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March 9, 2016

Tea 2016

Filed under: Food & Drink,Tea — Brandon @ 4:52 pm
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The teas I tasted in A.D. 2016 and what I thought about them. Prices are per pound.

Journal Contents

#1 Tiesta Tea
#2 Tiesta Fruity Pebbles
#3 Tiesta Kokomate
#4 Tiesta Blueberry Wild Child
#5 Tiesta Fireberry
#6 Tiesta Passion Berry Jolt
#7 Tiesta Nutty Almond Cream
#8 Tea Year in Review

Teas Highlighted

Tiesta Tea

  • Fruity Pebbles
  • Kokomate
  • Blueberry Wild Child
  • Fireberry
  • Passion Berry Jolt
  • Nutty Almond Cream


tea reviews

Journal Entries

#1 – March 9, 2016 – Tiesta Tea
As with my 2016 Coffee Journal, I got a really late start this year on my tea reviews as well. And while I still have several bags of Teavana loose leaf left to write about, I felt like writing about something new. The good news is, while I was too busy with other adventures to write here on a regular basis, I didn’t stop drinking tea and coffee, so I’ve been able to spend a little time with the Tiesta line of teas I picked up at Sprouts Farmers Market late last year, and can hopefully crank out a few reviews in relatively short order.

#2 – March 10, 2016 – Tiesta Fruity Pebbles
With a name like Fruity Pebbles, how could this not be the first Tiesta tea to be reviewed? I was once a big fan of the breakfast cereal by the same name. Unfortunately, without an ample dose of sweetener, the tea and the cereal don’t have a lot in common. The ingredients are listed plainly on the front of the pouch: green and white teas, papaya, pineapple, strawberries, and rose petals. Honestly, I didn’t like it at first. The leaves resemble an imperial cut, though more crushed and fragmented in appearance, and the little fruit bits make it too bitter for my taste. If you’ve read my reviews from previous years, you’ll remember that I like strong tea. The trick to this one is to steep it a tad on the weak side. Pour it into the cup while it is still a pale yellow-green and clear. Sweetener is a must, but only a little is needed to liven up the weaker brew. I tried both sugar and Truvia, and both worked equally well (no pun intended). Fruity Pebbles is part of Tiesta’s Slenderizer line, so if your intent is diet control, go easy on the sugar or use one of the the extracts.

#3 – March 24, 2016 – Tiesta Kokomate
The next Tiesta Tea on my list is Kokomate, part of the Energizer line. Rated high in caffeine content, the ingredients for this blend are yerba mate, rooibos, coconut, and cinnamon. I can’t give this one high marks for two reasons. First, I’m not a fan of rooibos. I know, why did I bother buying it then, right? Because the rooibos in some teas isn’t overpowering and actually blends well with the other flavors. And, I do like yerba mate, which is (IMHO) an aquired taste. This blend, however, is not to my liking. It seems to accentuate the properties of both teas that I do not find favorable, and the coconut and cinnamon aren’t strong enough to make up for it. To state it plainly, it is bland. The other reason is that the mixture is chopped up so fine that even my French press cannot filter the particles. A film of green bits float at the top of the cup and it is difficult, if not impossible, to skim all of them off. It’s no fun when one of the particles hits the back of the throat on the way down…especially when it sticks…right…there. Yeah, I’m done with this one.

#4 – October 18, 2016 – Tiesta Blueberry Wild Child
After a long summer hiatus from tea, I’m ready for cooler temperatures and a return to one of my favorite ways of staying warm. It’s already mid-October and we haven’t had that first “sweater day” in Texas yet. You know, that day when you step out in the morning and seriously consider whether you should go back in to grab a sweater. Nonetheless, I felt like having some tea this afternoon, so I dug into my stash and retrieved the baby blue bag of Tiesta Blueberry Wild Child. This blend is fully herbal – blueberries, hibiscus, elderberries, apple, and pomegranate, but no actual tea – and thus is completely free of caffeine. Its part of the Eternity line, which is comprised of teas full of superfruits and antioxidants. I really like this one! It has a great bold taste, and it does need a little sweetener to counter the bitterness. It is very good hot, like mulled wine of brewed strong enough, and the iced version is a nice substitute for sugary fruit drinks.

#5 – November 10, 2016 – Tiesta Fireberry
This flavor is from Tiesta’s Immunity line. It contains hibiscus, rooibos, currants, rosehips, elderberries and cranberries…and no actual tea, so there is also no caffeine. It brews to a beautiful red and does require some sweetener, though not a lot. The taste resembles red wine. The rooibos is there, but it is sufficiently obscured by the other ingredients. My only complaint is the floaters. If you use a tea ball, you may consider using paper filters for this tea instead.

#6 – November 11, 2016 – Tiesta Passion Berry Jolt
This is a very solid black tea. The only other ingredients are raspberry and passion fruit flavoring, marigolds, and cornflowers, and a quick inspection of the leaves reveals that the flower petals are used sparingly. The non-tea ingredients level out the bitterness with mild overtones, but other than that, it’s just a good basic black tea. Interestingly, Passion Berry Jolt is part of the Energizer line (as one might guess from the name) and the caffeine level is indicated as “high” on the bag, but if it’s just black tea, shouldn’t it be labelled as “normal”?

#7 – December 6, 2016 – Tiesta Nutty Almond Cream
Of all the Tiesta teas I tried this year, the Nutty Almond Cream just isn’t really my — well — cup of tea. It’s very mild with a cloudy after taste that reminds me of apple cider. It contains apple pieces, crushed almonds, cinnamon, and beetroot. The bright red and clear brew contrasts with both the taste as well as the lavender bag. I was definitely expecting something more…brown, I guess. I don’t want to dissuade anyone from trying it, because it isn’t bad, but it’s just not my thing.

#8 – December 30, 2016 – Tea Year in Review
As I mentioned in my Coffee Journal for this year, I had very little time to write and I look forward to doing a better job next year. I was glad to finally taste the Tiesta Tea offerings, though. I like the packaging and how they aren’t afraid to show the product in a little window that spans the front of the bad. And honestly, most of the flavors are quite good. In all, it was a good year, even if I didn’t get to taste as many teas as I had hoped.


March 2, 2016

Coffee 2016

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Coffee-related journal containing info, news, opinions, recipes, tips, tricks, hacks, and reviews for the year 2016.

Journal Contents

#1 Kindred Coffee Company
#2 Butter…in Coffee?
#3 East African Peaberry Coffee
#4 Central Market Tanzania Peaberry
#5 Addison Ethiopia Sidamo Peaberry
#6 Stir Crazy
#7 Addison Kenya Peaberry
#8 Coffee Year in Review

Journal Entries

#1 – March 2, 2016 – Kindred Coffee Company
I thought I’d kick off my 2016 Coffee journal on a positive note and write a review of one of my favorite North Texas coffee establishments, Kindred Coffee Company in North Richland Hills. Formerly named La Familglia Caffe, this spacious restaurant occupies a store front on the Southwest corner of Davis Boulevard and North Tarrant Parkway on the northern fringes of town. Spacious is, of course, a relative term, as it is huge in comparison to your typical coffee bar. The exposed ceiling and full length wrap-around windows really open up the place and the posh ’60s-retro furnishings add the sophistication of an upscale diner. Despite the chalkboard menus and burlap coffee bean sack decor, this is not your cozy sit-on-the-couch-by-the-fire coffee house. And I think that is what I like most about the place: atmosphere. The level of conversation in the room is usually constant but quiet, making it easy to chat with the person you are with or even just to get lost in your thoughts for a while. Yes, there is free Wi-Fi, but the password is posted on a wall, presumably to detract folks from taking up parking spaces without coming in for a drink. Speaking of the drinks, I have tried most of their espresso-based offerings and have yet to be disappointed. I have it on good authority that the Turkish coffee is made the “right” way, and I must agree that it is pretty tasty. The coffee of the day, usually a blend, is good too, and they make a mean matcha green tea latte. My wife and I usually split a dessert, which like the coffee, has not failed to impress. For breakfast, they offer what most (non-Czech) Texans incorrectly refer to as kolaches (it’s called a klobasnek, people), but theirs is made from a two- to three-inch hunk of smoked sausage wrapped in a croissant and heated to just the right temperature. I have yet to try the ham and swiss “kolache” (which actually looks more like a Hot Pocket) but I’m sure it’s up to par as well. And, if you are just too busy to sit for a spell and soak it all in, you can text your order directly to the kitchen and they will deliver it to your car when you arrive. Now that’s service!

#2 – March 30, 2016 – Butter…in Coffee?
I first discovered this trend via social media. It was listed in one of those “17 Things You Should Try” type of write-ups, only this one was about popular coffee hacks. As you can imagine, there is must debate surrounding the wisdom of consuming large quantities of butter, especially in lieu of a healthy breakfast, but I won’t be able to settle any of that here. If you want to read more about that, I recommend starting with Nextshark’s 5 Reasons Why Everyone Is Suddenly Putting Butter In Their Coffee, and Kris Gunnars’ 3 Reasons Why Bulletproof Coffee is a Bad Idea, and then move on from there. You will eventually find references to a man named Dave Asprey, who is a self-proclaimed biohacker and the creator of Bulletproof Coffee, a recipe consisting mainly of butter, MCT oil, and some magic coffee beans he found one day (though legend has it that he may have gotten them in a trade for an old organically-raised grass-fed cow). He was featured by Bloomberg in the article Buttered Coffee Could Make You Invincible and This Man Very Rich. So, maybe it is healthy for those on a low-carb diet, or maybe not. Perhaps science will eventually tell us. My big question is “How does it taste?” I hadn’t thought much about this until recently, when I happened to be in possession of some Kerrygold Irish Butter. Why is this relevant? Because you aren’t supposed to use just any butter. It’s only “healthy” if you use butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows. And despite the photos attached to just about every story on the topic, if you have a pat of butter floating around in a cup of Folgers, then you are doing it wrong. The butter must be blended into the coffee, and most authors (who, like myself are coffee snobs writing articles for the reading pleasure of other coffee snobs) will tell you to use only the highest quality beans, or at least a nice strong pot of your favorite roast. The butter is used, of course, in lieu of cream and sugar. To be honest, it isn’t bad at all, quite good actually. The mixture is velvety with no sign of an oil slick on top. I have grown accustomed to drinking coffee without sugar, so that doesn’t bother me, and while I won’t claim that the butter made the coffee sweet, I can say that it wasn’t nearly as bitter as usual. In short, it’s worth a try at least once, but like other skeptics, I wouldn’t make this a frequent luxury (much less a daily part of a hardcore diet) until some conclusive health studies have been conducted.

#3 – April 9, 2016 – East African Peaberry Coffee
I was perusing the bulk bins at Central Market the other day, looking for an interesting coffee to review, and three things jumped out at me: peaberries, Africa, and Texas. Not literally, of course. I just happened to notice that the word peaberry kept showing up on the bin labels and I realized that I didn’t know exactly what that really meant. I looked it up using my smart phone. Peaberry coffee beans come from cherries in which only one of the the two seeds is fertilized, resulting in a single roundish bean instead of two beans with flat sides. This is a natural mutation which can occur in any region, and the resulting brew is typically more acidic and complex, though lighter than that of the more common double bean. There are tons of websites that explain this, so I didn’t feel it was necessary to link any particular one here. I would like to point out an article by the Coffee Detective that warns the consumer that while peaberries do produce a different taste, that difference is not necessarily dramatic enough to warrant a higher price. In other words, the hype over peaberry coffees is just that: marketing hype. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth trying, so I started looking for peaberry coffees to sample. That’s when I noticed that almost (if not) all of the choices available came from African origins, and specifically East African. What was it I said about Texas you ask? Well, it just so happens that Central Market favors local roasters, and by that I don’t mean just Dallas-based companies, but roasters from all around the state. The coffee roasting business seems to be particularly popular in Austin, which seems fitting when one considers the food and art scene there. So that’s my theme for upcoming journal entries, a focus on East African beans, peaberries in particular, roasted right here in the Lone Star State.

#4 – April 25, 2016 – Central Market Tanzania Peaberry
I started my excursion into East Africa with Central Market’s own “In-House!” brand Tanzania Peaberry, which originates in the Mbeye region of Tanzania and is roasted in Austin, Texas. Based on what I have read so far, I should expect more from the Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees, and this being a store brand, I figured that I would start with the lowest perceived quality and move up. The bin label in the store described this coffee as “sweet and tangy with flavors of vanilla, lemon, honeydew, and toffee.” The only one of these flavors that I could really pick up on initially was the toffee. The brew was very light with a weak body, even in the French Press, and the overall taste was tangy. After several cups I was about to give up on this one, and then I tried it cold. Using no sugar or creamer, I simple poured a cooled cup over ice. The flavor really came out, and I could finally taste the hints of vanilla and lemon. The aftertaste, which was not to my liking when served warm, became sharp and crisp. The light body was now an asset, making this iced brew a refreshing rival to iced tea.

