379 Tasting Notes
Today was rough. I had ended the previous day with a very strong beer (DKML by Founders Brewing Company, a 14.2% abv malt liquor aged in bourbon barrels) and woke up feeling loopy and weak. By the time I took my morning tea, I was feeling even worse. The tea hit my stomach like a very large fist and I ended up nauseated. After a couple unhappy and unproductive hours at the office, I called it a day and went home to recover. Which tea did me in? This one. I think my rough go of it today was more due to the night before and general fatigue though, so I can’t really blame this tea.
Now, before I go any further, let’s back up a bit. At some point late last year, I started buying up dancongs like crazy because I realized I was not very familiar with them. I bought this one, two other dancongs, and a roasted oolong blend from The Tao of Tea at the same time. After receiving them, they were all stored in one of my sealed tea totes. I broke open said tote over the weekend and began cleaning it out. I had and still have so much tea on hand that I decided to sort out some stuff to give to friends and family. Pretty soon, I found myself developing a thirst and decided to try this tea on a whim. I had been doing some research on traditional dancong brewing methods anyway and couldn’t wait to try to adapt some of them to my preferred gongfu procedure. Upon opening the bag, however, I was crushed when I discovered that it contained mostly broken Mi Lan Xiang leaves. Soldiering on, I plucked out 8 grams of the most intact leaves, primed my 4 ounce gaiwan, cleaned and primed my cup, rinsed the leaves, and proceeded to brew. The first infusion was only 5 seconds. It 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, 3 minutes, and 5 minutes.
Prior to the rinse, the dry tea leaves emitted fruity, slightly floral aromas with a hint of woodiness. The rinse allowed me to pick up distinct impressions of honey, wood, damp grass, butter, nectarine, peach, and yuzu. The first infusion brought out vanilla, orchid, and grapefruit pith. There was a hint of nuttiness too. In the mouth, stone fruits, honey, butter, grass, and wood ruled the day, though I could kind of pick out some underlying nutty and floral impressions. Subsequent infusions brought out the vanilla, orchid, yuzu, and grapefruit pith impressions in the mouth. I also began to pick up impressions of roasted almond, chestnut, cashew, cattail shoots, apricot, sour plum, lemon, pomelo, osmanthus, marigold, and petunia. Minerals showed up too, as did something of a muddy, almost clay-like earthiness. The later infusions were earthy, woody, and grassy with a more distinct mineral presence and faint wisps of citrus, roasted nuts, butter, and stone fruits.
Despite the lower-than-expected leaf quality (to be fair, I did purchase this tea very shortly before it went out of stock), this oolong delivered a lot of flavor at a very reasonable price point. The slick soapiness one would generally expect from this type of oolong was there, but it wasn’t all that distracting. It also had a little more staying power than I would have expected. I would almost be willing to bet that a full leaf version of this tea would be amazing. As is, this was rock solid and would make a very nice introduction to the joys of Mi Lan Xiang.
Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Astringent, Butter, Chestnut, Citrus, Earth, Floral, Fruity, Grapefruit, Grass, Lemon Zest, Mineral, Orchid, Osmanthus, Peach, Plums, Roasted nuts, Vanilla, Vegetal, Wood
I was impressed by Tealyra’s Wenshan Baozhong Reserve, so I just had to snag some of this too. I was also a little curious because I was totally unfamiliar with baked baozhong. Based on my experience with this one, I will definitely be trying more.
I prepared this tea three different ways. First was a cold brew using approximately 16 grams of loose leaf material in around 38-39 ounces of water in the refrigerator overnight (the steep time was about 12-13 hours). The second preparation was a gongfu session in which I started off by steeping 6 grams of loose leaf material in 4 ounces of 195 F water for 5 seconds (after a quick rinse, of course) and then followed that up with 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 final preparation was a three step infusion in which I started off by steeping about 3 grams of loose leaf material in approximately 8 ounces of 195 F water for 2 minutes, then 3 minutes, and finally 5 minutes.
First up was the cold brew. The nose emphasized char, roasted nut, baked bread, and butter aromas. I picked up on flavors of cream, butter, char, roasted almonds, grass, baked bread, and flowers (mostly orchid and lilac) in the mouth, with hints of spinach emerging on the finish. For the gongfu session, I got aromas of butter, grass, char, baked bread, and flowers before the rinse. The rinse brought out cream and vanilla, as well as touches of roasted almond, spinach, and deeper, more detailed floral scents, while the first infusion began to bring out some fruitiness. In the mouth, the tea was initially all about cream, baked bread, butter, char, grass, roasted almond, and spinach with floral and vanilla notes providing some depth and balance. Subsequent infusions began to bring out caramel, baked apple, peach, apricot, minerals, and spiced pear while the vanilla, orchid, and lilac notes more fully emerged. Around this time, I also began to get touches of hyacinth, lily, osmanthus, and some stemmy, almost woody qualities. The later infusions were more vegetal and offered a more pronounced minerality, though savory qualities and touches of roasted almonds, orchard fruits, and flowers remained, at least in places. The three step Western session very much followed the gongfu session, though the liquor struck me as a bit more floral and vegetal and slightly less nutty and fruity overall.
I’m not certain how well this tea would compare to most higher end baked baozhongs, but I can say that, for me, it made a wonderful introduction to this style of tea. Though on some level I kind of doubt this qualified as a truly high quality baked baozhong, it still smelled and tasted great. More importantly, it remained approachable and proved itself rather flexible. In this situation, there was not much more I could have demanded or expected. For the price, this was a smashing success.
Flavors: Almond, Apple, Apricot, Baked Bread, Butter, Caramel, Char, Cream, Floral, Grass, Honeysuckle, Mineral, Orchid, Osmanthus, Peach, Pear, Spinach, Vanilla, Vegetal, Wood
Here is another tea I have been working my way through over the past couple of days. I expect to finish the remainder of it this afternoon. I think I ended up purchasing this tea because I was going through a phase where I was obsessed with trying oolongs from each high mountain terroir of Taiwan. I don’t recall ever trying a proper Mei Shan tea prior to this one, and if this one was anything to go by, I am not certain that the Mei Shan terroir does it for me.
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 10 seconds. This infusion was chased by 12 additional infusions. Steep times for these infusions were a 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, the dry tea leaves emitted subtle aromas of butter, cream, and bread underscored by a vague floral quality. After the rinse, I began to pick up on hints of vanilla, custard, and sweetgrass. The first infusion brought out pronounced lilac and orchid scents as well as touches of orchard fruit. In the mouth, I picked up on mild notes of cream, butter, custard, vanilla, bread, sweetgrass, lilac, and orchid undercut by a touch of green apple. Subsequent infusions better brought out the green apple, although I also began to pick up crisp hyacinth, mineral, pear, sugarcane, spinach, nectar, cucumber, honeydew, and daffodil tones. The later infusions were very quick to wash out, as I had to focus to pick up lingering traces of minerals, sweetgrass, green apple, spinach, pear, cream, and butter balanced by ghostly floral impressions.
As high mountain oolongs go, this one was very crisp and light in the mouth. The aromas and flavors did not separate all that much until close to the end of the session, and even then, they were not as distinctive as other high mountain oolongs I have tried. Overall, this was an extremely light, sweet, and vegetal tea. It was not really my thing, but it wasn’t bad. I could see it being a decent introduction to high mountain oolongs.
Flavors: Baked Bread, Butter, Cream, Cucumber, Custard, Floral, Grass, Green Apple, Honeydew, Mineral, Narcissus, Nectar, Orchid, Pear, Spinach, Vanilla
I have so been dragging my feet on this review. I haven’t really had a good reason either. I just haven’t much felt like writing lately. I conducted a gongfu session with this tea a couple days ago. I found it to be a nice, light milk oolong.
As mentioned above, I gongfued this one. After a brief rinse, I steeped 6 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 195 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, the dry tea leaves emitted heavy scents of butter and cream underscored by a subtle vegetal character. After the rinse, I began to detect something of a grassy scent accompanied by scents of vanilla, custard, and fresh flowers. The first infusion brought out a subtle fruitiness. In the mouth, I mostly detected notes of butter, cream, custard, and grass balanced by indistinct hints of flowers and fruit. Subsequent infusions brought out the vanilla, while distinct impressions of pear, pineapple, green apple, tangerine, daylily, honeydew, coconut, and honeysuckle made themselves known. I thought I caught a hint of passion fruit at one point as well. I also began to pick up daylily shoots, minerals, and cucumber. The later impressions were smooth, offering lingering impressions of cream, butter, vanilla, grass, and cucumber balanced by gentle minerality and fleeting impressions of tangerine, pineapple, daylily shoots, and pear.
Normally I dislike flavored oolongs, but I found this one appealing. It had a pronounced fruitiness that balanced the fairly over-the-top creaminess and butteriness. It was a good thing, too, considering that I did not find this tea to be as floral as many teas of this type, and it is the floral qualities that often provide a semblance of balance in them. Though it’s still not something I would go out of my way to have regularly, this was a rock solid flavored oolong. I could see both fans of Jin Xuan and newcomers to milk oolongs liking this one.
Flavors: Butter, Citrus, Coconut, Cream, Cucumber, Custard, Floral, Grass, Green Apple, Honeydew, Honeysuckle, Mineral, Passion Fruits, Pear, Pineapple, Vanilla
I finally managed to get a new 4 ounce gaiwan and I have been working on getting a feel for it. One thing I liked about the one I unintentionally broke was that it fit in my hand extremely well and was super easy to pour. This one is prettier, but it is also a bit squatter, which means that it does not fit in my hand as comfortably. It takes a little more effort than I’m used to, but I’m making progress. This Anxi approximation of a Da Hong Pao was the first tea I brewed in it. I found it to be a solid tea that reasonably approximated the character of a traditional Da Hong Pao.
Obviously, I gongfued this tea. After the rinse, I steeped 5 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 205 F water for 8 seconds. This infusion was followed by 14 additional infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 10 seconds, 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, 3 minutes, and 5 minutes.
Prior to the rinse, the dry tea leaves produced mild aromas of wood, char, and roasted nuts. I also thought I picked up some smoke and possible hints of flowers and caramel. The rinse released intriguing aromas of butter, cream, pipesmoke, nutmeg, and saffron. The first infusion brought out hints of grass and vanilla. In the mouth, I picked up on gentle notes of caramel, cream, butter, wood, char, and roasted nuts underscored by smoke, nutmeg, and saffron. Subsequent infusions better brought out the smoke, nutmeg, and saffron while the vanilla and grass also began to express themselves on the palate. The vague roasted nut notes began to take shape, increasingly reminding me of roasted almonds, chestnuts, and cashews. New aromas and flavors of osmanthus, lilac, rock sugar, minerals, and apricot also appeared. The later infusions continued to emphasize butter, grass, cream, vanilla, and wood notes balanced by grass, char, and a gentle minerality, though the popcorn note I tend to get from the later stages of Da Hong Pao sessions popped out at this time too.
As mentioned earlier, this tea did a reasonably good job of approximating the character of a traditional Wuyi Da Hong Pao. I would assert, however, that the lack of a sharp mineral presence and the distinct floral impressions were dead giveaways that this was not the real deal. Still, this was a worthy experiment. It was very much worth trying, although I think the next time I’m in the mood for yancha, I’ll stick with actual yancha.
Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Butter, Caramel, Char, Chestnut, Cream, Floral, Grass, Mineral, Nutmeg, Nutty, Osmanthus, Popcorn, Saffron, Smoke, Sugar, Vanilla, Wood
Here’s another sample sipdown. I finished this one last night. As far as Alishan oolongs go, this one was light in the mouth and very vegetal. Normally, I am not a fan of that style, as I prefer my high mountain oolongs to be fruity, floral, and sweet, but this tea had tremendous depth. I ended up liking it considerably more than I thought I would.
As usual, I prepared this tea gongfu style. Still reeling from the loss of my favorite 4 ounce gaiwan and cup, I used my 5 ounce easy gaiwan and cup set for this tea. The slow pour did not really help this tea’s longevity, so if I end up ordering more of this, I am going to have to go back to a more traditional gaiwan. After a very brief rinse, I steeped 7 grams of loose tea leaves in 5 ounces of 195 F water for 10 seconds. This infusion was followed by 12 additional 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 picked up on very light grassy, vegetal aromas from the dry leaves. There was a hint of savory character there too, maybe something like cream or butter. The rinse brought out more savory character. I definitely picked up scents of cream and butter, as well as a much more pronounced vegetal character. There were scents of grass, leaf lettuce, and kale. The first infusion brought out vanilla, baked bread, custard, and some vague floral impressions. In the mouth, I picked up on mild notes of cream, butter, grass, leaf lettuce, kale, bread, and vanilla. Subsequent infusions introduced aromas and flavors of minerals, nuts, cucumber, cilantro, spinach, orchid, daffodil, daylily, daylily shoots, green apple, honeydew, and unripened pear. On a couple of infusions, I also thought I picked up a very distant hint of seaweed. Oh yeah, and the custard showed up on the palate very briefly too. The later infusions were very mild, offering mostly mineral, cream, butter, grass, leaf lettuce, kale, spinach, and cucumber. However, I was able to detect something that reminded me of butterscotch, as well as lingering traces of vanilla and daylily shoots in the background.
Again, this was totally not what I expected from an Alishan oolong. Even though the aromas and flavors were extremely subtle and well-integrated, there was a lot to appreciate here. Once I got over the fact that there were times that this tea reminded me more of a green tea than an oolong, I fell in love with it. It was not much like any other Alishan oolong I have ever tried. Definitely pick this one up if you can.
Flavors: Baked Bread, Butter, Butterscotch, Cream, Cucumber, Custard, Floral, Grass, Green Apple, Honeydew, Kale, Lettuce, Mineral, Narcissus, Nuts, Orchid, Pear, Seaweed, Vanilla, Vegetal
Alright, the backlog will finally be clear after I finish this review. This was the other sample pouch I finished earlier. Typical of the teas I have tried from the Gopaldhara Tea Estate, I found this one to have admirable complexity and a tremendous amount of character. Although What-Cha seemed to find this tea to be rather floral, I found it to be more intensely fruity with a pronounced honey character.
I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped approximately 3-4 grams of loose leaf material in about 8 ounces of 203 F water for 5 minutes. I did not attempt any subsequent infusions.
Prior to infusion, the dry leaf material presented inviting aromas of grass, hay, honey, Muscatel, herbs, and stone fruits. After infusion, I picked up on traces of fresh flowers (rose, dandelion, and perhaps a touch of chamomile), citrus, pineapple, and smoke. In the mouth, I initially picked out notes of grass, hay, herbs, malt, toast, almond, sweet orange, lemon zest, honey, and fresh flowers before an intriguing mixture of Muscatel, white peach, apricot, pineapple, plum, and mango asserted itself. When I focused in, I could also pick out undertones of smoke. The finish retained a nice mix of fruity and floral flavors balanced by grassy, herbal touches, honey, and some lingering smokiness and nuttiness.
This was a very nice first flush Darjeeling. It is rare that I don’t enjoy a tea produced by the Gopaldhara Tea Estate. I particularly liked the complexity displayed by this tea. If you are looking for a first flush Darjeeling with an inviting bouquet, loads of flavor, and an easy-drinking nature, look no further.
Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Floral, Grass, Hay, Herbs, Honey, Lemon Zest, Malt, Mango, Muscatel, Orange, Peach, Pineapple, Plums, Rose, Smoke, Toast
Since I’m staying home from work today, I have been occupying myself with polishing off some sample pouches. I finished this one early this morning. I found it to be a nice, solid Assam.
I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped around 3-4 grams of loose tea in approximately 8 ounces of 203 F water for 4 minutes. I did not attempt any additional infusions.
Prior to infusion, the dry leaf material emitted pronounced aromas of malt, brown toast, roasted nuts, cocoa, wood, and leather. After infusion, I began to pick up on scents of butter, molasses, caramel, honey, raisin, and fig. In the mouth, the tea came at me head on with powerful flavors of wood, caramel, cocoa, roasted chestnut, hickory, black walnut, leather, brown toast, molasses, malt, honey, and butter before giving way to subtler impressions of cream, fig, and raisin. The finish saw the butter and malt swell while notes of caramel, molasses, honey, cream, wood, leather, and roasted nuts remained.
This was a traditional Assam with a powerful maltiness, a full body, pronounced astringency, and hints of bitterness lurking around the fringes. It was a tea that was put together well, but with the exception of the subtle fruit notes, there was not much setting it apart from many other teas of this type. I will concede, however, that it did its job as a breakfast tea with aplomb. All in all, this one should definitely appeal to fans of orthodox Assams, but if you are not huge on them, it probably won’t do much for you.
Flavors: Astringent, Brown Toast, Butter, Caramel, Chestnut, Cocoa, Cream, Fig, Honey, Leather, Malt, Molasses, Raisins, Roasted nuts, Walnut, Wood
I’m really getting into some of these Nepalese black teas. This was both my latest acquisition and latest conquest. I found it to be a basic, yet respectable black tea very much akin to a traditional first flush Darjeeling.
I prepared this tea in the Western style. I steeped approximately 3-4 grams of loose leaf material in about 8 ounces of 194 F water for 5 minutes. No additional infusions were attempted.
First things first, let me just say that What-Cha has a well-deserved reputation for sourcing quality leaves, but I was initially let down when I opened my pouch of this tea. It appeared to be nothing but broken leaves. I figured I shouldn’t just judge the tea by my perception of the leaf quality, however, so in I dove. Prior to infusion, I picked up mild, inviting aromas of Muscatel, grass, hay, and herbs underscored by a hint of citrus. After infusion, the citrus scent grew stronger and I began to pick up on aromas of malt and almond. In the mouth, the tea offered up notes of malt, grass, hay, straw, almond, toast, Muscatel, lemon zest, and pungent herbs. The finish was malty, nutty, and slightly grassy with herb, Muscatel, and citrus undertones.
It may have been due to my remaining somewhat congested from the most recent sinus infection, but I found this to be a very basic tea. It was pleasant and approachable, but it was also somewhat simplistic and lacking in depth. I could see it making a good afternoon or evening tea, though people who like to really delve into the subtleties of the tea tasting and drinking experience (like me) will probably be expecting more.
Flavors: Almond, Grass, Hay, Herbs, Lemon Zest, Malt, Muscatel, Straw, Toast
Looking back through my reviews by month, it seems I almost always manage to review some sort of Tieguanyin each month. I guess that should not come as a shock considering that Tieguanyin is one of my favorite cultivars and has been for some time. I noticed, however, that I do not often review Taiwanese Tieguanyins and decided to rectify that. In truth, I didn’t have to go out of way to do that considering that I had been working my way through a pouch of this tea for the better part of 2-3 weeks and was starting to run low. With that in mind, I figured it would be a good idea for me to go ahead and review this one while my most recent session was still fresh in my memory. I did not want to end up forgetting about it, finishing the last of the tea, and then trying to recall details and make sense of vague session notes days or weeks after the fact. So, without further adieu, here goes.
This Tieguanyin is a true Taiwanese Tieguanyin. It was harvested in late 2015 and the final roast was applied in April 2016. I acquired this tea directly from Floating Leaves Tea in either late summer or early fall of 2016. I prepared this tea gongfu style. As I managed to break my favorite 4 ounce gaiwan and cup earlier in the day, I used my 5 ounce easy gaiwan and cup set to conduct this review session. I utilized 7 grams of loose tea leaves for the session. After my usual brief rinse, the leaves were steeped for 8 seconds in 195 F water. This infusion was chased by 14 subsequent infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 10 seconds, 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, 3 minutes, and 5 minutes.
Prior to the rinse, the dry tea leaves emitted aromas of char, dark wood, earth, and raisin. The rinse brought out aromas of caramelized banana, mango, papaya, and vanilla bean. I though I caught hints of butter and very light coffee as well. The first infusion brought out the butter and coffee on the nose, though I also began to detect hints of peach and custard. In the mouth, the liquor was initially very earthy and savory, offering gentle notes of moist earth, dark wood, char, butter, and vanilla bean balanced by barely perceptible touches of raisin, caramelized banana, and peach. Subsequent infusions better brought out the caramelized banana, raisin, and peach in the mouth. I also noticed that the coffee, mango, and papaya showed up as well. New aromas and flavors of wet stones, minerals, plantain, mild cinnamon, nutmeg, custard, cream, and yellow plum appeared as well. The later infusions mostly offered fleeting impressions of butter, cream, moist earth, dark wood, char, and minerals. When I really dug deep, I thought I could detect a touch of lingering fruitiness, but it may have just been me.
This came across as a very refined oolong. My experience suggested that it is best approached slowly, as its aromas and flavors are very layered and can oftentimes be extremely subtle and subdued. While I enjoyed this tea, I am not entirely certain that those new to roasted oolongs, especially highly roasted Taiwanese Tieguanyins, would be all that impressed with it. It takes more than a bit of work to get into it, but it is rewarding. So, all of this being said, I can offer the following: I would recommend this tea to those looking for a quality Muzha Tieguanyin at a decent price, but just be aware that this tea and others like it require work to appreciate. In the end, it was quite good, though I also found it to be somewhat labor-intensive to analyze.
Flavors: banana, Butter, Caramel, Char, Cinnamon, Coffee, Cream, Custard, Dark Wood, Fruity, Mango, Mineral, Nutmeg, Peach, Plums, Raisins, Vanilla, Wet Earth, Wet Rocks