Recently, I learned that a college friend, Matt Kitchen, started Tea Setter. His venture is pretty darn cool and something I think you all would love, so I wanted to publish a little review about it. But, since I'm not an expert when it comes to drinking tea, I decided to turn to my brother-in-law who could probably add "tea expert" to his resume since he's researched it so much. 😉
Meet my brother-in-law, Joel. He's a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin, currently residing in Boise, ID where his wife is an audiologist. He received a complimentary deluxe starter tea set from Matt for review. Although he received this product for free, the review he wrote is completely honest and his own opinion. Trust me, Joel is a picky one with refined taste. So, if he likes something, then that means it's of great quality.
Read below for Joel's review of Tea Setter and an online code for a special discount just for my readers:
My wife recently visited her brother in China. Before leaving she asked if there was anything I wanted. “Pu’erh” (pronounced “poo-air” or “poo-are”). That’s the only thing that came to mind. If she had gone to France or Germany I would have asked for wine. But she was going to China. Pu’erh is China’s version of fine wine: it is fermented, comes in many varieties, can be lower priced or very expensive, its labels often detail distinct geographical regions, and it can age a very long time.
One of the problems with having a fondness for Pu’erh right now is that, unlike European wine, there is no American apparatus currently in place for selecting the right quality and flavor profile you want. And yes, it matters immensely. In some cases (as my wife likes to say) the “poo” in “poo-air” tends to be emphasized. Some you’ll hate. Others will taste like nothing else in the world. When we lived in Madison, WI a tea store owner there helped me find exactly what I wanted.
Now I’m in Boise, ID and haven’t yet found a helpful substitute.
This is where websites such as Tea Setter come into play. Tea Setter specializes in Chinese tea, both Pu’erh and Oolong. And because the site specializes in these teas, the selection is more curated. The last time I tried a few Oolongs I wasn’t crazy about it, but two of the Oolongs from Tea Setter’s Deluxe Tea Starter were so nice that I wanted to try more. One of the Pu’erhs was perhaps the most pleasant of the “cooked” style I’ve ever had.
What I appreciated most about the start set, however, was how simple and complete it made the process for enjoying these more specialized teas. Both Pu’erh and Oolong benefit from steeping and drinking in a traditional Chinese manner, which sounds intimidating at first; but the set includes literally everything you’ll ever need: a teapot, gaiwan (Chinese steeper), a metal strainer, two tea cups, and bamboo tray--and six 8 gram sample packs of Pu’erh and Oolong to get things started. I had accrued all of these items over the past few years, but the set’s simplicity and harmonious setup on a single tray made it extremely convenient. After experimenting with the setup for a few weeks I found myself favoring the tray and its apparatuses over my own, simply because it made things very easy and convenient.
The picture above shows the first pour of the Ethical Agriculture’s Wild Grown Pu-erh. I let it steep about 20 seconds (a first Chinese steep is around 15 seconds). As you can see, Pu’erh will darken a cup rather quickly even though it is technically a green tea. Short steeps bring out the sweeter notes. This one was floral with a hint of sweetness, almost like honeysuckle. Most importantly for me, it was not overwhelmed by that intense smoky aftertaste that overwhelms some cooked Pu’erhs.
But the real surprise for me was the Iron Goddess High Grade Oolong. I steeped it the same as the Pu’erhs, only at a slightly lower temperature, and with each additional steep it became fuller and sweeter in profile, both subtle and very pleasant to drink. This was the Oolong that made me realize I had not explored this style enough. It pours almost like a white tea, but has a fuller body and (for me at least) more flavor.
If you are curious about either of these Chinese styles of tea, or already like them and want more, my experience with the Tea Setter is that their Oolongs and Pu’erhs are consistent. And the Deluxe Set offers a surprisingly effective setup for doing things right (I would at least make sure to have substitutes for everything included in the set). I am encouraged to see websites like this spring up because it shows that Americans are ready for more esoteric tea drinking. Perhaps one day soon I’ll visit a friend’s house and they will offer not only green or black tea, but also Pu’erh, traditionally steeped.
Thanks, Joel, for guest posting and sharing your experience with Tea Setter! So glad you enjoyed it!
Special Offer for Seeded at the Table Readers:
You can purchase this same Deluxe Starter Tea Set for $10 off the original price, plus free shipping by using coupon code SeededSet10 at checkout. And, receive 10% off any of the tea at TeaSetter.com using coupon code SeededTea10. Both offers expire August 30, 2013, so hurry on over!
Full Disclosure: This is not a sponsored review. I did not receive any compensation or free product for publishing this post. Joel, the reviewer, did receive the Deluxe Starter Tea Set for free to review, but the opinions expressed are completely his own.