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Origin: India, Sri Lanka, Kenya – Ingredients: Luxury Black tea – Good flavor tempered with flowery character and malty notes. 50%+ Ethical Tea Partnership, 50%+ Fair Trade Tea.
Leaf Type: Herbal/Functional Tisane
Where to Buy: Algonquin Tea Co.
Blends nutritious and supportive herbs with stimulating herbs, producing a balanced, uplifting tea that energizes without the side-effects of caffeine.
Learn more about this tea here.
Learn more about subscribing to Postal Teas here.
This is tasty … for an herbal tea. And that last part is the problem. I’m not big on herbal teas. I never have been. I’d rather drink Camellia Sinensis. And unfortunately with the Postal Teas 9th edition box – all three selections were herbal teas. Herbal teas from Algonquin.
Now, granted, all of these Algonquin herbal teas were unique and quite different from anything that I’ve ever tried. And that’s both a blessing and a curse because while there may be an ingredient or two that I recognize in this blend, for the most part, I’m drinking herbs that I’m not really familiar with so it makes it difficult to recognize and reconcile what I’m tasting.
But I still tried it because that’s what I do. I taste teas and then I write about what I’m tasting.
In this blend, the most easily identifiable ingredient and flavor is the mint. It’s crisp and adds a nice, refreshing element to the cup. There’s ginseng – not a favorite herb of mine. I can taste the earthiness of the ginseng. Nettle is in this too and I’m glad to report that while I get hints of the bitterness that goes with Nettle, it’s not a strong or dominant flavor.
Then there are some other ingredients that I’m less familiar with, like alfalfa (oh, sure, I know what it is, I just don’t recall having it in a tea any time recently), astragalus, angelica, joe-pye and calamus. It also has labrador, which I’m pretty sure I’ve had before, but again, it’s not something I’m familiar enough with to taste it and say, ‘yep, that’s labrador’ with complete confidence.
The combination of these ingredients is supposed to be a stimulating and energizing tea without caffeine. OK, but, I kind of like my caffeine. The only time that I’m not up for some caffeine (tea caffeine, that is, not coffee!) is when I’m getting close to bedtime. So, I can’t say that I really want an herbal, caffeine-free stimulant. I like my stimulants caffeinated, thank you.
Overall, it doesn’t taste bad. It tastes minty with an herbaceous and earthy background. Mint is the top note. It’s tasty. If you’re looking for a caffeine-free stimulant, you should try it. If I were looking for a caffeine-free stimulant, I might first consider that I’m trapped in a bad dream. But if after determining that I’m not in a bad dream and I’m not having some kind of mental breakdown and I still – for some unfathomable reason – want a caffeine-free stimulant, this is something I’d consider.
I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed to learn that the 9th edition box from Postal Teas was all herbal selections. While I did enjoy these herbal teas for the most part, herbal selections just don’t excite this tea drinker all that much.
That said, these teas from Algonquin were alright and I drank them and didn’t hate them. There were definite “pros” to them. For example of the three herbals that I tried, there were no hibiscus in any of them! Nope, not even a little bit of hibiscus. Big bonus points to Algonquin for crafting herbal blends without that horrible hibiscus stuff. And I also appreciate that they’re unique. There are ingredients that I’ve not been exposed to, and like I said, that’s both a blessing and a curse. I would like to be able to taste something and say “oh yeah, that’s the __.” But, I can’t really reconcile some of the flavor notes because there are ingredients that I’m not so familiar with.
But the benefit is that it’s something different. This doesn’t taste like the average herbal blend from ABC company, you know? So like I said, blessing and a curse.
Overall, I’d say that while my experience with this 10th edition of the Postal Teas subscription was not the most exciting and thrilling of boxes that I’ve received over the past 30 days or so, I didn’t dislike the teas that I drank from the box. And that’s a “pro” too.
It's hard to believe it but +Tea for Me Please turned six this year. Blogging can be a lot of work but it's also very rewarding. These are a few of the tools that I find absolutely indispensable to keeping the blog running while maintaining my sanity (most of the time). I know a lot of my readers are also bloggers, tea or otherwise. Is there a great tool that I missed? Let me know about it in Nicole Martinhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
Many a “tea master” certification program will tell you that there’s a rule to what is and is not “tea”: All “true tea” comes from the same plant. This rule is an easy way to distinguish tea from herbal infusions/decoctions. However, as people get rooted in the traditions of tea, they often come to know (intellectually and/or experientially) that tea does not simply come from one plant. Recently, I have been soaking this in on both the intellectual and the experiential levels, and I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve absorbed with you in the hope that it will be of benefit to your tea practice.
