Friday, June 27, 2008

Tea Experiment #1: Choc-o-Chai

In my pervious review of Coconut Chai Masala from Yogic Chai, I mentioned that I thought about adding chocolate milk instead of white milk to the chai. After not finding anything in the house that satisfied my chocolate craving (for today), I finally put this chocolate milk and chai combination to the test.

In the recipe that Yogic Chai suggested, they said to add maple syrup as a sweetener. Therefore, I thought why not chocolate syrup? I used the same brewing times and parameters as was used for plain Coconut Chai Masala (see review for recipe). The only difference was that I added about a tablespoon of chocolate syrup to the milk and blended them together, then added that chocolate mixture to the chai.

After the chai had finished steeping, it still had the familiar pumpkin pie smell that I love. The aroma always makes me feel comfy and cozy inside. I could smell a little bit of the chocolate, but I had to really look for it.

It tasted amazing! The taste was like jazzed up hot chocolate. I could taste just enough of the chocolate to be satisfied and the chocolate did not mask any of the other flavors. The cinnamon and ginger were more distinguishable than the other spices, but I could get a hint of everything that was in my cup. Even though I think this could be drunk as a warm, comforting treat any time of the year, I would love to specifically serve this around the winter holidays. Just add some mini marshmallows or whipped cream and enjoy. (Idea: add whipped cream with shavings of nutmeg or chocolate on top of that and a cinnamon stick for garnish)

Ok, so it was not the healthiest thing in the world by adding chocolate syrup. However, I was still getting the calcium from the milk and all of the fantastic health benefits from the chai (read more about the benefits of chai here). I think this would be a great treat for both adults and (older) children.

The only thing I would do differently next time is use chocolate powder instead of syrup. The syrup had a tendency to settle at the bottom. Even though I added a tablespoon, only half of that got mixed into the milk. Chocolate powder will not mix completely with milk either, but I think it might do a better job than the syrup. Although, overall, I am very pleased with how it turned out (my cup was empty before I even finished writing this entry).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tea Interrupted

Well… I was going to do a tea review today, but that got put on hold when two unrelated things had my attention a little more than what was in my cup.

First, my family and I are dog-sitting a friend’s Chihuahua, named Thumbelina (the tan one). I have a Chihuahua of my own, named Zoe (the black one) so it was nice to have a dog her size that she could play with. However, they are a handful. Thumbelina is still a puppy so she loves to rough house and get into everything. She has found a way to bring the puppy out of four year old Zoe, thus, I have been constantly keeping an eye on them as they wrestle and run through the house. It was a nice change of routine. Good times, nonetheless.

I do want to stress that there is no such thing as a “tea-cup” Chihuahua. That is an Americanized made up term used to market Chihuahuas. It frustrates me when people use that term because it shows so much ignorance and how those particular people were fooled into thinking they bought a “special” pocket sized pet. Chihuahuas are Chihuahuas. Some may be smaller than others once they reach adulthood, but “tea-cup” Chihuahuas do not exist.

Note: In the first picture, it may look like the dogs were fighting, but they were only playing with each other when I took that picture. It kind of looks like the freeze frame ending from Rocky, doesn’t it?

Then, if that wasn’t enough, we got hit by a powerful thunderstorm. I normally don’t pay much attention to a little rain, but soon after the storm hit I started to hear “tink… tink… tink” on the window behind me. When the “tink’s” grew louder and increased in frequency, I looked out of the window to discover that it was hailing.

The wind was blowing so hard and the hail was coming down in such big pieces that I couldn’t even see the neighbor’s house across the street. It had become so loud in the house, because of the hail hitting the windows, that the dogs were freaking out. They would not leave my side. The good news was that the storm passed just as quickly as it arrived and no real damage was done.

So, I did not get my intended tea review done, but it was a pretty exciting day. I am overwhelmed by the cuteness as the Chi’s play on the floor and sleep on my lap (which together they only weigh about seven pounds). Also, we experience storms quite often in Indiana, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen quarter size hail like I did today. I’m sure there will be time for tea tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Green Tea Tropical Review

Type: Green
Origin: China
Price: Sample (regular price - $8.95 for 15 pouches)
Vendor: Mighty Leaf
Brewing Method: 1 bag, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 170°F-180°F, steeped for 3 minutes.
Overall Score: 4.5 out of 5

Green Tea Tropical is a Chinese green tea base with a wide variety of ingredients which include banana, strawberry, pineapple, guava, and red, white, and blue cornflower pieces. When I opened the package, I could smell the banana and strawberry immediately. The pineapple scent followed shortly after. The mixture presented a colorful sight in the silk pouch. Pineapple pieces along with some red and blue cornflowers could easily be seen against the green tea leaves.

The strawberry and especially the banana aromas were what I could smell as the tea was steeping. With all of the flavors coming together, the tea smelled very sweet and fruity. The liquor was a light yellow, golden color.

After tasting this tea, I concluded that it was a very light bodied and lightly flavored tea. The fruit flavors of this tea were added in just the right amount in order to not mask the light flavor of the green tea. I tasted the banana and pineapple more than the other flavors, but it did have that “tropical” aspect to it. There was a little bit of a bite to this tea, which I’m assuming came from the tartness of the pineapple and guava. A touch of sugar could remedy that problem, however.

The fruity flavors made this tea refreshing and invigorating. I think this would be a good tea to use to introduce someone to the light, crisp taste of green tea (because I know some people are turned off to green tea because it can be bitter and astringent). The fruit flavors had a tendency to linger in my mouth for a while, but they were not at all overpowering.

The only negative thing that I could say about this tea was that it was so light bodied that it almost tasted watery.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Orange Dulce Review

Type: Black
Origin: Mix of Ceylon and China black tea
Price: Sample (regular price - $8.95 for 15 pouches)
Vendor: Mighty Leaf
Brewing Method: 1 bag, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 200°F-212°F, steeped for 4 minutes.
Overall Score: 4.2 out of 5

Orange Dulce is a mix of Ceylon and China black tea as a base with bergamot, orange, vanilla, and jasmine flavors. As soon as I tore open the package I could smell the bergamot and the vanilla. The sight of what was in this silk pouch was rather dark because of the black tea base. However, I noticed there were a few of what looked to be jasmine blossoms in this particular pouch. I really liked that there were whole leaves in this pouch instead of just dust.

As the tea began to steep, I could pick up on the aroma of the citrus and the sweet vanilla a bit more. The bergamot smell reminds me a lot of an Earl Grey black tea. The liquor was a beautiful deep orange, red color.

After taking a sip I was hit with a rush of different flavors. I could taste the citrus of the orange and bergamot first. Then, the sweet vanilla and jasmine were left to linger in my mouth. There was a hint of astringency, but overall the tea was very smooth and refreshing.

Because of the full bodied black tea along with the range of flavors, I felt like this tea could either be drank in the morning as a pleasant wake up call or after dinner with dessert. This would be a great tea to drink with dessert because it’s not too sweet and it, also, had a caramel-like after taste.

One thing that I did not like about this tea was the packaging. Even though I’m not a huge fan of bagged tea, I thought the pouch was big enough to allow the leaves to open properly – so that is not what I’m talking about. What I mean is that on the individual package that the tea bag comes in there was a time for how long the leaves should be steeped, but no indication of the temperature of the water that should be used. My knowledge of tea told me that black teas are normally brewed in boiling (or very close to boiling) water. However, those who are new to tea or may not have the knowledge of proper temperatures could brew this tea in a way that leaves them unsatisfied with their cuppa. It was not until I found the description of the tea on Mighty Leaf’s website when I saw that they say, only here, what temperature to brew the leaves of this particular tea. So, my only suggestion would be for them to put the proper brewing temperature on the actual packages just as they do for the brewing times.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

O-Cha’s Miyabi Shincha 2008 Review

Type: Green
Origin: Uji, Japan
Price: $27.96 for 110 grams (approx. 4 oz.)
Vendor: O-Cha
Brewing Method: Per Instructed – 3.0g of leaves, 8 oz. of filtered water, heated to 150°F-160°F, steeped for 1 minute.
Overall Score: 4.5 out of 5

Miyabi is a high quality Sencha from Uji, Japan. This package of Miyabi is in Shincha form – meaning the first flush of the season. This new harvest means that it is the freshest form of Sencha from this region in 2008. The “first flush” picking of this tea commences between May and July. The freshest form of a high quality Sencha… could there be anything better?

The leaves are very tiny, dark green bits. However, these little dry bits of leaves pack an amazing aroma. As soon as I opened the package, I could smell the grassiness of the tea.

The color of the liquor is a beautiful bright green. This is definitely the “greenest” of the green teas that I’ve tried.

The aroma of the freshly brewed tea is very vegetal with a hint of nuttiness to it. The smell of the brew reminds me a lot of Dragon Well.

At first sip, I noticed the fresh green tea taste – vegetal and grassy-like, but still sweet. Then, I started to taste the nutty flavor of the tea. This tea was a bit on the astringent side, though. According to O-Cha’s directions that were sent along with the tea, Shincha forms of green teas tend to be a little more astringent than other green teas.

It had a drying effect in my mouth, but not so much so that it was unpleasant. I have been drinking only this tea for the past few weeks, so it obviously has not bothered me.

This tea was stronger than other green teas that I’ve had, in which I heard that the Shincha form of green tea tends to be stronger. A second steeping of this tea was notably watered down, but I thought it was still drinkable. It didn’t quite make it to a third steeping, however, but most greens don’t.

This was the first time I’ve had a “new harvest” tea so I was not able to compare it with past years. However, I did enjoy the 2008 harvest and will be ordering some more again next year.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

More Teaware

It was my 22nd birthday on May 29th and I received loads of new teaware from family and friends (not to mention some stuff that I bought myself prior to my birthday). Here are the new members of the family:

Yin Yang Table

First, I want to talk about the tea table that I bought. I have wanted a tea table forever, but I could not find one that I liked or that was in my price range… until I found this yin yang table from Yunnan Sourcing and fell in love. Not only does it have a perfectly carved yin yang right in the middle, but it has a very chic, modern design that I like. It is very easy to use and clean, which is a plus as well.

Also, the size is perfect. I do not have very much room to work with in my tiny little bedroom. So, when it comes to my tea and teaware, most is tucked away on shelves, but the things I used the most are on my computer desk. Thus, when purchasing a tea table, I kept coming across ones that were much too big for the space I have to work with. This yin yang table is 34x34 centimeters, fits all my necessary teaware on it, and sits on my desk with room to spare.

Tasting Cups

The next thing that I bought for myself, I’ve actually had for a while now, but was waiting to get more teaware so I could post everything together. I bought the two fish cups from Dragon Tea House. I love these little things. I saw them in pictures from other tea enthusiasts and I liked them so much that I wanted a pair of my own.

They are great for showing off the color of the liquor when taking pictures of my latest brew. They are perfect for tasting because they hold only a couple of ounces which allows the tea to cool quickly… instead of having to wait several minutes for a big cup of tea to cool down enough so It does not give your tongue first degree burns.

Travel Set

While browsing Yunnan Sourcing I found a compact travel set. This was great for me because I like to brew tea at my friend’s house a lot, but was afraid of something getting broken during the trips back and forth. Also, I had wanted a Gaiwan for quite some time. So, when I bought this set, I acquired my very first Gaiwan.

This travel set is just adorable! It’s so tiny that it makes it cute. The Gaiwan only holds about 60ml, with each cup holding 10ml, and there are 6 cups. The pitcher holds 80ml. I loved the yellow color and the dragon design so much that I incorporated it into my banner. Ah, you knew it looked familiar didn’t you?

Blue Gaiwan

After I got my yellow Gaiwan that I mentioned above, I used it more than my regular “English style” teapot. I found that Gaiwans are so much easier to use and clean. However, the yellow Gaiwan was made for travel and the amount of tea that it made was so minute that I needed something bigger for everyday use.

That is when I found this blue dragon Gaiwan from Red Blossom Tea Company. It has a large, 6oz, capacity. While on my hunt for a bigger Gaiwan, I realized that I did not like the plain white ones, or the solid colored ones. So, when I saw the blue swirled, water-like pattern and the painted dragons on both the cup and the lid, I had to have this one. The only problem with this Gaiwan is that my girly hand is too small to use this one handedly. I can hold it fine while there is nothing inside of it. However, when water is added, it is too heavy and slippery for me to hold and pour with one hand. So, my normal procedure is holding the cup with my right hand and the lid with my left while pouring. Oh well, that is something that I don’t mind, considering the plus side of Gaiwans are extremely easy clean up.

Brown and Blue Gaiwan

This next item of teaware I obtained from a friend for my birthday. He recognized the one-handed pouring problem I was having with my blue Gaiwan and found this brown and blue Gaiwan from Tea Spring. It really does remedy my problem because there are two places on the sides of this Gaiwan that are folded up, making for a better grip. Also, it has a pouring spout to direct the flow of the extremely hot water… making it less likely for me to burn myself, which seems to be what I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Not to mention that it is of a large capacity that I like. The colors and patterns are very beautiful on this, as well.

Dragonfly Tokoname

My mother bought me my very first Tokoname teapot from O-Cha for my birthday. There is really only one thing I need to say here… I LOVE IT… but I will say some more about it, anyways. First of all, it’s sooooo pretty! I absolutely love the painted grass design and the cute little dragon flies on the lid and the body of the teapot. According to O-Cha’s website, this teapot is best for brewing Gyokuro, but I’ve been using it for Miyabi Shincha. The reason they say it’s best for Gyokuro is because the mesh filter does not go all the way to the bottom of the pot. This means that when the tea is poured out, the wet leaves are sitting on the mesh filter and off the bottom of the pot, so they are not sitting in what little water gets left behind during decanting.

Also, you can see in the very last picture, there is a glass pitcher that I bought from Yunnan Sourcing when I purchased my yin yang tea table. I think my personal Gong Fu station is finally complete!

I would still like to get my hands on a Matcha set, but for now I am pretty content with my teaware collection. I cannot wait to break in all this new teaware and starting posting some new reviews. However, my dad is on a fishing trip at the moment and he took the only digital camera that I have. So, I am going to wait until he gets back next week to start more reviews.

See you soon!