70 Tasting Notes
Today I was in the mood for white tea so the White Tripel freebie (thank you white2tea) seemed like a good candidate to satiate my craving. I’m quite happy with the choice.
Anakin goes Vader, that’s what popped up in my head thinking about this tea. It goes from light to dark – taste, smell and color. It can surprise you with something new even in steep 10+ so don’t give up on it early. I think this is my first tea with such a prolonged development.
Gongfu, 6g, 130ml, 25+ seconds (I have to buy a timer, counting after the fifth or sixth infusion is not something I’m particularly good at.)
Dry leaf is always a bit hard for me – sweet and floral but also something stronger and heavier I can’t pinpoint.
Wet leaf is a beast. Starts all light, sweet and floral, some green nuttiness. I even got some very light red berries, like raspberries and redcurrant maybe. It darkens progressively. At various stages I get some rose, oxidized fruit, darker honey, and even spices like cinnamon and tonka bean.
Liquor also starts light – say acacia honey, and darkens with time to a deeper orange wildflower honey. It has a relatively think mouthfeel and quite a lot of bud hairs floating around even though there aren’t that many buds in the leaf. The hairs produce a sort of scratchiness in the back of the throat that I am not very fond of but I guess that’s what it feels being part of the Dark Side (phhhhhh… phoooo… phhhhhh… phoooo… I’m Vader).
The taste isn’t as complex as the wet leaf smell but follows the same development. Starts light with flowers, honey and green nut milk(?) and by the end with the rose, spices and oxidation it’s almost like drinking a very light black tea. (I wouldn’t know what kind as I haven’t had that many blacks so far but I’ll have to work on that.)
I don’t often mention body sensation because I’m relatively new with tea, and coffee was never my thing, so I almost always get the caffeine rush. This tea is no exception. It’s not as strong as sheng puerh but I’m definitely wide awake and alert.
Overall I’m pretty happy with this tea. It’s most interesting to follow it along its transformation. I wonder how it will age so I’d consider buying a cake.
Flavors: Floral, Fruity, Honey, Spices
This is an interesting one. Starts rather vegetal, roasty, smoky even. Reminds me of a spread/dip/chutney that is very popular here in Bulgaria which we call lyutenitsa… good luck pronouncing that. It’s made with roasted sweet red peppers and tomatoes and everyone you ask will tell you that their homemade version is the best (or at least it used to be like that in my childhood, people are oh so busy nowadays).
This savoriness is accompanied by a controlled dose of astringency and bitterness. Be careful with steeping time though. I totally forgot steep 8 or 9 and after soaking for a good 5 minutes or so it was insanely bitter. I drank it all the same, we must not blame the tea for our inadequacies. Anyway, don’t pay me much heed, I’m a sucker for a good negroni… or three, so my taste buds have had some training.
Mid-session this tea takes a sharp U-turn. All the savory goodness is replaced by sweetness, honey, apricots and flowers, something slightly herbal as well. A most intriguing development. The astringency is oblivious to this sudden change of character and keeps diligently to its business, not faltering for an instant.
As for the feeling, I did get a slight buzz but nothing too crazy. I most certainly didn’t believe I could walk on my hands… on the ceiling… blindfolded. Some shengs do make me feel this way. This is not one of those shengs and it’s OK with me.
It was a really pleasant journey.
Flavors: Apricot, Astringent, Floral, Honey, Roasted, Sweet, Vegetal
A good everyday shou with a twist. The smell of the wet leaf builds expectations for something quite sweet but the liquor has a pleasant subtle sweetness, reminiscent of dark caramel. There is some of the characteristic earthiness and forest floor of shou, but again in the pleasant end of the spectrum with no off-putting tastes. I also get some very subtle notes of dark berries and cacao beans. What surprised me, and I went so far as to call a “twist” in this otherwise uninventive tea, was the fresh, almost minty, feeling I perceived after each sip. Quite pleasing.
This is a cheap and unfussy shou, perfect for a busy day at work or when you’re feeling too lazy for a 20-step gongfu session.