Through visits to tea plantations and farms over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to see many different “cloned” tea varietals (which are more like grafted plants than the laboratory creations that the term “cloned” tends to evoke). There are numerous variations amongst these tea plant types. Some can be easily recognized by their appearance, such as leaf shape and edge serration, leaf size, leaf color, bud / leaf downiness and plant structure. Additionally, many a plantation manager or tea farmer will point out the major differences in their heartiness, drought resistance, growth rate, yield, etc. And many a buyer will notice differences in the cup: a richer color from one varietal, a more nuanced taste from another, more brewing patience in a third, and so on.
I must admit that compared to other aspects of tea, the traits of different clonal varieties is only of mi- nor interest to me. After all, these plants are primarily used for monocropping across entire fields or, in some areas, enormous swaths of land as far as the eye can see. And monocropping has a history of generating monumental failures, such as the Irish Potato Famine and the massive coffee blight that (on the upside) led Sri Lanka to become a tea growing nation (yet, as an obvious downside, did not prevent the widespread practice of monocropping tea there). While the idea of generating plants to meet specific producer/market needs was intellectually interesting to me for a time, neither the idea nor the practice fed the needs of my soul. And the potential for the large-scale downfall, well… harboring or reacting to this kind of fear is the antithesis of Being. So, when people began to talk about different clonals and their properties, my mind listened, but my soul did not.
Until recently, I took this lack of enchantment to be something broader than it is. Clonals didn’t generate a spark in me, so I didn’t place high importance upon learning about or experiencing tea varietals in general. And then, I started drinking the Purple Tea we sent out a few months back, and everything changed.
At the risk of discussing one wonderful tea while ignoring another equally wonderful tea as it sits right in front of us, please allow me to explain how Purple Tea helped me understand and appreciate tea varietals more fully. Purple Tea is ancient. As you may have felt from drinking Purple Tea, its spirit speaks of an age that predates mankind. To me, it conveys the moment of a dawning day at a time long before humans were around to observe the phenomena of celestial cycles. It is an expression of the beauty that existed before we did, perhaps simply for the sake of existing, or perhaps in preparation for human observation to reflect its beauty back toward it.
Suffice it to say, this is not the kind of radiance you are likely to encounter in a cloned plant.
Around the time I was sensing the splendor of Purple Tea, a package arrived. It contained a large quantity of forest-grown Puerh. Like Purple Tea, it is from an older, wilder type of tea plant than the vast majority of the tea out there. And like Purple Tea, it speaks to the soul in a powerfully different way from a plantation-grown clonal tea.
Shortly thereafter, I had the chance to visit Sun Moon Lake with Kaiya and Antonio, a longtime supporter of Tea Sage Hut who recently visited us from Barcelona. At Sun Moon Lake, we walked around the local tea research center’s tea garden, where hundreds of seed-propagated plants grow freely. Each was an Assamica tea plant, yet each was distinct. Each was an expression of the plant’s genetic mixing through the sexual reproduction inherent to seed propagation. Similarly, when we visited one local tea farm, we saw a field of seed-propagated plants with varying colors, shapes and textures—a markedly different sight from the seemingly perfect uniformity in the fields of clonal, monocropped plants that make up the majority of tea production today.
End of Part One. Part Two, Tea Varietals Part 2, will publish next Wednesday, January 14, 2015.
Leaf Type: Black
Where to Buy: Nepali Tea Traders
An authentic medley of black tea lightly spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and other spices traditional in Nepal.
Learn more about this tea here.
This is a different chai! Usually, when I think of a chai, I think of a very strong black tea base with spices that are equally as strong to create a robust, full-flavored cuppa that is ideal as a latte. This isn’t that chai.
That’s not to say that I dislike it. On the contrary, I’m actually quite enjoying this Himalayan Masala Spiced Tea from Nepali Tea Traders! It’s different, sure, but, I like the warm, cozy flavor of this tea. It’s a lovely tea to enjoy on a chilly afternoon – like today!
The black tea base is lighter than I’m used to in a chai – but it’s smooth and crisp. I’d categorize this as a medium-bodied tea, it’s a little crisper, and a little lighter than an Assam or a Nilgiri which are the teas most often used as a base for a chai. This base is more reminiscent of a Darjeeling, but perhaps a little more substantial. It has some lovely fruit notes to it that meld beautifully with the warm spices.
The spices here are consistent with the body of the tea – that is to say that the spices aren’t overpowering the tea base. Instead, since this is a slightly lighter bodied tea, the spices are not as strong. I get gentle notes of cardamom, ginger, cloves and cinnamon. It’s a cozy, comforting combination of flavors that is reminiscent of a spice cookie.
