Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Tea Review: Matcha Oku no Yama (Sazen)

Matcha Oku no Yama/抹茶 奥の山
Sazen & Horii Shichimeien/堀井七茗園
Type: Green
Origin: Japan, Kyoto Prefecture, Uji
Product Description:  Oku no Yama is an even-keeled blend of tangy, sweet, and lightly bitter tastes. Taken as usucha (thin tea), it is a harmoniously refined tea devoid of extremes. Prepared as Koicha (thick tea) it presents more vigorous and distinct flavours. It opens with tart aromas but then a sly sweetness follows close behind, concluding with a tart finish. To bring out the best from this tea’s most sophisticated flavours, we must be mindful of water temperature: too low a temperature will disrupt the delicate equilibrium of the tea’s flavours, nudging them towards over-bitter accents.

Temperature: 175° F
Tea Amount: 1 gram (1 teaspoon)
Water: 2 ounces (1/4 cup)

The dry matcha powder is vividly green and the aroma is nutty, savory, and spring green with notes of antique wood.

The aroma in the warmed bowl is very nutty, rich and savory, reminding me strongly of peanut or almond butter.

The whisked aroma is sweet and green and reminded me slightly of sugar peas.  The taste is clean, smooth, and sweet with no notable astringency and a refreshingly light, sweet green finish.

Okunoyama, owned by Horii Shichimeien, is the only remaining tea garden of the Uji Shichimeien (seven distinguished tea gardens of Uji) designated by the Ashikaga Shogunate during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573).  At one time, the garden was home to over 1,500 indigenous tea plants.  Today only 2 cultivars remain, both suitable for tencha.

Most matcha on the market is blended to bring out specific flavor and taste profiles.  I could not pass up the opportunity to experience this unblended matcha produced from one of the original Uji cultivars, Oku no Yama.  I've never encountered a matcha with a nuttier aroma in the warmed bowl and the taste was very palate-friendly.  While the froth wasn't as thick and creamy as it is with some other matcha, the tea was delightfully smooth on its own.

This tea was purchased by me.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

East Frisian Tea Service at TeaBuzz

TeaBuzz began as a part-time venture in November 2018, growing into a full-time tea bar following a move into The Blissful Heart Wellness Center on NW Greeley Avenue in Bend, Oregon.

Guests will find the tea bar by entering Blissful Heart and proceeding straight to the back.  Seating is at the central bar and along the windows with a view of the beautiful gardens where tea events are also occasionally held when weather permits.

Tea Buzz Global Tea Bar offers a wide variety of loose leaf white, green, oolong, and black tea including single cultivars and blends, as well as mate, herbals & tisanes, tea lattes, and tea-infused drinking chocolate.   Tea is available for purchase by the ounce and can also be prepared to enjoy in-house during drop-in hours.  Teaware is also available for purchase.

TeaBuzz founder Joanna Richards is a true student of tea, traveling the world to learn more about the beverage and it's rich cultural history.  She shares her knowledge of tea and culture through set and custom Tea Tasting Flights and Tea & Tales Tea Service which includes East Frisian, British Blends, Russian Style, and Tea in the Middle East.

Tea Tasting Flights and Tea & Tales Tea Service is designed for 2-6 people and available by reservation with 24 hours advance notice.  Visit the Menu to learn more about these events.

I met Joanna at Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle a couple years ago and could not pass up the opportunity to visit TeaBuzz during a recent stay in Central Oregon.  After a brief email exchange and outreach to the local tea community on Joanna's part, an East Frisian Tea Service was scheduled.

Appropriate to the Tea & Tales name, Joanna ensured that this event was engaging and informative.  We learned about the history, cultural significance, implements, and etiquette integral to this centuries old style of tea service.   Joanna also shared anecdotes from her travels in North Germany and her visit to the Ostfriesichen Teemuseum in Norden.

East Frisia (Ostfriesland, Eastern Friesland) is located in the northwest coastal region of Germany.  Tea came to East Frisia in the 17th century by way of the Dutch.  Water in the region was brackish and unpleasant and had to be boiled to be drinkable.  Tea was a most welcome addition to the local beverage options and became such an important part of East Frisian culture over the years that the daily tea ration for Germans during World War II of 10 grams was increased to 30 grams with proof of East Frisian birthright.  Today, East Frisians drink more tea per capita than any other people group in the world, averaging approximately 300 liters per person per year.

