I am going to break a long-standing rule of mine with this review. I have previously made it known on at least a couple of occasions that I will not assign a perfect score to any tea. Honestly, I’m pretty free and easy with grades of 80+ because I tend to buy, drink, and review things I know and like from vendors in which I have some degree of confidence. You may notice, however, that it is very difficult to get me to assign numerical scores higher than the 90-94 range, and for those who are interested, that is because I have established different degrees of excellence in my head. A score in the 95-99 range is reserved for teas that I believe to be a step or two above those I feel to already be more or less exceptional. A score of 100 would then refer to a perfect, world-beating tea which could not be topped by any other tea of its type. While I have come close to assigning perfect scores in the past, I could never motivate myself to do so, but here I am doing it now because I really do believe this tea to be that special. It was excellent to start with, but if anything, it managed to improve considerably in storage.
I prepared this tea gongfu style. After a very brief rinse, I steeped 6 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 194 F water for 5 seconds. This infusion was chased by 16 additional infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 7 seconds, 9 seconds, 12 seconds, 16 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute 15 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, and 7 minutes.
Prior to the rinse, the dry tea leaves emitted aromas of tobacco, clove, camphor, eucalyptus, black pepper, caramel, honey, brown toast, and malt. After the rinse, I noted new aromas of butter, cream, and raisin accompanied by stronger malt and honey scents. The first infusion then introduced roasted almond, roasted cashew, and pine aromas. In the mouth, the tea liquor presented notes of tobacco, clove, caramel, black pepper, cream, malt, raisin, butter, brown toast, honey, and pine that were chased by hints of roasted cashew, cinnamon, camphor, eucalyptus, and menthol on the swallow. Subsequent infusions introduced cinnamon, nutmeg, and sweet potato on the nose. Roasted almond appeared in the mouth along with new flavors of black cherry, nutmeg, ginger, juniper, minerals, peat, orange zest, heather, anise, and sweet potato. The final couple of infusions offered subtler notes of cream, pine, caramel, malt, and brown toast that were balanced by somewhat less defined orange zest, raisin, ginger, tobacco, and camphor impressions.
If anything was missing from this hong cha, it was the familiar molasses presence I often find in teas of this type. There was, however, so much else going on in this tea that was so unique and special that it was not missed at all. This was a truly fantastic tea, and in terms of feel and the way it expressed itself, it was unlike any other Yunnan black tea I recall trying over the years. I would have no issue recommending it to anyone with an interest in such teas.
Flavors: Almond, Anise, Black Pepper, Brown Toast, Butter, Camphor, Caramel, Cherry, Cinnamon, Clove, Cream, Earth, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Herbs, Honey, Malt, Menthol, Mineral, Nutmeg, Nutty, Orange Zest, Pine, Raisins, Sweet Potatoes, Tobacco