Friday, November 18, 2011

Battle of the Senchas

Alright, I finally got around to trying my third Sencha, Kondouwase Arashiage Sencha from Norbu Teas, and as promised, here is a comparison of the teas. I threw in the Top Leaf tea as an added bonus, and because I needed something else to do today.

The Teas

Mellow Monk - Top Leaf
This first tea is a traditional Japanese Sencha, made with rather nontraditional leaves. Mellow Monk claims that these leaves were pampered with extra fertilizer, and the leaves themselves are only the smallest and youngest leaves from the very tops of the tea bushes. The dry leaves are very small, with a bit of curliness here and there, and a lot of tea dust and smaller particles present. The color of the leaves is a dark green, with bits of lighter greens here and there. The aroma of the Dry Leaves is a kind of sweet-grassiness, if that is even possible

Norbu Tea - Yamakai Sencha
This tea is a traditional Sencha, grown from Yamakai cultivars. The dry leaves are a nice dark green, and fairly uniform in color. All of the leaves a rather long and straight, most being arround 2 cm long, and rather flat. The aroma is similar to the above, but a bit more subdued, and perhaps less "sweet".

Norbu Tea - Kondouwase Arashiage Sencha
This tea is similar to the Yamakai sencha, but is crown from a different variant of the tea tree. The leaves have more variance in their color, but most are a nice dark green color. The leaves are very flat, but they are smaller than the Yamkai sencha, with leaves seeming to be close to 1 cm in length.

Steeped Tea

I would include pictures of these teas, but the color was pretty much the same. That, and my mugs are pretty stained, so you can't get a good idea of the color in them. The only thing of interest was that the Top Leaf tea had a layer of "fuzz" on the bottom of the mug, and was a bit cloudy, due to the presence of the tea dust and smaller parts of leaves.

The aromas of the teas are surprisingly different. The Mellow monk is the grassiest, but with subtle vegetables added to the mix. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that the aroma reminded me of asparagus.  The Yamakai sencha Was plain, with aromas of grass and miscellaneous vegetables. The Kondouwase Arashiage sencha was interesting, because it wasn't very grassy, but the vegetable aromas were kind of jumbled together, and I couldn't distinguish anything.

The initial steepings of these teas were very telling. As the aroma suggested, the Top Leaf was easily the grassiest, but it wasn't overwhelming, and the semi-sweet asparagus flavor was indeed present. The aftertaste was interesting, with the vegetables fading to sweetness, and hints of grass. The Yamakai sencha was very mellow, with vegetative flavors dominating the grassy undertones. The after taste was sweet, but there wasn't much else to it. Finally, the Kondouwase Arashiage was an amalgamation of vegetables with undertones of grass, as per usual. The aftertaste was also complex, and hard to describe. Truly an interesting experience.

The Top Leaf and Kondouwase Arashiage both lasted for six infusions, and the Yamakai lasted for only four.

Late Steepings
Late steepins of the Top Leaf resulted in a mellow tea, with only hints of sweet vegetables and almost no grassiness. The Yamakai sencha's flavors didn't get stronger, but the grasiness persisted longer, which resulted in infusions that were sweet and grassy, but with little else. The late infusions of the Kondouwase Arashiage were intersting, and they were complexly subtle, and rather sweet, which I didn't expect. The grassiness faded almost completely in these infusions.

Final Notes and Verdict

In the end, The Yamakai Sencha was rather plain, which probably lets it appeal to a wider audience, but it just wasn't as interesting as the other two. The Kondouwase Arashiage was a good tea for contemplation, and it's complex flavors were relaxing to think about after a grueling physics exam.

In the end, my personal favorite is the Top Leaf, Because of it's vibrant flavors, wonderful aroma, sublime taste. If you guys disagree, feel free to post a comment as to why. I might take a while to respond, as finals are rapidly approaching, but I will get back to you eventually.

Also, feel free to check out Steepster, to see reviews of these teas by myself and by other people!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mellow Monk Top Leaf

So, I've been on a bit of a Japanese tea binge recently, and my parents got me some Top Leaf tea from Mellow Monk. According to their website, this is a traditional Japanese green tea (read: unshaded), which was picked using only the youngest leaves on the very top of the tea bush, and that it received extra (organic) fertilizer throughout the season. I most say, the care that went into this tea shows.

