Saturday, July 20, 2013

Guangxi Province Black Snail from Upton Tea Black Tea Review

Look! It's little black tea snaileys from the Guangxi Province!! I was fortunate to order a sample of this tea to try out, and I think I will be ordering more immediately! It has a very attractive look, as well as aroma floating from the opened bag. One person in my office asked "What is that?" It is the smell of truly fine black tea from China, via my favorite tea company, Upton Tea.

The appearance is intriguing. It looks almost as if the tea was tied in little knots, or maybe rolled around a tiny twig. Here is a closeup of the tea on the table.

The first time I brewed this tea, I brewed it too thin, and was a little disappointed. So this time I used two full teaspoons it my teapot, and this tea came alive. The complex aroma dispersed throughout the break room, and there was a healthy amount of foam in my teapot. I added a small amount of milk and demerara to my hot cup, and headed back to my desk.

This is more of the type of tea I choose as my morning cup. The flavors are perfectly between a Yunnan and a Keemun, smoky, a bit of cocoa, with a smooth, honey like depth that increases with each sip. It has a very clean aroma. It lacks a little of the prominent flavors I enjoy in my usual cup of Keemun First Grade, but instead carries a subtle, smooth depth much like tippy Yunnan teas have. There is a cocoa presence, and it pairs beautifully with the light sweet-caramel scent that probably comes from it's Yunnan influence. It took my milk and demerara perfectly, and was a delicious match for the array of breakfast snackeries that I had in front of me; a free glazed donut brought by another kind worker, and a bacon-egg-cheese english muffin from the local Braum's. Barring too many financial blockades, this will become my morning tea. It does cost a little more than the Keemun, but I like it much better and it's price is not out of range. Highly recommended!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Finding Drinkable Tea In Oklahoma City Pt. 1

Please join me for my first in a series of tea excursions, this one into the deep dark clutches of Oklahoma City's 'Classen Curve'. I shall try to fetch some drinkable tea without having to place an online order and wait for a week. My first trip will be Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods carries a nice selection of loose leaf tea, when compared to other options in OKC. I want to check on their black tea and their oolongs. I have taken a Ceylon from this store. The Ceylon whole leaf tea sold at Whole Foods in OKC is almost exactly like several of my favorite estate ceylons like Kenilworth. The price is competitive, and the bonus is there is no shipping. It is a very brisk and refreshing tea. My blog post called "Upton Teas I Have Ordered The Most" goes in to slightly more detail about this type of tea.

Oolongs are not my favorite, and I cannot drink them for a morning tea, but I do enjoy them, especially with sushi. Pictured above is the oolong tea in the baggie. I used 2 large teaspoons in the infuser basket, and it was brewed with the fine tap water at my OKC office that makes all of these wonderful teas! Here is a closeup of the tea just before being dumped into the teapot.

A nice choice it was, a poached salmon roll with Whole Foods finest oolong.

It pleasantly brings several things to my nose that I enjoy with these teas; the nutty, earthy flavor associated with formosa oolongs, and the floral scent of the Chinese oolong. This one is actually the Rishi Wuyi Organinc Oolong. From their website..
"The Wuyi Mountains are the birthplace of oolong tea and the Shui Xian "Water Sprite" tea bush cultivar. This sloping, mountainous appellation, with mineral-rich soils, produces teas with a smooth mouthfeel and pleasant aftertaste. Wuyi teas are classically roasted to develop a sweet, caramelized flavor."
The flavor comes forward immediately with this tea, nutty and fresh. After a few more sips, some depth comes through, and the lighter, sweeter notes are revealed to the nose and palate. It is easy to tell that this is not a lower quality oolong. But, unlike very fine oolongs, its flavors are quickly noticeable, and it does not have to be prepared gong fu style to experience its finer flavors.

The wet leaf is still large and doesn't fall apart after the infusion, revealing more about the high quality of this oolong. It still holds a nice aroma and I felt I could probably brew one more smaller cup reusing this leaf. It would probably work well prepared gong fu style.

