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Recent Tasting Notes
(Realized I had this on the organic, but my package doesn’t indicate mine is organic, so I’m moving the rating over here where it belongs)
When we lived in Chicago and I had ready access to the Tea Gschwendner retail shop, I got into the habit of drinking a lot of bai mu dan. Their premium Edmond’s Collection featured a truly magical pair of white teas, one of which had leaves so untampered with from growth on the plant to steeping in the cup, so whole, so intact, so unshriveled, that you could barely get 100 grams of them in a full sized tin that would easily hold a kilo of flour. These teas were shockingly perfect to drink on brutally cold days, and on the very rare occasions that I allowed myself to indulge in a criminally over-priced to-go cup from the TG shop, it was always in bad weather, and it was always these white teas I went for.
But I’m not reviewing those teas, here. I’m reviewing a tea from TeaVivre. So why did I bring all that up?
We have a tendency to think of white teas as light, floral, sweet, fruity and the kind of thing you’d want to drink iced on a hot day. But in my experience, peony/bai mu dan style white teas are quite the opposite, and this one from TeaVivre is no exception. Notes of fresh hay, autumnal leaves, roasted squash and sun warmed cabin wood.
Exactly the kind of thing to warm you up on a brisk, winter’s day.
This leaf in particular is soft, almost buttery but not at all sweet. There is a suggestion of astringency at the finish that warns you to never, ever over steep this tea. Given that this is nearly 1/10th the price of what TG would charge for a similar leaf, this is fantastic value for money.
Except that right now in Houston it is 80 degrees, humid and we’re having an apocalyptic mosquito infestation.
Not the tea’s fault at all, though.
This tea is really impressing me — as have all the TeaVivre teas, I have to confess.
Again, one could say that this is “what bag tea should be” in a sense. A very no-nonsense cuppa. But rather than elevating this tea to the level it belongs, such a comment would imply it was common, dull, or something of that nature, which isn’t at all what I mean.
Once upon a time, all tea was “good tea”. Then The West discovered tea and the tea growing regions of the world suddenly had to deal with economies of scale they simply weren’t prepared for. And so, traditions like putting fannings or dust into mesh bags were developed to help cover the margins. But the leaves those fannings and dust came from were, probably, at least initially, good leaves that would have made good tea.
But meanwhile black tea has gotten a bad name.
Which is a shame.
At any rate, I’m going to have to learn more about Bai Lin teas.
I have been drinking a lot of golden Yunnan lately, so I’m having to let my tongue adjust a bit, here.
And yet, perhaps not as much as you might think.
I would describe this as a more subtle, more gentle golden Yunnan. Very similar notes of roasted fruit, citrus zest, caramel and molasses… just less so. A much more gentle way of easing into one’s morning than a full bodied Yunnan would be. Or a great way to settle into a quiet evening’s repose, perhaps.
This may be too extreme for even me. I just popped Chef-Boy-R-Dee Ravioli in the microwave because it was easy. I’m not even sure it counts as real food – mostly grease and starch I think. Then I brewed up Golden Tips because it is awesome. They don’t play well together (imagine that). A lot of the subtleties of the tea are covered in spicy sauce. Not my best move but the ravioli is gone now and I still have plenty of tea to cleanse my palate. The bread notes are already present just waiting on the sweet potato and other flavors to emerge.
This morning I jumped on Steepster and was so moved by Cwyn’s review of 2012 White2tea Giant Steps that I did the unthinkable. I reached way in the back of my tea cabinet and pulled out my beloved Golden Tips that I was saving. It has a 3 year shelf life and I have a number of boxes of samples yet to be reviewed. Getting through all of them will take a long time. I don’t care. I am going to drink that which was too valuable to open.
As I opened the bag it was heaven – cocoa, sweet potato, malt. I used a healthy pinch of leaf, then reached in and got more. No scrimping. No saving. Not today. I am going to enjoy my tea. I used my clear glass teapot. I’ve never used it before with a black tea. I was rewarded with one of the most spectacular ballets I have had the pleasure of watching in ages.
When I went to pour, things took a nasty turn. I wasn’t paying attention. The lid slipped off the pot (normally I have a finger on it) and smacked the spout knocking it cleanly off. As upset as I am that my favorite teapot is broke, I am more concerned about the cup I was about to enjoy and the leaf that is in the bottom of the pot that would resteep the rest of the day. But you know what, I have more and I’m not afraid to use it!
I am now looking for a replacement clear glass teapot. I had this one http://www.enjoyingtea.com/caseafiglte.html Previously I accidentally bumped it while cleaning and it had a hairline crack along the top of the spout. Today’s mishap broke cleanly across the spout in the other direction, so the two are unrelated. Much as I loved this one I am thinking I might try one with more of a kettle spout.
