158 Tasting Notes

drank Royal Garland by Samovar
158 tasting notes

Hands down, without a doubt, one of my favorite teas that I’ve ever encountered, and it deserves a big rating bump for that. It’s true that I go through periods where I really don’t want that high and shining note of darjeeling-esque tartness, but this has ever so much more than that going on. It’s so incredibly rich…it smells like a fruit I’d want to grill, cut up and serve warm on a salad drizzled with citrus dressing. The more I drink it, the more I adore it. I won’t reorder every tin I’ve ever purchased from Samovar…but I have a hard time imagining being without this particular tea.

175 °F / 79 °C 3 min, 30 sec

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Expended all of my extracurricular babbling on yesterday’s tasting note, alas, but I don’t need to write much to say what I want to say about this one (especially since I’ve already written one for this tea):

Yummy. Apples are sweet, and it’s good with black tea, and I like it.

I’m still not really sure that I get more than the very barest impression of honey here, but it doesn’t matter, because the apples are sweet, and it’s good with black tea, and I like it.


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Based on a true story:

The life of the would-be author is as stymied in the modern era by a blank screen as those who went before found themselves daunted by the empty page. The subconscious processes data in images, symbols, rather than words, and so words are in themselves merely placeholders for symbols, and symbols are powerful things. We assign them omenic power over our creativity, but perhaps none of them are so potent as the empty page, significant not for what it contains but what it does not.

The difference, one supposes, is the readiness with which the screen can be made to do distracting tricks, all of the colorful, noisy glamour of the modern era at the touch of the button. Procrastination is practically effortless.

A piece of paper will simply lie there and stare you down. I’m not disciplined enough as a writer yet to win that particular staring contest. Not that I can claim to have beaten the blinking of an upright cursor yet either, mind you; that infernal flickering line is fairly adept at marking the endless stretches of minutes during which absolutely nothing of any value occurs to me to type about or, worse, I find midway through my typing that what I’m typing has none.

Blast it.

I have to be in the mood for this tea. There are times when the immense pressure to create something (see: sludge into a diamonds) sends me running for the cabinet in search of something comforting. You’ve (I’ve) got to get out of the trenches, abandon the maginot, and convalesce.

Sit. Sip. Ruminate. You get to a point where you think in words, after a time, which would be horrifying if you didn’t like them so much. If you didn’t enjoy them beyond the point of practical decency, even; to a point of near-obscenity, nursing a deep and secret love of language at the very real peril of turning your lexicon into a purple, frothy, reprehensibly verbose mess. Place them mindfully onto the page, don’t sick them up everywhere, for the love of all that’s holy! But these words exist, anyway: bituminous, intaglio, abrogate, effulgent. Mental snack food, chewy and easy to over-do it with, completely without substance in and of themselves.

Still, you sit and sip the tea and indulge in a few minutes of shameless inventory of various adjectives to describe it, and finally arrive at the right one.

This tea, I think to myself, when properly timed, is sublime.

So you stop, and mull, and look into your cup.

Sublime: it is a word that has roots of slightly muddy origin. Generally assumed in casual conversation to be synonymous in many ways with ‘divine’, there is a great deal more to the nature of the word than first appearances suggest; its etymology connects it to ‘lintel’ (Latin: ‘limen’) — the crossbeam that forms the apex of a doorway. ‘Sublime’ must therefore be extracted thus: to pass beneath a threshold, therefore through a door. The awe and divinity encapsulated within the word are very specific, then, as pertaining to the exaltation and rapturous euphoria one experiences as they pass into the unknown across some threshold, real or imagined.

In this roundabout way, you come across the hot iron of a fresh idea, and strike. The tragedy in the tale is that the cup of tea that served as your muse for the evening sits nearby, nearly-and-not-quite finished, and goes cold, but in a surprise twist, is every bit as sweet on the tepid finish as it was a few minutes — no…what, really?…make that…two hours? — before, when it came to your rescue while you flagged at the keys.


This post is made of awesome rolled in diamonds. Really.

Jim Marks

Post-modern era. Some would even say Neo-post-modern. ;-)


I like the name of this tea. It sounds like some sort of boss from Shadow of the Colossus or Zelda. Sort of like my coffee grinder – “Conical Burr Grinder TITAN”.


@Angr: I realize we’re probably not supposed to treat steepster like a tea blog, but…you know. ;) <3

@Jim: Even thinking about these things makes my head hurt. I had my dose of that this year from House of Leaves!

