Saturday, November 10, 2018

Upton Tea Imports Silver Sprout Green tea

As noted before, when the great folks at Upton teas sent over a Ceylon for me to sample and review, they also included a "bonus" 0.5 oz. sample bag of another tea. But not just any tea - this is pretty high quality green tea - Silver Sprout Pre Chingming Chinese green tea.

Chingming (or Qingming) is...well, let's not pretend I know anything about traditional Chinese culture, let's just let Wikipedia do the talking:

The Qingming or Ching Ming festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English (sometimes also called Chinese Memorial Day or Ancestors' Day),[2][3] is a traditional Chinese festival. It falls on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. This makes it the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, either 4 or 5 April in a given year.[4][5][6] During Qingming, Chinese families visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean the grave sites, pray to their ancestors, and make ritual offerings. Offerings would typically include traditional food dishes, and the burning of joss sticks and joss paper.
The Qingming Festival has been observed by the Chinese for over 2,500 years. It became a public holiday in mainland China in 2008...

Thanks, Wikipedia. So, a traditional spring festival, but more pertinent here, of some importance in the tea world. "Pre Qingming" teas are those green teas picked before this date, and are considered higher quality or prestige teas, commanding a higher price on the market. So, this stuff is a pretty nice free sample. I've always had pretty good luck with Chinese green (and white) tea. Brewing seems more forgiving than my few experience with Japanese greens, and the flavor profiles seem to have a wide and pleasing variety. This is full leaf stuff, that has the distinctive look of "almost a pine needle" that serves to remind tea is also in the evergreen family:

Brewing is very straightforward. 1 teaspoon of tea per 6 ounces of water, water at 180 deg F, steep for 3 minutes, with a pale yellow cup.

The flavor profile is bigger than I expected, starting with a taste of toasted grain that rounds out to some mild fruit flavors and natural sweetness. The aftertaste is of roasted green vegetables, and lingers pretty nicely.

Stands up reasonably well to a second infusion with a slightly longer steep time - toasted note increases, while sweetness and fruit decreases, but still a pleasant cup. I sometimes add citrus to greens depending on the type (lemon juice usually), but I didn't have any on hand, and I don't know that it would work well for this tea.

Overall, a great cup of tea, very pleasant, and with the toasted grain and vegetable notes, seems a great choice for late Fall and Winter time. I may try one last cup as iced, though I'm not sure if it will add anything.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Bigelow Pomegranate Green Tea

Huh. Didn't I already review this, way back when?

Quick check says I reviewed Bentley Pomegranate Green Tea many years ago. The other major grocery store brand of fruit infused green tea. Bigelow is that tea that is used to stock every workplace ever, since it's cheap and office/workplace distributors will ship it in bulk. Some of it is pretty grim. I'd stay well away from their black teas.

But this stuff isn't that bad, for a fruit infused green tea. It tastes more of fake fruit than tea, but I like that it's fruit-ish yet not sweet. The green tea provides a bitter undercut to what would otherwise be a cloying, nasty drink. It's not the best cup of hot tea, by a long stretch. But I like it a lot as a refreshing iced drink. Is pomegranate trendy bandwagon fruit with vague and certainly exaggerated health claims? Yeah, but who cares?

Brew is easy enough, I put 1 tea bag to six ounces of water, so two for a standard office issue hot cup. Add hot water out of the Keurig. Not in my office, though. For unknown reasons, we don't have a Keurig, we have the "other brand" with the flat pods. Oh well, coffee is coffee, I've had workplaces provide worse, or no coffee at all. We have dark roast most days, and it beats waiting in line at Starbucks or Dunkies to overpay for a burnt or sour low quality cup.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the hot water out of the "coffee machine" is hot enough for a middling quality cup of green tea. I only steep it for about two minutes, cheap green can get over bitter and astringent fast. If making iced, I reduce the water by half (two bags to six ounces of water), and fill the cup with ice once steeped.

So, is it iced tea? Maybe just barely, but it is a refreshing and sugar free cold drink. I'm not a big tea snob (anymore), most days that's good enough.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Upton Tea Imports Uva Special BOP (Ceylon), continued: A Bit About Iced Tea, and What About This Cold Brew Fad?

I love iced tea. Always have. In fact, as I sit to write this, I am wondering to myself why I don't drink more of it? It makes a great afternoon drink, a minor caffeine bump to get through the rest of the day without resorting to coffee, which will mess up my sleep if I drink it after noon. I guess it's the activation barrier -- good iced tea requires multiple steps to make. and the pre-made stuff is usually way over-sweetened. There's a few brands out there that are reasonable with sugar adds, but I'd truly rather have none.