Nice experience, both the tea and the sushi!

Now, here is the bag of the Rishi Golden Assam.

Here is the closeup of the Golden Assam. You can see there are lots of golden tips in this tea, and they are still in tact and unbroken.

The estate assam is pricey even for a fancy grocery store such as Whole Foods, but it does make a nice statement about its quality upon first steep. It was pleasing to see the froth layer in my leaf basket. The aroma from the teapot filled my section of the crowded office with brisk, velvety notes. It offers depth for the picky palates such as mine, and has some caramel and mocha notes that I like. The golden tips are beautiful to admire in the teapot, and certainly add to the very nice depth of this tea. The flavor is comparable to some of the single estate teas that I have bought online, but more like the modestly priced assams, and not quite up to par with some of the higher priced whole leaf assams I have tried in the past. I'm not ready to call this the best tea in OKC yet, but it is going up for consideration.

Soon I will be off on my next tea search. I have a few leads and ideas, so expect a report soon!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Herbals As Iced Tea

Christmas is the only holiday that people go shopping for gifts for me that aren't in my immediate, close family. I'm sure it's tough for them. They already know not to touch music, clothing, literature or tech gadgetry when buying for me, knowing my taste is too obscure for them to be able to pick correctly. However, most of them do not realize that tea is included in this list. I have tried to get across my tea snobbery at family events before. But somehow, this is one area that the wonderful people that do buy gifts for me feel that they can take a shot at. Consequentially, my tea cabinet has become cluttered with boxes of tea that aren't up to my normal drinking standard, so I have had to try to find alternate uses for the tea.

One problem I face is that I usually end up with a lot of green tea, which I can't drink. I like green tea, but, as I stated in my previous blog post, it makes me sick when I drink it, so I have to stick with black or a well-fermented oolong. My wife will drink it, so I keep it around for her. She is not a regular tea drinker, so it tends to sit and occupy space more than it gets steeped. Along with the green tea in the usual outlet store variety pack, there are often several herbal teas. These are usually flavored with some fruity type of herbs such as hibiscus, lemon grass and others. Other times they actually have flavoring, dried juice or fruit. And sometimes I get to rescue a box or two that fit my criteria for drinkability, and use them for a caffeine free iced tea!

The picture above is of a box of tea I was given and I found it to make good iced tea. It mainly consisted of hibiscus and blackberry, but this tea also contained some apple pulp, and blackcurrent pulp, leaves and juice. I always liked the "Raspberry Zinger" from Celestial Seasonings on ice. It was probably my first herbal iced tea that I favored. It also contains some hibiscus and blackberry leaves, and has some added fruit product. Because of the added fruit and juice, these kinds of teas can be brewed fairly strong, and retain their flavor after being iced. I usually brew iced herbal tea about one half bag too strong. That is to say, to make 2 cups of iced herbal tea I would use 3 single cup sized bags. I still like to let it cool for a while before pouring over ice so that it won't become too diluted. It's also pretty hard to over steep one of these teas. After about 5 minutes of steeping, the extra time doesn't change the tea much anymore. So there is not any advantage to be gained by a long steep.

Iced chamomile and mint works very well together, but it is hard to get the strength right without letting the tea cool naturally. On a hot day it is very refreshing and easy to drink, maybe more so than one of the herbals listed above. There are some good bagged chamomile teas, or you can just get the chamomile and make tea yourself.  If you do desire to make your own flavored herbal tea, starting with hibiscus gives it a fruity note. Lemon grass or peel will give it a lemony, citrus side. And as you chose other herbs to add, you may also want to add fruit product to your tea during refrigeration. Fruit peel will flavor your herbal tea nicely. sometimes just as well as the actual fruit! Some fresh fruit works well in herbal teas too. I like to put berries in a large pitcher of a lighter colored tea both for the flavor and the visual effect.

