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Recent Tasting Notes
Last year, or was it early this year, I placed an order with Camellia Sinensis because I saw they offered some unique herbal teas that are wild-harvested from Québec. Labrador tea is in the genus Rhododendron — the leaf underside and stems are covered in a dense, rust-hued fur.
It smells so good in the bag, like an evergreen forest. It reminds me of my times in Canada, the Pacific Northwest and of the wintertime redwood forest here in northern California. Crisp, clean air. Breathe. This is the kind of fresh smell that makes me aware of my own being and the lightness of mind and body I am capable of achieving in nature. It elicits a sense of presence, away from the smells of humans and the industrial worlds we create.
In the description on this page, Camellia Sinensis says of this tea: “a lively and light liquor, supported by strong citrus and camphor aromas. Its vegetal character is reminiscent of lichen and cedar.”
Had I not read that, I would describe it as… let’s see… the same as the smell of the leaf but with some sweetness of strange origin, a thickness that reminds me of silver needle white teas, perhaps due to the fur. Cool evergreen forests. There’s also a bit of pungency — resinous, tar-like, reminding me of kerosene? more than sap. You know, it also reminds me a lot of Bitterleaf Tea’s Jingmai Crab Legs but without the hint of milkiness (https://steepster.com/teas/bitterleaf-teas/78526-2016-jing-mai-crab-legs) and of Juniper Ridge’s Douglas Fir Spring Tips with a thicker, more robust, sweet taste and less of a “green” flavor (https://steepster.com/teas/juniper-ridge/14722-douglas-fir-spring-tips).
It’s recommended by the internet-at-large to not steep these leaves and stems for more than 5-6 minutes due to a high concentration of tannins in the tea that can cause stomachache. I tried to follow the parameters on the bag with 2tsp (crumbled), 250mL, 90C for 4-5 minutes but time often gets away from me. With what was probably an 8-minute steep, I did experience some bloating and big gurgles about an hour later. With that, though, also came an intense sleepiness. I was out. Labrador tea is used as a treatment for insomnia which wasn’t the purpose of my drinking but dang did it work, and it has worked the few other times I’ve sipped.
Flavors: Camphor, Cedar, Citrus, Petrichor, Pine, Resin, Spring Water, Sweet, Tannin, Thick
First session in a couple of days so I’m treating myself by getting very tea drunk over a session of this aged beauty! First flavours that hit my tongue are strong woody cinnamon/cassia notes and clove with this heavy backbone of camphor and potting soil! It’s spicy and earthy in all of the best ways, taking me back to nostalgic memories of hot summer mornings helping my grandma in her vegetable garden. With those cozy memories comes an inner warmth and feeling of almost floating within myself. It’s very peaceful, and one of those type of sessions that really reminds me why I love tea so much – there’s really no other drink out there that can make me feel so… seen!? I’ve definitely gotta get around to caking this beauty!!
Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egtoA6wpeKU
2021 sipdown no. 96
Sample sipdown of this one. It started out not so great, but lowering the steeping temperature did wonders. I actually quite enjoyed this one in the end. I have little experience with Darjeelings, but I have enjoyed pretty near every first flush and this one is no exception. There is a slight hay-floral taste with hints of sweetness and just an overall pleasant taste.
1st steep: 4 minutes at 190° F
2nd steep: 5.5 minutes at 190° F
For my initial attempt of this tea at 200° C, 4 minutes, it came off as bitter. Last night I tried to steep this at 3 minutes and missed the timer by 1.5 minutes and this morning I tried again and missed the timer by a minute. I must just meant to steep this tea for 4 minutes. Anyway, I steeped at a lower temperature today and it seems to have mellowed out.
There’s a blend of floral sweetness that really works here. Hints of jasmine mixed with an almost fruit sweetness that I can’t pinpoint, but all in a mellowed out way.
Onto the second steep!
