Sunday, December 27, 2015

Yunnan Sourcing's 2006 Nan Jian Wu Liang Mountain Raw Puerh

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
This is purely first flush of spring 2006 tea leaves from the Wu Liang mountains in Jing Dong county of Simao.  High altitude tea leaves were plucked and processed in the traditional manner and then pressed into these lovely 200 gram tea cakes.

My thoughts
My puerh stash is pretty heavily skewed towards the ripe end of the puerh spectrum. Not that I dislike raw puerh, but I find that many of them are fairly plain until they get some age behind them, and the more age the have behind them, the more the cost prohibits me from buying them. This one was an exception: a 200g cake will run you just over $20. That price point for a cake that's about 9 years old, plus the bonus of being from Wu Liang Mountain, means that I already know this is going to be a great tea.

The leaves in this cake are from Wu Liang Mountain in northern Pu'er prefecture, but the cake was pressed by Nan Jian Tea Factory in southern Dali prefecture, about 100 miles north of the source.

Dry leaves - The cake has a bronze-green sheen with plenty of lighter tips mixed in. The aroma has a nice florality on top of the green pungency of a sheng, but it definitely has an aged feel to it. The vegetal bite is mostly gone and replaced with a pleasant sweet aroma. This one is pretty tightly packed, so it will take a bit of work to separate the leaves from the rest of the cake.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 2 x 10s rinse, <5s steeps at first, increase as necessary.

Steeps 1 and 2: As with any sheng, the first couple steeps are still a bit rough as it calms down. There is a fair amount of bitterness and astringency right off the bat, but the flavors underneath promise that this will be a good one indeed.

Steeps 3-6: The dryness and bitterness fade away quickly, leaving me with a smooth, sweet, floral tea. It's more of a general floral taste as I can't really pick out any specific aromas or tastes from the broth. There is a definite aged flavor to this one as well, not a prominent aged feel yet, but it's certainly there. A nice pleasant kuwei bitterness has taken hold as well, and gives the flavors a bit of depth.

Steeps 7-10: The tea really hits its peak here. The smoothness is striking, almost buttery, and the florality is just wonderful. The soup has steadily increased in sweetness with each steep, and has really brought out the floral flavors with each successive brew.

Steeps 11-15: While most puerhs have faded by this point, this one is still going strong. The sweet aged floral tones are fantastic, and it only continues to get smoother as time goes on. The aroma is almost like a dried spring bouquet.

This is a great budget sheng, and certainly worth your money. It's a good tea to drink now, but I think this one will really hit its prime in another 5-10 years or so, after it's had a bit longer to mellow out.

You can buy this tea from Yunnan Sourcing here and here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What-Cha's Fujian Wuyi 'Zi Hong Pao' Purple Varietal Oolong Tea

What-Cha's Description
A most unusual Wuyi oolong possessing a thick and smooth taste of roasted plums with a sweet finish.

My thoughts
This one has all the aspects of my favorite teas: highly oxidized, Wuyi, purple varietal, and it's even from What-Cha. I mean, how could it go wrong at this point? This is a newer offering from What-Cha, and I received 10g of it as a sample with my last order. I had a 50g bag of this tea in my cart, but then removed it because I was spending too much money already. So I was quite excited to see that Alistair had included a sample of it.

Zi Hong Pao is a naturally occurring purple varietal mutation of the classic Da Hong Pao varietal.

Dry leaves - Yup, it looks like a yancha. Dark twisty leaves with an amazing fruity, roasty, mineral aroma that makes my mouth water. Notably, this one is quite different from any of the Wuyi oolongs I reviewed from last month's Verdant tea club. Not that I could ever get tired of drinking tea from the Wuyi mountains.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 5s first, +3s after. I brew lots of different teas in many different ways, but yanchas and dianhongs are always brewed gongfu style.

Tasting notes - Smooth, sweet, candied plums, floral, roasty

Based on the sweet roasty plum aroma of the leaves, I really expected the soup to be purple. I was only briefly disappointed when it turned out a light golden hue rather than a royal violet. The aroma of the liquor is one of candied plums, mild roastiness, and a touch of minerality to give it that distinctive Wuyi feel. This tea is almost like a candy in liquid form. Something something visions of sugar plums...this would make a great tea for the holidays.

The first steep is much like I expected from the aroma: sweet roasted plums and a bit of that Wuyi minerality, and it goes down wonderfully smooth. It has an almost lip-smacking sweetness to it that persists for a long time after finishing the first cup.

Steeps 2-5 balance out quite a bit, with the sweetness mellowing out slightly, and the roastiness and minerality bringing the candied plums down a notch. But only a little. This is still an extremely sweet and fruity tea, and it quickly becoming one of my favorite Wuyi oolongs.

Steeps 6-9 don't change the profile much, but a mild florality has cropped up under the roasted plum taste. It really compliments the plum flavors well, and was kind of unexpected this late in the session. Not that I'm complaining. I don't think I could find anything wrong with this tea to complain about anyway. Steeps 10 onward are much more subdued. It seemed to drop a lot of it's flavor after #12, but I still went through 15 total. The sweetness is still there, but most of the individual flavors have disappeared.

This is a fantastic tea, and one of the best Wuyi oolongs I've tried so far. I was honestly surprised it was not only so different from a typical Da Hong Pao, but markedly different from any other tea I've ever had.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here:

Saturday, December 19, 2015

What-Cha's Russia Solohaul Tea Estate 'Keemun' Black Tea

What-Cha's Description
A premium hand-picked Russian black tea possessing a full and sweet malty fudge taste.

