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.

IMG_0331

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:

IMG_0033

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.

IMG_0060

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.

IMG_0234

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!).

IMG_0198

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.

IMG_0329

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.

IMG_0295

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.

IMG_0334

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.

Meditations on Matcha and Father’s Day

NB: Those of you who don’t know, my father died in late 2012, so this is not an entirely happy post, especially since we had a rather tumultuous relationship before that.

It was Father’s Day yesterday in the States, and a friend’s post on Instagram got me reminiscing about how my father indirectly introduced me to matcha. The following story may shock and horrify you, particularly if you’re something of a tea purist, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot from this time in my life, and I’ve tried to bring it to my current understanding of tea.

Since I was a teenager, I had a somewhat strained relationship with my father, which fractured entirely when he divorced my mother. In college, I made the decision to stop speaking to him entirely, a decision that led to seven years of estrangement. Eventually, we reconnected and started rebuilding a tenuous sort of relationship. A couple of years later, I would lose him, so I suppose it was fortunate that we were able to mostly reconcile before his death.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer in late 2011, he embarked on a rather aggressive treatment regimen, and my stepmother, likely in an attempt to bring some sense of control to a terrifying time, threw herself into researching complementary therapies. She particularly looked into diet and supplements that could support an anti-cancer lifestyle. This led to the purchase of a great deal of “health food” and various forms of green tea, including a tin of matcha powder. Now, my father decided he liked the matcha-dusted green tea bags they got, which he dubbed his “macho tea,” but no one much liked the plain matcha powder because it was such a strong green tea flavor.

At the time, I was living with them because I had separated from my first husband, and as both a green-tea-drinker and one who hated waste, I started drinking the matcha. Of course, I also started baking with the spelt flour and flaxseeds and cooking with some of the healthier food (I was going through a pseudo-vegan phase at that point), and at one point I had a rather large master list of the vegan muffin recipes I had developed.

In the spring of 2012, my father finished his treatment and was deemed cancer-free, but in fall of 2012, it returned, more aggressively, and it was likely not going to go as well this time. So even though I had since moved out of their house and into a shared house in the same neighborhood, I spent much of my time at my stepmother’s house. By December 2012, it was obvious that it was the end, possibly any day, so I spent my days sitting next to his bed while he slept whenever anyone else from his large family wasn’t there to be with him. I would occasionally sing to him, and occasionally read a book while he slept, but I always had my mug of tea.

As a raw newcomer to the world of matcha, my preferred cuppa was a large mug with a teaspoon of matcha in the bottom, filled with hot water from the insta-hot water tap and stirred with a spoon. No sifting, whisking, or controlled water temperature. No fancy teaware, or even particularly good matcha. Just a mug filled with a somewhat-sludgy, swamp-water concoction that tasted like green tea, kept me feeling alert but calm throughout trying days, and could be refilled occasionally as the powder settled out.

It’s not a sophisticated way to drink matcha, and that’s okay. I came to tea slowly, in increments, starting with a love of tea parties with bagged Twinings, and then on to loose leaf from Teavana, so beginning with matcha by unceremoniously dumping a spoonful of low-ish quality powder in a large mug seems almost fitting. And no matter how intricate my own personal tea rituals may become, sometimes I like to remember their humble beginnings.

So to commemorate this Father’s Day, I made myself a spoonful of matcha in a mug and sipped it slowly while I remember the lessons of tea my father probably never knew he’d taught me.

Getting Started with Tea and Amazon Prime, part two: Tasting Teas from Teavivre

So last week, I shared some of my favorite teaware purchases on Amazon Prime as a way of helping someone get started with loose-leaf tea more easily and accessibly. In that post, I mentioned that I’ve also bought some quality loose-leaf teas off Amazon recently from Teavivre. Teavivre is a company that sells teas from China and is pretty consistently ranked in the top 10 among the User’s Choice Vendor List on Reddit’s Tea subreddit, r/tea. Since they have an Amazon storefront, with options available through Prime, they’re also really, really convenient, especially if you’re impatient like me.

Now, a note about shipping: Most of the vendors I use charge shipping, and shipping can add up, especially when you’re sourcing teas directly from the country of origin. If you have a hard time getting over paying almost as much for your tea again for shipping, it would help to read this post. One thing to note about buying items through Prime with “free shipping” is that they will probably be priced higher than the same item on Teavivre’s own site because companies work shipping prices into their item prices when they decide to offer free shipping. In fact, I’ve bought matcha from one site that had low prices and charged a lot for shipping, only to find that, ultimately, if I bought a couple of things, it was much more economical to buy from them than from a site with free shipping. And the matcha was excellent. But I do like free Prime shipping when I just want to try one thing and don’t feel like putting together a large order. It’s about your shopping and drinking habits. Anyway, on to the tea. I’ve chosen to try one each of black, green, oolong, and white teas to review here, so you can get a sense of what they offer. I didn’t get a puerh because I’m still working through the samples I got from white2tea a while ago!

Organic Bai Mu Dan White Peony white tea: This was the first tea I tried, and I actually showcased it in a sunrise tea session video a while ago. I’d never tried a white peony before, but it had a pretty standard non-silver-needle white tea profile, if a little straw-y for my tastes. It brews up nicely in gongfu and lasts for at least five infusions. This is a very fluffy tea and will probably seem like a lot of leaf if you measure your tea by weight.

Tieguanyin oolong tea: I’ve spoken at length about my love of oolongs, and Tieguanyin is one of my favorites. This is a great example of this style of oolong, still quite green and light, but with a satisfying slight creaminess and honey-floral character that I adore. I got 100g of this and it’s my go-to, can’t-decide-what-kind-of-tea-to-make, I-need-a-nice-cuppa-to-perk-me-up tea.

Premium Tai Ping Hou Kui green tea: I got this tea simply because I keep seeing “the green tea with the big leaves” on Instagram and I wanted to try it for the novelty. But it’s quickly become one of my favorite teas for a lazy, warm morning. I don’t know how much I’ll drink once the weather (finally) cools off, but it’s pretty much what you’ll find me drinking on work-from-home days and weekends. I just put 2.5g in my double-walled tumbler and drink it farmer-style, and it’s a delightful classic Chinese green tea. It’s a bit light in flavor, but it has distinct notes of grass, green leafy vegetables, and just a tiny touch of the sea.

Yunnan Dian Hong Golden Tip black tea: Wow, I saved the best for last here. With the aforementioned weather cooldown, I’m finding myself more drawn to black teas, and I was curious to try a Dian Hong. This Dian Hong is absolutely wonderful, with notes of dried fruit and syrup. It doesn’t get too tannic or bitey, and I just find it a lovely mellow tea to sip on a rainy or cool morning.

So that’s my round-up of some teas I’ve tried at Teavivre, all purchased through Amazon. Do note that I wasn’t given any incentive to write this post, nor are any links affiliate. I hope you’ll consider them a way to get started with some great teas without needing to navigate all the different tea vendors out there. Of course, once you find teas you like, definitely branch out and see how different vendors’ offerings differ, but the beginning shouldn’t be daunting. I hope this helps at least one person feel a bit less intimidated by loose-leaf tea!

The Tea Primer, Bonus Level: Cold-Brewed Tea

Update: I’ve decided to add this post to my Tea Primer, even though it predates the primer, so the style is a bit different. But it’s definitely a thorough treatment of cold-brewing tea and I don’t think it’s worth reinventing the wheel.

I’ve posted some images recently on my Instagram of my experiments in cold-brewing tea, and I’ve even teased on my YouTube channel that I would do a cold tea video sometime. But I’ve decided that to really do justice to my cold-brew adventures, I needed to devote a blog post to it. And stay tuned to the end, when I share a little recipe for one of my favorite summer iced tea drinks!

