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Recent Tasting Notes
November 2023 Sipdown Challenge – an oolong tea
Spring 2022 harvest
In China, we processed some tea leaves we picked one morning into red tea. I was surprised at how many tea leaves were discarded after the hand-rolling and oven-drying phases due to malformation, or simply that many of the leaves we picked were too old/leathery to wilt and bruise properly. Taking a look at this tea, it could’ve used some of that attention. It’s very rudimentary looking in hand, lots of misshapen and discolored leaf. In the wet leaf, there are multiple long stems that are denuded.
The dry leaf aroma impresses me more than the taste, and so does preparing in a steeper basket than in a tiny teapot. It’s sweet and woody (also papery) much like the Manipuri black teas and with a strong, sweet finish but it possesses a tangier taste and more brisk body. Something about the dryness combines with the sweetness to create a sticky texture after the swallow and a taste reminiscent of caramel. I do get well integrated fruity notes like dried mango, gooseberry and strawberry jam. A bare hint of agarwood incense in the distance. Also, some kind of humid taste that seems to be a hallmark of oxidized Manipuri teas. I can’t tell much difference between the oolong, red and sheng puerh styles I’ve sampled from Ketlee. Despite the similarities in profile, these teas all have a certain sense of place. This oolong isn’t quite doing it for me, though. Can’t pinpoint why.
Flavors: Brisk, Caramel, Dates, Dried Fruit, Drying, Gooseberry, Honey, Incense, Jam, Mango, Paper, Petrichor, Rainforest, Strawberry, Sweet, Tangy, Wet Wood, Woody
Strange VariaTEA TTB #23
After a week of unseasonably warm weather here in Wisconsin, temperatures have plummeted and fall is here! Grey, chilly weather just screams chai latte to me, so I grabbed this one from the box and steamed up some milk to go with it…and was shocked by how much I enjoyed it! Maybe it just hit the spot so well for the mood I was in, but this came across as a perfectly balanced chai blend: lots of flavor, but not too spicy and not too sweet. There’s enough left in the bag for another latte or two and I may be hanging on to it for the winter…
Flavors: Cardamom, Cinnamon, Clove, Ginger, Spices
This is honestly a super respectable Masala blend. The spices are super well balanced, clearly pretty high quality and the black tea base is brisk and full bodied. I do like the cardamom and cinnamon that cut through a bit stronger (to me, anyway) than the rest of the notes, but honestly as nice as I think the blend itself is… it’s just not really my usual style. I don’t drink a lot of traditional Chai at all.
So, for that reason, I’m adding this one into the TTB I’ve been sipping away at for the last few weeks – hopefully it brings someone else the joy it doesn’t quite spark for myself.
Not quite sure I’d call today’s work steepings overleafed. It was a guestimate, sure, a modest cupped palmful – I don’t think that’s enough – plus an extra finger pluck from the bag.
Very strong cup of Manipuri black tea but really no bitterness or astringency, neither was the flavor too dense. Three full steeps. Bright liquor of beautiful color.
old wood cabin in a rainforest
vague forbidden fruit in dark shadows
humid – cavernous – cool
exotic woods – resin – incense
almost like old puerh
but never too overwhelming in any one of those facets
never musty, never charred, never outright woody
creeping energy, earthen, dark, knowing
i feel possessed
i’ve felt this before
And when I came home from work, I made a grilled cheese with sourdough, some Greek cheese called Kasseri and kimchi. Drizzled the top of the sandwich with linden honey. Stoner food essentially. I don’t cook like that. That’s what this tea did to me. Wild.
Flavors: Brown Sugar, Butter, Cedar, Clean, Decayed Wood, Dragonfruit, Dried Fruit, Incense, Petrichor, Rainforest, Resin, Smoke, Tulsi, Wet Rocks
Long rinse/steep the first: barnyaaaaaaaaard! I half-forget about these classic aromas, then stumble into one and feel hella joy.
Saponin bubbles on every steep in my ceramic pot. Pours progressed super quickly from reddish gold to hong-colored. Now this is another tea that has me wondering about the processing — it’s only 3 years old, but brewing quite red/dark already. So was it oxidized further than traditional sheng puerh, and is it meant for young drinking? Will it age up into something else, or are we looking at what it’s destined to be right now? I’d absolutely call this more tannic than bitter.
Wet dog and apricot in the second, opens up to some poppy red fruit/berries and fuller mouthfeel in the third. Oof, yeah, that mouthfeel is nice.
Fruity tobacco on the wet leaf. The fruit here is interesting; I wouldn’t necessarily call this sheng sweet, but fruity for sure. Kind of bright-tannic and lightly malty as well — which aligns with the color of the liquor if we’re talking about processing edging closer to hongcha territory, I guess. Hm.
