93 Tasting Notes

80

Rich, smooth satisfying young sheng.

Got a 25g sample of this and five other sheng bingchas. The samples are nice, solid compacted wedges pulled from bings that were bisected lengthwise. If you are having trouble picturing what I mean by this, check out this video from “Mr. Cloud” Chan Kam Pong, the author of the book First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea, where he shows how to break down a cake for consumption once it is ready:
http://youtu.be/th86Ge4fFJs
The compaction on this is actually fairly tight for a stone-pressed cake, but you can chock a lot of that up to it being really young. After a rinse the compressed chunk I brewed showed a bit of separation uniformly around the mass and it broke up really well after just the first infusion (boy was I caught off guard when I opened my pot). I flaked the rest of the sample into loose tea so I could later taste this in a comparative lineup and so I could send some off in a box of samplers I’m putting together. Leaves are really consistent for a wedge off a bing and when the owner of Zomia was showing me various cakes I was thoroughly impressed by the consistency of the leaf material overall. No blending of young on the outside old on the inside for these cakes, they are uniform young leaves all throughout. Think about the leaf composition for a good Bai Hao Oolong or Bai Mu Dan White Tea for the leaves of most of the sheng bingchas offered by Zomia Tea.

I brewed an 8g compressed chunk in my 220mL Duan Ni Shi Piao pot for young shengcha. Only did four infusions… May revisit later. Seriously warming tea and it’s a very warm day.

Dry fragrance actually had quite a bit going on and really harkened to my days as a docent when I would lead ecology tours of the local wetlands. Smells very much of the cattails and tule when in bloom (predominant note is pollen), the breeze coming off a freshwater pond lined with willows, and just a hint of young redwood. There’s also a toasty grain note here – I’m going with millet, though sesame wouldn’t be too far off either.

Single rinse resulted in a brew for discard with only the faintest tinge of yellow-green and light sweet aroma somewhat similar to hay but really too light to point to anything for serious.
Wet Leaf aroma was rocky and toasty, as in multigrain bread being heated in a toaster oven. Vegetal blanket aroma is very hard to pin down (basic young shengcha base muted-veggie aroma) but an accent of wet moss on wet granite during a hot day pops out. As steam dissipates a tad I definitely get a bit of arugula and the smell of stir-fried noodles and bamboo shoots.

Liquor aroma for these first four brews were pretty close to one-another. Sweet, like the smell of simple syrup. Canned bamboo shoots and stir-fried water chestnuts. Fried egg. Wet lawn. Pear (particularly skin of Bartlett/William’s or D’Anjou Pears, but the flesh as well).

Each infusion had slightly different parameter sets, but not huge deviations. This pot takes 20sec to pour, so tack that on for total brew time.

1) 45sec, 85C
The first infusion had a nice, full body and a light astringency providing a pleasant itty bitty pucker that went well with the light rocky smell coming from the pot. Golden yellow, clear infusion with suspended downy hairs floating about. Predominant taste is cabbage – raw, cooked, red, white, green, whatever. Tasty cabbage, though. Toasted rice is up front but this gives way to rice pudding in the aftertaste. Mmmmm, rice pudding… Very mouthwatering (and not just from me now wanting desserts to make up my breakfast, lunch and now dinner for the day). Kinda gravelly impression – largely in the nose but also lingering a bit on the tongue as though I just hiked through a particularly rocky area.

2) 45sec, 87C
Second infusion is like the first but just a little more potent. Ever so slightly darker gold infusion (almost amber) and just as many little downy hairs – about on par with a tippy Darjeeling or Bai Hao Oolong in terms of suspended hairs making it through the fine mesh strainer and into the cup. Here’s where I figured out what kind of pear I was smelling earlier, as Bartlett Pear comes even before the cabbage in the flavor (this wasn’t present in first infusion). Also, some radish has come into the picture. Again I feel like I need to say “in a good way” since I tack a negative connotation to radish, cabbage, and Brussels Sprouts for some reason even though I like ‘em all, especially raw or pickled (um, there’s no pickled taste in this tea…). Sweet Brown Rice sweetness hangs around in this infusion, sort of making a mid-ground between the toasted rice and rice pudding expressed in the first. Slightly less mouthwatering than the first, but still up there but the pucker is ever so slightly increased. Fried egg pops up here and there as I drink this one – not quite oily, but evocative of having a whole egg cooked on a well seasoned cast iron griddle. This infusion is very warming. It would be incredibly comforting if I had this last night with the fog we got but right now it’s 30C inside my little poorly insulated cottage.

3) 45sec, 84C
Third brew has a slightly lighter yellow color and slightly lighter body. Distinct menthol quality comes up here, reminiscent of watercress. Other than that this is very similar to infusion #2 – very rich and satisfying. This is certainly brothy. Instead of egg I’m thinking closer to chicken stock for soup. Raw chunk sugar cane character in the aftertaste makes this seem slightly more refined in sweetness yet with a more protracted lingering toasty quality.

4) 60sec, 83C
Like the third, but markedly sweeter. Especially sweet and crisp in the aftertaste. Lil’ gherkin cucumber characteristic is present here as sort of an evolution of the cabbage taste. Makes for a bit more refreshing infusion, but this is still incredibly savory and warming. Gonna have to call it with this brew as I’m starting to perspire.

This is not nearly as bitter/bittersweet, minerally, or smoky as I’m kind of used to from young Bulangshan Puerh, but still very hearty and I think will do well to age based on richness in spite of slightly lower intensity of sharp characteristics. Supposedly 2011 was a better year across the board for Puerh, so we’ll see how this does against the 2011 Bulang Mountain Spring Bing I also grabbed a sample of. Overall this trended closer to the vegetal end of shengcha expression with all florals hiding in the background and mostly coming forward as pollen character. There were some wildflower and dry grassland hints to the base, but those are easily overshadowed by other characteristics.

