54 Tasting Notes
Ruby Pu Erh – Nepali Tea Traders (dark tea)
Dry: wheat pollen, spice, toasty, with a hint of grape vine; a rich, deep aroma that seems elusive if details are sought after.
Wet: Damp earth in a corn field after a storm, wet stones, spicy, and wet vines with a hint floral spring.
Leaf: Beautiful, long-twisted leaves with variable colors ranging from dominant umber, to sienna and cadmium yellow with some olive hues developing with extraction. Some variable leaf size and cut, but large overall with a naturalistic pluck.
Cup: A rich, burnt orange, sienna tinged liquor with clean, coppery legs against the edges of the cup. Light to moderate bodied with spicy, tomato-vine flavor, bright and clean cup, with juicy mouth-feel and a growing velvety texture that gives way to toasty/baked notes that almost develop a flavor of walnuts. A lingering flavor stays on the palate, whispering a gentle earthy resemblance to shou pu-erh, but so delicate you have to listen deeply for it.
Directions: Used 3.1g of leaves in 4oz porcelain traditional cupping set, steeped in 190degree water for 2-3 minutes with following extractions being 3 min and finally 6 minutes. Only managed 3 extractions before color indicated spent.
Notes: When dealing with mountains there are often practical and poetic considerations. If there is a gift that tea translates from its place of origin, then it is often speaking a mountain language, one that translates its slopes and ridges, is stony bulwarks and frozen peaks, and its cold, swift streams. As a hiker, there is also the vibrating memory of body and mind that is penetrated by any trip linked peak to peak along a mountain’s thorny back. Whether slipping along the tree-line or summiting its peak, mountains have a lush language that is often only spoken in memory, as the body is often too busy to do much other that move and record, and so many of the sensations linger long after the journey; many lingering solely in the remembrance.
It is best thought that this tea is sharing this, so much of its flavor akin to vegetation, earth, and spice. Its resemblance to pu erh seems mostly in name, until after the cup is done and its voice echoes, much like a mountain view calls, and hints at motes of shou pu erh’s earthy legacy. Most who drink this cup and seek an experience with the mind of Yunnan pu erh, you will already be lost. Pu erh’s homeland being solely Yunnan and born in that land. “Dark teas” born elsewhere are a creature onto themselves, cast from different molds and fresh ideas.
Much of this cup reminds me of first flush Assam teas; something that I tried for the first time only a year ago. The juicy, vegetal cups, sweet and bright, brick-orange, and painting a textured tongue.
It is in the teas memory that its resemblance to pu erh is remembered, much like the alluded mountain walk where the view is stunning, vibrant and crisp, so too this tea presses its first impressions in uncommon views. It takes sitting down, the cup long empty, with the memory of its blush hanging much like a hikers remembrance of the stone under the feet and the cool mountain air at the nape of the neck, to find the earthy shou heart of this cup.
More than a cup of tradition, cast in a familiar and comforting mold, this cup is the brilliance of a view yet to be embraced and a walk towards cherishing what is at hand.
Additional note: When I was speaking with Pat from Nepali Tea Traders and pointed out the concern over naming this a Pu Erh he was quick to understand the reservation and made steps to rename this as a ‘dark tea’. Pu erhs are indigenous to Yunnan and all other teas produced in a similar manner are more appropriately called ‘dark teas’ (as was explained by a producer of ‘Dark Tea’ in Fijian to me).
Master Han’s Wild Picked Yunnan Black – Verdant Tea
Dry: Spice, Floral, Soft malt, Himalayan salt, elusive citrus and roasted tomato. There is an elusive autumn rain, oceanic note that is more impression than specific aroma, like a memory hidden in the scent, but a memory of many cups of teas drawing their roots in Yunnan mountains, and a history of cherishing this region and having its breath woven in a lifetime of cups.
Wet: Summery canopies of wet leaves, basking in a moments relief, capturing a quick splash of rain, with notes of minerals, earth, damp wood, distant and long abandoned camp fires, and spicy new growth. Hidden citrus emerges.