East Frisian teas are a breakfast blend of 9 to 20 teas, almost always including Assam.   There are quite a few East Frisian tea makers, though only Bünting and Thiele produce what is considered true East Frisian teas within East Frisia.  Bünting is the largest East Frisian tea producer and their Grünpack Tee consists of a blend of 18 teas.

Tea and teaware from China were introduced to East Frisia around the same time and the belief that tea must be served with full hospitality and a complete tea set became firmly fixed in local tradition.

The tea set consists of:
  • Teapot, 2-cup capacity, usually white with a rose or blue "peony" pattern
  • Stövchen or candle warmer for the teapot
  • Teapot filter
  • Sugar bowl and tongs
  • Cream bowl and spoon with a curved handle
  • Tea cup, slightly larger than a demitasse, turned downward on saucer
  • Teaspoon (not for stirring!)
  • Dessert plate
The teapot filter is particularly unique in form and function.  Likely a nod to the coastal region's chief industry, the small metal filter loosely resembles a fishing fly with an umbrella-like hook at one end and wire bristles flaring out at the other end.  The filter is fitted into the spout of the teapot with the hook holding it in place and the bristles catching leaves as the tea is poured.

Tea in East Frisia follows the principle of Dreimal ist Ostfriesenrecht which translates roughly to "three times is the right of East Frisians".  Tea is prepared at least three times per day, usually around 11 a.m., at 3 p.m., and after 8 p.m.   Three teaspoons of tea are added to the traditional two-cup teapot.  Each serving of tea has three layers: sugar, tea, and cream.  Each person will drink a minimum of three cups of tea and each cup will be finished in three sips.

With rare exceptions the host will prepare, serve, and refill each cup of tea throughout tea time.  The teapot is warmed and tea added, one teaspoon per cup plus one more for the pot.  Hot water is poured over the leaves until they are covered and left to steep for 3-5 minutes.   Then the pot is filled the rest of the way with hot water.   Alternatively, fill the pot with hot water and steep for a minimum of 5 minutes.  The host will prepare and taste their own cup of tea first to ensure quality before serving tea to their guests.

Each cup is filled following these three steps:
  • Each teacup receives one Kluntje, a rock sugar derived from beets.
  • Tea is poured, filling the cup halfway and making a delightful cracking sound as it hits the Kluntje.
  • Wulkje, double or heavy cream, is poured by spoon in a crescent shape along the inside edge of the tea cup where it will spread outward over the tea in a cloud.   Without access to East Frisian cream, a heavy cream that floats on the tea is a good substitute.
Never stir East Frisian tea.  The teaspoon is purely ornamental, meant to complete the tea set and to signal the end to the tea service.

Each cup of tea is enjoyed in three sips.  

The first sip is the smooth cream layer on top, representing everyday life.

The second sip is the bitter tea layer in the middle, representing the hard times in life.

The third sip is the sweet Kluntje layer on the bottom, representing the good things in life.

The host will continue serving tea until the guest places their unused teaspoon in their cup to indicate they are done.

East Frisian tea service includes baked sweets, in this case raspberry vanilla cake & almond lemon cookies.  The tea was delicious and not at all bitter, mellowed by the cream and sugar.  Almost everyone in attendance happily drank more than the minimum three cups of tea.

My thanks go to Joanna for hosting a welcoming, educational, and overall delightful East Frisian tea experience!

Visit the Tea Buzz website and Calendar for upcoming events and TeaBar drop-in hours.

45 NW Greeley Ave, Bend, OR 97701

See Calendar

Monday, August 26, 2019

Tea Review: Organic Matcha Cha Ka (Sei Mee Tea)

Organic Matcha Cha Ka
Sei Mee Tea
Type: Green
Origin: Japan, Kagoshima Prefecture
Product Description:  CHA KA (cha-kah) means “tea flower” in Japanese. Organic Matcha, CHA KA, is made from organic Gyokuro (g-yo-koo-ro) by a renowned tea master, Mr. Sakamoto, in Kagoshima, Japan. His tireless devotion manifests itself throughout the process from making soil to grinding leaf slowly with traditional method. Stonemill matcha makes only 500g a day. (One pound is 453.5g.)

Mr. Sakamoto takes care of his tea plants all year around, and harvests only once. His shading techinique creates concentrated Umami in the tea leaf; in return, it adds a lot of stress on the plants. Mr. Sakamoto spends the rest of the year to heal and nourish the plants.

Part of his remarkable effort is his own mineral-rich fertilizer. It helps the soil to become an ideal environment to grow healthy, strong and nutrition packed tea leaf, assisting in the flow of water, microorganisms, and nutrients in his soil. His tea leaf stays “alive” or green long after it is harvested. It’s the proof that the leaf is dense with nutrition and antioxidants.

CHA KA is for you to enjoy undeniable uplifting yet sustainable energy along with life of extraordinary green tea made by an extraordinary devotion.

Temperature: 175° F
Tea Amount: 1 gram (1 teaspoon)
Water: 2 ounces (1/4 cup)

The matcha powder is sweet and nutty with a hint of umami.

The aroma of the powder in the warmed bowl is nutty and savory with umami.

After whisking, the aroma becomes mellow and green with notes that remind me of freshly fallen leaves.  The taste is smooth and vegetal green with a nuttiness that reminded me of sunflower seeds. 

Though I wouldn't prepare this for tea ceremony, it would be a solid daily matcha.  Interestingly, the taste was sweet near the front of my mouth and moderately astringent and drying at the very back.  It's mellow enough that there is no need to have sweets before drinking to make it less bold.  I was also pleasantly surprised by how smooth and creamy the froth was when whisked.   

This tea was provided as a free sample without guarantee of a review.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Tea Review: Ama Dablam Organic White Tea (Nepali Tea Traders)

Ama Dablam Organic White Tea
Nepali Tea Traders
Type: White
Origin: Nepal
Product Description: Named after a beautiful peak in Eastern Nepal, which means “mother’s necklace,” This white autumnal tea is grown and is made from a bud with one leaf shoot from a specially cultivated plant. The tea is dried naturally, fired and then cured for more than a month so the flavor profile develops to the optimum level. The liquor is very pale golden, has a mild floral aroma and a soothing sweet finish, devoid of astringency, and grassy flavors.

Temperature: 175° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 4 minutes

The dry leaves have an aroma of seasoned wood, oats, pepper, and hay.

The pale golden peach infusion has a light aroma of flowers, sunflower seeds, green vine, and baked root vegetables.  The taste is is savory with notes of sunflower seeds and something that reminds me of wild-grown greens.

Steeping for 4 minutes brought out the best results for my preferences.  Shorter steeping times at a slightly higher water temperature will also have good results.

This tea was provided as a free sample without guarantee of a review.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Tea Shoutout: Oyatsupan

The Tea Shout-Out highlights restaurants and other businesses who go the extra mile to serve good quality tea. 

This shout-out goes to Oyatsupan Bakery in Beaverton, Oregon.  Guests can enjoy a pot of tea (Sencha from Smith Tea in my case) with any of a wide variety of fresh from the oven Japanese-style baked goods.  As a bonus, you'll find tea-flavored treats among the baked goods like matcha cream cornets, matcha cookie pan, and matcha and custard buns.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Tea Review: Organic Tea Master Gyokuro (Sei Mee Tea)

Organic Tea Master Gyokuro
Sei Mee Tea/Sakamoto Organic Tea LLC
Type: Green
Origin: Japan, Kagoshima
Product Description: Gyokuro is pronounced “g-yo-koo-roh,” which means “jade dew” in Japanese. Gyokuro is a shade grown tea (the same as Matcha), full of tender loving care, which increases the Umami or rich and savory flavor. Gyokuro is a wonderful selection for your morning cup or early afternoon pick-me-up, because it offers higher amount of Caffeine and L-theanine (a natural relaxant). Gyokuro, Tea Master, is grown at renowned Sakamoto Tea Farm in Kagoshima, Japan. Try the finest of the fine loose leaf teas.

Temperature: 140° F, 175° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 1 minute

The dry leaves have a savory, nutty, and buttery aroma with a hint of sweet oats.

The jade green infusion has a savory, nutty, and lightly marine aroma.  The taste is thick with umami, savory and nutty with a long savory finish.

Where the flavor became lighter and sweeter after the first infusion when steeped at 140° F, the same 1 minute steeping time at 175° F brought out a full umami-filled flavor throughout three infusions and the savory finish went on for days.  I would expect to get great results with at last two more infusions at the higher temperature.  