Flavors: Berries, Cacao, Caramel, Sugar, Sweet
I’ve been rather inattentive in my tea sessions of late so I tried to steer away from tasting new stuff knowing I won’t do it justice. With the arrival of a new batch of tasters, however, I fell victim to temptation. Following are the attempts to put in word some chaotic observations.
I have to admit I couldn’t fall in love with this tea. I was probably expecting something fruitier and sweeter. Yes there was fruit – apricots, apples, and some sweetness too, but it felt somewhat short. The astringency was prominent, though that too faded away relatively quickly. There was also some woodiness and, in the initial infusions, some vegetal notes (green bell pepper?). All in all not a bad tea, but not amazing either. Still, I feel like I need to revisit this in the not too distant future.
Flavors: Apple, Apricot, Astringent, Floral, Hay, Mineral, Vegetal, Wood
This is the first time I took notes during a tea session. Normally I just go with the flow and write the review from memory. Taking notes definitely means having more data to work with in the end but I do wonder if I don’t lose something in the process, if, like in quantum mechanics, through the act of observation I change the outcome. Anyway, without further ado, let’s get down to business.
I set my kettle to 95C (203F) and plop the 8g ball in my 130ml gaiwan. I rinse for 20s in order for the ball to start unfolding.
1. 15s steep leads to a rather light liquor, the color of elderflower syrup. The taste is light s well with hints of flowers and muscatel grapes.
2. 20s steep gives a slightly darker liquor which now resembles white grape juice. some bitterness starts to emerge. Aroma of baked tomatoes which I sometimes get in other sheng pu-erhs as well. Taste is sweet and floral with apricots, green apple and quince.
3. Down to 15s in an attempt to escape the bitterness. No luck, it’s still there ant slightly stronger too. The ball has now fully opened. Perhaps it’s a bit much for my gaiwan. Liquor color is light gold. I get apricots and peaches. Green apple turns to yellow, more ripe one. Mouthfeel as if eating quince, drying and somewhat astringent. I get floral notes after the bitterness dissipates. A hint of linden blossom maybe? some lingering sweetness.
4. An even shorter steep, around 12s. Still bitter, slightly vegetal too. Golden color. Strong fruit notes – muscatel, apricots and quince. Floral retronasal olfaction, I get magnolia on the outbreath as I do often with sheng pu-erh. The empty gong dao bei gives of meadow honey and hay. Sudden sweetness after everything has calmed down.
5. Up to 18s again and another spike of bitterness. Liquor acquires an orange tinge, like light honey. Still sweet and fruity with some stewed apple and quince compote. The floral aroma is building up.
6. I decide to add some cold water to the kettle and bring the temperature down to 85C (185F). Let’s see if that affects the bitterness. And it does. After a 25s steep bitterness is much less present than before. Color is just a wee bit lighter. Taste of apples, prunes and honey. Slightly less floral than steep 5.
7. 30s steep again at 85C. Color stays the same. Bitterness is more manageable. Taste is stewed fruit. Flowers are back and strong. On one of the sips I get an unexpected hit of medicinal bitterness at the back of the throat but it goes away quickly. There’s strong sweetness on the tip of the tongue and a mouthwatering effect.
8. 35s, color holding, no development in taste. Liquor starting to thin out but still pleasant.
9. 42s, taste is lighter – apple, plum and quince compote with floral finish.
10. 1:30 minutes, color darkens slightly, but taste feels slightly water albeit still quite aromatic.
I could probably have squeezed a couple more infusions out of this but my head was already buzzing so I stooped here. The quince dryness goes away and leaves behind long lasting floral sweetness. Overall this tea is quite good though with a bit of astringency to overcome.
