Outing: Tea Demonstration at the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Washington D.C. Association

This is a bit of an exciting outing post. You see, when I was a child, I remember a local museum having an exhibit where they recreated a Japanese tea house inside the museum. I wondered recently if the exhibit still existed, or if it was a temporary one, so I was looking around the internet. I did not find the exhibit, but I did find out that my city has its own tea ceremony association, the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Association of Washington, D.C., which holds weekly open houses by appointment.I decided to send them an email and see if they would make an appointment for me to come by, see their tea house, and learn more about the Japanese tea ceremony. I was fortunate enough that they not only invited me by, but also allowed me to take a few pictures to share with you.

The tour began at the front door to the tea house, which is on the second floor of a rather unassuming office building downtown. My host, Mioko, opened the locking door and showed me the closet where I could trade my street shoes for house slippers and leave my purse safely out of the way. Then, she showed me into the tea lesson room. We both took off our house slippers to step up into the tea house, which consisted of two rooms: a six-tatami less formal room and an eight-tatami more formal room. The formal room had an alcove with a scroll and a small flower. Mioko explained that they can also open the divider between the two rooms to make a large formal room.

She showed me around the rooms and explained the significance of the various elements, from the recreated tea garden on the tea house’s balcony, to the particular clay color of the walls. Much of the design of the tea house comes from the preferences of the shogun at the time the Urasenke school’s master lived. After that, she showed me to the formal tea house and began the demonstration of the tea ceremony.

The ceremony began with the presentation of a tray of sweets, which I got to contemplate as Mioko returned to her preparation area to bring out the various elements of tea preparation: the tea bowl, whisk, scoop, linens, and a waste water bowl. She then performed a ritual cleansing of the tea canister and scoop with her cloth. Then, she invited me to have a sweet while she prepared the tea. I bit into the crispy biscuit on my paper, and then tried the pressed sugar confection, letting it melt on my tongue, while I watched her make the tea.

The idea behind the timing of the ceremony is to allow the guest just enough time that the sweetness of the confection is still in their mouth as the tea is served. Sure enough, just as the last bits of sugar melted, she presented me with my bowl of tea. I hadn’t mentioned that I drink matcha, so I think she was surprised that I enjoyed my tea. The matcha was very smooth, both in flavor and consistency. It was eye-opening to have a bowl prepared by a true master. It was also quite delicate and floral, with an umami flavor that melted into sweetness as an aftertaste. Truly excellent matcha.

After I finished my tea, she invited me to examine the tea canister and bamboo scoop, explaining the history and process used to make these items. The canister she used for the demonstration had a flower design that was once again a favorite of the shogun at the time of the master’s life in Kyoto.

Once she had finished the demonstration, she invited me to try making a bowl myself. Of course, by this time, my feet were starting to get very sore from the sitting! But I endeavored to try the process. She had us move to the informal room, where a small tea kettle made it easier to serve the water without the elaborate ritual of using bamboo ladles. She also helped me set up my own tea equipment on a tray, making it easier to carry in and out of the room.

I won’t pretend my attempts were anything but humorous, but she was impressed with how quickly I picked up the particular method of folding the cloth used in the ritual, and how well I was able to create froth in my tea. After I made my bowl of tea, she suggested I switch back to playing the part of the guest so I could taste my own bowl of tea. After two bowls of matcha and the satisfaction of completing the elaborate ritual, I was exhilarated.

The whole experience took just under an hour and was a wealth of information, both about tea preparation, and about the context of the tea ceremony in Japanese history. What I found particularly interesting was the strong connection to the context of the time in which the master lived. Certain elements are admittedly due to the preference of the ruling shogun, not for any supposed mystical reason. I found it down to earth and refreshing. I also found Mioko a pleasant guide. It is always awkward for me to go places with the purpose of sharing them on the blog sometimes, and she helped put me at ease. If you’re in D. C. and curious about the tea ceremony, I would definitely recommend you email the association to make an appointment.

Tea Review: Kaoru Supreme Organic Matcha from O-Cha

My recent experience with Matchaeologist renewed my interest in matcha and made me curious to try a real, Japanese ceremonial-grade tea. To that end, I did some researching and found the website O-Cha, where they sell high-quality Japanese teas. I decided to buy one of their organic ceremonial-grade matchas, which came highly rated, especially for the price.

I went with a decision to try a matcha that was in a similar price range as the matcha powders from Matchaeologist, but sold through a more traditional Japanese company. While the Matsu matcha was very good and interesting, I found the Matchaeologist website a bit “slick” for my tastes and I felt remiss not being able to compare it to anything more traditional. So I placed my order, and a short while later, got my package from Japan.

I chose the Kaoru Supreme Organic Matcha based on reviews I’d read around Reddit and other blogs. Upon opening the matcha, I was not disappointed. It has a vibrant green color and a light, fragrant scent. I prepared it both with the traditional whisking method and with an electric frother and tried it with and without sifting.

This is a very enjoyable matcha to drink. It lacks the heavy, almost syrupy textured vegetal flavors of the Matsu matcha, and it displays a much more characteristic “green tea” flavor. I found the flavors a bit more delicate, and it lacked any astringency, but it had a slight acidic bite that made it actually quite pleasant, especially first thing in the morning.

As with most matchas, this gives me a sense of enthusiastic vigor for life, which is why I like it as a morning drink. But the experience of savoring a cup of this tea first thing in the morning is enough to recommend it, even without any particular other benefits. I definitely would consider this a good starter matcha for those interested in getting started with the real thing, directly from Japan.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and was given no incentive to write a review. All thoughts are my own. If you are interested in learning about partnering with me, please see my contact and sponsorship page. This review does not contain affiliate links.

Tea Tasting: Matsu Matcha and the Matcha Brewing Kit from Matchaeologist

NB: These products were provided to me at a discount in return for this review, but all opinions are my own. If you would like to support this blog, please use my affiliate link to access the store here. It has also been added to my Affiliate and Referral Links page. For more information about sponsorship at Tea Leaves and Tweed, click here.

Last week, I wrote about my experience tasting a Korean matcha that suggested to me that I had not perhaps exhausted the higher end of quality in my previous matcha tastings. I decided to expand my matcha horizons, and to that end, I contacted Matchaeologist to see if they were interested in working with me on a review. They were very helpful and suggested I use the discount they offered me to purchase their Matcha Brewing Kit.

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First I should make a note about preparing matcha. Traditionally, match is prepared in a special bowl, called a chawan, whisked with a traditional handmade bamboo whisk, called a chasen. The Matchaeologist kit includes both of these things, along with a bamboo measuring spoon (“chashaku”), although the chawan is a more modern, double-walled clear glass bowl. That said, I have never owned any of these things before. I made my matcha in a mug or tea cup, using a handheld electric milk frother to create the foam and blend the matcha. And it works well, for less money than purchasing a full matcha setup. I did use this method to brew the matcha from Matchaeologist at least once to see how it held up, and it produced a nice cup of matcha. I do prefer the whisk because I can make a cup of matcha without sifting the powder, but matcha novices should consider getting an inexpensive electric frother if the traditional setup seems a bit expensive, although the kit does provide a slight discount from the pieces purchased individually.

Now, on to the matcha. Matchaeologist includes a tin of their mid-range Matsu matcha in the brewing kit. It is a ceremonial grade matcha, with a price on par with most high-quality matcha I’ve seen elsewhere. The powder is silky smooth and very bright green, and the vegetal smell hits you as soon as you add the first bit of water to mix it. I mixed two measuring spoons (about one teaspoon) of powder with about two ounces of water to make usucha for my morning cup. It blends easily and whisks up to a nice stable froth (in the photo above, the usucha had cooled considerably by the time I got that photo, and yet the foam remained).

Upon tasting, it is a much more intense flavor than the delicate Wooree Korean matcha I reviewed last week. The flavor is powerfully of green, leafy vegetables. It tastes of cooked spinach and chard, although not unpleasantly. It tastes of bright green cooked vegetables, not overcooked vegetables, and it lacks almost any bitterness or pronounced acidity. It has a smooth mouthfeel and an almost creamy undertone to the flavor that makes it quite easy to drink, almost like the feel of a matcha latte without actually having sugar or milk. I can feel an immediate physical effect: that particular matcha buzz that makes me feel I could take on the world with a smile and a whistle. And even when I drink it on an empty stomach, it does not upset it.

It was, in fact, such a lovely experience, that I am now excited to go back and buy the three more grades of matcha that Matchaeologist offers. There are two ceremonial grades, one more and one less expensive than Matsu, plus a culinary grade that looks quite intriguing. I’m curious to see if Matchaeologist’s Midori culinary grade matcha could make a matcha latte without any sweetener that still satisfies that craving. If their other grades are anything like their Matsu matcha, I expect to be impressed.

