368 Tasting Notes
Tea Vivre free samples round #3, tasting #2
Sadly, Liz did not get to review this tea before leaving for Tokyo, but she did get to taste it and I know she really enjoyed it.
This is a very good, and unique black tea. Cocoa and malt and roasted fruit. A bit like a Yunnan golden, but not at all sweet. There’s a crisp, dry finish and no lingering astringency.
The only really strong critique I could offer is that the mouth feel is thin. Not the flavor, but the texture.
This morning I got a huge aroma of cacao from the dry and wet leaf when preparing this tea. None of the strong fruit I was getting months ago.
The cup is still sweet, but in a 78% bar kind of way, not in a roasted fig reduction kind of way.
This has me thinking about the metal tins I store my tea in and wondering why more vendors aren’t marketing wooden or ceramic storage systems. I’d really like a flight of matching bamboo tubes or squat, porcelain jars rather than these tins. I really do think over time they effect the tea.
Liz leaves tomorrow morning and is going to be out of the house for a really. long. time. I’m not sure yet if this means I’m going to keep 20 kinds of tea in the house and drown my sorrows in novelty or if it means I’ll reduce down to the basics and hunker down into what is known and comfortable.
We’ll see, I guess.
Tea Vivre Free Samples Round #3
This Jin Xuan is not entirely unlike a Tie Guanyin, which is perhaps not too surprising as they are both Taiwanese mountain oolongs. By this I mean that there is that slight floral quality to the brew which I used to so often mistake for a scented process but is, in fact, merely the floral bouquet of camellia sinensis itself.
Although, these two teas do grow at very different altitudes, so maybe it isn’t as obvious as one would think.
The “milk flavor” does add an interesting creamy texture to the cup, but if I’m entirely honest, there is a bit of grittiness as a result at the end of my first steep (which I assume is the milk flavor treatment, perhaps it isn’t), and you can get a similarly thick, soft mouth feel simply by purchasing and steeping exceptionally good tea.
Second steeping is more floral and less milky. If you are fond of light, Formosan oolong, this would be a solid choice.
Of course, we can’t always justify the expense of exceptional tea, and under those circumstances this certainly produces a very pleasant cup.
Because I messed up my steeping on this last time, I was anxious to get back to it, but I wanted to give Liz a chance to sample it as well. Now that she has, I could come back to it.
Much like the jasmine silver needles, the key word here is “balanced”.
The sweet coating which brings the ginseng to the tea does not produce a cup of candy. The first two or three cups are certainly sweet, but you can still taste the tea well enough.
I’m up to steep five or six now and the leaf is starting to take center stage and there is very little sweetness left. The leaves themselves, once hydrated, are huge, and deep green and they produce a bold, amber cup. This is one of those classic Chinese oolong which is practically a green tea. There is a strong presence of the roasting pan heat beneath the green bell pepper bitterness.
There is a bite that wants to creep in, here, but short steeps are keeping it at bay. This strikes me as a tea that might not do very well with Western steeping.
Again, not a tea that I could see ending up in my daily rotation, but as a medicinal throat soothing tea, I don’t see how you could ask for better than this.
Tea Vivre Samples Round #3
The best word for this tea is balanced.
Long running readers of my reviews will know that I am not a fan of floral things, least of all in tea.
For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, Houston’s Chinese restaurants all seem to serve jasmine tea rather than green or oolong as their “default” tea. I’ve never come across that in any other city. Unfortunately, most of it is bad, bagged, or low quality tea, besides.
Which is part of why I opted to taste this sample in spite of my biases.
Now, I freely admit that my biases against flavored, scented and spiced teas derives largely from my book knowledge of why teas began to be processed this way in the first place. But, I am learning to accept that many of these techniques have become a tradition and that there are those who are trying to elevate them to an art in their own right and not simply as a way of selling mediocre tea across vast distances and time.
This silver needle scented tea points the way to beginning to understand this. The floral notes are absolutely heady, almost cloying, the moment the leaves are first struck by hot water. I freely admit I was terrified that I was about to drink the equivalent of a cup of rose water. But amazingly, after this initial offering of intensity, the jasmine has quickly settled into place side by side, perhaps even a step behind, the tea itself.
I’m several extremely short steepings into these leaves and I’m only just now thinking that longer steeps are in order and so far there is no bite, no hard edge, nothing unpleasant in these cups. A soft, but present tea being supported by unassertive, but present flowers.
These teas will never be my first choice. Never be my ‘go to’ cup. But if more people served tea like this one that Tea Vivre is offering, I’d wrinkle my nose far less when dining out.
Thank you very much to our tea Angel for putting me on the right path.
Today is a very important day.
The good news is that I finally used a sufficiently minimal amount of leaf for this tea that even the first steep is without tongue grabbing bite.
It still has those rosemary and kombu notes, but now they are on the tongue instead of clawing their way through it.
I have finally discovered the right treatment to masque the floral notes of green oolongs.
On the one hand, this is sweet. Not a leaf with a sweetness to it, but actually sweet. I assume part of the ginseng treatment involves a sugar of some kind. This is not just on the tongue, but there is a burnt caramel sugar aroma both in the cup and from the liqueur.
Alas, I radically over steeped my second cup. :-(
I’ve decided that, moving forward, I’m no longer going to put numeric ratings on my reviews.
a) Everyone has their own sliding scale that they then can’t really apply to someone else’s numbers
b) I don’t want to have to read everyone’s profile to know what the numbers mean
c) I don’t taste a lot of tea that I’m not highly confident is quality leaf and that I’ll enjoy drinking, which jams up my ratings almost all well above 75, most even above 85, which becomes fairly useless
d) On the rare occasion I get something I don’t like, that’s my personal taste, my preference, it is rarely a reflection on the quality of the tea, itself
So. No more numbers. Let’s talk about tea, and use words to “rate” the tea.
My recent experience with the golden fleece has me focusing on the non-flavor aspects of tea.
I’m on about my 10th steep of this first flush and the liqueur is still strong, mellow and soft with near instantaneous steeping.
The brew is thick and soft in the mouth, no bite on the tongue and no astringency at the finish. I’m sure I already knew this, unconsciously, but this fullness on the palate is a huge part of what makes me truly enjoy premium tea in a way that I don’t enjoy a bag of Lipton in a hotel room. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the Lipton “tasting bad”. With a splash of lemon or sugar Lipton is just fine. And you can’t really say that it is “thin” either. You can get a brew almost as black as coffee even with a cheap tea bag.
But what you can’t get is that full, thick mouth feel. It is what I think makes most people enjoy coffee but not enjoy tea if they’ve never had truly good tea. Bad tea is … for lack of a better word, watery.
Ten steeps in, this darjeeling starts to taste a whole lot like a peony white tea. Sunshine and hay and dusty old books. What’s interesting is just how different this is from a late season darjeeling which will be much more like an oolong or even an assam. But in this first flush there are no amber, toasted or black notes at all. There aren’t even really any green notes. This is really much more like a fine white tea than anything else.
Am I totally blanking or is the whole first flush, second flush, late flush thing not nearly as emphasized in any other tea beside darjeeling?