in China and then the interaction with the British and the following development of tea in other countries. This book however has more detail regarding the sale of tea in Europe and the role tea played with the Americas. This book also has a good overview of a lot of other aspects of tea that are often overlooked. This includes drinking tea with milk, assorted tea equipment and certain blends and flavorings. This section is short, but filled with quality information.

The second section is very focused on different sources of tea and types. This is unique from other books on tea in that it pays a fair amount of attention to African teas. A lot of attention is paid to black tea in this section, with glances over the Chinese and Japanese teas. This is counter to most of the books on tea that I have read recently. The small blurbs on each individual teas are beautifully photographed with both samples of the dry and wet leaf.

Rating: 7/10

Conclusion: This is a good introduction book as advertised. It has a uniquely European accent in regards to tea which makes it stand out. This focus is where this book lacks though. It should at least hit on some more of the points in reference to the Asian brewing equipment or teas.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Book Review - Tea

This time I decided to read Tea by Christine Dattner with photographs by Sophie Boussahba. This book is actually two books packaged together, The History of Tea and The Taste of Tea. Both of these books are rather short in length, but they are packaged beautifully. The two books come inside of a larger book style cover which is tied closed with a ribbon. This outer cover opens like a book to show the two books inside of it. The style makes this book perfect for a coffee er.. tea table.

The History of Tea is the standard introduction to tea book, but instead of the normal rhetoric about the origins of tea and what not, this is more of a survey of tea traditions in assorted locations with brief little blurbs about each one. It seems to be focusing on interesting tidbits and facts about tea and locations than try to convey the whole picture. Considering how short this book is, this is a very smart approach. But the main reason to look through this book are the photographs. They are absolutely amazing. Most of the pictures are simple yet absolutely gorgeous. I would have bought this book purely for the illustrations.

The second book, The Taste of Tea, is again the fairly standard encyclopedia of different forms of tea. And like all tea encyclopedias it does not show nor does it really attempt to show all of the different forms of tea. One interesting point though is that it shows different blends that the author had created at their tea shop. The illustrations are nice, but nowhere near the level of the History of Tea.

Combined these two books make an excellent book to have on the tea table. Not exactly material for a long read with a nice cup of tea, but a nice quick read and way to show the more interesting and gorgeous points of tea out to a friend.

Rating: 9/10

Conclusion: This book makes a wonderful addition to a tea table, but could be more in depth like many coffee table books are. It is a very simple and quick intro to tea for newcomers though. I liked this book a lot.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Teabag - Ureshino

Tea: Ureshino Tamaryokucha - 7405
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Location: Saga, Japan
Vendor Description: Ureshino in Saga Dt., long a producer of roasted Kamairicha, nowadays steam-processes Tamaryokucha, its mainstream tea. This tea has beautiful thinly curled leaves and a deep dark green water color.

While this does not appear to be a regular part of the USA catalog of the Lupicia lineup, I found some of this in teabag form at one of the SF locations. The teabag is the same style as it normally is for Lupicia, I tried this one in the 10 pack which is not individually wrapped, but packaged in a ziplock bag.

While I don't think that this is a pan fired tea, it does have the taste of one. So far I have not been a big fan of this type of tea.

The tea has a very vegetal aroma to it with a very bright yellow green color to the liquor. It has a grassy flavor to it with only a little bit of bitterness. It leaves you with a moderate sense of astringency.

Rating: 4/10

Conclusion: While there are some who seem to greatly enjoy this type of tea, I find it to be lacking of it's own distinct qualities, lying at the crossroads of a number of different styles of tea.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Teabag - Jardin Sauvage

Tea: Jardin Sauvage 8511
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Vendor Description: A non-fermented rooibos tea. Green rooibos is flavored with sweet ripened mangos and citrus fruits.

This was a very interesting teabag from Lupicia. It was primarily interesting because it is a teabag made from rooibos. Rooibos does not expand when steeped when compared to most green teas. So the shape and style of the teabag does not matter as much. But it is still packaged in the same manner as the other Lupicia teas.

