Lavender Dream from Dave and Solomons Tea

Dave and Solomons are a mother and son tea blending company, currently selling their indie creations on their Etsy store. I hadn’t come across them before this sample arrived with me, but it’s always nice to discover a new tea company, if a little dangerous for the bank account!

lavender-dreams2Lavender Dream is a fruit and herbal blend, combining the sweet fruitiness of peach with the light floral of lavender. It sounds a little odd to begin with, but I was pleased to discover that they’re actually two flavours which work incredibly well together. The dry leaf itself is incredibly pretty, with dark pink rose petals, bright blue cornflowers, and purple lavender buds, plus large (1-2cm square) chunks of dried papaya.

I used 1 tsp of leaf for my cup, and gave it 5 minutes in boiling water. The result is a medium orange-brown liquor, which smells wonderful and which filled the entire kitchen with the scent of fuzzy peach.  To taste, it’s very much as you might expect. The peach isn’t particularly natural-tasting, hence “fuzzy” peach, but it’s strong and incredibly juicy, and I’m more than happy with that. The lavender is definitely playing second fiddle here, not really making itself known until very much the end of the sip. When it does, it’s a pleasant counterpoint to the sweetness of the peach, adding a delicate floral flavour, and just a hint of perfume.

I expected this one to be a lot heavier on the lavender, given that it’s called Lavender Dream. Having tasted it, I feel Peach Dream lavenderdreams3would be a much more appropriate name, because it is primarily a peach flavoured tea. I’m not the biggest fan of floral teas, particularly when they’re herbal blends, but in this case it shouldn’t put you off. The lavender really isn’t very prominent, but the contribution it makes is balancing one, and pleasant to boot.

As  this is a  caffeine free blend, it’ll likely be making a regular appearance in my evening rotation for a good long while to come. I love the juicy peach notes, and I’d actually like to try this one iced (although I might have to wait until summer, or a rare warm day, for that now.) I’ll definitely be trying more blends from Dave and Solomons Tea in the future on the strength of this experience. There’s certainly some skilled blending going on!


Here’s the scoop!

Leaf Type: Fruit/Herbal Tisane
Where to Buy: Dave and Solomons Tea
Description

Yummy peach cubes with organic lavender, rose petals, marigold & cornflower petals. MMMM Soooo good!

Learn even more about this tea and tea company here!

Catnap from Aka Tea

I misread the name of this tea at first, and thought it said “Catnip.” Turns out I wasn’t far wrong, because this blend does actually contain catnip. It’s even more fitting when you consider that the company logo, and indeed the majority of their blends, are cat themed.

Catnap is purportedly a relaxing blend, containing chamomile, mint, lemon verbena, lemon balm…and catnip. In my head, catnip isn’t something I typically associate with relaxation – it conjures images of bright-eyed, mischief-making kittens. Maybe in humans the effects are different.

Noticeable amongst the dry leaf are small whole chamomile flowers, pieces of lemongrass, cinnamon chips, bright blue cornflowers, and finely shredded mint (and, assumedly, catnip) leaves. I gave 1 tsp of leaf 4 minutes in boiling water, no additions. The resulting liquor is a bright yellow-orange, the scent generically herbal with an edge of sweet mint.

To taste, it’s a little danker than I was expecting, more a dark, sludgy herbal than a bright, clean, refreshing one. Mint is the main flavour – there’s the characteristic cooling peppermint, the sweeter edge of spearmint, and then a borderline vegetal flavour that I’m assuming is the catnip. I’m putting it with the mints because that’s how it comes across to me – minty, but with a definite swampiness about it. Underneath all of those runs the cinnamon, adding a warming spiciness. I’m not sure that it pairs 100% successfully with mint, though. It’s not a flavour combination I’ve come across many times before, and I’m pretty sure there’s a reason for that…

The lemon emerges in the mid-sip, and lifts what could have been a fairly uninspiring cup into brighter territory. The lemongrass adds another layer of sweetness, combining hay-like notes with a light citrus, and the lemon verbena and lemon balm also help to heighten this impression. The chamomile makes itself known at the end of the sip, with its typical thick honey notes. It pairs well with the lemongrass, and moves this blend more firmly into “relaxing tea” territory.

