Tuesday Tasting: Fortune Teller by Aera Tea Co.

I’m tasting another tea from my Tea Thoughts Halloween box today! This week, I’m tasting the Fortune Teller Nepalese black tea from Aera Tea Co. This is a pretty classic black tea and I was excited to sit down and taste it, at least for a couple of infusions, since I already knew it as a very cozy cup of black tea to just be with on a chilly morning.

But first, let’s talk about the name. Fortune Teller is an obvious reference to the archetype of the tea-leaf reader, which comes from Romani culture. The Romani people, originally from the Indian subcontinent, traveled throughout Asia, Europe, and parts of Africa, often following some of the same land routes that brought trade between Asia and Europe. They have communities all over the world today, and one of their most well-known cultural practices are those related to divination, such as tarot and tea-leaf reading.

While the practice became very popular in Britain, likely from existing folk practices of reading wax drippings and other nondistinct shapes, tasseography — divination from the leavings in a cup — originated in Romani culture and it is directly from their influence that these divination practices not only spread around the European world, but became wildly popular. It is important to remember these origins, as the archetype of the “fortune teller” often falls into the trap of stereotyping and harmful generalization based on racist tropes used against the Romani (particularly a certain word, beginning with G, that is often used as a synonym for “free spirit,” but in reality is a slur against the Romani). So I thought it was important to acknowledge the Romani contribution to the landscape of divinatory practices in the modern world, as their contributions permeate it, despite rarely being credited.

Anyway, on to the tea. I used 5 grams in my 120-ml fish teapot with boiling water. I warmed the pot and got aromas of black bread and raisins from the dry leaf. The first infusion was for twenty seconds, after which the wet leaf smelled of brown sugar and dark chocolate. The liquor itself had an intensely smooth, creamy texture in the mouth, a faint sweet aroma, and a sweet, bready flavor. The tannin was extremely mild and there was a very subtle bitter aftertaste, but like chocolate or coffee, and not unpleasant.

The second steeping, for thirty seconds, brought out some rose aromas on the leaf and liquor. The texture was still that same amazing creamy smoothness and the flavor was mellow and chocolate-y. After the third steeping, for forty seconds, I noticed that the flavors and aroma were remarkably consistent, so I stopped taking notes and instead chose to simply enjoy this tea as long as it steeped out. The lack of bitterness makes me wonder if it might be a good candidate for winter grandpa-style brewing.

So a short tasting session today, but a thoroughly enjoyable one. I’m excited to have had a chance to taste this tea because it has made me curious about Aera’s other offerings.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

Meditations on a Rainy Day

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We’re getting the tail end of a hurricane today, so it is gloomy and rainy, and honestly, very nearly my favorite kind of weather (I would prefer it a little less wet, so I could go wander outside in the grey). So rather than anything more meaningful, I thought I would simply expound in random thoughts to go with this somewhat sleepy-feeling day.

As Samhain approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about renewal and the new year. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed that I’m starting a new account where I’ll concentrate more of my pagan and witchy pursuits, including my continued studies of herbalism. While I started my correspondence herbalism course in January, I had largely stopped working on it after the first lesson, but the idea of renewed efforts has me trying to start up again.

I’ve also reconnected with my meditation practices, which is the perfect practice for a rainy day. I woke this morning when it was still dark and lit a candle in my tea room. I sat for a while, considering the candle flame and listening to the soft sounds of the rain falling against the house. Breathing. In and out. No input other than my own senses. As we head into this liminal time between Samhain and the longest night, I am reminded that part of new life, of growth, is that dark and closed time at the beginning of growth, when you are still a seed under the ground.

