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24 Tasting Notes

85

I hate mentioning a tea I’m not sure you can get if you live outside the New York area, but this one is a winner and really reasonably priced. I’m generally not a big fan of Fairway and have never figured out what all those West Siders love about the store — the place is crowded, the customers are rude and pushy, and the help is non-existent. So when Fairway opened an East Side location, I was like “whatever.” (If you love Agata & Valentina, arguably the East Side’s most civilized store, you’re gonna hate Fairway, but Agata doesn’t have a tea department to speak of.)

So I’m checking out Fairway’s new East Side store, which is no more appealing to me than their other locations, when I spotted this organic Wuyi. It was bound to be horrible, I figured, since it was only like $1.60 an ounce and packaged in a clear plastic container that inspired very little confidence that the guys in the coffee and tea department knew anything about buying tea — storing or packaging it, either. But I bought it anyway and, much to my surprise, this stuff is really good.

It’s got this great oolong woody-roasty flavor, vaguely reminiscent of Japanese hojicha, but with a hint of peach or apricot. And despite how Fairway describes the taste on the packaging label, it’s not smoky at all, which in my opinion is actually a good thing. As the tea snobs like to say, this tea is patient, meaning you can steep it a shitload of times and still coax out some really good flavor. If you do a faux gong-fu method and use a couple of heaping tea spoons worth of tea per cup and a short steep of, say, just a minute, I’ve found I can get four great cups, each tasting slightly different, but just as good as the previous one. This oolong is on the darker side, closer to 70 percent oxidized, I’d say.

A nice tea and a pleasant surprise. And one reason perhaps to go to Fairway every now and then, even if the place is a friggin’ zoo.

Preparation
3 min, 0 sec

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82

What a magnificent day. Warm, high in the 70s here in New York. Sunny. Perfect. The kinda day that makes you want to chase moving vehicles on York Avenue and bark like a dog. But then you start thinking, gee, can I really afford to spend all afternoon being processed at the 19th Precinct? And then there’s all those pesky court-ordered psychological evaluations, especially troublesome when things are so busy at the office. Huh, maybe I’ll just settle back with a cup of Ceylon tea. (You were wondering where all this was going, weren’t you?)

Well, all of this brings me to Greenfield Estate broken orange pekoe from Upton Tea Imports, known to the order-fulfillment boys at Upton’s as TC87.

Hallelujah. After drinking a long string of flavorless organic Ceylons (brown water, anyone?), finally an organic Ceylon with flavor. And pretty good flavor to boot.

Have I really never reviewed this tea before? This tea seems like a compromise between an Assam and a Darjeeling, not as rich as an Assam, but a lot more floral. It’s grown fairly high, at around 5,000 to 6,000 feet, using Chinese small-leaf varietals (as opposed to Assamicas).

It’s grown in the Uva District, for those of you who can actually tell an Uva Ceylon tea from a Kandy Ceylon. I’m not there yet with Ceylon teas, although I can certainly tell a Yunnan from a Keemun, or an Assam from a Darjeeling (actually unless your tongue was surgically removed, anyone can tell an Assam from a Darjeeling).

Back to our Greenfield… The dry leaf is virtually black, although the infusion and the liquor are reddish brown and not that dark.

Like Indian-style teas, it’s not at all smokey and I bet the darling of the old-lady tea set. It’s a tad thin for milk, I think, but I had it with Rice Dream a few times and it wasn’t a complete disaster. Even though it’s a broken-leaf tea, which tend to infuse more quickly than their whole-leaf brethren, this one does well with a fairly long four-and-a-half minute steep.

Overall, a nice cup. Available from Upton Tea Imports. And if you’re a complete tea nerd, check out the Greenfield Estates website at http://bit.ly/hDos8K.

Preparation
Boiling 4 min, 30 sec

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74

It’s taken me a bit of time to appreciate this tea. Since I’m predominantly a black-tea drinker, Snow Buds organic white tea was a little too subtle for me at first, kinda like those hints my wife leaves for me when she wants me to do something.

Rishi’s description of the tea is very accurate. It’s grassy and has a sweet hazelnut finish. The grassiness reminds me a bit of a sencha, while the nutty finish is vaguely reminiscent of Rishi’s dragonwell (which is less smokey than other dragonwells I’ve tried).

If you’re a green tea lover and looking for something less caffeinated, perhaps in the evening, this is a pretty good find. It requires a fairly long steep time, however. Rishi recommends five to six minutes. Go for six. And since white tea is made from the virtually tannin-free buds, you don’t have to worry about the tea going tannic on you from the longer steep time. The never-steep-your-tea-longer-than-five-minutes rule can be damned with this one.

