66 Tasting Notes
I bought this package of Gyokuro in mesh tea bags about 3 years ago at my local Mitsuwa (Mitsuwa is a Japanese/Asian grocery store outside of Chicago, and my local one is about a 2 1/2 hour drive away!). I had it at work for a year, didn’t drink it much, then brought it home when I left my job and still didn’t drink it much. Luckily, the individual tea bags are packaged in plastic/mylar sealed envelopes and this tea doesn’t seem to have changed since I bought it and tried it at work. Oh, except that the water at work tasted GROSS and I didn’t have a temperature-controlled kettle there so I was guessing on the temperature. I can only hope that any job I might get in the future has decent-tasting water if I am ever going to have tea at work again. For right now: I drink unemployed. At home. Where I have lovely water—and access to nice packaged spring water if that’s what I feel like using.
In the leaf, this is not really in the leaf: it’s in tiny pieces. Maybe this is the broken pieces left over from processing gyokuro in larger leaf form, that then gets sold at a more expensive price? I don’t know if they do that, but it would explain why this is relatively cheap (currently retails on the Walmart.com website at $7.20, which I guess is not grocery-store priced, but then bulk gyokuro is normally very expensive; Harney & Sons’ 4 oz. loose tin is currently $65). There isn’t much in each tea bag either; it looks like a scant teaspoon. It has the dark green look that gyokuro leaves should have, and smells grassy and rich like other gyokuro I’ve had.
Unfortunately in the brew, while it has that typical light green almost fluorescent look, it’s not as flavorful as other gyokuros I’ve had. I know from experience that the package directions of steeping for 30-60 sec. are meant to be followed (I tried it once for 3 minutes, and it was undrinkably bitter), yet everything about the taste and scent at a little more than a minute is muted: grassiness, but only a bit; butteriness, but only a bit; spinach-y, but only a bit.
What I get in terms of taste is primarily mineral-ish/bitter, and this gets stronger over the course of drinking the cup, because there is tea powder in the bottom of the cup, which keeps brewing during drinking. Hoping not to have this happen, I normally brew anything powdery or tiny (like rooibos) in a paper filter so this does NOT happen. If I wanted to drink tea powder I’d drink matcha! And I usually don’t. It adds to the caffeine content and overbrews naturally delicate tea, and in this case it’s giving me a tummy ache. If I’m going to consume tea leaf, I want to KNOW I’m consuming tea leaf. And in this case I didn’t notice it until halfway through the cup, though I should have known since the liquor itself is not transparent.
In total: if you like gyokuro, want to pay less for it and have the convenience of tea bags, and don’t mind extra tea powder that affects the flavor/consistency/caffeine content, this is your tea. If you merely like gyokuro, meh, don’t bother.
Flavors: Butter, Cut Grass, Mineral, Spinach, Thick, Vegetal
(Note that the name of this tea on my sample bag wrapper and on the website as of today is “Passion Petal”. It’s possible the name on Steepster was what they used to call it, or just a mistake.)
I’m starting to get irritated with the one-hand-filled-tea-bag sample size at Artful Tea in Santa Fe. ONE sample bag, in one of those brown paper fill-your-own tea bags, stapled inside a small wax bag and wrapped in a paper label with info about the tea, is $2.50, the cost of an entire grocery store box of tea bags—yet there’s barely a teaspoon in the tea bag. That’s just not enough to make a proper cup of tea with anything but regular black tea, I’m sorry. In my smallest tea cup (a sweet little fluted clear cup from Ikea) I am still getting not much in the way of flavor, even overbrewed.
Scent in the leaf: the mango and passion fruit come out a considerable amount. The liquid becomes sort of a medium brown and is transparent. Brewed, I’m not getting much of anything in the scent or flavor: a very vague dark oolong flavor (this is not the lighter, greener oolong that can be buttery/flowery, this is the stuff that to me tastes like light pu-erh) with a tiny bit of tanginess from the aronia berries. Mango and passion fruit are gone, but there is a very faint floweriness if I really concentrate. I would not have been able to identify it as rose if I didn’t have the ingredients on the wrapper in front of me. Overall it is slightly flavored/perfumed hot water.