At its heart, cold-brewing tea is incredibly simple. You just put some tea leaves into some cold water, stick it in the fridge, and wait. I used this article from Serious Eats as my guide, specifically the author’s recommendation of about 10-12g of tea per quart of water. I tend to brew a pint of tea at a time, so that’s about 5-6g of tea per brewing.

Then I decided to go a little nuts and try brewing in sparkling water. I got some good-quality 500-ml bottles of sparkling mineral water from the store and experimented with green, black, and oolong teas. I haven’t tried white tea yet, but I imagine it would be pretty nice. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

Green Tea:

I started out with Rishi Sencha as my first experiment. I’d heard a lot about brewing Japanese green teas cold, and I thought it would be a good place to start. The Rishi sencha is a decent sencha, with a nicely balanced flavor profile of grassy and umami, but it’s also available in my local grocery store and not so expensive or difficult to get that I would worry about “wasting” it on an experiment. So I started there.

Cold-brewed, this sencha retains a lot of it’s interesting umami flavor, with a nice green undertone. It doesn’t have any bitterness or even really astringency, apart from a mild tartness that is quite pleasant. It’s very refreshing. It also shines in sparkling mineral water, as the minerality of the water offsets the umami. I could also see using this as the base in a gin-based tea cocktail, if I liked gin (or were indulging in hard liquor at the moment).

Black Tea:

I will admit, I only tried cold-brewing black tea because my husband made a nostalgic comment about Wawa peach iced tea and I wanted to see if I could make something better using cold-brew and homemade peach syrup (spoiler: I did; read on for the recipe at the end of this post). So I grabbed an old tin of Harney & Sons Darjeeling that my mother brought over for a tea party at my house. I chose the Darjeeling for two reasons. The first was the aforementioned rationale about not using teas I would miss if the experiment failed, and the other was that the Serious Eats article doesn’t seem to recommend cold-brewing black teas because their flavor profile is muted, so I thought if I went for a lighter black tea, rather than a big, punchy Assam, it might work better with the cold-brew method.

I was right about the tea. Despite the fact that I only brewed this to be sweetened, I tried a taste of it before adding sweetener and it’s fantastic. The infusion is a deceptively light color, but it has a lot of black tea flavor, without any dry-your-mouth-out tannins or unpleasant bitterness. It tastes like perfectly-steeped black tea. And it stands up quite well to the peach syrup, too. I also enjoyed it in sparkling water.

Oolong Tea:

Oolong is my favorite tea and one that seems well-suited to cold-brew, as it has a lot of complex flavors that seem like they would work well in a refreshing cold beverage. I only tried oolongs steeped in sparkling mineral water, though their charms would almost certainly translate to still water. The first one I tried was a Golden Lily oolong that is a “milk oolong” variety. I idly thought to make a sort of oolong cream soda. It worked well enough, but the green-ness of the tea made for a rather light cold-brew infusion.

But, wow, my next experiment did not disappoint. I found some old heavy-roast Tieguanyin in the back of my tea cabinet and thought, hey, why not chuck it in some fizzy water? I had thought to try it with my peach syrup. Well, the resulting brew was so lovely and complex — with notes of peaches, honey, flowers, and cream already — that I didn’t dare touch it with sweetener. This is my favorite yet and will likely become a new regular in my daily tea rotation. The absolute only thing I would ever add to it would be a shot of bourbon.

Cold-Brewed Peach Darjeeling Tea:

As promised, I’ve also come up with a recipe for peach iced tea using cold-brew. The first step is to steep 5g of Darjeeling tea in 16 oz. of water. Then, you’ll need to make the peach syrup by roughly chopping one fresh peach and putting it in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup of water. Let this simmer until the peach is soft enough to be mashed with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Then, stir in 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and simmer until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Strain the syrup into a jar and let cool.

To put together the drink, strain the tea leaves out of the tea, and add about 2 Tbsp. of peach syrup (or to taste) to the tea. Stir well and serve over ice with a slice of lemon and a couple slices of fresh peach. Makes two glasses of iced tea.

