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.

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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.