612 Tasting Notes
Opening this for the first time tonight, sniffing the dry leaves I was a little nervous I wouldn’t like it—the scent is STRONG, like potpourri strong, and while I love the creamy soothing quality vanilla often brings to tea I have a feeling a tea that screams vanilla full stop, even when done naturally and well, isn’t my thing just because of too many associations with one-note cheap vanilla perfumes and extracts. On the other hand, this is on the green side of the oolong spectrum, and god knows that base has saved many flavors for me I’d just about written off in black tea.
And yes, this is no exception to that rule of thumb! It steeps up a surprisingly light blonde color, pale gold (I’ve been more focused lately on the myriad colors tea can be, so this pleased me greatly), and the smell is stronger and richer than the taste, which is warming but thanks to the oolong base cleanly sweet. This is a wonderfully comforting cup of tea. Man, I love me some sweet creamy oolong in a cup after dinner, especially in rainy thundering weather like this. My first foray into The Tea Merchant’s stuff (they’ve been on my to try list forever as this and the French Earl Grey were Steepster faves a year or more ago) and I’m very happy!
My non-Steepster tea bestie mentioned drinking this all the time lately and it reminded me to do the same! So wonderful. I know Golden Monkey is more popular among tea connoisseurs usually but I love the honey and flowers and relative thickness of a Golden Needle. Right now I’m tempted to say it’s my favorite Chinese black tea!
Also had a surprise today—R adores this one too! He pretty much never drinks unflavored teas but he couldn’t get enough of this one and listened when I explained tippiness/buds to him. He’s so great.
Had for afternoon tea yesterday with the husband. The trademark Della Terra chocolate smell, but stronger and better somehow (strangely, I get a peppermint chocolate candy vibe from it…might be the brightness of the citrus?). The flavor doesn’t live up to the smell, but hey, it rarely does. A pinch of sugar helps. One of the better DT chocolate teas, I think.
I will probably update/edit this as time goes on given I’ve only had my Breville less than a week (eeee!), but I’ve made a lot of tea for a lot of different situations now so I feel comfortable piecing together some thoughts. Keep in mind, this is hyper personalized in terms of my quirky tea making preferences and needs.
First off, I am as impressed as everyone else about how nice the quality of the parts are. The kettle does not feel flimsy or especially breakable despite being glass. I was a little nervous the magnet mechanism would seem overly delicate, fragile and fiddly, but it’s sturdy and straightforward. I also like that the countertop real estate this takes up feels pretty small but the kettle houses a surprising volume of water (1.5L, I think). The brew basket is even roomier than I expected, so I don’t think I’ll ever have to worry about fluffy teas feeling cramped even when I’m putting in enough for 5 cups of tea.
As for all the programming stuff: it works as described, intuitive and easy with a straightforward interface (the “program the night before for fresh tea in the morning” has a few more steps, but if you don’t plan on unplugging your kettle much that shouldn’t be a big deal).
This is also the first glass kettle I’ve ever had, so I can watch the stages up to boiling (which hopefully will help me get better at eyeballing without tech/thermometers some day).
Now for some kinda-cons. The issue I’ve seen hinted at here and there but rarely explicitly described about the tea tasting differently—it seems pretty clear to me this is because of the design of the brew basket (it’s not a million little holes all around like mesh but solid metal with relatively few holes on the bottom, so the degree of direct contact between leaf and water isn’t what I’m used to) combined with the fact when the basket lowers into the tea and it’s steeping the temperature remains constant, at the prescribed brewing temp, as opposed to pouring leaves in an infuser basket or tea pot, pouring the water over them, and letting the tea steep in cooling water. (By the way, I know there’s a difference because I made a point to brew staple favorites the first few days I had it.) My quick fix for this is to adjust all the steeping parameters down from what I’d use if I was making tea traditionally—if I’d normally make a tea at 212F for 4 minutes, in the Breville I set it for 200F at 2 minutes. I’m going to do a side by side soon with all different types of teas to get my adjustment scale down for good; I’ve kind of been winging it so far with good if not always stellar results.
More problematic, the tea continues to intensify even after the basket lifts out of the water, and even if the keep warm setting is not used. I know this because you can see the tea get darker and darker in the kettle as it sits, and when you pour a second cup it’s noticeably darker (I can compare my cup when I go for seconds to my husband’s still-half-full first cup of tea) and tastes different, usually more bitter. There is an obvious solution to this—remove the basket from the tea maker completely once it’s done steeping—but that’s a little tricky given the hot steam, and also, the whole point of having it brew the tea for you is not having to do something like that, something akin to just using a finum or forlife in your cup in the first place. Ah well. My theory about it is that somehow just being amidst the hot steam in the kettle leads to condensation and dripping more tannin out of the tea. I will note that Breville admits this happens, too—I can’t remember if it’s in the manual or maybe the Amazon description or Breville website, but I know I’ve seen a one sentence mention from the horse’s mouth somewhere. So there’s that. I was prepared for it.
The other thing is, and this is understandable, the Keep Warm function is really only for tea; what I mean is, it works well if you’ve brewed tea and just want a pot of it to stay drinkably warm for a while (it will keep it warm for 1 hour; by the way, the count up as soon as it’s done making tea, so you know how long it’s been sitting, is a nice little touch). If you use the Breville as a variable temp kettle (something that was essential to me given the price tag since I knew the aforementioned cons would mean I’d still be doing things the usual way a lot of the time), the Keep Warm function won’t keep the water at the programmed temp for an hour or at all after the right temp is reached and it beeps (granted, this is a lot, probably too much, to ask of a kettle as opposed to a sealed water heater—I have a cheap variable temp kettle that does this hypothetically, but at higher temps it doesn’t take long at all for the water to completely steam away). I have had a desire for a while now to have a set up (probably in my living room) so I could sit on the couch reading or watching TV with a pot or gaiwan of green or oolong tea and just keep resteeping from a generous source of constantly maintained appropriate temp water without having to go to the kitchen; the more experience I get with tea gadgets the more I realize the two best options for that sort of thing are a variable temp kettle whose contents are then poured into a preheated vacuum sealed thermos (my current method) or one of those fancy Zojirushi variable temp water heaters (maybe someday—was really hoping the Breville and that, both biiiig ticket items, would overlap more in their uses but alas).
As for maintenance/cleaning/upkeep, I—knock on wood—foresee this being pretty great in that regard. Like any electric kettle you can’t immerse the base in water, but the mouth of it is much more open than most kettles I’ve had, and the glass means you can see what you’re doing inside it as you clean it. It definitely retains odors—I made Queen Catherine in it one morning and everything smelled like QC for the next couple days until I did a thorough baking soda clean—so you might want to watch out for that. The basket and lid can apparently go right into the dishwasher, though so far I’ve simply been rinsing them clean. The interface on the dock seems like it’d just need the occasional wipe down to stay clean (I hope).
So. I’m quite pleased with the design and quality of this thing, how much thought and care went into it. That said, I don’t feel this takes the place of other ways of making tea at all—I still find you get a better experience with appropriately hot water and a set-up that lets you smell the brewing process and all that. And it definitely doesn’t take the place of something like the Zojirushi heaters, which seem better suited if the majority of your tea drinking is gongfu style or generally Eastern (like using a kyusu and resteeping greens a zillion times) as opposed to “set it and forget it” big pots of tea Western style. But the “wake up to freshly brewed tea of any kind, nice and warm and ready” feature, and the freedom of knowing when I want to make tea for my husband and myself I no longer HAVE to do the whole “5 minutes to boil, then 5 more minutes steeping, and don’t walk away lest you forget it and it gets cold” hover-dance—I can set it up, walk away as long as I like (within an hour), and it’ll be ready for me—is super duper welcome. I think the Breville’s going to be go-to for teas I don’t think of as precious or finicky—first-thing-in-the-morning brisk blends, the flavored treats we share for afternoon tea, no-caf tisanes right before bed. And for everything else, it makes a good variable temp kettle. I’m definitely happy I’m lucky enough to have it now (best Christmas evar), I just don’t think it is the last word in tea making set ups, especially if you like resteeping/gongfu/Eastern style prep.
Seemed a no brainer to try a sample of this—I love bergamot, I’ve come around majorly lately on rose in tea, and I’ve learned that a lot of things I don’t think work well with black bases are scrumptious with green ones. The dry and steeping scent of this does not disappoint! It is surprisingly creamy vanilla, and that goes so, so well with roses and rhubarb (reminds me of Nigella Lawson-esque late winter rhubarb syllabub cream desserts). Yum. The flavor isn’t quite as decadent—the green base, while not a negative, doesn’t contribute much in my opinion and does leave a sandpapery dryness to the tongue over time. That said I really enjoyed this. The bergamot is extremely faint to me; it lingers at the end very lightly, giving some citrus brightness with a floral edge that melds softly instead of causing abrupt zestiness.
Really not a fan of the dry or steeping smell of this one—it is, like a few other reviews mention, quite a lot like Sweet Tarts or Smarties, gross! Thankfully the finished taste and smell isn’t like that, but it isn’t much like anything at all period either, alas. It IS nice and juicy the more you drink it the way yummy Chinese greens often are, and that evokes fresh juicy blueberries I suppose. Not the worst but I’m glad I only have a small sample of this. Might coldsteep the rest on a day it isn’t 7F out!
I don’t have any experience, at least as far as I know (some tea shops just offer one “Darjeeling” or Nepali tea and don’t give any information about whether it’s a blend or what flush or any of that), with the less well known/celebrated autumn or third flush darjeelings, so this is exciting. And I’m quite surprised to find this is in fact markedly different, like different enough that if given a cup of this without knowing what it was I’d never initially guess darjeeling—it is very malty and rather bread-y, more like the chewy rich Chinese black teas I’ve had from spots like Teavivre and Verdant albeit with that woody darjeeling edge in the lingering aftertaste. It’s a bit like Assam too actually, given how it retains some astringency at the tail end of the sip. It would be good in a breakfast blend (and now I’m wondering if some of the delicious unusual breakfast blends I’ve had with darjeeling listed in them use autumn flush ones), smells a lot like some of my favorites (The Black Lotus comes to mind!).
I love how much flush matters, tasting that firsthand—I’ve had 2013 spring, summer, and autumn flush Jungpanas now with other conditions fairly well controlled for (all the same FTGFOP grade, from the same website, sealed the same, obtained at the same time) in the course of two days and it’s been marvelous seeing, smelling, and tasting how the tea changes over the seasons from lightly floral and green tea-like to sparkly muscatel brown to this bready satisfying chewy black.