Flavors: Apple, Apricot, Bitter, Floral, Fruity, Green Apple, Hay, Honey, Muscatel, Peach, Plum, Stewed Fruits, Sweet, Vegetal
Fall is here and there’s no mistaking it. The days have been getting progressively shorter for some weeks now, and the sky is overcast and slate gray and gloomy. It’s been raining for days on end and you’ve almost gotten used to this somber weather… almost…
The week has finally trickled through. You wake up late on a Saturday laced with hopes for a few brief moments of sunshine. You look out the window and the sky is overcast still but it has this yellowish tinge to it and you can tell where the sun is, already high above the horizon. That’s good enough for you, you’re already planning your quick getaway in the nearby mountains. Put on your hiking pants and a warm sweater and pull on your favorite pair of merino wool socks, your well-worn trekking boots. Brew a kettle of shou and brew it strong – you need something to kick-start your systems. Grab one of the packets of dried fruit you keep stashed for when you crave some quick carbs. You really love those dried apricots and prunes. You put it in your backpack along with your thermos and a raincoat just in case. One foot out the door, almost as an afterthought you decide to fill one of your wind jacket pockets with the cacao beans you roasted just last night and left on your kitchen table to cool down overnight. Another thing to nibble on while you walk the trails.
You get out of the car and are immediately greeted with fresh forest air. It’s a beautiful forest, mostly broadleaves interspersed by small islands of evergreen conifers. You can spot beech and birch, ash and maple and oak, pine and spruce. The track is covered with fallen leaves, still wet from the rain. The scent of damp rich forest soil fills your nostrils. You savor each breath, every moment away form the noise of the city. You walk down the trail and slowly sip at your tea, it’s strength balancing perfectly with the sweet dried fruit and the bittersweet cacao beans. You feel both energized and peaceful, aware of your surrounding but oblivious to time. A ray of sunshine breaks through the canopy and is seeking you. The sun is out at last.
Flavors: Apricot, Cacao, Forest Floor, Pine, Plum, Wet Earth, Wet Wood
Judging by my sample these are quite lightly pressed cakes. I just pulled it apart by hand and used 7 g in a 130 ml gaiwan. I got somewhere between 12 and 15 steeps split between two sessions. I always seem to lose the count, maybe I should start taking notes. Started with a quick rinse and a 10s first steep slowly increasing up to minute and a half for the last. Liquor is dark golden, amber, with a slight reddish hue.
The taste has the generic sheng vibe as expected. Some woody notes, a bit of bitterness, some flowers. What I liked about this tea are the fruity notes and the way they come and go and transform into one another. I got white grapes, plums, apricots, peaches, strawberry jam. Good stuff.
Flavors: Apricot, Bitter, Floral, Fruity, Honey, Jam, Peach, Plum, Strawberry, White Grapes, Wood
I don’t know if I did something wrong but I got almost nothing out of this tea. The wet leaf had a nice light orange peel scent but I just couldn’t find it in the taste. Otherwise it was a pretty generic shou, clean tasting, nothing impressive. Color of the liquor wasn’t too dark, I’d say more of a caramel color. I intentionally left the last few infusions (8-10?) sit upwards of a minute and a half. The last one I totally forgot and it probably steeped for a good 10-15 minutes. Still nothing.
I definitely have to revisit this at some point. I’ll have to experiment with more leaf, boiling water instead of 95C and longer steeps right from the start. I’ll also have to get my hands on another chenpi pu-erh for cross reference. So far I’m just not impressed.
I had this last night as an attempt to tone down the caffeine intake. I should really try to limit my vespertine pu-erh adventures but mornings and I just don’t get along. But back to tea… and what a tea this is.
Opening my taster pack right off the bat I get blasted by a powerful floral bouquet. For the strength alone I get the analogy with censers. But I guess this is also where I draw the line for this comparison. In my mind incense is inherently tied to smoky and resinous notes which I can’t find in the tea. The liquor has a bright yellow golden straw color which does darken a bit as I go. The taste has the same floral oomph.
A summer meadow with bales of hay, still slightly green. The sun is high in the sky and the heated grass and wild flowers release their intoxicating sweet aroma in the air. You can hear the busy bees buzzing about and can almost taste the wild flower honey – the fruit of their endless dance. It’s summer still and the chestnut trees in the distance are still a pleasant deep green, offering their shadow to the weary traveler. Come autumn the forest will be ablaze in yellow, red and ocher, and you’ll return here treasure hunting for the shiny brown chestnuts. Your mouth waters with the memory of last year’s sablés à la châtaigne fresh out of the oven. Close your eyes and breathe in the warm fragrant air. You are at peace.
Flavors: Chestnut, Floral, Green, Hay, Honey, Nutty, Sweet