Imperial Tea Court
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Recent Tasting Notes
I find this tea to be very light and friendly on the taste buds. I find that I can drink this one multiple times in one sitting without ever feeling “tea-ed out”. It’s has a very gentle yet noticeable scent that kind of relaxes you. It’s one of those easy going teas that you really can’t go wrong with.
MUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCH better. Bumping up 20 points.
6g per 100ml, 97C water, quick initial rinse, and infusions progressing 15, 15, 25, 35, 45, 60 seconds.
Nice crispness with apple and acacia wood notes and a gentle floral recession. Some light hints of natural cocoa powder, walnut shell, terra cotta, orchid bark, orange peel, and allspice. Body is much better, though still lighter than a Yunnan red.
At a high concentration and short steeps, this is a very nice tea well worth the price. Good thing I gave it a 12th chance to give me good results…
One of the most beautiful teas I’ve seen in terms of dry leaf appearance (wet leaf and liquor color are pretty too, but not as breathtaking). Looks like small, fat buds of spun gold.
Maybe the gorgeous appearance, meticulous grading, and my general faith in the retailer’s selections had a good amount to do with this, but boy this was disappointing.
Lacking in character.
Flavors that were present had a wet cardboard taste threaded through them.
Tastes and aromas are muddled together and difficult to differentiate.
Best cup I’ve been able to produce so far (4g, 120ml, 2min, 95C) leans heavily on the dry-cured bamboo flavor and has sort of a dried papaya note hiding in the nose behind the smell of an old leaf pile. Nice body, but it just kinda sits there. In a cupping lineup I found myself avoiding this tea, half-emptying the bowls of the other samples and barely putting a dent in this one.
Gonna try screwing with concentration on this one tomorrow. Maybe if I overdose or go much lighter it will turn out better. Mid range of 2g-4g per 115ml-150ml from 85 degrees to boiling isn’t doing it for me, though.
Decided to go ahead and break out my third-favorite of the shou puerhs I have on hand since I’m in a Dim Sum mood and since I just had a bunch of nice aged sheng cha the other night I thought it would be nice to see how a good ol’ shou would stand up. Honestly, I’m a little let down tonight.
I’ve had this plenty of times at home and almost every time I go to Imperial Tea Court’s Berkeley teahouse (for some reason I tend to get an oolong or the Imperial Puerh instead when I go to the Ferry Building location in San Francisco) so I’m really familiar with it and love it, but tonight it just isn’t holding up for me. Still tastes great, just not blowing me out of the water.
Used 4g with 100ml water in a well-seasoned squat shi piao style zi ni yixing teapot. Single rinse with water shortly off a just-about-to-boil. I did not use my temperature probe tonight, but temps started around 97C and declined to 85C or so before refilling the kettle and bringing back up to just hitting a boil. Infusions progressed 15sec, 20sec, 25sec, 30sec, 35sec, 40sec, 40sec, 50sec, 60sec, 7min, 12min(boiling).
I feel really bad saying it, but the leaves look like the picture and the flavor matches the retailer’s description. The seven minute steep really didn’t taste a whole heck of a lot different from the 30 second steep. Bugged me to find the flavor and color declining at only the sixth infusion since I’ve pushed this to twenty brews before giving up… Usually I measure this one volumetrically into my pot, though, so I may be using only half or one third the concentration I normally do.
Dry Fragrance is woody and much like leaf litter. Wet leaf aroma same but moist, hahaha. I guess there’s a bit of cinnamon to the dry fragrance that’s washed out in the rinse and the wet aroma has a mossy, mineral, and barely noticeable clove note mixed with wet hardwood and plum (when warm, sorta intoxicating). Light currant and faint molasses sweetness to liquor aroma with more intense infusions providing a plum sauce heady aromatic base. Brews a very pretty darkish coppery orange color that is very clear.
Silky smooth. Full body. Bark off an oak tree and a bit of a cottonwood aroma. Steamed white rice sweetness that increases with each steep but not falling out of balance with base flavor. Has the set flavors you’d hope for in a nice, clean, mellow, well-balanced shou puerh and very reliable… but that’s what you get. The profile is pretty darned static. I have no reservations after tasting each brew in a tasting cup in tossing three infusions together and drinking in a single cup alongside food. Makes the food taste better. Goes reeeeally well with pork pot stickers dipped in soy sauce and more than made up for the failings of some sad steamed barbecue pork buns (still on my kick from last night – this experience a poor reproduction).
Final brew of 12 minutes tastes a lot like your standard sifted bud-heavy loose shou rinsed twice and brewed 3-5 minutes. Tasty and sweet but not exceptional.
