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.

The Experiential Tea Tasting: Hojicha Classic from Hojicha Co

NB: This post has been sponsored by Hojicha Co. All thoughts are my own.

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Recently, Francois from Hojicha Co contacted me to see if I would like to taste and write about their newest release, Hojicha Classic, which releases today. Now, I’ve written about my love for their hojicha in the past, as well as shared a video about how their dark roast is my quintessential autumn tea. So when Francois mentioned that this release was a medium roast that was inspired by the classic methods of roasting hojicha in cafes in Kyoto, I was intrigued. I know how roast level affects my enjoyment of coffees, so I was curious how it would affect hojicha.

But the thing that hooked me in properly was his description of how this hojicha was intended to remind you of sitting in a cafe in Kyoto, having a cup of tea. Because I recently had to cancel my planned trip to Japan, the idea of experiencing a small part of that trip through tea sounded lovely. And the experiential side of tea tasting is something about which I’ve been thinking for a while. Eventually, I want to create a flavor and aroma wheel that takes into account how different flavors and aromas can evoke memory and emotion. So I thought I would share a bit about the experience of trying this tea, along with the actual concrete tasting notes themselves.

First of all, the hojicha from Hojicha Co is excellent, but their branding is also spot-on. Upon seeing the box on my front stoop, I cut into it and emptied the box onto a clean surface so I could discard the box and wash my hands. The contents of the box are already gorgeous. The simplicity of brown paper wrapping with a coarse twine tying it up, with just the simple Hojicha Co business card tucked into the twine not only sticks to their color scheme of brown to match the color of hojicha leaves, but also evokes the rustic simplicity of a product that until recently was a tea primarily enjoyed within Japan, and not a fancy export tea.

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From there, I opened the bag and was greeted with an intense aroma of freshly roasted nuts. It definitely smelled less roasted than their dark roast, but was still a pronounced warm aroma. The leaves are a uniform dark brown color, and are uneven in size, which makes sense given hojicha’s typically-humble origins.

I measured out eight grams of tea leaves while enjoying the cozy aromas of the dry leaf, and set my kettle to 90C. I used an open-top porcelain kyusu that holds about 300 ml, so I also weighed my water to ensure I was only adding 250 grams of hot water. I steeped the hojicha three times, for thirty, forty-five, and sixty seconds respectively.

Immediately upon pouring out the first pot, I noticed that the wet leaf aroma reminded me strongly of a yancha, though the liquor aroma was very roast-forward without any of the fruity or sweet notes in the nose that I often get from yanchas. But upon sipping the cup, I realized that not only was this a very smooth tea with a balanced roast flavor, but that fruitiness and juiciness came through. There was a slight tannin in the back of my throat as an aftertaste. On the second steeping, the roast flavor and aroma moved to the background, while the umami notes came forward and the tannic aftertaste faded completely. By the third steeping I was feeling hungry, so I decided to try the third steeping alongside a piece of homemade sourdough with chocolate hazelnut spread, which complemented it very well. The umami and the roast both accentuated the nuttiness and cut through the sweetness of the chocolate spread. The third steeping was lighter in flavor, but still bold enough to stand against a snack.

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As I sipped the tea, I felt a deep, comforting warmth rise up in my body. It is still hot here, though the mornings are cooler, so the body warmth was not unwelcome. I will definitely make sure to save at least a little of this try to in the middle of autumn when I start to miss spring and summer warmth. The whole experience is one of comfort. I’ve talked before of how the dark roast evoked memories of fireplace fires and crisp evenings in autumn. This feels somehow more urban than suburban. I can definitely see how tea sellers could have used the aroma of roasting hojicha to lure in customers, and the simple act of sitting at my table with a cup of hojicha and a piece of sweet toast made me feel for a fleeting instant as if I were having a quiet break at an off-the beaten-path cafe in Kyoto.

At $16 for 80 grams of tea, this is certainly cheaper than a flight to Japan, and quite a bit more flexible in a time when many of us are canceling travel for the foreseeable future. It won’t bring back my trip, but it is an enjoyable little piece of Japan I can enjoy at home.

NB: Product provided free of charge for this sponsored post. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please see my collaboration information.

