Go to Wonderland with a cup of Lewis Carroll tea from Simpson and Vail.. . .

Springtime feels like the time for Alice in Wonderland: flowers blooming, spending more time outside, feeling a little more whimsy after the winter blues.  I’ve seen a few new teas popping up this time of year, themed for just such an occasion.

I recently tried the Lewis Carroll blend of black tea from Simpson and Vail.  In case you don’t know, Lewis Carroll is the author of Alice in Wonderland, among other works.  Alice in Wonderland tends to be a favorite among tea fans for the famous tea party scene featuring the Mad Hatter, not to mention all the cute tea cakes that wreak fantastical havoc for Alice’s adventures.

This Lewis Carroll tea blend features an Indian black tea base, combined with Chinese Rose Congou black tea, highlighted by added violet fragrance and flavoring.  All these flowers are meant to put us in a fantasy world, whether in the queen’s roses, or in the garden beside the tea party.  There are lots of blossoms in the dry leaves, and the brewed cup smells as sweet as a blooming garden.

I enjoy the fragrance of this tea, but strong floral blends aren’t my personal favorite when it comes to taste.  I found I enjoyed the tea more with a touch of milk and sugar, which helped mellow out the strong floral flavors and made the brew more like a flower-scented dessert.

This is a great tea to put you in a springtime mood, perhaps sipped while out-of-doors after a dreary winter.  If you’re one for having fancy tea parties, this may also be a great choice, whether it fits your Alice in Wonderland theme, or just because it feels fancy and ladylike, and makes the flowers on your teacup smell like they are alive and fresh!

Here’s the scoop!

Leaf Type: Black
Where to Buy: Simpson and Vail

A tea party plays a memorable role in Carroll’s most celebrated novel as the setting for Alice’s nonsensical meeting with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. “A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden” where, as the Mad Hatter told Alice earlier, “it’s always tea time.” To make our Lewis Carroll blend, we added our fragrant violet flavor to an Indian Black tea and Rose Congou tea, a China black that has been scented with rose petals during the drying process, to create a deep amber cup with an incomparable bouquet and a flavor that is absolutely heavenly.

Learn even more about this tea and tea company here!

Dayuling Premium High Mountain Oolong from Beautiful Taiwan Tea

dayulingTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Oolong

Where to Buy: Beautiful Taiwan Tea

Tea Description:

The premium teas of Taiwan are known for their smoothness, the quality of their soup and their “Chaqi”.   Only grown in the highest areas, theses leaves take their time to grow and soak up all the cool mist and the High Mountain air.  You’ll feel calm and attentive with this Dayuling sourced High Mountain Oolong.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

I’ve heard great things about Dayuling Oolong; and I’m very happy to finally get the chance to try one! The high, high altitude at which this tea is grown (greater than 2500 meters) and limited quantity that can be produced because of the geographical location are a giant part of what makes this tea so special. At $20 an ounce, this isn’t the priciest tea in my cupboard but it’s certainly up there – I can’t help but cross my fingers and hope it’s worthy of the price tag.

I have to say, the leaf is very beautiful; dry the rolled up leaf gives off a very large, ‘thick’ appearance and has a weight in my hands. After the first infusion I could see why; the leaves are so giant – some of the biggest I’ve ever had the pleasure to brew up. Almost every single one is a completely full leaf, and I even picked out a stem that had not one, not two, not three, but FOUR completely intact leaves branching off it. Just stunning!

I certainly wasn’t going to squander this sample by Steeping it Western Style; so I enjoyed a lovely evening Gong Fu session. Sometimes I feel I can get a little stuck in my head when I’m drinking tea or doing Gong Fu in particular and I focus too much on the technical side of things while trying to pick apart flavour – and I didn’t want to do that with this tea so I just kept doing infusions without really taking physical notes; and I just kind of let the tea ‘speak to me’ while I drank it. It’s so delicate and fragile with very lovely, complex nuances! Teas grown at higher altitude tend to be more complex because, due to the altitude, they grow at a slower pace – and that comes through here for sure.

It’s quite a floral tea, that’s for sure – while the infusions I did blend together I remember the first couple had really lovely, pronounced floral notes of orchid, lily, and a bit of violet as well. Incredibly well balanced though; not ‘perfumey’, forced or over the top in the slightest. Other things I noticed were this very cool, crisp freshness. I kind of instinctively want to call that flavor ‘the smell before it rains’ but I don’t know if there’s a technical word for that. I know petrichor is defined as the smell of rainfall on dry soil/earth (and that’s my all time favourite smell) but this wasn’t quite that: it’s the smell of rain before any has actually fallen. No earthiness.

This was such a pleasant, relaxing tea though! I’m not sure how many infusions I got in total but it certainly lasted quite a while and made my evening magical. Probably well worth the price tag just to say I’d tried a Dayuling, but all in all a very delicious, serene taste experience too. I definitely felt a little tea drunk’buzzed afterwards.

Thé Vert Violette Framboise from Jardin du Thé

homeLogoTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Where to Buy: Jardin du Thé

Tea Description:

Mélange de thé vert sencha et de thé blanc White Monkey accompagné de framboises entières et de fleurs de violette, un mariage équilibré.

Blend of Sencha and White Monkey accompanied by whole raspberries and violet flowers, a balanced marriage.

Learn more about this tea on Steepster.

Taster’s Review:

I’m very fortunate to have a friend currently travelling abroad in Europe (shout out to MissB) who has been sending back teas to several tea-crazy Canadians, including myself and this is one of the teas she was kind enough to pass along my way. I’m not really a green tea person; but lately I’ve been opening up to the green stuff considerably and Spring time is probably when I receive it the best anyway, so I was pretty excited to get to try this one!

It’s perfect for spring; it’s light, fruity and floral which is all of the things that have been hitting the spot this last week with my daily cold brews. I’m sad to report that I made a bit of a mistake measuring it out though; by which I mean I sneezed as I was pouring, and half the sample fell on the floor. NOOO! So, my cold brew was very small compared to the typical 25 oz. I usually make at a time. This was probably a lot closer to 12 oz. if not 10.

Dry, this smells amazingly fresh with super intense and realistic raspberry notes; definitely reminded me of picking raspberries from my Grandma’s garden as a child. We’d get cut up by the thorns from the seemingly endless raspberry patch (which as an adult I now realize was probably only like five by five feet), but it was all worth it to lick that sweet, sticky red juice from our grubby fingertips after collecting an ice cream pail worth of berries for the night’s dessert. I don’t smell the violet in the blend; but this is already earning ‘nostalgia’ points. The liquor is a really pretty almost lime-y green, but with a bit more of a yellow tinge to it. It smells very fresh, and very fruity.

The taste is spot on; I taste the raspberry first and foremost and it’s everything I’m remembering from those vacations at Grandma’s. The green base cuts through it a little bit and it a touch grassy with a little bit of the chlorophyll/fresh cut lawn taste. Both flavours compliment one another quite well though; it makes the whole ‘garden’ imagery I’ve got going on significantly stronger.  And at last the violet in the blend is making an impression!  While it IS present throughout the entire sip way down underneath the raspberry and base, it comes through the strongest near the end of the sip after the initial sweetness of the raspberry has started to subside. I don’t think it’s necessarily distinctly violet; but it is nice and very natural. Floral things seem to get chemical tasting quickly, even when they aren’t artificial but this stays away from that. Finally, I think there are some extra notes in here that are a little softer and sweeter; my initial impression was something like sugar cane but by the end of the cup I was definitely leaning more towards honey.

So all in all, I was very impressed by this tea! I just wish that I’d been able to steep up more of it because it was fresh, and juicy with that sweet sensation of nostalgia and all the elements necessary to invoke the imagery of a Spring time garden! Unfortunately, I don’t see it listed on the JDT website, otherwise I’d seriously look in to picking up a little bit more for my personal stash – I’m wondering if it’s one of those blends you can only buy in store? The JDT website is pretty hard to navigate, and there seem to be quite a few blends missing from the samples that she’s sent my way.

And that’s truly such a huge shame.

Sweet Violet Tea from M&K’s Tea Company

SweetVioletTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Flower

Where to Buy:  M&K’s Tea Company on Etsy

Tea Description:

Sweet Chinese violets, creamy and sweet with just a hint of floral flavor! If you enjoy the lighter side of life (chamomile, rose buds, green tea) you will love this tea. Just throw a couple of flowers in some boiling water, and–viola! You have some sweet violet tea. Although this isn’t a rare flower, it is a difficult tea to locate, which makes us extra happy to offer it to our customers.

Learn more about this tisane here.

Taster’s Review:

Every once in a while, I’ll shop around on Etsy.  As an artist myself, I like supporting other artists.  And also, every once in a while, I’ll come across a new-to-me tea company whose offerings are too enticing to pass up.  Such is the case last week when I was looking around on Etsy and I found M&K’s Tea Company.

I was thrilled with the prices of their samplers.  The one I ultimately decided upon was just $4.99 for a custom five tea sampler, but there are several other samplers to choose from as well.   The order turnaround time is speedy:  I placed the order and the next business day, my order was already in transit!

I really like the packaging of the samples from M&K’s Tea Company.  The outer “sleeve” is a small Kraft envelope that is about the size of a coin envelope.  it has a “window” cut out of it to offer a visual of the tea which has been sealed in a small zipper pouch that’s been sealed inside the Kraft envelope.  The front outer label has the M&K’s logo and the name of the tea.  The back outer label offers brewing parameters, ingredients and harvest information.