My thoughts
Alistair posted a slew of new Russian teas literally moments before I placed my last order at What-Cha. I'd been running low on one-steep-and-done morning teas to take to work, so I went only slightly overboard and ordered at least a sample of each the new Russian black teas. I'll eventually get all of them reviewed here, but this is the first of the group.

Dry leaves - The flat black and variously sized leaves look fairly typical for a Ceylon tea. For a Russian tea? Not as much. I'm used to seeing smaller and fairly uniformly-sized leaves coming out of Russia. These new teas from Solohaul Tea Estate break the typical Russian mold in just about every way. Another example: the aroma, which is a deep, rich chocolate fudge smell with just hints of malt beneath. Again, not typical for a Russian tea. And I'm seriously excited to give this one a taste.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 3.5m. Russian teas fall into the same category as Georgian teas. That category would be "slow to impart flavor and virtually impossible to make bitter". Long steep times make me twitchy, but they work here.

Tasting notes - Smooth, sweet, chocolate fudge, malt

Mmmmmm. Seriously, do I need to write more than that? This tea is extremely smooth, certainly the smoothest Russian tea I've ever had, and carries a wonderful sweet taste of rich chocolate fudge. A mild dark malt follows close behind the fudge taste, but never overwhelms the chocolatey flavor. The typical Russian terroir of smooth tannic smokiness isn't even remotely present here. I'm really going to have to try this one gong fu style sometime and see how it performs that way.

I have to keep reminding myself that this isn't from Fujian, because it would fit better there than from the more northern latitude of Krasnodar. If you handed me this tea and asked me where it was from, I'd likely guess Fujian first, Yunnan second, and Ceylon third. Russia would likely never even cross my mind. I'm not sure if "Keemun" was the most accurate name for this tea, as Anhui black teas have more of a smoky/cocoa/stonefruity taste, and this one has none of those. Regardless of the naming, this is an excellent tea and a great example of the tea coming from southwestern Russia.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Puerh Shop's 2013 Zenpuer 1306 Menghai Ripe Puerh

Puerh Shop's Description
A new ripe Pu-erh tea made by using pure Menghai raw materials, no off taste, rich enough tasting profile is the key for a long term storage and enjoyment. Ripe and expressive, with explosive pear and lychee flavors mingling harmoniously as they swoop into the polished finish.

My thoughts
While on my hunt for Black Friday sales, I stumbled across a new-to-me tea shop simply called Puerh Shop, located just a few hours from me in Troy, Michigan. They have a puerh selection rivaling Yunnan Sourcing and prices to match, so I figured I'd order a couple of the cakes they had on sale. This is a 250g cake, which cost me a whopping $10.

Dry leaves - It's a fairly average looking cake, nothing really standout about it. The aroma is one of a pungent earthy sweetness with a bit of spiciness to make it interesting.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 2 x 10s rinse, 5-15s per steep adding time as necessary. Pretty much standard for a puerh.

Tasting notes - Smooth, sweet, earthy, cedar, persimmon, spicy

First thing I notice is the complete lack of fermented taste. I mean, there is literally no flat or fishy off-taste from the fermentation whatsoever, which is unusual for a shou that's only 2 years old. Second, this shou is sweet! A wonderful sweet earthiness hits me right off the bat, and lingers long after the sip.

Steeps 2-4 are starting to bring out the individual flavors, though they're still a bit muddled. The sweetness is just amazing, and easily rivals Crimson Lotus' '08 Bulang in that area. A hint of fruitiness is beginning to rear its face behind the sweet earthiness, but it's too early to tell what it is just yet. A mild cedar spiciness is mingling with the flavors as well.

Steeps 5-8 are where this shou really shines. The fruitness has taken me a few cups to pin down what it is, because it's been quite a while since I've eaten one: persimmons! Spefically, Hachiya persimmons, the kind that need to be practically a liquid before you eat them. I don't really notice any pear or lychee like the description states, but the sweet honeyed flavor of the persimmon more than makes up for that. The earthiness has mellowed out and let the fruitiness take hold.

Steeps 9-12 keep a similar flavor profile to the previous bunch, but have mellowed out significantly. The liquid is still extremely smooth and sweet, and the persimmon flavor hasn't let up yet. Steeps 13+ struggle to keep the flavor going, but I'm not stopping until I've wrung every last bit of flavor from these leaves.

This one really did surprise me. For ten bucks, I expected a shou that tasted like ten bucks. This one tastes like it should cost 4-5 times more than what it actually does.

You can buy this tea from Puerh Shop here:

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Verdant Tea's November Tea Club - Wuyi Oolongs

Going to try something a bit different here. I received my first box from Verdant's tea club recently, and rather than review each tea separately, I'll post a slightly abridged review for each tea here. At least then this blog will have some sense of organization. I mean, I like to think it does anyway.

This month's theme are all Wuyi oolongs from Li Xiangxi's farm in Tongmu, Wuyishan in the northern slice of Fujian. They are all new to Verdant's site and were just posted a day or two before I received my box. All were brewed gongfu style with 5-6g of leaf in roughly 120ml of water.

