171 Tasting Notes
Experience buying from Culinary Teas http://steepster.com/places/2981-culinary-teas-online-milford-indiana
UPDATE (6/14/2012): Yesterday I completed a second session of steepings with this tea (a total of three steepings) and got the same results. My wife noted that although it was different than the other greens we normally enjoy it was still drinkable (she’s kind of picky, in my opinion). I upped the rating by two points.
I bought a one OZ sample of this in late November, 2011, and have brewed it once so far.
Appearance and Aroma of dry leaf: It is a medium brown color and looks like large coffee grounds; it has a surprisingly strong aroma (surprising as it doesn’t look like a green tea to me), that smells like just about any other decent green I’ve had.
Brewing guidelines: six very shallow teaspoons (as this stuff is very fine) = six cups water; glass Bodum pot with metal infuser/plunger; stevia added; I basically used my standard green tea steeping times and temperatures; four steepings.
Color and Aroma of tea liquor: Not much aroma; it was an unusual color for a green tea (my wife even noticed this), as it was very yellow-ish; it was clear, though.
Flavor of tea liquor: Not anything that interesting to report here, as, in general, it tasted like many other green teas I have had; it did have decent flavor on the third steeping, and even some on the forth; and there was some astringency when I tasted a bit of water that was hiding in the bottom of my Bodum strainer when I went to do the next steeping (not a big surprise though, especially for a green tea at this price range).
Appearance and Aroma of wet leaf: It basically looked the same as when it was dry, which was VERY surprising; it looked almost like finely ground, and cooked, hamburger (I was expecting to see tiny fragments of opened leaf); it had almost no aroma (at least when I composted it and smelled it then).
Value: This is where this tea has something notable about it; I think it’s Culinary tea’s least expensive green, at $6.10 / 4 OZ, which puts it at about $1.50 / OZ (and even less with any discounts and/or if you buy it in larger quantities).
Overall: I’m trying to go through the samples left over from all of the sales near the end of last year (I still have about eight left). I bought this tea for two reasons: one, it was inexpensive, and I am always on the look-out for a decent tasting, inexpensive green; two, it was from Kenya, and since I have never had a green tea (or any other tea that I am aware of) from Kenya, I wanted to try one. I admit I didn’t put much effort in trying to ferret out all of the different flavors in here (maybe I will when I brew up the next pot of it); so with that in mind, all I have to state is that it’s flavor was a little different than the standard Chinese green tea (I hope to flush this out when I do the next go around with it), and it’s better than some other lower-end teas like a chun mee (which commonly is too smoky, or something, to me). Nothing great about this tea, but nothing off-putting about the flavor, either, which is not uncommon at this price range. Still I’m glad I tried it, and I hope to try other teas from Kenya when the opportunity presents itself.
I have been looking forward to brewing up and tasting the first new spring green of the year for some time now. And who better to provide it than Life in Teacup! I only had two spring green teas during April of 2011 (I also had a few during early June), so I still consider myself relatively new as to what to expect of them. I have been talking about my excitement with my wife (she saw me open the package from Life in Teacup earlier in the week), but I didn’t tell her that I would be brewing up the very first pot of this tea this morning. I sometimes don’t tell her what I’m brewing up so I get an unbiased opinion from her about the taste. For awhile there, after having a couple ‘smokier’ green teas (which she despises) her initial reaction to any green tea—especially one that has a reputation for being smokey, like Hunag Shan Mao Feng or any tea from the Yunnan province—that had a taste she was uncertain about,was, ‘I think it tastes smoky’. Needless to say, I would then give her the evil eye. : )
I like to experience the Tea with every sense possible: visually and aromatically—the appearance and aroma of the dry leaf, watching the leaves dance and co-mingle in their new watery home while I take in the aroma, smelling the wet leaves after the first steeping, then using the auditory senses—listening to the leaves jostling for position as I use a spoon to gently take them from their temporary home in the bag, or tin, or jar, and drop them into the clear glass pot with a tinkle, almost like a wind-chime, and listening to the water begin to stir in the kettle, signaling it’s time to pour the water, and then finally through taste—as the liquor rolls around in my mouth making my taste buds shiver with delight as the various flavors finally reveal themselves. The first time I steep a tea I pay a little more attention to all of these things. I guess it’s kind of a ritual. I invite my wife to participate as well, and fortunately she’s usually happy to join me.
