Thursday, 28 September 2017

Teatourist - July 2017

Teatourist like to base their monthly selection of teas around a theme, and July's is 'Larks and Owls' - 'a selection of teas to bookend your day'. So we have four flavoured black teas for a morning caffeine kick, and two indulgently-flavoured rooibos blends - because you deserve them after the day you've had! Time to put the kettle on: let's get tasting.


Lavender, Chocolate and Cinnamon by Lulin Teas
South African Rooibos, cinnamon bark, cocoa shells, lavender.
This is a weird one. I like lavender, and I like chocolate - but do I like them together? I'm still not sure. This has an excellent chocolateyness, a really good depth of flavour. And I would be very happy to drink it as a chocolate tea. But then little notes of lavender come through. Which I like. Or do I? Yes. I do. I think... I'm going to keep drinking it until I'm completely sure. Confusing, but in a good way!

Go Nuts by Tips 'n' Leaves
Cederberg Rooibos, caramel pieces, natural pecan flavour, calendula. 
Full disclosure: I'm not often a big fan of rooibos, either on its own or as a base for flavoured tea. I usually find it too watery, even when I brew it extra long or strong. A rooibos blend has to be pretty special to make me swoon over it, and as much as the scent of this was heavenly, it just didn't float my boat. However, having said that, if rooibos is your thang, then you'll probably like the sweet and nutty notes of this blend.


Masala Chai by Spice Kitchen
Black tea, rose petals, cardamom, black pepper, ginger, cloves, fennel, star anise, nutmeg, ginger, carom seeds, cinnamon. Ah - look at all those spices! This is a smooth and well-balanced chai, mild, but with a spicy aftertaste. I do sometimes brew my masala chai in a pan with milk, but this one I just brewed in a pot, as I would with any black tea, and served it with milk. Obviously you'd get a different tasting experience if you brewed it authentically, but it's up to you.


Summer Fruits by Teagime
Honey red tea, cornflower, red currants, peach, blackberries, blackcurrant powder.
I'm not usually a fan of fruity black tea. It tends to be at the bottom of my tasting list. But this one was a very pleasant surprise: light and refreshing (and I wrote that before reading the same words on the info card!), with delicate fruit and floral notes. The sublety wins out here. Well played Teagime!

Lemon Kandy by Teakruthi
I've said before that I'm not a fan of black tea with fruit, especially citrus fruit, so this was the second tea in this month's box that made my heart sink slightly. But I actually loved it! This blend contains large pieces of lemon peel, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the citrus notes were incredibly subtle, and actually enhanced the flavour of this beautiful Orange Pekoe Ceylon. The tea when brewed is a dark honey colour, and smells sharp and fresh. It has such a clean flavour, and is something I would drink as an afternoon pick-me-up. The name of the tea - Lemon Kandy - is a play on words (obviously!), and refers to the mountainous Kandy District of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), where this tea is grown.

Get Up And Go by Saddleworth Tea
This is a strong and aromatic blend of Assam, Ceylon, and Kenyan black tea. It has a smooth, clean, and slightly sweet taste, and a big hit of caffeine to get you going in the morning, or after a big sleep-inducing lunch. A nice blend for your everyday cuppa.

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Overall this was a pretty good selection of teas and I enjoyed trying them. I must apologise for the lack of photos. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but my phone seems to have eaten them.

I mentioned last month that Teatourist have redesigned their packaging and information cards, and that I would cover it this month. However, August's selection box brought more changes, so I will wait and cover the whole thing in my August/September post.

You can read my reviews of previous boxes here and here and here.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Shakespeare

I've just added, in backdated posts, a whole lot of my old Shakespeare reviews to this blog.

You can view them here.


Thursday, 27 July 2017

Teatourist - June 2017

The theme of Teatourist's June subscription box is 'Quirky and Cool'.

It contains a selection of very visually attractive teas, and these would look lovely brewed up in a glass teapot for effect.

I also notice that Teatourist have redesigned their tea packaging and information cards, and I'll talk about these next time. So, let's get straight to the reviews.


Time for Bliss by Caley's Apothecary
Lemon Verbena, passion flower, lime flowers, rose petals, cinnamon.
What a pretty mixture! I found this blend refreshing without being too sharp. I liked the lemon verbena, but I felt that the other ingredients dulled it somewhat, without boosting the overall flavour. It was pleasant warm, but I preferred it chilled. 3/5.

Earl Grey Blue Rose by Rutland Tea Co.
Black tea, pineapple, grapes, bergamot, rose petals, cornflower petals.
The scent of this is fantastic: sharp, rich, and sweet. However, I'm just not a fan of fruity flavours - especially citrus notes - with my black tea, and this wasn't for me. This is a personal preference, and no reflection on the tea itself. It's an interesting variation on Earl Grey, and one that I think will be appreciated by many. 3/5.


Assam with Vanilla by Pure Leaf
Assam, vanilla, marigold petals.
This comes in teabags, rather than loose leaf, but you can always break open the bags if you want to brew it in a pot. It's a pleasant Assam, with a soft vanilla flavour. Very mild, and makes a nice post-lunch cuppa. 3/5.

Mint Chocolate by Cheshire Tea
Rooibos, peppermint, calendula petals, cacao bean.
This was the highlight of the box for me. Smooth and creamy, it's like drinking melted After Eight Mints. Minty, chocolatey - it has everything you want. This one is on my buy-more list! 5/5.


Rhubarb and Vanilla by Hoogly Tea
Hibiscus, green tea, rhubarb, sunflower petals, calendula petals.
A gorgeous ruby red colour, this is mesmerising to pour! It has an incredible taste: the perfect balance of sweet and tart. This is rhubarb and custard - the real deal! Follow the steeping instructions carefully, and don't overbrew. 4/5.


Flexibilitea by T-Tox
Nettle, jasmine flowers, burdock root, marshmallow, lemon verbena.
I have to be honest: I hated this. However, D, who sometimes taste-tests with me, says that it has a 'mild and refreshing nettle taste with a subtle sweet note'. So there y'go.

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Overall, this box was a little more miss than hit for me. But not every tea is going to be a hit with every customer, and that's what subscription boxes are about - taking a chance on something new.

If the contents of this box appeal to you, there's still time to order it. Teatourist's subscription service allows you to order past boxes as well as current ones. 

You can read my reviews of previous boxes here and here.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Perk Coffee - Carpenders Park, Watford



I must apologise. I've been promising to write something about Perk for some time now, and I just haven't got around to it. I'm there all the time and yet I just keep forgetting! So, my apologies to you Perk, and here - finally! - is my review.

Perk is a small, independent coffee house, situated a couple of minutes' walk from Carpenders Park rail station, in Watford, Hertfordshire. It popped up one day: a down-to-earth, upmarket revelation, in an area desperately in need of enrichment. And I can't overstate how much of a difference this place has made to the local community, how much of a benefit - a perk - it is.


