Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tea Time! Part III

More teas, hooray, now that I'm reunited with my tea shelf ^.^ Here are some new acquisitions since moving home last October. After spending a few years sampling extensively from numerous vendors, I now only purchase very specific favorites that I haven't found elsewhere. There are many other favorites that aren't featured in this post, but I figured I'll run out sooner or later and will have to restock, at which point I'll take photos and post about them.

***Disclaimer: I'm *not affiliated* with any of these vendors. Just sharing the goodies I enjoy is all.

I like a few things from American Tea Room of Beverly Hills, CA. Their teas are of decent quality but are on the pricier side, so I don't buy anything else from them other than these 4 teas: Anastasia, Brioche, Madam Bergamot, and Victoria.

- Anastasia: a floral black tea that'll probably be too flowery for most folks unless they like flowery stuff. I normally hate flowery, but this tea is great with milk and sugar and the dairy actually mellows out the flowery bit.

- Brioche: now this is probably my favorite out of the bunch. It's a spiced black tea that's more like a spiced almond cookie. Add milk and sugar and it's a guilt-free dessert. Yum! They've been carrying this tea for years so I'm not fearful enough to hoard. Yet.

- Madam Bergamot: I'm partial to different blends of Earl Greys and Madam Bergamot is American Tea Room's version of Lady Grey, a creamy Earl Grey with citrus notes. My absolute favorite version of Lady Grey is actually from a local tea room called the Dushanbe Tea House. Their Lady Grey's Garden really is one of the best Lady Grey blends I've tasted to date, very light but still creamy and citrusy, but this Madam Bergamot isn't too shabby either. I'd say it's a runner up ^.^

- Victoria: another blend of Earl Grey with roses. Delightful with milk and sugar but is just as good on its own.

Now I'm no tea "purist" and I love myself some flavored teas, but even so I think David's Tea of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, is very "commercialized," much like Starbucks' Teavana. No offense, but my humble opinion is that both offer a myriad of tisane blends so heavily flavored to the point of gimmicky. That said, they did carry and had since sadly discontinued one tisane that's amazing, Red Berry Tonic. And last summer, I stumbled upon a couple more gems that were unfortunately discontinued as well, Monk's Blend and Citron Oolong.

- Red Berry Tonic: they call it "red berry" but it's predominantly apple both in taste and ingredients, i.e. lots and lots of apple pieces. Simply fruity and delightful. It was one of those teas that I just tore into and totally forgot about taking a picture of the packaging. So here's a photo of the actual tea instead. Like most tisanes, this one loses flavor after the first steeping, so I usually use 2 heaping teaspoons full just to be able to steep it twice, may be three times.

- Monk's Blend: Monk's Blend is usually a black tea blended with grenadine and vanilla, so when I saw this blend being a white tea with jasmine pearls and milk oolong, it intrigued me and I bought some to try. Looking back now I should have hoarded a few kilos of it, because my goodness this is quite a spectacular blend! Being white tea it's very delicate, but at the same time flavorful, silky smooth, and buttery. I actually bought 8oz. and gave half to my parents. Well, they went through their 4oz. in, like, a couple of months while I'm gingerly savoring mine. Unfortunately, this was a seasonal offering and Davids no longer carries it. Bring it back, pretty pretty pretty please?! I promise there won't be any self-restraint this time.

- Citron Oolong: another interesting seasonal item, though be forewarned it's rather tart for an oolong. I still like it, but if you're averse to tart teas, this is not for you.

More goodies from Kusmi Tea Paris, which I'd previously posted about having found a couple of mini tins at my local grocery in Tokyo (for 1,000yen each, eeps!). Many of their flavored black teas are slight variations of Earl Grey, but they also have a bunch of greens, mates, herbals, and fruit tisanes. Their tea leaves are of high quality, and of course they charge a premium price for it.

I'd been eyeing two teas for a while, Almond Green Tea and Strawberry Green Tea but didn't indulge right away. Why? Because almond and strawberry are both excellent tea flavors but are also exceedingly difficult to execute well. Up until now I must have sampled at least a dozen each of almond and strawberry teas from various brands, be they black, green, or oolong, I don't discriminate.

And yet I've only found...
1. One good Almond Oolong from Adagio Teas that reminds me of Taiwanese almond milk (杏仁茶). Add in some milk and sugar and I can almost taste Yu's Almond Tofu *sobs*
2. A couple of excellent Strawberry Oolongs from:
- Naivetea: award-winning, premium leaves, and delectable flavor, but was so expensive (think $30 for 2oz. or something crazy like that!) the company subsequently priced themselves out of the market, which is really quite sad!
- Joy's Teaspoon: probably the juiciest and most authentic strawberry flavor ever, but it was also a limited edition and hasn't come back since. Another tea I wish I'd hoarded kilos of :(

So you see, I had good reasons for not wanting to drop $20 for each 4.4oz. tin of Almond and Strawberry Green Teas from Kusmi. That was, until they ran a promotion over the holidays and all orders of $35+ got a free trio of minis. I finally took the bait and am really happy I did ^.^

- Almond Green Tea: yasss, finally a good almond green tea. Flavorful, doesn't hit me over the head, and doesn't taste artificial, which is the pitfall of most almond-flavored teas. Will definitely repurchase. 

- Strawberry Green Tea: what's this, a decent strawberry green tea too? Again, flavorful without being overwhelming or artificial. Why, Kusmi, you flatter me! Will also repurchase.

The GWP trio of mini tins were picked at random, and I got St. Petersbourg, Anastasia, and Prince Vladimir. I've had St. Petersbourg and Prince Vladimir before but Anastasia is new to me. I gifted the trio away though, so may be I'll try the 4.4oz. tin of Anastasia next time they run another good promotion.