This morning her one-word litany when encountering this spring green Tea with each of her senses was: interesting (said in that positive way as one draws out the initial ‘i’ sound when pronouncing it: in-tres-ting ); although my reactions were unspoken, all the while I was thinking the same thing (keeping my fingers crossed that she was going to find the same wonder that, so far, I have found in fresh spring greens). Our senses were telling us there was something about this tea that was different than all the other green teas we had been brewing up all winter.
When the time finally came to drink of the sweet nectar that was only moments ago locked within the curly leaves, we were rewarded with flavor that was clearly fresh and inviting. It was not flavor I would describe as strong, but rather a flavor profile that brought back memories of the spring teas I had tasted a year ago; it’s hard to describe—and I will hopefully improve as I continue to drink infusions of these wondrous Teas—but the sensation in the mouth is light and uplifting, full of zest, and I imagine it having a kind of sparkle to it. It’s like nothing I have ever had before. Still, quite honestly, I think it is somewhat of an acquired taste (my wife agrees). Not that the flavor is weird or bad in any way, it’s just delicate and subtle and can be easily unappreciated by one who doesn’t know what to look for or take the time to sit with it enough to really take it in (I am guessing this is also the case with fine wines).
And as far as staying power? This tea delivered three wonderfully flavorful steepings and still had discernible flavor on the forth and right up through the fifth. That is very impressive for a green tea at this price range ($18 / 5OZ = $3.60 / OZ). The wet leaf is about as good as it gets: all full leaf, few stems, and lots of bud sets and buds—all of an army green color. I plan to give more details later, but I wanted to sit down and write up what came up for me now rather than put notes on a note-card that would inevitably sit for weeks (or months) before I posted it. I highly recommend this tea for those that want to experience a fresh spring green tea at a very reasonable cost.
Experience buying from Culinary Teas http://steepster.com/places/2981-culinary-teas-online-milford-indiana
Date of Purchase/Age of Leaf/Date of Steeping: I bought this in late 2011; there is no harvest date available; I steeped this in March 2012.
Appearance and Aroma of dry leaf: Smells roasted, vegetal, fresh (better than another Young Hy-son I tried in a local shop); standard appearance for an inexpensive green tea: dark green, curly leaves with a few lighter green and light brown leaves mixed in.
Brewing guidelines: Glass Bodum pot, leaf free to roam; stevia added; 6 tsp dry tea = 6 cups water.
……….1st: 160⁰F (OOPS! I was shooting for 170F); 1’
……….2nd: 170⁰F; 1.5’
……….3rd: 185⁰F; 2’
……….4th: 183⁰F; 2.5’
Color and Aroma of tea liquor: Light, yellow-green color; vegetal aroma.
Flavor of tea liquor: Not much flavor on the first steeping, but that’s probably because the temp was too low. On the second steeping I accidentally used too much water (a series of unfortunate events!), so it was weak tasting, but it still had a reasonable amount of flavor, with some sweetness; the third had mild flavor, and the forth had very little. I’ll have to do this one again with better temperatures and amounts of water!
Appearance and Aroma of wet leaf: Interesting to watch as there was lots of movement while steeping; there were a number of stems, only a few buds, and the color seemed a little faded, but almost all of the leaf was whole; standard aroma.
Value: This green tea is a great value at $7.05 for 4 OZ (That’s well under $2/OZ).
Overall: There are very few inexpensive green teas that I have come across that have what this tea has to offer: smooth, sweet flavor in the cup and leaf that is from a decent pluck (not too astringent tasting or too chopped as many green teas as this price range seem to be). I can bet this would blend well with other green teas. A final note about why I like this tea: I can buy some of it to help us get over the free shipping hurdle when we buy our next round of flavor-added black teas from Culinary Teas!
Preliminary review (updated on 6/9/2012)
There is clearly something different about this HSMF from all the others ones I have tried. Nothing about the appearance or the aroma of the dry leaf stood out. Yet, the appearance and aroma of the wet leaf and the taste of the tea liquor itself all signify that this is a quality tea; there are aromas and tastes that bare resemblance to a few other quality green teas I have tasted. I wonder if this is in part because it is semi-wild grown tea? Possibly the elevation contributes? (I just checked the elevation for the other HSMFs I tried, though, and this one is no higher than the others).
