943 Tasting Notes
Continuing with my recent oolong obsession, I decided to give this tea a shot. I was intrigued by the idea of a Tieguanyin with stems and wanted to see if the inclusion of intact stems added anything to the flavor of the tea. Well, the stems did indeed add a little something to the flavor.
I chose to brew this tea gongfu style. In order to maintain a consistent brewing method, I brewed this tea using Verdant’s suggestions on their gongfu outline. The only thing I changed was the water temperature. I followed Tealyra’s suggestion with regard to that. I steeped approximately 6-7 grams of loose tea leaves (and stems in this case) in 4 ounces of 195 F water. The initial infusion following a quick rinse was 10 seconds. I followed this with 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, and 26 second infusions for a total of 9 infusions.
The early infusions provided a buttery, creamy aroma underscored by floral (orchid, violet, saffron, gardenia, jasmine) and woody characters. Notes of butter, cream, vanilla, sticky rice, custard, wood, jasmine, violet, orchid, saffron, gardenia, and fresh baked bread filled the mouth. Traces of minerals, hay, and grass were evident on the finish. Later infusions emphasized wood, cream, butter, custard, sticky rice, bread, and vanilla notes, though the floral aroma never fully disappeared. I also noted that the mineral and vegetal flavors became slightly stronger. The last 2-3 infusions emphasized cream, custard, butter, hay, grass, wood, and mineral aromas and flavors.
This is an interesting Tieguanyin, but it is not quite as robust as I would prefer. The inclusion of stems produces a somewhat woodier tea, which is kind of unique, but this is still very much in the style of a contemporary green TGY. That means curious drinkers should expect lots of cream and flowers. I like the aromas and flavors here, but this type of tea is nothing new to me, and I find the layering of flavors to be a bit rudimentary for my taste. What I mean by that is that I get a rush of flowers up front, then lots of creamy, bready, buttery notes, and finally a little vegetal and mineral character. If the floral character lingered a little longer and the floral notes separated a little more, I would have no qualms giving this tea an exceptionally high score. As is, this is still very nice and very approachable for a contemporary TGY. Just don’t expect something really different if you are familiar with this type of tea.
Flavors: Baked Bread, Butter, Cream, Custard, Floral, Gardenias, Grass, Hay, Jasmine, Mineral, Orchid, Saffron, Vanilla, Violet, Wood
Looking at the number of tasting notes for this tea, it is doubtful that I need to add another one, but I’m going to go ahead and do so. This is one of those teas that you just have to talk about, one of those teas on which you absolutely have to share your thoughts. Readers will perhaps examine the above sentences and conclude that I really love this tea. If they were to come to that conclusion, they would be 100% correct.
I prepared this tea using the gongfu method outlined on the Verdant Tea website. I only made two small modifications. Rather than using a 5 ounce gaiwan, I resorted to my trusty 4 ounce gaiwan that I have been favoring for many of my review sessions lately. I wanted to both really focus the flavor and brew this tea strong. The first infusion was 10 seconds in 205 F water. This infusion was followed by eight additional infusions at 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, and 26 seconds. This was the only other modification that I made, as Verdant suggests an initial steep of 2-3 seconds followed by 3 seconds on each additional infusion. In truth, I prepared this more like an oolong because I wanted a strong first impression followed by a series of subtle contrasts.
The initial infusions were amazingly aromatic with cocoa, toasted grain, vanilla, raisin, and fig aromas jumping out of the glass. In the mouth, there was an incredible mixture of malt, vanilla bean, raisin, fig, prune, cocoa, dried black cherry, sweet potato, and toasted grain flavors with a long, smooth chocolaty fade that highlighted a hint of creaminess. Later infusions, saw the chocolate recede somewhat and grain and fruit flavors come forward. On these infusions, I noted a nice mix of dried fruit underscored by hints of toasted grain and vanilla on the finish.
As I said, I really love this tea. It is far from the most complex black tea I have had, but the aromas and flavors this tea presents are strong and work very well together. I would like to see a little more depth in the layering of flavors, but as is, this tea is very, very good. There is a reason so many people like this tea. Go out and try it if you have yet to do so.
