Tag Archives: review

Not Too Keen on the Keemun 1110

by Little Yellow Teapot (a tea steeping marvel and occasional contributing author)

On a number of occasions my humans have been eager to dive into a particular sample of this or that tea. So it was with this Keemun 1110. They cut the seals and popped open the can to be greeted by… air! Yes, the can was not full to the top. Not surprising since the tea is sold by the weight, not the volume. But it did mean that the escaping air carried with it some of the aromas and flavors that should have been in the tea leaves. I know, my humans and I are picky… and spoiled rotten by vacuum-sealed pouches. Well, that minor issue aside, it’s time to see how the tea was. As you can tell by the title, my humans and I were not exactly bowled over. Continue reading Not Too Keen on the Keemun 1110

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Sampling UVA Ceylon Black Tea

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by Little Yellow Teapot (a tea steeping marvel and occasional contributing author to this e-zine)

UPDATE: I enlisted Blue Betty (no relation to Brown Betty style teapots) to give this tea another go and steep it up by the potful. The vendor had been rather generous in the amount they sent. Boiling water, 5 minutes. Turned out strongly flavored and raisiny as expected. Great with milk and sweetener, too!

My humans like Ceylon black teas, generally speaking (some have been better than others over the years), so the offer from the vendor to try some of theirs was irresistible. The company is based in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon and thus the term used for the tea), but has operations in various countries. They are close to the source, though, so this tea promised to be rather exciting. On with the steeping!

The tea came in a specially made box with a photo of elephants on it (not sure what they have to do with tea except for being able to trample through tea gardens and endanger the humans working there – but I digress). The little pull of strip on the top didn’t come off properly, so my humans had to rip it instead. Inside was a pouch that was pretty unique, being printed with a lot of information that you could read through while drinking the tea, I guess. It was tightly packed in the box but came out easily. The dry tea inside had that wonderful Ceylon signature aroma – raisiny and rich. Mr. Kettle was filled with water and put on the hotplate to boil. The dry tea was put in me. I infused those tea leaf pieces for a full 5 minutes.

The moment of truth had come.

My humans poured out the liquid and inhaled the aroma of the liquid. Very light, more so than expected based on the aroma of the dry leaves. The liquid was also lighter than expected, not a darker more ruby color, but a lighter orange-ish color. They sipped. Light flavor, smooth, no bitterness, but no rich raisiny flavor that they had expected. Things were looking a bit askance. So I did a second steeping, this time for 5.5 minutes. Still a lighter flavor, but a good mouthfeel (smooth as before) and no bitterness, plus a clean aftertaste.

Here’s where things got a bit divided. It happens this way sometimes. My ‘he’ human like the tea and that it was light in flavor and aroma, saying it was a great after-meal tea to cleanse the palate. My ‘she’ human said yes it was nice as is but way too light for milk and sweetener. She likes it when you humans have both options with a tea like this and has also come to expect such versatility. But she also had to agree with the ‘he’ human that the tea was overall quite satisfactory.

Phew! Conflagration avoided!

Disclaimer: all items were furnished by the vendor but all opinions expressed here are totally unbiased.

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text

Another Great Tea: Frost Tea

by Little Yellow Teapot (a tea steeping marvel and occasional contributing author)

It’s time for another adventure. This one is Frost Tea, a high-grown (meaning at a high elevation – in this case 7,000 ft) tea from the Southern Ghats Mountains in the Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu in India. The name comes from it being grown in the coldest month of winter, so the leaves get frost on them, which affects the flavor. Time to see just what that effect is. Continue reading Another Great Tea: Frost Tea

Simplex Kettles — An Example of How NOT to Respond to a Customer Complaint

Recently, I won a tea kettle from Simplex Kettles in the UK and was quite excited — until the problems arose. I should say “problem” — singular — because as it turned out there was really only one problem. His name was Graham Tweed, CEO of Simplex Kettles. Someone that I’m sure is in person a really nice guy but who came across very differently in our email exchange regarding my “prize” kettle. So much so that hubby and I are now quite pissed off with him and the company. Continue reading Simplex Kettles — An Example of How NOT to Respond to a Customer Complaint

Yummy Apple Cinnamon Scone Mix

Here we go again. The Canadians are coming…to a scone mix near you! Hubby and I received a sample of Canadian company Cobblestone Kitchens Apple Cinnamon Scone Mix. That means it’s time to get baking!

