39 Tasting Notes
While I’m eagerly awaiting some new teas I’ve ordered, I thought I’d put in another quick note about an atypical experience I had with Laoshan Black over the weekend. On Sunday morning I woke up a bit late from staying out tango dancing past 1:00am the previous night, and I was in a big hurry to catch the bus to another tango workshop I had that morning. . . So no time for gongfu cha. :P
I thought I’d just brew up a mug of black tea western style, which is now a rare thing for me. I usually reach for any assam on hand (creamed and sweetened) if I just want an quick caffeine kick like this, but I had drunk a really good golden needle black tea the previous morning, and on the heels of that the thought of assam made me wince a little. So my alternative was to try the Laoshan Black western style.
Brewed about a teaspoon and a half of it in a mug for four minutes. I decided to try it plain first and see what it was like. Smooth and tasty! I could definitely have enjoyed the whole mug straight, but I also wanted to experiment out of curiosity. So I pulled out some milk and very carefully poured a very small amount in. It really doesn’t need much, if you’re going to use any. With the same care, I tried to sweeten it ever so slightly with honey. Not the best idea. This tea is delicate and transparent enough to be overwhelmed by additives, and the honey flavor will take over. Thankfully, I only used a little bit. If you’re going to sweeten, very small amount of sugar would be better than a sweetener with more if its own flavor character.
In any case, it worked well enough, though in the end I think I would’ve rather had that mug of tea without any adulterants. Lesson here is that if you’re going to add anything to this black tea, be very very modest. My preference for preparing and drinking this tea will always be the gongfu method, and that is what I would recommend to others as the best way to fully enjoy its wonderful characteristics.
Impressive! This is definitely the star of the three teas I received from Asha. I ordered a half ounce sample of it, while that was still an option, and put about half of it into my gaiwan this morning (approx. 7 grams). I’ve been using the standard method I like for brewing oolongs gongfu style: boiling or near boiling water, one immediate rinse, then three seconds for the 1st and 2nd infusions, and increase the steep time by an additional three seconds with each following infusion. I just finished my first thirty second infusion, so I’ve steeped this tea about ten times now. It has not let up one bit.
So the first couple infusions were very light, and I didn’t expect much from them. The tea really started to get going on the third and fourth infusion. Here’s what I’ve noted on it’s characteristics:
(of fragrance and flavor)
Base-note: Exactly like Thai sticky sweet rice.
Mid-notes: coconut milk and orchids.
Top-notes: hints of vanilla bean and sliced almond, and sometimes hint of sweet corn
Aftertaste: Above notes persist and unfold over minutes to surprising additional fruit notes, like occasional flashes of light peach, sweet apple and honeydew melon. Also tingles in a pleasant way.
Mouth-feel: Very light, almost vaporous, and yet somehow still creamy.
It all makes me wish I had some fresh sliced mango to eat for breakfast alongside this tea! I’m really amazed by the kinship between this tea and the sweet rice in coconut milk that is served with mango as a Thai dessert. It’s so delicious. Quite fantastic in many ways! I’ll definitely be ordering more of it.
This morning I’m trying the sample of Yunnan Golden Buds tea that Asha Tea generously included with my order. Brewing it gongfu style in my gaiwan, and have had three infusions so far. I consider the Yunnan golden needle teas, along with Laoshan black, to be the height of black tea for me. This sample from Asha is quite good! Perfectly smooth, as I would expect from a budset black tea. Mouth-feel is light and soft. Really a pleasure to drink.
But what makes this Golden Buds different and interesting for me is that it is a much more savory experience in fragrance and flavor than the other golden needle teas I’ve tried. I think Asha’s short flavor description is completely on the mark. This tea has a fragrance and flavor very reminiscent of good cooked mushrooms. Its taste expands through salty and peppery territory in a rather pleasant way. The fact that I’m a big fan of mushrooms probably helps me appreciate this tea a lot.
The savoriness of this tea surprised me a little bit, because I’m used to golden needle teas that have a much sweeter profile. This one is an interesting departure from that. It’s a very pleasant and worthwhile Yunnan golden needle tea, but not the best one I’ve tried. I would probably most often go for a sweeter one over this if a choice was necessary, but that’s just because I’m in the mood for sweeter teas more frequently.
