300 Tasting Notes
Well, this is my 300th review on Steepster, and I’m going to forego my usual “cut to the chase” review approach to say a couple important things. Skip to the REVIEW section if you don’t want to hear anecdotes.
I’ve been going through a lot of big changes in life lately, and finding that a lot of things are distracting me from my productive potential. Social media was the big one. I took measures to get myself away from it and have been feeling a lot more focused and clear-thinking since then. I thought I’d spend more of my free time on hobbies, not frittering it away on likes, comments, statuses, and posts. Reviewing tea has always been a relaxing hobby for me, but lately I’ve found myself just not feeling it. I’m having trouble describing things or devoting my attention to it long enough to write a detailed review, and I find myself having “productivity guilt” when I do it more than I ever used to, not viewing it as very productive anymore.
The result is that this 300th review seems like a good stopping point for me. I might still review teas on here in the future. I’m not sure yet, but if I do, they will be really brief, just a few short sentences on my impressions and a rating, not the more detailed reviews I typically write. (I can hear some of you thinking “I don’t know you and I don’t care”, haha).
It feels fitting for me in a way that my 300th review is a tea given to me by a friend. He knows I’m a sucker for good green tea and brought me a refill when I ran out of my first bag (also a gift from him).
The scent of the leaves after the first infusion is like cooked spinach, forest foliage, toast, and pistachio.
The first infusion has a rich, spinachy taste, with subtle sweetness equal to subtle bitterness, the former gradating into the latter. There’s a bit of a pecan-like nuttiness to it.
The second infusion has a stronger scent, like leaves and rain, and a really subtle floral scent. This infusion is definitely more sweet and rich. Good balance of umami and sweet flavors with just a subtle hint of bitterness in the finish to balance things. As for taste, this infusion reminds me a lot of matcha, maybe a little like pecans as well.
I find most green teas only seem to give around 3-4 good infusions, even when brewing Gongfu style, but this tea is a pleasant surprise, and I find myself enjoying at least 5 infusions in a gaiwan before it starts to lose its flavor.
In terms of flavor, this green tea doesn’t knock my socks off like some have, but it’s a really enjoyable everyday drinker, one I’m glad to come back to. It’s mild and easygoing.
Flavors: Pecan, Spinach, Sweet, Umami
I received a sample of this with my Teaware.House order of an adorable 50ml gaiwan. Fun opportunity to try it out for the first time, as I’ve never had a gaiwan this small.
The scent of the dry leaves in a pre-warmed gaiwan is like leather, hay, and dried flowers
The aroma of the leaves after the first infusion is really rich like dried fruit, particularly apricots. Judging by the smell, the taste of the first infusion is not quite what I expected. It’s a bit rustic with hay and leather notes, more similar to the scent of the dry leaf. There’s also a bit of drying feeling in the mouth, the taste of sugarcane, and just subtle hints of dried fruit flavor. I guess I was expecting a lighter and brighter flavor since this is a white tea, and that’s what I’ve come to expect from the best white teas I’ve tried.
Further infusions followed along in this same flavor spectrum. This tea is easy drinking and enjoyable, calming, rustic. If you like those energies, go for it. I think for me, I prefer white teas to be lighter and sweeter than this, and if I want a tea of this flavor type I tend to go toward a sheng. If you blindfolded me and had me drink this without knowing what it was, I’d have guessed it was a sheng.
Flavors: Apricot, Hay, Leather, Straw, Sugarcane
Gongfu cha brewing style in a gaiwan:
This tea has a beautiful floral scent like Easter lilies, and the taste also carries a similar floral note. There’s also a nice buttery quality to this flavor. You can taste fresh herbal and evergreen notes that remind me of the mountains.
Not feeling the need to explore and review as deeply as usual tonight, but I think this is a good tea for its type, at the same time not knocking my socks off. I’m enjoying the sample they sent me, but would definitely shop around if I was looking to buy some Baozhong.
Flavors: Butter, Floral, Herbs, Pine
I haven’t had any jasmine tea at home in a while, and after many, many rounds of having the low grade stuff in a pot before meals at various restaurants, I decided it was time to order some. There was only one I’ve ever bought that was incredible to me, and it was the Steepster Select one many years ago, no longer available. I went out on a limb with Yunnan Sourcing because of their generally great reputation and because the pictures showed such beautiful downy white pearls that look just like good quality leaves should look.
