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Genmaicha is one of the more easily identified teas, thanks to the noticeable presence of toasted rice among the tea leaves. To the uninitiated, this might at first seem slightly peculiar. But, as Genmaicha lovers know, these little pieces of toasted rice are the perfect complement to the sweet, grassy flavour of Japanese green tea.

A flavorful cup of Genmaicha (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

A flavorful cup of Genmaicha (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

The tea used in Genmaicha is typically sencha– a good grade green tea, although not the highest grade (that honour is reserved for Gyokuro).  The English Tea Store’s Genmaicha is no exception: sencha is blended with toasted rice to create a tea whose aroma is exactly what I would expect from a Genmaicha.

As with any green tea, this tea is best brewed with water that has not been brought fully to boil (this prevents the tea leaves from being burnt and tasting bitter). Sencha is not as delicate as Gyokuro, and the toasted rice flavour does a lot to mellow out any slight over-steeping of the tea leaves. As such the brewing time does not have to be as precise as it does for a Gyokuro or higher grade, pure sencha. However, Genmaicha can still become bitter if left too long, and I would not advise wandering off whilst your tea is steeping.

Genmaicha (ETS image)

Genmaicha (ETS image)

For this particular Genmaicha, 45-60 seconds produced a good tasting brew on the first steep. Depending on your taste preferences, it could perhaps be left up to 75 seconds. Whilst the sencha tea leaves can be re-steeped, the toasted rice does not re-steep very well, and as such the second brew had a much lighter rice flavour, almost tasting like a pure sencha.

I enjoy Genmaicha for the distinct flavour that the toasted rice adds, and as such I do not usually enjoy second or third brews of this tea. However, some people may enjoy, or even prefer, the lighter rice flavour the second time around, and so it is definitely worth trying a second steep if you are new to this tea, or if you have not done so before.

All in all, the English Tea Store Genmaicha is a tea with a good balance of toasted rice and sencha flavours, and it compares favourably to other Genmaicha blends that I have had the pleasure to try.

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gyokuro is a Japanese green tea of the highest quality, and one that I always look forward to drinking. It is considered one of the highest grades because the processing of this tea is complex, including covering the tea trees with shades during growth. This reduces the tannin content of the leaves, which is responsible for the distinctive dark green appearance and sweet taste of this tea.

The first thing that I noticed about this tea was that the leaves of this Gyokuro are smaller than those of another Gyokuro that I own. But the smell was promising.

Gyokuro leaves (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

Gyokuro leaves (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

Gyokuro is best brewed with water that is not brought to a full boil (maximum of 140°F or 60°C) and should not be steeped for more than 30 seconds on the first brew. This is slightly less than you might do for other green teas as this particular tea is a higher grade and more delicate and tender than most green teas; over boiling or over steeping can very quickly cause Gyokuro to taste bitter, completely ruining its subtle flavours.

Like all high-grade green teas, Gyokuro can be re-steeped several times. Depending on you personal taste preferences, up to 5 times, and so, although it may be a slightly more expensive tea, if you know how to brew it properly, you can certainly get your money’s worth.

Gyokuro in the cup (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

Gyokuro in the cup (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

For the first steep, I let the tea brew for 30 seconds and then promptly removed the infuser. The sweet, steamed taste that I associate with Gyokuro was immediately recognisable, and this blend produced a rich and full first steep. Very satisfied, I went on to try a second and third brew.

For the second steep, I also let  the leaves brew for 30 seconds, not wanting to overdo it. Although this was the second steep, it still produced a flavourful cup- not quite as rich as the first, but often this second brew is the one that people prefer. For the third steep I left the infuser in for 45 seconds. This brew was still thoroughly drinkable, but not as satisfying for my taste as the first two, perhaps because I had let it brew for too long.

For the second fresh batch of leaves I tried, I left the third steep in for closer to 40 seconds, and this slight alteration made a difference. It was a lighter, weaker brew than the first two steeps, but the sweet flavour was still noticeable and not at all impeded.

Gyokuro is a green tea with a lovely flavour, and in this blend from the English Tea Store this distinctive taste is in full force.

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When I drink tea, I like to taste the tea and nothing else. Everybody has their own preferences and I’m not saying my way is better than anyone else’s. But I like my tea untainted by any such substances as milk, sugar, lemon, sauerkraut (just seeing if you’re paying attention) and the like – the usual suspects. That goes for flavors too. I drank some flavored varieties back when I was first getting into tea but as time went on my interest in those began to fall by the wayside.

Tea Review - English Tea Store Peach Black Tea (photo by William I. Lengeman, III, all rights reserved)

Tea Review – English Tea Store Peach Black Tea (photo by William I. Lengeman, III, all rights reserved)

Except for peach, oddly enough. As I recall it, way back in the early days I used to drink a peach-flavored black tea that was a made by a fairly well-known tea company and so the notion that peach-flavored black tea was a good thing has somehow stuck with me.

So I thought that I would give the English Tea Store’s peach-flavored black tea a spin. The first thing that struck me, upon opening the package, was the small size of the leaves and pretty much a total absence of a peach aroma. Neither of which is necessarily a bad thing, mind you. I adjusted for the smaller leaves by dialing back on the water temperature just a bit and not steeping the leaves quite as long as I would for a black tea with fuller leaves.

The end result was quite nice, thank you very much. The Tea Store’s site doesn’t offer much in the way of specifics about the tea or the flavoring agents but I’d give them points on both counts. One thing that I did find was that the peach component was a bit much for my likes. However, I tend to prefer that such things are very subtle (a little dab’ll do you) and so I suspect that many tea drinkers won’t share my feeling on this point. Besides, it was easy enough to resolve this by simply mixing in equal measures of a plain black tea with the flavored and thus getting that low-key peach goodness that I sought.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Type of tea: Black
Loose or bagged: Loose
Recommended steep time: 3-8 minutes, depending on preferred strength

One of the teas featured in a list of teas I would like to explore more, Scottish Breakfast tea from the English Tea Store is a bold, strong black tea without flavouring or scenting. It can be brewed as hot or iced tea, although as the weather here in the UK just took a chilly turn I decided to limit my exploration of this tea to hot brews.

The amount of tea and steeping time, as for many black teas, is left up to the tea drinker’s discretion, and the more tea used and/or the longer it is the left to steep, the stronger the brew.

Scottish Breakfast Tea (ETS image)

Scottish Breakfast Tea (ETS image)

To start with, I went with my standard ratio of 1 teaspoon of tea for every 8oz of fluid. For my 16oz teapot, this meant 2 teaspoons of Scottish Breakfast. I poured in the water which had just reached a rolling boil, and left it to steep. Wanting to experience a range of strengths, I initially removed the infuser after 3 minutes. Already, it was a pretty strong brew. I am definitely of fan of strong black teas, and this tea has a slight suggestion of a woody taste, perhaps tending towards smokiness.

I took a few sips without adding milk to get an idea of the tea in its pure form, but since I always take my black tea with milk, I added some. As with many strong black teas, smoky or otherwise, the milk cuts some of the harshness that these bold teas can have.

Scottish Breakfast with milk (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

Scottish Breakfast with milk (photo by Elise Nuding, all rights reserved)

The next brew I made up (with fresh leaves), I left for 5 minutes, and although there was no bitterness, it was a little too strong for my taste, even after adding milk.

The third brew (also fresh leaves) I left for 4 minutes. Whilst a little stronger than my initial 3-minute brew, I enjoyed it equally. Perhaps this brew is a good choice for those mornings when I need a little extra boost to get me going, and the 3-minute brew for a gentler, but still intensely black, morning cuppa.

For those who like to re-use their tea leaves, this tea does resteep. As to be expected, the second infusion is a little weaker, a little lighter, but still makes for a good cup. It is more like one of the less bold breakfast teas- such as English Breakfast- and so if you want to experience the unique characteristics of Scottish Breakfast tea, the first infusions are the ones to go with.

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ceylon Black Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Ceylon Black Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Most of us have probably heard the term terra incognita, but perhaps you’ve never thought much about where it comes from. As the story goes, once upon a time the phrase was inscribed upon those areas of maps that were an unknown. Nowadays, of course, these areas don’t take up as much space as they once did, in those days of yore before you could ship a package halfway around the globe overnight.

On my own personal map of the tea world, it’s Ceylon that still has a hint of terra incognita to it. That’s the name still given to the tea grown in what was once called Ceylon and is now known as Sri Lanka and which is a small island nation off the coast of India. While I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the teas of India, China, or Japan, I have to say that I’m quite a bit more familiar with them than I am with the Ceylon varieties.

Which are almost all black teas, mind you, with anything that’s not being the rare exception to the rule. I’ve tried a few Ceylon teas over the years and can remember one or two that were quite exceptional, and yet I still have this faint and almost subconscious bias against this sort of tea. I think it’s because I tend to equate it – rightly or not – with certain tea giants who mostly seem to make tea that’s not all that exceptional.

So I shouldn’t be all that surprised when I find myself pleasantly…surprised by a fine tasting Ceylon tea, but I usually am. I might have tasted a Ceylon or two that tops this particular one but I’d rank it right up there and certainly wouldn’t object to drinking it on a regular basis.

One of the qualities I’ve always associated with Ceylon tea (again, rightly or not) is briskness, or the quality that tends to make your mouth want to pucker. It’s a quality I don’t like in tea. Fortunately this one had little or none of that, but rather had the fullness of flavor that I associate with my favorite black teas – like those from Yunnan, in China, or Assam, in India. And while I might never find a Ceylon that tops my favorite Assam varieties, the ones like this at least make the search a little more pleasant.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I haven’t made a thorough study of the matter, but I’d venture to say that if you’re looking for information on the gardens that produce your Indian single-estate tea you’re likely to come up dry in many cases. Take Tarajulie Estate, for instance, who produce the fine Assam tea that’s the subject of this review. While you can find a number of vendors who sell their tea and a number of other reviewers who have also weighed in on its merits, it’s a little trickier to find out anything about the estate itself. Between myself and my esteemed editor, about the best we could come up with is located here.

The "Esteemed Editor's" photo of this tea since I am all about drinking, not shooting, tea! (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

The “Esteemed Editor’s” photo of this tea since I am all about drinking, not shooting, tea! (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Which is hardly a necessity when it comes to appreciating the finer points of any tea, but just as a wine fancier might like to know more about the vineyard that produces the vintage they’re drinking so do some of us tea people like to know about the estate that produced our tea.

But enough about that. For a long time I found myself jumping back and forth between black and green tea, growing tired of one and moving on to the other and then switching back again. Lately though, I’ve been drinking black tea almost exclusively. I can’t figure out why but I’m going to hazard a wild guess and say it might have something to do with the colder weather.

In any event, I’ve been lucky to get my hands on samples of a few varieties of my favorite black tea – the robust type that hails from the northeastern state of Assam. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing two of the English Tea Store’s Assams recently, starting with their Organic Assam TGFOP, which I reviewed here. I liked that one quite a bit but I liked the next one – the Borengajuli – even better.

Now it’s on to the Tarajulie, which I liked even better than the Borengajuli. I don’t often use those high-falutin’ descriptors (oaky, persimmonish, faint notes of kerosene) favored by beverage reviewers, so I’ll just say that the Organic Assam and the Borengajuli had that robust, smooth and richly flavored profile common to the best Assam teas. As for the Tarajulie, I’ll just say that it’s got all of those qualities, but in greater abundance. Which definitely makes it worth a look, if you go for this sort of thing.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

As I noted recently in a tea review at my own site, the final few months of 2012 were quite a bonanza to a black tea-loving fellow such as yours truly. A pile of samples came flooding in (okay, just a slight exaggeration), and some of them were quite good, thank you very much. Among these were a number of quite nice Assam varieties – always a big favorite with me.

Borengajuli Estate Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Borengajuli Estate Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

I rarely let an opportunity pass to discuss Assam tea, in general, but I’ll be brief. The Assam region in India is one of the world’s largest tea-growing regions and turn out almost exclusively black tea. From the point of a black tea connoisseur, a lot of this output is perhaps not quite what you’d call top-shelf stuff – and that’s putting it mildly. On the other hand, some of the best black tea I’ve ever had the pleasure to sample has come from Assam.

One of the last Assam teas I reviewed was also from The English Tea Store. I was quite fond of their Organic Assam TGFOP, which I covered here not so long ago. But as good as that one was I’d have to say that their Borengajuli Estate is on an entirely different level.

Lesser varieties of Assam – and there are many – are marked by a distinct lack of flavor and usually tend toward astringency (that quality that makes your mouth want to pucker) and especially bitterness. None of which turned up in this particular variety.

While you can’t always tell if a tea is going to be good simply by smelling the dry leaves, sometimes you can and this was one of those times. As soon as I opened the package the strong aroma of the leaves jumped out at me, and I knew this would be a good tea-drinking experience. Steeping the tea and drinking it didn’t do anything to change my mind on this point. The rich full-bodied flavor was everything the aroma promised and then some. As is so often the case when I review tea, I found that there was a flavor note here that I couldn’t put my finger, no matter how hard I try. But the bottom line is that this is a great black tea and I’m happy to have had a chance to sample it.

For some additional perspective on this tea, refer to this archived review by our Esteemed Editor.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Assam TGFOP (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Assam TGFOP (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

In my recent review of the English Tea Store’s Golden Heaven Yunnan, a Chinese black tea, I may have spoken a bit rashly. After many years of enthusiastically banging the drum for Assam tea, I made the comment that “I’m starting to wonder if I don’t like Yunnan better.” Which wasn’t exactly a definitive statement, mind you, but at this point I think I’ll go with the position that I really like both types of tea, as opposed to committing to the daunting task of picking one favorite.

Now it’s time for my standard caution whenever Assam tea is the topic of discussion. This region of India is one of the world’s top tea producers and almost all of what they turn out there is black tea. You could also make the argument that a lot of the Assam black tea is not particularly exceptional. So if you’re going to rush out and buy some Assam tea, it’s not a bad idea for the buyer to beware. End of standard caution.

But there’s plenty of good Assam tea to be had, and when it’s good, it’s very good indeed. Most of the better quality stuff from Assam tends to be single-estate tea, meaning that it comes from one particular garden, as opposed to those products that are blended from teas from a variety of sources. It’s not clear from their product description which category the English Tea Store’s Organic Assam TGFOP falls into but I suspect that it’s probably a single-estate tea.

I wouldn’t rank this tea at the absolute top of the heap for Assam teas, but that’s a rather lofty pinnacle indeed, and this one is not very far off the mark. I actually came back a few days after finishing this review and modified this paragraph as I found that this tea started out good and grew on me even more the more I drank it.

This is a very smooth and flavorful Assam, with none of the bitterness or astringency that spoils some of the lesser ones. I drink black tea without anything added and so it’s not hard at all to pick up on these unpleasant qualities, but fortunately in this case there were none. Whether you like milk, sugar and whatnot or don’t, I’m sure that you’ll find that this one’s definitely worth your time.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Keemun Panda (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Keemun Panda (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

If pressed to choose my least favorite type of tea, I’d probably have to go with Lapsang Souchong. For those who may never have heard of it, it’s a Chinese type of black tea whose leaves are cured/flavored by exposing them to the smoke of a pine wood fire – or at least “real” Lapsang Souchong is made this way. Which is all well and good if you like that sort of thing, and I’m not averse to a little smoke in food, but when it comes to tea I have never acquired a taste for it.

I bring this up in my review of the English Tea Store’s Keemun Panda because most of the Keemun I’ve sampled thus far has a bit of smokiness to it, although it tends to be much less pronounced than you’ll find with Lapsang Souchong. I tend to run screaming when it comes to smokiness in tea nowadays, but if it’s faint enough, then I’m okay with it, and there are actually some Keemuns I’ve liked quite a bit.

Having said all that, I’ll say that this was a very fine example of the breed, but there was just a bit too much smoke there for me to add it to my list of everyday choices. According to the English Tea Store’s description, “a properly produced Keemun, such as Panda, is one of the finest teas in the world with a complex aromatic and penetrating character often compared to burgundy wines.” They also note that “the bright, reddish brew delivers a winey, fruity flavor with depth and complexity.” I’m not quite sure what “winey” means and I didn’t personally catch onto the fruitiness, but I won’t argue with the bit about the depth and complexity.

As for the assertion that this tea “takes milk well,” I’m not and never have been a milk and sugar fan, but with a tea such as this particular one I can see how such a mixture might actually work. My other point, and it’s one that I frequently make with black teas, is a caution not to oversteep. The description calls for two to five minutes in water that’s been brought to a rolling boil. My standard steep time for any black tea is two minutes and this one might do quite nicely with longer times but I’d caution readers to start short and work up to the longer times that can sometimes bring out undesirable flavors in any tea.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Nine Bend Black Dragon Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Nine Bend Black Dragon Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

You could probably spend a lifetime studying the topic of Chinese tea, if you were so inclined, and still not get to the bottom of it. All of the major types of tea are grown there and the sheer number of varieties that fall into those categories are enough to put a strain on your brain cells. Just keeping track of the various names of Chinese teas and their English translations can be a daunting task in itself.

Whether it be in Chinese or English many of the names of these teas are quite colorful. I can’t put a finger on why I like the name of Nine Bend Black Dragon so much. It just has a nice ring to it. Nine Bend Black Dragon is apparently named for the Nine Bend River located in the Wuyi Mountain region in the north of China’s Fujian province. Not surprisingly, this is a region that’s well known for its Wuyi Oolong as well as various other varieties of tea.

I personally have never found much to like about Wuyi Oolong, but Nine Bend Black Dragon is a another cup of tea entirely. While I like a nice delicate green tea now and then for me they tend to serve more as palate cleansers to be consumed in between the black teas that I’m such a fan of. Assam is one of my favorite black teas but I’ve been drinking a lot of Chinese black tea lately, such as Yunnan and Keemun, and Nine Bend Black Dragon fits in with this group quite nicely.

One of the first things that stands out here are the leaves themselves, longish and needle-like and mostly black, with a little bit of a sheen and just a smattering of yellow tips. The Tea Store’s description mentions “deep burgundy depth and delightful oaky notes.” I’m not sure what the former is and I can agree with the latter pretty much, but I also noticed a pronounced note of something resembling cocoa.

A nice one for fans of full-flavored black tea. More here.

See also:
Review: The English Tea Store’s Nine Bend Black Dragon Tea

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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