So I was curious about Asha’s teas after reading some of the high praise its Pure Heart Alishan Oolong has received here recently. When I found out they were doing a Fall promotion and free shipping, I went to have a look at the offerings. I was definitely curious to try a sample of the Alishan, and also saw that they had this honey scent Phoenix Mountain oolong. The samples were pretty minimal in terms of cost, so I decided it couldn’t hurt to try out some of Asha’s teas.
I made a half ounce order of the Alishan and a one ounce order of their Phoenix Mountain. Order placed on Wednesday and received today (Saturday). Pretty nice for service! And my order included an extra ten gram sample of thier Yunnan Golden Buds tea, which looks and smells quite good. On the service side, my only issue with Asha is that I think their website is not user-friendly and could stand to be improved quite a bit.
So right now, I’m drinking the Phoenix Mountain oolong gongfu style, and am brewing up infusion five or six in my gaiwan at the moment. For this kind of tea, I have the reference point of the sample I recently tried from Goldfish Tea. I was quite impressed with that one, and wanted to gain more perspective on it by trying other Phoenix Mountain oolongs. Overall, I think Asha’s is good, but that I found the one from Goldfish more enjoyable.
Comparing the two, I would say that Asha’s has a richer body, with a mouth-feel that is somewhat syrupy. The fragrance and flavor of this one are stronger, but not necessarily better. There’s definitely a familiarity between the two, as they are basically the same kind of tea; but I somehow feel that this one is lacking a number of the refinements that I experienced in the sample from Goldfish. The one from Goldfish definitely tasted sweeter, and had a softness to it that I found exceedingly pleasant. Asha’s tastes a little blunt by comparison, and doesn’t rise to the high sweet notes that I so much enjoyed in the Goldfish sample. The aftertaste here isn’t as interesting either.
That said, I do like this tea and think that it’s certainly worth drinking. I’ll finish this one before I try ordering yet another Phoenix Mountain oolong to round out my perspective. Though for the time being it’s making me miss and more deeply appreciate the first Phoenix Mountain oolong that I tried. If after a third attempt from a different vendor, the offering from Goldfish Tea still wins out, I may have to revise my rating of that one up.
To be fair, this Phoenix Mountain oolong from Asha Tea is half the price of the one from Goldfish, so I have to imagine a qualitative difference does exist between the two. For the price, Asha’s is good, but it’s not the best I’ve tried.
Last sample from Goldfish Tea was this Yellow Mountain Mao Feng. Been brewing it this morning gongfu style. The first cup was okay, but then it quickly grew on me with the second and third cups. I’m still drinking it as I write, and have probably reached the six short steeping now. I’m new to Mao Feng tea; this may be the first time I’ve tried one. Very light and mellow for a green tea, with no sharp edges whatsoever. Aroma, taste and mouth-feel of this one are all reliably pleasant and calming. What can I liken the taste to? . . . Hay comes to mind, but I’ve never really tasted hay and I imagine it’s probably not nearly as good as this. I think if the smell of hay could be translated into a flavor, it would be close. Sorry for putting some synesthesia in the description, but I’m otherwise at a bit of a loss. It’s not grassy or vegetal in the ways that other green teas are. In any case, I quite like it.
For me, it is in the aftertaste that this tea really shines. It goes into a lovely cooling slow-fade, which lasts for >5 minutes, and which I can more precisely associate with the flavor of good fresh-sliced cucumber. This is my favorite part of the tea; everything preceding is a bonus. Feels like the damp cool dew of an early spring morning is condensing on a grassy plain inside me. Quite nice!
I might rate it higher, but I’ve yet to gain perspective on whether there are finer representatives of Mao Feng out there. I suspect that indeed there are, and I’ll be curious to try them when the opportunity arises.
Getting through the other samples from Goldfish Tea. This morning I tried the Dragon Well they sent me. It’s pretty good. Not what I would call exceptional Dragon Well. I have to admit that my taste for Dragon Well tea was spoiled by one of my tea friends, who kindly prepared for me a sample of way-too-expensive-to-import Dragon Well that one of his contacts in China had sent him. That was purportedly “ideal” Dragon Well. This one is decent, but doesn’t even hold a candle to that Dragon Well. So maybe the comparison isn’t completely fair.
