Firebelly Tea

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Recent Tasting Notes

Had this one over the weekend and actually quite enjoyed it! I’m sticking with my initial description of the texture as being almost like a “slurry” since it’s so thick from all the powders in the blend, but that deeply fudgey chocolate note and strong malty character was really wonderful.

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I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this!

From the dry leaf aroma I was a bit worried as I got plenty of chocolate but also a strong licorice-y aroma too that I worried was going to be obtrusive once steeped. Instead, this was rich and very chocolate forward with just a hint of some of the other ingredients including the barley malt (yum!) and, yes, the licorice root. Not as much as I’d expected to taste the licorice root, though.

Back in, I wanna say, 2013 DT had a tea as part of their Winter/Holiday collection called Choconut Oolong. It was infamously very unpopular (I think mostly because of the licorice root) and I remember that stores were stuck with it for almost half a year afterwards. Like, it was so unloved that I remember sending my roommate at the time to DT to pick me up a 100g tin of it and the tea guide told him he probably shouldn’t buy that much – implying that I wouldn’t enjoy it and I’d be stuck with a bunch of tea I didn’t want. Kudos to that tea guide for doing the honest but un-salesman like thing and warning him. However I was one of those weirdos that did actually enjoy it a lot. All that to say, this sorta reminds me of my memory of Choconut Oolong. Maybe a little less sweet.

The big thing here is that the “shake” in the name feels quite warranted because this is one THICK tea. It’s got sooo much fine cocoa powder in the blend that it was actually sort of hard to strain the mug because of the sort of “tea sludge” that had been built up in my basket infuser. It added a lot of richness to the tea both in taste and texture, but definitely as I was drinking the mug the word ‘slurry’ came to mind more than one time because of how much sediment was pooling at the bottom of the mug that I had to keep stirring back into the cup.

I didn’t really mind it, but I wanted to point it out because it was a lot and I know not everyone loves a cup of tea with such a distinct texture to it.

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In the lead up to Halloween I made a few other loosely on theme teas and this was one of them. I think I enjoyed it more the second time around. In part because I knew to except the almost soup/stock like top and body notes of the tea and in part because I let the tea steep longer which drew out more of the sweetness of the fennel/anise which did balance it out a bit more. Probably not a good solution for anyone sensitive to that anise or licorice type flavour – but worked for me!

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Curiosity got the better of me and I just had to see what this pumpkin spice blend was like…

When I took my first sip the flavour took me on a bit of a roller coaster ride. Kind of in a good way and kind of not. The top notes are very soup-like and brothy from the pumpkin. It’s a mix of cooked squash and the almost citrus-y brightness of raw pumpkin. Picture the smell when carving pumpkins. Very much that. That citrusy note sort of blend into a sourness and, at first, I thought that was also from the pumpkin. However, after continuing to drink the tea and also talking to Marika (who is the biggest expert of spices I know) we determined it was more a combination of the fruitiness of the apple in the blend as well as the nutmeg and allspice, which she said were either very low quality or just quite old as when those two spices age they take on more of a sour taste like what we were experiencing in the cup.

The good part of the flavour rollercoaster was the finish. I, personally, really love star anise so the coating, thick star anise sweetness at the end of the sip was a really welcome tasting note for me and I thought it worked splendidly with the notes of cinnamon and clove. It gave me very “pumpkin pie with a heaving dollop of whipped cream” vibe. I just wish I didn’t have to push through the first unpleasant part to get there.

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Cold Brew!

I picked this up in Firebelly’s summer sampler because I found myself morbidly curious what their two new fruit blends would taste like. I have nothing against blends without flavouring (which is true of all Firebelly’s teas), but I do take great issue with much of the rampant chemophobia that Firebelly uses in their marketing. Though there are kernels of truth to what they say, a lot of it is over embellished scare tactics or rooted in misinformation. In my personal opinion, there’s no reason you can’t promote flavouring free blends without relying on demonizing the alternative…

Anyway.

The thing that surprised me about this tea was that it wasn’t actually super hibiscus forward. I think the rooibos is easily the strongest flavour, which will certainly be polarizing for some. I, however, thought it worked really well. It’s a great natural level of sweetness, and the rooibos they’ve selected already has an inherent natural red fruit note to it alongside a light taste of mineral woodiness and honey. It works well with the amount of hibiscus they’ve included to gently convey the idea of berries – which is good, because the dehydrated fruit they’re using won’t actually contribute much flavour at all since the dehyration process removes the majority of the essential oils which convey those notes.