Again, a very rich young sheng and very tasty even though it’s so young. Definitely in the running for my next full bingcha purchase, but that depends on how well I like these other samples I got. Unfortunately I don’t have the kind of expendable income I once had and have to be a little more choosy about plunking down for a bing, brick, or a full tong. Had I tasted this a few years ago I’d likely impulsively buy a tong so my indiscriminate drinking of young puerh wouldn’t dent the supply before it got some age on it.

Yummyyumyum I hope the rest are just as tasty or better.

Preparation
190 °F / 87 °C 0 min, 45 sec
Azzrian

You write AMAZING reviews! Thank you!

TeaBrat

do you know if they’re planning to offer the samples on their website anytime soon?

Thomas Smith

They currently do. For compressed Puerh, they offer either a full cake/brick or a 25g sample to brew and experiment with before committing to a full cake. For loose teas they will only offer 50g bags.

Kashyap

what are you using to control/monitor temp?

TeaBrat

Oh – thanks! I missed that the first time I looked since I did not click through to the detailed information. :)

Thomas Smith

I typically use one of those Taylor oven thermometer probes that have a temp alert and built in timer. I have a thermocouple for more precise readings but don’t consider it useful since there’s such a huge difference in temp from loss to the teapot and air while pouring that it’s pointless to measure to 0.1 degree resolution or higher in the kettle.

Kashyap

so are you measuring the tea, the stream of water, or the water prior to pouring? just wondering as you seem to be so controled and precise with this..

Thomas Smith

Taylor probe in the kettle, threaded through the spout on my electric or inserted through the lid in my large glazed ceramic teapot-style kettle. I use the thermometer primarily for cutting the heat when raising to a desired endpoint (which is why I mostly measure the mass of the water in the kettle rather than the infusing tea) and leave it to give readings as it cools so I know when I may need to extend the steep time or add cool water and reheat.
For vessel or parameter tests, I use my thermocouple inside the brewing tea but you will only find a couple of those measures on my Steepster reviews as it typically involves either flights or comparative tasting lineups among multiple teas.

Thomas Smith
  • when I said “mass of the water” I meant the bulk of heated water measured from near the center. Mass readings are taken using a +/- 1g resolution scale by measuring the grams of the pot and leaves on a scale then measuring the pot and leaves plus water and subtracting (same method with leaves, but on a balance with +/- 0.01g resolution). Volume measures I take are actually usually room temp water mass measures since 1g water at about room temp is about 1mL and I don’t much trust the accuracy of the various volumetric measures I have at home.

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73

This was an excellent introductory shou that is pretty well representative of Zomia, though the focus is more on the sheng side of things. Being served this tea in the shop pretty much spoke to the whole of the philosophy and focus of the tiny company (it was not the first tea served, but was more in line with the bulk of the flavor trends of the owner). This is essentially exactly what I hope to find to recommend to people looking to buy their first full Shou Bingcha, though samples are available both online and in the little shop. Not the best tea they offer by any stretch of the imagination but a great “House Puerh”.

I had a conversation with another buyer for a different coffee company a few months ago at the SWRBC. He pointed out what I was carrying around while watching the barista competitors and said “nice gaiwan,” naturally starting a lengthy discussion about premium tea while surrounded by some of the best coffee on the planet. When it came down to us talking about what we’d like our respective companies to move into, I said I feel any coffee shop selling tea ought to offer puerh, as it’s a terrific middle ground between coffee and tea. His nose got all crunched up and he said his company “doesn’t do earthy or muddled tasting coffee and tea.” Ah, he has not had decent puerh. I tried to hook up with him the following day to get him some of the basic shou puerh I happened to have laying about in my car, but oh well. Moral of the story: most people haven’t been exposed to clean tasting puerh. Now I’m tempted to send a bing of this down to that company with a post-it on it saying “try this” :p

Back to this thing.

Zomia Tea is only about 2 years old and they just opened a retail location right around the corner from the roastery for my work about a month ago. Well, I should say “he” not “they” – Barry Boullon is the sole proprietor, and I believe the one employee (though he has others do the website stuff, which is about to get a big face lift) so the guy you buy your tea from and chat with is the importer and owner.
Barry weighed out about 4g for his zi ni pot (looked to be about 100mL – he said he goes for 1g/25mL using a scale, which happens to be my starting point for both Shou and Sheng Puerh), dispensed hot water from an electric stainless steel samovar into a large earthenware kettle that he then set atop a hot plate to bring up to about a boil, and rinsed once.
I was caught off guard and a little disappointed at first upon taking in the aroma from the wetted leaves. Very earthy and a tad musty – very aggressive but at least it wasn’t smoky or loaded with the smell of ferment/compost. I’m okay with smokiness in young Shengs, but would rather not get that from a Shou. However, the wet leaf aroma did not carry through to the liquor.
The first five or six infusions were all around 30-60 seconds. No timer was used.
Very clean in aroma, appearance and taste. Vermillion-brown but pale and highly transparent coloration. Saigon Cinnamon (Cassia), and orchid bark with just a hint of peat moss were the dominant characteristics. Mellow and crisp. Not a ton of sweetness, which I kind of expect to find in any puerh… In the third to sixth infusions there was a slight rice-like sweetness and a hint of molasses to the aroma that sort of accentuated this, but nothing like the crazy sugar-water sweetness I get from time to time. I’m sure a longer steep or slightly higher concentration would push this while still remaining very pleasant. Very consistent from one cup to the next and always pretty light. There was one infusion that came out really dark (maybe the fifth – took a little while for the leaves to open) which was more in line with the appearance of my typical 2min initial experimental brews or 30-60sec at higher concentration but this was then diluted in the share pitcher with hot water before it was served, knocking it back down to the lighter character of the previous infusions but presenting a bit of tule and cocoa characteristics as well. While light in intensity, it had a good moderate viscosity and a hint of back-of-throat astringency in later infusions.

