Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of DavidsTea's The Skinny Oolong Tea

As I prepared this week's tea for review, I realized that this might be the first time I have brewed the review tea in my Adagio TriniTea, rather than manually brewing it. While I have had my TriniTea for some time (this model is no longer being produced), I tend to use it more during the day than when brewing tea for myself to review. That said, with various celebrations and events, brewing four cups of tea at once (while not having to touch it, except for setup) was ideal. (Watch for a future review of the TriniTea!)

This week's tea for review comes from DavidsTea and has a lot going on (much like many of us, as we approach the end of the year). In the title of this post, I classified The Skinny as an oolong, and yet this tea blends oolong with pu'erh tea, plus adds ginger, orange peel, and eleuthero root (a known stress-reliever). If that sounds like it might be a bit intense - it is.


My first smell of this tea shocked my nose at the strength. Especially due to the ginger, the tea gives off strong spicy and earthy tones. The pu'erh certainly contributes to this aroma. Once brewed, the cup has an earthy smell, still, but I can also smell notes of something slightly-sweet (perhaps the ginger, toned-down slightly) and herbal (likely the eleuthero root, not a scent I have encountered before).

DavidsTea recommends one and a quarter teaspoons per cup, steeped for four to seven minutes. Since I was making four cups, I used five teaspoons, then chose to brew a stronger tea and steeped the leaves for six minutes. The water used should be at an ideal temperature for oolong teas, just short of boiling. Steeping the tea for six minutes resulted in a dark cup, which looks strong to me (just as I wanted). The aromas, though, are not overpowering.


The first sip brings a flood of flavor. Six minutes seems really ideal to me, as I can clearly taste the ginger (without it being too powerful), the citrus (from the orange peel, not too bitter), the eleuthero root (or what I assume is that flavor)...and a bit of tea? As I continue to sip, I enjoy the flavors, but I wish I could taste more of the tea itself. The pu'erh is noticeable, especially in the aftertaste, due to its earthiness. However, the oolong, except for a few roasted notes, seems overpowered/overshadowed by the other flavors.

On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 3. I appreciate what DavidsTea tried to do here, combining oolong and pu'erh, and I really like the pu'erh plus ginger mixture. However, I think that the tea blend lacks balance, unless the intention is to not showcase the tea itself.


Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
DavidsTea's The Skinny 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 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Vital Tea Leaf's Supreme Yunnan Pu'erh


As I sat in my kitchen, drinking tea, this afternoon, I suddenly had a realization. The cup in my hand contained one of my most favorite teas of all time, and I am not lightly giving a tea that label. Truly, this is one of the very few teas that has remained a constant in my evolving tea tastes, ever since I first discovered it. Not only the aroma and flavor, but also the strength, the versatility, and the value, drew me to drink it over and over again. Further in my realization was that I have never introduced or featured the tea shop from which this pu'erh comes. And yes, it is a pu'erh, my most favorite of tea varieties - and a shou pu'erh at that! Looking back in my archives, I found that I have once made mention of the company in a post about oatmeal (here) and once tagged them in a post on anti-decanting (here). My deepest apologies go out to them for not at all doing them justice and giving them the coverage they very much deserve.

Vital Tea Leaf is my favorite tea shop in the world.
From the moment I first stepped foot inside their doors on July 24, 2010, they have been held dear to my heart. Nowhere else have I found a place so friendly and willing to share, to teach, and to guide the experience of tea. Their tea selection is one of the largest I have ever seen. Certainly, one could find websites that sell more different teas, but Vital Leaf (as they are sometimes called) has them all in-store and available to try. And no, I do not mean just to smell (though smells are free, too); I mean that they will happily brew you a sample of any of their teas, so that you can know exactly what you are buying.


Vital Leaf primarily offers three different loose leaf pu'erh (though they have many cakes, too). Wood Bridge is about eight years old, Supreme Yunnan has been aged around twelve years, and Royal is fifteen. Today, though, we are going to talk about Supreme Yunnan. I have already hyped it a lot, so I am going to brew a cup. Supreme Yunnan brews very well using a gaiwan and short, frequent infusions, but it has the versatility to be steeped in more of a Western style, too. Pu'erh steeping is not a precise science, but I use about two teaspoons of loose leaf in my five ounce gaiwan. Since we are steeping the tea multiple times, future infusions can be varied in time to adjust the strength. Plus, I have found that every infusion reveals just a bit more about the tea, varying flavors and aromas slightly in an evolution that is usually only found with pu'erh. The water I use has been boiled and let cool for a minute or two, but I have also used just-boiled water to brew Supreme Yunnan without any adverse effects. After rinsing the leaves (a quick steep, where I pour the water over the leaves and immediately empty the liquid from the gaiwan), I start with a twenty or thirty second infusion. Like I said, the timing is not precise, and one tends to gain a "feel" for each pu'erh and the optimal times, based on aroma, color, and how the previous infusion was.

