Tea Review: Yunnan Sourcing Oolong Tea Subscription

It has been a while since I’ve done regular tea reviews on the blog, but I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve been drinking. While I was pregnant, I got very into oolong teas, and that hasn’t changed as I’ve navigated motherhood. One of my favorite things about oolong is that it’s generally the easiest tea I’ve found to brew grandpa-style because the leaves are very big, and I don’t find most oolongs get particularly bitter or astringent if they sit for a while. So when my mom offered to pay for a tea subscription to go along with the gorgeous silver teapot she bought me for my birthday in March, I knew I would be going for oolong, despite the fact that it’s perhaps not the best suited for brewing in silver.

So I joined the Yunnan Sourcing Tea Club and got a subscription for their Oolong Tea Box. Now, after three months of the subscription, I decided to cancel, but that was mostly due to having to save space for my upcoming move (although a bit of it is that my tea tastes run very seasonally — in the future, I might write a post about my ideal tea subscription). But for three months, I enjoyed a monthly box of surprise oolong teas (yes, they post what each month’s box will be, but I didn’t usually look before I got my package).

Because I’m not reviewing specific months, I’m not going to focus on the specific teas I received. In the future, I might start filming tasting videos again and share some of them. But as a whole, the tea box was full of interesting teas, many of which were styles that I wouldn’t have tried on my own. I’d never really gotten into dan cong oolongs and at least one month featured them heavily. It also featured teas harvested within the last year, so it didn’t feel like I was getting overstock of teas that didn’t sell.

The amount was actually maybe a little more than I could get through, given that I didn’t always want to drink the teas from the boxes, but I think that if I ever wanted to exclusively drink teas from a subscription, this would be how I would do it. My original thought behind getting a subscription was just that — as a new mom, I didn’t spend as much time looking at interesting teas online, so having them picked out and sent to me worked well. But I was getting in excess of 100g of tea per month, which, given my immediate-postpartum consumption of just 2-3g of tea per day (grandpa-style), was more than enough to hold me. Now that I’ve gone back to regular gongfu sessions, I could probably get through 150g or so in a month.

Finally, I think one of the main complaints I hear about Yunnan Sourcing is that their selection is daunting. I get it. I pretty much only buy from them when I’m in the market for something pretty specific. But the upshot is that I don’t branch out quite as much. One of my favorite teas from them was a sample that Scott threw into an order. The tea subscription feels a lot like what would happen if you just asked Scott to send you something good each month.

So my bottom line is that if you’re a regular tea drinker, have a definitive favorite type of tea, and have decision fatigue, give the Yunnan Sourcing subscriptions a try. I imagine the “curated samplers” are similar in quality, for a one-off experience.

NB: While this subscription was given to me as a gift from a family member, I was not given any particular incentive to review it and all thoughts are my own.

White2Tea Reviews, Part One: The Oolongs

NB: These teas were sent to me free for review, though all opinions are my own, and I have not been given any monetary compensation for this review. There are no affiliate links in this review.

So a little while ago, I got in touch with Paul from white2tea and he offered to send me “some samples.” When the box arrived, I was overwhelmed at his generosity. I received samples of three different pu-erhs (one ripe, two raw), two different oolongs, and full pressed cakes of a white tea and a black tea. And a tea pick. Whew. So needless to say, I haven’t even gotten to all the teas yet, but I thought I’d start sharing my reviews, starting with the two oolongs.

I got enough in each sample to allow for 2-3 sessions with each tea, so the first session I did strictly according to their guidelines: in gaiwan, with a 5 second rinse, and then steepings starting at 5 seconds and increasing 5 additional seconds for each subsequent. I basically went until I felt like the tea had given its all. After that, I tried each tea with one of my standard daily brewing practices, either steeped four times for a bit longer each time, or grandpa-style.

Milan Dancong: This is one of the infamous “Duck Shit” varieties of tea from the Guangdong province of China. The story is that a farmer found this beautiful style of tea and gave it an unpleasant name to deter other farmers from stealing it. Whatever the story, this does not smell like excrement, but instead flowers and honey and a bit of the classic oolong scent, which I think smells a bit like cannabis. The brew is light and subtle, especially at first, but it soon releases a strong flavor in subsequent steepings, even becoming nutty or smoky. I also found it utterly delightful drunk grandpa-style. This is not an inexpensive tea, and so it’s one I would consider repurchasing if I were craving a really lovely oolong for special days, but not one I would necessarily repurchase for every day. But we shall see how the increasingly hot weather affects my desire for heavier oolongs and my sensibility with money.

Shui Xian: This, on the other hand, is a medium-heavy roast oolong with what I consider the “classic Chinese restaurant tea” character that I notice in Wuyi oolongs. At various points in the steeping, I got floral and honey flavors, but later smoke and earth and even tobacco flavors. It does have a pronounced minerality that blends well with the earthy quality, and a touch of sweetness. This was also beautiful steeped grandpa-style, although I had to be careful not to forget about it too much at first. This is one I would absolutely buy again, once I’ve worked my way through my stash a bit, possibly in the autumn when I start to crave heavier-roasted oolongs. The photo above shows this tea steeped grandpa-style after refilling the water three times.

Tea Tasting: Yushan Oolong from Beautiful Taiwan Tea Co.

As you may know, I have a particular liking of oolong tea, particularly when the weather starts to chill down in autumn or warm up in spring. After hearing that some of the best oolong tea comes from Taiwan, I’ve started ordering from Beautiful Taiwan Tea Co. They have a nice assortment of teas, with good prices, and their shipping is not terrible. Plus, they ship from the US, so things get here in a reasonable amount of time.

But one unexpected lovely thing is that they include a little sample of some delicious tea in each order. The first time, I got a “green oolong” and this time I got a rolled, lightly oxidized Yushan oolong to try. I brought it to the office to finish out the week and steeped it primarily in my gaiwan. Because it’s rolled, I was light-handed with the tea leaves and a 10-gram sample packet gave me two days of tea, about 8-10 steepings in gaiwan for each serving.

The first session, I decided to start cautiously and steeped it in 180-degree water for an initial minute and a half, and then one-minute steepings after that, until the last couple, when I noticed the flavor was going, so I increased the time by a bit. It’s a subtle and delicate tea, but still has plenty of oolong character and floralness. I actually detect a hint of cannabis in the scent of the leaves and the brewed tea, but not in an unpleasant way.

The second session, I decided to make the first steeping quite long, and then go to one-minute steepings. That seemed to open up the tea a bit more and offered a slight hint of honey sweetness, with more the floral/cannabis notes as well. And there was almost no bitterness to speak of, even with longer steeping times and a final steeping in 200-degree water.

Finally, I wanted to make a subjective note: I found that this tea made me feel slightly giddy and happy. I’d had a rather tough week and I found myself with almost a bounce in my step and a vigor to complete my lingering weekly tasks. I can’t necessarily guarantee it was the oolong, but I certainly noticed a difference from my mood earlier in the week, and the tea was the only new thing.

Please note: I was sent this as a free sample, but not in exchange for a review. In fact, I don’t think Beautiful Taiwan Tea Co. is even aware of my blog. I just like their tea.

A Tea Tasting: Simple Loose Leaf Jade Oolong, in Guywan

This weekend, I received my February box from Simple Loose Leaf. In it, I found a sample of a tea I’d actually had before. I had a cup of it (about half the sample) on Friday morning before going to mum’s, and had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. So when I had a quiet hour on Sunday, I decided to do a proper tasting in my guywan.

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Jade Oolong is a lightly oxidized oolong with rolled leaves that is, sadly, unavailable from the Simple Loose Leaf shop right now. Hopefully they get it back in soon! I drink a lot of black tea in the winter because it feels rich, warming, and comforting, but I do love a good cup of Oolong. Jade Oolong is a classic floral Oolong with honey and grassy notes, and just a bit of tannin. It really shone in the guywan because the different steepings had distinct characteristic. It wasn’t until the third steeping that I really noticed a new wave of sweetness coming out.

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I was also excited to use one of the lovely holiday gifts Boyfriend got me: a new electric kettle! Our old kettle’s lid broke and we managed as best we could, but recently, it failed spectacularly enough that we had to retire it entirely. We had been using my office kettle for a while, but I awoke Christmas morning to find that Boyfriend had bought me a fancy new kettle. The new kettle not only will heat water to an exact temperature, but it will also hold the water at that temperature if you set it to. So I was able to set the kettle to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and keep it there while I did the various steepings. That way, I didn’t have to wait for the kettle to reheat in between.

All in all, Jade Oolong is a medium-bodied tea with a golden color and a floral-grassy aroma. The flavor brings in more honey notes, and the first steeping finished with a long tannic finish. The later steepings gradually lost the bitterness and tannin, and the third steeping brought in a lovely bright acidity and sweetness. I drank four steepings before I stopped taking notes, but I had a fifth a little later on. It is a truly lovely tea and I hope Simple Loose Leaf gets it back in stock soon!

 

A Quiet Moment and a Nice Cup of Tea

I’ve started meditating again. It’s part of a larger project I’ve taken on to improve my acting, but the most important part it seems is that I’ve started meditating again. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy looking at the world from my cushion. After my first session, just propped up on a pillow on the bed, I opened my eyes and the whole world seemed luminous with possibility. That’s how quieting my mind makes me feel.

I’ve gone through so much of recent months in a bit of a haze, a fog of never really paying attention except at some specific moments. But meditation is bringing me back my awareness. So I made myself a cup of tea when I got to work, as I usually do. I finished off a packet of Four Seasons oolong from Simple Loose Leaf. A lovely little tea, blending floral and milky flavors in the oolong.

I busied myself while the kettle boiled and the leaves steeped. I read the news and checked email. And then I brought the cup to my mouth and was hit with a waft of fragrance from the tea. I had forgotten just how lovely and complex it smelled. And my new mindfulness had me sit for a moment and marvel in the loveliness of the tea. I savored my first sip and just slowed down in a way I haven’t slowed down for a while. Here’s hoping I bring that slowness to the rest of my day and week.