436 Tasting Notes
A strong masala chai featuring a heady spice blend of Bishop’s weed, black cardamom, green cardamom, black peppercorns, fennel, cloves, and dried ginger, this sounded like just the thing to get me going this morning. I have now tried this chai blend a couple different ways, and I have to say that I am impressed. While I was not wowed by the last Teabox chai I tried, this was more up my alley.
As with every chai blend I buy, I tried this blend once without any additives and once with additions of milk and sugar. For both preparations, I steeped about 3 grams of the chai blend in approximately 8 ounces of 194 F water for 5 minutes. I limited myself to a single infusion with each preparation.
The dry chai blend produced strong, pungent aromas of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and black peppercorn balanced by hints of clove, bay leaf, fennel, and malt. Though the blend did not contain bay leaf, Teabox really wasn’t kidding about such an aroma being present. I’m guessing it was contributed by the Bishop’s weed. After infusion, the spicy, herbal aromas were still very much dominant, though I could detect stronger scents of malt from the CTC Assam base. I also noted hints of caramel, cream, brown toast, wood, and citrus. In the mouth, the spices immediately packed a wallop. Black peppercorn, ginger, clove, fennel, cardamom, and cinnamon were all easily detectable. A bay leaf-like flavor popped up too. That had to be contributed by the Bishop’s weed. I was unable to determine how else it could have gotten in there. By mid-palate, softer notes of caramel, cream, malt, wood, orange, molasses, leather, and brown toast from the tea were more noticeable. The liquor was relatively astringent, but also very brisk. The finish was fairly smooth and soothing, offering something of a lingering astringency accompanying somewhat more delicate spice, cream, malt, brown toast, and wood notes. Though blends like this are not really meant to be consumed without additives, I could drink this plain with no real qualms.
Additions of milk and sugar tamed the astringency and spices considerably. The liquor became less prickly and peppery, allowing the ginger, cardamom, fennel, and cinnamon more room. Fewer tannic notes from the tea base were present, as smooth malt, cream, and toast flavors became more apparent. The finish was also smoother and softer with less astringency and less of a lingering spice kick.
Compared to the last chai blend from Teabox that I tried, this one was much spicier, livelier, and more complex. Since I like spicier masala chais, this very much appealed to me. Though it is doubtful that blends such as this will ever live up to a homemade masala chai, I could easily see myself keeping this one on hand. Definitely try it if you are the sort of person who likes your chai heavy on the spices.
Flavors: Astringent, Black Pepper, Brown Toast, Caramel, Cardamon, Cinnamon, Clove, Cream, Fennel, Ginger, Herbs, Leather, Malt, Molasses, Orange, Spicy, Wood
As some may be aware, I love Moroccan mint green teas, but I tend to be a huge stickler for traditional recipes. I do not want Mao Feng, peppermint, lemon myrtle, or anything else in there. Just give me a blend of Chinese gunpowder green tea and spearmint leaves. I’ll take it from there, thank you very much. When I saw this blend on the Mark T. Wendell website, I knew I had to try it. I assumed it would be right up my alley, but it really wasn’t. I just wasn’t blown away by it.
I prepared this blend two ways. First, I tried a single infusion. I steeped approximately 1 teaspoon of loose material in approximately 8 ounces of 180 F water for 3 minutes. After I logged the results, I decided to try a two step infusion. I steeped the same amount of loose leaf material in the same amount of 180 F water for two minutes and then conducted a second and final 3 minute infusion.
Prior to infusion, the dry leaf blend predictably emitted a powerful spearmint aroma underscored by a hint of grassiness from the gunpowder green tea. In the mouth, I found a powerful spearmint flavor that was underscored by faint notes of grass, lemon, and straw. The green tea did not seem to contribute much in the way of aroma or flavor.
For the two step infusion process, I noted more of the same on the nose prior to and immediately after infusion. The 2 minute infusion yielded a very mild, minty liquor with a touch of creaminess that I did not note in the single infusion. Unfortunately, the green tea seemed to be all but entirely missing in action. The 3 minute follow-up infusion allowed the green tea to come out a little more. I could pick up slight notes of grass, lemon, and straw coupled with what I thought were touches of hay and grilled vegetables, but unfortunately everything was still a little too faint for my liking.
Overall, this blend was pretty meh. While the spearmint aromas and flavors were nice and strong, they were overpowering. The green tea presence was so mild that it could not provide enough balance. I suppose that if you are the sort of person who likes a really sweet, minty Moroccan mint green tea, then this may very well be up your alley, but if you like a little more balance and a heavier green tea presence, then this likely won’t do as much for you.