Leaf: Large, golden-umber leaves with dark oxidized stems and occasional reddish leaves that burnish from the gold and the black, reminiscent of the hues of Oriental Beauty oolong. The buds have an almost animal pelt-like appearance, fuzzy and layered in hue, coated in blonde pollen.
Cup: Bursts open with a rich, clean, and bright mouth feel. Luminous summer squash, golden-orange liquor that wafts a gently citrus aroma. Flavors of bitter orange, spice, citrus and soft leather balance lively against its crisp finish and lingering blush of savory sweetness. An indefinable nutty flavor swims around, almost like when a raw almond is split against the teeth.
Three extractions delivered consistent and vibrantly hued cups, with the flavors evolving and becoming increasingly subtle.
Brewing: Used 5g of leaves in 10oz glass pitcher, poured from varying height and steeped for 3-4 minutes in 190 degree water.
Notes: It is important to share that I have a long and deep love affair with the teas of Yunnan. I often cherish these teas and find them frequently, yet save them and share them and reserve them for a cured Yixing pot, adorned with dragons and who has no other region pass through its belly.
From the growing collection of pu erhs to the fuzzy crab curls of Imperial Golden Yunnan and so many others by that name, there are few teas so splendid to look upon, to hold in the hand and its golden, rusty liquor is a welcome homeland.
Over the years, as this affair has built, I have pursued cup after cup from this region, under many names; some offering an experience bordering on transcendental and others lacking and coarse. I still recall the mystery when one year I found a golden Yunnan whose heart was woven with seasonal blueberries, in such a natural blushing flush, that all who cupped it had their eyes opened as malt and citrus carried them to this new frontier, where flavors bloomed thick and deep.
Over the last few years, it has been noticeable that the cup has grown more and more elusive, rain showers and oceanic notes thinning the malt, citrus and fruit. The body has thinned, the cup has become a layer of veils, the flavors growing nutty and soft, regardless of the pollen glittering depths, or the gorgeously sensuous leaves. The transformation has born in me a curiosity that seeks to know what is happening, what is changing in those mist laden mountains, to know what is nestling in the earth around the roots, what is informing the leaf.
David has found a rare and wonderful offering, raw and wild, captured in the hands of a passionate master. Its worthy of the land and of the plant, of the tea and the cup and I hope bodes for the evolution of the region; harboring more and more compassionate and passionate hands to pluck and cherish these leaves. Perhaps with more hands like Master Han’s, the dragon will find a new voice and share further layers and return the depth and complexity back into the heart of Yunnan, or translate more fully the crisp, young voice that is emerging from the wise and aged arms of Yunnan’s amazing legacy.
Organic Vietnam Nam Lanh OP
Dry aroma: Soft exotic scent, resembling tarragon, muted 5-spice and the scent of the woods in Autumn.
Wet aroma: fruity currant, raw sugar, subtle spice
Appearance: Dark umber leaves and stems with fully-oxidized, fairly uniform cut and sort, some lighter blond accents
Cup: Dark caramel-cola colored liquor. Smooth, rich flavor with distinct notes of coriander, blushingly sweet finish, with lingering notes of hickory wood and ethereal smoke. Moderate bodied and exceptionally clean.I managed to brew 3 extractions on 3g in a 6oz celadon gaiwan and each had a similar strength and profile.
I received this sample from what I believe is the importer/distributor of this tea and so I can’t rightly say it came from Arbor Teas, but I do think it is the same tea and tea source. Either way I think this is a great offering and worthy to show case as a tea outside of the normal production arenas. Having had a few teas from Vietnam, I find them wonderful to share and I think they do have a natural terroir all their own and this shows itself even more clearly in the green and oolongs, where the mellow, smooth character displays distinct notes that grow more elusive in the black’s oxidation. A great tea for anyone who thinks black teas are all tart and tannic, bitter, or biscuit-like.
This tea blended well with the day in an unexpected way.
It’s a unseasonably warm March day, lingering on the Ides of March, which were made ominously haunted by the death of a good friend of mine a few years back. He was the best cowboy hat-wearing, coffee slinging, cycling-nerd, generous soul, and military hero that I have every known and one of the few people I would ever have considered a mentor. In addition, I learned that I buddy of mine’s ex-wife passed away, too young and too gentle a person to have gone so soon. So the overcast weather, dreary warm and unusual day has had in its swirling center, a cup equally elusive, mercurial, and worthy of celebration and remembrance.
