215 Tasting Notes

drank Bombay Chai by Steepster
215 tasting notes

A bit ginger-dominant, but that’s what I like in a chai. Must-have cardamon is there, too, so it’s a good fit for me. Doesn’t go bad if over-steeped (but I usually add milk anyway).

Flavors: Cacao, Cardamom, Ginger, Malt, Spices

205 °F / 96 °C 5 min, 30 sec 5 g 12 OZ / 354 ML

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The dry tea is an appealing mix of green, white and brown leaves. The tea soup is clear and golden with a fruity and vegetal aroma. The astringency is very faint, perhaps because I was careful to steep at the recommended temp of 195F and time of 2 min. I’ve learned it’s worthwhile to coddle a Darjeeling first flush a bit. Easy drinking was the result and a second steep at 208F for 5 min was a nice bonus.

Flavors: Caramel, Dry Grass, Floral, Fruity, Tangy

195 °F / 90 °C 2 min, 0 sec 3 g 10 OZ / 295 ML

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I do get orchid notes from this tea, in both scent and taste. It reminds me of a qi lan oolong. I think it has been fermented and roasted more lightly than most dark oolongs, yet it develops a nutty aroma and even a touch of smoke. It is light-bodied and a clear amber hue. Because it is less roasted, it will not have a dark color unless oversteeped or use extra leaf. Easy, very enjoyable drinking. I rank the smell even better than the flavor. I drink tea as much for the aroma as anything else, and I love floral teas, so this one scores high for me.

Flavors: Caramel, Malt, Orchid, Roasted Nuts

205 °F / 96 °C 2 min, 0 sec 4 g 12 OZ / 354 ML

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This was the 2013 crop (not 2011 as stated elsewhere). It was sealed in a small package and has retained good quality. Fresh floral notes, bright clear pale amber soup, no objectionable bitterness or astringency. In short, very enjoyable. Even got a 2nd steep from the lovely leaves. Mmmmm …

Flavors: Caramel, Floral, Grapes, Mineral

205 °F / 96 °C 2 min, 0 sec 4 g 12 OZ / 354 ML

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No rating, for these Snow Buds were a present from a chum and there were complications to the gifting process. The wonderful teas were in thin polyethylene bags. One of them was a heavily-smoked lapsang souchong. The poly bags had absorbed the smoke, resulting in smelly bags and smelly contents for all the teas. I got the Snow Buds out of its poly bag and into a tin immediately. Then aired it out in a nylon bag for weeks at a time, but alas, the smoke will not subside.

Please pass this info along to other tea lovers. THE LESSON: Thin poly bags don’t keep aromas and flavors apart. Even very thick ones eventually seep. All it took for the damage to be done was a couple of days of co-habitation of the teas in a gift bag. Such poly bags are okay for storing tea for short periods, as long as it isn’t near any strong odors. Fruit, herb, smoke or floral — it doesn’t matter, all will permeate. Snack bags, sandwich bags and the tiny poly ziploc bags sold at craft stores are ideal for sharing tea samples but they make lousy long-term storage containers. They don’t even keep moisture out very well over time; the tea swells in size. Word.

175 °F / 79 °C 3 min, 0 sec

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This refers to the loose leaf version of the tea. Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey is my favorite Earl. By adding blue flowers, vanilla or cream extract, other Earls attempt to lure me away. So far, though, none has been successful.

The bergamot used by Stash is an essential oil, while many of the other Earl Grey teas are scented with an extract of bergamot. I am familiar with bergamot essential oils and bergamot extracts in their pure liquid forms and I can say that there is a distinct difference between them. Distillation of the oil removes the vegetal components of the citrus bergamia orange fruit which are present in the extract. Both oil and extract have an overwhelmingly citrus nature, of course. Besides that, high floral notes predominate in the oil while in the extract, the balance tips toward more earthy influences reminiscent of rosemary. Why do some teas use the extract rather than the essential oil? Perhaps they prefer the effects of the extract or perhaps because it is much less costly than the oil.

The black tea base is a substantial whole leaf which brews up malty and rich. Be sure to use enough tea. You’ll want a couple of rounded teaspoons to make a big mug. If your bag has been battered and the tea badly broken up like mine is, then it will be denser and so measure out less. Or just weigh it … I used 5 grams of tea per 12 ounces. I drank mine neat today and it went down very smoothly, but it holds up well on those occasions when I add milk and sweetening, too.

