Okay, I am kicking off another year of Steepster activity with a review of my first sipdown of the new year. This was the last of the Yunnan Sourcing black tea dragon balls I had lying around, and in truth, I put this one off for so long because I had every intention of making it one of my holiday teas. I’m a huge fan of rose teas and got it in my mind that it was going to be the tea with which I rang in the new year. Honestly, I probably should have picked something else considering that I had a sinus infection at the time and this was a rather delicate tea, but what’s done is done. I was still able to get a lot out of it, and while I would not call it a bad offering, it was not my favorite of Yunnan Sourcing’s black tea and flower dragon balls. That was surprising too, because, again, I love rose teas.

I prepared this tea gongfu style. After rinsing, I steeped the entire dragon ball in 160 ml of 195 F water for 10 seconds. This infusion was chased by 16 additional infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 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, 5 minutes, 7 minutes, 10 minutes, and 15 minutes.

Prior to the rinse, the dry tea leaves produced aromas of cedar, cinnamon, eucalyptus, malt, and rose. After the rinse, I detected a stronger rose aroma and new scents of cream, butter, and baked bread. There was also a subtle vanilla scent lingering in the background. The first infusion brought out a somewhat stronger vanilla aroma. In the mouth, the tea liquor presented very delicate notes of cedar, cinnamon, malt, cream, butter, and baked bread that were chased by hints of vanilla, eucalyptus, and rose. The subsequent infusions coaxed out aromas of sugarcane, cocoa, sweet potato, camphor, black pepper, ginger, roasted almond, and caramel as well as more amplified rose and malt scents. Stronger and more immediate rose, vanilla, and eucalyptus notes came out in the mouth alongside impressions of minerals, earth, black pepper, sugarcane, caramel, cocoa, camphor, red apple, honey, roasted almond, and cooked green beans. I also detected hints of red grape, grass, sweet potato, orange zest, and ginger. As the tea faded, the liquor emphasized mineral, malt, baked bread, earth, cocoa, and roasted almond notes that were balanced by fleeting hints of rose, honey, sweet potato, caramel, black pepper, cooked green beans, cedar, camphor, and orange zest.

This seemed to be a fairly balanced offering overall. One thing I noticed about each of these black tea and flower dragon balls was that each of the floral presences interacted with the base tea in different ways, sometimes thinning or thickening the body of the tea liquor, muting or amplifying certain aroma and flavor components, influencing the time at which each characteristic emerged, and sometimes introducing something unexpected. I basically picked up the same characteristics from the base tea with only minor differences, but each pairing seemed to organize and present them differently. This pairing emphasized harmony and balance, but that being said, it also struck me as a little too even-keeled in many places. I was actually hoping for a heavier rose presence and a few interesting rough edges, but I got neither. One positive aspect of this pairing was that the rose petals seemed to thicken the body and bring out more texture in the tea liquor, which was something I did not expect to occur. Big Snow Mountain black tea seems to consistently strike me as being a bit thin and watery, but I could not make that complaint with this particular offering. Honestly, this was a more or less solid pairing. Though I was hoping for a few pronounced peaks and valleys or a few unexpected wobbles here and there, this tea basically just stayed the course for the entirety of my drinking session. Fans of sweet yet balanced floral teas would probably be into it on one level or another.

Flavors: Almond, Black Pepper, Bread, Butter, Camphor, Caramel, Cedar, Cinnamon, Cocoa, Cream, Earth, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Grapes, Grass, Green Beans, Honey, Malt, Mineral, Red Apple, Rose, Sugarcane, Sweet Potatoes, Vanilla

195 °F / 90 °C 8 g 5 OZ / 160 ML

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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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