#5 – May 5, 2016 – Addison Ethiopia Sidamo Peaberry
The Sidamo Peaberry, roasted by Addison Coffee Roasters located in (you guessed it) Addison, Texas, just north of Dallas, led to a completely different experience than the Tanzanian variety. The brew is much deeper and redder in color, and the taste much more bold. The aftertaste is smooth, not nearly as acidic, and the flavor far more balanced, giving it a pleasant aftertaste. It rolls in the mouth very easily. I was pleased with the taste brewed black, with no cream or sugar. I tried this one iced as well, with less than satisfactory results, so I don’t recommend it. This is labeled as a limited edition, which may be why it is not currently listed on their website.

#6 – July 29, 2016 – Stir Crazy
There has been a movement in the last few years to revive some of Fort Worth’s older neighborhoods, especially around the arts and medical districts. Magnolia Street in the Fairmount District is one of these, as new restaurants and other shops seem to have sprung up almost overnight. Looking for an afternoon treat one day, we ventured into Stir Crazy Baked Goods at the corner of Magnolia and 5th. I make it a point not to review an establishment after the first visit (unless I don’t see myself returning) and this is no exception, but I left that day wanting to write something to their praise. I resisted. Now, after a few more visits, I feel confident in recommending this as a great place to grab a piece of cake and cup of coffee with a few friends. The building they occupy was built in 1923, and though I have no idea what businesses were located there before, it is easy to imagine the place as a diner, soda shop, barbershop, or clothing boutique. Huge plate glass windows allow light to flood the dining room. Walls and fixtures are painted in a low-sheen black to contrast the white tin ceiling tiles and ductwork. And nothing screams “local start-up” like a mishmash of wooden tables and chairs from various genres of dining room furniture. The pastry case contains a medley of sweet offerings, but I am rather partial to the cakes displayed in glass domes above. As for the coffee, they serve locally-owned Avoca coffee, which I have not had time to review yet, but it is on my list. It is served from steel, self-service, pump-action airport dispensers in porcelain tea and coffee cups (if you are staying). And the coffee tends to be a bit on the weak side for my taste. That’s it? That’s my big rave? Yep. Sometimes its not about the coffee, but about the coffee experience. This place has a great atmosphere, and to be fair, they don’t claim to be a coffee house. It is a bakery that serves coffee. And it is great.

#7 – September 7, 2016 – Addison Kenya Peaberry
This is my third and last sampling of East African Peaberry coffees. I purchased the beans last Spring, along with the others, tasted it, formed my opinion, took notes, and then got too engulfed in the stuff of daily life to write the journal entry. The summer passed. I lost my notes, probably while cleaning my desk, and had to start over. Usually, when I sample several coffees like this, I buy just enough beans of each kind to make two or three small cups. However, when I went back for more Addison Kenya Peaberry, I knew that I was low on coffee at work so I filled a larger bag with about a quarter of a pound of beans, a decision I would eventually regret. Had I not lost my notes, I would have remembered that I did not like this particular coffee. This is nothing against Addison, as I rather liked their Ethiopian Sidamo. The profile of this coffee is different than the other two. It is not tangy like the Tanzanian, and not as smooth as the Ethiopian. It is very bold and I do not care for the aroma of the grounds. With enough beans on hand, I started to experiment. In the end, I found that a very light brew made with half of the coffee I usually use and creamed with frothed milk (no sugar) made for a very nice cup. Even then, this is far from my favorite coffee.

#8 – December 30, 2016 – Coffee Year in Review
As 2016 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on things that went well this year and things that could’ve been better. Professional development dominated my time and attention, which was a big plus, but it cost me the freedom to read and blog at my leisure. As a result, my backlog of research topics grew and I often had no choice but to save off information with no real plan for integrating it into my work. All I could do was make a promise to myself that I would eventually get back on task. This coffee journal is no exception. I was pleased to expand my entries to include reviews of local coffee establishments and I enjoyed the dive into East African coffee, but I had plans for much more than I managed to accomplish. Hopefully, 2017 will bring about some pleasant changes.

February 11, 2015

Coffee 2015

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New in 2015, my first coffee journal! I have been logging my thoughts about tea for years. Now I’ve committed myself to writing about my coffee experiences too.

Journal Contents

#1 Brewing Something New
#2 Christmas Blends
#3 Starbucks Woes
#4 EarlyWine Breakfast Blend
#5 Flat White
#6 More Flat White
#7 Single-Origin Series
#8 Rift Valley
#9 Mount Ramelau
#10 Laguna de Ayarza
#11 On Tasting Weak Coffee
#12 No More Coffee! (For A While)
#13 While I was Away
#14 Out With The Old…

Journal Entries

#1 – January 23, 2015 – Brewing Something New
After years of logging my thoughts on various tea offerings, I decided to start writing about my other drinking habit: coffee. And why not? I have been a heavy coffee drinker for many years, and my interest in tea is a relatively recent development. The new journal format is working well for me on my Tea 2015 page, so I decided to use it here too.

#2 – January 30, 2015 – Christmas Blends
Christmas is a big day for coffee around our house. Santa always drops a bag or two in our stockings, and the extended family keeps us in beans and grounds for at least a month. At least one bag (but usually more) of “Christmas Blend” ends up in the mix. Amongst them this year was both the Christmas Blend and Holiday Blend from Starbucks. Special thanks go to Pete Bickford for letting us all know that these products are actually identical…and for stating pretty much the same thought that crossed my mind when I saw the bags side-by-side. If that wasn’t confusing enough, sometime during the holiday season (sorry, it was probably Advent, and not Christmas) I inadvertently ordered a Christmas Blonde at one of the stores. It was actually pretty good, by the way, and I’m not a big fan of their lighter roasts, so that says a lot. The Holiday Blend from Sprouts Farmers Market (store brand) on the other hand did not quite live up to expectations, which makes me even more thankful that we bought it after Christmas on clearance for only $2.99 for a twelve ounce a bag. This year we also scored a bag of Christmas Blend from Mystic Monk Coffee, a brand I like, though this blend got mixed reviews within the household. I’m not prepared to do it this season, but maybe next Christmas I should do a taste test of Christmas Blends.