But what if? What if there were an easier way to make iced tea? What's the deal with all this cold brew stuff that's popping up like the latest fad and excuse for places with bad coffee to overcharge even more for it? And can it apply to tea? So, time for a bit of experimentation, I guess.

My personal experience with cold brew anything goes back to the summer of 2016. I'd seen the growing ads for "cold brew coffee!" starting to build, and there'd be pre-bottled stuff at the grocery store for way too much money (avoid it, it's universally bad!). But when we saw a "cold brew apparatus" (plastic brew pot with easy remove filter), we decided to give it a try. And man, I was shocked to find there's something behind the fad - it's really good. Cold brew coffee, made with the right ratios and steep time, is amazing. It gets as strong or stronger than traditional hot brew, but has this really smooth, rounded flavor profile, with less acid and bite. We spent most of that summer drinking it, then gradually fell out of the habit. Is it really less work? Well, yes and no. You have to prepare it ahead of time, so if you forget, there's no cold brew in the morning. And the apparatus requires just as much cleaning as the old drip pot. So, even though I love the stuff, I rarely think to make it, and typically brew hot coffee and chill it (I drink mostly iced coffee even through the winter).

But. What about tea? Well, at the same time, I experimented a bit with cold brew tea too. I found I genuinely liked cold brew green tea (enough that maybe it will get its own post), but black tea was trickier. It seems to need a longer steep time and closer balance with ratios of tea to water.

But, I have this great Ceylon, Upton Tea Imports Uva Special BOP, and planned to try it as an iced tea anyway. So why not get our science on and compare the two methods with the same tea - a horizontal tasting, as the whiskey bloggers used to say (still say? Haven't read a whiskey blog in years.) Should be perfect, I've always heard Ceylon makes great iced tea.

Uva BOP: Iced tea (traditional method)

So, up first, the tried and true stalwart method:  brew some tea and chill it with ice. Easy enough. I made a six ounce cup with a rounded teaspoon into boiling water and let steep for 3 minutes. Full disclosure, there was no "warming of the teapot" (mug) or anything fancy. I'm not convinced it makes that much of a difference. If any older British ladies read this, they may well be scandalized. But if things are close at the post, I'll get fancier, I guess.

First impression is that this is a great cup of iced tea. As I've mentioned in the past, most black tea needs adds for me -- milk and sugar to smooth out the rough edges of astringency. But as a plain black iced cup, this is smooth and an easy drinker. Still has an astringent bite, but wouldn't be tea without it. Some of the flavor notes that show up as hot tea are a bit more muted - the cedar chest note and wintergreen finish are present but not as strong. But it really tastes like a great example of how I think iced tea should. Interesting, and I will get some mileage out of this going forward. I'll maybe have to play with light touch sweeteners, too -- a splash of lemon and honey are a nice iced tea lift.

Uva BOP:  Cold Brewed Stuff

So, nothing fancy to the brew method. 1 rounded teaspoon plus a little extra per 6 ounces of water in a mason jar and left it overnight (about 12 hours). Strained and poured into a cup. There are pretty neat setups for this, with a brew pot and removable strainer, but I couldn't find ours, so went even more basic.

With coffee, I found the method really rounded out the flavor and texture. I always found it to taste stronger but smoother, with less acid. But it doesn't seem to work the same for black tea. The brew is a bit smoother in texture, but seems more bitter, with the bitter note overtaking and blocking much of what's nice about this tea (cedar and wintergreen). It's not bad, it's still a drinkable cup, but not nearly as good as the traditional method.

The Results!

Well, there you have it, folks. One man's opinion, but I think I'll definitely stick to drinking iced black tea the old fashioned way. However, it was nice to find that Ceylon does make some great iced tea, so maybe more to come of that in the future.

Coming up -- a really high quality green tea, again courtesy of the nice folks at Upton Tea. Hot, iced, and another go at cold brew with green.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Upton Tea Imports Uva Special BOP

Since revving up the engine on the old blog, I've been thinking about black tea, and why I haven't been drinking nearly as much as I used to. I think part of the problem is that of sugar. I truly like black tea "British style," with milk and sugar. I don't really enjoy black tea "black" like I do with coffee, since astringency comes out from tea a bit more. Unfortunately I also try very hard not to intake much sugar. So, rock and a hard place, and black tea becomes a more occasional drink for me.

So, for the purposes of writing up a decent review of a tea, I think I should try it several different ways - black, iced, and "British" at a minimum. If I wanted to get really fancy, I would even try different brew strengths and times, but I haven't found enough difference in the past to make that worthwhile.

