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.

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.

A Bridal Tea (and a recipe, at the end!)

This weekend, my mother and my dear friend hosted what I like to call a bridal tea in my honor. You see, Fiancé and I have decided to forgo any gifts for our wedding, but my lady friends still wanted to have a day to get together and celebrate my engagement. What better way, I thought, than to have an afternoon tea?

When I was a small girl, my mother used to have tea parties with me at least a few times a week. I would come home from kindergarten in the afternoon and instead of just making a snack, she would lay out little sandwiches, some sweets, and a pot of tea. She even had an adorable collection of miniature tea sets for the occasion, her crowning glory (and my inheritance) being the Brambly Hedge miniature tea set. I remember going to antique stores trying to find one of every season in the set.

So I knew my mother would host a wonderful tea. I also asked my friend to help her because she makes delicious homemade bread and what could be a better accompaniment to my mother’s amazing baked goods than tea sandwiches made on homemade bread? And the afternoon tea time slot was perfect for a celebration, as I still had one more evening show of Pygmalion to perform, and we would all be finished in time to get to the theatre.

The celebration was beautiful, and we had far too much food, which was all delicious. I did make a batch of my own famous cream scones, as well as a batch of mini Victoria sandwich cakes to add to the celebration, but by and large, the spread was done entirely by the two hostesses and I got to sit back, maybe fuss over a pot of tea. My mother even made miniature panna cotta with a raspberry topping in their own individual cups, as well as getting a box of macarons from a local French bakery and a box of assorted mini pastries from the bakery we’ve frequented since I was young.

Fiancé left for the afternoon so we ladies could flutter and coo to our hearts’ content. It was lovely to see this quite eclectic group of my friends and family (and soon-to-be family) come together and socialize. The director of Pygmalion even brought a silly hat with a veil that I could wear, as the bride. It rather felt like my entrée into the final stretch of my wedding planning, honestly. With Pygmalion at an end and the wedding looming next month, I have the last finishing touches to finish up before the big event. And what better way to get back into the swing of planning than with a cuppa tea?

With that, I suppose I shall leave you with my recipe for mini Victoria sponges, which are not so much my recipe as a recipe my castmate shared from her days in home economics in Wales.

Mini Victoria Sandwiches

Makes 12 cakes

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a cupcake tin with non-stick paper cases. I like these the best.
  2. Weigh three large eggs in their shells. Measure out the same weight each of self-raising flour, granulated or caster sugar, and soft unsalted butter. Lay the eggs in a bowl of hot water to come to room temperature.
  3. Beat together the butter and sugar until combined and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well, and about a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add the flour and beat until combined.
  4. Add milk a tablespoon at a time until the batter is a soft dropping consistency, about like frozen custard or soft-serve ice cream.
  5. Spoon into the cupcake tin, filling about 2/3 full.
  6. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until golden around the edges.
  7. Let the cakes cool in the tin until the tin is cool enough to handle without a potholder, and then remove them to a cooling rack to cool completely. Victoria sponge is very delicate when warm, but quite sturdy once it cools, so handle warm sponges gently.
  8. When they are cool, split them in half with a sharp serrated knife. Fill with jam (I like raspberry) and lightly sweetened whipped cream. Dust with icing/powdered sugar to serve.

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!

Autumn 2016 Teas I’ve Been Loving

Good morning. As my blog name implies, I am an avowed tea-drinker. And I haven’t done a tea review in a while now. Lately, as the weather cools down, I find myself reaching for more rich black teas, sometimes with milk and a touch of sugar, or else a more-oxidized oolong tea. So I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve been drinking that I rather enjoy in the chilly weather.

Beautiful Taiwan Tea Company Asian Beauty Oolong: This was my autumn transition tea. It is a large-leafed, moderately-oxidized oolong that gives a robust, amber-colored cup of tea. It does tend towards bitterness if brewed too hot or for too long, and I find this is one of the few oolongs I actually prefer brewed Western-style than in a gaiwan. And, of course, given my love of Asian beauty products, I couldn’t resist the name.