And so I’m tucked in, cozy and dark, in my garden bed of shawls and darkness, centering and focusing, which is just the first step towards growth. I’m forging connections in my mind and gathering nourishment to me, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

As I make my way through this cooling and darkening time, I’m finding myself strongly drawn towards black teas, rather than the roasted oolongs and hojicha that I usually prefer this time of year, first thing in the morning. In one of my historical videos, I talked a bit about the historical idea that black teas were more nurturing and supportive of delicate constitutions than green teas, which were considered overly stimulating and not as healthful. So perhaps my body is appreciating that extra oxidation as I ease into each day.

Of course, I often indulge in a yancha session a bit later, perhaps once the sun has risen a bit. When it isn’t pouring rain, I will often enjoy my tea outside in the little cozy tea corner where I shoot my videos. The mossy woods fit well with the gnarled oolong leaves and the rich aromas and flavors of sandalwood and spices I get from my favorite yanchas. And on rainy days like today, I can enjoy my tea next to a window, which is the next best thing.

If you’re interested in following my witchy blog, it is called Cailleach’s Daughter and will launch on Samhain. You can also follow along on Instagram.

Is it raining where you are today? How are you enjoying the end of your week and the slide into the dark half of the year?

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

Tea Together Tuesday: Playing with Blends

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your dream tea blend with five ingredients or less. This is a topics that I’ve actually thought about for a while, so I decided to try to create my dream blend, rather than just dreaming. Blended and flavored teas can be a controversial topics among tea lovers, with some believing that tea should only be drunk pure and unflavored, but in reality, flavoring tea is something we’ve been doing for as long as we’ve been consuming tea!

So this blend has its origins in a day at work when I couldn’t decide if I wanted to have oolong or black tea. So I mixed them! I mixed an unroasted Tieguanyin with a lovely Dian Hong and found that the creamy notes of the TGY blended with the chocolate-y notes in the DH and made a lovely blend. Since then, I’ve been playing around with mixing black and oolong teas to see what combinations work well together.

Then, a little later on, Jann from Tea with Jann posted about trying a rose oolong that sounded amazing and my local tea and herb shop posted about a new raspberry rose oolong they had just gotten in. I love the combination of rose and raspberry because the heady, sweet floral nature of the rose blends beautifully with the zingy sweetness of raspberry. But I never got out to buy any AND I never managed to remember to buy the ingredients when I was at the store.

Fast forward to last month when I had grand plans of trying to make homemade macarons, only to be thwarted by my spouse’s inability to find cream of tartar at the store. So he came home with all the other ingredients, including the freeze dried raspberries that I had hoped to use for color and flavor. Well, that, along with the gorgeously fragrant rose buds in my herb cupboard meant I now had everything I needed.

But raspberry and rose are very decadent, confectionary flavors in my mind, so why not add some black tea to the oolong to bring in that chocolate note? Chocolate and raspberries are a natural combination in my mind and I know that the chocolate-y black tea and creamy, floral oolong go together.

So here we have raspberry rose blend with Baozhong oolong from The Steeped Leaf and Keemun from Storm King Teas. The first pass, I just used the tea, rose buds, and some freeze dried raspberries, but upon trying it, I decided it needed a touch of sweetness and added a half teaspoon of brown sugar. And it was amazing. The juicy tartness of the raspberries brought out the fruity tannins of the black tea while the creamy floral of the oolong both melded with the roses and smoothed out and enhanced the chocolate notes of the Keemun. It’s both very floral and would be lovely in spring, but the black tea adds a body to it that remains quite warming and cozy, perhaps for one of those chilly early spring days. And the brown sugar adds a depth of sweetness that I think fits the whole flavor profile better than white sugar or honey.

I think if I wanted to tweak this, I might try looking for dried, sweetened raspberries to see how the flavor differed, or perhaps try a bolder Qimen, like the one I got from The Sweetest Dew (which is no longer available). Blending teas and other flavors is a lot of fun! And it’s a lot like the food pairing thing, where as long as you have a vague idea of how flavors balance, you should be able to come up with something tasty. And if you don’t, try again!

So I look forward to hearing about all your blends!

