93 Tasting Notes
Got this in a trade with Auggie a little while back and am pretty happy with it. First Japanese red tea I’ve had.
2g/100mL with 95C water at 3-4-5 minutes followed up with 9g/450mL at 95C and three infusions of 3 minutes each.
I was honestly a bit off-put when checking out the leaves. Very irregular in size and shape (think poorly graded FOP Nilgiri or mid- to high-elevation Sri Lanka) with some disconnected yellow twigs. Dry fragrance is hay like, creating this unshakable thought of those twigs being bits of straw. The leaves are a nice glossy black, though.
In a larger pot (9g/450mL) the brewed leaves in the first infusion smack of Douglas-fir tips. I actually wish some of that came through in the flavor or liquor aroma, as I love Douglas-fir tips as a tea alternative. Citrusy, refreshing and laced with resinous piney aromatics. None of this comes through in the cup, neither in a smaller cup nor larger one.
Liquor is bright red-orange (Qimen-like) in the first infusion and much lighter orange (Second Flush Darjeeling-like) in the second and third brews. Aroma is very similar to orchids in the second and third while the first is more like the smell of multiple cherry trees in bloom.
Very sweet, very smooth.
Woody with a bit of underripe fruit. At this concentration I’m not getting the tartness I would if I bumped it a little higher, and I feel this is a bit more approachable. Rather than cherry, I get not-quite-ripe white peach. The first and second infusions are laden with cinnamon when brewed in a larger pot at the same concentration, while more flowery expressions come out in a smaller pot/gaiwan. The florals are a comforting mix of tulip, cherry blossom, and (especially in the second infusion) a resounding Cymbidium orchid aroma. Each subsequent brew is sweeter than the last. Light citrus notes come out as it cools and also are more obvious in the secondary brews. I want to say the third brew is like lemonade, but it’s much lighter than that – more like citron-laced water with a sprinkle of white sugar, a drop of honey, and some orchid petals stirred with a stick of Saigon Cinnamon. There is a woody-malty undercurrent shared by all, but it is only a light base flavor that sort of turns to a sweet barley tea aftertaste.
Overall, this does have some similarity to a mellow Second Flush Darjeeling or a very good and lighter Autumnal Darjeeling or Medium Elevation Ceylon with very little astringency at all, but the body and smooth mouthfeel is more akin to a Taiwanese red… The closest tea to this that I’ve had would actually be Sun Moon Lake Assam-cultivar Taiwanese red. Mouthwatering, smooth, full-bodied goodness with a definite sweet side.
Not the most spectacular tea around, but very tasty. I’ll be looking to buy more of this next time I see it offered.
4g/100mL 85C water with three back-to-back 30sec infusions following a rinse. More oomph with a 2min infusion, but it doesn’t really improve it to brew it longer in this case.
Very mild – lost most of the high florals it once had but this has always been a soft Wuyi Yancha anyway. Very difficult to distinguish discrete aromatic or flavor characteristics but tasty nonetheless. There’s a wet cinnamon characteristic in the dry fragrance, wet leaf aroma, and in the flavor but absent in the liquor aroma.
Round mouthfeel – good body and a light mouthwatering effect. Barely a touch of astringency… reminiscent of Huang Guanyin or a medium roast & oxidation Tie Guanyin or Rou Gui, but minus any kind of bite in terms of either acidity or astringency – carries that light hay-clay-milk-cassia-pluot mixture of flavors but in a far smoother package. The hay-like character is actually more akin to the smell of an untouched kiwi in the wet leaf and like muted yellow plum in the flavor.
This is the last of this tea that I had laying about and, though it is good, it never much prompted me to write about it (largely since it’s hard to pick flavors apart in it). It’s really lost a goodly amount of the high notes it used to present in the dry fragrance but that’s all it’s really lost since 2009. This is surprising, considering how mild it’s always been, but I guess it follows suit with most Wuyi Yancha in steadfastness over time.
Easy drinking fare, just not terribly exciting. I’m leaving the rating where it was ‘cause I shouldn’t ding a tea for sitting around for three years.
Honestly, I’m just reviewing this tonight because this happened to be the first oolong from Imperial Tea Court I could find whilst rummaging through my bin of miscellaneous 10g and less bags and tins. Okay, I passed a few up until I hit a cliff oolong ‘cause I was in the mood… ITC specifically not because I’m adamant to plug the company (only really feel that way for Tillerman Tea, since it’s my favorite alongside Jing Teashop), but for the occasion of an upcoming event.
The San Francisco International Tea Festival is this upcoming Saturday at Imperial Tea Court’s Ferry Building location. Dunno how the heck an event is to be squeezed into that relatively small space, but hey – it’s a NorCal festival about tea so I just need to shut up and be happy. Here’s a cozy little link for all to share and gush over:
I bought two tickets but will probably be going alone, so if anyone happens to read this and is in the region and interested, I’ve got an extra seat reserved for the taking. Anyone around San Francisco and want to go?
Inspired by Angrboda, I felt the need to try something smokey today. Buuuut, as it turns out, my Lapsang-exclusionist practices combined with the worst organization of 20+Kg of tea you ever did see has left me scratching my head over where I had Lapsangish teas hiding about. It may seem a silly question to some, but why so little in my collection when I’ve reviewed more of that kind of tea than some of my favorites? Well, while I’m happy to taste samples and screw with brewing parameters to the extreme to challenge my prejudices on tea types, this is how I think of most Lapsang Souchong:
Yeah, a little smoke is nice… Just not enough to beat my senses to a pulp. And definitely not that chemically-tasting junk that has liquid smoke added to it.
