236 Tasting Notes

drank Hu-Kwa by Mark T. Wendell
236 tasting notes

I don’t usually comment on a tea unless I am completely responsible for the brewing process. That is, I personally break the seal on a new package, scoop out a precise measurement of leaves, activate the exact time and temperature settings, and witness the entire steeping process myself. However, my wife and I had such a nice experience today at the French Market Cafe Tea Room in Cornelius, North Carolina, that I am compelled to break my rule and talk about this Mark T. Wendell Tea Company Hu-Kwa Lapsong Souchong tea that I tried. Besides, the very generous and personable proprietor, Kathy Montbleau, allowed me to observe most of the preparation by bringing the infuser pot to my table immediately after boiling.

Kathy permitted me to smell the unbrewed leaves in their package before the setup began. The dark brown leaves had a strong, but pleasant, smoky aroma. There also was a light sweetness to the smell that I hadn’t experienced before in smoky teas.

I watched the steeping brew become a dark liquor for five minutes. The odor was pleasingly smoky and sweet. The color was similar to dark molasses with a golden aura around the sides of my cup, like a dark sunrise.

The flavor was nothing short of splendid. It was marvelously smoky, sweet, and smooth. Kathy brought my wife and I an ample pot to share. Fortunately, my wife does not care for smoky teas so I was able to enjoy it all to the last drop. Even the aftertaste was stunningly mild and gentle. Astringency was completly nonexistent.

This just might be the BEST smoky tea I’ve ever had. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the tea, I GREATLY RECOMMEND Kathy who is a wonderful tearoom owner with a FANTASTIC personality and ENORMOUS generosity (she very kindly let me sample the tea without charge and gave me a large portion of unbrewed leaves to take home with me), and I PROFOUNDLY RECOMMEND the French Market Cafe Tea Room as an extremely friendly and elegant little shop to sip fine teas, munch on tasty biscuits, and let the stress of your work week blissfully slip away.

Flavors: Smoked, Smooth, Sweet

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 3 tsp 24 OZ / 709 ML

Good to know! If I am ever in Cornelius, I will look for them. I was curious about this tea for a very long time and finally bought it for my daughter and we love it!


Hi ashmanra! I was not familiar with the company but I will be looking for other Mark T. Wendell teas to try. This one and the nice tea room in Cornelius were both great finds!

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drank Pu-erh by Harney & Sons
236 tasting notes

This was another very competitively priced offering from Harney & Sons. As I mentioned in an earlier review, Harney gives you great value for your buck, plus fast and free shipping.

Pu-erh is an interesting variety in itself. People seem to love it or hate it. Personally, I’m one of its lovers- when it is good. My wife, on the other hand, is repulsed and almost sickened just by the memory of her lone Pu-erh experience. The one time I successfully coaxed her to try a sip, the agonized look on her face made me worry that her head was going to explode.

I have tried one or two Pu-erh products that I didn’t love, like, or want to spend time with again. Hopefully this one will fall into a beloved category since I rolled the dice and bought a pound of it untasted.

When I opened Harney & Sons’ one pound bag, I was immediately greeted by the familiar deeply earthy and worn leather smell that is Pu-erh. The look of the brown leaves, which always reminds me of finely ground wood mulch, also did not stand out as anything unusual for this tea type.

As is my custom for preparing Pu-erh, I steeped the leaves for five minutes at 212 degrees. The brewed color was a very dark brown, almost like molten chocolate. The aroma was definitely all Pu-erh (which has to be experienced to understand).

The tea had full and robust Pu-erh flavor: earthy, leathery, and of the dirt. However, it was extremely smooth for this variety. There was absolutely no astringency. There was also an inherent mildness to the taste that I don’t always find in Pu-erh teas. Even the aftertaste was extremely amiable and gentle. I had to force myself to slow down my sipping because it was one of those exceptional teas I like so much that I subconsciously shift into chugging mode. My cup (and then pot) was a delight from start to finish.

If you have anti-Pu-erh activists in your house, this might be the product to move them to the other side of the aisle. I might even try to muster up the courage to ask my wife to try it.

This tea so greatly exceeded my expectations that I now consider it one of my best tea finds of all-time. I am also feeling so lucky after taking a chance on a full pound purchase, that I am strongly considering buying a lottery ticket today. ;-)

Flavors: Dirt, Earth, Leather

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 6 tsp 32 OZ / 946 ML

My better half can’t drink it either.


Hey Mrmopar! It seems to be something that people either love or hate.


I totally agree. She will drink the 2008 7632 and that is about it.

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drank Tippy Yunnan by Harney & Sons
236 tasting notes

Harney & Sons teas have become my go-to morning jump starters lately for several reasons:

— Their online bulk tea prices are currently among the best values out there. — They have fast, free shipping. — The teas are good.

I have wanted to try this Tippy Yunnan tea because of my love for Yunnan and Keemun teas. I don’t think I’ve yet encountered a bad one, by any company, regardless of price.

I bought a pound of this product and when I opened the large sealed bag, my smelling sensors didn’t receive the leathery aroma that I expected. The odor was sweet and more like Ceylon tea. The leaves were medium-length and dark brown.

I steeped the leaves for five minutes at 212 degrees. The final liquor was a dark molasses brown. The aroma was mostly sweet like syrup.

The flavor of this tea had primary caramel and pancake syrup attributes.
Recognizable black tea tasting points were at least five rows back. There was a slight amount of astringency in my first couple of sips but that seemed to disappear quickly as I slurped deeper into my cup.

I would not easily identify this tea as a Yunnan tea but it does possess some of the qualities I like about that variety. It is smooth without (lasting) astringency and there is no bitter aftertaste. I also enjoy sweet black teas, as long as they taste natural (which this one does).

I would chalk this one up as another wise purchase from Harney & Sons. I will savor its sweet and smooth characteristics in my morning jump start tea rotation and I will have no problem devouring the entire pound. And, I just might repurchase another pound when the bag is empty.

Flavors: Caramel, Pancake Syrup

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 6 tsp 32 OZ / 946 ML

Thank you for a thoughtful review. I have similar taste in teas with you and had been tempted to check out the Chinese tea offerings by Harney&Sons for a while because of their quick shipping and great price. I really enjoyed Panyang Congou some time ago but chalked it up to scoring a lucky shot (no harvest date? no location?). Your review gives me enough reasons to finally try them out.


Hi Blugreen! Thanks for your comment. I’m glad I could help you make up your mind about trying a Harney & Sons tea. Their Panyang Congou is another good one. As I type, I am steeping Harney’s Pu-erh tea which I also recently purchased. I’ll put my thoughts about that one on Steepster too.

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The prices on the Harney & Sons website were so good when I was checking them out last week that I decided to buy two pounds to keep me alert in the morning while I hunt for employment. I purchased Scottish Morn, which I enjoy, and this Dorchester Breakfast tea. Both of these selections were highly rated on the Harney website.

When I opened the one pound Dorchester package, an aroma like Assam pipe tobacco burst forth. The leaves were brown, very short, and ground-looking, like coffee, which I’ve become accustomed to with tea made for/by the Brits.

I steeped the tea at 212 degrees for five minutes. The final product was the color of molasses. The odor was Assam with a slightly sweet and malty characteristic.

The flavor was malty Assam with a fruity sweet attribute. Although the taste was quite bold, it was also gentle on the palate. I detected no astringency and the aftertaste was brief and pleasant. I found this tea to be quite delicious from the first sip of my initial cup to the last one, four cups later.

This selection is advertised as being specially blended for the Dorchester Hotel in London. They definitely came up with a winner. If I ever make it back to London, I will include on my itinerary a stop at the hotel for afternoon tea time.

Flavors: Fruity, Malt, Sweet, Tea

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 5 tsp 32 OZ / 946 ML

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drank Scottish Morn by Harney & Sons
236 tasting notes

As I am still seeking employment after finishing a contracted project five months ago, it’s become even more important for me to maintain a balanced budget. One of the “frills” I’ve had to eliminate (for now) is the purchase of my favorite higher-end teas.

Years ago I purchased a tin of Harney & Sons tea at a local Williams-Sonoma store. Since the store and tea were fairly pricey, I assumed that Harney & Sons teas were, therefore, always expensive.

When I became desperate for bargains and checked the Harney & Sons website for deals and discounts, I was excited and surprised about how reasonable their tea prices were, particularly when you purchased the selections in one pound packages. Currently, Harney is offering many fine black teas (my favorites) at a little more than $20 a pound, with free shipping! The Scottish Morn product was one of the teas offered in this very reasonable price range.

When I opened the one pound bag of Scottish Morn, my nostrils were introduced to a very pronounced Assam odor. The leaves were dark brown and quite short, almost like ground coffee. In my experience, this seems to be a UK tea trademark (for example, PG Tips).

I steeped the leaves for four minutes at 212 degrees. The finished product had a muddy brown molasses color. The aroma was Assam all the way.

