109 Tasting Notes

81

I’ve always been big on variety. When my grandmother took us to the doughnut shop as a kid, while my sister was always getting the same doughnut, I was looking to try another one of their 50 varieties. Of course, I developed my favorites and rejected what I didn’t like, but if I thought there was a reasonable chance I would like something new, I would try it.

This attitude has continued into my adult life and has expanded geographically in my areas of interest. Ethiopian food? Iranian films? Hot sauce from Trinidad? I’M IN!

Of course this applies to tea as well.

I’ve been wanting to try some African teas (other than Rooibus tisanes) for a bit now. Of course, I do prioritize quality-which is why I could never get excited about trying this GIANT, very cheap, bag of Kenyan CTC I bought in Chicago almost 2 years ago. Besides, it had zero brewing instructions and I was not brave enough to experiment with brewing techniques back then.

Anyhow, Upton had a few African teas and this tea from Malawi intrigued me. Different country? Check. Good reviews? Pretty good on Upton. NOT CTC? Says it’s Broken Orange Pekoe-good enough.

There was a personal reason for picking a tea from Malawi as well. I had a great college professor whose husband was from Malawi. He wasn’t really a refugee, but I think the government at the time was happy to send him off to the States and get him out of the way-those intellectuals can be so pesky. Anyway, I had just read about a positive resolution of a political crisis in Malawi last month. I also learned that they are trying to increase their tea exports. So, I figured it was definitely something to try.

I’ve been having issues with caffeine and reflux lately, and a BOP promised more caffeine than a whole leaf, but I figured it’s better than dust or fannings, right? I opened the package and to my dismay, the broken leaves were pretty much dust and fannings-easily tea baggable (fortunately, my Finum strainer kept my cup completely clean).

So, now I’m worried about max caffeine, but others on Upton mentioned low tannins and I hope that will cancel each other out and I plunge forward. The “leaves” are a mix of light brown and dark brown. The aroma is a pleasant, but rather generic black tea smell. Liquor brews mahogany brown. I wish I could describe the taste better-it is very good. It’s strong, (brisk?) but pretty smooth-no bitterness and I didn’t notice any astringency either. Basically, a general black flavor-but very good quality. Sorry I can’t taste lots of exotic notes. To me, this would be a good breakfast tea-but I would always drink it straight. I have only done one steep. Might try a second one later-caffeine!

I’d love to have this in a full leaf, but there is a good chance I will buy this tea soon again anyway.

Preparation
Boiling 3 min, 0 sec
TeaBrat

I’ve been wanting to try some more teas from Africa too…

Azzrian

Haha I never understood people who can stick with the same selection time and time again. Variety is the spice of life!

ScottTeaMan

Scott B-With my limited experience with African teas, many “broken” leaf varieties are closer to CTC-those tiny little pellets. I want to try this one too. Teas from Tanzania are similar to this leaf too (which are also quite delicious!

Scott B

Scott-Indeed, this is closer to CTC-in fact, the leaves are thinner and smaller than the Kenyan CTC I mentioned in my note. Really not much bigger than dust. Disappointing in that respect, but still a good, solid tea.

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90
drank Spearmint by Upton Tea Imports
109 tasting notes

I am not remotely a person who blends teas at all, but I bought this to try to mix in some greens to make Moroccan Mint at home. I was expecting a coarse cut to have much bigger pieces, but they are fairly small in my opinion-however, they won’t fall through an infuser. The aroma is amazing-so light and fresh and minty.

First up to mix this with was Upton’s Special Grade Temple of Heaven Gunpowder Green. I did a one to one blend courtesy of Amy oh’s suggestion (one teaspoon each infused in an 8 ounce mug). Brewed at 180 for 3 minutes it came out perfect. It smelled great and tasted just like TG’s Moroccan Mint that I like so much-although TG adds natural flavoring to it. Why? It tastes the same without it. Silly. I had this without sugar because it is very sweet and does not need it. It probably wouldn’t hurt to add it though.

I’ll definitely be looking to ice some of this over the weekend. And I might try this as an herbal blend just to see how it goes. I am very happy about this purchase.

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This is the first Vietnamese tea I’ve had in years and only my second overall.

Maybe I got a little overexuberant in buying this tea-only one review here (over a year ago) and none on Upton’s site in the past year. The dry leaves are short, tightly rolled and dark brown with a just a few golden tips. Can’t really describe the leaf aroma-just kinda a generic woods-ey type smell. It brews a coppery liquor and tastes very similar to Assam (which I was kinda expecting). However, this tea is off. Seems stale to me. I assume the tea hasn’t been sitting in a foil sample pouch all this time waiting for someone to order it. This is why I have started to gravitate toward companies that can give me a harvest date on their teas. Hope this is just an aberration. Too bad-it was a promising tea.

