Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Runa's Mint Guayusa

On the heels of my last review, which covered Runa's Traditional Guayusa, I am excited to bring you my thoughts on a variation this week - their Mint Guayusa.

I brewed my pot of Runa's Mint Guayusa for five minutes, using setting 1 (for green and white teas) on my Adagio TriniTEA, with four teaspoons of guayusa and four cups of water. As I mentioned before, guayusa is not tea in the sense that it is not from the camellia sinensis plant (as black teas, green teas, white teas, etc. are), yet guayusa nonetheless has a lengthy history of use in making medicinal infusions in hot water and being consumed for its stimulating effects. Guayusa originates in South America and is a close relative of mate and yaupon (all three are types of holly trees).

The infusion results in a cup that seems lighter in color than traditional guayusa, but the smell is certainly minty. In fact, most of the aromas are centered around the mint that has been added and only a small amount of roasted green notes from the guayusa show through. This provides an interesting contrast with the aromas I got from smelling the dry, loose leaf Runa. There, I felt as though the mint (while strong) balanced equally against the roasted notes of guayusa.

My first sip touches the tongue with the warm-to-cool transition of a cup of mint tisane. However, it never quite gets to the full coolness of mint, as the flavors of guayusa show themselves. I found that the guayusa did not seem quite so bold in the Mint Guayusa as it had in Runa's Traditional Guayusa. The flavors are overall very straight forward and to the point. There were not a lot of layers of complexity, as the two ingredients put forth their all in a blend of (surprisingly) medium-strength flavors.

Overall, the Mint Guayusa from Runa made a very pleasant cup. I enjoy mint-flavored drinks, and this one provides a really nice hit of caffeine to accompany those minty notes. If you enjoy traditional guayusa (or mate or yaupon), give Mint Guayusa a try! On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate Runa's mint guayusa a 4.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Runa Traditional Guayusa is available from their website, here.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2017, Built from Ink and Tea.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hidden Peak Teahouse: In which we write the review afterwards, because you aren't allowed to while you're there

This is a guest post from Laralyn, a new contributor here at Built from Ink and Tea! She and I experienced Hidden Peak together, and here she describes the setting beautifully:

If you happen to be a lover of tea and well-furnished spaces, and if you happen to find yourself in Downtown Santa Cruz, the very first place you should spend some quality time is Hidden Peak Teahouse. I had the pleasure of visiting this incredibly beautiful and relaxing shop for the second time recently, and my second impression was even better than the first.

With both indoor and outdoor seating, the Gong Fu tea room is a haven for tea-lovers and peace-seekers who need someplace to unwind. If you decide to stop by, you can expect to be greeted warmly but very calmly, quietly, and somewhat formally by a member of the staff. They will ask if you've visited before, and will explain a few unique things about the teahouse if you're new. They serve Chinese tea, primarily in the Gong Fu ceremonial style; they have a small menu of light snacks; and the teahouse is digital-free. The no-devices policy is a blessing. It's very difficult, especially in the Bay Area, to find anyplace where having your phone out or asking about the Wi-Fi password is verboten. The ambiance of the teahouse is nearly sacred. This is a place where your soul can take a deep breath and expand. If you want to engage in something beyond silence or simple conversation, there are shelves of books and games to borrow during your stay. The most prominent sounds are clay teaware clicking against hardwood and water coming to a boil.

The employees of the teahouse move around silently and respectfully, hardly interrupting whatever reverie you find yourself lost in. They will help you select a high-quality, seasonal, and single-origin Chinese tea, as well as the preparation method. They offer tea served Gong Fu style, brewed in a pot or gaiwan, or a steeped in a glass (without a strainer or basket, allowing you to watch the leaves unfurl).

The hot water is placed in a large, vintage, Thermos-like container, and next to your table will be your electric kettle. Every table is topped with a unique Gong Fu draining tray, and all of the furniture in the tea room is vintage or antique Chinese. Every chair, table, tea tool, and piece of artwork shines with a patina of long and affectionate use.

Hidden Peak's storefront retail area offers a myriad of teaware options, mostly focused around Gong Fu tea service, but styles and tea cultures other than Chinese are also represented.

It's important to mention that the quality of tea available to drink or purchase at Hidden Peak is very good. Their least expensive pu-erh far outshines the top-shelf options from many other tea retailers. We chose two shou pu-erh teas, Lincang Old Tree 2008 and Tengchong Mt "0549" 2007, and loved them both. We also tried and enjoyed their tea glass tea option, which on that day was Damo, a Yunnan green. We were told that the owners source the tea themselves, and work directly with the tea growers in China to choose the best selection, and they certainly succeed.

We spent two or three timeless hours drinking tea, nibbling on raw vegan finger foods, and simply being present. When we left, I felt renewed.

There is much more I could say about Hidden Peak, but it's best if you just go there yourself. Their website will provide you with their tea and food menus, events schedule, blog, and the history of the Teahouse.

