Beauty Review: The TEA.L Ceremony Set

NB: I was sent the TEA.L Ceremony Set free of charge by TEA.L, in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own. Also, TEA.L has generously offered to extend a discount code to my blog readers. From now through December 25th, you can use the code TLTWD20 for 20% off your entire order with no minimum. One use per customer.

When I was a kid, my mother introduced me to afternoon tea, which we would have every afternoon when I came home from kindergarten. It was at that point that I developed a lifelong love of tea. Later on, I also developed a love of fantasy books, particularly those with dragons, so when my mother was looking for a gift for me at one point, she ended up buying me a tin of Dragonwell tea. This was my first experience with tea outside of British-style black tea with milk and sugar, and has remained a tea that is close to my heart (hence why I always have some on hand, as I mentioned in my Marie Antoinette video).

All of this is a convoluted way of explaining why, when I heard that a skincare brand was infusing their products with Dragonwell tea, I knew it might be meant to be. I first heard about the brand on Marco’s Instagram at Steap’d, and when I commented on his post, the brand reached out and offered to send me something to try. They ended up sending me their full set.

TEA.L is a skin care company whose star ingredient is Dragonwell green tea infused into the oils they use in their naturally-led products. A quick note about “green” or “clean” products: I no longer specifically seek out “natural” products, as I explain here, but I appreciate the brand’s transparency about why they choose the ingredients they do, particularly when they admit that the “paraben-free” hype is probably just marketing. And, as someone who has had a reaction to “natural” fragrance, I’m glad that they list their essential oils rather than using “fragrance” as a hide-all ingredient.

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The TEA.L Ceremony Set includes three products: the Green Tea + Guayusa Face Care, the Green Tea + Rooibos Body Care, and the Green Tea + Yerba Mate Eye Care. I started testing the Body Care and Eye Care on 11/2, and then added the Face Care a week later, just to make sure I didn’t have any reaction. At the time I’m writing this review, I’ve been using the Eye Care for four weeks and the Face Care for three weeks, morning and night. You can find my current skin care routine here; I apply the eye cream after hydrating serum but before oil, and I apply the cream after oil. I introduced each face product in complete isolation for one week at least, and I waited until after my period to make sure any breakouts were hormone-related.

Let’s start with the body cream. I only recently discovered I even like rooibos to drink after years of thinking I hated it, so I was worried I’d hate the scent of this, since Marco said it smells exactly like rooibos. And he’s not wrong, but it’s delicious. It’s a deep, earthy scent with that light bright woodiness that I get from good rooibos. My husband thinks it smells like shou puerh, but he also has the worst sense of smell. The one thing it doesn’t smell like is perfume, so I feel like I can use this even when I’m using other fragrance without it clashing. I mostly used it on my dry, dark elbows, and noticed that they got smoother, less itchy, and lighter colored.

Okay, now eyes. So first of all, I don’t use eye cream. It’s not some philosophical thing; I just don’t use it. But I tried really, really hard, and I did use my eye cream all but maybe one or two days of my testing for this. The eye cream has a rich texture, but it feels light on the skin, doesn’t irritate my eyes, and it absorbs very nicely. Also, despite being silicone-free, it spreads amazingly and I have to use an extremely small amount for both eyes — like the size of a grain of rice. It smells like cucumbers to me, which is odd given that it has no synthetic fragrance, but I like it. My absolute only complaint is that the formula does thicken in the pump head and will sometimes clog, but that’s going to happen with any cream with a high percentage of natural butters.

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Finally, the face cream. I loved the texture of the face cream. It was somehow buttery, yet light, and it almost had a sort of water-drop feeling on the skin. I used half a pump for daytime before sunscreen and a full pump at night before applying my face balm. I haven’t really used a cream regularly for a while, so I was fully prepared to feel kind of meh about it, but, honestly, I love it. Of the three products, this is the one I’m going to repurchase when I run out. I love the scent (I usually hate geranium and ylang-ylang, but the earthiness of the infused botanicals seem to ground it in a way I like). I love the texture. I love the effect on my skin. And I started using another product, the Deciem Photography Fluid, with it by adding a drop or two to my morning half-pump, and my skin looks truly stunning. Check out my Anji Bai Cha tasting video for it in action — it actually makes your skin look better under fluorescent lights.

