Sunday, September 27, 2015

Yunnan Sourcing's 2007 CNNP 7581 Ripe Puerh Tea

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
The classic 7581 Ripe Puerh recipe from Kunming Tea Factory (aka CNNP). This is a 2007 production comprised entirely of fermented Menghai area large-leaf varietal puerh. The brewed tea is sweet and smooth. The color of the tea liquor is a deep red wine hue. A very enjoyable tea with just the right amount of aging.

My thoughts
It's taken me a while to really get into ripe puerh. The first couple I tried were just bleh, and they kind of put me off of the whole brand for a while. Luckily, got my hands on a couple much tastier varieties, and shou has quickly become one of my favorite kinds of tea. The Kunming and Menghai Tea Factories produce some of the best shou cha I've had so far.

At first I was confused what the numbers in the name meant, as all of CNNP's teas have a seemingly random 4-digit number. So I did a bit of digging and found the reasoning behind the numbers. The first two numbers represent the year that this specific recipe was created (1975). The third number is the grade or size of the leaves, smaller number means smaller leaves and buds. This brick is an 8, so it is made with larger leaves. The fourth and final number denoted the factory it was made in, 1 is for the Kunming Tea Factory, 2 is for Menghai TF. So the 7581 in the name tells us that this tea is produced with a larger-leaf variety from the Kunming Tea Factory, with a recipe started in 1975. Yup, I did all that to simply restate YS's description. But hey, I learned something, so it was worth it.

Dry leaves - The leaves have a nice smooth earthy camphorous scent. No trace of fishiness at all means this tea has lost most or all of it's post-fermentation funk that plagues very young shou. They are fairly tightly compressed, but do break apart easily with a bit of work.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 2 x 10s rinse, <10s steeps at first, adjust accordingly thereafter. Puerh is such a forgiving tea when it comes to brewing that you can steep it almost any way and it'll still taste good. I prefer to keep my steeps nice and short so I can get as many cups out of the leaves as I can.

Tasting notes - Smooth, camphorous, oak, pine, eucalyptus, woodsy

Steeps 1-4: This tea begins with a nice smooth, thick mouthfeel. It is earthy and somewhat camphorous, with definite tones of wood. Dry pine is the most prominent to me, but oak is present too. There is no detectable astringency or fermented taste, which is a huge plus in my book. These steeps were all under 10 seconds.

Steeps 5-8: Here's where it really begins to get tasty. The camphorous element has faded somewhat, and an earthy sweetness is starting to take over. The woodsy components are becoming somewhat muddled, but I can taste a hint of eucalyptus starting to show it's face. The mouthfeel is much less thick that the earlier steeps as well. These steeps were up to 20 seconds, erring on the shorter side.

Steeps 9-12: It almost primarily a sweet, earthy, woodsy brew now. Extremely smooth, very clear, and a very quick aftertaste. Just a hint of eucalyptus, then it's gone again. It doesn't have any of the mouth-coating thickness it had earlier. These steeps ranged from 30 seconds to 3 minutes.

Steeps 13-15: These leaves don't have much more to give, but I'll be damned if I throw them out before I've wrung every last bit of goodness from them. It's mostly a dark, clear sweet liquid at this point. Very little woodsiness is still present. These steeps were much longer, with #15 going for about half an hour.

This is a very good ripe puerh, and a great starting point for anyone looking to get into shou. The CNNP factories consistently make great puerh, and if you can get your hands on some bricks with a few years behind them, or age them yourself if you're more patient than me, you'll have a very solid tea. It is very affordable option as well, running $24-$26 for a full 250g cake.

You can buy this tea from Yunnan Sourcing's US site here, or from their international site here.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What-Cha's Yunnan Graceful Purple 'Zi Juan' Purple Varietal Green Tea

What-Cha's Description
A brilliant and rare tea produced from purple varietal tea plants, with a smoky aroma and taste combined with a wonderful smooth texture.

My thoughts
I love me some Chinese green tea. There are so many different parts of the world that grow good green tea, but I always come back to China when I want a really good green. This is one I've had my eye on for a while, and purple varietal teas always intrigue me. This one is made from the Zi Juan varietal (a.k.a. Purple Beauty), which is a man-made cultivar, as opposed to the other two purple varieties (Ye Sheng and Zi Cha) that are both naturally occurring mutations.

Dry leaves - The leaves are rolled lengthwise into long points and look like a dark silver needle white tea. The aroma is definitely unique, with a smoky, earthy, vegetal pungency being at the forefront. It almost reminds me of a very young sheng puerh, but without the bite. I've had young shengs that made me sneeze from the pungency, and this wasn't nearly that strong.

Brewing parameters - 175F, 60s first, +20s after. What-Cha recommends a longer steeping time of 2-3 minutes, but I can't bring myself to steep a green for that long. I've ruined too many greens by oversteeping.

Tasting notes - Pungent, vegetal, smoky, green wood, astringent

Is this a sheng? The ever-so-slightly-purple-tinted soup gives off a pungent bitey vegetal aroma that immediately brings me to a very young sheng. Not at all what I was expecting from a green tea. The taste is similar, starting off with a vegetal bite, drifting into a mild smokiness, and finishing with an earthy, green wood, and legume blend. It does have slight hints of the soybean/grassiness that I typically associate with green teas from Yunnan, but those hints are mostly overpowered by the tangy vegetal pungency.

The second steep has mellowed out somewhat, but it is still a very sheng-like brew. I can detect very slight notes of green grapes or something fruity in the finish as well. Steeps #3-6 are mostly the same, with the sheng qualities taking the lead. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm drinking a green tea, and not a puerh.

For a green tea, this is certainly one of the most distinctly flavored brews I've tried. If you handed me this tea without telling me what it was, I'd almost certainly say it was a young sheng, and I'd probably even argue that point. This tea is worth trying simply because of its uniqueness, though it may not appeal to everyone due to its odd piquant aroma and flavor profile.

You can buy this tea at What-Cha here:

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mountain Tea's Light Roast Sumatra Oolong

Mountain Tea's Description
Grown in the mineral rich, volcanic soils of Sumatra, this tea has a unique aroma and flavor of passion fruit. After a quick 30 hour roast, we were able to bring about notes of roasted chestnuts and honey.

My thoughts
A couple months back, I ordered a handful of different oolongs from Mountain Tea. Mostly medium- and dark-roast stuff, but this one  intrigued me, so I bought a couple ounces. Nearly all of Mountain Tea's stuff is grown in their gardens in Nantou, Taiwan, however this one being grown in the big Indonesian island of Sumatra makes it somewhat of an outlier. Also having a very short roast time makes it a bit unusual too, at least within my tea stash. Once I got the teas (within 48 hours of ordering. Seriously, their shipping is fast), this one was sort of forgotten behind the medium-roast dong dings and dark-roast tieguanyins. I recently rediscovered it, and I love what I found.

Dry leaves - The forest green leaves are rolled in the normal oolong way. The aroma is very unique; I'm still having trouble pinning down what it is I'm smelling. Vegetal/herbal base, fruity hints, floral undertones, with just a tinge of roastiness. It's different than what I was expecting, though honestly I don't know what it was that I was expecting. It smells awesome, that's for sure.

Brewing parameters - 190F, 60s first, +15s after. These tend to be my go-to numbers for most lighter rolled oolongs, going a bit warmer for darker roasts.

Tasting notes - Roasted chestnuts/almonds, floral, honey, passion fruit

Wow, ok. This is a good one. The aroma of the brew is a thick, sweet, honey/floral blend. If I had to pick specific florality (yes it's a word), I'd say rose and lily-of-the-valley, mixed with wildflower honey, and just a touch of roastiness to set this apart from a green oolong.

The taste of the broth itself is no less amazing. It starts off quite similar to the aroma, but quickly turns to a wonderful juicy fruitiness that I guess is the passion fruit that MT claims. To be honest, the only passion fruit I've ever had is the Chobani yogurt flavor, and this tastes fairly similar to that, so I'm gonna say that passion fruit is accurate. The whole shebang is covered by a mild roasted chestnut taste from start to finish. I can also detect hints of overripe peaches in the finish and lingering aftertaste.

One thing that really stood out to me with this tea is that it makes my mouth water immediately after the sip. I've never had a tea that actually, literally made me salivate. I can typically get 7-8 steeps from these leaves before they give out, with steeps 3-5 being my favorite of the bunch.

The complexity that this tea offers really makes it a standout in my stash. It could actually compete with the 2003 Aged Green Heart Oolong that Mountain Tea (and also What-Cha) offers, which is unquestionably the best tea I've ever had in my life, but that's another review for another time.

You can buy this tea from Mountain Tea, here:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Verdant Tea's Laoshan Black

Verdant's Description
This brand new kind of tea is fed by sweet mountain spring water and roasted in the sun for three days before finishing to bring out rich chocolate notes. Mr. He perfected this tea as a proud reflection of the bold Shandong spirit and the perseverance of Laoshan Village. Laoshan black is a labor of love to prove to the world how incredible teas from Northern China can be.

My thoughts
This was one tea I was always hearing about. Verdant's Laoshan Black was almost universally recommended as a stellar black tea. So naturally I had to give it a try. Before I get into the review here, go check out Verdant's new website. Is it not one of the most amazingly designed sites you've ever seen? Seriously, it's awesome. I love how transparent Verdant is with their sourcing. They really want you to know who made your tea and where it came from.

Dry leaves - The aroma coming off the leaves is pure chocolate. Not carob, not raw cacao, but straight-up, rich dark chocolate. The leaves are quite small and twisted into little curls, and are mostly uniform in color.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 30s first, +15s after. This is what Verdant recommended, and while it seems like a very short time for a black tea, it works perfectly.

Tasting notes - Chocolate, cacao, malt, almond, cherry

The aroma profile of the dry leaves carries over nicely into the broth. The taste is primarily rich roasty chocolate with hints of raw cacao, malt, almond, and in the later steeps, black cherry. And it is incredibly smooth. Definitely one of the smoothest teas I've had the pleasure of trying. I expected it to be fairly similar to black teas from Yunnan, but it isn't really at all. Yunnan teas have an inclination to be fairly balanced in between cocoa and malty, sometimes with other flavors thrown in to the mix. This tea is just powerfully chocolatey. I'm not noticing a whole lot of an aftertaste; cocoa lingers in the mouth for a few seconds, but it quickly fades away. I suppose that's really this tea's only downside (if you can even call it that). This tea just keeps on giving too, and will likely last until you're tired of drinking it.

I feel like I haven't written as much as I normally do, which is weird because I absolutely adore this tea. If you're not a fan of chocolatey teas, you'll probably want to give this one a miss. For the rest of us, this one could easily become a top tier brew.

You can buy it at Verdant here:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What-Cha's Vietnam Wild 'Tiger Monkey' Green Tea

What-Cha's Description
A wild growing green tea with a woody taste which develops with subsequent steeps

My thoughts
I never knew until recently just how much I needed Vietnamese green teas in my life. When I first got a couple different Vietnamese teas from What-Cha, I didn't really expect them to be much different that any of the Chinese or Taiwanese greens I've had. I couldn't have been more wrong. Vietnamese green teas have a distinctive potent grassy flavor to them that I love, but under that grassiness lies some of the most unique and noteworthy flavors I've ever found in southeast Asian teas. This 'Tiger Monkey' is one I've had my eye on for quite a while, and it hasn't disappointed.

Dry leaves - The leaves are quite small and twisted into thin points. The aroma is actually pretty weak, but it's mostly dry grass and hay, with just a hint of smokiness. One thing I've noticed about Vietnamese teas is that the dry aroma and the wet aroma are fairly similar, but differ greatly in pungency. This one is no exception.

Brewing parameters - 175F, 45s first, +15s after

Tasting notes - Grassy, dried hay, oak, cedar smoke, nutty

Immediately you're hit with the typical strong grassy/hay taste of a Vietnamese green. Some green teas can be a muddled vegetal mixture, but the grass and hay notes come through strong with these teas. A couple seconds after the sip, the flavor profile changes quite dramatically. The grassiness fades quickly and is replaced by wonderful nutty/woody/smoky elements. I tend to have a hard time distinguishing between different woody tastes and aromas, but this is pretty obviously oak and cedar. The nuttiness is mild and almost reminiscent of a long jing, but with the addition of a mild cedar smokiness. There is just a hint of astringency after the sip.

Subsequent steeps do indeed develop into a more defined and smoother brew. The grassiness loses some of it's potency after a couple infusions, and the woody/smoky taste becomes a bit more prominent. It's not a dramatic change, but I liked the later brews even more than the first. I made a total of 7 cups from these leaves and the last couple were fairly weak. After steep #5, you may want to tack on a little more time to get all these leaves have to offer.

It's quite a unique tea, and is definitely worth revisiting again. It wasn't my favorite Vietnam green, but it has some stiff competition from some of the other greens from the South China Sea. It is a very affordable tea as well (as are most of the Vietnamese teas), at $7.71 for 50g.

You can buy it at What-Cha here:

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Rishi Tea's Ruby Oolong

Rishi's Description
Named for it's brilliant red infusion, this full-bodied, deeply fermented oolong is slow baked to bring out complex layers of cacao, raisins, and black cherry.

My thoughts
Deeply fermented? Slow baked? Oh yeah, you're speaking my language. This is a really unique tea, and a few months back when I got an email newsletter from Rishi promoting this tea, I knew I had to try it. It is from the Jin Xuan cultivar, and it originates from Doi Mae Salong mountain in Thailand. Rishi offers a wonderful Doi Mae Salong Travelogue about the method of harvesting, processing, and baking the leaves that will eventually become this tea.

Dry leaves - The leaves are rolled into tight little balls in the traditional oolong way. The dry leaves have a wonderful aroma of baked bread and dried fruit. I don't typically measure the amount of leaves I use, I just go with whatever looks good. I probably used a bit more than what is recommended for a rolled oolong, but it couldn't hurt. Into my 300ml pot!

Brewing parameters - 200F, 60s first, +20s after. 3m first, +1m after. I actually brewed this tea on two separate occasions. First was the website recommended 3m first +1m after, then I tried it at 60s first +20s after. Brewing rolled oolongs for more than 2 minutes on the first steep tends to give me a nervous twitch, but I tried it anyway. I'll document both sessions below.

Tasting notes - Cacao/dark chocolate, black cherry, raisin, baked bread, dried fruit

60 second brew first. The color of the infusion is a nice golden brown hue. Not exactly ruby red, but it's a pretty color regardless. The aroma has definite cacao/dark chocolate tones with fruity hints. The first sip, there's a lot going on in this tea. It starts off like the aroma hinted at: raw cacao with a hint of fruit. That fades into a full-bodied dried fruit blend, of which black cherry is definitely the most prominent. I can detect hints of raisin, black currant, and even red grapes in there as well. The cacao tones are still there, but not as powerful as the initial sip. It finishes with a lingering roasty cherry/raisin taste. Subsequent steeps don't change dramatically, but it's a generous tea. I quit after 8 infusions, and it was still going strong.

3 minute brew next. Three minutes gave me a mild eye twitch, but I powered through it. The resulting infusion is a dark reddish brown hue. I can see where the name "Ruby" came from now. The cacao tones that were present in the previous brew have changed to a rich dark chocolate now. Black cherry is almost completely dominating the fruity component as well, with just a hint of raisin and baked bread in the aftertaste. The flavor is much richer this time around, but the overall profile has definitely become a little muddled with the longer brew. It is still quite good, but just not as defined as the shorter steeps. It also got pretty weak after the 4th brew at 6 minutes.

If you like dark oolongs, you should absolutely give this one a shot. It's one of the most unusual dark oolongs I've ever tried, and certainly one of the richest in flavor. I personally preferred the shorter infusions over the longer ones, but your mileage may vary. Either way, Rishi Tea has a winner here that has earned a permanent spot in my tea stash. It has a nice price tag as well, sitting at $10 for 50g.

You can buy the Ruby Oolong from Rishi here:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What-Cha's Darjeeling 2nd Flush Gopaldhara 'China Muscatel' Black Tea

I have a bit of a love affair going with Darjeeling teas. I typically make a black tea in the morning to take to work with me, but with Darjeelings, I usually wait till afternoon or evening to brew them up. They're just not really an early morning tea for me, but they make a great "unwind in the evening after a long work day" tea.

This is a newer offering from What-Cha, just harvested a couple months ago (July 2015).

What-Cha's Description
A smooth and fruity Darjeeling with a zesty taste of orange blossom combined with a brilliant muscatel finish. A very special tea from Darjeeling, produced exclusively from the original 130 year old 'China' bushes, originally used by the British Empire to setup India's tea industry. These bushes have been largely replaced by assamica throughout India with the exception of Darjeeling, where some of these original bushes survive.

My thoughts
This is a second flush, so it's much darker than the typical light-and-fruity first flushes. It's also from the Gopaldhara Tea Estate, which is a big plus in my book. What-Cha lists it as a FTGFOP1 grade (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe). With a grading that big, it has to be good.

Dry leaves - You can tell it's definitely a Darjeeling just from the aroma. I am immediately met with a fairly strong scent of malty muscatel grapes. It's a bit more floral than other late flushes I've had, which can only be a good thing. The leaves contain a few silvery tips and a few lighter brown leaves.

Brewing parameters - 190F, 2m first, +30s after

Tasting notes - Muscatel grapes, malty, orange blossom, honey

Right up front, I'm met with the zesty orange blossom taste that What-Cha describes. My initial impression at first sip is that it's almost like an Oriental Beauty oolong, but that feeling quickly fades as the flavor turns to the smooth, malty, muscatel profile I expect from a Darjeeling. The muscatel element is very prominent, and lingers for quite a long time after the sip.

Second steep, the flavor hasn't altered much, but I do notice a bit of a honey taste alongside the muscatel. It's subtle, but it's there. The orange blossom component has faded somewhat as well. Third, fourth and fifth steeps are mostly the same. I was hoping that the honey taste would get stronger with later steeps, but it never really got past the little subtle twinge. 

Regardless, this is a very nice tea. Not my absolute favorite Darjeeling, but it's an easy top 5. This could definitely be a daily drinker, and because it's a second flush, the price is lower than many teas from Darjeeling (50g for $10.82).

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What-Cha's Fujian Zhangping 2014 Heavy Roasted Shui Xian Cake Oolong

First review at the new blog! I have a pretty large backlog of teas to review, so I'm just gonna start at the top and work my way down.

What-Cha's Description
The only traditional oolong tea pressed into a cake! It has a unique taste quite unlike other Fujian oolongs with a floral zesty orange taste (similar to Darjeelings) combined with a gentle roasted finish. Some grapefruit hints are present in earlier steepings.

My thoughts
This is a newer What-Cha offering. I am a sucker for heavier roasted oolongs, but this was a bit pricier than some of the other oolongs on the site, so I only ordered a sample. Each cake is about 10g each, so a 10g sample will get you one cake. I decided to use the entire cake in my 300ml pot.

Dry leaves - The aroma is amazing. It's definitely a charcoal-roasted tea, but the roastiness is laced with floral tones reminiscent of rose and hyacinths. The cake itself isn't pressed very tight, and I actually ended up breaking it into a couple pieces before steeping.

Brewing parameters - 200F, 30s first (+15s for each steep after)

Tasting notes - Charcoal, grapefruit, mandarin, orange blossom, rose

This tea is quite unique in its flavor profile. Light citrusy notes hit you first. What-Cha describes it as grapefruit, and I can agree with that, but I would add clementines to the description as well. It quickly fades to a charcoal-roasted orangey/floral taste that lingers long after the sip. The roastiness doesn't overpower the floral taste at all. They compliment each other quite well actually, which is something I don't see in heavily roasted teas very often. 

5 steeps in and this tea shows no signs of slowing down. The more I brew these leaves, the better it gets. The charcoal has mellowed out somewhat and is replaced by a subtle fruity component. I'm honestly not sure what it is, I just couldn't place my finger on it, but it works extremely well with the orange blossom and rose tastes. Peach, maybe? Not sure. 

This is a very generous tea. I got a total of 15 steeps from it before calling it a day. I really could have kept going and pulled another 7 or 8 out of the leaves, but it was late and I needed sleep. The flavor profile didn't change much after steep #5 or 6, but it never did show signs of slowing down.

This tea is incredible. It doubt it will become a daily drinker for anyone due to the price ($14.48 for 5 x 10g cakes), but it is absolutely worth it. It's the best Fujian oolong I've had the pleasure of trying thus far, and deserves a spot in everyone's stash.

First post

I've been considering starting up a tea review blog for quite a while now. I honestly have no idea what I am doing here, so this will be somewhat of a learning process for me, so bear with me as I get things up and running. I hope this will be a fun and informative journey for all involved.

I've been drinking tea for about 5 years now, and I got serious about it a little over a year ago. Pre-2010, I was a soda junkie. I would drink upwards of 4 cans a day. Tea was nothing more than another bottled sugary drink for me. I decided I needed to make a change, and my New Year's resolution for 2010 was to give up all sugary drinks. I dropped it all cold turkey and never looked back. Naturally, I needed something to fill the void, and the obvious choice for me was tea. Of course at this point, I really only  knew about the bagged stuff sold at my local grocery stores, and for several years, tea bags were my only exposure to the world of tea.

Then a Teavana opened at my local mall. I honestly don't even want to think about how much money I spent at that place, but I was so excited to have a local source of "good tea" that I kind of went crazy there. Looking back with what I know now, the tea I bought there was never that great comparatively, but it was still eons ahead of the tea bags I had been drinking. Then one day I was drinking one of their blended greens (Sakura Allure, if I remember correctly), and I just looked at the neon red liquid and thought "there has got to be a better way".

I found the /r/tea subreddit and discovered an entire universe of high quality loose leaf tea available online. I ordered a variety of teas from a couple different online tea retailers, and had my eyes opened to the incredible variety of tea produced all over the world. I couldn't believe that I had been missing out on this liquid gold for all these years.

I started my blogging career doing the "Weekly What-Cha Reviews" in /r/tea, just posting short reviews of the variety of teas I had ordered from What-Cha. Life sort of got in the way and those took a back seat, but I decided to start a full-fledged blog so I can review all kinds of teas from all kinds of different sources. I always love trying new kinds of tea and will be sharing my thoughts on them here. Join me in my journey, won't you?