My husband’s review was that “it’s pretty good.” So there’s that. Happy steeping!

Tea Review: Adagio Teas Jasmine Phoenix Pearls

Earlier this month I had a birthday and one thing that people know I will always appreciate for my birthday is tea. Because my mother knows me very well, she got me a pack of jasmine tea because I love jasmine. I don’t tend to drink a lot of flavored teas, with the notable exception of traditional flavors — so Earl Grey, the occasional masala chai, and floral-scented green and oolong teas. And rolled jasmine green tea is a particular favorite.

Adagio Teas is probably the way I first got really into loose-leaf tea. I do remember visiting Teavana when one opened in a nearby shopping mall, but instead of buying there, I went home and opened up our newfangled internet machine to search “The ‘Web” for a way to find even more high-quality teas. I stumbled upon Adagio and first learned the joys of loose leaf tea. These Jasmine Phoenix-Dragon Pearls might have even been in my first order because I found the name romantic and lovely, and even as a teenager preferred deep floral scents to the typical light scents favored by my peers.

But since then, I’ve moved beyond the one-stop shopping experience of Adagio Teas, so they don’t often feature in my rotation when I decide what to review. So because it seems appropriate for early spring, I thought I’d add some florals to my tea reviews. You know, for spring.

The Adagio Teas Jasmine Phoenix (also called Dragon) Pearls are described as hand-rolled young tea leaves and buds, scented with jasmine. They are delicate and pretty to look at, with some variation in the color of the leaf, as well as a few white jasmine buds sprinkled in to enhance the look of the dry tea. When they steep, you can watch them unfurl into small leaves. The jasmine scent, particularly of the first infusion, is heady, and I find that it does best when it’s steeped for about a minute at first, and then as little as possible on subsequent infusions, until the strength of the tea settles down a bit.

The brewed tea, if not allowed to oversteep, is luscious and almost sweet-tasting. It smells heavily of jasmine, but also of the vegetal notes of good-quality Chinese green tea. While the first steeping will always have the strongest flavoring for any scented tea, this tea maintains a respectable jasmine punch for several steepings, although as you go on, you’ll find the qualities of the green tea coming through more and more. While Chinese green teas are not my favorite, this is a lovely example of one.

Adagio Teas is known in the tea community for being a bit overpriced for their quality, but there are a great place for someone who is new to tea to go and learn a bit about loose leaf teas before diving into sourcing teas more directly. Their website is visually pleasing and provides good information and reviews to help you choose a tea. And the fact that they offer small samples of almost all their teas is a fantastic bonus.

NB: I was not paid or encouraged to write this review. While the tea in question was a gift, it was not a gift from the company. All thoughts are my own. Read more about my sponsorship and review policies here.

Tea Review: Koyo Teas Sencha and Matcha

NB: This review is of products sent to me free of charge in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own. For more information about my policies regarding review samples, click here.

A couple months ago, Anil at Koyo Tea Company contacted me to see if I would be interested in trying some of their teas. We went back and forth, discussing the teas. Anil was lovely to chat with over email, and I especially liked the clean design of their website, so I decided to give it a try. Then, one lovely September day, I was surprised with a package. Inside was a packet of sencha, a packets of matcha, and two small, single-use samples of other teas.

Koyo Tea Company sources its teas from small cooperative farms in Kyoto, such that they can try to find the best price for the teas they offer. Additionally, the source teas that are from a lesser-known cultivar that is supposed to have less bitterness. They’ve found this little niche, offering a few teas from this particular area and cultivar without the huge overhead of a large-scale tea export company, which I found interesting.

I’ve teased a little on Instagram, as I’ve tried the teas, but I thought I’d share my full thoughts about the teas in this review. I’m going to focus on the sencha and matcha, as I haven’t found the right time to try the other samples, but if the quality is comparable to the others, I expect them to be good.

