Tuesday Tasting: Mystery Oolong from Yunnan Sourcing

This Tuesday’s tasting is a tea I found in my tea cupboard that I cannot link to because I don’t know precisely which tea it is! I know it came from Yunnan Sourcing, in my oolong tea subscription box, and was from Autumn 2018, but beyond that, I have only what I can glean from my eyes, nose, and tongue because I accidentally cut off most of the label when I opened the packet.

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You can see that it is a rolled oolong that has a bit of roast and oxidation on it. The leaves are obviously rolled, but super tightly like some oolongs. I used 5g in a 120-ml gaiwan and steeped it at 190F. I rinsed and then steeped, starting with 15 seconds and increased each steeping by five seconds (except for the seventh and the ninth).

From the dry leaf, I got aromas of pipe tobacco, roasted nuts, and a faint bit of woodsmoke. After the rinse, the wet leaf smelled creamy, with notes of caramel and leather, and just a little cannabis. After the first steeping, the lid of the gaiwan smelled of toasted hazelnuts while the wet leaf smelled of spent firewood. The liquor was a medium amber-gold color and smelled of tobacco. It had a creamy mouthfeel with flavors of browned butter and a maple syrup aftertaste. The empty cup had the aroma of vanilla and wood.

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The second steeping gave a slightly richer color liquor that had more roasted aromas coming through. The lid and leaf both smelled of charcoal while the liquor still smelled of tobacco. The flavor had a bit more tartness or tannin with a bit of mineral dryness and a sweet finish. The mouthfeel was custardy and I got sandalwood on the finish. The third steeping had more sweetness still, with the same roasted and tobacco aromas.

On the fourth steeping, I noticed a cedar smoke aroma. The flavors were much lighter and I noticed I was feeling some body warmth. By the fifth steeping, the aroma seemed to be fading, along with the flavor, but I still noticed a biscuit flavor and a very smooth finish. The sixth steeping brought out charred flavors: charred meat on the aroma and a charred oak flavor, like a whisky. The seventh steeping I actually only steeped for maybe 20 seconds because I forgot to wait for it to steep before straining it. I got more of a meaty flavor, almost like a stew from this steeping.

By the eighth steeping, it seemed pretty done, though I still got that characteristic tobacco aroma, so I did a ninth and final steeping for 90 seconds, which gave the last bits of a smoky, meaty aroma and left me feeling a bit jittery.

Oddly enough, the spent leaf was a deep green color, not brown like the dry leaf and roast would suggest. It was the color of pickled grape leaves. They were still quite shriveled and upon inspecting them closer, there were no fully intact leaves. A final sniff of the leaves brought out aromas of spinach or kale and a light marine aroma.

Perhaps in the future, I would be able to actually identify a tea from such a tasting. Any guesses?

Tuesday Tasting: Storm King Tea Bai Mudan

This Tuesday, I’m finishing off the last of a tea that came as part of a sampler I purchased on Amazon last year from Storm King Tea. I’ve featured other teas from them over the last year, but, as I’ve written before, I’ve had a bit of a difficult relationship with Bai Mudan, or white peony. So I thought it might be a good idea to sit down and actually do a full, detailed tasting to see what I get. Plus, I had the packet out for my matcha experiments, and I had just enough leaf leftover for a gongfu session.

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I brewed 5.5 grams in my 120-ml gaiwan with 180F water. I started on an empty stomach, but the session ended up stretching all day, so I had some food starting with bread and butter after the first infusion.

The dry leaf is a mix of olive-green-to-brown leaves and silvery fuzzy buds. There is an aroma of sweetgrass and fresh hay from the dry leaf. After a rinse, I get an intense white floral aroma off the leaves, which I interpreted as jasmine. I steeped the tea ten times, starting with ten seconds and increasing by five seconds each subsequent steeping.

The aroma of the first steeping was floral from the gaiwan lid with something a bit deeper, and cannabis-like from the leaf itself. The liquor was a medium apricot gold color with a fruity aroma. It had a light juicy mouthfeel and tasted of tannin and fruit, like persimmons, with a creamy undertone. During the second steeping, some apricot fruity aromas joined the floral aromas, with more fruity tannin on the flavors. The second steeping was the only one that almost skewed a bit harsh, tasting a bit like perfume.

