303 Tasting Notes
Skip this first part if you just want to read about the tea:
I first smelled this tea in Harrod’s, finding a small, quiet island in the TWG section of the tea department. No small feat, considering it was right before Christmas last year. I sniffed my way through a number of tins and got stuck on the so-called ‘weekend teas’. I snapped a few pictures of the tins and meant to read up on it when I came home, but forgot all about it.
A month later I was in Singapore (I’m sorry for sounding like a demented tea socialite, bear with me), and imagine my surprise when the TWG logo showed up again… and again, and again. I knew nothing about the brand; I’d just assumed it was a trendier spin-off of Twinings, or something.
A quick search yielded the following: TWG is a Singaporean company, carefully branded to be Singapore’s “first and only upscale tea salon”. This was definitely a niche in the Singaporean brandscape that needed filling; tea culture is somewhat lacking, with either imported Japanese concepts where everything is beyond kawaii, or madly overpriced hotel-style afternoon teas.
So far so good, but there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the brand. For instance: the TWG is generally accompanied by the year 1837 on signs and logos, but the brand was founded no earlier than 2008.
This all makes me reluctant, to be honest. Singapore is so entirely about money, all the time; everything anyone ever talks about is money and shortcuts to money and how to get more money and money. I find that depressing, and it’s clear TWG is a pitch perfect Singaporean brand in that respect. They colonize the most exclusive locations, style their shops and salons to the very last detail (tarnished brass and dark wood everywhere), hardbrand the products and charge ridiculous sums of money for everything.
I’m the first to admit I love a good branding effort. I do; I sometimes enjoy giving in and just going with it because it’s done so well, but TWG are just too devious about it, and it’s painfully clear the product is just the sideshow. TWG is all brand and I can’t get excited about that.
Actual tea review:
I added the above to be honest about my TWG prejudice. This is the first tea I’ve purchased from the company, but I’ve tried their products at a couple of their salon locations. I’ve also had their tea-infused ice cream, which is very nice, albeit, again, ridiculously overpriced.
This looks beautiful in the bag, long, whole green leaves studded with red petals. After steeping, the petals turn fuchsia and it’s one of the prettiest steeped teas I’ve seen, colour wise. In terms of scent, well, I didn’t go the adventurous route here – this smells like something I’ve had before, most likely one of those German-imported greens they sell in every tea shop in Sweden. It’s vaguely fruity/floral and that’s it. What more do you need? Fruity/floral is where it’s at!
There are no steeping instructions on the bag, and none were given by the staff (again, one of those things that’ll tell you this is more about the experience and the ritual of shopping, than what you actually purchase) so I did a semi-Lupicia, letting this steep for 1.5 minutes, at 90C. No bitterness, but also not very much flavour – I’m going to try a different steeping strategy next time, not least for you temperature purists out there.
So, to summarize: meh. TWG will not (CAN not) be my new boyfriend (even though I would have loved to get a chance to meme ‘Bye Lupicia!’).
Unlike an actual weekend in Shanghai, this tea bores me.
[Picked up at the TWG Tea Salon & Boutique in Raffles Place, Singapore, January 2015.]
The fact that I haven’t been Steepstering shouldn’t lead you to believe there hasn’t been any tea activity. There were moments of supreme tea bliss in California in the fall, where I managed to visit no fewer than three Lupicia stores in the Bay Area… with predictable subsequent stash-killing results.
It did help me forward with poor neglected Project Green, to some degree, which will hopefully see more action in 2015. This is one of the California teas, chosen especially as a Project Green participant.
It’s a first flush sencha (Does that automatically make it a shincha? Or is that an additional category within the first flush senchas?) from Uji, a city right outside of Kyoto. Things I knew about Uji that made me pick this one up: parts of the Tale of Genji play out there. High-quality green tea is made in Uji. The world’s oldest tea shop (Tsuen Tea) is located in Uji. It seemed like a good start, right?
I obviously realize the ridiculousness inherent in picking something like this up from Lupicia, rather than just ordering it online from a(n even more) local company that carries Uji-produced teas, but it’s convenient, which is a major bonus in these times of carpenter/painter/electrician-propelled chaos.
Obviously, I could keep talking about other things, but you’d know it’s because I’m just trying to avoid exposing my painfully inadequate green-tea-tasting skill to the world, so let’s just do this.
In the bag, this is all long, skinny needles of dark green. Dry, it smells very sweet, but with a baked note to it as well – light and elegant, though, like the most delicate of green tea-infused sponge cakes.
In the pot (for I made a whole pot of this, as has become my habit, and I will soon be out) some of the sweetness evaporates nose wise, and it comes off more as a light, mellow cloud of…light brown. My synesthesia screws me over here, because I don’t have better words than this very plain cross-sensory experience of colour. The liquid is a yellowish green, though, and the flavor is all green, all the way.
What’s so terrifying about green tea – and I know I’ve said this before – is that it is its own flavor. It tastes of green tea. In addition to that, I can speak of notes of hay or grass or sweetness, but no full-fledged mango is ever going to spring up and punch me in the face. No childhood memories will be evoked, because the first time I tried green tea (and I grimaced, and I complained, and I vowed never again) I’d already taken and discarded more lovers that I have fingers on my hands.
And that makes this very scientific, rather than emotional. And science, in its turn, is obviously terrifying, because it suggests unnegotiable truth. Two of the most intimidating words! Unnegotiable. Truth.
