Big 50th tasting note! And it has been a LONG time coming… Guess what happened in my city this week? My internet provider’s building caught on fire. (Actually, it caught on fire twice, according to my grandmother. I don’t follow the news as closely.) Luckily, it doesn’t sound as though anyone was hurt, but it has caused absolute chaos in the city, as that building was a big communications hub.
Home internet services have mostly been down, of course, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Radio stations were taken out, cable TV went down, city hall’s phones weren’t working, multiple online bank services were down, Alberta Health Services’ network went down… Think that’s getting bad? Oh no: 911 SERVICES also went down in the core of the city. Emergency services were frantically trying to get the message out to people that calling 911 on a landline would reach no one, and to use a cell phone if possible. THAT BAD.
Thankfully, I understand that things are mostly back to normal now, and the whole incident has generated serious discussion about our city’s electronic infrastructure. As for me, I’ve been able to get on Steepster little bits for the past few days, but my dash would not load well until now. So this review is backlogged from, like, last Thursday. (Yes, embarrassing late, circumstance of “free” considered.) Don’t worry though, I have a few pages of notes on the tea tasting in my tea notebook to draw from, so it should be fairly accurate.
And kind of an exciting 50th note, eh? Apologies in advance for the length. Hope you have a scroll wheel on your mouse, but I have a lot to say this time. (Steepster really needs a “Read More” function.)
So I went to pick up that package from the post office, and it was indeed my package from Peony Tea S. (Yes, that’s Peony Tea-space-capital-S. My brain keeps trying to read it as “Peony Teassss” with a long, drawn-out S.) Initially I was slightly miffed about it not just getting dropped at the door, but I suppose it’s nice to have the extra security measure of signing for it rather than potentially have it disappear and wonder forever where the tea went. And the post office it was left at is a pleasant stroll away.
When I emailed my mailing address for this promo, I added a note that I’m less fond of pu-erh and green tea thus far. (I completely spaced on the asthma issue, but thankfully didn’t end up getting sent a lapsang souchong. Would have served me right if I had!)
So I got sent these three:
-And this one, https://www.peonyts.com/shop/index.php/product-categories/yunnan-black.html
Also, it came with a measuring “spatula” which is free with all first-time orders: https://www.peonyts.com/packaging-measurement/
Which, if I’m honest about it, I was almost more excited for (in advance of their arrival) than the tea itself. The website may say, “It may not be the most gorgeous or exquisite instrument around,” but I say that it’s a far cry from the metal teaspoons I’ve been using, and I think it’s pretty. Not sure what it’s made of, though. I’ve actually been finding it extremely useful for large-leaved teas that I already own and previously found hard to scoop even with a pot-bellied spoon. DAVIDs Nepal Black, for instance.
So now that it’s here, review! Including a review of the overall package I got. I decided to start with the Yunnan Black, as that’s basically a safe starting point for me based on past experience.
Delivery Time: Peony Tea S. wants to know how long it takes to deliver to Canada, and I think Calgary, Alberta is a pretty good test because my area is notorious for slow and misplaced mail and packages. I received an email saying that my package had been sent out on July 1st. The post tried to deliver the package first on the 9th. That is, in my experience, exceptional delivery time under any circumstances. I’m even more impressed given how far it had to go. At the risk of sounding like a complete boob, I had literally no idea Peony Tea S. was based in Singapore – not having heard of them yet, I vaguely presumed they are based in America, and didn’t realize otherwise until I picked up my package stamped “SINGAPORE” in four places. Well, this tea arrived faster than any from America, so…nice, and whatever postal service they’re using at their end they should keep using.
(I should also note here that I was provided with a tracking number for the package. I originally intended to check up on it; but as I have never used a tracking number, I completely forgot. I looked up the number after the delivery guy came Monday though, and all it said was that the package was dispatched to Canada. Presumably it now says that the package has arrived, although I can’t get it to load. Kiiinda already knew that, so I’m not convinced the tracking number is worthwhile.)
Packaging: The teas and spatula arrived in a flattish cardboard box and wrapped in bubble wrap. Not that I don’t bash my own tea around an embarrassing amount of the time, but it’s nice to see the tea protected before it gets to me.
