93 Tasting Notes
Just had an unexpected journey with this tea I was haphazardly brewing to share with my neighbor and feel I ought to write something about it in spite of being strapped for time (it’s been half a year since my last entry here, for crying out loud).
Sorry for the short format and long post space.
4g in 150mL glazed pot, 95C-85C descending water temp in large kettle off the stove (relative stability over first few infusions).
Charcoal roast impression with caramel and spinach.
Wet Leaf Aroma:
More char with sweet finish.
Butter lettuce, milk, and lightly stir-fried kale/mustard greens.
1st Infusion (70sec):
Roasty Tieguanyin pleasant sour-bitter taste. Maybe a tad overbrewed but yummy. Swiss chard predominant flavor with woody notes.
2nd Infusion (45sec):
Mellowed woody taste more akin to oak and bamboo but still with milk-like pleasant sour note in finish. Very sweet caramel recession.
3rd Infusion (90sec):
Rice-like flavors dominant with mixed stir-fried veggie tastes. Light sour now more like berries… raspberry? Neither sweetness nor aroma akin to fruit but the acidity is like raspberry and apple skin. Mulched grass and saplings in aftertaste and aroma.
4th Infusion (120sec):
More caramel and cream with a recession of greenery, though less flavor intensity than in 3rd. Lingering crispness evocative of minerals, like wet granite and moss.
5th infusion (30sec – water cooled after pause):
Was NOT expecting this much flavor nor the dramatic shift in profile! Sudden switch from a fundamentally TGY wulong taste to one more stereotypical of a Gaoshan. Butter lettuce, perfumey gardenia, orchid foliage, snap peas, lingering chlorophyll-laden sweetness and refreshing crisp taste, and hints of cinnamon and anise. Kinda freaking me out a bit. Lingering cream and caramel flavors and a very pleasant light bitterness. Hint of green onion in after-aroma.
6th infusion (60sec):
Purposefully lighter to continue the crisp, refreshing taste of green beans or snap peas found in prior infusion. Water chestnut and a bit of a white bread taste appeared alongside faint honey-like sweetness.
7th infusion (120sec):
Just for the heck of it to drink with cake and whipped cream. Not much to offer aside from a lighter extension of previous infusion (I never re-heated the water). Hint of berries came back into this one, but in the aroma… shoulda payed more attention to it, but I wanted dessert.
Yummy tea and unexpected in range of flavors. I typically have this tea in a more straightforward manner, increasing my time and temp as I brew. Glad I was more wishy-washy with my parameters this time around, as I never expected Jade High Mountain Wulong flavors from this tea that normally lives in the roasted Taiwan Wulong flavor realm.
Had a round of this at the tea shop with a couple people the other day using good water in a glazed ceramic gaiwan. Slightly more crisp, but that’s about it. I’m leaving my rating higher than it might deserve, though.
Definitely not the most exciting around and it’s the sheng I’ve enjoyed the least so far of their lineup… Then why do I keep drinking it?
Chock it up to the fact I’m a sucker for gamey teas, coffees, wines, and foods. I like wooly, musk-like, leathery, earthy, mossy, and wet-wood characteristics as long as they are not completely over the top. I like bitterness to be present. I enjoy sour characteristics. This plays with all of them.
More importantly – and the saving grace from me chopping its rating down into the 50s, in spite of me liking technical defects from time to time – when brewed at different concentrations it shifts in overall expression and character. It should be expected that concentration shifts will dramatically alter a tea, but shifting between 4g/100mL and 6g/100mL gave a greater shift in fundamental expression than contrasting different types of tea in the same category. One was fairly clean, pollen-like, sweeter, gravelly, and with the mossy qualities while the other had little discernible sweetness, more tempura, wet wool, slightly singed scrambled egg, driftwood, pepper, and a slight citrus aftertaste with not much of a shift in body. Pretty much any characteristic present one way was absent brewed another (temp and time alterations mostly dealt in the same flavor sets but different expressions). Not quite as extreme a jump as many dancongs I’ve had, but I don’t expect young shengs to nearly as exciting as that group of teas… Heck, I don’t expect – only hope – that they are super drinkable in the first place.
So, excitement factor for me and my own selfish subjective preferences have tossed this tea a rope as it teetered on the edge of a cliff for me. I’ll probably be revisiting it again though I don’t expect my opinion of it to improve. Or maybe this one will just fall by the wayside for me since so many more of the offerings by Zomia are much prettier.
Ho… Ly… Schiznitbajesushotdiggitygollygoshdangdarndamnit!
New benchmark matcha. Gotta dock the Hibiki-an Pinnacle score as scale adjustment.
Brewed with 2g in about 25-30mL water just off a boil in my summer chawan to make a koicha that pours a bit slower than wall paint but faster than honey. Unreasonably delicious. Really. Consumables have no place tasting this good and offering such a rich and satisfying an aroma and flavor presenting a HUGE progression of flavor with such a wonderful balance of sweet, bitter, sour, and umami (saltiness is absent, otherwise all bases covered in taste). I have to call it intense in expression just ‘cuase it’s koicha but it’s very mellow. Intense like a rich but mild stew with egg and baked potato. No, this doesn’t taste like stew or potato (egg is very much present though far more obvious when prepared as usucha). Heavy stuff and in a very good way.
Dark Jadeite coloration makes other matcha look yellowish by comparison (Forest/Jungle Green compared to Kelly/Emerald Green). Deep color goes hand-in-hand with the heavy, rich fragrance of greenery and a touch of hothouse flowers in the dry fragrance.
