Saturday, April 30, 2011

Reflecting with Gongfu Cha

The past six months of my life have been one hell of a ride for my normally quaint and boring life.

I bought a brand new car, the boyfriend and I both landed steadier and better paying jobs, we both survived the holidays along with one of the worst flues we have had in a while, and I have been preparing for a vacation and a move this summer. That may not sound like a lot, but after feeling like my life has been in limbo for the past four years (being either unemployed or under employed while still in college) these are major changes taking place.

It is nice that everything is finally changing for the better, but it seems like it is happening all at once. Thus, I am taking some time to slow down and reflect on everything that has happened with a Gongfu Cha session.

Filling and starting the kettle.

I can’t even remember how long it has been since I have spent some quality time with my one and only yixing pot. He is now sitting on my tea table along with my two favorite tasting cups which are accompanied by my pitcher (or fairness cup) and strainer.

The water is ready… just under a boil.

I poured the hot water in the empty yixing pot, replaced the lid, swirled it around and dumped it into the pitcher. I then poured the water from the pitcher to the cups, and then dumped the cups. After pre-heating the tea ware, I filled the yixing pot about 1/3 full of leaves; the tea of choice being the deliciously awesome Bai Lin Gongfu from Canton Tea Company. I rinsed the leaves by pouring hot water into the yixing pot, waiting a few seconds, then pouring the water out. I gave the leaves fresh hot water, let them steep for about 40 seconds, poured this brew into the pitcher, and then into the cups.

Smelling and tasting the sweet, caramel scent and flavor that is Bai Lin made me wonder why I waited so long to sit down for a gongfu cha session. Has my life really been THAT busy?

Let’s see…

I HAD to get a new car. It didn’t really have to get a brand new one, but for me it was the better route to take. This purchase gave me a car payment that I didn’t have with my old car, but it was either that or pay more than what my old car was worth to fix it. I am really not sad to see my old car go because I love my new little wintergreen Chevy Aveo5.

Pouring hot water on the leaves and steeping a second time for 40 seconds.

My boyfriend obtained a well-paying job… which changed everything for us. I can still remember the day he told me he got the job… I felt like we had just won the lottery. A couple of months later I received a better position with slightly better pay which helped us even more. We aren’t millionaires by any means, but at least we are no longer starving and struggling college grads. These opportunities are bitter sweet, though. Neither of our current jobs have anything to do with our college degrees or our long term career goals, but at least it is a start. I finally don’t feel guilty and ashamed for the next three days after impulse-buying a candy bar.

Definitely less astringency and more caramel flavor in the second steep.

I remember 2011 did not start out that great. Both the boyfriend and I had seriously bad flues with fevers, coughing, sneezing, and terrible body aches. On New Years Eve we were in bed by 11pm, incapable of staying up and joining in the festivities. However, starting out the new year like that means it can only get better – and it has!

Heating water for the third steep.

I am currently planning a vacation to Charleston, SC to visit the only tea plantation in the United States. This is something I have wanted to see, but never thought I would be capable of doing it this year. It is exciting, but it is a lot of work planning the week long visit.

The major thing on my mind is the move. After four years of dating, the boyfriend and I finally get to move in together this summer. It has taken us this long because we wanted to secure good, reliable incomes before taking this huge step. This move means that I will be on the road less and have my tea stuff with me more… which also means… you guessed it… more blog posts! I have lived in the same house since I was two years old, so I find each step of the moving process fun and fascinating.

The third steep still has a lot of body to it. Not watery at all.

I think the tea could go on, but I am done. My thirst is quenched and I am out of things to write about. Charles Dickens was right… tea does clear “my muddle of a head.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

White August's Mango Away Review

Type: Black
Origin: India
Price: Free sample (regular price – 7.95 for 50g)
Vendor: White August Tea Company
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 206°F, steeped for 3-5 minutes
Overall Score: 4.2 out of 5

Mango Away is a black tea base blended with mangos and calendula flowers. The aroma of the dry blend is more subtle than I imagined. I really have to put my nose to the bowl of leaves in order to smell the sweet mango scent given off by this blend. The dark black tea leaves make the yellow calendula flowers pop. The tea leaves are of average size, but there are a lot of stems in this particular blend.

Just like with the dry blend, the freshly steeped leaves are not very aromatic. I have to hover over the cup to breathe the sweet and fruity scent of mangos. The liquor is a deep orange color.

The taste is incredibly sweet. It has a mellow mango flavor which is enough to work with the black tea flavor instead of masking it. I like this fruit flavored tea because of its subtlety. Usually I come across flavored teas that are so pungent and over flavored that you might as well drink a glass of fruit juice. I drink tea because I like tea – don’t cover it up.

This blend is a good example of a flavored tea that has been perfectly blended. The mango flavor walks hand in hand beside the black tea, not in front of it.

Again, the description is lacking a lot. I did manage to get the origin information this time, but I want more.

Monday, April 25, 2011

White August's Summer Picnic Review

Type: Black
Origin: Not Stated
Price: Free sample (regular price – 9.95 for 50g)
Vendor: White August Tea Company
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 206°F, steeped for 3-5 minutes
Overall Score: 3.8 out of 5

Summer Picnic is a black tea base blended with juniper berries, black currants, cranberries, and strawberries. I barely opened the package before I could smell the berry tartness of the blend. The aroma is sweet with the strawberries and cranberries fighting it out to be the most prominent scent. The dry blend has an overall dark brown hue with the black tea leaves and dried pieces of juniper berries, cranberries, and black currants that I can see.

The tartness of the berries really comes out in the aroma while the blend is steeping. The liquor is a dark caramel color.

The first thing I taste is the sweet/tart combination of the collection of berries in this blend. The strawberries and cranberries stand out more than the rest. It is not bitter, but I get a bit of astringency from the black tea. The black tea taste is pretty much hidden by the other ingredients, but the fruitiness is not as overwhelming as I thought it would be.

If you are going to add anything to this tea, let it be ice. No need for sugar, sweeteners, or milk. Ice, however, would spunk up this tea and make it a nice, refreshing summer treat.

Just like with the previous reviews of White August’s teas, I would really appreciate more information. Three sentences describe this tea, but that is nowhere near enough for me. Because this actually involves tea leaves (unlike herbal blends) I would like to see some origin or estate information.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

White August's Walk in the Park Review

Type: Herbal
Origin: Not Stated
Price: Free sample (regular price – 8.95 for 50g)
Vendor: White August Tea Company
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 206°F, steeped for 5-7 minutes
Overall Score: 3.8 out of 5

According to White August’s website this herbal blend consists of “a medley of tangy berries and essence of roses.” It doesn’t specify what kind of berries are in the blend. I can identify raspberries by scent, but the rest of the “medley” is a mystery to me. Pieces of rose petals can be seen throughout the blend. This combined with the dried berries gives the blend an overall purple hue and a sweet, fruity aroma.

The herbal blend smells fruity while steeping; kind of like warm berry pie or how Jell-o smells before putting it into the refrigerator to chill. The liquor is a beautiful bright red color.

The herbal infusion tastes incredibly sweet. I am drinking this hot, but I can tell it would be much better iced. It tastes a lot like a berry Kool-Aid except it is naturally sweet enough in which there is no need to add sugar. I can’t really taste much of a rose or floral essence, but the berries come through nicely. Yes, grab some ice and get ready for a low-calorie sweet treat with this herbal blend.

I am dropping a few points not because of the taste or quality of the blend, but because of the lack of information. A one sentence description is all that is given. There is no actual tea involved with this blend so it is not the origin or estate I am concern about, but I am not too pleased with just the word “medley.” A list of the actual berries would suffice and I doubt would be that hard to add to the description.

P.S. I let the tisane sit until it was room temperature then I poured it over ice. Oh yeah, it is so much better when cold.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Amigurumi Teaware

Lately, I have been combing my two loves: tea and crocheting. I have only been crocheting for almost a year now, but I have quickly picked up the techniques for amigurumi.

Amigurumi is the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals, creatures, or objects. The word is derived from a combination of the Japanese words ami, meaning crocheted or knitted, and nuigurumi, meaning stuffed doll.

Through my self teaching of amigurumi I have managed to make a doll for my boyfriend’s niece, a creature resembling “Sack Boy” from the video game “Little Big Planet 2” for my boyfriend, and a candy bowl with lid for my grandma. Even though I find crocheting projects to give to others fun and rewarding, I decided to make a few things for myself.

I took the pattern from Ana Paula Rimoli's book “Amigurumi Two!” for a teapot and gave it some of my own touches. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad for my first attempt. In the same book is a pattern for a sugar bowl that goes with the tea set. After becoming familiar with the technique of crocheting in the round, I modified the sugar bowl pattern to make a gaiwan. I thought it turned out cute.

I hope to make some cups to accompany the teapot and gaiwan. However, for now I am happy with the two sitting in their own special spots on the shelf.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

White August’s Morning Geisha Review

Type: Green
Origin: Not Stated
Price: Free sample (regular price – 11.95 for 50g)
Vendor: White August Tea Company
Brewing Method: Per Instructed - 1 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 180°F, steeped for 1-3 minutes
Overall Score: 3.7 out of 5

Morning Geisha is a green tea base blended with raspberries and pomegranate. Wow, as soon as I begin to tear the package open I am bombarded with sweet, berry aromas. The pomegranate barely out weighs the raspberry scent I realize after a few more sniffs. The overall aroma is not unlike a freshly made batch of Kool-Aid. The green tea leaves are good size for being a flavored tea. There are a few dried bits of raspberry and pomegranate throughout.

The aroma coming from the kyusuu is very berry. It is sweet and tart at the same time. The color of the liquor resembles a deep yellow honey.

The taste is incredibly sweet at first then the tartness settles on my tongue. I can definitely identify the pomegranate flavor, the raspberry is hard to find, though. There is absolutely no bitterness and only a little astringency.

The only way I can tell it is green tea is from the subtle, delicate flavor and light body. I can’t taste any grassiness or vegetal components. The fruit flavors pretty much take over. Therefore, if you like teas that don’t really taste like tea… then you might want to try this one.

Another thing I don’t like about this tea is that there is very little information about it on the company’s website. A short description is provided, but not much else. It could very well be possible that I missed it, but I searched most of the site and could not find the place of origin or estate that this tea came from. This lack of information might not matter so much to a casual tea drinker… but it bothers me.