Tuesday Tasting: Chi Lai Shan Spring Pick Oolong from Mountain Stream Teas

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I am continuing my look at high mountain Taiwanese oolongs today with the Chi Lai Shan spring pick oolong from Mountain Stream Teas (this is a conventional oolong that doesn’t seem to be available on their site anymore, but is from the same mountain as their Missed Opportunity). This one is a bit of an odd person out, as it is the only tea in my order that was not harvested in the winter season, but I wanted to try a different mountain, and this seemed to be the only tea from this mountain I could find at Mountain Stream.

I used 5g in my 120-ml gaiwan with 212F water, as with the others. I warmed the gaiwan and then smelled the warm, dry leaf, detecting aromas of green vegetables and warm spice cookies. I did not rinse the tea.

The first steeping was for thirty seconds. The liquor was very pale in color and had a light creamy floral aroma. The wet leaves had an aroma of a muddled variety of green vegetables and a sweet, creamy floral. The texture was surprisingly milky with a light green floral flavor. It is interesting because in tasting teas from these three mountains, I’ve realized that there is a stark difference in texture among milky, creamy, and buttery. It’s been fascinating to try teas that seem to exemplify each.

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The second steeping was for forty-five seconds. The dominant aroma on the leaves was nettles and the dominant flavor was nettles. This steeping tasting strongly like nettle infusion, which I dislike, so I was a bit disappointed, personally. The third steeping, for sixty seconds, also had a nettle aroma on the wet leaf, but I also smelled something lightly coconutty, almost like sunscreen. The flavor was spinach or nettles and milk, so perhaps like a light spring green soup with milk.

The fourth infusion was for seventy-five seconds. The wet leaf brought out a gardenia aroma and it had the same milky texture. The flavor started developing a vegetal brightness with some creamy floral. The fifth infusion, for ninety seconds, had a gardenia-and-coconut aroma on the wet leaves that reminded me a bit of monoi oil. Over the course of five steepings, the liquor color developed from nearly colorless to a bright chartreuse. The milky texture and green flavor persists.

On the sixth infusion, for two minutes, I noticed the aroma and flavors fading. The aroma had the same monoi aroma as the previous infusion, if lighter. At this point, I decided the tea had given its best and finished the session. So far, the primary distinction I’m seeing among the mountains I’ve been tasting has been in the texture of the tea. I’m glad that I’ve started listening to the Floating Leaves Tea Podcast and have had more education about evaluating tea by texture, rather than just taste and smell, because it is apparently an important layer of complexity.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tuesday Tasting: Alishan Snow Pick Oolong from Mountain Stream Teas

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Continuing my investigation of the different high mountain oolongs of Taiwan, today, I’m trying a snow pick Alishan from Mountain Stream. I’ve previously tasted their winter pick Alishan, and last week, I shared my notes from the snow pick Lishan, so this was an interesting exercise into both noticing the differences between winter and snow pick, and the differences between the terroir of the two mountains.

Once again, I used 5g in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan, with water at 212F (one of my kettles is set to Fahrenheit and the other to Celsius). I warmed the gaiwan and smelled the warm, dry leaf, noticing a light creamy floral aroma. I did not rinse the tea.

The first infusion was for thirty seconds. The wet leaves smelled of sweet floral, like an orchid or lily. The liquor was a pale straw color, like sauvignon blanc wine and had a very light floral aroma. The mouthfeel was buttery, like drawn butter with bright green flavors and a little retronasal floral.

The second infusion was for forty-five seconds. The wet leaves had a more pronounced floral aroma with a bit of green veg. The liquor was slightly greener in color and had a more pronounced floral aroma. The texture was more buttered spinach with a floral and vegetal flavor. The overall feeling of the infusion was more savory than sweet.

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The third infusion was for a minute. The wet leaves had a very slight honey aroma underneath the same floral and vegetal notes as before. The liquor had aromas of lily and cannabis. The flavor and texture were pure buttered vegetables: spinach and asparagus.

The fourth infusion was for seventy-five seconds. It was on this infusion that I noticed I was feeling sleepy. It was the evening when I tasted this tea, but normally, I feel more awake after drinking several gongfu infusions. The wet leaves smelled of vegetables with a touch of honey. The liquor had a sweet floral aroma, perhaps violet. The buttered vegetable flavor persists and the buttery texture now feels slightly mineral as well.

