Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Case For Distilled Water Brewed Tea

Time to be controversial, I feel like this happens a lot with me and tea, so not surprising, I tend to have opinions that clash with accepted norms and guess what, I like it like that. Today's big controversy is all about that water, specifically distilled water! A while ago I did a gongfoolery post comparing various bottled waters, expounding on their virtues and failings, and boy have things changed since then, specifically my opinion on distilled water. In that post I said that Smart Water (the vapor distilled one) was nasty and to avoid distilled waters...well I am admitting it...I was wrong. Specifically avoid distilled waters that have minerals and electrolytes added to it because it will warp the taste.

Back in the spring of 2017 I started noticing that my usual filtration system just was not cutting it, either quality control for the filters had started going down the crapper or my ability to detect every minute amount of minerals and such in the water was getting more intense. I was not really liking the way it affected my tea, so I decided to give distilled water a try, along with the store filtered water just to see if I had a preference. Oh boy did I ever!! And so here are the pros and cons of that discovery.
The lighting in the corner of the tearoom is absolutely awful

I have a Zojurushi, mineral deposits are bad for these machines, since switching to distilled water I have not had to clean the mineral crust from my house's hard water off of it and that is so nice. Same with when I switch to using my normal kettle (like when I was on vacation, yes I traveled with my electric kettle) no more dealing with the stupid mineral deposits. My teaware is also happy about this, especially my clear glass pieces.

The tea tastes amazing! I do not see where other tea bloggers and tasters say that tea made with distilled water tastes flat and dull, to me it very much does not. With distilled water I know exactly what I am tasting, bitter notes, mineral notes, sweet notes...they are all provided by the tea and not minerals and additives in water. The mouthfeel is clean (unless the tea is not) the notes are just as intense if not more so since there is no distraction of the water. Granted, I have been told by people that my sense of taste is freakishly intense, so maybe the water being anything other than super pure is just something that bothers me. In my experimenting I gave Ben a side by side test of waters (this man drinks tap water just fine where tap water legit makes me gag because of the chlorine and hardness) and he said the tea made with distilled tasted a bit sweeter than the tea made with filtered water, where the filtered water had an underlying bitterness. Well meaning tea friends have tried to convince me I am wrong and that I should just use spring water, but distilled water is the way for me from now on.

It isn't perfect though, like all things there are flaws to be found. The most obvious one is cost, distilled water ain't free, yo. It costs about $.75-1 per gallon at the grocery store and I go through about three-four gallons a week, not a huge cost but it does add up. Plus the is the horror of all that plastic waste, even with recycling I do not like how wasteful it is at all. A home distiller is really not cheap, running you anywhere from $90-several hundreds, plus reviews of them are pretty mixed which is why I have not bit the bullet on that one yet. I do hope to get a home distiller after I move in a few months, but first I need to figure out which one is best. Or, an even better option, where ever I move to having a 'fill your own' station for distilled water like they do with filtered water at most stores.

One possible negative to some that I consider a positive is, I no longer get tea drunk. Chaqi still exists and I can feel the tingly happiness of teas, but I no longer get tanked off tea. Maybe this is what people were warning me about with tea being diminished? To me though this is a plus, it means I can drink more tea, it also means my post tea-drunk headaches and IBS have gone away which is nice. I should point out I am not entirely sure this is just the distilled water though, right when I switched something changed in my body and my metabolism slowed down a good bit (finally, I gained weight after a lifetime of being underweight, at times dangerously so) and my IBS mostly went away. It could all be related to the water, but that seems unlikely, most likely it is a result of me getting older...granted when I go out to tea I do have issues with getting tea drunk and a lot of times that results in stomach woes and a splitting headache, but I cannot rule out that it could be psychosomatic.

Really that is a problem with all of this, tea tasting, water types, reactions to tea and water...how much of it is there and how much of it is because I want it to be there? It is something I struggle with, always trying to make sure that my perceptions are what is there and not some subconscious thing causing the illusion of perception.

Well...that got philosophical...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Tealyra: Assam "Black Beauty" #8, A Tea Review

Name: Assam "Black Beauty" #8

Company: Tealyra

Type of Tea: Taiwanese Black tea/ Hongcha

Description of Dry Leaf: Long wiry leaves, dark in color. Once steeped they take on other tones like dark reds and a bit of green here and there.

Aroma of Leaf: Oh man is that ever sweet and potent! Full of beloved notes of sassafras and teaberry with undertones of chocolate, hazelnuts, apricots, and guava. It has a bit of a resinous quality too, reminiscent of amber, as finisher, which I am rather fond of. Once it is steeped things get unusual, it picks up floral notes of plumeria and orchid along with the woody sassafras and cocoa and the much more delicate now guava.