Sencha: This looks like a standard sencha tea, with small, delicate leaves and an intense Japanese green tea scent to them. It is listed on the website at $12 for 1 oz., which is neither very expensive nor worryingly cheap. I brewed it with 175F water in a glass teapot for a minute, and was able to get two resteepings, steeped for one and two minutes respectively, after the first. The brewed tea is a pale yellow-green color that reminds me of some pinot grigio wines. The flavor is delicate and floral, with a hint of grassiness and almost no bitterness. The floral qualities come out even more strongly as I resteep. I found this to be a particularly enjoyable sencha and might consider buying more for myself, once I’ve worked my way through my current tea stash.

Matcha: The Koyo teas matcha at first seems like a very standard ceremonial-grade matcha. It’s listed on their website for $25 for 25g, which is right on par with other matchas I’ve bought. The powder is fine and whisks up without clumping. The color is not quite the brilliant emerald green of the Matchaeologist or O-Cha matchas I’ve tried, but the flavor is lovely. It is a very vegetal matcha, with a thick mouthfeel and body and a flavor reminiscent of boiled spinach, with a pronounced umami quality, but almost no bitterness. While I prefer more floral and acidic matchas, I did not find this difficult to drink and will enjoy finishing my batch. I would probably not repurchase this for myself, but I would recommend it for people who like matchas with that thick, vegetal quality.

So I definitely noticed the lack of bitterness in this cultivar, as Anil told me. Interestingly enough, I didn’t bother looking back at my old emails with Anil before I went ahead and brewed the teas, so I had actually forgotten that I might want to see if that was true. I found working with Anil to be enjoyable and the teas lovely, so if you’re interested in trying some excellent examples of classic Japanese green teas, you might want to check out Koyo Tea Company.

One final note: if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that beauty and tea are my two passions. If you’re interested in see how I’ve gotten those two passions to combine, check out my Volition Beauty campaign by clicking here. I would appreciate your support by voting for my campaign. Voting isn’t an obligation to buy the product if it is launched, but it does get you a discount if you do decide to buy it. Thanks.

Outing: Handmade Wagashi at the Matsukawaya DC Pop-Up Shop

I posted a few teasers on Instagram this weekend, but I thought I’d share a full recap from my weekend outing to the pop-up shop of the wagashi artisans at Matsukawaya DC at Union Market. This was a relatively spur-of-the-moment outing, as I was about to head downtown to my Saturday morning barre class when I turned to Mr. Tweed and asked if he’d be willing to meet me downtown after my class so we could go to the market for lunch and to see the confectionery.

The stand itself was somewhat unassuming among the delightful chaos of Union Market, but the stunning artistry of the sweets still caught the eye. They had a display of shaped namagashi and displays of wrapped sweets, along with samples of mochi, monaka, and other sweets. They were even making fresh strawberry mochi, which was absolutely sublime. I’d never had mochi this fresh and it was amazing. It absolutely melted in the mouth. After gathering our lunch, I stopped back at the stand and spent a while agonizing over the selections. I settled on one namagashi and a gei monaka to take home for later with my tea. The lovely young lady working at the stall included a couple other sweets as service, and the nice man who was folding origami presented me with a pink crane. With my treasures in hand, we made our way home.

I think here is a good place to pause and talk a bit about wagashi. The word “wagashi” comes from the word for sweets — originally referring to fruits and nuts, but eventually including sugared sweets — with a prefix indicating they are a Japanese art. They are made with sugar, yes, but also such typically-Japanese ingredients as sweet rice flour, red bean paste, and kanten or agar. The variety called namagashi are served with the traditional Japanese tea ceremony as a complement to the bitterness of the tea. As I was told during my tea demonstration, the sweets are served and the ceremony is timed such that the sweetness is still on your tongue when you first sip the bowl of matcha. So wagashi are not only best eaten with a nice cup of green tea, but indeed they are inextricably culturally linked to tea. So it was no surprise that this pop-up shop was hosted by one of my favorite local tea houses, Teaism.