Pushed through a sieve with the chashaku into the bowl.
Wetted it whisks easily and even forms a hint of a froth layer despite how thick it is. Doesn’t clump and flows well. Texture is thick and eggy and silky smooth.
All kinds of greenery characteristics come out in this ranging from Nori and Wakame Seaweeds to cucumbers to kale to steamed cauliflower and broccoli florets to edamame to heaped piles of moist freshly mown grass to celery to honeydew melon flesh and watermelon skin. Aroma feels like it leads the way into the mouth followed by the initial shock of flavor and then wave after wave of shifting masses of flavor encompassing the above and mixed with various florals that I honestly didn’t feel needed to be disseminated out from the bunch as any combination would not really mesh to give a good approximation of the impression. In general, take the smell of a warm spring day of all the smells across a field, evergreen forest ravine, and the fresh air off a seaside bluff and mix with the heady impression of a hothouse with flowers, large-foliage orchids and bromeliads, and Nepenthes and then mix with the fresh crisp smell of a cut flower shop and fresh produce stand. Then take this swirling, shifting mass and let it flow at you like a heavy ocean fog rolling over and up a hillside into you in waves of clearing then intensifying mists and breezes and vapor. Ever hike Point Reyes or Big Sur on a warm late spring – early summer day giving way to a cool evening as the fog reclaims the land? Marin Headlands north of San Francisco and the Carmel/Monterey area sort of get this too, but it’s the oceanside hills in the coniferous forest bands that really get this effect. But yeah – that. In your mouth. With added awesome levels of epicosity.
Now I need to go off and find a higher grade matcha to force my benchmark higher since I know there’s way better out there. I’ve heard good things about Way of Tea and I know a couple folks who teach Japanese Tea Ceremonies who I told I wasn’t into the full ceremony but if experiencing better tea than this is the reward than I think I can deal with some leg pain and cramping from sitting seiza.
I also took the remnant koicha, diluted it to about usucha strength and whisked for a pleasant but light matcha. Did a second round on the stronger side of usucha for a superb and more cucumber-kale focused matcha. This tea reeeeeally does best as thick tea, though.
Just had the softest expression I’ve experienced from this tea thus far. 6.6g in a gaiwan holding about 100mL using water just shy of a boil. Single rinse and untimed infusions starting around 15 seconds and building to about 45 seconds on the sixth infusion.
Not nearly as sweet as I’ve had, but very thick and very smooth. Rich, dark gold infusion with good transparency. Light pollen-like liquor aroma with just a hint of white peach. The tea itself didn’t exhibit it, but the emptied cup carried the wonderful perfumey aroma of Da Hong Pao as I have come to expect the tea to present. Alas, I was sharing this with a couple folks and it was very tasty but very different from what I’ve experienced.
Based on the brewing round we did, I wouldn’t choose this tea to age but enjoy now (okay, this is partly me easing my conscience for blasting through two cakes in such a short time). Should still be very interesting down the line, though.
Bring water to boil
Bright green in my black tea bowl
Worldly cares vanish
Great matcha that is very soothing with a wonderful balance of bitter and sweet. Pales in comparison to the Pinnacle – much more of a stark contrast between these grades than with this company’s grades of sencha, which are very different but not necessarily “better”. Still, I love this tea and am happy serving it to guests or consuming it on its own or even with food. A nice all-purpose matcha that whisks up nicely with 2g tea to 60-70mL water [Edited – I originally said 100mL… I don’t put that much water in my chawan; I’m just so used to using 100-150mL increments for my gaiwans and teapots and typed it out of habit].
I bring water just up to a boil, pour into a cha hai (I don’t have a bamboo ladle to portion water from an open pot), and transfer into a non-preheated chawan. I rinse with hot water, but with only a bit and it only makes the bowl warm, not hot. This seems to knock down the temperature right to where I like it when using one of my two heavier chawans after I whisk the tea. Comes out a bit too hot both for drinking and for holding the bowl properly in my thinner-walled, summer chawan so I do an extra cha hai transfer when using that one. This particular matcha seems to work better with water heated then cooled rather than brought up to a particular temperature, as I do for nearly all of my teas, leaving me preparing it without the impulse to use timers and thermometers – ultimately making this a far more relaxing tea experience for me than even some of my favorite relaxing teas that I can’t help but want to time or take temperature readings of.
Tasty and balanced with decent shelf life for a matcha. Still needs sifting and cool storage.
You can read the review from LiberTEAS for the 2010 harvest here: http://steepster.com/teas/kteas/21571-glenburn-autumn-oolong-darjeeling
This one was harvested November 17, 2011 and eek ghads is it good.
I nabbed a sample at the San Francisco International Tea Festival a few months ago and then got a bit more in a slightly more comprehensive sample pack that was sent to me as part of them trying to nab me as a wholesale account and then I bought a half pound with the new crop Moonshine, First Flush, and Khongea Assam Leaf Tea. Shoulda sprung for a couple pounds, as I can foresee myself blasting through this and I’m likely gonna push this on the owners at FGC (cafe I work at and select teas for – see bio) in the hopes of us maybe offering this next year… If I can persuade them that it doesn’t need to be organic certified so long as they are treating the environment and workers well and with sustainable practices (our stance on the coffee we sell). Mmmmm, yeah I want to sell this one bad.
