51 Tasting Notes
“The first cup is strong like love, the second bitter as life, and the third sweet like death.”
I always think of this quote when I drink a good Japanese green tea. Many Japanese teas follow this flavor transformation rather closely which can be surprising the first couple of times you make these teas if you are only used to black or oolong.
Depending on my mood, I go back and forth on my “favorite” infusion of this tea. Right now, I am totally going with the strong/bitter grassy flavor of the second, but the sweet and delicate third infusion is excellent as a summertime tea… which hopefully will be needed soon.
I just had a flash of brilliance(?): “50 Days of Sencha” starting in early June or something, drinking a different Sencha every day for 50 days. EPIC!
Alright, received my first batch of Samovar teas in the mail yesterday, and I’m very excited to try them out. I also have a small tin of Downy Sprout and a pack of the Tencha they were giving away, but this morning the Royal Garland sounded good to me.
From reading on the website, it seems that they like to suggest a few different ways to infuse each tea. I decided to go with the hotter water version they suggest to see where that led.
After rinsing, I sipped the rinse water (why not, right?) and was pleasantly surprised at how flavorful it was for a 5 second rinse.
So after the first infusion, it seems to have a nice, sweet taste. Similar to an oriental beauty except a bit more delicate and a little less of the pure sweetness I’m used to with a Bai Hao. I totally get the Darjeeling vibe that is mentioned in the description. This tea seems too be a bit “drying” in the mouth (how does one say this in proper terms?).
The un-uniformness of the infused leaves was a little surprising at first. Not that it really matters, the taste was still pretty good. But In my gaiwan, I found rust brown leaves alongside jade green and emerald green ones, in addition to the buds. Like I said, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t want to sound like a tea snob, I just noticed it when I looked in :-D
I’ll be curious to try this tea with the lower temperature preparation as well!
So couple days ago, I was inspired by Takgoti’s notes on Samovar’s Gyokuro Inoka Hill. I didn’t sit down and make myself some Gyokuro right then and there, and it has haunted me since!
This morning I just had to infuse this sweet ambrosia… Mmm. And I decided to try out the “cold infusion” method Takgoti talked about in her post for the first steeping.
I was impressed at how my little leaves responded! I think others have mentioned that it produces a very singular note, emphasizing the umami aspect of the tea, rather than a balance of sweet/bitter that usually comes from a good Gyo. This was also my experience.
In the past, I would just use water in the 160 degree range and steep for about 15 seconds for the first infusion, but I liked this method too. Am I the only one who loves playing mad scienT(ea)st?
When I drank this tea at TeaSmith, John (the owner) said
“After you are done infusing those leaves, we can make a little salad for you. Get a little soy sauce, it tastes great.” …and I thought he was exaggerating.
Sure enough, 20 minutes later, I was eating a tiny little dish of Gyokuro leaves with a few drops of soy sauce. I can’t say it was the most normal thing I have ever done, but it wasn’t as weird tasting as I imagined.
Closing comment: When people find out that I am “into tea in a big way”, they often ask what my favorite kind is. This, of course, is an impossible question to answer; but sometimes after drinking a good Gyokuro, I think to myself that this might be as close to a favorite that there is for me.
So heeding my own advice from my little Darjeeling tasting earlier, I decided this afternoon to drink one of my more recent fine tea acquisitions. As with most of my silly tea rants, I’ll start of with a bit of personal history (By all means, skip ahead)…
Last year, I spent a good 4 months living in London. One of my first missions when I got settled into my flat was to find good tea. The thing that everyone kept telling me beforehand was “It’s England, there must be tea everywhere!” which was true. The thing is, there is more of all kinds of tea: good, medium, and, let’s just say, not-so-good… It almost makes it harder for a foreigner to find their way to “the good stuff”.
Anyways, it was a pure stroke of luck that one day in late January, I came upon TeaSmith in the Old Spittalfields market. I had a look around at the teas on display and knew that I had found a match for my particular tea interests of the time. In addition to being a tea shop, they have what they call a “tea bar” which is almost exactly what it sounds like. You can come in, have a sit on a tall seat and one of the extremely kind and knowledgeable staff members will expertly prepare a wide variety of fine Chinese, Japanese, and Korean teas right there. So not only do you get to drink professionally prepped tea, you learn a lot just by watching.
For example, they have such a wide variety of teas ranging from pu-erh cakes, to high mountain Taiwanese oolongs, to Korean Nokcha, to Japanese Sencha, Hojicha, Karigane, Genmaicha, a marvelous Gyokuro, and even matcha. (They also have some pretty basic Assam and Ceylon loose leaf for the occasional customer who explicitly requests “Only regular tea!”) The beauty is that they have a ton of teaware and accessories that they use depending on what tea you order. No cut corners here! Yixing pots for some of the oolongs and pu-erhs, gaiwans for others, small porcelain pots for most of the Japanese teas, and lots and lots of teany cups!
