311 Tasting Notes
Supreme Liu Au Gai Pan from Dragon Tea House
This is a pouch that sat sealed for many months as I worked my way through too many other teas bought around the same time. I’ve been trying to be more disciplined about my green teas the same way I have about my greener oolongs and senchas, not opening a bunch at once and having all degrade significantly before I finish them, but despite being sealed, this one may have suffered for it.
The leaves are a deep green, darker than the average long jing, but also more or less long, thin, and while not completely flattened, not curly either. The scent is reminiscent of fukamushi sencha—sweet, deep, vegetal, with a hint of cucumber. Tantalizing!
4.8 grams in my Petr Novak iron-rich kyusu this morning, preheated, and now the aroma of the heated leaves is more like sweet peas.
Flash rinse with filtered tap water about 180 degrees: not much there in the wash. It’s not that there aren’t hints of deliciousness, but it really is super dilute, even for my tea-wimp’s palate. With that in mind, I’ll do the first infusion proper longer, perhaps a minute.
1 minutes, 150 degrees: sweet peas, vegetal, but an astringent finish, that reminds me of an overcooked vegetable.
30 seconds, 180 degrees: went hotter and shorter to try to bring out the sweet over the overcooked vegetable taste, and didn’t quite succeed.
I’m not sure if this unpleasant vegetable flavor is related to the heating of the leaf during processing, or is due to the tea sitting too long before drinking, but it definitely is something I recognize and dislike in many green teas. It is not present in the bag of dried leaf, but comes out as soon as the leaf hits the preheated brewing vessel, before it’s even wetted.
I’m going to switch to a porcelain gaiwan, in case that makes a difference, and will prepare it with a cooler start. The flash start is something I read about in a blog a few months ago, and it’s really been lovely with long jing and Gu Zhu Zui Sun, so I thought I’d try it here, but perhaps this tea does not want it.
2 grams in small porcelain gaiwan, infusions about 75 mL water.
145 degrees, 30 seconds, a little better in flavor profile—brought out more sweetness, but too light from the short infusion.
I’ll stick with 30 seconds next infusion, because the now-wetted leaves will give more in this one even with the same infusion time.
30": still can’t separate the sweet flavor—and I do get the sense of melon—from the overcooked and astringent vegetable. Bummer.
160 degrees, 30 seconds: no real change.
Last gasp: 212 degrees, 30 seconds: astringency with edges of the sweetness.
It’s frustrating. It looks good, the leaf smells terrific, but I can’t make this one really pleasant. I feel like I’ve failed the tea. Oh well. Since this is a classic tea, I’ll try it again one day, but I’ll get a small sample and drink it right away to give it the best chance.
Round II: out of curiosity, and because I had an open pouch already of the ‘White Oolong’ (spring 2011 from Jenai Township, Nantou County, Taiwan), I compared them this evening. I used a little less tea so the leaves wouldn’t be pushing up the lids of the gaiwans.
3.5 grams of tea on small gaiwans, about 75 mL per infusion, kettle set to maintain 205 degrees throughout
The Tsou Ma Fei has a richer, more floral scent; the White Oolong is sharper. TMF has larger leaves, and the dried leaf balls are a little paler sage color.
15": probably could have been a little longer, and the white oolong is distinctly lighter here too—even with only 15" infusion, the TMF is sweet and though not yet deeply flavored, it has more depth than the lightly sweet and grassy WO.
30": Very similar to the first infusion distinction: both sweet, spicy, but the TMF is definitely richer, deeper, sweeter—a stronger flavor at the base. The WO is delicious, but in a more delicate way, and it shines better when I sip it first, enjoy the lighter tea, then drink up the TMF.
30": Similar distinctions, both very similarly sweet and floral and spicy, but definitely a deeper richer oolong-ness in the TMF, and a grassier, more delicate white-tea-ishness in the WO. I understand better now why Greg calls the WO ‘White’ ‘Oolong’.
