Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan

Archive for the ‘Tea Reviews’

Strawberry for Christmas, Apparently

December 30, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

All of a sudden strawberry black tea has leapt into my life. They say things come in threes, and three different black teas with strawberry have all come along at once.

The first was on Christmas day, at the house of some friends, where we do the annual gift-exchanging and stocking unstuffing. One member of the household there has a truly prodigious variety of teas, probably 100-200 if I had to guess just from looking at the shelves that are visible. (There may well be more stashed away out of sight.) I picked a tea more or less at random and ended up with a black tea from South America that had strawberry in it. I had never had a tea from South America, so was curious about that, but most of what I tasted was the strawberry. Given that we were eating Christmas candy and the like, a sweet-tasting tea blended with it perfectly well. I didn’t write down the name or the seller of the tea, unfortunately. Little did I know that two more strawberry teas were about to land in my lap within the next few days.

Then I traveled on the 26th to Florida to see my parents for the holidays. This meant a layover of a few hours at the new JetBlue terminal at JFK airport in New York, which has espresso bars in the gate waiting areas. At one point I was feeling chilly and inquired whether they served tea. The young barista showed me their selection, which was of a brand name I didn’t recognize (Dammann) but which I gathered was the tea brand carried by Illy coffee affiliates. There were a few of the usual suspects (earl grey, chai, etc…) but she urged me to try the “strawberry tea (more…)

Tea Touring #2

August 17, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews, Tea Shops

Our next stop on our San Francisco tea excursion was the Aroma Tea Shop, a place I’ve ordered from many times on the web but never visited.

If you have seen their web site you will have seen a posed photo of Haymen Da Luz and his wife Ying Wi, described there as “the young and sexy owners of Aroma Tea Shop.” In the photo they are both wearing traditional garb, Haymen is holding a bamboo bird cage, Ying Wi a teapot that matches her chongsam. Midori, who had met them before at their Richmond area store, however, described them to me as “like two characters straight out of anime.” (more…)

Tea Travel & Starbucks

July 24, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

Tazo Tea has been stalking me.

Okay, not really, but it seems like everywhere I have been in San Francisco OTHER THAN the fancy tea shop tour I took yesterday with a friend (posts on that still to come), it has been TAZO TAZO TAZO.

It started when I suddenly realized the day after I arrived that I had not, in fact, remembered to pack my travel stash of tea. So I began my re-caffeination the day of the convention with a stop into a ubiquitous Starbucks where I availed myself of the “China Green Tips” tea. At SBs they put two tea bags in the large cup (whatever the **** they call it). I let them steep for maybe a minute, maybe 90 seconds before I pulled them out, and the resulting brew was pleasingly grassy and sweet.

I went back to Starbucks for this same tea several times over during the convention, although “back” is perhaps a relative term, since I never found that exact Starbucks again, but kept ending up at other ones that I thought were it, but weren’t. (All were within 2-3 blocks of the hotel.) Interestingly, none were as good as that very first cup, making me wonder if I had found that same location if they would have been, or if it was some other factor.

Meanwhile, the hotel itself also stocked Tazo, and at the various buffet meals we took part in I helped myself to more. I’ve had Tazo in these kinds of hospitality situations before. Earl Grey, Wild Orange, etc. It’s often the hotel brand one gets with room service, too. But I had never seen the “Green Tips” before and still think it’s the best.

Now I am in the Oakland Airport. My flight is delayed, but at least there is free wireless and a Starbucks with plentiful power outlets. I’m drinking Green Ginger right now and I’m wishing I had gotten the Green Tips instead. It’s not bad, but it’s not a tea drinker’s tea, really. I had to sugar it to make it really palatable, and now it’s pleasing, but a bit like drinking candied ginger. Yummy, but not tea.

Or maybe anything would just seem blah compared to the tea I drank yesterday. Next post I’ll start trying to go through the teas and the tea tour I went on yesterday. A friend from the Bay Area and I hit four different tea shops (and dim sum) in the course of the day, tasting and smelling lots and lots of very fine, wonderful teas. More on that when I get back home!

Tea Art

July 22, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

Today I visited the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, especially to see the”Lords of the Samurai” exhibit.

It should shock no one reading this that the Japanese ruling class of 1100-1868 were very into tea. They were strongly influenced by China, and many noble families collected tea implements (bowls, scoops, etc…) from Viet Nam, Korea, and other “exotic” places, and kept them as prized family heirlooms. One bowl in the exhibit had been cracked and fixed up with gold. Many of the individual implements were given poetic names like “Queen of the West.”

