454 Tasting Notes

What do we have here? Could it be another review from the endless backlog? Why yes, it is. I tried What-Cha’s India Assam Halmari GTGFOP1 Clonal Black Tea and this tea pretty much back to back and ended up surprising myself. Halmari’s GTGFOP1 clonal tea has an excellent reputation among Assam drinkers, and while I found it to be very good, I also found it to be slightly overrated. I ended up enjoying this tea somewhat more. I then discovered that this tea was also a second flush GTGFOP1 grade black tea produced from the same clonal plants as the other tea. Assuming the difference between these two offerings was the hand processing, I found this tea to be smoother.

I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped 3 grams of loose leaf material in approximately 8 ounces of 203 F water for 5 minutes. No additional infusions were attempted.

Prior to infusion, I noted mild aromas of malt, wood, and molasses coming from the dry leaf material. After infusion, I found aromas of roasted chestnut, walnut, orange, and herbs. In the mouth, I noted a gentle sweetness on the entry followed by notes of wood, cream, butter, caramel, malt, molasses, golden raisin, brown toast, orange, date, roasted chestnut, walnut, and wintergreen. There was a surprising, but most welcome lack of astringency to the tea liquor. The finish was mild, smooth, and short, leaving notes of malt, cream, and roasted nuts that were underscored by subtle touches of caramel and fruit lingering in the mouth.

As mentioned earlier, I found this to be the smoother, softer, and more approachable of What-Cha’s two Halmari offerings. It was just a more pleasant tea overall. Though both were very good examples of clonal Assam black tea, I would pick this one if pressed to choose between the two.

Flavors: Brown Toast, Butter, Caramel, Chestnut, Cream, Dates, Malt, Molasses, Orange, Raisins, Walnut, Wood

Preparation
3 g 8 OZ / 236 ML

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78

Here is yet another backlogged review. I finished a sample of this oolong last month (on October 30th, to be exact). This tea was part of the experimental Tieguanyin series Master Zhang first released through Verdant in the autumn of 2016. Prior to trying this tea, I had tried three of the other teas in this series and found two of them very enjoyable. With that in mind, I was somewhat eager to see how this one stacked up to the others. Overall, I found it to be a respectable tea, but I have had more enjoyable traditionally-styled Tieguanyins over the course of the year.

I prepared this tea gongfu style. I started with Verdant Tea’s recommended brewing guidelines and then modified them to fit my preferred approach. After a quick rinse, I steeped 5 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 208 F water for 6 seconds. This infusion was chased by 14 subsequent infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 9 seconds, 12 seconds, 16 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute 15 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, and 5 minutes.

Prior to the rinse, the dry tea leaves emitted aromas of cedar, roasted grain, and light char. The rinse brought out scents of flowers, spices, and toasted rice. The first infusion introduced clearer hints of violet and saffron on the nose. In the mouth, I discovered mild notes of toasted grain, toasted rice, and cedar accompanied by hints of violet and saffron in a tea liquor that was smooth, creamy, and somewhat buttery. There was a pronounced sweetness and grittiness to the aftertaste. The subsequent infusions brought out impressions of watercress, caramel, minerals, orange peel, cream, butter, and darker fruits like blueberry and/or raspberry. The sweetness and grittiness of the aftertaste remained and began to remind me a bit of ginseng. There were also some muddy vegetal notes that reminded me of both damp grass and cattail shoots. The later infusions surprisingly introduced a hint of marshmallow, but were otherwise mostly dominated by notes of cedar, cream, damp grass, toasted grain, butter, and minerals that were chased by subtler impressions of cattail shoots and watercress.

Not a terrible tea, but also showcasing a rather muddled and awkward combination of aromas and flavors, this was not one of my favorite traditional Tieguanyins of 2016 or 2017. That being said, I can see why some people would flip over it. It was challenging and complex, yet never came close to being overwhelming. The roast was also very artfully applied. It came across as restrained and subtle while creating some necessary contrasts with the tea’s more floral, fruity, and vegetal properties. Honestly, there wasn’t a ton wrong with this tea, and I’m likely being a bit hypercritical in my evaluation, but it just didn’t strike me as being quite on par with some of Verdant’s similar offerings.

