Tuesday Tasting: Two Black Teas from Georgian Tea Limited

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Recently, I saw a new company launch on Instagram, Georgian Tea Limited, which offers tea grown in the country of Georgia. I was first intrigued by Georgian teas when I saw Northern Teaist review some a little while ago, so I commented letting them know that I would be interested in trying some of their teas and they offered to send me “a few free samples.” What arrived was three 100-g bags of tea, one of each tea they offer, the Black Classic Tea, the Black Premium Tea, and the Green Premium Tea. Since it went back to feeling like winter this weekend, I decided to do a tasting of the Black Classic Tea, but as I was sipping it, I was really curious how it compared to the Black Premium Tea, so I decided to try that one, too.

Black Classic Tea

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I used 2g of leaf in a 120-ml gaiwan to taste this one, with 95C water. I steeped it once for three minutes and a second time for five minutes. The warm dry leaf had light aromas of dry hay. After the first steeping, the wet leaf smelled mildly tannic, with some malt and dark chocolate. Oddly enough, the first time I smelled this wet leaf, I thought that it smelled like the fancy version of Lipton’s tea, and my husband thought it smelled of lemon. The first steeping yielded a medium rosy-amber liquor that smelled similar to the wet leaf. The liquor has a bright citrusy flavor right up front, with a pleasantly light body and no astringent dryness. The website states that this tea has very mild tannins, and they’re not wrong. The aftertaste is lightly caramel-y and fruity, and it’s a very smooth cup of tea. I had tried this previously with milk and sugar, and I see now that that was a mistake. This is very much a straight-cup-of-tea daily drinker. There is a slight hint of sweetness to it.

The second infusion was similar in color with similar flavors and aromas, just slightly lighter. I decided to stop after two steepings. The wet leaf is interesting. These leaves are obviously much less broken than the Premium tea, and when they unfurl, they are narrow leaves with a shallow serration on the edges. I would be curious to learn more about the cultivars they use.

Black Premium Tea

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I know that among US tea aficionados, “premium” is synonymous with bigger, unbroken leaves, so I was surprised when I received my tea samples to feel through the packaging that the Premium tea seemed to be a smaller leaf size than the Classic. So I was curious how this translated to the flavor. I also used 2g of tea to a 120-ml gaiwan with 95C water, with two steepings, one for 3 minutes and one for five minutes. The leaf didn’t really smell like much, dry or wet, but the liquor it yielded was definitively darker, with a dark ruby-amber color. It had the same smooth and balanced flavor as the Classic, but with a burnt sugar sweetness and a fruitiness that was bolder on the tongue.

The second steeping brought forward the lemony flavor I got from the Classic, with a smooth, non-bitter, and slightly sweet taste. I didn’t take a picture of the wet leaves, but they didn’t really look much different from the dry leaf, just, well, wet.

I found these two teas extremely interesting and am likely to turn to them again as morning teas, as they are uncomplicated and invigorating, without needing much help from fussy brewing parameters or additives, making them perfect for rushed mornings and travel flasks on the train.

NB: These teas were sent to me free of charge in exchange for sharing my honest thoughts about them. To read my reasons for changing from tea reviews to tea tastings, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

When Tea Isn’t Tea

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One of the constant battles among the community of tea connoisseurs is how to talk about infusions of plants that are not Camellia sinensis. There are those that are staunchly in the “tisane” camp — it’s not “tea” if it’s not from the tea plant. Others are perfectly happy to use the term “herbal tea.” Interestingly enough, history and linguistics bear out this camp, as the term “tisane” originally referred to a barley-based beverage and was not brought into the common lexicon to mean something other than C. sinensis steeped in hot water until modern times. In fact, in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a recipe known as “beef tea” that was similar to a modern broth (interestingly enough, though Isabella Beeton’s 1860s book has recipes for “beef tea,” a similar dish made from chicken is called “chicken broth”). And I have found other instances of infusions of non-C. sinensis ingredients referred to as “teas.”

But this is a digression. You see, not all teas I drink are “true teas.” In fact, one of my earliest tea posts on this blog was my formula for my Gardener’s Herbal Tea, a blend of nettles, rosehips, red raspberry leaf, and oatstraw. Along with my love of C. sinensis, I’ve also had a passion for exploring herbal remedies since I was young. And in my Tea Primer, I expanded a bit on how I handle herbal teas (or tisanes or infusions, as you will) in general terms. But I would love to take more time in this space to talk about specific herbal remedies, and one of my tea goals for 2020 is to learn more about herbal traditions outside of the Euro-centric traditions I’ve primarily followed. So, to that end, I’ve decided to pursue some formal studies in herbalism.

This coincided with my own realization that I had stopped using one of my longtime personal herbal remedies, red raspberry leaf, since giving birth. I had been drinking red raspberry leaf tea for well over a year, starting from the time we first started thinking about trying to conceive, and on through my miscarriage, and then my pregnancy with Elliot. In fact, my pregnancy announcement on my YouTube channel was a tea session where I made a cup of red raspberry leaf tea. But I became thoroughly sick of it by the time Elliot was born (nearly two weeks late!) and had stopped drinking it in favor of other things after his birth. But in chatting with a friend on Instagram, I realized that I had always appreciated its support during my monthly cycle, and so I came home that night, mixed up a big pot of red raspberry leaf with chrysanthemum, orange, and some local honey for taste, and sat down with my mug in hand to explore my herbalism course options.

I discovered that one of the greats of herbal healing, Rosemary Gladstar, offers an online course that even has an option to sample just the first lesson for a modest price before committing the time and money to the full course. So I leapt at that and am now awaiting my first lesson to see how I like the course style. Hopefully, I’ll enjoy it, but for now I’m reading the books on herbalism I already have while I wait (along with maybe one or two new purchases), and have even ordered some fresh packets of herbs I’ve liked in the past. I’m excited to start this journey and have you all along with me, and I will almost certainly post updates as I progress!

Tuesday Tasting: 2016 Little Mountain White Tea from Bitterleaf Teas

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I tasted this tea in my recent video, but since then, I’ve read others’ tasting notes and determined that I got some very different flavors from this one. So I decided to sit down and do a proper tasting, with my own house filtered water and after cleaning my tea ware with some baking soda to make sure there weren’t any old off flavors affecting things. The 2016 Little Mountains are a compressed Shou Mei white tea that I originally received in my anniversary sale order, but that I have since bought more just because I enjoyed them. I’m tasting it in my silver teapot because I tend to enjoy aged white teas more when I’m drinking them out of silver.

I used a 5.4-gram mini-cake in a 140-ml teapot with boiling water. I warmed the pot and then warmed the leaf. From the dry leaf, I got aromas of some sort of sweet baked good. After a rinse, I got aromas of sweetgrass from the wet leaf.

The first steeping, I let this go for a minute, as per Bitterleaf’s suggestion. The liquor was the color of Tokaji wine, a lovely mellow gold. The wet leaf had aromas of fresh, sweet alfalfa, though the liquor itself did not have a lot of aroma. The mouthfeel was thick — syrupy, but not oily — and I got a slightly fruity tartness from the liquor, kind of like a very fresh apricot that isn’t overly ripe. The aftertaste was caramel. Despite this sweetness, I still felt like the tea had an umami quality, almost like it feels sweet more than it actually tastes sweet.

The second steeping was for thirty seconds, and yielded a similarly-colored liquor with a similar leaf aroma as the first, though the liquor had taken on a honey aroma. The mouthfeel was smooth and lubricating, with flavors of almond blossom honey. The third steeping was also for thirty seconds, after which the leaf smelled of honey and fresh hay and the liquor was slightly darker and had the same syrupy texture. The flavor had gotten sweeter, with a flavor similar to chamomile. The fourth steeping, I bumped the time up to forty seconds and got a darker amber-gold liquor with a slightly smoky and herbal aroma from the leaves. It still had the same honey-sweetness.

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The fifth and sixth steepings were for forty-five seconds each and held steady in flavor and aroma. I went up on one minute for the seventh steeping and two minutes for the eighth steeping. By then, I felt like I once again was tasting alliums, perhaps some caramelized onion or leek. After that, I decided to finish by boiling the leaves in a cup of water for about ten minutes. This yielded a very dark infusion with a reddish-brown liquor and a strong flavor that had a bit of bite in the back of my throat. I would probably be less aggressive in the final boil, but all in all, I definitely get more of the sweetness that others have found, so perhaps it didn’t play well with the tap water in the Philadelphia suburbs. If anyone is in the Philly area and has tried this with their tap water, did you get honey or onion soup?

Further Adventures in Historical Baking: Fruitcake

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In the States, fruitcake is a seasonal joke, a punchline. I remember it on a children’s show I watched from my youth. But when I got older, I discovered that my mother actually enjoys fruitcake, so when I saw a recipe in my beloved Nigella Lawson cookbook, I started stirring up a Christmas cake the month before Christmas each year to share with her. I cared for it, feeding it brandy every week, and finding the perfect tin to match the shape and size of cake I made that year, so that it wouldn’t dry out or go bad. And then I would give my mother the cake at Christmas so she could eat it in very thin slices or share it with guests.

But I gradually fell out of the habit of my own little stir-up Sunday, and kept forgetting to make my fruitcake. This year, I had every intention of starting the tradition again, especially after finding myself fortuitously at an open liquor store the Sunday after Thanksgiving. But, alas, things kept coming up and I never made it before Christmas. But I used my holiday to stir up a fruitcake of sorts. Rather than making one that required feeding and maturing, I made one based on the historical recipe used on English Heritage’s “The Victorian Way” series from their inimitable Mrs. Crocombe, based on a recipe from Queen Victoria’s own cook.

Of course, I made a few changes. In particular, a move that some may label utter blasphemy, I did not top my cake with marzipan or royal icing, as I know my mother dislikes both of those things. I also made it in a loaf pan, and instead of soaking it in brandy as I usually do, I brushed on a modest amount of a mixture of orange syrup and brandy. Oh, and I candied my own peel this year.

I highly recommend you candy your own peel. Other than peeling an orange in more-or-less whole pieces, it’s hardly any work at all. And not only is the candied peel delicious, but you are left with a quantity of delicious orange syrup that you can use in other things (perhaps in a tea cocktail). The one piece of advice I would have is to make sure you cut the peel into thin strips before you candy it. I candied mine in larger pieces and found that not only did it have to cook for longer to go translucent, but it was also much more difficult to cut after candying. To candy your own peel, simple peel three washed,  thick-rinded oranges, like navels, slice the peel into strips, and boil them in a syrup made of sugar and water. I used a rich simple syrup of one part water to two parts sugar. Boil until the white part of the rind looks translucent, and then remove from the syrup and dry on a rack overnight (or longer, if you don’t worry about curious spouses or cat hair). I didn’t sugar my peel afterwards as it seemed foolish given that the sugaring would soak off in the brandy.

The other change I made was to soak my cut up dried fruit in brandy for… well, a few weeks. I had put together the fruit mixture right after candying my peel and got it soaking, intending to make the cake in a day or two, but it ended up sitting in the refrigerator for a while. I eventually opened it up to see if it had molded or smelled off, but as it just smelled of brandy and fruit, I decided it was still safe for use, and made the cake. The result is a very deep brandy flavor throughout the cake. I also used no raisins, as neither I nor my mother like them, and instead added chopped dried apricots and chopped prunes. I also used dark brown sugar in place of some of the caster sugar, and I cut the recipe in quarters to perfectly fit a standard 9″x5″ loaf pan, which was lined thoroughly with parchment. It took about two hours to bake through, until the temperature reached 190F inside and a skewer came out clean. I cooled it completely, brushed it with syrup and brandy, and wrapped it tightly in parchment and two layers of plastic, as I don’t have a tin to fit it.

I opened it up the other morning when I was hungry for a little something with my tea, and it is absolutely perfect. A little crumbly because the immense amount of fruit interferes with the structural integrity of the cake, but the flavor is incredible. Even Mr. Tweed enjoyed it, and he generally dislikes cherries. I have yet to share it with my mother, but I think I may have to have her over to tea soon so she can try some before I finish it myself.

Tuesday Tasting: Kukitori from Hojicha.co

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Today’s Tuesday Tasting is a special one. Today, my favorite purveyor of roasted green tea, Hojicha.co, is releasing a new tea and I had the opportunity to try it so I can share my tasting notes with you. Their dark roast hojicha made my list of 2019 most memorable teas, so I was understandably excited to try a new one. This is their Kukitori, which means “stem bird” (thank you, Duolingo). The tea is their take on a kukicha, or twig tea, made from the stems of tencha, which is the type of tea that is grown to make matcha.

