Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Little Tea Book

While searching through the offerings on Google Books, I came across the full text of The Little Tea Book by Arthur Gray, published in 1903. (Well in the public domain at this point) A short book, around 100 pages, very small pages mind you. This was a very interesting look at the world of tea about a century ago. A large deal of this book is poetry, excerpts, and other quotes from other authors, poets, sources, etc. The rest is somewhat of an interesting read. As would be expected of a book from 1903, there is a good deal of comments on the nature of women and their habit with tea, sexism that is rather comical in today's light. Some of the historical mentions are rather interesting as well, including Chanoyu, Sencha preparation, Gaiwan preparation, and many more. Spellings are also very interesting including "Giy-ôku-ro-châ", which nowdays we refer to as Gyokuro.

All in all this is an interesting insight into the tea world of 100 years ago. And it's a free read. It's short, and it's definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Red Blossom Tea

Today I had the chance to stop by Red Blossom Tea in San Francisco. I had known about Red Blossom for quite some time, its notoriety even having a section in the book The Way to Tea. Albeit I was a bit cautious of really checking out a tea store on Grant street in SF, right in the heart of chinatown. I thought to myself how serious of a teashop could it be, sharing a street with all of those shops that sell I heart SF sweatshirts, Golden Gate Bridge shot glasses, and CA license plates with your name on them. Nonetheless though I went to check them out and was pleasantly surprised.

Red Blossom is a very small tea shop. It is a narrow little place, one side lined with all of the cans of tea and the other lined with a myriad of teawares. The decor is quite modern and minimal in it's design, very much feeling like Teance, but more minimalist. Quite the contrast to the rest of Grant with baskets full of red and gold trinkets. As befitting their location and style, they offer Chinese and Taiwanese teas. In the middle of the store they have a pair of tea tables setup with beautiful tea trays and all that they would need to pour up a wonderful cup of tea. While I marvelled at some of the teas (including a Song Zhong Phoenix) the staff was more than eager to help me and answer any questions I had. Also while I was waiting for a few teas to be packaged up the staff also offered me a sample of a few similar teas (for me it was an aged Phoenix). A friend of mine who was with me, and doesn't know much about tea, was more than educated on the differences in teas and all of those interesting tidbits that you learn when first entering the world of tea.

The staff is very helpful and for the most part knowledgeable, amusingly at some points. One staff member looked at the label for Xin Ren Xiang (Almond Fragrance Phoenix) and simply referred to it as Almond to the chuckles of a more fluent staff member. Knowledge yes, Mandarin pronunciation needs a bit of work. Although it's not like I could do any better.

Teas are packaged upon demand in mylar bags and heat sealed. Prior to that they are stored in the traditional large tins. I can't wait to do some reviews of these teas. If you're in SF it's definitely worth stopping in to check them out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Tea: Hojicha
Vendor: Aiya America

About This Tea: Aiya America is the American branch of Aiya Co. in Japan. They offer a selection of teas in the normal leaf spectrum as well as a variety of grades of matcha for private label. They deal in bulk wholesale transactions, so little is known about their pricing.

Leaf: The leaf for their hojicha seems like a very lightly roasted leaf. It still has shades of green on parts of the leaf and the leaves are all very large. There is quite a bit of rolling with these leaves, not just flattening like is seen with some hojicha. The aroma is light to match the light color.

1st Infusion Parameters: 5g, 5oz, 208F, 1 min

1st Infusion: This tea produces a nice caramel brown hue. There is a light amount of sediment to this tea, but for the most part it is a clear brew. The aroma is thick and musky. The thickness of thea aroma masks the characteristic roasted aroma of a hojicha. The flavor is very light and early, it has a thin consistency to it. The roasting is noticeable on the backend of the falvor. This tea has a very mouth watering feeling to it. There is no bitterness or astringency to this tea and it rolls quite easily down the tongue.

2nd Infusion Parameters: 208F, 2min

2nd Infusion: This infusion had a reddish - brown hue to it, it's almost autumnal. The aroma is very light and clear this time, very roasted. The flavor is much more bodied, but not terribly intense. It is still a front loaded flavor with most of the flavor very early on. There is a light sense of astringency on the backend, but overall this is a very smooth hojicha.