Under the sealed flap of the Kraft envelope is “Your Lucky Tea Symbol.”  For this particular tea, my symbol is The Fox.  I’m not sure exactly what that means.  But it adds a little whimsy to the whole thing.

A lot of thought has gone into packaging and I like that.  I like that it has a certain “small company” type feel to it but some time and effort was invested in it to give it a quality appearance while also providing the customer with the information needed to properly brew a cup of tea!

So, this Sweet Violet Tea is the first of the teas that I’ll be trying from this new to me company!  Not actually a “tea” because it contains no camellia sinensis, this flower tisane is crafted from Sweet Violets.  The flowers are gorgeous, colorful, whole and beautifully fragrant.

To brew this, I emptied the sample into the basket of my Kati Tumbler.  The other samples from M&K’s hold enough for 500ml in my Breville One-Touch, but because these flowers are so large and bulky, the sample envelope looks like it’s just the right size for my tumbler.  There are four whole flowers in the sample package, which seems about right for the size of the tumbler.  Maybe one flower too many, but I’d rather go a little more on the leaf than a little less.

I filled the tumbler with water heated to 195°F and steeped the flowers for 8 minutes.  (Incidentally, I didn’t follow the parameters as suggested on the packet, which called for 2 whole flowers per cup of boiling water, steeped for 2 – 5 minutes.)

Viola odarata aka Sweet Violets. Photo from Wikipedia. Click on the pic to go there.

Wow!  I like this!  I can’t think of another time that I’ve consumed a “pure Sweet Violet” tea/tisane such as this.  I’ve had other flower teas, of course, but no Sweet Violets.  I like this a lot.

The above description compares it to “the lighter side”  and uses Chamomile, Rose Buds and Green Tea as examples.  I think I like this better than chamomile.  I like green tea better, but I think this would make a really good blend with green tea, I think.  Perhaps a Dragon Well.  As for rosebuds, this reminds me a bit of a rosebud tisane.  The floral notes of a rosebud tea are maybe a little sharper – here, they’re soft and … well, the word I want to use is “fluffy.”  There is a creaminess to this that I don’t experience with a rosebud tisane and that’s what’s giving it the fluffy taste.

So, I think I might actually like this better than a rosebud tisane.  Or at least just as much.

The flowery notes are not sharp, they’re soft and sweet.  And like the description above suggests, the floral notes are delicate.  They don’t taste perfume-y or soapy at all.  And the cup has a barely there floral aroma which kind of surprised me (I did, after all, steep flowers!)  There really isn’t much aroma to the liquid at all.  But the flavor is really enjoyable.  I don’t generally get all excited over tisanes – I prefer my camellia sinensis – but this is actually one that I could see myself wanting to keep in my pantry.  It’s really quite lovely!

And as it represent my first tea experience with M&K’s Tea Company, I’d say that we’re off to a really good start!

Violet Femme Black Tea Blend from Zhi Tea

violetfemmeTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Zhi Tea

Tea Description:

Cousin to the famous Earl, we welcome the illustrious Violet Femme. Resplendent. Elegant. Complex. Mysterious.

Not so simple and definitely refined, Violet Femme takes her cues from the well-balanced Earl Grey and goes a step further with a splash of creamy vanilla and luxurious lavender. The resulting cup is evocative, aromatic, and smooth.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

As some of you are probably well aware, I’ve tried many different variations on the classic Earl Grey tea.  I love Earl Grey, and I love trying new spins on the traditional favorite.  This Violet Femme Black Tea Blend from Zhi Tea is another twisted Earl Grey … and I’m loving it!

The sharp, tangy bergamot is softened by the addition of sweet, creamy vanilla and then becomes delightfully floral with the addition of lavender.  I love these three flavor profiles together!  They work very well together.

The black tea base is smooth and richly flavored and can hold its own in the presence of the strong flavors of bergamot, vanilla and lavender.  It has a bold taste to it, and it isn’t overly astringent. It doesn’t taste bitter, although I don’t know if I’d be saying that if I over-steeped the tea.  I brewed this tea at 205°F for 2 1/2 minutes in my Breville One-Touch and it produced a perfect cuppa.

The bergamot is strong but as I mentioned already, the tangy citrus has been subdued with the velvet-y vanilla notes.  Together, they taste sweet and creamy, but also deliciously exotic with lively citrus tones.  There is almost a “caramel-y” sort of quality to this … the combination of the tea, bergamot and vanilla tones offers a hint of caramel-ish low notes that I find very enjoyable.

The lavender hits the palate at about mid-sip, offering a beautifully subtle floral note.  Sometimes lavender can be overdone and end up tasting kind of soapy, but, that didn’t happen here.  Zhi Tea knew what they were doing with this blend and added just the right amount of lavender buds to offer a sweet touch of lavender without overpowering the cup.

Overall, I think that this is a masterful blend that – in my book – raises the bar when it comes to Earl Grey variations.  This is really tasty.