125 Tasting Notes
My mouth is numb and I can hardy speak, much less type. Love this Sheng—not too sweet, moderately fruity and a tad bitter, with a pleasant smokiness emerging in the mid-steeps. And teak.
Very little viscosity. A little bit of vanilla custard sneaking in.
The small, expertly-crafted leaf portends an excellent tea, and this Keemun does not disappoint. The dry leaf has a voluptuous chocolate smell which mixes with roasted chestnut when the leaf is infused. I like to drink this in a glass mug to see the rich, reddish liquor, redolent of cinnamon.
Chocolate, cinnamon and clean tobacco flavors are in perfect equilibrium and the tea sparkles on the mid-palate. As it cools, a cotton-candy sweetness emerges. The taste persists in the mouth and throat for a while after the session.
From dry leaf to aftertaste, this tea is a wonderful experience.
CL was kind enough to include this sample when I ordered a cake of Whispering Sunshine and I was happy to discover a very good shou with medium body and great energy. The first couple of infusions featured a fairly strong tobacco flavor and a somewhat lighter menthol taste both of which persist through successive infusions. I especially like that the tea isn’t in-your-face sweet, like so many other shous that mask their imperfections under a layer of confection.
As I continued with the session, a pleasant tang emerged along with a nice mix of fresh bread and black cherry. Around steep five or six a pulse of sweetness entered the mix but it was far from cloying.
This tea drinks like a much more expensive one—Thanks to Crimson Lotus for offering it.
Are we at the point where there are too many high-end, farm to cup tea purveyors? It’s very easy to be seduced by the burgeoning websites touting personal relationships with family farms in China or Estates in India. How much variety is too much? How often is the Chinese black tea from X an upgrade from the one you’ve been enjoying for a while? Maybe the answer is a resounding, “Variety is the spice of life!” But it’s a question I ask myself as I find fewer and fewer of my forays into the offerings of new (to me) sellers end up replacing the teas I’ve come to love and drink regularly.
Now, this is not meant as a criticism of Joseph Wesley’s teas which I’m trying for the first time. I really enjoyed his high end Qimen (not reviewed yet) and this Bai Lin is certainly pleasant. But is the Qimen better than the ones I’ve had from Upton, a place I’ve been ordering from for years and from whom I can order a whole variety of excellent teas? Hard to say. When I go to the store, I can choose between 20 different kinds of olive oil or yogurt but the myriad of choices just makes me anxious (or maybe it’s just the fluorescent lighting).
Anyway, back to this tea, which I’m finding hard to categorize. It’s not as chocolatey as its nose suggests it will be; it’s actually more vegetal and grainy. I think I went too heavy on the leaf the first time—when I used less, I had a better result.
This tea cake has increased in price 2 and half times since I bought it which indicates how precious this little cake is. It’s a very deceptive, mercurial tea—the first 30 second infusion is sweet and fruity with a touch of camphor and wheat. But then the gloves come off and the tea becomes a powerhouse of flavor (teakwood, grapefruit) and bitterness (in a good way). Even at six years of age, this is a very young and unruly tea that has legs. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an intensely flavorful sheng—now it’s just a matter of seeing how the components come into balance.
This year’s version solidifies this tea’s standing as one of my two or three favorite teas—those you buy automatically each spring and turn to maybe 6 out of every ten times you brew a cup. This harvest strikes me as a somewhat darker and heavier tea, with stronger molasses and coffee flavors along with the cocoa and caramel. Dostoevsky versus last year’s Tolstoy.
I steeped this for four minutes ( I know, sacrilege), but it yields such a full robust taste I couldn’t resist. Very light smoke, no bitterness, with apricot, black licorice and scotch flavors. This is the best sheng I’ve ever had and truly a benchmark for all future tastings.
Maybe it’s my unrefined palette, but I’m having a hard time discriminating among the three Upton Keemuns I have recently sampled: Mao Feng, Mao Feng Superior and the Hao-Ya B. This one might have a little more body and a more prominent burgundy flavor but all three are smooth and fairly light with a nice sparkle in the cup.
The thing I love about the decidedly utilitarian Upton Tea site more than some of those glitzy tea sites that show beautiful color pictures of happy workers picking tea in lush China tea farms, is that a devotee of a certain type of tea can choose among an array of estates, grades, or types, while many of the eye-candy sites offer one Darjeeling, one Assam, one Ceylon.
The downside of Upton is it is often daunting to make a choice from the 15 or so Keemuns available, many of which are labeled some variation of Keemun Mao Feng. Luckily there is the 15 gram sample—so I decided to do some comparison shopping.
The “superior” is a medium-bodied Keemun with a smooth red wine flavor up front, a cherry tobacco and leather finish, and a hint of cotton-candy sweetness. As it cools it reminds me of cinnamon raisin bread.
A refined and elegant tea. Next up: Another Keemun Mao Feng, minus the “superior.”