Rating: 7/10

Conclusion: This is an overall very nice lightly roasted hojicha. Unfortunately because Aiya is primarily a wholesale company, it's hard to say anything about the value / cost of this tea. It has a very solid feeling to it though.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Blueberry Tea Shortbread

Snack: Blueberry Tea Shortbread
Vendor: Biscotea
Vendor Description:White Tea from China's Fujian province has long been celebrated for it's cooling properties. High in antioxidants, this tea is mellow, slightly woodsy in character and combines subtly with Organic Blueberry flavor and the richness of BISCOTTEA® Shortbread.

This shortbread again felt rather crunchy for a shortbread. The snack itself is speckled with small dark particles, which I'm assuming to be bits from the blueberries. The sweet flavor of blueberries is very prominent and is a very enjoyable shortbread. It took me a minute to realize the tea component to this particular offering as the Chai was very obvious. The blueberry sits atop the creaminess of white tea. In comparison to a normal shortbread, the sweetness and fruitiness of the blueberries sit atop the normal buttery flavor of a shortbread, which all rests atop the thick creaminess of a white tea.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chai Tea Shortbread

Snack: Chai Tea Shortbread
Vendor: Biscotea
Vendor Description: Savor the delicate balance of fragrant Organic Chai Spices — cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger and pepper — and the richness of traditional BISCOTTEA® Shortbread.

Biscotea is a brand that offers shortbread with a mix of tea added in. This particular one is chai flavored. It has a nice chai aroma to it with a strong cinnamon constituent. At the same time it still smells very buttery and shortbreadlike. It is a little harder and less flaky than most shortbread that I have tried, making it resemble more of a cookie than a shortbread. When tasting it, there is a definite chai flavor that is unmistakable in the flavor. It is a bit sweeter than most other shortbread, where butter is more prominent than the sweetness. The cinnamon and clove flavor linger on the tongue as moisture in your mouth dry up a little bit, being soaked up in the dryness of the cookie. The dryness pairs very well with tea and they make a good pairing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Feng Huang Milan Dancong

Tea: Feng Huang Milan Dancong
Vendor: Jing Tea Shop
Price: $4.99 / 100g
Source: Guangdong, China
Vendor Description: Everyday milan tea from the Wudong Mountain, Feng Huang town. The tea only went through its first baking steps which allows the leaves to offers a more flowery then honey profile. The liquor is quite pure, after taste has medium lenght. The tea will be rebaked later in the month so now is a good time to get acquainted with the flowery character of a milan dancong.

Leaf: The leaf for this tea is a very large and fluffy black leaf, rather well cared for and unbroken. There is a light aroma to the leaf. It is a very phoenix style characteristic aroma. It is rather faint so it is a bit difficult to narrow it down a bit more than that. The leaves are an assortment of brown hues.

1st Infusion Parameters: 5g, 5oz, 208F, 45s, 5s rinse

1st Infusion: This tea has a lovely sweet and floral aroma. The liquor shows a clear brown hue with shades of red. The aroma feels very broad and general. The flavor matches the aroma well, both in breadth and generality. The flavor of the tea is very bodied. Despite the heavy body it has a nice and light, flavorful feeling to it. The core of the flavor is very thin, but the sides are stronger than the core of the flavor. There is a thickness left on the tongue as an aftertaste. The backend of the flavor is somewhat thick.

2nd Infusion Parameters: 208F, 1:00

2nd Infusion: This infusion was a darker golden brown hue. It is lightly murky with a lighter aroma to it. The flavor still lacks the central portion of the core as the first infusion though. There is a light astringency and bitterness in the flavor. It feels a bit sharp on the tongue, but shows a decent body. The flavor is in general a very smooth, yet crisp flavor overall.

3rd Infusion Parameters: 1:45, 208F

3rd Infusion: This infusion was a more golden brown hue than previous infusions. This one again shows a light aroma, no real change from the previous infusions, just simply a light aroma. The flavor was a sharper bitter flavor again. It finishes with a medium high astringency on the backend. There is a snappy bitterness in the aftertaste.

Rating: 3/10

Conclusion: This tea was interesting. Aside from the Royal Phoenix from Tao of Tea it's the only other Phoenix that I have found in this particular price range. From what I have seen of teas in this range though, it leads me to believe that it's better to just stay above this range if you're looking for a Phoenix oolong. For me one of the most alluring parts of a Phoenix is the ever so disticnt, yet indescribable aroma. That is something that was utterly lacking with this tea. Also the depth of the flavor were not showing that well before the tea turned more bitter and astringent. When going for a Phoenix oolong in my opinion you should, as Emeril would say, kick it up a notch! Thank you to Salsero over at Teachat though for providing me this sample.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Zhejiang Mao Feng

Tea: Zhejiang Mao Feng
Vendor: Narien Teas
Price: $13.00 / 4 oz
Source: Zhejiang, China
Vendor Description: Grown in a traditional tea garden in the southern Zhejiang province of China, Our Mao Feng green tea brews soft golden cup with a clear, sweet flavor and aroma.