Bai Ji Guan
Brewing parameters - 185F, 5s first, +3s after
This is the greenest of the five oolongs, and one of the most unique Wuyi oolongs I've had thus far. All Wuyi oolongs are fairly heavily oxidized, but this one falls on the low end of that spectrum. The leaves are a mottled bright green, yellow and deep burgundy and smell strongly of florality and minerality.

A quick 5 second steep in 120ml of water, and these leaves produce a light pale green soup that emits a wonderful floral/mineral/vegetal aroma, most reminiscent of cherry blossom and honey with the classic Wuyi minerality. Cherry blossom and lotus come through prominently in the taste, followed by sesame seeds, mineral, and just a tinge of honey.

Bai Rui Xiang
Brewing parameters - 208F, 5s first, +3s after

Wuyi oolong #2 is a much darker variety than the Bai Ji Guan. The Bai Rui Xiang leaves range from dark green to flat black, and smell of vanilla, incense spices and minerality.

As soon as the water hits the leaves, a wonderful tangy aroma arises. It's still distinctly Wuyi, but it delivers an citrusy, spicy lily, and almost jasmine aroma. If the tea liquor is anything like the aroma, I'm sold.

And the tea does not disappoint. The broth is wonderfully complex and brings notes of vanilla, mineral, cream, and lily florality, all with a slightly roasty overtone. It mellows out gradually with each steep, and the vanilla and cream elements take over the forefront of the sip.

Huang Mei Gui
Brewing parameters - 208F, 5s first, +3s after

The darkest oolong so far. The aroma of the dry leaves is significantly less pungent than the previous two, but release a mellow infusion of rose, minerality, and roastiness. The leaves are a dark flat brown and mostly uniform in color.

The leaves create a light amber brew that is highly floral, but still much heavier than the last two. Rose, nectarine, barley, mineral, and roastiness all combine into one to make a mellow, yet flavorful brew. I was able to detect a hint of raw cacao coming out in the later infusions as well. While this is still a great tea that I thoroughly enjoyed, I think it's probably the least unique of the group. It's fairly similar to what you'd expect from a mellow Qi Lan.

Mei Zhan
Brewing parameters - 208F, 5s first, +3s after

I've been looking forward to this one for a while now. Not really sure why, it just piqued my interest for some reason. The dry leaves are almost as dark as the Huang Mei Gui, but are slightly larger and less uniform in size. They also have a similar aroma, but more pungent, mixing sweet orchid, mineral and roastiness.

Wow, this one is aromatic. The smell of thick, sweet orchid and rose blends with roasted almonds to fill the room. The taste is just as wonderful, with the roasted almonds taking the lead, followed by a smooth creaminess and just a touch of florality and grain at the finish. The soup was surprisingly less floral than the aroma, and the minerality isn't as strong as the previous teas.

Fo Shou
Brewing parameters - 208F, 5s first, +3s after
The fifth and final tea from this box, and also somewhat of an outlier from the other four. The thick and chunky leaves don't have much special in the way of aroma, but they are easily twice the size of any of these other teas.

The taste contains a woody element that I hesitate to call cherry, but it's something in that neighborhood. Rosewood maybe? I'm not familiar with that taste, but it reminds me of rose, but without the cloying florality. It is accompanied by vanilla, cinnamon and only a bit of roastiness, while the minerality is the weakest in this tea. I can also detect a slight fruity aftertaste as well.

These are all excellent teas, and if you missed out on the club this month, you can still pick up each of these from Verdant's website (click the name of each tea above for a direct link). I think my favorite of the bunch was the Bai Ji Guan, simply because of the green uniqueness of it.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Yunnan Sourcing's Imperial Pure Bud Black Tea

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
An incredible premium pure bud black tea. Made from the highest quality high altitude material from Ning'Er county of Simao. Only young bud sprouts are picked and then expertly processed into this delicate and textured Imperial grade black tea!

My thoughts
Yass! More dianhong! This beautiful tea came with last month's tea club, and I was excited for it because this tea has been on my wishlist for some time now. In my book, you just can't go wrong with a malty, chocolatey tea, especially not one from Simao district.

Dry leaves - This tea is gorgeous. Easily one of the prettiest dianhongs I've ever seen. The fuzzy leaves are a rich, bright golden yellow, and curled slightly to make a soft, cushiony pile in the teapot. They smell of malt and cocoa, richer than a typical fengqing dianhong; just from the smell I can tell that this would make a great dessert tea.

Brewing parameters - 200F, 5s first, +3s after. Most black teas I brew western style, but dianhongs are strictly brewed gongfu style. Just my preference.

Tasting notes - Dark chocolate, malt, sugarcane, sweet, raisin

Everything about this tea is delicious. The aroma is a rich, sweet, and malty with a touch of dark chocolate, and the color is a beautiful dark amber hue. For the first couple steeps, the maltiness is the most prominent flavor, followed closely by dark chocolate and raw sugarcane. As the fuzzy leaves release their trichomes, it imparts a tingly mouthfeel. It's certainly not astringent, but the tingle is quite enjoyable.

In steeps 3-6, the chocolate comes quickly to the forefront and joins hands with the malt. The sweetness is still quite strong, and begins to bring the mild taste of dark raisins as an afterthought. I drink a fair amount of various dianhongs, and I can say with some certainty that this is one of the most richly flavored chocolatey dianhongs I've had the pleasure of drinking so far.

Steeps 7-12 are still extremely sweet and mellower than earlier. At this point, it's beginning to remind me of the mu shu hong cha black I reviewed last month. That one skipped the chocolate entirely, but with that addition it probably would have tasted quite similar to this tea now. The raisin element is still subtle, but it is also accompanied by a slight fruity florality that I can't really place.

This is a wonderful tea, and I can't recommend it enough. It's definitely one of my favorite dianhongs in my stash, and is a great tea to impress company or just to drink yourself

You can buy this tea from Yunnan Sourcing here and here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What-Cha's Fujian Zhangping Light Roasted Shui Xian Cake Oolong Tea

What-Cha's Description
Possesses an incredible floral aroma and taste as expected of the best Shui Xian oolongs with a smooth texture and a very slight detectable trace of the light charcoal roast.

My thoughts
I reviewed the heavy-roasted version of this tea in the very first review on this blog back in September (see here), and that one is outstanding, so when the light-roasted version showed up at What-Cha a bit later, I knew I had to give it a shot. Green oolongs are very hit-or-miss for me. Some are excellent (i.e. Taiwanese Jin Xuan), while others are just deplorable (i.e. green tieguanyin, seriously, green TGY is a heresy). Knowing how good it's darker brother is, I had high hopes for this tea.

Dry leaves - Like the heavy roasted version, these are pressed into loosely packed square cakes, roughly 10g each. Coloration ranges from a bright chartreuse to an autumn orange to a dark forest green. Quite the color contrast going on here. The aroma is a light springtime floral/leafy scent, with just a hint of charcoal.

Brewing parameters - 185F, 15s first, +5s after

Tasting notes - Smooth, daffodil, lilac, lily of the valley, sweet citrus, charcoal

A light fruity citrus takes the forefront of this tea, followed closely by a smooth, sweet florality that just screams springtime. The citrus is more of a sweet tangerine than grapefruit like the heavy-roasted version has. The thick, vegetal/soybean element that I tend to associate with green oolongs is not present here in the slightest, which is nice. After 2 steeps, the cake was still mostly intact, so I broke it apart before the third steep.

Steeps 3-5 really took the floral sweetness and knocked it up a notch (bam!). Breaking the cake apart brought out the flavors quite well, and rather than just a general floral taste, I can detect daffodil and lilac quite easily, and even a touch of lily of the valley towards the finish. The tangerine/orange is still present and is present throughout the sip, but not overwhelming. I can taste just the tiniest hint of the charcoal roast long after the sip as well.

Steeps 6-9 mellow out significantly and the flavors become a little bit muddled. The charcoal flavor is just barely hanging on underneath the floral/citrus tones, and I can no longer pick out individual floral notes. It's still quite sweet though, and is incredibly smooth.

Like it's heavy-roasted cousin, this tea is a bit pricey so I doubt it will become a daily drinker for anyone, but it's a great tea to break out for company, or just to lift your spirits from the grey wintery crap that is moving in.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

What-Cha's India Arunachal Pradesh Hand-Made Black Tea

What-Cha's Description
A strong tasting hand-rolled black tea with a malty taste and gentle smokey finish, perfect as a breakfast tea.

My thoughts
I'm fairly well versed in Chinese geography. Indian? Not so much. I had to look up exactly where Arunachal Pradesh was on a map. Turns out, this tea comes from the extreme northeastern edge of India, just a few hours' drive from northern Yunnan, at nearly the same latitude as Darjeeling to the west. There isn't much tea that comes from this area, so I was pretty unaware of what to expect from these leaves.

Dry leaves - They look fairly typical for an Indian black. The aroma is somewhat unusual, starting with a strong odor of malt and wood, and ending with a slight smokiness. It reminds me almost of a Russian tea, rather than something from India.

Brewing parameters - 200F, 60s first, +15s after

Tasting notes - Malt, cocoa, wood resin, cedar smoke, maple syrup

The soup brews out to a lovely dark amber color, and emits a pungent aroma of malt and smoke. Taste is quite strong for the shorter steep time, but not at all bitter. This would definitely be a good wake-up-in-the-morning tea. The maltiness takes the forefront, but quickly gets pushed aside by the woody, sappy, resinous taste and a well-defined cedar smokiness. Cocoa notes show up slightly under the rest of the flavors, but they are pretty subtle at this point.

Steeps 2 and 3 lose a lot of the woodiness and smokiness, letting the malt and cocoa take over the ride. It tastes a lot more like I'd expect from an Indian tea now, though I am somewhat disappointed that the cedar smokiness has dissipated because I rather enjoyed it. I am noticing a very slight sweetness at the end of the sip that is almost certainly a mild maple syrupy flavor. The pungent resinous taste of the first steep has mellowed out to a smooth and satisfying brew.

Steeps 4 and 5 are mostly a malty, tannic, cocoa-infused tea now. My final steep I left sit for 5 minutes and the smokiness began to show its face again, but it was much more subtle than the earlier steeps.

This is a great, strong black tea, perfect for mornings. The typical darker Indian black teas (i.e. Assam, Ceylon, and Nilgiri; Darjeeling is in its own class) have a tendency to taste very similar to each other, but this one breaks the mold with it's resinous, smoky pungency, which is more akin to something Russian than Indian. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to explore the area further.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yunnan Sourcing's 2013 YS "Jing Mai Mountain" Wild Arbor Raw Puerh

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
Entirely hand-picked and processed at every stage makes this an awesome tea with perfect profile and aging possibilities.  Tea trees are between 80 and 150 years old growing naturally without the use of artificial fertilizers or pesticides!

My thoughts
Continuing on the puerh binge I've been on lately. I received a sample of this sheng in an earlier monthly plan from Yunnan Sourcing. I love when tea vendors offer a varied selection in the monthly tea clubs because oftentimes it ends up being a tea you would never have tried otherwise. Case in point, this gem. This is YS's own brand of puerh, which I have found can quite easily stand up to anything the big Chinese tea manufacturers make.

These leaves originate from Mangjing village at the foothills of Jingmai Mountain in southwestern Yunnan.

Dry leaves - It looks pretty much like you'd expect from a sheng with a bit of age behind it: more of a brownish-greyish-green than the bright silvery green of a new sheng. The aroma though is what sets this apart. Amidst the typical green pungency, there is the almost unmistakable smell of cherry blossoms. It's a very light floral stonefruity aroma, definitely none of that nasty cherry cough syrup smell.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 2 x 10s rinses, then <5s steeps at first, adjusting time as needed.

Tasting notes - Smooth, cherry blossom, kuwei bitterness, white grapes, mild astringency

Steeps 1-3: This sheng starts off not nearly as pungent as I expected. Wild-growing leaves can have a pretty wicked vegetal bite to them, but this is much mellower. The sweet cherry blossom aspect carries over nicely to the broth, and permeates the taste from start to finish. There is a very slight astringency that hangs around after the sip, but again it's not as strong as I expected from wild leaves.

Steeps 4-7: The astringency is gone already, leaving me with a smooth, sweet, cherry-infused soup. The mild bitterness is a little more prevalent here, but it's certainly not overwhelming; it's balanced very nicely with the sweetness. A bit more fruitiness is starting to crop up here, but I can't really place what it is yet.

Steeps 8-11: White grapes! That's what that fruitiness is. The grape component is quite a bit more prominent here, but sweet cherries are still the primary flavor. The broth is quite sweet now, overpowering the bitterness and is extremely smooth, with an almost lubricating mouthfeel.

Steeps 12+: Most of the individual flavors have faded by this point, but it's still a very sweet, smooth tea. I stopped at 15 steeps, but I'm confident I could have pulled at least another 5 from these before they gave out completely.

For only being two years old, this is a great tea. I could see this aging into something really special a few years down the line, and would certainly be a great addition to anyone's raw puerh collection.

You can buy this tea from Yunnan Sourcing here and here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Crimson Lotus Tea's 2008 Bulang Imperial Grade Shou Puerh

Crimson Lotus' Description
This dark puerh comes on strong quickly. It will brew thick and dark at the beginning but then mellow into a light sweetness. The leaves are all small buds and carry the name "Imperial Grade".

My thoughts
This was one of those teas where I heard nothing but stellar reviews no matter where I went. Everyone just raved about it, and any time I saw a "find me a good shou" question, this one was almost certainly mentioned. So contrary to my normal cautious attitude towards new shou, I skipped ordering a sample entirely and jumped in headfirst with a full brick. I don't regret it at all.

Dry leaves - The brick is fairly tightly compressed and takes some work to pry apart the leaves without breaking them too badly. You'll notice the leaves are quite small compared to most puerh leaves (gong ting/imperial grade), and are a bit more tippy than what I'm used to seeing. The aroma is fairly earthy and sweet, with just a hint of wood and camphor.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 2 x 10s rinse, then <5s steeps at first, increasing time as needed. These leaves impart a lot of flavor very quickly.

Tasting notes - Smooth, sweet, wet wood, leaves, earthy, cacao, wheat, cherry, thick mouthfeel

This shou immediately kicks it off with a very smooth, thick, sweet broth. There is no trace of mustiness or fermentation at all, making this an incredibly flavorful and enjoyable tea right off the bat. Early on, it's a mostly sweet earthy brew, reminiscent of a fresh forest floor. Notes of clean earth, peat, dry leaves, and wet wood all mingle together to make a fantastic, inky black soup. The slight bitterness is balanced perfectly with the thick sweetness.

Steeps 2-5 mellow out somewhat, yet still retain the wonderful earthiness of earlier, but with the addition of a mild woody spiciness. It definitely doesn't have the bite of say, something out of the Menghai tea factory, but there is a bit of a spicy tinge on the back of the tongue after the sip. A nice savory huigan is starting to take hold as well.

Steeps 6-9 are really bringing out the complexity this tea has to offer. The earthiness is quite mellow now and the spiciness has disappeared, but notes of raw cacao, wheat, and even black cherries are beginning to appear. The liquor is a deep, crystal clear brown now, more akin to a dian hong color.

Steeps 10-onwards just take the complexity and run with it. The flavors have mellowed significantly, but the cacao and wheat are hand-in-hand with the earthiness now, just subtle notes of cherry and even tobacco peeking in with each sip.

This is really an incredible tea. I don't like to say "favorite", but this one is certainly high up on the list of ripe puerh. My only word of caution is this: if you are new to ripe puerh, don't start with this one. It's so good it will spoil you and other shou just won't measure up.

You can buy this tea from Crimson Lotus here:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

What-Cha's Vietnam 2007 Wild 'Dark Forest' Ripe Dark Tea

What-Cha's Description
A brilliant wild growing dark tea with a smooth and lingering wood taste.

