Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Yunnan Sourcing's 5 Years Aged Da Hong Pao

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
This is a Da Hong Pao varietal grown in the Wu Yi Mountains (Fujian Province) and harvested in May 2010. It was kept in large clay jars and then roasted each year to dry it out. The result is a darkish roasted tea with a red-orange tea soup and strong sweet aroma.

My thoughts
If there is a single perfect tea for warming up after shoveling a driveway full of snow in sub-freezing temps, I think it must be Da Hong Pao. By now you've had to have noticed my love for Wuyi oolongs, and by my standards, there is none better than a good roasty DHP.

Dry leaf - As soon as I open the bag, I'm met with a potent roasty aroma. This tea has been roasted yearly since it was picked and dried, so that's not surprising as it probably needs a bit of time to mellow out yet. The leaves range from a dark brown to flat black.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 10s first, +8s after

Tasting notes - Roasty, sweet, carob, cocoa, mineral, nutty

Mmmmm, just smelling this tea starts to warm you up. The roastiness is front and center, but isn't overpowering. Instead, it brings out notes of carob, cocoa and just a hint of roasted nuts. The aroma fills the room with its roasty sweetness. The broth brews out to a dark amber hue, as expected from a Da Hong Pao.

Tasting this tea is as much of a treat as you'd expect. The smooth carob blends with the sweet cocoa, and brings out just a touch of the Wuyi minerality. The roastiness isn't as strong in the taste as in the aroma of the dry leaves, but it is still certainly the dominant flavor here, lending its warming, soothing aspect to the flavor profile.

After a couple steeps, the roastiness does mellow out and lets the carob/cocoa flavors take the lead. Alongside the slight minerality, a hint of roasted nuts also comes into play. My only real complaint about this tea is that the leaves aren't terribly generous; they tend to peter out after 6-7 steeps, while most Wuyi oolongs can go for 10+. Overlooking this small flaw, I'm still left with a fantastic DHP, likely the best I've had.

If you're not a fan of roasty teas, you may want to give this one a miss at the moment. While I absolutely love it, it could stand to mellow out and give the roastiness a couple years to fade. I'm excited to see how this tea matures in the near future, as more age could only turn this from a great to to an exceptional one.

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

Friday, January 15, 2016

Yunnan Sourcing's Long Mei Green Tea

Yunnan Sourcing's Description
Zhenyuan a high altitude area of Simao produces this high quality delicate green tea. Picked twice a year in a 2 day period when the buds and leafs are young and small. The taste is light and fruity with slight nuttiness.

My thoughts
When I think of Yunnan Sourcing, my mind immediately goes to puerh and dianhong, and while they certainly specialize in those two, they have some wonderful green and white teas as well. I will admit that the lighter teas in my collection tend to take a back seat to the darker stuff, but that's just my personal preference. This is a tea I received in last month's tea club. I've said it before, but I love YS's tea club. It nearly always contains teas that I otherwise wouldn't order, but always end up loving.

Dry leaves - The leaves are long and twisted, and vary between a flat green and a shiny silver. At first glance, it almost looks like a white tea due to the amount of silvery color present here. The aroma is light and fruity with a hint of fresh hay.

Brewing parameters - 175F, 30s first, +10s after

Tasting notes- Fresh hay, fruity, almond, vegetal, lightly astringent

This tea begins with a very light and smooth fruitiness that brings you the feeling of summer, which is quickly followed by notes of fresh hay and almond. Just the slightest touch of dryness hits the back of the mouth late in the sip, but it's not nearly as aggressive as some green teas can be.

Later steeps lose some of the fruitiness and the hay notes become a bit more muddled into a general vegetal grassy taste, but the almond flavor really comes to the front of the profile. A bit more astringency has come to the plate as well, balancing out the sweetness of the fruit and smoothness of the almond.

This would be a great tea for spring and summer, as the crisp, lightly fruity taste could really complement the warming sunny weather. Of course, it's still great now if you need a brief break from the permanent cold gray muck of January. Is it spring yet?

