Tea Review: Path of Cha Da Hong Pao and Golden Monkey

NB: The teas featured here were sent to me in exchange for review. All thoughts are my own.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to win a couple teas from Path of Cha on Instagram, and I was thoroughly enjoying them. About a month or so later, Angie from Path of Cha reached out and asked if I’d be interested in trying more and reviewing them on the blog, so I agreed readily. We discussed a bit and I mentioned how the cooling weather has me craving some darker oolongs and black teas, so they put together a couple of black and oolong teas for me to try. Less than a week later, I had my package in hand (similarly to how quickly my giveaway winnings arrived) and I’ve been enjoying trying them out. I suppose since I’ve finished one and I’m nearly finished with the other, it’s time to offer my review.

First of all, Path of Cha has fantastic service in terms of website and shipping. Their website is full of information for anyone at any point in their tea journey. I’ve enjoyed their blog and YouTube channel for a while, and the individual listings for each tea give a good amount of information, including little stories about each tea. They’re located in Brooklyn, NY, so it’s not surprising that the tea gets to me quite quickly. And shipping is free for orders over $40 and under $4 otherwise. But perhaps my favorite thing is that they obviously personalize the instructions on each package. Each package has a suggested water temperature, and parameters for brewing Western style and gong fu style. They don’t make any judgments on how you enjoy your tea.

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“Golden Monkey” Jin Hou Black Tea: This is a classic Chinese black tea, and the Path of Cha version is a delightful representation of it. I first tried this tea on a morning when I didn’t have time for a full tea session because we were meeting friends for a walk on a Saturday morning and I just needed something warm and caffeinated to put in a flask. It certainly fit that bill. I steeped it Western-style and had to pour it into the flask after just a few sips, and it held beautifully, warming me on an early morning walk around the garden.

When I had more time, I was able to explore it gong fu style and really taste the full development of flavors. I got chocolate and malt from the aroma of the dry leaf, which is curly and flecked with gold tips. The first infusion or so is mellow and delicate, with burnt sugar and honey in the aroma and malt and cereal in the flavor, but it expands into something very rich and round and perfect for cooler weather, with just enough astringency that you know you’re drinking black tea, but not so much that your mouth dries out or you feel the need to add anything to it. As the flavors develop, I get fruitcake and brandy, so I imagine this will work well into winter. It lasted about six steepings before the flavor started to fade, but it faded so slowly that I got another few steepings before it really felt spent.

It’s such a well-balanced tea that it works beautifully steeped grandpa-style. I’ve had plenty of mornings where I get up at 5:30, set the kettle before getting into the shower, and can make tea in less than a minute by chucking a couple grams into a mug and topping with water after I get out. Twenty-five grams of this tea sells for $10 on their website.

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Organic “Big Red Robe” Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea: I first tried Da Hong Pao for my tea sessions inspired by the Crazy Rich Asians series, as it’s infamous as one of the most expensive teas in the world (when it comes from one of the original ancient trees). But non-ancient DHP is a delightful roasted oolong that doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. This one is only $14 for twenty-five grams.

I dove right into steeping this one gong fu style and was rewarded for my efforts. I went eight steepings with this and found each one a new experience. The aroma goes from caramel and biscuits on the dry leaf to a mineraly, almost peaty aroma on the wet leaf after a few steepings. The empty cup aroma has intense vanilla and pipe tobacco notes, with the roast and smokiness coming through later on. And the flavor is sweet and bright to begin, with the roast coming through later, but never with that old-coffee-grounds flavor that some over-roasted oolongs get. This stays smoky and with notes of bitter chocolate and sweetness. I don’t normally think of oolong as a tea with a lot of cha qi, but I definitely felt something after several steepings of this.

This one is also beautiful grandpa-style, though the complex flavors all kind of blend together, so I tried to stop myself from using this all up in the early mornings. But it’s rich and satisfying and just feels like sitting in front of a low fire with a soft cashmere blanket when I drink it. In fact, when a colleague offered me some caramel apple tea because she thought it tastes like fall, I decided to offer her some of this because this is what I think fall tastes like. I’ve hoarded it a bit, but I’m likely to finish it off this week, and I’m almost certain to buy some more.

Tea Review: Craftedleaf Teas

NB: This sample set was sent to me for the cost of shipping for review, but all opinions are my own.

Recently, someone from Craftedleaf Teas got in touch with me and offered me a chance to try some of their teas for just the cost of shipping. Honestly, I was on the fence about getting more review samples, but I’d seen a few other friends on Instagram raving about their Bilochun and I was intrigued by their Lapsang Souchong, so I accepted. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen me tasting them over the last few weeks, and you may have caught my recent video where I tasted one of their teas, but I thought I should organize my complete thoughts into a longer-form review here.

