24 Tasting Notes

85

Yunnan Province in China has a reputation as being THE place to find premium teas. Tea cultivation in this area dates back thousands of years. In fact, it is purported to be the birthplace of tea. One of the more intriquing aspects of Yunnan tea is the diversity of tea bush varieties that grow there as well as the number of old tea trees and old gardens that thrive in the mountains. Yunnan teas really define the notion of terroir as there are many particulars that contribute to their flavour and style characteristics. When it comes to dark teas – and, even some blacks – Yunnan pumps out some of China’s best.

So it was with some surprise I learned green teas were coming out of this area.

A short search online threw up a handful of impressions about green tea production in Yunnan…
◾In general they aren’t particularly high quality.
◾The price is often suspiciously low. (Yet, that’s not indicative of a quality tea.)
◾The teas are often heavily roasted, creating a tea that is more aromatic.

As a rule, needle shape teas are difficult to process. The fresh leaf must be quite long in order for it to have shrunk to this the long needle size and shape during the firing.

This particular tea from Yunnan Sourcing is made near Simao from large leaves that are rolled into a needle shape (Xiang Zhen in Chinese) and roasted at high temperature for a short time. This typically helps to impart a strong scent. And it does. The dry leaf is highly aromatic, with standout notes of cooked fruit (peach or apricot) and snow peas.

Time for some infusing!

As with most green teas, the leaves needed to be treated with care. A gaiwan was used and water heated to 80 degrees as per the vendor’s instructions. The leaves had a bluish-green hue, which changed on contact with hot water, to light green. After an infusion time of 1.5 minutes, the liquor looked a clear light yellow-green. However, the taste was slightly on the bitter side. For the second infusion, the temperature was wound down 10 degrees. The result? The flavour was full, rich and distinctively fruity with a backbone that is reminiscent of chestnut and snow peas with a slight mineral note at the finish. It possesses a very nice sweetness without any bitter notes. It reminded me a little of Rizhao Xuequing (Snow Sunshine) from Shandong Province, but fruitier. Overall impression? The aroma is by far the outstanding feature of the tea, but it still rates as a reasonable cuppa. However, it not a particularly forgiving leaf when it comes to brewing. Measurement is critical: use too much and it will be bitter, use too little and it will not seem particularly interesting. The water must be well off the boil, similar to the temperature for a Japanese green tea, but not too cool or the flavour will hide inside the leaf until the third steeping (which you may not even infuse!). In saying that, with a price tag of US$5 for 100g, one can’t really complain.

Flavors: Chestnut, Peach, Peas

Preparation
160 °F / 71 °C 1 min, 30 sec 2 g 5 OZ / 150 ML
yyz

Nice, I love Rizhao, if I want a cheap green I may try this sometime.

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85

Yunnan Province in China has a reputation as being THE place to find premium teas. Tea cultivation in this area dates back thousands of years. In fact, it is purported to be the birthplace of tea. One of the more intriquing aspects of Yunnan tea is the diversity of tea bush varieties that grow there as well as the number of old tea trees and old gardens that thrive in the mountains. Yunnan teas really define the notion of terroir as there are many particulars that contribute to their flavour and style characteristics. When it comes to dark teas – and, even some blacks – Yunnan pumps out some of China’s best.

So it was with some surprise I learned green teas were coming out of this area.

A short search online threw up a handful of impressions about green tea production in Yunnan…
◾In general they aren’t particularly high quality.
◾The price is often suspiciously low. (Yet, that’s not indicative of a quality tea.)
◾The teas are often heavily roasted, creating a tea that is more aromatic.

As a rule, needle shape teas are difficult to process. The fresh leaf must be quite long in order for it to have shrunk to this the long needle size and shape during the firing.

This particular tea from Yunnan Sourcing is made near Simao from large leaves that are rolled into a needle shape (Xiang Zhen in Chinese) and roasted at high temperature for a short time. This typically helps to impart a strong scent. And it does. The dry leaf is highly aromatic, with standout notes of cooked fruit (peach or apricot) and snap peas.