If you’re expecting something “punchy” then this will probably disappoint – it’s not a fruit blend in the way most people are accustomed to. It’s well balanced though, and definitely would be really easy laid back Summer sipping! So, ultimately I did really enjoy this tea. That’s always kind of my problem, though…

The quality of Firebelly blends is, generally, very good. I just find their marketing practices super distasteful. Like, you’re selling LOVELY teas. Why can’t that just be enough?

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drank Wise Sherpa by Firebelly Tea
15429 tasting notes

I didn’t really like this very much when I first had it, but I steeped it up again more recently with slightly cooler water and I think that made a huge difference. It really had a lot of tasting notes very characteristic of a Second Flush Darjeeling. Aromatic and more “perfumed” florals with underlying sweetness and freshness and a lot of muscatel grape notes. Kind of medium bodied, and just a brighter and sweeter cup than expected.

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drank Wise Sherpa by Firebelly Tea
15429 tasting notes

…and we finally find ourselves at the end of today’s stretch of Firebelly tasting notes. One for every tea that they’re currently carrying.

This is a straight Nepalese black tea. It’s not specified in what minimal copy is written about it, but it seems like this is probably a second flush picking. The dry leaf, which composed of smaller leaves, is quite pretty and has some lovely silver tips within it. The smell is nice – a little floral and a bit sweet among greener elements. It steeps up very harshly. Really quite astringent and hard on the palate though not bitter per say. Dominant notes are muscat grapes, heady florals, malt, and autumnal leaves. Vegetal, also – but in a less descript way.

I don’t much like it, but I also feel like this is a tea with a learning curve. It seems very hard to steep it well right off the bat but I got the sense that with patience and experimentation you could definitely find a sweet spot. The ‘bones’ that are present in terms of flavour direction seem like they’d make a good foundation for a flavourful cup with the right time investment spent to get it right.

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Cold Brew!

Drinking this one currently and I’m finding it really nice after a very long day. Our office, for whatever reason, has felt like a sauna all this week so I’ve come home each day just dying of heat and humidity. Air conditioning and pre-strained cold brews are my best friend right now.

Obviously this is very camphor forward; the cardamom is easily the strongest note but it’s followed swiftly by crisp, cooling peppermint. What’s really selling me here is the soft, sweet and vanilla-like note of woodruff that comes through right on the tail end of the sip. I don’t usually taste this note as prominently when I drink this tea hot so it’s nice to see its presence in this cold brew.

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Late, late night cuppa from yesterday. I pulled this one out because I was craving the camphor that this blend delivers. Strongly aromatic and cooling in the back of your chest, with crisp notes of peppermint and just a hint of cardamom to add a slight citrusy pine note. Say what you will about Fireberry (and there’s a lot to say), but this blend has grown on me.

derk

I can’t stop thinking

Forest Flesh

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Crisp, fresh and cooling with a distinct medley of mint and cardamom. Definitely digging this one just a little bit more my second time around steeping it up. Yeah. I think this is the only one I would consider buying/stocking from the Firebelly line up…

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This was my absolute favourite out of all the Firebelly Blends.

I think it’s perfectly named because the combination of highly aromatic and slightly citrus/pine tasting cardamom combined with crisp and menthol rich peppermint really do come off as incredibly fresh and clean and very much like you’re walking deep through a pine and cypress tree heavy forest – and y’all know that I love a tea that makes me feel immersed in nature. If I have any complaint at all it would be that I think the woodruff is lost in the blend, but the balance of the mint/cardamom is really well done and overall I just enjoyed this blend a lot.

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It’s a breakfast blend.

You’re absolutely getting what’s being described and, in my opinion, nothing more or less. Very robust and brisk with a hearty astringency and notes of malt and raisin. Would take milk and sugar very, very well which is an important quality for a breakfast tea. Like Flower Power (the jasmine green), I would view this as a good option to add on to an order if you needed a restock of a breakfast style tea but probably not the reason for making the order.

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Soooooo… I don’t think this is an Earl Grey.

