57 Tasting Notes

79

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A delicious, archetypal Yunnanese black tea. The essence of autumn (in terms of flavor; this is a spring picked tea). Really nice spice and fruit notes, like homemade apple cider. Dark chocolate notes in later infusions. Really interesting sweet almond note comes in around the third infusion. Winey / fermented fruit and horsehair notes at the beginning – classic Yunnan. Slight mineral / baking soda flavor, not the most pleasant but is offset by all the other wonderful characteristics of the tea – great mouthfeel, delicious fragrance and flavor. Would definitely buy again.

Flavors: Almond, Apple, Brown Sugar, Cloves, Dark Chocolate, Floral, Fur, Lychee, Mineral, Oak, Peppercorn, Red Wine, Spices

Preparation
190 °F / 87 °C 0 min, 15 sec 5 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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55

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Top notes of bitter, charred potato skins, mid notes of incense, pine needles, and cedar, and an interesting faint finish of dried unsweetened mangos. Medium-thin mouthfeel, overly-burnt flavor, incredibly long-lasting an surprisingly complex and enjoyable finish. I was disappointed by the flavor of this tea – it seems like it was re-roasted too many times over the years, or too intensely, but the finish is great. Would not buy again, but an interesting tea to try once. Wuyi varietal characteristics come out in the later infusions – I would guess that it was made with Fo Shou or Shui Xian, but the info on Song Tea’s website does not say. While their website recommends not rinsing the tea, the charcoal note was incredibly heavy in the first infusions even after rinsing – I cannot imagine how burnt it would taste without a rinse.

Flavors: Bitter, Burnt, Cedar, Char, Chocolate, Mango, Mineral, Pine, Potato, Smoke, Spicy

Preparation
200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 15 sec 6 g 6 OZ / 175 ML

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91

For a key to my rating scale, check out my bio.

10/10 would recommend. This is a pricey tea but very worth it. Very clear notes of wildflower honey, floral nectar, and cantaloupe. A delicate, floral flavor (hits all of the high notes), yet a ridiculously creamy, smooth mouthfeel and an immediate 回甘 (sweet finish) that just doesn’t end. Do yourself a favor and try it.

NOTE: Just going off the dry scent in my warmed gaiwan, I found that the charcoal roast was a bit heavy for my liking, so I rinsed the tea. Normally I don’t do this for Phoenix oolongs (to make sure I don’t waste any fragrance since that’s the area in which these teas excel), but I would say that this tea actually benefited from the rinse – if nothing else, the flavor was certainly not diminished by doing so.

Flavors: Cantaloupe, Cinnamon, Cream, Earth, Floral, Flowers, Fruity, Honey, Melon, Nectar, Smooth, Spices, Sweet, Wood

Preparation
190 °F / 87 °C 0 min, 15 sec 4 g 4 OZ / 125 ML
Rasseru

you dont give high scores lightly either do you

Ben Marcus-Willers (馬維彬)

Haha no, I suppose not – the more tea I drink, the more picky I am too.

I try to judge teas purely based on the scale I list on my profile. I’m looking for complexity (flavor + finish, scent, aroma), texture, how well the tea represents its category (or if it challenges the category – I always love this), and my overall feeling (would I buy the tea again?).

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68

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Not my go-to tea (I prefer completely pure, unflavored teas), but stuffing Xinhui mandarins with pu’er tea and allowing the combination to age is a traditional practice and results in a very comforting tea. The shu pu’er picks up a very interesting citrus / menthol / medicinal note from the aged mandarin peel which actually offsets and compliments the chocolatey richness of the base tea quite nicely (to be expected I guess). A very comforting, smooth, and mellow brew.

Flavors: Caramel, Medicinal, Menthol, Orange, Smooth, Sweet

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 4 OZ / 125 ML

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78

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Another awesome value from Bitterleaf ($0.10/g). Very, very floral (as an Yiwu should be), with a really aromatic 回甘 (sweet finish) that is quite persistent and develops nicely. Slight mineral astringency but no bitterness overall. Very smooth for such a young tea.