Supreme Yunnan smells dark. To me, the aroma holds the scent of wet leaves and damp earth, along with slightly lighter notes of something dry, almost sharp, but not unpleasant. I find the smell hard to describe, but it draws me in, making me want to keep breathing the aroma, whether of the cup, the dry leaf, or the wet leaves in my gaiwan.


Due to its age, Supreme Yunnan is not the smoothest shou pu'erh I have ever tasted. I am okay with that, and I actually love that aspect of this tea. This pu'erh has a strong earthiness that I have rarely found in other pu'erh of similar prices. The roughness in the flavor is not a bad thing, and there is still plenty of silken texture throughout the body of the tea. "Hearty" might be a good description for the feel I get from drinking this tea. That sounds weird, but the combination of flavors lends itself to something along those lines. A sip starts soft, seeping over the tongue. Then, still in the main body, the earthiness presents itself, a little rough around the edges. Deep mushroom notes appear and round the flavor. The aftertaste feels a lot like the body, albeit with a touch of smokiness. I wonder, if I did not notice that slight smokey flavor in the cup, or if it only came forth as a part of the aftertaste.

On my personal enjoyment scale, I would absolutely rate Supreme Yunnan a 5. I have no doubt that I will keep buying it for years to come. The price point makes it very accessible and an excellent value for a pu'erh of its quality. I highly recommend trying it, and - if you have the chance - I recommend visiting Vital Tea Leaf in San Francisco, California. Let them show you all the magic of tea that they have to offer.


Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Vital Tea Leaf's Supreme Yunnan Pu'erh is available from their website, here and in Vital Tea Leaf stores.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Upton Tea Imports' Season's Pick Earl Grey Crème Vanilla Black Tea

I have no idea how it took me so long (from the acquisition of this sample) to review another Earl Grey blend. Sometimes I think I should just transition Built from Ink and Tea to reviewing only Earl Grey blends and pu'erh. But, there are so many other good teas in the world!

Today's Earl Grey comes from Upton Tea Imports. Season's Pick Earl Grey Crème Vanilla is, as you might have guessed, a cream Earl Grey, taking the standard Earl Grey flavors and adding smooth vanilla notes that tend to tone-down the cup, while adding an extra layer to the flavor. I brewed two teaspoons in two cups of just-boiled water for four minutes, and the resulting cup smelled great!


The aroma of vanilla hit my nose before anything else. Even as I began to smell the bergamot and some of the underlying black tea, the vanilla still came-on strong. It has an intensity to it that reminds me a bit of vanilla extract in its depth. The bergamot smells light and nearly gets overshadowed by the cream aromas. The black tea, too, has taken a major backseat in the aroma to the vanilla and citrus, being even less prominent than them.


The first sip of this tea changed my entire perception of the cup. I was fully expecting that, given the intensity of the vanilla aromas, the flavors would be dominated by them, but that was far from the case. The tea did taste quite strongly of the vanilla and cream flavors that contribute to its name. But the bergamot shone through those smooth notes, as if to say "Look at me, I am an Earl Grey blend!" Subsequent sips revealed a slight difficulty in tasting the other flavors through the cream ones. The other flavors did show themselves, but sometimes I had to let the tea linger on my tongue for a few moments, before I could really begin to taste and identify them.


Overall, I felt that Upton Tea Imports' Season's Pick Earl Grey Crème Vanilla had great taste and an enticing aroma. However, it really embodied the cream side of a cream Earl Grey, so I would not describe the flavors and aroma as balanced by any means. This may in fact appeal to some folks, who want more of a vanilla-flavored tea with some citrus notes. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 3.


Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Upton Tea Imports' Season's Pick Earl Grey Crème Vanilla 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 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of The Republic of Tea's Earl Greyer Black Tea

Welcome to December! This week, I wanted to provide a contrast - potentially a sharp one - with the tea that we reviewed last week, Whispering Pines Tea's Wild Grey. With Wild Grey being described very specifically as a "very lightly flavored" Earl Grey blend (a statement that proved very true in the drinking), I decided that the ideal contrast wold be a tea that takes this bergamot and black tea combination to the next level of intensity. There was no subtlety here: The Republic of Tea's Earl Greyer.

In an attempt to produce "the best tasting Earl Grey available", The Republic of Tea has blended their bergamot oil with a base of Ceylon black tea. While this might sound standard for Earl Grey, they have tried to use the best ingredients available - and up the ante on the bergamot oil. The loose leaf has a kick to it! Higher intensity on the aroma, though, does not necessarily translate to higher intensity on the flavor, as we found last week. Steeping a teaspoon of tea for four minutes in eight ounces of just-boiled water produced the cup that is going to reveal all!


The bergamot aromas in this blend smell strongly enough that the underlying tea has been unfortunately hidden. While I typically do not mind the base tea in an Earl Grey blend being subdued or hidden, given that I drink it for the blend of bergamot with tea flavor, I was curious to gain an understanding of the profile to be expected with the Ceylon used in The Republic of Tea's Earl Greyer. The steeped cup gave off a most intense smell of bergamot, which seemed heavy, dark, biting, and strong. In some respects, the citrus aroma reminded me of a malty, strongly-steeped black tea, almost like an Assam. While this might sound like a bad thing, it did not feel negative in this instance.


