August Uncommon Tea

The annual hiatus from beer isn’t just about substituting one type of alcohol for another, and indeed, since the pandemic began and I spent a lot more time working from home, my Tea intake has risen commensurately. One of the things I discovered during this whole process was August Uncommon Tea.

Look, despite dipping my toes into the fine tea waters, I’m far from an expert. That being said, I see some similarities between what August is doing and what early craft beer pioneers did. August tends to focus on intense flavors, wild ingredients, and blended, flavored tea. This sort of thing doesn’t have the greatest reputation in the tea world because a lot of flavored teas use cheap, artificial ingredients. August claims to up the ante on that game, the same way that early craft brewers did. Funnily enough, “Uncommon Tea” calls to mind Dogfish Head’s slogan of “Off-Centered Ales for Off-Centered People.”

Near as I can tell, August seems to be sourcing quality full-leaf tea to use as its base, with additional ingredients and natural flavoring added into the blend. You don’t usually see the crazy acronym based tea grades, but it’s certainly not the prepackaged tea bags of fannings and dust you see in the supermarket.

Still, this sort of reliance on wacky ingredients and flavors can only take you so far, and eventually you just want to get back to “tea flavored tea” (the same way drinking a few Funky Buddha beers will have you pining for pilsners or other “beer flavored beer”). I don’t think August goes to quite that extreme, and some of these are phenomenal, so let’s take a gander at what I’ve been sampling over the past two years or so…

Black & Green Tea

Low Country – Black Tea with Bourbon Burnt Sugar Notes – Made with black tea, taiwanese lapsang souchoung black tea, barley malt, and the ever-vague “flavoring.” This is unquestionably my favorite August tea. The black tea backbone is there for sure, but it’s got a rich caramel, vanilla, and malt character that comes through well (from a beer dork perspective, it triggers similar feelings to a bourbon barrel aged stout or barleywine). The “burnt sugar” descriptor and inclusion of lapsang souchoung initially had me worried, but the smokey notes are really light and fit well within the overall profile (i.e. you’re not wondering who put their cigar out in your tea). It’s more intense than other flavored teas I’ve had, and while its impact might diminish if you use it as an “everyday” tea, it’s a pour that I look forward to once or twice every week (and I always have some of this on hand).

Golden Arrow – Elegant Black Tea with Smoke and Burnt Toffee Notes – Made with yunnan black tea, assam black tea, taiwanese lapsang souchong black tea, and the ever-vague “flavoring.” This is probably my second favorite August tea, though I think you can see that there’s a lot of overlap here between this one and the Low Country tea mentioned above. They used the lapsang souchong with a heavier hand here and the smokiness is thus a little higher, but the caramel, vanilla, and toffee notes really balance that out well. One thing I will say here is that this tends to feel a little more inconsistent – i.e. sometimes I feel like it’s smokier than other times. It’s always good, but I feel like I get different tastes from steep to steep. I get this with beer too – things that are intensely flavored like this can sometimes vary over time. In any case, it’s still one of my favorites and a weekly cup that I keep on hand. It’s similar to but different enough from Low Country that it makes for a nice one-two punch.

Cabaret – Malty Black Tea with Chocolate and Cherry – Made with indian assam black tea, cacao shells, german barley malt, german dark chocolate pieces, morello cherry, and the requisitely vague “natural flavoring”. This is a very nice, rich, almost chocolate cake-like tea with a bright cherry note that cuts the richness and provides a good counterpoint. Solid stuff, something I’d get again for sure, but not something I need to keep stocked at all times like Low Country.

Passage – Rich Black Tea with Hazelnut and Chocolate – Made with black tea, cocoa husk, hazelnut brittle pieces, cocoa beans, and that ever-vague “flavoring.” Super rich stuff without the bright cherry that Cabaret has to cut through it. I like this a lot and if I was one of those hazelnut-crazed freaks, this would be my favorite. As it stands now, it’s the sort of thing I enjoyed and I had no problem getting through the sample packet, but I’m not sure I’d order it again (it’s not out of the question though!)

In the Mood for Love – Pure Black Tea with Malty Cocoa Aroma – Pure black keemun mao feng tea from Anhui province, China. Despite the fanciful description of a “cocoa aroma”, this is basically just straight black tea, and a pretty nice one at that. I would say that it’s cool that August offers something like this… except that it appears to no longer be available. Not a huge deal, because you can get stuff like this from lots of other places, but still.

Combray – Organic Green Tea with Vanilla and Cardamom – Made with organic green tea, organic cardamom seed, organic cardamom pod, organic vanilla pieces, and the standard vague “natural flavoring.” This didn’t make a huge impression, but I do remember liking it. I think the cardamom sorta overwhelms the more subtle green tea and vanilla notes, but they’re still there. Solid, may try it again some day, but it’s not at the top of that list.

Breathless – Boozy Black Tea White Chocolate and Prune – Made with indian assam black tea, hazelnut brittle, sweet blackberry leaf, white chocolate, dried plum, and the usual vague “flavoring.” And here we come to our first real “miss” of the bunch. Something about the generic sweetness of white chocolate and the pronounced fruitiness just didn’t mesh for me. I drank through my sample packet just fine, but don’t anticipate ever revisiting.

Painted Desert – Crisp Black Tea with Chili and chocolate – Made with ceylon black tea, cocoa husk, cinnamon, chili, safflower petals, and the usual “flavoring.” Similar to the above Passage and Cabaret varities, this has a rich, chocolatey backbone, with the differentiator being the Chili peppers, which add a tingly spice to the proceedings. A lot of times in beverage tasting notes, I will use “spicy” to refer to things like cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, clove, etc… which have a sharp edge for sure, but that’s not the same as a chili heat, which is certainly present here, but not in an unpleasant or lingering way. Not calling this my favorite or rushing to reorder or anything (and it’s never going to be a regular go-to), but it was an interesting cup of tea.

Metropolitan – Vibrant Black Tea with Bergamot Plum and Clove – Made with assam tea, nutmeg, serbian plum, lemon peel, clove, mallow flower, and the requisite “flavoring.” Reading the description, this seemed to be a sorta play on Earl Grey, but there’s no actual bergamot in this, and the plum (or maybe lemon peel) completely overwhelms with a perfumey scent that feels more artificial than most of these flavored teas. It’s not, like, terrible, but it doesn’t deliver on the Earl Grey feel I was hoping for (and I get that they don’t necessarily want to tackle Earl Grey head on, as it’s such a ubiquitous style, but there’s probably way to put a spin on Earl Grey that is much better than this). Early Grey is certainly one of my mainstays, and will remain so, but I would be really curious to see if August could put something more interesting together along those lines than this…

Flower of My Secret – Organic Black Tea with Rose Cocoa and Clove – Made with tgfop organic darjeeling indian tea blend, organic cacao shell, organic clove, natural flavoring Certified organic by Lacon GmbH. I remember this as more of a clove driven black tea than rose or cocoa, but that’s not a bad thing at all. It didn’t make a huge impression, but it was a nice few cups of tea.

Breakfast – Smoky Vanilla Black Tea – Made with assam black tea, ceylon black tea, vanilla pieces, formosa lapsang souchong black tea, natural vanilla flavoring. I had high hopes for this given the description and the ingredients, but I have to say that this mostly just feels like English Breakfast tea with only a hint of smoky vanilla. That’s not necessarily bad, per say, I was just hoping for a much more prominent vanilla character, and it’s very light here. I’m not entirely sure I’d even pick it up if I were tasting blind. (I don’t really love smoky tea, but the way August employs it has been very successful in a few other teas, so again, it didn’t do much for me here.) Certainly a fine breakfast tea though…

Silencio – Spicy Black Tea with Tobacco and Pineapple Notes – Made with assam tea, south indian black tea, cacao shell, black pepper, dried pineapple, and mysterious “flavoring”. The pineapple adds a nice touch of sweet brightness here that certainly works much better than, say, the plum in Metropolitan. I don’t get much in the way of tobacco here, though I guess there is a bit of earthiness – still, the well integrated pineapple is the star here. This was a tasty cup and something I might revisit someday.

The Black Lodge – Black Tea with Smoky Banana and Truffle Notes – Made with chinese yunnan black tea, spanish olive leaf, smoked chinese black tea, dried banana, sweet blackberry leaf, madagascar vanilla, and vague “flavoring”. An intriguing confluence of flavors here. Lots of banana but also a pronounced earthy character (presumably what they mean when they say “truffle notes”) that is actually well balanced across the black tea base. Another tasty cup that I’ll surely revisit someday.

Gold Rush – Orange Rosemary Black Tea – Made with black tea, orange peel, caramel pieces, rosemary, and the usual vague “flavoring.” Drinks a little like an orange forward version of Earl Grey (Lady Grey?) It’s got a little more complexity than this implies, and I sometimes found myself thinking it had a small creamsicle note or even an Old Fashioned cocktail note. The citrus character is much stronger than the rosemary, which works more in the background. Very nice, and this has emerged as another weekly go-to tea for me…

Herbal Tea

Psychocandy – Darkly Sweet Rooibos with Pumpkin and Caramel – Made with south african rooibos, dried pumpkin, turkish apple, caramel, sweet blackberry leaf, madagascar vanilla, and the usual “flavoring.” Ah, the Pumpkin beer of tea! The Rooibos base comes through the strongest here, with some additional sweetness from the pumpkin and caramel differentiating things a tad. Still, it’s a nice fall brew to enjoy during the Six Weeks of Halloween (and beyond). Of the herbal teas I’ve had from August, this is one of my two favorites.

Biarritz – Velvety Rooibos with Amaretto & Orange Blossom – Made with rooibos, anise, almond, lemon peel, orange blossom, star anise, and that ubiquitous “flavoring.” This is a very nice take on rooibos, definitely getting an Amaretto cocktail character out of this that works well, the almonds coming through strongly but with a fruity, spicy background. Well done, might actually be my favorite of the herbal teas I’ve had from August…

Cult of Demeter – Silky Organic Cocoa Barley and Anise – Made with organic german barley malt, organic egyptian anise, organic cocoa husk (notably, no additional “flavoring” here). This is also quite nice and reminiscent of a Biscotti (or maybe pizzelles, but only if you make them with anise, which my family does not). Anise is not my favorite flavor, but this has a nice balance and reminds my of Italian baked goods, which is a very good thing. Not a go to, but I’d probably get this again.

Silent Night – Chocolate Nutmeg Rooibos – Made with south african rooibos, cacao shell, south african honeybush, indian nutmeg, marigold flowers, and the trademark vague “flavoring.” I’m a sucker for Christmas themed drinks/tea, so I always need to check them out. This is certainly an uncommon take, with the fruity/nutty rooibos base getting a little complexity from subtle touches of nutmeg and cacao. I think I might prefer a bit of a heavier hand on the spice, but I like it nonetheless.

Negroni – Bittersweet Orange Rooibos – Made with rooibos, sweet blackberry leaves, orange peel, licorice root, yellow gentian root, natural flavoring. Another rooibos based tea that is reminiscent of a cocktail, this time a Negroni (or even maybe something like an Old Fashioned). I very much enjoy this. I still have a few cups left in the sample, but I’m looking forward to them… and this could overtake my other favorite herbals

I’ll most certainly continue to explore August Uncommon Tea’s offerings, though I should again note that I do still go for the occasional “tea flavored tea” from time to time. Of course, I also like my Earl Grey (and vanilla variants) and I still have a couple of InfiniTea™ Tins that are continually being replenished (I will note that the ending bits of a Low Country or Golden Arrow have added some complexity to the vanilla earl grey tin, even if the grand majority of that blend comes from other sources). Alrighty, at this point, we should probably get back to writing about beer, this being a beer blog and all. Stay tuned!

InfiniTea™ Tins

Inspired by Infinity Bottles of whiskey, I’ve adapted the concept into what I’m calling InfiniTea™ Tins. The idea is to collect the remaining tea from all my sample packets (or the lingering remnants of a bigger container) into one storage tin, thus creating a personalized blend. I have a lot of 10g-20g sample packets because I like to try lots of different flavors and styles, so if done right, these blends could be quite nice.

My three InfiniTea Tins

Three Examples

I currently have 3 InfiniTea™ tins going:

  • Single Estate Assam Blend – I realize this sorta defeats the purpose of Single Estate teas, but this blend of black teas turned out pretty great. There’s not much to say about this though, because it’s just straight black tea. It’s also the smallest of the tins, if that matters.
  • Earl Grey Vanilla Blend – I love Earl Grey, and about 6 years ago, I discovered Upton Teas Earl Grey Crème Vanilla. It has come to be my favorite go-to tea. Alas, over the years, the recipe has changed and I’ve also noticed some variation from order to order, so I have been branching out and trying a bunch of others. Dominion’s Earl Vanilla is very light on the vanilla, Art of Tea is better, but not as good as Upton (even the lesser recent batches), and Culinary Teas makes a great Vanilla Crème… but it’s not Earl Grey! Finally, I’ve got something I bought at a local Amish Market. It wasn’t labeled with a brand, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t tea grown in Lancaster, PA. It’s pretty decent, comparable to the Upton but a bit more bergamot. I’d been mixing the Culinary Teas an Upton and getting something good, but this InfiniTea™ Tin is doing pretty well now too.
  • Chai, Spiced, and Christmas Blend – I like to get in the spirit of the season and spiced teas are nice, but they can be a bit unpredictable. Are you going to get a ton of cinnamon or is it going to be more ginger focused or did they add some other bizarre ingredients? I’ve definitely tried lots of these, and now blending them together has brought them new life. It’s a good wintery blend.

Other Assorted Thoughts

  • One of the things I’ve noticed with flavored teas, especially the vanilla-based ones, is that they tend to fade over time. So I’m curious to see how well the InfiniTea™ Tin fares. So far, it’s great. The spiced blend has lots of really old components, but they remain pretty potent.
  • As with Infinity Bottles, there is a sorta “livening” of the blend that happens when you add new components. And even when there’s a tea that I’m not particularly fond of… it still sorta tweaks the blends in a beneficial way.
  • I don’t drink enough green tea to do an infinity tin, but I could see that happening someday. Mixing green and black teas is obviously a bad idea, and the concept of trying to only include complementary flavors holds too. Just like you wouldn’t add Islay Scotch to a non-peaty blend (the peat smoke would overpower anything else), you wouldn’t want to add Lapsang Souchong (a smoked tea) to a normal blend.
  • I never used to drink that much tea. It was a once in a while, on the weekend sorta thing, but then Covid hit and being home all day, every day made it more convenient. So now I drink around a cup a day. These InfiniTea™ Tins have actually become go-to choices.
  • When it comes to most of the stuff that I cover on this blog, I’ve found that I’m often driven by novelty. Stuff like Infinity Bottles and now InfiniTea™ Tins helps me indulge in that exploration, I think.

We’re not quite halfway through my annual beer slowdown, so expect a couple more non-beer posts like this (on the other hand – I do have a backlog of beer reviews too, so maybe one’ll sneak in). Stay tuned!

