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64 Tasting Notes

90
drank 2000 Liu An Dark Tea by ESGREEN
64 tasting notes

So this is a backlog from ages and ages ago… I just never got around to logging my notes and the new tea samples kept rolling in soooo yeahhhh. I suppose it’s best to catch up with the old ESGREEN samples before I get around to the new ones. :) Thankfully this was a memorable tea and I wrote extensive notes on it!

Anywho, this was a pretty tasty tea. In line with the name, this tea is quite “dark,” indeed. The wet leaves are pungent, smelling of age, old books, damp moss, and rich fruits. They’re pretty mulch-like, kind of like coffee grounds. The liquor’s aroma is much like the wet leaves’ but with added buttery notes and an apple-like finish. The addition of the bamboo makes it pretty interesting. It’s like some hybrid of a shu pu’er and a medium oxidized oolong.

As far as flavor goes, this tea is well-balanced. And I’m surprised I find myself saying this, because I would think mixing aspects of green flavor spectrum and the darker aspects of the earthy and spicy flavor spectra would not mesh well. Yet, the greener qualities remained subtle enough as undertones to mold the overall flavor, without causing conflict. Overall, this tea is very sweet and rich. Earthy, peaty flavors are very strong and remain that way, more or less, throughout the eight steeps I took this tea to.

For the first half, a strong peppery taste greeted me during the first steep, and then gradually faded with each steep until it became hardly noticeable. Subtle tones of grass and vegetal qualities remained present until the fifth steep where they just seemed to have dropped off. Woody notes became apparent into the second steep in addition to smoky aromatics that snuggled in between the greens and the woods.

The fifth steep really changed it up. There was this mixture of pepper, cornmeal (I wrote “like a tortilla”) and a new, but very slight beefy flavor that churned out a pleasant steep with a sparkling texture. After this, things circled back to the beginning with sweet earthiness most pronounced, buttery pepper flavors underneath, and barky, smoky flavors bringing in the rear. A tingly spiciness was felt on the tongue.

In regards to mouthfeel, I really enjoyed this tea. For most steeps, the texture was milky smooth, but every other steep introduced a slightly different textural element. First it was an evolving bitterness, which transformed into a subtle huigan, then a cooling sensation, then the sparkling, and finally spiciness. Considering the $19/450g price, it’s a pretty great deal. I would definitely stock up if it weren’t for the horrendous shipping prices… Still, very happy I was able to taste it!

Preparation
Boiling
Azzrian

Oh wow – on the shopping list this goes! I have never had their teas either so it will be an adventure when I get a chance to try them out! Thanks for your wonderful review!

K S

I’d love to sit and sample puerh, or in this case dark tea, with you and learn how to experience all the wonderful descriptive flavors you find in them. I love these types of tea but they tend to all taste either sheng or shu without being able to find the nuances. I can tell you if I like it or not but often can’t tell how one is that much different from another. Your reviews amaze me. Keep it up!

Cody

Haha, glad I could help! It was one of the most intriguing teas I’ve tried. Or heard of, considering “dark tea” seems to be its own category. Most of the references I consulted considered pu’er to be a category within dark tea. Originally I had thought it was the other way around.

Cody

And thanks so much to both of you for the high compliments!

I’d much enjoy to sip pu’er with you, KS! I like your tasting style and it gives me a different perspective. I enjoy seeing your posts about the overall flavor to help ground me when I get too caught up with the nitty gritty. But, I just love trying to pick out little things here and there and notice when they are absent or present in other, similar teas. When I first started with pu’er (and I claim to be no expert on the class of tea) I had no idea what I was supposed to be looking for. They tasted too foreign and too similar to each other. Eventually I was able to try others with certain flavor profiles so I could learn to look for them. I still feel that I have a huge amount to learn, though.

K S

Yeah, but more to learn is what keeps us coming back. I can’t wait for your reviews of the latest batch from Esgreen. I’ll read them and then retry them myself to look for the nuances. No pressure, eh?

Cody

Haha, sounds great!

JC

Nice notes. I’ve had two Liu-An here for a while. I need to properly log them. They are such weird variations of tea that it bugs my taste buds while tasting. I agree it tastes partially like shou + oolong and would add that is has some sheng bitterness and sometimes astringency. I got some herbaceous notes that made me think ‘no wonder this was used as medicine only at one point!’.

And about ‘dark tea’ or “Heicha” should be be the ‘type’ of tea and different processes like shou/sheng be under it. But in reality Puerh is the ‘evolution’ from Hei cha. Hei cha in my opinion has a much MUCH wider spectrum of processes and even results in tastes. You could easily classify a Sheng or Shou by blind tasting but Hei cha (depending region and process) would surprise you. Dividing ‘Puerh’ as a separate category makes it ‘easier’. Or better yet, Shou Puerh and Sheng Puerh are well defined categories but Heicha is not as well defined.

Cody

That’s a good way of looking at it. I agree that puerh cha has certainly become its own animal now, especially considering it’s relative popularity.

