Tea Review: Path of Cha Da Hong Pao and Golden Monkey

NB: The teas featured here were sent to me in exchange for review. All thoughts are my own.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to win a couple teas from Path of Cha on Instagram, and I was thoroughly enjoying them. About a month or so later, Angie from Path of Cha reached out and asked if I’d be interested in trying more and reviewing them on the blog, so I agreed readily. We discussed a bit and I mentioned how the cooling weather has me craving some darker oolongs and black teas, so they put together a couple of black and oolong teas for me to try. Less than a week later, I had my package in hand (similarly to how quickly my giveaway winnings arrived) and I’ve been enjoying trying them out. I suppose since I’ve finished one and I’m nearly finished with the other, it’s time to offer my review.

First of all, Path of Cha has fantastic service in terms of website and shipping. Their website is full of information for anyone at any point in their tea journey. I’ve enjoyed their blog and YouTube channel for a while, and the individual listings for each tea give a good amount of information, including little stories about each tea. They’re located in Brooklyn, NY, so it’s not surprising that the tea gets to me quite quickly. And shipping is free for orders over $40 and under $4 otherwise. But perhaps my favorite thing is that they obviously personalize the instructions on each package. Each package has a suggested water temperature, and parameters for brewing Western style and gong fu style. They don’t make any judgments on how you enjoy your tea.

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“Golden Monkey” Jin Hou Black Tea: This is a classic Chinese black tea, and the Path of Cha version is a delightful representation of it. I first tried this tea on a morning when I didn’t have time for a full tea session because we were meeting friends for a walk on a Saturday morning and I just needed something warm and caffeinated to put in a flask. It certainly fit that bill. I steeped it Western-style and had to pour it into the flask after just a few sips, and it held beautifully, warming me on an early morning walk around the garden.

When I had more time, I was able to explore it gong fu style and really taste the full development of flavors. I got chocolate and malt from the aroma of the dry leaf, which is curly and flecked with gold tips. The first infusion or so is mellow and delicate, with burnt sugar and honey in the aroma and malt and cereal in the flavor, but it expands into something very rich and round and perfect for cooler weather, with just enough astringency that you know you’re drinking black tea, but not so much that your mouth dries out or you feel the need to add anything to it. As the flavors develop, I get fruitcake and brandy, so I imagine this will work well into winter. It lasted about six steepings before the flavor started to fade, but it faded so slowly that I got another few steepings before it really felt spent.

It’s such a well-balanced tea that it works beautifully steeped grandpa-style. I’ve had plenty of mornings where I get up at 5:30, set the kettle before getting into the shower, and can make tea in less than a minute by chucking a couple grams into a mug and topping with water after I get out. Twenty-five grams of this tea sells for $10 on their website.

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Organic “Big Red Robe” Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea: I first tried Da Hong Pao for my tea sessions inspired by theĀ Crazy Rich AsiansĀ series, as it’s infamous as one of the most expensive teas in the world (when it comes from one of the original ancient trees). But non-ancient DHP is a delightful roasted oolong that doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. This one is only $14 for twenty-five grams.

I dove right into steeping this one gong fu style and was rewarded for my efforts. I went eight steepings with this and found each one a new experience. The aroma goes from caramel and biscuits on the dry leaf to a mineraly, almost peaty aroma on the wet leaf after a few steepings. The empty cup aroma has intense vanilla and pipe tobacco notes, with the roast and smokiness coming through later on. And the flavor is sweet and bright to begin, with the roast coming through later, but never with that old-coffee-grounds flavor that some over-roasted oolongs get. This stays smoky and with notes of bitter chocolate and sweetness. I don’t normally think of oolong as a tea with a lot of cha qi, but I definitely felt something after several steepings of this.

This one is also beautiful grandpa-style, though the complex flavors all kind of blend together, so I tried to stop myself from using this all up in the early mornings. But it’s rich and satisfying and just feels like sitting in front of a low fire with a soft cashmere blanket when I drink it. In fact, when a colleague offered me some caramel apple tea because she thought it tastes like fall, I decided to offer her some of this because this is what I think fall tastes like. I’ve hoarded it a bit, but I’m likely to finish it off this week, and I’m almost certain to buy some more.

Tea Review: Naoki Matcha Silver Yame Ceremonial Blend

Several weeks ago, one of my favorite tea bloggers posted a review of a matcha from Yame in Fukuoka prefecture. Now, given that I am currently in the process of planning a trip to Fukuoka, I was intrigued, and decided to buy some for myself. You may remember in this Sunday’s historical tea video, I featured this matcha while discussing a well-traveled woman who figured into the history of Japan’s tea culture, and mentioned that I would have to do a more in-depth review later. So here is that review.

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First of all, I purchased the Silver Yame Ceremonial Blend Matcha from Naoki’s own site, though they also sell on Amazon if you absolutely must have your matcha in two days. But my experience on Naoki’s website was pleasant enough not to feel the need to patronize Amazon. I paid $22.99 for 40g, which is actually a bit less than it’s currently listed for on their site (there was apparently a website glitch when I ordered, but they honored the price). It’s currently listed at $24.99 for 40g, which is about $0.62 per gram, and pretty solidly mid-pack for price among the high-quality matchas I drink. They also offer free shipping. I placed my order on a Sunday, it shipped on the Tuesday, and I received it Friday, so less than a week’s turnaround was quite the treat for someone used to waiting for shipping from halfway around the world.

For the video, I decided to pre-sift a few teaspoons of matcha into a clean, reused tin from Ippodo (if you happen to recognize the logo in the picture), instead of sifting it directly into the bowl like I often do. The matcha sifted easily because it’s a nice, soft, fine powder. It whisks well with no residual clumps, even after I’d stored the pre-sifted powder in the fridge for a day or two. I did have a little trouble getting a good froth the first two times I whisked it, but I later got the hang of it. Perhaps I’m just out of practice.

Tasting this matcha for the first time was a revelation. It was sweet, creamy, and mild. It reminded me of the time I ordered a rye and soda and was convinced they’d given me Sprite because the soda added such a pronounced sweetness to the rye. The first sip of this was just so smooth. And then the sweetness and richness develops into an umami aftertaste as you finish your three sips. I’m loathe to overuse the word buttery (Tracy), but, yes, the description “buttery” would apply here. This would be a very nice starter matcha for someone who wants to taste the good stuff and doesn’t want to be hit with really complicated flavors. It’s also really nice for the summer when I’m just too darn hot to have a serious conversation with my tea.

So, once again, Oolong Owl has steered me right. I suppose the dual morals of this story are that you should try Naoki Silver Yame matcha (and that I will likely want to try others of their offerings), and that you should follow Oolong Owl’s blog and allow her to enable you with wild abandon.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and was given no incentive to feature or review it.