Flavors: Blueberry, Brown Sugar, Floral, Fur, Mineral, Nectar, Nutty, Potato, Sweet

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 4 OZ / 125 ML

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81

For a key to my rating scale, check out my bio.

A really nice example of 陳韻 (“aged appeal”, or the smooth, mellow texture that is created as a result of aging) in pu’er. Not a particularly sweet pu’er, but absolutely no bitterness and incredibly smooth. The flavor is like dried Chinese dates and molasses. A subtle aged Bai Mu Dan flavor (like dried lavender stems) is revealed in the finish. Very subtle but lingering 回甘 (sweet finish). A relatively pricey tea, but very pleasant to drink – smooth, understated, and very comforting.

Flavors: Apricot, Brown Sugar, Cream, Dates, Dried Fruit, Earth, Fruity, Fur, Hay, Lavender, Nutty, Smooth, Vegetal

Preparation
Boiling 0 min, 15 sec 7 g 4 OZ / 125 ML

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69

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Flavors: Berries, Cantaloupe, Cherry Blossom, Clove, Cream, Dried Fruit, Floral, Fruity, Grain, Grapes, Nutty, Oak, Plum, Sour, Spices, Wood

Preparation
185 °F / 85 °C 0 min, 30 sec 5 g 6 OZ / 185 ML

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56

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Incredibly aromatic / floral but not sweet at all, this is a very interesting Ya Shi Xiang, or as Red Blossom calls it, “Persimmon Blossom Fragrance”. The dry fruit sweetness typical of Phoenix oolongs is replaced with nutty / cereal grain notes.

Flavors: Bell Pepper, Bitter, Bread, Cacao, Floral, Fruity, Leather, Molasses, Nutty, Oak, Osmanthus, Wheat

Preparation
190 °F / 87 °C 0 min, 15 sec 5 g 4 OZ / 125 ML

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84

For a key to my rating scale, check out my bio.

Amazing value ($0.10/g) and surprising complexity. Because it’s made with the 黄片 or older leaves of the tea plant, it’s less punchy with more sweetness and viscosity. Overall very sweet and aromatic but with some notes of moss, cedar, oak, menthol, etc. to keep things interesting. Highly recommend.

Flavors: Apricot, Brown Sugar, Camphor, Caramel, Cedar, Dried Fruit, Earth, Floral, Hay, Hot Hay, Lavender, Menthol, Mineral, Moss, Oak, Orange, Raspberry, Smoke, Stonefruit, Sugarcane, Vanilla

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec 6 g 4 OZ / 125 ML

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91

For a key to my rating scale, check out my bio.

This season’s harvest is sublime! Incredibly creamy, with a nice balance of sweet and smoky tones. Complex and interesting, but most importantly delicious. If I had to describe this tea in one word, it would be “yummy”.

Flavors: Campfire, Char, Citrus, Coffee, Cream, Grass, Lemon Zest, Marine, Meat, Milk, Seaweed, Smoke, Sweet, Tangy

Preparation
175 °F / 79 °C 0 min, 15 sec 3 g 4 OZ / 125 ML

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Profile

Bio

I am a longtime tea enthusiast with professional experience in – and a deep passion for – traditional Chinese and Taiwanese tea and tea culture. I have lived in Taiwan and mainland China, and traveled extensively throughout Asia.

My passions include traditional Chinese tea culture, graphic design, language, traveling, backpacking, music, and Eastern philosophy to name a few.

Here on Steepster, I only rate traditionally crafted whole-leaf teas from East Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan, & Korea). This means you won’t find ratings for Southeast Asian teas or any flavored tea.

Unless otherwise noted, all my tea ratings and reviews are based on Chinese gongfu-style brewing, using a gaiwan rather than a clay teapot to ensure flavor-neutrality. I do not rinse my teas unless they are (1) fermented, (2) aged, (3) heavily roasted, or (4) otherwise smell funky or produce a cloudy first infusion.

Keys for both my tea and places ratings can be found below:

MY TEA RATING SCALE:

100: Tea Enlightenment – A transcendent experience.

99-95: Extraordinary – Unimaginable complexity or clarity. Beyond impressive. Redefined the category for me.

94-90: Impressive – Deep complexity, extreme clarity, or unexpected discovery of spectacular flavor. Made me reconsider the category.

