201 Tasting Notes
I haven’t tried enough white teas. They are arguably my favorite type. Okay, I don’t really have a favorite type… but one of my two favorite teas (tied for the best I’ve had) is a white tea. I love the subtle nature of them. I can drink them often and not get tired of them or feel overwhelmed.
This silver needle by TeaVivre is just about what I’d expect from a Fujian silver needle. My entry point to white teas was through the award-winning white teas of Shang Tea, so I feel a little spoiled in that regard and tend to compare white teas to those ones.
In comparison to the silver needles I’ve had before, this one seems a bit more sugary sweet, but lacks the subtle peach notes I’m used to. The gentle color of the brewed liquor is like cream. The aroma has subtle hints of fallen autumn leaves. The downy buds have a nice coat of silvery white fur.
On the second infusion, my little white porcelain pinming cup looks like a yellow early evening moon is in it. There are subtle notes of spices in the aroma and the tea itself now has a bit of a cucumber taste. There’s more of that mouth-filling sugary flavor, and there’s a bit of a dusty taste in the background, subtle enough not to be unwelcome.
As with most silver needles I’ve tried, the flavor is rather consistent from one Gongfu infusion to the next. The flavor remains delicate and sweet.
This is certainly a good silver needle. It’s not the best one I’ve had, but it’s definitely good. It has a lot of sweetness. I’d say that’s the main distinguishing feature between this silver needle and others I’ve had like it.
Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Cucumber, Dust, Sugarcane
This is probably the only Shu Puer to really have earned my favor. I like Shu Puer in general, but aside from this one, none have ever really stood out to me as being unique or particularly enjoyable. Admittedly, I’ve probably had less than 10 different ones.
After a rinse this tea smells strongly of cacao and stone fruits. The brewed infusion tastes quite like unsweetened cacao, and in later infusions this is balanced by a dark fruit flavor something like dried fig or bing cherries. The aroma of the brewed liquor is like sugar cookies.
This one lasts plenty of infusions and delivers such a nice, rich flavor, with very little of the mustiness that most shu Puer have. I really like this. Best ripe Puer I’ve had so far!
Flavors: Cacao, Cherry, Cookie, Fig, Stonefruits
Houjicha of the Autumn Moon
Home-roasted houjicha from Obubu Tea Farms Sencha of the Autumn Moon
This is my second time turning some of my Obubu green tea into houjicha. This one was particularly tantalizing, as it smelled like pumpkins as I was roasting it. It smelled sweet, a bit like yams, and even more like the smell of a freshly carved jack-o-lantern when you’ve got a lit candle in it, perhaps a bit sweeter. I’ve always picked up a pumpkin note in this tea, and roasting it brought it out in the scent even more. It’s great. Definitely autumn, without belonging to the generic “pumpkin spice” persuasion.
The scent of the brewed tea is very caramely and sweet, with a hint of roasty char and cigar tobacco. The taste is mellow and mostly reminds me of cigar tobacco, mildly sweet. It’s really comforting. I tiny hint of the pumpkin taste comes through in the finish.
The second infusion tastes a little more green, with a pistachio like taste and a hint of cucumber, and it has a sweeter lingering aftertaste. I could swim in this cup. It’s so delicious.
The best two houjicha I’ve had now have been the ones I roasted at home from Obubu’s green tea. I may just end up doing that from now on. I’m not sure if houjicha is just better when freshly roasted, or if I’m just using teas that are more to my liking for this type of flavor. Either way, Obubu sells their teas at greatly reduced prices when they aren’t in season, so I’ll be picking up some of these to roast with my next order from their website. Order from them direct. So many people I know order Obubu’s tea from Yunomi, and pay the huge markup that comes with it. I’m not sure why.
Flavors: Cucumber, Nuts, Pumpkin, Roasted, Tobacco
This is my first time brewing a loose full-leaf Assam (have tried a CTC before). As with all loose teas, I am brewing this gongfu style. Even with the Indian and Sri Lankan teas meant for Western style brewing, I just don’t really find myself enjoying them as much when they are brewed really potent. I prefer to fragment the taste into shorter infusions rather than getting it all in one cup.
