Friday, October 23, 2015

On Vacation

I will be on vacation for the next couple weeks, so I likely won't be able to update anything until I get back. In the meantime, leave me a message if there is anything specific you'd like me to review in the future. Mahalo!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Yunnan Sourcing's 2015 "Ying Shan Hong" Purple Black Tea with Snow Chrysanthemums

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
Our "Ying Shan Hong" cake is a blend of Wild Purple Black tea and Snow Chrysanthemums from Spring 2015. The taste is floral and sweet with a thick burgundy red tea soup that soothes the mouth and throat with a layer of tea and flower oils and tannins.
Hello little man.

My thoughts
I received a 100g cake of this tea a couple months back in one of YS's monthly tea plans. I'm still a bit wary around tea blends with herbal/fruity additions (probably from all the crap blends I drank back in my Teavana days), so I didn't know what to expect from this one. I love purple varietal black teas, but I had never even heard of Snow Chrysanthemums before.

So I did some digging. Googling "snow chrysanthemum" turns up a hundred places where you can buy the dried flowers, but none gave a Latin name to go with them. The tea's page in YS says they're a Rhododendron, but the flower structure is definitely something from the Asteraceae family, which doesn't include Rhododendrons. I was finally able to find a Chinese site that labeled them as  Coreopsis tinctoria, and this looks to be correct to me. So the mysteriously labeled Snow Chrysanthemum is not actually a Chrysanthemum or a Rhododendron, but a Tickseed that is actually native to North and Central America, but is well established and naturalized throughout much of China as well.

Dry leaves - The leaves are packed into a round cake, but break apart fairly easily. The aroma is quite floral, but not anything like a green oolong. The flowers give off a very pungent autumnal scent, much like the common Chrysanthemums you see everywhere this time of year. Maybe that's where the common name comes from. The florality mingles quite well with the malty/plum aroma of the purple black tea.

Brewing parameters - 200F, 60s first, +30s after

Tasting notes - Sweet, floral spice, dried plums, autumn leaves

This is seriously like autumn in a cup. The tea liquor is a rich burgundy-orange color almost exactly the shade of the maple tree outside my window right now. The spicy florality blends perfectly with the dried plum taste unique to purple teas. It has an incredibly silky, almost oily, mouthfeel that coats the mouth and throat. I'm not sure if that's the result of the Coreopsis flowers, but it's certainly one of the smoothest teas I've ever had.

Subsequent steeps don't change much, but the leaves and flowers are certainly generous and keep on giving even after 8 steeps. The floral component becomes a bit weaker after about 5 steeps, but the tea leaves keep giving that wonderful dried plum and malt flavor. YS doesn't specify which variety of purple tea these leaves are made from (Ye Sheng is my guess), but they have one of the strongest fruity tastes I've found in a black tea.

This tea is beginning to open my eyes to good herbal blended teas again. I hope to find more as good as this one. You can buy this tea from Yunnan Sourcing here:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What-Cha's Nepal Pearl Oolong Tea

What-Cha's Description
An incredibly rare and unusual oolong with a great taste and aroma. Incredibly smooth, absolutely no detectable bitterness or astringency with a great taste of apricots and nectarines.

My thoughts
Woo! Another Nepali tea! My latest What-Cha order came in a couple days ago, and this is a tea I've been wanting to try for a long time. Last year's version of this tea went by the name of "Monsoon Flush 2014 Pearl Oolong", and it had been out of stock for quite a long time until just recently. I grabbed a handful of teas I had been eyeing for quite some time with their last sale (thanks again Alistair for the user choice sale!), along with some of the newer arrivals.

Dry leaves - Part of what makes this tea so unique is how the leaves are rolled into tight little balls, about the size of a marble or slightly larger. Bigger than a rolled oolong, but smaller than a blooming tea ball. The dry leaf has a wonderful smell of fresh hay, apricots and stonefruit. Not sure if it's peach or nectarine, but either way it's a beautifully sweet aroma.

Brewing parameters - 175F, 90s first, +15s after. I used 8 pearls for around 250ml of water, which is a bit more than recommended.

Tasting notes - Smooth, apricot, peach/nectarine, honey, malt, muscatel, hay

The first steep is a light, fruity soup with just a touch of fresh hay. The apricot and nectarine are most definitely at the front of the aroma and taste, with a bit of muscatel grapes and hay rolling across the tongue as the sip ends. It reminds me quite a lot of some first flush Darjeeling black teas I've had, but without the herbal bite that some of them carry.

Second and third steeps are noticeably darker in hue, and have taken on a distinct malty aroma. That was kind of surprising, actually. The apricot/nectarine taste is still at the forefront, but malt has taken over the bulk of the taste, still leaving a tick of muscatel at the end. The tea has shifted from a light first flush Darjeeling to a second flush almost instantly. I've never really had a tea that changed a flavor profile that quickly before, and I like it a lot. I did start to notice a bit of dryness in the third steep, probably the result of using too much leaf.

