912 Tasting Notes
If you are like me and a real lover of schedules, you are probably noticing that it is Thursday and there is a blog and that there was no blog on Wednesday like there was supposed to be. Blame Ben. This week and next he has Wednesday off, and since we only have the one computer (and he is the one with the job) I was nice and let him have full access to it all day. The single computer ordeal is soon to be over as a friend is hooking me up with a killer nice tower and surround sound speaker system, so no more polite computer sharing.
Today I am looking at quite the fascinating tea, Golden Tea Leaf’s Honey Red Jade Tea, a bug bitten red tea that has been tightly rolled similar in appearance to an Oolong. It is no secret that I am a bit obsessed with Taiwanese teas that have been nibbled on by leafhoppers, be it a Hongcha or an Oolong, their natural sweetness and complexity have skyrocketed them into being a comfort tea and not just one I seek out because of its deliciousness. The aroma of the leaves is…well…it is hard to put into words that are sensical and not just ‘holy yum sweet om nom nom’ so it took me a few sniffs to calm down enough to articulate. There are notes of caramel coated hazelnuts and cashews, stewed pears and plums, honey-drizzled pumpkins, and a rich heady distant note of plumeria blossoms. It is very sweet and rich, one of those teas I feel like I am sinking into while sniffing it.
I decided to brew this tea n my yixing devoted to Taiwanese Hongcha, which sees a lot of bug-bitten teas! The aroma of the brewed leaves is very rich and sweet, with notes of caramel, figs, cooked plums and pears, plumeria blossoms, and a finish of cooked pumpkin and brown sugar. The liquid is sweet and nutty, notes of honey and cashews blend with cooked pears and plums with a finish of caramelized figs and distant tropical flowers. It smells intense and mouthwatering, the perfect amount of sweetness and richness to push this tea over into a dessert tea.
If you like a tea that manages to be very sweet, very fruity, and floral while maintaining a rich quality, then boy do I ever have the tea for you! So before I get into the outstanding taste, I need to mention the pleasant mouthfeel. It is smooth and thick, not the point of an Oolong thickness, but it coats the mouth and is velvety in its texture. Ok, now for that decadent taste, it starts with a dessert-like combination of stewed pears, plums, and pumpkin with a sprinkling of cashews and brown sugar. Next, the flowers start, orchid and plumeria with a hint of honeysuckle and lilies, it is heady without being perfumed like an Oolong. The aftertaste is cashews and lilies and they linger for quite a while.
The second steep is impressively intense, it takes the same notes (with a gentle extra woodiness in the middle) but ramps it up! The sweetness is sweeter, the flowers more like nectar rather than just blossoms, and the fruit notes take on an almost pie like quality. No longer just a dessert of stewed fruit, the pie is on! The sweet nutty aftertaste continues, but instead of lily the aftertaste is, of all things, persimmon, which was a fantastic surprise.
So the first two steeps I drank while they were hot, the third steep I decided to play around with by letting it cool to room temperature, since according to the website this tea is even better when cooled. I find that hard to believe since it is already pretty fantastic! Drinking this tea cool is truly where it really shines, notes of orange blossom and malt show up, along with caramelized pears and heady plumeria. It is beautifully rich and smooth, I could become addicted to this tea! One thing I found really useful is it seemed impossible to over-steep this tea, I could toss leaves into a bowl and bowl-steep this tea for hours and it never gets bitter, meaning it is perfect for tossing in my travel tumbler. Toss this tea on the list of teas I need more of!
Well, last time I rambled I talked about my frustration with Ark, it seems that the internet’s really angry reaction to the canceling of the Halloween event made it very clear to the devs that this was a bad idea. So they delayed it, later this week I will get to play the event because I can’t quit this game, so I will play it. Of course, the delay of the event means that my plans for Halloween have been canceled so I have no idea what I am doing to celebrate today. Perhaps painting shall keep me occupied on this most spooky of days.
Today I am looking at an orb of goodness from Teavivre, their Yunnan Rose Dragon Ball, a tea after my own heart! Combining a Simao Dianhong with rose petals in a tightly rolled ball individually wrapped making it a really cute gift. Good for either western style brewing or gongfucha, it is a versatile tea, and since it is just tea and roses and no flavoring or oils you get pure rose taste and smell. It is no secret by now that I love roses in my hongcha, but often I find it has been blended with flavorings or oils and I prefer just straight up rose petals in my black tea. Unwrapping the ball and giving it a good sniffing, the aroma is quite pleasant. There are the obvious notes of rose, reminding me of rose water, gently sweet without being perfumey, along with cocoa, malt, and a touch of peanuts. The rose is not at all overwhelming and it is balanced with the notes of the Dianhong, which is good, frequently rose teas have overwhelming rose.
