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Tag: Zen Tea

30 Days of Reviews: Vanilla Chai from Zen Tea

The holidays are coming up, which means that it’s time for warm, comforting, spicy teas. And today’s tea, Vanilla Chai from Zen Tea, is a good example. I bought a sample of this from Zen Tea all the way back in February/March, and now that the cold weather has returned, this tea made its way into my cup.

This vanilla chai contains black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla pieces, ginger, cloves, black pepper, natural flavouring. The black tea base used here looks smaller and more cut-up than traditional loose-leaf tea, but larger and more intact than a CTC (crush-tear-curl) tea. Bits of clove, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom are visible among the leaves, giving the leaf a kind of jaunty, festive look.


Up close, the dry tea smells very rich and spiced, but the dominant scents are of ginger and cinnamon. I smell hardly any vanilla at all, and in fact can’t distinguish any pieces of vanilla pod in the dry leaf.

The instructions said to boil the leaf gently for a few minutes then add milk bit by bit – but frankly, that’s far too labour-intensive for me. So I just did the usual method of letting the leaf sit in hot water for a few minutes. After 3-4 minutes, the resulting brew was a rich red-brown colour, warm and welcoming.


I had it straight with no sugar or milk. Overall, this vanilla chai is very balanced and smooth, with no astringency. While I could taste a variety of spices, mostly ginger and cinnamon, I couldn’t taste very much vanilla at all. Vanilla showed up only at the end of the sip, in the back of my sinuses.

So much for vanilla chai, huh? Lots of chai, but vanilla, not so much.

You can buy Vanilla Chai from Zen Tea here.

End-of-Summer Iced Tea Extravaganza (Birthday Edition!)

Now that September is nearing its end, there’s an occasional chill in the air. Fall is coming, which means that there will soon be mugs of cider and chai to consider, as well as pumpkin-spice-flavoured-everything.

But! It’s my birthday today! And technically it’s still summer for a few more days! And I still have a lot of blends that are perfect for making iced tea in my cupboard. Besides, with climate change, the summer heat is just going to last longer as the years pass! So I might as well try and wring one tiny positive upside from near-certain long-term catastrophic changes in weather patterns by brewing as much iced tea as possible.

(Aren’t I a fountain of optimism?)

So, here are a bunch of teas I brewed over the summer and my thoughts on each.

Wild Woman – Tay Tea

I’m not familiar with Tay Tea; instead, I bought this packet through Amoda Tea’s Black Friday sale last year. It’s been sitting in my cupboard for a while, so honestly I just wanted to say that I used this tea up. This blend contains Ceylon black tea, blueberries, blackcurrants, blue cornflower petals, hibiscus and elderberries.



Looking at the dry leaf, it’s easy to see the blue flecks of cornflowers among the small, gnarly black leaves, as well as the occasional dried berry. I also saw small bits of red that could have been hibiscus. The smell is overwhelmingly of blueberries, to the point of it being kind of artificial – I like my blueberries on the tart side, while the smell here was reminiscent of pancakes and jam.

I took the entire sample of tea (about 10 grams) and cold-steeped it in about 5-6 cups of cold water overnight. I just eyeballed the amounts here, instead of doing something a bit more measured and scientific. I also added some sweetener to the pitcher to counteract the potential tartness of the hibiscus.

However, I have to admit that taste-wise, this didn’t really work for me. The blueberry/blackcurrant flavour was too strong, bordering on medicinal. I just chugged it in order to get the pitcher overwith.

Blueberry Mojito Green Tea – 52Teas

This was part of the same order that the Sparkle Pony Oolong came in last month, and this combination of flavours – blueberries, lime, mint, and rum – promised to make an excellent iced tea.

The strongest smell I noticed upon opening the package was mint. Which is obvious, but this was a baseball bat of mint to the nose, with a soft hint of lime playing underneath. Alongside the mint and lime was a candied sort of sweetness that reminded me of marshmallow, making the overall aroma similar to that of Graveyard Mist, another 52Teas blend.

The dried leaf was a varied mix of green bits of all shapes and sizes. Along with the small flakes of mint were different varieties of green tea – some leaves looked short and stubby, while others looked long and flat. The mix was studded with small, puckered blueberries, as well as the occasional wedge of dried lime.


I took the entire half-ounce package and brewed it with 1 L of 80C water for 3-4 minutes. Before I poured the water in I made sure to add a splort of agave nectar to the pitcher to sweeten things up. After that, I took out the leaves and topped the extra-strong brew with cold water, then let it cool down in the fridge overnight. The resulting brew was somewhat cloudy and had an amber-green-orange colour to it that reminded me of Hoegaarden or other types of witbier.


Like the aroma, the strongest taste is of mint, with a hint of lime at the back of the mouth. However, that sweet, marshmallow-like note morphs into something a bit deeper and more distinctive. I had a  hard time putting my finger on it, but then I figured it out: it reminded me of sarsaparilla, one of the key flavours in root beer.

I wonder if it was added to give the brew the depth of rum. Whatever it is, it certainly adds an interesting flavour. However, I didn’t get a whole lot of blueberry here.

Blackcurrant White Peony – 52Teas

This one, unfortunately, was a bust for me. I guess I just don’t like blackcurrant teas – the smell of blackcurrant just reminds me too much of cough syrup and lozenges for me to enjoy it on its own merits. I took the entire half-ounce package, brewed it with hot water, diluted the brew with cold water…. and then just couldn’t drink it. I let it sit in my fridge for too long that it eventually went bad, so I just poured the remainder down the drain. Sorry, 52Teas!


Strawberries and Cream – Zen Tea

As with the Tay Tea blend above, I decided to cold-brew this rather than brew it hot and strong then dilute it down. The short, black, gnarly leaves here are interspersed with the occasional bit of green (strawberry leaves) and red (dried strawberry pieces). The dry leaf smelled of strawberries, chocolate and vanilla – in fact, it reminded me an awful lot of chocolate-covered strawberries!


I ended up with a nice, almost peach-coloured brew after everything was said and done.

The iced tea tasted exactly like it smelled – like chocolate-covered strawberries. It wasn’t bad, but I honestly think this was a waste served cold. I bet this tea would be much better hot, where the contents would probably taste like an amazing strawberry-laced hot chocolate.

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!


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


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.


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.


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.


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

Taiwan Ruby Black Tea from Zen Tea

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in Canada, so it was the perfect opportunity to give my mom a gift that I had been saving for a while: a lovely ruby and zoisite pendant. I originally bought it for her birthday in July (hence the ruby, since that’s her birthstone), but I bought a matching pendant for myself, and couldn’t wait any longer to give it to her since I wanted to wear my own.

(By the way, I bought the pendant from fellow Steepster-denizen and tea lover Kitty Loves Tea. Her Etsy store is worth a look if you like wire jewelry!)

This seemed like the perfect opportunity to try some tea I bought from a Canadian company that had a sale a few weeks back: Zen Tea. I bought 10 varieties to try, and I’ll get to them all in due time, but the one I’m going to talk about today is called, fittingly enough, Taiwan Ruby.

Taiwan Ruby Black Tea

The long and lush, twisted leaves create a very deep and mellow tea with a natural cinnamon fragrance and a light peppermint flavour. This enchanting fragrance and flavour is from the mountainous Nantou county of Taiwan.

The dry leaf of this is long, spindly, and a dark matte brown. The leaves are relatively straight, rather than being all twisted and curled up, and there isn’t much evidence of silver, white, or gold leaf tips. Dry, they smelled kind of fruity and woody, like prunes or bark.


I brewed this tea twice, and in so doing used up the entire sample. First, I did a traditional western steep with a giant mug — 2.8 grams of leaf in 2 cups of 95°C water for 2-3 minutes. After steeping, I had a sip that tasted of rose and citrus, like a Ceylon tea. However, it was much too hot to drink so I let it sit for a bit; while the fresh tea was a warm amber colour, it darkened considerably once it cooled. The cooler tea also tasted quite different, because the flavour turned from citrus to something more resinous, like camphor or pine.

The remainder of the leaf was brewed up gong-fu style in a gaiwan. I used 5.3 grams of leaf in 95°C water, started with a 20-second steep, and increased each subsequent steep by 5 seconds, ultimately getting about 6-7 steeps before letting things rest. Each steep of tea produced a cup of beautiful amber-coloured liquid.


And here is where words fail me, because this tea was so good. Every single steep I had smelled like cinnamon. And not just your bog-standard chai cinnamon sort of smell. No, this stuff smelled like whole cinnamon sticks, like cinnamon and sugar. Sweet, spicy, tingly, vibrant.

The taste was quite different, though, and that camphor/resin note I experienced when steeping it western style showed up again here. It felt very herbal and healing, like I was drinking some sort of tincture meant to restore my health. I could feel the dry woodiness of it all the way into my sinuses and nasal cavity.

As the steeps continued, the cinnamon note of the aroma started to give way to something fruitier, like plums or prunes. For one magical steep (steep 5? steep 6?), the cinnamon and fruit notes were balanced perfectly so it smelled like apple cider! If I could have every cup of tea smell like that, it would be a happy world indeed.

After 7 or so steeps, I called it a night, and gave the gaiwan a last loving inhale: the aroma of the spent leaves was plummy, malty, and rich. The leaves were also easy on the eyes, too, a beautiful rich brown:


Assuming the day ever comes where I manage to get my tea collection under control, I would seriously consider giving Zen Tea’s Taiwan Ruby Black Tea a permanent spot on the shelf.

You can buy some Taiwan Ruby Black Tea of your own from Zen Tea here.

Update: In order to make room for the incoming spring harvest, Zen Tea is having a sale on all tea and teaware until May 22nd, so take a look!

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