Friday, September 26, 2014

Tasting: Dona Chai



Now that we've learned all about Dona Chai, it's time to talk more about the taste! This product is easy to prepare. It can be made hot or iced by adding equal parts chai to equal parts milk of your choice. I tried it both hot and iced, with organic cow's milk. The chai tasted very similar at both temperatures, but I preferred the flavors when hot. I think warming lets everything blend better into a smoother brew. My only concern would be for health- all of that lovely cold pressed ginger would probably lose some potency during the heating process. But I'm going for flavor, so hot is definitely what I prefer. I also just like hot tea in general, I drink hot tea all throughout the summer.

The flavor in the brew is all about the ginger, strong and zingy. But it doesn't overpower, the other spices shine through as well. The flavors are very well balanced. Spicy ginger, warming cloves and cinnamon, the tingly hum of cardamom and black pepper.  Even a mellow vanilla flavor comes through, and most of all you can taste the black tea! It's rare to find a chai concentrate that let's the tea have its own voice. My one criticism is that the brew is a bit sweet for me. I do enjoy the sweetness of chai, but with a bit more subtlety.

I usually make my chai from scratch, but this is a lovely treat for lazy (or crazy) mornings. I often crave chai while I'm out, and I would order this over any other I've tried at a cafe without hesitation. I'm excited to see that at least one of my local cafes carries the brand. Keep an eye out, it's starting to pop up around Brooklyn and Manhattan! You can find all the locations here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Spotlight: Dona Chai


I love masala chai and often make it at home. It's rare to find a pre-made or cafe created chai that doesn't disappoint, so I always have low expectations. I recently had the opportunity to try Dona Chai, a new bottled chai concentrate starting to pop up in NYC area markets and cafes. The invigorating aroma straight from the bottle smells like a homemade masala chai. After mixing with milk, the flavors are still fresh, zingy, and well balanced. This is definitely the best chai concentrate I've had, and I was eager to learn more.The founders Amy and Peter Rothstein were more than happy to answer a few questions for me, so read on to learn more about their product.


Why did you start Dona Chai?

Several months after moving to New York City, I realized that there wasn’t a local company making a chai concentrate. Especially, in coffee shops, where everything is locally driven, I saw a need for this product. I wanted to offer a local and better option for chai lattes.

Where do you source your ingredients from?

Unfortunately, my ingredients do not grow locally. I choose the next best thing: a local supplier. The owner of Dual Special Store - an Indian grocery in East Village - provides me with all of my ingredients from his Brooklyn warehouse.

Actually, fun news! I’m working on donating my compost to the Brooklyn Grange.

How did you decide on the flavors to add to your recipe?

I started with a list of around ten spices. I played around with brewing techniques and flavor combinations before landing on my recipe. I ultimately decided that I wanted to create a chai that was refined in flavor - not too complicated, and instead, perfectly balanced. What I came up with was my version of a masala chai: black tea, cold pressed ginger, cinnamon, green cardamom, vanilla bean, cloves, and black pepper.

Why did you decide on a concentrate, and not a powdered product or loose tea blend?

When baristas make chai with loose leaf blends, the tea only steeps for a few minutes before getting to the customer. Instead, Dona Chai is brewed for nearly an hour. This yields a tea that is powerful in flavor.

As far as powdered mixes, I’m not even sure how you make them! I think it’s some kind of dehydrated product that can dissolve in water. Reminds me of the chocolate milk I drank as a kid! Or Tang,

Coffee shops and markets throughout NYC. Check out my site, donachai.com, or follow Dona Chai on instagram, twitter, or facebook. All of our locations are listed on our website.

Why is the company called Dona Chai?

When I chose this name, I didn’t think that I’d have to explain the history! Most people ask if my name’s Donna.

So, I wanted to call my company something abstract, but with meaning. Dona is taken from the name Donna. My mom had a childhood doll who she named Donna.

Do you have any personal tea rituals? Are there any family tea rituals that you had growing up?

My mom makes a pot of English breakfast tea every morning. But, growing up, I remember hating tea, for the bitterness. Now, I like tea. My favorite is a sweet herbal tea during winter.

Where can we find your product?

Coffee shops and markets throughout NYC. Check out my site, donachai.com, or follow Dona Chai on instagram, twitter, or facebook. All of our locations are listed on our website.

A huge thank you to Amy and Peter for the interview! For part 2 of this spotlight, stay tuned for a formal review of their chai (spoiler: it's very tasty) later this week.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Arizona Oak Brewed Teas- Sugar In 'Unsweetened' Tea?