Now go grab something you are saving and drink it! Just keep your finger on the lid.
Sip down. This tea, more than any other, changed my view of black (red) tea. Up to the time I tried this one, my experience with black tea was the usual Twinings and flavored tea bag fare. This beautiful tea took me places on my tea journey I didn’t even know existed – from sweet potato to malt and on to honey. Today I am even catching mild pepper notes. It re-steeps multiple times with ease. What a truly amazing tea.
When I raised the blind in my office this morning it was early daylight. It is in the mid 30’s and I could see frost covering the roof of the building next door. Southern Indiana has beautiful rolling hills. I can see them off on the horizon. They are purple and there is fog rising up between the layers of hills. Yep, fall is definitely in the air.
I have a stack of unopened samples I need to review. Not today. I want something to warm my innards and put a guaranteed smile on my face. I grabbed this one. Amazingly I still have enough for today and one more down the road. Woot! There, I am smiling already. Anyway, this gets my vote for one of the most beautiful dry leaves to behold. They look like fall. Perfect choice.
This is so comforting. For a brief moment I can almost forget the troubles of my world. The company just got this years insurance quotes. I know this is going to cost me. If you are a politician, insurance person, or health care provider, don’t tell me today, so I won’t be tempted to punch you. Oops, takes another sip. Ahhh. Three much needed mugs of joy. At the moment I have heat, a roof over my head, and excellent tea. Rejoice! I say it again Rejoice!
Upped the rating!
I thought about having an Earl Grey-athon today, but when I arrived at work, I remembered these leaves were in the press and they still had love to share. Maybe not the jolt some of you want first thing in the morning but I need to ease into the day. The gentle goodness of this with its sweet potatoes and caramel notes is perfect,
A novice tea drinking coworker came in to my office while I was sipping and just stood around like a puppy. I knew what he wanted but I let him hang awhile. Finally I told him if you want tea you know where it is. He was in the drawer before I finished the sentence. Hilarious. He grabbed a Twinings white tea bag. I smiled and told him how to get the most out of it. He left happy.
Determined not to repeat yesterday, I took extra care in putting on the full armor this morning. I brewed this one as it so very good and in anticipation of Wednesday morning. There is an elderly lady that has been with the company forever. She comes in for half a day once a week to go through the mail and keep the owner’s checkbook. More importantly she brings snacks. Usually it is cookies – she makes the best lemon sugar cookies on the planet – today it is brownies. I always thought I hated brownies. Turns out I only hate my Mom’s brownies (sorry Mom). These are so soft and fluffy. She says the secret is to add one additional egg. They taste like a hug and brought out the bread qualities in this tea. Drank on this all morning.
This actually the much shortened and edited version I wrote earlier today:
AAAAARRRRRGGGHHH! Ok, I feel a little better. Yes, I am stressing out. The Cloud Minders are wearing me out. For the non-nerds that is a reference to an episode of the original series of Star Trek. It has to do with those who don’t do the work making all the decisions. I have been carrying 3 times the normal work load for too long. Yesterday, I find out I have to switch what I am working on because one of the Cloud Minders promised we would be done with another project April 1. It can’t happen but that is beside the point, I told deaf ears a month ago this would bite us in the butt. Then I come in today and find a different project on my desk marked ‘HOT! Good grief. I say all that to say this, thank you Teavivre for this wonderful tea. If not for this cup I might be curled up in a little ball in the corner and rocking. I did get to share a cup with a wonderful elderly lady who bakes cookies for the office every Wednesday. Today it was lemon sugar cookies. Oh, she thought the tea was lovely. Sorry for the ramble. It was necessary.
I’m a couple days behind. I ran this through five steeps again. This time I noticed something new. Well two things. First, I caught the sweet potato others mentioned. Second, by the 4th cup as the creaminess moves in, the malt disappears but only while the cup is really hot. There is a bit of earthiness while hot. The more the cup cools the more the malt returns. I am used to the cup changing with the temperture but this really changes. I love this tea.
I love pushing a new tea to see how far it will go. Using same leaf as yesterday. I know that grosses some of you out. Sorry. Today, the tea is still smooth, but now add really creamy. It is also lighter and sweeter. I don’t know if that is the nature of the fifth cup and beyond or because the leaf sat over night. Whatever the reason, it is delicious. Bumping up my rating.
