Chicago Tea Garden

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Recent Tasting Notes


Sipdown no. 13 of February 2019 (no. 31 of 2019 total, no. 519 grand total).

OK. I must severely bump down the rating on this. Like into the yuck zone.

I think I was overly generous when I rated it as I did because I was sort of taken with the idea of a rice flavored pu erh. But when I was confronted with the lower rated teas in my cupboard (of which this was one) and put this in the cold brew queue, I realized my mistake.

Cold brew almost always makes tea taste better. I almost always find myself bumping up the rating.

But this was pretty gross. I mean, I couldn’t drink it in the morning to take my vitamins with for fear of gagging. The rice note became something that didn’t taste like rice so much as something that tasted nastily pungent.

No. 2 agreed. He tried this and had to throw away the cup after one sip. He, who loved the last pu erh cold brew so much he spirited away the last bit in the pitcher into his water bottle to take with him on his week long outdoor ed trip.

Today I put the last 4 of these into a pitcher with some shu tuochas and a spoon of loose shu. I’m hoping that will cut the nastily pungent note enough to make it bearable. In any case, I can’t imagine anything making it worse.

Not going to miss this one at all.

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I find this tea a little puzzling because pretty much all the tuo cha teas I’ve had seem to have a similar flavor profile. This one doesn’t. It says it is “green” which I am guessing means it is not shu? Which could be why.

The little nests smell very much like rice. Like browned, fried rice.

I tried to cut one in half because the nests weigh over 4 g, but I gave up. I could not get the pieces to combine in a way that got me to the number I was looking for and I got bored with trying, so I just tossed the whole thing in the gaiwan.

I rinsed, and did an initial 10 second steep. That’s when I decided to steep this as a sheng even though I’m not entirely sure that’s what it is. The liquor is paler than any shu I’ve ever seen, though admittedly I haven’t seen many and it has that yellow sheng look rather than the brown I typically see in shus.

So — I let the leaves sit for 15+ minutes and then went 5/5/7/7/10/10/20/30/40/60

I am not sure whether it is because there was too much tea or not, but the first few steeps were quite bitter. If this is in fact sheng, which I am more and more certain it is, then I have finally experienced the bitterness!

After about the fourth steep, the bitterness went away and what was left was basically the single toasted rice note through the remaining steeps.

That note is nice enough, but once the novelty wears off, it just is what it is.

Flavors: Bitter, Rice, Toasted Rice


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In the tin, this has the expected look of a tie guan yin (rolled balls of mostly green-colored tea) though it seems to have rather more silver highlights than others I’ve had recently. The tea in the tin smells green and grassy.

Gaiwan. Rinse. 195F for 15 seconds, plus 5 additional seconds for each subsequent steep.

The tea has a light, lemon-yellow liquor with a green tinge and is clear. It has a buttery, floral aroma, and a mild, buttery floral flavor.

It’s pretty much exactly what I’d expect from a tie guan yin. The only reason I’m not rating it higher is that it has a bitterness to the finish that is more pronounced than I’d like.

But I do love the way the leaves unroll and double to triple in volume!

Flavors: Butter, Floral, Grass, Green

195 °F / 90 °C

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Sipdown no. 2 of 2024 (no. 691 total).

Drank the last of this as a cold brew. I forgot how nice of a cold brew pu erh can make. I might like cold pu erh better than hot, even.

I’ve said it before but I’m saying it again. I really wanted to be a pu erh fan. It seems like most hard core tea people are, and I wanted to be hard core. For me it’s OK, and more like a sometime thing, maybe. I wouldn’t turn it down if someone offered it to me but I’m honestly not sure I need to keep any on hand for myself.

It’s the earthiness. It’s too much for me. I don’t love earth, barnyard, marine etc. notes if they are dominant.

This one had a bit of gritty sediment at the bottom of the pitcher and getting some of that in the last sip was unexpected — I wondered if I’d chipped a tooth for a minute but it was only sand.

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One of these nests weighs over 5g, so I cut one in half and stuck it in the gaiwan. Rinsed, and steeped at boiling for 10/10/20/30/40/60/120/240/300/360

The nest didn’t have a particularly distinctive smell when dry — not fishy, a little sweet. After steeping it made a cherry wood color liquor that got darker with the first few steeps and then, rather abruptly, started to fade until it was a slightly coppery light yellow for the last few steeps.

