69 Tasting Notes

73

This sample is from the 2017 harvest and is a tea I’ve never tried before. Following Teavivre’s instructions, I steeped around 4 g of leaf in a 120 ml porcelain teapot at 185F for 30, 50, 70, and 90 seconds.

The first steep has notes of green beans and florals, with a touch of astringency. The second tastes like buttered green beans. I can smell a peach aroma in the teapot, but it doesn’t make it into the tea. Although I wouldn’t describe it as nutty, I get what others are saying about it being reminiscent of dragonwell. The next couple steeps have notes of beans, peas, lettuce, and other veggies.

This was fresh and enjoyable, but it doesn’t make me a green tea convert. I’ll have to try it Western style to see if I can pick up on some other flavours.

Flavors: Beany, Butter, Floral, Garden Peas, Lettuce, Vegetal

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 0 min, 30 sec 4 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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95

This is my second session with this tea. I was going to write about it before, but was overwhelmed by its complexity. This high mountain oolong from the Li Shan area performs well above its relatively modest price point. I steeped 5 g in a 120 ml porcelain teapot at 205F for 25, 20, 25, 30, 30, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

The first steep is a wonderful balance of floral, fruity, and vegetal. It has notes of peonies, sweet pea flowers, dried fruit (cranberries?), cooked spinach, arugula, and herbs, and is much pleasanter than that sounds. In the second and third steeps, nutty overtones become more noticeable and the liquor gets stronger and tangier. It also has the silky mouthfeel I associate with good Li Shan teas. I’m having trouble describing exactly what’s going on because this oolong is so complicated.

The next few steeps are nuttier and fruitier as the florals fade into the background. There’s a hint of grain, as mentioned on the website. If I were being fancy, I’d describe this as a cranberry-almond biscotti next to a receding bouquet of peonies. Even after nine steeps, this tea isn’t a sad vegetal mess like some high mountain oolongs, retaining its tangy, dried fruit flavour.

This is an exceptional oolong that I’m surprised is still in stock.

Flavors: Almond, Cranberry, Dried Fruit, Floral, Grain, Herbaceous, Nutty, Spinach, Tangy

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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80

I’m experiencing a green Tie Guan Yin shortage, and while I know I should wait until the spring 2018 harvest comes out in June, going several months without one of my favourite oolongs seems dire. This is the second-last reasonably sized package of green TGY in my cupboard, and it’s pretty good. I steeped 5 g of tea in a 120 ml teapot at 195F for 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 120, and 240 seconds.

The first steep seems slightly more oxidized than a typical green Tie Guan Yin, with notes of orchids, butter, grass, honey, and miscellaneous florals, which become violets in the second steep. Nectarines and vanilla appear in steep three, making the tea much more interesting, but also more perfumey. The fruit leans more towards apricot in the fourth steep. The next few steeps maintain this balance of flavours before petering out into grassiness.

This is a nice Tie Guan Yin that hits the spot. It has few surprises and fades faster than I’d like, but it’s pleasant while it lasts. I hope Zen Tea continues to carry it in the future.

Flavors: Apricot, Butter, Floral, Grass, Honey, Orchids, Stonefruits, Vanilla, Violet

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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92

I don’t have much experience with Hong Shui oolongs, although with the three I’ve received thus far in the Eco-Cha Tea Club, this could soon be rectified. The dark, loosely ball-rolled leaves look fairly different from the oolongs I’m familiar with, and don’t give off much of an aroma. I steeped 5 g of tea in a 120 ml porcelain teapot at 200F for 25, 20, 25, 30, 30, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

The first three steeps taste exactly like spiced banana-nut bread, with notes of grain, cooked banana, roasted walnuts, honey, and spices (nutmeg?). The tea loses some of its nuttiness after this and takes on a sesame flavour. It also acquires a peachy finish and a mineral note reminiscent of Chinese Wuyi oolong, although this could be just my imagination. The leaves consistently smell more peachy in the teapot than they taste in the cup.

A perfect dessert tea, this Hong Shui is rich, mellow, and indulgent. If it had come through with a bit more of that peachy flavour, it would have been among my all-time favourites.

Flavors: Baked Bread, banana, Honey, Mineral, Nutmeg, Peach, Roast nuts, Spices, Walnut

Preparation
200 °F / 93 °C 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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75

This entry is for the second flush version of this tea, while my sample is from the autumn harvest. I got it a couple years ago, so it’s probably too old to be optimal. I steeped around 4 g of Darjeeling in 476 ml of 195F water for five minutes.

My initial impressions are of rye bread, malt, molasses, muscatel, caramel, and mild florals. There’s a kick of astringency at the back of the sip, and lots of tannins and grassiness in the aftertaste.

This is a burly tea for Margaret’s Hope. I haven’t had enough autumnal Darjeelings to know if it’s typical of the type, or maybe its age has blunted the more delicate flavours. Either way, it makes a good breakfast tea.

Flavors: Astringent, Baked Bread, Caramel, Floral, Grass, Malt, Molasses, Muscatel, Rye, Tannic

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 5 min, 0 sec 4 g 16 OZ / 476 ML

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73
drank Anxi dark by Zen Tea
69 tasting notes

This is the last 5 g of my 10 g sample. I brewed the first 5 g using short steeps, as I would a green Tie Guan Yin, but decided to go with my usual longer infusions in this session. I used a 120 ml clay teapot and 195F water, and steeped the tea for 30, 30, 40, 40, 30, 30, 40, 40, 50, 50, 120, and 240 seconds.

