121 Tasting Notes


Maybe because of my recent Camellia Sinensis order or maybe because it’s winter, I’ve gotten back into Darjeelings. I plumbed the depths of my stash to find some teas from Lochan, which are unfortunately now two years old. (Why did I need so much tea again?) I steeped about 1.5 teaspoons of leaf in a 355 ml mug at 200F for 3.5 and 5 minutes.

This was an interesting one! Possibly because of the name, I got notes of autumn leaf pile, malt, muscatel, prunes, and hay. I also suspected that the tea was lightly smoked, which is highly unusual for a Darjeeling. This led me to Geoffrey Norman’s post on Steep Stories that states that gently smoking their teas is Niroula’s signature; incidentally, it also provides an interesting history of the tea garden. The second cup was less fruity but still good, and the smoke remained gentle and unobtrusive.

While this wouldn’t jump immediately to mind when I think of Darjeeling, I’m glad I added it to my already overblown tea stash and will have no trouble finishing it.

Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Hay, Malt, Muscatel, Smoke

200 °F / 93 °C 3 min, 30 sec 1 tsp 12 OZ / 355 ML

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Since I read on TDB that Zhu Lu is one of the most sought-after Alishan oolongs, I’ve wanted to try it, and Fong Mong is among the few online vendors that carry it. I was therefore really happy to get a free sample. I steeped 6 g in a 120 ml teapot at 190F for 25, 20, 25, 30, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

These small, tightly rolled nuggets have a vaguely floral aroma. The first steep is a surprise! It tastes like a floral apple pie, with baked apple, spice, light florals, cream, honey, veggies, and a drying aftertaste. The next two steeps have a thicker body and continue with the apple theme—maybe apple custard. There are more vegetal and floral notes, especially as the tea cools.

By the fourth steep, the fruit starts to subside and the tea becomes a creamy, floral oolong with spinach and apple hints. The steeps remain vaguely sweet and floral until the end of the session, though the vegetal and spinach notes gradually predominate.

This is well rounded and complex for an Alishan oolong and the apple and spices were a pleasant surprise. I now understand why teas from this area are so highly recommended.

Flavors: Cinnamon, Creamy, Custard, Drying, Floral, Honey, Red Apple, Spices, Spinach, Vegetal

190 °F / 87 °C 6 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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From the product description, it appears that Fong Mong has developed this tea varietal independently of the TRES, and I’m kind of impressed. Thanks to the company for providing a sample. I steeped 6 g of leaf in a 120 ml teapot at 190F for 25, 20, 25, 30, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

In the teapot, the large, loosely rolled green nuggets smell faintly floral. (From the consistency of the spent leaf sets, I can believe that this is a hand-picked tea.) The first steep has the beany, vegetal notes of green tea along with the milky, floral qualities associated with Jin Xuan. It also tastes kind of starchy, maybe because of the beans. This is a wonderfully soft tea with no astringency. Notes of kale, cream, and maybe gardenia show up in the next couple steeps. By steep six, the tea starts becoming more vegetal, though it’s still very pleasant.

Although I gravitate toward fruitier, less vegetal oolongs, this is a unique and easy-going varietal that would appeal to green tea drinkers. I love trying “experimental” teas from Taiwan and am glad I got to sample this one.

Flavors: Beany, Cream, Floral, Gardenias, Kale, Milk, Vegetal

190 °F / 87 °C 6 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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I wrote a previous tasting note on the 2017 spring harvest of this Shan Lin Xi, and this one is for 2018. Every year, I get some of this tea, and every year, I run out of it too soon. I need to cave and buy a larger amount. I steeped my last remaining 6 g in a 120 ml teapot at 195F for 25, 20, 25, 30, 30, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

In the teapot, I get aromas of cherry, wheatgrass, flowers, and honey; it smells softer and more nuanced than the 2017 version. Because it has all the tea bits from the bottom of the bag, the first steep is more astringent than usual, with notes of flowers, honey, cream, grass, and faint cherry. From the second steep, stronger cherry, balsam, and tropical fruit (maybe papaya?) emerge. Like its 2017 counterpart, this tea ends too soon, with the fruitiness and florals disappearing into vegetal obscurity by steep seven or so.