While I don't have much experience with rooibos teas, I was rather happy with this one. The tea has a very short lived flavor in comparison to most other teas that I have had, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in boldness. This tea is very bold and has a strong sweetness to it. The citrus fruit flavor is very apparent giving it a certain tang to the taste that leaves you with a very clean feeling. The mango provides a lot of the sweetness flavor when combined with he rooibos and citrus leaves you with a clean feeling in your mouth.

Rating: 8/10

Conclusion: While I don't have much to compare the flavor of this rooibos against, I did enjoy it thoroughly. I liked the sweetness of it, and feel that it makes a good teabag because it does not need to expand and does not get restricted by the teabag itself.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Teabag - Sencha

Tea: Sencha
Vendor: Den's Tea
Price: $6.00 / 16 teabags
Vendor Description: Den's Tea best selling tea bag. This is the same great quality sencha that we offer loose, with the added convenience of a tea bag. Each tea bag is individually wrapped in a foil pouch to insure freshness.

This is a teabag from Den's Tea. The packaging for this teabag is individually wrapped mylar, in a manner similar to Lupicia. When I opened this teabag though I was a bit surprised to see the string and tag both stained light green. There was apparently a fair amount of fine dust with the sencha in the teabag that got onto the string and tag during transit. One thing that I did find a bit odd was the tag on the end of the teabag is in a horseshoe shape. I'm not quite sure what the particular reasoning is for this, but I'm guessing it's there for attaching to the lip of cup or something of that like.

When I brewed this teabag it was a bit surprising that the teabag was quite full once the sencha inside absorbed the water. It expanded more than any of the previous teabags i was reviewing had. So far of the teabags that I have reviewed though, this one had the smallest particles, most deserving of the title of being dust in the teabag.

The tea itself was rather interesting though, I have not had much experience with Den's Tea yet, and this sencha was very smooth. It was very sweet and smooth, which are both characteristics of a gyokuro, but it still tasted like a sencha. There was no sense of astringency afterwards, and little to no bitterness. It was light and refreshing to the taste.

Rating: 5/10

Conclusion: While this is a decent quality teabag, the tea left me longing for a stronger more full bodied sencha. The tea inside the bag was primarily dust and stems, which compared to the other teabags I have been reviewing was sub par for the course. I was generally unimpressed, but at the same time not disappointed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ureshino Tamaryokucha

Tea: Ureshino Tamaryokucha 7405
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $8.00 / 50g
Location: Saga, Japan
Vendor Description: Ureshino in Saga Dt., long a producer of roasted Kamairicha, nowadays steam-processes Tamaryokucha, its mainstream tea. This tea has beautiful thinly curled leaves and a deep dark green water color.

This was actually the same tea I reviewed earlier in teabag form. I didn't realize at the time that they were the same tea, and so I had taken notes accordingly. After realizing that the two teas were the same I wondered if I would come to a different conclusion based upon the loose vs. the teabag.

My initial impression of this tea was that the infusion was pale green with a slight cloudiness to it. It had a very normal and mundale aroma to it, although there was a slight grassiness to it.

The taste of the tea was lightly grassy, with a small tang to it on the back end. I noticed hints of a vegetal aftertaste. I tried a second infusion fearing that this was just a weak infustion to begin with. The second infusion was actually quite different. It was very full bodied with a higher sense of astringency and it retained a small bitter tang at the end.

Rating: 4/10

Conclusion: While this was very similar to the teabag form of the same tea, it reaffirmed that there was nothing spectacular about this tea. There are better teas out there and I was relatively unimpressed.

Teabag - Tamayokucha

Tea: Tamayokucha
Vendor: Two leaves and a bud
Price: $7.99 / 15 teabags
Source: Japan
Vendor Description: This incredible Japanese tea is steamed as it dries, yielding a sweet, light flavor with no bitterness - just the taste of a misty morning in a Kyoto garden. Like all high quality Japanese green teas, this tea is green, not brown.