I used 4 grams of loose tea in a 120-ml kyusu pot, with 180F water. The dry “leaf” is twiggy, consisting of twigs of varying shades of brown, from light to dark, about 5 mm in length. After warming the leaves in the pot, I could get aromas of pipe tobacco and toasted sesame oil.

The first infusion was for thirty seconds, after which I could smell aromas of coffee on the wet leaves. The liquor was a rich chestnut brown color and smelled sweet and smoky, like a campfire. It had a rich, yet clean mouthfeel with flavors of maple and wood. There was an undertaste of toasted nuts, like pecans or hazelnuts, which persisted as an aftertaste.

I infused it again for thirty seconds. The leaf smelled of sandalwood incense. The liquor was the same rich shade of brown, with a sandalwood aroma. The flavor was sweeter and with more umami, with a mouthfeel similar to light soy sauce. It was very smooth and nutty, with that same hazelnut flavor and a subtle note of buckwheat honey, sweet and dark with a little acidity. I noticed a clear and meditative energy coming off this tea.

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The third infusion I let it go for forty-five seconds. My notes turn poetical at this point, with the note that the wet leaf smells of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” The liquor was slightly lighter in color, body, and aroma, and the flavor was subtler, too. I still got a light flavor of tobacco smoke and umami, but it was the kind of umami that turns into sweetness. After a fourth steeping, it was apparent that the tea was finished.

The wet leaf is not much to look at, just a darker color and, well, wetter, because it’s twigs and won’t unfurl like leaves do.

NB: Hojicha.co sent this tea to me free of charge for tasting. All thoughts are my own. If you’re interested in why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. If you’re interested in collaboration, click here.

New Year, Old Me: 2019 in Review and Resolutions for a New Year

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This was the year that everything changed for me, again.

Last year, I had been home less than two days after giving birth to Elliot and had started learning how to be a parent. Over the last year, I’ve seen my entire world dismantled and put back together. I think that the experience of becoming a parent has distilled my personality, rather than changing it at all. I find that I care less about what other people think of me and more about what I want in my life. And part of that was a reinvigoration of my tea blogging activities after a break.

I started researching historical tea practices and discovered a passion for history. I’ve also started taking more of an interest in my tea tasting experience and connected with people on social media and in person to share tea. Plus, I got my first traditional clay pot and discovered a deep love of yancha.

With all of this change and personal discovery and growth, it feels less like I’ve found a “new me” and more like I’ve come to settle in with my old self. Free of the insecurities of youth, I’m moving closer each day to the real me, and learning what is truly important to me. Of course, my first resolution for a new year is to continue this movement toward my own personal center.

But part of reflecting on a past year is looking forward to the new one, and like most people, there are things I would like to do better. I’m very proud of myself for spending the last year not trying at all to lose any weight after giving birth. In the same way that I’ve learned to accept my personality, I’m trying to accept my body for where it is in the moment, and I don’t intend to change that. That said, there is one resolution related to eating that I do have.

I have a rather large collection of gorgeous cookbooks, both gifted and purchased for myself. As we went through this year raising Elliot, Dan and I have started trying to make more of our food at home. Since Elliot started eating solid food, we eat most of our dinners at the table as a family, rather than in front of the television, which is a wonderful start at mindful eating. But I find myself using the same “recipes” over and over again, using a method that I like to call “put things in a pan and cook it until it’s food” to make our dinners. There is only so much bean chili, hash, and vague stir fry that we can eat.

So my resolution for 2020 is to cook from the cookbooks I own. I’m starting with the conservative goal of one dinner per week from a cookbook I have. This week, I went to my cookbooks on food from Ikaria in Greece and my two books of Japanese recipes to cook while I was mostly on vacation, and it’s been lovely to have the variety.

Other than that, I resolve to add more to my life, rather than giving anything up: eat more plants, drink more water, go on more walks, do more yoga, be more present with my family. How are you celebrating a new year?

