Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Canton Tea Co's Beeng Cha

The chance to try this tea is something very special. Unfortunately, despite how special it was, I am not honestly sure which of Canton Tea Co' Pu'erhs this tea is. "Canton Beeng Cha" is all that the label says, and from my limited knowledge of Chinese, I know that a "Beeng" or bing is a round cake of pu'erh. "Cha" is merely "tea." That being said, I can be sure that this is a pu'erh!

I begin this session of tea by bringing some water to a boil, after which I rise my gaiwan, small pot, and teacup to preheat them. It is pretty amazing how much of a difference preheating ones teaware can make on the taste of the tea that follows. Next, I measure out about one teaspoon of this tea into my gaiwan. I typically use more than this for gong fu brewing (quick and multiple infusions), which is what the directions on the label seem to imply, but for now we will merely follow along. I perform a quick rinse of the leaves with hot water to "open" them.

The dry leaves have a very vegetal aroma, suggesting a raw pu'erh. Yet there is an underlying smokiness and clear, fresh smell to them as well. The first 20 second infusion is performed. The wet leaves smell more malty now, yet still slightly vegetal. Much to my surprise, the tea brews a very pale green. This is very interesting, and not at all what I was expecting. This first infusion carries a very thin flavor. It is clear and fresh, with a smooth, vegetal aftertaste. As per the instructions, I go ahead and resteep the leaves, figuring that it will be different in the second infusion.

Mmm, this tea really kicks it in gear with the second infusion. The vegetal pu'erh flavor floods the taste buds. It is incredibly smooth and just slides over the tongue. I am truly impressed. I put it through several more steepings, and this tea just keeps on impressing. Normally, I prefer cooked pu'erhs to raw pu'erhs, but with a tea like this, I can hardly afford to be biased. I would give this tea an 87/100 on my personal enjoyment scale.

This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Stained Fingers on Thursday - A Review of Noodler's Purple Heart Ink

With the dry time as fast as it is, I find it odd that this ink bleeds through the paper in places. For me, that is a big negative, as I am not always writing on the heaviest of papers, especially at work. What are your thoughts on the color and how it behaves?

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, April 22, 2014

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Teavivre's 2006 Fengqing Raw Pu'erh

This morning's review is possible, thanks to Teavivre for providing the sample of this old, raw pu'erh!

Contemplating the package of sheng (raw) pu'erh in my hand, it seems that this is a worthy tea for using a small yixing pot that I have dedicated to raw pu'erh. I start heating the water and open the package of tea in the meantime. The small sample package contains leaves and clumps of leaves, broken from a tuocha or a cake. And the smell of the leaves...what a raw smell it is, and I do not just say that as a pun. A raw pu'erh from 2006 has had some years of aging in which to intensify in flavor. From the aroma of the dry leaf comes a very green scent, mellow but figuratively seeming to have come straight from the tea plant. As the water finishes boiling, I put the leaves into the pot, then pour some of the freshly-boiled water over them for a quick rinse of no more than ten seconds, which is discarded. Having added a large amount of leaf to the pot, I decide to begin with twenty second infusions, rather than my normal thirty. The rinse did the leaves a lot of good - it awoke the aromas and flavors.

The smells, rising from my cup, are complex. Deep in the heart of the aroma is the raw greenness that I noticed with the dry leaf. Yet spreading outward from that is the more mellow scents of earth and floral notes. The earthiness does not begin to compare to the deep, dark earthiness of a cooked pu'erh, as I have reviewed in the past, but is lighter and less intense. The first sip of tea is strong...very strong...but it finishes quite spectacularly. Like a strong green tea, the initial taste permeates one's mouth and overwhelms all else. but in the finish of the sip come the taste manifestations of the aroma. Those floral notes, slightly reminiscent of the floral aspects of some oolongs, sit in the finish and the aftertaste, hovering on the edges and lending their complexity.

For the second cup, I steep the leaves for another twenty seconds. The leaves are fully expanded and fill the small pot in which I am brewing. The aromas have not changed much, but the taste is smoother. I would not describe the taste as more mellow, for it is still as intense as the first sip, yet it does not seem as overwhelming. The leaves last through several more infusions. The flavor is, in many ways, refreshing in its complexities. Yet, it can be consuming quickly and without much a thought to the depth, and one will still receive from it an enjoyable flavor. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this sheng pu'erh a 90/100.

