I recently subscribed to a monthly subscription box from The Tea Spot. November was the first ever delivery as the company just started the program, so I got in right at the very start. I tried the teas in order of least likely to ever buy, saving my obvious favorite for last. The teas and blends were put together to celebrate the time of year and holiday season. These are my thoughts.This is a long read as there were five teas in the box.
Candied Chestnut :: On opening the pouch I inhaled deeply, caught my breath and repeated, not knowing what to expect. Then I sniffed a little. First impression: definitely, this has a nut fragrance and flavor to it. I’m not a fan of nuts in general, never eat whole almonds, and am allergic to cashews. I absolutely loathe peanut butter. The name alone nearly earned it negative marks from the start. The scent has an earthy, slightly smoked and almost woody note to it. I imagined it smelled exactly as a freshly roasted chestnut would, or should, seeing as they can only be opened by being put to high heat. (The line in the carol isn’t fibbing, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” And now the song is now an earworm in your head.)
Now, on to the flavor. The foundation in this is a white tea, sweetened with Jasmine petals. Plain white tea is prob’ly my least preferred of all tea options. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the overall steeped liqueur in my mug after reading the label, because Americans drink tea and coffee in big 16oz (0.5L) mugs, not little porcelain cups, unless it’s a special occasion. My initial thoug)ht was, “Okay, bland with flowers. And it’s supposed to be a nut tea? If they say so.”
I was pleasantly pleased, much to my surprise! The chestnut flavor was present enough to say, “Hello friend. I’ve just come from the open fire,” but not so much it made this anti-nut person gag, which I was half expecting to happen. Seriously. I always sweeten my tea so I tried a few unsweetened sips first, letting the flavors sit on my tongue. The earthy, bitter flavor definitely came through. If dirt had a flavor I thought this might be it. But wait. I added a little sweetener, a mix of stevia and Splenda. And the dirty bitterness disappeared, leaving behind what would be a tea for nut, and outdoors lovers would want. Thinking on it now if anything but white tea were used in this blend the flavor would have been awful, being overpowered by the base notes of the tea itself. I will finish the pouch in the shipment, but it’s highly unlikely I would buy more for my personal tea stash.
Pumpkin Spice Chai :: I put aside my feelings for pumpkin, and my opinions of the basic white girl fad of pumpkin spice, to give this a try. The first smells were the delicious sweetness of the spices. I like cinnamon, allspice and cloves in small doses, and preferably sweetened ones, like cookies. I was expecting to be bowled over with cinnamon and ginger, and it didn’t happen. A little is a good thing; what usually happens is that the makers think there needs to be a lot. Authentic chai can be very heavy on ginger and peppercorns, so much so it can burn the tastebuds and stomach. These were barely detectable by smell. As for the pumpkin itself I had to take several deep inhalations to be convinced there was actually pumpkin in there. I was beginning to think this wouldn’t be so bad. Authentic, original Chai is always made with a black tea base and the seasonings, flavors and spices are added according to one’s personal tastes, or health needs. Chai has long been considered medicinal in the regions where it originated.
I made my mug and again tried it unsweetened. It you like unsweetened tea, this would have been very good as it stood. I could not taste pumpkin at all in these first sips. I added my sweetener blend and the pumpkin started to come through. I really enjoyed this tea. It wasn’t too heavy on any of the added flavors, balancing each just right. I think it would be altogether different and delicious with a hot milk of your choice added. You may want to steep it longer or use more tea to make it stronger before making it as a chai latte, otherwise you might taste only milk.
Clouds and Mist :: The name alone evokes images of grand mountains of Asian mystique, doesn’t it? I’ve only recently begun drinking quality green tea so my experience with the different varietals has been limited. If you’ve been drinking boxed, bagged, chopped green tea in bags from the grocery store (Lipton and Bigelow come to mind) — stop, now. Please. Seriously, just stop. You do not know what you’ve been missing. I opened this tea and took in a deep breath. And let out a contented sigh, and breathed in some more, again, and again. Green teas are not all the same. The fragrance of this one brought images of dewy, spring mornings to mind. It was light and crisp, and not too vegetal-ish, and definitely not of fresh cut grass. Because I’m not alone in thinking green tea looks, smells and tastes of fresh cut grass, am I.
The flavor was just as my nose detected, and was expecting. The liqueur was a golden sage, and if steeped longer turned more golden. You really only need a minute or two for your first brew. The leaves should sink if the water is hot enough, and will float if not. I put enough leaves in my steeping basket to make my mugful. I will drink green tea unsweetened, and it’s about the only kind, too. After a few swallows I added just a hint of sweetener and I enjoyed it that way as well. Now, here’s the best part. I left my basket with brewed leaves resting on a wide mouth pint Mason canning jar. I came back to my leaves four more times, adding one additional minute to each subsequent steep. The fifth mug was definitely the last and the leaves were spent. Even in boiling water they were starting to float, and gave little color and modest flavor. A sixth mug would have been a waste of water and time. I will definitely be buying this again in the future.
Gingerbread Cookie :: If you grew up in the US you know what these spicy sweet treats are. Are they enjoyed around Europe, and globally as well? I don’t know. If anyone knows, please comment. The first smells make me hungry, and reminded me of Christmas baking. There are bits of dried ginger in the blend, up to 1cm square, so they’re not miniscule. I was a little worried this would be a proper ginger tea, best for upset stomachs. The cinnamon scent was stronger here than in the Chai. The base tea is rooibos, also called Red Bush. It’s not a true tea, in that the plant is not in the same taxonomy genus Cemellia sinensis. It comes from a bush originating in South Africa (Aspalathus linearis), and is naturally caffeine free, and has a lightly sweet and vanilla flavor. The dried leaves are, indeed, a shade of rusty red. What makes it tea is that the leaves are picked and dried, then steeped in boiling water to extract the flavor. Rooibos has several proven health benefits. The leaves are smaller than traditional tea, and crush easily. Expect particulates in the bottom of your cup, mug, or pot. This can be eliminated by doing a 10 second rinse. That’s a lesson for another day. I didn’t want to rinse this tea anyway because of the added cinnamon, in case it would wash it away.
Now that I’ve dropped some knowledge on you, let’s taste this, shall we? The boiling water really opened the ginger and began to smell quite strong. I was more worried about this being an upset stomach tea. I needn’t have worried after all. Yes, the ginger and cinnamon were stronger than the Chai, but not enough to burn. The flavors danced on my tongue. It tried it both unsweetened and sweetened. It is definitely better as a sweet tea, since it is supposed to taste like a cookie. I really enjoyed this, again, to my surprise. Much like the cookies themselves, it’s not for every day. This would be a blend I would keep on hand in small quantities to share with an adventurous tea loving friend.
Keemun :: This one I saved for last. I love black tea. I resisted opening this one until I was ready to make it because I didn’t want it to taint my impressions of the others, because I knew it would have. If I could have buried my whole face in this tea, I would have. Black tea has a richness to it that does not compare to any of the lighter teas. The same plant produces them all, but the deep oxidation… Right, back to the task. Black tea, like green, has familiar fragrances compared to other black varietals, so they smell the same, and yet don’t . I’m having a hard time describing it. It was rich and deep, malty, sweet, with hints of natural vanilla, and robust.
I had to wait to make this cuppa because black tea has the highest caffeine content of them all. Drunk too late in the day and the caffeine would keep me awake. It seems I’m getting more caffeine sensitive the older I get. Black tea has its best flavor if steeped with freshly boiled water. Steeped too long and it gets very strong, very. I generally go with 5 minutes for drinking it hot. For iced tea I’ll steep 15-20 minutes, and dilute with cold water and ice just before serving. Similar to green tea, a black tea tastes much like it smells. This had a robust, malty, sweetness. Unsweetened black tea can have a bitter aftertaste. I like my black teas sweet. Keemun would be delicious in the summer, iced with orange slices added to the glass or pitcher.
FCC Disclosure: This review was unsolicited, and the reviewer was unpaid by the brand and products featured.