#3 – February 3, 2015 – Starbucks Woes
Years ago, when we frequented Starbucks far more often than we do now, I would register gift cards to get free refills on in-store drink purchases. At some point we stopped going there, and it was during that dry spell that they changed the rewards program somewhat. Well, we’ve found ourselves back there on a regular basis again, and I decided to start building up points again. I was happy to see that my account was still in existence, and that they now offer what appears to be a very feature-rich iPhone app. Now I can register one card and reload while waiting in line to place my order if need be. One big problem: my old account still had my credit card information and old mailing address listed…and I could not change them…on the phone or on the website! I wrote to support and the problem mysteriously resolved itself before they had a chance to write back to tell me that they could not recreate the problem. Once I got past that, I wanted to enter some star codes from some bags in the pantry. It looks like that operation can only be performed using the website and only two star codes can be entered per day. I assume this is to deter people from ripping thirty star code stickers off the bags at the grocery store to get instant Gold status. If so, this is a very weak control. Not only does it not go so far as to prevent this behavior, it eliminates the ability to instantly detect suspicious entries. And why does it take up to twenty-four hours for star points to post anyway? The in-app store finder is very useful, especially when the “Open Now” filter is applied, but I have yet to see the pay icon show up on my lock screen when I approach one of my favorite stores. All in all though, I am enjoying the new rewards program.

#4 – March 5, 2015 – EarlyWine Breakfast Blend
We are slowly working through another bag of coffee from Christmas: EarlyWine Breakfast Blend from Independence Coffee Company, Brenham, Texas. That’s right, the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream! I’m not usually one for breakfast blends, but this stuff is pretty good, especially when brewed extra strong in a French Press. This is the kind of coffee that you want to sip while sitting on the front porch, watching the sun come up…maybe even with some eggs and toast…and half of a grapefruit covered in sugar. Yep, that needs to happen as soon as it warms up around here. Two other great things about this coffee are that it’s affordable ($8 for 12 ounces; comparable to a bag of Starbucks at full price), and it appears to be available at H-E-B food stores (which for those of us in North Texas means Central Market).

#5 – April 16, 2015 – Flat White
As every patron should know by now, Starbucks is offering a new espresso drink called the Flat White. Like most espresso drinks, it’s basically a combination (some approximate ratio) of espresso and milk. I like espresso drinks, and to be honest, Starbucks has me hooked. I’d rather have a flat white than a cup of their plain coffee any day. They are mellow, smooth, and creamy, and I don’t even need to add sweetener. The only problem is that (IMHO) they are a bit expensive, so I have to curb my cravings. Today is special: I used one of my Starbucks Rewards to buy a Venti Flat White, hoping it would inspire me to finish this journal entry (which I first drafted in early February). Like most Americans, I had never heard of a Flat White before, and figured it was one of Starbucks’ trendy marketing labels. Come to find out,
the name probably evolved in the 1980s when Antipodeans (New Zealanders and Australians) needed an Anglicized term when ordering the type of coffee they were used to drinking at home in the new cafés opened by immigrants from Europe (by Italians in particular). Do a Google Image search on Flat White and you’ll see cups of froth-topped espresso (resembling cups of cappuccino) crowned with a design created by dragging the dark coffee through the milky white foam with a spoon (commonly referred to as latte art). This is not what you get at Starbucks. No, you only get an iconic Starbucks cup with a white lid. Even the ads show a plain cup of dark coffee with a white spot floating in the center. Is it any wonder why Starbucks didn’t do so well in Australia, where the coffee culture is far more sophisticated than it is in America? I no longer have an espresso maker in my kitchen, but the thought of being able to make this drink at home has made me consider buying one.

#6 – April 24, 2015 – More Flat White
In a search for more information about the Flat White phenomenon, I found
The Flat White: Explained by Alex Bernson, Managing Editor of Sprudge. As a basis for this article, Bernson’s research team polled over 2,300 Antipodean readers in an attempt to define what exactly a Flat White is. The results are…well, not shocking to be honest…but the article makes for a very entertaining read. There were some quick write-ups on Coffee Hunter, Some Origin Stories, The Independent, and others as well. Posts like these provide an insight that cannot be obtained from Starbucks marketing or the stale Wikipedia article, a view from both home and abroad. The Antipodeans are very proud of their coffee and Starbucks is more or less famous among them for doing it wrong. And the more I read about the preparation and the microfoam — despite my fondness of Starbucks’ offering — I tend to agree with them, and I hope to have the opportunity to try the real thing down under someday.

#7 – May 19, 2015 – Single-Origin Series
Since September of last year, Starbucks has offered a selection of single-origin coffees in the U.S. grocery aisle. I found the marketing instantly appealing, the gold print on shiny brown bag and the incorporation of stippled continental political maps as “cover” art. At first, I only noticed the K-Cup offering, but eventually saw the (much preferred) bagged grounds alongside the other Starbucks varieties. I bought a bag of each and started using them for my morning cup at work. I brewed Rwanda Rift Valley first, which makes a wonderfully rich brew, deep and mellow. Eventually, I moved on to the Timor Mount Ramelau and Guatemala Laguna de Ayarza, but the Rift Valley remains my favorite. I plan to spend the next few days documenting my findings here in this journal. As a rule, I don’t pay much heed to tasting descriptors any more for coffee than I do for wine. Knowing that one is citrusy and another is chocolaty doesn’t persuade my purchase decision: I simply taste, and when I find a coffee I like, I stick with it for a while. All three of these coffees have a description printed on the front of the bag, directly under the name, and I plan to put each one to the test during this comparison. I have also brewed all three of these coffees using a variety of methods: cup-top cone filter, reusable K-Cup, and of course, French press.

#8 – May 20, 2015 – Rift Valley
I find the Rift Valley single-origin coffee to be very drinkable, meaning that I consider it to be a safe and inviting choice for any time of the day. The bag claims that it is medium-bodied, which I feel was an accurate description of the product brewed using the cup-top filter (and thus, probably any drip maker). The French press simply adds body, because the oils aren’t being extracted by the filter. This coffee is not acidic tasting, so two cups in a row will not turn my stomach. I will agree with the “spicy dark-chocolate notes” and might even go so far as to call out cinnamon specifically. I failed to detect the “hints of sweet citrus” until I switched my mind from orange to lemon, then I picked it up. Floral aromas? Yes, but I don’t know that I would classify them as “heady”. As I stated above, this easily became my favorite of the three coffees in the series, especially when brewed in the French press. As a side note, the
Albertine Rift is the result of tectonic movements and covers part of Rwanda.

