Friday, December 21, 2007

Tsar's Blend Review

Type: Black
Origin: China
Price: ½ oz. Sample - $2, ¼ lb - $8.25, ½ lb - $15.70, 1 lb - $29.80
Vendor: Dragon Water Tea Company
Brewing Method: 1 tsp of loose leaves, 8 oz. of filtered water, heated to 212°F, in "Kat" teapot, for 3 minutes
Overall Score: 4.8 out of 5

The tea has an extremely sweet, smooth taste to it. I never thought about mixing black and white tea. However, this makes sense because the white tea is not as strong as the black. Since it was steeped for only 3 minutes, this allowed the black tea to have strength but the white tea is not steeped long enough to have any bitterness to it. Thus, an overwhelming sweetness is present.

I am normally skeptical when teas are described as “sweet,” but this tea seriously tastes like there has been a teaspoon of sugar added. If some sugar were to be added, I think it would be too sweet. Could white tea be used as a natural sweetener for other teas?

There is no astringency at all. Even when I drink this hot, my mouth still feels refreshed instead of dry like other teas leave it. With that being said, I think this tea would make an excellence iced tea.

Looking at the picture, you can see that the color is a dark reddish brown. As a matter of fact, I got this sample when I ordered the green cup that the liquor is in.

Before brewing: This tea consists of black leaves in tiny bits with a few silver needles here and there. Like my smiley face? Heh heh. I counted about 10 silver needle leaves in my ½ oz. package of this blend. So, you can see that there is not that much white tea in it, but it still makes a big difference.

After brewing: Both the black and white leaves are still the same size, roughly. The black leaves have opened up a little, but the chopped up bits aren’t that attractive.
I will definitely order more of this tea. Before I drank this tea, my favorite black tea was Ceylon Sonata from Adagio. However, I think this black tea just took the number one spot on my chart.

The one thing I would like to mention is that this tea was sent to me in a closable bag/pouch. The thing is, the pouch is clear on one side so you can see the tea (or whatever the contents is) that is inside the pouch. If I remember right, isn’t light and air the two biggest enemies of tea? If that is true, why would you put tea in a clear pouch? Even though it is only clear on one side, I still think it is bad packaging.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Ancestry in a Teapot

It’s been a tradition for my brother, cousin, and I to spend the night at my grandparent’s house while my parents and my cousin’s parents go to Indianapolis for some black Friday Christmas shopping. Both of our parents make it a weekend trip, complete with booked hotel rooms, because both of their wedding anniversaries are that weekend (November 23rd and 25th). I declared that I was “too old” to stay over at my grandparent’s house. I told everyone a week before Thanksgiving that I would just pack up myself, and my Chihuahua, and head over to my boyfriend’s apartment for the weekend. However, my grandparents, try as they might, could not hold back their disappointment that I would not be joining them for the traditional three day sleepover. I, eventually, gave into their pouty faces and notified my boyfriend to not expect me over as previously planned.

The day after Thanksgiving I was rudely awaken from my slumber on my grandma’s couch by my sixteen year old brother and sixteen year old cousin playing guitar hero. I heard my grandma working away in the kitchen making breakfast so I decided to join her. Mercifully I had remembered my teapot, kettle, and tea and set up shop on the kitchen counter. The only tea that I brought was Dragon well so I proceeded in making me a warm cup. When I sat down at the kitchen table, cup in hand, my grandma mentioned that she had “never seen that color of tea before.”

After talking with her about what was in my cup I found out that my grandma used to be a huge tea drinker. This surprised me because I’ve always known her to be an avid coffee drinker. She was familiar with the terms “green” and “black” but never heard of “white” or “oolong.” She told me that her mother (my great grandmother) would have two or three cups of tea a day until the last 10-15 years of her life when she switched to coffee.

