135 Tasting Notes
I tried the 2021 version.
Because of the shape, this requires either a few steeps or a longer initial steep to yield real flavour. When the taste does emerge, it’s roasted yet delicate. The wet leaves smell sweet and toasty. There’s a kind of dark floral background.
It’s nice! However, it is a tad fiddly to prepare. Green tea is always somewhat fiddly for me, but this one seems more sensitive to small changes in temperature and time than others.
Flavors: Floral, Sweet, Toasty
I first tried this tea in a gaiwan, brewed at about 80 C, which is how I brew most green teas. Like this, it was underwhelming and slightly bitter.
However, I did notice that the wet leaves had a strong umami scent, and so decided to try steeping it like I would gyukuro: very low temperature, high leaf-to-water ratio, in a medium-sized kyusu (210 ml), and with a long initial steep time. This worked far better! The wet leaves smelled vegetal, with a lot of umami and only a slight sharpness – between a gyokuro and a sencha. The flavour was vegetal, but lighter than most gyokuros.
I didn’t expect to find a tea in this style produced outside Japan, but this was pretty good, especially for the price. Other green teas I’ve tried from Korea have been more like sencha or even Chinese greens, so this was a fun and interesting surprise.
Flavors: Astringent, Broth, Smooth, Umami, Vegetal
I tried the March 2021 version, which has a nice malty flavour with some caramel taste and a bit of ash. The flavour isn’t that strong; it is very warm, and smells mostly of malt. It’s pleasant, but not especially unusual.
The leaves are whole and a warm golden colour. The wet leaves smell edible, but slightly sharp. The lid of the teapot I used to steep them smells like dark chocolate and ash.
Flavors: Ash, Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Malt
This was a little unusual. Most black teas, in my experience, tend to fall into one of four categories: malty, chocolatey, tannic and astringent, or floral. This was a mix of several.
The dry leaves smell mildly musty. The wet leaves have a rich and slightly biting floral malt scent. The tea is strong, faintly astringent, with a slightly creamy taste.
It’s hard to describe precisely. Creamy floral malt is the best way I can describe it.
Flavors: Astringent, Creamy, Floral, Malt, Musty
This is a very nice gyokuro! It has a light-ish vegetal taste, not as bitter as spinach, but with less roundness than you might expect for the type of taste it is. It’s not thin, though, and has a reasonable amount of complexity.
The web page for this tea doesn’t contain information on the individual farm on which it was grown – just that it is in Kagoshima prefecture – so I don’t know if it was grown under straw or plastic for shade. Some people claim there’s a noticeable difference in taste depending on how gyokuro is shaded, but my experience is too limited to confirm or deny that. If I develop such a distinguishing ability, I might revisit this tea to see if I can guess how it was grown.
Flavors: Smooth, Spinach, Vegetal
The leaves are somewhat broken up. Dry, they have only a very faint earthy (not fungal) smell. Wet, they smell malty.
The liquor is very astringent, with notes of malt and yam. It’s not my favourite astringent-type black tea; I think it’s less well-balanced than some. Like a lot of black tea intended for markets outside East Asia, it might be intended for combination with milk and/or a sweetener.
Flavors: Astringent, Earth, Malt, Yams
The dry leaves have a thick, heavily smoky scent. The wet leaves do too, but they also smell more plant-like; it’s not just smoke, but clearly leaves as well.
The liquor is a rich, but not exceptionally dark, gold-tinged red. Smoke is present in the taste and aroma, but it’s not overwhelming.
The tea is definitely of the astringent/sharp variety of black tea, not the more chocolatey variety common in some regions. It’s pleasant, although I think the taste is less complex than the scent.
Flavors: Astringent, Smoke
The liquor is a beautiful deep gold and smells like burnt sugar. The leaves have that smell too, but it’s joined by some kind of fruity, intensely sweet smell I can’t name. It reminds me of fruit soda flavoured chapstick from the ‘90s, of all things… It’s intoxicatingly strong.
I first tried brewing this like gyokuro – 10g tea in my kyusu, 1:30 steep time, 160F water. The results were underwhelming; it tasted like it should have had umami notes brought out by the steeping, but didn’t, if that makes any sense. Even so, it had a rich, kind of malty flavour.
Brewed gongfu at 180 F, it still yielded a beautiful liquor. This style suits it much better, I think. The wet leaves smelled similar to how they did in the kyusu, but the higher temperature brought out a faint chocolatey note as well. The taste was malty, with mild bitterness. It had that umami note I knew should have been there! Very warming, and lighter in feel than black teas I’ve tried with a similar flavour profile.
Flavors: Burnt Sugar, Dark Chocolate, Malt, Umami
This is a very odd tea. The dry leaves have little scent. The wet leaves smell like raisins.
It appears to have been processed mainly in the style of shou, but it smells and tastes nothing like any shou I’ve had before. That said, it doesn’t taste anything like sheng either. There’s some sweetness, especially in the aftertaste. The aroma, and the main flavour, are a lot like savoury raisins.
I highly recommend trying it, if only because it’s so peculiar. It’s certainly not unpleasant to drink either.
Flavors: Raisins, Sweet, Wet Earth
This is quite different from the non-premium version offered by the same company. The scent is earthier, less smoky and more roasted. It has a taste and smell of squash cooked with brown sugar.
The leaves are longer and more whole than the non-premium version, and while the tea is still sweet, it’s more subtly so. It’s very warming. While both are good teas, and I think this one is more complex, I preferred the non-premium version just slightly – and given that it’s half the price, I’m more likely to order it again.
Flavors: Brown Sugar, Roasted, Squash