This wasn’t the most dynamic tea around and there were way better ones up on the shelf (this was also one of the few blended puerhs available), but it was very tasty and a good deal for the price.

I’m really pleasantly surprised by this company and will be buying a bunch of stuff from Zomia Tea in the near future. While this post is on a Shou Puerh, the focus is on Sheng Puerh and I was blown away by the consistency of the material making up the Sheng Bingchas that Zomia is offering… And then again when I saw the tiny little print on the signs indicating the very low price points. High quality with large selection at low price AND in easy driving distance? Yes please and thank you! This place is easily the highest quality shop in Sonoma County now and it is exceedingly rare for me to find a tea shop where I can walk in and actually learn stuff I was not privy to before. I have a small sense of the general character of a few isolated mountains in Yunnan due to personal tasting exploration of puerh over the course of the past seven years or so, but I’ve never been there and never had easy access to well-made isolated cakes of specific harvest periods all from the same small-scale producer who makes tea by hand. YIPPIE and pardon as I don’t bother to attempt containing my excitement!
I’ll be breaking into some of these Sheng samples in the next few days. Most of ’em are not yet available on the website because of the aforementioned update that is soon to come.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 45 sec
Azzrian

Can’t wait to get my hands on some of their teas! I am learning about Pu-erh at this time, just got my first yixing, and can’t wait to christen it this weekend! This sounds like a great starting point and a new company for me to try as well. Thanks for this review!

Thomas Smith

My pleasure. Zomia still has some stuff on the website but only a very tiny cross section of what they offer (and nothing that has been procured in the past year). The much smaller selections offered for greens, oolongs, reds, and herbals are pretty much exactly what I’d hope for and – very conveniently for me – their entire offering list is truncated where Tillerman Tea has expansive offerings and expansive where Tillerman’s offerings are few.

Another source you ought to check out for samples of puerh is Hou De Asian Art ( http://www.houdeasianart.com/ ). Their selection is a little puny right now, but they have really good offerings.

Azzrian

Thank you I will check it out. :)

TeaBrat

Sounds like I may need to make a field trip someday…

Thomas Smith

It’s definitely worth the trip from SF to swing over to Napa for Tillerman, at least (though the owner there isn’t staffing the stall as often as he once had to). For Healdsburg it is a bit of a drive and not as many nice restaurants to compliment the area, but I’d still say it’s worth it. If you also like coffee then it’s totally worth it since Zomia is right around the corner from Flying Goat so you can get both tea AND coffee that is just as good or better than what’s available in the city.

Thomas Smith

Lemmie know if yer planning on coming up so I can try and meet up with you.

TeaBrat

ok – I don’t make it up to that area too often since I don’t have a car… but it sounds intriguing

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72

I’m really surprised there wasn’t a Long Jing entry for Imperial Tea Court on Steepster. Every year ITC features around five different incarnations of Long Jing plus LJ style tea from elsewhere sometimes from the same cultivars and they are frequently the first to bring fresh examples of this tea into California after the early harvest. Definitely doesn’t mean it’s the best, but they have good, fresh offerings for Long Jing lovers… I suppose the price tag some of them carry is enough to keep people off buying much of ‘em. This year’s early harvest produced a very small quantity and not really as good of quality as the prices would suggest (way better than last year, I feel, but nothing compared to a couple years ago). ITC featured two early harvest Long Jings this spring – the Imperial and Lotus Heart. The latter was only sold online for a brief period and wasn’t available at their physical locations unless you were part of a pre-order. I bought this alongside all the Ming Qian Long Jings offered by Red Blossom as well so it was better for my bank account that it wasn’t available anyway.

Last night I did a tasting for a few friends centered wholly upon this group of teas. Six fresh examples, six from last year stored well (eh, maybe not so well in the case of the stuff I got from Vital Leaf, which had some funky aromatics going on when I picked it up from them), three from two years ago that I’d intentionally exposed to poor conditions, and then this one featured in the fresh lineup as well as brewed five other ways side-by-side.

I prepared this as the representative of one of the more traditional versions in the tasting, so it got the special spectrum treatment even though it wasn’t the favorite of the night nor the one I had very much of.
Here’s the parameter run-down:
1) 3g/100mL for 2min in 80C
2) 1.5g/100mL for 3min in 70C
3) 1.5g/100mL for 4min in 70C
4) 1.5g/100mL for 1min in 85C
5) 1.5g/100mL for 2min in 85C
6) 0.44g/235mL for 7min in 65C
The favored order between the four of us tasting all wound up being the same or just off by one. 2-1-4-6-3-5, though #1 was most distinct in separable distinctive pleasant character and #6 drew the most surprise and acclaim.

Across the board, this had a moderate body and long-lasting crisp and sweet aftertaste with a base flavor similar to stir-fried snow peas. The really dilute preparation had a faint level of intensity but blew everything else away in terms of sweetness, which was really deceptive when the color of the water really hadn’t changed at all. The highest concentration was my personal favorite due to range of character exhibiting many floral hints and varied nut flavors/aromas but #6 is the one I wound up downing the whole remainder of the cup once everyone was done tasting.

This year’s slightly later spring harvest Long Jings are tasting a tad better to me then the Ming Qian counterparts, but they are still pretty darned good and this one, in particular, is highly versatile though light overall.

Preparation
175 °F / 79 °C 2 min, 0 sec

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68

Held a tasting for some friends last night centered upon Long Jing, and this was one of the more interesting entries to the mix. I bought this right when it arrived in April 2010 and had it as part of a public tasting of fresh green teas then took what little remained and set it aside with the express intent of featuring the effects of staling in a later tasting. I left this really nice tea in an open pouch and moved it around over the course of the past two years to purposely expose it to air, humidity, heat (and hot/cold flux), and light. In the end I think I may have done a little too good of a job since I highlighted staling but prevented the development of off flavors that arise when stored with access to the aforementioned conditions in a sealed container… Made for a more pleasant experience during the tasting, I guess.

This still tasted surprisingly good, if incredibly lacking in flavor. Pretty flat, but the tactile impression remained true to well stored past-crop tea and the taste elements were not diminished tremendously. Light, moderate bodied water with a hint of nutty sweetness. Brewed at 1.5g per 100mL for 2min using 75C water was a great contrast to fresh crop brewed at really dilute conditions for a long period. Both came out at the same relative intensity but this felt as though the life had been sucked out of it whilst the fresh was wondrously sweet and crisp.

I think it’s a great testimony to a tea when you can intentionally try to screw it up yet it still tastes good. Definitely wouldn’t want to pay full price for any kind of past-crop green, but I’d say this would be almost worth it in the first 1.5 years if properly stored.

Preparation
170 °F / 76 °C 2 min, 0 sec
Thomas Smith

For the record – the Shi Feng Long Jing from Tea Spring treated to the same aggressive storage treatment resulted in an infusion that tasted like play dough.

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12

I was out for Father’s Day dinner tonight and noticed Mighty Leaf’s Hojicha on the drink list. It’s kinda hard to screw that tea up with the blasting hot water restaurants tend to use and I knew Hojicha would be good on my stomach after the inevitable overstuffing I was bound to commit. However, the server gave me this instead. I tried SO hard to give her the benefit of the doubt – it’s not like I expect a server to really care about tea like I’d expect them to know the food and wine – and tried to just go along as though it was a misprint on the menu. But I really couldn’t stand this junk.

Managed to suffer down about 70-90mL of this before the smell of the pot sitting on the table made me unable to eat my food any longer. Really it was easier to drink than just have it sitting around me… That sickly pseudo-tropical perfume aroma wafting off of it is just way to much. Reminded me of the smell of the trash area the dumpsters behind work smells like. Week old moist hibiscus flowers sitting with old used coffee grounds in a large sealed bucket would be close if some corn syrup smell was in there too. Oh, I KNOW! An old Capris Sun juice pouch left out in the sun by kids having lunch outside on a hot day.

Anyway, the smell from this leaves me unable to grant any positive score on the tea component that at least wasn’t cardboard, astringent, or bitter in spite of being brewed with water dispensed fro an espresso machine. But, hey, this made it hard for me to taste a liberally spiced meatloaf with sautéd mushrooms, garlic, and onions and made me feel a bit ill to my stomach from the liquor aroma.

Gross – I don’t wish this on anyone.

Plus note is that the Hojicha effectively obscured the remnant aroma and taste of this once I had the server swap it.

Preparation
200 °F / 93 °C 1 min, 30 sec
Kashyap

I gotta give ya credit for the wonderful evaluation of a tea that you ’don’t ’ like…too often its simply easy to say ‘I don’t like it’ its another thing to outline the disgust and find a sense of humor to reclaim the lost time with such a questionable tea

Thomas Smith

Hey, if you’re gonna say you don’t like something, say why. I know plenty of people who like the smell of Capris Sun and the like – they’d probably love this for the same reason I can’t stand it.

Molly

I enjoyed this review even though I enjoy the tea you’re reviewing… I just thought it was extremely descriptive, and I oughtta aim for that. I love the hojicha, too.

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82

Wow, this is so incredibly different in appearance and dry fragrance from the past couple years! It is no longer a tightly balled tea with the looks of an old-style dark Tieguanyin and is no longer evocative of dried apricots prior to brewing. Now it’s a wiry, dark, twisted-leaf tea with the looks and smell of a small-leaf, charcoal roasted Wuyi Yancha or a particularly roasty Yixing Gongfu Hongcha. Now it is immediately identifiable as a red/black tea the moment the bag is opened. I really thought I got the wrong tea in the mail and even called them up to verify that this is what this year’s is like.

So why am I okay with this having the same name and not bothering to create a new entry to accommodate a different style? Well, first it’s because it’s by the same producer from the same plants. Second… I would have a hard time telling the two versions apart by taste. Color is a bit more crimson in the first infusion but back to the red-orange brown coloration of its previous incarnations in subsequent infusions. Aroma, taste, tactile impression, nose… they are all right in line with tasting notes I’ve made before. Sweet, perfumey with ripe apricot and prune qualities, and lingering woody spice notes. Charcoal fragrance does not appear in the cup at all. Won’t change the score since this is still really good. I’m impressed that the flavor isn’t obviously different after the rolling style has changed so much.
Brewed 4g/100mL with 95C water for 1min-1min-1min.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 1 min, 0 sec
TeaBrat

I have to say the name of this amuses me, it sounds like something you would get from a pot dealer. Sounds yummy though!

Azzrian

Sounds great!

Geoffrey Norman

I wonder if it uses anthocyanin-laden leaves like the Purple Bud pu-erh from Yunnan.

Thomas Smith

Yup, and it definitely has similarities in flavor when said Yunnan is processed as a Dian Hong.

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70

After the hype around this tea I was a bit let down. It is, indeed, a very nice dancong but it seems a bit… safe.
I’ve grown accustomed to a sort of tug in two directions from Phoenix Oolongs. On one side we have fresher, lighter tasting contenders that seem jubilant and crisp – really reminiscent of champagne to me. On the other side we have two teams pulling the same direction towards potent, mulling, and lingering tendencies with either a brooding mob-boss air (woody, cedary, cigar-tinged, with afteraroma that sits in yer throat for days) or a gruff fifties dad character (heavy fruits and a bit of pipe tobacco with a background of smells akin to a sawdust-littered garage workshop). Ultimately this side is more like port or brandy to me. This tea is coming off to me as some kid who sits in the middle of this tug of war and cries “Can’t we all just get along?”

Again, I mean no offense here and the rating I give is only representative of my personal preferences for character expression among Fenghuang Dancongs and excitement level when drinking this. It’s darned tasty, clean, and has definitive dancong character in spades. What catches me off-guard here is the lack of necessity of praying to the great caffeine overlords on high that you won’t screw the thing up by missing your mark by a second or two while brewing. The astringency is muted even when using boiling water. A variance of 4g per 100mL hardly put a dent in its character. Using 85C versus 100C made little difference. Tactile impression for nearly every infusion has been well-balanced throughout the mouth. And, unlike the description led me to believe, every cup up to the 9th infusion of second round was very consistent in base character.

It’s that consistency and balance that puts me a tad at odds with this tea. A tea that’s a pain in the arse to brew and jumps hither and thither whether you want it to or not is neigh impossible to replicate results with at times but it keeps it interesting. I love aggressive dancongs and yanchas that throw that at me. I like when every cup is a new adventure more than a steady flow from one character to another over the course of infusions. I definitely look for that in some (hmm, actually most) of my teas, but for dancongs I want a bit more excitement. Cup size matters here – when poured into a small gongfu serving cup there is far more deviation in character than in my cup that holds a whole 200mL, so this tea would be far more exciting when sharing amongst a bunch of people from a small pot compared to pouring it all into one for a single person. Now, I essentially got what I was looking for in my initial brewing round with this tea, where I approached cautiously – it’s my freakishly aggressive brew round that left me puzzled as to why I wan’t getting jumps and twists of fate in my cup.

First Round: Tommy’s Pussy Little Babysteps Approach.
This is my baseline method when I first meet a new Phoenix Oolong and the way I tell most people to start in on ‘em if they haven’t screwed around with these teas before. Even really aggressive, broken leaf dancongs can be easily approachable under these parameters, so it’s about the least risky brewing method I know for bringing out good flavor without producing overbrewed characteristics.
4g/100mL in a heavy glazed ceramic gaiwan
85C
Rinse
30sec-30sec-30sec-45sec-60sec-1min15sec-1min30sec-1min45sec-2min-3min-4min
Typically I’d progress in 30sec intervals at the 2min point but the tea started dying fast on me at that point and the 4min infusion was severely lacking (3 min wasn’t much with it either).
While there were ebbs and swells of flavor intensity and aromatic expression, this was overall very mild and kinda buttery. Not Taiwanese Oolong creamy-buttery, o’course, but still smooth and “soft” feeling. The overarching base characteristics remained really consistent through each infusion. Gardenia and African Violet florals, Vanilla and Crème brûlée toasty-sweet nose/afteraroma, and a blanket lightly-toasted sesame seed nutty flavor foremost above everything in every brew. ‘Round the third-fourth infusion a secondary set of floral-vegetal characteristics akin to spices came through but they were not obvious enough to pick out and identify until I encountered them in the next brewing round when a touch of astringency helped key them out.
Highly approachable when brewed this way. Very consistent and clean. Sesame seeds really took the bulk of the flavor stage.

Second Round: Pack As Much Tea Into The Pot As You Can Approach.
This is how I generally prefer to brew these (well, with somewhat cooler water and without the break), but it requires a basic understanding of a particular dancong’s habits beforehand. There’s typically a risk to overbrew with this approach and it’s less likely to preserve light floral and fruity aromatics but it usually garners the greatest diversity of flavor for me. I’m using water just off a boil in the hopes of pushing the tactile impression on this tea since the safer brewing method produced such a light mouthfeel.
Used my 180mL Zi Ni Rong Tian pot for Fenghuang Dancongs in this round.
Using this level of concentration, leaves have a real tendency to displace water over time (more so with rolled oolongs), so later infusions are inadvertently brewed a tad bit stronger while more leaf surface is available to brew as well. However, pouring from the kettle into the pot with high velocity is sort of necessary to churn the leaves a bit.
Water shortly off a boil
Rinse
9g leaf / 155g water
13sec-10sec-10sec-12sec-15sec-20sec-20sec-20sec

[break]
Rinse
9g leaf / 135g water
30sec-30sec-45sec-1min30sec-2min-2min30sec-3min-3min30sec-4min-4min30sec-5min-7min
Final infusion measured at 9g leaf / 120g water