Flavors: Blueberry, Butter, Caramel, Cedar, Char, Cream, Grain, Grass, Herbs, Marshmallow, Mineral, Orange, Raspberry, Saffron, Toasted Rice, Vegetal, Violet

Preparation
Boiling 5 g 4 OZ / 118 ML

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92

If memory serves, this was the second of the 2016 autumn flush Darjeeling black teas I finished and reviewed last month. Unfortunately, it is the last one to get a write-up on Steepster. I’m honestly not sure why that is. Most likely, I simply put it off and then forgot about it. Anyway, I did not expect much from this tea. Teabox’s description of it seemed to betray that it was not their favorite of the 2016 autumn flush teas, as it was simply described as being “for those who seek out lighter teas,” the sort of tea that you could get something out of “with a bit of coaxing.” I pasted their description into the tea information section when I added this tea to Steepster. Take a look at it. They sold that one super well, didn’t they? Nothing says we think this is a quality offering like more or less stating, “if you fiddle with it, you can get something out of it.” Naturally, I did not find that to be the case at all. Like most of the Gopaldhara teas I have tried, this was a high quality offering that was not finicky in the least. Honestly, it and the Jungpana Classic Autumn Black were my two favorites of the 2016 autumn flush teas I purchased from Teabox, and I do not feel that I am exaggerating in the least when I say that this one was just as good as the other.

I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped 3 grams of loose leaf material in approximately 8 ounces of 194 F water for 5 minutes. No additional infusions were attempted.

Prior to infusion, I picked up rather distant aromas of fruit, wood, and nuts from the dry leaf material. After infusion, I noted aromas of dried flowers, apricot, cherry, wood, and roasted nuts. In the mouth, the liquor expressed subtle, delicate, refined notes of wood, rose, dandelion, dried chrysanthemum, roasted almond, cherry, apricot, pear, elderberry, and blackberry with touches of watermelon rind, malt, nutmeg, and raisin lurking around the fringes. The finish was soft and relatively clean, offering pleasant, lingering impressions of almond, dried chrysanthemum, pear, and watermelon rind.

I can see why this was described as being appropriate for people who like lighter teas, but to me, this tea was less light and more subtle. Its smooth texture, lean body, and well-integrated aromas and flavors betrayed considerable depth and complexity for this type of black tea. Because of this, I think this is the sort of tea that would be more appropriate for seasoned drinkers of autumn flush black teas or those looking for a challenging tea that is never less than enjoyable.

Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Blackberry, Cherry, Dandelion, Floral, Fruity, Malt, Melon, Nutmeg, Pear, Raisins, Rose, Wood

Preparation
5 min, 0 sec 3 g 8 OZ / 236 ML

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85

Here we come to a blast from the past. I finished a sample pouch of this first flush Darjeeling black tea back on 10/19, took notes for a review, and apparently never got around to posting anything. Obviously, I am remedying that now. I tend to be a big fan of the teas produced by the Margaret’s Hope Estate, so it should come as no surprise that I liked this one quite a bit.

I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped 3 grams of loose leaf material in approximately 8 ounces of 194 F water for 5 minutes. No additional infusions were attempted.

Prior to infusion, I noted aromas of herbs, grass, and wood coming from the dry leaf material. After infusion, I found aromas of green pepper, wood, grass, and citrus. In the mouth, the liquor offered interesting notes of almond, grass, hay, green pepper, lemon, malt, violet, dandelion, and field greens. The finish was very smooth with lingering floral tones coupled with malty, vegetal notes. Oddly, I thought I caught hints of menthol, bay leaf, nutmeg, and something like galangal very briefly at this time. I know that Teabox’s tasting note mentioned notes of white flowers and ripe pumpkin, but I did not get any of that. Of course, I am also generally ambivalent towards pumpkin and have not eaten it recently enough to have an accurate recollection of what it smells or tastes like.

This was a very nice first flush Darjeeling black tea. While it was somewhat subtler and smoother than I anticipated, it was also spicier and more vegetal than any other Margaret’s Hope tea I have tried to this point. On that note, I had a first flush black tea from Margaret’s Hope last year, and of the two, I think I enjoyed that one a little more. Still, this was a very good tea. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quality first flush Darjeeling black tea for regular consumption.

Flavors: Almond, Dandelion, Grass, Green Pepper, Hay, Herbs, Lemon, Malt, Menthol, Nutmeg, Vegetal, Violet

Preparation
5 min, 0 sec 3 g 8 OZ / 236 ML

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91

What-Cha seems to have gone heavy on the first flush black teas from Gopaldhara this year, as this is the fourth one I have tried. In my opinion, there hasn’t been a bad tea in the bunch. This one seems to have been the consensus favorite with the folks at What-Cha, and though it was not quite my favorite (the AV2 Clonal Wonder just barely edged this one and the China Special out for me), it was an excellent tea.

I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped 3 grams of loose leaf material in approximately 8 ounces of 194 F water for 5 minutes. I did not attempt any additional infusions.

Prior to infusion, the dry leaf material produced aromas that strongly reminded me of a combination of chili leaf and straw. After infusion, I noted emerging aromas of grass, almond, Muscatel, apricot, orange blossom, and something like corn husk. In the mouth, the liquor offered notes of chili leaf, malt, grass, straw, almond, and orange blossom that were smoother and somewhat softer than expected. When I began to seriously dig, I noted subtler notes of corn husk, smoke, apricot, Muscatel, and cream lurking around the fringes. The finish was smooth and slightly creamy in texture, offering lingering notes of cream, grass, malt, orange blossom, and almond.

Though it arguably was not quite as complex as some of the other Gopaldhara first flush teas What-Cha has made available in the past year, this tea more than made up for it with an interesting and surprisingly harmonious combination of aromas and flavors and a wonderfully textured liquor in the mouth. Like the other teas, this was a quality offering, and I could see why some people would absolutely fall in love with it. If you are a fan of first flush Darjeeling black teas, this one is definitely worth a shot.

Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Corn Husk, Cream, Grass, Malt, Muscatel, Orange Blossom, Smoke, Straw, Vegetal

Preparation
5 min, 0 sec 3 g 8 OZ / 236 ML

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90

It seems that I am starting to reach for Vietnamese green teas more frequently when I am in the mood for green tea. I suppose that is not all that surprising since I like a lot of Yunnan and Guangxi green teas, and I find that the aromas and flavors offered by a number of Vietnamese green teas are somewhat similar. This was a tea I rushed to buy simply because of where it originated. I have had a couple of wild black teas from the tea forests of Ha Giang and I enjoyed them, so trying a green tea from there was a no-brainer. Apparently, this tea and What-Cha’s other Shan Tuyet offerings are made from Camellia Sinensis var. pubilimba, a unique tea varietal native to Vietnam. This was an interesting tea, full of vegetal, nutty, and malty notes with a hint of what I can only describe as a sheng-like funk and unexpected fruit and flower impressions.

I prepared this tea gongfu style. I decided to forego a rinse in this instance, as I do not always rinse green teas. I started with a 5 second infusion in 167 F water. This initial infusion was followed by infusions of 7 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute 15 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes, and 3 minutes.

The dry tea leaves emitted somewhat pungent malty aromas with hints of vegetal character. The first infusion brought forth aromas of grass, spinach, kale, and corn husk. In the mouth, the liquor offered faint, delicate flavors. It started with a hint of sweetness on the entry before giving way to something of a young sheng funk with some brothy umami character and hints of grass, malt, and corn husk right before the finish. Subsequent infusions better brought out the grass, malt, and corn husk notes. The spinach and kale also started to impress themselves upon the palate. New notes of straw, hay, chestnut, hazelnut, asparagus, squash blossom, lettuce, wood, sour plum, tart cherry, and seaweed emerged too. At times, I even briefly detected entirely unexpected floral notes that reminded me of a combination of geranium, chrysanthemum, and marigold. The later infusions saw mineral notes emerge in a big way, though fleeting notes of lettuce, grass, chestnut, malt, spinach, and sheng-like funk were detectable until pretty much the end of the session.

