59 Tasting Notes
This tea was actually the first tea I ever purchased for myself, way back in 2002 when I was 15. Angrboda recently sent me a care-package of tea, and the dry smell of the Raspberry Oolong made me think of this tea quite unexpectedly. (disclaimer: similarities end at the dry smell!)
In the London Trocadero (right by Picadilly Circus), there was a little Whittard of Chelsea store. At the time, “tea” to me was just an icky bitter taste that I covered up with tons of honey and milk. I couldn’t understand what it was that everyone else in the whole country seemed to enjoy about tea… so I avoided it (as I still do with coffee).
So when I went into Whittards after a Saturday at the arcades or wandering around HMV with my friends, the sweet smells and samples were completely outside the realm of my experience. Instead of icky, they were super sweet and tasty. Like Kool-Aid! “Yum yum!” I said, and used a £5 note to pick up a tin of this instant Dreamtime Tea. I stirred the pink powder into hot water and cold water, and thought it tasty enough to buy some and bring it back home on holiday for my Mom (I was going to boarding school at the time, since my parents were living in Angola and English language schooling in Luanda only went up to 8th grade).
I had this experience in mind when I made my next big purchase of tea a few years later (fruit-flavored tea bags from Pier 1… they were on sale, and I received an employee discount). The teas were labeled apple..strawberry..etc.. so I steeped them up with great anticipation. After about three minutes, I sniffed, and my nose detected no hint of sweet strawberry or apple! So I let it steep several minutes more. Still no smell, but I thought I should give it a taste. I was so sad to discover the bitter, drying brew I had muscled out of those teabags. Who knows what pleasant brew i would have tasted if I’d just let the tea bags be themselves? Sometimes, I think expectations (especially for blended teas), sometimes keep us from enjoying the great thing we have in front of us. Searching for the kool-aid taste of Whittard’s DreamTime instant tea, I thought the lack of berry-bursting-sparkle was due to my clear inability to steep “real” tea. I retired the remaining bags to a shelf, and sadly realized that I would never “get” tea.
I was saved a few years later by some bagged genmaicha my future-husband brewed me up. When he offered to make me tea, I was definitely nervous (oh no! should I tell him that I am tea-challenged? But no, that would be so rude!). As I’ve learned since then, I always enjoy anything he makes me, and this was no exception. Yum! Tea could be full and delicious, even if it wasn’t purple and didn’t taste like KapriSun.
I remember this tea fondly, if only because it was my first ever. It’s amazing to look back and see how much I’ve grown.. and how many amazing teas I’ve been privileged to try since then. Instant magical powder is pretty fun sometimes, but how much more amazing is the natural magical brew I get from steeping whole leaves gong-fu-style?
Thank you for the introduction, Whittards. You sure were sweet to me.
I’ve had this cup for about a year and a half, now, and use it at work. Mine is the jade (green) rather than the pale blue pictured above.
It’s lovely to look at, and I enjoy the fact that the crackling glaze of the cup changes over time with prolonged use. It’s a great tool, and I’m glad I have it, but I’ve been realizing more and more that this cup could be improved upon.
Cup has matching strainer and cover/saucer
Looks lovely (classier to have on my desk than other options)
The strainer has more holes than otherwise-similar “Italian Mugs” from World Market and the like.
The cup heats up quickly and stays hot for a long time. This often means it is very difficult to carry the cup back to my desk or drink from the cup right away without feeling like I’m going to drop it or burn myself. A double-walled cup with insulating air or a handle would eliminate this issue.
The strainer’s holes allow small particles to fall into the cup, so it really only works best with large, full leaf unblended teas (or teas that can steep forever without going bitter). At the same time, there aren’t a ton of holes (like in a mesh brew basket), so it takes the water a while to drain out of the stainer section.
The curved saucer/lid, if left on top of the cup for several minutes while steeping, directs condensation down the sides of the cup, leaving you with a wet ring under your cup. If the saucer were not quite so big and curved and styalized, I don’t think this would be an issue. Then again, it wouldn’t look as pretty that way.
So in general, I prefer to use a brew basket if I’m steeping a big mug of tea (otherwise, I’ll use a gaiwan or yixing pot gong-fu-style). However, compared to other similar all-in-one options on the market, this is both functional and lovely and not ridiculously expensive. I would certainly recommend this over tea balls or “Italian Mugs” or bags any day. I enjoy and appreciate having this at work, and since I don’t mind little bits in my cup at all, it makes me good tea!
SIDE NOTE: I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to put this through the dishwasher, and I’ve definitely run it through the one at work many times. So far, no worse for ware and no signs of cracks or damage. So.. I don’t know?