So, on to the business of the day - Uva Special BOP. Uva is a pretty prominent Ceylon tea estate, and the Ceylon teas are probably the most productive area that I know the least about. Ceylon teas come from the island of Sri Lanka of the coast of India (Ceylon is an older British colonial place name that survives in the tea type). The central highlands of the country have the right mix of elevation, rainfall, and temperature bands to produce high quality tea, and there are a ton of estates scattered throughout. I enjoy that the names reflect modern day Sri Lankan and fanciful old-school British names.

BOP is of course broken orange pekoe, typically crushed tea leaves that may include some fannings. In my experience, the larger tea leaf surface area exposed to water means you get a stronger, maltier cup than with full leaf tea. I've found it interesting that the same tea at different grades can taste pretty different as different notes stand out -- BOP makes a good strong, pick-me-up tea with a bit more astringency.

Brewing recommendations are a teaspoon of tea to 6 ounces of water, brew at rolling boil for 3 - 5 minutes. As noted above, in the interests of a full review, I tried this tea black without sugar, and then with milk and sugar (iced will be it's own review, I think). As unsweetened black tea, the flavor notes are big, lots of cedar with a mild lingering wintergreen finish, but I find the astringency a little drying on the tongue.

So, another couple cups, this time with a teaspoon of sugar and about a tablespoon of whole milk. The adds really lift this tea up. Sugar balances out some of the astringency, and milk smooths out the body of the tea. The prominent notes are malt and cedar, and the milk and sugar do not diminish the mild mint or wintergreen in the finish. I've always thought of Ceylon as afternoon tea, and while I would happily have this as an afternoon cup, I think it's "big" enough for a morning cup too.

Available from Upton Teas here (shameless plug, I know, but well deserved!) Upcoming reviews will be iced and cold brew of this tea, and then a green, and maybe a couple more if I haven't fully lost steam. I'm trying very hard to stick to a once a week posting schedule (with limited success).

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Kinda dusty here, huh?

*tap* *tap*

Is thing thing still on?

It's been a while to say the least, huh? I last posted in Spring of 2013, and prior to that, Summer of 2012. Life got, well, busy. I changed careers significantly in 2014, had a second kid in 2017, and six weeks after that, changed companies (same industry). But I was losing steam even before then.

I still drink tea, but not like I once did. I like an afternoon cup when I think of it, and maybe a cup on the weekend, but it's an infrequent thing. I drink lots of coffee instead. Such is life. I don't write on the internet anymore because a large part of my job is writing - memos, proposals, meeting agendas, strategic plans, and reports. Very technical reports. It's not quite as dry as I've made it sound, but it's a whole lot of writing, which leaves me with not a lot of desire to write in my free time (such as it is).

I thought about the blog here or there over the years, but I really felt I didn't have much left to say about tea, and a whole lot less free time. I honestly thought about deleting the blog more than once - some of the posts read as written by a much younger man. But I check the stats, and it still gets views, more than when it was active, actually. And I get the occasional non-spam comment, which is cool.

Out of the blue, then, I got an email from Karen at Upton Teas who had found my blog, and wanted to offer a free sample for me to try and review for my blog. Way in the back when, I used to comment how great it would be if tea sellers reached out with free samples for me to review -- bit of a shock when one finally did.

Upton is a great company. They started showing up on the blog at the end of my active blogging period, when I first started getting tea from them, and they're my go-to ever since. Great selection, super high quality tea, a nice old-fashioned print catalog that's enjoyable to sit and read, and great service too. They're out of Metrowest Mass (not actually Upton, though I think they started there). I actually drove by their office/warehouse a few times when I was working up in Mass (no public storefront, though). Living just over the border in CT, I used to joke that the delivery was so fast, all I had to do was think about a type of tea and it would show up.

So, after all these years of quiet, an email showed up from my favorite tea seller offering a free sample for me to write up. Now, I hate asking for anything for free. And this blog has been dormant to say the least. And I was very forthright on those points -- whatever minor "media impact" this blog might have had must be long gone! But Karen was very understanding and offered to send a sample of my choosing I decided why not.

To my surprise, it was not just the little 1/2 once sample bag I was expecting, but a 4 1/2 ounce sample bag of a Ceylon, plus a 1/2 ounce bag of a really nice sounding green tea, a copy of their latest print catalog, and a thank you card for offering to write a review. Class act all around! Dang, now I in turn have to do a nice job!

So, guess I'll have to dust off the blog, crank up the electric kettle (nice add since I stopped writing), and brew up a few cups. I have to at least write up the Ceylon and green tea, since the Upton folks were so generous about it, and I have a few loose teas around the house, and a couple of bagged teas at the office that I may get to writing up as well. I'll try to stick to a once-a-week schedule and see how many posts get out.

So, loyal reader(s), enjoy!