Aroma of Tea: Sassafras and cocoa, malt and plumeria, with a finish of dried apricots and a bit of a muscatel raisin note. Very sweet smelling with a woodsy undertone.

Preparation Style: Gongfu'd it up using my Taiwanese black tea only yixing teapot, used 195 degree water and 30-30-60-60-90s and so forth timing.

Taste:  It is well known my obsession with Taiwanese black teas, especially the ones with that strong sassafras note (I am addicted to Ruby #18 after all) and this one does not disappoint. It is very similar Ruby 18, its main difference is its smoothness and sweetness. Usually Ruby #18 has a bit of an astringency to it (one of the reasons I am less cavalier with my brewing and actually pay really close attention when I am steeping it gongfu style) where this one you can do pretty much anything to and it never gets an astringent edge. It is also immensely sweet and fruity, with strong notes of apricot shortbread and golden raisins with just a hint of papaya and guava. It lasts for several steeps and also steeps really well bowl style, which I always appreciate when I am doing something away from the tea desk. I really like how mellow it is in profile while still having a distinct character.

Oddball Notes: This tea is cultivar TTES #8, an assamica transplant from Jaipur that, like my beloved #18 has a lot of names. Black Beauty, Ruby 8 (that isn't at all confusing) Yu Chi, Taiwanese Assam...And like the #18, this tea is grown around Sun Moon Lake and has a very similar taste profile. Hilariously Tealyra's #18 doesn't really taste like the classic Ruby #18 I love, where this one really does. I ended up getting all of Tealyra's Taiwanese black teas and this one was definitely my favorite.

How I Acquired The Tea: I bought it for myself for my birthday

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Teas Unique: Jeju Island Teas, a Tasting Adventure

Today's tea adventure takes us to the far away (for me at least) land of Korea's Jeju Island thanks to Teas Unique (use this link to get a 25% discount.) Jeju Island is a beautiful volcanic island, these teas specifically were grown on the slopes of Mt Halla, a 100 thousand year old shield volcano, the climate and very fertile soil makes for perfect tea growing conditions. Do yourself a favor and go google Mt Halla and Jeju Island (I can wait) it is worth it because wow is that island ever gorgeous! If I ever get the chance to visit Korea that is definitely where I want to go.

The first of the teas I am looking at is, of course, the Jejus Island First Flush Black Tea, because my obsessive love with black teas of any kind is well known, but my obsession with Korean oxidized teas is (I would like to assume) legendary. Like the other oxidized teas I have had from Teas Unique, this one is superb, the aroma in the bag is light and sweet similar to honeyed roasted nuts, but toss some water on it and what you get is a symphony! Incredibly sweet and rich while also being light, sounds paradoxical but it isn't, it lacks a malty or molasses heaviness and is instead all orange blossom honey, sugar cookies, orchids, and a touch of chocolate bread. As you can imagine, tasting this tea is a treat, it maintains its lightness in both texture and overall flavor profile, it is a tea that while drinking gives a feeling of being uplifted rather than a heavy sinking feeling. The taste is immensely sweet, like licorice without the licorice taste, it lingers long in the mouth, which I like! You all know I am a sucker for naturally sweet teas! There are notes of honey, chocolate bread, guava, lychee, and bit of almond. It lasts several steeps and eventually faded into a gently sweet and mineral tea, it is a definite win in my book!

Next up is 2017 Jeju Island First Flush Green Tea with Mandarin Orange, as it is well known I am usually not a fan of tea with flavors but I am a sucker for teas that have been blended with real ingredients and not fake stuff. I really enjoyed the version of this with black tea, so was excited to try the green. The aroma is wonderfully sweet mandarin with a nutty undertone and a slight sea water note. Steeping it and wow, the mandarins! So intense! There is something truly wonderful about the aroma of dried mandarin peels, I recently have learned to love them since I got a dehydrator and it was one of the first things I dried, it takes a sweet mandarin aroma and gives it an extra warmth and cooked quality, I am really fond of it. As you probably notice from the picture, there are a lot of mandarin bits in this, and that is reflected in the taste wonderfully. The base green tea is light with a touch of nuttiness and sea air umami that is mixed with a bright sweet honey drenched mandarin explosion that really wakes up the senses. I feel like I should use this to treat season depression because suddenly I am transported to the coast on a summer day. It lasts for quite a few steeps, and I am glad because this nectar sweetness I could just drink and drink.