Single Estate Assam

During my annual beer recession, I usually spend some time exploring things that aren’t alcohol. I know, I’m so kooky. I’ve made my coffee ambivalence well known on the blog due to its prevalence in the beer world, but I do enjoy the odd cup of tea here or there. I am far, so very far, from being an expert in tea, but that’s one of the joys of this annual semi-hiatus from beer.

One thing I’ve never done is add milk to my tea. Yes, I’m the worst, I know that too. Oddly, as soon as I resolve to try this out, I find that adding milk to tea might destroy it’s healthy antioxidants. Well, nuts. It does help round out some of the more bitter aspects of tea, but come on guys. A beer dork and certified hophead, bitterness doesn’t exactly bother me. So imma keep drinking my tea straight up.

What we have here are two Single Estate Assams. Think Single Malt Scotch or single hop beer, only completely different. Or something. I’ve already decoded the whole GTGFOP1 acronym gobbledegook and yes, found out about some, um, disturbing terroir in Assam, so let’s dive into these suckers:

Single Estate Assam: Dikom Estate Tea GTGFOP1 – Brews up an orange amber color. Smells malty with some herbal notes (I don’t get mint as the description suggests, but maybe if I really reach for it…). Taste has a nice sweetness to it, malt coming through but also a very light fruit character that’s nice, but not enough to really assert itself. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, strong, good breakfast fodder. Overall, it’s nice, but I don’t really get the notes from the description except in a very vague sense.

Tea Nerd Details: 1+ tsp for 8 ounce cup, infused at 212° for 4-5 minutes.

Single Estate Assam: Zaloni Estate STGFOP – Pours a light brown color with a hint of amber. Smells of sweet malt, a little bready, hints of something vegetal. Taste has an intense malt character, sweet, with that bready note too and a bit of a bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and finishes kinda dry. Overall, a decent cup of black tea, nothing particularly spectacular, but I like.

Tea Nerd Details: 1+ tsp for 8 ounce cup, infused at 212° for 4-5 minutes.

Beer Nerd Musings: Adding actual milk to beer is probably unwise and vaguely revolting, but we do use lactose. It increases body, adds a type of sweetness, and yes, evens out some of that bitterness that comes from hops. Indeed, while most of us don’t mind a little bitterness (or even a lot), one of the big trends right now is less bitter IPAs and even what’s called Milkshake IPAs, which are made with lactose and have a pretty chewy mouthfeel (and a rather opaque appearance). Go figure. If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s only a matter of time before local favorite Tired Hands brewing makes a Milkshake beer that uses tea. Keep an eye out folks.

Next up in the non-alcoholic jamboree: Maple Syrup. With a twist you won’t believe!

Single Estate Assam: Singlijan Estate GTGFOP

If you’ll permit a little meta-blogging/navel-gazing, sometimes I don’t know what to write about when it comes to something I’m reviewing and I don’t want to just post the tasting notes because their value is dubious. So I do a little research, by which I mean that I go to the library, read primary sources, consult with experts at various local universities, and other such activities. Either that, or I just spend a few minutes Googling around. Never mind which method is used more frequently! The point is that sometimes I uncover weird things. Things I wish I didn’t discover.

Take, for instance, this little news item about Singlijan Tea Estate in India.

Singlijan Tea Estate in Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district has become the first tea estate in Assam to achieve “open defecation-free” status under Swachh Bharat Mission.

Open defecation is rampant in the tea estates of Assam.

I… kinda just stopped reading there. I mean, yeah, sure, manure is used for fertilizer, but I don’t think that’s quite what they’re getting on about here. Talk about terroir! Eat your heart out wine! Anywho, at least this Estate looks on the up and up, so let’s see what this open defication-free tea tastes like:

Singlijan Estate GTGFOP – Has a dark (uh, for tea) brown appearance, maybe some amber or orange highlights to it. Smells nice, typical black tea maltiness with hints of something sweeter. Taste again hits that malty black tea character, but it’s got a nice natural sweetness to it that lightens the load a bit. Upton says molasses, which might be it, but I guess my mostly untrained tea palate can’t be that specific. Whatever it is, it works! Mouthfeel is full bodied and chewy, quite nice. Overall, a very nice breakfast cup, and would probably rank very high amongst Single Estate Assams that I’ve tried. Who knows, they may be onto something with this whole defication-free setup.

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for an 8 ounce cup, infused at 212° for 4.5 minutes.

Beer Nerd Musings: Fortunately, I’m pretty sure that most barley/hop farms are open defecation-free. On the other hand, it’s not something I ever really even thought to look into. Frankly, I’m not exactly getting all charged up to do so either. Otherwise, I guess this tea could make for a nice ingredient were I to try a tea-infused brew again sometime. Strong, malty, with a nice sweet note, that could work well if given the right platform. Or something. Alright, I’m talking out of my ass. Which I use to defecate. Jeeze, sorry to keep fixating on that, it was just unexpected.

In other news, we’re coming down the quasi-hiatus homestretch, in less that two weeks, we should be getting back to beer. I’m sure you’re all relieved. In other news, we got a couple of fantastic whiskeys coming up in these remaining two weeks, and who knows? I might swing something else beer related, like that post on Northeast IPAs

Monk’s Blend Tea

One of the things I like to do during my annual and temporary semi-detour from beer is to drink some things that aren’t alcohol. For shame! I know. But to paraphrase Immortan Joe: Do not, my friends, become addicted to alcohol. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!

Monk’s Blend is typically a blend of black teas flavored with grenadine and vanilla. My favored tea purveyor, Upton Tea Imports, seems to have a different take on the matter. Theirs is a blend of Ceylon-based Earl Grey with Chinese green tea and bourbon vanilla. Not your typical cup of tea, I’d say. I like the name though, it conjures the vision of Sri Lankan monks laboring away at a remote mountainside monastery, perfecting a blend of tea over the course of centuries. Instead, it’s probably a hipster wearing a hoodie (close enough to a Monk’s robe, I guess) sprinkling some green tea into an Earl Grey, chucking in some vanilla while they’re at it. But I kid. I kid because I love. Upton has always treated me well, so let’s take a closer look at this sucker:

Monks Blend Tea

Monk’s Blend Tea – The tea leaves clearly show a mixture of green and black tea, but are otherwise nothing special. Liquor appears a very light brown color. The leaves smell intense, but once steeped, it calms down a bit, even if it still smells quite complex. You get vegetal green tea notes, but also something deeper, nuttier, maltier, with a little of that fruity Earl Grey character sneaking through. The taste trends more towards a malty black tea than the nose, and the bergamot is more apparent here as well, but the green tea softens the blow while adding complexity. I don’t particularly get vanilla in the nose or taste, but maybe I’m not looking hard enough. Mouthfeel is light and bright and easy going. Overall, this is a very nice, complex but light cup of tea. I very much enjoy it!

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for an 8 ounce cup, infused at 180° for 3 minutes.

Beer Nerd Musings: Blending is certainly a thing with beer. Gueuze is traditionally a blend of 3, 2, and 1 year old lambic, but the proportions are not set in stone and indeed, batch variation sometimes means the blend changes from batch to batch. They don’t call Armand Debelder a master blender for nothing. Other examples are numerous. Firestone Walker’s Anniversary beers are always a blend of barrel aged components; a collaboration with their winemaking neighbors (no strangers to blending, they). Most barrel aged beers are blended together, and indeed, some barrels can be wildly different from others (they don’t call it wild yeast for nothing). Allagash once collaborated with local Philly institution Monk’s Cafe (amongst others) on a sour blend, and they included all of the barrels they used in the finished product (even noting some barrels that should not be used). There are lots of other examples, but ironically, I don’t think any of the famous Trappist Monks do noteworthy blending with their beer (Update: Those Monk’s at Koningshoeven do a little blending with their oak aged La Trappe Quadrupel, so there’s that)

Blogging might be light this week, though I have been wanting to comment on the whole cloudy IPA phenomenon. Tea blogging will probably continue at some point as well, maybe even hitting up some non-caffeinated varieties. I know, will the horrors ever cease?

Single Estate Assam

Beer nerds can use acronyms with the best of them, though it’s often just used to abbreviate our conversations and confuse new money (but really, we’re just lazy and BCBCS is much easier to type than Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout). But other beverages have their own complicated nomenclature, and tea has a pretty goofy one.

Last weekend, I drank two Single Estate Assam teas. This is a category I droned on about in some detail last year, so I’ll just note that it’s sort of like the Single Malt Scotch of the tea world (i.e. components of blends that are released on their own), and boy do they have a fun little system (for certain values of “fun”) to designate quality and grading. When you browse around for black tea, you’ll often see a little jumble of letters affixed at the end, such as “Halmari Estate GFOP” or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, “Oaklands Estate SFTGFOP1”.

Since this is a beer blog, I’m sure you’re all very excited for me to deconstruct all this tea stuff. Calm down, people! I got you covered (but seriously, beer blogging to resume in earnest later this week). The first thing to note is the “OP” designation, which stands for Orange Pekoe, which has nothing to do with fruit or whatever it is that Pekoe means in Chinese. It doesn’t even really represent a flavor or quality, but rather just the size of the leaves. When the leaves are processed, they result in varying sizes. They’re then sorted by size, and OP is the largest of the sizes. BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) are smaller, and grades smaller than that are referred to as Fannings or Dust (those are mostly what you find in tea bags you get from the store).

GF stands for Golden Flowery and represents leaves harvested early in the season (usually with a golden color) and T stands for Tippy, meaning that the tea includes an abundance of tips (as opposed to buds). SF stands for Super Fine, which means exactly what you think it means. The tea nerd joke is that FTGFOP actually stands for “Far Too Good For Ordinary People” and extrapolating from that, the regular GFOP designation would mean “Good For Ordinary People”? Ah snobbery, hello my old friend/foe!

So, armed with this super duper useful knowledge of acronyms and tea nomenclature, let’s drink some tea:

Single Estate Assam, Halmari Estate GFOP

Single Estate Assam – Halmari Estate GFOP – Pretty standard looking black tea here, the leaves have some light colored tips included, and the liquor is a solid brown color. The aroma is more delicate than I’m used to from black teas, malty, nutty, perhaps even a little vegetal. Taste has a nice light malt character to it, nutty, with a bit of pungency towards the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied and slightly pungent. Strong enough that it will take milk, but not overpowering at all. The description mentions winelike character, though I got approximately none of that, maybe a little fruit in the finish but I have to really look for it. Overall, it’s a solid cup of tea

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, infused at 212° for 4-5 minutes.

