Twining’s Assam Bold

I just finished a box of the twining’s Assam Bold this morning… It will be sorely missed.

Twining’s have come out punching with this blend; it gives the Dilmah Strong blend a real run for its money. Described as the strongest in their range it almost lives up to its name; I believe the Irish is still just a touch stronger, and the loose leaf twining’s series contains some real cannons! It also happens to contain some of my favourite notes to be found in cup of tea… rich malty tones, and a splendid depth of character. My preference for this one is with milk; it complements the flavours very well and in a way helps to cut the tannin-y astringency to allow for an ease of exploration by the palate.

As you can most likely tell I like this new variety, so much so it could almost become a breakfast stable if the Russian Caravan was not occupying it at present. I may, however, get another box anyways for when I’m in a rush… or if I need a couple of bags to sustain me when staying over at a bean grinders hovel.

Categories: Tastings | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

William Grants day in the sun…

Last night I traveled down to Taranaki on lodge business, I am one of the few men out there with the Ba-abilitiy to stand in front of a room of distinguished men and blow my horn. I am a herald, and I carry the beast below and embellish the ritual where it is needed. My reward for my efforts (other than recognition and praise) is a healthy measure of whisky from the bottle reserved for the officers of Grand Lodge. This bottle is usually provided by the incoming master of the lodge, and for the last few installations it has been a bottle of Grants.

Shiny…

Some of my earliest memories of drinking whisky were of when I was allowed a sip from my mother’s glass, this was often a rare occurrence, and many a time left me baffled as to how she could drink such a foul unsavoury beast. Later in life I gained my first experience of single malt whisky, and it dawned on me then that something was amiss… It turns out that I had been provided with a sip, or on the odd occasion a wee thimble of either Wilsons, or more often than not Grants in an attempt to keep me from drinking the good stuff!

My general tasting notes were simple, The stuff smelt of old yeast spread (Marmite, Vegemite…) and the taste was reminiscent of an odd medicinal drink often dished out by my grandmother with was essentially that same spread, but in a bug of hot water. More importantly, of all the unfortunate nights binge drinking  on the stuff (it is one of the cheapest after all, and as a student you must live within your means), one is often left with what can best be described as a cup full of fresh manure on the breath.

But Last night I was pleasantly surprised. As I braced myself for the first measure of poison to pass my lips it was greeted with soft oaty notes and a heathery sweetness… the notes lingered slightly presenting a wiff of smoke… perhaps these were the first signs of madness… I took another, checked the bottle for marks of tampering, rechecked that this was not some kind of extra special bottling… the second bottle was the same, and it too was equally punching well above expectation.

Shamelessly nicked from an Indian retail site, I don’t actually own a bottle of the stuff.

I little bit of knowledge explains much I’ve found. Grants you see, is a product of the glenfiddich plant in spaeyside. It takes 12 years to mature their first single malt for retail sale, and up to 50 years for some of the more prestigious bottlings. Not all casks are destined to reach these lofty heights and some casks mature faster than others. As such regular testing of the contents of each cask is checked and rechecked every 6 or so months and when they start to mature they are hauled off to be blended into the their age bracket. Those that don’t make the 12th year (and there are many) are cut with grain whisky and other casks for near and far to gain some semblance of consistency, but It would seem that this year’s round of casks were a stellar bunch and with so much cream at the top, some of the still good casks were diverted into the Grants Blend.

In short, this year’s run is a bargain!

But I hasten to add this is most likely a one off event. Not long back I was put off the Glenfiddich when the 12 year tasted worse than cheap bourbon, a few years later the 15 year got some rotten reviews… its back on form again now, however, it is worth remembering that whisky is affected by the seasons, air quality, and any other factors. Distilleries have good years… and bad ones. So enjoy the Good Grants while you can, it won’t be round forever.

Categories: Basics of whisky, whiskey, and barrelwash, Blended, Tastings, Whisk(e)y | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

(not)Russian(not)Earl Grey tea

Semester is over… Time to get back at the blog!

