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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Lipton's English Breakfast

In the past, I have discovered that - outside of the United States - Lipton offers a number of teas that are of a much higher quality than their run-of-the-mill, dust-like attempt at black tea, which they sell all over the United States. (If it sounds like I have a bias, it is because I certainly do...for as inexpensive as tea can be, I find it unfortunate and a disservice to tea drinkers to offer such a low-quality brew.) The "higher quality" is of course relative to what is being mostly offered here in the United States, and it is possible that the tea I will be reviewing today has been imported and is available here. However, in hunting grocery stores, I have not been able to find it. A quick search of Amazon reveals something called "Daring English Breakfast," which can be ordered here State-side, but I am not sure if it is a separate offering from today's review or simply a re-branding.

Today's review covers Lipton's English Breakfast, advertised as "Exclusive Selection" on the package. From their marketing website, this seems to suggest a line aimed at businesses with "quality you can see." This marketing toward businesses fits with the fact that I picked up this teabag at a hotel in the Netherlands recently.

Opening the teabag, I feel as though I cannot see much of anything. The pyramid bag is fairly translucent. However, the tea in the bag feels as though it has been ground pretty fine. It also has the same smell of generic Ceylon as the Lipton Black Tea one finds here in the United States.

Following the steeping instructions (which had very communicative pictures), I poured a cup of just-boiled water over the tea and left it for two minutes so as not to risk over-steeping. Once the steeped cup had cooled, I prepared for tasting. The aroma of the tea smells to me like a typical English Breakfast, albeit a bit flat and unremarkable.

My first sip almost surprised me. For a moment, the tea seemed like a nice, smooth, flavorful cup, while it was on the tip of my tongue. Then, it washed over the rest of my mouth, and the astringency came through. At least the tea is drinkable. It could probably be doctored with milk and sugar and be less harsh. I also feel as though my two-minute steep time was such that the tea should not have gotten oversteeped, which leads to me to believe that the quality of the leaves led to it being this bitter. The flavors almost have a bit of complexity to them, though not a lot. There is a touch of malty flavor that hints at an Assam, or it could be that they are using a rather robust Ceylon. (South Asian teas are an area in which I wish I knew more!)

If this tea were available to the public, I would say that it would make a great alternative to the Lipton Black Tea that is sold in grocery stores. It could be used for making very inexpensive iced tea and would likely produce better results than other, cheap black teas. However, I think that in all tea brewing, there is no substitute for decent - if not good - quality leaves. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 2.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
You can learn more about this tea from their marketing website, here. Some hotels and businesses source it for their tea offering.
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, January 24, 2017

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Tea of Life's Peppermint Bark Green Tea

This week, we take a look at (and a sip of) Peppermint Bark, a green tea from Tea of Life's Peppermint Collection. Packaged in its pyramid-shaped cardboard container, the tea sachet itself is not pyramid-shaped, as we discovered in last week's review of Black Tea Cinnamon Mint from the same collection, which you can read here.

To emulate peppermint bark candy, Tea of Life has combined green tea with cocoa pieces, licorice pieces, peppermint leaves, and flavors of coconut and peppermint. Some of those ingredients are fascinating, such as the licorice pieces and coconut flavors! The dry tea blend gives off a smell of mint and a bit of chocolate, though mostly mint. Oddly, I actually find the mint to be a bit reminiscent of menthol, rather than peppermint. Maybe that is due to the inclusion of something else, like the licorice, which I did not specifically smell. The aroma is slightly sweet, which adds a pleasant touch, but there is something about it that is not quite ideal.

I steeped the tea sachet for four minutes, using water that had been brought to a boil before being allowed to cool slightly. The resulting cup...smelled like the menthol-peppermint-slightly cocoa concoction that was suggested by the dry leaves. I took a sip and was slightly surprised. While the flavor absolutely matched the aroma, the was not that bad. In fact, I moderately enjoyed drinking the rest of the cup.