Single Estate Assam – Oaklands Estate SFTGFOP1 – Very similar looking, both from the inclusion of light colored tips and from the deep brown color of the resulting liquor. Aroma is also similar, with that sort of delicate vegetal character that yields to more robust, malty aromas. The taste is definitely more robust as well, a very malty flavor with a pungent wallop. Mouthfeel is full bodied and pungent. Overall, what we have here is a more powerful cup of tea, perhaps not quite as complex as the Halmari, but nice in its own right…

Tea Nerd Details: 1.5 tsp for 8 ounce cup, infused at 212° for 4-5 minutes.

Beer Nerd Details: We need to come up with a super complicated beer grading system. It would totally shut up the people who go on and on defining what “Craft” means, or at least make it all a moot point. Quality, rarity, ingredients, freshness, etc… could be used. On second thought, this would bring about the apocalypse as beer nerd fury would approach singularity levels and collapse in on itself. In other musings, perhaps the Halmari would be a good candidate (along with the Gunpowder Green from last week) for steeping along with a few hop pellets. I could probably swing that at some point, and I’d be curious how a more robust black tea would compare to the more subtle green tea in that respect (I’m guessing the green tea would be more appropriate, but who knows?) This has to be a thing already, right? I want to experiment with this a bit before I search around to see what other deviants are doing, but perhaps I could post something about this in the near future…

And we’re pretty much at the finish line now. Beer blogging will resume posthaste!

Green Tea Double Feature

Wimpy non-alcoholic beverage tastings continue with a pair of green teas that were paired with two of the more interesting horror movies I’ve seen lately. It Follows is a fantastic 80s throwback horror film, very tense and well executed, but doesn’t really stick the ending. Spring isn’t really horror and actually approaches romance, though there are monsters and stuff. Neither is perfect, but both are unusual and adventurous takes on normally stale stories. Worth checking out if horror is your thing.

Similarly, I really enjoyed both of these green teas, even if neither really knocked my socks off. The first one is a Gunpowder tea, meaning that the leaves have been rolled up into small pellet. Some say this looks like gunpowder, but as someone who reloaded bullets for years, I don’t really see the resemblance. Regardless, I had no idea what it was when I ordered it, so it was interesting to see the little nuggets of tea. As for the other descriptors, Temple of Heaven refers to the most common style of gunpowder tea that is sometimes called Pinhead or Pingshui. What makes this Special Grade is anyone’s guess though. Perhaps actual gunpowder is included.

Special Grade Temple of Heaven Gunpowder Green Tea – Leaves were very different than the green I had last year, almost nugget-like in appearance. The liquor itself is a very light, pale yellowish color (more brown than green, though not really brown). Smell has a mild vegetative aroma, a little grassy. Taste is also a little on the mild side, that light grassy character comes through well enough. Mouthfeel is light and clean, with a little pungent but pleasant kick on the sides of my tongue. Overall, it feels like a very nice, everyday cup of green tea. Not going to overpower you with anything, but tasty nonetheless.

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for an 8 ounce cup, infused at 180° for 4 minutes.

Next up, I went for a flavored green tea. I’ve had some cheap, prepackaged Chai Green Teas before, and I really like that combination. The spices are quite strong, but the green has just enough oomph to not get lost in the shuffle, which makes for a lighter cup than black chai…

Green Chai Tea

Chai Green Tea – Leaves are more traditional and have a bunch of spices intersperced throughout, appearance of the liquor is more green this time. As you’d expect, the chai spice is all over the nose, less cinnamon than I’m generally accustomed to, but cinnamon, clove, cardamom, etc… are all there, layered on top of the more delicate green tea aromas. The taste has more green tea than the nose, a little vegetal, a little grassy, and then the spice layers on top of that in a very nice way. It seems well balanced! Overall, I really like this, almost better than black chai teas…

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for an 8 ounce cup, infused at 180° for 3 minutes.

Beer Nerd Musings: There are lots of beers that are explicitely called out as Chai-spiced, but there are probably plenty of Winter Warmers or Pumpkin beers that use a similar spice regimen as well. Some beers are even made with chai tea, though I don’t think any use green chai tea, which is mildly interesting. In any case, one of the things I’ve noticed with flavored teas is that the leaves are often interspersed with actual spices, flowers, or peels, and I’m actually wondering what it’d be like to throw a hop pellet or two into the infuser when I make a cup of, for example, the Gunpowder green (not the chai one, as the spices would probably clash with the hops). The vegetal nature of green tea might match very well with the hops, and since we’re only infusing for 3-4 minutes, we don’t have to worry about bitterness or anything like that. We’d just, hopefully, get a pleasant hop aroma that would add complexity to the green tea without overpowering it or even feeling particularly weird. I… need to try this. I will make it happen this weekend.

In the final homestretch now, my triumphant return to beer will be this weekend. It will actually be a transition weekend, and you can expect a bourbon and beer double feature, with the beer having been aged in the bourbon barrels – most exciting! Otherwise, I’ve got some Single Estate black teas that I’d like to try this weekend, not to mention the hop tea experiment…

Earl Grey Teas

And so we enter the non-alcoholic portion of our temporary detour from beer (need to come up with a better name for this). For shame, I guess. But after the week I had (it was fat weekend, which entails exactly what you think it would entail), this was probably a good idea. Glorious tea™ drinking will continue for the next couple of weeks.

We start with Earl Grey tea. I’ve already gone over the boring historical bits, so that leaves the Star Trek connection. As if you didn’t already know that I first glommed onto Earl Grey tea because Jean-Luc Picard was legendarily fond of this particular variety. This being the internets, there are of course plenty of nerdy discussions about replicator syntax (why wouldn’t you just say “hot Earl Grey tea”? Perhaps because “it produce a reasonable facsimile of the Earl himself, steeped in tea?”) and much in the way of merchandise. That being said, I like the note of citrus that’s added to the black tea base, so I thought I’d check out a few different varieties.

Two are flavored with stuff not normally associated with tea, but as someone used to the rough and tumble adjunct game in the beer world, this does little to phase me. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. Make it so:

Chocolate Earl Grey tea leaves

Chocolate Earl Grey – Leaves are very pretty and you can see actual chocolate chunks and some sort of citrus peel (apparently lemon) in there as well as some flowers (pictured above). The liquor is on the orange side of brown, it looks like a little sediment made its way in there too (probably my fault). Smell is dominated by that chocolate, not much else peeks through, maybe just the faintest hint of citrus. Taste is not quite as strong as the nose would imply, but it’s got a little of that chocolate and the citrus comes out much more in the taste (especially towards the finish), all overlaying the typical black tea base. Mouthfeel is a little thin (I may not have used enough leaves and/or too much water) but very easy to drink as a result. Overall, I like this, a nice change of pace from the typical Earl Grey, though not exactly a replacement. The Chocolate feels a bit strange here, not artificial at all, but perhaps not quite right either. I’ll have no problem finishing off my sample size packet, but it’s probably not something I’d go for again…

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, steeped for 4 minutes at 212°.

Saint Isaac’s Blend Russian Earl Grey Tea – Russia has a strong tea culture, often resorting to flavored black tea blends (Earl Grey a good fit!) and using ornate brewing vessels and those awesome gilded metal and glass cups (that I always associate with The Hunt for Red October). More of a standard looking black tea here, nice leaves, slightly less orange liquor than the chocolate version. Smells of a malty black tea and hints of that bergamot to lighten things up a bit. The taste has that malty feel you get from black tea up front, followed by a hint of that citrus on the back end. The citrus seems more subtle here, lurking in the background and reinforcing the base black tea character rather than overpowering. Mouthfeel is big and burly, but not too assertive, smooth and mellow. Overall, a very interesting, subtle take on your typical Earl Grey. I like it very much.

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, steeped for 5 minutes at 212°.

Vanilla Creme Earl Grey – Another more standard looking black tea, more brown than the above two. Smell has massive amounts of vanilla. I usually hate absurdly specific or weird descriptors, but this is totally a vienna finger aroma right here (i.e. vanilla creme cookies), with only faint hints of underlying black tea. The taste is more restrained, with the black tea components coming to the fore and the vanilla creme adding a little zing. Mouthfeel is somewhere between the above two – not thin, but not quite burly either. Overall, I really enjoy this one too, and it’s another nice change of pace from your typical Earl Grey, though like the Chocolate version, it’s not really a replacement. Again, there’s that sorta weird, almost artificial flavor going on here that actually works well enough. Still not sure I’d go for more of this, though I think I liked it better than the Chocolate (I guess we’ll find out as I finish off these samples).

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, steeped for 4 minutes at 212°.

Beer Nerd Musings: The two extra flavored varieties I tried remind me of Southern Tier’s Choklat and Creme Brulee, though the imperial stout base comes through a little stronger than the black tea base does in the teas above. There are, of course, numerous beers made with chocolate and vanilla, but those two came to mind first (and if you’ve got a sweet tooth, they’re worth checking out). I’ve mentioned beers brewed with tea before, like Dogfish Head’s Sah’tea, and then, of course, there’s my own tea experiment, when I used Earl Grey tea in an English Bitter homebrew (it turned out great, though the tea was not meant to be a hugely assertive character).

And there you have it, the first tea reviews of the year. Look for a few others before this accursed detour from beer ends (in about 11 days, not that I’m counting. Ok, fine, I’m counting. You got a problem with that? Fine, be like that.) And there’ll probably be some wine and scotch as well, because why not?

Lapsang Souchong Tea

Rounding out the teas I sampled during my temporary hiatus from beer is this Lapsang Souchong tea. After my little peat smoked Scotch adventure this past weekend, I decided to keep the smoky theme going and try this smoked tea. Lapsang Souchong is a black tea that is dried over a pinewood fire. I don’t know much about the structure of tea plants, but apparently “Souchong” refers to the less potent (and thus less desirable) leaves of the tea plant. The smoke is an attempt to whip these leaves into shape and make them more complex. This style originated in China, but this particular tea comes from Taiwan (and is supposed to be slightly more smoky than typical Chinese varieties).

