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.

 

The Virus Diaries: Community in Isolation

NB: I am not sick at the time of writing this, but I’ve decided to make this post the first in my “Virus Diaries” series while I wait in self-isolation at home.

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If you’re in the same position as many of the people around the world, then you, like me, might be “social distancing” at home the last couple of weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Or perhaps you’re actively quarantined and on official government lockdown like some of my friends. Or maybe you’re just highly introverted or have a disability that prevents you from leaving the house, even when there isn’t a global pandemic going on. Whatever the case, I’ve obviously been thinking a lot lately about feeling connected while in isolation.

Now, this is not going to be a “how to maintain sanity while suddenly working from home” post. While I do already regularly telework once a week, I’m certainly no expert in it. And I tend to break every rule in the book. Plus, I think that a certain level of forgiveness for yourself is necessary in times like these where we might not be home entirely by choice. Plus, better bloggers than I have tackled the subject brilliantly.

Oddly enough, I’ve been less isolated the last two weeks because not only am I working from home, but my husband and toddler are also home. So I get comparatively little time alone. But the one thing that I have had to sacrifice are plans that involve going out with other people. No more tea dates or rehearsals or gym classes. And, surprisingly enough for my introverted self, that’s been tough. But the most poignant thing I’ve noticed since this isolation started is that people in my circles of friends are stepping up and engaging in so much more virtual communication. People are going live on Instagram. People are hosting Zoom play readings. I’ve been added to a Facebook group where we post phone videos of us singing Broadway songs according to the weekly theme. And I’ve found myself involved with some friends on Instagram who are keeping up their fitness routines using the Daily Yoga app.

I was originally enabled by Jude Chao at Fifty Shades of Snail to download and try the Daily Yoga app. While I’m a yogini of twenty years and used to have a very robust home practice, that has changed a lot since having a baby and moving to a smaller house and I’ve found myself lacking the motivation to get up and do yoga in the morning. Couple that with a sudden lack of walking now that I’m no longer walking over a mile each way to get to and from work and I found myself looking at a bout of inactivity-induced depression. So I started posting to their hashtag and tagging the others and linked up with a group of people who are also just trying to beat back inactivity and maybe get a little bit bendier.

Yesterday, I celebrated my fourteenth day of a yoga practice streak, which is the longest I’ve gone since starting on the app a month or so ago. And I seriously couldn’t have done it without the support and accountability of my virtual friends. To celebrate, I ordered some new silver needle white tea and a meditating woman statuette to use as a tea pet on my tray from my favorite local tea shop, Valley Brook Tea.

I think, in general, I’ve found that millennials might be dealing with distancing better because we’re used to “making friends” virtually. I already have a bunch of friends I’ve never met face to face, or have met maybe once in person, but with whom I feel pretty close. So it’s not that big of a stretch to transfer some of my in-person friendships to the virtual world for a while. At the same time, I’m noticing some of my older friends bemoaning the “isolation” because they don’t consider virtual community “real” community. But these are communities. I’ve even heard people insist on calling this “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” because we can still connect socially, even if we’re not physically in each other’s company.

So I have so much gratitude for my community, virtual or otherwise. Happy distancing.

NB: Nothing to declare. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

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.

Thoughts on My Thirty-Seventh Birthday

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Today is my birthday. Now, I’ve never actually posted on my birthday on this blog, in the roughly five years that I’ve been writing in this space, merely alluded to previous celebrations. And this time last year, I was on an extended hiatus as I rediscovered my own self after giving birth. So I thought in lieu of a Tuesday Tasting, I would ramble a bit about this birthday, previous birthdays, and some things I’ve been thinking about as I get older.

Two years ago, less than a month after my 35th birthday, I found out I was pregnant again. By the time I turned 36, I was mother to a two-month-old baby and trying to figure out who I wanted to be. The aftermath of my postpartum experience upended a lot of things I thought about myself. I could barely move for a month (and when I did, it hurt). I didn’t sleep more than a couple hours at a time. I was depressed and anxious in ways I’d never experienced. I lived in robes and nightgowns, with the occasional soft maxi dress when I had to go out. And I had a small being whose every need depended largely on me. When I say becoming a mother was an ordeal, I mean that in the sense of a time when I was physically and emotionally dismantled and then redistilled into a truer form of myself.