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First of all, their website is rather gorgeous, and relatively easy to navigate. Every listing gives the full information for the tea, along with instructions for brewing gongfu style and Western style, which is nice, particularly if you’re like me and lose the little packet of instructions that were included in the box! It’s nice because the instructions are obviously tailored to each tea, rather than just giving the same instructions for everything.

I received the Fullhouse Sample Set, which retails for $23 and includes 10 grams each of six different teas, two oolongs, a green, a white, a raw pu’er, and a black. Shipping from Hong Kong to the US was $8, and it arrived twelve calendar days after I placed the order. They also included a 5-gram sample of another dark tea. Looking at the prices, Craftedleaf tea is not as inexpensive as a place like Yunnan Sourcing, but they’re not outrageously expensive, especially for quality tea. Plus, the extra information on the website and the sense of curation suggests a higher-touch experience. Interestingly enough, the founders of the company both come from the two regions of China that lay claim to the origins of gongfu brewing. I particularly appreciate that they are able to use language on their site to express their careful curation, without resorting to calling themselves “luxury.”

When my tea arrived (much sooner than I expected), I broke into the box almost immediately. The seven sleek, white envelopes were carefully packed along with a little book of paper slips containing the information and brewing parameters suggested for each tea. While I jumped on the Bilochun right away, it didn’t take me long to try every tea, sometimes brewing more than one per day (something I haven’t done since before I got pregnant last year). I’ve now tasted all the teas at least once, and some more than that.

Tasting Notes:

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Spring 2019 Dong Ting Lake Bilochun: Because this was the first tea I tasted, I tasted it three ways. I first brewed it gongfu style, using 5g, as suggested; then, I tried it Western style with 3g; finally, I brewed it grandpa-style, by simply putting the remaining 2g into a mug and sipping on it throughout the day. This is a remarkably delicate tea, with a sweet fragrance and mild liquor. It doesn’t get bitter or unpleasant, even brewed for a long time. And I was able to re-steep it even when I brewed it Western style.

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2017 Ba Da Shan Wild Tree Raw Puerh: This tea, I steeped using Marco’s ten-step tasting process that I outlined in my last video. It is a remarkably well-balanced tea, with the aromatic complexity I expect from a sheng, but without the bitterness you might fear from one so young. And, wow, I got some serious energy off this one, even after just one steeping.

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Spring 2019 Wuyi Golden Horse Eyebrow: This was the extra sample that was included in my order and I’m so glad they included it. This was an absolutely fascinating tea. The damp leaves after the first steeping smelled of rich, black pumpernickel bread, and the tea itself had that flavor at first. But then, over later steepings, the most glorious sweet rose scent and flavor came through. Of all the teas I received, this is probably the most likely that I would buy for myself (once I’ve gone through my stash!).

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Spring 2019 Song Dynasty Old Bush Milan Dancong Oolong: This was the most disappointing of the bunch. Despite the description, I found the roast on this to be too heavy. I love Phoenix Oolongs and I was sad that the roast seemed to obscure a lot of the honey and orchid flavors, to my tastes. But it was still enjoyable, especially if you like a smokier tea.

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Spring 2019 Golden Tip Lapsang Souchong: This was the one that both excited me and worried me. My only experience with Lapsang has been the smoked Western-style variety and I am not a fan. I felt a little thrill of contrary joy when a tea sommelier on a podcast I listened to recently called it “bro tea” because I felt somewhat vindicated. But I know that Lapsang, as a category, is well-loved, even among tea connoisseurs. So I was eager to try this one. And it did not disappoint. It has a pronounced caramel sweetness and a rich body, but with bitter notes more akin to really good chocolate than an astringent tea. I even got a bit of pine aroma from the leaves after the last couple of steepings. And I got a bit of energy off it.

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Spring 2019 Organic Wild Baimudan: I may have come to a realization — I don’t think I actually like Baimudan. Now, what does this have to do with this tea? Well, this is probably the most enjoyable Baimudan I’ve ever had. It was a balance of flowers and hay, without too many off flavors, and a pleasant thickness in the mouth without being cloying or syrupy. And yet, I personally found it only okay. But my conclusion is that if I didn’t like this Baimudan, I probably just don’t prefer the tea as a type, because this was a good Baimudan.

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Spring 2019 Premium Anxi Tieguanyin: Tieguanyin is one of my favorite teas, which is why it is odd that I saved this one for last. Perhaps I didn’t want to color my opinion of the rest of the samples if this one turned out to be disappointing. Well, I needn’t have worried. This is an exemplary TGY. It has an unctuous, creamy liquor with a fragrant floral aroma and flavor, the creaminess punctuated by a citrus brightness that is really quite enjoyable. And look at those leaves! They’re huge, and hardly a stem among them.