The atmosphere, immediately, is welcoming. The staff greet you with smiles and hellos, and it always feels geuine.

The space feels at once both intimate and communal. It has a warm, homely vibe, with pretty lampshades and hand-decorated chairs. A range of seating options - tables and chairs, comfy sofas, bar stools at the window - provide for the varying needs and wants of customers. You can work here. You can have a quiet conversation with a close friend. You can have cake and birthday celebrations. There is free wifi. There is a play area for children. Needs are anticipated and met.

You order and pay at the counter, and then your food and drink is brought to you.


Tea is loose-leaf, and served in a pot with a removable infuser, with a cup and saucer and a pretty teaspoon. You'll sometimes get an extra little treat on the side. There is a growing range of delicious cold shakes and smoothies, and I'm told that the coffee is excellent.

The food here is of excellent quality, and generous in portion size.

Sandwiches are made with freshly baked artisan breads. There is plenty of vegetarian fare, and a couple of vegan options, and gluten-free clients are also catered for. Staff will willingly check ingredients, discuss suitability, and tailor meals to your needs as far as possible.




One of the reasons for Perk's success is that it is constantly evolving. Each time I visit there is something new, some little detail that has been tweaked or upgraded. Afternoon tea, with pretty vintage china, is now available (advance bookings only). There are seasonal menus, drinks, treats. There are blankets for the outdoor seating. There is a big bowl of water and snacks for canine companions. There are little books to read whilst you idle with your coffee. Perk is on a constant voyage of self-improvement, and it shows.


Perk also deliberately makes connections with its local community. It runs storytime events for toddlers, comedy nights, networking mornings; hosts craft afternoons, knitting circles, takes part in charity fundraisers. Local artists and photographers exhibit their work here, and local crafters advertise and sell their wares. There is a community noticeboard on the wall. Perk has worked hard to reach out, to grow roots, and it has paid off for everyone.

Before Perk came along, there was nowhere nearby to sit and have a quiet cup of coffee in relaxed surroundings. Yes there are fast food places, pubs, greasy spoons. But nowhere to pop in to meet a friend, read a book, work on your laptop. Perk has fulfilled a local need, and people have a reason to keep going back.

Perk is a wonderful little coffee house, and I highly recommend it. Tell your friends.


Summary
Venue: Coffee house.
Accessible: Yes.
Seating: Indoor & outdoor.

Food: Sandwiches, wraps, jackets, soups, cakes, pastries etc.
Pricing: Approx £3.50 upwards.
Vegetarian Food: Yes.
Vegetarian items marked on menu: No.
Vegan Food: Yes.
Vegan items marked on menu: No.
Gluten-Free: Yes.
Gluten-Free items marked on menu: ?
Off-menu orders: Yes.
Child menu: ?
Take-away: Yes.

Tea Selection: Good. Range of Suki loose-leaf tea.
Presentation: Good. Teapots, cups & saucers.

Service: Excellent. Friendly and helpful.

Child-friendly: Yes, with play area.
Highchairs: Yes.
Breastfeeding Friendly: Unknown.

Wifi: Yes.
Dogs Welcome: Yes, outside.
Loyalty Card: Yes.

Toilets: Yes.
Accessible Toilet: Yes. Grab bar, emergency cord.
Baby Change: Yes.
Cleanliness: Good.
Supplies: Good.

Venue for Hire: Yes.

Would Recommend: Yes!

Monday, 3 July 2017

Imagine Watford 2017


Imagine Watford is a free-to-attend, outdoor arts festival, that brings a diverse programme of theatre, dance, and circus performances to the High Street for two weekends each summer.

Professional companies, both local and international, descend upon the town with a dazzling selection of events. Weird art installations; quirky characters roaming The Parade; clowning; high-concept dance; vast spectacle: there's something here for everyone, and it fills the High Street with energy and life.

I love this festival, and I attend as many shows as I can. I also love to watch the reactions of other audience members to what they are witnessing. Tiny children sit silent, entranced by a dancer. A young man peers through a hole into a beehive and snorts with laughter at what he sees. Fascination, puzzlement, applause.

It's not necessary to understand, or even like, everything you see. But the fact that it's here, and for free, is astounding. We need this exposure to the arts. Our children need this exposure. Not everyone goes to the theatre, but when it comes to us, we should appreciate it. Let's watch, take part, invite our friends. Let's make sure that it happens again next year.

Here are my highlights.


You and I Know - Candoco
If you've ever been in love, you'll recognise this story. Teenage prom nerves, first loves, furious fights, finding the strength to say sorry - it's all here in this 15 minute dance piece. Set to appropriate mood music, this highly emotional romantic duet will leave you sighing sadly or reaching for the one you love. Excuse me - there's something in my eye.


I only managed to see the first 15 minutes or so of this performance, but I wish I could have stayed for the rest. Eight strangers carrying suitcases: who are they and what do they want from us? At first they don't do much. They huddle together, they stand with their faces in the sunlight as if it's the first they've seen in a long time. And then they turn to the people around them. The onlookers are hesitant: they're willing to say hello, but will they go with these strange characters when asked? It turns out that yes, they will. Eight people are persuaded to lie down, with suitcases as pillows, and enjoy the sunshine with these strangers. The strangers then go into a shop. It is strange to them. They stand in the window, staring out at the audience, who stare back at them. And then... What's happening here? They're acting as though the outside is dangerous, the shop a refuge. They're waving people in to safety. Will anyone go? Yes, they will: scuttling across the short distance that separates audience from performer as if they are in real danger and these strangers their only hope of safety. And that's where I had to leave them. This is a fascinating piece: playful, mischievous, and extremely relevant.


Urban Astronaut - Highly Sprung
A future without clean air. A girl, alone, planting trees in the dirt. An astronaut, by turns breathtaking, fearsome, fearful. This is a moving and thought-provoking dance piece, and I ran through a range of emotions watching it. Its highly relevant subject matter makes much of it rather discomfiting to watch. The dance itself is gorgeous, scary, sad. The astronaut, appearing from behind the audience, rising and falling as he moves closer, is glorious, terrifying. Overall a beautiful piece, that left me both sad and hopeful. Inspirational.


Big Mob - Bedlam Oz
Giant slinkies shuffle and tumble their way along the street. They seem to look around and sniff the air, huddling together, breaking apart. Small children are drawn to them as though they were bizarre insects. What are they? Are they dangerous? Is it ok to touch them? It's only a matter of time before one of them eats a child, and then the screaming starts... Hilarious to watch, just don't take your eyes off them.


Galileo - Deus Ex Machina
A gigantic orrery is raised from the ground, ascending thirty metres, suspended and spinning. Galileo sits atop it, looking through his telescope and pondering the nature of the universe. Below him, a couple dance on a suspended globe, falling in and out of love. Women in white dresses become lanterns and stars, sailing across the night sky. Across the darkness, bursts of light and heat, music and words. Staring up into the night, with the rain falling around me, I feel a true sense of wonder. This is the glorious spectacle that is Deus Ex Machina's 'Galileo': a whirling masterpiece of acrobatics and aerialism, utterly enchanting. This is where science is transformed into magic. 


If I Could I Would - Mimbre
Sometimes life gets you down. You wake up late, you're out of coffee, you have no clean clothes, and then you have to go to work. If I Could I Would is about the knocks and bruises we take in everyday life, and how people will - quite literally - walk all over you. It's also about changing your story, regaining your power, and becoming your own superhero. From street harrassment to a work colleague spilling a broken heart onto her desk, the heroine of this piece is subjected to an ever-increasing amount of pressure before pausing, and pushing back. Heavily comical, sometimes cartoon-like in its choreography, this is an uplifting piece of highly-skilled acrobatics and dance, with a strong story and empowering ending. Top notch!


Bingo Lingo - Wild n Beets
Beryl and Cyril: we've met them before, way back in the 1980s. Beryl in her leopard print suit and sparkly top, Cyril with his woodstain tan and laquered hair. With their married-couple banter and their sweetly risque humour, this pair bring both warmth and tackiness to their giant game of bingo. Billed as 'a game for everyone, where disability politics meets cheeky end of the pier humour', this show is funny, deliberately painful, and just a little bit educational. Really enjoyable, and no effort required!


Baba Yaga's House - Dizzy O'Dare
In Slavic folktale, Baba Yaga is an old witch who lives in a hut that walks about on chicken legs. Flying about in a mortar and pestle decorated with bones, Baba Yaga greets the women with a cry of 'Sister!', threatens to eat the children, and flirts with the men, keeping up the patter as she approaches the unwary as well as the willing onlooker. The mischievous chicken hut that follows her around is both her home and her pet. Laying eggs, weeing on the floor, spraying water out of its doors, it is as unpredictable as it is amusing. Dizzy O'Dare brings both humour and malice to this deliciously wicked piece of roaming theatre. Encore, sister!


Monday, 19 June 2017

Teatourist - April and May

Teatourist have been very generous in sending me several of their monthly subscription boxes to review. I wrote in detail about them and their concept, and reviewed a whole lot of teas, in my previous Teatourist post. But two more boxes - that's 12 different types of tea! - have arrived since then, and I think they deserve a post of their own! So here we go - April and May.

April's Box

Teatourist are getting rather good at creating loose themes for their boxes. April's - as we are reaching warmer weather, brighter days, and lighter evenings - is 'Dump the Slump', and contains 'a selection that's innocent, naughty and unashamedly carefree'.

In this box we have the following: two black teas - Thieves' Brew, and Shades of Grey; two fruit/herbal - Hibiscus Flowers, and Peppermint; and two blends - Chocolate and Ginger, and the awesomely named Pumpkins Go Bananas. Great selection, and I can't wait to get brewing.


Thieves' Brew by Bev's Tea Co
I was initially attracted to this medium leaf Sri Lankan black tea because of its name. As you might expect, there's an interesting story behind it. The raw leaves of Thieves' Brew are pounded in a stone Vangedi - a type of mortar - before oxidation. Historically, this is how estate workers made their tea at home, and stole leaves in order to do so. It's actually quite a sweet-tasting tea, smooth, and beautiful without milk. The info card says 'notes of toffee and orange', and - yep - that's spot on. This is a single estate tea, and according to Bev's Tea 'the only estate in the world producing this kind of tea on a very small scale'. I couldn't decide whether this would be something I would drink everyday, or just get out for favoured guests. But the point it moot now, as it's all gone! 4/5


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Shades of Grey by MDTea
This was just beautiful! A full-bodied Earl Grey with strong floral and citrus notes, aromatic and extremely satisfying. It retains the character of classic Earl Grey whilst bringing something new and exciting to your cup. A really gorgeous tea, whether infused lightly and served in delicate china, or brewed strongly and served in a sturdy mug. I got so carried away with drinking it that I forgot to take any photos. You'll have to take my word for it.  5/5.
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Chocolate and Ginger by Shibui Tea
Just three ingredients in this one: ginger, cocoa husk, and liquorice root. I've never tasted anything quite so like a Ginger Nut biscuit in a cup. (Unless you count those ginger biscuits that were dunked a little too long, losing their structural integrity, and falling sploosh into the cup. Which I don't.) A three minute brew is perfectly balanced for sweetness with a gingery kick. Perfect. 5/5.


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Hibiscus Flowers by Tugboat Brews
Let me start at the end of the story. Hibiscus flowers, when they're done and you're fishing them out of the teapot, look and feel so weird, like little rubbery aliens, or bizarre sea creatures. So - yeah. I just thought I'd throw that in. Anyway... This brews up a rich red colour, and if you were feeling in a vampirey mood you could pretend you were drinking blood. Or not. I first tried this hot, but actually I far prefer it as an iced tea. The suggestion is to add sugar or honey, but I really like the fruity tartness of this infusion, and it's just lovely on a hot day. Put it in a fancy glass and it feels like a proper party drink. I think it would be great served chilled, in a jug, with a little fresh fruit added. 5/5.


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Pumpkins Go Bananas by Leaves of the World
Apple, carrot, ginger, pumpkin, pineapple, coriander, banana chips. This is a surprisingly sweet tea, with gentle spicy notes. The banana flavour comes through strongly, but combined with the fruits and spices it made me think of creamy fudge. The info card suggests that adding ice and shaking will leave you with something that tastes like a banana milkshake, but  actually like the idea of it hot, as a themed Halloween tea, as it tastes like sweeties. 3/5


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Peppermint by Maiservas
This one had got rather left behind, as I have so much mint in my garden and seem to constantly have a pot of mint tea - hot or chilled - on the go. However, when I did get around to brewing it - gosh it packs a punch. A real tongue-tingler!
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May's Box

May's box did not disappoint. The theme this month is 'Founder's Favourites', or 'So, you own your own tea company and have access to any tea you want, but what's your favourite?'. And the answer is: two (mainly) fruit/herbal infusions; one white tea blend; one flavoured Rooibos; and two very exciting black teas, a SFTGFOP, and a themed blend named after a famous detective.


