39 Tasting Notes
I’ve now had four drinking sessions with this tea. The first three times were with friends, and presently I’m drinking it on my own. Always preparing it in a gaiwan with, more or less, Verdant’s suggested guidelines for Gongfu brewing. Delectable tea!
I initially encounter a quality reminiscent of roasted nuts in the fragrance and flavor, mixed with green vegetal notes and a hint of vanilla bean. Complex! As the profile builds with successive infusions, these qualities yield at turns to surprising others: a little kernel of toasted rice, the aftertaste left by ripe grapes, sweet butter punctuated by a grain or two of sea salt, whispers of those long-gone lilacs of spring… It’s all very fascinating, even as these flavors seem so divergent. There is something indescribable that holds the show together…
In fact, I feel like the flavors interact and move on and off the stage of a captivating theatrical play. So running with that analogy… in later acts, I recognize a lush juiciness developing, with notes of honeydew and plum on the long road home, being guided by this savvy prevailing peach flavor. Peach is definitely one of the key characters, as throughout the whole experience, even before making its first entrance, mention of it can be repeatedly heard in the discreet whisperings of some characters and in the lively repartee of others. What I mean by this is that, from the beginning, there is a sensation on the tongue after sipping that feels like the soft fuzz of a peach skin — but it’s not immediately recognizable as such. With continued drinking, the juiciness grows, the aftertaste deepens, then soon enough the presence of peach makes its grand entrance, and after each cup there’s this uncanny sensation that you just ate a really nice ripe one. I love this!
Comparisons are inevitable, but I feel that I must assess the beauties and virtues of this Autumn Tieguanyin in their own right. Her dignity quietly commands it. The spring and autumn pickings of this tea are no doubt related, but they each have such unique characteristics that, for me, a direct comparison would be unwarranted. There will be more spring pickings, and more autumn pickings, and I’ll let each be compared with its kind. If I could say anything about what makes these spring and autumn teas distinct, it would be that this Autumn Tieguanyin is like a more reserved, but more sophisticated, sister of the Spring Tieguanyin. No less beautiful, but she doesn’t make the kind of head-turning display of it her sister does. She’ll ask you to invest some attention and time in getting to know her, and appreciating her knowledge and intellectual charms, before she unfolds a full glimpse of her beauty for you. But this extra effort is wholly worthwhile, because when she does, finally, grant you that gift… my, does it feel special!
And I think I must spend a great deal of time sharing the good company of this tea. Her charms may yet enthrall me more than her stunning sister.
Finishing off the last of my sample of this one right now. Super good! No new insights to add to my last note, but I find this tea growing on me. And I think it is excellent for the price. I just checked Asha’s website to order this one yesterday and found that it was sold out! I wrote David at Asha an email inquiring of the ETA on possible restocking of it, and he told me that ETA is unknown for now, but that there was actually one remaining 50g pack left that I could buy. Really appreciate service like that! David said this tea has apparently been a very popular one among his offerings. So glad I could acquire some. Knowing that more is on the way, I decided to brew the last of it now… to my great enjoyment. I hope Asha can get more of it in at some point.
Been drinking the Laoshan Black again for the past two days. And I have to up my rating of it a couple notches. I knew this tea was special from the moment I first smelled the dry leaves. And now, several months later, it is proving itself more special than that initial impression.
Constancy and poise are keywords here. What follows might be a funny analogy, but I impart it in earnest, so please indulge me. When I’m drinking other black teas, I always remember this special one from Laoshan as that rare and truly great love. She fully knows her worth, but is very far above holding it over anyone. In calm fortitude, she knows that I’ll always come back, and patiently tolerates my occasional carousing with other teas. Every time I return to her I recognize how in love I am, and also that I’m almost undeserving of her attention. . . . but she loves me. And so it goes.
Laoshan black is indeed my favorite black tea. What great good fortune that these farmers at Laoshan decided to “try out” the production of a black tea for the first time. If you ask me, it was an experiment touched by some kind of grace. And may they continue producing this tea indefinitely!
WOW! Revisiting this tea right now. The Taiwanese roasted oolong I tried recently piqued my interest in giving this one another go. My first attempt with this was months ago in a very young yixing teapot, which was still gobbling up flavor at the time. I knew I wasn’t really getting what this tea had to offer in that session, so I withheld judgement. I’ve just brewed this for about ten infusions in my gaiwan, and it’s very impressive. I must say I love it! No time to articulate further at the moment, but I’ll make a point of writing a more insightful tasting note in the future.
David at Asha Tea sent me a sample of this roasted oolong with my second order of his lovely Alishan oolong. I just drank six infusions of it in the gaiwan, back to back. YUM! This is a very tasty and deeply pleasing roasted oolong. He describes it as having a flavor and fragrance reminiscent of coffee, and that is an apt characterization.
Honestly, I’m normally not all that into coffee. I love the fragrance of the roasted beans, but I’m rarely inclined to drink it. I could never steel myself to handle it black, and when I do go for it I typically tend to the fancy espresso drinks cut with plenty of milk and sweet stuff: like cappuccinos with caramel, lattes with hazelnut syrup, or a cafe miel. Stuff like that. In any case, my body has never really sit well with coffee drinks, and sometimes my lymphatic system has a bit of a fit when I drink them, so naturally I keep my distance.
The thing about this roasted oolong though… is that it has everything I like about coffee in its profile, without including anything that I don’t like about coffee. The first and second infusions surprised me with a light and delicious caramel sweetness that grew in the aftertaste. This subsided for a bit in the third and fourth infusions, then came back even better in the aftertaste of the fifth and sixth infusions when I was steeping it a little longer. I find notes of roasted hazelnut here too, which I’m very fond of. The chocolate flavor in David’s description isn’t as present for me, but that could be partly due to my using a different brewing method than what he recommends. At any rate, with or without chocolate notes, I find this tea thoroughly enjoyable, and would happily order more at some point. I’m getting the sense that David at Asha has a very good taste for Taiwanese oolongs. I hope to try more of his selections in the future.
[Edit: Garret, the owner of Mandala Tea, has looked into the questions I raised in this tasting note. His supplier has assured him that the tea is indeed from the Da Hong Pao bush, but light-roasted in a style that is similar to the one typically used for Dan Cong oolongs. This clarifies the similarity I mention experiencing between this Da Hong Pao and Mi Lan Dan Cong. See the attached comments for additional detail.]
This came as a sample with my order from Mandala. I was excited to try it as my yixing teapot is dedicated to Big Red Robe. I had waited until a couple of my tea friends were over, and we brewed this up as the fourth or fifth tea of the evening. As it happens we had just finished drinking a lackluster Mi Lan Dan Cong (Honey Fragrance Phoenix Mountain Oolong), and when the first infusion of this Big Red Robe was brewed up the most peculiar thing happened… One of my tea friends tasted it and exclaimed, “This tea tastes like it actually is what that Mi Lan Dan Cong was trying to be.”
I then tasted it myself. What!? Wait a minute, I thought, what is this? This tea, labelled and sold as a “light roast” Da Hong Pao, bore an uncanny resemblance to Mi Lan Dan Cong in its flavor, in its fragrance, and in the look of the leaves (when we compared the samples side by side). Could it have been a miscommunication? If we hadn’t just tried another Mi Lan Dan Cong immediately beforehand, I might never have noticed.
If it really is a Mi Lan Dan Cong, rather than a Da Hong Pao, I think it’s a pretty good quality one. This was unambiguously better than the Mi Lan Dan Cong oolong I tried from Asha, and also another Mi Lan Dan Cong oolong my friends brought over to try. The sample I tried from Goldfish Tea still wins out over this one, but I’d definitely be happy to drink this tea from Mandala any time. It’s really nice!
But now, let me leave a qualification on this…. If the tea in question really is a “Light Roast” Big Red Robe, I’m kind of perplexed. The leaves are smaller, the characteristic smoky/roasted flavor at the beginning is absent, and it’s just far from what one would generally expect from Big Red Robe. The only kinship this tea has with Big Red Robe that I can draw on is a fruitiness in it’s profile that bears some resemblance to the fruit notes in a Qilan Big Red Robe I’ve tried, which was the best example of this kind of tea I’ve ever tried. This tea from Mandala and that Qilan Big Red Robe aren’t in the same league at all, but it’s the only reference point for similarity I can draw. It makes much more sense to me that Mandala’s “Light Roast” Big Red Robe is actually a pretty good Mi Lan Dan Cong.
Anyway… maybe this will be cleared up at some point. Good tea, but made for some curious head scratching. [Addendum: In light of the insight that this tea is indeed Da Hong Pao, I am interested in trying it again and re-assessing it with that knowledge at some point.]
Revisited this Mi Lan Dan Cong from Asha. I have to admit that I’m less fond of it after a second brewing session, and with the perspective provided by recently trying another Mi Lan Dan Cong of better quality. My disappointment is primarily from the promise this tea extends when it first touches the tongue, but doesn’t deliver on. I feel like it’s going to go in a good direction initially, but it just turns south and leaves me with a little bitterness in the aftertaste. Had to revise my rating on this one… Not as good as I wanted it to be.
I’ve been much happier with Asha’s Alishan oolong and Golden Buds, which are really solid and delicious offerings. Hopefully they can source a better Dan Cong in the future to stand with the other fine teas they have.
I love ginseng oolong, and Mandala’s offering is a good one. Had several infusions this morning. After about four 15-second infusions in the gaiwan, the ginseng coating fully yielded to the unfolding tea leaves. The flavor is as Mandala describes, “slightly sweet and always satisfying”. The expected licorice-root sweetness is present, especially in the beginning when the ginseng is dissolving, and especially in the aftertaste. It’s not as strong on the sweet side as some others I’ve tried, but that’s fine with me. I feel I can count on this tea to be reliably enjoyable.
I’m curious about the origin of the oolong used for this tea, and think I’ll probably ask the owner of Mandala Tea if he knows. I recently tried an exquisite example of ginseng oolong that was made, I believe, with high quality Dong Ding. That was superb! But cost-prohibitive. Also had the chance to try the same Dong Ding without ginseng coating and it was so good by itself that you’d wonder whether using it to make a flavored oolong was really a good idea…
Anyway, this Ginseng Oolong from Mandala Tea is delicious, and will be good to have with me through the cold Minneapolis winter.
Drinking this Mao Feng from Mandala Tea now. Quite different from the last Mao Feng I tried (from Goldfish Tea). The dry tea leaves of these two examples look remarkably different. The Goldfish leaves were uniformly greener and relatively straight, a bit like long thin pine needles. The leaves of Mandala’s Mao Feng are a mixture lighter and darker leaves, less obviously green, and generally wavy in shape. Looks like a very different processing method was used to finish each of these teas.
[Edit: Take note of the comments attached. I’ve been informed that the difference between the two Mao Feng teas I describe and compare is due to their being from two different growing regions: Yunnan and Huang Shan respectively.]
The dry leaves here have a potent and sweet, fruity aroma. Interestingly, that sweet fruitiness is not represented in the flavor. The brewed tea is actually much more savory. After five infusions in the gaiwan, I would say that the predominating flavor characteristic of this Mao Feng is . . . . split pea. Yes, the brewed tea tastes and smells very much like split pea soup. Bold, hearty, and slightly salty, but never in an unpleasant way.
Fascinating. This is so different from the last one. Whereas the last one had me scratching my head in an attempt to associate it’s flavor with something, this one has a flavor that I can positively identify. The aftertaste here doesn’t interest me as much as that of the Mao Feng from Goldfish Tea (that one captivated me). In some ways I feel like this Mao Feng shares more similarities with the Jing Shan green tea from Verdant Tea, than it does with the other Mao Feng I recently tried, which surprises and kind of bewilders me. For one thing, the leaves of this tea look more similar to the Jing Shan green. They also share a slight affinity in taste; on top of the split pea note here I perceive hints of the asparagus note that is often present in the Jing Shan tea. By contrast, the Mao Feng from Goldfish had a much less vegetable flavor, was generally softer, and perhaps more cooling than warming. This one feels warming.
I like this Mao Feng, and split pea is one of my favorite soups. I don’t know that I want it for breakfast, but I think it will be suitable for afternoon or sometimes early evening drinking, especially on cold days. The variance between these two Mao Feng teas is intriguing, and makes me want to try several more of them. I need to get some bearings on this tea.
Amazing. Drinking this Tieguanyin again this morning. I had opened one of the vacuum-sealed 7-gram packs last Friday to share with someone, and got a little zealous in my endeavor to pour half of the package into my gaiwan. Looking at how much leaf was left in that pack this morning, it must have been more like 3/4 of the pack that I’d used last time. So I was looking at maybe 2 grams in my gaiwan this morning, and debating whether I wanted to open up another pack. I decided to just brew up the two grams and have a “light” session with it.
HA! Drinking the third infusion now, I could hardly call this “light” compared to my other sessions with it. Even with minimal leaf, this Tieguanyin still goes the distance. A testament to its power, richness, and depth. I can’t wait to try the autumn picking of Tieguanyin that Verdant will be getting in soon, as it’s purported to be the best crop in years, and comparable to this one in quality.
Oh, with this tea in my cup, it’s going to be a great winter.