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Category: Tea Page 2 of 15

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.

Visiting the World of Tea Shop in Ottawa

I’m always up for checking out new tea stores, so whenever I visit Ottawa, I also visit a tea shop outside of my usual stomping grounds: World of Tea.

World_of_tea_exterior

I first visited in late 2015 while attending Can-Con, and came back last month while attending a professional conference in the city. These photos are a bit old, but the tea I tasted on my first visit was wonderful, and I’d like to tell you in general about how awesome this store is.

World of Tea opened its doors in 2009, though it only moved to its current location on Bank St in March 2015. The owners are Jean LaRochelle and Li Ji, a husband-and-wife team who have both studied tea history and culture in Hangzhou – the city that is also the home of the National Museum of Tea.

Like many high-quality tea vendors, World of Tea goes straight to the source for their stock: the farmers and wholesalers themselves. Every year they go on a trip in the spring to China, India, Japan, and Taiwan to taste tea directly from their vendors right after the spring harvest, and are usually back in Canada before the beginning of June. However, this changes from year to year depending on seasonal weather patterns. Knowing that they are so hands-on with their stock makes me feel like I’m in the right hands when it comes to good tea.

Jean is tall and rangy, with a nimbus of white hair around his head and a long, thin face with a wisp of a beard. Li Ji is shorter, but has kind eyes set in a diamond-shaped face surrounded by shining black hair. It’s a pleasure to see them serving customers as they come in — Jean effortlessly switches between English, French, and Mandarin when talking to customers and coordinating wares with Li Ji.

The walls of World of Tea are also a pleasure to see — the left-hand wall and the back of the store are lined with shelves; each alcove houses a large tin of tea from which the owners portion out loose-leaf into individual zip-lock bags. The right-hand wall has similar shelves, but they’re lined instead with teaware ranging from yixing pots to gaiwans, kyusu pots, and matcha whisks, plus scoops, cups, and filters/strainers.

World_of_tea_wall

Seriously, look at this stuff! I was swooning on the inside.

World_of_tea_yixing

A few days before my first visit in 2015, I contacted the store ahead of time to say that I was interested in visiting and trying some of their teas, and would that be alright? Yes, they said, I was more than welcome to visit. And how! When I came in they were prepared — Jean had a miniature tea-tour and tasting all planned out! He also told me that he visited Books & Tea beforehand to determine what teas to serve. (Long story short: no Da Hong Pao.)

However, before the tasting, he pulled a variety of white, green, oolong, and black teas off the shelves for me to look at and smell. First off was a variety of silver buds harvested in early spring with a delicate green cast to them. Next was some Yue Guang Bai, a white tea with delicate fruity notes of apricot, and a third white tea that was even more fragrant.

Then came the green teas: Long Jing Dafo; their award-winning Sencha Maroyaka, which had a soft scent of hay and seaweed; Sencha Uji; Feng Gang, a tea grown at an 1200 metres that I really enjoyed the nutty smell of; and Chun Hao, a tea with long, glossy, spindly leaves that had notes of camphor.

After the green teas, Jean brought out some oolongs, and noted in particular their Rou Gui, which, he told me, was roasted with lychee wood. (!) Finally, he brought out their black teas, with a special focus on their Hong Mao Feng, which smelled richly of malt and chocolate.

I was already pretty bewitched by the tea fairies at this point, but then Jean unveiled the coup de grace: he had a tea tasting session all planned out for me! We then walked over to this beauty of a tea table: a massive, branched hunk of wood polished to a high gloss, with various nooks and crannies and flat surfaces for tea serving.

World_of_tea_table

The three teas he served were the Yue Guang Bai, the Rou Gui roasted with lychee wood, and the Hong Mao Feng, shown below from left to right.