Formosa Lapsang Souchong – A pretty golden brown color in the cup, a little bit of sediment from the loose tea. Smells like a campfire, smoke and wood, maybe even a hint of meatiness, but nothing dramatic. While my intention was to match this with the peaty Scotches I was sampling last weekend, I should note that the smoke here is quite distinct – which makes sense, given that they use pine to dry the tea and peat moss for the Scotch. The taste is surprisingly mellow given the smoke. It’s there, but nowhere near as overwhelming as it is in something like an Islay Scotch or Rauchbier. Instead, we get a sorta woody black tea character that suits this well. Mouthfeel is big and robust, again like your typical black tea. Overall, this is an interesting tea, not at all like Scotch, but it works really well on its own.

Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, steeped for 5 minutes at 212°.

Beer Nerd Musings: I’ve mentioned that tea is sometimes used in making beer, and Lapsang Souchong seems to be a mildly popular variety. I’ve not had any, but I certainly wouldn’t mind trying the Italian Baladin X-Fumé or Kentucky’s Against the Grain Bo & Luke (both of these are variants on a base beer as well, so there’d be other treatments as well). From my admittedly limited sample, I’d think this would be a nice, mellow alternative to big helpings of smoked malt. Rauchbiers and the link sometimes make me wonder who put their cigar out in my beer, but I get the impression that a beer made with Lapsang Souchong would provide a more mellow smoky character.

So this wraps up my 40ish day whirlwind tour of exotic beverages. My triumphant return to beer starts this weekend, so beer blogging will resume as normal next week. I’m breaking out a couple of wales for the weekend, so stay tuned!

Silver Needle White Tea

So far, we’ve conquered the world of Black and Green teas. And by “conquered”, I mean, I drank a cup of each. However, with each of those, I at least had some frame of reference, having sampled various bag teas and whatnot. Hardly impressive, but at least I had a general idea of what to expect with those two. Today, we tackle White Tea, something I’ve never had before.

At Kaedrin beverage compatriot Padraic’s suggestion, I took a flier on a sample packet of Chinese Silver Needle White Tea. He describes this tea as “astonishing, but also astonishingly expensive”, and he is correct, though $5 for the sample packet was certainly not a strain (but then, I’m a guy who buys obscenely priced barrel aged beers on the reg, so my priorities are clearly problematic). This being my first white tea, I have no idea what I’m talking about, so I’ll let Padraic explain:

While Darjeeling is commonly referred to as the “Champagne of teas,” I’ve always felt quality white tea should really be granted that status…it’s smoother, cleaner, and simply more elegant than Darjeeling. White tea is almost exclusively Chinese, and is the least processed of any type of tea. For example, black teas are picked, bruised to expose the essential oils, then allowed to oxidize (a process that is frequently and incorrectly called “fermentation.” Actual fermented tea is called Pu-erh, and is a story for another day.) Green tea is picked, allowed to wilt, and then usually heated to halt any further oxidation. White tea is picked and allowed to wilt, then dried to halt oxidation, sometimes in steam, but in the highest quality teas, in nothing more than direct sunlight. The resulting leaves are minimally processed, and brew up a liquor that is fresh and clean, often with lots of natural sweetness and floral notes. Perhaps not surprisingly, white tea is often the priciest of teas, due to a limited harvesting window and non-mechanized processing.

So Darjeeling is like Miller High Life, and White Tea is like Gueuze (the true Champagne of beers, excepting that hybrid style thing)? Good to know.

Now that I have a reference point, I’ll say that I found this reminiscent of green tea, though clearly distinct in a number of ways. I greatly enjoyed it, and even managed to take a picture of the leaves, because maybe I’m not as horrible as I thought.

Silver Needle White Tea

Silver Needle Organic White Tea – Pretty much clear in the cup, almost no color at all but there is a very light yellowish tint. The smell has a resemblance to the green tea I had, vegetal and grassy, though those notes are not as domineering or pungent as they were in green tea. This is more delicate and has a better note of sweetness to it, almost flowery. Very mellow and clean, with a subtle grassy flavor that lingers in the finish. Mouthfeel is clean and bright, very delicate feel. Overall, this is a really nice cup of tea. I wouldn’t say that I was astonished, but I’m really happy I tried it, and I’ll be happy to have another cup or two this weekend.

Tea Nerd Details: 1.5 tsp in 8 ounce cup, infused at 180° for 3 minutes.

Beer Nerd Musings: I’ve got surprisingly little here, as I’ve already gone over the Champaign of beers schtick above. There are some beers that are brewed with white tea, though I have not had any of them, and none seem as well regarded as Magic Ghost. I would worry about the delicate nature of this white tea being overwhelmed by the beer in some way, though some white teas are supposedly more robust and thus may stand up better to the treatment.

So that just about covers it for Tea™. This upcoming weekend is going to be mostly Scotch drinking, though I do have one tea left (that will hopefully dovetail with some of the Scotch I’m going to drink). See you Monday, with a review of Balvenie 15, perhaps the best whisky I’ve ever had.