This Shan Lin Xi is a favourite and is great for mindless sipping. Last spring’s harvest had a more distinctive cherry profile, and while I appreciate this year’s honey and florals, that fruitiness is what makes me return year after year. The only thing that’s preventing me from giving this tea a higher rating is how quickly it ends.

Flavors: Cherry, Cream, Floral, Grass, Honey, Sap, Tropical, Vegetal

195 °F / 90 °C 6 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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I haven’t had many green Dong Dings, as the roasted ones are so much easier to find. Thanks, Fong Mong, for the sample. I steeped 6 g of leaf in a 120 ml teapot at 190F for 25, 20, 25, 30, 30, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

In the pot, the tea smells like char, roast, and honey. The first steep is surprisingly smooth and buttery, with hints of honey, nuts, grain, and roast. The aftertaste is a bit drying. Steeps two and three continue in this vein, with hints of caramel and chestnut. By steep five, a vegetal quality emerges and the roast becomes sharper.

When I saw this was a green Dong Ding, I didn’t expect any roast at all; I was certainly in for a surprise. Though the roast wasn’t heavy, it definitely imparted a charcoal, nutty flavour. According to my very limited Chinese, “Tian Xiang” translates to “heavenly aroma,” and as promised, the smell was a highlight. I’m not sure I’d buy this again, but it was a tasty Dong Ding that’s perfect for the increasingly cold weather.

Flavors: Butter, Caramel, Char, Chestnut, Drying, Grain, Honey, Nutty, Roasted, Vegetal

190 °F / 87 °C 6 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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To my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve had a tea from the Tsui Yu cultivar. Thanks to Fong Mong for furthering my education! I steeped 6 g of leaf in a 120 ml teapot at 190F for 25, 20, 25, 30, 30, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

In the teapot, the dry, smaller-than-usual green balls smell like sweet caramel and flowers. The first steep is unusually sweet. I might actually have to use the cotton candy flavour descriptor, which is something I never thought would come in handy. Notes include honeydew, apple, caramel, cream, flowers, grass, and herbs. The second steep, which I drank cold, had more herbaceous and coriander flavours, though it was still caramel and sweet.

The next couple steeps are pretty similar. By steep five, however, the fruitiness and caramel start to dwindle, to be replaced by a slightly sweet, herbaceous, and vegetal brew with a floral aftertaste.

The first three or four steeps of this tea are unique and tasty, especially for those with a sweet tooth. However, this tea fades quickly and might be better suited for Western or grandpa brewing.

Flavors: Apple, Caramel, Coriander, Cotton Candy, Creamy, Floral, Grass, Herbaceous, Honeydew, Sweet, Vegetal

190 °F / 87 °C 6 tsp 4 OZ / 120 ML

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Back in 2015 when I was just getting into tea, I picked up 100 g of a Singell first flush Darjeeling from what was then Golden Tips Tea and was blown away. I’ve been plotting to get my hands on another one ever since. Judging from the previous seven-year-old tasting note, Camellia Sinensis carries this regularly. I steeped about 1.5 teaspoons of leaf in a 355 ml mug at 200F for 3.5 and 5 minutes.

This is definitely a first flush tea. I get strong herbaceous notes (thyme?) backed by sap, minerals, and light florals. There’s no muscatel or other fruit. Although the range of flavours is small, this tea is exceptionally smooth and balanced and has little astringency. The second steep is almost as good as the first.

Though it didn’t live up to my transcendent experience with Singell in 2015, this is a very nice first flush Darjeeling, especially for those who like their teas on the greener side. Despite not being able to pinpoint all the flavours, I’ve had it four times in the past week or so, which is unusually consistent for a leafhopper like me. However, the Thurbo Darjeeling, with its muscatel flavours, is more my style, and I wish I’d bought more of it instead. I should just accept that I prefer later-invoice first flushes and second flush Darjeelings, in spite of the cachet of early-invoice FFs.

Flavors: Floral, Green, Herbaceous, Sap, Smooth, Thyme

200 °F / 93 °C 3 min, 30 sec 1 tsp 12 OZ / 354 ML

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I bought this tea during my big Tie Guan Yin restocking this spring. The price, $6 for 50 g, gave me pause, but it’s Yunnan Sourcing, so how bad could it be? I also recalled reading a review that praised a previous harvest, so into my cart it went. I steeped 6 g of tea in a 120 ml teapot at 190F for 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 25, 30, 40, 60, 90, and 120 seconds.

