Monday, January 17, 2011

Arbor Tea's Dragonwell Review

Type: Green
Origin: China
Price: Free sample (regular price - $10.95 for 3oz.)
Vendor: Arbor Teas
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 180°F, steeped for 2-3 minutes
Overall Score: 3.0 out of 5

Dragonwell is a green tea from China. The dry leaf aroma, however subtle, is slightly woody and nutty. The roasted aroma is prominent with this tea. Long, flat pieces in about every shade of green slide out of the package and onto the plate. The leaves are not as big as I have seen for a Dragonwell, however. There are a fair amount of tiny bits and broken pieces in this bag.

The aroma coming from the gaiwan while the leaves are steeping is a nutty and buttery combination. The liquor is a pale yellow color.

The taste is a little bitter at first. It has an astringent, nutty bite to it. Hmm… this seems to be a harsh tea all the way around. There is just something that feels kind of stabby on the tongue. The aftertaste is very dry until about five or six seconds later then the creamy, buttery background shows up.

By the time I reached the bottom of the cup, the taste eventually grew on me… a little. It has a heavier body than most greens and it packs a bitter punch. This is an interesting tea, but I am just not sure this would be my go to Dragonwell. I will play around more with time and temperatures to see if it changes the overpowering roasted flavor.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Behind the Scenes

What exactly goes on during a tea review by yours truly? Well, let me show you.

This is the set up. It's not fancy by any means, but it is what works for me. A simple folding table holds my tea tray, tea towel, and fu dogs. My laptop, external hard drive (where I keep my pictures and written reviews), and cell phone (timer) sits on a folding TV tray and the other TV tray is used for the camera tripod or extra placement space. When I sit in the folding card table chair, to my right is where I store my tea, kettle, and other utensils.

I have a flexible outline in which I review tea. I try to keep the steps the same so I can review each tea the same way, but I try not to make it boring, as well. I open the bag that contains the tea and note the aroma. I pour some of the leaves into a bowl or onto a plate and give the leaves a few more sniffs for a better description of the aroma. At this time I note the recommended water temperature and prepare and start the kettle. While the kettle is doing its thing, I take pictures of the dry leaves while also writing about the appearance. By this time the water is up to temperature so I put the recommended amount of leaves into a teapot, gaiwan, kyusuu, or whatever I choose to use that day and then pour in the hot water. As it is steeping I note the aroma coming from the brewing vessel. I decant the tea when it reaches the suggested brewing time and note the color along with the aroma again. While the tea is cooling I take pictures. Then comes time for tasting. I usually go with my gut on this part and write what first comes to mind... as in what the flavors remind me of. I finish writing the review, edit the pictures, upload the pictures, put the pictures in the edited blog post, and finally post the review for all to see. After all that, I drink the rest of the tea if I like it, and then wash the tea ware.

And... that's it. It doesn't sound like much but this whole process from set up to wash up is about an hour per tea. I have always thought that it's easier to pop out tea reviews one after another if there are no pictures involved... but I think it gives something extra to the blog. You can see that I actually made the tea. You know that I didn't just throw some random descriptive words together and call it a review. I care a lot about the reviews I write and the pictures I take, so I take the time to do a good job... but, as a result, I can't get them out as fast as other bloggers can.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Arbor Tea's Earl Grey Review

Type: Black
Origin: China and India
Price: Free sample (regular price - $9.95 for 4oz.)
Vendor: Arbor Teas
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 212°F, steeped for 3-5 minutes
Overall Score: 3.6 out of 5

Earl Grey is a mix of Chinese and Indian black teas flavored with bergamot oil. When I open the package, I can immediately smell the citrus bergamot – it is rather strong. And… that is pretty much all I can detect from the dry leaves. If I put my nose anywhere near the leaves it gets pummeled with the aroma of bergamot. The leaves are small, curvy, dark brown pieces with bits of orange color throughout.

The aroma of the freshly made tea is all about the bergamot, although, I can faintly smell the malty black tea in the background. The liquor is an orangey-copper color.

The taste is a bit harsh at first. Between the citrus and the black tea, it is quite astringent. The second and third sips reveal the boldness in this tea. It is not a very complex tea; I just go back and forth between the bergamot and the slight smokiness of the black tea. However, the flavors that it does hold are not shy about letting you know they are there.

I wouldn’t say this tea is bitter, but very acidic and slightly sweet tasting because of the bergamot. It tends to dry out the mouth quickly. I am not sure about this one. It is not one of the best Earl Grey’s that I have had, but it is not bad either. It is just sort of a meh... but at least the price is fair.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Unnecessary Tea Accessories

For those who are new to the wonderful world of tea and just starting a tea and tea ware collection, the vast array of options can be a bit overwhelming. Please allow me to spare you some terrible headaches. The following items are things that I deem rather unnecessary as far as tea accessories. Of course, you always have the final say on what gets added to your list of must have tea items.

First on my black list is the variety of “infusers.” It has become a reflex to automatically cringe when I see or hear that word. There are tea ball infusers, spoon infusers, stick infusers, etc. What it all comes down to is relentlessly shoving and over packing poor, innocent tea leaves into a stainless steel cage and plunging them into hot water. While you are at it, you might as well let out an evil laugh and shout “there are ways of making you talk!” A better solution is to not even spend the money on these sadistic contraptions. Remember, if you are going to use whole leaf tea, then the leaves need a whole lot of room (in order to expand and steep to their full potential). Most infusers are two small to provide the space needed for large leaves. Therefore, simply put the leaves into a teapot - minus any infuser baskets that might have come with the teapot - pour hot water over the leaves, steep, and then pour the tea through a strainer and into your teacup. If you think about it, it does not take any more or less time to clean out an infuser than it does a teapot. It would actually take longer to stop what you are doing and pack the leaves into the infuser just to have to clean them out later. Not only does this accessory not save you time, but it now gives you a weak cup of tea.

The same concept goes for “T-Sac’s” or filter bags in which to put loose tea. That is logic I have yet to understand. You break out of the normal bagged tea routine and buy loose leaf tea - awesome - then you scoop out some loose leaves and put them… into a bag. Uh… ok… moving on.

As long as we are on the subject on bags, I will mention tea bag squeezers and tea bag rests. Don’t use tea bags and you won’t have a use for these items. It really is that simple.

Finally, the last thing on the list is the tea cozy. Maybe it is because I’m not really a girly girl. Maybe it is because I am not stylish. Maybe it is because I am not the type of person who tries to make her dog wear clothes. Whatever the reason, I think tea cozies are absolutely laughable when it comes to tea accessories. Tea cozies are nothing more than clothes for your teapot. But it keeps the tea warm… oh, really? Really?? What I have found is that keeping tea warm and not letting it naturally cool makes the tea continue to cook. Even if you strain your tea with a fine, mesh strainer small particles are still going to find their way through. As a result, if you keep the water hot, it is going to continue steeping the tea which will result in a bitter brew. This is also the reason why I quit using my vacuum seal travel mug – it kept the tea so hot that it changed the flavor profile by the time I had removed the lid to let it cool enough to drink. I hate the fact that there is a small window in which tea is at the perfect temperature to drink. However, letting the tea cool naturally does not allow it to continue to steep as much, making it taste a heck of a lot better. Some have also said that they use tea cozies for storing their teapots. I say, why would you store them? Display them proudly! When I am not using my teapots, they have their own special spots on shelves to be viewed by all.

Image Reference Links: Tea Ball, Tea Stick, T-Sac, Tea Cozy