Readers of this blog are invited to use the code “tealeavesandtweed” to get 15% off a purchase at Matchaeologist (expiring 31 July 2017), and again, if you would like to support this blog, please use the affiliate link at the top of this post to go to the store. It’s likely any affiliate income will simply go into purchasing more matcha to share with you!

Tea Tasting: Korean Imperial Blend Green Tea and Matcha from Wooree Tea

As my readers know, I’ve develop an interest in beauty products from East Asia, particularly from South Korea. The South Korean government has done a great job of marketing their exports and boosted the popularity of Korean beauty worldwide. Now, of course, I also drink a lot of tea, much of which comes from Asia, but until recently, I’ve never really looked into Korean teas. I tend to buy my green teas from Japan, my oolong from Taiwan, and my black teas from either China or India. Where does Korea fit in?

It turns out that Korea has an interesting tea-growing history. The apocryphal tale is that the Indian princess Heo Hwang-ok brought tea with her when she married the ruler of a kingdom in southeastern Korea in the first century BCE. Tea cultivation became more widespread as Buddhism took hold in Korea and was associated with that practice until the secularization of the Joseon Era. However, tea-drinking entered a decline, until a well-documented comment from a Joseon-Era king who, when presented with a way of making money by selling high-quality Korean tea, said “We do not have a tea-drinking custom in our country.” But there are still tea plantations in Korea, notably on Jeju Island, home of several skin care companies who tout green tea in their products.

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Wooree Tea started when the founders visited Korea as part of their charity work with orphans there. They tried some of the local tea and were so impressed by it that they decided to start a company, based in their native Auckland, NZ, selling luxury Korean teas, with a portion of the profits going to help orphans in Korea. They claim their tea has a softer and sweeter taste than Chinese tea. They claim their matcha, in contrast to Japanese matcha, is grown under natural shade from trees and mountains and tends to be grown more organically, which can translate into a softer flavor. It’s worth noting here that calling this Korean-grown powdered tea matcha may leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths, as true matcha must be made from tea leaves that are grown in deliberate shade for twenty days, which it sounds like this has not. I, however, put these prejudices aside to taste the tea.

The company had a special sample offer, where they were offering a 10g sample of their Imperial Blend green tea for NZ$0.01, plus the cost of shipping (NZ$2.50). They had an additional option to include a 10g sample of their Korean matcha for an additional NZ$6.99. So for NZ$9.50, I ordered samples of both the full-leaf green tea and the powdered tea. Do note that these are in New Zealand dollars: I found the exchange rate favorable and got away under US$7 for the whole thing. Also, despite the fact that the company stresses that they are selling a luxury product for a high price, I did not find the prices of Wooree’s teas to be exorbitant. Should I wish to repurchase the Imperial Blend green tea, it will run NZ$16 (just over US$11) for 40g in a tin or NZ$19 (just over US$13) for 80g without a tin. Compared to other tea companies I’ve ordered from, this is not even on the high end of the price range. The matcha is NZ$20 (about US$14) for 40g, which is honestly on the low end of what I’ve found for ceremonial-grade matcha (of course, this cannot be called ceremonial grade) and about on par with standard-grade matcha.

Alright, so now onto the tea. I ordered on April 10th and got a shipment notification the next day. It had shipped from Korea, so I didn’t expect it any time soon, but received my package on April 15th, which is pretty quick, I have to say. I immediately broke into my package to look at what I’d gotten and brew myself a cup.

Imperial Blend Green Tea:

This tea is very much a green tea in the Chinese style, although I find the leaves a bit smaller and more delicate than typical Chinese green tea. I will admit, I wasn’t expecting much, as I don’t typically enjoy the seaweedy, vegetal-earthy flavor of Chinese green teas. But I wanted to give it full consideration. First, I brewed it according to their brewing instructions: boil a kettle, let it cool for 3 minutes (I did this in my electric kettle with the lid open), and then steep one teaspoon of leaf in a cup of water for three minutes. This produced a very light, but enjoyable cup of tea. The first thing I noticed was that the tea was very fragrant. It smelled about like a cup of Chinese green tea, but with more subtlety. The flavor was similar, although I will say it had more flavor than the pale, almost straw-color brew suggested it would have. I got a few infusions out of it with this method.

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Next, I tried it in gaiwan, which meant the same amount of leaf in less water. I also used my kettle’s temperature control setting and brewed it at 180 F instead of boiling and cooling. I steeped for the three minutes for the first infusion, then a minute and a half the second infusion, and then a third infusion for three minutes. This method brought the flavors forward and intensified them, but still avoided both the off flavors that I dislike in Chinese green tea and also the tendency of Chinese green tea to upset my stomach.

Finally, I brewed it with my standard office brewing tools. I used my fish-lid travel gongfu set to brew with water from our hot water tap at work for three minutes, two minutes, and three minutes. Once again, it yielded an enjoyable result with none of the off flavors I get from Chinese green tea. All in all, I would call this tea a great one and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed tasting it. I will probably reorder it soon, probably in the 80g size so that I can split it between two tins: one for home and one for work.

Update: I have indeed repurchased this tea in the 80g size, which arrived as two sealed 40g packages. I now find it my favorite daily green tea, and I generally drink it grandpa-style.

Korean Matcha

As I mentioned before, it’s odd to consider this “luxury matcha,” as it is not shade-grown in accordance with the highest standards of Japanese matcha, and it is not sold at a high price. Indeed, the main photo on the Wooree website of this matcha is that of a matcha latte, which is not where you would use a high-quality matcha powder, both for economic reasons and because the subtleties of a high-grade matcha would be lost in the flavor of the milk. But the fact that it’s not terribly expensive allows me to overlook this and just taste tea.

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Now, I’ve drunk matcha in the past, but I’ve come to the realization that what I had was not very high grade. Also, I lack real matcha preparation tools. So I took my Korean matcha and saw how it behaved with a hobbyist’s toolset. I sifted a teaspoon into a tea cup with a tea strainer, and then added two ounces of 176 F water and mixed it with my electric milk frother.

And oh my. It was a lovely cup of matcha. It was smooth and while it had an intense green tea flavor and bitterness, it was never unpleasant. Indeed, the smoothness almost gave it the creamy, soft flavor of a matcha latte, but without the milk or sugar. It also frothed up nicely with a stable crema using the electric whisk, and I found no grit or sediment after I finished my cup. The second time I tried it, I tried skipping the sifting and found it was still an enjoyable cup, but there was a bit more sediment, so I will continue to sift it in the future.

I do not know if I will repurchase the matcha, as I have more matcha coming from a Japanese company soon, but I am curious how the Korean matcha compares to high-grade Japanese matcha, particularly when I get my proper matcha tools. I would definitely call this a successful experiment. Plus, I love the happy buzz I get with matcha as compared to other sorts of tea.

I would certainly recommend that anyone interested in expanding their green tea horizons.

NB: I was not provided any special discount in exchange for this review. Although I was approached by Wooree about their ongoing sample offer on Instagram, the sample offer is open to the public at large. All thoughts are my own. More information about sponsorship here.

Tea Review: My First What-Cha Tea Haul

About a month ago, I posted an unboxing of a tea order from What-Cha. I was inspired (enabled) to order after an extended conversation on Facebook about white tea and jasmine pearl tea, and considered asking if he wanted to join me in an order so we could make the free shipping minimum more easily. And then I looked at my basket and I had already made free shipping. Oops. But of course, I was running low on some things, and I wanted to try some things, so while it was maybe a bit more of a “haul” than I usually indulge in, I went with it. I looked up some reviews and saw that the company, based across the pond from me, usually took a couple weeks to ship, so I promptly decided to forget about it until it showed up as a pleasant surprise. And then it showed up a week later, which was an even more pleasant surprise.

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I was immediately touched by the handwritten note tucked in by Alastair from What-Cha. Not only does he have beautiful handwriting, but it really made me feel like the order was given a bit of a personal touch. I wondered if the samples and mystery tea in my order were selected based on considering the other things I’d ordered, rather than just tossing in whatever they had a crate of. So far, I’ve tasted almost all of the teas included, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

Sticky Rice oolong: This was the first tea I tried from the order and it was actually the free sample they provided. It is a rolled oolong that smells of sticky rice (or popcorn, to me). And it really does smell like popcorn. I brewed it in gaiwan and shared my first impression on my Instagram Story and anyone who caught that knows that I found the popcorn scent completely enchanting. It has a nice flavor, mellow and characteristically oolong. It’s a fun little tea.