This tea is most definitely worth trying. If you have never before tried pu'erh and you are a fan of green tea, this would be a good starting place for you.

Photo credit to Teavivre.
Teavivre's 2006 Fengqing Raw Pu'erh can be purchase from their website, here.
This tea sample was provided by Teavivre for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Stained Fingers on Thursday - A Review of Platinum Green Ink

This is only the ink, which came from the green cartridge of a Platinum Preppy. Perhaps the bottled Platinum Green looks different? Sorry for the minimal notes on this ink!

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, April 15, 2014

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Tea Forte's Raspberry Nectar

Preparing to try out this herbal blend, the first thing that I notice in the smell of the dry leaves is "Hmmm, hibiscus." After boiling some water, I steep one pyramid infuser in a cup of water for five minutes to prepare to taste the "nectar"! The steeping brew still smells a lot like hibiscus, but the raspberry and orange peel smells are noticeable as well.

The first sip of this herbal tisane is a massively juicy explosion of flavor. Tea Forte's website had listed the ingredients as "rosehip, hibiscus, apple pieces, blackberry leaves, raspberries, orange peels, flavoring" and there is so much going on in the taste that I believe it has all those things and more. Thankfully, since this blend is called "Raspberry Nectar," raspberry is one of the dominant flavors. The sweetness of the apple does come out quite nicely, albeit subtly. This would be a decent desert drink, especially if one is looking for something low in caffeine. On my personal enjoyment scale, I rate it a 72/100.

This herbal blend may be purchased from Tea Forte's website, here.
Photo credit to Tea Forte.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.

Monday, April 14, 2014

And the Winner Is... Giveaway Announcement and Furrow Books Kickstarter Update

Thanks to all of you, who entered the giveaway for the Levenger True Writer! The winner of this beautiful fountain pen was entry #14, Roger Calhoon. Roger, I will be contacting you, soon!

Even though the giveaway has ended, you can still read the review of the True Writer, here. Levenger was very generous in sponsoring this giveaway, and I encourage you all to take a look at their website. the True Writer in foliage is available, here.


In other news, Aaron Zeller, of the Zeller Writing Company and Furrow Books, has announced that the project has been 100% funded! It is now more than $1,000 over its goal. Even more exciting is the revelation of stretch goals for the Furrow Books Kickstarter campaign. Furrow Books is moving in wonderful directions, and I cannot wait to see just how far their campaign goes. Visit them and back the project on Kickstarter, here!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stained Fingers on Thursday - A Review of Diamine Steel Blue

It looks very teal, but Diamine Steel Blue is a solid color for a variety of uses.

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.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reminder! Levenger True Writer Fountain Pen Giveaway - Ending on April 13!


Hi all, I just wanted to remind you that the giveaway for the Levenger True Writer fountain pen is ending soon. If you have not read the review and entered with your comment, you can do so here at this post! Remember: your comment must share what your current, favorite pen is in order for it to be a valid entry! A winner will be chosen after 12:00am PST on April 13, 2014. I will announce and notify the winner within forty-eight hours of the close of the giveaway.


Thanks again to Levenger for the opportunity to review this pen.



Update, April 14, 2014: The giveaway has ended, and the winner has been announced, here

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of The NecessiTeas Vanilla Cola

Wow...the smell of this tea is great! It truly does smell exactly like vanilla cola. Yet this is the part where my mind catches up with my nose and hits me over the head, telling me to stop and think for a moment: Vanilla cola tea? As in...a hot liquid that tastes like vanilla cola? (I must be careful here to not call rooibos "tea," for the sake of the tea-political correct.) While my mind is still trying to make a judgement call about whether or not it likes the idea of hot vanilla cola, my body forges ahead into the unknown to investigate and make some of this interesting mix.

It truly is a mix, according to the label. Rooibos, vanilla chips, and "natural flavors" come together in some magical manner to emulate the smell of this carbonated drink...minus the carbonation! Steeping is incredibly straightforward. 1 teaspoon per eight ounces of boiling water. I double this for my two-cup teapot and steep the blend for the recommended five minutes.

I had mentioned that the loose blend smells entirely of vanilla cola. Upon removing the infuser from my teapot, I catch my first whiff of the prepared drink...and now I get more variety to the aroma. The rooibos smell is much more prominent, the cola scent itself is there, and the vanilla laces the whole of the aromatic profile. Still charging onward with this endeavor, I pour my first cup and sit back to sip.