I find myself to be stubborn about my morning tea and afternoon hot tea, but I usually stay experimental when doing iced tea. I like it sweet or unsweet, flavorful or just mellow. Black and green teas do make great iced teas, but I have found that using an herbal tea gives it a sweet flavor with or without sweetener. And without the caffeine, the herbal iced tea is more refreshing in the long term because it is not a diuretic. So for yardwork, golfing or any outdoor activities in the heat, my highest recommendation for staying cool is a nice big supply of freshly made herbal iced tea!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"A Tale of A Two Tea Faux-Pas" or "Why I Cannot Drink Green Tea"

I thought it would be fun to tell a semi-embarrassing story about myself, and my endeavors into the different kinds of tea and preparation methods. I should mention I have a very high sensitivity to everything that goes into my body, and I have an especially sensitive stomach. I am also very 'obsessive' about things when I first discover them. So when this story takes place, I was doing a lot of experimenting with the teas that were available to me in my local area.

I happened upon a large box of oolong tea at the thrift store, of all places. The box had been opened and the package pulled apart slightly. But most, if not all, of the tea was still there, and kept fairly fresh. I took it home as my first oolong tea, and experimented with preparing it cup-by-cup, and the 'kung-fu' method. For those not familiar, the kung-fu method is a method of preparing oolong tea of a more gentle and subtle flavor so that the flavors can be experienced in a slightly higher concentrated infusion. It is done by filling your teapot up to half with oolong tea, pouring on the hot water, and infusing for 30 seconds before pouring off. Then, the process is repeated with a longer infusion time, such as 1 min. Then again, and as many times as it will hold flavor, the process is repeated, each time increasing the brewing time. It is an excellent way to prepare oolong tea if you want a lot of flavor, especially if it is a high quality oolong of very delicate flavor, and you are feeling impatient.

Several days later, I was in a local Indian-type grocery store and looking at their selection of tea. They had a decent Darjeeling that I had tried before, but I noticed a large bag of tea that strongly resembled the oolong tea I had been drinking. I was excited because I couldn't find this tea locally anywhere, and the bag was really large, maybe a pound, and was cheap! The bag did actually say "green tea" on it, but I thought to myself that surely it was oolong tea, but for some odd reason they had it marked 'green'. Convinced that it was oolong tea, I bought it, took it home, boiled up some fresh water and got busy preparing my teapot with a nice handful of my newly found supposed oolong tea. I allowed it the 30 second infusion that is normal for the first infusion of kung-fu style tea, and poured into my teacup. I blew at my first sip and cooled it enough to where I could actually have a taste of my Indian Grocery store bought... so I thought... but it's not... oolong tea. And when I took in my first big drink, my eyes lit up, mouth watered and I knew then that the label was right! This was no oolong tea, this was a strong, loose gunpowder style green tea, and green tea does not taste good prepared kung-fu! Several minutes later, I could feel the antioxidants shooting through my veins, pushing poisons and all sorts of uncleanliness out of my body. It felt horrible, even though I'm sure it was a grand detoxification process. It tasted terrible, and I could never bring myself to drink that tea again.

I have stayed away from green tea, for the most part, because I enjoy other tea's flavor more. But I have realized that green tea does not do my body good. Maybe it is too strong in antioxidants, or maybe its the astringency, but every time I drink green tea, it makes me sick, so I have to stay away from it. Looking back, I can laugh at myself, and I can still feel that green tea plunging its way through my toxified body. I still enjoy kung-fu style preparation, but with real oolong tea ONLY!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Recent Tea Excursion with Belseri Estate Assam CTC

Have a look at the little tea ball pellets from Belseri Estate! They are all very uniform and tiny, like a tray full of pachinko balls funneling into the shooting lever. I ordered them from Upton Tea last week, with my usual Keemun. Since I haven't done a tea review in a long time, I wanted to make sure I used some good water and gave it a fair chance. I've had a few cups of this at home last week using my very unoxygenated tap water, but today I tried it out at the office, where our water has enough O's with its H's to serve up a bright cup of morning tea! When I opened the bag, there was a nice aroma to it, but it hasn't really sustained so well into my Beehouse tea canister, even though it still smells nice and fresh. The tea did a decent job of foaming at the top of the strainer basket, but there wasn't so much aroma coming from the teapot. There is an absence of the floral scent that good teas have, and it doesn't carry a brisk aroma. It does give off a caramel type scent from the dry leaf and when you bring your cup up for a sip, and the tea has somewhat of a caramel-y smoothness and taste. It has a maltiness that I like, and even though it's not real complex, it has a really nice flavor that makes a good morning or afternoon drinker, holding its weight against milk or sweeteners.