“beauty is that which unrepeatable” – cherish each moment, each connection, each sip.
Many thanks to Indigobloom for a package of lovely teas to sample. I chose to drink this first as I have had a long and sordid past with Darjeelings, originally deeming them unworthy of drinking due to thier tendency to turn bitter and over extract, but found myself stunned by Darjeeling Ambootia and finding the error was mine, by lack of water temp, steep time and g. weight control. Once I realized this, I was won over heartily by Darjeelings and now find them to be a benchmark of craft and flavor complexity.
I was surprised that this one did not have an estate assigned to it; this usually meaning that the tea is a blend of 2nd and 3rd flush. The very fine cut of the leaf would also seem to support this.
Indigobloom was kind enough to have send 5g, which I place in a porcelian gawian and transfered to a traditional cuppers cup; using 200 degree water and almost pour directly from gawian to cup. 5 grams allowed for nearly 5 hearty steeps and while normally I would go the distance with aroma profiling, the package it came in also included a fragrant coconut oolong that dominated the other teas and I felt I wasn’t sure what aroma was carried over from that.
Upon first sip I thought perhaps the scent from the oolong had also gotton to the Darjeeling, but after 3 steeps I decided that the fruity flavor I was tasting was actually from the Darjeeling itself. The cup produces a dark caramel liquor, with champagne-golden accents. The flavor is overall very smooth, with a silken body and distinct lack of traditional muscatel, but rather this was replaced by a deep fruity character that combined with the body to have a taste almost like a Mckentosh apple. There was a lack of bitterness or astringency, but I was keeping the extractions very short, but was getting the hue I would expect, so I felt this lack of bitterness was a character of the tea. There was also a distinct lack of spicyness that I usually associate with most Darjeelings and while I missed it, I found the smooth fruity character to be quite pleasant.
The fine cut of leaf did allow for some particulate to end up in the cup, but the leaf was soft and fine and pleasant to nibble.
Many thanks to Indigobloom and I will be sending her and a few others some tea very, very soon.
Today is Columbus, Ohio’s bicentennial birthday and earlier this year I felt it was appropriate to make a chai to celebrate that. There are so many ideas of what chai should be, traditionally and new-fangled, and so many concentrates on the market influencing the public perception with ideas of sweet, spicy, creamy..er…sweet.
The name I chose to wear on here was even influenced by this: Kashyap the mythological ancient sage who was attributed to have written a classic reference book on Ayuvedic medicine and whose name was borrowed for the region of Kashmir – a source of green tea and almond infused chai. Darjeeling is also named after lightning- making all sort of visuals pop into the mind. My first chai blends were named Bihu or celebration and often paired with lightning crashes, so it’s only appropriate to note its influence on Ohio Thunder Chai.
I’m also a big Valentine’s day softy…so when we put together a Valentine’s day promotion…snuggled up to Jasmine pearls and Magnolia oolong, went the Ohio Thunder Chai.
I started this morning on this cup and really I’ve been sharing with friends for weeks, for those who have tried it or even smelled it have fallen in love with the sweet, spicy, slightly fruity complexity. One of the unique aspects is the base leaf, one of the hands-down largest leaves I’ve ever seen, cupped, or handled out of Ceylon; this characteristic makes it a perfect palate as it seem impervious to over-steeping and handles the long extractions that are needed to get the denser clove, cinnamon, and cardamom to pop and develop complexity.