For the fourth steep onward (through 8 total), I decided to cut the infusion time way back, going with 20 seconds and adding 10 on for each steep after. That did the trick, the astringency is gone completely, and the broth is extremely smooth now. Guess that's what I get for ignoring the steep recommendations. The maltiness has subsided somewhat, and the fruitiness has taken over again. There is just a slight hint of something I can't quite place. Black pepper, maybe? Not that the longer steeps were bad, quite the opposite actually, but I much prefer this over the maltiness that the longer steeps brought.

This is really a distinctive tea and certainly worth the price, and is yet another example of the fantastic teas that Nepal has been producing. You can buy this tea at What-Cha here:

Monday, October 12, 2015

What-Cha's Nepal 2015 Sandakphu 'Ruby' Semi-Ripe Dark Tea

What-Cha's Description
A most unusual dark tea possessing a rich earthy dark chocolate aroma and taste.

My thoughts
This is a fun little tea. According to What-Cha, after initial processing, the leaves are placed in a special bag and left outdoors for a year, exposed to all the elements during that time. After this, the leaves are fired and processing is completed. This unique procedure sets this tea about halfway in between a black tea and a dark tea, hence the name "semi-ripe".

Dry leaves - At first glance, you'd think this was just a black tea. The leaves are various shades of dark brown to flat black and have an aroma reminiscent of a darker Yunnan black tea. The scent isn't powerful, but a subdued hint of dark chocolate is definitely present.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 15s first, +5s after. I decided to go with quick steep times rather than the full 2-3 minutes as recommended. I've been using a sort of gongfu-western hybrid technique lately that's been working really well for me.

Tasting notes - Dark chocolate, cacao, earthy, peat/humus

The hue of the broth is a beautiful dark amber color, and exudes a rich aroma of dark chocolate. I mean, this smells remarkably similar to a cup of hot cocoa. I just sat there for a minute or two just smelling the sweet-savory liquid. The taste is, unsurprisingly, quite chocolately. Dark chocolate (like the >75% cacao stuff) is certainly the dominant taste here, but there are mild notes of earthiness that come through towards the end of the sip. They're a bit hard to find under the chocolate landslide, but to me it's most like clean peat moss.

This will likely be a bit shorter review than normal as the flavor profile didn't change all that noticeably with each successive steep. Not that I'm complaining. I'll never complain about a chocolatey tea like this one. After the 7th steep, it did seem to lose a bit of it's *umph*, so for #8 I let it steep for 5 minutes. That definitely brought out the rich flavors again, and even made the subtle peaty tones a bit more prominent. I feel like steeping this tea for the full 2 minutes at first would probably amplify the earthiness right off the bat, rather than keeping it quiet like these short steeps have. Next time I make this one, I'll maybe give that a try and see if it makes a difference.

Nepal continues to produce exceptional teas. It's like they cross Darjeeling and Yunnan, and keep the best of both worlds. And if Nepali farmers continue to produce innovative processing techniques such as this one, I can only see the Nepali tea industry getting better.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here:

Friday, October 9, 2015

Mountain Tea's Amber Oolong

Mountain Tea's Description
Why roast tea? A masterful roast imparts complexity to already quality leaf. The general rule of thumb is that firing enhances flavor rather than adding it. Amber Oolong is a friendly introduction into the world of roasted oolong.

My thoughts
This is a medium roasted oolong of the Jin Xuan variety. Jin Xuan oolongs are always good, but roasting them can bring them to a whole new level. Case in point, this beauty grown by Mountain Tea in the Wushe Mountains in Nantou, Taiwan. This was just one of those teas that I knew I would like even before I ever tried it.

Dry leaf - The leaves are rolled in the standard Taiwanese way. The aroma is reminiscent of a bakery: wheat, sugar, baking spices, it's a wonderful smell. I'm not sure if I get the bananas as Mountain Tea describes, but it's a great aroma nonetheless. There is very little of the smoky/roasty aroma that many roasted oolongs have, which tells me that this tea has had enough time to mellow out since it was last roasted. Also a plus.

Brewing parameters - 200F, 60s first, +15s after. Also a great candidate for gongfu style.

Tasting notes - Brown sugar, toasted wheat, nutmeg, toffee, overripe peaches, caramel, rum, pecans

The aroma of the dry leaves intensified by a million as soon as the water hit the leaves. The entire room smells of a dessert bakery. It reminds me a lot of monkey bread or pecan pie. There are not many teas that can make me hungry, but this is one of them. It just smells so delicious! The first sip brings about notes of brown sugar, toffee, and toasted wheat, which quickly changes into caramel, then very juicy overripe peaches, then to spiced rum finish. This tea has a lot going on, it's almost difficult to keep track of it all. Again, there is very little of the roasted taste I expected initially.

Steeps 2-4 mellowed out somewhat, the fruity aspect becoming more prominent while the toffee and rum components becoming less. There is just a hint of roasted pecans showing its face through the sugary and spicy fusion. It's more refined than the initial steep, but no less delicious.

Steeps 5-8 are dominated by the toasted wheat attribute, quickly followed by mild peaches and caramel. The sweetness has subdued, but it's still a wonderful brew.

In the interest of full disclosure, I made this for a friend a couple weeks ago, and she said it smelled like bong water. I'm not a stoner myself, so I wouldn't know (I still think it smells like pecan pie), but some of you might agree. For what it's worth, she did love the tea itself, despite her thoughts on the aroma.

If you're looking for a dessert tea that isn't chocolatey in any way, look no further than this one. It's certainly unique in the fact that it's like a bakery in liquid form. I've had no other teas that can claim that attribute.

You can buy this tea directly from Mountain Tea here, and also from What-Cha here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Verdant Tea's Golden Fleece Black Tea

Verdant's Description
Golden Fleece gets it's name to honor the soft, rich texture experience of tasting this incredible small-harvest tea. Golden Fleece is hand-picked from wild growth Yunnan Da Bai (Camellia taliensis) tea bushes over forty years old. The biodiversity of the growing region and deeper roots means a more complex flavor and aroma. Only the large tender buds are harvested. The down from the buds infuses into every cup, yielding a uniquely thick mouthfeel.

My thoughts
My second order from Verdant just got in yesterday. The wait between when you order tea and when it gets to your door is always the worst, especially when there are a couple teas that you know you'll enjoy in that box. This was one of those teas for me. I love Chinese black teas, especially the golden needle/golden bud varieties. This tea is sourced by Wang Yanxin and sold through Verdant. Their website says that this tea was grown in Lincang region in Yunnan, but the bag itself claims it is from Qingdao in Shandong province, so I'm not exactly sure where this tea actually comes from.

Dry leaves - The fuzzy leaves range from a bright sunny yellow to a dark rich gold, with a few dark tips thrown in for variety. The aroma has a very light floral/wheat/potato scent with just a touch of malt. Completely different than what I was expecting. Any thoughts I still had that this would be a typical golden needle black tea just went flying right out the window.

Brewing parameters - 200F,5s first, +3s after.

Tasting notes - Smooth, brown sugar, rose, saffron, graham cracker, sweet potato, banana, malt, honey

Yeah, this is most certainly not your normal golden needle. The first sip is quite unlike anything I've ever had before, with an incredibly silky, sweet florality of rose and brown sugar are right at the forefront. I was so enthralled by the amazing start that I nearly missed the rest of the sip. Mild sweet potato, sweet graham cracker, creamy banana, spicy saffron...this tea is really something special. It's not just a unique black tea, I've truly never had anything quite like this one before.

Steeps 2 and 3 are even sweeter than the first. The flavor profile has shifted somewhat, favoring the graham cracker and sweet potato elements now. I can detect hints of vanilla and malt towards the end of the sip now as well, and it finishes with a nice lingering honey sweetness.

Steeps 4 and 5 are beginning to look more like a black tea now. Flavors have shifted again to favor the sweet potato, malt and honey. I'm still not getting any cocoa at all, which I kind of expected from the start with this being from China. There is still just a twinge of that rose aroma right at the start of the sip, but it quickly disappears in the silky, mellow bliss that follows. I actually went to a total of 9 steeps with this tea, but after #5 it didn't really change much.

This is a tea you almost need to experience in a vacuum to really enjoy to its fullest. It is certainly one of the most subtle and nuanced black teas I've ever tried, and I'll likely need to do a few more brewing sessions to really get the full effect of what these leaves have to offer.

Being that this is a very small harvest wild-grown tea, I imagine that supplies are quite limited. Do yourself a favor, go to Verdant's site, and buy some of this tea right now before it's gone.

You can buy this extraordinary tea from Verdant here:

Saturday, October 3, 2015

What-Cha's Guangdong Big Black Leaf 'Da Wu Ye' Dan Cong Oolong

What-Cha's Description
A smooth and highly floral tasting Dancong oolong with a walnut-shell taste.

My thoughts
Ah, dancong oolong. The oolong that got me into oolongs. Years back I bought a couple ounces of Teavana's Dancong, and I absolutely loved it. Looking back, it really wasn't that good of a tea, but at the time, it was one of the best I'd ever had. Dancongs are still one of my favorite varieties of oolong, and I drink them at least once a week. Yes, I have so much tea that a common drinker for me is once a week. Send help!

Dancongs have a reputation for being finicky about temperatures and steep times. I've brewed this one several different ways and haven't had a bad cup yet, so I'd say that this one is pretty forgiving. As with most all dancongs, this one originates from Wudong Mountain in Guangdong province. I'm not sure what aroma class this one belongs to, but I would guess the Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid Fragrance). If anyone knows for sure, let me know.

Dry leaves - The aroma coming off the leaves is fairly typical for a dancong: sweet, orchid, and minerality. The leaves are bigger and darker than most other dancongs, hence the name. There are still some light green leaves mixed in with the dark forest greenish-black color that makes up most of the leaves.

Brewing parameters - 200F, 5s first, +10s after. This is my typical method for brewing dancongs. Many of them are picky, but these parameters have consistently yielded great brews across the dancong spectrum. Your results may vary, and I encourage you to experiment to see what works best for you.

Tasting notes - Mellow, toasted honey, orchid, orange blossom, minerality, black walnut

This one brings a lot of complexity to the table, even for a dancong. The aroma of the brew is a wonderfully thick honey and orchid blend that makes me think of springtime. At first sip, I get a quick bright note of fresh honey that quickly turns into a mellow, smooth and toasty honey/orchid/orange blossom fusion. The finish is distinctly black walnuts, which lingers for a really long time after the sip. On top of everything, there is a touch of minerality to set this off as a dancong.

Subsequent steeps become even more floral than the first. It's not an overwhelming floral sweetness like some green oolongs have, but a well-balanced mellow honey/orchid taste that is really delicious. The black walnut becomes a little more prominent as well, creeping up to the beginning of the sip rather than waiting for the end. I liked steeps 3-5 best out of 7 total. As with any dancong, it is quite generous and could give you well over 10 steeps without much issue.

Overall, this is an excellent dancong, and absolutely worth your time. The walnutty taste is what really sets this apart from other dancongs, and is pretty unique among tea. The only other teas I've found that have such a prominent walnut taste are a select few Taiwanese oolongs.

You can buy this here from What-Cha here:

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What-Cha's Laos 2014 Chawangpu Ban Payasi Raw Dark Tea

What-Cha's Description
A "puerh-like" raw dark tea from Ban Payasi Village in the Laos region of Phongsaly which borders Yiwu in Yunnan. The tea possesses a floral quality with lemon notes and has a bitter-sweet quality.

My thoughts
While this is a sheng puerh, it can't officially be called a puerh due to regional issues. According to What-Cha, Phongsaly province in Laos was once part of China, but was given to Laos with a treaty in 1895. Since any post-fermented tea must originate in Yunnan in order to be called a puerh, and this one doesn't, it cannot be called a puerh. Hence, it is a "raw dark tea".

I honestly wasn't real sure what to expect from this tea. I've had all kinds of young shengs, but with this one being from outside of China, I didn't know if it would be just another sheng, or something entirely different. But hey, the surprise of new teas is half the fun.

Dry leaves - The leaves smell much like I expect from a raw dark tea, with a vegetal pungency being the primary aroma, but there is a definite lemony component here that sets this apart from a typical sheng. The leaves are not pressed tightly and break apart quite easily.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 10s rinse, <10s steeps at first, adjust accordingly as needed.

Tasting notes - Smooth, sweet, kuwei bitterness, lemon peel, lemon blossom

Steeps 1-4: The very first thing I noticed about this tea is how incredibly smooth it is. With young shengs, I've come to expect a fairly aggressive astringency, but there is no trace of dryness at all here. The lemony aspect of the aroma has carried over nicely to the broth, with a sweet lemon peel flavor taking the lead, followed by a mild kuwei bitterness and a wonderful lingering lemon blossom floral finish. This is a much less belligerent tea than I expected. These steeps were all very quick, mostly under 5 seconds.

Steeps 5-8: If it was possible for this tea to get smoother, then it definitely has. With each sip, the smoothness really throws me off. I mean, it smells like a young sheng, but there is really no detectable astringency. The soup has gotten even sweeter than it was earlier, and the lemony flavors are quite noticeable. It still has a mild bitterness about it, but it's mostly a sweet lemony tea. I'm not always a fan of citrusy teas, but this one works very well. These steeps were between 10-30 seconds.

Steeps 9-10: The bitterness is entirely gone now, and it almost tastes like a sweetened lemonade. The floral aspect has faded somewhat as well, leaving me with a smooth, sweet lemon-flavored brew. I could have pulled several more steeps from these leaves, but I had to go to sleep. These steeps were 30-90 seconds)

If you want a raw "puerh" that is good to drink now, this is a winner for you. This probably wouldn't be the best candidate for aging though. In my experience, if a young sheng slaps you in the face and punches you in the nads now, it'll be a much calmer, more delicious tea a few years down the road. Since this tea is a gentle lover right now, I'm guessing it probably will lose most of the good stuff in a few years. This is only speculation of course. I would love for someone 10 years down the road to prove me wrong.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here: