Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Ippin: A Pair of Japanese Herbal Teas

Japan is very well known for its green teas, you get it when you go out for sushi, #matcha is trending everywhere, and for a lot of people it is the first thing that comes to mind when you ask them about Japanese tea. But there is more to it than that, they have some amazing black, fermented, and oolong teas...and of course they have herbals! And just like all cultures, they have some that are very distinct to Japan, two of which I am looking at today. Both come from Ippin, an online Japanese Mall, their prices look a little scary at first, but the products are in bulk and ship lightning fast, so if you know what you want then they are a great place to shop and you get really good deals. It is kind of like a tea themed Costco!

Yomogi (Japanese Mugwort) Tea from Miyazaki via Japanese Tea Shop Yamaneen

Artemisia princeps or Japanese Mugwort, man, where to begin? The Artemisia family is pretty vast, cooks will recognize Tarragon, boozy types recognize the incredibly bitter Wormwood (thanks bitters and absinthe) and I am overly fond of Sweet Annie as my mom would put it everywhere at Christmas to make the house smell amazing. All members of the family are very aromatic, and luckily not all of them are as bitter as Wormwood, which is good because yowza. Japanese Mugwort, or Yomogi as I am now calling it, is also used in cooking, like making the Kusa Mochi green, or the green part of Hanami Dango, or just fried up as tempura, which is delicious. The aroma of the really quite pretty and fluffy leaves is surprising, it almost smells like candy and sugar, underneath the sweetness are notes of dill, mint, anise, and a green hay quality. The aroma reminds me a lot of Sweet Annie, so if you have sniffed that there is a point of comparison for you. The taste and mouthfeel are a bit crisp and rather refreshing, tasting notes of anise, mint, dill, sweet grass, hay, and a bittersweet finish that lingers. It is a soothing and refreshing herbal, one that I like drinking in the afternoon since its crisp taste wakes up the mouth and senses.

Mulberry Leaf Tea Made in Kumamoto via Kawamotoya

Yes!!! Kuwacha!! One of my favorite herbal teas that evokes so many happy memories, mostly because there was a mulberry tree in my yard in one of the houses I lived in as a kid and the smell of the leaves and fruit was amazing, a sure sign of summer. I sometimes see this listed as green tea for people who can't actually have green tea, and it is not hard to see why as it is vibrant in its greenness, though the taste is not entirely similar. I get cranky because this stuff is hard to find in the states, and usually places that carry it cost a fortune, this is the first place I have found that has it at a price that seems reasonable, and that pleases me because it just might be my favorite herbal tea...ever. Yes, beating out chrystanthemum, fireweed, osmanthus, oksuscha...all of them, it is amazing. The aroma is green and starchy, like fresh grass and hay blended with mochi, it smells like summer. It is almost hard to describe its aroma and taste because it is one of those that evokes an experience and memory rather than a set of notes, though I will try! The taste is sweet, subtle green grassy and tree leaves blend with starchy mochi and a hint of green beans and lettuce. It tastes and feels very warm, not warming like a shou or roasted oolong, but warm like sun warmed leaves falling on your face while you are perched on a mulberry branch on a lazy Georgia day. It does not fill me with a warming qi, but left me feeling immensely comforted after drinking it. I adore this herbal tea and I am so happy to have it in my life again and to be able to talk about it!

Teas sent for review

Sunday, March 11, 2018

TeaBento: Jiri Horse, A Tea Review

NameJiri Horse

Company: TeaBento

Type of Tea: Balhyocha!! A Korean tea that has been oxidized, I see a lot of (honestly pretty tedious) debate as to whether this tea is a black tea or an oolong, I am fully on the black tea side, granted the argument makes sense because Balhyocha is all of the oxidized spectrum, going from Hwangcha which is about half oxidized to Hongcha which is fully oxidized. Both taste more like black teas to me rather than Oolong, so that is where I stand.

Description of Dry Leaf: Wiry and dark, medium sized length and very slender with no fuzz to be found, just darkness all the way.

Aroma of Leaf: Malty and sweet, like cocoa and molasses with a touch of myrrh and a wonderful very sweet freshly baked sugar cookie finish. Steeped up, the aroma is immensely molasses and brown sugar heavy, with a touch of stewed plums and cocoa, reminds me of the most decadent dessert and I want to eat it.