Sherlock Holmes Tea by Chash The Fine Tea Co
With quintessential English Breakfast as a base, a hint of Lapsang Souchong for pipe smoke, and Ginkgo and Elderflower for brain power, this is a tea that will transport any Holmes enthusiast. I very much enjoy blends that play cleverly on their theme, but are also well-balanced for taste. This is a rich and smoky brew that rolls over the tongue, evocative of Victorian parlours, old books, and the most fascinating of mysteries. But no murder. Not whilst I'm drinking tea. 4/5.
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Doomni SFTGFOP by Pekoetea Edinburgh
Well. Let's tackle the name first, yes? Doomni is the name of a tea estate in Assam. SFTGFOP stands for Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, which is rather a mouthful, and also a specific grade of tea. The info card says that this tea is rich, malty and sweet, but - surprisingly, because I love a good Assam and this is an excellent grade - I didn't find it to be any of those things. I tried it with and without milk, and brewed lightly and strongly, and although it was a pleasant black tea it didn't seem like anything special. Still a 3/5 though.
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White Bellini by The Tea Experience
Inspired by the Bellini cocktail, this is a large leaf white tea, with whole freeze dried raspberries, peach pieces, and currants. It's a pretty mixture, and very fragrant; the peachy scent drifts across the room enticingly. I'm not usually a fan of anything peach-flavoured, but I enjoyed the fruitiness of this tea, and I re-steeped it twice. The info card also suggests cold-brewing overnight, and I imagine that this would create a delicious and delicate flavour. Soft and peachy. 3/5


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Lemongrass & Ginger by Morgan's Brew Tea Company
Lemongrass, ginger, lemon verbena, lemon peel, green tea.
A sunny and uplifting brew: sweet and zesty with a gingery kick. Serve chilled on a melting June day, or hot on a cool summer evening. 3/5.


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Apple & Grapefruit by Tea Shirt Tailored Refreshments
Apple, orange, strawberry pieces, rose hip peel, hibiscus, lemongrass, orange peel, flavouring. Brewing tea on one of the hottest days of the year (so far) I am utterly melting, and my thoughts turn to whether this will taste good chilled. Teatourist - who are always happy to give their opinion - say that yes, it will, do it. As I'm waiting for it to brew, I can't help but notice that this infusion contains no actual grapefruit, although it certainly does smell sharp enough to. It has a long brew time, 10-12 minutes, but - hot - it still tastes rather watery to me, without much body. The flavour comes out more as the temperature goes down, so this is definitely one to drink warm or fully chilled, rather than hot hot hot. More tart than sweet, but pleasant enough.


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Rooibos Rhubarb Fudge by Piacha
Rooibos, apple, hibiscus, elderberries, rosehip, pineapple, rhubarb, strawberry, vanilla, calendula petals. This is one that you need to drink warm rather than hot, to allow the flavours to come through. More tart than sweet, but with subtle vanilla notes, it reminded me of rhubarb and custard sweets in tea form. 3/5.


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Overall, I was very impressed with these two boxes. Teatourist have upped their game in terms of selection for each box, and hopefully there's now something for everyone in each. They've also negotiated special discount codes for some of the teas, so that when you find a brew that you love you can get a little something off a big bag of it. Good stuff, Teatourist. Good stuff.

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Friday, 26 May 2017

Kanuka Tea House - St Albans



I discovered Kanuka at just the right time!

I was looking for a tearoom - somewhere I hadn't been before - for a birthday get-together with a few friends. A couple of hours later I saw a tweet from John Hesler, the founder of Kanuka, during Twitter's weekly #TeaHour and - boom! - I was sold.

Kanuka sell over 40 varieties of loose-leaf tea online, and also stock each variety at their tea house in St Albans, available by the cup, pouch or caddy.


To help you with the difficult choice of what to drink first, Kanuka have built a wall of tea, displaying each of their blends in a corked bottle for you to inspect and inhale, along with full information on ingredients, taste, and brewing. I like this. It enhances and prolongs the tea experience, provokes discussion, and encourages you to try and buy.


The tea house itself walks a line between modern and traditional, in terms of design and atmosphere. A range of bright colours and comfortable seating, set against dark wood, tiles, and clean lines. Minimalist with a dash of comfort. I was expecting teapots and timers, but there are no fussy tablecloths or delicate china to be found here. Most of the tea is brewed by staff for the requisite amount of time and served in lightweight faux-glass mugs. When a teapot does make an appearance it's small and clear glass. Teas requiring extra preparation are served in appropriate cups or bowls.

I can see the logic behind this. Your tea is brewed for the amount of time specified on the label, and served up ready to drink. Simple, no fuss. And yet... Kanuka say that their tea house "pays homage to the world of loose leaf tea and celebrates the whole ritual surrounding it". But for me, waiting for my tea to brew, watching the leaves unfurl and expand, breathing in the steamy aroma as I pour - these  are a big part of the tea ritual, and are lost when it is simply served up in a mug. So I was a little disappointed at first, without a teapot, but really the presentation here is so crisp and clean that it's hard to stay unhappy for long.

Brewing time is indeed crucial in achieving the perfect cup of tea, and recommendations vary from blend to blend. But even within the recommendation for a specific tea there is a 'between'. Brew for between 3 and 5 minutes. Infuse for between 5 and 10 minutes. Five minute tea will taste very different to ten minute tea, but when someone else brews it for you, you don't know quite what you're getting. It's all down to personal preference really. If you know how you like your tea, perhaps you could order it specifically lightly or strongly brewed, as one might order a steak rare or well-done.


The Vanilla Bean that I ordered as my first choice was, for me, too lightly brewed. It was watery, as if from re-brewed leaves, and not quite what I was hoping for.

My second choice was Chilli Rooibos. Sniffing the leaves in the jar, this blend seemed to have an intriguing sweet smell, like marzipan, but this didn't come through at all when brewed, and now I'm wondering if perhaps someone simply put the jar back in the wrong place. Are the jars labelled? I didn't check. Anyway, the tea itself was very pleasant, seeming not at all spicy at first, but then with a chilli aftertaste manifesting on the tongue and encouraging you to take another sip. Something to wake you up without caffeine.

My third choice was Green Peach Blossom. A lovely combination, it smelt mouth-watering in the jar, but again was too lightly brewed for my taste, with the peach notes just not coming through at all.


The tea menu divides the blends into Classic, Wellbeing, and Naughty.  Classic are your blacks, greens, whites, and rooibos. Wellbeing is mostly floral and herbal, but also includes mate. Naughty is - well, it's just delicious sounding fruit-based blends. All a bit arbitrary really. A lovely Earl Grey can enhance your wellbeing if you need a shot of caffeine. And there's really nothing 'naughty' about blends of fruit and nut. It's a bit of fun, I suppose.


This might sound like a lot of criticism, but actually - I really liked Kanuka. My friends and I had a very enjoyable time there, and we now have a lovely place to meet up that's fairly central to all of us.

The staff were lovely: present and helpful, without being intrusive. My friend S ordered and paid for four teas in one go, all for herself, to be brought out in succession. The staff were really good at keeping track of this order, and noticing when S was ready for her next tea. Service was prompt and polite, and cups and plates were cleared away in a timely fashion.

Kanuka offer loyalty cards, so make sure you get one. Between the five of us we filled a card and a half within a few hours! 

I would recommend Kanuka to everyone, tea enthusiasts and casual tea drinkers alike, whether you want to drop in for a quick cuppa, or while away a rainy afternoon with friends. But what will you drink first?


Summary
Venue: Tea House.
Accessible: Yes, but not much room to manoeuvre.
Seating: Indoor & outdoor.

Tea Selection: Excellent. 40+ varieties loose leaf.
Presentation: Excellent.

Food: Yes, light bites. Sandwiches, cakes etc.
Pricing: Approx £3-4 for a sandwich or ciabatta.
Vegetarian Food: Yes, a couple of items.
Vegetarian items marked on menu: No.
Vegan Food: Unknown.
Vegan items marked on menu: No.
Gluten-Free: Yes, egg & cress sandwich, cake.
Gluten-Free items marked on menu: Yes.
Off-menu orders: Unknown.
Child menu: No.
Take-away: Yes.

Service: Friendly.

Highchairs: Yes, just one.
Breastfeeding Friendly: Unknown.

Wifi: Unknown.
Dogs Welcome: Possibly - there was a dog inside whilst I was there.
Loyalty Card: Yes.

Toilets: Yes.
Accessible Toilet: Yes, but no grab bars, emergency cord, etc.
Baby Change: Yes.
Cleanliness: Good.
Supplies: Good.

Would Recommend: Yes!

Ahimsa Vegan Cafe - Pinner



Ahimsa is a fully vegan cafe located on the main high street in Pinner.

The name means 'the complete absence of violence from our thoughts, words and actions', and it is clear that Ahimsa is dedicated to the vegan cause.

We popped in for a quick lunch, at around 2pm on a Thursday, and we had the place to ourselves. I imagine that it gets busy during lunchtimes, as the type of healthy fast-food vegan fare that it serves is well suited to take-away. In fact, the Chilli Tofu wraps that we ordered were served up in foil, ready to be eaten on the go, even though it was clear that we were eating in. Generous with the tofu, this was a satifying lunch and I'd happily order it again.


We didn't order dessert, but there were several shelves of delicious looking things, and I'm sure that these deserve further investigation at a later date.

You get a choice of non-dairy milks with your teas and coffees. Teas are from Teapigs, and not a bad selection. The latte that we ordered arrived lukewarm, which wasn't ideal.


Service was polite, if not particularly warm or overly friendly. I could probably have been persuaded to spend a little more time and money if I'd have felt a little more welcomed. It wasn't unfriendly, just - as a customer you never want to feel that you're intruding when you walk into a shop or cafe.

I was unimpressed by the state of the toilet facilities. Accessible - good work! - but there was a pool of something around the bottom of the toilet, and the seat and back were also wet with spray. I know it only takes one person to mess up the most hygienic of facilities, but I saw one of the staff walk out just before I went in so... Maybe I'm being unfair and it had just been mopped and disinfected, but how is one to know? Dry is the preferred state of such things.

Despite these criticisms, I would definitely go back. I realise that a single visit doesn't always accurately reflect the nature of a place, and everyone has off days.

The food was good, there are other things on the menu that I'd like to try, and I have vegan friends I need to take there. Lunch, anyone?


Summary
Venue: Vegan cafe.
Accessible: Yes.
Seating: Indoor & outdoor.

Food: Hot breakfasts. Lunch wraps and mix bowls. Desserts.
Pricing: Approx £5 - 7
Vegetarian Food: Yes, all items.
Vegetarian items marked on menu: Yes.
Vegan Food: Yes, all items..
Vegan items marked on menu: Yes.
Gluten-Free: Yes.
Gluten-Free items marked on menu: No.
Off-menu orders: Unknown.
Child menu: No.
Take-away: Yes.

Tea Selection: Good. Teapigs teabags, approx 9 varieties.
Presentation: Fair.

Service: Polite.

Highchairs: Unknown.
Breastfeeding Friendly: Unknown.

Wifi: Unknown.
Dogs Welcome: Unknown.
Loyalty Card: Unknown.

Toilets: Yes.
Accessible Toilet: Yes, inc grab bars, emergency cord, wheelchair-height toilet, easy-use door handle.
Baby Change: Unknown.
Cleanliness: Fair.
Supplies: Adequate.

Would Recommend: Yes. 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Teatourist



The Concept

Teatourist is a monthly subscription service for tea. The concept is simple: sign up to get 'surprise selections of loose leaf teas from some of the hottest artisan tea companies' delivered to your door, once a month. These teas are selected from specialist tea companies - people who know one end of a tea leaf from the other - and are brands that you won't find in the shops. 

But Teatourist - a brand new venture - style themselves as far more than just suppliers of tea. They see themselves as the doorway to a tea adventure, your conduit to a voyage of tea discovery. On signing up you become a tea tourist, ready to experience teas from across the world. Their lingo, (passport, adventure, exciting, discovery), and their hot air balloon logo and promotional pictures, all speak to the romantic vision of the explorer, and the thrill of discovering something new.

This is an appealing concept for a tea enthusiast, if perhaps rather grander and requiring of an imaginative leap, than the reality of receiving a box of tea in the post. However, Teatourist have kindly sent me some of their tea to review, so I'm happy to buy into the idea and see where it takes me.



The Boxes 

The boxes, when they arrive, look exciting. The outer sleeve slides back to reveal a slim box containing 6 perfectly packaged teas.

Each tea is presented in a clear plastic packet, firmly sealed for freshness, with not even a hint of scent escaping. Each resealable packet is attached to a helpful information card that details the type of tea, its characteristics, ingredients, notes on potential allergens, serving size, and a little background on the company that supplies it. On the other side of the card is a detailed brewing guide: cup size, amount of tea to use, water temperature, and how long to steep for. And then there is a space for you to review your experience with comments and a rating out of 5.

The amount of each tea supplied - 3 or 4 cup's worth - is just about right; enough to give it a fair trial, or share with friends, but not so much that if you hate it you're stuck with it. If you love it you can buy more from the individual tea companies, and if you don't then you haven't wasted money on a whole bag. It also avoids stockpiling tea merely to try it out once or twice.