By the third steeping, it had calmed down and the floral aromas dominated. It had a less dry mouthfeel and went back to juicy. There was a little tingle on the tongue, similar to what I experience from infusions of very good medicinal herbs. I noticed the aromas had faded a bit on the fourth infusion, and some fresh, raw peachy flavors came through.

I thought the fifth infusion would be the last, but from the fifth through the tenth infusion, this tea held remarkably steady. I did note that the sixth infusion had an aroma that was very similar to “white tea” scented things, particularly one of the GapScents from the 90s (was it “Cloud” or “Heaven” that had green tea as a note?). There was no unpleasant astringency. But by the tenth infusion, while the aroma was still lovely, the flavor was pretty much done. Not bad for a white tea I bought off Amazon on a whim.

Tuesday Tasting: Tea Tasting versus Tea Reviewing, plus Yunnan Sourcing Mengku Grade 3 Ripe Puerh mini tuo cha

Reviews are a cornerstone of many blogging universes, and this blog hasn’t been very different. Some of my most popular posts are reviews (mostly of beauty products), and recently, a large portion of my posts have been tea reviews. But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “reviewing” something like tea, which is so beholden to the reviewer’s personal tastes.

That said, of course I’m going to keep sharing my thoughts on teas I’m tasting. Have no fear. But I think I shall structure my thoughts as tea tastings rather than tea reviews. It may seem a silly distinction, but here is my rationale: flavors that I enjoy, you might not, and vice versa. I think my video on the immensely popular Lapsang Souchong is proof enough of that. So rather than “review” teas that come my way, either as gifts or my own purchases, I shall sit down and do a long tasting session, taking careful notes, so that I can share the impressions I get of the flavors and aromas I get from the tea. Hopefully, that way, it will provide some benefit beyond just “I liked this tea” or “I didn’t like this tea.” And it means that there’s no such thing as a positive or negative review. Just a tasting.

For now, I’m going to be very ambitious and try to do a tasting every Tuesday. And occasionally, I may also post about some topics relevant to tea tasting. I will say, this is my way of becoming more serious about my tea, without taking a formal class, so you should know that I merely have a lot of feelings about tea, rather than any real training. I take my descriptions from my experiences with perfumes, wine, cooking, and other hobbies of mine.

So if you are interested in knowing details of my tasting notes, stay tuned. And if you happen to sell tea and wish to offer up a tea for tasting, let me know through the contact form.

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Today’s tasting is of the 2011 Mengku Grade 3 Ripe Puer mini tuo cha I received as a free sample in one of my recent orders from Yunnan Sourcing. While the tea was provided free of charge, it was a normal sample-with-purchase rather than one provided for promotional reasons.

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I used one 4.7-gram tuo cha in a 120-ml gaiwan with boiling filtered water. I rinsed the tea, and then steeped this eight times, starting at 10 seconds and increasing by five seconds for each steeping, and then finished with a ninth steeping for one minute.

The dry tuo cha is quite compact, with a very subtle earthy scent after being warmed in the gaiwan. Upon rinsing, the leaves released a light aroma of wet earth.

After the first steeping, the gaiwan lid held the light aroma of petrichor and damp earth and the wet leaf itself smelled more strongly of earth. The liquor smelled of mushrooms and was a surprisingly light rosy amber color. The flavor of the first steeping was surprisingly sweet, with notes of Biscoff, brown sugar, and maple syrup.

The second steeping brought out a slightly darker color, like Grade B maple syrup. The wet leaf smelled of forest floor while the gaiwan lid brought out a sweeter woody aroma that took me some time to place. I believe I eventually settled on some sort of aromatic wood or liquorice root. The mouthfeel was noticeably creamy, with a little less sweetness and more fruit. It had jammy apricot notes and custard, so I noted a flavor of apricot tart.