This is pretty much what happened with the flavor, too. It had a nice intensity to it for the first few steeps, then faded away like it dropped off a cliff. I probably could have stopped at 5 or 6, but I soldiered on. The lighter intensity had its own flavor, but compared to the deeper intensity, it was a bit wan.

I remember as a kid going to the zoo with my mom. Whenever we got the the camel enclosure she’d tell me not to get too close because the camels would “spit tobacco” at you. Now, since camels probably don’t put just a pinch between their cheek and gum, I understood this to be metaphor.

Perhaps because of this association in my mind, though, my taste buds immediately went to tobacco for the dominant taste in this. But it was more than that; it was the scented tobacco my dad used to smoke in his pipe that always had some sort of alcohol flavor name. I’m thinking rum, here.

But all that goes away by steep 6 or so. I’d rate it higher if it had more staying power.

Flavors: Rum, Tobacco


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Sipdown no. 6 of February 2019 (no. 24 of 2019 total, no. 512 grand total).

It’s time for me to admit that I tried to like this more than I actually liked it. I loved the concept of the tea encased in orange skin, but I was not wild about this hot, and cold brew did not save it. It was bearable as cold brew, but I was pretty happy when I hit the last of it.

Dropping the rating.

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I bought this a long time ago for the novelty value and never opened it until today.

The tin contained four oranges, two of which were individually wrapped. Two of which were wrapped together.

After taking off the cellophane, the little orange smells like… old orange, and a fishy, earthy, shu smell. The tea was fairly well compacted within the little orange and had to be pried out. I put about half an orange’s worth into the little gaiwan I use, and have enough for another session left in the orange. I stuck a bit of the peel in the gaiwan, too, as suggested in the description.

I rinsed and then steeped with boiling water for 10 seconds. I followed this, roughly:
1st infusion: 10 seconds
2nd infusion: 10 seconds
3rd infusion: 20 seconds
4th infusion: 30 seconds
5th infusion: 40 seconds
6th infusion: 1 min.
7th infusion: 2 min.
8th infusion: 4 min.
9th infusion: 5 min.
10th infusion: 6-8 min.

The tea starts out a clear copper color and smells quite vegetal. Carrots, celery, mushroom. Not fishy. Maybe a hint of orange, but not a lot. By the second steep, it darkens significantly to dark amber with a reddish tinge. The flavor continues in the same vein. Some earth and leather notes, but they are secondary to the vegetal ones. Around the fourth infusion, it becomes more mushroomy. A sort of spicy note, which may be the orange, comes to the fore in the sixth infusion. The tea’s color started to lighten again around steep 6, too.

I could have stopped at 6, but I continued. The tea pretty much gave up the ghost at 6.

It’s an interesting tea and not bad tasting. It gets points for having some different characteristics than other pu-erhs I’ve had in my recent experiments, but I would have expected it to go on longer and to generate a deeper, more robust flavor than it did.

Flavors: Carrot, Celery, Fishy, Mushrooms, Orange


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Happy Thanksgiving to those in the US!

I have started my morning in a depressing fashion. The BF is being a particular pain today. He doesn’t work, so he had all week to take the kids (who were out of school) shopping for food for us to make for Thanksgiving. But he refused to buy the Turkey without me. So now he wants me to spend one of my few mornings off on his timetable which isn’t setting well with me.

Here I am writing tea notes, so guess who is winning?

Chicago Tea Garden is, I believe, defunct. I have a few tins of tea from them that I’ve never opened, this being one. I love the way the tea looks. Little golden ampersands. Snails, whatever curly thing you want to call them. They have a mild, bready smell in the tin.

The tin, BTW, was only half full when I removed the seal. It looks like it would contain 4 oz tea, but it only had half of that. Strange.

Anyway, this has the standard malty, brown sugary, slightly peppery aroma. A little sweet potato, a little molasses, maybe even a bit of cocoa/mocha. And that’s what I get in the flavor, too. The tea is medium brown orange and clear.

It’s not the best Yunnan ever, but it is Yunnan. And Yunnan is my favorite.