I didn’t go latte with this blend because I felt that it would overwhelm the lighter character of the cup. And because it is a little lighter, if you’re one who automatically adds sweetener to your tea before tasting, I’d suggest tasting this one first. It has a gentle sweetness to it and it’s really good without anything added.
A really lovely chai – this is one I’d recommend to those who tend to shy away from chai blends because they find them to be too spicy. This one might be more to your liking – it’s a warmly spiced blend, but not what I’d call spicy. It’s quite delightful.
Where To Buy:
Leaf Type: Rooibos & Herbal
Learn more about Simple Loose Leaf here.
This healthy and harmonious herbal tea blends peppermint, ginseng, cinnamon, echinacea, sarsaparilla, licorice, and organic South African rooibos. The cooling peppermint and warm cinnamon notes pair perfectly with the sweet, soothing finish provided by the other herbs. This special blend is an ideal and tasty way to stimulate your immune system.
Learn more about this tisane here.
Learn more about Simple Loose Leaf’s Co-Op program here.
As I’ve said in the past, I’m not usually a big fan of ginseng, but this blend has enough going on that I barely notice that the ginseng is there! I’m too busy enjoying the contrast between crisp, cool peppermint and zesty cinnamon and snappy licorice to focus on the ginseng. The peppermint, cinnamon and licorice are the three strongest components of this cup.
This is a delightful tisane to sip on this cold winter’s night. The combination of cinnamon and licorice are warming me from the inside out, while the peppermint adds a refreshing element. As I said, I don’t taste much from the ginseng. I also don’t taste a lot from the rooibos or the echinacea.
At first, I had trouble locating the sarsaparilla in this, but if I slurp the sip, I do pick up on a light root beer-ish flavor in the distance, and it’s quite an interesting note to be tasting along with the cinnamon. Peppermint and licorice are both profiles that I’ve occasionally noticed in gourmet root beers, but not cinnamon. The cinnamon and sarsaparilla are quite intriguing and this combination is keeping me sipping.
This is a tisane that was a sample in my last box from Simple Loose Leaf (when they switched from the selection club to the co-op plan), and I held on to it for a while because … well, because it’s a tisane. That’s why. I have admitted before that I’m often skittish when it comes to tisanes and this just goes to show what I mean by that.
But I’m glad I finally decided to try it because I enjoyed this. It’s a wonderful medley of contrasts, and there’s a lot of health benefits in this too!
Country of Origin: not listed Leaf Appearance: small, deep green Ingredients: oolong tea Steep time: 3 minutes Water Temperature: 195 degrees Preparation Method: Teavana Perfect Steeper Liquor: pale green Bao Zhong is usually produced in Taiwan but +The Persimmon Tree doesn't specifically say where this tea is from. The leaves were small and somewhat broken, typical of this style of tea. From Nicole Martinhttps://email@example.com
In early December 2014, I received a press release from the public relations company representing Brazilia Cafe about the cafe's hot chocolate menu. Rotea suggested I ask the company to arrange a tasting for me. Indulgence PR responded quickly and affirmatively. On a very cold day, coincidentally, I went to the cafe. I thought I would taste small shots of all the hot chocolates, but since I was offered full-size servings I selected three drinks from the menu.
Mitchell, the cafe's manager, met me and brought me to the bar in the rear of the cafe. Cesar, the barista, was personable and prepared the hot chocolates well.
What did I drink? The Hazelnut, Black Bottom, and Melting Marshmallow.
The Hazelnut was a nice combination of chocolate and real Nutella. It was not too sweet, thick enough, and smooth with Nutella bits on the bottom. Hershey's dark semi-sweet chocolate chips are used to prepare the drinks at Brazilia Cafe. Say no to powder! The hot chocolates are prepared with organic whole milk from Horizon.
The second hot chocolate I drank was the Black Bottom. A good hot chocolate with a thinner consistency than the Hazelnut and coconut notes. About three-quarters of the way down you taste the fudge layer which has a dried berry flavor.
Finally, I drank the Melting Marshmallow. It's the cafe's Original, minus the cinnamon, topped with a very large marshmallow. The marshmallow did not melt very much. I probably should have ordered the Espresso Italiano or even the Orange Spiced which is made with orange *and* cardamom.
If you visit - and you should - order the Hazelnut or the Black Bottom. Brazilia Cafe is located at 684 Broadway at Great Jones Street.
Hot chocolate courtesy of Brazilia Cafe. Thank you to Indulgence PR for arranging the tasting.
When I was young, I used to love watching Chinese period dramas that involve an emperor drinking poisoned wine from a magic (usually sparkly) goblet and miraculously not die because of the mysterious properties of the goblet. Who would have thought I would encounter something similar to that in real life with tenmoku cups?
Tenmoku is a type of pottery made up of feldspar, limestone and iron oxide. Its name derives from the Tianmu (Heavenly Eye) mountain in China, where these iron-glazed bowls originated from. Their unique oil-spotted glaze comes about through a long firing process that affects the formation of iron crystals within the glaze. Interestingly enough, these patterns were originally considered as mistakes/flaws as the bowls were just meant to be a uniform colour, but a Song dynasty emperor took such a strong liking to these accidental abstract designs that tenmoku ware became elevated to a royal status in China. In Japan, it also has a revered place in the formal tea ceremony.
I wouldn’t have known any of this if Kenny had not invited me to a tenmoku panel tasting a few weeks ago. The interesting thing is that I got to know Kenny through Instagram (we tea people somehow find ways of connecting), and for the longest time, I would see him posting gorgeous photos of tenmoku teaware. It was quite exciting to finally see tenmoku in real life (some even from the Song Dynasty), and I could get lost admiring the complexity of gorgeous iridescent sheens of the various tenmoku pieces.
But we were also here for another purpose. Kenny is convinced that tenmoku enhances the taste and texture of tea, and he wanted to share that experience with us. We would drink tea and wine first from a tenmoku cup, and then a regular white porcelain cup. Since this is T Ching, I’ll just focus on the tea though the wine-tasting component also produced some fascinating results (one wine journalist said that if he didn’t know the wine was poured from the same bottle, he’d think they were two different wines altogether).
First, we had a Phoenix Dan Cong oolong tea. It was a lovely sweet tea that tasted good both in the tenmoku and porcelain cups. However, with the tenmoku, the tea seemed to increase in complexity and left a rounder, woodier aftertaste. Next up, we had a Rou Gui oolong tea, which I actually felt differed markedly between the two types of cups. In the tenmoku cup, the tea actually felt more astringent and had more pronounced roasty notes to it.
Of course, we were all intrigued – what was the tenmoku doing to the tea? Nobody really knows. Kenny offered a possible explanation by showing how these tenmoku cups are actually magnetic (he swirled a few around using magnets) due to its high iron content going under high heat. An active magnetic field may possibly alter the arrangement of tea molecules. There was some discussion on this with a scientist on the tasting panel, but I got rather lost in the sciencey words (something about epsilon phase?) and began to imagine how Magneto from X-Men would have a field day with tenmoku.
But wow! I feel so privileged to have had this almost magical experience. It’s interesting how an interest in tea eventually spills over to a greater awareness about teaware and how it can totally transform the tea-drinking experience.
Photos courtesy of Erwin Tan (www.shade.sg)
Leaf Type: Black
Where to Buy: Tippy’s Tea
A magical tea. Reindeer bitten and handpicked by elves in their off season, this tea is beloved by Santa Claus himself!
Our North Pole estate is a dark, malty black tea blend with hints of cinnamon, gingerbread, cloves, and a touch of chocolate. A delicious holiday tea to keep you warm. Recommended to slightly sweeten. Adding milk or brewing as a latte will add an extra dreamy creaminess.
Learn more about this tea here.
Yeah, I know that the holiday has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still be enjoying holiday tea blends! I, for one, love the warm, spicy flavors that seem to be a consistent theme for the holiday teas and I think they’re perfectly relevant to be sipping any time you want to feel that warm, cozy feeling!
This is the first tea from this new-to-me company that I’ve tried and I’m trying it in a brand new teacup! Last year, I broke my beloved Starry Night (Van Gogh) teacup and I’ve been using others that I have but I really needed a new big mug teacup that I loved as much as that Starry Night because I love tea – you know I do! But tea tastes so much better when it’s served in something you love to drink out of!
And yes … I’m a Harry Potter nerd. And while there are many parts of the books/movies that bring tears to my eyes, no five words from the Harry Potter world bring tears to my eyes more effectively than these:
“After all this time?” “Always.”
Yep, I’m tearing up right now.
So, let’s talk about this tea.
My initial couple of sips were not quite as spiced as I expected them to be. I let the cup cool for a few minutes, hoping that some time would help bring the flavors forward.
And it does! I am tasting more spice now. I taste subtle notes of cinnamon. The clove is even more subtle. I taste a background note of gingerbread and a hint of chocolate. The spices are not strong here – this isn’t a chai! – it’s an “estate” tea. A North Pole Estate.
Single Estate teas tend to take on the flavors that surround the estate, but usually subtly. The leaves absorb the essences that fill the air. In the North Pole, I’d imagine the scent of warm spice, gingerbread and chocolate permeate the air. And that’s what this cup brings to this cup.
The black tea is a strong blend of black teas from India and China (Assam and Keemun teas). Bold, malty, rich. There are wine-like notes to it along with the notes of malt. The finish is dry.