And I actually remembered to take before and after photos! This is before starting testing on the left and after on the right (because I’m not a monster). I took the photos in the morning before putting anything on my face, or even washing it, so these are “I woke up like this” photos. So I obviously didn’t get the lighting exactly the same between them (in fact, I did try editing the “before” picture a bit to get the exposure a bit more similar), but two things immediately jumped out at me. One, my skin looks just generally evener, less red, and glowier in the after photo. And the second is that I actually notice that the crinkles at the corners of my eyes are noticeably less, well, noticeable in the after photo. Now, I’m not trying to stop the aging process, but perhaps these products are helping my skin be healthier and more elastic, which isn’t a bad thing. Of course, it’s possible that simply applying a separate eye cream is what’s doing it. But still. Color me impressed.

So those are my thoughts about the TEA.L products. I was actually really impressed, and at least one product is going to make it into my daily routine for good, which is high praise, given how much I’ve pared down my routine in recent years. Definitely check them out if you’re looking for a new cream.

Tuesday Tasting: 2014 Yunnan Sourcing Wu Liang Mountain Wild Arbor Raw Pu-erh from “Intro to Pu-erh”

Today, I’m continuing my tasting of the raw pu-erhs in Yunnan Sourcing’s “Intro to Pu-erh” sampler with their single estate raw pu-erh, the 2014 Wu Liang Mountain Wild Arbor raw pu-erh. Once again, this sample is a piece taken off a larger cake, and the sampler includes 25g of this tea, so I can taste it a few times. I tasted it in gaiwan for these notes.

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I used 7.26 grams in a 120-ml gaiwan with 190F water. After warming my teaware, I got aromas of henna, cardamom, and earth off the dry leaf. I did a rinse and then noticed aromas of fruit and woodsmoke from the wet leaf. I steeped this ten times, starting at ten seconds and increasing by five seconds each steeping, until a final steeping of a minute.

The first steeping gave off aromas of woodsmoke, fruitcake, and plums from the gaiwan lid and the wet leaf itself. The liquor was gold with a henna aroma. It had a medium-light body with no bitterness. There was a faint juiciness to the flavor, with initial notes of cardamom and ginger and a peach or apricot aftertaste. The second steeping, the liquor darkened slightly to an apricot color. The wet leaf smelled of green wood smoke and henna and the liquor had a faint fruity aroma. This steeping got a tiny bit of hoppy bitterness started, with some apricots (a blend of dried and fresh). I already started noticing a languid energy to this tea, and the cup had a sweet herbal aroma.

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The third steeping, the liquor darkened a bit more. The gaiwan lid had a henna aroma while the wet leaf had a sandalwood aroma. The liquor had a very balanced smooth bitterness, a lubricating mouthfeel, and an aftertaste of apricots and smoke. The fourth steeping brought out more smoke aromas from the liquor, and a light bitterness on the flavor and additional notes of smoky whisky and sweetness. It had an aromatic herbal finish. By the fifth steeping, I noticed the smokiness fading and the fruit coming forward. I got aromas of fresh, ripe apricots. The bitterness was also fading, with aromatic herbal flavors coming forward and a sweet aftertaste.

The sixth steeping, I started noticing an incense-y aroma off the leaves and a tip-of-the-tongue bitterness that reminded me of grapefruit peel, with a lighter mouthfeel. The seventh steeping have a beautiful balanced bitterness and aromas of incense and fruitcake. By the eighth steeping, I noticed the aromas fading somewhat, though it still had a nice apricot aroma on the liquor. The bitterness was fading, though the fruitiness remained and it had an anise aftertaste. By the ninth steeping, the aromas and flavors were still fading, and by the tenth steeping, it was obviously done.