Flavor smoothly progressed from one infusion to the next, sometimes with hardly a change at all. Probably the most consistent Huang Zhi Xiang cup-to-cup I’ve had. I suspect I could easily replicate the flavor sets I got out of these without much effort even if I push the first few infusions a bit harder.
Very first infusion probably shoulda gone for around 20sec and second-third infusions around 15sec. Mild. Little perceivable astringency. Most teas and most brewing methods I’d go for I hope to limit astringency, but in dancongs I feel it makes for a vital component that helps add mouthfeel since they have relatively little taste and rely predominantly upon aroma and nose. The 12sec and 15sec infusions were the most pleasant of all the expressions I’ve gotten from this tea and I strongly believe it’s more a byproduct of them being the fourth and fifth steeps at high concentration than the duration of the steep time. Greenhouse florals and faint mustiness come through nicely in the afteraroma and work well with the light acidity and faint astringency though the body could be thicker (again-longer brew time).
When I reached the 20sec infusions, I finally got those secondary florals again. I’m reluctant to say “smell” since the aroma was so light and you don’t get these from the liquor aroma – it’s going back through the nose from the mouth (the “nose” of the tea). So I’m going to say it’s the “taste” of the air when walking through an almond orchard mixed with that of an orange orchard (neither in bloom). Xing Ren Xiang frequently comes off as very much like the aroma of an almond orchard in bloom and You Hua Xiang has the aroma of a lemon orchard in bloom while this has more the leafy character of these from summer – essentially the taste of the air around a few street vendors I stop at when driving through the Central Valley. Faint Rosemary and Thyme spice notes fleet into this one. Later it is more of a shadow of spearmint, but really not obvious to me at all in the larger cup (only picked it out ‘cause I’m pouring ~10mL into a little cup on the side).

After the several hour break, infusions started moving towards a more mineral expression. Really not much flavor until it cools down and then the aromatic characteristics come back into play within the mouth. Soft and crisp with a light lingering afteraroma similar to tulips and violets in a greenhouse. Once the cup goes lukewarm, more gardenia, vanilla, and citrus orchard characteristics come out and I finally get some of the woody notes mentioned in the company description. Sweet, creamy taste very similar to sweet brown rice is noticeable once cooled in the second 30sec infusion and a tad more astringency helps promote a pleasant twiggy taste. The 45sec infusion is about the same as the previous one but with a bit more citrus peel and overall starting to fall a little flat so I ramped up the time a bit faster than I normally would (I prefer to progress in 10-15 second intervals at this concentration). Rice and sesame seed share dominance from this point on and the astringency provides a pleasant balance to the moderate body and vanilla-floral nose. Few characteristics are present in the liquor aroma – almost all identifiable aroma keys are from the mouth leading back up through the nose. The liquor aroma at this point is faint and kinda similar to “honey and cream” scented moisturizing hand soap… which isn’t really like honey nor cream in any way unless you boil the hell out of them. For the long infusions (2+min) the flavor is all cooking rice and lightly toasted sesame with some stir-fried bamboo shoots hiding underneath. It’s possible to get a wider range of character by pouring into a little gongfu serving cup since it cools down so rapidly, but inside a cup holding ~100mL the range of character is significantly truncated unless allowed to sit to a barely-warm temperature. Once cool, the long infusions are pretty uniform with a creamy-sweet nose, moderate body, very slight mouthwatering effect towards the front from light crisp acidity, lingering parching astringency across the tongue, faint sesame flavor and gardenia nose. Slurped from a small cup showcases some nice woody tones at this phase.
Flavor seeeeriously slacked off and started going pool-waterish at the 4min30sec infusion and the following 5min infusion wasn’t much worth drinking in spite of the tactile impression and taste not really changing… Loss of aromatics. Honestly, the final 7min infusion was more to weigh the pot than for taste, just ‘cause I was curious what the displacement wound up coming to by the end. Really it had little discernible flavor, the body was really light, and the astringency parched the tongue and throat uncomfortably so I just set it aside and used it to wash down some rice I went and made (so much tea with the character of sweet brown rice, I figured why not make some).

Very pleasant overall. If I had more I would screw around with a 9g/100mL concentration and a full minute initial infusion using 95C water right off the get-go. It’s good enough that I feel inclined to buy some to experiment with, though I’d feel guilty choosing this over the other teas I got in this package of samples from Geoffrey at Verdant.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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93

Glad so many folks took so many comprehensive notes I happen to agree with ‘cause I just sat there and brewed this over and over with the attitude of a little kid blithely playing with a new toy. Okay, maybe I also rambled on and on about the merits of well-done puerh and the sad state of poorly made wo-dui teas or wet-stored teas for a little over an hour while sharing this with a neighbor, then proceeding to brew nine very different teas back-to-back into the night before returning to this, once again. When all was said and done, we’d been tasting tea for about four hours and only one tea out of the ten we tasted was capable of blowing this one away. But, hey, this tea was a highly effective springboard to drag an unsuspecting Matcha drinker into the realm of puerh and take him on a trip of different processing styles and techniques. Come to think of it, he’s one lucky duck having this be his first puerh!

I got this beauty as a roughly 11g sample from Geoffrey (THANK YOU!) and used it ALL in my 200mL Zi Ni Shi Piao pot for Shou Puerh using water brought up to 98C and occasionally drifting down to 87C before being refilled and heated. Last pot was the 11th infusion and I’m sure I could’ve milked a few long brews out of it to finish it off but it was competing admirably with one of my favorite teas of all time and I was running out of purified water. All infusions were around 30-45 seconds except for maybe one cooler steep I let go a little while. Color had great clarity and swung from deep yellow-orange to red-orange and lingered in the red-tinged range but overall had the appearance of Port only once really venturing into the range of red wine coloration.

