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Recent Tasting Notes
I got back from my shift at the school letterpress covered with ink and bruises (fiddling around with stiff old iron machinery), and wanted something comforting. I’m now drinking some mysterious maocha from LiquidProust—used 3.5 grams in a 100ml gaiwan and it’s a very mild, sweet brew. Hints of apricot and a tiny bit of smoke, and a nice sweetness. I’m noticing I really love fruity flavors in my tea—especially raw and ripes. Gonna keep this going and see how it turns out.
Backlog from April 21st:
Pineapple Kona Pop / Raspberry Pineapple Luau
I mixed these two together this morning for something different, but it didn’t really create anything spectacular. In fact, it’s pretty tasteless. I’m sure it’s partly due to my teas being older, but it’s really just not good. There is a vague fruitiness but it mostly tastes dusty and bland. The color is a deep berry red which I’m assuming is from the hibiscus which I can also taste. Not impressed.
Flavors: Dust, Fruity, Hibiscus
Well, today I’ve finally had a moment to sit and drink tea; to contemplate my life. The last couple of weeks of college are nearly complete (4 classes left until I complete my Education major, and then can continue onward for another year, to become a certified middle-grades History/English teacher!), my wife’s car is on the verge of falling apart, we’re waiting for our caseworker to get a hold of us to set a date for the home study, and we’re eager to have our children out of the terrible foster system—and into a loving home—where Mom & Dad will give them the best that we can give them….
Okay, that was sentimental….
Anyway, I’m currently drinking my third cup of Liquid Proust’s ‘A Dark Kitchen Sink.’ As of late, I’ve been wanting to eat everything candy and/or ice cream. However, I need to resist the temptation, and just pluck from the cupboard, these types of tea that I purposely have for these stressed induced situations. Fortunately, this was in there—and what a treat! If I were to close my eyes at this moment, I could say that you’ve watered ice cream down (particularly a Turtle sundae) by a whole lot, and reduced it to a simple drink; to which I’d say,
“My, oh my, what a fine treat! Is this hot watered down ice cream?”
Then I’d hear, “No you dope, it’s simply the best damn dessert tea that you’ve ever had.”
Alright, there’s a huge nutty flavor which comes from the whole pecans within the tea. There is definitely a nice black tea flavor after the third steep that jumps out a little (from the description, I’m assuming that’s from the Golden Pu-erh needles); which gives it the sweet cocoa note. The honey gives it a nice caramel note, too. I mean, I could list the ingredients that I try, but when I go about reviewing a tea that way, I get sidetracked, and then my review turns to mush.
I will just say that this is GREAT, remarkable, extraordinary, amazing, astonishing, astounding, sensational, stunning, incredible, and unbelievable! Buy it. Try it! Drink it! It’s liquid ice cream! What could be better?
P.S. Today’s tea soundtrack comes from the Japanese instrumental rock band, MONO, “Hymn to the Immortal Wind.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbnhjsDI_ho
Flavors: Caramel, Chocolate, Cocoa, Honey, Pecan, Vanilla
I’ve made a bad habit of stopping off at a local Coffee & Tea cafe by my job (there are two locations, each within a 6 mile radius from either my job or home) during the day when I’m awaiting to return to work.
Lately, I’ve been drinking their teas without complaint, so, I decided to ask the barista for something “tasty” and dessert-like. She pointed out the “Banana Bloom Tisane” which was supposed to be “like banana pie with lavender.” That’s false. It turned into a lavender nightmare, and there are cloves and cinnamon chunks within the tea. I like it, but since there is no banana flavor to it, I’m giving this the low rating.
P.S. It looked like lentil soup.
Flavors: Cinnamon, Clove, Lavender
LP had sent me a small bundle of Sheng pu-erh a while back, but I’ve been slowly trying them, and getting the most out of the samples. Today, I tried “The Ram” which he had sent. I must say that this tea was a great one to have on a cold and rainy day, here in Ohio.
This was refreshing. It was mellow throughout the entire session. The more I brewed, though, the more of a hay (grassy?) flavor came out of it. It was smooth and delicate. There was a hint of fruit (unbeknownst to me) which added to the sweetness of the tea. I was truly impressed with this brew, and had enjoyed the total 15 steeps!
I haven’t had time to write lately. However, even with this review, I’ll be brief.
Today, after a long exhausting weekend/beginning of the week, I wanted something loaded with caffeine and delightful. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had the time to brew a thermos of tea, so I parted ways with water. When work was over, I decided to try out a new coffee shop that a friend had told me about, which had “delightful Matcha lattes.” When I was talking to the barista about wanting a nice Matcha latte, she suggested that I’d try “The Hulk” because “it’s a great for nerds like me,” she said, while assuming that I, too, was a fellow nerd—she was right.
Anyway, the tea was meh (yeah, I said “meh”). There wasn’t much in there with the 16 ounces of 2% milk. I literally watched her put a tablespoon of tea in with the milk, added vanilla, and haphazardly stirred the minimal amount of Matcha into the cup. I asked her if she could add more, but considering that it was $2.50 for an extra scoop, I let it go. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t a bad cup of milk, either. However, I’ll stick with getting up at 4:45 A.M. to make tea from now on….
I’ve been frequently going to Muggzwigs Coffee and Tea Co. lately near my house. They have had a tendency to focus too much on the coffee aspect of their business; however, due to the popularity of tea in this area now, they are improving their skill at making cups of tea.
When I was at school a few years back, they often over steeped or burned the tea by putting boiling water into the pot—no matter the type of tea being used—so I avoided drinking tea there for a while. Recently, a friend had told me that they had improved on making tea, so I gave it a go.
The result was fulfilling.
Anyway, since this new and inexpensive experience, I thought I’d make my way over there after work last night for a cup of tea. Out front, they had the daily special: The Golden Smoky Latte. The description of the tea was, “Lapsang Souchong with frothed milk & honey.”That sounded perfect.
I was in the mood for something sweet, unique, and tea (plus, Lapsang just sounded like a great tea to have). However, when the barista was putting the cup together, I saw him grinding coffee beans…Considering that I was the only one placing an order, I thought this to be strange. When he began to add the coffee to the Lapsang that was steamed with the milk, I asked him what the hell he was doing. He told me that it was a “Lapsang with coffee, frothed milk, whipped cream, honey, vanilla syrup, and nuts…” I explained to him that the description mentioned Lapsang and honey—nothing else—but he decided to explain that the specials just highlight the “main components” of the daily specials, rather than list everything else.
Despite that, I purchased the cup & a Peanut Butter Morsi, and called it a day. The cup was unimpressive. It was loaded with so much sweetener and coffee, that the Lapsang was covered completely. I’ve decided that when or if I return, that I’ll avoid any “special-teas” and stick with the tea itself. Because the truth is, coffee-tea drinks are horribly sweet and unbalanced…and full of lies.
My wife and I went to a local Thai restaurant where they had a Thai Tea made from Orange Pekoe. It was very sweet and loaded with cream; although, it was surprisingly refreshing and had a nice kick to it. It’ll definitely be something to have rarely due to the incredibly high sugar content. I’m glad I took a cup without ice home because it helped me get through the first half of the morning with the students.
I tried the first sample that LP had sent me. I must say that he loaded me up! For that, I’m utterly grateful!
I had this tea session this morning before heading outside on this lovely afternoon. So, I sat at table with my wife, as she had coffee, and took an hour to go at it. The sample that I had was a 11 Mao Cha; which was quite lovely.
The aroma after the first rinse was intriguing. I wrote, “Vegetal, honey, smoke (????).”
First steep: The flavor was vegetal, slightly smoky (slightly in the aftertaste), and grassy (?). The mouthfeel is a bit drying, and works itself into the throat.
Second steep: Aroma has a nice floral, “fresh leaf,” slightly smoky, and honey smell.
Flavor: Rich and soft; floral and sweet. A slight astringent aftertaste, which is left in the mouthfeel. The overall tea doesn’t have much astringency, but it’s minor in the mouthfeel. I like the dryness. Mostly sweet, though.
Third and Fourth steep: Aroma has a stronger honey, cooked leaf (?), grassy, and Spring quality to it.
Final note on the tea: Mao Cha is the tea to have when Winter ends and Spring begins. It is fresh, slightly astringent in a very positive way, and leaves a unique dry mouthfeel. Mao Cha is the type of tea that could grow into a “very pleasant Shu…Like individuals, with age, we grow (supposedly) wiser. Tea just does that with flavor.”
As you can tell, I was tired and tea drunk, so my notes came off a bit eccentric. I enjoyed the session, and my wife told me that she enjoyed hearing my thoughts on the tea. Thank you, Liquid Proust for this sample! I now understand pu-erh in a way that haven’t before; which is satisfying to know that there’s always more to learn with tea.
I got about 13 steeps out of this, but gave up on the note taking after steep # 4.
Flavors: Honey, Smoke, Vegetal
I received a mystery sample! All I know for sure about it is that it’s by Yuuki-cha. My best guess from the appearance was that it was a green tea, so I steeped accordingly. I think I guessed right. The brew is quite dark, but definitely not dark enough for a black tea. To me this tastes like hojicha, though the dry leaves didn’t look anything like the hojicha I’ve tried before. It may also be some sort of oolong I haven’t encountered before, but hojicha is my best guess.
Today it’s pretty freaking hot outside, and I had to get out and do some yardwork, which sucked. I came inside and, looking for something refreshing, saw a forgotten cup of yellowish liquid with some spent leaves in the bottom. It took me a bit to even remember what I had decided to cold brew before I remembered it was the remains of my session with the Sesame Baozhong from Dark Matter. I’m not sure it was even safe to drink at this point, as it had been in there for at least a week (covered in plastic wrap at least), but I drank it for science.
It tasted very light, as I would expect for 2g of spent leaves in a 16oz glass. It was a lightly fruity and refreshing drink, and nice to quench my thirst after being outside in the hot sun for an hour or two.
Drank an 08 Maocha from Liquid Proust’s box of sheng samples. This one was hard for me to drink/define. The 2010 was mostly sweet leather flavors, but this one had an aroma/flavor I haven’t yet encountered in tea. It was difficult to describe – reminded me of roasting vegetables at first, then I realized it was more just the spices/herbs involved. I picked up rosemary and peppercorn (not just black peppercorn but like the multi-colored ones). Taste was slightly bitter with peppercorn spice, though that eventually faded into a bit more of a sweet leather flavor. In the later steeps, the wet leaves smelled of seaweed, and I got some interesting “round” fruit notes. This tea was pretty good, but I enjoyed the 2010 maocha much more.
Flavors: Bitter, Fruity, Leather, Peppercorn, Seaweed, Spices, Spicy, Sweet
Drank an anonymous 2010 Mao Cha which I got from Liquid Proust. Really enjoyable session. The first steep was sugary sweet, which really surprised me. After that, bitterness crept in until it reached a crescendo around steep 4. The bitterness dropped off in the subsequent couple steeps and was replaced with a leathery sweetness that remained for many more steeps. Around steep 9 or so, the bitterness returned briefly. The sweetness sometimes acquired a floral quality, but was mostly like leather and sometimes tasted in the back of the throat. Thanks for this tea, LP! :)
Flavors: Bitter, Floral, Leather, Sugar, Tobacco
So, I have a bag of Japanese green tea. I have NO idea what kind it is. The bag is all in Japanese, my sister gave it to me with the only instructions being, “My friends husband was in Japan and brought back this tea and she gave it to me and I thought you would like it.” With that being said, I am leaning towards it being a steamed sencha? Maybe? It is a very delicate and silky green that has the propensity to turn very bitter, very fast when over steeped. I’ve been doing 170 degrees around 45-60 seconds per first steep. Anything more than that and it goes bitter.
Anywho, I had some extra ginger root and I really wanted a ginger tea this morning. So, I cut up some of the ginger root, a few grams worth, and added it in with this Japanese green and steeped it by my normal parameters for this tea. It turned out really well! The tea and ginger blended nicely. The ginger was there but not too strong (though I wouldn’t have minded if it were stronger). The green tea was its normal silky green flavor with just a hint of bitterness.
Pretty pleased with myself!
Flavors: Bitter, Ginger, Grass, Smooth
After reading Liquid Proust’s review of the YQH Bulang a few days ago, I decided to try it myself. This was my second session, and the first try was underwhelming (which is pretty much what he said). During the 1st steep, I got a bright idea and pulled out a 2006 6FTM Bulang sample from Tea Urchin to do a side-by-side tasting. These are my notes.