The wet leaves were an even olive color, with some smaller leaves and buds.

Currently Listening: Talking Tea Podcast

It’s a holiday for my readers in the States and for me, that means a car trip. Which means podcasts. So I thought I’d share a podcast I recently started listening to: Talking Tea. The most recent episode on climate change, bugs, and how it’s affecting the tea industry is fascinating, but the episode that really hooked me was the previous one about how gender and imperialism shaped the marketing of tea to the west and persists in our modern ideas of tea. I mean, give me some 19th-century politics, and throw in some tea, and I’m as happy as a clam.

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The structure of the podcast, at least in as much as I’ve listened to it, is an interview with someone who has a profession that is related to tea in some fascinating way. I’ve listened to interviews with an historian, a tea house owner, a tea and gastronomy educator, a scientist, and a tea culture blogger so far. The guests always have such interesting stories to tell and I thoroughly enjoy learning about some new facet of tea culture or history about which I hadn’t thought before. And the tea and cheese pairing episode inspired me to try my own tea and cheese pairing!

Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about the podcast is host Ken Cohen’s interview style. So often I listen to interviews and my main thought is “Wow, the interviewer really likes the sound of his own voice.” But Ken sits back and lets the guest shine. You almost feel as though you are learning along with him, rather than listening to him teach you by using the guest. And the vividness with which he describes surroundings during the conversation helps you feel like you’re right there with them.

I’ve found so many new people to follow on social media just in the week I’ve been listening to back episodes, and I look forward to much more as we go into a season of travel. And it inspires me to take a harder look at my own passion for tea so that I can try to express it the way he and his guests do. If you’re a podcast listener and looking for something related to tea, I recommend you give his podcast a listen. I found it on the Apple podcast app, but you can find all the ways to listen at the website linked above.

Tuesday Tasting: 2015 Menghai Tea Factory 7542 Recipe Raw Puerh from Yunnan Sourcing’s “Intro to Puerh”

This week, I’m starting a little series where I share tastings from the puerhs in Yunnan Sourcing’s sampler called “Introduction to Puerh.” I got this after my stitch and sip video where I was thinking that I should learn more about puerh. I’ve had really good luck with Yunnan Sourcing’s curated oolong samplers, so I figured they’d do a good job with a puerh sampler. The sampler has six different teas, half ripe and half raw puerh, with examples of each from a classic recipe, a single estate, and an aged sample. The aged samples are both older than fifteen years.

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So on to this tea. The 2015 Menghai raw is a piece taken off a larger cake. I used 7.4g in a 120-ml gaiwan with water at 190F. The dry leaf, as you can see, is slightly broken from the compression into the cake, and has a medium-deep brown color with some lighter bits. It looks to have small leaves. After warming my teaware and the dry leaf, I got aromas of raisins and date bread.

I rinsed the tea and found the wet leaves gave off aromas of dried fruit on the gaiwan lid and damp earth on the leaves themselves. I steeped it starting wth ten seconds and increasing by five seconds each time, for eight steepings.

The first steeping had a light amber colored liquor and sweet malty aromas on the gaiwan lid, sweet and earthy aromas on the wet leaf, and a sweet fragrant aroma on the liquor itself. The mouthfeel was light, with a sweet and herbal flavor. The second steeping, some herbal aromas started coming out of the lid, while the leaf aroma settled into earthiness and a fruitcake and brandy aroma arose from the liquor itself. The liquor was slightly darker and had a rounder mouthfeel, with a spicy flavor reminiscent of alcohol.

By the third steeping, the bitterness started coming through. The lid and leaf aromas had taken on a henna aroma that I associate with raw puerh, and the liquor had a brandy aroma. The flavor had a pronounced but not unpleasant bitterness in the back of the throat with a floral and herbal quality to it, like hops. there was a little dried fruit in the flavor with no astringency and a syrupy mouthfeel.