This is possibly the most flavorful organic gyokuro I've tasted so far which is an impressive feat since it's difficult to keep the tea plants healthy during the shading process without the use of non-organic fertilizer.  Visit Sei Mee Tea's blog to learn more about the story and process behind Mr. Sakamoto's organic tea.

This tea was provided as a free sample without guarantee of a review.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Tea Shout-Out: Hanazono

The Tea Shout-Out highlights restaurants and other businesses who go the extra mile to serve good quality tea. 

This Tea Shout-Out goes to Hanazono in historic downtown Port Townsend.  Enjoy a pot of Japanese tea with your meal and for something on the sweet side, consider Nigori Matcha sake by Kizakura.


Kizakura Nigori Matcha

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Tea Review: Brandy Oolong (Stash Tea)

Brandy Oolong
Stash Tea
Type: Oolong
Origin: Taiwan
Product Description: Brandy Oolong gets its name from the beautiful brandy-colored liquor it produces. Compared to other oolong teas, Brandy Oolong is more oxidized, resulting in a smooth, complex cup. Lovely, lingering flavors of plums, figs and molasses are evident with each sip. In Taiwan, this tea is often served cold in a champagne glass for sophisticated sipping. Brandy Oolong is great for multiple infusions.

Temperature: 180° F, 195° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 3 minutes

The dry leaf aroma is malty and sweet with notes of walnuts.

The orange amber infusion has a rich aroma of dark bread and baked fruit.  The taste is dark and rich with notes of molasses and an apricot-like finish.

This oolong is very agreeable to experimentation with time and temperature.  Steeping at 195° F resulted in a dark, rich, and delicious flavor.  While the flavor and aroma mellow significantly by the third infusion, it was still quite enjoyable.  Steeping at 180° F produced a super rich and roasty bordeline buttery aroma with a sweet, rich, almost buttery taste and a lingering sweetness in the finish.

This tea was purchased by me.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Spice & Tea Exchange of Port Townsend

The Spice & Tea Exchange is located on Water Street in historic downtown Port Townsend.

The Florida-based chain has shops across the U.S. and specializes, as the name suggests, in spices and teas.  Chefs, gourmands, and connoisseurs may find temptation among the herbs, florals, berries, smoked salts and salt infusions, flavored sugars, oils, seasoned blends and rubs, and gifts.

The shop offers a nice selection of loose leaf teas and tisanes, most of which are flavored blends along with some classics.  During my visit, I noticed some teas that aren't reflected on the website, so you may find a location-specific treasure or two. 

The Spice & Tea Exchange also has a good variety of teapots and other teaware available.

929 Water St, Port Townsend, WA 98368

10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Monday, August 5, 2019

Tea Review: Organic Gyokuro Wakamusha (Sakamoto Organic Tea LLC)

Organic Gyokuro Wakamusha
Sakamoto Organic Tea LLC
Type: Green
Origin: Japan, Kagoshima
Product Description: Not provided.

Temperature: 140° F, 175° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 1 minute

The dry leaves have a nutty, buttery, savory aroma that reminds me of macadamia nuts with sweet, fresh green notes.  

When steeped at 140° F, the jade green infusion has a crisp green aroma, nutty with notes of cooked edamame.  The taste is savory, nutty, and green with a long, refreshing and sweet snow pea-like finish.

When steeped at 175° F, the savoriness and umami in aroma and taste nearly doubles, moving to the front while the rest of the notes from the cooler steeping remain present.

Mr. Sakamoto has been producing some of the most promising and delightful organic gyokuro in Kagoshima, a region that is becoming known for its advances in organic tea production.  This mid-grade gyokuro reminds me of kabusecha, a partially shaded tea that toes the line between sencha and gyokuro.
At 140° F and 175° F, the best flavor was in the first two infusions, though the mellower third infusion is certainly enjoyable.  When preparing at 175°, cut the second steeping time down to 30-45 seconds to prevent astringency from taking over.  An extremely brief steeping of 15 seconds at 205° F also provides savory results and astringency doesn't come into play until after the 20 second mark.

The producer, Mr. Sakamoto, doesn't have a website, but he can be reached by email at

This tea was provided as a free sample without guarantee of a review.