In the teapot, the dry aroma is kind of like sweaty socks. More charitably, I can detect funky zucchini, citrus, grass, and orchids. The first steep has notes of grass, citrus, slightly off zucchini, stewed tomatoes, tomato vine, and pungent orchids. The best part of this steep by far is the aftertaste, which is long and peachy, though that squashy funk also makes a reappearance. The next few steeps are similar, gaining more vegetal, herbaceous, grassy, and floral flavours. Thankfully, the squash sort of dissipates by steep five or so, but finishing the session was a struggle.

I tried this tea Western (3 g, 355 ml, 2.5/4/6 minutes) and it just shortened the misery.

This is a very grassy Tie Guan Yin featuring a rather unfortunate combination of citrus and zucchini. I have around 35 g left and honestly, the thought of finishing the bag depresses me. YS has excellent premium and imperial TGYs, and I’m not sure if this harvest is an anomaly. However, based on this tasting, there are much better budget Tie Guan Yins out there.

Flavors: Citrus, Floral, Freshly Cut Grass, Herbaceous, Orchid, Sweat, Vegetal, Zucchini

190 °F / 87 °C 6 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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During my first forrays into tea, I bought a sample of what I suspect was an inferior Liu An Gua Pian, and then I mistreated it terribly. Thinking it was something else, I dumped boiling water on it and kept it in my Finum infuser for five minutes. (I’m sure you’re all reporting me to the tea equivalent of PETA now.) I chose this TeaVivre sample partly to make amends, and partly because even with my non-traditional brewing methods, that tea tasted good.

I followed TeaVivre’s instructions and steeped about 3.5 g in a 120 ml teapot at 185F for 30, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

In the teapot, this smells like the popped rice used in genmaicha, with a bit of florals and seaweed in the background. The first steep has quite a punch, with notes of seaweed, iodine, florals, toasted rice, spinach, and kale, and a long, drying aftertaste. The second steep has a good balance of sweet, vegetable, and umami flavours. There are other vegetable notes in this tea, maybe green peas and asparagus, but I’m having trouble picking them out. The next couple steeps are sweet, vegetal, and a bit mineral and drying. The final steep, which was not in TeaVivre’s instructions, was still tasty and refreshing.

A lot less subtle than many green teas, Liu An Gua Pian might be more up my alley. Judging from the reviews, my experience of tasting seaweed and toasted rice seems to be unusual, but maybe it’s because of the slightly hotter water? I might not want 100 g of it, but I’ll have no problem finishing the rest of my sample.

Flavors: Asparagus, Floral, Garden Peas, Iodine, Kale, Mineral, Seaweed, Spinach, Toasted Rice, Umami, Vegetal

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

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Shan Lin Xi is my favourite tea region, so thanks to Fong Mong for providing this sample. According to the attached brewing instructions, this tea is from Zhushan, which I didn’t know was part of the Shan Lin Xi region. This tea seems to be high quality, with uniform, loosely rolled green nuggets; it even has an oxidizer packet to ensure freshness. I steeped about 6 g of leaf in a 120 ml teapot at 190F for 25, 20, 25, 30, 30, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

The smell of the dry leaves in the teapot is of honey, flowers, and the balsam note associated with SLX. The first steep has notes of flowers, honey, apple, grass, and cream. In a previous review, Ken pointed out a nutmeg component, and while my palate isn’t that refined, there’s definitely a bit of spice. There’s no astringency and the body is slick. The second steep is even more intense and has the piney balsam taste I could detect in the aroma. This combo lasts into the sixth steep, after which the tea loses its fruity and balsam components and becomes mostly honey and florals, with vegetal notes slowly sneaking in at the end of the session.

This tea is fantastic, especially for its price. I got lots of honey, balsam, fruit, and florals, and very few of the off notes that plague high-mountain oolongs, such as seaweed, spinach, veggies, and excessive astringency, and then only near the end of the session. I’ve had much more expensive oolongs that I’ve liked considerably less than this one, and I’ll probably order an entire package when I can justify buying more tea.

Flavors: Apple, Creamy, Floral, Grass, Honey, Nutmeg, Pine, Smooth, Spices, Vegetal

190 °F / 87 °C 6 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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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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