I feel bad giving this tea a lowish score (for me) when I suspect it would be more flavorful and drinkable if the tea amount were doubled or more. But if Artful Tea doesn’t want to give me more than a teaspoon in an expensive sample, well, then I have to go with what they give me to work with. Recall from my last review of a sample from Artful Tea that their minimum purchase of bulk tea is 3 oz.; Passion Petal at $12 is their cheapest oolong, but 3 oz. is a little more than I want to buy of one type of tea (I tend to get 2 oz. of something I know I will want to drink repeatedly, and 1 oz. for things I’m just checking out, at Fava Tea here in WI). I just think their sales practices of no free samples, tiny/expensive samples, and minimum 3 oz. purchase are not friendly to anyone who isn’t a wealthy Santa Fe tourist. Especially in this day and age of Adagio, David’s, Verdant, etc. with their copious and large free/cheap samples and/or 1 or 2 oz. availability of bulk teas (and prices seem often lower than Artful). Artful just doesn’t look good to me. Sorry.
Flavors: Bamboo, Berry, Dirt, Flowers, Fruity, Rainforest
I’ve said in the past that green rooibos doesn’t really have a reason to exist (meaning that it doesn’t have much flavor and doesn’t help make a tea distinctive). As a base for amazing cotton candy flavor, though, it works.
I only get to visit David’s Tea when I go to New York City, and the last time I was there I didn’t get to go, so this packet of tea is nearly two years old. Rummaging around amid my tea packages, it popped up, and I don’t really want caffeine at 2 in the morning, so I brewed some up. I did a paper-filter mug brew because it’s the only thing that keeps bits of rooibos from showing up in the brewed tea; it’s also convenient.
In the package you can smell the cotton candy flavor. It’s that particular cotton candy flavoring that the cotton candy Lifesavers in the Easter mix had—I used to buy bags of those just for this flavor. Some cotton candy flavored products have it; some don’t. For example: Dippin’ Dots cotton candy flavor yes, Ittibitz cotton candy flavor no. Pearl Ice Cream Parlor in La Crosse, WI yes, Chocolate Shoppe in Madison no. Now that they’ve discontinued that particular Lifesavers mix, it’s not easy to find it. So I was happy to smell this tea in the store and immediately catch the scent of the “good” cotton candy flavor. I don’t smell hazelnut in either the leaf or the brew, and I don’t taste it in the brewed tea, but then, I’ve never paid much attention to artificial hazelnut flavors in coffee or tea; I prefer roasted actual hazelnuts. The cotton candy scent may be covering it up for me.
In the brew, one reviewer is right that this has a thick, slightly oily mouthfeel, I assume from the bits of “brickle” (pink and blue cotton candy bits) that dissolve during brewing. The liquid is darkish brown and opaque, a little odd to see in brewed tea (again I assume from the dissolved candy bits). Neither of these things bother me. But if you expect tea to be clear and clean on the tongue, I could see where these characteristics would bug you.
I avoided adding anything to the cup, though I was tempted to sweeten a bit more—just because partially-sweet things bother me. For some reason I think tea should be not at all sweet, or quite a bit sweet, not in the middle. But after a few minutes I felt like it was plenty sweet for me.
In short: drinkable, might be good iced, might be good with extra sugar, but pretty nice just the way it is. I put this down to the particular cotton candy flavoring used, which is something I was already aware of and have been looking for. If it weren’t for that, I probably would find it pretty boring. (’Cause green rooibos.)
Flavors: Bark, Caramel, Cotton Candy, Wood
I have LOVED this tea since I got it a couple of years ago at Fava in Appleton, WI. It was one of the “teas on tap” that day, teas prepared in large airpots for sampling, otherwise it would probably not have occurred to me to buy any as I haven’t been a massive cinnamon fan in the past, but I’m really glad it was there to taste that day!
What this tea is, is a cinnamon delivery system. Cinnamon on its own (in three varieties, as the website says, though it doesn’t specify what those varieties are) is weirdly sweet in a non-sugary way. It reminds me a little of how your tongue perceives everything as sweet after you eat artichokes. (Artichokes, in a similar fashion to this tea, are a butter delivery system for me!) It makes a strong FLASH of sweetness in your mouth that disappears quickly.
