Tea: Random Flavours Part 2 (review)

Time to review more random tea flavours! These are some other T2 teas I’ve tried (some as free samples and some as purchases).

T2 Tutti Fruity
Sweet and similar in taste to some of T2’s other berry teas, but slightly more tart (a little too tart for me until I added half a teaspoon of sugar), and you can taste the hint of pineapple. At $10 for 20 grams, it’s not good value for money, even if it does come in a cute pineapple box. At the time of writing it’s no longer available. Contains apple, pineapple, hibiscus, rosehip shells, melon pieces, artificial flavouring, papaya, kiwi, cranberries, orange peel, coconut flakes, marigold petals, cornflower petals and safflower petals.

T2 Red Choc Mint
This one had a strong peppermint flavour and aftertaste. The Rooibos also shows through, but I couldn’t really taste any chocolate. I didn’t mind it, but I don’t think I’d buy it. Contains rooibos, cocoa husks and artificial flavouring.

T2 Choc Molten Marvel
Based on the reviews on the site saying it tasted like Baileys (one of the few alcoholic drinks I enjoy), I bought a tin of this, expecting to love it. It had a rich, strong scent of coffee laced with chocolate, but unfortunately none of this flavour came through in the brewed tea. I tried it both with and without milk, but in both cases it mostly just had the wet-leaves taste of straight black tea with a hint of something else indiscernible. This is no longer sold on their site but some stores still have it on their shelves. Contains cocoa nibs, black tea, carob, chocolate flakes, chicory root, rooibos, cocoa husks and natural flavouring.

T2 Caramel Brownie
I picked up a sample of this one when I got my Famous Fruits box. When I smelled it in the store, it smelled just like a caramel brownie. Brewed straight, it has a strong choc-caramel aroma but mostly tastes like black tea. However with milk and a little sugar added, the creamy caramel flavour emerged. I liked it so much I immediately ordered a box. Contains black tea, cocoa husks, chocolate drops, carob, caramel pieces and artificial flavouring.

T2 Auckland Breakfast
Another sample I picked up out of curiosity, since I wouldn’t be able to buy more if I liked it; this flavour has apparently been discontinued so once the current stocks are sold, it’s not coming back. Brewed, it tastes like regular black tea, though with a hint of sweetness. With milk added, a very faint fruity flavour emerges, but it’s not strong enough to recognise it as kiwi. I enjoyed it, but it doesn’t really stand out from regular black tea. Contains black tea, kiwi fruit pieces and artificial flavour.

That’s it for another tea review post. I still have plenty more flavours in my collection so stay tuned for more tea reviews on my blog.

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The Unprecedented Discovery of the Dragon Islands – John Kelly and Kate Scarborough (review)

Publisher: Reed Books

Publication year: 1997

Format: Hardcover, 43 pages (illustrated)

ISBN: 0-600-58966-8

This book was given to me by a friend who was downsizing their book collection and thought I’d be interested in it, based on my obsession with dragons. A foreword explains that this book is a reproduction of a journal kept by Lord Nathanial Parker, a British explorer who documented his discovery of the Dragon Islands after his crew’s damaged ship washed up on their shores.

The bulk of the book consists of full colour pages, illustrated and accompanied by handwritten notes. The daily journal entries describe the adventures of expedition leader Parker and his men on the island as they try to repair their ship and find fresh food and water in the meantime. While on the island, the crew find a number of strange plants and insects and creatures thought to be legend, such as dragons, griffins and unicorns… but not all of these beasts are friendly. There are a variety of drawings in different art styles and of different subjects, from painted images of the terrain to monochrome sketches of the flora and fauna found on the island. Several creatures are depicted with full anatomical diagrams like you might find in a biology textbook.