Dalek says 'You are Inferior'
The folks over at Arizona provided a generous helping of their three new bottled 'Oak Brewed' teas. They are testing these teas in the NY metro area and will then be rolling them out across the country within the year. There are three teas to choose from: 'Unsweetened' (I added to quotes, more on that later), Lightly Sweet, and Lemon. The teas are have American Oak chips added to the brewing process. They are not brewed in oak barrels, although the wine aging process was the inspiration for the teas. I can't say that I've ever had a tea aged in oak before, and I'm not sure if this will be the beginning of a new trend.

Since I had such a large shipment of tea, I recruited a few tea tasters to provide feedback. This was helpful since I don't usually drink sweetened bottled teas and I'm not the target audience. I've compiled the feedback from the tasters and myself, and this is what we found:

For all three teas, there is a strange woody/earthy 'oaky' flavor that is added to the black tea. Tasters didn't define it specifically as the oak, but we couldn't figure out what else it could be.

The highest marks went to the lemon tea, although to me it tasted the most like a regular bottled tea. It had a strong lemon flavor but not bitingly acidic. It actually gave the tea a pleasant brightness. The 'oak' flavor is present but not as apparent. The sweetened tea was too sweet for those like myself that don't normally drink bottled teas, but those that do drink it found it to be fine. The sweetness was less cloying than the 'lightly sweet' tea. I don't usually drink sweet teas, but if I was travelling and looking for something to drink I may choose the lemon version of this. Assuming a true unsweetened tea is not available.

The 'lightly sweet' tea was not enjoyed by those of us that do not appreciate sweet tea. But those that usually drink sweetened tea thought it was pleasant. I actually didn't mind the oak flavor in this tea, perhaps because it toned down the sweetness. But some of the tasters thought this tea had a strange aftertaste.

The unsweetened tea had a very unpleasant acidic taste. It's really all I could focus on when I tried it. The funny thing is that even though this is labeled as an unsweetened tea, there are three sweeteners in the ingredients! Honey, sugar, and maple sugar are included. I usually prefer unsweetened teas in every circumstance, but when comparing these three teas, I actually thought it was the least successful. It didn't taste enough like black tea, and it was strangely bland yet too acidic without tasting like actual citrus. There is also a slightly sweet taste that our tasters found off-putting. If you are expecting an unsweetened tea, the hint of sweetness is not appreciated. Everyone thought this tea was also too weak, without much boldness that other unsweetened teas have. The tasters would only choose this tea if no other options were available at the store.

So the tasters didn't love the unsweetened tea, but there is a larger issue to highlight. As I mentioned before, there is sugar added to the unsweetened tea. Am I the only person appalled by this? Sure, it says on the label that the sweetener 'adds a dietary insignificant amount of sugar', but when I asked the Arizona rep about those that have sugar restrictions they replied 'only a person's doctor or nutritionist can tell them if this beverage is safe for them to drink'. If a consumer is looking for an unsweetened tea, and it says 'unsweetened' on the label, shouldn't that mean there is no sugar in the bottle? It also leads me to believe Arizona doesn't stand behind the taste of their tea since they need to add sweeteners to alter the taste.

My assumption is that pure tea drinkers like myself are not the target audience for this drink. If anyone has seen or tried these teas, what did you think? Also, what do you think of the 'unsweetened' tea that has added sugar?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Bosphorous Flowers Tea


 Don't you just love mystery tea gifts? A few weeks ago I was gifted a bag simply labeled 'Bosphorus Flowers Tea'. This tea was purchased in Istanbul at the Istanbul Spice Market. The tea is named after the Bosphorus, which is a strait found in Istanbul. Intrigued yet? I certainly was.

note the little tea thieving hand
I did a good bit of searching and didn't learn too much about the flowers specifically from the Bosphorus area. I also couldn't find any other floral teas being sold with the same name. I've had Turkish tea before which is a very strong black tea brew, but I haven't had a flowery Turkish tea. There are flowers native to Turkey, but I wasn't sure if any of them were actually used to make tea. So I figured I'd just stop geeking out about it, taste the tea enjoy the flavors.
little sneaky fingers made it into the shot

The dry mixture was sweet, floral, and tangy. Reminded me of a hibiscus blend I've tried before. The pretty red-hued tea tasted of hibiscus, rose, vanilla and tart berry (similar to cranberry). It was a little sweet and very tart and astringent. A little bit goes a long way. I couldn't tell if there were any actual tea leaves in the mix, since other flavors were so strong. This isn't a tea I'd usually drink, but I figured it would be nice iced. So, I iced up a batch and it was quite juicy and refreshing. With a little bit of honey it proved to be a nice summer drink. I had my two little ones watching as I brewed this, so naturally I let them taste.
the little tea thief is not subtle with his intentions


My kids enjoyed the tea both iced and hot after I added the touch of honey. The little hand you see reaching for tea in the photos is my eager 4 year old son. He just couldn't wait to steal a sip.