I am impressed with the quality of the pluck of this leaf, and I am really enjoying the aroma and the subtle flavors in my cup. I have found that a few of Life in Teacups’s green Teas seem to be light on flavor. That could be because there is something I am not doing right when steeping them (water not hot enough, not steeped long enough, or using too few leaves), but I am starting to believe it is more that the flavors these teas have to offer are more delicate and subtle than what I’m used to enjoying in green teas.
Next time I brew this one up, I plan to measure more carefully (I think I had too few leaves for four cups of water this time), and first try hotter water (I started at about 175F, I’ll shoot for at least 180F), and then secondly try a longer steep time (Initially I started at one minute, this time I’ll start at two). If making a singular change that doesn’t get me the results I want, I’ll try both hotter and longer (this made a difference in the flavor in Verdant Tea’s Early Summer green). Still, the entire experience with this tea—learning about Life in Teacup, and how they as a small shop buy direct and keep thing as simple as possible, my communicating with Gingko via e-mail, and how active she is on Steepster—makes drinking this tea much more meaningful than buying tea from a larger and more impersonal tea shop.
Experience buying from Teavivre http://steepster.com/places/2857-teavivre-online—
Date of Purchase/Date of Steeping: Received in the fall of 2011 as a free sample (Thank you Angel!), steeped up March 2012.
Appearance and Aroma of dry leaf: Very aromatic, woodsy, earthy, and like other Yunnan read teas I’ve had; mostly small dark leaves, with a few golden colored ones here and there.
Brewing guidelines: Glass Bodum pot, leaf free to roam; stevia added; used my standard Chinese red tea steeping times and temperatures; I did five steepings.
Color and Aroma of tea liquor: light coppery color, smells very aromatic and like any other Yunnan red tea.
Flavor of tea liquor: Very sweet and malty; it had good flavor up through the third steeping, and even some mild flavor on the fifth (at boiling, 10 minutes).
Appearance and Aroma of wet leaf: evenly colored, brown, medium-to-high grade CTC type leaves; << no notes on the aroma >>
Value: This is where this tea stands out: it is a great value $6.90 / 100grams (3.5 OZ) which is less than $2/OZ!
Overall: I am surprised there are so many reviews on the higher quality Yunnans from Teavivre but not on this one. Granted, Yunnans are one of my favorite black/red teas, still, I really liked the flavor of this one; I did not know this was a Yunnan until after tasting it, as ‘Yunnan’ was not in the name, and the leaves were darker that the other Yunnans I have seen (oh, how funny … I just looked at the first part of the name ‘Yun Nan’ humm Now I see it … Yeah, I’m an ‘airheard’!). I highly recommend this tea for those that love Yunnans and are looking for a very affordable everyday tea. I generally don’t include the value of the tea when I rate it (I typically rate it on merit alone), but if I were rate it simply on value, I’d give it a 5/5!
Experience buying from Teavana Online http://steepster.com/places/2822-teavana-online-atlanta-georgia
Date of Purchase/Age of Leaf/Amount of Leaf/Date of Steeping/Frequency Drank: I bought this in December of 2011, the year of harvest is not provided, I bought two ounces of it, and I have had it twice so far.
Appearance and Aroma of dry leaf: Very green-looking, but otherwise looks and smells about like any other Darjeeling.
Brewing guidelines: Glass Bodum pot, leaf free to roam; stevia added; 4 tsp = 4 cups water.
……….1st: 185⁰F, 2’
……….2nd: 190⁰F, 3.5’
……….3rd: 195⁰F; 5’
Color and Aroma of tea liquor: Clear, such that it was caramel colored on top where the leaves were, and a light green on the bottom (on the first steeping, at least); smelled fresh and like another quality Darjeeling I have had; when decanted, there was a very thin froth (?) on top of most of the liquor (clusters of tiny little bubbles).
