Tea Tasting: Purple au Naturalé from Leafberri

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It’s a good old-fashioned tea tasting! Recently, I found the company Leafberri, which sells purple tea from Kenya, and since purple is my favorite color, I had to try it. So today I’m sharing my (limited) tasting notes from the Purple au Naturalé from Leafberri, which is a pure purple tea with no other flavorings. They also sell blends and some black teas.

Now the history of tea cultivation in African countries is interesting and rich in and of itself, and I certainly plan to delve into it, particularly the connections to British colonization, in a future post. But purple tea is not a product of the British-driven mass-production of commodity tea (except in as much as it is made from the Assamica cultivar that was introduced to Africa by colonizers) on the continent. Instead, it is an artisan product from a newly-developed cultivar of the tea plant that concentrates anthocyanin pigments in the leaves, leading to the purple color. Yes, those are the same antioxidants found in blueberries. The tea represents 25 years of research, and is produced on small farms adhering to sustainable practices, providing a livelihood to the artisans who create the tea, rather than feeding into the commodity tea machine that I’ve mentioned before. Leafberri is also a Black-owned company with family ties to Kenya, where the tea is grown and processed.

The most fascinating thing to me is that, while the leaves look most similar to a black or oxidized oolong tea, the leaves do not undergo oxidation. Instead, they are put through something similar to a kill green process, which halts oxidation, before being rolled and dried. So they look like black tea leaves, but they have a unique flavor that reminds me of many things. The first time I tried this tea, I was reminded, oddly, of yancha, likely because of the woody notes in the flavor, but later sessions reminded me of a young sheng puerh, probably because I experimented with hotter water. So I decided to sit down with my cupping set and take careful notes.

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I used 3 grams of leaf in my 120-ml cupping set with boiling water. I did not pre-warm my tea ware, but still was able to detect a faint herbal aroma from the dry leaf. I brewed it for three minutes. The wet leaf smells very much like a green tea, particularly a green tea from Yunnan, which is unsurprising, given the cultivar. On my first sip, I detected a strong, clean bitter note. I couldn’t even really place the quality of the bitterness because there were no accompanying flavors muddying it. It had no astringency or stridency. Just a clean bitterness that was rather pleasant. It was similar to a young sheng, as I mentioned before.

But the mouthfeel was juicy, and reminded me of blackberries. If you’ve ever had blackberries that are ever so slightly underripe, that is exactly what I detected in the mouthfeel and aftertaste. I was curious, so I tried another steeping for three minutes, after which the bitterness started to soften and allowed this fruitiness to come forward. I would characterize it as a true fruity note, not exactly a sweetness.

Sadly, after the second steeping, my toddler decided to pull the entire tea set onto the floor, and I did not fancy seeing what cat hair added to the flavor profile, but this is definitely a tea I will be revisiting many times. Plus, y’know, purple.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please see my contact and collaboration information.

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.

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.