253 Tasting Notes


Because of my restricted tea budget these days, I’m always on the prowl for sales. This month (August 2019) happens to be Teavivre’s 8th anniversary. Coincidentally, it is also my 8th anniversary for entering the scrumptious universe of loose leaf tea. When I saw ads for Teavivre’s anniversary sale, I considered it my destiny to make a purchase at this time.

I had never tried Golden Snail tea before. When I opened up the silver package, the leaves were dark brown and firmly curled with a multitude of golden points. The aroma was moderately rich and earthy.

I steeped the leaves according to Teavivre’s recommendations, eight minutes at 195 degrees. Actually, Teavivre recommends 194 degrees, but who’s counting? The brewed liquor had a deep amber color. The aroma had characteristics of a honey-like sweetness.

The taste of this tea was silky smooth with absolute zero astringency. It was full-flavored, yet mellow. An underlying sweet honey attribute was easily recognized but not disagreeable in any way. There also was an identifiable and quite pleasant Yunnan taste, which is one of my personal favorite tea flavors. The aftertaste was delicate and affable. It sweetly and quickly rolled off my palate.

This is a delicous and sweetly mild Yunnan black tea that I enjoyed at breakfast but could also be well-placed at brunch, lunch, and early supper. I would love to experience it with several Scottish tea biscuits (that I’m not supposed to have).

Flavors: Honey, Tea

195 °F / 90 °C 8 min or more 8 tsp 40 OZ / 1182 ML

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While we were out and about this weekend, we noticed that a new Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea Cafe was about to launch in our booming neck of the South Carolina Upstate. We saw through the big glass storefront window that there was life inside. Boldly opening the unlocked door, we walked in. We were immediately greeted inside the new bright, shiny, and spacious store by Ryan, the very cordial owner of the cafe. We knew immediately that this was a place where we wanted to spend some time drinking…or sipping.

Since they weren’t completely open yet and mainly breaking in new employees at the drive-in window that day, we were invited to attend their friends and family opening on the next day. It was great! Besides teas and coffees, we also sampled some delicious pastries and brownies.

I wasn’t familiar with Sweetwaters products so I opted for the Imperial Black, which was labeled their “house” tea. This was a loose leaf selection, freshly scooped inside a wide silky-textured bag for steeping, while partially hanging over the side of the paper cup.

The tea arrived very hot with a brewed aroma similar to Assam. The flavor was initially slightly astringent, again more characteristic of Assam versus the advertised Chinese tea. However, what separated this selection from Assam, was the smooth sweet flavor attribute that grew with each sip. This was a very pleasant taste with sweetness that was not cloying but steady and gentle. At the end of my large cup, I was left with a sweet, mild, and brief aftertaste that was amiable and unassuming.

I will definitely return to the Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea Cafe soon to try more Sweetwaters teas. For now, I recommend giving their Imperial Black tea a spin. I believe any tea establishment would be proud to label it their “house” tea.

Flavors: Sweet, Tea

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Many thanks to Teavivre for this sample. It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to try a new Teavivre tea.

When I opened the small sample package, I was greeted with small, tightly curled, dark brown leaves. The aroma was faint but slightly sweet.

I steeped the leaves at approximately 203 degrees for eight minutes as instructed by the package. The brewed liquor was a vivid reddish-gold. The aroma was slightly sweet and malty, but again faint.

The flavor of this tea was like malty hay with a perceptible “edge” to it. The edge was not quite astringent but it did bite into a sweet characteristic of the taste that subsisted underneath.

All in all, the flavor was amiable. The aftertaste was not obnoxious and lingered only briefly.

Personally, I prefer more robust flavors in black tea. However, this selection should be fine for those who do not need to pump up the volume.

Flavors: Hay, Malt, Sweet

205 °F / 96 °C 8 min or more 1 tsp 8 OZ / 236 ML

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drank Hao Ya 'B' by Harney & Sons
253 tasting notes

Besides celebrating Independence Day this week, I am also celebrating the receipt of a tea that I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. My Harney & Sons points accumulated from previous purchases made it possible for me to reel this one in within my budget. I’m excited to give this tea a whirl. So, without further adieu, away we go….

When I opened the black Harney & Sons bag, a sweet and malty aroma greeted me. The dark brown leaves were medium length.