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

Tea Together Tuesday: Time Traveling Tea

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share a tea that transports you back to a specific moment in time. Now, while I have many, many tea-related memories, I was reminded of the one I’m going to share this week when I was filming my video this weekend on Tea with Catherine the Great. I made an offhand reference to how I was fascinated with the Russian practice of drinking strong tea with a lump of sugar held in the mouth.

I used to sit in my family’s tattered old wingchair, curled up with a book, sipping tea out of my very first thrifted tea cup, with a sugar cube. I would dip the cube at first, sip a little through the cube, and then eventually usually give up and toss a whole sugar cube in my cup of tea without bothering to stir, so I would get a gradient of flavor, similar to the idea behind East Frisian tea.

So today, I made myself a cup of Georgian black tea with a lump of sugar (homemade because I can’t simply run to the shop right now), and curled up in my own wingchair. I was instantly transported back to reading Crime and Punishment in my old chair, in our living room, a rather more formal room than our recreation room, with the comfortable sofa and the television. Our living room had a fancier sofa that my mother would sit on at the same time, just across the room, reading her own book. I remember spending hours like this, occasionally looking up to chat for a moment, or to go and get the telephone (the cord stretched all the way to the sofa). There was a window with some lace drapes by the chair so I had natural light as well as whatever lamps we had on. I could read here for ages, until I was fairly peeled up from my seat for a meal or some other responsibility.

And I read Crime and Punishment for fun when I was going through my phase of being fascinated by Russian culture. It was more of an aesthetic fascination, I think, before that was really something that was put into words. The dark atmosphere and gritty realism that it seemed permeated a lot of these works appealed to a privileged teenager just exploring rebellion and ennui. And of course, it went well with a cup of tea that was bitter at the top and sweet at the end.

Of course, I could re-read Dostoyevsky while I sip my time travel in a teacup, but instead I’ve opted to curl up with a book I have yet to finish. Enchantments was recommended to me by a coworker who has since moved on to another job, and I still haven’t gotten more than a couple chapters in. But perhaps the memories of afternoons spent absorbed in my childish concept of this mysterious foreign culture will inspire me to find the time to read the rest. If not, at least I will have a nice cup of tea.

NB: Tea was provided by Georgian Tea Limited in exchange for tasting, which I shared previously in my Tasting Tuesday series. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

Tea Together Tuesday: Origin Stories

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to talk about the tea that was your gateway into tea culture. Now, I’ve spoken in the past about how I got into tea. And I could claim that the tea that got me into learning about tea culture outside of English-style afternoon tea was the Dragonwell I got at Teavana or the Moroccan Mint tea I had served at Epcot or the Wuyi oolong that was served at my family’s favorite local Chinese restaurant.

But really, none of these teas would probably have captured my fancy the way that they did if I hadn’t already been introduced to tea as a practice, a ritual, and an art in the form of afternoon tea parties with my mother when I was in kindergarten.

Yes, I was five years old, and rather than serving any old snack, my mother decided to teach me dining etiquette and have more fun by serving snack as afternoon tea. We often had tiny sandwiches, or homemade scones, or little tarts or pastries. Even if we simply had a plate of cookies, they would be laid out attractively and served with tea.

My mother’s preferred brand of tea was Twinings, and her favorite kind was Prince of Wales, a blend that I’ve now discovered is their only fully-Chinese blend of black teas. I actually purchased a tin of it loose for my Jane Austen historical tea video because Indian tea wasn’t widely available until decades after Austen’s death, and we know from her letters that Austen was also a dedicated Twinings customer.

I remember when I was in high school, the way that one of my boyfriends tried to ingratiate himself with my mother was by bringing a tin of Prince of Wales tea. While I tend to associate my mother with Earl Grey now, she had a special place in her heart for Prince of Wales, perhaps because it was slightly more difficult to find, in that it was not always available at the grocery store.