The huigan really starts coming alive now — juicy in the way that makes you smack your jaw around. The tannins are a little touchy — one steep after that, it felt like they tried to step in with a NO MORE SMACKING sign. I smacked anyway, and it worked.
There’s something about this that reminds me vaguely of my mother’s iced tea; bags brewed hot and crisp, with a healthy dose of lemon juice and just enough sugar to take the edge off (“My sister makes it too goddamn sweet!”). All this with a side of damp canine plopped in your lap, scootching for pets. Ah, home.
Thank you very much, derk. This was fun.
Flavors: Apricot, Barnyard, Berries, Bright, Citrusy, Juicy, Malty, Red Fruits, Tannic, Thick, Tobacco, Wet Dog
Gongfu!I feel a little bad about neglecting this tea over some of the others from Ketlee that were more immediately my style/preference, but it’s still a very enjoyable session! When it comes to tea I usually tend to value taste over pretty much anything else, but I think my favourite element of this oolong has actually been the very consistent astringency across each infusion; pleasantly drying and plucky and just very interesting!!
The taste is still pretty good though; golden and toasty notes of fresh baked breads, malt, a sort of dry woody or “tree bark” characteristic, a slight honey note, and then a lot more heady florals and a muscatel fruity quality in the finish. The florals in particular linger on the palate after swallowing. Feels like a nice switch up from some of the teas I was gravitating towards this past month!
Tea Photos: https://www.instagram.com/p/Cqij1NnOY0E/
Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wM2dUzxEVhs
Today is a grumpy day. Blehhhh. Thankfully I have tea. Very nice tea. Free sample tea, even. Tea to sit with. To watch the birds with. The taste blends well with the overcast hues of the 4 pm mid-March sky.
Feeling: quiet and forceful, young sheng-like.
Thank you Ketlee.
Flavors: Apricot, Astringent, Chrysanthemum, Clean, Grassy, Mango, Mineral, Mint, Musty, Peach, Rose, Spicy, Spring Water, Viscous
Derk, thank you for this truly wonderful and magnificent tea. Yes, I know I am drinking it late, it can be almost considered aged. However, airtight pouch did its trick and didn’t let any wrong aroma in and any good aroma out.
I wasn’t able to recognize anything from dry leaf, but after a rinse a wonderful aromas started to appear. I can totally recognize vanilla wafers, white chocolate and closely followed by fruit notes, tropical fruits as mango, pineapple a bit and certainly there is litchi.
When brewed with 80°C water in thermos, which was slowly cooling down, ended up with 60°C water; a wonderful qualities were also in taste. Again the fruits I have mentioned before, with first steep a little astringent. Also it was indeed vanilla wafer like when lukewarm. As it was cooling down, there were certainly notes of litchi and pineapples.
I know it looks like I copied and rewrote by my own words their description. But it is, finally, one of the descriptions which are true in all points.
Had a very robust session with this tea at the park over the weekend. This is such a full bodied and heavy black tea with such pronounced notes of oak, and with the gentle breeze and fresh air around me that almost grizzly, unsweet woodiness feels just so appropriate for the day! On top of that signature taste that carries throughout the session, there are also notes of incense, molasses, and leather with just a bit of malt. It’s not bitter at all though there’s a pleasantly consistent light astringency. This tea feels powerful yet understated!
Tea Photos: https://www.instagram.com/p/CgZ3os0Oi7u/
Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0FyZh1ESN4
Autumn 2021 harvest, thank you Ketlee for the sample :)
Lots of low tones here, almost everything sits low. Milky and earthy-nutty pistachio butter notes do stand out above a tangy cut grass base taste with herbal chocolate mint and chrysanthemum nuances. There’s also something like sun-warmed skin, so maybe a hint of clean muskiness that joins a generic stonefruit tone.
Along with the milky taste comes a milky texture upfront that turns into viscous and sweet spring water. Juicy swallow can turn dry if oversteeped.
The warmed leaf smells entirely like Captain Crunch Berries cereal in milk, just like a Japanese oolong had earlier this year: https://steepster.com/teas/thes-du-japon/99408-oolong-tea-from-hon-dot-yama-koju-cultivar
Very similar to the Sikkim Autumn Green of the same harvest season: https://steepster.com/teas/ketlee-dot-in/100158-sikkim-autumn-green-tea I don’t know if I could tell much difference. Does this behave more like an oolong or a green tea? I don’t know. I guess it is smoother than the green. The oolong processing experiment could use some tweaking to make some notes pop. Not a bad tea by any means for being organic and sold at $3.50/25g, I’m just more into well defined flavors and those that aren’t milky, nutty, sweet.
