99 Tasting Notes

OK, folks. I’m going way off my beaten path with this one. I came across Vahdam Teas through Steepster, and I saw good things. Always excited to begin a new exploration, I decided to make them my point person for my journey through Indian teas. I snatched up NEARLY every sampler pack they had (all half price!), and waited for the goods. The only sampler I didn’t get was the one with herbal teas.

When the package arrived, I was happy to see a few extra packs of teas given as free samples. Lo and behold! three were herbal teas, and one was a scented green tea… I guess the good folks at Vahdam figured I still needed to expand my horizons!

So, here we are. I don’t drink scented teas, much less herbal tisanes, but I have to say that I am excited to go on this unexpected journey.

Alright, so diving in… The ingredients are turmeric, black pepper, cardamom, and clove. The flavors are bold and fresh – no artificial flavoring here! The turmeric is fresh and spicy, with a silkiness that is intriguing and pleasant. I was surprised at the creaminess of it – if I didn’t know better, I would swear it had milk in it. This creaminess helps deliver the spices in a restrained and sophisticated way.

The black pepper is fairly bold, but it is balanced, cutting through the heaviness of the turmeric. The cardamom adds a spicy sweetness to balance out the pepperiness, and cloves offer their sweet spiciness to add a complex finish.

That’s really all I can say. If you don’t like any of the ingredients above, you probably want to steer clear. This is an unapologetic spice experience, but it is delivered well, with quality ingredients and careful blending ratios.
Dry herb/spice: turmeric and black pepper are apparent from the outset. Sweetness of cardamom then arrives, with spiciness of cloves at the end.

Smell: creamy and savory. Creaminess helps put turmeric in check, clove and cardamom more easily noticeable.

Taste: turmeric and black pepper are readily apparent. Very creamy and milky body that help to round out edges of the spices. Sweetness of cardamom arrives in the development. Spiciness of clove lingers in aftertaste.

Evol Ving Ness

All the sampler packs! Yay you! A tea shopper after my heart.
Buy all the things.

Evol Ving Ness

This one sounds very good indeed.

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I’m on the fence with this one. Two things have happened that are working against this tea: 1) I’ve been blowing away my taste buds by drinking quite a bit of young raw puerh, and so need to fine-tune my palate when drinking something a bit more sophisticated, and 2) I did two comparisons this year of roasted vs. unroasted oolongs, and I noticed how the roasting, I thought, actually detracted from the overall experience. Now, I can’t get that out of my head whenever I drink a roasted oolong.

So, the first thing that happened when I drank this tea was a reaction of “Bleh, charcoal and peanut shell” followed by “This is boring.”

Then I started thinking about my first Wu Yi experience a few years ago. The dryness surprised me, but I was fascinated with how it brought me the experience of a rainy day on my palate – wet rocks, whiffs of green plants, some indefinable sweetness… As I started reminiscing, I started appreciating this tea. I stopped trying to find particular flavors and break down arrival/development/finish, and I just started enjoying my sips of a rainy day.

Dry mineral and nutty flavors arrive in an oily body. Hints of herbs, flowers, and fruit have a passing presence, and then the whole thing ends with a refreshing citrus finish. Definitely more of a mouth-feel experience than a taste-bud experience. But, I think this is the sort of tea that can have a comforting sort of nostalgia to it.

Still not really my thing, especially for the price, but I appreciate the fact that this tea has reminded me of how to approach understated and sophisticated teas.
Dry leaf – nutty and floral: peanut shell, dried parsley and cilantro; notes of carob, dark cherry, baker’s chocolate. In preheated vessel – charcoal roast, red currant.

Smell – roast, heavily roasted nuts, hard wood. Hints of red currant and chocolate, especially when the liquor has cooled a bit.

Taste – mineral, wet rock, roasted nut, peanut shell, oily body. Development has some floral notes arrive. Finish has red currant notes pop up. Aftertaste of citrus – orange oil, orange and grapefruit essence.

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This is probably one of the best entry points for those exploring both aged and wetter-stored tea. It is super affordable and has a very approachable taste. It is a great introduction to the camphor notes of older pu’erh.

I wouldn’t say this is the most interesting pu’erh in my stash, but being able to sip the aromatic and earthy flavors of a wet-stored, semi-aged pu’erh like this (and spend less than $20 on it), it is a must-have and will be a repurchase for me.

The flavor is something of a combination of tobacco/leather notes of other semi-aged raws, the earthy sweetness of ripe pu’erh, and the tannic bite of a strongly brewed black tea breakfast blend.

