Leaf Type: Oolong
Where to Buy: Buddha Teas
Over the years, many different varieties of oolong tea have been produced, each with their own style and flavor, however traditional oolong tea remains the most popular among these.
Learn more about this tea here.
Oolong has historically been my nemesis, although I have to say at this point that I’ve only ever tried loose leaf oolong with one exception (Teapigs Tung Ting Oolong, which is pyramid bagged). This oolong is also bagged, and in fairly small, square paper affairs that really don’t look like they’ll provide much room for leaf expansion. Even dry, the leaf fills up at least half of the space in the bag. One cute touch is that each paper tag has a different phrase – my current bag declares “love is ecstacy”, and my second “appreciate yourself and honor your soul”. Something to muse upon as you wait for your tea to brew? I added the bag to a cup of water cooled to around 180 degrees, and gave it 2.5 minutes. The resulting liquor is a medium golden brown.
Once wet, it’s clear that the leaf is shredded quite finely, and it becomes waterlogged and soggy quickly. The leaf expands to fill the bag, but not as much as I thought it might. I guess the fine shred means that there are no large leaves to really unfurl. Looking at the leaf, this would appear to be a dark or roasted oolong. It has the signature scent that’s often one of the things I like least about oolong – metallic and a little sweet.
To taste, I’m more impressed that I expected I would be. I’m not the world’s biggest Oolong fan, so when I find one that’s palatable and enjoyable to drink, a bit of a celebration ensues. This Oolong is initially very nutty, in the way of pecans or maybe walnuts. There’s a slightly bitter tang that I associate with walnuts especially, which only reinforces the comparison for me. The mid-sip contains a little of the metallic flavour I so dislike, but it’s not over-strong and I’m finding I can ignore it without too much trouble. There’s a note of slightly burnt toast as well, which puts me in mind of autumn and open fires. It’s a fitting flavour profile for this time of year! The aftertaste is smooth and a little sweet, with an almost honeyed texture. It’s a pleasant, flavourful cup, reminiscent of a Formosa Oolong. I’m not sure which variety it actually is as the packaging gives very little away, but that’s where I would peg it.
I enjoyed this cup, which seems a strange thing for me to say given my history with Oolong in general. The nutty, toasted notes pair well together and are very complementary, which probably has a lot to do with it. I’d drink this one again, and I’d happily recommend it either to those who are just beginning to explore oolong (as an accessible entry tea), and to Oolong-phobes who are looking to be proved wrong. It’s made me reevaluate my feelings about dark and roasted Oolongs, in any case!
Leaf Type: Black
Where to Buy: Bluebird Tea Co.
Earl Grey loose leaf tea blend with a papaya + strawberry twist. No one at The Nest (Bluebird HQ!) can start the day without a cup of this fruity, refreshing tea. Didn’t think you could improve the classic? We will happily prove you wrong! No words are gong to do it justice, it simply is paradise! Insiders tip: try it without milk for perfection.
Learn more about this tea here.
Bluebird Tea Co. kindly provided a 2-cup sachet of this tea as a sample with my last order. Naturally, I was instantly curious! It’s a fruity Earl Grey with Ceylon as the base tea, and I can imagine the citrus notes Ceylon can possess working well here. The dry leaf is in reasonably small pieces, and mostly a fairly uniform black although there are a few lighter, reddish-brown, leaves scattered throughout. The fruit here is papaya and strawberry, and I can see tiny freeze-dried pieces of both in the dry mix, although not in quantity. It’s literally just a piece here and there. There are also a few lime leaf pieces, which add an extra hint of colour. Dry, the scent is typical Earl Grey, with sharp notes of bergamot. I used 1 tsp of leaf for my cup, and gave it 2.5 minutes in boiling water. The resulting liquor is a medium red-brown. I made no additions, although judging from the colour of the brew, I can imagine this one standing up well to milk after perhaps a 3 or 4 minute steep.
