6 Tasting Notes
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Usually I wait to post tea reviews until my initial reaction has settled down, I’ve tried a tea a few times, written some notes, and considered whether or not I’d buy it again. I only post reviews of teas that I like. Well, I love this sucker. It is, without doubt, the best red/black tea I’ve had.
Quick impressions gleaned from an hour and a half session: Baker’s chocolate, malt, dates, saffron (what? indeed!), pumpernickel bread moving to rye and then whole wheat, rock sugar, and finally something meaty (cultureflip’s “marinated steak” is dead on).
A few select quotes from my notes:
- “Oh, my!”
- “Is this what ‘tea drunk’ feels like?”
- “I just had to remind myself to breathe.”
- “Damnit. This tea just spoiled me.”
In appearance and character, this tea, for me, seems remarkably similar to Hao Ya. Among the cut, slender strips of black tea a few golden tips wink out. The scents of cocoa and malt are hard to miss. There’s a slightly-fermented smell as “subtle as the smell of malt on a brewmaster’s fingers,” my notes read. I swear. Sometimes I think tea alters my brain just enough for me to write things that sound ridiculous.
The soup, which might be the deepest and cleanest red I’ve ever seen, is crystal clear. I might as well be looking through the red eye of a pair of 3D glasses. The cocoa and maltiness that were apparent in the dry leaves have mostly vanished into tea heaven. The cup does bring a clean, cocoa flavor to the back of the throat immediately, but it isn’t strong or overpowering. The dominant taste here, for lack of a better descriptor, is tea. This tea is pretty good in the way pancakes are pretty good – it is plain, approachable, simple. If I ever needed a glass of comfort tea, I’d reach for this.
This cake is beautiful. When it comes to tea, sometimes being a sucker for appearances can lead you into trouble. Such is not the case with this sheng. Opening the wrapper unleashes a flurry of spice – it’s as if the maocha was stored among heaps of peppercorns. After rinsing, the leaves exhibit a heavy, earthy quality that partially buries the spice. Based on the scent of the liquor, you’d expect this tea to be thick and turning towards earth, but no – the little spice that you do encounter is layered over hay and honey that leaves a lingering sweetness on the back of the throat and a melony roundness as the soup cools.
As the infusions progress, things evolve from straw to pine straw complimented by honeysuckle and honeydew. My notes say, “overall, a very mellow tea to name after a fighting force.” After the third infusion, things begin to wear thin. I’d say this needs aging, but, honestly, I doubt it has the forcefulness to carry it much further through the years. Not a bad tea to drink now, if you’re a fan of younger sheng, and certainly worth the $17 from Puerhshop.
This is one of my favorite teas. It is simple, straightforward, and beautiful to watch in a glass tumbler as it unfurls. Each pearl is comprised of two leaves and a fuzzy bud that are rolled by hand, which means between actual human fingers. The care and precision that goes into making each pearl is apparent in the taste, which is silky, honeyed and refreshing. My notebook reads, “[the flavor] is subtle and sweet. I get the image of goose down floating on still, clear water.”
An after-sweetness in the back of the throat provides a nice cooling sensation. It’s similar to sucking on the rind of a honeydew melon. The cooling sensation is not so strong as menthol, but there are similarities. The tea itself has the effect of focusing the mind and inducing a sense of calm, more so than other green or white teas. (Is this a white tea? McNulty’s is unclear on the subject…)
I could drink this every day. For a while, I did drink this every day, and when I didn’t feel like steeping and re-steeping in a teapot, I’d simply drop a few pearls (3 or 4) in a mug that I would refill with warm water until the flavor slipped away. Delicious.
The first thing I noticed about this tea was its aroma. Oh, my, this aroma! Sweet condensed milk, and overpowering. As the tea is steeping, the aroma expands to reveal a floral base. It’s as if someone has had the bright idea to add buttermilk to a glass of rosewater.
Waiting for the soup to cool, the flowers become more pronounced. When I sip, I taste the butter first (it’s still the dominant odor) but it quickly rolls to the edge of the tongue to make way for orchids on the tip. This movement happens as quickly as electricity flows through a circuit. A slight vegetal taste creeps up but is drowned in butter so quickly it leaves not so much as a footprint.
Another sip. Sheesh, the butter! It robes the mouth, but still there’s a kernel of flower petals. If they’re the pistachio, the butter is the chocolate encasing it. This tea survives three infusions easily without losing much of its potency. The buttermilk taste is slick and delicious, but I can’t imagine drinking this every day. It’s something to have for dessert along with a bowl of ice cream and a slice of baklava.
Scratch that. Sounds like a recipe for a sugar-induced coma.
Easily the most fragrant dry green tea leaf I’ve ever encountered, the color of this Dragon Well is beautiful, ranging from light to medium green. The leaves are irregular. They are not uniform at all, but such things are not important to me. Opening the package, I was amazed to find what seemed like nectar mixed with an almost melon-y (honeydew?) sweetness sitting atop your usual Dragon Well notes.
Brewed, the pale green soup doesn’t disappoint. All of the flavors promised in the scent of the dry leaves have found their way into the cup, which is remarkable since I was a little gun-shy and under-steeped this. Don’t ask me what I was on, but my notes read “a vegetal taste follows the sweetness like a bride’s father who is reluctant to give away his daughter.” He did give her away, though, and faded to the background as the tea cooled.
That lovely sweetness lingers noticeably in the nose for a good half-hour after the cup’s finished. This is truly a delicious tea. Then again, you’d have to be pretty sure of yourself to second-guess David Lee Hoffman.