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


  • 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.

Tea & Coffee

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

This is my Tea & Coffee landing page. Besides lists of recommended teas, coffees, stores, and coffee shops, you will find links to my old Tea and Coffee Journals as well as to new posts on related topics.

Tea Brands
Cuida Te
Davidson’s Tea
The Republic of Tea (TROT)
Rishi Tea
Moscow Tea Factory (MTF)

Coffee Brands
Buon Giorno Coffee
White Rock Coffee

Where To Buy
Central Market
Sprouts Farmers Market
Whole Foods
World Market

Coffee Shops
(DFW unless noted)
Buon Giorno Coffee
Kindred Coffee Co.
Roots Coffeehouse
White Rock Coffee

My Old Journals
Tea 2010
Tea 2011
Tea 2012
Tea 2013
Tea 2014
Tea 2015
Tea 2016
Coffee 2015
Coffee 2016

Topical Posts
My Super-Cool, Super-Geeky Death Star Tea Infuser (2014)
More to come…

November 2, 2010

Yerba Mate

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I like coffe and I like tea, but I’ve discovered something just a little different in the health food section of the local grocery store. It’s a tea-like drink called Yerba Mate (‘mah-tay). It’s a product of South America, though it is commonly consumed in Syria and Lebabon as well. There is a traditional ceremony surrounding this drink, and while it is most often made in and drunk from a special vessel (a hollowed gourd) using a filtered metal straw (bombilla/bomba/masassa), it can readily be steeped in a french press or using teabags instead. The mate must first be soaked in cold water to retain its health benefits and then steeped in hot (but not boiling) water. Just so you know, if you like tea then Yerba Mate is not at all gross, though the color may make you think twice about taking that first sip.

General Information

Wikipedia: Yerba maté
Wikipedia: Maté

Health Benefits & Risks

Strong claims are made regarding the health benefits of Yerba Mate. It provides a sense of well-being, aids weight loss, reduces the risk of certain cancers, improves cholesterol levels, yada, yada, yada. Pages of these claims are readily available on manufacturer websites (e.g. Guayaki, Nativa) and elsewhere. If you don’t like the tea, Yerba Mate extract is available at health food stores.

Despite the cancer-prevention claim, there is a concern that Yerba Mate actually increases the risk of some other cancers, particularly cancers of the esophagus, mouth, bladder, lungs, and others; however, most references to this on the Web agree that the serving temperature may be the source of this risk, and not the plant itself. Steeping time (strength of the tea) may also be a factor, and at least one site stated that the smoking process used to dry the leaves is the likely culprit, in which case, my backyard barbeque is probably more lethal than the Mate. Of course, there were the common disclaimers that only heavy drinkers are at risk and that additional research is needed before definite correlations can be drawn. To compare, green tea can apparently also increase cancer risks due to serving temperature and cause kidney and liver damage if consumed in excess.


As mentioned in the synopsis above, this mate is traditionally prepared in a hollowed gourd and sipped through a filtered metal straw. Alternatively, it can be steeped in a french coffee press or using tea bags. It is commonly recommended to saturate the leaves in cold water initially, and then add hot (but never boiling) water.

I use a french press and personally find the sediment in the bottom of my cup to be quite unappealing. To solve this problem, I sift the loose leaf mate in a common kitchen strainer/filter that has a mesh less-fine than the one in the french press. I now steep only the leaves (hoja) and stems (palo) in the french press and save the powder (polvo) for later use in either tea bags or a cup-top coffee maker that uses paper filters.


Confessions of a Reluctant Yerba Mate Drinker [by William I. Lengeman III,]
Yerba Mate, The History of this Dietary Aid


Guayaki [common in USA; retail stores]
Cruz de Malta


There’s been mention of the affordability of Yerba Mate, particularly in the U.S. Just for reference, at the time of this writing (November 2010), a 227g bag of Guayaki costs between $5 and $6 at the local Kroger store, or approximately $22 to $26 per kilo. At the same time, a 500g bag of Cruz de Malta is available online for $4.99 ( to $5.50 (Amazon) or about $10 per kilo. A local Argentine bakery carries a 1kg bag for $4.99. There is no difference between these product and none of these prices include shipping or sales tax. In other words, shop around for the best price, which may not be online.

December 31, 2009

Jujube Fruits

Filed under: Food & Drink — Brandon @ 3:26 pm
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At this time this post was made, I had a very active jujube tree on my property. The fruits are wonderful, but I’ve found the upkeep to be a bit more involved than some sites lead one to believe. Supposedly, in my part of the country, bugs are not a problem for this tree. Wrong! Well, maybe they are not a problem for the tree itself, but they love to eat the fruit, as do the birds. Anyway, the reason for this post is two-fold. One is to save information about the fruit so that I can answers the inevitable questions (e.g. Is the fruit safe to eat? Isn’t jujube a candy?), and the other is to store a few recipes.

Botanical Information

California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
Aggie Horticulture
Hein Bijlmakers [A few photos included]
Texas Gardener [Good practical advice]


Jujube Cake (
Three recipes: a main dish, jujube cake & jujube butter (
Jujube jam (
More jujube jam/butter (IslandSchool blog)
Even more jujube butter (Texas Highways Magazine)

And though I found out that I’m not a big fan of the tea (yet), here’s a few tea recipes:

Daechucha (Tess’s Japanese Kitchen blog; Wikipedia entry)
Jujube and Longyan Milk Tea (Beijing Haochi blog)

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