The flavours are similar to those in the last session, only much more intense. In the first steep, I get caramel, wood, pecans, walnut and walnut shells, but not much smoke at all. The second steep adds the pleasant tangy sourness I associate with roasted TGY.

Going to 40 seconds in the third steep is a mistake, yielding the taste of bad convenience-store coffee. There’s smoke, dark wood, aggressive roast, bitter caramel, and underlying grassiness. Anxi Dark, I’m sorry for mistreating you so badly. Unfortunately, I did my steeps two at a time, so I had to drink one more awful infusion before lowering the time to 30 seconds again.

Back at 30 seconds, this is drinkable again, retaining its previous flavour for the next six steeps or so. Some nice mineral notes emerge near the end of the session.

Other than my premature 40-second steeps near the beginning of the session, this was very enjoyable.

Flavors: Caramel, Coffee, Grain, Mineral, Pecan, Pleasantly Sour, Roast nuts, Roasted, Tangy, Walnut, Wood

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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73
drank Anxi dark by Zen Tea
69 tasting notes

This is yet another of my Zen Tea samples. As an experiment, I decided to steep it as I would a green Tie Guan Yin: 5 g in a 120 ml teapot at 195F for 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

The first steep tastes like roasted nuts, caramel, and graham crackers, while the second adds flavours of heavy roast, grain, wood, and walnuts. These notes intensify throughout the next few infusions. I get a hint of spice from the fifth steep, but the flavour profile stays pretty consistent across the session. Sadly, I don’t detect any fruit or florals.

This is a straightforward roasted oolong that’s pleasant to drink but nothing special. I’ll have to try my remaining 5 g with longer steeps to see if I can get a more complex flavour.

Flavors: Caramel, Graham Cracker, Grain, Roast nuts, Roasted, Spices, Walnut, Wood

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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76

I was a bit heavy handed with this one, accidentally filling my 120 ml pot almost full with slightly more than 6 g of leaf. I steeped it at 195F for 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

Prior to steeping, this tea smells like a generic woody/roasted Wuyi oolong. The first steep gives notes of honey, roast, and walnut shells. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the astringent mess I was expecting based on the leaf quantity. In the second steep, hay, wood, and light florals emerge. The third steep has even stronger hay and honey notes, and I’d swear there was stevia in there if I didn’t know better. Later rounds get less sweet and bring out minerals and roasted nuts.

This is a nice, very sweet dark oolong, and while I don’t think I’ll buy more, I’m glad I got a sample.

Flavors: Floral, Hay, Honey, Mineral, Roasted, Roasted nuts, Sweet, Walnut, Wood

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 6 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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81
drank Phoenix Pearl by Zen Tea
69 tasting notes

I recently discovered a cache of Zen Tea samples from 2015, and I’ll be reviewing them in the next few weeks. I seem to have bucked the trend by brewing this one gongfu style. I steeped 5 g of leaf in a 120 ml teapot at 195F for 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

The small, loosely rolled, often downy snails are really pretty! The first steep has notes of caramel, earth, cocoa, malt, and wood. For such a powerful tea, there’s not much astringency, though a bit does appear in the aftertaste. The astringency gets more intense in the second steep, while all the other flavours stay the same. (Maybe I used more tea than I realized and I need to decrease my steep time.)

The third steep incorporates honey, grain, and a hint of smoke into the existing flavour, and has calmed down in terms of astringency. Surprisingly, though the cocoa is definitely there, it’s never too prominent, although it does get stronger in steep four. This tea goes for a few more rounds before petering out around steep nine.

Though this isn’t the most complex tea in the world, it’s rich and satisfying, and changes interestingly as the pearls unfold. Like most of Zen Tea’s offerings, it’s also well priced. It would have been even better if the cocoa had been a bit stronger.

Flavors: Caramel, Cocoa, Earth, Grain, Honey, Malt, Smoke, Wood

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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76
drank Taiwan Ruby by Zen Tea
69 tasting notes

I bought this tea in early 2016, so it’s a bit long in the tooth. I steeped 5 g of leaf in a 120 ml teapot at 195F for 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

In the pot, the dry leaf smells like liquorice and grape candy. The first steep has notes of scuppernong grapes, liquorice, menthol, and malt, with a big kick of tannins in the aftertaste. The second steep is similar—fruity and sweet until the astringency punches you in the throat at the end of the sip.

I brought the third steep down to 190F, which made the liquorice/sassafras note sweeter and cut down on the astringency. I get faint notes of honey, raisins, and earth. The profile stays consistent through the next few steeps, then starts to fade in the ninth.

If brewed at a slightly lower temperature than I normally make my black teas, this is a nice daily drinker. I also remember it being very reasonably priced, so that helps. Let’s hope that Zen Tea keeps it in its lineup when it starts selling teas again.

Flavors: Astringent, Earth, Grapes, Honey, Licorice, Malt, Menthol, Raisins, Tannin

Preparation
190 °F / 87 °C 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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Bio

Since I discovered Teavana’s Monkey Picked Oolong four years ago, I’ve been fascinated by loose-leaf tea. I’m glad to say that my oolong tastes have evolved, and that I now like nearly every tea that comes from Taiwan, oolong or not, particularly the bug-bitten varieties. I also find myself drinking Yunnan blacks and Darjeelings from time to time, as well as a few other curiosities.

However, while online reviews might make me feel like an expert, I know that I still have some work to do to actually pick up those flavours myself. I hope that by making me describe what I’m tasting, Steepster can improve my appreciation of teas I already enjoy and make me more open to new possibilities (maybe even puerh!).

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