128 Tasting Notes


The liquor is a beautiful deep gold and smells like burnt sugar. The leaves have that smell too, but it’s joined by some kind of fruity, intensely sweet smell I can’t name. It reminds me of fruit soda flavoured chapstick from the ‘90s, of all things… It’s intoxicatingly strong.

I first tried brewing this like gyokuro – 10g tea in my kyusu, 1:30 steep time, 160F water. The results were underwhelming; it tasted like it should have had umami notes brought out by the steeping, but didn’t, if that makes any sense. Even so, it had a rich, kind of malty flavour.

Brewed gongfu at 180 F, it still yielded a beautiful liquor. This style suits it much better, I think. The wet leaves smelled similar to how they did in the kyusu, but the higher temperature brought out a faint chocolatey note as well. The taste was malty, with mild bitterness. It had that umami note I knew should have been there! Very warming, and lighter in feel than black teas I’ve tried with a similar flavour profile.

Flavors: Burnt Sugar, Dark Chocolate, Malt, Umami

180 °F / 82 °C 0 min, 30 sec 5 g 3 OZ / 90 ML

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This is a very odd tea. The dry leaves have little scent. The wet leaves smell like raisins.

It appears to have been processed mainly in the style of shou, but it smells and tastes nothing like any shou I’ve had before. That said, it doesn’t taste anything like sheng either. There’s some sweetness, especially in the aftertaste. The aroma, and the main flavour, are a lot like savoury raisins.

I highly recommend trying it, if only because it’s so peculiar. It’s certainly not unpleasant to drink either.

Flavors: Raisins, Sweet, Wet Earth

Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 3 g 2 OZ / 60 ML

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This is quite different from the non-premium version offered by the same company. The scent is earthier, less smoky and more roasted. It has a taste and smell of squash cooked with brown sugar.

The leaves are longer and more whole than the non-premium version, and while the tea is still sweet, it’s more subtly so. It’s very warming. While both are good teas, and I think this one is more complex, I preferred the non-premium version just slightly – and given that it’s half the price, I’m more likely to order it again.

Flavors: Brown Sugar, Roasted, Squash

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 3 g 2 OZ / 55 ML

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Brewed Western-style, this is quite grassy – almost hay-like – with an underlying taste that is reminiscent of Darjeeling black teas, but not exactly like them. The aftertaste is very recognizably oolong, and mildly floral. It has an astringent feeling in the mouth, but I don’t taste much astringency.

Brewed in a gaiwan, it has an additional malty note, but isn’t hugely different otherwise. Overall, an interesting tea, but not mind-blowing for me.

Flavors: Dry Grass, Floral, Hay, Malt

190 °F / 87 °C 0 min, 15 sec 3 g 2 OZ / 55 ML

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Yesterday, I tried a decaf English Breakfast tea which was so lacklustre and unpleasant that I didn’t finish drinking my cup. Even without that contrast, this Keemun would be good, but the comparison makes it stand out even further.

The wet leaves have a strong, sharp scent, rich and caramel-like. The tea is sweet and smoky, with more burnt caramel and a full texture that’s slightly drying towards the end of a sip. There is a very faint taste of tannins.

I also got the ‘premium’ version of this tea, and am excited to try it!

Flavors: Burnt Sugar, Caramel, Drying, Smoke, Sweet, Tannic

200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 15 sec 3 g 2 OZ / 55 ML

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Visually, this may be the most beautiful tea I’ve ever encountered. The dry leaves are dark, greyish green gilded with silver. The liquor is luminous gold. I realise I’m waxing poetic, but this really is an exceptional tea in terms of appearance.

The dry leaves smell fruity, not quite apricot or peach but something in between. The wet leaves smell mainly like sweet potato, but sharper. The liquor doesn’t have much scent, but what there is smells sweet and slightly caramelized.

The taste is mild – delicate might be a better word. It shifts between floral, sweet potato, and fruity flavours, with fruit the least prominent of the three. There is also a buttery note, more noticeable when I brew it Western style than in a gaiwan. It is very warming, and the flavour is full despite its mildness. The aroma is pretty much like the taste, but with a slightly bitter note – dry rather than astringent.

Flavors: Apricot, Butter, Floral, Nectar, Peach, Sweet Potatoes

180 °F / 82 °C 0 min, 15 sec 3 g 2 OZ / 55 ML

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I was very dubious about this. It does not look great, and it comes from a merchant who specializes in neither green teas nor Japanese teas, which worried me because of how important freshness and storage can be to these sorts of teas in particular.

After trying it – it could be worse. The roasting is a bit odd. It tastes almost more like kukicha than sencha, and sort of stale. But it could be much worse!

Flavors: Grass, Metallic, Roasted

170 °F / 76 °C 0 min, 30 sec 4 g 2 OZ / 60 ML

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The dry leaves are mostly grey; it looks more like a white tea than a green tea. The leaves smell faintly of dried figs when dry, and of sweet, roasted vegetables when wet. The taste is sharp and quite tannic, with some fruity flavours.

It’s definitely a green tea despite its appearance. In style, it’s closer to a Chinese green tea than a Japanese one, but rather than the peppery flavour I find in a lot of Chinese green teas, this one has a slightly more bitter taste and a sweeter aroma.

Flavors: Bitter, Fig, Fruity, Tannin, Toasted Rice

175 °F / 79 °C 0 min, 15 sec 3 g 2 OZ / 55 ML

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This tea was a pleasant surprise. Based on its finely chopped appearance, I expected it to be somewhat bland and simple in flavour, but it isn’t; it has a nice smoky note overlaying a rich, slightly astringent malty taste.

The leaf processing style does mean that brewing this in a gaiwan without pouring all the leaves into one’s cup really puts the gongfu in gongfu cha, but it’s worthwhile for the detailed picture of the flavours this presents. It works very well Western-style too, as you’d expect. For being so finely chopped, it re-steeps relatively well. I was able to get four solid steeps out of it in a gaiwan.

Flavors: Astringent, Malt, Round , Smoke

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 3 g 2 OZ / 55 ML

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I like trying unique teas, especially those from areas of the world not known for tea production. It’s always something of a gamble and can lead to all kinds of surprises.

While I’m usually not into flavoured or scented teas, there are definitely exceptions. Hei cha which is not pu-erh tends to be my favourite category of tea, but I like some teas of all types. Smoky, creamy, and honey-like tastes generally appeal to me the most.

Top five teas I’ve had thus far (in no particular order):

Mekong Breakfast from Rakkasan Tea Company

2015 Gao Jia Shan “Cha Duo Tang” Wild Harvested Hunan Fu Brick Tea, from Yunnan Sourcing

Asahina Gyokuro “Hon Gyokuro” from Hojo Tea

Any good Lapsang Souchong

2018 Cha Yu Lin “Liu Bu Xi Village” Tian Jian Basket Tea from Yunnan Sourcing


Rural New England

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