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!

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.