378 Tasting Notes
I am on my second steep of Melody and have already had scents and flavors fly by me that I couldn’t identify in time, before they flew away. Charcoal-roasted and aged for 15 (17 by now?) years will do that, I suppose.
Lots of perfume on the nose, concentrated florals. Gardenia, maybe? I am not great identifying specific florals yet, but this nose is deeper, heavier scents… florals that kind of want to punch you in the face and also that would be fine, thank you.
This is a Li Shan. I would like to start comparing different Li Shan (Li [Pear] Mountain) and Ali Shan (Ali [a Taiwanese folk hero?] Mountain), and further educate myself about Gao Shan (high mountain/elevation) teas in general. I stumbled on this post (https://tillermantea.net/2019/07/gaoshan/) and need to revisit it when I have more free time on my hands. I am very slowly starting to tuck away and recognize words as I taste more teas and try to wrap my head around all the naming conventions and jargon. I recognize more understanding here will help me navigate to teas that I will love. That said, I am certainly finding I don’t really share the enthusiasm so many have for Tung Ting/Dong Ding, the old “high elevation” tea… but my spirit is really captivated by these higher-high elevation (and, I just learned, newer) varieties. What a time to be alive and have tastebuds.
My fourth steep is going in the pot and I just really am being astounded by this tea. I’ll write up a proper-something from a later session, but for now… gods.
Flavors: Cedar, Gardenias, Perfume, Toast, Umami
This has been my favorite tea from Upton so far. I wasn’t expecting much based on the smell of the dry leaves — very similar to the China Oolong Se Chung I had right before it. A little cardboardy and stale, if I’m honest.
But woooo… first steep was a little longer than is typical for me — maybe 15-20 seconds (how I so frequently forget to pour the tea after pouring the water is one of life’s great mysteries). But WOW, it was perfect straightaway. Cocoa right out front, with grandpa’s smoky basement fireplace right behind. Then Christmas plum pudding across the room — dark spicy dough, raisins, brandy. It was every piece of memory from that paneled Ohio basement that I could hope for.
The charcoal roast is VERY prominent, and while I appreciate a roast that disappears into the melange, this one held a really special gift and I wouldn’t want one less iota of smoke and dank than it brought me.
This explosion of nostalgia and complexity didn’t last terribly long — even by my second pour (which I think would normally have been my third, in terms of steep time) it was starting to fade. Still — some nice little cups that trickled out, and I look forward to drinking this one again. Happy to have found it.
Flavors: Allspice, Brandy, Cocoa, Dried Fruit, Fireplace, Molasses, Raisins, Wet Rocks
My second Upton tea. This is so different from other oolongs I’ve had; there is a sort of flat and familiar feel to it. I don’t necessarily mean this in a bad way — there is something comforting there — in the way my grandparents’ weakly-brewed Folgers coffee was comforting. Simple, predictable, reliable. It actually reminded me a LOT of Eden Organic’s Hojicha, which I used to drink all the time and had quite forgotten about until I took a sip of this today.
The note that struck me most was a distinctly dry-leaves-and-twigs taste, versus the wet-leaves taste that I feel is a lot more common in the teas I’ve been drinking lately. The third and fourth steeps opened up to more astringency. This is big, dry, crackly autumn days; radiator heat and static electricity hair.
I moved on to the roasted version immediately after, so I’ll get that note knocked out now, too.
Flavors: Astringent, Autumn Leaf Pile, Dry Leaves, Twigs
My first order from Upton’s. Interested to see how I feel about the teas. They seem perhaps a bit less fussy in terms of descriptions, and I like fussy… but that’s just a first impression. This first order (just a Darjeeling and their oolong sampler) will probably dictate whether I order from them again or not. This was a late-night impulse buy when I realized my What-Cha order was stuck in the British post due to some nefarious cyber activity. The stateside quick shipping from Upton is definitely appealing.
The first couple steeps of this Darjeeling were all peach pit — light wood with some nice stone fruit stuck around the edges. A glorious whiff of cotton candy at the bottom of the second cup. Some tanginess.
I picked up some camphor in the third or fourth steep, which is where the fruit started dropping off as well. I don’t love that menthol/camphor thing that some teas have, I’m learning. It can be interesting, but makes my stomach feel empty and sort of bashes everything else out of the way. Tanginess stuck around with some tannins throughout further steeps — reminded me of a refreshing and simple iced tea profile.
Darjeeling was one of the first tea types I realized I enjoyed way back when. I may brew the last few grams of this western style and see how all these layers sit on top of one another. Probably not a reorder for me, but an enjoyable session here.
Flavors: Camphor, Peach, Tangy, Tannic, Woody
Pouring this again for another try, and you know what? It’s better this time. It’s funny to me how this happens.
I didn’t take full notes, but I actually said, “Whoa,” during the second steep. Roasty notes and nutty notes coming through big. Still dissipates pretty quickly, though.
I have cut out a lot of sugar over the past week or two; I feel like that may be having an impact on how much I’m getting out of my tea. Some of them are really tasting so much better over the past few days.
Flavors: Nuts, Roasty
I didn’t think much of this tea the first time I had it; I likely was expecting something much different with a name like “Honey Orchid” and let that color my impressions.
I didn’t take full notes on this session, but I especially was taken aback by the amazing roasty notes immediately coming off of the first steep, before I even closed my pot. It almost smelled like nuts baking, their skins just beginning to turn dark brown and almost char.
The first two steeps were my favorite, with subsequent steeps fairly quickly dissipating into sticks and wood. But those first two steeps were full of bran flakes — like sitting with a bowl of cereal and experiencing the sweetness that creeps in as you chew each bite and release the natural sugars. I don’t get honey, but this robust bran flavor didn’t need it. Really lovely.
Flavors: Grain, Roasted, Roasted Nuts, Sweet, Wheat
Trying this little guy again…
First steep is floral and charcoal on the nose. Just a tiny bit of bitter chocolate. I am so relieved to smell something other than charcoal! Maybe this tea isn’t a dud for me like I thought! Flavors are subtle (first pour, short steep, no rinse), but I get some vanilla and nuts. The smoke is there but not nearly as sharp as it seemed to me before. Right at the end of this cup I swear I taste white paper… but not in a bad way?
Smell off the wet leaves is sharp smoke and grass.
Second steep is much like the first; light floral and more around the edges than in the center of the profile. Smoke is there. I might let the third steep sit just a little longer. I am quite happy with the light florality and smoke, though. It’s not a tea that wallops you over the head, but it’s nice and delicate, especially for a charcoal-roasted. Some green olives right at the end.
I let the third steep go a little longer, maybe 30-40 seconds. Smoke and olive oil on the nose. Cedar. Floral comes through more as it cools, along with some astringency that tells me this longer steep wasn’t necessarily the right move. Ope — just as I lifted my cup for the last sip, I got a distinct caramel note!
Raw lumber nose coming off the fourth… charcoal and perfume on the sip. I’ve decided this tea does actually feel like a junior version of What-Cha’s Taiwan ‘Charcoal Roasted’ Oolong. A bit toned down and maybe not as overwhelming to poke around in if you just want an easy little session.
Starting to get watery in the fifth; I might do just one more. Last couple steeps were rather sharp and empty smoke and perfume. I’m so glad I came back to this tea! A tasty lesson to learn.
Flavors: Caramel, Cedar, Charcoal, Dark Chocolate, Floral, Grass, Green Wood, Nuts, Olive Oil, Olives, Paper, Perfume, Smoke, Vanilla