The fifth infusion, for ninety seconds, was lighter in both flavor and aroma, but the buttery mouthfeel was largely present. By the sixth infusion, for two minutes, it was apparent the tea was done.

I was fascinated that I was able to start this tasting at 6:30 in the evening and still fell asleep easily around 9. At this point, I hypothesize that the most distinct difference among the mountains will be the mouthfeel of each tea, though it is striking that the sweetness of the snow pick Lishan was not as apparent in the Alishan. It’s worth noting that I noticed the same buttered spinach notes and mouthfeel in the winter pick Alishan from Mountain Stream. I’m curious to continue this exploration.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tuesday Tasting: Snow Pick Pear Mountain Oolong from Mountain Stream Teas

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Recently, I decided to place a biggish order from my two favorite shops for Taiwanese teas in an effort to expand my knowledge of Taiwanese high mountain oolongs. So over the next few weeks, Tasting Tuesday will focus on the different teas I chose. This week, I’m starting with Mountain Stream Teas’ Snow Pick Pear Mountain (Lishan), which is both a new mountain for me, and my first experience with snow-picked tea.

I used 5 grams in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan with 99C water. After warming the gaiwan, I warmed the leaf and the aroma of the warm, dry leaf gave off aromas of freshly baked sugar cookies. I went right into steeping with no rinse.

The first infusion was for thirty seconds. The wet leaves smelled powerfully vegetal and also had a strong honey aroma. The liquor was a bright green-yellow with no aroma. The flavor was very light, but the mouthfeel was creamy, smooth, and full. There was a faint vegetal sweetness and a distinctly sweet aftertaste. As I sipped on it, the flavor developed bright juiciness and a creamy floral aftertaste.

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The second steeping was for forty-five seconds. The wet leaf smelled of spinach and honey and the liquor smelled similar. It was the same color as the first steeping. It had a bright vegetal tartness on the first sip, with the texture of tea with cream and honey in it. There was a light wildflower honey sweetness and a floral aftertaste. I could also get a lot of floral from the retronasal aroma.

The third steeping was for a minute. The wet leaves still had a green and honey aroma. The texture took on a more savory quality, almost like soup, with a light sweetness. I was reminded of a cream soup of sweet fresh spring vegetables, or fresh peas in cream. It had what I called “that classic oolong florality” in the aftertaste.

The fourth steeping was for a minute and fifteen seconds and yielded the same silky smooth texture and same aromas. By the fifth steeping, for a minute and a half, I noticed the aroma fading, though the flavors were the same. The sixth and seventh steepings were both for two minutes each. I steeped a eighth time for two and a half minutes and a ninth time for three minutes. Over the course of these steepings, I noticed the flavors and aromas staying mostly the same, with varying levels of intensity. The bright, juicy, honey flavor and aroma was the dominant note, with a beautiful creamy mouthfeel. After nine steepings, I could tell this tea had more to give, so I tossed the leaves into a mug and continued to sip it grandpa-style throughout the rest of the day.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tuesday Tasting: 2019 Elemental Bulang Sheng Puerh from Crimson Lotus Tea

Yesterday, I posted to Instagram that I had been reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. Well, that gave me a wild craving for sheng puerh, so I decided to dig out my Crimson Lotus Tea Elemental Puerh sample set. I’ve heard good things about this Bulang Sheng Puerh dragon ball, so I went for it.

I used one 8g dragon ball in my 150-ml classical flowers porcelain gaiwan with 99C water. I warmed the gaiwan and didn’t get much aroma off the dry leaf, just some light dried fruit and maybe honey. I rinsed it once and got a warm, sweet aroma off the wet dragon ball.

The first infusion I let go for fifteen seconds, after which I didn’t notice much aroma, just that same faint warm, sweet aroma as I noticed after the rinse. The liquor was a very pale champagne color and had little to no flavor or aroma. So I went on to the second steeping for twenty seconds, after which I started to notice an aroma that I can only liken to cheap sunscreen, although not in an unpleasant way. The liquor was a slightly darker champagne gold and had a light henna and fruit aroma. The mouthfeel was very smooth and honey-like with a slight sweetness.

The third steeping was for twenty five seconds. The wet leaf gave off aromas of dried apricots and honey. The liquor was darker gold, like a Tokaji wine, and smelled faintly of honey and spice, like a honey cake. The flavor took on some bright, citrusy bitter notes with a smooth, clean mouthfeel. I also noticed what I called “some sassy energy” from the tea in my notes. At the very least, I felt gregarious and a little mischievous while drinking it.