First up is Lipton’s rendition of a Russian Earl Grey, and it is about as plastic as tea gets.

My flatmates mother works and lives in Egypt, and on her recent visit back to New Zealand she picked up a couple of teas from the local markets. Lipton is big in the United States and is marketed and owned by Unilever. This particular blend is manufactured in The United Arab Emirates. So first off, its not Russian in origin, but blended to a ‘Russian flavor’. I strongly suspect the tea is picked in Pakistan for this blend being a unilever brand. Being a grey tea, it is also flavoured with Bergamot… well imitation Bergamot. So… it’s a London owned Pakistani tea manufactured in the UAE as a Russian blend containing fake bergamot… without even opening the box, I’m already concerned…

Each tea bag is individually wrapped and comes with a drawstring. The leaves are of a similar cut to other Unilever brands with an ample amount of stalkage within the leaves, there was also a heap of what looked like concrete or moldy leaf matter that on closer inspection, and going against my instincts, taste… turned out to be the Artificial Bergamot mentioned on the box.

The smell is quite pungent and chemically, with a very sweet citrus odor… I could not smell the tannins of the tea at all. And the flovour… ever had a swig of warm L&P the morning after a long binge drink orr picked up that bottle from the back seat of the car on a warm day? It tastes close to this… actually, it tastes worse than this, it’s a warm lemonade tea. No awesome Russian styling the Russian caravan by Twinnings, and nowhere near any grey tea I’ve ever had. I’ve had lemon teas that are less lemony, Heck, lemongrass and lemon is less lemony.

Categories: Grey tea, Tastings | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Dilmah Revitalised (and not just the box).

Dilmah has, for many years now offered a range of specialty teas that in my youth I found great for exploring the different ways tea could be prepared. My first real branching out from the Standard was purely by little other than choice as in the motel, hotel, or conference venue where I was seeking a bag had only the Dilmah single serves of English Breakfast, or the Earl Grey tea. Now I did know other types of tea existed, at some point My lovely mother, or one of her friends had purchased the Twining’s selection box, which included five of each of their specialty range. I recall being fond of the Twining’s prince of wales… yet at the time, and even to this day it is only really accessible by buying the full sampler box. But I digress, The English Breakfast by Dilmah made its mark and I stuck with this peculiarity of specialty tea in either the Dilmah or the Twining’s range for some time.

Just recently I noticed that Dilmah had released new packaging while working down in Rotorua for the Trust Waikato Symphony Orchestra, I had forgotten a packed lunch and made my way to the local supermarket. As is custom I checked out the tea range and discovered the Earl Grey had been re-released in a new box and wrote a review of it a few days later. A few weeks later I had managed to round up what I believe to be the full range.

I sure do hope the Irish tea Will be re-released too…

It took a bit of time to find them all, some places had not put out the new stock yet, others only had one or two from the range, but I found them all and spent up till today figuring them all out.

Earl Grey [Mild]

I covered this little gem a few weeks back, so rather than repeat myself you can find it here.

The Earl Grey Strong is well traveled; I have grey tea drinkers on stand by for tasting checks…

 

Earl Grey Strong

At first I thought that the Earl grey that had previously been completely undrinkable had been replaced, then I discovered the Strong Blend and just figured that it had been moved along. Not quite, the strong is bolder in its flavours, but the bergamot has been changed too. Gone is the heavy pungent punch of bitter citrus that previously gave a slight chemically aftertaste, and the slight butteryness from the mild is notable in the blend. Maybe I’ve just habituated to it… I suspect not and that a better source of the bitter fruit had been discovered and is now in use. There is also a slightly different blend of leaves than that of the Milder Earl Grey, It is reminisant of the Dilmah Strong blend found in a purple box (really need to get round to that one) and fitting for the bigger brother in the range. Definitely designed for the grown up earl grey drinker who can handle the stuff and if you are new to earl grey, stick to the mild at first.

Ceylon Supreme

This is a more robust form of the standard Dilmah tea, with more complexity, and more flavour. The previous version of this tea never seemed to brew well. I recall thinking at the time that it was that I just didn’t appreciate the subtleness of the delicate flavours. With this re-release I think I might have been right in that the previous blend was less than on par.

Both bags were added simultaneously. You can already see the colour difference…

It is also worth noting that this blend is far less forgiving than your standard blend of Dilmah, or the original release; many a time I have left the bag in just a little bit too long in the cup and returned to a tea that was bordering on undrinkable. It’s not a bad tea by any stretch of the imagination; it may even give the Dilmah Strong blend a run for its money… But if you distract anywhere as easily as I do HOVER OVER THE CUP UNTIL IT IS DONE, that way you won’t waste this brilliant example of what a Ceylon tea can be.

English Breakfast

A Gentleman I have known for the longest of time has been a regular drinker of tea for quite some time. I personally blame him for the establishment of my minimum standard and benchmark when it comes to a good cup of tea. He is a strong advocate of the monarchy over the meddlesome parliament in the colonies, Is the embodiment of Jiles from the Buffy television series, and owns a Union Jack Teapot.

The resemblance is somewhat uncanny, right down to the occult book filled library.

However the original English Breakfast tea disagreed with him, and although I could drink it, I too noticed the slight Ill sensation that came with the blend. This new version, however, lacks this sensation of Sea sickness after consumption.

It’s still not a favourite of mine, but it is a marked improvement over the original one (on the left). The newer blend (on the right) is not nearly as strong as the original, and this is evident in the Clarity of the tea, as well as in the taste. There was also a slight chlorine(?) notes in the original blend, these are no longer evident. The Ill sensation is almost completely gone (It took a bit of focus to notice it, and could in this case be psychosomatic), and overall I am left feeling that the newer version of this tea is a marked improvement over its predecessor.

English afternoon

Normally I had to raid tea caddies from hotels and motels to find this blend; It was never an easy one to find in the tagless 50 pack either(I believe now that it was not released). Yet it has gone mainstream in the re-release alongside the rest of the range and can be found in the brave few shops that stock the full Dilmah range.

My Victorian friend and I decided to give this one a run for its money and he noticed the Ill feeling creeping back on him… It was also reminisant in strength to that of the Old Ceylon Supreme in the range too, with a straw like flavour quality and a watery finish. Normally we drink tea with milk, and sometimes add sugar should we feel in the mood, but I am a bit more adventurous and gave this tea a second run with a slice of lemon.

The lemon works with this tea… Actually it compliments it quite well with the watery finish being covered nicely by the zesty lemon. I had big concerns for this one, it had combined two of the weaker traits of the old series into a single tea. But in the traditional afternoon tea sense, taken with lemon rather than with whitener and sugar we have a tea that is quite delightful. The lesson for today being not all teas can be taken with just milk, and/or sugar, and with a bit of experimentation even a lemon can come out on top.

Categories: Breakfast tea, Grey tea, Tastings | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tea worth stealing: Porter tea series (well most of it)

This series of tea is a locally blended and distributed to locations where single serve tea is needed. The manufacturer Healthpak has a strong Green strategy and vision which can be quickly identified by their Soap recycling programme.

It appears that they have also placed a decent amount of effort into the tea range that they provide to the motels, hotels, restaurants, and airline companies.

It comes in a rainbow of different flavours of which I have managed to acquire via devious means… well, accept for the English Breakfast and the Pure Ceylon.

As is only fitting I will work through each in some semblance of order starting with:

The Classic Blend

Carefully blended to reflect new Zealanders taste preferences is what the advertising claims and they have delivered. It has the well loved cheap tea flavour which includes the pine tree notes, but in a refined balanced manner, so well balanced, that the quality is on par, if not exceeds the Choysa round tea.

Overall this is completely inoffensive, and if anything to be respected for what it is, a hotel condiment. Bravo Healthpak!

The Earl Grey

I found this blend to be very inoffensive. I’ve not normally been a fan of grey teas; they are however, growing on me now that Dilmah has adjusted their blends in their Selections range. This one, in comparison to those I have tried would come across as weak to the Picard’s of this world.

For the non-regular grey tea drinker, however, the flavours are balanced well enough to not hide the flavour of the leaves (which I suspect is a Ceylon). To be able to identify this gives credence to the quality statement made by Healthpak and also makes me suspect that the blender of this tea range is not a grey tea drinker, and as such has not lost the ability to appreciate a good cup of ‘normal’ tea.

Peppermint Tea

This is considerably mild for as far as peppermint teas go, Its nice… just don’t expect it to clear your sinuses like the Twinings, Dilmah, or a homemade concoction from fresh herbs out of the garden does. This one I would have to say was the most underwhelming of the range, and I’d still rate it quite well too.

Lemon Tea

They weren’t kidding about this being a lemon tea… I left this one to soak for a tad too long (bout ½ an hour with the bag in) so I was expecting it to be a tanniny lemony monstrosity. I was pleasantly surprised to find it had not… Right to the last drop it was a lovely uniform lemon flavour that was not all that artificial tasting… then it hit me, this was not Lemon scented tea at all! it was a hot lemon drink! As there was not telltale signs of any tea leaf whatsoever in the beverage, I was left perplexed, right up till I rummaged through the bin to recover the little paper packet .

AH HA! It is an infusion of lemongrass and lemon, and a bloody good one at that.

Green Tea

Very pleasant to drink, it is a sencha style of green tea so has the toasted rice notes which add so wonderfully compliments the tea itself. It is almost on par with the free green tea one would expect from a sushi shop, and if I were to receive the porter tea at one of these establishments, although it would not jump out at me it would not feel out of place.

So in conclusion this range of Motel, Hotel, Restaurant, Aeroplane tea is surprisingly good, so if you happen to be eating, staying or flying anywhere in the near future empty the tea catty of every last bag and save it up for an emergency, or if money is getting stupidly tight like mine is, empty the tea stand at your local fast food joint (seriously tho, don’t do this… it’s not cool, and tea is really, really cheap. Like 200 bags for a couple of bucks… 1c each)

Categories: Generic Teas, Tastings | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Dilmah strikes back!

Some people hate it, other people love it. Peppermint has been used of what some suggest as well over 10,000 years for medicinal purposes, even to this day, but I’m not so interested in that. I’m more interested in the infused leaves floating in the water making tea.

I’m currently working on a much larger blog post covering a single range of motel teas well worth nicking. One of which is a peppermint tea, so for the sake of comparison and it being newly placed on supermarket shelves, I decided to give the Dilmah Exceptionals New flavour: Peppermint Leaves with Ceylon Cinnamon a run for its money. I was concerned due to the absolute trainwreck of flavours in the Pomegranate, Acai and Vanilla that proceeded it. The Peppermint and Cinnamon too is in a stunningly beautiful box reflective of the dark green peppermint leaves. It also smelt divine on opening, the silken pyramidal bags released a angelic sign of delightful scented wonder as they hit the water…

IT DELIVERED!!!

This is a smashingly well blended tea. I’ve had the box not more than 24 hours and I’ve basically been drinking nothing but… I’ve taken it to friends places… I’ve invited people over to try it and they have come away wanting to buy their own… I may even take up loitering in the tea Isle dropping the odd box into the trolleys of unsuspecting shoppers. Dilmah have produced a winner. After the bold, yet not overwhelming peppermint flavour begins to leave the palate the sweet woody cinnamon notes come to the fore lingering on until you take the next sip from your cup. I cannot fault it.

As such I recommend that even for those who are not big on peppermint tea to try this at least once, and for those who do buy two boxes as I really can’t see this staying in stock once the masses discover it.

Categories: Tastings | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iced Tea for Beginners

Ever the adventurer I decided to give a relatively new Iced tea on the market. Although pleasant to drink it tastes a lot like flat L&P, so if you’re in the market for that kinda thing and don’t mind paying extra grab a bottle.

Maybe I should have lit that candle to add to the effect…

And now for a word of student wisdom:

  1. Buy a box of Twinings Lady Grey tag less bags
  2. Place one or two in the bottom of a plastic bottle
  3. Add cold water

This method is good for about an hour or so (the dregs can be a bit strong too, be warned!), and should save you a good $3.40 overall. In my opinion, it tastes a whole lot better too but, the other added bonus it you won’t be consuming the list-as-long-as-my-arm of chemical stabilisers, sweeteners, and other assorted nasty greeblies that make the shelf life last well past the second coming.

Categories: Basics of Tea | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ceylon: Dilmahs hammer of tea shattered.

The hedonistic marketing principles are all the rage in this day and age. You can get everything customised, individualised or at the very least get whatever you wish in a variety of colours. Tea has gone the same way. Dilmah, has embraced the market trends and has released teas in an ever expanding range from your classic varieties to the super premium T2 Brand. However, there comes a point where somebody has to step in and stop the marketing wiz kids before they go too far. In the case of the Dilmah exceptional, Acai Berry and Pomegranate real leaf tea… it may be too late.

The flavours on the palate are confused; the Acai mixes with Pomegranate to produce what can only be described as tutti frutti bubblegum flavour. The Ceylon leaf is not complimented by the addition of the flavours, and if anything it spoils the experience completely. The tannins take the expected berry experience with all its flair and turn it sour in the mouth leaving an unpleasant unripe grape skin notes (I shudder to think how bad this would have been without the addition of Vanilla to soften it). As such, under no circumstances use overheated water, or leave it to stand for too long with the bag in. The tea is also sweet on its own, I do not recommend the use of sugar at all as it will most likely lead to an undrinkable if not downright evil concoction.

In saying that I can see how it could have slipped by unnoticed; Acai berries have been all the rage having recently been touted as the next great ‘super food’; You find them in breakfast cereals, nut mixes, meal bars… from a marketing point of view the time is right. The stuff reads well off the box too, “tart, lightly sweet and occasionally chocolatey notes” It sounds like a winner. The smell is divine; deep rich and pungent berry notes hint at the tartness and the sweet berry flavours. Add to that the use of the luxury triangular tea bags, use of actual leaf tea, the stellar colouring… you can understand my shock when I tasted this.

The Acai and Pomegranate does however have good potential, and if it were up to me, I would not have used Ceylon tea as the base, but rather Hibiscus, or Apple.

Categories: Flavored black tea, Tastings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Three levels of torment in one cup

Sometimes we are inspired to try new things, sometimes we ignore that little voice in the back of your mind telling you to stop. Last Night I ignored this voice.

I have some awesome memories from camping as a child. As a cub-scout, with mum and her rather large troupe of girl guides… with the family on the many road trips around the south island to meet distant kissing cousins. Often rained out there was always one saving grace to warm your bones.

This bad boy was there to warm you up, give you that shot of coffee with a good hit of sugar, and get you motivated to lift all of your gear off the ground and take the sleeping bags into the nearest Laundromat. Nowadays the toothpaste tube of coffee has been replaced by the single serve, just add hot water sachet.

All this semester I have seen these little sticks of doom. First in the O’week goodie bags, then outside the psychology office in a massive box labelled ‘free to a good home’, in the Waikato students’ union reception. These little monstrosities have been unavoidable. Today, I was given another handful by the WSU president in the Level 0 basement. I caved.