The cinnamon is the most pronounced of the flavors, with hints of clove dancing in the background. The chocolate is subtle but every now and again, it weaves its way into the sip in a very pleasing way. The gingerbread becomes more noticeable when I slurp the sip and aerate the liquid on the palate.
A really interesting cuppa. I like it.
The BBC’s popular serial drama, _Downton Abbey_, has returned to PBS for a 5th season! Full of beautiful costumes, sets, and English countryside, this historical drama also includes tea as a regular part of life, as it was in Edwardian, … Continue reading →
Leaf Type: Pu-erh
Where to Buy: White Two Tea
Repave was made with aged puer tea material from 2007, which was stored in Menghai for 7 1/2 years prior to being pressed in November of 2014. The soup is already a dark bronze color, sweet and soft. The material is from Hekai. This is the second and final pressing of this material. Some of the wrappers were stamped incorrectly as 2006.
Learn more about this tea here.
Learn more about White Two Tea’s Tea Club Subscription here.
Smooth! Really, really smooth and mellow!
That’s my first impression of this tea.
To brew this pu-erh, I grabbed my gaiwan and heated the water to 190°F. Then I eyeballed a measurement of leaves – what looked like about a bamboo scoop of leaves – and put them into the bowl of the gaiwan. The leaves of this sample have been cut from a cake that probably looked like the cake in the photograph above. Some of the leaf pieces are individual leaves, but most of them are chunks of several leaves that I pried apart carefully with a knife.
Then I poured enough of the hot water into the gaiwan to cover the leaves and I steeped it for 15 seconds. Then I strained off the liquid and discarded it. This is the “rinse.”
I’ve found that this simple ‘rinse’ procedure is the big difference between a cup of pu-erh that I can enjoy drinking versus a cup of pu-erh that I would rather discard. So, if you find pu-erh to be too earthy or just off-putting, I recommend trying the rinse! It really does make a HUGE difference!
Then I filled the gaiwan with more water and this time, I steeped the tea for 45 seconds and strained the liquid into my favorite “little” teacup. It holds one gaiwan-full of tea. How much is that? I don’t know. I’ve never actually measured it.
My first cup is SMOOTH. Mellow. It has a lovely sweetness that is somewhere between a deep molasses and a buttery caramel. It’s earthy – but it isn’t an off-putting or overwhelmingly strong earthy flavor. It’s beautifully mellow at this stage. There are distant mineral-y notes. This first cup disappeared quickly because … I really enjoyed it!
The second cup is just as smooth as the first. The flavor is deeper this time. Still very sweet and that sweetness is still very molasses-y/buttery caramel. I taste less of the earthy notes that I tasted in the first cup now, but the distant mineral notes are still there. This cup seems to be all about the sweet and that’s quite alright by me.
This tea just seems to keep on getting sweeter with each infusion! The third cup is even sweeter than the first two. With this cup, I am picking up very little earthiness (an occasional earthy tone here and there) and the aforementioned mineral notes are softer now. This is just SWEET.
Later infusions offered the same sweet, molasses-y taste, and I liked that the earthiness mellowed out significantly by the fourth cup. I don’t know if it’s that my palate has become more acclimated with the sweetness of this tea or that the flavors are just now emerging, but I am starting to discover some soft floral notes.
A truly lovely pu-erh – this is one you’ll fall in love with!
Country of Origin: Japan Leaf Appearance: small, deep green Ingredients: green tea Steep time: 1 minute Water Temperature: 175 degrees Preparation Method: kyusu Liquor: bright green Back in October I reviewed Ippodo Tea Co.'s Unro Sencha (for the second time). I was eager to compare it to this one. It always amazes me just how different two teas of the same type can be. The taste was Nicole Martinhttps://firstname.lastname@example.org
A huge part of my job as a tea importer trying to establish Chinese tea service as a cultural practice in America is drawing analogies. This is quite easy when it comes to the tea itself – good tea, like good wine, beer, chocolate, coffee, liquor, or pretty much anything else, is sublime and exquisite, diverse and capable of being appreciated to great depth. The difference between the highest grades of gourmet tea and the bland dust found in most commercial teabags can be readily demonstrated by comparing low and high grades of items that American consumers are more familiar with. For example, someone who appreciates beer can understand the difference between a Trappist ale and a Miller High Life.
