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Recent Tasting Notes
Alright, it’s time for another back-of-the-tea cabinet discovery. I’ve been my working my way through this Darjeeling blend for the better part of the week. At the time of this writing, I only have one sachet left and will probably go ahead and finish it before I go to bed. Even with a little age, this blend holds up well.
I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped one sachet in approximately 8 ounces of 212 F water for 5 minutes. I attempted no subsequent infusions.
Prior to infusion, a whiff of the sachet revealed aromas of toast, wood, raisin, herbs, and spices. After infusion, I picked up refined aromas of herbs, toast, malt, wood, Muscatel, and butter. In the mouth, I found notes of wood, herbs, butter, toast, grass, straw, malt, lemon zest, roasted almond, and Muscatel underscored by subtle raisin and very mild nutmeg notes. The finish was smooth, yet fleeting. There were lingering touches of herbs, toast, roasted almond, and wood chased by a very faint fruitiness.
This was a fairly solid blend. I think it would be good for someone who just wants a predictable, consistent cup and is not all that interested in the world of single origin, single flush Darjeelings, though I could also see it being a good introduction to Darjeelings in general. While I’m glad I tried this, I doubt I would go out of my way to purchase it again. It played it a little too safe for my liking and didn’t surprise me in any way.
Flavors: Almond, Butter, Grass, Herbs, Lemon Zest, Malt, Muscatel, Nutmeg, Raisins, Straw, Toast, Wood
Talk about a blast from the past. I could recall buying a two ounce pouch of this tea back in the summer of 2016, but until last week, I was entirely unaware that not only I still had it, but that I had never even gotten around to opening it. Upon discovering this, I made the decision to prioritize drinking this one. Fortunately, the tea was still viable. I’m aware that the shelf life of loose Earl Grey is longer than many people realize, but one great thing about Steven Smith Teamaker is that their loose packs are very thick and both heat and light resistant. Since this was still sealed and stored at the very back of one of my tea cabinets away from heat and light, I noted no deterioration in the tea. I have to say that this was a very nice Earl Grey, and fortunately, I did not find it to be too heavy on the bergamot oil.
I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped one teaspoon of loose tea leaves in approximately 8 ounces of 212 F water for 5 minutes. I did not attempt any additional infusions.
Prior to infusion, the dry tea leaves emitted a powerful bergamot aroma underscored by subtle hints of malt and toast. After infusion, the bergamot was still front and center, but I could detect more pronounced malt and toast aromas coupled with traces of roasted nuts, orange peel, and caramel. In the mouth, the bergamot was particularly heavy on the entry, but the liquor soon acquired a semblance of balance due to the presence of roasted nut, caramel, malt, cream, leather, orange peel, and brown toast notes. The finish was rather powerful, as the bergamot once again reasserted itself and left a lingering citrusy tartness in the mouth and throat after the swallow.
Like most Earl Greys, this was not the most complex or nuanced blend in the world, but it did what it was designed to do. Blends like this are specifically designed for lovers of bergamot, and as this artfully showcased the aroma and flavor of bergamot, I cannot fault it much. For me, this would not be an everyday Earl Grey, but for those times when I want something a bit tarter and punchier, it would the sort of blend for which I would reach.
Flavors: Bergamot, Brown Toast, Caramel, Cream, Leather, Malt, Orange, Roasted nuts
Free sample in a sexy, sexy little black folder.
I am going to ramble about my tea journey with this one. I love Mao Fengs and fruity greens, but I rarely purchase them. I started off on steepster being a Sencha lover and someone thinking he’d love dark ripe Pu-Erh’s and oolongs. Now, I stay mostly in the comfort zone of greener oolongs, whites, and blacks….constantly complaining that some green oolongs aren’t sweet or fruity enough, never mind there are green teas that do just that.
I generally stay away from greens because they are often too vegetal for me, never mind they price slightly cheaper than oolongs. As for this tea, it makes me think of rain in bamboo filled mountains. The profile is light, creamy, vegetal like sweet peas, bamboo, a little floral, and fruity like honeydew and eating whole strawberries…including the stem. I know, I am odd. The tea is straightforward, but it very clean, elegant, and sweet tasting for a green tea sachet. I got four brews out of it total, starting with 2 1/2 minutes, 3, 4, then grandpa styling the last two. I still prefer oolongs to greens even though I think this is a better tea than the Alishan. WTF is wrong with me?
Thank you Steven Smith for the sample!
If I was smart, I would have tin refilled this instead of the oolong, BUT I am always in the mood for oolong and would not drink this 2nd flush every day. I would drink it every other day.