To taste, this one is deceptively fruity! It’s hard to imagine, from the scent and appearance of the dry leaf, but it is the case! The initial flavour is all strawberry, and it’s deliciously creamy. It almost reminds me of strawberry milkshake! It’s a fairly candy-like strawberry, and not as natural tasting as some, but it steers well clear of artificial. There’s a hint of jasmine in the mid-sip which adds a heady richness, although fortunately it remains on the right side of floral for my tastes. The bergamot emerges mostly towards the end of the sip, and it is quite sharp. This is not a tea for bergamot haters, by any means! There’s also a bite of astringency from the Ceylon base, and together the combination is rather jarring, especially when contrasted with the sweet, creamy, fruitiness of the initial sip. That’s a slight disappointment to me, because I rarely have trouble with astringency when drinking Ceylon – it’s one of my favourite black tea varieties for that reason. As the tea cools, however, some of the astringency wears away and it becomes more palatable. This being the case, I’m starting to think that Earl’s Paradise might work better as a cold brew. At the very least, it needs to cool a little before drinking for the best experience. Possibly milk would help to smooth the edges on this one, although some Earl Grey purists might disagree. The other disappointment with this one is the lack of papaya – I just can’t taste it at all. The strawberry is so nice that it’s not a huge problem, but it is a little one-note. More so than perhaps it was intended to be.
This is a love/hate cup for me. There are things I adore about it (creamy strawberry, yes please!), and things I could really do without (astringency, intense sharpness of the bergamot). For this reason, I’m not wholeheartedly behind it. I think the idea of a fruity Earl Grey is a really nice one – it’s different, for sure. I’m just not sure that Bluebird have quite managed to pull it off. It’s close, but it’s not perfection. One tea can’t please everyone, though, and this blend does have a lot to recommend it. It’s definitely one for Earl Grey (and strawberry!) lovers to try.
Leaf Type: Black
Where to Buy: Golden Tips
Even though Assam produces some exquisite orthodox teas, its CTC (Cut, Tear,Curl) grade of teas are cherished for their extremely bold character. They are known to have relatively bigger round granules which make for a bright red liquoring cup. Strong, robust, full-bodied and rich with a unique malltiness, this tea pairs up with your breakfast like bread does with butter.It goes perfectly with milk and sugar and can also be enjoyed as a pure black tea when brewed in freshly boiled water for 3-5 minutes. Harvested in the peak second flush tea growing season, this exclusive offering will add a new aspect to your love for Assams. The perfect wake-up tea!
Learn more about this tea here.
This is the Crush-Tear-Curl (or CTC) version of Golden Tips Tea’s signature blend Exotic Assam. For those unfamiliar, CTC is a method of mechanised tea processing, during which the tea leaves are passed through cylindrical rollers lined with tiny “teeth” which shred and roll the leaf into tiny pellets. The dry leaf smells very strong – malty with an edge of bitterness. It’s a smell I associate with the supermarket tea bags of my childhood. The leaf itself is a uniform black, formed into tiny balls.
I used 1 tsp of leaf for my cup, and gave it a scant 1.5 minutes in boiling water. This one brews FAST, and the resulting liquor darkens to a deep chocolate brown mere seconds after the leaf is added to the water. The scent at this stage is powerful, too – it’s readily identifiable as “tea” in the best builder’s sense of the word. Like the dry leaf, it’s malty with a bitter edge. I added a good splash of milk.
To taste, this one seems a little generic. It’s sweet and malty, as Assam typically is, and it has a thick, almost syrupy mouthfeel because of that. There’s a tiny hit of bitterness right at the end of the sip, although this intensifies as I continue to drink until it’s ultimately a little drying and astringent. My teeth actually feel a little “furry” after about half a cup, assumedly from the high tannin levels. This is definitely a full-bodied tea, but it’s a little one-note, and lacks some depth and complexity. It’s malty, for sure, but that’s about all I can really say.
This is a great convenience tea. It brews up quickly due to the CTC method of production, and it makes a strong, full-bodied cup that would readily assist the morning wake-up process. It’s perhaps a little heavy-handed, but a good slosh of milk smooths its rougher edges for the most part, with the exception of some bitterness. I think it’s fair to say that it lacks some subtlety, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad tea. It’s an excellent choice if you’re looking for a strong, everyday tea that’s both convenient and consistent, and sometimes that’s just the thing. There are other teas for other days.
I’m not huge CTC fan personally, but I appreciate that they have their place in the tea world, and they’re certainly well suited to some situations. This one is one of the better ones I’ve tried, and definitely worth a look if you’re in the market for this kind of tea. I like the fact that you can also purchase the full-leaf version of their Exotic Assam, as this affords the opportunity to compare (should you wish to), and ultimately to decide for yourself which option you prefer, or which suits you and your lifestyle best.