On the fourth steeping, the bitterness mellowed and moved into the front of the mouth, with an almost umami savory quality to the flavor. The fifth steeping, I noticed more funky earthy aromas from the leaf and a purely bitter, non-sweet flavor from the liquor, with a tiny bit of dryness on the finish. The sixth and seventh steepings held steady with henna aromas and balanced bitterness with a dry finish. By the eighth steeping, it was still the same and I decided to finish the session.

The spent leaves were an even olive-green color and showed mostly broken leaves. I’m excited by this as a really excellent example of the delights of bitterness in a raw puerh, and I’m curious how the other samples compare.

Outings: A Tea Date at Ching Ching Cha

Be sure to check out my giveaway on Instagram, where I’m giving away one of Nazanin’s lovely pomegranate gaiwan pins!

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to finally find the time to meet up with my friend Nazanin from Tea Thoughts. We’d been meaning to meet for tea at a tea house in Washington, D.C. called Ching Ching Cha for a while, so when we both had time this weekend, we jumped at the opportunity. It’s such a unique space, both as a business and the space itself.

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Ching Ching Cha is on Wisconsin Ave. in Georgetown just next to one of the crossings of the C & O Canal. The storefront is shared with a salon upstairs and is rather unassuming. In fact, from the outside, it looks quite dark, and the only sign that there’s a delicious tea house inside is the small chalkboard of specials. When you walk in, there is a corridor with benches that leads into a row of teas and books for sale, and then you turn to see the tea room and the rest of the shop.

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The first thing you notice when you get into the tea house properly is how much natural light it gets. The building has a large skylight to provide entirely natural light in the main area. On one side of the shop is a platform with two low tables and cushions. You’re supposed to take your shoes off before stepping up onto the platforms, so it stays clean. There are also about eight additional tables with chairs. It is small and gets busy quickly, at least on a weekend, so I was glad we showed up right when they opened at 11 a.m.

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Each table has a traditional burner with a pot of water over it. The water stays very hot and is replenished by the wait staff so you can refill your own tea as much as you want. We looked at the menu and each decided on a tea. We both got oolong. Mine was a greener rolled Alishan oolong, while Nazanin got a roasted Phoenix oolong. They both came on a draining tea tray in a traditional clay pot. We were well-versed in the style of steeping, but we saw the staff showing others at the tea house how to steep the tea.

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We also got several plates of shareable foods: dumplings, tea egg, curry puff, and some sweets. All the food was delicious and went wonderfully with the tea, but the tea remained the star of the show.

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My Alishan was very delicate and creamy with a beautiful floral aroma and flavor. It had a silky mouthfeel and almost smelled like a milk oolong, but without the rich buttery notes. I lost count of how many times we steeped, but we sat there steeping and sipping and nibbling over the course of two hours. I had so much fun playing with the clay pot, since I’ve never used one before and I’ve wanted to buy one.

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After we finished and it became clear that the tea was finally exhausted, we paid and moved into the store to browse. All of the teas that they have on the menu were available pre-packaged, though they also have big cans of them stored toward the back of the shop. They also have an impressive array of teaware, ranging in price from just a few dollars to several hundred.

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They also have tea trays for sale that are the same as the ones they use for their service in the tea house, so I bought one, since I no longer have a wooden deck to use as a giant tea tray. I also got a strainer for my sharing pitcher and a cake of pressed dried roses that smells amazing. It was a thoroughly enjoyable outing and one that I highly recommend to anyone who loves tea or knows a tea lover. I know I will be back again, hopefully soon!

Tuesday Tasting: Anji Bai Cha from Yunnan Sourcing

Today’s Tuesday Tasting is the Anji Bai Cha from Yunnan Sourcing. I first found this tea when I was researching an historical tea video and I found out that the tea called “Anji Bai Cha” in a primary source about Song Dynasty tribute tea actually referred to a green tea, despite the name “Bai Cha” meaning white tea. I learned that this prized cultivar was lost until the 1980s when a bush was discovered that was believed to be the same cultivar as the tea prized by the Emperor Huizong who wrote a vivid Treatise on Tea that described the practice of preparing tribute tea in the Song Dynasty. The tea was called “Bai Cha” because the raw leaves are so pale, and only turn green when they are heated to stop the oxidation process. So I bought some at Yunnan Sourcing to try, even though I knew I wouldn’t be pressing, roasting, and grinding it to prepare true Song-Dynasty-style tea.