This was my birthday tea on Friday. It was the tea I woke up with, and it seemed to be the theme of the day. My husband called tieguanyin my “birth tea” (like a birth stone, only tea!), and I find it’s more and more appropriate as time goes by. He’s certainly right, if only for the fact that the time of year lines up perfectly: the past couple of days, the big lilac bush has bloomed and it literally hits on in the head with that delicious smell every time we walk in the kitchen door, leaving us craving Guanyin’s nectar..
I woke up with this tea. My husband woke up before me (to decorate the living room with streamers! and also herding our cats so they didn’t /eat/ the streamers) and he brought up our raku tea bowls filled with this beautiful spring tieguanyin. Drinking it was like coming alive. At first, I could only smell. Opening sips were warmth soothing my throat and, gradually (as my sense continued to adjust to the waking world), that gorgeous creamy texture. Aahhh.. spring. Finally, around sips ten or so, my tongue came fully online and started sending me information about all of the lovely tastes. Definitely a great way to wake up to your birthday day off in the spring time: coming alive again with this tea, sense by sense.
Breakfast continued on the theme with perfectly ripe cantelope melon, apples dipped in local MN honey..so floral and wonderful.. and a selection of light cheeses from the Seward Coop. Yummm. We didn’t eat these with the tea, but the textures and particularly the melon/honey/apple flavors synergized extremely well with what the tea has already laid out. Home-made (did I luck out or what??) lunch included an incredible piece of salmon, marinated in soysauce-wasabi, cooked up just so with cilantro and ginger.. the texture- it just fell apart in your mouth! So sweet and mouthwatering, with a real feeling of nectar.. you wouldn’t think it would be so, but it still fell very in line with my tieguanyin day.
We continued drinking tieguanyin throughout the afternoon, and we could do so freely, because my birthday present included 8oz of this spring picking!! It makes me feel free to indulge and have the good stuff more often. Instead of saving it for a special night, we will have it and make the night special as a result. Open the windows, let the lilac pour in, drink it up from the thimble cups.
This tea makes me think of many things. With the fan running on low, it makes me want to play hooky all day and lay out in the freshly cut sweet grasses. It makes me feel like I’m in a spa, and I want to light candles and run a lilac bubble bath with intense moisturizers. It is so fine fine fine.. a classy lady that’s just gorgeous /and/ sweet. Dessert. The creamy flavors, the smooth and lovely textures that feel like you’re being wrapped up and taken care of… It could only taste better if I were drinking it in Hawaii.. on the rainy side of Kawaii, looking out over ocean cliffs, plumeria in the air.
It’s decadant nd fine, but it’s not blowing loud and brassy horns in your ear. Instead, the flavors are all soft (yet strong and impossible to ignore), full and bouyant: melons, creamy whipped florals, exotic melon-berry nectars (juice is too thin and tangy a word). It’s downright sensual. Be careful- you might have to resist the urge to kiss whoever’s drinking with you.
Spring spring spring. How lovely. How do these TGY’s keep being so good? It’s ridiculous. As chadao wrote a little while ago, these tieguanyin’s feels scandalous- like you’ve been slipped a sample of something that should have cost a fortune and is instead just under the price of Rishi’s Citron Oolong (in a tea shop… $10). I think I’ll always prefer autumn TGY’s secretly, just because they feel a little more complex, but not in this particular situation. It has all the oomph and depth I would want from Autumn, but wrapped in the lovely honey-soft touch of spring. Ridiculous. I am so lucky to be able to drink this whenever I want, plus I still have several ounces of Autumn left.
Just a quick note about water.
We moved into our new place this weekend, but we haven’t been able to install our water filter. The threading on the faucet just doesn’t want to grab any of the little plastic adapters that came with the filter, so it looks like we’ll have to get something else.
So- we made this tea on Saturday morning with water from the tap. Generally, the water is fine (no funky tastes or anything weird like huge calcium deposits, etc). However, we noticed that the tea seemed a lot juicier than normal? After many sips and a few other teas, it’s clear that the water has more metal of some sort in it. It’s a subtle difference, but immeadiatly noticeable. With this water, it’s as if this is a different picking or a different grade or a different season. Definitely LaoShan, but not quite the same as my last note described.
So! Water really is important. With a little bit of a filter, the house water is going to be sweet and full and an awesome base for teas. Right now, the light metal/juicy flavor will keep me from breaking out the awesome celebratory new-place teas until we get a filter or one of those pitchers.
I was going to wait to do this review until this weekend, but when I saw all of the others coming in this morning, I thought- why not? I’ve got my notes; I’ll throw my hat in the ring.
I talk about my notes alot, so I thought with this one it would be worth sharing a scan of them.
You’ll notice my extremely terrible handwriting. Usually, it’s not that bad! (see the sample at the top of the image) But when you’re sitting up late with friends in a marathon drinking session, and your pen is of a certain style… handwriting goes out the window. Aren’t you glad I don’t just post these scribbles? This’ll be a little bit easier to understand (hopefully).
I am really loving this 2nd batch of the Autumn harvest. Notice my first note towards the middle (and I quote):
“Humina humina humina!”
It tastes like the Autumn LS we’ve come to know and love… but taken up another notch or four. How do they do that? However it happens, it’s been thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve done this gong-fy style in my gaiwan (big and tiny), my yixing pots, the big western pot, even combining gong-fu steeps into big mugs. Basically everything but cold-steep (and it’s been too chilly to try that out). I don’t know what my favorite way to do this is. Probably gong-fu, because it’s more fun for me to see flavors changing over time. Tea in a pot is a drink, but drinks are just that… to fill a need or quench my thirst. I can enjoy things so much more if I set out to do that.
So what does this new batch taste like? My first impression was of something called Nyou Beng.. it was an herbal tea my friends made for me in China, and I miss it dearly. It’s a kind of burdock root, but though I’ve tried to make it from Burdock here in the states, it’s just not the same. Basically, Nyou Beng tastes kind of like liquid graham crackers, plus a lot of other delicious things. Warm and caramelly, and perfect for drinking under a blanket or in front of a fire. The taste of this LS Black really reminds me of Nyou Beng.. if NB were a really fine and refined tea. Lip smacking good..
In the tasting where I took notes, we actually had the black tea after trying selects from a delicious Wuyi care package. The similarities between this and the Rou Gui called to me.. cinnamon goodness, but it was more of a smooth smooth sweet base note of cinnamon, rather than the pop and spicy bite of it. Other Steepsters here today have made comparisons to Da Hong Pao, which I can see. The black tea is almost like an oolong sometimes.
As steepings progress, there’s a nice chewy, bark-y quality at the bottom of the flavors that I don’t recall before. It adds a complexity I can’t quite put my finger on.. Usually, woodiness in teas feel very high energy and rambunctious, but this one seems to add to the fine quality. It’s like the little woody child has grown up into a fine young person with composure and knowledge tempered from experience.
As my notes remind me, I get a giant marshmallow-y feeling from this tea. Puts me in mind of s’mores and the North Shore of Lake Superior. Specifically, it really calls to mind those awesome seven layer bars!!
Another dessert this reminds me of? Whipped chocolate mousse with dark chocolate shaved on top. Yum.
My notes from here get less about the taste and more about things the tea reminds me of. For example, later steepings called to mind apples covered in chocolate syrup with whipped cream.. or maybe an almod croissant.. or maybe both, on top of each other, at the same time! Gosh that sounds good- weekend project, maybe? Fat chance- we’re moving into our new place this weekend!
In later late steepings, the taste called to mind a childhood experiment of mine. One time, when a friend was sleeping over, we wanted to make some cool food experiment. We took a hand-full of M&M’s and soaked them in water (stirring until the water was a delicate shade of purple). Then, to be super fancy, we froze the mixture overnight in a tupperware. In the morning, we had the “invention” for breakfast.. we crushed up the block of ice into shavings and ate it out of bowls like sorbet.
Some sort of sweetness in here reminds me not of the chocolates themselves, but of that taste of their candy shells. The taste of the shells that steeped out into the water and turned it such a light and pretty color.
Conclusion? Part of this tea reminds me of frozen, cold-steeped M&M tea! I love that; it’s been many years since I remembered that experiment.. now I want to do it again.
I really love this shu. It just knows what it’s doing. No heavy nonsense. No murky bitterness. No sickly saccharine. Just balanced and fair and sweet and transluscent.
I want to write more about this later. This is more a reminder to drink again and take proper notes. The scribbles I do have are useless in helping me describe.
There’s this certain Diner- restaurant I visit that happens to be connected to a grocery store (for any MN folks- the Minnesota Grill at Byerly’s). Sure, it’s a blue-haired crowd, and it’s always empty, but the food is cheap and really genuinely good.
I’ve gone about six or seven times in the past two seasons, but every time we’ve gone, I’ve arrived cold and in the mood for tea. They’ll bring out a big box full of bagged Republic of Tea teas, and this is always the one I choose.
Steep time is usually about a minute and a half. I am extremely sensitive to bitterness (ie: some salad fixings are too bitter for me to get down, so yes, it’s kind of extremely lame), so I’m always really conservative with this one.
But given my short steep times, it does very well! Earl Greys will always remind me of our trip to Maine, and this one is no different. This is especially true because the bergamot scenting leans more heavily on the blueberry side of things rather than the citrus side of things. I think I generally prefer it this way. Bergamots that have extreme citrus notes are a little bright for me, and combined with the lower quality bases used, just swing me hard into bitterness. The sweet blueberry nature of this makes is a go-to tea when I’m out and about at a restaurant (I never remember to bring my own tea, plus I don’t want to be rude, and I also want to support any place that’s even offering tea).
