But be assured, tea enthusiast, that I am working my way through my teas, taste testing, taking photos, and reviewing as I go. Please bear with me!
So. For August and September my fellow reviewers are:
Debbie - my sister, who is a photographer and film-maker.
Alan - my brother-in-law, who is a writer, film-maker, and comedian.
George - a friend, who is an art conservator.
August's Teatourist theme is 'Fresh and Frisky: a selection of teas to enjoy on balmy summer days.' This box contains 1 flavoured black tea, 2 greens, 1 oolong, 1 herbal, and 1 rooibos. A rather nice selection, and hopefully something to please everyone.
Blueberry Rooibos by Shibui Tea
Rooibos, blueberry, natural blueberry flavouring, red rose petals, natural acai flavouring.
I'm making that face again. That 'what is this I'm drinking?' face. You know the one. Debbie is making it too. What I'm drinking, apparently, is rooibos (which I'm often not a fan of) with blueberries (which I do like, although not in this tea). I straight up hated it: I couldn't even finish the cup. It had a strange scent and aftertaste, slightly like walking into a cloud of someone else's perfume with your mouth open (we've all done it). I'm sorry, but this wasn't a winner for me. The info card says that this makes a fantastic iced tea, and I can imagine possibly liking it served cold, or even cold-brewed, as different notes would come through. Shibui say that this is one of their all-time best sellers, so it must be doing something right. Each to their own...
Green Cardamom Chai by Ichai
Cinnamon, green cardamom, cloves, star anise, black tea.
What makes a good spiced chai? Last month we had a 12-ingredient spiced chai, starting with black tea and ending with cinnamon. This month's contains just 5 ingredients, starting with cinnamon and ending with black tea. So how do they compare? Well, black tea is the last ingredient (and therefore smallest in quantity) in this uncomplicated blend, so the spices come through strongly. I tried it black, without adding anything, and it was smooth and very sweet-tasting, with subtle warm notes. I rebrewed three times and it kept its flavour. It's not the number of ingredients that make a good chai, it's the blending and balancing of flavours. This one succeeds on all levels.
Camomile, Fennel & Rose Petals by Edgcumbes Tea & Coffee
Camomile, fennel seeds, rose petals.
My tastes have changed over the years. I expect that yours have too. I used to be all about the herbal teas, or tisanes, but I am far less enamoured of late. Camomile as a base is no longer a favourite of mine, (although I do enjoy it with spiced apple - a little taste of the nineties). However, Alan requested something soothing after a particularly stressful driving lesson, and this seemed like just the job. I found it pleasant but rather bland. I got the hint of fennel, but not the sweetness or floral undertones that the info card suggests. Debbie liked it: she did get the sweetness from the fennel. And Alan? Well he seems pretty chilled out. But whether that's the tea or the Grand Theft Auto - who can say?
Japanese Sencha by The Tea Makers of London
100% pure Japanese Green Tea.
This is the prettiest pale green when pouring, and a glowing yellow-green in the cup. It's a powerful taste: grassy, with subtle sweet notes. Alan says 'it's like drinking a lawn!'. I found it fresh and uplifting: a very clean taste that clears away the brain-cobwebs. One of those teas that inspires a little quiet and thoughtfulness.
Jiu Jiu Jiu Guan Yin by Wan Ling Tea House
Anxi Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea.
Oolongs are fast becoming a favourite of mine, although I admit that I am still learning about all the different varieties, harvests, and methods of processing, each of which affect the look, scent, and flavour of the tea. This one is highly perfumed: floral, but that complex floral scent that you get from sticking your nose right into a flower. It's sweet, but there are also sharp notes, and the whole thing smells alive. The leaves can be infused up to eight times, and each infusion reveals different flavours. You really can't argue with that.
Indonesian Green Pearls by Baraka Teas
I'm a big fan of green tea in pearl form. I love watching the leaves slowly unfurl and the water change colour as it becomes tea. I would usually prepare them in a glass teapot, but sometimes it's nice to drop a few into a mug and brew them that way. The info card tells me that these pearls are hand-rolled, and the leaves are from a tea garden in the Indonesian Haimun Mountains. The tea itself is sweetly fragrant, with subtle floral notes. A mellow experience.
'Fine & Dandy' is September's theme, aiming to provide 'tea that makes you feel good and puts a genuine smile on your face'. This box contains four herbal blends (one with a rooibos base), one black tea, and one yerba mate. I was initially a little disappointed upon opening the box, but actually, as you'll see, I was pretty pleased once I got brewing.
Hide & Seek Breakfast by The Tea Leaf Company
100% Nagaland black tea.