Flavors: Astringent, Caramel, Chocolate, Chrysanthemum, Cinnamon, Earthy, Freshly Cut Grass, Grassy, Juicy, Kettle Corn, Milk, Milky, Mineral, Mint, Musk, Nutty, Oats, Pistachio, Roasted Nuts, Spring Water, Stonefruit, Strawberry, Sweet, Tangy, Viscous, Zucchini
January 2022 harvest
A mild and unassuming white tea like many silver needles, though with plenty of nuance if that’s your thing. Nice structure — modest yet full aroma, very fluid viscosity upfront moves to spring water sweetness mid-mouth and finishes clean with mouth-watering minerality and quiet sweetness. Neutral energy.
I’ve tried water temperatures higher than 185F for these needles, but doing so only kills the numerous soft nuances and brings about an astringency that need not be there with a first steep. Because of this, I can’t say I’d recommend the tea to those newer to brewing. I’d stick to 185F, maybe lower but I haven’t tried.
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff
The superfluous language makes me feel sick but maybe I’ll be able to slog through it.
Flavors: Apricot, Astringent, Banana, Bark, Camphor, Cantaloupe, Caramel, Cream, Cucumber, Eucalyptus, Flowers, Hazelnut, Herbaceous, Hot Hay, Linens, Marshmallow, Mineral, Nutty, Pear, Peppercorn, Rose, Rosemary, Soft, Spicy, Spring Water, Straw, Toast, Tobacco, Vanilla, Viscous, Watermelon
Finished this off as western-steeped work brews. Rather astringent-tannic in the mouth and body this way, not soft as when prepared with higher leaf:water and lower temp, but with deeper flavor and still a very pleasant aroma. A mix of hazelnut and cocoa wafers (like those Loacker Quadratini or maybe their drier, larger ones), a big peachy midtone, chili leaf and hot hay. I feel this tea’s strength in my muscles, gets them revving. Interesting juxtaposition to the aromas and tastes. I’d consider purchasing this one again.
A little bit will be coming your way, Martin.
Flavors: Astringent, Chili, Cocoa, Hazelnut, Herbaceous, Hot Hay, Juicy, Peach, Spicy, Tannin, Woody
I’d never heard of the Indian state Arunachal Pradesh until buying tea from Ketlee. It’s been fun to look at maps and read about the histories of all these tea-growing states within India. Arunachal Pradesh is a part of that northeastern appendage of India that is bridged to the subcontinent via a region in West Bengal bottlenecked by the countries Nepal and Bangladesh. Borders, arbitrary. It’s all a part of that swath of Himalaya mountain range.
This tea has similarities to black teas from other mountainous Himalaya regions like Nepal, Sikkim and Darjeeling. There’s no way I’d be able to differentiate where it was grown based on its characteristics. (How many of these other Himalayan teas are passed off as Darjeeling?) It doesn’t bare much resemblance to teas from Assam. Could that be a result of variety? — sinensis vs assamica? Which is the more commonly grown variety in the lowlands of Assam?
Anyway, it’s a medium-oxidized black tea closer to the fuller end that has a soft aroma of cocoa-vanilla with a strong wafer component. The taste is tangy at first with a citrus tone, the experience mild, almost diluted using Ketlee’s gongfu parameters. Notes of toasted wheat bran, wafers, peach and chocolate. Juicy swallow gives way to a growing drying mouthfeel and a returning aroma. Second infusion has a more pronounced aroma with red cherry and peach balanced by rose and something spicy, leafy and sharper like marigold. Taste is about the same though turning toward dry leaf and hot hay. The tea just kind of fades out after several infusions.
It’s nice and delicate tea but for my preferences, I’m going to have to find some different parameters to draw out the qualities that Ketlee appreciates.
Flavors: Cherry, Chili, Chocolate, Citrus, Cocoa, Dry Leaves, Drying, Floral, Flowers, Hot Hay, Peach, Rose, Smooth, Soft, Tangy, Vanilla, Wheat
November 2023 Sipdown Challenge – a smokey tea #2
Compared to the 2021 harvest, this is both more muted and rougher around the edges. It’s strong and can get rather bitter when oversteeped. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable and complemented some of the hotter, drier days we had at the end of dry season.