World_of_tea_tasting

The most important thing I learned from this session is that I’ve been brewing white tea all wrong. Jean placed a generous amount of leaf in his gaiwan (much more than I normally have tried at home) and let it steep in the hot water for at least 20 seconds — possibly even longer than 30 seconds, though I didn’t keep track of the time. The resulting liquid was a deep golden yellow and had what he characterized as an “unctuous” mouthfeel. It was intensely fruity, and when I smelled the gaiwan lid afterwards, I detected notes of strawberry, hay, and fruit leather. Heavenly! This was a revelation after months, if not a year or two, of thinking that white tea was just delicately-scented water that wasn’t worth my time.

Next was the Rou Gui oolong, of which we had two steeps. Surprisingly, Jean didn’t rinse this oolong, but he said that he never rinses ones from the particular region this tea was sourced from. The resulting liquid was a rich, clear garnet. Despite my expectations, the tea was smooth and mellow, with hints of cinnamon. I also tasted a maltiness that reminded me of sesame.

The final tea was the Hong Mao Feng, and he saved a surprise bit of info for the end: although it’s a black tea, it’s made using the Tie Guan Yin cultivar! I’ve had several Tie Guan Yins on this blog already, but never one that was so heavily oxidized. It was incredibly smooth — malt and chocolate, with a hint of roastiness at the back of my mouth.

After our impromptu tasting session, I started to pack up because I had to head back to the hotel for Can-Con, but not before I bought some of the Yue Guang Bai and some Mang Ga pu’erh. Jean even gave me a dried mandarin stuffed with ripe pu’erh — a very generous gesture, considering that ripe pu’erh was the drink that initially served as his gateway to the world of tea. All the while, he was taking even more teas off the shelves for me to smell, and I consider myself very lucky that I resisted further temptation; their lapsang souchong was calling out my name.

However, I didn’t resist temptation for too long: I came back the very next day and bought a tiny, delicate gaiwan made of porcelain and painted with blue and red flowers. I look forward to steeping some white teas and oolongs in it soon.

Overall, visiting World of Tea in Ottawa is a delightful experience — the owners are incredibly knowledgeable about the tea industry and the wares they keep in stock, and their store is a must-see for any tea afficionados in the Ottawa/Gatineau area.

Chai Noir from T by Daniel

Lately it feels like I’ve been on a flavoured tea kick, and my visit to the Toronto Tea Festival in late January pushed that into higher gear. When I was there, I bought 5 separate flavoured blends from T by Daniel, a company based in Brampton. I remember at last year’s tea festival, friends of mine oohed and aahed over their blends, so I resolved not to throw away my shot this year. So today’s review is of their Chai Noir blend.

Chai Noir is a masala chai with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, and some rather unexpected ingredients: hazelnut, almond, macadamia nuts, and cactus blossoms.

The dry leaf itself looks different from other chais, because the spices definitely dominate the blend visually. My guess is that, at most, only half of the blend is black tea, with the other half being cardamom pods, flower petals, cloves, cinnamon pieces, and nuts.

The weird thing is that despite the label not listing ginger as an ingredient, I swear I can smell it in the blend. I’m pretty sure I can even see a few dried pieces of ginger in the mix — I see at least one chunk of something that looks stringy and somewhat beige. There are a few other ingredients in the mix that I can’t identify, however. I’m not sure what a cactus blossom looks like, but there are a few pieces in the blend that look like dried fruit.

Despite my inability to identify every ingredient, the aroma of the dried leaf is pretty awesome. I can smell the usual suspects — cinnamon, cloves, cardamom — but beyond that, there’s a richness and roundness and depth to the scent of Chai Noir that I find pretty enthralling.

Is it the hazelnuts? The vanilla? The macadamia nuts? Whatever it is, it’s kind of oily, but it adds a surprising amount of body and smoothness to the aroma.

I took 1 big teaspoon of the blend and steeped it in just-boiled water for 2-3 minutes — I wasn’t really keeping count. However, because I’m a goof, I used a mug with an apple-green interior, making it much harder to actually guess the true colour of the resulting brew.

