160 Tasting Notes
This is my 150th review! BOOM! FIREWORKS!
I like to review something special and out of ordinary for my reviews that are multiples of 50, so here’s one I’ve had for a bit that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing.
In Japan, this sakura blossom tisane is called Sakurayu. It’s made by picking fresh cherry blossoms in the spring and preserving them in salt and plum vinegar. The preparation method is a little tricky because of the salt. The method I’ve tried that worked best is to soak the flowers in hot water for about 5 minutes to remove the salt. This should be hot water like you’d draw from the tap. Maybe 140F degrees or less. You aren’t looking to steep the flowers, but to remove the salt. After this, you should put the blossoms directly into your teacup and pour on boiling water. Let them steep another 3 to 5 minutes.
The resulting drink is very light in color, but slightly yellow. The floating blossoms are gorgeous when they open into little fine poofs of pink. The scent and taste are surprisingly more like cherries than I’d imagine. I thought it’d be a bit more floral. I think some of this is actually plum flavor coming from the plum vinegar. There’s a hint of saltiness to this tea that is subtle, but if you save the initial brine from the flower that was soaked in hot water, you can scoop back in a little of this salty and flavorful brine a bit at a time if you want your drink to be a little more salty and flavorful. I personally enjoy it without putting any of this brine back in. It’s very delicate and spring-like.
I have also tried using these flowers to flavor sake. I soaked them in hot water for a few minutes to remove the salt, then put the flowers into my sake carafe and poured some sake in. The carafe was moved to a tall pot of water and then almost brought to a simmer to heat the sake inside. After this, I poured it back into the sake bottle, used a special pump that sucks the air back out, and put it into the fridge for a few hours to chill. I served it chilled and the sake was very sweet with a subtle cherry/floral taste and a really thick creamy texture. There was a tiny hint of saltiness, but it was not as detectable among the sweet flavor of the sake. These petals look just as beautiful in clear (filtered) sake as they do in water, and the flavor is even more delicious, if you like sake.
I really recommend these to any lovers of flowers, cherry trees, cherries, or Japan. This is a soothing spring beverage you can enjoy any time of the year.
UPDATE: I revisited this for the New Year and I found that adding just a bit of sugar really brought out the nice fruity and floral qualities of this and neutralized the saltiness. I only used about 1/4 teaspoon of sugar in a 5 oz cup with two flowers. It was really nice. I think I’ll be using sugar with Sakurayu from here on.
Flavors: Cherry, Flowers, Plums, Salt
This being a Japanese tea, I really wanted to brew it in my tokoname-yaki Kyusu. The tiny noodle-like pieces of tea however, I was worried they’d get stuck in the fine ceramic strainer so I’m using a small thin-walled porcelain gaiwan instead.
This is a really unique tea in many ways. The shape is odd. These pieces of tea are a byproduct of matcha. The tea is ground into a paste and pushed through a mesh to create these little green tea noodles. The infusion is a deep, murky yellow. The flavor is unlike any green tea I’ve had. It starts with the slight woody fruity quality of dried goji berries or wolf berries. In fact, you’ll find that brewing goji/wolf berries as a tisane will produce a very similar smelling and tasting infusion to this kokeicha. The difference is in the finish. Where the berries produce a sweet and sugary finish, the kokeicha produces a tangy, sour finish that tastes like tart citrus fruit. There’s no bitterness and the mouthfeel is fine. It isn’t particularly smooth and neither is it dry. The front end of the taste also reminds me of Chinese gunpowder tea in its slight leather and earthy qualities.
On the second infusion, which I only did at half the length of the first, the flavor is less woody and earthy and almost all tangy and sour. It tastes like very tart cherries and even has a bit of cherry flavor in the finish.
On the third infusion, I’m getting more of the cherry flavor, still quite tart, still quite flavorful. I decided to dilute this infusion after a taste to see what it would be like had I used less leaf. It takes the tartness away and it begins to taste much more like a low-grade gunpowder green tea kind of thing. I think brewing it stronger is the way to go with this tea, as I find the tart, mouth-watering flavors really interesting, while I don’t really get much flavor after adding just a bit of extra water to it.
My score for this tea is difficult. I think I would rate it higher based on uniqueness, but on taste quality alone I don’t think I can push it much higher than it’s at. It’s really an interesting tea to try and I feel happy to have tried it. I doubt I’d ever purchase any for myself.
