February 08, 2018

Afternoon Tea at La Chine Waldorf Astoria

One of the first tea experiences I had after returning to the city in the summer of 2016 was afternoon tea with Jee at La Chine in the Waldorf Astoria. I misplaced my notes (gasp) and always thought I'd be able to return soon and make new ones. However, the Waldorf Astoria is closed until 2020.

The review I offer here is based on a general recollection and not specifics except regarding the honey. La Chine restaurant offered two afternoon teas: La Chine and Imperial. We chose the former. The perfectly sized scones were served with the usual condiments and honey. The honey was very good. It was harvested from the hotel's rooftop apiary. I think I ordered the Margaret's Hope Darjeeling. It was very good. Your tea was steeped perfectly in the kitchen, poured into a tea pot, and served at the table.

The sweets and savories were good. I was eating fish and seafood at the time so ate the stacked salmon sandwich and lobster roll.

As I write this the sweet that stands out in my memory is the layered confection pictured above. I don't recall the flavors but I know I liked it. I really wish I had my notes! For two other perspectives on afternoon tea on La Chine, read Bethany Looi  and The Wandering Eater.

February 06, 2018

T2 Tea Flask and Teas Giveaway

The T2 Tea Flask is the best tea flask. That period should be an exclamation. The T2 Tea Flask is the best tea flask!

There are two primary reasons why I've given the highest rating to the T2 flask. The company describes its flask as "completely leakproof" and I agree. I agree. I use the flask often, not daily but fairly close to that. It has not leaked. I have used several flasks and they all leaked and within days of first using them. I have traveled with the flask upright and sideways in my coat pocket, in my backpack, and in my handbag and it has not leaked. Another great feature of the T2 flask is that it keeps your tea (or water if you are steeping leaves in the infuser) very close to its starting temperature. Since it's winter, I am mostly drinking hot tea. My hot black tea will stay at a comfortable drinking temperature for a few hours. T2's claim is that the flask will keep tea at "60°C for up to six hours." 60°C is 140°F.

I also like that the flask holds a lot of tea -- 500 mL or 2 cups.

Like the body, the infuser is also stainless steel. The filter is silicone. The lip and lid are polypropylene (plastic). The infuser and filter are separate components. I did not taste or smell anything other than tea when using the flask. If you are into colorful tea-ware, then know that the T2 flask comes in 9 colors/patterns.

A drawback might be the dimensions of the flask. The flask is 7.75 inches tall (without the lid) which shouldn't pose a problem unless you carry a small bag. The base diameter of the flask is 2.75 inches yielding a circumference of over 8 inches. This width dimension could be challenging for someone with small hands.

I've been filling my flask with T2 black teas. One of my favorites is the Morning Sunshine, a blend of Assam, Darjeeling and Rwandan black tea. Although I typically drink my teas plain, I like to add oat milk to Morning Sunshine and lightly sweeten it with honey. It's such a treat especially when birdwatching on cold mornings. The New York Breakfast Blend was the first T2 black tea I drank. It's a decadent tea -- it tastes like a dessert -- and is a best-seller. It's a flavored tea for all the purists out there. The Grand Yunnan is a tippy tea with a sweet smoke profile. The latter would appeal to folks who like sheng puerh will a bit of age on it.


My experience with the T2 flask has been such a positive one that I reached out to the company about providing a prize pack for Notes on Tea readers. I am pleased to offer this giveaway on the blog. The prize pack includes a T2 Stainless Steel Flask and three (3) teas. Flask color/pattern and tea flavors are subject to stock availability. This giveaway is only open to the U.S. and Canada. See full details in Terms & Conditions.

UPDATE: A winner has been chosen. Congratulations, Kim! Thank you to all the participants.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The tea flask and teas reviewed in this post were provided by T2 Tea.

January 30, 2018

Adagio Teas' Master Collection

Do you ever wonder about the effect of different steeping parameters on your tea? I prepared the teas in the Adagio Teas' Master Collection a few ways and the results were different enough to warrant sharing all the outcomes here. The four teas in the Master Collection I received were: Darjeeling Spring Tip, Formosa Ali Shan, Hsinchu Oriental Beauty, and Wuyi Da Hong Pao.

Darjeeling Spring Tip

The dry leaves were fairly short at under one inch. The leaves were a mix of greens and browns with silver buds present, and smelled green, herby, and hairy. After steeping, the leaves retained their green and brown colors and appeared broken.

Session 1: 3gr, 6oz, 212F, 5m
The liquor was clear, bright, and light amber in color. The steam smelled herbal, floral, and sweet. The medium-bodied liquor was robust and complex. There was a background bitterness because of the high temperature water and long steep time but it was a very enjoyable cup.