I loved how this book was structured and designed to look like a real explorer’s journal, and the postscript explaining that the journal abruptly ends at that point and the remains of it were never recovered adds more mystery to the story, with Parker sadly being ridiculed by academic circles when he tried to present his discoveries on the island. The drawings captured the sense of wonder any of us would feel when exploring a new land and each of the creatures were drawn in a style that changed things up a bit from the standard dragons and unicorns we’re used to seeing. While the calligraphic handwriting style helped evoke a sense of authenticity, I did feel like it might be difficult to read for some children (especially as some of the annotations are in quite a small font), so if you’re buying this book for a younger child, keep in mind you will probably need to read at least some of it with them. That being said, if your child loves dragons and fantasy or has any interest in nature, this would be a wonderful book for you to read together.

Score:

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Tea: Random Flavours Part 1 (review)

My tea-drinking adventures continue! While I’ve been trying to review packs of tea in their own posts (discussing each flavour included in the pack), I also like trying individual flavours when I get the chance. I figured that I’d be able to cobble together a few more review posts whenever I have some new teas to talk about, so I’ll start with some of the teas I got from The Tea Centre when I caught up with some friends in the city a couple of weeks ago.

TTC Vanilla
When my friend and I smelled a sample of this in the store, both of us loved how the vanilla scent lingered. The vanilla flavour in the brewed tea is quite subtle, complimented by the coppery black tea flavour. It does leave a nice vanilla aftertaste though. Contains black tea, vanilla bean pieces and flavouring.

TTC Royal Ritz
I can taste the apricot more than I can taste vanilla or caramel. Still quite nice and not as ‘harsh’ as straight black tea. This one goes well with or without milk (I find milk brings out the creamy vanilla flavour more). Contains black tea, caramel, vanilla, apricot, cornflowers, calendula flowers and flavouring.

TTC Autumn Spice
With its orange and cinnamon aroma in its dry form, I knew I’d like this one. The taste of it when brewed reminds me of my Nan’s Christmas fruit cake. A brighter, more coppery flavour than straight black tea, with the cinnamon and orange adding a lovely richness to it. You could probably have it with milk but I enjoyed it without. Contains black tea, orange peel, apple flavour, rose flowers, cinnamon, cloves and flavouring.

TTC Stockholm Blend
This tea was recommended by my friend who I went tea shopping with, so I was looking forward to trying it. In its loose leaf form it has a lovely rose and vanilla aroma. Brewed, it has a bright, fruity and floral flavour (I had it with milk to bring out the subtle fruit flavours a little more but it’s also nice to have it straight). Definitely a favourite. Contains black tea, orange peel, safflowers, calendula blossoms, rose petals, vanilla, apricot and flavouring.

TTC Turkish Delight
In its dry form, this smells just like real Turkish Delight. It has a delicate rose aroma (as one would expect) when brewed straight. Milk adds a slight creamy flavour to it. Very nice. Contains black tea, vanilla, rose petals and flavouring.

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The Devil’s Apprentice – Jan Siegel (review)

Publisher: Ravenstone

Publication year: 2013

Format: Paperback, 319 pages

ISBN: 978-1-78108-147-1

In present day London, 13-year-old Pen Tudor, an aspiring lawyer, has inherited a job as caretaker for 7 Temporal Crescent, a mysterious house with no doors, which can only be accessed from the lodge next door. The house’s previous caretaker, Mr Pyewackett, passed away seven years earlier… But that hasn’t stopped him from hanging around to make sure the house has a guardian until the house’s true owner, Bartlemy Goodman, can be found. Pyewackett’s lawyers have been unable to track him down in all this time, so it’s up to Pen to continue the search once Mr Pyewackett properly carks it.

Pen is told from the outset that entering the house next door would be extremely dangerous and that she must never do so… So naturally she does as soon as she gets half a chance. Upon entering Number 7, she discovers that the house is full of doors leading to various places and times throughout history and myth, but she has to be careful, as if anyone strays too far into one of these portals, they forget who they really are and become absorbed into that place and time. During the course of the story, two other teenagers show up, also looking for Bartlemy Goodman: Gavin Lester, a young chef who believes Goodman can help him become a master at his craft, and Jinx, a witch who views Goodman as a sort of mentor.