@Harf: Or some kind of kung fu maneuver!


Sophistre, hey, my posts have all kinds of stuff in them half the time that isn’t strictly tea related. Pu-erh associations to happy cows named Mabel for example springs to mind here. :p

Jim Marks

That was a book I liked much more than I expected to, given the novelty nature and the genre.


Agree. Someone I mentioned it to told me that they couldn’t decide if it was completely self-absorbed, over-intellectual BS, or totally brilliant. My assessment is probably that it’s both.

Jim Marks

Brilliance requires a high level of self awareness, unfortunately.


Love it. Makes me want to go read some Pynchon.

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drank Fujian Baroque by Adagio Teas
158 tasting notes

I’m surprised I hadn’t rated this by now, but I’m sort of glad that I didn’t, as I don’t think I’d tried several Golden Monkey cups of tea before I bought this. I would’ve missed the similarities, or at least not have been able to spot the differences. I’ve had it for quite a while, and just been off on other tea adventures since then.

It has that very same bake-y, flour-on-the-bottom-of-a-loaf-of-rural-bread flavor as Golden Monkey does, but the flavor isn’t quite as ‘clear’, prominent (either in the nose or on the palate) or as dry. There’s more fruit in the mix, too, but dark fruit…the flavor is, overall, a bit shadowy, but not too heavy.

I suppose I can interpret what I’m tasting as the cup cools as either cocoa or spice. I tend to lean toward cocoa, though, especially now that the tea isn’t as hot anymore.

Overall, not a bad cup of tea for this morning. I wanted something different and bracing, but with less caffeine than the Dawn I’ve had over the last several mornings (which seems to pack a pretty strong punch for me, for whatever reason).

205 °F / 96 °C 4 min, 0 sec

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drank Honeybee by The Simple Leaf
158 tasting notes

An interesting tea. I’m not sure how I feel about it. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not sure that I’ve had any other Nepalese tea.

It’s certainly an unusual flavor. It seems to be caught somewhere between a lighter, greener oolong and a darker, more chestnutty oolong. The result is…a bit nutty and a bit floral, all at the same time, but only very loosely. That’s the best way I can explain it — the tea’s flavors are loose. It gets sweet or tart toward the end, and after the sip.

I’m sitting here wondering if I’m crazy, because the combination of flavors results in something that seems to be like…floral, but also something a bit like…coffee. Which is not to say that the tea tastes like coffee at first sip, but while I’m wading through the melange of flavors here, or even the scents from the tepid cup, I keep thinking that there’s something about it that reminds me of it…as though it were barely there, and I had accidentally steeped a very mild, florally fruity oolong in a cup in which I had had coffee at some point (I don’t even own coffee, so that is assuredly impossible).

It’s drinkable because it’s very mellow, but I don’t think it’s the kind of tea I need to have in my cupboard. Maybe I’ll try it over ice next time, though.

175 °F / 79 °C 3 min, 0 sec

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drank Strawberry Matcha by 52teas
158 tasting notes


Been a while since I had any in my collection. The only matcha I have ever bought and personally owned was from Teavana, though I’ve sipped it in restaurants and other places. This, then, I will only really be able to compare to Teavana’s matcha in terms of the quality of the powder.

Not an easy prospect, because of the way in which this is blended with the freeze-dried strawberry powder. The resulting color of the matcha is pretty dark…more like a drab, olive green khaki color than that electrified, super-saturated emerald-green that I’ve come to equate with good, un-diluted matcha powder. I will have to give them the benefit of the doubt as far as that goes, and assume it’s because of the muddying of the strawberry.

There’s really no mistaking the scent, either. Anybody to have bought cereal with freeze-dried strawberry in it, or tins of unsulfered, completely dried fruit will immediately recognize the smell, sweet and, to me, slightly starchy or bready in some way.

I decided, since I haven’t had matcha in a while, to have it this morning in my very favorite way to have it: as a latte. Taken this way, it’s quite a treat!

For reference: 2 1/2 cups water heated over medium heat on the stove in a pot, until steaming but not simmering or boiling. Add 2 rounded teaspoons of matcha, sifted (I use a wire teapot infuser basket and grate it through with the end of the teaspoon). Whisk! Added 1 cup whole milk, whisked until foamy and fluffy and steaming again, then poured into a cup.

