9 Tasting Notes
I came into a crapload of this tea in Fall 2012, the week it was getting discontinued by Teavana. Despite my reservations about the company, I was more than happy to accept the free Wudong-shan Dancong which seemed to have nothing wrong with it other than being $12 an ounce. I brewed it a few times in a gaiwan last year, but mostly forgot about it until a friend gave me my first Yixing pot a few weeks ago. I decided to pair it with this tea, using the opportunity to hopefully move beyond my noob status concerning both Yixing and Dancongs.
This was my fourth session with this pairing. I covered the bottom of the 190 mL pot with leaves, then shoved in almost the same amount once again. (I wanted to avoid ending up with weak-tasting liquor like I had in my previous sessions—it’s a bit hard to gauge how much tea to use with the dry leaf being so long and flat.) After a rinse I went through 8 steeps, with the second being the most heavily-perfumed for some reason. All throughout there was an inviting toastiness, and a light body with no noticeable astringency. The floral notes came and went unpredictably, sometimes lingering in the fairness pitcher, at other times appearing in the first sip of a cup. But they were mostly weak or absent throughout this session.
Perhaps my pot is actually inappropriate for this tea, or maybe the clay is still taking more than it’s giving. Next time around, I’m not gonna hold back at all on the leaves, because even with the pot being about a 10th full of leaves, I didn’t get much of what I expected.
When brewed right, these tiny, fuzzy, tender leaves work wonders. When brewed wrong, you’ll be lucky if the liquor merely turned out insipid: oversteeped biluochun takes on the taste and feeling of rubber bands. I got through the majority of my bag making it various degrees of Wrong before the tea gods blessed me with a ~20oz pot of ambrosia. I was completely winging it, turning off the kettle when it felt right and counting off 40 sec before starting the pour from the pot, which I’d left unlidded this time. I have a kyusu, a gaiwan and a Korean infuser mug—which can all pour much faster than this ungainly 32oz pot that drains slower than glaciers do—but past attempts to strictly control all the parameters ended up failing anyways. So imagine my surprise when the mug touched my lips and the liquid poured in as a sweet, gentle caress. It had an amiable sweetness and an airy lightness. The fragrance was fruity (specifically like honeydew, if you want my subjective, unreliable observation), which is a quality I find a lot more pleasant than the grassy or floral notes from other greens or green oolongs.
I got this during CTG’s going out of business sale in summer. I’ve only started brewing it lately and I don’t know what went wrong but it has hardly any aroma whatsoever. Perhaps when I opened the bag upon receiving it, I didn’t close it back properly, and these loose leaves got aired out to the point of tastelessness. Perhaps this was old stock held too long by either Tony or David Lee Hoffman. Perhaps I need to change my water filter. In any case, brewed in a gaiwan, this yields a dark, silky smooth liquor, with a faint smell of wet autumn leaves. But that’s it. It’s far too faint. I’m constantly reminded of a public bath house for some reason, from a long-ago visit to Korea in my childhood. I wonder why. After my sixth steep I start to get an unpleasant feeling in my stomach, and a bit of nausea. The big, blackish wet leaves shimmer in an interesting way, though barely any of them open up even after 10 steeps. They’re still a bit crumbly. I rub one between my fingers and only get the same faint wet leaves smell. If I ever fill out a mail order for tea from the Phoenix Collection, I might consider throwing a unit of this in, just to give it another try. The numerical rating I give this tea doesn’t show the whole picture, but it’s foolish to try to be objective about something as experiential, ephemeral, and personal as tea, so I choose a rating that represents my own personal experience.
I’ve been drinking 3-4 cups a day of this lately to clear some room in my cupboard for newer teas. As simple as it is, it’s still quite refreshing in its balance of sweet, bright (acidic), and smokey. It never gets bitter, which is a plus when you make larger quantities and risk oversteeping the last bit of the pour.
I’m nearing the end of my 100g bag, which I’ve had for 7 months now. I wanted to take note of what makes this tea stand out, but upon close inspection, I’m wondering if it’s gone stale already, or if I’m having a bad day, or if it just wasn’t anything special to begin with…
The dry leaf smells, as always, wonderfully of pine and citrus. After a 4m45s steep, I took the chance to admire the steeped leaves’ green and brown coppery gleam. I took a whiff and noticed a savory scent this time—seaweed and Italian spices.