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86

Thank you David Duckler!! This was a generous sample added to a purchase I made for a sheng cake David found for me on his last sourcing trip to China. I was not expecting any samples or a note since I didn’t actually buy from Verdant Tea. As it turns out, I received both! What a nice guy, that David Duckler.

Anywho, I was excited to try this pleasant surprise. I was not disappointed! This is a very clean sheng. Almost no earthiness, no musty or musky smells, very nice, delicate leaves. I was actually able to see the fuzzy, downy hairs that are quite apparent on the wet leaves, and the dry leaves are abundant with silvery down. There is a huge range of colors, though. They range from a faded yellow to a dark brown-purple. Nearly every leaf has patches of bruising, making them look more like the leaves of an oolong. Some empty stems were present, but nothing abnormal.

When dry, the leaves smell amazing. Definitely one of my favorite dry leaf aromas so far. It’s something like vanilla, cream, and smelling the skin of a ripe fruit. When wet, this transforms into Raisinets, vanilla, florals, and tart berries. Later on, the aroma becomes darker and heavier, with some earthy notes.

The liquor is a beautiful golden amber. In addition to the scents mentioned above, there is this very slight fresh cucumber smell that appears in the eighth or ninth steep. The flavor is pretty light and mellow. Very minimal cha qi to this sheng. The mouthfeel is quite smooth and creamy throughout most steeps, becoming sparkling much later on. There is a very delicate bittersweet huigan, but it isn’t very lasting. It’s most apparent in the first few steeps, along with a tingling spiciness. But again, this tea isn’t very energetic. These “lively” textural features fade off during the middle steeps and return (barely) into the final steeps (around the tenth). I used between 3.5 and 4 grams in my gaiwan, but I think next time I’ll do closer to five. I started out with 13 seconds for the first steep and still received a pretty mild flavor.

There are some very interesting flavors in this sheng. Most notable are the florals and fruity notes. At first they aren’t too noticeable, but they climb in intensity and remain strong from steep 4 on to the end. The fruit notes started somewhat berry-like, and gradually became more plum-like (there is even a hint of melon in the final steeps). These fruity flavors blend well with a strong, lingering sweetness on top of every steep. However, to balance this sweetness, a nice tartness is present, coming through as a grapefruit/citrus flavor. It seems to be taking aging quite well. There isn’t a very strong youthful taste to this one, but then again, I can’t really taste that “aged” quality either.

So, this sheng isn’t as stimulating as I was expecting, but it has great flavor. Oh yeah, another thing I noticed was that the aftertaste didn’t linger much. The flavor evolves slowly, but then just seems to evaporate once the sip was over. Around steeps 4 and 5, this improves a bit, the body becoming more full with increased depth, but still, on average, a very light tea.

Two posts in one! What a deal!
I decided to try this one again before I made a post with a different gong fu method for young sheng pu’ers that I saw online involving a great deal of pouring into multiple vessels to cool water during the infusion: . It seems similar to traditional Chinese glass methods used for green teas. It sounded interesting so I thought I’d give it a try with this sheng, since it is relatively young, with more dry leaf than used for the above notes.

It turned out quite well! I was surprised by large difference in the level of depth and complexity. It was much sweeter also. However, I’m not sure whether it was more or less bitter. It t seemed like it was more bitter than the first time, but I’m betting that it’s because I used a higher leaf to water ratio and the extra contact with the water just resulted in natural bitterness from the extra steeping time. Yet, the steep times were far shorter than the first tasting I did (only 3-4 seconds compared to the 13 seconds for the first steep). At any rate, it is a pleasant bitterness, not overpowering, and doesn’t subtract from the actual flavors. However, the sensation of huigan and extra creaminess of the liquor was definitely noticeable. The aftertaste was much sweeter with an added melon-like flavor and left the mouth feeling cool like after eating a mint candy, but without the minty flavor. It’s also a bit more stimulating.

I’m always learning :)

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C
Bonnie

Your extensive notes were very entertaining and interesting! Glad you tried the other method and made comments for comparison. I’ll have to try this sometime myself.

Cody

Thanks! And you should try it. It really seems to smooth out some of the rough edges of younger stuff. I tried it again with a 2009 sheng and received decent results.

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79
drank Dragonwell by Teavana
64 tasting notes

I’m not sure why I never logged this one. This was one of the first loose-leaf green teas I tried. I think I was just lazy. I did like this tea, though, and I’m sad to see it go. I was even sadder to not be able to finish the last of it, for I found mold on the leaves tonight despite the airtight tin it was in. :( I guess I had it for a little too long…

Anyway, this was a great sipping tea for the afternoon or early evening. It had a very interesting butternut squash note to it that I really liked. Rarely did it become bitter, and had nice light vegetal qualities to it. I alternated between gong fu and western styles and liked the respective results equally.

Preparation
175 °F / 79 °C 1 min, 30 sec

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100

Thank you to David and Verdant Tea! This sample came with the David’s Choice sampler.

This tea is fantastic. I’m really having trouble criticizing anything about it. Yet, oddly enough, I’m also having trouble finding anything “new” in this tea. It’s a tieguanyin for sure and it gives you everything you’ve ever wanted in a tieguanyin. So why is this one amazing? Because it does every little thing it’s supposed to do perfectly and nothing more. Every tieguanyin aspect is empowered and bursts forth. You really get a feel for the leaves’ essence, which is brought out beautifully. It’s a masterpiece.

