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Category: Herbal Tea Page 1 of 2

My Favourite Teas Ever

Teavivre is one of my favourite tea companies, and when they have a sale, I always try to take advantage of it. They’re having a sale right now to celebrate their 6th anniversary, and it’s wrapping up tomorrow. So, while there’s still time, let me tell you about my favourite teas ever, the ones I always want to keep in my cupboard, whether they’re from Teavivre or other tea companies.

Peach Jasmine Dragon Pearls from Teavivre

Jasmine pearls are a tea staple, but I love the twist that Teavivre provides by flavouring them with peach. The peach is subtle, but it’s there, and the first steep or two always has a slight fruit hint to it. Subsequent steeps are just jasmine-flavoured, but hey, that’s still a win.

This is one the teas I keep with me at work since it’s so dependable. I just bought a whopping 300 grams of it! Part of that will be given as gifts to others, but I’ll be keeping at least half for myself. I bet I could make 150 grams last all year at work, especially since I can steep a single serving for at least two days in a row.

Superfine Tan Yang Gong Fu Black Tea from Teavivre

Yes, the name is a mouthful, but the tea itself is an even better one. It’s more expensive than some of Teavivre’s other offerings, but it’s so good. Quite possibly my favourite tea EVER. When you brew it up just right, it smells like dark chocolate, and it tolerates rough treatment well. Steep it too long? Add too much leaf? Use boiling water? No problem, it’s flexible. The only thing that doesn’t work is using water that’s too cool. Then it just tastes like muck.

Laoshan Black Tea from Yunnan Sourcing

Yunnan Sourcing refreshes their tea every season, so the batches may undergo some changes, and the URLs aren’t static. But, that aside, you can always just search for “laoshan black” on their site and see what comes up.

The Laoshan black tea that I have from them tastes chocolaty, but there’s also an alkalinity to it that reminds me of bread and biscuits. So, chocolate biscuits. And, like the Superfine Tan Yang Gong Fu above, it’s pretty forgiving of brewing mistakes.

Le Digestif from David’s Tea

David’s Tea is ubiquitous in Canada, and now that Teavana is closing, it looks like its place at the top of the heap is secure. Thus, it’s easy to assume that as Canada’s “gateway” purveyor of tea, its stuff is meant only for noobs.

Which is sad, because there are some genuine gems that are part of David’s Tea’s permanent collection, and Le Digestif is one of them.

I mean, if they ever decide to discontinue this tea, I will WEEP. I have a lot of digestive problems, and Le Digestif, with its mix of mint, fennel, ginger and mango, is one of the only teas out there that regularly makes my stomach feel better. It may be an acquired taste, especially if you hate fennel, but it WORKS.

Forever Nuts from David’s Tea

You need to add some agave syrup to this to really get it going, but when you do, Forever Nuts tastes like coziness personified. The apple, the cinnamon, the almond, the pastry flavouring! It’s hard to go wrong here.

Cranberry Orange Cider Rooibos from 52Teas

Dear Anne, I beg you, please make this cider part of your permanent collection at 52Teas. I went gaga over it when I reviewed it in 2015. I have restocked this at least twice, and I’m holding on to my last 30 grams like Scrooge because I don’t know what I’ll do when I finally finish what’s left in my tin.

30 Days of Reviews: Black Tartary Buckwheat Tea from Teavivre

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In the spirit of the month, instead of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I’m going to write a short review every day, up to a maximum of 300 words. Think of it is NaNoReMo (National Novel Review Month). This month I’ll do short reviews of books, varieties of tea, and even individual short stories as the mood strikes. So read on!


Teavivre is one of my favourite vendors because their tea is pretty good without being too expensive. I’ve been a customer of theirs for at least a few years. However, tonight’s tea from them, Black Tartary Buckwheat Tea, is a miss for me.

What surprises me is that I normally love this stuff. Roasty, toasty, grain-y, warm — buckwheat tea is comfort food in liquid form. So where did this variety go wrong?

It looked pretty good from the outside – the buckwheat grains looked whole and plump and golden, with a slight patina of dust after sitting in the packaging for so long.

teavivre_black_tartary_buckwheat_dry

It smelled decent, too: warm, rich, and savoury, like peanut butter slathered on hearty bread.

