Thursday, November 22, 2007

One For The Money, Two For The Show, Three for Adagio, and Here We Go!

Several weeks ago I was sent a very nice review package from Adagio Teas. I have long adored Adagio and looked up to them as a benchmark to test other tea companies against. Some of their blends have been long favorites of mine, so it will take some work to be non-biased for this review.

I'll mention what was sent in the package, initial impressions on each item, and then I'll list my favorite of the teas that they sent and why it is my favorite of the set.

Included were 4 sample tins of various teas, several samples of their excellent teabags, and a Jasmine Pearl. Also included was a box of extra-tall teabags made from recyclable fibers (including hemp fiber, which I'll certainly have to say something good about) to put loose blends in, and their excellent short book "A Guide to Tea."

The four sample tins were "Casa Blanca Twist," Almond Oolong, Vanilla Green, and White Peony. Each is delicious, and has it own separate merits from the others.

The White Peony was very good - A fine quality white tea with a very pleasant mellow flavor. I really like white teas, so I hold them to a high standard when I review them. Compared to other White Peony teas I have had, this one is on the higher end of the spectrum. Quality is a big deal with Adagio, and it reflects in their products. I have only had a couple of brews of this particular tea that were better, and those were also considerably for expensive. For the price, this is the best White Peony you'll probably find. Great economically-priced white tea for anyone to enjoy - although tea snobs might opt for more expensive versions.

The Vanilla Green was also very good. I often am wary of green teas that aren't specifically categorized. There are so many types of green tea, and you don't know what you might get. Often, when buying a "green tea," you end up with something that tastes as generic as the name suggests. Adagio's flavored green teas are a notch above in regards to quality. The vanilla flavor was easy to pick up on even without sweetening, and a touch of honey brought it out perfectly. I might suggest that a little more vanilla flavor be present, though, as the vanilla flavor in this blend was a little outdone by the green tea flavor.

The Almond Oolong was simply delightful. I really like Oolong teas, and almond seems to be a great sidekick flavor to it. The amount of almond flavor was just right - it blended with the oolong perfectly, so neither overpowered the other. This tea is best with a little sweetener, as it really helps to bring out the almond flavor more.

The "Casa Blanca Twist" was my favorite of the lot. It has a very nice blend of flavors. A nice blend for whenever you want a nice and well-rounded mint tea. This was particularly pepperminty, which I appreciated. The amount of mint was well-conceived also. Not overpowering, but enough to wake up the senses and blend will with the high-quality green tea that undertones it. One thing I noticed about this tea is that the leaves were broken - even the tea leaves, which left me a bit disappointed. I tend to look at whole leaves or at least larger pieces of leaf as a trademark of quality. However, this only ended up as an aesthetic disappointment, as the finished brew was quite excellent anyway.

Next, I'd like to address the coffee table book, "A Guide to Tea." For the $5 that they charge for this, it is a good value, and well worth it. This is a very informative book for someone one new to the world of tea, and I myself even learned some interesting things from it. Well-printed and nicely bound, and very very easy to read. Nice display piece for when you have a guest over for tea. I'd also like to mention that they are giving these books away when you purchase one of their gift sets, which also come with free wrapping.

The paper filters that I received were impressive. I'll be keeping a bunch of these in my travel pack when I do my traveling with the Weber State Ethics Bowl team. Very portable, and very high quality. These are made from unbleached fibers - a fact which relieved me, since I often worry about what sorts of chemicals they use in my teabags to make them so white. These also won't leave your tea tasting like paper, since they're made from hemp and wood fibers, which don't impart flavor. I was thrilled that they used hemp fiber - It is a superior alternative to wood fibers in papers, since it is both more sustainable and stronger. I always get the warm fuzzies when I see a company supporting the use of hemp products - I've always been a big fan of this on both the conceptual and environmental levels. It's a high quality fiber, and the hemp plants grow far faster than trees, making hemp-fiber a more eco-concious choice.

Adagio's customer service is also fantastic - very fast response to questions, and you can often get live help from their tea master. They are definitely out there for more than just profits - I believe that they genuinely believe in giving people the best tea experience possible, while making it affordable for the common man.

All in all, I think Adagio is a fantastic company. They're teas are of excellent quality given the price that they charge, and they have enough varieties available to please not only the tea commoner, but also the connoisseur. Sometimes I wish they had a more premium line that they charged a little more for to appease the tea snobs, though.

If you're looking for a quality and affordable place to purchase tea, consider Adagio. Also, if you haven't yet done so, please feel free to request a $5 gift certificate from Adagio by using the box on the right of the blog at the top.

Over and out,

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Coffee Tea For Me?

How many times have you walked into a Starbucks or other coffee shop and seen posters of a coffee plant? I know I've seen it before. Those pictures of dark green glossy leaves and rich red berries that leave you wondering why you never actually see these parts of the plant? Well, I recently received some samples from Astral-Natural that shed some light on this.

The package I received contained a number of samples of a product called "CoffeeTea," and a nice ceramic mug emblazoned with the product's logo. As you might have guessed from the name, CoffeeTea is an herbal tisane made from the leaves of the Coffea Arabica plant. The idea seemed interesting to me, and seemed like the sort of thing I should support. It's essentially a way to cut down on waste by using more parts of a plant than would traditionally be used. This seems like a good plan, and triggers my underlying "liberal green-o-meter."

As an enjoyer of both coffee and tea, this idea also seemed an interesting way to bring those two worlds closer together, and to some extent it does. The research offered on their website is interesting, and seems to suggest that the health benefits of coffee leaf are at least as high as those of green tea, as well as having less caffeine. This I was dubious of. Being a skeptic, I generally try to avoid studies that are posted on a product's website, as such studies are certain to have bias and probably false context. The website also claims that CoffeeTea is not an acquired taste, and that people prefer it to green tea from the first cup. This I was also dubious of.

Upon doing some research of my own, I found that pure coffee leaf does indeed have a comparable ORAC (antioxidant) score to that of green tea, however has a much lower ORAC than white tea. Additionally, the antioxidant compounds found within coffee leaf are different than those found in green tea, so although it may be the case that comparable amounts of antioxidants are found (which is how the ORAC is calculated), it's not the case that they are antioxidant equivalents, as specific antioxidants behave differently than other antioxidants, and can achieve specific tasks. One example of this is EGCG, a green tea antioxidant, that has very specific functions towards heart function and neurotransmitter creation.

Regarding the claims that Astral-Natural makes about the taste preference of CoffeeTea, I would say that their test was taken in a bad way. The way their study worked was to have average people off the street sip each beverage (green tea and coffee leaf tea), and recorded their responses. They received a result such that 75% preferred coffee leaf over green tea. It occurs to me, however, that this shouldn't be the only factor. CoffeeTea and green tea are each consumed for different reasons, and taste differently. Green tea might taste better in one situation, and CoffeeTea in another type of situation. Additionally, there are many types of green tea, each of which taste different. Cultural variation might also come into play. I would love to see this test repeated in a larger number of locations (even international), with the assurance that it would be a blind test.

Now, with all this being said, I must say that I give this company an A for uniqueness. This is a product I had simply not seen or heard about before, but it does indeed seem intriguing. Their packaging is attractive and well done (despite the fact that it only comes in bagged form), and their website, aside from the research aspects which I have mentioned (which they are not alone in - most companies seem to do this in one way or another), is very well-designed and easy to

Now, you might be asking "Now, that's all well and good Relz, but how does it taste?!" Very pleasant. This beverage has a similar flavor to "drugstore green teas," meaning the sort of bagged teas you can buy at your neighborhood grocer (lipton, bigelow, etc.) I can see why some sorts of people would prefer it over green tea. It has a nice and mellow flavor with no astringent or bitterness. It has a nice cup color with no cloudiness, and it tastes good both iced and hot. I, however, am not one of those that prefer it over green tea, for several reasons, the primary being that it lacks variation. There are dozens of types of green tea, which each have distinct characteristics. CoffeeTea, however, lacks that diversity, which is not their fault, but which is a good reason why CoffeeTea will not be uprooting green tea from it's comfortable market position.

CoffeeTea is a delightful and unique beverage, and I very much like the flavor. It is very relaxing and very mellow, and I will probably drink it from time to time as I do other herbal tisanes. To suggest that it will be replacing the whole of green tea, however, is an unjustifiable comment.

The bottom line: CoffeeTea is delicious, and makes a great herbal tisane. It's a unique and very ecologically friendly product that encourages us to make more use of what we grow. It's more sustainable than other types of beverages, and it is packed very nicely. However, it won't be replacing green tea any time soon.

I would, however, encourage you to give it a try and see what you think - you might be surprised at just how good brewed coffee leaf can be.

If I could make suggestions to Astral-Natural for this products improvement, I would suggest that they use a larger and higher quality teabag. I would also suggest that they make the product available in loose-leaf format, and would further suggest that they adopt into their product line coffee leaf grown at different elevations, in different regions, etc, to give it more of the variability and versatility that green tea has. I'd also love to see a fair-trade certification displayed on the packaging somewhere.

Thanks, Astral-Natural, for allowing me to review your product, and thanks, readers, for reading my review!

Over and out,
Relznuk Zero Relznuk

Saturday, November 3, 2007

An Aura About Them.


There's a new tea company on the block. I was contacted a short time ago by a representative of Aura Teas ( who offered some samples and asked if I would review them. Since on the one hand I never turn down an opportunity to try new teas and on the other hand I seldom turn down a review, I quickly accepted the offer.

The representative was very informative about exactly which teas she'd be sending, and even linked me to pictures and other information on the teas. I learned something aside from getting to try the new offerings of a new company, which is always a plus for someone like me.

I'll start the review by explaining which teas I received, and then posting an evaluation of them one-by-one. I'll then address some other issues which merit a mention.

The first and perhaps most interesting of the teas is a "Formosa Natural Wuhe Honey Black Tea." The tea has a very pleasant flavour, with a lovely subtle sweetness to it. It's probably got one of the nicer flavors I've tasted in a black. I was very pleased. It produces a great colour in the cup, with no clouding, and retains it's unique flavor both hot and cold. It's also very easy to brew, with no real specific instruction required. The tin contains nice whole, non-broken dried leaves with a nice colour, texture and odour.

What is most interesting about this tea is how it is created. It is grown in Wuhe, Hualien, Taiwan (which, by the way, is a beautiful city) without pesticides or other harsh chemicals. It's probably the closest to organic that a traditionally grown tea gets these days. The reason that it is grown without pesticides is very important - the sweetness of the tea actually comes from the leaves being bitten by a certain insect that favors the tea plant. Before harvest (which always occurs in the summer for this type, as the tea bugs only come in the summer), the leaves are left in the garden until the tea bugs do what tea bugs do best. After this, they are then fermented into what we know as a black tea.

I would recommend this tea, it being both unique and of a particularly high quality.

The second of the teas is "Formosa Pinglin Baihao Oolong Choice Grade." This tea is of a similar quality to the black I've just mentioned, and shares many of the same characteristics. This tea is also (and perhaps more commonly) known as "Oriental Beauty" or Formosa Imperial. This tea also has a subtle sweetness to it, which is imparted in the same way as in the case of the Honey Black - via Tea Bug! I sometimes have strange thoughts along these lines, but I tend to support safe natural product production, and shun pesticides when possible. This type of insect can't harm the tea - it only adds that subtle sweet honey-type flavor.

Being an oolong, it has a less tannic flavor than the black, and also seems to be more complex and contain more flavor elements. The natural sweetness comes out in this one somewhat more than in the Honey Black. This tea also has a very nice color in the cup with no cloudiness. The flavor, however, changes slightly when it is cool versus when it is hot, in the sense that the cooled version seemed to have a slightly more prominent nutty note.

The third and final sample I was sent is called Formosa Alishan Jinxuan Oolong. It is also popularly known as Golden Lilly Oolong. This is a newer tea, having been developed in the 1990's. This is one of the half-ball oolong teas, and should be brewed at just under boiling. This tea is very different from the first two, and is somewhat more expensive. Processed in the Dongding Oolong style, it is a very lightly fermented oolong, and has some very intense characteristics. The tea starts with a somewhat floral aroma, and is very smooth throughout the entire cup. It finishes smoothly with a creamy flavor. The color of the brewed tea is much lighter, and has a significantly different flavor than the first two, although it still maintains Aura's high quality standards.

All of these teas are very excellent and highly recommended. Another point of mention for Aura Teas is the packaging - The tea comes packaged in nice aesthetically pleasing round tins, which clearly detail the time and temperature of brewing, some interesting information about the tea, and the specific amount of tea recommended for each cup. The tin labels are also very aesthetically pleasing, containing a very nice blend of colors and good designs.

The company is also VERY supportive. Great to answer questions and concerns very quickly and professionally, and in a friendly manner. I'd recommend this company strongly, and I hope you'll all at least consider giving them a visit - they really are a very nice new company.

Over and out,
Relznuk Zero Relznuk