Tao Tea Leaf

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Recent Tasting Notes


Lao Cong Shui Xians are usually known for their strong aromas and mellow flavors. This tea had an extraordinarily strong woody, toffee/honey aroma that filled my entire room when I brewed it. The sample batch I got had an overwhelming roasted/burnt flavor and I wasn’t able to detect the signature refreshing “cong” flavor (丛味). Overall still a good full-bodied oolong that’s fun to sip on.

Flavors: Butter, Caramel, Honey, Roasted nuts, Toasted Rice, Toffee, Wood

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Better for me western than gongfu even though it was processed for gongfu prep?

It’s a nicely structured and balanced tea with something like a lightly cured tobacco, leather and malt as the dominant, though modest notes. An undertone of red wine, like a red zin or something especially since there was a slight spice aspect. Subdued smoke (nothing like a smoked lapsang souchong), wheat, baked bread, dark/chocolate, pine, wood, molasses, overripe black cherries. There was a bitterness that I associate with the smokiness. Strangely tangy which turned into a metallic quality in the back of the mouth — didn’t mix well with the lingering light cream and osmanthus aftertaste.

The metallic impression threw me and the body was too thin for what I perceive as flavors that normally carry some heft; otherwise, this would be a fine tea considering its balance.

Flavors: Baked Bread, Bitter, Chocolate, Cream, Dark Chocolate, Leather, Malt, Metallic, Molasses, Osmanthus, Overripe Cherries, Pine, Red Wine, Smoke, Spices, Tangy, Tobacco, Wheat, Wood

205 °F / 96 °C 5 min, 0 sec 1 tsp 8 OZ / 236 ML

I was always wondering if the “gong fu” designation in tea names is just a marketing gimmick or if it actually reflects something meaningful (specific processing? leaf quality?).


I would think tea with ‘gong fu’ in the name would indicate not the style of processing, as it looks like I alluded to, but the skill (and luck!) in growing, picking and processing tea leaves to bring out a style’s best character. By extension, to bring out the best of a tea, skilled brewing would be needed, which is where ‘gong fu cha’ method or ceremony comes into play.

There’s still so much I don’t know about tea. Only so much someone far from the source can understand without the context of language, culture and observing or experiencing the tea cycle. But you’re absolutely warranted in questioning whether ‘gong fu’ designation is a marketing gimmick as so much of selling goods revolves around fuzz.


Thanks for putting that in perspective, derk. Even the most knowledgeable about tea still has vast amounts they don’t know about tea.

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Currently sipping gongfu. 5g in the porcelain pot, water off boiling, no rinse.

This tea is a bit deceptive once it finally gets going. I didn’t bother with a rinse since the tightly twisted leaves mixed with golden velvet tips are very small. Ten seconds for the first steep was not enough; I would’ve gone longer. But once the tea opened up, the aroma was very rich and reminded me so much of a Laoshan black with chocolate syrup, molasses, tobacco, pumpernickel, brown sugar vibes.

I was a bit confused with the first several cups because the intensity of aroma didn’t translate into taste. It seemed rather flat but also like it might be a good enough quality tea with long-lasting tongue tingles. Kind of a brisk mineral-forward taste mixed with clean redwood bark and whispers of dried fruit and chocolate after the swallow. Steep times really need to be pushed to get a good body which also brings out a nice, soft bitterness. Once I realized that’s what the tea had to give in this session, I let go of the underwhelmed feeling. That’s when I noticed the qi. It’s heavy, warming and drowse-inducing, perfect for this drizzly evening. I suspect this tea may be past its prime but I’m enjoying it. Thanks for the winter warmer Togo :)

Rainy season has finally arrived! To think a little over a month ago we were on fire.

Song pairing: The Boxer Rebellion — Fear

205 °F / 96 °C 5 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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This is my first ginseng oolong. I bought a 5 g sample from Tao Tea Leaf several years ago and finally decided to give it a go. I steeped the entire 5 g in a 120 ml teapot at boiling for 25, 20, 25, 30, 30, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds, followed by several uncounted steeps because this tea just wouldn’t quit.

The dry aroma of these compact, powder-coated pellets is of honey and syrupy sweetness. When I poured the boiling water for the first steep, the tea seemed to crackle and squeak, which was weird. The first few steeps are very light and have flavours of licorice sweetness, honey, and herbs. The texture seems syrupy, though that could just be an unconscious association with the flavours. The leaves start to open up around the fifth steep and show classic oolong flavours of grass and butter, though the ginseng still predominates. The ginseng powder also gets into my cup. As the session progresses, the buttery, vegetal oolong becomes more prominent. Even at the tenth steep, some of the balls haven’t opened and the flavour remains strong.

