99 Tasting Notes


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It’s difficult for me to articulate my feelings on this tea, as I haven’t had a Darjeeling I remember, and lack a point of reference.

That said, this is one expensive, fancy Darjeeling… and it lives up to what it says on the tin. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever had in a tea, which I suspect is mostly my inexperience with Darjeelings talking – but I can tell this is truly something special. The flavor and aroma are immensely complex and layered, with all sorts of nutty, floral, spiced, fruity flavors coming and going as your palate processes it all, ending with a distinct note of umami.

If all the flavors came together, it would be an unpleasant, boring, overpowering mess of a tea, and I wouldn’t much like it – but they come a few at a time, shifting through sets, just enough of a procession that you can appreciate them all. There’s near-zero bitterness, just many delicious flavors that unfold in your mouth for a good 5-10 seconds after you take a drink, leaving a nutty mushroomy umami in their wake.

The concentrated intensity of flavor packed into this tea just screams first flush – this is what first flush is all about, in any kind of tea. Go light, 185F and 2-2.5min steep. Like most first flushes, this one’s delicate relative to the rest of the family.

I might just have ruined myself for Darjeelings forever, by starting with the best of the best. Oh, it is good.

185 °F / 85 °C 2 min, 30 sec

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I absolutely love Lapsang Souchong, and am a fan of other smoky black teas like Keemuns – so everything about this blend had my expectations high. They were absolutely met. Russian Caravan is a wonderfully smooth and smoky blend, truly perfect for the morning pick-me-up with a caffeine kick, but no real bitterness.

The smokiness isn’t just the “subtle smokiness” some teas “evoke”, because this blend has actual Lapsang Souchong in it, and by extension actual smoke. The Lapsang’s presence is absolutely clear, but it doesn’t overpower the other flavors. Unlike a straight Lapsang, Russian Caravan still tastes first and foremost like black tea, rather than a campfire.

The distinct aroma and flavor of Lapsang are cut by the mellow and smooth roasty tobacco flavors of a good Keemun, diluting it enough to make this a balanced blend, an achievement considering how the smell of Lapsang so permanently embeds itself into everything it ever comes in contact with.

If you do not like Lapsang Souchong, you probably will not be able to come to terms with this blend – but being such a polarizing, cult-inspiring tea, if you love it, you’ll likely love this. This, like Lapsang, is a tea for people who see “It just tastes like ashes”, “this is way too smoky” or “It tastes like a campfire” in other people’s negative reviews, and salivate because those people just don’t get it.

The roasted, mellow best of a Keemun, with the true smokiness it needs and only a Lapsang can bring, in the endlessly drinkable lightness you get from a blend. I think this is by far my favorite black tea so far, if one counts straight Lapsangs, Pu-erhs etc. as their own categories.

Hello, new morning wake-up tea.

205 °F / 96 °C 3 min, 0 sec

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Oh Lapsang Souchong, how I’ve missed you all these years. Amongst all the five-year-stale teas I discovered in my cupboard recently upon returning to tea-nerdery, Lapsang was the one tin that was empty. But, but, but… now I have more.

This is the most beautiful tea, the tea of teas. It smells like a campfire. It tastes like a campfire. It makes your tea-basket permanently taste and smell like a campfire, infusing it into anything else you ever make with it, forcing you to keep a second basket just for Lapsang.

And you do.

Because it’s beautiful and perfect.
The reason I’ve rated this only 95 is because there’s probably a Lapsang Souchong out there better than the one Peet’s offers which is even more divine, and one day I may taste it. Also, because Gyokuro exists.

205 °F / 96 °C 3 min, 0 sec

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Previously, I’d been making this unintentionally 5-year shelf aged tea of mine with water that wasn’t full boiling point, and had commented that it seemed to have a certain excess pungency from so long being ignored. This morning, I used boiling water as intended with pu-erhs, and sure enough, it’s gone. With boiling water, this tastes mellower and a bit more complex than it did new, but not at all unpleasant. I have some fresh tuo-chas on the way, so I’ll be able to compare better at that point.

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drank Sencha "Uji" by Lupicia
99 tasting notes

This is among the absolute best green teas I’ve ever had. Made right, with a one minute steep in 165F water, it is pure fresh first-flush. Everything about it screams fresh, grassy, alive, and the aroma alone is worth the price of admission.

Flavorwise, it’s an especially mellow and smooth green, astringent without being bitter, grassy without being earthy, and unusually umami in the mid- and after-taste, shifting from the grassy freshness into a faintly salty savoriness that doesn’t disrupt the fresh and clean feel one bit.

