Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Masala Chai

Tea: Masala Chai
Vendor: Wegmans Food Markets
Price: $29.99 / lb.

Leaf: This chai has less of a clovey aroma than some other chai mixes that I have tried. The mix has a very peppery aroma to it. The tea leaf is very small broken.

Infusion Mix: The mix I used for this tea consists of 4 oz water, 4 oz milk, 1 tsp leaf (3g), 1/2 tsp honey.

Infusion Parameters: Boil water and milk, add tea and boil for 4 mins. Add honey

Infusion: This chai has a light and creamy chocolatey brown color to it. The aroma is very noticeably sweet and milky. The tea flavor is very well balanced between the milk / tea / sweetness. The flavor is very milky like a heavily milked black tea. There are hints of spiciness, but only light hinting. More tea may increase this flavor.

Rating: 6/10

Conclusion: This tea was enjoyable, but like most chai it doesn't have a very strong distinctive presence. I don't see this chai standing out more from any other chais. It seems to be a good reference chai.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Honyama Sencha

Tea: Honyama Sencha
Vendor: Wegmans Food Markets / Ito-en
Price: $72.99 / lb.
Source: Shizuoka, Japan
Vendor Description: A delightful hint of maize in the bouquet hints at the gentle firing of the drying process. This tea offers a subtle sweetness. Its flavor signature is generous and soft, with a compelling wildflower aftertaste. From Shizuoka's Abe River region.

Leaf: The leaf for this is a very normal appearing chumushi sencha. It has a dullish green / brown color to it, but not extreme so.

1st Infusion Parameters: 5g, 5 oz, 180F, 2 min

1st Infusion: The first infusion had a lightly yellow green color. The aroma was light and had almost a hint of a genmaicha aroma. The flavor was light, it was very front loaded with no sense of bitterness or astringency. The flavor was very thick with a strong marine flavor to it.

2nd Infusion: This infusion was a dark yellow infusion with a light brown hue to it. The flavor was very crisp this time and had a sharp bitterness to it. The marine / seaweed flavor was still quite present in this tea.

Rating: 2/10

Conclusion: This was a rather unremarkable tea. The price is moderately high considering the flavor of this tea. For it's price there are many other teas which have a nicer flavor to them. While the tea itself has no particular flaws, it is a short lived sencha which quickly moves into a sharp bitter flavor in the second infusion.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hawaii Exclusives

One of the interesting things about Lupicia is that the Hawaii store has exclusive teas. These are a series of flavored teas with tropical flavorings that are characteristic of Hawaii. These teas are supposed to be exclusive to Hawaii, or so I thought. I believe that there are at least 12 exclusive Hawaii teas.

Yesterday as I was picking some food up at a Nijiya market in San Francisco's J-town, I noticed a stack of gift wrapped Lupicia 3 tin boxes. It turns out that they were 3 packs of the Hawaii exclusive teas. In the pack were Palekaiko, Hoku, and Malama. These are 3 tins of 50g each in a nicely wrapped gift box. The pack ran $30.00 and since I don't have easy access to Hawaii instanly snatched them up. Reviews will be coming soon.

I'm not sure if this is a trend to move the exclusive teas mainland, but the Lupicia store that I talked to didn't know that they were available stateside and wished that they could sell them. So if you're interested in some quite possibly elusive teas and live in the SF bay area or near a Nijiya you may want to check this out.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years from Me and my tea!

Seasons Greeting! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shincha Houryoku

Tea: Shincha Houryoku
Vendor: Den's Tea
Source: Shizuoka, Japan

About This Tea: This was a bag of '08 shincha that I had forgotten to open up and try out from back in May.

Leaf: The leaf for this tea was a browner leaf color than normal. It had a very faint yet fresh aroma to it.

1st Infusion Parameters: 5g, 5 oz, 140F, 1 min

1st Infusion: This tea still had the bright and vibrant green hue normally associated with shincha. It is not as luminescent as some were back in the spring, but it was still a beautiful color of green. The flavor was very smooth and well rounded. It was rich and full bodied for a green tea. There was no sense of bitterness or astringency.

2nd Infusion Parameters: 30s, 140F

2nd Infusion: This infusion was darker and murkier than the first. There was a light bitterness to this infusion and the flavor was richer and more intense than the first. It was more lacking of the bright shincha freshness at this point though.

Rating: 6/10

Conclusion: Considering this tea was well past it's optimal freshness time, it was still an enjoyable cup of tea. Even though it was a bit on the older side, it was still quite flavorful, but the flavor was a little more subdued. I look forward to next year's shincha.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nishio Samidori

Tea: Nishio Samidori - 7501
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $12.50 / 20g
Source: Aichi, Japan
Vendor Description: Matcha from Nishio, Aichi Pref., the 2nd largest Matcha producing area after Uji, Kyoko. A variety called "Samidori" suitable for producing Matcha is used, with a mild flavor to suit everyone's taste.

Powder: This matcha is a rather light shade of green. It was darker than the 7502 (Okabe Aohane) however. There is a nice aroma to this matcha though, it's very enjoyable.

Infusion Parameters: 140F, 3 scoops, 1 ladle of water

Infusion: This matcha foamed rather nicely. The large foam brought out the lighter color of the matcha and gave off a nice hue. The flavor was a very rich matcha flavor. The flavor was quite bold, yet had a slightly gritty texture to it. There was a detectable light bitterness to it though.

Rating: 7/10

Conclusion: This is a rather enjoyable matcha, there wasn't much that was particuarly outstanding about it. It was probably one of the easiest matcha to foam. It is definitely an usucha though.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oolong 101

Last Tuesday I had a chance to attend a small class on Oolongs by a local vendor, Swan Sisters. The class was appropriately named Oolong 101. The class covered some of the general points of Oolongs, brewing, manufacture / history of specific oolongs, and of course tastings.

There were a few types of oolong covered, Tie Guan Yin, Taiwanese Oolongs, Wuyi Rock, and Dan Cong. For a lot of the attendees the class really was also an instruction on how to use a gaiwan with a tea table. Most of them had never used a gaiwan before, let alone serving pitcher or tea table. I have a feeling that may have been more rewarding of an experience for some of them than the actual tea itself. First starting to use a gaiwan is a very difficult and somewhat painful proposition.

A few important points in brewing oolongs though were brought to light. The class focused on brewing multiple infusions using a gaiwan in a gong fu style. This mean short infusion times and lots of infusions. To prevent swimming through tea all night though we tended to stick to about 2-3 infusions, as is appropriate for beginning. I've always felt that learning to coax more out of your tea and reading your infusion is something that comes with experience and practice.

Swan Sisters plans to have classes like these every second tuesday of the month on different teas/subjects. The cost for the class was $10

Monday, December 15, 2008

First Flush Darjeeling

Tea: First Flush Darjeeling
Vendor: Tao of Tea
Price: $10.00 / Chestlet (~3-4 oz)
Source: Darjeeling, India
Vendor Description: A delicate First Flush Darjeeling packaged in a miniature, wooden tea-chest. To this day, teas from India are packaged in large, foil-lined wooden chests that must be broken or pried open to remove the tea. On this mini-chest, the top is removable and can be re-used for storing tea or other items.

Leaf: The leaf for this tea is nicely sized Darjeeling leaves, there was not much of an aroma to the leaves though. The color was a bit on the darker side for Darjeeling black teas, with some light silver and green bits showing through.

1st Infusion Parameters: 5g, 5 oz, 185F, 4 min

1st Infusion: This tea came out iwth a nice floral aroma. It was floral yet thick and sweet. The tea had a rich brown hue to it. The flavor felt a bit muddled, it was rough to find distinct flavors in it, yet I kept finding a hint of a soapiness in the flavor. The flavor was dominated though by a strong bitterness. There was a long lingering aftertaste which piggybacked on the bitterness.

Rating: 1/10

Conclusion:I really was not a fan of this tea. The light character of a Darjeeling was overpowered by bitterness in this case. It wasn't a very enjoyable cup of tea and is not a very characteristic Darjeeling. I did try this tea later with lower temperatures and shorter infusion times, but I could not shake the taste of soapiness with this tea.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sencha "Sakura Saku"

Tea: Sencha "Sakura Saku" - 8005
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Vendor Description: Blend of Uji Sencha which is firmly rubbed.

Leaf: This tea is a well polished dark green sencha leaf. There is a light aroma to it. The shape of the leaf is very expected with a good distribution of large leaf and a light amount of small flecks.

1st Infusion Parameters: 4g, 160F, 1 min

1st Infusion: There was a pale light green color to this infusion, it didn't have much of an aroma to it. The tea is a light clean flavor with a medium grassiness. The flavor was very sweet and almost like a shincha in vibrance.

2nd Infusion Parmeters: 180F, 1 min

2nd Infusion: This infusion was a darker yellow color with a very bitter flavor to it. It felt like the temperature was a massive overshoot.

