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: