32 Tasting Notes
This is the first tea I’m trying from Taiwan Sourcing’s ‘Summer 2015 Black and Oolong’ sampler pack. I’ve been steeping it in different ways over the last couple of days, and I’ve found my perfect cup at about 5-6g with 1-minute steeps in boiling water in my 200ml Yixing pot.
It’s a beautiful mellow cup, with warm, honey-like sweetness and a soft, silky mouthfeel. It has a very mild fresh lemon astringency, and the scent of the liquor and wet leaves is a gorgeous combination of honey and baking bread.
Steeped for 1-minute steeps, it’s smooth and mellow; steeped for 2 minutes, it becomes very bold and has a much darker black-tea taste; coppery and a bit malty – it does taste a little over-steeped with the longer time, but still quite well balanced between astringent and smoothly sweet.
Flavors: Bread, Honey, Lemon
2-3g in an 80ml gaiwan, 30s steeps with about 80C water.
The wet leaves have a scent I’ve not had from any tea before – a gorgeous perfume of light, fresh spring flowers; it’s very different from the strong, insistent floral aromas of high mountain oolongs, and it’s not like the fruity grape-melon scent I remember from Chinese silver needles – it’s much lighter and more delicate; an almost powdery scent that has a ‘barely there’ quality but a strong presence.
The liquor has the taste of the aroma: delicately floral, with a hint of sweetness, and the mouthfeel has a nice thickness and silky ‘coating’ effect.
Flavors: Floral, Sweet
This arrived today, a whole 200g cake of W2T’s ‘House Blend’, as part of the W2T tea club package for January.
The cake is dark and inviting; it’s tightly compressed, and the scent is mild and pleasant aged-leather, forest, and wood.
I used about 10g in a 140ml Yixing teapot, boiling water – rinse 10s, then steep for 10s, increasing for each steep by a few seconds.
The wet leaves smell very clean and deep, like a forest in the rain, with an undertone of just-cut wood logs, and the scent left behind in a house with a wood fire. It’s smooth, with a sweetness balanced by a small hint of pleasant sourness. The sweetness gets a little sweeter with each steep, and the sourness fades, but the other scents and tastes were pretty consistent.
I didn’t find anything overpowering or really stand-out remarkable about this tea, but with a name like ‘Old Reliable’ I wouldn’t expect to – it’s a lovely ripe puerh, and (as promised by W2T on the cake wrapper) there are no funky or fishy smells, and nothing weird inside the cake* – it makes a lovely strong cup of ‘just right’ ripe puerh, with no big or strange surprises, and it’s very durable and reliable(!), with the same taste and scent profile through the (about) 12 steeps I had.
*which is remarkable and overpowering just by itself, considering the odd little ‘surprises’ I’ve found in some puerh cakes in the past.
Flavors: Sweet, Wood
Today, I picked up from my local delivery office my first order from What-Cha, because when my long-suffering postman tried to deliver the box on the 30th December, I was nominally on holiday, standing on a beach on the island of Anglesey, buffeted by storm ‘Frank’, looking soulfully out to sea and wondering if I could swim back to civilisation if I really put my back into it.
Along with my order, which was packaged in a box upon which What-Cha had affixed a stamp issued on June 16th 1971 depicting ‘Ulster 1971 paintings’ (specifically, on my box, ‘A Mountain Road’ by Terence Philip Flanagan) and a couple of Wallace and Gromit stamps, there was a handwritten note in the box from Alistair, and a couple of extra samples that he thought I might like to try.
I have never met Alistair, nor did I even know his name until the handwritten note arrived, but from this point forth he shall show up in my imagination as a Sherlock Holmesian figure who turned for comfort to exotic teas in times of great stress and deduction, instead of the heady soup of the opium poppy.
I was in need of black tea, and I wanted it brisk and malty. I regretted, briefly, my decision to end my electronic shopping trip at four countries, and wished I’d added a little Assam to my order. But I wiped away a solitary tear and pulled myself together, and brewed up a nice strong pot of Burma Shan CTC Black Tea, because as good fortune would have it, What-Cha’s very own description of this is ‘Brisk and Malty’.
CTC black tea leaves are by no means a match made in heaven for a Yixing teapot; not even one that is reserved exclusively for black teas. These CTC leaves are as tiny as grains of sand, and with the addition of very hot water they conspired to construct a small but sturdy wall against the inside of the spout, so that my precious tea trickled out rather than poured.
But again I swatted impatiently at the tears that sprang unbidden to my eyes, and pulled myself together.
This tea is outstanding. The leaves, dry or wet, have a scent that’s a little bit reminiscent of puerh – I think it’s the scent of pure tea that in puerh becomes concentrated, but I catch it unexpectedly in every tea at odd moments – and beneath that, a malty, coppery, sharp black tea-scent. The liquid is a dark and welcoming red-black, and the taste is intense, and nothing short of divine – the fine promised briskness is arresting, but the tea is also strangely honey-smooth and without the mouth-puckering drying quality that often accompanies this level of briskness.