This is a nice summertime icy sip. I love trying teas from all over the world and I'm happy to have had this Bosphorus tea experience! Have you ever tried a similar tea before?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Spotlight: TeaVivre


Three year old TeaVivre has already made a name for high quality Chinese teas. I've tried many of their samples in the past, and I've always found the quality to be great. I recently asked if we could do an interview, and they gladly accepted. After the jump you'll find what we discussed (answers are as provided by TeaVivre):
How did the company get started? Who are the founders?

This company was established by Chris Yang, Angel Chen, and Wenny Ren in 2010.

The team of TeaVivre has been engaged in E-commerce business since 2005 accumulating a lot of experience in customer service and network marketing. In 2010, we began to explore the idea of building a tea brand for online international tea retail marketing. China has the best quality teas but did do not have a good online tea brand for the global market. We invested a year in research, including visits to tea gardens and processing facilities all over China. In July 2011, TeaVivre.com was launched for the English-speaking market, as well as TheCalin for the French market.

Where is the company located?

Staffs of our operation department work in Sichuan Province of China, and our teas are stored in Xia'men, Fujian Province.

What are the company values?

TeaVivre is a group of tea lovers who all share a passion for drinking great tea and appreciate the healthy life style it brings. Our business ethic is one of honesty and trust, where the relationship and satisfaction of both our customers and our suppliers is our guiding principle.
How do you source your teas, and how often do you visit tea plantations?

Our teas are procured directly from the tea producers who have a proven track record in producing top quality teas using organic, traditional methods. This is to guarantee the freshness and quality of the tea we sell.

You can learn a more detailed sourcing process on our website: http://www.teavivre.com/about-teavivre/#part2

Often in the spring, we visit the tea gardens the most frequently, while in other three seasons, it varies. Every year we will go to tea gardens at least one time.

What characteristics do you look for in the tea you are selecting to sell?

We look for teas which are healthy and good taste, can both satisfy your tea buds and reveal the beautiful nature of Chinese tea.

What are your personal favorite teas to drink?

Personally I prefer raw pu-erh the most. Raw pu-erh has the richest, the most changeful flavor. I can taste bitterness, sweetness, high fragrance, astringency, freshness, and mellowness from one single tea.

Do you have any personal tea rituals?

I often have my tea in the office of TeaVivre. The tea is brewed in the normal gongfu way, so nothing special as tea rituals.

When did you start drinking tea?

3 years ago.

I'm sure you get customers from all around the world, but where do the majority of your customers live? What are some of the most interesting places you've shipped orders to?

Many of our orders are shipped to USA. So we can say the majority of our customers live in the country of America.

The most interesting places could be New Caledonia, an island near the land of Australia. I’ve never heard the place before until I met this order.

What are your most popular teas?

I can tell four teas which have been popular for a long time:

Premium Dragon Well Long Jing Green Tea
Golden Monkey Black Tea
Organic Nonpareil Silver Needle White Tea (Bai Hao Yin Zhen)
Taiwan Jin Xuan Milk Oolong Tea
Our flower teas are also frequently seen in the top sellers list.

For someone that is just starting to learn about tea, what advice would you give?

If you just start learning tea, it’s better to begin with one kind of tea. With what you learnt from this tea, you can learn more quickly and efficiently with the other ones. For starters, green tea is much easier to learn.

The other advice for starters is to have a peaceful heart when making tea, thus you can taste, can smell, can see the true
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Thank you to Stella from TeaVivre for answering my questions! Stay tuned for some new reviews of their summertime tea suggestions. TeaVivre created fun festivities for their 3rd anniversary. Be sure to check their website for more details.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Littlest Tea Critic: Alice's Tea Cup



I'd like to introduce you to the Littlest Tea Critic, my almost-seven-year-old tea-loving daughter. She has a discerning palate often better than my own. A few weeks ago she asked if we could have a 'fancy tea' together and I couldn't decide if I should take her for a real afternoon tea experience or not. Afternoon tea can be an expensive affair and quite a lot of food for even an adventurous almost-seven-year-old. I decided on trying Alice's Tea Cup, since they do a 'wee tea' for children along with the regular afternoon tea offerings. I had only been there once or twice in the past, and never really had a stellar experience. But I figured I'd see what the Littlest Tea Critic (LTC) had to say about the place.