Boiling 4 min, 0 sec

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A member of my local tea group, San Antonio Tea & Herb Enthusiasts, recently recommended East Frisian black tea to us. That brought to mind the package of East Frisian Blend from K-Teas, as yet untried, sitting in my basket of new aquisitions. Ah, an excuse to have a cup with cream and sugar, after weeks of drinking Chinese single origin leaves in their plain glory. Not only did I have a lovely rich cup of this black tea, I took the opportunity to have a couple of wedges of buttery shortbread, too.

For those who are unfamiliar with East Frisian black tea, here’s some background information from the Tee Gschwendner website: “It may be somewhat daring to call East Frisia (A region of northwest Germany bordering the Netherlands and the North Sea) a ‘Nation’ and its tea the ‘“National Drink’ but East Frisians are avid tea drinkers and the whole process of brewing and drinking tea can take on the dimension of a sacred ritual. All East Frisian blends have a strong Second Flush Assam content, mixed with quite small amounts of teas from Sumatra, Java, and Ceylon. These blends, peculiar to East Frisia, are drunk with the addition of a lump of kluntje (a large white rock candy sugar) and a small spoonful of cream in each cup. The locals refer to tea made this way with the trilling alliteration ‘n lekker Koppke Tee’ (a delicious cup of tea). The flavor is malty, strong, spicy, and highly aromatic. Protocol demands that the tea must never be stirred in the cup, because the true sensory experience comes in three layers: First the cream (sky), then the tea infusion (water) and finally the sweetness of the sugar (land).”

For an authentic two-minute visual primer on the subject, check out this video on You Tube:

The dry leaf of K-Teas’ East Frisian Blend is lightly peppered with golden tips, an indication of the presence of young buds. It’s aroma is sweet, rich and toasty, with a faint note of tobacco. I weighed out three grams (two teaspoons) and prepared it according to package instructions: steeped for five minutes in eight ounces of boiling water. The resulting liquor was deep amber in color, but not as dark as I thought it might be.

Tasting the tea, the malt aspect was prominent, as expected, and the tobacco aspects noted in the aroma were nicely echoed in the flavor. I didn’t find anything strongly fruity to comment upon, but rather more earthy influences such as walnut, cinnamon and carob pod. The Indonesian tea contributed sweetness with a bit of citrus sparkle.

What surprised me was the smoothness of the blend. From the description, I’d expected a fair amount of pungency and even some tannic bite, but it just wasn’t there. Elements of bitterness and astringency were nowhere to be found. This blend is quite drinkable on its own, without additives of any sort.

Not having the heavy cream and rock sugar to finish my cup in the traditional manner, I substituted a big dose of non-dairy creamer and a squirt of light agave syrup. It really had to be stirred, alas, so the experience of “sky, water and land” eluded me. I can envision it being really wonderful, though, and hope to try it in the Frisian style one day. As it was, the additives did nearly overwhelm the tea, since it lacked the tannin and spice to cut through the fat and sugar. To get a decidedly strong tea from this particular batch, more leaf and a longer steep would be in order. This tea came from 2011 crops. The rains that year were plentiful in India and thereabouts, which may help to explain why the leaf turned out milder than expected. The caffeine content seemed to be adequate, though, as it did it’s job of launching me for the day pretty well.

I did a second steep on my three grams of leaf. I poured hot water into the mug to pre-heat it before dumping it out, popping in the brew basket and pouring the boiling water on for a second time. I set a saucer over the cup to hold in the heat, and furthered the process by draping a towel over the whole setup. I let the second steeping go for eight minutes. The resulting second cup was not quite as tasty as the first, of course, but it was plenty good enough to drink. Despite the long steep, it was not bitter or astringent, continuing to be as good-natured as the first time around. This time, I opted to add only a large dollop of apricot jam, as one might do when drinking a Russian black tea blend. This added a bright, fruity flavor and a thick, slippery texture along with its innate sweetness.

Examining the steeped leaf revealed that it consists predominantly of small leaves and tips, so it may have been hand-picked, for the most part. The pickings have been chopped into small pieces, indicative of a CTC (chop, tear, curl) manufacturing process rather than an orthodox (whole leaf) one. The presence of stems is not necessarily bad. I’m a “tea muncher” (try it yourself) and I can testify that often the stems are the juciest, sweetest components. This is most true when the stems come from the newly-grown tips of the tea bush. The older stems, further down, are woody and less desirable.

Although this tea is rich, smooth, and of good quality, I lowered its rating because it didn’t live up to its name. It lacked the punch, flavor-wise I was expecting from it, and if I were an East Frisian, that would be disappointing.

See the slide show which goes with this review, here:

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec

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This is a scrumptious, organic anji bai cha. This tea is picked in the Spring. My purchase was made a year ago, and the tea has been stored since then in small portions in the freezer or refrigerator. So, even though it is a year old, it is still quite good. It is so tender and delicious that I always eat the steeped leaves afterwards as I would any nutritious cooked vegetable.

