Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Chai Chun: Darjeeling Oolongs, A Tea Review

I was up all night painting undead horses, and you know, I am ok with that! Slowly progressing through my Malignant box, the Hexwraiths honestly seems like the easiest thing in that box to paint, especially compared with my ridiculously fragile Mortis Engine/Coven Throne kitbash. Truly though, I love painting skeletons, you can just do so much with bones, make them all weathered and old, covered in crusty rot, you can even have a red skeleton if you feel so inclined!

Recently Chai Chun sent me a mountain of teas from India, dividing them up on how I wanted to review them on the blog has been a challenge, so I decided to start out with all the Oolongs! Sadly not all of these are on their website, but I am sure if you message them you can get your hands on any that tickle your fancy. Starting out with Glenburn Oolong, the aroma of this Oolong is sweet and muscatel, blending honey and grapes with a touch of sweet peach juice and malt. It smells similar to an Oriental Beauty (not surprising since a lot of people compare Oriental Beauty to Darjeeling) with a slightly heavier oxidation, making it also similar to a second flush.

To be a real pain, I decided to Gongfu all of these, because I really like Darjeeling teas when they are brewed that way (granted Western style is also good, but I have so many gaiwans...) The taste is really refreshing! Crisp and sweet apples and barely ripe apricots blend with orange blossoms and white grapes, and a touch of honey at the finish. The mouthfeel is smooth while being crisp, light and quite bright, with a gently lingering aftertaste. I really like the orange blossom notes on this one, but I am a sucker for all things orange blossom.

Next on the adventure is Poobong Oolong, the aroma is quite sweet, with notes of orange blossom (am I detecting a tasty theme?) thick juicy apricots, cashews, and pears. It has a slightly more roasted nutty aroma which gives it an extra sweet heaviness.

Ok, so this one is my favorite, just going to say that now, I ended up messaging my mom when I was drinking it raving about how good it tasted! The taste combines notes of dried mango, cooked pears, cashew butter, and scuppernong grapes into a thick and very sweet dessert of a tea. Luckily for me this tea has decent longevity, I was able to get seven solid steeps out of it, really it surprised me how sweet it was, it tastes just like dried fruit and if you handed me this tea I would suspect it was steeped with dried fruit...but since I brewed it I know it is just the leaves.

Onward to Balasun Ecstasy First Flush Oolong, an Oolong that is completely different from the other Oolongs in this bunch! I have seen debates that a first flush black tea is really more correctly categorized as an Oolong, and I can see some reasoning behind that, especially when comparing it to an actual first flush Oolong. The aroma is crisp and green, with lettuce and celery notes combining with apricot skin, white grapes, and a delicate plumeria blossom finish.

This is definitely a refreshing Oolong! Strong notes of hay and lettuce, honey and white grapes, and a nice nectar sweetness of plumeria at the finish. It is so crisp and fresh, it caught me by surprise a bit, especially since it is more on the savory side rather than immensely sweet. Drink this Oolong if you need to be woken up in the mouth and need refreshing!

Lastly is Giddapahar Oolong, Giddapahar Estate is a long time favorite of mine, so trying the Oolong was a treat! This is a fun one, the aroma being a touch herbaceous and hemp like, with strong notes of toasted chestnuts and cooked apricots with a potent raisin finish. It is very aromatic and intense!

This one also surprised me, being strongly oxidized and roasted, with strong notes of grilled apricots and mineral, golden raisins, hemp, and malt. It was like the lovechild of a yancha and an autumn flushed Darjeeling, not something I really thought I would experience,  but I liked it! The long lingering aftertaste of honey and raisins was probably my favorite aspect, but the robustness of the overall taste was quite good.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Tea Runners Tea Club: July Tea Box, A Tea Review

Bah, my luck is rubbish, RUBBISH! My Hour of Devastation bundle arrived today and blah, I didn't pull anything good, true I did get a bunch of the cheap commons and a cheap rare I wanted, but nothing that was worth more than a dollar so the expensive cards I have a hard time justifying buying for myself will have to wait. Out of ten packs, I was expecting to get something! Worst bundle ever!

Today I am looking at the July Tea Box from Tea Runners a somewhat new company that bills itself as the 'World's Finest Tea Club' which is quite the claim, so let us see how it stacks up to the competition. For $25 a month you get four pouches of loose leaf tea with enough to make 30-50 cups of tea, the tea seems to be a range combining both flavored and pure teas. Looking at the teas they have offered in the past and this month, this club seems good for those in the beginner to mid-range levels of tea obsession. For someone (like me) who prefers pure teas you drink gongfu cha, or has very specific types of tea they want, this club might not be the best fit. It is harder to make a club for us picky tea snobs, so far I have only found the one that I wanted to stick with long term. I will say that I really liked the packaging, the box looks like a briefcase and it is slim enough to fit in my mailbox was awesome. The actual tea pouches are full of useful information, including caffeine content, steeping (western only) original providers, and origin of tea, plus they are resealable and are thick enough to keep smells in and not contaminating other teas.

The first tea I pulled out of the box to try was the Mystic Mint, an organic blend from Rishi Tea made from peppermint, cardamom, licorice, essential basil and clove leaf oil. Long time readers probably know by now my love/hate with mint, I like mint in moderation, it needs to not overwhelm and usually, I prefer it to be very mild. Most the time in blends I don't get this and it makes me cranky, feeling like I sniffed and drank a glacier. The aroma of this blend is in fact very minty, my sinuses are clear now for sure, there are also notes of mild cardamon and cloves with a bit of herbaceous basil and sweet licorice, mostly though you get mint.

I discovered the best way to deal with mint blends being too strong is to cold steep it, so in the morning I popped this in my fridge and then drank it before bed. The taste is cooling and minty, but it is not overpowering, yay! Strong notes of cardamon and sweet licorice blend with tingly clove for a really soothing drink that manages to be cooling but not unpleasantly so, thanks in part to the warming sensation of the clove. I am glad that I liked this blend, it had been on my list to try from Rishi for a while since it looked like it would be good to sip when I have a belly ache, so add this to the short list of minty teas I like.

Next up is the Dragon Claw Oolong, an Oolong from Nepal (wooo, love my teas from Nepal!) from Tea Runners, there are two teas in the set where they do not list the source, but I have a theory this is from Nepali Tea Traders, and I hope I am right because when my pouch is empty I am going to want more. This is my one problem with tea clubs, if I find a favorite a lot of times that is it, no more for me. The aroma of this tea is pretty amazing, grapes and toasted hazelnuts with an undertone of malt are the dominant notes, it does not smell like any Oolong I have sniffed, making it truly unique.

As expected, I gongfu'd this tea, and holy moly does it go the distance! I got fifteen steeps out of this tea and I was completely ok with that, usually, Nepali teas go for about half that long, so I was not prepared, but it was awesome. The taste is intense, strong sweet nutty notes with apricots and grapes, an undertone of malt, and a bright crisp mouthfeel. It reminded me of a roasted Oolong crossed with a Nepali black tea and wow is it delicious.

On to next tea, one I was not really looking forward to trying, American Tea Room's Organic Bliss, a blend of green and white tea with dragonfruit, lemongrass, kiwi, raspberries, natural flavors, and sugar. Nothing about this blend seems appealing to me, except maybe the dragonfruit. I don't like flavored teas, at all, they taste and smell like candy (even if it is natural flavoring) and I just do not want that in my tea. Flavored teas notoriously give me headaches, and if I am particularly unlucky act as migraine triggers (much like perfumes, cleaning agents, and anything with a potent smell.) and it seems the older I get the less tolerant I am of it. But if you like tea that smells like strawberry lollipops and sweet fruity jam, you will probably like this tea.

In fairness I did try this tea instead of running in terror, I cold steeped it because I find it makes it easier for me to tolerate if it is cold. Granted I should point this out for posterity, I do tolerate chocolate, vanilla, and nutty flavored things more, I am not a fan of fruit flavored things, even candy, so the flavoring on this tea could be fantastic, I just absolutely loathe fruit flavored things. So, it is not really a surprise that this tea is not for me, it tastes of fruit candy, borders between sweet and sour, and has a light and refreshing base tea flavor. I will be foisting the rest of this pouch off on my housemate who loves this style tea and will probably drink it all very quickly.