Leaf: The leaf for this tea is a dark green leaf, it is very strand like, twisted. The hues of the leaf vary from a light almost white green to deep rich greens while maintaining an average of a dark green throughout. The twisting is almost spiral in nature.

1st Infusion Parameters: 5g, 5oz, 185F, 1:00

1st Infusion: This infusion had a bold color to it, a dark yellow hue. There was a bit of murkiness to the tea. The flavor was bold and strong. It had a bit of a sharpness to it. It reminds me of a sweeter version of a bancha to a degree, the sharpness was similar. There was a hint of marine flavor in it along with a light bitterness. Overall the flavor was both rich and flavorful.

2nd Infusion Parameters: 185F, 1:30

2nd Infusion: This infusion was a little lighter on the color. A light to medium yellow hue. The flavor had a medium astringency to it paired with a light marine tinge again. It reminded me of some sencha that I have had mixed with a little bit of gyokuro. A bit unusual coming from a Chinese green tea.

Rating: 3/10

Conclusion: There is nothing terribly spectacular about this tea. It seems like similar in many characteristics to Japanese green tea, but falls short compared to it's brethren. Chinese green teas have their own style and flavor and so do Japanese green teas. This feels too much to me like a Chinese green tea trying to be a Japanese green tea. While it could be an argument of provenance to say that Chinese green tea came first and Japanese was an offshoot or a development of that, as they stand today this Mao Feng feels like it wants to be a Japanese green tea. I say if you want that flavor, go for Japanese.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tasting and Describing Tea

I was reading an post over at Tea Geek Blogs titled Why We Shouldn't Describe Tea. And it basically goes on to point out the complexity of descriptions of flavors, colors, and all the senses involved with drinking tea. He suggests not trying to describe tea and put it into words, but rather to simply enjoy the tea.

I have some rather mixed feelings about this post. On one hand I think that there is a grain of truth to what he says. It is difficult to impossible to describe the flavor of tea. That's why all tea descriptions in my opinion are comparative matters. But does that mean that you shouldn't describe tea? No, you should in fact strive harder to describe it. People have strived for ages to put down in words the indescribable, and this shouldn't be any different.

So my suggestion, drink tea. Drink lots of it. Think about it, enjoy it, compare it to other teas. If writing it down helps you convey what you're tasting, do it. If you don't think you can accurately express it in words, try anyway, you'll only get better by trying.

Teabag - Genmaicha

Tea: Genmaicha
Vendor: Maeda-en
Price: $4.50 / 10 teabags
Vendor Description: Craving a good cup of tea, but not in the mood to deal with the mess? We have just the solution for you!
Maeda-en is proud to offer you deliciousness and convenience all at the same time: crushed Genmai-cha (leaves AND rice!) are packed in mesh pyramid bags for the maximum steeping & easy clean up. It brews the beautiful green liquor, and tastes just like a whole leaf brew!

Teabag: The teabag for this tea has some very small rice in it. I would guess to say that the rice has been crushed like the tea. There is a quite a bit of dust on the teabag as well as inside of the package. There is a moderate amount of stem pieces in the mix. The mix reminds me quite a bit of the mix that was in the sencha teabag.

1st Infusion Parameters: 185F, 3min, 5 oz, 1 teabag (2g)

1st Infusion: The tea comes out lightly murky, through the murkiness there is a lightly radiant yellow-green color. The aroma is very broad and strong and is primarily represented by the toasted rice aroma. It reminds me very much of rice crackers. The flavor of the tea itself has a medium strength with a very soft flavor. It is very much dominated by the rice flavor.

Rating: 5/10

Conclusion: Like the sencha this teabag was an improvement on their previous product's design, although like the sencha I would have liked to see more leaf in the bag. I also didn't really see any reason to crush the tea, larger leaf like that used by most nicer teabag producers would have probably been nicer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pre Rain Organic Anji Bai Cha

Tea: Pre Rain Organic Anji Bai Cha
Vendor: Jing Tea
Price: £15.00 / 50g
Source: Zhejiang, China
Vendor Description: Deliciously fresh, picked on 3rd April 2009 from the Undulating Retreat garden. The first picking of the year, before the Qing Ming festival.