Time for some infusing!

As with most green teas, the leaves needed to be treated with care. A gaiwan was used and water heated to 80 degrees as per the vendor’s instructions. The leaves had a bluish-green hue, which changed on contact with hot water, to light green. After an infusion time of 1.5 minutes, the liquor looked a clear light yellow-green. However, the taste was slightly on the bitter side. For the second infusion, the temperature was wound down 10 degrees. The result? The flavour was full, rich and distinctively fruity with a backbone that is reminiscent of chestnut and snow peas with a slight mineral note at the finish. It possesses a very nice sweetness without any bitter notes. It reminded me a little of Rizhao Xuequing (Snow Sunshine) from Shandong Province, but fruitier. Overall impression? The aroma is by far the outstanding feature of the tea, but it still rates as a reasonable cuppa. However, it not a particularly forgiving leaf when it comes to brewing. Measurement is critical: use too much and it will be bitter, use too little and it will not seem particularly interesting. The water must be well off the boil, similar to the temperature for a Japanese green tea, but not too cool or the flavour will hide inside the leaf until the third steeping (which you may not even infuse!). In saying that, with a price tag of US$5 for 100g, one can’t really complain.

Preparation
165 °F / 73 °C 1 min, 30 sec 2 g 5 OZ / 150 ML

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76
Dry leaf: High-quantity of golden downy bud sets with delicately curled long dark brown and the occasional dark-brick red coloured leaves. Aroma is subtle: earth, floral wisps.

Wet leaf: Uniform mid-brown, good sprinkling of plump bud sets (bud with one leaf) with single leaves. Light floral, slight malt, unsweetened cocoa, biscuits.
Taste: Lightly sweet, blushing floral, fruit, honey, biscuit, spice.
I had expected great things from this tea, but failed to bring out any distinctive flavours on the first infusion. The second and third infusions were slightly improved. There was some sweetness, a bit like raw sugar but more subdued. The aftertaste is a light tingling on the tongue that last for about a minute. Pulling the water temperature back from 95 degrees to 85 degrees allowed for a softer liquor with a pronounced sweet fruit or honey note. There was no ‘creamy’ mouth-feel, but rather a more mineral finish. In fact, I might be tempted to call this Himalaya Ceylon Black.

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 3 min, 0 sec 2 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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89

A rose scented (or flavoured) oolong is not something one would expect to see within the category of fine oolongs. Rose scented (or flavoured) black tea, certainly.
To look at, this tea is a delight. Tiny rosebuds are scattered throughout oolong balls that look like fine quality, green Tie Guan Yin (forest green and wound tightly into pellets). It’s almost a shame to steep the leaves, knowing that these pink buds will be drained of all that is sweet and gorgeous about them.
The recommended temperature for steeping this tea is 85 degrees (for approximately two minutes). This is slightly longer than I would typically wait for an oolong, but the petals need time to impart their sweetness.
The first sip is interesting. The oolong base is lightly-oxidised with a flavour that is buttery and floral, so one might expect the additional of extra floral could be akin to being beaten over the head with flower bouquets. However, there is no overpowering rose essence, but rather, a sweetness and slight sharpness that the rose imparts on the soft, silky oolong tea leaf.
The first two infusions were delicate and light. Aside from the floral (but not in a perfume-ish way), there was a barely-there note of vegetation in the background, and a lingering note of honey.
The second infusion had a much creamier undertone, the soft and silky notes turned into a rich and creamy taste and texture. While the rose remained the top note, it is somewhat softer allowing for the emergence of nutty background notes.
Anyone who loves the look, aroma and taste of roses will truly appreciate this oolong. Personally, it rates up there with Gui Hua ‘Osmanthus’ Oolong (also from Taiwan), which is floral, creamy and absolutely DREAMY!

