93 Tasting Notes


Going through a few of my blends since winter is coming up and I need to start getting ready to taste for blend consistency. I’m not a fan of blends in general, but they do have a place in assembling particular flavors unachievable in a singular tea. One could argue (as I usually do) that a large part of the joy in tasting different teas is the lack of consistency and how every tea has a different face and that expression changes throughout the year and harvest to harvest. Sometimes, though, folks just need a good standby that is comforting to drink without paying it much heed.
This is one such blend.

I spend much of each October going through a bunch of teas I’m not especially fond of to find one or two moderately smoky ones I enjoy. Lightly smoked Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong is tough to find at cheapish prices and more heavily smoked Qi Men is usually boring if you are not looking to pay a lot. I usually find a couple I can settle on and flush out the blend from there to produce a chocolaty tea with balanced smoke aroma, light spice and candied apple notes, and a malty scotch-like quality. This batch from last autumn had a large component of Da Hong Pao Wu Yi Hong Cha (“Imperial Red”), Hao Ya Qi Men (“Pre-Ming Keemun”), Dian Hong, and another “Imperial Red” but actually a Keemun-style tea from Sichuan rather than Fujian balancing out a lightly smoked Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong.
I think a lot of these came from International Tea Importers with the Dian Hong coming from Yunnan Sourcing. Forget if I tossed any Nilgiri Thiashola in there this year, but I do keep that on hand from Special Teas plus some Ceylon Black Tips from Tao of Tea and toss in a bit for augmenting briskness in blends.

Brewed 3g in 112ml water at 95 degrees C for 4 minutes (first resteep same parameters). Third steep used boiling water for 5 minutes, but I tossed it over ice.

Dry fragrance is like a pine wood fire on the beach that had been doused with water. Some cocoa and unground nutmeg under the wood notes. Wet leaves show a bit more green coloration among the browns and reds. Wet leaves have basic musty aroma of wet red tea with a bit of the resin aroma – like pinyon incense. Liquor is deep red orange and clear with a slightly overdone apple pie aroma and a bit of juniper resin.

Smooth, full bodied and malty flavor with light acorn-tannin, toasted grains, and cooked apple flavors. Roasted barley and pinyon pine aroma. Straightforward woody tea with good balance of flavor and aroma. Some light caramel alongside apple-skin and tangelo sour notes in aftertaste. Overall creamy mouthfeel and a mild astringency that arrives late in the draught. Added a little honey to second infusion and it sort of took over but goes well with the aroma (raw sugar goes better with this tea). Third infusion made a somewhat smoky but seriously refreshing tea over ice cubes and disappeared very fast.

Very nice to drink while sitting around a fire on a cold night. I love taking this out to the beach in winter, but I have to make it on site since I dislike Keemun-like teas that have sat in metal containers for any amount of time. Tasty and satisfying, but not something I would buy for myself on a regular basis – would never displace my puerh and oolongs – but a staple of my gift-giving.

200 °F / 93 °C 4 min, 0 sec

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First, I should note that I ripped the “company description” and image from Silk Road Teas’ Monkey Picked Tieguanyin. David Lee Hoffman is the former proprietor and buyer for that company and the high-end Tieguanyin they offer is pretty much the same sort of TGY he’s now offering through his new venture The Phoenix Collection. However, there is no real website and no company descriptions or the like to be had from The Phoenix Collection as of yet… Best bet for most teas from Hoffman is to go onto Bon Teavant for images and descriptions.

This tea exemplifies the trend in oolongs away from their dark and twisted roots to the light and crumpled incarnations of today. Sure, sure, TGY is certainly a traditionally rolled oolong, but it wasn’t ‘til Jades took over in Taiwan that the red-tinged dark moss colored leaves of Tieguanyin began their march to grassy green. I happen to love medium-ox well-roasted TGY and find it sort of disheartening that it’s hard to find among the “Competition Grade” teas. I do think Jade Oolongs definitely have their place… I’m just a bit biased in thinking that place is Taiwan. I love the notion of diversified processing methods throughout the land, but think it’s sad when trends wind up wiping out traditional methods in a fell swoop. The second issue of The Art of Tea Magazine had a nice article about how Red Water style Dong Ding has all but disappeared due to this same trend…

Anywho, despite my reservations about changing styles eclipsing the old, and barring my preference of darker oolongs, this is a lovely tea. It’s got a good amount going on and it’s pleasant in presentation.