Such an elegant tea deserves an elegant gaiwan, so I used the audacious gold lady for this tea, it also works well since it is a larger gaiwan meaning more room for the ball to expand. The aroma after the first steep has notes of malt, cocoa, yams, peanuts, and gentle roses. The liquid is sweet, with notes of roses and honey giving it a nectar quality, along with cocoa and roasted peanuts. I find myself looking forward to drinking it!
This might be the most perfectly balanced rose Dianhong I have ever tried. The rose is gentle and light, never once overpowering the notes of the Dianhong, but also always being present so there is no mistaking it is a rose tea. That persistent rose note makes it suitable for someone like me who absolutely loves food and drink with a rose theme, but also making it suitable for someone who is only slightly a fan (like Ben, just an example.) Of course, it helps that the base Dianhong is enjoyable, smooth notes of malt and cocoa blend with yams and peanuts with a lingering honey finish. It is a classic Dianhong with all the familiar notes.
As is frequent with these teas that are tightly curled up into balls, the first steep is light, but the second steep is more intense, part of the reason a lot of people either have a longer than normal first steep or rinse the tea. Since I think rinsing would be a waste, in this case, I just go for a slightly longer steeping time. The second steep is still pretty intense compared to the first, stronger notes of all the ones present in the first steep, especially the rose and chocolate with lingering brown sugar and honey. I feel like this would be the perfect tea to drink on some romantic occasion, it just has that feel!
This tea goes for a LOT of steeps, I kept pulling flavor from this ball for a good twelve steeps, and at that point, I switched to just drinking straight from the gaiwan and refilling it as needed for several more refills. It was not a short-lived tea, definitely an all-day session, which was fine by me! There was not a ton of evolution between steeps, just light bit omnipresent roses and classic Dianhong notes til the very end. This tea evokes romance, summer gardens, and just general happiness, I greatly enjoyed my massively long session with it!
I think I might finally be done with Ark for good. They had promised that this year Xbox was also getting the Halloween event, not only would I be able to enjoy the spooky atmosphere, I could finally have an army of skeleton dinosaurs and zombie dodos, I was so unbelievably hype. Today with the release of Fear Evolved on PC they announced that nope, sorry, no fun for Xbox, again. I love dinosaurs, I love the concept of Ark, but I am so done with the incompetent development team, the constant broken promises, and the frequent broken game. I know it is in pre-alpha and expect a lot of bugs, but really it is the constant saying they are going to do something and just not doing it, I can only take so much and it seems a lack of Skelesaurs is the straw that broke the Rex’s back. Probably I will try playing again when the game has actually been released, til then, I guess it is just Minecraft for me.
Ok, clearly I need something to cheer my up, and I have just the thing, because I discovered a new favorite tea. Tillerman Tea’s Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty) 2016 is by far the best I have had, and I have had quite a few Bai Hao (or whatever name you wish to give them, it has several) and while many I have enjoyed I frequently feel they fall flat, I love the flavor notes that are present but wish they were more intense or lasted longer, so usually I just end up going for this tea’s cousin Gui Fei. If you put Tillerman Tea’s Bai Hao next to my favorite Gui Fei, chances are I would pick the Bao Hao, and here is the lowdown. First off, that aroma, it is super sweet, notes of apricot, pumpkin, acorn squash, peanuts, carrot cake, and magnolia nectar waft out of the leaves as I bury my face into them. Usually I find Bai Hao to be super autumnal, largely because it blends notes of squash and pumpkin with autumn leaves, this one lacks the autumn leaf note but still captures that autumnal bliss with pumpkin and carrot cake. Yes carrot cake, it is autumnal because it was often my birthday cake and I am an autumn baby. I had such a hard time pulling my nose out of the leaves, I think I could have sniffed them for hours, but I was thirsty and my kettle was ready to do its job.
