322 Tasting Notes
I received a sample of this with a recent order and I have to say I am a bit shocked at the other two reviews of it.
The leaf itself reminds me of dragon well tea, which shouldn’t surprise me too much, I suppose, since the flavor of dragon well has always reminded me of [Japanese] sencha, even if the leaves look nothing alike. I think this tea now closes the loop. Japanese sencha looks nothing like dragon well because of differences in processing more than differences in leaf.
No, this isn’t the best green tea I’ve ever had. But then, this is just a sencha, not a gyukuro or any of the other rare grades of Japanese shaded tea. We forget that sencha is not a grade, but a category, intended primarily to distinguish cut leaf tea from matcha powder in Japan.
And at $4.20 for 125 grams, it isn’t like Upton is making any unfair claims about this leaf, either. Their cheapest Japanese senchas (currently available) cost twice as much. Their best sencha costs ten times as much.
So let’s review this tea for what it is. Entry level Chinese green tea.
I’m brewing this in the gaiwan, gonfu style, and getting very pleasant cups. Grassy, yet bright, with only a touch of bitterness. I’m into my third steeping and the liqueur is not yet at all weak.
There’s nothing wrong with this tea except the expectations you bring to it.
Wild arbor, gongfu madness style: should be a white knuckled ride, you’d think. But as it turns out, combining 7 steepings (all under 10 seconds) produces what I’d almost describe as a “blended scotch” type result. All the hard edges and thin spots are evened out and the result is a very full, if a bit uninteresting, cup.
Uninteresting. That’s an unfair word. This is still phenomenal tea. But I’ve learned lately that with sheng, half the joy of drinking is to see where the personality of yourself, the tea and the moment in which you are drinking it are going to combine to produce a unique experience. That’s not going to happen with this approach.
That being said, I’m actually a bit glad for the gentle results because today marks the difficult beginning of a long journey and I am pleased to be easing into it with this tea.
I love steeping this in the gaiwan, now. When I brew this Western style I find you can’t really risk more than two steeps before the result gets both thin and sharp. But in the gaiwan with short steeps you can get a half dozen quality steeps.
As an aside, I’ve discovered that you can do gongfu style steeping in the small size (2 cups) Beehive teapots if you want more than a thimble full of tea with each steep. Sure, you’re committing a fairly large wad of tea leaves, but getting 6-20 steeps of 2 cups each is a lot of tea to drink, so it works out pretty well. I especially do this when I engage the “gongfu madness” to make a large batch of a tea (usually because I need to take a big thermos of it with me out to the disc golf course or ultimate field) and the results have been fantastic. Combining several short steepings produces a wonderfully complex cup.
I steeped this at a lower temperature, yesterday, in the gaiwan, and it finally woke up and produced the brews that I knew it could and the longevity that I knew it could.
Yes, I realize Upton’s instructions say to use a lower temperature, I’m just an idiot sometimes.
Finally broke down and tried this one Western style to see if it would produce more to get the tongue than I could get in the gaiwan with short steeps.
Steep times were 3min, 3min, 5min and 7min.
Results were much improved, for those of us who aren’t yet professional tasting experts.
Don’t be fooled, even with these long steeps, there is almost no color to the brew. Let your nose do all the work.
The aroma off the wet buds and from the pot of liqueur were fantastic. Dry sunny hay and caramel.
In the mouth these flavors continued and were intensified.
I rarely enjoy light, sweet teas. But this is quite good once you get it steeped in a manner that produces enough flavor to notice.
Just beware, a pot full of wet, open buds can look a bit like a big pile of bugs out of the corner of your eye.
So I said I wanted to try this Western style, and I have.
Sadly, it didn’t improve much. I expected far fewer steepings, but a stronger cup. It hasn’t really panned out that way.
I have to say I’m surprised that this tea seems to come off so flat. It isn’t that there’s anything wrong with the flavor, only that there never seems to be enough of it.
I think the last time I did this, I put the tasting note under the pu-erh because I forgot you could just add teas to the system, including vendor name.
So here it is, “my” tea.
I put a tablespoon of each into a 16oz Beehive and then did four steepings (3 sec, 5 sec, 7 sec, 10 sec) and strained them off into a very, very big tea pot.
I’m already on my third cup.
I seriously considered calling this blend “Pipe Smoke and Pub Leather” but I didn’t want people to think it was a real blend by a real tea company, so I made the name obvious.
But that’s what this tastes like. You get the earthy bass notes of the shu, the sharp smoke of the lapsang, and the gently humming sweetness of the Yunnan golden to keep it from getting off the rails.
Reminds me a lot of Balkan pipe shag, actually (latakia, parique and cavandish).