Sunday, November 12, 2017

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Republic of Tea's Ginger Peach Black Tea (Sunday Special Review in Our New Format!)

In honor of the 2017 San Francisco International Tea Festival, happening TODAY, we bring you a special Sunday tea review of the Republic of Tea's Ginger Peach Black Tea.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
The Republic of Tea Ginger Peach Black Tea 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, November 7, 2017

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Pique Tea's Jasmine Tea Crystals (in Our New Format!)

We at Built from Ink and Tea are incredibly excited to be returning to you all with more reviews! During our time away, we brainstormed new ways to bring you content, and this will lead to some good changes around the site. The first of these changes can be seen in the below review with the handwritten content! Given that Built from Ink and Tea covers ink and writing instruments, it seemed only fitting to continue the merger of writing and tea-drinking in this manner. While reviews will initially be posted with the handwritten content, we will also be transcribing them, as we understand that some of you enjoy our content from mobile devices, where it might be difficult to read the photos. (Edit: Scroll down for the transcript!) Please share any feedback you might have about our new handwritten reviews in the comments section, below!

Transcribed review:
A Review of Pique’s Jasmine Tea Crystals

At the 2016 San Francisco International Tea Festival, I talked with folks from Pique, a company with a fascinating new product -- crystallized tea! With their product, tea could be easily had with a minimal amount of equipment or leftovers. I had the opportunity to try three of their teas and I now bring you a review of the first.

Jasmine green tea was one of the first teas I ever tried, and for many years I drank it daily. Getting back to that, I started carrying some Pique Jasmine Tea Crystals in my work bag for use during client visits. Preparing the tea is as easy as pouring the contents of the packet into a mug and topping with a cup of water, heated for green tea (about 175℉). Then wait…

The resulting cup of tea sends out a blast of jasmine aroma. You only need wait a few moments for the crystals to dissolve before drinking. The strong floral notes smell just as if you had steeped the tea with good leaves and jasmine petals. The underlying notes of green tea are strong and solid, present but not overwhelmed by or competing with the jasmine.

Flavor-wise, the tea tastes very strong. I could have used 12 ounces of water instead of 8 ounces, and I feel I would have gotten good results. Despite the strength, it has only a touch of bitterness, possibly from the jasmine. The clarify, it does not taste bad in any way -- this is very drinkable. Flavors of jasmine are very prominent, floating up into the nose with every sip. Green tea notes rest on the tongue leaving a pleasant and moderately-strong aftertaste.

In conclusion, I highly recommend trying Pique’s Jasmine Tea Crystals. They are super convenient in size, easy to use, and delicious in aroma and flavor. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate them a 4 out of 5.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Pique Jasmine Tea Crystals 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.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Review of the King Nib Fountain Pen Writing Set

Welcome back to another pen review, here on Built from Ink and Tea! We are excited to be delivering more of this content to you, now, and in the near future. Today's review covers the King Nib Fountain Pen Writing Set, a relatively new offering in the fountain pen community. (Note, the number following each section heading is the score for that section out of 10.)

First Impressions (8)
Upon receipt of the King Nib Fountain Pen Writing Set, I eagerly opened the box, revealing all of the interesting gear included with the pen. This is most certainly much more than just a two-nib pen set; it also comes with two bottles of ink, two converters for the pen, a wooden gift box, a screen-cleaning cloth, a small “Happy Birthday” card, a wide-ruled journal, and an informational sheet about fountain pen usage. The informational sheet especially stood out to me, as very few pens come with these. Certainly, many fountain pens are targeted at folks who are already familiar with the workings of a fountain pen, but the inclusion of such a sheet could make this set even more fitting for the beginner fountain pen user. While this review will be primarily for the pen, I wanted to go ahead and mention that I appreciate the inclusion of these items, and it shows that a lot of thought went into designing the set. I successfully tested three different inks on the paper in the notebook for fountain pen-friendliness, each showing-through a bit with no bleed-through or spread. It would be nice to see the informational sheet edited slightly for English grammar and wording, but the information provided is solid. Two unlabeled bottles - one blue and one black - comprise the provided ink. After testing the ink in both the King Nib pen and a Pilot Metropolitan (the latter with which I have never experienced any ink-drying issues in the past), I found that there were no issues with the ink itself. The Metropolitan started writing right away, after being left for several weeks. More to come on the King Nib and its writing.