Into my Bai Hao teapot the leaves go, yes I have a Bai Hao pot because of course I do. The aroma of the steeped leaves is something else! Notes of magnolia, gardenia, and orange blossoms blend with carrot cake, pumpkin, and acorn squash. It is very sweet and aromatic, again I had a hard time pulling my nose away. The aroma of the liquid is amazing, notes of honey, magnolia, pumpkin, acorn squash, caramelized sugar, and just intense sweetness. The magnolia notes are so awesome, I love that flower so much so it is much appreciated.
You know, this tea is almost too good to write about, I don’t feel I can do it justice! The smooth and thick mouthfeel is joined by a sweetness that washes over my mouth. Notes of orange blossom and magnolia start the tasting out, then it moves to a more earthy and rich pumpkin and squash, both drizzled with melted brown sugar. Towards the finish a gentle autumn leaves and golden raisins blend with a delicate lingering floral note. All the notes are intense, and the aftertaste sticks around for a long time, I found myself getting lost in this tea very easily.
Honestly this is one of the hardest teas I have written about, the notes present are not at all hard to identify, they are familiar and very clear, but trying to accurately represent the level of intensity is where the difficulty is. It transcends mere taste and mouthfeel and moves into something more like trying to describe why two pieces of art which are similar can have very different emotional impacts to a person who has seen neither. I want to sit down to a session with this tea and share it with everyone, but since I can’t do that I have to try to convey how good it is with words. This steep increases richness and the notes of orange blossom, peaches, and apricots. Like an exotic dessert of stewed fruits in orange blossom water, reminiscent of Persian food. The notes of squash and pumpkin are still present and wonderful, as is the autumn leaves at the end. Like the first steep the aftertaste takes a while to fade.
I have a confession, Tillerman Teas sent me a generous sized sample, and it is already gone. I got a whopping nine steeps out of this tea, but I loved it so much that when the leaves were done I started over again with a new pile of leaves. Then the next day I pulled my larger bug bitten oolong pot out and brewed up the rest to share with Ben, who absolutely loved it. He totally supported my plan to get 2oz of the stuff after holiday shopping is done and I can go back to indulging in tea shopping! Honestly if I could afford it I would buy the largest amount the store was offering and drink it in enormous quantities. This tea continues getting richer and sweeter until steep seven where the strongest notes are pumpkin and autumn leaves with a gentle sweetness, but even at the end that sweet aftertaste lingers.
Well, other than a futon, installing shelves into my curio cabinet (one day that will get done) and maybe a nice rug, my tea room is done! I christened it by painting for the first time in months, I still desperately need new painting supplies, but I have enough to fiddle around still. It feels so good to have my own space, specifically have space that has SPACE, my bedroom was so cramped, now I actually have floor space which is awesome. Plus I only messed my back and hips up a little from moving furniture, which is astounding for me, usually I mess myself up bad because I can’t every wait for help.
Today I am looking at an early spring 2016 Sheng from Denong Tea, their 2016 Denong Commemorative Raw Pu-erh, made from Xishuangbanna material. I have come to really enjoy their teas I have tried, especially the ones from Xishuangbanna, so I was excited to sink my teeth (tea-th?) into this tea. Of course the description says the tea will only improve with age, so really this is like the preview before the movie, and with Puerh I always find having a preview before the main event is just the best, because this is not a type of tea you just buy on a whim, usually it is an investment in both money and time. So, let us see what this tea has to offer! The aroma of the dry leaf had a surprising amount going on, wet hay, a touch of camphor, savory and buttery undertones, bok choy, and my favorite part, the distinct note of rained on peonies. Not just normal peony flowers, but ones that are rained on, bringing out more of the bruised flower and mineral note. It just might be the most floral Sheng I have run into, and to pick one of my favorite flowers to smell like made for a very enjoyable sniffing session.
Into my baby gaiwan the leaves go for their rinse and first steep, the aroma is still pretty potent! Notes of orchid, peony and distant wildflowers blend with watercress, bok choy and tomatoes. It is both savory and floral, which is fun combination, like having a meal next to a bouquet of flowers, and that is classy. The aroma of the liquid is more on the savory side, with bok choy and tomatoes with a hint of cedar wood and distant orchids…like you are at the same table but someone wandered off with the arrangement and left you with the ghost of a smell.