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The first thing I noticed about this tea is the needle-y leaves. They are long and skinny, like the needles of a Douglass fir or white pine. I decided to steep it in gaiwan, gongfu style, but have since determined that it might be better to steep this tea in a method that is more suited to delicate green teas. But here, I will describe my gongfu tasting.

I used 5 grams in a 150-ml gaiwan with 170F water. From the dry leaf, I got some powerful vegetal aromas. I rinsed it and sniffed the wet leaf. The wet leaf aroma was sweet, herbal, and with a floral component that I guessed as sakura. It reminded me a lot of a Japanese sencha with sugared sakura leaves and dried sakura blossoms. I then steeped it starting with five seconds and increasing in five second increments.

 

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After the first steeping, the gaiwan lid smelled green and creamy while the wet leaf smelled of asparagus. The liquor was a pale jade color with a warm, sweet aroma. The mouthfeel was juicy with light brightness, and more of that sakura flavor. It got thicker and sweeter as it cooled off while I sipped. The second steeping was stronger, with stronger green aromas from the lid and sakura and asparagus aromas from the leaf. The liquor was still a pale jade, but had a spicy aroma that I guessed as clove. The mouthfeel was thicker, but still juicy and not cloying or syrupy, with tart, green flavors, like purslane.

The third steeping gave tarter aromas on the lid and nuttier on the leaf. The liquor had developed that clove or allspice aroma and the flavor was similar to the previous steeping. The fourth steeping had green floral aromas on the leaves and spicy aromas on the liquor with a slightly sweeter flavor. By the fifth steeping, the flavor had started to fade, and the aromas had gone somewhat spinach-y. The sixth steeping brought back that floral asparagus aroma with a lighter, but still present flavor. By the seventh steeping, I decided to steep it out for a minute and determined that the tea was done.

The spent leaves are only slightly lighter in color than the dry leaf, and still have a vivid spring green color. They are quite small, narrow leaves and have a deep crease down the center that is characteristic of the cultivar. While I thoroughly enjoyed this tea in gaiwan, join me this coming weekend for a video in which I share a session with steeped in a more traditional style for a green tea.

Tuesday Tasting: Tea Sparrow October 2019 Tea Box

NB: Tea Sparrow sent me their October box for free in exchange for posting a tasting. All thoughts are my own. Links are not affiliate links.

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This week, I’m sharing a bit of a different tasting. While I generally drink unflavored pure teas and often taste my teas gong fu style, I am a firm believer in evaluating teas on their own terms rather than trying to shoe-horn different teas into gongfucha. I was recently contacted by Tea Sparrow, a company that sells subscription tea boxes. Most of their teas are flavored, but everything is organic and natural and they use biodegradable packaging, so I was intrigued to try. Plus, I know plenty of my readers are not necessarily solely interested in drinking fussy pure teas and might appreciate knowing about some good flavored teas. They sent me their October box, which included two caffeine-free herbal teas, a flavored green tea, and a flavored black tea, so I thought I would do my tasting using their brewing parameters.

But of course, this isn’t a review; this is a tasting. So I still made sure to check aroma and look of the “leaf” at various points during the brewing. And I made a point to really roll the flavors around in my mouth, the way I would with any other tea. Let’s see how the October teas do with a full tea tasting.

Pina Colada Green Tea

I will admit, when I saw this tea, my first thought was

Anyone who reads this blog knows that not only am I not usually a fan of flavored teas, but “dessert-y” type flavors like this are at the bottom of my list of likes (top of my list of dislikes?). But this is a tasting, not a review, so here we go.

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Right off, I could smell the coconut through the package, and it had an almost sunscreen-y aroma, but as soon as I opened it and poured it out into a warmed teapot, the scent became this rich, very true coconut aroma. It’s actually a very warm scent, which is odd for what I thought would be a summery tea. The dry green tea is medium olive-ish green and has moderately small, straight and flat leaves. It almost looks like a Japanese green tea (or a Chinese green processed like a Japanese tea?). There are also pieces of sugared pineapple and flakes of toasted coconut. I tasted one of the pineapple pieces and it’s sweet and has taken on the coconut flavor.

I first steeped this tea using one tablespoon, which was 4.8g, in a 250-ml glass teapot with 180 F water for two minutes, as per the instructions. The wet leaf had an almost savory aroma and the liquor was pale gold with a light coconut aroma. The dominant flavor was green tea, with noticeable umami and a lightly astringent finish. The coconut was an undertone to the flavor, with no noticeable sweetness and a surprisingly warm flavor.

Out of curiosity, I took the same leaves and cold-brewed them for three hours. The cold-brewed liquor was buttery and fragrant with a more pronounced fruity flavor.

Organic Vanilla Mint Rooibos

They are not kidding when they say this tea is “peppermint forward.” Again, I could smell the peppermint through the package. The dry leaf is an obvious blend of rooibos and dried peppermint leaf. The dry leaf smells strongly of peppermint, but the addition of vanilla and rooibos adds a rich depth that reminded me of a York peppermint patty. In my notes, I put a parenthetical that it “clears your sinuses.”

I used one tablespoon, which was 4.4g, in a 12-oz. mug with boiling water for five minutes. The liquor is a deep reddish brown and has a distinct aroma of each individual component, rather than blasting your sinuses with menthol like the wet and dry leaf. Peppermint is still the strongest flavor and it is a menthol-y peppermint, not a green peppermint flavor. Rooibos is the second most prominent with a rich woody flavor and the vanilla is subtle and reads as chocolate to my tastebuds, without that weird artificial vanilla flavor that happens with vanilla-flavored teas.

Organic Crimson Currants

This was the first tea I tried from the box, the day it came, as my evening cup. I like to unwind with a warm beverage after I put Elliot to bed, and I get tired of lavender-chamomile. This is a blend of dried fruit, rosehips (which are also a fruit), rooibos, and lemongrass. You can see all the components in the dry “leaf.”

I steeped one tablespoon, which was 6.5g, in 250 ml of boiling water for five minutes. The liquor is a deep crimson color and has an almost thick look to it as it pours. It has the same fruity aroma as the dry leaf. I made a note that it looks like stage blood (corn syrup and red food coloring)! The first flavor that hits you is tart, probably from the rosehips and hibiscus. It’s a thicker tartness than hibiscus usually gives, but without the sickly, almost tomato-y flavor I sometimes get from rosehips. It has a syrupy mouthfeel but no actual sweet favor. There is a little bit of lemon-candy flavor from the lemongrass. The berries are very subtle and I didn’t taste any rooibos from this at all. My final note is that “this tea is what ‘Red Zinger’ wants to be.”

Organic Masala Chai

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This, I tasted both plain and with milk and honey, since masala chai is actually a drink made with tea, not just a tea, so the traditional drink involves dairy and sweetener. The dry leaf shows a lot of whole spices like clove and cardamom among the very typical-looking Indian tea leaves. I can definitely smell the cinnamon flavoring, as it had strong, sweet cinnamon scent, like Ceylon cinnamon, but the ginger is also present as a base note to the dry leaf aroma.

To start off, I brewed one tablespoon, which was 5.9g, in 250 ml of boiling water for five minutes. The liquor “smells like Christmas,” according to my notes. There is a strong cinnamon aroma. Interestingly enough, the flavor is not overly cinnamon-y. The ginger comes through nicely and I get a little of the cardamom. It has a spicy finish, but the dominant flavor is from the Assam, with a big malt flavor, currant notes, and not too much tannin.

Adding honey to it brought out the cinnamon, and milk brings out an almost chocolatey quality. I also re-steeped this with boiling water for five minutes, giving it a little stir, and found that the ginger and cardamom were more pronounced, even when I added honey.

