Tuesday Tasting: Fortune Teller by Aera Tea Co.

I’m tasting another tea from my Tea Thoughts Halloween box today! This week, I’m tasting the Fortune Teller Nepalese black tea from Aera Tea Co. This is a pretty classic black tea and I was excited to sit down and taste it, at least for a couple of infusions, since I already knew it as a very cozy cup of black tea to just be with on a chilly morning.

But first, let’s talk about the name. Fortune Teller is an obvious reference to the archetype of the tea-leaf reader, which comes from Romani culture. The Romani people, originally from the Indian subcontinent, traveled throughout Asia, Europe, and parts of Africa, often following some of the same land routes that brought trade between Asia and Europe. They have communities all over the world today, and one of their most well-known cultural practices are those related to divination, such as tarot and tea-leaf reading.

While the practice became very popular in Britain, likely from existing folk practices of reading wax drippings and other nondistinct shapes, tasseography — divination from the leavings in a cup — originated in Romani culture and it is directly from their influence that these divination practices not only spread around the European world, but became wildly popular. It is important to remember these origins, as the archetype of the “fortune teller” often falls into the trap of stereotyping and harmful generalization based on racist tropes used against the Romani (particularly a certain word, beginning with G, that is often used as a synonym for “free spirit,” but in reality is a slur against the Romani). So I thought it was important to acknowledge the Romani contribution to the landscape of divinatory practices in the modern world, as their contributions permeate it, despite rarely being credited.

Anyway, on to the tea. I used 5 grams in my 120-ml fish teapot with boiling water. I warmed the pot and got aromas of black bread and raisins from the dry leaf. The first infusion was for twenty seconds, after which the wet leaf smelled of brown sugar and dark chocolate. The liquor itself had an intensely smooth, creamy texture in the mouth, a faint sweet aroma, and a sweet, bready flavor. The tannin was extremely mild and there was a very subtle bitter aftertaste, but like chocolate or coffee, and not unpleasant.

The second steeping, for thirty seconds, brought out some rose aromas on the leaf and liquor. The texture was still that same amazing creamy smoothness and the flavor was mellow and chocolate-y. After the third steeping, for forty seconds, I noticed that the flavors and aroma were remarkably consistent, so I stopped taking notes and instead chose to simply enjoy this tea as long as it steeped out. The lack of bitterness makes me wonder if it might be a good candidate for winter grandpa-style brewing.

So a short tasting session today, but a thoroughly enjoyable one. I’m excited to have had a chance to taste this tea because it has made me curious about Aera’s other offerings.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

Tuesday Tasting: Witch’s Broom from Ohio Tea Co.

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Hallowe’en might be over, but I’m still in the spooky season mood, so what better tea than to brew than the most intriguing one from the Tea Thoughts Countdown to Halloween box? This was day eight’s gift and was the perfect tea to ring in the Hallowe’en season. Witch’s Broom from the Ohio Tea Co. is a raw puerh tea that is sold as a maocha, or loose leaves, and is so named because the long, large leaves (similar to a Tai Ping Hou Kui) look like besoms or brooms.

I decided to use MyTeaPal to brew because I was curious how it did with a more focused tasting, including notes, which I hadn’t tried yet, plus I seem to have misplaced my tea-tasting notebook. I brewed 5g of dry leaf in my 150-ml porcelain pot from Bitterleaf Teas with 190F water, as recommended by the package.

Immediately upon taking out the leaves, I noticed an earthy aroma, which only became more pronounced when I put them into the warmed pot. I did rinse them, as I tend to do with puerh, and noticed a damp earth and fragrant wood aroma on the wet leaf. I did my first infusion for ten seconds, after which, the liquor was very light in flavor, with hints of licorice and wood smoke.

The second infusion, which was for fifteen seconds, yielded a more pronounced juicy mouthfeel and smooth texture. The woody sweetness persisted, along with a stronger smoke note after the tea had been allowed to cool for a few minutes. The third infusion, for twent seconds, yielded a lighter flavor, though more smoke in the aromas. I was impressed by the utter lack of bitterness in this tea. Interestingly, while the packet says that this tea is aged for five years, the website says that the tea is from 2001, so it’s unclear just how long it has aged. My naive tastebuds suggest that the longer time might be correct.

On the fourth infusion, for thirty seconds, the leaf aroma seemed to be fading, but the texture was still smooth and juicy, with a slight fruity tang on the flavor, along with that subtle, but distinct, smoke flavor note. It’s interesting because this isn’t the kind of smoke note that would be on a smoked tea, but you can tell that there is some kind of smokiness to it, like when you sit near-ish to a campfire and still have some linger smoke aroma on your clothes, even after they’ve been airing overnight. In the puerh class I took with Victoria from MeiMei Fine Teas, she said that the smoke notes in puerhs usually come from the way that the teas are processed at the kill green stage, which is sometimes done in woks over wood fires, causing the leaves to pick up that subtle smokiness.

At the fifth infusion, for forty-five seconds, I noticed the flavor fading, but it still had such a nice mouthfeel that I was still enjoying the tea. That was the same for the sixth infusion, for a minute, so I decided to end the formal tasting there, though I might continue enjoying this tea throughout the day.

I will say, the shape of the leaves, and the little I know about the tea culture in the rural regions where puerhs were historically produced, suggests that this tea might be better enjoyed grandpa-style. Sadly, this does not lend itself well to a formal, note-taking tasting session, but I will likely try it in the future. The fact that this tea showed no bitterness seems promising for brewing it grandpa-style.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

The Experiential Tea Tasting: Hojicha Classic from Hojicha Co

NB: This post has been sponsored by Hojicha Co. All thoughts are my own.

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Recently, Francois from Hojicha Co contacted me to see if I would like to taste and write about their newest release, Hojicha Classic, which releases today. Now, I’ve written about my love for their hojicha in the past, as well as shared a video about how their dark roast is my quintessential autumn tea. So when Francois mentioned that this release was a medium roast that was inspired by the classic methods of roasting hojicha in cafes in Kyoto, I was intrigued. I know how roast level affects my enjoyment of coffees, so I was curious how it would affect hojicha.

But the thing that hooked me in properly was his description of how this hojicha was intended to remind you of sitting in a cafe in Kyoto, having a cup of tea. Because I recently had to cancel my planned trip to Japan, the idea of experiencing a small part of that trip through tea sounded lovely. And the experiential side of tea tasting is something about which I’ve been thinking for a while. Eventually, I want to create a flavor and aroma wheel that takes into account how different flavors and aromas can evoke memory and emotion. So I thought I would share a bit about the experience of trying this tea, along with the actual concrete tasting notes themselves.

First of all, the hojicha from Hojicha Co is excellent, but their branding is also spot-on. Upon seeing the box on my front stoop, I cut into it and emptied the box onto a clean surface so I could discard the box and wash my hands. The contents of the box are already gorgeous. The simplicity of brown paper wrapping with a coarse twine tying it up, with just the simple Hojicha Co business card tucked into the twine not only sticks to their color scheme of brown to match the color of hojicha leaves, but also evokes the rustic simplicity of a product that until recently was a tea primarily enjoyed within Japan, and not a fancy export tea.

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From there, I opened the bag and was greeted with an intense aroma of freshly roasted nuts. It definitely smelled less roasted than their dark roast, but was still a pronounced warm aroma. The leaves are a uniform dark brown color, and are uneven in size, which makes sense given hojicha’s typically-humble origins.

I measured out eight grams of tea leaves while enjoying the cozy aromas of the dry leaf, and set my kettle to 90C. I used an open-top porcelain kyusu that holds about 300 ml, so I also weighed my water to ensure I was only adding 250 grams of hot water. I steeped the hojicha three times, for thirty, forty-five, and sixty seconds respectively.

Immediately upon pouring out the first pot, I noticed that the wet leaf aroma reminded me strongly of a yancha, though the liquor aroma was very roast-forward without any of the fruity or sweet notes in the nose that I often get from yanchas. But upon sipping the cup, I realized that not only was this a very smooth tea with a balanced roast flavor, but that fruitiness and juiciness came through. There was a slight tannin in the back of my throat as an aftertaste. On the second steeping, the roast flavor and aroma moved to the background, while the umami notes came forward and the tannic aftertaste faded completely. By the third steeping I was feeling hungry, so I decided to try the third steeping alongside a piece of homemade sourdough with chocolate hazelnut spread, which complemented it very well. The umami and the roast both accentuated the nuttiness and cut through the sweetness of the chocolate spread. The third steeping was lighter in flavor, but still bold enough to stand against a snack.

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As I sipped the tea, I felt a deep, comforting warmth rise up in my body. It is still hot here, though the mornings are cooler, so the body warmth was not unwelcome. I will definitely make sure to save at least a little of this try to in the middle of autumn when I start to miss spring and summer warmth. The whole experience is one of comfort. I’ve talked before of how the dark roast evoked memories of fireplace fires and crisp evenings in autumn. This feels somehow more urban than suburban. I can definitely see how tea sellers could have used the aroma of roasting hojicha to lure in customers, and the simple act of sitting at my table with a cup of hojicha and a piece of sweet toast made me feel for a fleeting instant as if I were having a quiet break at an off-the beaten-path cafe in Kyoto.

At $16 for 80 grams of tea, this is certainly cheaper than a flight to Japan, and quite a bit more flexible in a time when many of us are canceling travel for the foreseeable future. It won’t bring back my trip, but it is an enjoyable little piece of Japan I can enjoy at home.

NB: Product provided free of charge for this sponsored post. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please see my collaboration information.

Tuesday Tasting: Chi Lai Shan Spring Pick Oolong from Mountain Stream Teas

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I am continuing my look at high mountain Taiwanese oolongs today with the Chi Lai Shan spring pick oolong from Mountain Stream Teas (this is a conventional oolong that doesn’t seem to be available on their site anymore, but is from the same mountain as their Missed Opportunity). This one is a bit of an odd person out, as it is the only tea in my order that was not harvested in the winter season, but I wanted to try a different mountain, and this seemed to be the only tea from this mountain I could find at Mountain Stream.

I used 5g in my 120-ml gaiwan with 212F water, as with the others. I warmed the gaiwan and then smelled the warm, dry leaf, detecting aromas of green vegetables and warm spice cookies. I did not rinse the tea.

The first steeping was for thirty seconds. The liquor was very pale in color and had a light creamy floral aroma. The wet leaves had an aroma of a muddled variety of green vegetables and a sweet, creamy floral. The texture was surprisingly milky with a light green floral flavor. It is interesting because in tasting teas from these three mountains, I’ve realized that there is a stark difference in texture among milky, creamy, and buttery. It’s been fascinating to try teas that seem to exemplify each.

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The second steeping was for forty-five seconds. The dominant aroma on the leaves was nettles and the dominant flavor was nettles. This steeping tasting strongly like nettle infusion, which I dislike, so I was a bit disappointed, personally. The third steeping, for sixty seconds, also had a nettle aroma on the wet leaf, but I also smelled something lightly coconutty, almost like sunscreen. The flavor was spinach or nettles and milk, so perhaps like a light spring green soup with milk.

The fourth infusion was for seventy-five seconds. The wet leaf brought out a gardenia aroma and it had the same milky texture. The flavor started developing a vegetal brightness with some creamy floral. The fifth infusion, for ninety seconds, had a gardenia-and-coconut aroma on the wet leaves that reminded me a bit of monoi oil. Over the course of five steepings, the liquor color developed from nearly colorless to a bright chartreuse. The milky texture and green flavor persists.

On the sixth infusion, for two minutes, I noticed the aroma and flavors fading. The aroma had the same monoi aroma as the previous infusion, if lighter. At this point, I decided the tea had given its best and finished the session. So far, the primary distinction I’m seeing among the mountains I’ve been tasting has been in the texture of the tea. I’m glad that I’ve started listening to the Floating Leaves Tea Podcast and have had more education about evaluating tea by texture, rather than just taste and smell, because it is apparently an important layer of complexity.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tuesday Tasting: Taiwan Ruby 18 Black Tea from Floating Leaves Tea

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I ordered a few teas from Floating Leaves Tea a little while ago, but I’ve been remiss in showing them the love they deserve. So, to remedy this, I decided to do a tasting of the Ruby 18 black tea this week. I’ve also started exploring tea cupping using a cupping set I got from Camellia Sinensis (or, if you want a US-based store, Art of Tea has a similar one*). I’m still learning the ropes of tasting in this style of brewing vessel, so I played around a bit. I suppose I might want to take an actual course in tea cupping, but that’s not really my style, so for now, I’m experimenting.

I used 3g of leaf in a 125-ml cupping set with 99C water. I did not rinse or preheat my cupping set before starting the tasting, but I did smell the dry leaves after adding them to the vessel. I got aromas of dried fruit, like prunes and sweet cherries, from the dry leaf. I did not rinse the tea.

The first steeping was for two minutes, after which, I got sweet aromas, almost like the glue on the back of old postage stamps, from the leaves. I know this sounds like an odd note, but it’s actually a very positive and comforting aroma for me because it reminds me of helping my mother at the office on snow days when my school was closed. The liquor was a rich mahogany brown color and really exemplifies why the Chinese refer to this kind of tea as “red tea” rather than “black tea,” as the West calls it. The liquor had a light fruity and smoky aroma. The body was medium-rich and had a lightly syrupy mouthfeel, with a hint of dryness afterwards. There was a light, smooth tannic flavor, followed by caramelized onion and dark stone fruit. This developed into a sweet-acidic flavor that reminded me of dried tart cherries and amaretto.

The second steeping, I went for two and a half minutes. The wet leaves smelled of caramel and wood. The liquor was slightly lighter in color, with a sweet smell that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, like some sort of sweet-smelling herb. The mouthfeel was richer and juicier with no dryness. The flavor had a sweet cereal taste, like barley syrup or toasted soybean powder with brown sugar. I still get stamp glue from the flavor. The cup aroma after finishing the liquor was pure caramelized sugar, and I noted that I was starting to sweat.

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The third steeping was for three minutes, after which I got aromas of wet paper from the leaves. The liquor was a similar color to the second steeping, with a faint sandalwood aroma. The mouthfeel is the same round, rich feel, but there is an acidic note, almost like a tomatillo, on the taste. The liquor was starting to taste a bit papery, which is often a sign that the tea is about finished. The fourth steeping, for three and a half minutes, was the last. The liquor was lighter — a dark apricot color — and the leaf aroma was exhausted. Only the acidic notes seemed left to the flavor with a bit of woodiness.

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The spent leaves were surprisingly large. I actually took a photo after the second steeping, but was surprised by how much more they expanded over the next two steepings, so I had to photograph it again. I’m definitely going to have to explore more Taiwanese red tea cultivars.

NB: Tea was purchased by me and all thoughts are my own. Links may be affiliate links (affiliate links noted with an asterisk). If you’re interested in supporting the blog by using my affiliate links, you can find them here. If you’re interested in collaborating or providing tea for tasting, you can find my contact and collaboration information here.

Tuesday Tasting: Kukitori from Hojicha.co

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Today’s Tuesday Tasting is a special one. Today, my favorite purveyor of roasted green tea, Hojicha.co, is releasing a new tea and I had the opportunity to try it so I can share my tasting notes with you. Their dark roast hojicha made my list of 2019 most memorable teas, so I was understandably excited to try a new one. This is their Kukitori, which means “stem bird” (thank you, Duolingo). The tea is their take on a kukicha, or twig tea, made from the stems of tencha, which is the type of tea that is grown to make matcha.

I used 4 grams of loose tea in a 120-ml kyusu pot, with 180F water. The dry “leaf” is twiggy, consisting of twigs of varying shades of brown, from light to dark, about 5 mm in length. After warming the leaves in the pot, I could get aromas of pipe tobacco and toasted sesame oil.

The first infusion was for thirty seconds, after which I could smell aromas of coffee on the wet leaves. The liquor was a rich chestnut brown color and smelled sweet and smoky, like a campfire. It had a rich, yet clean mouthfeel with flavors of maple and wood. There was an undertaste of toasted nuts, like pecans or hazelnuts, which persisted as an aftertaste.

I infused it again for thirty seconds. The leaf smelled of sandalwood incense. The liquor was the same rich shade of brown, with a sandalwood aroma. The flavor was sweeter and with more umami, with a mouthfeel similar to light soy sauce. It was very smooth and nutty, with that same hazelnut flavor and a subtle note of buckwheat honey, sweet and dark with a little acidity. I noticed a clear and meditative energy coming off this tea.

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The third infusion I let it go for forty-five seconds. My notes turn poetical at this point, with the note that the wet leaf smells of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” The liquor was slightly lighter in color, body, and aroma, and the flavor was subtler, too. I still got a light flavor of tobacco smoke and umami, but it was the kind of umami that turns into sweetness. After a fourth steeping, it was apparent that the tea was finished.

The wet leaf is not much to look at, just a darker color and, well, wetter, because it’s twigs and won’t unfurl like leaves do.

NB: Hojicha.co sent this tea to me free of charge for tasting. All thoughts are my own. If you’re interested in why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. If you’re interested in collaboration, click here.

Tuesday Tasting: Jasmine with Ceylon Leafy Green from Lumbini Tea Valley

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Continuing my tasting of the samples I got from Lumbini Tea Valley, I thought a little tasting of this Jasmine with Ceylon Leafy Green Tea would be a nice way to wind down the year. I saved it for now because jasmine can supposedly adversely affect breastmilk supply and now that Elliot is one year old, I don’t really have to worry about that as much as I did. And jasmine is one of my favorite scents and flavors.

I used 1.5 grams of tea in my 60-ml gaiwan with 180F water. The dry leaves have visible creamy off-white dried jasmine buds and petals, but are mostly some very large, twisted leaves. The leaf almost looks more like a green yancha than a young green tea. The warm, dry leaf has the scent of white florals, but I get lily and gardenia in addition to jasmine.

I tasted this tea without a rinse, steeping for one minute each time. After the first steeping, the jasmine aroma came out of the wet leaves more strongly, though I could still smell the other white florals, with a vegetal undertone. The pale green-gold liquor had a pronounced, but not overpowering, jasmine flavor, with a subtle umami quality and a rich, syrupy mouthfeel. There was a grassy brightness on the aftertaste.

The second steeping revealed a sweeter jasmine aroma that was more like orange blossom. The liquor was a slightly brighter and darker color. The flavor and body were richer, with the jasmine flavor fading and the vegetal and “tea-floral” flavors coming forward (i.e., the floral notes that I associate with the tea itself rather than the scenting). The third steeping was much the same, with the aroma and color holding steady and a slightly lighter flavor.

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On the fourth steeping, I noticed a bright acidity in the flavor, which was lighter, but still enjoyable. But by the fifth steeping, the tea was obviously done. The spent leaf unfurled into some very large leaves, again more like what I would expect in an oolong than a green tea. The leaves were either from some massive-leafed cultivar, or else were older than typical green tea leaves. I tend to think it was the later, since it had more complex flavors to meld with the jasmine, rather than the grassy notes I associate with very young green leaves.

NB: This tea was sent to me in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you are interested in contacting me for a collaboration or featured sample, please read my collaboration information.

Christmas Tea Tasting: Earl Grey from Lumbini Tea Valley

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Every year, on Christmas morning when I was a child, I would wake up as is traditional at an absurd hour of the morning. Now, my father was an early riser and did not much notice or care that I was up with the sun, but my mother appreciates her sleep. So in order to help her wake up, the rule was that we could only open gifts once someone made my mother a cup of tea. That usually fell to me, and I would make her favorite tea: Earl Grey with a quarter teaspoon of sugar. To this day, Earl Grey is one of my favorite comfort teas, and I love it in tea lattes or as a scent in things.

So, while Earl Grey tea will always remind me of my mother, it has a particularly special meaning on Christmas. This made it seem like a fitting tasting for Christmas Eve’s Tasting Tuesday. I received this as part of my pack of free samples from Lumbini Tea Valley, of which I started posting notes last week. This is a Ceylon tea based Earl Grey, which is interesting because originally Earl Grey was said to be a scented Chinese tea, gifted to the second Earl Grey in the early 19th century, before the beginning of large-scale tea cultivation in Sri Lanka, but the origin story of the tea is largely believed to be apocryphal, and the first published references to the tea were in the late 19th century, though one tea blender claims to have been blending Earl Grey since 1830. Who knows which is right? All that said, Earl Grey is a well-known blend these days and is based on a variety of black teas from all over the tea-cultivating world.

I used 1.4 g of tea leaves for 105 ml of water for my tasting, in a small ceramic teapot. The dry leaf smelled lightly of bergamot, but with a strong white floral note. After steeping for the first time with boiling water for two minutes, the floral was stronger and was more identifiable as gardenia or lily. The liquor was a medium apricot color with a distinct floral aroma. The flavor was not overpowered by bergamot. This definitely had the feel of a tea to which bergamot was added to enhance the natural flavors of the tea, rather than to mask them. The citrus notes of bergamot almost feel like another note of the tea’s aroma and flavor itself rather than an added scent. It’s quite floral with a sweet, malty aftertaste. It had no astringency with a creamy, medium-dry mouthfeel and a lingering light peach or apricot aftertaste.

I got two additional steepings from the tea, both lighter in flavor and color than the first. The second steeping was again for two minutes with boiling water. It had a lighter flavor, with more floral than citrus. The third steeping, done for three minutes in boiling water, was lighter still. I added a twist of lemon peel to augment the citrus flavor, which was delicious without adding the acidity of lemon juice

NB: I was sent these samples free of charge from Lumbini Tea Valley in exchange for giving my honest thoughts about them. For more information about my tea tasting posts, read why I’ve switched from reviewing to tasting notes. Please contact me if you are interested in collaboration or sponsorship.