So this is my kind of Sheng, it is light and sweet and for the first three steeps there is no bitterness at all. I know the hardcore Pu-heads like that bitterness, not me though, it almost always reminds me too much of beer and there are few things in life I loathe more than the taste of beer. Luckily for me I don’t have to worry about it, I can just sit back and enjoy the sweet notes of peony nectar, the savory bok choy and watercress, and the touch of cedar wood that pops up towards the end of the third steep. The mouthfeel starts out light, but by the end of the mouth it is smooth and pleasantly cooling, later steeps bring in a subtle thickness that accents rather than distracts from the delicate taste.
The middle three steeps pick up a bit of bitterness, it is more the bitterness of romaine lettuce than hops so I am perfectly ok with that. Can I just take a moment to be amused how some bitter tastes I actively seek out and others make me convulse with disgust? Taste preferences are so weird, I find myself wondering often what causes such contrasting reactions in what is really a small difference. Anyway, tangent for a different time, for now this tea is the focus! The cedar notes from the end of the first part of this session becomes stronger, as does the cooler sensation in my belly. This tea really starts to bloom around steep four, as in it starts to become quite floral, the delicate peony nectar notes intensifies as does the sweetness, and that sweetness just lingers for ever. I had to run an errand between steeps six and seven, and I swear I could still taste that lingering sweetness a good hour later.
The leaves have really fluffed up in these later steeps, barely fitting in my gaiwan, and the golden liquid looks like sunlight, which matches the nectar sweetness really well I think. Mostly here are the end the taste is sweet, peony nectar and a gentle buttery bok choy note with subtle mineral notes. The mouthfeel continues to be smooth and gentle cooling, and the sweet aftertaste continues to linger. This was a really enjoyable tea, not one that was epiphany inducing, but still one that I found very tasty and especially enjoyed the floral notes.
What rubbish timing my body has! The last week I have felt increasingly worse, headache that won’t quit, increasing body aches, but then the coughing and fever started and all I could do was go ‘well crap!’ Every Autumn since I was a kid I get a chest infection, either sparked off by allergies or as a secondary infection from a cold or flu, and I am thinking since Ben has been snuffly that it is the latter. Stupid weak lungs, it is getting in the way of me setting up my tea room! Luckily baby Advil (because silly stomach hates pain killers) Robitussin, hot steams, and copious ginger and garlic have helped take the edge off, but I am still rather angry about it.
Today I am looking at a tea that has nothing to do with being ill, which is good, though I do admit when I am feeling really awful I tend to favor a giant mug of tea over gongfucha, and this tea is perfect mug tea. 52Teas’ When Doves Cry, yes, it is a Prince tribute tea, I love Prince and his passing was a punch to the gut, so drinking a tea created in his honor while listening to his music seemed like a great tribute. Though honestly, even if this were not a tribute to one of my favorite musicians I would want it, it is made from White Tea, vanilla bean, dried apricots, and Candied violets…many of those things are favorites of mine and the combination sounded awesome. The tea smells good, with notes of vanilla and honey, apricots, a delicate violet note, and a finish of hay. Just the right amount of sweetness, not cloying but certainly not mild.
Steeping the tea really allows the base white tea to shine, with notes of lettuce, honey, melon, and hay. There are also notes of apricot and vanilla with a gentle sugar cane note at the finish. The incredibly colorful liquid (kinda blue, kinda green, violets turn things fun colors) is sweet and crisp, notes of honey and apricot dance with a distinct lettuce and broken hay note, I am glad the white tea is really standing out, a LOT of blends I have had with white tea just drown it out.
So, it is very fitting that a Prince tribute tea be unique, and this tea certainly is that. The first thing I thought was that it tasted like vanilla ice cream with a topping of apricot jam, it is sweet and rich, doubly so with the candied violets adding sugary sweetness to the mix. After the initial burst of creamy fruity dessert the white tea steps in to say hello with notes of melon and hay with a crisp lettuce note. The end has a wonderful lingering wildflower and vanilla note, the vanilla lingers for quite a while. Usually I don’t like my tea sweet, I only add sugar to Masala Chai, Ostfriesen Tea, and the occasional sour herbal, but clearly I liked this one since I tore through my sample super quickly, because sometimes it is good to step out of my ‘norm’ and have a little fun.