This tea had great longevity and I almost certainly could have coaxed a few more steeps out of it. However, not being a licorice fan, I eventually gave up, probably around steep 14. I found the sweetness to be kind of cloying (this from someone who likes bug-bitten teas) and didn’t get much from the oolong. I’m not rating this because I don’t have a quality benchmark for this kind of tea.

I always enjoy learning about new teas, even when I suspect they’re not for me, so I’ll call this part of my tea education and move on.

Flavors: Butter, Grass, Herbaceous, Honey, Licorice, Sweet, Vegetal

Boiling 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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I thought I had posted a review of this tea before, but either Steepster ate it or I was wrong. I bought this in my mammoth Tao Tea Leaf order a few years ago. I’m not sure I’d call it Golden Needle, although the dark leaves are indeed punctuated with lots of fuzzy golden buds. Maybe Golden Curls? I steeped 6 g of leaf in a 120 ml teapot at 200F for 7, 10, 12, 16, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

Prior to steeping, the leaves smell like malt, sweet potato, and barnyard. The first steep has notes of malt, sweet potato, hay, earth, and tannin. Even at 7 seconds, there’s some astringency; I can also, perhaps only in my imagination, taste the fuzzy trichomes from the buds. Steeping the next couple rounds at 195F gives a more caramelized sweet potato flavour and cuts down on the astringency somewhat. It’s still unmistakably a burly Yunnan tea, though. Steeps five and onwards have not altogether pleasant flavours of cardboard, wood, tannins, and minerals, with a bit of sweet potato bravely hanging on in the background.

This is a slightly above-average Yunnan black tea that I’ll have no trouble finishing. I think lower temperatures are definitely the way to go here and I might even try it at 190F.

Flavors: Astringent, Barnyard, Caramel, Cardboard, Earth, Hay, Malt, Mineral, Sweet Potatoes, Tannin, Wood

6 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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Oooh, yeah, this is the business. I’ve been drinking milk oolong for the past couple of days and have been loving it. However, I woke up today underslept and needed a bang, howdy doody kind of tea and this one was it. I am nearing the bottom of my pouch of this and the vanilla bits must have settled, so today’s cups are punchy malty vanilla goodness. Perfection.

I find this one does best with water well under boiling and a speedy steep to keep it smooth. Ayup, works for me.

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drank Ying De Black Tea by Tao Tea Leaf
4902 tasting notes

Sipdown (251)

Another sample shared by Evol Ving Ness. Thank you! I’m actually drinking it cold because I got distracted and left it sitting but it’s still really lovely. Malty with notes of chocolate and sweet potato. A little twang that nods to astringency and metallic but isnt quite there (probably a reflection of the temperature and not the tea). A solid black tea option. I’ve had better and I’ve certainly had worse.

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Sipdown (261)

Another share from Evol Ving Ness. Thank you!

This is a nice tea. Vanilla? Yes. Black Tea? Yes. I let it get cold so it is slightly astringent but I could see this being malty and delicious. Definitely a solid vanilla black tea option.

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This was part of my huge Tao Tea Leaf haul at the end of 2015, though I just opened the package a few months ago. Given my love of almonds, I had to add it to my order, even though I remember it being fairly expensive. (It helped that I ordered during a sale.) I steeped 6 g of leaf in a 120 ml teapot at 195F for 7, 10, 13, 16, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.

The first steep has notes of almonds, hay, tobacco, and cream, with a scratchy astringency that reminds me of almond skin. In the second steep, the roast becomes more prominent. The bulk of the sip is almonds and roast, but grapefruit and florals come out in the aftertaste. The almond gets less intense in the next couple steeps and the orchid and jasmine florals and citrus show themselves more clearly. The florals disappear around steep seven, leaving roast, nuts, minerals, and astringency until the end of the session.

To me, this tea lives up to its name, which doesn’t seem to be the case for many other almond Dan Congs. It’s a bit more astringent than I’d like, but that’s possibly my fault. Most reviewers aren’t overly impressed with it, and with my haphazard approach to brewing, I’m surprised that it consistently works out for me. I’ll definitely buy more, if only during a sale.