Tuesday Tasting: Jasmine with Ceylon Leafy Green from Lumbini Tea Valley

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Continuing my tasting of the samples I got from Lumbini Tea Valley, I thought a little tasting of this Jasmine with Ceylon Leafy Green Tea would be a nice way to wind down the year. I saved it for now because jasmine can supposedly adversely affect breastmilk supply and now that Elliot is one year old, I don’t really have to worry about that as much as I did. And jasmine is one of my favorite scents and flavors.

I used 1.5 grams of tea in my 60-ml gaiwan with 180F water. The dry leaves have visible creamy off-white dried jasmine buds and petals, but are mostly some very large, twisted leaves. The leaf almost looks more like a green yancha than a young green tea. The warm, dry leaf has the scent of white florals, but I get lily and gardenia in addition to jasmine.

I tasted this tea without a rinse, steeping for one minute each time. After the first steeping, the jasmine aroma came out of the wet leaves more strongly, though I could still smell the other white florals, with a vegetal undertone. The pale green-gold liquor had a pronounced, but not overpowering, jasmine flavor, with a subtle umami quality and a rich, syrupy mouthfeel. There was a grassy brightness on the aftertaste.

The second steeping revealed a sweeter jasmine aroma that was more like orange blossom. The liquor was a slightly brighter and darker color. The flavor and body were richer, with the jasmine flavor fading and the vegetal and “tea-floral” flavors coming forward (i.e., the floral notes that I associate with the tea itself rather than the scenting). The third steeping was much the same, with the aroma and color holding steady and a slightly lighter flavor.

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On the fourth steeping, I noticed a bright acidity in the flavor, which was lighter, but still enjoyable. But by the fifth steeping, the tea was obviously done. The spent leaf unfurled into some very large leaves, again more like what I would expect in an oolong than a green tea. The leaves were either from some massive-leafed cultivar, or else were older than typical green tea leaves. I tend to think it was the later, since it had more complex flavors to meld with the jasmine, rather than the grassy notes I associate with very young green leaves.

NB: This tea was sent to me in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you are interested in contacting me for a collaboration or featured sample, please read my collaboration information.

Most Memorable Teas of 2019

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Marco at Steap’d has challenged us all to share our most memorable teas of 2019 and, thinking back, I can think of so many right off the top of my head (which I suppose is what makes them “memorable”). 2019 brought a lot of tea growth for me, so I think this merits a blog post rather than a series of Instagram posts. So here we go.

First of all, my most memorable tea moments of 2019 had nothing to do with specific teas. 2019 was the year that I really started to connect with the tea community at large, particularly through Instagram. I think having a long chunk of time at home on maternity leave helped, as did just feeling my own personal identity get dismantled and rebuilt through the ordeal of motherhood (ordeal in the “transformative event” sense, not in the “it’s so horrible” sense). 2019 was the year that I realized that, yes, I am a tea blogger. I may have pretended to be a beauty blogger in the past, but my true passion lies in what I pour into my face, not on it. And part of that self-definition came from meeting wonderful people, virtually and otherwise, like Marco and Nazanin and all the others I’ve met on social media. I hope that 2020 will bring more tea meetups, as well as some exciting tea adventures, some of which are already being planned.

Now, I want to say that these are not reviews or even tasting notes of the teas I’m mentioning. This is strictly Jenn’s story time about the teas that have stood out to her this year and why they might have felt more special. If I have a tasting or video featuring them, I will link it, but the primary purpose of this post is to be utter fluff and nostalgia.

Hojicha.Co Dark Roast Hojicha

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This one comes first because this was the tea that not only re-introduced me to hojicha, but also started me realizing that I love roasted teas. I think it was the day that Hojicha.co announced that they were selling their hojicha powder in 100g packets that I went to their site and bought one of everything. I started with the Gold Roast because it seemed more appropriate to the season, and it was good, but as the weather cooled down, I decided to crack open the dark roast. And, wow.

I featured this hojicha in my “Hobbits and Hojicha” video because it is the perfect tea for autumn. It reminds me of cozy blankets and fires in the fireplace, and I imagine I’m going to drink it throughout the winter as well. And Megan from Tea Musings has suggested that I try mixing the Dark Roast and the Gold Roast, which is something I’m excited to try as soon as I restock my Dark Roast.

Lapsang Souchong

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Not all memories are fond ones, and I think the face I made when I tasted a smoked Lapsang in this video should make the list. While this year was the year that I discovered I liked roasted teas, this was also the year that I confirmed that I dislike smoked teas. I did have a rather nice unsmoked Lapsang, which was akin to finding out I enjoy unoaked Chardonnay, but the real memorable taste is the utter regret I felt at brewing up a cup of the tarry stuff. Definitely not my cup of tea.

Storm King Tea Full-Leaf Phugri Estate Darjeeling

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When I was chatting with Mark of Storm King Teas on Instagram, it came up that I was rather enjoying the Phugri Estate Darjeeling I got in a sampler from his company earlier this year. I featured this tea in my historical tea video about Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford simply because I love its delicacy and complexity so much. I never drank very much Darjeeling before this year and both this tea and the regular Phugri Estate Darjeeling from Mark’s shop changed that for me.

Old Ways Tea Shui Jin Gui

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This was the year that I discovered yancha in earnest. While I’ve had yancha before, I hadn’t really explored it as a style before this year. And I definitely fell in love. I started with an order from Old Ways Tea, and initially opened the Shui Xians and Rou Gui I ordered because the notes on the Shui Jin Gui suggested that the roast was still a bit fresh and might do with a bit of a sit.

Well, in an Instagram live session, Marco mentioned that he had a Shui Jin Gui that tasted like orange, so I decided to make that my morning yancha session that day, and I was blown away. Yancha in general is a new favorite for me, and Shui Jin Gui is probably my second favorite yancha now. I get notes of allspice, orange peel, and burnt sugar, so I think it tastes like Christmas. In fact, I woke up on Christmas morning and had a session with this tea under the Christmas tree!

Floating Leaves Tea Taiwan Da Hong Pao

Speaking of yancha, this was the year that I decided my favorite tea is Da Hong Pao. Of course, I’d had it before, but this was the year I really decided it was my favorite tea, out of all the lovely teas I enjoy. And this Taiwan Da Hong Pao from Floating Leaves Tea (which is in the photo at the top of this post) was instrumental in that discovery about myself.

This tea is both unmistakably Da Hong Pao, and also unmistakably Taiwanese. It doesn’t have as much strong rock taste as the Chinese Da Hong Paos I’ve tried this year, but from the rinse, you get Da Hong Pao from the aroma. And it does take a little bit to get going in flavor because it’s rolled, but once it does, it’s definitely Da Hong Pao, but with the soft honey sweetness that I associate with Taiwanese oolongs.

Naoki Matcha 2019 Chiran Harvest

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I severely reduced my matcha consumption this year, possibly because I just preferred the experience of brewing leaves. But this matcha from Naoki Matcha was enlightening. As I mentioned in my video tasting, it’s probably the nicest matcha I’ve tried to date. I was fortunate enough to get to taste it for free, after responding to a call for tasters in Naoki’s newsletter, but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t actually as expensive as I thought it would be.

If you’re new to matcha, this is an easily-accessible one in the States and it’s a fantastic example of what good matcha tastes like. If you have the means, definitely splash out for it, rather than getting one of the swamp-water matchas on Amazon like I started with.

Yunnan Sourcing 2011 Mengku Grade 3 Ripe Puerh Mini Tuo Cha

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This was also the year that I decided to buckle down and learn a little something about puerh. And this ripe puerh sample from Yunnan Sourcing was both the beginning of my exploration and the beginning of my switch from reviewing teas to sharing tasting notes.

Before tasting this puerh, I hadn’t really ever had a puerh that really tasted sweet more than earthy, but this one showed me the variation in flavor in a good ripe puerh. I’ve spent the rest of the year exploring raw puerh mostly, but puerh in general is likely to be a theme of my 2020 if I find more like this.

TeaVivre Shou Mei Cake in my Silver Teapot

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This isn’t really the specific tea, but more a technique that was suggested to me by Misha at Path of Cha. I bought this Shou Mei cake from TeaVivre rather on a whim when I was exploring teas that I could get on Amazon, and I was rather underwhelmed by it. So it got tucked in the back of my tea cabinet, and later packed in a box, and then unpacked and rediscovered when I moved this year. But it wasn’t until Misha suggested trying it in silver that I even opened it back up again.

And I was really surprised by the complexities of flavor. I even experimented with boiling it. It’s such an all-seasons tea, with a lot of interest. I think I’ll probably share this one the next time I have people over to taste teas. Plus, it’s an example of giving a “meh” tea a second chance.

So those are my 2019 most memorable teas. What are yours?

NB: Some of these teas were provided as gifts or in exchange for featuring in their own posts. All thoughts here are my own, and full disclosures will be with the tea’s individual posts.

Christmas Tea Tasting: Earl Grey from Lumbini Tea Valley

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Every year, on Christmas morning when I was a child, I would wake up as is traditional at an absurd hour of the morning. Now, my father was an early riser and did not much notice or care that I was up with the sun, but my mother appreciates her sleep. So in order to help her wake up, the rule was that we could only open gifts once someone made my mother a cup of tea. That usually fell to me, and I would make her favorite tea: Earl Grey with a quarter teaspoon of sugar. To this day, Earl Grey is one of my favorite comfort teas, and I love it in tea lattes or as a scent in things.

So, while Earl Grey tea will always remind me of my mother, it has a particularly special meaning on Christmas. This made it seem like a fitting tasting for Christmas Eve’s Tasting Tuesday. I received this as part of my pack of free samples from Lumbini Tea Valley, of which I started posting notes last week. This is a Ceylon tea based Earl Grey, which is interesting because originally Earl Grey was said to be a scented Chinese tea, gifted to the second Earl Grey in the early 19th century, before the beginning of large-scale tea cultivation in Sri Lanka, but the origin story of the tea is largely believed to be apocryphal, and the first published references to the tea were in the late 19th century, though one tea blender claims to have been blending Earl Grey since 1830. Who knows which is right? All that said, Earl Grey is a well-known blend these days and is based on a variety of black teas from all over the tea-cultivating world.

I used 1.4 g of tea leaves for 105 ml of water for my tasting, in a small ceramic teapot. The dry leaf smelled lightly of bergamot, but with a strong white floral note. After steeping for the first time with boiling water for two minutes, the floral was stronger and was more identifiable as gardenia or lily. The liquor was a medium apricot color with a distinct floral aroma. The flavor was not overpowered by bergamot. This definitely had the feel of a tea to which bergamot was added to enhance the natural flavors of the tea, rather than to mask them. The citrus notes of bergamot almost feel like another note of the tea’s aroma and flavor itself rather than an added scent. It’s quite floral with a sweet, malty aftertaste. It had no astringency with a creamy, medium-dry mouthfeel and a lingering light peach or apricot aftertaste.

I got two additional steepings from the tea, both lighter in flavor and color than the first. The second steeping was again for two minutes with boiling water. It had a lighter flavor, with more floral than citrus. The third steeping, done for three minutes in boiling water, was lighter still. I added a twist of lemon peel to augment the citrus flavor, which was delicious without adding the acidity of lemon juice

NB: I was sent these samples free of charge from Lumbini Tea Valley in exchange for giving my honest thoughts about them. For more information about my tea tasting posts, read why I’ve switched from reviewing to tasting notes. Please contact me if you are interested in collaboration or sponsorship.

Festive Tea Cocktails for the Winter, Featuring Tea Sparrow

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While I am not typically a big drinker, I do love the occasional cocktail. I often have them out at one of the wonderful bars or distilleries in DC, but once in a while I like to make my own. Now, I like classic cocktails, so when I found out that Daly’s Bartenders’ Encyclopedia from 1903 was available in its entirety on Google Books, I had to take a look. It’s commonly believed that cocktails were popularized in the 1920s when Prohibition led bartenders to mix lower-quality, homemade booze with other ingredients to disguise the flavor, but this book, released more than 15 years before the beginning of Prohibition, contains a multitude of recipes, including some familiar favorites.

In exploring the recipes, I learned that tea was actually part of some traditional cocktail recipes, and it was a common ingredient in punches, so I reached out to Tea Sparrow again to see if they were interested in providing me some teas to work into my Edwardian-era cocktails. Rather than just sticking straight to the recipe, here I’ve decided to take three recipes and play with them a little. One is a tea-based cocktail on its own, but I’ve given it my own twist, and the other two did not originally include tea, but they work with it well.

