Teaview: Of Insecurities and the Jewel of the Arya Estate

Arya Ruby Darjeeling Tea from Golden Tips Tea

Spring officially begins in a few days, but today it seems more like Autumn; its brisk and windy and overcast. I started getting drowsy in the afternoon, so I brewed myself a mug of Arya Ruby Darjeeling tea from Golden Tips Tea for a mid-day pick-me-up. Lately, I’ve managed to sip on teas that seemed to pair perfectly with the weather, and today is no different. Honestly, it’s just dumb luck though. I actually picked up the package of Arya Ruby Darjeeling because according to the Golden Tips Tea website, it’s supposed to have the aroma and flavor of a “bouquet of flowers & an orchard of fruits”. Upon opening the packet, I am greeted with a sweet and fruity scent– luscious is a word that comes to mind. Alas, that all changed once I steeped the tea leaves, because to me Arya Ruby Darjeeling tea tastes like a crackling fire in a fireplace, perhaps the first in Autumn when the temperatures begin to drop. At first, it’s smoky and woody, and after those aromas have mellowed, a sensation of sweetness dances all around my mouth.

Kind of like this:

reading by the fire

I debated writing about this tea on my blog. Not because the tea was bad and not because I struggled to conjure up the words to describe my experience, but because of insecurity. Sometimes I feel really insecure about reviewing new teas because my experience seems so different compared to other people’s experiences. How can I perceive woody and smoky aromas from a tea that is supposed to have fruity and floral aromas? Is my sniffer busted? Are my taste buds faulty? Am I just inexperienced, and I cannot taste subtle differences in a tea’s flavor? Perhaps it seems silly, but I’m afraid that a more savvy tea-drinker will stumble upon Books & Tea and tell me that my review for a tea is…wrong. Is that possible– for a review to be wrong?

For any blogger that posts reviews, be it books or tea or whatever, are you ever reluctant to share your thoughts about an experience because you’re afraid someone will tell you you’re wrong or you don’t truly understand it?

Teaview: the Iron Goddess

Iron Goddess Oolong TeaIt’s that time of year when Michiganders are blessed with a week of unseasonably warm weather that fills us with false hope that springtime is right around the corner. Sure, it will be 52 degrees on Wednesday, but realistically we still have about two months of cold temperatures and snow left. But, that doesn’t deter us from enjoying this weather while we can, no matter how briefly it sticks around. February’s brutal winter weather has done weird things to us northerners. After nearly a full month of single digit temperatures and wind chills in the negatives, temperatures in the teens and twenties are embraced. Today, it’s sunny and 36 degrees…and we have the back door propped open to enjoy fresh air, chirping birds, and a nice breeze.

Jon and I should probably be out and about, exploring our new hometown, but instead we loafed around, binge-watching Portlandia on Netflix. It’s been a low-energy sort of day, and I felt myself growing drowsy for a nap around noon-time. But, I have so many blogs to catch up on and books to read that a nap was out of the question. I was about to reach for some English Breakfast Tea for a quick kick of caffeine…but that I remembered I had still had some samples of Oolong tea provided to me by Teavivre. I decided to try that even though Oolong tea has low caffeine.

Much like the Avaata Supreme Nilgiri Green Tea that I wrote about last month, the Tie Guan Yin “Iron Goddess” Oolong Tea from Teavivre makes me feel nostalgic for springtime. Upon opening the packet containing tightly rolled Oolong tea leaves, I am greeted with the scent of Michigan’s springtime. It smells like fields of wet grass and wild flowers, and it makes my heart ache for blue skies, warm sunshine, cool breezes, and fields of green, green, green. I could not have picked a more perfect tea for a quiet, almost-springtime afternoon.

Iron Goddess Oolong is forgiving for a distracted steeper like myself. The package suggests brewing between 3-10 minutes, and it supports multiple steeps as well. The first cup I made, I steeped for about 4-5 minutes. The second cup I made, I steeped for about 8-9 minutes. The tea leaves also unfold into full, dark green leaves. When I poured my sample into my tea strainer, it just covered the bottom. After four minutes, the tea had bloomed and expanded and completely filled my tea strainer.

Iron Goddess Oolong Tea from Teavivire The color of the liquid is light yellow, and it smells vegetal. The flavor is more complex though. The first flavor that comes through is a crisp, grassy flavor, something that I associate with green teas. Then there is a sweet floral taste followed by a tart aftertaste that for some reason I associate with pineapple. These flavors are more pronounced during the first steep, and they become more mellow with each preceding steep. This is unlike any other Oolong tea I’ve tried, which have had more earthy aromas.

The Iron Goddess Oolong tea (named as such because the tightly rolled leaves supposedly make the pinging sound of small, iron pellets when you pour the leaves into your cup) is a tea that I would absolutely encourage you to try. Not only does it challenge ones perceptions of Oolong tea (sort of like Adagio’s Oooooh Darjeeling), it is also just a beautiful tea. I will drink it in winter while yearning for springtime, and I will drink it in springtime as a compliment to sunny, Sunday afternoons.

