Review: Revisiting White & Raw Teas (from Teavivre)

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Many years ago, a friend served a pot of white tea after dinner at her place. It was my first exposure to Chinese tea beyond Chineserestaurantstuff, and I was intrigued that such a tea could exist. As such, I’ve always had a soft spot for white tea, even if some of my recent experiences with (flavoured) white tea have left a  bad taste in my mouth.

So when Teavivre offered to send me white tea samples, I was game (especially since I’ve really enjoyed reviewing their teas here and here). Besides that they also popped in two raw pu-erhs in the mix as well. It was a lovely, soothing tasting session and here are my thoughts:

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Organic Silver Needle: I started with this first thinking it would be the lightest. But frankly, everything else paled in comparison after this. It was unforgettable. The sweetness! The smoothness! Upon my first sip, I felt this urge to caress these dear leaves, which were kind of cute because they were also so plump and furry. This is definitely one of the better Silver Needle tea I’ve had in my life, and I was actually surprised at how fresh the tea tasted given I received this package three months ago (oops). Besides its lovely steamed chestnut notes (so much nuttier than other Silver Needle teas I’ve had in the past), I also got hints of greengrapiness…I don’t know why but I thought of those Little Twin Star bonbons I used to get at birthday parties. Do they still sell those?

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Organic White Peony: Poor fella here faced some stiff competition. While it is a heavier white tea, it really tasted much flatter in comparison to the Silver Needle. But it’s really a great quality bai mu dan. For one, there were these lovely dewy grassy notes to it and I love its dark green leafy colour. I would say it makes a great “starter” white tea.

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Fuding Shou Mei 2013: This aged white tea, which came in a cake form, intrigued me. I felt like it tasted like raisins and cinnamon, and that was a very pleasant surprise.  I reckon this would taste really good with Christmas rum cake! Though of course, given how this tea is relatively light, it’s best enjoyed on its own!

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Fengqing Raw Pu-erh Cake Tea 2006: A robust, honeyed brew. I think this is a tea that really showcases the good features of raw pu-erh. It’s much lighter than the usual aged pu-erh but still has plenty of depth. I detected woody, plummy, grassy hay notes.

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Jasmine Raw Pu-erh Mini Tuocha: Unfortunately, I felt that the natural, mellow taste of the pu-erh was masked by the jasmine. However, this is really a lovely jasmine flavour. I don’t feel like I’m drinking liquid perfume and it brought back (happy) memories of dimsum high teas. For jasmine tea fans, this is a tea blend you could explore.

Kicking Back with Keiko

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While I’m more of a Chinese tea person (now), I’ve never lost my fascination with Japanese tea. I love Gyokuro and Genmaicha and I still have many lovely memories of drinking the freshest, tastiest sencha in Shizuoka all those years ago. I was invited by Kaylin, another tea-loving Singaporean who is distributing Keiko Japanese Green Tea in Singapore. Keiko is a German-Japanese tea brand that has a plantation in Kagoshima in Southern Japan. It’s supposed to be a really fertile area because there’s an active volcano nearby. Their teas are also Certifie Agriculture Biologique organic-certified and is also packed using some high-tech method involving nitrogen to retain freshness (sorry, these techie things I tend to gloss over). But yes, some excellent quality tea here! 

This week, I wanted to wind down after some crazy work stuff and was so glad to have this little tea tasting session in the middle of the week with Kaylin. I also got acquainted with some other Japanese teas which I’ve had little exposure to during this session. Here’s what I sampled: 

Sencha: This gave me an idea that I was in for some really good teas ahead. It was a smooth, almost milky green tea that left a slight apricot aftertaste. 

Kabuse No. 2: Kabuse is a semi-shaded type of green tea that is known for its sweetness and aroma. It is not as “umami” as a gyokuro, but it definitely has its charm. It reminded me a bit of a green bean soup dessert, very drinkable and refreshing. 

Shincha: This is a rare batch of early spring tea that is actually fluorescent green. Interestingly enough, there’s this slight citrus afternote – a taste profile I’d never expect for a Japanese green tea but oh well, you learn something new everyday!