I’m glad I trusted my instincts because this tea is as good as that Steepster Select one I remember. It has a certain jasmine quality that I love, a sort of pink bubblegum note in the fragrance and flavor. Otherwise the usual floral jasmine scent and maybe a hint of grape.
I’m brewing this in a gaiwan. The first infusion has a wonderful light sweet jasmine flavor, the green tea itself doesn’t have a strong flavor. It’s a subtle umami that really compliments the jasmine well. I don’t taste the usual vegetal notes of green tea here.
My second infusion was even sweeter and more rich, again with the floral notes, umami undertone, and hints of pink bubblegum, reminds me of the old Dubble Bubble gum I used to buy at the High School football game concessions stand as a kid.
The third infusion is a bit more umami rich and more floral. Definitely more heady and upfront on the Jasmine. Some people think strong jasmine is “soapy”, and while that’s usually meant as a negative, I definitely understand the correlation with soaps and perfumes. This infusion tasted a bit more perfumey to me, but not by any means too strongly or offensively.
As far as I’m concerned, this is going to be my go-to jasmine tea unless something changes or someone introduces me to a better one. I think the quality and price were on point, and I love that the green tea takes a backseat to the floral without adding any bitterness or muddling the flower notes with vegetal ones. This tea surprisingly gets even better on 4th and 5th infusions.
If you’ve read this far, I’ll share my secret to brewing perfect tea pearls in Gongfu style. Use 185F/85C water, which is a bit hotter than the usual recommendation for green tea. It helps the pearls to unfurl for a more full flavor and isn’t hot enough to bring out any bitterness in good quality green teas like this one. I’ve found that using the usual 176F/80C green tea temps on pearls like this often results in them never fully opening up, giving weaker and less nuanced flavor.
As for amounts, I used 2.5g pearls per 100ml of gaiwan capacity. No rinse. First infusion 45 seconds, then 30 for the second, then add 15 seconds for subsequent infusions.
Flavors: Candy, Grapes, Jasmine, Sweet, Umami
I found this tea on Amazon while searching for some reasonably priced organic sencha to use for my favorite everyday meal, ochazuke, which is a Japanese seafood, veggie, and rice bowl with green tea dumped over it as a broth. It can have quite a variety of toppings to your liking, and is often garnished with soy sauce, wasabi, or other Japanese condiments. It’s comfort food, plain and simple, and incredibly healthy and low-calorie if you stick with the basics.
The reason I tried this tea is that it was available on Amazon Prime, which would save me from having to pay shipping and end up paying medium grade prices for an everyday tea. It’s also certified organic, and I am all about that. Anyway, for this review I am brewing this in a tokoname kyusu. The scent of the dry leaves in the preheated pot is really comforting: umami, sweet, vegetal, with hints of pistachio and oats. The first infusion of the tea is just what I’ve come to expect from standard Japanese sencha. It has a mild umami sweetness, flavors reminding of seaweed and green vegetables, a bit of a nutty undertone, and a refreshing mild bitterness in the finish. I certainly can’t say I’ve sampled an extensive variety of Japanese sencha, but from the ones I have tried, I would call this good quality everyday sencha. I’ve had plenty of low-end, affordable senchas that had too much bitterness, or just lacked any richness. A lot of the supermarket brands you can find in Asian grocery stores are that way. This is a cut above those, but also not a premium tea.
You can get at least 3 nice infusions out of this tea. This tea is actually better on its second infusion than its first, and I recall that nearly every time I’ve drank it. The second infusion gets a lot more rich and sweet, with less bitterness.
So if you want a nice everyday drinker with fresh green qualities and a nice balance of softness and bitterness, I recommend this tea. For me, it’s wonderful poured over ochazuke, and I frequently enjoy it on its own too.
My brewing parameters were one wooden teascoop of leaves (probably 1-2 teaspoons) for about 6 ounces of water. First infusion was at 158F/70C for 1 minute. Second infusion at 167F/75C for 30 seconds. Third at 176F/80C for 45 seconds. I find this to be a rather gentle and delicious way to brew most Japanese sencha. If you can only pick one temperature, then I’d say go for the middle one.
This tea is a great value. If you need an everyday sencha for casual drinking or culinary use, I would recommend it.