Vivacious and exuberant flavours combine spring blossom scents with sweet sappiness, lush textures and beautiful floral top notes.

Certified organic by the Soil Association. Fair Trade certified by IMO Switzerland.

Leaf: The leaf for this tea is a light green fluffy leaf. It is lightly pressed with a brilliant fresh green hue to it. There is a light and fresh aroma to it. The leaf is a mix of smaller buds mixed with larger leaves and buds.

1st Infusion Parameters: 3g, 50z, 185F, 1 min

1st Infusion: This tea has a clear radiant yellow-green hue. It has a bright and fresh aroma to it. The flavor is very smooth with a mouth watering feel ot it. The aftertaste is a bit empty after an overall somewhat light and delicate flavor. It feels quite a bit like a light sencha.

2nd Infusion Parameters: 2:00, 185F

2nd Infusion: This tea again shows a brilliant fresh aroma, to a yellow hued infusion this time. The aroma is not present in quantity, but rather a light yet fresh brilliance. There is a rich feeling to the flavor of the tea, but this is in contrast to an almost empty flavor all around. It feels like this tea is more about the background flavor than the central prominent flavor.

Rating: 4/10

Conclusion: The best way to describe this tea is light and subtle. The subtle nature of this tea is quite enjoyable, but a bit light. It is well representative of spring, showing some vibrance and freshness. It is also quite expensive though. More leaf compensates for the light flavor, but that exacerbates the relatively steep price for this tea.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Tea: Malama EH-6
Vendor: Lupicia USA

About This Tea: Malama is one of the exclusive teas only available from the Hawaii store of Lupicia. I picked this up as part of of the gift set that was available through retail outlets earlier this year.

Leaf: The leaf for this tea is a typical orthodox black leaf mixed in with small CTC pellets. There is a rich cocoa aroma to the leaf and some small pieces of macadamia nut in the mix. There are a few other pieces in the mix that I can't seem to identify.

1st Infusion Parameters: 3g, 5Oz, 208F, 3 min

1st Infusion: This tea has a very strong and sweet cocoa aroma, it reminds me of some cocoa powder. The flavor of the tea is overall quite light, which does not match with the rich dark color of the tea. The flavor even though it is light is quite bold from the beginning to the end. The cocoa shines through the flavor and is a nice bit of an addition. It rounds out the flavor quite nicely. The flavor is overall quite rich and ends with a little bit of astringency.

Rating: 7/10

Conclusion: This tea is quite interesting. The cocoa mixed with the black tea provides a nice round flavor for the tea, but the availability of the tea is a bit offputting. It is nice, and it would be worth picking up if it was available easily, but I don't know if it is unique enough to go searching this one out.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Teabag - Sencha

Tea: Sencha
Vendor: Maeda-En
Price: $4.50 / 10pc
Vendor Description: Craving a good cup of tea, but not in the mood to deal with the mess? We have just the solution for you!
Maeda-en is proud to offer you deliciousness and convenience all at the same time: crushed Sencha leaves are packed in mesh pyramid bags for the maximum steeping & easy clean up. It brews the beautiful green liquor, and tastes just like a whole leaf brew!

About this tea: Recently Maeda-en contacted me and wondered if I would like to give their teabags another go around. It seems that since my last review of their gyokuro teabags they switched from using a satchel type teabag to using a tetrahedral teabag shape.

Teabag: Each of these teabags comes individually wrapped. When opening up the teabag, quite a bit of powder comes out with the teabag. The amount of tea reminds me of a matcha laced genmaicha, but this is just because maeda-en apparently crushes their sencha for packing in the teabag. The teabags are in fact now a tetrahedral shape, and they are filled with small pieces of sencha leaf. The leaf is all very uniform in size and shape, it is smaller than rooibos in size. There is a noticeable light green glint of stem in the mix. The aroma of the teabag is a bit unusual, it is lightly marine in aroma and smells very broad in nature. Unlike some of the more specific teas it has a very overall green aroma to it.

1st Infusion Parameters: 1 teabag (2g), 5oz, 185F, 2min
1st Infusion: This teabag produces a murky darker green colored tea. There is not much of an aroma to it. The flavor is light and clear. The flavor is quite broad with a light central flavor to it. There is no astringency or bitterness, but overall the flavor seems a bit light. The used teabag is not pressing against the sides of the mesh strongly meaning plenty of space in the teabag, but at the same time there is room to have added more leaf in and still not see any size issues.

