64 Tasting Notes

I can really get into a Huangshan Maofeng. The last one sent from Teavivre was quite nice, and this one is even better. It’s very light and crisp, with a simple vegetal and nutty sweetness, a sparkling texture, and fresh aroma. The leaves are consistent and great quality, with fur, not too many blisters from pan-frying, and mainly bud material. They’re quite pretty. While the tea could probably use some depth that the later harvests’ leaves provide, it isn’t lacking much of anything else. It has been a great tea to have this summer for outside sessions, where it really cools me down. It’s simple and it’s good.

Preparation
175 °F / 79 °C

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Thanks to Teavivre for the sample.

I use seven pearls (a whole sample pack) per gong fu session with flash infusions. This is twice the amount suggested for gong fu brewing on Teavivre’s website, but I prefer my hongcha to be robust. The pearls are very well compacted and fairly consistent in size, but there are some that are much smaller than the others. A good amount of golden bud material can be seen in the layers of the pearl, much more so than those of Teavana.

I wasn’t expecting much from this tea, but as it turns out, it is actually pretty tasty and okay for lazy drinking. The liquor’s depth is nice, with a malty smoothness, and resounding “pure tea” flavor. The lengxiang (cold scent) in the empty cup is subtle, and has characteristics of roasted barley and cooked sugar. Infusions don’t move past five, though, and even that is pushing it. The aftertaste is weak and slightly drying. There is also a faint soapy flavor right on the opening sip and at the end of the finish and seems to be paired with a slightly oily texture, but it isn’t all that apparent unless focused on it.

Looking at the spent leaves, I notice that some seem over-processed. They are totally black, difficult to unroll, and have a “carbonized” look to them, similar to spent shu pu’ercha leaves.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C

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Longjing isn’t really my thing. I enjoy it on occasion, but I generally find it almost too savory for frequent drinking. Anyway, this one is fantastic. The aroma is very fresh, with strong, sweet, and slightly nutty characteristics. The dry leaves look to be of great quality: bright green, tons of fuzz, with a few pockets here and there sticking to the leaves. Almost entirely of buds, but there are some broken leaves and extraneous materials scattered throughout. All in all, though, very consistent.

I have found this particular version to be somewhat finicky to brew, though I particularly enjoyed it “grandpa style” (if anyone follows MarshalN), with minimal leaves, sipping from an open gaiwan, filling it back up with water once it gets a bit past halfway. Pretty much the traditional style, but I prefer it in a gaiwan instead of a glass. In this way, a clear, light-jade green liquor is produced that is crisp, light, and buttery, with the characteristic Longjing “chestnut” flavor. The aftertaste is sweet, fresh, and induces salivation.

Preparing it gong fu leads to too much umami flavors and an “overly green” taste (if that makes any sense), especially with too high a quantity of leaves. However, depth increases at least three-fold this way. This makes sense, but the level to which it increased was surprising to me. At any rate, this way or grandpa style both provided decent staying power throughout steeps. All in all I was impressed, and I am thankful for an opportunity to sample this tea.

Preparation
170 °F / 76 °C

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The word “fragrant” in the title does not mislead; indeed, this tea is aromatic in many ways. The small, mostly black dry leaves exude a powerful aroma of citrus, cocoa, and that unmistakable “pure tea” scent. This balanced medley is interestingly persistent and found in the wet leaves, the liquor, and the empty cup/gaiwan lid. The liquor is bisquity and very smooth, with a lively and crisp texture.

Flavors open exponentially, with a slower start upon the cusp of the sip, quickly rising into a strong, full-bodied mouthfeel. While it develops quickly, the complexity is low. However, the depth is remarkable and is enough to lead to a cooling finish in the throat and a lingering aftertaste. In some cases with high amounts of leaf, the finish is drying and somewhat sour, while the general mouthfeel is sharp and slightly metallic. Hence, I have found that small amounts of leaves produce a more balanced, sweet brew, while packing the gaiwan seems to bring out more undesirable qualities, even with flash infusions.