Beyond the tea we drank, we often used special china tea sets, which my grandmother thought was unendingly foolish for having tea with a young child. But I remember going to antique stores with my mother, looking for the various pieces of the tea set that I still have today. It is perhaps a bit small for daily use, but I have continued to pull it out as an homage to my tea roots, and as a way to play with the ideas of eastern-style tea culture with western pieces. I was thrilled to find a full-sized Brambly Hedge tea cup just last year, so that I can have an adult-sized cuppa while remembering those child-sized parties.

So while it was not the most globally-conscious introduction to tea, these afternoons with my mother taught me that tea was something special, to be savored and treated with respect and care. She taught me the value of sitting down, enjoying your tea and treats, and enjoying the company with it. Every time I sit down to tea, whether it is a solo session or with friends, I think about those afternoon tea parties and how my mother introduced me to the idea of having tea.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Tuesday Tasting: Taiwan Ruby 18 Black Tea from Floating Leaves Tea

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I ordered a few teas from Floating Leaves Tea a little while ago, but I’ve been remiss in showing them the love they deserve. So, to remedy this, I decided to do a tasting of the Ruby 18 black tea this week. I’ve also started exploring tea cupping using a cupping set I got from Camellia Sinensis (or, if you want a US-based store, Art of Tea has a similar one*). I’m still learning the ropes of tasting in this style of brewing vessel, so I played around a bit. I suppose I might want to take an actual course in tea cupping, but that’s not really my style, so for now, I’m experimenting.

I used 3g of leaf in a 125-ml cupping set with 99C water. I did not rinse or preheat my cupping set before starting the tasting, but I did smell the dry leaves after adding them to the vessel. I got aromas of dried fruit, like prunes and sweet cherries, from the dry leaf. I did not rinse the tea.

The first steeping was for two minutes, after which, I got sweet aromas, almost like the glue on the back of old postage stamps, from the leaves. I know this sounds like an odd note, but it’s actually a very positive and comforting aroma for me because it reminds me of helping my mother at the office on snow days when my school was closed. The liquor was a rich mahogany brown color and really exemplifies why the Chinese refer to this kind of tea as “red tea” rather than “black tea,” as the West calls it. The liquor had a light fruity and smoky aroma. The body was medium-rich and had a lightly syrupy mouthfeel, with a hint of dryness afterwards. There was a light, smooth tannic flavor, followed by caramelized onion and dark stone fruit. This developed into a sweet-acidic flavor that reminded me of dried tart cherries and amaretto.

The second steeping, I went for two and a half minutes. The wet leaves smelled of caramel and wood. The liquor was slightly lighter in color, with a sweet smell that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, like some sort of sweet-smelling herb. The mouthfeel was richer and juicier with no dryness. The flavor had a sweet cereal taste, like barley syrup or toasted soybean powder with brown sugar. I still get stamp glue from the flavor. The cup aroma after finishing the liquor was pure caramelized sugar, and I noted that I was starting to sweat.

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The third steeping was for three minutes, after which I got aromas of wet paper from the leaves. The liquor was a similar color to the second steeping, with a faint sandalwood aroma. The mouthfeel is the same round, rich feel, but there is an acidic note, almost like a tomatillo, on the taste. The liquor was starting to taste a bit papery, which is often a sign that the tea is about finished. The fourth steeping, for three and a half minutes, was the last. The liquor was lighter — a dark apricot color — and the leaf aroma was exhausted. Only the acidic notes seemed left to the flavor with a bit of woodiness.

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The spent leaves were surprisingly large. I actually took a photo after the second steeping, but was surprised by how much more they expanded over the next two steepings, so I had to photograph it again. I’m definitely going to have to explore more Taiwanese red tea cultivars.

NB: Tea was purchased by me and all thoughts are my own. Links may be affiliate links (affiliate links noted with an asterisk). If you’re interested in supporting the blog by using my affiliate links, you can find them here. If you’re interested in collaborating or providing tea for tasting, you can find my contact and collaboration information here.

Tuesday Tasting: Two Black Teas from Georgian Tea Limited

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Recently, I saw a new company launch on Instagram, Georgian Tea Limited, which offers tea grown in the country of Georgia. I was first intrigued by Georgian teas when I saw Northern Teaist review some a little while ago, so I commented letting them know that I would be interested in trying some of their teas and they offered to send me “a few free samples.” What arrived was three 100-g bags of tea, one of each tea they offer, the Black Classic Tea, the Black Premium Tea, and the Green Premium Tea. Since it went back to feeling like winter this weekend, I decided to do a tasting of the Black Classic Tea, but as I was sipping it, I was really curious how it compared to the Black Premium Tea, so I decided to try that one, too.

Black Classic Tea

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I used 2g of leaf in a 120-ml gaiwan to taste this one, with 95C water. I steeped it once for three minutes and a second time for five minutes. The warm dry leaf had light aromas of dry hay. After the first steeping, the wet leaf smelled mildly tannic, with some malt and dark chocolate. Oddly enough, the first time I smelled this wet leaf, I thought that it smelled like the fancy version of Lipton’s tea, and my husband thought it smelled of lemon. The first steeping yielded a medium rosy-amber liquor that smelled similar to the wet leaf. The liquor has a bright citrusy flavor right up front, with a pleasantly light body and no astringent dryness. The website states that this tea has very mild tannins, and they’re not wrong. The aftertaste is lightly caramel-y and fruity, and it’s a very smooth cup of tea. I had tried this previously with milk and sugar, and I see now that that was a mistake. This is very much a straight-cup-of-tea daily drinker. There is a slight hint of sweetness to it.

The second infusion was similar in color with similar flavors and aromas, just slightly lighter. I decided to stop after two steepings. The wet leaf is interesting. These leaves are obviously much less broken than the Premium tea, and when they unfurl, they are narrow leaves with a shallow serration on the edges. I would be curious to learn more about the cultivars they use.

Black Premium Tea

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I know that among US tea aficionados, “premium” is synonymous with bigger, unbroken leaves, so I was surprised when I received my tea samples to feel through the packaging that the Premium tea seemed to be a smaller leaf size than the Classic. So I was curious how this translated to the flavor. I also used 2g of tea to a 120-ml gaiwan with 95C water, with two steepings, one for 3 minutes and one for five minutes. The leaf didn’t really smell like much, dry or wet, but the liquor it yielded was definitively darker, with a dark ruby-amber color. It had the same smooth and balanced flavor as the Classic, but with a burnt sugar sweetness and a fruitiness that was bolder on the tongue.

The second steeping brought forward the lemony flavor I got from the Classic, with a smooth, non-bitter, and slightly sweet taste. I didn’t take a picture of the wet leaves, but they didn’t really look much different from the dry leaf, just, well, wet.

I found these two teas extremely interesting and am likely to turn to them again as morning teas, as they are uncomplicated and invigorating, without needing much help from fussy brewing parameters or additives, making them perfect for rushed mornings and travel flasks on the train.

NB: These teas were sent to me free of charge in exchange for sharing my honest thoughts about them. To read my reasons for changing from tea reviews to tea tastings, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tasting Tuesday: Teas From Lumbini Tea Company, Part One

Lumbini Tea Manjary Handcrafted Steeping

A little while ago, I was contacted by Lumbini Tea Valley, who offered me some samples for tasting. When they arrived, I was surprised by the variety, so I’ve decided to do the tastings a few at a time. Today, I’m going to share my notes on the fanciest of the teas I was sent: the Manjary Handcrafted tea flowers, the Silver Needles, and the Golden Tips.

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Lumbini Tea Manjary Handcrafted Steeped

These are whole black tea leaves that have been hand-tied into beautiful little rosettes. I steeped them in gaiwan, using 2.4 grams in a 120-ml gaiwan, with boiling water. The first steeping was for thirty seconds, after which I was greeted with a pinkish-amber liquor that was surprisingly sweet. I got notes of wildflower honey, with a malty-raisin aroma on the wet leaf.