The last tea might have been my favorite, it is in strong competition with the Oolong, Black Gold Biluochun (or as one of my IG followers misread it, Black God Erebus, MTG reference for the win) I love golden Biluochun, I pretty much burn through my stash of this tea whenever I have it, it is one of my favorite Dianhongs for sure. The aroma is sweet and malty with strong notes of molasses and roasted peanuts, there is just a hint of yam in this one as well, but mostly this goes into the molasses and peanut category.

This tea is quite tasty, everything I expect from a fuzzy golden Biluochun, a thick mouthfeel, sweet lingering aftertaste, notes of molasses, peanuts, malt, and a bit of cocoa, overall it is quite good! You can tell I thought it was quite good because my pouch is almost empty, because this stuff never sticks around! It lasts for quite a while too, getting ten solid steeps and a couple really light ones, so I do not feel too sad that it is running out.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Friday, July 14, 2017

JK Tea: Jin Jun Mei and Mi Lan Xiang Dancong, A Tea Review

Yesterday, while taking a break from taking care of Ben, I went for a walk around the yard to find any interesting basing bits for the miniature I was painting. While out hunting for bits, I found a skull!! It is a really perfect squirrel skull, including the lower jaw and all the teeth (though one fell out and will have to be glued in) and the best part is it is mostly clean. I have it in a box with holes on the porch and letting buggies pick the rest of the bits off and in a couple weeks, I should have a nice shiny new skull for my desk!

Today I am looking at a pair of teas from JK Teas, two of my favorite kinds of teas so looking at them is a treat for me. Starting right off with the hong cha, their Jin Jun Mei, the Fujian golden eyebrows of happiness. The aroma of the delicate leaves is super yammy, this is such a sweet potato pie tea. complete with sweet marshmallows and starchy crust. I love how much this smells like sweet potato pie, though it is making me hungry.

As I suspected from the aroma, the taste is very sweet and full of starchy sweet potato goodness. There is, of course, more to this tea than just sweet potato pie, there is a touch of cocoa and malt, with a rich honey sweet finish. A smooth mouthfeel and lingering aftertaste, this became a bit of a morning favorite for me, especially since the taste is not super strong, it is light and distinct, and lately I have been waking up with a splitting headache so a tea on the more subtle nuanced side has been what I have been in the mood for. If you like your hong cha to be a sweet potato adventure and not be super robust then definitely get this one!

Next up is Imperial Mi Lan Xiang Phoenix Dancong, the most iconic of the various Dancongs is Mi Lan Xiang or Honey Orchid Scent. The aroma is very heady, a tiny bit of roast with a lot of flowers and fruit. Strong notes of orchid and plumeria with apples and grapes, it smells crisp and very sweet, I decided to just sit and sniff the tea leaves for a long time before steeping them.

The taste is juicy! This is one of the reasons I really enjoy this style of tea, at the beginning, there is a tiny bit of a roast taste, but that fades very quickly to thick sweet pear, apple, and grape juice with intense heady orchid and plumeria nectar. I feel like a butterfly or hummingbird when drinking this tea, it is elegant and soothing. I really enjoyed it (spoilers, I am actually drinking it another session while writing this, I felt inspired) and think it is an excellent example of Mi Lan Xiang.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Tillerman Tea: A Trio of Taiwanese Teas, A Tea Review

Those who follow my antics on Instagram have seen my slowly growing collection of Age of Sigmar Grand Alliance Undead, with the big piece being my converted Mortis Engine/Coven Throne that I have named the Mortis Throne. I love this model, it is beautiful, but painting it is nightmarish! Makes the Ma'al Drakar the Dragon Tyrant look tame, mostly because it is fairly spindly and the points of contact between pieces is not as big or interlocking as I prefer. I am certain I am going to have the whole thing fall apart before I am done painting it, or if I breathe on it too strongly! In hindsight, I should have done a bit of pinning, though not sure how that would have worked with the floating spirits at the top.

Recently Tillerman Tea sent me three of their new teas, which I found exciting since I really have enjoyed their other teas, so without further ado, let us get into it! Starting with Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong Spring 2017, it is well known how much I adore SLX, it is possibly one of my favorite mountains to get tea from. The aroma of this one is pretty amazing, combining honeysuckle, plumeria, gardenia...and an unmistakable aroma of lemon cheesecake that took me by surprise! It smells so good, like eating dessert next to a bouquet of flowers, it is heady and very sweet!