During the third steeping, I was still trying to place the lid aroma. The liquor was much darker and started developing that rich, dark earthy flavor that I associate with ripe puer, though it still had some sweetness. By the fourth steeping, I had placed that the lid aroma was some sort of sweetly aromatic wood, though not spicy like sandalwood. I also noted that the tuo cha had started to noticeably come apart. The sweetness of the liquor had died down a bit, but it paradoxically retained a very smooth chocolatey flavor, almost like milk chocolate without sweetness, or perhaps like Crio Bru brewed cacao.

By the fifth steeping, I was starting to notice a bit of warmth in my body and was feeling rather good. Despite drinking on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, I had no stomach upset. The fifth steeping was the deep, dark color that I associate with ripe puer — almost like coffee — and the aromas were all sweet woods and earth, with some mulchiness in the wet leaf itself. I, very poetically, wrote that the liquor “tastes like the forest on a rainy day.” I then went on to wonder if there was such a thing as “poetic cha qi” and noted that I feel like lounging around like a cat. It had a very substantial, chocolatey mouthfeel and the tuo cha had completely come apart.

The sixth steeping had the same earthy aromas and dark liquor, though the flavors were somewhat muted. The color of the liquor had started to fade again at the seventh infusion, but still had strong earthy aromas and the leaf almost smelled of firewood. The flavors brought forward minerals — iron and salt. The eighth steeping looked very similar to the second steeping, with a little return of that woody sweetness. It was here that I identified liquorice root in the flavor. By the ninth steeping, I decided it was pretty much done, though with some pleasant lingering sweetness.

Upon examining the spent leaf, I noticed a fair amount of sticks. The overall mass of leaf was very dark, with little color variation.

Teas I Didn’t Immediately Love and How to Accept Them

This is not a post about acquiring a taste for tea or anything else. This is about taking a tea that was not my favorite and playing with how I prepare it in order to at least be able to finish a tin of it, if not grow to enjoy it. I posted this last week on Instagram:

I was sitting down to a brewing session of a Korean green tea that I bought on a whim and ended up seriously disliking the first time I brewed it. Always the consummate trusting fool, I obeyed the brewing instructions on the tin and ended up with an over-strong, overpowerfully vegetal, unpleasant cup of tea. It upset my stomach, as strong Chinese green tea often does, and was just generally a bad experience. I put the tea back in my cupboard and tried not to think of it for a while.

Then, I realized I was running through my stock of tea and had to use up something before the new batch arrived. I resolved to try to make something of this tea. By playing with water temperature and brewing times, I was able to come up with something that was drinkable, at the very least, and, dare I say it, enjoyable some of the time. So here are my little ways of playing with teas to make them more enjoyable.

  1. First things first: a gaiwan is your best friend for tasting teas. You can brew a small amount at a time and don’t have to either suffer through or throw away a bad cuppa. If you’re not sure about a tea, play with it in gaiwan first. You don’t have to pile in the leaf; you can brew like you would in a tea pot, if you’d like. But if you do brew traditionally, you get a really good idea of what flavors are released under what conditions.
  2. Alright, now you have your gaiwan and you have leaves in it. Start with a very short brewing time. Sometimes as little as 10 seconds will start releasing flavor. I started with 30 seconds and decided that the first steeping was a bit insipid, so I increased to 45. Remember that the very first steeping also needs time to let the leaves absorb the water from being dry. If no amount of reducing time on your first steeping helps, try rinsing your leaves.
  3. Your second steeping may not need as much time as your first steeping. Drop down a bit if you’re worried about off flavors, and favor steeping many times for short times each steeping over leaving it for too long.
  4. If you’re still getting off flavors with very short steepings, your water probably needs to be cooler, especially with green teas. They can take on an unpleasant “overcooked vegetable” flavor.

Next time you have a tea you hate, try playing with it using these tips before you bail on it altogether. And if this doesn’t work, you can always try adding herbs or flavorings to it. I cannot abide Gunpowder green tea by itself, but add spearmint and maybe a touch of sugar or honey and you have a tasty Moroccan Mint!

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!