Tea for Tuesday: Numi Emperor’s Pu-erh Tea

Pu-erh is not everybody’s cup of tea. I’m not even sure it’s MY cup of tea. It can be strange stuff — neither black, green, white, nor oolong. It’s an earthy fermented brew unique in both creation and flavor.​

Today, I’m reviewing Numi’s Emperor’s Pu-erh. Of all the pu-erh I’ve tasted this one comes out as a good, basic, organic starting place that is pretty easy to find (though you may want to shop for the best price or look for a sale) and gives a baseline for what to expect from other pu-erh.

At it’s best, pu-erh is earthy and woodsy. It can be almost pleasantly musty. Or it can smell and taste like moldy socks on a hot day. An old fish pond. Potting soil. Mushrooms. A hint of smoke. Chocolate. Malt. Sweet. And oily if that’s even possible. Sometimes there are hints of all of those flavors from the very same leaves. What the heck? Weird stuff.

Numi Emperor’s Choice Pu-erh has just a hint of fishy smell or essence of seaweed aroma and a hint of smokiness. After steeping for a few minutes it tastes woodsy and earthy with a hint of resinous-ness (is that a flavor or even a word?). I don’t find much of a mushroom flavor in it, but it can have a bit of chocolate and malt. Overall the woodsy taste is pleasant. The fishy smell seems to dissipate fairly quickly, but it can be off-putting if you’re not expecting it. The brew is dark and slightly reddish. I can steep a couple of cups from one tea bag, but not as many cups as some of the loose leaf pu-erh that I’ve tried.

Why in the world would anybody drink fishy dirt tea?

Not all Pu-erh tastes like fish or dirt. Pu-erh is supposed to be chock-full-o health benefits, as is most tea. But pu-erh is supposed to be extra good for digestion, cholesterol, and weight loss. That sounds good to me. Plus I just plain like trying lots of kinds of tea. I first tried pu-erh several years ago, and I’ve been trying it again recently. I’m still not sure that I like a lot of it. And I feel like the more I know, the less I know.

I learned recently that there are two kinds of pu-erh — raw (or Sheng Cha) and ripe (or Shu Cha). The raw variety is the kind that ages over many many years and develops a unique flavor. Sometimes it’s called green pu-erh. Or “aged raw pu-erh.” It can be pressed into bricks, cakes, disks, or tuo cha (little cup-or-bowl-shaped disks). Properly aged, it can become a coveted delicacy and quite expensive. If properly stored it will continue to age and change over time.

The ripened version is also aged, but with a lot less time involved. The fermentation process is speeded up to mimic what can happen to the raw green version over many years. So the ripe kind is usually aged for a few months. (It can also be weeks or years depending on the tea.) Moisture is controlled. Microbes are added. It can be loose (and later bagged) or pressed into the same shapes as Sheng Cha.Then it becomes “ripe,” is dried, and is packaged.

In the end, both Sheng Cha and Shu Cha end up a dark and almost reddish color with a mellow, complex flavor.

Ripe pu-erh is the tea you’re probably going to find most easily in grocery stores or American tea shops. This is what Numi’s Emperor’s Pu-erh is. There probably aren’t many microbes still living on this tea further maturing it, but it may change some with age and it has a very long shelf life.

Once you get used to Emperor’s Pu-erh try other pu-erh teas and judge from there if you like them better or not. Your tea really shouldn’t taste like actual moldy socks on a hot day or a dried fish pond, but just a hint of that is not uncommon. Enjoy! 🙂




Tea for Tuesday: Teavana’s Maharaja Chai Oolong Review (and Sale Notes)

All right, tea! It’s this post-Christmas time of year that Teavana digs out what’s left of the year’s batches of tea and puts them on sale for 30-75% off. It’s a good time to stock up if you find a favorite listed. And it may be a good time to try something new too.

Keep in mind, some of the sale teas will be discontinued (most of the tea that’s 75% off), so when these are gone, they’re gone. (I’ve added a partial list of discontinued teas to the end of this post.) It’s good to stock up if a favorite is listed. Some tea is just marked down to make room for fresher batches, so why not try a new blend or some black tea pearls?

You can not only find tea on sale but also lots of tea ware such as tea pots, tea strainers, mugs, and travel tumblers (many of which come with their own tea strainers).

One of my favorite styles of travel tumbler is on sale, the Stainless Steel Tea Tumbler. They call it the “Chai Tumbler” on the website, who knows why “chai,” but you can use it for any kind of tea. A similar model was called simply, “Stainless Steel Tea Tumbler.” Since my old version has lost it’s vacuum seal, and no longer keeps the heat as it once did, I might have to grab a new one. This is my favorite because it doesn’t have a push-button on top (those are hard to clean properly). The one I like has a regular screw-on lid that doesn’t leak and is easy to clean. When mine was newer and insulated properly, tea could stay hot for 6 hours (and warm for even longer). The Teavana store at our mall has this same style of Stainless Steel Tea Tumbler, but different patterns on the outside — one is somewhat holiday specific with words like “tinsel” and “twinkle” emblazoned on a white matte finish, the other is a shiny ombre cranberry red.

Also on sale for 50% off is the ever-popular Maharaja Chai Oolong tea. It’s a flavorful, well-balanced chai made with oolong instead of the more traditional black tea. Oolong is less likely to get bitter and adds a hint of floral fruitiness to the mix.

In this chai, I note pepper, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. Also present is nutmeg and cloves. There’s something that almost sparkles on the palate — a mint-like sensation without any mint. And it’s all mellowed out by the addition of carob (with it’s chocolate-like taste) and chicory for a smooth richness. It has a fair amount of natural sweetness without adding sugar or honey, but you may prefer to add some if you like your chai sweet.

Keep in mind that temperature, how much tea you use in a cup, and brew time make a huge difference in taste, and I especially find that to be true with a lot of chai blends. The volatile components release at different temperatures. If you don’t like it at first, try brewing it differently. Or if chai is too spicy for you, mix it with a little plain tea of your choice to pump up the tea and bring the spice down a few notches.

This is one of those few chai blends where none of the spices seems to overpower the others. It becomes a new whole. A really yummy whole. Nice on a cold winter’s day (which, hopefully, we’ll get a few of).


Updated to add this note: The discontinued teas include Acai Matetini Mate tea, Toasted Nut Brulee Oolong tea, Tomato Lime Cocktail, My Morning Mate, Grape Wulong Oolong, and Marshmallow Macaron. I’m guessing there are a few other discontinued teas that they simply didn’t have in stock. The list is usually longer. Many of these are no longer offered online, but you may find an actual store with some of these (or others) still in stock for a VERY limited time.

Also, the sale on non-discontinued teas probably ends on January 3 January 10. Traditionally, they only have the sale once or twice per year, so act quickly if you’re interested. Lots of yummy teas are available. Local brick and mortar shops may have a somewhat different selection of sale items from those on the Teavana website. Teavana will roll out with new teas on January 11.

Tea for Tuesday: Sultry Strawberry 

I’m so glad I tried this one. I almost passed it up. 

Today’s Tea for Tuesday review features Organic Sultry Strawberry from Tazo (Can you tell I shopped a little when Tazo teas were on sale?)

My favorite fruit teas taste like fruit but aren’t too sweet or too fruity. I want my tea to taste like tea and not like a cup of hot fruit juice. “Join me for a cup of hot fruit juice?” Said no one ever. (Not that I know of anyway.)

Sultry Strawberry is so much of what I want in a strawberry tea. There is strawberry flavor along with a soft earthiness as if you can taste the strawberry seeds still on the fruit and a strawberry leaf or two slipped through when you took a bite. 

It contains a blend of black teas which are going to brew a darker and stronger tea than white, green, or oolong. But it holds up well to the strawberry flavor while not overpowering it as long as you don’t steep the tea for too long. It makes for a nice balance.

This tea contains organic black teas, organic licorice root, natural favors, and organic strawberry flavors.

There are no strawberry bits that I can see. 

Don’t let the licorice in the ingredients fool you — licorice root tastes nothing like black licorice candy. Black licorice candy tastes more like anise. Real licorice tastes sweet, earthy, and very slightly nutty. There is no anise flavor.

The licorice works really well here. I think this is where some of that subtle earthy flavor comes from. Licorice root contains a component that is naturally sweet with virtually zero calories. It’s not candy sweet but soft, like a sip of fruit slices in water.

Not found in this tea is hibiscus. I like hibiscus — maybe even love it — but it is found in so many fruit teas. It can be overpowering. It’s nice to find a good fruit tea without it.

This tea comes in bags, and the flavor holds up well even in a large cup with a lot of water. 

Since it’s organic it costs a little more than non-organic Tazo teas, but at about $4 to $5 for 20 filter bags, it’s still reasonable. 

I found this at Whole Foods. I can’t find it in all stores. But this has become one of my favorite Tazo teas ever. I’ll be on the lookout to find it on sale again. I could drink a lot of Tazo’s Sultry Strawberry tea.


Tea for Tuesday – Tazo Apricot Vanilla Creme

On this fine Tuesday before Thanksgiving I’m reviewing Tazo’s Apricot Vanilla Creme flavored white tea.

I chose Apricot Vanilla Creme because I recently reviewed Teavana’s 2015 Limited Edition seasonal tea called Joy which is also an apricot-flavored tea. Let’s compare. (Tazo teas were also on sale here, so there’s that too.)

I taste a gentle apricot flavor along with some vanilla and then classic subtle white tea once it steeps for a few minutes. White tea can taste a bit grassy and bitter if steeped for too long. This got only slightly bitter. 

Tazo’s Apricot Vanilla Creme is much more delicate, in both flavor and color, than Teavana’s Joy apricot-flavored tea. Since Joy also contains black, oolong, and jasmine green teas, it has a lot more punch in several areas — tea strength, caffeine, color, and floral notes. The apricot flavor is more pronounced in Joy too (at least the first time you steep the leaves). Sweetener will help bring out the fruitiness in both.

While I can brew at least two good cups of Travana’s Joy, Tazo’s Apricot Vanilla seems good for only one nice cup. That is not a bad thing if you don’t want to leave soggy tea bags sitting around. Your family might thank you. Or if you brew tea at work, you might find Tazo fits the bill nicely.

Tazo’s Apricot Vanilla Creme lists only white tea and natural flavors on the ingredient list. It gives no specifics on what “natural flavors” are used which seems to be the norm for flavored teas.

I was able to purchase a box of 20 bags of Tazo Apricot Vanilla Creme for about $3.49. Teavana’s Joy costs about $9.95 for 12 sachets. You can also purchase Joy as a loose-leaf tea or have it brewed by the cup at Teavana or Starbucks (as they serve a limited number of Teavana teas). Depending on how you use the tea, that price difference could be huge. Brewing more than one cup from each Joy sachet definitely helps, but it’s still more expensive. (It looks like Teavana is starting a Black Friday sale, so you may be able too get Joy 2015 for less. I’ll have to explore that some.)

Drinking Tazo’s Apricot Vanilla Creme is a much more relaxing experience than drinking Joy 2015. The all-white tea means lots of antioxidants and very little caffeine. I could drink this any time of day (though it’s not much of a wake-me-up tea). The soft vanilla offers a soothing familiar creaminess that makes for a nice overall experience with balanced fruity taste.


(This post is also for NaBloPoMo. It’s my 20th post for that.)

Tea for Tuesday – Joy 2015 Flavored Tea Blend: a mini review

It is Tuesday so that means it’s tea time. Today, I tried Teavana’s new Limited Edition Joy 2015 Flavored Tea Blend.

This is a much more traditional tea than some of the other’s I’ve had recently. It’s a blend of black tea, jasmine green tea, and oolong along with flavoring. In this case it’s flavored with apricot.

I noticed the apricot flavor in the aroma before I even took a sip of the tea. I could inhale it from the cup and taste it on my lips. It was fruity and playful. More

Poached Pear Cider Herbal Tea: A mini tea review

Poached Pear Cider Tea from Teavana: a mini tea review

I was looking for a tea to replace Teavana’s discontinued Toasted Nut Brûlée for those times that I want dessert without eating dessert — ya know, have my cake (or cookie) and not eat it too! In the case of Toasted Nut Brûlée it tasted like a cinnamon oatmeal raisin cookie with chopped nuts.
Teavana’s new Poached Pear Cider herbal tea, while nicely spiced and lightly fruity, is not the replacement I was hoping for, but it is very yummy. I was plenty happy to drink my entire cupful, and I’d do it again too.
Fresh, fruit-from-the-tree pears can be both fruity and a little floral. So it should come as no surprise that Poached Pear Cider tea brings a lightly floral aroma and taste to the mix of fruit and spices in this herbal tisane. I find it both refreshing and warmly comforting. It’s like a mashup of a clean floral tea blend with a spiced cider.
Poached Pear Cider’s spices are not overwhelming. They are milder than those in, say, chai. But the cinnamon and cardamom make themselves known enough to add a nice accent to the floral fruitiness of the pear.
As I glance at the ingredients, it would appear that most of the pear flavor comes from added natural flavoring as opposed to bits of dried pear, but it works nicely. This probably makes the pear taste somewhat fresher than bits of dried pear. There is also an overall light taste of dried fruits (apples and raisins) and lemongrass with citrus peal without being overly fruity or citrusy. I find it nicely balanced.
The color of the brewed tisane is beautiful light amber and my cup seemed to have a hint of blush too.
I will be looking forward to more of it this autumn as a refreshing alternative to anything pumpkin or to actual hot spiced ciders.
As I drink more of it, I’ll add comments on brew time, temperature, and whether or not I’m able to brew more than one cup from the same bits. I know from past tea blends, temperature can make a huge difference with tea leaves and especially some spices, so it will be interesting to see what happens with this one.

Chinese Restaurant Tea Extraordinaire – a Tea Review

While searching for a replacement to the Teavana Iron Buddha Oolong tea I could no longer get, there were other discoveries along my journey. So many teas to drink! Which is just fine since I love tea and there are some that I’m rather pleased to have tried.

Next up is an Oolong which, to my happy little taste buds, is very much like the kind of Oolong found in many Chinese restaurants. (Naturally, it depends on what the restaurant serves as some have other options like Jasmine.)

When I purchased Iron Buddha tea in the first place, I was actually looking for Oolong similar to what I’ve tasted at a number of restaurants over the years–a rich, earthy oolong. Iron Buddha tea turned out to be a wonderfully delicious poor match and it became a favorite. But I still enjoyed the restaurant kind and came to realize that this was a more fermented and roasted Oolong.

According to some resources, Chinese Oolongs tend to be less fermented and therefore more green, while Taiwanese or Formosan Oolongs, more fermented. So my findings go somewhat completely against that as I found the more fermented Oolongs to be a better match for the kind served in Chinese restaurants, while my favorite replacement for the lightly fermented Iron Buddha Oolong turns out to be from Taiwan. Individual results may vary.

The closest tea I’ve found so far to match the taste of Chinese restaurant tea is [roll the tea kettle whistle], Wuyi Organic Oolong ($22.99/lb or about $2.88/2oz), purchased in “bulk” at Wegmans, sourced from China.

For comparison, Teavana’s Eastern Beauty Formosan Oolong is also very yummy. It too is an oolong which is fermented longer and is a darker (less green) Oolong. Eastern Beauty [which has now also been discontinued] is more delicate, lovely, but missing some of the heartier notes of Wuyi. It’s just not the same.

General Information: Wuyi, as it turns out, is oft advertised as a “weight loss” tea. I can’t comment on the weight loss claims, but I’ll let you know if that changes. Since it is more fermented than Iron Buddha, however, I do feel the higher level of caffeine, so that alone may burn an extra calorie or two.

Genuine Wuyi is grown on the Wuyi Mountains in Nanping prefecture, Fujain China. (I don’t know if what Wegmans carries is genuine Wuyi or just a similar style, but the label reads “Wuyi.”)

Leaves: The loose leaves of Wuyi are mostly all brown with hints of darker green, gold and charcoal here and there. The leaves are longer, looser and appear to be lightly twisted as opposed to rolled into pellets. They don’t expand terribly much in the 190-200 degree water, but tend to take up more room per dry weight in a storage container than the greener oolongs. I want to call this “fluffy” versus dense. If Iron Buddha Oolong is dense, Wuyi Oolong is fluffy.

Flavor & Aroma: It has a lovely flavor which instantly reminds me of a good version of the tea served in many Chinese restaurants. There is a distinctly similar taste. This is what I was looking for when I’d gotten stuck on Iron Buddha. The flavor of Wyui is not the drinkable perfume that is Iron Buddha, but earthier, heartier, maltier, with a natural sweetness, a slight metallic base and lightly chestnutty roasted flavor. There is somewhat of a warm peach aroma. It isn’t as strong or dark as black tea, but clearly more intense than green tea with virtually zero green or vegetal taste.

It works well for a couple of infusions, but not as many as Jade Oolong, Iron Buddha, or Monkey Picked Oolong.

Wuyi Oolong is completely yummy if you like this kind of tea and would do well to help wash down a heavier meal which is probably why it, or something like it, is served so often in restaurants.