I have had a couple sessions with this tea since the sample arrived and I still feel like I cannot give it a proper description, it is one of those teas that is more an experience than a set of tasting notes. It is a subtle tea, never overwhelming with its tastes, they are balanced and delicate while being distinct. Notes of crisp vegetation, blooming summer flowers, sugar cane, and a creamy sweet sesame nuttiness. One thing that really struck me was the unique mouthfeel, like a lot of Gaoshan Oolongs it is smooth and very thick, but it also has a crispness that left my mouth very refreshed. I really enjoyed this tea, it was wonderfully sublime and definitely required my full attention.

Next up is Wen Shan Bao Zhong Spring 2017, I had the Winter 2016 and was quite enamored with it, this one is exciting because it has a slight roast to it, usually, Bao Zhongs are the greenest Oolongs you can get, so any amount of roasting sets it apart. The aroma is a blend of sage, orchid, hyacinth, lilies, and a wonderful mellow note of buttery sesame seeds. I love that tiny bit of a buttery nutty note from the roast, it adds a layer of depth I am not used to in a Boa Zhong.

I drank this one last night, expecting a normal vibrantly green BZ (having not looked at the website before drinking) and I ended up staying up til 5 am painting and chugging this tea. The combination of the oh so familiar notes of hyacinth and lily with a hint of herbaceous sage and thyme (love when BZs are more than just a flower pile) with a thick buttery sesame seed and toast finish that stole my heart. This one might be my favorite BZ, mostly because it is very obviously a BZ but has differences that make it really exciting, plus killer longevity, this tea did not want to quit!

Lastly Organic Chingjin 'Red' Oolong Autumn 2016, one of my favorite ever style teas, Hong Shui! Hong Shui (aka Red Water) is an Oolong that has been usually lightly roasted (I have had some with a higher roast) but has a higher oxidation than the greener Oolongs. I like to think of Hong Shui as being the true midpoint between Oolongs and Black teas, especially if they are only lightly roasted, they are truly delicious. The aroma of this tea is soooo good, notes of almond, oatmeal, plum pie (ok with the plum pie and oatmeal I am going to say this is officially cobbler) and an immensely sweet honey finish.

All of you should at this point be glad that you are not around when I am tasting these teas, because sometimes I get loud with my happy taste noises. This tea has one of my favorite ever tasting notes, orange blossoms! Strong notes of orange blossom dance with plum cobbler, almonds, and thick warm honey. Combine that with a very smooth and thick mouthfeel and you have a tea that borders on being a dessert. The rest of my sample is probably going to be annihilated quite quickly and I will need to get more, especially since steeping this tea grandpa style while painting is one of my favorite ways to consume it. I can't really pick a favorite out of these three, they were each unique and very delicious examples of their genre and were immensely enjoyable experiences.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Tea and Mana, A Magic The Gathering Tea Fusion, Part Four: Clans or Wedges

It is time, once again, to combine Magic the Gathering and Tea in my very silly series pairing tea with mana colors. This time I am looking at the Wedges or as they are more commonly known as cycles from Apocalypse....ok no, no one uses those terms anymore, now we use the various names of the clans from the Khans of Tarkir. I admit it took me a while to write this one because I have very mixed feelings on Tarkir, Khans of Tarkir is one of my favorite settings in Magic, but then Ugin ruined everything and covered everything in dragons, thus making the plane terrible. This is the first time where my saying 'dragons make everything better' failed me, and that saddens me. I love Ugin (as long as his mouth is closed, so condescending!) and the dragon lords, but wish their existence had not ruined one of my favorite planes! That is why this pairing is not going to focus on the dragons (and not because I forgot to put Atarka into my cart during my last Card Kingdom order!) and focus on the clans.