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

Sunday, January 10, 2016

What-Cha's Korea Jeong Jae Yeun's Hwangcha Balhyocha Tea

What-Cha's Description
An incredibly complex and unique tea with long lingering tangy citrus notes accompanied by gentle chocolate notes, completely unique.

My thoughts
This was an entirely new kind of tea for me. Balhyocha is unique to Korea, and is sometimes classified as an oolong, sometimes as a yellow tea, sometimes as a black tea. It is all of these, yet none of them at the same time. With that cryptic nonsense out of the way, I did some digging to find out exactly what it is I was drinking.

Hwangcha is a type of yellow tea, which is processed like a green tea, but with the added step of heaping the leaves in a pile, which yellows the leaves and lightly oxidizes them. "Balhyo" literally translates to "fermented" or "oxidized" tea. The leaves aren't rolled or bruised like oolongs typically are; instead most of the oxidation and fermentation takes place in the piling process. The difference between a Korean hwangcha and a traditional Chinese yellow tea is that the hwangcha is not subjected to the fixing process that kills the enzymes. That instead happens during the piling at the end of processing. So what we end up with is something king of like a yellow tea, kind of like an oolong, and kind of like a black tea. Thanks to World of Tea for the great article on balhyocha here.

Dry leaves - I totally forgot to take a picture before pouring the water on them, so sorry for that. The leaves are fairly small, dark and twisted, fairly reminiscent of a Fujian black tea. The aroma is malty, grainy, and citrusy, with just a hint of cocoa.

Brewing parameters - 190F, 10s first, +5s after

Tasting notes - Malt, orange peel, dried hay, cocoa, cane sugar, sweet potato

This one has one of the most diverse flavor profiles I've ever seen. It's just an unique as as the process to make it. The first couple steeps start off fairly malty, with a bit of hay and citrus undertones. It is quite smooth, and has no astringency whatsoever.

Steeps 3-5 start to shift the flavors to the fruity side. The maltiness has subsided a little bit and the citrusy element has become a fairly well defined orange peel flavor. Dried hay and a cane sugar sweetness have started to come out as well. There is just a hint of cocoa at the end of the sip, which I hope will become more prominent later.

Steeps 6-8 are just wonderful. The tea really peaks here. Malt, orange, hay, cocoa, sugar, and just the tiniest touch of sweet potato have all come together to make a truly awesome brew. The flavor profile is very balanced, and no single flavor overwhelms the others.

Steeps 9-12 have mostly petered out, but still retain a similar profile to earlier. The cocoa is very subtle especially. I love chocolatey tea, and this one was sort of a tease with that. Regardless, it is still quite tasty.

I will definitely have to make a point of trying more balhyocha in the future. If they're all as good as this one, they're certainly worth the time. You can buy this tea from What-Cha here: http://what-cha.com/new-teas/korea-jeong-jae-yeuns-hwangcha-balhyocha-tea/

Ninja edit - I noticed right after posting this that this tea is out of stock at What-Cha. Hopefully Alistair will get this tea again this year, but if not there is another balhyocha available that I have yet to try.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

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

What-Cha's Description
A premium hand-picked Russian black tea possessing a smooth yet thick fudge taste with a malty finish.

My thoughts
My apologies for the delay between posting lately. I've been sucked into the worlds of Rothfuss and Sanderson and haven't had much free time that isn't dominated by their books.

The second of the Solohaul teas! I reviewed the first one a couple weeks ago and was thoroughly impressed by it, and have been quite excited for the other two. I've been slowly digging through my pile of Russian teas, and haven't been disappointed by any of them yet.

Dry leaves - The leaves are quite similar to the Keemun version in color, but are longer and more twisted, almost akin to something from Yunnan. The aroma is a wonderful and pungent blend of malt, fresh grain and raw cacao.

Brewing parameters - 212F, 3.5m. These parameters have worked well for nearly all of the Russian black teas so far, so I see no reason to change them now.

Tasting notes - Smooth, malt, cacao, dark chocolate

While the Keemun version of this tea was heavy on the chocolate with a malty undertone, this one goes the exactly opposite way and brings the maltiness to the front and center. Yet hiding somewhere under the malt flavors are the distinct tones of cacao and dark chocolate. It's kind of weird to have both in the same tea, but I found that both are fairly recognizable and separate from each other. Again, I've come to expect a mildly smoky tannic quality to come along with Russian black teas, and that is entirely absent here.

While the maltiness is strong with this one, it's the cacao flavors that really set it off and make it great. Malt/cocoa is a pretty common flavor profile for Yunnan black teas, and this tea manages to take that flavor set and make it all its own. It's really a unique and excellent tea. Even without the typical Russian terroir, I think this tea is still undeniably from the RF. It's yet another excellent example of the high quality teas coming from Krasnodar.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here: http://what-cha.com/new-teas/russia-solohaul-tea-estate-alpine-black-tea/

Friday, January 1, 2016

What-Cha's Taiwan 2003 Aged Green Heart Oolong

What-Cha's Description
An aged Oolong dating from 2003, possessing a deep and complex taste of walnut shell and ripe fruit, which evolves with each steep.

My thoughts
Let me preface this review with a disclaimer: this is my all-time favorite tea, so if I begin babbling incoherently halfway through this post, just bear with me and I'll try to pull it together by the end.

While my overall favorite class of oolongs tends to lean towards the heavier roasted and/or medium oxidized family, this one is such a unique standout that it has virtually no competition. This one falls into the odd category of a light-medium roasted, unoxidized oolong (well, oxidized enough to not be a green tea anyway). I first tried this tea nearly a year ago on a whim with an early What-Cha order, and knew immediately I had found a winner. I'm not one to stock up on a single tea (I rarely have more than 50g of anything that isn't a puerh cake), but I'm currently sitting on roughly half a pound of this one.

Dry leaves - Rolled in the traditional Taiwanese way, the leaves have a deep bronze sheen with forest green undertones. They look a lot more roasted than the actually are. I don't know if that's a product of 12 years of age or what, but it certainly looks like it'd be a much darker oolong than it is. The aroma is where this tea begins to take a step above the rest: a wonderful blend of dried herbs, overripe stonefruit, a hint of malt, and deep, rich florals all mingle together to create some of the most unique smelling tea leaves I've ever encountered.

Brewing parameters - 200F, 20s first, 5s second, +5s after. A longer steep at first to wake the leaves up, then short gongfu style steeps after that.

Tasting notes - Overripe stonefruit, black walnut, dried herbs, floral, honey, wheat, minerality

This incredible tea starts out with a rich, full flavor of way overripe fruit. I can't really pin down which fruits in particular, but it makes me think something from the drupe family. Apricot maybe? Or cherries. Maybe strawberries. Ok, those aren't a stonefruit, but whatever. The fruitiness is accompanied by the flavor of dried herbs, most akin to basil and oregano I think, followed closely by a honey sweetness and the distinct flavor of black walnuts. It will take you a few cups to really catch everything that is going on in this tea, because the flavor profile is so complex.

With each progressive steep, the profile changes. I mean, this is true of most teas, but the difference between steeps here is remarkable. As time goes on, the herbal flavor slowly mellows as the walnutty flavor intensifies. The fruitiness mostly stays the same, however, In later steeps, a sweet florality starts to take hold, alongside a mild taste of wheat. Not so much malty, more like a baked bread kind of flavor. Even a trace of minerality pops up in the later steeps, which is fairly unusual for a Taiwanese tea.

As amazing as this tea is, I think the most unique aspect of it is the incredibly long-lasting aftertaste. I've talked about teas here that have a nice aftertaste, but none of them can even touch what this tea brings to the table. The flavor is one of an intense peach blossom and honey, and will hang around in the back of the mouth for nearly an hour after you finish the cup. I really do mean an hour. It's pretty impressive, this tea's staying power.

There, did I make it through without going completely incoherent? If the above is mostly unreadable, here's the TL;DR: buy this tea right now.

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