Exceptionally clean yet very full bodied. First couple infusions had a nice resinous tang and softwood sweetness but it really started to shine ‘round the third and fourth brews. Fourth infusion was a big, fat, teddy bear hug over my tongue. Oh so warm and cuddly. Infusions 4-7 were graceful and borderline sensuous. Mouthwatering, brandy-like (neighbor said it was like a good whiskey) and with a comforting flavor and aroma reminiscent of wet river rock and antique wood.
Okay, that’s not good enough… “Antique Wood” doesn’t carry the weight this did for me, as it carried a very particular scene.
There’s this “World Goods” place a few blocks from me that just went out of business that had a terrific but frighteningly expensive range of furniture and various wood and paper goods produced by tribes from the Indo-Pacific and Africa. They had several massive solid teak four-poster beds placed intermittently among sandalwood trays sitting atop carved hardwood cabinets. A few years back, my then-girlfriend and I laid down together on one of these beds to see if $20,000 was really worth it for a frame. The comfortable feeling of laying in each others arms on that warm afternoon in the loft above that store filled with the smells of teak, bamboo, sandalwood, hand-pressed papyrus paper, dried lotus leaves, and the faint hint of coconut oil in her silky hair accentuated with the all-too-appropriate sounds of bamboo wind chimes and a trickling fountain wrapping all together in one of the sole truly pleasant memories from an otherwise not-so-good relationship… This tea dragged that whole sensation and memory back up from the depths of my mind where I’d intentionally kicked it.

This is probably the second best (maybe tied for second) of any Shu Pu’er I’ve had. At roughly $1/gram I’d say this is a good deal for even 1.5x the price – 2x would be the norm for the range and durability of flavor I got from this. The only issue I have with the tea at all is the description relating to “mustiness”, of which there is only a tad in the wet leaf aroma alongside the smell of a riparian cave. I’d say replace that signifier with the word “Humus” or “Moist Bark” and it would be much more accurate and less suggestive of your average pile fermented tea.

I’ll be singing the praises of this pretty little thing of a tea for a fair while to come and just hope I can buy some more before stock runs out.

And as for the tea capable of knocking this and my socks off and halfway to the moon… I might consider writing about it if it finally makes it onto the online catalogue of the company it’s from and then I get time to attempt doing it justice. Knowing me, that’ll be after hell thaws from a deep freeze, but here’s hoping…

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec
Azzrian

LOVE your reviews!

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74

I got a few Verdant samplers from Geoffrey and this has been my second favorite so far. Unfortunately, I didn’t write notes when tasting the lovely Xingyang Golden Leaf ’98 Shu so I will only be able to write about that based on memory. It’s great sharing tea you feel needs to be appreciated by more than one person, but it leaves one wanting to enjoy conversing and talking about tea rather than writing stuff down.
I have just enough left to take another stab at this one and am tempted to incorporate tasting that with the archived notes I’m cutting and pasting now, but would kinda prefer to hold the remainder of the sample for a few months and taste again at the end of summer. I have just enough to brew in the same pot at lower concentration but still within my typical young sheng cha range. It’s a nice tea and I’d normally jump and buy it so I could experiment and draw a better impression (or, more importantly, put some age on it and see how it does) but really don’t have the money for it right now. So here’s my tasting notes transcribed from May 20th – been busy and haven’t really had the time to post ’em til now.

8g leaf per 200mL in my Duan Ni Shi Piao pot for young Sheng Cha utilizing a single rinse at 89C.

Infusion 1: 85C, 15sec. Toasty, edamame-like wet leaf aroma. Liquor aroma and initial impression very much akin to pure, light maple syrup. Crisp, light flavor with a sweetness that takes a moment to appear. Sweetness is similar to Basmati white rice. Faint green bean and edamame toasty-vegetal flavor with a juniper accent (halfway between berries and leaves). Moderate body. Clear, amber liquor.

Infusion 2: 85C, 15sec. Rich, raw sugar cane (whole cane) aroma and a hint of molasses now present in rice-like sweetness. Crisp mouthfeel lingers. More woody, with a pine bark characteristic balanced against a light longan fruit taste.

Infusion 3: 85C, 15sec. Less sweet. More wood (cherry tree twigs). Light back-of-throat astringency. Lingering light green onion note. Hint of soy sauce hiding in edamame skin base.

Infusion 4: 85C, 15sec with new water. Less sweetness (now like long grain brown rice). Still crisp, but more astringent (still light and towards rear of tongue and throat). Wet cotton taste. Very much like stir-fried water chestnuts and bamboo shoots with a slight cedar-spiciness. Alfalfa in base when gulped. Next infusion will be longer and cooler.

Infusion 5: 75C, 1min. Nearly same as last but now with a dry grass component (more like a dry field – not straw or hay). A bit of a clay flavor has taken on the roll of the base when sipped but alfalfa and dry leaves are evident when gulped. Somewhat pithy sour wash when cool.

Infusion 6: 75C, 2min. Sedges and bamboo shoots. Much more lingering nose and vaporous quality in the throat, but also more back-of-mouth astringency. Alfalfa still in base flavor. Viscosity still kinda low for Puerh but more evident in these longer infusions.
Watercress in back of throat provides odd juxtaposition to more dry earth and grass primary flavors.

Infusion 7: 70C, 2min. Color has suddenly shifted from an orangey-yellow amber hue to a muted gold with a hint of green. Color blends in well against my bamboo tea table. More crisp up front and quickly dies over much of the tongue with just a lingering snow pea crisp and sweet taste along the sides. Reminds me of staling Zhu Ye Qing green tea. Stark contrast to prior infusion has me thinking I’ll start with cooler water next round. Faint browned butter flavor in middle of tongue and nose sticks around for a while. The majority of noticeable flavor presents after swallowing – the initial impression is akin to heavy bodied water. Hmm, those were my first thoughts when having Yin Zhen white tea for the first time and this is drawing that memory from around 10 years ago… This lacks the honeysuckle and nutty notes and has that slight sour quality (now reminding me of white plum) but as it cools I’m noticing a similarity to Bai Mu Dan in a cucumber-like base that’s developing. Funny that this dying infusion is easier to discern these characteristics on – maybe a lower concentration, longer, cooler approach throughout next round will reveal more.