Tie Guan Yin heavy roast oolong: This is a pretty representative Tie Guan Yin oolong. It brews up into a heady tea with notes of wood, cannabis, and oak in the nose and a creamy smokiness in the flavor that I really enjoyed. I also brewed this in gaiwan and it does well there.

Yunnan Jingmai light roast oolong: I first tried this on my birthday. I bought it because I wanted to try an oolong that was rolled into what they call “Dragon Balls.” It’s basically a little ball of tea leaves, about 3/4″ in diameter. It seems like it would be a good amount for a standard tea pot, but I found that using one dragon ball in my little gongfu set produced a brew that sent me bouncing off the walls of my office. So I cut one dragon ball in half and use it for two brewing sessions. And this does give you a session. I can easily get ten steepings out of this, starting at 30 seconds and going up to a minute with no flagging in the flavor coming out of the tea. I tend to stop steeping out of exhaustion (or over-caffeination) than out of depletion of the tea itself. I find this tea also benefits from a bit of a rinse, as the first cup is otherwise a bit insipid until the dragon ball softens and opens up a bit.

Sencha of the Summer Sun: This is a standard, lovely Japanese green tea. I’ve actually taken to drinking it from my English bone china tea-for-one set instead of faffing about with my kyushu set because it just handles suboptimal conditions so perfectly without becoming bitter or unpleasant. It’s a sunny little tea and, though not ground-breaking, perfectly enjoyable.

Jasmine green tea pearls: I have only tried this one once, so I don’t have a lot of notes on it, but this is a lovely jasmine tea. It is jasmine-scented, rather than flavored with jasmine petals, but the scenting is not heavy-handed and it makes a delightful cuppa.

Silver Needle white tea: This is such an amazing tea. I will admit that I had never tried white tea before. It all seemed rather a gimmick to me and I didn’t really know that there would be much difference between white and green tea. Well, there is. First of all, the leaves themselves do look like large pine needles, and have a soft, delicate, velvety texture. I just want to pet the leaves before I even steep them. But if I can bring myself to steep them, they yield a brew that is not as subtle as I was expecting, and very, very floral. It almost tastes as though they have jasmine or magnolia scent added to them, even though they don’t. I brew this in my gongfu set for 1-3 minutes and get several steepings out of it.

The last tea is the Mystery Tea that I selected. I was curious what would come of it, so I selected the option that let them give me anything: green, oolong, or black. I ended up getting a kukicha tea that looks interesting, but that I haven’t tried quite yet. I suppose I shall have to report back when I have tasted it, but I will likely post it on my Instagram, rather than taking up blog space. Please do follow my Instagram and check out my Stories for tea reviews and first impressions.

NB: I purchased of these teas with my own money and was not offered any compensation for writing this review.

Teas I Didn’t Immediately Love and How to Accept Them

This is not a post about acquiring a taste for tea or anything else. This is about taking a tea that was not my favorite and playing with how I prepare it in order to at least be able to finish a tin of it, if not grow to enjoy it. I posted this last week on Instagram:

I was sitting down to a brewing session of a Korean green tea that I bought on a whim and ended up seriously disliking the first time I brewed it. Always the consummate trusting fool, I obeyed the brewing instructions on the tin and ended up with an over-strong, overpowerfully vegetal, unpleasant cup of tea. It upset my stomach, as strong Chinese green tea often does, and was just generally a bad experience. I put the tea back in my cupboard and tried not to think of it for a while.

Then, I realized I was running through my stock of tea and had to use up something before the new batch arrived. I resolved to try to make something of this tea. By playing with water temperature and brewing times, I was able to come up with something that was drinkable, at the very least, and, dare I say it, enjoyable some of the time. So here are my little ways of playing with teas to make them more enjoyable.

  1. First things first: a gaiwan is your best friend for tasting teas. You can brew a small amount at a time and don’t have to either suffer through or throw away a bad cuppa. If you’re not sure about a tea, play with it in gaiwan first. You don’t have to pile in the leaf; you can brew like you would in a tea pot, if you’d like. But if you do brew traditionally, you get a really good idea of what flavors are released under what conditions.
  2. Alright, now you have your gaiwan and you have leaves in it. Start with a very short brewing time. Sometimes as little as 10 seconds will start releasing flavor. I started with 30 seconds and decided that the first steeping was a bit insipid, so I increased to 45. Remember that the very first steeping also needs time to let the leaves absorb the water from being dry. If no amount of reducing time on your first steeping helps, try rinsing your leaves.
  3. Your second steeping may not need as much time as your first steeping. Drop down a bit if you’re worried about off flavors, and favor steeping many times for short times each steeping over leaving it for too long.
  4. If you’re still getting off flavors with very short steepings, your water probably needs to be cooler, especially with green teas. They can take on an unpleasant “overcooked vegetable” flavor.

