42 Tasting Notes

89

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve had an older Xingyang shu, so I’m pretty excited to give this a try! The leaves are absolutely massive and quite beautiful. I’m not getting much aroma from the dry leaves. Maybe some light mustiness. After a quick rinse the wet leaves smell of leather, tobacco, and wet leaves.

1st, 10sec: Leaves are still waking up, so this is pretty light. The liquor has a very nice aroma of spice, vanilla, fruit, and must. Wow! This is reminding me why Xingyang made me fall in love with shu puerh. Despite the light looking brew it’s already got a creamy body and an incredibly luxurious, rich, and sweet bourbon vanilla flavor.

2nd, 20sec: Still very rich vanilla flavor, but some of the fruit flavors are starting to arrive. There’s an apple aroma to the brew and an apple and peach mix to the tasting notes.

3rd, 30sec: Even as this tea starts to open up and darken it brews incredibly clean, with a crystal clear light orange liquor. There’s a really bright and crisp apple flavor at the front of this sip. There’s still plenty of vanilla character and a hint of some sweet spice, like cardamom. There’s a nice calming qi that’s starting to awaken at this point.

4th, 40sec: We’re starting to add some more flavors to the mix and it’s a bit less sweet. There’s some bread flavor rising on the first sips, which fades to a gentle camphor cooling and some medicinal eucalyptus notes. I’m taking this session a little slow because there’s a surprisingly strong qi that I want to both savor and not be overwhelmed by.

5th, 50sec: This is another fruit forward brew. Lots of apple flavor. I don’t taste any spice during the sip, but there’s a strong mix of spices that hangs on the tongue long after you’re finished sipping.

6th, 1min: Wood and vanilla.

7th, 1min 30: A really powerful aroma of juniper berry came out of nowhere. Flavors of vanilla, apple, and some mineral.

8th, 2min: The juniper berry flavor from last steeping is fully setting in now. This is an incredibly sweet round, with mixed berry flavors. I’m almost reminded of that fake “blue raspberry” flavoring, but that makes it sound bad and it’s quite enjoyable.

9th, 2min 30: Some soft, musty vanilla is bringing me back down to earth after that last super sweet brew.

10th, 3min: The aroma has taken on a medicinal smell. The musty vanilla has notes of cinnamon peaking out from under it.

11th, 5min: Weak and musty.

12th, boiled: I didn’t want this session to end, so I had to give this a try! It turned out nice and dark and tasted fantastic. This is a very doughy brew with notes of spice. Exactly the flavors that I fell in love with when I had a my first Xingyang years ago.

After some meh young shu from Xingyang, this older tea is such a good reminder of why they made me fall in love with shu. Super sweet, rich, and satisfying. I think I’d probably prefer a higher leafed, dark brew with some more savory and bitter notes to contrast the sweet, but this was still a wonderful session. And the great taste was accompanied by the most perfect qi — gentle, calming, blissful. I can’t believe their aren’t more notes about this tea on here — it is seriously delicious!

Flavors: Apple, Autumn Leaf Pile, Baked Bread, Berries, Camphor, Cardamon, Cinnamon, Creamy, Eucalyptus, Fruity, Leather, Musty, Peach, Spicy, Tobacco, Vanilla, Wood

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 4 g

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79

I figured if I somehow ended up with 150 grams of this tea between two different harvests, it had to be better than my last session indicated. I’ve had good luck with black teas holding their flavor for years after purchase, but perhaps this one didn’t hold up. Thankfully part of that 150 grams I have was a newer 2016 harvest that shouldn’t have lost it’s luster, so I’m giving that a try today.

The leaves of this harvest look a bit more intact and the ratio of full leaf to golden bud material seems a bit more even than my old bag, which leaned more towards full leaves. The smell of the dry leaves is that of malt and honey.

The wet leaves smell of cedar and honey. Right off the bat I can tell this is going to be better than my older bag. The taste isn’t flat like that was — it has rich notes of malt, honey, and peppercorn. The liqour is creamy with a medium body.

