Thursday, September 27, 2018

Tea Time Part IV

Has it really been more than a year since my last Tea Time post? Where did all the time go? I've hoarded a bunch more of teas since, and that's with several that I'd totally forgotten to take pictures of before tearing into and subsequently tossing the packages.

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

My first encounter with Ahmad Tea was through A., my Japanese-school classmate back in 2012 in Yokohama. A. is Iraqi, born and raised in Baghdad but had met her Japanese husband S. via an online chatroom.Their story belongs in a book and movie--Far East meets Middle East, he converted to Islam and all the high jinks ensued--but I'll leave it to her to tell this story.

After hubby and I'd left Yokohama, some time later A. sent me a care package with an Earl Grey from Ahmad Tea. She said this brand is from the UK but is popular in Iraq and she grew up drinking their tea. She taught me to crush a cardamom seed pod and steep it along with the tea leaves. My goodness, just one cardamom seed pod transformed my Earl Grey experience! She also said in Turkey, they throw in a small slice of ginger for a spicier flavor. I tried that too and it was amazing. I badly craved some baklava to go with that delicious tea.

In the subsequent years, I branched out and tried a bunch of other things from Ahmad and got my brother and sister into it. My brother is now a huge fan of the brand. He said their English Breakfast was the best he'd had, and that he liked their other traditional black teas also. My sister and I like the Earl Grey best.

Shortly before my little one was born A. sent me a box of fruity green tea bags from Ahmad. I normally prefer loose leaf and am super duper picky about tea bags because most are overly processed and heavily flavored. But holy crap those Ahmad tea bags she sent were awesome, and each bag lasted for about 2-3 steeping depending on how long I steep each time.

So of course I hoarded a bunch of different flavored tea bags from Ahmad. I knew I wouldn't have much time for loose leaf and would need something quick and easy, a la tea bags. Sure enough, they worked magic and got both hubby and I through many a sleepless nights and exhausted days with our little guy. In fact, mum-in-law loved them too and would take a handful home with her after each visit. So for the last holidays season, I sent a bunch of Ahmad's to my and hubby's relatives and they knocked everyone's socks off.

- Peach & Passion Fruit Black Tea (bags): hands down the best fruity black tea bags imho. I prefer my milk and sugar with some black tea--oh woops, did I say that out loud? xD--but this black tea I actually drink straight. It was so delicious I didn't want to add anything, and that's saying something. Hubby and I went through two 20-count boxes with a couple of weeks, so we decided it was time to go big ^.^

- Strawberry Sensation Black Tea (bags): this one was okay and the strawberry flavor was a bit heavy. I didn't repurchase.

- Apricot Sunrise Black Tea (bags): this one was oddly herbal and spicy, and if I didn't know better I'd think I was drinking Chinese herbal medicine. Didn't repurchase.

- Raspberry Indulgence Black Tea (bags): the best one of the three, but still pretty heavily flavored. Didn't repurchase either.

- Jasmine Romance Green Tea (bags): gave this to my mum and she took it to work with her and went through it in a flash.

- Strawberry & Kiwi Green Tea (bags): hands down the best fruity green tea bags imho. I've lost count how many of these boxes we'd gone through. I'd tried to go big on these several times but the big 100-count boxes were always out of stock. Not at all surprised.

- Earl Grey Black Tea (loose leaf): my first love from Ahmad. Still in love (and drinking right now, actually, steeped along with a cardamom seed pod). My sister likes this too, though she's too lazy for loose leaf and so goes with the de-caf tea bag version, which she actually prefers over the caffeinated one.

- Jasmine Green Tea (loose leaf): got this for hubby and it was too strong for him, so I passed it on to mum and she loves it.

I've also tried a few of their herbal and fruit tisanes, but these turned out to be a bit too herbal for my taste. I prefer my tisanes on the fruity side and some of the best I've had are David's Tea Red Berry Tonic (discontinued) and English Tea Store Blue Lagoon below. Won't repurchase with the exception of Lemon & Ginger.

