I’ve been screwing around with this tea a lot lately, trying to bend it to my will. It has beautiful leaves, great liquor clarity, exhibits a good range of flavors, has a decent balance of body and liveliness, and produces a very distinct flavor set some people may adore… I’m just not a huge fan of some of the characteristics it possesses. I can’t justify rating it as a simply “okay” tea or as though it is “lesser-than” some of the teas I love, though, because of the steadfast, clear flavors and aromatics it produces.
What I dislike is a fairly heady, almost-overripe dried fruit aroma/nose that is reminiscent of what I get from certain Sonoma Valley Chardonnays. Also, there is a flavor that reminds me of the smell of old glue that has failed over the years to hold the spine of an old book – to me it tastes a bit like the air of my local public library. Tweak these characteristics a bit more to the grapey side, and you’d wind up with a nice, somewhat woody Darjeeling-like character. Tweak ‘em a bit to the malt side and you’d have a fruited and elegant Assam characteristic. Where it stands, I’m not particularly fond of it… I’m sure there are folks who’d fall head over heels about it, though. A rinse lowers these tones a bit out of the almost-cloying range into base characteristics of the nose.
Aside from these bits, it’s a very pleasant, approachable light Chinese red. Medium body feels like it ought to be a bit heavier to accommodate the flavors that are expressed, but this is a trait I’m used to in Fujian reds as a whole. Liquor color is a stunning deep red orange like the color of recently made bricks. Plucking standard is pretty darn uniform and comprised exclusively of young, intact leaves and buds (plus a small twig here and there). Torn leaves are still young and the sizing conforms to the length of the rest of the material.
Unlike the dried apricot fruit notes of many other Golden Monkey reds (and inherent in the dry fragrance of four others I tasted along side this in a cupping earlier) this one exhibits more of a white nectarine skin fragrance alongside the wood and cocoa. Wet aroma brings out the aforementioned chardonnay note with more of a wet cocoa powder characteristic. The overarching characteristic of the liquor aroma is malt.
Cocoa jumps forward in the flavor, though it isn’t an exceptionally chocolatey tea. Interestingly, I get a good amount of rose and rosebush foliage notes in the flavor and aftertaste/afteraroma. Very ripe white peach hangs around as a dull perfume both in the cup and transferred from the mouth up into the sinuses for a double-dose (fortunately, it isn’t intense or pervasive). Drinking from a gaiwan using a rinse and 4g per 115ml in 90 degrees C water, mostly malty and woody flavors run through the bulk of the flavor. In cupping with 2.5g per 125ml water just off a boil (5 min steep) I get more cinnamon raisin bread as a base and a primary high note of ripe stonefruit peel (again, white peach/nectarine or maybe even pluot skin). Leaves a crisp impression and very faint sweetness to the breath hanging deep in the throat like that of chewing a bit of dry oak wood (little less grassy than a typical toothpick or stir stick). Nose is mostly floral with those light cocoa notes but there is a base of wet clay and malt serving as a backbone and rounding it out.
Overall, very approachable and smooth. Not a ton setting it apart as a red tea, but a distinct step in flavor clarity above many of this group of teas. When cupped alongside four Golden Monkeys sold by Plymouth Tea Company, this one stands up with the best tactile balance and has the easiest identifiable character to it. Not sure whether it’s the case or not, but it tastes “fresher” despite being the same harvest or older. I suspect the fairly strict plucking standard of very young first flush leaves and relative lacking of broken material is largely responsible for this effect.
Personally, I like the Golden Monkey I bought from Silk Road a few years ago much better, and probably wouldn’t buy this for my personal satisfaction; however, I highly recommend fans of easy-drinking red teas to give this one a try and have no qualms giving this as a gift.
Will be pitting this against Red Blossom’s two Golden Monkeys soon…