Preparation
Boiling 5 min, 0 sec

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83

Ok, I gave in and bought some Rooibus Chais.

I’ve seen a lot of good reviews for Upton Teas here, but I really don’t like their web site. It is small and cluttered and looks like it’s from 1996. But when Amy oh mentioned their awesome prices on samples, I decided to give it another look. I was seriously like a kid in a candy store-almost all the samples were just $1. It was so easy to just keep adding samples to my basket-I mean, who really thinks much about an extra dollar, right? You don’t see it adding up. If I didn’t have so much tea here, with more on the way, I could have easily ordered twice as many samples. The order shipped the next day and I got it just two days later. $4.40 for flat shipping is not the cheapest flat rate, but it is definitely one of the cheaper flat rates I have seen. The samples come in nice sealed foil packets. Sadly, they are not resealable. Going to have to break out some clothespins or something.

I wish I had thought of buying samples sooner-so many more teas to be able to try-and no big hit if you don’t like something. I used to think having to buy “only” 50 grams was nice, but 12 and 15 grams is awesome-I run out of stuff faster and can get more samples sooner (and buy in bulk the stuff I really love). Yeah, I’m a little excited about this. It’s like when you were in high school and joined the Columbia House Record Club and got your first shipment of 12 CD’s all at once for like $2-yes, dating myself perhaps.

Ok, the Rooibus Chai Blend. Dry-Star anise is most prominent, although I smell the cardomom too. Love the little orange peel bits (I’ve had that before, maybe in a Kashmiri Chai). I brewed exactly 8 minutes. The liquor is copper orange/brown-not very rooibos-ey at all. Brewed it smells a bit like TG’s Christmas Herbal Blend with the cinnamon and a touch of clove.

I brewed two cups-one straight and one with soymilk and sugar added. I actually used to drink chais straigh-then I tried a chai at a Himalayan restaurant. They warned me it was way too strong straight, but they were out of soymilk, so I had it straight. It was good, but really strong. Have gone to soy and sugar ever since. However, this blend holds up well straight, but the cinnamon and pepper is a little strong-at least not tasting too much star anise. I didn’t really notice the cardomom-which is not a bad thing, as I don’t like it to be too noticeable.

With milk, I brewed chai in mug and added soy and sugar after brewing was complete. It was really delicious. I tasted a little star anise but more cloves and orange than in the straight brew. The cinnamon was tamed too (I’m drinking rooibus because of reflux, so I don’t want too much cinnamon, which is an irritant). I am used to drinking a Masala Chai after dinner as a dessert with a cookie or two. I think this blend is a really good caffeine-free substitute for that and I will be drinking it with soy and sugar from now on. I only got a sample pack, but it promises me 7 brews. That’s 14 cents a cup-can’t beat that price for a sampler. Trying a couple of other Rooibus Chais, but there is a good chance I will buy more of this in the future.

Preparation
Boiling 8 min or more
SimplyJenW

I love Upton! I have this in my cupboard, too. It is my evening chai.

TeaBrat

This sounds good! I will need to try it.

Scott B

I was tempted to have a second cup with soy and sugar last night-and I never do that.

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71
drank Genmaicha by DAVIDsTEA
109 tasting notes

This is my first Genmaicha. I’ve never been much into green tea except some common classics-Moroccan Mint and Jasmine. Credit to Steepsterites for bringing this tea to my attention.

I HAVE had sencha before-a green coconut sencha that I got used to, but didn’t really enjoy that much and TG’s Sencha Claus, which is good, but really disguises the flavor of the Sencha.

Toasted brown rice sounded like a nice compromise between overwhelming the sencha with spices and flavorings or not tasting the botanicals at all (like the green coconut sencha).

So, this tea looks really interesting with the brown rice kernels and the occasional cute little popped kernel. The rice will help make this a lower caffeine option-which I sadly need these days. The liquor is a very light sea green in color. The toasted rice flavor is nice and unusual to me in a tea. It is kinda dominating the sencha, though. It’s good, reminds me of a puffed rice breakfast cereal. It’s got a touch of a tinny note in it though. I am trying to remember if that’s something I noticed in the breakfast cereal as well. I don’t care for that little part of it. Overall, it’s decent. I don’t love it, but I’d like to try some more genmaichas in the future.

Preparation
160 °F / 71 °C 2 min, 15 sec

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This is my first tea from Nepal. I was more than a little nervous learning that this is grown under similar conditions right across the border from Darjeeling-as I don’t care for 2nd flush Darjeelings at all.

Anyhow, the leaves are dark brown and tightly rolled with a liberal amount of golden buds mixed in. Dry leaf aroma is hard to describe-perhaps a faint note of licorice. The brewed aroma is that of what to me is typical 2nd flush Darjeeling-probably what others call “muscatel”, but to me it smell like some kind of corn liquor (as in corn alcohol).