Flavors: Almond, Astringent, Citrus, Cream, Floral, Grapefruit, Hay, Jasmine, Mineral, Nutty, Orchid, Roasted, Tobacco

195 °F / 90 °C 6 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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drank Golden Monkey by Tao Tea Leaf
500 tasting notes

The first time I drank this tea, which was also the first time drinking Golden Monkey, it didn’t hit the right spot mostly due to its fairly light body. Today however, its smooth and delicate nature was exactly what I needed. The tea has a light, but pleasant smell. Dry leaves have a bit of a leather aroma with hints of tobacco, while the wet leaves are more malty. The taste is nutty, moderately sweet and quite woody in the finish. In the aftertaste I also get some chocolate notes emerging.

I definitely wouldn’t make this my default choice as far as hong cha goes, but once in a while it can be nice.

Flavors: Chocolate, Leather, Malt, Nutty, Sweet, Tobacco, Wood

195 °F / 90 °C 1 min, 0 sec 5 g 5 OZ / 140 ML

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First thing I noticed is an unusual smell of the dry leaves, which somehow reminds me of old leather. Wet leaf scent also has that quality, together with a tobacco note. The leaves are actually quite broken up, but there is no dust really. The tea brews a very clear liquor. It is quite fruity with a short bitterness at the back of the mouth. The mouthfeel is interesting, even though not as thick as I would expect. It starts off coating, but becomes a bit powdery and dry in the finish. The aftertaste is fairly acidic and only a touch astringent.

Overall, the tea somehow strikes nice balance between being delicate and powerful. It is tasty and clearly of good quality. Nevertheless, I feel like the price is too high. Maybe I am just not the one to properly appreciate a premium Keemun black tea though.

Flavors: Fruity, Leather, Sour, Tobacco

195 °F / 90 °C 0 min, 45 sec 5 g 5 OZ / 160 ML

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A decent albeit quite light bodied Baozhong. The mouthfeel is super light, the liquid seems to almost vanish soon after it hits mouth. Once it cools down, it becomes a little bit more velvety. The smell seems fairly complex, but not so appealing to me personally. I noticed a strange mix of aromas, although not necessarily all at the same time – papaya, coconut milk, caramelized onion and citrus. The taste is floral in the first few infusions, with sweet and sour undertones. Interestingly, the aftertaste actually becomes quite savoury. The later steeps are much more grassy and citrusy overall. It’s a good tea once in a while, but not my favourite.

Flavors: Caramel, Citrus Fruits, Citrusy, Coconut, Floral, Grass

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 45 sec 7 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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I prefer this tea as a casual brew rather than a focused session. Unfortunately, it is not priced as a daily drinker.

Today I drank it while working so no detailed notes this time. However, I can say that it is quite balanced and refreshing. There are no obvious drawbacks. The smell is nice and strong, it has a decent body and is tasty for sure. A good dessert tea I would say. It’s just that none of its aspects really caught my attention when doing a focused session.

Flavors: Bitter, Caramel, Mineral, Sweet, Wet Rocks

Boiling 0 min, 30 sec 5 g 2 OZ / 70 ML

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Drinking this tonight – really sweet, refreshing coconut with floral notes. Hard to describe exactly how good it is; but it’s just so fresh and buttery tasting. The perfect balance of both the coconut and the green oolong – feels very pouchong!

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Cold Brew!!

I had the chance last weekend to go and explore the Jean Talon Market, which is one of the largest open air markets in North America. My manager actually lives right across the street from the market; he can literally view it all without leaving his patio. It makes perfect sense that’s where he lives since he’s such a major foodie, and I know he knows the market like the back of his hand so I asked him if he would act as my tour guide and show me some of the more interesting/unique stalls as well as make some recommendations for some specific things I was hoping to find.

I had a pretty nice haul – and I’ll 100% be going back, but probably not every week since it was a bit expensive (hard not to buy so many things!) and it’s also a HUGE commute from where I’m living in the city. Here are some of the photos I took though:


As for my personal haul, I ended up buying:

- A jar of fir infused honey
- Two mini mangoes imported from Columbia
- A large bag of Cotton Candy grapes
- Six artisan macarons in a bunch of unusual flavours
- A pint of mixed berries grown in Ontario

I’ll elaborate on a bunch of those things in their own tasting notes since I consumed a lot of them with tea – but let me just say that those mixed berries were amazing. I got raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries and while everything was good the blackberries in particular were some of the best blackberries I’ve EVER had.

