38 Tasting Notes
I love this gaiwan. First off, it’s adorable. Second, it is perfect for solo gongfu sessions. The amount of time and volume of water consumed by a session with my larger 100-120ml gaiwans meant that I rarely had opportunity to sit down and enjoy it. This size is great – I can fully steep out a tea without staying up all night.
This tea has become a favorite (obsession?) for me in the two weeks since I received it. Western, gongfu, and cold brew have all been so different, but still delicious. The dry leaf is lovely to look at and intoxicating to smell.
Western (4g/250ml/90 C to start): Aroma in wet leaf is sweet, malty, with light brown sugary & fruity notes like medjool dates. The brew is smooth, never bitter even on long steeps. (Haven’t tried grandpa style yet, might be great.) I got 6 steeps in all and probably could have kept pushing, but it was late and I’d drunk a lot of tea. Started at 2 min, then 3, 5, and 6.5 min. Increased to 95 C for 8 min, 100 C for 10 min. All infusions were yummy and sweet with some light floral notes mixed in with the malty brown sugar flavors. Also some chocolate, dark caramel, and earthy notes. Later steeps have hints of fresh-cut wood.
Cold brew (1g/100ml): This is AMAZING. Probably the most delicious iced tea I have ever had. The intensity of the aromas coming off the cold liquid surprised me. I find myself unthinkingly taking deep sniffs of my glass in between sips – can’t get enough. The taste, though . . . light & crisp, but still so flavorful & smooth. Malt, milk chocolate, brown-sugary caramel, dried cherry brightness, a touch of orange peel, a little floral. So sweet and smooth and refreshing that I could easily guzzle a quart at a time, yet I also want to savor it. Long, lingering aftertaste. A resteep with half the volume of water is still sweet & delicious, but the chocolate & caramel notes are reduced; instead, light floral notes are stronger. Further experimentation shows that the first infusion mixed with the resteep in a larger carafe blends the flavors beautifully. On the strength of the cold brew alone, I ordered another 100g before even trying gongfu preparation.
Gongfu (3g/50ml/85 C to start): 14 steeps and possibly could have pushed even more— 15s, 20, 25, 30, 35, 45, 1min, 1m15, 1m30, 1m45 (up to 90 C), 2m (95 C), 2m30, 3 and 4 min at boiling. Totally new flavor profile! For first infusions, the wet leaves smell like the sugary syrup from a baked sweet potato. Flavor is SO sweet in the first steep—all I can think of is various forms of sugar (honey, caramel, cane syrup). The second lives up to that sweet potato aroma—it tastes of caramelized autumn vegetables like sweet potato, pumpkin, butternut. A hint of milk chocolate on the finish, and smooth smooth smooth. On the next couple steeps the lid of the gaiwan smells like toasted marshmallow. A tiny bit of bracing bitterness comes in on the finish to cut through all the sweetness. Leaves begin to have some earthy tones. The chocolate was only present for 1-2 infusions, but the super sweet baked yam flavor continues. Hints of floral start to appear in steep 6, sweetness very gradually reducing. Steep 10 starts a bit of cooling aftertaste and notes of fragrant wood, some earthiness. Flavors beginning to thin by the time I stop after 14, but certainly not gone. Aftertaste is solidly cooling, cedar, but still sweet by the end.
It’s crazy to me how different these preparations taste, yet all still good. With other teas, the variations between methods often seem to be a matter of balance or layering of the same flavors—which notes stand out or drop out, work together, or overpower, etc. But this is a totally different flavor, especially in gaiwan. Not sure if it’s because of gongfu ratios or temperature or both (need to keep testing, what a shame!).
I enjoyed the hot preparations very much and will continue to play with them, but for me the real star is the cold brew—I suspect it will be my regular iced tea now.
(5g ball in 120ml gaiwan, 205 F, 10 second first infusion, 10 total steeps)
This was an odd brewing session. I have no experience with white teas, so I have no idea how these “dragon pearls” compare to any other form/variety of Silver Needle.