Teaview: Avaata Supreme Nilgiri Green Tea

Avaara Supreme Nilgiri Green Tea from Golden Tips Tea

Perhaps it was kismet that I made a last-minute decision to take the day off– otherwise, I would have missed signing for this charming package from Golden Tips Tea! It’s not every day that you receive a package in the mail from India. Especially one wrapped in cloth and sealed with wax.

golden tips packageThe selection of samples I received from Golden Tips Tea are mostly black teas, which I expected because India is known for its black teas, especially from the Darjeeling and Assam regions. So, perhaps it’s a bit odd that the first tea I’m writing about is a green tea– Avaata Supreme Nilgiri Green Tea– from the Avaata estate in the Nilgiri region in southern India.

Upon opening the golden package of Avaata Supreme Nilgiri green tea, I am greeted with a vegetal scent– slightly grassy and a bit like hay, which makes me feel nostalgic for springtime weather and drives in Michigan’s countryside. The tea leaves were big and full and a beautiful spring green color with the occasional silver bud, and the liquid was a very pale yellow-green color similar to white grape juice. The taste was very light, but it seemed to stand out a little more once the tea had the opportunity to cool down. This is a stark contrast to the black teas and the flavored teas I’ve been drinking lately, so I welcomed the experience. Like the scent of the leaves, the taste of the tea was lightly grassy and minerally. But while other reviews described a floral aftertaste, the flavor seemed to end abruptly to me, nothing seemed to linger, and I did not pick up on any afternotes. Clean is the only way for me to convey this particular tea tasting experience.

Overall, I’m please and perplexed that a tea could be so light. Black coffee. Breakfast Tea. Earl Grey. Those are the bold flavors that fill my mugs each morning, yet I find myself returning to Golden Tips Tea’s Avaata Supreme Nilgiri time and time again.

Teaview: Won’t You Be My Valentine Tea?

Valentine Tea from AdagioSome say Valentine’s Day is just a Hallmark holiday– a consumerist holiday to lure starry-eyed suckers into buying over-priced chocolates to prove their love. And to them I say, “if you’re not going to eat those, may I have them?” I shant complain about February 14, and if my boyfriend chooses to love me one extra ounce today, I shall relish in it. Especially since Adagio Tea’s Valentine Tea broke my heart.

Adagio’s Valentine Tea is a blend of black tea, rose petals, natural chocolate flavor, and natural strawberry flavor

I think my tea is an older blend, because the Adagio website says there is also cocoa nibs, dark chocolate chips, and strawberries in this tea, and I have none of that. Woe!

Anyway, Adagio’s Valentine Tea sounds romantic, right? It’s the sort of thing a lover would sprinkle on the floor from the doorway to the couch…for a Harry Potter marathon. Except, any tea lover would get distracted and scoop of the tea leaves and rose petals to brew a mug of hot tea. Most regrettably, Valentine’s Tea would ruin the mood. It smells weird– like a bag of chocolate hard candies. Fake chocolate hard candies. Do you know what is worse than fake chocolate? War, famine, petulance, and generally the end of the world, but not much else! Despite the scent, I still went into this feeling optimistic. I was crossing my fingers that Valentine’s Tea would taste like a chocolate-covered Turkish Delight because I can pound chocolate-covered Turkish Delights (Jon, make note!)

Fry's Turkish Delight

After steeping the tea, I noticed how dark the liquid was. It was as dark as a cup of black coffee, so I became a little nervous. I suspected the flavor would pack a punch, but really it was just a slap of disappointment in the face. It tasted nothing like a chocolate-covered Turkish Delight. Adagio has some great teas, like their Oooh, Darjeeling, but I am not having luck with their flavored teas– Chestnut Tea being the wonderful exception. Most of their flavored teas that I’ve tried recently flood my mouth with overwhelming chemical flavors. The aftertaste is alright though…if you’re not offended by fake chocolate hard candies. As for the rose, I was hoping for some light floral notes, but if they are there, they are muddled by “artificial flavors”. I even tried to sweeten the deal by adding sugar and milk. I thought that would cut some of the bitterness or mask some of the artificial flavor, but that just made it worse.

Even though I do not love Adagio’s Valentine’s Tea, a lot of people do. It’s earned a score of 93/100 on Adagio’s website and a 70/100 on Steepster. Proceed with caution with Valentine’s Tea.

Teaview: This is What Christmas Tastes Like?

Christmas Tea from AdagioI’m feeling fairly removed from the holidays this season. I haven’t done much shopping, I haven’t listened to Christmas tunes, I haven’t watched any of my Christmas-time faves, and to top it off, it seems like we’re going to have more of a muddy Christmas than a white Christmas this year. So, in an effort to get myself in to the Christmas spirit, I decided to try Adagio’s Christmas Tea. Unfortunately it left me saying, “Bah, Humbug!” instead of a jolly “Ho! Ho! Ho!” This is not to say the tea is awful, but it certainly isn’t my cup of tea.

