93 Tasting Notes

31

Not really worth the effort of brewing, but still not so bad that I finished three small cups.
Brewed 4g per 100mL water at 95C for three infusions 30-15-30 sec. Made ten other preparations, but this produced the most balanced and pleasant flavor.

All preparations leave this tasting like overcooked popcorn, but using high temp, relatively high concentration, and short-shorter-short steep time lends a more mineral roast note to the aroma and nose, slight butter impression, pleasant crispness as it cools, and a slight lingering sweetness common of brown rice.

Tastes nice cold, but wouldn’t want to load it with ice.

That’s about all I have to say about that. Fairly stale and there are much better hojicha examples to be had at not much higher than this ridiculously low price.

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78

Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……

8g, rinsed twice with 90 degree C water then brewed with 150ml 75 degree C water with infusions progressing 10 seconds each round, starting at 20 seconds.
This has become my standard method of brewing young loose Mao Cha or broken up young Sheng Cha and it’s the first time I’ve used it on one of my favorite Mao Chas.

Great tactile impression – body on par with chicken broth, light fleeting astringency, and lingering (and drippingly) mouthwatering effect. Fourth infusion’s sweetness reaches a sugary level. Sauteed broccoli and bamboo shoots definitely come to mind plus yellow plum undercurrent.

Alas, I’m down to only a couple pots left, and hopefully I’ll leave it alone for at least another year.

Preparation
170 °F / 76 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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53

R.I.P. SpecialTeas

In memoriam of this purveyor of many single-estate teas that were not particularly mind-blowing in quality but tasty to drink and spectacularly cheap, I feel obligated to make at least one post for a bulk selection I probably won’t be able to buy in small sampler test-portions prior to a poundage commitment for some time.

This is probably the best base-tea I’ve ever utilized for the purpose of blending. It has enough unique character to stand out on its own, the leaf size is such that it can marry with anything ranging from FOP to CTC grades without sifting out of proportion, its characteristics are reliable and steadfast across a wide arc of brewing methodologies, it can handle scenting as well as milk and sugar, it is slow to stale despite the large surface area per leaf bit, and it possesses a modicum of body and astringency yet caries itself with finesse when treated properly with a mind to the potential for delicate floral and fruit aromas. On top of all this, it can stand up to the spices and milk used in preparing Masala Chai milk tea as well as make a brilliantly clear, crisp, and refreshing iced tea. Were it not for the somewhat shorthanded range of flavors it has to contribute to the cup, lack of durability in brewing multiple infusions, and slightly off-balanced bitterness that arises after a 4+ minute steeping when prepared straight up, I would count this as a really good tea.
But I’m difficult to please.
This is good enough to serve guests I respect, but only if prepared attentively and I make sure I can quality-taste the brew before subjecting someone else to it. More than anything, I treat it as blending fodder (as I consider most red teas of any distinction that fall shy of $0.25 per gram), and in that capacity it is difficult to beat. TeaSpring’s Bai Lin Ju Hong is the only tea that really springs to mind as easier filler material in a blend than this one, and that really can’t take as much of a beating as a Nilgiri can in terms of cup-additions.

So, what of this shorthanded list of characteristics? It has enough to please, but it is reliable. This is a deadly fault in my eyes. I want teas that shift and change in the mouth, in the cup as it cools, and under every slight tweaking of brewing parameters that can possibly occur so no two cups are the same. If I liked my women as I liked my tea, I’d be screwed; I prefer expensive, difficult to find, demanding, finicky, potentially fiercely acerbic and astringent if livened beyond a level of insipid and boring nature, sought after to the point of potential rarity, classy and refined yet brazen and heavy handed, and simultaneously full bodied yet petite teas that require a commitment of many years of work, diligence, plying, and devotion before having any potential for a change from harsh and needy to possibly agreeable if there’s tremendous amounts of luck, let alone pleasing. Of course, I’ve only had perhaps one truly good cup of tea in my life, if even that… But there’s room for pickiness in such a vast arena as tea and just as much room for finding something good about more simplistic endeavors.