So those are my honest thoughts on the Fullhouse Sample Set. One thing that struck me throughout my tastings was that every tea seemed very thoughtfully selected. They all had complexity and interest, even those that weren’t my favorites. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to investigate this company that I might not have otherwise found.

Tea Review: Adagio Teas Jasmine Phoenix Pearls

Earlier this month I had a birthday and one thing that people know I will always appreciate for my birthday is tea. Because my mother knows me very well, she got me a pack of jasmine tea because I love jasmine. I don’t tend to drink a lot of flavored teas, with the notable exception of traditional flavors — so Earl Grey, the occasional masala chai, and floral-scented green and oolong teas. And rolled jasmine green tea is a particular favorite.

Adagio Teas is probably the way I first got really into loose-leaf tea. I do remember visiting Teavana when one opened in a nearby shopping mall, but instead of buying there, I went home and opened up our newfangled internet machine to search “The ‘Web” for a way to find even more high-quality teas. I stumbled upon Adagio and first learned the joys of loose leaf tea. These Jasmine Phoenix-Dragon Pearls might have even been in my first order because I found the name romantic and lovely, and even as a teenager preferred deep floral scents to the typical light scents favored by my peers.

But since then, I’ve moved beyond the one-stop shopping experience of Adagio Teas, so they don’t often feature in my rotation when I decide what to review. So because it seems appropriate for early spring, I thought I’d add some florals to my tea reviews. You know, for spring.

The Adagio Teas Jasmine Phoenix (also called Dragon) Pearls are described as hand-rolled young tea leaves and buds, scented with jasmine. They are delicate and pretty to look at, with some variation in the color of the leaf, as well as a few white jasmine buds sprinkled in to enhance the look of the dry tea. When they steep, you can watch them unfurl into small leaves. The jasmine scent, particularly of the first infusion, is heady, and I find that it does best when it’s steeped for about a minute at first, and then as little as possible on subsequent infusions, until the strength of the tea settles down a bit.

The brewed tea, if not allowed to oversteep, is luscious and almost sweet-tasting. It smells heavily of jasmine, but also of the vegetal notes of good-quality Chinese green tea. While the first steeping will always have the strongest flavoring for any scented tea, this tea maintains a respectable jasmine punch for several steepings, although as you go on, you’ll find the qualities of the green tea coming through more and more. While Chinese green teas are not my favorite, this is a lovely example of one.

Adagio Teas is known in the tea community for being a bit overpriced for their quality, but there are a great place for someone who is new to tea to go and learn a bit about loose leaf teas before diving into sourcing teas more directly. Their website is visually pleasing and provides good information and reviews to help you choose a tea. And the fact that they offer small samples of almost all their teas is a fantastic bonus.

NB: I was not paid or encouraged to write this review. While the tea in question was a gift, it was not a gift from the company. All thoughts are my own. Read more about my sponsorship and review policies here.

Tea Review: Brief Reviews of Everything Made by Pique Tea (plus a bonus recipe!)

NB: I purchased everything reviewed here for full price with my own money directly from Pique Tea. Pique Tea did offer me a discount code after my initial post on Instagram about their Jasmine tea, but I had already ordered all of this and didn’t use it.

Pique Tea is an interesting company. They claim their product has the same health benefits as high-quality, brewed loose-leaf tea, but in a powdered product. I first saw them at a local herb store and was intrigued. I figured if it wasn’t terrible, it would be a great way to take tea to conferences without having to worry about bags and steeping times and water temperature. When I tried the flavor I first got (Jasmine), I was so impressed, I decided to buy everything and review it all in one go.

Since I love Tracy’s mega-review of Glossier over at Fanserviced-B, I thought I’d do my review in a similar style. I should probably give a little info about my likes and dislikes and how I do tea. First of all, I love the ritual of tea, so something like this is never going to fully replace my tea leaves. But two things have come up for me recently. First of all, I travel semi-regularly and never know what the situation is going to be in terms of tea availability at conferences. Since I’m supposed to be a representative of my organization, I strive not to appear too eccentric or high-maintenance when I travel, which means that loose-leaf tea is pretty much out. I’m stuck with tea bags, and I have to worry that I’ll get caught up in a conversation and forget how long I’ve steeped my tea. These tea crystals definitely work great for travel, and I even convinced a researcher at a recent conference to try them for her field expeditions!