The mix is in a plastic bag in the diamond-shaped box. (The box is a little large, with the bag only filling up about half of it. Our one beef with this brand is the excess packaging: big box, small contents.) Prep for getting the mix ready for the oven is pretty simple. A bit of milk and vegetable oil added to the dry mix, stir, plop on an ungreased cookie sheet, and into the oven they go. The mix has real apple pieces, which is so nice to see. We were able to stretch out the mix to 10 scones this time, which was expected based on the weight of the dry mix (7.5 oz.). The quality of these scones more than compensates for the small quantity.

The scones came out of the oven lightly browned and crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside. Plenty of apple bits, and the cinnamon level is just right. Hubby and I pigged out, adding a little butter and getting a wonderful taste experience. It inspired the poet in us, and we came up with the following little ditty:

When the kids and the spouse
Are out of the house
And you need a true tea time delight,
Bake a batch of scones up
And fill your teacup
With your favorite tea steeped up just right.

While apple cinnamon is a flavor combo that is very popular during Winter Holidays, you can enjoy these all year round. This flavor and the others are great to have on hand for holiday guests. Keep some of each on hand for your hungry holiday horde, or fix just one for your special intimate tea time all by yourself or with a “certain someone.”

© 2011 A.C. Cargill photos and text

Yummy Cranberry Scone Mix

The Canadians are coming…to a scone mix near you! Hubby and I received a sample of Canadian company Cobblestone Kitchens Cranberry Scone Mix.

We began by pulling the plastic bag containing the mix out of the diamond-shaped box. (The box is a little large, with the bag only filling up about half of it. Our one beef with this brand is the excess packaging: big box, small contents.) You need a bit of milk and vegetable oil to add to the dry mix. The mix, oil, and milk stir up easily and form a sticky glob in the bowl. Plenty of cranberries in this mix, that’s for sure.

As we’d done previously, hubby and I used our drop method for the scones and once again got 8 scones, what we expected based on the weight of the dry mix (7.5 oz.). The quality of these scones more than compensates for the small quantity.

The scones came out of the oven lightly browned and crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside. The cranberries were plentiful but not overly strong. That’s good if you like your scones au naturel (without butter, jams, clotted cream, etc., on them), and these are certainly light enough to eat that way. However, if you prefer to top your scone, try some lemon curd. I did, and it was a great flavor combo. The tea ably served up by “Tea Gang” member “Bruno” (from Louisville Stoneware) was an Assam steeped up lightly so that we could drink it straight and yet not yet have it overwhelm the delicate flavor of the scones. We scarfed down 6 of the 8 scones in no time, saving the final 2 for a treat later.

While cranberries are very popular during Winter Holidays, you can enjoy them all year round. This flavor and the others available from Boston Tea Company are great to have on hand for holiday guests. Keep some of each on hand your hungry holiday horde, or fix just one for your special intimate teatime with a “certain someone.”

© 2011 A.C. Cargill photos and text

Diving Into Tea from a Canadian Company

This is a tough article to write. I am so torn with regard to  “chain store style” tea vendors. The best thing to do here seems to be to stick with just talking about who the people are behind this company and some other info for you, the tea drinker, to know before you dive into trying their teas or to enhance your enjoyment of the teas from their stores or online shop that you already love. I’ll address the “chain store” issue in another article.

First, the founder is David Segal, who founded the company in 2008 (after having been in the tea business in one capacity or another since 1987) and aggressively grew the company across Canada to a chain of tea shops and around 500 employees.

There is no shortage of press releases about the founder and the company. Whoever is doing their PR is very busy. I had to really hunt to flesh out more genuine appraisals of the teas, the tea shop experience, and the company in general. The big issue I kept seeing online was about tea store staff who weren’t that knowledgeable about tea. Chalk that up to a too fast expansion. The other issue is with shipments, which don’t seem to be accurately filled and shipped in all cases. A third is that the tea flavors smell nice but steep up weaker than expected.

Several sites started out with a review of the company, but commenters soon turned to talking about how much better the teas were at this store and how much more knowledgeable the staff was at that store. These were often replied to by things like “You’re nuts” or “I love their teas!”, both of which sound like employees wrote them. When reviews either degrade into a discussion of how much commenters prefer a competitor’s products or start to sound like they were written by employees of the company originally being discussed, that company had better listen. Bad reviews are just as useful as good reviews.

