57 Tasting Notes

83

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Similar flavor profile to Taiwan Tea Crafts’ “superior” grade of the tea, but less astringent and even sweeter and more floral. The fragrance of this tea was definitely my favorite part – deliciously complex, juicy honey notes and very spicy but light florals. The flavor was surprisingly less complex than the fragrance, though the mouthfeel was enjoyable (medium-light viscosity, relatively smooth). Clear notes of rose, peppercorn, honey, and grape hyacinth, as well as lavender in the finish. Delicious, though quite similar to the “superior” grade, and for the price difference I would have to recommend that one over this mildly better counterpart.

Flavors: Floral, Honey, Lavender, Mineral, Nectar, Peppercorn, Perfume, Rose, Spicy, Sweet, Sweet Potatoes

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 0 min, 15 sec 6 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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68

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Yabao is technically not a true tea, as it comes from the Camellia crassicolumna species (rather than the tea plant, Camellia sinensis), and the flavor profile is quite distinct as a result. This is an incredibly sweet and fruity tea, with intense peach notes (almost like peach candy) and salty, marine base notes. On the palate, the tea begins very salty, with malt notes and the nutty, horsehair flavor common of teas from Yunnan. However, this initial (subjectively rather unpleasant) flavor quickly fades to a beautiful finish of fruit, again mostly juicy peaches but also notes of raisins and dried apricots. The flavor does not evolve much with multiple infusions, except for a distinct mangosteen flavor coming in by the third infusion accompanied by the softness of lotus root and rice.

Flavors: Apricot, Bamboo, Dried Fruit, Fur, Malt, Nutty, Peach, Raisins, Rice, Salt, Seaweed, Vanilla

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 0 min, 15 sec 4 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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67

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I’ll start by saying that this tea is an excellent value and a great daily drinker for people interested in drinking Shu Pu’er on a daily basis. While the tea does have some visible mold on the leaf surface, the tea’s flavor is very crisp, clean, and sweet (and the mold is easily eliminated by rinsing the tea as should be common practice when drinking pu’er – I rinsed the tea three times and the flavor certainly did not suffer from this). While it is a very clean and light Shu, it lacks the depth and complexity of higher-tier teas in this category. The common notes of brown sugar, soil, camphor, and nutty/creaminess are present, but the mouthfeel is relatively weak – thin viscosity and (while certainly not astringent or bitter) not as round as many shu pu’ers. The best way to describe this tea is clean, sweet, thin, and light. Again, at just over $0.10 / gram, it is an amazing value, but there are better Shu’s on the market if you’re willing to spend a bit more.

Flavors: Brown Sugar, Camphor, Earth, Fur, Molasses, Nutty, Paper, Sweet

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 30 sec 6 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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70

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I must say I prefer the winter-picked versions of this tea, but this spring Da Yu Ling is still enjoyable. Dry scent in a hot gaiwan delivers intense cream, subtle eucalyptus notes, and a slightly unpleasant stale water smell. After the first infusion, the wet scent brings out gardenias and very fresh, grassy butter. Medium viscosity but very round on the palate. First infusion is crisp and light, with a nectar sweetness, florals, and fresh cream notes. Cream quickly fades to a sour floral note. One of my favorite parts of Taiwan Tea Crafts’ Da Yu Lings is the color of the leaves – they are the most intensely vibrant shades of green (blue-green, lime-green, and the richest dark green tones I’ve seen in any tea). It’s almost as if the leaves are back-lit in the gaiwan. A surprising tieguanyin fragrance comes through in the second and later infusions. The tea actually tastes like a tieguanyin as well, only with the added tropical notes typical of Taiwanese oolong (especially honeydew melon, tangerines, and a piña colada creamy-fruitiness). As the tea loses its floral top notes in later infusions, marine vegetal notes start to poke through (sencha, matcha, etc.) accompanied by a sugarcane grassy-sweetness. Unfortunately, this tea only lasted four infusions for me (I usually expect Taiwanese oolongs to brew at least six infusions before losing flavor).

Flavors: Butter, Cinnamon, Coconut, Cream, Eucalyptus, Gardenias, Grass, Honeydew, Marine, Nectar, Pineapple, Smooth, Sugarcane

Preparation
180 °F / 82 °C 0 min, 30 sec 4 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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82

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An awesome value (great flavors for price). Tea starts out with nice creamy / malty / honey aroma and a medium-thick, floral, vanilla, cream, and honey-sweet flavor that gradually transitions to a more tannic (not too offensive), mineral, floral, and spicy flavor. The florals are so intense and linger on the palate and in the nose long after swallowing. This would be a truly amazing tea without the astringency that appears in later infusions, but for the affordable price I am happy to accept the tannins.