Flavors: Cherry, Cocoa, Creamy, Fig, Fruity, Grain, Malt, Raisins, Sweet, Sweet Potatoes, Vanilla
Last night I decided to do something a bit different. Rather than continue my recent oolong binge, I mixed things up a bit and broke out a pu-erh for the first time in months. Though I like pu-erh, I do not drink or review it that often because: a.) there are so many people here on Steepster that have so much more experience with pu-erh than I do, and from what I have seen, these individuals have much more of an ability to properly describe the experience of drinking pu-erh than I do, and b.) the recent surge of interest in pu-erh has left me with the perhaps false impression that other quality teas are being neglected. With this in mind, I tend to focus primarily on green, black, and oolong teas, and will throw the occasional white tea in for good measure. I tend to drink these types of teas more frequently anyway, so it makes sense for me to review them more often as I have more experience preparing and drinking them. To condense all of this rambling, pu-erh is like a once in a blue moon thing for me and I lack the confidence to review it with regularity. Anyway, all of that being said, I do really like this shu.
I prepared this tea using a slightly modified version of the gongfu method outlined on Verdant Tea’s website. The suggested temperature of 205 F seemed slightly low to me. On the rare occasions I prepare and drink pu-erh I tend to keep the temperature around 207-208 F. That seems to work best for me. For this session, I set the temperature at 208 F. I also increased the suggested amount of loose tea from 3 grams to 5 grams because I only had a 5 gram sample of this from a recent order and what am I really going to do with 2 grams of tea anyway? Honestly, I like my pu-erh really strong, so I decided to make it really strong. Otherwise, I pretty much followed Verdant’s suggested brewing method. I performed a total of 8 infusions. I probably could have carried on, but it was late and I was already tea drunk, so I went to bed.
The initial infusions left the impression of a very earthy, savory tea with aromas of forest floor, sauteed mushrooms, old books, wood, molasses, must, and moist earth. I picked up the same flavors in the mouth, though I also detected slightly herbal, spicy notes reminiscent of a mixture of anise, licorice, pine, and perhaps juniper berry. Later infusions saw the earthiness fade and spiciness and sweetness come to the fore. I noted that flavors somewhat resembling dark chocolate and caramel began to emerge. I also began to note what I can only describe as a lemon peel flavor on the finish that really outlined the lingering notes of herbs, wood, and spices.
As stated earlier, I really like this shu pu-erh. On the rare occasions I drink pu-erh, I tend to prefer sheng over shu, but lately I have been leaning a little more toward shu. I kind of like the earthy, musty funk and it’s fun for me to try to identify contrasting flavor elements as they emerge. I’m thinking of buying more of this so I can tinker around with my brewing methods a little more.
Flavors: Anise, Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Forest Floor, Lemon, Licorice, Molasses, Mushrooms, Musty, Pine, Spicy, Wet Earth, Wood
I’m still working through the oolongs I have acquired in recent months. This is one of my more recent purchases from Verdant and it has not been in my collection all that long, so I know it is still fresh. I’m beginning to notice that Verdant’s teas are very hit or miss for me, although the hits (Reserve Tieguanyin, Autumn Tieguanyin, Huang Jin Gui, Mao Xie, Autumn Laoshan Green, First Picking Shi Feng Dragonwell, Dark Roast 10 Year Aged Tieguanyin, Yunnan White Jasmine, and Laoshan Green Oolong) far outnumber the outright misses (Qianjiazhai Wild Picked Yunnan Black, Zi Mu Dan). Unfortunately, this tea was another miss for me.
I prepared this tea using the gongfu method outlined on the Verdant Tea website. I did, however, make one necessary modification. I used the same small gaiwan I used for the Mao Xie to brew this tea, so I adjusted the amount of tea I used (approximately 5-6 grams for the 4 ounce gaiwan). If I were to guess, I would say I probably used closer to 6 grams of loose leaves rather than 5. The tea was steeped for 10 seconds in 208 F water initially. This infusion was followed by subsequent infusions at 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, and 24 seconds. I know that some people recommend that you try to get a minimum of 10-12 steeps out of Tieguanyin, but I rarely have the time, so I just end my sessions when I feel it is necessary. In the case of this tea, I chose not to press forward because I really wasn’t all that excited about where it was going.
At first, the tea presents a slight, but lovely aroma of flowers (orchid, violet, lilac, rose, jasmine), cream, custard, and vanilla. The initial infusions display a delicate, subtle combination of rose, orchid, violet, lilac, jasmine, cream, custard, and vanilla notes underpinned by a faint minerality. Later infusions see the floral notes fade, as the cream, custard, vanilla, and mineral notes are joined by subtle flavors of butter, hay, and grass. I did not pick up the almond, tangerine, or sweet snap pea notes described by the folks at Verdant. I mostly got flowers, cream, custard, vanilla, and minerals with butter, grass, and hay.
If the autumn harvest of Tieguanyin is the most robust and flavorful, then it stands to reason that the spring harvests are probably much less so. If that is the case, then my experience with this particular tea is not an anomaly. I generally love Tieguanyin, but this one did not move me in the least. It is so light and delicate that it is hard for me to muster much of a reaction to it. I know that quite a few people really liked this tea, but I just don’t see the appeal. I feel like its lightness and simplicity forced me to work so hard to figure out what is going on flavorwise that I didn’t really get the opportunity to enjoy it. That feeling coupled with my opinion that the tea doesn’t really offer any surprises over the course of a session (I did not notice any significant changes in aroma or flavor with each subsequent infusion, just a steady and prolonged fade) leaves me unimpressed. At one point I even noted that drinking this was like drinking spring air. That may seem like something, but I don’t mean it as a compliment. I mean that this tea was so light that it seemed to lack substance. In essence, I went looking for some depth and character with this tea, and quite frankly, did not find enough to suit me. Maybe I expected too much or maybe I missed the point entirely. I’ll leave that for anyone who reads this review to decide.
Flavors: Butter, Cream, Custard, Floral, Grass, Hay, Jasmine, Mineral, Orchid, Rose, Vanilla, Violet
I’m starting to fall behind on my reviews again. It’s always amazing to me how I can go from being caught up on a project to behind in the space of a couple days. I actually finished the last of this oolong earlier in the week, but had a rough draft of a review written at least 2-3 days before that. Oh well, I still have a review for Verdant’s Huang Jin Gui from two weeks ago that I need to post. Anyway, on to this tea.
I tried steeping this tea a couple different ways, however, the method that worked best for me is the basis of this review. Rather than using my 5.5 and 6 ounce gaiwans, I decided to use my small 4 ounce gaiwan. I was torn on whether to use 5 or 6 grams of leaves, but after trying it both ways, I went with 6 because the 5 tasted slightly weak to me. I followed the gongfu method outlined on Verdant’s website once again, so an initial infusion of 10 seconds in 208 F water followed by a series of 2 second infusions. I carried this one out to nine infusions (10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26 seconds).
Initially, this tea presented a creamy, floral, and slightly fruity nose with a hint of toasted character. Initial infusions emphasized toasted sesame, ginseng, cream, custard, green apple, pear, honeysuckle, lilac, and jasmine notes underpinned by a slightly grassy vegetal character. The tasting notes on Verdant’s website also described nori, apple brandy, rosemary, and alfalfa flavors, but I didn’t get any of those, at least at first. Later infusions saw the floral, sesame, and ginseng notes fade and the cream, custard, orchard fruit, and vegetal notes emerge more fully. I detected alfalfa and hay specifically. I also began to notice a slight citrus note on the finish that reminded me of lime zest. The final couple of infusions were mostly creamy and vegetal. I probably could have gotten at least 1-2 more infusions out of this tea, but decided to cut it off at nine as I didn’t see the flavor radically changing or anything new emerging at that point.
The first time I tried this I was impressed, but my opinion of this tea wavered after a couple more sessions. Over my last couple of sessions, I began to feel like I had gotten it right again and I once again began to really enjoy this tea. Compared to many of the other green oolongs that are available, this has a really unique aroma and flavor profile. I kind of doubt it will be for everyone, but for me, it has all of the savory, creamy, vegetal, fruity, and floral notes I love on one level or another. If you’re a fan of newer style Chinese oolongs, then I think there is a good chance you will greatly enjoy this tea. It is definitely worth checking out regardless.
Flavors: Cream, Custard, Floral, Grass, Green Apple, Hay, Herbs, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Lime, Pear, Vegetal
Finally coming back to black tea after a stretch that saw me primarily drinking oolongs, I decided I needed to clean out some more of the black teas that had been in my keep for awhile. This Indonesian black tea was the first one I came to, and since it had been kept under wraps at the back of my tea cabinet since somewhere around April, I decided to go with it. I made this decision because I’m not super familiar with Indonesian teas and wanted to try and review something that would be totally new to me.
I prepared this tea using a simple Western infusion. I steeped 1 teaspoon of loose tea leaves in 8 ounces of 212 F water for 3 minutes. I did not perform any additional infusions. To further put this tea’s capabilities to the test, I also performed 4 and 5 minute infusions, but they did not really differ all that much from the 3 minute infusion, so I will limit my review to the initial preparation.
In the glass, the infused liquor showed a dark amber. The nose was not all that strong, though I managed to detect slight aromas of wood, toast, cream, roasted nuts, and leather. In the mouth, the tea presented a rush of wood, brown toast, cream, black walnut, tobacco, leather, and slightly earthy, herbal, spicy notes. There was a slight astringency on the finish, as well as a lingering woody aftertaste with hints of spices, toast, and leather.
In my opinion, this is a decent little tea, nothing more and nothing less. Its greatest strength is its inherent drinkability. I found this to be one of those approachable black teas that I could drink quite a bit of in one go, which to me means that it is the sort of tea I would pick to unwind with in the afternoon, especially on days where I need a little bit of a pick-me-up to get through the rest of the day. I could also see it making a solid breakfast tea. Its greatest weakness, however, is its lack of depth and complexity. It’s hard not to notice that this tea is very simple-there’s just not a ton going on with it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re just looking for an easy rush of caffeine, but it’s most definitely not a good thing if you are looking for something interesting and challenging. In the end, this tea is a mixed bag. I would recommend it to casual drinkers or people looking for something easy to put away, but I would encourage those looking for something unique and flavorful to maybe look elsewhere.
Flavors: Astringent, Brown Toast, Cream, Earth, Herbs, Leather, Spices, Tobacco, Walnut, Wood
This is the last of the oolong reviews I will be posting this weekend. I’m just about caught up on my backlog of reviews for the time being, though I still have one more oolong to review. I’ll probably get to it tomorrow before I start a new round of teas. This particular Tieguanyin differs from Verdant’s others in that it is picked from older bushes.
For the purposes of this review, I brewed this tea using the gongfu method outlined on Verdant’s website. I placed approximately 7 g of loose tea leaves in my small utility gaiwan and steeped them in 208 F water. The initial infusion following the rinse was 10 seconds. Subsequent infusions were 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, and 30 seconds for a total of 11 infusions.
The initial infusion was interesting. I was expecting something super creamy and floral, but this infusion was savory. I detected aromas of minerals, butter, cream, honey, hay, grass, and herbs. In the mouth, I picked up a rush of mineral, butter, cream, custard, honey, grass, hay, ginseng, and sesame notes underscored by a trace of floral flavor. Subsequent infusions saw the floral notes (orchid, lilac, violet, saffron) emerge a little more fully and the mineral, grass, hay, and herbal notes subside. Later infusions saw the emergence of stronger cream, butter, custard, grass, hay, herbal, and vegetal aromas and flavors. On the final 3 infusions, the vegetal and grassy notes dominated and were underscored by butter, cream, and mineral aromas and flavors.
At first, I was worried that I had waited too long on this one and that it had started to turn, but my fears quickly subsided. This is an extremely deep, refined Tieguanyin with an interesting and challenging combination of aromas and flavors. I rather like it, though I do tend to prefer the more robustly flavored regular Tieguanyins offered by Verdant. I would recommend this tea to oolong fans, though I would recommend it with the caveat that it will likely not be for everyone. In other words, this is good, but just don’t expect something super accessible.
Flavors: Butter, Cream, Custard, Floral, Grass, Hay, Herbs, Honey, Mineral, Orchid, Saffron, Vegetal, Violet
This oolong is crafted from a fairly new tea cultivar. Noted for its floral aromatics and hints of grass and cream in the mouth, Zi Mu Dan (Purple Peony) has only been around about 20 years and is currently used solely for crafting oolongs. Some have compared it favorably to classic oolong cultivars like Tieguanyin. Let’s see how it compared in my eyes.
For the purposes of this review, I brewed this tea gongfu style in a small gaiwan. I used approximately 7-8 grams of loose leaves and set the water temperature at 208 F. I once again followed the gongfu brewing guidelines suggested on Verdant’s website. The initial steeping was 10 seconds, followed by steepings of 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, and 26 seconds for 9 total infusions.
Initially, I was impressed by the aroma of the wet tea leaves. The scent reminded me of a combination of chrysanthemum, peony, jasmine, and rose. In the mouth, the initial infusions presented delicate notes of rose, jasmine, peony, and chrysanthemum balanced by subtle flavors of cream, custard, and grass. Later infusions saw traces of the floral aroma remain, though vegetal, cream, and mineral scents began to emerge. The delicate, subtle floral flavors also faded, though I could detect hints of rose and chrysanthemum lingering in the background. They were replaced by somewhat more robust flavors of sweet cream, custard, minerals, grass, and leaf vegetables (lettuce and watercress).
This is another newer style oolong that sort of perplexes me. I kind of think I either may have gotten to this one a little too late or built this one up a little too much in my head. I was expecting an incredibly sweet, creamy, floral tea, but this is more subtle and airy with delicately integrated flavors. I also found the grassy, vegetal notes to be a little more prominent than they were described as being. Perhaps the flavors were starting to fade (which could be possible as this was from a November 2015 harvest and has been sitting in my tea cabinet for just over two months) or they just don’t stand out as much as I was lead to believe-it’s certainly possible, as the Mao Xie, Huang Jin Gui, and Autumn Tieguanyin I received from Verdant were from the same harvest and consumed alongside this tea, and all of them were still fresh and vibrant in the mouth. Whatever the case, this tea doesn’t do much for me, but I will give it a second chance once the next harvest is in stock.
Flavors: Cream, Custard, Floral, Grass, Jasmine, Lettuce, Mineral, Rose
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So, here we go with another oolong review. I have been dedicating my time to drinking more oolong teas lately, and today we come to Verdant Tea’s Ben Shan. Part of Master Zhang’s collection, Ben Shan is a type of oolong that many tea drinkers may be familiar with only in passing. It is well known in China, but in the West it doesn’t seem to get a ton of attention. I have heard that some vendors mix it with Tieguanyin in order to emphasize floral aromas and flavors.
I brewed this tea using the gongfu method suggested on Verdant Tea’s website. I steeped approximately 7 grams of loose tea leaves in 208 F water. The initial infusion was 10 seconds, with an increase of 2 seconds for each subsequent infusion. I conducted 9 total steepings for this review (steep times of 10 seconds, 12 seconds, 14 seconds, 16 seconds, 18 seconds, 20 seconds, 22 seconds, 24 seconds, 26 seconds).
Rather than detail the results of each individual steeping, I will simply provide any potential readers with my overall impressions of how this tea changed over the course of a single session. Initially, the aroma was quite delicate, offering mild aromas of lilac, jasmine, chrysanthemum, cream, and custard. The aroma became more subdued over the course of the session, as traces of mineral and vegetal (lettuce, watercress) scents began to emerge. In the mouth, initial steepings offered a balance of delicate chrysanthemum, lilac, jasmine, cream, and custard notes with faint impressions of pear, lime zest, and puff pastry, though mineral, lettuce, and watercress notes began to emerge in subsequent steepings.
In the end, I am not sure how I feel about this oolong. To me, it kind of falls into a gray area between a greener Tieguanyin and something like Huang Jin Gui. The flavor is pretty evenly split between creamy, savory notes and sweet, floral notes, but there really isn’t enough of anything else to provide some needed depth and balance. After drinking this tea, I can kind of understand why Ben Shan is supposedly often blended with Tieguanyin-it really doesn’t seem to hold up very well on its own. In my opinion the aromas and flavors that are here are really pleasant, but they are too light and superficial to keep me intrigued over the course of a lengthy session.
Flavors: Cream, Custard, Floral, Jasmine, Lettuce, Lime, Mineral, Pastries, Pear, Sweet, Vegetal