White-Black-Green Abzan Houses

Endurance! That is the Dragon Aspect of this clan, and it is fitting for the people who live in the desert. Family and reliance on the community is very important to them, seriously, it is the main thing about their society, and they take the bonds of blood and chosen family very serious. One thing about their culture that really stood out to me is their Kin Tree, since they live in the desert trees are a big deal, each family has their own tree and the first-born child is responsible for its safety, when a member of the family dies they are buried under the tree, pretty awesome symbolism. Of course, this is Magic so there is more to it than symbolism! These honored ancestors' spirits can be called upon during battle and the tree's resin can be a powerful artifact. Since they are rather efficient at war, they end up with a bunch of spirits of the slain, they can use these malevolent spirits as a weapon which is seriously awesome. Their culture was loosely inspired by the Ottoman Turks. This was a complicated one, I wanted a tea that reflects their attention to family and legacy, so I picked a green tea, but sadly picking green does lose the desert association, but I stand by my decision of Gu Zhu Zi Sun, a Chinese green tea that was described by Lu Yu as being one of his favorites. Now that is a tea with some serious history! If you want to channel the Abzan but don't have this kinda hard to get tea, you can always go for Gunpowder Green (and hey, desert association!) but since I don't really like it I didn't have any on hand.

Blue-Red-White Jeskai Way

This clan's Dragon Aspect is Cunning, and fun fact, this would be Ben's color set. These are the warrior monks, the mystics, the martial arts masters...ok this one is a bit of an obvious Wuxia pastiche. They spend their lives devoted to training and meditation, working towards their enlightenment and purity of self. I will be honest, I find this clan really boring, they don't really do anything new or exciting, relying too heavily on the Wuxia tropes they draw on, being very heavily inspired by Shaolin Monks and you can really tell. Don't get me wrong, I love Wuxia, a lot, I was just hoping they would add something new to the genre other than magical creatures. I decided to use Nepal Silver Needle for this clan, I feel that the core idea of perfecting self and purity is beautifully reflected in this tea, it is one of the few teas that I would drink if I meditated and certainly puts me into a very relaxed yet focused state.

Black-Green-Blue Sultai Brood

My favorite clan's Aspect is ruthlessness, though really I would re-label it as decadence. Their leader, Tasigur, is pictured slouching on his throne, covered in bling, eating fruit out of a zombie which has been turned into a fruit bowl. Fruit bowl zombies are a thing that needs to happen! They have this whole thing with zombies, using them for labor (like pulling their treasure cruises), filling up their fetid jungle swamps, and of course using them to deliver food...yes friends, they are the token evil group...because it is impossible to have a primarily black aligned group or person without them being evil, and yes I am exactly as bitter as I sound...hmph. Anyway, my problems with storytelling aside, this clan is kinda terrible, awesome aesthetics aside, they a cruel hedonistic bunch that thrives on constant infighting, it is no surprise that Tasigur betrayed the other clans to the dragonlords, and then no surprise when Tasigur was turned into a dragon necklace. Their real-world analog is the Khmer Empire, and you can tell from the art they really went all in with the inspiration.  Since this clan is all about decadence and hedonism (and fruit) I decided to pick Gui Fei for them, this immensely fruity sweet, usually rather expensive, tea is perfect, it is the tea I go to when I am feeling particularly hedonistic and think that Tasigur would love drinking it out of a skull cup (as would I, and I need a skull cup)

Red-White-Black Mardu Horde

The Mardu's aspect is speed, but really everything about the Mardu is overshadowed by Sarkhan Vol, its most famous member who decided that dragons were the best thing ever, killed his own men during a battle, became a planeswalker, ended up a pawn of Bolas, and after one conversation with Ugin realized that the dragon he so desired to worship was inside him all along. It is like a 90s cartoon message but terrible. The Mongol Mardu Horde...ok no, that is who their analog is, are horse-riding warriors who live for the thrill of battle and conquest! They live by the edicts of Ilagra: To Conquer is to Eat, To Rule is to Bleed, and Victory or Death and wow does that ever sum them up, I find them, much like their real-world counterparts, to be very fascinating, if not a bit harsh. Their tea needed to be a strong hei cha, since they are inspired by Mongolia, I wanted to use a tea that could make Suutei Tsai, or salted milk tea which is the drink in Mongolia, granted I cannot get a straight answer if the tea used is black as in hong cha or black as in hei cha, but since it is usually a brick I took the liberties of using my hei cha.