To me, this is a tea of two halves. The initial sip is very heavy on the mint and cinnamon, but that fades pretty quickly and is replaced by the citrus-honey flavours that seem to develop further as it cools. It’s certainly a unique blend, but I’m not sure it’s one I’d seek out especially frequently, primarily because I find the flavour combinations a little too jarring.

Having said that, this is an interesting caffeine-free option, and it’s different from most other “relaxing” blends I’ve tried. If you’re looking for something a little unusual to brighten up your evening tea drinking, this could well be the blend for you. Cat lovers may well award extra points also!


Here’s the scoop!

Leaf Type: Herbal
Where to Buy: Aka Tea

akateaDescription:

CatNap, anyone? Sometimes that’s just what the doc ordered. Catnip is not just for cats. It has been known to help humans relax, relieve headaches, and calm the nerves. Curl up with a cup and “cat”ch some z’s.

Learn even more about this tea and tea company here!

As American As Apple Pie from CatSpring Tea

Yaupon, as a tea varietal, is entirely new to me, At first glance, it looks a lot more like a mate or a guayusa; flakes of greenish-brown leaf that put me in mind (albeit fleetingly) of fish food. Closer inspection reveals that they’re actually quite sizable chunks of (very shiny) tea leaves, although not as oxidized as I expected given that they’re referring to this as a “black” tea. Generously scattered among the leaves are cubes of dried apple, almond slivers, small pieces of beetroot, and cinnamon chips. Even dry, the scent is pretty amazing – spot-on apple pie spices!

Yaupon is the only caffeinated tea plant native to North America, and was used by Native Americans during male-only purification rituals. Despite a wane in popularity, CatSpring now farm  Yaupon sustainably on their family-owned land in Texas. They’ve also got sound ecological credentials, as they’re producing without the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or synthetic weed control.

I used 1.5 tsp of leaf for my cup, and gave it 4 minutes in boiling water. The recommendation is 4-7, so it’s probable that this could be extended if that’s what you prefer, but I’d likely reduce to 1 tsp of leaf if I were brewing for over 4 minutes. The resulting liquor is a medium golden brown, with a distinctive orangey tint. The apple pie scent isn’t as strong once brewed, and there’s a light underlying dankness, like wet leaves in autumn. Once again, I’m reminded of guayusa.

As it turns out, there’s a reason for this. Rather than the usual Camellia Sinensis, Yaupon tea is actually produced from the dried leaves of Ilex Vomitoria, which is a species of holly. Yerba Mate (Ilex Paraguariensis) and Guayusa (Ilex Guayusa) are both closely related plants, and all contain high levels of caffeine and theobromine. The flavours of all three are, to me, rather similar. Dank, slightly vegetal, very reminiscent of forest floor. They’re not tea varieties I would typically look to drink often unflavoured, and they’re a bit of a change from “normal” black or green teas if they’re what you’re used to.

Fortunately for me, this blend is flavoured, and it’s flavouring that works well with the choice of base tea. The apple is floral rather than crisp and sharp, but it manages to conjure a delicious, slightly mushy, “baked” flavour that’s very suggestive of apple pie. The cinnamon adds the requisite spicing, and the almonds round things out with a slightly savoury, slightly creamy nuttiness. I wasn’t expecting to be able to taste the beetroot, but it’s there in the background and it adds an edge of sour tartness that brings the whole thing together nicely. All told, it really does taste like apple pie.

The base tea is slightly distracting, because it’s quite a strong flavour. At times, it almost feels like a fight between the Yaupon and the other ingredients to establish prominence. A longer brew time might have helped to increase the strength of the flavouring, but it might also increase the strength of the base tea, and I’m not convinced that would be a good thing here. Still, experimentation is everything, and I’ll probably adjust my parameters until I find a combination I’m happier with.