Needless to say… I fell in love with this place and made it a permanent part of my weekly schedule (I went 2 and 3 times a week as my time in London drew to a close!). Thanks to TeaSmith, I was able to try more varieties of tea than ever before, and thanks to the staff answering all my questions, learning quite a bit! Sometimes I would stay for a few hours, try a few green teas, chat, and head home. Other days I would devote to drawing out infusion after infusion of an aged oolong or pu-erh and enjoying the invigorating evolution of flavor.
Long story short, before I left, I picked out a bunch of my favorites that I had tried to have shipped back so I wouldn’t have reverse TeaSmith culture shock when I returned to the U.S. All of these TeaSmith tasting notes come from this batch.
Okay, start reading now!
This is just such a magical tea. The buttery smoothness and fruity aroma are as good as any light oolong I’ve tried. As with any teguanyin or tea rolled into “fists”, I like to do a 10 second rinse, and make sure my cups and pot are all nice and warm. Even if you don’t prepare this in a super-fancy way, I’m sure it’d still come out tasting phenomenal. With small “gong fu cha” -style infusions, I usually will push this tea at least through 6 infusions, and even double digits if I’m feeling it.
I’m just going to drink this tea for a few hours. Mmmm.
Moral of the story: If you are ever in London, check out TeaSmith on the east side.
So this is the other single-estate darjeeling that started it all. A few years ago, my wife was studying in Grenoble, France and brought back this tea, and a Darjeeling FF 2007 Makaibari FTGFOP that I also have a note for. I can’t really give you much more info on Cha Yuan, (maybe a fellow Steepster knows more?) other than they seem to be based out of Lyon.
I’ll mention that Darjeelings aren’t really my niche (at least not this month), but before I started getting into high quality Chinese, and Japanese teas, these were the best teas that I owned (hence my irresponsible urge to save them as long as I could).
Anyways, the problem with these teas today (March 25th, 2010) is that they are 3 years old and with delicate single-estate teas like these, freshness is a factor. When I first had this tea, the very pleasing flavor was unlike any tea I had tried before. It was almost sweet in a way but it had that “tea” flavor that I liked about black teas, except without astringency and it was a much more focused, consistent flavor. Compared with the other Darjeeling (Makaibari), I think I preferred this one a little bit, but they were both incredible.
Unfortunately, both of these are past their prime due to negligence and hoarding on my part. I was able to share them a few times with friends while they were still great. Once, we compared 3 different single-estate darjeelings and then a few “lesser” ones like a Twining’s Darjeeling teabag, and some very generic bag labeled “Darjeeling”. It was a fun taste-testing experiment that left my non-tea-drinking friends amazed with the range of flavors.
If you ever come across Cha Yuan, based on these two teas, I would recommend you check out some of the tea they offer.
I would also recommend getting something current… and not keeping it locked up “safe”…
…inside a cupboard…
… for three years…
One of the great things about Steepster is that it helps me keep track of my tea and encourages me to drink up those teas that I have been hoarding for years. It’s not good for the tea (with a few exceptions), and it’s not good for life. The sooner I finish this tea, the sooner I can order new stuff, right? :-D
So this was one of the first single-estate Darjeeling teas I ever tried and it was one of those teas that changed the future of tea for me. Before trying this (and comparing it with the Darjeeling 2007 FF from the Tumsong estate), I thought the only thing that changed how teas taste was what kinds of things you added to the leaves. While I am not a Darjeeling connoisseur by any means, this tea opened up a door for me into a whole new world of teas.
Okay, with all that said, this tea is but a shadow of what it used to be. The brew comes out with a tinge of astringency and and inconsistent flavor that doesn’t stick around long. I remember this tea having a fuller, rounder flavor that you just want to savor (and it actually lingers on the taste-buds for a while so you can!) and no astringency.
I guess this is a cautionary tale with a lesson to be learned: Promise me, my fellow Steeps, don’t hoard tea… Drink it and enjoy it while it’s good!
The rating I’ve provided is from when the tea was fresh (stellar!).
So my most recent experience with this tisane seems to go against what others have said on here. I’m a big ginger fan, and I just felt overwhelmed by the zesty tartness of the berries, hibiscus, and rosehips. I feel like I can taste the ginger if I imagine really hard.
That said, Auggy makes a very good point about these herbal infusions tending to be inconsistent. I’m thinking that the second infusion may give me a little more ginger flavor as the zingy flavors in these types of infusions usually fade out after the first steeping.
Anyone remember Lemon Zinger? This reminds me of a “fancier” version of that. In a tin :)