Overall feeling: campfire-smoked sweet-scented tropical flowers (champaca?), sharp herbal spicy incense, dry leaves, earthy rainforest petrichor
Flavors: Campfire, Dates, Dry Leaves, Earthy, Flowers, Herbal, Incense, Petrichor, Rainforest, Spicy
These Ketlee teas are really lighting me up! 2021 harvest
I have 2 full pages in my notebook dedicated to one session (brewed in glass gaiwan). There were so many complexities to this tea, I feel like it’s a disservice (to myself) to not wax poetic (really, derk?) like I have in my other Ketlee notes from this week. But then does doing so potentially taint somebody else’s experience? Only if they have expectations based upon what I write. Of course they do. Writing for everybody’s palate is impossible, though, so the superfluous tasting notes might be lost to the wind. Either way, I’ll keep it short and sweet:
From the forests of Manipur, India; perhaps the same wild leaf as the Orthodox Smoked White (though a different year and picking season). This is the most engaging white tea I’ve ever had, not only in its morphing and flowing aromas and tastes, but also in textures and body feeling.
I think this tea can be for anybody but will probably appeal more to seasoned sippers looking to mix things up than to somebody newish to brewing. However, the forcefulness of flavor might appeal to the somewhat innocent. It’s worth getting lost in some raw power.
Flavors: Astringent, Banana, Campfire, Cantaloupe, Coriander Seed, Cucumber, Cumin, Earthy, Fennel, Floral, Flowers, Fruity, Gooseberry, Green Apple, Honey, Juicy, Lemongrass, Mineral, Musk, Papaya, Paper, Petrichor, Plant Stems, Pungent, Quince, Rainforest, Rose, Rosemary, Savory, Silky, Spicy, Spring Water, Sugar, Sweet, Tangy, Tannin, Tropical Fruit, Wet Rocks, Wintergreen
August 2020 harvest
On a roll today with Ketlee notes. Here’s the current cup, brewed western in a mason jar. If there is one thing consistent about my enjoyment of tea, it’s that I prefer white teas brewed in glass. Anyway, I picked this up because I fell in love with Old Ways Tea’s 2018 White Tea, which was a gently smoked white from Fujian, China.
What a cool tea! The smoke of the dry leaf attacks the nose. It’s savory like smoked paprika and mesquite wood. I guess it could smell like unsweetened powdered BBQ spice mix. The woodsmoke carries through into the cup, sharp but smooth and softened by petrichor. I also smell something very fruit, almost like a tart quince-apple mixture. Earthy-spicy-woody like cumin.
The sip is just as rich as the aromas, warm and savory, lightly viscous, exploding with hot sun, tall grasses, dry earth, a cooking fire. Massive woody resins. Tangy, almost sour fruits and red berries. Faint roasted fennel bulb. It’s invigorating and comforting at the same time. A tea that’s intensely rustic but - GAH! This is so good.
On the second cup and equally as good. More mineral and thinner, still tangy like cucumber and gooseberry, with a nice finishing astringency. Eucalyptus. Now drying but not bitter.
Picked out some wet leaf to smell. Under the savory woodsmoke, I can smell sweet redfruit, leather and eucalyptus.
Lotta strength to these leaves.
This tea is not going to be for everybody but if you want a bold and rich smoked tea, this is a great pick.
Flavors: Apple, Astringent, Campfire, Cucumber, Cumin, Dry Grass, Drying, Earthy, Eucalyptus, Fennel, Fruity, Gooseberry, Incense, Leather, Mineral, Petrichor, Pleasantly Sour, Pungent, Quince, Red Fruits, Resin, Rich, Savory, Smoked, Smooth, Spices, Spicy, Tangy, Viscous, Wood, Woody
Well, I bought this last year and have just now gotten around to it. And I’m going to have to play around with it some more because I kept severely oversteeping it. Severely, though? Hard to say, since I did enjoy at least 3 pots’ worth that had been brewing for no less than 15 minutes each time.
The dry leaf has interesting aromas that are malty and fruity, waxed wood, redfruits, twigs. Sweet-syrupy. Bread dough, fermented camellia buds.
Warm has bourbon vanilla sugar notes w/massive red berry and yeasty bread dough notes, rosewood. Rinsed leaf brings more of an antique wood feeling, eucalyptus, port wine, raisins.
Overall vibe is —
Like the 2020 Ball Rolled Wild Oolong but without the intensity of feeling or sweetness. More mineral and antiquewoody like a Chinese pu’er. High oxididation (black tea) tastes such as malt and redfruits. Superficial bitterness, not the kind that penetrates but is like a sheer layer. I prefer feeling the bitterness rather than only tasting it. Does that make sense? It has that light astringency that is thirst-quenching.
Curious tea that has some good markers but lacks some punch? I hope Ketlee has set aside some of these Indian raw teas for aging and will re-release them in the years to come.