Session 2 (per Adagio): 3gr, 6oz, 180F, 3m
[Note: Leaf weight and water volume were not specified by the company]
The liquor smelled like peach juice and white grape must. The medium-bodied tea was floral and astringent.

Formosa Ali Shan

The forest and emerald green leaves varied in size but all were tightly rolled. The dry leaves smelled lightly vegetal and floral.

Session 1: 1T (=5.76gr), 6oz, 212F, 5m
The infusion was sweetly vegetal, floral, and buttery. The floral note lingered and was even fruity. I drank the Ali Shan after drinking the Wuyi Da Hong Pao (for the second time) and the Oriental Beauty. It was my favorite among the three oolongs until I drank the Darjeeling.

Session 2 (per Adagio): 3gr, 6oz, 195F, 4m
The soft, buttery, floral liquor was underwhelming. However, the leaves had not fully unfurled (see photo above) so I could have resteeped the tea to extract more flavor.

Hsinchu Oriental Beauty

The tea is a mix of brown leaves and buds and smelled of raisins and must.

Session 1: 3gr, 4oz, 212F, 30s initial infusion (after rinse)
The amber liquor of the first infusion was honey sweet and fruity (dates and persimmon). The second cup had a deeper flavor profile. The medium-bodied tea tasted of baked sweetness and raisins. The third infusion was similar. The fourth revealed green stone fruit and slight bitterness. The tea was still musty and had a fuzzy texture. I had a second session with this tea using cooler water and one 5-minute steep. The liquor was smooth and sweet with a creamy tail note. It was not as complex as the cups from the first session.

Session 2 (per Adagio): 3gr, 6oz, 212F, 3m
The liquor was floral, woody, crisp, and light-bodied.

Wuyi Da Hong Pao

Medium to long twisted, thick black leaves with stripes of copper smelled woody and early sweet.

Session 1: 3gr, 6oz, 212F, 4m
The infused leaves were forest green with red edges. The aromatic liquor was light amber in color with mineral, fruit (plum and peach), and floral notes. The flavors perfumed my mouth but there was no sticking quality. The tea became drying as it cooled.

Session 2: 3gr, 6oz, 212F, 5m
The liquor had a mineral and fruit notes.

Session 3 (per Adagio): 3gr, 6oz, 212F, 4m
The tea smelled of minerals and rocks with noticeable tart fruit mid palate.

The Takeaway

Overall, the Darjeeling and the Oriental Beauty stood out with their complexity and consistently yielded flavorful infusions. The Darjeeling was my favorite, and I've squirreled away the rest. The Ali Shan and Wuyi DHP were less successful. Checking the Adagio Teas website while drafting this review, I saw that the DHP received high marks. I also noted a different set of instructions for steeping this tea: 195F, 3-5 minutes. Perhaps for teas such as a rock oolong and a gaoshan, a gongfu-style approach might yield a better liquor? Do you find that a particular steeping techniques work best for a particular types of tea?

The teas reviewed here were provided by Adagio Teas.

January 22, 2018

Three High Mountain Oolongs from Totem Tea

My last post in 2017 was a review of a Taiwanese black tea from Totem Tea. I am kicking off 2018 on the blog with a review of three high mountain oolongs from Totem Tea. In fact, all four teas arrived in the same package but it made sense to review the oolongs separate from the black tea.

The three oolongs in question are Floral Mountain Tie Guan Yin (Ali Shan), Old World Qing Xin (Dong Ding Shan), West Peak Li Shan (Hehuan Shan) (pictured above). The mountain of origin is noted in parantheses. Each oolong was packaged in a foil lined pouch. The gram size varied but hovered around 5 grams, but the steeping parameters were the same for each tea: 150 ml, 195F, 60s initial steep with increase of one minute for each additional infusion.

Floral Mountain Tie Guan Yin

The small, tight rolled dry leaves of this oolong were dark with copper flecks. The fragrance of the leave was super floral, almost as if I had taken a deep sniff of a bowl of tropical fruit sitting on countertop in a warm room. The infused leaves were dark, still rolled, and very floral in scent. The liquor of the first infusion was bright, clear, and pale peach in color. The steam was heady with floral, warm melon, and guava notes. The taste was lightly roasted with some fruit but much less sweet than the smell indicated. The second infusion was a darker cup with much more roast. I detected spices. The tea was warming with lingering flavors. There was a pleasant drying sensation. The cooled liquor had a biting roast similar to a charred vegetable or raw species. The third infusion still had a strong roast flavor. The tea was drier and less lush. The liquor was not as dark nor as full bodied. There was a tart tail note. The fourth infusion yielded roast and raw spice especially at the top of my throat. The lingering note was of fall baking, think deep-dish apple pie. The tea was fairly smooth even with a mid-mouth astringency and tart finish. I steeped the leaves twice more but the sixth cup was thin. The fifth cup which was really the last cup, still had a strong, smooth roast flavor. There was no astringency or tartness, but there was an almost slippery, creamy texture.