My thoughts
This was the very first dark tea I ever tried, and I remember thinking "why does this smell like wood and dirt? Is that normal?" So I suppose this tea is partially to blame for my current obsession with shou cha. These leaves originate from the Ha Giang province in northern Vietnam, which borders the southern edge of Wenshan prefecture, Yunnan.

Dry leaves - The aroma coming off of these leaves is quite pungent. It's primarily woody, hickory and oak to my nose, and slightly medicinal. There is just a hint of smoke there as well, almost like a wood fire grill. They are pretty small and broken into fragments, not CTC grade or anything, but smaller than most tea leaves.

Brewing parameters - 212F, <10s steeps at first, adjust accordingly thereafter. I treated this like a normal puer, and it does just fine that way. Longer steep times work just as well, but you get fewer infusions.

Tasting notes - Dry hardwoods, cedar, vanilla, cinnamon

This is certainly a woody-tasting tea. I can't really pin down a specific hardwood, it's more of a blend of many different types, though I think hickory and walnut are the most prominent. I can detect a hint of spicy cedar as well, but it's primarily a hardwood-esque taste. The short steeps times seem to work very well too and the soup is plenty strong for my tastes. The woodiness is definitely not akin to fresh woods, but it's a bit more pungent than just dried wood. Something like a mildly-roasted not-completely-burnt-yet hardwood charcoal. I have no idea if that makes sense or not, so just go with it.

After a couple steeps, it really starts getting good. The woodiness mellows out significantly and notes of vanilla and cinnamon begin to take hold. A very slight sweetness starts to poke around as well, but it's still a very savory flavor.

Steep #5 and onward were my favorites of the bunch. The vanilla notes really take hold here and balance out the savory taste of the wood. It's certainly not like a thick, sweet shou, but it does have a very mellow tinge of sugar that really enhances the overall flavor.

This one is highly recommended as a dark tea from a more unusual source. It's not your typical fermented tea by any means, and is certainly worth your time if you like to explore the different locations that produce tea.

You can buy this from What-Cha here:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What-Cha's Malawi Satemwa Antlers White Tea

What-Cha's Description
A truly unique tea which is composed almost exclusively of stems, it produces an incredibly smooth and sweet taste composed of lychees and honey. An incredible tea which is completely unlike any other tea produced in both material used to produce it and taste.

My thoughts
I've been trying to post every 3 days or so, so apologies for the delay. Jessica Jones took up pretty much all of my free time for the past few days. Killgrave is a d'ast terrifying villain.

Normally when you find lots of twigs and stems in your tea, that's a sign of crappy tea, or companies who are trying to add filler to their product to save money. But here we are with a tea that is made entirely of stems. On purpose. No leaves in this one. Satemwa Tea Estate specializes in teas that break the norm. This oddball originates from the Shire Highlands in the small southeastern African country of Malawi.

Dry leaves (twigs) - Yup, they're twigs. Most of them are roughly 2 inches in length, though there are some longer that I broke so they'd fit in my teapot. The emit a mildly spicy, sweet, woody aroma that is almost mouth-watering.

Brewing parameters - 175F, 60s first, +15s after. As usual, I stick with shorter steep times than are recommended, though I can confirm that the full 3-4 minutes still produces a great tea.

Tasting notes - Woody, sweet, honey, lychee, cane sugar, vanilla

This is surely the sweetest tea I've ever tried. If you typically add a sweetener to your brew, I'd recommend foregoing it completely with this one. Honey, lychee berries and cane sugar are right up front with this tea, followed closely by a mild woodiness that lingers on the tongue for long after the sip. The woodiness is nothing like a shou puer, it's a much lighter taste, kind of like walking through a forest at autumn.

Subsequent steeps bring out a wonderful vanilla component alongside the honey and lychee sweetness. If it was at all possible, it's even sweeter now than the first steep, and the twiggy flavor has mellowed somewhat.

This is certainly one of the most flavorful and complex white teas I've ever tried. I'm hesitant to call it a white tea because there aren't any leaves present, but I don't know what else to call it, though "twig tea" has a nice ring to it.

You can buy this unique tea from What-Cha here:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What-Cha's Georgia Natela's Gold Standard Black Tea

What-Cha's Description
A most unusual hand processed tea with soft tannins and slight malt with hints of toffee.

My thoughts
Georgian teas have become somewhat of a morning tradition for me. Ever since I first ordered the old Discover Georgia set from What-Cha back in May, I knew this tiny country made some really special teas.

To paraphrase What-Cha (and give you a brief history lesson), Georgia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and most of the tea produced there was shipped directly to Russia. However, the tea fields were kept unprotected, so Georgian workers would take tea leaves back to their home towns and process them manually themselves. This resulted in each village having their own unique methods to hand-making tea, which have been preserved over time and are still used today. This tea is made by Natela Gujabidze of Nagobilevi village.

Dry leaves - The long twisted leaves are a deep, rich brown with a few golden tips mixed in, quite similar to what you'd expect from an Assam or Ceylon tea. The aroma is what sets Georgia apart from the rest of the tea world: brisk malt, minerality, and just a hint of smoke and citrus. The Georgian terroir is (unsurprisingly) quite similar to Russia's, but both are extremely unique compared to any other place in the world.

Brewing parameters - 200F, 4 minutes. Yes, 4 minutes. It gives me a serious twitch, but it works very well with Georgian teas. I have yet to try this tea gong fu style, and I truly have no idea if it would perform well that way or not.

