Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tea Review: Organic Hibiscus Matcha (Sugimoto America)

Organic Hibiscus Matcha
Sugimoto America
Type: Flavored Green
Origin: Not provided
Product Description:  Energize your life with the combination of organic hibiscus flower powder and organic matcha in one delicious drink. Life is short; make sure your healthy drinks are also delicious! Our organic matcha is full of vitamins, caffeine, minerals, fiber, and catechins such as EGCG, and by using real hibiscus flowers in our mix you don’t just get the flavor of hibiscus, but also all the Vitamin C and other components of hibiscus as well.

This blend contains matcha, hibiscus, and monk fruit extract.

Cold Infusion
1 tablespoon matcha, 8 ounces ice cold water, shake vigorously

The infusion is a deep cranberry red with a vaguely sweet aroma. The taste is sweet and tart with a dry finish. Without heat to bring out the tartness of the hibiscus and the astringency of the matcha, this was pleasantly sweet and reminded me slightly of a sorbet.

Hot Infusion
1 teaspoon matcha, 8 ounces hot water (175° F), whisk thoroughly
Note: If you use a bamboo whisk, rinse thoroughly or soak in water shortly before use. This will prevent any discoloration from the hibiscus.

The infusion is a dark brick red with a tart aroma. The taste is sweet and tart with a dry finish. Here is where the natural tartness of the hibiscus comes through, pairing well with the matcha and resulting in a pleasantly festive flavor.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Tea Review: Sakura Sencha, Yuzu Matcha Kukicha, Peppermint Hojicha (Sugimoto America)

Sugimoto America first introduced their line of flavored green tea blends at World Tea Expo 2016.  Those original blends have been improved and refined or have fallen by the wayside to make room for new blends over the past two years and now I have opportunity to review three of SA's current line.  Note that these teas are only available in bulk (.5 lb) or sample size.

Sakura Sencha
Sugimoto America
Type: Flavored Green
Origin: Japan, Shizuoka
Product Description:  The blooming of Sakura on cherry blossom trees across Japan marks the end of winter and the coming of warm weather and merriment. The sweet taste and the aroma of the flower petals and cherry blossom leaves compliment the smooth taste of the rich Sen Cha. The flavor is reminiscent of Sakura Mochi, a traditional springtime treat.

Enjoy the taste of eternal spring with this blend of traditional Japanese favorites.

Temperature: 175° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 2 minutes

The dry leaf blend includes green tea, cherry blossom leaves, and cherry blossom petals.  The aroma is mineral green with cherry blossom notes.

The bright green infusion has an aroma of sweet cherry blossoms and green grass.  The taste is mildly astringent, thick, and savory with notes of cherry blossom, cooked edamame, and string beans, with a long finish.

A second infusion at a reduced time (1.5 minutes) was opaque with more pronounced astringency which mellows out significantly by the third infusion.  The flavor and aroma are nicely balanced and pleasantly reminiscent of a cup of sencha paired with sakura mochi (my favorite springtime sweet).  Prepared as a cold infusion using ice cold water and steeping in the refrigerator for 4 hours, the taste was a bit too sharply astringent and the cherry blossom notes didn't come through, so a shorter steeping time of 1.5-2 hours would likely be ideal.

Yuzu Matcha Kukicha
Type: Flavored Green
Origin: Japan, Shizuoka
Product Description:  In this flavor-rich blend, the umami of Matcha and Kuki Cha are complemented by the tart sweetness of Yuzu (a Japanese citrus best described as if an orange and a lemon had a beautiful baby). Kuki Cha has relatively low caffeine, making it easy to have another cup at any time of day. Even in cold water, this tea releases a smooth, complex flavor, making it perfect for a refreshing cold-brew.

Temperature: 175° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 2 minutes

The dry leaf blend includes green tea and yuzu peel.  The aroma is sweet with bold notes of yuzu alongside nuttye and savory green notes.

The bright (glowing) green infusion has a savory buttery and nutty green aroma with hints of yuzu citrus.  The taste is moderately astringent and boldly green with savory umami and light yuzu notes.

Though the flavor mellowed with each infusion, it remained savory and enjoyable throughout.  The yuzu taste became more prominent, though still mild, by the third infusion.  Prepared as a cold infusion using ice cold water and steeping in the refrigerator for 1.5 hours, the taste is invigorating with the yuzu more prominent while still being complementary to the crisp and savory green flavor.

Peppermint Hojicha
Type: Flavored Green
Origin: Japan, Shizuoka
Product Description:  The refreshingly cool flavor of peppermint complements the warming earthy but gentle flavor of Hoji Cha in this surprisingly soothing blend.  If you are a peppermint lover, this is your cup of tea.

Temperature: 175° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 2 minutes

The dry leaf blend includes green tea and peppermint and the aroma of both are apparent.

The copper orange infusion has a bold smoky mint aroma with rich notes of roasted green tea.  The taste is minty and lightly smoky.  

For the best results, less is more.  Peppermint leaves have a lot of flavor and are feather-light, so fewer leaves (2 grams or less) and shorter steeping time (1 minute or less) will still result in a bold refreshing flavor without being overwhelming.  Prepared as a cold infusion using ice cold water and steeping in the refrigerator for 1.5 hours, the taste is brisk and refreshing, especially on a hot summer day.  You could safely cut the steeping time down by 30 minutes and still expect flavorful results.

Friday, July 13, 2018

World Tea Expo 2018 Day Three

Day Three at the World Tea Expo was spent entirely in the Exhibit Hall.  

ITI Presentation

At the ITI booth, Bhavin Shah (ITI), Vishal Shah (Jay Shree Tea), and James Norwood Pratt discussed 2nd flush Darjeeling teas, accompanied by a tea tasting

Darjeeling makes up less than 2% of world tea production.  Green flies arrive very briefly between the 1st and 2nd flush.  Some crops are lost, but if they can harvest some of the bitten leaves the tea will develop the prized, rare muscatel notes.  Skill and artistry really come into play during the 2nd flush with intricacies like rolling and firing.  Where first flush takes 5-6 hours in the factory, 2nd flush takes 9 hours.  

Someone noted that the Darjeeling is lighter this year and this is due to unseasonable freezing temperatures in April/May.  

Darjeeling 2nd Flush

Mangalam Estate Assam, 2nd Flush

Meleng Estate Assam 2nd flush


All Japan Matcha & Organic is an association of 42 Japanese tea farms and factories that have come together to offer their teas for direct sale overseas.  They accept small and large wholesale orders.  

At the same booth, Yoshimura Package Partners/Japanfan Station's lovely Kawaii Zipper Bags were on display.  They're resealable and airtight, decorated with traditional patterns and whimsical scenes and useful for gift-giving, food storage, or any occasion when you need a decorative airtight bag.  I've used them for tea storage during a tasting event where they added a nice decorative touch to the tea table.  Though I don't have a photo of the display this year, you can view last year's display.

They were also offering samples of tasty matcha flavored roasted soybeans.

Eat More Tea is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and specializes in tea-infused foods.  At the Expo, they presented their tea spice blends and tea-infused baking mixes and their online store has even more to offer.    

Harney & Sons introduced their most recent tea blend, Venetian Tiramisu, which has made its way onto the short list of flavored teas that I enjoy.

At the Guizhou Taicha Tea Co., Ltd. booth, Sheldon kindly offered me a tasting of tai cha (苔茶), a varietal native to Guizhou.  This is sometimes described as purple tea due to the purple tint that develops on the leaves during the summer.  I don't have tasting notes, but I remember being enamored with the flavor and aroma and I would love to see more of this tea reach the US.  I was told that copper tea kettles like the one used by Sheldon are ubiquitous at tea tables in the region.

Sugimoto America has been improving and expanding their line of green tea and matcha blends.  The Hibiscus Matcha was a pleasant surprise, as well as the Yuzu Matcha Kukicha.  I also learned that Sugimoto has begun promoting single cultivar teas like Yabukita.  It was great to catch up with Noli (preparing a bowl of Ceremonial Matcha in the photo below) and Kyohei, and to meet Adrienne.

Kotodo introduced their line of white birch tea canisters which are currently wholesale-only, but will hopefully be appearing in US retail locations.

Onward to World Tea Expo 2019!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

World Tea Expo 2018 Day Two

Day Two at the World Tea Expo was a bit of a blur with a lengthy roundtable session sandwiched between whirlwind trips through the Exhibit Hall. 

Tea Bloggers Roundtable

This year marked the 6th anniversary of the Tea Bloggers Roundtable which has been a great opportunity for bloggers to connect and compare notes and for people in the tea industry to learn best practices for collaboration with bloggers.  

Jo Johnson (Scandalous Tea) was the emcee and kicked off the event by answering one of the most frequently asked questions, "Is there money to be made in tea blogging?"  The answer, quite simply, is no.  The sole perk to writing about tea is that you get to drink a lot of tea. ...and you get to meet a lot of great people who also drink a lot of tea.

The panelists introduced themselves and talked briefly about their blogging styles and focus.

From left to right:
Gary Robson (Tea with Gary), Char Gascho (Oolong Owl), Geoffrey Norman (Steep Stories of the Lazy Literatus), Ricardo Caicedo (My Japanese Green Tea), Anna Mariani (Tea Squirrel), Sarah Shackett (Tea Happiness), Rachel Carter (iHeartTeas)

Introductions were followed by a screening of award-winning documentary, The Tea Explorer featuring Jeff Fuchs.  Attendees were encouraged to take notes and, following the screening, share how this film could be presented on a blog.  In case I don't get around to providing a formal review on my blog, I will say now that this was a solid introduction to tea at the origin as well as how deeply the Ancient Tea Horse Road influenced the lives, traditions, and history of the people that lived along that famous trade route.  The documentary isn't steeped in minutiae or jargon, but it also doesn't dumb things down.  As a tea enthusiast, I found it fascinating and I believe it has appeal for those with a casual interest in tea.


This year I encountered so many people and businesses from the Pacific Northwest at the Expo that it felt like I brought a little piece of home with me.

CC Fine Teas (Bellevue, Washington) showcased their Smacha Signature Auto Tea Brewer alongside their fine teas.  I've seen the auto brewer in use at tea tastings and in restaurants and it's a reliable (and aesthetically pleasing) piece of equipment.  Owner and tea master Jason Chen was on site and is arguably more camera shy than myself (an impressive feat). 

Japanese Green Tea (Portland, Oregon) offered tastings of their mikan and lemon green teas, both of which were the result of a collaboration with high school students and a tea farm in Shizuoka.  It was a pleasure to finally meet founder Kei Nishida in person!

First Leaves Tea (Bellevue, Washington) introduced their line of sencha from Shizuoka.

Ito En introduced the newest flavor to their Oi Ocha line of bottled tea, Matcha Green Tea made with matcha from Uji.  Even in Japan where the selection is borderline overwhelming, I rarely buy bottled tea.  I make an exception here at home with the Oi Ocha line because there's no sweetener or flavoring and they taste exactly like I would expect the cold brewed tea to taste.  This particular tea tasted like chilled matcha, boldly green and moderately astringent while also being sweet and a bit savory.  

Boseong Woonhae Tea Plantation returned with their tasty green and black teas. 

Formay provided a tasting of their magnolia tea.

Boseong Jeda presented a lovely tea service.  If you're looking for an unique tea tourism experience, visit Boseong County in South Korea where everything is about tea, and Boseong Jeda in particular for their spectacular viewpoint overlooking the tea fields and tea making experiences.  

Bohyang Tea introduced their line of tea jams (preserves) that is due to hit the US market in the next couple months.  Judging by the sample I tasted, I'm going to need to stock up.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

World Tea Expo 2018 Day One

World Tea Expo 2018 was held June 12th through 14th at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The Exhibit Hall has returned to the traditional full-day schedule on Day One after last year's experiment with a (very short) opening day.  In another positive development, porcelain tasting cups were provided to all Expo attendees.


I kicked off the first day in the Exhibit Hall the right way with a tasting of award-winning Dancong Oolong from Chaozhou City Ji Yun Xiang Tea Co.  Tea Spot is providing US foodservice distribution if you're interested.

Kagoshima Seicha prepared chilled matcha using a cocktail shaker and I liked the results enough that I'm willing to step away from my traditional matcha whisking routine and to try it myself.  Their chilled gyokuro was a refreshing and umami-filled treat.

Komaen Tea introduced their green tea produced from 400-year-old trees in Laos.  If you're interested in unique tea tourism opportunities, Ban Komaen village in Phongsali Province is a short distance from a tea plantation with trees that date back at least 400 years.

The Teamosa Tea Maker is due to hit the retail market in September after a successful Kickstarter campaign.  It allows you to use the paper tea capsules which hold mid-to-high grade tea (the Eastern Beauty I sampled had impressively long leaves) or your own loose leaf tea.  It also includes a wash function and optional bluetooth app.  For those who use the app remotely so they can come home to a freshly brewed tea, there's a sensor that prevents the tea from dispensing if you forget to set out the decanter.  No decanter, no brew, no mess.  Everything fits on a tea tray which can catch spills from overly enthusiastic pouring and has a small enough footprint that even a fussy "no kitchen gadgets on the countertop" person like myself would be willing to make an exception.

Zojirushi introduced their new line of stainless steel water boilers.

Bonavita's variable temperature kettles are getting a new color line.

China Hunan Tea Tasting Session

A tasting of three teas from Hunan, China was presented at the Special Events Stage.  Each tea was introduced with a unique tea arts performance, then attendees were provided with samples of each tea and encouraged to provide feedback by way of tasting notes. 

Sangzhi White Tea

Organic Mao Jian

Hei Tea (Heicha)

World Tea Awards & Opening Cocktail Reception

Day one of the Expo concluded with the annual World Tea Awards with cocktails provided by Owl's Brew.  Their Pink and Black (freshly-brewed Darjeeling tea, strawberry, hibiscus, lemon, and red wing) was very pleasant.  The newly relocated event space wasn't ideal for mingling, so I was pleased to bump into and catch up with my tea mentor, Sylvana Levesque (International Tea Education Institute).

Nigel Melican (Teacraft, Ltd.) was the well-deserved recipient of The John Harney Lifetime Achievement Award.  You may find Nigel's recent Facebook Live presentation "Will There Still Be Tea in 2050" valuable.

The Northwest Tea Festival won the award for the Best Grassroots Tea Education Campaign and, as a member of the festival committee, I was ecstatic.  Seeing NWTF founder Julee Rosanoff nearly levitate out of her seat in surprise was a real treat.

Congratulations to all 2018 World Tea Awards winners and to the nominees!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Tea Review: Organic Saemidori Gyokuro (Charaku)

Organic Saemidori Gyokuro
Type: Green
Origin: Japan, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kirishima
Product Description: This Organic Gyokuro from Kirishima infuses to a golden-green hue, and is a smooth tea with good mouthfeel, nice amami (sweetness), a slight ocean air taste, and low astringency.

Temperature: 140-175° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: .5-2 minutes

The dry leaves have a rich and savory aroma with bright notes of mineral and green vine.

The bright golden green infusion has a savory aroma with notes of beans on the vine and cooked edamame (soybeans).  The taste is smooth and savory with umami and cooked edamame notes and a long, green, savory and sweet finish.

Steeping this shincha at 140° F for 2 minutes produced flavorful and fragrant results throughout three infusions.  Steeping at 175° F for 30 seconds intensified those flavors while remaining smooth with no notable astringency.   My tasting notes upgraded from "very nice" to "amazing".