Black Cat Bytes

Tea reviews for the common cat!


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Jollybrew’s Rhubarb and Custard Black Tea

Good day, tea folk! Hope January has treated you well and that you are all looking forward to a sweet Valentine’s Day. 🙂 The weather here in London has been rather frightening as of late! Windy and spooky and stormy, feels more like Halloween than nearly spring! But not to worry! All of this bad juju is simply water off a duck’s back for me, as I’ve been keeping happy and cozy with Jollybrew’s Rhubarb and Custard tea! ‘Rhubarb and Custard?’ I hear you say, ‘Robin, how British of you! I am intrigued!’ Read on, friend. Read on. 😛

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Good gravy pancakes, the scent of this blend is exquisite- Jollybrew has nailed the scent of custard so well here, with just a tiny kick of tart rhubarb. A quick whiff instantly teleports me to my boyfriends’ parents’ house, where a steaming bowl of rhubarb crumble smothered in custard is seated in front of me after a belly-busting Sunday roast.

Brewing Guidelines: 100 C/ 212 F | 2 tsp per 250 mL | 3-5 minutes

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Just as I had hoped, this blend tastes like vanilla custardy heaven, with a teensey bit of smokiness from what I assume is from the base black tea blend. The flavor is simple, warming, and authentic, and I heartily recommend taking a deep whiff from the surface of the brew before taking a sip in order to allow your senses to fully indulge in this tea.

As much as I adore the flavor and scent of this tea, I don’t get quite as much of a rhubarb kick from the brew as I would like. However, I understand balancing a flavor as savory and sweet as custard with the zippy, tangy rhubarb is rather hard to achieve with a black tea base. Might there possibly be room for a tisane or white tea version of this blend in the future? That’d be awesome! But, if not, this blend is still a lovely sweet treat and a great, guilt-free way to indulge in the evenings as the wind howls and stirs outside.

 

Tea sample sent to me by the lovely folks at Jollybrew for review. Thanks guys!

 


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Jollybrew’s Super Spiffing Strawberry Black Tea

It’s certainly been a while since I last reviewed a flavored tea! Like many tea enthusiasts, I think I’m quite cautious of them, especially with abundance of the incredible tasting straight teas I’ve been enjoying as of late. If the tea leaf ain’t broken, why fix it?

However, when I first viewed the photo and description of Jollybrew’s Super Spiffing Strawberry, I was intrigued.While the tea admittedly contains natural flavorings, it also boasts pieces of real strawberry and papaya fruit, as well as lime and blackberry leaves. Papaya and lime leaves, huh? Sounds so tropical and lush! …and into my shopping cart it went. 😛

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Lovely, isn’t it? The leaf quality is what I would expect for a flavored tea at this price point, but those papaya chunks are numerous and I love how I can see the seeds in the strawberry pieces as well. The smell of this tea may just be my favorite thing about it- it smells so REAL! Beautiful, luscious strawberries, plump with goodness at the peak of summer. Any reservations you might have about flavored teas will disappear the second you get a whiff of Super Strawberry, I promise you. 🙂

Brewing Guidelines | 100 C : 1 tbs per 200 mL : 3-5 minutes

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The scent of Super Strawberry continues to blossom while the blend steeps, making for a serious feast of the senses! The strawberry flavoring with each sip isn’t quite as strong as the aroma, allowing for the natural flavor of the tea to shine through as well. Jollybrew doesn’t indicate what specific type of black tea this is, but I’d venture a guess it’s a blend of Ceylon/Assam teas. Crisp and malty with a light bit of astringency in the aftertaste. A solid base!

Honestly what draws me back to this tea to brew up after cup would have to be its scent. It astonishes me that Jollybrew was able to so masterfully replicate such an idealized bouquet of fresh strawberries.. it brings a happy gust of summertime to my senses that I cannot get enough of. Honestly, I really cannot see how this blend could be improved upon- this is easily only strawberry black tea anyone will ever need in their cupboards. Seriously, Jollybrew, well done.

Check out Super Spiffing Strawberry for yourself!