Second is that my husband and I have been trying to have a baby, and one of the things to worry about is caffeine intake. Because most of the information about caffeine in tea out there is pretty much wrong, and it varies so much due to factors such as brewing parameters, using a product like Pique helps me get a better handle on how much caffeine I’m consuming. They not only test their products and post the caffeine range on each product’s page, they also report numbers that I find believable and not just taken from old estimates of caffeine in general tea types. For example, they report that their Jasmine Green Tea has a higher level of caffeine than their Earl Grey Black Tea, which goes contrary to the conventional thought that green tea has less caffeine than black tea, but is more in line with more accurate research that suggests that processing doesn’t affect caffeine levels as much as previously thought.

But how do they taste? I tested all of the flavors I received, using Pique’s preparation guidelines, and then tweaking it for myself, and I’ve come to a ranking of the Good, the Okay, and the Not-so-Good. Are these going to have the same delicate nuance as a session with a high-grade loose-leaf, carefully selected, and brewed precisely in the perfect teaware for the leaf? No. Do they offer oolong tea? No (darn). But compared to the kinds of mid-range teas you can get from companies like Teavana, Adagio, and Rishi Tea, they hold their own. Here are the details:

The Good:

Jasmine Green Tea: This was the first one I tried and I was impressed. This tastes exactly like a brewed cup of Rishi Tea full-leaf Jasmine Green Tea. Plus, I just love jasmine tea.

Sencha Green Tea: This has that classic Japanese restaurant tea taste. It doesn’t have the ocean notes of really good sencha tea, but it’s a solid Japanese green tea.

Mint Sencha Green Tea: This brings back memories of Teavana Moroccan Mint tea. I like it in the afternoons after a snack or right after lunch to cleanse my palate and keep me from snacking more.

Peach Ginger Black Tea: This is a weird choice for me to like, but it tastes like exactly what I wish Republic of Tea’s Peach Ginger Black Tea tasted like. A great ginger kick, subtly peachy, but not cloying. I haven’t tried this iced, but I imagine it will be great that way, too.

The Okay:

English Breakfast Black Tea: I find the other two Pique black teas to be a bit harsh drunk plain. So this is just okay, but it really makes a fantastic morning cuppa with a splash of milk and a spoonful of sugar or honey. I actually drink a sweet milky cup of this before going to the gym in the early morning.

Earl Grey Black Tea: Again, too harsh on its own, but it has some really interesting honey notes to it, if you can get past the bitterness. But it does make a really amazing Earl Grey Latte (recipe at the end of this post!)

Passion Fruit Green Tea: It isn’t really this tea’s fault that I don’t think it’s great. I really don’t prefer nontraditional fruity teas. But it’s a great representation of a not-too-cloying fruity green tea. Again, probably would be great iced.

The Pique Cup: I couldn’t call this great because, well, it’s just a cup. But it’s attractive, has a sort of millennial-minimalist flair, and the double-walled construction does a great job of insulating your hands from the hot beverage. It’s not my style, but if you’re into it, it’s sturdy but not clunky and holds the perfect cup of tea.

The Bad:

Hibiscus Mint Herbal Tea: I hate stevia. I hate all non-nutritive sweeteners, so I don’t really single out stevia. But stevia has crept into “healthy” foods and beverages and to my taste, has ruined them. And it’s a shame, because once my taste buds started saturating a little to the stevia taste, I could detect some really nice tart and herbal notes in this tea. But I haven’t had more than my first cup because I really hate stevia. If they ever decided to try a non-sweetened version of this, I’d be first in line to try it again.

So there are my thoughts. Most of the teas are not bad and worth buying again. I know I’ll almost certainly buy the three non-fruity green teas again, and possibly the English Breakfast, for the ease of my pre-gym cuppa (seriously, I go from bed to car in 15 minutes when I’m going to the gym, so five minutes to steep a cup of tea counts). And now, as promised, my recipe for a Lavender Honey Earl Grey Tea Latte:

Ingredients:

1 packet of Pique Earl Grey Black Tea
1 cup of milk (I used full-fat goat’s milk)
1 tsp. dried lavender buds
1-2 tsp. honey (to taste)

Add the packet of Earl Grey tea crystals to your cup. Add the lavender, honey, and milk to a small saucepan and put over medium-low heat. Heat over the course of 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the honey has dissolved and it reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (no more than 180 degrees). Strain into the cup with the tea crystals, making sure your strainer does not touch the surface of the liquid in the cup. Froth with an electric hand frother for a few seconds, until a little foam forms. Drink as soon as it’s cooled off enough.

Tea Review: White2Tea Tea Reviews, the Black and the White

NB: I received these products for review for free from the company, but all opinions are my own. More about my review sample policies here.