The fourth steeping was for thirty seconds and had that same sunscreen aroma on the leaf, with a pronounced grapefruit peel bitterness in the flavor. It was inducing saliva and the aftertaste was almost savory, rather than sweet like I’m used to with sheng puerh. It also made me hungry, so at this point, I paused for some lunch.

After lunch, I went for a fifth steeping, for thirty seconds again. Despite not having any taste of my lunch left in my mouth (I had some black tea with lunch to rinse my mouth), I found that the bitterness had all but disappeared, leaving a silky-smooth, almost oily-textured liquor with a citrus sweetness that danced on the tongue. It was almost like a hot lemonade, but somehow rich, like a soup. And it induced some lovely salivation, which tasted even sweeter.

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The sixth steeping, for forty seconds, resulted in a lighter leaf aroma with a small amount of bitterness, but mostly that same lovely, slippery, rich mouthfeel and some minerality. There was a tingle on the tip of my tongue. After the seventh steeping, for fifty seconds, I was still smelling sunscreen on the leaf and made a note that I’m curious what this tea will taste like in ten years. It was still silky, slightly oily. It gave me the impression of a whisky, if not the exact same flavor. The eighth infusion, for a minute, was more of the same. At this point, I decided to adjourn to sip the rest of this tea grandpa-style from my favorite mug and continued to enjoy it far into the day.

The “spent” leaves before I threw it in my mug were gorgeous with a mix of olive green and plum purple shades. There were some noticeable buds and beautiful slender whole leaves with fine serrations. After writing up my notes, I decided that I ought to buy more of this tea to keep around so that perhaps I will remember to taste it again in ten years.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tasting Tuesday: 2008 Da Hong Pao from Old Ways Tea

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Let me tell you a secret: I don’t really enjoy writing down tasting notes. I find it removes me from the experience of a tea and interrupts my enjoyment. But the exercise is an important one to be able to converse intelligently among many in the tea community, so I practice it at least once a week. Yet, my dislike means that often I end up taking notes on teas that I feel more of an academic interest in for these weekly posts, rather than a tea that I find truly exciting.

Well, the other week, I went live with Ezra, known as @the_god_of_tea on Instagram, and had this aged Da Hong Pao and I found it so interesting that I rather regretted that our conversation was so engaging that I barely paid it its proper attention. So I resolved to take notes to share with everyone, and perhaps see if I can make an attempt to quantify what I found so compelling about it. As I’ve said before, Da Hong Pao is one of my favorite teas, from a variety that has quickly become my favorite among teas, yancha. Now, I realize that modern Da Hong Pao is rarely plucked from the original mother tree, and that it is most often blended from different yanchas, particularly Shui Xian and Rou Gui, but as I have tried most of the yancha varieties, I find that Da Hong Pao is most often the one that just has the certain special something that I enjoy. I find it reminds me of fresh cookies or brown sugar cake, a lovely warm comforting flavor.

I brewed this tea in my Chaozhou clay pot, which holds about 80ml of water. I used half a packet of tea from Old Ways, which is about 4g. I brewed at 99C. I warmed the pot and warmed the leaves and was able to detect aromas of leather and wood from the warm, dry leaf. I did not rinse, choosing instead to jump right into brewing.

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The first infusion went for ten seconds. The wet leaves gave off aromas of warm cinnamon coffee with cream. The liquor was a rich mahogany color and had a rich mouthfeel with nutty and creamy flavors. I was reminded of nothing so much as hazelnut tuiles with caramel and coffee buttercream. There was a faint leathery aftertaste.

The second steeping, for fifteen seconds, yielded aromas of cream, honey, nuts, and leather on the wet leaves. The flavor developed a slight tannic bite with a sour aftertaste that I found enjoyable, but with a rich roasted, leathery flavor underneath, and perhaps a slight undertone of sweat. It is a very sensual tea and fills the mouth and facial cavity. I was reminded of how Shuiwen from Floating Leaves Tea calls teas “puffy” and I think it might be something like that.

The third steeping was also for fifteen seconds. The roast aroma came through more on the wet leaf. The mouthfeel was pure coffee and cream, with an ever so slightly lighter colored liquor, perhaps cherrywood rather than mahogany. The flavor still had a pleasant tannic bitterness on the tip of the tongue and a sourness under the tongue that reminded me of the lightly roasted coffee from our favorite artisan roaster. The lingering flavor was coffee with cream.

The fourth steeping was for twenty seconds and yielded aromas of roast and wood on the wet leaves. After that, I simply forgot to take notes on the flavors. The body feel and experience of this tea was languid, like a cat stretched out on a velvet settee. I resumed my attention for the fifth steeping, which I let go for forty seconds. I noticed the wet leaves taking on the “wet paper” aroma that I notice as yanchas start to fade. The flavor, however, was still surprisingly bright and warm.

The sixth and seventh steepings both went for a minute each. The sixth yielded a honey-floral aroma on the wet leaves and flavor that seemed to be a mellowed amalgam of the flavors of the previous steepings, with a brightness that reminded me of a citrusy black tea cutting through it. The seventh aroma continued to fade, but with a surprising sweetness that came through as the other flavors dulled.

I steeped the tea for an eighth time for two minutes and was rewarded with a cup of tea that, while faded in flavor, color, and aroma, still managed to be enjoyable and warming, beyond a mere cup of tinted hot water. And it lacked the wet paper/pasta water flavor I get at the end of a session of other yanchas. The ninth steeping, for three minutes, showed that the tea was well and truly done. It still might have been nice steeped grandpa style, as I often do with my yanchas, but the main session was over and I was confident there would be no new tasting notes.

I think this tasting quantified the enjoyment I got from this tea in a strange way, in that it showed that it is somewhat unquantifiable. If anything, it is likely the complexity of flavors that draws me to Da Hong Pao, particularly aged Da Hong Pao. That leathery undertone in the flavor and aroma draws in a poetic part of myself. Indeed, I believe this is one of the longest tasting posts I’ve written, at least in recent weeks. And I still maintain that my first impression of any Da Hong Pao I’ve tasted is freshly baked brown sugar cookies, fresh from the oven, which is perhaps more of an emotional association than anything else. I’m curious to try the 2000 Da Hong Pao to see if the further aging will change my impression of the tea in general, particularly since it will be the oldest Da Hong Pao I will have tried thusfar.

NB: Nothing to declare. If you are interested in why I switched from tea reviews to tasting notes, read the explanation in this post. If you are interested in collaborating me or contacting me to offer my notes for your tea, please read my contact and collaboration information.

 

Tasting Tuesday: Yunnan “Early Spring Silver Strands” Green Tea of Simao from Yunnan Sourcing

 

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This Tuesday, I’m digging into my tea basket for some forgotten gems, including this Yunnan “Early Spring Silver Strands” Green Tea of Simao that I got from Yunnan Sourcing a while ago. True, green tea is usually at its best when it’s fresh, but that’s not stopping me from giving this a shot. And, I’d actually been looking for an assamica green tea for an upcoming historical tea video, so stay tuned!

I brewed this with 85C water. I used 5g in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan. After warming my teaware, I noticed aromas of ripe apricots and fresh hay on the dry leaf. After a quick rinse, the wet leaf slightly green and floral with some dried fruit as well.

The first infusion was for ten seconds. The gaiwan lid smelled of underripe apricots while the leaf had aromas of grass and a very light smoke aroma. The liquor was light straw colored, like a pinot grigio with a very light tannic fruity aroma. The body was light and watery, with a light floral flavor, almost like jasmine, and a mild tannic sharpness that reminded me of wine.

The second infusion was for fifteen seconds, which yielded a slightly darker, more golden liquor, like chardonnay, with tart aromas from the liquor. The gaiwan lid and wet leaves both had aromas of green floral, fruit, and slight smoke. The flavor was bolder, with a thicker, juicy mouthfeel and a floral flavor.

The third infusion was for twenty seconds. The gaiwan lid smelled of floral and apricot with a light smoke aroma on the leaves. The liquor was similar in color to the previous infusion with a tart apricot aroma. The bitterness started coming in on this infusions. There was a sharpness on the tip of the tongue at first, with a lingering bitter aftertaste in the back of the throat.

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The fourth infusion, for twenty-five seconds, started developing this bitterness. Liquor color was the same, but the gaiwan lid aroma took on a greener quality, with notes of fresh-cut grass along with jasmine. The flavor was quite bitter, but with a floral quality that is similar to hops. It reminded me a bit of some sheng puerhs I’ve tried.

The fifth infusion was for thirty seconds and saw the aromas and flavors deepening into something warmer. The aromas were warmly floral while the flavor took on a nuttiness. There was still a light hoppy bitterness. By the sixth infusion, for thirty-five seconds, the flavors and aromas had started to fade, but maintained a bright, hoppy bitterness. But by the seventh infusion, for forty seconds, it was obvious the tea was done.

