Ya-Ya House of Excellent Teas
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Recent Tasting Notes
A cup of tea a day keeps the doctor away…and that’s certainly the case for this super tea. Ginseng is believed by many people to restore and enhance normal well-being. Oolong tea is known to provide vital antioxidants, promote superior bone structure, robust skin and good dental health. Since oolong and ginseng are two of Chinese medicine’s favourite ingredients – you’re basically one cup away from being a superhero.
This oolong is processed in the traditional way. However, after the leaves have been rolled and dried they are then blended with ground Ginseng powder that is made of genuine Ginseng root.
At first sight, this tea looks more like moss-covered pebbles than tea leaves. And it tastes just as wonderfully weird as it looks: rich and crisp with sweet notes of flowers (orchids), a little fire from the roasting, and slight tartness of ginseng. A syrupy sensation is created in the middle of the mouth and moves around for some time. (Note: The ginseng flavour does not overwhelm the tea leaf; rather the two work together to offer a good balance.)
There are variations with regard to brewing time: some suppliers indicate 85 degrees for 3-4 minutes, others suggest ‘gongfu’ style by steeping the leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds (and 20 second subsequent intervals). Each cup is a completely new experience.
By the way, if you notice a slight numbing effect on your mouth and your warm stomach, just know it’s the ginseng working its magic.
Thurbo is a very famous name when it comes to Darjeeling tea. As with most Darjeeling tea gardens, there is a unique story behind its name. The British set up a camp in this estate to invade Nepal in 1814. The word camp or tent is known as ‘Tombu’ in local dialect and hence over the years the name has morphed into ‘Thurbo’.
In late 1996 we visited Mirik in the winter. It was a misty and damp location lacking attraction other than a small lake filled with catfish. Unknown to us at the time, a short distance away, the Thurbo Tea Estate sits in the shadow of the mighty Kanchenjunga. In the spring and summer, the Mechi and Rangbang rivers gurgle down through the estate to the plains via orange orchards and orchid farms; lending an exotic charm to the tea.
Now to the tasting. The dry leaves are finely sorted and are small in size with lots of golden tips. When steeped for three minutes at 85 degrees, the cup gives out bright yellow/orange liquor and a unique heavy floral musk like aroma raises high above the cup. Each sip is super smooth presenting notes of fruits (apricot or peach, pineapple, citrus) and subtle malt, with a fresh herbaceous backbone. There is little or no astringency, making it ideal to drink without the addition of milk and sugar.
One of the famous rock teas from Anxi region in the Fujian province, this oolong announces itself the moment the bag is opened. Fragrant. Floral. Fresh. Fabulous.
They say a picture is as good as a thousand words. New Zealand artist, Rita Angus, does a superb job of capturing the nuances of this tea in her ‘antipodean’ version of the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion Guan Yin, who happens to be the namesake of this tea. It is believed the artist saw Guan Yin as a bronze figure in the 1937 exhibition of Chinese art that toured the main centres of New Zealand. In her painting, she depicts the much revered semi-deity as a gracious young woman, her palm exposed in a gesture of benediction, and clutching a lotus flower. The style employs themes from New Zealand and Pacific art, and yet the floral pattern of the goddess’s skirt recalls Chinese ceramic designs.
Sipping this tea, it is like taking a journey through the painting. The artfully curled, hand-rolled leaves render a golden cup that has a distinctive flavour profile: a soft buttery texture and a floral (osmanthus or orchid) attack. It is also slightly vegetal with only slight bitterness. When the last drop has been extracted from the tea pot or gaiwan, the tea offers further contemplation with a note of honey-dew melon remaining long in the mouth. Interestingly, the infused leaves when opened are slightly folded which give them the appearance of hands held in meditation; reminiscent of Guan Yin. This is, indeed, a purifying and meditative beverage; ideal for quiet moments with a book (or a piece of art).
Note: Like the ‘Golden Osmanthus’ oolong, this is not a scented tea.
Once a week, I enjoy what has become a ritual: a visit to the local Buddhist Temple and tea house for a steaming bowl of Lucky Noodles and Osmanthus Oolong tea, which is floral, thick and meditative. Ideal for quiet moments.
Deciding to order a stash for home, I was surprised to discover online two ‘Osmanthus’ oolongs for purchase – one from Taiwan, the other from China.
Golden Osmanthus (or Huang Jin Gui) hails from the famous AnXi region in the Fujian Province and is one of the finest Chinese oolongs. The name ‘Golden Osmanthus’ refers to the yellow cup, the yellowish green leaf and a fine flavour that reminds you of the Osmanthus blossom. However, it is not a scented tea; unlike the Taiwanese version which is layered with osmanthus blossoms.