Happy drinking! 🙂


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Curious Tea’s December 2015 Subscription Box

Hi guys! A slightly belated Merry Christmas to you all! Now that the holiday season is (nearly) over, it’s time to settle back into our comfy chairs, enjoy a nice hot cuppa, and wait for winter to finish its tyrannical reign of.. curiously mild weather.. hmmm 😛 Screw it, let’s brew up some tea anyway!

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Today I’ll be having a look at Curious Tea‘s December mixed subscription box, featuring Dian Hong Black Pagoda and King Ginseng Oolong. At first glance, both sound like they have the potential to be seriously intense teas based on the rather imposing sound of their names, but only time (and a few sips) will tell their true nature! Let’s get started! 🙂

King Ginseng Oolong

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The appearance of this tea reminds me quite a bit of a Tie Guan Yin with it’s cute little tightly-wrapped balls of emerald goodness. KGO smells powerfully fruity and sweetly floral, a rather peculiar profile I have never found in a tea before! Pardon the cheesey phrase, but it’s like.. a full- bodied tropical bouquet of scents! Candied flowers and luscious fruits! A little research on Curious Tea’s blog reveals this particular tea is made using high grade milk oolong leaves specially infused with small amounts ginseng, hence its name. No wonder KGO seems so unique!

Brewing Guidelines: 80 C : 1 tsp per 250 mL : 3-5 minute steep time

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With my first sip, the taste of candied flowers is most prevalent with a slight grassy taste following behind. As expected, the flavor is highly potent, though it is actually a bit sour as well! A second steeping yields a highly similar flavor profile, though a bit more sour and with an added licorice aftertaste. I believe this tea is best enjoyed in small, thoughtful sips, and paired with a sweet treat on the side- leftover Christmas cookie, perhaps? 😉  The unique, powerful taste of these leaves will command your attention and admittedly may take a bit of getting used to.

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KGO is exactly the kind of tea I want to receive in a tea subscription box- a bit weird with unique flavor, and of unmistakably high quality- something I would never be able to source on my own. Awesome! 🙂

Dian Hong Black Pagoda

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WOW! I hadn’t checked the description of this tea before I opened the packet, and was actually a bit startled by the appearance of the leaves when I first looked inside! I thought they might be tiny creatures!! 😛 In any case, the unique shape of these leaves (achieved by tying them together into tower shapes before allowing them to dry during the roasting process) makes it quite easy to measure them out for a great brew! The tiny towers smell of sweet honey and brown sugar, nearly like bubble tea tapioca pearls… mmmm ❤

Brewing Guidelines: 100 C : 1 tower per 250 mL : 4-5 minutes

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The leaves are startlingly beautiful as they unfurl, and I am so excited by the fact I can enjoy what is basically a blooming tea flower actually made from high quality leaves!

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Dang, these towers get absolutely huge once they’ve steeped for the appropriate time! Based on the rather imposing, sprawling nature of the leaves, I expected the brew to have just as intense a taste… but I was completely wrong! Black Pagoda has an simple and delicate flavor profile with faint notes of honey and a lightly spiced aftertaste- that’s it! I cowered in front of the towers for no reason, it seems. 😛 The more I sip, the more the sweetness of the honey shines through, and the taste of the brew remains light. Not what I was expecting at all! Another wonderfully unique selection from Curious Tea. 🙂

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I immensely enjoyed Curious Tea’s selections for their December box- both had most surprising flavors and allowed me to enjoy brews I would never probably choose for myself. As always, their blog post was wonderfully informative and made me feel intimately familiar with and appreciative of these teas and the processes that shaped them.

Check out Curious Tea’s website here!


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The Devotea’s Thailand Black Tea

Hello, fellow Teacats! 🙂 It’s so hard to believe today is the last day of November! The days are certainly getting shorter and shorter (I can’t remember the last time I saw sunlight stream in through my apartment windows.. 😦 ) and Christmas is nearly upon us. I hope you’re all having fun getting ready for the holidays, and that you all got massive tea hauls during the Black Friday sales! I’ve had to be a good girl this year and resist all the deals, at least until I can drink down my current stash a bit. 😛 Darn!