- Wild Strawberry: very tart, perhaps too tart. Tastes more of hibiscus and little of strawberry.

- Rosehip, Hibiscus & Cherry: like the Wild Strawberry above, this one is also very tart and tastes mostly of hibiscus.

- Mixed Berries & Hibiscus: finally, I taste some berries in this one, though it's still too tart.

- Lemon & Ginger: hubby really likes this one as it's very soothing. Both he and I reach for this when we feel a little under the weather.

From our multiple online orders with Ahmad, we ended up with several of these interesting tea infusers. I've tried it out and while it works great for black teas, green and oolong teas need lots of space to unfurl and release flavors and this narrow infuser doesn't quite have the girth for the job.

So, the English Tea Store. I've tried a bunch of their teas including several different blends of Earl Greys but decided that all were too heavily flavored. I was especially disappointed with their Buckingham Palace blend :( However, like David's Tea, they do (and still!) carry an amazing fruit tisane called Blue Lagoon. I'd discovered it a couple of years before moving to Tokyo and it was the only tisane I brought with me overseas. It was also the tea I lived on during my pregnancy while on a caffeine hiatus. Somewhere along the line, I sent a small bag of it to my cousin J. and just a few weeks ago she told me she'd gone through a whole pound and was ready to replenish for this coming winter. Yes, it's that good. Anyway, I've since tried another of ETS's fruit tisane, Casablanca. It's pretty good but doesn't hold a candle to Blue Lagoon.

- Blue Lagoon: boy, how do I even describe this flavor? Have you ever had Vietnamese salty lemonade? Basically it's limes (*not* lemon, I know) preserved and pickled in salt for several months in an air-tight jar, then a wedge of which is crushed, brewed in hot water (or cold soda water), and sweetened with sugar (or honey). Having been altered by sodium, the preserved limes have a unique citrus flavor unlike any fresh citrus fruit, kind of like how yuzu is unmistakable. And yet somehow, they'd managed to recreate that salty lemonade both in fragrance and flavor with this Blue Lagoon, minus the sodium of course. You can drink it straight, hot or cold, if you like the tartness. I prefer to sweeten it with Korean yuja cheong, aka yuzu cha, or yuzu preserved in honey. Heaven in a cup, I tell you! So good even my little one loves it (without the honey sweetener, of course).

- Casablanca: this one has a tropical-passion fruit flavor that's pretty tasty and isn't tart at all. I usually drink it straight but every once in a while when the sweet cravings strike I sweeten it with some yuzu cha also.

Cousin J. sent me a box of this Gold Kili Ginger Bag, basically minced and dried ginger in a bag to be brewed like tea. It's fantastic for days when you're battling a cold and/or a sore throat. Brew it in hot water and drink it straight, and/or squeeze/steep with a wedge of lemon, and/or stir in a bit of honey. Honestly, I think brewing with fresh ginger is best, but this is super convenient, especially when I don't have fresh ginger on hand, because I can throw a couple of bags in my stew or soup as well.

I'd posted about Joy's Teaspoon before. I don't buy from them often, but every once in a while they'd carry a fantastic tea like the juicy Strawberry Oolong that I just couldn't find anywhere else since 2013.

Last summer, they hit it out of the park again with an Oolong Creme, a flavored Jinxuan 金萱 that's just phenomenal. Having learned my lesson, I bought a pound for hubby, another pound for my parents (I got both hubby and my dad into Jinxuan and now they won't drink anything else ^.^"), and several smaller bags for cousin J., her parents, and several of my relatives in Arizona. A week later, J. told me she too bought a pound for herself and her parents. Since then, hubby has nearly depleted his supply and of course the tea is long gone by now. It even went on sale at one point and I missed it. Argh!
***Stock photo from Joy's Teaspoon. 