Sweetness is pretty low-key, but after seven or eight steeps, I am able to steep out infusion after infusion of flinty sweet liquor with a simple, slightly malty, “tea” flavor. This ability to go the distance in steeps, its powerful cooling qualities, and its strong fragrance make this a really great Keemun.

Thanks, Teavivre, for the sample.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C

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First, thanks to TwoDog of White2Tea for a hefty sample of this.

The dry leaves have darkened and a soft fragrance of “pure tea” exudes from the chunks of cake, which are composed of a variety of leaf types. The first couple steeps are somewhat weak, but by the third infusion, things get going. Each sip opens simply and sweetly, with a light mouthfeel, soon developing into a a full, complex body that introduces slight kuwei (good bitterness) in the throat, a slight tartness, and a faint smokiness. The finish is cooling throughout the mouth and coupled with a subtle huigan (returning sweetness).

The aromas in the dry cup and gaiwan lid are deep, dark and slightly fruity with caramel-like undertones. Some aspects from the earthy spectrum as well. All this together with the textural profile and flavors present place this cake in what seems like an intermediate stage of aging. It seems mature, but there are still rougher dimensions of youth that haven’t quite transformed yet. I enjoy this, though. My sessions with this tea have so far been complex and interesting, and the leaves grant a little bit of everything I like in sheng pu’er. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite teas I have had this year. I only wish I would have learned of White2Tea sooner so I could have grabbed a cake of this before they ran out…

Preparation
Boiling

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Thanks to Angel from Teavivre for this sample.

The leaves (both dry and when initially wet) surprised me with their extremely bright green color, which inevitably led to a highly “green” liquor—very floral and herbaceous taste with pale-green liquor coloration, a crisp mouthfeel, and a general lack of persistent, full aroma. I’ll chalk this one up as another modern “green tea” tieguanyin and move on. The flavors were of the general tieguanyin spectrum, although were more subdued than those of other similar spring tieguanyin*, so I won’t go into much detail there. Instead, I’ll focus on the aromatic and textural qualities that set this one apart (for better or worse).

I generally prefer the autumn harvests of tieguanyin for their more pervasive aromatics and depth, especially with this kind of lightly- or un-roasted tieguanyin. I found the fragrance of this one to be quite lacking, as I alluded to above, which seemed to bring out the highest overall intensity after the wash and then fade quickly throughout the session. The scent on the gaiwan lid was fleeting after each steep, while my tasting cup had little to no lengxiang (lit. cold fragrance; the scent leftover after the liquor has been drained). However, I found there to be dimensions of the wet leaves’ fragrance that were unique, such as a deeply vegetal, “green wood” quality that was somewhere in the earthy spectrum of scents.

I found the mouthfeel and general “form” of the liquor to be quite enjoyable. I noticed almost no astringency whatsoever, and a long smoothness for each sip. Although the textural dimensions remained on the light side during the opening and development of a sip, the finish was sticky and somewhat thick, with a faint cooling sensation in the throat. With more leaf in the gaiwan*, a small tartness in the throat is detectable, although the information Teavivre provides for this tea indicates that it shouldn’t have this quality because of the lack of tuo suan during processing. Again, it didn’t seem to be there with lower quantities of leaf (as in half the sample pack per 100 mL of water), but it wasn’t a negative quality to me regardless.

*Using a bit more than half the bag will result in more intense/full flavors, at the expense of some smoothness, in my experiences. Both produce sessions that are good in their own right, depending on what qualities you desire. Teavivre seems to recommend the entire bag for gaiwan brewing, but for my preferences the cramping of the leaves at that concentration produces a sub-optimum infusion.

Preparation
190 °F / 87 °C

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First, thanks to Nicholas at Misty Peak Teas for the sample.

The leaves look decent enough considering their unprotected life in USPS shipping for a few days, with no barrier between the leaves and the envelope. Thankfully a 4g chunk of cake survived and enough loose leaves remained whole enough to get about 6g total leaf for a session. I notice that the cake must be made of quite the blend of materials: fuzzy buds, small fragments, small leaves, large leaves, leaves with stems, a large chunk of what appears to be bamboo (seriously), and other parts of the tea plant.

