321 Tasting Notes
We’re having a big Summer thunder storm and so I brewed up a big pot of this.
I am endlessly fascinated by sheng. The size of the vessel you brew it in seems to effect the flavor. I have been using the gaiwan pair since Christmas, but they’re in the wash right now so I just went ahead and put this in the big, wide, pyrex and did two steeping of 3 cups of water each.
The resulting brew is equally big and wide. Camphor nipping at the tip of my tongue, rose mary up in my nasal passage, and an almost aged sherry type central flavor are just rolling all around like a big ball of cleared underbrush.
(I am so excited, Upton announced that they have placed their purchases for the 2012 second flush Darjeeling teas and we can expect them in September.)
I’ve got a lot going on this week, so I’m hitting this up Western style — which is a rare thing for me these days.
There’s more bite and astringency this way. Not enough to be unpleasant, but this is not the soft, thick, gentle tea that it is when brewed gongfu style.
This tea has been a real eye opener for me over the past few months. I’ve become very focused on the teas of Southern China (wuyi, yunnan [gold, shou, sheng], lapsang souchong….) the last handful of years and I have begun to forget how much I love other teas. Both Northern and Southern India have fine teas that I used to drink quite often.
I need to plan out tea orders a bit more carefully, moving forward, I think, and ensure I get a wider variety of regions and styles.
Yesterday a prominent priest with a popular radio broadcast, blog and twitter feed both ping-backed and re-tweeted a blog entry of mine and my site got 708 unique views in one day. I think that doubled my unique views for the lifetime of the blog (just a few months).
So I’m celebrating with Golden Fleece.
The dry leaf aroma is maturing as it rests. Sweetness and fruit, but also roasted nuts, malt, and cacao.
The wet left is almost overpowering with a kind of toasted cashew or graham cracker scent.
And yet the cup itself is gentle. A sweet start but a dry finish.
With the second steep the characteristic thickness emerges as well.
One thing I notice with this tea is that the flavor is almost entirely in the nose, not on the tongue. I wonder if that’s true of other teas and I don’t notice?
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.
Decided to do this Western style because I needed a big mug to take to qigong last night and made the third steeping this morning.
I am impatient for the second flushes, but given how slow this year’s first flush came to be, we’re just going to have to wait.
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.