The “simplistic” here is because each style of preparation of this tea pretty much leaves you with little more than a tactile impression, a base flavor, a twist of high notes, a standard aroma, and an aftertaste. As I write this I have four infusions before me, all brewed with 2g in 100ml 95 degree C water in glazed ceramic gaiwans. Time intervals are 90 seconds, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, and 5 minutes. There’s a bit more bitterness to the 5 minute and the 90 second infusion is lacking a bit of body and the “volume” is turned down on all flavors uniformly, but otherwise they are difficult to distinguish from one-another. Brisk, nearly-snappy astringency that recedes easily. Moderate body. Coppery and twiggy base flavor. Orange peel, stir-fried vegetables, muscat and oaky Chardonnay high notes with a fleeting clove-spicy “ting”. Distinct squashy and rose aroma. Ferrous-mineral (like lava rock) and faint marmalade aftertaste. Not…much…else…? Perhaps a sub-current of the smell of a flowing alpine river throughout the draught and a slight raisin note hiding alongside the wood notes. Longer infusions bring more of a tannin influence into play, but not much more than what’s present throughout the base flavors in all samples.
It’s difficult to get a bad infusion between 2-4 minutes with anywhere from 1.5g-3g per 100ml and brewing large volumes doesn’t impede it too much as long as you cut it before the 4 minute point, unlike a Qi Men which tend to go somewhat sour and wussy if heat is retained. Makes a refreshing tea from lukewarm and cooler, but kills as an iced tea (even moreso when augmented with just a touch of a China and/or Sri Lanka red influence). If finagled with, you can get more of a blood orange aroma off it or some of the aromas evoking creamy, sweet, and softly sour assumptions to the palate like Taiwan reds, though it involves brewing with elevated ceilings in the vessel or augmenting turbulence through stirring/paddling. Not much leeway in range, but nice to have some control of expression in such a steadfast tea.

Where this excels is in conjunction with malty teas from Yunnan, low elevation Sri Lanka, or Assam. Balances with lively qualities without degrading body or tweaking the aromatic theme too far as the less-round aromatics of Darjeeling or a high elevation Sri Lanka would. I suppose I could lump a Frost Nilgiri with those two as well… This estate produces frost teas of elegance and complexity far beyond the norm, but this offering offers that approachable normalcy the former scoffs at.

This is nowhere close to the best SpecialTeas had to offer us, but it is the bulk order I will miss them for. International Tea Importer offers lots that are similar to nearly identical, but you usually have a minimum 2lbs you need to buy to find out if it’s a good fit or not between lots as well as from year to year.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 3 min, 0 sec
cultureflip

SpecialTeas is where I started my explorations in tea. Sad to see them go. I especially like their East Frisian broken blend. Huh.

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87

Too tired to post a review that will do this tea any kind of justice.

Lately I’ve been brewing it with anything in the range of 2-10g per 100ml water ranging from 160-Boiling and steeps as short as an instant pour-off and as long as 45 minutes. Typically I just haphazardly cover the bottom of my gaiwan three times over with tea, cool some water down from 95 degrees C by pouring into a separate, preheated vessel and then onto the leaves. Let the first brew go for about 2 minutes, 1.5 for the second, and add a minute for each subsequent infusion.

I have not had a single cup of this tea taste bad, and I’ve pushed it pretty hard. Doesn’t take much to force off the wonderful florals and delicate fleeting flavors using overheated water and a long steep, but this doesn’t carry nearly as much of a risk of astringency as the Bai Ji Guan that Imperial Tea Court had last year.

Soothing, brothy, nutty. Jasmine, iris, and cymbidium florals against clove, cinnamon, and slight curry spice notes. Mineral quality reminiscent of wet granite and heated Himalayan Pink Salt in the nose (no salinity to taste, of course). Fresh hay. Slight drying feeling, but not much. Fleeting astringency and light acidity. Tempura and egg notes come in the second infusion, accompanied by aromas of a deciduous woodland after a rain. It was pointed out to me there’s a note similar to Cannabis leaf – not a pleasant thought in my mind, but I agree though I draw more thoughts of stripping mostly dried husk off a warm, sundried ear of corn and a bit of resin. Light but lingering sweet aftertaste draws thoughts of a Bao Zhong or Jade oolong, but more caramel and rocky-tinged.

The leaves look green and the liquor is bright, clear yellow, but this is actually a heavily oxidized tea… The leaves start as an ivoryish color upon plucking so only the really heavily oxidized rims on the margins of the leaf have any redness to them (let alone the brown or black of its Yan Cha kin).