I used 4g with 100ml water in a glass gaiwan. Single rinse using 84 degree water. I only did three evaluative infusions (I was hungry): 1minute-83C, 30seconds-82C, 1minute-80C. I brewed more, but drank from the gaiwan.

Dry leaves are bright green with yellow accents. Fragrance is like banana leaves with a slight squashy and rubber (ficus sap/latex) note. Smells similar to a stand of horsetail fern in a freshwater seep near the coast. Smell carries through to the wet leaf aroma, but sweeter and more buttery, like a cinnamon roll without too much cinnamon. Liquor is bright yellow-green (sorta cartoony toxic color, but clean looking) with steadfast transparency. Aroma very different from either fragrance or wet leaf aroma – notes of zucchini skin, cucumber, cardamom, true cinnamon, Cymbidium orchid, iris flowers and foliage, rosemary, sage, and some watercress.

Not much to say about the flavor after the aroma – it’s mostly tactile accompaniment to what’s going on in the nose. Sweet and sour are played with a bit. Sort of a home made whipped cream effect going into a lingering milky-sour note that stimulates the salivary glands. Faint notes of orange bell pepper, cooked green pepper (as in a chile relleno), tomatillo, mugwort, and pounded rice and soy confections (like mochi). Thick mouthfeel and very smooth. Despite all that’s going on, it’s a mild tea. Light bakey notes and a sunflower nose in the aftertaste.

Soothing tea that I wish I had easier access to.

180 °F / 82 °C 1 min, 0 sec

Any chance this is the same TKY Chicago Tea Garden offers? A lot of their teas are sourced by David Lee Hoffman.

Thomas Smith

Y’know, it very well may be. As part of the agreement when he sold Silk Road Teas he was not allowed to sell teas for a period of five years and he was really blown away when legal action was raised against him when he violated it selling some of his puerh cakes. Seeing as he maintained his contacts and continued buying, it totally makes sense that he’d sell through a vendor he held in high repute and did dealings with. I’d believe it to be the same and prolly wouldn’t be able to taste the difference apart from differing storage conditions.


Thomas – we are always willing (and I guess able in the case of our Website “company description” and Tieganyin text) to lend a hand in promoting good teas. Also, we have some Oolongs that may interest you, particularly of the more traditional oxidized style. But, we think some good words our way would help as well. It should be noted that Silk Road Teas sources its Oolongs from many of the same farmers that David Hoffman now does. That is the beauty of relationships, especially those built around good tea. For the matter of legal action, we are not aware of any such activity. We have always kept a level of understanding and humor about Pu-erh dealings.

Thomas Smith

Story was related to me by a vendor in the North Bay Area after he started offering the Phoenix Collection. Specifically, it was a reminder of David’s legal obligation sent to Hoffman, not any kind of lawsuit. It’s the kind of thing that needs to be done to protect against precedent, not a commentary about the dealings of companies in any way. Point I was tossing out there was that he agreed to not be out there fostering a competing brand for a short period of time, but due to the nature of relationship-products the tea he started selling on his own is likely to be virtually indistinguishable from that of the companies he’s worked with.

Are you a representative of Silk Road?

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Shoot, I’m thinking this tea won’t get the chance to age much in my hands! I keep getting these random cravings for this specific tea… maybe I’ll just have to buy a whole tong and hide it somewhere that I can’t access very well.
This time I feel I sort of hit a sweet spot for the first infusion, though durability of subsequent infusions suffered a bit.

Used a lighter concentration with my trusty old, larger Duan Ni clay Shi Piao pot I’ve seasoned well enough to change the color of. 5g in 210ml water with a single rinse at 88 degrees C immediately poured off. Pour time is about 15 seconds. Infusions progressed: 45sec-87C, 45sec-83C, 45sec-78C, 1min10sec-87C, 1min15sec-85C, 2min30sec-80C. Sixth infusion still had staying power, but most of the complexity had leveled out and any brews after it would probably be just a bunch of the same diminishing to the ether. O’course, I really couldn’t take a seventh cup in this instance. I know Lu Yu’s tea was heavier, whisked tea, but I felt much the same way tonight.