“Complex flavors of butter, nuts, flowers and fruits with balanced astringency and a sweet toasty finish” is fairly spot on, but it is a fairly muscatel second flush-just the way I like it. I admit that I oversteeped the first brew because I held the tea pot while talking to my mom, but it still produced a rich, vibrant orange cup of sweet muscatel goodness. The grassy bitterness and astringency were a bit much bordering on hay,straw, or even basil, but it the tea was still super tasty. I got more almond in the early mid sip, and more honey in the mid to aftertaste as it went down with the hay-dry bitterness.
The second 5 minute rebrew was much more balanced and definitely comparable to a Bai Hao with it’s honey aftertones. The almond-lemon taste was much more pronounced, and the florals were fairly buttery. Overall, this was a very smooth and sweet cup. The third seven minute rebrew was the lightest, but again, had the lemon zest honey thing going on with some dry characters still there.
I am tempted to pick up more of this one. It ranks as my No. 1 sachet black tea as of now, Aug. 6, 2017. As for those looking for a quality bagged Darjeeling or a slightly floral black tea, I highly recommend it. This tea is also fairly easy to recommend to experienced drinkers and newbies alike. The price is my only detractor personally, though the loose leaf pricing is not bad. $11-14 for 15 sachets is not ideal, but you are paying for quality.
Why do oolongs always open up a month after you open the bag? Seriously, every gaoshan oolong becomes 10% better after I first try it.
Anyway, I grandpa styled this at my placement school last week and the fruit and floral notes were heavy amidst crisp lettuce ones. Basically, the rating would go from a 75-80 based on how it lushly improved. It also gave me a little bit of a caffiene rush, especially considering the earlier Fog Cutter cuppa joe pumpin’ through my veins…I’m a student teacher, don’t judge me.
I pretty much knew what this tea would taste like and trusted eastteaguy’s suggestion, but I was curious to have a few sachets of this on hand. It’s what you can expect from a Jin Xuan, and while it is pretty good, I have had better oolong sachets from the local markets in East Lansing.
The sachets were fairly light, and even though steeps longer than 3 minutes is not recommended, I found that the sachets did fine Grandpa style. Grandpa yielded a little more nuttiness and fuller creamy textures, but the other notes pretty much remained the same in a slight flux. Western style, and just generally, the tea tasted like lettuce water and rice milk with some floral tones smoothing in the background. The cantaloupe fruit notes were there, but very subtle making the tea mildly sweet. I’d guess that the fermentation is a little higher, maybe there is bare light roast.
This tea could be stronger, but it is much better than other sachets or tea bags. Again, it is what you’d expect from a Jin Xuan: floral, creamy, and vegetal. Though I might hesitate getting it again, I do not regret having some easy going sachets on hand and I still recommend Steven Smith as a company. Their Meadow blend is one of my favorite chamomile personally.
Very impressed with this tea. It is pre-packaged in sachets. Has a molasses and toast flavors with a bit of honey in the background. Strong in caffeine. It is perfect for a quick morning or afternoon pick-me-up without time to properly measure and steep a loose leaf brew. Excellent flavor that is not overpowering. I’ll definitely add this to my regular collection!
Flavors: Honey, Malt, Molasses, Toast
As some of you may know, my nose and mouth were attacked by potpourri, jam, and dirt last night (I conducted a lengthy gongfu session with Verdant’s 1985 Special Grade Qing Xiang Aged Tieguanyin), after which I immediately decided that I should drink something that restored a degree of faith in the tea merchants of the world. In other words, I experienced the wackness and ran screaming into the outstretched arms of an orthodox second flush Darjeeling. I think Thomas Wolfe may have been wrong about that whole not being able to go home again thing, but I could be taking that title too literally.
I prepared this tea Western style. I steeped one rather healthy teaspoon of loose tea leaves in approximately 8 ounces of 212 F water for 5 minutes. I kept this simple and did not conduct additional infusions.
Prior to infusion, I noted that the dry tea leaves emitted mild aromas of straw, grass, herbs, and Muscat grape. After infusion, the Muscat, herb, grass, and straw aromas intensified and were joined by aromas of roasted almond and toast. In the mouth, I experienced a lovely mix of toast, malt, cream, Muscat, roasted almond, grass, straw, lemon zest, and pungent herb (almost lemon balm and basil-like) notes.
This tea was very, very good. Sometimes it is so nice to return to something with which you are familiar. Prior to my experience with this tea, I do not recall ever trying a tea from the Steinthal Estate. I am hoping that those grassy, lemony, and pungent herb notes are characteristic of their teas. I feel that I could safely recommend this one highly to fans of orthodox Darjeelings.
Flavors: Almond, Cream, Grass, Herbs, Lemon Zest, Malt, Muscatel, Straw, Toast
This is one that I have been meaning to get to for some time. I’m new to Bai Hao oolongs, but all of the very few I have tried or otherwise become familiar with have come from Taiwan. This one was sourced from mainland China. I was very curious to see how it compared to Taiwanese oolongs of this type.
I prepared this tea gongfu style. After a 10 second rinse, I steeped 5 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 190 F water for 10 seconds. This infusion was followed by 10 additional infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes, and 3 minutes.
Prior to the rinse, I noted that the dry tea leaves emitted pleasant aromas of honey, peach, and apricot. After the rinse, I noted intense aromas of peach, honey, apricot, fresh flowers, wood, and some sort of minty herb. The first infusion produced a very similar, though slightly more floral aroma. In the mouth, I easily detected notes of honey, peach, apricot, and wood underscored by flower, cream, and herb notes. Subsequent infusions were noticeably more robust on the nose and in the mouth. The floral aromas and flavors began to separate, revealing lily, honeysuckle, gardenia, osmanthus, and magnolia impressions. The cream aroma and flavor began to soften the peach, apricot, and honey tones, while the woody and herbal characters began to stand out a little more. I also noted the emergence of mineral notes, as well as some more savory stuff. A doughy, bread-like character emerged, and I also detected hints of toast and steamed rice. The later infusions were mineral, bread, and cream heavy, though ghostly impressions of herbs, toast, wood, steamed rice, and peach were just barely identifiable.
Overall, I admired the depth and complexity of this oolong, but it was a bit too light on the palate for my taste. The last Bai Hao I rated (Tealyra’s Dong Fang Mei Ren Formosa Oolong) was fruitier and more syrupy, and I recall rather liking that about it. Compared to that one, this Chinese version is more floral and savory with a subtler, more refined layering of aromas and flavors. Normally, I would be all for that, but here, I was really looking for more sweetness and more fruitiness. Also, this tea faded just a hair quicker than I would have liked. To be clear, I still rather enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t spring for it over a good Taiwanese Bai Hao most days.
Flavors: Apricot, Baked Bread, Cream, Floral, Gardenias, Herbs, Honey, Honeysuckle, Mineral, Osmanthus, Peach, Rice, Toast, Wood
As much fun as this weekend was, it was certainly long, and I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted.
So, this is my afternoon pick-me-up (much needed), and I’m enjoying it very much.
Part of my traditional activities at the Dickens Faire is afternoon tea at Cuthberts Tea Shoppe, which has scones, sandwiches and trifle, and of course a pot of tea. Now, I’ve had better afternoon teas, but its just so charming that I never miss it. They served a rather ordinary breakfast blend as their tea, with no option for anything else. I never have cream or sugar in my tea at home (or so rarely that it might as well be never), but I do have it sometimes when I go out to tea. This tea most certainly benefited.
So I’m happy to go back to this better breakfast blend today. This is very rich, smooth, and just plain tasty. A much better thing, and good without sweeteners!
Uh oh. I woke up with that slightly sore throat that indicates post-nasal drip. Drat, I’m getting the illness that the boyfriend had last week!
So I’m packing tea today. I’ve got tons of the stuff, to get me through this working day, and then when I get home, I will have even more, probably with some honey while curled up under a blanket.
Its a busy week. I gotta get it under control. And tea is the only home remedy I really know.
I’m really pleased with my current progress in my sipdown/try the untried teas goals. Its working really well, and now more of my cupboard is tried than not tried. Progress! Though now we’re getting into the section where the sipdowns will be a little further apart, as I’m almost out of samples, and now will be working on the higher quantities.
But I can still try new blends, and that’s where I’ve come with this.
When I ordered Silent Night from Smith (I pounced on that sucker), I decided not to let the tea fly alone, and tossed this in my cart with it. Hey, why not? I love black tea, and while I’m a novice with breakfast blends, why not give it a shot? Its in sachets, not loose leaf, but hey. There are days I need a sachet.
So, on to brewing.This brewed up really well! Its strong, but very, very smooth, with lots of layers of rich flavor. I get nothing too heavy or earthy, but a lot of almost wood-y flavors, and hints of baked bread or toasted grains, lurking under that polished surface.
I’m glad I got this, as there are going to be mornings where this is exactly the thing.
It’s time for me to celebrate another sipdown. I finished the last sachet of this tea shortly after I got up this morning. At this point, it doesn’t look like I will be able to completely clean out my hoard of stuff from Steven Smith Teamaker by the end of November, but I should be able to finish everything before the end of January.