Last winter, A. sent me yet another care package from Tokyo with all the goodies she'd picked up for me while traveling to Austria, Hungary, and Thailand with her hubby. Among the goodies were teas from Hungary, more teas and chocolate liqueur from Austria, My Beauty Diary (a Taiwanese brand) sheet masks and facial soap bars from Thailand, and Laura Ashley Darjeeling tea bags from Tokyo. Omg, what did I ever do to deserve such thoughtful and generous family and friends like this? I'm so grateful T.T Thank you, A.!

Here are an herbal tisane and a green tea from Hungary.

- Herbatea Dorombolo: this one is interesting, a spiced fruity herbal tisane. There are lots of dried apple pieces and a cardamom seed pod here and there. Once brewed, it has an unsweetened spiced apple cider flavor. I do wonder what the jar and the website say. Anyone reads Hungarian? I don't really trust Google Translate :P

- Green Tea: just straight up green tea, pretty decent too!

- Laura Ashley Darjeeling Tea (bags): very pretty gift bag, but the tea is sadly a little blah. Then again, I usually don't go for traditional teas so it could be that I simply don't know how to savor this tea.

From Austria, A. picked out this chocolate liqueur for me. I still haven't opened it--it's in such a cute little round glass bottle and I didn't want to ruin the pretty gold foil wrapping. Bet it's yummy on ice cream. Will open this Christmas, may be.

- Tea Gschwendner Wilde Waldbeeren (Wild Forest Berries according to gTranslate): fruity and not too tart. Holds flavor for a few brews too. I usually use two heaping teaspoons each time for all herbal tisanes, and even then most don't last me past 2 brews. This one lasted four, which was pretty impressive!

- Mariage Freres Black Orchid: another tea my pal J. sent me last winter. This is a vanilla black tea that's pretty yummy. I just realized we have lots of friends and family whose names start with A or J, but this J. was hubby's colleague and my window-shopping-partner-in-crime. We used to hangout almost every weekend in Ginza, and of course one of our favorite pastimes then was to go to Mariage Freres and the makeup counters on the B1 floor of the Ginza Mitsukoshi and marvel at all the goodies. This past July when hubby and I got a few days in San Francisco, we got together with J. to reminisce all the good times we had. I'll catch up to and post those pictures eventually =.= But every time I see a MF tin, I think of her. 

The time spent in Taipei left me an everlasting addiction for almond milk. I know both the English and the Chinese say, "almond tea--杏仁茶," but really it's not tea. I'd call it almond "milk," and even then it's more like a thick almond-flavored latte with some fine almond powder in it and less like the runny, actual almond milk you find at the grocery stores. And yes, it comes in instant powder packets. The one pictured below was the best I've had. I bought it in Taipei in 2012 and couldn't find it since. So in desperation I tried something else at the local Asian supermarket, Shi Chen Crystal Sugar Almond Tea.  

- Shi Chen Crystal Sugar Almond Tea (杏仁茶): not bad, but still isn't as fragrant and creamy as the bag above. I use a little bit of boiling water to dissolve the powder and then fill the rest of the cup with milk to get to the thick and smooth consistency. Still doesn't compare, but for now it'll do.

Sampled several teas from Strand Tea Company. Gifted away two to family and kept the rest. Aside from the two oolongs that were a repeat purchase for hubby and the two gift teas, I thought the rest were decent but nothing special. 

- Jinxuan Milk Oolong: whenever I find a new tea shop the first item I sample is always an oolong of some kind, definitely a Milk Oolong if they carry one. So I sampled one from Strand Tea last year and hubby liked it, so I went back for more.

- Osmanthus Oolong: I shared some of this with my mum and she liked it a lot. Very fragrant but not "fake." I might go back for a bigger bag next time.

- Ginger Peach: sent to an aunt in Florida and she gushed about it the next week. She was born and raised in the south and had a thing for peach-flavored black tea so I assumed this met her approval.

- Portland Peach: didn't like this one at all. The peach flavor is too strong and fake. 