The little balls stay formed after the infusion, and they still smell nice, just not really pungent. Belseri Estate Assam CTC, TA03, is priced low enough to buy a 1/4 pound and really give it some good test runs. I think the smoothness of this tea might be attractive to people who, like me, can find some teas to be a bit too astringent for them. My stomach is oversensitive to everything I eat or drink. But with just a splash of milk, it was relaxed enough for me to drink easily. Its non-complexity does not impede it's ability to produce a appealing flavored cup of tea. I have had more impressive CTCs several times, and I have found myself going back to those that are my favorites. But I think its possible I might get this one again since it is a really nice cup. It seems to lean towards the malty side of the black tea spectrum. I rate this tea with a "thumbs-up" because of its smoothness on the palate, its flavor, drinkability and its ease on the wallet. Happy sipping!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tea Blog Rises From The Dead, Witnesses Say It Was 'Divine Intervention'


How are you all doing?

Sorry I've been missing our little get-togethers here. Well, instead of making up excuses that probably aren't true, I will just let you all know that it's not serious. I have been writing two other blogs, Righteous Metal, and Questions Make You Smarter, and I am pretty zoned in on those. Therefore this blog is now going to be sacrificed to some really eclectic and unpredictable tangents that enter my thoughts, ignoring the guards at the gate.

This is probably not a good idea, Sean. Turn back. TURN BACK!!

But I just cannot resist. I began to share my blog post on how to make a good cup of tea, and then suddenly... THIS happened.

Well the urge has hit me, and at a time when I so happen to have a really nice CTC type of Assam on hand. I have been really happy with my first two cups, so ... well... here we go again!

Next thing you know I will be having a tea party on the ceiling!!

Monday, May 3, 2010

I'm back, and cleared by the docs to drink more tea!

Heeeello! It feels great to be back here. I have had quite a rough week with a few very uncomfortable hospital visits. But I am now free to stay away from them for a while, and free to drink more tea! Cheers!

I have been enjoying my latest order from Upton Teas. The first package I opened was a sample of Tippy Yunnan Select. I steeped my first cup at work (where the water is good) and reacted to the aroma about like Toucan Sam sniffs out a bowl of Fruit Loops. It was like my nose just followed that sweet Yunnan tea scent of maple,caramel and nutmeg right down to the top of the pot. It had been several days since I had sipped a good cup of tea you see, so I may have gotten a little excited. Also exciting was the layer of thick malt resting atop the tea leaves, which were very intriguing to look at both when wet and dry. The word "tippy" in the name of this tea is not to be underrated.

Yunnan tea is different to me because it has so much flavor for having such a light body. Maybe not that light, but compared to a lot of other China black teas I think it does. This tea has a very nice array of flavors to ponder. My tongue flipped through them like a rolodex, discovering a modest bit of mocha, chasing a hint of hazelnut, and digging at other flavors lying underneath the ever present honeysuckle maple top. This is a very clean, easy sipping tea. There is not much of a mention of briskness in this cup, which I find common with 'tippy' Yunnans. I gave these leaves close to five minutes of steeping time, and a minimal amount of additives. It's not a terribly expensive tea, and I think its quality makes it a very good value. This is something I would like to have stocked in my tea shelf often. My next order from Upton will probably have to include a larger quantity of this tea.

I have opened a nice Assam and Ceylon BOP to share next time. Need to give them further review tomorrow so... see ya then!!