Adagio’s Christmas Tea is a blend of black tea, cinnamon bark, orange peels, natural spice flavor, cardamom, cloves, ginger root, natural ginger flavor, and natural cinnamon flavor.

In theory, this should be good, but when I open the bag of tea, I am greeted with that weird, stale cinnamon potpourri scent that wafts through the aisles of craft stores. Luckily, the flavor (read: aroma) is not that bad. I find it to be reminiscent or perhaps inspired by mulled wine, which I find is a taste I have not acquired; I’ve never met a red wine that I like. Black tea is significantly more palatable though, so really it’s the blend of citrus and spice that I do not care for in this tea. Perhaps if you’re a fan of mulled wine, your opinion may differ.

I’ve also struggled to find a good balance of flavor with this tea, so every cup I’ve made is either strong and spicy or weak and watery– nothing that a spot of sugar or can’t mend though. I will probably work my way through the rest of the bag, but I don’t see myself buying more of this tea in the future.

What beverage do you like to sip on to get you in the holiday spirits? Hot cocoa? Warm cider? Mulled wine, perhaps?

Teaview: Cranberry Tea– a new Thanksgiving staple?

Cranberry TeaWhy is the cranberry a staple of Thanksgiving dinners? It’s so tart, and how can it even compare to the rest of the savory dishes that fill the table? It is a traditional side dish though, and when it comes to Thanksgiving, I cannot forego tradition. Sometimes it just requires a creative twist. Like this year, I drank Cranberry Ginger Ale  during dinner! And this morning, I woke up to Cranberry Tea from Adagio.

The ingredients in this tea are black tea, raspberry leaves, “natural” cranberry flavor, and cranberries (though, I’ve not seen the bog berry in my canister of tea).

I’m not the biggest fan of Adagio’s Cranberry tea, yet I keep defaulting to it. One reason is because it’s the only tea sitting on my counter, so it’s easily accessible. The other reason is because I’m trying to acquire a taste for it…perhaps because it’s the only tea canister within reach. This tea is dry and tart like a cranberry, and it actually leaves me feeling thirsty, which I find unpleasant. As for flavor, I taste more artificial raspberry than cranberry. Much like the lone cranberry though, Adagio’s Cranberry tea is definitely more palatable when I add sugar; however, the “fruit” flavor seems to disappear, which is alright in my opinion because I don’t much care for cranberries.

Overall, I don’t like drinking this tea unsweetened, but I can certainly guzzle this tea with sugar added. If I can’t taste the fruity flavor though, why not just drink a plain black tea instead?  Sorry Cranberry Tea– you won’t be a Thanksgiving staple in my house.

Teaview: Spiced Apple Cider Rooibos– as Cozy as it Sounds

Spiced Apple Cider Rooibos Tea

Spiced Apple Cider Rooibos Tea

Last month, I tried Teavana’s Pumpkin Spice Brulee Oolong Tea, and I was not impressed. This month, I tried Teavana’s Spiced Apple Cider Rooibos Tea, and I kind of love it. This tea has cinnamon, red rooibos, chicory root, plum pieces, apple slices, carob pieces, hibiscus flowers, artificial flavoring (I know, I know), and orange peels.  The Spiced Apple Cider Rooibos tea is a perfect after-dinner dessert tea when tummies are stuffed with hearty meals that are so common during the chilly and overcast weather that settles in this time of year. Especially in Michigan– I hear it’s supposed to start snowing at 3PM today!

The number one ingredient in this tea is cinnamon, and it certainly packs a punch. It’s unapologetically spicy, and that’s what I love most about this tea. If the physical temperature of the tea doesn’t warm you up, the cinnamon will melt the icicles right off of ya’. Although it is subtle, the next flavor to surface is apple, which is sweet with a slightly tart aftertaste. The Spiced Apple Cider Rooibos tea is already sweetened, so make sure you don’t add a single drop of honey or sugar to your cup. Compared to the Pumpkin Spice Brulee Oolong, which was too sweet for my taste, I do not feel overwhelmed by the sweetness in this tea. Perhaps the spice and the tartness balance this out. Admittedly, I’m not certain what’s lending to the sweetness. My mom seemed to think it was German Rock sugar, although I did not find that anywhere in the ingredients. Any ideas? As for the rooibos…well, I’ve not drank this type of tea enough to be able to comment on it. My experience with flavored Teavana teas though is that the rooibos is masked by all the other ingredients, but don’t let that discourage you from trying this out.

Overall, the Spiced Apple Cider Rooibos tea is aptly named. It’s spicy and sweet and tart, just like fresh apple cider from the mill. I would recommend this tea, which seems to warm the soul during these chilly months leading up to winter.