80 Tasting Notes


I used a heaped half-teaspoon (the instructions are for a level teaspoon – same difference) and steeped for three minutes, boiling water.

In the mug it’s clear but quite intensely-coloured, a red-brown showing yellow round the circumference.

There is a faint aroma of green vegetation.

In the mouth I’m getting good basic tea up front, with a slightly unsweet – but not unpleasantly so – note of green vegetation and a definite butteriness.

I made a second infusion, though Nothing But Tea doesn’t give a recommendation for one. It was surprisingly intensely coloured, though less so than the first infusion, but definitely a much weaker version of the first. It’s not really suitable for a second infusion – at best a borderline case, perhaps.

Just for curiosity, I made a brew with a heaped teaspoon, as opposed to a heaped half-teaspoon – boiling water and three minutes.

This was a mistake and it’s better to stick to instructions – it doesn’t look noticeably stronger than the half-teaspoon brew, though there seems to be a good basic tea aroma, but it’s definitely over-strong and I’m getting an unpleasant harshness in the flavour. There’s possibly the addition of a touch of chocolate, though, but that does nothing to compensate for the harshness.

To sum up, this is not very complex and really nothing that special, but it has good strong flavour notes and is a pleasant and satisfying brew – that’s when I stick to the instructions, of course.

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I used a heaped teaspoon and brewed this for three minutes – boiling water.

This is a very fine, granular tea, like an Assam or similar. I – sort of – agree whith Angrboda’s mention of a smell of pear to the dry tea. I get a quite faint hint of the smell of a pear that’s been bruised or damaged, so that the flesh has turned brown and soft.

I have to say that I found the brew rather one-dimensional. I got a good basic tea note in the nose and the mouth – and that was about it. I thought this note just a little on the harsh side – perhaps it would do better with milk or cream, neither of which I use. There might have been the tiniest hint of dark chocolate or coffee, but right on the outside edge of my sense of taste, I’m really not sure about it. I didn’t get any pear in mouth or nose.

This actually takes me back a bit. It reminded me strongly of the loose tea my family bought when I was a youngster, probably before tea-bags were widespread. What it was I no longer remember, but it would certainly have been just ‘tea’ and bought by brand name – PG Tips or Typhoo or some such – a blend, obviously.

Nostalgia aside, this was an ‘okay’ tea but nothing at all special. Something to go with the bacon and eggs at breakfast.

Edited to add – It was actually a bit more chocolatey when I was down to the last inch or so in the mug and it had gone cold; however, the harshness of the basic tea note was more noticeable, as well, cutting through the chocolate.

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I brewed this with a well-heaped teaspoon, steeped for five minutes, boiling water.

The brew is an intense-to-opacity black-brown.

I’m getting a vaguely fruity, vaguely earthy, vaguely meaty aroma. As this suggests, it’s difficult to pin down.

In the mouth, it’s difficult to pin down, too. I think it’s a fraction watery and that I could have used more tea. I get a smooth, very mild milk-chocolate, with, underneath, the slightest suggestion of roast-meatiness.

The overall impression I’m getting is of a fairly robust tea that’s been brewed too weak.

So, I’ve made a second brew, this time with a well-heaped teaspoon plus a well-heaped half-teaspoon, again brewed for five minutes.

In the nose I’m getting that same, vaguely fruity, vaguely earthy, vaguely meaty aroma, but, this time, it is underlying a definite, though not very strong, note of cut grass.

That note is there in the mouth, too, but there it’s not quite cut grass but is leaning slightly to something like ginger – I mean that there’s a very faint bite to it. This is added to the elements I noted for the first brew.

Having said that, I’m still getting the impression of a fairly robust tea that’s been brewed too weak. I suppose I could double the amount (actually, I only had a small sample to start with and I haven’t got enough left for that), but I’m inclined to think that the perceived weakness is just the nature of the tea. What’s there is pleasant enough but it hints at something it doesn’t actually deliver and is really, for me, nothing special and not one that I’m going to buy again.

ETA – I’ve just realised, as I’m drinking more of it, that I failed to notice what’s not there. For me, the flavour is lacking a good basic tea note – which is a little odd as I now think I can detect it in the aroma – and this absence is largely responsible for the impression of the tea as weak.

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There was a mix-up at Nothing But Tea’s suppliers and this note was on a brew made from this tea mislabelled as Vietnamese Imperial Oolong, so I’ve cut and pasted the note to where it belongs – with a little editing.

I made a brew with all that was left – emptied the caddy into the filter. It might have been a well heaped teaspoon but certainly not more. I steeped for three minutes with water several minutes off the boil.