My grandma, then, left the room and returned with an orange and green teapot shaped like a pumpkin. She told me that it used to be my great grandma’s favorite teapot. She said that the teapot was left to her after my great grandma’s passing in March of 2005. “It has to be over 100 years old,” I remember my grandma saying as she explained that my great grandma was given the teapot from her mother when my great grandma got married. “You can have it. You are the only one that drinks tea like mom and I used to,” said my grandma. I was overwhelmed with the gift but the only thing I could say was, “why didn’t anyone tell me this? Why didn’t anyone tell me that you guys loved tea so much?” Here I had thought that I was the first one to get into this tea hobby while the rest of my family swore over their coffee. Then I find out that this has been a preference passed down from my great great grandmother… and who knows if it goes further back than that. I looked down at my cup of Dragon well and felt like this is not just a hobby anymore, but it felt like more of a tradition. A very tasty tradition.

Looking at the teapot, you can see that it has been used a lot! From the cracks on the side of the teapot and on the lid, it looks like it has been broken and meticulously pieced back together many times. It looks like there are burn marks on the bottom, as well. Also, there is a chunck missing out of the lid (the brown spot). There are several stress cracks that can be seen in the bottom of the teapot. There are also holes by the spout. Upon checking my new ‘modern’ teapots, they do not have those. I’m curious as to why some teapots do and some do not. There is a Japanese patent number on the bottom of the teapot. I tried to look up this number on the internet but have been unsuccessful at finding any information about it.

I am not trying to point out the flaws in this piece of pottery but saying how much it has been loved and used over and over and over again. My grandma said that she doesn’t have a clue of the last time it was used. I do know that I will never use this teapot myself, though. Especially, and this may be a little weird but, when you open the teapot it smells just like my great grandma’s house. Every time I turned the teapot to take a picture of it, the smell would hit me and I would get flooded with memories of holidays, bonfires, and other get-togethers at my great grandma’s house.

My great grandma passed away very peacefully when she was 93 years old. She loved to listen to people play music, especially guitars and pianos. She was nicknamed the “Harley Grandma.” From the age of 88 to 92 she would ride on my uncle’s Harley Davison motorcycle in the “Frozen Buns” New Years Day ride in Indiana. She loved animals, including the many cats, dogs, and birds she had throughout her life. Most importantly, she loved tea. As you can see, so do I. What I am saying is after looking at this pumpkin teapot and thinking about the amazing life that my great grandma had… I hope the love for tea is not the only thing that gets passed down.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Blue People Oolong Review

Type: Oolong
Origin: Taiwan
Price: On sale price of $21.60/4oz.
Vendor: Aroma Tea Shop
Brewing Method: 1 tsp of loose leaves, 8 oz. of filtered water, boiled at 212F, in IngenuiTea teapot, for 2.5 minutes
Overall Score: 4 out of 5

When pouring this tea into my cup, I detected an anise-like smell with some faint mint in the background. I observed that the liquor is a light amber color. When tasting it, I was first hit with a slight licorice root flavor that this tea has been fermented with.

After taking a few more sips, my mouth and tongue began to feel cool from the mint. The licorice lingers for a short while but the mint stayed with me for quite some time. This brew had no bitterness at all. In fact, it was very smooth and sweet.

Before brewing: The leaves are like nothing I have seen. They are very tightly rolled into balls resembling tiny pebbles. I got a laugh as I poured the loose tea on the plate and some of the tiny balls had enough momentum to roll off the plate as if I had just poured out a bag of marbles. I know I can say that has never happened with any other loose leaf tea I have tried.

After brewing: These pebbles put on a show when the boiling water was added. They slowly opened up and revealed wrinkly but attractive whole and half leaves. While trying to open up, some of the pebbles would bob up and down in the water. It was definitely fun to watch.

I shared this tea with a friend and he informed me that he, too, liked the cool mint after taste. He said that even though there was no bitterness found in the tea, he added a small amount of sugar. He concluded that it intensified the mint flavor a little bit, but the anise was very faint.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Milk Aroma Oolong Review

Type: Oolong
Origin: Taiwan
Price: On sale price of $21.60/4 oz.
Vendor: Aroma Tea Shop
Brewing Method: 1 tsp of loose leaves, 8 oz. of filtered water, boiled at 212F, in IngenuiTEA teapot, for 2 minutes
Overall Score: 2 out of 5

These leaves from Taiwan were steamed with milk, so when they say “milk aroma,” they were not kidding. I noticed a milk-like smell when brewing the tea. However, that is the one thing that I wish I could have taken out of this tea. Before I brewed the leaves the smell was that of a very sweet oolong tea. However, when the tea was in my cup, the smell was like that of spoiled milk.

The description of this tea on the Aroma Tea Shop website was describing this tea as “sweet, creamy, and smooth.” I agree with this description, but the after taste was quite unpleasant. The spoiled milk taste was left in the mouth along with some astringency.

Before brewing: The whole leaves are rolled and curled into tight little balls. There is hardly any dust or small pieces. This definitely looks like a high quality tea which was meticulously handled with care.

After brewing: The liquor is an amber or deep yellow color. The leaves have almost fully opened up. Most of the leaves are whole but some are torn or ripped in half. I would say that these leaves are very attractive as I observe them spread out on my plate.

Despite my dislike for the taste, that does not mean that you may not like it. I love milk, but not warm milk. I even shared this tea with a friend and he had the same opinion as I did, even after tasting the tea without and then with sugar.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lipton Iced Brisk Green Tea (Apple Flavored) Review

Type: 12oz. can, ready to drink tea
Price: Unknown
Vendor: Lipton
Overall Score: 2 out of 5

I received this can of Lipton Iced Brisk Green Tea from my boyfriend’s brother. My boyfriend, his parents, and I went to Chicago last weekend to visit his brother’s family. While we gathered around the dinner table that evening, the drinks they had in the house were listed and everyone selected their drink of choice. One drink that was mentioned was this particular green tea. I did not have any of this tea while having dinner with my boyfriend’s family but I did acquire a can in order to review it… and here are my thoughts:

When I poured the contents of the can into a glass and observed the liquid, I noted that I really liked the light green color. Of course this color came from a mixture of yellow number 5 and blue number 1, man made chemicals instead of naturally occurring hues, but I still liked the color. While observing I also noticed bubbles rising up the sides of the class. This obviously meant it was carbonated. This sparked my interest even more than it already had because I had never had carbonated green tea.

Before I took a sip, I noticed that it smelled a lot like apples, more specifically candy apples. It reminded me a lot of the sour apple Jolly Rancher candies.

And guess what, it tasted like a sour apple Jolly Rancher too. There was only a tiny bit of carbonation, which surprised me from the amount of bubbles in the drink. However, this “green tea” drink did not taste like green tea at all. It tasted a lot like apple juice. Right now I almost wish I had some apple juice on me so I could compare. If I was not told what this substance was before I drank it, I would have sworn it was apple juice.

However, if I would have been drinking apple juice, at least I would have actually received the beneficial nutrients from the apple juice instead of the minimal nutritional value that this can of “tea” has to offer. Even though it tastes like apple juice and says it is “apple flavored,” when looking at the nutrition facts, right at the top it says “contains no juice.”

I was even more curious as to how good or bad this “tea” was for the consumer so I grabbed a can of Coca-Cola to compare. Note that each serving size is one can. The calories in Coke are 140 while in Brisk there are 130. The sodium in Coke is 50mg while in Brisk there is 100mg. Brisk wins the carbohydrates match up with only 35g to Coke’s 39g. Also, Brisk has 33g of sugar while Coke has 39g of sugar. In addition, there is more caffeine in Brisk than in Coke. Brisk contains 32mg/8 fl oz, while Coke contains 34mg/12 fl oz.

In conclusion, I would not drink this “tea” to satisfy my green tea craving. I’m sure the only way they can get away with calling it tea is by adding a small amount of green tea (which is the 9th ingredient out of 18 in the drink) because it doesn’t taste like tea at all. I would not even drink this “tea” as a substitute for soft drinks (note: I am not a huge soft drink fan). I really see no benefits in drinking this concoction what so ever. For example, on this can, there is no indication of the promotion of anti-oxidants found in green tea. If you ever get a massive sour apple Jolly Rancher craving, be my guest, but if you are seeking health benefits, weight loss properties* or even the taste of tea, run… run away!

