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Saigon

Balché from Handmade Tea, part 2

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Handmade Tea

Tea Description:

The MVP of Balche is an earthy and smoky black tea from the Yunnan Province of China that finishes naturally with a touch of cocoa. It is then followed up with diced Guajillo chile peppers adding a sweet fruitiness and just a kiss of heat as they are only rated 2,500 to 5,000 on the Scoville scale. Finally, in traditional Mayan fashion we added a combination of Saigon Cinnamon and organic Cacao Nibs, not only to keep up with Mayan theme, but to compliment the base tea as well.

Learn more about this blend here.

Taster’s Review:

Sorry it took me so long to get around to posting part 2 of this review!  As I mentioned before, I had come down with a really bad bug, and everything got put off, including part 2 of this review!  (Here is a link to Part 1 of this review)

I wanted to approach this review as I did with Murmur, which was Handmade Tea’s tea of the month for February of this year:  Part 1 focusing on the blended tea as it was intended, and then a further examination of the components of each tea, including a tasting of the tea where I customized the flavor using the individual components.

Second Tasting

For this tasting, I am focusing on the Yunnan black tea base that Handmade Tea used in for the Balché blend.  Handmade tea makes this easy to do because when you subscribe to their monthly service, you receive not only a large tin of their special blend of the month, but you also receive three smaller tins that include portions of the ingredients that go in to each blend.  With the Balché blend, I received a full-size tin of the blended tea, as well as a small sample tin of the Yunnan black tea, a small sample tin of the diced Guajillo chili pepper, and a small sample tin which contained a combination of Saigon cinnamon and organic cacao nibs.

This is a very robust Yunnan tea!  Yunnan typically possesses some peppery notes, and that is quite true of this Yunnan … in fact, I think this may be one of the most peppery Yunnan teas I’ve come across.  In addition to the well-defined spiced notes, this tea is pleasantly earthy and full-flavored, with a lovely smoky tone.   Often I find a strong smoky flavor to be a little 0ff-putting, but, this Yunnan isn’t.  It has just the right amount of smoke, and the way the smoky notes meld with the spice and earth of this cup are really quite delightful.

This tea is more savory than sweet, but there is a hint of sweetness to this with a slight caramel-y note in the distance as well as a chocolate-y note that comes through toward the end of the sip.

Third Tasting

For this third tasting, I decided to customize the brew a little bit.  I added a little bit more of the Guajillo chili pepper – but before I did this, I took out a small flake and tasted it on it’s own.  Mild!  And very flavorful.  It has a warm, fruity taste to it, reminiscent of a childhood favorite of mine:  Chili Saladitos.  When I was young, I lived in Southern California, and I fell in love with Chili Saladitos.  Now, these Gualjillos are not as salty as Saladitos, but, they have a similar fruit note with a little bit of heat.  Actually, I think that the Saladitos might have been hotter than these Gualjillo flakes.

I also added a little more of the cinnamon (these are BIG chunks of Saigon Cinnamon, folks!) and the cacao nibs to the already blended Balché tea.  I suppose for this third tasting, I could have also brewed up these ingredients as a tisane for a tasting, and I considered that, but, I do love the Yunnan base so much, that I just decided to amp up the flavor a bit on the Balché blend.

And that’s one thing that I’m really loving about the Handmade Tea blends – I love that I can totally customize the tea if I want, and I’m able to train my palate by tasting each of the individual ingredients on their own.  I love the way this product is put together.

By brewing it this way, it has given me another way to explore these ingredients.  The Gualjillo pepper is slightly warmer, but, still not hot, even with extra flakes in the brew.  The addition of the pepper and a little more cinnamon does make the cup slightly spicier, but it is very slight.  The extra cacao brings out the chocolate-y notes in the Yunnan a little more, and I notice that with the extra ingredients, the Yunnan seems a little less smoky … a little less earthy … and while I am enjoying this cup quite a bit, I think that the blend was just perfect the way that Caleb from Handmade Tea made it – no additional alterations needed!  So, unlike with the Murmur, where the third tasting was my favorite… with this tea, my first tasting was my favorite (although, I could make an argument for the second tasting too.  I really liked the Yunnan unblended!)