Flavors: Bitter, Nutty, Oats, Seaweed, Sweet, Umami, Vegetal
Wow. This tea started off as kind of a shocker for me because I really wasn’t expecting that lush, fruity-floral smell when I opened the bag. It definitely reminds me of jasmine, a note suggested by the seller. There’s an almost cotton candy or grape candy kind of scent to the dry buds in the bag, but after putting then into a pre-warmed gaiwan I’m getting more toasted sugar notes and definitely some kale-like vegetal aromas, and believe it or not a nice charred barbecue smell. There are definite notes of sweet corn on the cob, fresh in the husk. After the first infusion, the leaves have a really vegetal scent and also a strong peach aroma and some underlying nuttiness. The brew is a pale yellow color and smells like sweet corn, primarily. I wasn’t expecting so much strong aroma and flavor out of these leaves, which, by the way, are very pretty on their own, covered in plenty of white fur, mostly buds, but very thin and wiry, like silver needles on a diet.
The flavor of the first infusion reminds me of cooked broccoli, and a bit nutty as well. It has some faint peachy notes if you smack your tongue with it. There’s a little bit of dry bitterness in the finish, along with a cooling sensation on the lips, tongue, and roof of the mouth. After a while, the aftertaste starts to remind me of osmanthus, faintly peachy-honey-floral.
Second infusion smells a bit more floral, and indeed, the taste is more floral as well. There’s a sort of earthy, white peppery undertone to the flavor that’s just as strong as the fruity-floral overtones, and it’s a weird sort of flavor tug-of-war that really mutes the texture of the tea, but if you swish the tea around in your mouth those osmanthus and jasmine-like floral notes really shine through.
The description on Yunnan Sourcing says this tea goes through a processing that is something in between green and white, so I did an experiment with this tea and decided to try brewing it two ways, one like a green tea and one like a silver needle white tea (the first time using 176F/80C water, and the second time using 185F/85C water, slightly different infusion times and amounts of leaf each time too, per my usual tastes for the respective types). I found that when brewing it with the hotter water like a white tea, the first infusion had a pretty dry, vegetal, woody flavor, with none of the sweet fruit or floral overtones, and a bit of the sweet corn aftertaste. The second infusion is more vegetal, and, as with the first brewing method, there are some fruity-floral overtones underscored by a dry peppery taste. The third infusion was even more floral, but with similar overall notes.
The verdict? This is a tough tea to tame. The dry bitterness in the leaves is eaily coaxed out, and if it was me, I’d err on the side of treating it like a nice fuzzy bi luo chun or mao feng, or other delicate greens. The cooler brewing temp kept the lighter flavors more predominate, with the strong bitter and earthy tones a little more reasonable.
Drinking this tea is like a balancing act that never finds a steady balance. I can’t decide how I feel about the conflicting flavors, which seem to counter each other rather than complement each other. If I could remove some of the bitter, dry, earthy tones I’d love this tea, but for now it’s more like “wow this is tea is awesome… except for half the flavor”. It’s no yin and yang, more like Tom & Jerry.
Flavors: Bitter, Burnt Sugar, Char, Corn Husk, Drying, Jasmine, Osmanthus, Peach, Peppercorn, Vegetal, Wood
Well I ran out of my subpar Ito-en Matcha Love Usucha, so I picked this Kuma Tea up from Amazon. It was available on Prime (meaning I get my matcha fix quicker), had a fair price and good reviews, and it has an adorable bear on it and is named “bear” (kuma) tea in Japanese so, well, they’ve exploited all my weaknesses here! Fast, cheap, high-reviews and cute animals! How could I resist???
I’m absolutely willing to desecrate this ceremonial grade tea by making matcha lattes with it but first I will try it in its intended use. Some reviews said this tea is even good enough to make koicha (thick matcha, which uses twice as much powder and half as much water), and that can typically only be done with really high quality matcha. I am going to make it as usucha (light matcha) this time with just two chashaku of tea, 70ml of water, and a whisk.
Opening the can, the powder color is a nice medium green. Sifting 2 chashaku of the powder into my pre-heated chawan, the aroma is very sweet! I’m getting heavy notes of dates and berries, I’m thinking either blackberry or cherry. Off to a great start here!
After adding the water I’m greeted by a rich umami scent, reminding me of seaweed, then after whisking, this has mellowed out to a scent that reminds me of spiced roasted nuts, still very sweet.