#9 – May 21, 2015 – Mount Ramelau
This coffee is a bit tangy for my taste, which (IMHO) contradicts the description on the bag that it is smooth. I also find it to be bitter, not sweet. Perhaps I am inadvertently comparing it to the Rift Valley and not judging it on its own right. As expected, the French press adds body and, yes, perhaps a little sweetness. I’m not sure how they came up with “mild herbal spice notes”. The cup-top drip resulted in a somewhat woodier brew — and I’m referring to taste, not aroma. Seriously, it tasted like I had stuck a block of wood in my mouth. The aftertaste is not only bitter, but also a little on the dry side. No, I don’t dislike this coffee. I think I just have to be in the right mood for it. By the way,
Mount Ramelau is also known as Tatamailau.

#10 – May 22, 2015 – Laguna de Ayarza
With the first two coffees in the single-origin series falling on completely opposite ends of my preference range, it’s real no surprise that this one landed somewhere in between. It’s not as deep as Rift Valley or as sharp as Mount Ramelau, but is “rich and balanced”, just as it says on the bag. The citrus aroma is of dried oranges and it is chocolaty, though maybe not so sweet. In fact, it tastes very middle-of-the road. I don’t care for the aftertaste, however, as it leaves my mouth dry. Much like the coffee,
the Wikipedia article on Laguna de Ayarza is short and simple, and leaves you wanting something more.

#11 – May 26, 2015 – On Tasting Weak Coffee
I mentioned last week that I brewed the Starbucks single-origin coffees using a variety of methods, one of which was reusable K-Cup. I use the
Melitta Java Jig, and I’ve had widely-varied results with this method depending on the coarseness of the grind, the level to which the filter is filled, and even how tightly the coffee is packed in there (Keurig machines are not espresso makers, ok?). The coffee made using this little contraption is usually weak, especially in comparison with the French press. I used it here so that I could observe some of the more subtle attributes of the coffees. One example is color. I was surprised to see that the Rift Valley came out the lightest and Mount Ramelau the darkest. Laguna de Ayarza proved to have the sweetest aroma, and Mount Ramelau had by far the most potent taste, especially as the coffee cooled. All cups brewed using this method were tasted without any creamer or sweetener.

#12 – June 1, 2015 – No More Coffee! (For A While)
A fitness challenge has been declared at the office, and I’m answering the call. This means hitting the gym more often, eating cleaner, drinking more water, and staying away from *gasp* caffeine as much as possible. So, I’m switching from coffee (95-200mg/8oz†) to green tea (24-45mg/8oz†) and the occasional cup of herbal tea (often caffeine-free) for the next three months. I will likely continue posting to my
Tea 2015 page in the meantime. Oh yeah, and I recently found (and enjoyed) What Does ‘Single Origin’ Coffee Really Mean? by Liz Clayton.

† Caffeine content amounts from Mayo Clinic

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


  • 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]


  • 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.

December 31, 2014

Death Star Tea Infuser

Filed under: Food & Drink — Brandon @ 4:55 pm
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Tea Death Star Infuser - 300x300
That’s no moon…it’s a tea infuser.

I would never have guessed the contents of the box before unwrapping it, but I am so glad someone knows me well enough to give the power of the Death Star in the form of a tea infuser. First of all, I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and as any of my Twitter followers can tell you, I love tea too! This item wins big on both fronts.

The TIE Fighter charm on the end of the chain is really what makes this infuser a success. Without it, the whole thing looks like a simple ball infuser that has suffered a bad dent. And since the infuser itself is submerged in your cup most of the time, it is the TIE Fighter that catches the eye of your coworker in the break room. I would not be surprised if someone were to tell me that the charm is a repurposed player token from a Star Wars themed Monopoly game, because it is about the right size and shiny silver.

But it’s not all about form! This infuser is also very functional. The charm is heavy and the chain is long, so it doesn’t slip into the hot water and there’s no need to clip it around the handle of the cup. The infuser ball is huge to boot! I like brewing strong tea, and a lot of loose-leaf goodness can be packed into this floating death machine. To be honest, I have not compared the capacity to other infusers on the market, but I know it is a lot larger than any of the other infusers in my kitchen drawer.

The only concern I have is durability. The wall of the infuser ball is pretty thin and the hinge may be a little suspect. Time will tell.

You too can harness the power of the Death Star (tea infuser), available at ThinkGeek for approximately $20.

February 6, 2014

Tea 2014

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The teas I tasted in A.D. 2014 and what I thought about them. Prices are per pound.

Earl Grey

In mid-April, for no good reason, I started craving Earl Grey. Since I discovered green tea a few years ago, I’ve not been very interested in black teas, but one chilly morning I just couldn’t resist a cup. Tazo is run-of-the-mill in my opinion, so I thought I’d venture out and sample a few others.

Rishi Organic Earl Grey. [Central Market; $42.99] This is exactly what I was looking for! It’s the classic taste of Earl Grey, but with a little kick. The heavy scent of the bergamot surprised me when I opened the jar at the store (loose leaf teas are sold by the ounce at Central Market, so you spoon them from canisters into little zipper bags right there in the aisle). I brew strong tea, and even though the second steeping wasn’t all that strong, it still had a distinct aroma and taste.

Lahaha Original Earl Grey. [Central Market; $89.99] In comparison with the Rishi Organic, I am disappointed in the Lahaha offering. It isn’t quite “Grey” enough. The flavor is very flat, conservative. I expected better given that it costs twice as much per pound. I will admit, the second steeping held its own. It also makes a decent black iced tea.

TROT Green Earl Greyer. [Central Market; $32.99] Yes, this is green tea flavored with bergamot orange oil. I brewed a cup of the Rishi Organic for comparison. A short steeping resulted in an odd and unbalanced flavor. It’s green, but a bit off. A few additional minutes made a huge difference, producing a nice strong green tea with a slight citrus zing to it. Re-steeping simply resulted in a cup of green tea with no “Grey” at all. This tea will probably take a lot of getting used to for me. I’m expecting Earl Grey and I’m tasting green tea. Talk about gustatory dissonance!