Flavors: Brown Sugar, Cocoa, Malt, Mocha, Molasses, Pepper

Boiling 3 min, 0 sec 2 tsp 500 OZ / 14786 ML

Hmm… a half filled NEW tin just sounds sad. Nothing like a good yunnan though! Hope your Thanksgiving got better.

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My first raw pu erh tea sent as a sample. very light early brews, light taste but with nice astringency that ‘comes back at you’ after swallowing. Later, longer brews develop a richer taste which I really like, not so astringent and it makes many brews.

Flavors: Creamy, Cut Grass

Boiling 0 min, 30 sec 4 tsp 3 OZ / 100 ML

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the tea itself was a a nice light yellow in color and the smell greeted me with light grass notes and vegetal aromas. the taste was very light as it was not brewed for very long but it had a nice subtle flavor being bitter at first but finishing nice and sweet.

Flavors: Grass, Honey, Wheat

170 °F / 76 °C 1 min, 0 sec

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Tried doing a big gongfu session with this tea tonight but the result wasn’t satisfying. The tea was very tightly packed into a mini-tuocha and my attempts to break it up meant the leaf was super broken and dusty. The first steep was quite nice, but the next few steeps were unpleasant and bitter. The leaf was also quite small, so a lot of it made it through the filter in my gaiwan.


That happened to me once! Tao mentioned when I asked, that even though it isn’t common, sometimes you need to make a subsequent infusion shorter than the previous ones. It seemed to have worked, but mine was a different Puerh


i usually rinse and put it on pause. in a few minutes the mini tuo becomes bigger and looser. and 2,3rd steeps are shorter. leaves are already expanded

Christina / BooksandTea

I have one more mini-tuocha of this left. I may gongfu that one soon with this in mind (and even if it’s still bitter, hey – easy sipdown!)

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I loved this tea. It was a new tasting experience. Earthy, citrus, dark, and complex.

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This tea was extraordinary. I’ve not been able to find a Golden Bi Luo that compares in taste, freshness, and price.

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I usually have fruit for breakfast but this morning I have gone all out and made a good veggie style English breakfast. Two veggie sausages, baked beans, fried chestnut mushrooms, two fried eggs and some toast to mop up the food explosion that is on my plate. Not healthy but it will keep me going until dinner time and with something substantial in my stomach I am free to taste teas for the rest of the day without getting tea belly.

This sample of Golden Bi Luo Chun has been sat with me for just over a year and I don’t know why I was worried about sampling it before, or perhaps I forgot about it. Anyone’s guess is as good as my own. Either way an English breakfast is never complete without a cup of black tea.

The tea balls were nice and reflective and golden but they were also very small, I’ve had larger versions of this before elsewhere. I brewed this while I was cooking so I had a mixture of smells (my bad) but I could pick up silky malt tones.

I love my personaliTEA teapot from Adagio, it’s perfect size for 2 mugs of tea and comes in handy when I have days off.

Once steeped a dark brown liquid is produced that bares a sweet malt and chocolate scent that is light and silky. Very nice.

Flavour is mild but matches the scent very much ie soft, sweet, silky, malt, chocolate tones. Also a little smoky though it’s very subtle and hints of wood. After a few sips I can also taste a mature raisin or plum fruit.

This tea is wonderful and I’m sorry for keeping it on my shelf for so long. It makes the perfect start to my day.

Flavors: Chocolate, Malt, Plum, Raisins, Wood

205 °F / 96 °C 2 min, 30 sec 3 tsp 7 OZ / 200 ML

English breakfast, yum!


sounds good to me!

Terri HarpLady

That sounds like an awesome breakfast! I can’t even imagine that there is anything unhealthy about it!


Yes! Awesome breakfast!

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The sweetness and floral notes make this one of my favorite Oolongs.

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First off, I haven’t been on steepster at all in months! Bad me :<

But today I woke up and decided it was a sticky rice puerh day so I’m baaaaaack :P

Pulled out my last piece of sticky rice pu-erh that was so generously gifted me and stuck it in my new-to-me tea for one set :)

Preheated both pot and cup (via sitting under the pot) and steeped for 30 seconds. Such a delightful tea…I forgot how light it comes out! Wonderfully earthy and grassy with that sticky rice finish :)

Flavors: Earth, Grass, Rice, Wet Earth

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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Finishing up my second steep of this and felt like it needed a separate review. I can already tell each steep will be quite unique and I’m excited.