Rating: 2/10

Conclusion: This sencha would normally have been a very normal and good example of an Uji sencha, but instead it seemed to be very very temperature sensitive. Temperatures which would seem normal for most senchas seemed a bit too extreme for this tea. The flavor of the first infusion was quite good, but nothing to warrant the fickle nature of this tea. I tried this tea later using a second infusion at 150F and the result was a very average tasting sencha.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kuradashi Gyokuro Super Premium

Tea: Kuradashi Gyokuro Super Premium
Vendor: Hibiki-an
Price: $24.00/ 40g
Source: Uji, Japan

About This Tea: This tea is a Kuradashi tea. Kuradashi teas are teas that have been stored for a period of time to intentionally age the tea. This was stored for 18 months before packaging.

Leaf: The leaf for this tea has a lightly grassy aroma. The leaf is dark in color. The shape is very similar to the o-cha Yame Gyokuro.

1st Infusion Parameters: 5g, 140F, 5oz, 60s

1st Infusion: The first infusion had a pale green color to it. It was quite transparent with just a hint of color. The tea has a very unusual aroma, it's an almost woody aroma to it. There is a rich umami flavor to this infusion and it is much less grassy than most gyokuro. The flavor was lighter than many gyokuro, but it was still very full bodied. The flavor was predominantly a marine/seaweed flavor, which followed through from beginning to end.

2nd Infusion Parameters: 145F, 15s

2nd Infusion: This infusion had a much brighter color to it. There was a light amount of murkiness to it, and a radiant green color which reminded me a bit of shincha. The tea has a light dry aroma to it. The marine/seaweed flavor was dominant in this infusion as well. The tea is very smooth and enjoyable. There is no bitterness and no astringency to it. The flavor in this infusion was very consistent from beginning to end.

3rd Infusion Parameters: 150F, 45s

3rd Infusion: This infusion had a dusty aroma to it. The marine/seaweed flavor was also dominant in this infusion. There was still a good amount of umami flavor in it, but I noticed the empty wamer water flavor showing through.

4th Infusion Parameters: 160F, 90s

4th Infusion: This infusion had a clearer color to it. There was a much lighter flavor, but it felt a bit hollow. The thickness found in the earlier infusions and richness of umami flavor was lightening up and the flavor felt a bit hollow. There were still hints of the marine/seaweed flavor though.

Rating: 10/10

Conclusion: This is a very unusual gyokruo. The flavor was the most consistent throughout the infusions as I have ever seen. Even with the increasing temperature it was smooth with no sense of bitterness or astringency, a characteristic that tends to show up during later infusions. It felt very pure and clean throughout the whole time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Yame Gyokuro

Tea: Yame Gyokuro
Vendor: O-cha
Price: $27.95 / 100g
Source: Yame, Japan
Vendor Description: Yame Gyokuro "Select" - High quality first-flush gyokuro grown in Yame, Japan. Over 50% of all gyokuro grown in Japan comes from Yame. Gyokuro is shade grown before harvesting, giving it a greener color and sweeter taste. Once you learn to make it properly, you wil be hooked for life! Make sure to read our brewing instructions, as it is brewed differently than sencha.

Leaf: The leaf for this tea has a very noticeable and pleasant gyokuro aroma. The leaf is a dark green color, and has a relatively long and thick appearance to it. The leaf does not appeared as needle like as some senchas. There is a surprising amount of powder to this tea.

1st Infusion Parameters: 10g, 5 oz., 140F, 60s.

1st Infusion: The tea came out witha very murky grassy green color to it. There is a slightly light and tingly aroma to it, which was surprising. Most gyokuro has a thicker aroma. The flavor is rich and distinctively gyokuro like, but not as thick as most. There is a light sense of astringency, and no bitterness. The flavor is very full and enjoyable, but lighter than most gyokuro.

2nd Infusion Parameters: 150F, 30s.

2nd Infusion: This was a darker and murkier infusion than the first one. The flavor was lighter and thinner than the first and it has an almost clean feeling to it.

Rating: 4/10

Conclusion: This tea was rather unusual for a yame gyokuro. It could not hold up well for as many infusions as other yame gyokuro. Tweaking with the parameters would probably extend this out to 4, but not past that. It feels almost like a what a fukamushi is to a sencha, this feels like it is to gyokuro. The cloudiness in the first infusion was very unexpected. Later experimentation with this tea showed that it brews well at lower leaf:water ratios and warmer water. It is wonderful in almost sencha like conditions.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Homadola FBOP

Tea: Homadola Garden FBOP
Vendor: Plucker's Pick
Price: $18.00 / 3.5 oz.
Source: Sri Lanka (aka Ceylon)
Vendor Description: A fresh, sweet tea with a light aroma.This low-grown tea brews to a golden shade with hints of orange. A mild and mellow flavor.