I prepared this tea using a two step Western infusion process. I steeped 1 sachet of loose tea leaves in 8 ounces of 175 F water for 2 minutes. I then followed this infusion with a second infusion at 3 minutes. Note that this preparation method is a significant deviation from Steven Smith Teamaker’s recommended method (one infusion at 3 minutes in 190 F water).
Prior to infusion, the dry leaves produced a subtly sweet, mildly vegetal scent. After infusion, I picked up on aromas of oatmeal, toasted rice, corn husk, bamboo, asparagus, soybean, and snap peas. In the mouth, I detected the expected notes of oatmeal, toasted rice, corn husk, bamboo shoots, asparagus, soybean, and snap peas, though I also detected fleeting impressions of vanilla creme, malt, honey, hazelnut, and chestnut. The second infusion was very smooth and savory on the nose and in the mouth. I detected more pronounced aromas of corn husk and bamboo, as well as vanilla creme, oatmeal, toasted rice, malt, and nuts. Oddly, the vegetal scent was somewhat lacking. In the mouth, I got robust notes of vanilla creme, malt, toasted rice, oatmeal, honey, chestnut, and hazelnut up front. There was also a hint of minerality that was most noticeable toward the finish. I was just barely able to pick up on faint notes of bamboo and corn husk in the background.
This was an interesting Dragonwell. It was much sweeter, creamier, and maltier than expected. To me, it was a very savory green tea, though it lacked some of the more pronounced vegetal qualities I typically look for in a tea of this style. Still, I thought this was very good and very approachable. I do not think I would have much difficulty recommending it to fans of Dragonwell or newcomers to this type of green tea.
Flavors: Asparagus, Bamboo, Chestnut, Corn Husk, Cream, Hazelnut, Honey, Malt, Mineral, Oats, Peas, Soybean, Toasted Rice, Vanilla
This might sound crazy, but I always kind of forget about Japanese green teas. It’s not that I dislike them or anything, I just don’t drink them as often as I probably should. When I’m in the mood for green tea, which, to be honest, is pretty frequently, I usually reach for Chinese green teas. I like bancha, sencha, and gyokuro quite a bit, but it seems that I am always finding excuses to reach for something else. Teas like this one make me really wish I would stop doing that.
I played around with my preparation method quite a bit with this tea. I just could not seem to settle on one way of preparing it that I liked more than the others. Normally, I do three infusions with sencha, and that is mostly what I did here. I primarily resorted to steeping one sachet of loose tea in 8 ounces of 165 F water for 1 minute 30 seconds, then following this infusion with 1 minute and 1 minute 15 second infusions at the same temperature. I also tried a three step infusion with slightly shorter steep times. Finally, I tried the vendor’s recommended preparation method, which was steeping each sachet one time in 8 ounces of 190 F water for 3 minutes. Oddly, each method kind of worked. I’ll make an effort to comment on each.
Prior to infusion, the dry leaves produced a grassy, vegetal aroma. After infusion, the grassy, vegetal aroma became far more intense. In the mouth, I picked up on pronounced notes of grass, hay, straw, and seaweed underscored by radish and toasted rice. The second infusion was slightly milder on the nose and more focused in the mouth. The toasted rice character was a bit stronger. The third infusion was mild and smooth on the nose and on the palate. It also introduced a slight mineral tinge on the back of the throat. Using the same three step process with shorter steep times produced a tea that was milder and smoother all around. Increasing the temperature and increasing the steep time to 3 minutes produced an intensely grassy, vegetal liquor.
I found this to be an enjoyable sencha. Despite the fact that I could not force myself to stick with a single approach to preparing it, I found it to be very forgiving. Just for that I have bumped my score up by a point or two. Due to its approachability and resilience, I could see this being a great introduction to Japanese green teas or a good everyday green tea for established Japanese tea aficionados.
Flavors: Grass, Hay, Mineral, Rice, Seaweed, Straw
Before I start this review, allow me to state that I am exceptionally picky when it comes to mint teas. I either like them or I don’t. There is usually little, if any middle ground. Oddly, this one fell into that precious little space in the middle for me. I didn’t really care for it, but at the same time, I have had worse. I will explain why I felt this way in a moment, but before I do that, I would like to backtrack a bit.
My on-again, off-again relationship with Maghrebi mint teas started with a spur-of-the-moment trip with a now ex-girlfriend to Bloomington, IN while still an undergraduate. In between visiting local shops and the beautiful campus of IU-Bloomington, we stopped at a small Mediterranean restaurant. It was a cool early spring afternoon and we agreed to split a pot of Moroccan mint tea to help us warm up as quickly as possible. It was absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, the waiter was unwilling to divulge any information about the tea. All he offered was that it was the owner’s favorite blend and that the owner was very secretive about it. I still have no clue what the tea was. I have tried several Moroccan mint blends in the years since, but have yet to find anything remotely resembling that tea.
I had high hopes when I received a sample sachet of this tea with a recent Steven Smith order. I normally like the teas offered by Steven Smith and figured that there was a good chance I would enjoy this one. Maybe it would even be similar to that beloved mint tea from long ago. Sadly, it wasn’t. First, this is not exactly a traditional Moroccan blend. Rather than using a base of Chinese or Ceylonese gunpowder green tea blended with fresh spearmint leaves, this is a blend of Zhejiang Mao Feng (the same tea Steven Smith Teamaker offers as No. 8 Mao Feng Shui), Australian Lemon Myrtle, and American spearmint. They may have been taking liberties with the traditional Moroccan formula, but whatever, I was still game.
I followed the merchant’s suggested brewing method for this tea. I steeped 1 teaspoon of loose leaf material (I’m assuming that is about how much they put in those sachets) in 8 ounces of 190 F water for 3 minutes. I did not attempt any additional infusions. I just didn’t feel like it.
After infusion, the delicate yellow-green liquor produced mild aromas of spearmint, lemon myrtle, grass, hay, and flowers. In the mouth, I noticed a somewhat turbulent blend of lemon, grass, hay, vegetable, spearmint, and floral, nectar-like notes. The finish was slightly muddy, with a lingering blend of spearmint, grass, hay, and lemon myrtle.
Okay, so I didn’t hate this tea, but I didn’t really like it either. The best Moroccan mint teas I have had have hewed fairly closely to the traditional Moroccan formula. I can give Steven Smith Teamaker a few extra points for attempting something unique, but this really did not work for me. First, I think their No. 8 Mao Feng Shui is a more or less great Mao Feng. In my opinion, it is one of their best and most consistent green teas. Blending it with both lemon myrtle and spearmint obscured some of the more intriguing vegetal and floral aromas and flavors that I enjoyed so much. Second, one of the reasons that Maghrebi mint teas work so well is that the savory, vegetal gunpowder green base creates a really unique contrast with the sweetness of the spearmint. Here, the teamakers started with a green tea that I found to be slightly floral, sweet, and smooth and blended it with both spearmint and lemon myrtle. This added additional layers of sweetness and vegetal, herbal character on top of an already somewhat sweet and mildly vegetal base. So, rather than having two distinct components that ended up melding and working together, you ended up with three components with one or more similarities that fought one another for dominance and then merged together all at once. In my opinion, it just came off as sloppy and muddled with too many loose ends, and that is not what I typically look for in a blend of any kind.
Flavors: Floral, Grass, Hay, Herbs, Lemon, Spearmint, Vegetal
It seems that I have been really slowing down on my reviews lately. A lot of that has been due to me starting way too many new teas and now having to take time to complete a bunch of sipdowns in a fairly short span of time. I have been plowing through a two ounce bag of this Assam for the better part of the last five days and expect to finish it by Wednesday or thereabouts. I know I’ll be sad when this is gone. It’s an excellent Assam.
For the purposes of this review, I prepared this tea using a one step Western infusion. I steeped 1 teaspoon of loose tea leaves in 8 ounces of 212 F water. Obviously, I did not attempt additional infusions.
After infusion, the liquor showed a dark, clear amber in the cup. I noted aromas of caramel, malt, molasses, and cream. In the mouth, I picked up on robust, well-integrated notes of roasted almonds, malt, cream, leather, molasses, and caramel. I also noted undercurrents of cocoa, raisins, and stone fruits, namely ripe plum, apricot, and perhaps black cherry. The finish was smooth, offering lingering impressions of malt, cream, caramel, and roasted almonds, though I thought I could still detect faint chocolaty, fruity underpinnings.
Again, I found this to be an exceptional Assam. I normally enjoy the teas offered by Steven Smith Teamaker, so my enjoyment of this one should not come as a surprise. If you are looking for a tasty full-leaf Assam with some complexity, then look no further. I recommend this one very highly.
Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Caramel, Cherry, Cocoa, Cream, Leather, Malt, Molasses, Plums, Raisins
When I saw that Smith had their Silent Night, one of my favorite mint blend, back on the market, I hit “add to cart” so fast that my computer probably felt it. And it has arrived!
It has also come with a packet of this, which they’ve sent me samples of before. They really want me to like it!
And I generally do. Its a very light and refreshing green tea, with hints of mint and citrus, which always makes an enjoyable sipping experience.
I am glad to have had another sample of this, but also glad that it was just a sample. And now I can say Sipdown again!