24 Tasting Notes
I just bought a box of the muslin bags of this tea at the Kusmi store on 3rd Avenue/62nd street in Manhattan. Perhaps they’ve changed the formula, or perhaps it’s my brewing approach, but this is not the undistinguished tea the two reviewers from six years ago described. I brewed it light and quick, in a 6oz teacup. I think most Kusmi teas come into their own when you use less tea/time and water off the boil for at least a minute. This results in a light but gorgeously scented cup of tea. Before you shrug and say, “Oh, more bark than bite? Next tea please,” I’d like you to entertain the possibility that the enjoyment of a cup of tea can be mostly olfactory. Taste and smell are pretty chummy senses, after all. And this Irish Blend has the power to captivate in its scented steam. I know Kusmi is terrific at scented teas but I believe this one is mostly or perhaps all natural — no perfume from Grasse could cover all the wholesome notes this tea possesses. The label indicates no ingredients except Assam and Darjeeling teas.
Funny thing about this blend is that it’s not what you might expect from the epithet “Irish” — no big malty hug here. It’s a brisk tea, with a soothing and gently predominant honey scent. I imagine the Ireland of this tea is a Russian traveler’s memory of a rare sunny day in the Emerald Isles, the clouds scuttled off to the Irish sea, and feeling the land dilate and relax in the nurturing warmth. On the sheltered southern wall of a stone cottage, an apricot tree soaks in the sun as well as the wet fresh sea air, layering rich flavors into its fuzzy orange-red fruit. The dandelions open, dotting the green hills with bright yellow. The bees pick up scents of a flush of different flowers, nectar on the breeze. Things start to really dry out – the old wooden door, the leather tobacco pouch, the earth itself — releasing a host of subtle, light, harmonious scents you had forgotten they had when everything was perpetually sodden.
Milk dulls some of the scents in this tea, particularly the almond and meat.
Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Astringent, Brown Toast, Citrus, Dandelion, Floral, Fruit Tree Flowers, Green Melons, Honey, Leather, Marine, Meat, Muscatel, Nuts, Ocean Air, Peat, Rainforest, Root Beer, Sweet, warm grass, Tannic, Tobacco, Wet Wood
I just opened the sample pack I bought from Upton exactly a year ago, and it smelled fresh, but perhaps it’s unfair to review it his state. I am not knowledgeable about Keemuns at this stage in my “tea career,” but I do like strong black tea. I wanted something that would be substantial but not heavy this early September morning, which still has some of summer’s warmth. The instructions on the packet said to brew the tea for 3 to 5 minutes, so I brewed it for 3’45", and felt that it was pretty nice but perhaps could have used a longer brewtime. I also felt that the flavors in this tea were not balanced and palpable until the brewed tea had cooled down to 115F. Then it was a smooth, richly flavored but medium-to-light textured cup of tea, highly enjoyable, and I was able to note all the flavors in my list below. The one flavor I would add is “old iron pot,” because the tea had a background note that almost felt like it had been brewed at an old fire pit in a room carpeted with grass mats. A little too dusty for my taste, but I enjoyed it all the same.
Flavors: Cocoa, Corn Husk, Dark Wood, Dry Grass, Forest Floor, Nut Fruits, Red Wine, Rose, Tobacco
Nice lightly smoky tea. I got this from Colonial Williamsburg’s online store, which sold teas in 1/4 lb amounts only ($10.95). I really enjoyed this cup, which had a delicious woodsmoke scent and a medium body, with a clear sweetness like the taste of real spring water. I drank this neat, without milk or sugar.
Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Chocolate, Honey, Plants
I took a risk, since the canister (a nifty oval shape with a toggle-style closure) had no date on it. Neither did the two foil packs of tea bags contained within. The tea brewed up with lovely dark color — I needed a lot of milk to get the tea to my preferred milkyness, which is somewhere between “builders tea” and regular “milky tea.” However the taste was much lighter than the color; I suspect this batch was not so fresh, especially since it seems to only be available now through somebody on Amazon calling himself “Square Deal Guy.” (Yikes.) It did have some interesting Darjeeling notes among the Assam heartiness, though; and the caffeine was just right for the afternoon, adding a bit of brightness and focus to my outlook with no jitters at all. Now that Harney & Sons has a Scottish Afternoon blend, I’m going to try that next. I got my canister at Park Slope Coffee Tea N Spices.
Flavors: Caramel, Malt, Stonefruits
Nicole Martin brought a sample of this to the NYC January meetup at Tea Drunk. Not sure who sent it to her, but apparently that person bought it at Redline Coffee in Washington, D.C. The handwritten description on the packet says:
“Hello, tall, dark, and sexy. 3 min @212°, 1 tsp/8 oz (though you probably knew that already.) May it inspire more baked goodies!”
I have never tried a Keemun on its own — only blended with other teas — so my review here might be broad-brushed. I brewed this in 6 oz water just off the boil and 1 cupweight of tea according to my digital scale. Brewed 3’30. I thought it had a very nice hearty flavor, with a main note of baked bread and a surprising light finish of green leaves. The steam off the brewed leaves after I’d finished pouring had a leather note that was absent in the taste of the tea. One cup of this tea had enough caffeine to clear the cobwebs on an arctic morning when I would have much rather been hibernating, but did not raise me high enough to start bouncing off the walls. The picture is mine, taken in the trimmed-down paper cup I use to measure tea, with a penny for scale.
I bought a “50g refill” size of this tea in May 2012 and enjoyed a cup just now, with 1.15 teacup weight (on my Upton scale) brewed in a 2-cup teapot, swirled a few times right after water poured. I found the tea had an almost chocolatey note, especially in the scent coming from the damp leaves left behind in the teapot after pouring. I drank this with 2% milk (Ref No 606-C in Onkar Kukar’s brilliant milky-tea shades chart, http://www.onkarkular.com/files/poster-460.jpg) and enjoyed it very much – the smoothest hearty assam in my collection – but I regret not drinking more when it was fresher.
This is the 2011 batch, which isn’t available any more from Upton. But I thought I’d write a review anyway.
I really liked this tea. It had character and richness but was completely smooth, with a mouthfeel that was almost milky-silky. The brewed tea was beautiful coppery clear brown, and had peach, cured wood, and muted vegetal scents. Better without milk.
I brewed 2.20 cupweight in 12 oz water poured from a just-boiled electric kettle, 5 minutes. (Directions on Upton’s packet said 3-6 minutes, which is a larger range than I usually see for tea brewing time.)
After I poured off the tea I hovered over the teapot and enjoyed the steam rising off the wet leaves. I got sweet rich scents of earth and chocolate, and perhaps dry grass.
Neat, I found the tea a bit too thin and sharp-tasting.
With a bit of 2% milk (not as much as I put in Assams or the Ceylons that can take it), I thought the taste was a bit funny, reminiscent of the clash between dairy and citrus.
I found it hard to “place” this tea – it had a neutral pleasing quality but no personality I could recognize. Yet it did have a “satisfying mouth feel” as Upton puts it. Odd. It’s almost like how tea tastes when you are reading something very interesting; your attention is usurped by the text, and your mind just registers “I’m drinking tea” rather than getting into the flavors and experience of it. A good “background” tea, then, when you want a good cup but don’t want to fuss all gourmand-like over it.