The larger packs seem to have quite a bit more dry fragrance maintained compared to the sample packs. You could chock this up to larger volume of leaves giving off more but even after metering into my gaiwan it’s far more fragrant. Perhaps there was less interchange from container to container in the larger bags compared to samplers? Dunno, but the samplers were righteous as well. That said, there’s pretty much a singular, very dominant dry fragrance of dried apricot. Very sweet, and distinct with the smell of the dried juice, flesh, and skin – just like sticking my face into a bin of slightly moist dried apricots at the grocery store minus some of the background smells that tend to come with it. When parsed out, there are a bit of light florals to the fragrance but they are hard to pick out. These pop out in the infusion later, where they separate nicely.
I used 4g in a heavy glazed ceramic gaiwan with 125mL water at 85C for every infusion.
Aroma off the lid is citrusy (more in infusion) while the wet leaves give off the smell of carnation, marmalade, and grape skin. Presented with the wet leaves it would be easy to guess Darjeeling while I wouldn’t necessarily be able to place it from the brewed tea itself. In the fifth infusion more of a mustiness comes to the wet leaves, drawing a distinct similarity to a second flush Darjeeling and the sixth infusion becomes a tad more muted but more dull florals are obvious (star jasmine, magnolia, tulip, lily… makes me think of alstroemeria though they have barely any fragrance until they start falling apart).
Lighter-moderate body and intensity with a very pleasant faint acidity. Pomelo peel citrus and magnolia are very obvious and work beautifully together. Tastes a whole lot like a Phoenix Oolong but without the peach-pit tang, nuttiness or astringency. It’s like the aromatic components of a Dancong’s earlier infusions have been displaced onto the later, mellowed brews after the aggressive characteristics have fallen away. Crisp and slightly mouthwatering – about the same as a snow pea. Refreshing. I’m tempted to say this would be great iced but it may be too light… Maybe just refrigerated. Would not stand up to food and it’s the kind of tea that would raise the level of spiciness of a food [EDIT: Confirmed this in a second brew session with dinner. Even a little spice from a bit of chilies in orange chicken is brought out when trying to drink this tea next to it].
Very similar to first infusion. A bit more marmalade in aroma from gaiwan lid and Pomelo liquor aroma a bit greater in “volume” in the cup. Otherwise like first.
Like first but this time it’s the magnolia flower aroma that’s come forward in liquor aroma. The gaiwan lid and smell from the empty cup has shifted from marmalade to the Pomelo peel aroma.
Lighter overall in expression but still has surprising fidelity to the previous infusions. Expected this to have slackened to this level in third infusion and this one to be the intensity of something like Bai Hao Yin Zhen. Instead, this has the relative intensity of a 15 second fourth infusion on a Dancong minus any aggressiveness it may have.
Woah, suddenly like Yi Wu Sheng Puer but without the astringency. Bud-heavy examples are like this, but I typically get that more in Qing Bings and Mao Cha. Heavier body and ever-so-slightly darker color makes this the same color as a second flush Darjeeling (clear orange with slight lean towards yellow… Cadmium Yellow with a touch of Cad. Red and mixed down in linseed). This has gotten even tastier and it’s nice having the extra body. Next time around I may push for a three minute start from the get-go to see if I can get closer to this faster, even if it may compromise the longevity. Star Jasmine florals in the aroma and in the nose. There’s a light metallic taste similar to that of touching a stainless steel bouillon spoon to the front-center of the tongue. Crisp and kinda sweet but not as distinct as copper. Hint of river rock when taken as a draught (which is a little hard to not do – this disappeared very fast).
Yum. Holy hell this is good. Take the taste of a good first flush Darjeeling, mute down the intensity, and go half way between that and a mellowed Yi Wu Mao Cha or Sheng Cha. I want more but my cup is empty and my stomach is sloshing. Wonderful balance of faint crisp acidity, light cottony astringency that just hangs out at the front-center area of the tongue, light raw green bean sweetness, moderate body, and lingering floral-sweet nose. Pomelo peel is still there but with a bit of almond flower and a lot of chewed up raw almonds mixed in. Carnation and tulip do a faint interchange dance in the background while honeysuckle and Spirulina pop back and forth as light sweet accents. Lingering crisp aftertaste.
Every infusion I’ve had has been great. Really, really tasty and exceptionally easy to brew. The consistency of the first four infusions at this concentration level is still surprising to me, even in retrospect. At lower concentration and longer steep time there’s a bit more variation and character is a bit closer to a Bai Hao Oolong but I prefer this approach with its light citrus and floral tendencies over the grape/muscat, apricot, and wheat toast expressions and heavier body that come about under the Glenburn recommendations (still has a nice bit of citrus). But you can totally skew it that way for personal preference. This is a versatile tea that can give several different faces and taste like different tea types ranging from a more Darjeeling-esque profile to a Bai Hao Oolong, to a Phoenix Oolong, to a Mao Cha or White Tea. You really have to push this if you want off-flavors (oddly, it’s easier to produce these by going very light in concentration and time with 85-90C, which accents some of the algae notes… which you may like).
Yummy yumyum I’m telling all my friends and will be buying several more pounds.
Other reviews for comparable teas (or roughly same tea, different harvest) can be found by JaquelineM here [ http://steepster.com/teas/premium-steap/7032-assam-khongea-ftgfop-1 ] and Paul M Tracy here [ http://steepster.com/teas/shui-tea/14910-outta-bed ].
I’m condensing my tasting notes from a cupping I did of this one tea brewed at several different parameter sets with a couple different water hardness/purification levels. Don’t expect as in-depth a review on this guy, as I’m not doing multiple infusions on it and a couple approaches dunked this into my “unremarkable” territory, though other parameter sets were really nice compared to most Assams I’ve had over the past couple years.
Overall, this is a good, solid workhorse tea with a bit daintier impression at times than its brethren and more accommodating of brewing parameter shifts than some.