The flavor is pretty much all the corn liquor-especially on the finish. It does get a bitter aftertaste as the tea cools. I CAN drink this-in fact I drank 4 ounces of a Rishi 2nd Flush Darjeeling (mainly because it was so expensive)-but I prefer not to.

I’m not giving this a numerical rating because I’ve never liked a 2nd flush darjeeling, so it doesn’t seem fair. It has all the characteristics of a quality tea, but it’s just not my preference. I would drink a cup of this if offered, but I would hope my host wouldn’t have a giant pot to share with me.

Preparation
Boiling 4 min, 0 sec
TeaBrat

yeah I believe they are neighbors, the tea is quite similar

Scott B

Have you ever had an Autumnal Flush Darjeeling? I am curious as to what that tastes like.

Scott B

Thanks, maybe I’ll try a sample next time I place an order, though I’m not too hopeful with oolongs.

TeaBrat

I’m waiting for their FF darjeelings to come out – will definitely try those. :)

ScottTeaMan

I’m waiting for more from Thunderbolt, but RTR and Upton’s…….oh, and possibly H & S, for 2012 Darjeelings. I’m gonna sit back and wait (not too long), before I order a couple 2012 Darjeelings. It appears the crops are more sparse due to the drought this year. :-//

Scott B

I’ve been waiting on the FF Darjeelings myself. Yeah, the drought is supposed to be over now, but it has delayed the first flush.

ScottTeaMan

…….and stunted the crops, and increased prices. :-//

Scott B

Indeed. Hope prices aren’t too high.

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75
drank White Blueberry by Adagio Teas
109 tasting notes

I bought this to have another white tea to drink when my reflux acts up. I had to choose between 1.5 ounces and 8 ounces with nothing in between-what’s up with no 3 or 4 ounce options, Adagio? 8 ounces of white is A LOT of tea! Glad I only bought 1.5 ounces. Anyhow, in comparison with Teavana’s Strawberry Paraiso (another recent white purchase) this is at least mostly tea.

In fact, the few blueberries I found are covered with tea dust and not easy to find. Still the blueberry flavoring is very natural and provides a pleasant aroma with the dry leaf. The leaves themselves are broken in fairly large pieces and are various shades from medium green to medium brown. The liquor brews a nice golden color that somehow comes across in the taste. Again, the blueberry is natural. It’s sweet, but is improved with a teaspoon of sugar. I even tried a steep with cinnamon and brown sugar added. Not bad if you can find the right ratio, but it makes for a heavier tea. I got two steeps out of my leaves, which is okay, I suppose.

Overall, though, I am not crazy about this. It’s good, but not great. It might be a nice refreshing option iced-and I’ll try that when it heats up. Although I will definitely finish this, I probabIy wouldn’t buy this again
Preparation
180 °F / 82 °C 3 min, 0 sec

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73
drank Irish Breakfast by Adagio Teas
109 tasting notes

After trying different measures and different boiling times (and even cleaning my Zoji) I have finally figured out what I don’t like about this tea-too much Ceylon and not enough Assam. That’s why I think this is not strong enough for me and why it tasted a little different than other Irish Breakfast Blends. I’m not very experienced with Ceylon at all-I do like it, but I don’t want it to dominate the Assam in my IB. It’s still good, not great-but not what I was looking for. My old rating was based on how I enjoyed the flavor-not what the tea was composed of or what I was looking for-so I will leave that rating intact.

Preparation
Boiling 4 min, 0 sec

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73
drank Irish Breakfast by Adagio Teas
109 tasting notes

Another purchase guided by the folks here at Steepster-78 is not an awesome rating, but it’s pretty solid considering well over 100 reviews. Also, this blend has Ceylon and Assam-the teas that make up RoT’s “Lucky Irish” Breakfast Blend (which I USED to love).

This is my first order from Adagio and I hate the packaging of the tea. It is a similar pouch that many companies use, with the mylar-type foil on the inside-but thinner than others. And the outside looks and feels thinner and cheap. There were some spots on the outside that looked like oil. It could have just been air-bubbles under the label, but I don’t like having to wonder about what it is. Some pouches are really nice and I don’t mind storing my tea in there-not this one. It went straight to a tin. Also, there is a hole in the bag for it to hang on a hook. I hate to think of my tea just being pulled off the shelf in a retail store-hope David’s doesn’t do that.

The tea itself-the dry leaves smell ok, aromatic enough-a little malty I suppose. Wet leaves, the same, just a bit more so. This is intended to be a first thing in the morning tea for me-not a sit there and ponder all the aromas and flavors type of tea. Liquor is mahogany brown. Flavor is good. Malty. However, not as strong as I would expect-this was consumed straight. I think tomorrow I will add a half teaspoon of tea and/or an extra minute of steep time. I may adjust my preliminary numerical rating after further brews.