Let down, but still a really good tea. This is one of those supreme comfort-teas I would keep on hand all the time if not for the price. Hard to beat in terms of tea that you can relax and have with dinner or watch a movie to. Best shared with someone though…
The smell of the dry cake reminds me of a forest floor in Autumn, with the leave’s fallen but not yet dry. There’s a bit of a mustiness to it which I find enticing.
When the tea brews the cake comes apart in the infuser. It’s at this point you can discern the look of the ‘loose’ leaves from this tea. They’re dark and appear a bit decayed. The aroma from the spent cake is similar, but amazingly lighter than that of the dry cake.
Brewed, the tea produces an extremely dark liquor. Somewhat cloudy and gritty you can’t see through the brew at all. The aroma from the liquor shifts a little with each infusion but maintains the same general profile of mossy/fungal scents.
The flavor is well rounded, composed of earthen flavors such as wood, drt and moss while holding a hint of honey in the initial touch on the tongue. While the tail is light and lasts a while, there’s only a little astringency and not much bite. Overall this is a very smooth Pu’erh.
4g/100mL 85C water with three back-to-back 30sec infusions following a rinse. More oomph with a 2min infusion, but it doesn’t really improve it to brew it longer in this case.
Very mild – lost most of the high florals it once had but this has always been a soft Wuyi Yancha anyway. Very difficult to distinguish discrete aromatic or flavor characteristics but tasty nonetheless. There’s a wet cinnamon characteristic in the dry fragrance, wet leaf aroma, and in the flavor but absent in the liquor aroma.
Round mouthfeel – good body and a light mouthwatering effect. Barely a touch of astringency… reminiscent of Huang Guanyin or a medium roast & oxidation Tie Guanyin or Rou Gui, but minus any kind of bite in terms of either acidity or astringency – carries that light hay-clay-milk-cassia-pluot mixture of flavors but in a far smoother package. The hay-like character is actually more akin to the smell of an untouched kiwi in the wet leaf and like muted yellow plum in the flavor.
This is the last of this tea that I had laying about and, though it is good, it never much prompted me to write about it (largely since it’s hard to pick flavors apart in it). It’s really lost a goodly amount of the high notes it used to present in the dry fragrance but that’s all it’s really lost since 2009. This is surprising, considering how mild it’s always been, but I guess it follows suit with most Wuyi Yancha in steadfastness over time.
Easy drinking fare, just not terribly exciting. I’m leaving the rating where it was ‘cause I shouldn’t ding a tea for sitting around for three years.
Honestly, I’m just reviewing this tonight because this happened to be the first oolong from Imperial Tea Court I could find whilst rummaging through my bin of miscellaneous 10g and less bags and tins. Okay, I passed a few up until I hit a cliff oolong ‘cause I was in the mood… ITC specifically not because I’m adamant to plug the company (only really feel that way for Tillerman Tea, since it’s my favorite alongside Jing Teashop), but for the occasion of an upcoming event.
The San Francisco International Tea Festival is this upcoming Saturday at Imperial Tea Court’s Ferry Building location. Dunno how the heck an event is to be squeezed into that relatively small space, but hey – it’s a NorCal festival about tea so I just need to shut up and be happy. Here’s a cozy little link for all to share and gush over:
I bought two tickets but will probably be going alone, so if anyone happens to read this and is in the region and interested, I’ve got an extra seat reserved for the taking. Anyone around San Francisco and want to go?
This is a case where it is perfectly safe and reliable to go by the retailer’s description. Roy really hits the nail on the head with this one.
I’ve gone through a lot of this tea, and wound up having to buy and season a teapot for it. I’m very glad that these old bush WuYi oolongs are potent enough and roasted to a degree where they can actually benefit from some aging. I doubt any would survive in my collection long enough to actually develop, though.
10g with 150ml water in a young zi ni rong tian yixing teapot used for WuYi YanCha. Two quick rinses without filling the pot all the way. Infusions progressed from 15 seconds to 2 minutes with about 5 seconds tacked on for each infusion. Used one kettle of heated water for every three infusions, using fresh water each time, starting with 83 degrees C and ending with 90 degrees C for the 22nd infusion, when I gave up.