This is the first offering from Two Leaves and a Bud that I have tried. Their teabags are made of the silken material individually packed. The packaging is transparent plastic, but I don't know if it is UV blocking or not. If it does not block UV then it would be important to keep these out of direct sunlight. UV destroys vitamin C. The teabag is a tetrahedral shape which is good.

The tea has a very unusual flavor at the onset, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. It has a fruity somewhat vegetal flavor to it. It is very smooth with no bitterness and a very light sense of astringency. It seems almost like a Chinese green tea rather than a Japanese green tea. Unlike the description that it has, the tea is not green. It's more of a yellow color.

Rating: 3/10

Conclusion: While the teabag style is quite good, the tea itself is rather unremarkable. It is advertised as being a Japanese green tea, but it is not particularly representative of green tea. If they had more of a selection this could be fine, but as the only Japanese green it seems a bit odd of one. It seems almost like a Chinese green tea than a Japanese green tea.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Teabag - Grapefruit Green

Tea: Grapefruit Green 38223
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $4.00 / 5 teabags
Vendor Description: The refreshing aromas of green tea and grapefruit are harmonized to create this fresh-tasting tea. A faint touch of bitterness hidden in its astringency is for the adult taste.

This is a flavored green tea from Lupicia. I actually am not a big fan of grapefruit, so I didn't have very high expectations of this tea.

The teabag came individually wrapped, although there are two kinds of packaging that they offer. If you get the 5 pack the teabags are individually wrapped. The 10 pack is just a resealable bag. The teabag is trapezoidal and made of the nylon mesh.

When brewing this tea, the grapefruit smell is rather strong. It is strong enough to drown out any sense of smell from the base green tea. The scent of green tea is normally rather faint so it is not hard for that to get drowned out.

The taste of the tea was quite strong with the grapefruit flavor. It was difficult to tell that the base tea was a green tea. The flavors do actually blend well together though. The grapefruit lends well to the crispness of the tea. When you first sip this tea you notice first and foremost the grapefruit flavor, but then as that tails off you notice the tang from the base tea. The pairing is very good and lends to each other nicely.

Rating: 8/10

Conclusion: While I was afraid that the grapefruit flavor would be too overpowering, it ended up being a very nice pairing. This is a very nice flavored tea, and the teabag style is very good. It's definitely worth a try.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Teabag - Gyokuro

Tea: Gyokuro
Vendor: Maeda-en
Price: $6.50/10 teabags
Vendor Description: Maeda-en's Premium Gyokuro Tea Bag is characterized with clear crystal blue-green color along with Gyokuro's unique balance between bitterness and sweetness. For maximum brewing, we use nylon-mesh tea bag.

This is the first teabag that I decided to review. I was a bit skeptical about this when i picked it up, mostly because I picked it up at an asian grocery store. I have had some of the products from them in the past and was generally happy, although as I got more and more into loose leaf tea I started stepping away from buying tea from non-specialty shops. I love the taste of gyokuro and I figured that this might be a good solution for it.

This teabag is made of the nicer non-paper material. Although the shape of the teabag is the flat satchel type. This was actually the first time I had seen one of these in this shape / material combination. The teabag does come individually wrapped in a foil package.

The leaf itself was rather small and it was a smaller particle size than most gyokuro I have had from them in regular loose leaf packaging from them. The brewed liquor was actually more of a yellow color than I normally see in a gyokuro.

The tea has a very mild vegetal flavor to it, with a weak flavor to it. There is a very light sense of astringency, but all in all this was a very weak flavored gyokuro. This was actually rather surprising considering I steeped this teabag with a rather small amount of water so the ratio of tea to water was rather high. All in all this was a very unremarkable gyokuro.

