28 Tasting Notes

It’s an unflavored, pure leaf tea, but somehow this Silver Oolong tastes like the juiciest Bai Mu Dan white was met with lemon-grapefruit essential oils, all whipped into a light-as-air chiffon. The citrus flavor is vivid and soft, and is joined by the depth and aroma of zest. It’s a sophisticated, lightly sweet lemon drop candy, with all of the essence and none of the acidic bite of fresh lemon juice.

The Silver Oolong is unique among any tea I’ve tasted, while at the same time bringing to mind similar flavors in other teas. Winter White Earl Grey, a Mu Dan white tea and bergamot blend by Harney & Sons, could seem like an attempt to blend what Silver Oolong creates with pure leaf. The resemblance is in the Winter White’s base tea as well as the bergamot, since the Silver Oolong’s citrus flavor seems more like Meyer lemon or grapefruit than tangerine. However, even in the smoothest blends (in which I would include the Winter White Earl Grey), I find bergamot oil to be harsh, a form of bitterness that I have taken in for the experience but have not found pleasant. In contrast, the Silver Oolong captures the essence of citrus without delving into the bitterness of bergamot oil.

I brewed this tea in a sort of hybrid style in a 150mil ruyao easy gaiwan. It was the last of the bag, which ended up being less leaf than would be recommended for the gaiwan. So, I chose steep times that bridged gongfu and Western (around 30 sec, 1 min for later steeps), and this brewing a good number of flavorful cups. This tea had lots of staying power. Even as the sweet fruitiness faded and the deeper flavors became more apparent, every cup of Silver Oolong was still sweeter, juicier, and gentler than any bergamot tea I’ve tasted.

Another tea that the Silver Oolong brought to mind was the Cannon Ball Green Tea. It was a fun realization that both teas are produced by Nepal’s Greenland Organic Farm. I’ve tasted only a cup or two of the Cannon Ball Green, not enough for a detailed comparison, but plenty to recall that it too captured citrus blossoms in a tea leaf.

White Antlers

Ah, you’ve got me drooling.


My wishlist is getting crazy.

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Very sweet (I tasted sweet corn), fragrant, and creamy, with a big, round mouthfeel. A little bit drying in the back of the throat at the finish. A seaweed-like savoriness came forward in the 2nd and 3rd steeps as the sweetness faded.

I drank this tea back-to-back with two other What-Cha green oolongs which don’t seem to be listed in Steepster. The Taiwan Ali Shan Jin Xuan tasted very clean and creamy with a sweet, nutty flavor from the start. The 3rd steep brought lots of floral and milkiness that I recognized from other Jin Xuans (particularly those from Tea Trekker, Maitre de Thé, and Teavivre). The Taiwan Ali Shan Qing Xin had a lovely round mouthfeel (I’d say even a slight bit more than the Thailand Winter Frost) and seemed the most floral in taste and aroma of the three teas.

I’ve learned that I prefer oolongs with more roasting and/or oxidation, but these have still been fun to taste!

175 °F / 79 °C 2 min, 0 sec 1 tsp 6 OZ / 177 ML

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On this wonderfully stormy night I am sipping A Quarter to Tea’s Banana Nut Pancakes, a surprise sample from Equusfell! The aroma of the brewed tea is spot on and rather delicious. Those inspiration banana walnut pancakes may be on the menu tomorrow!

My first few sips of a new-to-me tea are always straight, even though adding sweetener is pretty standard for me when it comes to dessert teas. Even when I enjoy a dessert tea or otherwise flavored tea straight, I usually find that to my tastebuds, I prefer it when the flavors have been awakened by a bit of sweetener, and often cream or (nondairy) milk as well. Straight, even the best flavored teas I’ve tried are not nearly as compelling to me as unflavored teas. So when I play with flavored tea, I do it up.

As I am with this tea. A spoonful of simple syrup coaxed the delightful aroma into the brewed cup. Simple syrup is convenient since it blends into the tea more evenly than sugar, but sometimes (perhaps when I’ve added too much) I can taste the simple syrup itself, which I don’t love. I found myself thinking, hmm, honey would be nice, and took it one step further, my friends, to the obvious(ly brilliant) conclusion of maple syrup!

Which brings us up to this very sip: real maple, a 4 min steep (this is the 4th steep, and it’s still flavorful), a touch of cream, and wow: this is dessert in a cup.