2021 sipdown no. 93
This was sent as a sample in my recent CS order! The flavour is quite nice, but a bit more vegetal than the other unroasted oolongs I ordered. It’s lovely nonetheless, and oolongs are always so lovely while trying to get big projects or papers done, I find. There’s a subtle sweetness and an ever more subtle bitterness in the background. This doesn’t detract though. There’s some creaminess, but it’s not the most predominant and then perhaps some very light floral (jasmine) flavours. An enjoyable cuppa overall!
A random story: I had a volunteer shift earlier this week and someone called in about a red-tailed hawk (incredible and majestic animals!) on the ground. I gave them directions on how to carefully approach and capture the hawk, if they were comfortable, and they were actually able to do it! They captured the hawk and brought it to the wildlife centre for care and it’s just so wonderful when things work out for the best!
Also, we got our second vaccine shots yesterday, yay!
Probably made a bit of a mistake by having my first tasting of this tea be over a rather spicy hot pot with my roommate this past week – I could taste the sweetness of the red fruits and orange in the blend and some of the woodier and more mineral notes of the rooibos but everything was clouded by a rush of spicy heat that distracted from the tea.
I ordered a few samples of green (unroasted?) oolongs from CS and they are just delightful. While the roasted ones I always think I want, they almost always end up tasting mineral-y or cardboard-like. The green ones are creamy and smooth and I must just be in the perfect state for them because I just want more!
My course this term is really heavy and I’m trying to catch up on my ‘course journal’ today (a new concept that I’ve never been assessed with in previous courses) and this tea is beside me. I’m on my first steep and it has that distinct almost musty, but in a good way, oolong scent and that comes through slightly in the taste, but it’s just got a lovely creamy aspect that mellows out everything. There’s some floral flavours, maybe hints of jasmine, that are lovely as well.
Onto the second steep now!
My newest Camellia Sinensis order arrived yesterday! I think 2021 is the year of CS for me XD.
We’re having a heat wave here and its been hovering around 36° C with no wind and no temperature drop in the night. I know others are much worse off (I feel for you BC and PNW), but I’m so over living in the dark and having no tea in an attempt to try to keep the house cool (we’re failing miserably anyway — the house thermostat is reading between 30-31° daily). I normally love the heat and the summer, but without any water bodies to cool down, I’m just not loving this.
Today I broke and made one of my new teas. I waited for an hour for it to cool and it’s still pretty warm haha! It’s actually quite lovely! The strong scent worried me a bit in the bag, but it’s steeped up in a lovely way. This comes across as peachy and ginger, with a subtle hint of apple, though it’s hard to tease apart all the flavours, they all meld together a bit. I’m happy the peach comes through, though subtle, because I am loving peach teas that aren’t artificial.
I’m officially on “summer vacation” from now until July 5th so I’m looking forward to catching up on tasting notes, drinking lots of tea outside, and binge watching some new shows. Of course there will be lots of cold brews too – including this bad boy, which is kick starting the vacation! This tea is just super refreshing to sip on during this extremely sunny day w/ plenty of crisp notes of freshly mowed grass, fragrant light florals, sweet vegetal garden peas, and a buttery coconut finish!
Song Pairing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIMnyx8dCoM
[Spring 2021 harvest]
Here’s quite a flavourful tea with great depth and lots of elusive notes. It has a bit higher oxidation than many FF Darjeelings and turned out to be my favourite of the three I got this year.
I can smell popcorn, grass flowers, and moss at first. The floral wet leaf aroma brings out hints of courgette flower, lime zest, honeysuckle, rice field, and apples.
I find the liquor to be medium bodied and creamy with a fleeting foamy touch. The taste is woody and warming. It has a astringent, floral bite to it, as well as flavours of pistachio, white grapes, egg shells and others. Aftertaste also brings more sweetness and umami to the table. There are hints of butter, pine and a stronger honey note that appears after a while.