The dry leaf was what you would expect: the YQH had beautiful full leaves that came apart easily and the 6FTM was tightly compressed. The small bits and powder probably are more inherent in the tea than due to my technique in breaking off my sample. First steep (10 s): surprise: the older tea has significantly lighter color than the younger tea. Second surprise: They tasted quite similar; the YQH had more complexity but wasn’t as potent as the 6FTM.
Second steeps (10 s): The colors are now very similar. The initial darkness in the 6FTM is probably due to the powder that’s now in my strainer. Both teas have that smoked meat aroma I associate with Bulang. The YQH is stronger. The YQH also has more flavor. The 6FTM seems just a bit washed out after I tried the YQH. On an absolute basis, the 6FTM is fairly full in the mouth, has good flavor and a bit of complexity. I liked it well enough to buy another sample but not a cake (this is about my 5th session). When I go the the YQH, though, it is just a bit more powerful, has bigger mouth-feel, and is more complex. Kind of like that kid in school who did everything just a little bit better than you did. It’s a bit hard to judge the finish when you go back and forth, but the 6FTM seemed to have a very good finish. After waiting a couple of minutes to let it fade (though it was still pretty good after 2 minutes) I finished the slightly cool YQH. The taste had opened up to be a bit stronger than I remembered, and was showing some stone fruit at the finish. There is a slight astringency I didn’t notice in the 6FTM but otherwise the finishes are comparable, though the YQH seemed to last longer, though of course it is building upon the 6FTM finish.
3rd steep (20 s): This is usually my best steep. I waited 10 minutes for the finish to fade. Very similar visually. Excellent nose on the YQH; less on the 6FTM, though it is quite good on an absolute basis. I like the 6FTM a lot; it is showing some sweetness and the smokiness is less obvious. The taste glides gently into a smooth, pleasant, finish. The finish is slightly astringent, but not really bitter. The YQH is also less smoky, but I’m having a harder time finding the flavor: It is what wine drinkers call “closed-in,” which means you can sense flavor but it’s hiding. When I aerate the tea in my mouth, it shows a slightly vegetative flavor. For this round, I’m favoring the 6FTM slightly, just because it is more approachable. I’m noticing a big, astringent finish that I suspect is due to the combined effect of the two teas. Hard to separate things at this point. The qi is also starting to affect my judgement. Time for another break.
4th (30 s): 6FTM is really nice. Sweet and smooth with a bit of fruit. Fruit especially obvious in the finish. Some astringency. Probably wants even more age. The YQH is very similar to the 6FTM at this point. Slightly stronger, and more astringent. I think most of the finish is coming from the YQH, but it’s impossible to separate the effects, when the finish lasts for 10 minutes and I have 30 sec between tastes. The flavor of the YQH is a bit lighter, with citrus elements, while the 6FTM is more straightforward. I still have a slight preference for the YQH, but it IS slight.
Steeps 5-8: This is where I abandon myself to a tea-drunk to see which tea lasts longer. The 6FTM grew more bitter in later steeps, while the YQH just faded away gracefully.
Bottom line: the YQH is the better tea, but not by a wide margin. The 6FTM is definitely the better value.
When I found out I wouldn’t be able to attend the Midwest Tea Festival I decided to look into some of the vendors from last year that I would be missing. I decided to order samples first from Singe Origin Teas because I’ve seen good things (plus they have a chesnut tea, which I needed). I ended up “throwing in” the Waverly Tea Estate tea grown in Florida because 1) I’m a plant person and I’ve always wanted to grow my own tea and 2) it would be nice to have premium tea here in the US. I figured I have spent more on Kickstarters that didn’t pan out so I might as well try this.
My tea was picked 5 days ago, and I got my 6 oz in the mail yesterday. I didn’t give any parameters other than “green” so I got a medium rolled and medium pan fried green. I wasn’t sure what to expect and went really conservative for my first brewing temp since I thought it could be a super bitter spring green.
1st steep: 4 grams, 8 oz water, 100 F, 1.5 min infusion
The tea looked really dark in the package so I almost was going to treat it like a toasted tea, but when I got it out I noticed it was actually dark green and had a really fresh green smell like a sencha so I was afraid of going too high with the temp. It brewed a light green gold color and started to smell a little toasty. It ended up having a super silky mouthfeel and tasted sort of light and buttery.