205 °F / 96 °C 3 min, 0 sec 1 tsp 3 OZ / 88 ML

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A chat on reddit.com/r/tea inspired me to taste Laoshan Black from Verdant and What-Cha in back-to-back sessions. A Verdant LB devotee ordered What-Cha’s version and expressed hope that it would be similar. I had first been introduced to Verdant’s, and later ordered What-Cha’s — which more than satisfied my desire for that characteristic LB flavor. In fact, with both versions available to me, I had been opting for What-Cha’s every time.

But how similar are they? What was making me reach for the What-Cha bag when I wanted that deep dark chocolate-like taste, in a rich cup without the slightest hint of astringency? Time for a taste test.

My experience was similar to Ananisthecat’s. Verdant’s had several flashy flavors in the dry leaf and brewed cup — raisin and plum, most noticeably. The tea was thin bodied and the interesting notes quickly faded. I could have steeped more times than I did: there was still some flavor, but without the “look-at-me” notes, the tea wasn’t holding my interest.

The What-Cha Laoshan Black was fuller bodied, smooth, with more balance and subtlety to the flavor. I found it more enjoyable from the get-go as well as several steeps in.

I brewed Western style: 2tsp of each w/6-8oz water, starting w/30sec. Verdant recommends 205° and What-Cha 194°, so I followed those — have only a bit of the What-Cha left and didn’t want to burn it out of the gate, though I’m pretty sure it would be fine with more heat!

And now, with an expanded perspective on the two teas, I’ll quite happily continue to stick with What-Cha’s.
195 °F / 90 °C 0 min, 30 sec 2 tsp 7 OZ / 207 ML

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This was the last of Den’s $3 sampler. I first sampled this tea as a very new tea drinker, and enjoyed it then.

Now as I return with far more tea experience, I love it even more. It smells much like Genmaicha and tastes somewhat like a roastier Genmaicha. The flavor is warming, toasty, and also just a little savory, just a hint of seaweed that to me makes it all the more interesting and delightful. It also resteeped well, full of flavor for 3 steeps despite being underleafed (rather than the recommended 2g or heaping tsp per 4oz, I had only a scant tsp remaining, and on top of that poured in more than 4oz water). I’m on #4, and this cup is lighter though still lovely.

I have barely explored Japanese teas — in many ways, they seem like their own world. Sure, Genmaicha is an easy bridge tea, and I’ve experienced some Senchas and a Kukichas with delightfully fresh, sweet, grassy flavors, yet haven’t fully embraced the astringency that seems such a key part of the experience of many (most?) Japanese greens.

But this tea is quite accessible. It is not all that different from a roasted oolong, like Harney’s Formosa Oolong, the tea that reminds me of what was served in the Chinese restaurant my family frequented when I was a kid. I was not a tea drinker then, but I’d drink cup after cup of that tea. It needed no adjustment period. Because of the hint of salt in this cup, this tea may be slightly less universally appealing, but I think it’s still very accessible.

No astringency. Easy to brew. Nothing intimidating. A unique combination of the hearty, roasty dominating flavor along with the tease of savory seaweed. This is the first Japanese tea that’s completely hooked me. I’m ready for more.

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 30 sec 1 tsp 6 OZ / 177 ML

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drank Holiday Tea by Harney & Sons
28 tasting notes

I was so captivated by the delightful aroma of my first cup that it had cooled to merely warm by the time I finally took a sip.

As others have said, the taste paled in comparison to the scent. The sweet, spiced, and bright notes seemingly disappeared. Yes, the spice is still there, but in a form that my tastebuds experienced as almost bitter. Maybe I taste a hint of orange, or maybe I am reaching. The sweetness in the aroma, perhaps a combination of the almond and orange, is eluding me.

After steeps at 4 and 5 min, I brewed one more cup to try it with sweetener (simple syrup, in this case). Big improvement: the addition quieted the bitter-ish notes and brought forward the bright orange flavor in a nice balance with the sweetness. Quite drinkable now. It is my biased belief that a tea like this should be enjoyable straight, but that said, I haven’t loved chai straight either.

The aroma, though: just wonderful.

205 °F / 96 °C 4 min, 0 sec 1 tsp 8 OZ / 236 ML

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drank Chocolate Mint by Harney & Sons
28 tasting notes

I’ve now tried a bunch of Harney’s chocolate flavored teas and found them all quite enjoyable. They’ve also been a favorite of the many redditors to whom I’ve sent some in trades and beginner tea samplers. It seems a key is to realize that you’re about to sip a chocolate flavored tea — not a thick, rich hot chocolate — and you’re set for a good experience.