The spent leaves were a lovely olive green with a smoother leaf edge than I expected.

NB: Nothing to declare; tea was a sample included with an order. To learn more about why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, click here. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tasting Tuesday: Classic Alishan Winter Pick from Mountain Stream Teas

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Today’s tasting is of an oolong tea that I found in my tea stash and forgot that I’d gotten. It must have come with my February subscription order from Mountain Stream Teas. I did actually video the unboxing of that order, so perhaps I should go back and see. I was rather tickled to find it, as I’ve been yearning for some lightly-oxidized, high-mountain oolong lately, but I’ve been trying to work my way through my stash before buying anything new. Also, a “green” oolong seemed appropriate for today, right?

This is the Classic Alishan Winter Pick Oolong, a 20% oxidized, unroasted oolong from Alishan mountain in Taiwan. I’m a big fan of Taiwanese teas, particularly oolongs, and Mountain Stream has become one of my go-to sources. This was picked in Winter 2019. I used 5 grams in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan with 99C water. I did without a rinse or warming my teaware because I was drinking in my tea room and had forgotten a discard bowl.

The first steeping was for thirty seconds. I was immediately struck by the creamy floral notes coming from the wet leaves. The mouthfeel was extremely smooth and creamy, with a hint of buttered popcorn in the flavor. The second steeping was for forty seconds and the buttery floral notes developed further. I noticed that the gaiwan lid smelled more floral, perhaps of lilies or gardenia, while the leaves themselves smelled of buttered spinach. The mouthfeel was even richer, and a sweet, buttery, vegetal flavor, like buttered fresh peas.

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The third steeping was for fifty seconds. The aromas from the leaf and lid started becoming stronger, the lid being more floral and the leaf being more green-vegetal, evoking Swiss chard. The flavor was a full, rich creamy flavor, with green vegetable notes, like a pureed cream of spring vegetable soup. It had a creamy, slick mouthfeel with a good amount of body. The fourth steeping was for a minute and was similar to the third infusion.

By the fifth infusion, for 70 seconds, I noticed more sweetness and florality coming through in the flavor, reminding me of orange blossom. It was still very smooth, but was slight less thick and vegetal. The sixth infusion, for 80 seconds, saw the lid and leaf aromas becoming more similar to each other, converging on a blend of floral and light vegetal aromas. The body lightened and went from brothy and creamy to juicy. The flavor was almost like a green tea, with a vegetal bright acidity. On the seventh steeping, for 90 seconds, I noticed the flavors and aromas fading. It was still a pleasant cup of tea, but I could tell it was on the downturn and decided to end the session on a high note.

The spent leaves were delightfully green and juicy-looking. They were rather large, with a fair amount of twig matter, and very small, sharp serrations on the leaf. All in all, this definitely scratched my high mountain itch and I still have half of the sample left!

NB: Nothing to declare, though I think this was a sample included with a paid order. For more information on collaborating with me, read this. To learn about my affiliate links and support the blog, click here.

Tasting Tuesday: Bagua Shan Honey Scent Oolong from Wang Family Tea

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Recently, I decided on an impulse to purchase a little Yixing clay pot from Ching Ching Cha in Georgetown. After some trial and error, which I will expand upon on Thursday, I decided that the tea it liked best was this Bagua Shan honey oolong from Wang Family Tea. I first ordered from Wang Family Teas late last year. I simply asked a contact their if they’d be willing to suggest 3-4 teas from their stock to get started with, and I bought those. They also sent me a sample of this oolong as well. Well, this one turned out to be my favorite so far, so when I sat down to do a tasting for this week, I decided that it was time to take some notes to see if I could quantify what I liked so much.

I used 6g of leaf in a 120-ml pot with 99C water. I decided to follow their steeping instructions for the first three steepings, and then see how it went from there. After warming my pot, I got aromas of honey and white florals from the warm dry leaf. After a brief rinse, the wet leaves smelled of sweet florals with a hint of incense.

The first steeping was for fifty-five seconds. The wet leaves smelled of honey and apricot with a bit of roasted hazelnut. The liquor was a golden honey color with aromas of honey and almond. It had a medium-thick mouthfeel, like diluted syrup, with perfume-y floral flavors that reminded me of orange blossom. The cup aroma was honey and nuts.