Meanwhile, Azmordis, also known as Satan, has come to realise that his immortality is fading and that soon his time will run out. But before he sleeps forever, another must be found to take over as the Lord of Hell. Scattered throughout the times and places in the house with no doors are various young people being honed by frightening trials to shape them into potential successors for the devil.

After reading Siegel’s Fern Capel trilogy, I had high hopes for this book. In fact, there are a few references to characters from those books that indicate The Devil’s Apprentice is set in the same universe. I liked the three main characters from the present day, as well as Ghost, a young boy struggling to survive and keep his gang alive in Victorian London at the height of the plague. I normally find stories that keep switching between different times to be a little tedious (it’s not that I get confused, just annoyed that I’ll be getting invested in one lot of characters only to suddenly be dragged away to another), but I felt that the mechanic worked well in this book. I also thought it was well-written, with a good balance between witty humour and darker, more serious sections.

Though I liked this book for the most part, I did still have a few issues with it. For one, I felt at times as though the story didn’t know whether it wanted to be aimed at children or young adults. In later sections of the book, some pretty nasty things happen and the characters involved are traumatised by it, as one would expect. Yet in the early chapters, Pen is introduced to Mr Pyewackett, who by this point is little more than a talking corpse with bits falling off him, but aside from being disgusted by the thought of biscuits making their way through his digestive system (or lack thereof), she doesn’t seem overly phased (whereas most people, whether children or adults, would be decidedly Not Okay with the prospect of encountering a living corpse, much less having a conversation with one). If it were in a world where bizarre things were established as being ‘normal’ it might have made sense, but up until this point, Pen has prided herself in not believe in fantasy or magic or having any interest in the paranormal. For children’s books, anything goes, but for YA I felt that some of the characters’ reactions to things were a bit… unrealistic.

On that note, Pen’s grandmother doesn’t seem to care or do much about the kids being in danger. In spite of being Pen’s sole guardian (aside from a butler who lives in the lodge they’ve inherited), she seems to be largely absent for much of the story, often being out doing shopping or running other mundane errands and leaving 13-year-old Pen and her friends to their own devices. At one point, a character is killed in front of Pen, Gavin and Jinx, and instead of becoming overly protective and wanting to stick around to make sure the teenagers are okay (as one would imagine most grandparents would), Grandma is content enough to just go off to work afterwards.

I also felt in general that it took a long time for the story to get going, and when it finally did, it just sort of fizzled off. The blurb makes a big deal of the Devil looking for a successor to take over, but it doesn’t really become a big thing in the story until the last third or quarter of the book. Much of the story just focuses on the three main characters exploring the various doors in the house, with occasional side-trips to Ghost in the 17th century and Satan in Infernale, musing about his impending retirement. I did love these other settings, and the richness of their descriptions. But to me it seemed that a lot of the time spent in these settings was more for ‘decoration’ and didn’t really move the story forward. I was also pretty disappointed in the ending.

<The next paragraph contains spoilers.>

Late in the story, the main characters realise they need to try to save the other young people trapped in the different realms and try to prevent them from turning into the next ruler of darkness. Though they come across a few of these potential candidates, the only one they manage to bring out into the present day is Ghost, but of course the Devil doesn’t want to let a possible successor get away. However, instead of an exciting face-off between the protagonists and the Devil, all we get is one of his ‘henchmen’, who shows up and demands the three main characters hand Ghost over to him. After a tense stand-off, the wizard Bartlemy Goodman – whom Pen had managed to find in one of the doorway realms not long before – shows up and tells this henchman to sod off, and then the story ends with Satan contemplating the future and the main characters sitting in the house eating biscuits. It just felt like the ‘climactic’ moment of the story essentially boiled down to, “Give me the boy.” “No.” “Okay.”

