Black Cat Bytes

Tea reviews for the common cat!


Leave a comment

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!

IMG_2306

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

IMG_2324

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

IMG_2317

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.

IMG_2320

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

IMG_2333

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

IMG_2336

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!

IMG_2337

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. 🙂

IMG_2340

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!

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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!

IMG_2281

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

IMG_2288

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.

IMG_2289

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! 🙂

 


Leave a comment

What-Cha’s Taiwan Sheng Cha Oolong Tea

Hello, all! 🙂 It’s hard to believe winter is so fast approaching! It’s certainly been a crazy year. As the nights draw on ever longer, I’ve been keeping close company with hot cups of tea and scary movies (don’t ask) to pass the time. Have you guys seen “The Babadook”?! HOLY NUGGETS! So good! Real, solid, suspenseful horror without any jumpscares. Hopefully it starts a trend of better scary movies.

Anyway! I’ve been happily sipping some of What-Cha’s Taiwan Sheng Cha today, and am eager to share my thoughts on this unique oolong with you fellow teacats. According to the package, this tea boasts an “unusual walnut-shell taste”, and admittedly is not a typical tea I would choose on my own- so a big thanks goes out to Alistair for including it as a sneaky little surprise in my order! 🙂

Taiwan Sheng Cha Oolong

IMG_2234[1]

As I open the packet, a toasty, barley-like scent rises from the leaves. You might not be able to immediately discern the notes of walnut, but if you know what you’re.. smelling for, the scent quickly becomes apparent and will cling to your nose long after taking a whiff. It’s strangely invigorating!

Shop Link: Taiwan Sheng Cha Oolong

Brewing Guidelines: 185 F / 85 C | 1-2 minutes | 1 tsp | 200 mL

IMG_2236

With the first steep, the leaves, tiny cannonballs at first, unfurl beautifully and will completely fill your brewing vessel. The quality of the tea What-Cha sources never ceases to amaze me.

IMG_2238

The light emerald-colored brew tastes rich and nutty, savory and sweet. It doesn’t taste quite as toasted as I was expecting, having more of a dominant sweet seaweed flavor instead, though that peculiar walnut flavor mischievously lingers.

IMG_2240

The second steeping results in a richer, more golden brew, with a stronger seaweed taste. I also seem to detect a flavor similar to soy sauce- this tea would be a perfect accompaniment to sushi! The drink is smooth and savory without any astringency, and (sadly) I don’t taste the walnut much anymore. Ultimately, Sheng Cha reminds me of a darkly roasted genmaicha: rich, savory, and filling. I loved the unexpected walnut taste and wish it had lasted longer, though its brevity encouraged me to really appreciate what I was tasting.

Check out Taiwan Sheng Cha Oolong for yourself!

Sip slowly, and enjoy the remainder of this chilly autumn, my friends. 🙂


Leave a comment

Native American Tea- Warrior’s Brew, Victory Tea, and Indian Love Tea Reviews

Hi there tea friends! Long time no see! 🙂 As my kooky life in London finally settles down a little bit, I can finally resume my happy, soothing ritual of tea sipping! Today I’ll be featuring a set of byte-sized tea reviews on three (mostly) herbal brews from Native American Tea- their Victory Tea, Indian Love Tea, and Warrior’s Brew. I know a fresh review on the blog has been a long time coming, so without any further ado, I’ll jump right in!

Warrior’s Brew

Ingredients: Orange pekoe cut Black Tea, Orange Peel, Rose Hips, Coriander, Cinnamon, Ginger, Rosemary & Star Anise.

Brewing Guidelines: 212 F / 100 C | 4 min

According to Native American Tea’s website, this tisane contains many herbs once commonly brewed for their inherent energizing properties to improve the running stamina of inter-tribal messengers. Neat! I’ll have to let you know in the future if this tea does anything to bolster my rather lackluster running ability, but for now, I’ll just focus simply on how the tea tastes. 😉  IMG_2176

…do I hear Christmas bells somewhere in the distance? Because this crazy brew tastes JUST like a Christmas cookie! If I focus quite hard on the underlying flavors I can identify the ginger as a faint aftertaste, but the drink tastes mostly like a sweet festive snickerdoodle cookie. YUM! Ironically, many “intentional” Christmas-themed teas I’ve tried have ended up tasting like artificially flavored empty spiced water, so it’s refreshing (if slightly odd) to have found a blend that manages to achieve a great festive flavor with simple herbal ingredients. This must be the tea Santa drinks before he goes on his sleigh riding marathon on Christmas Eve to give him some extra gift-giving stamina! 😛

Victory Tea

Ingredients: Wild Cherry Bark, Hibiscus Flower, Rose Hips, Orange Peel, Spearmint Leaf, Lemon Grass, Licorice Root, Natural Cherry & Orange Flavor.

Brewing Guidelines: 212 F / 100 C | 5 min

Some of the herbs in this blend were consumed by various Native American tribes for their nutritional value and energy-boosting properties. The brew itself is named after the “victory” celebrations tribes would enjoy following a successful raid on a competing tribe’s camp. Cool!

IMG_2177After letting the blend steep for five minutes to help extract its full flavor, the scent and characteristic vivid color of the hibiscus flower is readily apparent. The taste was not entirely what I was expecting- though the hibiscus taste is easily the strongest, the spearmint also jumps out and remains as an aftertaste for quite some time. Unfortunately, due likely to the added orange and cherry flavors, this brew comes out tasting a bit like watered-down fruit juice after a few subsequent sips. While it may succeed in its current state as an iced tea, I believe Victory Tea could benefit immensely from having perhaps a  green tea base to help give the blend a bit more body without resorting to added flavorings.

Indian Love Tea

Ingredients: Blackberry Leaf, Sarsaparilla Root, White Oak Bark, Rose Flower, Eleuthero (Ginseng Root), Muira Puama, Elecampane, Angelica Root, Marjoram, Licorice Root, Echinacea (Missouri Snake Root), Ginger Root, Damiana, Bergamot oil. (phew!)

Brewing Guidelines: 212 F / 100 C | 5 min

Billed as a “love tea”, Native American Tea touts the naturally stimulating properties of the tisane and says it is excellent for one’s overall health. Admittedly, I’m a bit apprehensive about the sheer number of herbs in this tea, especially considering I have never heard of most of them… but the show must go on. 😛

The flavor profile is one I cannot describe as anything but.. leafy! Makes sense when one looks at the ingredient list.  Love Tea gives a lightly peppery and herby impression with very little aftertaste. It’s exceptionally hard to describe, given that most of the herbs included in the tisane are not entirely included for their taste. I cannot faithfully recommend this tea to those with delicate health issues or those taking sensitive medications as many of Love Tea’s ingredients are considered to be sexual health stimulants, and I don’t know what kind of complications (if any) may arise from drinking this brew. Enjoy responsibly!! 😛

Thanks to Native American Tea for providing samples of these teas for review!


Leave a comment

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!


3 Comments

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.

IMG_2102


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!


Leave a comment

Chi Whole Leaf Powdered Tea: Floral Herb, Yerba Mate, Ginger Chai

If there’s one thing in the world I can’t resist, it’s tea samples! When I found out Chi Whole Leaf was offering free little packets of their blends, I was intrigued. I’ve never had matcha before (gasp!), so the whole realm of powdered teas (or tisanes) is very new to me. Today I’ll be taking a look at three of Chi’s varieties, with a byte-sized review on each. 🙂

Floral Herb

IMG_2062Ingredients: Indian Rose Petals, Egyptian Hibiscus and Jasmine

Admittedly, this was the blend I was most excited about tasting. I LOVE hibiscus and jasmine individually, and the idea of the two blended together in an instant tea powder sounded like a heaven send. Unfortunately, in my hibiscus-driven zeal, I think I may have goofed up the preparation of this drink.

The packet simply reads that the powder can be added to hot or iced water, and to use 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of the powder. I wasn’t sure what volume of water corresponded to those measurements, so I just dumped the whole contents of the packet (1 tsp?) into a 16 oz glass of cold water. IMG_2065While I was impressed with the color and scent of the drink, the flavor and texture wasn’t what I’d hoped. The powder didn’t dissolve properly into the water, leaving the brew gritty like I had added too much mix, but the flavor was actually weak with only a faint suggestion of hibiscus and rose, with no jasmine present. After this first experiment, I decided I would use hot water to brew up the rest of the samples.

Yerba Mate

IMG_2066Ingredients: Argentinian Yerba Mate, Spanish Licorice Root and Chinese Ginkgo Leaf

This was my first time ever trying yerba mate! This was quite a tea pioneering experience for me today. 😛 As previously stated, I decided to brew this and the chai hot, using 1/4 tsp per 8 oz of water. Big difference! The powder dissolved much more easily, and the mix-to-water proportion was just right. The resulting drink had a very interesting earthy herb taste, with strong notes of licorice present in the aftertaste. My boyfriend was having a cup with me as I was taking down my tasting notes, and he made a startling discovery- eating a few BBQ chips just before having a sip of the tea makes it taste awesome! The smoky taste of the chips pairs really well with the sweetness of the licorice root, making for this awesome sweet barbeque sauce flavor party in your mouth when you have the two together. Weird, but effective!

Ginger Chai

IMG_2069

Ingredients: South African Rooibos, paired with Indian Ginger along with organic Vietnamese Cinnamon and Cloves.

Ginger Chai was easily my favorite out of the bunch.  Using 1/4 tsp per 8 oz of hot water once more, the resulting brew gives off the scent of spiced apple cider with some earthy tones. Lovely! Reminds me that autumn will be here before we know it. 😛 Although the undissolved bits of powder were clearly visible, I couldn’t distinguish them as I drank. The peppery, ginger taste of the brew will remain on your tongue long after your sip.

Thoughts

As someone who can easily consume a gallon of iced tea a day (zoinks!), the idea of high quality powdered tea is especially appealing to me. I am eager to see what new blends Chi Whole Leaf will produce in the future, and I hope they will consider making more powders that use good ol’ Camellia sinensis as the base. If the texture and ease at which the powder dissolves can be refined as well (or better, more specific brewing instructions can be provided), that would be also a huge improvement.

Get your own free samples of Chi Whole Leaf tea here!