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The second steeping was for forty-five seconds. The wet leaves smelled of honey and cannabis. The liquor was a slightly darker color and smelled of honey and tobacco. The mouthfeel was ever so slightly drier, but still medium-thick and smooth, with a slight astringency and a sweet honey aftertaste. It reminded me of an apricot pastry with vanilla cream and a honey glaze, like a danish.

The third steeping was for fifty-five seconds again, after which I noticed aromas of honey, cream, vanilla, and antique furniture on the leaves and honey and vanilla aromas on the liquor. It had a sweet almond blossom honey flavor, and was reminiscent of a baked good.

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After those first three steepings, I continued with three more steepings for a minute each. After the fourth steeping, I noticed that the leaf aroma was lighter, while the flavor felt mellower, but still sweet. There was something botanical like linden or orange blossom on the flavor underneath the honey. I also noticed a pleasant body warmth at this point. The fifth steeping still yielded that light honey aroma, which got sweeter and less floral as is faded, and still had a nice honey flavor. On the sixth steeping, I noticed the flavor and aroma fading, but still having some sweetness and a buttery note.

To finish off this tea, I actually put the spent leaves into a travel flask and brewed them grandpa-style for rehearsal. It was a lovely restorative for a late evening, with remnants of the honey and floral flavors, and a bit more astringency coming through as they sat.

NB: The original sample of this tea was sent as a free sample with a purchase, but I have since repurchased even more. If you’re interested in reading why I’ve stopped reviewing teas, in favor of tasting notes, please read this post. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

On Tea Expertise (plus, my experience at a tea class!)

I am not a tea expert.

I know that for many who know me, that statement seems surprising. I mean, I blog a lot about tea. I review and taste teas for my posts and often share my opinions. I’ve even written an entire series of posts presuming to teach you something about tea practice. But I still consider myself an enthusiastic amateur.

That said, I am often thought of as “the tea expert” (or, probably more accurately, “that weird tea lady”) by my friends, family, and acquaintances. I joked over the holidays to a family friend who struck up a conversation about tea that I know just enough about tea that everyone is too concerned that I’m judging them to offer me tea, kind of like being the chef that no one will invite over for dinner. And over the hospitable season, I’ve had more than one person remark that they don’t have a tea “that is up to your standards.” Which is part of why my Tea Primer starts with tea bags. Because I don’t look down on tea bags. Do I think there are more delicious options? Sure. But if you like them, you do you. And you will pry my half-sweet oolong milk bubble tea from my cold, dead fingers.

But as I’ve settled into my tea-blogging niche, I’ve thought a lot about how to communicate my love of tea to a broader audience, and the subject of expertise comes up a fair amount. I’ve toyed with the idea of some sort of formal tea education course or credential, like a Tea Sommelier certification, but it seems like a lot of money for a title that is controversial at best. Ultimately, while it would be fun to be seen as an expert, no amount of certification is ever going to alleviate what could charitably be called “perpetual beginner’s mind” and perhaps uncharitably called “imposter’s syndrome” when it comes to my knowledge of tea.

That said, I love learning and I am constantly striving to expand my knowledge of how to enjoy tea. So to this end, I decided to take a tea class from Victoria at MeiMei Fine Teas, a tea company based near me in Northern Virginia. I was thrilled when I found out that such a knowledgeable tea person lived so close to me and was willing to share her knowledge in classes! I signed up for two classes, one focusing on puerh and one focusing on oolong. This past Sunday, I attended the puerh class where I met some lovely tea-lovers and learned from such a graceful and wise teacher, who also happens to be incredibly nice!

The puerh class started with tea. Victoria brewed up two different sheng (or raw) puerhs, one from a cake and the other rolled into a dragon ball. The dragon ball rolled tea was amazingly sweet and right away, I knew this was going to be a better introduction to puerh teas than I could manage on my own because I was getting to taste much nicer teas than I could afford to buy all on my own! It was interesting that we started by tasting before Victoria started presenting her slides on Yunnan province, the growing, harvesting, and processing of puerh, and some notes on tasting. She intermixed the slides with tastings of various teas so that the slides felt like a break, and she paced them to always be relevant to the teas we were tasting. We tasted six sheng puerhs, ranging in age from a few years old to over two decades old, in order to see how the tea changes. I also got to learn the difference between sheng puerh and green tea, which was something I’d always wondered.

Only after we’d tasted a full range of ages of sheng puerh did she bring out the shu puerh. Because shu puerh processing was developed in the 1970s to speed up the sheng puerh aging process, it was interesting to see how the shu puerhs compared to the oldest of the sheng puerhs. It was particularly intriguing to see how the color of the sheng puerh changed with age. That said, I think my favorite moment was when we tried two teas side by side, one that was from a famous tea maker, and the other an unidentified cake from Victoria’s personal stash. The unidentified cake not only held its own against the famous cake, but it had the added interest of having a slight smoky flavor and aroma to it. It wasn’t as pronounced as a smoked tea, but it definitely had a note of pine smoke, similar to some whiskies that I enjoy. Upon noticing this, Victoria explained that puerh is processed by firing it in woks to kill off some of the compounds that cause oxidation, and sometimes tea processors heat this woks over wood fires, which allows a smoky note to get into the tea.

After many hours of tasting and talking tea, I had to leave, which was sad, but I’m excited to take a future class and further expand my tea knowledge. And joining this group of people showed me how much I have yet to learn, plus I found that tasting teas with others, regardless of their level of knowledge, can help expand my own tasting notes. So I continue on my journey, tasting and learning, and enjoy those I meet along the way.

NB: Photo was taken by me and used with Victoria’s permission.

Tuesday Tasting: Taiwanese Tea and Coffee Tasting from Mountain Stream Teas

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Recently, Matt at Mountain Stream Teas posted that some of his tea farmer friends had started experimenting with growing coffee and wondered if we might be interested in trying tea and coffee from the same terroir. Well, of course we would! Those of you who know me know that my husband Dan is something of a coffee snob, so I thought this would be a fun thing to try together, so I went ahead and ordered their February subscription box, which included the tea and coffee comparison. The box came with two coffees and two teas, from two different areas.

The set included samples of two coffees and two teas from two different places. There was a washed coffee and a Honey Fragrance Black Tea from Ruisui and a sun-dried coffee and a Red Oolong from Alishan. The coffees were obviously roasted to a medium-light roast, which is perfect because Dan strongly prefers lighter roast coffees.

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I decided to set up the tasting using professional evaluation methods for each drink. So the coffees were cupped according to the method we were taught when we tasted coffee at Vigilante Coffee a few years ago. The teas were tasted in a professional cupping set. We used stainless steep spoons to taste everything, which were rinsed between tastings.

The coffees were made with 6g of beans to 100ml of water, ground with a hand-powered burr grinder, while the tea was made with 3g of leaves for a 120-ml cupping set. Everything was made using 95C water. The coffees were allowed to bloom for about 4 minutes, while the teas were steeped for 2 minutes.

Right off, Dan and I decided we liked different coffees best. I loved the Alishan coffee, with its bright acidity and dark chocolate mouthfeel, but Dan interpreted the minerality as “chalky” and preferred the Ruisui coffee, which is said tasted like tea. I got a honey caramel aftertaste from the Ruisui and a more pronounced woody bitterness at first. The Alishan also had a bergamot aftertaste that I enjoyed.

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I agreed with Dan that the Ruisui tasted “like tea,” especially after tasting the similarities with the honey fragrance black tea. It had a very smooth tannin and a honey mouthfeel with almost oolong-level floral character. It definitely tasted very similar to the Ruisui coffee. The red oolong had a bright apricot fruitiness and a light, smooth mouthfeel. It echoed the bergamot brightness and had an almost slippery, mineral quality to the sweetness as it cooled. It was interesting to taste the similarities between the coffees and teas from each place. It was particularly interesting because they were so distinct from each other. I think choosing two different styles of tea to pair accentuated this, too.

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Ultimately, Dan finished the Ruisui coffee, while I drank as much of the Alishan coffee as I could before my stomach rebelled (I don’t do well with black coffee). I went on to taste a second steeping of the teas, steeped for 2:30. The Alishan developed a strong honey aroma on the liquor, with flavors of honey and bergamot and a honey-water mouthfeel. There was a sweet floral, maybe a gardenia or lily, note to the flavor as it lingered. The Ruisui tea didn’t have a lot of aroma on the liquor, with a light flavor that mostly showed fruity acidity and some honey aroma detected retronasally.

All in all, this was a fascinating experiment and I’m excited to try another coffee-and-tea tasting again sometime.

NB: Nothing to declare. If you’re interested in reading why I’ve stopped reviewing teas, in favor of tasting notes, please read this post. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.