Dark, brown leaves with red tinge on the stems. Dry fragrance sharp charcoal and cocoa with antique wood furniture and faint tobacco leaf notes. Wet aroma brings in mineral characteristics – wet gravel, granite, limestone, sandstone, sea spray saltiness – with old windblown tree woodiness. Cypress resin note. Aroma packs a wallop. Perfume lingers in the sinuses with peppery, dried brown kelp, carnation, tulip, grilled squash, and dry grass smells shifting around after sticking my nose in the pot. Leaves are not nearly as intact as many other oolongs – there’s a few entire leaves but most have been ripped/broken some way or other. Color takes on a patchy brown-olive appearance with red striping on veins and twig. Liquor is golden with orange-brown tint… Would look brown in a deep mug. Liquor doesn’t carry the sharp punch I got earlier, but still has the myriad of different aromas plus some. More dried herbs, lupine, succulents, sage, and clay topsoil… Reminds me of the smell of being at the rocky coast on a grassy cliff where a fire had burned not too long ago. Charcoal and light pepper still present.
Flavor is not sweet, but the nose and aftertaste leave an impression on your sinuses and tongue as though you just drank something sweet. Thick body. Sharp peach-pit astringency ripples through from front to back and hangs in the throat, causing a gravelly-like effect when coupled with the flavor, while the forward palate recovers with the mouthwatering effect. Really feels like I just swallowed dry gravel or cocoa powder, hahaha. Grilled veggies and nectar in the nose. Bittersweet chocolate. Caramelized onion fleets through in waves throughout a draught. Slurping really accentuates resinous wood and burned grass notes. I take that back – burned grasslands. The distinctive aroma of scorched rich soil is there in an odly refreshing way. This isn’t smoky, it’s roasty/flamed. Each infusion is different up to the 16th, where median water hyacinth and buttered wheat toast with honey hold on as a base flavor. Interesting flavors that pop out before then include vanilla bean, pie crust, apple peel, toasted sourdough crust, peach skin, dried orange peel, bergamot fruit, kumquat, Buddha’s Hand peel, papaya, yellow peach, apple-pear, soapstone, kale, mustard, cardamom, clove, overcooked grilled zucchini, pumpkin seeds, allspice, white peppercorns, sunflower seeds, broiled aged sheep’s cheese, pistachio, honeysuckle, and sweet potato. Lots of different flavors and each infusion has a different tactile impression ranging from dry to hydrating, thick to medium body, and at times cycling through all in different parts of the mouth simultaneously. Higher leaf concentration really aids in complexity on this tea. Burned wood note is prevalent in earlier infusions. Hotter water puts emphasis on wood notes and crushes the spice and florals.
This may not be a very approachable tea for some folks. The first few infusions are sharp and maybe even too harsh for some if too hot of water and/or too long a steep with no rinse. There is a ton going on and it sort of demands your attention… to the point where if you are drinking alongside delicate foods, it will take your attention from the food. Not something I’d want to brew as a full mug since I would not be able to appreciate the range of flavors produced in successive infusions and when prepared at dilute concentrations of 3g per 150ml or less, the taste is overrun with the woody-peach aroma. Despite these restrictions, I can not justify a score in the 80s. This thing is an exciting enough tea that I can’t sit with a cup of it to study – I wind up studying the tea! Yeah, I’ve tried this and wound up drawing the leaves in the middle of my page of notes. I may not count this among my “favorite” teas that are a bit more comforting and easier to brew or sit back and drink without thought, but this is a terrific tea that redeems the name of Shui Xian from the bulk Chinese Restaurant teabags and iffy “water Immortals” and “Amber Oolongs” that may come from the same varietal but do not hold a candle to this guy. This is probably the second or third most exciting tea I’ve had from Imperial Tea Court, and I buy a lot of tea from them. The most potent oolong I aim to keep in stock.
Used 2g with 60ml water in a small glazed ceramic gaiwan. Single rinse with infusions progressing 15 seconds, 20 seconds, and 30 seconds for 3rd-9th brews with 83 degree C water. 10th-12th infusions I used 86 degree C water for 1 minute.
The leaves are very pretty. Every single leaf has at least a little gold on it and pure golden buds make up the vast majority of the tea. Dry fragrance is kinda dusty and the hairs floating in the air around the tea are apt to make you sneeze. Dried apple and slight wood note. Wet leaves take on a gorgeous chocolate brown color with a yellow reflection. Wet leaf aroma much more dynamic, with cedar, apple, clove, cinnamon, and woodsmoke. Yeah, a bit of cocoa too, but I think I may have been looking for that characteristic subconsciously. Liquor is also gold, though in a deeper cup it looks like it would take on an orange color. I’m surprized by the clarity – I was expecting some haziness from leaf hairs suspended in the infusion, but I guess those that separated didn’t make it through my fine filter (same sieve doesn’t prevent bi luo chun or yin zhen from looking cloudy, though). Liquor aroma carries the notes of the wet leaves very well, but leaves the smoke characteristic behind.