The flavor was extremely bold and full. Assam was the taste leader but it was accented with an almost equally pronounced malty attribute. Another present flavor characteristic, that I’ve found in all of the Assam teas that I’ve tasted, was a slight tad of astringency. However, this steadily dissipated as I approached the bottom of my cup. The aftertaste was curiously mild and brief for a tea with such brisk flavors. Overall the flavors were without garnish but quite gratifying.

Being an American of direct Scottish heritage (my mother was born and partially raised in Scotland), I, like my ancestors and cousins, enjoy and seek out bold black teas for my mornings. In my case, my brain seems to need them in order to kick into gear for the day ahead. Scottish Morn definitely fit the bill with sharp and engaging flavors.

Flavors: Malt, Tea

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 4 tsp 32 OZ / 946 ML

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drank Panyang Congou by Harney & Sons
236 tasting notes

I’m now stockpiling black teas by the pound that I find on sale. Since my days in corporate America may finally be over, I’m now on a fixed income and need to watch my expenses. However, I still want to make sure I have plenty of my favorite (or soon to be favorite if the price is right) black teas on hand while I’m in (or off) my rocker.

I found this tea on the Harney & Sons website recently for a very reasonable price per pound. I had never heard of the selection. But, based on my admiration of several other Harney teas, I am reasonably confident that I can make myself like it if my first few cups don’t go down nicely.

When I opened the very sturdy one pound package, a very strong aroma similar to some of the loaded French bourbon teas I’ve tried wafted from the bag. The leaves were fairly short and dark brown with tan accents.

I followed the brewing instructions on the bag and steeped the leaves for five minutes at 212 degrees. The resultant liquor was a bright golden orange. The aroma was slightly fruity and sweet.

From the very first sip to the bottom of my cup, my taste buds were consistently greeted with a smooth honey and nut flavor that included an accompaniment of fruity undertones in the orchestra. These flavors could have become noisy together if overdone, but the medium-strength concoction made the combination seem well balanced and quite amiable. There was no astringency in the blend and the aftertaste was pleasant and brief.

It appears that I rolled the dice and won with this choice. I am enjoying four cups of it today at 5 PM. That is a revelation in itself as I usually stop drinking black teas by 2 PM so I can start winding down for the evening.

I have absolutely no complaints about this tea. It has enough good flavor and sweetness to make me more than satisfied with my purchase.

Flavors: Fruity, Honey, Nutty

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 4 tsp 32 OZ / 946 ML

I totally agree with your description. I also got it for the price and was pleasantly surprised how satisfying it turned out to be. And yes, not oversteeping it is critical, otherwise the taste becomes to jumbled.


Hi Bluegreen! Thanks for weighing in on this review. I’ve learned that if you keep your eyes open and stay patient, you can find really great teas at excellent prices. There is a little browser extension called “Honey” that I use. After you install it and go to product purchase pages, it automatically searches for the best price available for the item and any discount coupons that you can apply to it. I’ve saved substantial money with it already!


Wow, thank you so much: downloaded, installed and it does work amazingly. No more tedious googling around for coupon codes and going through sketchy websites!

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I found this fascinating sounding tea at our Home Goods store. I was familiar with Tea Forte but not this selection. The price was so low that I was unable to resist.

When I opened the metal tin and snipped open the clear plastic bag, I found black leaves peppered with yellow marigold flower petals.

The aroma was very strong. I could sift out the powerful caramel and butter attributes. All ingredients and flavors are listed as organic and natural. If so, they were somehow supercharged to produce some of the strongest smells that I’ve experienced in an unbrewed black tea.

I strictly followed the company’s brewing instructions and steeped the leaves for five minutes at 212 degrees. The finished product was a dark golden orange. The aroma was pure caramel.

The taste was quite potent. The flavors screamed caramel and butter with a flowery whisper in the background. My palate was so bombarded with these attributes that I wasn’t sure where the taste ended and the aftertaste began. I did notice that the aftertaste lingered…and lingered…and lingered.

It is unusual to find a black tea with flavors that are too robust for me but this one is definitely on the cusp. The overall taste isn’t unpleasant and I can’t say that astringency is a problem. However, at least in the morning, this selection is too much for my drowsy taste buds to process. Maybe it would be better received in the early afternoon when I’m already dueling with the issues of my day.

Flavors: Butter, Caramel, Flowers, Tea

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 4 tsp 32 OZ / 946 ML

I wonder if lowering temp to 205F and time to four minutes would soften this enough to make it a real joy? Sometimes that works for me.


Not a bad idea, ashmanra. I will give it a try. Maybe the “pan-roasted” production method advertised on the tin might have something to do with it too.

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While at the local Trader Joe’s store in Charlotte yesterday, I stumbled on this little item for the first time. I recently purchased a few pounds of tea online and said I wasn’t going to buy any more for a while but you know how we teaholics are. Plus, the price was reasonable and it didn’t break the bank.