Flavors: Cream, Grass, Hay, Spearmint, Straw, Vegetal
So, I am finally getting to a tea that was finished less than a week ago. Isn’t everyone proud of me? I ended up buying a sample of this tea and rushed to try it ahead of schedule because I was intrigued by What-Cha’s description of it. It was presented as a low cost first flush Darjeeling “with vibrant floral notes and an apricot finish.” Not only did that sound lovely to me, but the Gopaldhara Estate has such a reputation for quality and consistency that I was eager to see how one of their lower end teas would compare to some of their rightfully lauded luxury products. All in all, this was not a bad first flush tea in the least, though I did find it to be significantly less refined and less flavorful than some of Gopaldhara’s higher end teas.
I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped about 3 grams of loose leaf material in approximately 8 ounces of 194 F water for 5 minutes. I did not attempt any subsequent infusions.
Prior to infusion, I noted subtle aromas of Muscatel, herbs, straw, and grass. After infusion, I found aromas of straw, grass, Muscatel, herbs, and hay. In the mouth, I noted fairly delicate flavors of herbs, cream, butter, grass, straw, hay, apricot, Muscatel, violet, dandelion, pine, almond, and spinach. The finish was smooth, yet fleeting. I noted very subdued impressions of cream, pine, Muscatel, grass, and flowers that did not linger all that long in the mouth after the swallow. I failed to note apricot on the finish. Maybe it was just me.
As stated above, this was not a bad first flush tea. I only recall trying one other first flush tea from Gopaldhara and I cannot say that it thrilled me all that much. At this point, I suppose I just tend to naturally favor their summer and autumn flush teas. Overall, this tea displayed admiral complexity compared to some other Darjeeling teas I have tried at or near this price point, but it did not display enough strength or longevity for my taste. Still, I could see this being a decent daily drinker or an adequate introduction to first flush Darjeelings.
Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Butter, Cream, Dandelion, Grass, Hay, Herbs, Muscatel, Pine, Spinach, Straw, Violet
Here’s another one from the backlog, though this one is more recent. I finished a sample pouch of this tea a little over a week ago and forgot to promptly post a review here. Judging from the product description on What-Cha’s website, this was a favorite of the Assam teas they have sourced recently. Personally, I found it to be a very solid, appealing tea, though I am still not entirely certain I would place it alongside some of my favorite Assam teas.
I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped about 3 grams of loose leaf material in approximately 8 ounces of 203 F water for 5 minutes. I did not attempt any subsequent infusions.
Prior to infusion, the loose leaf material emitted pleasantly malty, woody aromas. After infusion, I noted scents of malt, wood, raisin, caramel, and molasses. In the mouth, the liquor presented a nice, mellow mix of malt, cream, caramel, molasses, brown sugar, leather, raisin, black walnut, roasted chestnut, brown toast, and wood notes accompanying a moderate astringency that became somewhat more pronounced on the finish. Oh, and speaking of the finish, I mostly noted lingering touches of wood, cream, and malt in the mouth.
In a lot of ways, I found this to be a rather typical clonal Assam black tea. I did not notice anything odd or remotely out of place. Compared to some of What-Cha’s other Assam offerings, I think I prefer the teas from Prithvi for their full, rich, almost decadent maltiness and the tea recently sourced from Kanoka for its quirkiness. Still, this was a very nice example of a proper Assam black tea. I could see it making a rock solid daily drinker and/or a great introduction to quality Assam teas.
Flavors: Astringent, Brown Sugar, Brown Toast, Caramel, Chestnut, Cream, Leather, Malt, Molasses, Raisins, Walnut, Wood
This was a tea I had been looking forward to for some time. I received it as a free sample from Vahdam Teas back in the spring. At the time, I was glad they sent me a sample of this tea because I enjoy Darjeeling white teas and had been curious about the teas produced by the Avongrove Estate, but had yet to get around to trying any. Naturally, reviewing other teas took precedence and this ended up sitting sealed in one of my tea totes until last week when I finally got around to drinking it. Though I do not think the way I brewed it did it justice (compared to my usual gongfu method, a simple Western preparation was just as, if not slightly more effective), this was a wonderful white tea.