That was a goof because judging by the taste, I should have let the tea steep for at least a minute longer. While the flavour was very smooth and well-balanced, it felt faint. Not bold at all. And if there’s something I expect from a chai blend, it’s to wallop me over the head with flavour.

Overall, the roundness and depth and oiliness of the aroma was true to the flavour of the brewed tea, but it just didn’t feel there enough. Either more brewing time or more leaf is warranted.

You can buy Chai Noir from T by Daniel here.

Nepali Tea Traders Everest First Flush Black Tea

Nepali Tea Traders’ generosity continues. I still have some teas they gave me to review. Today’s pick is their Everest First Flush Black Tea.

Here’s how they describe it on their site:

Our Everest First Flush tea is hand-picked in April from the tender buds of the tea plants that emerge after several months of dormancy as the days turned crisp, sunny, and bright.  This unique, artisan tea is a vibrant expression of the fresh Himalayan spring….The tea’s gentle, aromatic profile features floral and lilac notes. The first sip reveals a smooth, sweet tea, with refreshing spring astringency. This tea finishes with crisp vegetal notes and hints of roasted corn. Like Nepal’s famed peak, this is the pinnacle of our first flush teas.

The very first thing I noticed about Everest First Flush Black Tea is that it doesn’t look like a black tea all. Look at these leaves, with their greyish cast, soft coating of white fuzz, and large surface area:

Looking at this photo, I would swear it’s a white tea if I didn’t know better. The length of the leaves, the fact that they’re so fluffy and take up so much space, the parts that look pale spring green and silver instead of golden-black — these are generally the hallmarks of white tea.

Hell, it even smells like white tea, too — sweet, fruity, grassy, but also with a hint of sharpness underneath like pine. From past experience with Nepali Tea Traders’ blends, I have the feeling that this will have a muscat quality similar to Darjeeling teas.

I took a big heaping teaspoon of tea and brewed it in 8 oz of 85°C water for 2.5 minutes – I decided to aim straight for the middle of the steeping time recommended on the tea package.

The resulting brew was a very pale amber colour, like straw or gold. It smelled like grapes, but it also had a hint of something richer and berry-ish alongside: cherry, perhaps? Beyond that, there was a subtle, floral top-note that I had a hard time putting my finger on. My best guess is gardenia.

The first sip was extremely mild: clear, gentle, quickly receding across my tongue with no lingering aftertaste. While there’s a sweetness and grassiness to the flavour, overall, it’s subtle and unpretentious, and there’s absolutely no astringency. This tea is extremely clean and fresh-tasting — it would be a great introduction for people who want to learn more about black tea, but who think that all black tea tastes like orange pekoe sadness.

You can buy Everest First Flush Black Tea here.

A Trip to the 2017 Toronto Tea Festival

The last weekend of January just passed us by, and you know what that means: I’m fresh off of attending the Toronto Tea Festival. I’ve written about the Toronto Tea Festival before, but as this is one of the biggest tea-related things going in the GTA, I’d be remiss to not talk about it.

So, I went on Sunday and met up with several of my Toronto-area tea friends: fellow Steepster users like me who have met up in the past to swap and talk tea. When I first walked through the entrance area, I was greeted by a set of trophies, this year’s winners from the pre-festival tasting contest.

A table with trophy-winning tea varieties, winners of this year's audience taste test at the Toronto Tea Festival.

One of my tea friends, Adrienne, who volunteers with the festival and has taken tea sommelier courses, told me that the winners on the table were all sold out — Saturday’s audience had snapped them up, and the vendors in question didn’t anticipate that winning the audience tasting contest would result in an uptick of sales. This didn’t affect me much, since I have so much tea at this point that I’m already pretty comfortable with my own palate and level of knowledge.

In past years, I’ve always attended the Toronto Tea Festival on a Saturday, so going on a Sunday was a surprise. It was nowhere near as crowded! I could walk around easily, look at things without jostling too many elbows, and not feel smothered by others. This is what it looked like just half an hour after I arrived, when in comparison, the Saturdays are jam-packed:

A picture of a crowd at the Toronto Tea Festival. People surround the tables, but the aisle in the middle is clear.

