Most Memorable Teas of 2019

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Marco at Steap’d has challenged us all to share our most memorable teas of 2019 and, thinking back, I can think of so many right off the top of my head (which I suppose is what makes them “memorable”). 2019 brought a lot of tea growth for me, so I think this merits a blog post rather than a series of Instagram posts. So here we go.

First of all, my most memorable tea moments of 2019 had nothing to do with specific teas. 2019 was the year that I really started to connect with the tea community at large, particularly through Instagram. I think having a long chunk of time at home on maternity leave helped, as did just feeling my own personal identity get dismantled and rebuilt through the ordeal of motherhood (ordeal in the “transformative event” sense, not in the “it’s so horrible” sense). 2019 was the year that I realized that, yes, I am a tea blogger. I may have pretended to be a beauty blogger in the past, but my true passion lies in what I pour into my face, not on it. And part of that self-definition came from meeting wonderful people, virtually and otherwise, like Marco and Nazanin and all the others I’ve met on social media. I hope that 2020 will bring more tea meetups, as well as some exciting tea adventures, some of which are already being planned.

Now, I want to say that these are not reviews or even tasting notes of the teas I’m mentioning. This is strictly Jenn’s story time about the teas that have stood out to her this year and why they might have felt more special. If I have a tasting or video featuring them, I will link it, but the primary purpose of this post is to be utter fluff and nostalgia.

Hojicha.Co Dark Roast Hojicha

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This one comes first because this was the tea that not only re-introduced me to hojicha, but also started me realizing that I love roasted teas. I think it was the day that Hojicha.co announced that they were selling their hojicha powder in 100g packets that I went to their site and bought one of everything. I started with the Gold Roast because it seemed more appropriate to the season, and it was good, but as the weather cooled down, I decided to crack open the dark roast. And, wow.

I featured this hojicha in my “Hobbits and Hojicha” video because it is the perfect tea for autumn. It reminds me of cozy blankets and fires in the fireplace, and I imagine I’m going to drink it throughout the winter as well. And Megan from Tea Musings has suggested that I try mixing the Dark Roast and the Gold Roast, which is something I’m excited to try as soon as I restock my Dark Roast.

Lapsang Souchong

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Not all memories are fond ones, and I think the face I made when I tasted a smoked Lapsang in this video should make the list. While this year was the year that I discovered I liked roasted teas, this was also the year that I confirmed that I dislike smoked teas. I did have a rather nice unsmoked Lapsang, which was akin to finding out I enjoy unoaked Chardonnay, but the real memorable taste is the utter regret I felt at brewing up a cup of the tarry stuff. Definitely not my cup of tea.

Storm King Tea Full-Leaf Phugri Estate Darjeeling

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When I was chatting with Mark of Storm King Teas on Instagram, it came up that I was rather enjoying the Phugri Estate Darjeeling I got in a sampler from his company earlier this year. I featured this tea in my historical tea video about Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford simply because I love its delicacy and complexity so much. I never drank very much Darjeeling before this year and both this tea and the regular Phugri Estate Darjeeling from Mark’s shop changed that for me.

Old Ways Tea Shui Jin Gui

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This was the year that I discovered yancha in earnest. While I’ve had yancha before, I hadn’t really explored it as a style before this year. And I definitely fell in love. I started with an order from Old Ways Tea, and initially opened the Shui Xians and Rou Gui I ordered because the notes on the Shui Jin Gui suggested that the roast was still a bit fresh and might do with a bit of a sit.

Well, in an Instagram live session, Marco mentioned that he had a Shui Jin Gui that tasted like orange, so I decided to make that my morning yancha session that day, and I was blown away. Yancha in general is a new favorite for me, and Shui Jin Gui is probably my second favorite yancha now. I get notes of allspice, orange peel, and burnt sugar, so I think it tastes like Christmas. In fact, I woke up on Christmas morning and had a session with this tea under the Christmas tree!

Floating Leaves Tea Taiwan Da Hong Pao

Speaking of yancha, this was the year that I decided my favorite tea is Da Hong Pao. Of course, I’d had it before, but this was the year I really decided it was my favorite tea, out of all the lovely teas I enjoy. And this Taiwan Da Hong Pao from Floating Leaves Tea (which is in the photo at the top of this post) was instrumental in that discovery about myself.

This tea is both unmistakably Da Hong Pao, and also unmistakably Taiwanese. It doesn’t have as much strong rock taste as the Chinese Da Hong Paos I’ve tried this year, but from the rinse, you get Da Hong Pao from the aroma. And it does take a little bit to get going in flavor because it’s rolled, but once it does, it’s definitely Da Hong Pao, but with the soft honey sweetness that I associate with Taiwanese oolongs.

Naoki Matcha 2019 Chiran Harvest

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I severely reduced my matcha consumption this year, possibly because I just preferred the experience of brewing leaves. But this matcha from Naoki Matcha was enlightening. As I mentioned in my video tasting, it’s probably the nicest matcha I’ve tried to date. I was fortunate enough to get to taste it for free, after responding to a call for tasters in Naoki’s newsletter, but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t actually as expensive as I thought it would be.

If you’re new to matcha, this is an easily-accessible one in the States and it’s a fantastic example of what good matcha tastes like. If you have the means, definitely splash out for it, rather than getting one of the swamp-water matchas on Amazon like I started with.

Yunnan Sourcing 2011 Mengku Grade 3 Ripe Puerh Mini Tuo Cha

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This was also the year that I decided to buckle down and learn a little something about puerh. And this ripe puerh sample from Yunnan Sourcing was both the beginning of my exploration and the beginning of my switch from reviewing teas to sharing tasting notes.

Before tasting this puerh, I hadn’t really ever had a puerh that really tasted sweet more than earthy, but this one showed me the variation in flavor in a good ripe puerh. I’ve spent the rest of the year exploring raw puerh mostly, but puerh in general is likely to be a theme of my 2020 if I find more like this.

TeaVivre Shou Mei Cake in my Silver Teapot

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This isn’t really the specific tea, but more a technique that was suggested to me by Misha at Path of Cha. I bought this Shou Mei cake from TeaVivre rather on a whim when I was exploring teas that I could get on Amazon, and I was rather underwhelmed by it. So it got tucked in the back of my tea cabinet, and later packed in a box, and then unpacked and rediscovered when I moved this year. But it wasn’t until Misha suggested trying it in silver that I even opened it back up again.

And I was really surprised by the complexities of flavor. I even experimented with boiling it. It’s such an all-seasons tea, with a lot of interest. I think I’ll probably share this one the next time I have people over to taste teas. Plus, it’s an example of giving a “meh” tea a second chance.

So those are my 2019 most memorable teas. What are yours?

NB: Some of these teas were provided as gifts or in exchange for featuring in their own posts. All thoughts here are my own, and full disclosures will be with the tea’s individual posts.

Christmas Tea Tasting: Earl Grey from Lumbini Tea Valley

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Every year, on Christmas morning when I was a child, I would wake up as is traditional at an absurd hour of the morning. Now, my father was an early riser and did not much notice or care that I was up with the sun, but my mother appreciates her sleep. So in order to help her wake up, the rule was that we could only open gifts once someone made my mother a cup of tea. That usually fell to me, and I would make her favorite tea: Earl Grey with a quarter teaspoon of sugar. To this day, Earl Grey is one of my favorite comfort teas, and I love it in tea lattes or as a scent in things.

So, while Earl Grey tea will always remind me of my mother, it has a particularly special meaning on Christmas. This made it seem like a fitting tasting for Christmas Eve’s Tasting Tuesday. I received this as part of my pack of free samples from Lumbini Tea Valley, of which I started posting notes last week. This is a Ceylon tea based Earl Grey, which is interesting because originally Earl Grey was said to be a scented Chinese tea, gifted to the second Earl Grey in the early 19th century, before the beginning of large-scale tea cultivation in Sri Lanka, but the origin story of the tea is largely believed to be apocryphal, and the first published references to the tea were in the late 19th century, though one tea blender claims to have been blending Earl Grey since 1830. Who knows which is right? All that said, Earl Grey is a well-known blend these days and is based on a variety of black teas from all over the tea-cultivating world.

I used 1.4 g of tea leaves for 105 ml of water for my tasting, in a small ceramic teapot. The dry leaf smelled lightly of bergamot, but with a strong white floral note. After steeping for the first time with boiling water for two minutes, the floral was stronger and was more identifiable as gardenia or lily. The liquor was a medium apricot color with a distinct floral aroma. The flavor was not overpowered by bergamot. This definitely had the feel of a tea to which bergamot was added to enhance the natural flavors of the tea, rather than to mask them. The citrus notes of bergamot almost feel like another note of the tea’s aroma and flavor itself rather than an added scent. It’s quite floral with a sweet, malty aftertaste. It had no astringency with a creamy, medium-dry mouthfeel and a lingering light peach or apricot aftertaste.

I got two additional steepings from the tea, both lighter in flavor and color than the first. The second steeping was again for two minutes with boiling water. It had a lighter flavor, with more floral than citrus. The third steeping, done for three minutes in boiling water, was lighter still. I added a twist of lemon peel to augment the citrus flavor, which was delicious without adding the acidity of lemon juice

NB: I was sent these samples free of charge from Lumbini Tea Valley in exchange for giving my honest thoughts about them. For more information about my tea tasting posts, read why I’ve switched from reviewing to tasting notes. Please contact me if you are interested in collaboration or sponsorship.