Rating: 2/10

Conclusion: I was hoping for more out of this teabag, but was disappointed. The style of teabag is ok, but I would have thought a tetrahedral or pyramid shape would have been better. The tea is very weak all around and not worth the cost. All in all you're better off looking elsewhere.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Teabags, an epic quest

So for a while I've been toying with teabags, trying to find a good solution for tea on the go and at the office. I ended up just bringing in a teapot to the office though. But nonetheless I endeavored onto this epic quest and felt that I should document some of it. So I felt I would start by taking a look at some of the styles of teabags that I have seen.

The first thing that I take a look at in a teabag is the material. There are two predominant types of material that I have seen recently.

1) Paper - Good old paper. Tried and true, it's been around since the beginning of teabags. The downside of paper is that it absorbs some of the flavor and you can't really see the tea very well. Paper is also not very forgiving for water to flow through the teabag. On the upside, paper is cheap and biodegradable.
2) Silken / Poly - This is a material that I don't really know how to define it since I can't find much information about the material itself. It is being used in most newer tea bag companies now, and it is reported to be biodegradable. The material does not absorb water, it is a mesh that allows for rather good water flow, but does not dump material into your cup, and is biodegradable. The downside is that i'm sure this material isn't as easy to produce as regular filter paper and is more expensive.

The second thing to look for in a teabag is the shape of the teabag. In my recent experience there are a few different shapes of teabags floating around nowdays.

1) Satchel - At least that's the closest of a name that I can think of to name them, this is the traditional shape of a teabag, folded closed at the top, accordion fold at the bottom. The two side views resemble a triangle and a square when you look at it from the side and the front respectively. If you want to think of an example, think of the traditional Lipton teabag.
2)Pod - The second type of teabag that I have run across is the pod shape, for well you guessed it, pod brewing devices. These are small round teabags that fit into the pod brewing devices normally used for that other less graceful beverage.
3) Tetrahedron - The tetrahedron shape of teabags is getting quite popular among the higher end companies that generate teabags. These are often referred to as pyramid style teabags, but in fact are not pyramids. They have only 4 points to them.
4) Pyramid - This is a true pyramid shaped teabag, and there is only a few companies I have ever seen use these. The packaging does take up more space for them, but they are very nice to see.

Next up is packaging. There are many types of packaging used to store teabags and this does matter when selecting a teabag.

1) Individually wrapped - Individually wrapped teabags are best, since air is only exposed to one teabag at a time and only when you open the teabag. The best wrapping is airtight and UV blocking. This often takes the form of mylar packaging to prevent light and air from being exposed to the tea.
2) Resealable container - More often than not, not all teabags are individually wrapped. This tends to be more environmentally friendly, but exposes the teabags to more air. This is a better solution if you are using the same teabags frequently and go through them in a rather fast manner.

Finally you should look at the tea itself. Most people who read this blog though should know what to look for in the leaves themselves. Although it is frequent and common to see tea that is actually dust or brushings. Teabags are often the place where these end up.

Now with all of that in mind, let's try to find some good teabag tea. Although I probably won't be picking up much of the more common teabags up for review (read Lipton).

Book Review : Tea Chings - The tea and herb companion

Today is time for another book review. This book is Tea Chings - The tea and herb companion by The Republic of Tea (hereafter referred to as RoT). I ended up picking up this book on the way to the airport since I knew I had a long layover. This was a mistake.

The book is divided into two main sections Tea and Herbs. The Tea section was a very broad set of information about the assorted forms of tea, and it was a very quick cursory glance of many of the facets of tea. So broad and quick that you learn much more by reading a few of the pages on wikipedia. There was very little to no really unique information to this book. There are many parts where it made me wonder how many people were writing this book, it almost seemed like it was written a page at a time by different people. One section that comes to mind lists different green teas and describes them. In this section Dragonwell and Long Jing were listed separately, even though they are the same tea. The book is also heavily biased toward RoT products. They don't mention them directly, but it is a very noticeable bias. It also lacks some rather important information. For instance in the section it mentions the Indian black tea grading system it forgets to mention the grades of FTGFOP and SFTGFOP, citing TGFOP as "the absolute top grade".

The second section is in regard to herbs. Now I didn't know much about this going in, and figured that it might have some light to shed on the subject, but again the information was so broad and skimming that I know I would have a better understanding from reading some articles in Wikipedia. It glanced at many facets of deriving medicine from herbs and some instances throughout history. This is a much broader topic and should be covered in much more depth than this book.

I don't really want to go into more detail about this book, well because it doesn't even deserve it. I felt that this book was a waste of my time and money for a book on RoT propaganda. I don't recommend this book to anyone and there are much better books out there for the money and overall.

Rating: 0/10

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tearoom/store: Seven Cups

Today I thought I would review a tearoom / store that I recently had the chance to visit. The store is named Seven Cups. It is owned by a husband and wife, the husband who spent a good deal of time as a tea buyer, and his wife who is a certified Chinese tea master. The name of the store comes from a poem by Lu Tong, which is on their website. The store is divided into two main areas, the front area being the actual store where the back half is for lessons and as a tearoom. The front is filled with an assortment of jars with samples of each of their teas (and from where they get their teas for serving in the tea room) along with foil sealed airtight pouches for purchase. About a third of the front room is taken up by their selection of pu-erh cakes. I'm not versed at all in pu-erh, but from what I heard it was apparently a quite good selection of pu-erh. They also had a few sampler packs, individual samplers, and a good deal of teaware. They had a surprising selection of yixing teapots and assorted accessories. Their prices seemed to be quite reasonable, at least for those items that I had seen at other stores.

Their selection of tea is almost exclusively Chinese. I believe I spied some genmaicha sitting on a shelf somewhere. And of the teas that they had, most of them were teas that I had heard of or read about, but never saw before in a tea store. This included some yellow tea and some fancier oolongs, like Big Red Robe. These rarer teas do have a price to match though.

I had the opportunity to try out some Yellow tea, Meng Ding Huang Ya, and this was my first time trying it out. It was incredibly smooth and mellow, it was worth it's reputation. I of course had to get some. The review will be coming soon.

Another thing to note was the tea club that they have. It is a combination discount club and reward program in one. It's free to sign up for and you get a 10% discount. On top of that every dollar earns you a point toward a 10 dollar gift certificate, 100 points per 10 dollar cert. At the same time they are currently running a promotion with 20% off everything. This does not combine with the 10% discount though. You do accrue points though. I couldn't help but pick out a few items, including the wonderful yellow tea.

If you are ever in the Tucson area, I would suggest stopping in and looking around. Or if you are looking for something special and Chinese in the way of tea, check out their website. They also have a few videos and the like about tea and how to brew them.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Au Chocolat

Tea: The Au Chocolat 5504
Vendor: Lupicia USA

This is another one of the black flavored Teas from Lupicia. Like the cookie tea it has a very appropriate and very strong smell to the leaves.

Also like the cookie tea, this tea has a large number porus particles. This tea smells a lot like chocolate. Brewing the tea smells a lot like chocolate as well. The liquor has a very dark color to it, that seems almost like coffee in color.

My first thought of this tea is that it was sweet, but not that sweet. It also was not an umami sweetness to it. This really was not much of a surprise to me though, umami is relatively unique to green teas. There was no bitterness to it and a low level of astringency to it.

My first thought to this was that it was disappointing as well since I could not taste very much of a chocolate taste to it. I decided to try this with a bit of sugar and cream. When I added in the cream and sugar it changed the flavor completely, it tastes much more like a cup of hot chocolate than before. This is making me reconsider the cookie tea, which I will probably re-review later with some cream and sugar.

Rating: 8/10

Conclusion: Without the cream and sugar this tea was rather unimpressive. When I tried it with the cream and sugar it was very tasty. While I don't think of this as a spectacular pure tea, it is a nice change.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gyokuro Seiran No Homare

Tea: Gyokuro Seiran No Homare 8001
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $15.00/50g
Source: Japan
Vendor Description:
Created by blending aromatic Yabukita brand tea from Shizuoka with "Komakage", a special Uji tea variety. This graceful tea has a deep rich flavor and distinctive freshness.