I found this tea to be not as interesting flavor-wise as Rishi’s Peach Blossom white tea, but if you’re a purist and want to taste a good white tea straight (without the peach and jasmine), this is the real deal.

Available by the ounce at http://www.rishi-tea.com and in 1.3 ounce tins (it’s hard to pack bud teas very tightly) at my local (go figure) Food Emporium supermarket, home to the very sweet, but dumbfoundingly unknowledgeable sales clerk. (Ah, to be young, cute and perky and able to get away with not knowing a bloody thing about what you’re selling.)

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 6 min, 0 sec

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83

Rishi’s China Breakfast tea is made from ancient tea trees in the Mannong Manmai reserve in Yunnan Province in China. And, yeah, they’re trees, which is what would happen to all tea bushes if tea estates didn’t prune them regularly to make them easier to harvest. These trees are also used to make Rishi’s Golden Yunnan and Rishi’s Golden Needles.

So what’s the difference between the three — aside from the price? Rishi’s China Breakfast tea is composed entirely of mature leaves. Golden Yunnan is composed of leaves and buds (leaf buds that have yet to unfurl). And Golden Needles is nothing but buds.

Rishi’s China Breakfast is rich and malty, just like the label says. What it’s missing, however, is the sweetness that you’d find in Golden Yunnan. Buds typically are sweet since the plant tends to pump sugar to the buds to nourish them and get them to open up. No buds generally means less sweetness. Rishi’s China Breakfast is a good tea, but it doesn’t give you the full spectrum of flavors that Rishi’s Golden Yunnan provides. My wife says the tea tastes like it has no bottom. I liken it to playing your stereo through one channel — it’s like you’re missing half the music.

So here’s my recommendation. If you take your tea with milk (or rice or soy milk) and sweetener, Rishi’s China Breakfast tea is great. It’s rich, malty and can really hold up to milk. If you take your tea straight, I’d recommend spending the extra dollar and get Rishi’s Golden Yunnan. You’ll appreciate the extra sweetness that buds can provide to the mix. And if you’re feeling really flush financially, really splurge and get Rishi’s Golden Needles and experience the joy of an all-bud tea.

Preparation
Boiling 4 min, 45 sec

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78
drank Peach Blossom by Rishi Tea
24 tasting notes

Wow, it’s been awhile since I had a few minutes to post something on Steepster. (Work’s crazy and we moved, too, but still on the East Side, lest I’d have to change my nom de plume.)

White teas are typically too frau-frau for me, so I picked this up for my wife, who typically gravitates more to green and white teas than I do (I’m more of a black-tea kinda guy). However, this stuff is good, and I’m drinking it as much as she is.

The peach thing nicely complements the white tea, which is kinda subtle on its own. (Try Rishi’s Snow Buds if you want the pure white stuff.) And Rishi’s Peach Blossom is equally good iced. With its relatively low caffeine content, this tea is a particularly good after-dinner tea that won’t keep you up all night. A nice tea if you want something fruity, but with more depth than your typical mass-marketed herbal.

Available from Rishi. http://bit.ly/axfcmg

Nice to be able to hang with everyone again.

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 6 min, 0 sec

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74

I’ve finally emerged from my job vortex long enough to actually get back to Steepster.

I’m predominantly a black-tea drinker, so this was my first foray into yellow tea. But I figured that since three of my favorites teas are made from the same ancient Assamica tea trees of the Mannong Manmai Reserve in Yunnan, China (Rishi’s Golden Yunnan, Golden Needles and Rishi’s Earl Grey), I figured what could be bad?

This tea is good, but I didn’t find the taste so unique. While yellow teas are supposed to be less vegetal than green teas, I found the taste very reminiscent of some senchas I’ve had. The tea holds up very well to multiple steepings. In fact, if you follow Rishi’s steeping instructions, the second steeping lost none of the tea’s flavor.

The brewing instructions are a little complicated, especially if you don’t have a gaiwan as Rishi suggests. I used a Pyrex measuring cup and a saucer as a cover. It worked just fine. Overall a nice tea.

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75

Upton’s description of this tea talks about “Burgandy nuances” and “hints of oak.” Mmm, no, not tasting any of that.

I knew I was going to like this Keemun better than some of my recent tastings of this genre just by looking at the leaves. While they were dark, they didn’t look like they were covered in creosote, which at least showed promise that this tea wouldn’t taste tarry like some other Keemuns I’ve had recently.