*I, personally, do not seek weight loss properties from tea. I simply drink it because I enjoy the taste and I know it’s better for me than soft drinks or plain water.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sencha Overture Review

Type: Green
Origin: Japan
Price: 1 oz./$3
Vendor: Adagio
Brewing Method: 1 tsp of loose leaves, 8 oz. of filtered water, at 180F, in "Kat" teapot, for 3 minutes
Overall Score: 4.7 out of 5

At first, I was afraid that I may have gotten the water too hot. I'm not a purist; I don't carefully monitor the temperature of the water with a thermometer. I listen to the kettle and when it starts to quiet down from the loud rumbling and hissing, and when steam starts to roll out of it, I know it is about the right temperature for green teas. This method is what I use for this brew.

Before brewing: The leaves are very small and tightly rolled. It looks like there is a lot of dust in this container as well. That makes it a less expensive, everyday type of tea. That fact makes me a very happy girl because this is a tea I would like to drink everyday (and I completely understand why this particular tea is a staple in Japan).

The color of the tea is a light greenish-yellow color. My favorite color is green and when this tea sits in a white porcelain cup, I can’t help but to stare. In my opinion, this is the prettiest of the green teas that I have tried so far.

This is my favorite tea I have tasted. After cautiously tasting my brew, it was not bitter like I had feared. It has a sweet, vegetal flavor that pleasantly lingers on the tongue. I guess I could describe this particular cup of tea as medium bodied. Over all, though, I would say this is a mellow tea. There is no need to add sugar or anything to it, in my opinion. It seems like I didn't get the water too hot after all.

After brewing: You can see how leaves have opened up. They are not very big and it seems like more of a ripping and tearing procedure was used in the production process. I notice there are leaves as well as stems. I’m not sure if you would call these torn leaves “attractive,” but the brew they make is enough to make me come back for more.

Dry Leaf Descriptions

An awesome book I was reading called,"Tea: The Drink That Changed the World," gave a great list of words to use to desribe the way a dry lea leaf looks. The author, Laura C. Martin, did an excellent job. In case any of you do not have this wonderful book, I am posting this list so you have a better understanding of what these terms mean if I use them to describe my tea.


Brown - This is an undesirable color for any tea leaf, including black tea.

Chunky - This is a flavorable term, describing large tip pieces.

Golden Tip - A great feature for teas, a golden tip tea produces an amber-colored brew.

Neat - Neat tea leaves are well made and attractive.

Stalky - This term indicates that pieces of undesirable stalk were included with the leaves.

Stylish - A very favorable characteristic; stylish leaves are especially neat and attractive."

Tea Tasting Descriptions

I was running out of adjectives to describe the way certain teas taste until I came across this brillant book called "Tea: The Drink That Changed the World." In this book, author Laura C. Martin lists some terms that are used to describe the taste of teas. I thought this list of adjectives was perfect to use in my tea evaluations. Since some of you may not have this lovely book in your collection, I thought I would post this list to help you better understand my tea tasting descriptions.

"Like terms for describing wine, those for revealing the subtle flavors and nuances of tea may be a little vague until you have a lot of tea-tasting experience.


Aroma - This term refers to the way brewed tea smells.

Body - How the liquid feels on the tongue. This could be wispy, light, medium, or full. A full-bodied black tea such as Keemun lingers on the tongue, while a delicate white such as Silver Needles is wispy, seeming to evaporate immediately.

Brassy - A strong taste, usually a little bitter. This happens when leaves for processing black tea have not been withered long enough.

Burnt - Burnt tea tastes a little like burnt toast. Cause by overfiring, this is not a desirable characterist.

Coarse - Coarse tea has a decidedly acidic taste, also a little bitter.

Crisp - Disappears quickly on the tongue; a desirable quality.

Earthy - An earthy taste is a little moldy, which may be caused by improper firing.

Flowery - Flowery tea has a hint of floral sweetness, like chamomile.

Malty - A malty flavor tastes like steamed green vegetables, with a touch of honey and cirus - a desirable characteristic.

Mellow - Mellow tea is smooth and pleasant on the palate.

Muscatel - Tastes like the Muscat grape. This term is often associated with Darjeeling teas.

Smoky - A smoky flavor has a touch of smoke or tar. Lapsang souchong, for example, is made by burning pine logs and branches to create the heat for the drying process, giving the tea a distinctive smoky taste.

Sweet - A sweet taste is a pleasant, often smooth and fruity, flavor.