Aroma of Tea: Sweet and fruit, stonefruit with a touch of cocoa, and of course heavy molasses and a bit of toasted sesame at the finish. It is very aromatic and sweet, but not at all cloying.

Preparation Style: Tossed it in my Korean Dahguan a teapot that is similar to a shiboridashi, at 195F for my usual 30-60-90s steeps

Taste: Oh it is like nectar! I am not just saying this because it is the first black tea I have had in over a week (curse you stomach!) or because I have a crippling addiction to Balhyocha, no, I call it nectar because it is! Sweet roasted plums (with a touch and I mean really only a touch of grilled fruit skin) and roasted cocoa beans blend with toasted cumin, molasses, myrrh, and a long lingering taste of brown sugar and peony flowers. Really this tea is more like dessert than tea, later steeps are less sweet and more...not really savory, but rich, it is delicious and mildly addictive. My only complaint with this tea (and really all Balhyocha) is that it doesn't last very long, four steeps is all you are likely to get, five if you want a really mild final steep. I always want them to last longer since their tastes are so delicious.

Oddball Notes: This tea pairs really well with a favorite snack, Bhel Puri, a spiced puffed rice mix from Gujarat, it plays off the underlying spice notes of the tea and really goes well with its sweetness as a counterbalance to the heat of the snack. Doubly so when you fancy it up with chopped peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro!

How I Acquired The Tea: Sent for review

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Whispering Pines Tea: Moonlight Sonata, Two Years Later

My white tea compartment of my tea sorting station (I say station, really it is just four stacking drawer sorters stacked on each other) is full of forbidden treasures that I am not allowed to binge drink. They are forbidden because they are aging, aged white tea being one of my favorite things, but this has the sad side effect of me stuffing things in that drawer and then forgetting about them. One of those teas is Whispering Pines Tea's Moonlight Sonata, a tea I reviewed a little over two years ago. I promised I would put some aside and then come back to it later and surprisingly I did!

From the moment I unwrap I can see the ravages of time, the cake is darker and somewhat crumbly compared to what it was. When I first popped one of these cakes the tea needed my pu-knife to break bits off, this time I could just pull it off, which was good since my knife is currently packed up and I did not want to go rooting around for it. The aroma is still very familiar, notes of dill and apricot, sugarcane, and hay. It is a little diminished but still super recognizable as Moonlight Sonata.

Steeped the leaves are stronger, very juicy apricot and strong dill with undertones of aster, straw, and sugarcane. The snow chrysanthemums seem to have gotten stronger over time and I find that amusing. The liquid smells of faint dill flowers and a very juicy, fresh nectarine. The resemblance to nectarine is a little uncanny!

Age has been interesting to this tea, looking back at my first review, the first steep was immensely intense and very dark in color, this one is lighter in color and taste. It is cooling and gently sweet with notes of nectarine and sugarcane with a bit of hay and a tiny touch of dill. The mouthfeel is smooth and slippery with a touch of dry at the finish. I admit I have no experience with how Moonlight White is supposed to age, I have only had it fresh and it never really lasts long, so maybe this is normal?

Later steeps are stronger and darker orange, however things are starting to get interesting. Instead of tasting like a floral and somewhat grassy Moonlight White, it is starting to taste like a gentle malty and chocolate Dianhong. Also it was not just the first steep, the qi has gone from very warming to frigid, which I admit is a little weird with its vibrant warm color. Towards the end of each sip, strong notes of nectarine and honey appear and leaves a long lasting aftertaste with a bit of a brisk mouthfeel finish.

I am not sure how I feel about this tea having aged, part of me is curious to see if I let it age even more if it becomes even more Dianhong like, and the other part of me wants to drink it all now to retain the bit of Moonlight goodness. Also I am slightly worried about the Snow Chrysanthemum, I know from experience that they don't last more than a couple years, so there is that to keep in mind too. Maybe I will keep a little aside and revisit this tea again in a couple years!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Ippin: Genmai-cha Tea w/ Black Soybean & Matcha, A Tea Review

Name Genmai-cha Tea w/ Black Soybean & Matcha via Kawamotoya

Company: Ippin

Type of Tea: Genmaicha made with Black Soybeans and Matcha

Description of Dry Leaf: Vibrantly green colored from the Matcha, with a lot of toasted rice, very heavy on the rice over the tea leaves

Aroma of Leaf: Nutty! You can really smell the rice and beans in this one, there are undertones of bright grassy green and sweet hay, it does a good job blending the green and the toasty rice notes. The beans add an extra note of starchy sweet and earthiness with just a hint of umami.