Flavors: Butter, Creamy, Floral, Green, Honey, Nuts, Rose

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 2 min, 0 sec 2 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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85

A cup of tea a day keeps the doctor away…and that’s certainly the case for this super tea. Ginseng is believed by many people to restore and enhance normal well-being. Oolong tea is known to provide vital antioxidants, promote superior bone structure, robust skin and good dental health. Since oolong and ginseng are two of Chinese medicine’s favourite ingredients – you’re basically one cup away from being a superhero.
This oolong is processed in the traditional way. However, after the leaves have been rolled and dried they are then blended with ground Ginseng powder that is made of genuine Ginseng root.
At first sight, this tea looks more like moss-covered pebbles than tea leaves. And it tastes just as wonderfully weird as it looks: rich and crisp with sweet notes of flowers (orchids), a little fire from the roasting, and slight tartness of ginseng. A syrupy sensation is created in the middle of the mouth and moves around for some time. (Note: The ginseng flavour does not overwhelm the tea leaf; rather the two work together to offer a good balance.)
There are variations with regard to brewing time: some suppliers indicate 85 degrees for 3-4 minutes, others suggest ‘gongfu’ style by steeping the leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds (and 20 second subsequent intervals). Each cup is a completely new experience.
By the way, if you notice a slight numbing effect on your mouth and your warm stomach, just know it’s the ginseng working its magic.

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 1 min, 30 sec 2 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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85

Occasionally, one comes across a tea that perplexes. These leaves definitely have me pondering. Nepali Tea Traders classify the tea as oolong (semi-oxidized / semi-ball style) and by all appearances it ticks the boxes for this category. The taste is floral and fruity as one would expect. However, what sets this tea apart from your standard oolong is that it looks like a white tea following brewing. Perfect bud-sets unfurl to present the classic ‘sword’ shape common to some white teas (particularly silver needle/bai hao yin zhen). It looks like a work of art, which it should. In fact, the lightly brown colour and plump shape looks remarkably like a rare aged white bud. The aroma supports this, with hints of the autumnal notes associated with aged white tea.
Bemused, I undertook a search of my stash and came up with a sample of aged white bud, and cupped the two teas. Aside from the fact the dry leaves of these teas look completely different, the liquor is remarkably close in taste and colour and the wet leaves are almost indistinguishable.
How is it possible that a oolong from Nepal and aged white from Yunnan, China can be so alike? (CUE tea experts, please.)
As to the Wild Orchid, it is very forgiving and can be brewed however you see fit. The leaves will sink to the bottom of your cup, should you choose not to strain them, making it easy to sip your tea Chinese style.

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 2 min, 0 sec 2 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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85

It’s not unusual for Kiwis to have an affinity with Everest. First of all, Sir Ed is a National hero. No child of New Zealand grows up without learning of Sir Ed, Tensing and their Everest exploits. Second, it’s almost a rite-of-passage for young Kiwis to leave University and head to the Himalaya, where Everest is king.
This particular black tea is grown at the Everest Tea Estate, located in Nepal’s central Himalaya region, at a mere 5,000 feet. Every year, the first flush Darjeelings open the season, followed by the spring harvests in Nepal. I suspect the harvest comes a few weeks after the Darjeelings due to the harsher climate, yet the two regions are barely a few days walk apart. You could pass from one country to another without noticing it – unless you pay attention to the signs.
This tea’s leaf is wholly intact; a sign of careful hand-plucking and gentle handling during manufacture. Everest shows some tip, which adds crispness to its delicate and fruity flavour. Being such a small leaf tea in volume, it requires either measure by weight or a generous scoop. If steeped short it can easily be re-infused for a second steeping that is almost the equal of the first, or it will steep nicely for a long first infusion. However you choose to prepare it, Everest will delight the eye and impress you with its character. A bit like experiencing the mountain itself, really.