- Coconut Heaven: hmm, I have mixed feelings about this one. It's decent, but the coconut flavor tasted a bit superficial to me. I'm not too crazy for coconut flavors, but so far the coconut black tea I liked best was from Harbs, even if I didn't write about it in my previous food posts. That was what prompted me to try this coconut to begin with. Will not repurchase.

- Madagascar Vanilla: again, decent but the flavor is too strong. I like the MF Black Orchid above better.

- Buddha's Delight Tea: sent this to another cousin and she liked it.

- Island Dream Tea: this one was decent, a tropical fruit flavored black tea that tasted like a fruity milk tea with milk and sugar.

I picked up a few of this Yuzu Citron Green Tea when hubby and I were in SF this past July. Kept one for myself and gifted away the rest. This tea is from the same Japan Green Tea Co. that made the Sweet Sakura Green and Black Teas that were ubiquitous in grocery stores around Tokyo. Like the sakura teas, this one is also decent but nothing special. The yuzu flavor is too weak and so the green tea tastes faintly of citrus but that's about it.

I mentioned a few months ago hubby and I were moving, yet again. This time, we moved from our one-bedroom apartment into a house. Our little one is 16 months old now and needs his own space. The apartment got a little too cramped for the three of us. Anyway, now that we actually have a kitchen with cabinets, my tea collection finally got their own pull-out drawers in the pantry. All the tea accessories got their own drawer too.

Top shelf is for oolongs, green teas, and herbal tisanes. Bottom drawer is all black teas.

Here are my sampling drawer and tea bag drawer.

The cherry on top is that I was finally able to unpack the few tea sets and tea pots I brought home from Tokyo. For the longest time, these were stashed away in boxes because we simply didn't have the space at the apartment.

See my previous posts:


Citrine said...

hmmm. Your tea cabinet is dream! I saw ahmet tea at marshalls all the time (two years ago) and thought it was a random (no good) brand....Now I have to look again. I haven't hoard tea for quite a while because I bought a box from China plus my friend gave me a block of cooked tea (half the size of pancake) that's taking forever to finish...

Now I need to visit Marshalls or TJmaxx again...

Julia said...

That's a LOT of tea. People might think you like it. ;)

I sometimes buy Tee Gschwendner when I'm at home in Germany, but mostly prefer Ronnefeldt. I really hope I can go home soon to send you some!

D. said...

Hey Mina,

Ohhh, may be I should start visiting my local Marshalls or TJMaxx. I didn't know they carry Ahmad! Thanks for telling me!


D. said...

Hey Julia,

Yeah it's a lot of tea ^.^" It took me years of sampling (and slurping) to cultivate these favorites, and I love it that my family and friends raid my tea cabinet whenever they visit.

That's so sweet of you to think of me. I'd love to try some Ronnefeldt! What do you recommend from that brand?

By the way, last we chatted you were coming down with a cold right before your graduation day--I hope you're feeling better now and the cold didn't ruin your day. And you were preparing some materials for a trial teaching--how did it go?


Julia said...

My friends tend to like the sea I serve them as well, but I rarely part with any I bought for myself. And of course my husband prefers the tea I make for me to the one I bought specifically to fit his tastes, ugh. XD The Ronnefeldt Morgentau is pretty popular for its citrusy notes.

Thank you! Graduation was just fine, but I ended up feeling pretty run down for a while and with applications and interviews and trial lessons, I didn't do much else (and I slept a lot). I'll get back to you as soon as I can, I promise!

D. said...

Hey Julia,

LOL I guess I'm lucky my hubby only drinks one kind of tea and rarely touches anything else! And I just found a tea shop in Pennsylvania that sells Ronnefeldt teas. Will definitely order Morgentau to sample. Squee, new teas!!! Thanks so much for the recommendation!

Sorry to hear you're feeling down. I think lots of rest might help, definitely! Don't worry about me. Take care of yourself first.


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