Gah, while cleaning up for my last cupping I think I accidentally threw my sheet of notes away! Blearg I do NOT want to redo this cupping… I’ll do a small set tasting (4-10 cup parameter test) to make up for it but I’m not bothering with water sources. I’m just sticking to bottled or water machine water for a while as my tap water run through a Brita is not worth wasting tea on at the moment – a lot of decent tea that winds up as “meh”.
As a short rundown on this tea from memory, let’s see…
Dry Fragrance is biscuity with a touch of florals, dried fruit (prune/raisin) and hay; Wet Leaf Aroma has more wet hay and a tannic expression; Liquor Aroma is light, slightly woody and cupric with an acorn-like tannin hint.
Body is comparatively light for an Assam but the leaves are more intact here than many, so that’s to be expected – still in the higher-moderate to lower-full body range of the texture spectrum. Astringency isn’t sharp unless pushed beyond 4 minutes but even a 3 minute steep has a lingering astringency that builds while drinking or tasting. The level of astringency at 3:30-4:00 is perfect for adding a couple drops of 2% milk or heavier and 4:15-5:00 is good for a little more, if you are the type who enjoys adding junk to tea. Okay, I admit that I liked how this tasted a whole lot at 3:45 with 5mL whole milk and 0.5tsp raw sugar added to it, but I’d rather not screw with tea after infusion except maybe a bit of water for dilution if need be. Drunken straight there isn’t a ton going on here but it’s tasty nonetheless. Has a bit of a tannic edge and slight coppery-metallic expression but there’s a pleasant slightly overcooked scone impression I get and a hint of ginger in the aftertaste. There are light florals at lower concentration (faint, but I get something similar to California Poppy) but they are mostly overridden by base barley and raisin notes. Not much malt – more malted barley. Grape Nuts comes to mind, but it isn’t that ferrous… more like those little bran sticks mixed into the cereal Kashi makes. There is a light bitterness that I love in this tea. I rarely get bitter in red teas at all – I get astringency, acids, charred characteristics, and metallic tastes very frequently but bitter is typically the realm of aggressive oolongs and young puer or overbrewed greens and green oolongs. It’s light here, but it goes well with the base woody bran flavor. This tea would go great with either hot or cold cereal in the morning and may be fantastic with grits or a more buttery scone.
Not the best Assam around and not aggressive enough for making Masala Chai, but approachable and easy drinking. The Golden Tips offerings from Khongea are amazing and the CTC works well for Masala Chai while this is sort of a sad mid ground between the two that isn’t a shining example for unique and expansive character straight nor stable in the face of many additions. However, it is versatile and easy to prepare without the harshness of many Assams that are out there.
I may have to revise this later when/if I do another parameter set cupping on this. I should probably test its ability to handle successive steeps. When I prepare it at work with an infuser basket in a cup it handles three infusions with little shift; it seems to handle reinfusing a bit better than other Assams, likely due to smaller leaf surface area to volume.
Off to do a Taiwan Hongcha lineup.
I asked the folks at Glenburn to give me a call when they had their first flush and Moonshine available and just got word a few days ago that they have stocked their California warehouse. I had the option of air freight from India quite a while ago but this way was a lot cheaper and I was bogged with samples anyway. I guess they had already officially sold out of this one for online orders but were happy to sell me half a pound over the phone alongside the First Flush, new crop Orthodox Khongea Assam, and last autumn’s Darjeeling Oolong that I was really surprised by in the samples I tried a few months ago. Supposedly the Moonshine is superior since it employs more effort and time in plucking and production so I went ahead and bought the minimum wholesale quantity despite not having tasted it before. I ought to know better than this after being inundated with pounds and pounds of low-end Darjeelings from similar wholesale orders in the past that I really wish I nabbed samples of before sticking myself with lackluster or borderline bad quality tea. Fortunately everything I’ve gotten from Glenburn Tea Direct has been fairly tasty – even the CTC Assam and Signature Blend are decent and drinkable – and this is supposed to be their cream-of-the-crop top tier tea. Turns out it’s definitely worth the price and I’m glad I got what I did, though I personally prefer some of their easier to procure offerings.
Right off the bat when opening one of the nicely parsed and sealed 1/4lb mylar bags, I have a hard time calling this an oolong. Just smelling the dry fragrance that pushes out before I even get a look at the leaves makes me think “White Tea” and when I do get a look at the leaves I think “White Tea” with more conviction. Downy green one- to two-leaves and a bud leaf sets with a preponderance of white hair and snappy fresh green vegetal fragrance. Certainly smells like a Darjeeling or Nilgiri White Tea… The leaves are curled in a way that makes me think some light rolling or tossing occurred but you can tell they were either not rested at warm ambient temperature long enough for significant oxidation, the oxidative enzymes were denatured before browning could occur, or they were just simply really light-handed with the leaves so no obvious bruising occurred. Inspecting the infused leaves could support any of these. There are some broken leaves but the margins are not tattered at all even in partial leaves and the only browning I can find is coloration on the mid-veins and attached stems. Even though the leaf mass is a mixture of leaf sizes it is obvious that this is from shipping and packing damage rather than early production or irregularity in harvest. The leaves all appear to be from a very careful two-leaf and longer bud harvest. They are nice enough to mark on the bags when this harvest occurred, by the way – this batch was picked on March 9th, 2012 and surface-shipped. Where this departs from White Teas is in its leaf density; while very voluminous compared to most intact leaves from Darjeeling, it has the same relative density as a Bai Hao Oolong rather than a Bai Mu Dan. One teaspoon fairly consistently (odd for a tea of mixed bud sets and separate buds/leaves) comes out to 0.85g and one tablespoon comes out to just over 2.5g. Apart from that, I’d say this is differentiated from a white by only a very light rolling – there’s certainly some oxidation at play here but no more than a protracted wither would cause. Definitely not a green nor a hard-wither tea.
Dry Fragrance is vegetal and somewhat toasty. Out of the bag it’s got this sweet, dried leaf or grape skin fragrance mixed with cucumber and a touch of honeysuckle. In a warm gaiwan cucumber shares dominance with uncut Cantaloupe or Crane Melon with accents of baked wheat bread and breaded fried shrimp (somehow in a good way…).
Wet leaf aroma is tangy & musty. Very much like a wine cellar. Wood, moist granite, moss, uncut Meyer Lemon, and citron. There’s this initial oily vaporous tendril that seemed to hit me from the lid of my gaiwan I initially took as a hint of peppermint syrup, but it lacked the sweetness and intensity such a name would confer so I’m a bit reluctant to include it here. However, as it’s the very fist note I jotted down and did so with immediate confidence I guess I’d better mention it even if I don’t really feel it meshes after taking other things in.
I used a very large mass of water to try and maintain temperature as much as possible in my kettle but wound up reheating just a bit for the last couple infusions. All of these were prepared in rapid sequence and each decanted into a cha hai lineup so I could get them out as fast as possible and taste them against each-other before cooling.
Used 4g per 125mL in a heavy glazed ceramic gaiwan. No rinse but I preheated really well and sealed the leaves in the warm gaiwan with the lid on for a little over a minute to help release dry fragrance. Every infusion was brewed with water at 85C in the kettle and the cup remained hot to the touch before each brew.
White grape juice, honeydew melon, cotton candy liquor aroma. Light gold yellow with great transparency and a ton of suspended little hairs in spite of pouring through a very fine mesh strainer. Pervasive cotton candy and vanilla nose cause these to remain forefront of flavor character in spite of little to no supporting taste to accompany them (predominantly a lack of sweetness). Full body. Cotton dryness in rear of mouth gives way to light pinching astringency in throat. Very light in potency/intensity. Sweet impression in nose but not really sweet at all on tongue. Refreshing mouthwatering effect up front produces a fair amount of saliva but isn’t thick in texture as I’m used to. Light and a tad bit crisp like cucumber (with skin).
2) 1min 30sec
Eucalyptus and Buddha’s Hand Citrus peel in liquor aroma. Slightly deeper yellow. Pleasant light acidity strikes the center of the tongue – Citron, Kumquat, Buddha’s Hand citrus impression. Faint initial cucumber aftertaste gives way to a delayed thick but brief star jasmine vaporous aftertaste that arrives with the throat-based astringency. When taken as a draught the flavor is more fluid and consistent than the staccato series of impressions above from sipping or slurping. Comes off very much like patchouli oil with a vaporous and somewhat drying effect throughout the mouth.
Muscat grape juice liquor aroma. Slightly lighter yellow color like first infusion. Much more mouthwatering and less astringent, though it still presents as a prickling/pinching in the rear base of the tongue into the throat. Buddha’s Hand or Bergamot citrus peel, eucalyptus bark, cottonwood bark, white grape skin, and star jasmine. Still a sort of vaporous aromatic oil impression throughout mouth when taken as a drought, but I would associate it more in terms of a light menthol relative [White Sage] now rather than patchouli.
4) 2min 30sec
More muted muscat grape juice liquor aroma has a hint of wet table grape cluster musty-crisp aroma mixed in. Color a tad deeper, intermediate between first/third and second infusions – a nice light gold or very pale honey color (or half honey and half water mixture). Flavor and texture like third infusion, but a little lighter body. Slight acidic tang at center of the tongue is a little more distinctly woody now – like the taste from biting a stem from a cluster of table grapes. Hint of rose petal now in aromatic oil expression following a draught or big gulp.
Same color, less discernible aroma. Reminiscent of the smell or taste of the air walking near Chardonnay in French Oak barrels. Actually, this infusion is incredibly similar to a drier, less buttery Chardonnay in general. Lighter body, but it works well with the light crispness that has opened up away from the basic cucumber and citrus of earlier infusions. Hint of menthol and citrus oil in aftertaste but only just a touch. The afteraroma is very much like the smell of hiking up to a freshwater seep on a hot day in a denser oak woodland or stand of madrone. Ferns, moistened dry leaves and grasses, watercress, and a woody note that’s making me think of the over story oaks, madrone, or larger manzanita but really could be just as easily likened to bran (like Grape Nuts cereal). This fifth infusion is very tasty and almost worth scrapping earlier infusions just to get to it, making me rethink my initial distrust of the brewing recommendation from the manufacturers (or perhaps I ought to say Plantation Managers or tasting team, as this is being sold by the family running the farm). Darned tasty.
Flavor intensity hasn’t slackened, actually only opened up a bit. However, I want to test the other brewing parameters before I become waterlogged so I’m cutting this round here.
For the longer, more dilute round I’m using 1.88g in the same 125mL gaiwan. 85C across the board again but starting right off the bat with the scary-long 5min infusion. Hmm, a full 5 minutes with something that looks so green is sending off all kinds of bells and whistles in my head so I’m just setting my timer and looking away, trying not to fidget over the notion of severe overstepping when I was getting astringency at 1 minute. Still cooler water than I use for many oolongs or even sheng cha… I’m trying to look at these leaves like mao cha for right now.
Wet leaf aroma is very different here and smacks of lemon grass. I definitely get the citrus impression right off the bat under this preparation. With fewer leaves in the cup it also looks more like Mao Feng green tea but with just a slight orange cast to the stems.
Liquor aroma is more heady floral and a tad musty (wet table grape clusters again). Smells a lot like walking past a closed flower shop or greenhouse without going inside… After it has rained and the sun is starting to warm up the ground.
Color is about the same as the first and third infusions at higher concentration and shorter steep time… Maybe a bit paler. Looks like a gold-platinum blend for jewelry.
Wow. Way smoother and just as full bodied. Pretty mouthwatering. Lemon grass similarity in the flavor but not so much in citrus as the natural sweetness. Not much compared to many teas out there, but way more with this longer steep than with the shorter ones. There is still that back-of-tongue and into the throat astringency pucker but it’s a bit lighter and is balanced out more. There’s still a bit of citrus but it’s mostly relegated to the aroma and nose with only a light citrus oil (Buddha’s Hand, again) in the mouth. There’s that aromatic oil prickliness through the mouth after a swig like before, but it’s very light and pleasant.
Under these guidelines this tea is very much a midway in flavor between the two teas I used as a volumetric dose reference earlier. Halfway between Bai Mu Dan and Bai Hao Oolong with just a touch of white grape and carnation I associate with Darjeelings. Really nice balance without the potential abrasiveness particularly green First Flush Darjeelings can display at times.
Second infusion under the same parameters is just as flavorful and wonderful as the first. Tad less astringency in the throat, a bit less mouthwatering, and more kumquat citrus-fruity.
Simply due to the effect of making me do a double-take on brewing parameters this tea meets the qualifications of hitting the 90’s under my highly subjective scoring scheme. On top of that it’s really tasty and super drinkable (good tasting doesn’t equate capability to slug down a mug, but this is nice either way). However, in spite of it being approachable, tasty, thought-provoking, and even dynamic from cup to cup I have a hard time pushing the rating on this. It’s mildness had a great balance with the body it displays, just like a Jun Shan Yin Zhen that managed to slip into the 90’s so I can’t just say it’s a matter of low flavor “volume”… I just kind of feel the range of character isn’t great enough to justify rating this in the upper echelons of tea quality. It’s pretty difficult to pick a ton of discernible characters out of any of the infusions under either brewing approach. I love how evocative of certain places it can be and it’s frickin’ yummy but it’s not even my favorite from Glenburn. To get up to 85 or above I’d want to be able to pick out at least twice the number of characteristics I’m getting here. Definitely worth trying, though… Or buying a kilo or two next time it’s available.
Another of the Zomia Sheng Bingcha samples I picked up and the only other one I got that’s listed online – the rest are 2011 harvest and will not have a presence in the online store until the website is updated. Consequently, I will probably not post reviews of the others unless they are substantially better or worse… Supposedly they are all better, but that remains to be see- err, tasted.
This one is noticeably different from the Spring 2010 in color, compaction, and dry fragrance. This is somewhat darker with some deep green leaves (think lighter Dancong) attached to light buds with a lot of downy hair presence. I didn’t need to try nearly as hard to break this wedge down compared to the Spring cake, which required a couple insertions of my puer knife to get the material into loose form. For this one, just a little wiggling and then some lateral pressure from my fingers crumbled it into fairly intact loose leaf material. I’ll get to fragrance later, but I’ll say now that it had just as much going on as the Spring bing, but in a very different direction.
I used my trusty Duan Ni Shengcha pot with 8g of still-compressed tea per 220mL just like the last one. However, I ran out of good water. Sonoma County has some pretty darned good tasting tap water (even better than San Francisco, I feel, but heavier mineral content) and when run through a Brita filter it comes out really good. However, lately I’ve had to refrigerate and shake to produce the liveliness I’m used to getting. So since early May I’ve been using water from the machine in Oliver’s Market dispensed into large plastic jugs. I have personal reservations about storing in plastic, but I really can’t taste or smell any negative impact and the treated and somewhat aerated water from the machine is tasting a whole heck of a lot better for tea lately. Not as big of a deal with denser Shu Puer and lower elevation Indian/Sri Lankan teas or Dian Hong. But for many of the teas I love that are dependent upon crispness it is a pretty obvious difference. In the case of this tea, it fell flat. Really weird tasting a full-bodied tea with a lot of flavor and mouthwatering effect but lacking in liveliness. I had always assumed the drool-inducing effect of some teas was dependent upon the perceived acidity but tonight’s round of tea kinda scoffs at that notion.
The Dry Fragrance in my warmed pot comes as a base heady-vegetal smell. Heavy and with a menthol and hay twist. Very sweet, thick fragrance that’s very similar to sweet wheat bread rolls from the oven carries through as the most obvious character. Grape twigs and grape seeds are definitely bunched in with the vegetal mass of fragrance and accents of honey and raw cane stalk pop up. An oddly pervasive funky sour-sweet-musty characteristic had me scratching my head and sort of salivating over this very familiar smell for a little while. Pot was starting to loose heat so I put it down to start the rinse when I got a really good fleeting hit of that note and it sang Camembert cheese rind. Seriously – cheese. I laughed at the pretentiousness of picking out “a hint of cheese” in the movie Sideways, but here I am with that very familiar – though initially difficult to place – characteristic popping up in my tea. Fortunately the tea didn’t taste like it at all (though I do love Camembert and Brie).
I ought to note that while the fragrance was nice and heady in a warm pot, it is only lightly toasty-vegetal as a cake. I didn’t get “smoky” as the owner warned me. He actually was reluctant to sell me this sample in favor of the others until I said I wanted to send tome sheng puer samples to a lover of Lapsang.
Wet Leaf Aroma has a base of sorta musty old antique wood furniture. Musty wet cloth or a mop pops up. Musk like the smell from a weasel. Chewing tobacco. Sausage. Beef and seaweed jerky. Truffle Oil. Bacon. Honey Smoked Turkey… Kind of a tug-of-war between this and the sausage. Grilled onions. These gamy characters jumped out more due to their distinctness and pronounced definition more than their intensity or volume – the predominant aroma was a musty-sweet vegetal base that’s really similar to boiled/steamed cauliflower, carrots and edamame. Lighter notes of star jasmine, light maple syrup, hot mustard, and a sweet expression of black pepper like allspice or grains of paradise merge and dance about but are too heavy to call “fleeting” or to say that they “pop out”… More like swim to the surface in a current. Really has a ton going on in the wet leaf aroma after the rinse, where I’m not used to getting much in the way of distinction compared to the liquor aroma or smell from the lid.
Conversely, the Liquor Aroma is really simple across the board. Sweet, toasty grassland with oak trees and pollen. That’s mostly it until it goes in the mouth and characteristics are presented as the nose.
The rinse effectively breaks up much of the compaction and results in a very deep yellow infusion with little aroma. Kind of a difficult-to-distinguish cottony or dried out grassland smell.
All infusions shared the just about the same surface aroma and deep gold, almost-amber coloration. The pot took 20 seconds to pour each time so tack that on for the rinse time and for total contact times on top of the times I list below for when I begin to pour.
1) 83C, 1min
Buckwheat noodles, fried rice with stir-fried veggies (particularly mushrooms with a little brown sauce) and glazed barbecue pork belly. Freakin’ tastes like food. Bok choy and dried clay secondary characteristics. Very mouthwatering up front (drooly) and drying in the back of the mouth but severely lacking in crispness… Lots going on but kinda flat and I’m choosing to point fingers at the water as at least a contributing factor. Full body but the flavors are sort of muddled. I brewed this and the following three infusions in rapid sequence and decided to start at 1minute partly due to the deep color of the rinse, heady wet leaf aroma and fragrance, and the warnings by the purveyor. I feel I probably shoulda gone for 1.5-2min instead to push out the more aggressive elements and see how that potential smokiness may come to play.
2) 83C, 1min
heart stem. More like egg noodles now instead of buckwheat. More buttery and a little less drying. Mostly the same mouth impression and dry grassland / oak woodland base character. Thistle flower afteraroma.
3) 92C, 1min
Leaves have really opened up and expanded compared to most puer. Flavor slackened but far more distinctive and the aftertaste lingers much longer. Wildflower, oak wood (plus leaves and flowers), pollen, willow, dry river rock, sand. Tannic aftertaste hangs in throat and breath with afteraromas of carnation and tulip similar to some Indian teas but there’s little crispness at all. There’s a light hint of smokiness once it’s started to cool and taken as a draught, leading me to believe a more aggressive brewing up front would bring out more of this characteristic that’s supposed to be obvious in early infusions and dissipated by the third.
4) 92C, 1min
Body and flavor thinner. Now at more of a moderate body level. Light mineral taste that I was expecting early on comes forward with a faint pleasant bitterness. Very similar to the third infusion but with more rocks and sand and less grassland and wood. This infusion sort of acts as a mid ground between the very similar first three infusions and the last two infusions I did.
5) 90C, 2min
Chicken soup with a bit of oregano and cilantro. Sandiness really comes forward a little while after swallowing. Overall smooth and comforting but lacking much distinctive character.
6) 86C, 2min
Sandy initial impression (now moved all the way from only in aftertaste to being the first characteristic tasted). Long lasting vaporous mouthfeel with little discernible quality aside from the smell of just-watered orchids that are not in bloom and a touch of raw kale. The aftertaste takes a long time to appear after swallowing and breathing deeply for a bit. Despite difficulty in picking out flavors, this infusion is markedly more crisp than the others while retaining the basic boiled veggie sweetness from the start.
Just as rich and warming as the Spring 2010 but a bit more heavy in vaporous quality in the throat. Much less in he way of snappy greenery character and closer to the impression of walking through a dry oak woodland savannah rather than freshwater marsh. I may have to keep track of my notes when I set the rest of this up in a cupping lineup against the other samples side-by-side so I may revise my score and impressions using different water, though that will be under more heavy-handed brewing parameters.
As I look over my entries on Steepster I’m noticing a lacking of Shu Cha notes that really is not representative of how much of it I drink. I gave it some thought and realized that it’s sort of taken a hit from the fact that much of the Hei Cha I drink is in accompaniment to food. I love eating all kinds of different food but I can’t handle particularly oily or fatty foods. Turkey bacon has too much grease for me and even a little butter on bread makes my belly churn – imagine how the Chinese cuisine I love makes me feel or if I were to try eating a cream sauce or French cuisine. Hei Cha really does help settle my stomach to the point where I can actually enjoy even fried food and the taste goes really well together. So much so that I tend to go and prepare food once I start drinking it (though I force myself not to if it’s a well aged Sheng Cha).
I’ve had a hard time brewing this tea for evaluation for this same reason. It’s really nice and sumptuous and simply having one cup really makes me want to have some food to go alongside it and some kinds of food leave me reaching to brew it. This time I held off until I’d had at least enough of the fifth infusion for evaluation before making some Hong Kong pan-fried noodles to accompany it… Broccoli Beef with Cha Xiao Bao and Shumai went perfectly with it the first time I made it.
