9 Tasting Notes
To paraphrase Faulkner — there’s no such thing as bad lapsang souchong, but some lapsang souchongs are better than others. This one’s dry leaf gives pine, menthol, and camphor, and virtually no smoke. In the cup, the base tea is inoffensive, but the effect of the smoke is weird, to the point where I don’t know how to describe it. It definitely isn’t smoky, though, which kind of defeats the purpose for me. Glad I only got a sample.
Flavors: Camphor, Menthol, Pine
Yunnan Sourcing says this shou has notes of whiskey, smoke, and peat, but in the first few steeps I get what I can only describe as the smell of an abandoned warehouse full of lumber or disused whiskey casks. It’s old, decaying wood, but it’s not earthy and organic, like a fallen tree on the forest floor; it’s more musty than that. Takes me back to my urban-exploration days, of all things, when a friend and I would find ourselves exploring PA’s odd little ghost towns, poking into the stale interiors of forgotten houses weakened by summer rain and sun.
Not sure whether that note comes from the fermentation or storage, but it’s not something I’ve experienced yet in a shou. Tasting it, I do notice some old smoke, along with a faint sour cherry note. The wood and smoke linger through most of the session, but start to diminish about halfway through and reveal a thin stevia-like sweetness in the middle. By the end, this puerh’s distinctive flavors have faded into a more “generic” shou profile. The body remains pretty thick throughout — I’ll be honest, the combination of viscosity plus the wood/smoke flavors was a bit off-putting at first, but it’s starting to grow on me.
My experience with shou is still limited, but this one stands apart from other, more typical examples, like Xiaguan’s own Xiao Fa tuocha. A learning experience for me — and an unexpected bit of nostalgia.
Flavors: Cherry, Decayed wood, Smoke, Sour, Sweet
This stuff taught me the meaning of the phrase “tea drunk.” I picked it up to keep at the office, thinking it would be a nice, refreshing afternoon tea. But after I’d made a cup for the first time I was shuffling around the kitchen in a haze, like I’d slipped outside for a doobie or pounded an airplane bottle of scotch at my desk.
It felt amazing, like I was getting away with something, but I finally decided that I’d rather stay sharp on the job. And being obviously spacy during a meeting while trying to pin it on “tea” might raise an eyebrow or two. So home it came, where it’s been getting me buzzed intermittently ever since.
In case you’re the kind of weirdo who drinks tea to actually taste it, this is about what you’d expect — grassy, marine, and slightly savory, with a mouthfeel that’s somehow slightly soupy but also refreshing. I get some light bitterness and astringency, but that could be due to my over-leafing (to get that buzz on). It’s a good, middle-of-the-road tea at a fair price.
Flavors: Grass, Marine, Seaweed
Shame on me — I picked this one up thinking it would be closer to a typical Japanese sencha, but even the picture here shows it to be Chinese — leaves that are less tightly rolled and more of a greenish-gray color than a deep green. Brewed, this tea produce a nuttier, vegetable flavor profile instead of the grassy, savory, sea-air profile I like in my sencha.
It’s not bad by any means, and I’ll try it again later on its own merits, but I was expecting more of a typical Japanese green tea with this — just a PSA.
Flavors: Nutty, Vegetables
I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting much from this one — threw it in the cart on a whim as I was picking up some lapsang souchong. Sounded like a nice, one-note, caffeine-free tisane to sip in the evenings — how interesting could it really be?
I threw 4 tsp in my 450ml Hario glass teapot, which ended up being a very good idea, because the color development was incredible. Pouring boiling water over the flowers yielded a ridiculously bright blue-green; after 5 minutes, it had turned into a grayish purple; after 10 minutes, it was a mix of purple, gray, and gold that could honestly be the most beautiful color I’ve ever seen. I decided to leave the lavender in the pot for the whole session, which lasted about half an hour, and it held that color the whole time.
It smelled, unsurprisingly, like lavender. Sipping it, this one had a medium-thin body that’s a perfect match for the flavor profile. It was floral, of course, but beyond that there was a gentle sweetness and notes of sea salt, spice, and pineapple. The finish was crisp, cool, and lightly drying. The flavors were light but present after 5 minutes, and a bit more assertive after 10, but never got overwhelming or bitter, even after ~30 minutes. Toward the end of the pot there was a fair bit of gritty sediment, in spite of the super-fine Hario filter; I’ll probably toss that last bit in the future.
This is a really beautiful tisane that will have a permanent spot in my roster.
Flavors: Floral, Mint, Pineapple, Salt, Spices
Rosamonte is one of the pillars of the yerba mate world, and their Seleccion Especial is arguably the best expression of the brand. It’s said to be one of the smokiest major brands.
The leaf cut is fairly large, with a moderate amount of powder and stick. The stick is pretty varied in size, from short, fat pieces to long and slender ones.
It smells like, well, mate. Hard to pull many notes from nosing it.
Flavor-wise, Rosamonte is dominated by heavy notes of smoke, earth, and tobacco. The smoke is interesting — it’s a little more ethereal than the smoke of, say, a lapsang souchong or an Islay scotch. A hint of salt comes through, with a slightly sour finish that seems to last forever.
This is a heavy, hard-hitting mate that works best hot. I’ve tried it terere, but it didn’t have the brighter notes you find in Paraguayan brands, so it tastes a bit flat.
Flavors: Bitter, Earth, Salt, Smoke, Sour, Tobacco
As smoky as this one smells from the tin, it actually brews up into a balanced cup, with a round sweetness and a slight salt-and-pepper flavor underneath the smoke.
The second steeping is, frankly, weird — the smoke becomes thinner and more acrid, the pepper note grows more dominant, and the sweetness disappears.
I just ordered a pound of the stuff, so I guess I like it.
Edit: Bumping up the score on this one, I really love this stuff. Might just be my desert-island tea (although it would probably be weird to actually drink on a desert island).
Flavors: Pepper, Salt, Smoke, Sweet