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108 Tasting Notes

90

This Christmas I received a surprising present: a package of the Korean First Pick Wild Green tea that I mentioned in my earlier post about Franchia, the tea house in New York City. Definitely a great opportunity to expand my knowledge of Korean greens. Today I had my first try. According to their website:

Our Korean Wild Green Tea comes from the rocky slopes of Mt. Jilee and is 100% natural. Because it’s not cultivated, the root of our Wild Green Tea draws richer nutrients and minerals from almost 60 feet deep. The region’s colder climate (even in summer) and drastic temperature difference between day and night produces tea leaves stronger in “chi” or “energy.” Moreover, what differentiates Franchia Wild Green Tea from other green teas is our completely natural production process from growing in the wild to being harvested by hand to our unique processing method.

The site shows that the unique processing method is an immediate wok-firing, followed by hand-shaping (to bring out the oils and enzymes in the leaf), resting and drying, another wok-firing in an iron wok, more resting and drying, and finally a gentle roasting step in a steel pot. That last step is definitely unique, as when making tea in China a final roast (which tends to bring out the leaf’s aromas) is generally only applied to oolong tea. I’m not certain if these steps are common for Korean tea or just this factory, but there is definitely a notable effect.

Going with my instinct and advice from my friends, I used 90 degree Celsius water in a gaiwan for about a minute. This is hotter than I’ve used for similar tea in the past, but I wanted to see what would happen. If the result from such a brew was bitter and pungent, I would know my mistake, but the dry leaves seemed a bit dull; they must be nearly a year old, so I thought I might be able to fire some life into them with hot water. (It turns out that the Franchia site includes instructions that recommend 50 degree water for one minute, but I didn’t see that at the time.)

The liquor was light blond with the aroma of green bark after a spring rain. So much for my impression of the dull leaves! When they got wet, they took on a bright green glow. I think that the matte leaf appearance must just be a characteristic of Korean tea, perhaps due to the final roasting process.

The taste of this Wild Green reminded me more of Japanese Gyokuro than Nok Cha, and yet not as smooth or creamy as either. I want to say it was oceanic, but for me that usually means hints of seaweed and salt water and I detected neither in this brew. It had the tasty quality of bean sprouts, snap peas, or kale: a sort of woody sweetness that pervades the mouth and coats the tongue. Like a bowl of Matcha or the best Li Shan, it slowly seeps into the body and mind for a good minute after drinking. A soothing experience to be sure.

My full review is here: http://someteawith.me/2013/12/31/first-pick-korean-wild-green-from-franchia/

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Twice now I’ve had the wonderful experience of tasting this Sheng puer, another sample sent from TeaVivre. Both times I’ve been very pleased with the result. This tea held a special interest for me since I’ve visited tea factories in Fengqing before, but never one that produced Puer. The city is known mainly for its Hong Cha (black tea).

The aroma of the orange infusions was deeper than I expected, bringing to mind oak more than the cedar scent that I often find with young and middle-aged Sheng (I consider any Sheng Puer less than 5 years old to be “young”, and more than 10 years to be “old”). This was the first sign that I was getting a tasty cup.

Starting with about a 10-second infusion, the flavor was very smooth and round with more of that oak character. It had a dryness to it that pervaded the mouth, but it was a pleasant dryness, akin to the feeling of a Bordeaux wine. The taste reminded me actually of another one of my favorite Sheng cakes, coincidentally from the same year: the 2006 Lao Shu Bing Cha from Dobra Tea (alas, no longer available in that year).

Check out my full review here: http://someteawith.me/2013/12/06/2006-fengqing-sheng-tuocha-puer/

TeaVivre

Yes, Fengqing is the hometown of Yunnan black tea, it is known mainly for its black tea, has provided good materials for tea producers for long times. And in the area of Yunnan, Fengqign County in Lincang City is one of the most featured places of producing Puerh.