I’m going to take a break from recapping Scotland today to continue my reviews of the generous PR samples that I received from White2Tea recently. Today, I’m going to talk about the two full-sized products they sent me. I was absolutely delighted to see that Paul included both a full-sized brick of their ChocoBrick White Tea, and their A&P Black Tea. I tasted both teas by using the recommended brewing methods from White2Tea, as well as brewing the ways I like to enjoy tea.

ChocoBrick White Tea: This is a large-leafed, sun-dried Yunnan white tea that has been compressed into a 100g brick that is scored for easy breaking into nine portions. So each portion is about 11g. This is a little much for my 150ml gaiwan, but I did persevere to taste it first in gaiwan. This takes a bit to get going, so the first steep or two were light, but eventually, it brews a very richly-flavored, floral cup of tea. It’s quite pleasant, although I felt like I was wasting too much of the potential of the tea steeping in gaiwan. So I tried it grandpa-style in my large china tea cup and enjoyed that just as much. Honestly, I don’t think I would repurchase this simply because I think it is scored into portions that are too big. Each block can provide so much flavor that I felt like, even steeping grandpa-style over an entire day, I was probably wasting much of the tea’s potential. And the brick is not easy to break except along the scores. So I will probably save the rest of this tea to enjoy with friends, when I’m brewing for more than myself.

A&P Black Tea: This tea somewhat exemplifies what I think of when I think of White2Tea: an interesting tea, pressed into a cake, and named after a deep literary reference (in this case a short story by John Updike). This is a deep, full-bodied Yunnan Dianhong black tea that has been pressed into a traditional large bing cake. The tea pick that Paul included in the order came in handy for this one. I find it easy to pick off a portion of tea suitable for any style and size of brewing vessel. I did enjoy this in gaiwan, but thought the rich mouthfeel, raisin-y flavors, and round tannins suited a western style of brew as well. I also brewed this up one morning when I just wanted a cuppa black tea, without much attention or care for the leaf, and found it just as delightful. I would buy this again.

All-in-all, I was impressed with these two offerings from White2Tea, but now it is time to move on to their bread-and-butter, the Pu’er teas. Stay tuned for after the Scotland recap finishes for those reviews!

White2Tea Reviews, Part One: The Oolongs

NB: These teas were sent to me free for review, though all opinions are my own, and I have not been given any monetary compensation for this review. There are no affiliate links in this review.

So a little while ago, I got in touch with Paul from white2tea and he offered to send me “some samples.” When the box arrived, I was overwhelmed at his generosity. I received samples of three different pu-erhs (one ripe, two raw), two different oolongs, and full pressed cakes of a white tea and a black tea. And a tea pick. Whew. So needless to say, I haven’t even gotten to all the teas yet, but I thought I’d start sharing my reviews, starting with the two oolongs.

I got enough in each sample to allow for 2-3 sessions with each tea, so the first session I did strictly according to their guidelines: in gaiwan, with a 5 second rinse, and then steepings starting at 5 seconds and increasing 5 additional seconds for each subsequent. I basically went until I felt like the tea had given its all. After that, I tried each tea with one of my standard daily brewing practices, either steeped four times for a bit longer each time, or grandpa-style.

Milan Dancong: This is one of the infamous “Duck Shit” varieties of tea from the Guangdong province of China. The story is that a farmer found this beautiful style of tea and gave it an unpleasant name to deter other farmers from stealing it. Whatever the story, this does not smell like excrement, but instead flowers and honey and a bit of the classic oolong scent, which I think smells a bit like cannabis. The brew is light and subtle, especially at first, but it soon releases a strong flavor in subsequent steepings, even becoming nutty or smoky. I also found it utterly delightful drunk grandpa-style. This is not an inexpensive tea, and so it’s one I would consider repurchasing if I were craving a really lovely oolong for special days, but not one I would necessarily repurchase for every day. But we shall see how the increasingly hot weather affects my desire for heavier oolongs and my sensibility with money.

Shui Xian: This, on the other hand, is a medium-heavy roast oolong with what I consider the “classic Chinese restaurant tea” character that I notice in Wuyi oolongs. At various points in the steeping, I got floral and honey flavors, but later smoke and earth and even tobacco flavors. It does have a pronounced minerality that blends well with the earthy quality, and a touch of sweetness. This was also beautiful steeped grandpa-style, although I had to be careful not to forget about it too much at first. This is one I would absolutely buy again, once I’ve worked my way through my stash a bit, possibly in the autumn when I start to crave heavier-roasted oolongs. The photo above shows this tea steeped grandpa-style after refilling the water three times.