After a rinse, the wet leaves, minus the unusable material, turned out to be quite aromatic. The scent is thick and fruity and carries far from the gaiwan, turning highly herbaceous later on. I notice they are very green, oolong-like, and have a fair share of bruising. Unfortunately, the strength of aroma does not carry over to the soup, which is as weak in body as it is in coloration. Yet, with subsequent infusions, both of these aspects grow in depth, though the soup remains definitely yellow throughout. The extent of this increase is not large, however. This tea is very slow to start, not really granting a full experience until the fourth or fifth infusion. This would normally not be much of an issue, but soon after this mark, it is quick to die out, or grants more fullness at the expense of too much roughness with long steep times.

Given this shengpu’s youth, it seems to have not had much time to develop any textural intrigue nor qi. I found the both to be quite lacking, though the tea did seem to have a decent bit of caffeine to it. While it had some good flavors to it, its form, which is what I am most interested in with pu’ercha, was weak.

Each sip opens quite undramatically, soft in body and faint in taste besides an introductory sweetness. There is a faint buttery aspect that I commonly find in very young sheng pu’er. It gets better in the development, though the duration is short and seems to peak at a medium intensity. Complexity is introduced at this point—a basic blend of fruity and floral spectrums. The sip quickly passes into the finish, which is drying and has some bitterness forward in the mouth. I’m left with a faint coolness in the throat, which is at least one promising aspect of this tea.

During later brews, the development’s intensity increases and the duration is extended to a small extent. The textural components are not aided by the longer steeps, instead increasing in the forward bitterness and astringency. The aftertaste was tasty flavor-wise, but again, lacking in mouthfeel. I found the aroma in the cup after the soup was drained to be suggestive of quality, though. It was thick, floral and fruity, with the dark sweetness of caramel.

I would rather not speculate on this tea’s aging potential, but from what I’ve heard the average Yiwu cake does okay over the years. I would say this is probably close to one of those averages, but it’s really too young for me to tell. However, I find its lack of strength (I would have even liked to have seen more power in the bitter department) given its extreme youth to be concerning. The proportion of junk to leaves in the small sample received is also concerning, and seems to indicate a lack of care during processing, as does the fair quantity of red-hued leaves.

Preparation
Boiling

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The cake has a tight compression and a light, sweet aroma. The first steep begins light to medium in strength, but the body feels full and seems to foreshadow the strength in the upcoming infusions of thick, dark orange soup. The flavors tend toward the fruity spectrum and are mostly simple in style, while the body is malty and full of “dark” sweetness, thick and ripe like prunes. Later, more smoky and woody notes climb in, and create a very balanced complexity.

The soup begins slowly and softly with a thick mouthfeel, introducing basic sweet and salty aspects. It develops into a long and waxing complexity across a second or two duration, where the flavors mentioned above begin to grow and amass one after the other. At this point, a throaty kuwei slowly emerges. It is, like the other aspects of this tea, deep. The bitterness isn’t sharp and is more “felt” than tasted. There are some drying effects towards the front of the mouth, but the throat remains moist. It reaches a medium to strong intensity as far as flavors go, before fading slowly to a stable finish that doubles as a long-lasting aftertaste. I found this to be a very interesting quality with this tea, as I usually find the sip’s finish fades before a complimentary, yet distinct aftertaste (with a slightly different flavor) emerges after the swallow. With this shengpu, the soup’s form descends to a stable and subtle intensity that simply “sticks,” lingering for quite some time. Finally, seconds after the swallow, a coolness begins to develop that intensifies as the session progresses. After the second steep, my body is calmed and warmed to the point of sweating, causing my neck and ears to become flushed.

Overall I am really pleased with this one and impatiently await the effects of a bit of age on it. The tea presents an interesting textural experience, but is not without intrigue in the flavor department. Plus, it has an elephant on the wrapper, which adds just a touch more awesomeness to it.

Preparation
Boiling

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It’s a pretty scrappy looking cake, but the soup it produces is great. The leaves are ridiculously long and many have difficulty fitting into my gaiwan. The compression is so loose that enough leaves for a session can be gathered from the cake just by lifting it and prodding the sides a bit, causing dried leaves to fall onto the wrapper like raindrops. And it’s aroma is extremely pungent. The time spent bent over the cake collecting leaves caused my face to become flushed and my eyes slightly irritated. It smells very smoky and aggressive.

