Adagio 1 Comment »

adagio.jpgAdagio is one of the few tea companies I’ve come back to again and again when ordering tea online. They get e-commerce – every aspect of it. The store is cleanly designed and easy to navigate. Each tea has clear pictures of the tea blend (and not just the packaging, which, let’s face it, is the least important aspect of a tea, but the only one most companies show you). Each has dozens, if not hundreds, of reviews from previous customers, as well as an overall rating from 1 to 5 (most hover between 3.5 and 4.7, so the range is a bit compressed). And best of all, they sell cheap little 10-serving tin-samplers for about $2 or $3 (a rare few cost $5) so you can sample any tea that strikes your fancy without breaking the pocketbook.

Orders above $50 ship for free – though in my experience they tack on a $2 “rural surcharge” for certain areas (ahem, mine). That’s not a big deal though. And perhaps best of all, they have an automatic customer appreciation program, where you earn a “point” for every dollar spent. Once you accumulate 100 or more points, you get a digital gift certificate for your next order – 10 points equals one dollar.

Really, I can’t say enough great things about Adagio’s online ordering experience. Retailers big and small could learn a lot from their setup.

The teas themselves are packaged smartly, either in small, attractive tins (my fiancee doesn’t allow me to toss them when they’re empty, she likes them so much) or in large brown bags with an interior metallic coating to seal in freshness. The bags have large “flips” on top so that they keep the tea pretty nicely sealed. I’ve got some green teas that are just about a year old in their original brown bags, and they still brew up, fresh and wonderful.

Adagio’s product is generally top quality. Even if there are flavors I don’t like – and there are several from Adagio – I can tell that the leaves really are of excellent quality. I’ve never had a tea from Adagio that tasted old or stale or weak. There are certain teas that are truly awful (Earl Grey Bravo immediately springs to mind) but there are also some very, very fine fruited blends such as Apricot Green, Citron Green, and Grapefruit. I’ve not yet had a black tea from them that’s really bowled me over, but I’ve only tried a few to date.

The one thing I’ve noticed about Adagio tea, in general, is that it is very, very, VERY easy to get the brew wrong. Most teas fall within the same general range – chuck it in the microwave for three minutes, let it step 2-3, and you’re golden. Adagio’s teas have personalities and requirements all their own. Some teas need a good five minutes of steeping, others become bitter after just 90 seconds or so. They offer brewing recommendations for each of their tea right on the package, but in my experience it takes a bit of tinkering to get the best flavor out of each, according to your own individual taste. So if you order from Adagio and you don’t like your tea right out of the gate, don’t chuck it straight away – try a few more leaves, or a bit less; a bit more steeping time, or a bit less; use water at a full-boil, or use slightly cooler water. Its a precarious balancing act, but in the end the final result is worth it.

And of course, no tea-cabinet is complete without one of Adagio’s brilliant IngenuiTEA thingamabobs. It makes brewing loose tea quick, clean and convenient.

So, I realize this sounds like a total love-fest for Adagio… but I really do love their store. In fact, I just placed another $52 order after having written this post. That’ll give me plenty of new teas to brew and review.

I can’t wait.

Teaviews Member: Stephen Stephen Reviewer
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Review: China Mist Tea Bag Sampler

China Mist No Comments »
Stephen’s Teaview Snapshot
Not Great"A wide assortment of teas, but alas none are particularly inspiring..."
Stephen’s Teaview: 4/10
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assortment1.jpgAlthough the real impetus behind my first order to China Tea was for its much-lauded iced tea bags, I couldn’t help but order their Tea Bag Sampler – described as “two of each of our 18 blends of premium quality teabags.” Thirty six teabags for 10 bucks wasn’t all that bad so I splurged.

