I don’t have the biggest tea vocabulary in the world so rather than trying to desperately squeeze out reviews for these teas separately I figured a single article on them all would be sufficient. I’ve been drinking much more tea recently than I have in the past and what I’ve learned, in general, is that quality tea is more pleasurable than cheap tea, and that quality doesn’t have to come at an outrageous price. Enter Harney & Sons.
I’ve recently re-discovered Harney & Sons teas after having a hotel stay in California where the room was supplied with H&S sachets (like a fancy tea bag, more of a cloth pyramid). The Earl Grey Supreme reminded me what I like about tea and upon looking up prices on Amazon (because I always assume their prices are going to be better… which is not the case here) I was pleasantly surprised. I read some descriptions of the teas and settled on a tin of their SoHo blend (flavored with chocolate and coconut), which is OK, and the Hot Cinnamon Spice which is FREAKING FANTASTIC (see more in my last story, here).
Poking around on Harney’s own website I was immediately struck by the HUGE variety of teas they offer, most in loose, sachet or traditional tea bags. I was also frankly surprised by the prices, which were better than Amazon’s. This was shortly after Christmas and I took advantage of a free shipping offer they had going to order a few sample packs and a few tins of teas I was pretty sure I would like.
I first heard about this type of tea on a blog, Craft Beer Radio, that I’ve been following since its first episode but it took me several years to get around to it. This is a style of black Chinese tea that is dried over wood smoke, usually pine (although I’m sure people have played with that plenty, just like with barbecue). The result is a highly smoky aroma to this tea, adding depth and dimension to what would otherwise be just a plain ol’ cup of black tea. My only previous experience with Lapsang Souchong was some Twinnings I bought at the local grocery store in bags. The Twinnings has a slightly stronger smoke aroma that seems a little “synthetic” to me (although I don’t think it is). As a result there seems to be a little more smoke on the flavor, too, than the Harney variation which is overall a bit milder. If you’re worried that Lapsang Souchong is like drinking Liquid Smoke, don’t. The smoke is more subtle than you would think and it’s a pleasant experience coming from someone who doesn’t love smoked drinks. I bought a 6 oz. tin for $9. To give you an idea, they recommend one teaspoon of tea leaves per cup brewed, so that is a LOT of tea. It amounts to pennies per cup. The leaves are large and do well in a typical strainer ball or stick strainer.
Genmaicha is a Japanese tea blend of green tea leaves and rice. The only time I’ve had this tea is when we eat at Po’s on 39th St. and I have it every time I’m there. It has a wonderful nutty taste from the rice. While the green tea leaves are being dried, rice is added and over times the rice grains brown and become crunchy. Some even burst open and when I opened the tin I laughed out loud because there were little tiny miniature “popcorns” mixed in. It’s quite beautiful and unique. This Genmaicha is every bit as good as that at Po’s. The tea is light and earthy and the rice gives a nutty, full-bodied lift to the overall drink. I really love this tea. This was $6.75 for a 4 oz. tin. Again, a great price for a lot of tea. I bought a four ounce package of World Market’s house brand green tea last year that was more expensive than this. I did find that there are a lot of little tea clippings in this blend and they slipped right through the holes in my tea ball, making the cup a MESS. The second time I brewed this I used my French Press, which has a fine strainer on it, and that worked great.
This is a custom blend that Harney & Sons makes for Ming Tsai’s restaurant, Blue Ginger. I bought a sampler of this for $2 that includes 2-3 sachets. It is regularly sold as a 20-sachet tin for $8.00 but it is currently out of stock. This is a Fujian black tea with hints of ginger and lychee fruit. This is a nice tea, although I was mistakenly under the impression that it is a green tea, not black tea, so I brewed it at about 185° instead of the customary “off-boil” for black teas. I’m not sure if the 30 degree difference in water temperature is a big deal or not so I will brew it properly next time. That being said, it has great flavor. I’ve had some pretty strong ginger teas (like the one Tazo makes) and they can be a bit much for me, so the ginger is a second fiddle in this tea for sure, which I appreciated. There is a nice fruitiness on the palate, too, presumably the lychee fruit, and this was a really nice tea that I would like to enjoy more of.
French Super Blue Lavender
I have to admit, I bought this tea only because I had to see the color for myself in person! Click the link to Harney & Sons’ website to see what I mean! I’ve never had lavender tea before so I had no idea what to expect, but it was worth the $2 to get the sampler and check it out. The packet contains what you would expect: a bunch of little tiny dried lavender flowers which are beautiful in and of themselves. I brewed this according to the instructions using my French Press (seemed fitting for French lavender tea!) and was disappointed by the color. Instead of the stunning purple shown on the website our cups were sort of a blue-gray, washed out color. Oh well. The tea itself was reminiscent of chamomile, another flower, to me. It was very light, thin bodied and just the essence of lavender. Much lighter than a traditional chamomile tea, but a similar flavor profile, to me.
Blood Orange Fruit Tea
There is precious little information about this “tea” on the Harney & Sons website, but while I was perusing the herbal section I spotted this and added the $2 sampler to my cart. Why not? A full 4 oz tin would be $6.25. The website gives no information about it, but it looks like dried bits of fruit and peel from blood oranges. Simple enough! I brewed this in my French Press and the result was a wonderfully aromatic drink. It smelled awesome. Like many pure herbals, however, the body and flavor were significantly lighter than the aroma, but they were pleasant, too. I wondered how this would taste as an iced tea in the summer, or as a blend with other components in a hot weather iced tea. I’ll have to remember that come July…