Friday, September 28, 2007

Lochan Tea Samples: Introduction and the Second Flush Darjeelings

It's time to post my first notes on the teas Ankit Lochan, from Lochan Tea Ltd., sent me. First though, I thought I'd break down my plan. As the title indicates, this post contains the introduction to the series and the first category of notes, "Second Flush Darjeelings." This particular title is a bit misleading as all the Darjeelings I received are from the second flush, but basically these are the teas that didn't fall into any of the other more specific categories.

You may ask, "What's all this talk of categories?" It seems to me that these teas would be best commented on in comparison to one another, but a comparison between a Darjeeling white tea and an Assam black wouldn't be very helpful, thus the division into different categories. The list of comparison groups I will post about are:

•Second Flush Darjeelings (this post)
•Muscatel Delights
•Darjeeling Greens and Whites
•Darjeeling Oolongs

Before I move onto the first set of notes, I just want to thank Ankit and the rest of the Lochans once again for their generous gift, despite the reprimand I incurred the last time I did so. :) So without further ado...

General Darjeelings

Setup and LineupFor these three teas, I set up a standard set of parameters to make comparison as fair as possible. Rather than endure the torturous brews that professional tasters work with, though, I opted for a more conservative preparation. These teas are each brewed with 5.0g (+/- .1g) leaf, off-boiling filtered tap water, for two minutes. I used the setup shown here— a glass teapot marked at the 12oz level, a measuring cup for decanting into, a wire mesh strainer, and a glass cup. I decided to brew these Western style because it is the style with which I am most familiar for brewing and tasting Darjeeling. Sorry, my gong fu enthusiast friends. :)

Also shown here is the lineup of the three teas in this category. They are (clockwise from the top): Makaibari "Imperial Vintage," Castleton "Wiry Clonal Delight," and Goomtee "Wild Orchid." Close ups with more detail (and/or more blurriness) can be found below. So, without further ado:

2007 Goomtee "Wild Orchid" Second Flush Darjeeling

Sorry, the picture of this tea (left: top) came out pretty blurry. The leaves were typical of most Darjeelings— cut up (though not nearly to the level of CTC) and possessing a wide range of colors, from browns to tans to off-white buds, with the occasional green. This organic leaf gives off a bold aroma, and is intensely floral and woodsy.

The liquor is a peachy orange-amber color. It is very floral (perhaps this is the root of it's name?), has a medium body, and sweet flavor. There is some fruitiness and woodsiness in the background, and there is a crisp finish. Good stuff.

Though this is enjoyable, there are better Darjeelings out there. I should point out that there are far more that are worse, though, and I would still consider this to be a good tea.

Closeups of Dry Leaf2007 Castleton "Wiry Clonal Delight" Second Flush Darjeeling

This is the only non-organic tea in this category. The dry leaf is, well, true to its name, as you can see in the picture (left: middle). This leaf appears slightly more oxidized than the other two, as evidenced by the darker color (which is more obvious in person) and lack of anything green. The aroma is fairly similar to the Goomtee— floral and woodsy.

Further evidence for this being a higher oxidized tea is the darker reddish-amber color of the liquor. Though it is true to its delicate Darjeeling nature, it is relatively "heavy." Spice and woodsiness are emphasized, though there isn't really any dominant flavor. It is sweet and smooth tasting, with a mild hui gan.

Like the Goomtee, this is enjoyable but not the best example of Darjeeling I have tasted. It is still quite good though, and the color of the liquor was a thing of beauty.

2007 Makaibari "Imperial Vintage" Second Flush Darjeeling

This is one of the more "guilt-free" teas on the menu, as it is both organic and fair-trade. (Don't worry though, my icy heart remains impartial.) First off, I should point out the beauty of the dry leaf (left: bottom). These are the loveliest Darjeeling leaves I have ever seen. Apart from the usual bouquet of browns, tans, off-whites and greens, these leaves look long and full— an uncommon find. Though it is not pictured, the wet leaves reflect this with whole leaves and intact leaf/bud complexes. I wasn't expecting this from a Darjeeling! Strangely, the leaves emitted only a hint of aroma. What was there was floral, fruity, and slightly woodsy.

