63 Tasting Notes

After sipping a Hao-Ya yesterday, I’m moving on to a Mao Feng this morning. Of course, you immediately notice the leaf shape is different, the Mao Feng being notably thicker as each is full and unbroken, tightly twisted into a shape resembling a gnarled and tarred tree branch.

Prepared in my Jian Shui gaiwan, and served in my porcelain tea cup via my glass cha hai. Filtered Santa Monica municipal water just off the boil throughout.

Using a little less tea and a little more time today (infusions starting at 1 minute and slowly increasing from there): safety orange liquor; gentle, faintly malty aroma; wheat and cocoa on the palate with hints of chestnut or pecan in the finish; very clean and energizing without briskness or acidity. Some additional complexity can be coaxed out with longer infusions, with very subtle notes of chewing tobacco, carob, and potting soil emerging in the finish – but this tea has a wonderful clarity if you don’t over-steep.

Boiling 1 min, 0 sec 2 tsp 3 OZ / 100 ML

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Very fine, delicate, wiry leaves.

Prepared in my Jian Shui gaiwan, and served in my porcelain tea cup via my glass cha hai. Filtered Santa Monica municipal water just off the boil throughout.

Deep bole liquor with copper highlights; faintly floral and flinty aroma; brisk palate entry with hints of raisin and smoke (or nearly-burnt toast); dry almost chalky finish; low, raw, dusty cocoa flavor lingers on, especially with longer steep times (e.g. starting with 40 seconds rather than 15-20).

Refined and potent (caffeine is very present) but this tea has a certain “arid” quality to it so it isn’t one I would turn to for comfort.

Boiling 0 min, 30 sec 3 tsp 3 OZ / 100 ML

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Received as a sample from the company.

Brewed in my porcelain Jingdezhen gaiwan with Los Angeles municipal tap water just off the boil throughout.

Gold tipped, twisted, wiry leaves.

No rinse, starting with a 30 second infusion: burnt umber/seal brown gradient in the cup; sweet potato, burdock, loam, and low vegetal notes in the nose; the flavors mirror and intensify the aromatic notes, adding to them a long finish suggesting roasted pecans, cocoa nibs, cassia, and autumn leaves. Fairly tannic but presenting as more minerality than bitterness. Lacks the sweetness and creamy malt notes of superior Dian Hong, but is pleasingly robust without being bracing.

Many subsequent infusions at 15 – 45 seconds preserve the same character, though the sweetness gives over more and more to a drab hint of cinnamon.

While more refined than many ripe pu-erh, it could serve a similar function as a counter-point to a meal.

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 6 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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On my last session with this cake – it has been an almost daily drinker for me at work lately.

Brewing this in my Jian Shui gaiwan into my glass cha hai and porcelain cup. Using filtered Santa Monica tap water just off the boil throughout. Not weighing the leaf, but I’m guessing I use between 9g and 12g of material. The dried cake has a distinctive camouflage appearance with an abundance of black and white leaves.

No rinse, but I start the initial infusion at 90 seconds as the tea is so dry. At this point the liquid is a royal yellow and has a distinctive aroma of fresh hay with a hint of oats. The flavor is sweet, gentle, and faintly grassy. Earth, toast, and honey emerge in the finish.

Subsequent steeps are around 20 seconds, resulting in a darker, alloy orange liquid, a more vegetal (autumn leaves) aroma, and a slight acidity in the palate entry. The hay remains at the core, but there is a certain low level bitterness that emerges now, presumably as higher oxidized portions of the cake wake from their slumber.

This easily lasts 10 infusions once it gets going – the caffeine is sufficiently pronounced that I usually quit imbibing before the leaf is fully spent.

An interesting, if unremarkable tea – the white/black combo was new to me – happy I bought a cake, but not sure I’ll develop a craving for it in the future now that it is gone…

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 10 g 4 OZ / 125 ML

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[UPDATE – I discovered that this tea responds well when you extend the late infusions a great deal (>8 minutes) – the resulting liquid is more concentrated at first, and has a sweet complexity towards the end of the session, finally revealing the stone fruit/peach notes I was hoping to find earlier.]

11 years old now, rather than 9…my first encounter with Da Hong Pao:

Brewed in my porcelain Jingdezhen gaiwan with Los Angeles municipal tap water just off the boil throughout.

5-6 infusions ranging from 5 seconds to 2+ minutes: field drab liquor; ash, river stones, leather, and wood-ear…no stone fruit that I can detect, though a hint of spice appears in later steepings (star anise? pepper?). Woodsy, dry finish.

More one-note than I anticipated, and yielding a shorter session than I hoped (I wonder if this is true of most Wu-Yi teas? I experienced the same thing with the Lapsang souchong I had from Yunnan Sourcing as well)…still, pretty good over-all.

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 4 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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Brewed in a ceramic Korean infuser cup using filtered L.A. tap water, just off the boil.

Sienna liquor emits a pleasant bouquet of muscatel, peach, and berry syrup. Fruity and floral on the palate, almost sweet, with hints of loam and cocoa in the finish. Medium bodied with restrained tannins offering only mild astringency; I might steep this for an additional minute if I was seeking a more “brisk” extraction.