Green-Blue-Red Temur Frontier

The Temur bring the aspect of savagery, and they might be my favorite, in very close competition with the Sultai. They fascinate me, being nomadic shamans living in a cruel arctic, they have to be savage or they die. They are able to speak to frozen (literally) memories, living simultaneously in the past as well as the now. Like the Abzan, they are very family oriented and it shapes a large portion of the way their culture works, the leader of the clan is considered a member of all families and is called the First Mother/Father, so that gives you a brief idea of how important family structure is. Their real-world inspiration is the shamanic cultures in Siberia. For their tea I wanted to focus on their connection with the past, so I picked an aged white. One, because it is aged, and two because white tea usually has a cooling Qi which fits their domain.

So those are the Clans/Wedges, next I will be looking at the shards and probably closing out this series! Though I am sorely tempted to do a post on pairing regions of Dominaria to tea, but that seems ridiculous.

Part one
Part two
Part three

Monday, July 3, 2017

Teasenz: Guangxi Liu Bao Hei Cha and Honeysuckle Tea, A Contrasting Tea Review

The Prelease for Hour of Devastation is coming up this weekend and I am totally going to go! This is going to be my first Prelease, I have meant to go to all of them since I got back into Magic (my weird, weird, somewhat sad MTG history) but either Ben worked, I was sick, or just completely unable to socialize, but this time I am determined to go! The challenge of sealed appeals to me, even if it does push me out of my 'always play black' comfort zone. Time to spend the week over-analyzing the cards and rules so I can build a decent deck!

Today I am looking at two teas that are from Teasenz, but other than that pretty unrelated, I thought about being clever and calling this blog 'life and death' 'day and night' or something playing off the opposite natures of the teas, but decided nah, just go with the teas. Looking at Guangxi Liu Bao Hei Cha and Honeysuckle Tea, see what I mean, very different worlds these two are in! I will start out with Honeysuckle, one of my favorite flowers to drink medicinally. In TCM it is used to clear heat and relieve sore throats, thanks in part to the plant's high levels of mucilage (aka plant slime) which does wonders for inflamed mucosa. It acts as a demulcent, similar to honey, and forms a sort of film over the throat, protecting it from continued irritation. This is one of the few herbal teas that I take the medicinal claims (somewhat) seriously because it is one of the few things that soothes allergy induced sore throat! Ok, enough medical stuff, it smells really good! It does not exactly smell like honeysuckle flowers on the vine, but it does certainly smell like dried honeysuckle flowers at the end of summer.

I am really fond of drinking this tea two different ways, either blending it (chrysanthemum and osmanthus or bai mu dan are my favorite ways to blend it, still need to try it with a dian hong) or bowl steeping it. I found that gongfu-ing it makes it taste a bit like meat, which is weird, but taking a few blossoms and floating them in water to steep for a while makes for a delicious bowl of tea. It is very thick in texture, definitely, works on the mouth and throat coating spectrum. It tastes of honey, (you guessed it) honeysuckle nectar, and a bit like hay. It is not the same as the exciting summer tradition of sucking honeysuckle nectar out of buds, but it is as close as you can get to having a bowl of the stuff.

Next up is the Liu Bao, now I have not had a whole lot of luck with non-Puerh hei chas, most of them just do not work for me (heck a lot of Puerhs also don't work for me) so I wandered to this one with a bit of trepidation. I do love trying new things though, so maybe this will be the Liu Bao I like! The aroma has the familiar aroma of wet loam, swamp dirt (seriously, so many hei chas and aged shengs smell like swamps to me) milk, and a bit of molasses. Luckily for me the swampy notes are paradoxically clean and not at all like funk, more like a swamp right after it rains, and I am pretty ok with that.

So the taste is pretty good! The taste is surprisingly nutty and milky, reminding me a bit of the taste of Lao Cha Tuo Shou (I always perceive them as a bit lactic) and almond milk. There is a strong loam and wet pine needle, sweet beets, and a finish of starchy bread. This tea combined all the things I like in a dark tea, it very well could be a tea I reach for on a day I am craving this style tea rather than just because it is in my collection and I need to clear space. One thing I found really exciting is it was surprisingly cooling, usually, I find cooked style teas to be very warming, but this was chilly and great for summer drinking!

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.