I boiled some water, took the entire 10-gram package, and let it steep for 2-3 minutes. The brew bubbled merrily all the while.

teavivre_black_tartary_buckwheat_bubbles

The smell while it was brewing was good, too: warm and toasty and like cereal. However, this was when I noticed some problems, as the aroma lacked depth. It felt very top-level inside my nose.

The final brewed product was a rich yellow liquid. But oh man, that lack of depth really came through on the first sip. I wanted to be kicked in the mouth by the savoury, grain-like punch of buckwheat, but all I got was something weak and flat. I want my buckwheat tea to give me the kind of depth and maternal comfort that you’d expect from Molly Weasley. But I got something pale and flighty like Luna Lovegood. (I’m sorry, HP fans, but while Luna is awesome, I’d never feel comfortable with anything she gave me to drink.)

teavivre_black_tartary_buckwheat_brew

So, yeah, this tea was a  disappointment. If you’re looking for something better, I’d recommend this buckwheat tea from Yunnan Sourcing or this one from Yunomi.

Fruity Iced Teas With Zen Tea

With all of the recent humidity in Toronto, my iced tea pitcher has been getting a real workout! Plus, as someone who probably buys too much tea for my own good, iced tea is great because making it cold uses up more leaf than making it hot.

Of course, that would help if I didn’t keep buying new tea to brew iced. It’s pretty much a no-win situation. I have way too much tea, but it’s too tasty to stop.

Anyways, as part of my little shopping spree from Zen Tea a few months ago, I bought a few blends that seemed like they would be perfect for iced tea. Here’s a quick look.

Cranberry Mango

I bought a 10-gram sample of this tea back in February, which is the perfect size to cold-brew a litre of tea — so that’s what I did.

Pouring out the dry leaf, I was greeted by an intensely rich, juicy, fruity smell. If I hadn’t known the mix was supposed to be cranberry-mango flavoured, I would have had a hard time guessing. In fact, the whole thing smelled like gummy bears! The aroma was sweet, tart, juicy, and very vibrant.

I mean, are you surprised when you look at leaves like these? Dark green needles of broken up leaf interspersed with chunks of dried cranberry and mango. This is pretty sweet!

zentea_cranberry_mango_leaf

I took this loveliness, filled my pitcher halfway up with cold water and let it steep in the fridge for about 12 hours. The resulting brew was a golden yellow-green colour with an aroma that matched that of the dry leaf.

The taste was pretty good to match! Juicy, fruity, sweet, with a hint of the earthiness and vegetal flavour of the green tea underneath. The interplay between the base and the flavouring was really solidly balanced. The green tea flavour was kind of sharp, but not so sharp that it became bitter or seaweedy — it was fresh-tasting and green in a way that complemented the fruit well. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the final brewed product because for some reason, WordPress hates me.

You can buy Cranberry Mango green tea from Zen Tea here.

Sweet Tropical Fruits

This was another 10-gram sample that I bought a few months back. And, like the Cranberry Mango tea, I decided to steep this one directly in cold water rather than hot.

The dry leaf here was gorgeous. Strands of black tea leaves were mixed in with dried chunks of papaya, pineapple, orange peel and orange blossoms, resulting in a blend that looked delicious and festive.

The leaf smelled sweet and fruity. I wasn’t able to pick out notes of individual fruits, but the overall aroma was sweet and somewhat musty, with a strong overtone of vanilla and cream

zentea_sweet_tropical_fruits_leaf

I took the entire packet and steeped it with cold water in the fridge for about 12 hours, and added some agave nectar to heighten the sweetness.

However, the resulting tea was bitter, and the sharpness of the tea leaf base overwhelmed the fruit flavours. I got an overall soft, sweet flavour from the fruit, but it was rather generic and bland, with a strong candied note on top of the fruit notes. It was more vanilla than fruit to me. This was pretty surprising considering just how many chunks of dried fruit were visible in the dry leaf — I wasn’t expecting them to taste so weak.