89-80: Delicious – Nuanced, balanced, clear, and complex layering of flavors. Teas that I would buy again in a heartbeat.

79-70: Very Good – Nuanced flavors, perhaps not as balanced or complex as the next step up, but clear and very enjoyable. Would definitely buy again.

69-60: Good – Clear flavors, representative of the category, but doesn’t set a standard. Good as an everyday tea. Would likely buy again.

59-50: Average – Lacks most depth, but certainly drinkable. May or may not buy again.

49-40: Below Average – Nothing impressive, flat flavor, lacks all depth. Would likely not buy again.

39-30: Barely Drinkable – Flavors do not represent the category. Overly tannic, bitter, or flat etc. Would never buy again.

29-20: Sickening – Undrinkable, flavors were completely off, a disgrace to tea culture. Would obviously never buy again.

19-0: Deathly – How anyone could make a tea this bad is beyond me. I wish I could wipe it from my memory.

✅ Recommended: If I think a tea is worth trying (at least once) as a means of expanding one’s tea horizons, or if it represents a good value (price-flavor ratio), I will give it the “recommended” label.

ON POSITIVITY:
Sourcing authentic, high-quality, traditional tea is hard work; I have a great deal of respect for the tea companies who endeavor to do so, even if I don’t personally enjoy the teas they offer. As such, I try to keep my reviews positive. I won’t give teas the “not recommended” label. If I don’t have anything positive to say about a tea, I will simply give it a numerical rating and list the flavors that I encountered.

On the other hand, if I haven’t written a tasting note about a certain tea but gave it a high numerical score, it’s simply because I didn’t have time to write a full tasting note.

PLACES RATING GUIDE:

TEA QUALITY – Rated for flavor, freshness, picking standard, etc.
Possible ratings: Low, Medium-low, Medium, Medium-high, High, Highest

TEA SELECTION – Number of teas available for purchase.
Possible ratings: Small (1-10), Medium (11-50), Large (51-100), Massive (100+)

TEAWARE QUALITY – Material and craftsmanship. Handmade vs. machine-made.
Possible ratings: Low, Medium, High, Highest

TEAWARE SELECTION: Amount and diversity of teaware available.
Possible ratings: Small, Medium, Large

SHOP ATMOSPHERE – The ambience of the physical retail location (if there is one).
No standard for ratings, as this is very subjective. Instead you will see notes for the ambience of each store.

EMPLOYEES’ KNOWLEDGE – How well the employees understand the teas they sell, and how well they are versed generally in Chinese tea history and culture (or Japanese / Korean tea history and culture, depending on the shop).
Possible ratings: Low, Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Expert

QUALITY OF SERVICE – Employees’ attentiveness, attitude, willingness to help, patience, ability to explain product, etc.
Possible ratings: Poor, Mediocre, Average, Good, Best.

OFFERS TEA TASTING / CEREMONY – Most of the teashops I rate specialize in traditional Chinese tea. Some specialize in Japanese or Korean tea. However, you won’t find me rating places like Teavana for example: I focus solely on high quality, “real” tea. This section therefore pertains to the option to try the tea before your buy it by having the store brew it for you in the traditional method.
Possible ratings: Yes, Paid; Yes, Free (with expectation of product purchase); No; and, N/A

TEA PRICE: Created by taking an average per 100g (3.5oz) price USD of two teas from each category sold.
Possible ratings: $ (below $10), $$ ($11-30), $$$ ($31-50), $$$$ (above $50)

TEAWARE PRICE: This is more difficult to rate than tea. For example, you could find a handmade porcelain gaiwan for $50 and this would be reasonable, whereas the same price for a machine-made gaiwan would be ridiculously expensive. Therefore, this is decided from the general feeling received by looking through the available collection.
Possible ratings: $, $$, $$$, $$$$

OVERALL VALUE: Bang for your buck – quality of product vs. price.
Possible ratings: Low, Average, High

RECOMMEND: Do I recommend the shop?
Possible ratings: No, Neutral, Yes

Location

San Francisco, Abu Dhabi, Kaohsiung, Shanghai, New York

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