So far I’ve tried three – the Tea Lovers Decaf, the Earl Grey (of course), and the Simply Mint (an herbal tea). None of them has really wowed me, unfortunately. The Earl Grey was passable, as was the mint herbal… the decaf was just weak and flavorless. All of their teas so far seem to go down smooth, with a slightly creamy texture, as opposed to going down clean and crisp, which is generally how I prefer my teas. Its a different experience – not really a bad exprience – but different all the same, and it leaves me less quenched than I usually am after a nice cuppa.

I suppose I’m going to have the same issue with most, if not all, of their other teas, but I’m willing to give each a proper review on its merits. So far, however, I really can’t say I’m a fan of China Mist’s teas. Which really bums me out, because from the glowing reviews I’d read of their teas, and from their top-notch customer service which I experienced first-hand, I was really, really looking forward to establishing a long-lived relationship with this company.

Still, its early days yet and still plenty of other teas to try.

(I’ll console myself with the knowledge that I’ll probably re-order from China Mist again, if only to pick up some of their Steeping Filters – at just over eight cents a filter that’s a pretty good deal, and I really do want to send some business their way…)

Teaviews Member: Stephen Stephen Reviewer
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Fast Lane Tea is Back!

Celestial Seasonings 3 Comments »

fast-lane-lg1.jpgOh… my…. God. It worked. It actually worked. You see these things done all the time, for all manner of silly and illogical causes, but you never think they’ll actually end up changing the world. All hail the mighty e-petition!

Yes, folks, its true. One of the greatest blunders in the history of tea-making has been rectified. Celestial Seasoning has officially brought back Fast Lane Tea!

Now, I know Celestial Seasonings has a bit of a bad rap. Its common, its cheap, its flavors are bold and boastful and appeal to the lowest common denominator. Bah to that. Celestial Seasonings may have a lot of crazy and, let’s face it, awful flavors, but with Fast Lane Tea, they achieved perfection. I’m going from memory here (its been nearly a decade since I last drank the stuff), but it had this delicious, earthy taste to it… a mix of black tea, spices, and, oh yes, loads and loads of caffeine. (Hence the name).

I got hooked on this stuff in the mid- to late-90s when I was in college. It had all the flavors I loved and all the kick I needed to keep me going through my semi-monthly all-nighter marathons. It was above all others, my go-to-tea.

And then, for some incomprehensible reason, Celestial Seasonings stopped making it. At first I took the news in stride, but as the months went by I began to realize just how much I missed this tea. I searched all over for it, and eventually bought a small stash of it on eBay (for an outrageously inflated price). But it was old, no longer at its peak, and it didn’t satisfy me the way I remembered. Fast Lane Tea was, it seemed, no more.

One day, doing a random tea search online I came across the Bring Back Fast Lane Tea Petition. It gave me a good chuckle to read the comments there, hundreds – if not thousands – of them, so many of them like my own in those early days immediately following its cancellation. I even signed the petition myself, really just for a laugh. Not in a million years did I think it would ever have an effect.

Then, lo and behold, this very morning I come across this:

Fast Lane Tea! — Its Back! – “You spoke, we listened, its back!”

I nearly fell out of my chair. Celestial Seasonings actually listened to its customer base… imagine that!

Now, CS is saying its available “Only for a limited time”, and only through their online store (and Boulder, CO headquarters), so I’m not taking any chances. I ordered eight boxes toute suite from their online store. Shipping was atrocious – $10 for FedEx ground – but my order was over $25, so at least I didn’t get socked with a $2.50 “handling fee”. But, whatever – this is Fast Lane Tea we’re talking about… the tea of my college days… the tea I thought was gone forever. Its back, and I don’t care what it costs, I’m stocking up!

My one fear… my one ENORMOUS fear… is that they mucked with the recipe. Companies do it all the time. I’m praying to all the gods I can find that this isn’t the case.

Time will tell.

In the meantime, I’m off to create some e-petitions of my own.

UPDATE: Alas, Fast Lane is, literally, no longer my cup of tea. You can read my bitter-sweet review here.

