Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tasting: A Tale of Two Ippodo Senchas

Photo provided by Ippodo. Such pretty packaging!
It was the best of teas, it was the worst of days. It was the age of rain, it was the age of chillyness...a murky day ended in tea happiness in A Tale of Two Senchas. Two teas. One aristocratic, one perhaps more bourgeois, but both equally satisfying.

Photo provided by Ippodo. Hosen on the left, Unro on the right
On a wet, bone-chilling day I  had the pleasure of tasting these two fresh, vibrant senchas from Ippodo. They kindly sent me the sencha set, which contains the Unro and Hosen teas. My tasting session created a sunny paradise within the gloomy afternoon. I started with the Hosen tea, which is billed as a great tea for sencha beginners. The brew is light and fragrant, with a mellow flavor of cooked green vegetables. It's a good basic sencha to drink every day. Shall we say...a more bourgeois tea? It is bright with a vibrant balance of sweet and bitter vegetal flavors. The tea has a lovely soothing richness that melted away the chilly December day.

Ippodo labels the Unro sencha as 'a favorite among seasoned Sencha drinkers seeking that unique astringency'. I felt full of suspense after reading that description. Would it live up to the hype? Is it truly an aristocratic tea? The brew blew me away with the strength of an umami tidal wave (strength enough to act as a guillotine?). This tea is strong, with savory, mushroomy umami flavor waltzing along with astringency. I usually prepare my senchas without boiling water, and that's how I first tasted the unro. Later I noticed the directions called for the water to be 212 degrees. After brewing up a batch this way, I was amazed that even more umami flavor was extracted from the leaves. It was a dyamic, zingy brew. Delicious! A tea I am grateful to have in my cabinet.

This was a tale of two senchas from different classes, creating joy in a murky world. A bit more peaceful than reading Dickens, don't you think? Also. much more instantly gratifying.

For more about Ippodo you can visit their website, or read my post about a fabulous tasting I had at the NY store. This tea gift would make a good addendum to my holiday gift guide! It is a thoughtful gift for the sencha lover in your life. Thank you to Ippodo for the samples of Dickensian proportions.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Tea Happiness Holiday Gift Guide!

In case you haven't noticed, it's the time of year for holiday gift lists! There are so many lists out there, so I'm going to try and pick out a few unique gift ideas for the tea lovers in your life. Or perhaps just a gift for yourself! Here are a few gifts I wouldn't mind opening this holiday season (subtle, right?):

1. Monthly Tea Subscription: Tea subscriptions are common these days, but Global Tea Hut stands out as a well curated, deeply meaningful monthly tea adventure.

2Adopt a tea plant: Who wouldn't love their own person tea plant? You can adopt your own from The Great Mississippi Tea Company. With an adoption you get to visit the plantation any time you like to, and of course, tea to drink. Note: If you choose to purchase, once you've "adopted" and finished the PayPal process, be sure to click on the "Go back to the GMSTeaCo page" and enter in your email address.

3. Go green: purchase sustainable, responsibly produced tea from Eco-Cha where you will also be supporting small tea farmers. I have some of their wonderful tea, keep your eyes peeled for a review soon.

4. Get Boozy!: I love the Owl's Brew products, and this set of their three fun tea infused mixers would be perfect for any holiday cocktail party. All three flavors are divine.

5. Support an innovative kickstarter campaign: The Qterra NOVO Travel Tea Brewer has a unique design inspired by South American and Chinese tea traditions.

6. Get Fancy: If you're looking for a super lux tea gift for the tea aficionado that has everything, look no further than the gorgeous Sorapot. An artistic, functional design that will be the highlight of any modern teapot collection.

What gifts are you hoping to give and receive this year? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Do You Know: Eco-Cha

1-year old tea company Eco-Cha sells responsibly produced, high quality Taiwanese tea. The teas are produced on small family farms that are often overshadowed by the large scale operations nearby. The folks at Eco-Cha are trying to help the small farmers succeed in this competitive industry. I've recently had the chance to communicate with Eco-Cha's managing director and learned all about their indiegogo campaign to help preserve this small scale tea production in Taiwan. They are working with Mr. Lin, an organic tea farmer. From their website:
"This project is the culmination of 20 years of exploring Taiwan tea. Our recent connection with Mr. Lin, however, is what has brought this campaign into being. Eco-Cha was initially conceived to support sustainability in the local tea industry. We soon realized that the traditional industry that predated large-scale tea production is synonymous with sustainable practice – particularly now that responsible farming practices have been recovered and innovated. We see Mr. Lin’s current work in growing organic tea on his repurposed family land and building a refurbished factory in his home for organic tea production as a prototype of our mission."
To learn more about Mr. Lin and his farm, please visit this page. This campaign has been so successful the original fundraising goals have been reached and they added a stretch goal to create an educational field classroom for students, farmers, and individuals visiting the farm. It's such a joy to see how successful this campaign has become! I love how generous tea enthusiasts are in supporting the small farms that work so hard to produce the best tasting tea.

There is so much that can be said about the importance of small scale organic tea farming, and Eco-Cha has provided a wealth of information. Visit their website to learn more about how you can contribute and make this campaign a success. Also be sure to check out this page for answers to just about any question you may have regarding Eco-Cha and small scale oolong tea farming. I encourage you to take a peek through the various pages, there is quite a bit of interesting and useful information. I will also be posting reviews of Eco-Cha tea in the near future. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tasting: Oolong Happiness With Palais des Thés

Feng Huang Dan Cong tea
Oolongs can be intimidating merely for the sheer variety and range in price. When splurging, it's important to feel confident with the purchase. The best oolongs are always well worth the price, which is the case with two new oolongs from Palais des Thés, Dong Ding Jade Oolong, and Feng Huang Dan Cong (Special Phoenix Tea).