The dry leaves are in excellent condition and were stored very well. It was like trying to break into Fort Knox to get at these leaves. First David Duckler’s silver sample pouch, then another small vacuum-sealed purple gift pouch which I assume is from Wei Wei, and finally another folded over plastic pouch with the leaves. They smelled fantastic! Sweet, floral, green and fresh, with just a touch of lilac. They were very hard, rolled extremely tightly, and were quite large. Almost every single one had a touch of brown stem protruding from the dense light green to army green ball. The colors were quite consistent and had great, shining coloration.

When wet, the leaves expanded wonderfully. I always love checking on them right after the wash, when the creases of the leaves are glowing with a brilliant light green, juxtaposed to the now dark forest green of the curled leaf faces. Normally when I check the leaves, I tend to count or pick out the leaves that are completely whole. This time, I was counting the leaves that were incomplete. The smallest leaf chunk was about the size of a dime, and there were only 3 loose stems. Considering this contained the bottom of the sample, I’d say that’s quite impressive. Most leaves were 2.5 to 3 inches, a smaller pile was between 1 and 2 inches. Most leaf edges were intact and the veins were clear against the leaf face. Bruising was minimal, mostly around the edges, but about 3 leaves out of about 40 were very bruised. Otherwise, every leaf looked pretty much the same.

The wet leaf aroma was like candied soy beans (is this a thing?) and snap peas. They smelled extremely fresh and bright, with some darker undertones like over-boiled broccoli and stone. At some points, they became yeasty-smelling and biscuity. Much later on, they took on aromas of freshly cut grass, melon, and tiny hints of fresh mushrooms.

Steeping parameters: 100mL gaiwan, ~3.5g leaf, water temperature increased with steep number from 178-190 F.

Steep 1 (5"): Buttery sweet, classic tieguanyin, grassy, boiled greens, parsley, undertones of honeydew. Mouthfeel is light and creamy. Very light green, silvery liquor.

Steep 2 (12"): Increased parsley spice, biting vegetal flavors, increased boiled greens. Aftertaste is cool, refreshing, with a slight pinch of herbal spice. Liquor is slightly more green, still crystal clear, very minimal tea dust.

Steep 3 (16"): Tastes like tieguanyin in its essence. It’s very vegetal, rich, and tongue-tinglingly cool. The mouthfeel is even more spicy, especially on the tongue, while the rest sports a very minimal astringency and a returning vegetal aspect. After a sip, nearly the entire flavor profile returns on the exhale quite strongly. This steep has exceptional character and mouthwatering depth. Liquor has added yellow tints to the above coloration.

Steep 4 (25"): A perfect mesh between Jin Xuan and Tieguanyin. The mouthfeel fights between vegetal and milky smooth while the flavor exhibits both the grassy and savory spectrum. The aftertaste is more like very sweet zucchini and that lingering bubblegum taste after you chew all the flavor out of it. Normally not the most delicious thing, but it seems to work in this. There is also many more floral notes in this steep, mimicking the delicate lilac notes of the dry leaves’ aroma.

Steep 5 (30"): In line with the heavier notes in the wet leaves, and a deeper liquor color, the flavor becomes a bit darker and earthier here. Notes of moss and stone are quite apparent and give base to the lighter, greener notes of before. The body and aftertaste become more oolong-y compared to the flighty aromatics of green and white teas that had been present prior. After I finished drinking this steep, there were some nuances of fresh strawberries in the aftertaste.

Steep 6 (45"): Very sweet and honey-like. Small hints of tapioca in the undertones. Earthier flavors are slightly more noticeable, but mostly because the greener flavors have faded somewhat. This steep is much like the last, but just less potent. However, the strawberry flavor in the aftertaste is more pronounced.

This is where I deviated from my first tasting. Originally I did 2.5 grams of dry leaf in my gaiwan, but this time, I finished off the sample with my gaiwan, so it was something like 3-3.5 grams. Ummmm, these leaves are monstrous and thick. They pretty much revert back to what they were when they were picked right off the plant, so needless to say by this steep the lid of my gaiwan was resting on leaves, not porcelain. However, I must say I was happier with this ratio of leaves to water than the first time I tasted this tea. Much more impressive complexity and far more powerful flavors. Anyway, I plopped the leaves in my Yixing teapot (~12 oz) and poured just enough water to cover the leaves completely for the next few steeps. Besides, I wanted an excuse to give my Yixing pot a little treat. :)

Steep 7 (2’): This steep was one of my favorites both times I tasted this tea. In order of least to most apparent: “tieguanyin,” honey, buttered bread, grass, cream of spinach, parsley, tapioca. This time around, I got a sauteed mushroom flavor that showed up in the aftertaste as well that I really like, actually, even though I certainly was not expecting it.

Steep 8 (3’): More earthy than the last, with a similar taste, but with less complexity. Ahhh but it certainly is gooood.