Makaibari Wet LeavesThough this brews a light color— pale yellow with a touch of amber&mdash it still has a good deal of flavor. I'm not sure if the lighter color is due to a lesser degree of oxidation or just the decreased surface area/volume ratio, but even when I bumped up the infusion time by a minute (to three minutes total), the color was only slightly darker. The brew holds a floral, delicate flavor and a crisp, clean texture. There is a refreshing minty aftertaste and a relatively strong hui gan here, as well. It is a bit on the light side in terms of flavor.

Overall, I was impressed. The flavor may not have been the most thrilling so far, but the quality of the leaf was impeccable.


I think I liked the Castleton the most, followed by the Makaibari and then the Goomtee, but I can't be certain that I unlocked all that each had to offer. So far I have been impressed by the quality of each of these teas, and look forward to trying the rest. I have already started to dip into the "Muscatel Delights," but all I can say, without spoiling the next post, is to stay tuned for some real gems. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

2004 Aged Wuyi Bei Dou

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi Mountain, Fujian Province, China
Year: 2004
Vendor: Jing Tea Shop
Price: $18.60 (100g) / $5.60 (25g)
Verdict: 7/10

The development of Bei Dou ("North Star") is an interesting story, which I have blatantly copied from Teaspring's description of their "Bei Dou No 1":

"In the early 1950s, Mr. Yao Yue Ming started a Da Hong Pao research laboratory. Using a few stems from the original 800 years old Da Hong Pao tea bushes, he successfully created two new tea varieties. However, Mr. Yao's laboratory was later closed down and his research was destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Yet, he continued his research in secrecy and through his dedication and determination; he finally perfected his creation. He named this tea, Beidou No. 1."

Though I wouldn't say I have enough experience to correctly identify a lineup of the various styles of Wuyi yancha in a blind taste test, I'm pretty sure I can taste some Da Hong Pao character in this tea. Whether or not I would have tasted such similarities had I not read the story, though, is hard to say. :)

2004 Bei DouI think this tea was a good lesson for me. I had purchased it thinking "aged" necessarily meant dark and heavy. Stubbornly, I kept brewing it thinking that it must fit my expectations for an aged Wuyi, and I figured I just hadn't figured out how to unleash its true potential.

At least I was right about the latter. The dry and wet leaves are fairly green, which as I understand, indicates a lower level of roast and/or oxidation. My guess is that without heavier processing, this kind of tea won't develop an aged profile quite as quickly, or at least not in the same manner, as their darker brothers and sisters. (Once again, I plead to you brave readers for any insight you may have, as this is nothing more than a guess.)

Though the aroma of the dry leaf was of very rich dark chocolate and brown sugar and the liquor was moderately dark, the flavor was surprisingly exuberant and bright. My notes mention tart tropical fruits, some moderate roast/charcoal, cocoa, and at times blueberries and a mildly aged character. There was a mild, cooling hui gan after pretty much every infusion, and at times my tongue was ambushed by a strange and sudden (though pleasant) dryness.

I had the most success with this tea when I used lots of leaf and short infusion times. The parameters I've had the most success with (so far) are 7g in my 90mL Yixing teapot with infusions starting at around 10 seconds, including water in/out. Using less leaf and longer times, as I would normally employ for Wuyi yancha, I just didn't get much body in the liquor. Whether this is a characteristic of the tea or of my brewing, I can't say.

This tea was quite good, but it's not my favorite. It was interesting and multi-dimensional, but I tend to enjoy heartier Wuyi more. After hearing such glowing praise of this tea from Adrian and its somewhat more subdued approval from VL, I find it likely that I have misjudged this tea. For now, though, I'll give it a 7/10.