The second steeping, also for thirty seconds, revealed a smoky aroma on the wet leaf and roses on the gaiwan lid. The flavor had a mellow chocolate sweetness with a little dried fruit, like prune or date. The third steeping, for one minute, had the rosettes starting to unroll a bit, and revealed flavors of dried fruit and a little black pepper. By the fourth steeping, which went for two minutes, the leaves had thoroughly unrolled and the flavor had faded. The spent leaves were large, as you can see above, with a very uniform dark brown color.

Silver Needle and Golden Tips

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These two teas I decided to steep side-by-side. I’ve been enjoying side-by-side steepings in my mini-gaiwans, which are 60 ml each and work well for this kind of tasting. They were also fun during my recent tea gathering with friends. Also, the samples I was sent were rather small, so a smaller sized vessel was perfect to ensure I got the most out of my leaves. For each tea, I used one gram of leaves in a 60-ml gaiwan with water at 190F, rinsed briefly and then steeped for 30 seconds, one minute, two minutes, and three minutes.

The dry aroma of the Silver was peach and jasmine, with a little menthol, while the rinsed leaf had aromas of smoke and mugwort. The dry aroma of the Gold was spruce and cypress with a smoke aroma on the rinsed leaf. The first steeping revealed a floral aroma and jasmine flavor from the Silver and a fruity aroma and honey-sweet flavor from the Gold. The second steeping, the Silver was floral and peachy while the Gold had flavors of honey and apricot. By the fourth steeping, both had given up most of their flavor.

Stay tuned in coming weeks to hear my thoughts on the rest of the samples I received from Lumbini Tea Valley!

NB: I was sent these samples free of charge from Lumbini Tea Company in exchange for giving my honest thoughts about them. For more information about my tea tasting posts, read why I’ve switched from reviewing to tasting notes. Please contact me if you are interested in collaboration or sponsorship.

Tea Review: Path of Cha Da Hong Pao and Golden Monkey

NB: The teas featured here were sent to me in exchange for review. All thoughts are my own.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to win a couple teas from Path of Cha on Instagram, and I was thoroughly enjoying them. About a month or so later, Angie from Path of Cha reached out and asked if I’d be interested in trying more and reviewing them on the blog, so I agreed readily. We discussed a bit and I mentioned how the cooling weather has me craving some darker oolongs and black teas, so they put together a couple of black and oolong teas for me to try. Less than a week later, I had my package in hand (similarly to how quickly my giveaway winnings arrived) and I’ve been enjoying trying them out. I suppose since I’ve finished one and I’m nearly finished with the other, it’s time to offer my review.

First of all, Path of Cha has fantastic service in terms of website and shipping. Their website is full of information for anyone at any point in their tea journey. I’ve enjoyed their blog and YouTube channel for a while, and the individual listings for each tea give a good amount of information, including little stories about each tea. They’re located in Brooklyn, NY, so it’s not surprising that the tea gets to me quite quickly. And shipping is free for orders over $40 and under $4 otherwise. But perhaps my favorite thing is that they obviously personalize the instructions on each package. Each package has a suggested water temperature, and parameters for brewing Western style and gong fu style. They don’t make any judgments on how you enjoy your tea.

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“Golden Monkey” Jin Hou Black Tea: This is a classic Chinese black tea, and the Path of Cha version is a delightful representation of it. I first tried this tea on a morning when I didn’t have time for a full tea session because we were meeting friends for a walk on a Saturday morning and I just needed something warm and caffeinated to put in a flask. It certainly fit that bill. I steeped it Western-style and had to pour it into the flask after just a few sips, and it held beautifully, warming me on an early morning walk around the garden.

When I had more time, I was able to explore it gong fu style and really taste the full development of flavors. I got chocolate and malt from the aroma of the dry leaf, which is curly and flecked with gold tips. The first infusion or so is mellow and delicate, with burnt sugar and honey in the aroma and malt and cereal in the flavor, but it expands into something very rich and round and perfect for cooler weather, with just enough astringency that you know you’re drinking black tea, but not so much that your mouth dries out or you feel the need to add anything to it. As the flavors develop, I get fruitcake and brandy, so I imagine this will work well into winter. It lasted about six steepings before the flavor started to fade, but it faded so slowly that I got another few steepings before it really felt spent.

It’s such a well-balanced tea that it works beautifully steeped grandpa-style. I’ve had plenty of mornings where I get up at 5:30, set the kettle before getting into the shower, and can make tea in less than a minute by chucking a couple grams into a mug and topping with water after I get out. Twenty-five grams of this tea sells for $10 on their website.

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Organic “Big Red Robe” Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea: I first tried Da Hong Pao for my tea sessions inspired by the Crazy Rich Asians series, as it’s infamous as one of the most expensive teas in the world (when it comes from one of the original ancient trees). But non-ancient DHP is a delightful roasted oolong that doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. This one is only $14 for twenty-five grams.

I dove right into steeping this one gong fu style and was rewarded for my efforts. I went eight steepings with this and found each one a new experience. The aroma goes from caramel and biscuits on the dry leaf to a mineraly, almost peaty aroma on the wet leaf after a few steepings. The empty cup aroma has intense vanilla and pipe tobacco notes, with the roast and smokiness coming through later on. And the flavor is sweet and bright to begin, with the roast coming through later, but never with that old-coffee-grounds flavor that some over-roasted oolongs get. This stays smoky and with notes of bitter chocolate and sweetness. I don’t normally think of oolong as a tea with a lot of cha qi, but I definitely felt something after several steepings of this.

This one is also beautiful grandpa-style, though the complex flavors all kind of blend together, so I tried to stop myself from using this all up in the early mornings. But it’s rich and satisfying and just feels like sitting in front of a low fire with a soft cashmere blanket when I drink it. In fact, when a colleague offered me some caramel apple tea because she thought it tastes like fall, I decided to offer her some of this because this is what I think fall tastes like. I’ve hoarded it a bit, but I’m likely to finish it off this week, and I’m almost certain to buy some more.

Tea Review: Craftedleaf Teas

NB: This sample set was sent to me for the cost of shipping for review, but all opinions are my own.

Recently, someone from Craftedleaf Teas got in touch with me and offered me a chance to try some of their teas for just the cost of shipping. Honestly, I was on the fence about getting more review samples, but I’d seen a few other friends on Instagram raving about their Bilochun and I was intrigued by their Lapsang Souchong, so I accepted. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen me tasting them over the last few weeks, and you may have caught my recent video where I tasted one of their teas, but I thought I should organize my complete thoughts into a longer-form review here.

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First of all, their website is rather gorgeous, and relatively easy to navigate. Every listing gives the full information for the tea, along with instructions for brewing gongfu style and Western style, which is nice, particularly if you’re like me and lose the little packet of instructions that were included in the box! It’s nice because the instructions are obviously tailored to each tea, rather than just giving the same instructions for everything.

I received the Fullhouse Sample Set, which retails for $23 and includes 10 grams each of six different teas, two oolongs, a green, a white, a raw pu’er, and a black. Shipping from Hong Kong to the US was $8, and it arrived twelve calendar days after I placed the order. They also included a 5-gram sample of another dark tea. Looking at the prices, Craftedleaf tea is not as inexpensive as a place like Yunnan Sourcing, but they’re not outrageously expensive, especially for quality tea. Plus, the extra information on the website and the sense of curation suggests a higher-touch experience. Interestingly enough, the founders of the company both come from the two regions of China that lay claim to the origins of gongfu brewing. I particularly appreciate that they are able to use language on their site to express their careful curation, without resorting to calling themselves “luxury.”

