Brandon's Notepad

January 2, 2015

Tea 2015

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The teas I tasted in A.D. 2015 and what I thought about them. Prices are per pound.


Journal Contents

#1 New Format!
#2 The Year of Teavana
#3 Teavana’s Dirty Secret
#4 Pomegranate Cranberry Crush
#5 My First Teavana Blend
#6 PomCran-Oolong Blend Redux
#7 PomCran + Jasmine Pearls
#8 Very Berry White
#9 Blending Berry White
#10 Berry White Isn’t White After All

#11 A Very Punny Journal Entry
#12 Pineapple Kona Pop
#13 Star-Vana
#14 Back on the Tea Track
#15 Youthberry White
#16 Working Remotely
#17 Opus Rouge
#18 Good Earth Sweet & Spicy
#19 Teavana Strawberry Cream
#20 Teavana Sangria Punch

Teas Highlighted

Teavana

  • Pomegranate Cranberry Crush [Free! (Reg $55.84)]
  • Very Berry White [Free! (Reg $79.84)]
  • Pineapple Kona Pop [$79.67 (Starbucks); $55.84 (Teavana)]
  • Youthberry White [$106.22 (Starbucks); $103.84 (Teavana)]
  • Opus Rouge [$31.92; Teavana]
  • Strawberry Cream [$51.92; Teavana]
  • Sangria Punch [$39.92; Teavana]

Other

  • Good Earth Sweet & Spicy

Journal Entries

#1 – January 9, 2015 – New Format!
After five years of posting reviews of teas, I decided to change things up a little by adopting a journal format. It’s not a radical change in terms of content, but I wanted to write more about my experiences with tea and not just basic reviews. To give credit where credit is due, the journal concept was inspired by this photo.

#2 – January 12, 2015 – The Year of Teavana
I made another important tea-related decision over the weekend. I committed myself to tasting Teavana teas this year. Why? Because I am intrigued by Teavana — the company, its products, its relationship with Starbucks — the whole thing intrigues me. There are a lot of Teavana fans out there, and a lot of haters too! And that’s just it, they are hot and they are now. So, I spent some of my holiday gift money and now await the shipment of ten small bags of tea to arrive. Add these to two bags I received for my birthday, and I will have plenty to write about in 2015.

#3 – January 22, 2015 – Teavana’s Dirty Secret
Since I dedicated 2015 to Teavana, I decided to start with a little light reading. One article really stuck with me: Teavana’s dirty secret: Why the tea you brew doesn’t taste like the store samples by Gitte Laasby of the Journal Sentinel. This investigative piece explains why the tasting samples at the stores taste so much better than the cup brewed at home. The answer is simple, they use more tea and sugar per cup for the samples than they advise on the preparation instructions. They sell you on a low price-per-cup, which you easily forget when filling the tea ball at home. Deceptive? Certainly. But then, even before reading the article, I already knew they are expensive (dare I say overpriced?) and I’ve brewed Teavana at home before, so I also knew that you have to use more tea than advertised. My shipment arrived the other day and I’m all in for some tasting now, so I’m just not going to let this little discovery upset me.

#4 – January 23, 2015 – Pomegranate Cranberry Crush
For my first tasting, I chose the Pomegranate Cranberry Crush Herbal Tea that I received as a gift. If you have read my reviews from prior years, you will know that I am not a big fan of fruity teas. But hey, I gotta keep an open mind, right? Peering into the bag, I could see that the contents looked just like the pile of tea displayed on the company’s product page. Nothing in the bag, however, resembled tea. It was all dried fruit and flower petals! I confirmed this with the ingredients listed on the product page. Not being real familiar with herbal teas, I consulted Wikipedia and discovered that herbal teas typically do not contain any actual tea. I steeped approximately two tablespoons in a 16 ounce cup of hot water, which is about twice the recommended amount printed on the bag for hot tea. I have no idea how hot the water was, since I don’t have a thermometer at work, but I used the hot water option on the Keurig coffee maker. The tea in the cup was pink, like the meat of a ruby grapefruit, and was not at all clear but rather murky. The raw taste was unimpressive and not unlike other fruity teas that I’d tasted in the past. I spent 15 calories in sugar to make it more drinkable, and the result was a sort of sweetened tropical punch. Finally, I poured the remainder over ice. It turns out that this tea tastes really good when served cold! A second steeping proved pointless: the color was weak and the flavor almost absent.