The dry leaf was very fragrant; wildflower or dandelion-type floral, lightly fruity like melon or white peach. Wet leaf added an aroma of cooked fruit – a little earthy/toasty. Oddly, the liquor itself had no aroma on the first steep. Very pale yellow first infusion (10 sec), lots of fine, downy hairs floating throughout. The taste is light & delicate, but there’s some honey sweetness and a sense of sweet cucumber or honeydew melon. As it cools I can pick up some hay/straw, a little corn. Tickle in back of throat – from the tea hairs, I assume. Second steep (15 sec) is similar but more intense. This brew has straw aroma as well as flavor (smells like a hayride), and the throat tickle is even more present, giving the feeling that I am literally drinking dry straw. Steep three (20 sec) leaves a sweeter aroma on the gaiwan lid, and the tea liquor has a stronger aroma of earthy fruit and dandelion floral. Steep four (25 sec) adds an aroma of pine, and there is a lightly sweet cooling aftertaste, but the fruit and floral sweetness is receding. Fifth & sixth steeps (35, 45 sec) continue the dry grass taste with stronger pine/resin flavor and cooling aftertaste. Any fruit and floral are pretty much gone. Steeps 7-10 (1 min, 75 sec, 2 min, 3 min) are just like drinking hay with a pine resin cooling aftertaste – steady flavors but no additional layers, and not enjoyable once the fruit and wildflower notes are gone.
Perhaps more flavors would have been revealed if I kept pushing, as the taste was still quite strong at 10th steep. But the experience became unpleasant, so I had no interest in going any further. The throat tickle (irritation is probably too strong a description) stayed throughout, and eventually I started to feel like I was somehow drinking a light allergic reaction to hay grasses.
I only really enjoyed the first three infusions, and it was pretty much downhill after that.
Gongfu (2.5g/50ml/205 F) – 10 sec infusion to start, adding 5 seconds following, then pushing out much more after steep 5.
Strip-style oolong. Dry leaves have very light aroma, though pleasant – fruit, malt, cocoa. Wet leaves add a toasted note, as well as some earthiness.
Steep 1 (10 sec) starts off light; not much aroma, flavor is crisp & just a little fruity (very mild raisin?). Leaves smell almost syrupy on steep 2, and flavor is a little sweeter. Tannins start up strong. Steeps 3 & 4 increase dryness; tiny touch of bitterness. Steeps 5-8 grow thinner, more crisp, and the tannins are all over the place. By 8th infusion, the flavor is greatly decreased. Overall impression is not unpleasant, but not complex or particularly yummy, either – nondescript.
Tried grandpa style with remaining leaves (2.5g). Made a smooth brew that never grew bitter, but flavor also stayed light & kind of boring.
Tried a number of variations and found that whether brewing gongfu or western, water should be very hot to boiling (definitely no lower than 90 C) and start out with a fairly long first infusion – 1 min in gaiwan, 3 minutes western. Lower temps and shorter brewing times just don’t bring out the flavors.
Gongfu (90 C, 3g, 50ml) – start with 1 min steep, then 30, then adding 10/15 seconds after. First infusion has a light, buttery aroma & flavor at front, then sweet florals, then creamy finish. Aftertaste keeps creamy, sweet, floral. Second steep brings out honey/syrupy aroma, and honey is now present with the buttery florals. Finish is honeysuckle & a little cashew? Third steep keeps these flavors & adds a hint of grassy bitterness in the middle, which then complicates the previously smooth finish. By steep 5 the creamy flavors & textures are receding, giving a “cleaner” finish. By 7 & 8, the grassy florals are growing, a bit more bitterness, but still pleasant. Steep 9 has first hint of dryness. These impressions remain through 10-12, but it seems like a tiny bit of smooth creaminess returns on the finish with these. Flavors overall are growing weaker by 12, so stopped there.
Western (boiling, 4g, 250ml) – start with 3 minutes, adding 1 min after.