I have to try this brewed in a different vessel. I used my tiny duanni clay pot because I wasn’t sure if this tea was going to hijack my brain like the 2020 Ball Rolled Wild Oolong. It didn’t.
Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Bread Dough, Brown Sugar, Eucalyptus, Fruity, Malt, Mineral, Plum, Raisins, Red Fruits, Red Wine, Rosewood, Round, Sweet, Vanilla, Wet Wood, Wood, Woody, Yeasty
2023 harvest sent as a freebie with my latest order.
Different than last year’s harvest but still an amazing tea!
In the bag, this smells like roses and carnations in cold mountain air.
Texture is crisp and clear, juicy and viscous, mouthwatering salty mineral, complementary astringency. I am encouraged to take big mouthfuls and let the tea roll around. No sipping here.
Aroma and taste — Roses less prominent than in the dry leaf. Cinnamon! Cardamom! Clean air! Buoyant malt, young grass, sweet orange, saffron and caramel with a prominent fruity peach finish — a real concentrated flavor like candy or canned peaches, much like in Ketlee’s Nilgiri Candy Green Tea.
Outstanding brewed western in a mason jar.
Flavors: Astringent, Candy, Caramel, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Crisp, Grass, Juicy, Mineral, Orange, Peach, Rose, Saffron, Salty, Viscous
This has to be one of the most unique teas that’s graced my tongue, and not necessarily in a challenging or quirky way. It’s beautiful. Previous note was for gongfu, (https://steepster.com/derk/posts/431599) and while that experience was a little lacking, this tea has been shining when prepared western. The dry leaf aroma alone is intoxicating and so clear and crisp. I used to work at a grocery store with a flower shop 20 years ago and this leaf smells just like walking into the rose cooler. Similar in taste-vibe to a good Taiwanese Ruby 18 with its cooling green notes but very much a high elevation Nilgiri with its florality and clean taste. So very gently malty with a big and rounded peachy midtone. It reminds of autumn, too. The scent of that air… A peach tree in October, surrounded by the most luscious garden of roses and cooling herbs, saffron sprinkled on the ground, the fruits of the tree woodened by age and still clinging to branches, the scent of impending frost during the night’s full moon. Small red currants glistening in the moonlight. Big impression there.
So western steeping has been a little difficult to nail down since I’ve been using hot water of unknown temp from the dispenser at work and it’s been an overwhelming few weeks that has left me distracted and inattentive to brewing time. But this tea is freaking gorgeous!! I’d put it somewhere in the 90s on my personal scale and would highly recommend it to tea snoots who don’t shun a western preparation. Brewing in glass does something special to this tea, too, compared to porcelain.
Flavors: Astringent, Butter, Caramel, Cardamom, Creamy, Crisp, Floral, Forest Floor, Fruity, Malt, Peach, Plant Stems, Rainforest, Red Currant, Rose, Saffron, Sweet, Wintergreen, Wood, Woody
2022 harvest? Winter.
This dry leaf smells very similar to the Winter Frost Green. It is spicier, more herbaceous, but just as floral with rosebud-stem-and-leaf notes, leatherleaf, baby’s breath, peonies. Woody dark green.
Warmed leaf gives a very clear expression of malt with cherry-wintergreen undertone. Or maybe it’s raisin-eucalyptus or currant-cardamom. Or maybe it’s wheat bran flakes and not malted barley. But it’s a very crisp and clear scent, not a lowdown, concentrated malt. Saffron.
Honey-caramel aroma. Sweet, viscous, oily. The essence of malt I guess is what I’d call the taste. In fact, I’d describe it as a gentler Ruby 18, or the reflection of Ruby 18 in a mountain stream. I really like the overall clean taste profile, however unassuming it is but I take issue — it’s got the cool herbal highs, it’s got the malty lows but the mids seem nonexistent. Mild astringency, mild everything overall. Short aftertaste like most Nilgiri teas. It’s fruity but I can’t pin it down.
In the wet leaf, I get damp forest undergrowth and something like peach and lavender. Spent leaf, once again, makes an excellent cold brew where I notice that peach coming to the forefront in taste.
The level of oxidization presents this black tea as less like a green or a Darjeeling or oolong or whatever than the Nilgiri Handmade black I had earlier this week. Whatever this little mystery is, I’m happy to explore some more.
Flavors: Astringent, Bitter, Caramel, Cardamom, Cherry, Eucalyptus, Flowers, Forest Floor, Honey, Lavender, Malt, Peach, Peony, Plant Stems, Raisins, Red Currant, Rose, Saffron, Spring Water, Sweet, Viscous, Wet Wood, Wheat, Wintergreen