Monday, May 16, 2016

Teavana Oprah Chai (and a mini-rant having nothing to do with the actual tea)

I’m going to preface this review with a rant:
I started my tea business in 2013, so at this point I would expect most of my friends to know that I sell tea. I carry over 50 different types of tea, and my home is filled with teas I’ve picked up while traveling to various tea festivals and trade shows.  Therefore, it boggles my mind as to why people go to Teavana at the mall to buy me gifts!  Most of that stuff I have already, and chances are I paid less for it.  

It also boggles my mind that people keep tagging me on Facebook and/or posting on my wall every time they see some other company selling a tea infuser shaped like an animal.  Lately I’ve started replying with: “I sell lots of cute tea infusers too if you are interested!”  I know they mean well, and that they think of me when they see anything tea-related, but at the same time, I wonder how they would feel if I started posting on their FB wall every time their business competitors came out with a new product or service!  They would probably be (rightly) puzzled and annoyed! 

That said, I do enjoy trying out other companies’ products so that I know what they’re up to and what the latest trends are, and also because I am, first and foremost, a tea lover.  And to be fair, it’s actually been a big eye-opener for me to learn how obsessed people are with novelty tea infusers!  I’ve just stocked up on several new infuser shapes to tap into this market.

All of this brings us to the tin of Oprah Chai I received as a gift.  For a while, Oprah Chai was actually my drink of choice when I’d go to Starbucks.  However, I always felt that it didn’t have enough flavor or “zing”; that it was just a watered-down, Americanized version of the spicy Indian chai.  Just the fact that the tin bears the redundant "chai tea" in its name is enough to set my teeth on edge!

This morning I was in a Chai mood, so I pulled out the big tin, cut open the wrapper inside the tin and was met by – SURPRISE! – big chunks of spices along with the curls of black tea leaf!  The label states that this chai is a “bold infusion of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom + cloves blended with loose leaf black tea and rooibos.”  The ingredients list also mentions black pepper, carob pieces, chicory root, and natural flavors.  I’ve never thought about carob or chicory as tea ingredients and had no idea they were in here when I drank it at Starbucks. I’ve also ranted in the past about how Starbucks’ regular chai does not have any noticeable black pepper flavor in it, so I’m pleased that this one includes it.

The brewing instructions suggest one to two teaspoons per eight ounces of 195-205 degree water (90-96C) and a 3-4 minute steep time.  This contrasted sharply with the telepathic message I received from the spices in the bowl you see below, and my own knowledge of proper steeping of teas and spices.  I could hear them crying out to be simmered in a mix of boiling water and milk for five minutes, so that’s what I did.

I opted for 3 heaping teaspoons of the chai, one cup of water, and one cup of Flax milk (purchased at the soon-to-be-out-of-business Fresh Market).  I brought the liquids to a boil, turned the burner down to low, added the tea, covered with a lid and simmered for five minutes.  Then I strained the light-brown liquor and added one packet of Splenda (since I’m trying to cut down on sweets because my A1-C is high).

The top note of cinnamon hit my nostrils first, and the cinnamon is equally dominant in the flavor.  It and the ginger, pepper and clove combine to create a tingling sensation on the tongue and in the esophagus.  The carob and rooibos lend a strange and not altogether agreeable aftertaste.  Or maybe that was the Splenda?

Anyway, this is not my favorite chai blend in the world, but it will do in a pinch!  The next time the chai craving hits, this will definitely serve the purpose.  Next time I’ll try it as the label recommends and note any differences.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge the huge contribution that Oprah Winfrey has made in the world.  She’s been a remarkable success story and I can’t help but admire her.  Four dollars from the sale of each tin go to her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation: a good cause!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

For Richer, for Puerh

This morning, when I went to prepare my customary cup of black tea with milk/cream/soy milk/coconut half & half, I realized I was out!  Since I needed caffeine and I wasn't in the mood for green tea, the only logical choice was puerh.

I happened to have some Maiden Puerh sitting around that was given to me at the annual coffee and tea exchange party I host for my Tea and Conversation with Friends meetup group ( ), so I thought I'd give it a try.

As you can see from the photos, the nice person who gave me this tea typed up a little info sheet on puerh for those at the party who were unfamiliar with this type of tea.  Puerh is a "post-fermented" or aged tea, which means that it goes through one more process after the oxidation and drying of black tea.  Like good cheese or a fine wine, puerh is fermented with bacteria, yeast and mold, which gives it a distinctive flavor that's not everyone's "cup of tea". Also like a good cheese or fine wine, puerh actually gets better with age.

Generally, when you are preparing puerh, you're supposed to do one to three rinses of it (presumably to remove mold and activate the flavor), but the instructions for this one did not call for a rinse. I hope I don't die! (If you don't see any more posts from me, assume the worst!)

I steeped this one at 200 degrees F for 4 minutes. The dry leaves had that distinctive puerh smell that reminds me of compost tea, or my kitchen when I forget to take out the trash.  By contrast, the flavor of this puerh is actually rather mild and smooth, with only a hint of that "compost pile" flavor.  As you can see from the photo, the liquor has a rich, coppery color.  The woodsy notes are quite pleasant.
A second steeping produced the same forest floor flavor, albeit milder.  I am going to save the leaves for a third steeping, so stay tuned!