In the mug it’s a medium-intensity, clear yellow-brown.

In the nose there are touches of chocolate, freshly-turned soil and gravy. There’s also a tiny hint of the smell you get in chicken sheds, or walking in woodland or thickets where thousands of birds roost at night.

In the mouth I’m getting notes of chocolate, freshly-turned soil and gravy. There are a firm cut grass and a sweet fruitiness contrasting each other. There’s just an underlying hint of a butter or toffee smoothness – difficult to say which. There’s the tiniest hint of that bird thing. It’s actually so complex that it’s difficult to get a grip on it all, but it’s quite distinctive – and excellent!

I made a second infusion, same way.

The colour is much the same.

I get a fraction more of the chicken or bird thing in the nose. I’m also now getting hints of the grass and fruit.

In the mouth it is very similar to the previous infusion. Again, I think the bird element is a fraction more noticeable, also the fruitiness and grass. The overall feel is just a tad thinner. It’s still excellent, though.

I’ll post a note on the new stuff in a day or two.

ETA – I’ve just noticed that I didn’t mention a ‘basic tea’ note. I really don’t remember noticing one; but, the brew had plenty of that ‘satisfying’ quality, so it must have been hidden in there, somewhere.

175 °F / 79 °C 3 min, 0 sec

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There was a mix-up at Nothing But Tea’s suppliers and this note was on a brew made from tea mislabelled as Vietnamese Imperial Oolong, so I’ve cut and pasted the note to where it belongs.

This is only my second-ever oolong, as far as I remember, and the first was the same dealers’ Black Dragon which was no different to a lot of other teas I’ve drunk, so this rather blind-sided me. I don’t know what I was expecting, but whatever it might have been this was different. I’ve never tasted anything like it and, I’m sorry, but it’s going to take rather a long-winded tasting note.

I made a mug of this with a well-heaped teaspoon brewed for three minutes. I let the water go off the boil for several minutes before brewing (they recommend 80°C). The aroma was quite strong and strangely familiar – though it took well into my second mug to place it. It’s quite difficult to describe and the best I could come up with was somewhere between good garden compost and fried bacon (but with no smokiness). That was the main element in the mouth, as well – and I mean one element – not compost and bacon but something in the middle. There were the basic tea flavour and butter, plus just a hint of cut grass.

I made a second mug, the same way and re-using the same tea. If anything, the flavour was a little stronger and now I was detecting a tiny ‘fruity’ hint.

Okay, I said the aroma was ‘strangely familiar’ – it was round about when I noticed the fruity hint that I placed it. There was a wildlife park near where I grew up and they had a tropical bird house which I absolutely loved. You could go in and walk around with the birds flying free around you. The place was planted up with all sorts of exotic bushes and was always kept hot and damp. The system they had for feeding the insectivorous birds was to have some fruit rotting in the bottom of a mesh-covered dustbin: the insects breeding on the fruit flew out through the mesh for the birds to hunt. So, imagine the aroma in there: a combination of warm green vegetation, warm moist soil, warm rotting fruit and, no doubt, a hint of warm bird-droppings. I thought it was gorgeous. And that’s the aroma of Vietnamese Imperial Oolong China Oolong (o) (OC04)(and, of course, that main element of the flavour).

I don’t think I had ‘first thoughts’ on this – I was too gobsmacked. Then I thought, “This is seriously weird stuff – don’t know what to think of it.” Then I thought, “Well …” Then, somewhere towards the end of the second mug, I thought, “I’m in love!”

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There was a mix-up at Nothing But Tea’s suppliers and this note was on a brew made from tea mislabelled as China Oolong (o) (OC04), so I’ve cut and pasted the note to where it belongs.

I used a moderately-heaped teaspoon and allowed the water several minutes to go off the boil and steeped for two minutes. It was a quite pale, clear yellow-brown in the mug, with a slightly rusty aroma – possibly a little musty, too, like a second-hand book shop, plus the tiniest hints of chocolate or coffee and of the smell of beef roasting.

The flavour had reasonable basic tea taste and elements of chocolate and of the black, crusty bits on the surface of a good roast joint of beef.

I made a second infusion, the same way, with the same tea. I couldn’t detect any diminution in flavour and, if anything, it was more complex as now I detected a tiny hint in the flavour reminiscent of the smell of grass on a warm, humid day and this gave a tiny ‘edge’ to it. I’d actually class it as a slightly better brew than the first one.