In my musing over this tea during breakfast I was reading a passage by Baisao – the old tea seller and I thought it was a suitable passage to meditation on while drinking a cup of fruity, spicy chai:
Brewing Tea in a forest of Red Maples
White clouds, Crimson Trees,
here I am selling the spring;
if you enter an autumn forest
and enjoy the flowers of spring
sleep demons lower their banners
beat an abject retreat
pure breeze covers the earth
keeping defilements at bay
I also feel the Valentine’s day spirit asks me to share:
a zen master once was asked what is the nature of
beauty and he replied:
“beauty is that which is unrepeatable”….
and like love…so is a cup of tea…namaste
To get to the tea at hand and so share and show to amazing difference between production styles…here’s tea #2:
Market Stand Green Tea #2
Dry aroma: toasted, mineral, citrus, fruity, with a hint of fresh sockeye salmon flesh (I know this is a strange distinction, but having been a fisherman for 17 years in Alaska and also having a oddly acute sense of smell, I can actually smell the difference between species – I also should mention, this is a smell that is distinctive and should not be equated to ‘fishy’ but rather one of ocean brine and cleaner oceanic life, not the funk of groceries, open markets, or river fish)
Wet aroma: Fresh green beans, asparagus, citrus, trout, and marsh grass. (and yes I mean the flat, earthy fish aroma from freshly cleaned trout)
Appearance: Twisted- knotted, dark olive hued, almost camouflage like colors across the leaves.
Cup: 1st extraction. 3.1g in 8oz porcelain gaiwan, in 190 degree filtered water steeped for 2 minutes
White grapefruit hued liquor, soft mineral-zinc like initial flavor that finishes clean but leaves a almost vibrational feeling in the mouth, particularly along the back cuspids, like a merging of the body and flavor into a single fluid sensation.
2nd extraction: 200 degree water, 3 minutes
Strong lemony yellow hued liquor. Rich mineral front notes, clean and smooth body and finish, with a note of fresh asparagus and clarified butter.
Notes: This tea reminded me a lot of a number of green teas that I have had in a Mao Feng style but grown and produced in Ceylon and coming from the Camellia Assamica plant varietal. There is a similar signature in the mineral-like flavor and rich body. The color is also similar.
Some might be immediately turned from the descriptions of salmon, trout, and mineral, but as every palate perceives in a different way, I very much encourage people to try this tea as its character is so distinctive that is seems to suggest that it grows with natural sea fertilizers and perhaps is even translating the micro-climate of being in the Skagit valley.
Its very drinkable and seems impervious to over extraction and the leaves are large and carefully tended and it shows in the large leaves and the colors in them.
Thanks again to the Sakuma bros.!
Continuing with presenting from the rare and wonderful offerings from the Sakuma Brothers, who were kind enough to send me a box of samples, so I feel that the least I can do is turn their gift into a shadow of words and hopefully intrigue others to try it.
I want to also mention, that the tea arrived in 5 separate samples:
White #1, White #2, Green #1, Green #2, and Oolong.
I elected to start with the most delicate and move towards the more complex, knowing in advance that there are many processes that can transform a tea and wondering after a number of factors that transform a tea and its flavor (from the processing and growing side). Now after tasting the white and both the green samples, I’m even more curious.
I would be interested in learning:
what type of Camellia plant it comes from?
what type of companion plants grow beside it or shelter them?
what elevation and degree of slope the plants grow on?
and if hillside grown, what direction the hill faces?
In any case all of the teas have been interesting, complex, and distinctively crafted. They all have a freshness about them and a fruitiness, which by itself doesn’t distiguish it as unusual, but the smell and the specific character of each tea carries with it a type of rare expression that is worth the experience.
I deliberately labeled this tea #1 and will be writing separate reviews on both green tea samples, as they both have unique qualities worth mentioning.
Green Tea #1 – Sakuma Bros. Market
Dry Aroma: Dried cherries, sweetened. Brown sugar and raw hulled barley and brown rice.
Wet Aroma: Nutty, almost pistachio-like. Uncooked, fresh from the earth spinach.
Appearance: Large, mostly whole leaves, twisted like knotted roots or a coiled wet towel. Green bean colored in hue with slight blond and brown variation.