Steep 9 (>5’): Just filled up the Yixing and let it sit. Came out pretty weak, but still very tasty.

For sure, an all time favorite tea of mine. I’m curious if anyone else had this in their David’s Choice samples. The picture is one I took with my phone for my own uses, so forgive the quality. :) Feel free to replace it with something better if anyone else has a sample of this.

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C
Bonnie

I’m so glad more people get to drink this tea! Bliss!

Cody

Indeed!

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69

Thanks to Angel and Teavivre for this sample!

I really wanted to love this one, but it’s just not happening. I mean, it’s nice to sip on when I’m not thinking about it, but it’s not the delicious tieguanyin I’m used to. I understand this is a Taiwan version, but I’ve had jin xuans that taste more like tieguanyin than this tea. This tastes much more like mao xie (hairy crab) oolong than tieguanyin, actually. The sweet, potent florals of tieguanyin are pretty dull in this tea, and the added roasting just adds awkward charcoal flavors that make the taste seem unbalanced and somewhat stale. It’s really strong for the first couple steeps, too. I have to make the wash extra long just so I don’t have overbearing burnt barley and metallic flavors in the first steep.

The leaves and liquor have aromas that smell like roasted wheat and unripe fruits, mixed with some cooked vegetables and lots of grass. Actually, most of the steeps have a very grassy profile. Into the later steeps, things improve a bit with notes of asparagus and genmaicha, finally landing on some really vegetal qualities of tiequanyin. There isn’t much sweetness to this one, which seems to contribute a great deal to the unbalance of flavors. There are a few faint traces of melon, as well, and after sneaking a few peaks at some reviews of this tea, I agree with KS about the aftertaste seeming a bit like watermelon rinds. It’s interesting, but not the most satisfying.

The mouthfeel is common and uninteresting. It typically gets a bit creamy and slightly juicy during middle steeps, but it isn’t anything extraordinary. Most of the steeps end up being a bit dry.

Overall, this one is just “okay” to me. Nothing jumped out at me and the unbalance of flavors really threw things askew. I dunno, it just did not match up to all the other oolongs that I have tried.

Edit:
Based on the conversation with KS below, I tried this again with a method closer to the suggested style: 4g per 100mL at boiling, wash, 25",35",45". I’m not sure if it’s that much better, but it is different. I’m also not sure which I prefer, flavor-wise. There are definitely some new blends of flavors. There are more fruity nuances, it’s surprisingly sweeter, and isn’t as bitter as I was expecting for such a high leaf to water ratio. It certainly is more bitter this way, however. With these added dimensions, it feels a bit more balanced, but the body becomes more monotonous. I still can’t get past the charcoal flavors, which are even more potent. Now that this is more severe with this session, I’m now recalling that every time I’ve tried this tea, it’s given me a headache. :/ Sigh, this just isn’t happening, folks.

Preparation
200 °F / 93 °C
K S

Good notes on this one. After reading your review, I went back and read mine,then all the others. The reactions are all over the place. I noticed a lot of difference in steeping parameters. Of course there is also varying amounts of experience. I am a total nube at monkey picked.

I was curious your leaf to water ratio and your typical steep times. From your profile I am guessing you used a gaiwan? I have tried to understand the gaiwan method but have never liked the results. Yet you often get some amazing results.

I typically would use 2.5g with 12oz water in a French press. The time and temp I would have followed TeaVivre’s instruction.

Cody

Hi KS, I’ve tried this one using multiple methods, which is why this was the last of the samples from Teavivre that I logged. I usually prepare it gong fu style in a 100 mL gaiwan with around 2-3 grams of dry leaf. I do about a 3 second wash and my first steep is around 4 seconds.

I’ve tried this with many variations in water temperature as well. I think boiling, as Teavivre recommends, is too hot for this tea. The times I went straight to boiling during the first steeps caused them to turn pretty bitter if they steeped too long. I can’t imagine what the 7g per 3oz for 25 seconds at boiling (Teavivre’s gong fu instructions) would do… I still have some of the sample left, so I’ll experiment with your method and Teavivre’s method.

K S

I had the advantage of no expectations of what this should taste like and the thrill of a new adventure. So I loved it. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I hope it doesn’t come off as me challenging or argueing with your comments. I am trying to understand if the parameters could have affected the experience. Apparently not.

I do the same thing you did, with other teas, when following the instructions doesn’t produce a good cup. Changing time, temp, or leaf to water just a little does usually make a difference. I just don’t have enough experience yet to anticipate what change will bring the best result. I have found, for me personally, Teavivre’s instruction have been pretty spot on even when it seemed all wrong. In fact, I often use their instructions on other companies similar products.

From what I am reading here, you did experiment and no matter how you approached it, this tea simply did not meet your expectations. That is fair enough. I do enjoy your reviews because they make me think. Thanks for letting me pick your brain, in a non-zombie way of course.

Cody

No, you didn’t come off that way at all! I was hoping someone was going to chat about their methods; it seems like everyone but myself absolutely loved this tea and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t crazy lol. It’s a shame I couldn’t try this one without any expectations as I’m sure it would have made a difference. I think it comes down to that roast. I find that when lighter teas are given the extra roasting and it doesn’t integrate perfectly, it’s a pretty big turn off for me. I’m sure that’s part of the reason I’m not as happy with this tea as others seem to be. I’ll play around with different methods tonight and let you know how it goes. I’m not giving up yet!

K S

I felt the same way about black fengqing dragon pearls. I liked it but seemed like I was missing out reading everyone else’s reviews. I tried several times and just didn’t get it.

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99

Thank you so much to both David Duckler and Master Bi for this opportunity!

This is one incredible tea. I must admit that I have never had a Lapsang Souchong before this tea, as I always had the assumption I would dislike the smokiness. I occasionally like the hint of “smoke” flavors in some higher roast oolongs or pu’ers, but the smell of actual thick smoke has me gagging. This tea, though, has shown me what Lapsang Souchong can really be all about. It is the Truth of flavored teas. The smoke enhancements are so well integrated into the leaves’ flavor profile here that it is impossible to tell where the tea ends and the flavoring begins. They seem one and the same. The flavors are so well enmeshed and it produces this savory, textural beauty of taste. And it certainly is a taste like no other. I’ll take you through my gong fu session, but the images and descriptions I use to convey this tea I will admit that I would have been confused and possibly even turned off by them if someone had described them to me when discussing a tea. Yet, somehow, this tea manages to turn this unlikely flavor profile into something incredible.

I use about 2 grams of dry leaf in my 100 mL gaiwan, a bit less than a quarter full. I first came up with this ratio because I was being stingy and wanted to make this small sample last forever, but [thankfully!] it turned out to work quite well. While I’m on the topic, I’ll mention that they look a great deal like a heavily roasted mi lan xiang’s dry leaves.

Wash: 3 +/-1 seconds

Steep 1 (4"): Based on the smell of the wet leaves, and especially the dry leaves (and also my [incorrect] perception of what smoked tea was), I expected the first sip to assault me with deep, smoky flavors and a drying texture. Psht! This was nothing like that. This is juicy. It’s savory. It certainly is thick, but has the most brilliant, clear amber liquor to juxtapose it. I think the best way to describe this taste is to attempt to call to mind a perfectly barbecued pork brisket. Yes, that’s correct. Imagine a succulent, moist brisket seasoned with a humble spread of salt and a dry rub of natural spices allowed to slow cook for hours in a smoker with natural hickory or mesquite wood. Perhaps add a touch of citrus zest when it’s finished. Yup. That’s this tea to me, who has lived in the southern US his whole life, and grown well-accustomed to the flavors of awesome barbecue.

Steep 2 (10"): Oh yeah, so if you could tell by the last steep’s description, the whole “smoky” taste wasn’t that overbearing. In fact, it wasn’t until this steep that I was actually made well aware of it at the top of each sip. Like I mentioned before, this tea isn’t boasting it’s smoky flavor. Instead, the smoke intensifies and draws out the depth and interesting notes of the tea leaves, putting a slight spin on them. The savory goodness and salty/spiciness also increases here, all coming together with the meaty flavors, rounding out the body and creating a very deep complexity. The mouthfeel becomes thicker and spicier, and with the increased “meaty” flavors, becomes almost “chewy.” There is also a tingling felt all over the surface of the tongue. This is also the first point where I can really tell that this is tea. That “pure” black tea flavor becomes very prominent, and one can pick out the inherent tea leaf sweetness brought into this steep.

Steep 3 (20"): At this point, all the flavor nuances kind of meet in the middle, creating an even deeper, thicker body than before. The liquor’s appearance becomes a darker golden brown to match, although none of the clarity is lost. The sweetness is also much stronger in this steep. It almost seems like a nice honey glaze on the brisket I mentioned above. Ohhhhh it’s good.

As a side note, while I was impatiently waiting for the next steep to do it’s thing, I took a sip of the still-warm wash and was astounded. Relatively speaking, it’s the best wash I’ve tasted for a tea. It’s like a reallyyyy weak version of steep 1, but twice as sweet. I’m pretty sure the next time I taste this I’m going to forget the wash…

Steep 4 (30"): So at this point the smoke becomes less powerful, actually allowing other flavors to rise above it. In this and the next steep, that sweet glaze-like flavor I mentioned from the last steep is most prominent. In the next, a honey sweetness is most apparent. This steep is very similar to the last, besides a slight apple-y flavor. Hmmmm… applewood-smoked bacon, anyone? Actually, the aroma of the wet leaves becomes very reminiscent of this, especially after the first few steeps and the smoky aromas begin to fade.

At this point, I’ll mention the aftertaste, which is thick, tangy, and smoky. The most amazing flavors really come out on the exhale after every sip.

Steep 5 (40"): From most to least expressive: honey, smoke, spice (and lots of it), meat, savory, apple, salt. The mouthfeel at this point is very spicy and lingers longgg after a sip. The insides of my cheeks and roof of mouth are left nice and tingly.

Steep 6 (1’): At this point the tea starts fading, although the same basic flavor profile as the last steep is displayed. I think I took this tea to a few more steeps the first time I tried it, but I didn’t have anything noteworthy on them.

So, all in all, this tea is a game changer. It has completely redefined what I perceive flavored or scented teas to be. There is a hand-rolled jasmine sample that came in my David’s Choice box as well, and I’m itching to try that one now that I’ve had this, just to see how the scenting has been transcended. At any rate, this Lapsang Souchong is a masterful work of art. I wish I had had something to compare it to previously, as it seems now that any Lapsang Souchong that I consume after this point will seem monotonous and dull. Ah well. Such is tea. :)

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C
Bonnie

I discussed this a bit with David today and told him how extraordinary the smoked oolong flavor is and how much I want Verdant to carry this tea. He said Master Bi’s tea’s are expensive. Bah! Even if this was only available during the Holiday’s and cost more, I’d buy it because it’s like nothing else. You are correct about the first steep being the smoked meat and the second steep being a surprise because the tea doesn’t become overshadowed by the smoke. The levels of flavor and nuances are a fine meal.

Cody

You know, Bonnie, I don’t think I would purchase this one. Maybe another sample size to keep around for a rainy day, but certainly nothing more than another session or two’s worth. I rarely find that any tea is as amazing as the first time I tried it (although I suppose aged pu’er would be, but that’s a different story). It takes me ages to get through 2oz of tea, so I rarely ever purchase anything over an ounce. I don’t have any “staple teas” that I always have on hand. I actually don’t think that I’ve ever bought the same tea twice.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love that I was able to try this Lapsang, but I’m satisfied and ready to taste the next awesome thing. That’s really what I love about tea; there is always a new tea to try that isn’t exactly like anything else out there.

Bonnie

Ah you’re a hunter. I’l try to think of you as a hunter…and if I find something special, I’ll try to remember to tell you about it! (once)

Cody

Hahaha, yeah I suppose I’m something like that. “Gotta catch ’em all,” right? I always love suggestions of things to try. I’d definitely be interested if you find a particularly fascinating specimen. ;)

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89

I purchased a cake of this during the Cyber Monday Verdant Tea sale. I have been craving pu’er for a while now, and needed something that I could pick apart at leisure while there still being enough to age. It also serves as a distraction from my small, but steadily growing sheng collection, so that I can actually those items age. At any rate, I’ve tasted it a few times since I received it and am quite happy with it, especially considering its young age.

The dry cake’s aroma is lovely. Very spicy, woodsy, with hints of old books and laminate. The leaves are very well-compacted. The last few times I used about 5 grams (+/- 1 gram) in my trusty 100 mL gaiwan, using boiling water. The wet leaves smell delicious. They’re very potent, smelling of sweet earth, musk, and parchment. There are some spicy raisin-y scents hiding somewhere, but they aren’t the most apparent.

The liquor’s aroma is like sweet, spiced plums. Or maybe prunes? It’s a very rich, deep scent. The liquor’s appearance is dark brown, tinged with red. It really reminds me of coffee. Later on, it becomes much darker, almost black, tinged with a russet coloration.

Usual gong fu session: 5" wash, 5", 6", 8", 12", 20", 1’20", >5’

On to the flavor! The first steep is filled with raisin-y goodness, tons of spices, a bit of peat, woodsy, and very salty. Thankfully, the rich sweetness of the raisin and peaty/earthy flavors counteracts the saltiness, but it seems like there is a tad more than there needs to be. However, I think it helps to create the most interesting mouthfeel I’ve sensed in a while that I only find in this steep. It’s this crazy slippery feeling that makes it feel like the tea doesn’t even come into contact with my tongue, like there is some weird force field surrounding it. It’s really quite weird. But as if that wasn’t enough, it’s also incredibly creamy and creates a nice cooling effect in the throat. Just when I thought I had felt everything, the last sip, which had cooled off considerably, produced a fizzy sensation. Ahh pu’er, so unpredictable.

The next steep introduced caramel and earth flavors, really filling the body and rounding out the flavor profile. The crazy sensations above sort of dissipated a bit, all decreasing in intensity and duration. At this point an aftertaste begins to develop that turns incredibly spicy. Later on, it just catches in the throat, thick, hot, and lingering. Kind of like the aromatic spiciness of wasabi that catches in your nasal cavity. The fourth steep really presents the spicy profile. Seems like a mixture of cedar, turmeric, and cinnamon. I’m definitely considering making a chai with this shu. I had great success with a pumpkin spice-chocolate chai I crafted using Verdant’s Zhu Rong black (the girlfriend says its her favorite chai she’s had). I’ll probably make another post here if it turns out well.

Anyway, back to this shu. The last steeps result in a pretty weak brew flavor-wise, but there is this really nice cooling sensation they create that lingers for quite some time. After I was finished after my first tasting, I checked out the wet leaves. I’m not too excited about their condition. They’re really falling apart, peeling away from the central vein like wet paper. Considering it hasn’t been much time since the leaves were pressed, I’m a bit nervous of how they’ll fare after a few years. Hopefully, based on the current flavor, it won’t be much of an issue and will age nicely. I’ll attempt to restrain myself from finishing the cake and compare notes in six months or so.

Preparation
Boiling

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98
drank Yu Lu Yan Cha Black by Verdant Tea
64 tasting notes

Wow.

This tea is my new obsession. I must applaud Wang Yanxin for this one and thank Verdant Tea for somehow managing to take this tea away from her. Anyone with the ingenuity to create such a wonderful masterpiece is a tea wizard. With a complexity rivaling many oolongs, a melt-in-your-mouth texture, and deep, rich aromatics, I can say right now that this is an instant favorite of mine.

I don’t even know where to begin describing it. While tasting, I wrote down the names of a plethora of teas I’m familiar with that this one reminded me of in one aspect or another: A dry leaf appearance like Verdant’s Zhu Rong with less gold, aromas of chocolaty goodness like Laoshan black, at times a body similar to a shui xian or mi lan xiang, a liquor with a coloration somewhere between a dian hong and Zhu Rong, hints of orange citrus notes like a huang zhi xiang. This tea is a Frankenstein’s monster of all my beloved teas combined.

Brewing parameters: 100mL gaiwan, ~1/3 full dry leaf, near-boiling water

The dry leaves present a calming aroma of pure tea, heavy malt, and deep chocolaty notes. I can catch undertones of the charcoal roasting, and it adds nicely to the overall scent. After a quick wash, I excitedly took a sniff of the wet leaves, wondering whether they were hiding something. A rich aroma of chocolate, roasted coffee beans, and a slight fruity scent wafted up. It reminds me of this dark chocolate bread that a local bakery near my home town bakes. When it’s fresh, it has this really thick, cocoa-yeasty smell that just hangs in your nostrils much like this tea’s aroma does. I’ll take you through my gong fu session:

Wash (~1") with water cooled from boiling.

Steep 1 (2"): The malty flavor in this steep is really prominent and melds with a pure tea taste to create a full-bodied brew. Underneath, tones of chocolate, hickory? spices, and coffee come into play. There is also this faint tartness that causes a bit of astringency, but also a slippery mouthfeel that becomes very quenching. Right from the start I felt a strong cha qi from this steep.

Steep 2 (3"): The pure tea flavor increases a bit, paired with an addition of honeyed sweetness. Both chocolate and spicy notes become stronger. The tartness also increases, and becomes more orange-like, or maybe tangerine? The body becomes fuller, and more rounded modeled by a very smooth and creamy mouthfeel, which continues on into the next steeps.

Steep 3 (4"): The spices and citrus notes blend together into this undertone of spiced oranges. There is an additional starchy note underneath that reminds me of the Golden Fleece’s sweet potato flavor, but less sweet and without that caramel-y texture. The most intriguing moment of this tea unfolds in this steep. A pure sugar flavor emerges out of nowhere, becoming very prominent in each additional sip. It produces this lightness on the tip of the tongue, forming a tickling/cooling sensation. In addition, the tartness of the orange notes combines with something like dark chocolate to create this “pulling” sensation and something that makes me imagine what chocolate-covered mandarin oranges would taste like. It’s not astringency, though. Maybe somewhere between that spicy mouthfeel and astringency. Kind of like that sensation after eating dark chocolate with nuts with an additional tartness. It’s difficult to describe, but it makes my mouth beg for another sip and I love it.

Steep 4 (5"): Where I typically write my mouthfeel/textural notes, I only have “THE BEST” written. Starchy and honey flavors increase, while malty notes become more subdued. Pure tea and chocolate flavors reign supreme, and that pure sugar taste/sensation remains very noticeable. In addition, a vanilla cream flavor emerges and ties everything into this nice, well-connected bundle of yumminess.

Steep 5 (7"): All tartness seems to drop out at this point, and all I’m left with are sweets and spices. The sugar taste seems to morph a bit here and become more like brown sugar.

Steep 6 (10"): A nice caramel flavor emerges here and blends very nicely with the new brown sugar flavors. Most other nuances remain constant and the starchy/potato-like flavor diminishes. The body is much lighter at this point, but the mouthfeel is so smooth it’s almost melty.

Steep 7 (13): The sugary sweetness fades out here, and is instead replaced by spiciness that is felt on the tongue. Interestingly, there is a fruity flavor on exhale that seems to hint that something new is coming.

Steep 8 (18"): Indeed, tiny hints of a dark fruit/berry flavor peaks out from the bottom of the flavor profile, blending with notes of vanilla cream chocolate, spices, and malt.

Steep 9 (25"): Basically the same as the last, with a lasting thick and spicy mouthfeel.

Steep 10 (35"): In descending order: malt, pure tea, peppery spice, honey, something between apple and raspberry, chocolate, and finally, vanilla cream.

Steep 11 (1’ 10"): Mostly the same as the last steep, but the flavor has faded severely.

This tea just makes me feel awesome. Very comforting, very warm.

Wait! The leaves! How could I forget? The wet leaves’ appearance is interesting. They are either deep black or a chocolate brown in coloration, and it seems these two colors are divided quite equally. Most of them are also very spindly. They’re rolled extremely tightly. Very few stems, but the size and shapes of the leaves are pretty variable.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C
Cody

Thanks for the kind words, Paul! There is just so much in the leaves to hunger for. I must say, most of the flavors that I found in this tea were things I had never expected to find in a black tea. Indeed, I’m not sure if I would have even wanted them in a black tea. Yet, this one warps your perception of what can and should be present in a certain type of tea. I’m very excited and hopeful to hear of new advancements with the Yu Lu Yan Cha in the future.

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73

Thanks to Angel and Teavivre for this sample!

I’ve been holding off on reviewing this one for a while and give this tea as many tries as I could for the best opinion. It makes a nice cup, but it isn’t really anything I would show off to friends. I fear too much roasting is what did this one in. Charcoal and woody flavors overpower many of the subtler tastes the leaves offer, and tend to cause a fuzzy and drying mouthfeel and a somewhat bitter aftertaste. Thankfully, the leaves have an inherent sweetness to them, and counterbalance this enough to make the overall flavor enjoyable. I have difficulty finding any floral tones throughout steeps, but if I try hard enough I can just pick them out. I find the flavor profile to lean more towards tart fruits than florals, and this is mirrored in both the wet leaf’s aroma and the aftertaste. The first few steeps gong fu style tend to be the most interesting for me. I receive notes of apple, cocoa, and malt in addition to the aforementioned charcoal and wood tastes. Honey flavors creep in into the third or fourth steep, but besides this addition, the complexity goes a bit flat and the flavors fade out quickly for this tea type.

The dry leaves have a nice deep brown appearance and smell of hay, dried fruits, and somewhat biscuity. The wet leaves expand to reveal a very green coloration. They release dark aromas of earth, pure tea, cocoa, and tart berries. They appear in decent shape, although there are a few quite large empty stems. The leaves are, however, very dusty and leave a layer of silt at the bottom of my cup after every steep. Untwisting the the wet leaves, I dragged my thumb across the surface of a leaf and received a fair bit of black specks on the tip.

I suppose my expectations were a bit too high, as this tea just tastes common; there is nothing exciting or unexpected hiding in the leaves. I’m okay with this, though. It’ll give me something to drink when I don’t have time for other complex teas.

Preparation
200 °F / 93 °C
JC

Feel you on this one. This is very common, now everyone has ‘Da Hong Pao’. Last time I referred to this as ‘Burnt Mi Lan Xiang’ when they have excess of the lower quality stuff and decide to make it in to Da Hong Pao :P

Cody

“Burnt Mi Lan Xiang” is quite an accurate description, JC. Sadly, I’ve had my share of a few teas that seemed to be excess scraps labeled as “Da Hong Pao.”

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84

Many thanks to Angel and Teavivre for this generous sample!

My first experience with this tea was disappointing, I’m sorry to say. Jasmine teas are generally too strong for me, as I’m really sensitive to potent, perfume-y smells. I prepared it with the expectation that it was a scented tea and was blown away by the jasmine. A headache ensued, and I was not able to get through very many steeps. This was mostly error on my part which I discovered when inspecting the wet leaves. Jasmine flowers are mixed in with the tea leaves…Ahh no wonder. After that experience, I put the tea away for a while and let it rest.

After my nice experience with Pekko Teas’ Jasmine Dragon Tears, my confidence with jasmine teas was renewed. I gave the jasmine silver needle another shot and altered my methods. I went with cooler water (~160 F), maybe a bit less dry leaf (~1/3 100mL gaiwan), and ultra short steeps (one second for first steep, added one second for each successive steep, then three-five additional seconds each steep after the sixth). It turned out to work much better for me. The flavor was much more delicate, the mouthfeel became less syrupy and instead creamy. I was also able to pick up many more subtler nuances than I did the first time I tried this tea. Most notably this occurred with the first and second steeps which developed honey textures and a light whipped cream undertone, developing into something more savory into the next steeps. The “greener” flavors were more noticeable and tasted like fresh vegetables.

Into the fifth steep, a very faint, but intriguing, spicy note climbed up. It had the flavor of parsley and the texture of ground black pepper. Also in this steep, further heavy tastes became apparent, pulling the flavor profile together and giving the liquor a fuller body and thicker mouthfeel with the addition of a stone flavor and increased vegetal taste. Honey notes reached a minimum here, and rose again throughout consecutive steeps. After this point, the tea reached a balanced point in which jasmine flavors decreased to midtones, vegetal, savory, and fresh green flavors became most prominent, and stone flavors settled into undertones. These remained fairly constant and faded out together while jasmine notes slowly slipped away.

The leaves smell extremely potent to me especially during the first few steeps. In later steeps, this settles some and I am able to detect sweeter notes, and some stone aromas. The aroma of the liquor is syrupy, sometimes medicine like, although it is very floral with notes of fresh hay.

Conclusions: I’m a stickler with jasmine. However, going with my new method definitely changed my opinion of this tea and made it a great deal more palatable for me. The actual silver needle white tea has some very intriguing complexities to it, but they seem to be masked by the jasmine flavoring when using the suggested methods.

Preparation
160 °F / 71 °C

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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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