I started this blog with a vague idea that it would be about vintage-inspired lifestyle and beauty, with a strong affinity for tea because, well, I have a strong affinity for tea. Eventually, I discovered both Korean skin care and gongfucha, which split the blog further into two seemingly-dichotomous paths. Since then, I’ve found myself converging on a tea-focused, historically-inspired lifestyle. I’ve learned about history bounding and started dressing in a way that can only be described as Edwardian hobbit witch. I’ve started mixing my gongfucha accessories with my vintage tea cups. In fact, one of my first comments on YouTube was from a semi-famous tea personality saying that he enjoyed my mixing of teaware styles and I’ve taken that to heart. I’ve come to realize that, once you find yourself responsible for the continued existence of a helpless tiny human, it doesn’t really bother you as much to think that someone might think you look odd on public transportation or sniff derisively at the “impurity” of your tea practice.

And then I’ve gone further. I’ve deepened the link between my tea practice and my love of all things historical by starting my historical tea sessions. I find it endlessly fascinating to research the sources I need to learn about how tea practice has grown, changed, and maintained its identity through the ages (kind of like me). I’ve also returned to a somewhat more minimalist, historically-inspired beauty routine. I like to think I’ve gone from VIB Rouge to VIB (very important buveur) Rou Gui 😉

As I’ve more thoroughly committed my blog to being first and foremost a tea blog, I’ve toyed with the idea of taking down some of my old posts, particularly beauty product reviews that have little to no bearing on my current beauty routine. But ultimately, these posts reflect how I’ve grown through the years, and deserve a place in my archives. Perhaps eventually my reviews of Deciem products will no longer vastly outperform literally everything else I write, but until then, if people are finding my blog because they’re curious about inexpensive Canadian skin care, so be it.

And anyway, I’ve maintained and cultivated friendships on social media with many of the beauty influencers whose blogs and Instagram feeds I read and love as a way to learn about new beauty products. Some of them have even applauded what they see as me finding my true niche in my tea nerdery. Most of them I’ve never met in person, but they’re truly friends of mine now. And I’m starting to cultivate similar friendships in the tea community. Among the tea-lovers, the tea-growers, and the tea-sellers, I’m learning more and meeting more amazing people to help increase my feeling of connectedness to the world without having to venture out of my introvert bubble (much).

At thirty-seven, I am weirder and more fulfilled than ever before in my life, and I have my wonderful blog community to thank for it.

Adventures in Portable Tea with Tea Drops

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Recently, Tea Drops* offered to send me some of their flavors after I was accepted into their affiliate program, so I’ve been trying their Classic Tea Drops Assortment* over the last couple of weeks. As I mentioned in my post on Pique Tea’s offerings, I’m a fan of finding ways to take tea with me on the go that is less complicated even than bringing a high-quality tea bag. Add to that recent concerns with microplastics in silky tea bags, and I’m always in the market for a way to take tea along with me that doesn’t immediately reveal me as a high-maintenance tea snob.

Tea Drops are a different direction of portable tea because they focus on flavors. Tea Drops are sweetened because the form is a compressed tea nugget, almost like a tea-flavored sugar cube, rather than a packet of powder. It’s worth noting that if you have to avoid all sugar, they do have some unsweetened types, but I went for their classic flavors: Rose Earl Grey*, Sweet Peppermint*, Citrus Ginger*, and Matcha Green Tea*. They come in a wooden gift box with two of each flavor. But the sweetened original Tea Drops have between 1-2 teaspoons of sugar each, so it’s not a huge amount of sugar. Just enough to give a pleasantly sweet cup of tea.

Now, I don’t drink a lot of sweetened tea, so these fit into a specific part of my life: namely lattes and after-dinner drinks. In the mornings, I will often have a lightly-sweetened tea latte instead of a solid breakfast. Sadly, the Rose Earl Grey Tea Drop didn’t have quite the right balance of sweetness, rose, and Earl Grey flavor for me. I had hoped that it would be a quick and easy way to recreate my favorite Rose Earl Grey latte from the local coffee shop. Plus, the tea is actually finely powdered tea leaves, not dehydrated brewed tea like the Pique Tea crystals. So there was a fair amount of sediment in the cup.