Appearance (7)
Straight out of the box, the wavy pattern that runs the length of the barrel and the cap struck me. It really catches the eye in a positive way, the curves emphasizing the shape of the barrel. There is a slight taper with the cap and body, where the cap is a touch wider than the body, and the barrel tapers a bit more sharply toward the end. Not stunning, but classy, would be an apt description for this pen.
My first impression of the black band around the center and the black end cap were that they really broke-up the design, and that the plastic material from which they are made would just look cheap. After a couple of months of use, I mostly disagree with my first impression. The black does break-up the silver, but that might be for the best, as a full-silver barrel could be great...or it could look over-the-top. Additionally, the black band and black end cap do serve to balance the black stylus that is on the tip of the cap. I will talk more about that in the Design section, but the inclusion of a stylus gives the pen a more-functional/less-dressy look. As a pen that comes in a set like this, I feel that this fits with the use-case. Sure, it may be more casual or day-to-day-focused. The creator intended the pen to look good, but they also intended that it be frequently used, rather than finding a display-home on a desk.
The King Nib branding has been placed on the side of the cap in an area without the wavy lines. It is small and unobtrusive, looking more like an area for personalized engraving than a brad name, but I appreciate the lack of over-the-top branding, and it does feel fitting for this pen.
The King Nib fountain pen bears an uncanny resemblance to the Jinhao 250, albeit it seems as though the designs have been improved - adding the full-body engraving, changing the nib, making the material color choices cleaner, adding a stylus, and relocating the branding.

Design/Size/Weight (7)
From a design standpoint, the placement of the stylus has been chosen to be as least intrusive as possible. It shortness is balanced by the slightly wider black band on the bottom of the cap and even wider black end cap on the body. They flow well with the taper of the pen, which seems smooth, even with a few interruptions.
The clip of the pen is very strong and functional, and the clip's grip is very tight. It may be too much for some thicker shirts or pen loops. But it has been placed such that there is a large gap between it and the pen cap, allowing for those thicker pen loops to hold it snugly, if it can be slid over them. The pattern on the clip disappoints me slightly. It only partially fits with the wavy lines on the rest of the body, but I appreciate that the branding is not placed on the clip, as the clip presents a plain, sleek view to anyone seeing this pen on a shirt pocket or notebook.
The cap snaps onto the body of the pen, rather than being threaded. I personally prefer threaded caps, as snap caps tend to have more wear on them and risk wearing down or breaking over time. However, the point on the pen body, where it snaps into the cap, is situated just below the nib and above the grip, which I have found to require less effort to close (versus a snap-in point below the grip and above the rest of the barrel).
The grip itself has grooves that run the circumference, slightly tapered by otherwise cylindrical, with no angled surfaces to guide one’s grip on the pen. The plastic is a bit slick, but otherwise I found no issue with the feel of holding it for an extended period of time.
The threads on the grip do not tightly fit into the threads on the barrel. While it does close closely - and remains closed fairly well - I have had times, where I removed the cap and in doing so loosened the grip from the barrel.
The King Nib fountain pen does not post well. To me, this is fine, as I rarely post my pens, though I am sure that some may be disappointed by this.

Nib (9)
I found the writing experience with the King Nib fountain pen to be fairly pleasant. For the price point, the stock steel nib fared well, offering moderately smooth writing on Field Notes, Tomoe River, and general copier paper. The nib itself is nothing special and might be upgradable based on the size. Of special interest is that the pen does come with a second nib in the form of an entire second grip section with nib. This secondary nib is of the eastern Fude style, intended for use with some calligraphy. While this is not something that would sell me on the set, I did think it was a very cool addition, and I know some folks that would be eager to have a combined set like this. For what they are, I would rate the nibs highly.

Filling System (7)
A filling system that takes standard international cartridges and allows for using standard converters - definitely desirable in my book. That alone would lead me to rate this highly. However, when I left the pen for a week without using it, it had difficulties writing again upon my return to it. Even priming the nib by expelling a bit of ink only provided a temporary solution. Compared to other pens, which I can store nib-upright and use immediately after weeks of not, this was the biggest issue I had with the King Nib fountain pen. A bit of shaking the pen would sometimes bring the ink back to the nib, but the flow was hesitant and inconsistent. I believe this problem stemmed from the filling system, as the nib was completely clean and not clogged with ink. If this pen uses the same internals as the Jinhao 250 (mentioned earlier), then they leave something to be desired.

Cost and Value (7)
When last I checked the price for the full King Nib fountain pen set on Amazon (one cannot buy the pen separately), the price had been lowered temporarily from $37 to $29.98. Considering the contents of the set, I feel that this cost feels like a decent value. However, the value here is in purchasing the set itself, needing two more bottles of ink, desiring to try the secondary calligraphy nib, perhaps giving this as a gift (in which case the wooden box is a major plus). For someone, who is looking to simply add another fountain pen to their collection, the extras might be nice but unnecessary.

Conclusion (7)
The King Nib fountain pen, along with all of the extras included in the set, would make a good starting point for those interested in calligraphy and fountain pens. The options for nibs and ink colors are complemented by an approachable price point and a good-looking pen. While the internals could be better, the pleasant writing experience should provide a good introduction to those new to these unique writing instruments.

Thanks to King Nib for sending me this pen. It was provided in exchange for an unbiased review. The King Nib Fountain Pen Writing Set is available from Amazon, here.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Text is copyright 2017, Built from Ink and Tea.

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.