Unfortunately for this steep in particular, I let it sit to cool and forgot about it for 2+ hours.

It’s still tasty though. The same notes (earth, compost, rice) are present though it’s more compost and less rice. In addition, while steeping or cooling, it seems to have picked up an edge of smokiness.

Delightful cup. Looking forward to the third steep.

Flavors: Earth

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 45 sec

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Thanks to moraiwe I had a small sample of this and finally got around to tasting it.

In fact, I started the day out right all around. Drew a warm bath for myself that I enhanced with green tea and then relaxed in the bath while sipping my pu-erh. Ahhh~ ♥

I once described pu-erh as “compost in the best possible way” and this cup reminds me why. It is wonderfully robust and earthy with the flavor of rice lightly intermingling through the cup – especially in the aftertaste, which is made lighter/less bitter because of it.

This is an amazing morning cup for me not only because of its “wake me up with the smell and taste of nature” properties, which make me a happy witch, but also because of the rice. I’m on a thyroid medication that prevents me from eating for an hour after I wake up. With this tea I can have my rice and drink it too ;)

Will definitely resteep throughout the day.

(Thanks also to Auggy, whose review I referenced when preparing this tea!)

Flavors: Earth

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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Got this sample of the 2004 Yue Guang Bai aka Moonlight White, from the tea shop, and, when the moon hits my eye, like a big pizza pie, it’s gaiwan time.
First impression, beautiful mix of green and white leaves. Second impression, nice color, very fruity and sweet, strong ‘hui tian’. The package says mysterious infusion, but I miss out on that one, the sweetness makes it a rather easy and in-your-face drink. On the other hand, quite amazing, one would say they’ve really put some sweet stuff in it. This diversity makes me love tea so much. Next!

200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 15 sec

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I don’t know when I got this. One of the times I visited my friend in Chicago, I guess? It smells strongly of rice, it’s so cool. The tea is quite tannic, but I think that’s my fault – I got distracted because I’m in zoom class, and I was paying attention to my instructor…

I do like this. Will it or something like it be a standard puerh in my cupboard? Hmm, probably not. I don’t think this would be an “every day” tea for me. But if I come across places that sell sticky rice puerh, I’d consider picking up a tuocha or two for future enjoyment.

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Oh, this is really neat. Thanks, Incendiare!

I made 3 steeps at the same time, so I’m sitting here with a plate containing 3 8oz tea mugs and a brownie cupcake. Yum!

From the smells, I like the second steep better. (I did a 30s rinse, 1 min steep, 1.5min steep, 2 min steep.) It smells of green tea, and sweet sticky rice dessert. The stuff a Filipino coworker made for me once so I could eat something at a company potluck. So. Good.

Now for taste… It is indeed sweet and green, reminiscent of rice pudding that’s been toasted onto the side of the pan. Really quite interesting. I overdid it for the second steep, and prefer the first. The second is going bitter, so I’m going to toss it. Oh boo, the third is going bitter too. (It’s 10:30 pm and I have 3 cups of tea to drink, so I think this is acceptable!)

Let that be a lesson for people who are going to try this. 1:30 and 2:00 are too long for the second and third steeps. Best to be more conservative.

Well, I’m going to drink the first steep, eat my brownie, and try a fourth steep. :)


Something about toasty toasty rice pudding just sounds delicious.


It makes me want to buy a stone bowl and put rice pudding in it so I get crunchy chewy rice like when I order bibimbap. Don’t know if it would work with anything other than plain rice, though.

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Thanks Incendiare for the sample!
I was a bit nervous about trying it because I’d never had tuocha, but after reading what everyone else did, I feel fairly confident I’m doing this ok.

And wow – it really smells like sticky rice! It does taste as deliver, with the slightest tackiest mouthfeel and a slightly sour aftertaste. This is… unusual? I’m happy I tried it but I don’t know that it’s for me. :P


Mine’s sitting out on my counter, waiting for me to try! Kind of excited now that I’ve read how to steep it. :)


I liked mine.


It was interesting! But I don’t know that I’d crave it. :)

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