I like the Tea Sparrow concept: premium loose-leaf teas, carefully selected from various sources, are shipped to your door each month, allowing you to taste varieties that you would perhaps otherwise never sample. Since Tea Sparrow does not sell the tea, they can independently select those teas which they deem truly special, thus garnering exposure for small producers or blenders, whilst sharing the teas they love with subscribers. The price per subscription, ($20 per month) may seem a bit steep at first…however, these are premium teas, and the quantity of tea in each packet shipped is enough to allow several cups to be brewed (at least 5 cups, I’d say). Since you will be getting four different sorts of tea, that adds up to at least twenty cups, which is $1 per cup. I’d recommend that, if you would like to reduce costs and share your experience, you split your subscription with a like-minded pal.
My First Eight Tea Sparrow Selections:
Milk Oolong: Although this was definitely an oolong, and smelled deliciously sweet, it was curiously listed as a green tea, and, on top of all of this, was not a Milky Oolong (though I think that it was striving for that), as it was made by steaming the tea leaves with milk. This was most evident in the mouthfeel of the tea, which was not creamy, as is true milky oolong. It is described on Tea Sparrow as a Formosa Oolong…however, Formosa is a general name for tea from Taiwan, and thus, is not particularly descriptive. Its usage stems from the historical Portuguese name for Taiwan, Ilha Formosa or “Beautiful Island”. This tea is available through Aromatica, a BC-based shop which, a bit curiously, sells fine teas and soap. ‘What is the relationship between soap and tea?’, you might ask. Well, they use green tea to make their soap since it is good for the skin. To Aromatica’s credit, they do specify that the tea is “not classic Milk Oolong”.
Lemon Zest: Though I did not find this tea to be especially lemony, I did appreciate the particularly fragrant flavour supplied, I believe, by the honeybush it contains…it reminded me of a tea that I’d tried previously. I’m not sure if I’d like to order this tea, or just look for some honeybush leaves, or be on the lookout for other teas containing honeybush. Lemon Zest is available through Joy’s Teaspoon, a Chicago-based company which sells both teas and spices. Their website emphasizes their commitment to the environment, and they do offer some organic and/or fair-trade products.
Cali Persian Organic: A spiced black and green tea blend. The description of this tea given on Tea Sparrow was copied directly from the seller’s website, which I think is a bit sloppy. Anyhow, on to the tea… The spices are very strong- perhaps too much so! The cardamom is especially potent. Other ingredients include rose petals, orange peel, bergamot oil, rose flavour, and jasmine flowers. I think that, since I have access to all of the ingredients, I’d prefer to blend a similar tea myself, so that I could adjust the ingredients to fit my taste. This tea is available through Samovar, a tea lounge in San Francisco. Though visually impressed by their website, I don’t think that I’ll be ordering any tea from them, as prices are a little steep. It is also unfortunate that they don’t sell their teas in smaller quantities.
Blueberry Rooibos: I do like rooibos, but I’ve never really been a rooibos lover- this blend, however, was really nice and fruity, and was a beautiful colour as well. It has made me reconsider my opinion of rooibos a bit, and has also made me consider getting my hands on this blend…if the shipping is not exorbitant, that is. In addition to rooibos, it contains blueberries (surprise!), schizandra berries, hibiscus, and natural blueberry and strawberry flavours. I don’t remember ever hearing about schizandra (aka ‘five flavour’) berries before, but they seem to be rather interesting fruits. Not only do they contain the five basic flavours (salty, sweet, sour, pungent, and bitter), hence their name, but they can also apparently ‘reduce hunger, thirst and exhaustion’. The basis of the next energy drink craze, perhaps? In any case, Blueberry Rooibos is available through Rishi Tea, a Milwaukee-based outfit. They specialize in fair-trade and organic teas, and seem reasonably priced.
Champagne White tea : (this is classified as a green tea…I’m not sure why tea sparrow seems to make such mistakes so often?) I guess they got the champagne moniker from the use of currants? Otherwise I don’t see many similarities between this tea and champagne. That said, I’ve never been a white tea fan, but this tea is very nice. It’s quite fruity without being overly acidic, and thus is very drinkable. Besides white tea, it contains black and white currants, lemon balm, lemongrass, cornflower, and sunflower petals. It’s available through Tea Desire, yet another BC-based company.
Buddah Bamboo: I’m not sure whether the bamboo leaves add much (or anything) to the flavour of this tea, which I find to be dominated by the lemongrass, with perhaps some fruity notes (though I think that, in a blind taste test, I would be hard-pressed to pick those out). The tea sparrow description of currant-strawberry-vanilla definitely does not ring true for me. This tea is also available through Tea Desire.
Coconut Milky Oolong: The coconut doesn’t add much to the equation, here, but what’s evident is that this is a true milky oolong, complete with the requisite creamy flavour. If you are a coconut fan, I would recommend perhaps mixing the tea with some coconut milk, as the coconut flavour is almost undetectable. This tea is available through The Tea Spot, a Colorado-based company which sells tea as well as some interesting ‘steepware’ products.
Thé des Lords: A very bergamot-y Earl Grey. The safflower petals seem there just to add a bit of colour. This tea is sold by Le Palais des Thés, a Parisian tea company. On their website they emphasize the importance of their relationship with their suppliers, as well as their ethically minded tea purchasing policy.
Well, that’s it for Tea Time today. Until next time…