Obviously, for the purpose of writing a thorough review, I prepared this tea gongfu style. I know that I steeped 6 grams of loose leaf material in 4 ounces of water after a flash rinse, but I do not recall what the water temperature was. For some reason, I simply did not write it down. I think it may have been either 180 F or 185 F. The first infusion lasted 5 seconds. It was chased by 13 subsequent infusions. Steep times for those 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, and 3 minutes.
Prior to the rinse, the dry tea leaves produced aromas of lavender, sage, wood, and malt. After the rinse, I detected aromas of lemon zest, hay, lemongrass, and basil. The first infusion produced a pretty much identical set of aromas. In the mouth, I found delicate notes of lemon zest, basil, lavender, sage, lemongrass, hay, and malt underscored by faint impressions of Muscatel, wood, tangerine, and white peach. Subsequent infusions brought out more citrus on the nose and in the mouth while the floral aromas and flavors fully emerged. A unique mix of geranium, violet, chamomile, dandelion, and marigold was highlighted by many of these infusions. The notes of tangerine and lemon zest were also joined by a subtle orange zest impression. New notes of cream, butter, almond, and minerals appeared as well. The tea washed out quickly. I was steeping mostly for color and texture by about the 50 second mark. The last infusions were dominated by minerals, though I could pick up belatedly emerging notes of cucumber to compliment the lingering traces of cream, grass, and herbs.
While I do not feel like I got this one right in terms of preparation, I do have to reiterate that this was a fabulous white tea. The mix of aromas and flavors it displayed was so unique that I am not certain I can compare it to any other white tea I have tried within the past year or so. Should you have the opportunity to try it, definitely take it.
Flavors: Almond, Butter, Citrus, Cream, Cucumber, Dandelion, Floral, Geranium, Grass, Hay, Herbs, Lavender, Lemon Zest, Lemongrass, Malt, Mineral, Muscatel, Orange Zest, Peach, Sage, Violet, Wood
Now that I have had some time to rest and have my head on somewhat straight again, let’s kick off this Sunday with a blast from the past. This was yet another tea I reviewed last month, yet like quite a few others, I never got around to posting a formal review on Steepster. So, without further ado, here goes.
I prepared this tea gongfu style. After a quick rinse, I steeped 6 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 195 F water for 7 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, wood, caramelized banana, and graham cracker. The rinsed leaves presented new aromas of coffee beans and toasted rice. The first infusion showed hints of grass and fruitiness on the nose. In the mouth, I found flavors of sweetgrass, watercress, cattail shoots, cream, butter, char, graham cracker, cinnamon, wood, and caramelized banana. Subsequent infusions saw the notes of coffee and toasted rice appear in the mouth. I also picked up on hints of vanilla, elderberry, and blackberry. Subtler impressions of squash, minerals, orchid, roasted walnut, and honey flitted in and out of focus in the background. The later infusions demonstrated a more pronounced minerality on the nose and in the mouth. A touch of buttered popcorn emerged toward the end of the session, while lingering traces of wood, char, and cream remained on the palate.
As charcoal roasted oolongs go, this one was very nice. It was a complex tea, yet it was also very subtle. Each aroma and flavor component was integrated very well. If you are the type of person who prefers toasty, mellow teas, I could see this being a perfect fit for you. Personally, I greatly enjoyed this tea, but I ended up wishing that it were not so even-tempered throughout the session. In places, it was almost too even keel for my taste.
Flavors: banana, Blackberry, Butter, Char, Cinnamon, Coffee, Cream, Fruity, Graham, Grass, Honey, Mineral, Orchid, Popcorn, Toasted Rice, Vanilla, Vegetal, Walnut, Wood
After spending the better part of an hour glancing back and forth at my session notes, I came to the conclusion that I had no clue how to start a review of this tea. Where would I even start with it? Okay, before I go any further, let me explain my current circumstances in more detail. Hopefully, that will shed some light on my mindset going into the review sessions I conducted with this tea.
I did not previously make this information public, but I quit my despised job back around the start of the second week of September. At the time, I was actually working three jobs. My primary position was as a case manager for individuals with developmental disabilities that I held with a local community health agency. I also worked overnight on-call shifts as a mobile mental health crisis responder and evaluator for the same agency in addition to working part-time as a property manager for my parents’ property management company. For just shy of the past two years, my elderly grandmother has also been living with me. With my parents, who were also my bosses at one job, living right next door, an extremely willful elderly woman sharing a residence with me, and no adequate amount of time for socialization, my interactions with others were mostly limited to text messages, Facebook, and well, Steepster. This situation sucked. By the start of August, it had become apparent to me that I was not fitting in with the administration’s vision for the positions I occupied with my primary employer. I had been working at the agency just shy of two full years and had been highly praised in each position I held (I was transferred twice during my time there), but never received a raise and never really gelled with most of my coworkers. What’s worse is that I live in an area where higher paying jobs are notoriously hard to come by, and by most measures (government salary estimates based on my age, education level, training, and job experience), I was making at least $10,000-$16,000 less per year than I was worth. With no opportunities for advancement on the horizon, I abandoned my primary employer in order to work for my parents full-time. Unfortunately, that has meant more time at home, and with my grandmother’s seasonal depression suddenly kicking in hard (my grandfather died during the autumn of 2006), I have had a very unpleasant week. Tack on the facts that my bosses are right next door and I see them both on and off-the-clock multiple times every single day, and I have been dealing with a nasty inner ear infection, the medication for which apparently causes serious insomnia, and I have not been having a pleasant run of things here lately. This tea was the one that kept me company through most of this crap; I finished the last of it yesterday night when I couldn’t get any sleep to save my life. Yes, I have been up since yesterday morning. All of this being said, is it any wonder I had more than a bit of difficulty getting my head straight with regard to rating this tea?
Anyway, enough of that for now. My review sessions were conducted on two separate evenings. The first, which is the one primarily detailed in this review, saw me steep 6 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 200 F water for 3 seconds following a flash rinse. This infusion was then chased by 15 subsequent infusions. Steep times for these infusions were 5 seconds, 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. The second gongfu session differed in only a couple of small ways. The water temperature was lowered to 195 F and I started with a 5 second steep and then carried on from there. Otherwise, the two sessions were conducted in an identical manner.
Prior to the rinse, the dry tea leaves emitted powerful, thrilling aromas of nectarine, peach, blood orange, and honey. After the rinse, I detected more subdued aromas of malt and wood balanced by a hint of chocolate. The first infusion produced a very similar bouquet, albeit one with a stronger chocolate presence and an emerging hint of cream. In the mouth, I found timid notes of cream, malt, chocolate, and wood underscored by fainter presences of fruit and honey. Subsequent infusions brought out the honey, blood orange, peach, and nectarine, though I caught them most strongly toward the finish. I also found touches of apricot, sugarcane, vanilla, earth, minerals, red apple, roasted almond, and caramel, occasionally supported by traces of gentle nutmeg and camphor. The later infusions emphasized minerals, malt, wood, and caramel with touches of stone fruits, cream, and honey.
The session in which I used 195 F water only really differed from the session detailed above in the sense that I caught some stronger sugarcane aromas and flavors once the tea was firing on all cylinders. This session also brought more complex and pronounced herb and spice impressions. The nutmeg was still kind of there, as was the camphor, though I also was sure that I caught notes of anise, black licorice, and clove. I read the product description provided by Yunnan Sourcing US and a mention of eucalyptus was made, and while I could see that also being a possibility, I just did not get that impression myself.
Now that I have written a novel, allow me to simply state that I found this tea to be very pleasant. Ultimately, I did not feel that it was the best or most consistent Yunnan purple varietal black tea I have had to this point, but it was still very much a worthwhile tea. I could see fans of such teas or those looking for something new and unique being into this one.
Flavors: Almond, Anise, Apricot, Blood orange, Camphor, Caramel, Chocolate, Clove, Cream, Earth, Fruity, Honey, Licorice, Malt, Mineral, Nutmeg, Peach, Red Apple, Sugarcane, Vanilla, Wood
You know, I took notes for a review of this tea nearly three weeks ago, but must have forgotten to post a review. Oh well, better late than never, I suppose. I know I have mentioned it before, but I am a big fan of the teas produced by the Castleton Estate, and not surprisingly, I greatly enjoyed this one.
I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped about 3 grams of loose leaf material in approximately 8 ounces of 194 F water for 5 minutes. I did not attempt any subsequent infusions.
Prior to infusion, I noted a mixture of hay, grass, nut, and herb aromas produced by the dry leaf material. After infusion, another sniff revealed green pepper, herb, nut, grass, wood, and malt scents. In the mouth, I found flavors of grass, hay, straw, green pepper, wood, malt, lemon, green apple, pear, roasted almond, and freshly cut flowers. The finish was smooth and pleasant, offering lingering notes of grass, hay, herbs, malt, and lemon. Unlike many Darjeelings, I did not get any Muscatel character at all. This tea was maltier, nuttier, and much more vegetal.
This was one of the most interesting first flush Darjeelings I have ever tried. I don’t really feel that it had all that much in common with some of the other teas from this region that I have been drinking lately. And as odd as the aroma and flavor components may have initially seemed, they worked together beautifully. I would definitely recommend this tea to fans of first flush Darjeelings, but I would do so with the caveat that if you are looking for an overtly fruity tea with any noteworthy amount of the telltale Darjeeling Muscatel character, you may be in for a shock.
Flavors: Almond, Flowers, Grass, Green Apple, Green Pepper, Hay, Herbs, Lemon, Malt, Pear, Straw
This was yet another back-of-the-tea cabinet discovery. I knew I had bought an ounce of this last year, but apparently, I had forgotten about it entirely. It was all the way in the back, still sealed, and just waiting to be tried. I finished the last of the pouch this morning after spending a couple days with it. I could not tell that it had faded all that much, if at all. Just as a side note, this review will primarily be concerned with the gongfu session I conducted with this tea yesterday, but I also tried it iced and Western. Of the three preparations, the gongfu was probably the best, though as an iced tea, this worked quite well too.
As mentioned above, I prepared this tea gongfu style. I started by steeping 6 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 175 F water for 5 seconds. I did not rinse this tea. While starting this session, I got it in my head that a rinse may sap some of the life out of the tea due to its age, and since I do not always rinse green teas anyway, just decided to skip it. The initial 5 second infusion was chased by 13 subsequent infusions. Steep times for them were 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.
Prior to the first infusion, the dry tea leaves emitted aromas of honey, malt, grass, and hay. The first infusion saw the emergence of smoke, nuts, and zucchini on the nose. In the mouth, I picked up a very delicate, subtle mixture of butter, malt, grass, and hay chased by a distant, vague nuttiness. Subsequent infusions brought out the butter on the nose, as well as the honey, smoke, and zucchini in the mouth. I also picked up much clearer impressions of roasted chestnut and pine nuts. Pine needle and pine resin notes showed up as well, but were balanced by touches of lettuce, minerals, seaweed, and asparagus. The later infusions were very mellow and somewhat flat, offering up a noticeable mineral aroma and taste coupled with hints of lettuce, grass, malt, and chestnut.
When I first tried this tea, I thought that it was just about dead and that I would have to end up throwing it out, but that changed quickly. As it turned out, I just did not give the first infusion enough time. I initially attributed this tea’s lack of complexity to its age, but I no longer think that is the case. Reading other tasting notes for this tea revealed that it struck others as being a mostly vegetal green tea with pronounced umami notes, and in retrospect, I totally get that. Also, I have tried similar teas in the past, and I do not recall ever having one that totally wowed me with its complexity. In essence, I was looking for something that wasn’t there. With that in mind, I have to say that I greatly enjoyed this green tea for what it was. In my opinion, it was more or less exactly what a traditional Xinyang Maojian should be.
Flavors: Asparagus, Butter, Chestnut, Grass, Hay, Honey, Lettuce, Malt, Mineral, Pine, Seaweed, Smoke, Umami, Zucchini
This unflavored black tea blend was included as a freebie with my most recent Teabox order. Normally, I do not drink a ton of breakfast teas, but after trying a number of single origin teas from Teabox, I was curious to see how one of their unflavored blends would compare. Well, I am happy to report that I found this to be a nice blend.
I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped about 3 grams of loose leaf material in approximately 8 ounces of 194 F water for 5 minutes. No subsequent infusions were attempted.
Prior to infusion, the dry leaf material emitted aromas of wood and malt. After infusion, I found new aromas of brown toast, molasses, orange, caramel, and dried fruit. In the mouth, there were fairly strong notes of orange, malt, cream, brown toast, wood, leather, molasses, roasted nuts (almond, chestnut, and walnut), raisins, dates, and nutmeg. The finish was smooth and malty with lingering nuttiness and woodiness plus hints of cream.
This was a flavorful breakfast blend. I greatly appreciated the integration and balance of its flavor components. Though this is still not the sort of thing I would want to consume regularly, I did enjoy it. I think fans of breakfast tea blends would be satisfied with this one.
Flavors: Almond, Brown Toast, Caramel, Chestnut, Cream, Dates, Leather, Malt, Molasses, Nutmeg, Orange, Raisins, Walnut, Wood