On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 2. While the cup did taste okay, the overall composition was a bit strange. To me, it did not taste like peppermint bark, and I think I might have enjoyed a mint green tea more than the menthol-like mint in this blend. For a tea blend that intends to taste like a chocolate candy, I think the lack of sweetness - and minimal flavor of chocolate or cocoa - really detracted from the effort.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
You may be able to find this collection in some department stores around December. Tea of Life does not appear to have a retail website.
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, January 17, 2017

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Tea of Life's Black Tea Cinnamon Mint

A good friend gave me this Peppermint Tea Collection from Tea of Life, and I felt that it would be an excellent selection to review here on Built from Ink and Tea, especially considering that I am entirely unfamiliar with the company from which it came! Looking at one online retailer of this brand, they certainly do have a lot of options. This box set of twelve tea sachets comes with four different blends, and today we are reviewing the first, Black Tea Cinnamon Mint.

I have to admit that I have doubts about this tea, even before drinking it. I typically do not mix cinnamon- and mint-flavored drinks or foods, but I suppose that the heat of one and the coolness of the other could provide a pleasant contrast. I boiled some water and poured one cup of just-boiled water over the tea sachet in my mug, steeping it for five minutes (the upper end of what the package recommends). My first surprise? The sachets are not pyramid-shaped, like the small cardboard boxes are! I had anticipated a shape more akin to Tea Forte's pyramid-shaped tea sachets with their leaf string.

The aroma of mint is pretty prominent in both the dry tea and the brewed cup. However, it is in the brewed cup that the cinnamon really becomes noticeable, having not smelled very strong before steeping. With a Ceylon black tea base, the aroma of this blend does not feature much of the actual tea. However, my first sip exploded in a cacophony of flavor. While in some cases, such a description might be a good thing, I am not so certain, here.

Five minutes was far too long for the Ceylon tea base. That was my mistake. However, the cinnamon and mint tasted strong enough to cover for the black tea. The cinnamon provided more of a vague flavor than any heat, but the mint did actually add some coolness.

On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 2. There is a lot of potential with a combination like cinnamon and mint with a black tea, but the execution feels poor. Even when I had another cup, steeped for a shorter period of time, the tea tasted fine but the flavors of cinnamon and mint were weak. Perhaps Tea of Life needs to look at the blend ratios on this one.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
You may be able to find this collection in some department stores around December. Tea of Life does not appear to have a retail website.
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.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Classiest My Work Notes Have Ever Looked - A Review of Galen Leather's No. 44 Personalized Leather Field Notes Cover

A few months ago, Galen Leather reached out to me with an offer that spoke to the depths of my Field Notes-loving heart. They had crafted some Field Notes covers from leather and wondered, if I might be interested in testing some of the models to review here on Built from Ink and Tea. Of course, I said yes, because if there is anything notebook-related I love more than Field Notes, it would be covers for Field Notes!

For my work notes, I carry a single Field Notes notebook. Of course, like a true Field Notes fanatic, I carry far more than one Field Notes notebook at a time, but only one of them gets used for work. Thus, it seemed ideal that I use that notebook for my test of the No. 44 from Galen Leather. No doubt, I would be looking super classy, walking into meetings with my leather cover in hand - or so I imagined of myself. While I am mostly joking, my first impression upon seeing the No. 44 on the Galen Leather website was that it looked very professional, clean, and quality. There are a few similar models, most of which differ in the style and number of the interior pockets, but they are all meant to carry a single Field Notes notebook and pen. The number 44 bears a good amount of large stitching, which I felt stood out nicely and contrasted well with the slick-looking leather.

While I could have chosen a more rustic-looking leather, like the No. 44 in Rustic Dark Brown (which would have looked great with the stitching, too), I opted for the plain Brown, which in the pictures appears to have a slicker/shinier leather finish. Those pictures are very accurate to what I now hold in my hands.

When it arrived, the presentation of the cover was beyond what I might have imagined. The box in which it came was no thin, throw-away container. This was truly a presentation box, hard-sided and sturdy, a decorative Galen Leather design on the front, protecting the contents within. And what contents they were. The leather cover sat gleaming in the box. A Galen Leather-branded bellyband kept it from banging against the sides of the box too much (or so I imagine). A card with the Galen Leather story, an evil eye charm, and the tale of the evil eye was tucked into the package. And finally, a nicely printed note with information about the product, its care, and the history of my specific cover (the color, when it was made, and who at Galen Leather made it)!

The myriad contents held a lot to absorb! I read through all the documentation with interest; that they provide such details as the history was quite impressive, and the inclusion of care instructions was much appreciated. (One fascinating tip that I learned from those instructions and have since used on other leather goods is "for small scuffs or wear marks, simply rub your thumb or finger along the cleft between your nose and nostril for a bit of oil. With light pressure rub the spot on your cover in a circular motion. The scuff should darken and become less obvious.")

To the actual use! Foremost, as to the interior design of the No. 44, it is stitched with two card slots on the left-hand side and a larger pocket behind them. At the top of the left-hand side sits a pen loop, attached to the flap that forms the rear pocket. (This does mean that the rear pocket on the left side cannot be used for holding a notebook like the right side can.) The entirety of the right side is a pocket that holds a Field Notes notebook by sliding the back cover of the notebook into the pocket.

In my daily use of the No. 44, I had items in every pocket. The two card slots held business cards of mine and those of clients. I found that each card slot comfortably holds around five cards. (The leather does stretch slightly.) The rear pocket on the left side held varying items from loose notes to receipts or, once, a customs form. Worth mentioning here is that this leather cover is meant to be slim - these pockets are not for stuffing with a lot of paper. (In some respects, I found this to be very beneficial, as it limited me from going overboard with what I was carrying in the cover.) The pen loop of course was used to hold a pen, while the pocket on the right-hand side held a Field Notes notebook for my work notes.

Before I even started considering what I might write in a review, I spent probably two months using only this cover for one of my Field Notes notebooks. Foremost are my most obvious thoughts. The cover looks great, it smells great (if you like the smell of leather), and it does exactly what it is advertised to do in holding the field Notes notebook. Even when I got to the second to last page of my notebook, I did not find that the cover was negatively affecting my writing. I got numerous compliments on the look, and even with the increased size from a Field Notes notebook, the cover and contents never felt bulky. Over the period of use, the cover itself did get shinier from being rubbed and worn, as it was inserted and removed in a bag or backpack on a daily basis. The number of creases in the leather also increased, due to use, especially when a corner of the cover would get caught on something and pulled back a bit. The leather did "stain" the paper cover of the Field Notes that I held in it, a result (I assume) of the treatment to the leather itself.

The number of business cards that could be held by the No. 44 cover seemed ideal for me. I rarely carry more than ten cards at a time, and the size of the card holders felt ideal for going into a work meeting or networking event. The part of this case with which I took the most issue is the pen loop. Due to its placement so far to the top of the case, almost any pen is going to stick out the top of the cover, even just a bit. Looking at the way the loop is integrated with the card pocket stitching, though, I can see why it has been placed in that location. With the pen holder there, it also prevents the user from inserting a second notebook into the left flap of the cover. Certainly, this was never the intention of the creators, yet some of their cases with the loop in the middle of the inside would allow for a second notebook to be held, despite that not being part of the original design. A minor point, but worth mention, is that the pen almost certainly has to be removed from the cover in order to write on the left side of the notebook being held (due to the pen otherwise being behind the sheet on which you are writing). This only poses an issue, if you tend to use multiple pens and therefore might not be removing the pen from the loop prior to writing. Users will also find that the loop is limiting in how big of a pen it allows (a Pilot G2 will fit with ease, though a Pilot Metropolitan fits snugly, and the cap of the TWSBI Diamond 580 would not fit into the loop). However, the loop is also thick, so tight pen clips may have some issue fitting.

Aside from the nuances that I mentioned, I had nothing but a good experience with the Galen Leather No. 44 cover. Reasons that might keep me from using it as frequently in the future include carrying more than one notebook, wanting to carry more than one pen with my notebook, and carrying pens that do not fit the loop. I recommend the No. 44 cover for a fancy, affordable, single-notebook cover with options for personalization.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Galen Leather's No. 44 Personalized Leather Field Notes Cover is available from their website, here.
This product was provided in exchange for an unbiased review.

Text is copyright 2017, Built from Ink and Tea.