Nescafe 3 in 1 appears innocent enough… It is marketed as the penultimate coffee of those with very little time, or very little packing space, the coffee for the travelling salesman. The coffee for the camping man. As it is by far the cheapest (being freely available on campus) and by and large the most accessible hot beverage on campus, I gave the stuff a run.

The Stuff looked sick when made up. No really, a greeny brown colour… smelled kinda earthy too. I added a bit of cold water to make it drinkable and gave it a sip. Sugary would be my first call. Much Like other instant coffee it left my teeth squeaky. I was expecting this, but I was not expecting my teeth to start itching too (WHAT IS IN THIS STUFF?!). Checking the little bag it came in I could see no ingredient list. The Nescafe website lists “Soluble coffee with whitener and sugar”. Yet the image of the bag has what looks like a far larger list of things. However, after a bit more digging…

Sugar (52%), Whitener (38%), (Glucose Syrup, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Skimmed Milk Powder, Acidity Regulators (E340ii, E451i, E452i, E331iii), Milk Proteins, Vegetable Fat, Emulsifiers (E471, E472e), Flavourings, Anti-Caking Agent (E551), Stabiliser (E339), Salt), Instant Coffee (10%).

…What is all this stuff?!

I took another sip habitually while writing the above list out. This stuff was tolerable hot, but the good ol’ swig of the now warm toxic sludge… It reminded me of one of those little Asian power drinks with a ginseng root floating in it, but with a milky white scum layer. Sugary mud comes to mind. I tipped the rest in the sink and sought redemption.

Now I know that some of you out there are not big on the teas but I have become tolerant of your bean grinding ways, let it be said: no man, woman, or child should have to suffer the pain of drinking this 3 in 1 nasty beverage, save those whom have earned a place within the inner circles of Dante’s Inferno.

Sadly, I could not find it in the tube, but they do make it by the can!

This stuff is simple. Three ingredients on the list all up, Condensed milk, Instant Coffee, and Salt. Compared to the above its simplicity is profound, and the taste… amazing, Better than many coffees I’ve received from cafes. You can eat it straight out of the tin; it tastes like coffee hard boiled candy (the good Asian kind).

My recommendation, not that it needs to be said: stick to the simple, tried and true. Avoid the nasty 3 in 1 under all circumstances (Now to go eat the rest of the can with a spoon).

Categories: Coffee, Instant tastings, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Skinny cow better for Tea

For quite some time now It has been brought to my attention that the best milk for with a cup of tea is a trim milk one. So I have decided to put this to the test over the past few months taking note of the kind of milk used when out and about, and the taste of the resulting tea.

Now I’m a big fan of organic everything, and here in New Zealand, at least from what I can tell it is damn near impossible to get a trim organic milk without going to some specialty store. So for the longest time it has been either whole milk, or full cream milk, or something similar to a blue top milk (Standardised, homogenised milk). I discovered that unhomogenised full cream milk (whole milk) to leave a creamy film on the top of the tea. This is fantastic for a coffee, or a hot chocolate… but seems to produce a metallically, icky scum that spoils the tea (Cream in tea by the way, is most foul and unrecommended).

Your standard milk (Dark blue top, standardised and homogenised) is the run-of-the-mill go to milk for most households. And is generally what I get for various reasons: it tastes like milk on its own, a bit creamy (good butterfeel in the mouth), It goes good on cereal and works well in cooking and baking, generally by adding richness to the dish. Yet in comparison to a lite, or trim milk, the flavour of a cup of tea is soured slightly.

Sadly, due to its transparent bottle I have had to dispose of the standard due to the flash degrading the milk.

Today, I have been playing with this bottle of calci-trim on some Kenyan teas (more on that next post). As you can see from the picture, the two teas are different in completion with added milk (I used a two pot method to maintain consistency from this leaf tea, and added a single shot of each milk type for consistency), so too is the flavour with a more robust flavour for the trim, and no dairy aftertaste. This allows for a better appreciation of the tea from start to finish, so for the tea connoisseur, just brilliant!

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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