Friday, May 13, 2011

A new spring at Better Tea...

I know it's been a while since I've posted. To say I was busy, would be trite. And while I have been very busy, truth is I got a little burned out. Not on tea. With the infinite variety, and each cup a path of discovery, it would be impossible. I got burned out with the way I was drinking tea. Instead of finding the simple joy in selecting, steeping, and drinking tea, each cup became a "objective, if not clinical, evaluation of the criteria of the tea, against the common held parameters of type, style, and genre of tea". ( That little bit of prose courtesy of a woman who, by virtue of a check for $1500 and a 3 Day Teamaster Class in a local Holiday Inn, was a "certified tea mistress". More on this idiot and the whole phenomena of tea popularity in the near future.

I found myself reading tea reviews by a lot of other self professed tea geeks. While all of
them had opinions on how the tea rated against a style, or wether this was a better harvest
than last, or did the aroma match the profile, very few of them could answer yes or no, when asked, did you enjoy the tea?

I read every tea site, blog, forum and embraced my smug geekiness, secure that I knew my stuff. I would engage in the obscurest of arguments over arcane technical opinions and facts,
and the arguments became personal. (I regret most of it, except for the great Dan Cong debate of 2010 - @&$!?! you Teagasm47, you pretentious bastard, you would not know a good cup of tea
if it bit you in your pompous ass.

I noticed my thinking, talking, and buying of tea became very much like the dreaded foodie
e culture I despise. Maybe I should be a better person about this, but if it tastes good, I
really don't care where or how or what it came from.

I lost sight of a simple fact: ITS A BLOODY CUP OF TEA! And in doing so, lost the simple,
base pleasure in drawing the water, putting the kettle on the boil, selecting the tea,
choosing the vessel, the cups, waiting for the water to boil, waiting for it to cool, steeping
the tea, and then, feeling the warmth, and the joy, in drinking the tea.

No more.

I enjoy tea. I enjoy helping people enjoy tea. Which was the whole point of this blog and my writing about tea in e first place. From here on, back to basics. We will focus more on the fundamentals, more on the simple calming, healing, invigorating, contemplative, comforting ways of tea. Oh, I'll still write reviews, and we will occasionally veer off into obscurity. But back to the simple, back to helping people "Drink more, better, Tea!"


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

We are still content soon!

We've been on Hiatus since the end of the summer due to various reasons - look for new content mid march!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tea Review: Adagio Keemun Rhapsody @ IAATL

Keemun is a variety of Chinese black tea, possibly China’s most famous.   The region centered around the town of Qimen, between the Yangtze and the Yellow mountains, produces mostly black tea.   Keemun used to be a component leaf in many traditional English Breakfast blends.  It contributed a smoky, rich character, while not imparting much bitterness.   Economics and politics led to most English blends toi use Indian and African sourced teas.  In China, Keemun is drank unadulterated, but also serves as a basis for a mid morning “milk tea” common in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
This Keemun from Adagio Teas, is a Mao Feng style tea.  Mao Feng denotes a tea that is picked with a bud set and two leafs of equal length – and is the preferred pick of most good quality teas.    Long thin. rolled & twisted black leaf, with a good amount of lighter tips, with a spicy aroma.  As it is a black, it is a one -steep tea:  1tsp/3g tea per 6oz water @ 205 F for 5 minutes. (Adagio recommends 212F, but I like letting the water cool a bit so as not to blast or scorch the flavor).   Bright & clear brown with a bit or orange in the cup.  Faint aroma of dark chocolate, with a hint of spice.  A light sweet flavor, with suggestions of cocoa, moderate body and almost no astringency.  Wet leaf shows the two leafs and a bud, brown in color, with a nice chocolate and spice aroma.  
It doesn’t have the smokiness I associate with Hao Ya Keemuns.   The Mao Feng is the first pick, and its emphasis is on the subtle flavors of the bud set.   Hao Ya is second pick, the pickings are separated by a matter of 7-10 days.  Both teas are finished in the same way.  It is amazing the difference in tastes of the teas produced.
This is a very good Keemun, very smooth and inviting.  This is the highest grade of the three Keemun’s Adagio offers, and it shows.   
You can purchase the Keemun Rhapsody directly from the Adagio website.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Vendor Review: Chicago Tea Garden

A new feature here will be reviews of not just teas but also the buying experience from vendors.   With all of the online and traditional vendors out there, how does one know what to buy where? I hope to periodically re-visit past reviews with updates.   The selections and opinions are entirely mine.

Chicago Tea Garden (

I have been following this vendor via the blogosphere since late last year.   Being a local Chicagoan, I always like to spend locally when I can.   This internet only vendor has been in business only a couple of months, but I am intrigued thus far with their offerings.

The small selection of high end, self sourced Chinese teas is heavy on Pur-eh (10 items) and light on Greens, Oloongs and Blacks ( 1 each).  I am optimistic as the tea production seasons move on they will fill out their selections.   They also have a small selection of tea ware, including some artisan made tea cups.

The web site is easy on the eyes, and pretty straight forward to navigate, and the product descriptions are informative, with good representative photos. They have a newsletter and a Facebook and Twitter presence as well!

 I was up for a good Yunnan black, and I ordered 50g of the Golden Bi Luo.   I also purchased a Stoneware Tea Cup (I should have grabbed 2...).  

Check out was fine, the only payment option is PayPal, which i understand from the merchant side, but can be a pain at times, if you are not a regular paypal user.

Being local, my shipment arrived two days later.   It was packaged in a content appropriate sized box, with appropriate packing material.  With the tea was a nifty reference card with a description, steeping suggestions, and other info.  They also included a small sample of their Tie Guan Yin Oolong (with a card), which was a nice touch.   The tea cup was wrapped well, and arrived in perfect condition.

The tea itself was packed in a re-usable tin plated steel container. My only little gripe (and this is really very minor) - is that the container can hold 100g, and with my 50g order, left a lot of space for the tea to rattle around in transit.  (My tea arrived in excellent condition - but high end teas like this can be delicate.)

I found their pricing to be very good for the quality, self sourced, teas they sell.   The tea ware as well, especially the artisan made cups.  The quality of the tea is top notch, and I look forward to trying more of their selections.  

If you are looking for a good high quality tea purveyor to try, I highly recommend Chicago Tea Garden!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Canton Tea Co Yu Lan Dan Cong @ IAATL

Tea Review: Canton Tea Co Yu Lan Dan Cong

This oolong from Canton Tea, hailing from the Wu Dong Mountain, Chao Zhou / Guan Dong, China. Yu Lan is associated with magnolias, and Dan Cong indicates a tea picked from a single bush. (There is some controversy in the Tea world about “single bush” vs another interpretation of the word as ’single trunk’, a sub varietal in which tea trees uncommonly branch off a larger single trunk.  Oolongs need about 8-10kg of fresh leaves to produce 1kg of finished tea – which makes it unlikely that any tea commercially available in the west is sourced from a single tree and can be affordable.    This is uber-tea geek silliness , and all I really know is if someone offers me a Dan Cong, I say as graciously and politely as possible – “YES! PLEASE!”)

This Yu Lan is a long, twisted leaf with golden tips and olive and blacks – indicative of a moderate to high level of oxidation (40-60%) associated with this region and style.   The dry leaf has a very inviting floral nose, with a hint of stone fruit.  This is a physically big, good looking leaf, and with this type of oolong, I recommend weighing the portions.

Brewed 3g of tea in 6oz water at 185F for 3 minutes in my oolong Xing teapot.   There is an excellent floral nose with strong notes of apricot or peach.  Clear bright yellow orange in the cup, with a bright taste of flowery stone fruit.  Refreshing mouth feel, with just the right amount of dryness, and a pleasant sweet aftertaste.  Both the aroma and aftertaste stay with you.

2nd infusion at 190F for 3:30 -  this is a very nuanced cup, the aroma and taste become more balanced, more satisfying.  This is the best infusion.

3rd infusion at 190F for 4 min. – The aroma remains pronounced, and the taste is not unpleasantly faded.  There is a good dryness to this infusion.

The wet leaf opens to a full whole shape, with a excellent musky green smell and even olive green color, consistant with a high quality tea.

This teas leaves one fulfilled, content.  It is perfectly suited to a quiet conversation with a friend, or some contemplation.   Canton Tea’s YuLan Dancong is a very high quality tea and an excellent experience, that I recommend.
Read this and other "Tea reviews from the edge" at It's all about the Leaf.Com

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Canton Tea Silver Needle Bia Ho Yin Zen @ IAATL Canton Tea Silver Needle Bia Ho Yin Zen

White teas are generally early spring pick, young growth leaf, that are picked early in the day.  They are delicately handled, to ensure the leaf is not damaged, and sun dried for short periods, and are minimally oxidized. White teas have very delicate aromas and taste, and need some patience to prepare and appreciate.
This white tea has a classic big leaf with round tight shape.  The leaf is covered with silvery fluffy down, and has a mild sweet aroma.This fluffy down is indicative of proper processing and high quality.  (And proper storage and handling by the vendor.)

The down begs a choice: some classic tea masters advise a very quick rinse with at temperature water prior to brewing, others advise against it. I am going to forgo the rinse – it is purely about cosmetics in this case, to wash away any loose down, so it does not float in the cup.
here are also two schools of thought as to the brewing temperature. Classically, whites are brewed with “warm” water in the 155F-170F range.  Some modern masters advise “very warm’ water in the 170F-180F range, but very short steeps.  My view is that this is a high quality tea, and I will stick with the classic thought which is consistent with the vendors suggestion of 75C/about 165F.

Brewed 1 TBLS of tea (about 5g) in 6oz water @ 168F for 2 minutes in my for green Xing pot. Pale golden in the cup, like a Chablis wine – with a very very small amount of the down floating on the surface.  There is a very delicate aroma of chestnut, with a hint of sweetness.  Dry, refreshing taste, just a small amount of astringency, with a hint of mellon in the aftertaste.

 Plump wet leaves unfurl to the classic two leaf shape expected.  These are good looking leaves.

2nd Steep @ 168F for 2:30.  Creamy, smooth on the tongue, more astringency.  This is a most satisfying cup. The flavors are not prominent, more expressions of sweetness, dryness. 

3rd Steep @ 170F for 3:00.  Aroma almost gone, and the flavors an afterimage, but still nicely refreshing.

This is an excellent, high quality, satisfying, white tea.  It is worth the attention to detail it demands.

See this review and tons others at Its All About the Leaf

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Canton Tea Co Pouchong @ IAATL

This Taiwanese tea is actually an Oolong, not a green, though I can understand the purveyor classifying it as green.   Oolongs are fermented between 20%-80% of their total sugars.   The ones on the low end of the scale are very flowery in nose, very delicate in taste, and very light in leaf color. These oolongs are sometimes referred to as green oolongs, and tend to need to be steeped at lower temps (below 180F)  The ones on the high end – think Da Hong Pao (Red Robe) – tend to be more robust in taste, aroma, and darker in leaf, tend to be steeped in the 180-200F range.
The tea is a dark jade green leaf, twisted and furled, with a inviting perfume smell,  The leafs are  quite long, common with well processed Pouchong.
1st Steep: 1 TBLS tea (3g) in 6oz water @ 175F for 3 min in my oolong xing pot.  Yellow and bright in the cup, with a nice floral perfume nose.  Excellent sweet “oolong perfume” taste, and a dryness that is much like a green tea.  A touch of that savoriness in the aftertaste that lingers.
Wet leaf is well shaped, long and broad, with a good musky smell.
2nd Steep:  4 Min @ 180 F.  The aroma is much more balanced, with suggestions of Peonies, very pleasant.   The taste has mellowed to a very distinct flower presence, with hints of butteriness, that I associate with Taiwanese Oolongs.  The aroma and taste linger well after.  This steep is the best.
I got two more good steeps from this leaf,   This is a satisfying, refreshing, bright tea, of excellent quality.

See this review and tons of others at Its All About the