Flavors: Apple, Astringent, Biting, Butter, Citrus Zest, Creamy, Floral, Flowers, Grass, Honey, Honeysuckle, Lime, Moss, Nuts, Pine, Popcorn, Rice, Sweet, Umami, White Grapes, Wood, Zucchini
This year I am trying to drink down a lot of my stash, but I still decided to get a few fresh teas, this being one of them. On the whole, it is a multi-faceted tea displaying a great deal of tension. It is warming and cooling at the same time, both sweet and savoury, smooth and astringent, fruity and vegetal, flowery and woody, etc. Such tea can get quite imbalanced which this one suffers from a bit, but not to a substantial extent.
The dry leaf aroma is nutty and floral. Once wet, I get multitude of scents, vegetal ones like spring onion and cabbage, fruit tree flowers, licorice mint, as well as hints of muscatel, cotton candy, gooseberry and incense.
Taste is floral and bitter with a caramel finish. There are notes of thistles, curry leaves, green beans, wood, eggs and others. Depending on the brewing parameters, the mouthfeel ranges from misty to creamy and there is a noticeable drying sensation in the throat. Aftertaste is quite pungent with a persistent vegetal bitterness akin to apple leaves. It marks probably the most imbalanced aspect of the whole experience.
Flavors: Apple, Astringent, Berry, Bitter, Caramel, Drying, Floral, Fruit Tree Flowers, Green Beans, Licorice, Mint, Muscatel, Nutty, Vegetables, Vegetal, Wood
Even though overall, this tea is true to its identity as a FF Darjeeling, its subtle notes at times give it a character of a green tea or jade oolong. This makes it fairly unique in some sense, without being truly weird or experimental.
The first sniff gives an impression of scones and green beans. Later, the aroma is more like a mix of eucalyptus and some flowers. The tea has a soft mouthfeel and warming presence, albeit the aftertaste gives off a cooling vibe that comes with its very flowery profile. The taste has a pleasant and decently strong nutty bitterness, some fruity notes of apricot and guava as well as savoury ones like black olives, butter and charred kale. In the aftertaste, a lasting milky sweetness appears too.
Flavors: Apricot, Bitter, Burnt Food, Butter, Eucalyptus, Flowers, Green Beans, Guava, Kale, Nutty, Olives, Vegetal
[Autumn 2020 harvest]
Another great tea from Jun Chiyabari. It is very elegant, aromatic, and smooth with no astringency.
The aroma reminds me of apricot, cookies, cherry, wood, star anise, and honey. The taste is sweet, woody and also a bit more savoury than the typical Autumn black tea from Himalayas. There are flavours of brown sugar, cocoa, honeysuckle and apricot. I has just the right amount of bitterness to create a balanced profile. In the finish, some sour notes also come to the fore and make for an unusual aftertaste.
Flavors: Anise, Apricot, Bitter, Brown Sugar, Cherry, Cocoa, Cookie, Honey, Honeysuckle, Smooth, Sweet, Wood
Bought this so I could compare to the 2003 7542 from mrmopar
This definitely tastes aged. I think Camellia Sinensis’s description is spot on. However, I do find the bitterness unbalanced. This 1998 is smoother, less drying and a little sweeter (almost whisky-like) than the 2003 but not as strong with the camphor. Maybe the type of storage and 5 years more of age have transformed the acidity I get in the 2003. This tastes more humidly stored and verges lightly alkaline. The body is nothing to note; I don’t recall noting it in the 2003. Qi is calming and warming, caffeine isn’t very high — I can fall asleep without issue if had in the evening. After 3 or 4 infusions, the qi urges me to take a break. Over the next several infusions, the power is gone and the tastes devolves into bitter, peaty swamp water.
Overall, it’s ok, the feelings elicited are nice and early infusion taste good but I feel like it’s missing the depth needed to make this a very good aged tea. For the price, I pass but it is worth trying.
Flavors: Baked Bread, Bitter Melon, Campfire, Camphor, Drying, Earth, Peat, Petrichor, Resin, Smoke, Smooth, Spicy, Wet Rocks, Wet Wood, Whiskey, Yeast
[Spring 2021 harvest]
I was excited to try a sample of this tea, expecting something different, at least. When dry, it smells of nuts, meat and chard. On the other hand, wet leaves have a very distinctive cabbage aroma.