This Assam reminds me of something between a Yunnan and a Darjeeling. It’s got a nice floral aroma at first, but with deep, rich flavors like molasses and yeast. In the second infusion it’s got a flavor reminiscent of cranberries, with the bitterness to accompany, and it’s slightly astringent.
By the third infusion, the flavor’s seeming kind of flat to me. It’s tangy and bitter, still reminding me of cranberries.
I understand that many tea drinkers drink these heavier Indian black teas with cream and sugar. This may be the way to go in regard to this kind of tea, for me. I may make this East Frisian style and update with another review in a bit.
Update: Okay… so for the sake of like… science and stuff… I brewed some Western style with cream and sugar. I’m just not really sure what to think. It has a bitter finish even with sugar that really sticks in my mouth and I don’t like it. The taste is sort of pruney and woody. It’s not awful, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to drink this tea again. I’ve had bagged black teas that I enjoyed more.
Flavors: Cranberry, Molasses, Yeast
Houjicha of Brightness
Homemade Houjicha from Obubu Tea Farms’ Sencha of Brightness
I wonder what Obubu Tea would call this houjicha if they’d made it themselves? They’ve got Houjicha Amber and Houjicha Gold to refer to some of their Houjicha made from sencha rather than lower grade bancha. Maybe this one would be Houjicha Bronze.
I had some Sencha of Brightness in storage that was getting a little old. It’s January now and it’s a summer harvested tea, so I decided to roast some in a pan and make houjicha. This is my first time making my own houjicha, so I’m excited.
On the nose, there’s a definite scent of cigar tobacco. The taste is milder than most houjicha I’ve had before, and very, very clean, with an almost minty tingle in the finish. The flavor is like a sweet cigar tobacco, with more sweetness and less roasted flavor than most houjicha. The color is a deep copper. Honestly, I can’t stop drinking this quickly. It’s so good and so quenching! I’ve never had houjicha that had such a clean mouthfeel and finish. Wow! And the flavor and scent are so comforting.
The source material, Sencha of Brightness is a partially shade-grown sencha that is definitely a bit on the sweet side. It’s light and delicate and Obubu recommends it being made as iced tea.
On the second infusion, the flavor is even more sweet and creamy with notes of malt and heavy cream.
I’m so happy with how this turned out. This is wonderful. I will be tempted to roast the rest I have left of this tea. Mmm mmm. DIY houjicha may be a new addiction for me.
Flavors: Roasted, Sweet, Tobacco
This is the last of the Obubu sampler I got around to trying. I have to say this may have been my least favorite of their Houjicha. Despite it is made from a higher quality leaf, in this case their Sencha of the Summer Sun rather than bancha, the flavor did not seem more enjoyable to me. This Houjicha Gold is dominated by top notes. Everything registered really high and light on the patate. The darker tones I am used to enjoying with houjicha weren’t there and the body seemed very thin. I got some of the sunflower seed notes and a bit of other light hay-like flavors, but there was also a very strong ashy flavor like cigar ash that resulted even after brewing for only 1 minute with a 2.5g/100ml ratio. To me this tea tasted overly roasted. It’s strange because one of the teas I like more from Obubu is their Dark Roast Houjicha, which despite being roasted more heavily seems to have more mellow notes with a hint of sweetness among the roasty tastes.
Having glanced at some of the other reviews here, I’m kind of surprised I didn’t experience any of the caramel or floral-like notes. Having had Sencha of the Summer Sun before I would have expected some interesting more fragrant notes, but they weren’t present for me.
UPDATE: I have just learned that houjicha is usually brewed for 30 seconds instead of 1 minute, so I will write another review of this when I have more of this tea and can brew it for less time. I plan to order the Obubu Tea Sampler again soon because I enjoyed so many of the teas in it.
Flavors: Ash, Roasted
This is my first time with mugicha, Japanese barley tea. I’ve read it’s a popular iced summer drink. I am drinking it hot and in the winter, so I suppose this’ll be different than the usual.