Teatourist say that subscription (currently UK only) is flexible, runs month to month, and can be cancelled or paused at any time. So you could sign up for just one box and see if you like it. Subscription costs £14.95 per month for 6 types of tea, which works out at just over £2.49 per pack. This initially seemed like a lot to me, looking at the amount of tea in each pack. However, at 3 or 4 cups per pack - let's say one large pot - that's comparable to what you'd pay in a proper, well-stocked tearoom. And if you don't have a local tearoom to frequent, then this could be a nice alternative. (Update, March 2017: Teatourist have now re-jigged their prices. A one-off box or a month-to-month rolling subscription is now £15, a 3-month subscription is £40, or a 6-month subscription is £72.)

Delivery is in a 'letterbox size' package, which means you won't have to chase around after your tea if you're out when the post arrives.

So far it all looks great, but the real test is in the tasting of the tea, so let's get down to business.



Reviewing the Teas

Since each pack makes 3 or 4 cups, I decided to share my tea exploration with family and friends. So, tasting and reviewing here we have:

Me - tea enthusiast, enjoys a wide variety of teas and tisanes.
D - dislikes most black tea, drinks a lot of herbal and green.
A - not really that into tea, but happy to try whatever is served.
M - generally drinks black tea, not a fan of herbal or green.
 
Not everyone tried each tea, but they all participated on this tea adventure, and I've included their comments and ratings along with my own. 

I stuck strictly to the suggested 8oz per cup serving size in order to get the correct strength of brew. However I don't currently have a tea thermometer or variable temperature kettle, so I had to estimate when the water was at the correct temperature for each tea. (Update: After testing the first box I got myself a tea thermometer and checked the temperature before brewing!)


Tea Boxes November - February

Marzipan Rooibos by Hoogly Tea
Rooibos, almond pieces, mallow flowers, vanilla pieces, flavour. 
This tea has a strong marzipan scent, and only a slightly less marzipan taste. Less watery than I was expecting, and fuller bodied. I would try for a slightly stronger brew by steeping for a little longer than suggested, or perhaps adding some extra tea. But overall this was a lovely tea, and one to savour. Perfect for a wintery day. I'd buy this again. 4/5

"Warm, tasty and comforting. 4/5" - D
 
"Quite watery, not very marzipany. Could be tastier, with more flavour" - A, who isn't really a fan of tea or marzipan, but still gave it 4/5

"Tastes like Christmas cake! 5/5" - M 

Peppermint by Cheshire Tea
I was initially sceptical about the inclusion of peppermint in an artisan tea selection box. It's so ubiquitous and - forgive me! - dull, that I wondered what it was doing here. However, this is not the usual weak toothpaste water that I have come to expect when someone serves me peppermint tea. This premium peppermint is incredibly intense and full of flavour, brewing the type of tea that leaves your tongue tingling. I'm not usually a big fan of peppermint but this was flavoursome enough to change my mind. I gave it a 5/5. 

"Loose leaf, so tastes fresher and stronger than teabags. 5/5" - D, who drinks a lot of peppermint tea.

"4/5" - A


Yoga Tea by T-Tox
Chinese white tea, with ginger, lemongrass, rose petals and nettle. 
This is a very subtly flavoured tea, and one that needs to be sipped slowly to be fully appreciated. I'd suggest finding a quiet place to drink, contemplate, and let the flavours roll over you. 3/5

"Flowery and pleasant. 3/5" - D

Gingerbread Chai by Tugboat Brews
Rooibos, vanilla, ginger, cinammon, natural flavouring.
I had the wrong expectations of this tea. I know that chai just means tea, but it has become synonymous with, and shorthand for 'spiced chai'. So when I see 'chai' I tend to expect something with a bit of a kick. This led me - wrongly - to at first assess this tea as rather underwhelming. Once I was reminded that it was supposed to be gingerbread chai it made a lot more sense to my tastebuds. However, even sticking strictly to the brewing instructions I still found it rather too weak, like a second steeping, and if I had it again would try putting an extra spoonful or two in the pot. I think the addition of sugar or honey, as suggested in the serving instructions, might make the difference here in bringing out a fuller flavour, but I can't tolerate sugar so couldn't test this out. The info card suggests making it into a Gingerbread Latte, or, in other words, heating the tea mixture with milk, as is traditional when making spiced chai. I'm not sure that I would buy this tea again, but I might experiment with making my own mixture. Mild and pleasant. 3/5

"Smooth and mild. 3/5" - D 

"This tastes like when Dave made us go see Avatar. 2/5" - A, helpful as ever

Shiraore Green by Momo Cha Fine Teas
This is a very pretty looking tea, bright green and inviting. The info card describes it as 'grassy and fresh but creamy', but it didn't go down too well here. I tend to drink a small amount of loose-leaf green tea, and D drinks quite a lot of bagged green, but this didn't really suit either of us. Now - for transparency - I have to say again that I don't currently have a tea thermometer, so I had to guesstimate the right temperature, and this might have made a difference to the taste. We all found it to have a very strong smell, earthy with a hint of - oh dear! - rotting vegetable, and this was slightly off-putting. D and A didn't couldn't finish their cups and it got some rather harsh remarks. For me, the flavour was earthy and grassy - definitely intense but really too strong for my taste. I liked it better on its second steeping, and I imagine that the third will be even better. If I had it again I'd reduce the amount of tea used in each pot.

Citrus Ginger by Lulin Teas
Herbal tisane. Lemongrass, lemon zest, orange zest, ginger pieces.
A pleasant tea, but I felt that the lemongrass overpowered the other ingredients. Which, actually, I don't really mind, as I rather like lemon. Smooth, and doesn't have that bitter aftertaste I've found many citrus teas have. 3/5.

"Warming and lovely ginger taste, without being too strong. Don't usually like citrus but it's subtle enough for me. 4/5" - D

"Can I rate it in halves? 4½/5" - A
 
Winter Spice by Chash the Fine Tea Company
Apple, chamomile, orange, aniseed, lime blossom, rosehip, ginger, elderberries, sage leaf, cinammon, fennel, cardamom. This is an incredibly well-balanced tea, and full of the complex flavours that I have come to expect from Chash. Take your time to savour the many different notes as the tea rolls over your tongue. I would definitely buy this again. 5/5.