2nd steep: 8 oz water, 125 F, 1.5 min infusion
The first seemed a bit light so I decided to up the temp for this one. It brewed to more of a green color. There was a bit of a butteryness still there but now with more vegetal spinach notes. The toasty notes are now coming out and it’s like a cross between a summer dragonwell and a lightly toasted oolong.
2nd steep: 8 oz water, 125 F, 1.5 min infusion
I kept the brewing parameters the same here. It was very much like the second steep but now with a slightly dry finish.
4th steep: 8 oz water, 160 F, 1.5 min infusion
Whoops, I wanted to up the temperature a bit, but didn’t mean to go this high. I honestly I thought I ruined it. It turned a dark gold color and tasted like a smooth hojicha or even a darkly toasted barley tea, it was a little bizarre. I had a bit more of the dryness at the end.
5th steep: 8 oz water, 140 F, 1.5 min infusion
I just had to find out. It’s gold with a green undertone. It’s still very full flavored and now has a buttery mouth-coating ending followed by a fuzzy dryness.
Assesment: An aromatic, full flavored, chimera of a tea. Not quite like anything I’ve had before, and really resilient to my playing around with brewing parameters. I’ll use up the remainder in a gaiwan session once I have the time. Now that I’m not afraid of getting a super bitter cup I’ll probably start with a temp of at least 140-150.
Decided to throw a few snow chrysanthemum flowers into my mystery Hong Kong hei cha after reading the chrysanthemum tea thread in the discussion section. Neglected to rinse it first so the brine flavor of the dark tea combined with the strange and inexplicable briney flavor of the snow chrysanthemum to make super brine.
Subsequent steepings were much better with the flowers adding a pretty red color. I didn’t add enough to pick out its flavor, but it did round out the dark tea nicely. I even threw in a few more during the later steepings once I thought the first few were spent.
Been a rough week at work and I’ve been hitting the caffeine a bit hard so I brewed some hibiscus for my iced tea. I buy large bags of dried hibiscus “flowers” (I think they are technically sepals) from the Mexican grocery downtown. They are labled as ‘flor de jamacia’ and come in big 1/2 lb bags for only a few bucks. I like it better than any hibiscus blend I’ve tried since it brews up stronger almost like a tart fruit juice. A few cinnamon sticks pieces add a nice bit of spice.
It’s pretty forgiving to brew. Time, temperature and such don’t seem to matter much. It makes it a good weekday tea to brew while making dinner where juggling making pasta and trying to get precise brewing temp/time may not be much of an option.
Everyone has their own ideal masala chai. It is one tea where people rarely see eye to eye, and that’s even before the black vs. milk and sugar difference that can make a harsh chai awesome or a balanced one weak. My local tea store while having a good selection of what I’m sure are good quality masalas just seemed to lack what I was looking for. In my mind masala chai has lots of cardamom and little or no allspice. This is rarely the case as cardamom is usually the most expensive spice in the mix. As for allspice I imagine it must either be cheap or a lazy way of trying to get a well rounded flavor (maybe both). I like the spice itself but it’s presence in chai usually puts me off.
So in order to find my own personal “just right” chai I’ve started to blend my own. It’s actually rather easy if you have access to a strong black Crush Tear Curl tea such as the loose leaf Lipton sold in Indian groceries (not the American one!). As well as access to a spice store or Indian grocery that sells whole spices. I cook a lot so I actually already had everything I needed in my pantry first time around. I’m just now getting to the end of my third batch and I’m ready to make another. I make it starting with 8oz of “Kilimanjaro” a CTC Tanzanian tea from Gong Fu tea then roast and crush spices including cinnamon (both true and cassia), cloves, black pepper, fennel, star anise, the nibs from ground down whole nutmeg, and yes even sometimes small amounts of allspice. To the final blend goes ginger (either dried or candied) and sometimes bay leaves.
Tonight’s cup I made with an almond/coconut milk blend and sweetened with some Mexican cone sugar (a close approximation to Indian jaggery). I like the extra molasses flavor the sugar brings but wished I had used whole milk. I also simmered the tea in water and added the almond milk after which I think makes for a less creamy and aromatic cup than simmering it spin straight milk. Despite this it was warm and sweet and slightly spicy. Perfect for a late winter Sunday and best yet almost exactly tasting how I imagined it should.
No notes yet. Add one?
My sig fig brought me a hei cha bing from Hong Kong. I’m not sure what it is since everything is in Chinese characters other than “201305” on the back of the wrapper. It’s chopped leaves with some stems and the cake isn’t pressed super tight so I can pull off chunks with my fingers. I don’t know what’s popular in Hong Kong but regionally I would guess maybe this might be a liubao?
I’m just now starting to get into dark tea so I only had some basic affordable pu erh from Gong fu tea to compare it to. I shop there a lot but they by no means specialize in pu erh which I can’t exactly blame them for since the most interest probably comes from dieters who would drink motor oil if it was said to be ancient Chinese miracle whatever. The flavor of this cake is very similar to the pu erh I’ve had. It’s dark, earthy, with a strange brine flavor. No astringency or bitterness, and it’s good for multiple infusions; at least five even with a rinse and some of the infusions being 2-3 minutes. The leaves after are still dark and distinct despite being cut in small pieces.
My guess is that this is a decent everyday drinking tea. I enjoy it and think it does well as an after dinner tea (so long as I don’t need to sleep anytime soon) and probably would go well with some fatty porky dim sum. I’m very happy with it.
2016 Sheng Olympics
As part of the #2016ShengOlympics organized by LiquidProust, I decided to do a side-by-side tasting of all three Verdant “old tree” shengs. I figured with 50ml gaiwans it should not be overwhelming (I was not entirely correct; it’s still a lot of tea!)
Here’s the teas before the start of the session:
And here’s the aftermath showing the most intact and largest leaves I could find:
I took each tea through 11 steeps over several hours in round-robin fashion using 3.5 grams of leaf in each 50ml gaiwan with 205F (+/-2F) bottled spring water heated in a clay boiler. I let the tea guide my steep times, ending up with 10/10/10/15/20/30/40/60/90/120/300 seconds for each one.
All of the teas were quite mellow with mild aromatics and easy on my stomach. And the energy imparted was moderate; I never felt too wired.
300 Year Tree: Light yellow liquor. Aromas of pine in the first half of the session, turning tart and fruity in the latter half. Medium bodied, slightly oily mouthfeel. The flavor started fruity, turned to sweet-tart citrus with slight spice in later steeps. Some faint astringency in the beginning and again near the end when I pushed the steep times. Overall a decent mild young sheng.
1000 Year Tree: Medium yellow liquor. Aromas of pine in the first half, turning to old books, then spicy-tart near the end. Medium bodied, fairly oily mouthfeel and a soothing feeling coating the throat in most steeps. The flavor was primarily sweet-tart with slight spice and pine notes appearing at times, and citrus and herbs arising in the later half. Faintly astringent in the longer steeps. I liked this one just a little better than the 300 Year, mostly because of the feeling in my throat.
1800 Year Tree: Medium-dark yellow liquor (but not quite amber). Aromas were primarily tart, sweet, faint pine, woody, turning fruity sweet in the long steeps. Medium bodied, slightly oily mouthfeel. Flavors started as a sweet-tart balance with faint pine, citrus emerging in the mid-steeps, some herbal notes, ending with light sweetness and slight pepper. No astringency. This one edged out the other two in terms of flavor, but just barely. My notes repeatedly show “a mellow, smooth cup”.
Any one of these would be a good beginner’s sheng since they were all quite mild and well behaved. In truth I cannot pick a winner since they were all so similar. I had to really focus to pick out the differences. Also I did notice some slight camphor mid-session, but since that can carry over in the mouth from one tea to the next I could not attribute it to any one tea.
So what did I learn after drinking about a liter and a half of tea in one night?
(1) When I closed my eyes I felt I was swooping around the cosmos with “Rocket Man” playing in my head.
(2) Drinking this much tea leads to truly epic pee sessions. (Wife: “Did someone leave the water running?” Me: “Go back to sleep dear”).
(3) A few of my Steepster friends keep weird hours on Instagram as well.
(edited to add “2016 Sheng Olympics” at the top)