Odd, yet aromatic and flavorful, this was a very satisfying green tea. Though it peaked rather early and faded quickly, it yielded a session that was more or less simultaneously enjoyable and fascinating from start to finish. I could see this tea appealing to adventurous green tea drinkers or Pu-erh fans looking to try something new.

Flavors: Asparagus, Cherry, Chestnut, Corn Husk, Floral, Geranium, Grass, Hay, Hazelnut, Kale, Lettuce, Malt, Mineral, Plums, Seaweed, Spinach, Squash Blossom, Straw, Umami, Wood

Preparation
6 g 4 OZ / 118 ML
Rasseru

That sounds really interesting. Wishlisted

eastkyteaguy

Rasseru, What-Cha released three Shan Tuyet teas around the same time last year. There was this green, a standard black, and a ‘Pai Hao’ black if memory serves. I ended up buying all three. I’m going to try to get to the other two within the next month or two.

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91

This was another tea I kind of forgot I had. Fortunately, this was a roasted oolong rather than a green oolong. Aside from this tea being roasted and processed in a strip style, I do not know much about it. I don’t know whether or not it was a baozhong. All I know is that it was both very unique and very good.

I prepared this tea gongfu style. After a brief rinse, I steeped 6 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 195 F water for 8 seconds. This infusion was chased by 13 subsequent infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute 15 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, and 5 minutes.

Prior to the rinse, the dry tea leaves emitted aromas of char, roasted grain, and roasted vegetables. After the rinse, I noted stronger aromas of roasted vegetables coupled with emerging impressions of flowers and nuts. The first proper infusion brought out scents of wood. In the mouth, the liquor offered notes of grass, wood, roasted grain, char, and roasted vegetables. There were hints of flowers too. Subsequent infusions brought out rather subtle impressions of nuts, cream, butter, blueberry, blackberry, elderberry, minerals, lilac, violet, lily, banana leaf, and cattail shoots. It was an interesting mix of aromas and flavors. The tea liquor most definitely offered something of a heavy, broth-like umami presence overlaid with unique floral, nutty, fruity, woody, and vegetal tones. The later infusions offered lingering touches of minerals, butter, cream, wood, roasted grain, banana leaf, grass, and roasted vegetables.

A super unique Taiwanese oolong and also an incredibly tasty one, I found it difficult to compare this tea to many of the other oolongs I have tried recently. Furthermore, I noted that it held up very well in storage. Prior to brewing this tea gongfu, I had experimented with it as an iced tea and also tried a couple of Western preparations. All worked quite well. I would recommend this tea highly to curious drinkers, but unfortunately, it has been out of stock for some time, and since no newer harvests have been offered, I get the impression that a newer version may not be offered in the near future, if at all. Should that end up being the case, it will be a shame.

Flavors: Blackberry, Blueberry, Butter, Char, Cream, Floral, Fruity, Grain, Grass, Mineral, Nuts, Roasted, Umami, Vegetables, Vegetal, Violet, Wood

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 6 g 4 OZ / 118 ML

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85

Even though it has been less than a week, it feels like forever since I have posted a review. Where have I been? I took some time off to visit friends in Lexington, KY. I am very likely moving there in a month or two. I guess I’ll have to change my Steepster name since I won’t be living in the eastern part of this state anymore. Anyway, despite the fact that I haven’t been posting, I have been drinking tea. Yes, the backlog is once again full. Yes, I still have notes from October I need to post. Getting back into the groove of regularly posting reviews, I wasn’t sure where to start, so I just randomly chose this tea. I finished a sample of it late last week. I found it to be a very nice milk oolong.