<End Spoilers>

While not every book needs to have an explosive, action-packed showdown between the good guys and the bad guys, I felt like the final confrontation didn’t really live up to the potential of the story that had been building – albeit slowly – until that point.

Though there could feasibly be a sequel (based on a few things that were left open in the story), the ending seemed to indicate that that was it. I did a brief search to try to see if there was another book in the series to come, but at the time of writing this review, I was unable to find anything about it on the author’s or the publisher’s site (the author’s site didn’t even mention this book, and the links to her blog are broken). Given this was published in 2013, I would have imagined there’d be some mention online somewhere of a sequel, if it existed or was planned.

While I enjoyed most aspects of The Devil’s Apprentice, the slow pace and lackluster ending were disappointing; it was an intriguing concept, but could have been executed better. I’d probably be interested in reading the next book in the series – if indeed one ever comes out – but I would hope it picked up speed substantially from the first book.

Score:

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The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern (review)

Publisher: Vintage

Publication year: 2011

Format: Paperback, 490 pages

ISBN: 978-0-099-55479-0

Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair are magicians, trained from early childhood to be combatants in a duel to settle a wager between their mysterious instructors. They are raised separately, knowing only that they have an opponent but not who their opponent is, and both eventually find themselves working in Le Cirque des Rêves (the Circus of Dreams). This Circus is only open at night and contains wonders no one has ever seen before; gardens made of ice, mazes made of clouds and performers whose skills far outclass those in ordinary circuses. Over the years, the Circus gathers a devout following of dreamers (rêveurs), including Bailey, a farm boy who strikes up a friendship with Poppet and Widget, twin children who were born on the circus’s opening night to one of the performers and have developed their own unique powers.

Marco – whose training focuses on glyphs and spells – is the assistant to the Circus’s producer, while Celia performs as an illusionist, with most of the audience being unaware that what she performs are true acts of transformation rather than simply visual tricks. In spite of the fact they are enemies, the two fall in love, but only one can be left standing once their duel concludes. All the while, some of the performers in the Circus begin to realise that forces beyond their understanding are manipulating the Circus, with tragic consequences befalling anyone who tries to uncover the truth.

When I started reading The Night Circus, I immediately got a sense of Something Wicked This Way Comes crossed with The Illusionist. It’s written in present tense, a style I don’t normally like, but I thought that it suited this story. I loved the concept of the Circus itself, a place where the impossible became possible and where the line between magic and reality became blurred, and I almost felt like I could see those black and white circus tents setting up in a grassy field, appearing mysteriously between night and morning.

The prose in this book is gorgeous, painting the settings with a dreamlike quality and evoking the scents of caramel and smoke that it describes. On the other hand, if you don’t like overly descriptive writing, this book is not for you. Even though I do enjoy such writing, I still felt like it could have spent less time telling me every aspect of the characters’ clothing or whatever and let me imagine some of it for myself.

However, a compelling setting still needs compelling characters, and I didn’t really find many in this story. The two instructors, Prospero the Enchanter and Mr A. H—, seem psychotic at times in how they treat their protegees while grooming them to win their wager, but very little motivation is given for what they get out of it or why they are doing this in the first place, aside from a vague ‘two schools of thought on magical training’ suggestion that you’d miss if you blinked. Celia and Marco – the two main characters – seem to fall in love Because The Author Needs Them To rather than because of any actual attraction between the two; we are told that their love is supposed to be deep and all-consuming but there’s hardly any build-up or chemistry between the characters, who both seem more like cardboard cutouts than people with personalities. The only characters whose welfare I was really interested in were Bailey and the twins, but in general, there was a real lack of character development through the story.

Also, a lot of the premises set up in the beginning of the book either feel flat or didn’t seem to happen at all. All through the book, we are told that there will be some epic showdown or fierce between the two main characters, but for the most part, all they really do is dance around each other and create new magical tents for each other in the Circus; more collaboration than competition. The characters keep referring to their ‘training’ but much of their education seems haphazard and experimental, with no clear purpose in sight.