I couldn’t resist a third infusion just for curiosity. This time the basic flavour elements are a little weaker (strangely enough, the tea doesn’t seem to smell any weaker) while that ‘smell of grass’ hint has strengthened towards a root-ginger ‘bite’. It’s now a somewhat different cup of tea and, to my taste, not quite so pleasant.

Quite a difficult tea, this one – I rather enjoyed it, yet I wouldn’t categorise it as anything special – quite robust elements to the flavour but no real complexity. I know this is not very meaningful, but I’d describe it as a ‘satisfying’ or, even, ‘comforting’ sort of brew.

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The instructions are for ‘2 – 5 mins’ so I split the difference and brewed for three and a half minutes with boiling water. This is one of those awkward-to-spoon, long-stranded teas, but I used a near-as-I-could-judge heaped teaspoon. Actually, as this is quite light in weight, I’m now wondering if I should have used two.

It made a quite dark, slightly orange, brown brew, clear, but intense enough in colour to be almost opaque.

In the nose: there is a very subtle, but rich, fragrance which is difficult to pin down – it seems to differ with different sniffs. I get a good, clean, basic tea, a roast beef or Oxo note, uncooked pastry dough and, sometimes, just a hint of flowers or perfume. As it cools and the level falls, I’m noting a ‘herby’ hint – possibly somewhere between thyme and sage, but just a hint.

In the mouth I get the good, clean basic tea (I should explain that: when I used cheap teabags, as far as I remember I got a single, basic tea note but it had a rather diffuse or ‘muddy’ taste which contrasted with the ‘cleaner’ or more ‘pure’ flavour of the best of the loose tea we used to have when I was a youngster, before teabags were so widespread – I taste the teas I have now as varying between these two extremes). The roast beef or Oxo note of the smell is not so noticeable. I’m getting a good, smooth butteriness rather than the dough thing. There’s a note that is somewhere between cut grass and the thyme-sage thing I noted for the aroma.

I made a second infusion, same way.

In appearance, the colour didn’t look any less intense than the first time, but there were oily spots on the surface.

There was less aroma: I think I could detect a very faint and fleeting butteriness and an equally faint grassy-metallic element.

In the mouth it was definitely less interesting than the first infusion – I didn’t get much apart from a faint, doughy butteriness and a little basic tea flavour.

This is a pretty good brew – the first infusion, at least; but I think that when I make a fresh one I’ll try two heaped teaspoons.

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I made a brew with all that was left in the tin – probably a well-heaped teaspoon, perhaps a fraction more. I brewed for three minutes with water several minutes off the boil.

It made a very densely-coloured, dark-brown infusion, slightly tinged with yellow.

There’s a faint and very difficult-to-place aroma – possibly a combination of grass and liquorice and basic tea or possibly a combination of grass and beef gravy and basic tea – I really can’t make up my mind.

In the mouth, there’s a hard, firm edge to this; something I think I’ve described in some other tea as what liquorice would be like if you could imagine it without any trace of sweetness. I think I’m getting a hint of cut grass – again as it would be without any hint of sweetness. I may be getting a tiny hint of an undefinable ‘fruitiness’ – or it may be just the comination of the previous two notes. There’s another note that I can’t quite pin down that is somewhere between butter and chocolate, giving a bit of smoothness and body to it.

It occurrs to me that this is probably quite a good tea; but just happens to be one that is not to my taste. Having said that, I still get a strong impression that I’m actually steeping a black tea at too low a temperature.

I made a second infusion (I went a little bit over on the time – about forty of fifty seconds or so – absentmindedness).

I thought this a better cup of tea. The colour was less intense, and so was the hard, firm edge, and I think this gave the tea a better balance – the other elements not seeming to have decreased with it.

I made a third infusion. With this one, it’s possible I brewed it a bit hotter than instructions – 90˚, say – because when I took the first sip it was too hot to take a sizeable one.

I wasn’t getting much in the nose, but this one had better flavours, I think, which, had they only been a bit stronger, would have made it more enjoyable than the first two infusions. I was getting hints of mixed dried fruit and butter; the grass was a little less noticeable. Unfortunately, it was also a little ‘watery’ – if that makes sense (it sounds a bit daft to say that I could taste the water, especially as I use a filter jug, but it was ‘watery’).

Oh well, that’s the last of it and I don’t think it’s interesting enough to buy any more.

180 °F / 82 °C 3 min, 0 sec

I keep reading this one as ‘oolong saliva’ which… is not a pretty mental image.


Ha-ha! … and … Yuk!

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I made a brew with a heaped teaspoon, water left several minutes to go off the boil, steeped for three minutes.

In the mug it’s a clear, medium-intensity orange-brown.

I’m getting very little aroma. Sometimes I get a hint of freshly turned-over soil, sometimes a fruity hint, but they’re very fleeting, hardly anything.

In the mouth it’s the same story. I’m getting hints of turned-over soil, fruitiness (I really can’t define that any more accurately), possibly chocolate, there’s also a hint of bitterness; but they’re all very, very faint – even the basic tea.

I made a second infusion, three minutes again. It was’t any different but may have been the tiniest fraction stronger in aroma and flavour. Or my taste-buds may have learned what to look for.

Having written that, I’m feeling a bit guilty about giving it a rating in case its lack of flavour is due to it having been lying around too long – it’s from a 10g sample that got forgotten about, and it’s been here almost a year; So I’m not going to rate it – I’ll get another sample with my next order.

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I made a brew with a well-heaped teaspoon, water several minutes off the boil, steeped for two minutes forty seconds – I’d meant two and a half, but …

In the mug it’s a quite dense colour – dark brown, opaque in its intensity and with a touch of brown-yellow round the surface circumference. Which is quite different to yesterday’s brew.

In the nose I get a rusty, ‘brown’ aroma, perhaps a touch of raw dough. As I get to the last inch or so in the mug and it’s quite cool, I get a hint of toffee.

In the mouth I’m not getting a lot, perhaps a hint of freshly-turned soil, perhaps a hint of ripped cardboard, and I get a hint of chocolate when I swallow (sometimes). As with the aroma, when I get towards the bottom of the mug and it’s quite cool, there might be the tiniest hint of toffee. I’m having to ‘search’ for all this – it really doesn’t have much flavour. That’s a disappointment: going on the colour and aroma I was expecting a little more flavour than yesterday; instead, there seems a little less.

I decided to scrap that one and made a fresh brew with two well-heaped teaspoons; steeped for two and a half minutes with water several minutes off the boil.

The colour is similar to last time but even more opaque.

The aroma is great: I’m strongly getting good basic tea with touches of rust and dough. There’s possibly a hint of chocolate.

Damn! Again, the flavour doesn’t live up to the smell. The basic tea is there – it’s actually the tiny-tiniest touch harsh – and there’s a tiny hint of chocolate. And that’s about it. It might be a better cup of tea than for the single-teaspoonful brews, but it’s very much ‘supermarket teabag’

One last point: I forgot about the last third of this and it got cold. I drank it anyway and was suprised to get a distinct, ‘herby’ note in the mouth, giving an invigorating bite. I’ve just been sniffing the dried basil, rosemary and thyme in the kitchen. It isn’t any of them but it’s similar, possibly similar to what a mixture of the three would be like. If I could add that note to the warm tea I’d consider it reasonably good stuff.

I made a second infusion: water off the boil for several minutes, three minutes steeping (forgot I was doing two and a half – my mind doesn’t seem to be on the job, today).

It’s still the intense colour.

In the nose and the mouth I’m getting garden soil and ripped cardboard. What I’m searching for but not getting is that herby note. I’m not even getting that hint of chocolate.

I deliberately let the last inch or so go cold, to see if that herby note came back. There may be just a hint of it, and of grass. It all adds to the feeling that there are potential flavour notes in there that I’m somehow not getting out.

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Happily retired male.

Started exploring ‘proper’ tea in March, 2010 after decades of PG Tips teabags. I was initially looking for ‘the perfect tea’; now I don’t want to find one – I’m so much more enjoying exploring the variety.

A confession: I take my tea with four sweeteners to a half-pint mug.
28/05/2012 – I’ve decided to wean myself off the sweeteners, starting this morning, so, three per mug instead of four (I’m getting a growing feeling that I’m failing to get the best out of some of the oolongs and greens I try and I intend getting a gaiwan and the appropriate little cups, and sweeteners don’t seem to be appropriate, there). 16/02/2013 – since New Year’s Day I’ve only been using two sweeteners. I’m struggling to get used to it, to be honest – some teas are more difficult than others.

How I make tea: either in a traditional teapot which holds enough for three half-pint mugs and has a removable infuser (London Teapot Company); or in a half-pint mug with an Agatha’s Bester filter. Sometimes I vaguely think about getting some nice, genteel cups and saucers …

Important: I measure the tea with plastic kitchen measuring spoons – teaspoon and half-teaspoon sizes – so when I say a ‘heaped teaspoon’, as the correct measure is a levelled one, I should probably be calling it ‘two teaspoons’!


Derbyshire/Staffordshire, UK.

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