211 Tasting Notes
This Pao Blossom is one tea which doesn’t gain much (if anything) from a high tea-to-water ratio. I speak from experience. My first infusion was one minute, much too long for 3.5gm tea to 4oz water, which was a mistake. In all, I steeped it half a dozen times, with florality to spare every time. I think it has something to do with the height of the fragrance note of this flower, by which I mean it resonates at a higher frequency. Aaaah, tea, flowers, and music! To me, pao flower resembles jasmine, but is even more ethereal. It is hard to believe that this tea was scented by mingling with blossoms; I would easier believe that it was sprayed with a pure, organic essential oil from the blossoms … the fragrance is so very strong and/or powerful! I’m considering mixing the tea 50/50 with Shang’s White Peony King, to have more tea with my flowers, and to make it go farther, but first I’ll mix a small sample to see if the ratio is good. This is coming from me, who adores floral teas! The flower is truly exquisite, and I wish everyone could experience it!
I used a bit higher tea-to-water ratio, all 3.5gm of the sample to 6oz water, in an yixing clay pot, and steeped it 5 times … 2, 3, 5, 8, 12 min. While the overweening aroma and taste I got was toasted grain, there was a significant herbaceous component which was hard to define … something like lightly steamed green beans (or green tea?) with a tiny citrus note. While another reviewer reported slight bitterness with no astringency, my take was the opposite … slightly astringent with no bitterness. There was a slight floral note in the first steep or two, but I didn’t identify the fruit and caramel which others have found in this tea. Even at a 12-min steep, it didn’t get bitter. I got a quart of tea from 3.5 grams, and think it would make a refreshing iced tea, especially if you could just steep it for a half hour one time, or overnight. I drank it hot, over an afternoon, with crunchy granola bars. The herbal notes were the most interesting part. A tea I will gladly drink, but not seek out.
Opening the foil pack, vacuum-formed around the tea nuggets, I’m greeted by a fresh, green and fruity scent. Aaaah, the new crop is such a fine event! The rolled-up tea is smaller than other batches of Ali Shan I’ve had, and this is borne out later by the smaller-than-usual wet leaves. I covered the bottom of the glass gaiwan a couple of layers deep in the green half-balls of tea and poured on a little hot water, dumping it immediately for a quick rinse. The first steep astonishes me with its thickness, coating mouth and throat with buttery goodness. I thought I got a whiff of grain, or perhaps popcorn, in there, too. Very tasty. Second steep, sweeter, with intermittent notes of lilac and rose. Good flavor and aroma, even though the liquor of each steep tends quite pale yellow-green. Fourth steep, at 5 min long, the gaiwan is full of leaves and the tea’s full body continues. I’m still drinking greedily, almost hungrily … it’s that satisfying and thirst-quenching … and I did a 5th infusion, too. The rich texture and buttery taste are what make this tea most memorable for me. I’m really enjoying it!
I’ve been exploring puerh teas for a year or so now, and have come to find that the sheng (green or raw) type, initially feared and hated, is now my preference. Raw stuff is a work in progress, full of intrigue and complexity, although often with some bitterness and astringency. Indeed, a sheng which is too mellow early-on may not have enough ‘oomph’ to morph, with age, into something uniquely splendid.
This Yunnan Pu Erh Gold tea is not a sheng. It is a shu (ripe) puerh. Think “shu is through” (fermenting). And what’s more, it’s a shu which has been engineered for the Western palate and gaze: gussied up in gold and toned down in taste, with most of the funky horse stable quality long gone. A year ago, this would have pleased me. Now, I find it plainly boring (although amazingly smooth) like a nondescript, albeit very woody, black tea. Lately, I’m apt to add milk and sugar to hot shu puerh or to have it iced in the afternoon. Really, it’s good, rich, dark, earthy! And I guess it should be considered an accomplishment, because “richly-flavored yet smooth” seems to be the sought-after accolade for a shu puerh.
“Excellent of it’s kind,” rating objectively here. And off goes the rest of my sample, into the TTB, so others can experience the “Perfect Shu.”
I want to encourage others to try sheng (raw/green) puerhs. Beg, borrow or swap, or buy the readily available sample sizes, and don’t start with a banzhang (too strong). PuerShop and JasEtea ship from within the US. YunnanSourcing and others ship all over from China. Use less leaf and cooler water, so the taste won’t shock, in brewing tiny portions. If you don’t like it (yet), stick it in an unglazed clay jar, paper bag or cardboard box (NOT foil or plastic; this tea wants a bit of air) and shove it to the back of the cupboard to age. Try it again in a year or 6 months. I’ve even bought a few small (100 to 200 gram) cakes of compressed sheng puerh, so that even a cranky old crone like me can anticipate turning 75 … ;)
The leaf is small to begin with, and then broken up a bit, so the tea is very fine-grained. The aroma is tobacco shop, or maybe barber shop strop, which i find enticing. Brewed up, the liquor is red jewel tones and winey in the manner of a beaujolais, but not quite as fruity. The smoky finish adds a bit of welcome pungency to a tea which hovers steadfastly balanced between dry and sweet. The only hint of bitterness presents itself as if it’s the very darkest cacao or black pepper. Halfway through the cup, I added soy milk, but it muted the flavors more than I liked. The second steep was almost as good as the first, and I experimented with just a drop of agave nectar in that cup. The slight sweetness elevated the rose and brown sugar notes, and gave a nice variation, I think, on the plain brew. To share the experience of this wonderful Keemun tea, I’m adding this sample tin to the Steepster TTB. Everyone should get to try this at least once!