Very close expression to the first time I played with this tea, but incorporating the toasty, cocoa-and-spice characteristics I got at high concentrations. Strange, since this is the lowest concentration I’ve brewed this at… This tea seems to really want to please the more frugal tea drinkers who don’t want to expend a lot of energy on controlling the parameters.
Grape-sweet, orchid-floral, celery-astringent, toasted French white oak woodiness (as expressed in a dry Chardonnay), steamed cauliflower vegetal note, cassia-spiciness, rose-afteraroma, peppered roast beef savory, with a wet granite mineral quality. Later infusions become more minerally and 3rd infusion onward carries a pleasant long-lasting light astringency across most of the tongue and throat. By the third infusion I’d sort of developed a sweat from the savory-spiciness even though it’s pretty cool tonight.
Once again, very yummy and satisfying. I had a churning stomach and three cups of this and a couple pieces of sprouted wheat toast took care of it (probably not as well as a shu puerh, but I had a craving).

Hmm, I think I’m starting to beat this bush to death… Better put this tea away for a while.

190 °F / 87 °C 0 min, 45 sec

hello, sir. im trying to put together a sample purchase from yunnansourcing.com and there are a lot of choices. i am not yet very well versed in puerh. any suggestions? dont hold back, it is all appreciated. thanks.

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So glad I followed up on this one. Used my usual concentration in the same teapot and pretty much the same parameters as last time.

9g with 110ml water in zhu ni rong tian. Single rinse had 10 second contact including the just-shy-of 10 second pour using 88 degree C water. Infusions progressed (tack 10 seconds onto these for total contact time): 20sec-87C, 25sec-86C, 30sec-85C, 35sec-84C, 45sec-84C, 45sec-87C, 50sec-87C, 55sec-86C, 60sec-85C, 120sec-88C, 160sec-87C.

Still not great body for what I like, but much better than last time and more in balance with the levels of flavor and astringency (which gently coats the middle of the tongue rather than attacking just one region). Aroma more full and sort of like cinnamon French toast made with sourdough, with the spice, grain, egg, and slightly charry edge in nice balance. Most importantly, this time ‘round the warm aromatics are very nicely coupled with the crisp herbaceous, somewhat nutty and burnt wood flavor. Peanut shell, river rock, rice, and dry grass in aftertaste. Reminds me of chewing on a long piece of hay or stalk from flowering grass. Aroma is nice and heady with qualities evoking chocolate and a bit of coffee but not smelling like either… an ambiguous warming roasty-sweetness they all share. I get the same quality from pie in an oven that’s just on the verge of being overdone. Another not-there aroma and flavor is a peach similarity like exhaling after smelling a peach cobbler. Not fruity, but related to the heady ripe sweet-spiciness from cooked peaches buried in baked crust. Appears in aroma, aftertaste, and nose but not in your face at all like in other oolongs. Astringency isn’t nearly as medicinal as the crushed aspirin astringency I get in heavily roasted DHP, but has similar range and effect with just mellower intensity. Fourth infusion is a little sweet and delicious, with hints of cocoa powder and some florals peeking out. From the sixth infusion on a distinct toasted-rice sweet crisp taste is incorporated into the flavor. Liquor much richer yellow-orange than last round, taking on a bit more red through the fourth-sixth brews and on the eleventh it has an unbelievable (as in it’s really pretty but it looks almost fake) clear amber color with the luster of a jewel made of it.

Much happier with this round. Very satisfying with warming aroma and refreshing flavor working really well on a warm day. Really comforting by the 6th infusion. Makes me want cobbler with caramel though this goes really really well alongside extra sour sourdough bread.

Lesson learned about this tea – either go with the vendor’s recommended 3-5g per 175-230ml for 2 minutes at 90 degrees C or go all out for gongfu preparation. The middle gound is more difficult to pull off successfully.

185 °F / 85 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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I just let myself down really hard with this tea. I’ve had such wonderful experiences with it in the recent past, but totally flubbed it this time. That’s what I get for following my usual methods while using 2/3 the amount of leaf concentration I normally would.
Still a very nice tea, just not nearly as exciting and more astringent than it ought to be. First brew was downright insipid and the first sets the stage for those to follow. I feel like I should dump and start again, but at $14 per 25g I don’t think so…

I used 6g with 130ml water in a barely-seasoned zhu ni clay rong tian style yixing teapot. This pot pours in 10 seconds, so contact time on each steep should be considered accordingly. Started with 87 degree water for the 10 second contact rinse and first infusion. Infusions progressed with time-temp: 30sec-87C, 35sec-86C, 35sec-85C, 45sec-83C, 55sec-81C, 10min55sec-96C… Liked the third infusion best, followed by the absurdly long one.

Dry fragrance is “DaHongPaoish”… A sort of herbal-woody, caramelized pie crust, toasty-roasted nut quality with old cardamom husk+rhubarb spiciness, a grape+nectarine skin not-quite-fruit phenolic note and dried apricot “ripe” quality. I get this note in some coffee and chocolate sometimes and I just think of it as “Da Hong Pao-like” as a base reference note. Compared to others, this one is lighter and not as edgy in the roastiness as some almost-medicinal ones I’ve had and loved. Leaves look dark umber brown with a gray reflection and some accents of brick red and very dark green-brown. Wet leaves are forest green with deep dark green folds and some yellow and reddish brown accents. Wet leaf aroma is somewhat tannic, like wet oak leaves. Liquor is yellow-orange and has a honey and dry wheat aroma. A touch of egg and canola oil in the aroma.

I definitely screwed up brewing this time. Shoulda gone longer or hotter or used more leaf… or not rinsed and kept the variables the same. Also, the water had been boiled once before.
Wussy shade of what Da Hong Pao is about. Some charcoal, tannic leaf, underripe peach, and celery flavor. Imbalance with the astringency that grips the back of the mouth. Poor body. With the ten minute infusion, I get a lot more body and aroma/flavor I expect, but the expression is thrown off and the aroma has been driven off relative to the flavor. Good example of how the aroma can be removed at a different rate in comparison to the taste elements. This is sad, I normally love this tea (as in, the same bag in my cupboard, not just the fact that I love DHP – I like roastier ones better).


190 °F / 87 °C 0 min, 45 sec

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Tried preparing this differently after seasoning three yixing pots with it.
7g in 150ml using a shi piao style qing hui ni pot and 9g in 170ml using a fang gu style zhi ma duan ni pot and 11g in 170ml using a fang gu style “dragon kiln” burnt duan ni pot.
I’m used to raised concentration and short steeps increasing the complexity, but I got much smaller range in these. A lot more chocolate notes and roasty florals. Aroma, nose, and aftertaste/afteraroma is strikingly similar to Da Hong Pao!

185 °F / 85 °C 0 min, 15 sec

You mean “smaller range in these” compared to another pot? Could you detect any differences across the three pots?


Sorry, I just read your earlier review of this tea. Now I get it. Thanks!

Thomas Smith

I was going to post an in-depth comparative analysis of the different shapes’/materials’ effect on the one tea, but my browser shut down and I lost the mass of text I had typed. it was late at night and I only typed my evaluation rather than actually writing anything down, so I jut tossed this up instead.

The interesting thing is that the pot I liked the least (the zhi ma duan ni clay pot) wound up having the best overall performance and the pot I liked the most going in had the worst performance by far.
I had some extensive notes, but here’s the glaring bits I remember in summary:

Shi Piao pot made of Qing Hui Ni — higher heat retention due to both shape and material coupled with size and shape’s influence on leaf movement resulted in relatively flat tea with poor aromatics using this concentration and temperature. Use less leaf, cooler water, and not bathing the pot as extensively will probably help. The clay emits an aroma that will need to be tempered through further seasoning if I’m going to use it for young teas. This pot seems ideal for shu cha, rather than the sheng cha I’m using it for – fortunately I intend it for aged shengs, which it ought to handle better. Pour from this pot is elegant and smooth. Construction of this pot is amazing, and the water flow, lid fit, ergonomics, and simple composition coupled with the clay color make it really nice even as simply a piece on my drainage table.

Fang Gu pot (slightly domed lid) made of burnt Duan Ni — decent leaf movement and heat dispersal works well for sheng cha and slightly elevated lid and texture/porosity combination probably responsible for the excellent aromatic expression of this pot. The clay emits an aroma that is noticeable but pleasantly accentuates the wet leaf and bathed liquor aromatics through a warm sand toasty-crispness. This is the pot that really made this particular puerh scream Da Hong Pao. This ought to work great for shengs, though I feel the material would excel with oolongs in a different shape pot. Major downside is that the orientation of the outtake of the spout allows it to become blocked easily by large leaves, so the pot needs to be swirled halfway or so through a pour to avoid backup and leakage through the lid. The colors on this are spectacular and seem to reflect the multitude of aromas it grips and gently releases very well. I really want to love this pot and feel really let down about the blockage issue, even though it’s easily remedied.

Fang Gu pot (flat lid) made of Zhi Ma Duan Ni — really good heat dispersal makes this pot a great choice for lighter teas that want cooler water, so brewing young sheng cha is very easy. Sweetness and chocolate notes much better expressed in this compared to the others, though aroma was not nearly as good as the duan ni pot with a bit more headroom over the liquor while brewing. Pours okay – slower than I’m used to since I mostly brew in shi piao and rong tian style pots with spout designs made for fast output. Leaves distribute and churn very nicely. Biggest downside is that the lack of a knob on the lid coupled with high heat dispersal can make pouring this one somewhat uncomfortable and if you rush pouring there is a tendency for a little leakage from the lid when rapidly inverted. Not a huge fan of the design on this one, but it really worked well.

Thomas Smith

And, yes, concentration was variable in this lineup, but I adjusted the concentration between the two duan ni pots after going through several hours of side-by-side brewing. The 9g/11g was pretty well figured out while the qing hui ni pot was just being experimented for the first time when I tossed it in the running.

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Really tasty, approachable, and durable.
Can’t really justify rating this any higher since I just don’t feel it has the range of character necessary for me to stick this alongside teas I have the highest regard for, but boy does it taste good. Not much to add to the vendor’s description, though…

Used 2g with 60ml water in a small glazed ceramic gaiwan. Used 90 degree C water and it cooled to 83 degrees C by the 4th infusion, reheating for the 5th and 6th. Steep times followed 30, 45, 60, 150, 180, 210 seconds, followed by a steep a couple seconds shy of the 20 minute mark.

Up front it is floral and toasty. Chocolate, honey, a touch of caramel, and toasted marshmallow in the flavor with cinnamon, table grapes, allspice berries, and a mix of tropical and annual wildflowers melded together in the aroma and nose. Very very smooth. I accidentally let the 6th infusion go for 20 minutes and it’s still very tasty and not particularly different from the earlier infusions. This is really reminiscent of Taiwanese Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao Oolong) but with more cocoa. Rich, buttery body and slight sweet-crisp mouthwatering impression similar to the effect of eating grapes after a tiny bit of chocolate covered caramel.
Soothing and quick to disappear from my cup.

195 °F / 90 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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Wow, I was really not expecting this to be half as good as it is. I mean, I expected it to be good and tasty and whathaveyou, but it’s kind of bugging me how high I’m rating this. I’m not a fan of singular numerical rating and it kinda makes me cringe to see this is right up against my proclaimed “favorite tea” at such a young age for a puerh.
The reason for my prejudice against it? It feels like the producers have successfully cheated. Storing puerh in warm, humid areas accelerates the aging process and when properly executed can effectively replicate up to five years’ worth of active effort in rotating storage conditions under dry storage in the course of a single year. “Hong Kong Storage” – while not necessarily as bad as “wet storage” – is practically synonymous with “musty, dirty, mildewy” tea. Tight compaction and somewhat absorbent coverings surrounding the cakes can mitigate this and make HK stored puerh acceptable or enjoyable, but it’s got a distinct effect on the flavor. Not so in this case.
True, storing in Xishuangbanna is not storing in Hong Kong and five years at origin is hardly “aging” when considering vintage puerh. However, much of the qualities of similar age sheng puerh from nearby areas have been mellowed and flavors have definitely developed at a higher rate. Still doesn’t have what I’d even consider a light “aged character” but it has a greater range of flavors, much mellower, is very sweet, and has a wonderful aroma. I keep trying to imagine some sort of mustiness, but it is remarkably clean.

I used 2g with 60ml water in a small glazed ceramic gaiwan. Single rinse really opened up the compacted leaves. Kept the temperature at 85 degrees C for the first 7 infusions and went up to 87 C for 8th-10th infusions. Steep time progressed 20. 20, 25, 30, 35, 45, 55, 65, 90, 120 seconds.

The leaves are really pretty. Mostly mossy green but with brownish green patches, a ton of silvery and white down covered long buds, and a few bright golden-down and purplish leaves here and there. Compaction is pretty firm towards the center and gradually looser towards the margins, where whole leaf sets can be wriggled free. Dry fragrance is mineral-y, green zucchini skin/leaves vegetal, and somewhat stripped-bark sweet with a pervasive camphor note tingling underneath. Wet leaves look a whole heck of a lot like a twisted leaf lightly oxidized oolong – after the 7th infusion they look like phoenix pearls that have unfurled, just a shade darker. A lot of intact leaves… Actually, the only broken leaves I can find are attached to 2-3 leaf sets that are mostly intact with developing buds. Color of cooked grape leaves – a dark olive green with some slightly yellow-brown mossy green on smaller leaves and attached twigs. Just now realizing I’m not finding any twigs or stem on its own, how I’m used to seeing in inexpensive cakes (though this is more common in shu than sheng, it seems). Wet leaf aroma is squashy and tulip-floral with a bark and cacao-like sweet and a slight dried mandarin orange fruit note, similar to orthodox Nilgiri and some Sri Lankan red tea. There’s a tacky, spicy “green” aroma, like spinach or mustard greens. Liquor is clear light yellow with a faint pink tint in earlier infusions, steadily darkening to a light honey color. Liquor aroma also conveys some honey in the aroma, along with warm floral notes (most notably Cymbidium) and a sort of steamed milk and vanilla bean creamy aroma.

Rich body and sweet taste again draws similarities to Wenshan Baozhong and Phoenix/Dragon Pearls, but this is far sweeter. The fresher vegetal qualities are subdued and mostly resigned to the aroma and nose with more stripped wood and moss coming through over them. The sweetness and mouthfeel is really similar to sugar water! Not quite syrupy, but just a little less sugar than I’m used to using when making lemonade. There’s this awesome effect of spiciness inherent in the draught, surging in and out of the primary flavors like swells on the ocean. The spice and savory mixed with the subdued vegetal-floral flavors is really similar to ginger. It’s kind of funny how much the tea resembles the herbal blend I had earlier today, minus the faint hint of tannin or medicinal flavor the Laguna Blend is hiding. Even pollen characteristics and mouthwatering effects are inherent, but much more balanced in the puerh (and much more mouthwatering… sort of verging on drool status). There are cooked vegetable flavors in there too, but low key. Green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, mustard greens. The range of flavors is more vertical than horizontal, as in young/fresh teas that sort of toss a splatter of flavors at your palate and you mop up the residues to see how they work in the aftertaste. This is more like digging through the mixture of flavors to unveil others hiding underneath and the flavors/nose characteristics you toss aside to get deeper pop back later in the afteraroma and aftertaste that comes back quickly and evaporates slowly. The aftertaste is sort of stepped – it comes in, fades away, and another takes its place as though precipitating from the afteraroma into a sweet aftertaste.

Clean, savory, sweeeet, and spicy with a juicy, gingery mouthfeel and serious play on the salivary glands. One of those teas that is simultaneously interesting and relaxing, going hand in hand with its dichotomy of rich yet refined character. Hmm… James Bond in a cup? More like Zorro.
This isn’t your dark and brooding puerh. While mellower than other shengs its age, it is stimulating, clean, and not far from its green roots. What’s more, it is kinder than its kin – it appears to accept a wider range of brewing parameters without risking astringency and can go for a long duration of infusions in spite of opening up really fast.

The last puerh I reviewed was a “nom nom nom” experience whereas this is much more droolalicous.

I’m feeling mighty lucky here, ‘cause I just bought three of these cakes at the same time as the samplers, with the intent to season a pair of duan ni pots with this guy as wedding gifts. The two couples I got these for are getting much tastier tea than I thought they’d be having.

Since the 10th infusion had this interesting barley flavor the others didn’t, I decided to really push the leaves. 11th infusion used 87 degree water for 10 minutes. Still smooth and sweet, but that barley note and a willow bark taste (yes, I’ve chewed willow bark – natural aspirin) comes through a lot more. Sweetness is much more grape-like. Actually tastes a lot like a mellower, sweeter full leaf Indian red tea, minus the astringency. Sort of halfway between full leaf Darjeeling and Kandy, Sri Lanka. 12th infusion I used boiling water and steeped 5 minutes, producing an infusion very much like three year old, dry-storage shengs brewed with cooler water. More in line with Mengku and Nan Nuo than Wu Liang or Lincang, as would be expected due to proximity. Light and vegetal with grapeskin crispness, mineral slick feel, and faint astringency in the very bottom of the throat.

185 °F / 85 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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Okay, so I don’t generally drink herbals or ever think about them so long as I have real tea on hand (I can’t imagine ever running out) and I dislike the concept of blending unless it’s to achieve a particular sought after flavor. What’s more, I really do not buy into hype surrounding botanicals in terms of health benefits – some herbals may have potent medicinal properties, but certainly are not going to affect people at the dilute concentrations achieved by steeping the dried plant material in water.
This is sort of an exception to these rules and it has become a staple for me as a gift to friends and family both for holidays and when they fall ill.

I created this blend a few years ago as a two-part exercise:
1) Create an herbal concoction that feels good to drink while sick and may impact the duration/intensity/effects of an illness in a perceivable way.
2) Achieve flavor balance using medicinal-grade infusible botanicals using blending to mitigate potentially off-putting flavors.

I made this task more difficult by deciding to only use material produced in a sustainable (preferably organic certified) manner, source exclusively from local growers, and insist upon freshness and cleanliness. And ultimately the components had to be cheap enough that I could sell the blend at a maximum of $20 for 100g while donating $1 per 100g to a nonprofit organization that contributes to education and environmental restoration. Suffice to say, I was shooting myself in the foot and chaining myself to a project that was essentially the bane of my existence for over a year.
Fortunately, through pestering some local highly regarded, licensed traditional health practitioner-educators I managed to get the contacts necessary to meet most of these goals! The big fat exceptions lied in the need to produce some sort of balance of flavor and feel instant gratification. I got around that hurdle with the two components that are not produced in Northern California – Yerba Maté and rosehips. Yerba Maté is not grown in California and I don’t think it will be any time soon, but the company Aviva sells good, well-groomed Yerba Maté that tastes a whole heck of a lot better than the stuff sold by local companies and is wildcrafted. I’m sure I can eventually get wildcrafted or organic rosehips from my county but for now I can’t find anyone who’s considered it economically viable, so Frontier Natural Foods Coop had to supplement me on that component that was really essential to the flavor.

My brother’s getting sick, so this is coming out of the cupboard. I don’t reeeeeally believe in the health claims backing most of the components of the blend, even though I sacrificed flavor in getting herbals that are chemically tested to have high medical potency (a couple have a “medicinal” taste)… but when I start drinking this right before I get sick and throughout an illness I do seem to have a shorter duration and it really feels good to drink with a sore throat and sinus/lung issues. Could be placebo, but while I’m iffy on blown up health claims I am a staunch believer in the power of relaxation and placebo to help against illness.

On my packages I hand out, I recommend 2-3g in 175ml 75-80 degree C water with a steep of 3-4 minutes… I heated the water a little too much so today I used 10g in 420ml 85 degree C water for 2 minutes in a glazed ceramic teapot. After tasting, I actually added 30ml of honey before drinking it down. It can’t really handle a lot of sweetener and is naturally sweet to begin with, but people do like to add honey to tea when they are sick so I made a point of making sure this tasted good with a touch. Consequently, I tend to actually add a little when I’m going to drink it, where I’d normally balk at the idea. Hey, if you’re going to break nature, might as well go all-out (insofar as still keeping it loose leaf – I will not fall prey to the bag).

Dry mass is not homogeneous in neither size nor color. Downside to using whole flowers from the Chrysanthemum is you need to sort of stir while scooping or shake the container first to avoid smaller bits settling under the flowers. Works much better when I blend this together after pulverizing the flowers, but it doesn’t look nearly as nice and the petals sort of take over and don’t mix easily. Goji berries look dusty since they are cut before blending and are sort of sticky – they coat themselves in most of the small bits of the mixture. Sort of hard to make out the ginger bits except for the shredded hair-like fibers sticking out at odd angles. However, when it comes to dry fragrance, ginger is king. Really, the fragrance is basically only ginger with a little herbal spiciness added to it. The wet leaves are really a hideous mess and smell sort of like a mix of herbs used to season fish (um, minus the fish). They sort of clog the spout of the teapot and don’t play nice going back in for a second steep. Sort of discourages subsequent infusions, which is unfortunate since the first brew always leaves me wanting one more and I usually prefer the second. A third infusion usually requires a 5 minute steep and is forgettable compared to the first two. Liquor is hazy yellow and smells somewhat sweet. I wish ginger didn’t make it hazy, but it’s worth the ginger’s influence on flavor.