30-45": delicious again, such a nice ‘comparison’, where the teas are each so nice, but so distinct.
Several minutes (forgot!): still delicious, and both forgave the long infusion
1 minutes: this time, a little light—although normally this would be a good infusion length at this point in the series, the long prior infusion took a lot out of each of the leaves.
Almost 3 minutes: more delicate, but still delicious, floral and sweet both, but distinct
5 minutes: still a difference between them, but both are now floral, sweet, and the astringency and spiciness are mostly gone
I think I missed at least two infusions towards the end here, long infusions where I just ignored the gaiwans for a while and then poured and drank. They were also good. A lot of people might have stopped before this point, but the leaves were still yielding an improvement over plain water, so I enjoyed them. And interestingly, the flavors of both lasted to this point about equally well, with the same consistent flavor profile difference maintained to the end.
5 grams of tea in a 100mL gaiwan, with about 75mL water per infusion, water heated to about 205 degrees. The leaves are quite large rolled up, and large and lovely unrolled, deep green with reddish margins.
20": elegant, floral, spicy, sweet—a wonderful starter infusion.
30": spicy sweet dominates the floral a bit in the first sip. There is a hint of astringency in the last few drops, so I will decrease the next infusion time.
20": rich, spicy-sweet, floral and deep. It reminds me very much of the ‘white oolong’ from Norbu, but they are not quite the same. I will need to do a head-to-head to figure out why there are not.
30": a little more astringency and spiciness, with the sweet lighter—more apparently if I slurp with a lot of inhalation. It’s not the grassy astringency of a sencha, but some drying on the tongue, a woody/herby/spicy quality.
20": shortening again, as the unfurling leaf has filled the gaiwan with long, deep green leaves with red tinted edges, so full that I realize its a LOT of leaf, and the shorter infusion is, indeed, very unlike water: a little lighter than the first, but still spicy-sweet in that wonderful Ali Shan way, mmmmm.
25": such a fantastic spicy floral scent—sweet, but not cloying, hints of cinnamon and almonds, and I just want to sniff and sniff. Eventually, a sip proves just as lovely, but more of the spicy flavor is dominant.
40": (last infusion was a little thin) sweet, floral, spiciness receded a bit for mellower feel this time
45": (lost track of time) we’re mostly at sweetwater here, but very delicious sweet water with hints of flower and spice.
10 minutes (lost track of time again): spice, warmth, some hay/caramel base but still light, floral notes mostly gone but a little sweetness remaining
about 5 minutes: warm, light, sweet with just a little warm depth to it, better than the last one, though thinner, because the sweetness was better balanced
about 5 min: warm, sweet, delicious but light.
Had at least another 3-4 infusions like this, long, slow, just mild and warmly sweet for the end of the evening
I did prepare a thermos full of this tea earlier in the day, and one of my regular tea-buddies said of it, “really high class, that one !” It does stand out.
This is a very tricky tea. It’s color suggests a very light roasting, yet early infusions tend to an almost scorched bitter taste if not prepared with a very light hand (short/dilute infusions). But handled well, it gives light, sweet liquor with a deep spiciness that does bring cinnamon to mind, deliciously and delicately. Tonight I overdid it, packing my small porcelain korean pot so tightly the lid is almost lifted off by the unfurled leaves, and at this concentration, I’m still doing hardly more than flash rinses 6 or 7 infusions into it. I think it has enough for 15 or 20 infusions so tightly packed.
Finished off this tea while traveling, brewing under not quite optimum circumstances, and it was flexible and forgiving enough to permit many splendid cups despite more distractions and less conducive setup than at home. Delicate, vegetal, floral, springlike, it has many of the features I like best in Long Jing and less of the nuttiness that often overwhelms them.
I liked it best when giving the leaves a ‘hot start’ with a flash rinse of water at 180 or 190 degrees, before starting regular infusions at about 160 degrees, and slowly working back up to water just off the boil after 6-8 infusions.
