851 Tasting Notes
Yesterday, I finally finished my sipdown of the exquisite No. 9 Yunnan Full Leaf Black Tea from Steven Smith Teamaker. That tidbit has no real bearing on the present review, but I felt like sharing that nonetheless. Possibly due to my recent drinking preferences, I decided to keep the Steven Smith train rolling. This morning I cracked open the Keemun.
The dry leaves show a jet black prior to infusion and produce delicate aromas of toast, smoke, leather, molasses, and tobacco. After infusion, the resulting liquor is a dark, coppery amber and offers aromas of caramel, molasses, leather, toast, wildflower honey, tobacco, pipe smoke, and grain. In the mouth, I am picking up rather well-integrated notes of wildflower honey, leather, grain, toast, tobacco, smoke, caramel, molasses, and especially leather. The finish is surprisingly smooth and a bit rich, playing up notes of leather, molasses, toast, tobacco, and smoke.
All in all, I like this tea. Keemun has never really been one of my primary things (I really enjoy it, but I don’t tend to have it very often), but this one is approachable and well-rounded. Most importantly, it displays just enough complexity for me to savor. Still, I am grading somewhat cautiously because I still cannot really see myself reaching for this one very frequently. As a change of pace though, this is quite good.
Flavors: Caramel, Grain, Honey, Leather, Molasses, Smoke, Toast, Tobacco
A sample of this tea was included with one of my more recent orders from Verdant Tea and I have been putting off trying it for awhile. Honestly, I have been holding back on drinking a lot of white tea over the past couple of months. For one thing, I have such a hoard of high quality black teas that I have been fiendishly trying to reduce, and also, I just don’t tend to drink a lot of white tea at once. I recently finished the last of the Yabao from Whispering Pines and still have a lot of the Moondance left, but due to the miniscule amount of this tea I had on hand, I decided to bump it up in the rotation.
When brewing this tea, I settled on my usual Western three step infusion, with infusion times of 2, 4, and 7 minutes for each infusion. Honestly, Verdant Tea’s recommended brewing temperature of 205 F seemed a little high to me, but I decided to roll with it. I may try a lower temperature and a different infusion method the next time I partake of some of this tea.
The first infusion yielded a slightly greenish liquor with pronounced aromas of jasmine, honeysuckle, and lilac. In the background, I could detect subtle scents of cream and grass as well. On the palate, the jasmine, honeysuckle, and lilac merged with delicate vanilla, marshmallow, cream, oat, grass, mango, and apricot notes. The second infusion yielded a pale golden liquor with delicate aromas of mango, apricot, grass, cream, and melon underscored by delicate lilac, honeysuckle, and jasmine scents. On the palate, I detected distinct notes of cantaloupe, honeydew, nectarine, mango, apricot, white peach, oats, grass, and cream with lilac, honeysuckle, and jasmine lingering in the background. The third infusion yielded a delicate yellow-green liquor with soft aromas of cream, grass, oats, marshmallow, apricots, and melon. On the palate, notes of cream, grass, oats, and marshmallow were front and center, while faint traces of lilac, jasmine, honeysuckle, apricot, mango, and melon were still detectable in the background.
For such a seemingly simple tea, there is a lot going on here. Like a lot of the white teas that I have tried, the aromas and flavors are subtle, but are just present enough to keep the drinker intrigued. I especially appreciated the harmonious melding of aromas and flavors that was so obvious on each infusion. It is also worth noting that while most jasmine teas go over-the-top with the jasmine aroma and flavor, this one reigns it in, allowing other complexities to emerge. As one who finds floral teas to be very hit or miss overall, I can say that I find this one to be an expertly crafted jasmine tea that is well worth one’s time.
Flavors: Apricot, Cream, Floral, Grass, Honeydew, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Mango, Marshmallow, Oats, Peach, Smooth, Sweet
Prior to last night, it had been quite awhile since I had enjoyed a Yunnan tea. I used to adore them when I was younger, and not being in the mood to continue my Earl Grey and Darjeeling binge, I decided to crack open this container of Yunnan. I needed the change of pace, and as it turned out, this was exactly what I had been missing for years.
Prior to infusion the dry tea leaves showed a mixture of dark green and black with pretty gold tips. The aroma was a mixture of must, leather, and cocoa powder with just a hint of an almost mildewy, grassy aroma. After proper steeping, the liquor showed a beautiful dark amber with an aroma of caramel, malt, leather, must, cocoa, and grass.
In the mouth, I detected distinct notes of cocoa, caramel, molasses, tobacco, leather, malt, must, wood, grass, wildflower honey, and slight floral, herbal notes (perhaps similar to a mixture of anise, licorice, and ginseng, but I could not quite put my finger on it). This tea was distinctly smooth and rich in texture with a satisfying body and a finish of cocoa, caramel, malt, honey, leather, and wood.
Overall, I was very impressed with this tea. It reminded me of why I used to love Yunnan black teas so much and how much more frequently I need to revisit them. I think fans of Chinese black teas will be satisfied and perhaps even pleasantly surprised with this one.
Flavors: Caramel, Cocoa, Herbs, Honey, Leather, Malt, Molasses, Musty, Tobacco, Wood
Another of the Earl Grey blends on which I have been binging lately, I actually polished off the last of this before I started on Simpson & Vail’s Extra Aromatic Earl Grey, but forgot to review it. I am now rectifying that oversight. All in all, I think this one compares favorably to the other.
In the glass, this tea blend produces a rich golden liquor. On the nose, I immediately detect a balance of bergamot, honey, malt, and toast. Judging by the nose, this is going to be a very balanced Earl Grey that doesn’t overwhelm the drinker with bergamot. In the mouth, the bergamot is present up front, but is not overpowering. It is quickly balanced by well-rounded notes of honey, malt, and toast. The finish provides a pleasant, soothing balance of bergamot, toast, honey, and malt.
As mentioned earlier, I think this Earl Grey holds up to Simpson & Vail’s Extra Aromatic blend well. It does not display the depth of bergamot flavor of the other blend, but then again, it is not supposed to. This is clearly intended to be a balanced blend and that is exactly what it is. I could see this being a great introductory blend for those curious about Earl Grey, but not wanting something overly tart, spicy, or fruity.
Flavors: Bergamot, Honey, Malt, Toast
Since I have been investigating more blends lately, I decided to go ahead and crack open my sample of Glen Lochey Blend. This is a smoky, earthy blend of black teas. Of course, the intense smoky aroma and flavor is produced by the addition of lapsang souchong. So, it kind of goes without saying that if you are not a fan of lapsang souchong, then you will very likely not be a fan of this particular blend.
In the glass, the liquor shows a warm, rich honey gold. I was kind of expecting a darker liquor, but still, this looks nice. Aromas of pine, smoke, earth, moss, and peat quickly jump out on the nose. In the mouth, I immediately detect notes of pine, smoke, and tar followed by flavors of peat, earth, moss, malt, roasted barley, and an almost algae/seaweed marine brininess. On the finish, there is an integration of earthy and smoky flavors with distinct pine wood notes and subtle hints of caramel and honey that round things out a bit.
All in all, I rather like this blend, but then again, I am a fan of roasty, woody, earthy, and smoky flavors. That being said, I do wish the flavor was a bit more robust overall with a slightly greater degree of separation in the layering of individual flavor components. There is quite a bit going on here if you dig deep enough to find it, but for me, the problem is that everything mellows out and merges a little too quickly. Still, I could see this being a good introduction to smokier blends for those who may be new to them.
Flavors: Caramel, Earth, Fishy, Honey, Malt, Marine, Moss, Peat, Pine, Roasted Barley, Tar, Toast
Lately, I have been turning my attention more and more to classic blends. I sometimes feel that they are taken for granted among tea drinkers, and as such, do not always receive the attention and appreciation they deserve. After all, there is a reason so many of these blends have been around for so long: people like them. I especially think Earl Grey is more than a bit underrated, especially on websites like Steepster. Granted, I know that the aroma and flavor of bergamot is a turn off to some, and I know its presence often lends a slick or soapy texture to the tea, but come on people, the Earl is a classic!
This variation of Earl Grey from Simpson & Vail is more or less just an amped up version of their house Earl Grey blend. I mean this one is amped up in the sense that more bergamot oil is present in this blend than in the other blend. In the cup, the liquor is a brilliant, rich golden orange. The aroma of bergamot initially dominates the nose, but is soon balanced by subtle scents of toast and malt. In the mouth, the tea provides a heavy dose of bergamot that is mellowed at mid-palate by notes of toast, honey, and malt. The finish is again heavy on the bergamot, imparting an almost grapefruit or lemon rind flavor and texture in the mouth before the toast and malt notes swell late on the fade.
All in all, I really like this Earl Grey, but then again, I also like Simpson & Vail’s standard Earl Grey, and well, Earl Grey in general. I understand that a significant number of people may or may not share my taste for this and similar blends. That does not bother me in the slightest. For those of you who may enjoy Earl Greys, or who may otherwise just enjoy tart, fruity blends, I think this one may hit the spot.
Flavors: Bergamot, Honey, Lemon, Malt, Toast
It looks like I’m getting to this one first. So, Steven Smith Teamaker has recently been including oolongs and pu-erh in the lineup. It also looks as if this vendor has introduced a new white tea too. Anyway, right now Steven Smith’s oolong and pu-erh selection is limited. It seems as if this one is the only pu-erh currently available.
In the glass, the liquor is an extremely dark brown. Aromas of sauteed mushrooms, wet leaves, wet wood, moist earth, wet hay, and forest floor are evident. Notes of mushroom, hay, straw, wood, wet leaves, and moist earth are most evident in the mouth, though they are balanced by traces of roasted nuts, malt, toast, and dark chocolate.
All in all, this is an earthy, woody pu-erh that I rather like. It is definitely not an everyday tea in my opinion, nor is it the most complex pu-erh I have tried, but it is still quite good. Hopefully, this tea will go over well and Steven Smith Teamaker will introduce more pu-erh teas in the future.
Flavors: Dark Chocolate, Forest Floor, Hay, Malt, Mushrooms, Musty, Roasted nuts, Straw, Toast, Wet Earth, Wet Wood
Before I start this review, allow me to state that I did not brew this tea gongfu style and I probably should have. I tried a couple different brewing methods for this one. The first was a modified three step infusion that I tend to use on a lot of Chinese, Indian, and Sri Lankan teas. The second was a traditional one step Western infusion. I am really not certain that either of the methods I used did this tea justice.
The first infusion yielded a pale golden liquor with an earthy, woody, and slightly floral nose. In the mouth, I detected delicate notes of moss, wood, and grass with underlying herbal notes of tulsi and mint. The second infusion yielded a dark golden liquor with an even earthier, woodier nose that also yielded impressions of chocolate, honey, and toast. In the mouth, delicate, yet heavier notes of wood, moss, and grass were rounded out by flavors of chocolate, honey, toast, and malt. The third and final infusion yielded a dark golden liquor with a pronounced malty, toasty character on the nose that was underscored by impressions of wood. Notes of malt, earth, and wood were noticeable on the palate. These flavors were underscored by subtle impressions of chocolate and toast.
As for the one step extended Western infusion, the liquor produced was a dark golden amber. The nose showed aromas of malt, honey, toast, grass, chocolate, herbs, and wood. In the mouth, I detected woody, honeyed, and malty notes underscored by herbal, grassy, and somewhat chocolaty flavors.
Overall, I was not exactly blown away by this tea, but as I stated earlier, my brewing methods may not have done it justice. Still, I am not certain I will revisit this one. The overall impression I am left with is of a subtle, smooth, soft, and clean tea lacking in the rustic characteristics I typically expect from wild picked teas. For me, it is not that there is not enough going on flavorwise with this tea- it is that there is not enough going on at once to hold my interest. Honestly, I found this to be kind of a boring tea. I may try it again when I am equipped to brew it gongfu style, but then again, I may not. We’ll just have to see about that.
Flavors: Chocolate, Dry Grass, Earth, Honey, Leather, Malt, Mint, Moss, Toast, Tulsi, Wood
So, I’ve finally moved on from Sri Lankan black and Chinese green teas for the time being. They just didn’t seem to suit the unseasonably hot, dry weather and increased workload I’ve been dealing with for the past week or so. Wanting something I tend to gravitate to in hot weather, I have been exploring the world of Earl Grey.
This Earl Grey is interesting. Rishi uses a base of Dian Hong for this blend, rather than a mixture of Chinese, Sri Lankan, and Indian black teas. The bergamot presence is pretty strong too, although not as strong as some of the more extravagant blends on the market. In the glass, the liquor is a dark amber. Aromas of caramel, toast, malt, honey, and bergamot are immediately noticeable. There also seems to be hints of lavender, cocoa, and ginger in the background. In the mouth, there is a pleasant balance of bergamot and caramel up front, with notes of malt, toast, and mild cocoa rounding things out pretty quickly. The subtle impressions of lavender and ginger that I caught on the nose are present on the palate too, though they remain rather faint. In terms of texture, this Earl Grey is similar to most others I have encountered. It is slight and relatively soapy in the mouth, though I do think it has a bit more body than some. Maybe it’s just me.
In the end, I quite like this particular Earl Grey and would recommend it to fans of the style. I highly doubt it will convert those who dislike these types of blended and flavored teas, but then again I could be wrong. As for me, I could see myself seeking this one out again in the not too distant future.
Flavors: Bergamot, Caramel, Cocoa, Ginger, Honey, Lavender, Malt, Toast
Last night I found myself in the mood for some Darjeeling. I was looking to briefly get away from the Chinese green and Ceylon black teas I’ve been consuming religiously over the last week or so. I, however, wanted something new that I had yet to try. I ended up choosing this tea. I recently rounded out a large order from Simpson & Vail with an ounce of this and had yet to crack it open. Honestly, I was a bit shocked to see that there was little mention of this tea on Steepster. If any of you read this tasting note, keep in mind that this is just my first impression of this tea. I may change my score in the future if I deem it necessary.
In the glass, the liquor shows a clear, dark golden orange. The aroma is mild, offering subtly layered scents of straw, honey, malt, toast, and Muscatel grapes. In the mouth, the tea presents a thin body with mild, smooth notes of straw, honey, cream, malt, toast, and Muscatel grapes. A bit of woodiness is present on a dryish finish, imparting a flavor somewhat akin to oak. Even for a second flush Darjeeling, this tea is unbelievably smooth and subtle with barely any trace of bitterness or astringency.
Overall, I am relatively pleased with this tea. I feel like I’m grading it somewhat more liberally than I should considering it isn’t really all that deep or complex, but on the whole, it is pleasant and easy to drink with just enough flavor to be satisfying on its own. In the end, I would recommend it with the caveat that it will likely be far from the most complex Darjeeling one will ever try.
Flavors: Cream, Honey, Malt, Muscatel, Oak wood, Straw, Toast