Low end of full body or high end of moderate body. I was expecting to sacrifice some body with the lower temperature, but it’s still pretty thick. Plus side is the lower temp really did promote the expression of orchid and orange blossom floral notes in the nose. Really no hint of these in the liquor aroma, so it’s a pleasant surprise accent. Apple crisp sweetness pervades throughout. Leaves the tongue sweet as well, and the barely-noticeable astringency plays nicely off the lingering, mouthwatering finish. Wheat, barley, cinnamon, clove, raw sugar, baked pear, buckwheat crepe, kumquat, balsa and cedar woods, a bunch of different types of apples and apple-pear, and a touch of port-grape note. Flavor consistency is sort of remarkable… 12 infusions each expressing just varying degrees of the same notes. As it diminishes, there’s a buttermilk quality that comes out, again accented by apples but this time more of an apple strudel with cinnamon. Nice, comforting sweet taste to wrap up with. Though it leaves me with the impression of finishing a very small piece of apple pie with vanilla ice cream and now I want seconds…
Brewed a 13th infusion with 86 degree C water and forgot about it. Came back 9 minutes later for it – still smooth, crisp and tasty, though the water chestnut note I associate with leaves at the end of their run is prominent. Same basic flavor, but less body and spice notes barely noticeable.
Very tasty, soothing, smooth red tea. Prepared with hotter water it gives more pronounced flavors of wood and resin, but with cooler water you’ll be rewarded with lighter, more dynamic flavors and more of a mouthwatering effect.
This is my favorite tea alongside some FengHuang DanCongs and I intend to always have it on hand. My little round ZhuNi pot is used for only TGYs that are really similar in both roast and oxidation to this one. I actually have a travel tin about the size and shape of a hip flask I keep in my coat with this in it.
This time around I used 5g with a descending curve on water volume (leaves steadily displace more and more through progressive infusions) starting at 125ml and down to 100ml by the 10th infusion. I kept the steep time at 30 seconds for the first 6 infusions with 83 degree C water and bumping up to 45 seconds for 7th-10th infusions. Gave a single rinse with about 15 second contact time, though first retained brew might as well have been another rinse.
Leaves are shiny dark green and mossy brown with pale yellow-green stems tinges with gold and thin reddish stripes on stems, veins, and leaf margins. Fragrance is toasty hay with a “ripe” non-fruit fruity quality like smelling cooking zucchini. When placed in my heated teapot this does take on the light fruit smell of an uncut plum or nectarine. Wet aroma always reminds me of the smell of the hills in my hometown come October… Warm air mixing with a faint hint of coming crispness rolling off sunbaked, clay-heavy hillsides covered in a thick layer of dry annual grasses plus the smell of drying vineyards, just-ready to harvest cornrows, rushes and faint note from the first pumpkins being broken from their vines. Liquor is pale yellow and transparent. Aroma coming off the tea is more muted and mellow green toastiness. Orchid, lilac, dried lily/orchid leaves and palm fronds, sun-heated schist, a bit of wet moss and clay, and blackberry brambles. There is an always-surprising accuracy to the similarity of the liquor aroma and the smell of blooming Juncus and Carex wetland grasses in a drying spring-fed shallow freshwater marsh. It’s this unique floral-vegetal-toasty-pollen-milky-cottony-heady-lighty buttered and faint grassy menthol characteristic that really hits you hiking into upland marsh in Mediterranean climates. Yes, I once brought everything needed to brew this tea out to where I was doing a vegetative survey just to make sure I wasn’t off my rocker about this all-too-precise similarity.
Mild flavor and mellow, balanced body that builds a little in 3rd-5th infusions. Most of what this tea is about is in the aroma, but the light flavor balances it out. Taste is crisp with a slight acidity like the light sour taste you get from milk or cream. Yellow bell pepper sweetness. Not much of a savory quality, but just enough to be noticed (you get much more when brewing longer). Warm sourdough bread and a bit of cheese in aftertaste. Very smooth and soothing. Warms the belly. Palm/coconut husk in the afteraroma.
Again – not very fruity at all, but if you search for it, you’ll inevitably combine the floral aromatics with the crisp flavor to make something plum skin or peach-like. Really, this is more about creaminess and dried grasses with monocot flowers.
Very pleasant, easy drinking tea. Flavor shifts a bit between floral, vegetal, buttery, mineral, and woody depending on how it’s brewed so it keeps interesting and makes it fun to screw with brewing parameters. I love this tea. Not the most Jaw-dropping tea in the world, but really tasty. One of those teas that makes it really pleasant to stick your nose in the cup after finishing and will leave you absentmindedly reaching for your cup over and over again to find it empty. “Oh, there isn’t any more :(” pops into my head a bunch. Guess that’s why I motor through it so fast.