I left just enough to brew in the sample Geoffrey sent me from the first time I brewed it. This time I used a slightly lighter concentration at 8g in my 220mL Zi Ni Shi Piao for large leaf and compressed Shu Puer. In retrospect, I really ought to have used a full 2min infusion from the get-go after the initial rinse but it was still very pleasant with the shorter brews.
Dry Fragrance was fishy. Very similar to uncooked catfish fillet. Leather, leaf litter, cassia, musty wood and the general smell of a pond filled with duckweed and algae that’s dried up were obvious smells when placed in the warmed pot. As it cooled a bit, the predominant fragrance was old graham cracker with a light hint of camphor or menthol.
Wet Leaf Aroma was much more simple – buttered biscuits that are slightly burned on the edges and wet cinnamon stick (again, cassia not true cinnamon).
Liquor Aroma is very light from infusion to infusion and very consistent. Kinda musty like the smell of sweat and a faint herbaceous wood character like dried willow.
Fresh water was added to the kettle after the fourth infusion – temp increases before and after that are from reheating of the same water. This pot takes 15 seconds to pour, so tack that on for total contact time.
1) 1min at 97C
Light intensity, crisp, and sweet. Full body but light overall character and that crisp and sweet primary impression makes it hard to think of this as more than a moderate-bodied tea. Light rear-of-mouth astringency is more obvious in finish and when aspirated. Overall very mouthwatering. Deep red-brown coloration and clear but the color is saturated to the point that I can’t see the bottom of a narrow cup with only 100mL in it. Just a little bit in a small cup leaves the infusion darkish orange, similar in appearance to some Dian Hong. Primary flavor is Grape Nuts or barley. As it cools to a temperature where I can actually drink rather than sip or slurp it takes on a nutty flavor leaving the overall flavor experience very, very similar to black “Forbidden Rice” in both the base and aftertaste.
2) 1min at 90C
Sweeter – Honey on wheat toast. Very mouthwatering – even more than the first infusion. Barley and Forbidden Rice are dominant. Less astringency leaves only a hint of drying towards the rear of the mouth. Extremely refreshing as it cools to barely warm. Makes me think of drinking Mugicha.
3) 1min at 98C
Lighter intensity and body and with slightly less saturated color as well. Little more astringency than second infusion but less than the first. More delicate character reveals some star jasmine and honeysuckle florals that were obscured in first two. As it cools it takes on a distinct taste like that of water that’s passed through peat… Unfortunately I know this taste well from container gardening with carnivorous plants. But yeah, very peaty.
4) 2min at 95C
Color back to the saturation of first two infusions but light flavor like the third just a little greater in presence and somewhat more crisp. Light astringency comes out more as it cools while light driftwood flavor comes out and soy character pops up in the nose.
5) 2min at 96C
Richer body but more piquant in the back of the mouth (closer to the throat now). Bit of leather, sweat, and fried tofu with soy and hoisin sauce in the nose. However, sweetness similar to last infusion mitigates any potentially negative impression from the gamy qualities. Light menthol note and mouthfeel permeates, especially as it cools, and a longer lingering crispness leaves this the most pleasant infusion up to now and the largest deviation in character. At this point I succumb to the notion of making some food to go with it so the following infusions are tasted without having a clean palate.
6) 2min at 98C
Lighter in a sort of flatter way – acidity either not as great as previous infusions or is impeded by residual oil from food. Aftertaste very similar to Dian Hong Long Zhu. Flavor is like the fourth infusion as it cools though with a slight added body so flavor somewhat different (I’d set aside small amounts of all previous infusions while drinking to compare cool). There’s a marked pinching sensation near the base of the throat near the epiglottis but astringency has left the tongue region. Most of the flavor is only really discernible as it cools a bit. Once lukewarm it is very similar to a toasted plain bagel.
7) 2min at 93C
Ever so slightly lighter intensity than the sixth infusion but still good body compared to the first four infusions. Two characters start really coming out that I sort of feel are present in earlier infusions but I hadn’t either placed or separated out from base flavor: Oleander and light pure Maple syrup. Star jasmine noticeable again and bread-like character more like a multigrain bread.
The tea was clean overall but a tad more astringency than I’d prefer from a Shu. Very smooth with lower end of Full Body when taken as a draught, but crisp and lively when either slurped or taken in a small cup. Even after the fifth infusion the nuggets were still compressed and “clunking” in my pot, just starting to break up. Still chunks mostly compressed after the seventh infusion so it’s a waste to stop here but I’m waterlogged now… Will revisit the tea in a few hours but I’m not likely to add anything tasting-note wise except a note as to when the nuggets finally break apart since the character in this is sort of just varying intensities of the same flavor set. I remember the first round I did still left some compression after thirteen infusions… I think this tea may be better off to brew in a little 60mL gaiwan (which I’m iffy on with puerh – I prefer enough volume for the leaves to settle and temp to be maintained in brewing) or shared with a bunch of people so it can fully open up. I’m interested in that opening up in this one, in particular, as the infusions up to now feel very much like adjusting the volume on the same song.
Comforting and clean, for sure. I pretty much agree with the whole synopsis Verdant writes about this except for the lack of astringency. Perhaps keeping the steep temp to 90ish C or even as low as high 80’s and pushing the steep time longer would benefit it in that regard, but I’m always reluctant to drop below 90C for a ripened tea. This is very tasty and approachable either way. Not nearly as impressive as the Xinyang, though.