Anywho, I gave up looking and just went with a particularly smokey Keemun-style tea instead.
I got a pound of this from ITI last April and it’s as potent as ever. I do take issue with the labeling as being “the finest Keemun” when it’s from Sichuan, but am glad they list the origin prominently in the title (unlike some of the resellers). In terms of fine-ness, or whathaveyou, it tastes good but the “finest” thing about it is the grading. There are so few leaves in here that are not the same approximate length, width, color, and degree of rolling. That translates into this being one of the most consistent teas per pot if other parameters are held in check when simply measuring volumetrically. I was having a real doozy of a time trying to brew tea this past week when I forgot my centigram balance at work several times (personal control issues – not difficulty getting good results), but with this tea it doesn’t much matter. A level tablespoon comes out being within 0.07g over the course of 25 samples… Yeah, there’s some variance and I ought to take more samples than that for significance and such but I’m lazy and how many people really feel a crushing need for 0.01g resolution or greater every time they brew tea?
This time ’round I went for a couple big mugs of tea rather than my usual smaller service with more infusions.
8.5g tea in water brought just to a boil so in the 30sec gap between preheating and pouring on tea the temp in my 1.5L kettle had dropped to 99C. Reheated same water to like temperature for second infusion. Water mass was 357g first round and 348g for the second infusion using 4min and then 5min steep times.
Dry leaves are wee lil’ black needles coiled tightly lengthwise with a smooth curve making most of the bag sort of resemble cartoony eyebrows. This tea would actually work well in combination with a couple dots to make all sorts of little smiley or frowny faces… I’d better keep that idea for later…
Dry fragrance is a mix of hardwood smoke, burned pine wood (not pine smoke), dried and live cone bearing horsetail ferns, and a sort of shifting fruit characteristic. Bugs me when fragrance shifts, ‘cause unlike aroma and flavor it’s most likely due to desensitizing to the smell. Opening the bag, this goes from woodsmoke and a bit of tar to burned wood, to the smell of an area a grassfire razed a week or so prior, to the smell of peaches then oranges then apples. Lesson of the story – if you want smoke to be perceivable in your cup, don’t stick your face in the bag more than a couple times over the course of a minute (here, I am evaluating fragrance mostly after drinking a full mug, before my second cup).
Wet aroma is like wet burned conifer. Something like redwood with that sort of fibrous moist bark aroma, but more of a Bishop Pine “snappier” woodiness tossed in. Wet leaves are wet leaves, though, and don’t tell tons about the flavor compared to the other indicators – seems to alter the experience more when preparing smaller quantities back-to-back, smelling the rising aroma upon pouring fresh water each time. A bigger pot captures more liquor aroma on the walls, though, and the mixture can be intriguing. In this case, the mix is surprisingly Nilgiri-like (especially following the second infusion) in a moist squashy and light tulip aroma.
Liquor aroma is oak and moss smoke in equal parts with rose petals. Shifts to the smell of oranges in a bowl after it starts cooling. Not much more to it, but I suspect it’s largely due to certain aromas obscuring others since I can get crazy nectarine, carnation, black pepper, raisin, tomato sauce, jack/mozzarella cheese, ocean water, leather, cardboard, or even the smell from inside my boots after a long hike from this depending on how I brew it. In general, sticking to around 2g/100mL and above 85C will avoid the funkier aromatics.
Body is at the light end of full-bodied or high end of moderate-body. While there is a light sharpness to it, it’s more in terms of acidity rather than astringency; overall it’s pretty smooth in that regard. This tea is potent, but not with any particular characteristic as most discernible flavors pop in and out with relatively light tones on par with the intensity of a Wuyi Yancha prepared under gongfu prep guidelines. Overall base is like charred hardwood (or driftwood) but other characteristics override it in sequence. Flavor starts off appley. And pie crusty. Toss in some raisins with a bit of those little grape seeds in ’em as it progresses. Fair amount of light cassia in the aftertaste. Light bite starting mid-draught and carrying onward mixed with afteraroma conjures up a heatless similarity to black Tellicherry Peppercorns. There is a vegetal undercurrent (more obvious in second infusion) with a good similarity to Brussels Sprouts but it remains in the background as a vegetal accent so no worries to you haters of all things Brassica. Aftertaste leaves lingering reminder of unflavored oatmeal and grilled veggies – kinda sweet, kinda snappy, kinda chary, and ultimately satisfyingly heavy.
I mentioned before that there lies the potential for funkiness in this guy. It doesn’t reward high-concentration-short-brew methods well, though you can produce interesting flavors from it. It winds up with off-balance body to liveliness and the potency of aroma doesn’t match to taste intensity at all. Likewise, it can come off wussy in taste when knocked below 1.5g/100mL and/or 3min steep. The period between 2:30 and 3:15 shows a pretty big difference in brewing this using near-boiling water. Beyond 4:30 at 2.5g/100mL or greater pushes tannic acidity, but it’s still approachable at 6min below 3g/100mL, if a little tart and monochromatic.
