Snooty Tea Review: TeaVivre

Tea for Life. That's a hell of a commitment.

Tea for Life. That’s a hell of a commitment.

Today we have another tea haul brought to you by arbitrary Frenchiness. This time it’s TeaVivre, a Chinese company whose tagline is “Tea for Life”, playing on the “vivre” in its name.

They have a fairly good rep on Steepster (where all us Snooty Tea People hang out and talk about you behind your back), and besides, who wouldn’t be tempted by their offer for bloggers to review five free samples of their choice?

Now, let’s see if these leaves have any life to them.

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First up is Lapsang Souchong Smoky Black Tea (Yan Xun Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong).

As mentioned in the black tea post, lapsangs have a predisposition to fishy odor. This one is true to form; in the bag, there’s definitely a pescetatious* smell. I’m a New Yorker with hard-earned Jew cred, which involved its fair share of lox and cream cheese. As a result, I can get into the mood for this tea, but if you don’t like fish, then this ain’t the brew for you. If you’re brave and try it anyway, you’ll be relieved to find that it loses most of that aroma once steeped, getting more into the coppery zone, and subsequent infusions rub it out altogether.

As far as taste goes, well, first impression is that even if the smell is muffled, we’re back to the fish. Really heavily smoked fish. Lapsangs take a certain finesse to prepare in such a way that the first infusion is pure smokey goodness without the salty friend, and this particular cup didn’t reach that ideal state. (Experienced lapsang and pu-erh drinkers, you have my envy and admiration.) But back to the tea: gotta say, it really sits in your mouth trying to convince you that it’s a piece of salmon. Want to talk about mouthfeel? This one  deposits nearly half a cigarette of smoke on your tongue, leaving a furry sensation behind. So yes, there’s a piece of salmon in your mouth and mug, but rest assured that at least it’s high quality salmon, the kind that sells for $25 a pound right next to the foie de canard from Provence.

There’s a possibility that milk could tame this ichythoidian individual, but that’s for you to find out. Lapsangs aren’t usually taken with additions, so proceed at your own risk. I fear that sweetener would create a horrific melange of fishysweet with disastrous consequences.

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Next we have Ripened Aged Loose Pu-Erh.

This one is another fishy contender in the bag, but softer and sweeter about it. The aroma actually softens even more in the cup.

With a liquor as dark as wine, you’d think that the tea would have a similarly intense presence. As it turns out, not so much. It’s an understated fellow, this one. You get a mouth full of smoke that sits even more heavily on the tongue than the Lapsang Souchong, leaving an ashy residue feeling, however it’s not overpowering. This tea could be the shy guy at the corner of the D&D table. His character’s stats aren’t amazing, but he’s got steady luck on the dice, and you aren’t creeped out by his silence–in fact, you’re a little curious if he’s got more to say. For the tea, this means trying out further infusions and seeing how the underlying flavors develop. Admittedly the fishiness is still there on the initial sip, but it doesn’t leave an aftertaste; only the smoke does. This gives us a slow-to-show richness and depth to the tea–meaty, even.

Alright, it’s a steak in a cup. Carnivores, you’ll love this, though vegetarians and vegans might feel a little dirty. (Pretend it’s a tempeh steak, or whatever helps you sleep at night.) I’d hesitate to pair it with any specific food, as it feels like a full meal on its own. Milk might be alright here, but honestly this tea has so much body and thickness that it doesn’t need anything added.

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Now we’ve got Fengqing Dragon Pearl.

The smell of the dry leaves brings to mind the deepest, darkest of woods, the kind you’d find in Redwall when Brian Jacques is really trying to send shivers up your spines. Once steeped, you get more of that sweet loam, but without the dustiness.

Steeping this tea in a large, transparent infuser will show you exactly why they’re called dragon pearls. Each one opens up like a dragon uncurling from its slumber, yawning and stretching and making the same creaky pterodactyl noises that you do in the morning. It;s got the sesame bronziness of most Chinese blacks, with a really sweet aftertaste. The longer it sits, the more profoundly sweet it gets. That’s the beauty of tea–it’s a transient experience. The flavor changes with every sip. This one’s immediate, fresh-poured taste was just a pregame for what develops into a wad of honey sesame sticks crammed into your mouth. A real dessert tea.

Treat this one the way you’d treat port wine and you won’t be sorry. As such, go easy on the sweetener if you must, and a touch of unflavored milk could go a long way. This is an indolent, indulgent dragon.

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Next up is Tie Guan Yin “Iron Goddess.” It’s our third TGY oolong this month, so let’s see how it compares to previous adventures.

Unlike Tealet’s TGY, this one is unroasted, so the smell in the bag is closer to a green tea, vegetal and seaweedy. Once in the cup though, that is some floral right there! It’s a burst of jasmine into your nose hole.

Dry tea is full of lies.

This tricky goddess was just pretending to resemble a green tea, but her charade ended as soon as the hot water hit. Another example of misleading liquors; the delicate, pale yellow color of this tea hides an abundance of flower power. Now we know how the goddess likes to be worshiped: her altar must be strung with pungent garlands and sweet-smelling candles. Luckily, it doesn’t make you choke on the jasmine bouquet, but you still have to look pretty hard for any of the green notes that balance it out.

Serve this tea when you really, really want to impress someone. It’ll sparkle as an addition to a light meal as well. Putting in sweetener may be necessary for those who can’t handle all that flowery action. (Milk? A no-no.)

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Last, we have a nice herbal, Blueberry Fruit.

In the bag, you get a blueberry muffin at your service, or better yet, a blueberry granola bar. The cup takes this and mellows the aroma out even more, bringing in an undertone of raspberry and maybe apple as well, for an earthy kind of fruit tea.

Berry teas especially can be a flavor blast to the mouth, some verging on jam-ish sweetness. This one, however, does well in maintaining its distance. The currant in here serves to hold all the other berries in check, cooling off any tartness that could otherwise show up. You’d probably hit sour if it was oversteeped, of course, but who knows, maybe you like that sort of thing, in which case worry not. If not, stick to the recommended steeping time of 8-9 minutes. This could taste phenomenal as an iced tea as well, with the warm weather at our heels and all.

Sweet tooth and non-sweet tooths alike will enjoy this blend. The former will delight in adding honey or sugar to really kick the fruitiness into blueberry pie territory, while the latter will appreciate a smooth cup that won’t smack you silly with saccharinity.

Verdict time.

Taking a wild guess here: most of you are from the US, which makes the cost of international shipping a little less than worth it. Luckily TeaVivre’s shipping is comparable to other US-based brands, and the wait time isn’t horrendous: 6-10 days, about the same as getting used textbooks from an independent seller on Amazon.

But while this was a most pleasing selection of teas, none of them hit the mark of buy-this-now-or-spend-the-rest-of-your-life-in-the-agony-of-miserable-ignorance. They’re worth a try if you want solid quality tea with no flavor surprises, but though these may be “teas for life,” you’ll be perfectly fine living without them.

Now, go off and vivez:

And while you’re on YouTube, don’t forget to subscribe to the new Snooty Tea channel. You’ll get hipster cred for liking it before it becomes cool.

*New word as of now, because there’s only so many times you can say “fishy.” (Ladies, you’re welcome.)

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