So there are my tastings of the four teas that came in the Tea Sparrow October 2019 box. And if you like flavored teas and are interested in trying a box, or buying any of these teas on their web store, you can use the code “TeaLeavesandTweed” on their site for a 20% discount on your first order or your first month of the subscription.

Tuesday Tasting: Mystery Oolong from Yunnan Sourcing

This Tuesday’s tasting is a tea I found in my tea cupboard that I cannot link to because I don’t know precisely which tea it is! I know it came from Yunnan Sourcing, in my oolong tea subscription box, and was from Autumn 2018, but beyond that, I have only what I can glean from my eyes, nose, and tongue because I accidentally cut off most of the label when I opened the packet.

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You can see that it is a rolled oolong that has a bit of roast and oxidation on it. The leaves are obviously rolled, but super tightly like some oolongs. I used 5g in a 120-ml gaiwan and steeped it at 190F. I rinsed and then steeped, starting with 15 seconds and increased each steeping by five seconds (except for the seventh and the ninth).

From the dry leaf, I got aromas of pipe tobacco, roasted nuts, and a faint bit of woodsmoke. After the rinse, the wet leaf smelled creamy, with notes of caramel and leather, and just a little cannabis. After the first steeping, the lid of the gaiwan smelled of toasted hazelnuts while the wet leaf smelled of spent firewood. The liquor was a medium amber-gold color and smelled of tobacco. It had a creamy mouthfeel with flavors of browned butter and a maple syrup aftertaste. The empty cup had the aroma of vanilla and wood.

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The second steeping gave a slightly richer color liquor that had more roasted aromas coming through. The lid and leaf both smelled of charcoal while the liquor still smelled of tobacco. The flavor had a bit more tartness or tannin with a bit of mineral dryness and a sweet finish. The mouthfeel was custardy and I got sandalwood on the finish. The third steeping had more sweetness still, with the same roasted and tobacco aromas.

On the fourth steeping, I noticed a cedar smoke aroma. The flavors were much lighter and I noticed I was feeling some body warmth. By the fifth steeping, the aroma seemed to be fading, along with the flavor, but I still noticed a biscuit flavor and a very smooth finish. The sixth steeping brought out charred flavors: charred meat on the aroma and a charred oak flavor, like a whisky. The seventh steeping I actually only steeped for maybe 20 seconds because I forgot to wait for it to steep before straining it. I got more of a meaty flavor, almost like a stew from this steeping.

By the eighth steeping, it seemed pretty done, though I still got that characteristic tobacco aroma, so I did a ninth and final steeping for 90 seconds, which gave the last bits of a smoky, meaty aroma and left me feeling a bit jittery.

Oddly enough, the spent leaf was a deep green color, not brown like the dry leaf and roast would suggest. It was the color of pickled grape leaves. They were still quite shriveled and upon inspecting them closer, there were no fully intact leaves. A final sniff of the leaves brought out aromas of spinach or kale and a light marine aroma.

Perhaps in the future, I would be able to actually identify a tea from such a tasting. Any guesses?

Autumn Tea Blend for Samhain

Blessed Samhain to my friends who celebrate! In this season of pumpkin spice, I sometimes find myself craving something a bit deeper, so I thought I’d share a little tea I blended up for myself today.

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I’ve long had a complicated relationship with traditional “pumpkin spice” blends, as I’m not often fond of cinnamon, except in very specific contexts. More often than not, I prefer to focus on other spices, such as the cardamom and allspice in my Regency-inspired drinking chocolate recipe. And allspice, to me, is that certain je ne sais quoi that defines autumn spice. So my blend keeps allspice, but eschews the rest.

But what it lacks in spice, it makes up for in a deep, rich roasted quality that brings to mind cool forests and evening fires. Dark roast hojicha from Hojicha.Co gives that deep, smoky campfire note, while wild rooibos from The Rare Tea Company marries with the hojicha in a beautiful and inseparable way. I spoke yesterday about my previous dislike of rooibos, but this wild rooibos tastes of earth and wood and reminds me more of a good whisky than the insipid and artificial caffeine-free flavored blends I’d had previously. Combined with hojicha and allspice, this blend tastes like autumn in a cup.