Finishing off this little Jeju Island journey with 2017 Jeju Island First Flush Green Tea, a vibrantly green tea with a wonderfully sweet and savory aroma. I have in the several times I have looked at Korean green tea, compared it to arare (those delightful Japanese rice crackers with soy sauce and seaweed) and the comparison sticks, but there is also an additional sweet nuttiness that is reminiscent of mochi. I love the way this tea smells, I do not drink a lot of green teas much anymore, but Korean greens are the exception! The taste is delightfully refreshing, blending savory seaweed and soy with sweet and nutty rice and a distant touch of grass. Like I said, super refreshing, brings to mind late spring and favorite snacks!

And speaking of snacks (ooh you thought I was done) along with the teas was sent along two bars of my own personal weakness...chocolate. Matchacolate Organic Earl Grey and Matchacolate Black Chai Tea. I very surprisingly didn't eat it all in one sitting like I did with the last one of these I tried, I am learning self control! Both are made with Italian white chocolate and blended with powdered tea of their respective flavor, and that is it, no gross artificial flavors or garbage like that, which I for one greatly appreciate! Trying to pick a favorite is hard, the flavors are both subtle and blend really well with the chocolate (something a lot of tea infused chocolate bombs, either all you taste is the tea or all you taste is the chocolate...I want to taste both!) The dominant note in the Earl Grey is definitely the bergamot, it is like a super fancy chocolate orange but somehow better, Ben the lover of Earls Grey was a huge fan of this and pretty much ate half my bar. The chai really brings the cardamon which I loved! I am a monstrous fan of cardamon in sweets and really enjoyed it, it truly felt like I was eating a spicy chai tea and white chocolate! Clearly I need to try the other flavors now...

Products sent for review by Teas Unique.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Teas Unique: 2015 Janghueng Joongjak Aged Cheong Tae Jeon Coin Tea, A Tea Review

Name 2015 Jangheung Joongjak (Third Pluck) 100% Wild Grown Aged Cheong Tae Jeon Coin Tea

Company Teas Unique Use this link to get a 25% discount on your order
Type of Tea: Coin Tea, also called Cheong Tae Jeon, Ddeokcha, Ddokcha, Tteokcha, Rice Cake Tea. Its shape lends it to different names. Mostly from what I can tell it is a fermented green tea similar to both a Korean green tea and a Sheng Puerh. It ages and from what I can tell, quite well, since that was the original point of these neat little coins. This is a tea with history behind it, much like other teas made for aging, it was a solution to storage by people a long time ago.

Description of Dry Leaf: The coin is a delightful mottled brown and green with very tightly compressed leaves, I would need a jackhammer to separate them!

Aroma of Leaf: To really make this tea shine, it needs a good roasting, usually using a pan but I decided it was the perfect time to break out the mini tea roaster I have! Within a few minutes my tea desk was filled with a peculiar aroma of ginseng, chocolate, orchids, and nuts. It was certainly odd but not in an unpleasant way, but certainly not notes I ever expected to encounter all at once.

Aroma of Tea: Very medicinal, the steam of the tea is loaded with toasted notes and ginseng and licorice. It is very aromatic and not entirely like tea. It also vaguely reminds me of the humid and earthy aroma of a conservatory hothouse, complete with subtle orchids.

Preparation Style: This tea required an adventure to make! First the roasting, then boiling a liter of water, then boil it for 7-10 minutes (I did 9) for the first steep. Later steeps get 600ml water and long boil.

Taste: So, this wasn't exactly what I was expecting, granted I wasn't entirely sure what I was expecting! The first steep was fairly light (the coin was mostly in one piece still, even after a vigorous boiling) with notes of sea water, ginseng, chocolate, and a finish of orchids. It is very sweet and medicinal with just a hint of umami in the front of the taste. The next steep brought on stronger medicinal sweetness with a thicker mouthfeel and a very long lingering orchid finish. I admit I did not go for a third refill because I was sloshing and this tea had me feeling all floaty and I did not wish to drift off into lala land.

Oddball Notes: Since this was such a large amount of tea to session ratio I decided to rope Ben into this with the promise of rare tea and weirdness, two things that pique his interest. This was not something I expected him to like since he usually loathes fermented, roasted, and green teas, but it was something he liked! He liked the chocolate and medicinal notes but could live without the umami and orchid...he is so picky. As for myself, I liked it! It is not something I want everyday, but is something that would be fun to pull out on a day when I am not sitting at the tea desk but busy in the kitchen and want a large amount of tea that is more forgiving than most! Plus this tea has been on my to try list for years, and I am very glad to have tried it!