Tea Together Tuesday: Everyday Pairings

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share a food and tea pairing. Now, food and beverage pairing is something that can seem daunting to a lot of people. It evokes images of snooty sommeliers and people tasting wines and declaring that they have notes of mineral and cat’s piss. It evokes fancy restaurants where you get a quarter-sized piece of steak and a single pea for your main course, paired, bien sur, with something that was made in a chateau that crumbled sometime around the 18th century.

So I decided to go a different way. At it’s essence, food pairing is about balancing flavors. Have you ever had something really sweet and felt like you needed something bitter or sour or fresh to “cut through” the sweetness? That is food pairing, in a nutshell. Samin Nosrat really wrote the book on this one (and made the Netflix special), but balancing flavors is the foundation of all enjoyment of good food and drink. I used to get a lot of surprise when I said I made all my own salad dressing, but once you understand how to balance flavors, it’s not much more difficult than putting your ingredients into a jar with a tightly-fitting lid and shaking until it’s dressing.

And in the same way, pairing any beverage with food is about balancing flavors. And do you want to know the best part about balancing flavors? It’s uniquely personal. Do you think that the richness of a really good cut of roasted salmon goes beautifully with a full-bodied red wine? Well, guess what? That’s great! No amount of pairing advice will change the fact of what you enjoy eating and drinking. Like “steeping instructions,” pairing suggestions are like the pirate code — they’re really more like guidelines. If you’re completely lost, start there. But don’t be afraid to break the rules because there is no such thing as the pairing police. And even if there were, well…

So tea and food pairing. I’ve talked about cheese and tea pairing when I discussed my love of Ken Cohen’s Talking Tea podcast. But I really wanted to go for something a little more mundane today, even than cheese I can buy at my grocery store. So I’m sharing my breakfast, which is, at its core, a food and tea pairing. I don’t drink tea with most of my meals, but breakfast is usually some combination of food and tea. So this morning’s (first) breakfast was a slice of toast with some chocolate-hazelnut spread. And because it is very sweet, I paired it with a cup of Black Dragon Pearls from The Steeped Leaf Shop.

I find this Black Dragon Pearl tea fascinating because it has the full body and rich, almost chocolate-y notes of a Chinese black tea, but it doesn’t have the malty sweetness I associate with a Dian Hong or a Qimen tea. This lack of inherent sweet notes makes it perfect (to my tastes) alongside a very sweet breakfast, and the cocoa notes tie in with the chocolate in the spread. It’s like when Claire uses milk and dark chocolate when she recreates a gourmet version of a candy treat because they balance each other.

So that is my humble pairing and a little musing about the concept of food pairings. I am unlikely to pair my breakfast with wine very often, but choosing your tea to complement your breakfast food is one way to start thinking about the balance of flavors that go into all kinds of food experimentation. Carry on and pair delicious things!

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

Tea Together Tuesday: Three Easy Steps to Tea Love!

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Do you like my attempt at a clickbait title? Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your top three tips for new tea drinkers or people who are just discovering tea. Now, I’ve actually written a multi-part series on approaching tea from various points in your journey, but I like the idea of distilling my tea philosophy down into three top tips, particularly since my own philosophy and attitudes have changed in the nearly two years since I published my Tea Primer.

Step One: Be Very, Very Wary of Anyone Claiming to Be Teaching the “One True Way”

Like with anything, there will always be evangelists who want to convince you that the tea they sell or the way they brew tea is the best way or even the only way to brew tea to truly enjoy it. Or they will claim some ancient, unbroken lineage for their methods or traditions. No, we do not brew tea the way that Lu Yu, the “Sage of Tea,” author of the earliest known written work exclusively devoted to tea, did. Maybe some people do, and of course more people might try it once as a curiosity or an historical exercise, but for the most part, the Tang Dynasty method of tea is not the same as modern gongfucha or even very similar to the way most of us drink our daily tea, even without the salt.

One thing that studying the history of tea culture around the world has taught me is that tea is not monolithic, even within China, its birthplace (although that is up for debate, as there is evidence that tea plants evolved independently in other parts of south and southeast Asia). Tea was originally used as a medicinal plant; that’s why the most common story of its origins as a beverage involve the legendary founder of traditional Chinese medicine and its mention is traced to medical texts. While it eventually developed into a pleasure beverage and aesthetic pursuit, tea has always been considered for its health benefits, and it has always been drunk blended and flavored by many of those who use it. Flavoring teas is not a new phenomenon. Drinking tea for the benefits is not a new phenomenon. And what is now popularized as gongfucha is not an ancient secret, nor is it the only way tea is drunk by those who really appreciate it.

Step 2: Drink What You Like, How You Like It

Do you prefer your tea unsweetened and un-lightened so you can really taste the intricate flavor notes of the particular cultivar or processing style you’re enjoying? Great! Do you like a brew so strong you can stand the spoon up in it, sweetened within an inch of its life, and with enough milk to keep your mouth from turning inside out at the tannin? Also great!

Again, historically, the British did not invent putting milk in tea. Even the supposed tale of the British learning it from the French is likely not true. The truth is that the Qing Emperor who reigned during the early heyday of Western tea trade was a Manchurian who drank milk tea (much to the supposed dismay of the Han Chinese, who preferred their delicate green teas). Was this emperor a literal barbarian? Well, that term has all sorts of uncomfortable racial connotations, so perhaps it’s best to just let him have his milk tea, and let the rest of us add milk or not as we like.

Sugar is also a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicinal concoctions, with different sorts of sugars having different supposedly benefits for the body. Traditionally-prepared brown or unrefined sugar is supposed to have all sorts of lovely benefits for women, at least according to one of my favorite Chinese YouTubers. So, again, it is entirely possible that it was the Chinese who taught Westerners that sugar was a good thing to add to tea. So there is no historical basis for the tea purism that sometimes permeates modern tea communities and discourages new people from coming in and trying the tea, since they sometimes need a spoonful of sugar, at least at first.

(Please note, I am not going to get into it about anything to do with the healthfulness or unhealthfulness of sugar. Carbohydrates are a necessary macronutrient and that’s where this post ends on the matter. Ableist or fatphobic comments will not be entertained or approved.)

And I’ve already talked about how tea was originally blended. In my video on the earliest archaeological evidence of tea, I talked about how it seems likely from the chemical signatures found that the tea was blended with barley and other botanicals, possibly even the citrus peel, ginger, and scallions mentioned by Lu Yu (who was actually a bit of a tea snob, it seems). I’ve actually found that the combination of green tea, ginger, and orange peel (pictured above) has quickly become one of my favorite blends personally. Does it obscure some of the flavor notes in the tea that might come forward without the additions? Yes. But does it “ruin” it? Absolutely not. And, no, just because I don’t personally prefer most added artificial flavors doesn’t mean you should feel anything but enjoyment at your own favorite mocha-blueberry-s’mores-rooibos-puerh blend.

Step Three: Experiment and Explore

Now, that said, while you’re drinking what you like, you should never feel afraid to experiment. Yes, it can be scary to think about “ruining” a cup of tea by steeping it too hot or too long or with the wrong teaware, especially when you start getting into the realm of 20-year-old oolongs or puerhs from the year you were born that you can only afford 10g of at a time. But ultimately, it’s just tea. It’s an ephemeral pleasure, no matter how long you want to store and age it, it is ultimately meant to be consumed. Try to pay attention more to what you do enjoy and merely make a note of what you don’t like to try to avoid it in the future.

Once again returning to the blend in my photo, did I added citrus peel and ginger to the very last of my 2020 fresh all-bud expensive green tea from white2tea? Yes. Was it awesome? Also yes. No regrets.

If you’re 100% brand-new to tea, yes, it’s a good idea to look up some general guidelines or read the packet to get an idea of how to brew this tea. But “brewing instructions” are like the Pirate Code — they’re really more like guidelines. Don’t fully enjoy that tea made the way the instructions say to make it? Try something different with it! Try brewing at a different temperature or with a different amount of leaves or for a different amount of time. I’ve written in the past about how I “troubleshoot” a difficult tea, and that is a good place to start, but I also love Rie’s experiments at Tea Curious. If you have the time, try to catch one of her tea practice Live sessions on Instagram where she often performs experiments to see how different parameters really affect tea. I’ve even tried my hand at these experiments, by testing out whether a bamboo whisk is really the best way to make matcha, and I have more tests planned in the future.

So there you have it — my top three tips for new tea drinkers. We were all new to this once, and honestly, the best thing I’ve brought to my tea practice is the concept of “beginner’s mind.” Always be learning, never consider yourself finished or an expert. There is always something new to explore and always someone who can teach you. Happy sipping!

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

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.