Out of the tasting notes suggested by Verdant, I only got cedar and juniper as obvious ones. If I’d read the description before tasting and writing all this out I’m sure melon and citrus would have plagued my tasting notes like soot in a house with a wood stove. In retrospect, many of the characteristics I wrote are the same I write about medium-oxidation Tieguanyins but I really didn’t think of that group of teas at all when drinking this, in spite of the company description. Similar in what elements you may find in those teas, but not similar in flavor to one-another.

Pretty darned tasty as a whole. Had two other 2006 shengs since taking these notes and this one’s a tad more approachable but less diverse in character to either (a Pasha Shan Haiwan Factory cake and a Mao Cha I’ve reviewed here before). I think this tea is great for enjoying right now but probably doesn’t have much to offer in the way of aging.

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 0 min, 15 sec

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86

Wow, did not think this would hold up so long while the Pinnacle has deteriorated so much. Both are still very good, but this still tastes freakin’ awesome.

This has been vacuum-sealed (after flushing with a mix of N2, CO2, and Argon) since June and kept around 13C this whole time with very little temperature flux, so I kinda hoped it would still be good. I opened up the Pinnacle about a month ago (nearly the same storage conditions apart from a wider temp range from 13-21C) and was really disappointed with the quality drop, though I wasn’t surprised. Still good, just not wondrous.

I bought this in May and it has actually changed very little since June – especially considering Hibiki-an makes a point of selling Shincha with slightly higher moisture content. Even after vacuum-sealing, most of ‘em decline sharply around 6 months.

Brewed 7g leaf per 200g 75C water in a non-porous Kyusu with about 2cm headspace. Three back-to-back 1 minute infusions with water 92-89C in the kettle weighed out into a glass Chahai to settle down to 80C for pouring onto the tea, which evenly knocked down to 74-76C in the Kyusu.

This still smells and tastes great. Mellowed out from the potent vibrancy it once had, but it’s more approachable this way. Also, the bitterness is a tad lighter and sweetness a little higher (particularly in third infusion).

Leaves are bright “radioactive” green with stripes of green-yellow and folds closer to hunter green. Looks a lot like strips of grass cut lengthwise into quarter-widths. Somewhat lower percentage of small broken bits than most Senchas… Actually a little less than my bag of Pinnacle, which may be a part of why one staled a bit more.

Dry fragrance is like a watered lawn in spring. Wet leaf aroma is the smell from the mulch bag after mowing that lawn. Liquor aroma is the smell of an overgrown yard after a shower or heavy watering on a warm day (about the same smell from a rice field) and a tinge of hay or the smell that comes off a tatami mat.

Really good body for Sencha. Right at the higher end of what I’d call medium body for the first infusion. Light, crisp acidity and faint astringency are both evocative of Jade Rice. There’s this rich pollen character in the first infusion that drops to coyote bush flower notes in the second and light carnation notes in the third infusion. Very refreshing, lightly grassy-floral with a lingering vegetal sweetness. Second infusion has a light tartness like a bing cherry, but it’s just an accent note. The third infusion’s finish is surprisingly evocative of the finish left by peanut butter on wheat toast… Now that’s a characteristic I’ve never gotten nor expected of a Japanese green! Just a light accent in the third infusion’s aftertaste, but really pleasant and interesting. It sticks around for several minutes, too. Yummy and unexpected.

This is an excellent tea that is a great call-out to spring. It’s kind of uncomfortably warm out today, so I’m in summer-tea mode. Yesterday was 26C out! I guess California’s skipping straight from Autumn to Summer with only a couple weeks of spring-like winter between. As a foul weather outdoorsperson, I’m a little at a loss for my usual birding, hiking and kayaking season, but it is certainly helping me burn through my holdout green teas that are hiding about.

Preparation
175 °F / 79 °C 1 min, 0 sec

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Bio

Tea Geek.

My focus is on Chinese Wulongs and Pu’er but I’m all over the place. I tend to follow a seasonal progression of teas, following the freshness curve of greens through summer and rounding the cooler months out with toastier teas and Masala Chai.
With the exception of Masala Chai milk tea I’m a purist at heart. While I was originally snagged by Earl Grey with bergamot and make blends for gifts, I very rarely go for scented teas or herbals and can’t remember the last time I bought a tea that was blended. Pure tea is just more interesting to me than the product of mixing flavors. I do understand and appreciate their existence, though.

I upload some blends I make or special prep teas I nab under the company name “Green Raven Tea and Coffee” and the vast majority of these posts will be blends crafted to create flavors/characteristics not inherent in any one particular tea.
I’ve worked as a tea buyer for a smallish cafe and try to keep apprized of shifts in offerings even when not selecting for a business so I wind up sampling a ton of wholesale samples from a couple companies in particular but try to branch out to as many companies as I can find. Until Steepster integrates some form of comparative tasting feature, none of my cupping notes will make it onto my reviews unless wrapped up into something I feel compelled to drink multiple times on its own.



Since all the cool kids are doing it, here’s my big fat ratings scheme:

0-12…..Ugh, don’t wish on anyone
13-25….Bad, won’t touch again
26-37….Huh, not worth the effort
38-50….Meh, unremarkable
51-62….Okay, good tea
63-75….Tasty, really good tea
76-87….Yum, wonderful
88-100…Wow, really spectacular

There shouldn’t be many postings at all from me ranked 26-50 since unremarkable teas are unlikely to make me remark on ’em but to “earn” a score 37 or below I have to be disappointed to the point where others may ask for a refund or turn down offers even when free or offered as a gift (beyond stale).

I’ve got a ton of respect for anything rated 63 or higher.

For a tea to get 71 or more, it has to be pretty special and kinda blow my socks off.

The 90s are reserved for wonders that make me reevaluate my views of the world of tea as a whole.

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Santa Rosa, California, United States

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