Harney and Sons Black Tea Sampler: As I’ve mentioned before, when the weather gets cold, I turn to rich black teas. The thing is, I tend to drink a lot of breakfast tea with milk and occasionally sugar, and then a lot of Earl Grey. Not a lot of variety. So I decided to get myself a four-tin sampler set of black teas from H&S this autumn. It includes teas from China, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya, which is a nice assortment and goes beyond the standard Assam and Darjeeling teas I know and love. I believe my favorite is the Kenilworth Sri Lankan tea, but all of them are distinctive and have their appeal. If you’re looking to expand your black tea horizons, these samples are varied and generous for the price.

Harney and Sons Earl Grey: Of course, I couldn’t go all autumn and winter without a nice Earl Grey. So I bought a four-ounce tin of H&S Earl Grey. It’s a rather large amount of tea, which is perfect for everyday tea drinking. If I’m not in the mood for something specific, I generally turn to the Earl. This is a nice blend, not too bergamot-y, and not too bitter. It handles oversteeping when I occasionally forget about my tea on a busy morning. And it doesn’t send me bouncing off the walls with caffeine, but it’s a proper morning pick-me-up. A solid Earl Grey offering.

Disclaimer: I purchased all products described and was provided no incentive for review. I have not used any affiliate links.

On Black Tea and the Beginnings of Autumn

After quite a hot August and a September that refused to cool down for long, it seems we’ve finally seen the beginnings of autumnal weather. I was still glad for a weekend retreat to Fiancé’s parents’ house up north, but upon returning home, I found I now need a jacket in the morning and don’t arrive at home again drenched in sweat.

Keemun Mao Feng from Harney & Sons. #tea #blacktea

A post shared by Beauty • Tea • Lifestyle (@tealeavesandtweed) on

Now changing seasons means changes of all kinds. People change their wardrobe, perhaps even wearing different colors. I know I find myself less inclined to wear pastels, and more inclined to wear heathered knits. Some change their skin care, adding in more moisture and removing products that helped them deal with the sliminess that summer’s heat can bring.

But perhaps my favorite seasonal change is my change of tea. You see, in cooler weather, I prefer richer teas. While I drink all teas year-round, in the summer, I find myself drawn to light, refreshing green teas and lightly-oxidized oolongs. As the weather cools, I reach more for fuller-bodied teas, like more-oxidized oolongs, as well as black teas. While I have had my share of black tea cuppas over the summer, I tend to save them for days when I’m lying about the house, not doing much of anything, and enjoying the artificial coolness of air conditioning. On days when I’m out and about in the heat? No way.

In honor of the changing seasons, I decided to treat myself to a new tea-for-one set and a new sampler of black tea leaves. So far I’ve tried two of the teas and they’re lovely. Rich and malty and just a little astringent. Warming and comforting, like a cozy blanket in tea form. Perfect for autumn.

Tea Tasting: Yushan Oolong from Beautiful Taiwan Tea Co.

As you may know, I have a particular liking of oolong tea, particularly when the weather starts to chill down in autumn or warm up in spring. After hearing that some of the best oolong tea comes from Taiwan, I’ve started ordering from Beautiful Taiwan Tea Co. They have a nice assortment of teas, with good prices, and their shipping is not terrible. Plus, they ship from the US, so things get here in a reasonable amount of time.

But one unexpected lovely thing is that they include a little sample of some delicious tea in each order. The first time, I got a “green oolong” and this time I got a rolled, lightly oxidized Yushan oolong to try. I brought it to the office to finish out the week and steeped it primarily in my gaiwan. Because it’s rolled, I was light-handed with the tea leaves and a 10-gram sample packet gave me two days of tea, about 8-10 steepings in gaiwan for each serving.