Leaf: The leaf for this tea is very uniform in size and color. It is a very normal shade of black with hints of a gray color on the edges. It hints at being similar to a silver striped. The packaging for this tea was quite nice. The tea comes packed in a mylar bag packed in a tin packed in a box.

Infusion Parameters: 1 tsp (2.21g), 5 oz water, 208F, 3 minutes

Infusion: The infusion has a very golden honey color to it. There is a very light aroma to it that is characteristic of a ceylon tea. The flavor is well balanced and smooth. At a ratio of 2.21:5 it is light, but not too light, and not overpowering. It has a medium body to it with no astringency. There is a light bitterness on the front end, but just enough to give the tea a nice body and flavor.

Rating: 9/10

Conclusion: This is a very enjoyable black tea. It is smooth without being to strong. The flavor distinctive and noticeable, but not overpowering. At it's price it is on the upper end for a ceylon tea, but not prohibitively so.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tea: Aromas and Flavors Around the World

Book: Tea: Aromas and Flavors Around the World
Author: Lydia Gautier
Price: $40.00

This book is a rather beautifully illustrated book. It gives a nice overview of many of the different tea producing/consuming regions of the world and a quick look at the differences therein. This kind of information is common to many books about tea though. What makes this book stand apart is a bit of information about the chemistry of tea and tasting. It describes qualities in a tea to look for, the portions of flavor (Head, Heart, Background which I refer to as Early, Mid, Late/Aftertaste). It also goes on to describe affinities between tea and wine and cocoa.

Rating: 6/10

Conclusion: This book is nice for someone being introduced to tea. It doesn't got into great depth on any particular subject, but covers areas which are normally not described in other tea books. The illustrations are nice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Tea: Kyobancha - 7433
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $6.50 / 100g
Source: Kyoto, Japan
Vendor Description: Typical Bancha tea in Kyoto. The tea leaves are sun-dried and look almost like dead leaves, but their uneven roasting process makes the tea's flavor richly alluring.

Leaf: The leaf for this tea reminds me of a pile of leaves raked up during the autumn. There are some larger twigs in this tea, larger than most karigane/kukicha teas. The stems are over 1cm in length. The leaves are quite large and flat, there is no rolling or curling at all. The leaf is primarily black in color with some leaves which have a greener color to them.

Infusion Parameters: This tea has some unusual brewing parameters to them. Instead of steeping the tea with the water cooling down from boiling, the tea is boiled during the steeping process. 15g, 2L, 3 min.

Infusion: The tea has a very light aroma to it and a rich brown color. There is a light roasted flavor, but not much behind it. There is a very light to mid flavor and that's the majority of the flavor. There is no early flavor or aftertaste. There is also no bitterness or astringency.

Rating: 4/10

Conclusion: As a hot tea this tea is somewhat unimpressive. There isn't a lot of flavor to this tea, but you make quite a bit for not too much leaf. It is quite inexpensive though and makes for a good everyday tea. I'm curious how this tea will turn out as an iced tea.

Monday, December 1, 2008

White Christmas

Tea: White Christmas - 5524
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $7.50 / 50g
Vendor Description: Tea flavored with white chocolate and apricot, conjuring up images of baked Christmas sweets.

Leaf: The leaf for this tea looks like a mixture of a black CTC mixed with a bit of orthodox leaf. The orthodox leaf is fairly uniform in size at about 1cm in length. There are also a a few small silver pellets like in Champagne Rose and white balls resembling konpeito. The leaf has a very strong sweet aroma and reminds me a lot of the cookie tea. There is a bit of fruitiness to the aroma of this tea.

Infusion Parameters: 208F, 5 oz, 3 min, 5g.

Infusion: The tea has a deep dark brown color to it. There is a lovely shimmer from small metallic flecks in it similar to those in Champagne Rose. There is a thick sweet aroma to the tea which reminds me of the Au Chocolat. There is a medium linght sense of astringnecy to this tea. The initial up front flavor is very light and sweet, followed by an emptiness in the middle. There is a light bitterness at the end of the tea, but just enough to accentuate a good body to the tea.

Rating: 6/10

Conclusion: This tea is a rather normal flavored black tea for Lupicia. It seems almost like a combination of a few of their other teas, primarily the Au Chocolat and Champagne Rose with just a hint of Cookie. The flavor is appropriate as a holiday tea if you enjoy any of the three which it seems quite like.