Today I’ll be having a look at The Devotea’s Thailand Black Tea. There’s not too much information to be found about the leaves on the tea’s webpage so I’ll have to be quite the TEA-tective (wink wink, nudge nudge 😀 )to solve the mystery of this Thai tea’s flavors. Let’s do this!

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The leaves smell like earthy, unsweetened cocoa, and the leaves are thickly rolled up like tiny cigars. Even by looks and scent alone, this tea radiates the essence of winter. I can already imagine myself tucked into a plush, oversized chair next to a roaring fireplace while a blizzard rages outside as I sip this tea quite happily.

Brewing Guidelines: 212 F / 100 C | 2-3 minutes | 1 tsp | 200 mL

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The brew alone looks like mulled wine or cider, I feel nice and toasty already! 😛 The first steeping offers quite a smokey scent, and tastes like a rich mixture of earth and wood with little notes of cocoa, reminding me again of a crackling fireplace or an old wood burning stove.

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The second steeping is highly similar in color to the first, a testament to the quality and tightly rolled nature of the leaves. The smokey scent really emerges with this brew, and the taste remains strong and woody without being bitter.

I’m not usually the biggest fan of smokey teas, but this one’s rich depth of flavor and inherent boldness is a delight to the senses and encourages those who partake in it to sip slowly and savor the moment. And, with Christmas coming so quickly, every moment definitely counts. 🙂 Best wishes! x

Check out Thailand Black Tea for yourself! At the time of this writing, it is priced at only $1.00 per oz! Holy patoot!!

Thanks to The Devotea for providing this tea sample for review! 🙂

 


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Tea From Vietnam’s Red Lily Black Tea

Hiya tea-friends! Happy post-Labor Day! I hope all of you had a deliciously lazy day yesterday (whether you’re from the US or not!)!

I don’t know how many of you have extensive experience with Vietnamese teas, but I certainly do not. With the exception of a few online vendors, Vietnamese blends just aren’t that widely available or discussed in the Western world. I was recently approached by Tea From Vietnam, a company that is looking to bring the world’s attention to the exquisite teas Vietnam produces, and banish the bad (or nonexistent) reputations they believe Vietnamese teas may have. I am so excited to have a chance to sample and review some of their teas, with the hopes we can all go on this journey together to discover Vietnam and all the incredible tastes it has to offer. 🙂

The first of many teas by Tea From Vietnam that I will be having a look at is their Red Lily black tea. According to this packaging, this tea is a heavily oxidized “Golden Lily” variety, with a note that Vietnamese farmers will usually use these leaves to make oolong or green tea.  To have Golden Lily be made into a black tea is a rare treat, and one that TFV is quite excited to be able to offer to western drinkers. Let’s give it a try!

IMG_2157As I first open the packet, the leaves smell like spiced coffee with a hint of smokiness. It makes my nose feel all tingly! I inhaled the scents a bit too deeply and actually sneezed- perhaps this tea can double in function as a way to clear one’s sinuses! 😛

Shop Link: Red Lily Black Tea

Brewing Guidelines: 205 F | 3-4 min | 200 mL | 1 tsp

Since I’ll be using a ~100 mL gaiwan, I decided to alter the brewing guidelines slightly for my own purposes. I still used roughly a teaspoon of leaves in my brewing vessel, but opted for shorter steep times (~2 minutes per infusion). This may sound redundant, but it is really important to use freshly boiled water to brew this tea- the leaves are so tightly rolled that they will not unfurl properly otherwise.  I recommend steeping the leaves for a few minutes initially as a “rinse” to help speed the process along.  IMG_2158As soon as I removed the lid from my gaiwan, a lofty scent of smoke and toasted grain danced around me. It was very strong, reaching my nose long before I actually moved closer to get a whiff of it. The brew had a very strong toasted rice flavor, the aftertaste laced with a honey-like sweetness. I was pleasantly surprised at this- I had been expecting (and I’ll be honest, dreading) strong smokey flavors based on the initial scent of the leaves. I found myself enjoying the tea more and more with each sip: somehow, the sweet honey flavor seemed to become more dominant as time went on.