I steeped the leaves for five minutes at 212 degrees. The color of the brewed liquor was dark amber. The aroma was surprisingly weaker than in its unsteeped state but there was still a detectable sweet potato odor that was not unpleasant.

The flavor was mild. I again recognized sweet potato that was now accompanied by malty attributes. The taste had a slight twinge of astringency with the initial few sips but this characteristic quickly disappeared. The trademark keemun smoothness was very much in the moment. The aftertaste was light and gentle.

Although this isn’t the most flavor-fortified tea I’ve experienced, it is still a smooth and solid keemun with all the flavor notes that I expected. Another “thumbs up” for Harney & Sons.

Flavors: Sweet, Sweet Potatoes

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 5 tsp 40 OZ / 1182 ML

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drank Songluo Broken by Harney & Sons
253 tasting notes

My tea budget was depleted recently so I’ve been happily focused on my stock of morning rotation black teas in my cabinet. But, as great as they are, it wasn’t long before I started getting the itch to venture out into something new. Again Harney & Sons came to the rescue with a great sale on already very reasonably priced teas.

I found this Songluo Broken tea in their Chinese Teas section. Apparently, this variety with broken leaves comes at a much lower price than the one with non-broken leaves. Since I care more about flavor than appearance, this was fine with me.

When I opened the Harney & Sons bag, an aroma of keemun wafted forth. There also was a sweet attribute to the smell which was quite pronounced. The dark brown leaves were small and appeared…uh…BROKEN. They reminded me of finely ground mulch.

As the folks at Harney & Sons recommend, I brewed the leaves at 212 degrees for five minutes. The color was an orange-brown. The brewed odor was subtle with sweet keemun-like undertones.

My first sip had an astringent attribute but this completely disintegrated with the next sip. The flavor was mild with keemun and sweet characteristics. Harney’s web page likens the sweet attribute to agave. To me, it was more like Sweet’N Low, which I have become very familiar with since I am no longer allowed to drink the South’s traditional sweet tea. I really don’t have any complaints about that flavor (or agave’s for that matter).

The pleasant and moderate flavors were also quite smooth. I had no trouble swallowing my first cup rapidly. The taste levels were certainly sufficient to please my palate. The aftertaste was light and gentle.

This tea is a tremendous bargain with first-rate flavors. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys Chinese teas but has a limited tea allowance (like yours truly). I also believe that people with hefty tea budgets will not be disappointed either.

Flavors: Sweet, Tea

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 5 tsp 40 OZ / 1182 ML

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drank Special Blend by Ahmad Tea
253 tasting notes

It’s always a wonderful day in the neighborhood when I have a new tea to take for a spin. We have a few European market stores in the area that offer Ahmad teas. The prices for these teas are usually very affordable. This one is currently listed on Amazon at under $12 for a nice one-pound tin container.

The marketing for this tea says it contains the finest high-grown (black) teas from the hillsides of Sri Lanka, subtly blended, with the elegant fragrance of bergamot.

The dark short tea leaves are well-protected within the square tin box in a gold foil bag. When I opened the bag, the aroma was rich and full of bergamot and other fruity attributes.

I steeped the leaves for five minutes at 212 degrees. The brewed color was a dark reddish amber. The odor was very quiet, almost non-existent. What I could smell seemed to only have a nondescript sweet characteristic.

The taste of this tea did not match the complexity of its unbrewed aroma. In fact, the flavor was surprisingly bland. About all I could syphon from the taste was an unidentifiable tea attribute. Pulling that from the brew was made even more difficult by a sharp astringency that defined the flavor. The aftertaste was also dominated by astringency.

I was disappointed by this blend. I had high hopes that it would be a cornucopia of great flavors. I’m not ready to write off Ahmad altogether but this will most likely be my one and only experience with the Special Blend product.

Flavors: Tea

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 5 tsp 40 OZ / 1182 ML

Long time no see! You have been missed.


Thanks, Bluegreen! I’ve missed having new teas to try. My birthday is coming up in a few months. Hopefully I’ll get some new ones then! I hope all is well with you!

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drank Lapsang Souchong by Harney & Sons
253 tasting notes

I haven’t posted a tasting note in a while. The reason is my teas were piling up again and I needed to consume some of the ones I had to make room for new containers in my cabinet.