And now everyone has gone, Rita has returned to Peru and Ben’s parents have returned to their other home in Madison. This means I have the house to myself, well for a little bit, at the beginning of November Ben’s awesome cousin and his fiance will probably be turning into housemates, which is fun. Luckily they are both really cool people, so sharing the house with them will be fine with me (not that I leave the bedroom very often, but still) plus more people to share tea with!
Today’s tea is not a tea, well it is in the whole ‘it is a thing you steep then drink’ sense, but it is not made from Camellia so technically it is not a tea, semantics! Teavivre’s Black Tartary Buckwheat Tea Whole Embryo is a fantastic little grain that can do double duty as a drink and a breakfast. Fagopyrum tataricum is a species of buckwheat, meaning it is not a gluten having grass, it is also considered to be bitterer than common buckwheat, though I have never found it so. I adore this stuff, of the various grains I have steeped Tartary Buckwheat is probably my favorite. The aroma of the kernels is delicious, it smells like peanuts, toasted wheat, honey, and…well…buckwheat! The aroma reminds me a bit of peanut butter Captain Crunch, but unlike that cereal I can enjoy it without it cutting my mouth (seriously Captain Crunch, you kill my mouth.)
Into a pretty glass teapot the kernels go, usually I have problems with this teapot’s astronomically slow pour, but since it is really hard to oversteep this stuff I was not sad about using it. After they have steeped and the kernels have softened and expanded, the aroma is very tasty, if you are a fan of cereal. Which I am. There are notes of toasted grains, honey, cereal, and definitely peanut butter. The liquid without its seedy goodness is very sweet, strong notes of peanuts and toasted wheat with a caramel and honey finish. I adore how sweet this stuff is, and how it smells like peanuts.
This time of year just calls for this kind of drink, autumn and toasted grain goes together like peanut butter and bread. Which conveniently is what this steeped kernels kinda tastes like! With a thick and smooth mouthfeel and a soothing feel, this is the best thing to drink at 4AM when your region of the world is experiencing its first freeze. The taste is wonderfully sweet, like a honey and peanut butter sandwich on a nice toasted grain heavy bread. Unlike a lot of herbal teas I found I could get more than one steep, though the later steeps require a very long steep time so the liquid is rather cool by that point. Still super tasty though when chilled! One of the best features of course is the cleanup of the buckwheat, just grab a spoon and eat a tasty midnight snack.
Ah, autumn! I am loving the weather, it is cool and crisp, the leaves are turning, and there are pumpkins everywhere. Also skulls. This Halloween skulls are super in, and I am fighting the urge to buy up every piece of interesting skull decor for my tea desk and future wedding, but it is hard! The hunt is, of course, still on for the perfect ‘spooky’ piece of teaware from the thrift stores, no luck yet!
Today’s tea will always make me think of the Tang Dynasty, mostly because of the movie Curse of the Golden Flower (or Curse of the Golden Corset as I call it) because they really had an obsession with Chrysanthemums. The movie, while beautiful, is certainly not one of my favorites…but the Tang Dynasty will always be my favorite period of Chinese history, rivaled by the Three Kingdoms Period of course. This really has nothing to do with anything, save a love of an aesthetic, so without further ado, Teavivre’s Huizhou Emperor Chrysanthemum Tea! A beautiful single blossom individually packaged, it made me feel like royalty with the presentation, it also meant that the risk of the flower being crushed into oblivion was minimal which is always nice. The aroma of the flower is very lovely and pure, as though I have a fresh chrysanthemum sitting next to me. Trying to describe the aroma is a challenge, because it smells like chrysanthemums, describing tea is easy since it almost always has notes of other things, but for some reason this particular flower has always challenged me. I will try, assuming the reader has never sniffed one, to find a comparison. There are notes of daisy, wild flowers, pollen, lettuce, white pepper, straw, and gentle almost creamy sweetness. It smells like autumn and nostalgia, a very happy smell for me.
Now I could have gongfu’d this flower, I have thrown many a chrysanthemum into a gaiwan and steeped as such, but since this one is so special I thought I would go for a clear cup and just let it float around while I sipped it. Again, talk about feeling like royalty, there is something very princess like about drinking a cup of flower. The aroma is much like the dry flower but stronger and sweeter, it lacks some of the more potent sharp notes that some yellow chrysanthemums (especially Tai Ju, which are mostly buds) have.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, chrysanthemum has quite the reputation for being a cooling herb, it is also one of the few medicinal herbs I drink not just for taste but for its usefulness, especially this time of year. I am not sure which of the chemical compounds in this flower it is (because of course the internet has conflicting info and I no longer have my books on TCM) but one of them does wonders for sore throats and as an expectorant, making it a must have around during allergy season. It also settles my stomach so I drink it after big meals or before bed, granted I am not one to recommend medical stuff since my body is super weird (and they do not help Ben’s allergies at all) but it is an interesting bit of trivia. Plus it helped me pass the time waiting for the flower to steep!