The liquor is dark and the taste has hints of dark chocolate, obscured somewhat by that incessant smoky thing so many Keemuns seem to have. Is there a perpetual forest fire in An Hui Province? What’s with the damn smoky overtones? And if you oversteep this stuff, it taste like tobacco, which isn’t something I necessarily seek in my teas or in any other aspect of my life. Overall, this tea isn’t bad, but I’d love to taste more of the chocolate thing and less of the smoldering fire.

From what I understand, most of the black tea made (if “made” is the right verb to describe tea) in China is for Western consumption since the Chinese themselves prefer greens and oolongs. So, if that’s the case, I’m wondering if there are really that many westerners who are really into these smoky teas. Keemun grades like Mao Feng, which I think of as being less smoky, command a higher price. Is there a correlation there?

I’ve got two more Keemun samples in the pantry, an organic OP and an organic FOP. But I’m kinda Keemuned out at the moment. Plus I just got a shipment in from Rishi that has a Yunnan bud tea in it (Ancient Tree Golden Needles) that seems to be calling my name — in some strange Midwestern accent, no less. “Rahb. Rahb.” I think I’ll leave the Keemuns alone for a while.

Keemun Dao Ming available for purchase at…

http://www.uptontea.com/shopcart/item.asp?from=catalog.asp&itemID=ZK24&begin=0&parent=Teas%3EBlack%3EChina&category=Keemun&sortMethod=0&categoryID=11

Preparation
Boiling 5 min, 0 sec
Ricky

Actually, Chinese do not prefer Green tea. Pu-erh (watered down) is generally the main choice of tea served in Chinese restaurants. I’ve never been to a restaurant where they’ve served green tea. It’s either that or sweetened chrysanthemum tea. For Oolong, Ti Kuan Yin, is very popular, but if I recall you know that already.

Green tea adheres to westerns for the health benefits, the same goes for tea blends. Chinese is more about keeping the tradition. As for smokey tea, Golden Monkey is popular among Chinese, but it’s considered high end. Err, there as another tea that was pretty popular that I can’t recall at the moment. Oh, yeah Jasmine flavored teas are pretty popular too.

Carolyn

I have wondered myself if the Keemun growing area is excessively smoky from wood-burning stoves. I had not thought that there was a perpetual forest fire but now that you suggest it…

Nice review.

East Side Rob

Carolyn, you know I was kidding about the forest fire, right? I suspect that the tea masters who make this stuff are using smoky fires in the cooking process. I’d prefer, however, to taste more of the leaf and less of the chef, if you know what I mean. More like the teas from India, Sri Lanka, and some areas of Yunnan (although some Yunnans can be smokey, too).

Carolyn

Hi East Side Rob, Yes, I got the humor and enjoyed it quite a bit. I thought I was responding with light humor myself (thus the elipsis) but it is often difficult for me to know when normal prose style will do fine and when one must use an emoticon. (There should be a Strunk & White specifically for the Internet.)

I agree with your expression of exasperation about the smokiness. It often seems to me that there are wonderful notes covered up by that smokiness in Keemun blacks.

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83

This fine Chinese black tea is from Fujian provence, the same region that gives us ti guan yin oolongs and lapsang souchongs.

It’s a pretty good tea, and, true to Upton’s description, it has a chocolate taste, kinda like unsweetened dark chocolate, balanced by a very slight smoky aspect. I’m not sure why panyangs aren’t spoken of with the same reverence as Keemuns and Yunnans, but this tea is quite a decent congou. While I’m generally not a big fan of smoky teas (I loathe lapsang souchong), this tea’s smokiness is subtle enough to let the leaves speak — and they have some nice things to say.

Upton’s description also talks about a sweet berry note. Um, I’m not getting that, but the chocolate thing is definitely there. Panyangs are similar in some ways to Keemuns, but I haven’t been particularly happy with the Keemuns I’ve had lately, which have been too tarry/smoky, so this is a better brew than most of the Keemuns I’ve had, with the possible exception of Keemun Mao Feng.

This tea didn’t do quite as well on the second steep. The chocolate taste wasn’t as pronounced the second go-round, while the smokiness was just as strong, so the balance that was present in the first cup, wasn’t there on the second.

Upton’s Panyang Congou Select is organic, so you’re not getting a mouthful of pesticide residue and are, hopefully, supporting more sustainable farming practices, too.

Nice tea. And after sampling a bad bunch of teas lately — really weak Ceylons and tarry Keemuns — this was a pleasant surprise.

Order from:

http://www.uptontea.com/shopcart/item.asp?from=catalog.asp&itemID=ZP20&begin=0&parent=Teas%3EBlack%3EChina&category=Other+Congou&sortMethod=0&categoryID=13

Preparation
Boiling 5 min, 0 sec
takgoti

I don’t think I’ve ever had Panyang before. Will need to add it to the monstrous, well-on-its-way-to-gargantuan list.