There’s a cereal this reminds me of… If you’ve been to the USA and have had Honey Smacks or Golden Crisp, I think those cereals are made from popped barley because the flavor and scent is just like this tisane.
The infusion here is a pale gold color, so I’ve definitely brewed this on the lighter side. I only used 3 oz of water, but I had a pretty small sample of it to try. It tastes malty, grain-like, roasted, slightly sweet. It’s very easy to drink. I really could see myself enjoying this more often. It reminds me of houjicha but with more maltiness and grain flavors.
A-OK by my book!
Flavors: Grain, Malt, Roasted Barley
Hmmm, this one is difficult for me to review. I love vanilla rooibos. It has always been my go-to rooibos ever since my old “tea nerd” days where I would buy out the store’s collection of Celestial seasonings and Lipton and call myself a tea nerd.
This rooibos from Upton has natural vanilla flavor and real bourbon vanilla bits (the name for vanilla beans from Madagascar). The problem with this tea is that the authentic vanilla has a really strong, concentrated kind of scent that smells much more like alcohol to me than the creamy vanilla we’re used to in desserts.
After brewing, the vanilla takes on a sort of medicinal… cough syrup kind of smell. I find that I only really like it with a strong dose of sugar. It gets even better with cream (I used heavy whipping cream, because I’m scandalous). At this point, it’s a tolerable enough drink, but I’m not feeling oohed and aahed by it like I usually am with a creamy sweetened cup of vanilla rooibos. I thought that since this one had vanilla bean pieces in it it would have a very authentic and enjoyable vanilla flavor. I’ve enjoyed all vanilla bean desserts and ice creams I’ve had, but those have ground up beans and this has pretty sizable chunks, so maybe there’s the difference in flavor concentration.
I don’t taste or smell the rooibos itself very much. It’s not to say the vanilla flavor is overpowering, because it isn’t very strong compared to others I’ve had. It’s just that the rooibos flavor is either somewhat weak or blends in with the vanilla bean taste quite a bit.
I guess I’m feeling kind of unimpressed with this one because the other rooibos I ordered from Upton was about half the price and 10x as good, and it’s completely unflavored.
With that one tasting so good and being so cheap, I’m struggling to decide the fate of this bag of vanilla rooibos. I really only see myself drinking it to not waste my purchase or to throw off the pattern and let my tastebuds reset instead of drinking my favorite every day. Still, despite that the flavor is different, compared to the Super Grade Rooibos, drinking this one isn’t like… “Mmmm something different today! It’s nice for a change.” It’s more like… “I wish I was drinking that other one.” There are other vanilla rooibos I’ve had that are better than this one, and those ones would be a nice one to switch to from time to time, but this particular one is just not really for me. It may be destined for someone who likes it more than I do… or for sample trades.
I’m giving about as neutral a scoring as possible because while it doesn’t really excite me to drink this tea, it also can taste good with cream and sugar. It really teeters between bad and good for me. I might have a better impression if I hadn’t ordered it along with such an amazing rooibos and only had this one. Hmmm.
Flavors: Alcohol, Medicinal, Vanilla
This is my second Moonlight White experience. My first was with Bana’s loose Moonlight White from Jingmai, which is exquisite.
Compared to that one, this one actually smells and tastes like a puer. The one from Bana didn’t really seem to have any of the musty qualities at all that puer tea has. That said, the Bana one was only two years old. This one may be much older. I am not sure because Upton’s site doesn’t list its age. That said, this is one of those transitional teas that gets argued about a lot when it comes to classification, so many consider it actually a white tea, rather than a puer. Regardless of the technicalities involved in its production, I find that brewing this tea like a puer works much better. I use about 3.5 grams of loose leaf per 100ml of water. The water is 203F/95C and I use flash infusions, water in and right back out. I can’t get anywhere near the depth of flavor from a white tea this way… and brewing Moonlight White like a white tea with lower temperature and longer brew times just seems to muddle the flavors.