10 hours into drinking this tea, I refresh a second time for a 11th-13th infusions, which I pour together in one cup.
Longer steep and hotter water, I’ve robbed this of most of its complexity and wonder but it still tastes good. Bronze/brass notes and simpler profile centering on dried iris floral/herbaceous characteristics. Like the basic “wulong” shui xian you get in Chinese restaurants, but cleaner aroma.
Refreshed for an 8th-10th infusion.
Still has a great mix of aromas that continue to shift around. Smell of a warm willow-covered sandbar on a riverbend. Redwood rich spices… clove, cinnamon, and bits of roasted ginger and tannin. Earthenware fresh from a kiln. Bouquet of flowers. I’m getting definitive Cymbidium Orchid aroma. Astringency plays off mild acidity nicely – crisp and mouthwatering in the back lower corners of the mouth sort of near where my tonsils once were. Makes my breath sweet like fresh toasted seeded crackerbread. Bit of black plum pit juicy tang in aftertaste.
7g with 175ml water in a zi ni rong tian yixing teapot dedicated to Phoenix Oolongs. Single rinse with immediate pour – 10 second contact time. Multiple infusions in rapid succession using 85 degree C water. Takes 10 seconds to pour from the pot, so settled infusion is only 0-10 seconds for first seven brews.
Leaves twisted and fairly intact, though they don’t look too handsome. Toasty and floral dry fragrance mostly unnoticeable until placed in warmed pot. Wet aroma is like walking into a greenhouse. Not the heady meshed, buttery florals of Taiwan oolongs – here they are distinct, crisp flower and greenery aromatics of such a multitude that it is really difficult to parse them out. Definitely orchid, carnation, and lily. Also some hyacinth, tulip, African violet, and just a touch of star jasmine. Greenery aromatics of wetland grasses, oak trees, ferns, and duckweed. There’s also a good amount of wet lava rock, clove, allspice, and yellow peach in there. Base aroma is toasty and sweet with a warm adobe brick mineral accent. Liquor carries more of the toasty notes than florals. Color is clear light yellow.
First three infusions are smooth, crisp, clean, and lean toward toasty dried grasses and hops aromas and flavors. The florals are there, but are sort of a hushed persistent chatter in the background. For the fourth infusion the florals let go of their restraint and come forward full force. Carnation is the most present in the cup, but lily takes over for the nose and afteraroma. Roasted chestnut, toasted poppyseed and crispy noodle characteristics come through in the sixth and seventh infusions and warm cut willow and cattail herbaceous notes mix with gentle spiciness similar to grains of paradise mixed with paprika and roasted chipotle. Bewitching balance of sweet, spice, herbal-bitter, mineral, and nectarine-astringent. Aroma is shifting and complex but nose, afteraroma and sweet aftertaste more heady than the draught. By the seventh infusion I’m really reminded of the smell and taste of the air while hiking through freshwater marsh on a mildly warm late summer evening.
Tea has much more to offer, but I’m being lulled to sleep by its comforting melody of aromas and flavors. I’ll have to refresh these leaves in a couple hours.
Yum yum, tasty toasty aromatic inviting smooth sensualness…
4g with 150ml water in a young zi ni rong tian yixing teapot used for WuYi YanCha.
This is the last of my supply of this tea, so I used slightly lower strength and longer steep despite relatively large percentage of broken leaves. Dry fragrance like lightly caramelized sugar or muted cotton candy with almond and faint apricot. Wet aroma more spicy with clove and wet rock notes. Liquor pale yellow (like many green teas) and crystal clear.
Slick mouthfeel with moderate body and back of throat light astringency that climbs slowly to the tip of the tongue similar to mineral water effect. Mouthwatering and light hard candy sweetness. Mild but incredibly pervasive toasty note penetrates with warming effect throughout chest cavity and comes out with sweet exhalation. Candied walnuts, white peach and white nectarine. I can’t get over the way it makes my tongue taste sweet – it’s so long lasting for such a mellow infusion. Fleeting afteraroma of sedges and iris come in and out for over ten minutes after drinking.
When prepared stronger (7g with 140ml at 90 degrees C), the mineral note comes across as a gravel-like taste and aggressive back-of-throat astringency that just kind of sits back there like you swallowed something rough. More toasted oak and peach pit flavor supersedes the candy tastes but still sweet.