Flavor of tea liquor: Standard fruity complex tea with the characteristic muscatel notes; my wife detected some bitterness on the finishing taste of the second steeping; it did taste good at room temperature; it had flavor up to the third steeping, but not much; still, that’s about what I expect out of a Darjeeling: at least two good steepings.
Appearance and Aroma of wet leaf: Very green—much like a green tea—with a few brown leaves here and there, and it had an odd smell: malty, and almost musty (one of those smells that makes you want to wrinkle your nose in dislike of the aroma); the number of stems was surprising, as was the number of little bits; the leaves were more chopped than other Darjeelings I have seen.
Value: Great at 75% off, but I would never pay full price for it ($10/OZ). As a comparison point, H&S Sungma Darjeeling 2nd Flush is only $5/OZ: $15/3OZ, with a tin to boot.
Overall: In the four Dareelings I have had so far, this one is clearly fresh and has good flavor. Having had a H&S SF Darjeeling just days ago, it’s easy for me to say that the H&S SF was much better. Comparing the taste of first flush (FF) with a second flush (SF) Darjeeling may be like comparing apples to oranges, but there’s more to my comparison than simply taste. With the H&S SF the aroma of leaf was much more complex, the flavor was brighter and slightly fresher, and the leaf was from a higher quality pluck (the low quality pluck of Teavana’s teas seems to be a trend; at least that’s what I have noticed looking at the leaf of probably over fifty different loose leaf teas—not counting the flavor-added varieties). I’m glad I tried this one, and I may be willing to buy in at 75% off again, but otherwise there are other better Darjeelings out there for their regular price.
Experience buying from Harney & Son’s http://steepster.com/places/2779-harney-and-sons-online-millerton-new-york
Date of Purchase/Age of Leaf/Amount of Leaf/Date of Steeping: Bought a sample (I am guessing it is a little less than half an ounce) in late 2011, lot # 11298, brewed up late March 2012.
Appearance and Aroma of dry leaf: Standard Darjeeling appearance; See Overall for aroma.
Brewing guidelines: Glass Bodum pot, leaf free to roam; stevia added; their website said to brew it at 175F. Really? So I checked the other Darjeelings to see what they said. They were all different, but none were as low as 175. Well, OK, maybe that’s what they meant, but I’m not going that low. I shot for 185F, and hit 190F:
……….1st: 190F, 2’
……….2nd: just under 190⁰F, 3.5’
……….3rd: just over 190⁰F; 5’
Color and Aroma of tea liquor: Pretty standard for a Darjeeling.
Flavor of tea liquor: Fruity and complex, with that characteristic Muscatel flavor; still had some flavor on the third (I did a forth and, although it was mild, it still had flavor).
Appearance and Aroma of wet leaf: A little better quality leaf than I have seen in other Darjeelings, with a malty aroma that was almost acidic (That’s what came to me, anyway).
Value: $2 for a sample, and not bad for the tin @$15 for 3 OZ.
I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, knowledgeable of what exactly to expect from a Darjeeling, as I have had only three others, and I don’t drink those very often. Still, in a desire to broaden my knowledge of them I bought this sample with my last H&S order. I’ll get to the aroma of the dry leaf in a moment, but in general this Darjeeling looked like any other I’ve seen, and the tea liquor had a pleasant distinctive taste, good color, and a nice aroma. I can’t remember if my wife has had any of the other Darjeelings I own, but she liked this one, so now I am hopeful I will have someone to drink the others with (other than on special occasions when I have brought them to a guest’s house to brew up).
What really stood out about this Tea was the aroma of the dry leaf. Never, since I have started really sticking my nose in the dry leaf (and I mean, really stick it in there, as in, when I breath in and out I imagine I am practically doing a mini-steeping with all of that moist, hot air that I seem to have lots of), have I got three very distinctive aromas. I usually take a few sniffs to make certain I am giving myself (and the Tea) enough of a chance to take it all in; in this case, on the third ‘sniff’, I got a completely different smell. So, of course, I had to have another go. And then I got another completely different smell (different than either the first or second aroma). THAT BLEW ME AWAY! Three different aromas?! Seriously!? This is the sad part: I can’t even begin to describe what they were (At the time I was thinking of how many of you are so good at describing aromas and flavors, and here I am with THREE distinctive ones in ONE tea and I can’t begin to describe them? Cooooooooome ooooon! It’s embarrassing). Well, the closest description of one of the aromas I could come up with (after racking my brain) was that it was almost like a very fresh green tea (but to me that doesn’t make sense to get that from a Darjeeling), and another one may have been oak-y?
Honestly, I simply wanted to drink the tea, I didn’t want to stand in my kitchen with my nose buried in this black and gold H&S sample zip-lock bag filled with loose tea, muttering between sniffs in my perplexity, for 10 or 20 or whatever minutes trying to figure out the aromas. I just want to DRINK SOME TEA! So, I brewed it up, and have been enjoying it ever since (still with the nagging realization that I could not put words to those aromas; maybe it will haunt me forever, eh?).
So all that to say, although the taste doesn’t particularly stand out in my mind, I will NEVER forget the dry leaf of this second flush Darjeeling. All hail the dry leaf!
Experience buying from Art of Tea http://steepster.com/places/3023-art-of-tea-online-santa-cruz-california
Date of Purchase/Amount of Leaf/Date of Steeping: Bought in late 2011, sample of roughly a little over an ounce, steeped up March 2012.
Appearance and Aroma of dry leaf: Standard characteristic silver-needle-looking downy-haired, light green buds; smells almost moldy, but really more like hay (I do not think they are moldy, btw).
Brewing guidelines: Glass Bodum pot, leaf free to roam; stevia added; 3 tsp tea = three 8-OZ cups water:
……….1st: Boiling, 2’; good color, aroma, flavor; it had a very slight bite—or edge to it—which seemed astringent, but I wasn’t for certain; I wasn’t expecting that, but I was OK with it.
……….2nd: 170F, 3’; tasted sweeter and didn’t have that bite I experienced in the First.
……….3rd: 175F, 4’; decent amount of flavor which was similar to the second; good up-front flavor that faded away quickly.
Color and Aroma of tea liquor: a clear light yellow; very mild aroma.
Flavor of tea liquor: I really struggled with how to describe the flavor. It wasn’t vegetal, or floral, or fruity; I was thinking of something like, straw, or barley, maybe even grain-y or malt-y. But none of those descriptors seemed to fit. And then I read Jillian’s review of Adagio’s Silver Needle, “… delicate sweet hay …”. That seemed to be the closest.
Appearance and Aroma of wet leaf: Lots of good-looking green, plump buds; I think they smelled slightly malt-y.
Value: I got this as one of four teas in their white tea sampler, which is still on sale for $19 (I haven’t used the bamboo strainer that came with the sampler, but it’s very cool looking and is proudly displayed in my cupboard); their version of silver needles, on it’s own, is currently $31 / 4 OZ, which is a very reasonable price as these silver needles are organic and Fair Trade Certified.
Overall: After reading on Gignko’s Life in Teacup website that you can steep silver needles at boiling I thought I would give it a whorl. Overall, starting at boiling seemed to yield success, and I don’t think it ‘scorched’ the leaves (quite honestly, I don’t know exactly what ‘scorched’ means, anyway). I stepped the temperature down for the Second and Third per a suggestion I thought I read somewhere (now I am thinking I am mistaken, though). After the Third it was too ‘late’ to do any more steepings. I enjoyed watching most of the buds stand straight up-and-down during the second and third steepings. Silver Needles is not a Tea I would chose to drink very often, but—as I have read in many books on Tea—it certainly is one to be experienced at least once.
Experience buying from Adagio http://steepster.com/places/2897-adagio-teas-online-naperville-illinois
Date of Purchase/Amount of Leaf: Bought a sample (11 grams) in late 2011, brewed up March 2012.
Appearance and Aroma of dry leaf: Similar to a H&S sample I had of Anji Baicha, but overall not as impressive looking: dark, pale-green color, otherwise somewhat standard looking (like pine needles); vegetal and somewhat spicy aroma, and not too fresh.
Brewing guidelines:Glass Bodum pot, leaf free to roam; stevia added; my standard Chinese-green tea steeping times and temperatures.
Aroma of tea liquor: very little.
Flavor of tea liquor: Pretty good for a green tea. To me, this style of tea tends to have somewhat of a white tea flavor profile, in that it is light, sweet, and pleasant (with a mild spicy note).
Appearance of leaf during and after steeping: The leaf basically stayed on top during the first steeping, then some of the leaves floated from bottom to top in the later steepings; it was fun to watch the animated-like forest scene. The wet leaf was somewhat pale looking, with a number of tiny pieces here and there, but it was mostly composed of whole leaves and bud sets; it may be a little old, but it’s clearly a quality pluck.
Aroma of wet leaf: good aroma.
Value: From what I have seen, Anji Baicha typically goes for anywhere from about $8/OZ – $20/OZ, and is one of the most expensive ‘recognizably named’ teas I have seen on the market (other than very high end Long Jing). This tea is $6 for 1 OZ, or $24 for 6 OZ ($4/OZ). Not bad for what this tea delivers: you get what you pay for.
Overall: I assume this is their version of Anji Baicha, a version of which was one of the best teas I have ever experienced (H&S version). The first three steepings of this one had reasonable flavor, but there wasn’t much flavor on the forth; as I expect at least four flavorful steepings out of a tea at this price range I was somewhat disappointed in that. Although Adagio’s version doesn’t measure up in appearance, aroma, or taste to the H&S version, at least it is affordable. Still, having had the real stuff, I think I’d rather wait until I can get my hands on something that has real merit.
Experience buying from Den’s Tea http://steepster.com/places/2923-dens-tea-online-torrance-california
Date of Purchase/Age of Leaf: I got this as a sample with my last order (made in January); I believe it is from the 2011 spring harvest.
Size, Appearance and Aroma of dry leaf: This 10 gram sample looked like Gyokuro, but with a little finer cut pieces; it smelled strongly vegetal, fresh, good!
Brewing guidelines: 10 grams of dry tea, 5 cups of water; Glass Bodum pot with metal infuser/plunger; stevia added; I more-or-less stuck to Den’s recommendations.
……….1st: 170⁰F; 40"
……….2nd: 180⁰F; 30"
……….3rd: 190⁰F; 20"
Color and Aroma of tea liquor: Bright green and thick (as mentioned in their description); strong grassy aroma, which I found to be very pleasant.
Flavor of tea liquor: The first was not much different to any quality sencha I have had (I’ve only had a few). The second and third were different than the first though, and pleasantly so. ( more details in overall )
Appearance and Aroma of wet leaf: There was not much of a smell to it, and it was the finest leaf I have EVER seen; it clogged up my stainless-steel Bodum filter more than any other tea; sitting in my filter was a large glob of green stuff, like cut, lumped grass; there were a few larger light-green pieces poking through here and there.
Value: Great as a free sample, but pricy otherwise. ($10.50 / 2 OZ)
During my Yoga this morning I was moved to seek out a Japanese Tea for our morning green (we usually drink Chinese). I wanted something that I hadn’t had before, so what better time to try a sample! I didn’t know what to expect from a tea that is steamed 2 to 3 times as long as a regular sencha. The website said the extra steaming would cause the tea to yield flavor faster during brewing, so I made sure to keep the steep times relatively short per their recommendations (short for green tea, anyway).
This seemed to be the right thing to do, as I was reasonably happy with the flavor, and I really liked the aroma. The first steeping was pretty standard tasting: grassy, a little sweet. The second and third steepings though tasted unlike any other tea I have had. It’s hard to explain, but the words that came to me first while drinking it were: mild and clean; then, refreshing. That was not what I was expecting. The third was certainly had lighter flavor than the second, but it also had what seemed to be a very mild spicy note (I am learning to put down whatever I find/experience in/with the tea, even if it doesn’t make sense to me at the time). So, although I didn’t get what I was expecting, which was more flavor, I did get something that is possibly better. Still, it seems odd to me but I think it’s better because I have never experienced that clean, crisp feeling in my mouth when drinking tea before. It seems like a great way to clean your palette, for example, in-between eating different tasty tidbits. And, that taste, or feeling, was almost, uplifting. Is this Umami?
Well (I’ve checked my empty cup at least twice now while writing this, hoping for more), it’s all gone now. I wish there was more so I could contemplate all of the gifts hiding in this new, taste, flavor, or whatever it’s called. Oh well. Boo hoo for empty cups of tea, and hurray for new experiences!