Before I properly begin this review, allow me to state that this tea pushed me into unknown territory. Prior to trying it, I was at least somewhat familiar with Indian oolongs and had tried several oolongs produced from assamica cultivars, but I had tried no oolongs of any kind from the state of Assam. I decided to give this one a shot simply because I had tried a few enjoyable black teas from Halmari and was aware that the teas produced by the estate enjoyed a great reputation internationally. Once I actually got around to trying it, however, I immediately knew that this tea was going to be difficult for me. In terms of look, the leaf material looked more like a black tea than any sort of oolong, and the smell let me know that this tea was going to be pungent and challenging. Ultimately, I enjoyed it, at least to an extent, but I also had and still have nothing with which to compare it.
I prepared this tea gongfu style. After the rinse, I steeped 6 grams of loose leaf material in 4 ounces of 185 F water for 5 seconds. This infusion was followed by 16 additional infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 7 seconds, 9 seconds, 12 seconds, 16 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute 15 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, and 7 minutes.
Prior to the rinse, the dry leaf material produced aromas of hay, malt, wood, honey, and molasses. After the rinse, I noted new aromas of roasted almond, toasted cashew, orange zest, and brown sugar. The first infusion introduced aromas of apricot, peach, eucalyptus, black pepper, and orange blossom. In the mouth, the tea liquor offered notes of malt, hay, wood, honey, orange zest, brown sugar, roasted almond, and toasted cashew that were balanced by hints of cream, orange blossom, butter, molasses, eucalyptus, and horehound. Subsequent infusions introduced aromas of lemon zest, toast, wintergreen, cocoa, and roasted walnut. Apricot, peach, and black pepper notes belatedly appeared in the mouth alongside new impressions of minerals, roasted walnut, wintergreen, lemon zest, cocoa, marigold, and toast. As the tea faded, the liquor continued to present notes of minerals, toast, malt, brown sugar, and honey that were balanced by hints of lemon zest, eucalyptus, roasted almond, toasted cashew, cream, and wood.
This struck me as being a truly odd tea. In terms of aroma and flavor, it fell somewhere between a traditional Assam black tea and a Darjeeling or Nepalese oolong. A lot of the aroma and flavor components I found were unexpected and combined in interesting though not always comfortable ways. Part of me suspects that this tea was not all that well-suited to a gongfu brewing approach, but to be honest, the couple of Western infusions that I later tried did not really differ all that much. Overall, I did not dislike this tea, but I expected more and found that it did not move me much after a point. In this case, a score of 78 feels about right to me.
Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Black Pepper, Brown Sugar, Butter, Cocoa, Cream, Eucalyptus, Floral, Hay, Herbaceous, Honey, Lemon Zest, Malt, Mineral, Molasses, Nutty, Orange Blossom, Orange Zest, Peach, Toast, Walnut, Wood