Cup: 1st extraction/3g/7oz porcelain gaiwan/190 degree filtered water
Pale, lemon-yellow liqour. Fine reddish/orange particulate, resembling slivers of chicory or rooibos, almost like pollen, that settles and lightly floats in the cup in suspension. The texture of the cup is ever so perceptably granular, but the strong nutty flavor and slightly mineral aspect to the finish (almost like a very subtle aftertaste of a zinc vitamin) fluidly masks the perception that the tea is anything but smooth. There is a very fresh mineral, citrus, and fruity dominate flavor, fading into a clear lime finish that grows as the tea cools. It finishes with a sweet and tart cleanliness that is pleasant and this intensifies with following steeps. 2nd – 4th steeps were done with 200 degree water, steeping for 3-5 minutes. Consistent color, aroma, and body was present in all steeps, with lime flavors growing clearer and dominating. It should be mentioned, that this is the flavor of the lime zest, or white membrane and less like the juice, though there is some hint at it. This flavor also harks at almonds and perhaps even yuzu. I kept getting the impression that these flavors would intensify with a cold, overnight brewing. Eating the leaves, there was a slight residual bitterness, usually indicating that more steeps were hidden in the leaf (but I wasn’t able to continue). It took nearly 3 steeps for the leaves to fully unfurl from the twisted shape and when they were fully extracted they were nearly all 3" in length, usually consisting of the stem, 1 large leaf, and 2 smaller leaves.
Amazing to see what we can grow in beautiful Washington.
So very long overdue for a post. A lingering seasonal cold and throat surgery has had my normal acute senses in disarray and even though I have been drinking endless cups of tea, I have been skirting my collection, avoiding the rare gifts that have been sent to me for evaluation and exploration…my last sojourn with a full range of taste buds was some rare pu erhs (sheng and shou) and I will be giving them just due and I also owe a number of reviews to kind vendors (many of which you my kind fellow steepsters have also already illuminated and I wish I could have added my light as well). So with a goal of resuming my frolicking and regular posts I felt it was only appropriate to share my first full cupping in a while with a splendid offering from Washington soil.
I stumbled upon the Sakuma Bros. website and immediately became curious. With a farm with so many gifts, fruit and vegetables, to find that it also produces tea and has for over 10 years fired the imagination. I know the area quite well (having been a wanderer of the NW after nearly 17 years of being a commercial fisherman in Alaska) and with the localvore food movement growing in Ohio, I thought was an amazing chance to connect this farm with tea drinkers in my state.
The details on this site are as follows:
• The Sakuma Brothers have been growing tea for over 10 years.
• We are one of the only two commercial tea growers in the entire United States.
• More than 5 acres of the fertile Skagit valley have been planted with Camellia sinensis tea plants.
• When the tea leaves are ready for harvest, we hand pinch off each leaf at the stem.
• Only 2 leaves and bud at the end of each branch are used for Sakuma tea.
• The leaves are heated, rolled and dried.
• The brittle flakes of tea leafs are steeped in water and served as tea.
• A refreshing unique tea grown in the rich alluvial soil of Washington State’s Skagit Valley. Our high latitude location give Camilla Sinensis a distinctive taste.
• Sakuma Tea is a unique type of WhiteTea.
I will take a picture and update this as review as well, as the leaves are an amazing sight to behold.
My cupping notes are as follows:
White Tea #1 Sakuma Bros. Spring harvest.
Dry aroma: Intense fruity/muscatel, spicy aroma with an undertone of yellow mustard greens and dried brown mustard seed.
Wet aroma: Fresh, bright muscatel, tart almost citrus undertones with hints of stewed fruit and spicy aromas similar to wild fields.
Appearance: Large, whole and mostly intact leaves with long stems – 3g being nearly 4 tablespoons in volume. Brown, dark umber to fresh green olive colors speak of almost autumnal or verdant spring vegitation, displaying a crisp visual cue of bruising and oxidation, rapid drying, and careful handling. Few, short buds, resembling dark, velvet antlers and elk horn tips. The leaves are nearly 2-4" in length as are some of the stems, breaking the resemblance to bai mudan from the sheer unbroken character.
Cup: Golden, bright yellow extraction. Intense, crisp flavors with clean body and flavorful, back cuspid-grabbing fruity, floral tartness. Buckwheat honey, mulberry flavors, fades to a spicy walnut, almost Vietnamese cinnamon finish that escapes in a nearly ethereal way from the palate.
2nd and 3rd extractions were equally strong with cinnamon and almost toasted almond notes rising inside the clean, fresh floral flavors, eluding the palates desire to simply define it as ‘spicy’.
As I have had teas from S. Charleston, the Sakuma bros. truly exhibit a craft that is distinct and defining, showing that the US can grow tea and produce a quality that is not only consistent with its origins, but is a gift of its new terrain. I look forward to sharing and cupping further samples.
I was asked for an unusual, but good, green iced tea blend for this changing autumn and I put this together for a sample.
Cold brewed, the clean and rich earthy profile is deeper and the toasted rice note is a woven thread that fades in and out and acts like an elusive wind through the branches…much like the image of the dragon through the bamboo on the Vietnam Service Medal. It has a creamy, buttery profile when brewed warm and a deep, lovely yellow extraction that has an uplifting quality on a rainy, cooling day. The toasted note is still very genmaicha-like, but the smoother balance of green tea undertones and naturally sweet finish is a comforting treat that seems to drink in the autumn changes. Great paired with food.
Dry Aroma: heady floral and spicy notes, muscatel and clover
Wet Aroma: sweetly muscatel almost metalic hints, caramel, wood spice
Appearance:mottled brown-green, moderate generally uniform chopped leaf
Cup: Deep ‘champagne’ golden yellow liquor. Creamy onset mouth feel that thins as it passes the tongue leaving a spicy, caramel, soy nuanced finish. The predominate flavor is a lush, floral muscatel with a finishing bloom that is complex and mildly astringent. First extraction is clinging with a deep pollen like aspect, that disapears in the following extraction and transforms into a more traditional grape-skin, spicy, honey note. Managed 3 solid, complex extractions with good color and blushing, dancing flavors.
Brewing method: 3g (1.5tsp) in 8oz gaiwan, in 200 degree water, steeped for 2-3 mintues, reducing temp and lengthen steep time with successive steeps.
If you do manage to go out to the G S Haly Company website you will find them to be a bulk/wholesale supplier with a diverse and interesting line up of teas. Not massively carrying lots of varietials, they have a tendency to choose a few very solid options and cover the ‘bases’. Having cupped a number of thier teas, I can attest to the quality of what they offer. In blind comparisons with many other tea wholesalers you will be surprised at how high they often come up being the top pick. The down side is the bulk quantity that is needed to purchase to make it worth the buy, but I’m quite sure there are some retailers out there with the storage, volume, and customer base that are benifiting from having aces from them. That being said, you will also note from the site that specific cupping descriptions are hard to find or minimal at best, so for those not able or willing to cup, the teas are a bit of a mystery unless you are already in the know.
I first was exposed to Darjeeling Ambootia Estate a number of years ago when it was a random sample and offering that made it onto Staufs Coffee Roasters holiday shelf. I was a professed Darjeeling hater, totally frustrated with the continuously bitter and astrigently expressive cup, that lacked the forgiving depth of white teas and the deep, carameled bodies of the Assams, yet falling somewhere in the wild middle. So when this tea came in I would have overlooked it, except it came at a higher cost, and under inspection showed a much larger leaf than I was used to seeing in a tea from Darjeeling. I was encouraged also by the seller to give it a go and so I did.
Darjeeling Ambootia opened my eyes and senses to Darjeelings. Its character, depth of flavor, sweetness, and forgiving extractions started a path that would only end after I had gone back to as many Darjeeling estates, including white, green, and oolongs from Darjeeling, and returned with the secret: treat it with the care you would a white tea – cool down the water temp and shorten the steep time. Stop the extraction when it was the color of ‘champagne’ – hence the nickname given to it by antiquity. Wow, what a difference that made.
I also learned that Darjeeling was special for another reason: it is actually a Chinese varietial that was transplated and unlike the rest of India, Africa, and Ceylon, it thrived there. I also loved the fact that its name translates as ‘lightning’.
So I decided to present this tea review as a gift. It was in this tea that my illusions began to crack and my deeper tea awareness began to form.
This particular crop is nice, though its not quite the leaf that I had those years back, but what a message it says, when a tea can scald the memory.