An affordable and educational tea for those exploring storage effects on raw pu’erh.
Dry leaf – aged tobacco, camphor, root beer, sassafras, hints of dried date. In preheated vessel – sweet and savory notes of cream of wheat and sweet bean/taro paste.

Smell – aged tobacco, sweet dry spice, stewed black tea; secondary notes of camphor, sassafras, and dried date.

Taste – Arrival of tobacco, leather, strong black tea blend. Development of ripe pu’erh earthy sweetness, creaminess, and hints of chocolate. Finish includes camphor and dried date. Aftertaste of ripe pu’erh, black tea blend. Lemongrass notes arrive later in aftertaste.


I was curious about this one since I’m a Bulang fan. It sounds very promising to age.

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Let’s jump to the end – buy this cake if you are fan of rich, bold puerh and great deals.

I bought this cake at the end of a short pu’erh tasting journey through various regions. I noticed that young Bu Lang had quite a personality, and frankly, was not something I enjoyed drinking young. However, my gut told me that it was the sort of thing that would age and mellow out – leaving great flavors and a big personality. To test my hypothesis, I bought this cake.

I think my gut was right. This tea has a lot of depth and personality. There is a rich savoriness that is balanced throughout, from smell to aftertaste, by an equally rich and complex sweetness. In addition, just enough sharp flavors like astringency and bitter herb help lift the whole experience – like a well-hopped beer.

I still can’t figure out Hai Lang Hao though. The dude has cakes going for almost $1K, and then he has stuff like this. In any event, I get to have a budget cake made by someone who knows what they’re doing, so I’ll take it.

This is a great addition for anyone looking to have some semi-aged stuff on hand.
Dry leaf – aged spicy tobacco, hay, notes of spicy sweetness (like spiced jelly candy – clove, sassafras). In preheated vessel – dark tobacco notes get bolder and more notes of spiced jellies.

Smell – mushroom broth (vegetal, savory, earthy sweetness), hints of spiced jellies, hay and barn notes, sweetness like spice cake, hints of pine resin.

Taste – mushroom broth is primary flavor. Hay/barn and medium/sweet tobacco are secondary flavors. Light molasses and spice cake sweetness arrives in late development and finish. Chocolately body in finish and aftertaste, with returning spiced jelly sweetness balanced by savory notes from development. Some astringency in finish, with light bitter green herb.

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This was a pit stop along a brief hei cha journey that actually began over a year ago. I sampled some tian jian a while ago and enjoyed it, so I invested in another tian jian, some liu bao, and some fu just to get some bearings on the hei cha world.

Much like my liu bao experience, my fu experience has required some getting used to. It is very yeasty and grainy – almost starchy – and not at all what you get from any other tea.

It’s not bad; in fact, it is intriguing because of how different it is. I had an easier time aligning tian jian with hong cha (sort of), and liu bao with ripe pu’erh. This guy, though, stands alone. Imagine putting a little brewer’s yeast into a black tea breakfast blend and you get sort of close.

Anyway, I would certainly recommend this to anyone who really enjoys exploring the breadth and depth of Chinese teas. Because it is so different from everything else, it is a necessary pit stop. It took me a full year to wrap my head around it, and I still am, to be honest. Probably not a re-purchase for me, but I’m holding a little back so I can revisit it in another year or so.
Dry leaf: brewer’s yeast, black tea breakfast blend. In preheated vessel – stronger aromas as before, with notes of starchy cooked yam, and hints of grape syrup and bruleed sugar

Smell: brewer’s yeast, cooked yam, dry spices

Taste: brewer’s yeast, milky mild black tea breakfast blend, hints of dark caramel. Aftertaste of hardwood, cream of wheat, with hints of lemongrass.


Have you tried Tibetan Kang brick or Yi Qing Yuan chunks Scott sells? They’re also quite special! Probably less yeasty and more smooth medicinal notes.


No, I haven’t. Thanks for the recommendations!


By the way, Scott just added this for those want to embark on their own hei cha journey: https://yunnansourcing.com/collections/new-products/products/hei-cha-sampler-guangxi-liu-bao-and-hunan-fu-brick


Yes, I’ve seen this one. I need to try the last one in particular – 2012 Gao Jia Shan “Wild Tian Jian”. The other TJs I’ve had from Scott are really interesting teas. Do you prefer any particular hei cha?


I can’t say I prefer anything in particular just yet. I do have some liu bao lined up for my next YS purchase. I was surprised at the quality of the experience. I have to check out your recommendations too.


The kang tea is waaaay different from Fu bricks, it doesnt have the yeast/cake dough thing going on at all, more of a clean fruitier.