Aroma of Tea: It smells so green! Nice grassy umami notes blend with sweet fresh hay and lots of starchy and toasty grain notes, you don't really smell the beans but you can definitely smell the rice!

Preparation Style: Since it is a genmaicha and it seems like it is made with Bancha rather than Sencha, I flash steeped it at 195F using my Korean shiboridashi

Taste: Creamy! Oh this has a great creamy mouthfeel and taste from that Matcha, it is very green with a hint of umami at the front and the rest is just sweet creamy rice cakes and sweet freshly cut hay. The beans add a touch of earthy sweetness as well, as you would expect from toasted black soybeans. I found I really liked this tea once it had chilled a bit, it manages to get even sweeter like that and allows the bean taste to be a bit stronger. I think this is going to be a tea I drink a lot when it gets warmer, it just tastes like the kind of thing you want to make big batch of and then toss into a travel tea container and then go on a stroll with.

Oddball Notes: Sadly it only really goes for one steep, the Matcha gets all washed off in the first steep and the second is a pale comparison, granted if you love the taste of toasted rice you can get a second steep, but it is mostly just rice and a little tea at that point. This is probably my biggest complaint about Matcha covered Genmaicha, they never last long and if you want a second cup you need more leaves.

How I Acquired The Tea: sent for review

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Eco-Cha: An Adventure in Roasted Oolongs

As spring starts to creep in, I find myself wanting to wander to greener pastures...errr....teas, so figured one big roasted Oolong adventure was in store! I mean I say that, but of course what I write about depends on what I get sent, however left to my own drinking habits (with the exception of hongcha and herbals) my tea consumption tends to reflect the seasons. So, let us look at three roasty toasty teas from Eco-Cha! One is from their tea club, which you can find here if you want to try them.

Gold Medal Award Jin Xuan High Mountain Tea

I know that when I think of Jin Xuan, usually I think of that delightfully sweet, milky and floral, green Oolong, and that is just unfair, because it is wonderful roasted! The aroma of the leaves is super nutty and sweet, like peanut brittle and honey sesame candy, sitting next to a bouquet of orchids and hyacinths! It is pretty low on the roast scale, so it still retains its floral notes, while also bringing in that wonderful roasted nuttiness that I love so much in my roasted Oolongs. I decided to gongfu this one, the taste is super sweet, notes of toasted peanuts, sesame honey candies, dried papaya fruit, honeysuckles, and hyacinth with a long lasting aftertaste of orchid. It is the perfect midpoint between roast and floral, so if you are having one of those days where you cannot decide which you want then go for this one, plus it lasts many steeps (as Oolongs tend to do) so it is a good tea to sit with as it evolves from more roasted to more floral over several steeps.

Ming Jian Farmer's Association Award Winning Oolong Tea

I could not find a link for this one, I am not sure they sell this tea or just used it as a add-on, since I could not locate any reference to is a mysterious mystery. From the packaging I know it won an award, and from the first sniff I knew it was roasted, so going in a bit blind, but that can be fun. The aroma is sweet chestnut and roasted fruit wood, with a slight hint of stewed plums. It is a heavier roast than the previous tea, and I decided when I tasted this one that I was in the mood for grandpa steeping, been doing a lot of that lately since most my teaware is packed up and I have been too busy for gongfu, yes everyone may weep for my incredibly first world problem. This was a good idea, it was a sweet and roasty toasty treat (good since I drank it during one of the last winter storms) that tasted of roasted chestnuts, sweet plums and cherries, and a bit of a woody finish. It lasts a while being grandpa'd really going the distance and turning into an all day tea.

