Saturday, February 16, 2013

New Tea Review Method

It has been a long time since I have sat down to do a tea review... and there is a reason for that.  I have finally changed a significant part of this blog that I have wanted to change for a while: my tea review method.

I made my previous review method in a hurry and simply took into account what other tea review blogs were doing.  I was new to the tea blogging world and thought "this must be the way it is done."   However, after writing for this blog for over four years, I have learned a lot about what is really important when describing a tea and what isn't.

I did some research by reading other tea review blogs and paying attention to the sections that I read, sections I skimmed over, and sections that I felt were missing and I wanted to know more about.  Additionally, I polled a few tea-drinking, non-tea-drinking, blogging, and non-blogging friends to incorporate their thoughts; We ended up coming to the same conclusion.  Thus, I took my previous review method, scrubbed it clean of unnecessary information, added some new essential categories, and prepared it for it's debut.

Here we go...

The categories that I have migrated from the previous review method are the type, origin, price, vendor, and brewing method.  I believe this is still essential information when getting to know the ins and outs of the tea.

The type is a given.  It is important to know the oxidation level as well as a little of the expectancy of what this tea will taste like.

The origin is very important.  If a vendor has neglected to give the origin of a tea (or at least the base tea for flavored teas), then I must look at them with suspicious, squinty eyes.  The overall flavor of a tea is effected by so many factors such as climate, evaluation, rainfall, shade/sun, harvest time, storage, drying, oxidation, firing, processing, shipping, and everything in between.  A vendor who shares origin information and even estate information most likely (but no always) is a vendor who cares about the quality and reputation of their tea.

The price category stays because, well, that is what everyone wants to know, right?  Yeah, yeah, this tea is good, but how much is it going to cost me?  If you have shopped for anything while on a budget you know that can make or break a sale in seconds.  The price is something I have listed for all of my reviews, but something I didn't talk a lot about.  I think this is something I need to improve on with my reviews; I need to talk about the perceived value of the tea versus the vendor's asking price.

The vendor is obviously important.  I will continue to provide a link back to the tea's particular page on the vendor's website as I have done in the past.  Please note, I have removed all affiliations with tea vendors (or any vendors for that matter).  I am not trying to sell any of the teas I review; the reviews are my honest opinions and I do not get paid to write them.  I provide the link simply for your, the reader's, convenience in case you would like to know more about a the particular tea and/or how to get it.

The brewing method is essential in order show exactly how I prepared the tea.  I try to use the methods provided or suggested by the vendor because those are the instructions given to average consumers.  How one prepares the tea can effect the taste just as much as the climate, rainfall, etc., that I mentioned above.  Some teas are very picky about their water temperature and steep time... and the wrong times and temperatures can result in a completely different cup of tea.

Now for the new stuff...

I have nixed the overall score section as I don't think it provided anything to the review.  Even when writing out a scale for the numbers, I still picture the reader asking, "what the hell is a 4.3?"  Then I asked myself, "what does it mean?"  I couldn't answer.  My point is, I think numbering scales don't provide enough information.  Plus, I always hated writing that section during the review.... I never knew what to put!  One might argue that the numbered scales are a quick reference to the quality of the tea.  However, after looking over my past reviews, most of them are 4's.  How does that help anyone if most teas get this B rating?  How do you compare one tea to the next if they are all "good" teas, just not "perfect" teas?  Thus, the overall score section is gone and I couldn't be happier.

I added an ingredients section.  I always listed the ingredients - if the vendor provided them - in the body of the review, but I think they deserve a section up top as a quick reference.  Again, I lose respect for any vendors who do not list the ingredients in their blends.  I want to know exactly what is in the tea I am drinking and just how much of the so called "natural flavors" are in it.

Furthermore, I have added a summary section.  In this section I will give a quick summary of what I think are  the "good" parts to the tea and what I think are the "bad" parts to the tea.  I realized that others may have a difference in opinion of what they think is good and what they think is bad... some people might actually enjoy the overwhelming flavor of bergamot (and I think you are weird!)... but this is my review and, even though I will give as much information about the tea as possible, I will still give my honest opinion on what I consider "good" and "bad."

After all of this, of course, I will write my thoughts in paragraph form about the dry leaf, steeping aroma, wet leaf, served aroma, taste, and overall thoughts and impressions. Meanwhile, I will still provide photos of the dry leaf and liquor.  I believe photos are an essential part of my reviews because it shows I actually had the tea in my hands, this is what I used to make it, these are what the leaves actually look like, etc.  The photos provide a little something extra that just can't be described in words.

Your comments, thoughts, and criticisms about this new method are welcome.  I will start reviews again soon and should have a new one up shortly.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Butiki's Raspberry Truffle Review

Type:  Black
Origin:  India
Price:  Free sample (regular price – $5.00 for 1oz)
Vendor:  Butiki Tea
Brewing Method:  Per Instructed - 1.5 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 210°F, steeped for 4 minutes
Overall Score:   4.4 out of 5

Raspberry Truffle is a Kundaly Indian black tea base mixed with chocolate chips and raspberries; all organic ingredients.  The huge raspberry and chocolate chips stand out amongst the tiny black tea leaves.  I am tempted to pluck out and eat one of the chocolate chips from the blend just to see if it has been infused with the black tea and raspberry flavors... but I won't. 

The aroma of the dry blend is super sweet.  I can smell the fruity raspberry with a hint of earthiness in the background... not sure if that is coming from the chocolate chips or the black tea. 

The subtle aroma of the steeped blend is a mix of sweet, tart, and earthy.  I can smell the raspberries up front with the earthy and hearty black tea aroma in the back ground.  The liquor is a light brown color.

The taste is quite tart at first.  After each sip the tartness gives way to sweetness.  I can't really detect the chocolate by itself, but I believe the chocolate is what is helping the black tea flavor move more towards the front.  What I mean is, usually with flavored teas you just taste the flavoring.  However with this, I can taste the raspberry flavor AND the earthy tones of black tea.  I think the chocolate makes the actual tea flavor richer so it does not become hidden by the raspberries.

When it comes to adding milk, cream, or sweeteners to this tea... I like it the way it is.  I believe adding cream would mask the flavors too much while sugar might bring out the raspberry flavor more than it needs to be - unless you really like raspberries.

If given the choice, I would pick an actual raspberry truffle over this tea - mostly because of the lack of chocolate flavor.  However, this is a flavored tea that I wouldn't mind keeping in my stash.