514 Tasting Notes
And now for something completely different. I’m about to find out how a venerable French tea house does English Breakfast. On the fourth of July, no less.
I can’t find anything to indicate what’s in this, but whatever it is, it looks like CTC. Like coarse coffee grounds. It has a kind of sweet, baked fragrance. Like pastry.
If I were to guess, I’d say Assam and Keemun. Keemun because in the aroma there’s a suggestion (a mere suggestion, really) of smoke. Assam because… well, it’s English Breakfast. And there’s a suggestion (a mere suggestion, really) of malty sweetness.
I made a mistake in tasting this after Earl Grey without much time between the two. At first I really couldn’t get much flavor at all. Now I’m getting some flavor, but the tea is verging on lukewarm. Must try again. Steeping 3:30 this time too, just in case that was part of the problem. BRB.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find this very flavorful at all. Could it be a bad batch? It can’t be stale, I just opened the vacuum sealed tin which was well within its sell by date. Seriously, I’m reaching for something to describe this as. Even the mere suggestions of smoke and malt in the aroma aren’t coming through in the flavor for me. How terribly disappointing, as I generally quite like Mariage Freres.
Let me try a little milk, see if that changes things.
No. :-( It’s not undrinkable, it just doesn’t taste like much, unfortunately.
Done and decupboarded, and free to frolic with Earls I like better. I did have an interesting experience where I accidentally brewed this in the Breville one morning before I was awake enough to realize I had some Luscious Lemon by Simpson and Vail still in the pot and further too unawake to remember to rinse out the pot first. This resulted in a very very lemony version of the Blue Knight, which was actually not bad. But I wouldn’t recommend trying it at home as it would require buying two products, neither of which blew me away and both of which I have been on something of a campaign to drink up.
I am really looking forward to reusing the little tin this came in, though. It’s tall and tubular and kinda cute. Currently soaking to remove labels and hopefully a good bit of the Earl Grey perfume, too. It made me think of how my Dad, who was a stamp collector, used to soak stamps off of envelopes. Sweet little memory, that.
A while back I bought a number of Adagio sampler sets and never got around to tasting most of them. I’d been reading a number of tasting notes on Adagio and it seemed like most folks on Steepster viewed them as a starter or gateway loose leaf, and I started with specialty tea bags and sort of vaulted over them to Upton samplers and beyond. Then every now and then there’ll be a note about someone really liking an Adagio tea. So I’m thinking, I probably owe it to myself to taste them. I may have unfairly categorized them in my mind. And it would be shameful to be unfair to tea, don’t you think?
So I’m going to make an effort to start tasting my Adagio samplers now, and so you’re likely to see a lot of Adagio notes coming up. I’m sure I’ll get distracted by other bright shiny teas along the way, however.
Since I just tasted the Harney & Sons Silver Needle, I thought the Adagio namesake would be a good place to start. Besides, it’s after 10 p.m. and I can’t exactly start with the black teas now.
I’m steeping according to the Adagio suggestion of 180 and 7 minutes in the Breville. This is very different from the H&S suggested time of 3 minutes, though the temp is close (they suggested 175 for theirs).
The needles look and smell similar to the Harney’s, however they seem to smell a bit stronger. This may simply be a matter of sample density, however, as I’m putting my nose into one of those little sample tins the color of elementary school walls. I get slightly more earth than air and water in this one, but all three alchemical elements are represented. There’s a bit of hay to the smell.
I’m relieved to see that the color of the steeped tea is very similar to what I got with the H&S even with a more precisely measured amount of tea. Very nearly clear, water-like. I don’t get a great deal of aroma from the tea. What I do get smells like a very dilute version of what the dry needles smell like.
Ok. I’m waiting, tea. Where is your flavor? The H&S seems to me to have a lot more flavor even with less tea steeped for less time. Am I crazy? Have my taste buds done gone kablooey after an epic run of tea tasting? (Trying to get to that 400th note, you know.)
Seriously, something is not computing here. I’m getting virtually nothing. Not artichoke, even, which I would not have minded as I love artichokes. The most I’m getting is a vague, dewy sweetness and a little grassiness. And maybe some of that graininess others have mentioned.