Chocolate Mint is no exception. For science, I took a few sips straight first (totally drinkable), but if I’m drinking a dessert tea I like to do it up. Today, cream and simple syrup help bring out the flavors in this delicious cup.

I would say that the chocolate is more subtle here than in, say, the straight Chocolate (of course) or the SoHo (which is chocolate with coconut and vanilla). Here it’s more about the mint, which lends a refreshing aroma and taste. Although the chocolate may not be super chocolately, it is still an effective base that gives the tea a depth and richness — there’s no mistaking this tea for straight mint tea, for example.

I steeped this tea three times, starting with 4 min and increasing 1 min each time.

Rarely do I rave about a flavored tea; I generally find the description more enticing than the brewed cup, and rarely would I consider ordering more after trying a sample. This tea is an exception for sure. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

205 °F / 96 °C 4 min, 0 sec 1 tsp 8 OZ / 236 ML

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This sample was part of my Earl Grey exploration, which has included Harney’s Earl Grey Supreme, a lavender EG, an EG cream, Harney’s Viennese EG (a Darjeeling base), and this tea (Chinese Mutan White with bergamot).

This tasted almost like a lemony-flavored white, but there was still a light bitterness from the bergamot. Very floral without becoming perfumey. A nice roundness to the body. Rather smooth, especially considering that I find bergamot somewhat harsh. Next time I would try 160°F with the intention of pushing back the bergamot, though this definitely works for me at 176°F also.

By the third cup the bright lemon-like tasted faded, allowing more of the bitterness of the bergamot to come through; but the full body and buttery texture were still wonderfully enjoyable. To quiet the bitterness, I added some sugar to my last couple steeps, and sure, it was good, though the lesson I took from it was that although I found lots to enjoy in this cup, bergamot is just not so appealing to me at the moment.

As I wrote in my note about Viennese EG, these two teas surprised me in the same two ways: by being surprisingly successful in their blends and by teaching me that I am currently not much of a fan of bergamot. Softened with some milk or cream, sure. But I just don’t see adding milk to Darjeeling or white tea. And there is plenty to appreciate just as they are. I must applaud Harney’s blenders, since the many, many Harney flavored teas I’ve tried have all — yes, I think I can say all — have struck me as rather well done.

175 °F / 79 °C 2 min, 0 sec 1 tsp 8 OZ / 236 ML

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Earl Grey was the first tea that wowed me. Until then, and for another couple years after, I drank tea only occasionally, and thought of it as something warm to drink that was hopefully pleasant tasting as well. I wasn’t a coffee drinker, so tea was sometimes just the default.

I remember my mom’s boxes of Constant Comment, stored conveniently above the microwave for easy access after zapping the water in her mug. Or at least that was the plan: discovering her mug in the microwave hours later or the next morning was a not infrequent occurrence. It was a hectic life.

In more recent years she became downright extravagant: cabinet stocked with a selection of flavored tea impulse buys from TJ Maxx, plus some Turkish mystery tea my sister brought over. She’d even fire up the stove to heat water in the kettle. At least when I’d take her up on her offer of tea. It still breaks my heart that if I declined, she’d skip it too. (Next time I visit, I’m bringing her a little electric kettle and some great teas to share.)

So, Earl Grey. Having tried a somewhat regular Earl Grey (Harney’s Earl Grey Supreme) and the two common variations (a lavender and a cream), I was still curious to try more. Hence this sample of Viennese Earl Grey (a Darjeeling base) and Winter White Earl Grey (Chinese Mutan White with bergamot).

These two teas surprised me in the same two ways: by being surprisingly successful in their blends and by teaching me that I am currently not much of a fan of bergamot. Softened with some milk or cream, sure. But I just don’t see adding milk to white tea or Darjeeling. And there is plenty to appreciate just as they are. I must applaud Harney’s blenders, since the many, many Harney flavored teas I’ve tried have all — yes, I think I can say all — have struck me as rather well done.

Smooth is not a characteristic I would generally apply to Earl Greys when taken straight. But smooth this is, even though the bergamot is prominent, and very well balanced so that the Darjeeling reveals itself also. I did reduce the steep time to 3 min, rather than Harney’s recommended 4-5, and then reduced it further to 2 min, but that is just my preference, to soften the bergamot and since I tend to like my black teas on the lighter side.

205 °F / 96 °C 3 min, 0 sec 1 tsp 8 OZ / 236 ML

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