But the Matcha Green Tea Drop was made from a good blend of sugar and matcha powder. It wasn’t the best quality matcha powder, but it was certainly comparable to what you’d get at a Starbucks. In fact, a Matcha Tea Drop mixed into a cup of hot milk with my electric frother is probably the easiest dupe of a Starbucks green tea latte (I get mine “unsweetened” — that is, without the additional syrup on top of the sugar in their green tea powder). And the matcha mixes into the latte with little to no sediment.

The two caffeine-free flavors I tried were good for the other time I drink tea with sugar: when I want something sweet after dinner, but don’t want to eat a full dessert. Since Elliot started on solids, I’ve been watching how often I eat sweets, and we’ve largely stopped eating dessert most nights of the week. But once in a while I want a little something sweet, and while I love a hot chocolate, I don’t always want the dairy right before bed. So I’ve started having one of the caffeine-free Tea Drops as an after-dinner treat. It’s the perfect level of sweetness for me. The Citrus Ginger is a little heavier on the citrus and a little lighter on the ginger than I prefer (although I do drink straight sliced ginger in hot water, so I like it spicy). The Sweet Peppermint one is my favorite. It’s the perfect mix of peppermint tea and sweetness. These also have a sediment problem, but it’s fine enough not to be unpleasant, and it doesn’t detract from the experience.

Tea Drops also makes some other flavors that look interesting, such as their Cardamom Spice and their Dessert Collection, so perhaps I will keep exploring. All in all, I enjoyed this foray into sweetened, portable tea. If you like your tea a little sweet and want something that you could toss in your purse and take with you for when you have hot water or milk, these are definitely worth a look.

NB: These were sent to me free of charge in exchange for my honest thoughts. Links may be affiliate links, which are marked with an asterisk. If you’re interested in my other affiliate links, you can find them here. If you’re interested in contacting me for a collaboration, please read this page.

Tuesday Tasting: Two Dongfeng Meiren Teas

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Today, I’m doing another comparative tasting, this time of two Dongfang Meiren (or “Eastern Beauty”) teas I got from two different sources. I got the first in my Floating Leaves Tea order that I mentioned last week, and the second I bought at Ching Ching Cha in Georgetown after Nazanin of Tea Thoughts mentioned that it was good. After trying them both separately, I thought it would be interesting to try them side-by-side. I’m continuing to use my cupping sets because it’s supposed to be a good way to evaluate teas quickly.

I used 3 grams of leaves for each 125-ml cupping set, with 95C water. I did warm the vessels before adding the dry leaves, but I didn’t rinse. I ended up steeping each three times. The dry leaf aroma on the Floating Leaves (FL) tea was of toast with honey, while the Ching Ching Cha (CCC) tea smelled of floral honey.

The first steeping was for two minutes. The FL wet leaves smelled of clover honey and yielded a medium-dark gold liquor with a light hay or alfalfa flavor and a light mouthfeel. The empty cup smelled of muguet. The CCC wet leaves smelled of buckwheat honey and yielded a lighter gold liquor with a honey aroma. It had a sweet fruity flavor and a honey-water mouthfeel. There was a lingering cereal sweetness and the empty cup smelled of hay and honey.

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The second steeping was for two and a half minutes. The CCC wet leaves smelled of honey with a touch of smoke. The liquor aroma had a slight incense-smoke quality to it. The mouthfeel was thicker and juicier with a more pronounced straw flavor and less sweetness. There was a mild tannin. The empty cup smelled of honey and sandalwood. The FL wet leaves smelled of sweet grain. The mouthfeel was syrupy with floral and mild tannins. It tasted a bit like red raspberry leaf tea. The empty cup smelled faintly of caramel.

The third steeping was for three minutes. Both teas were obviously past their best flavors. The FL wet leaves had started to smell a bit like wet paper, and had a light honey sweetness but was obviously fading. The CCC had a sweet aroma, but fading, with a fruity honey sweetness. The spent leaves were similar in appearance, though the CCC leaves seemed a bit bigger.

NB: No affiliate links or promotional samples to disclose. To learn about contacting me for a collaboration, click here.