When I opened the sealed plastic package, I was struck by the very strong aroma. Olfactory fireworks were going off inside and I struggled to pinpoint their components. I could definitely identify the bergamot and vanilla. The others were up for grabs. The leaves were short and black with blue cornflower petals and yellow sunflower petals sprinkled generously within the blend.

I steeped the leaves for five minutes at 195 degrees as instructed. The brewed liquor was bright orange and the aroma was very vanilla with a whisper of bergamot.

The flavor of this tea took a few sips to settle down on my palate. I think my taste buds experienced flavor overload at first. They seemed to be bombarded with several strong flavors all at once.

Eventually, I was able to discern the vanilla, bergamot, and cornflower tastes. I don’t know if I would recognize the flavor of sunflower even if I only had a mouthful of its petals. Ironically, the one advertised flavor I didn’t find was black tea.

My ultimate taste analysis recorded a sweet mixture of vanilla in the forefront with bergamot and cornflower accents tip-toeing in the background. This combination was pleasant with maybe just a twinge of astringency. The twinge was not too annoying but also present in the aftertaste.

Flavors: Bergamot, Flowers, Vanilla

195 °F / 90 °C 5 min, 0 sec 6 tsp 32 OZ / 946 ML

Sounds yummy, I need to try it. I didn’t even know that TJ carries loose tea. Kinda excited.


Hi Bluegreen! Yes, this is definitely a tea worth trying. It must be a fairly recent edition to Trader Joe’s stock. We shop there about every two weeks and this was the first time I saw it. I hope you enjoy it!

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With the impending demise of Teavana, I have been watching the stores for sales. Yesterday, I found this product at 50% off and figured it was worth a try.

The short black unbrewed leaves had a spicy smell to them. I’ve never encountered this aroma with an English Breakfast tea before.

I steeped the leaves at 205 degrees as instructed but added an extra minute to the recommended time for a total of four minutes. Three minutes didn’t seem long enough to inject the caffeine level that I need this morning.

The finished result was a bright orange-gold in color. The brewed aroma was on the sweet side, like honey.

The first few sips contained a strong sour attribute. Could this have been due to the extra minute of brewing? It reminded me of sourdough bread. Behind that taste was a little honey, malt, and a slight reminder that I was drinking black tea. As I got further down into my cup, the sourness was not as prevalent and the malt and honey accompaniments took over. The aftertaste had a slightly astringent quality but not upsetting.

At first I wasn’t sure if I liked the tea but my palate did seem to quickly adjust to the unusual qualities of this English Breakfast. By the time I finished my first cup, I knew I could easily drink the whole pot. Next time I will follow the instructions and try steeping for just the recommended three minutes.

Flavors: Honey, Malt, Sour, Tea

205 °F / 96 °C 4 min, 0 sec 4 tsp 32 OZ / 946 ML

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I don’t drink a lot of bagged teas these days but I saw a box of these English Breakfast tea bags during a visit to the break room at my wife’s office. I was curious about this new Steep By Bigelow tea line and “borrowed” one tea bag. This line appeared to be an upscale version of Bigelow’s standard tea bags. The label specified that the tea within was organic and Fair Trade Certified. Bigelow seems to be in an expansion mode lately as they also recently acquired South Carolina’s Charleston tea plantation and tea company. At one time, Charleston had the only remaining tea plantation in the country.

To prepare this tea, I microwaved a glass mug of filtered water for three minutes until boiling. I then instructed Alexa (of my Amazon Echo) to set a four-minute timer.

The brewed color was golden orange. The aroma was faint and like malty black tea.

The flavor was actually quite robust. It tasted malty like the aroma indicated. The tea flavor was full and easily identifiable as Ceylon. My first few sips contained just a tweak of bitterness. The liquor also seemed to briefly coat my tongue and mouth with some sort of milky texture. That twist was unexpected and strange but quickly disappeared with the bitter attribute after a few more sips. The aftertaste was light and posed no problems.

Although I wouldn’t pay more for this item than I would for the standard Bigelow English Breakfast tea bags, this was a decent blend that was perhaps a tad more flavor-fortified than their standard offering. I would have no problem drinking this tea in an office situation if I didn’t have access to my infuser.

Flavors: Malt, Tea

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 8 OZ / 236 ML

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I ventured into the world of serious tea drinking in the Summer of 2011. I started out slowly and gently with bagged tea but climbed to the incredible flavorful heights of loose leaf teas in October of that year. Once you go leaf, you never go bag (except when you get free samples)!


South Carolina, USA

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