Due to the no-devices policy, we could not take pictures, but Hidden Peak's website features some excellent photography on their "Tea House" page.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Runa's Traditional Guayusa

We are back!

Fueled by the power of tea (and maybe a bit of sleep), we have returned to our regularly-scheduled content, plus some new content, as we ramp up toward the 2017 SF Pen, August 25-27! (Click here for more details.)

This week's review covers a type of caffeinated "tea" that has not been previously featured on Built from Ink and Tea - guayusa. Guayusa, a plant native to South America, is closely related to mate and yaupon (all three are types of holly trees). Not strictly tea in the sense that it is not from the camellia sinensis plant, guayusa nonetheless has a lengthy history of use in making medicinal infusions in hot water and being consumed for its stimulating effects. What I am drinking this week is traditional, unflavored guayusa by Runa, a brand who is doing much to promote the benefits and consumption of this plant.

I used my Adagio TriniTEA to brew four cups, using a teaspoon of guayusa per cup, steeping for five minutes. The resulting infusion provided a nice dark color, like a roasted oolong's steeping would. The aromas from the brewed guayusa are deep and earthy. Unlike the earthy aromas of a pu'erh, these are more green and woody. The aroma reminds me of a deeply-intense version of the smell of some wood or underbrush. If one could concentrate the smell of a vine or non-floral plant, it might be close to the aroma of this traditional guayusa. The aroma contains a lot of "green."

My first sip contains so many different flavors. I notice first a slight bitterness on the edges of the flavor. Not heavy, it is a light bitterness akin to slight tannin in black tea. Next, the flavors of the main body arrive with bold notes that are verging on being rich, if they were not so green. And green they are, carrying green flavors throughout, albeit with roasted notes, akin to a roasted green tea. Third, an interesting sweetness lays in the undertone of the drink. It is very faint, yet even in the aftertaste, there is a sweet aspect to the roasted green flavor.

Overall, I really enjoyed my first experience drinking guayusa. It reminds me of mate and yaupon (probably more the latter) and for good reason, given their relationship. I highly recommend giving Runa's guayusa a try, and it conveniently comes packaged in both teabags and loose leaf formats. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate Runa's traditional guayusa a 5. I will definitely be purchasing more, when I finish this container!

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Runa Traditional Guayusa is available from their website, here.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2017, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Adagio Teas' Thai Chai Black Tea

Coconut, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and lemongrass...ingredients for tasty food, but also ingredients for a hopefully-tasty tea. This weeks's tea review takes a look at Adagio Teas' Thai Chai, a black tea blended with all of the above ingredients, comprising a strong cup of flavor. Just reading the ingredients reminds me a bit of last week's review of DavidsTea's Coconut Oolong, but I have a feeling that the cinnamon and ginger are going to make for a vastly different flavor with this tea.

My first surprise came, when I read through the brewing instructions. Adagio recommends two teaspoons of tea per cup and a five minute steep time. Sounds like a strong cup to me, which therefore sounds delicious! I add four cups of water and eight teaspoons of Thai Chai to my Adagio TriniTEA brewer, set it for black tea and a five minute steep time, then wait. While the tea brews, I smell the tea container to see what the dry blend is like. The ginger aroma is really prominent, but the notes of lemongrass are surprisingly strong, too.

The first cup pours dark, most likely cloudy from the ginger and cinnamon. The aroma, which I anticipated would continue to highlight the ginger and lemongrass, seems overwhelmed by cinnamon. Ginger and lemongrass notes now sit in the background. This is a surprising turnabout, and I take my first sip to see the results of this intense brewing. Immediately, I get flavors of cinnamon and black tea hitting my tongue. A certain heat from the ginger is present, and some sweet herbal notes of lemongrass are noticeable. The cup is intense. The large amount of tea combined with the moderately long steep time resulted in a heady brew. In the body of the tea, the cardamom can be noticed, lending a bit of spice, alongside the ginger. I feel as though the coconut probably smooths the flavors a bit, though it is not as prominent as the other flavors. Due to the five minutes of steep time, the black tea base has just the slightest touch of astringency.

I could imagine brewing this tea and actually making a chai of it (with milk and sugar). The milk might tone down the spices, and the sugar would highlight some of the notes that are otherwise overshadowed by the tea's heat. The black tea itself would have its astringent edge removed, and the cup would probably be full of smooth intensity.

On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate Adagio Teas' Thai Chai a 4. I quite enjoyed my cups of it, and I could see it being a very versatile tea that would appeal to a wide variety of palates. The ingredients are blending quite well, and the steeping instructions provide for good flavors all around.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Adagio Teas' Thai Chai is available from their website, here.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2017, Built from Ink and Tea.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Stained Fingers on Thursday - A Review of Bookbinders Snake Ink Emerald Boa

A part of the new Snake Ink line by Bookbinders, Emerald Boa is a great green ink that found at the 2016 San Francisco International Pen Show!

This scan was done on an HP Deskjet F4280 at 600dpi.
Note: Because these scans are done with a light emitting printer, actual colors will, more likely than not, be slightly darker than they may appear, here. The colors shown, here, are probably a bit more reminiscent of what the ink would be like under a bright light or if it were held up and viewed with a light behind it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of DavidsTea's Coconut Oolong

Combining coconut and lemongrass, this tea for review reminds me of ingredients that could go into a Thai curry. Maybe this tea would be delicious alongside such a dish. This week, we are reviewing DavidsTea's Coconut Oolong.

While DavidsTea does not say what kind of oolong they put into this blend, it looks slightly roasted to me, the leaves lightly oxidized. Smelling the container, I get some faint floral notes, which could be the oolong, but the coconut flavoring that has been added seems to overtake the entire aroma. DavidsTea recommends one and a quarter teaspoons per eight ounces of water, so into my four-cup TriniTEA goes five teaspoons of tea. The recommended steep time from DavidsTea ranges from four to seven minutes, and I opt for six, figuring that should be long enough to get a good, strong cup.

After six minutes, my TriniTEA machine beeps to let me know that my Coconut Oolong has been finished. As I pour my cup of tea, I realize that this is the last of my container of Coconut Oolong, and I regret waiting so long to review it. The cup smells heavily of coconut with a slight tang of lemongrass to the aroma. Any oolong notes are overwhelmed by the other ingredients or are barely noticeable. The first sip seems rich, when the tea hits my tongue. The flavors are warm and slightly-sweet in a very natural way. But, as I taste the sip in my mouth and swallow it, I find myself slightly disappointed. The tea seems weak on flavor, as though I had not steeped it long enough, surprising given its six-minute steep time. To me, the flavor also seems very singular - coconut, a touch of lemongrass, and not much oolong. While it could be the case that the oolong has blended very well with the coconut and therefore is not distinguishable on its own, I think I would have preferred a blend, where the coconut has a chance to show itself and be supportive.

On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate DavidsTea's Coconut Oolong a 3. The cup tasted okay, but to me it felt like it was missing a lot, and the balance seemed off. A cup heavier in oolong would have improved this blend.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
DavidsTea's Coconut Oolong is no longer available.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2017, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of DavidsTea's Super Ginger Rooibos

If I had to make a short list of my favorite DavidsTea blends, Super Ginger would be right near the top. Given how much tea I drink, you can be assured that I have no desire to stop drinking, just because I am nearing bedtime. However, caffeine affects me as it does other folks, and decaffeinated black teas have never been my favorite. Herbal blends are good, but what I really enjoy is a nice cup of rooibos. And when that rooibos has ginger (also a favorite flavor of mine) in large quantities, it gets steeped regularly!

Super Ginger from DavidsTea blends ginger and peppercorns with green rooibos for a slightly-sweet, and definitely spicy, cup of caffeine-free, antioxidant-rich deliciousness. Normally, when I make Super Ginger, I want my rooibos and ginger flavors to be as strong as possible, so I steep five teaspoons with four cups of water (1.25 teaspoons per cup) for seven minutes in my Adagio triniTea. (Of course I am making a big pot of this - by the end of one cup I most certainly want more!) However, for this review, I am going with the average of the four to seven minute range, suggested by DavidsTea, and brewing this Super Ginger for five and a half minutes, using just-boiled water (the same temperature as I use for many herbal blends and black teas).

As I wait for my completed cup to cool, I take a whiff of the container of dry rooibos blend. One does not have to put their nose into the container to smell it; the spiciness hits fast and hard. With both white and black pepper, this could be a little bit like a food topping, but the ginger adds some distinct heat and a touch of sweet aroma. By comparison, the steeped cup smells much sweeter with the ginger having been rehydrated and flavoring the blend. Pepper notes are more subtle, now, and the rooibos is noticeable.

I can hardly wait for the rooibos to be cool enough to drink. The first sip washes heat over the tongue, but the heat is subtle and not overpowering. The five and a half minutes were ideal for steeping. Living up to its name, Super Ginger provides plenty of ginger flavor that builds the body of this cup. The rooibos sits quietly in the background, letting the ginger be most prominent. On the edges, decently strong, are the peppers. Having pepper in a drink, versus having it on food, is an interesting experience, as the spice spreads thinly over the tongue with a pleasant burning tingle. The rooibos does taste sweet from the ginger, though only slightly. One would never consider this drink to in any way be sugary- or fruity-sweet.

On my personal enjoyment scale, I would absolutely rate Super Ginger a 5. I enjoy every sip of this rooibos and the flavors it brings. As spicy teas and herbal blends are not very common, I feel that the uniqueness of Super Ginger makes it one that I want to share with others, so that they can experience it, too.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
DavidsTea's Super Ginger is available in their retail stores and from their website, here.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2017, Built from Ink and Tea.