Flavors: Celery, Cream, Floral, Gardenias, Honey, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Lavender, Malt, Mineral, Nectar, Peppercorn, Perfume, Rose, Sweet Potatoes, Tannic, Vanilla, Vegetal

Preparation
190 °F / 87 °C 0 min, 15 sec 6 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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54

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An amazingly sweet and thick aroma coming from the dry leaves, like a combination of Anji bai cha and early-spring dragonwell. Scent in hot gaiwan is like butter cookies – very creamy and sweet with a slight cinnamon note. Very light body, definite marine notes, like sweet nori. Fragrance is actually quite similar to Japanese green tea. As the tea cools, flavor transitions to gardenias, like a Taiwanese green or oolong tea. While this tea has no bitterness, it is unfortunately very astringent, drying out the sides of the tongue especially. Flavor is also relatively flat and uninteresting. I would recommend using more leaf than I did (perhaps 4-6g) and a lower water temperature (~175°F) for around 20 seconds on the first infusion – this will definitely improve the mouthfeel and flavor. One upside is that the leaves are fascinating to look at – paper thin and a very vibrant, translucent green. Also very easy to clean out of the gaiwan which is a plus.

Flavors: Astringent, Butter, Cinnamon, Cookie, Cream, Gardenias, Marine, Seaweed, Sugarcane

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 0 min, 15 sec 3 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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87

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Having tasted (and not particularly enjoyed) its 22-year-old aged counterpart, I was pleasantly surprised by this tea. The dry leaves in a hot gaiwan smell exactly like honey mustard kettle chips – so strange! But the flavor is nothing like that. I did not rinse this tea, but the fragrance after the first infusion was very similar to other baked teas from Shan Lin Xi that I have tried. Very comforting mouthfeel (ultra smooth in the early infusions with a medium-thick viscosity). This changes in subsequent infusions, tending toward a mildly (pleasantly) astringent tanginess, like a tieguanyin. The maple notes that Song’s website suggests are definitely present (if you’ve ever tried maple water – water drained from maple trees – it tastes just like that). Slight Wuyi characteristics, not the roasted flavor but the creamy minerality. Turbinado sugar. Aroma in later infusions has the spicy/woody/sweet notes of a Mi Lan Xiang Phoenix Oolong. Subtle spicy floral notes too, like chrysanthemum. Finish is refreshing, long lasting, and really enjoyable – like ultra-fresh grassy milk. Flavor lasted through five infusions for me before fading. Really enjoyable tea, pricey but comforting.

Flavors: Brown Sugar, Cream, Grass, Maple, Mineral, Roasted, Spicy, Tangy, Wood

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 0 min, 30 sec 6 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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88

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A unique flavor profile, even for an aged oolong. Ridiculously intense almond note throughout. Sour dried plums and walnut bitterness in the beginning fade to an herbaceous, dried fruit sweetness redolent of candied amarena cherries in middle infusions. Slight leather note in the fragrance of later infusions, along with a caramel/flan sweetness. Mouthfeel is quite juicy with medium viscosity. Sadly, the flavor dissipates after three or four infusions, but an enjoyable tea nonetheless.

Flavors: Almond, banana, Caramel, Cherry, Cinnamon, Dried Fruit, Dust, Flan, Leather, Nectar, Oak wood, Plums, Sour, Sugar, Walnut

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 0 min, 15 sec 4 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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79

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A really delicious tieguanyin. Perfectly roasted, velvety mouthfeel, medium viscosity. Dried apple, caramel, and raisins (plus that classic “tieguanyin tang”) in the body, with unripe cherries and sweet cranberry juice in the finish. Flavor completely disappeared by the fifth infusion which was disappointing, but up to that point I was in love with the tea. An excellent daily drinker and a relatively uncommon flavor profile for a tieguanyin.

Flavors: Apple, banana, Butter, Caramel, Cherry, Cranberry, Floral, Osmanthus, Raisins, Roasted, Smooth, Tropical, Vanilla

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 0 min, 15 sec 5 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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69

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A great daily drinker, very interesting combination of flavors. Much more woody spiciness than most black teas, along with a distinct but subtle peat smoke note (like Islay scotch). Prunes, dried cherries, and dark chocolate are also present, but I would call this mostly a woody / spicy black. Enjoyable and quite affordable at $0.18/g USD.

Flavors: Cherry, Dark Chocolate, Peat, Smoke, Spicy, Wood

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 0 min, 15 sec 5 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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Profile

Bio

I am a longtime tea enthusiast with professional experience in – and a deep passion for – traditional Chinese and Taiwanese tea and tea culture. I have lived in Taiwan and mainland China, and traveled extensively throughout Asia.

My passions include traditional Chinese tea culture, graphic design, language, traveling, backpacking, music, and Eastern philosophy to name a few.

Here on Steepster, I only rate traditionally crafted whole-leaf teas from East Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan, & Korea). This means you won’t find ratings for Southeast Asian teas or any flavored tea.