Golden Osmanthus is composed of hand-rolled leaves, in clusters of variegated colour from light olive to ivy-green. The scent is mostly floral bouquet. Tasting the tea, it really does resemble Osmanthus flowers, but it has a very different overall character from Osmanthus-scented tea. Also it has some surprises.
The first two infusions were for 40-60 seconds at around 85 degrees, which produced a very clear cup that was mostly aroma with a little body. Interesting, this was followed by a 5-minute infusion, upping the temperature to just under boiling, and the results were completely different: now there was a bold, herbaceous quality, tones of celery and parsley. This cup was full-bodied and rich. Like many other Chinese oolongs, this tea is full of mystery and complexity…and yet it is very reasonably priced.
Flavors: Butter, Nuts, Osmanthus, Plants
This tea is grown on the Nantou mountains moistened by mist every morning and late afternoon. It is produced by combining lightly-oxidised Taiwanese oolong leaves with fresh osmanthus blossoms. The recipe of this oolong has been around for a long time. This tea was especially popular among the ladies in the past as they believe that drinking it can help them enhance their beauty.
At first glance, there is a tendency to dismiss this oolong as a run-of-the-mill blend. More often than not, blends with are often made from lower quality tea leaves with more fragrant flowers or herbs used to mask the deficiencies of the tea. But this oolong bucks this trend. The base used is not some cheap leaf but those from the Jin Xuan cultivar, which has a creamy quality that is known as Nai Xiang (milk fragrance). In fact, the osmanthus oolong shouldn’t be classified as a blend but as a scented tea. During production, the tea leaves are packed with fresh osmanthus blossums and left overnight to absorb the fragrance. Unlike Jasmine tea, the scenting process is not repeated. Before sale, most of the osmanthus petals are removed leaving a small amount for ornamental purposes.
Part of the fun of Osmanthus Oolong is watching the interplay between its two components. In the first two brews especially, the osmanthus and peachy fruit notes tend to shine through. From the third or fourth infusion onwards, the osmanthus note starts to fade and the oolong taste (green plant, citrus, nuts) dominates. Visually, the tea is beautiful to observe as the blossoms float to the top of the teapot while the tea leaves slowly unfurl from their semi-ball shape.
This all makes for an interesting and evolving tea. Perfect for beginners or purists. But don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself.
Flavors: Citrus, Creamy, Nuts, Osmanthus, Peach
This is the perfect tea for a day of rain…
Cultivated in the highlands of the Himalayas at an elevation above 7000ft, the tea plant leaves grow in a pristine natural environment free from roads, pollution and pesticides. The Meghma Oolong Tea Project began as an effort to improve the poor living conditions of the local people in Meghma, Nepal by helping them to re-discover the ancient art of manufacturing Asian Oolong tea. This tea is manufactured by hand as an artisan tea.
The tea, when dry, has loads of glorious buds…very tippy. One thing I’ve noticed about oolongs from the Indian subcontinent is that they generally do not look uniform. What I mean by that is whereas a Chinese Oolong often will look very uniform in terms of colour and shape, Oolongs from India and Nepal seem to have a little bit of variation.
The dry leaf smells sweet and soft, with a bouquet of flowers and a little savouriness. The liquor is much the same: sweet and smooth with notes of stone-fruit and muscatel, and a slight savoury backbone. There is a lingering, subtle, sweet aftertaste accompanied by a little dryness in the throat.
The flavour is not particularly complex, nor one that changes from infusion to infusion (although a slight maltiness creeps in, reminiscent of a Chinese Yunnan Imperial, as the floral notes drop off) so it has potential to become a little boring. The tea also tastes just like a lighter or a slightly different version of what we normally know as Darjeeling black tea (or red, as the Chinese prefer). I wonder if the Oolong processing has really done much to the tea itself or if we are merely tasting the same terrior (e.g. Darjeeling and surrounds) over and over…? Only a real expert could say.
Brewing this tea is remarkably easy and it’s reasonably forgiving if you want to experiment with brewing times.
With some excitement, I opened a sample of prized ‘Fu Cha’ tea. Fu Cha is a type of dark tea from the Hunan Province. It is NOT pu’erh (which comes from Yunnan Province). What makes this tea unique are the yellow spores that cover the surface of the tea cake (bing). These spots are a beneficial fungus, Eurotium Cristatus, which evolve through a ‘double fermentation’ process. The more spores, the higher the quality of the Fu Cha. There are many claims of health benefits: mostly to do with the unusually vital Mongolian peoples who remain in relatively good shape, despite eating pounds of meat a day. Of course it is their double fermented tea that is touted as the primary cause of this. Although, perhaps, it is more that they survive in a tundra landscape, while we sit in front of computers. I digress. Back to the tea.