IMG_2159With the second steeping, I could begin to see how large the leaves actually were. Just as with the first infusion, the flavor was predominantly toasted initially, but grew into a more thick sweetness with each subsequent sip. The third infusion produced a similar result, just with lighter flavors. Time to put these leaves to bed, I think. 🙂

IMG_2162Thoughts: I was quite impressed with Black Lily! I love black/red teas with honey-like taste profiles, and I thought the addition of the toasted nut/rice flavors really added some satisfying warmth to the brew, similar to the way drinking a genmaicha makes me feel. I still need to do a bit of tinkering with my brewing technique for this tea- TFV’s website does a great job of offering a variety of different steeping techniques to get the best flavor out of this brew, and I’ll be trying them all! It takes a lot of work (and time) to make these cheeky leaves give up their goods! 😛 I can envision Black Lily being a perfect way to warm up on the chilly mornings that I’m sure are just around the corner, and seeing as how it is priced so well at $6.90/50g, it has some serious potential to be a daily drinker. I encourage you to give it a try! 🙂

Tea From Vietnam’s Red Lily Black Tea

Thanks again to Tien of TeaFromVietnam for providing a sample of Black Lily for review!


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White2Tea’s Big Tree Red

It is no secret that I am a black/red tea fiend. While I can appreciate the subtle taste adventures of white and green tea, nothing gets my bones a-rattlin’ more than a deep, bold black tea. Give me a flavor explosion! A big band burst of excitement, a one-two punch of malty and cocoa goodness! A little astringency is ok, too. 😛

White2Tea’s Big Tree Red is every black tea lover’s dream- a courageously strong brew that can be steeped an upwards of twenty times with flash infusions. I am so glad I had a chance to sample this tea (and have accordingly been hording it for months- I seriously need to break this habit!) and am really excited to share my thoughts about it with you! Put on your scuba gear, fellow teacats, and let’s dive!

IMG_2092This tea is flippin’ gorgeous! The leaves are absolutely gigantic and smell richly earthy with hints of red wine and dark chocolate. For proper steeping, White2Tea recommends 1g leaf per 20 mL of water (at 212 F)- using so much tea for one session makes my policy of hording tea quite difficult, but for the sake of this review, I figure I have to brew this tea the correct way at least once. 😛 I’ll be using my 100 mL rice pattern gaiwan! Yay!


1st Infusion (30 seconds):  The brew is very malty with a light floral sweetness, slightly plummy aftertaste. I was hoping to taste a bit of that cocoa scent, but since we’re in for the long haul with this tea session, I figure I can wait for it. 😛 IMG_2093 2nd Infusion (30 seconds): To me, this steeping is where I really got introduced to the tea’s primary flavors- you can see how much the leaves have unfurled already at this point. The taste has developed quite considerably as well, with strong notes of malt and molasses. IMG_2096

IMG_20953rd Infusion (45 seconds):  The tea tastes sweetly malty and gives a pleasant sugary aftertaste, yum!IMG_20974th Infusion (45 seconds): Wow! Judging by the sudden darkness of this brew, I’d guess Big Tree Red is just getting started! 😛 The flavor is intensely malty and actually a bit astringent, will cut back on the steeping time with the next brew. Looks like I underestimated BTR’s potency!

IMG_20985th Infusion (30 seconds): I really enjoyed this steeping! The shorter infusion time has definitely paid off- I can taste a lovely combination of slightly bitter dark chocolate and sweet molasses with a touch of malt.

IMG_2100IMG_2101It’s clear this tea still has MUCH more to give, but unfortunately at this point my stomach was completely full and just about ready to burst. 😛 I elected to throw the leaves into a pitcher and leave them to cold brew overnight for some lovely iced tea in the morning.

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Thoughts: HOLY BOJANGLES. Drinking Big Tree Red is such a fantastic experience! I follow a lot of silly tea-themed Twitter accounts that do nothing but tweet about how much of “beautiful calming ritual for the soul” tea brewing is, and with BTR in mind, I’d have to agree. The way the leaves unfurled, the color of the brew darkened, and the flavor changed with each subsequent steep really brought me to appreciate each moment I spent involved with this tea. As far as multiple infusions go- I was ready to tap out before these leaves were! How often does that happen? 😛 I can imagine my leaves would have been good for at least 5 more steepings, maybe even five more after that. The way I see it, the smaller a gaiwan you use for brewing the better, to allow for even more control over the flavor and more infusions to truly experience the dynamic flavor of this tea.

