31 August 2007

Bar Harbor Tea Company: Mango Green

Ohmygod. Smell this. Go on, just stare at the screen as hard as you can and imagine smelling the best thing in the world. Imagine smelling the air right after a magical mango fairy flies by. Imagine smelling Zeus, as he's lounging back on Mount Olympus and sipping mango nectar. Mmmm, Zeus.

I am rashly prepared to award this tea five leaves without even having brewed any, because it smells so amazing. If the infusion tastes even a quarter of how delightful it smells in the tin, I'll be thrilled. Even if it sucks, I'm going to buy more just to smell.

So, I acquired this at a tiny, brightly-lit and sparkling new shop in Bar Harbor, Maine. The shop has only been there for a matter of weeks, but all of the blends I smelled were truly delightful and I carefully carried home a sack of the most unique ones I could find, mostly fall-themed, with which I will entertain you in the following weeks. On to the mango!

As you can sort of see in the picture, there are flowers in the mix (although what type of flowers they might be eludes me, they're orange) and the little delicious mango nuggets are rather moist, very fresh. Did I mention it smells like the angel of mangos? The brewed liquor (which I made an entire pot of, in anticipation) is darker than most greens, beautifully clear, and retains a strong fruity aroma.

First sip: oh. Oh my. Even without the mango, the green tea flavor in this is awesome, deep, complex, grassy in a good way. You can really taste the mango but it's not so overwhelming that the tea flavors fall away into the background. Absolutely beautiful blend - unfortunately, it's fairly unusual to find one that's balanced this well, many fruit teas either go overboard or underboard on the fruit flavor. This is perfect.

Bar Harbor Tea Company is a very new shop, and thus they are still developing their web presence. Their webpage, which is currently just a splash page, is here. The owner told me that they expect to have online retail available in a month or so. I highly encourage you to patronize them as the first company to produce a tea with an aroma that made me caper around my apartment in glee, and I'll be reviewing several of their autumn blends in the coming weeks.

Notes: Probably the best fruit tea I've ever tried, high-quality, affordable and delicious. I can't wait until the online store goes up, and you'll see a notification on the blog when that happens.

24 July 2007

The Republic of Tea: Blackberry Sage

Did you ever think "Mmm-mm, boy, I wish I had some cough syrup emulsified in a a bottle of water, so that I could get the delicious taste of Dimetapp or Robitussin while still quenching my thirst?"

No? This one probably isn't for you, then.

I've always been fond of the plastic bottles Republic of Tea uses, even though the pleasantly Taj-Mahal-evocative shape is really just to distract you while you don't notice they are robbing you absolutely blind. The bottles are fun to hold, and they're quirkily adorable; I love the way they look in the fridge. And I'm always looking for different unsweetened bottled teas to try out, because the amount of money I give to Ito En could easily beat out the GDP of several African nations, and because I like to try new things.

"Blackberry sage!" I thought enthusiastically, as I picked up the bottle. "Well, golly! I love blackberries, and sage always reminds me of when I lived in the desert. Three dollars for twelve ounces? Well, then it must be really good! Yay for trying new things!"

No. My friends, this is not a winner.

The Republic of Tea-produced copy of what this brew is supposed to taste like informs me that I should be experiencing a "slightly minty flavor" of "uncommon quality." As a more corrected opinion of what you will experience, I offer "cough medicine" or possibly "dishwater." The "uncommon quality" they speak of is that it makes you curl up your nose in utter distaste as you're sipping it. The sage is nowhere to be found. As if to give you a final kick in the pants once it makes it over your taste buds, the stuff actually has a very nasty, stinging sensation in the throat as it goes down.

I have a feeling the Republic of Tea and I will do battle again ("battle" meaning "they knock me down and rob me blind for twelve ounces of their crappy, pretentious little brew.") With such delightful flavors as "Pink Lemonade Green Tea" and "Kiwi Pear Decaf White Tea," I fear this will not be our last encounter. No, we are not finished here, Republic of Tea. We are not finished here.


Notes: Yuck. This is the first RoT (heh) pre-brewed blend I have tried, but for $3 for 12 dinky little ounces, it would need to be about 500% more spectacular than it is.

Tune in! A few days from now we're having a Bottled Jasmine Cage Match: Adagio v. Ito En.

22 June 2007

Teavana: Rooibos Sweet Amore

I think this is the prettiest tea I've ever seen, which is a little sad because it isn't actually tea. It's rooibos, or "red bush tea," which is made from a bush that grows in South Africa, and it's much more closely related to peanuts and soybeans than it is to regular tea. Rooibos has been used by the Khoisan people in South Africa for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years, so it's not just the hip new thing in trendy Western tea shops (this I take great delight in explaining to employees of said tea shops). That said, this particular rooibos blend has rosebuds in it. Look at it, just look at it!

Along with the rosebuds, it's also got fetching little dried cubes of orange peel and what looks to me like slivered blanched almonds. It smells rather good, and I bought a little sack of it at Teavana on a whim because I thought it was so beautiful. I'm hardly a fan of rooibos most of the time, but it is exceptionally healthy and free from caffeine, so I will begrudgingly try this one for you.

The liquor produced by the infusion is bright reddish orange and very attractive, clear and good quality. It smells overwhelmingly like rooibos (a somewhat nutty, warm smell) and a huge amount of cinnamon. At the store I wasn't entirely sure was sort of flavor "Rooibos: Sweet Amore" was going to turn out to be, but it would seem this tisane would be more appropriately named "Rooibos: Huge Bushels of Cinnamon." My house smells ... not good, rather like someone was making an apple pie and had a seizure, flinging cinnamon hither and yon.

Thankfully, in drinking it the overwhelming cinnamon stench is really turned down. I can't taste the rosebuds at all, there's no hint of a floral note. There is something of a pleasant orange aftertaste, so I suppose the cubes of orange peel aren't just there for prettiness like the rosebuds. The predominant flavors are rooibos and cinnamon, though.

At first I was rather lukewarm about this infusion, but as I sipped it, it sort of grew on me. It's a calm and unadventurous brew, and would be absolutely perfect for a beginner to rooibos. The cinnamon smell is very strong during brewing, but on drinking it's just right and the orange aftertaste is actually nice. In the end I'm pleased, and will return to it on sleepy fall mornings when I believe it'll be just perfect.

Teavana: Rooibos Sweet Amore


Notes: Boring but pleasant and relaxing. If you like cinnamon and have never had rooibos before, this one is for you. Hold off until cooler weather untl buying it, it's not exactly a summer brew. Would also be appropriate to buy and put in a jar as attractive cinnamon potpourri, if you're weird.

11 June 2007

Rishi 100% Premium Tealeaf Powder: Sencha

Meet Rishi 100% Premium Tealeaf Powder.

So a few weeks ago, on something of a whim, I picked this up in my grocer's tea section. I'm not going to lie to you: I picked it up expressly thinking to myself, "This looks to be amazingly awful and I will mock it to my heart's content on The Teaist."

Bzzzt. Wrong. Alas, I was a fool to base my entire assumption on the color of the beverage on the front of the box. I have been cheated out of my opportunity to be witty, because this foul, swampy-looking green powder is truly a miracle and I cannot seem to cease singing its praises nor buying it in large quantities.

Essentially, Rishi has recognized a problem I'm sure lots of us have - tea is wonderful, but worthwhile unsweetened bottled teas are very difficult to come by in convenience stores while one is out and about. Also, there are no doubt many people like myself who have been late for class dozens of times running out the door carrying a dangerously steaming Thermos of boiling water because they need tea to survive biological anthropology. You get the picture.

This product is very finely crushed up tea leaves. That's all it is. It is nothing like iced tea powder, which dissolves completely in water and is tooth-rottingly sweet. Rishi Tealeaf Powder is only a tiny single-serving envelope full of (surprise) tea leaf powder and when you dump it into 16 ounces of water, it forms a strangely colored but fantastic tasting unsweet green tea - immediately. You dump it into a bottle of water, shake it up, and it turns into an oddly opaque green emulsion of tea wonderment. It isn't lumpy or unpleasantly textured as I was expecting. It tastes grassy, refreshing, full-flavored and delicious, exactly like a sencha ought to.

The best way I can describe it is that it tastes very like a cold version of the milled tea powder that is prepared in the Japanese tea ceremony, only made by wizards.

I love it. On their website, Rishi even provides a handy-dandy diagram of how to make it:

Rishi 100% Premium Tealeaf Powder: Sencha


Notes: Don't be put off by the weird color. It makes real green tea in a couple of seconds, no boiling water involved - I don't know anything else that can make that claim. You get more of the nutritional benefits of tea since you're ingesting the entire milled leaf. The powder is good to put in smoothies and you can use it to make ice cream. Along with the sencha, it also comes in genmai and oolong. And it's only $8 for a pack of 12 - I can't remember the last time I spent a more worthy $8. I'm buying more to take on the 10-hour car ride I'll be going on to see the Smashing Pumpkins in two weeks. This stuff is gold.

06 June 2007

Numi Dry Desert Lime: Lime Herbal Teasan

Apologies for the two week silence - I was having surgery. The recovery period gave me lots of time to amass more things to drink for you, though.

Today I'm going to be trying a Numi teabag that I received as a free sample at a hippie/environmental conference I attended some time ago - it's called Dry Desert Lime: Lime Herbal Teasan. Lime is one of my favourite flavors, and I love Numi's blends but have never tried one of their tisanes (or "teasans" as they spell it) before. However, tisane might be too strong a term for this one - being it's a TEABAG FULL OF DRIED LIME. That's right, when I flipped it over to check out the ingredients it's only got one. "Ingredients: Dried Lime." I suppose it's then fitting that they used the word "Lime" twice in the name of the tea. I sneezed when I smelled the teabag, but since we here at The Teaist welcome all sorts of wacky things that can be steeped in hot water, I say bring it on!

The flowery back-of-the-wrapper brewing directions instruct me to "Carry fresh water back from the oasis." As I live in Washington, DC, which at this time of year is a hateful blast furnace with no oasis anywhere, my PUR filter will have to do. It's very hot outside, so after steeping I will try the brew both hot and iced.

Weirdly, after putting the water in, it turns the color of brewed oolong. A cautious sip and I make a face like I've just taken a bite of raw warthog. It's so sour I can't unscrew my lips. I never put anything in my teas, but the back of the bag recommends adding a touch of sugar, so I give in and the combination of ice and sugar renders it drinkable.

It has an odd smoky flavor which doesn't really taste like lime, but which is not altogether unpleasant. The first taste is woody and this rapidly develops into an all-encompassing sourness that quickly evaporates, leaving just a wisp of lime flavor in your mouth. It's not bad cold and has a very bracing, astringent quality that I can see being good on hot, slow mornings. It is, however, desperately sour and this is coming from someone who actually eats limes. I drank an entire cup of it iced and I did feel refreshed when I was finished (although possibly thirstier than when I started, due to the astringency). However, this is not going to be one that I reach for on a regular basis. I like the idea of brewing crushed dried lime, but a tisane should stand on its own without me dumping sugar into it.

Numi: Dry Desert Lime, Lime Herbal Teasan


Notes: It's full of Vitamin C, which is good, but it's just too sour to really be pleasant and it's not one of Numi's finer moments. Although this tisane was somewhat refreshing and I enjoyed the initial woody notes, it felt so astringent that my mouth was dry when it was all over. You almost need to add sugar just to drink it. I recommend this if you're one of those people who enjoys the feeling of their sour taste buds writhing around.

14 May 2007

Dr. Andrew Weil & Ito En: Canned Gyokuro

I'm a big fan of Ito En's bottled teas and a big fan of things endorsed by Dr. Weil, so this can only be good. Plus, I firmly believe that products are better when they have a picture of a laughing bearded man on them.

Gyokuro, meaning "jade dew," for its pale green color, is a traditional type of Japanese green tea that's carefully shaded as it grows. The lack of sunlight makes the tea plants produce more chlorophyll, which means the resultant infusion is naturally sweet. It's very distinctive, and usually pointed out as one of the finest grades of green available from Japan. Buying it in loose leaf is usually fairly expensive, and this teeny-tiny 8oz can was $1.79, the same price as Ito En's 16.9oz bottles. You apparently pay quite a markup for the Bearded Elderly Man Seal of Approval.

I've never had cold gyokuro before, but it turns out this is fairly good - although it goes against your instincts, since I wanted to drink it very slowly to savor the gyokuro flavor, yet it was cold, I was thirsty and it was quite a temptation to just guzzle the entire baby-can in ten seconds or so.

The canned gyokuro is surprisingly tasty. Gyokuro can taste wretched if it's not brewed properly, which combined with how expensive it is means I'm usually too poor and too lazy to make it. This is definitely a nice brew, with a light and delicate, sweet vegetal flavor. You initially taste a very light sencha, which then deepens quickly into the natural sweetness that gyokuro is prized for. Once you've swallowed, the aftertaste is nice and grassy, and the that lightens and leaves a lingering sweetness on your tongue. I'm a little surprised that essentially the entire fun gyokuro experience is available in this can, and I didn't even have to get out my loose-leaf brewing pot (or get out of my chair, for that matter).

So, I'm torn. On one hand, this is the only pre-brewed gyokuro that I know of, and it's actually pretty good if you can avoid drinking the whole can on the first sip. On the other hand, Ito En is charging me $1.79 for a little over a cup measure full of it. Apparently proceeds from the Bearded Man Seal of Approval cans go to the Weil Foundation's holistic medicine research, so at least I can convince myself that I'm drinking tea for a good cause when I inevitably buy a cart full of these tomorrow.

Dr. Andrew Weil & Ito En: Gyokuro


Notes: EXPENSIVE. No more expensive that most bottled drinks, but sort of disturbing to pay $1.79 for a can that looks like one of those little silly tomato juice cans you get at brunch. If you're really thirsty, or looking to be refreshed, this is not your bottled drink - try one of Ito En's 16.9 oz bottles of regular Pure Green or Jasmine Green. If you're looking for an enjoyable tea experience, or want to try gyokuro without the song and dance it requires to prepare, I recommend it.

13 May 2007

Adagio Sour Apple Tisane

Yes. I just got a big box of Adagio samples, so we're doing a second Adagio in a row.

I was wary of this one. I tried Adagio's Apple Cantata, their only other apple tisane, a few months ago and the entire experience was about as pleasant as jamming cinnamon sticks up my nostrils and then sticking my head into a giant barrel of rotten apples. Undaunted, I decided to have a go at Sour Apple, which is both better-reviewed and just plain prettier, too.

The tea itself is comprised of actual little chunks of dried apple, which is what the white things are in the picture. It smells absolutely fantastic. There's also (!!) whole dried cranberries in there, and hibiscus flowers. The entire thing looks and smells so awesome that I briefly considered eating it outright, like trail mix. In the end, luckily, I reminded myself that I have a tea blog and not a trail mix blog, and contented myself with eating a few of the apple pieces (which, by the way, were delicious).

Brewing: whoa. During the seven minute steep, the hibiscus flowers immediately turned the infusion a bright, clear red color that reminded me of Tazo Passion but smelled about 100% better. It's literally the color of cranberry juice.

On drinking: This has an outright fabulous flavor. It's very brisk, and just astringent enough to give you a little pucker. It lives up to the name Sour Apple, but it's actually very sweet all on its own without adding any sugar. I rarely add sugar to my infusions, but this is going to be an amazing tisane for people who usually like to add sugar to their tea - you really don't even need any here, the fruit gives it all the sweetness you could want.

Overall, the experience of Sour Apple is about as amazing as walking through an apple orchard on a beautiful October day and suddenly winning a large amount of money. It put me in a great mood and I'm really excited to drink it on chilly mornings when fall comes.

Adagio Sour Apple


Notes: Excellent tisane. Perfect for those just beginning to experiment with caffeine-free infusions. If you try this one I recommend putting more in than you think you're going to need, because although it has a fabulous flavor, a fruit tisane is never going to have the punch that tea leaves do. Additionally, it has a fairly decent second brewing, so you get more bang for your buck.

Adagio Apricot Green

I chose Apricot Green for the inaugural review because I was extremely enthusiastic about trying it, since I'm a huge fan of both green teas and apricots and a merging of the two is entirely likely to result in my dancing around my apartment humming a little tune. Adagio's flavored blends can be hit or miss (the rum and banana blends were poorly conceived at best, where values of "poorly conceived" equal "vomitous") but I'm excited about this one, and it's their highest-rated green.

As you can see in the photograph, the loose leaf itself is very beautiful: long broad leaves with a nice deep green color and little slivers of dried apricot. Smelling it is extremely interesting, though - the nose is almost entirely apricot, which is a little odd. If I had my eyes closed I wouldn't be sure there was any actual green tea in the tin, and that Adagio had mistakenly sent me a tin of apricots. Damn - now I'm all hungry.

Green tea means a 3-minute brewing time, but even after the full 3 minutes and completely expanded leaves, the infusion is very light and almost looks like a white tea. It also smells very strongly of apricot, and it's a bright, clear, good-quality liquor.

Sipping it, the apricot taste is a lot less overpowering than it seemed in the tin or even in the pot. It's an extremely light taste: both the green tea and apricot flavors are delicate, and the balance is almost perfect, but the lightness of the infusion is a little disappointing - after the awesome nose, I was expecting the liquor to "pop" with apricot. Next time I might try steeping this one for an extra minute or two to see what happens. GREEN TEA FLAVOR, I CANNOT FIND YOU.

I poured the rest of the Apricot Green over some ice. This is where the summery flavor really shines. It's one of the best greens I've tasted so far for icing, and with the hot weather upon us, I'll be picking up a bigger tin of this to keep a pot of it on hand in the fridge.

Adagio Apricot Green


Notes: Smells stronger than it tastes. Would be an excellent tea for beginners, experienced drinkers who like a lighter blend, or those who find plain greens unexciting. It's good hot, but it's great iced.

06 May 2007


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