Nina's Paris has been around for a few cool centuries and they're rightly known for their perfumes and teas. I picked up this famous The de Marie Antoinette blend from the Grand Hyatt Roppongi bakery and have sadly been regretting it since. Holy crap, Nina's must have flavored the damn tea with their perfume, because that's exactly what it tastes like, perfume! Cough. Gag. It's so strongly scented that after I'd transferred the tea to a different tin, I had to "air out" the original tin for a whole week just to get rid of the smell. Where's the subtlety, folks? O.o Hmm, perhaps I should "air out" the tea itself also...

Palais des Thes Paris is another French premium tea brand and a new-ish discovery last summer. The colorful round tins are characteristic originals from Paris bought through Amazon, and the white round tins are from Palais de Thes USA online shop. I tried 6 different teas: The des Alizes, The des Concubines, The du Hamman, The des Vahines, Chai Imperial, and The des Songes.

- The des Alizes: green tea with fruity notes, most prominently peach. I think they really should have left it with just the peach and orange blossoms, because adding in anything else muddles the whole the tea. So now this tea tastes like a chaotic mix of fruits. Le sigh...

- The des Concubines: supposed to be a blend of black and green tea but it's mostly black and brews appropriately dark, so I do add milk and sugar occasionally. The hibiscus does give it a slight tart taste but it's not too bad. The vanilla mellows out the astringent berry flavor. Quite yummy.

- The du Hamman: I mostly discern smooth vanilla from this green tea, at the same time there's a sharp note of fruits that cuts through the vanilla. Throw in some flowers and I think they're trying to do too much at once yet again with this tea. 

- The des Vahines: this tea is sadly the biggest disappointment of the bunch. Vanilla and almond sound delicious, but the "sprinkle" of marigold flowers and rosebuds really isn't a "sprinkle" at all. The flowers pretty much dominate this tea, especially the rosebuds. So instead of vanilla and almond, I got myself a heavily rose-perfumed green tea, which isn't what I expected or wanted!

- Chai Imperial: an authentic and light-tasting chai. I do need to add half and half or at least whole milk if I wanted a creamy chai though.

- The des Songes: my favorite tea out of these six. A delicious and smooth oolong with notes of citrus and lavender. Excellent straight up but will take well to milk and sugar also.

Over the holidays, my friend A. in Tokyo sent me a care package from Enherb, a brand specializing in herbal tea blends and essential oils, etc. I've never heard of this brand before but A. said she's been into their store a few times and really liked their teas. So she picked out a Cranberry Ginger herb tea for me, a winter limited edition blend, along with a bottle of Hibiscus & Rose Ginger Syrup, and a small packet of chocolate-covered cranberries.

The chocolate-covered cranberries were gone the same day the package arrived, and the bottle of syrup is almost gone now too ^.^ The syrup can be used to sweeten teas or mix with sparkling water for a nice soft drink. I also like mixing this syrup with Korean raspberry wine and sparkling water. The tea itself is interesting, but I'm not a big herbal person so I'm still learning to appreciate it. Either way, it's a great tea to relax with on the weekends.

Popping into a local coffee shop Brewing Market got me a nice surprise--they also blend and sell their own teas! So I picked up 3 teas to try: Earl Grey de la Creme, Mandarin Silk Oolong, and Finest Jasmine Pearls.

- Earl Grey de la Creme: more like Earl Grey de la creme brulee because the cream flavor tastes more like burnt cream. Sounds delicious but it's much too burnt, sharp and astringent. I'm afraid this isn't the best version of the blend, not even close. The best I've had was from a Portsmouth Tea Company based in New Hampshire that's gone through two reshuffling since I first purchase from them a decade ago: Teasy Teas, then H.C. Valentine (acquired by Royal Cup Inc. of Alabama). I haven't tried their current Earl Grey le Creme so I can't comment, but the old Portsmouth version was super smooth and creamy.

- Mandarin Silk Oolong: it's a vanilla oolong that's decadent and silky for the first three steepings. After that, the vanilla disappears and in its place is a distinct citrus-lemon grass note that wasn't there before, which I think is pretty cool. Oolongs are known for changing flavors like that with later steepings, the very reason I love them. This particular blend very much reminds me of the Vanilla Silk Oolong I purchased long ago from The Whistling Kettle of New York, whose only tea I buy now is Butter Truffle, one of my most favorite dessert teas! 

- Finest Jasmine Pearls: I got this for hubby as he's partial with Jasmine Pearls or just Jasmine green teas in general. Jasmine is another popular scent that's hard to do well, and over-scented jasmine teas are strong and bitter. This Jasmine Pearls is quite good! It's light and has a fruity twist, very fresh and interesting.

Here's my tea shelf with the new additions above as well as those from Tokyo, mainly Mariage Freres and Lupicia (more on Lupicia soon!). The top shelf holds mostly black teas with a tiny sliver of herbals on the far right. The bottom shelf is all greens and oolongs, with very few white teas. I had a small selection of blooming teas as well, but I gave them all to my mom prior to Tokyo. 

In a different life, I could be a tea farmer ^.^ Before moving to Tokyo, we had a mini herb garden in our sun room that was soon overran with sweet basil. They just grew and grew and grew and we couldn't eat them fast enough. We ended up giving them all away before we left.

I thought of restarting an herb garden focusing on Thai chili plants. My dad is grooming a few that's actually really spicy (those from the Asian grocery stores are for decorations only, you know that, right?), so I'm thinking of proliferating the spiciest kinds he has. We'll see about that.

See my previous posts:
- Tea Time!
- Tea Time! Part II

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