The strength of the aroma carries over to the wet leaves and soup, although the profile changes somewhat. The tobacco smoke remains to some extent, but a certain caramelized fruitiness and faint ginger quality emerges. The mouthfeel is as burly as the scent.

The opening is quick and somewhat dull, with rough, dark sweetness. It rapidly develops into something stronger with average complexity and great depth of character. It lingers expectedly, gradually evolving into a spicy-cool finish in the throat. The coolness is intense and lasts quite some time. The aftertaste is cool and moist, with a kind of sticky sweetness, but my body is warm. The tea is stimulating, but only slightly so. Further steeps add a nice throaty bitterness and more fruity flavors, treading farther from the initial smokiness found in the aroma.

The second time I tasted this I actually measured the amount of leaves I used (6 g/100 mL), but my results were less intense and lighter in depth than the first time. I had used more leaves from the edge of the cake, which are much longer than those closer to the center and those within the body of the cake, and are attached to even longer stems. I guess I’ll have to pay more attention to what parts of this eclectic blend I’m using for each session in the future.

Preparation
Boiling

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I am a huge fan of this tea’s liquor. When using my gaiwan, as soon as an infusion is poured out, the liquor is a bright, vibrant red. Yet, intriguingly this tea oxidizes extremely quickly. If looked upon for fifteen to twenty seconds or so after the pour, the liquor darkens and fades into a more ruddy brown-red coloration. The transition is quite striking and has a color range that is much broader than most other hongcha I am familiar with.

Otherwise, I am also a fan of the aggressiveness this tea brings out in the flavor. It is both expected and consistent throughout steeps and reminds me of the ol’ Zhu Rong of Verdant Tea, but with smoke instead of spice. It provides a robustness that requires a certain mood from the drinker, when something brisk and perhaps a bit rude is desired. But it’s not a complete brute. The flavor transitions into a mouthfeel is nice and savory, with a salty feeling in the aftertaste.

My main complaint is that the leaves are far too potent and abrasive to enjoy their aroma properly. In this case, the smoke is exponentially more powerful than the leaves themselves, creating an imbalance. However, if I remember correctly, this tea was surprisingly lasting across multiple steeps, without a major loss of smokiness in the later steeps. I believe up to eight was common.

I had a few sessions of this Western style, but concluded that I preferred it much more in a gaiwan.

Preparation
Boiling

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Bio

I’m fanatic about all things tea-related. Lately, I’ve been fascinated with Wuyi yancha, aged Taiwanese oolongs, and sheng pu’ercha. Nearly all of my sessions as of late are performed gong fu, with pu’er tastings comprising probably eighty percent of them. My collection of pu’ercha is small, but growing steadily. Much of the specimens I drink daily are various samples, although I dig into a cake every so often.

I love trying new teas and I am always learning all I can about the world of tea. Hence, I spend a majority of the time I devote to tea either drinking, writing notes in my journal, or reading. But mostly drinking, as I think it should be. Since I have handwritten logs of everything I drink, I cannot usually find the extra time to log my notes here, and unfortunately my online log is underrepresented.

When drinking, I look for a tea that presents a unique experience, something that involves every sense and provides intrigue in every aspect throughout steeps. I search for teas with balanced complexity and something that makes me keep reaching for my cup. I yearn to find all the positives a tea possesses and every subtle nuance hiding among the leaves. I try to be detailed in my notes and deliver a more comprehensive view of the tea, paying attention to things other than simply flavors and qualitative aspects of aroma, such as the form of the liquor and its development in the mouth. Things like this are much easier to compare between teas, as I find them to be more consistent between sessions, and also make distinctions between a good and mediocre tea easier to make.

Teaware
Adagio UtiliTEA electric kettle.
For gong fu, a 100 mL porcelain gaiwan and a 100mL Yixing di cao qing xi shi pot dedicated to mostly young sheng pu’er.
I drink all green teas in small (maybe 450mL) glass tumblers in the traditional style, with off-boiling water.

Location

Fort Myers, Florida

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