92 Tasting Notes
The last time I had an Oolong, I really didn’t like it – but I can’t remember when or where that was, except that it was long ago – so that really is irrelevant. When I placed my last order with Peet’s, I tried to hit on each kind of black tea, and tossed in Golden Dragon Oolong to give me the best first impression of what an Oolong is, but when I saw Ti Kwan Yin given cultishly raving reviews on a few peoples’ feeds, and described in various places as unique and different from other Oolong, I added it to the order as well. It is definitely nothing like Golden Dragon in look or smell (I’ve still not tried GD).
From what little I knew of Oolongs, I always thought they were just another kind of black tea, albeit one I had found bitter and miserable in some hazy long lost memory. This one in particular is none of those things. When I opened the tin, I found that the leaves were in fact green – but unlike the straight rolled leaves I’m used to seeing be green, these were lightly crumpled balls, as though they’d folded in on themselves as they were prepared. The aroma is an intense, almost rankly nutty scent, with hints of floral tones and green tea – but it’s the ripe, green, fermented nuttiness that dominated what I smelled, and I was absolutely clueless as to what I’d be getting once I brewed it. This was a blind date if there ever was one.
Every tin of Peet’s tea says to steep in boiling water for five minutes, which is almost always horrifyingly wrong, so I am used to ignoring their instructions. In this case, I went with 180F and 2 minutes, as the tea seemed green and fresh, in need of a gentler touch. After 2 minutes, the color of the water had barely changed at all, so I added another minute… and another… and another. At five, I finally concluded that perhaps this is just an unusually light tea, a golden yellow but only just so. It absolutely looked understeeped – but it wasn’t, this is just how this tea is, it seems.
The aroma of the tea is very similar to the leaves, but the green tea becomes more pronounced, and upon tasting is far more intense than I ever expected. The intense nutty nose from the leaves still dominates, and lends the tea a unique flavor that I absolutely love, reminding me a bit of my Puttabong first-flush darjeeling – a few of the flavors from that explosively intense and varied tea comprise the nuttiness here. Perhaps this is the “Oolong flavor”, or perhaps it’s Ti Kwan Yin in specific.
I really was quite surprised to find that this tastes like a green tea – the unique nuttiness and other tones I described take the foreground, but this is not a black tea, this is a green tea… so I guess an Oolong can be either (Golden Dragon is definitely blackened). Whatever faint memory I had of disliking Oolongs and Darjeelings is long gone – they have a wonderfully unique and complex bouquet of flavors, and so far are proving to be smooth, not very bitter at all, and remarkably umami. I am definitely a fan, and this is definitely one of those that will be getting re-ordered when it’s empty… and it’ll be empty soon.
As a huge fan of shincha, gyokuro and other greens of massive character, I have to add green oolong to my list of favorites. This is definitely green tea, but definitely unlike any other green tea I’ve ever had.
I think next time I’ll go hotter, maybe 195F as seems to often be recommended, and a 4-minute steep, now that I know that it is light in color even when done right.
Steepster ate my entire lengthy note this time, so I’m going to be (relatively) brief.
I see a lot of people in other reviews calling this tea poisonously intense, complaining about the overpowering sweetness of the jasmine, and I’m left to wonder – have you people ever been to a chinese restaurant? This tea is comfort food, nostalgia in a cup, the best thing on a rainy day. If you brew it long with boiling water, it tastes exactly like the jasmine tea you’ll be served in a searing-hot steel teapot at a chinese restaurant, with those little white ceramic cups and the black plastic handle. I grew up with chinese restaurants as a mainstay, and this tea, when tortured in that manner, is spot on for that flavor. Jasmine green isn’t just another flavored green tea, but a category all to itself, in a way.
Today, I decided to go gentler, and use 180F water and a more moderated steeping time, to see what I could bring out of the leaf when not scorching it. The difference would be shocking if I hadn’t come to know just how much a difference temperature and steep time can make – it’s almost a completely different tea. The jasmine becomes delicate and complex, with a blooming range of flavors both floral and sweet unfurling over your palate through the aftertaste – not a sugar sweet, more of a subtle umami sweet. The green tea, usually burned to an indistinguishable base “tea” flavor, comes through with the grassy, vegetal notes one would expect of a green, without lending too much astringency. It’s still too hot for an optimal green tea steep, but for a jasmine it’s the perfect balance this way. I also find that it has body in a way most teas don’t, an odd but very enjoyable thicker mouthfeel. As jasmine teas have the actual jasmine leaf removed prior to packing, I’m not entirely sure what is behind it, but it’s distinctly fuller-bodied than most teas (though nowhere near a pu-erh).
I absolutely love this specific jasmine, because it’s two teas in one. If you wreck it with boiling water and a long steep, you get an absolute dead ringer for “chinese restaurant tea”, and if you are a bit more gentle as I was today, you get a complex, full-bodied blend of grassy, floral, sweet and umami flavors far beyond what one expects at the $6.50/4oz pricetag. Being so cheap, you won’t feel bad scorching it for nostalgia, and it’s a steal as a properly-brewed fancy tea.
If you’re somehow not familiar with “chinese restaurant tea”, and are coming at this as a fan of flavored green teas, I can see it perhaps being offputtingly intense and unusual – but if you know what I mean when I talk of the searing hot steel teapots at a chinese restaurant, little white cups of floral golden liquor, oversteeped and scorched but somehow just right… you know if you want this or not.
This is a curious blend – it smells and tastes strongly of chocolate, but it isn’t actually flavored, it’s supposedly just tea. The smell and flavor are both a mix of smooth, un-sweet dark chocolate over a base of faintly woodsy and (very faintly) smoky, but otherwise indistinct black tea.
I’m not wowed, and I don’t really see this as a breakfast blend, but it’s very drinkable, smooth and pleasant, with a nice aroma and simple flavor. When I want a tasty tea, but I don’t feel like I am in the space to properly appreciate one of my more expensive and complex single-origins, and I don’t want the morning punch of Russian Caravan, I can see myself reaching for this. The chocolate is remarkably distinct, I don’t know how they did it, but it makes this stand out above the average smooth and inoffensive blend in a major way, letting you know this was blended with care.
This is an interesting blend – being a white tea, it wants to be steeped briefly and gently, but being peppermint tea, it wants to be steeped long and boiling… Lupicia recommends 1.5-2min and boiling, I compromised with 200F, since boiling water is a waste of white tea.
I am a big fan of peppermint tea; as simple as it is, a good fresh peppermint is one of life’s greatest pleasures. This offering keeps with Lupicia’s standard of quality, with large pieces of unbroken mint leaf, interlaced with whole, snow white tea leaves. It’s so fluffy that it comes in a double-tall Lupicia tin for the same weight, and you need 2x the scoops for the same amount of tea. Many peppermint teas are broken down to save space, or because peppermint is more forgiving of broken leaves, lower grade etc. As always, Lupicia’s about tea, not cost balance: big pieces of obviously fresh dried leaf because it’s better that way for the drinker. They could have skimped on the white tea, too, being an herbal blend, but it’s some of the prettiest, most consistently unbroken white I’ve had, and there’s plenty of it, almost leaf-for-leaf balanced.
Brewed, it has everything I love about peppermint tea, from the warming, calming aroma to the faint psychoactive calming effect, but the taste is mellowed, the white tea coming through clear and fresh, not at all overpowered by the mint. It’s hard to judge the tea side of this one in depth, as any real complexity or fanciness the white tea might have is lost in the mint, but it tastes like peppermint flavored, high quality white tea, not like peppermint tea with a faint sprinkle of white tea, or just watered down peppermint tea (as some takes on this blend do).
This is everything I could want from a peppermint white – it’s a tea nerd’s blend, with true attention and care paid to the quality, blend proportions and handling. So often, white tea blends are aimed at people who like sweet+iced white tea bottled drinks, and skimp on the quality with the assumption it will end up iced, sweetened, and the customer wouldn’t be the type to notice either way.
Lupicia is constantly proving to me that they’re something unique: a company with a wide range of flavored teas, fruity blends, and other such hallmarks of shitty Teavana-style hackery, except they actually deliver on the quality. For every fruity, flavored-up blend, there’s a Yame gyokuro, or a fresh winter-picked Taiwan oolong, or this-season plantation-specific shincha complete with photos and information about the farmer who grew it and the region it’s from… and they’re all taken equally as seriously when the leaves are selected. The stores don’t try to upsell you, and you can have an expertly prepared sample of that Yame gyokuro ($3 of leaves in the sample alone) without so much as a glare should you choose to leave the store empty-handed.
Having finally replaced my very, very old tin of this with a fresh one, I’ve got to bump the rating up a few points.
It’s smoother, cleaner, more complex, and far better than I expected, in comparison. I didn’t think it had changed too much, but it certainly had.
I’m also getting a note of umami in the aftertaste, which I don’t remember ever tasting in a pu-erh before.
For the second steep, there’s a citric, almost earl-grey-bergamot sort of flavor in place of the first steep’s umami aftertaste. The earthy flavor is a bit more pungent, fruity, no longer as mellowed-out. The tea went black within seconds of hitting the water, and again only needed a minute’s steep. As one expects from a pu-erh, this isn’t a one-steep tea.