148 Tasting Notes
I think I’m just not cut out to like Pu-erh. It’s not from lack of trying. I’ve bought a half-dozen samples from various sources, but never pu-erh specialists. I was excited about the unfavored TTB, primarily because it promised an importunity to sample many of the highest-rated pu-erhs. If I didn’t like those, then pu-erh just wasn’t for me. My first attempt (Mandala Wild Monk) didn’t end to well, though some of the blame may fall on my steeping technique. This was my second attempt.
Not wanting to use too much of a limited sample, I went western-style. The nose was light. The flavors were deep and dark; earthy with hints of chocolate and a tinge of bitterness. Not exciting me the way I hoped it would. Reminds me a bit of a medium-quality Yunnan. As it cooled, I could hold it in my mouth longer, and feel the power and complexity, but the flavor profile isn’t one that I enjoy: earthy and woody and dark. I wound up rating this fairly high because it was interesting, but it isn’t a tea that I would buy.
In this day of political correctness, we aren’t supposed to have prejudice, but I have to confess that I have prejudice against certain teas, including Nilgiri. I’ve never had one that I thought was better than ordinary. Until this one.
This tea was really nice. The first Nilgiri that I’ve really enjoyed. It reminds me a bit of a Yunnan: earthy, with a hint of chocolate. The second steep was slightly bitter, but a third was smooth and enjoyable. Not great, but certainly rising above ordinary.
From the Unflavored TTB.
One of the disadvantages of a TTB is that there is a tension between using a lot of tea and leaving more for future participants. I’m also trying to taste a lot of different teas, so I don’t want to spend half the day with a single tea. So for this tea, I did a weird compromise between a western style and gong-fu: steeping 2 grams of tea in 6 oz of water for several 2-minute steeps. It let me get a sense of the tea without using a lot of tea or feeling like I wanted to do 10 re-steeps. It seemed to work out reasonably well.
1st steep (2 min): Soft nose is straw with grassy/spicy undertones. As it cooled, the spice became more prominent. The taste has a good mouth-feel, with a blend of straw and grass and a hint of spice. 2nd (2 min): Smell is now grass and toast. Much richer flavors. Less grass, more spice. By the third steep (5 min):, the taste is really deep and rich. Not much grass at all.
From the Unflavored TTB.
I’m catching up on reviews since I’ve had trouble linking to steepster the last few days. The nose is full of rich chocolate, with a touch of smoke underneath. The taste is rich and chocolaty, mixed with a leafy flavor. Long, luscious finish. I’m a big fan of Keemun and this is just the kind of tea I love. As I got further into the cup, the finish turned slightly bitter. Still good, but perhaps a bit short of great. 2nd steep good but simpler. 3rd weak. A damn fine tea.
From the Unflavored TTB
Dry leaves smell good. Rich, smoky aroma in the cup. The flavor is fairly strong, very smooth, and slightly smoky, with hints of cocoa. Very big, very long finish may be the best part of this tea. Astringent and slightly tannic without being bitter. This is one of those teas where the flavors change as you go through the sniff, sip, swallow, finish process. Very interesting, but on the subtle side. I get the sense that this is a tea one could enjoy experimenting with steep times, temperature, etc. I may need to buy more. Just checked the price: I REALLY have to buy this one. Great everyday tea for someone who likes a bit of smoke in their tea (like me: addicted to Keemun).
From the Unflavored TTB
I was really looking forward to trying some quality Pu-erh in this tea box, but things aren’t going as well as I hoped. First, when I read other tasting notes, the standard process for Pu-erh steeping seems to be to put about 8 grams into a gaiwan and take really short steeps. But the box only has 5 grams of this tea and I don’t want to hog it all. So, I tried using 2.5 grams in about 3 oz of water and 30 s steeps.
I did a short 5-10 second rinse, then made my first pot. The aroma was absolutely marvelous: floral and fruity and sweet. I thought, this is going to be GREAT! Then I took my first sip and it was bitter and earthy. Nothing like that wonderful aroma. After trying several sips, I finally decided that I might not have rinsed the tea for long enough and threw out the tea (after spending 5 minutes just sniffing the cup).
The second steep (30 s) had a richer aroma, with added spice, but I didn’t like it quite as well as the first one. The taste is better, with some of the fruit from the aroma, but still considerable bitterness.
3rd steep (30s): The aroma has gone from fruit to cooked fruit; still very good. Wow. The bitterness is just about gone, and I think I could actually like this tea. Unfortunately, the bitterness still appears in the finish.
4th (30 s): The aroma has started to fade, though what is there is still really good. Taste is straw with undercurrents of fruit. Very rich, with long NON-bitter finish.
5th (45 s): Finally, I ’m starting to just enjoy. The finish is now huge, with fruit, spice, and straw.
Rating: Part of me says I shouldn’t rate this tea since I’m a Pu-erh newbie. On the other hand, my tastes may better reflect the average steepster participant than the Pu-erh fanatics. So, I’ll provide a number. But how? This may be the best-smelling tea I’ve ever had, so on smell alone the rating should be in the high 90s. But I had to dump out my first two cups as undrinkable, suggesting 50s. I have to give credit for intellectual pleasure: the tea is constantly shifting, rewarding the effort to do multiple steeps and explaining the fascination people develop for Pu-erh. Though subsequent tastes improved, I never fully warmed up to the tea.
I got a whiff of molasses as I poured, but couldn’t find it in the cup. I’m not a big fan of Assam, but keep searching, hoping to find that special tea that lets me love Assam. This one is close, but not quite there.
I tried this as the first tea of the morning on the first full day of the unflavored TTB. Sort of a high end English Breakfast? It is powerful enough, but not overwhelming. Very smooth, malty with hints of fruit, and on the tannic side; almost at the point where I want to add sugar (which I normally would with breakfast tea, but not with fine teas – I’m still trying to decide which side of the line this one falls). The finish is excellent: long and complex, and I think the molasses may make a subtle re-appearance. In the end, I couldn’t quite love it, but I liked it a lot. We’ll just remain friends.
From the Unflavored TTB
The box just arrived and I’m anxious to try some tea, but it’s 4 PM. Pai Mu Tan isn’t supposed to have too much caffeine, so I’ll take my chances.
The nose is really rich. My first thought was melon, but it then tasted more fruity I thought of honeysuckle, but I think pear comes closest. The taste is sweet; a bit simpler than the nose, but continues the flavors, with an additional dusty character. The finish is good, but doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the nose. There were no disagreeable elements; the flavors worked well together in a nice, smooth cup.
Overall, this is a very fine tea. To my mind, the aroma is the best part of the tea, but the taste and finish are also very good. I lingered over my first cup and while the aroma remained excellent, the taste seemed to fade a bit as the tea cooled. Still good, but no longer excellent.
Resisting the temptation to rush to another tea, and mindful of the impact of too much caffeine on the odds of my getting a decent night’s sleep, I tried a re-steep (also 3 minutes). The aroma is similar to before, but weaker. The taste and finish in the re-steep initially seemed much simpler than before: basic white tea; good, but not in the same league as the first steep. However, as the tea cooled (and I took bigger sips) it opened up into a very good tea.