I found this Harney & Sons Lapsang Souchong at the local Fresh Market for an exceptionally good price. I’ve seen some comments on Steepster that this product may have been discontinued. That could explain why its price was too economical to resist.

All of the Harney & Sons teas that I’ve experienced and bought by the pound have been great values for the price. I was highly hopeful that this one would continue that pattern.

When I broke the sealing tape and opened the black metal tin for the first time, my nostrils were filled with a strong but pleasant smokehouse aroma. It smelled very natural and without the presence of “helpers.”

I steeped the medium-length dark brown leaves for five minutes at 212 degrees. The finished color was orange-gold. The odor was deliciously smoky without making me want to open windows for fresh air.

The taste of this tea was absolutely exquisite. The smoky attribute was definitely the dominant player but there was also a striking, yet delicate, sweetness to the brew. These two flavor forces were extremely smooth and savory. Astringency was non-existent and the aftertaste was lasting but congenial to the end. The last time I partook of a sweet and smoky combination this perfect was probably two years ago when my wife brought home a honey-baked ham.

I have absolutely nothing derogatory to write about this tea. It was completely satisfying from my first to my fourth cup. I sincerely hope that Harney & Sons does not discontinue this tea. It would be a tragedy for Lapsang Souchong lovers everywhere.

Flavors: Smoked, Sweet

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 4 tsp 32 OZ / 946 ML

Sounds like a really great specimen of LS! They’re so biting sometimes; it’s nice to hear of ones that are not (whether or not they may be discontinued).


Hi Kittenna! Yes, this is one of the best Lapsang Souchong teas I’ve found so far. If you stumble upon it, I highly recommend it! Thanks for your comments!

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drank Hu-Kwa by Mark T. Wendell
253 tasting notes

I don’t usually comment on a tea unless I am completely responsible for the brewing process. That is, I personally break the seal on a new package, scoop out a precise measurement of leaves, activate the exact time and temperature settings, and witness the entire steeping process myself. However, my wife and I had such a nice experience today at the French Market Cafe Tea Room in Cornelius, North Carolina, that I am compelled to break my rule and talk about this Mark T. Wendell Tea Company Hu-Kwa Lapsong Souchong tea that I tried. Besides, the very generous and personable proprietor, Kathy Montbleau, allowed me to observe most of the preparation by bringing the infuser pot to my table immediately after boiling.

Kathy permitted me to smell the unbrewed leaves in their package before the setup began. The dark brown leaves had a strong, but pleasant, smoky aroma. There also was a light sweetness to the smell that I hadn’t experienced before in smoky teas.

I watched the steeping brew become a dark liquor for five minutes. The odor was pleasingly smoky and sweet. The color was similar to dark molasses with a golden aura around the sides of my cup, like a dark sunrise.

The flavor was nothing short of splendid. It was marvelously smoky, sweet, and smooth. Kathy brought my wife and I an ample pot to share. Fortunately, my wife does not care for smoky teas so I was able to enjoy it all to the last drop. Even the aftertaste was stunningly mild and gentle. Astringency was completly nonexistent.

This just might be the BEST smoky tea I’ve ever had. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the tea, I GREATLY RECOMMEND Kathy who is a wonderful tearoom owner with a FANTASTIC personality and ENORMOUS generosity (she very kindly let me sample the tea without charge and gave me a large portion of unbrewed leaves to take home with me), and I PROFOUNDLY RECOMMEND the French Market Cafe Tea Room as an extremely friendly and elegant little shop to sip fine teas, munch on tasty biscuits, and let the stress of your work week blissfully slip away.

Flavors: Smoked, Smooth, Sweet

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 3 tsp 24 OZ / 709 ML

Good to know! If I am ever in Cornelius, I will look for them. I was curious about this tea for a very long time and finally bought it for my daughter and we love it!


Hi ashmanra! I was not familiar with the company but I will be looking for other Mark T. Wendell teas to try. This one and the nice tea room in Cornelius were both great finds!

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drank Pu-erh by Harney & Sons
253 tasting notes

This was another very competitively priced offering from Harney & Sons. As I mentioned in an earlier review, Harney gives you great value for your buck, plus fast and free shipping.

Pu-erh is an interesting variety in itself. People seem to love it or hate it. Personally, I’m one of its lovers- when it is good. My wife, on the other hand, is repulsed and almost sickened just by the memory of her lone Pu-erh experience. The one time I successfully coaxed her to try a sip, the agonized look on her face made me worry that her head was going to explode.