Next time you have a tea you hate, try playing with it using these tips before you bail on it altogether. And if this doesn’t work, you can always try adding herbs or flavorings to it. I cannot abide Gunpowder green tea by itself, but add spearmint and maybe a touch of sugar or honey and you have a tasty Moroccan Mint!

Fukamushi Shincha from Tomotcha: First Impression of a New Subscription

I mentioned on Twitter a little bit ago that I was cancelling my subscription to Simple Loose Leaf in favor of a sub with less variety but more likely to provide teas I’m interested in trying. I signed up for Tomotcha earlier this month with the hope that I’d get my first tea in early June. Imagine my suprise when a flat little packet from Japan showed up in my letterbox earlier this week! Immediately after signing up, I was a little regretful, as the Tomotcha website leaves something to be desired. Other than an address confirmation from them, there is no way to sign into an account on their website and check on your subscription. Their Twitter feed hasn’t updated since last winter, and I was beginning to worry that maybe I signed up for a defunct service that was still charging people through automated web services.

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But that wasn’t the case! Yay! I got my tea and wanted to brew some immediately. Of course, it was a weekday evening, so that would have led to some difficulty falling asleep. There was also the fact that I realized a day or two earlier that my gaiwan are not suited to brewing Japanese green teas, which have smaller leaves than the Chinese ones the gaiwan excels at brewing. So I ordered a simple glass kyusu set and some cups for my office. They arrived yesterday, so this morning I was finally able to taste my new tea.

The tea that arrived was a Fukamushi Shincha, which is a deeply-steamed green tea from the first harvest of Sencha. The dry leaves look like most Japanese green teas I’ve encountered and has a strong vegetal, seaweedy aroma. The first steeping is meant to be at about 160-170F for a minute. The first thing you notice is the brilliant color, which reminds me of everything springy and growing. It smells very, very green. The taste is fresh and grassy. It’s very refreshing on a hot day. Subsequent steepings were done for 30 seconds and retain this freshness.

All in all, I’m pleased so far with this service and now I’m looking forward to months to come!

An Ode to the Simplicity of Grandpa-Style Tea

I had a British colleague at my old job who was known as “dirty mug guy” because he rarely washed his tea mug and the stains had built up to name-worthy proportions. I fear that I may be becoming “dirty mug gal” at my current job, though I doubt anyone else has noticed. It’s gotten to the point that I think I need to give my infuser a bit of a scrubdown with baking soda to remove the old stains. But being as lazy as I often am, and as forgetful, I keep forgetting to bring baking soda to work and get to that.

So I’ve been drinking my tea grandpa-style. Grandpa-style tea is a fairly traditional way of drinking tea in China, where the leaves are dumped into a mug, topped off with hot water, and sipped throughout the day, refilling with water as desired. You can filter the leaves through your teeth, or wait for them to settle out. I generally do some combination of the two.

This is not a method for strong black teas, at least for me, because the tea gets too strong. It is also not a method for very nuanced teas, as the delicacy can be lost in the rather open-ended steeping time. But I love it for a nice green or light oolong that is tasty without being fancy. It is also a rather frugal method, as the way to prevent your first tea from being undrinkably oversteeps is to use a smaller portion of tea leaves.

I generally toss a teaspoon or so of leaves into my mug, top with just enough water to cover the leaves and let the leaves sit in the water for a minute to soak up some water. Then, I fill the mug the rest of the way. This gives the leaves a bit of a head start at saturating and falling to the bottom of the mug. Then, I can sip for a bit, leaving maybe an inch in the bottom to act as a kind of concentrate to start the next cup.

It is a very relaxed and unfussy way of drinking tea, and one that appeals to me on a busy day when I can’t be bothered to deal with multiple pieces of an infuser mug. And perhaps one of these days, I’ll get around to scrubbing up.

Simple Loose Leaf: First Boxes, and Early Impressions

I mentioned earlier that I had joined the Simple Loose Leaf subscription tea service. To be completely honest, I chose them because they were one of the least expensive options, and I liked that it was a small business run out of the US. I considered some other services, but they either seemed focused on flavored teas, or else had excessive shipping times from being based overseas.

