It’s All About Taste

Strawberry Bliss Chai

If you pay any attention at all to the side bar (or hiding window if you read this on your mobile), you’ll notice the total number of teas on the list keeps fluctuating. This is because the T2 offerings alter slightly throughout the year as they discontinue old blends and introduce or reintroduce others. So, in an effort to keep up, I update my own list as often as possible, and it’s a bit sad to think there are some teas that will never get an outing. I have one of the last boxes of Orange Zing, but it’s not on offer anymore, so there’s no point trying to squeeze it into the blog within this year.

One thing T2 do that is a mixed blessing is turning limited editions into regular orange box teas. This was a stroke of genius in the case of Jade Mountain, but not so much with Strawberry Bliss Chai.

Not a single one of those words accurately describes the assault in a cup I tried earlier this year as a limited edition, and now I feel compelled to include because some bright spark welcomed it into the orange box fold. Let’s break it down. There is only the faintest, faintest hint of strawberry in this cup. It is drowned out by the battle royale that is cardamon, ginger, cloves, pepper, and chilli. Who said, “Hey, let’s mix up all these overwhelming spices and toss a fairly mild fruit in there, and name the tea after the fruit.”? That person needs a lie down. These flavours are a celebrity roast in your mouth, with zingers flying all over the place. Very much not the idyllic picture of ‘bliss’ you might expect. And to top it all off, it’s a green base. No. Just no. I have made my opinion of green based chai fairly clear. Stop chai-ing to to make green chair work.

To make matters worse, the limited edition popcorn chai released in winter, that tastes like a caramel nutty dream, has not made its way in the permanence hall of orange fame. Who is making these decisions? What is the deal? I’m suitably unimpressed.

Strawberry Bliss Chai: 1/5
Enjoy with: a knife fight, or another equally pleasant activity.

Advertisements

Ka-Pow

Gunpowder Green

Did you watch Worst Bakers in America? Because if you didn’t, you should. It’s still on SBS On Demand. The premise is that 12 of the worst bakers in America come on television, learn from two expert bakers how to improve their baking skills, and then battle it out to win $25,000. It’s like the Great British Bake Off for people less interested in baking and more interested in colourful characters.

Genuine lines from the series include:
“Your brownies bent the spoon!”
“This is my lemon meringue (mer-in-gew) pie. But I was later told it’s pronounced ‘mer-ang’.”
“I chose to make hammer shaped cookies, because construction workers are hot.”
“This cookie is a french bulldog. These are poker chips for my love of gambling. And this represents my inner rage.”
“When I bake the delicates (desserts/pastry), I listen to them. I have to listen to the delicates.”
“I work in a cemetery. I deal with reality.”
“I hate how the PTA mums are so mean to anyone who can’t bake. I want to be Queen of the PTA.”
“I can’t touch eggs!”
“Brownies at a wedding? Classy.”
“This needs some more bling-bling. Ka-pow!”

The ‘Ka-pow’ contestant was constantly tossing powders, flour, glitter, sprinkles, sugar, and whatever else she could all of the place, while shouting, “Ka-pow!” It’s a contagious catch phrase as it turns out.

And what says “Ka-pow” more than Gunpowder Green? That’s right, nothing. I’ve had Gunpowder Green before, and the balls of leaves were small and tightly wound, leaving a strong astringent tea in its wake. This time I was brewing looser balls of tea and the overall effect was much smoother and thoroughly enjoyable. It’s a complex brew that’s a little bit woody, a little bit fruity, a little bit vanilla, and it draws out a smokey flavour as it cools. This cup is a proper kick of green tea and is perfect on a 90 second brew.

Gunpowder Green: 4/5
Enjoy with: an episode of trashy tv. Go on!

Imposters

China Jasmine

I like Chinese food. Well, I say I like Chinese food. The only countries where I have eaten Chinese food are Australia, Canada and the United States. At that point, you can hardly be calling it Chinese food. I’m sure if I went to China and tried to order sweet and sour pork or lemon chicken I’d be given a curious stare (also may be related to my complete inability to speak any form of mandarin or cantonese). And at the end of the meal, I could not for a second expect a fortune cookie. Those are America’s brain child.

My favourite not Chinese Chinese food is orange chicken. It’s not something you can get in Australia, I’ve only had it in the North America. It bears no resemblance to any flavour combination that was first cooked up in a Chinese kitchen. It’s deep fried chicken covered in a sticky orange sauce. It’s a beautiful thing, especially if you get it from Panda Express.

I craved it constantly when I was pregnant. I made a ‘healthy’ version in the slow cooker that simply did not cut it. I have no plans to go to the States right now, but next time I do, there will be orange chicken.

T2’s China Jasmine may also not be remotely like tea in China (although it may be), but it’s still a decent brew. With a short brew time you get a mild flavour both from the green and the jasmine. The short brew yields a smooth green and prevents the whole thing tasting like soap (as jasmine can easily do). It’s a gentle floral flavour, and in honesty, a bit bland. The fix for this would be a longe brew time, but then you’d increase the jasmine flavour and risk the mouthful of soap phenomenon. So the verdict is, it’s fine, but nothing special.

China Jasmine: 3/5
Enjoy with: Orange chicken, especially from Panda Express.

Intimidation

Young Hyson

It’s time to admit that I have too much tea. I am drowning in boxes of leaves. I’m fairly sure I’m approaching 70 types of tea. And like someone with an overstuffed wardrobe, I stare into the cupboard and think, “I don’t have anything I want here.”

The thing is, I’m being intimidated by the fruit teas. They are taunting me with their bizarre fruitiness that confounds my tastebuds and makes me long for a cup of something with actual tea in it. Why fruit tea? Why do you parade as something delicious and then wind up tasting like a variation of cough syrup? Why?!?

Very clearly, this build up of tea is starting to send me into a downward spiral, and I need to relax. With a cup of tea. And I have discovered that I relax best in the refuge of a cup of green. I know. Me. Loving green. In fact, I was talking to a friend the other day and I said I think I decided I didn’t like green based on one or two bad experiences of over brewed green. I have learned the error of my ways. So I steeped myself a cup of Young Hyson.

Young Hyson is a grassy green. It has a deep earthiness, like soil, but pleasant. If thinking of soil makes it gross to you, think of something else. Like the smell of damp earth after the rain. I don’t know that I’m selling this any better. It’s a tea drinker’s tea. So if you’re new to the tea game, or new to green teas, start with something else. If you’re a long time, die hard fan of green, this is the cup for you. It has a mild umami taste. I’d describe the flavour as dense, not light, but it is smooth. It has a hint if herbal in the aftertaste. It’s my new go-to green.

Young Hyson: 5/5
Enjoy with:

Bob’s Your Uncle

Japanese GMC Sencha

It’s a pity they don’t have a day to celebrate uncles, like they do for mothers and fathers. I suppose there should be one for aunts too (since I am and aunt), but I have no aunts by blood. I do have some pretty rad blood uncles.

One of my uncles is 10 years younger than my dad, which means he’s mildly more in touch in with younger people. There’s a big difference between 50 and 60 it turns out. He’s a musician and tells me neat stories about some of the people he has met and other things he has done. Like investing in things I’d never thought to invest in. Or how time consuming and ridiculous it is to try to beat the pokies, even though it is possible (You can make about 10 bucks in an hour). He’s great for a laugh.

My dad’s other brother has lived in Japan for about a decade. I think he initially planned to be there for a year or two teaching English, but they keep renewing his contract, so he keeps staying. He’s surrounded by varied weather and exciting culture. A small piece of this culture he tends to share with me: tea.

Every year at Christmas he sends about a kilogram of tea. Well, maybe not quite a kilogram, but huge bags of the stuff that taste unreal, are not what I would normal pick out myself, and last for ages. This year he sent ‘mugicha’, which is barley tea. It’s a really interesting flavour and not something I would have thought to try myself. Apparently you can brew it iced so that it tastes like beer without alcohol or carbonation. I find that weird, but MM is all about it. I stick to the brewing instructions my uncle generously translates for me and sticks on the bag.

Many years ago he sent some bags of tea that had green leaves and roasted brown rice. It was genmaicha, and something I had not yet discovered (probably due to avoided greens at the time). While dry it smelled a little bit sweet and I was intrigued, but not enough to venture into the land of the unknown green. Still, MM brewed some up and insisted I give it a try. I’m glad he did, because it was the first step in redeeming green tea for me. The brown rice adds a nutty flavour that I never saw coming, and it dances off the light green tea spectacularly.

So, T2’s GMC offering had big, authentic shoes to fill. It did a decent job. The green tea was bold and leafy. The brown rice had a deep earthy flavour (though lacked some of the nuttiness I was hoping for). The overall effect was smooth without any astringency, and almost a bit herbal. It didn’t round out quite the same way as the ‘real’ stuff did, but all things considered, not a bad brew.

Japanese GMC Sencha: 3/5
Enjoy with: a cool uncle.

Freedom!

Snow Dragon Jasmine

Something I’ve taken to doing a little bit of is free writing. The idea behind free writing is that you set a timer for a certain period and you don’t stop writing the whole time the clock is ticking, even if you have nothing to write. If you have nothing to write, you write down that you have nothing to write until something pops up.

The thing about free writing is that it isn’t designed to be shared with anyone, so it never has to be edited or shown to another soul. The idea is that this where ideas become unlocked. The thing is, this post is a result of free writing, so I feel a little pressure to come up with something decent. That said, I’ve kept up a good clip so far, and haven’t really been over thinking too much. I may need to do a little editing for clarity, seeing as thought other people will actually read this. At least, I hope they will.

If I leave my free writing timer too long, eventually I come around to tea, even if I’m trying to avoid the subject. I really like a good cuppa, and there’s not much I can do to stop it, mostly because I don’t want to. We had our neighbour over the other day for the first time for a cup of tea. She isn’t so into tea, but as our conversation wore on, she exclaimed, “Wow, you must REALLY love tea!” Which I do.

But I don’t love every tea that I drink. In fact, there are some I will swear off forever. Like Lipton tea bags. Those things are awful, and I’d really rather have nothing than drink a cup of Lipton. The tricky thing for me is when teas fall into the neither love nor hate category. I probably find them the least satisfying, because I can’t determine if I really want to drink them again or not.

Snow Dragon Jasmine is a bit like this. I am not a huge fan of jasmine, I find it too fragrant and floral for my liking. But I quite enjoy Snow Dragon Jasmine. If jasmine is brewed too long, I think it tastes like hand soap, but a light brewing means I can appreciate it as a flavour. I think this is why I’m ok with it is Snow Dragon, because the green base only demands a short brew time. The overall effect is delicate, and not astringent, which is something I’ve come to expect from both green and jasmine. However, this cup is floral and slightly sweet, and as a result, I don’t mind it. I just don’t think to drink it too often, because on the whole I find it unremarkable.

And, my time is up.

Snow Dragon Jasmine: 3/5

Enjoy with: a stint of free writing.

Book Cover Judgement

Creamy Choc Chai

9 times out of 10 when I hear the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” it refers to believing there’s more in the substance than on the surface. It is nearly always an encouragement to dig past appearances for enjoyment. Rarely, so very rarely, is the expression used in the opposite manner. That is, I hardly ever hear, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” to warn me against something that looks good, but in actual fact, isn’t.

Furthermore, I find this an infuriating idiom. If I don’t know anything about a book, the first thing I look at is the title. Then I turn the book over and read the blurb on the back. Then I decide if I want to open the book or not. This is the way books are designed to be sold. You are, in every respect, supposed to judge a book by its cover. Also, tacky romance novels have immediate cover art tells. I don’t like these books. So I avoid them, based on the information the cover conveys. I ALWAYS judge a book by its cover.

I expect this expression held more weight at a time before cover art and marketing blurbs were common. Maybe books that were soft cover with just a printed title were considered less worthy of reading, I’m not sure. But it’s useless now. Publishers realised that no matter how often people bandied about the saying, there was no stopping people stopping at the cover. But now, I don’t know how many well-marketed books I have begun and abandoned because the cover drew me in, but the text couldn’t keep me.

Basically, we need to start using this phrase to warn people off things that look good, but actually suck.

Take Creamy Choc Chai. Doesn’t it sound delightful? Doesn’t it sound like the kind of thing you’d brew in a stoneware pot and pour cup after cup on a cosy day while snuggled up in a blanket? When you read the list of ingredients it is undoubtedly tantalising, begging to be your next brew. Once brewed, the creamy, chocolate smell fills the air followed by sharp chai spices, most notably cardamon. And then you drew in your first mouthful.

And it’s the worst. This one could be renamed, ‘Uhh, dishwater, I guess?’ and it would give a better impression of what’s to come. There is an underwhelming chocolate flavour, like you’re licking the inside of a chocolate bar wrapper and getting a few tiny shards, but mostly you’re just licking a plastic wrapper. It’s not even a little bit creamy. And put on your detective hat if you want to go looking for those chai spices.

This tea is accompanied by a wildly ambiguous brew time suggestion of 3 to 6 minutes. Which is wrong, by the way. No brew time makes this a good cup.

But here is the most important thing to note: this tea is a green base. I don’t know of any other chai that is not black or herbal, for good reason. It just isn’t meant to be any other way. And, THIS MY FRIENDS, is one of the offending green teas that has taught me to be wary of all green tea forever after! Shame on you, Creamy Choc Chai, promising the world and delivering naught.

Creamy Choc Chai: 0/5

Enjoy with: Severe judgement.