Upon returning home, I immediately started heating my kettle and gathering my matcha supplies. I decided to use my O-Cha organic ceremonial grade matcha for the occasion, whisked up in my new bowl purchased recently from a local artist. As the water heated, I opened my bag of sweets and pulled out the beautiful chrysanthemum namagashi in its little display box. As I opened it and separated it from the protective film underneath, I was struck by how delicate the sweet was. I placed it on a small saucer and made my tea. I took both to a quiet, sunny corner of our living room and sat to enjoy my little treat.

The sweet itself was quite soft, with a flavor that surprised me, given that I thought the most care would be taken with the appearance. But of course, wagashi are meant to appeal to all five senses. While the sound of this tender sweet was silence and its visual appeal apparent, I was delighted by the other three sense as well. It was a soft and smooth texture, yielding but not mushy. As someone who takes issue with a lot of textures, I found it amazing. As I bit into it, I smelled the rice and sweetness scent and tasted the complex flavors that married into this delicious sweet. It had a smooth sweet bean paste filling. And the small size meant that I enjoyed every bite, rather than becoming overloaded as I often do with a Western pastry. Despite being against tradition, I did pause and sip some matcha in between bites of sweet, but I found they blended so well together. And when the moment was over, I was able to bask in the peace and pleasure of it.

Later on, I broke into the gei monaka, a sweet made from red bean jelly sandwiched between two crisp rice crackers. I had had one of these before on my last visit to Teaism, and I knew I enjoyed it. I still haven’t tried the service sweets I was given, but I look forward to them as well. All in all, this was a lovely outing, and I encourage everyone in the DC area to take a trip out to Union Market before the 30th of September when the pop-up shop goes away.

A final note: Please remember my campaign for a matcha-infused, dual-targeted masking system at Volition Beauty. Go here to vote.

Tea Review: Rishi Tea Matcha Travel Packs

The other day one of my Instagram friends posted a story about trying a matcha-to-go packet and being generally underwhelmed. Well, that got me thinking about the things I like or don’t like in a matcha, given that I typically spend too much and drink it traditionally (or else make a latte). I’m not really a matcha-to-go person. But then I noticed that my grocery store had boxes of Rishi Tea’s matcha travel packs and thought I’d give them a try.

DSCN0669

Now, fair warning, these are not cheap. They’re actually about the same price as the regular Teahouse Matcha that Rishi also sells at the grocery store, which is also not listed as ceremonial grade. On their website, Rishi also sells sencha travel packs, which have powdered sencha tea for mixing into a water bottle, for a lower price. But either way, the Matcha Travel Packs are listed for $19 for a box of 12 packets, or about $1.05/g or $1.60 per serving. The packets are 1.5 g each, which I think might be a bit more than I usually use to make a standard bowl of matcha. That said, my grocery store loves to list things below MSRP, so I got the box for $18, or about $1/g and $1.50 per serving. For comparison, my current favorite ceremonial-grade matcha from Matchaeologist is Meiko and is sold at $14 for 20g, or about $0.70/g and just over $1 for a 1.5-g serving. So you’re paying for convenience, but probably not quality.

Anyway, the official instructions for this powder say to mix one 1.5-g packet into a 16-oz. bottle of water, which already didn’t fill me with hope that this would be a quality, tasty matcha. I mean, if the flavor is going to come through when mixed in roughly five or six times more water than I would normally use, what is going to be there when tasted at a more concentrated level? But I pressed on.

My first test was to try brewing it traditionally. I mean, it’s matcha, right? It should be able to be judged like any matcha I drink. So I sifted a packet into my matcha bowl. I will say, the powder was a pleasingly bright color and fine consistency. I poured in 2 oz. of hot water and whisked it up. I got a respectable amount of froth with minimal elbow grease, and then sat to enjoy it. It had a pleasant vegetal aroma while whisking. The taste is certainly not subtle, but I got notes of green leafy vegetables, umami, a smooth mouthfeel, and a balanced amount of bitterness. The reason I’m pretty sure it’s a larger amount of matcha than I typically use is because I felt a serious buzz, too. But all in all, not an unenjoyable experience. Which, y’know, for $1/g, I would certainly hope would be true.