I wasn't previously familiar with Nagaland tea: I hadn't even heard of it. Nagaland, the internet tells me, is a state of Northeast India, bordering Assam. This is interesting. And this tea is interesting. It's hand-rolled, single-estate tea, which means that each cup will be consistent in its flavour. The leaves have a smoky scent, and this is borne out in the brewed tea, which is rich and fragrant, with smoky notes reminiscent of Lapsang. This is a strong brew, and I'd recommend being conservative with your leaves. I like clever tea names, and this one references Robert Fortune, a Scottish plant hunter, who smuggled tea plants out of China on behalf of the British East India Company. A lot of historical hide and seek going on there.
Balance Tea by Tea Shirt
Rooibos, honeybush, chamomile, lemon balm, lemongrass, fennel seeds, ginseng root, flavouring.
Debbie and George spent an awfully long time selecting a tea to try, which is ironic because George was on a flying visit from New Zealand and pushed for time. Eventually they settled on 'Balance' because George felt that her chakras needed realigning. She thinks she may have actually lost one since moving away. So we brewed up this enticing tea that smells like an autumn meadow. And then George told us a story about chopping the top of her finger off and we wished we were drinking something stronger. But we persevered. And we all very much enjoyed 'Balance'. Despite its rooibos base, it's the honeybush that comes through most strongly, spreading its lingering sweetness on the tongue. It fixed George right up, and I have to say I felt rather mellow afterwards too.
Licorice Peppermint Soother by Nothing But Tea
Liquorice, peppermint, fennel, basil.
This is one of those teas that tastes different with each sip, slowly revealing itself. All the notes come through: the sweetness of liquorice, the twang of basil and fennel, the punchiness of peppermint. This is an excellent after-dinner tea, or for when you need a wake-up but without the caffeine. Debbie, who is a photographer, says: "This is perfect to drink whilst editing photos. You need tea to edit well."
Perfect World by The Lichfield Tea Company
Blackberry, strawberry and hazelnut leaves, chamomile and marigold blossoms, melissa, peppermint, lemongrass, rose petals, lavender.
This tea is everything: sweet, minty, floral, refreshing, relaxing. Each sip takes you on a different journey. It made me think of enchanted forests and magical glades. It's the kind of tea you might be served if you found yourself, inexplicably, at a fairy market near dawn on a misty September morning. You're handed a cup of scented liquid. As you begin to drink, your eyes widen with delight. Soon the cup is empty, but you must have more! You look down and find two acorns in your palm. You give these to the stallholder as payment, and he - with his iridescent wings and slightly crooked smile - hands you a little packet of herbs and flowers, wrapped in leaves and tied with vines. As you reach to take it, the entire market vanishes before your eyes, and you are left standing there, in your pyjamas, clutching your precious packet of tea. Yes, that's the kind of tea that this is. Delightful.
Yerba Mate by Lovely Tea Teas
Luxury green yerba mate.
Mate is quick and simple to prepare, rebrewable, and a good high-caffeine hit when you need it. I don't have strong feelings about it either way, although the traditional gourd is rather appealing. I tend to find it either barely registering as a taste, or far too bitter, and it's not something I would usually choose to drink. However, I liked the smokiness of this, served plain, and I was intrigued by the suggestion, on the info card, to try it with ginger and cinnamon. So I did. I used cinnamon sticks, but I didn't have any root ginger so I added a little ginger powder to the brew. And gosh it was good. It took me on a whole different taste journey, and one that I would be happy to repeat.
"Smokey, not as bitter as I expected." - Debbie
"A good addition to hot water." - Alan
Raspberry Leaf Tea by Oteas
Raspberry leaves, hibiscus, apple pieces, rose hip shell, blackberry leaves, raspberries.
I have to admit that this wasn’t one that leapt out at me. I read ‘raspberry leaf’ and thought it was going to be a herbal remedy for cramps. But actually this is a blend of various things, amongst them dried raspberries that pop back to life when you add hot water. It’s fragrantly fruity, with a sweet-sharp flavour that would be a rather nice restorative after too big a meal. As a red-fruit tea, it also works well cold, and in a fancy glass is a lovely party drink instead of red wine.
I really enjoyed both of these boxes. Teatourist are doing a great job of sourcing a wide range of interesting teas from a variety of companies. And if there's a box that you particularly enjoyed - or are reading about here, and fancy trying - all previous boxes are available to order online. So take a look back through my previous reviews and see what catches your eye!
I keep saying - yes, I know! I'm sorry! - that I'll write about the new packaging (now not so new!) and I will. But right now I just want to get this published and get the kettle refilled! I'll see you again soon!