First infusion is quite savoury and nutty with a mild bitter bite and honey sweetness. The flavours have a a good depth and the mouthfeel is very velvety with no astringency. The protracted aftertaste starts off juicy, buttery and warming, eventually a bit of vegetal sweetness appears from the bitterness though.
Subsequent steeps are pungent, vegetal and floral (still like honey, but without the honey sweetness) with a hint of spiciness and some astringency appearing too.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had any tea that you could say is truly a “yellow tea”. It’s certain is that this one is unlike any other tea I’ve had. It’s a bit hard to describe in what way though. Most of the specific aspects can be found in other teas, but the manner in which they come together is certainly unique. Also, the strong cabbage aroma is quite memorable.
Flavors: Bitter, Butter, Dry Grass, Floral, Honey, Meat, Nutty, Vegetables, Vegetal
I’ve had previous iterations of Camellia Sinensis’ Li Shan and enjoyed them, so I picked up this spring 2020 harvest in their September sale. I’ve had it three times now and have gotten slightly different flavours in each session. I steeped 6 g of leaf in a 120 ml teapot at 195F for 25, 20, 25, 30, 30, 45, 60, 75, 90, 120, and 240 seconds.
The dry aroma is of brown sugar, coconut, spinach, honeysuckle, and lilacs. In the first steep, I get lilac, sweet pea, gardenia, butter, coconut, grass, spinach, and pastries. It has a nice, viscous texture. The second steep is sweeter, with custard, cream corn, green apple, and honeysuckle. Steep three offers more honeysuckle/gardenia/other florals, particularly in the aroma, and the veggie, grass, and spinach notes become stronger. (I also got pineapple in previous sessions, but sadly, not in this one.) The next couple steeps display more of the cream corn sweetness, which I guess could be interpreted as custard or condensed milk. The tea is also still very floral. The steeps become more vegetal after this point, but with lots of floral sweetness to balance them out.
This tea is full of florals and is sweeter than many Li Shans, with some of the tropical fruit flavours I like when I leaf it heavy. I agree with Daylon that it’s kind of midrange, and I also prefer their less expensive Shan Lin Xi. Still, I might pick it up again if it’s on sale, simply because of the relatively reasonable price and the convenience of buying from a Canadian vendor.
Flavors: Brown Sugar, Butter, Coconut, Corn Husk, Custard, Floral, Gardenias, Grass, Green Apple, Honeysuckle, Pastries, Pineapple, Spinach, Sweet, Vegetal
X is for… Xiao Zhong!
I actually had a few X options to pick from for this day, but they were all pretty hyper traditional teas and I didn’t really end up having time during my work day to brew up more than just this one with the care I felt it deserved.
I did make this Western style – but I feel like it came out really well! It’s very chocolate tasting to me, but really dark chocolate with a healthy amount of bitterness to it. I know Camellia Sinensis describes this as a bit vegetal, but I didn’t get that all. Aside from the dark cacao/baker’s chocolate type notes, I mostly got a bit of a smoky edge, some red bean, and a woodier/oak-y backbone to the sip. Full bodied, complex even as a Western brew, and just very rich with a long lingering finish.
Cannot wait to brew this Gongfu – I feel like I’m gonna have some high expectations now.
This second flush is from 2020, which makes it relatively new in my tea collection. It caught my eye because Camellia Sinensis noted it was representative of the style, and even though I’ve had many SF Darjeelings, I still look for benchmarks of what they’re “supposed” to taste like. I steeped 4 g of leaf in a 355 ml mug at 195F for 5, 7, and 10 minutes.