The wet leaves have hints of purple, and smell faintly vegetal.

A 5 minute second steep is a bit lighter and more one-note, but by no means bland.

An 8-10 minute final infusion is lighter and sweeter still.

Well unified, with an above-average aroma, this is a pleasant afternoon tea and a reasonable value. This would also be an excellent choice iced or as the base for a kombucha.

Boiling 3 min, 0 sec 3 g 6 OZ / 177 ML

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Wanted a strong yet refined cuppa the morning of my first Father’s Day – found my sample of this Assam and thought I would give it a go rather than my usual CTC breakfast offerings.

Brewed this up in my 6 cup Chatsford teapot – 6 grams infused for 10 minutes before the first pour, on up to an hour+ for the final. A small touch of milk in a bone china cup, topped off by the tea throughout.

Floral and sweetly spicy aromatics – biscuity malt with a faint “baked goods” note on the palate – comparing some without milk, there isn’t much complexity to bury here, so no need to feel guilty for adulterating it. Not too tannic, not at all brisk, this survives a lengthy infusion without developing excessive bitterness, but the flavor doesn’t really intensify over time either.

Maybe this grade of Assam is the Goldilocks of tea for many, but I prefer either the potency and intense malt of cheaper offerings or the refinement of top-shelf leaves to the anodyne middle-of-the-road quality on display here.

I’ll try doubling the leaves next time (12 grams) to see if I can coax any more character out of the cup…will revisit this review at that time.

Boiling 8 min or more 6 g 32 OZ / 946 ML

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I commute by bicycle, often leaving before dawn, and taking fire roads over the spine of the Santa Monica range before descending down to the ocean. Over the weekend a fire erupted on the hill-side just above Mandeville Canyon, consuming all the dead brush as it climbed up to Kenter/Canyonback. The fire crews were still mopping up this morning, but they ignored me as I pedaled past their staging area and over the blackened soil, still smoldering in places, smoke languidly rising to join the marine layer. Earlier, this same fog had pushed the hawks down out of the sky, one red-tail passing just 10 feet overhead before alighting on its prey immediately across the road as I climbed Mulholland Dr.

I mention these things in passing (as well as a Memorial Day weekend suffused with smoked brisket, Alasdair Fraser/Natalie Haas, and Laphroaig) as they all served to prime me for this tea:

Prepared in my Jian Shui gaiwan, and served in my porcelain tea cup via my glass cha hai. Filtered Santa Monica municipal water just off the boil throughout.

The dry leaves are pure pine smoke, but faint mineral and stone fruit aromas emerge from the wet leaves (possibly taking on some qualities from the un-glazed clay?).

Mahogany liquor; beach bonfire aromatics are more subtle than anticipated; delicately smoky flavor profile with a sweet vaguely spicy core suggesting sarsaparilla; not too drying in the finish, and free of any acrid notes, char, or heavy phenolics. Hints of peat, wood, and fruit in the periphery. Smooth and almost creamy. A well crafted hong cha, the smoke serves to elevate the best elements of the leaves rather than hide their short-comings.

A fairly brief session, forcefully punctuating the workday morning – 8 infusions ranging from 20 seconds to 2 minutes, though I would use more leaf next time if I wanted to push beyond 5 or 6 infusions.

200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 30 sec 5 g 4 OZ / 125 ML

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Popped a bag of this open a couple weeks ago to compare with the “Old Style” Dong Ding from the same vendor. While the “Old Style” might have more complexity, I appreciate the slightly increased flavor potency afforded by the baking/roasting – it’s a reasonable trade-off:

Filtered Santa Monica municipal water, to glass cha hai, to my Taiwanese purple clay tea-pot (mostly used for heavy roast oolong), back to the glass cha hai, into my porcelain cup.

Pleasant, sweet, slightly vegetal aroma post-rinse.

3 steeps at 45 seconds: Amber liquor; hay, paraffin, roast nuts, butter bean, and toasted honey in the nose and on the palate – floral/herbal notes emerge in the finish, which is surprisingly long and satisfying. The lingering sweetness reminds me of custard.

6 more steeps, gradually extending from 60 seconds out to 3 minutes: As above but the character of the aftertaste settles down to a more unified note (reminding me of fennel pollen), and the color gradually becomes both lighter and more drab. This remains drinkable for a long time, with day-old leaves giving you a few more steeps the following morning, the flavors diminished but not lost, flattened but not disordered…

Similar to the Old Style Dong Ding, but exchanging some of the subtle complexity for a bit more longevity…well balanced and gentle, but not too light.

195 °F / 90 °C 1 min, 0 sec 1 tsp 3 OZ / 88 ML

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Converted to Oolong and beyond starting around ’98 or so when I was hanging out at the Tao of Tea in Portland.

Expanded my experience with green teas when I moved in with room-mates who were Chinese scholars, workers at the Japanese Gardens (including the tea room), etc.

Always looking to improve my education, but will concede my pedestrian tastes (e.g. breakfast teas brewed strong enough to stand your spoon in).

Trying to focus more on the qualitative over the quantitative in my reviews, so you won’t see me give too many scores/ratings at the moment…


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