I have tried one or two Pu-erh products that I didn’t love, like, or want to spend time with again. Hopefully this one will fall into a beloved category since I rolled the dice and bought a pound of it untasted.

When I opened Harney & Sons’ one pound bag, I was immediately greeted by the familiar deeply earthy and worn leather smell that is Pu-erh. The look of the brown leaves, which always reminds me of finely ground wood mulch, also did not stand out as anything unusual for this tea type.

As is my custom for preparing Pu-erh, I steeped the leaves for five minutes at 212 degrees. The brewed color was a very dark brown, almost like molten chocolate. The aroma was definitely all Pu-erh (which has to be experienced to understand).

The tea had full and robust Pu-erh flavor: earthy, leathery, and of the dirt. However, it was extremely smooth for this variety. There was absolutely no astringency. There was also an inherent mildness to the taste that I don’t always find in Pu-erh teas. Even the aftertaste was extremely amiable and gentle. I had to force myself to slow down my sipping because it was one of those exceptional teas I like so much that I subconsciously shift into chugging mode. My cup (and then pot) was a delight from start to finish.

If you have anti-Pu-erh activists in your house, this might be the product to move them to the other side of the aisle. I might even try to muster up the courage to ask my wife to try it.

This tea so greatly exceeded my expectations that I now consider it one of my best tea finds of all-time. I am also feeling so lucky after taking a chance on a full pound purchase, that I am strongly considering buying a lottery ticket today. ;-)

Flavors: Dirt, Earth, Leather

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 6 tsp 32 OZ / 946 ML

My better half can’t drink it either.


Hey Mrmopar! It seems to be something that people either love or hate.


I totally agree. She will drink the 2008 7632 and that is about it.

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drank Tippy Yunnan by Harney & Sons
253 tasting notes

Harney & Sons teas have become my go-to morning jump starters lately for several reasons:

— Their online bulk tea prices are currently among the best values out there. — They have fast, free shipping. — The teas are good.

I have wanted to try this Tippy Yunnan tea because of my love for Yunnan and Keemun teas. I don’t think I’ve yet encountered a bad one, by any company, regardless of price.

I bought a pound of this product and when I opened the large sealed bag, my smelling sensors didn’t receive the leathery aroma that I expected. The odor was sweet and more like Ceylon tea. The leaves were medium-length and dark brown.

I steeped the leaves for five minutes at 212 degrees. The final liquor was a dark molasses brown. The aroma was mostly sweet like syrup.

The flavor of this tea had primary caramel and pancake syrup attributes.
Recognizable black tea tasting points were at least five rows back. There was a slight amount of astringency in my first couple of sips but that seemed to disappear quickly as I slurped deeper into my cup.

I would not easily identify this tea as a Yunnan tea but it does possess some of the qualities I like about that variety. It is smooth without (lasting) astringency and there is no bitter aftertaste. I also enjoy sweet black teas, as long as they taste natural (which this one does).

I would chalk this one up as another wise purchase from Harney & Sons. I will savor its sweet and smooth characteristics in my morning jump start tea rotation and I will have no problem devouring the entire pound. And, I just might repurchase another pound when the bag is empty.

Flavors: Caramel, Pancake Syrup

Boiling 5 min, 0 sec 6 tsp 32 OZ / 946 ML

Thank you for a thoughtful review. I have similar taste in teas with you and had been tempted to check out the Chinese tea offerings by Harney&Sons for a while because of their quick shipping and great price. I really enjoyed Panyang Congou some time ago but chalked it up to scoring a lucky shot (no harvest date? no location?). Your review gives me enough reasons to finally try them out.


Hi Blugreen! Thanks for your comment. I’m glad I could help you make up your mind about trying a Harney & Sons tea. Their Panyang Congou is another good one. As I type, I am steeping Harney’s Pu-erh tea which I also recently purchased. I’ll put my thoughts about that one on Steepster too.

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I ventured into the world of serious tea drinking in the Summer of 2011. I started out slowly and gently with bagged tea but climbed to the incredible flavorful heights of loose leaf teas in October of that year. Once you go leaf, you never go bag (except when you get free samples)!


South Carolina, USA

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