 

Look at all that space in the middle of the aisle!

I did some circuits around the room, but ultimately I bought and sampled only a few things since, again, I have a ridiculous amount of tea already and really shouldn’t add to the pile.

For example, I tried some chaga mushroom tea for the first time. The chaga mushroom itself looked like something leprous that had fallen of an Ent:

A whole chaga mushroom sitting on a wooden tray. It looks like a lump of burnt, decomposing wood.

The gentleman who offered me a sample of chaga mushroom tea told me about how chaga grows only on birch trees and ultimately kills its host — the harvesting of the mushroom can extend the life of the tree, but really it’s just delaying the inevitable by a few decades. Depressing stuff.

I had a few sips of the tea out of politeness — it was served cold, which did its earthiness and slight tannic qualities no favours — and then discreetly rushed for a place to pour the remainder out of my cup.

However, all was not lost, as a few tables down from the Entish Parasite of Tannic Doom was a new vendor at the festival I hadn’t seen before: Rosewood Estates Winery, which, in addition to making wine, also makes honey. Their table was covered in jars of honey of different varieties, as well as containers of honeycomb and thick beeswax candles.

The table of Rosewood Estates Winery, covered in jars of honey
Adrienne had warned me ahead of time that they were very popular and that one of their offerings, a variety of honey smoked over burning pine, had sold out the day before.

So did I want some smoked honey? Yes please! I sampled it and noticed that although I couldn’t really taste any smoke — there wasn’t some sort of Lapsang Souchong thing going on — the honey was smooth and mild, yet rich. I bought a jar almost immediately, spooked that if I didn’t act quickly I would miss out on something unique.

Other booths soon followed, like the one for Steeped Tea. Last year at the festival they offered samples of vanilla-flavoured matcha mixed with orange juice. They had it again this year, but although I was happy to try some, I didn’t buy any matcha myself. I know that it’s just going to sit on my shelf if I’m not careful, and matcha is far too finicky for me to risk doing that.

After that, I went to one of the vendors that I absolutely knew I wanted to buy from before I arrived: T by Daniel.

They’ve always been a hit at previous festivals, what with their catchy bow-tie logo and the fact that the proprietor has an outsized sense of style. That’s his picture on the booth backdrop in the top hat and purple suit:

I sampled a few teas, and Daniel himself was able to fill out my order. Ultimately, I purchased five packets of tea, all roughly about an ounce in weight:

  • Chai Noir, a black chai with vanilla, hazelnut, and macadamia nut
  • Caramel Popcorn, a black tea with walnut, apple, almond, and caramel flavouring
  • Strawberry Baloons, a green tea with strawberry and papaya
  • Watch That Mango, a green tea with mango and pineapple
  • Flu Who, an herbal tea with cassia, lemongrass, coconut, pineapple, and more

I then went to lunch with my tea friends at the Asian restaurant across from the Toronto Reference Library and split the teas with Adrienne.

The crowd was much bigger after we came back, with attendance levels much more like Saturdays from previous years. I did some more wandering around, talking with the staffers at the booths of 3 Teas and Jalam Teas.

Jalam Teas in particular had some pu’erh cakes that I tried, but I didn’t get anything in the end. I have waaaay too much pu’erh, much of it I bought in a shopping spree back in the summer of 2015 that I still haven’t even unwrapped. Adding a few more cakes to my groaning cupboard is absolutely the last thing I should do.

After that, I was really starting to feel myself winding down, so I made one last purchase — the Sacred Blend from Algonquin Tea Company, which specializes in promoting Indigenous-culture teas — and headed out the door.

The total damage from all 3 purchases was $44, which is pretty impressive. I think that’s the least I’ve spent in all 4 years that I attended! I’m sipping the Caramel Popcorn tea as I write this, and I’m happy that I had yet another day filled with tea, friends, and community.

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