Saturday, January 29, 2011

Raspberry black tea

This morning, with my selection of tea dwindling, I decided on a raspberry flavored black tea from Special Teas, who it seems has been subsumed by Teavana, for whatever that means.  Anyway, a while back, we ordered a big grab bag of 2 oz. samples packages from Special Teas, including a bunch of fruit teas, and the fruit teas were all disappointing.  They shouldn't have been; Special Teas does a great job with non-flavored teas, but the fruit teas are all bland.  The tea base is boring and average, and the fruit flavors are muted and don't stand out.  Which pretty much sums up the raspberry.  Despite using real fruit to flavor the tea, even actual dried raspberry pieces, the tea was bland.

I made it in my usual stopgap, I need to replace this, it came from the 70's teapot.  1 flat teaspoon to a cup, 4 teaspoons to fill the pot, water at a rolling boil, brew for 3 minutes.  Strain, add a dash of sugar and some milk...and meh.  My wife added cream, and found that it gave a smoother texture and a sort of raspberry and cream flavor, which wasn't bad.  I almost never use cream in tea...always milk, though there are a couple of exceptions, this being one.

Overall, a disappointment.  I don't know how the merger with Teavana will affect Special Teas, but I'd shy away from their fruit teas, and stick to the estate teas and traditional blends that they do such a great job with.

Score:  60 (F)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bentley's Pomegranate Black tea

Pomegranate shows up in everything these days, courtesy of it's new reputation as a "superfood.'  To be fair, pomegranate is a tasty and very healthy fruit, it just sounds like the latest trend, like Acai.  Once we start getting trendy liquor flavored with the latest miracle fruit, I start rolling my eyes.  But pomegranate really is very good for you, and tastes amazing, even if it is a huge pain to actually eat.  Besides, my wife bought this tea.

I tend to stay more to non-flavored teas.  Estate or blended green, white or black teas are my favorites, but my wife really enjoys fruit flavored teas (her favorite is strawberry shortcake, a blended black tea flavored with strawberries and upcoming review at some point.)  I don't mind the occasional flavored tea; some are quite nice.  Earl Grey, for instance, is probably the most widely known flavored tea, with added oil from bergamot, a citrus fruit.  And who hasn't had a cup of Earl Grey, even if just to say out loud: "Tea.  Earl Grey.  Hot."  I just find the added flavors can sometimes distract from the actual tea.

So, then, onto Bentley's Pomegranate black.  I've only found this in bags, and while there are some high quality teas available in bags, for the most part, bag tea is low quality, fannings and dust.  But, they're also damned convenient.  Feeling under the weather today, I just don't have the oomph to make loose tea, with all the extra steps.  So, two tea bags to a 10 oz. mug, water at a rolling boil, brew for about 4 minutes, add milk and sugar liberally.  And the result is actually pretty good.  There aren't really any nuances of flavor here; the blend of teas is pretty generic so that nothing stands out (fans of Scotch, compare to a boring blend like Johnny Walker or Cutty Sark).  The pomegranate flavor takes center stage, but it blends smoothly with the tea, and leaves a mild sweet finish.  Overall, nothing fancy or delicate, but a good quick cup of sweet, hearty tea that makes a nice pickup on a winter afternoon.  This is really the kind of tea that got me drinking the stuff in the first place.  My first proper cup of tea, about ten or eleven years ago, was from a Red Rose tea bag, and even with all the far bigger and better teas I've found, I still like Red's hearty, pleasant, and a cinch to make a cup.  Not Lipton, though, that stuff is gross.

Score:  70 (C-) Nothing exciting, but a pleasant cup, and teabags make the process painless.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Organic Gunpowder Green

Gunpowder tea is an unusual tea that supposedly gets its name from the rolled shape of the leaves.  Apparently, to someone somewhere, they resembled gunpowder pellets enough that the name stuck.  The leaves get their shape from hand rolling, a process that must be incredibly laborious and tedious.  The painstakingly rolled leaves unfurl as the tea brews, and you can see they're actually quite long, making the labor process that much more impressive.

Gunpowder green is a fairly famous Chinese tea, and in my experience, largely deserving of its reputation.  This particular tea is another loose leaf purchase from Special Teas, and is 100% organic tea from China.  I made this in my stopgap teapot, 1 flat teaspoon to the cup (or about 1 rounded teaspoon to the 10 oz. mug), and brewed in steaming but not boiling water for about 2 1/2 minutes.  The water temp is important; green tea in full on boiling water is flat, bitter, and short, nasty.  I either a) boil the water until it's steaming briskly but not bubbling, or b) bring it to a full boil, take it off the heat, and let it sit for a full minute.  As with all greens and whites, sweetener (or God forbid milk) would annihilate the delicate flavors.

The taste is excellent, with just a hint of natural sweetness and vegetation...a very balanced flavor profile.  The feel on the mouth is quite smooth, and leaves a mild and short aftertaste.  There's nothing really unique here, no grassy or earthy notes that I've found in some greens, just an elegant slightly sweet flavor, and not a hint of the harsh astringency that comes across in cheap green tea.  This is a great relaxation tea...even this morning, with a million things going on, it made me stop for a few minutes and enjoy.

Score:  B+ (nothing unique, but a high quality, ubiquitous green.  Very relaxing!)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Smoky Russian Caravan...the Talisker of teas?

Smoky Russian Caravan is a blended black tea, made to emulate the style of Russian tea from the days of trade caravans running from China to Russia.  Russian Caravan is a tasty and interesting blend, smoky yet balanced.  In fact, the best comparison I can make is to Springbank or Talisker, smoky yet balanced single malt scotches.  The smoke in Russian Caravan comes from Lapsang Souchong, a mellow Chinese black tea that is dried by smoking over a fire, traditionally pinewood, which is blended with Keemun and another unspecified Chinese black tea.

Russian Caravan smells great on a cold winter afternoon.  Quality Lapsang Souchong has a deep, rich smokiness, and the aroma is a lot like a campfire.  In fact, if we continue with our scotch comparison (I'll probably do that a lot), Lapsang Souchong is like an Islay single malt.  The Keemun imparts a strong malty flavor, with a hint of dried fruit.  Keemun is often used in English Breakfast blends, and although it's not one of my favorites, it works very well here, adding some malt and natural sweetness to the campfire smoke.  This tea has a nice smooth feel in the mouth, coating the tongue nicely, and with very little astringency.  Curiously, the smoke diminishes throughout the cup, though it remains on the nose.  The flavors linger on the tongue for a while like a good scotch, and leave a mild aftertaste of smoke.

I purchased this as a loose tea from Special Teas, a nice tea website based out of Stratford, CT.  I made this in my tea ball, with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of tea for a 10 oz. mug, and let it brew for about 3 minutes.  A splash of milk and a spoonful of agave nectar, my usual sweetener of choice, rounded out my cup.

Overall, a solid B.  A great pick-me-up for cold weather, and a fine tea for scotch enthusiasts.