Leaf and Brew
The dry leaf is beautiful with orange and gold throughout. The aroma images a barn filled with sweet hay. The wet leaf is a cool chocolate brown and the aroma is still hay but slightly rooibus. So glad Teavivre includes instructions on the package because I would have totally messed this up by overheating and over steeping. 85C for 2 minutes. The liquor is caramel chocolate in my cup.
Tasted with and without sweetener. Not a hint of bitterness or astringency. Very smooth. Still getting that sweet hay with a hint of rooibus but the main flavor I am getting from this is malted milk balls. Having read SimpliciTea’s malty thread I can now claim to know what that means. It lingers long and pleasant in the aftertaste. This is such a good example of it that I now realize I have experienced it before buried in lesser teas. This is nice. For fun I added a tiny bit of French vanilla creamer to it. It was good but totally unnecessary. Only had time for four cups this afternoon it will go further.
I have never had a black tea that would steep more than twice. This can be steeped many times, so I am impressed. It is familiar enough to serve to those whose experience is limited to the grocery store isle, yet is complex enough to delight the more discerning.
As homage to the great tradition of martial arts films which at a tender age first planted the seeds of my obsession with all things East Asian, I call this “Gongfu Madness”.
We got a second pouch of this pu-erh in our second round of samples. I suspect we were supposed to get the other pu-erh which TeaVivre offers, the rose scented one, and we got this one in error. But that is not a problem because I don’t know as either Liz or I would have cared for that one very much and we liked this one a lot.
To expand the tasting boundaries the second time around, I came up with another heretical steeping idea which is so crazy it just might be genius.
I got a my smallest tea pot (close to 2 cups) as well as my largest (close to ten cups).
I set the electric kettle to boiling, and dropped the toucha into the warmed small pot. For this process I did “rinse” the tea, because the steepings would be so short I needed the leaves to losen up.
Then, in quick succession I made five steepings and transferred them to the larger tea pot. That is to say, I combined them. The timing for the steeps was 5 seconds, 3 seconds, 3 seconds, 4 seconds and then 5 seconds.
My thinking? If the idea behind this long series of short steeps is to expose various profiles of the tea, if you combine them, you should get a deeply complex, multi-dimensional flavor matrix that is distinct both from any one steeping or from a single, long steeping of the combined 20 seconds.
And it seems to have worked!
This cup is all at once soft and loamy, bright and sweet, and yet still dry and dusty. The liqueur has a thick, almost broth like mouth feel and coats not only the tongue, but the whole mouth.
I wish I had a 20 cup pot (or a teensy 1 cup pot) so I could try what 10 steepings tastes like.
See, this is why I don’t like tuocha.
These are so perfectly made that they may actually be too perfect. The one I just steeped, despite some attention with a chopstick, didn’t actually open up on the first steep.
The resultant cup is still just fine, but I simply find loose pu-erh to be much easier to work with for short steep times.
The third cup is showing a bit of fade. A perfectly good cup, but it suggests I should not go for a fourth.
And this has always been my gripe with the tuocha teas. When I buy pu-erh that’s loose, I can frequently get upwards of a dozen steeps out of it, but tuochas rarely get past three.
The second steeping has lost that glimmer of sweetness.
But let’s face it, as much as such a thing is an unexpected and enjoyable quirk in a pu-erh, you aren’t exactly going to fault the cup when it isn’t there, are you?
This cup is just as dark and full flavored, just a bit more peaty and less molasses.
You know, a cup of pu-erh.
Full disclosure: This review is based on a free sample provided to me by the distributor. If you suspect me of being the sort of person who can be bribed with free tea, now would be the time to disregard my opinions.
For a start, these are the most perfect looking tuocha I’ve ever seen. Perfect half spheres with a dimple, expertly wrapped in moisture wicking fabric paper. If you are into the aesthetics of your tea drinking, these are well worth looking at.
There is an enticing and unexpected sweetness to the smell of the dry leaf.
I’m always amazed at how quickly pu-erh steeps. 90 seconds and I have a cup that looks like coffee. Regular readers will know that I don’t go in for this business of “rinsing” pu erh teas. Given how fast it steeps it just seems to me like you’re throwing away the first good cup in the name of tradition.
The aroma off the cup is a reassuring swirling of damp soil, cave rock and rainy days.
But the flavor on the tongue brings that unexpected hint of sweetness again. Like someone was storing barrels of molasses in that cave, or perhaps the paper wrappers for the tuocha had been painted with caramel. But don’t worry. This isn’t like drinking vanilla strawberry roiboos or something. This is a soft, round, hint of a suggestion. Not even a wink and a nod, more like a knowing glance, at sweetness.
I tend to find the second and third steepings of a pu-erh to be the best, so I’ll be getting back to you shortly, I suspect.