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85

This was a sample sent to me from the lovely folks at Teavivre. Dong Ding (sometimes Tung Ting or “Frozen Summit”) is a very beautiful tea mountain in Nantou county near the west coast of Taiwan. They produce a lot of rolled oolongs in the Taiwan/Fujian style. “Qing Xiang” (清香) means “Fragrant” or “Aromatic”.

The dry leaves lived up to their name with a very pleasant sweet aroma. As expected for a Dong Ding, the leaves are rolled into balls, but somewhat unexpectedly they are many different sizes. Some are quite a lot larger than my usual Dong Ding (indicating a lot of stems, which doesn’t mean anything in itself), while some balls were more like fine gunpowder green tea in size. The variation in leaf size had me on my guard, as such inconsistency can make infusing a tea difficult. The color was a mix of bright green mixed with gunpowder gray, like an evergreen forest in the spring.

The first three infusions did not impress me too much, having a little too green and sharp a taste for my palette. However, as the flavor that was present hadn’t become noticeably weaker I tried a fourth and was very surprised at the improvement. A hint of saltiness crept into the flavor, which changed everything. There was still the bright spring quality, but it became subdued and gentle. The aroma was delicate but unmistakably that of the wonderful sweetness you will find in an oolong withering room. Somehow a bit of cream entered the texture, mellowing the sharpness of the previous infusions. The effect was still there but now it manifested as a dryness on the front of the tongue in the aftertaste, not marring the mouthfeel. My mind wandered away to a green mountainside in Lugu, looking across the lake at the tea fields of Dong Ding. It’s really a reminder that, particularly with a rolled oolong, there can be layers of flavor that lie hidden away behind the initial taste.

A hot rinse of the leaves at the start or possibly beginning with a cooler temperature water might have made for a different beginning entirely for this tasting. Tea is a living creation, and while I love to find a Dong Ding that really wows on the first sip, I very much enjoy a tea that makes me taste and experiment to find its beauty. I’m glad to have had this chance!

(Read the full review here: http://someteawith.me/2013/11/27/teavivre-2013-qing-xiang-dong-ding/)

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83
drank Bancha Kyoto by Dobra Tea
108 tasting notes

Vegetal, but without that green “force” that you’d feel in most sencha. Definitely Japanese, but the leaves are a deep dark forest and the body is lighter than I remembered. The hint of sweet in the aftertaste is a real gift for a chill day.

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69
drank 2003 Sheng Yiwu by Shop in Dali
108 tasting notes

The taste and aroma of kiwi pervade this tea. As soon as the leaves were rinsed, there it was: a high sweetness, but full in the mouth. It’s beneath the taste, really. If I hadn’t been paying such close attention, I may have missed any sweetness entirely. There’s still a lot of depth to this tea, but I didn’t find the flavors to be very nuanced. There’s the general woodiness that I expect from a Sheng, but very little leather or rough edges make for overall a very smooth sipping tea. Still, I did wish for a little more drama.

Many thanks go to Ben for giving me these leaves. The last time I tasted it I was distracted by trying to learn Majong and I think I missed much of what this tea has to offer. I’m glad to have had the chance to revisit it in a more contemplative setting.

This was infused gong-fu style in a small yixing for around 20 seconds and then increasing to around 30 or 40 seconds for later infusions. I believe we stopped at 5, although there could certainly have been some more.

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88
drank 2011 Rou Gui by Ming Qiu Cha Yuan
108 tasting notes