In sipping this tea for the first time, the bergamot surprisingly does not overwhelm me nor the flavor of the tea. Certainly, it does taste very strong, but it blends well with the Ceylon, which is now noticeable. I find the bergamot in this blend to be very robust and full in flavor, expansive rather than overpowering. It encompasses the whole of the cup, as if to remind you that "Yes, this IS an Earl Grey blend that you are drinking." Overall, it is a fairly pleasant effect and certainly not common. The tea finishes with an aftertaste reminiscent of the cup itself, flavors of black tea and bergamot oil lingering in the throat.


For the contrast we got from this week's tea and last week's tea, I never sensed competition. Instead, these two teas cater to two different groups of Earl Grey drinkers: those that prefer a lot of bergamot and those that prefer a little. For the Venn Diagram-like overlap between these groups, comprised of folks who simply love Earl Grey, these two teas will be treats. But as it regards The Republic Tea's Earl Greyer, I would rate it a 5 on my personal enjoyment scale. Prepare yourself for the experience with this one - and enjoy.



Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Republic of Tea's Earl Greyer Black Tea is available in bags from their website, here and in loose leaf from their website, here.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Whispering Pines Tea's Wild Grey Black Tea

My saga of Earl Grey love continues with Whispering Pines Tea's Wild Grey. Knowing Whsipering Pines Tea, they strive to add their own touch of the wild to whatever they blend, and their Wild Grey is no exception. They very specifically selected a wildcrafted (click here for more information on this practice) Dian Hong black tea to form the base. Dian Hong tends toward cocoa and spicy, peppery notes in its flavor profile, an ideal selection for combining with the other main ingredient in Earl Grey: bergamot oil. Brenden of Whispering Pines describes Wild Grey as "very lightly flavored," which should allow the underlying Dian Hong notes to shine through the bergamot. Time to steep and find out!


After boiling some fresh water, I steeped one teaspoon of Wild Grey in eight ounces of water for three minutes. Delighted, I read on Whispering Pines' website that a second steep is recommended! While awaiting my tea, I smelled the dry leaves in the bag and was immediately struck by the intensity of the bergamot. It cuts right through any "noise" and straight to the nostrils with an almost-stinging, but ultimately sweet, aroma of citrus. Fascinated, I continued sniffing and realized that I could already smell the Dian Hong, almost inseparable from the bergamot aromas. The bergamot had this halo of earthy cocoa on its edges - what excellent blending!


My cup of tea ready to drink, I breathed-in its aroma and sipped slowly. At first, I thought I had the wrong cup of tea. The initial aroma from the cup was that of a deep, cocoa-noted black tea - not Earl Grey. My sip slid over my tongue and was swallowed before I stopped to think about the flavor. It really was quite light on the bergamot. The bergamot was present, but it did not take the forefront as it does in many Earl Grey blends. Rather, the citrus notes sat back and complemented the base black tea. They also made an appearance in the aftertaste, which I found interesting, as they hung-on in the back of the throat for some time.


By no means should Wild Grey be underestimated. The cup brewed here is not your typical Earl Grey blend. Rather than focusing on the bergamot, it instead frames the underlying black tea, the Dian Hong, as the hero of this cup, putting it forth and elevating it for the pleasure of the drinker. Alongside this Dian Hong comes bergamot oil to provide some citrus without being overbearing - just the right amount. If bergamot in Earl Grey tends to be too overwhelming for you, or you just want less of it, I highly recommend Wild Grey. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 5.




Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Whispering Pines Tea's Wild Grey 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 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Tea Review - A Review of Republic of Tea's Pumpkin Spice Black Tea

This year, during this Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, I am thankful for all of you, my readers, fellow tea aficionados, and fellow writing instrument enthusiasts. I decided to write a quick review of a tea that I was fortunate enough to sample at the San Francisco International Tea Festival, this year. (I highly recommend the SF Tea Festival to anyone interested in tea. You can learn more at this link.)

Today's review covers Republic of Tea's Pumpkin Spice black tea, an autumn seasonal blend. Sounds like the ideal tea with which to caffeinate after a Thanksgiving meal! Blended with the black tea is ginger, cinnamon, pumpkin flavor, sweet blackberry leaves, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice - quite the assortment of spices all in one. Subsequently, the aroma of the dry teabags has a heady intensity. That many spices all together instantly invade the nose at the slightest sniff. But they do smell really good. 


Five minutes of steeping a teabag in eight ounces of just-boiled water, and I have a cup of tea that smells rather mellow compared to the teabag. My guess is that the hot water tones down the intensity of the spices rather substantially. Notes of pumpkin are pleasantly sweet and noticeable - providing a great balanced aroma that lives up to the name of the blend. 