Delicious. This can not last in my cupboard more than a couple weeks before I need another 25g.

Preparation
190 °F / 87 °C 1 min, 30 sec
deftea

Interesting how different your experience of this was compared to Imperial Court’s version. I have ordered Bai Ji Guan from Teaspring and can’t wait to compare.

deftea

Did you use your normal yancha pot to brew this?
BTW Tillerman is currently out of stock.

Thomas Smith

Jeez, that was fast. I’ll have to go in tomorrow and ask what they have left, if anything.

I have two Yan Cha pots, but one is exclusive to Da Hong Pao and the other is predominantly used for old-bush Shui Xian (though occasionally DHP or Tie Luo Han and I wouldn’t feel bad using a Rou Gui in it if I ever find one that I enjoy enough to feel I ought to use yixing for it). I brew Bai Ji Guan and Shui Jin Gui in glazed gaiwans or teapots. I’d like to dedicate a pot to Bai Ji Guan, but I never have much on hand and it was hard enough for me to waste the Da Hong Pao in pre-seasoning my other pots.

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62

Don’t know what happened to this tea – this used to be one of my steadfast staples I would return to on a really regular basis and have been buying for years. It’s been replaced by a much lighter oxidation version with hardly any of those wonderfully chocolaty, sumptuous qualities I fell in love with. Natural notes of bergamot, rose, and fragrant hardwoods are also gone. More astringent, lighter body, more vegetal. The accentuation of florals is nice when brewed with lower temp water ‘round 85C, but not to the point that I’d go out of my way to get it.

Bumping it down 12 points. I’ll continue buying this after the next harvest period in the hopes of a return to the Noir-ish side that this tea used to embody.

Preparation
Boiling 5 min, 0 sec
cultureflip

I didn’t know that Mao Feng teas were ever made into reds. It sounds nice even though this harvest isn’t the best.

Thomas Smith

Mao Feng is just an open leaf grade (“Furry Tip”) with a two small leaves and a bud. There’s also Qimen Mao Feng.
I’m sure that the same sort of tea was produced, but Tao of Tea just bought this one this time around. Perhaps it’s due to a contract with a particular certified farm and the company just has to go along with whatever production methods the farm chooses from year to year. This particular harvest was not hit by any weather of particular note, as most of the Eastern green tea producing provinces were this year.

Glenn Hummel

My first taste of this was this year (2014) and it has the same attributes that were lamented about.

Thomas Smith

Thanks for the update comment! Pulled me to Steepster after being away for over a year.

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86

Spent the whole day outside in the cold yesterday, participating in the Christmas Bird Count. Want something warm and comforting to eat and drink to warm me bones… Very lightly smoked Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong and homemade stew with old vine Zin making up half the broth? Yes please.

Sorry ’bout the skeletal nature of the post – I want to finish the tea so I can eat my stew.

Brewed in a very heavy, glazed ceramic gaiwan.
Used 5g per 150ml boiling water for first three infusions: 2min, 2.5min, 3min.
Used 125ml for fourth and fifth infusions: 4min-95C, 5.5min-85C.
No rinse of leaves employed. Stopped at fifth, could’ve pushed a sixth at maybe a 7 min steep with boiling water.

Fragrance — cocoa and oak wood with a faint hint of pine charcoal
Wet Leaf Aroma — more natural cocoa powder, turned acacia wood after rinsing/washing with hot water.

1st infusion — deep brownish orange liquor. Baked wheat bread, prune, pile of raked leaves (Japanese Maple), slight Cyprus resin in aftertaste, Juniper berry + Lychee lingering fruit to lightly charred (and chard + rhubarb vegetal note) aftertaste.
2nd — Same as 1st, more rhubarb spice, bit more resin and body, woody sweetness. Bit of prune in mid-to-aftertaste. Faintly mineral. Hint of baked apples in nose.
3rd — Less tacky, more savory, grape leaves enter picture. Woody, more of the longan note versus lychee/prune.
4th — Slightly underdone chocolate chip oatmeal cookies out of the oven! Light, but decent body, somewhat crisp, and soothing. Eggy.
5th — Orange, transparent liquor. Orange oil in aroma and flavor. Dry and crisp. Meh-okay body, but not a lot of flavor. Good expression of WuYi mineral quality in aftertaste. Would still buy a cheaper tea that tastes like this as something to drink absentmindedly while watching a movie or sommat.

Overall Impression — in all aspects halfway between Golden Monkey and a golden Keemun. Tacky and smooth. Oak wood prevails throughout. Yummilicious.

Time for stew!

Preparation
Boiling 2 min, 0 sec

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60

AHA! Finished this just in time for giving as gifts!

The photo representing the blend is from the batch I made up December 2009, and I’m debating whether I ought to update the picture or just create a new entry for a new year since it’s so different. The 2010-11 incarnation is jam-packed with a LOT more gold leaves. Remember all those Golden Monkey, Keemun, and Lapsangish teas I’ve been going through? Yeah, it was me trying to find a right fit for this guy. Some folks do last minute shopping, I wind up doing last-second tea blending and coffee roasting.

Final test was a hard one to muster the courage for. You see, I generally get heartburn or indigestion from even a slight Lapsang influence… I think it’s mostly caused by something psychological, not physiological. Anywho, my final test for this blend is to make sure I can brew it with 3g in 150ml boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes and easily drink it down, yet there being a bit of astringency for the kind of people who like to put things in their tea.
Smoky, astringent, potent dark tea pushed to it’s limits and guzzled, rather than slurped without a testing sip and potential for churning my stomach while already ill and facing down an overloaded family meal??? fun…? =S
sigh
gulp

Low and behold, it was a success! Huge sigh of relief! Now I can sink into my chair and enjoy the rest of the cup.
Barbecue, pine and oak woodsmoke, walnut, and coconut husk. Wine notes of Cab. Sauvignon, Muscat, old vine Zin, and Syrah. Definite tannin structure here. Heady aroma more akin to smoked ham than burning pine. Light spice notes of black pepper, cinnamon, chipotle pepper, and nutmeg. A touch of baked pear tackiness.

This year I’m making room in this blend for larger leaved Yunnan and Fujian reds – sticking to small leaf bits for body maintenance and holding myself to a high Sri Lanka and Nilgiri percentage for clarity in iced tea as in previous years is not worth sacrificing the nice meaty, savory qualities I’ve been able to get out of this. I may or may not follow suit in following years and there’s still some room for improvement, but I’m calling it and tossing this out there as my Prototype 1 for the 2010-11 batch.

What a relief.

Preparation
Boiling 8 min or more

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89

Wow, another good Keemun!
I’m really happy to have stumbled upon this company – both the teas I bought from them really exceeded my expectations.

Really pretty leaves with a preponderance of golden buds. I’d have trouble telling this apart from Silk Road’s Golden Monkey by just looking at it, but the leaves are a bit smaller here.
I’m on my second preparation of this today. First time ’round I used 4g per 125ml with steep times-temps: 1.5min-95C, 3min-90C, 4min-85C, 5min-85C, 5min-100C. Second round I used 2g per 125ml and drank from continuous infusions using 95C water and finishing at around 27 minutes first brew and 15 minutes second brew.

Dry fragrance is a bit like hay in a barn… a clean barn, but still – straw and hardwood. Wet aroma pops up with some tart apple smell and more resinous redwood. Liquor carries an apple and pear cider aroma mixed with toasted sesame seeds, flax seed, and whole wheat pasta. Tacky smelling and sort of carries a smell that reminds me of a cork board.

Flavor is a tad earthy and ever so slightly bitter, like a potato or pear carries bitterness. Balances nicely with the refreshing crisp qualities it has. Toasty, and certainly “Keemun-like” but it’s a mellow one. Soothing yet with a touch of spice. Cassia, nutmeg, and allspice. Aftertaste like the taste the air takes on around dry sand or river rocks – slight dusty tasting mineral quality I feel as a bit “spicier” than more clay- or gravel-like mineral tastes. Very pleasant, and adding dimension to this approachable tea. Aftertaste brings a bit of that flaxseed back from the front and ends on a brown rice note. A bit of dried fig/prune comes through at the end of a very long infusion. Flavor has a slow recession, but the aftertaste doesn’t linger very long at all. I usually prefer a very long lasting aftertaste and aroma, but this is the second red tea I’ve enjoyed greatly today that fades quickly.

Maybe not as complex as the Xian Zhen from TeaSpring, but every bit as enjoyable. Smoother, and with a little bit more body, though the flavor progression is a soothing flow in, then out with little trace. A huge plus for me is this is slightly less consistent between brews, developing from crisp and floral (orchid and honey notes mentioned in company description come through easily at first), to fruited and ripe, to toasty and salivating tannin, then richer wood before receding to bamboo, pecan and slight caramel accents in later infusions.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 1 min, 30 sec

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90

Never thought I’d be wishing I bought a larger quantity of Lapsang. This is utterly incomparable to any tea bearing the same name that I have ever seen, tasted, or even heard of.

First, and foremost – it is not smoky. There are light whiffs of toasted marshmallows, wheat bread just finishing cooking in an oven, or a very hot smokeless oak fire oven/grill, but really it is more about the light “smokiness” of tobacco leaves and milled grains. Pay little heed to the company description of “strong and smoky”!

While this is not a pure bud tea (two leaf and a bud intact sets are common throughout) it is entirely covered in light golden hair. Leaf length and color is very similar to a pure bud Yunnan red. Measuring the 4g I used for my gaiwan resulted in a volume around 1.5-2 tablespoons. Used 125ml with steep times-temps: 1.5min-95C, 2.5min-95C, 4min-90C, 5min-85C, 5min-100C, 9.5min-85C.

Dry fragrance is similar to the Golden Monkey reds I’ve been going through a lot lately – dried apricot and nectarine – but when tossed into the prewarmed gaiwan, the fragrance was straight up natural cocoa powder. Wet leaves like doused, burned hardwood – not smoky, but toasty with a refreshing light char note oddly reminiscent of grilled Tilapia (not fishy, mind you) and indiscernible fruit “ripeness”. The lid from the gaiwan, however combined a touch of the former cocoa with piles of ripe fruit aromas. Kumquat above the rest, but also white peach, uncut nectarine, longan, intact raspberries, black figs, apricot kiwi, and just a hint of avocado and coconut. These carry through in the liquor aroma but longan takes the stage. Liquor is bright red-orange and very clear.

Flavor takes the fruit notes and blends them nicely with roasted nuts – almonds and macadamias primarily, but chestnut, cashew, brazil nut, pecan, and peanut also play a small part. The taste is a base of woody characteristics – brown rice, sesame seed, dried grasses, barley, oak, sunflower seeds and palms. Aftertaste brings in a mineral quality of adobe clay or mud bricks and a bit of gravel in the afteraroma. Not heavy on the minerals, but it certainly draws up similarities to other WuYi Shan teas. Nice heavier-medium body is much thicker than most Lapsangs, on par with heavier Keemuns. Smoooooooth. Mouthfeel again makes me think of clay in a sort of slip-slurry. There’s a very slight astringency just up against the uvula… Don’t think I’ve had a tea that hits that part of the mouth and nowhere else. Fleeting crispness and faint herbaceous acidity leaves a mouthwatering effect, but not a ton. Really clean – - aftertaste diminishes really quickly and afteraroma is short. impression of the tactile elements lingers for a while, though.

Man, this is yummy. Definitely getting more the next chance I can make the excuse. Expensive, but oh so worth it. I brewed this up with the intent of something to kick me awake, but it wound up being comforting and satisfying, making me want to curl up and take a nap. I finished long before the tea did and this would be a great candidate to drink straight from the gaiwan with. Again, you can not compare this to other Lapsangs – this is much more akin to specialty Taiwanese Reds.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 1 min, 30 sec
AmazonV

a non lapsang lapsang, perhaps it’s for me?

Thomas Smith

Well, it is still the same tea, just rigorously graded, carefully processed, and not as heavily smoked. The breakdown of the name Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong just means “original mountain small kind,” with small-kind referring to the leaf size and originally the tea wasn’t produced with heavy smoke though it’s become the norm.
Of course, the 50g I got may not be representative of a larger quantity or next year’s batch.

Thomas Smith

You really ought to give it a try.

Auggy

Gorgeous leaves. And this sounds amazing.

AmazonV

when my poor little tea bookcase shrinks i may have to….i think it’s the heavily smoked bit that gets me i always wonder what caught on fire

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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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