Usually my proportions here are different, and usually when it’s regular matcha I add a blob of honey, but I didn’t want to tamper with the flavor of the strawberries. I’m glad that I didn’t — that starchy, powdery aftertaste of the dried strawberry goes really well with the creaminess of the milk.

Taken this way, the matcha tastes essentially the way that it smells, but less sharp, which may very well owe itself to the milk. I like that the matcha isn’t crushed out by either the milk or the strawberry, too…it’s a really decadent trifecta of flavors. It has me thinking that it would make a really delicious ice cream.


sophistre – thanks for adding the latte recipe – I am collecting these recipes (along with chai recipes) for when I get up my nerve to try them again! I haven’t (so far) been too successful but I live in hope….


Sure! My amounts this morning were actually sort of wonky, so I’ll shoot you a message with the way I usually go (which I learned…somewhere on the internet, actually, so I can probably dig that up)…along with the way I do chai. I think my chai methods don’t really differ from the usual, though.

Lattes are surely not the most slimming way to take either of these, but it’s far and away my favorite!

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drank Tankha by The Simple Leaf
158 tasting notes

The Simple Leaf is two for two with me.

This is a complex tea…and so probably destined to become one of my favorites. I chose this for this evening because of the leaves, which are quite lovely in their variegated appearance.

Tankha, it must be said, is remarkably similar to Samovar’s Royal Garland while hot. It’s not nearly as rich, and it’s a lighter cup of tea by all accounts, but there are striking similarities…the fruity, shining darjeeling flavor with a lingering, nectary, honeysuckle element. It lacks the thicker taste of dense fruit…and yet I hesitate to call it ‘floral’, though I suppose there’s something to that toward the last of the sip, and definitely some of that in the nose. I’m…actually having trouble pinning down flavors with any adequacy. I would not mistake this tea for Royal Garland…and yet, comparing the two is the closest I can get.

The second steep brews to a slightly darker shade, and produces a softer flavor…with, interestingly, a distinct aroma of lemons, without the sharpness you would expect.


170 °F / 76 °C 3 min, 30 sec

I’ve been wanting to place another TSL order lately… this might push me over the edge. I didn’t like Darjeelings so much a few years ago, but I think I need to give one a second try.


If it helps, it says this is an oolong. ;) Just grown in Darjeeling, and it certainly comes across in the flavor you get!


I need to purchase all of simple leaf’s teas! Argh… I need to clear out my tea cupboard first. Why does it always seem to be endless!

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I cannot (in this instance) tell a lie: I have been sort of afraid to place an order with 52teas.

I’d have to say that flavored teas aren’t really my go-to cup. I really marvel over the wide variety of flavors that Camellia Sinensis is capable of producing all on its lonesome, or at least with a little bit of environmental coaxing.

More, I’m wary of flavored teas because often, the flavors are…not believable.

Today I’ve had two offerings from 52teas, and I’ve liked them both. This is my second, and to be honest it was sort of an unusual flavor for me to choose, as apples are not really my go-to flavor for much of anything. Something about the combination of apple and honey was appealing enough for me to want to give it a try, though, so…here we are.

It’s a subtle tea, to be certain, but quite good. There were chunks of dried apple in the tea leaves. Despite the warning that ‘this tea may be sticky’, there was no rampant clumping of honey-saturated leaves going on, which is good. ;) The smell of the dried leaves doesn’t quite reflect the taste of the tea.

And that taste is…again, very subtle. There’s mild black tea as a base. You sip, and if you hold the tea in your mouth, you get the taste of dried apple…and then on the swallow you get a little bit of its sweet tartness unfolding in your mouth, especially along the sides of the tongue. Definitely apple. Honey may have a presence here, but if so, it’s very mild.

I seem to remember someone always searching for well-done apple teas. I am sort of hoping it’s Jillian so that I can send her some in recompense for my perpetually delayed shipment of sample tea!

205 °F / 96 °C 4 min, 30 sec

I don’t know…I might have said something along those lines in the past, although I’ve also said the same about mango teas. But hey, if you’re willing to share I certainly won’t say no! ;)

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drank Dawn by The Simple Leaf
158 tasting notes

I am seriously drowning in tea now. My orders from 52teas and The Simple Leaf both came in today, and now I’m starting to think that investing in a better tea storage solution is completely critical. This wouldn’t be such a disaster if I were capable of ordering just one or two samples, but I’m really not. My counter is a minefield of new tea.