Like, if you were a customer who wasn’t used to ‘variant’ Earl Greys and you ordered this expecting a slightly more lemony version of your standard EG (which is kind of how the tea is described) I think you would be very disappointed with what you had received. Now, to be fair to Firebelly, there is bergamot peel in this blend so it’s not completely abandoned the standard EG ingredient composition – it’s just hard to taste with everything else going on. Firebelly doesn’t use flavouring or oils in their blends though – it’s one of the reasons some of the blends taste a bit more ‘flat’ than what a lot of people would be used to. So, not incorporating bergamot oil into an Earl Grey blend would make it very challenging to present something that would taste ‘normal’ to the average person.

So ignoring the fact this is present as an Earl Grey… it’s a good tea.

It tastes really citrusy but distinctly lemon leaning. I get a lot of the lemon thyme from the flavour and it’s very soothing and refreshing. Lemon thyme isn’t an ingredient you’ll see really anywhere in commercial tea blends and Firebelly has used it a couple of their blends. It’s delicious. Not really savory like a ‘regular’ thyme would be, and creates this punchy citrus top note that works in a similar way to what a good lemon oil might come across as if used sparingly. There’s also juniper in the blend which adds a nice gentle pine-y undertone and compliments the lemon myrtle and lemon thyme perfectly. Were it a bit more aggressive in the blend you might think ‘gin’ because there’s a pretty botanical vibe to this tea already. I’d personally love more juniper, but this is a nice restrained amount.

Definitely an interesting tea! …but not an Earl Grey.

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This is a pretty expensive black tea blend but as soon as I saw the dry leaf visual it was very clear to me why. There is a frankly very high amount of vanilla bean in this blend. Possibly the highest amount of actual cut up vanilla bean that I have ever seen in a tea blend. Y’all, vanilla (especially organic vanilla) is not cheap. Seeing how much is present here… I’m actually surprised it’s not more expensive.

With that said, I’m surprised they didn’t lean into that all in the name. Steeped up, it tasted like authentic vanilla more than anything else. Like, the almonds in this are doing nothing. Super aromatic. It’s fairly tannic and drying in the finish, though. More than I think the ‘average’ tea drinker is used to experiencing which is yet another reason why I feel like a name like “The Crowd Pleaser” isn’t the best fit for what this tea actually is. I think it would hold up really well to milk though, which would make it a pretty good vanilla black option to fit in that kind of ‘breakfast blend’ realm.

Overall I thought this was interesting and pretty good, albeit poorly named.

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drank Holy Mao by Firebelly Tea
15429 tasting notes

We’re ending the green tea section of today’s Firebelly reviews with the one I enjoyed the most. I don’t dabble with straight greens (outside of hojicha) must, but Mao Jian is one of the few that I will typically keep a very small amount of on hand. I thought this was a very nice one – it was fresh and vegetal with a hint of sweet snow pea coupled with some faint peachy undertones and notes of corn silk in the body. Not something I’d generally reach for unless I had that rare really specific craving but I thought it was a solid quality Mao Jian!

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Personally I thought this was the least memorable and interesting out of all 20 of Firebelly’s teas. It’s a bit too similar to some of their other blends, and really just tasted like a general mix of ginger/cinnamon. I know there’s Genmaicha in the blend but you can’t taste it at all because the spice ratio is a little too high and because of that there’s not really anything that I would call “toasty” in terms of flavour. It’s also not really warming spices so much as it is spicy spices. Not as bad at Zest For Life or Internal Combustion, but just… meh.

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So this is a jasmine green tea. It’s a nice jasmine green tea, but at the end of the day there’s nothing stand out about it aside from the fact the quality is solid. Good quality ingredients are very important – especially when it comes to these type of ‘cupboard staple’ profiles. So, if you were already planning on placing a Firebelly order and you needed a restock or top up of this type of profile I think you’d be getting a good one. I’m just saying that it’s not the type of tea that is the reason you place the order. Does that make sense?

Not entirely related but this tea is also a good example of how some of Firebelly’s copy in their tea descriptions make me feel very uncomfortable. It’s just like, aggressively sexual at times for these tea profiles and names that should not lend themselves to that level of overt “sexiness”. Like, here is an example from the benefits section of this tea’s product page to show what I mean:

Promotes good oral health (“good” and “oral” should always be in the same sentence).

