This is perfect for today as spring begins to explode all over Houston.
320 Tasting Notes
I was drinking this one last night. Now, TG has some
amazing Darjeeling teas. And TG definitely does a very conscientious job with their decaffeination process. But, let’s face it; all those subtle things that make a great Darjeeling great are not going to survive being decaffeinated. They just aren’t.
This is a GREAT tea if you like to have something stronger than herbal tea in the evening. Frankly, I don’t like herbal teas at all, and after a handful of experiments with bagged decaf teas that just tasted like nothing at all, I decided to pick this one up. It helps me feel like I don’t have to compromise between a good cup and a good night’s sleep if I want real tea in the evening. But, I know I’m drinking decaf. A perfectly good cup, there’s just no sparkle here. No motivation to use wine words to talk about the flavors.
I realized the other day I’m not drinking my steady-as-a-rock Upton pu-erh, but I’m drinking a pu-erh from Omni tea, as they found me on Twitter and, featuring a lot of organic and fair trade teas, I decided to place an order (they need to speed up shipping, but other than that, a great deal). At the time I was nearly out of pu-erh, so I ordered this one from them.
I just love pu-erh, that’s all there is to it. See my extensive note on the Upton Celestial Classic for details. This particular pu-erh isn’t quite as deep and rich as that one, but is still a great everyday cup, especially if you are a recovering coffee person (which I’m not, but if you were) because brewing long and strong, it has that same nearly opaque, black quality. But unlike coffee, the resulting cup is smooth and soft, not bitter and acrid.
You might be surprised if I said I also love peony whites and gyokuro greens, but in a funny way, those are, to me, more complex and require more attention than this earthy cup of pu-erh.
Pu-erh makes me feel rooted to the planet, and I’m sticking to that story.
I have a habit. To say a rule would be too strong, because I don’t always abide, but a habit is about right. When purchasing any kind of flavored tea (which, for me, amounts to earl gray, genmaicha and spiced chai), I don’t bother to buy really expensive, fine tea as I would for, say, a shade-grown green or a pai mu tan white. The whole process of flavoring and scenting teas was developed to help make less desirable leaf more desirable. So why spend more on leaf that would be just fine by itself, only to mask its natural notes with flavoring? So this is a genmaicha that I buy at Asian groceries and super markets. Big, green foil bag. And for me, for genmaicha, that’s about as classy as I get.
This particular genmaicha is very nutty compared to some others which are mostly green with a hint of roast. The rice is all brown, no popped white kernels at all, and the leaf is very bright, but dark green (neither pale, nor muddy). The tea itself is grassy enough to hold up to the roast from the rice, and the resulting cup is quite bold but not bitter, burnt or kelpy. I usually only drink teas like this in the summer because it is so bright and open, but our weather today has the promise of spring all over it and I just couldn’t bring myself to make pu-erh or oolong today.
I feel bad giving this a 3/4’s rating, but I just can’t bring myself to rate a flavored tea anywhere above that point, knowing that all the fine, delicate teas I’ll be drinking will certainly be up in that range. As good as this tea is, for what it is, it does not belong in that company.
Calling a tea “wuyi oolong” is a bit redundant. But in this category of tea which has such a wide spectrum, confirming that this tea is a center of the bell curve kind of oolong (much like TeaGschwendner’s Formosa Superior Choice that I reviewed the other day) is not necessarily a bad idea.
This tea lacks, perhaps, some of the three dimensional sparkle of the TG FSC, but do you always want “wet stone and dried apricot”? I don’t either. Sometimes you just want that rich, nutty, comforting cup, and these leaves will deliver every time.
This tea is certified organic, which is a good thing.
Oolong is a tricky category for anyone who is trying to figure tea out on their own without expert help. Everything from floral varieties treated with osmanthus fragrance to nearly green to nearly black teas get labeled “oolong”. A person could try a half dozen “oolong” teas and conclude they simply do not care for the entire category without even beginning to scratch the surface of what is available in this huge spectrum.
My favorites, personally, are those such as TG’s “superior choice”, “superior taifu” and “Ming Xiang” which are roasted to produce woody, nutty, heady notes both in the dry leaf, and the cup. If I want a tea with green notes, I’ll drink green tea. If I want a cup with astringent, dry flavors, I’ll drink black tea. I drink oolong for those flavors you cannot get from any other leaf.
This particular tea, the “superior choice” grade, is simply brilliant. Deep, rich, woody, nutty, highly fragrant, but not brooding, muddy or acidic. Steep it twice, three times, even four if you’re truly frugal. But beware! Even though you can repeatedly steep this leaf, if you over steep at any point, you will get bitter, bitter, acidic, tannins and nastiness. Which isn’t a complaint, most all teas suffer from over steeping. This oolong just happens to be particularly unforgiving. So use a timer, and be prompt. With truly boiling water, 3 minutes is enough, adding 45 seconds or so with each subsequent steeping. If you’re stuck with 180 degree water from a bubbler or the hot tap on a coffee maker, you should def. steep longer and may need to experiment to find the right balance. But if you enjoy teas like this and cannot boil a proper kettle, consider picking up a small electric kettle and hiding it at your desk. Teas like this one really need water as hot as you can get it.
This is my everyday, all day tea on week days when I am working. You basically cannot over steep this tea, and the resulting brew even from a single tablespoon of leaf is so strong that you can stretch it with hot water for several hours. I set up a pot each morning and enjoy it all day long. For me, this tea is as ubiquitous as most people’s daily coffee, but lacks the harsh bitterness, acerbic notes and cloying aroma that can fill even a large space with an overwhelming odor. Pu-erh is a tea no one will know you are drinking except your dentist (stains the teeth pretty badly, unfortunately).
This particular pu-erh is very, very smooth without being flat or boring. As I said, I’ve had this nearly every day, all day, for years now, and continue to enjoy drinking it each and every day. You’d pay about as much for a good coffee, but I’m using a single table spoon a day to drink this tea all day. If you took coffee as seriously, you’d be going through a pound a day. Which means at $16 and change for 125 grams, this is an unbelievably cheap tea, per cup considering how good it tastes.
Someday soon, pu-erh will become the new “it” tea for diet fads, health benefits and all the rest. Until that happens, enjoy these cheap, flavorful, mellow, rich teas while you can for pennies a day.