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, 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:

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
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!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Spotlight: PMD Tea

Have you heard of PMD Tea? If you live in the UK you have probably seen their teas at restaurants and shops.The family run company is trying to break into the lackluster US restaurant and hotel tea market. I cannot wait to start seeing their teas locally.

I've had the pleasure of trying a selection of their teas. The Ceylon teas are high quality and fresh. Definitely better than many I've had in the past. I was delighted to try so many different single estate Ceylon teas. You can see the attention to detail in these carefully selected teas. Flavors ranged from bold and malty to gentle and sweet with honey, caramel, and dried fruit notes. The Planters' Breakfast and New Vithanakand were two that really stood out for me. I adore robust black teas with some subtle sweetness and these did not disappoint. I even enjoyed their version of Earl Grey, the Planters' Earl Grey, when it's not a tea I usually prefer. The bergamot was not overpowering. I've recently realized I have a strong preference for black teas, and the flavor profiles in the PMD teas hit just the right notes on my palate.

I recently corresponded with Managing Director Dananjaya Silva who gave very thoughtful answers to my questions. I learned all about the family company, how their source their teas, and their ethical and sustainable values. Our informative in-depth interview is after the jump:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Little Tea Box Subscription Service

Do you have a monthly tea subscription? The idea of opening a mystery box of tea every month is very enticing. But with all the options out there, it's hard to choose. Little Tea Box recently contacted me to see if I'd like to try one of their monthly boxes. When I agreed they promptly sent a sweet little box over for review.

Gina Mortimer started Little Tea Box to share her love of tea with the world. She sources the teas from a company in California specializing in fair trade teas from Japan, China, and Sri Lanka. She also sources herbs from a natural grower in her native Bahamas. She selectss teas based on season and uniqueness. Each box is $12.99, which is less than most services I've encountered. In the box I received, I found three teas plus a little bonus tea. The two loose teas are a plum oolong blend, 'ancient forest' blend, a blooming floral ball, and the 'bonus blend' called Serene-tea which is peppermint, lemon grass, and' Bahamian leaves and spices'.

The Ancient Forest is a Yunnan black tea harvested from old tea tress in Jingmai Manging's blue mountains. I've had wild Yunnan black tea before, and it reminds me of this one- very earthy and bold. There is a honey sweetness with a slightly malty, deep richness. The earthy flavor almost reminds me of a pu erh, but not quite as pronounced.This is a satisfying tea I'd love to have in my tea cabinet for early morning wake ups.

The plum oolong's sweet fruity aroma hit me as soon as I opened the package. Unfortunately the sweet plum scent raised a red flag for me. I'm not a fan of scented teas, so I was a bit reluctant to try it. This tea contains oolong (doesn't specify type), schizandra berries and 'essence of plum'. I had a feeling this was going to be too sweet and 'flavored' for me. The berries far outnumbered the tea leaves, which also left me hesitant. I gave it a try and although it was too sweet for me, it did have a nice tartness for balance. It is a good choice for anyone that likes flavored, fruity teas.

I haven't tried the blooming tea yet, I didn't have an opportunity to brew with a glass vessel to see the bloom unfurl. The Serene-tea has a lovely aroma- I don't usually care for peppermint in tea, but the dry leaves have a lemongrass and cinnamon aroma, more warming than a cup of straight peppermint tea. The brew has pleasant warming spices and just a quiet hint of peppermint. This tea definitely allows the Bahamian spices to shine.

The company offers credits for anyone that sends the box back to be recycled. I like the attention to green detail! In our correspondence Gina mentioned she is also passionate about the health benefits of tea. I wish her luck in growing her Little Tea Box audience! It is definitely a developing part of the tea industry.

Little Tea Box Tea Subscription Service:

Pros: low cost, interesting teas, focus on recycling
Cons: not enough information on the teas or where they come from. Website could offer more information as well.