The flavor is not at all what I expected. It starts with sweetness and vegetal flavors like cooked cabbage or brussels sprouts (sweeter than raw ones) . There is a lot of complexity to it with subtle notes of vanilla and coriander. The finish has a lingering tartness and a tiny sting of bitterness. The lingering taste in my mouth is tart and slightly floral, reminding me vaguely of salted sakura leaves (which are similar in taste to the sakura/cherry blossoms but more perfumy and fragrant).
I must say this matcha does not taste at all as I expected it would, and I’m rather pleased with it. The complexity was unexpected, and the balancing umami, vegetal, sour, and bitter notes were not expected. From its sweet scent I expected something more mild-mannered and overall creamy, nutty, and sweet. If I have anything negative to say about this tea it’s that I feel it would be even better with just a bit less of the tartness and bitterness.
So I guess if really mellow matcha is your cup of tea, this one may not be for you. If you like a tea that makes you smack your chops and think “What am I tasting?” because there are layers of nuance, you might like this. When I bought this it was $20/oz so where organic ceremonial grade matcha is concerned, that’s not gonna break the bank. Sure as heck cheaper than buying daily drinks from a coffee/tea shop.
I’ll add an edit to this when I try it as an iced matcha latte, so check back to my review later today if you’re interested!
Flavors: Berries, Bitter, Coriander, Dates, Nuts, Seaweed, Spices, Sweet, Tart, Umami, Vanilla, Vegetables
I’m really surprised this has so few reviews, considering you can buy this at asian grocery stores and health food stores all across America.
Skip this section if you don’t like anecdotes in reviews!
I had the pleasure/honor/curse of reviewing about 70 different matchas in a blind taste test a couple years ago for a company that sells matcha. This was done to help the vendor evaluate their products and decide on new matchas to source. Among the blind samples were also samples from other companies and vendors. The idea was that rating and ranking these teas would help this vendor understand how their matcha compared in quality and value to those from other companies. The experience was really fun, and at the same time daunting, and the end result was I burned out on matcha so badly I didn’t drink it for a year!
Now the matcha spark has been relit in me because I saw a beautiful chawan in an Asian market that I just had to buy. I’ve been broke this past year due to a move to my first house and various other factors, so for me it’s been rare to order or review any new teas. I feel like a ghost here since I used to be so active. Anyway, this matcha love usucha cost me a whopping $6 because Sprouts Farmer’s Market had it on sale for $10 and was running a $4 coupon at the same time. What better opportunity to try it?
Actual review begins here!
This was actually one of the matchas included in a blind taste test I did a couple years ago, but it has been so long since I had matcha that when I bought a tin of this recently I decided to just try this one over again before reading my initial evaluation from that taste test, give it a fresh chance.
I do want to share my initial impression though here. My initial rating for this tea back then was only 40/100. My notes read “This tea doesn’t leave a very strong impression. The scent and color were inviting, but the flavor is lacking and finishes moderately bitter. I’m mostly getting a seaweed impression from the flavor, and it’s a bit creamy as well. The bitter finish is unfortunate and really subtracts from the subtle flavors, which in themselves aren’t that easy to discern.”
Now, trying this again a couple years later, are my impressions the same? Has the company changed their product in any way? Let’s give it a try. I’m preparing this the traditional (a.k.a. ceremonial) way with the matcha whisked in about 2.5 oz of water.
This time around, I’ll start by saying the color and aroma are nice. The powder is a nice jade green. It’s not a very vivid color, but it is at least green and not tending toward the dingy yellows and browns of terrible matchas. The scent is sweet, mild, and nutty. The taste is, let’s be honest, rather unremarkable and difficult to describe. In fact, I’m just going to stick with my original description because I think that was a pretty accurate one!
I will say, I have been using this matcha also in soy-milk iced matcha lattes as well as for matcha affogato, and I’ve found both applications to be pretty good. This is not a matcha I’d recommend for traditional use unless you are like me and are scraping the bottom of your savings, yet desperate for matcha. For the modern “froufrou” uses, this one is just fine. I have to say I recall this tasting better a few weeks ago when I opened the tin. I haven’t stored it in refrigeration so I think maybe the powder has just gone “off” a bit since then. I feel pretty neutral about this matcha, so I’ll up my initial review score to a nice even 50. I don’t really feel it is good or bad. It’s just (barely) matcha. Take it or leave it.