Preparation
Boiling 4 min, 0 sec

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67
drank Laoshan Black by Verdant Tea
109 tasting notes

This review is for the Autumn Harvest

Ok, I suppose I should review this.

This was probably my first completely Steepster-driven purchase. I’ve never looked forward to trying a new tea more-gobs and gobs of 90+ reviews from independent, knowledgeable reviewers here on Steepster, coming from a small farm, a small service and quality oriented company, blacks my preference-I looked forward to loving this tea.

But I don’t.

Today is my 3rd or 4th day I have brewed this tea-hoping at some point I would become enlightened to what everyone else sees in this tea-or just get used to it. And I am kinda used to it, but although familiarity has not bred contempt, neither has it brought love.

I love that it’s experimental-tea would be boring without experimentation. This is different tea to be sure-certainly not too much like various Keemuns and Yunnans I have tasted. The dry leaves are rolled tight with some slight bends. They appear to have little aroma unless you take a big inhale, then I get slight chocolatey and floral notes. The leaves are very dark-almost jet black-I was half expecting the liquor to be as dark as black licorice.

Fortunately, liquor was just a deep coppery brown. Brewed leaf aroma is roasty with a slight resemblance to a roasted oolong, a little resemblance to keemun and not sure what else. The first steep flavor is kinda roasted with a touch of chocolate, but not much. Can’t really describe the dominant flavor. It’s different and just okay. It’s very heavy in the mouth, but relatively smooth until it starts to cool when some bitterness appears.

The 2nd steep tastes a little more chocolatey. Can you taste the tannins? Because it feels like I can really taste the tannins. Third steep-the liquor is deep amber colored. It now has a medium heavy mouthfeel. Flavor is improved a little. A touch milder, more grainy perhaps. Also tasting a bit more oolong-ey than previous steeps-especially the aftertaste. Still, nothing too exciting-don’t really like oolong anyway. I’ve done 4 steeps before, but have no notes for a 4th steep. If I have a 4th steep today, I’ll edit this note to include the information. There’s lot of tannins and caffeine in this tea, and with my reflux, I can’t afford 4 steeps of this if all I feel is “Meh, I don’t understand all the fuss.”

I am happy with my experience buying from Verdant Tea-they are personal, responsive, and committed to quality. They have several other teas that I look forward to trying. I might even try the first flush of this tea-if someone can convince me it’s significantly different. But I doubt that I would buy this Autumnal Harvest again.

Preparation
Boiling 3 min, 0 sec
TeaBrat

It’s always kind of disappointing when you aren’t blown away by these teas everyone else is raving over. It happens to me sometimes too… :)

Scott B

Yeah, that first day I tried it and after each cup I was like “Maybe next steep will be better.” It really bummed me out.

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Bio

Started drinking tea for health benefits maybe 5 years ago-exclusively bagged tea. Usually went for various Celestial Seasonings type of stuff. I bought a tea infuser at a gourmet shop once and then I realized there was almost no loose tea available. Eventually tiring of bags, I started ordering loose tea online and I have never gone back. Initially, I was exploring all the wild and exotic flavor combinations, but now I mostly drink straight teas. I still enjoy blended teas-but prefer those without “flavoring”. Hope to learn here and find some new teas I might not otherwise find. Am a vegan, so “milk” generally means “soymilk” to me. If it’s almond, rice, or coconut, I will mention that fact.

I am new here, and new to reviewing tea. Many of my initial reviews will be from memory and may not be very detailed at all. I hope to write more informative reviews on current and future teas.

I won’t let external factors affect my rating of the tea-such as slow shipping, too expensive, etc. I’ll mention any customer service problems in my reviews. I also won’t let my mistakes in not following the seller’s recommended parameters affect a rating. I can’t believe people who say “I forgot about it and oversteeped it” and then give it a rating. If I brew outside the parameters, I will wait until I brew it right before I give it a rating.

TEMPORARY RATING SYSTEM- Don’t hold me to these numbers and descriptions-like George Bluth, I like to tweak.

90+ It’s awesome, right?? I’ll probably try to keep it on hand.

80-89 – I really like this and will buy it again at some point, but there are so many teas to try!

70-79 – This is a pretty good tea and I may buy it again based on my mood, what tea store I am buying from, and what kind of deal I can get.

60-69 – This is okay. I finished the bag. I would drink it again if offered, but would not buy it again.

40-59 – IF I finished the bag, I recall this tea thinking “Why in the hell did I finish the bag?”

1-39 – Did not finish the bag. Maybe not even the cup. Tea was given away or discarded.

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