Teaviews Member: Stephen Stephen Reviewer
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Review: Harney & Sons Peppermint Herbal Tea

Harney and Sons, Herbal Tea, Mint Tea 3 Comments »
Stephen’s Teaview Snapshot
Thumbs down."Tastes like peppermint tree bark with a hint of butterscotch thrown in for good measure. One of the most revolting tea experiences I've had in ages..."
Stephen’s Teaview: 1/10
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organicpeppermint50ct1.jpgI was shopping at Barnes & Noble the other day, absent-mindedly waiting in line at the cafe for a fresh-brewed iced tea (yes, part of the ongoing QPIT – Quest for the Perfect Iced Tea). What I got was ok, a passion-fruit blend which was definitely refreshing, just a tad heavy on the fruit flavor. It was so overwhelmingly fruity, and the color such a deep red that you practically forgot you were drinking a tea at all. Still, on a hot day it scratched my itch and its something I’d order again if there were no better alternatives. (How’s that for noncommittal?)

Anyway, this review isn’t about B&N’s tea, but rather its about Harney & Sons’s Peppermint Herbal tea – a tin which caught my eye whilst waiting on line at the B&N cafe. I’m a sucker for peppermint tea, and my stocks at home had long ago dwindled to nothing, so I picked it up for $7.95 (loose, 3 oz). Brought it home, opened the can and took the obligatory First Whiff – absolutely delightful. Quite possibly one of the best mint teas I’ve ever smelled. But, as I’ve said before, tea’s for drinkin’, not for sniffin’, and so I got down to business brewing up a batch in my trusty IngenuiTEA.

Alas, much like Adagio’s Earl Grey Bravo, the aroma and the taste were two completely different things.

I was prepared for a crisp, sharp, refreshing brew… the kind that fills your nostrils with that almost medicine-like minty flavor while you drink it. The kind that cools and tingles your throat as you swallow. This just wasn’t it.

Of course, the key word here was Peppermint Herbal. This brew had all the worst qualities of herbal teas, with none of the benefits. Perhaps most galling was the aftertaste… almost like tree bark sprinkled with butterscotch. Most aftertastes last just a brief instant, immediately following the swallow, and then dissipate quickly on the next inhalation. This one didn’t, it persisted… ten minutes after I drank this tea, I still tasted that awful bark/butterscotch combination. Simply awful.

Yet another tin of leaves that smells wonderful but makes appallingly bad tea. I really hope my fiancee takes up craftwork one of these days, because she’ll have no lack of tea-potpourri to work with. I’ll not be drinking this one again anytime soon.

Teaviews Member: Stephen Stephen Reviewer
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Review: China Mist Prickly Pear Iced Tea

China Mist, Iced Tea, Prickly Pear Tea 1 Comment »
Stephen’s Teaview Snapshot
Not Great"Drinkable, I suppose, but low-quality tea shavings and an almost imperceptible flavoring leave much to be desired..."
Stephen’s Teaview: 4/10
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prickly.jpgAs I wrote about a week ago, I’ve decided to make another go of my Quest for the Perfect Iced Tea (QPIT). China Mist was a company I’ve not tried before, but I’d read enough glowing reviews to convince me they were worth an experimental 50 buck purchase. The one flavor they had that I really looked forward to trying was their Prickly Pear Iced Tea. So when the shipment arrived, before I even checked the remaining contents of the box, I tore open the Prickly Pear packaging and put a quart of water on to boil.

Each box of China Mist’s iced tea contains four large sachets, and each of those makes a half gallon (two quarts) of tea. They recommended steeping one bag in a quart of near-boiling water for 5 minutes, then pouring another quart of cold water into the mix. Seemed reasonable enough, and so it was done. Two hours in the fridge and I was ready to enjoy my first China Mist iced tea.

A little history, before I get to my review.