"Warming spices, unusual taste. Would be nice to drink by the fire on a cold day. 5/5" - D

Reggae Refresh by Born Wild Tea
Apple, papaya, mango, lemongrass, ginger, banana chips, goji berries, lavender.
Fruit teas so often smell amazing and then are a sore disappointment on actual brewing. But not this one. This one makes good on its promises. Reggae Refresh is a complex blend of tropical flavours, at first sharp and zingy and then soft with a sweet edge. Absolutely refreshing and a total tongue tingler! 4/5

"Fruity and slightly sweet, pleasant taste. Not usually keen on fruity teas but this is nice. " - D

Tummy Rub by Tea Box
Peppermint, liquorice, chamomile, fennel.
This is a beautifully balanced tea, especially surprising since it only contains four ingredients. Brewed lightly, the chamomile comes through strongly; brewed a little longer the liquorice comes to the forefront. Fragrant and fresh! 5/5

"Reminds me of a peppermint and liquorice tea that I often drink, but stronger and more flavours. Really nice. 5/5" - D

Malawi Peony by Baraka Teas
White tea from Malawi. The info card describes this as 'delicate' with 'sweet buttery notes' and 'peach and apricot flavours'. I found it to be a very pleasant and mild tea, but sadly far too subtle for me. I'm not particularly familiar with white tea, and the flavours escaped me.  3/5

"Mild. Couldn't taste the fruit notes mentioned." - D 


Gunpowder Tea by Morgan's Brew Tea Company
Green tea. This was pleasant enough; a standard gunpowder green tea. 3/5

"Smoky taste. Strong green tea. 4/5" - D 



Japanese Kukicha by Shibui Tea
This is an interesting looking tea, consisting of lots of little brown sticks, and is 'made from the branches and stems of the plant'. It's described as 'nutty, smoky' and 'midway between a green tea and an oolong'. I really liked it. It was rich and malty, with an almost coffee-like flavour. I'd definitely drink this again. 4/5

Pure Ceylon by Exclusivitea
A light and fragrant Ceylon, great for an everyday cuppa. 3/5

Rooibos Earl Grey by Tea Leaf London
This immediately struck me as an interesting tea, and 'a modern twist on a British classic', as the info card says. And - it certainly was an interesting taste! I'm not sure that I liked it. Without the strength of black tea to balance it out it tasted almost medicinal. If you can't drink black tea, or want to switch to rooibos for its caffeine-free benefits then give this a go, but I think I'll stick to classic Earl Grey.

Scotch Acorns by Nothing But Tea
Ingredients include: black Ceylon tea, cocoa kernels, cinnamon, carob, coconut, almonds, cardamon, macadamia nuts, vanilla, scotch whisky 1%, oak wood extract 0.5%. This is a tea that you can smell when you walk into the room, and one that I'd been itching to try. The strongest flavour that came through for me was chocolate, with hints of vanilla and definitely some whisky too. My second cup, brewed for longer, tasted far more of whisky. A really unusual mixture, enjoyable for its taste as well as its novelty value! 4/5
 
"5/5. I don't know what you could have it do better other than sing to you. What type of whisky is it?" - A

Brockley Breakfast by Good & Proper Tea Co.
Strong! Which is just what I like in a Breakfast tea. The flavours of each tea come through: the strength of Kenyan, slightly malty notes from the Assam, the smoothness of Ceylon, and a lift from the Darjeeling. You can smell that this will be a good cup of tea! 4/5.

Orange Blossom Oolong by Easy Teasy
I LOVED this! Smooth and floral, without the harshness often found with citrus teas. Delicious! 5/5

"4/5. Nice and orangey!" - D

Ben Shan Oolong by Tea in the City
This is just beautiful. It doesn't look particularly exciting, but if you let it, it will take you on an adventure. Breathe in the floral fragrance as you add water to the leaves.Take a moment of reflection, gazing into the golden liquid in your cup. Taste the smoothness and fullness on your tongue, and appreciate the fresh nutty taste. If you have a glass teapot, you can even watch the leaves unfurl as your tea brews. This is a tea to savour and slow down with. Top notch. 5/5.


Recover Tea by Blendology
Nettle leaf, peppermint leaf, burdock root, dandelion root, artichoke leaf.
As you might guess by its name, this is an infusion created to be 'the perfect detox and hangover remedy'. I'm reviewing it based solely on flavour, but I couldn't decide whether I liked it or not. It's strong and bitter, and possibly something of an acquired taste, but it would be very easy to believe it was doing you good. If you want something strong, green, and caffeine-free, then this might be for you.

Black Tea & Dandelion by Oteas
This is another tea created to be a 'detox brew'. I don't buy it. Taste-wise, this is just... wrong. I tried it with and without milk, and both ways were equally as bad. This can be an issue when a tea is blended primarily for the 'detox' market. The priority often becomes the perceived benefit of the tea, rather than the overall flavour. Maybe the dandelion was supposed to be a lifting flavour, but it widely misses the mark, only adding a bitter aftertaste to the black tea. Sorry Oteas - I just can't recommend this blend.


Matcha Green Tea by Teaologists
This is actually my first experience with Matcha. The little tin of green powder is enough for 4 cups of tea, so I had the opportunity to work on my brewing technique, which involves whisking for best results. A smooth and verdant brew, it has an interesting taste, extremely earthy, and I detected a slight bitter aftertaste despite using the correct temperature of water. I enjoyed it more with milk - my usual sweetened-soya turning it into a Matcha Latte - and this took off the bitter edge. It wasn't something that immediately appealed to me - I think it may be something of an acquired taste - but I'd try it again. No strong feelings either way, but pleased to have tried something new!

Blend No 45 by Edgcumbes Tea Blenders
Orthodox Assam, Darjeeling, Keemun, Lapsang Souchong.
A heady blend! A strong and smoky brew, with malty undertones. Best served without milk. The info card suggests adding 'a pinch to your favourite daily black tea', and I think this would go down really well, giving life to basic black tea. 3/5.

Gunpowder Tea by The UK Loose Leaf Tea Company
This is the second Gunpowder that Teatourist have included in their boxes. It's not a favourite of mine, and so not something I feel particularly qualified to compare and contrast, but this seemed to be another standard pleasant brew.


Cherry Sencha by Cheshire Tea
Sencha green tea, rose petals, natural cherry flavour.
Cherry sencha is one of my all-time favourites, so I was rather excited to see this included in my box of tea. The alluring spring-like fragrance is released as soon as the bag is opened, and the pretty leaves brew up into a pale yellow tea with a light and lifting flavour. The sweetness is very subtle, and personally I'd like a few actual dried cherries in the blend, to lift it a little further. But overall this is another winner from Cheshire Tea, a refreshing cup of relaxation and elegance. 4/5.

"Smells amazing! Cherry taste, but not sweet." - D

"Cherry-fic!" - A



Tea Box March

Turmeric Root Chai by Chai Kai Tea Co.
Chinese green tea, turmeric, ginger, cinammon, black peppercorns, Taiwanese Oolong, coconut flakes, calendula petals, sunflower petals, flavouring.
An unusual chai, based around green tea rather than black. Delicate and lightly warming, with spicy-sweet hints. A gentle tang on the tongue! 3/5.

"Gorgeous, unusual taste. 5/5." - D (who kept the rest of the pot and subsequent re-steeps all to herself!)

Honey Lemon Morning Blend by Teagime
Rooibos, bee pollen, lemongrass, elderflower, elderberrry, liquorice root.
This is scented morning sunlight, sweet to breathe in and sweet to the taste, with different kinds of sweetness coming through with each sip. Pleasing. 3/5.