I think for the price of this matcha though, you can do better. The tin seems cheaper than others but I only recently realized that it’s also because it is smaller than most that are available Stateside. Most matcha tins I’ve seen hold an ounce, while this one holds just over 2/3 of an ounce. The catch reveals itself.
Flavors: Bitter, Nutty, Seaweed, Vegetal
Edit: Some friends and I had a session with this tea more recently and I absolutely loved it. It had a very strong apricot note that time. Read on for the original review.
This tea isn’t usually on the shelves at Shang Tea, as far as I know, but they have a selection of hidden and unpromoted teas that Shang or friends of Shang have made, if you ask them about it.
From what I was told, this tea is processed like a sheng Puerh tea but made from white tea varietal plants.
I’ve been absent from Steepster for a long time now mostly due to not having much money for new teas in the past year and deciding to drink off most of my collection before trying to buy more soon.
But I did get this tea last year, and even though my palate seems off and I’m a bit out of practice from not generally getting to enjoy much gongfu tea at all last year (I moved to a house and started a food garden and it stole my life), I’ll try.
The first infusion of this tea was rather salty and savory. It had an aftertaste that was maybe like a bitter citrus fruit, grapefruit perhaps. If I smack my tongue a bit it’s almost “cough syrup” like in the aftertaste. I know that’s weird, but as a frame of reference, it seems similar to that.
The second infusion has opened the tea up to more flavors, this time some mineral, muscatel, a little hint of cinnamon (or maybe camphor), lots of straw and prairie grass notes. The finish is a bit tart, astringent, and bitter, but I find these to be in a refreshing way, not an offensive one.
By the third infusion the leaves smell generously of green grapes and golden raisins. The scent of the liquid is definitely camphor now. The flavor is an interesting mix of sweet, umami, and camphor. I almost feel like I’m drinking a delicious dashi broth seasoned with some spices. There are notes of soy milk.
The fourth infusion is even sweeter and a bit-honey like. I think this shift from salty/umami to more sweet is actually due to me using too much leaf in my gaiwan. I’ve been doing very quick steeps and I think the first one or two may have been a bit overbrewed due to just having too many leaves (by my usual tastes anyway). As I pull more infusions without lengthening the time though, it becomes more subtle, and more sweet. There are some orange blossom notes now, and still some notes of salt and bitterness in the finish.
I’ll stop there before I lose your attention. I like this tea a lot in terms of teas from Shang Tea because its flavors are quite different than any of their others. I’ve had their aged white teas and brick aged white teas, and while those have some interesting similarities to Puerh simply due to aging, this tea definitely is closer to Puerh by the flavor profile. I don’t think I could have told you this was made with white tea varietal leaves if someone just gave me a cup and told me to drink it.
I have to ponder the complexity of this tea for having all 5 taste groups involved in such a noticeable way… sweet, tart (sour), umami, salty, and bitter. Pretty cool little trip down taste bud lane.
Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Camphor, Grapefruit, Grass, Hay, Honey, Muscatel, Orange Blossom, Raisins, Salty, Sweet, Tart, Umami
Well, I don’t know the full story behind this one, but if I’m not mistaken it’s from the tea farm of Shang’s friend, which is no longer an active tea farm, but the trees there are let to grow on their own now, so they go over to harvest the wild tea from them sometimes. And I think that’s where this oriental beauty is from, if I remember right. I’m brewing this gongfu style.
The aroma of the leaves after the first infusion is really floral and lovely. It’s a light kind of floral like roses and lychee. The first infusion is sweet and has some of the same quality in its flavor, in addition to honey notes.
The second infusion has more of the honey and floral notes, and also tastes like really sweet squash, like delicatta squash or kabocha. There are dried autumn leaf notes as well.
The third infusion is more honey like and rich in flavor. It has a bit more woody and fallen leaf notes in the flavor now.
I really enjoy this tea. In fact, it might be the best Oriental Beauty tea I’ve had. I haven’t particularly cared for the type in general in the past, but this one has the notes I love.
A friend of mine tells me this tea is a bit sensitive to heat and will become bitter if brewed too hot. I am brewing it at 85C/185F and there’s no bitterness here, so that seems like the right temperature. :3
Edit: I came back to this for another infusion and brewed it more strongly and it gave me more unexpected flavors. It had a really strong presence of nutmeg, clove, and other autumn spices. Totally unexpected! I had some food in between. It may have effected how it tasted to me.
Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Butternut Squash, Honey, Lychee, Rose, Wood