This tea came from Ming Qiu Cha Yuan, a shop in a Shanghai tea market. Pumpkin orange in the cup, there’s a lot of Autumn in this tea. A fairly strong roast to the leaves gives much of the Wuyi oolong character to this tea, although there’s a subtle sweetness and fruitiness that lies just under the surface. In fact, the more I think of pumpkins, the more similarities I can see. Mouth-filling and full with a starchy texture and a creamy sweetness behind the earthiness of a harvest field, this 肉桂茶 makes quite an impression on this rainy October afternoon.
The name of the tea means “cinnamon bark”, perhaps referring to the wonderful aromatic roast of this tea. When I arrived in China, however, I was only vaguely aware of this particular Wuyi oolong. The first character, Ròu, when used by itself can mean “meat”, and when I first encountered a shop selling this tea I was more than a little repulsed by the idea of a “meat tea”. Reassured by my friend that Ròuguì has no connection to dead animals, I was pleasantly surprised to find this mysterious tea which seems to lean back and forth between the depth of Da Hong Pao (大红袍) and the sweetness of Feng Huang Dan Cong (凤凰单丛).

Read more of this tea’s story here: http://chaxicollective.tumblr.com/post/33310859548/2011-rou-gui-from-shanghai-this-tea-came-from

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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93

Brewing this in Cha Xi for the early Autumn, sitting by the window with the pink and purple of the season’s last morning glories peeking in. Memories of distant sun-soaked Pinglin are coming out of the pot right along with the tea.

Sweet like green grass and honeydew. Gentle roast that joins “tea” to “melon” in my taste memory; it creates a texture and chewiness on the sides of the mouth. Golden-green color.

Second infusion is more rich and less sweet. Tending toward the sweetness of a good light ale.

I figured a bit longer in the pot would help to bring back the honeydew. The third infusion takes the sweetness and makes it into a bold statement rather than a gentle brush. Mouth-filling, it brings together the tastes of the previous two.

About 45 second to one minute infusions with a decent amount of leaves. Brewed in my Yixing pot from Maokong, Taiwan, reserved for light roast oolongs.

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 1 min, 0 sec

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94

Oh the memories! Haricot verts, fresh spring asparagus, sweet corn! A season in a cup. Sweet and toasty on the tongue. The wet leaves smell like the perfume of flowering lilacs, although that doesn’t come through in the infusion except for a delicate aroma. Characteristics of Yunnan Mao Cha definitely are present, but they do not define this tea. It is much more delicate.

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89
drank Liu Bao by Dobra Tea
108 tasting notes

Dark stick-like leaves. This tea is loose. Aroma of sweet hay and citrus fruits. A red amber color in the cup. Sweet tasting but with a light body and an amazingly long smooth finish. Reminiscent of some very short-brewed Shu puer of impressive quality. In lower quality Shu bings I have tasted, the flavor is earthy and muddy without much nuance to the aroma other than getting heavier as infusions progress. This tea shares the soft body and comfort to the stomach, but the flavors and aroma are delicious. Not being a brick, I think this will not give many infusions (when compared to similar Puer) but the infusions that exist are very much worth the sacrifice.

Preparation
200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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75

Roasted and crispy, as expected from a Wuyi Shui Xian. A woody aroma and a golden orange color. The first few infusions have very little real flavors on my tongue – more of a sense or feeling of charcoal. I then tried very hot water with a much longer infusion time (about 2 minutes) and was rewarded a very distinct aroma of steamed milk and a somewhat tannic coriander taste on the sides of the tongue.

I don’t have much experience with or knowledge of Gao Shan Lao Cong tea, but I can taste the signs of the title.

Gao Shan oolongs are usually highly praised for their well-defined aromas; this tea has more aroma than taste, although it is not flowery at all. They also tend towards a lighter body which this tea, despite its roast, does as well.

Lao (old) trees tend to be used for producing tea that packs a punch. This tea has just that effect; you can’t miss the charcoal dryness when it hits your tongue.

Not my favorite Wuyi oolong, but an interesting comparison to other Shui Xians I’ve had in the past.

Preparation
Boiling 2 min, 0 sec

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Bio

A tea geek (and also general geek) in Burlington, Vermont.

I’m drawn to the beauty of a steaming cup with snow falling outside. When I see a tea leaf, I see the long road and hundreds of hands that have brought it from the sun and soil to my pot.

I think that tea can be a way of life.

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Burlington, VT

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