The first session, I decided to start cautiously and steeped it in 180-degree water for an initial minute and a half, and then one-minute steepings after that, until the last couple, when I noticed the flavor was going, so I increased the time by a bit. It’s a subtle and delicate tea, but still has plenty of oolong character and floralness. I actually detect a hint of cannabis in the scent of the leaves and the brewed tea, but not in an unpleasant way.

The second session, I decided to make the first steeping quite long, and then go to one-minute steepings. That seemed to open up the tea a bit more and offered a slight hint of honey sweetness, with more the floral/cannabis notes as well. And there was almost no bitterness to speak of, even with longer steeping times and a final steeping in 200-degree water.

Finally, I wanted to make a subjective note: I found that this tea made me feel slightly giddy and happy. I’d had a rather tough week and I found myself with almost a bounce in my step and a vigor to complete my lingering weekly tasks. I can’t necessarily guarantee it was the oolong, but I certainly noticed a difference from my mood earlier in the week, and the tea was the only new thing.

Please note: I was sent this as a free sample, but not in exchange for a review. In fact, I don’t think Beautiful Taiwan Tea Co. is even aware of my blog. I just like their tea.

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!

That Time I Met a Tea Sommelier

Once again, my posting as been erratic. Between illness and stress, when I find myself with nothing to do, I mostly feel like watching television shows and relaxing these days. But I have perpetual big plans to edit photos and start posting more regularly, I promise.

Anyway. Last weekend, my office had a big meeting at a fancy hotel downtown. I had forgotten how nice it is to be in a really nice hotel. There is a level of service that’s just above the places I usually buy for myself. It almost made up for having to get up and shower at 6 a.m. on a Sunday and 5 a.m. the next day. Almost. One thing I noticed about the fancy hotels downtown is that they take their tea very, very seriously. One of the hotels had pots of brewed tea out on warming stations outside the meeting rooms alongside the coffee. It was amazing. They had chamomile, which I skipped, and a delicious English Breakfast black tea. It was brewed to perfection, had lovely floral notes, not to astringent. And I decided to add a touch of honey to my cup to bring out the flavors, on the suggestion of another hotel’s tea sommelier.

Yes, I met a tea sommelier. I am of course familiar with the idea of a wine sommelier, and I’ve seen the concept extended to other alcoholic beverages, but I’d never seen it applied to tea before. It started when I was blearily wandering over the breakfast buffet upon arriving at the meeting entirely too early, even for me. As I examined the spread of eggs and sausages, I overheard a gentleman recommending the tea bread to a colleague. I looked over and saw a tray of sliced quickbread. I didn’t think much of it until he mentioned that it was Earl Grey tea bread, made with Earl Grey tea. Oh, that sounds lovely.

As I walked back to gather a slice for myself, I heard him go on about how they infuse the tea into the bread so that it not only tastes of bergamot but also takes on the deeper flavors of the black tea itself. He saw that I was listening and introduced himself. He was the hotel’s tea sommelier. What an interesting idea, I thought. I thanked him for the suggestion and he asked a bit about what I thought of tea. I told him I was, in fact, a tea-drinker and he was very excited. He asked if I would let him make me a cup of tea.

How lovely. Even when I’m at home and ask Boyfriend to make me a cup of tea, I generally dictate the entire tea-making process. To leave myself in the hands of a professional seemed decadent. He asked what kind of tea I liked and I responded that given the chilly, gloomy weather, I thought I’d like a cup of black tea. He seemed even more excited about this. We discussed different types of teas and he asked if I minded honey in my tea. He explained that he liked to put a bit of sweetener in certain kinds of tea to help bring out the flavors. I was intrigued, so I agreed to it. It reminded me a bit of having coffee at the Caffe San’Eustachio in Rome, where the default is sweetened coffee.

Several minutes later, I was reverently presented with a perfect cup of tea. It had the light flavor of a Darjeeling, with just a hint of sweetness. I was also presented with an herbal tea bag for later, which had some ginseng and gingko in it to help with focus without caffeine. It was a lovely conversation and perhaps next year I can see him again.