Rishi Earl Green. [Central Market; $69.99] I thought TROT’s green Earl Grey was a novel idea, and then I found a second one. There is no question about it, the Rishi green-Grey is a far superior product. The leaves are larger, not crushed like the Earl Greyer, with a strong aroma (both dry and brewed) and a balanced taste. The saturated leaves make for a better presentation too. It took me about two sips to realize its secret (which I promptly confirmed on the Rishi website): it does not use typical green tea as a base, but an oolong tea! The oolong-bergamot combination works so well!

Rishi Organic Earl Grey Lavender. [Central Market; $45.99] This is a variant of the first Rishi above, which has been my baseline tea for the past two weeks of tasting. It includes tiny organic lavender flowers as well as the essential oil. I have brewed several cups alongside the baseline Rishi and, honestly, I haven’t been able to detect an appreciable difference between them. I even tasted at different intervals in the steeping process, thinking perhaps that the lavender was being overshadowed by the other ingredients, but to no avail.

Looking back on the two weeks of tasting, I have to declare Rishi Organic Earl Grey my favorite for a classic taste, and name Rishi Earl Green the winner in the something completely different category. For the sake of completion, I did sip two other brands, Twinings Organic Earl Grey (bag) and Timothy’s World Tea (K-Cup), and both were highly disappointing in comparison with the loose leaf offerings.

Other Teas

Starway Bilouchun Green Tea. [Asian grocery store; ~$21.31] I was looking for an ‘everyday’ green tea, and since most greens taste about the same to me I really wanted to find a bargain. So I wandered into an Asian grocery while I was running some other errands and found a tin for $7.99. There were several varieties, and I had not heard of Bilouchun before, so I figured it was worth a try. It is a very tasty tea, a little bitter, and I like to brew it strong. Apparently I paid too much though, because I’ve seen several reports that it can be found for $4 to $5 a tin, about half of what I paid. Even then, it’s a really good deal. Here’s another reviewer that agrees, and his post has a picture of the tins.

Rishi Chocolate Chai. [Central Market; $49.99] I’m not a fan of flavored coffee, so I was hesitant to try a “chocolate” chai. I’m so glad I did. I caught the scent if it as I prepared my first cup and thought it smelled awfully familiar. I immediately associated the taste with Mexican food for some reason, enchilada sauce to be precise. The reason? This tea contains roasted cocoa nibs and cocoa has been an important ingredient in Mexican cuisine for centuries. It’s awesome slightly sweetened and with milk, almost like Mexican hot chocolate.

Yogi Egyptian Licorice. [Major Retailers; ~$62] This is not a new acquisition. I actually tasted this tea a few years ago. I was cleaning out some old papers in my office recently and found one of the tea bag wrappers nestled in the pages. Apparently, this one never made it on any of my tea critique pages. Yogi brand teas are commonly available here, and this variety is usually in stock at Kroger and Sprouts. The price above is current, about $4.90 for a box of sixteen bags. The name says it all. If you don’t like licorice then this tea is not for you. It is naturally sweet (surprisingly so), so no sugar is needed. Other than the distinct licorice taste, it has a spiciness not unlike chai. The sweetness really hits the palette immediately after swallowing! This is considered an herbal tea and there are a few health safety warnings associated with licorice root, especially when it is consumed in large quantities.

TROT Big Green Hojicha. [Central Market; $42.99] Big Green is actually brown, because the leaves are roasted. Curled and crushed, they sit in the tiny zippered plastic bag like a sample taken from the forest floor in midwinter when the trees are bare and their leaves have been amply trodden upon. So much for presentation. Despite that, the taste is very good! It is similar to an Imperial cut, but with that unmistakable pan-roasted taste. It reminds me of old books (of which I am very fond, so that’s not a bad thing), with their musty smell and pages that have darkened over time more toward the edges than in the middle. I’m suddenly inspired to brew another cup, retrieve an old book from the antique collection, and sit by the fire in the living room for the rest of the night. [Addendum: The first steep is yellow and allowing it to steep longer than usual makes it orange. The second steeping starts off pink and then moves to orange. I’ve seen tea get weaker with multiple steepings, but I think this is the first color change I’ve noticed.]

Rishi Marsala Chai. [Central Market; $39.99] This is a good chai, though unlike last year when I tasted several at once, I don’t have a baseline for comparison. Despite its reddish color, this chai is based on a black tea and not rooibos.

Rishi Cinnamon Plum. [Central Market; $32.99] Again, I’m not a big fan of fruity teas, but this one is an exception. Brew it strong and add a little sweetener, and it’s like drinking mulled wine. Good stuff!

Rishi Vanilla Bean. [Central Market; $54.99] Looking back at my list for 2014, I have obviously taken a liking to Rishi teas. Made from black tea and vanilla beans, this one probably tastes exactly the way you would expect. It definitely requires sweetener to get the full effect. Great accompaniment for shortbread or other not-so-sweet baked goods.

TROT Silver Rain White. [Central Market; $79.99] Sometimes I want something with a really light taste, but not green, so I either brew a really weak black tea or indulge in a white tea. This one is priced right and there’s nothing added to mask the misty taste. It’s especially good when I’m suffering from a headache.

TROT Lapsang Souchong. [Central Market; $39.99] I visited the TROT website to look up the particulars on this one. I couldn’t help but notice the reviews, especially the one from Julian of Arroyo Grande, CA: “Smells and tastes like a campfire.” If by campfire you mean the taste of wet ash, then I agree. Sorry, Julian, I’m afraid I’m not a fan of this one. From what I’ve read, this tea is made from the least desirable leaves of the tea tree, and its taste is owed primarily to the pinewood smoke used to dry it. Well, perhaps campfire is an appropriate description after all.

Royal King 100% Natural Premium Long Jing Tea. [FREE] This tea was free, at least to me it was. Someone in the office bought a box and left it in the break room for all to share. If I can find the exact same product offered locally or online, I’ll note the price here. I don’t usually expect much from tea distributed in standard tea bags, but this stuff is pretty good! It has the dragon well taste, and one bag produced a nice strong brew.

Rishi Iron Goddess of Mercy. [Central Market; $64.99] Yeah, I admit it, I pretty much bought this tea based on the name. I mean, c’mon, Iron Goddess of Mercy? What does that even mean? It must be some tea, right? Actually, it does mean something, but it was not the brainchild of some marketing executive. The proper name for this tea is Tieguanyin, and it is named after Guanyin, the Chinese goddess of mercy. According to legend, Guanyin played a key role in the discovery if this tea. It is an oolong tea, and there are several variations available based on processing and time of harvest. The Rishi offering is made in the winter and spring using a traditional method developed in the Fujian province where the tea originated. Tieguanyin is considered a premium tea, and this product is pretty tasty! The leaves are full, so the tea can be brewed in-cup for those who like to chew the leaves. This tea is very much to my liking.

Rishi Pu-Erh Vanilla Mint. [Central Market; $59.99] This is a nice cozy tea, something that might taste good around Christmas time. The taste is very balanced. The mint is not overpowering, which was my main concern when I bought it. Think about how peppermint-flavored hot chocolate differs in taste from regular hot chocolate. This is very similar. As with the Rishi Vanilla Bean above, sweetener is necessary, and I highly recommend adding some sort of creamer to mellow the taste (I prefer half-n-half over milk).

I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of Rishi Vanilla Bean and Rishi Pu-Erh Vanilla Mint. I used the same amount of tea, water, sugar, milk (half-n-half), and steeping time for each brew. The only difference was that the Vanilla Bean cooled for a few minutes while the Vanilla Mint was steeping; however, that variance was likely rendered insignificant when the milk was added. Regarding the teas themselves, they both contain vanilla bean, they differ in the base tea used (black versus Pu-Erh), and the Vanilla Mint contains mint, cinnamon, and licorice root, whereas the only additional ingredient in the Vanilla Bean is “natural vanilla flavor”. Having tasted the two teas in one sitting, I can definitely say that I am disappointed in the Vanilla Bean. The Vanilla Mint has a much better flavor balance and more body. The Vanilla Bean made a comparatively weak brew with an overpowering vanilla taste, as though vanilla extract had been stirred directly into a glass of milk.

TROT Organic Honey Lemon Green Tea. [Central Market; $32.99] I found nothing remarkable about this tea. The promised flavors were there, but even a long steeping produced a relatively weak and flavorless brew. Sweetener and creamer didn’t add much at all.

Rishi Coconut Oolong. [Central Market; $59.99] This was a treat. This tea is so full-bodied that I almost forgot it was just tea. Steep it long and use sweetener and creamer! Half & half really bolsters the coconut flavor and makes the final product extra smooth and creamy. Like chai, this is a good alternative to the green and black staples, but well-suited for times when you don’t want something spicy.

April 8, 2013

Tea 2013

Home > My Lists > Food & Drink > Tea > 2013

The teas I tasted in A.D. 2013 and what I thought about them. Prices are per pound.

It has become ritual now for me to switch from coffee to tea for the winter months. I am much more enthusiastic about drinking a hot beverage when it is cold out, and holiday shopping puts me in the right places to buy.

Green Tea Taste Test

Since I developed a taste for green tea over the last few years, I decided to sample several this year to see if there was any significant difference between them. While they all tasted similar in general, they were definitely not homogenous.

Sterling Gun Powder Green Tea. [Central Market; $22.99] The leaves are tightly rolled into little pellets, almost black in color. The brew is slighty darker than the others with a red hue, and it tasted somewhat similar to black tea.

TROT Sky Between the Branches. [Central Market; $42.99] These slender shriveled leaves produce a yellow/green brew that ended with that sour green tea aftertaste on the sides of the tongue.

TROT Ti Kuan Yin Tea. [Central Market; $59.99] I didn’t read the label close enough when I bought this one, but this is actually an oolong tea. I decided to toss it into the mix anyway. The pellets are larger than the gun powder green and are not as tightly rolled. The leaves are broader than the TROT Sky tea above and included stems, which probably contributed to its woody taste. The color was also yellow/green.

#6758 Green Tea. [Sprouts; $11.04] I found this tea in the bulk spice section at the Sprouts Farmers Market. Can’t beat the price, but the leaves are crushed, so they didn’t work well in my French press, and there was nothing special about the taste. Meh.

Sterling Jasmine Pearls. [Central Market; $78.99] I’m a little disappointed in this tea as a tablespoon of it doesn’t produce a very strong brew. The website explains that the leaves are infused with jasmine flowers. When the large pellets (~1/4″ diameter) unravel in the water, there seems to be as many (if not more) stems than leaves. The color is as pale as the taste.

Planet Tea Dragonwell. [Central Market; $15.99] Dragonwell is still probably my favorite variety of green tea. The leaves are flat, not crushed, and often I don’t bother with any sort of filter. They sink to the bottom of the cup by the time the tea is cool enough to taste (I don’t like it too hot) and stay out of my way. Those who like to eat the leaves probably do this too, I’m guessing. This tea tasted just like any other Dragonwell I’ve ever tasted.

Chai Taste Test

Whereas the green teas tasted almost the same overall, the chai teas were very different. Yes, they were all spicy, but certain ingredients, including the type of tea used, made all the difference. I compared five chais side-by-side. I did not prepare them in the traditional way (with milk and honey or sugar), but instead used only a plastic spoonful of each and maybe about 6 ounces of not-quite boiling water (sounds really scientific, right?). I also let the brews cool so that I could taste them without searing my taste buds.

TROT Republic Chai [Central Market; $39.99] The scent of this tea was not strong, similar to regular black tea, and it was obvious that it contained black pepper. This was not the most memorable of the lot.

TROT Cardamon Cinnamon Herbal [Central Market; $39.99] Ahhh, smells like Christmas! This one was much milder than I expected. I didn’t taste the chicory at first but could eventually pick it out.

TROT Republic Chai Red [Central Market; $32.99] I actually couldn’t drink this tea during the taste test. Due to the Rooibos it smelled to me just like Campho Phenique. I have no idea how it tastes undoctored, but I eventually was able to sip at it sweetened and creamed. Even then I didn’t care for it much.

#6755 Chai Tea [Sprouts; $23.84] This chai had a very weak scent and it tasted a lot like the Cuida Te Spicy Pu Erh I tried in 2010. Of course, with no list of ingredients available online, it was impossible to confirm any of the spices I thought I might be tasting.

Sterling Yerba Chai [Central Market; $42.99] This tea also used Rooibos as a basis. I just couldn’t do it without sugar and milk.