The teas are in opaque, white bags similar to the bags you get at DAVIDsTEA for those familiar with the latter company. They are a comfortable size for the tea, which is not squished. On one side is a pretty blue-and-white logo/label with artwork featuring peonies; on the other side of the bag is a label with tea info and brewing instructions. On the Yunnan Black, the label looks like this:
Origin: Fengqing, Yunnan, China
Harvest Season: (left blank)
Shelf Life: (left blank)
Best Before: (left blank)
Quantity: (left blank)
Recommended Brewing Instructions:
1. Water Temperature: 95 C/203 F
2. Quantity: 3g/1 spatula per 100mL
3. Infusion Time: 1.5 mins.
4. No of Steeps: 3 times
…After scratching my head over the blank spaces for a bit, I came to the conclusion that what is already on the label must be pre-printed and the rest (which would naturally change more often) are printed later. But for the purposes of this promo, Peony Tea S. didn’t bother(?). I would obviously have to actually order more tea to find out. I think it’s cool to have a label with space for all that information, as I have had to repeatedly ask some vendors even to get information like the origin.
Now, I must note the brewing instructions. One-and-a-half minutes seems a bit short for a black, doesn’t it? Only 100mL of water seems a little low, doesn’t it? A whole spatula/3g (since everyone who orders with them presumably gets sent a spatula the first time, there is a standardization there to work with) seems like a lot of leaf for that amount of water, yes?
I puzzled over this for a minute until it clicked that these have to be gong fu brewing instructions; that’s the working presumption here. So I went to go find my gaiwan. (Which is luckily exactly 100mL.) But if you typically brew Western, these brewing instructions are going to seem a little crazy. Have no fear, you can brew this one Western as well if you really want, using common steeping parameters for blacks.
A Note: Before I get to the actual tasting, I would like to point something out. In the past, before tasting a tea – and certainly before writing a review of one – I am horribly, horribly guilty of always reading other reviews first to see what others thought of it. Sometimes this is useful, but I have an ugly feeling that it is not always a good thing. Maybe even usually not a good thing. What it means is that you have certain taste expectations before you even put the tea in your mouth, which I’d argue can alter how you perceive the tea to actually taste.
In this case, I was not able to get online to check reviews for this tea before I drank it. So I was making hard-copy notes and I essentially wrote this review completely “blind.” Which had…interesting consequences that I will get to later.
Also, while perusing Chapters a few weeks ago, I found this cool-looking book on tea. I could sadly not afford to buy it, but I did flip through it, and read some bits about tea tasting. When tasting tea, the book recommended that you:
1. First, exhale completely.
2. Take a sip of tea.
3. Hold the tea in your mouth across your entire tongue and inhale deeply through your nose.
It really seems to make a difference in the taste, and I tried to do that as much as possible through this review.
The Tea: Dry Smell: Not at all subtle. When I opened the bag, this tea’s smell was a real smack to the face. And it smacked of chocolate. Rich, dark chocolate. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, whoa chocolate. And something unidentifiably fruity underneath.
(“Unidentifiably fruity” is an ongoing problem for me. I should note here that not only am I still a real novice to tea drinking, I am also not a foodie of any description. My diet largely consists of mac ‘n’ cheese and tacos. Learning to identify various notes in tea is an ongoing process, and often something like, “fruit, but I don’t know what kind,” is the best I can manage.)
Wet Smell: More fruity than before. Also, there is a distinctly “tea,” smell about it, but I note that it is a different “tea” smell from the Assam I often have for breakfast. Lighter, of course, but different in other ways I cannot currently articulate. Maybe this is a distinctly Yunnan “tea” smell? I will need to compare more straight blacks in the future.
1st Infusion: (I assumed that the time on the label was for the first infusion, so this is 1.5 minutes.) Dark, midnight dark, with deep dark chocolate notes. I’m actually blown away at how chocolate it is without actually being flavoured. This is tough to explain – it is not like a chocolate-flavoured tea in the sense that you put it in your mouth and immediate identify “chocolate!” Rather, it is more like a really strong impression of chocolate which is completely natural to the tea. I think the thing which is most making me think of chocolate is the almost-bitterness to it which good quality dark chocolate has without shading into actual, unpleasant bitterness. There’s something sweeter and lighter riding on top of the cup as it cools that makes me think of caramel. And even though I tasted no berries in this infusion, I noticed that the bottom of the cup seriously smelled like – or reminded me of – the raspberry-flavoured dark chocolate a now-ex gave me once.
2nd Infusion: (2 min.) Not nearly as chocolate, but even deeper and darker than the first. Seriously. I described the first infusion as “midnight dark” in my notes, and it was lighter than this. That doesn’t mean that this is a “strong” tea like a Kenyan black. Just dark! There’s a slight astringency that I picked up, but nothing to the point that I would mentally knock a tea down from “good” to merely “interesting” to drink. (Not a fan of astringency, me.) I didn’t notice at all if the first infusion had any astringency to it, so I guess it must not be terribly noticeable if it is. There’s something fruity riding on top which, again, comes out as it cools – this is one of those teas that will always get more complex as the cup’s temperature drops. I can still taste the caramel-like note I found before, but it’s faded well into the background.
3rd infusion: (2.5 min.) The brief astringency is gone – this is a very smooth cup – and here’s the fruit at last! The chocolate is virtually gone, coming out occasionally and unexpectedly at the back of a few sips. The impression of something dark and juicy – like maybe a dark berry, not sure – is strong. If the previous infusions were dark, this is like sunlight shining through the top of the forest. This is not an “earthy” tea, this is a “leafy” tea. Which may seem like a stupid thing to say about a beverage which is made by putting leaves in hot water… But the taste associations are bringing me back to hiking up mountains in Banff with my dad as a kid. This tea tastes like those times when you were about two-thirds of the way through the forest, and you could sense the approach of the moment when you would break through the tree line into blazing sun and chilly air. There’s a natural sweetness here that comes out more – say it with me now – as the cup cools.
4th infusion: (3 min.) Yes, I know the label said three infusions, but I’m a rebel!
…Except that no, no, you really shouldn’t infuse this more than three times. I can faintly taste chocolate again, but I swear I can also taste my kettle. (Is that what my kettle tastes like? Ew.) It’s still drinkable, but there’s nothing interesting going on. This tea goes hard, and stops suddenly.
Western style: Okay, by the time I got to this I was terribly reviewed-out, but I never consider a tea completely reviewed until I’ve had it Western style. This is maybe hypocritical, as I don’t consider tea un-reviewed if I haven’t had it gong fu style, but Western is what I’m used to. So after brewing it the way I was suggested to by the vendor, I still need to test it in the way I find most comfortable to drink. I don’t necessarily hold it against a tea for not having the flexibility to be drunk Western style, but it will add additional points to my rating. In this case, 1 spatula of tea per 250mL brewed for 4 minutes turned out a charming blend of the gong fu infusions, with strong fruity notes that blended well with sweetener.
So, the rating: my first feeling was that this was somewhere in the 80s, but I bumped it up a few points for being entirely pleasant to drink clear (I’m the sugarhound, after all) and a few more for the pleasant Western cup. So that put me at 90. And I hope I have convinced you that this tea is worth a 90 on its own merits and not because I got it for free. (Also, the packaging and delivery time, while I mentioned them, did not factor into the rating. Had they been bad, I still would only be rating the tea itself.)
So. One last thing. I mentioned earlier that I wrote this review blind. Well, once I got internet access back enough to look up this tea on the website…here is the description:
“Yunnan Black or Dian Hong is one of the most beloved of China’s black teas. It’s rich aroma, full flavor and natural citrusy taste makes it an excellent choice of lovers of black tea.
Sweet, citrusy with hints of red dates."
Citrus?! Citrus. Citrus? The hell. Where did I get chocolate from, then?
I could, of course, go back, try another cup and then declare, “Well, I’ll be! It does taste like citrus! Now I look like less of a boob. I can taste it after all; must have been sick that first time.”
Thing is, I spent a good hour or so concentrating on the taste of this tea, and didn’t come up with “citrus” even once…so that wouldn’t be honest, would it?
Oh well. This is a really good tea, and I am happy (based on my experience thus far) to recommend Peony Tea S. I’m sure that any lover of blacks will enjoy this one.
Even if it doesn’t taste a thing like chocolate to you.