I steeped the tea to a level of bitterness suitable for taking with milk, though I didn’t add any. The astringency was light and stayed mostly on the tip of my tongue, and there was an overall squeaky and clear feeling to the liquid. I wanted to confirm at least one common descriptor given to Ceylons, but it was hard to find anything past the aggressive char and malt. Overall, simply a classic (or less charitably, basic) black tea profile. I plan on trying again some time soon.
Drinking this tea has granted me a new self-insight: with little doubt, there isn’t a single decaffeinated tea in the world that I can drink without finding it offensive, vile, and completely unwholesome. Before this experience, whenever I was served decaf tea, I rationalized away its awfulness with excuses: surely I couldn’t expect any better out of a teabag, surely the person who made this just didn’t follow the correct parameters, etc. Eventually, I bought this tea to prove to myself that a decent cuppa decaf can be made. After all, Adagio wouldn’t dare sell a bad tea alongside all its other, high quality offerings, right? I was subsequently yanked into reality with not just one, but seven cups of torture. I’m probably a latent masochist. But thus, I faced the hard cold truth: it’s impossible to enjoy a decent cup of tea late at night without consequence to my sleep.
This tea’s offensiveness won’t be immediately obvious if you just inspect the dry leaf. Compared with an unadulterated Ceylon (OP from Kennilworth Estate), there’s actually little visual difference. However, while the normal Ceylon is piney and citrusy, the Decaf ceylon offers only a faint note of hay.
Brewing this tea yields an impressively dark liquor. I’ve only ever seen pu’ers this dark. There’s a vague tanginess to the aroma, but not much else. Sipping it reveals a medium body and astringency, so you do get some of the feeling of drinking real tea. But that’s where the similarities end.
The marketing copy for this tea claims that there’s “sweet citrus notes like mandarin”, but believe me, there’s nothing of the sort here. My first impression is that I’m drinking hot rusty water. Upon further searching and slurping I find a messy handful of stinky grass with one or two stalks of fragrant hay. There’s something like a faint burp of caramel chew from a previous meal. It gives false hope for something interesting that may be brought out with milk, but upon the addition of milk, there’s only a second distant burp of caramel chew that is just as fleeting.
Given the choice between this and hot water, I’d go for the hot water.
For Father’s Day, Adagio came up with three promotional blends to give out at their retail locations. The other two were named “Sugar Daddy” and “Man Cave Tea”. This one sounded the most appealing, so I opted for this one. It came in a handsome 4 oz tin box, and the bottom of the lid had a wood grain print, which I thought was a nice touch.
Upon opening the lid and smelling the dry leaf, I did get a strong impression of tobacco. However, this is mostly due to memories of my friend smoking cherry cigars from the corner store. The blue cornflowers added a nice dash of color, but didn’t look very appetizing; I tasted one and it confirmed my suspicion that they were merely decorative, and would add nothing to the brew. In fact, once I brewed my first cup, I was horrified at how sickly cornflowers look once steeped: they’re like white, translucent, unappetizing bits of silk.
The liquor is mostly smooth but starts to get bitter after a few sips. I can’t pick up on the smokiness of the lapsang but as a whole it does remind me of tobacco—specifically my friend’s aforementioned cherry blunts. Towards the end of the cup, a bit of caramel comes in strong, rounding off the flavors nicely. A commendable experiment, but not my cup.
The dry leaf smells like a campfire—no surprises here. The liquor has a nice smokiness which easily impresses my friends, but it’s hard to detect other aromas more inherent to the leaf. There’s notes of grape must/basalmic (but the acidity is subtle), and a vague woody incense (sandalwood?). After the last sip there’s a honeyed date aroma which lingers in the cup. No matter what I do, the overall taste is a bit thin for a black tea, and the astringency is comparatively overwhelming and disruptive. It makes my tongue feel like a sandpaper-skinned slug. This is the only lapsang souchong I have tried, so I can’t compare it to any other tea, really, but I do plan on exploring this genre further.
When I first drank this congou I was shocked by its mustiness. There’s a certain funkiness to it that will definitely scare off the Earl Grey crowd. Yet it’s grown on me in the seven months that I’ve been steeping it, and I hope that Upton will get new stock before my (wonderfully affordable) 125g bag goes empty. The dry leaf smells sweetly of plum and wood, and steeps up a deep chocolate (in a white mug) or amber (in a glass) liquor.
The liquor has a velvety texture, and gives off a slight sweetness that’s countered by a nice tartness, creating an overall fruity impression, though it’s still fairly dry. The aromatics I can identify: pickled plum, pleasant mulch/forest wetness, and some sort of brown root-based Korean traditional medicine whose name escapes me.