Finding an analogy for the art and discipline of gong fu cha, the Chinese tea service that is inextricable from Chinese tea culture itself, is more difficult, because the practice has no analogue in modern American society. For those unfamiliar with gong fu cha, it essentially involves the use of small, purpose-made teaware to produce a concentrated infusion of tea using a large dose of whole-leaf tea, with carefully controlled temperature, steeping time, and even pour heights to bring out the full flavor of the tea. Wine, beer, and chocolate are all ready to consume as soon as their containers are opened, so there is no equivalent “preparation” step. Liquor is made into cocktails by mixing it with other ingredients, which is not part of the practice of gong fu cha – this is a common source of confusion amongst people newly exposed to Chinese tea. People often imagine a masterful tea server as having knowledge of a broad variety of plants, and carefully combining leaves and flowers in precise ratios to make specialty blends. This is undoubtedly an art unto itself, but the person practicing it is an herbalist, and they are not practicing gong fu cha. Tea, in the gong fu service, is a pure substance, and is not adulterated with sugar, milk, lemon, or anything else.
The closest analogy found in modern America is the specialty preparation of very fine coffees, especially the making of espresso. Here, also, the grinding, tamping, timing and temperature of the brewing process have a profound effect on the finished beverage. The processes of pulling espresso and pouring tea differ in a few important aspects, the most obvious of which is the use of a mechanical intermediary – the espresso machine. Without falling down a linguistic rabbit hole, the term “gong fu” refers to a uniquely Chinese concept that can be roughly translated to “skill acquired through mindful practice.” When I teach gong fu cha classes, I emphasize that you cannot be “taught” gong fu, but merely the techniques of serving tea – gong fu is an internal quality that must be cultivated over time by the individual through patient application of those techniques. It is my personal opinion that the use of devices such as timers, scales, or thermometers hinders the development of gong fu. I even avoid water boilers with temperature settings for different teas – each tea requires a different temperature, even two teas within the same category, and one tea can require a different temperature on different days. These kinds of ineffable nuances can only be developed slowly, consciously, and without the aid of machinery.
Coffee is also less diverse than tea in the range of flavors and aromas that it can produce – no two coffees (the kind used for espresso anyway) are going to taste as different from each other as green and black tea, not to mention raw and ripened pu er, white tea, yellow tea, and the grand spectrum of flavors and fragrances found in oolong. None of this is meant to detract from the depth of coffee culture or the skill inherent in the art of pulling espresso – merely to draw a clear distinction. Additionally, a talented barista is not only able to pull a good espresso but to use that espresso to make a whole range of coffee drinks by mixing it with different proportions of milk, water, foam, and other ingredients. Again, the inclusion of ingredients other than tea is simply not part of the process of gong fu cha.
The closest analogue I can find for gong fu cha is alchemy – an archaic proto-science that essentially involves the transmutation of one pure substance into another pure substance. In the West, alchemists famously sought to turn various substances into gold, while in the East their aim was to achieve immortality either through the production of an elixir or the internal refinement of subtle energies. When I teach gong fu cha, proper posture, breathing, centering, and feeling throughout the process are much more important than the temperature, time, and dosage, which can be discovered through simple trial and error. The Chinese word for breath is qi, and it is indistinguishable from the Chinese concept of life force. At its highest levels, gong fu cha is the art of being receptive to the qi of the tea plant itself, as well as the water, fire, and clay used in the tea service, and of appropriately applying one’s own qi through breath, action, and focus to harmonize these energies. The finished product, imbued with this refined qi, reflects not only the quality of the ingredients (tea, water, clay) and the skill of the server (timing, temperature, dosage), but also the qi of the server as it comes to bear on the beverage.
Incidentally, there are some palpable, though subtle, indices of mindful brewing that extend beyond the physical parameters and that can be detected and sometimes tasted in the finished infusion. The most notable of these are the cha qi and the hui gan. Cha qi is, of course, the qi of the liquid tea, and it manifests itself as a subjective, somewhat psychoactive sensation – the “buzz” of the tea. In Chinese tea culture, this is one of the most valued and sought after aspects of the tea, and for the true connoisseur good qi is infinitely more important than the mere taste or fragrance of the brew. It is considered to be an attribute of the tea itself, rather than of the person preparing the tea, but it requires skillful and mindful preparation in order to bring it out. The qi is locked in the leaves, and it is the cooperation of fire, water, earth, and the person pouring the tea that makes it available in the finished beverage.
The second attribute I mentioned, hui gan, is much more distinct as it can actually be detected with the senses. It is also more apt to vary from one person to another preparing the same tea. Hui gan literally means “returning sweetness” and refers to the deep, lingering fragrance and sensation produced by high quality tea. A comparable English term is “aftertaste” although this falls far short of describing the complexity and dynamism of hui gan. Like cha qi, hui gan is inherent in the tea itself, and like cha qi it requires skillful brewing – not just perfect timing and temperature – to unlock. I have experimented with brewing identical dosages of the same tea simultaneously, using the same timing, water, and temperature in identical vessels. The general concentration, the simple flavor components such as sweetness or bitterness, and even the fragrance of the resulting brews are indistinguishable, but the hui gan is immediately and noticeably different. It differs from person to person, often with remarkable consistency, in not only degree but also the part of the mouth where it hits first, and how the sensation spreads through the mouth afterwards. I have done this even with identical twins, and found that no two people can brew identical cups of tea – it is the internal alchemy of gong fu cha that determines the deepest aspects of this infinitely complex beverage.