My first sip underwhelms me. For a five minute steep, I was expecting something a bit stronger. The cup is tasty, and the spices and pumpkin blend together well. However, the overall flavor seems slightly weak or watery, and I can taste a bitter note on the backend, which might come from one of the spices involved. The black tea does present a good base and harmonizes well with the other ingredients. 

While I did find this tea to be tasty, it was not all that I wanted, nor was it all that it could have been. If you come across it, I do recommend trying it; it might fit your palate! Otherwise, look elsewhere for your pumpkin tea fix, this fall. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 3. 



Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Republic of Tea's Pumpkin Spice 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 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Republic of Tea's Brain Boost Green Tea

On this Tuesday morning, we felt we needed a boost to our brainpower (lots of work to finish before the holiday, here in the United States!), so our tea to review was Brain Boost SuperGreen Tea Bags from Republic of Tea. Combining ginko biloba and black currant with a blend of matcha and green tea, this tea was designed to benefit the mind and the body in one tasty cup.


I steeped a single tea bag in eight ounces of water for three minutes. The water had been boiled and then let cool for about ten minutes. You can also follow Republic of Tea's recommendation for water "just short of boiling," but I like to let my water fully boil and then cool from there.

The dry teabags smell heavily of black currant, a sharp and sweet aroma that really dominates the scent. Steeped, the tea smells much more subdued, an even blend of the black currant, some green tea, and what I assume is ginko biloba (a faint herbal aroma).


Unlike the smell, this tea does not taste subdued. My first sip is a juicy hit of black currant. Whereas the black currant had smelled sharp and almost bitter, the flavor was smooth and sweet. There are some herbal notes in the flavor from the ginko biloba, but they are minor. The green tea is pleasant, though not strong, mostly providing background notes of flavor.

On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 4. This could be a great daily-drinking tea for someone who wants a bit of fruity fun and a green tea to have on a regular basis. The flavor certainly does not get old!



Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Republic of Tea's Brain Boost Green 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 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Sugimoto America's Sen Cha Green Tea

At the 2016 San Francisco International Tea Festival, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting the folks from Sugimoto America, who were sampling a number of Japanese green teas. Not only did I have great conversations with them and get to try their teas, I also received a great lesson in proper matcha whisking technique. It truly is a skill that requires practice! From the festival, I received a sample of their Sen Cha in TeaPac (teabag). Containing their Fukamushi/Steamed sencha from Japan, these sachets are designed to keep the tea as fresh as possible, while also allowing for improved steeping (versus normal teabags).

The aroma of the dry leaves, even from within the sachet, smells clean and fresh. Intensely vegetal, some of the roasted aspect also come across before steeping. As recommended, I steep the sachet in eight ounces of water that has been boiled and then left to cool for five minutes. The recommended sixty second steep time surprises me, but I give it a try. The scent from the resulting cup is not as strong as I would expect from a sencha, but it does have really pleasant, green notes that verge on floral.


The first sip reveals far more roasted notes than I would have expected, given the aroma of both the dry leaf and steeped tea! Flavors are light, but the delicate aspects really seem to shine with the short steep. The roasting really brings forth a richness in the flavor that fills-in the body of the tea quite well. This richness carries into the aftertaste, which lingers on the tongue for some time - an aspect I found to be really pleasant!


On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 5. It really embodies one of the best sencha I have ever tried, and the price is fairly accessible for such a quality tea. From their website, you can also get the same tea in loose leaf, rather than sachets, which increases the value in my opinion.



Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Sugimoto America's Sen Cha 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 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Republic of Tea's Peppermint Chocolate Rooibos

This past weekend, I attended the San Francisco International Tea Festival and had an absolutely amazing time. I spoke with some great vendors, worked with some fantastic volunteers, experienced some tasty food, and - of course - drank some amazing tea. While I was there, I had great conversations with all the ladies, who were faithfully working the Republic of Tea booth, representing the brand and pouring sample after sample of their teas. Thank you so much to all, who made this festival wonderful.

Today's review was actually not one of the teas I sampled at the Republic of Tea booth, rather it came in the "goodie bag" that all festival attendees received. I tasted this for the first time on Sunday night, after returning home from the show, and I knew that I had to make it the star of this week's Tea Review Tuesday. As a part of Republic of Tea's "Cuppa Chocolate Tea" assortment, Peppermint Chocolate offers a caffeine- and calorie-free cup of sweetness, bringing the taste of a liquid dessert and plenty of antioxidants!


To brew, I used one cup of just-boiled water, along with one teabag, then let it steep for somewhere past seven minutes. Republic of Tea recommends five to seven minutes, but since rooibos cannot be oversteeped, and I like my herbal teas to be strong, the extra steep time did it no harm.


This blend contains a surprising number of ingredients, but they all boil down (no pun intended) to rooibos, chocolate, mint, and some sweetness. The first aroma I notice is rich, decadent cocoa, which is very immediately followed by the sharpness of mint. Though the blend does not contain it, there is a faint smell that reminds me of chicory. Interestingly, the blend does contain carob, which is often used as an alternative to cocoa powder, in addition to cocoa kernals. Providing a lovely background and base for the other flavors is the rooibos.


My first sip immediately reminds me of a chocolate peppermint candy, and it is sweet. However, what I find to be really refreshing is that the sweetness does not taste like processed sugar, more like a natural sweetness, which I suppose comes from one of the ingredients. The flavors are really not complex, nor do they need to be. Peppermint chocolate is the tea's goal, and peppermint chocolate is how it tastes!


On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this rooibos blend a 4. I think it is a regular, and not seasonal, offering. Therefore, hopefully, it will remain available for some time. If you like mint or chocolate, give it a try! If you do not care for rooibos, I still recommend trying this, as the rooibos flavors are not prominent at all.



Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Republic of Tea's Peppermint Chocolate Rooibos 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 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Dobra Tea's 2000 Shen Qi Old Tree Pu'erh Tea

I regularly sample and look at pu'erh, both young and old, raw and ripe, but rarely do I have the pleasure of tasting a pu'erh that comes to me looking like this!


Hand delivered to me from Dobra Tea in Ashland, Oregon, this Shen Qi Old Tree shou pu'erh now pushes sixteen years old, having been harvested in the year 2000. Dobra Tea themselves describes these leaves as "very dark' and "compost-like," a wording with which I have to agree. Serving some into my gaiwan for the initial rinse, I am simultaneously fascinated by the size of the leaves and concerned about whether I have used enough. But, the rinse reveals all - the quick, ten-second, cleansing infusion reveals such a quick, dark brew that I knew these were going to want short infusions indeed. (This may vary based on how much leaf you use.)


Dry, the leaves do not release much aroma. While I hesitate to make any judgments based on this, I do wonder if the storage has managed to remove some of the richness from the smell of the leaf. The rinse of the leaves causes them to share much more of their rich aroma. Comparatively, though, I would still say that the smell is not as strong as one tends to find from some younger shou pu'erh. The earthy tones have truly mellowed. Most noticeable are bright notes, like greenery on the forest floor.


Twenty second infusions with just boiled water provide the first five steepings of Shen Qi. Cups release aromas of soft and just-slightly sweet dampness, almost-barely touched by the smallest of sour tinges. The flavors of dark earth and mushrooms, rich and a bit nutty, layer in the cups. Mellow is a great descriptor, here, because I can taste the complexity in the tea. What I mean is that the cup tastes very soft, not intense and in my face. Once might reason that this is due to me having brewed a weak cup of pu'erh or the tea not having a lot of strength to it. But, having tasted a few other shou pu'erh of this age, I think it is that case that things have toned-down with time. Deep, dark, forest flavors are not going to roar through the cup. Rather, they are going to sinuously fill every aspect of each sip.


If you happen to find yourself in the Ashland, Oregon area, I recommend stopping at Dobra Tea to try their Shen Qi Old Tree pu'erh. To my knowledge, it is not one that they sell online. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 4. Special thanks to my dear friend, who brought me this tea.




Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
You can learn more about Dobra Tea in Ashland, Oregon from their website, here.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Unconventional Tea Reviews - A Review of Monster Rehab: Tea + Pink Lemonade + Energy

In my personal, albeit limited, experience with pink lemonade, never once did I hear or read just what it is that makes pink lemonade pink in color. So, when I had the can of Monster Rehab: Tea + Pink Lemonade + Energy in my hand, I wanted to finally research this and then compare with what Monster did in crafting this beverage. From what I learned, pink lemonade usually results from the lemonade being colored by some red fruit (such as raspberries, cranberries, or strawberries)...or red food coloring. My research suggested that the additions were more for the color than for any modification of flavor, but there seemed to be no general consensus on making pink lemonade.

From the side of the Monster can, it can be hard to tell just what their story is. The list of ingredients does clearly state that purple sweet potato extract is used for coloring (which sounds better than using red food dye!). However, Monster also keeps things hidden with an ingredient listed as "Natural Flavor," so it is possible that we are getting additional fruit in the mix, too. I have to assume this is the case and that this Monster Rehab is not just a recolored version of the Monster Rehab: Tea + Lemonade + Energy that I reviewed last week!


As I smell the beverage from the open cup, I continue to wonder, if it is flavored with some sort of berry. There is a tartness present, which could be cranberry...or it could just be the citrus aspect of the lemonade. The color definitely makes this more attractive-looking than the Monster Rehab: Tea + Lemonade + Energy. But how does it taste?

Whatever the additions might be, Monster Rehab: Tea + Pink Lemonade + Energy definitely brings something different than its non-pink counterpart. The flavor definitely tastes more tart to me. The tartness is juicy, and it sits on the back of the mouth and tongue, reminding you of the flavor even after the swallow. The whole of the drink has a disappointing "thinness" or "wateriness" to the taste, which led me to notice something else: It seems to me that the tea flavors are much more subdued in this Monster Rehab than in the non-pink lemonade version.