The taste and mouthfeel is fantastic! Like a chrysanthemum flower should be, the texture of the liquid is thick and slippery, coating my mouth in a nice cooling sensation, like the world’s mildest Biotene mouth spray. Honestly the texture reminds me of that as well, but with no mint to be found…which is completely fine with me! Some chrysanthemum flowers are very sweet, others are very pungent and medicinal, this one is way on the sweet spectrum. None of the sharp more medicinal qualities are really present, just the wonderfully sweet nectar of fresh golden chrysanthemum. With notes of honey, pollen, wildflowers, daisies, straw, and a lingering aftertaste of sugar.
One fantastic thing about this single flower that really struck me was how many refillings of the cup I could get before it finally faded out, it has some great resteep value going on. I got four very flavorful cups and at least three more very mild but pleasant ones. At first, when looking at the price, I thought it a bit too steep for my blood, but after seeing how much life I could get out of it I realized it was not bad at all. Plus, taste aside, part of the price does come from the spectacular presentation, it looks spectacular while steeping. I found it so lovely that when I had sucked every bit of flavor from the blossom I stuck it in a different cup of tea just to extend the visual enjoyment.
I am currently embroiled in a very heated competition, a cheesecake bake off! Granted I am really the only one counting it as a competition, my judges and competitor are all like ‘we all win’ and that is fair, but not as fun. Granted the reason I am so competitive with this particular culinary competition is the recipe is both very expensive and a real pain to make without a mixer. Spoon Fork Bacon’s Goat Cheese and Greek Yogurt Cheesecake is one of my favorite recipes ever and I seriously suggest giving it a try, just know that if you make without any form of electric mixer you are in for an arm workout!
It is a Wednesday, meaning Instagram is all a buzz with the #teawarewednesday hashtag, and for all my massive hoard of teaware I have not played along in a while, so today is celebrating the beauty of teaware! Specifically Yunomi’s Sawa Houzan: Shigaraki-yaki Shiboridashi, one of my greatest treasures. For Tanabata Yunomi had a mini contest, you wrote a wish on their website and a randomly picked winner would get a gift certificate, reminiscent of the tradition of writing wishes on strips of paper. I wished for a real Japanese Shiboridashi, made for the enjoyment of green tea, to heighten my enjoyment, and when my wish was randomly picked I immediately picked the shiboridashi that has been on my wishlist for literal years.
I love my other two shiboridashi, but they were not quite perfect for the finer grade of Japanese green tea, letting the tiny leaves slip through the grooves which were just a bit too big, causing me a bit of frustration and often a mouthful of leaves. I had debated getting a clamshell style clay one at one point, but really kept coming back to this specific shiboridashi, its coloring and graceful lines called to me. The cream and subtle salmon pinks remind me of snow reflecting the colors of sunset, and the shape reminded me of a calla lily. One of the more intriguing things about the design I gleamed from the photos was the crackling, I so love teaware that tells the store of use through the deepening dark crackles achieved over time.
It was in for a massive surprise though! This shibo crackled after its first use! A fine spiderweb of dark lines started to appear after my first session with a green tea, each session since adding deeper lines and at this point it is almost entirely covered in a webwork. This patterning matches the cracked glass decoration on the knob perfectly. Really everything about the aesthetics of this piece is perfection.
No matter how beautiful a piece of teaware is, it still needs to function or it is pointless, and no one wants that. Luckily this piece was crafted by a master potter so of course it functions beautifully! The pour is fast and even, no weird drips or messes when I am pouring. The grooves keep the majority of the leaves inside the shibo, a tiny crumb might escape but really it is immensely effective. It keeps the temperature of the leaves and water steeping even but does not hold heat too terribly well, this is great when I am drinking those delicate Japanese greens but on the few occasions I have used the shibo for other teas the tea was a little bit watery from heat loss. Honestly though complaining about that is like complaining when the screwdriver is really bad at hammering in nails, wrong tool for the job.