Before adding honey, this is already fairly honey-like: sweet, pollen-like, full bodied, and even has a slight amber color to the base yellow. The flavor of this is all about mitigating the tang and herbaceous phenolic qualities of the Yerba Maté and White Chrysanthemum. Just to point out – it has no smokiness at all, just the somewhat toasty quality of Yerba Maté. I really can’t stand Yellow Chrysanthemum and dislike the twig and dust of most Yerba Maté and feel smoked Yerba Maté just rubs lack of quality in the consumer’s face. I used whole flowers from much sweeter White Chrysanthemum and the twig content of Aviva’s Yerba Maté is less than 5%, plus I sift everything before blending. The seedless rosehips really act as mediator with the light sour note they bring to the table. It infulences flavor and mouthfeel, causing a mouthwatering effect that works really well when coupled with the sweetness of the Goji Berries (I cut these to enhance this effect) and the somewhat overripe stonefruit aftertaste they have. Ginger root is a big player in the mouthfeel and aftertaste – savory and warming. Doesn’t bring nearly as much to the aroma as it does in the fragrance.

One of two herbal blends I let live in my cupboard.
I can’t justify a high score, but it is tasty and really satisfying to drink. I just used my brother being sick as an excuse to brew it. He got an ounce to “try” it while I had a full mug.

185 °F / 85 °C 2 min, 0 sec

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I revisited this tea ‘cause I have a hard time imagining such a high score for a relatively cheap tea and from this company. Tao of tea has some tasty teas, but they really don’t jump to my mind when I’m thinking of high quality.

So, I wanted to knock the score down on this… I was totally biased in re-reviewing it – looking for things to be wrong, not looking for any layers of underflavors, drinking it back quickly, not really paying attention to true mass-volume-temperature, purposefully scraping up fannings left in the tin…
Yet, this holds true to my prior review. It’s a good Darjeeling. I’m sorry for the blatant prejudice I threw at the company – I should have reminded myself that I’ve had good teas from Rishi and Peet’s as well and I really don’t hold them in the light of Tao of Tea.
Little pointless posting this note when I’m basically saying “see previous note,” but the fact that it stood up to biased reevaluation says something in my mind.

200 °F / 93 °C 2 min, 0 sec

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Tea Geek.

My focus is on Chinese Wulongs and Pu’er but I’m all over the place. I tend to follow a seasonal progression of teas, following the freshness curve of greens through summer and rounding the cooler months out with toastier teas and Masala Chai.
With the exception of Masala Chai milk tea I’m a purist at heart. While I was originally snagged by Earl Grey with bergamot and make blends for gifts, I very rarely go for scented teas or herbals and can’t remember the last time I bought a tea that was blended. Pure tea is just more interesting to me than the product of mixing flavors. I do understand and appreciate their existence, though.

I upload some blends I make or special prep teas I nab under the company name “Green Raven Tea and Coffee” and the vast majority of these posts will be blends crafted to create flavors/characteristics not inherent in any one particular tea.
I’ve worked as a tea buyer for a smallish cafe and try to keep apprized of shifts in offerings even when not selecting for a business so I wind up sampling a ton of wholesale samples from a couple companies in particular but try to branch out to as many companies as I can find. Until Steepster integrates some form of comparative tasting feature, none of my cupping notes will make it onto my reviews unless wrapped up into something I feel compelled to drink multiple times on its own.

Since all the cool kids are doing it, here’s my big fat ratings scheme:

0-12…..Ugh, don’t wish on anyone
13-25….Bad, won’t touch again
26-37….Huh, not worth the effort
38-50….Meh, unremarkable
51-62….Okay, good tea
63-75….Tasty, really good tea
76-87….Yum, wonderful
88-100…Wow, really spectacular

There shouldn’t be many postings at all from me ranked 26-50 since unremarkable teas are unlikely to make me remark on ’em but to “earn” a score 37 or below I have to be disappointed to the point where others may ask for a refund or turn down offers even when free or offered as a gift (beyond stale).

I’ve got a ton of respect for anything rated 63 or higher.

For a tea to get 71 or more, it has to be pretty special and kinda blow my socks off.

The 90s are reserved for wonders that make me reevaluate my views of the world of tea as a whole.


Santa Rosa, California, United States

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