Flavors: Cherry, Earth, Goji, Tart, Wood
I’m brewing this Gongfu style. This is a pretty strongly roasted oolong. In fact, it is so heavily roasted that the flavor reminds me of Houjicha. I don’t taste anything distinctly “oolong” about it, or maybe there’s the subtlest hint of flowers in the background. Compared to most other rolled oolongs I’ve tried, this one overbrews quite easily. It has a bit of a drying, astringent finish only two or three infusions in, and as dry as it leaves my mouth feeling, I’m not too compelled to do a fourth infusion. I will anyway, for the sake of curiosity…
The fourth infusion seems to have really lost flavor for the most part. I’m not getting much out of it, but it is still really dry feeling in the mouth, and has a bitter finish like orange blossom tea.
Other than the first infusion, I didn’t enjoy this tea at all. The first infusion was great and reminded me of some of the better Houjicha I’ve had, but after that there were some astringent and sour qualities that were so overwhelming to me I didn’t really feel compelled to try to describe the subtleties. It’s not that I don’t like the roasted flavors this tea has… it’s just that I’ve had lots of other teas that have similar roasted flavors without all the biting qualities of this one, so to me… I wouldn’t revisit this tea.
Flavors: Astringent, Roasted
I have strong feelings about this tisane. I didn’t really think I was difficult to please with rooibos until I had this tisane. I’ve liked rooibos for years. My entry point was Celestial Seasonings Madagascar Vanilla. Then in 2008 I lived in South Africa near Cape Town for half a year and got to try lots of local blends from the farmers in the Cedarberg Mountains, the cream of the crop. South Africans drink a lot of rooibos. It is available nearly everywhere you go to dine and is a frequent refreshment at events. I had already liked it before my trip there, but I came to really love it during that time.
Let’s get on with this Red Rocks review though. Dry, the needles smell like vanilla and pipe tobacco. While brewing, the aroma is rather intoxicating. Oh, if only this tisane tasted like it smelled, It’d be heaven. The scent is like warm sugar cookies or a packet of fruit and cream flavored instant oatmeal after you’ve added the water.
The flavor, unfortunately has some major offenses. First of all… I don’t taste rooibos. I don’t taste vanilla. I don’t taste almonds. Funny, since those are the only three ingredients! What I taste is something akin to cherry pipe tobacco. It’s creamy, but tart, oh so tart. Adding sugar only makes it more tart, and it leaves a tartness in my mouth for several minutes after I drink it. To me this is the worst aspect of this tisane. I end up salivating like I just sucked on a lemon, or like there’s a penny in my mouth.
I have never had tisane with almond pieces in it before, and from this experience alone I don’t think I’ll ever trust another tisane with nuts in it at all. I felt skeptical at first and imagined they were filler because as hard and thick as nuts are, I didn’t imagine they’d really saturate and release much flavor in just a few minutes steeping in hot water. I think I was wrong though, because I couldn’t figure out where this tisane gets its tartness from until I ate one of the almonds. Yuck! I should mention that this tin of tisane (which I purchased at Whole Foods) doesn’t have an expiration date or manufacturing date on it, which should have been a red flag for me. Nuts expire. I didn’t even know that until about a year ago when someone mentioned it in a nutrition class. Then I went to taste months-old nuts I had in my pantry and realized… wow, they do taste off after a while. The almonds in this tisane taste really off to me, as if they may just be old and acrid. Or maybe they’re just not great almonds to begin with. I can only wonder.
I should have returned this to the store when I first drank it, since they are pretty lax about returns if you don’t like something, but I live far away from there and don’t have reliable transportation, so I decided to just give it some more chances. I have since removed all the little almond pieces from the tisane and find that it is a bit better than before, though it doesn’t taste much different and it still does not have the signature woody qualities I am used to in rooibos. I find that adding sugar and cream together makes this tisane more enjoyable for me, but it still has that lingering tartness that just kills me. I’m not a purist in the sense that I won’t add sugar or cream to a tea or tisane, but I am a purist in the sense that if I can’t drink a tea or tisane WITHOUT cream or sugar, then to hell with it. Rooibos has always been a gentle and refreshing drink to me with nothing offensive about it. The fact that this blend has an offensive quality to it is a major bummer, and as rooibos goes, this wasn’t exactly a reasonably priced one either.
I tried it with varying amounts of tea and varying times and could never really find a balance, so…. meh.
I’m on a quest now to find a rooibos that is perfect for me, and will be following some leads from other reviews and a forum post I made. Wish me luck!
Flavors: Cherry, Creamy, Tart, Tobacco
This Puer starts out very strong and in-your-face, with notes of wood, cork, and cigar ash. In later infusions notes of ocean spray and clay emerge and in even later infusions it becomes more mellow and sweet with notes of tobacco.
It’s very dynamic from one infusion to the next, but I don’t think it’s really my tastes simply because of how pungent it is at the start. I used flash infusions and it was still rather intense from the get-go.