Before I joined, I emailed the company to express some concerns I had, primarily about the types of teas they choose for the box. Andrew assured me they are a company of tea-lovers who love the flavor of tea and are not overly concerned with making tea taste like something else. So I dove in.

I’ve received two boxes, one for March and one for April. Right away, the snow at the end of February put a cramp in their style, and I received a lovely email from Andrew explaining that the boxes would be delayed as weather prevented them from receiving some of their supplies. Sadly, I had hoped that my first box in March would be a birthday box, but it was not to be. That said, once I did receive the box, it was a pleasant gift.

The highlights of the March box were a gunpowder green tea, which came with a sample of spearmint tea to make a Moroccan mint with the recipe and packets of Turbinado sugar included, as well as a lovely Darjeeling. I’ve gotten more into Darjeeling teas with the spring, so that was a nice sample. It also included some herbal and flavored blends I haven’t tried yet.

April’s box had a Fujian black tea and a Taimu Mountain green tea that were a lot of fun to try and right up my alley. It also had some flavors I wasn’t so excited about. There was a Thai Chai that I still haven’t tried, but I like other chais, so maybe it will be good. The really out-there one was Nutty Mocha Mate, which I tried and did not like. I thought it kind of tasted like really weak coffee, which isn’t my preference. It also included a Jasmine Rooibos, which I haven’t tried because I don’t generally like Rooibos, but I like jasmine, so I may try it in the future.

I have to say, my current favorite part of the store is the 50% discount you get with a subscription! I got an order of 4 1-oz. bags of tea recently that I picked myself. It was three oolongs (Four Seasons oolong, Jade oolong, and Magnolia oolong) and their Four Horsemen black tea blend.

Four Seasons oolong is a really lovely, interesting tea. I was out of oolong but in the mood for it. It’s a variety of Tie Guan Yin oolong, which I’ve had before elsewhere and liked, but I noticed a particularly lovely milk oolong quality to it. It’s more subtle than the milk oolong I got from a local tea store and much more refreshing.

Four Horsemen blend is my go-to morning cup of black tea right now when I need a pick-me-up. It’s a blend of Assam, Darjeeling, Yunnan, and Keemun teas and you can pick out the qualities of each. In particular, it has the full body of an Assam, but without smothering the delicate quality of the Darjeeling.

Magnolia oolong is my new favorite tea right now. It’s a scented tea, like a jasmine green tea or a rose black, but the sweet scent of magnolias just go with oolong tea, and bring to mind the slowly-emerging spring. I highly recommend it for spring. I drink it at work when I can’t get outside, but I imagine it would be even more lovely sipped in the garden in the sun under a giant hat among the flowers.

So far I’m impressed with the quality of the teas and the service with Simple Loose Leaf and look forward to more from them. I’ve purchased the subscription myself, so I get nothing in return for this review.

A Sunny Little Tea

The other night, one of the other actors in the play I’m in right now brought a packet of tea to rehearsal. You see, we keep a kettle and a tea box so we can make tea while we rehearse in the cold rehearsal space we have, and she thought she’d share the tea she makes herself. It was a sample pack of green tea with lemon flavors and herbs. Now, it just so happened that that night was the last night we were to be in the rehearsal space before moving into the theater, so when the tea hadn’t been touched by the time we were done, I decided to take it home to try it.

It’s in tea bags, which is not my usual tea vehicle, but they do sell loose versions of all their blends. Her company is called Herban Avenues and her Green Lemon tea is just delicious. It has a nice touch of lemon flavor, and isn’t too astringent from the green tea. I like it in the mornings because the bulk of herbs cuts the caffeine from the green tea and I can have a cup in the morning without worrying about having too much caffeine if I have more tea at work.

I’m thinking about making an order and trying some more of her blends. They have black tea, rooibos tea, green tea, and herbal blends. The Lavender Earl Grey sounds particularly interesting, as do some of the herbal blends. I like knowing about small companies like this to which I can turn when I don’t want to take the time making all my own blends. I foresee stocking my tea tin with these teas in the future!

Although I did technically get this tea sample for free, I’m pretty sure my friend doesn’t even know about this blog or that I’m writing about her tea on it, so my review is in no way beholden to her. I just really like her tea. I hope you’ll try it, too.