This is a blend gyokuro, and it is very interesting because the two major teas creating the blend are from Shizuoka and Uji. If the two shinchas that I tried earlier are any indication of this, this was leading up to be a very interesting tea.

My initial thought while making this tea was that it had a very grassy scent to it. It wasn't as grassy as the Yame Gyokuro though.

The tea had a very strong bitterness at the start which was followed by a grassy taste. The grassy taste matched the scent. It was also followed up with a lack of astringency.

After I had brewed this tea though, that I had brewed it at too high of a temperature. If I had more of it to try I would try brewing at an even lower temperature, although I only had a small sample and was not able to make another batch.

Rating: 5/10

Conclusion: While I had some interesting hopes for this tea, it proved to be unimpressive. This is though quite likely that I botched this tea, so if I get a chance to try this again I will probably review this tea again.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Takachiho Takachiho

Tea: Takachiho Takachiho 7408
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $4.00 / 50g
Source: Japan
Vendor Description: Tea made by Granny Hatsuko who obstinately continues to produce old-style Kamairicha. Enjoy the special aroma of "Kamako" (aroma of a roasting pot).

This tea seemed very interesting to me for a number of reasons. Most amusingly the description provided by Lupicia. It makes it sound very interesting, but at a price of $4.00/50g, it seems like this might not be the best of teas. ($4.00 / 50g is about as cheap as tea gets from Lupicia).

The tea leaves were rather curled which is rather unusual for a Japanese tea, most of them have such nice thin looking needles like senchas.

When brewing the tea though, it did deliver on the special aroma. It has a very deep strong scent to it, like a very strong sencha.

The tea has a very sweet and almost fruity taste to it. It had a light crisp flavor, but without the bitterness involved. The taste was very short lived though and left me with a surprisingly high level of astringency.

Rating: 7/10

Conclusion: While this is not an exceptional tea, it is very interesting and tasty. It is also on the cheaper side which is always a plus. I wouldn't drink this tea on a daily basis, but it is a nice change up every so often.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Gokase Kamairicha

Tea: Gokase Kamairicha 7403
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $7.00 / 50g
Source: Gokase, Miyazaki, Japan
Vendor Description: Despite the rarity of Kamairicha these days, this Kamairicha with its clean aroma was proudly created by Mr. Korogi at his own tea garden in Gokase, Miyazaki Pref. He was awarded a Ministry prize.

This tea had a very bright yellow green color. This is a bit difficult to see in the picture, but the liquor had an almost luminescent color to it.

The tea has a very heavy roasted flavor, reminiscent of a bancha, but not quite as strong. There is a mild bitterness to this tea, but the bitterness is not a sharp flavor, which again is reminiscent of a bancha. There is no bite peak to it, and the bitterness is primarily covered up by the astringency. There is a medium level of astringency at the end of the taste.

Rating: 5/10

Conclusion: This tea seems to be like a combination of a bancha and a sencha. I'm not terribly impressed by this, it seems rather middle of the road.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ei Ayatsuyu

Tea: Ei Asatsuyu 7402
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $11.00 / 50g (with tin)
Source: Ei, Kagoshima, Japan
Vendor Description: Tea produced in Ei, Kagoshima Pref. has a unique sweet flavor and bright water color. Also referred to as "Natural Gyokuro", it has very little astringency, which makes it easy to drink.

When I first opened up this tea, it looked to be another very small particle tea. And it was. The liquor generated by the tea was very murky in color which was at least partly due to the high particulate content of the tea. Interestingly the description suggests a bright water color, but I only noticed it being very dark in color in comparison to most other green teas I've had as of late.
Actually tasting this tea though was very close to the suggested description. Like gyokuro it does have almost no bite, and it did have a light sense of astringency. The flavor was very short lived though, with the taste occurring very quickly and ending just as fast. There is a sense of bitterness though that is not found in gyokuro, that develops slowly over time and tapers off with the taste.

