409 Tasting Notes


Got this in a swap with JacquelineM. I’m currently steeping pretty much everything in Samovar’s glass oolong pot, because I’ve in love. The dry leaf is amazingly smoky, of course, the liqueur smells less so. G says it smells like rabbit food; we decided this might mean alfafa? Something grassy, anyway. It reminds me a little of puerh. The taste is a bit on the bitter side, but I think that’s my fault for over-steeping: I spilled a little water, so my ratio was more like 3oz/.5tsp. Anyway, there is a nice sweetness under the smoke. I have a suspicion this will be even better on the 2nd steep.

2nd steep (~ 5 minutes, still boiling, little more water) either smells less smoky, or I’ve adjusted to the scent. Definitely tastes sweeter, and milder, so I am well pleased. Still a dark savory tea, though. Smokier, or saltier, or something-er than Jackee, and still fairly strong.

205 °F / 96 °C 3 min, 30 sec

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drank Four Seasons by Samovar
409 tasting notes

Alright tiny pot, here we go. 1 level tsp/4oz water. I did rinse the leaves with boiling water, for about 10 seconds, but I’m going under the recommended temp here because the leaves look pretty green and I’m desperately afraid of cooking them.

Steep 1: 2-ish minutes, 195°F
The first steep, hot out of the pot, smells like the most delicious butter I have ever tasted. A little bit cinnamon, a little bit cream. It tastes buttery too, and something else I can’t put my finger on (of course). It’s strikingly like drinking a soft buttered dinnerroll, in any case. There’s a sweet floral aftertaste though, very pleasant. It’ll be fun to see how this one goes.

Steep 2:
2:45, 185°F (I didn’t warm the pot as well this time). The color has been a bright yellow-green for both steeps; still smells very rich and buttery, though the scent fades as the tea cools.

Steep 3:
3:30, 200°F Should I be smelling chocolate in an oolong? I’m getting chocolate more than butter on this one. The color is a deeper yellow this time, probably due to hotter water. The flavor is starting to get a little more vegetal, but only a touch.

Steep 4:
4:30, 195°F Still good color, but the flavor is starting to weaken a bit – I’ll up the steep time more on the next. Definitely getting more vegetal tastes.

Steep 5:
~8 minutes, 205°F Seemed to still have some caffeine in it, which I didn’t expect. A bit bitter, but plenty of flavor left. These leaves probably could have done more, but I am well pleased.

195 °F / 90 °C 2 min, 15 sec

It sounds like 1 tsp is the way to go!


I might actually try it with less next time, and definitely didn’t feel like it needed more

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drank Lychee Black by Samovar
409 tasting notes

Got my Samovar order today, trying the lychee before tackling the Four Seasons. Let me just say – the glass oolong pot is adorable. It also seems to hold heat better than I expected, only about a 10°F drop in 3 minutes

Samovar’s description is good: this is light, sweet, and a smooth. It’s also floral. Read the description carefully and you’ll note that lychee flowers, in addition to the fruit, provide the flavor. I don’t mind, I like floral teas, I like the sweetness you can get from flowers of most types, but if you dislike rose teas you won’t like this either. The flavor is quite strong, almost perfume-y. The fruit is more noticeable if you take a big mouthful and swirl it around – there is a bit of a sour/berry taste.

I like the 2nd steep (5 minutes) at least as much, if not better. Less flower-sweet, more fruit-sweet.

200 °F / 93 °C 3 min, 15 sec

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drank Fujian Baroque by Adagio Teas
409 tasting notes

So I kept track of the temperature of my water throughout steeping today, and discovered that I haven’t been steeping my teas in boiling water, ever. Even warming the pot with boiling water only got the starting temperature up to 205°F (though admittedly, I’m only filling my little Bee House teapot halfway – I know that’s a nono). Without warming it’s more like 195.

Anyway, the slightly higher temp today made for a notable darker tea, but I’m not sure I like the change – there’s less chocolate and spice, more of just a “black tea” flavor, but the aftertaste is a lot more fragrant and lingering. Will keep playing with this a bit.

205 °F / 96 °C 4 min, 45 sec

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This is the rare black breakfast-style tea that I prefer without milk. It’s fairly smooth and creamy on its own, and subtle enough that milk can drown out some of the best flavor points.

Boiling 4 min, 15 sec

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drank Vanilla Black by Harney & Sons
409 tasting notes

This is a good vanilla black tea. I find the flavor a good balance between authenticity (Adagio’s in particular always tastes fake, more like frosting, to me) and strength of flavor (vanilla teas flavored just with vanilla bean tend to be overpowered by the black tea). This will likely be included in my next order to Harney.

I’m backlogging from a weekend w/o internet, so I can’t remember anything more nuanced about the flavor. It was very satisfying though.

200 °F / 93 °C 5 min, 0 sec

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Beautiful deep red hue in the cup; I think someone pegged it as garnet. I think my water was a little too cool, because the flavor is very mild: sweet, smoky, a little bit of an earth/pine taste, but with none of the heft I’ve gotten from Jackee in the past. Will try to remedy this on the next steep (Jackee always gives me two, if not three).

2nd steep (with slightly hotter water) is a little sweeter, less smoky. The color is less intense, but the flavor is still strong, and smoother.

3rd steep is amber, sweet, and mild. Definitely got a dark/sweet flavor on the last couple of steeps that could be called burnt sugar. Any hint of astringency is gone by the 3rd, so it’s just a round, mellow, yes caramel-y, flavor. Almost starting to remind me of honeybush, but not as woody.

185 °F / 85 °C 4 min, 0 sec

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drank Black Night by Red Leaf Tea
409 tasting notes

This is hands-down the strongest tea I own. Fruity, brisk, energizing. I think describing a tea as a “coffee converter” is a bit cliched at this point, but that is what comes to mind – it has the caffeine and the strength of flavor. It was fruitier before adding milk, but a little harsh for my taste. I think maybe I have been oversteeping this, because at 3 minutes (and 1 level tsp/8oz) I’m getting a lot more of the fruity/winey taste, so bumping the rating accordingly.

Boiling 3 min, 15 sec

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Some notes on ratings:

I’d have separate rating scales for tea types if that were possible (probably Black, Flavored Black, Darjeeling/Dark Oolong, White/Green/Light Oolong, and Herbal) because the flavors and quality markers are just too different. A flavored black rated 100 isn’t better than every oolong I’ve ever drunk, just delicious for a flavored black.

Ratings are a combination of my enjoyment and the perceived quality – I do often demote teas a few points for artificial flavorings, small quantity of steeps supported, or weakness of flavor (requiring extra leaf).

I pay less attention to the number than the order of my ratings; I don’t necessarily keep a stock of everything rated 80+, but if two breakfast blends are rated 82 and 84 I consistently enjoy the 84 more.

And in case it’s not obvious? I am not an expert. I don’t even know what I like until I taste it sometimes, but I’m ok with that :) I like learning to like new teas, as well as enjoying the comfort of familiar ones.


Boston, MA



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