323 Tasting Notes
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?
I must have used too much leaf on my first tasting occasion with this tea. I basically dumped all the loose bits out of the package and it was clearly more than I needed. Today I used a far more modest amount and while greatly softened, I think I could use even less and still have a strong, mellow cup.
One thing I’m beginning to discover with sheng is that most of the time it is less about differences in flavors and more about how directly and rapidly the tea impacts my chi.
This tea has a very long finish and a very thick mouth feel which results in sensation on the tongue which drives the movement of energy around the body (there is a significant meridian at the roof of the mouth which is activated by pressing the tongue against it — this also ensures breathing through the nose which is more efficient).
Anyone else have experience with sheng where the flavor profiles are quite divergent?
Another tea from sample round #3
The dry leaf smells like a shoe store verging on a sneaker shop. Sneakers have that odd smell akin to “new car smell” but particular to themselves. This isn’t a bad smell for an aged tea. It is close enough to the leathery aromas of a shoe shop that it makes the tea quite inviting.
Because this is loose leaf, not a tuocha, the first steeping happens very, very fast. My cup is almost as dark as my daily drinker “wang pu er” from Upton.
But the flavor profile is quite different. Some of the sweetness of the golden buds remains behind all this musty shoe leather. There is a short finish with solid astringency, almost like an Assam. I’ve never had that in a shou pu er before.
If you like quick and easy shou tea, but lament the way in which they all seem to eventually taste the same, give this one a try, it has some genuinely unique notes.
Another tea in sample set #3
The flavor profile here is more like a da hong pao than black tea, which is interesting. I’m into my third steep of 5 pearls in my 4oz gaiwan and the leaves are finally fully open. This tea has excellent texture, mouth feel and finish, but so far the flavor is a bit soft. I’m curious if I’m not using enough leaf or if perhaps this tea simply prefers Western style steeps.
I will use the remainder of the sample to do a Western style and compare results.
Round 3 of Tea Vivre samples begin!
First, I want to acknowledge that many people were concerned about the double packaging of samples in the past and they have listened. This set arrived in individual packages which were grouped together into a single outer sealed pouch. Much less packaging but still a dedication to freshness. So thank you for that!
This is a much bolder LS than I usually drink (Upton’s Black Dragon). And since I have defended the black dragon’s refined notes in contrast to most LS, one might assume that I would therefore be less interested in this leaf.
But as it turns out, this leaf has a lot going for it. There is no sharpness here, in spite of the bold flavors. There is also no “meatiness” which is my primary opposition to most LS with bold smoke.
While I don’t think this would replace black dragon as my “daily drinker” I do think it may be replace black dragon in my “jim john’s blend” trio of teas.
I had this again today, and while I love the flavor, it stands as a great lesson in understanding great tea.
Compared to the golden fleece, the flavor here is certainly comparable. Maybe even better, depending on which notes you prefer.
But flavor isn’t everything and in every other way, the golden fleece shines far and away superior. More complex mouth feel and texture and length of finish and all those things we forget until they aren’t there.