Following instructions that I steep this tea as one would a ‘sheng’ or raw pu’erh, water was heated to 96-100degrees. The leaves were then rinsed briefly before the first steep.
While brewing, this tea takes on a hearty, earthy smell. However, the taste of the tea was underwhelming. There was none of the bitterness that often accompanies young raw pu’erh, but it lacked flavour. A “woody” note was about it.
Unfortunately, when we study tea we can often overthink. We expect the tea will reveal all its secrets in the first steep. And when this doesn’t happen, there is a feeling we have “missed something.” Fortunately, my supplier gently reminded me of the Zen approach to tea: that we shouldn’t expect anything. The tea will reveal itself when it is ready. And no two experiences are the same (ichigo ichie). I had to “empty my cup” of all preconceptions and expectations.
After days of foot shuffling and avoidance, I re-approached the Fu Cha with an “empty cup": heating the water, rinsing, and providing space for the tea (and myself). The result was a pleasant surprise: the woody note remained, but a real sweetness (fruits and molasses) came through. Lingering long in the mouth. It lasted a good seven or eight steeps, however, its deceptive gentleness was counteracted by a wallop of caffeine.
“If our cups are empty, the [tea] will fill them; if not, the [tea] will flow onto the floor and be lost.”
Thanks so much to Dorothy for this tea sample!
I think this is my first zealong tea so I wasn’t too sure what to expect here. She told me it wasn’t a good short steeper so I used the regular teapot method here and steeped it for 4 minutes. I think I had 2 tsp. or so of tea for an 18 oz. teapot.
I got a medium brownish red tea liquor here. The flavor of the tea is slightly malty and grainy with a very nice floral element. I’m impressed by the lovely sweet tone in the finish of this tea. It lingers for a while and is very pleasant; has a smooth almost creamy quality. This is an easy tea to sip on plain and I am really enjoying it this morning. It reminds me a bit of some Chinese congou teas I have had recently.
Thanks for the sample Dorothy!
The dry tea has a nice, dry, earthy aroma. I like the needle-like leaves, as most of the Yunnan blacks I get my hands on will be rolled in some way.
After a 5 second rinse (which elicited a nice earthy scent), I infused the leaves for around 45 seconds at a time. The liquor is a lovely amber color and the flavor of the first infusion is surprisingly smooth. There is a slight sweetness to the tea that I was not anticipating and I can’t quite put my finger on what it reminds me of. Maybe it’s like the sweetness you experience when eating pumpkin or certain kinds of squash.
The second infusion has lost the mellowness and is giving a bit more astringency, which I find fun. Overall, it’s not bitter or anything, but a very nice tea to drink and enjoy.
Amount: 3 tsp
Water: 500ml at 195°F
Tool: Breville One-Touch Tea Maker BTM800XL
Steep Time: 2 minutes
Dry Leaf Smell: floral, light, toasty
Steeped Tea Smell: Floral, fresh vegetal, slightly roasty, sweet
Flavor: Sweet, toasty, smooth, almost silky
Aftertaste: sweet, toast
Liquor: translucent honey yellow brown
Lovely, light, sweet! In addition it have this beautiful sweet floral fragrance that I could not stop sniffing. It is not a morning wake you up cup of tea but a slightly floral sipping tea. It is delicate on the tongue, but with enough presence to make sure you know it’s delicious.
500ml at 195°F for 3min
Just as good, slightly less smooth mouthfeel
Third steep was too weak at 4 minutes
I thoroughly enjoy this black! I don’t love it as much as the oolong
Rating: 4/4 leaves
I’ve never tried “gaba” teas before, so I was quite happy to see this tea sample included in my order of Zealong Black tea.
In the first steep I’m tasting candied fruit, roasted oolong, and a green veg-like flavour. Quite smooth and soft on my palate. The liquor is a somewhat dark amber colour.
Subsequent steeps became bolder in flavour but still maintained a good balance. I like how the later steeps tasted of candied golden raisins and cantaloupe melon. The seventh steep even brought out some cinnamon notes. There is some astringency but just enough to keep the body from seeming too dull.
Very happy I had a chance to try this once. Not sure if I’d buy this for the health benefits, but the flavour is unique and memorable. Getting the impression this vendor has great taste in tea. :)
200ml glass teapot, 2 tsp, 8 steeps (rinse, 40s, +10s resteeps)
I received a sample of this tea with my order for the early release Zealong Black. So thank you to Jo for sending it along!
The dry leaf is large and full. It has a sweet malty flavor that I find very pleasant. The wet leaf is smoky and reminds me slightly of a Lapsang Souchong. So at this point, I’m perhaps a bit concerned. I detect a semblance of the same aroma with the liquor.