Dong Ding Oolong

Now we have gone into the heaviest of the roasts (I realize now I did it in roast order and that was not intentional!) and wooo is this one robust! Strong notes of roasted nuts like hazelnuts and walnuts with the distinct aroma of roasted nut shells, giving it a bit of a char quality. It also smells of toasted wheat bread and a bit of browned butter. Surprise, surprise, the taste is also robust, strong notes of roasted walnuts and hazelnuts, toasted heavy grain bread, toasted butter, and a long lasting charred nut shell finish. The first few sweets are fairly sweet, but later ones lose the sweetness for all roast and a touch of sharp tanginess. This could be a good tea to use to convert a coffee drinker, as it has a lot in common taste-wise (reminding me of a Sumatra if we are going to be specific) and is especially good for people who like their tea super roasted but without the strong smoke and char taste you can get. If you want more of a char taste, brew it hotter, I use 195F for my Oolongs, but if you use boiling you will get a rich dark red tea with a much stronger char taste, I like mine a little lighter and sweeter so go with a cooler temperature.

Tea sent for review.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

TeaBento: Itatsi (Genmaicha Superior) A Tea Review

Name: Itatsi

Company: TeaBento

Type of Tea: Genmaicha made from Fukamushicha a deeply steamed sencha

Description of Dry Leaf: Tiny little leaves and rich golden rice. Fukamushicha has a tendency to look really cheap, since it gets broken up during its deep steaming, but I assure you, it is not a cheap 'tea dust' kind of tea, it is intense in its taste and aroma. The tiny leaves can be a problem for steeping baskets and clogging shiboridashi spouts though!

Aroma of Leaf: Oooh that is nice and green! Savory cut grass and fresh seaweed blend with sweet and nutty toasted rice, with a slight undertone of distant floral notes like apple or cherry tree blossoms. Brewing the tea, the leaves smell like senbei or arare, those delightful rice crackers with bits of seaweed and soy sauce, sniffing the steeped leaves make me super hungry! Man, I really want some rice crackers now.

Aroma of Tea: The first steep is somewhat light, being gentle savory grass and seaweed with nutty roasted rice as an undertone. Later steeps have these same aroma notes but cranked up past 11 for a very aromatic tea.

Preparation Style: So, those of you who cringe at the idea of using really hot water to brew a Japanese green might want to look away. I used 195F and did a very fast flash steep, pretty much pour water, put on the lid, then decant into the cup. I also brewed it at a much cooler temperature and the difference between the two was exciting. Hotter brings out more umami in the early steeps, where cooler brings out more sweetness. So adjust according to preference, this tea can handle the heat as long as you are fast.

Taste: The first steep is light and savory, with notes of rice crackers and seaweed and undertones of kelp. It tastes immensely clean and refreshing, feeling almost like a palate cleanser. Second steep is where things start to get really fun, the tea goes from light green in color to vibrantly green and the taste is an intense explosion, strong notes of sweet cut hay, savory seaweed (I am thinking specifically of the really delicious seaweed salad I had at dinner last night) and nutty toasted rice with a finish of lingering fresh soybeans. It still retains that immensely fresh and clean taste as the first steep. The best part of this tea I found to be its longevity, it just kept going for about six steeps, five really solid ones and one very light but very sweet sixth. I find genmaicha to be one one of those teas that usually dies too early, so I was so glad to have one that went the distance.

Oddball Notes: I admit I am a sucker for genmaicha made with things other than either low-end sencha or bancha, like making it with Fukamushicha, my favorite ever style of sencha, or with hojicha, or tossing in other ingredients like black soybeans or sakura petals. It takes a daily drinker or sushi restaurant style tea to a slightly fancier level, showing that no matter what type of tea it is, it can still be a work of art. This genmaicha also happens to have the distinction of being one of the few that Ben really liked!

How I Acquired The Tea: Sent for review

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Tea and Junk Food Pairings

Pairing tea and food is a fine art, and there is a reason that most fancy articles and tea books focus on haute cuisine tea pairings (inspired by the wine sommeliers that tea sommeliers borrowed their name from.) But let us be honest, most of us are not eating a steak tartare with our regular cups of what do you pair for everyday munching? This is a result of years of drinking tea and pairing it with regular snacks, because that is what I do, I am a consummate nibbler and I am proud of my perpetually full snack box that resides on the back of my desk.

