524 Tasting Notes
So this is a tea that has been on my ‘to try’ list for over a year, I was fascinated by the elevated GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma-Aminobutyric_acid ) in the tea. Fun and totally useless fact, my main medication for controlling my Fibromyalgia (and other things…added benefit) is Gabapentin, yep, same GABA! Luckily the amount is pretty small (average 280mg per 100g) so I don’t have to worry about OD’ing or anything. The aroma of the wet leaves is pretty sweet, like burnt sugar, plums, and a touch of toast. After steeping the leaves have a very distinct stewed plums and cherry aroma, it smells more like dessert than tea! The liquid is a blend of stewed plums, cherries, apricot (what is this, a compote?) and spicebush.
How interesting! It doesn’t taste like any oolong I have ever had, it is woody, sweet, and fruity with a distinctly sour cherry finish. Makes my salivary glands happy, though as of steep one I am not sure what I think of the taste. It is really mild but still has distinct flavors. My mouth is confused!!!
The aroma of the second steep is still very fruity and the spice is stronger (why do I suddenly hear sandworms in the distance?) the taste is sweet, not that sourness from the first steep…well, certainly not as strong. At the finish there is still some sourness. The majority of the taste is fruity but there is still not much going on, it tastes almost watered down which is surprising considering the leaves are pushing the lid of my gaiwan up. There is also a slight bitterness at the finish. I still do not know what to think of this tea.
How about we have one of those ‘here is something you probably didn’t know about me’ intros to today’s blog? I sleep walk, sometimes I think I have more adventures at night than I do during the day! It was really bad when I was a kid, I wandered around everywhere, it got to the point where my parent’s had to build a special crib/cage thing around my bed to keep me from wandering around or falling out of bed. I also talk in my sleep and have been known to have whole conversations in my sleep with no remembrance of them when I wake up. My most recent adventure was last night, I woke up in my bathtub, no water or anything, I was just sitting in the tub leaning against a wall. So now you know some other random little factoid about me!
I think that today’s tea from What-Cha, Huoshan Huang Ya Yellow Tea, might be the first yellow tea to make an appearance on the blog! I have a few yellow teas in my collection, but they do not have review priority since I bought them myself, company supplied samples always take priority (it is just polite!) Before I get into the usual aroma description, we need a brief description of what yellow tea and by extension Huoshan Huang Ya is. Traditionally only produced in China, yellow tea has a lot in common with its close relative green tea, but it has an extra step in its production called ‘sealing yellow’ basically this means that the damp leaves were allowed to sit and ‘yellow’ during a slower drying period. Both the leaves and the liquor have a yellowish color to them and in theory this process makes them milder and less grassy tasting than green tea. Now this particular tea, Huoshan Huang Ya, comes from the mountains of Anhui, China, it was once an imperial tribute tea during the Tang Dynasty and was written about in Lu Yu’s work on tea. Sadly the methods of this tea were thought lost, but were rediscovered in the 1970s by some distinguished tea masters, the version of this tea we have now is not quite as yellow as it was back in the Tang Dynasty and is sometimes mistaken for a green tea.
Phew, that was a lot of info, and I even abridged it! I certainly recommend looking up yellow tea, there are a lot of really neat articles written on this type of tea. The aroma of the dry leaves is quite sweet, there are notes of lightly roasted sweet corn, gently roasted sesame seeds, bamboo leaves, and a tiny hint of tomato leaves. At the finish of the sniff there is a hint of smoke. It is odd, every yellow tea I have had has had that tiny hint of smoke at the finish, I find that really neat.
Once the tea has been steeped, the wet leaves take on an extra layer of richness. The toasted sesame and roasted sweet corn are stronger, they are accompanied by the aroma of fresh growing things and bamboo leaves. It does have a similarity with green tea, but it is also quite different. The liquid is a mix of sweet corn and bamboo with a tiny hint of smokiness at the finish.
For the first steep, oh wow, that is a sublime tea (I always feel like Morinth from Mass Effect 2 when I use the word sublime now) it starts with a sweet corn and a touch of roasted sesame, there is a mild sweetness and a touch of bamboo. There is a nice tingly mouthfeel at the back of the throat and a peppery aftertaste.
The aroma for round two is very similar to the first steeping, there is a bit more of the bamboo leaves and the roasted corn and sesame aroma has a sweeter note to it. The taste again starts out with sweet corn and sesame seeds, but less roasted and more creamy sweet. This transitions to fresh bamboo leaves and a touch of pepper. There is a hint of smoke at the aftertaste, also the mouthfeel is smooth and not tingly this time.
The third steep’s aroma is faint, there are creamy sweet notes of sweet corn still and a hint of bamboo leaves, but mostly that is all that is left. The taste has become quite delicate as well, it starts with sweet corn and a touch of roasted sesame. There is also a hint of bamboo, broken stems, and a hint of kale giving the tea a little bit of a bitter green taste. Oddly this steep had a cooling effect, as I sipped it I felt cool and very relaxed, I also noticed this tea has a decent kick of caffeine making me feel very mentally alert, luckily not at all caffeine buzzed. By steep three I was just on the edge of being tea drunk, it is a wonderful feeling to go along with a really delicious tea!
It has been one of those days, you know, the day that starts out kinda ok and then turns out bad because pain decides to slam you in the guts. Literally. The only thing I can do is take it easy and hope tomorrow will be better. If it isn’t I plan on spending the day doing something crafty. Actually, even if I do feel wonderful tomorrow I am going to spend it doing something crafty, I have not had a craft day in a while.
Today’s tea from SerendipiTea is definitely one for those who like the chocolate, or so the name Cocoa Power would have me believe. This tea is a blend of Cocoa Beans, Cocoa Powder, Chocolate Bits, Natural Chocolate Flavoring, Natural Cream Flavoring, Organic Pu-erh, Organic Rooibos, Natural Vanilla Flavoring, and White Chocolate Bits. This tea probably wins the award for the most amount of chocolaty things in a tea that I have looked at (so far) it is impressive how many types of chocolate related ingredients are in this tea. And good googly moogly, chocolate power indeed! The aroma is a great blend of earthy pu-erh, woody sweet rooibos, vanilla sweetness, and loads of chocolate. It is a blend of sweet chocolate candy and rich cocoa powder, mixing the sweet and bittersweet aspects of chocolate. I am glad that it is sweet, but not cloyingly so.
The now steeped leaves have an intensely rich aroma, not at all sweet though. There are notes of cocoa, earthiness, the tea smells heavy. This seems like an odd description, but it has a real weight to the aroma. The liquid is a bit cloudy from all the cocoa powder, almost making it like tea and hot cocoa. The aroma has the same heaviness to it, but it has caramel, chocolate, and woodiness, alongside the cocoa and earthiness.
This tea is a cup of cocoa decadence, that is, if you are a fan of dark chocolate. If you prefer the more milkier chocolate you might find yourself reaching for cream and sugar! This is not a very sweet chocolate tea, it starts smooth and rich, much like eating into an 80% cocoa dark chocolate bar (which if you have not done, I would seriously recommend) it has a slightly oily mouthfeel from the white chocolate bits as well. After the initial dark chocolate taste, it turns into earthy pu-erh with a slightly metallic and mineral taste at the finish, which is a very interesting contrast to the cocoa. I am not sure this is my favorite chocolate tea ever, but it is certainly very rich and unique!
Oooh the aroma on this one is fun! It is floral and sweet like one would expect from an Alishan (for some reason their slightly yeasty sweetness reminds me of destroying angel mushrooms, but I am a weirdo) but with a slightly toasty aroma at the finish. Once I give the tea a short steep the aroma turns almost perfumed with the intensity of the orchid and honeysuckle explosion from the now wet leaves. There is also a gentle hint of spicebush, yum! The liquid is a blend of flowers, toast, and spicebush, it is quite sweet and enjoyable to sniff.