#5 – January 26, 2015 – My First Teavana Blend
Another thing that intrigues me about Teavana is their obsession with blending different teas together. The tasting stations at the stores almost always offer blended flavors. The iPhone app even has a Tea Blender function that helps the user identify proper “pairings”. I decided to try the #1 recommended blend for the Pomegranate Cranberry herbal tea, which happens to be Monkey Picked Oolong. According to the product page, this is just oolong tea, so instead of forking out $199.84 per pound, I opted to purchase some Rishi Jade Oolong for a modest $59.99 per pound instead. I steeped the first cup based under the assumption that the blend should contain equal parts of both teas. The result? The herbal tea was very overpowering and I couldn’t really pick up on the oolong flavor. I left the tea ball in another cup of hot water while I drank the first cup. Remember, the oolong can stand a second steeping, whereas most of the taste of the herbal tea is extracted in the first brew. I wanted to give the oolong a fighting chance. The second cup had a much different balance! It still produced a nice color and a sported a great finish!

#6 – January 29, 2015 – PomCran-Oolong Blend Redux
Based on the results from my first blend, I thought I’d try recreating that second cup using a repeatable formula. Equal amounts of both teas was too strong in favor of the herbal, so I cut it back to a 3:1 ratio of oolong to herbal. It was still way too fruity, and the second cup was not very flavorful at all! Back to the drawing board.

#7 – February 2, 2015 – PomCran + Jasmine Pearls
The second blend recommended by the Teavana Tea Blender for the Pomegranate Cranberry Crush was Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls. Again, the product page reveals that this is basic green tea scented with jasmine blossoms, a fairly standard offering. I’m not a big fan of Jasmine tea, so I was interested in seeing how the blend would change the taste. As with the oolong, I opted for Rishi Jasmine Pearls from Central Market over the Teavana equivalent, which technically costs more ($139.99 per pound vs. $103.84); however, I got away with spending only $2.80, because I was not subjected to Teavana’s minimum two-ounce purchase. The first cup had far too much Jasmine, about a tablespoon of that and a teaspoon of PomCran to about twelve ounces of water. The next cup was spot on, with only about a teaspoon of each tea for the same volume. The herbal was there, but not overpowering, and masked the jasmine just enough. That is a blend recipe worth keeping!

#8 – March 23, 2015 – Very Berry White
When my life gets busy, two things happen: I drink coffee and I don’t get to ‘blog as much. So, that’s why this tea journal entry is so late in coming. I took my first notes on Very Berry White in early January! It was also a gift, and I started sipping at this one early. I really like this tea! It tastes kinda like red wine and has about the same rich color. I steeped the first cup with my Death Star diffuser and the tea poured out like blood. I know that’s not exactly the visual most people want from their tea experience, but thought was so deliciously geeky that I couldn’t resist mentioning it. Even though this is supposed to be a white tea, and thus minimally processed, the leaves are very dark and shriveled, an indication of heavy oxidation. I will say that this tea is best served sweetened, and while it does make a nice iced tea, drinking it warm reminds me of mulled wine, a perfect drink for the holidays.

#9 – March 25, 2015 – Blending Berry White
According to the Blender function on the Teavana iPhone app, Very Berry White blends best with Wild Orange Wulong Oolong, Pineapple Kona Pop Herbal, and Strawberry Lemonade Herbal. None of these were in my order, so I picked up a tin of Pineapple Kona Pop from Starbucks. I measured equal parts of each tea and added more or less the recommended amount of hot water and let it steep for six minutes. I personally don’t agree with the Blender app on this one. I think the Kona steals some of the Berry White’s boldness, and there is a bitter aftertaste that hits the palate late, which I find interesting and at the same time extremely annoying.

#10 – March 30, 2015 – Berry White Isn’t White After All
It turns out that the tea used in Very Berry White is Mao Feng White Tea, which isn’t really white at all. It is considered to be a green tea. Only the bud and one or two leaves are harvested to make this tea. Mao Feng from the Huangshan mountians of the Anhui province in China is one of the country’s most famous teas. Mao Feng White may be what they used, but the tea in this herbal blend is definitely black now, not white or green.

#11 – March 31, 2015 – A Very Punny Journal Entry
One last note about Very Berry White before moving on to greener…er…teas? I was sipping a cup one cold morning, enjoying it’s deep flavor, bold and yet so very smooth, when the pun hit me like a ton of (tea) bricks. I pulled up the product page to see if there was any reference at all to the famous American bass-baritone, but there was nothing obvious. Still, this was way too coincidental. I gets better. When I eventually got around to writing this journal entry, I decided to do a quick search to see if anyone else had noted the observation. Like a Wheel of Fortune before-and-after puzzle, I Googled the words “very berry barry white” and guess what!? Berry White is also the name of a hybrid strain of marijuana!

#12 – April 1, 2015 – Pineapple Kona Pop
Since I opened the tin of Pineapple Kona Pop (PKP) to blend with the Very Berry White, I figured I might as well write about it sooner than later, evaluating it in its own right. I know this is a long entry, but I discovered several interesting things in the process of writing it.