Tenbu Fuka: I really like this tea, it packs in a super umami punch! The Tenbu Fuka is plucked in mid-April and has a dark green liquor colour because it has been intensively steamed. 

Benifuuki: This tea is supposed to have a really high content of EGCG3 (the antioxidant that green tea is known for) which is supposed to help with sinus allergies. It’s also the most bitter of the lot – apparently, many Japanese love this tea and drink copious amounts of it before winter season starts. 

Kabuse Genaicha + Matcha: My absolute favourite of the lot – I bought a box home and it’s my morning “start-up” drink now! Kaylin pointed out that even the roasted rice puffs in this tea are organic. Might I also add that they are also incredibly fun to crunch on after I’m done brewing the tea ;) Usually, Genmaicha can get pretty weak on the green tea part, but because of the matcha, this tea really packs in a punch and is a beautiful dark jade colour. 

Kabuse Houjicha: This roasted tea is very malty and caramelled ( “mass houjicha” served in Korean and Japanese restaurants and sold in Daiso pales in comparison in terms of intensity of flavour) and I love the slightly bitter vanilla notes at the end. I would like to try this iced sometime with perhaps a little drizzle of honey! 

Overall, I really enjoyed my first Keiko experience and it’s actually pretty affordable too with prices ranging from USD$9.60-48.10 for a 50gm box. Again, SO HAPPY more great tea is making its way to Singapore!

WHERE YOU CAN BUY KEIKO TEAS: 

- Their online store (For Singapore, there’s free delivery for orders above USD$30)

- ISETAN supermarkets at Scotts Orchard and Westgate Mall

- Selected health shops such as That Health Shop (Roxy Square) and Lins Healing Concierge (Valley Point). 

*From 1-14 Sept 2014, there’ll be a Keiko tea booth at the Level 2 Atrium of Westgate Mall where you can sample and purchase their teas! Do drop by if you happen to be shopping there! 

And lastly, feel free to join their Facebook page and/or Instagram page (@keikoexperiece) for all kinds of Japanese tea trivia and pretty pics. 

Eagle Tea Merchant: May You Soar to Great Heights!

This post was something I’d wanted to do ages ago, but better late than never I guess. And it’s kind of fitting to promote a local tea company on National Day heh.

Sometime in June, the ladies from Pekoe & Imp asked if I wanted to accompany them for a puerh tasting session. Immediately, a vision of going to some old, dusty Chinese tea shop and having some bearded uncle tsk-tsking me for knowing nothing about puerh came to mind. But I thought that sounded quite exotic (am a little perverse that way) and agreed to go.

Eventually, I found myself going to some industrial building and meeting this guy in a modern grey office space.
eagle1This is Alex, who recently set up an online tea shop called Eagle Tea Merchant that specialises in (pretty affordable!) puerh. We were all pretty surprised when we met him. Imp said he sounded “youngish” over the e-mails, and we were expecting someone in his mid-30s perhaps, but no, it was this zesty guy in his 20s who talked really fast and giggled a lot.

We had a pretty long tea chat that afternoon. Alex has spent a few years researching on puerh and teaware in Yunnan and quite frankly, I get quite lost when he’s “talking puerh” with the serious tea people because a lot of Mandarin is involved. But suffice to say, he knows his stuff and he made an effort to explain things to me as simply as possible. He seems to like raw puerh a lot. And they all tasted quite lovely with lovely plummy, raisin, fruity, nectariney notes.

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This is a 2013 昔归生普耳 (Xigui Raw Puerh).

Anyway, here’s an observation. I notice that most of the Singaporean guys here who express an inclination towards tea will almost always say their favourite type of tea is puerh. I’m not sure if it’s because puerh is seen as more manly or it’s something to do with testosteroney tastebuds. Whatever the case, I think that if you’re a not-too-uncle male in Singapore who would really like to know more about puerh, then Eagle Tea Merchant is the place to start! Contact Alex and arrange a tasting session. It’s a very friendly, bro sort of environment. In fact, soon after my session at Eagle Tea Merchant, a male reader of this blog dropped me a note about his love for puerh. I referred him to Alex and he has become a big Eagle fan ever since. True story!

Eagle Tea Merchant
28 Sin Ming Lane #04-145
Midview City
Singapore 573972

E-mail alex@eagleteamerchant.com if you’d like to arranging a tasting session :)

The Longjing Lineup

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I just realised last week that I have quite a bit of Longjing green tea to consume. TeaVivre had kindly sent over a HUGE package of green tea samples from their Spring range last month, and I’d also received a tin of TeaVivre’s Organic Nonpareil She Qian Dragon Well from imp.

And so, I decided I would taste all of them Longjings at one go.

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In general, all the leaves look gorgeous. Sorry I can’t be more technical about it. But put it this way, I’ve seen what bad, stale Longjing looks like at certain atas hotel cafes that don’t store them properly (brownish, kind of damp-looking and possibly mouldy) and these leaves are just the opposite: green and crunchy looking.

Here’s what I tried:

Organic Superfine Dragon Well: From Tian Mu Mountain. It smelled kind of toasty/smoky so I was surprised that when I drank it, it was smooth bodied and there was this natural honeyed sweetness at the end. A surprising tea.

Premium Grade Dragon Well: From Xi Hu (West Lake). It had that steamed chicken aroma that I’ve come to associate with Longjing, and there were some pleasant umami notes in the brew. It was a little more astringent (‘siap’) compared to the Organic Superfine Dragon Well.

Organic Non Pareil Ming Qian Dragon Well: From Tian Mu Mountain. It had an interesting dewy, smoky aroma and was very mellow and vegetal. A nice kick-back sort of tea.

Organic Nonpareil She Qian Dragon Well: From Tian Mu Mountain. I’ve had this tea several times and I’m always amazed at how sweet it is no matter how crudely I make it. It smells like a steamed lotus paste pao and its chestnutty brew also has this woody depth to it. I think this is my favourite Dragon, ROAR!

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I was actually wondering if they would all taste the same to me, then this would be a really boring review. But hey, they don’t! And once again, I’m amazed at how each tea has all these fascinating nuances, even if they are the same type of tea from the same season!

My 1872 Clipper Tea Review (With An Iced Lychee Mint Recipe!)

Last Month, The 1872 Clipper Tea Co. very kindly gave me a $50 voucher to shop at their online store. I seldom buy tea online, but I generally found their e-store a very pleasing experience with soothing watercolours :) I also like the fact that there’s free delivery for orders above S$50!

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Here’s what I bought:

 

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- Finest Darjeeling (S$25): 100g of Darjeeling Margaret’s Hope (Grade: TGFOP1 2nd flush)

- Lychee Tea (S$11): 24 sachets of black tea flavoured with sweet lychee

- Peppermint (S$12): 20 sachets of peppermint tea

I have to say my selection of teas were pretty fortuitous. For the Darjeeling tea, I’ve already finished almost half the pouch within the month already! A few weeks ago, I caught a nasty “childcare” stomach flu bug from my son and began to crave black sweetened tea when I couldn’t stomach solid food for those few days. My mum used to make me a cup of Lipton tea with two spoonfuls of sugar whenever I had a bad tummy as a child, and I guess it was an old comfort I wanted to revisit. Of course, this time, my black tea had some lovely honeyed muscatel notes, so much so I didn’t see the need to put sugar in it eventually.

This week has been especially hot, and to top things off, the overworked air-conditioners at my place decided to conk out together in solidarity. And it was out of pure “sianness” that I decided to make myself a fancy pitcher of iced tea to cheer myself up – hot weather really gets you in a pissy mood, doesn’t it? I decided to come up with my own concoction of an Iced Lychee Mint tea (undoubtedly inspired by the iced lychee oolong tea I’ve had at Tea Bone Zen Mind) and this concoction even pleased my un-tea, fussy-with-food-and-drink husband who declared it “wonderfully refreshing”.