Diluting the tea with some water and adding some more agave nectar helped to cut down the bitterness, but it failed to make the fruit flavours pop in a way that I was hoping for. However, the brew was a lovely peach colour — sort of a blushy pink — and that helped mitigate my disappointment with the result. I probably would have been better off filling the pitcher all the way to the top with cold water rather than halfway.

zentea_sweet_tropical_fruits_brew

You can buy Sweet Tropical Fruits black tea from Zen Tea here.

Sweet Coconut Island

I bought this tea after a fellow Steepster user recommended it. They were gaga over it, saying it was one of their favourite fruit blends, so how could I ignore such an endorsement?

Because this was an herbal tea that contained only chunks of fruit, I decided to get 50 grams instead of only 10 — 10 grams of such a dense, heavy tea would have been too little to experiment with.

Opening up the package, I was greeted with a colourful mix of dried chunks of carrot, pineapple, coconut, apple, and pumpkin. If you look closely at the picture, you can pick out the carrot and pumpkin pieces in particular, which are a sort of muted orange here amid the white flakes of coconut and the glassy chunks of candied pineapple.

zentea_sweet_coconut_island_leaf

As expected, the smell was amazing — a rich, sweet, juicy smell of pina colada from the pineapple and coconut. Tropical! I was pleasantly surprised by how much the pineapple and coconut dominated the scent considering they weren’t as prominent in the dried leaf compared to the other ingredients.

Because the tea leaf was made of such thick chunks, I decided to brew this one with boiling water rather than cold water to give the pieces a chance to reconstitute properly. So I took half the package (about 27 grams), poured about 6 cups of cold water in the pitcher, let the pitcher sit on the counter for about half an hour, then put the whole thing in the fridge to cool for the rest of the day.

The resulting tea was a pale amber with a touch of cloudiness. Maybe it was the coconut that made it cloudy, or that there was so much dried fruit in general? It looked very promising.

However, the promise didn’t hold up to the taste. While I certainly did taste pineapple and coconut, to me the carrot and pumpkin flavours won out. They made the whole thing taste starchy and pale, rather than juicy and vibrant like I was expecting. I still have half the packet left, so I’ll need to see how it tastes when brewed with less water. Right now, though, this tea was a bit of a letdown.

zentea_sweet_coconut_island_brew

You can buy Sweet Coconut Island fruit tea from Zen Tea here.

Toronto Tea Festival Tasting Set

The Toronto Tea Festival is coming up at the end of January 2016, which means that the event’s organizers have started to promote it more widely. In October, the organizers posted a note on Facebook saying that they were looking for 40 tea tasters to sample a variety of teas from vendors who will appear at the 2016 festival.

Free tea? Why not? I applied and was accepted.

When the tea packages were ready to pick up, I got the following email from one of the festival organizers:

Dear TTF Tea Tasters:

Thank you for participating in the inaugural Toronto Tea Festival (TTF) Tea Tasters Box.  By now you should have picked up your teas while those who could not pick up will be receiving them in the mail shortly. If you have not yet picked up your tea samples at Tao Tea Leaf the deadline is November 14th.

Please steep and taste your teas, then go online and complete the Tea Tasters Rating Form at [address redacted].  You will have received six out of twenty-four teas for tasting. Please find the tea company name that corresponds to your tea sample, then find the specific tea and make your vote!

Deadline to complete the rating form is December 13th.

Feel free to share your experience of this process with us on Facebook or Twitter and use the hashtag #teatastersboxTO.

We hope you enjoy all the teas but remember we’re counting on you to provide us with your feedback to determine the “tealovers’ choice” for the best tea in each category.  The winners and runners up will be announced on the Toronto Tea Festival social media channels and also at the 4th annual Toronto Tea Festival on January 30 & 31st, 2016.

I picked up my bag of teas on November the 5th and sampled them all over the course of a few weeks. Here, I’ll look at each of the teas I was given below and share the rating I gave them for each tea. However, I think that this whole endeavour could have been organized much better, and I’ll discuss my concerns at the end.

Spa Herbal Tea From 3 Tea

This is an herbal tea with ginger, chamomile, and rose petals. Opening the pack, I’m greeted with whole heads of dried chamomile flowers, dried pink rose petals, and dried chunks of ginger. It’s quite pretty, but I’m wary anyways because I’m just not a chamomile person.

Spa_tea_leaf

Surprisingly, this tea isn’t half bad. The brew is a pale golden colour after about 2 minutes of steeping. The chamomile is very strong, but the ginger is present enough to prevent the whole mix from being cloying. I still don’t like chamomile, but I probably will be able to finish this off in the evenings without too much trouble.

I rated it 7/10 — pretty impressive, considering that I dislike chamomile.

Ceylon Tea New Vithanakande Estate From Capital Teas Ltd

The dry leaf of this Ceylon is black, thin, and wiry, with the occasional silver tip peeking through. Each strand of leaf is probably about the length of a grain of rice. The smell is muted, but somewhat brisk and malty.

Capital_Tea_New_Vitha_brew

I put a generous spoonful in my teapot and let it steep with boiling water for 3 minutes. The resulting brew was a coppery brown with the citrusy, bright aroma that you normally get with Ceylons. A tad brisk and astringent, but otherwise it didn’t really knock me off my feet. I find that Ceylons can be somewhat temperamental, though — sometimes I brew them and they turn out great, and other days it’s meh. This one was somewhere in the middle of that continuum. I rated this tea 6/10.

Long Jing From Genuine Tea

The leaves here look like most other Long Jings: oblong, somewhat flat, and feathery. This variety was quite vegetal, and not quite as nutty — I got a strong sense of snap peas and green beans here, rather than chestnut. Since I’m not really a huge fan of Long Jings in general, this tea was wasted on me.

Genuine_Long_Jing

This was probably the tea I found least impressive. I gave it a 5/10.

Blood Orange from Basilur

One of the big issues I had with this set of teas is that some of the samples were packaged in paper rather than plastic, and this tea is the main reason why: it’s so strongly scented that even when I was walking down Bloor Street in the middle of downtown, during rush hour, with the sample in a sealed pouch inside a goddamned plastic bag, I could STILL smell it. Every so often I’d catch a whiff of something fruity that I couldn’t identify and go Hey, is someone wearing perfume?

That is how strong this tea smells. I was worried that it would contaminate all the other teas in the sample pack, especially the Ceylon, which was also sealed in paper packaging.

That said, the tea is quite pleasant when you deliberately open the pouch it’s sealed in. It smells unmistakably of citrus — at first whiff, it smells like a creamsicle, but deep down into the base notes I get a sense of something dry and boozy,  like fruitcake. Looking closely at the leaf, you can see tons of dried, sliced orange peel, too, plus some berries and flowers and other fripperies.

Basilur_Blood_Orange

I took half the sample (7 grams) to make a single teapot and steeped it in boiling water for 3 minutes. The resulting tea was a nice, cozy mulled orange colour. However, it was both tart and bitter, and even a spoonful of honey couldn’t save it from my reckless overleafing. The hibiscus and orange are strong in this one.

Ultimately, I gave this one a 7/10.

Sencha From Momo Tea

This was another tea that was sealed in a paper packet. Luckily, this was also unaffected by the heavy sent of the Basilur Blood Orange tea. Thank god, because this tea is lovely on its own — one of the sweetest and most delicate senchas I’ve had in a long time.

Momo_Sencha

The leaf of this one was a deep emerald broken into fine spindles with a soft, hayish scent — In fact, I’m surprised that they’re saying this is a sencha, because it looks very much like a gyokuro. It took well to overleafing and oversteeping — even despite a longer infusion, it didn’t turn bitter, astringent, or umami. Instead, it was soft, pale yellow-green, and sweet with notes of grass and hay. The brewed leaf was a bright emerald. I’m definitely happy I got a chance to try this.

This was my favourite from the set — I gave it 9/10.

Da Hong Pao From Tao Tea Leaf

Tao Tea Leaf is one of the founders of the Toronto Tea Festival, so I’m not really sure how I feel about them including their tea in the tasting set. If the whole point of this exercise is to get people to rate which teas are the best, isn’t it kind of stacking the deck to include one of your teas if you’re the one running the contest?

Interestingly, the paper packets that the Basilur, Capital Tea, and Momo Tea samples were packaged in are the paper packets that Tao uses for selling its own single-serve samples at the Tao Tea Leaf store. However, the Tao Tea Leaf packaged their own tea sample in a plastic zip-lock pouch — that is, a sturdier kind of packaging that’s much less permeable, and therefore much less likely to be contaminated by other flavours. Why would they give their own tea such superior packaging if this is meant to be a fair taste test?

</consipiracy theory>

Anyways. I decided to brew this tea using a gaiwan, measured out 5.6 grams of dry leaf, and brewed it multiple times using 90°C water. The dry leaf was dark brown, twisted, and thick, with a strong roasted/wood note.

Tao_Tea_Leaf_Da_Hong_Pao

I was greeted with an intense smell of wood, cinnamon, smoke, coffee, and sesame after the rinse. The tea really woke up on the second and third steeps, with an intense roasted note. As I continued to steep, the flavour diminished, but on the final steep I detected a floral note — rose, I think.

Considering the other Da Hong Paos I’ve tried, this one was pretty classic-tasting, and was pleasantly smooth. I gave it an 8/10.

What Worked and What Didn’t

In addition to Steepster, I’m part of a private Facebook group that discusses tea, and many of the group members are in Toronto, just like I am. Thus, several of us took part in this tea tasting experiment/contest/publicity stunt for the Toronto Tea Festival. But as a group, we found that there are several problems with the way this contest has been handled.

For one thing, there were 24 different teas that the festival organizers had samples for, but each sample bag contained only 6 teas. This means every person got a unique set of teas to sample. I can kinda see what the Toronto Tea Festival had in mind by doing this — they wanted to give each participant a special experience. But how on earth can the festival organizers be sure which tea is the “best” according to the participants if every participant’s experience is different?

On top of that, the grab bag of samples meant that there was no guarantee that each participant would enjoy what they were given. What if I were allergic to chamomile? What if I absolutely detested Ceylon tea and refused to drink it? That would have been incredibly unfair to the vendor involved.

Also, if this contest is meant to help people at the festival determine the best tea, they’re really going about it ass-backwards. What can it possibly mean to choose a “best” among such a wide variety of teas? It would have been far more productive to group each of the 24 samples into a set — for example, an all-green-tea set or an all-rooibos set — and have participants choose the set that they were most interested in. This accomplishes two positive things:

  1. It means there are more awards the festival can give out — Best Green Tea, Best Oolong Tea, and so on.
  2. It makes compiling all of the survey results from the participants much easier, so it takes less effort for the organizers to determine which tea is the “best”.

Overall, my friends and I found everything — the bags, the survey, the hashtag — highly disorganized. I hope that if the Toronto Tea Festival tries to do this again in preparation for the 2017 festival, they’ll approach it differently.

Chi Whole Leaf Teas: Powdered Teas That Aren’t Matcha

chi-whole-leaf-setChi Whole Leaf is a new tea company that offers a variety of teas in finely ground powders — think of something similar to matcha, where you gently whisk hot water into the powder, but using a variety of ingredients instead of just green tea. You can learn more about Chi Whole Leaf teas here.

Chi Whole Leaf currently offers 5 different blends, and I and several other reviewers were given tiny samples of all of them to try. There are 2 blends with caffeine and 3 without.

Yerba Maté

The first tea I tried was a mix of ground yerba maté (a high-caffeine herbal tea from South America), licorice root, and gingko leaf. It was a dark olive green colour and I took 1/4 tsp of powder, stirred it with a bit of hot water to create a thin paste, and then poured more hot water (about 95°C) to get a full cup.

I personally dislike yerba maté because it has a weird earthy taste, but I was willing to try this tea because the presentation is so unusual. However, I barely made it beyond a sip or two. The earthiness of the yerba maté mixed with the overwhelming sweetness of the licorice root to create something that was overpowering and highly unpleasant in my mouth.

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I poured the whole thing out after only a few sips. This tea was not for me.

Green Mint

This tea was a mix of Darjeeling green tea, mint, and eucalyptus. I used 85°C water, but other than that, the preparation was fairly similar: I added a little bit of water to half a spoonful of powder to create a thin paste, then poured the rest of the water on top.

With this tea, the strongest taste was of the eucalyptus; the mint complemented it. I wasn’t getting much of a green tea taste, but I was getting a sense of herbal acridness at the back of my mouth. I’m assuming that this acrid note is a byproduct of all 5 samples being shipped in the same envelope — they all smell faintly the same, despite having diverse ingredients. With the combination of mint and eucalyptus, I bet this tea would be great to drink while having a cold. I could feel the back of my throat and it made my sinuses tingle a bit.

Floral Herb

I was filled with trepidation about this one. It’s a mix of finely ground hibiscus, jasmine, and rose — and hibiscus is one of those ingredients that can absolutely take over a tea and monopolize the palate if you’re not careful.

The dried powder was bright pink bordering on fuschia. It’s eyepopping, to say the least! I used about a half teaspoon of dried powder for 1 cup of hot water and was rewarded with a deep hibiscus pink colour.

chi-whole-leaf-floral-herb

The taste was much milder and smoother than I expected — the flavour of hibiscus was there, but I think the rose was more prominent. I added about half a spoonful of agave nectar and the sweetness helped bring out the fruity, jammy quality of the rose. I didn’t taste much jasmine, though.

As I continued to drink through the cup, the tartness of the hibiscus became more apparent, though it manifested less as a taste and more as a sensation of crinkling on my tongue. It’s interesting, but I would have preferred something a bit less astringent. The dry powder of this one was slightly less finely ground up than the others because individual flecks were more easily visible in the water.

Chamomile

This herbal tea contains a mix of chamomile, St. John’s wort (see my note about this in the “Concerns” section), lemongrass, passionflower, and peppermint. I used a similar preparation as with the other teas — I mixed 1/2 tsp of powder with warm water to create a thin paste and then topped the rest off with hot water. This time the water was 90°C.

The powder and the tea were a murky khaki colour. I could definitely smell the chamomile when the water hit the powder, but I also got a strong sense of peppermint when I drank it. The overall taste was of chamomile with a light hint of peppermint in my sinuses; the aftertaste was somewhat dry and chalky. I should note that, like other reviewers, I found that the powder for this blend didn’t dissolve well. It collected into a sludge at the bottom of my cup after I first mixed it together.

chi-whole-leaf-chamomile

I drank this late at night to see what effect the combination of chamomile, St. John’s wort, and passionflower would have on me before I went to bed. I didn’t see much of a difference the morning after, but overall, I thought this blend was okay.

Ginger Chai

I’m happy to say that of the 5 teas that Chi Whole Leaf offers, Ginger Chai was my favourite.

The dry tea was a burnt orange that reminded me of terra cotta, and smelled strongly of clove with a hint of ginger. When I added my hot water to the powder (using the same method described above), I was immediately hit with a strong rooibos smell that was quite fruity and peppery.

Once I added the hot water, I topped the mug with a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of milk to add some body.

The strongest thing I tasted of this tea was the rooibos, oddly enough, rather than the ginger, cloves, or cinnamon. But like I said above, it’s fruity and peppery.  (Perhaps the pepper note was just the ginger in disguise.) I think that the spices are helping to smooth out the rooibos.

Verdict

I quite liked the Green Mint and Ginger Chai teas, and would definitely consider getting larger quantities of these — especially since they’re so convenient for travel. I would also consider getting the Chamomile blend because it tones down some of the obnoxious metallic flavour I find in straight chamomile tea. However, I did not like the Yerba Maté blend at all.

Some Concerns

One thing I’m worried about is that the pamphlet I received with my samples contained much more detailed ingredient info than what’s currently available on the website as of the middle of August, 2015. The pamphlet lists each blend’s ingredients outright, while the product descriptions on the website mentions each ingredient separately through the body copy instead of grouping them into a dedicated list. That’s not good from a usability/readability perspective.

More importantly, although the pamphlet states that users should do their own research before drinking these teas, I want to emphasize that St. John’s wort is a plant that’s often used as an alternative/herbal remedy for depression. I really REALLY want people to be aware of this before ordering the chamomile blend, because I know that herbal supplements can interact with pharmaceuticals in unexpected ways. I think that the chamomile and yerba maté blends in particular (since the yerba blend contains gingko biloba, which is also an herbal supplement) should have stronger warnings about how they could affect people who take prescription medication.

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