Oh man, that first sip is fantabulous! Sweet, floral, and surprisingly fruity! Like honey and lychees with a healthy dose of honeysuckle nectar. The aftertaste is spicebush. Oddly for a baked tea it doesn’t have any real toasty notes as of steep one.
The second steep somehow manages to be even sweeter, it is very much so like I took a floral oolong and poured lychee juice into it, pretty intense! Like the previous steep it has a spicebush finish to it. I really liked this tea!
Today’s tea book is a classic, ok 1996 is not really classic (nor is the English translation that came out in 2001) but time flies and knowledge evolves. The Little Book of Tea is a collaboration between Kitti Cha Sangmanee (tea expert and president of Mariage Freres Tea) Catherine Donzel (historian) Stephane Melchior-Durand (art historian) and Alain Stella (writer) all this listed on the back flap.
Before I get into this book, I flipped to the back (where the publication info was listed) and low and behold there is a steeping chart. I am glad I was not sipping tea at this point because I would have done a spit-take! The recommend Silver Needle steeps at 158-185 degrees for 15 minutes! That seems a little intense, but Mariage Freres is a well known and respected tea establishment, and I am nothing if not game for an experiment, so I am giving this a try. At 158 degrees for the advised 15 minutes…but more on that later.
Time for the book! This book is in fact tiny, it could probably slip in a purse or large pocket pretty easily, but for all its 120 pages the information is tightly packed and surrounded by lovely photography and tea themed illustrations. It begins with a brief yet fairly thorough history of tea and classification of tea, you know, the basics. Though this does make the mistake of calling oxidation fermentation, but since this book is being translated from French, I am willing to let it pass, even though I do twitch every time it comes up.
After that is the real ‘meat’ of the book, an alphabetical guide to tea. This section is filled with some tasty little nuggets of history and culture, even if it does seem more skewed towards Western tea culture and history than Eastern. Don’t get me wrong, it does cover major tea producing countries, they even mention Korea’s tea culture which frequently gets overlooked, but they also have sections about specific tea estates in Sri Lanka and India along side the individual countries’s entries. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have a book geared towards one culture or another, but when a book styles itself as ‘Everything you wanted to know about your favorite subject in one handy volume’ I do expect it to be a bit more diverse.
There were a few points of information that are now a bit dated, making it incorrect now but at the time it was correct, so I am not going to be too harsh on the book for that, it is not a time travel book of paradoxes after all. Examples of this are only referring to Taiwan as Formosa, and my favorite, not knowing which chemical reactions happen during oxidation and no one knowing exactly how the qualities are produced. Luckily we have a pretty good idea of what is going on, and there are some excellent articles written on the subject (I suggest Tony Gebely’s What is Oxidation and Boston Teawright’s Tea Tannins Part 3 Black Tea for some really juicy details) Also there was no mention of Pu erh at all, which was a little odd. I also was not a fan of the book’s disdain of adding cream, sugar, or lemon to teas, pfft, drink tea however you want…their claim that a true connoisseur would never add lemon to tea, especially a green tea, is ridiculous…lemon is delicious in sencha!
The last couple pages have a Tea Connoisseur’s Guide chart (I have a weakness for charts and tables) that have the tea divided by country. They give a brief description of what it is and what time of day it is best for. There are a few food pairing suggestions, and whether or not milk is ok to be added, but mostly it focuses on time of day Also bonus points for mentioning South American teas, yay for rarely talked about tea estates!
So you are probably wondering about that 15 minute steep, it is actually pretty delicious, tepid, but delicious! On a whim I did the second steep also at 15 minutes but at 170 degrees, sadly this was bland and boring because all the flavor went into the previous steep! Me thinks I am going to experiments with these crazy parameters some. They remind me of steeping the tea Grandpa Style, except the tea is removed instead of water being added as it gets low. Final thoughts on The Little Book of Tea? I recommend it, it is a little dated and has a few flaws, but it s a good beginner’s guide to tea and its history.
There was only a teeny tiny bit of this tea left, enough to make a fairly small cup, so I decided to go western style instead of using my gaiwan. I have really liked western brewed Bi Luo Chun in the past, so I expect tasty things. The aroma of the dry leaves was pretty faint, a distant hint of vegetal and green-ness.
The taste reminds me more of a low quality dragonwell than a Bi Luo Chun, there were strong notes of spinach and green beans with a hint of toasted sesame, I did not get any of the fruity lychee notes I associate with Bi Luo Chun. Even though it caught me off guard, I am ok with that! Luckily I really like those flavor profiles (one of the reasons I have low quality Dragonwell around just so I can quickly chug a cup) so it was not a loss.
Flavors: Green Beans, Spinach, Toasty
Getting mail is usually my favorite part of the day, I get packages of tea from all over the world, I get books from Goodread’s First Read program which is usually awesome, and sometimes I get presents from my friends and family on the other side of the country. But there are some days when the mail betrays me and brings me an unexpected and gut wrenching medical bill that I have no idea how I will afford. So much for doing anything fun for the next couple months, so lame, I clearly need a tea that will cheer me up!
Today’s tea fits that description perfectly, Golden Orchid by Whispering Pines Tea Co is one of the few teas that not only puts me in a good mood, it makes me feel better. A blend of their North Winds tea (which is a blend of Chinese Yunnan Dian Hong and Chinese Fujian Black Tea) and hand-chopped Grade A Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans. If that sounds incredibly decadent to you, well, I am certainly not going to say you are wrong. The aroma is so intensely rich and so incredibly sweet, it is a blend of sweet vanilla (real vanilla, not vanilla extract smell) with a warm cocoa, a touch of honey, a pinch of cream, and a finish of sweet dried cherries. I admit when I first sniffed this teas I just kinda sat there in awe, I do not say this very often, but the aroma blend was perfection.
Before I get too much farther into reviewing this tea, if you have not, you should read Whispering Pine’s tea descriptions! They are inspired by the creator’s experiences in Northern Michigan (and occasional Middle Earth) and they might be the most transportive descriptions I have had the pleasure of reading, even though they are about Michigan, they remind me of my time in the North Woods of Minnesota, so it touches a very special place in my heart. The now soggy leaves are a swirling sweet blend of creamy sweet vanilla and cocoa, it wafts out of my gaiwan and seems to coat the entire tea area in sweetness. Sniffing further into the leaves I can detect notes of cocoa, sweet potatoes, pepper, and of course vanilla. The liquid is intensely creamy with notes of vanilla, cocoa, a touch of cherries, and a tiny bit of pepper at the finish.
When I sip this tea, I feel the need to go Greek and lounge, or at the very least slouch in my chair, because this tea makes my head spin. When I brew it I use a pseudo-gongfu, I use my gaiwan set (because I want tiny sips) but I brew it similar to Western style using less leaf than I usually would and letting it steep longer. The taste starts out rich with notes of cocoa mixing cocoa butter creaminess and rich dark chocolate, this is accompanied by sweet caramelized sugar. At the beginning there is a hint of rich vanilla that builds around the mid-taste, this explodes into a sweet, creamy crescendo at the end which blends perfectly with the finishing notes of malt and pepper. The aftertaste is vanilla, and it lingers for quite a while. A fun thing about this tea that makes me giggle is the slightly tingly mouthfeel from the golden tea’s fuzzies, teas with fuzzy trichomes make me immensely happy.
The second steep’s aroma has even more of a vanilla presence than the first, it almost smells like creamy vanilla icecream…you know, the good stuff that has bits of vanilla bean in it, that was always my favorite vanilla. The taste takes a cue from the aroma and starts off with a strong vanilla presence, it is joined in the mid-taste by notes of roasted peanuts, sweet potatoes, caramel, and of course a strong cocoa finish. The cocoa and vanilla have a gentle finish together and both linger into the aftertaste. This tea very much so double features as a dessert tea and a feel good decadent tea, it has become my new morning wake up sip, and I jokingly told the proprietor that it cured my Fibromyalgia. It is wonderful to find teas that taste good, I have found hundreds that I enjoy and certainly dozens that I love, but I have only found a few that make me feel good physically, spiritually, and mentally…this tea joins that lofty few.
Flavors: Cherry, Cocoa, Dark Chocolate, Malt, Pepper, Vanilla
(I totally posted this on the wrong tea earlier….derp…so I am just moving it over)
Ben and I went gallivanting today after he got home from work, a celebratory gallivanting to my favorite store: International 888, possibly the best Asian market ever. It is celebratory because next week is my official ‘One Year as a Tea Blogger’ anniversary, I wanted to celebrate by getting some teas. I got a few surprise teas (surprise as in I have no idea if they are at all good, but they were cheap) and a Boba Thai Iced Tea, first one in years! I love Thai Iced tea (and bubbles!) but I have to only have it once in a great while because it makes me vibrate. I also plan on having a giveaway next week, more on that as I finish planning it.
Today’s tea is another offering from What-Cha, Zhejiang Purple Bamboo Shoot ‘Zi Sun Cha’ Green Tea, a beautifully vibrant green tea from Zhang Ling Tea Farm in Zhejiang, China. According to my little bit of research, this tea was regarded as one of the finest teas by Lu Yu, and was a much loved Tribute Tea during the Tang dynasty. Teas that have an ancient and storied history make my immensely happy, it is like I am having a cup of history, like I am a Time Lord and my gaiwan is my TARDIS. The aroma of the dry leaves is intense and complex, it is one of those teas that when I open the little foil package I am slammed with aroma, no need to stick my nose into the pouch, the aroma comes to me. There are initial notes of hay, a touch of spinach, and bit of tomato leaf, and a finish of sesame seed. As I sniff further (and breath on) the leaves sitting on my little display dish, I start to notice a savory sauteed mushroom aroma that grows the warmer the leaves get, it is a mouthwatering aroma.
Into the gaiwan the leaves go (I finally stopped sniffing them) for a nice steeping. Again the aroma is complex, the wet leaves have notes of spinach, sesame seeds, orchids, cherries, and honey. It is surprisingly fruity, especially at the end. The liquid is delicate and light, there are notes of sesame seed, and vegetal with that delightful savory sauteed mushroom aroma making an appearance.
The first steep is light and savory, it starts out with notes of spinach and sauteed mushrooms, this transitions to a gentle sesame taste. The finish is surprisingly sweet and floral with a sweetness that lingers like cane sugar. I certainly think this is a good start!
For the second steeping, the aroma of the liquid had a complete change of face. It is sweet like cherries and lychees with a touch of sesame seeds. The taste is very similar to the aroma, it starts off sweet and fruity and then transitions to sesame seeds and a touch of spicebush. It is a mild and refreshing tea.
Time for round three, the aroma is pretty faint this time around, there are delicate notes of flowers, it is like a distant bouquet that you can smell but cannot quite make out what kind of flowers there are. The taste starts out mild with savory sauteed mushrooms and spinach, this pretty quickly switches to toasted, almost smoky, sesame seeds. After the seeds there is a nice finish of lychee that lasts as a sweet aftertaste.
On a whim I decided to put aside the gaiwan and give this tea a Western Steeping. The aroma is quite rich, with notes of toasted sesame, spinach, and a touch of smoke. The taste is quite different from the gongfu version, it is still mild but the taste is sweet and orchid like with a touch of spinach. It almost reminds me of an oolong it is so floral, but when I drink it gongfu style it is very much so a green. I like these experiments, I feel it gives me a greater understanding of the tea I am drinking, I certainly suggest giving both brewing methods a try if you have the supplies.
Shameless plug! I am taking pre-orders for my annual Tea Advent Calender, it is early but I have reasons, all info can be found here.
Yay, it is Thursday, my favorite day of the week…why, you might be asking, because it is Ben’s day off. Usually we gallivant, game, and go to gaming night at Tabletop. Part of our rambling around today took us out for Indian food (I ate way too much and still feel stuffed) and to the thrift store. At said store I found a new tea set, a pretty Kyusu and matching cups, I had to have it of course.
Today we are having a nice little visit with Fuding Shou Mei White Tea Cake 2013 from Teavivire. This tea is pretty fancy, made from Shou Mei White Tea plucked in 2011, it is then compressed and aged making it a cousin of Pu erh and giving it an extra smoothness. This will be my second aged white tea cake and I am excited, I love teas that are out of the ‘norm’ or my usual zone of sipping. The aroma is sweet, like a rich blend of muscatel and honey, in fact it reminds me a bit of honey wine (specifically the Grecian Honeyed Wine I used to make when I could imbibe in my younger days) with a nice finish of hay.
The now steeped leaves is still very sweet, a nice honey sweet and muscatel aroma wafting from the soggy leaves. It reminds me of late summer harvest of grapes and hay, it has a heavy warmth to it that I can safely say is reminiscent of Provence. The liquid is more honey less wine, there is still a muscatel quality to it, but the sweetness of honey takes the forefront.
The taste, oh man, it is so sweet! I feel like I am drinking tea that tastes like mown hay, freshly broken stems, and a touch of grapes, but with a massive splash of honey wine mixed it. It is mild and heady, like wine without the burning and tipsy quality, but it still has the warmth and sweetness.
For the second steeping the aroma is much the same as the first, but much more intense. It has an added edge of richness that it did not have previously. This time around the taste is more balanced. It is still very sweet, but the notes of hay, grapes, and fresh vegetation are not overwhelmed by honey wine. The mouthfeel has a touch of creaminess about it as well.
On the third steeping the aroma has taken on a touch of earthiness, I have noticed that Shou Mei almost always has an earthy quality making it unique among its white tea friends. The taste has also acquired a mellow earthiness and leaf loam taste, this of course is accompanied by muscatel and broken stems. It is not as sweet this time as the previous steeps, but it still has an intense honey taste. I really liked this tea, the beginning sweetness was a bit intense (though not in a bad way) and it fades to a nice mellowness at the finish.
I am so close to have the bedroom redone that I can almost taste it, not in a ‘I have been licking the furniture’ way either! There will be much rejoicing when I am finished because it has been taking so much time and energy, also the cats are in a tizzy over all the moving furniture. Pretty much all I have left to do now is put everything away and think of an official name for my new tea area, it just doesn’t feel right calling it a lair if I am not longer underground.
Today’s tea is an herbal blend from SerendipiTea, Fellini’s Folly, named for director Frederico Fellini. I am not too familiar with his work (not much of a film person) but his inspired tea caught my eye because of its ingredients: Rooibos, Peppermint, Golden Raisins, Anise, Orange Peel, and Licorice Root (all organic)…specifically the golden raisins (SULTANAS!) I love golden raisins, much more so than their darker counterparts which I will not even acknowledge. The aroma is quite strong, a potent chill of mint, sweet woodiness, a touch of licorice, a touch of anise, and a finish of raisins. It manages to be cooling and warming at the same time, an interesting contradiction.
Giving the tea a nice steeping brings out the sweeter notes. The wet leaves have an aroma that is a blend of honey, caramel, wood, and anise. There is a finish of citrus and then a nice pop of mint that lingers and cleans the sinuses. The liquid is a bit more subtle than the leaves, it has more or less the same notes, but they are gentle and a touch sweeter. I do believe that the aroma of sultanas is much stronger now, which makes me happy.
Tasting this tea is quite interesting! It starts off with a cooling sensation from the mint that cools all the way down my esophagus, but as soon as it passes into my stomach it blooms into soothing warmth. The taste, after the initial mint coolness fades, is sweet with notes of caramel, anise, and sultanas. There is a bit of licorice sweetness at the finish, but it is faint and not at all cloying like licorice can be. One thing I really liked about this tea is that the mint seemed to counteract the dryness from the rooibos that is usually present.