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Category: Rooibos Page 1 of 2

Maple Baked Pear Honeybush Tea from 52Teas

It’s the first day of autumn here in the northern hemisphere, which means that it’s the perfect time to discuss harvest-y things. Mulling spices. Cool, nippy breezes. Pears and apples. Warm mugs of tea. You know. Today’s tea, Maple Baked Pear Honeybush Tea from 52Teas is perfect to celebrate the coming of fall.

But first, a confession:

You know how squirrels hoard acorns and bury them for the future? I’m like that with tea. I have stuff in my cupboard that’s been there for at least 2 years by now. Some of it is stuff I’ve bought and have not opened even once — because I have so much tea that sometime’s I just don’t want to look at it, I’m so overwhelmed.

Today’s tea is one of those kinds. It’s yet another blend that I bought from the 52Teas 2015 Christmas Kickstarter campaign, and yes, even though I got it in December 2015, I didn’t actually open it until….about 2 months ago.

Luckily, Anne seals her packages very well, and since I didn’t break the seal for over a year, the tea inside was still delectable. So, say hello to Maple Baked Pear Honeybush tea from 52Teas!

An unopened zip-locked bag of Maple Baked Pear Honeybush tea.

This tea was one of the bonus, non-Christmas-flavoured teas offered by the campaign. The ingredients are honeybush, dried pear, cinnamon pieces, nutmeg, and other natural flavours. Overall, it’s meant to be fruity yet toasty – perfect for this time of year.

The dry leaf smelled really interesting: I smelled cinnamon and pear right up front. Eventually I also smelled maple, although it was hard to tell apart from the cinnamon. However, the most interesting smell was hard to describe: deep, nutty, and pastry-like, almost like pecan pie but not quite. That scent was eager to hang around in the back of my mouth and my sinuses.

It looked just as interesting, too. I’ve never had a pure honeybush tea before, and it looks distinctly different from its cousin, rooibos. Depending on the variety, dry rooibos seems red and feathery, like if you made peach fuzz out of cedar wood. But the texture of dry honeybush appears to be much darker and coarser, like coffee grounds. Amid the honeybush bits are also nuggets of dried cinnamon.

Dried Maple Baked Pear Honeybush tea leaf. The dried leaf is somewhat coarse-looking, like reddish coffee grounds, mixed with small cinnamon pieces.

To brew this, I steeped 1.5 teaspoons of dried leaf in 95°C water in a large mug for 6 minutes, and then let it sit for 10-15 minutes afterward to really cool down. The resulting liquid was a cool reddish brown, a rich colour like stained wood or old leaves on the forest floor. Lovely stuff.

The brewed Maple Baked Pear Honeybush tea is a reddish brown colour and smells like granola clusters.

After letting it cool and taking a first, experimental sip, I finally twigged onto what that unusual nutty, pastry-like note was: granola! The tea, both dry and brewed, smells like sweet granola clusters, with fruity hints of blueberry muffin and apple.

The flavour is different from that, but not completely so. It was mild, with a gentle aftertaste of cinnamon and maple on the back of my tongue. However, I didn’t notice much pear with this Maple Baked Pear Honeybush tea. Cinnamon was the dominant note and made the tea sweet. I ended up not adding any sweetener to the mix and it was just fine, though I’m sure that adding some agave or honey would amp things up.

This blend is unfortunately NOT available on the 52Teas site because I’m lazy and let things pile up in my cupboard. But there’s always something worth investigating on 52Teas, so you can take a look any time.

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.

Christmas Teas From the 52Teas Holiday Kickstarter

In late October/early November, a tea company called 52Teas ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund a special suite of holiday-themed teas. The big deal with 52Teas is that they blend a brand-new flavour of tea each week that’s available only for a limited time. Some flavours may get reblended in the future if they’re big hits, but otherwise, they’re one-offs; generally, the Christmas teas are available only during the holiday season.

The 52Teas holiday Kickstarter wasn’t something I was originally considering funding since the exchange rate between the Canadian and US dollars is so bad right now, but these teas sounded so good (as did some of the stretch goal offerings) that I ended up chipping in. How can I resist the prospect of having even more teas to review in the new year?

I ordered a 1/2-ounce sample of all 5 holiday blends. Let’s take a look.

Eggnog Chai

Before I discuss this tea, I need to confess: I’ve never had egg nog. I understand that it’s supposed to be creamy, sweet, rich, and gently spiced — I once saw a comedian call egg nog a “booze smoothie”. But there’s just something about the concept of it that doesn’t appeal to me.

As a result, I don’t think I can appreciate this tea fully the way other tasters might. But here goes. The thing that really strikes me about this tea is that it doesn’t skim on the seasonings — you can definitely see coriander, big chunks of cinnamon and huge cardamom pods in the dry leaf.

52Teas Egg Nog Chai

The dry leaf smelled like a masala chai, with a bit of something fruity/different up top. It was kind of citrusy, actually, which is weird. Maybe it was the coriander? Maybe the honeybush? Anyways, I used 1.5 tsp of leaf for 1.5 cups of water and let it steep for about 4 minutes. After that, as per the instructions on the packet, I let it sit for a bit to develop the flavour — I’ve heard from others that Anne’s 52Teas blends taste best if you let them cool down before drinking.

The tea tastes very true to the smell of the dry leaf; I’m detecting notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and honeybush, and everything is really nicely balanced. I don’t know how much like egg nog this tea tastes, but there is a sort of tart/creamy note that might correspond to it. Overall, a really nice blend, even without sugar or honey.

Gingerbread Houjicha

Houjicha is a type of Japanese green tea that has been roasted. It has a similar flavour profile to roasted oolong, but it’s lighter and less intense in comparison. The roasting process not only changes the flavour of the tea, though, but also reduces the caffeine content, making houjicha a great choice for drinking in the evening.

Which is what I did — I had this gingerbread-flavoured tea before going to bed. The leaf is dark brown and fluffy, and contains visible chunks of dried ginger and flower petals. The ginger is obvious in the scent, as well.

52 Teas Gingerbread Houjicha

The leaf is fluffy, which means that it’s hard to measure out, but I used about 2 tsp for a 12-oz mug, brewed it at 85°C for 4 minutes, and was greeted with a pale umber liquid. As it cooled down, the tea became darker.

The roasted base of the houjicha is really complementary to the ginger — it’s not spicy, but I can sense the ginger’s fruity zing. I can also taste some gentle spices on the back of the sip, most notably coriander. However, the base is still the strongest flavour, especially in the middle of the sip. The ginger and spices only really come out to play at the end of the sip and in the aftertaste. I didn’t use any sugar, though; these flavours would probably come out to play more with some sweetener in place.

Peppermint Marshmallow Melting in Hot Chocolate

When I decided to contribute to the 52Teas holiday Kickstarter, I was most excited about this blend. Chocolate? Good. Marshmallow? Interesting. Mint? Nice. All 3 of those flavours seemed like they would play together in a good way.

But then she said that she was going to use Verdant Tea’s Laoshan Black as the base tea, and I got super excited. I had Laoshan Black back in October, and its flavours of malt and cocoa nib seemed like the perfect way to complement and blend the marshmallow, mint, and chocolate.

You can see all of the elements in this blend in the dry leaf — the marshmallow root, the cocoa nib, the chocolate chips. When you open it up, it smells like an After Eight chocolate mint. Yum!

52Teas_peppermint_marshmallow

I used boiling water and let it sit for about 6 minutes; this is longer than the recommended 4 minutes max listed on the package, but I chanced it because the tea looked a tad light after 4 minutes. It was still fairly light after 6 minutes — beery amber rather than the kind of malty black I was expecting.

However, this didn’t negatively affect the taste. I got mint and chocolate, but the marshmallow was the strongest note to me. The tea was also kind of malty/bready, which made the whole thing taste kind of like a cookie. Nice!

I didn’t have this with any sugar, but I bet adding some would have made this even better. I’ll definitely enjoy drinking the rest of this.

Cranberry Orange Cider

When I first heard what flavours were going to be part of this Kickstarter, I was pretty sure that nothing would be able to top the Peppermint Marshmallow tea above.

But I was wrong.

Oh god, the Cranberry Orange Cider is sooo good. First of all, it smells like juice when you open the packet. Like, spices and orange juice and freshness. OM NOM NOM. Second of all, look at this dried leaf:

52Teas_cranberry_orange

Look at this! Whole cranberries! There are also whole pieces of orange. The rest of the tea is a mix of what looks like red rooibos, green rooibos, spices, and possibly orange peel.

The brewed tea is just as good — there’s an excellent balance between the vibrancy of the cranberry, the juiciness of the orange, the solidity of the base rooibos, and the warmth of the mulling spices in the background. The decision to mix red and green rooibos is a smart one, since green rooibos has a lighter, fresher taste that works well with the fruit. Hands down, this was the best of the flavours available through the 52Teas holiday Kickstarter. I’d really like to get more of this tea, because a half ounce sample is just not enough.

NOM.

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

My mom loves chestnuts, but she’s not a big tea drinker, so I doubt she’d try this. It’s just as well, since to get the “roasting on an open fire” note, this tea incorporates Lapsang Souchong, the famous black tea flavoured with pine smoke, into its base. My mom, who is a classic Orange Pekoe kind of lady, would probably pale at the thought of drinking smoky tea.

Anyways.

This tea is supposed to combine the flavours of nuts, smoke, and caramel to result in something suitably wintry and festive. There aren’t any whole chestnuts in the tea, though — the nutty chunks in the tea that you see below are actually hulled sunflower seeds.

52Teas_chestnut_roasting_fire

Unfortunately, when I brewed this, I didn’t taste much else beyond the smoke of the Lapsang. I didn’t get much in the way of nuts or caramel. Lapsang Souchong in and of itself isn’t a bad tea, but it’s the sort of thing you really need to blend with other foods to get a complementary effect, like a nice meaty slice of pizza or a square of dark chocolate. Although this tea is attempting to do the same on its own, the sparks didn’t fly here. I’ll need to try it again and see if varying the steep time or adding some sugar will improve things.

Verdict on the 52Teas Holiday Kickstarter

The Cranberry Orange Cider was my favourite hands-down, and the Peppermint Marshmallow Melting in Hot Chocolate was a close second. The Gingerbread Houjicha and the Egg Nog Chai were both pleasant, but I think I preferred the former because I have a better idea of how it compares to gingerbread than how the chai compares to egg nog. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire places last, because I didn’t get much depth of flavour from it.

You can check out the 52Teas holiday blends here.

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.

Tea Reviews: Lemon Verbena, Lemon Meringue, and Pink Dragonfruit from Tealish

About Tealish

tealish_teas_groupTealish is an independent tea blender and retailer in Toronto. Their store is close to Trinity Bellwoods Park — waaay far west of where I live — so when I was nearby a few weeks ago for an event, it was the perfect opportunity to stop by their shop in person.

I ended up purchasing three teas of theirs to try, all of which were caffeine-free. Tealish doesn’t offer sample sizes, unfortunately — their minimum for purchases is 50 grams. But honestly, considering how pretty their store is and how I also snagged a free gourmet popsicle when I was there because their freezer was temporarily busted, I’m not too put out.

You can order all of Tealish’s teas online at www.tealish.com (but remember that they don’t do samples).

Lemon Verbena

For many years we’ve been in love with the intoxicating fresh lemon scent and flavor of lemon verbena. The aroma is entirely unique and is best described as a clean, bright, and zesty lemon. One whiff and we were hooked! Lemon Verbena is also commonly known as Vervain in Europe where the herbal tea (tisane) is very popular.

Lemon verbena is one of those herbal teas that I’ve really been curious about, so I leapt on the opportunity to try some. However, look and smell of the leaves was very different from what I expected. I was anticipating something soft and lemony, similar to lemongrass or lemon myrtle, but the leaves look and smell like regular cooking herbs.

Tealish_lemon_verbena

Tealish’s lemon verbena leaves remind me of thyme and sage in particular — they’re small, broken-up, and a soft forest green colour. There is a slight hint of lemon at the back of my nose when I sniff the dry leaf, but it’s very faint.

I brewed 2 tsp of dry leaf in a giant 2-cup mug using 95°C water for 5-10 minutes. The resulting brew was a deep greenish orange yellow that reminded me of many other herbal teas. The brewed tea smelled somewhat sweet; almost like tulsi (holy basil) but not quite. The taste was similarly herbal and mild with overtones of thyme and sage.

I’m surprised by how soothing this tea is — it’s a great caffeine-free option for the evenings, and I bet it would be perfect for when you’ve got a cold. Considering the cooking-herb flavour of this lemon verbena, I’m also curious to see what it would be like added to a marinade or to a roast.

Lemon Meringue Rooibos

A colourful blend of green and red rooibos with a smooth lemon taste reminiscent of freshly baked lemon meringue pie. With a delicious zesty lemon flavour and a perfect creamy finish, this red tea infusion is a sweet and healthy treat!

This tea is a bit of a cheat for me since I’ve had it before; I received it in one of my very first Steepster swaps. However, that was nearly a year and a half ago, and the tea I got was old and starting to lose its lustre.

The new tea that I got from Tealish? Wow. It pops. The smell when I open the bag of lemon meringue rooibos has the sort of lemony zing I was expecting the lemon verbena to have. Underneath the blast of lemon is a sweet, creamy note that I’m pretty sure is the meringue flavouring.

Tealish_lemon_meringue

I brewed a teapot of this to share with my mom — an achievement in and of itself, since when she wants tea, she normally asks for just plain old “orange pokey”. I poured out a big mug for me and a medium mug for her. Looking at the wet leaves, I see bits of citrus peel and what looks like calendula petals mixed in with the rooibos.

The taste of the tea is muted compared to the smell of the dry leaf. It’s lemony and kind of sharp, but it’s not overpowering. I think the creaminess of the meringue/vanilla flavour is in there, but that flavour is shy, flitting in and out of the curtains, so to speak. I particularly like that the base is green rooibos, since red rooibos can taste too much of wood if you’re not careful.

Pink Dragonfruit

Pink is the universal colour of love, and it’s true, we are totally in love with this combination of exotic dragonfruit, goji berries, chokeberries, elderberries, cranberries and papaya. It’s full of sweet berry goodness and delicious hot or iced! Add some fresh berries to your infusion for an extra pink pop!

The dry leaf for this tea is very chunky — you can see dried bits of dragonfruit, berries and papaya. Although I smell elderberry most strongly, I also smell the dragonfruit (mainly at the back of my nose and the roof of my mouth) and also hints of citrus. Very nice!

I’m going to admit that I made this tea twice for this review. I used half of the 50g packet to make a pitcher using 4 cups of hot water topped up with 4 cups of cold water, added some agave nectar, and left it to sit in the fridge overnight. However, this pitcher was too weak and watery in flavour.

I then brewed the remaining stuff left in the packet with 3 cups of hot water and added 3 cups of cold —  but the resulting iced tea was still too weak and watery. It was a bit sweeter, but not by much.

Tealish_pink_dragonfruit_iced

Despite the weak flavour, I still do taste and smell fruit but it’s fairly indistinct. The tea is a pale peachy-pink, but ultimately, the nice colour wasn’t enough to wow me. You’re better off just dumping all 50g into a single pitcher and letting things work from there.

Verdict

The Pink Dragonfruit tea was a disappointment, but the other two were better. The lemon meringue tea, in particular, is one that I’ll be very happy to keep in my cupboard. The lemon verbena is a soothing one that I can see being good as a sleep aid in the evenings.

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