First, I should clarify that this was the tin of tea that I purchased at the Starbucks store. As it turns out, there is a hefty convenience fee built into the price. The tin currently sells for $11.95 for 2.4 ounces of tea, or about $79.67 per pound. The online Teavana price is $55.84 per pound. Starbucks marks it up almost 43%! The contents had obviously settled, and bits of the tea were clinging to the inside of the plastic bag, making it impossible to redistribute them. I had to empty the bag into another container before I could achieve a good consistency.

So what about the taste? I must confess, once the Teavana teas started hitting the Starbucks stores for brewing, I systematically went about trying them all, so I already knew what PKP tasted like. And to be quite frank about it, I was disappointed. It didn’t have the punch that the other Teavana teas had. Eventually, I pulled out the tin and steeped a fresh cup in preparation for writing this review and that’s when I noticed that something was different…this cup had flavor! I held off writing until I had a chance to do a taste comparison between the loose leaf brew and the bagged brew from the store. That happened yesterday. They taste basically the same with a noticeable difference in boldness, especially with regard to sourness. A quick inspection revealed that the contents of the bag were significantly different from the loose leaf version. Most of the fruits were present, but they were hard to distinguish, as they were minced into much smaller bits, Also, the bag contained very few leaves and buds from the flower-based ingredients.

What’s my recommendation? Don’t bother with Starbucks. Buy loose leaf PKP from Teavana directly and brew it yourself.

#13 – April 6, 2015 – StarVana
I mentioned in my last entry that I had tried all (well, almost all) of the Teavana offerings at Starbucks (which I will henceforth refer to as StarVana). I really wanted to write a review for each, but having discovered that PKP differed from the loose leaf version, I decided against it. On the bright side, this discovery may mean that my favorite StarVana tea, Peach Tranquility, might taste even better! It was not in my holiday order, so I will have to include it next time. As for the other StarVana teas, here’s a quick assessment. The Emperor’s Clouds and Mist Green Tea is basically just green tea, which is good, because I really needed a replacement for my Tazo China Green Tips. The tea I have not bothered to try is the Jade Citrus Mint, mainly because I was never a fan of the Tazo Zen, which is also lemon-mint flavored. The Earl Grey and Royal English Breakfast are decent, but I know from experience that they aren’t the best. The Oprah Chai is pretty good, actually, and I ended up ordering it several times, but I wouldn’t spend the extra money on the Latte since they offer cream and sugar at the bar for free (cafe latte is espresso based, whereas this ‘latte’ is just the same tea). Passion Tango makes a good iced tea, as does Youthberry. According to the baristas I’ve talked to, Youthberry is their most popular tea, hot or cold, and I will defer saying anymore about it until another day, because I bought a tin of it too and expect to have similar results as I had for the PKP.

#14 – June 3, 2015 – Back on the Tea Track
Extra work assignments and long hours over the last two months prompted me to switch exclusively to coffee. This allowed me to review the Starbucks Single-Origin series of coffees and update my 2015 Coffee Journal page. Now I’m switching back to tea for a while, picking up where I left off. The last big review I wrote was about Teavana’s Pineapple Kona Pop. According to the Teavana Tea Blender, PKP blends best with Gyokuro Imperial Green, Kamiya Papaya Oolong, Honeybush Vanilla, and Zingiber Ginger Coconut Rooibos, but I don’t have any of those on hand. I do have some other green and oolong teas, but since PKP isn’t exactly my favorite, I’ve decided store the remainder of the PKP (just in case some other blend calls for it), and move on to something new.

#15 – June 4, 2015 – Youthberry White
Along with the PKP, I bought a tin of Youthberry from Starbucks as well. The price differential is not so large: $106.49 per pound vs. $103.84 online. This is probably because, unlike the PKP, Youthberry actually contains tea — and not just any tea, but white tea, which is expensive! Now I suspect the price on the PKP was actually derived from the price on this one (or one of the other offerings). The market is willing to pay about $12 for a tin based on the perception of how much tea it contains, and at that price the seller is willing to supply 1.8 ounces of Youthberry. For simplicity (and to not draw too much attention to the differences in tea prices), they added a little extra (+0.6oz) to the PKP tin. Adding too much might confuse the consumer and draw more attention to the price differences.

The contents of the bag were not sticky like the PKP, so redistribution was fairly easy with no extra container required. I have not compared the steeped cup to one from the Starbucks counter, but I am willing to guess that the loose leaf (once again) produces a stronger and more flavorful cup than the bagged tea. Some of the bits of ingredients are fairly large and I highly doubt they will be found in this size in the bags. Youthberry is very bitter if not sweetened and brewing it strong does not produce a better taste unless it is served cold. Undoubtedly, Starbucks chose teas that also taste good iced.

#16 – July 1, 2015 – Working Remotely
I’ve been assigned a new project at work, which means sitting in a team project room for eight weeks. The good news is that I have the room all to myself most of the time, as the rest of the team is working from other locations. It’s much roomier than a cubical and I have three computers at my disposal. The bad news is that I am sufficiently far away from my desk that I cannot quickly break away to brew a cup using my normal tea gear. So, I have two boxes of bagged tea keeping me company: Stash Chai Spice and Tazo Sweet Cinnamon Spice. The nearby break room is equipped with an espresso machine and matching milk steamer. The hot frothy milk really compliments both teas.

#17 – July 7, 2015 – Opus Rouge
Keeping this tea journal over the past few years has introduced me to a world of tastes. I recall trying Rooibos and deciding that it was one taste I could live without. How I ended up with a Rooibos blend in my Teavana order is beyond me. Opus Rouge may have changed my mind, not about Rooibos in its own right, but about its usefulness in a blend. It has a lot of dried fruit that keeps the Rooibos in check. What’s more, it contains stevia leaves, so no additional sweetener is really needed. The flavor of the raisins is quite pronounced, giving the brew a distinct grape juice taste.

#18 – July 17, 2015 – Good Earth Sweet & Spicy
Once in a while, the folks in our facilities department changes up the Keurig coffee and tea selections in the break rooms. The Good Earth Sweet & Spicy box showed up a few days ago, and at first I thought it was something one of my co-workers randomly dropped off. That happens once in a while, usually when someone buys something new and doesn’t like it, so they put it in the break room for all to share. When I saw the same box at several of the other coffee stations, I knew it had to be the work of our facilities manager. I have yet to ask if it is only here for on a trial basis or if it will be part of the normal restocking purchase. I hope it sticks around. This is another tea blend that needs no sweetener whatsoever. It’s very similar in taste to some of the Chai teas I’ve reviewed in the past. I tried it with steam milk, but found that it too was not necessary. This tea holds its own. Every sip is like a swig of spiced rum.

#19 – November 20, 2015 – Teavana Strawberry Cream
Today’s journal entry is about the light and fruity Strawberry Cream flavored white tea from Teavana. Wait..Strawberry Cream? In November? Shouldn’t I be writing about some pumpkin spice tea or something? Actually, I was saving this one for summertime and I did start sipping at it in August or September, but I haven’t had a lot of time to write lately, so I’m just now getting to my review. Thankfully, I held some back to drink as I write. This tea is good served either hot or cold. The taste of the tea does not overpower the fruit. It is a little bitter, but if you’ve ever eaten unsweetened dehydrated strawberries (which are great for road trips, incidentally) then you’ll pretty much know what to expect. At least a little sweetener is a must. I haven’t added enough sugar to make it taste like Big Red soda (yet). Hey, that reminds me of that scene from The Great Muppet Caper when Fozzy declares that “if you put enough sugar in [champagne], it tastes just like ginger ale.” Anyway, this blend produces a very clear tea. Very little sediment is left in the cup to begin with, and I haven’t seen any make it into the glass when I pour it over ice. I can’t find Strawberry Cream in the Tea Blender on my iPhone, but I do see Strawberry Paraiso White and I think their second selection, Zingiber Ginger Coconut Rooibos might make for an interesting combination.

#20 – December 29, 2015 – Teavana Sangria Punch
I held back several teas from my big Teavana order specifically for winter, but this is Texas, and we’ve had some very unseasonable weather lately. Perhaps you heard about the tornadoes that ripped through the towns east of Dallas on the day after Christmas, while snow fell less than seventy miles to the west. To put it lightly, it hasn’t felt a whole like winter around these parts. Not to worry, we’ll have a big ice storm in late January or early February, and everyone will forget how to drive, and we’ll all be allowed to work from home for the day because the roads are far too treacherous to risk the trip. Then it will really feel like a winter in North Texas. So, I decided to finish up the packet of Teavana Sangria Punch instead. Unfortunately, this one really let me down. I’ve tried it hot, cold, sweet, unsweetened, and brewed extra strong, but none of it seemed to matter. I’ll start with color. Sangria comes from the Spanish word for blood, sangre, in reference to its deep red color. This tea is reddish, but not at all what I would call a deep red. It actually has a bit of a brown tint, similar to dried blood. And while it does have a fruity taste, it is very weak, coming nowhere close to the potency of red wine fortified with brandy and sometimes mulled with spices. I’m not saying it’s bad, but certainly don’t feel like it lives up to the name.


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