This is how green tea is supposed to taste, this is green tea in the purest of forms. The blue-rare Kobe steak of green. Just a touch of oxidization on the best leaves, letting the tea speak for itself, not the process… and what a tea it is.

With the proper steep time and temperature, you’ll be able to get a second brew out of this that comes very close to the first, just steep for 15s longer or so.

165 °F / 73 °C 1 min, 15 sec

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This is probably one of the best smelling teas I have owned, aside from my Shinchas/Gyokuro (because nothing beats a fresh green). Cinnamon and spices in cider by the fireplace come to mind.

The base is black tea, but it’s absolutely packed with spices, cloves, large bits of citrus peel etc. and it shows through in the end result. It still tastes like tea, but both the taste and the smell strongly reflect that warm cinnamon spiciness. The smooth tea flavor is good, but stays in the background as a base. One could probably write pages dissecting all the flavor notes and the order in which they manifest… but that would miss the point. This blend isn’t about the parts, but about the picture they paint. I’d have liked to see more Lapsang smokiness to go with the feel, but that would be too polarizing for most customers. I will have to blend this with some actual Lapsang and report back.

Be it on a cold winter’s night, or upon getting into the office after standing on a freezing BART station platform at an ungodly early hour, this is the tea equivalent of “Winter Warmer” type beers. Highly recommended if you can find it, at any time it’s cold out, or you just need some comfort tea.

205 °F / 96 °C 3 min, 15 sec

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Note: This tea spent five years aging in the tin prior to this post.

I found this to be an especially nice black tea. It blends the smoke of a Lapsang (though obviously much less intense) with a woodsy tobacco sort of flavor – so, it’s a Keemun. If you’re not into smoky woodsy teas, this might well be your least favorite black tea aside from Lapsang Souchong – but if you are, this is pretty good.

A Keemun will generally take being left on the shelf for years pretty well, so in my case the unintentional five year aging served to dramatically mellow out the bite, bringing it down to almost pu-erh levels of not-bitter. I found that to compliment the flavor pretty well – so while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend five years… this is one you can give a few of aging for a mellower profile, and it certainly holds up fine if you’re slow to finish the tin.

I can’t rate it especially highly because it didn’t wow me, but it’s definitely good, and I wouldn’t turn it down. I tend to spoil my palate with super-fancy teas, and I can see this blowing some minds if one is new to loose-leaf brewed right.

195 °F / 90 °C 2 min, 15 sec

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Somehow, I managed to fall out of being a tea nerd and went without loose-leaf for years. As a result, coming back into it, I found myself with a few tuo-cha left of this pu-erh. After five years in their tin, there is a distinctly different character from when I purchased it, worthy of note.

Even for a pu-erh, the years have mellowed it further, smoothed out the body, and a 45 second 195F first steep leads to coffee-black tea, and the cake completely coming apart to leaves in the basket.

It tastes like dirt, in the best of ways. It has a certain stale, fermented sort of pungency from the excess aging that I think is perhaps too much, but it’s still quite drinkable. I wouldn’t recommend you let this age for 5 years, but 2-3 in I am sure would be quite good. This isn’t a particularly special pu-erh either way, but it’s readily available, decently priced, has a nice tin and comes in single-pot tuo-cha. A good staple pu-erh.

It’s worth noting something many pu-erh newbies miss – this as with almost any is good for not just a second steep, but as many as six, and better pu-erh go even longer. Dumping the leaves after one infusion is a waste of your money. The steep lengths should be roughly 20-25 seconds longer each time, and start at 45 seconds – assuming you’ve rinsed the cake and let it sit as is proper.

195 °F / 90 °C 0 min, 45 sec

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Her Highness Rozen Maiden No.5, Shinku, is my tea-soulmate.

I am a tea nerd. I only brew looseleaf, I keep an instant read thermometer with my stash and never, ever brew a cup without getting the water temperature I want first. I can’t stop buying teas that capture my heart, even if I have more than I could ever finish before they go stale – though I do my best to keep delicate ones sealed until I’m ready to dig in.

I rate things on a different scale than I think most people do. For me, 50 is not a bad grade, 50 is take it or leave it, I probably wouldn’t turn it down but I wouldn’t ask for it. 50 is indifference, sub-50 is dislike.

Also, I live near Lupicia SF, and can get there and back in the span of my lunch break. I’m jealous of myself.

I like just about everything, but my true loves are shincha, gyokuro, pu-erh, and lapsang souchong. Grass clippings, dirt, and campfires, mmm mm.

What I won’t touch is blasphemous grossness like candy-flavored rooibos, fruit-and-vanilla white teas, etc. – don’t even get me started.


SF Bay Area

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