Flavors: Ash, Clay, Ocean Breeze, Tobacco, Wood
Very apparent in this tea is the taste and scent of green beans. It has other subtle nutty qualities as well and seems to stray from the leafier end of the green spectrum to the dense vegetable side. There’s almost no bitterness. It’s pleasant, but really this is on the lower end of green tea quality, from my experience. That’s not to say people won’t like it, but this is one I wouldn’t buy more of. It has some taste similarities to Temple of Heaven gunpowder tea. It isn’t really the kind of flavor I look for in a green tea.
Flavors: Green Beans, Nutty
This tea has an almost roasted flavor with some nice playful green notes, robust and zingy. There are hints of roasted corn and zucchini and maybe some toasted pecan, really small hints of green bean. There’s a little sweetness to the tea as well. The flavor is long-lasting and really lingers on the tongue with a bit of hui gan. Honestly, this is the first Dragon Well tea I can recall really enjoying. The last one I had was really intense and tasted like fried chicken. I still long for the day when I can try the fabled Xi Hu Long Jing. If I were a lion in China, Lion Mountain is where I’d probably hang out and drink tea, anyway. ;3
The repeat infusions on this tea had very nice flavor as well, more robust than I usually get with green teas.
Flavors: Corn Husk, Roasted nuts, Zucchini
This green tea looks rather thin and delicate like mei hua or a bi luo chun but less fuzzy. The scent is sweet and has a note of tropical fruit, maybe passion fruit, as well as a lightly floral quality and a vegetal kind of green bean scent.
The taste is gentle. The most obvious to me is a lotus flavor, which is sort of a creamy and delicate floral and anise-like flavor if you’ve never had it. As the tea cools it tastes rather umami, a bit like gyokuro, and there’s a hint of pleasant bitterness in the finish.
On the second infusion, the flavor is similar but a bit sweeter and milder. Same with the third, but yeilding a little more bitterness.
I brewed it at 2.5g/100ml. When I brewed it again with only 2g of leaf per 100ml the flavor was much more delicate and the “pleasant bitterness” wasn’t even present at all, so it’s a much smoother cup. I’ve been experimenting with leaf amounts for green tea in a pseudo-gongfu style lately to try to find what works best for me. It’s been a lot tougher for green teas than most other types. I keep fluctuating between 2.5g and 2g per 100ml, and much like with this review, the higher amount gives stronger tasting results with more distinguishable flavors, while the lower amount tends to produce a more agreeable and delicate flavor, but bordering on so subtle as to be bland, not in the sense that it doesn’t taste good, but in the sense that it doesn’t taste significantly different from other green teas. Particularly, the repeated infusions seem really dull with this amount of leaf.
As for Sky Between the Branches, I think it’s one of the better green teas you’ll find from Republic of Tea. It’s worth a try if you have it in bulk nearby. They stock it at Whole Foods near me. I wouldn’t buy a whole can of it without trying first though.
Flavors: Floral, Sweet, Vegetal
I didn’t realize I haven’t reviewed this yet. I ordered samples of this a while back and I enjoyed it quite a bit. If you’ve never experienced the flavor of lotus it is a strange one. It reminds me of anise or licorice combined with cream and a hint of floral. It can taste and smell very strong compared to other scented teas like jasmine or chrysanthemum, so I find this one can sometimes benefit from a bit lighter brewing than other scented teas.
That’s about it in a nutshell. It’s a rather relaxing flavor if you like it. It’s definitely better off light to me, but you could easily brew this strong for a more invigorating brew.
Flavors: Anise, Creamy, Floral
As I’m brewing this… I’m thinking it smells terrible, like one of those cheap scented candles from Wal-Mart that are way too strong and smell a lot more like crummy chemicals than they do the actual fruit or whatever they are meant to resemble. They give me a headache. The smell is very strongly of fruit, and it doesn’t smell like real fruit, despite there is real fruit in it. I’m pretty familiar with the smell of warm pomegranate as I use pure pomegranate juice to create my own grenadine syrup for beverages, which basically just involves heating pomegranate juice and sugar together in a pot (though I finish it with a splash of orange blossom water). The scent of heating that juice is very different from this. It smells fresh and doesn’t penetrate the sinuses like perfume like this tea’s scent does.
In any case, the taste is not nearly as strong as the scent. It is fruity as you’d expect. Nothing about it really tastes like green tea. I’m already getting the feeling this would be a much more successful blend if it was paired with rooibos or black tea or something with a strong enough flavor of its own so that you could actually taste anything other than the pomegranate flavor.
The fruitiness becomes tart at the end of the sip, which is to be expected from pomegranate, as tasting the fruit or its juice will do that. However, there is a dry feeling in the mouth during and after the finish that makes me think “low quality green tea here”.
I feel I can’t be very forgiving to this tea because it is not very forgiving itself. You can get better green tea pre-made in a bottle at the nearest fuel station here in the states.
Flavors: Artificial, Fruity