Basically, this company is just another tea vendor trying to make tea what it is not: a jumbled up mess of wild flavor combinations. Educating the consumer seems to be far from their minds, as it is with many other large tea vendors. (The founder calls “rooibos” by the term “tea.”) They promote their flavored concoctions as “hip tea.”

I should state here “To each his own” – I seem to need to keep repeating this since I get comments from people saying things like how dare I try to tell others what a tea vendor should or should not be.

The founder is definitely having success with this approach, which reflects more on the tea drinkers out there than on his business acumen. I am not a big business mogul because I can’t just give people what they want, I’d rather try to help them learn and better appreciate teas through that knowledge. It seems that to be wildly successful such matters need to be eschewed totally in favor of the expediency of throwing out there whatever appeals to the lowest common denominator.

The company makes good use of social media, including Twitter and Facebook, and are quick to post a bunch of positive comments to counter anything negative said about them, whether those negatives are warranted or not. It sort of takes away from the value of comments, which may be their true intention: make all comments seem untrustworthy because of the obviously fake positives.

My buddy, Little Yellow Teapot, and his Tea Gang will be reviewing samples of three green teas they sent. I can guarantee loyal readers that the reviews won’t pull any punches. There are enough tea review sites out there that “scrub” the low-rated reviews (after a time or two of getting a review scrubbed, the reviewer learns to give the tea being tried a high rating no matter what – makes the whole process seem useless). Just giving the company a fair warning here. Quite frankly, though, judging by the teas they sent (not an odd flavoring in sight), I am very hopeful of a good taste experience. Maybe along with their flavor collections like “Summer” and “Fall” they can have more like the one they sent me (3 green teas called “Orient Express”).

Watch for my upcoming article about “chain store” style tea shops versus tearooms that have a more intimate feel and like to educate their customers about tea.

A New Recipe for That Pre-mixed Chai

Note: This was originally written on 8 April 2011, but at the vendor’s request I held off posting it until the new recipe could be announced. They were also supposed to send a sample of the final recipe. I have decided to go ahead and post this since at this point, it won’t give anything away.

A new recipe is a tricky thing. You try a bit of this, taste it, add a bit of that, taste again, and go back and forth like this for awhile until the perfect mixture emerges. Of course, this works best when you are doing something in your own kitchen for your own consumption. When you’re creating a new recipe for your product line, sometimes you need to call in some taster help.

Tipu’s Chai decided to call on their Facebook fans, Twitter followers, customers and interested parties to try samples of a couple of versions of a new recipe. Hubby and I took them up on the challenge of deciding between sample A and sample B.

This is another instant version of spiced tea, which is often called “chai” here in the U.S. (“Chai” actually means “tea” in India and other countries in that area, and “spiced tea” is “masala chai.”) Company founder Bipin Patel started with his grandmother’s recipe and was successful at marketing it to a public that was used to the stuff they serve at coffee shops or sell in little bags to be steeped in barely hot water. Such authenticity was usually only available at Indian restaurants or at the homes of friends from India, etc. We were thrilled, therefore, when we first tried Tipu’s Chai. So why not help them select between two formulas for their new recipe?

Each packet contained quite a bit of the powdered mix and needed only 8 ounces of boiling water each to produce 2 cups of spicy chai. Overall, both samples were heavy on cardamom and black pepper, but B was a bit more balanced and sweeter than A, not as overwhelming. We also found them both a little too thin, not quite a milky as we would have liked, probably because they are made with soy (I’m mildly allergic but risked it for this experiment). Neither had a chalky taste, but both took a bit of stirring to get the powder all dissolved, tended to settle, and left residue in the cups. Of course, that’s typical for anything instant.

Hubby and I think instant anythings have their place. They can save you time and yet enable you to enjoy something a bit special. Tipu’s newest instant chai recipe will be no exception.

Don’t miss our reviews of two of their other spiced teas:

• Original Black Chai
• Instant Black Chai

The sample packets:

The powdered mix:

The tea in the cups:

The residue in the cups:

Company website: http://www.tipuschai.com/

Hanging Out with Some Tasty Tea

Sometimes it starts with an exchange of tweets on Twitter. Sometimes with an email in my Inbox. Whatever the case, it can be the start of a horror show or a grand tea adventure. In the case of Hampstead Tea, I’m thinking the latter.

Recently, several tea samples arrived and are patiently waiting their turn to be reviewed. Meanwhile, I took a look at who the folks at Hampstead Tea are.

Let’s start with the founder of the company: Kiran Tawadey. Her goal in starting a tea company wasn’t tea. It was to engage in promoting various trendy ideas going around now. I’m not going into them here. They’re too distressing. Suffice it to say that most of their teas come from the Makaibari tea estate in the Darjeeling region of India.

So much for who is Hampstead Tea. Now, for the “what.”

Their teas cover quite a range, including some Assams and green teas whose origins aren’t specified. They have flavored and unflavored teas, tea blends, and straight Darjeeling. They also call herbal infusions “teas” and make unsubstantiated health claims on their About Us page. Also, despite the claim on their site that their teas are not dust in bags, they seem to carry a lot of bagged teas. Hm…

We shall be trying the samples on their own merits, not as a way to promote Ms. Tawadey’s various causes. We embrace free choice, so she is entitled to follow whatever trends she wants.

© 2011-2021 World Is a Tea Party photos and text

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It’s Russian, It’s French, It’s Kusmi Tea

Kusmi Tea is one of the long-timers (by Western standards) in the world of tea, having been founded in 1867 by Pavel Michailovitch Kousmichoff (where the name “Kusmi” comes from). Fifty years later, the company moved to France because of the Russian Revolution. Today, their headquarters is still in Paris and they have stores throughout France, as well as many in other European countries. They opened their first US store in (of course) Manhattan on June 30, 2010. You don’t have to travel to the Big Apple, though, to enjoy their products. You can go to a variety of stores in several states or to their online store.

The current (since 2003) President of Kusmi Tea is Sylvain Oberi, who was born in Cairo, Egypt, and received his college diploma in Paris. He has been injecting new life into the company and increasing its international presence, mainly by playing up to the idea that drinking tea is healthy and by expanding the offerings of flavored teas.

Branding is something that sets Kusmi apart from the crowd. Their tins, boxes, and tea-related products (such as a specially-designed shopping tote) have a very distinctive look.

The company has fans among the glitterati of Hollywood. Personally, I find this inconsequential when deciding if I want to try their teas or not, especially considering the ignorant fashion in which tea drinking is portrayed 99% of the time in films. Also, when it comes to tea, celebrities are the last people to look to for recommendations. They live a lifestyle very different from most of us. How could they possibly know what you or I would find soothing or the perfect complement for a blueberry scone?

Kusmi is a big promoter of flavored teas, something that hubby and I are finding less and less appealing as we experience the various subtleties and nuances of the flavors of quality straight teas. I had suggested some teas to send, purposely avoiding these flavored teas, especially those blended with other plant matter such as maté. What arrived were three of the “straight” teas off my list (two of them were bagged, not loose) and two flavored teas (Spicy Chocolate Tea and Detox Tea). The company Website doesn’t list what spices are in the Spicy Chocolate, so I had to ask, being allergic to some things typically put in such flavored teas. They wouldn’t say, which is quite odd considering that most tea vendors I have seen list what’s in their blends, so I see no reason to chance it.

The Detox Tea is something they’ve come up with to purportedly improve your health. I’m also waffling on whether to try this one or not. Like many tea vendors, Kusmi has lots of health claims but no links to studies to support these nor do the PR people think there is any issue there. They said that such beneficial properties were “well established.” My online research popped up only two studies, showing limited benefits mainly in the area of throat cancer. [I heard that the US FDA has ruled that tea companies cannot make such claims nor post links to medical studies on their sites.]

Sadly, the company is one of many that lumps such beverages as Rooibos in with teas. Tea is made from the Camellia Sinensis bush or one of its varietals. Rooibos (red bush) is a separate species altogether. Fortunately, none of the samples I received contain rooibos. Hubby and I have totally given up on it.

We look forward to trying the straight teas that were sent but wish they carried more premium teas and fewer teas that have everything but the kitchen sink added to them. Come to think of it, since Kusmi doesn’t list ingredients, there could very well be pieces of kitchen sink in some of these. (Kidding!)