Ok, hold the phone. I’m halfway through the cup now and now, I’m getting flavor. Holy way to tease, batman. And you’re lucky I’m patient, you Silver Needle you.
Basically what I’m getting now is the H&S without the deliciously wonderful honeysuckle note. It has the same slightly vegetal downturn at the end of the sip that is mitigated by the sweetness. Though the vegetable in question here is not bok choy. It’s not artichoke either though. This must be a characteristic of Silver Needle?
I prefer the Harney, but this is ok. I think I have some more Silver Needle samples tucked away in the white tea box. Note to self: try some over the next couple of days.
Switching to white tea now, given the hour. Steeping this at the time and temp in the H&S tasting note.
Beautiful, long, feathery silvery/green needles. They look like they’d be soft to the touch. I’m using the entire sample packet. It measured out to about 1.5 cups worth of tea. The dry leaves have that earthy, watery, airy scent that white tea seems to have to me. Essentially all the alchemical elements except fire.
The liquor is… white? Clear? (Did I use too much water in the Breville? Or do it blame it on my clear glass tasting cup?) It has a very faint floral aroma. The sort of smell you admire on a friend who has used just the right amount of perfume. I think it must be the honeysuckle I’m smelling, as it doesn’t seem jasmine to me. In any case, it’s divine.
There is flavor here, but you have to be patient. It’s sort of the same reaction I had to the GM Snow Sprout. At first it’s like there’s nothing there, but then, all of a sudden, there is. There’s sweetness, of the sort that reminds me of the nectar that I used to suck out of the ends of shrimp plant flowers as a kid but not as strong. There’s a floral flavor note that carries the honeysuckle from the aroma into the mouth. And there’s a tail of a slight vegetal bitterness, not at all unpleasant, just the sort you’d find in the bok choy of the H&S description, but mediated quite successfully by the sweetness of the tea.
Not recommended for those who prefer strong flavors in teas. I generally prefer strong flavors but I’m always amazed by how an extremely subtle tea can also grab me and I can like it just as much as the deepest smoky tea. I guess that probably says something about my personality but I’m not gonna dwell on it.
I think I’ll resteep this instead.
Steeping this at the time and temp shown in the Harney note.
I’m on a mission to try all my Harney samples so I can place an order for the ones that make the cut. This is the last black tea sample I have from my two orderings. I also have a white, and some greens including the green sampler set, and the oolong sampler set.
The problem so far is that most of them, except for the tisanes, are making the cut. Which means I’m likely to end up with more tea than one can possibly drink in a lifetime (and I already think I have more than that). Especially since I like two decafs and they seem only to come in teabags or 1 pound loose leaf. What’s up with that? Suggestion box entry: 4 oz tins of the loose decaf blacks please.
Anyway, black teas and oolongs are apparently my weaknesses, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to put the breaks on after this one and the oolong sampler.
I enjoyed reading the description of this in the H&S note here on Steepster. Very interesting story. The dry leaves are quite pretty. Very delicate and spidery looking. I do get a cocoa note from the smell of the dry leaves, but mostly I get a fruity smell. Yeah, it could be apricot. I don’t think I’m being overly suggestible here.
The tea is a really gorgeous color. It is a sunset red/orange when seen through a glass cup. The tea’s aroma is very honeyed, very fruity.
It has a bite to it. It’s grabbing me in the back of the throat a bit, not a sensation I’m ever overly excited by. Which is odd, because it otherwise gives the impression of being quite smooth. It has a very “tea” flavor, by which I mean (and I know this is going to sound bad though I don’t at all mean it that way) it tastes like Nestea smells, that superconcentrated slightly sweet quintessential (for an American) black tea essence. Now that I think about it, there is something very apricotty about that smell, and that’s what I taste here. I’m not getting a ton of cocoa, but that could be because I got distracted playing a game with the kids and this was a little cooler than it perhaps should have been when I tasted it. I do get some in the aftertaste, which is very nice. I have enough in the sample packet to try again and drink it a bit hotter.
I’m torn on this one as I really dig the flavor, but I don’t dig the bite. Rating it on the low end of excellent for now and will see how the next steep plays out.
Another sample that I’m hoping technically doesn’t break my moratorium against black/green tea blends. This one has oolong, but the only thing that’s listed in the ingredients that could conceivably refer to a green tea is “silver tips” and looking at the Harney site, I’m guessing this is a Ceylon white, not a green. At least the only tea they seem to have with the words “silver tips” in the name available on the site is a white tea.
One of the nice things about Steepster (among a litany of nice things) is that you can take a look at how others have steeped something that seems potentially mysterious in what it wants as its parameters. Since H&S steeped this at 205 for 4 minutes, that’s what I’m doing.
I’ve just had several Harney blends with Assam in them in a row, and in the sample packet, this one has a lot in common with the others in terms of fragrance. It’s got that underlying earthy, loamy smell to it. There’s a little sharpness that may be from the oolong, and something that adds a sort of fresh smell. I’m wondering if that’s the Silver Tips.
The tea’s aroma is an amazing swirl of different teas. It’s like that scene in the movie of the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy watches out the window as various personages, animals and farm equipment fly by and (at least the people) wave. I feel like I’m waving at a malty sweet Yunnan (hi, how are ya?) and then a vaguely smoky Keemun (how’s it goin’?) and then a slightly woody, fruity Ceylon (dude, what up?), and then a fruity, toasty something that could be Oolong or could be Darjeeling or could be something else entirely (hello, hello, whoever you are!). I don’t think I’ve had Nilgiri before but I’m sure it’s flying by as well. (Thanks for stopping by!)
And delicious! I think it’s the Yunnan that gives this a fuller bodied feel than the other blends I’ve had today, Elyse and Palm Court, but rather than heading toward a stout breakfast type tea as something with this body could, it has a sort of an upswing toward a mid-range of flavor that is easy on the taste buds and the stomach. I think it’s the Oolong and Darjeeling that are mainly responsible for this uplift, but it could be the Silver Tips as well. I’m getting no bitterness, some astringency but just enough to make it interesting. The aftertaste has a little smoke, some sweetness, and a kind of bready/green note that is difficult to describe.
I’m really glad that H&S was able to pull off such an amazingly ambitious blend. In lesser hands this story could have had a sad ending. I am very pleasantly surprised at how much I like this one!
ETA: The lingering aftertaste is really lovely, both sweet and refreshing. Bumping up a couple of points for the wonderful reminder over time.
On the one hand, how can I not drink something that is served at the Plaza? I spend a lot of my time homesick for New York, so anything that invokes NYC is going to call to me. On the other, I do have this thing about multiple kinds of tea in the same blend. I suppose I can make a distinction here though as there’s no green tea in this. Technically, the green/black moratorium doesn’t apply to black/oolong. I’ve had another black/oolong blend recently that worked fairly well, can’t now remember what it was.
The smell from the sample packet is Assam and Keemun. There’s a teensy smokiness, and a general impression of hearty earthiness.
The liquor on first glance appears to be heavily influenced by the Ceylon as it does have a twinge of red in the burnt orange, but it’s got more orange in it than I’d want in that sweater I’m looking for. The aroma is interesting. It gives the impression of being somewhat simple, but if I sit with it a while, that seems deceptive. There’s more complexity here than meets the initial sniff. I’m getting some smoke around the edges, some malty sweetness, and something sort of vaguely buttery that may be from the oolong. It’s generally smooth but there are little sharp peaks to it that make me think of the crests of waves.
It’s flavor is deceptive as well. Initially it seems fairly one-dimensional, but it’s a nice dimension. It’s somewhat astringent, and feels medium bodied to me. As I drink it more, though, I’m getting some stone fruit notes, some smoke, a tad of sweetness, and something that is almost biscuity.
I know I’m predisposed to liking this because of the name (I can be pretty gullible sometimes) but I do think it’s worth more than just a second look.
Surprised I’m the first to write a note about this one as well. (I see I’m coming up on 400 notes. Wow. It’s a long weekend ahead, wonder if I can get there by the end of Monday? Any bets?) I really need to get to my Maeda-en Sincha notes as I’m feeling guilty about being granted free tea on the promise I’d write a three part note and haven’t done it yet. (Hanging head in shame.) I just haven’t been in a green tea mood that much and I didn’t want to force it. I figured forcing it would make me harsher in my opinions.
This is the first time I’ve knowingly had anything with Kenyan tea in it, so that will be interesting. You may wonder what business I have drinking black tea this late in the afternoon, but I have to clear the cobwebs. The entire household took a nap, something rather unprecedented these days. The 6 year old is still sleeping, which is astounding. He was bribed with the promise that he could play Wii tonight if he took a nap, which he needed as he was up a good bit of the night crying with growing pains.
When I first took a whiff out of the sample packet, I thought, “that’s interesting, there’s nothing in here that looks like flowers.” There’s a sweet, floral smell to the blend. Then I read the description again. Ah! It’s the honey! Yes, it’s got that polleny, flowery, sweet honey smell. Underneath that is the earthiness of Assam.
The liquor is a lovely color, which I am seeing frequently in Ceylons. I’m going with the theory that it’s the Ceylon giving this its reddish orangy color. Still looking for a sweater this color. It’s not quite as red as some others, but still very pretty. There’s a gentle, honey aroma.
And basically, that’s what this tastes like as well. Gentle, smooth, honeyed. It’s medium to light bodied, and somewhat brisk, a really nice perker upper after a weekend nap. I wish I could unravel the flavors to say what the Kenyan tastes like, but I can’t. The black tea blend is pretty seamless.
Having now had a number of chocolate teas, I’m returning to the first one I tried with the express purpose of seeing where it fits among the others I’ve tried over the past few months. Ok, that and the fact that my compulsiveness is kicking in and it’s starting to bug me that I have some notes without ratings. I’ll be fixing that for all of them sooner rather than later.
This one is fitting quite nicely into my afternoon. It’s got a rather mild chocolate flavor, not the baking chocolate I’ve tasted in a number of teas, nor a sweet milk chocolate, but somewhere in between. I’m thinking dark chocolate, sort of semi-sweet. It does chocolate well. That is definitely the flavor that is front and center.
Sometimes I think I’m getting a rose note, other times it seems like one of those things where you think you saw something then decide you didn’t really, it was a brain blip of some kind. I get that feeling mostly mid sip, when the tea is right up against my soft palate, and I’m guessing some of the rose heads straight up into my nasal cavity. Then again, not sure it needs a lot more rose. The petals are pretty and add romance, but I’m not sure the tea is trying to be a rose flavored tea. (Maybe LiberTEAs can answer that?) I understand the reference to vanilla, it’s that chocolate/vanilla continnum I’m finding to hold true with a lot of flavors. Seems like there’s a place where they merge and become virtually indistinguishable.
The tea base is smooth and I get some sweetness from it. After tasting a number of chocolate teas, I feel I can say this is a very nice one.
I should have known better than to drink the Samovar sample. It’s a serious problem in that they seem to do black tea exactly the way I like it, so they set the bar so high I want to stop trying other stuff and just go immediately to their online store, do not pass go.
I loved the Samovar Earl Lavender, and this is pretty much the Earl Lavender (as I remember it, it’s been a while though) without the lavender. It has the same brown sugary taste to the base as the Earl Lavender, and the same citrus presence without oiliness or too much perfume. The citrus is definitely there, but it isn’t overpowering.
I don’t recall noticing with the Earl Lavender that the bergamot had a lemony note to it. I usually get an orangey note from bergamot. But I get a sort of lemon/orange from this that is really nice.
Now that I’ve had a lot of loose leaf Earl Greys, I feel confident in saying this one is very special indeed. It’s a little nouveau in flavor owing to the tea base, with depth that more traditional versions don’t have however good they may be. I may need another category of Earl Grey in my harem, just for this. I can see it coexisting with a more traditional two dimensional Earl Grey for the times that’s what I’m wanting.
I’m boosting the rating of the Earl Lavender, too.