Tasting notes - Malt, toffee, tannic, caramel, stonefruit, mineral

Oh this is a nice one. Even by Georgian standards, this is a nice one. It starts off a smooth malty brew with hints of a slightly smoky toffee, then gradually transitions into a sweet caramel taste, and finally ends by shifting back to the toffee-ness with just a touch of ripe stonefruit at the very end. Many other Georgian teas match the taste and aroma fairly closely, but this one is something entirely different. The taste is nothing like what you expect from the aroma of the dry leaves.

I added 30 seconds onto the second steep time, and was greeted with a much mellower soup this time around. The caramel and toffee are still there, but have begun to hide behind the maltiness, which is now joined by a slight minerality and smokiness. It's a bit more like a typical Georgian tea now, which certainly isn't a bad thing, but it's a bit disappointing that the wonderful flavors of the first brew mellowed out so much. Sometime I'll try this with shorter steep times and see how it holds up.

I highly recommend this tea to everyone. If you want to really explore what Georgia has to offer, do yourself a favor and grab the Discover Georgia set so you can compare notes between all the different teas. There are still a couple I haven't tried yet, but I have no doubt that they are all excellent.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Yunnan Sourcing's Tribute Grade Pure Bud Bi Luo Chun White Tea

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
Pure buds picked in the earliest spring harvest. The buds are small and uniform in size and shape. The tea is processed much like white tea and is incredibly aromatic and fresh with hints of sugarcane and fruit, but with a thick vegetal sweetness that enlivens the mouth and throat.

My thoughts
I was looking through past posts here and noticed a distinct lack of white tea. For whatever reason, I don't drink very much white tea even though I like it just as well as any other type. I do tend to keep a lot fewer white (and green) teas on hand as compared to black and puerh, simply due to the fact that they don't keep fresh nearly as long as other types. This is one I received in YS's tea club last month.

I'm not entirely sure what "tribute grade" means, but I assume it's a grade of tea that falls somewhere in between one you'd offer to a king or emperor as a sign of respect, and one you'd serve to Galactus so he doesn't eat your planet. Either way, I'm guessing that this tea will be a good one.

Dry leaves - The fuzzy leaves are fairly uniform in size and color, and twisted into loose curls. The silvery-green leaves emit a wonderful sweet vegetal/fruity aroma.

Brewing parameters - 176F, 8s first, +4s after. Continuing with the gong fu trend I've been in here.

Tasting notes - Sweet, sugarcane, fruity, cooked spinach, buttery, rose

Steeps 1-3 start off with a very thick, sweet, buttery mouthfeel with notes of cane sugar and fresh fruit. You know the smell of a farmer's market in the late spring when everyone's selling apples and pears and peaches? That's the fruitiness of this tea. It's not so much the taste of fruit as it is the aroma of the fruit that comes across in this tea. I have no idea if that made any sense or not, but screw it I'm going with it.

Steeps 4-7 are lighter and more vegetal and less sweet, with hints of cooked spinach taking the lead now. The fruitiness is still there and hasn't changed much from earlier steeps, but it is joined by a mild rose florality that really balances the tea out.

By steeps 8-11, the thick buttery mouthfeel has faded entirely and is mostly just a sweet lightly fruity and floral broth.

Overall, this is an excellent white tea, and certainly more flavorful that many other white teas I've had. The fruitiness in this tea is what really sets it apart for me, and it is definitely worth your time if you're a fan of lighter teas.

You can buy this tea from Yunnan Sourcing here and here.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

What-Cha's Japan Bancha Goishicha Dark Tea

What-Cha's Description
A truly unique tea that is rarely found within Japan, let alone outside. It possesses an incredible aroma and an equally unusual and lingering sour taste with elements of lemon, mushroom and soya sauce.

My thoughts
I'll be honest: this is a tea I've been putting off for a while now. Ever since it was listed at What-Cha it piqued my interest, but it always got pushed back to the wish list when I went to order. Finally a month or so ago, this tea went on sale and I bit the bullet and ordered a bag, still not really knowing what to expect.

What-Cha describes the unique processing method that goes into making this tea: "The tea has an equally unique method of processing to go match its unique taste; it is double fermented with bancha leaves steamed, stacked, mat flattened, left to ferment on the ground and finally stacked within a barrel to undergo a second fermentation."

Dry leaves - Ok, that aroma is pungent. I mean wow, that is not a smell you expect from tea leaves. Immediately I'm hit with a wild combination of sour lemon, cedar smoke, and soy and barbecue sauces. I'm not saying it's bad, but it's certainly not what I was expecting at all, and I really wasn't sure what to expect with this tea anyway. The huge leaves are flattened and stacked into small piles about 10-15 leaves thick. I used a whole stack (~7g) for this session.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 2 x 20s rinse, then 5-20s each steep. What-Cha recommends long (4-5m) steep times, but with as pungent as the aroma is, I don't want to risk making the broth too strong, so I treated it like a puer.

Tasting notes - Sour lemon, soy sauce, tangy, mushroom, malt, umami

Surprisingly, the golden yellow broth is not nearly as powerful as the dry leaves, maybe from the short steep times. The tangy lemon is right at the front of the sip, and gives the soup an odd acidic quality. It causes a sour tingle deep in my gums below the molars, and in the back of my cheeks. The tingle quickly fades as the flavor shifts from citrus to a savory, umami medley. The flavor falls somewhere in between a mild soy sauce and a tangy worcestershire sauce, still with a tinge of lemon in the background.

Steeps 4-6 change significantly. The saucy tangy-ness disappeared almost completely, leaving a more subdued sweet lemony flavor that mingles with a savory mushroom character, ending in the tiniest hint of malt. To be honest, I was kind of on the fence with this tea on the early steeps, but starting with #4, I like this tea a lot.

I got 2 more steeps out of it for a total of 8. I could have gone for more, but it was getting late and I needed sleep. The later steeps are more of a mildly savory citrus, but still retain a good bit of sweetness. I can't really pick out any major flavors other than lemon anymore.

Everything about this tea is completely unique. The idiosyncratic aroma and flavors may scare some people off, but if you'd like to try a tea that is different from anything else you've ever tried, I urge you to give this one a shot.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Yunnan Sourcing's Old Arbor Mu Shu Hong Cha Black Tea

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
Tea infusion is grassy and slightly sweet taste with a pleasant bitterness and slightly astringent sensation that generally gives a very balanced taste. Strong fleshy leaves and stems with large tea buds allows brew this tea a huge amount of time!

My thoughts
I've been on a real Yunnan binge lately. Blacks, greens, puers, whites...I really have yet to find a tea from Yunnan that I dislike. I received a big box-o-leaves from YS last week, and I've been itching to dive into the many different dianhong teas they offer there. This one is the first from the pile of black teas to make it into my cup. YS states that this tea is made with the assamica variety, from the same leaves that are normally used to make their mu shu line of raw puer.

Dry leaves - They look like a fairly typical dianhong: dark flat black with lots of golden tips, all twisted into a loose pile. The aroma is an interesting one though. Dry, the leaves smell almost like a fresh bai mu dan white tea, with just a bit of grainy malt thrown in for good measure.

Brewing parameters - 200F, 10s first, +5s after. These leaves just screamed gongfu style to me, and while I'm sure they'll perform just fine when brewed western style as well, quick steep times worked wonderfully here.

Tasting notes - Malt, rock sugar, leafy, peony, mellow, clean

This is quite an interesting brew. The soup is naturally very sweet with a smooth, almost oily, mouthfeel. Malt is the foremost flavor, but it's not as pungent as many other dianhongs are, and is balanced nicely with a clean leafy vegetal element that reminds me a lot of a bai mu dan white. There is just a touch of savory graham cracker that hides beneath the graininess.

Steeps 4-8 are a bit more mellow and balanced. The maltiness faded a bit and is much more balanced with the mild leafy flavor. A lovely peony florality has cropped up that again, really makes this reminescent of a malty bai mu dan. At this point, it is truly a well-balanced tea. No one single flavor dominates, and even the lingering aftertaste is a sweet malty floral delight. Steeps 9-onwards are much like earlier steeps, but a bit more subdued and still wonderfully sweet.

And did I mention the qi? After two cups, this brew had me almost lightheaded and giddy. Despite the name of the blog, there are very few teas that can actually affect me like this one did.

This tea certainly stands unique among the plethora of other dianhongs available, and is a great choice for anyone looking to dive deeper into the world of Yunnan black teas.

You can buy this tea from Yunnan Sourcing here:

Monday, November 9, 2015

What-Cha's Vietnam 'Ta' Oolong Tea

What-Cha's Description
An oolong unique to Vietnam with a smooth texture combined with a strong floral aroma and taste.

My thoughts
Back from vacation! The southern North Carolina coast is one of the most relaxing places I've ever been. I highly recommend it for anyone who needs a nice quiet getaway.

Green oolongs tend to be a bit of a departure from the norm for me. My oolong stash is heavily dominated by darker roasts, and I'll sometimes have to search a bit for something less oxidized. Vietnamese teas have so far been winners in my book. The various green teas especially are some of the best greens I've tried. This tea is made from the 'Ta' (meaning 'our') variety that is unique to Vietnam.

Dry leaves - The leaves are rolled into tight little balls in the traditional oolong fashion. Coloration ranges from a bright, almost chartreuse, green to a deep forest green, while the aroma is fairly mild and brings notes of spring flowers and leaves.

Brewing parameters - 175F, 60s first, +15s after.

Tasting notes - Smooth, lilac, orchid, lily, citrus

The aroma of the pale yellow soup is very floral, almost perfumey, in nature. Lilacs and orchids dominate the florality. One thing I found unique about the aroma is the orchid notes are almost identical to the smell of a Cattleya hybrid I have that blooms a couple times a year. The resemblance is almost uncanny. This is certainly one of the most up-front floral teas I've had the pleasure of drinking so far.

Taste is just as floral as the aroma. Despite being a green oolong, this one forgoes the thick, sweet soybean taste that many Taiwanese green oolongs have at first. 'Ta' is just straight-up flowery. After a couple steeps, a light citrus note begins to take hold amongst the floral explosion. I had a hard time placing which citrus specifically is was most akin to, but I'd say tangerine if I had to pick one. Notes of slightly spicy lily start to crop up between the lilac/orchid as well. I got a total of 7 steeps from the leaves before they petered out.I should have taken a photo of the unfurled leaves against a ruler, because they are gigantic. Significantly bigger than anything I've seen from Taiwan or China.

Overall, this was a very nice green oolong. It is very floral, maybe even too floral for some people, but if you're a fan of unroasted oolongs this should prove a great tea for you.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here: