Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Upton tea notes: round 1

Here's my report, all twenty patiently sampled from Upton Tea Imports, starting mid-January. Listed in order of tasting, with my preliminary sorting arranged from presumably cheaper or simpler to costlier and complex varieties, best as I could guess without tasting them! Now I know which to buy more of, or at least which other samples I will order that compliment those already enjoyed. 

Fruit Teas & Tisanes:  
Turkish Apple: Disappointingly weak. I bought the last of a shipment in the catalog, so it may have worn out its shelf life. Far too watery to convey any lasting flavor. Barely colors the cup and despite experimenting with times, cups, infusions and sweeteners, never captured my attention.

Strawberry Cream: Surprisingly minty, not very berry except in hue. Flavorful, if not what I expected.

Cranberry Fruit: Similar in the minty taste and hefty blend of loose ingredients to Strawberry Cream in flavor and hue, but more medicinal in aroma, as if cherry cough syrup.

Vanilla Roobois: Granular, spicy appearance and hint of aroma. Similar to Vanilla EA but earthier. Changes from golden to amber as it steeps. Doubling my normal sweetener, honeyed flavors release.

Vanilla Honeybush: Headier aroma compared to Roobois. Sweeter, befitting its titular origin. With sweetener, takes honeyed flavor. Without, pleasantly earthy, a hint of delicate earthiness combines.

Vanilla Cream: More rosy than fair. Looks like Strawberry Cream; smells appealing, full of vanilla but the taste of it when brewed hides this. Doubled sweetener to encourage any vanilla to emerge.

Rote Grutze: Heavy on "grapes" as labeled, "raisins" to me. Deep color, free of the minty taste of the Strawberry Cream or the medicinal aroma of Cranberry Fruit, but a smooth digestive blend. Not sweet, but pleasant aroma and appearance make it a satisfying after-dinner drink.

Decaffeinated Black:
Ceylon Fannings Organic:  Compares favorably to teabags, while improving slightly on flavor. As clean tasting as caffeinated Ceylon versions, yet without the "fishy" smell of some decafs. Not much difference from equivalent Fresh + Easy teabags, but it colors quickly and infuses rapidly. Good with or without milk; I used sweetener either way.

Vanilla EA: Wonderfully scented with Bourbon, very appealing aroma. Beautiful large leaves add to visual appeal. Starts out looking Chinese, turns golden Ceylon in color. More mild than expected. Better without milk, but with sweetener, to bring out flavor, which remains modest and refined.

Assam CO2: Not dissimilar to the decaf Ceylon Fannings Organic. Solid, hefty liquor, but not a lot of nuance. No real maltiness, more like a strong Ceylon or English Breakfast blend, approaching a less refined Irish one. Hints of a "fishy" smell. With milk, very filling. Resembles a slightly higher quality version of the cheaper decaf English Breakfast teabags I've tried.

Blackcurrant CO2: Packs a strong punch, similar to Rote Grutze, but as a decaf black, very hefty dry leaf rather than dried fruit. Benefits from sweetener to ease the mix. Pleasant taste and aroma.

Bulwa PF1 (Season's Pick): Bargain-priced and African fannings, but bold enough to replace teabag equivalents and a good deal for basic, familiar taste of a stronger blend to take with milk and sweetener. Infuses very rapidly and colors nearly instantly into a dark, deep hue. Fine value, but nothing outstanding. Works for a bulk purchase of a dependable product.

Bond Street English Breakfast Blend: Mixes Assam and Ceylon but leans towards the latter. Not very malty even with less milk than usual, and sweetener. Fine without milk, but feels lighter as if nearly a Ceylon brand. Not thin, but I wanted more of a kick.

Scottish Breakfast Blend: Mixes Assam, Ceylon, Keemun; a smoky hint arises with careful brewing. It needs a sweetener for my preferred taste, but after some experiment, a bit more leaf and a lot less milk delivered the peaty notes I desired. Hard to get a balance right, but rewarding when I succeeded.

CTC Irish Breakfast Blend: Not that different from the Scottish, but an Assam-Ceylon combination. Again, less milk brings out the slightly smoky hints, which remain subtle. Maltier in aroma than taste.

River Shannon Blend: Slightly subtler than the CTC Irish Assam-Ceylon breakfast blend. Aroma is less malty but leaf appeals to the eye. Needed double sweetener to bring out sufficient maltiness.

Assam Duflating Estate FBOP Cl: This has maltiness, but it needs double sweetener to emerge. Milder than anticipated, with a clean, smooth taste. Aroma and dry leaf both noteworthy.

Assam GFOP Premium Tippy Orthodox: Not as malty as Duflating Estate, but more nuanced. With doubled sweetener and milk, a delicate aftertaste of spice or hint of smoke. Without milk but with sweetener, a bolder taste. Let it stand to heighten flavor; it reminds me of a quality organic or better brand of Ceylon.

East Frisian Blend BOP:  Pleasant, full, malty flavor. Improves with milk, sweetener, and time to let stand. Slightly more rounded and complex than a straight Ceylon or English breakfast variety.

East Frisian Blend (Sunday Vanilla): Full-bodied. As complex as the Frisian BOP, and flavorful vanilla taste compliments the cup. Double sweetener and time lets a dessert unfold on the palate.

After this, three months later, I ordered another twenty samples of new brands and blends, and a bigger bag of an Assam on sale that looks like one I'd like, based on what I've sampled above. So, round #2 will commence shortly. After that, with forty finished off, I'll know what's ready for bulk.

Photo: Greg Elms: "Tea Tasting Infusion Cups at J. Thomas Tea Broker, Guwahati, Assam, India"

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