Rating: 5/10

Conclusion: This tea is unique in that it doesn't classify well as a sencha, and is not very similar to a gyokuro as well. It lies somewhere in the middle of two in terms of taste and qualities. The flavor though lacks any truly outstanding qualities.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sencha Extra Fine

Tea: Sencha Extra Fine
Vendor: Dragonwater Tea Company
Price: $20.25 / 4 oz.
Vendor Description: Extra fine grade Japanese green tea yielding a smooth, aromatic cup.

This is the higher end version of the two specifically sencha varieties that Dragonwater offers.

When brewing this tea the aroma had hints of grassy tones, but these were overpowered by something more unusual in the scent. There is something rather pungent about the smell that I could not put my finger on.

The flavor of this tea was very sweet for a sencha. It had a bit of an odd flavor, it felt heavier than most senchas that I have had. It had a very high sense of bitterness, that was not a rapid peak of bitterness, but rather a slower growing plateau. It finishes off with a light sense of astringency.

Rating: 7/10

Conclusion: While this is not a bad sencha, for the highest grade they offered I somewhat expected a more refined taste. It is very different than a typical sencha making it very unique.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Tea: Kokeicha
Vendor: Dragonwater Tea Company
Price: $7.50 / 4 oz.
Source: Japan
Vendor Description: A Japanese green tea based from Matcha powder.

I had seen this form of tea show up on a few different vendor sites, and it had peaked my curiosity. I decided to get some, although at the prices I didn't have very high expectations. This is a relatively inexpensive tea and considering the description says it is "based" on Matcha powder it doesn't look much like actual Matcha.

The "leaves" themselves were much darker in color than I expected. I refer to them as "leaves" because they are far from that. They are hard little noodle like bits because the paste these were created from was squeezed out like a pasta maker. Once you've used them you can smear them with your finger into a paste.

The tea itself was very mild in flavor. It hinted at sweetness, but also had no bitterness and no astringency. The flavor hinted at the taste of matcha, but didn't follow through. This is a very unusual tea.

Rating: 8/10

Conlcusion: While this tea is very hard to describe, at it's price it is worth picking some up. It is a very mild and delicate flavor, but if you're expecting something very similar to matcha go get some real matcha.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Gyokuro Asahina

Tea: Gyokuro Asahina
Vendor: Dragonwater Tea Company
Price: $38.50 / 4 oz.
Source: Uji, Japan
Vendor Description: Gyokuro, "Jewel Dew", is one of the most sought after green teas in Japan. Produced at the historic Uji tea gardens near Kyoto, the bushes for this tea are shaded by straw mats before harvesting to slow their growth and enhance the tea.

At the price of almost 40.00/ quarter pound I was expecting quite a bit from this gyokuro. I found the price right similar to the Yame Gyokuro from Lupicia. Considering how much I enjoy that tea, I had high hopes for this one. This was also the first tea that I tried from Dragonwater, so a lot was riding on this one.

The first thing that I noticed while preparing this tea was the rather large needles the tea consisted of. I was rather surprised to see this in a gyokuro. Most gyokuros that I see have smaller needles, where large needles are most common with high end senchas from my experience. While brewing this tea had a very delicate, yet sweet aroma to it. It is an aroma worth sitting there and pondering.

The actual flavor was very distinct. It had a sensation which I want to describe as bitterness, but unlike most sencha bitterness it wasn't sharp uplifting bitterness, but felt like a deep downward bitterness. In general the flavor was flat and not particularly sweet.

Rating: 6/10

Conclusion: The taste of this gyokuro was very unusual and unique, but not what i'm normally looking for in a gyokuro. There was no grassiness to it, and at the price I expected a more by the book flavor of gyokuro.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Makurazaki Saemidori

Tea: Makurazaki Saemidori 7400
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $11.00 /50g
Source: Kagoshima, Japan

Saemidori is a breed particular breed of tea, which is referred to by some as having a "Natural Gyokuro" taste to it. It is apparently a difficult breed to grow and requires high maintenance.