Next, I tried it in a matcha latte. I tried in both my cold almond milk, pre-workout, protein, sweetened matcha latte and in a standard, unsweetened hot matcha latte with cow’s milk. In both formats, I really appreciated how much the flavor of the matcha came through. Especially in the almond milk latte, I need to add maple syrup to sweeten it up (because I use unsweetened almond milk) and I found that the Rishi matcha came through more strongly than my standard latte matchas. And it blended easily without and special equipment. For the cold latte, I literally tossed everything into a jar and shook it together without pre-mixing at all.

Finally, I wanted to try the matcha the way it was intended: added to a 16-oz. bottle of water and shaken together. I filled my favorite glass water bottle with water, sipped a little off the top to make room, and then added a packet of matcha. I capped it and shook. It immediately blended into a brilliant green liquid, somewhat reminiscent of kale juice. Tasting it, the matcha flavor was even more complex in this format. The extra dilution allowed some of the subtler flavors to come through, including a floral sweetness that I found quite pleasant. It was refreshing and energizing without being overly bitter and without any grittiness, even down to the last swallow. Some of the powder would settle as the bottle sat, but a quick shake or swirl got everything suspended again and I never felt like I had a mouthful of powder or sludge.

So, I would say that, all in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this matcha. I really wasn’t expecting much from a matcha that I poured out of a packet, but I have to say, this is a decent little matcha. It’s probably not the best price you could hope for, but I’m impressed with Rishi’s balance of quality and accessibility. They tend to sell their teas in local stores, so it’s not necessary to order online. And the convenience of a packet should appeal to some. I probably won’t buy this again too often, but I will definitely use what I have for travel.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and was not given any incentive to review it. All opinions are my own.

Tea Review: Matchaeologist Meiko Matcha

NB: I purchased this product without any review discount, and while I am a Matchaeologist affiliate, all links in this review are non-affiliate links. If you would like to support this blog by buying through my affiliate link, click here.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram have probably noticed that I’ve become very enamoured of the matcha latte as of late. When I decided to try to cut down on my sugar intake in June, that meant finding a recipe for an unsweetened matcha latte that still gave me the satisfaction of the sweet version. Of course, it also meant that I couldn’t get by with low-quality matcha powder and rely on the sugar to cover off flavors. So I went back to Matchaeologist to try more of their matchas. I’d previously reviewed the Matsu matcha, which is like their some what “standard” ceremonial grade matcha. But at $24 for 20g, it would be an expensive latte matcha. So I went back and purchased their Meiko ceremonial-grade matcha and Midori culinary-grade matcha.

I found the Meiko matcha delightful in an unsweetened matcha latte made with local goat’s milk, but found that when I tried to make a non-dairy matcha latte, I still needed the sweetener to cover the odd flavor of the non-dairy milk, so I opted for the less expensive Midori. But, still having some of the Meiko around, and not wanting to waste, I decided to try it straight for a bowl of thin matcha. It is, after all, still a ceremonial-grade matcha.

The matcha is the same intense green color and smooth texture of other Matchaeologist matchas. I do sift it, though I doubt I need to. It whisks up into a beautiful, stable foam in my ceramic matcha bowl. I used two chashaku scoops to about 2 fl. oz. of hot water to make my morning bowl.

The flavor and aroma are markedly different from the Matsu. While Matsu smells of vegetables and the sea, Meiko is subtler, more delicate, and lighter. Meiko still has the smoothness of Matsu, but without the thick mouthfeel. And the flavors are more floral than vegetal. I actually find it an absolutely lovely morning bowl of matcha, and for $14 for 20g, I will absolutely be buying this again.

Stay tuned because I will soon be reviewing the Midori culinary grade matcha, and sharing my recipes for perfect matcha lattes.

Outing: Tea Demonstration at the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Washington D.C. Association

This is a bit of an exciting outing post. You see, when I was a child, I remember a local museum having an exhibit where they recreated a Japanese tea house inside the museum. I wondered recently if the exhibit still existed, or if it was a temporary one, so I was looking around the internet. I did not find the exhibit, but I did find out that my city has its own tea ceremony association, the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Association of Washington, D.C., which holds weekly open houses by appointment.I decided to send them an email and see if they would make an appointment for me to come by, see their tea house, and learn more about the Japanese tea ceremony. I was fortunate enough that they not only invited me by, but also allowed me to take a few pictures to share with you.

The tour began at the front door to the tea house, which is on the second floor of a rather unassuming office building downtown. My host, Mioko, opened the locking door and showed me the closet where I could trade my street shoes for house slippers and leave my purse safely out of the way. Then, she showed me into the tea lesson room. We both took off our house slippers to step up into the tea house, which consisted of two rooms: a six-tatami less formal room and an eight-tatami more formal room. The formal room had an alcove with a scroll and a small flower. Mioko explained that they can also open the divider between the two rooms to make a large formal room.

She showed me around the rooms and explained the significance of the various elements, from the recreated tea garden on the tea house’s balcony, to the particular clay color of the walls. Much of the design of the tea house comes from the preferences of the shogun at the time the Urasenke school’s master lived. After that, she showed me to the formal tea house and began the demonstration of the tea ceremony.

The ceremony began with the presentation of a tray of sweets, which I got to contemplate as Mioko returned to her preparation area to bring out the various elements of tea preparation: the tea bowl, whisk, scoop, linens, and a waste water bowl. She then performed a ritual cleansing of the tea canister and scoop with her cloth. Then, she invited me to have a sweet while she prepared the tea. I bit into the crispy biscuit on my paper, and then tried the pressed sugar confection, letting it melt on my tongue, while I watched her make the tea.

The idea behind the timing of the ceremony is to allow the guest just enough time that the sweetness of the confection is still in their mouth as the tea is served. Sure enough, just as the last bits of sugar melted, she presented me with my bowl of tea. I hadn’t mentioned that I drink matcha, so I think she was surprised that I enjoyed my tea. The matcha was very smooth, both in flavor and consistency. It was eye-opening to have a bowl prepared by a true master. It was also quite delicate and floral, with an umami flavor that melted into sweetness as an aftertaste. Truly excellent matcha.

After I finished my tea, she invited me to examine the tea canister and bamboo scoop, explaining the history and process used to make these items. The canister she used for the demonstration had a flower design that was once again a favorite of the shogun at the time of the master’s life in Kyoto.

Once she had finished the demonstration, she invited me to try making a bowl myself. Of course, by this time, my feet were starting to get very sore from the sitting! But I endeavored to try the process. She had us move to the informal room, where a small tea kettle made it easier to serve the water without the elaborate ritual of using bamboo ladles. She also helped me set up my own tea equipment on a tray, making it easier to carry in and out of the room.

I won’t pretend my attempts were anything but humorous, but she was impressed with how quickly I picked up the particular method of folding the cloth used in the ritual, and how well I was able to create froth in my tea. After I made my bowl of tea, she suggested I switch back to playing the part of the guest so I could taste my own bowl of tea. After two bowls of matcha and the satisfaction of completing the elaborate ritual, I was exhilarated.

The whole experience took just under an hour and was a wealth of information, both about tea preparation, and about the context of the tea ceremony in Japanese history. What I found particularly interesting was the strong connection to the context of the time in which the master lived. Certain elements are admittedly due to the preference of the ruling shogun, not for any supposed mystical reason. I found it down to earth and refreshing. I also found Mioko a pleasant guide. It is always awkward for me to go places with the purpose of sharing them on the blog sometimes, and she helped put me at ease. If you’re in D. C. and curious about the tea ceremony, I would definitely recommend you email the association to make an appointment.