How I Acquired The Tea: Sent for review by Teas Unique

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My Teapot is Cooler Than Yours

I promised myself, no more teaware, I do not need any more, in fact I have way more than I need and I am going to absolutely hate life when I have to move in a few months. Of course this has not stopped me from procuring more since I made that incredibly silly promise to myself (that no one believed) including the most ridiculous tea set, the pot of which I am looking at today. I am not kidding when I say it is cooler than yours, it is certainly cooler than all my other teapots.

Presenting the tea set I spent far too much money on while on my honeymoon in Madison! It was picked up at a gemstone store (so not a specialized teapot dealer, just FYI) hiding in the back of the 'expensive stuff' cabinet that I had no business looking into. I came for fossils and left with one...and a tea set carved from Chrysanthemum Stone. I am still embarrassed by what I paid for it, I am an avid bargain hunter (my thriftstore adventures are somewhat famous) and I am very frugal, but figured my honeymoon was a perfect time to break out my comfort zone and spend *sigh* $150 on a teapot. Was it worth it? Hells to the Yeah!! Not only do I have an awesome memento of my honeymoon (unlike all the cheese which has been eaten) I have something truly unique and amazing.

Before I get into how well it does or does not perform, I should explain what Chrysanthemum stone is, and also complain...loudly...about how annoying it is to do scientific vs metaphysical research about rocks! I do not care what its 'healing properties' are, I want to know what my teapot is! Grumbling intensifies!! After a large amount of mostly fruitless research, Chrysanthemum stone mostly comes from the Hunan region of China, the radiating crystal structure that makes up the flower is Celestine (or replaced with dolomite, quartz, or calcite, but those tend to look different) The matrix is probably Permian era bog goop hardened into slate, schist or whatever. Apparently the matrix isn't important (grumbling continues) but it acts like a schist (soapstone comes to mind) and that is probably what it is. Bad news though, apparently the largest area that produces Chrysanthemum stone was turned into a dam and the other area is getting mined for the tasty Strontium found in Celestine, so this stuff is creeping up in price.

The teapot is like a nega-TARDIS, it is way smaller on the inside than first glance would leave one to believe, for a rough estimate my other teapot about this size holds about 250ml, where as this one holds roughly 100ml, meaning the walls are THICK! This means that you absolutely have to pre-warm it, I loathe doing that (as I mentioned way back in the original Gongfoolery) I hate wasting precious water, doubly so now that I have switched to buying my fancy distilled water. But, if I don't preheat this pot I am going to get really rubbish tea, the walls of the pot are just that thick, though it does double as a really fancy long lasting hand-warmer once it has warmed up. That and the fact that the handle is a really awkward shape (being carved to look like a branch) are my only complaints from this teapot, it truly is a magnificent treasure that I find myself touching constantly because it has the best smooth texture.

You are probably wondering, how does its unique material affect the tea? Well good news, I tested that! Did a brief session side by side testing porcelain (hello mini gaiwan!) using Yunnan Sourcing's Premium AA Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, a tea I know very well  (I did a comparison blurb between their two ZSXZ here, for anyone curious about this tea) Yeah, there is a massive taste difference! The stone teapot gives the tea a slippery texture and rich mineral taste, reminding me of tea brewed with fresh spring water, you can taste the rocks and it is pretty great. Clearly I do not want this for all teas (or I would not have switched to distilled water and would be using spring water) but when I want to reminisce about being in a different place other than my tea desk while drinking tea it works wonders. Other than the taste of minerals and the slippery mouthfeel there is no difference to the actual flavors of the tea.

And so, that is why this unique artisan carved block of Chinese stone that is covered in auspicious Chrysanthemums, reminds me of my honeymoon, tastes like spring water, and feels like silk is cooler than your teapot. Think you have a cooler one? By all means show me, I love ogling teapots!! (just please don't link me to where to buy them, I do not need encouraging!)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Resurrection!

You know, my name isn't the Tea Necromancer just because I like tea and spend my time painting undead things, I am a Necromancer, I bring things back to life. So far my record is a hamster in elementary school, many drowned bathtub spiders, one squirrel, and now this blog. When I closed the blog I suspected there was a chance I would be back, but wanted to make it seem final in case I didn't, I know there is nothing more sad then a beloved blog taking a needed hiatus and never returning. I figured there was a very real chance I would miss it and just needed a very long vacation to sort tings out in my brain, and good news, I have! So here is how the blog is going to work this time: twice a week updates on Sunday and Wednesday with a mix of reviews and other tea themed rambling.

