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.

Tea Review: Yunnan Sourcing Oolong Tea Subscription

It has been a while since I’ve done regular tea reviews on the blog, but I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve been drinking. While I was pregnant, I got very into oolong teas, and that hasn’t changed as I’ve navigated motherhood. One of my favorite things about oolong is that it’s generally the easiest tea I’ve found to brew grandpa-style because the leaves are very big, and I don’t find most oolongs get particularly bitter or astringent if they sit for a while. So when my mom offered to pay for a tea subscription to go along with the gorgeous silver teapot she bought me for my birthday in March, I knew I would be going for oolong, despite the fact that it’s perhaps not the best suited for brewing in silver.

So I joined the Yunnan Sourcing Tea Club and got a subscription for their Oolong Tea Box. Now, after three months of the subscription, I decided to cancel, but that was mostly due to having to save space for my upcoming move (although a bit of it is that my tea tastes run very seasonally — in the future, I might write a post about my ideal tea subscription). But for three months, I enjoyed a monthly box of surprise oolong teas (yes, they post what each month’s box will be, but I didn’t usually look before I got my package).

Because I’m not reviewing specific months, I’m not going to focus on the specific teas I received. In the future, I might start filming tasting videos again and share some of them. But as a whole, the tea box was full of interesting teas, many of which were styles that I wouldn’t have tried on my own. I’d never really gotten into dan cong oolongs and at least one month featured them heavily. It also featured teas harvested within the last year, so it didn’t feel like I was getting overstock of teas that didn’t sell.

The amount was actually maybe a little more than I could get through, given that I didn’t always want to drink the teas from the boxes, but I think that if I ever wanted to exclusively drink teas from a subscription, this would be how I would do it. My original thought behind getting a subscription was just that — as a new mom, I didn’t spend as much time looking at interesting teas online, so having them picked out and sent to me worked well. But I was getting in excess of 100g of tea per month, which, given my immediate-postpartum consumption of just 2-3g of tea per day (grandpa-style), was more than enough to hold me. Now that I’ve gone back to regular gongfu sessions, I could probably get through 150g or so in a month.

Finally, I think one of the main complaints I hear about Yunnan Sourcing is that their selection is daunting. I get it. I pretty much only buy from them when I’m in the market for something pretty specific. But the upshot is that I don’t branch out quite as much. One of my favorite teas from them was a sample that Scott threw into an order. The tea subscription feels a lot like what would happen if you just asked Scott to send you something good each month.

So my bottom line is that if you’re a regular tea drinker, have a definitive favorite type of tea, and have decision fatigue, give the Yunnan Sourcing subscriptions a try. I imagine the “curated samplers” are similar in quality, for a one-off experience.

NB: While this subscription was given to me as a gift from a family member, I was not given any particular incentive to review it and all thoughts are my own.

A Tea Update: Further Thoughts on Simple Loose Leaf

Well, I’ve been a member of the Simple Loose Leaf monthly tea subscription for about nine months now. It doesn’t seem like that long, but I suppose that is because most of the tea rarely sits around for long in my cupboard. I’ve also ordered from them many times to have tea for the month at work.

I’ve found that pretty much every month, there is one tea in which I have no interest. But just one. Generally, I get 4-5 sample packs per month and at least three of them spark my interest. This month, they sent my two favorites, magnolia oolong and Earl Grey, along with a green tea I’m looking forward to trying.

I’ve also discovered that I sometimes enjoy a simply flavored, decaffeinated black tea in the evenings. One month, they sent a decaffeinated vanilla-flavored black tea. This month, it was blackberry-flavored. With a touch of sugar (and milk in the vanilla tea), they’re a lovely warming evening cuppa. I’ve even had that instead of a dessert some evenings. I may actually add a pack of the vanilla-flavored one to my order this month.

My system of using my monthly discount code to buy three types of tea has been working wonderfully. I’m spending much less on tea than I used to, and I always have a lovely variety at my desk. I get one green tea, one black tea, and one oolong tea to keep at work and then drink from the sample packs on the weekends.

Of course, like all relationships, not all days can be good. I’ve had one or two hiccups with Simple Loose Leaf. One possible complaint is that it can sometimes take a while for the tea to ship, but I attribute that to it being a small company and I would rather patronize a small company than always get my tea in two days. As far as specific incidents, once I had a monthly box fail to ship. After inquiring where my box was, they immediately realized their mistake and shipped it out post-haste. The other time, I received my order and realized it was the wrong one. After again apologizing, they immediately shipped out my proper order and I kept both orders. I actually got to try a couple of teas I would not have otherwise ordered, and I had a full-sized pack of tea to gift to a friend of mine on a whim. Even the problems have been overwhelmingly positive experiences, so I will forgive them their quirks.

All in all, I’m enjoying my Simple Loose Leaf subscription. I know I have been remiss at showing off the boxes as they come, so if any readers are interested in seeing each month’s box, I’d be happy to share. I plan on tasting the green tea I received this month with my guywan this weekend, so I will share that. Otherwise, know that I do recommend this service.

Simple Loose Leaf: An Update and Something New and Exciting

It’s been a few months since I last talked about my tea subscription. I’m still a member, which says something, as I usually tire of subscription services in a couple months. While I do get at least one tea every month that I could do without, I’m still finding the “ooh, this looks interesting”s outnumber the “meh”s.

In fact, Boyfriend often snickers at me when I open my new month’s box, as I start looking at teas and end up with a progressively-increasing level of oohs and ahhs. I’ve found some new favorites that I’ve ordered full ounces of. I’ve also determined that 3 oz. of tea will last me roughly a month of work days, so I’ve been placing an order approximately once a month with one green, one black, and one oolong tea to keep at work, and then using my samples on the weekend. This system has been working pretty well, although I’m currently out of oolong tea at home, which is not beneficial for anyone. Anyone who is interested in trying the club can either visit the website directly, or click my personal referral link. Hint: They ship to both the US and Canada.

This month’s box had a Genmaicha green tea (sushi restaurant tea), an Assam black tea (the muscatel note of Assam teas goes well with autumn’s chill), a toasted Mate, and a citrusy herbal blend. While I’m not the biggest mate fan, I know my sister is, so I may see if she wants to try any of my collection of mate samples. But the other three will go quickly, I think, as they are well-suited to the season and my own tastes. I’m still working my way through some of last month’s samples, including a decaffeinated Sencha that I just tried yesterday when I wanted my first cup of tea of the day in the afternoon. It had all the delicate appeal of a cup of Sencha, but I slept rather well that evening without the caffeine.

But Simple Loose Leaf is not content to have a solid monthly tea subscription that appeals to a wide audience of mostly tea purists. No, they want to ensure everyone gets the tea they enjoy with even more precision. To that end, they’re prototyping a personalized subscription, where you can choose up to three out of four options. If you hate anything but plain black tea, you can just subscribe to the Traditional Black Tea club and get only unflavored or traditionally flavored (think Earl Grey, not Mocha Strawberry madness) black teas. Or those who eschew caffeine can choose the Herbal or Caffeine-Free clubs.

They plan on launching this club on the first of January, but only if they have enough interest. So if you are at all intrigued, I encourage you to head over to their website and pre-order one or more of their monthly tea clubs. The link above will give you the option to either join their current tea of the month club, or pre-order a customized tea membership. If they get enough pre-orders, we get our boxes, but they won’t charge us if the experiment doesn’t generate enough interest.

Also, remember that tea club members receive 50% off purchases in their store, so I’ve been able to keep myself in tea for half-price.

Simple Loose Leaf: An Update

So last month, I discussed my first couple months, and a subsequent shop order from Simple Loose Leaf. I’ve continued to receive boxes and thought I’d share further thoughts. This month’s box showed me the value not only of their teas, but also their customer service. You see, May 11th rolled around and I still hadn’t seen a box. Concerned that I might have missed it, I contacted the company to see if there was some delay.

It turns out there was a glitch in their system and my box hadn’t shipped with the rest. The guy I talked to (one of the co-founders of the company) apologized profusely, promised to put my box in the mail immediately, and offered me a discount on my next month to make up for the delay. It was quite possibly one of the most sincere customer service exchanges I’d ever encountered. And just a few days later, I had my tea!

And let me tell you, it was worth the wait. This month’s box was four samples of pure, unflavored, unadulturated tea (well, three teas and a yerba mate). I’ve tried two of them already, an oolong and an Irish breakfast black tea, and both are fantastic. The oolong is a more oxidized oolong with strong honey and floral flavors, while the Irish breakfast has that characteristic Assam raisin note. I’m definitely going to buy more of the oolong. There’s also a Chinese green tea that I haven’t tried yet, but I’m thinking of tasting in the guywan set I got for Christmas.

All in all, I’m so glad I started this subscription and I highly recommend it to any tea lover!

[Disclaimer: I purchased my subscription to Simple Loose Leaf myself and have not been given any incentive in exchange for any review.]

Simple Loose Leaf: First Boxes, and Early Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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