Red Jade and Snickers- This was discovered entirely by accident, I was munching on a Snickers and Espeon jumped on me at the wrong time causing me to choke on it a bit, so I desperately needed a drink and grabbed the Red Jade I had sitting on my desk. Usually I don't like pairing Red Jade with anything because its taste is so spectacular I don't want to be distracted from it. This works especially well with a Red Jade that is more fruity and Sassafras heavy rather than chocolate, it becomes a sweet explosion bringing the nutty notes from the Snickers to the forefront and giving it a taste of honey and stronger nougat. The tea actually tones down the cloying aspect of the candy and focuses on a more pure sweetness, giving it a slightly more artisanal chocolate taste.

Dian Hong and Goldfish Crackers- I have an unhealthy obsession with this style tea and these crackers, they have been my favorite snack since I was tiny. I have tested so many different teas with these crackers, mostly because they are my favorite quite munch for my desk and found that Dian Hongs work best, especially the really yam and peanut heavy ones. The cheese and saltiness bring out the sweetness of the tea, kinda like a salted caramel, it works wonderfully.

Kabusecha and Arare- So, some of the teas I combine with food are because they contradict in really fascinating ways, others are because the combination is so perfect that not including it seems just wrong. Technically arare tastes good with just about any of the Japanese greens, but since they are a classic Japanese snack that makes sense, but I find that the sweet/umami combination of Kabusecha is perfect with the sweet/umami tastes in arare, especially the ones with extra nori bits and the ones stuffed with peanuts. Pure decadence, especially during the summer!

Tai Ping Hou Kui and Blue Cornchips- This pairing is wonderful, the naturally sweet and earthy undertones of the cornchips go well with the sweet undertones of the green tea, plus it is like salsa verde without the heat! Definitely skip the salsa with this though, if you add salsa you no longer taste the fairly delicate tea.

Genmaicha and Pocky- Go ahead, call me a weeb, it is a fair assessment, yes I binge watch Naruto while eating this, what of it? I am not sure what it is with chocolate and green tea, but it is really good together, especially the really umami Japanese greens and darker chocolate. Pocky and Genmaicha are a particular fun combo because it oddly makes the Pocky taste vaguely fruity, like persimmon!

Gui Fei Oolong and Potato Chips- Potato Chips are soooo salty (especially the kind I get, I like my salt) and Gui Fei is sooo sweet, combining these two intense tastes mellows both of them out a bit. You get to taste the potato nuances and more of the subtle floral and at times green notes of the Gui Fei. It is not something I do every time I am nomming on chips, but once in a while it is a really fun treat.

Heavy Roasted Dong Ding and Methi Khakhra- If you don't know what that is, it is a essentially a giant cracker commonly eaten in Gujarat and they come in a ton of flavors, my favorite being Methi aka fenugreek leaves (also love cumin too!) usually they are eaten with chutney or a tangy mango masala spice powder. You would think I would pair this with a robust Indian black tea since it is regional, but my favorite way to eat these is with a big ol' bowl of grandpa steeped dong ding and while lounging reading. It is very much so a comfort snack, the nutty sweetness of the tea pairs really well with the tangy, bitter, and spicy tastes of the Khakhra.

Lishan Oolong and Pistachio Macaron- I discovered this beautiful combo last Christmas, Aldi had a thing of Macarons and I got them for 'research purposes' since I want to get decent at making them, when I ate the box I was drinking some very sweet and floral Lishan Oolong, the other flavors were meh with the oolong, but oh man the nutty sweetness of pistachio was a perfect pairing with the sweetness of the floral oolong.

Golden BiLuoChun and Cheese Curds with Honey- Discovered this beauty on my honeymoon, combining fresh squeaky cheese curds, local locust flower honey, and golden biluochun made one of the best breakfasts! The tangy cheese, sweet honey, and malty tea all really compliment each other, bringing out the best aspects of each, without the honey the curds and tea are fine together but that added burst of honey sweetness is what really pushed it into being memorable!

And that is that! There are tons more pairings out there, but these are the ones that seemed really memorable, the next one of these will hopefully be from Madison, where I actually do get fancy and devote a pairing to cheeses!