"Soothing. Liked it. 4/5." - A

"Strong taste, with a sweetness. 4/5." - D

"Creamy. Taste lingers - in a good way. 4/5." - Guest taster DL.

Mulled Apple Brandy by Nothing But Tea
It might be called mulled brandy, but for me this is more mulled cider. The white tea gives body to the apple and almost overwhelming cinnamon flavour. This is a great warming brew, and I wonder if it might also be nice as iced-tea, or cold-brewed, on a hot summer day. 4/5.


Rose and Strawberry Red Bush by Spice Kitchen
Rooibos, thistle petals, rose petals, blackberry leaves, strawberries.
With each sip I can taste the strawberry, with hints of rose, against the background of the redbush. Rather like Turkish delight, but also makes me think of marzipan. This is a pleasant tea, but rather watery and without much body to it. If I had it again I would brew it for much longer than the recommended three minutes, and see what happens. 3/5.

Wilderness Honeybush by Leopard Friendly
Honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia) isn't something I had heard of before. The internet tells me that it is a South African-grown plant, so named because its flowers have a honey-like scent to them, and that the taste of the tea is supposed to be similar to rooibos but with a natural sweetness. If I had it again I'd brew it stronger and longer than suggested on the info card, but I found it to be a pleasant tea, sweet and subtle. I haven't so far focused on the tea companies in these short reviews, but I feel I should mention Leopard Friendly. A proportion of their sales go towards funding conservation projects for the endangered Cape Leopard. A worthy cause and an interesting company concept. 

Chocolate Orange by Nelson and Norfolk Tea Co.
Black tea, cacao beans, cacao nibs, cocoa shells, chocolate chips, apple pieces, orange blosson, rosehip, hibiscus, orange peel.
I've tried a few chocolate teas in my time, and often been disappointed. But this - this is a full-on chocolate experience in tea form! Look at that ingredient list - could they cram any more chocolatey bits in there? I think not! I tried this tea with and without milk, and it was good both ways. I didn't get the orange coming through at all, but my other tea-adventurers said that they were getting hints of orange. I wonder if brewing for a slightly longer or shorter time might make the difference, finding the precise brew point where the orange oil comes through most strongly. This was a big hit, and I would definitely drink this again. 5/5.

"Nice flavour with chocolate hints. 4/4." - D

"I think this is my favourite tea yet." - A



Thoughts and Suggestions

I've heard of at least two of the companies whose tea has been included, and I'm familiar with one of them as providing top-notch blends, but the others are new to me. I'm still working my way through the teas that I've been sent, but overall, so far, I am impressed with their variety and quality. However, I do wonder about the balance of contents, and what kind of tea enthusiast the company will ultimately appeal to. My main interest is in black tea, but only 2 of the 18 types of tea sent out so far are black: one a pure Ceylon, and one a blended and flavoured tea. And a full half of the teas supplied aren't actually Tea (as in Camellia Sinensis), but are actually fruit, herbal, or rooibos tisanes. Overall the three boxes contained: 2 White teas; 3 Green and 1 Matcha Green; 5 Herbal; 1 Oolong; 2 Black; 1 Fruit; and 3 Rooibos. Obviously it's impossible to please everyone, but perhaps Teatourist could look at a more balanced box in terms of content. Or how about an occasional 'theme' box: all flavoured black tea, or all herbal, promoted in advance? (Update: subsequent boxes contained more black teas, and, I would say, an overall better selection.)

I do have a quibble over definition. Teatourist say that they supply 'loose leaf teas', and yet the second box that I received contained teabags. Now, I have nothing against teabags, but I'm getting rather tired of seeing companies market their teabags as containing loose leaf tea. How is it possible to sell loose leaf tea in a bag? Have I somehow seriously misunderstood the concept of loose leaf tea? Surely loose leaf is just that: loose, and therefore not in a teabag, or a tea envelope or any other variation thereon. I wonder if what is meant by companies that market their teabags as containing 'loose leaf' is that they are full leaf, or whole leaf - something that many quality loose leaf teas are. But these terms as not interchangeable. Tea cannot be both 'loose' and bagged at the same time. Bagged teas (caged teas?) cannot be loose-leaf. In this case the teabags are from Hoogly Tea, who say that they are 'tea bags with loose tea inside'. Don't all teabags have loose tea inside? Aren't we all naked, under our clothes? Please, tea companies, stop confusing people and just say what you are actually selling.


I've mentioned the information cards already, and I was impressed with these. They contain everything you need to know, and it was really fun to review and rate each tea with family and friends. They're also useful to keep for reference, to know what to buy again (or avoid!). However, the third box that I received had different  info cards. The space to add your own review notes is gone, and replaced with a pointlessly large pictorial 'tea profile'. This details whether the tea is high, medium, low, or no caffeine. It lists the country or countries that the tea is from. And it adds a big check mark, or tick, and a ridiculous one word note, presumably pointing out - spuriously - what the tea is good for. Matcha? Health. Herbal? Detox. Rooibos? Diet. Come on Teatourist, don't buy into this pseudo-scientific rubbish. I'm happy to know where the tea is from, and how much caffeine it contains. This is interesting and useful, as is the extra info on how best to prepare the tea. But no one needs to know the supposedly magical properties of each tea, so please, stick with the facts! If your concept is a tea adventure then I'd rather hear more about where the tea comes from, its grading, who picks it, how it gets here, and so on. Or just put back the space for comments: it was a really fun part of the tea experience. Clearly this is something that needs a tweak. 

As of March 2017, Teatourist are offering various discount codes for you to buy direct from the companies whose tea they include in their boxes, so that you can explore further, or just drink more of what you love. This is a nice little extra, and I would imagine good for everyone involved.
 
I did find myself wondering if Teatourist has an ethical or environmental policy, about the teas that they supply, or the packaging that they use. Are the tea pouches recyclable? The card boxes are, and maybe they could have a logo on them, indicating this. Could Teatourist look for Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance Certified teas, and specifically include them in its boxes? I'm all for ethical tourism, even if I'm an armchair tourist, and I know I'm not the only one.

So, to sum up:
Nice concept. I've really enjoyed trying such a wide variety of teas, and I like the idea of being surprised by teas that I might not ordinarily have bought. On balance, good value for money, although might not be for you if you just want Tea rather than tea. The design and content could do with a few tweaks.


Discount
Teatourist have given me a special discount code for 30% off your first box when you start a monthly subscription. If you like what you've read here and want to give the tea adventure a try, just remove the default discount at the checkout and apply the code FOXGLOVE30.
I don't get commision for this, it's just a treat for you.

If you've already tried a Teatourist box, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.