Unless otherwise noted, all my tea ratings and reviews are based on Chinese gongfu-style brewing, using a gaiwan rather than a clay teapot to ensure flavor-neutrality. I do not rinse my teas unless they are (1) fermented, (2) aged, (3) heavily roasted, or (4) otherwise smell funky or produce a cloudy first infusion.

Keys for both my tea and places ratings can be found below:

MY TEA RATING SCALE:

100: Tea Enlightenment – A transcendent experience.

99-95: Extraordinary – Unimaginable complexity or clarity. Beyond impressive. Redefined the category for me.

94-90: Impressive – Deep complexity, extreme clarity, or unexpected discovery of spectacular flavor. Made me reconsider the category.

89-80: Delicious – Nuanced, balanced, clear, and complex layering of flavors. Teas that I would buy again in a heartbeat.

79-70: Very Good – Nuanced flavors, perhaps not as balanced or complex as the next step up, but clear and very enjoyable. Would definitely buy again.

69-60: Good – Clear flavors, representative of the category, but doesn’t set a standard. Good as an everyday tea. Would likely buy again.

59-50: Average – Lacks most depth, but certainly drinkable. May or may not buy again.

49-40: Below Average – Nothing impressive, flat flavor, lacks all depth. Would likely not buy again.

39-30: Barely Drinkable – Flavors do not represent the category. Overly tannic, bitter, or flat etc. Would never buy again.

29-20: Sickening – Undrinkable, flavors were completely off, a disgrace to tea culture. Would obviously never buy again.

19-0: Deathly – How anyone could make a tea this bad is beyond me. I wish I could wipe it from my memory.

✅ Recommended: If I think a tea is worth trying (at least once) as a means of expanding one’s tea horizons, or if it represents a good value (price-flavor ratio), I will give it the “recommended” label.

ON POSITIVITY:
Sourcing authentic, high-quality, traditional tea is hard work; I have a great deal of respect for the tea companies who endeavor to do so, even if I don’t personally enjoy the teas they offer. As such, I try to keep my reviews positive. I won’t give teas the “not recommended” label. If I don’t have anything positive to say about a tea, I will simply give it a numerical rating and list the flavors that I encountered.

On the other hand, if I haven’t written a tasting note about a certain tea but gave it a high numerical score, it’s simply because I didn’t have time to write a full tasting note.

PLACES RATING GUIDE:

TEA QUALITY – Rated for flavor, freshness, picking standard, etc.
Possible ratings: Low, Medium-low, Medium, Medium-high, High, Highest

TEA SELECTION – Number of teas available for purchase.
Possible ratings: Small (1-10), Medium (11-50), Large (51-100), Massive (100+)

TEAWARE QUALITY – Material and craftsmanship. Handmade vs. machine-made.
Possible ratings: Low, Medium, High, Highest

TEAWARE SELECTION: Amount and diversity of teaware available.
Possible ratings: Small, Medium, Large

SHOP ATMOSPHERE – The ambience of the physical retail location (if there is one).
No standard for ratings, as this is very subjective. Instead you will see notes for the ambience of each store.

EMPLOYEES’ KNOWLEDGE – How well the employees understand the teas they sell, and how well they are versed generally in Chinese tea history and culture (or Japanese / Korean tea history and culture, depending on the shop).
Possible ratings: Low, Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Expert

QUALITY OF SERVICE – Employees’ attentiveness, attitude, willingness to help, patience, ability to explain product, etc.
Possible ratings: Poor, Mediocre, Average, Good, Best.

OFFERS TEA TASTING / CEREMONY – Most of the teashops I rate specialize in traditional Chinese tea. Some specialize in Japanese or Korean tea. However, you won’t find me rating places like Teavana for example: I focus solely on high quality, “real” tea. This section therefore pertains to the option to try the tea before your buy it by having the store brew it for you in the traditional method.
Possible ratings: Yes, Paid; Yes, Free (with expectation of product purchase); No; and, N/A

TEA PRICE: Created by taking an average per 100g (3.5oz) price USD of two teas from each category sold.
Possible ratings: $ (below $10), $$ ($11-30), $$$ ($31-50), $$$$ (above $50)

TEAWARE PRICE: This is more difficult to rate than tea. For example, you could find a handmade porcelain gaiwan for $50 and this would be reasonable, whereas the same price for a machine-made gaiwan would be ridiculously expensive. Therefore, this is decided from the general feeling received by looking through the available collection.
Possible ratings: $, $$, $$$, $$$$

OVERALL VALUE: Bang for your buck – quality of product vs. price.
Possible ratings: Low, Average, High

RECOMMEND: Do I recommend the shop?
Possible ratings: No, Neutral, Yes

Location

San Francisco, Abu Dhabi, Kaohsiung, Shanghai, New York

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