The initial steep or two are not my favorite; sometimes I toss them out. This is a “hong qing lu cha” (green tea baked to dry) and perhaps it is that process which creates the effect that the first couple of steeps are not as luscious as the following ones. I like the nutty tones of the flavor. Compared to another famously nutty flat-baked Spring green tea, ‘long jing’ aka ‘lung ching’ aka ‘dragonwell,’ anji bai cha is a less fussy steeper with similar aroma and flavor profile but lighter and jucier. Given a choice between the two, I would usually pick the anji bai cha. I also enjoy the citrus notes, simultaneously tangy and creamy, and the great throat-moistening qualities of the tea. The high levels of l-theanine, a calming amino acid, give it positive marks in the health category. I steeped 5 grams of leaf in a 3-ounce glass pot for a total of 8 steeps. That’s over 20 ounces of tea. Sometimes I steep a larger pot and ice it … so thirst-quenching.

Read the full review with slide show here:

170 °F / 76 °C 1 min, 0 sec
Joshua Smith

It’s interesting to see that frozen green teas actually retain their flavor well. Also, the iced version sounds really good, especially since I just finished some yard work, and a haven’t quite finished re-hydrating.

Pamela Dean

Joshua, frozen dry teas, in my experience, do stay amazingly fresh, compared to those left at room temp. Mine are double-sealed in the freezer. That is, they are in tiny sealed ziploc bags or tightly folded foil packets, which are then placed inside a larger, tightly sealed container. Extra care against absorbing odors from other things in the freezer and fridge is necessary for good results. The teas which are worth this extra care are white tea silver buds, fine early spring greens, and very green oolongs (which lose their floral notes very quickly unless vacuum-packed, frozen, or both). Where these teas can be purchased vacuum-packed in small quantities and the user intends to consume them slowly, the extra cost is a good investment. My finest vacuum-packed teas go in the refrigerator, as well.

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I’ve tasted about a dozen ali shan offerings (most of them quite green, slightly-roasted like this one). Upon comparison, this is a standout. When it comes to floral aromas, I found some lovely ones within, lilac among them. However, it’s not as strongly floral as some I’ve had (and I do cherish those floral notes). Where this Pure Heart shines is the leaf freshness and tenderness and the even coverage of oxidation across the leaf. Obviously there was a lot of careful attention paid to bruising this crop, and it delivers a great drinking experience. Rich flavors of butter and corn are a delightful contrast to a light-bodied liquor which is clean and sparkling like champagne.

The pickers took complete budsets down to the third open leaf, yielding finished nuggets of dry tea that are large and fat. Many of the nuggets sport a ‘handle’ of stem which I’ve come to associate with hand-picked products. Gazing at the steeped budsets transports me to the tea fields in my mind’s eye. They are so juicy and tender that I am inclined to gobble up 90% of the leaf and stem, as if it were steamed asparagus. I wonder what it would taste like with a little bit of vinegarette dressing … something to explore with a future session’s results. I’m having my tea and eating it, too! This ali shan is an opportunity to discover the sweetness of stems, which are often sweeter than the leaves. This revelation has caused me to view stemmy tea with a less doubtful eye.

5 grams tea / 3 ounces water. Short rinse, followed by a rest … then steeps from one to ten minutes, with higher temperature in later ones.

175 °F / 79 °C 1 min, 0 sec

Oh hi! It’s been a while since I’ve seen you around :)

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Having this for a quickie breakfast cup. Mild enough to drink black, but a little bit of a Darjeeling bite, as expected, to contrast with my toast and jelly.

200 °F / 93 °C 4 min, 0 sec

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Note: I’m open to offers to swap tea samples. If you can’t message me, just comment on one of my tea notes, and I’ll respond.

I am fascinated and deeply impressed by the artistry and skill which coaxes such an array of qualities from one species of leaf. In 2009, I founded San Antonio Tea & Herb Enthusiasts. In 2014, a move to Southern California creates both upheaval and new horizons. The best part is that now I live quite close to my son and his family.

For intimate tastings with a small gathering, I’m practicing Asian-style tea service along the lines of Chinese gongfu cha. It is a joy to share good tea!

The most recent sign of my conversion to the deeply-steeped side: I’ve turned three large file boxes into “tea humidors” for aging pu-erh cakes and bricks at 65% humidity. Remote sensors within the “pumidors” relay the temperature and humidity readings to a base station on my desk. It satisfies my scientist aspect and keeps tea pretty well, too.


Southern California, USA



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