Has pretty much all the same flavors & aromas as in gongfu, but not as layered. Starts creamy & buttery floral, sweeter florals in middle, lingering aftertaste of sweet floral & buttery cashew nuttiness. Second steep has less floral, less butter, but still creamy, nutty, and a little grassy sweetness. Steeps 3 & 4 are about the same, just growing a little thinner & losing flavor by 4.
Cold brew – 1g/100ml, overnight chill. Quite nice flavor, though creamy butter might be a tiny bit rich as iced tea. Florals present but not as strong, very smooth overall.
Stayed fairly close to Verdant’s directions – 2.5g in 60ml gaiwan, 98 C. 1st infusion 10 sec, +5 ff. Dry leaves smell woodsy & earthy & a little of overripe fruit. Also getting an aroma that reminds me of raspberry leaf tea. Wet leaves add a bit of “barnyard” funkiness to the same aromas as dry. First infusion indeed smells a lot like brewed raspberry leaf tea and tastes similar too, though much less intense & not as thick. Taste is sweet, smooth, with hints of earthy fruit. By third steep there is an herby/woody taste creeping in – reminds me of rosemary, though not as strong. A little dryness throughout mouth & throat. The fragrant wood flavor becomes more prominent – like cedar? At around steep 9, there is a cooling, almost minty finish; this continues with the cooling effect even growing a bit until I stop after 12 infusions.
Tried western style with remainder of sample; most of the same flavors, even stronger sense of raspberry leaf tea.
Trying this caffeine-free herbal was very interesting. Tea is not unpleasant, but I don’t feel any need to purchase any more.
(Gaiwan, 30 sec infusions for first 4, +5 sec following, 13 steeps total)
Very interesting – had no idea what to expect! Wet leaves smell lightly toasted, touch of butter & starch. Pale yellow brew to start. Steeps 1-2 are delicately savory, buttery green vegetable flavors with just a little sweetness. Not getting “rice” so much as general toasty starchy notes. Fun to see the bright green “sticky rice” leaves open up while oolong leaves are still fairly tight. Steep 3 has tiny additions of bitterness and dry finish. Steeps 4-7 get a light floral aroma, though taste isn’t really there yet. Steeps 8-11 gradually lose flavor, especially buttery notes. Final steeps 12-13 get a slight boost of floral aroma and flavor, but all other flavors are receding.
Next day followed pkg directions for western brewing; had most of the same flavors as gongfu, but not as distinct. Pleasant and generally comforting.
(Gaiwan, 5 second first infusion, +5/10 sec ff, 12 steeps total)
Dry leaves are sweet – prune, cocoa, vanilla, and something bright (not quite citrus, maybe dried cherry?). Wet leaves add touch of wet foliage & woodsiness, and stronger dried fruit.
Steeps 1-2 are light amber color, taste is smooth & sweet with hints of chocolate and caramel, prune & vanilla. Steep 3 adds a tiny bit of aromatic woodsy flavor, bitterness, and dry finish. Steep 4 turns more complex – starts sweeter, with prune sweetening to caramelized date, but then the increasing dryness turns the smooth chocolate into cocoa powder. Pleasant lingering aftertaste of dried fruit. Steeps 5-8 pretty much keep these flavors, but the increasing dry tannins overshadow and sweetness recedes. Steeps 9-10 have touch of peaty/grassy flavor, and overall seem less fruity, less sweet, & feel thinner. But steep 11 surprises! Sweetness increases, and I have my first experience being tea drunk! Steep 12 is pushed out a little to 2 minutes, but flavors are all fading again.
Steeps 1-4 were my favorites, with yummy flavors & building complexity.
Next day tried western style – 2.5g in 120ml boiling water for 2 minutes. Lasted a few infusions. Pleasant with some of the flavors present in gongfu, but much less intense and not as interesting.
Disappointing – has much less flavor than other genmaicha I’ve tried. Strangely, it seems to be lacking both in the flavor of the green tea AND the roasted rice. The instructions make quite a weak brew, but I’ve also tried higher ratio of tea to water and different temperatures than what’s recommended, and that’s only made a slight improvement. The best application I’ve tried is actually cold-brewed iced tea, but even that’s only OK.