When I first opened the bag, the first thing I noticed was the strong aroma of grass and vegetation that came out of the bag. Next, I noticed that the leaves were smaller than any other tea I had ever tried, but that they were a vibrant, fresh green. After heating up some water to the point that it was giving off a lot of steam, yest not bubbling on the bottom, I steeped the tea for two minutes.

The resulting tea was a vibrant green, with a strong grassy aroma. An interesting feature of the tea was that there was a lot of tea duct in the leaves, which made the tea initially a bit cloudy, but it eventually settled to the bottom as green fuzz. The teaste of the tea was very interesting, because I have never had a tea that was quite so grassy, but it was not overpowering. The other flavors were sublte vegetable flavors, which were enhanced by the above-mentioned grass flavor. The tea was also very smooth, leaving behind a faint aftertaste of grass.

Later steeps of the tea had the grassy flavors gradually become more subdued, and made the tea even more subtle. I was using my tea ball, and I got a good 6 infusions out of the leves before the tea became lightly-flavored water. Overall, it was a good tea for winter, becasue it brought to mind better (warmer) times, and was perfect for sipping while doing homework in my rather cold north-facing room. I do caution readers that it is a rather different green tea than one typically finds in America, so I would try out samples of Japanese-style teas before bying the  gram bag of this.

Also, some time during the coming week I will post revies for the two different teas I got from Norbu Tea.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Best Vendor Ever

As part of the process of expanding my horizons with respect to tea, I decided to get some Sencha, a traditional Japanese tea. So, I did a bit of research using Steepster, and a lot of people had good things to say about Norbu Tea's selection and prices, so I decided to purchase 100 grams of their Yamakai Sencha, due to it being 40% off it's normal price. This is where things get awesome.

I placed my order really late on the 4th, around 11 pm. Id didn't expect anything to happen until Monday, because very few businesses operate on weekends. Imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning, and found an email in my inbox stating that my order had been shipped already.While that was impressive, I found out that they were using the US postal service for shipping, so I figured, once again, that nothing would happen until Monday.

Now, I woke up this morning, and what did I find? My tea was already at my campus mail room! Best service ever! After taking it back to my room, I opened the box and got another pleasant surprise: They had included a free 50g sample of Kondouwase Arashiage Sencha. This is the best free sample ever!

So, if any of your guys like Japanese green teas, head over there to catch their end of vintage sale. A bunch of the Japanese greens are 40% off, and their prices are really competitive to begin with.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

DeRen Tea: Tie Guan Yin (Traditional Style)

So, having been browsing through a bunch of tea-related blogs during the past few weeks, I kept hearing about Tie Guan Yin, so when I was ordering my sample from DeRen Tea, I decided to try it out.

DeRen Tea actually offers two different flavors, the "Traditional Style" and a "Green" versions. I opted for the traditional version, seeing as it looked like it would be a darker tea.

Dry Tie Guan Yin leaves, taken with an iPod camera.
While the quality of this picture is rather bad (due to a small camera and overly bright lighting), it should be easy to see that the tea is a rather dark color, and is twisted/rolled into rather small shapes. The dry leaves also have a subtle fruity aroma, though I can't pinpoint what exactly it smells like. There was also a hint of something nutty, but that was even fainter than the fruit, and thus completely unrecognizable.

First infusion, in a badly stained and well-used mug.
The first infusion of the tea was also an interesting experience. Unlike the Wuyi oolongs that I have tried, there was no roasted taste. It was also interesting to find that the fruity aroma disappeared during the brewing process, leaving only the nutty flavor which lingered as a pleasant after taste. The main flavor that is initially present was something sweet, but not something that was even remotely similar to fruit.

As I continued with later infusions, the taste rapidly degenerated, and was reduced to a primarily nutty taste.The other flavors of the tea mellow out into a sweet...something, which was rather pleasant. As an added bonus, it was good for seven infusions, which is respectable. All in all, this is a tea that I look forward to buying in larger quantities sometime down the road.

Also, I apologize for the poor images, but the only working camera I have is on my iPod, so bear with me and pretend that the images are better. If you look at the link to the tea on DeRen Tea's website, you can get a much better image.