30 Tasting Notes
It’s a random sample morning with Harney & Sons’ Organic Breakfast next in line. I’ll leave out the suspense and cut right to the chase; this is really quite dreadful. Bitter! It’s extremely bitter. This tea is devoid of meaningful flavor. It’s somewhat astringent. It has an unpleasant maltiness that just clogs up the throat. I’m having a very tough time drinking this one. It’s harsh on steroids. But at least the harshness is organic, right? Ehh ok. Life is short, time to brew up something else.
So, on a recent late autumn afternoon, I sat and enjoyed a pot of Verdant Tea’s Zhu Rong Yunnan Black. Next I bundled up, drove to the park, and went for a run before the early darkness hit. While listening to tunes and soaking in the last moments of daylight, there was only one thing going through my head: this tea! My brain was feeling both appreciative for the first pot, all the while screaming; “finish this run so you can get back and brew the 2nd infusion”. Faster!
If you love bittersweet dark chocolate, this is the tea for you. The dry leaf is sort of a mix between sweet potato and cocoa, while the wet produces a more woodsy-dark chocolate scent. The liquor’s bittersweet dark chocolate aroma is simply terrific. It’s not the sort of scent you get with some flavored chocolate teas that have a certain artificiality to them. It’s a genuinely immersing scent that hits you straight to the core. This medium bodied brew is silky rich upon sipping. The intensity of the flavor peaks near the back of the mouth and throat where a delicious bittersweet dark chocolate note hits and then lingers. I get a little malt near the end of the sip as well. This is just an incredibly smooth and satisfying tea to drink. When I finish a pot, I continue to yearn for more. This tea continues to be enjoyable on additional infusions. These later infusions exhibit a slightly lower dark chocolate intensity with some added peppery spice appearing mid-mouth.
Simply put, if you love bittersweet dark chocolate and you don’t try this tea, you are really missing out. Run.
Ok, I hate doing this. I really do. But here goes…
Opening a tin of this Earl Grey Choice by Zhi Tea can be best described as being totally steamrolled by lavender! Overwhelming lavender. I get nothing that would suggest an earl grey in the scent, no bergamot, nothing. Just lavender! Reading the list of ingredients on the tin, it does not mention any lavender at all. Odd, I would say. So I brew this tea, and surprise, surprise, the liquor has an extreme lavender smell as well. Upon sipping, I can barely muster the energy to send it down my throat. It tastes soapy. But, in truth, describing it as soap-like is way too kind. I would find difficulty serving this tea to my most villainous enemies. Just having it in my mouth, I almost want to gag. This is not earl grey. Frankly, I don’t know what sort of monster this is.
So, I emailed Zhi Tea and asked them if maybe I recieved the wrong tea, or if potentially it’s a bad batch. Let me first say, the customer service at Zhi Tea is top-notch. I was responded to quickly and politely. They get an ‘A’ for customer service. I was told that they use an organic bergamot oil in this tea that has a lavender-like scent. I was also told that I can leave the tin open to air-out and maybe it will help lower the lavender-like intensity.
Let me say this, as a frequent earl grey drinker, I love trying interesting and creative versions of earl grey. This is not an interesting or creative version. This is a mistake. Zhi Tea needs to go back and reassess this one. It’s very possible that I just got a bad batch of it, a batch with an unfathomable amount of this organic bergamot oil. I’ve had an otherwise positive experience drinking Zhi’s teas, but this one is simply undrinkable.
Should I believe the hype? After reading many great reviews for Verdant Tea, and particularly for their Laoshan Black, I succombed to the pressure and ordered. Their website is excellent, being both clean and very informative. In addition, my order came with a hand-written thank you note. Nice touch. On to the tea!