Other Teas

I’m not restricting myself to greens, by the way. Here are the other teas I’ve tried this year.

Touareg (Moroccan Mint) Organic Green Tea. [World Market; ~$66.67] I didn’t compare this tea with the other greens due to the strong mint flavor. It’s apples to oranges. I don’t think I care much for the mint, honestly, at least not all the time.

Rishi Organic Orange Blossom. [Central Market; $44.99] This tea reminds me of the Cuida Te Lemon Nori Oolong I tested in 2010. According to my notes, that tea was very weak, and this one was no different. Then I read the instructions: use 1 heaping tablespoon for 8oz of water. That and some sweetener made all the difference.

January 4, 2012

Tea 2012

Home > My Lists > Food & Drink > Tea > 2012

The teas I tasted in A.D. 2012 and what I thought about them. Prices are per pound.

I had so much tea left over from the past two years, that I felt compelled to cut down on the number of new teas in 2012. So, this year included a focus on blends, including combinations of tea with Yerba Mate.

Wulu (Jade Green) Organic Green Tea. [World Market; ~$49.95] Originally, I thought that this tea would be similar to the Dragon Well loose tea from 2011 and the “Imperial” tea from Hangzhou gifted to me the year before. The taste is the same, but it’s not as mellow. I also didn’t realize it was slightly more expensive until I calculated the price per pound above. As long as it is available and reasonably priced, I think I’ll stick with the Dragon Well.

Passion Fruit Orange Infusion + Mate. Last year, I wrote that I might try blending the Cuida Te Passion Fruit Orange Infusion with a more basic tea to make it less pungent. The most interesting blend was with yerba mate. I was inspired to create something similar to Teavana’s Samurai Chai Mate. I used equal parts tea and mate. The chunky bits of dried fruit in the tea made the visual balance tilt in the direction of the mate, with far more green than orange and black, commensurate with the Samurai. The result was not stellar, but it made the tea much more tolerable.

Passion Fruit Orange Infusion + Pu-Erh. This combination deserves mention. Since both teas are very strong, I assumed (correctly) that they would play well together; however, the fruit flavors could only be detected when the tea had cooled some. Before that, the Pu-Erh and the heat were overpowering.

Black Tea + Mate. Since I was experimenting with my own blends, I figured why not cut the mate with some good ole black tea. I mixed a teaspoon of the Russian MTF Ceylon black tea from last year with two teaspoons of mate. It turned out to be a good balance. I have taken to sifting the mate dust out with a kitchen strainer, resulting in a very clear brew.

January 4, 2011

Tea 2011

Home > My Lists > Food & Drink > Tea > 2011

The teas I tasted in A.D. 2011 and what I thought about them. Prices are per pound.

With a year of tasting under my belt, I felt much more educated in choosing teas, in judging what to buy and what to skip. In the past year, I developed — for the first time — a taste for green teas, so I made sure to include a few on the list for 2011. I also wanted to explore at least one more Pu-Erh offering.

TROT King’s Jewel Green Tea. [Central Market; $149.99] Overcoming the sticker shock, I went ahead and bought some while holiday shopping in December 2010. According to the printed bulk foods label, my bag contained a mere 0.04 lbs of tea, setting me back $6! I had already tasted so many teas in 2010, I decided to hold this one back to ring in the new year. It’s pretty much just oolong tea and it has an unusually dry aftertaste in my opinion. So, it’s a novelty, but the best thing about this tea is watching the tea pellets unfold in the French press.

[According to specialty-grocery expert and blogger “Space Samurai”, King’s Jewel is actually Lan Gui Ren rebranded by TROT. His assessment (posted August 2007) is that this tea is exorbitantly-marked up and the oolong leaves used are rather inferior. This post may explain why.]

MTF Чай “ТОТ САМЫЙ” классический. [Taste of Europe; ~$13.50] “That Same Indian Tea – Classic”. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) black. Great iced tea! Could just have well been Russian for “Lipton”. Leaves good for multiple infusions. Also, worked well for a cold brewed iced tea.

TROT Pomegranate Green Tea. [Central Market; $35.49] I like pomegranates, but this tea doesn’t work for me. It made a decent cold brewed iced tea, but even then, it required sugar and still didn’t meet expectations.

Cuida Te Passion Fruit Orange Infusion. [Central Market; $19.99] This tea smelled great in the canister, but after a few rounds, I figured out that it is too heavy for me. A very short steep time in a paper filter and lots of sugar worked best for me, but then it tastes like a Kool-Aid-esque fruit drink. I may try to blend this with a black or green tea to see what happens.

Dragon Well Loose Green Tea. [Central Market; $42.99] The name brand was not printed on the label and I have not tried to go back and figure out which one it was based on the price, which has probably changed since then anyway. It doesn’t matter. I bought this tea because it resembled the imperial cut given to me in 2010 by a friend. It tastes exactly the same. This is the best green tea in my opinion.

Ancient Pu-Erh Full Leaf Organic. [World Market; ~$40.98] I bought this tea becaused I liked the Cuida Te Spicy Pu Erh from 2010. It is a very strong and heavy tea, a dark brew. I think that this Pu-Erh tea is a good replacement for regular black tea if you are looking for a little variety, especially when the temperatures outside are dropping.

November 23, 2010

Tea 2010

Home > My Lists > Food & Drink > Tea > 2010

The teas I tasted in A.D. 2010 and what I thought about them. Prices are per pound.

Being my first real venture into the world of tea, I just browsed the names on the canisters that lined the tea aisle and chose whatever looked or smelled good. There’s plenty of options! I spent about $1 to $2 on any given selection, and the little zipper plastic bags were full, ensuring that I’d have several good brews of each.

TROT Acerola Cherry Green. [Central Market; $35.49] IMHO, smells much better than it tastes…kind of like potpourri.
Rishi Plum Oolong. [Central Market; $49.99] Would buy it again.
Cuida Te Lemon Nori Oolong. [Central Market; $19.99] Good, but the lemon is a little too subtle for my taste.
Cuida Te Spicy Pu Erh. [Central Market; $19.99] Spicy, but smooth. Maybe this will be a regular purchase.
Davidson’s Bai Hao Oolong. [Central Market; $26.99] This is my first oolong. I’m interested in trying others.
Green tea from Hangzhou, China. [Gift from a friend] “Imperial” cut, whole-leaf. Sweet! Need to find local supplier.

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