Great alternative to Lapsang. Doesn’t hold a candle to some Qimen Hongcha out there at all. Goes great with a wide variety of food – especially carby foods. Drink this on a cold winter night with some bread pudding and you’re in heaven. Have with oatmeal in the morning and you may be satiated ’til dinnertime. Gotta be in the mood for it, though.
I didn’t feel much compelled to revisit the Golden Monkey from earlier today and want something I’ll drink a full 200mL per serving of. That generally means puerh for me unless I’m testing something out for work. I’m glad to see someone happened to have this guy already in the system. Scott is still selling the 2006 bingcha that he listed alongside this little guy, but ran out of the mini-bings quite a while ago.
I bought this mini-bingcha right at the start of 2009 and have pretty much left it alone since that summer. I haven’t been moving it around like I should have – it’s been sitting in its wrapper, inside the box, inside an open nylon mesh bag, in the coolest corner of the coolest room in the house since mid-2009 when I should’ve introduced it to a bit more warmth at least once by now. Sitting raw puerh in cool, dry conditions really does nothing for it but allow the outside to stale a bit if it has any breathing room. The innards are still able to shift for the positive a tad in terms of mitigating bitterness, but that’s about it.
Three back-to-back infusions at 85C and 30sec each following a rinse. I used flakes pulled from the top portion of the cake, penetrating to the center depression on the other side, further separated (wriggled, not snapped) into portions .5-1.5cm in diameter and shaken free of any dust. 8g/200mL in my duan ni shi piao pot for young sheng puerh and mao cha.
This is a very green cake with a lot of silvery buds across the top. Underside has a bit more twigs, but the leaf composition is pretty young overall. Steeped leaves are slightly muddy yellow with a greenish tinge (in-between olive and a cooler ochre). Infusion color is gold and very clear.
Dry fragrance is very much like old Bai Mu Dan… Dry fallen leaves, a touch of hay, a hint of carnation and muscat grape. Wet leaf aroma is crazy-scary-smoky. Very potent right after a rinse and diminished to a more approachable mix of burned driftwood, gravelly sand, and juniper after three short infusions. Liquor aroma carries these notes in a milder aspect and accompanied by a distinct pollen characteristic. Combines wonderfully with the taste, which is lacking any smokiness.
First infusion is very crisp, high end of moderate body, and lightly mouthwatering. Mineral impression makes up bulk of flavor. Mixed with liquor aroma it is highly reminiscent of the taste and smell of the air on a cold foggy summer morning on a beach on Mendocino’s coast. I suppose Monterey is similar, but the beaches tend to be a tad coarser sand and the combined smell of cyprus and redwood is a bit more prevalent farther north.
Second Infusion brings pollen characteristics to the tongue in a big way. Pleasant, light bitterness and almost-yolk, slightly cottony flavor pops in a second or two after swallowing with a resurgence a few more seconds later. Leaves the mineral taste (gravelly) lingering afterwards… Comes off as a rocky crisp-sweetness. When cooled, the rocky and polleny flavors merge to form sort of a warm, dry hardwood flavor.
Third infusion has a much more evident crispness to it – I hesitate to say “snap”, as that has more of a vegetal connotation to me and “zing” a tannic connotation, but it is a very refreshing and lasting crispness. Walk up to a waterfall on a warm day ‘til the cold mist is soaking your clothes, open wide and breathe deep. Lotsa oaky leafy-acorny-woody-polleny goodness… Kinda tastes like Yosemite’s Mist Trail smells in late spring or early summer. As it cools, it takes on a sort of cattail characteristic in the nose – this is helped by a somewhat starchy aftertaste. More evidently woody as it cools, too. Body is a tad thicker now, but still just the low end of what I’d call full-bodied… about on par with 20% by volume sugar water. Speaking of sugar – about a minute after finishing my cup the back quarter of my tongue and throat are hit with the same encompassing sweetness I get when emptying a packet of Stevia or Splenda into a paper cup and forget to hold my breath. Certainly not the sweetest tea around, but with this late aftertaste I’ve gotta categorize it as a sweet tea for me.
Very tasty and easy drinking, whereas it was a tad more aggressive than I preferred right when I got it. There’s enough potency that I feel I can let it rest in its cool hiding spot another year without adverse effects, but I do think it’s time that this summer I’ll expose it to a bit more warmth and humidity. Kind of a joke to attempt any aging on a mini-bing, but if I can succeed in not finishing this off super fast I’ll be happy.
Wanted to post something but didn’t want to spend forever dissecting it so I grabbed something tasty but somewhat one-dimensional… Okay, maybe it’s two-dimensional if care is taken but I brewed this at twice the concentration I ought to have. I’ll consider posting a second note tonight if I decide to brew again at a more appropriate strength.
4g/100mL, 3min-4min-5min progression with 95-93-90C water.
Leaf Appearance – Really long, near-black leaves mixed with largish corkscrew shaped leaves of same color and disconnected, largish golden buds (all three in roughly even proportions). Low density; 1 Tbsp = 3.75g.
Dry Fragrance – Cherry chocolate chip bread.
Wet Leaf Aroma – Black olives… WTF?
Liquor Aroma – Even more cherry chocolate chip bread.
Liquor Color – Yellow-orange brown. Translucent – enough clarity to see bottom of cup.