There was a wait when we arrived (I don't understand why this place is always so crowded), so we walked around awhile until the host called us to say our table was ready (a nice perk). The best part of the 'wee tea' experience happens when you first arrive. Children have their choice of fairy wings to wear and get 'fairy dust' sprinkled over them before sitting down. The LTC was delighted. Sadly, this was the highlight of our tea experience.

I decided to order the afternoon tea for one, and the 'wee tea', of course. Both came with a pot of tea, a savory component, a scone, and cookies for me, and chocolate mousse for the 'wee' one (why wouldn't kids want cookies?). The tea menu is quite large and there are many herbal teas for the little ones to choose from. I ordered an English breakfast which was flat and dull. According to the LTC, her mango rooibos 'tasted weird, like chemicals'. Our food arrived and things got worse. Her chicken fingers were rubbery and greasy, she gave them a thumb's down. She didn't touch the scone, and thought the chocolate mousse was 'sweet and creamy...ok'. My tea sandwich was dry, stale, and basically just taking up too much space. The LTC didn't even want to try it. The scone wasn't bad, it had some moisture and really, what isn't good with a little dollop of clotted cream? The cookies were passable, but nothing I'd order again.

I'd only recommend Alice's Tea Cup for tea and a scone, or if you are looking for a diversion with a child that doesn't mind mediocre food. During our visit, the LTC was the only child there- the tables were packed with brunching adults, and there was even a bridal shower in the next room. Perhaps it's more popular with children during the week. I remain baffled by their popularity.

Next time I will not underestimate the LTC's love for food and tea, and take her for a proper experience. Any suggestions on where to take her for our next outing?

Alice's Tea Cup  (multiple locations): 
Pros: friendly service, twee atmosphere, kid friendly, large tea menu
Cons: mediocre food, overpriced
Not recommended

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tea Drunk's New Spring Teas


If you are in the NYC area and haven't had the pleasure of enjoying tea at tea drunk, this needs to change. Immediately! A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of previewing their new spring teas. Owner Shunan traveled to plantations in China and hand selected teas to bring back. She plucked and processed many of the teas she brought back!

We sampled 6 fresh, vibrant teas. They were all so good that I had a hard time choosing my favorite. They each have unique flavors which are of course a direct result from the location, weather, and processing. The teas we had were:

Bai Mu Dan: From Dian Tou, Fu Ding. This is a rare white tea which was almost wiped out after a drought in the 70s. I love that the call it "little veggie tea". I'm not usually drawn to white teas, but this one was gentle yet complex.

Huang Ya:  From Golden Rooster Mountain, Huo Shan. This is a wild, traditionally handmade yellow tea. This tea requires patience during processing. I think I accidentally skipped this one, but everyone seemed to enjoy it immensely.

Shui Xian: From Wu Dong,  Pheonix Mountain. A true origin oolong tea. It has been grown and processed in this location for almost 1200 years! This is an aromatic, woody tea. Definitely not to be missed.

Tie Luo Han: A cliff oolong that has a satisfying deeply roasted flavor. It also has a notable thickness on the palate. I enjoyed the darker characteristics of this tea.

Dian Hong: This is a red (black) tea Shunan herself helped to produce. She told the story of how difficult it was to combat the hot sun and tediously pick out the drying leaves that weren't the ideal fermentation level. This was one of my favorite teas, it was sweet but gentle. You can get many steepings out of this tea, which in my experience is unique for a red tea.

Dong Nong: A fresh pu er from outside of Bing Dao village. This was a super fresh and light pu erh, perfect for the hot summertime weather. This was my other favorite, for sure.

I noted an interesting proverb I learned from Shunan regarding tea preparation (these are not her words)- preparing good tea involves listening to the tea. Poor tea preparation occurs when the tea listens to you. So true!

Tasting the teas at this unique shop is a special experience. You cannot find these teas or teaware anywhere else in the area. I was tempted to take home a tea pet, I wish I had!

I was so absorbed in the teas, I didn't take too many pictures. But you can see my original review here for more about tea drunk. It was a lovely afternoon of tea drinking, and I was able to meet fellow tea enthusiasts that I hope to see again soon.

If you are in the NYC area and haven't been to tea drunk, go now!