When my tea arrived (much sooner than I expected), I broke into the box almost immediately. The seven sleek, white envelopes were carefully packed along with a little book of paper slips containing the information and brewing parameters suggested for each tea. While I jumped on the Bilochun right away, it didn’t take me long to try every tea, sometimes brewing more than one per day (something I haven’t done since before I got pregnant last year). I’ve now tasted all the teas at least once, and some more than that.

Tasting Notes:

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Spring 2019 Dong Ting Lake Bilochun: Because this was the first tea I tasted, I tasted it three ways. I first brewed it gongfu style, using 5g, as suggested; then, I tried it Western style with 3g; finally, I brewed it grandpa-style, by simply putting the remaining 2g into a mug and sipping on it throughout the day. This is a remarkably delicate tea, with a sweet fragrance and mild liquor. It doesn’t get bitter or unpleasant, even brewed for a long time. And I was able to re-steep it even when I brewed it Western style.

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2017 Ba Da Shan Wild Tree Raw Puerh: This tea, I steeped using Marco’s ten-step tasting process that I outlined in my last video. It is a remarkably well-balanced tea, with the aromatic complexity I expect from a sheng, but without the bitterness you might fear from one so young. And, wow, I got some serious energy off this one, even after just one steeping.

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Spring 2019 Wuyi Golden Horse Eyebrow: This was the extra sample that was included in my order and I’m so glad they included it. This was an absolutely fascinating tea. The damp leaves after the first steeping smelled of rich, black pumpernickel bread, and the tea itself had that flavor at first. But then, over later steepings, the most glorious sweet rose scent and flavor came through. Of all the teas I received, this is probably the most likely that I would buy for myself (once I’ve gone through my stash!).

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Spring 2019 Song Dynasty Old Bush Milan Dancong Oolong: This was the most disappointing of the bunch. Despite the description, I found the roast on this to be too heavy. I love Phoenix Oolongs and I was sad that the roast seemed to obscure a lot of the honey and orchid flavors, to my tastes. But it was still enjoyable, especially if you like a smokier tea.

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Spring 2019 Golden Tip Lapsang Souchong: This was the one that both excited me and worried me. My only experience with Lapsang has been the smoked Western-style variety and I am not a fan. I felt a little thrill of contrary joy when a tea sommelier on a podcast I listened to recently called it “bro tea” because I felt somewhat vindicated. But I know that Lapsang, as a category, is well-loved, even among tea connoisseurs. So I was eager to try this one. And it did not disappoint. It has a pronounced caramel sweetness and a rich body, but with bitter notes more akin to really good chocolate than an astringent tea. I even got a bit of pine aroma from the leaves after the last couple of steepings. And I got a bit of energy off it.

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Spring 2019 Organic Wild Baimudan: I may have come to a realization — I don’t think I actually like Baimudan. Now, what does this have to do with this tea? Well, this is probably the most enjoyable Baimudan I’ve ever had. It was a balance of flowers and hay, without too many off flavors, and a pleasant thickness in the mouth without being cloying or syrupy. And yet, I personally found it only okay. But my conclusion is that if I didn’t like this Baimudan, I probably just don’t prefer the tea as a type, because this was a good Baimudan.

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Spring 2019 Premium Anxi Tieguanyin: Tieguanyin is one of my favorite teas, which is why it is odd that I saved this one for last. Perhaps I didn’t want to color my opinion of the rest of the samples if this one turned out to be disappointing. Well, I needn’t have worried. This is an exemplary TGY. It has an unctuous, creamy liquor with a fragrant floral aroma and flavor, the creaminess punctuated by a citrus brightness that is really quite enjoyable. And look at those leaves! They’re huge, and hardly a stem among them.

So those are my honest thoughts on the Fullhouse Sample Set. One thing that struck me throughout my tastings was that every tea seemed very thoughtfully selected. They all had complexity and interest, even those that weren’t my favorites. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to investigate this company that I might not have otherwise found.