Of course, the difference in the amount of tea flavor between Monster Rehab: Tea + Pink Lemonade + Energy and Monster Rehab: Tea + Lemonade + Energy could be good, depending on your preference. If you like pink lemonade and prefer less tea, give Monster Rehab: Tea + Pink Lemonade + Energy a try. The lesser amount of tea really is a small difference and fairly relative, given the other flavors that comprise the drink. Otherwise, if an Arnold Palmer is more your tea and lemonade drink of preference, I recommend Monster Rehab: Tea + Lemonade + Energy for a new blend of energy.



Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Monster Rehab: Tea + Pink Lemonade + Energy is often available at supermarkets and convenience stores in the United States.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
Text is copyright 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Change in Stained Fingers on Thursday

Over one hundred and fifty ink reviews have been posted here on Built from Ink and Tea.

At several points along this multi-year journey of ink reviewing, I have realized that - even just acquiring small samples - I am amassing more ink than I am using. For a fountain pen enthusiast and a lover of writing, this is both a good and bad thing. On the bad side, it could (and does to some degree) mean that I am not using my pens as much as I would like. After all, these samples are small. On the other hand, the good side is that it gives me a plethora of options when inking my next pen.

The purpose of the ink lies in writing, not in looking pretty in a bottle or sample vial. It is for this reason that I have decided to change the structure of Stained Fingers on Thursday. Ink reviews will not stop entirely, and I will still be reviewing and posting inks I really enjoy, thus bringing about more full and fleshed-out reviews. Certainly, this means that Stained Fingers on Thursday will not be weekly, but it may also expand the posts to include such things as writing samples, color group showcases, and comparisons.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Unconventional Tea Reviews - A Review of Monster Rehab: Tea + Lemonade + Energy

Here we have another entry in the Unconventional Tea Reviews category. This time, Monster has crafted another of their Monster Rehab blends, intended to give you energy and hydration at the same time. I have to admit, the color this pours is probably the least attractive thing about it, but given that most folks probably drink it from the can, what is that experience like?


To start, the description of Monster Rehab: Tea + Lemonade + Energy sounds like Monster took inspiration from the classic Arnold Palmer recipe (iced tea and lemonade). I am personally not very familiar with the Arnold Palmer drink, but I did find it interesting that it is usually comprised of three parts unsweetened tea to one part lemonade, and there is a variant wherein the ratio is one part tea to one part lemonade (called a Half & Half). While it is not clear just what ratio Monster used, the drink smells pretty even, the lemonade aroma blending with a light black tea scent. Of course, also included is Monster's energy blend, which does lend its own juiciness to the aroma.

The flavors combine a really smooth lemonade with a noticeable amount of black tea. As I usually feel with these drinks, it could use a bit more tea flavor in my opinion. That said, I also appreciated that the lemonade did not seem overly sweet. The tartness was subdued and not strong enough to pucker the mouth. Overall, I found Monster Rehab: Tea + Lemonade + Energy to be an enjoyable drink, an energized and refresh homage to summertime lemonade and an intense variant to blended tea beverages.



Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Monster Rehab: Tea + Lemonade + Energy is often available at supermarkets and convenience stores in the United States.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
Text is copyright 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Whispering Pines Tea's Elder Grove Herbal Blend

The weather has grown colder, where I live. The long nights of winter are approaching, and warming herbal blends make for perfect evening drinks. Whispering Pines Tea offers Elder Grove to suit just that cup and provide a relaxing, non-caffeinated experience. Blending spices, herbs, and elderberries, Elder Grove promises an enticing blend of flavors.


The aroma of Elder Grove covers a range of scents and impresses upon me heavy, warm tones. Foremost, I can smell the juiciness of the elderberries, sweet in their addition. Cinnamon is noticeable, a sweet and spicy topping. The chicory can also be smelled, if one is familiar with the aroma and looks for it. Extra spicy in this blend is the holy basil, and I know from experience that the flavors imparted by that herb might be both warming and intense.


After the five minute steep has been completed per the directions on their website (1/2 tablespoon in 8 ounces of just-boiled water), I hold in my hands a very dark cup of aromatic bliss. The core of the aroma resides in a sweet and spicy blend of scents. Steeping has brought the different herbal and spice notes together, melding them into a very cohesive smell. However, the initial sip actually surprises me! The first flavor to hit my tongue is the lemon balm, laying a smooth foundation for the others. What follows embodies a slightly-sweet, but not at all sugary, berry-edged mixture of earthiness and spice. However, even the spice is not heavily spicy. With the inclusion of holy basil, I was anticipating almost a stinging-spice (in a pleasant way, really), but instead this tastes very mellow.


