60 Tasting Notes


Brewing this in my Taiwanese pear-shaped unglazed purple-clay teapot (paired with a glass cha hai and a bone-china teacup). No scale or thermometer. In-line-filtered municipal (Santa Monica) water, a few moments off the boil from my electric kettle. Roughly a 2.5 hour workday session (my second with this tea).

60 second 1st steep: Pale arylide yellow liquid; gentle floral nose; slightly malty palate with hints of hay.

45 second 2nd steep: Color shifts to marigold; sweet nose with hints of peach and orange blossom; the roast suggests hazelnuts and adds a lingering dryness in the finish with some very low touches of cocoa or coffee (as indicated by Mountain Tea Co) and faded mint at the extreme edges of discernment – perhaps a touch of honey and milk as well, though these perceptions could be artifacts of the creamy mouth-feel.

45 second 3rd steep: Slightly paler – shifting to a Mikado yellow now; the leaves are faintly vegetal and also smell something like ink; the honey/milk flavor resolves to caramel-topped custard. I’ve started seasoning this teapot with dark roast/high fire oolong – if a bit more of that quality had been absorbed, one wonders if the resulting liquor would resemble crème brûlée? It’s not far off now…

60 second 4th steep: Mikado yellow again; aroma/flavor much the same as before; vague hints of cinnamon deep into the aftertaste; osmanthus is subtle but pervasive – I can see how using too much would lead quickly to perfume/soap qualities – but here I think it harmonizes with (while not really accentuating) the floral notes of the tea itself.

75 second 5th steep: Much the same as before – perhaps a little less creamy now with slightly less contribution from the roast; hints of river stones at the back of the finish.

90 second 6th steep: Significantly paler – more of a Stil de grain yellow; leaves have fully unfurled at this point; need to push the leaf more aggressively.

2 minute 7th steep (using near-boiling water now): Stil de grain yellow again; aroma suggests marshmallow; vague citrus note appears – the osmanthus is fading more slowly than the tea ; lighter flavors and mouth-feel overall.

4 minute 8th steep: Color and mouth-feel only just holding; a last gasp of flavor, but the contribution of the roast is greatly diminished and the finish is increasingly floral.

Soft and delightful with a pleasant roast – my second-favorite “flavored” oolong (after Ten Ren’s King’s 409 dark roast oolong with ginseng) thus far.

200 °F / 93 °C 1 tsp 6 OZ / 180 ML

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Received as a free sample from Upton, thought I would give this a whirl.

I initially brewed this up as a breakfast tea in my 6 cup Chatsford teapot – served in a bone china tea cup:

The dry leaf aroma is malty with subtle floral and stone-fruit notes as well.

Tawny-copper liquid while clean is not especially aromatic, though there are some low biscuit notes and hints of putty. The wet leaves are somewhat vegetal, though not unpleasantly so.

Moderate malt character on the palate along with a light (pink?) peppercorn note – faintly floral and spicy with a very smooth finish. Hints of marconi almonds or biscotti as well.

Infusing the tea for an additional 4 minutes leads to a darker more reddish liquor. The tea is increasingly brisk, and while not especially bitter, the tannins make themselves known in the finish. Takes milk fairly well – all in all a decent morning cup, more refined but also less robust than a comparable Assam or Kenyan tea perhaps.

Boiling 3 min, 30 sec 6 g 36 OZ / 1064 ML

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UPDATE – 8/5/2016 – Determined that my steep times were WAY too long with this. Subsequent sessions are just as extended, but proceed from a quick wash, to a flash brew, to 10, 15, 20, and 30 second steeps…only gradually increasing the steep times into the minute+ range. The resulting brew is much more consistent, rounded, and pleasurable following this method, while still quite rich and even dark for the first several cups. Upping my rating a couple points as a consequence.

Recently discovered a small quantity of this tea carefully aging (read: abandoned) in the back of my cupboard where it has remained for somewhere between 7 and 10 years I think. As a “Hei Cha,” this is produced in a similar manner to raw pu-erh (fermented, but piled rather than pressed I suppose?) though I’m not familiar enough with either to speak to the similarities or differences in depth.