Balché from Handmade Tea, part 1

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Handmade Tea

Tea Description:

The MVP of Balche is an earthy and smoky black tea from the Yunnan Province of China that finishes naturally with a touch of cocoa. It is then followed up with diced Guajillo chile peppers adding a sweet fruitiness and just a kiss of heat as they are only rated 2,500 to 5,000 on the Scoville scale. Finally, in traditional Mayan fashion we added a combination of Saigon Cinnamon and organic Cacao Nibs, not only to keep up with Mayan theme, but to compliment the base tea as well.

Learn more about this blend here.

Taster’s Review:

If you’ll recall, I featured Handmade Tea’s February Tea of the Month – Murmur – in a two part series.  I did this to highlight not just the featured handmade blend but also the components that comprised the blend as well as the unique concept of Handmade Tea.

You see, when you receive the tea of the month from Handmade Tea, you not only receive the canister of specially blended tea, but also three smaller, sampler size tins that include the components of the blend. For example, with this blend – Balché – which was March’s tea of the month,  I received a full size (3 ounce) tin of the blended tea, as well as three smaller tins:  a tin of Yunnan Black Tea base, a tin of Guajillo Peppers, and a tin of Cacao Nibs and Cinnamon blended together.

By including these smaller tins with the components, it allows the drinker to fully explore what goes in to the blend … and perhaps play around a bit with the components by customizing a cup of tea by using more of any of the ingredients.  Want more cinnamon and cacao in the cup, add more!  Want to try a cup with just the Yunnan and Guajillo Peppers, you can do that too.  Or… let’s say you want to explore these ingredients in a completely different way … let’s say you want to taste the Guajillo Peppers on their own, or perhaps sprinkled over an omlet … well, you can do that too!  This program gives you options, and I like that!

So, I decided to break the review down into two parts, so that I can explore this tea thoroughly. In part one (this part), I’ll be exploring Balché as the blend that Handmade Teas crafted …

When I first opened the tin, I could see the HUGE chunks of Saigon cinnamon.  Saigon cinnamon is my favorite type of cinnamon because it is a stronger, bolder cinnamon – less sweet and a bit spicier than the more popular Indonesian variety.  These chunks of cassia bark are large and inconsistently shaped – and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all.  In fact, I love the way that these bits of Saigon cinnamon add to the overall feel of a Handmade Tea blend.  It really feels handmade.

The Guajillo Pepper.
Photo from Wikipedia. Click on the pic to go there.

The flavor of this tea is very surprising.  I expected it to be SPICY.  And while it does have its spicy moments, it isn’t what I’d categorize as a spicy tea.  It is a gentle kind of spice, warming and comfortable.  It isn’t setting my tongue or throat on fire.  Instead, it’s warming me from the inside out, and that’s just what I wanted on this chilly autumn day.

The Guajillo Pepper is a pepper that I’m unfamiliar with, so I made a quick detour on Wikipedia to learn more about the Guajillo Pepper.  And according to Wikipedia, the guajillo chile apparently has a flavor that is similar to “green tea with berry overtones.”  Wow!  Now I might just have to try the Guajillo pepper steeped on it’s own, just to see if I can taste those notes.  When I do, I’ll be sure to add that information to part 2 of this review series.

The Yunnan tea is a full-flavored base, rich and invigorating, and has a peppery tone to it that complements the Guajillo Pepper.  The pepper does offer some fruit notes to the cup, and a mild heat that develops slowly.  The first few sips are relatively without heat, but after those initial sips, a warmth begins to develop at the top of the throat and the back of the tongue.  By mid-cup, this warmth has radiated almost to the tip of the tongue, with the tingly sensation of the cinnamon adding a very pleasing layer of flavor to this warmth.

The chocolate-y notes of the cacao are not apparent in the first few sips either, but now that I am past the mid-cup point, the chocolate-y notes are definitely present and add a delicious depth to the cup.  The overall flavor is rich and flavorful and very nicely round.  I taste chocolate and hints of berry, warm cinnamon-y spice and just enough heat to keep it interesting.  A really lovely cup … I do look forward to exploring this tea further with part 2 of this series!  I hope you’ll watch for it!

Please Note:  Handmade Tea is a monthly subscription service that makes unique, handmade blends not available anywhere else.  These teas are usually only available the month that they are offered and only available via subscription.  I was lucky enough to nab this blend recently on the Fab flash sale site during a special promotion … but this is so good that I may just have to start subscribing!