Elder Grove goes down so smoothly; the flavor is soothing. While the aroma seemed warming, I did not find the flavor to be overly so, which was fine; this blend tasted delicious. As I savor the end of the cup, I realize that a slight warm feeling has spread throughout my body. That contributes to the soothing feeling. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this herbal blend a 5. On cold winter nights, I will definitely enjoy cups of this. Peaceful moments with a cuppa are not far, when Elder Grove is had.



Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Whispering Pines Tea's Elder Grove herbal blend 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 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Unconventional Tea Reviews - A Review of Monster Rehab: Peach Tea + Energy

Back in 2013, I reviewed to Monster energy drinks as a part of my series of Unconventional Tea Reviews. First was the Monster Rehab: Rojo Tea + Energy, an energy drink that of all things combined rooibos with a bit of black tea, their energy blend, and...cranberry, which dominated the flavors. (You can read my review, here.) Then, I tried Monster Rehab: Tea + Orangeade + Energy, which was surprisingly smooth and lacked the intense tang or sour flavors of a lot of orange beverages. (You can read my review, here.) Today, I have for you the next Unconventional Tea Review - a review of Monster Rehab: Peach Tea + Energy.


What has Monster added to their energy blend this time? Black tea and peach juice concentrate! Given that the can says this contains 3% juice, I wonder just how much tea it contains. Pouring it into a glass, I can certainly smell the peach. The aroma reminds me of the liquid in which canned peaches are packed. There is a scent present, too, that I think might be black tea, but I am not sure. It smells vaguely like the sharpness of tea (probably a Ceylon blend).

Flavor-wise, I should note that this is not a carbonated beverage. While I have tried sparkling tea drinks before, I find that the tea flavors must be very strong in order to compete with the carbonation. Thus, Monster made a good choice in not carbonating this Rehab. The peach flavors are strong, but thankfully are not as sweet as a syrup. They do actually taste smooth and juicy. I can taste the tea, albeit not very prominently. This drink somewhat reminds me of a peach sweet tea from the south eastern United States.

Monster Rehab: Peach Tea + Energy goes down very smooth and crisp. The lingering aftertaste is of peaches and does not feel cloying with sweetness. I never felt as though any of the flavors in the drink were too intense or overbearing. I did find it interesting that this beverage contains coconut water, but I think the intention there was to assist in the re-hydrating for which they promote this drink. If you like peaches and energy drinks, give this a try!



Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Monster Rehab: Peach Tea + Energy is often available at supermarkets and convenience stores in the United States.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
Text is copyright 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Whispering Pines Tea's Spring 2016 Ailaoshan Black Tea

This week's tea review showcases another of the amazing teas from Whispering Pines Tea Company. Their offerings never cease to bring wonder to my tea-drinking session. The Ailaoshan Black that I will be drinking was harvested in the spring of 2016. As this tea is harvested twice per year, the vintages are likely to each have their own nuances of flavor that will delight tea connoisseurs.


I began by boiling water. Then, as suggested by the Whispering Pines website for western style brewing, I steeped a teaspoon and a half of tea in eight ounces of water for three minutes. As the leaves re-hydrated, the aromas of dark fruit rose from the cup. I breathed deeply and reveled in the awesomeness of tea. Let me be clear, this tea is not (artificially) flavored in any way, all the aromas are coming naturally from the leaves themselves. I noted a sweetness to the dark fruit, which is not quite plum but softer than black currant. The sweetness reminded me of caramelized fruit, akin to a cooking fruit compote, and the warmth of the sweetness made it seem rather natural. This release of smells was incredible, when contrasted with the more vegetal fruit aspect that the dry leaves maintained.


My first taste brings cocoa and earthy notes to my tongue. Those notes are not wood exactly, but more like soil, though without the mushroom-like qualities one finds in pu'erh. The tea does taste, in a sense, woodsy. Less intense than they were in the aroma, the dark fruit notes reveal themselves in the flavors, ringing the whole of the taste and lingering long after the swallow. They have in them an inherent warmth that leaves a soft, glowing feeling of flavor on my tongue, even after the sip is done.


I am impressed by the sheer presence that this tea has. Even after the cup is finished, the tea stays with me on the tongue, its very slight astringent hint adding another aspect of complexity. When I breath out through my nose and mouth at the same time, those lingering notes of flavor are experienced in a shadow of taste and smell.


Whispering Pines recommends infusing this tea a second time, so I follow their directions. After a five minute steep with the same leaves in just-boiled water, I have a cup that looks just as strong as the first one. The aromas are also similar, though I feel that the earth tones have strengthened with this second cup. The flavors seem rounder to me, softer with a sense of core dark fruit intensity that fades to smooth, cocoa note edges.


I highly recommend visiting Whispering Pines' website and reading the wealth of information about the Ailaoshan Black tea. I found it fascinating. Truly, drinking this tea was an experience. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 5.


Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Whispering Pines Tea's Ailaoshan 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 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of DavidsTea's The Big Chill Herbal Blend

Ready to chill? The Big Chill by DavidsTea has the herbs that are intended to help you relax and sleep better! If you have had Mother's Little Helper by DavidsTea, this is a lot like that...but with a citrus twist. It is time to relax...and try this blend!

