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!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

An Appropriate Fall Tasting: Marie-Antoinette from Nina's Paris

It's the time of year when everyone flocks to get pumpkin-flavored things. I love pumpkin, but apples are an important fall flavor that often goes unnoticed. I won this Nina's Paris Marie-Antoinette Tea from a giveaway on Oh How Civilized, and hadn't had a chance to do more than open the container. I'd only given it a few quick sniffs, and enjoyed the strong apple scent. We went apple picking this past weekend and I thought it would be the perfect time to try it. I was hoping it would recreate images of playing in the apple orchard.

The scent of the dry leaves paints a perfect picture of autumn. Ripe, tart juicy apples that are waiting to be picked from the trees. There is a soothing note of rose as well but the apples steal the spotlight. According to the label, the apples used to flavor this tea come from the King's kitchen garden at Versailles. The apple flavor has a fancier pedigree than the ones we picked this weekend. I was expecting to see apple pieces in within the tea, but it only has apple flavor. There are however dainty pieces of rose petal mixed with the black tea leaves along with added rose flavor.

Not a royal Parisian apple
The brewed tea is surprisingly mellow compared to strong aroma of the dry leaves. The apple flavor is still present, but muted. There is a stronger rose flavor pushing itself forward, a bit too perfume-like for my taste. Still a fine tea for autumn, but not the strong apple flavor I was expecting. This is a bit lighter, perhaps more spring-like in flavor.

This is a beautiful tea to look at and pleasant to drink. I'm tempted to use some of the dry leaves as an air freshener, for the crisp scent that would enhance the flavors of the season. Do you have a favorite fall tea? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tasting: Republic of Tea

The Republic of Tea is a widely available brand. It's usually the higher-end brand choice sold in many grocery stores. They sell both bagged and loose tea, and I recently had an opportunity to taste three different Republic of Tea offerings. Here's how it went

Let's start with the Breakfast Black HiCaf tea. This bagged black tea has added green tea extract which provides a caffeine jolt. It is actually listed to have more caffeine than a cup of coffee. This worried me, as I'm only on occasional coffee drinker mainly due to the effects of the caffeine. The taste of this tea is similar to a middle of the road breakfast tea with added earthy, roasty note of chicory. The flavor doesn't grab my attention, but the energy jolt certainly does. After trying a mug of this tea, I definitely felt the caffeine. It wasn't the uncomfortable feeling that I get from coffee, but it is definitely a noticeable energy boost with a bit of jitters. This tea is not for those that are sensitive to caffeine. Or for those that drink tea because it produces a milder, gentler form of energy. This is a wake-up tea, no doubt about it. I'd recommend avoiding this tea in the afternoon. This is a tea suitable for coffee drinkers looking to get into tea, or tea drinkers that feel their breakfast teas aren't caffeinated enough.

The second tea I tried is the Jasmine Jazz. This is a light, easy drinking Jasmine tea. The loose tea has a very strong jasmine scent. It's so strong I wondered if there was added 'essence' of Jasmine to the leaves, but only green tea and jasmine blossoms are listed. Those are some potent blossoms! The flavor reminds me a little bit of floral soap. The tea is gentler than the dry leaves threatened to be. It is a smooth brew but a but shallow on jasmine flavor. It's definitely there, but not as rich as I was looking for. The green tea flavor is pleasant and soothing, I like that it's not completely masked by the jasmine. This is a good choice if you are in the grocery store and in need of a jasmine tea.

The final tea is the Republic Chai. I recently had a fabulous taste of chai, so the bar was set very high. This teabag had potential- I sniffed out cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves right away. The brewed tea didn't have a super strong taste, but I did get a hint of those nice warming spices. An extra long steep would probably help bring out the flavors at bit more. The tea would hold up well to milk and sugar, as a masala chai should. A good choice if you are looking for an accessible masala chai.

The Republic of Tea is a good choice when your options are limited. They offer dependable, consistently pleasant teas. I'm happy to have had an opportunity to taste these. They brightened up a dreary, chilling fall day.

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,, 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,, 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 the quotes, more on that later), Lightly Sweet, and Lemon. The teas 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 was 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?