The dry leaf scent screams chocolate. It’s almost like putting your nose in a tin of powdered cocoa. The wet leaf is more grainy and muted. The scent of the liquor is a real star with an aroma not dissimilar to a creamy hot chocolate. Sipping this tea, I’m a little surprised. It’s not as chocolatey as the liquor scent would suggest. There is a grainy-malty taste that wraps around the cocoa. Verdant describes this taste as barley and I won’t argue. Taking a second sniff of the liquor, I now get plenty of this barley in the scent; it sneakily escaped my nose the first time around. The malty-barley and chocolate dance and vibe great together. Rich. After swallowing, I get malty notes in the middle of the tongue and the chocolate notes in the back of the mouth and throat. Interesting combination. If I have one slight personal criticism, I find the graininess of the tea does begin to get a little tiresome toward the end of the pot. It gives me flashes at times of a crafty/hopsy beer. A beer or two is ok, but too much can be a problem.
I enjoyed drinking a pot of this tea. But having said that, for me, it’s not an everyday tea. It doesn’t have quite the strength and vigor I look for in a morning tea. Additionally, it’s graininess makes it too rough for a dessert tea. It’s something in that nebulous, undefinable, and opaque middle, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Update: Over several weeks of drinking this tea, I have really come to like it much more than my original tasting. The graininess of the tea has become an acquired taste. I must up my rating. This is good stuff.
Thanksgiving morning. A sample of Zhi’s Keemun Mao Feng is on the menu. Will I be giving thanks for this organic Chinese black?
The dry leaf scent is getting me somewhat excited as I pick up dusty-earthiness mixed with both some mild cocoa-notes. I don’t get much from the wet leaf, just toastiness, but with the liquor, I notice some smoke in combination with sweet-earthiness. Onward. Tasting this tea, I’m disappointed. It’s somewhat flat. The flavors taste muted and washed-out. The sip has mild smoke, a heavy overall consistency, and some dull cocoa-notes. It feels overly dense and there is very noticeable astringency. Following the sip, there is definitely some strong astringent dryness near the front of the tongue and some slight bitterness near the back of the mouth. Troublesome.
Overall, I’m able to finish the pot. It’s drinkable, but not enjoyable. The astringency is really the deal breaker. It single-handedly kills the experience of this tea. Any positive aspects are totally overshadowed by it. While I can’t give much thanks for this keemun, I can give thanks that I have the good fortune to explore lots of interesting teas. On to the next!
I heart autumn. Cooler weather, colorful leaves, and chai! Chai tea and autumn are a harmonious pair. There is a warming nature to chai that helps counteract the colder weather and darker days. I love chai straight: no milk, no sweetener. American Tea Room’s Organic Masala Chai has been a favorite chai of mine this season.
Sticking my nose in the bag, you get a whole array of flavors typical with chai. But the one that pops the most is the ginger. This can be a little concerning. If the ginger is too spicy and strong, it can overwhelm the rest of the flavors. But rest assured, in both the wet leaf and liquor scents, the ginger mellows out and the cinnamon/vanilla/cardamom take a front seat. I love the sweet cinnamon scent of this chai’s liquor! It’s extremely enticing. Sipping this chai, it’s a tea in very good balance. The spices from the ginger are evened out nicely by the cinnamon, vanilla and cardamom. While it’s hard to judge the black tea base with all the surrounding flavors, it’s good to my taste. Following the sip, I get some spicy ginger lingering in the back of the mouth and some cinnamon sitting near the tip of the tongue.
A good chai needs to find an equilibrium amongst the collection of flavors. This tea succeeds in finding that delicious harmony.
I first tasted this tea on a trip to Portland, Or at the Lan Su Chinese Garden. While the tour of the garden was a bit of a bore, I can highly recommend the garden’s tea house. It’s an oasis for tea lovers! In said tea house, they offer up the best from The Tao of Tea. One of the tea’s I tried on that given day was Tippy South Cloud. I liked it then, and I still like it now.
Right of the bat, I can state this organic black yunnan is of very good quality. The dry leaf emits a dusty sweet potato-like scent, while the wet leaf exudes a very friendly earthiness. The liquor has a warmer sweetness to it’s smell as compared to the typical yunnan. Tasting this tea, it’s not overly strong, but is mildly dense. There is a pleasant sweetness throughout the sip. I can best describe the sweetness as caramel-like. It has absolutely none of the bitterness that can sometimes translate from a lesser quality yunnan. The relatively mild strength combined with the caramel-like sweetness balances out to a very satisfying overall sip.
While The Tao of Tea recommends on it’s tin to brew this at 185, I personally liked the results better brewing it at 200. It’s slightly stronger with the higher temperature, but it’s all a matter of taste.
If you happen to visit Portland, skip the line at Voodoo Doughnut, and instead go for a tea tasting at the Lan Su Chinese Garden. If you can’t make the trip, do the next best thing and order some of this tea.
Following hurricane Sandy and over a week without power, I was forced to camp out in a local Barnes and Noble on numerous occasions for two of life’s great necessities: hot tea and wifi. Harney supplies B&N with tea, and while consuming hours of free wifi, I had the opportunity to try some new teas. The one that lifted my spirits the most was Harney’s Holiday Tea. Days later, I was compelled to order a tin of said tea from Harney to celebrate the return of power!
Back in civilization, sitting with a hot pot brewed, I just love the wild mixture of scents from this blend. Each stage has differing smells: With the dry leaf, it’s orange-cinnamon that dominates, with the wet, it’s the toasty underlying black tea, and with the liquor, the flavors that hit my nose the hardest are the vanilla and almond. Sipping this, I get the spiced cinnamon and cloves early in the sip and at the front of the mouth. While the back half of this sip, the orange-almond-vanilla shows it’s face. A little bit of spice sits at the tip of the tongue and the back of the mouth after swallowing. It’s a very wild medley of flavors, but it finds a way to work. I can fully understand anyone who considers this blend to be over-the-top. Overall, I find this tea, fairly comforting and warming.
I’m one who usually does not care much for these sorts of wild blends; I’m more of a tea purist at heart. But this is one blend that I can enjoy. It’s not something that I could drink daily though. But, cuddled up with a good book, on a cold winter night, this tea finds a home. Oh, and it works well too in the midst of post-hurricane madness, ehh.
Chinese gong fu teas are known for being finely-crafted and have always been a personal favorite. My expectations for Zhi’s version of this tea, ‘Gong Fu Black’, were heightened after reading some strong reviews on steepster. Time to rip open a sample and test!
The dry leaf has a dusty-woodsy scent with a hint of cocoa. The cocoa-hint disappears in the wet leaf, but reappears in the liquor scent. The creamy-cocoa aroma arising from the liquor is quite inviting. Sipping this tea is just as the liquor scent predicts; a creamy black brew with strong cocoa hints. It’s rich, yet very smooth. After swallowing, the cocoa-notes sit politely in the back of the mouth leaving a satisfying overall sip. Enjoyable! If I can find any fault with this tea is that I sense a very miniscule amount of bitterness at the end of the sip. Most drinkers probably won’t even notice, and despite being present, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. But, that’s me nitpicking at an otherwise fine tea.
While Zhi’s Gong Fu Black is not the best gong fu tea I’ve ever tasted, it’s very good gong fu nonetheless.
The description of this tea by Zhi Tea intrigued me enough that I was forced to order a sample. Forced! ‘Ancient Forest’ sounds so mysterious and mystical, doesn’t it? On top of that, this organic tea is from Vietnam; I can’t ever remember having a Vietnamese tea. The setup is for something truly exciting and magical.
Upon sticking my nose in the bag, the dry leaf reminds me right away of a keemun with a dark-forest-like scent and a hint of smoke. The wet leaf and liquor scents similarly don’t diverge much from a typical keemun. This rich amber brew tastes very average. It’s medium bodied, but unfortunately not all that flavorful. Some of the tastes that are typical with a keemun, seem a little washed out. I’ve brewed several small pots with differing tea to water ratios and have gotten the same results each time. The flavors are lacking. It doesn’t have much pop to it, and to be frank, is kind of a bore to drink. There is a slight caramel-note to it, but it’s slight. There is some astringency and the aftertaste leaves a peppery-note on the tip of the tongue. So much for the magic.
While this tea has a good story and comes from a unique locale, it is really just something middle-of-the-road. It’s drinkable, yet totally uninteresting and unmagical. And after the big build-up, I’m left feeling somewhat let-down.