Like the fuka-midori this tea had a lot of smaller particles which caused the brewed tea to have a very cloudy appearance. The color of the brewed tea, albeit cloudy, had a very radiant shade of bright green to it. The cloudiness lent it a much brighter color than many other green teas due to more reflective content.

This was a very subtle tea all around. The scent of the tea is very light and grassy smelling, but pleasant quite pleasant. Everything about this tea seemed to be very delicate.

The flavor starts off very light with a medium grassy flavor. It then builds up a small amuont of astringency. It has almost no bitterness to it, so it is more akin to drinking gyokuro than it is a sencha. If I didn't know that this was a sencha I would have guessed it was a gyokuro based on the subtleness of the taste and lack of bitterness.

Rating: 8/10

Conclusion: This was a very pleasant tea experience, but the flavor of the tea is almost too delicate to be easily and casually enjoyed. Considering the price of this tea if you are looking to try out something akin to a Gyokuro, but don't want to spend the full amount on a quality Gyokuro this might be a good middle ground for you.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Tea: Cookie 5537
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $ 6.00/ 50g

The cookie tea from Lupicia is a tea that I have heard about from a few different people. I had never heard of anyone actually trying it though so I figured I had to try it out for myself. When in a Lupicia store this is probably one of the most noticeable teas as it smells very strongly of cookies. In particular it smells like a large batch of danish butter cookies.

The aroma of this tea is very much what made me interested in this tea. It is much stronger of a scent than most teas. When one smells this tea you don't notice much of a tea scent at all, simply the cookie smell. When looking at the leaf for this, most of the leaf for this tea consists of small brown pellets mixed with black tea leaf. I assume that these pellets are the source of the scent for this tea.

Actually drinking this tea was a bit of a disappointment, while the brewed scent of cookies still remained fairly strong, there was no flavor of cookies to be had. There was almost no flavor to be found, with no astringency and no bitterness. It was in a word, empty. I wonder if this tea was intended for children and the like to be the perfect tea for a tea party. While this tea fills the room with a smell of cookies, it has a beautiful dark red color. I did not try mixing this tea with cream or sugar, but I imagine that with the very mild taste they would blend in well.

Rating: 3/10

Conclusion: This is a very interestingly scented tea, although the liquor of the tea leaves much to be desired.

Friday, February 1, 2008


Tea: Sencha
Vendor: Teavana
Price: $4.80 / 2 oz.
Source: Japan
Vendor Description: A high quality, everyday tea from Japan. Flat, dark green leaves with a sweet aroma and taste. Low in caffeine. High content of vitamin C.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit a Teavana store. This was my first time visiting a Teavana and to be honest I was not that impressed. The selection of teas was not that large, with only a handful of each class of tea present. Tea yet to be purchased is stored in very large high containers, so anytime they open them to present the aroma to a customer or to remove some tea for purchase a large amount of tea is exposed to new air for oxidation. The tea purchased is packaged into paper bags very similar to the kind you use when you buy loose coffee at the grocery store. A stark contrast to the resealable bags of some vendors or the small mylar bags of Lupicia. The one impressive aspect of the Teavana store though was their selection of cups and teapots. They have a very good selection of different teacups.

The tea itself has a slighly grassy scent to it which is paired with a equal flavor at the beginning of the taste of the tea. This is followed by a long lasting bitterness, which due to the duration, just doesn't quite seem apt for the term of a bite. This is finally finished off with a mild astringent flavor.

Rating: 1/10

Conclusion: This tea is expectedly unremarkable. It is a somewhat poor representation of a sencha, and I have actually had better tea from a grocery store. The price is rather expensive for what it is. I don't recommend this tea for anyone looking to enjoy a sencha.