Essencha was the first tea house I reviewed when I first started this blog back in 2009. Partly this is due to proximity, Essencha is 30 minutes from my front door. Partly it’s because I respect what Tracy was trying to do with her shop.
Tracy’s story is a tough one. While going through a particularly difficult period in her life, Tea brought her comfort, focus and solidarity. It was something she could pour her heart into, and something she fell headfirst in love with.
Soon, Tracy opened Essencha, a boutique contemporary tea house in the trendy Cincinnati neighborhood of Oakley. When the shop first opened, Tracy concentrated on running it herself. She hand selected the teas and worked hard to build her business organically.
As the shop grew, so did the selection and the offerings. Essencha now offers more than seventy teas and a seasonal list of comfort choices.The food is often prepared with tea and served in correctly sized portions.
I’ve done a great deal of traveling the past three years, but I haven’t returned to Essencha for another review. Until today.
On my last trip, back in 2009, Essencha fared well, but lost a few points on value. Namely the food seemed more expensive than I felt was worth it. Let’s see how Tracy’s shop does this time around.
When entering the shop the first thing I noticed was that the shop was notably busier than it was a couple years back. Nearly every table was open. People were eating, drinking, working, dating, playing and conversational. It’s relaxed, but not the quiet atmosphere which was almost too quiet last time.
The tea menu was up to date as well. Recent high quality offerings from Kenya I reported on in my coverage of the 2011 World Tea Expo are now offered on the menu and as part of an upcoming tasting event.
The staff remain knowledgeable on their teas and informed of recent changes. Something other shops often seem to lack at times.
Some bubble teas are now offered on the menu with some notable popularity. This may have been to compete with a new bubble tea specialty shop near the University of Cincinnati. Or it could simply be because Tracy found product of high enough quality to offer it in her shop.
Some new food offerings for the day seemed like interesting options. A new Lapsang Souchong infused tomato soup in particular seemed appealing.
Kenyan Tajiri Black Tea
The infusion was aromatic and clean. The bold copper color of the liquor was inviting and full of energy.
The aroma contained some sweetness with honeysuckle and notes of cocoa and a stone fruit such as apricot or peach.
On the tongue the Kenyan plays with some astringency. It’s not overly bold, but comfortably puckery would by the description I would give.
Lapsang Souchong Tomato Soup
After the description from my server, this soup sounded fantastic. Of course, that could be simply because I am a huge fan of lapsang souchong in general.
The soup is served warm. Its aroma is heavy with roasted tomato. There’s only a slight hint of the camp-firey-ness of the lapsang souchong.
On the palate though, this soup has some spiciness. There’s clear notes of the camp-firey goodness of the lapsang once it hits your tongue. There were a few flavors I was unable to identify.
In short, the lapsang makes an already comforting soup into something I would make a trip back to Essencha for.
Ceylon Wijaya Estate Black Tea
This Wijaya is a darker infusion than the Kenyan. The liquor brews the color of a nice dark cherry wood. Inviting and sensual.
The aroma contains leafy notes. Hints of hay and nuttiness. Some hints at a muscatel texture in the aroma are intriguing and exciting.
Once on the palate the Wijaya is lighter and thinner than the Kenyan. It’s softness and lack of astringency is calming. There is a slight drying of the tip of the tongue, but it seems to entice to drink more and not turn you away.
Yunnan Goldtips Supreme Black Tea
Yunnan teas are often some of my favorites. The subtleties hidden in the flavor and aroma take you through the bottom of every cup still following the trail of adventure.
Ever so slightly lighter than the Wijaya, but still darker than the Tajiri. The color reminds me of a nice spiced apple cider. Perfect for a chilly Autumn day.
The aroma of this Yunnan Goldtips is meaty and roasty. There are hints of grilled beef with notes of charcoal and autumnal rain (don’t ask me how I caught that one).
The flavor profile is nice and varied. Notes similar to a lapsang roastiness with the more earthy texture of a Pu’erh are front and center. Hints of cocoa and fig are notable with a fresh floral tone in the finish.
Organic Keemun Breakfast Black Tea
Keemun’s are some of the the more nuanced Chinese black teas. There’s a lot to love about Keemun’s, and this one didn’t disappoint.
This Keemun Breakfast is clearer than the previous three teas. A nice red amber to pull you into the experience.
The aroma contains notes of chocolate with a very light roasted scent and a smooth impression of nuttiness. There’s a hint of baked apples.
The mouth feel is smooth. There’s the slightest of astringency in the finish. The same notes of chocolate and roasted flavors come through in each sip. The hint of baked apple recedes as the liquor lingers in the mouth.
Organic Pu’erh Preferred
With this Organic Pu’erh the server brought out a nice gaiwan set with a pitcher of water, a sand timer (three minutes) and an assortment of other tools.
Pu’erhs are always interesting to have while out at a tea house because the preparation can be so diverse. Some pu’erh fans prefer shorter steep times. 15 to 30 seconds per round perhaps. Essencha’s house recommended timing is three to five minutes, which is what I went with for this review.
The loose aroma from the pre-steep (ten seconds for wash) was deep and earthy. Hints of a fish scent on the top with a mossy finish were intriguing.
The liquor was prototypical pu’erh. Nice and deep. Near opaque.
The brewed aroma was very smooth. A touch of chocolate, hints of a deep mossy fragrance and just a touch of floral undertones were a few things I caught.
The mouth feel has a smooth finish with some initial astringency. The flavors range from a grilled fish to a smooth mossy flavor. There’s a touch of chocolate in the finish.
The service, atmosphere and product remain high quality at Essencha. The staff remains very knowledgeable on their offerings and enthusiastic as they go about their business, and it shows.
The food shows marked improvement. The portion sizes seem a bit more appropriate than a few years ago and the quality remains high.
With this updated review Essencha is one of the best tea experiences I have had anywhere in the country to date. Congrats to Tracy on the fantastic shop she has going here in our home town.
And here are a couple Instagram shots.