Tea Review: Really Root Beer (Nelson’s Tea)

Oh, that’s right. I’m back from the grave! I’ve let my tea reviewing hobby fall by the wayside for a while, but I got inspiration to start reviewing again after getting the opportunity to sample some teas sent to me by Nelson’s Tea.

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So many teas to review! This picture also features an exclusive view of my kitchen floor.

This is a smaller tea company that sells on their website, Etsy, and Amazon. They emphasize the health benefits of tea and offer a lot of flavored and “entry level” teas. This is definitely  I was intrigued by some of their unique flavors and offerings, and they had fair pricing – most of their teas run around $8/2 oz. After expressing my interest, they sent me a whopping SEVEN samples to try!

 

I decided to kick things off with their Really Root Beer tea, because A) I don’t think I’ve reviewed an herbal infusion on this blog yet, and B) I found this package of samples waiting for me after a long day  of work, so making a fresh glass of iced tea sounded perfect.

 

 

 

 

Here’s what the herbal blend looks like before steeping:

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I spy star anise, fennel, and ginger! It also contains sassafras bark, sarsparilla root, birch bark, burdock root, dandelion root, licorice root, and flavoring.

Out of the package, it smelled exactly like root beer. I was very much impressed. It looks like a chai blend, but absent of cinnamon. I used twice the amount of tea to steep it so that I could pour it directly over ice without diluting the flavor.

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After about 5-6 minutes of steeping, I poured over ice and drank! The licorice root is a natural sweetener, so this drink tastes lightly sweet by itself. It is very reminiscent of root beer, although a much lighter taste. It even nabbed that aftertaste that reminds me of vanilla and root beer floats. If you wanted to make it even more root beer-y, you could add a tsp of sugar, but it’s good on its own. I would definitely drink this with friends on a hot summer day.

I see a lot of teas that try to recreate the flavors of desserts or cocktails, but this is the first tea I’ve ever seen that tries (successfully, I’d say) to emulate root beer!

I would recommend this for those who enjoy adventurous tea and herbal blends, or who make and drink iced tea in the summer as religiously as I do.

 

 

 

Tea Review: Teavivre’s Premium Keemun vs. Adagio’s Keemun Concerto

On to the tasting of my second tea sample that the good folks at Teavivre sent me! I got a premium keemun to try from them, and I happened to have a similarly-priced keemun from Adagio to compare it to. Keemun is a rich, smooth black tea from the Anhui province in China.

The Anhui Province

The Anhui Province

I don’t usually drink much black teas, but a good keemun is a treat. Needless to say, I was eager to taste and compare these two! Let’s get started, shall we?

Adagio’s Keemun Concerto – $12/3 oz.

After steeping

Before steeping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adagio’s Keemun Concerto looks impressive straight out the of the bag. The long, twisted strands have a lovely leaf-to-tip ratio (look at how pretty those golden tips look in the left picture!) and a nice, rich aroma. I steeped this tea at just under boiling temperature for 3 minutes. The result was a balanced, mellow cup. It’s a little bit flinty and earth, with almost a fruity aroma to it. It has a medium body with a clean finish- you don’t get that yucky, harsh tannin afterfeel in your mouth like you do with a lot of lower quality or oversteeped black teas. I don’t know if it’s supposed to have cocoa notes to it, but I definitely tasted some, which was a pleasant surprise. I was really delighted with its quality for the price!

Rating: 5/5 stars

Teavivre’s Premium Keemun Hao Ya– $15.90/3.5 oz

Before steeping

After steeping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the bag, the Premium Keemun Hao Ya tea has an aroma that’s both malty and flowery- very pleasant! The leaves, however, look like a lower quality than the word “premium” would suggest. There are few tips to be seen, and the leaves are in smaller pieces and more broken up. This is a sign that the leaves were processed with a bit less care than a tea with longer twists of leaves.

Brewed up (to be consistent, I also brewed Teavivre’s keemun for 3 minutes with just under boiling water), the tea has an amber-red color, very similar to the color of Adagio’s keemun. The resulting aroma was flowery and malty. Taste-wise, I was disappointed. It has a sort of flat flavor, the maltiness of it feeling a bit one-note. It reminded me of an English breakfast tea, and not in a good way. There was a dry aftertaste that was a little unpleasant. Overall, Teavivre’s keemun turned out to be rather disappointing, especially compared to Adagio’s keemun that is similarly-priced and much higher in quality.

Rating: 2/5 stars

 

Well, I was disappointed with Teavivre’s keemun offering, but I still have three other teas to try from them, and I’m eager to give them a taste! Stay tuned.

Tea Review: Adagio Lapsang Souchong vs. Teavivre Lapsang Souchong

Ah, lapsang souchong. Like smoke in a glass. A campfire in a cup. The scotch of teas. Can you tell that I enjoy this type of tea?

Lapsang souchong is produced in the Fujian province of China, traditionally on Wuyi mountain. The leaves are smoke-dried over pine charcoal, which results in a very strong, smoky tea. For this reason, lapsang souchong is a divisive flavor- you may love it the first time, or you might need a few cups to enjoy it.

The good people at Teavivre were kind enough to send me a few tea samples to try, including lapsang souchong! I discovered Teavivre just recently- their website is fantastic! Along with their teas, they have lots of informative articles on tea types, traditions, and the teamaking process. You’ll find a wealth of information here. I’m also a big fan of how they list the steeping directions for both the western method and the traditional Chinese Gaiwan method.

I decided to compare Teavivre’s lapsang souchong to Adagio’s offering, which is at a similar price scale. I brewed both teas at 195 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 minutes, and a used a teaspoon of each tea per cup of water. Let the tea tasting begin!

Teavivre's lapsang souchong on the left and Adagio's on the right

On the left, Teavivre, on the right, Adagio

Teavivre

Teavivre’s lapsang souchong is grown on Wuyi Mountain. Fresh from the bag, Teavivre’s smoky smell is much more delicate than I had expected. When I poured out the leaves, I was pleased to see there was a mixture of leaves and the golden tips of the plant. Just by looking at the dry leaves, I knew I could expect a balanced flavor in the cup. The wet leaves have that tan color that signifies a good black tea, and you could probably get multiple flavorful infusions of this tea.

 

Before steeping

Before steeping

After steeping

After steeping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flavor was indeed balanced, and rather lighter than the full-bodied smokiness I’m used to in a lapsang souchong. The smokiness is apparent when you smell your tea as you drink, and it has a light, lingering smoky finish. I like a lapsang souchong tea that kicks you in the pants, so this tea would be best suited for those who are new to the distinctive taste.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Price: 10.90/3.5 oz

Where you can buy it: http://www.teavivre.com/smoky-lapsang-black-tea/

 

Adagio

Whereas Teavivre’s lapsang is more subtle, Adagio’s fulfills that kick-in-pants quality that I enjoy. When you smell the dry leaves, you get a strong woodsy, smoky flavor, almost reminiscent of a meat jerky (remember how I said that this tea isn’t for everyone?). The dry leaves are a lower quality than Teavivre’s- they’re more chopped up, which is going to make the flavor less mellow and a bit harsher. The wet leaves are also telling- they’re a dark color, almost black. This isn’t to say it’s a BAD tea, just that it’s a lower quality than Teavivre.

Before steeping

Before steeping

After steeping

After steeping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flavor, while not as balanced, has a fuller taste, the smokiness really coming through in the smell and the taste. I was surprised at that, considering that this tea brewed into a much lighter-colored brew. I had to double-check to make sure I was indeed tasting the Adagio lapsang! You really get transported to a campfire drinking this one, but I’m docking it a few stars for its quality.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Price: $8/3 oz

Where you can buy it: http://www.adagio.com/black/lapsang_souchong.html

I’m not done with Teavivre! I still have silver needle, keemun hao ya, tie guan yin Iron Goddess and luo chun to taste from them, so stay tuned!

 

 

Cha Cha Cha! : A Three Tea Review

For a while, green tea was green tea for me. Then I tried some gyokuro, a high-grade Japanese green tea, and it was like seeing a whole new universe. I didn’t know green tea could have such a strong, oceanic flavor to it. Since then I’ve been hooked on Japanese green teas.

Why do Japanese green teas taste different from Chinese greens? It’s mainly due to the production. The Chinese method of tea production often involves drying the leaves in a wok. This gives the tea a nuttier, sometimes toasty or smoky flavor. The Japanese generally steam their tea leaves, which gives it a fresher vegetal taste. Both varieties are good for different moods or tastes.

I decided to pull out and profile the three Japanese teas currently in my collection. They’re all very distinct from each other. Let us compare and contrast!

I brewed up a cup each of kukicha, hojicha, and genmaicha, three unique Japanese teas. Let’s take a look at each one:

Kukicha

Kukicha before steeping

Kukicha before steeping

Kukicha translates to “twig tea.” It’s made up of the stems, stalks and twigs, and it usually comes from the production of sencha or matcha. At first this might sound like it’s the haggis of tea world, using the thrown-off parts of the tea plant out of sheer pragmatism. But actually, it’s really delicious and good for several steeps! It’s also unique in that it has very little caffeine in it. I’m presuming this is because the leaf isn’t involved in kukicha.

Kukicha after steeping

Kukicha after steeping

 

 

 

The Tasting: I got my kukicha from one of the few physical Adagio tea shops when I was in Chicago. I had only heard of it before, but the smell was too good to pass up. Pre-steeped kukicha has a bright, vegetal aroma to it. My immediate thought was, “It’s like gyokuro’s kooky cousin.” (Get it? Kooky-cha? I’ll stop now.)

Before steeping it looks almost like lemongrass, since, like that plant, it’s mostly twigs and stems. When steeped, the liquor is a clear yellow. I love its bright, refreshing taste. It’s one of those teas that you can guzzle right up because it’s so refreshing, and you don’t get any of that tannin mouthfeel on your tongue or teeth. I read somewhere that the Japanese sometimes mix kukicha in with fruit juice to make a drink for kids. I will have to experiment with that this summer–I think the bright, vegetal notes would go really well with some sweet fruit notes. YUM.

Hojicha

Fun to say and fun to drink! Hojicha is a bancha tea. Bancha is produced in the late summer-early fall harvest. To make hojicha, the bancha leaves are roasted for a few minutes. This strips the leaves of a lot of their health properties, but it gives the leaves a honeyed taste, sort of like hazelnuts. It also turns the leaves a brassy color, making it a rather unusual looking and tasting green tea.

The Tasting: This hojicha is another Adagio tea–I nabbed a free sample of it with another tea purchase, and I’m glad I did. You can definitely smell the toasted quality before you steep hojicha. When steeped, the liquor is amber with almost a pinkish tinge to it. I like the light toastiness in the flavor and its rounder, sweeter taste. You get a little bit of that vegetal taste from the green tea in there as well, but it’s completely different from a straight up Japanese green tea.

Hojicha before steeping

Hojicha before steeping

Hojicha after steeping

Hojicha after steeping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genmaicha

Genmaicha was the first Japanese tea I had that wasn’t just a “plain” green tea. It was originally a peasant’s tea. Poor Japanese tea drinkers would add toasted brown rice to their tea leaves to make the tea last longer. And as it turns out, toasted rice and green tea is a pretty delicious combination. Now it’s one of the most established teas of Japan, made with either sencha or bancha leaf.

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Genmaicha after steeping

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Genmaicha before steeping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Tasting: I got my genmaicha from the bulk section at my local co-op grocery, so it’s not particularly high-grade, but it was still pretty tasty. Genmaicha has this really savory aroma from the rice. When you steep it, the result of this combo is a clean-tasting tea with a hint of toasty nuttiness from the rice. It’s an strange tea, and it might not be up everyone’s alley, but I’m a huge fan. It has the unusual distinction of being both really refreshing and really warming and comforting. The liquor of genmaicha is a clear olive-green, and as you drink the steamed rice smell hits your nose and makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a warm kitchen with stir fry on the stove.

Out of the three of these, do I have a favorite? Tough call. They are all tasty and have different merits depending on what you’re in the mood for. So, I recommend to you:

  • Have a cup of kukicha when you want something bright and refreshing. Try it iced on a summer day for a tasty way of hydrating.
  • Make some hojicha when you want a comforting, toasty drink. Wrap your hands around a mug of it as you pull a blanket around you and read a book.
  • Brew up some genmaicha if you want a satisfying, clean-tasting companion to your savory or sweet food.