Vegetal - A desirable characteristic for green teas, a vegetal taste is grassy or similar to steamed asparagus."

Grading Scale

Before I start my tea reviews, I need to have a firm grading scale. This scale is from 0 to 5, 0 being the absolute worst thing I've ever tasted and 5 being the best. I am going to allow for 1 decimal place in between points (for example, a certain type of tea could get a score of 3.8). For a better description of my scale, see below.

Grading Scale

0 to 0.9 - "I think I'm going to be sick!"

1 to 1.9 - "What did I just drink?"

2 to 2.9 - "I would drink this if I had no other tea on me."

3 to 3.9 - "I have to be in the mood to drink this."

4 to 4.9 - "I would order this tea again."

Perfect 5 - "I would give my left arm for this tea."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Tools

Before I start talking about the latest tea that I've tasted, I need to give credit to the tools that I use. If it weren’t for these stylish but efficient tools of the trade, making tea might not be such an enjoyable experience.

When making any tea, you have to have hot or boiling water. My electric tea kettle does that job with flare. This particular kettle called to me from the English Tea Store. The main thing I like about it is its old fashion meets modern design. The rounded body with equality beautiful round handle gives it a sleek style. However, no matter how hard I try, I cannot get water to boil from something just because it looks good sitting on the counter (oh the possibilities). As I mentioned before, this is an electric kettle, which means it keeps me as far away from the stove as possible (and some will agree that is the safest place for me). All I have to do is fill it with water, sit it on the base, plug it in, and turn it on. It has an automatic shut off when the water starts to boil. The only draw back is that it doesn’t have a temperature gauge like some electric kettles… but it’s soooo pretty!

I got this “Kat” teapot from In Pursuit of Tea. I love the bold black and blue colors, along with the simple cat design. The paw prints on the back of the teapot and all over the teacup add to the aesthetics. I, also, like the stackable space-saving trait to this teapot. Don’t be fooled by its cuteness, though, as it sits on the counter because it still makes a mean cup of tea. The cup and the teapot each hold the same amount of water so all I have to do is dump in my leaves and add the hot water – no measuring required. Can making tea be any easier? I submit that it cannot!

The other teapot that I have is my IngenuiTEA from Adagio. This teapot holds about 32 oz. of water at one time. I mainly use this teapot when I want to chill and bottle my tea to take with me. If you have never seen this teapot in action, it is actually kind of neat. You put your tea leaves in the teapot then add your hot water. When your tea is done steeping you put the whole teapot on your awaiting cup and when the teapot rests on the cup, the valve is opened, allowing the tea to come out of the bottle while the filter stops the leaves. Genius!

Ok, now that you know what I brew my tea in, it is time to talk about what I taste the delicious concoction out of. The first cup I purchased (other than my “Kat” collection) was a glass cup from Adagio. I really like drinking tea from this cup because the transparency of the glass lets the color of the tea really shine. With this cup, I don’t have to hover over it in order to see elaborate hues. For the fullest effect, I drink my choice of tea as the morning sunshine comes through the window and hits the glass.

The next container is one of my travel mugs. Being a college student, I’m on the go all the time, running from this class to this class. I didn’t want to have to wait until I got home to enjoy my tea. I want it with me to sip on and keep me awake through the boring lectures. The first mug I bought was the black insulated mug from In Pursuit of Tea. This 12 oz. mug is amazing. Not only does it have a vacuum seal but it keeps the temperature of the liquid inside relatively stable. The top lid screws off for sipping while the strainer holds loose leaves back. Then the strainer screws off to add the contents.

The next travel mug is one of my recent purchases from Xiu Xian Tea. This is another 12 oz. mug. As you can see, this one is not the best at keeping a constant temperature of the substance inside, but it is a handsome mug. There is a dragon on the front that will never wear off because it is protected between two plastic layers. The top lid screws off to reveal a strainer (the second lid), in which that screws off to the open container.

These are my first and only tools for tea making. I hope to acquire more in the future, but for right now, these are what I have to work with. I know this is an odd collection, but I think I have made the right choices and purchases. They have been with me to witness my first tea experience and I’m sure they will make several hundred more cups for me… and I can’t wait to see what the next brew brings me!

Monday, October 15, 2007


After 5 minutes of sitting and staring at the blinking cursor with my hands frozen in a hovering position over the keyboard, I still don't know what to say. It is now that I officially realize that I have never been good with introductions. Yes yes, I have taken English and writing classes in high school and college. I know I'm supposed to start broad and pull the reader in. However, where do I begin when talking about my life? How do I write something where I can't pull already proven facts from web sites or books? What do I do without a thesis? How do I site my memories and experiences in MLA or APA format? Where do I begin to tell the world how a simple substance literally changed my outlook on life?

That substance I'm talking about is tea. As of this moment in time, I have never seen a recipe start off with boiling water and produce such a colorful, aromatic, warm, comforting, bittersweet product as I have with tea.

The history of tea is amazing all by itself. The origins of being drunk by Buddhist monks before long hours of meditation should tell anyone that this is a sacred liquid. The fall of Buddhism almost destroyed the consumption of tea completely until the British got their hands on it. Tea was so well liked by the British that they ingenuously found ways to keep the supply of tea coming across their borders. The opium wars in China started because of the British’s' love for tea! Tea started a war! Not alcohol, not drugs, not boundary disputes, in this case, tea was the cause. I don't know about you, but to me that right there is a good enough reason for me to investigate this substance.

However, that is not the reason I became interested in tea. I let my own curiosity and, eventually, taste buds lead the way. At the time of my personal discovery of tea, I was simply looking for a hobby. I, at first, knew that I wanted to collect something. However, I wanted something with variety so I didn't get bored easily with it. I wanted it to be interactive, also. I didn't want something that just sat on a shelf. I wanted to use it. Another thing is I wanted this hobby to be different. I wanted to be one of the few to participate but also be able to talk to other people with this similar hobby. Also, this hobby had to be affordable for this poor college student. Above all, though, the hobby had to be good for me. It had to be a healthy habit. I was looking for something to improve my well being and not just drain my wallet.

And then there was tea. It was all the above. It was the two main things: affordable and healthy. I could collect the many teapots and teacups that I had found on the internet. I could interact with tea daily. After doing more research I found the variety of teas. There is not only the traditional black, but green, white, and oolong teas as well. I noticed that more people drink coffee so tea drinkers were "one of the few." However, there were still enough people who had experienced tea in order for me to share my thoughts and opinions about it. It was perfect!

I ordered my first kettle, teapot, teacup, and tea (of course) online and waited ever so patiently for it to arrive. When it did I was so excited about it that I tried the first tea that stuck out from the rest. The name of that tea was "Scarlet Glow," a floral blend.

I opened the package and was hit with the aroma of a garden. I was skeptical if I would even like the taste because I'm a very picky person. However, I carefully measured a teaspoon of leaves and placed them into the teapot. I waited for the water to boil and when it was done, I poured it over the leaves. I remember taping my fingernails on the counter as I wanted for 3 minutes to pass by. Once my tea was steeped I poured it carefully through a strainer and into my teacup. The christening of my tea ware with my first cup of tea was complete.

I sat there, nervously waiting for the tea to cool. It was here I noticed that tea actually forces you to slow down. When I received my package of tea ware, I torn it open like a ravage animal. I hurriedly set up everything: plugged in my electric kettle, picked out my tea, measured it, placed it in the teapot, poured boiling water over it. However, there was nothing I could do, but sit and wait for it to cool. So I sat there. And waited. And waited. And waited. All the while, I became aware that I not so anxious anymore. I stopped taping my fingers. My leg stopped bouncing. I relaxed. My mind started drifting to events that happened earlier that day. I reflected on life, family, friends, etc. I looked down and noticed the beautiful red color coming from my cup. I lowered my head to get a better smell of the aroma. However, before I knew it, my tea had cooled and I was able to take a sip. I did so and was hit with more flavor than any soda or soft drink could give me. No sugar, no artificial flavors, no preservatives, nothing but the essential vitamins, anti-oxidants, and nutrients coming from the liquid were being consumed. And yet, all that flavor! I was sold.

So, as you can see, there was no thesis, no parenthetical citations, and no bibliography. However, I'm hoping this introduction will, at least, give you an idea of what is to come as I take you on a journey through my life in a teacup.