The dry aroma is of caramel, nuts, and flowers. The first steep has notes of autumn leaves, nuts (yes, hazelnut seems accurate), caramel, butter, wood, flowers, saline, and a hint of muscatel. The finish is rather woody and drying, especially if the tea is held in the mouth for any length of time. The tea also has some tannins. The next couple steeps are heavier on the nuts and caramel and lighter on the fruit and florals. I get some minerality in the third steep.
This tea is a good deal more restrained than the luxuriantly fruity, floral second flush Darjeelings I gravitate toward. However, I think it is indeed a high-quality, well-made example of the type, if not one that really wows me.
Flavors: Autumn Leaf Pile, Butter, Caramel, Drying, Floral, Hazelnut, Mineral, Muscatel, Nuts, Salty, Tannin, Wood
2021 sipdown no. 81
I’m working on a sipdown of this because I enjoyed it when CS first sent a sample, but since I ordered 50g I am over it, sadly. It seems to be all malt and nothing else.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, it’s a fine tasting tea. I’d just prefer other straight black teas from CS.
Giving the remainder of this one to Lex’s mamma for her enjoyment.
Only have three samples left from the Leafhopper trade. Again, thank you!
I was debating on what I wanted this morning, and since it’s a crisp spring day, a slightly autumnal or floral Darjeeling would probably go well with it. This note is going to be shorter than my usual verbose nonsense because I decided to do this western.
I emptied the entire sample in my french press that I do not actually press, and let it sit between 2-3 minutes. I sipped a little pour to see how it would play out, and it was sweet floral and savory, a little nutty, but thin. After a full brew, I filled my mug. Same descriptors apply becoming more specific: orange blossom, butter, roasted and salted nuts, and a savory but very woodsy finish. There was a little bit of cocoa in the notes, but not a lot and the tea was definitely not malty.
Second brew had much the same notes, but woodsier and nuttier. The finish was pretty drying but not quite as flavorful the first time, so I stopped there.
Looking at Camellia Sinensis notes, they make more sense. Caramel, “saline” notes, and hazelnut are the more vivid descriptors, and they actually amped up the woodsiness on their flavor wheel. I haven’t totally agreed with some of the other flavors they’ve described before applying different approximative adjectives for the same thing (supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), but I agree with their assessment this time. I will say that saline does make it a little bit more fancy than just “salty”. Curse negative connotations.
Either way, the mix of floral, sweet and savory components were nice, and what I like about Darjeelings. I’m not sure if I’d buy more due to me using the big bucks for my outrageously expensive usuals, but I would say yes every time I’d be offered up this one. I think it would be a nice entry for straight second flush teas, but I wouldn’t add cream AND sugar to this one since it is on the fainter side, though some sugar might be nice. It made my morning anyway.
Flavors: Butter, Cocoa, Drying, Floral, Hazelnut, Nuts, Orange Blossom, Salt, Savory, Sweet, Wood
Q is for… Qimen Hong Gong Fu!
…and, as the name would imply, I brewed this one Gongfu!
I didn’t take great notes for this one because I had it while at the studio over my lunch break and I was a bit rushed – but I enjoyed it a lot and was impressed by how many infusions the leaf seemed able to take. Definitely a longer session than most Qimen I’ve had in recent memory. It was super smokey (but in a natural way, not a “smoked tea” way) with these delectable woody top notes & a jammy stonefruit undertones peeking out. It’s hard to find a good Qimen, but this was solid.
[Spring 2021 harvest]
Marvelous looking, delicate leaves with lots of hair here. It’s an exceptionally elegant tea with a silky full body and a resolute chest warming cha qi.
Initially, I get a nutty, floral and meaty scent which becomes vegetal later – a bit like chard.
The taste profile has vegetal backbone reminiscent of thistles and fiddleheads, as well as some floral and tart carambola notes. Subsequently, protracted sweetness comes to the fore, while mild vanilla and black pepper notes linger in the background.
It’s not a cheap tea, but a fresh green tea of this quality is hard not to appreciate for me.
Flavors: Black Pepper, Floral, Sweet, Tart, Vanilla, Vegetal