Jing Xuan Oolong from Red Blossom Tea Co.

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Oolong

Where to Buy:  Red Blossom Tea Co.

Tea Description:

Jing Xuan, meaning “Golden Lily” in Chinese, is a relatively new Formosa varietal developed by Taiwan’s Tea Research and Extension Station in the early 1980s.  The cultivar is the end result of nearly four decades of cross-breeding of several Formosa varietals to yield a tea that is distinct in character from the traditional cultivars of our Alishan, San Lin Xi, Lishan and Tung Ting.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

Of the three teas that were in this month’s Steepster Select Box, only one of them I had not yet tried … this tea.  I’ve tried other Jing Xuan Oolong teas though, however, as I’ve come to learn, even if it’s the same name and type of tea, it doesn’t mean that a Jing Xuan from one company is going to taste the same as a Jing Xuan from another.  So much depends upon the variables… which is what makes each tea experience so unique.  It is one of the reasons I love tea so much!

And I love Jing Xuan.  However, as far as Jing Xuan Oolong teas go, I think that this one falls a bit short over some of the others that I’ve tried.  It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but, the flavor is just a little lackluster.

My first cup (the first two infusions, combined) was sweet and creamy but not too heavy.  It had a lightness to it.  I enjoyed the lightness of this cup, and how the flavors came together, but I expected more from this.  I expected more creamy tones.  I expected hints of flower and more sweetness.  This … just wasn’t what I expected.

My second cup (infusions 3 and 4, combined) was a bit more brothy than the first, with stronger floral notes and a background of vegetative notes.  However, what little creaminess there was in the first cup is now gone, instead, I have a thick, soup-like tea versus the buttery, creamy taste and texture I’ve come to expect from a Jing Xuan.

The third cup (infusions 5 and 6, combined) seems to be a combination of the first two.  It is lighter than the second cup, but not quite as light as the first.  The flavors which were more distinct in the second cup have softened and melded together somewhat, creating a smoother tea experience.  Of the three cups, this one is my favorite, but, I still feel somewhat disappointed and am left wanting with this Jing Xuan.

It IS an enjoyable tea.  However, this tea was in the Steepster Select box with the theme “Founder’s Favorites” and I really expected something spectacular, and I feel like instead of providing the best Jing Xuan – one that was worthy of the title “Founder’s Favorites” – they instead buffered the box with a bargain basement version of the tea.  Somewhat disappointing, considering this is the last box … a fact which is disappointing in itself.  I had hoped that the Steepster Select box would go out with a BANG, but instead it goes in a fizzle.

Laoshan Black from Verdant Tea

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Verdant Tea

Tea Description:

The summer 2012 Laoshan Black harvest is in!

Cutting open the first bag of our latest harvest of Laoshan Black is like stepping in to some fantastical cottage in the forest where fudge is being simmered on the stovetop, and the wafting dark chocolate caramel aroma mixes with the flowers and grassy smells coming in through the open windows. The aroma of the wet leaf adds a semolina sweetness of bread baking.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

This is the second of the three teas that were part of the last Steepster Select box (the Founders Favorites box), as well as the second of two of the three teas in that box that I had previously tasted and reviewed.  But, I certainly didn’t mind receiving this tea – even though I had tried the Laoshan Black tea from Verdant previously – because this tea is so good.  It is nice to have it back in my stash of teas, if only for a short while!  I will enjoy it while it lasts!

And, even though I have tasted and reviewed this tea before, this is a whole new harvest, so, I feel perfectly alright with composing a new review for it.  New harvests often bring new flavor to the cup, so it is interesting to me to see how this tea compares to the previous batch I tried.  (I believe that the first batch that I tried was Spring 2011, and this is Spring 2012)

Well, it’s still very rich and flavorful, with amazing chocolate-y tones.  I taste the malt notes, which give it an almost “Malt O’ Meal” kind of flavor (one of my favorite hot cereals … I miss the chocolate Malt O’ Meal, I could never seem to find it in my local grocery store, and I’d faithfully look for it every time I’d visit for months and months – probably more like years – and I finally gave up.  I might try looking next time I visit to see if it’s there…  then again, I suppose I could make my own with some of the cocoa powder that I have in the cupboard.  It’d probably be better that way!)

Anyway, this first infusion is very full-flavored.  I taste hints of cinnamon and notes of caramel-y sweetness.  I think I taste more of a caramel-y taste this time than I remember with that first cup (then again, it was quite some time ago!) and perhaps less of the honey-esque tone.  It is nonetheless pleasantly sweet and rich.  Very similar to what I remember from previous Laoshan Black tastings.

If you haven’t yet tried the Laoshan Black from Verdant Tea – I highly recommend it.  It is truly one of the most remarkably satisfying black teas I’ve ever tasted.

Garden Bancha Tea from BigTeaHouse

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Where to Buy:  BigTeaHouse

Tea Description:

A traditional loose leaf green tea with a hint of sweetness and a medium astringency. Bancha is known for its earthy tones and scents.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

This is the second tea from my “Around the Clock” Steepster Select box, and it is one with which I was pleasantly surprised.  I would not have thought of including a Bancha in this box, but, when I really think about it, it makes perfect sense, since Bancha is considered an “every day” type of tea in Japan.

However, if I were to make a list of Japanese green teas with which I’m familiar, Bancha would not be at the top of the list.  I’d immediately list Sencha, of course, and Matcha, followed by Genmaicha and Gyokuro.  Then I’d probably add Houjicha and Kukicha to the list.  At that point, somewhere down toward the bottom of the list, I might add “Bancha.”  I just haven’t tried all that many Bancha teas, so I’m just not all that familiar with them.

But, I am really glad that I’m getting to know this Garden Bancha from BigTeaHouse.  It’s really quite lovely.  It starts out very mild.  Almost too mild.  It took a few sips for me to really get much out of the cup, but, once the flavor started to build upon my palate, I found this to be a very enjoyable cup of tea.

The tea is quite vegetal, as you might imagine.  I’d call this an “earthy vegetative” taste, it doesn’t taste real grassy, nor does it taste strongly of vegetables, but, it has more of what I’d think of as a forest-y vegetative taste, a taste that I might get from the air while hiking in the woods here in the Pacific Northwest, where it is thick and green and wet.  From that note you should draw upon the word “air” because even though it does have a strong herbaceous note, it has an airy quality to it too, giving it a fresh character… like a breath of fresh air!

It has a sweetness to it, but I don’t find it to be incredibly sweet or buttery the way I’d usually classify a Sencha.  It is more mellow and relaxed, with a gentle sweetness and a pleasant savoriness.  A bit brothy … soup-like!  Yes, that is what this reminds me of, a delicious cup of soup!  Very comforting and soothing.

Very nice, indeed!

Traditional Guayusa from Runa

Tisane Information:

Leaf Type:  Guayusa

Where to Buy:  Runa

Tisane Description:

Known for its stimulating effects, indigenous hunters drink guayusa to sharpen their instincts. They call it the “Night Watchman” because it helps them stay awake and alert all night.

Learn more about this tisane here.

Taster’s Review:

This is the second tea/tisane that I’ve tried from the April Steepster Select box – themed “New Frontiers” – and while I did express my disappointment previously with this box, I have to admit that I am enjoying this Guayusa.  It is nothing spectacular, but, it is enjoyable.

Since I previously reviewed Traditional Guayusa from Runa, and really, the only big difference between this cup of Guayusa and the one that I’ve already reviewed is that the previous cup was prepared with a sachet of Guayusa, while this is loose leaf.  Since it’s been almost a year since I had that cup, though, I can’t really tell you if the cups are significantly different, and in what ways they differ.

What I can say, though, is that this is a tasty cup of Guayusa – rich, flavorful, and it has a very energetic quality to it that I’d expect from Guayusa.  It tastes a bit like a slightly thin cup of coffee, but without the bitterness.  It’s very smooth.

So, instead of going into depth about this tisane again, I thought I’d share with you the information on the New Frontiers theme card.  I always enjoy these writings from the minds at Steepster:

Classical tea drinkers hold fast to the idea that “tea” only includes leaves from the camellia sinensis plant.  Our vision of tea encompasses a wide variety of non-camellia sinensis plants – better known as tisanes – prepared, consumed and enjoyed in the same way as traditional tea.

So we venture forward, tastebuds first, to explore the ever expanding tea world. 

Our quest introduces us to new lands and new species, but unlike previous explorers who feared the precipice at the end of the earth, we know our voyage will bring us full circle, back home and enriched with a deeper love for our favorite drink.

Raise the anchor!  Hoist the sail!  Join us as we set forth to explore these unique teas from non-traditional homes.

When I first opened the box and saw that it included two unflavored tisanes, I was very surprised and as I mentioned, disappointed.  But, I do understand the inspiration behind these choices after reading the theme card.  And while I do understand … it doesn’t keep me from hoping that next month’s theme will allow for more exciting choices!

Organic Honey Bush from The Tea Smith

Tisane Information:

Leaf Type:  Honeybush

Where to Buy:  The Tea Smith

Tisane Description:

A unique herb from South Africa, honey bush is slightly sweet and reminiscent of a baked dessert. It’s a great way to cheat on your diet!

Learn more about this tisane here.

Taster’s Review:

I’ll be honest, when I opened this month’s Steepster Select box, I was a little disappointed.  Maybe even a lot disappointed.

Inside, there was a package of pure Guayusa, and a package of pure Honey Bush (which is what I’m reviewing right now).  Really?  Really???  The only package that seemed to be somewhat redeeming in this themed collection – called “New Frontiers” – from Steepster was the Hawaiian-Grown green tea.  But even that didn’t really seem worth the $19 bucks a month that this subscription costs.

I mean, okay… I like Guayusa.  And I even like honey bush.  But in the case of these two leaf types, I find them to be much more enjoyable as flavored tisanes or as part of a blend … especially honey bush.  It’s tasty enough as a pure tisane, but, it’s kind of just boring.  Not all that exciting.

This is basically what I expect from a honey bush:  lightly sweet with nutty tones and a background of wood-like flavor.  I find that I notice more of the natural nutty tones and woody notes when it is unflavored, but, that’s not necessarily a good thing.  I find that the toasty nut flavor is enjoyable, but, the wood tones can be a bit on the sour side, especially if you steep it for a long period of time.

Fortunately, I didn’t steep it too long, so, I find myself actually enjoying this nutty, honey-sweet tisane, even though I do find myself wishing that there was a little more to this month’s “New Frontiers” box.  I do appreciate that it is an organic honey bush, as I find that there is a distinct difference in flavor between organic and conventionally grown honey bush (as well as rooibos). It’s enjoyable, but, just a little ho-hum.