Placing a large quantity of leaves (which are nearly uniform in size and shape, but accompanied by what appear to be tiny, pale buds or stems?) into the ceramic strainer of my Korean-style strainer-cup I begin a long tasting session with near boiling water, finishing up with water at a full boil:

1st steep (3min): Aromas of damp stone, peat moss, well aged compost, and a dusty note that reminds me I forgot to do a 30 second wash. An abiding bitterness overwhelms the subtleties of flavor, so:

2nd steep (2min): Similar aromas, though a faint floral quality emerges as well. The flavor follows the nose closely, but adds in hints of seeds (watermelon, black sesame), peppercorn, and mowed/dried grasses. Lightly astringent, but smooth with an earthy and decidedly woody finish.

3rd steep (3 min): An additional sweetness emerges. The liquor also takes on a savory clarity, almost akin to a gelatin-filtered consommé.

4th steep (3 min 30sec): A bit lighter in color, the brew is still full flavored, though any rough edges have been smoothed out (though there is a faint herbal/root-like Chinese-medicinal quality that may not be to everyone’s taste) – this is probably the peak of the session.

5th steep (4 min), 6th steep (5min): Still in the sweet spot, these cups are nearly identical to the preceding, though they are perhaps more thirst-quenching in the finish.

7th steep (6min): The tea grows slightly paler and the flavor begins to drop off – this would still serve as a nice accompaniment to dim sum.

8th steep (8min): Continuing to fade, but gradually – if I’d started with shorter steep times, I could probably have extended this session beyond 3 hours if desired.

The appearance of the liquor is robust throughout – a clear, initially dark, rust color with amber highlights. The mouth-feel is appropriately thick while the finish is moderately drying. I can’t speak to the “energy” of the tea, but the effect of the caffeine is sufficiently present that I wouldn’t suggest drinking this in the evening.

While providing hours of evolving, meditative, energizing, hydrating enjoyment, this tea remains one-dimensional in the end. On the other hand, while not presently available from this vendor, I recall this was quite a value – and indeed, nearly a decade after I purchased this, I see Tea Spring stocks a similar Liu An for around $0.10/gram – recommend for the pu-erh drinker on a tight budget looking for a decent workaday cup.

200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 15 sec 4 g 5 OZ / 147 ML

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Very even, short, finely twisted wiry strands of tea – since I’m using my black Korean strainer cup, these are the only appearance remarks I’ll bother with for now.

The aroma of the dry leaf has a pronounced sweetness suggesting orange blossoms, vanilla, and rosewater. There are some subtler spice notes as well, hinting at pipe tobacco or even nutmeg. Unique and inviting.

Aromas largely dissipate in the infusion, though their signature remains coherent.

The flavor is very smooth, faintly malty; clean, yet rich. Arguably the platonic ideal of a Medarata Ceylon, where you get a wonderful natural balance between the nuance of Udarata teas and the strength of Pahatha teas. Slightly tannic woodsy finish.

Fairly creamy mouth-feel, this would likely take a splash of milk, and isn’t subject to excessive bitterness when brewed for longer than recommended. In my strainer cup, it yields at least two solid re-infusions when I increased the brew time by a minute each time.

Boiling 4 min, 0 sec 1 tsp 6 OZ / 177 ML

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Brewed in my Korean infuser cup, roughly following the directions from Upton.

Auburn liquor has a delicate fall aroma, though I struggle to pick out individual scents. The flavors are likewise subdued – with vague river-stone and floral notes – though the finish is distinctly nutty, bringing to mind walnuts, apricot pits, almonds, or pecans. Muscatel presence throughout reminds you this is indeed a Darjeeling. Velvety mouth-feel, with just enough astringency to dry out the finish (though I’m not sure I’d call this a “brisk” tea).

While this has the delicacy I’d expect from a first flush, it is interesting to note how different in appearance it is, not only to other AV-2 clonal teas, but even to previous incarnations of Castleton Moonlight (e.g. the 2014 first flush, available from JAS-eTea, which is substantially greener).

205 °F / 96 °C 5 min, 15 sec 1 tsp 6 OZ / 177 ML

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drank Genmai Cha by Yamamotoyama
60 tasting notes

One of my favorite frugal morning cups – a regular purchase for me at Mitsuwa (though I’m really there for the ramen at Santouka of course).

Brewed in an Indian made Korean style infuser cup.

Dry, I find Yamamotoyama to produce one of the more aromatic Genmaichas I’ve had – though by no means complex, the toasted rice and grassy tea (Bancha?) synergize with all the sweet potency you could desire.

Spring Bud-green liquor holds a few dozen microscopic leaves that dance along the eddies of heat before descending to rest uneasily on the bottom of the cup.

Dusty, grainy, and faintly grassy in the nose. Simple, earthy, easy-drinking, lightly toasted, with no real vegetal notes or bitterness as long as you don’t stew it. Hints of peanut husks. Delicate yet faintly creamy mouth-feel.

Second and third steep with boiling water for 30 seconds and 1 minute respectively.

Satisfying and sufficiently energizing to be a “daily drinker” if you were so inclined.

185 °F / 85 °C 0 min, 30 sec 3 g 6 OZ / 177 ML

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Had this one stored away for years as well – probably not fair to rate, but I still quite enjoyed it:

While heating water I admire the tippy, delicate, uniformly rolled, black silver-tinged needles. I have to look up FBOPF, and emerge from the rabbit hole of tea grades and lowland Ceylon history only as my timer tells me it’s time to remove the unglazed infuser from my cup.

Very low earthy aroma, but any notes of raw sugar, black currant, or citrus have disappeared probably due to the age of the tea. There is little of olfactory note remaining.

The flavor on the other hand is “deep” indeed, emerging slowly from an abyss to overtake the palate – a woodsy, astringent, distinctive profile that is quite brisk (almost biting) with an extended drying finish (albeit with a vague lingering bittersweet note for balance in the aftertaste). Impressed with the continued pungency of this tea (without excessive bitterness) despite its age – though I believe Paharatha (low grown) ceylon is known for this quality rather than subtlety or complexity?

Nicely revitalizing on a work day when what I really need is a nap.

200 °F / 93 °C 5 min, 0 sec 1 tsp 6 OZ / 177 ML

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So rarely overcast here in Los Angeles, I decided to brew up a strong Sunday morning cup. The leaves are tiny, so I used a Sowden Softbrew rather than a standard tea-pot.

It seems like the quantity (if not the quality) of Assam has dwindled in this blend as the resulting tea is significantly less malty than I remember it being a number of years ago.

While the tea stands up to milk, it reminds me more of an English Breakfast blend (with an emphasis on balance) rather than a more intense Irish Breakfast blend (which is what I recall this tea tasting like in the past).

Fairly one note, almost more fruity than malty, and growing slightly bitter without additional flavor once you pass the 8 minute mark, (though I have stepped this as long as 20 minutes in the hopes of finding more flavor) I don’t think I would buy this again. If I had to choose a tea from Taylors of Harrogate, I find I prefer Ntingwe Kwazulu for a hearty morning cup which has greater depth as well as complexity than this blend (and I recognize the irony of saying that, as I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if the “African” tea in this blend is from the zulu estate rather than Kenya).

Boiling 6 min, 0 sec 3 tsp 24 OZ / 709 ML

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Finishing off a tin that I’ve stored for a long time – the flavors and aromas are muted compared to what they once were, but the smooth, autumnal character hasn’t changed.

Brewed in my black tea-filter-cup, I can’t fairly remark on the appearance of the liquor.

Distinctive almost vegetal aroma (mushrooms, dry wild grass, autumn leaves, etc.) leads into a malty palate entry with smooth almost nutty flavors joining in as we reach the creamy slightly sweet finish suggesting Japanese sweet potatoes with hints of mild honey. A bit more complexity is revealed as the tea cools, and a second steep yields nearly identical flavors as the first, but things quickly fade by the third infusion.

I’m curious about the origin of this tea – since it is from Guangxi I don’t think it is related to Biluochun (the famous Green Snail Spring tea sometimes called Green Spiral); I see Hojo sells a “Golden Bud” tea made from Ling-Yun Bai-hao, also from Guangxi, but that appears to be processed more like what Tao of Tea sells as “Emperor’s Gold” (from Yunnan). Sometimes more research just leads to greater confusion, so I’ll stop here.

Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Clay, Cocoa, Honey, Malt, Mushrooms, Pecan, Sweet Potatoes

2 tsp 6 OZ / 177 ML

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Converted to Oolong and beyond starting around ’98 or so when I was hanging out at the Tao of Tea in Portland.

Expanded my experience with green teas when I moved in with room-mates who were Chinese scholars, workers at the Japanese Gardens (including the tea room), etc.

Always looking to improve my education, but will concede my pedestrian tastes (e.g. breakfast teas brewed strong enough to stand your spoon in).

Trying to focus more on the qualitative over the quantitative in my reviews, so you won’t see me give too many scores/ratings at the moment…


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