Flavors: Floral, Freshly Cut Grass, Fruity, Herbaceous

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 3 min, 0 sec 2 g 5 OZ / 150 ML

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86

Thurbo is a very famous name when it comes to Darjeeling tea. As with most Darjeeling tea gardens, there is a unique story behind its name. The British set up a camp in this estate to invade Nepal in 1814. The word camp or tent is known as ‘Tombu’ in local dialect and hence over the years the name has morphed into ‘Thurbo’.
In late 1996 we visited Mirik in the winter. It was a misty and damp location lacking attraction other than a small lake filled with catfish. Unknown to us at the time, a short distance away, the Thurbo Tea Estate sits in the shadow of the mighty Kanchenjunga. In the spring and summer, the Mechi and Rangbang rivers gurgle down through the estate to the plains via orange orchards and orchid farms; lending an exotic charm to the tea.
Now to the tasting. The dry leaves are finely sorted and are small in size with lots of golden tips. When steeped for three minutes at 85 degrees, the cup gives out bright yellow/orange liquor and a unique heavy floral musk like aroma raises high above the cup. Each sip is super smooth presenting notes of fruits (apricot or peach, pineapple, citrus) and subtle malt, with a fresh herbaceous backbone. There is little or no astringency, making it ideal to drink without the addition of milk and sugar.

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 3 min, 0 sec 2 g 5 OZ / 150 ML

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87

One of the famous rock teas from Anxi region in the Fujian province, this oolong announces itself the moment the bag is opened. Fragrant. Floral. Fresh. Fabulous.
They say a picture is as good as a thousand words. New Zealand artist, Rita Angus, does a superb job of capturing the nuances of this tea in her ‘antipodean’ version of the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion Guan Yin, who happens to be the namesake of this tea. It is believed the artist saw Guan Yin as a bronze figure in the 1937 exhibition of Chinese art that toured the main centres of New Zealand. In her painting, she depicts the much revered semi-deity as a gracious young woman, her palm exposed in a gesture of benediction, and clutching a lotus flower. The style employs themes from New Zealand and Pacific art, and yet the floral pattern of the goddess’s skirt recalls Chinese ceramic designs.
Sipping this tea, it is like taking a journey through the painting. The artfully curled, hand-rolled leaves render a golden cup that has a distinctive flavour profile: a soft buttery texture and a floral (osmanthus or orchid) attack. It is also slightly vegetal with only slight bitterness. When the last drop has been extracted from the tea pot or gaiwan, the tea offers further contemplation with a note of honey-dew melon remaining long in the mouth. Interestingly, the infused leaves when opened are slightly folded which give them the appearance of hands held in meditation; reminiscent of Guan Yin. This is, indeed, a purifying and meditative beverage; ideal for quiet moments with a book (or a piece of art).
Note: Like the ‘Golden Osmanthus’ oolong, this is not a scented tea.

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 1 min, 0 sec 2 g 5 OZ / 150 ML

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88

Once a week, I enjoy what has become a ritual: a visit to the local Buddhist Temple and tea house for a steaming bowl of Lucky Noodles and Osmanthus Oolong tea, which is floral, thick and meditative. Ideal for quiet moments.
Deciding to order a stash for home, I was surprised to discover online two ‘Osmanthus’ oolongs for purchase – one from Taiwan, the other from China.
Golden Osmanthus (or Huang Jin Gui) hails from the famous AnXi region in the Fujian Province and is one of the finest Chinese oolongs. The name ‘Golden Osmanthus’ refers to the yellow cup, the yellowish green leaf and a fine flavour that reminds you of the Osmanthus blossom. However, it is not a scented tea; unlike the Taiwanese version which is layered with osmanthus blossoms.
Golden Osmanthus is composed of hand-rolled leaves, in clusters of variegated colour from light olive to ivy-green. The scent is mostly floral bouquet. Tasting the tea, it really does resemble Osmanthus flowers, but it has a very different overall character from Osmanthus-scented tea. Also it has some surprises.
The first two infusions were for 40-60 seconds at around 85 degrees, which produced a very clear cup that was mostly aroma with a little body. Interesting, this was followed by a 5-minute infusion, upping the temperature to just under boiling, and the results were completely different: now there was a bold, herbaceous quality, tones of celery and parsley. This cup was full-bodied and rich. Like many other Chinese oolongs, this tea is full of mystery and complexity…and yet it is very reasonably priced.

Flavors: Butter, Nuts, Osmanthus, Plants

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 0 min, 45 sec 2 g 5 OZ / 150 ML

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