And that’s what is so appealing about this tea. Everything else in it (green tea, orange peel, cloves) fades to the background in the face of this unbelieveable cinnamon sweetness. And I find I don’t care!
The tea smells lovely in the leaf, and brews up into a somewhat nondescript medium brown liquid with a tinge of green. You can see cinnamon cloudiness in the brew, and it appears to collect in the bottom of the mug; I did an IngenuiTea brew, so I wonder if this would be a different drink if I had used a paper filter, leaving the cinnamon powder behind? No idea. I can’t think it’s a bad thing to include rather than exclude the cinnamon powder, so I’m not going to try it in paper.
Fava has other cinnamon teas on their website: a rooibos blend, two black ones identical to this one (regular and decaf), and then others riffing on the cinnamon theme like a black cinnamon roll tea, a cinnamon plum herbal, etc., plus several that have cinnamon among the ingredients. I remember trying the rooibos version also (it must have been Cinnamon Week!) and thinking that the green version just had more going on—but they both had that cinnamon sweet FLASH. It’s spicy hot and amazing! I would venture to suggest that artificial (or even natural) cinnamon flavoring just can’t duplicate the effect, though I see that this has both. Really I have no idea what factor(s) makes this the ideal cinnamon tea, the flavorings or any of the three varieties of cinnamon.
All I know is that it’s good!
Flavors: Cinnamon, Citrus Zest, Spicy
My main question: if I brewed at a lower temp (185 F vs. 195) and for less time (1:45 vs. 2-3 min.), how did this tea get bitter?
Okay, I admit to having used a lot of this tea. 3 tsp seemed like a good amount to start when filling my Ingenuitea almost full. Maybe it was too much. (I have a gorgeous tall Yokohama mug I got at Pearl River Market in NYC before it became a glorified gift shop. And tonight, I wanted THAT much tea. So sue me…) Maybe if I had followed the directions more exactly, I would have had something tasteless, watery, lacking in jasmine flavor, or lacking in tea flavor, as other reviewers mentioned about this tea. Or maybe it would only have been bitterer? That’s what too much time or too hot of water does to green tea, right?
In any case, I stand by my decisions on time and temp. I’m willing to concede however that I may have used too much tea. The result: a thick, sweet, bitter, mineral-y, flowery brown/green brew that is just TOO MUCH FLAVOR for me. Flavor overkill!
That having been said, I’m still sipping it. It might be growing on me…or maybe I just like jasmine so much, I don’t care much how I drink it. Huh, maybe it’s time to invest in the $20 jar of dried jasmine blossoms at the Asian market near me…! (There’d be less caffeine, anyway!)
After pondering, I’m not going to say anything else about this tea until I’ve tried it with less tea. It just wouldn’t be fair. However…I’m going to keep my descriptors and ratings until I have a reason to amend them.
Flavors: Bitter, Jasmine, Sweet, Warm Grass, Vegetal
I added this tea to the Steepster database but I don’t know how to set it to “available”. It is currently on the Verdant website at a small discount, along with other similar teas from the He family, as of 8/14/19. https://verdanttea.com/teas/spring-laoshan-green/
Another tea from a recent Verdant order. I remember having a sample of this a couple of years ago that I really enjoyed, so I took a chance and got 25 g. (At $4.27/25g it’s not much of a chance—that’s cheaper than the espresso drink I normally get at Starbucks!) I feel really special drinking teas that were harvested two months ago on the other side of the planet. Verdant is pretty much the only tea vendor I would trust to sell me something like this at this low price.
When you open the envelope (Verdant has lovely re-designed light green resealable envelopes since my previous order, decorated with stylized tea leaves and a few red hearts) you can see that this tea is light-colored and tippy, rolled into the skinny curls that I think of as chun-mee-like, but otherwise I don’t think this tea is particularly like that one. You can also see a little bit of fuzz on the inside of the envelope, which is common with white and some green teas, but in this case didn’t signal any particular aspect of smell or taste.
Scent in the leaf: YUM. Rich and round and dusky for green tea, but also with a vegetal-ness and minerality that promise nice flavor and a clean finish in the brewed tea. There is sweetness in the scent but not the brewed tea (could be a factor of how long I brewed it). In the cup, this is a yellowish-greenish-light-brown brew. This was a mug brew with a disposable paper filter.
The scent of the brewed tea is mostly vegetal (almost gyokuro-like) but the flavor is very well-rounded, with more of the minerality and vegetal flavor but also a sort of velvety dryness that lingers on the tongue. I think it was probably 30 seconds from bitterness, but I like the dryness where the bitterness would have turned me off. Got to remember not to push too far when it comes to brew time on delicate greens! Anyway, overall this is a VERY clean and drinkable tea with soybean, lettuce, and grass notes but no bitterness and very little sweetness. The overall drinkability, price, tastiness, and quality bring my rating of this tea into the stratosphere. YMMV, but try it before they run out: you may find your new favorite green tea!
I had a hot flash in the middle of drinking this cup of tea. Caffeine is a known hot flash trigger for me, but other than that I can’t honestly say this tea is any different from any other source of caffeine where side effects are concerned. I feel alert after the whole mug but not jittery; perhaps my jaw is a little tighter, which is common for me with caffeine ingestion. If I had to judge, I’d say this tea is a medium source of caffeine as teas go.
I would really like to try this iced next, but worry that the flavor would be adversely affected by a refrigerator brew, and anyway my little tea brewing pitcher is currently brewing up some David’s Tea Santa’s Secret, which I ADORE as an iced tea with nothing added (and which brews up best in the fridge). It has more caffeine than this does—but it’s so good I ignore that fact, and just don’t drink it when I am nervous about a social event!
Flavors: Dry Grass, Drying, Lettuce, Mineral, Round, Soybean, Vegetable Broth, Vegetal
A sample from Verdant. I thought it would be neat to try something VERY fresh, or at least as fresh as I am going to get it, living on the other side of the Earth from where it is grown!
This is very bright green in the leaf, and they are the flattened leaf that is characteristic of Dragonwell tea. I ate a leaf just out of curiosity; it was crispy and tasted first of vegetal green tea, then bitter. So maybe don’t eat the leaf…;)
I brewed “grandpa style” using an unbleached bulk paper filter in a mug, 175 F water. I’m never too precise about amounts of tea, but I used about 3/5 of what was in the bag, so 3 g. The quick instructions on the back of the sample bag said 10 seconds for the first stepping. Uh, no. It still smelled and tasted like water at 10 seconds! Maybe if I were doing gongfu brewing with the entire sample! I actually gave it a little over 2 minutes in total and it was nicely flavored and ready to drink at that point.
This tea is yellow with a tinge of dark green/brown in the brew. Smells rather gyokuro-y, if that’s a thing: savory, clean and vegetal. The taste is round/mineral, not bitter except a tad in the aftertaste, with lots of spinach/lima bean/artichoke vegetalness. It does make the mouth feel a little dry, but not in a bad way. I find it smooth and drinkable, but not shy-and-retiring; the flavor makes itself known.
Overall a very nice tea for those who like green tea and the whole vegetal “thing” (I know some people really don’t like that) and want something drinkable and tasty but not overly expensive, at least as Verdant’s prices go. This 5g sample was $3, to give you an idea of cost. If you’re buying at Verdant you already know you want something a few notches above what you can get at, say, your local Whole Foods, in terms of quality, and you’re aware you’re supporting a small business and getting something handcrafted by family growers in the great tea regions of Asia, so really, price is of less importance in the grand scheme of things when you are shopping for this type of tea.
If money is really a concern, try the Build Your Own Sample set: pick five or more tea samples (5 g each) and you get 10% off. The most expensive sample packet on the website today is $4.95 with the discount, but most are between 2-3.50 each. Each gives you the kind of tea experience you will NOT have with grocery-store or coffee-shop tea. They even upgraded one of my samples (not this one) to a 25 g bag for free; maybe they were out of sample packets of that one and the packet-sealing machine was on the fritz, so they grabbed the only size package they had of that tea? Or maybe they felt generous!
Flavors: Artichoke, Lima Beans, Mineral, Spinach, Sweet
My sister now lives near Santa Fe so it behooved me during my visit in May to get to know the area a bit. How do I get to know a new city? Well, partly by shopping for tea!
After locating The Teahouse (tucked away near the art galleries by the river) I walked all the way through it, looking for tea. This is apparently a tea place that mostly serves sit-down customers (they also serve food, but have an extensive tea and specialty-tea-drinks menu). On the far end of the building from where I entered, there it was: what looked a little like a restaurant entryway/check-out desk but was surrounded on all four walls by tea tins. Not always legibly labeled either; I was lucky to have one of the staff help me figure out what I was looking at, and take down any tins high enough for me not to be able to reach (most of them). The experience was enlightening and I smelled some really delicious teas. In the end I indulged myself with some Pineapple Sencha and something called Freak of Nature.
In answer to the obvious question: Yes, it is. It’s a milk oolong that goes beyond milk into the realm of buttered popcorn, shortbread, whipped cream, and more. The staff member said no two people agree on what it smells like. They had only maybe 1/8 of a tin left and I bought one ounce for $22, so we are not talking an everyday tea here. Apparently only a few hundred pounds are sold every year and this is one of the few tea vendors that buys some, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. (I note that this tea is already on Steepster as purchased at The Rare Tea Cellar, so you can go read other reviews on that listing, but I think the sum total of a tea—even if it is without doubt the same tea from the same grower/processor—is also comprised of how it is treated/stored by the dealer, so I added a listing for this tea from The Teahouse.)
I do have to say that the small ziploc into which they put my ounce of this tea, and in which it spent the first couple of months with me, had several small holes along the side which I didn’t notice until a couple of weeks ago. When I did, I put the whole thing, bag and all, into another ziploc bag. The scent diminished somewhat over the last few months until I put it in an additional bag, but I’m not sure whether this would have happened anyway, or if the holes hastened the loss of scent. It still smells amazing, don’t get me wrong! Just not as strong as it did when I bought it in May.
I did a “traditional” brewing a few weeks ago but I feel like this really needed a gongfu brewing to experience the flavor. So tonight, I brought out the gaiwan. I used about 4 tsp. or enough to fill the gaiwan about 1/5 to 1/4. Yes, that’s a lot of this stuff to sacrifice, but I wanted to do it right. I set the water heater to 190/Oolong and I brewed for 35 seconds. I didn’t burn myself with hot water this time, so I must be doing something right.
The first brew (after rinsing) is round, floral, and creamy soft, with just a little astringency; maybe I should have started at 25 seconds…? I have had a small headache since earlier today and it seems to be helping a little with that, though I don’t feel particularly caffeined-up. The color (I’m estimating somewhat, as I’m using a Japanese teacup that’s brown on the outside and bright celadon on the inside) is a light-to-medium golden green with a tint of yellow/brown to it. The butteriness is more of an aftertaste. I’ll be interested to see whether it takes center stage in later brewings. I don’t know that this rises to my expectations of something that smells this amazing in the leaf, but it sure as hell beats most other oolongs I’ve ever had.
Second brewing: 45 seconds. This brewing is a little darker in the cup, more yellow and more light-brownish, still on the light side though. Less astringency (as in: it’s almost gone) but instead of being more buttery, it’s more round and sweet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I was just hoping for more butter! Still one of the most lovely oolongs I’ve ever tasted. Towards the end of this I’m feeling the caffeine more. (I’m really sensitive to caffeine, so for it to take two cups worth to feel it, that means it’s either not very high in caffeine, or its relaxing properties are mitigating the caffeine jitters.)
Third brewing: 1 min. 10 seconds. Not appreciably different from the second brewing, though darker in color; butteriness is still more of an aftertaste than anything else. I can’t drink more caffeine than this in one evening, and it took me awhile to drink this third cup, so I’m stopping here, though I wonder what the fourth and subsequent brewings would have been like.
Overall: I wish I had done a gongfu brew much sooner after getting this. I suspect it would have been more strongly flavored with the butttered popcorn/shortbread flavor that was so wildly apparent when I purchased it. As it is, it’s still a wonderful milk oolong, sweet and round, impressing me with every sip…but not really a freak of nature. Going back to single-cup brewing so as not to use up so much of the leaves, since when it’s gone, it’s gone!
Flavors: Butter, Creamy, Floral, Green, Mineral, Popcorn
I’m not rating this tea highly, but it kind of doesn’t matter, as a) Capital is no longer selling this blend, or so I assume because the link from their White Teas page to this tea is broken, and b) Teavana is now selling Youthberry in plastic containers of 15 sachets at places like Target. So the original need for a fake Youthberry, which became acute when Teavana closed their stores a couple of years ago, isn’t as pressing now. (Oh believe me: I’ve stocked up).
Comparing this tea to Youthberry, it’s not as sweet, not as drinkable, more sour (even with honey/sugar added), and just tastes lower-quality. You can tell YB has a proprietary artificial flavor that this tea lacks; not sure if they use a different artificial flavor, or none at all. I suspect none. About the same amount of caffeine, not that I am always the best judge. It brews up a deeper color, reddish-brown, than YB, making me wonder when I first got it whether it’s actually a green tea, but no, it’s still linked from Capital Teas’ white tea page, even if the link leads to an error page!
We all know this was developed/sold as a Youthberry replacement, and yet it’s not really fair to evaluate it solely as an imitation of YB. So judging it on its own: this is a darkish white tea with fruit pieces (I can see papaya and pineapple, can’t recall what the red berries are). It brews up darkish red/brown at 5.5 minutes, which was admittedly an over-brew; the package recommends 3-4 min. but I set it at 4.5 and then let it go an additional minute by accident. It didn’t become bitter though, which is in its favor. Still it lacks the delicacy of most white teas and white blends. It’s fruity, but also a bit sour, and sugar improves it, but still I don’t find it very smooth or drinkable, which is what I look for in white teas. So I have to say: not really a great tea in my opinion.
Flavors: Berries, Fruity, Sour, Vanilla
First, this is NOT the Butterfly Pea tea that brews up purpley-violet or blue. This is camellia sinensis, but apparently a variety grown in Kenya that looks purple in leaf, and brews slightly purple.
Secondly, about the store: Artful Tea’s new space in Santa Fe is big and white and lovely. The woman who helped me was friendly and answered my questions. And the sheer variety of tea they have is great. However, if you want more than one of their ONE CUP samples, which are all I bought for reasons that will become clear, the smallest amount they sell is 4oz. I’ve bought as little as 1 oz at my favorite tea place at home in Wisconsin; 2oz is for something I know I will want to have many times. I just don’t consume tea that fast! So when I found this out, I gravitated to the samples.
If I’m recalling correctly: the samples were $2.50 each, in folded bulk teabags, each in a small wax-paper bag and stapled inside a thick paper label with info about the tea. I saw that they were selling 6-bag sampler sets (e.g., green, organic, black, herbal…these are on their website too) for $11.95, and asked, “If I pick six samples, can I have them for $11.95?” Somehow THAT wasn’t okay. The deal only worked if I bought a pre-selected sampler set. So…I bought five samples. ‘Cause I’m unemployed.
In short: chalk this tea shop up to Santa Fe tourist theory, that the more expensive something is, the more likely bored rich middle-aged and older women will spend a LOT of money on it assuming it’s special. The $405 rainbow-dyed cashmere shawl I tried on later the same day I bought this tea: that’s special. (Bookmarked it online to let my parents know closer to my December birthday!) This particular tea is not (see below). I look forward to trying the other four samples I bought.
They didn’t give a brewing temp for this, just “until steaming briskly, not boiling”, so I guessed on my Cuisinart tea setting and picked Oolong (180 F). I don’t know if this was too cool, because the resulting brew doesn’t smell or taste like much of anything. Hot water with a couple of Pez dissolved in it? It smells very, very vaguely floral and fruity; not at all like c. sinensis. The brew is purplish-tan and just sits there in my mouth, quietly waiting for me to swallow. I dumped about 2 tsp. of sugar into it just to coax some flavor out, and that at least made it drinkable, but I wouldn’t buy any more of this than I already have, and I’m really happy that I didn’t spend $18 for four ounces, the next size up. (The tin is apparently $3 extra.)
Flavors: Candy, Floral, Fruity, Pineapple