On the whole, I’d say it just about works. The Yaupon is a very “autumnal” flavour, to put it politely, and apple pie makes me think of autumn anyway so it’s not as jarring as it could have been (a strawberries and cream Yaupon blend would make me nervous, let’s say.) It’s a very smooth blend, with no bitterness or astringency, and the flavours come over clearly. Tasting this, you’d be in no doubt as to what it was supposed to replicate – it definitely lives up to its name! I’d drink this again, and I’d try more teas from CatSpring in the future. Their offering is definitely unique, and it’s nice that it has a strong family heritage – it’s the exact opposite of the more faceless bigger brands. I’ll be interested to see where CatSpring go from here.


Here’s the scoop!

Leaf Type: Black Yaupon
Where to Buy:  Cat Spring Tea

catspringteaDescription:

As American As Apple Pie is our comforting black yaupon tea loose leaf blend as delicious as a slice of apple pie. Take a trip to grandma’s kitchen with every cup.

Learn even more about this tea and tea company here!

Temomi Shin Cha Green Tea from Sugimoto America

Temomi Shin ChaTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Where to Buy:  Sugimoto America

Tea Description:

Temomi Shin Cha is one of the rarest and highest quality Japanese green teas. The word temomi means “hand-rolled”. From the meticulous picking of the best young tea leaves to the final process of kneading the leaves to fine needles, the whole practice is done by the hands of elite temomi artisans. A method used in Japan centuries ago, the temomi technique is vanishing due to the adoption of today’s machines to produce tea. Temomi Shin Cha is offered to the Japanese Emperor each year in a ceremony celebrating the first tea of spring.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

I have tried Shin Cha teas in the past, but I have never had this very rare Temomi Shin Cha tea before.  What an amazing opportunity to try it!

This is one of the finest green teas I’ve yet to try.

The dry leaf is long and elegant.  The photo above almost suggests an appearance of a Japanese Sencha, and … it does look a little bit like that, except that the leaves are longer.  These aren’t a finely cut leaf, they’re the tender, young leaves – whole – that have been assiduously rolled by hand.  Each tiny, beautiful leaf has been rolled into a long, very slender, sleek “needles.”  They’re gorgeous.

Since I do not own a kyusu, I steeped these leaves in my gaiwan.  My gaiwan is not the “standard” gaiwan, it has a fairly wide, shallow chamber and it is the perfect size to accommodate these precious leaves.  How this tea is brewed is very important.  The temperature should be only 100°F – yeah!  I did a double take on that temperature too.  I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a tea where such a low temperature was required!

Fortunately, my Breville One-Touch doubles as a variable tea kettle as well, and while it doesn’t have a setting for a temperature so low, it does show the temperature as it builds and I was able to pull the kettle at 100°F.  The steep time is 2 minutes.  After two minutes, look at the leaves and see if they’ve opened.  They were beginning to open at this point, but not fully open, so I gave the tea one more minute.  After the extra minute, I strained the tea and sat back to enjoy my this rare tea experience!

The color of the tea is very pale.  But even though there isn’t a lot of color to the liquid, there is a LOT of flavor and texture. It is sweet and the texture is thick.  Thicker than any other Japanese green tea I’ve ever tried (Matcha is not included in that statement.)  It is rich and buttery with a strong vegetative taste that is somewhat grassy.  Sweet and grassy.

In the literature that comes along with this tea, it says:

Temomi Shincha is consumed in small amounts, very much akin to enjoying a rich and strong flavored espresso.

And I get that.  No, I’m not tasting espresso here.  But it does have a very strong and forward flavor, just like you might experience if you were to be sipping on an espresso – but without being brash like espresso can be.  Hey, what can I say, I’m not into espresso … I’m a tea drinker through and through.