Tuesday Tasting: Taiwan Ruby 18 Black Tea from Floating Leaves Tea

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I ordered a few teas from Floating Leaves Tea a little while ago, but I’ve been remiss in showing them the love they deserve. So, to remedy this, I decided to do a tasting of the Ruby 18 black tea this week. I’ve also started exploring tea cupping using a cupping set I got from Camellia Sinensis (or, if you want a US-based store, Art of Tea has a similar one*). I’m still learning the ropes of tasting in this style of brewing vessel, so I played around a bit. I suppose I might want to take an actual course in tea cupping, but that’s not really my style, so for now, I’m experimenting.

I used 3g of leaf in a 125-ml cupping set with 99C water. I did not rinse or preheat my cupping set before starting the tasting, but I did smell the dry leaves after adding them to the vessel. I got aromas of dried fruit, like prunes and sweet cherries, from the dry leaf. I did not rinse the tea.

The first steeping was for two minutes, after which, I got sweet aromas, almost like the glue on the back of old postage stamps, from the leaves. I know this sounds like an odd note, but it’s actually a very positive and comforting aroma for me because it reminds me of helping my mother at the office on snow days when my school was closed. The liquor was a rich mahogany brown color and really exemplifies why the Chinese refer to this kind of tea as “red tea” rather than “black tea,” as the West calls it. The liquor had a light fruity and smoky aroma. The body was medium-rich and had a lightly syrupy mouthfeel, with a hint of dryness afterwards. There was a light, smooth tannic flavor, followed by caramelized onion and dark stone fruit. This developed into a sweet-acidic flavor that reminded me of dried tart cherries and amaretto.

The second steeping, I went for two and a half minutes. The wet leaves smelled of caramel and wood. The liquor was slightly lighter in color, with a sweet smell that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, like some sort of sweet-smelling herb. The mouthfeel was richer and juicier with no dryness. The flavor had a sweet cereal taste, like barley syrup or toasted soybean powder with brown sugar. I still get stamp glue from the flavor. The cup aroma after finishing the liquor was pure caramelized sugar, and I noted that I was starting to sweat.

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The third steeping was for three minutes, after which I got aromas of wet paper from the leaves. The liquor was a similar color to the second steeping, with a faint sandalwood aroma. The mouthfeel is the same round, rich feel, but there is an acidic note, almost like a tomatillo, on the taste. The liquor was starting to taste a bit papery, which is often a sign that the tea is about finished. The fourth steeping, for three and a half minutes, was the last. The liquor was lighter — a dark apricot color — and the leaf aroma was exhausted. Only the acidic notes seemed left to the flavor with a bit of woodiness.

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The spent leaves were surprisingly large. I actually took a photo after the second steeping, but was surprised by how much more they expanded over the next two steepings, so I had to photograph it again. I’m definitely going to have to explore more Taiwanese red tea cultivars.

NB: Tea was purchased by me and all thoughts are my own. Links may be affiliate links (affiliate links noted with an asterisk). If you’re interested in supporting the blog by using my affiliate links, you can find them here. If you’re interested in collaborating or providing tea for tasting, you can find my contact and collaboration information here.

Tuesday Tasting: Dragon Claw Oolong from Tea Runners

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This Dragon Claw Oolong tea was part of the free Pure Teas box I received last month from Tea Runners that I unboxed on my YouTube channel recently, and I’ve been curious to try it. I finally opened it (I have a plethora of oolong right now) and decided to give it a taste. This is a rolled Nepalese oolong that looks semi-oxidized and was harvested in Summer 2018.

I used 5 grams of tea in a 120-ml gaiwan with 87C water. The dry leaf is dark green-brown and rolled into loose spirals. I get an aroma of cream and roasted nuts from it. I did not rinse it, but instead went straight into steeping it.

The first steeping was for 20 seconds. The wet leaf aroma was roasty with an undertone of hazelnut liqueur. The liquor was reddish amber brown and smelled of amaretto. It had a smooth, milky mouthfeel and almost tasted like black tea with maple syrup and milk. It has a jammy and sweet fruity aftertaste, maybe like prunes. It also had a lingering flavor of roasted nuts. The second steeping was also for 20 seconds and yielded a slightly darker liquor with more roast aroma on the wet leaf and a fruity aroma on the liquor. It had a similar tea-with-milk flavor, with a hint of Frangelico.

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By the third steeping, also for 20 seconds, while the liquor was a similar color, I noticed the flavor becoming milder, with some tannin coming through. I left the fourth steeping for 45 seconds and for some cherry and firewood aromas from the wet leaves. The liquor had a lovely maple sweetness. The fifth steeping, also for 45 seconds, had lighter flavors and tasted of cherries, almonds, and tannin. By the sixth steeping, for a full minute, the tea seemed done.

The spent leaves were interesting, as they were quite narrow and small, despite being a whole-leaf tea. I’m used to oolongs have big fat leaves, but these were different from other oolong leaves I’ve examined. All in all, this was an intriguing oolong and makes me curious to try other non-black Nepalese teas.

NB: This tea was sent free of charge in exchange for my honest thoughts. All thoughts are my own. To learn more about the format of my tea tasting posts and why I switched from reviews to tastings, please read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information.

On the Health Benefits of Tea

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Building on last week’s post about how I’ve decided to take steps to learn the medicinal use of plants in a more formal way, I thought I’d talk a little about how I view the supposed health benefits of tea (that is, C. sinensis). Now, much has been said, particularly in the Western press about tea as some sort of miracle elixir that is supposed to promote weight loss, improve your skin, fight cancer, and reduce inflammation in the body. And recently, my mother (who was the first tea-lover in my life, but who largely drinks black tea) came to me with a request: can I suggest some white and oolong teas that she might like because they are supposed to be good for her.

So I invited my mother over to introduce her to some teas, both those that I thought she would enjoy, and those that were just a relatively good representation of what can be easily found in each style. We chatted a bit about tea, how to brew it, what kind of things made different teas different, and a bit about the reason she decided to try to drink teas (other than black tea, which for some reason is largely exempt from the health sensationalism). Of course, the darling of the popular press is green tea, but my mother categorically does not like green tea. I’m sure I could find one that she enjoys, but I didn’t want to push her, so I respected the request for oolong and white teas only. I sent her home with a few packets of oolong teas that she enjoyed (include my newly-beloved yancha), and hopefully a new motivation to expand her tea horizons.

The one thing I will say is that I am not here to talk about the validity of health claims about tea. If you read my contact information, you’ll find that I am not willing to work with companies that make overblown health claims or that promote weight loss or detox teas. That’s just not what I’m about with tea. But I think it is important to keep concepts of healthfulness in mind as context when exploring teas because tea was originally used (as were most plant-based beverages) as a medicine. The apocryphal story of the discovery of tea has the (likely mythical) emperor Shennong fortuitously tasting leaves that fell into his boiled water and finding out that it was an antidote to poisons he was testing. So acting like tea is purely a pleasure beverage, with no reason to consider any medicinal use, is also not quite right.

When I was pregnant, I had a really hard time determining if it was safe for me to drink tea. I’ve written about my research at length in a previous post, but suffice to say, I found a disconnect between research that lumped tea in with other caffeinated vices, like coffee, and research that treated tea like an everyday, innocuous-or-healthy beverage. The research that reduced it to “tea is for caffeine and caffeine is bad” tended to come from Western researchers, while researchers from Japan and China tended to focus more on the specific constituents of tea. In fact, if I hadn’t specifically looked up tea research from Japan, I wouldn’t have found information suggesting that the real worry about tea is not the caffeine, but the fact that other constituents can impede vitamin absorption! It was important to look at these drinks in a cultural context, particularly because in the case of pregnancy, there is a strong drive to demonize things and instruct pregnant women to avoid, well, everything.

So where does that leave me in the “is tea healthy?” debate? Honestly, tea, for me, is likely healthier than coffee because I’ve found that coffee causes me, personally, to have issues. But in that same vein, I’ve found that certain teas are more likely to affect me adversely than others. I think it’s important for each tea lover to do their own research, but that ultimately, the important thing is that you enjoy your tea, and don’t simply suffer through it for some particular health benefit that may or may not have been properly tested. I think tea is wonderful, and I understand the impulse to tout all the positive press I can find about my favorite beverage, but I think drinking tea solely for health benefits is rather missing the point. So when I set out to introduce my mother to oolongs teas, my goal was to find a tea within that style that she enjoyed, not to introduce her to the healthiest version of that tea. And I hope you, dear readers, will also choose your teas based not only on their purported health benefits, but also for the joy it gives you, because joy is a healthy thing, too.

NB: I am not a health professional and none of this should be considered medical advice. Please do your own research and come to your own conclusions (which can include consulting your own doctor).