368 Tasting Notes


I steeped this at a lower temperature, yesterday, in the gaiwan, and it finally woke up and produced the brews that I knew it could and the longevity that I knew it could.

Yes, I realize Upton’s instructions say to use a lower temperature, I’m just an idiot sometimes.

195 °F / 90 °C 0 min, 15 sec

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The first gaiwan steeping of this tea is always a shock.

How can tea be this good?

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Finally broke down and tried this one Western style to see if it would produce more to get the tongue than I could get in the gaiwan with short steeps.

Steep times were 3min, 3min, 5min and 7min.

Results were much improved, for those of us who aren’t yet professional tasting experts.

Don’t be fooled, even with these long steeps, there is almost no color to the brew. Let your nose do all the work.

The aroma off the wet buds and from the pot of liqueur were fantastic. Dry sunny hay and caramel.

In the mouth these flavors continued and were intensified.

I rarely enjoy light, sweet teas. But this is quite good once you get it steeped in a manner that produces enough flavor to notice.

Just beware, a pot full of wet, open buds can look a bit like a big pile of bugs out of the corner of your eye.

200 °F / 93 °C 5 min, 0 sec

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So I said I wanted to try this Western style, and I have.

Sadly, it didn’t improve much. I expected far fewer steepings, but a stronger cup. It hasn’t really panned out that way.

I have to say I’m surprised that this tea seems to come off so flat. It isn’t that there’s anything wrong with the flavor, only that there never seems to be enough of it.

200 °F / 93 °C 3 min, 0 sec

I typically only get 3 good steeps from the DHP’s I’ve tried. Upton’s must not be a top DHP.

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I think the last time I did this, I put the tasting note under the pu-erh because I forgot you could just add teas to the system, including vendor name.

So here it is, “my” tea.

I put a tablespoon of each into a 16oz Beehive and then did four steepings (3 sec, 5 sec, 7 sec, 10 sec) and strained them off into a very, very big tea pot.

I’m already on my third cup.

I seriously considered calling this blend “Pipe Smoke and Pub Leather” but I didn’t want people to think it was a real blend by a real tea company, so I made the name obvious.

But that’s what this tastes like. You get the earthy bass notes of the shu, the sharp smoke of the lapsang, and the gently humming sweetness of the Yunnan golden to keep it from getting off the rails.

Reminds me a lot of Balkan pipe shag, actually (latakia, parique and cavandish).

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I guess the good news, given I’m not a huge fan of this leaf, is that I’m already out of it!

Apparently I didn’t order very much.

I could see this tea working very well with dim sum, being light and soft but having a sufficient contrast to cut through all the pork fat and sugar.

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Ack! Oh, I know we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one, but to my ears, wasting this tea with a meal sounds like blasphemy. Well, more for me!

Jim Marks


Pairings with any premium beverage are always understood to enhance the beverage, not detract from it. This is common practice with the finest wines, beers, spirits, and teas.

David Duckler

I see both sides here- Mostly I want to share the experience I had conducting a tea and chocolate pairing with Colin Gasko of Rogue Chocolatier, possibly the finest bean-to-bar craftsman in America. I haven’t tried tea and meal pairings (except psychologically in that some sheng pu’ers imply a full meal through the course of the steepings), but when truly fine tea is allowed to synergize with something equally fine, interesting flavors comes through. It wouldn’t have worked with a milky cheap chocolate, but in this tasting, the aftertastes of the chocolate worked to bring out flavors in the tea that were previously hidden.

Rogue Chocolate and Potomac chocolate are both worth a try in this regard, as they engage the same parts of the palate as fine tea, but do not coat your tongue. Anything that coats the tongue has the tendency to dull the taste buds.

In general, fine teas are not commonly consumed with meals in China, but that definitely shouldn’t stop you from seeking out creative pairings for the sake of synergy. Just like, for example, I will choose an yixing pot whose nature I think will have a synergistic effect on the tea I am brewing. Occasionally however, and whenever trying a tea for the first time, I will brew it without having eaten anything for a while, in a non-reactive vessel like a gaiwan so that I can understand the “true” nature of the tea before moving into pairings.

Happy tasting.

Jim Marks

When I lived in Chicago, I would attend semi-private tasting events at the TeaGschwendner retail location on State Street hosted by their in house “tea sommelier” (who is, now, I believe, the manager of their Edmond’s collection rather than specifically connected to the retail store). At one point he began attempting pairings with chocolates — unfortunately the “best” (in the minds of all the local residents, anyway) in Chicago is Vosges — which I really don’t care for, personally. Probably because I got spoiled by the work of Andrew Shotts and his Garrison Confections line from my years living in Providence, Rhode Island.

I would boldly assume that fine teas are not consumed with meals in China, traditionally:

a) for simple economic reasons

b) because most meals are not a slow, deliberate activity for drawing out flavors, but for the consumption of daily nutrition

You don’t do a wine pairing on a random Tuesday afternoon with a sandwich, you know?

That’s why I specifically referred to yum cha rather than lunch or dinner. Something which is more of an occasion, and is supposedly about the tea as much as it is about the food — and is mostly about the experience of fellowship with other people. I was thinking about the mindset of chefs in the Imperial style in China where everything is about balance, control, contrast and interplay — and pork fat.

As a primary defense I will offer up both the matcha and sencha formal tea ceremonies in Japan — where a confection of some kind is always served between steepings and is considered crucial to appreciating the later steepings (which become bitter).

As I’ve indicated in previous tasting notes, while I recognize the extremely high quality nature of this tea, I don’t actually care for it all that much. So, I’m mentally thinking of ways to improve my experience with this leaf.

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The RoTea sheng was nice, but completely failed to stir my chi in any way.

So I returned to the Wild Arbor. Nothing like it was last week. A very mild mannered tea, today. I must have used far too much leaf last time — or there was something in the air, in the water… something.

This is also failing to stir my chi. Maybe I’m just all blocked up, today.

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After my experience with the Wild Arbor last week, it occurred to me that my concerns with this tea maybe were over blown. So, I unpacked it from the storage arrangement I’d created and decided to steep it again.

I’m into the second steeping now and I’m chuckling to myself that just a few weeks ago I thought this tea needed more age. This second steeping is downright soft for sheng — maybe I made some kind of error the last time I made it.

This is actually really good and has encouraged me to re-approach the Wild Arbor with less leaf and more respect.

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The gloom continues. On the one hand, we need this hydration so desperately I dare not complain. On the other hand, aside from it being 70 degrees in February, this weather is reminding me of New England a bit too much.

I’m having company over later for tea, so I’m saving the complex leaves for later.

One thing I love about wuyi oolongs, and of course da hong pao is a premiere example of the breed, is that there is nothing unexpected or challenging about them without that collapsing into something mediocre.

Sometimes roast, age and the caramelization that comes with both is all you need to sustain you for a time. No flowers, no fruit, no wet stones, no sun bathed cabin wood, no moth balls, no deep stirrings in the dantien or yi.

Just a warm cup of soothing, excellent tea.

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