Moonlight White has this wonderful perfume to it when you brew it. It’s a little like grapes or a fine wine. There are hints of wood and floral. The taste is creamy with hints of dried fruit and spice. I am usually reminded just a bit of horchata, though this one from Upton has more of the “musty” flavor of a puer tea than the other one did. I think it is welcome and adds complexity to this tea. This moonlight white has a strong note of honey in the second infusion, along with woody aged notes and a lingering sweetness. The mouthfeel is the slightest bit dry, but moderately thick and full feeling. I’m getting a really strong scent of honey in my room as I brew this.
By the fourth infusion the flavor is even more rich and thick like honey. The flavor is backing off a bit by the fifth, signaling that I need to use more and more time if I want to milk the flavor out of this tea, but for now I’m going to end this review and go to enjoy the rest.
I don’t prefer this moonlight white over the other one I’ve tried, but I think it’s a good one nonetheless. This one had more honeyed flavors and more of that “puer mustiness” while the other one has a more creamy flavor with a more fragrant perfume to it.
Flavors: Grapes, Honey, Musty, Perfume
I’ve been delving back into rooibos lately after years of being sidetracked by teas less familiar to me.
Rooibos is valued quite differently in the USA, where I live, and its origin country, South Africa, where I lived for half a year in my early twenties. Here it is relatively new on the market, and is viewed as a casual drinking tea and a health item. In South Africa, it’s a staple of culture that has a long history and is a part of daily life for many people. Some are purists about how it is prepared and pride themselves as much on preparing rooibos as they do on preparing a braai (open-fire outdoor cooking). There, it is not uncommon to have rooibos boiled and prepared on the stove rather than steeped in a cup, and some will accuse you of criminal activity if you drink your rooibos without a generous dose of milk and enough sugar to sweeten it to your tastes.
All that considered, it is very difficult to find information on the ideal way to brew and drink rooibos tea. You’ll see highly varied opinions. Thankfully, it’s an extremely versatile tea that is impossible to overbrew, so it is easy to experiment with. I certainly haven’t tried enough methods yet to feel I’ve found my ideal brew, but currently I’ve found myself preferring about 2 teaspoons of loose tea in a 6 ounce cup, steeped with boiling water, covered, for 4 minutes. Everywhere I look, I do see people saying that rooibos is better the longer it is brewed. I’m not sure I’m convinced of that yet, but I resteep my tea plenty of times and do enjoy repeated infusions of rooibos. I tend to prefer the first infusion though, so I don’t necessarily think it gets better the longer you wait. What I’ve found is that using a generous amount of leaf gives it a thick body and full flavor even if you only steep for 3 minutes, and that is what is most important to me. No matter how long you steep a teaspoon of rooibos in a teacup, it will still have a thin body. Throw in another teaspoon or two and you’re set up for a mouthwatering thick cup.
This Super Grade rooibos smells better dry than any rooibos I’ve ever encountered, flavored or unflavored. It has a nice woody scent with a strong hit of cinnamon and a creamy dessert quality like toasted creme brulee or butterscotch. It also reminds me of spiced cookies like ginger snaps or pfeffernusse.
The brewed rooibos has lots of delectable scents on the nose, honey, caramel, chocolate, mollasses, tobacco. The flavor is sweet, nutty and slightly woody. It’s quite relaxing and complex, and it tastes very pure. There’s a good thick body to the tea that really coats the mouth and there isn’t a drying feeling after drinking. There is, however, a slight tanginess that lingers for quite a while.
I added some sugar and cream to the second infusion of this tea and I am bowled over by how good it is. It really brought out some of the buttery, creamy qualities of the rooibos itself. This rooibos is fantastic straight or with cream and sugar. You really can’t go wrong. I hope Upton continues selling this product because I very rarely find a company that sells different grades of rooibos and this one clearly excels above others I’ve had.
A final note… I see so many people complain of a medicinal kind of cough syrup taste in rooibos, and I’m not too sure what they are talking about. I’ve never gotten that except with flavored rooibos teas that are flavored with oils that can border on alcohol flavor, so I blame the flavoring. In any case, I don’t feel this rooibos has that kind of quality, and I think its flavor is quite superior to other rooibos that I’ve had, so I think it’s worth a try even for the haters out there.
Flavors: Butterscotch, Caramel, Cinnamon, Nuts, Wood