Since it wouldn’t be a teaware review by me if I didn’t find one thing to nitpick, this beautiful perfect treasure is a pain to clean. Specifically those grooves are a pain to clean, I feel like I need to get a specific scrub brush just to get the bits of leaves out from between them. And yes, it is somewhat hard to photograph, the bright color and crackles cause some havoc for my camera, but that is more a failing as a photographer than a failure in the teaware, it makes me sad though since it is so pretty and I want to show off how pretty it is!!
Everyone should pity Ben’s grandfather, who overheard me talking about Kansas and Tyrannosaurus rex and discovery at a family event yesterday. A local museum has the cast of the first rex skeleton ever discovered and I knew it had something to do with Kansas but couldn’t remember what and told him I would email him the details later. Turns out the discoverer was from Kansas, and I could have put that in the email and called it a day but noooo, see he asked about Paleontology and that is the most dangerous thing to ask me about. So Ben’s poor grandfather just received a massive email about all of Kansas’s Paleontological history, details about the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event (Because I will always talk about the Great Dying given the slightest chance) the best place for fossils to form and how location effects the fossil record. I have a feeling no one in Ben’s family will ever ask me about dinosaurs again, the same thing happened last time someone asked me about tea, at least I left them with a nice nugget of information!
Today’s tea is one that never sticks around in my stash very long, a long time favorite, Sun Moon Lake Tea (#18 Red Jade) this one from Golden Tea Leaf. One of the reasons this is one of my favorites is each one I have had is different, it is fascinating, you can certainly tell they are all Red Jades, but they each have some wildly different but similar note, kinda like the difference between different kinds of chocolate. Some are sassafrasy, some like cherry, some menthol, some cinnamon…it is always an adventure with this tea. Notes of cloves, dried cherries, freshly cut tomatoes, sassafras, malt, and finish of woodiness and molasses waft from the pile of leaves. It is both sharp and sweet, almost tingly in my nose, and of course I love the sassafras note. I did find the tomato note to be very surprising, I have run into many red teas that have either tomato leaves or sun dried tomatoes as a note, but this is the first time I have smelled one where it is like someone handed me a fresh from the garden just sliced Roma.
I decided since the tea is named (among many things) Red Jade to use my red rice pattern set, it seemed fitting. After the first steeping the leaves are so potent, practically exploding with intense aroma, notes of cloves, menthol, and sassafras just wash over me, it is wonderful and invigorating. After this initial flood of intense notes, gentle notes of malt and chestnut with a very gentle tomato quality greet my nose. The liquid is intense as well, strong cloves and sassafras, only a gentle sweetness with a burst of menthol in the middle and a finish of strong tomatoes, it is very strong and brisk.
On the first sip I was surprised by a burst of sweetness, this tea is usually quite sweet in taste and aroma, but with the aroma this time around being less focused on malty honey sweetness I expected the taste to be more brisk than sweet. The mouthfeel is pleasantly tingly and smooth, it seems a contradiction, but it works really well. Strong notes of sassafras and menthol at the front with a building menthol in the middle, towards the end a savory tomato note pops up and then finished with a cinnamon honey note that lingers for quite a while.
This steep has evolved into something new and exciting! Less sweet and more intense, a starting note of dark chocolate and saffron with a cardamon finish. New idea, one day make a Red Jade Masala Chai…assuming I can convince myself to add milk and sugar, the idea seems heinous. The end of this tea is where the sweetness lies, along with the cloves and sassafras, both lingering into the aftertaste. I was seriously in love with the saffron note, anytime a tea has that naturally (and not from added saffron) it immediately jumps to the top of my favorites list.
The third steep might be my favorite, ramping up the sweetness to be more like the first, so it is dripping with honey and caramelized sugar. Then of course is a rich cocoa and saffron, a nice tingly burst of cloves and sassafras in the middle with a distant wisp of tomato. The finish brings in a mellow cinnamon that lingers into the aftertaste. Of course since this is a Red Jade I am going to push this tea until there is nothing left, which came around steep seven, so it has decent longevity.
For any of my readers who are affected by or going to be affected by Hurricane Matthew, stay safe! This particular Hurricane looms heavily in my mind for two reasons, the first and most important is I have family in its path living in Charleston, luckily they are smart and evacuated to the rest of my family in PA, but before I knew they were evacuating I was obviously worried. The other reason is it reminds me of one of the more impactful events of my early life, Hurricane Hugo. I was living in Columbia, SC at the time when that beast slammed full on into the Carolinas, at the time it was the most costly hurricane to hit the US (long since been removed from the top ten) but still ranks #2 on the Hurricane Severity Index. I could tell many stories of the night Hugo hit, they are some of my most vivid early memories, but the real impact this storm (and the tornado I experienced about a month later) had was instilling a phobia of storms that lasted for YEARS. I was almost an adult before I finally broke that phobia, all those (and still) I spent studying Meteorology and eventually the phobia turned to fear, then respect, then outright love.
Today I am looking at a tea that I have not had in literal years, Tai Ping Hou Kui Green Tea, specifically one from MeiMei Fine Teas. My first time having this tea all those years ago sadly did not wow me, I thought that it was tasty but kinda boring, that I was paying the steep price for the visual appeal rather than taste (like with blooming teas) and figured I should indulge in other green teas. When MeiMei Fine Teas sent me a sample of their Tai Ping Hou Kui I was excited to give this style another chance, especially since their teas have all impressed me in the past. First off, these leaves are impressive, massively long emerald to peridot (when a rockhound tries to describe colors) green leaves with a delicate patterning of the pressing. The other TPHK (as I am not abbreviating this tea) I had was machine processed, this one is handmade, and I can tell, where the previous leaves were paler green and almost translucent, these are thicker and much more solid.
The aroma of the leaves is pretty great, light notes of green beans and asparagus, nutty sweet chestnuts and sesame with a touch of peanuts, and sweet green peas and cooked rutabaga. Like a ghost as my nose heats up the leaves, a sweet floral note arises from the leaves, it starts as peony and finishes as delicate orchids and is quite evocative of spring. I really love green teas that are vegetal and also have strong nutty tones, but delicate floral accompaniment is an extra layer of depth.
Originally I was going to brew this in my tall porcelain gaiwan I bought specifically for green tea, but I realized it would not do these leaves justice, so I went with the traditional method of brewing in a tall clear glass and pouring into a smaller glass. It is similar to grandpa style but instead of drinking from the leaves I am pouring it off, but still leaving some liquid in with the leaves. Sadly I do not have a gooseneck kettle (the only time I really want one is when I am dealing with delicate teas) and I have a very unsteady hand, so my bludgeoning pour meant a few leaf crumbs were broken off, I mention this because they were not there until I poured a deluge onto the leaves and all over my teadesk while trying to pour on the side of the cup. Oops. The aroma of the now wet leaves is green and crisp, notes of asparagus, cabbage, green beans, lima beans, spinach and peas dance with a subtle orchid and sesame notes. The liquid is light and sweet, notes of snap peas and chestnut with a hint of distant peony and cooked rutabaga.
The first steep is so crisp and green, crisp in taste and texture! It starts with notes of lettuce, water chestnuts, and bean sprouts. I have had other greens with notes of sprouts and water chestnut, but this one is the most distinct, I feel like I just bit into lightly sauteed both, still crisp and a touch raw, but with that slight cooked taste. Towards the finish notes of green bean and cooked peas, finishing a bit more savory than the start with a lingering aftertaste of alfalfa sprouts.
Oh my that is so smooth! Where the first steep was crisp, this steep is buttery and smooth. Blending notes of cooked spinach and cooked bean spouts with green bean and chestnut, I feel as though I am drinking the liquid form of a wonderful stir fry with a side of roasted chestnuts for dessert. The finish is a blend of cooked collards and cooked peas with a hint of starchy lima beans, the aftertaste is a delicate rain water on peony blossom that does not last too terribly long and has an almost effervescent quality.
This next steep is like a blend of the other two but with added fun, the crisp flavor notes of the first and the smooth mouthfeel of the second. It starts with sweet and crisp snap peas, water chestnut, and squash blossoms. Then it moves to cooked peas, bean sprouts, sweet chestnuts, and a gentle orchid note that blooms into the aftertaste. One of the best things about this tea is its longevity, usually a lot of greens kinda piddle out at steep three, but not this one, I sat and refilled it a good six times before I was too full of tea. Gongfu is hard when you are solo-ing a large amount!! I am so glad I gave this style tea another try, totally worth it.