This tea actually reminds me a lot of Verdant’s Jin Jun Mei. There’s some similar flavors and it’s another tea that doesn’t change much over the course of a session. Through the session the flavor bounces between peppery and lemony, with a consistent malt and honey sweetness and occasional notes of sugarcane or florals.

Later in session there were small hits of cooling menthol sensation (but no mint flavor, which was good, because I think it would have clashed with the rest) and a velvety feeling in the mouth that’s reminiscent of Golden Fleece. The aroma of the leaves also gains a stunning floral quality. It had a fairly solid staying power and doesn’t start to drop off until steep 10 or 11.

I’m so glad I tried the newer harvest of this tea — it’s a very solid black tea. I still don’t think it’s a stunner, but it’s a really enjoyable cup.

Flavors: Cedar, Creamy, Floral, Honey, Lemon, Malt, Peppercorn, Sugarcane

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 4 g 4 OZ / 118 ML

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76

Another well balanced if a bit shallow tea from Red Blossom Tea, but this one is much more to my taste and has a bit more to offer than the last.

I followed their brewing instructions of light leaf and a starting steep of 1min 20sec, adding 30 seconds each round up, to a final (8th) brew at 4min 50sec.

The aroma of the leaves after a rinse is that of burnt sugar, raspberry, and tobacco. The tea has a light, smooth body throughout the session. The flavor begins with notes of toffee and a melange of fruit. There’s a refreshing, crisp minerality like drinking water straight out of a spring that acts as the base thoughout my tasting.

By the third steeping the roast seems to have mostly washed away and took the toffee flavor with it, leaving the mineral, fruit, and making room for some snap pea flavor.

On the fifth steeping some cooling spice starts to appear, like sweet cinnamon and mint. The session finishes with a cherry scent and a white grape flavor.

This was a pleasant, enjoyable, and refreshing cup but not something I could see myself restocking (especially at the price they’re charging). While I wish there were more depth to the teas of theirs I own, I commend how well balanced their roasts are — just enough to bring some more character out of the tea but not so much that it has a biting smoke flavor or overwhelms the natural character of the tea.

I have enough of this left that down the road I’ll probably play around with a higher leaf/quicker infusion session to see if there’s anything more to find.

Flavors: Burnt Sugar, Cherry, Cinnamon, Fruity, Mineral, Mint, Raspberry, Soybean, Tobacco, Toffee, White Grapes

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 1 min, 15 sec 3 g 4 OZ / 118 ML

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80

Xingyang factory has an atypical way they recommend people try brewing their teas — high leaf, a little cooler, and super long. This is actually the first way I experienced puerh years ago and I loved it instantly. However, with this young tea it was a bit of a roller coaster ride. There was some great steeps and some undrinkable steeps, some overcaffeination and some amazing cha qi.

1st, 1min: This shu takes a while to open up, so this is actually still a pretty light brew. Lovely and sweet with notes of crisp apple and honey, balanced nicely with a sour orange.

2nd, 1min: The brew is frighteningly dark. Even if I hold it up to the light I can’t see through it. It’s also a tad cloudy. The texture is thick, but not as much as I expected. This brew is overwhelmingly sour. The enjoyable sour orange flavor of the earlier steep has turned into pure tartness. It hangs on the back of the tongue like the time I made the terrible decision of trying pure sour orange extract. The tartness mellows a bit as it cools, leaving room for some vanilla and cardamom to sneak through. The nice high of the cha qi is still here in the dark brew, but at first it gets a bit overridden by a headache inducing caffeine hit.

3rd, 50sec: Hopefully this round gets me back on track. There’s a musty vanilla smell to the liquor, which is still cloudy but a tad lighter than last round. There’s a very earthy vanilla flavor with a bit of apple. Thankfully the sour flavor is gone in this infusion. It’s bitter, but I don’t mind bitter. The astringency is catching up with me and I’ve got some serious cottonmouth. The cha qi of this round is euphoric though. My head is heavy, my body tingling, and I feel blissful. The high of this tea lasts way longer with this dark brew. Up from 30 seconds a cup to maybe 10 – 15 minutes.