The teas for these cocktails are from Tea Sparrow, who previously sent me their subscription box and who make some of the only flavored teas that I’ve actually liked recently. They’ve generously offered my readers a discount, which is at the bottom of this post.

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Tea Cobbler with Ruby Oolong

This was the original recipe that started the idea. Originally, a tea cobbler likely would have been made with black tea, but I decided to make a version with Ruby Oolong, since the flavor is interesting and refreshing, with a depth that suits colder weather. Despite being a cold cocktail, the combination of fruit, tea, and rum would make a nice pick-me-up at a holiday brunch.

I cold brewed my oolong for this cocktail to bring out the complex flavors and avoid melting the ice. I also decided to use the juice of half an orange instead of the juice of a lemon, which meant I didn’t need the sugar. So I put six ice cubes in a glass, added the juice of half an orange, filled it halfway with cold-brewed tea, and then topped with an ounce of rum and an orange peel twist. I used a rum from Maryland instead of Jamaica rum.

The whole effect is absolutely perfect, the sweetness of the oolong marrying with the sweetness of the rum and orange juice, with just a little fragrance to offset the bitterness of the orange peel and the smoky oakiness of the rum.

Hot Whiskey Cocktail with Cardamom Cream Tea

This one came to mind when Dan got a nasty cold and we were talking about a hot toddy, and Daly’s Hot Whiskey Cocktail is like a fancy hot toddy. I realized that any of the hot water cocktails from Daly’s guide could be made with tea in place of the hot water for a lovely hot tea cocktail. When I saw the Cardamom Cream tea on Tea Sparrow’s website, I knew it was perfect for this classic cocktail. The Cardamom Cream is based on Earl Grey tea, with rose, vanilla, and cardamom, making this a delightful twist on an Earl Grey cocktail.

And, oh boy, was I right! Daly suggests serving this in a hot whiskey glass (which is similar to an Irish coffee glass), but as I lack one of those, I served it in a Turkish tea cup because the combination of rose and cardamom in the tea made it seem appropriate. I put one teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of the cup, topped it with tea to about halfway full, added a dash of Angostura bitters, and then 1.5 oz. of bourbon whiskey. I garnished it with an orange twist rather than a lemon twist because I love orange and cardamom. This was probably my favorite of the three — it was the perfect blend of flavors, sweetness, and warmth.

Daly suggests that it is perfect to warm up after driving or automobiling in chilly weather, but I think it’s perfect for after shoveling show or taking a winter morning walk. Or just for relaxing inside with your nutcracker.

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Hot Egg Nog with Cacao Tea

The Hot Egg Nog was an interesting recipe because I had just been playing with adding store-bought egg nog to my tea. I blended the recipe for hot egg nog and brandy egg nog, and added cacao shell tea to give it a chocolate-y kick. The original recipe called for two ounces of liquor, but I cut it down to an ounce and a half, which was the perfect amount.

First I heated a cup of whole milk with a rounded tablespoon of cacao shell tea on the stove over medium-high heat until it reached about 180F (when tiny bubbles appear around the edges). I turned off the heat and let it steep for five more minutes, and then returned it to 180F. In a small bowl, I whisked together two teaspoons of sugar with an egg yolk and an ounce and a half of brandy until well-mixed and slightly lighter in color. Then, I slowly strained in the hot milk while whisking constantly (it helps to have a friend to hold the strainer). This was poured into a mug and garnished with a grating of nutmeg.

This packs a kick, probably from the hot milk vaporizing the alcohol above the surface of the drink, but I love the combination of milk, brandy, and the light chocolate flavor of the cacao tea. It reminds me a little of the Swiss chocolate ice cream at a local ice cream parlor we went to when I was a child, which was a very light chocolate ice cream. And having it warm makes it feel cozy and comforting. It’s perfect for an evening in, especially since the cacao shell tea has no caffeine to speak of.

NB: Tea Sparrow sent these teas for free in exchange for being featured in this post. You can use the code “TeaLeavesandTweed” for 20% off your first order, or 20% off your first month if you purchase a subscription. If you are interested in collaboration or sponsorship, please contact me.