Don’t get me wrong, this one is not bad at all. It’s actually been pleasant and tasty enough for me to steep 5 or 6 times. Apparently, Goldfish Tea has two different grades of Dragon Well (choice and premium). The sample package they sent me does not list which grade this one is, so unfortunately I can’t provide any insight on their grade offerings. Ah well… in summary, it was worth drinking, and made for a pleasant morning. But nothing particularly interesting or exceptional about it.
Yum! This is so exciting for me because the little yixing clay teapot that I’ve been patiently seasoning specifically for Da Hong Pao is at long last giving back to the flavor of this tea. Gosh, I think it took six or seven extended brewing sessions for the pot to stop gobbling up so much of the flavor (greedy little teapot!). But my, oh my, this time the tea is just delectable, fascinating, deep and rich… And I’m only on the first steeping after the rinse! I’ve been holding off on writing a tasting note for this Big Red Robe because I knew I wasn’t really receiving it’s fullness until now. Hold on… [leaves to brew more].
Yes! Second steeping is soooo good. Oh, this tea is just getting started. Beneath the lovely light roast of this infusion I am surprised and wonderfully pleased to find an unmistakable fruit note that calls to mind luscious dark cherries. I love it! Aftertaste is rich and scintillating, a cooling waterfall mist floating in my mouth. And I can feel the tea generating a warmth further down, resting in the region of my heart, which is a fascinating contrast.
I imagine I probably would’ve been quite impressed with this tea earlier if I had started brewing it in my gaiwan, but I was really endeavoring to not get distracted from the task of feeding my teapot. I’m so delighted now that my little clay teapot is satiated, happy and generously sharing the bounty of this tea with me. I’m looking forward to many years of brewing Big Red Robe with this teapot.
I’m quite impressed by this tea, and I can see why it captured David’s attention. I’ll be very happy to make this my regular Big Red Robe. I have designs on a different Qilan Big Red Robe that I had the chance to try recently for brewing on special occasions. That one is in another category, and far more expensive, but it set my current benchmark for the best Da Hong Pao I’ve had the opportunity to taste. I’d consider this one the second best I’ve tried, and I think the quality to cost ratio of Verdant’s Big Red Robe presents a very high value offering.
Super good! And now I’m off to brew some more. . . .
Drinking the last of my Top Leaf sample presently. It’s quite good. I enjoy this more than most of the sencha teas I’ve tried. It’s characteristic smoothness is very appealing. The deep grassy flavor is maximized with with almost zero astringency (at least the way I brew it: < 1 minute). It’s a very refreshing and invigorating tea for early morning drinking. First time I tried this was actually at a tea gathering with friends in the evening, and having been away from Japanese green teas for a while, I found myself at a low tolerance to their higher caffeine levels (relative to whole leaf Chinese teas) and could not get to sleep that night.
Anyway, I find this kind of tea very well suited for the morning, especially when it’s still dark out. Drinking before and during dawn is one of my favorite times for tea. It’s a liminal and contemplative time, when I feel completely free of distractions. And I’m finding the Mellow Monk teas I’ve tried to be apropos in that space. Not just anything will do here. A more astringent sencha would be like the shock of a bad alarm clock, starting your day with a nervous jolt. I can’t have that.
Honestly, I’m generally much more fond of the shaded Japanese greens, as I had indicated in my tasting note of Mellow Monk’s kabusecha (Shaded Leaf). I enjoyed the kabusecha quite thoroughly, and this tea doesn’t fall that far beneath it. I would take this over a standard sencha any morning. Though if I had my way, and money was no concern, I’d be going for the finest gyokuro all the time (which is really my favorite of the Japanese greens, far and away).
For the price, which is less than half of Mellow Monk’s kabusecha, Top Leaf is much more reasonable for the possibility of drinking a good Japanese green tea daily. And it’s certainly a tempting prospect…
Been waking up to this tea and Mellow Monk’s Top Leaf for the past week or so. Fine teas to wake up with! The Shaded Leaf definitely stands out as my favorite of the two, but I’ve enjoyed them both. Just finished a first steeping of Shaded Leaf, and am now beginning a second. For a Japanese tea, this is quite good! Creamy, smooth, beautiful, and yes, I do believe that Mellow Monk is justified in describing this tea as exquisite. From color and aroma, to the flavor, mouth-feel and aftertaste, it is thoroughly that.
I’ve been steeping it at the low heat suggested, but for much less time than what is outlined in Mellow Monk’s guidelines. The description on Steepster recommends a 3 minute brew time, which I find a bit shocking. As it happens, the recommendation on Mellow Monk’s website lists a 2 minute brew time for this tea. For my part, I’ve been brewing it for about 45 seconds to 1 minute each time, and I am more than happy with the results from that. At 2 or 3 minutes, I think I’d have to take this tea with some sugar, which isn’t necessarily out of step with Japanese tea drinking norms, but I’ve practically abandoned sweetening teas since I started drinking Gongfu style.
A small sample of Shaded Leaf (enough to make about 5 cups) was given to me by a friend, and using the last of it in this present cup I’m sad that I probably won’t have any more for a while. The price on this one is more than I want to pay right now. I believe it’s worth it, but if I bought a green like this one I would want to drink it every morning, or at least quite frequently. And the thing is, this tea is too refined and cost-prohibitive for me to drink that way. Alternatively, if I purchased a 100g pack for special occasional use, I worry that some of it might go stale from neglect before I got around to using it all, or that it might turn green with jealousy as I give abundant attention to so many of the other great teas in my cupboard. It would be a shame to offend a tea like this. So for the time being, I don’t think Shaded Leaf would fit well with my drinking habits or budget, but I’ll be sure to remember this one when I’m feeling an unambiguous kick for Japanese green tea.
Got this and three other sample packs from Goldfish Tea this afternoon, which came with a new Gongfu tea tray that I ordered from them. Decided to throw this Honey Phoenix Oolong into my gaiwan and start putting the new tray to work.
First, something about the tray… I like this tray well enough, despite some flaws I noticed in the workmanship, and the fact that the Chinese characters carved into the face of it were different than advertised. At any rate, I needed a new tray urgently, as my previous bamboo one had been used to the point of developing an irreparable rot in the wood (bad smells do not make for pleasant tea drinking). The new tray is made from pearwood, which my research indicated is pretty strong and resists cracking and warping with water and heat exposure; excellent qualities for the purpose. Time will tell how well it handles the daily dousing of boiling water.
This tray is the kind with the plastic reservoir underneath that I can slide out to empty the unused water. I thought this would be more practical for long-term daily use, as I can sometimes forget to empty the reservoir, and wood is just not a friend of standing water. I had looked around for other trays all over the internet, but found very few options. I liked some of the trays and boards I found on ebay, but was dismayed by the $40-$60 shipping fees and 3-4 week lead time. As I said, I needed a tray asap, and this seemed like a reasonable option. I guess I would consider this one my intermediate stage before taking the plunge on buying a nice solid wood tea board at some point (when I have the $300+ to spend on one).
Anyway, back to this Honey Phoenix Oolong tea. I have to say I find it quite enjoyable. This is apparently one of the customer favorites at Goldfish Tea’s teahouse in Royal Oak, Michigan. It is also one of their premium teas (listed at about $12/oz). I can understand why it’s popular with their customers. I’m drinking my fifth infusion of it right now, and it remains simply delicious. How to characterize? I draws a little something from the fruit notes of an aged Teigunyin that I’ve tried… Fresh, ripe apricot perhaps?
Their description mentions a honey scent and flavor note. Yes, it is there, but in no way cloying or distracting. I’ve had a honey scented white tea that practically kicked you in the face with the honey element, and badly. This oolong is in another landscape, far more serene, elegant and tasteful in its treatment. The front of the taste, immediately as it hits the tongue, starts at the high sweet regions then pleasantly rolls like rain down a mountain to the mentioned fruit notes growing deeper in the valley. I’m quite fond of the aftertaste, which settles on the tongue like a cooling breeze and makes me feel like I’m idling around in an apricot orchard. The flavor profile is pretty simple and straightforward, I’m getting the same experience just described with repeated steepings (I’m on the sixth now). It doesn’t appear to be going anywhere new, but not that I object in the slightest to this tea staying where it is. I like it here, and can be content to journey with more adventurous teas another time.
This one surprised me, as I wasn’t expecting to get samples with my order, and in any case, was not expecting one of them to be this good. I’ll definitely keep this oolong in my gaiwan until I’ve completely exhausted it. I might even be persuaded to order some of it in the future.