You can learn more about So Han Fan’s mission and passion at West China Tea Co.
Leaf Type: Black
Where to Buy: M&K’s Tea Company on Etsy
That classic Earl Grey taste. Our classic version uses just two ingredients: tea and bergamot extract. The kind folks over at the Uva Halpewatte tea estate grow an extra smooth, light, and sweet black tea, perfect for complimenting the sweetness of the bergamot orange!
Learn more about this tea here.
Hmm. When I opened the pouch, I have to say that I was a little disappointed. Where’s my bergamot? I want bergamot and I want the bergamot to be evident when I open the package of tea. I want that big gust of BERGAMOT essence to blow me away. Didn’t get that when I opened this package. I’m hoping that the bergamot will show up after the tea is brewed.
To brew it, I used my trusty Kati tumbler. I measured 1 bamboo scoop of loose leaf tea into the basket, and then I added 12 ounces of boiling water. I let the tea steep for 3 minutes.
The aroma smells more like Ceylon tea than it does bergamot. Again, I have to ask: Where’s my bergamot?
Then I taste it.
Well, I’m bummed out.
I taste very little bergamot. As in next to no bergamot. This is the Earl Grey tea for those of you out there who don’t like bergamot. Then again, why are you looking for an Earl Grey tea if you don’t like bergamot?
But for this bergamot lover, I’m left feeling a little let down. Maybe more than a little. I love me some bergamot, and there really isn’t much bergamot to speak of in this tea.
I can taste hints of orange in the background, and it’s difficult to say if that orange note that I’m tasting is from the UVA Halpewatte Ceylon tea (because quite a few Ceylon teas have a natural ‘citrus-y’ note to them), or if that’s supposed to be the bergamot.
In the aftertaste, I am getting notes of bergamot.
As for the Ceylon tea, it’s a pleasant tasting tea. It starts out smooth and finishes with a moderate astringency. A medium-bodied tea with that brisk flavor that I generally associate with a Ceylon. Notes of citrus in the background (again, not sure if that’s the tea or if it’s supposed to be the bergamot) and a subtle floral note. The aftertaste of the Ceylon is clean which allows me to notice the faint presence of the bergamot.
The bergamot does come forward just a little as the tea cools off a little bit. To be honest, it tastes more like orange than it does bergamot and its still not punching me in the mouth. I expect a strong PUNCH of bergamot when I drink an Earl Grey tea and I’m just not getting that, even after some cooling time.
Sorry M&K’s … I’ve enjoyed most of the teas that I’ve tried thus far but this one just isn’t doing it for me. They can’t all be winners, I suppose, it saddens me that the one that fails me is one of my favorite of three tea flavors (the others being chocolate and a tie between caramel and vanilla. And jasmine.) OK, so I have more than 3 favorite tea flavors.
This is the ideal Earl Grey tea for those of you who like your bergamot on the subtle side. But if you’re like me and want the tea to be unmistakably bergamot-ish, then this one might be a bit of a disappointment for you.
Please don’t let that stop you from trying other teas from this company though, they have a nice selection of teas and I’ve enjoyed many of the others that I’ve tried. Plus … they have fantastic customer service!
Where To Buy:
Harvest when the flower is only partially bloomed, the Tia Ju Wang is one of the most excellent chrysanthemum teas available. Made with only the finest Hangzhou white chrysanthemum flowers, the tea’s fresh and sweet aroma never fails to elicit an “Mmmm” reaction. When brewed, the chrysanthemum flowers produce a light-bodied tea that is vibrant yellow in color. The tea has a honey-like sweetness and a heaven-like fragrance. This tea finishes with a delicious aftertaste.
Graceful and pure, you will find this tea incredibly refreshing. Superior all around, the Hangzhou Tai Ju Wang is a truly a king among all chrysanthemum teas.
This tisane wanted to start smelling like Chamomile and then it switched gears into something much more pleasing to my nose! YAY! I only say this because usually I’m not much of a fan of Chamomile.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one…after all I am looking at the dry mix and bye-golly…I’m going to drink flower buds! So…maybe I was thinking it was going to taste flower…maybe more like bitter flowers like rose or marigold or something but that wasn’t the case…
Honey-like sweetness is right! This tisane is a pure delight! It’s A lovely-sweet and almost honey-like after taste but more buttery, or slippery than others I have thought to be honey-like? Perhaps more like a Buttery-Popcorn covered in honey! Regardless – there is something more to the aftertaste than just honey-sweetness and sweet-floral notes and I just think it’s darling!