Naturally, I prepared this tea gongfu style. After a quick rinse, I steeped 6 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 185 F water for 10 seconds. This infusion was chased by 12 subsequent infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 12 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute 15 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes, and 3 minutes.

Prior to the rinse, I noted aromas of cream, butter, and vanilla coming from the dry leaves. After the rinse, I noted an emerging custard scent. The first infusion began to reveal aromas of steamed rice, grass, and flowers. In the mouth, the liquor revealed delicate notes of cream, grass, butter, and vanilla with floral impressions that reminded me of daylily, Narcissus, and orchid. Subsequent infusions brought out the custard and steamed rice on the palate. I also found new notes of coconut milk, spinach, mango, pineapple, daylily shoots, pear, lettuce, sugarcane, minerals, seaweed, and honeysuckle. Later infusions mostly offered hints of cream, butter, steamed rice, lettuce, grass, spinach, minerals, and daylily shoots.

This was a much softer, subtler, more refined tea than I was expecting. The aromas and flavors were masterfully integrated. Nothing came off as being uneven or heavy-handed. Normally, I find flavored oolongs of this type to go way too heavy on the milkiness, but this one (thankfully) did not. Despite the fact that I would not turn to this over a good Taiwanese milk oolong or a traditional, unflavored Jin Xuan, I found it to be a very good tea. If you are into milk oolongs at all, this one is definitely worth a try.

Flavors: Butter, Coconut, Cream, Custard, Floral, Grass, Honeysuckle, Lettuce, Mango, Mineral, Narcissus, Orchid, Pear, Pineapple, Rice, Seaweed, Spinach, Sugarcane, Vanilla

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 6 g 4 OZ / 118 ML
Evol Ving Ness

Nooooooo, don’t change your Steepster name—be a rebel!

Teatotaler

One of my patients is from Harlan, Kentucky. She prides herself for being of “good Kentucky stock”. :)

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90

This was a tea I had been wanting to get to for a while. I ended up doing a gongfu session with it yesterday evening after I finished exercising. It made for a good companion during the Stan vs. Evil marathon I stayed up late to watch. Hey, I live pretty much in the middle of nowhere and we hardly ever get any trick-or-treaters, so drinking tea and watching television beat waiting on children to show and eating tons of candy out of boredom.

Obviously, I gongfued this tea. After a quick rinse, I steeped 6 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 203 F water for 8 seconds. This infusion was followed by 13 subsequent infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute 15 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, and 5 minutes.

Prior to the rinse, the dry tea leaves produced a blend of nutty, vegetal, and floral aromas. After the rinse, I picked up more distinct scents of cream, violet, damp grass, gardenia, orchid, watercress, and some sort of nut. The first infusion added additional aromas of vanilla, butter, and tea flower. On the palate, I noted surprisingly pronounced notes of cream, butter, vanilla, gardenia, orchid, nuts, grass, watercress, tea flower, and violet. Subsequent infusions brought out the watercress on the nose. I was also finally able to place the nut aroma and flavor. I had read that people often get walnut impressions from Da Wu Ye, but I couldn’t pick up any walnut notes myself. At one point, however, I recall thinking, “What in my kitchen smells like walnut oil?” I then realized it was the gaiwan. The power of suggestion most likely played a role in that realization, but whatever. New impressions of pomelo, lemon peel, candied orange peel, peach, cattail, plum, cinnamon, osmanthus, almond, pear, anise, and minerals also emerged. The later infusions mostly offered notes of minerals, cream, and butter backed by hints of grass, watercress, almond, and walnut, though there were also some ghostly floral and stone fruit notes coupled with an equally vague citrus tanginess in places.