Back in the 20th century, when I was a wide-eyed college undergraduate, I spent a summer on an archaeological dig in New Mexico. There I was introduced to many things, such as rattlesnakes, cowboy boots, and rattlesnakes hiding in cowboy boots. But more germane to this discussion, I was introduced to the prickly pear. In the Southwest, they make just about everything out of this wonder-fruit. Jams, jellies, salsas, ice creams and yes, even iced tea. It was there, in Santa Fe, that I had my first taste of prickly pear iced tea, and man oh man, it was out of this world. Alas, it is what you call a “regional delicacy”. Ask for a prickly pear here on the East Coast and the best you’ll get is a puzzled stare.

So my last ten years have been prickly-pearless, apart from one or two quick business trips to Texas where I was briefly – and teasingly – reunited with this forbidden fruit.

Which brings us back to the present, and to my tall, frosty glass of China Mist Prickly Pear iced tea. How does it compare? Well… its a good iced tea. Not great, but solidly drinkable. Its not quite the taste extravaganza I was hoping for, though I’m realistic enough to understand that a mix of leaves and essences rarely, if ever, compares to fresh brewed tea with fresh prickly pear juice in it. But even with those allowances I wasn’t completely satisfied. The prickly pear flavor is extremely modest, almost indiscernable. And after every swallow there’s a not entirely unpleasant, but still slightly unnatural aftertaste… I can only describe it as slightly creamy, perhaps even chalky. Its very brief, but definitely there.

The end result is a decent iced tea, but its not quite the crisp, clean, refreshing experience I’m looking for. That “creamy” aftertaste actually seems to make me thirstier, as opposed to quenching my thirst, and so ultimately I have to say this tea fell short of my expectations. Nevertheless, as tea experiments go – and they can go horribly, horribly wrong sometimes – this one wasn’t all that bad. Just not something I’d order again.

Teaviews Member: Stephen Stephen Reviewer
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Review: Adagio Citron Green Tea

Adagio, Citron Tea, Green Tea No Comments »
Stephen’s Teaview Snapshot
Thumbs up!"A satisfying citrus-flavored green tea which strikes a good balance. The perfect green-tea introduction for Earl Grey fanatics..."
Stephen’s Teaview: 7/10
Other Teaviews: Lea gave it 7/10, Cindy gave it 6/10, Shane gave it 4/10, James gave it 6/10, Christine gave it 3/10
Your Reviews:Add your review »

citron-green.jpgMy favorite brew is Earl Grey, but Adagio’s Earl Grey Bravo was one of the biggest tea disappointments I’ve yet experienced (if only because its aroma was so mind-blowingly perfect). Fortunately, Adagio more than made up for this blooper with their Citron Green. Its not technically an Earl Grey, but fans of the brew will no doubt recognize the bergamot-like aroma straight out of the bag.

But whereas Earl Grey Bravo completely overdid the bergamot flavoring, resulting in a bitter, perfumey taste, they got things just about perfect with Citron Green. It smells great and tastes wonderful. Its made with a fairly light green tea blend, so those who aren’t generally “greenies” don’t have to worry about imbibing a brew that tastes either like tree bark or grass clippings. Instead its a light, fruity drink that hits all the right notes. The citron flavor which is so abundant in the aroma is nicely subdued in the taste, perfectly complimenting the olfactory experience.

One caveat – its very, very easy to overbrew this tea. I generally throw a light tablespoonful (not heaping, just barely a tablespoon) into my IngenuiTEA and nuke it on high for three minutes. Then I let it sit for no more than 2-3 minutes at the most. Any more and the green tea goes extremely bitter.

This is fast becoming my go-to-brew, morning, noon and night. Its a great pick-me-up (green tea has a heckuva lot more caffeine than black tea, which seems to surprise most people).

If you’re new to greens, or you’re an Earl Grey fanatic like me who wants to expand their horizons a bit, I really can’t recommend a better blend. You won’t be disappointed.

Teaviews Member: Stephen Stephen Reviewer
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