It’s also a surprisingly long-lasting tea – I was sure that with leaves cut so small, and with the liquor being so very strong and delicious from the very first steep, this tea would be good for only one or two steeps – but I’m already on my fifth steep, and a couple of the notes have become particularly strong in this cup – a gorgeous woody undertone, and sweet woodsmoke. It’s a warm and complex tea that’s evolving beautifully with each infusion.
Heart-wrenchingly, I think this tea is sold now by What-Cha only as part of the Burma Discovery collection, and I am unable to purchase a stash of it from them.
I swipe at a tear or two, pull myself together, and trek onwards to What-Cha’s Malawi.
Flavors: Malt, Smoke, Tea, Wood
About 6-7g in 140ml Yixing pot, 95-100C water, starting with short 5s steeps and adding a few seconds with each re-steep.
After a couple of rinses and a couple of mild-tasting short steeps, this opened up and became mellow, sweet and rich with a pleasant ‘library’ kind of scent and taste like leather and old books – though idealised rather than musty. By about the fourth or fifth steep, the tea had a thick and glossy mouthfeel, and after a couple more steeps the taste and aroma of the liquor had changed to a mild high sweetness with a depth like dark, heavily-scented summer flowers and wood smoke – still with the glossy mouthfeel that I’m guessing is the ‘hui run’ from YS’s description.
Flavors: Flowers, Leather, Smoke, Sweet, Wood
About 2-3g in an 90ml gaiwan with 75-80C water for short 20-30s steeps.
Quite tricky to steep this – it seems a bit of a fussy tea, and a smidge too much leaf or too-hot water brings out way too much astringency for me. But when I hit on the right combination, it’s worth the trial and error: pleasantly sweet, fine-bean-vegetal, a little lemon, and white grape flesh, with a smooth buttery mouthfeel.
Flavors: Lemon, Vegetal, White Grapes
I need a few pots of this, made extra-strong, this morning to balance all the wine, turkey, roast spuds, gravy, and christmas-pudding-with-brandy-sauce from yesterday.
Brewed very strong, this pours a deep, burnished-copper colour that goes to midnight-red in the mug, with a dark, sweetly metal-edged taste to match.
I subscribed to the YS tea club about two weeks ago, and the first package arrived in record time about a week later – astonishing, considering the time of year; I didn’t think it would even be sent out before New Year, so kudos to YS for that (and to my long-suffering postman weighed down with all my tea parcels).
This is the first YS tea I’ve ever tasted, and I had high expectations of it because I’ve read good things about YS from people who are seriously into tea.
I was a bit mystified as to how to brew this – a white tea from camellia taliensis (that teapedia tells me is usually used for puerh by local people) processed like a black tea and made into a cake. In the end, after a bit of dithering, I used about 4 or 5g and steeped it in a small gaiwan with about 70-80ml of just off-the-boil water for short 20-30-second infusions.
Mostly, I try to dial down my unfairly high expectations when I try a new tea. I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve drunk enough tea by now to know that as gorgeous as it can be, it doesn’t actually have magical properties. But after the first couple of sips of this, my expectations dialled right back up again.
It’s sweet and soft and a little malty, with a darker taste of ripe black grape flesh and raisins, and I got a hint of a pepper-like spicy bite on my tongue. It’s a little bit unusual, and very moreish – I re-steeped the leaves about 6 or 7 times before I made myself break off and go finish off the Christmas shopping.
Flavors: Grapes, Malt, Raisins
The more I drink of this, the better I like it; it’s a nice, sweet, mellow tea, and for a black tea it’s very relaxing, and perfect for lazing around with after a heavy Sunday lunch.
My brewing method for black teas changed a few days ago when my new yixing teapot, that I’m reserving for black teas, arrived; it’s nowhere near being fully seasoned yet, and possibly it’s all in my head, but my black teas do taste just a little bit more fabulous when I make them in my new pot.
Flavors: Caramel, Hay, Honey, Malt, Tea
If I could afford it, I’d drink this constantly and never so much as look at another Dragon Well. But as it is, I just get a small packet every so often and eke it out, brewing up a gram or two in my smallest gaiwan as a treat.
The mouthfeel is spectacular – not thick, exactly, but extremely satisfying, and there’s something almost indefinable – it’s in the scent of the wet leaves, too, a kind of young grass freshness that has the smell of rain about it.
Looking at my tea notes, the last time I put a note in about this tea was after I found an old unopened pack of it in one of my tea-tins. The fresh tea (this is a 2015 harvest, so about 8 months old since picking) is a world away from that, and I’m on my 5th steep of about two grams of leaves, and expect to get another steep or two from them.
Flavors: Chestnut, Cut Grass