Another few infusions later, I can confirm that this one wants a longer first infusion, even better when handled properly. About 150 degrees, 1 minute plus to start; 150 degrees, perhaps 45 seconds for the second; and gradually increasing time & temps through 6 or 7 infusions.
The scent of this Kirameki sencha is quite sweet and rich even before the dry leaves hit the preheated pot. Deep green leaves, 4.7 grams into my 5 oz kyusu.
1st infusion in my kyusu was with cooler water, 150 degrees, and absurdly short at 20 seconds (I was thirsty and impatient). Sweet peas, vegetal, but of course too dilute for best impression.
2nd infusion at 30 seconds, 155 degrees, much better, a hint of astringency behind the warm, vegetal, grassy sweetness.
3rd infusion at 45 seconds, 165 degrees, warm, sweet, grassy, delicious. A hint of that warmth of sun-warmed dry hay, not quite caramel, but deep and lovely.
4th 160 degrees, 90 seconds, milder than I expected for what was a longer-than-anticipated infusion—really seems rather dilute. That rich depth of the last infusion is not there, but what is here is sweet and pleasant, if not deep.
5th 170 degrees, about 2 minutes, and again, the depth is lacking but the surface is still good. I now really regret that first too-short infusion because this tea doesn’t seem to be giving me the many infusions that compensate for the first mistake.
Overall, another lovely tea, and I’ll be a lot more careful iwth the first infusions next time. 45 seconds is probably a better starting time, then 30, 60, 90, 2 min.
I’m having another fantastic session with this tea today, part II of one that began yesterday. It started a touch bitter, as usual, but I kept the first 6 or 8 infusions to pour-in/pour-out flash infusions, and the bitterness was kept to a touch. And the reward for sticking with it is infusions that keep going and going and going and going—sweet water, yes, but Lao Ban Zhang-flavored sweet water, and it is delicious. I’ve been doing a little trick—pouring a tiny bit of cold water in each infusion as soon as I pour it out of the pot—so no waiting for it to cool, which can itself let a bit of unpleasant flavor develop. Happy camper, here! Another one of those couldn’t-be-better sessions with the cheapo little yixing, and Michael Coffee’s wonderful little shino cup, so perfectly sized for the small infusions. Mmmm.
I owe this tea a lot, because I was afraid of it when I first read about it—“bitter” in the description put me off. But I tried it as part of a tasting, and figured out how to bring out the qualities I love, and ordered some, and got bolder in choosing sheng puerhs. My only problem with this tea? I’ve got a finite quantity—I only ordere 50 grams, what was I thinking?! so I only drink it occasionally. Sigh.
Another set of infusions, and what is most interesting this time is how much it reminds me of the ‘white oolong’ from Norbu that I have recently been enjoying: I think the common denominator is a very light oxidation and absence of any roasted taste. This is as close as you can get to a green tea with it still being clearly oolong.
The leaves are curly green twists, with a rich sweet scent, and hints of chocolate
2.3 grams of tea in a small porcelain gaiwan with about 70 mL water, filtered tap water at about 195 degrees
first infusion, 30 seconds
pale yellow liquor, sweet, rich, warm summer meadow, grass just turning golden with caramel sweetness, with just a hint of a more astringent vegetal grassiness that adds interest without being at all unpleasant
2nd infusion, 20 seconds
this time the vegetal/grassy flavors are stronger, a bit in front of the golden meadow.
3rd infusion, 45-60 seconds (lost track of time a bit)
this is the moment the tea should bite back with bitterness if it were so inclined, but it is only a little sharper and more insistently green-like, yet still that clearly oolong backdrop that is so surprising in this Japanese tea.
4th infusion, 1 minute
Ok, a teeny bit of astringent bite-back. Teeny. Bit. But still the vegetal/golden warm meadow is stronger in the overall impression, with some astringent aftertaste.
Several more warm delicious infusions, astringency fading again.
I’m now on the 8th or 9th infusion, and out to 4 minutes, and we’re at sweet water. But that was a lot of tea from just a few leaves.