For the second infusion, I used 130°F water and steeped for only 1 minute.  This cup is not quite as thick as the first was, but it maintains the same level of flavor and the same sweet, grassy, rich taste that I enjoyed in the first cup.  Still buttery, but because it isn’t as thick, it doesn’t seem quite as buttery or creamy as the first cup was.  It still has a really luscious texture though, it’s just a little lighter.  I notice a bit of astringency to this cup.

I brewed my third infusion the same way, but I added 15 seconds onto the infusion time, steeping for 1 minute 15 seconds.  The extra 15 seconds made a difference, and I’m getting that same soft, thick texture that I experienced in the first cup with this cup.  It’s thick and buttery and delightful.

This third cup may be my favorite of the three.  It has the same rich, brothy texture of the first cup, but with a softer vegetative presentation, the flavor is a little softer and this accentuates the creamy texture.

And because I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to this tea just yet, I decided to do something that I don’t ordinarily do:  eat the leaves!  I brought the kettle to a boil, and poured the boiling water over the leaves to soak them for five minutes to remove any tannic qualities of the leaves.  So after I finished drinking this tea, I enjoyed a warm salad of tea leaves and a light dressing of sesame oil and orange.  It was tasty!

This is – unquestionably – an exceptional tea and offers not just a journey that’s well worth taking but also represents an opportunity to taste a rare tea that is available only in limited quantities.  I highly, highly recommend this tea to all those who truly love tea.

Product Review: Genmai Cha with Matcha Green Tea “Washi” Gift Set from Sugimoto America

giftsetProduct Information:

Where to Buy:  Sugimoto America

Product Description:

“Washi” Green Tea Gift – Genmai Cha features high-quality Japanese green tea packaged in a beautiful Japanese “Washi” canister. “Washi” is traditional Japanese rice paper printed with authentic Japanese patterns. Genmai Cha is a rich, aromatic blend of green tea, roasted brown rice, and matcha. Currently, it is one of Japan’s most popular teas.

Learn more about this product here.

Taster’s Review:

Not too long ago, I reviewed another Washi Green Tea Set from Sugimoto America, that beautiful blue Washi paper covered tin was filled with a delightful Sen Cha tea, and this gorgeous red Washi paper covered tin is filled with Genmai Cha with Matcha tea!

genmaichaThe dry leaf of this Genmai Cha with Matcha looks very much like other teas of this type that I’ve tried.  It looks like a Genmaicha:  green tea with roasted brown rice – some of which “pops” to look like tiny bits of popcorn.  But they’re not bits of popcorn, they’re pieces of popped rice!  Very cool.  Because this is a “with Matcha” variety of Genmai Cha, the tea has been dusted with a coat of bright, jade green powdered green tea (aka Matcha).

When the tea is steeped (180°F for 1 1/2 minutes are the parameters that I used) the liquid is a somewhat opaque, beautifully bright, pale green color.  The aroma is warm and toasty with a grassy tone.

Mmm!  This is a really good Genmai cha!  The overall flavor is that of roasty-toasty-nutty goodness.  It is sweet from the roasty-toasty nutty flavors as well as from the green tea notes.  It doesn’t taste overly “grassy” although there are some grass notes to this, I taste more of a lightly buttered, steamed lima bean flavor than that of “grass.”

I really enjoy Genmai cha because it is one of those “cozy” types of teas that I can enjoy later in the afternoon when I need something soothing and relaxing to sip.  This tea offers that with the uplifting boost that comes from the energizing Matcha.

redwashitinWhat impresses me most about this gift set is not the fabulous Washi paper covered tin – which is MOST impressive, indeed! – but the fact that the beautiful tin is filled with tea.  What a lovely gift something like this would make to any tea lover.  When you go to some of the expensive tea shops in the mall (you know which one I’m talking about, right?)  these types of tins are very costly, and the price of the tin does not include the tea!  With this gift, you not only get the beautiful tin but an excellent quality Japanese tea at a price that is probably about half what you’d spend in that expensive shop in the mall for the same type of product.  I’m really impressed with the value of this product!