Rating: 5/10

Conclusion: While this is a significant improvement from the satchel type of teabags before, the tea is not terribly impressive. Granted it probably felt a bit weak due to the ratio I used, one teabag held 2g, wheras for this volume of water I'm normally using 3-5g at a shorter infusion time. The flavor was very broad, which I am getting the feeling that this was intentionally blended as such. All in all it's a somewhat inexepensive solution for individually wrapped teabags, good for taking tea on the go.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Jade Dew Mingjian

Tea: Jade Dew Mingjian - 6286
Vendor: Lupicia USA
Price: $7.50 / 50g
Source: Taiwan
Vendor Description: Fully enjoy the luxurious flavor just like jasmine with the winter-picked Taiwanese oolong tea.

Leaf: The leaf consists typically shaped ball formed oolong tea. The balls are smaller than most that I see, but typically tightly rolled with some stem visitble. The leaf is very matte in color, and it has a very sweet and heavy aroma to it.

1st Infusion Parameters: 5g, 5oz, 208F, 45s

1st Infusion: The tea has a radiant green color. It is green, radiant and quite clear. There is a heavy yet bold and strong aroma to the tea. The flavor is very focused on the front and middle portions of the flavor. It shows a very round flavor overall.

2nd Infusion Parameters: 1:00, 208F
2nd Infusion: This infusion has a much stronger aroma, yet retains the radiant green color of the first. It has a thick and rich aroma to it still. The flavor has moved toward the back end in this infusion instead of the frontal notions from the first. There is a light sense of astringency on the back now.

3rd Infusion Parameters: 2:00, 208F

3rd Infusion: This infusion was much bolder in color. Instead of the radiant green of the first and second infusions it switched toa more yellow green color. The flavor is much bolder than the first two, and shifted back toward the front of the flavor. It feels a bit empty and ends with a light astringency on the back end.

Rating: 7/10
Conclusion: This is a pretty solid Taiwanese oolong. There isn't anything terribly outstanding, detracting, or unusual about it. It's pretty characteristic for the class of oolong. Simple, smooth, green and normal. It is reasonably priced for a solid green oolong. It holds up well for a few infusions and is a very good representation of class.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Iced Tea

With 4th of July just around the corner Iced Tea is becoming all the buzz it seems. It makes perfect sense too, with the mercury rising who wants to make a piping hot cup of oolong and drink it down. I for one don't. In actuality though I tend to keep some black iced tea on hand pretty much all year round. So I thought I would share my formula for iced tea that I use.

20g black tea leaf (pretty much any will do)
2 quarts ice
2 quarts water
apple juice/honey/orange juice or fruit (optional)

I normally bring the 2 quarts of water to a full rolling boil and then toss in the 20g of black leaf. The leaf that I use tends to be a mix of different sources, leftovers from various reviews, tidbits leftover, and sometimes I just add some in the mix to change up the flavor. Normally I use some flavored tea leaf for this. Mixing and matching different flavors produces a nice variety of flavors, and the base teas tend to be the same base. I.e. if you were to get yourself a handful of different flavored teas from Adagio's flavored selection and mix and match to make your batch of tea is an ideal way to keep it changing and still consistent. Once the leaf is added to the boiling water I turn off the heat and put the lid back on the kettle. I let it steep for 5 minutes. While this is happening I get my 5qt iced tea jug (one of those little plastic jugs with the spout on the bottom) Fill it about halfway with the ice and a little bit of water. If I have some juice, fruit or honey, I add that in at this point. It adds for a little bit of sweetness. Normally I use either one orange or apple, or a few ounces of juice. About a tablespoon of honey works well too. After the tea has steeped for 5 minutes, strain the tea into the jug and stir. Alternatively if you don't have ice handy and you don't need it right away, you can also just replace the ice with cool water and stick it into the refrigerator.

A few things to note about the way that I make Iced tea though. I tend to like mine a bit on the stronger side, if you find it is too strong for you, either dilute it more or cut back on the leaf. Your initial tea will have a dark, but clear appearance to it, after cooling the clearness will be replaced by a browner murky hue. This is normal and doesn't really affect the flavor. This also seems to be a factor of the strength I brew mine at. If you go for a lighter brew you won't see this as readily.