Having had a better experience than many of my cohorts with this tea, I’ll offer some ideas which might have made the difference. 195F or 200F is too hot for this tea. And it’s so easy to use too much of this tea … consider how dense the dry tea is … probably twice as dense as a non-rolled green leaf. I didn’t weigh it, but I’d guess that a half or 3/4 of a teaspoon of tea would be plenty (2 grams) per each 6oz water. I made a 12oz mug using less than a teaspoon of tea.
Another tip is to pour the water down the side of the steeping vessel, rather directly on the tea … or at least try to pour gently. Pinhead gunpowder is usually made from smaller and more tender leaves than regular gunpowder, and thus is somewhat delicate, like a Japanese green. Also, do not put a lid on while steeping, especially not the first steep … try that with your fussy green teas. It may help.
Green is my least favorite tea type, so I won’t be buying. But when writing these notes, I try to stay objective and be a judge of the tea’s quality, compared to others of it’s type. I’ve had one pinhead gunpowder before this one, and a couple of the regular. The pinheads have been more subtle in both cases than the regular (4-5 mm size).
So, on to this evaluation. Tiny (about 2-3mm) nuggets of shiny, dark green tea — truly a pinhead gunpowder tea. The liquor from them was a clear, radiant gold, and the oft-noted wisp of smokiness was there, too, in the scent and flavor. Thus, gunpowder tends earthier, to me, than a more floral green, like a mao feng. It presented practically nothing in the way of astringency or bitterness to distract me from it’s herbaceous greenness. A bit of artichoke, I think, not particularly sweet or grassy, but nicely juicy. Steeping in a glass mug with glass infuser may have helped preserve it’s pure nature. The second steep at 3 min had more body and wetness than the first, with equal strength. As I finished it, up popped the sun, and voila, it was Thursday!
EDIT: Okay, I went and weighed the tea. A rounded teaspoon is 3.5gm, which is about 50% more tea than needed for 6oz. So it’s not twice as dense … only one and a half times. If a person were to use 2 tsp for a 12oz mug, they would have used enough tea for a 21oz pot.
Chaou Zhou clay teapot, tea to cover the bottom of pot in 2 layers. The dry tea consists of small (5mm and smaller), rolled-up nuggets with bits of stem attached. Very dark green, with rich vegetal scent to match. First infusion at 195F, 1 min, liquor is a buttery yellow with buttery taste to match, and full-mouthed body which lingers on. A floral note which is faint, but being that this is the first infusion, raises my expectations tremendously. Second infusion, 190F, 30 sec, the florality is a little more noticeable, rose and lilac perhaps, with an underlying sweetness like new-mown hay. Third infusion, 200F, 1 min, the tea has unrolled so that the teapot is almost full of leaves. The body and sweetness of this tea are, to me, its most remarkable qualities. Very enjoyable. And speaking of quality, the freshness of this oolong is outstanding, and essential.
First tea I’ve rated using my new system (see profile page). Ratings will be lower from now on. (i had been rating so high on the scale that there was no elbow room left). This Darjeeling has a wonderful, flowery, fruity fragrance with a hint of rosemary. Pleasant astringency and clean finish. 1 rounded tsp per 8 oz water, 3 min & 5 min. Second steep has reduced flavor but retains lovely muscat fragrance and is less astringent. Sometimes when I prefer the 2nd steep, such as with this tea, it may be that I used more tea than necessary to start with. A level tsp might have been better. The dry leaf is very prettily black with touches of gold and white. The wet tea reveals all leaves are broken or cut, colored brown with touches of green and caramel.
Dry leaves are big, thick and really black, but only a slight roasty scent. Weighed the portion because so hard to estimate such a bold, fluffy tea. First steep 3.5 min, the honey and floral are obvious in the scent, and repeated in the flavor. Second steep, 6 min, less malty, but with more body and added caramel and roasted barley sweetness. Third steep, 12 min, used less water and got a decent cup, but added a bit of dark agave syrup to round things out. A very impressive tea. I liked the sweeter, 2nd steep best, with the strong roasted flavor toned down and the caramel notes developed.
This is too much. I’ve steeped this Golden Monkey from Orient Organics four times — each time a great cup of tea. It’s just a wonderful flavor, as described in detail in an earlier note. First steep was just cooled a bit from boiling. The rest were boiling water. The times were 2, 4, 6, and 10 min. The rating had to go up.