The liquor is a very light amber. It is much lighter than likely any other pu-erh I’ve indulged in. The first infusion definitely carries the smoky flavor I was smelling earlier. It is woody and reminds me most of a hardwood, I would say.
I can’t say I’m overfond of this first infusion. It leaves too much of a malty, smoky aftertaste for me. With more than a moment, there is something mellower that comes out, but I can’t quite identify it.
The second infusion smells more strongly of smoke, but the flavor in the tea is certainly more mild. The maltiness comes to the forefront and this has become a much smoother tea already. I would almost say mildly chocolatey undertones are present as well.
The third infusion has lost the maltiness, but not the smoke. It is sweeter and of a more crisp flavor now.
Overall, I suppose this isn’t my favorite tea with too persistent a smoky flavor. Yet I did enjoy trying it out and can think of a few friends who will enjoy trying this with me sometime as well.
Upon seeing the opportunity to get an early release black tea from a plantation that specializes in Oolong… I couldn’t resist the offer and spent perhaps a few dollars more than I ought to have in order to be a part of this.
The leaves are large, dark, and gorgeous to me. The scent of the dry leaf is full-bodied and sweet. But not sweet in a sugar or fruit sort of way to me. It’s sweet like a handful of grain.
I opted to brew this gong fu style first in a 100 mL gaiwan. Each infusion was around 1-2 minutes (depending on the infusion), so perhaps I will try this again gong fu style with shorter infusions.
The liquor is a deep amber with a surprisingly mellow aroma. As Dorothy noted, it definitely is malty with a touch of barley. Drinking the tea is smooth. There is no astringency or bitterness to my palate. At first, I couldn’t quite identify what I was tasting. It was robust but mellow. There was a heartiness without being too much.
After a while, I realized that tasting this tea reminds me of tasting craft beers. There are a lot of the same flavors working their way through the tea as I have experienced in beer. It’s almost like there’s a very light hoppy after-taste that I find especially pleasant.
I’m looking forward to trying this again with shorter infusions and again in a western style pot.
Last time I brewed this western style once at 3 minutes, now I’m going to short steep it.
The liquor of the first steep felt really silky in my mouth. This short steep brought out some new flavours: floral, cinnamon, and the now familiar malt and barley flavours from my first tea session.
Second cup is very similar to the first, except the grape flavour really starts to come out here. Nothing really tastes out of place, and the floral notes are not strong enough to rub me the wrong way. The tea body and liquor colour are very light, with still no trace of bitterness or much astringency (much like my first experience with this tea).
Third cup left a nice sweetness at the back of my throat, but the flavours seem to be weakening.
Drinking on from the fourth to sixth steeps, the tea flavour continued to fade but the grape notes still built up in my mouth.
I tried extending the steep times a bit on the last two cups, but it was still really to light for my tastes. If I try this again I’ll probably do 3tsp of leaves, since 2tsp didn’t really fill up the gaiwan too much anyway.
Overall it reminds me of a few other black teas I’ve tried, but the grape flavour (reminds me of grape jam) makes this tea very unique and memorable. It didn’t turn out to be a great resteeper for me, so I’ll probably be drinking this western style in the future.
100ml gaiwan, 2tsp, (45s, 1min, 1m15s, 1m30s, 1m50s, 2m10s)
Recently there was a post on Steepster/Teatra.de about a special offer to buy a pre-release pack of Zealong black tea. It seemed a bit pricey but I love trying new stuff so I put in an order for 50g. (Although to be fair, the price is on-par with other high end black teas I buy)
My package came in the mail today, and along with the tea I ordered there were a few goodies: a photo of a Zealong picker in a tea field, photo of a tea cup in snow, and 2 tea samples (gaba oolong and FF ruby darjeeling).
For my first tea session I will be brewing it “western style” once at 3mins. Next time I’ll do multiple short steeps in a 100ml tea vessel.
Dry leaf appearance: big broad leaves
Liquor scent: malty, grainy
Flavour: Starts off very light, grainy, malty, with a sweet after taste. As I kept drinking, I started picking up on a unique flavour, not sure how to describe it other than “grapey”. It’s not a muscatel or concord grape kinda flavour. The tea body wasn’t bitter or had much astringency. Reminds me a bit of the “oolong-black” tea I tried from Yuuki-Cha.
Next time I brew this western style, I’ll try it at 5 minutes. The tea body is very light, so I think it could benefit from a longer steep time. This is my second experience with a tea from New Zealand. Before this I tried the Zealong Pure oolong, which I thought was pretty good. They all seem to be quite smooth and lack a sharp astringency.
Overall I found this to be an interesting black tea, but I won’t rate it until I do a short steep session.