361 Tasting Notes
Today was a good day, I got to visit my favorite local Asian Market, the illustrious International 888 Store that is as big as a large supermarket and has a huge selection of yummy foods. Also and entire large aisle devoted to tea which I spend way to much time lingering in. Of course there are lots of beautiful tea pots and some clothes as well, what can I say, I love this store and visiting it is one of my favorite things. Also my reviewing schedule for tea is totally thrown off because I got to try a tea that has been on my ‘to try list’ for years! The package arrived last night and I could have tried it immediately, but it is far to beautiful a tea to drink at night, this needs sunlight.
Today I am reviewing Sakura Tea by Kyoto Obubu Tea Plantations and Yunomi.us! I was told (more like warned a bit) that this tea is ‘uniquely Japanese’ and may be a bit weird, this warning was completely unnecissary because I love a lot of ‘uniquely Japanese’ things (I mean I eat Beni Shoga straight from the jar and eat seaweed like they are chips, I love Japanese food!) So of course when I see a beautiful and very delicate tea made from cherry blossoms preserved in salt and plum vinegar, I think to myself “I have got to get my greedy little hands on some of that” and several years later, I finally did! The aroma is sweet and a bit tangy, it reminds me of pickled peaches, or more likely pickled plums but a touch sweeter. The floral notes are very subtle and the tartness mixed with salt is a delicious aroma. I admit it, I licked the salt crystals out of the package, I may be a salt addict.
At first I wanted to try the tea without adding any of the salt brine from the initial soaking, just nothing but flower. The aroma is very mild with a blend of sweetness and flowers, it smells very much so like a spring breeze carrying the aroma of flowers from a distance. The taste is as mild as the aroma, delicately sweet and floral with just a touch saltiness. There is also a smooth and nutty aftertaste.
Adding the brine makes the aroma a little stronger and the taste, well, lets just say I might have giggled a bit at how good it was. It leaves the mouth feeling smooth and the taste is creamy with hints of tartness and floral. It is a bit salty, but deliciously so! It does not leave the mouth feeling dried out as one would expect from something salt pickled, but instead invigorates the salivary glands. The aftertaste is nutty and enjoyable.
It was recommended that you can brew it with other teas, specifically Genmai Cha and Sencha, conveniently I have some of both so first let us try the Genmai Cha. It seems strange to say it, but Genmai Cha is a pretty potent tea, at least when compared to Sakura Tea, so the addition of a flower certainly does not overpower the already present taste. It does compliment it very well with notes of sweetness and delicate floral tones. I really enjoyed the subtle sweetness added to what I usually consider to be a savory tea.
Brewing the flower with Sencha was a wonderful idea, really this is delicious. It adds a buttery sweetness and the floral and pickled notes are much more prominent than in the Genmai Cha. I feel a bit bad, I want to get into detailed descriptions on how wonderful this mixture of flavors is, but it honestly boggles my mind a bit. It is one of those moments where I think my Synesthesia kicked in and all I can perceive are colors. Beautiful spring colors swirling in my mouth!
Lastly I found a recipe for a Sweet Sakura Latte and had some time to kill while waiting for Ben to return home from school, so I wanted to try it out. He arrived home the moment I finished photographing the results and I deiced to let him have the first sip, expecting the worst (as a rule he is not a fan of most Japanese foods and teas) but surprisingly he really enjoyed it. We ended up splitting the latte, which was nice. The taste is creamy and sweet with just a hint of the salt. There are strong notes of floral that finish off with a nutty aftertaste.
I accidentally slept fourteen hours today, clearly my body needed it but I was not amused by this. In order to make up for lost time I decided to log a bunch of teas in my notebook, thirteen teas later and I feel accomplished. I am, however, going to review an older tea in my book and one that is a real ‘comfort tea’ for me. I oddly bought it last Christmas at my local favorite Asian Market so I could include it in my annual Tea Advent Calender I give to a few of my friends…and then promptly forgot about it until about a month ago. A grievous sin, I know, but I finally got around to drinking it and giving it the respect it deserves.
This poor ignored tea is none other than Shui Hsien Oolong by Sea Dyke brand. Shui Hsien is an Oolong tea from the famed Wuyi Mountain in Fujian, China, the name translates to Water Sprite or Narcissus, which I find rather beautiful. It is considered a dark Oolong and is usually oxidized 40-60% and is given a good firing (I do love me a roasted Oolong!) The aroma is sweet, rich, and malty…talk about yummy! There are notes of smoke and rich roast, it reminds me of sweet pipe tobacco and gives me a whiff of childhood nostalgia. There are also notes of pine resin and dried fruit.
Once I give it a good brewing the leaves take on an even richer, roasted aroma and is vaguely like coffee. There are still notes of resin and smoke, it does seem to lose its sweetness though. Ah, wait, I found the sweetness, it all transferred to the liquid! The rich, amber, liquid has the aroma of dried dates and roast. The roasted aroma melds really well with the sweetness.
The first steeping is very rich, almost a little too intense but very pleasant. The taste is sweet and a little musky, similar to the way a humidor smells, but not headache inducing like some teas I have found that have this same ‘humidor taste’ are. I suppose it would be a terrible comfort tea if it gave me a headache. It is also smoky and a touch metallic. Very smooth and rich.
The second steeping is where the party is at, yo. It is much sweeter than the first steeping and takes on a more roasted taste rather than smoky. It takes on a nuttiness that blends well with the roasted taste, and also has a chestnut taste. There is a metallic aftertaste that I notice in some Oolongs and I usually really enjoy. As the tea cools it becomes honey sweet and loses any of the tobacco taste. I really like this tea, to me it evokes my childhood and autumn and I have found that if I am feeling unwell it really picks me up. I truly feel bad for ignoring it for so long. I do not know if this tea can be purchased online unless you do it wholesale, but you might find it locally if you are lucky.
As some might know, I have a love-hate relationship with Rooibos, or more honestly some of the common things blended with Rooibos (I am looking at you, lemongrass,) so I was very excited to try this Green Rooibos by Upton Tea Imports. Since it is green that means that it has not been oxidized (just like Green Tea) and has even more antioxidants, which is apparently really good for one’s health. The first thing I noticed about the aroma of these little leaves is how much like nature they smell like, just imagine standing in a field and you have it, I think I can even smell a slight breeze. There is a mild sweetness like honey and beeswax followed by a note of strawberries, it is very faint though. The main aroma is very reminiscent of fresh hay.
Time to steep! The leaves take on more of a floral aroma, like aster or chrysanthemum. It also has that very distinct Rooibos aroma but sweeter. The liquid takes on notes of pear and still has a delightfully floral aroma as well.
The taste is sweet, though not as sweet as the oxidized ‘red’ Rooibos that I am used to. It also lacks the floral chrysanthemum like taste that the other Rooibos has, which is probably my favorite thing about this tea. I do not dislike chrysanthemum, I just find that it tastes a little odd. It is very mild with subtle hints of pears and apples blending with an earthiness that I do recognize from its oxidized variety. How does it compare? Well I certainly like it, possibly more than just a straight Rooibos. I am not sure it would make such spectacular blends as red Rooibos though since it is not as sweet. I say give it a try if you only kinda like Rooibos and want to explore further with this plant.
Today we are experiencing something beautiful, a blend of emerald and jade colored leaves, Karigane (Gyokuro Kukicha). This very pretty tea is made from the stems and stalks of Gyokuro, the famed Jade Dew Japanese Green tea. For those who do not know, Kukicha is usually made from the stalks and stems of Sencha, and Gyokuro is thought of as one of the finest Japanese teas and it is certainly one of the priciest. I have never tried Gyokuro (I do have some on the way from Japan, exciting!) so I was excited to dip my…you know, foot doesn’t really work in this analogy, so tongue into this pool of tea. The aroma of this exceptionally visually pleasing tea is very sweet for a green tea and delightfully vegetal. The vegetal notes are that of artichoke, a touch of chestnut, and a mild underlying hint of kelp. I really love how mild the aroma of this tea is.
Time to officially break in the new pot! The leaves take on a hint of lime that mixes with notes of woodsy and herbaceous. It smells like stems! Picking up the aroma of stems and knowing, I am smelling stems, really put a smile on my face. I also detects notes of the beloved umami, which is exciting. The liquid once the leaves have been removed (or, once I have poured it out of my Kyusu) has a mixture of sweet vegetal and umami. I am not going to lie, the aroma of the infused leaves is making me salivate.
The first thing I notice is umami goodness, I love that aspect of certain green teas, the savory umami taste is delicious and reminds me of eating certain seaweeds. There are also notes of chestnut that give the tea a bit of sweetness. As the tea cools the gentle sweetness becomes significantly sweeter and it masks the umami. The texture becomes almost creamy and it makes my mouth feel alive (juices like wine, I’m on the hunt I’m after you…sorry, 80s moment) I am amazed at how complex the flavor is for a tea that is so pale, more proof that looks can be deceiving when it comes to teas. I certainly cannot wait to try Gyokuro now.
For blog post and photos: http://ramblingbutterflythoughts.blogspot.com/2013/10/dens-tea-karigane-gyokuro-kukicha-tea.html
West Lake Dragonwell Longjing from Teasenz to be exact. Dragonwell (or Lung Ching, Longjing) is a pan-fired green tea from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province in China has the honor of being one of the Ten Great Chinese Teas. There are several legends about this illustrious tea floating around, but my favorite involves a dragon that lived in the well that was named after it, this dragon was in charge of the local weather and so the locals prayed for rain at this well. If you want even more info on this legendary tea, Teasenz website has lots of it, including how to say it in other languages (which I find just awesome!!). Now that I have gotten the dragons out of the way it is time to talk about the aroma of these beautiful leaves. I have a confession, the flattened leaves of Longjing have long since been one of my favorites, they are just so pretty. The aroma of the leaves is very rich and vegetal, like asparagus or even green bean casserole. There is also a hint of chestnut, an even smaller hint of pepper, and sweetness as an afterthought. This tea smells delicious and is making me more than a little hungry.
Today I decided to brew my tea in my glass tea pot so I could really watch the leaves steep. The aroma is still very green and fresh with a delightful peppery undertone. I am really loving the pepper mixed with the vegetal aroma, it is wonderful and makes me wish I could capture smells along with pictures. The aroma of the liquid has more or a chestnut sweetness than the leaves and it is also very pleasant.
After pouring my tea and having a sip I can certainly say that it was well worth the wait for steeping. The taste is very smooth and mild, I am amazed how clean it tastes very evocative of fresh rain water. This tea has absolutely no bitterness, just vegetal and green with a mix of chestnut. The aftertaste is slightly nutty and sweet, time for a second steep?
The second steep is much milder and tastes even more milder. The notes of chestnut, asparagus, and sweetness is still there but much fainter. I have to admit this steep just feels cleansing, like it is washing out all the funk from my recent illnesses. The vegetal aftertaste ends the tea on a spring time note. I recommend this tea for a warm day when you just want to relax with a cup of tea and watch the clouds roll by.
Blog post and photos here: http://ramblingbutterflythoughts.blogspot.com/2013/10/teasenz-west-lake-dragonwell-longjing.html
Keemun Tea is a fairly popular (ok it is probably the most famous of the Chinese Black, or Red Tea if you are fancy) tea from Jiangxi Province. Also known by the name Qimen, which is what I recognized it as for years before I realized Keemun and Qimen were the same things, ah dialects, so much fun! This Keemun has a delightful smoky aroma that is stronger in this batch than other Keemuns I have tried, and I really enjoy that. Along with the smokiness there is a rich sweet aroma and a touch of wine. Sadly I am not skilled enough to say what kind of wine the aroma evokes except red and sweet, I am sure someone with more wine skills than me can fill in the blanks.
Once the tea has been given a trip to the sauna it takes on an oaky aroma, like it has been aged in an oak cask somewhat smoky. The aroma is super rich and mouthwatering, I feel like I am being transported to a basement in Venice or the like. Nothing to do with China, I know, but that is where the aroma took me. It is lovely. The liquid once the leaves have wandered off is still very rich and smoky but also has a sweet note.
After I finish being transported to another part of the world I figure it is time to drink the tea, after-all this is the last tea I will be drinking for a few days, I might as well enjoy it! The taste is tangy, in a very delicious way, similar to oak resin or the aroma of oak galls. For someone who has spent way too much time in a forest this flavor will be very nostalgic and pleasant. There is still the smoky richness that the aroma promised and it mixes with an underlying sweetness that stays in the mouth long after you have swallowed. This is a perfect tea for an Autumn evening, I plan on saving the bit I have left for just such an occasion. The first really cool, smoky evening I will sit under the stars and sip this tea. I really enjoyed it, it is smoky enough to evoke the Autumn feel and just give you the idea, but it is no where near as smoky as Lapsang Souchong. A delicious tea before I have to take a break.
Yes, today is an Oolong day! Specifically Da Yu Ling Oolong by Yezi Tea. This tea is the highest grade of Taiwanese Oolongs (ooh fancy!) and grows 7,500 ft above sea level where they are frequently blanketed by fog. Apparently the fog and temperature gradient turns this tea into a veritable warrior of flavor, fighting the other Oolongs to gracefully bow to you and claim it is your champion. Why yes, I have been reading High Fantasy again, why do you ask?
The aroma of the dry leaves is so good I actually moaned, I have no shame, but I am glad I was home alone while enjoying this tea. Very sweet and yeasty, like freshly baking bread. There is also the intoxicating scent of honey and orchids with a small afterthought of allspice. Here is where it gets weird, the aroma reminds me of the smell of Amanita bisporigera aka Destroying Angel, the world’s most toxic mushroom, and that is awesome. How is that awesome, you are probably asking, because those mushrooms smell great! Sweet like baking bread and flowers, pretty odd for such a deadly thing. I really swear this is a compliment from an avid amateur Mycologist.
Time for steeping! Oh no, I did it again, I inhaled the aroma and moaned in joy, how embarrassing. The steeping leaves take on a wonderfully rich roasted chestnut aroma that blends tantalizingly with the aroma of honey drenched orchids. I am not exaggerating when I say the aroma of the steeping leaves is mouthwatering. The liquid once the leaves have been removed smells much milder, like a whisper of the original aroma from the steeping leaves.
Why is this tea so good? I took a sip and just spaced out staring at the backyard while the flavor transports me to a trance state. The taste is very mild and subtle but the flavors that are there are so good, it is like tasting tea in a dream where the flavors are very clear but muted at the same time because this is a dream. Those dream like flavors are heady orchids and sweet honey.
If you guessed that I was going to try a second steeping then you are completely correct! The liquid takes on even more of an intense roasted chestnut aroma and becomes even headier. I think I am getting dizzy. The flavor is still very mild and similar to the first steep but now the chestnut taste starts to stand out. I also notice a mineral aftertaste that I always appreciate in an Oolong.
The third and final steep brings out even more intensity in the aroma, all the other scents that were there before are still there but take on a richer tone. The taste becomes more mellow but with the floral notes take center stage as the chestnut ones fade out. The longer you sip the more intense the floral taste becomes. I could get lost in this tea.
Blog review and photos: http://ramblingbutterflythoughts.blogspot.com/2013/10/yezi-tea-da-yu-ling-oolong-tea-tea.html
Superfruit White Tea- Mangosteen with Mango by Good Earth Tea is made from a yummy combination of ingredients; White Tea, Rosehips, Natural Mango Flavor, Blackberry Leaves, Mangosteen Peel, Hibiscus, Chamomile, Star Anise, Mangosteen Extract and Grapeseed Extract. The aroma of this teabag is deliciously sweet and as expected, very fruity. The mangosteen smells syrupy and the mango gives a tropical and musky undertone indicative of mangoes. Sadly I do not pick up any aroma of the tea itself, or any of the other ingredients, just the heavy aroma of tropical fruit. Ok, really though, I am not complaining since these are two of my favorite fruits (as stated earlier).
Once I place the teabag into the water the room is instantly transformed into a tropical fruit basket. It is incredibly sweet smelling, almost too much so. I worry that drinking this tea will be like drinking the fruit syrup that canned fruits are kept in, tasty if you are craving it, but not good as a tea. I think this has to be the sweetest smelling tea I have ever had the honor of sniffing.
Enough steeping and time for the sweet tropical goodness. Or not. This tea is not at all sweet! I feel slightly betrayed after all that syrupy build up. The taste is a blend of tart and herbaceous, a mixture of chamomile and what I can assume is Bai Mu Dan since it tastes similar to its flavor profile. There is also a very mild woodsy taste which blends well with the chamomile and white tea flavors. The aftertaste is that of mangosteen which is better than none at all. It might seem like I am being unfairly disappointed, but that aroma was so intensely sweet and for the taste to have no sweetness at all really does feel like a letdown. The flavors in a vacuum without the aroma to compare it to are not bad, nothing too spectacular though.
The first tea, White Monkey from Hunan Province, is neither white or a monkey, but it is delightfully fuzzy (this fuzz is called Trichomes, for the botany minded types) and very lovely to look at. White Monkey is actually a fairly delicate green tea that was picked very early in the season and in a lot of ways acts like a white tea. Full of mystery and fuzz, just the way I like my tea! The aroma of these downy leaves is sweet, like hay and fresh vegetation, like walking through an overgrown field. There is also a rich undertone of muscatel that is wonderfully mixed with the initial sweetness. A very fresh aroma that is both mellow and invigorating. It always amuses me when a tea can do that.
Once the leaves are taking a nice swim in their warm bath the aroma takes on a floral tone, a nice comparison to the initial field aroma of the leaves (the field has bloomed! Spring to Summer) it fades to a mix of muscatel and bright citrus. A pleasant little zing at the end, a wake you up from your daydreaming about fields. The liquid away from the leaves has the aroma of fresh hay, very mild and pleasantly sweet.
I love drinking fuzzy teas because it always tickles just a little bit. The taste is what is important, not the adorable fuzz, this first brew I gave a short steep and it produced a delightfully mild tea. The primary taste is vegetal, like spinach, mixed with mown hay. The aftertaste is gently sweet with a tiny, tiny hint of flowers. As the tea cools it takes on a quince flavor with a bit of tartness.
The second steep I let sit a bit longer to see what other flavors I could glean, as per recommended from the website. The aroma is much more green and takes on a real body that honestly I thought of as crunchy. Odd I know, but that was the first thing that came to mind ‘this smells crunchy.’ The taste is much more intense! The quince taste that was noticed once the tea cools is much more prominent and is accompanied by a citrusy tartness. There is a strong vegetal aftertaste that wraps up the tea nicely. As to be expected the second steep is not as fuzzy. A nicely mild tea that is one that is good for anytime drinking.
Today I have dental work done, and everyone knows that having dental work means I need to drink lots of tea, right? Actually I do not think they are at all related, but I wanted a nice Japanese Green to relax me before my inevitably unenjoyable experience. Something refreshing and evocative of spring, something from a store that is far, far away in Pennsylvania. Something like:
Wegman’s Ureshino Tomo Ryokucha. Sadly they do not have an order online function (if they did I would never have to bother my friends to mail me my favorites when I drink them all) but through research and rumors I believe their distributor is Ito En so in a way this is a review of both a Wegman’s tea and Ito En’s. Ureshino (meaning it is from Ureshino, Saga Prefecture, Japan) Tomo Ryokucha (or Guricha, curly tea) is a pan-fired tea with absolutely lovely leaves. The aroma is is very refreshing, a blend of vegetal and sweet mixing notes of spinach with scuppernongs. After these initial notes fade you are left with a gentle citrus aroma that just kind of tickles the nose. This tea is certainly sweeter than most Japanese greens, which I find very intriguing.
When I introduce the leaves to their new watery friend I am greeted with the aroma of freshly roasted chestnuts, how surprising! After the initial chestnutty surprise I was able to detect the sweet smell of fresh hay or, if you are into that kind of thing, the smell of woodruff. The liquid itself smells much more vegetal mixing nicely with tones of chestnut and fresh grass.
Ah, I wish I had any skill at writing Haiku, because truly this tea deserves poetry (in its traditional native form of course) but I don’t so I must make do with flowery speech. Sometimes a tea is mild and it is boring, a real let down, sometimes a tea’s mildness is so wonderfully perfect that you wonder why you would ever want anything stronger. This tea fits into the perfectly mild category (or the Haiku comment would be just sad) with the main note being roasted chestnuts leaving a very sweet aftertaste. After the initial chestnut sweetness the taste of mown hay and a tiny taste of spinach. I wanted a tea that tasted like spring time and refreshed me, and this one certainly works.