4th, 1min: This round is perfection. It’s incredibly sweet with familiar notes from earlier steepings of vanilla, apple, and honey. Thankfully it’s counterbalanced with a light earthy flavor that keeps it from getting saccharine sweet. The cha qi is still very strong but more mellow and relaxing than euphoric. My one knock on this round is the body is pretty thin.

5th, 1min 30sec: This round is fairly shallow, but I’m absolutely loving the lightly sweet musty flavor of it. The mellow, calming cha qi is continuing. Sitting down and relaxing into it is otherworldly

6th, 2min 30sec: The aroma is suddenly very floral. The flavor is so refreshing. Lots of minerality, some apple, must, and vanilla. Amazingly there’s still strong cha qi (probably some of it is leftover from previous rounds, since the qi lasts forever).

7th, 5min: Very similar to round 5. Shallow, sweet and musty.

Well, that was a very strange session. Round two was the absolute worst tea I’ve ever tasted, round four was some of my favorite sweet shu I’ve ever tasted, and the qi was out of this world. All that said, I’m not sure I’d take this approach again with a tea this young, because if there’s something bad in there (like some sourness) it really brings out that bad flavor in early rounds.

Flavors: Apple, Earth, Honey, Mineral, Musty, Orange, Sour, Sweet, Vanilla

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 1 min, 0 sec 7 g 4 OZ / 118 ML

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67

Another tea I’ve had sitting in the back of my cabinet. Maybe since 2014 or 2015.

There’s not a lot I can say about this tea. The dry leaf aroma is sweet with notes of caramel and toffee and it pretty much sets your expectations right where they should be. Once you rinse the leaves there’s an aroma of smoke that joins the caramel and toffee.

Flavor is right there with the aroma. There’s a pleasantly unaggressive smokiness. The sweet notes of caramel, toffee, and a hint of pear are strong but not cloying. There’s a bitterness that hints at chocolate or a dark roast coffee. The tea has a medium body with a creamy mouthfeel.

And that’s it. From the start of the session to the end. If those flavors are what you’re looking for this tea has some of the best balanced examples of them I’ve tasted, but there’s just not enough here for me to get excited about this tea.

Flavors: Caramel, Chocolate, Creamy, Pear, Smoke, Toffee

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 1 min, 0 sec 4 g 4 OZ / 118 ML

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89

This is a belated review of the 2016 harvest of this tea.

I’m having trouble formulating a thoughtful review of this tea because I adore it so much. It’s very reminiscent of Verdant’s Golden Fleece, but it’s a bit more approachable and comforting. If I wanted to treat myself or have an especially contemplative session I’d still reach for Golden Fleece, but this Jin Jun Mei is something I could see being closer to a daily drinker.

Every time I take a sniff of the aroma of this tea I catch something different: lemon, mushroom, wood, moss, jasmine, cinnamon, nutmeg, yeast, bread. The mouthfeel is slick and smooth with a medium body. Not nearly as thick and textured as Golden Fleece.

This is a tea where the scent very much matches the taste. Some infusions taste so strong of honey and lemon I’d swear I’d put some in after brewing the tea if I didn’t know better. The savory flavors of mushroom and bread are present in this tea, but less prominent than in Golden Fleece — they’re a nice counterbalance to the sweetness rather than trying to steal the show. The cinnamon and jasmine hints in the flavor are fleeting and accompanied by an even more fleeting hint of mint. Towards the end of the session a note minerality and creaminess arises to compliment and mellow the other flavors. I’ve had sessions where I leafed a bit heavier and got a chocolate note, but I’m actually preferring this lighter session that lets the other flavors sing.

I will note that the flavor of this tea needs to be appreciated when warm. I let the end of one cup go cold and it was very bland and unremarkable compared to the warm sips.

This tea also has a shocking staying power. I only used 3.8 grams in 4 oz of water for a gongfu session starting with a 6 second infusion and adding 3 seconds every time. Right now I’m on round 8 and haven’t needed to start pushing the increment beyond 3 seconds. (I’m curious to see how it holds up further, but I’m trapped under a sleeping cat I can’t bear to wake)

This is not a tea that I feel evolves much over a session. Given more sips I find more notes I hadn’t noticed before, but it feels less like the character of the tea has changed than my own perception has changed, given more time to explore what the tea is offering. I think in some ways this is a positive and why I could see it as a daily drinker — there’s a lot available in this tea, but I know what I’m getting from steep to steep.

Flavors: Baked Bread, Cinnamon, Creamy, Honey, Jasmine, Lemon, Malt, Mineral, Mint, Moss, Mushrooms, Nutmeg, Peppercorn, Smooth, Vanilla, Wood, Yeast

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 4 g 4 OZ / 118 ML

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50

I’m tasting the spring 2017 harvest of this tea. This is going to be a short note, because this tea just didn’t work for me, which is disappointing because the smell got my hopes up.

I brewed six rounds from 10 seconds to 90 seconds

The aroma of the wet leaves is rich with smoke, peat, rum, and fresh gingerbread. The flavors in the first infusions are fruity like dragonfruit and raspberry with a somewhat unpleasant burned bread hint.

On the third infusion the burned taste is gone and I’m left with a somehow underwhelming chocolate, raspberry, and mint flavor. These are flavors I’ve loved in teas before, but something about them is just off and uninspiring in this. The upshot is there’s a pleasant tingling on my tongue at the end of the cups.

The last three steepings are all the same — sweet cream, vanilla, and burnt sugar. Again, flavors I’ve enjoyed before but they’re really flat and uninspiring in this tea.

In the future I’ll play around with leafing heavier than recommended, but right now I’m thoroughly unenthused by this tea.

Flavors: Baked Bread, Burnt, Burnt Sugar, Cream, Fruity, Mint, Peat, Raspberry, Rum, Smoke, Spices, Vanilla

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 4 g 4 OZ / 118 ML

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82
drank Laoshan Gongfu Black by Verdant Tea
42 tasting notes

To be honest, I’ve always put off writing tasting notes about laoshan black because it’s such an understandably beloved tea, but also (in my experience) so singularly chocolately there’s not much to say about it. However, I decided to embark on and record a mindful tasting the other day, and approaching the tea much more mindfully yielded something entirely more complex than what I think of loashan black being.

The session lasted a solid 9 infusions. Following a flash rinse I started with 10 seconds and additions of 4 seconds, but gradually increased in bigger increments to a final brew of 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

The aroma throughout the session was the typically strong chocolate smell of a laoshan black. However, the flavor profile started out like a mildly sweet bread mixed with chocolate. It reminded me of a chocolate chip croissant.

As the session continued I got an abundance of sweetness from honey and sugarcane notes, mixed with cinnamon and allspice. On the fourth steep I was caught off guard by a strong mint flavor at the start of the cup which faded back into the chocolate chip croissant flavor of the first infusion.

On the fifth steeping I decided to push the tea a bit more to see if I could get a round of strong chocolate flavor. I was rewarded with exactly that, but with a complimentary citrus note and a beautiful floral hit in the aromatics.

As the session ended the bitterness of the chocolate faded and I had a final cup that was sweet, creamy, and vanilla flavored. It was quite reminiscent of a sweetened steamed milk from Starbucks.

This was a really great session of a tea that’s always nice to have on hand if you enjoy a luxurious chocolate flavored cup. Clearly, as this session awakened me to, there’s more than meets the eye with this tea if you’re willing to invest yourself in the brew.

Flavors: Baked Bread, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Citrus, Cream, Floral, Honey, Mint, Spicy, Sugarcane, Sweet, Vanilla

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 4 g 4 OZ / 118 ML

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I’ve never been much of a green tea person, but I’ve been trying to sipdown some of the older teas in my cabinet and decided to give this another try. Much to my surprise I really enjoyed it!

Since I didn’t expect to enjoy it much it wasn’t a particularly mindful brew. I steeped it western style 5 different times for 30s, 30s, 45s, 60s, 90s and enjoyed some cups at home, some on the go in a travel mug.

Flavors were not nearly as vegetal as I expected based on the description of this tea. There was some snap pea flavor, but mostly I was getting a creaminess, sugar cane sweetness and a surprisingly spicy flavor on a couple of the brews. There’s a really thick mouthfeel to go along with the creamy flavor. It felt like a more mellow, grounded, and interesting version of a Milk Oolong. It made a refreshing brew for a trip to the gym and a relaxing brew for being cozy at home with a book.

I don’t drink enough green to feel qualified to rate this tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and will probably pick up more of this or try some other green teas down the road.

Flavors: Creamy, Peas, Spicy, Sugarcane, Thick

Preparation
175 °F / 79 °C 0 min, 30 sec 5 g 10 OZ / 295 ML

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85
drank Jin Guanyin Wuyi by Verdant Tea
42 tasting notes

So, years ago I received a sample of Master Bi’s Jin Guan Yin from Verdant’s reserve club and it was the most singularly luxurious and cozy tea I have ever experienced. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that specific tea is not something I’ll ever taste again, but I’ve been on the hunt for something at least similar. When I saw this tea from the same varietal with a similar looking roast I just had to see if it could come close to that experience from years ago.

There’s a nice floral smell to the leaves as I open the container. The leaves are impressively intact and there’s no dust or broken leaves that get caught in my strainer.

1st, 6 sec: After a flash rinse the steam that rises is smokey and woody. The bright orange liquor adds notes of chocolate and dried fruits to the smokey aroma. There’s also something else I can’t identify — like a tropical leaf. The aroma alone is absolutely intoxicating. The flavor hits many of the same notes as the aroma, but adds in a minerality. The chocolate flavor is not harsh and bitter like some teas, it has a creaminess like milk chocolate. The mouthfeel is a bit thick and very smooth.

2nd, 10 sec: With the roast washing off slightly the minerality is coming more to the forefront, but the chocolate flavor still lingers on the tongue after the sip. This cup is no more bitter than the first, but there’s definitely a noticeable astringency to it.

3rd, 14 sec: There’s a wonderful rum cherry scent the the liquor that I keep searching for in the flavor, but I can’t find it in there.

4th, 18 sec: The leaves and the liquor are gaining a pleasant medicinal herb smell. This steeping I can taste the cherry I’d been smelling, creating a delightful cherry chocolate flavor. As the tea cools there’s a refreshing soft minerality that makes me think that maybe this tea could be just as refreshing an iced tea for the summer as it is warming and cozy when brewed hot in the winter.

5th, 22 sec: This is the first steeping where I feel like I can taste a bit of the tropical leaf smell I caught early on. It’s unexpected but not unpleasant.

6th, 26 sec: I ended up letting this one get quite cool and got more of the very refreshing minerality and medicinal herb flavor that becomes more apparent at the lower temperatures.

7th, 30 sec: The tea is starting to fade now. It’s not an unpleasant cup by any means, but definitely becoming more shallow. The soft minerality remains and there’s a bit of a stir fried vegetable flavor showing up.

I could give this a couple more long steeps and get a couple pleasant, average cups of tea but the uniqueness is definitely gone by this point of the session. This tea hits all the right buttons for me. The whole experience, from dry leaf to taste is wonderful throughout and it has something for every mood. If you want something simple, warming and cozy you can focus on the luxuriously smooth chocolate and fruit flavors. If you want refreshing there’s the minerality and cooling medicinal herbs. And if you want a tea that lets you explore a myriad of flavors and complexity throughout a gongfu session there’s a lot on offer from this well balanced roast.

Usually when I kick off a gongfu session in the morning of my work from home day I’ll slowly work through it over the course of 3 or 4 hours, but I couldn’t wait to taste more of this tea and raced through this session of the course of an hour and a half. Does this tea live up to my memory of Master Bi’s version? Not quite, but it’s a damn good cup.

Flavors: Cherry, Chocolate, Creamy, Fruity, Medicinal, Mineral, Rum, Smoke, Tropical, Vegetables, Wood

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 5 g 4 OZ / 118 ML

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I don’t pay too much attention to the number scores I give teas — they’re just an approximation of my feelings on them, so if you really want you know what I thought you’ll need to read the whole, longwinded tasting note.

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Snohomish, WA

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