263 Tasting Notes
I had dinner at The Gage in Chicago some time in October-November last year, and I was excited to see they actually had loose leaf tea on their dessert menu. I don’t remember what I had for dessert, but I do remember the tea, mainly because I brought some home with me.
This was because they served it in a teapot without a strainer. A green tea. A 2-3 cup teapot. Generous, for sure, but imagine the bitterness of the second cup, not to mention the third. I obviously didn’t have more than one, then flagged down our waiter and asked him why they were torturing their tea like that. I asked for some to bring home, and he was incredulous, because he wanted to comp a dessert, and I was like but the desserts were fine, I want tea.
What I also wanted was for them to stop serving the tea in that inane manner, and he promised they’d fix it. So dear Ji Yoon, Executive Pastry Chef – I will check up on you next time I’m in town. Oh, when will that be, you ask? The answer to that is always, sooner than you think.
A while back, I compared this to a tea by Comptoir, reviewed here: http://steepster.com/clareborn/posts/212008. The blood orange tea has more of a metallic/mineral tang to it, both nose wise and flavour wise, but it comes off as an aspect of the citrus, and doesn’t bother me at all in this case.
My two favourite citrus teas are the mandarine tea by Comptoir linked above, and Lupicia’s Grapefruit Green. The latter is characterized by Lupicia’s typical perfect pitch in terms of flavouring, whereas the mandarine tea is multi-faceted, well-balanced and overall just very well-executed.
This one comes off dustier and darker, but also, somehow, more exquisite than the other two. Lupicia are always so playful, so completely super fruity (yet without ever being artificial) and the mandarine tea is very French, very elegant and well put together. Being a mid-price-range restaurant tea, this logically can’t be that fine, but it does a very good job convincing me that it is.
That much said, I’d prefer some more personality and complexity – this is a very pleasing cup, but I don’t grieve not having more than six or so cups’ worth of leaf.
[Sample picked up at The Gage in Chicago, fall 2013.]
This poor tea – it’s been offered to guests on numerous occasions, and swapped, and I have snuck an un-Steepstered cup on occasion. There’s not that much left now, and this is only the second tasting note for it.
I’m so on the fence about Palais des Thés. I know they’re not even comparably as high quality as Mariage Frères. MF have such excellent base teas, and such exuberantly debauched flavour profiles that it’s not even a fair comparison.
But when I just want a simple, comforting cup, I admit I go with PdT more often. Because MF’s teas are demanding – all head games, smoke and mirrors. PdT’s teas, on the other hand, are simple, accessible, predictable.
And I just turned into Gone Girl’s Nick Dunne, didn’t I?
So French Lupicia ship all over Europe now, which makes life a little easier. But just somewhat, because they have changed all the tea names, so you have to play detective to find the right ones. Also they have this completely un-Lupicia website, all clean and proper.
What they don’t have, however, is Cookie.
I don’t blame them – I doubt it would be a hit with the French palate. It’s quirky, which would work, but not quirky-elegant – and to not be elegant? Is there a greater sin?
For every sip of this, it just gets better, right down to the bottom of the cup. As usual, I can’t quite find the words to tell you how much I love this. I’m just going to drink it and be quiet.
Okay, so darjeeling can be black, white, oolong or green, allegedly – this is a green. I find this whole thing somewhat confusing, since darjeelings always seem to be marketed as black teas even when they’re green or oolongy (I’ve never come across a white).
Let me just say how much I love this lounge for stocking Kusmi. I usually pick up a bag of lemon ginger to drink on my flight, and I’m so grateful they have something other than the eternal chamomile-or-EG on offer. (However, I need to figure out if there are any lounges that offer Mariage Frères and then try to weasel my way into one of those.)
This sample bag isn’t very old, but it’s so subtle it might just as well have been ancient, mummified tea. This sounds weird, but if this had had a flavour, it would have been a pretty good flavour. That is, what I detect is very, very, very subtle, but it’s definitely pleasant. Like a nicely vegetal, unflavoured green.
I will definitely pick up another one of these and try again.
[Bag snagged at the CPH lounge, Copenhagen, winter 2013]
[Bag polished off in Rome, February 2014.]
Let me state right from the start I am really not the target audience for this tea. Unflavoured blacks are the hardest ones for me to stomach overall, and even though I’m still in the process of trying to figure out which base teas I actually like (considering I only come across them in flavoured blends) I do know I possibly take issue with darjeeling. Or assam. But I think darjeeling is the actual problem. And seeing as this is apparently a darjeeling-assam blend, all bets are off.
But hey, it was a free Lupicia sample bag, so how could I say no? Maybe if Lupicia were more readily available to me I’d feel I could afford a more cavalier attitude, but now it’s more like give me a free sample any sample I will perform tricks for samples okay just give me all the samples please come on I will sing for you and babysit although I can’t sing and loathe children please samples.
Scent wise, it’s just a bag of meh. Just black tea. That black tea scent. Same in the cup. It’s like that peppermint tea from Bluebird I tried the other day – I wish I liked this kind of tea, and this really is a fair cup of this kind of tea, so it honestly is all on me – but no.
I just don’t.
[Sample from my Lupicia spree at Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara, October 2013.]
[Sample polished off in Rome, February 2014.]
Reading PdT’s own description of this tea, it comes off as something very complex. It’s certainly very present scent wise – almost to a take-over-the-room level, but the suggested complexity is nowhere to be found.
I can’t really do my usual notes-of-this, or notes-of-that, because there’s just one main note – a somewhat flat, slightly smoky houjicha – that’s what the body of this tea amounts to for me. In the company’s flavour profile, this is described as something with a ‘medium length’ taste, and I feel I need to try a short length one – that would be a brief tongue tip taste experience, and then nothing else. This tea barely has any discernible aftertaste – all I get is a vaguely peppery note as I swallow.
This is ideal for someone looking for a very mellow roasty tea, whereas I tend to prefer the over-the-top roasty blends. Sorry, PdT, but this did nothing to convince me that all the criticism raised against your unflavoured teas is unjustified.
[Sample gifted by my sweet friend T, October 2013.]
You remember when I checked the no-teas-bought-in-January-challenge box? Right. Thing is, I did buy some teas when I was in Vietnam, but only to give away as gifts. As it turned out, I ended up with one bag too many (it sounds like I broke up with a friend, or something, but I really just grabbed an armful of gifts and then ran out of people who like tea.). I already ran his by my Tea Hiatus Partner, and we’re in agreement. I hereby publicly declare this an acceptable purchase.
This I picked up at the airport – probably not the site of the fanciest tea purchases, but it was very cheap and had cute prep instruction pictograms. I’m a sucker for cute pictograms.
It smells really good in the bag – all thick, velvety jasmine, but without being overpowering, and without a hint of artificialness. The dry leaf itself is very pretty, in varied shades of green, lightly curled up and studded with small jasmine flowers.
I was excited to see that the tea called for 100C water – I really appreciate delicate teas that can take a bit of a beating. They’re generally more fun to play around with, and offer more variety in terms of taste if I feel like experimenting with steeping parameters. I went with a 2-minute steep – the recommendation was for between 2 and 3 minutes.
Taste wise, this is not overly complex, fairly subtle and lightly perfumed, with some slight astringency. It might be tricky to balance this quite right – a longer steep at 100C might bring out more flavour, but it will most definitely render the brew too bitter. It’s a very nice, basic jasmine, though. Rating somewhat knocked down because it left so much residue (I typed ‘residude’ three times before I got it right) it my cup. Hate that.
Anyway, it’s always a bit of a challenge adding teas like these to the database, seeing as I have no clue whatsoever what anything on the package means. Yet another reason to love Vietnam, though – no special characters.
The bag says:
a) Thai Nguyên
b) Trà hoa lài
a) As for Thai Nguyên, it seems it is one of the most well-known tea regions in the highlands (I’ve only traveled in the south).
b) Google Translate told me Trà hoa lài means ‘future investigations flower’ which made me laugh so hard I partly slid off the couch. It’s like they know I’m wearing my Veronica Mars Kickstarter shirt! I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to translate as, ‘jasmine flower’, though, which makes the one entry for that ‘merchant’ on Steepster potentially faulty.
c) The URL doesn’t work, but that’s pretty typical. ’We’ll just buy the domain name and put it on all our merch. Looks profesh! No need to actually make a website.’ (Also it looks like the domain expired, so maybe they gave up altogether.)
[Picked up at Tan Son Nhat/HCMC, January 2014]
It is time for a short break from the infernal EU swap box (don’t get me wrong, the swap experience itself is beautiful, but the logistics of getting that box closed are seriously like something from Dante) to give Project Jasmine some attention. It was thanks to the first round of the box swap that I was reminded of how much I appreciate a good jasmine tea – entirely understandable memory lapse; during the fall I was a little too busy trying every single French fruity/floral green tea on the market, after all.
This is insurance tea – remember when my bag was lost and not found for a few days and there were little teas in there, all lost and scared? Yes. I needed to pick up some emergency tea, so I found this one at Gusto’s (yes, the restaurant) kitchen store, which is truly a marvel. They have so much great stuff. Italian kitchen stores can be amazing, and they turn up in the weirdest places – I found a crazy good one in Rovigo (population 50 000) a few years back, with the most amazing gadgets and molds and if I don’t stop now I will probably make a full list. The one in Rome is pricey, though – pricey-and-trendy-but-not-overpriced, which makes it hard for me to tell whether or not this is a quality tea, or just a trendy tea. I mean, this company isn’t even on Steepster, but they have a fair website and a really nice graphic profile. (Look at the tin! It has monkeys and elephants!) Then again, they’re German, and have chosen an ancient-renowned-French-tea-merchant-sounding name, which is always cause for some alarm.
Adagio’s Jasmine Silver Needle from the first round of the EU box swap is a really tough act to follow, seeing as it really is the best jasmine I’ve ever had, and overall, this does lack the exceptional qualities that made me rate Adagio’s tea so highly. Dry, it has a less complex, nicely perfumed, yet not too heavy scent. In the cup, it’s definitely pleasant and well-balanced, although it lacks the silken dreamy lightness of the Silver Needle. There is some very small astringency as it cools, but I’m sure the brewing parameters can be adjusted somewhat to avoid this.
Overall, I’d call this a solid, everyday jasmine. Jury’s still out on Forgeron & Blanc.
[Picked up at Gusto Libreria in Rome, February 2014.]
I wish I knew what the trick is to rooibos. What makes a good and a not-so-good flavoured rooibos so completely different? When I first had delicate, French-style rooibos I could barely believe it was the same thing as the cardboardy German stuff. Do they water the bushes with gold? Sing to them? It can’t all be in the flavouring. No flavour profile, no matter how adeptly put together, could ever mask that much cardboard.
Anyway – what I wanted to get to was that this reminded me a whole lot of a horrible Teavana tea experience I had with a blend called Rooibos Tropica. It smelled tasty from a distance, but then as you came closer, the citrus turned all chemical and brewed up it was seriously the horror of horrors. Cold-brewed it was seriously window cleaner in a cup. I haven’t been able to drink citrus-flavoured rooibos since, so I figured I’d better give this a try, seeing as it seemed a suitable back-up-on-that-citrus-rooibos-horse contender.
This is the sample that had leaked ever so slightly, so smelling puts me back in the state of excitement one unavoidably enters when receiving one’s swap box. (Oooh!) This one you can smell forever without it turning chemical, too – the citrus/rooibos balance is perfect and there’s a sweet note rounding everything off. This is more or less what you get in the cup as well, but the aftertaste has a warm, slightly creamy, vanilla-esque note to it that is very nice.
This is just good, delicately flavoured, high-quality rooibos.
I don’t need a citrus rooibos in my permanent cupboard, but if I did, this one would be a very fair contender. In terms of a rooibos-off between French tea merchants, Mariage Frères would still be in the lead, however.
Thank you for sharing, cteresa!
[Sample from the second round of the EU Travelling Box, spring 2014.]
I really like genmaicha and I’ve been looking for one solid brand to keep as a staple. Now I just need to find a way to get KittyLovesTea to produce this in large quantities, because this is seriously good. Very well-blended, just the right amount of toasty to me (I really love toasty) and with a nicely balanced tea base. I’m impressed!
Additives are not my thing, but if I had any maple sugar lying around, I would put some in, and this might be the EU swap version of DT’s Movie Night.
I’m going to snag a little bit more and put in a sample bag for later use, but there is plenty left – the rest of you should really try it.
[Sample from the second round of the EU Travelling Box, spring 2014.]