114 Tasting Notes
Last year’s Castleton second flush was one of my favorite teas ever, so I had high expectations for this one. I’ve been careful brewing first flush darjeelings, using water under the boiling point and not letting the tea oversteep. Still, with this cup, there was some bitterness and the muscatel and floral notes were a little subdued, even with my penchant for using a hefty amount of leaf. Overall, it’s a nice, gardern variety first flush, but it didn’t impress me like the Thurbo and the Sungma did.
Sweet, mellow, pleasant, with a taste that reminds me of sweet brown rice. Like a movie you watch and enjoy but slips into anonymity after a few months, I don’t think there’s anything about this tea that will nestle deep in the recesses of my memory, but it’s proving to be a nice companion as I wind down my work week and look forward to welcoming my lovely wife and two wonderful little boys home.
I would have to compare this tea to one of those hard rock ballads that start out slow and sweet and then build to an emotional crescendo (“Stairway to Heaven” would be the archetype). In the first flush of adolescence, at those high school dances, these songs struck the perfect balance—the slow dance at the beginning and the air guitar at the end. The honey and tropical fruit flavors explode in the back of the mouth. I can’t imagine a better first flush experience.
As I get older, I find that one of my big challenges is to hold on to the ability to get excited by the little events and experiences in life that are the links in the chain of happiness. Having young children helps because you get to see the first flush of the world through their eyes. But I often find that my reaction to events is more muted than it was when, for example, I first read the short stories of Andre Dubus or first heard Bob Dylan wafting up to my attic bedroom from my parents’ turntable.
My discovery of tea has been the catalyst for some of my present-day stimulating moments and none more transfixing than drinking this Jun Mee from Upton. It’s listed as a Keemun and has the same general flavor profile (chocolate, red wine), but it’s more nuanced and delicate than most Keemuns I’ve tried. And because the Keemun qualities are not as pronounced, other amazing flavors come into play, notably an amalgam of spice that reminds me of cardamom, coriander pods, nutmeg, and cinammon.
Yes, this tea is expensive, but if you really love black teas from China as I do, you’ll want to try this. Even at $45 for 50 grams, you’re only looking at a few bucks per cup.
I’m sure a lot of women I know (and some men) will not be able to relate to what I’m about to say, but I’m always looking for the holy grail of shoes, one pair I can wear for most occasions—work, a night out, at home in the country and city. I guess this is a quest that spans many areas of life: skiers want one pair of skis that will excel in powder, ice, moguls, and trees; motorcyclists want one bike that can go touring, race through the back roads, or putt around town. It is this impulse in humans that is the genesis of the Desert Island list (what is the one book/album/food/famous person you would take to a desert island?)
Now I know it would be heresy to suggest that there is only one tea that would satisfy all tastes, but there are those teas that I regularly turn to when I’m not in the mood for something specialized. A good mid-priced Assam or Ceylon, or now, this Yunnan from Upton, back in stock due to popular demand. It’s fancy enough for an elegant night out (chocolate and fruit) but unpretentious enough for a trip to the corner pub (malty, frothy, cherry pipe tobacco).
I wish I had found this earlier, but I guess I was too busy being wooed by the flashier golden-tipped Yunnans I love so much. But as every romantic comedy has taught us, sometimes the best partner is the guy or girl next door who has unobtrusively been there the whole time.
And the reviews of the first flush darjeelings begin! Luckily it’s still freezing and gloomy here in Maine, so a hot cup of flowery goodness really hits the spot.Based on Sungma’s reputation I went ahead and rolled the dice and bought a full bag of this. There’s very little to compare in the tea world to that first inhalation after opening a sealed bag of first flush tea. There’s something so fecund and manna-like about the smell—kind of like honeysuckle on a hot summer day.
This Sungma was shaping up to be a classic first flush until I tasted it and was surprised to find how fruity and effervescent it is. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does lack the deeper honey notes that I usually expect to find in a first flush. Maybe it was more lightly fermented, which results in something closer to an Oolong or a Nepalese tea. Anyway, these are mere quibbles, and will not prevent me from enjoying this top tier tea.
One does not immediately think of Ceylon when looking for green teas, but this is a wonderful selection. The dry leaf has a nice apricot aroma which turns to apple when the leaf is infused. The taste is a mixture of hearty/earthy and flowery. It actually reminds me of a raw pu-erh in many respects. This green definitely stands out from the crowd!
Okay, so there are some Shus you might date: they’re wild, unpredictable, and exhilirating, but slightly high-maintenance. You don’t want to always mess around with steeping times and water temps. Then there is the Shu you marry and she’s from Peacock Village. Beautiful but not flashy, never volatile, comforting, consistenly there for you. Satisfying in the “deep heart’s core.”*
- W.B. Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree
A confession: I usually keep a green tea around only as a lighter alternative to my more highly-favored blacks and pu-erhs. I enjoy good senchas and dragonwells but I almost never crave green tea—my attitude toward them is utilitarian: lower caffeine levels for those times when I don’t want too much of a buzz.
That being said, I’m thrilled to find a green tea that has an in-your-face complexity that rivals the quality black teas I enjoy. The Yin Yang combination of earth and sea harmonizes into a heady brew.
Whe I was a kid there was this candy called Razzles that, when you first popped them in your mouth, had the consistency of candy but then transformed into a gum. The company that created them held a contest, asking kids to explain whether they thought razzles were gum or candy.
A true enigma. Well, this tea reminds me of that: a Chinese green tea that has a lot of Japanese characteristics.
This is one green tea I’ve actually looked forward to drinking for its intrinsic qualities, not because it’s green.