I’ve left this recipe relatively unadorned, but I imagine it might be delicious with some additions. Add a splash of apple cider or maple syrup if you prefer something sweeter. A cinnamon stick wouldn’t go amiss, if you’re into that kind of thing. The most important thing is to experiment and have fun.

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Dark Samhain Night Tea Blend

2.5g dark roast hojicha
2.5g wild rooibos
0.5g allspice berries

Add the ingredients to a teapot or infuser mug and pour 250ml of boiling water over them. Allow to steep for five minutes. Sweeten to taste, if desired, and enjoy. May be resteeped at least once with delightful results.

NB: All ingredients were purchased by me with no incentive to feature.

On My Bookshelf: Infused: Adventures in Tea

Everyone and their brother in the tea social media universe has become enamoured of Henrietta Lovell’s new book Infused: Adventures in Tea. So of course I need to add to the chorus of her praises here with my own thoughts on this fun little book. It is an ambitious work, blending memoir and tea education into a work that reminds me more of some books on yogic philosophy that I read years ago than a typical tea primer. Henrietta has led an amazing life as “The Tea Lady” and this book is foremost a collection of her experiences in tea.

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She starts at her home, where she discusses her “bed tea,” that first cup of tea in the morning, preferably drunk in bed. From there, we circle the globe, meeting tea producers and tea consumers the world over. It is perhaps worth noting that the chapters follow the teas that her company, The Rare Tea Company, sells, which is perhaps a brilliant marketing strategy because as I read the book, I became enchanted by the stories she tells and wanted to try the teas. So I can now make myself a cup of her White Silver Tips as my own cup of bed tea and have a little ponder about this delightful little book.

I think the thing that makes this book so utterly enjoyable is that you get a clear sense of Henrietta’s personality in her writing style. She is a classic British lady (English, mostly, and Scottish when it suits her) with a love of tea and red lipstick. How could I resist? While I have not had the pleasure of meeting her in person, as she had not yet made plans to come to Washington, D.C., on her tour, friends who have met her insist she is exactly like you would imagine from the book. As an avid reader of fiction, it is charming to believe that one of these characters from a book I loved might be walking around in my world. As she travels the globe investigating tea and other plants, she often gives her guests in each chapter the starring role, but there is enough personal anecdote to feel like you’re in the room with Henrietta as she regales you with stories of her life.

And while I’ve mentioned that the book serves as an excellent advertisement for her company’s teas, it doesn’t come off as artificial. The desire to try her teas is so strong precisely because she gives the teas and farmers the stage, letting them present themselves, rather than sounding like a salesperson. By punctuating her chapters with recipes, she entices you to try her tea, though she always writes to allow that you may order the same variety of tea elsewhere. And her final appendix on making a good cup of tea is approachable to anyone with an interest in tea, not just the expert or connoissieur. While she herself uses a gaiwan and often drinks tea gongfu style with tea masters, she does not demand it of her reader, nor does she presume to educate on these forms. Her book is about the leaf, first and foremost.

Perhaps the highest praise I can personally give this book is that her immersive prose has convinced me to give a second chance to a tea I have for years thought I despised: rooibos. Her chapter on the farmer who grows Rare Tea Company’s Wild Rooibos is excellent and her description of the complex flavor of the infusion made me second guess my own convictions. And the conviction that I dislike rooibos has long been my most firmly-held. But upon tasting Rare Tea Company’s Wild Rooibos, prepared using the method in Henrietta’s book, I found a warm cup that rivaled the complexity of my favorite whiskies.

So those are my thoughts on this lovely book. It is certainly one I would recommend to any tea lover, or as a gift to anyone with even a passing interest in tea. I am already wondering who among my friends and family might receive a copy for the holidays.

NB: I purchased everything mentioned in this post with my own money and was provided no incentive to review or feature them.