I noticed these teas are considered 'grand cru' which is a term usually used for wine. It denotes a specific high level vinyard or terroir that produces a quality product. After tasting these two beautiful teas, I can understand why they are considered grand cru.

Dong Ding Jade -- I do enjoy dong ding oolongs, and this a very fine example. This tea is grown in the mountains of Taiwan's Nantou county and the leaves are plucked and rolled by hand.

Dong Ding 
The dry leaves are buttery and sweet, with hints of caramel and a vegetal undertone. The brewed tea is also quite buttery in taste and mouth feel. It is smooth with flavors ranging from jasmine, and coconut, to lightly roasted with a bit of cooked greens. This is a peaceful, developed tea with flavors to please most oolong lovers. The leaves are enormous and vibrant green. I felt very relaxed after drinking this tea.

Dong Ding

Feng Huang Dan Cong- This phoenix oolong comes from Guandong province in China. These leaves are grown at a high altitude and are fermented briefly during processing.

The dry leaves have a woodsy toasty aroma with a bit of spice. When I closed my eyes I could see cinnamon sticks and toasted hazelnuts with a few flowers scattered in the background. The brew is rounded yet intensely deep. Flavors of toast, apples, and a surprising bit of citrus. There is a lingering spice reminding me of that cinnamon stick. The strong flavors are smooth and have a mellowing effect.

I've been drinking these two oolongs for a few days, and I cannot stop. The flavors linger for a long time, even an hour after my last sip there is a whisper left on my palate. These teas are expensive, but worthy of a splurge for an oolong lover.

A big thank you to Palais des Thés and Fraiche PR for the samples.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Spotlight: Plum Deluxe

Last week I did a review and background of Plum Deluxe, a site specializing in creating meaningful moments which includes drinking tea for all occasions. I was intrigued by the company and the founder and creator Andy Hayes agreed to do an interview for us to learn more about the company and their in-house created tea blends.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Tasting: Autumn Glow

I recently received a few samples from Plum Deluxe an interesting lifestyle site created to inspire special moments in daily life. What better way to savor a moment than with a cup of tea?

The brand offers a few signature blends as well as a few limited edition teas, and I chose to give the Autumn Glow a try. I was recently disappointed with the promise of fall flavors in a tea blend, so I didn't know what to expect. But I liked the image of a glowing lately afternoon autumn sun...

I had this tea in the office, and I received numerous comments on the amazing smell. It's a happy autumn aroma of apples and cinnamon. I was surprised at how juicy the dry apples smelled. The ingredients list apples, cinnamon, raspberries, rose hips, hibiscus flowers, and licorice. I'm not the biggest fan of hibiscus or licorice (or of herbal blends to begin with), but the smell of this tea lured me in.

The brew smells like warm apple sauce with juicy fruit and cinnamon notes. A comforting aroma for this time of year. I imagined sitting by a crackling fire under a blanket with a good book in a cozy, quiet house. The brewed tea is very apple-y, but lighter on the cinnamon. There is a definite hibiscus flavor that masks the cinnamon a little bit, and licorice lingers on the palate. Cinnamon is definitely present but not as strongly as the aroma conveys. I enjoyed a tiny bit of tartness from the apples. This blend does not have any actual tea or caffeine, so it's perfect for winding down after a night of apple picking or trick-or-treating. It has a natural sweetness, so I wouldn't add anything extra.

To learn more about plum deluxe you can visit their website, and stay tuned for my interview with the founder and creator.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tasting: Two Pu-erhs from TeaVivre

Cold autumn day in NYC 
It's been busy around here, yet dull at the same time. Autumn is my favorite time of year but it's hard to enjoy while working in midtown Manhattan. The golden light gets lost behind buildings, and leaves are few and far between. Slogging through chilled autumn days sleepy and worn out, I finally found time to taste two different pu-erhs provided by Teavivre. Lucky I did, they significantly improved my day. I'm a big fan of the company and had the opportunity to interview one of the members a few months back. Their teas are always well packaged, fresh, and good quality.

I received various samples but decided to try two pu-erhs first, a raw tea from 2006 and one from 2012. They are both nice examples of pu-erh tea, and how unique each one can be.

Fengqing raw Pu-erh Cake Tea 2006

The dry leaves for this smell sweet and cedar-like. The brewed tea has a smooth, leathery note with a light bit of smoke. The flavors conjure images of sitting among fall crunchy leaves in front of a warming campfire. There are hints of mushroom, cedar and peppery, bitter broccoli rabe.  The tea coats the tongue and lingers for a good long while. The bitterness smoothed out with subsequent steeps. This is definitely an all-day drinking tea. It just gets better with each steep. The bitterness of the tea begs to be paired with something sweet and crunchy. I happened to have some caramel corn singing a siren's song all morning, and I happily dug in. The sweet corn paired perfectly with the musky notes in the tea.

Fengqing Ancient Tree Spring Chun Jian Raw Pu-erh Cake Tea 2012

The dry leaves of this tea have a subtle dried hay aroma with a hint of tobacco. It's fresh and slightly sweet. The brew is a golden color that tastes woodsy yet still fresh. Like cooked dark green vegetables with sweet fruit thrown in. As with the first tea, the flavors changed slightly with each steep.

After trying these two pu-erhs I'm much more focused and alert. Verging on tea drunk in the best way possible. Thank you to TeaVivre for the high quality samples. I have two more teas from them to review, so keep an eye out in the coming weeks!