The tea was also excellent – bringing a large travel mug of cold brew was one of the best decisions I could have made since it was really hot out. This is just insanely hydrating/refreshing with an amazing, fresh coconut note (not unlike coconut water) and a sweet, floral and buttery oolong base. It’s such a favourite of mine, and felt 100% fitting for a farmer’s market exploration.

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My first tea from today, and still just as lovely as I remember it being last time I had it! Very smooth and creamy/buttery coconut notes on the light to medium bodied side – perfect level of sweetness and ultimately VERY fresh tasting. Accented by a really fresh, floral profile that reminds me of orchids – but lighter? And then a little bit of a “Watermelon Pith”/Watermelon Rind kind of undertone.

Really, really nice!

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Discovery Tea Box – Tea Six

So, when I saw this in the box I sort of simultaneously had thoughts of excitement and cringe because, on one hand, a really good and fresh tasting coconut oolong can make for the BEST cold brew but also if it’s an older coconut tea that has spoiled it can also be the most gnarly thing ever. So, I cautiously cracked open the package of it and gave it a whiff. Well, the angels were singing because this smelled heavenly.

I decided to pop a tablespoon of it into my cold brewing mason jar, leave it overnight and just see what would happen – and that was a great idea. Man, this one really took me back to some of the amazing coconut oolong and white teas I used to cold brew on a near daily basis back when I was living in Saskatoon still and was really getting into tea. Like, that sweet sweet ‘peak’ when I was drinking 15+ cups of tea a day and would brew up no less than three cups of tea at a time. Huge nostalgia factor, here.

It’s just really fresh tasting and light with some very strong, buttery sweet coconut notes. Kind of like a really well done coconut water!? Like, it’s just that hydrating and seamlessly perfect. Hints of florals, because it is an oolong base after all. Kind of reminded me of pouchong oolong (though I’m not sure if it actually is) – lots of orchid/lily notes and that super delicate, fresh floral thing going for it with just a TINY LITTLE BIT of “green” flavour.


Yeah, I’ll stealing the rest of the bag of this out of the box. I refuse to feel bad for doing so; gotta clear out some things to make room for new things and this is just gonna be one of them. That’s how life is sometimes.


Remember when we had a competition to see who could get more sipdowns (or was it who could drink more cups of tea?) and we both ended up having like 25 cups of tea that day or something ridiculous?

Roswell Strange

It was who could write the most tasting note, and we were completely insane! I mean, I think of the amount of tea I drink daily as still pretty high up there but it’s really no where near that level of crazy. I was seriously brewing up five 16 oz. cups of tea at a time to drink all at once, and doing that two or three times a day. I keep thinking of how crazy I must have looked to my roommate…

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This is the best Tie Guan Yin I have tried until now. The dry leaves smell of fruit, most prominantly peach. However, in the wet leaf aroma, I found more of floral, grassy and egg yolk notes. The taste is bright and balanced, something that I lacked in other TGYs. Mouthfeel is very soft and lubricating, not much astringency to be found here.

Overall, I enjoy this tea a lot, and I am glad I found a TGY I can appreciate.

Flavors: Floral, Grass, Peach

200 °F / 93 °C 1 min, 30 sec 6 g 6 OZ / 180 ML

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I would rather drink either a decent quality sencha or a fresh ginger tea any time. You can feel the ginger mostly in the smell, the taste is light with some mild spiciness. It doesn’t really have any qualities I would want from a sencha unfortunately.

175 °F / 79 °C 1 min, 30 sec 3 g 5 OZ / 150 ML

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Mmm, this is a perfect oolong for winter. It has a really pleasant roasted, nutty flavour that comes close to a coffee when you brew it strongly. There are more subtle hints of maybe burnt sugar or molasses, and a slight woodiness that reminds me of a bonfire. The liquor steeps thick and makes the mouth salivate. Really great feeling while drinking this, I just get super cozy and sleepy-stupid-happy.

Flavors: Burnt Sugar, Campfire, Coffee, Molasses, Nuts, Roasted

195 °F / 90 °C 0 min, 30 sec 18 g 15 OZ / 443 ML

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I am not a fan of this tea. It is light bodied and thin with very little going on apart from the strong coconut smell.

Flavors: Coconut

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I bought 25 g of this Dan Cong during Tao Tea Leaf’s semi-annual sale at the beginning of 2016 and just cut open the bag a couple weeks ago. I steeped 5 g of leaf in a 120 ml teapot at 212F for 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 90, and 240 seconds.