On the tonguetip, it’s vegetal. No salty weedness, but boiled grass – the good boiled grass, too; the top-shelf boiled grass. The main body of the flavor hits mid-tongue; mid-swallow. There is surprising complexity, and it’s a light, late spring, early summer type of flavor. The aftertaste is heavy on the grass, but it’s more of a full-on meadow than just the sweetgrass, so the complexity lasts throughout the sip.
All in all, a complex, mellow, smooth sencha that makes me want to explore more Uji teas.
So my tea stash is temporarily relegated to a bookshelf (not even a #fancy one) and it’s a new year (Happy New Year, everyone!) and the site’s been driving me mad with its slothlike maneuverings so I haven’t been here in forever and this is my 301st tasting note.
I weighed out 3 grams on the little scale (sorry, it’s allegedly a DIET SCALE, because God knows if you want to know more specifically how much something weighs, you’re clearly DIETING) I picked up at Sur La Table in Los Altos last fall, and with which I must say I am super pleased.
The only downside is that people make fun of me when I use it. A typical scenario:
Anna: (puts tea on scale)
Friend #1: HAHAHA OMG.
Friend #1: You’re using a SCALE.
Anna: Yes, but that’s how it’s DONE!
Friend #2: YOUR FACE ANNA. YOUR FACE WHEN YOU READ THE SCALE.
Friend #1 & #2: (howling with laughter)
Anna: (proceeds to make tea with great dignity and poise)
This tea is a little old, but not much worse for wear. Lupicia teas get a little dusty and lose some of the juicy springiness of the leaf, but overall, they age really well. This is still peachy and light and highly drinkable.
I made a pot for myself, but my electrician was cursing in the other room – something about an LED strip not behaving – so he got the last of the coffee.
I will drink this, and then I will go feign respectability in the outside world. Wish me luck.
On most days it’s enough just knowing you’re out there – doing what you do, smelling like you smell, tasting like you taste. On most days.
But on some days, I miss you so much it’s unbearable. Sometimes I’m soothed reading old notes and remembering minutes spent together.
On occasion, though, not even dwelling on mnemonic minutiae is enough. Some days, the insight that you’re a finite resource plagues me. The knowledge that there will eventually be an end to you haunts me. Some days, I just have to taste you again.
This is one of those days.
And another cold-steeped pitcher of this gone. Mostly posting this to say I steeped it for maybe 12 hours, rather than the usual 24, and that the longer steep definitely works better for drawing out the flavours. I use fairly little leaf, though, so I’m sure you can up that to balance it better.
Still so hot I haven’t even managed to have a cup of real tea today. It didn’t really rain that much yesterday, and now they’re saying it’s going to rain for SEVEN days straight starting tomorrow. Everyone else is all, ‘Boo!’, and I’m all, ‘TEA TIME!!!’
I love rain.
It’s allegedly 96F/36C and I’m drinking hot, reliably floral tea. The effort of flash-chilling this would probably outweigh the negatives of getting even warmer through tea, though.
But I love this weather – humidity’s at roughly 60% and the formerly scorching sun has retreated behind the clouds. It’s supposed to rain for four days straight starting tonight, but it’s not stifling at all; Rome will be washed clean, not thundered at.
Sometimes that’s all a city needs to feel brand new.
I don’t really feel like drinking anything citrusy right now, but my all oolong all the time agenda must not be abandoned, so I decided to revisit this. I completely agree with everything I said in my last tasting note for this – that it’s delicately flavoured compared to other Lupicia oolongs of the same kind, but also that it’s well-balanced and all-around tasty.
I will, however, give myself permission to adjust the rating down five points, because I don’t really see myself picking this up again in the near future. It’s excellent, but I’m still ambivalent about citrus and I already have a selection of oolongs I’ll be happy to stock permanently. This just doesn’t have the complexity of personality that would make me want to keep it around forever. Finally, I’m not sure how exciting it would be iced, and I really appreciate that versatility.
I’m pretty sure I haven’t written a note for this yet, because it’s so confusing. I tried it cold when I was in the US in the fall and it was so ragingly delicious I just had to get it. And then I tried it hot and it was just vile, which made me lose my momentum a little. I sent some samples out to ask tea frens how they felt about it and cteresa has written a couple of helpful reviews; here is one of them: http://steepster.com/cteresa/posts/233978
One of the main reasons I’ve postponed this review, is that it’s so hard for me to pinpoint the flavours. I definitely get a citrus, but sweet, like a really ripe orange. Then there’s an additional layer of sweetness – the supposed mango, I assume, but it’s not entirely mango-like for me. Then again, I’m at a loss figuring out what it really is, and I’m beginning to regret starting this tasting note.
Finally, there’s a beautiful aftertaste of really good ice tea, a very natural flavour that lets you taste both the tea (strangely, as this is a green rooibos and shouldn’t taste like that at all) and the added fruit. There’s even a hint of smooth vanilla that rounds the whole thing off ever so nicely.
To sum it up, I really, really love this iced, but it’s near undrinkable for me hot. I have no idea how to rate that – I mean, I will go through this tin like it’s nothing, but it’s against my principles to highly rate one-trick teas. Aaaah!
I will ponder. Consider this rating temporary.
[From my Lupicia spree at Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara, October 2013.]