As for the black tea base of this one, it’s not too bad. Then again, I also never ever let it steep long at all, but given that it’s dust in a bag, I have to applaud Republic of Tea for putting together a blend that’s balanced and so darn cheap. Wherever their dustings/fannings come from, good for them. Of course, I’d prefer loose, but you can’t always have that. So pretty good job guys.
The weaknesses in the tea come out when the mug cools or when you’ve been sipping for a good long time (over a meal, perhaps). As you get to the bottom of the cup, there’s a bit of sticky dryness the prickles in the back of the throat. It’s not intense, but it can build, so this is one I’d probably prefer to drink quickly as a beverage to quench my thirst and warm me up rather than curl up with while reading, etc, over a long period. Also, as it sits, the bergamot scenting edges towards a lemony-pine-sol sort of thing. Not bad enough to stop drinking, but definitely enough to get me to just pay the check and leave our booth- not going to sit and savor.
So, in a pinch, this is a great one to have on hand. Perfectly drinkable blueberry-bergamot flavor, especially if steeped for a short time and consumed quickly. I’m always glad to see it available as an option, because hey! It’s an option! For tea! At a restaurant in America! Woah!!
No, I wouldn’t stock this at home or probably recommend it for my office because you can do better, but that’s not always what tea is for. It’s a good baseline I’m pleased to see being established. Anything lower quality than this has just no excuse. Yes- I’m looking at you, Bigelow Earl Grey tea. Last time I had you on a shoot, I steeped you for a minute, and you were still unkind to me. But it was either that or coffee, and you I just can’t do that.
Most folks who’ll be reviewing this tea will probably do so from the perspective of evaluating Lao Shan tea as a whole. I love Lao Shan greens, and I’ve had so many different kinds, qualities, and seasons, so this one is more focused on what makes this Autumn picking unique from the others, appreciated for its own strengths.
The dry smell from the bag is undeniably of cocoa.. of cocao nibs in particular. That’s somethig I find to be consistant across all Lao Shan teas in recent memory. I wonder why I never noticed that in Qingdao? Probably because I was living there, so I never took the time to stick my face in the bags and smell and appreciate. Also- no chocolate in Qingdao[ :*-( ], so maybe I lost my context. Why chocolate? Probably has something to do with that distinctive beany Lao Shan taste.
Consulting my notes, I see that the steeped leaves have a “delicious smell.” Hmm, usually I write more, but what can you say to that? Must have kept me from writing anything else.
The taste is crisp, lively, and subtle. It is certainly sweet, and there is something in the flavor that is making it positively addictive. Maybe it is some light savory and salt acting as a gentle support- sweet cream butter. There is Lao Shan bean, but it is a quiet force playing nicely in the background, walking on light tip toe so as not to disturb the calm coziness of the scene. Reminds me in a way of a quiet parent who picks you up to takes you to bed after you’ve fallen asleep on the living room floor. You remember them, you know it happened (counted on it, in fact), but there was no disruption to your dreaming.
Something in the taste also reminds me of Japanese green teas that have been dusted with matcha. I have a feeling that this would appeal more to the sensibilities of a lover of Japanese greens, even though grassy astringency is not actually rearing it’s head… grassiness is there more as a scent infusing the whole brew with a smooth, full mouth-feeling. It is a perfect, airy feeling of grass that is also solidly earthbound, mixed together with cozy cream.
More than anything with this picking, I am swept off to a place.
It’s a misty seashore, early in the morning. The air is cool and wet and smells of autumn, but there is also an intense warmth and coziness. You are standing in your robe with slippers on, in your fuzziest robe and blanket, watching the scene from warm within your woody cabin. A solitary retreat on the North Shore (except in this fantasy, the heat is on perfectly!). A feeling of subtle quiet, thoughtfulness… I’ve drawn a little heart here in the corner of my notes.
Or it is evening on that same sea/lake-shore after a long, full day. There is a crackling fire, and there are waves in the background. The ocean and water is so strong in this one, but it is that feeling of place.. of waves against rock.. not of brine.
Looking back on the description of this tea’s taste, I’m surprsed I can love it so well. Usually, I want my Lao Shan teas to taste like Lao Shan! The bean, the butter, the soil. This one is so much more subtle.. so much more of the autumn.. but the result is so lovely. The place that this tea takes me to is so strong. It feels like one of those original places of my own self.
- -(Tasting notes over: mini-proclamation begins)— —
Hurray for all of these autumn pickings! Who knew that tea could be so giving? Those who kowtow blindly at the Altar of Spring to the exclusion of all other tastes need to stop obsessing over questions of SUPERIOR GRADE this and TRADITIONAL SOURCES PROCLAIM that. Just quiet down for a moment and use your own tongue to appreciate all that tea is trying to offer you. Discover your own preferences, but not before you open yourself to new possibilities and taste with your own self.
Listen to the tea, and appreciate. It’ll never let you down.