The taste of the brew is not as strange as I had anticipated. The rooibos comes through heavily in the flavor, causing this tea to be better described as "vanilla-flavored rooibos with light hints of cola." The first thought that comes to my mind is "Well, this is fun." The spiciness (meant, theoretically, to emulate the cola) adds a nice touch. Having experienced great vanilla rooibos in the past, this twist was novel and tasty.

Overall, this rooibos definitely made for an enjoyable and fun experience to try. If you like vanilla rooibos, or even rooibos in general, I highly recommend checking out The NecessiTeas Vanilla Cola. I would give it an 83/100 on my personal enjoyment scale.

This rooibos blend may be purchased from The NecessiTeas website, here.
Photo credit to The NecessiTeas.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Review of the Levenger True Writer Fountain Pen and a Giveaway!

First Impressions (9)
My first impressions of the True Writer are regarding its looks. The pen looks great in person. In fact, the colors are more vibrant than pictures reveal. The trim and the body match quite well. Having looked at the other True Writer colors, online, it would appear that Levenger puts a great deal of time into the color design of their pens.

Uncapping the pen, I immediately think that the gold grip section looks gaudy. It also looks quite short, and I wonder how that will affect performance.

Appearance (9)
Personally, I prefer silver/rhodium/platinum/chrome trims over gold/bronze/copper, etc. However, the gold on the True Writer looks wonderful with the colors. The name of this model is “Foliage,” and the body reminds me of autumn leaves. Yellows, browns, and greens blend with splashes of orange. A few of the color patches also seem to be metallic, making them stand out against the matte patches.

By crafting the cap from the same material as the body, Levenger has minimized the amount of gold on the outside of the pen - a move that I thoroughly support. From the tapered clip (reminiscent of the vintage Esterbrook clips) to the engraved band on the cap, finishing with the band at the end of the barrel, the gold on the outside is just big enough to be noticeable without being too much.

Removing the cap, the notable features are the gold grip and the two-tone nib. As previously mentioned, the gold grip is a bit much in my opinion. A section ring would have been sufficient. I found the use of a two-tone nib to be a bit strange - it is the only non-gold metal on the whole pen. Personal bias about gold aside, this pen is incredibly beautiful.

Design/Size/Weight (8)
My first impression of the design tends toward art deco a bit with the gold trim, colors, and especially the clip design. Size-wise, I find the grip a bit small, yet the overall pen length works well in my large hands and would probably be without issue in smaller hands. Uncapped, the pen is of a very moderate length, almost exactly the same length as the TWSBI 530/540/580, comfortable enough to easily use unposted. Oddly, the grip section is fairly short, cause me to partially grip over the threads, yet doing so is not uncomfortable.

It is the weight on this pen, which is most intriguing. By itself, the cap is remarkably end-heavy, so much so that I feel it bears mentioning. The pen, oddly enough, mirrors this weight distribution, as the nib-end of the pen, uncapped, carries significantly more weight than the rear end. The metal section is certainly to blame for this...but it works! With the weight around the nib and not at the other end, the pen feels much more “under control,” while writing, as though it becomes easier to guide the nib across the paper. Overall, I find it to be a nicely-designed pen.

The biggest issue that I see with the design is in the cap threading. Until the cap is completely screwed down, it wiggles quite a bit and turns rather loosely. I could imagine that if the cap were to come unscrewed just a bit, it could easily continue coming unintentionally unscrewed with ease.

Nib (8)
Medium nibs like this one tend to be relatively easy for nib manufacturers to make smooth, and I imagine that Levenger has pretty good quality control on their nibs. This nib is no exception, and I find that it puts down a solid and consistent western medium line, while allowing for some slight line variation, when the pen is lifted just a bit (e.g. when one lessens the pressure of writing). It is a moderately soft nib, not as firm as a TWSBI (JoWo) nib, but also not approaching flex. A good amount of feedback (though not scratchy) connects the writer to the paper. The size of the nib also complements the size of the pen, quite well, both in length and width of the nib body, itself.