Reviews: These are going to be different than they were in the past, I am going to be following a more methodical approach to reviewing, using a form where I will fill in notes. Back when I first started taking detailed tasting notes (before there even was a blog) this is how I did it and it was pretty fun. This way if you just want to know how the tea smells, you can zip to that header, or just to taste, or just to where it came from. Of course since this will be once a week (probably on Sunday) that means I need to be pickier with what I choose to review, my goal is to review teas I find interesting. That means they can taste amazing or awful, as long as it stands out from the crowd. And I promise I won't just write about Oolongs and Hongchas...though probably no Puerh other than the occasional shou.

Other stuff: Rambles? Hmm, this needs a name other than 'other' but for now that works. This is going to be where I talk about teaware, how it affects tea, weird experiments, tea pairings, and comparison posts. This where I will be talking about how one season's tea compares to another, or doing a tasting flight. In a way it will still be a review, but more rambling and also probably shorter snippets about each tea. I absolutely love doing flights and comparison posts, so I am going to try to squeeze as many of those in as possible. There might also be posts where I talk about what tea I enjoy to drink most while painting or baking and the more personal effects of tea. Maybe I should just call Wednesday the free-for-all day!

And so, that is that! I still need to get a new camera, the money I saved up for that went to Honeymoon fun (oh god so much cheese) so my photos will be a mix of phone (it is a Samsung Galaxy S4, so not too bad) and my Fujifilm S8630 with the sad scratch on the lens and possibly fried interior after eclipse photography, totally worth it by the way. If all goes as planned the blog will officially wake from the dead a few weeks after the new year. It would be the first week of January but yours truly too a dive and fell on the computer which in turn feel on the floor and trashed the hard drive, repairs will be done by then and that is when I'll return!

Friday, August 4, 2017

The End, The Final Post

Well, all, the time has come to hang up my blogger hat, this is the last update this blog will have. I have given this a lot of thought and realized it was time to move on to other things! Before I get into the meat of the blog, thank you...all of you...all the readers, fellow bloggers, tea companies, tea growers, all the ones that found my words useful and relevant, you guys are the reason I continued with this blog for as long as I did, the reason I went from posting quick tasting notes on Facebook to long-winded rambles. I will never have the right words to accurately express my appreciation and the glowing warm fuzzies I get in my heart.

There are myriad reasons why, so I will give a quick rundown. 1. I have burned out and no longer feel I have anything worth saying about these teas, which doesn't do anyone justice, and I really do not want my burn out of writing to leach into the tea itself, I adore tea and will do anything to avoid jeopardizing my love of it!2. It is a job that doesn't pay anything, and I no longer find this job fun, it went from being a hobby and passion to a job. I know from experience this is toxic as hell one's hobbies should never only be a job. 3. Yes, my health is part of it, I am tired of beating myself up for missing blog days due to being too unwell. I started this blog in part to make myself feel constructive while also being disabled, and that really helped at first, now I no longer need it for the confidence boost and the stress of missing posts got old. 4. I just want to drink tea, I am tired of having to stop my sessions to take notes and mess with taking pictures, it is so easy with Instagram to take (mediocre) photos and throw them on there while waiting for the cup to cool, the process of taking notes mid tasting and photos were just getting in the way of my enjoyment,I am tired of having to think about it, I just want to get lost in tea.Those are the main reasons I am ending the blog, I feel as though a weight has been lifted from me!

Don't worry, if you are reading this and thinking NOOOO I want to ogle your epic teaware collection more!! Well, I will still be just as active on Instagram (@TeaNecromancer) showing off various tea sessions. If things go the way I think they will I will be getting a better camera, so hopefully, my mediocre phone cameras will be quite good! I have been told I judge my phone camera harshly, but I think they are mediocre...granted I hate my current phone so that doesn't help.

The void that the blog is leaving in my life is going to be filled with painting, between painting miniatures and altering Magic cards, I realize painting is just what I want to do with my time. Speaking of which, I won't be making a job out of it or anything, but if any of you want miniatures to live on your tea desk or altered cards to pimp out your decks just let me know, I paint for tea, more cards, supplies, cash, fossils...interesting tokens of commerce and treasures! I don't want to get rich off of it, but I am vain enough to admit knowing my creations are out in the world is awesome.

And if you are a tea company who wants me to feature you on Instagram for the photo exposure rather than a lengthy review, please check my blog disclosure tab for any relevant information.

That will be different than the blog. I am not using it as a way to feel productive, or to try to make a job out of it, or to do anything other than bring myself joy...I have just gotten to that level of peace with my life and the trials and tribulations being a disabled, autistic, recluse brings, and that is truly the core of tea, finding peace with oneself. And now I am signing off with a wish that everyone finds a tea that brings them immense joy, be it through taste or some other means, whatever your reason I hope you enjoy it!