Soooo, anyway!

What can I say about this tea that other people haven’t already said?

Opening the bag, you’re hit with the scent of cocoa powder — the light, fluffy, dusty kind. To me, the aroma was a lot like chocolate milk. Everyone to remark on the leaves themselves is utterly in earnest — they are incredible. Thick, woody, substantial, smooth. They are tea leaves that you could kill a man with. They have heft.

They are also very difficult to estimate by eye, reinforcing for me that a scale is something I’m overdue to invest in.

Steeped, while still very hot the aroma slips occasionally toward something distinctly honey. Honey and cocoa are definitely there…and so is a woody depth that reminds me not just a little bit of Golden Moon’s Imperial Formosa Oolong. You never lose sight of the fact that this is tea, either; what I think of as the quintessential tea flavor is there, but darker, shadowed.

The other note I can identify is one I’ve gone back and forth about adding here for reasons that will become obvious, but it’s just so prevalent that I can’t really see any way to get around it:


Not fresh. More like…hash. Why yes, I did spend a few years in my youth doing things you’re not technically allowed by our country to do!

Seriously, though, it’s there. In small quantities, and more like the memory of something than the fact of it, but recurrent enough that this note would be incomplete without its mention.

For all that the list of flavors is dark…the tea itself is surprisingly not so, with a very low and subtle sweetness on the tail end that uplifts the oolong-like fullness in the mouth.

A delicious tea, and completey worthy of whatever ranting and raving people have been doing.

PS: Good for a second steep.

200 °F / 93 °C 3 min, 45 sec

chocolate pot?!?!?! Normally the weirder the tea, the more I want to try it, but that scares me… Every year I go to reality haunted house and one of the rooms smells EXACTLY like pot smoke (I’ve been told)… I’m also allergic to cigarett/cigar smoke (not campfire oddly enough)… But maybe between the chocolate and the pot this would help my chronic pain. Samovar’s Ryokucha has been discribed as crack, so this doesn’t surprise me lol.


Great review. I agree with you about the aroma. Right now my tea is stored in a system of cardboard boxes: there’s a rooibos box that I glare at; a green tea box, and a black box and then an herbal tisanes box. But I’m going to start sub-dividing: I need a box for smoky blacks and for floral blacks and for fruity blacks.


Haha, Cofftea. It really doesn’t scream ‘cannabis’, in case you’re worried. You would never smell it and immediately think that; there would never be any risk of mistaking one for the other. Think of it as being more like…the various floral or fruit notes you can pull out of an oolong, for instance. It’s not the fruit or flower, but it shares similarities that trigger parallels for you, even when very subtle.

Doulton: But where do you keep your boxes? That is the question! My cabinet…is too small! I should probably invest in some sort of counter-top chest…hmm.


Killer review. You definitely make me want to try…for reminiscent flavours and all…

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drank Holiday Tea by Harney & Sons
158 tasting notes

Last of the bags that Jillian sent.

This tea is pretty forgiving, it seems; the second one I had I forgot in my cup thanks to a phone call and it was still delicious. Something in the combinations of the spices seems to linger after you swallow, hanging out in your belly like a warm battery, and there’s a sweetness that makes it really appealing even now, when the sun is finally out and the holiday season is the very last thing on my mind.

While it’s not a huge production for me to brew tea — since I use an in-cup infuser in a 16oz cup, and the zoji keeps me flush in hot water — it’s sort of nice to have bagged tea around too, admittedly. This probably makes me the laziest person on earth.

Yeah, I’m a fan. I definitely plan to nab a tin of this, when I finally place a proper order.

Thanks, Jillian!

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Ohhh, I dunno. I like tea but I’m kind of a tea newbie. At this point I can say with authority that I may never be anything else, no matter how many teas I try…there is always something new out there.

I write a lot.

I also play way too many video games.

Ratings! (Bout time, wot?) This is a new arrangement, so…subject to change!

1-10: Not potable. First-sip disasters.

11-30: Intensely unpleasant…won’t catch me finishing the cup.

31-50: I really don’t like it…but maybe somebody else out there would.

51-70: Drinkable, but probably not the first thing I’m going to reach for.

71-90: Pretty good tea, and stuff that there’s a good chance I’ll have on-hand. Will do in a pinch at the low end, all the way up to regular visitors to my infuser on the high end.

91-100: Teas I really do not want to be without.





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