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Recent Tasting Notes
I was really intrigued by the description of this on the menu, so even though I’d already had six (Chinese-sized) steepings of two other teas, I had to try this one.
Sparrow’s Tongue comes from Korea. The plants themselves are descended from Japanese tea plants, acclimated to different conditions (including altitude) in Korea and processed more in the style of a Chinese tea. The result is a curious-tasting tea. It’s grassy, like a Japanese green, but it also has a sort of nuttiness and a little saltiness that’s much more like a Chinese green. I called this the lovechild of Sencha and Dragonwell, and that pretty much sums it up for me.
This tea is good for up to three steepings. I liked it enough that I bought 50g to take home with me after I’d sampled it at TeaSmith’s tea bar.
I’ve been MIA for a couple of months, mostly because I’ve been drinking very little tea shock horror. First I was travelling for nearly a month and so preparing tea was problematic, and after that I got really sick and spent nearly another month in a Spanish hospital. The closest I came to tea in Spain was some Linden flower herbal infusions (“infucion”) that the nurses brought around late in the evening.
I’ve been back in London for a couple of weeks now, staying with my brother while I wait to get the all clear from the doctor to be able to fly home to Australia, and the other day I was finally well enough to go out for a few hours, so OF COURSE I went in search of somewhere with good tea. I ended up at TeaSmith.
It’s been so long since I’ve had a really good Taiwan oolong that I thought maybe I wouldn’t be able to evaluate it well, but as soon as I took the first sip I remembered exactly why I love this sort of tea so much. Of course, having the tea prepared properly in the Chinese style by someone who knew exactly what she was doing right in front of me at the fantastic tea bar certainly helped – and especially doing six steepings of it, so that I could really appreciate the evolution of this tea. It really hits its stride around the second or third steeping: beautifully sweet, silky and buttery. The sweetness is mostly gone by the final steeping, but there’s still enough flavour left to make that sixth steeping worthwhile.
This was a really wonderful return to the world of tea. If you happen to be in London sometime, TeaSmith is well worth checking out. The tea bar is a great experience for anyone who loves tea enough that they… write reviews on Steepster. ;-)
“The first cup is strong like love, the second bitter as life, and the third sweet like death.”
I always think of this quote when I drink a good Japanese green tea. Many Japanese teas follow this flavor transformation rather closely which can be surprising the first couple of times you make these teas if you are only used to black or oolong.
Depending on my mood, I go back and forth on my “favorite” infusion of this tea. Right now, I am totally going with the strong/bitter grassy flavor of the second, but the sweet and delicate third infusion is excellent as a summertime tea… which hopefully will be needed soon.
I just had a flash of brilliance(?): “50 Days of Sencha” starting in early June or something, drinking a different Sencha every day for 50 days. EPIC!
So couple days ago, I was inspired by Takgoti’s notes on Samovar’s Gyokuro Inoka Hill. I didn’t sit down and make myself some Gyokuro right then and there, and it has haunted me since!
This morning I just had to infuse this sweet ambrosia… Mmm. And I decided to try out the “cold infusion” method Takgoti talked about in her post for the first steeping.
I was impressed at how my little leaves responded! I think others have mentioned that it produces a very singular note, emphasizing the umami aspect of the tea, rather than a balance of sweet/bitter that usually comes from a good Gyo. This was also my experience.
In the past, I would just use water in the 160 degree range and steep for about 15 seconds for the first infusion, but I liked this method too. Am I the only one who loves playing mad scienT(ea)st?
When I drank this tea at TeaSmith, John (the owner) said
“After you are done infusing those leaves, we can make a little salad for you. Get a little soy sauce, it tastes great.” …and I thought he was exaggerating.
Sure enough, 20 minutes later, I was eating a tiny little dish of Gyokuro leaves with a few drops of soy sauce. I can’t say it was the most normal thing I have ever done, but it wasn’t as weird tasting as I imagined.
Closing comment: When people find out that I am “into tea in a big way”, they often ask what my favorite kind is. This, of course, is an impossible question to answer; but sometimes after drinking a good Gyokuro, I think to myself that this might be as close to a favorite that there is for me.
So heeding my own advice from my little Darjeeling tasting earlier, I decided this afternoon to drink one of my more recent fine tea acquisitions. As with most of my silly tea rants, I’ll start of with a bit of personal history (By all means, skip ahead)…
Last year, I spent a good 4 months living in London. One of my first missions when I got settled into my flat was to find good tea. The thing that everyone kept telling me beforehand was “It’s England, there must be tea everywhere!” which was true. The thing is, there is more of all kinds of tea: good, medium, and, let’s just say, not-so-good… It almost makes it harder for a foreigner to find their way to “the good stuff”.
Anyways, it was a pure stroke of luck that one day in late January, I came upon TeaSmith in the Old Spittalfields market. I had a look around at the teas on display and knew that I had found a match for my particular tea interests of the time. In addition to being a tea shop, they have what they call a “tea bar” which is almost exactly what it sounds like. You can come in, have a sit on a tall seat and one of the extremely kind and knowledgeable staff members will expertly prepare a wide variety of fine Chinese, Japanese, and Korean teas right there. So not only do you get to drink professionally prepped tea, you learn a lot just by watching.
For example, they have such a wide variety of teas ranging from pu-erh cakes, to high mountain Taiwanese oolongs, to Korean Nokcha, to Japanese Sencha, Hojicha, Karigane, Genmaicha, a marvelous Gyokuro, and even matcha. (They also have some pretty basic Assam and Ceylon loose leaf for the occasional customer who explicitly requests “Only regular tea!”) The beauty is that they have a ton of teaware and accessories that they use depending on what tea you order. No cut corners here! Yixing pots for some of the oolongs and pu-erhs, gaiwans for others, small porcelain pots for most of the Japanese teas, and lots and lots of teany cups!
Needless to say… I fell in love with this place and made it a permanent part of my weekly schedule (I went 2 and 3 times a week as my time in London drew to a close!). Thanks to TeaSmith, I was able to try more varieties of tea than ever before, and thanks to the staff answering all my questions, learning quite a bit! Sometimes I would stay for a few hours, try a few green teas, chat, and head home. Other days I would devote to drawing out infusion after infusion of an aged oolong or pu-erh and enjoying the invigorating evolution of flavor.
Long story short, before I left, I picked out a bunch of my favorites that I had tried to have shipped back so I wouldn’t have reverse TeaSmith culture shock when I returned to the U.S. All of these TeaSmith tasting notes come from this batch.
Okay, start reading now!
This is just such a magical tea. The buttery smoothness and fruity aroma are as good as any light oolong I’ve tried. As with any teguanyin or tea rolled into “fists”, I like to do a 10 second rinse, and make sure my cups and pot are all nice and warm. Even if you don’t prepare this in a super-fancy way, I’m sure it’d still come out tasting phenomenal. With small “gong fu cha” -style infusions, I usually will push this tea at least through 6 infusions, and even double digits if I’m feeling it.
I’m just going to drink this tea for a few hours. Mmmm.
Moral of the story: If you are ever in London, check out TeaSmith on the east side.