You may be familiar with the term “raku” to refer to a kind of pottery. The name originates from a family of ceramicists, and one person in particular, Raku Chojiro, who popularized a style of rustic individual pieces, each being completely unique and more naturalistic than the prim, painted ceramics from China. They have a bowl in the exhibit which Raku Chojiro made himself! (Pictures and more details here. They also have the original scrolls of the Book of Five Rings as copied by Miyamoto Musashi’s apprentice. For a martial artist like me, that’s a bit like seeing the Gospel actually written in some Disciple’s hand.)

Some of these prized tea things were so highly valued that the high ranking families had paintings made of them.

I ended up buying some sencha in the museum store after looking at the exhibits. I bought “Sa” brand sencha, which has various “award winning” claims on the box and a fru-fru marketing blurb, like most fancy teas seem to have these days.

The sencha is good. I’m on the second steeping on this chill and foggy San Francisco evening. The tea has that grassy flavor, a hint of that rubbery side coming out that is so common in sencha and dragonwell, but not in a detrimental way. I don’t think I dare go for a third steep, though. It will likely turn bitter before reaching a reasonable level of flavor.

Speaking of bitter, throughout the convention I was attending all weekend, I made a trip pretty much every day to Starbucks, where I purchased the Tazo “China Green Tips” every day. The first day it tasted quite sweet to me, but each successive day it seemed to be getting more and more bitter, even when I definitely did not oversteep it. I finally figured out today that everything tastes a bit bitter to me right now, even chocolate malted milk balls. Weird, no? I’m not sure if it’s my allergies acting weird, or my brain being out of whack, or what. The first day, I found I quite liked the China Green Tips and I will definitely try that one again sometime when my taste buds and/or brain have gotten over this bitter phase.

Today’s Tea: Honey Lemon Sunburst

June 20, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

I am still working my way through all the samples I got from Holy Mountain, and this one I have had to brew five or six times before I was ready to write about it. They call it “Honey Lemon Sunburst Green Tea” and describe it as: “A traditional favorite combination of flavors brightened with a burst of sunflower petals.”

This skimpy description does not really prepare you for the unique sweetness of this tea. “Bee pollen?” is what a friend of mine quizzically asked when I served it to her.

“Maybe?” I replied. What gives it the honey flavor when there doesn’t appear to be any actual honey in or on the tea leaves? Where does the lemon flavor come from, for that matter?

Holy Mountain lists is among the “scented green teas” and clearly it’s more to do with the scent than an actual flavor, but it’s a mystery to me how it’s done.

Interestingly, I’ve been wanting this tea a lot on the days when my pollen allergies are the worst. Is that backwards? Something that tastes infused with bee pollen? Or maybe I’ve just been trained to think of the combination of honey and lemon as good for sore throats and congestion? But this tastes nothing like a Luden’s Honey Lemon cough drop–it doesn’t even taste like a traditional cup of Lipton with honey and lemon. It tastes spring-like and fresh, and every sip is invigorating. Who knows, maybe it actual helps my allergies somehow, though perhaps just the result of drinking something hot on my clogged sinuses and swollen eyes.

This tea is a mystery, a sweet mystery, and will apparently have to stay that way.

Roast Sweet

June 17, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

Ahhh, this is Da Stuff.

I’ve been drinking a lot of enjoyable teas lately. Despite the fact that it’s mid-June and the longest day of the year is nigh, it’s been downright chilly in New England. With the temps in the low 60s every day and in the 50s (or even 40s again like it was last night) at night, it’s perfect tea-drinking weather. A warm pot sits on my desk throughout the day and evening hours while I work.

Having just ordered a slew of sample teas from various places, I’ve been brewing lots of things that are quite tasty, but I’ve been refraining from writing about them until I’ve tried them each four or five times. I used to review music back in another life, and I learned that I didn’t really know what I thought of an album until I’d heard it through five times. I figure tea might be the same.

Except today I brewed a pot of “Oolong Choice.” (more…)

Not So Dim After All

June 06, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

Went to dimsum today with friends. Again to Chau Chow City, where I so loved the jasmine they serve with the meal. Turns out they sell bags of it at the cashier’s station, so I bought some.

But today’s new tea is something else entirely. We walked over to C-Mart today, which is the big Chinese grocery under the parking garage that stands across the Surface Artery from the Chinatown gate. The store has gone through various name changes in the two decades I’ve been going there, but inside has not much changed. Even what’s in which aisle is essentially the same.

And business was booming as is usual for a Saturday afternoon in Chinatown… or used to be. The Super 88 is closed, and so are a few of the other small groceries now, as previously mentioned in this blog.

But at C-Mart it was like nothing had ever changed. So I prowled the tea aisle looking to see if I could replace the now empty can of Sow Mee White tea on my shelf with a full one. Sadly, I could not find anything that looked suitable, although there were lots and lots of interesting cans. (They didn’t have the Vanilla Tea I like in the pink can, either, but they did have the Lychee Black that is such a favorite I have a huge can of it and am not going to run out for a while.)

In addition to my perpetual search for more and new teas to try, I am always looking for decaffeinated options for nighttime drinking. I came across a large cardboard box labeled BARLEY TEA! CAFFEINE FREE! It was two dollars. So I bought it.
I’ve had barley tea in Korean restaurants quite often and always really liked it. What I didn’t realize is that it’s not tea at all, the way genmaicha is (roasted rice & popcorn tea), but it actually doesn’t have any tea in it at all.

The instructions say it can be brewed hot or cold, so I brewed it hot, but I got distracted and left it a little longer than I would normally. The directions said 1-2 minutes and I left it the full two minutes.

The resulting drink is much more roasted in flavor than what I’ve had in restaurants, but is quite delicious. In fact, I’d say this is what I often wish that coffee tasted like. It’s what the coffee scent–which never matches the flavor–ought to taste like. What is good about this is perhaps I have finally found a decaffeinated beverage that corwin will also like. He doesn’t like fruity teas at all and really didn’t like either honeybush or rooibos. But I bet he will like this.

Another plus for the distracted multi-tasker that I am, it is good after it’s gone cold, too. Now I wonder if it goes through multiple steeps?

Weather Or Not

May 26, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

It’s lovely and sunny today, and June is nearly here, but it’s actually quite chilly in my house. The temperature outside has only reached 53 on this sunny afternoon, and in here it’s about the same as it is all winter–66 degrees.

I spend a lot on tea when compared to your average person, though probably not compared to your average tea snob, perhaps $200 a year? (And that’s not counting all the tea I get as gifts.) But tea costs very little when compared to the price of heating the house.

Two winters ago I reduced the temperature on my thermostats from 68 to 66 and decided to drink more hot tea instead. The result was not only my steady tea routine, but a drop in our gas bill that winter of $800. (And the price of gas had gone up, so the usage might have dropped more than indicated by price alone!) Given that I have to run a gas stove to heat the water, that was a very pleasing sum to see. (And also one of the reasons I feel absolutely no guilt about buying as much tea as I like.)

I’m keeping warm on this not-yet-summer day with a sturdy roasted bancha from Holy Mountain. The have it labeled Houjicha (roasted bancha tea). “This tea drink is a bancha that is lightly roasted, which gives it a nutty flavor. Not at all a connoisseur tea, but a fun everyday drink that goes well with Japanese foods,” reads the web site. “Its liquor is a tawny brownish color with a smoky taste.”

I just picked this one up to see if I like it better than the various Sow Mee White Tea cans and batches I’ve ordered from various places, and since used up. As it turns out, I like it about the same. Sow Mee would be slightly sweeter in the cup, but the effect is similar as far as a roasted flavor is concerned.

Actually, I will have to brew this again later, in a porcelain or glass pot, to be sure of what it tastes like. This batch I made in a yixing clay pot, which always imparts a little of the flavor of the clay to the tea. The clay has a slightly chocolate-y taste, on that same axis with the roasted teas and the oxidized oolongs.

In fact, it’s time for me to brew another pot now. It’s still chilly and I’m drinking it fairly quickly to keep warm!

A Rose by Any Other Name

May 19, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Reviews

I wrote yesterday about the rose black I bought this weekend at the Ten Ren tea shop in Chinatown NYC. When I arrived home, I found my latest order from Holy Mountain Trading Co. had arrived, too!

Yesterday evening I tried the Dragonfruit and Roses Green, while today I am drinking the Strawberry & Rose Melange Green Tea.

Chinatown, Dollars and Scents

May 18, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

Sunday found me in New York’s Chinatown, where I stopped before heading home after a weekend in the city for both business and pleasure.

This is the Chinatown of my youth, a place my family almost always went when we were in the city for any reason. (That is, after we’d moved to New Jersey from Manhattan when I was around five.) If we had out-of-town guests or family, and had spent the afternoon sightseeing, we would finish the day with dinner in the basement dining room of the Hunan House on Mott Street, or in later years the upstairs eatery of Say Eng Look (“Four Five Six”).

One night we brought my uncle, who was doing post-doctoral work in marine biology at U. of Southern Mississippi, and some of his researcher/grad school friends there, when they were on a road trip from USM to Wood’s Hole in Massachusetts. One of the guys on the trip was from Singapore, and when the waiter brought the hot steamed towels before the meal for our hands, he pushed it into his face and nearly cried. (more…)