I cant get my head around this type of tea either. I bought one and try it every once in a while and ponder it, then move on


Tibetan kang zhuan was the first tea I had in China that I actually wanted to purchase more of. Before that, I had only known ripe pu’er served at dim sum restaurants and jasmine green tea, which I don’t care for. Tibetan kang zhuan is probably my favorite heicha. It’s got a smooth, clean, sweet, medicinal quality to it that’s different from aged pu’er.

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This story begins a year ago when I was about to throw this tea out. I smelled it – dirt. I brewed it – dirt. I tasted it – dirt. Things were not going well, and this tea and I were not seeing eye-to-eye.

Luckily, I stuffed it in with my ripe pu’erh stash and figured it deserved a second chance at some point.

Between now and then, something happened – the tea changed, I changed, we both changed… I don’t know, but I really like it. Yeah, it still has a lot of earthiness, but that earthiness has depth and dimension – sweetness, dry Irish stout-like body, notes of cherry wood and carob. There are even camphor notes that waft through your nose and make the whole thing just a fascinating experience.

You could tell me this was some really old, fairly expensive ripe pu’erh, I would believe you. In fact, I would buy this over quite a few ripe pu’erhs I have purchased.

Really glad I hung on to it. Well worth a re-purchase.
Dry leaf: earth, potting soil. In preheated vessel – carob, wet bark, hints of camphor.

Smell: cherry wood, potting soil, carob, camphor.

Taste: wet earth, cherry wood, carob. Irish stout-like body with a dry richness and subtle sweetness. Hints of camphor weaving throughout.


My guess is these liubaos need time to acclimate and settle in their new environment. I like them a lot more than ripes because there is always something unexpected. Chawangshop and EoT also have a really excellent range of liubao that are processed more like raw pu’er and have good age.


I’ll have to check out those two vendors. I’ve browsed through their stuff, but haven’t pulled the trigger on anything yet. Can’t seem to get away from YS’s great prices.


Same. Plus, Scott has way more of a selection. I always assume there’s more hidden gems to be found.

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Another run-in with an aged oolong…

The roast on this is strong, but balanced. Unlike other heavily-roasted oolongs I have had, this one has deep roastiness without assaulting your palate with lighter fluid and charcoal. In fact, it has the depth and richness of a well-roasted coffee.

As for the aging, I suppose it has helped add some depth of flavor. It reminds me of a pu’erh with some age on it, with a lingering base of sweet earthy flavors that help other flavors pop and transition.

So, I certainly did enjoy drinking this tea. For me, though, I still prefer less of a charcoal note so that I have access to finer flavors. This one was so roasty that it really just made me want to grab a cup of coffee.

Also, I’m cheap. At $7 for 25g, I’m paying about $2 per session. Not bad for a treat, but if I’m going to treat myself, I’ll stick with Tie Luo Han, which I thought had a more dynamic experience. For a more economical Wu Yi, I recommend Golden Guan Yin Da Hong Pao or Traditional Roast Shui Xian.
Dry Leaf – dry nuttiness like peanut shell, dry spice, cocoa powder, musty fruitiness – some prune, citric tartness, hints at charcoal roast. In preheated vessel – big whallop of charcoal – not super pleasant.

Smell – charcoal roast, peanut shell, hard wood. Again, not really pleasant.

Taste – bold charcoal roast (but not lighter fluid), deep roasted nut, coffee-like. Development has creamy earthiness and minerality that includes some marine savoriness. Aftertaste gives way to melon, citrus tart notes with underlying sweet prune.


The YS Tie Luo Han is probably my favorite oolong they offer. Really well crafted considering the price. Sounds like this one can age a bit more, though. I aged one of YS’s dancongs that was a bit too roasted for 2 years in my closet. It’s incredible what can happen decent leaf is given the right environment.


Absolutely. I just had an experience with some liu bao from YS, which initially tasted just like dirt. After sitting around for a year and half, I decided to try it again – lo and behold! it has a great sweet earthy flavor and even some camphor notes to it. Either it changed or I did, or both, but either way, I’m glad I came back to it.


I should note really quick too – $7 for 25g of Wu Yi is really inexpensive. I’m just super cheap – and I like a lot of leaf with my Wu Yi teas. Anyway, thanks to Scott and YS for offering such great teas at bargain prices.

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This guy has a bit of buzz and mystique around it. I certainly get it – it definitely is a departure from your typical white tea experience, but after having a few other purple tea experiences, including black and raw pu’erh, the mystique is losing a bit of its magic for me.

From what I’ve experienced, purple tea (this one included), comes with a big whallop of funky fruit flavors, sort of the like what you get with papaya. Funky but sweet.

