151 Tasting Notes
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.”
I have to disagree with the lukewarm reviews of this tea. While it is reminiscent of a golden monkey, it has a unique flavor profile that includes the mace that Upton mentions and perhaps cinnamon. I’ll definitely order a bag of this and I expect it to move to the top of my black tea rotation, along with my Yunnan Sourcing blacks and Black Beauty from Mandala
Delicious, creamy, berrylicious tea with high energy akin to the best raw shengs. I find myself drinking Yunnan Sourcing black teas most of the time. There’s something untamed about their teas that makes me feel like I’m drinking some magic potion.
This tea has been getting some good press lately and I would say it’s warranted. The leaves are a striking dusky grey/black—long and twisted. The liquor is dark molasses and tastes something like a cross between an Assam and a Nepalese tea, malty and sweet, with hints of vanilla and pepper. It’s smooth and delicious—reminiscent also of Mandala’s Black Beauty—and immediately jumps to the upper echelon of teas I’ve tried in the last few years. Based on this and the two Darjeelings I’ve tried recently from Tea Trekker, it’s clear they choose their teas intelligently.
Given the bias toward Chinese teas on Steepster, I feel I need to carry the torch for the poor forgotten darjeelings, which are still the tea I feel compelled to drink most often. I don’t think I need to repeat what Tea Trekker has already provided in terms of description. I’ll just affirm that this is a tea where every component is in perfect balance, creating a harmonious whole. The perfume is perfect—not too strong or too subdued. It really is the prototypical second flush.