So, despite this being sold as a more citrus version of Mother's Little Helper, I found it interesting that The Big Chill only has two ingredients that are vaguely citrus: silver lime flowers and lemon myrtle. Quite the trickster, silver lime is actually a flowering plant - not a lime. The lemon myrtle does lend its citrus-like aromas quite heavily, though! This blend does contain a lot of fruit, too, including apple, apricot, and mango. The blend also has apple mint, which sounds like another fruit, but is not. The key ingredient in helping us chill is valerian root, an herb that is often used in helping reduce sleep problems or anxiety. (Personally, I like to steep it with herbal blends as a bit of stress-relief.)


From the aroma, I instantly notice two things: mint and lemon-like scents. However, there is a lot more than just those two smells coming from this blend. The mixture smells sweet in an herbal way, and it smells like there are a lot of different aromas blending together. I steeped two teaspoons of the herbal blend in twelve ounces of just-boiled water for seven minutes, then let it cool enough to be drinkable. The aroma of the brewed tisane carries all the same scents as the dry mixture, albeit with a heavier emphasis on the lemon-like smell.


The first sip tastes delicious. Despite the long steeping, it does not at all taste strong. If anything, the flavor is a bit weaker than I would have preferred. The body of the tisane does not taste sweet, but there is a certain sweetness to the aftertaste that I suspect comes from the apple and the mint. As I sip down the cup, which goes smoothly, there is something about it that spreads and warms the body.


When I finished my first cup, I made a second, using a long steep time and twice as much leaf (four teaspoons). The two flavors that got really intense? The mint and the lemon. This is the intensity that I was anticipating, and I find it to be fairly tasty. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate The Big Chill a 3.



Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
DavidsTea's The Big Chill can be purchase from their website, here.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Atticus' The Grey Ghost Black Tea


Looking for some tea, coffee, or used books in Park City, Utah? Look no father than Atticus, a lovely spot along Lower Main Street. Our tea today comes from their shop and is an Earl Grey variant - yum! Atticus has added some vanilla and black currant to the standard Bergamot-enhanced black tea for a blend inspired by To Kill A Mockingbird.


We brewed a mug of this blend with twelve ounces of just-boiled water, a teaspoon and a half of tea, and four minutes. The hot water soaking into the leaves released delicious smells - vanilla and the citrus-y Bergamot combining in a sweet, tangy aroma that wafted pleasantly from the cup. Really, it was toned down quite a bit from the very, very intense smell of the lemon-y Bergamot on the dry leaves.


The flavors that wash over the tongue with each sip are smooth and very citrus-y. The vanilla provides a sweetness that is more background than anything else, a nice touch that probably increases the sweetness. The black currant puts some bite into the finish. While the fruit is not super noticeable, it definitely adds another dimension to the Earl Grey!


On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 5. I really enjoyed the additions that Atticus made to the base Earl Grey. However, this tea is rather special and can only be purchased from the Atticus Coffee, Books, & Teahouse in Park City, Utah. They have over seventy other loose leaf teas to try, too. For more information, visit the link below.




Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Atticus' The Grey Ghost is only available from their store in Park City, Utah. Visit their website, here.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of DavidsTea's Licorice Twist Herbal Blend

While I may be in the minority, I rather enjoy black licorice candy. So, when I saw an herbal blend with inspirations of black licorice, I knew I had to try it. However, Licorice Twist from DavidsTea has a lot more than just anise and licorice root, combining such herbs and fruit as nana mint, fennel, cocoa bits, pineapple, ginger, peppermint, and more!


I really enjoy when herbal blends can be steeped for a long time, bringing out a lot of flavors, without growing bitter. Licorice Twist is no exception, and I used the upper end of the recommended steep time (four to seven minutes), steeping my tea for the full seven minutes (maybe a bit more). I steeped two teaspoons of the mix in twelve ounces of just-boiled water. The aromas coming from the dry leaves are an incredible mixture of sweet and spicy with a really intense smell. Steeping the mixture tones down the intense aromas a bit. Some of the sweetness has diminished, as well as some of the spiciness.


My first sip reveals that the sweetness was only hiding. The taste is a complex blend, light on flavor but with definitive sweet notes and a spicy bite in the aftertaste. I would not describe the overall taste as "black licorice," rather I would say that the black licorice flavors are enhanced by a number of other herbs and spices. Even served hot, this tisane refreshes me like a cool drink of water. Mint teas sometimes seem to me to be heavy, but the mint in this blend adds to an already uplifting flavor.


On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate this tea a 5. Earlier today, I drank some that had been chilled, and it was quite tasty. Over the past few days, I have been really enjoying every cup of this that I drink. Unfortunately, I picked up this sample some time back, and it is no longer available from the DavidsTea website.





Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
DavidsTea's Licorice Twist is no longer available.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.