The first steep has aromas of honey, orchids, roses, and stonefruit. In the mouth, the roast predominates, although there are notes of honey, orchid, rose, nectarine, minerals, and wood. There’s no bitterness, although the end of the sip is drying. Baked bread and lichi become apparent on the second steep.

During the middle steeps, the roast and floral notes become more prominent and the fruit falls into the background. By steep six, minerals and grass begin to appear, a sign that the tea is fading. By the end of the session, it’s all minerals, roast, char, and walnut shells, with faint orchid notes in the background.

This tea had a beautiful start, but petered out quickly. If all the steeps had been like the first few, I would have rated it in the nineties, but as is, it’s in the mid eighties for me.

Any advice on how to get your Dan Congs to last longer?

Flavors: Baked Bread, Char, Floral, Grass, Honey, Lychee, Mineral, Orchid, Roasted, Rose, Stonefruits, Walnut, Wood

Boiling 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

Leafhopper, I’m fairly new to gongfuing Dancong oolongs, but there are a few things you can do to get a little more out of them. First, though, it is important to understand that Dancong is often more synonymous with intensity than longevity in a gongfu session, so such oolongs won’t always give a ton of infusions. I know that some proponents of traditional Chaozhou gongfu will absolutely pack the gaiwan or pot full of leaves and do very short flash infusions, but in my experience, you have to be fine with bitterness to enjoy that approach. What I would do, however, is this: up the amount of leaf used slightly. For a 4 ounce gaiwan, I normally use 6-7 grams of leaf when I brew Dancongs. Also, lower the water temperature somewhat. You can brew Dancong with boiling water if that’s how you like it, but I have found that the sweet spot with regard to water temperature for many of these teas is around 203-205F. I normally go with 203, but I will sometimes drop down to 194-195F if the roast is light or the tea seems particularly delicate. Another trick is to flash rinse and then start with a very short initial infusion.


Thanks for your suggestions. I’m reluctant to cram the teapot with leaf because Dancongs are pricy, but 6-7 g is doable. I’ll also try it at a lower temperature.

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drank Golden Monkey by Tao Tea Leaf
190 tasting notes

Though it’s a very popular type of tea, this is the first Golden Monkey I’ve tried. I was put off by the profile, which I recall emphasizes malt, leather, tobacco, and other burly flavours. However, I picked up a pouch of this from Tao Tea Leaf in their Christmas 2015 sale, and am just getting around to it. I steeped 5 g of leaf in a 120 ml teapot at 195F for 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 90, and 240 seconds.

The first couple steeps are a surprise, offering notes of milk chocolate, brown sugar, caramel, mild sweet potato, roasted almond, and wood. Combined with the fact that it has almost no astringency, this makes for a tasty brew! Malt starts to emerge in the third steep, but it doesn’t overpower the chocolate and other flavours. I do get hints of earth and leather in the last few steeps, but the chocolate doesn’t disappear.

Either this Golden Monkey is atypical, or my impressions of the type were way off. Though not the most complex tea in the world, its smoothness and chocolatey sweetness made me enjoy it much more than I thought I would. One tiny drawback is that the thin, wiry leaves fit perfectly through the holes in my gongfu teapot, regularly ending up in my cup. Still, this Golden Monkey was well worth holding onto.

Flavors: Almond, Brown Sugar, Caramel, Chocolate, Earth, Leather, Malt, Sweet Potatoes, Wood

195 °F / 90 °C 5 g 4 OZ / 120 ML

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At first, I did two quick infusions, which yielded a nice and easy to drink tea with a good balance of woody, malty and sweet flavours.

For the third infusion I upped the time and temperature, as a result of which the pine notes were enhanced and the tea possesed a very enjoyable bitterness to counter the sweetness.

The cocoa and coffee notes I only noticed in the smell (cocoa in wet leaf, coffee in the liquor), not really in the taste.

The aftertaste has a bit of a sheng vibe to it, very vibrant with hints of fresh herbs like thyme.

Overall I found it to be much fresher than the smoked versions of LS and I prefer that. Also, this tea has a fairly strong cha qi for a black tea I reckon, it can warm you up on cold days (like today).

Flavors: Bark, Cocoa, Coffee, Malt, Mineral, Pine, Plant Stems, Sweet, Thyme, Wood

200 °F / 93 °C 1 min, 0 sec 5 g 3 OZ / 100 ML

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