The very little bit of research I did regarding the origins of Da Wu Ye suggested that this particular cultivar was originally a hybrid of Shui Xian and Ya Shi Xiang. That makes perfect sense considering that this tea offered the slight spiciness and mineral notes of Shui Xian with the floral, savory, and nutty characteristics of Ya Shi Xiang. While I very much enjoy Shui Xian, my continued experimentation with Dancong oolongs has given me the impression that Ya Shi Xiang is not my thing and likely never will be. I do have to say, however, that I found this Da Wu Ye to be deep, complex, and exceptionally approachable. I greatly enjoyed it and have no doubt that I will be seeking out other Da Wu Ye oolongs in the near future.

Flavors: Almond, Anise, Butter, Cinnamon, Citrus, Cream, Floral, Gardenias, Grass, Lemon, Mineral, Orange, Orchid, Osmanthus, Peach, Pear, Vanilla, Vegetal, Violet, Walnut

Preparation
6 g 4 OZ / 118 ML
Daylon R Thomas

That one was so thick and floral. It was amazing, but so overwhelming that I had to savor it.

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93

One thing I like about Harney & Sons is that they source a number of unique black teas from all over mainland China. This one, in particular, was produced from Anji bushes grown by monks in southern Zhejiang Province. In my mind, Zhejiang Province is synonymous with green tea (gunpowder, Long Jing, and the like), so a black tea from there was automatically going to pique my interest. I found this to be an exceptional black tea, almost as chocolaty as the Laoshan black teas I love.

I prepared this tea gongfu style. After a flash rinse, I steeped 6 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 212 F water for 5 seconds. This infusion was chased by 14 subsequent infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 7 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute 15 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, and 5 minutes.

Prior to the rinse, the dry tea leaves produced lovely aromas of dark chocolate, honey, and ripe plum. After the rinse, I found rather subtle aromas of black cherry, blueberry, mulberry, malt, wood, toast, and roasted chestnut. The first infusion brought out a hint of something like elderberry on the nose. In the mouth, I immediately found clear notes of dark chocolate, honey, malt, wood, toast, and roasted chestnut. Subsequent infusions brought out all of the fruit notes in the mouth plus notes of caramel, cream, marshmallow, orange zest, vanilla, and minerals. I could also pick up soothing, cooling herbal impressions after the swallow. The later infusions were very mild. I could just pick up lingering impressions of minerals, cream, marshmallow, wood, and malt with some even fainter dark chocolate and herbal notes.

On one hand, this tea faded very quickly, and I felt like I did have to ding it a little due to its lack of longevity. On the other hand, the earlier infusions were spectacular and the tea’s fade was quick, yet rather graceful. I kept going after I probably should have stopped simply because I enjoyed the texture and color of the mostly spent tea liquor. It’s also somewhat rare for me to find a traditional Chinese black tea that packs such tremendous amounts of flavor into the early goings of a session. Definitely try this one. In my opinion, this is one of the best unflavored black teas Harney & Sons currently offers.

Flavors: Blueberry, Caramel, Cherry, Chestnut, Cream, Dark Chocolate, Fruity, Herbs, Honey, Malt, Marshmallow, Mineral, Orange Zest, Plums, Toast, Vanilla, Wood

Preparation
Boiling 6 g 4 OZ / 118 ML

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Bio

My grading criteria for tea is as follows:

90-100: Exceptional. I love this stuff. If I can get it, I will drink it pretty much every day.

80-89: Very good. I really like this stuff and wouldn’t mind keeping it around for regular consumption.

70-79: Good. I like this stuff, but may or may not reach for it regularly.

60-69: Solid. I rather like this stuff and think it’s a little bit better-than-average. I’ll drink it with no complaints, but am more likely to reach for something I find more enjoyable than revisit it with regularity.

50-59: Average. I find this stuff to be more or less okay, but it is highly doubtful that I will revisit it in the near future if at all.

40-49: A little below average. I don’t really care for this tea and likely won’t have it again.

39 and lower: Varying degrees of yucky.

Don’t be surprised if my average scores are a bit on the high side because I tend to know what I like and what I dislike and will steer clear of teas I am likely to find unappealing.

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KY

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