<The next paragraph contains some pretty big spoilers, so if you haven’t read this book yet but you’re still planning to, you should probably close this post.>

As I mentioned earlier, the contest between the two ends when only one of the participants is left standing. You would think this would add a sense of urgency or high stakes to the situation, but because of how vaguely it is all explained (the characters don’t even find out that one of the participants essentially has to die until about 4/5ths through the book), it was hard to feel overly worried or concerned for them (especially in light of their aforementioned lack of chemistry). There appears to be no ‘expiry date’ for the competition either; just ‘it ends when one is the victor’. This made the ending seem even more ridiculous to me as <end plot spoilers here, so definitely stop reading if you still haven’t read the book> another character (Tsukiko) is revealed to have been a previous victor in the same sort of wager between Prospero and Mr. A. H—, and her battle lasted thirty-seven years before the other contestant – who had fallen in love with her – ended her own life to save her. As Celia is integral in holding the magical fabric of the Circus together, Tsukiko decides that it is more important for Celia to live and that Marco should die, and Marco readily agrees. Instead, Celia rips herself and Marco from reality and binds their spirits to the Circus, so that the Circus will not fall apart or be damaged by their contest anymore but they can continue to ‘haunt’ it together. But there seemed to be no good reason for why the two combatants couldn’t just draw it out indefinitely until they died of old age, instead of either deciding to sacrifice their own life so the other would win and survive.

<End Spoilers>

Overall, even though the build-up to the finale took most of the two lead characters’ lives, it still felt anti-climactic. I did like how the story wrapped up afterwards, but I felt like it took too long to get there.

I really wanted to love this book, but even though the lush settings initially drew me in, the plot and characters just didn’t deliver. I still feel like it’s worth reading this book for the beautiful prose, but unfortunately for me, the story itself fell flat.

Score:

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Tea: T2 Famous Fruits (review)

As I mentioned in my last post, I became the proud owner of a box of T2 fruit tisanes at the start of this month. Since I’m always looking for ways to avoid doing what I should be doing (ie. research), I thought I’d review all the different teas I got in the Famous Fruits box.

I’ve been working my way through these for the last few weeks, making notes for each flavour, so now I can give a rundown on all the Famous Fruits T2 box. As these are all fruit-based teas, I didn’t add milk to any of them, but for some of them I added up to a teaspoon of sugar. Also, these are all loose leaf teas.

Apple Crumble
With apple, chicory root, almonds, hazelnut brittle and cinnamon, this one smelled just like its namesake. Unfortunately I found the flavour to be quite bland, with no real hint of any of the ingredients to be tasted.

Chilli Berry Boom
A subtle berry flavour with a not-so-subtle chilli aftertaste. I quite liked this one, though I ended up needing to add a teaspoon of sugar to knock down the chilly a bit. It’d be a nice fruity tea to have on a cold evening. Ingredients include apple, hibiscus, beetroot, chilli, pink pepper, sweet blackberry leaves, strawberries, cranberries, cornflower petals and safflower petals.

Fruitalicious
This one was more fruity and less tangy than Chilli Berry. Though it had a lot of varieties of fruit (apple, dragon fruit, goji berries, choke berries, papaya, sea buckthorn berries, kiwi fruit, blueberries and pineapple bits), I couldn’t really taste any specific fruit, just an overall fruity flavour. Still nice.

Mangoes & Cream
Definite mangoes and cream aroma, though the taste is just straight up mangoes, even though it also contains apple, white hibiscus and coconut. It was also quite tart, but sweet enough for me once I added a teaspoon of sugar.

Packs a Peach
A few years ago, the Body Shop released a shower gel called Vineyard Peach, which I loved. This tea smells exactly like that, but unlike a lot of the other teas I’ve tried so far (which have a vague fruity flavour but often don’t taste much like their namesake), this tastes just like peaches. Though tart, it was drinkable enough without sugar, but adding half a teaspoon made it one of my favourite teas in the box. Contains apple, white hibiscus, papaya cubes, sweet blackberry leaves, peach, chicory root and marigold petals.

Pumping Pomegranate
This tea contains apple, hibiscus, rosehip, pomegranate petals and safflower petals. A sweet berry flavour offset by a slight tartness. This was another of my favourites from the box.

Southern Sunrise
I was hoping this one (with apple, white hibiscus, apple pomace, sweet blackberry leaves, lemongrass and grapefruit peel) would have a sunny tropical flavour. Unfortunately it basically just tastes like Lemsip. Not bad (those lemon drinks are alright when you’ve got a cold or flu) but also nothing special. I added a tiny bit of honey when I was half way through drinking it and that made it a little sweeter, so if I had it again, I’d put some honey in at the start.

Strawberries & Cream
This one did have a lovely strawberries and cream smell in its loose leaf form. However, the cream did not translate into the taste. I was expecting it to taste like the other berry teas with a more milky or creamy flavour but it was actually quite tart, bordering on sour. It was alright with a teaspoon of sugar but not one of my favourites. Ingredients include apple, hibiscus, rosehip, strawberries, sweet blackberry leaves and yoghurt bits.

Twinkle Berry
With apple, hibiscus, raspberry, beetroot, safflower petals and cornflower petals, this one had a definite berry scent and a pronounced strawberry flavour, sweet and slightly tangy. Another favourite.

Very Berry Fruitea
Similar to Twinkle Berry, this one has more of a blueberry and raspberry scent, though it still tastes like strawberries with a hint of apple. It was a little tart but nice with half a teaspoon of sugar. Contains hibiscus, rosehip, elderberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries.

Thus concludes my review of T2’s Famous Fruit’s tisane box. I’d recommend picking one up if you want to get into fruit-flavoured teas but can’t decide what to try first. My personal favourites were Twinkle Berry, Packs a Peach and Pumping Pomegranate, so I’ll be ordering a box of at least one of those in the near future.

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A Tea-Drinking Odyssey

Tea is something I’ve never really understood. To me it always just tasted like hot water and wet leaves, and even when a relative (probably either my Nan or my Dad) gave me some with milk, I still couldn’t see the appeal, especially since it seemed to have less caffeine than coffee (which I also can’t stand) and energy drinks (which I probably drink too many of). This makes a lot of social functions rather annoying, as the drinks on offer are usually coffee, tea or nothing.

Early in December while doing some Christmas shopping, I unexpectedly bumped into an old friend who I had kept in touch with sporadically online but had not actually seen in person for several years, so we decided to wander around the shopping centre together. During our impromptu shopping trip, she wanted to go into T2 Tea, and when I expressed my bewilderment at the concept of tea in general, she insisted that I “just needed to find the right tea” and bought me a box of assorted fruit-flavoured teas (they’re called “tisanes”, I have been informed) to try. She is British, after all, so I guess the thought of being friends with someone who doesn’t drink tea was a moral boundary she was just not prepared to cross. I figured that fruit flavours would be a good place to start since I like fruit in general, and it wouldn’t be as tart as straight black teas.

Since the tea she got me was loose leaf I bought an infuser (but seriously, why didn’t we call these ‘tea maces’ instead?) with a green toucan on it. I also bought a little tea pot set with peacocks on it, because once I saw it, I loved it. Even if I end up never drinking tea again, it’s a beautiful thing to have on display.

This post was kind of a show-and-tell more than anything, because I love my gold and glass peacock teapot and teacup set, but in future posts I’ll ‘review’ (as much as a person can review something while being clueless about it) my fruit teas as well as any other teas I end up trying. My book blog seems like a good home for such posts, since drinking tea is often done in tandem with reading books.

So, if you want to come along on a tea-drinking odyssey with an idiot who knows nothing about tea, keep an eye on this blog!

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