So, it is delicious. But, it is also STRONG. For me, these purple tea flavors are so strong that they sort of bully the other “standard” flavors of the tea. It’s a little difficult getting past them.

Anyway, as far as white tea is concerned, I think I’ll stick to silver needle. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of peach iced tea, you will definitely dig this tea.
Dry leaf – strong fruit – peach cobbler, melon; autumn leaves, a fruity-funkiness you get with some tropical fruit (like papaya), green leaf; hints of malt and nut. In preheated vessel – more dark honey and honeysuckle notes

Smell – almond nuttiness, malt sweetness, wood, peach, fruit funk, black tea blend with milk, hints of cucumber and mint

Taste – milky black tea blend, peach and berry compote, melon, cucumber, raw almond, honeysuckle, potpourri


This one seemed interesting to me too (combo of purple tea cultivar processed like a Moonlight white. But, I think the latter’s characteristics is what got to me. I think that flavor profile is for black tea lovers—and I am not one of them. I am more for the classic Chinese white tea. It’s actually not easy to find very good bai mu dan or silver needle. Folks in the West just haven’t had enough exposure to the good stuff.


I have to say that I was surprised when I first explored white teas (particularly those with leaves, i.e. non-Silver Needle) and noted how much they reminded me of milky black tea blends.


Yeah, Moonlight white isn’t really a true white tea. It’s its own category since it’s processed differently (via heat in a tunnel). Both can be aged though!

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This is a good black tea to have when you want something different from the norm. It still has some familiar black tea notes, notably roasted nut and sweet potato; however, there is some funky fruity sweetness that runs through the whole experience that makes it stand out from others.

I keep using “grape leaf” and sweet potato to capture some of these flavors, but there are some other fruit flavors that are present, especially blackberry syrup.

Given its name, there are certainly some parallels with Oriental Beauty oolong – there is always a certain fragrance about the whole experience that is a bit floral and fruity that you almost never get with black tea.

All that said, YS is selling it super cheap, and it’s a great departure from the heavy-handed nature black teas can sometimes have. There is always a certain lightness to this tea that is refreshing.
Dry leaf – grape leaf, grape vine, raw peanut. In preheated vessel notes of chocolate, date, and blackberry syrup

Smell – roasted nuts, sweet potato casserole, grape leaf, hints of blackberry syrup

Taste – roasted nut, sweet potato, grape leaf. Aftertaste has notes of date and chocolate sweetness, hints of fresh mint

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It’s been a while since I actually had this tea; I’m a little behind on my notes. So, I just have some random observations collected from various scraps of paper that had notes on them – the end result of my tea sessions coinciding with my two-year old’s tea parties… Anyway, here’s what little sense I could make of them:

My experience changed a bit as I worked through my 50g pouch. My first impressions noted its sweet smokiness, mainly because I wasn’t expecting it. Just based on the color and my impression of Jin Jun Mei, I was expecting a whallop of malt sweetness. Instead, the main flavors where thick roasted nut notes and some sweet smokiness.

As I got to know the tea, though, I wasn’t noting the smokiness nearly at all – that got overshadowed by the prominent nut notes. Beyond this, I was really picking up sweet, fruity flavors, with a little pleasant funkiness (I called this “grape leaf”).

So, it was an engaging tea that made me want to explore it more. Overall, it definitely fits in the “roasted nut” flavor profile of black teas. However, there is some noticeable sweetness and fruitiness that keeps the flavor profile complex and balanced.


Dry leaf – mesquite smoke (barbecue), fragrant floral, pollen, molasses, hints of grape leaf and red currant. In preheated vessel – peanut, buttery toffee

Smell – mesquite wood smoke, roasted pecan, dark caramel, pungent floral?/wet wood?

Taste – heavily roasted pecan and hazelnut, grape leaf*, mesquite, brown sugar and malt sweetness; fruity and syrupy finish and aftertaste – grape leaf, mesquite smoke, red currant, molasses and malt.

*Grape leaf – fruity, leafy, musty flavor – some fruit sweetness counteracted by a leafy greenness and slight bitterness. Musty without being earthy.

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Rating info:
100 – I haven’t found the perfect tea yet!

92-95 – So good that I will purchase this tea again, guaranteed. Excellent flavor and value.

88-91 – A tea that I would consider purchasing again at some point. Great flavor and value.

85-87 – Tea that was worth the purchase and that I enjoyed drinking, although I probably won’t be purchasing it again any time soon. Flavor may have slight drawbacks, or the price might be a little expensive.

80-84 – A tea that has some good points, but falls a bit short on its price:quality ratio. Flavor is a bit mediocre.

No rating – I did not like this tea and would not drink it, given other options.


Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

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