Maybe I’m the odd one out here, but I just find that really awkward and uncomfortable to see in the description of something as basic/classic as a jasmine green tea called ‘Flower Power’. Would love to hear other people’s thoughts…

Martin Bednář

I feel similar. Like why? While the company name is so interesting, this turns me off. Why to be sexual in tea company? I am 26 yo, so certainly not too old for this “fun”, but I just don’t like it!

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So when I said, in my tasting note for Internal Combustion, that there was a hotter/spicier tea in the Firebelly assortment… this is it.

This tea absolutely puts the “Fire” in “Firebelly”. It’s deceptive too because you smell the dry leaf and you do get the tickle and burn of the chili and ginger but you can also smell hints of the citrus and thyme. Steeped, though!? Yeah, it just taste like the burn of hot peppers. Every other quality is drowned out – which is a shame because the green tea base used actually visually looks pretty high quality. It is an ungodly level of spice though. Like, I think it would be physically painful to drink a full mug of this tea. I tapped out after a couple sips and the burn of that chili lingered for quite a while after. This is the tea that should be named Internal Combustion. The name Zest For Life is misleading – I was certainly expecting citrus zest and playful ginger and spices. Nope. Nope.

Nope.

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drank All Matcha by Firebelly Tea
15429 tasting notes

Mixed feeling on this one, I think.

I do drink straight matcha but I definitely prefer flavoured matcha since more oceanic leaning matcha is unappealing to me in the same way that Sencha or Gyokuro is. This is a pretty umami and kind of nori/seaweed heavy tasting matcha which are, of course, the qualities I’m less a fan of. I prefer a more vegetal matcha with maybe note of garden greenery. However, the mouthfeel is excellent and well balanced between a silky and thicker creamy texture and I do think the overall quality of the matcha is really nice even if it wasn’t a taste I personally was a fan of pure.

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drank Blossom by Firebelly Tea
15429 tasting notes

The dry leaf visual of this tea is breath taking! The gyokuro is a deep emerald green and the sakura petals are such a cute and colourful pink contrast. It’s the type of visual that I think, even if you’re like me and you dislike green tea, is immediately eye catching and elegant. Sadly all I tasted when I drank this tea was the gyokuro. Mind you, I generally hate gyokuro so perhaps my attention was more fixated on it in a negative way than other people would be.

It wasn’t a surprise to me I disliked the blend though. It was fighting an uphill battle from the start.

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We have now reached the portion of Firebelly’s catalog of teas where pretty much everything is a write off for me – the green teas.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a sencha and gyokuro blend before. I’ve had soooo many teas that my instinct is that I must have but I really can’t recall any so perhaps I’ve not. This was just waaayyyy too oceanic/marine tasting for me to enjoy but I did get the faintest buttery finish which was nice. Just not enough to sell me on what is honestly my two least favourite kinds of straight tea.

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drank Big Red by Firebelly Tea
15429 tasting notes

I love a good yancha and Big Red Robe/Da Hong Pao can be quite delicious if you find a good one. However, they can also taste quite unpleasant. I think this one is that sort of rare middleground. It had the pleasant spice notes and slight stonefruit undertone that pulled me in a bit but it also tasted metallic/brassy and the flavour notes were muddy and lacking clarity.

It could be much better steeped Gongfu versus Western (which is how I tasted it) but based on this snap impression I feel like it’s definitely priced higher than I would be willing to pay to find out…

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drank King Hong by Firebelly Tea
15429 tasting notes

Cold Brew!

When I had this tea hot it was pretty enjoyable but I have to say that I found it much better cold brewed! It was really complex but still approachable, smooth, and refreshing. I got some nice woodier notes and hints of spice, but also elements of both golden and darker honey, warm baked and floral quince, red fruits, and just a bit of hazelnut. I think I could drink pitchers at a time of this cold brewed, though they would definitely be expensive pitchers full of tea…

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drank King Hong by Firebelly Tea
15429 tasting notes

While not my favourite tea overall in the Firebelly assortment, this is my favourite of their straight tea selection. I might be wrong but from memory it’s also the most expensive tea that they’re carrying? So that kind of sucks.

It’s a pretty gorgeous looking Hong Shui though, and steeped out Western style I thought it had really pleasant and playful notes of golden toasted grains, praline, syrupy red fruits, and a light creamed honey note. Very smooth and coating across the palate. I’d be curious to see how it performs Gongfu. Seems like it would make for an excellent session.

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