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Here’s the recipe for my Iced Lychee Mint Tea:

- 1 sachet of Peppermint

- 2 sachets of Lychee Tea

- 500ml of boiling water

- Canned lychee

- Ice cubes

- Optional: syrup

Steep the Peppermint and Lychee Tea sachets for 3 minutes in the boiling water. Let the brew cool down. Top with ice cubes, lychee pieces and a few teaspoonfuls of the syrup from the canned lychee. If you like your iced tea sweet, you can add a bit of your own sugar syrup as well. The lychee black tea, quite obviously, really goes with the chunks of lychee and I really like that minty aftertaste while drinking this tea – it brings cooling down to another level heh. Let me know how it goes if you try preparing this tea at home!

Delightful Tea with Miss Tea Delight (and a sort-of catch-up)

 

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I got to meet another tea blog friend in real life – one of my earliest  and most active commenters (while I was still writing somewhat regularly), Miss Tea Delight this week! One of the first things she asked me was, “Why aren’t you writing on your blog anymore?” and I could only hang my head in shame.

Yes, it’s been a while. In a nutshell, here’s what’s been happening with me tea-wise: I’ve been tea shopping (right now, I’m in love with this 30-year aged oolong from Hojo Tea – it’s my ultimate comfort drink), I’ve been receiving some fantastic tea samples from 1872 Clipper Tea and TeaVivre (their 2014 spring offerings) which I definitely intend to review at some point, I mostly drink tea when I’m feeling antsy, but I also like socialising with tea – I somehow think people become a little more open in some ways.

I will not make any more declarations about how committed I will be to this blog. But I do love you blog, for connecting me in such wonderful ways with other tea-loving folk (and to some great teas as well)!

Tea Loves: Regena Rafelson

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It looks like I’m pretty (virtually) social with tea folks this year! Today, I interview T Ching managing editor, Regena Rafelson. She’s a retired high school English teacher from Hood River, Oregon and she tells us more about her tea life and work in this Tea Loves post.

As some of you might know, I’m a T Ching contributor and have learned much from this tea portal and its global community. Unfortunately, due to current real life commitments, I’m not able to write for them as regularly, but they’ve definitely got a loyal reader in me.

And for now, it’s back to Regena! :)

Tell us more about your editor position at T Ching. 

This is my second stint as managing editor.  When T Ching was a fledgling blog, I edited it for fourteen months in 2008 – 2009.  In April of 2013, the long-time editor, Erika Cilengir, handed the reins back to me.  I love the diversity of T Ching contributors and being able to read their fascinating posts before anyone else gets to!

What is your favourite tea and why? 

My favourite tea is whatever I am drinking!  I like black tea and oolongs of every persuasion.  I am currently having a serious fling with matcha.  When I am hiking, I like Earl Grey in the thermos.

What are your tea habits like? 

My first pot of tea steeps while I build a fire in our woodstove.  I pull my chair and my mug of tea up to the fireplace and drink that first pot while the fire slowly gains strength. I read the day’s post as it goes live on T Ching while I sip the second pot.

What’s the best and worst thing about being an editor of a tea website?

The best thing about being a website editor is the amazing rapport and relationships I build with contributors half a world away.  The worst thing is when those busy contributors are unable to meet deadlines.  Scrambling for posts is an anxiety-laden affair! (I’m sorry Regena for being one of those causing you this stress!)

What do you think people misunderstand the most about tea?

The most misunderstood aspect of tea regards caffeine.  The mainstream western medical community is the worst offender, repeating the “tea-has-more-caffeine-than-coffee” mantra as if it was gospel.  No amount of research budges them from their litany.  I find that irresponsible as well as misleading.

 Describe the most interesting T Ching reader you’ve had. 

The most interesting tea reader would have to be this particular person who heckled me about a post I had written.  Social media is wonderful most of the time, but an insidious aspect of this media is the opportunity for people to be rude without taking responsibility.  I think of it as keyboard rage.

Tea is…

Tea is a beverage which speaks to our better selves, that peaceful part of us.  Tea is like giving yourself a hug.

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