Leaf Type: Oolong
Where to Buy: 52Teas
This was one of the suggestions I got for the new blend in the 12 Teas of Christmas set. I liked the idea so much I decided to make it NOW rather than save it for the gift set. Fujian oolong, ginger and lemon myrtle combined with organic flavors make this a treat you won’t want to miss out on. It will warm your bones and please your palate.
Learn more about this tea here.
Learn how to subscribe to 52Teas’ Tea of the Week program here.
Mmm! This tea evokes happy memories for me. Every once in a while when my daughters were younger, we used to have tea parties. We’d go all out for them, making little finger sandwiches and scones and buying special sweets for the occasion. Our favorite cookies were ginger cookies with a lemon cream filling. The zesty flavor of the ginger along with the bright flavor of the lemon – a perfectly delightful combination.
And this tea is also perfectly delightful!
I like that I’m tasting lemon and ginger here, but that they aren’t overpowering the Oolong base. Oolong is one of those teas that I often think is better off left alone and not flavored because it can easily go wrong, and most Oolong teas are simply amazing without anything added to them.
Oh, I’ve enjoyed many flavored Oolong teas and I even flavored an Oolong in my blending days (a melon flavored Oolong which was exceptionally good – if I do say so myself). However, because it is easy to do wrong by the Oolong when flavoring it, I think that for the most part, it’s just better to leave the Oolong alone rather than just go woefully, painfully wrong with it.
BUT … Frank did good by the Oolong this time! This is lovely!
The light, creamy base of the Oolong melds beautifully well with the sharp notes of the ginger and the vibrant lemon notes, and these two flavors are not overwhelming the Oolong. It’s sweet, a little creamy, and smooth.
It tastes like a tea party in a teacup! It resteeps well too. The second infusion was almost as lovely as the first.
As I write this review, I see that there is one pouch left in stock of this tea. So, if it’s one you’d like to try, you can always request that it get reblended here. And while you’re at it, you can also submit your idea for a great tea blend!
Leaf Type: Green Tea & Rooibos
Organic! A fun tea inspired by the classic holiday candy. It’s not like drinking a candy cane though. It’s actually more on the softer side. Perfumed floral aroma, lightly minty, softly sweet with hints of raspberry.
This tea is available from Amoda Tea.
It’s also part of Amoda Tea’s Holiday Box!
Learn more about subscribing to Amoda Tea here.
So, I got a nice surprise from Amoda! As their way of thanking me for not only subscribing but also for writing reviews of the teas that they send, they sent me the Holiday Box that I wished for when I received December’s subscription box! Amoda = my Santa Claus!
And this is the first tea that I’m trying from the Holiday Box.
And YUM! This is really good. It’s a bit different than you might expect if you taste this without reading the above description of the tea. The name Candy Cane is a very suggestive name and having tried several different “candy cane” teas over the years, I’ve kind of come to expect a tea called “Candy Cane” to taste a little bit like liquefied candy cane in tea.
But just as the description above states, this doesn’t taste like that. This has a minty taste (just like most candy canes!) but the mint is balanced with a sweet-tart raspberry flavor, hints of cinnamon and whispers of sweet jasmine and rose.
The base of this tea is a green tea and red rooibos base – very festive! I don’t taste a strong flavor from the rooibos, maybe a hint of nutty flavor but it’s slight. I taste the sweet green tea peeking through the mint, raspberry and cinnamon.
The mint is a combination of peppermint and spearmint, but even though we’ve got two mint types in this blend, the mint doesn’t overpower the cup. It’s minty without tasting too much like a swig of mouthwash. The warm cinnamon contrasts with the cool minty tones and gives this cup it’s holiday flavor.
The rose and jasmine are very subtle. There’s just a soft insinuation of flower in this – and it’s just enough to add a little bit of interest to the cup. If you take a sip of this and find yourself searching for the floral notes, slurp the sip. The aeration will bring those floral notes to life.
Raspberry is the one unexpected flavor of this cup, but I like that fruity sweetness and the hint of tart that melds with the cinnamon in the aftertaste.
This is definitely an unusual Candy Cane! (But let me tell you, if I found a candy cane that tasted like this, I’d be a big fan of it, because this is yummy!) It definitely has a ‘sweet treat’ kind of taste to it, but it isn’t the traditional Candy Cane. This is a new-and-improved Candy Cane, Naked Teas Galore style!