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38

From the annals of “what the hell was I thinking when I made this tea.” This tastes no different than the broken-leaf version of this tea that I tried last week. Not sure why I thought the whole-leaf version would taste any different, which is to say it tastes like nothing. Nada. Zilch. Bupkes.

It’s a beautiful-looking tea, but it has no personality whatsoever. The only difference is that, because this is a whole-leaf tea, it has a longer steeping time than its broken-leaf version — five minutes versus three.

But, overall, it tastes like Ashoken Reservoir water, which is what comes out of the taps Upper East Side Manhattan residents’ apartment, and which is what I made this tea with. This tea has a nuance of air and the rich aftertaste of a deep-space vacuum.

Can’t see writing much more about this. I wasted my time drinking this tea. I won’t waste your time making you read more about it.

Preparation
Boiling 5 min, 0 sec
takgoti

In fact, I want the last 3 minutes of my life back. I demand a refund.

Just kidding. Happy Holidays! Hope you drank something better than this let down.

East Side Rob

Happy holidays, T. Enjoy the respite from school. I’ve got a slew of samples from Upton’s in the pantry and an order from Rishi that should be here any day now, so something better is bound to show up in my cup. And, hey, keep those entertaining posts coming.

takgoti

Oh, I am. And I’ll be ordering some of that Yunnan stuff you keep yammering about. I suspect that Samovar and Rishi may source from the some of the same farms, so I’m going to laugh if I find myself getting some deja vu with some of this stuff.

And I’ll do my best to keep posting! Hopefully entertainingly. [That doesn’t look like it should be a word, but apparently it is. I don’t think I used it correctly though. Anyway, message deployed.] You keep posting, too! And everyone else, YOU KEEP POSTING, TOO! YOU HEAR ME, EVERYBODY?!

East Side Rob

Rishi’s Ancient Tree Golden Yunnan is a great one-bud two-leaf tea, although it’s not necessarily a lot like prototypical Yunnan teas. (I actually like it better.) And then you have to try an all-bud Yunnan, like Rishi’s Golden Needles or Itoen’s Yunnan Golden Tips. It’s like dessert.

East Side Rob

Oh, yeah, and regarding “entertainingly.” I think it was Stephen King who said, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

Carolyn

@East Side Rob Clearly these are words to live by.

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74

I haven’t had a moment in a while when I’ve been able to say, “wow, this is a really good tea.” And that doesn’t really change with this tea.

http://bit.ly/4tTVGo

I know Keemuns are supposed to be among the best black teas and I’m certainly a black tea kinda guy, but I’m just not getting all the Keemun hype. I’ll still take a good Yunnan, one that’s malty like Rishi’s Golden Yunnan, or one that’s caramel-like, such as an all-bud Yunnan, over just about anything.

This tea had a nice hint of deep chocolate, but the rest of the flavor was all smoky-tarry. When I’m in the mood for something smoky, I’ll go for some Scotch-smoked salmon on a bagel. Just not sure I’m looking to replicate that sensation in a hot beverage. (And I so don’t get the whole lapsang thing. First time I had it, I thought someone had accidently extinguished their cigarette in my tea.)

For all my bashing of this Keemun, it has a nice rich texture, however. But I think there are better things out there — maybe even among Keemuns.

Preparation
Boiling 5 min, 0 sec
Angrboda

Aaaaaaaaaaand now I want a salmon sandwich before bedtime. Thank you SO MUCH for that!

East Side Rob

Probably hard to find a good bagel over there I imagine.

Angrboda

It’s gaining ground some. There’s a new little place that’s opened right where I take the train home from work. But I imagine it’s probably not really the same thing as what you get over there. There is a cafe near where I live too that makes them, but I’m not in love with the enormous amount of bean sprouts they insist on putting in. I like bean sprouts, but not really in those quantities. Mostly we have regular sandwiches though.

East Side Rob

I like bean sprouts, too, but I’m not sure bagels are really a good bean-sprout delivery system. A bagel should be served with cream cheese (or maybe butter or margarine) with Scotch, Irish or Norwegian smoked salmon. Reading the New York Times while eating one, however, is optional.

Angrboda

Yeah, they keep trying to get away with stuffing a whole serving of salad in there too. Makes it difficult to eat too, my mouth just doesn’t open that wide.

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Bio

East Side Rob is head of marketing communications for a large philanthropy, where he spends a lot of time working late, contemplating a saner life, and drinking lots of — you guessed it — tea.

Location

New York

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