Flavor (Hot) – Bready. Chocolatey. Cherry-y… Plum pit woodiness.
Flavor (Cooled) – Crisp and cupric. Acorn-like. Pinot Noir faint tannin. Artechoke heart.
Aftertaste/nose – Malty. Faint plum skin and spiced bread (nutmeg & cassia) toast.
At this strength the discernible characteristics are somewhat shortlisted. Shorter brewing times with high concentration doesn’t really help this one too much… I like it better ’round 2g/100mL at the same times I used here. Still, it never becomes too dynamic – just comforting and easy drinking with varying degrees of intensity (mild overall in all aspects).
Tasty, but far from the “King” of anything. Tanyang/Tanyangcun is just to the south of Shouning county’s administrative border, under the auspices of Fu’an. But if there’s one thing I’ve leaned about terroir and city/county borders by living in wine country, it is better to look at mountain ranges and relative proximity to bodies of water than where county lines are drawn. This tea tastes very little like the classical “Panyang” or “Tanyang” red teas… Or either of the other two famous MinBei HongChas (Zhenghe/Changde and Bai Lin/Pak Lam), though I’m certain this has far more to do with leaf size than locale. It tastes very much like a mild red tea tossed together with a very mild dark oolong. Sort of in-between a very bud-heavy Bai Lin and one of the TTES reds like the #18 Ruby. I’ll leave it at that.
Inexpensive for what it is. Tasty but not great… It makes a fantastic iced tea in summer similar to Bai Hao Oolong but a bit more brisk. Picked this up last winter but still have around 150g left – really hasn’t changed all that noticeably.
Xing Ren Xiang is an interesting creature among the Dancongs for me. I’ve only had a few Almond Fragrance Phoenix Oolongs – two from other companies and three from Teance. Each so far has held a significantly greener character than the other Dancongs I’ve had. It’s been a good long while since opening this bag, so I might as well give it a go. I really do not worry about year of harvest with Wuyi Yancha or Dancongs, but harvest time is interesting for me. Winter harvest versus spring harvest makes for a pretty dramatic shift and in the realm of many oolongs this is felt easily as a contrast between teas expressing aromatics versus teas expressing body or tactile dynamics. In dancongs, most winter harvest teas I’ve had certainly seem higher in astringency when compared to spring harvest, but I don’t really get as wide a spread in expressiveness of flavor characteristics in the spring tea. Flavor consistency and slightly easier brewing can be a good thing, for sure, but I typically go for a dancong when I want each cup to lend something different compared to the cup before. Unfortunately, greater aromatic expressiveness doesn’t mean aromatic steadfastness and some of the highly aromatic winter teas that change and shift so dramatically do not necessarily carry the same durability as spring harvest teas. 6-9 infusions sure is plenty (especially to wrap up a day full of drinking tea like today) but is kinda wussy compared to the 15-20 I’ve managed to coax out of some other Phoenix Oolongs prepared at high concentrations.
While this group of oolongs is generally categorized as “medium oxidized” due to dry leaf appearance and liquor intensity, looking at the infused leaves typically tells a different story. Most dancongs I’ve had range between 20-30% oxidation, with only those labeled Song Zhong Dancong exceeding this just slightly and “commercial grade teas” reaching higher. O’course, percent oxidation is largely speculative and just based on an estimate of what percentage of the infused leaf appears reddish, not really how long or in what stages it is carried out by a tea maker and does not necessarily translate to direct expression of certain characteristics. As it stands, lighter ox dancongs or – more importantly – less completely dried/cured ones tend to have more intense fragrances up front but aromas may dissipate in a shorter time frame. More completely cured teas may seem even better after a year or two from processing while higher moisture content examples stale a bit just after half a year. This tea falls in the latter group and has definitely changed considerably in dry fragrance. However, staling of one set of characteristics does not necessarily make for flat tea, and this had an overabundance of taste elements that have mellowed nicely.
Another thing about my preference for dancongs lies in my brewing style. I start off with a gongfu mentality and then screw it way up. While I sometimes use an appropriate 4-6g per 100mL, I do like to use absurd concentrations of 8-10g for really short steeps following a double rinse. Tonight I’m using 10g in 100-120mL water at 90C with infusions following a double rinse.
Picture of the leaves from the website is all wrong… These are very green leaves with yellow veins. Very long, intact twisted leaves that can’t fit in even a very shallow tablespoon, let alone a teaspoon.
Dry fragrance is pleasantly floral and lightly nutty (more akin to pumpkin seed than almond, though).
Wet leaf aroma hits almond on the head, but not the nut. The wet leaves give off a heady perfume of an almond tree orchard in full bloom. A truly wonderful aroma I associate with warm evening breezes in the Central Valley (one of the very few pleasant aromas to come from the agriculture there, really).
Liquor aroma holds true to the wet leaf aroma – now how rare is that? Usually the lid of the gaiwan can give a good preview to an infusion’s aromatic expression, but the leaves tell a totally different tale.
First infusion (5sec):
Crisp and woody – oaky Chardonnay.
All flavor in front of mouth. Somewhat citrusy – pomelo skin. Flowery aroma fills mouth. Bullrush nose.
Second infusion (5sec):
Sandalwood resolving to incense cedar then balsa in aftertaste.
Brief but significant boysenberry sweetness associated with level of aeration for each slurp.
Third infusion (10sec):
Light forward astringency.
Persimmon flavor and aroma.
Lingering dried adobe brick-like mineral undertaste.
Woodiness stuck on balsa.
Crazy perfumey spicy afteraroma (between thyme and hops) and stevia sweetness pops up a minute or so after final draught.
Fourth infusion (10sec):
Much more intense – tannic.
Kind of a rust-like metal and peach pit tang.
Grape skin astringency.
Refreshing lingering crispness similar to taste of cool fog over a gravel road or the air right after it has finished raining on concrete.
Fifth infusion (15sec):
White rice, cinnamon, and a touch of muscovado sugar.
Dry grassland toasty character.
An oddly pleasant characteristic of blackened grilled whitefish.
Stevia-sweet late returning aftertaste from third infusion is present here as well.
Sixth infusion (20sec):
Snappy astringency and light lemony character very similar to eating young Douglas-fir tips.
Yellow nectarine skin tangy taste.
Taste of sucking on a raw almond (with skin intact) – starts lightly toasty-woody and turns to lightly sweet and nutty.
I could get a few more infusions out of this (prolly three more good’uns) but it’s late and I’ve gotta work tomorrow.
Pretty darn vegetal example of a Phoenix Oolong. It’s muted a bit since I first bought it, but in a good way. Takes a while for anything resembling almond nuts to pop up in the characteristics of this tea, but the aroma of almond blossoms starts off heady and sticks as a background character in the nose throughout the brews. Really good tea and it keeps shifting nicely. Can be a bit intense, but short brews help out in this regard. I’m kinda doubting that what is being sold on the Teance website is Winter 2010 like it’s labeled, since it’s left their listing and come back since then. What I’m drinking here I bought last year in late winter and the bag was stamped as “new harvest” so I am thinking there might be a website mistake. Either way, it’s changed since I got it but it’s still very good.
This is one of the teas I picked up at the start of autumn when I was creating base parameter sets for Korean Green Tea for the Tea app. I really hadn’t been exposed to Korean tea at all before this, though I’d tasted something someone told me was Korean tea. There’s a really good reason to not be familiar with Korean Green tea – there isn’t much, production is constrained to a pretty small area, and there’s much less of a tea culture spread there compared to China or Japan. There are two books I can find dedicated to Korean tea, though, so at least information is out there (though mostly lacking on the internet).
This is a wok-fired and tumble-dried tea with pretty attractive curled leaves with nice consistency and little occurrence of broken bits. This is the very last tiny bit of this tea that I have – only 1g so I broke out my little 60mL gaiwan and used 48-52g of water per infusion, using a scale rather than relying on water depth.
The retailer actually has a good picture for this tea (linked to description on Steepster, but go to www.shanshuiteas.com for a bigger, better one with images of wet leaves and liquor). Glossy little curlycues with even mossy green color.
Wet leaves are slightly yellowed green and incredibly tender. For having two leaves and a bud, the leaves are remarkably tiny and soft.
Liquor is clear, pale yellow. Actually looks like a light cooking oil.
Dry fragrance doesn’t say a lot. Kinda toasty-nutty overall with a whiff of green beans and carnation undertone.
Wet leaf aroma similar to the smell of a lid being lifted off a pot some snap peas were steamed in… Or edamame. Yeah, edamame pops up in my tasting notes for this several times.
Liquor aroma is similar to those soy beans as well.
I brewed four infusions back to back starting with 86C water and letting the temp steadily drop without reheating or refreshing the water. First three infusions I let brew for 2 min and the fourth infusion I let go for 4 min. The flavor, liveliness, and body of the first three infusions are really indistinguishable and the fourth is just a little different.
Very mellow with creamy mouthfeel, grape-like crispness, and very little discernible astringency (pretty darn smooth). Most obvious characteristic is honeysuckle – both the flower and nectar. Both chestnut and water chestnut are prevalent in the overall delicate flavor, lending a toasty but crisp impression. The latter is more obvious in the fourth infusion. Artichoke heart and pollen tend to be obvious flavors when brewed with a tad higher concentration around 3g/100mL but here there is more stir-fried bamboo and much more obvious sweetness. The first three infusions also have a light ginger hint to it, which goes really nicely with the toasty-sweet flavor and soft aroma. Again, edamame makes a pretty good backdrop across the board for the base vegetal flavor these other characteristics come out to play upon.
This was my favorite of the green tea offerings I bought from this company, though the other (more polleny and artichokey) teas were also pretty darn good for mellow teas. As a whole, they were pretty intolerant of hotter water, with a tendency to develop a cottony mouthfeel if brewed too long and back-of-throat astringency presenting with even very short times using temps even around 80C. This one can handle a bit more heat and time, but the best results I got for the group as a whole was using about 3g/100mL with 1 min at 70C for the greatest expression of flavors.
If you are interested in a tea with a toastiness level around a Yunnan “Bi Luo Chun” combined with the mildness of a Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun and some flower-like expressions more typical of Taiwanese light oolongs or white teas, this is an interesting tea to give a try to. Not used to green teas of this delicacy being so consistent across three infusions – let alone lasting for four. In most of my tests of the Shan Shui green tea offerings I got three infusions each unless the first was horribly overbrewed. Pricey, but nice and a new experience.
I’ve read some offhanded comments online by better tea tasters than myself relating to the quality of a few teas by saying things like “of course, Wang De Chuan offers this” but this is my first tea from that company. Wish they had an online shop, rather than just a physical presence in Taiwan so I could try more of their stuff.
This is a mighty green oolong, but not necessarily Jade. It’s definitely been well-roasted – it’s got this nice underlying caramely note in the dry fragrance, a bit of darkness to the green, and a pretty luster that makes the dry leaves look a bit insect-like. Flavor-wise, it has a lot more going for it than the Jade Alishans I’ve tried.
Dry fragrance is mostly creamy with a cattail-like vegetal base and that light caramelized sugar note.
Wet leaf aroma is cinnamon and warm cream when rinsed and after a few infusions takes on a more butter and orchid character.
Base liquor aroma suggests vegetation, but after a bit of the aroma lent from the flavor (nose) starts influencing things, it swings away from this.
Liquor is deep hanse yellow and perfectly clear.
Flavor is dynamic and expressive, with pretty different sets of flavors under different brewing times.
For this review, I used 4g/100mL in water 85-88C with three infusions at 1 min and the fourth at 2 min. Using shorter times and a tad more tea allows for more infusions and pushes buttery characteristics while a bit less tea and an infusion time up to 3:30 produces much fewer but well balanced body versus crispness and characteristics on the spicier side (with some molasses, ginger, and cookie dough notes not attainable in shorter brews).
Cinnamon stands way out. Taiwanese teas are supposed to be known for this characteristic, but I’ve only twice before had ones that expressed it more clearly than this. Aftertaste is distinctly similar to raisins. There’s a light, freshly baked bread quality and a toasty torn plant matter crispness that’s kinda hard to place, but is most similar to the smell of cut cattails to me. Moderate Body is largely unnoticed compared to the combined flavor and aroma.
More distinct flavor characters popping out. Steamed broccoli stalks, iris, sorrel, gravel, mustard greens, basil, romaine lettuce, bay leaf, and a little bit of white peppercorn and baby spinach. Aftertaste has rosemary and a touch of resinous leaves akin to eucalyptus or juniper. Late aftertaste has a dry juicy-spicy taste and mouthfeel very similar to eating a yellow plum. Body a little fuller than before.
Toasty-sweet macadamia nut expression. More mouthwatering now. Cinnamon is now more prevalent in the aftertaste, less obvious up front, and more like cassia/Saigon Cinnamon. Romaine and bit of spinach has been replaced by butter lettuce. Raised sweetness of infusion recedes and then pops back in. Sweetness, acidity, and light finishing dryness is pretty similar to the taste of cut up and microwaved Fuji Apple.
Thinner body and more vegetal-edgy. Leaves aroma of live bamboo in the mouth. Light pomelo bitterness and twiggy sweetness. Cooked apple is still there, but is significantly milder than previous infusion, though apple skin taste lingers and lingers.
Throughout all infusions, one particular set of flavors maintained itself either right in my face in the first infusion or as an underlying base in the fourth, and it totally tweaked my sense of smell. After the second swallow of the first infusion until a bit after the initial aftertaste of the fourth (the lingering light apple taste and nose from the late aftertaste of the fourth infusion is still with me half an hour later) I had the distinct mixture of flavors making up the sensation of warm cinnamon raisin bread with a touch of apple butter. Seriously mouthwatering, and makes me want to go out and buy the ingredients to make some french toast or bread pudding with cinnamon raisin bread… Very tasty, and not a quality I got at either shorter or longer infusion sets, though I changed concentration alongside the time shifts in those.
Really tasty tea. I didn’t think I’d be getting a yummy Alishan until at least this year’s harvest since the area was pretty beaten up by a typhoon a couple years ago and what I’ve had since then hasn’t been as stellar. Maybe this company had even better examples before and will later – I may have to bug some folks headed to Taiwan to pick up some tea for me later this year so I can find out.
Just to clarify – Orthodox Nilgiri teas that are produced in winter are withered with warm air (“hard wither”) before rolling and oxidation stages. This hard wither is the same technique that causes many Darjeelings to wind up with really green leaves – especially in the first flush – because the forced warm air is actually enough to effectively denature some of the polyphenol oxidase inside the leaves. For a really long time everyone’s just gone ahead and called these tease black teas since they are processed as such; leaves are withered, bruised/rolled, oxidized, and dried. Lately, with many groups throughout India experimenting with producing other types of teas, some of these hard-wither teas are being promoted as oolongs since they have intermediate levels of oxidation and have the capacity to produce similarly fruity aromatic characteristics and potentially smooth mouthfeel compared to other teas produced from the same estates. I take a little bit of an issue with this in most cases, since the teas typically come off as more of a blend of green tea and black/red tea, and the flavor certainly follows suit with vibrant flavors and levels of astringency I associate easily with these groups of teas but not really oolongs. To sort through the rather murky distinction between red teas and oolongs, for my purposes I categorize a tea as a red/black tea if the leaves are intentionally and purposefully rolled/bruised/kneaded/macerated to the point of internal leaf damage and expelling a significant amount of leaf components to the surface so as to oxidize both internally and externally whilst oolongs are bruised with the intent to perform intermediate levels of oxidation within each leaf. A long winded explanation for sure, but it helps in making sense of red/black teas that have a considerable amount of green leaf material and separating out very dark oolongs. I’m not saying that Indian teas classed as oolongs are not necessarily such, nor am I asserting that oolongs from elsewhere are actually red teas because of expelled leaf juices or homogenous oxidation levels on a per leaf basis – I’m simply saying that we ought to consider the intents in processing more than looking at the dry leaves and saying “hmm, this looks more green so let’s call it a different kind of tea.” With these iffy groups, however, I do have a tendency to poke around and open up the infused leaves to try to get a feel of how oxidation progressed within or outside of the leaves.
Whew. Now that I’ve got my corporate litigation-style semantics safety net under me, shall we actually taste and evaluate something?
This here’s a tea I was just about to tell the owners of the company I work for that we ought to buy and start offering at retail. I have this nice big two-pound bag sitting next to me and as I was listing its existence on Steepster, I go to ITI’s catalog and discover they’ve sold out and removed the listing. Now I’ve got a big fat monkey wrench in my maniacal plot to improve the cafe’s tea selection. Harumph. Maybe I’ll get lucky and it will pop back on after this February’s harvest/production is all said and done with, but I have the feeling it won’t make its way to ITI’s catalog ‘til at least May even if I’m super lucky in that regard.
It is not the best frost tea around, but it is freakishly awesome for the price. You could kinda argue that for many Nilgiri frost teas, though, since the price tag never seems to rise beyond the level of representative quality as is so common with Darjeelings. This is a really tasty tea, and I’m pretty bummed I won’t be selling it anytime soon.
Nilgiri teas are more and more frequently being labelled “Darjeeling Style” or listed as oolongs. This was one of the few cases where neither ended up in the official name of the tea but popped into the so called “description” made available by the importer. I assert that this is certainly Darjeeling-esque and is more akin to an oolong than most of what I’ve tasted from the region, but I’m firmly lumping this as a red/black tea. Mayhap I could create a category called “orange” teas for these Indian offerings to describe the color and just screw with everyone (we all love using the word in tea leaf size grading anyway, don’t we? hahaha).
As for actual coloration, there’s actually a whole lotta purple in these leaves. Leaf size is highly variable, from a couple millimeters up to a couple centimeters. Here and there are some leaf bits that are really green, though these are mostly just the remnant midvein and the leaf portion is ripped off within 1mm from it. These infrequent green bits are particularly brittle and look really similar to the color and quality of the older leaves in a lower-end Bai Mu Dan sample, though obviously twisted. The majority of leaves are smallish, mostly intact or halved leaves twisted and exhibiting a red-orange vein with either very dark mossy green-black or reddish brown leaf material with a hard-to-see-around gray cast reflection. Backing off and looking upon a mass with blurred eyes, the tea looks dark purple with a lavender reflection and red-violet highlights. Picking up a single leaf at random, you’d most likely pick up something that looks like a leaf from a Phoenix Oolong in miniature.
When Infused, there’s a lot more yellow and green alongside orangey brown. While oxidation is variable from leaf to leaf, close scrutiny of each individual leaf shows pretty darned homogenous coloration of the leaf material with the veins and stems mostly coming off as reddish (on the really green leaves they are olive yellow-brown). Very few leaves reach the level of red/brown of an Assam, Autumnal Darjeeling, or Chinese Red – pretty much only the stems and smallest broken bits. For the most part, leaves are greenish brown with a faint tracing of yellow and red on the very edge of the margins (both where breakage occurred and on serrations of the leaf).
The Liquor is super transparent and bright orange. More on the yellow-orange side, but not by much… Definitely closer to the color of a lighter Second Flush Darjeeling or darker First Flush than the bright red-orange of many frost teas I’ve had.
Dry Fragrance is plummy. Red plums – especially the skin. A bit of oak barrel that’s held a softer wine in it and some faint tulip as well. Not nearly as heady as some other frost teas, but pleasant. Take the fragrance of a mellow Second Flush Darjeeling and mix in some toasted pumpkin seeds and you’ll be pretty close to this guy, though I associate that tulip-like quality pretty steadfastly with Southern Indian teas. Very faint cocoa hint.
Wet Leaf Aroma is actually really pleasant and toasty. Again, faint cocoa here, but mostly tulip and sort of a hybrid of grilled zucchini and plum/peach. Light woody spice note in there make me think coriander, but it’s just a light accent.
Liquor aroma dissipates before the liquid cools, so it starts pretty full and ratchets way down to very slight while still warm. Tulips, uncut yellow peach, dried orange peel, raw yellow squash. Light, comforting toastiness is there, but it’s difficult to assign a similarity to it… Kinda like rye bread or the smell of sedges in a freshwater seasonal marsh that has dried up. Stay tuned for more aroma…
When brewed at 2g/100mL for 3 min in near-boiling water (heated to 97C) you get a dramatically different flavor expression than using different times or concentration. More leaves really pushes tangy notes of peach pit while less is more squashy, though in this tea it is very easy to add hot water to the liquor to modulate flavor from a hyper-concentrated brew. Temp below 85C makes for pretty lacking flavors, so the only reason to cut it before a boil is avoid boiled-water flatness and make it easier to avoid the astringency that easily pops up when brewed too long. Flavor changes resultant of brewing an extra 30 seconds to a minute can not be mitigated easily as when concentration is augmented.
When brewed at my preferred parameter set, this has a decent body, light briskness prompting me to consider it relatively smooth overall when drunk and bright when aerated/slurped, and a great steady progression of flavors and afteraromas. Mild peach and tulip/carnation. Oak-like tannic acidity. That nice toasty character melded with the fruit make this like a Bai Hao Oolong with more snap and a tad less body. There’s a bit of citrus (like dried orange peel with another hit of orange oil – no citrus juice at all) and wood, but the tastes are rather compressed up front and then they quickly give way. The great bulk of character of the tea is experienced after swallowing, as a huge host of aromas linger in the mouth. While I could try and parse these into individual characters, really they work in harmony to produce a shifting combined expression that moves from toasted bread/pastry to potpourri, to the smell of a field of wildflowers on a warm day (or a bouquet with some dried flowers mixed with fresh ones), and finishing with a progression of light flavors of cornbread, citron, calendula, and a faint lingering tulip or rose. It isn’t ‘til the end of the progression that the flavors in the aftertaste become really discrete and easily taken apart, but there really isn’t a need to tear apart the characteristics that make up the lovely medley at the beginning, right after swallowing. A secondary sweetness washes over the palate at the end of the aftertaste. Really pleasant and comforting, though only really obvious after you finish a cup so it feels like your finishing draught is sort of teasing you that you are out. Consequently, I went and had to brew another round of this (two sets of two infusions each total).
Alas, this is not a very durable tea in terms of multiple infusions. The third infusion is pleasant, but not nearly as exciting as the first two. When tasting this tea, I find myself progressing with the first infusion at 3 minutes, the second infusion at 4 minutes, prepare a third infusion for continuous brewing while I heat up fresh water for a new first and second infusion with fresh tea. Doesn’t really help to bump the concentration and brew really short, either, as it sort of leaves you with a whole bunch of pleasant infusions that are lacking the harmonious combinations of flavors achieved in the longer, lower concentration infusion.
Hmm, I guess I’d better go find another frost tea to taste against this. The group of teas are the more difficult to brew and expensive end of the Nilgiris, but it’s kind of a joke to call a Nilgiri expensive or difficult to brew, since even the most pricey (still relatively cheap) orthodox ones out there tend to make up for it in character and they all seem far easier to brew than most high elevation teas. Wish I could sell this in the cafe, but that’s how things go, isn’t it?
I get much better results on this tea using much higher concentration than recommended by Red Blossom. Using the suggested 2g/100mL and slightly cooler water makes this taste essentially like a typical (albeit very tasty) Yin Zhen white tea with a tad more heft. Using 5g/100mL and near-boiling water puts this much more in the realm of special-prep Jin Jun Mei, adding a whole host of aromas and flavors while still retaining the characteristics of a lighter infusion.
For the purposes of this review I used 5g in 100-125mL near-boiling water ranging from 93-98C, though the high end was used when the gaiwan had cooled a bit and the low end was used when it was nice and preheated so it kinda evens out. Each infusion progressed by one minute, so first infusion was one minute, sixth infusion was six minutes.
This is a mild tea. Fragrance, aroma, taste, and even color are pretty light… but gooood.
I keep wanting to say cocoa when relating to this tea in most all aspects, but really the characteristics are those I associate with the accents atop a dark chocolate bar rather than the actual chocolate base character. Really, the biggest similarity in dry fragrance and flavor is stone fruit. Peach/nectarine skin is prevalent in the dry fragrance while the wet leaf has more black plum aroma alongside the typical bran or toasted wheat aromas most bud-heavy Fujian red teas possess. Liquor aroma is very comforting and similar to honey on toasted wheat bread and a bit of nectarine preserves (here I will admit to a touch of cocoa powder in the aroma).
Flavor is resoundingly similar to a white peach with all kinds of light toasty goodness. Warm wheat rolls not long out of the oven (again, with a bit of honey). Second infusion wraps in an odd but pleasant note of caramelized onions and body is actually right up there with a lighter-bodied puerh. Third brings out a mixed spiciness of clove and cassia and the bran flavor has swung toward the taste of Grapenuts cereal and the taste of honeysuckle has come to play. Fourth was spicier, bringing in a California Bay edginess that comes off as slightly (but pleasantly) metallic while balancing against a slightly raised aspect of honeysuckle. By the fifth infusion the body and flavor have started to seriously wane and the predominant flavor is woody with a slight astringency making for a juniper character overall. Sixth tastes like an overbrewed Yin Zhen white tea… Not much more than a cottony flavor up front with lingering light astringency but a light sweetness pops up a couple seconds after each sip, making it taste a bit like water with a touch of honey in it, though there is still a faint wheat toast base flavor. When gulped, the honey expression is a lot more obvious in these brews, bumping this from a light sweet expression in aftertaste when sipping to a nectar-like tea when glugged. The first three brews is incredibly reminiscent of white peach, particularly when larger mouthfuls are taken.
Yummy toasty goodness. Basically a beefed-up Yin Zhen that is a bit nicer in cool weather. Pricey and you need to use quite a bit to justify the cost flavor-wise in my opinion, but I think the cost to flavor ratio is justifiable (though if using the recommended parameters I wouldn’t think so).