BTR is a party tea. Invite a million of your friends over for a gongfu session and amaze all of them by pouring tea for them using the same leaves infusion after infusion! They’ll be amazed and perhaps mildly confused! Their bladders will be full! And I can pretty much guarantee you this tea will still have more to give. 😛 Thanks White2Tea!


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M&K’s Tea Co. Sicilian Vanilla Black Tea

No matter how many black vanilla tea blends I try, even if I really enjoy them, I am ALWAYS on the hunt for more. Whenever I’m cruising through a tea website looking for tea samples, if I see a vanilla black tea, I am BOOM! on it like a car bonnet- I’ve gotta give it a try. I adore this flavor combination so much I find myself kinda using it as a standard to judge the overall quality and value of taste a tea company has- get it right, you’ll make Black Cat Bytes delight..ed! 😛

I was overjoyed when I was approached by M&K’s tea to give some of their blends a try. Their website is full of exotic, unique, and really well priced teas- I’ll be doing quite a few little reviews on what they have to offer over the next few months. However, in typical Black Cat Bytes style, their first tea I had to taste was their Sicilian Vanilla blend, knowing it would set the tone for how I would view the rest of the multitude of samples they had sent me. Drumroll pleaaase!

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Gorgeous flowers! Never seen these before.

Shop Link: M&K’s Sicilian Vanilla Black Tea

Ingredients: A blend of Kenilworth Estate Sri Lankan and Anhui Chinese black teas, helichrysum flowers, vanilla bean, vanilla extract, fiori di sicilia essential oil blend, aroma panettone essential oil blend.

I love the visual composition of this blend- looks so much better and more refreshing than “blends” consisting of only tiny black leaf bits with added flavoring. Even if the flowers are only an embellishment, they are beautiful and make the tea steeping process a little treat for one’s senses. The scent of the dried blend is nothing short of intoxicating- almost like freshly made cinnamon buns.

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Looks like a planetary landscape, doesn’t it?! 😛

Brew Temperature: ~100° C/ 212° F

Leaf Amount/Steep Time: 2 tsp / 8 oz of water, 1 minute

I increased the leaf amount and decreased the recommended steep time due to my “gongfu-style” teapot which does better with stronger, shorter infusions.

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The resulting brew is a beautiful shade of orange-red, and smells lightly toasted and smokey- how unique! I’ve never had a vanilla black with this sort of scent profile before. The tea tastes strongly of rich molasses or homemade gingerbread cookies, with a delightfully thick and satisfying mouthfeel. There is just the tiniest bit of an astringent aftertaste, which I think suits the tea perfectly.

As I was standing at my kitchen counter, sipping away and jotting down a few tasting notes on this tea, I couldn’t help but notice I had a glass jar full of those Lotus Biscoff cookies sitting just an arm’s length away from me. At that moment, I realized it was my destiny to bring this tea and cookie together- and the results.. were just incredible. The carmalized gingerbready goodness of the cookie, combined with the warm smoothness of the Sicilian Vanilla- they complimented and rounded each other out so well I could only shake my head in dreamy disbelief. SO good.

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After looking at some other reviews of this tea, I was surprised to find a few folks tasted rather prevalent floral and citrus notes in it- I did not personally find this to be the case at all and am certainly glad for it. The recipe may have been tweaked slightly since those reviews were written, or perhaps my tea sample had been allowed some time after blending for the flavors to mature before it was sent out to me. Either way, I am pretty confident that when I order this tea (and maybe you will too!) that the flavor profile will be similar to what I enjoyed when I wrote this review.

M&K’s Sicilian Vanilla is definitely a cupboard staple for me- rich, satisfying, and warming. I’ve never felt so bummed out about having such a small sample size of a tea before! M&K’s has passed my vanilla black blend test with flying colors- I cannot wait to find out what tastes the rest of their teas have in store for me. 🙂

Shop Link: M&K’s Sicilian Vanilla Black Tea

Tea provided by M&K’s Tea Co. for review! Thanks guys!