Filling System (8)
Appealing to the masses, Levenger has designed the True Writer as a cartridge converter, using standard international cartridges. There is room for a spare cartridge in the barrel, if short standard international cartridges are being used, and I would imagine that a long standard international cartridge could be used. A single, short standard international cartridge is included with the pen. However, in a move that more pen manufacturers should emulate, Levenger has chosen to include a converter with their fountain pen. As a user of primarily bottled ink, the attraction of an included converter is a definite plus. Additionally, the piston unit in the converter moves smoothly and seems of good quality.

Cost and Value (9)
A solid body, a beautiful design, gold plating, a good nib, and a convenient filling system combine with a sub-100 USD price tag for a fountain pen at a great value. While certainly not entry-level, the Levenger True Writer sits at a price point that makes for a great gift or quality, possibly first, foray into midlevel fountain pens. The looks alone are certain to impress.

Conclusion (8.5)
In conclusion, I am very impressed by my first experience with a Levenger fountain pen. Levenger appears to have spent a great deal of time and effort on their designs, crafting pens that are visually appeal and write quite well. The Levenger True Writer is an impressive pen and a great value with a large number of color combinations to suit a variety of tastes.

Levenger was kind enough to provide this pen for my review, and a big "thank you" goes out to them for making this review possible. Please pay their site a visit, here. The Levenger True Writer in Foliage can be purchased from their shop, here. I want to share their generosity with the readers of this blog! Enter the contest, below, and you could win this very Levenger True Writer. All you have to do is enter the giveaway through the form and leave a comment on this post, sharing what your current, favorite pen is. (You must use a valid email address.) Additionally entries may be earned by tweeting about the giveaway or following the Built from Ink and Tea Twitter feed, @SpencerCreates. Just use the form, below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
This giveaway is open to domestic and international readers of this blog. (Note that entries for the giveaway close at 12:00 am, PST, on April 13, 2014.)

Update, April 14, 2014: The giveaway has ended, and the winner has been announced, here!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Built from Ink and Tea Now Tweets! @SpencerCreates

Hello to you all! Built from Ink and Tea now has an official Twitter feed, @SpencerCreates! Here, I am going to be sharing tweets from some of my favorite Lego, fountain pen, and tea sources, as well as sharing more pictures with all of you.

Over in the right sidebar of the blog, there is now a window into @SpencerCreates, allowing you to see the latest posts and shares. I invite you to follow the feed and receive even more goodness, straight from Built from Ink and Tea.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Stained Fingers on Thursday - A Review of De Atramentis Tobacco Ink

As one might expect with a name like "Tobacco," this ink is scented! However, it does not smell like burning tobacco, and, as I discovered, the scent is not much like fresh tobacco either.

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, April 1, 2014

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Teavivre's Premium Keemun Hao Ya Black Tea

Despite their popularity, Keemun black teas remain one of the black tea "families," to which I have not heavily been exposed. Thus, with the opportunity to try this tea, I am eager to brew a cup. Teavivre's website makes suggestions for brewing this tea gongfu-style or as a whole pot, Western-style.

I opted to use a Finum infuser basket to brew a single cup. Into the basket went a teaspoon of the black tea leaves. Then I placed it in a mug and poured water, which had just finished boiling, over it. Time-wise, it was a bit of a toss-up. The website suggests two to five minutes. After two and a half, for which I set the timer initially, the tea looked and smelled a bit weak, so I left it for another minute (three and a half minutes in total). When the timer rang, and I removed the brew basket from the mug, I stopped to smell the tea...and was intrigued.

Instantly, I could tell that this tea was different than most of the black teas I consume. The smell was a complex combination of a number of aromas. Foremost, I noted spiciness. The peppery spice walked alongside a sweeter spiciness, which seemed almost like cinnamon but devolved into the malty body of the scent. Oddly, there was a bit of a floral aspect to it, which puzzled me but compounded the experience.

The first sip carries those aromas into taste. The foretaste is surprisingly lacking in impression, but, when the tea covers the tongue, all of the nuances emerge. Boldy, the flavor embodies the moderate maltiness. The pepper smell has become a tingling undertone in the taste and mouthfeel of this tea. Highly reminiscent of a breakfast tea, it would pair with food nicely. Three minutes might have been enough for this tea, as I can sense the start of astringency on the edges, but that does not detract from the enjoyment to be found in this cup. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this Keemun black tea an 87/100.

This Keemun may be purchased from Teavivre's website, here.
Photo credit to Teavivre.
This tea was provided by Teavivre for my review.