Old World Qing Xin

This oolong's rolled, dark green and medium-green leaves smelled like brown sugar. The infused leaves were candy sweet, floral, and vegetal. The first infusion had a creamy texture. The light golden yellow liquor was fruity and eventual. The second infusion was juicy, medium-bodied, and all fruit. I drank the third cup so quickly that I didn't record notes. Woody and baked notes emerged in the fourth infusion along with the musk of incense, persimmon bread, and baked pecans. The fifth and final infusion had a flatter profile but the baked pecan flavor was still present especially on the mid palate.

West Peak Li Shan

Before I get into the tasting notes, I wanted to point out that this oolong seems to have double mountain provenance. It was grown on the Hehuan Mountain peak which is part of Li Shan.

The very small, tightly rolled leaves of this oolong were blue-green and emerald green in color. The leaves smelled sweet and toasted and reminded me of malted barley. The infused leaves were a brilliant green and had fragrances of sweet steamed vegetables and grains. The stems were the most pronounced in this oolong. The first infusion was lush, sweet, and vegetal with a sweet grain base note. The golden-yellow liquor of the second infusion was thick, creamy, and vegetal. There was a bitterness like tasting the inside of a stone-fruit pit. The liquor was incredibly aromatic; it filled my mouth and nose with taste and smell of crushed flower petals. The tea coated my mouth and tongue. I drank the second infusion from a small, thin cup, too, and detected a floral note. The third infusion was electric yellow but much mellower. Much of the flavor showed up in the tail note which floral as if you were eating petals. The fourth cup was over steeped by a couple of hours! Although there was bitterness to the liquor, it was not unpleasant. The tea was soft and floral otherwise.

The Takeaway

The Floral Mountain Tieguanyin is my favorite! I really like dark (more oxidized) oolongs but tend to shy away from heavily roasted teas. This tieguanyin has a lot of roast but it lets other flavors shine through. I enjoyed the woody, baked and nutty goodness of the fourth infusion of the Old World Qing Xin. I wouldn't mind a tea that delivered those notes from start to finish. As for the West Peak Li Shan, the second cup was the most complex and flavorful. It bordered on being overly strong but you could temper that with less leaf, lower temperature, and/or shorter infusion times.

Totem Tea provided the following teas for review purposes: Floral Mountain Tie Guan YinOld World Qing Xin, and West Peak Li Shan.

December 13, 2017

Totem Tea Golden Hand Taiwan Black

I must admit that when I think of the name "Golden Hand" I also think of "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey. Totem Tea named this Taiwanese tea for the "golden tips of the leaves" and because the tea is "completely handmade". Indeed, the dry leaves are dark with golden highlights. The single note of chocolate from the dry leaves is not indicative of the many notes of the liquor.

The recommended steeping parameters are 150 mL, 195F, 30s. I steeped the entire 5+ gram sample in approximately 150mL of 205F water for 30 second infusions.

The first infusion was robust. The liquor was medium to full bodied. There was no doubt that this tea was a hong cha. It was malty, sweet, and fruity. The second infusion revealed dry, fruity chocolate notes with a tart red fruit tail note. I detected a creamy texture on the middle to the back of my tongue. There was a lingering woody taste which I identified as cedar but I think this is my default woody note in the same way that rose is my default floral note when it comes to tea tasting. The flavors did not stop there. The cooling spice effect of Ruby 18 was also present as well as a warm, wet soil taste, though clean, not funky.

I steeped this tea two more times both of which were increasingly less robust than the previous one. The third infusion retained the creamy textured tail note. The liquor tasted of a chalky, unsweetened chocolate and produced a lingering drying effect. The fourth and final infusion was floral with a rough bark taste, and a chocolate tail note.

The best of the session was the second infusion. If I steeped this tea Western style if I could extract an entire cup of second-infusion flavors?! The multi-dimensional quality of the second infusion can be explained by the fact that this tea is a new cultivar derived from Ruby 20, Ruby 12, Jin Xuan, and Is Jun Chun.

Golden Hand Taiwan Black and other samples were provided by Totem Tea.

P.S. I received several sticks of incense with my tea samples from Totem Tea. I never thought it was appropriate to be in a scented environment when drinking tea. Therefore I have been reluctant to burn the incense. However, I did pair the young sandalwood incense with the Old World Qing Xin Oolong, a tea review I will post soon.
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