Edit: After brewing this tea according to several different methods, I have come to appreciate it more. As VL has noted, it makes a pleasant brew when brewed with small amounts of leaf and longer infusions. I also managed to get MarshalN's method (see his comment below... but ignore my response :D) to work once, and while it produced excellent results, I have yet to reproduce them a second time— I guess there's more to this than I thought... :)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Half-Dipper/Dragon Tea House Tasting

First off, thank you to Hobbes and Dragon Tea House for your effort in setting up this tasting. It was certainly educational! Secondly, as difficult as it was to resist, I managed to avoid reading any notes (even with all the pretty pictures, especially on Hobbes' reviews) on a particular sample until I composed my own, in order to remain as impartial and blind as possible— something I have failed to do in the past with these sorts of tastings. I think it worked, because my notes seem to be far different from anyone else's...

DTH Green2006 Changtai Jinzhu (A.K.A."Green")

I, like Mary, am inexperienced with puerh (especially shengpu). Also like Mary, I enjoyed this sample. This is not to say I want to run out and buy a tong of it, but then again I'm not sufficiently acquainted with puerh to want to buy a tong of anything. This tea also provided me with a bit of experience in what is called cha qi. [Being a skeptic of Chinese medicine, perhaps stubbornly so at times, I am hesitant to accept the concept of qi, but I will use the term "cha qi" because there isn't another word commonly used to describe the concept.]

Dry Leaf:

The dry leaf has a lovely range of color, from brownish-green to green, with a few off-white tips. The aroma is surprisingly pleasant (again, I'm a noob, give me a break), and smells of dry, earthy mushrooms, but with a brighter citrus/acid and floral high note.


8.1g leaf; 100mL gaiwan; filtered tap water (boiling); 8s rinse, 11s, 15s, 13s, 11s, 12s*
*These times include pouring and decanting.


In general, the liquor was sweet, light-bodied, mushroomy, and woodsy. There was a mild hui gan at times, and a strong drying astringency throughout the session, leaving my tongue battered and useless by the 5th infusion. I didn't think it was very bitter, just drying. The flavor of the brews seemed to be fairly consistent across all the infusions, though there seemed to be more sweetness with shorter brews and more dryness with longer ones.

Though others seem to have thought this tea's cha qi to be ordinary, I, having never paid much attention to the concept, thought it was a mite overwhelming. Despite the air conditioning in my dorm, I broke out in a cold sweat during the second infusion, and felt quite heavy-headed by the end of the session. It was only unpleasant in that I didn't know what to expect.

Last Words:

I was pleasantly surprised by this shengpu, as I have had some rather poor impressions of the shengpu genre in the past. I don't feel like I know enough yet to give this a rating, but I thought it was interesting and enjoyable.

DTH Red2007 Shuangjiang Mengku (A.K.A. "Red")

Okay, so maybe the second and third reviews haven't been done as soon as I anticipated. I'm still well within the two-week grace period, though. :)

This time, I tried the "red" sample, and my impressions are as follows.

Dry Leaf:

Similar to the "green" sample leaves; consisting of greens, browns, and off-whites; though a bit more leaves fell into the brown range. This wasn't compressed as much as the green sample, and was mostly loose when I opened the bag. The aroma in said bag was pleasantly mellow and sweet, smelling of mushrooms (no tobacco or much else, from what I could gather).


8.1g leaf; 100mL gaiwan; filtered tap water (boiling); rinse, 11s, 15s, 14s, 12s, 10s, 11s


I didn't like this tea too much— it seemed quite fickle about steep time, and I frequently (read: all but twice) ended up with a strongly bitter and harsh brew. DTH RedWhen the harshness wasn't dominant, the liquor tasted mostly of tobacco with a hint of mushrooms, which was quite a change from the dry leaf. Steven noted a similar difference between the liquor and the wet leaf, and I think he puts it best: "The wet leaves were like a spring time air while the brewed tea was like an autumn forest." There was usually a gently sweet hui gan, though this was masked in some of the more intensely bitter infusions. I should also note that there was a good amount of particulate in the cup and a sludge-like suspension left in the bottom of the cup after each infusion.

Unlike with the green sample, I didn't have a very strong reaction to the cha qi of this tea. I felt the same sort of head heaviness, but no warmth whatsoever. To be fair, I did assume a more leisurely pace through this tasting, so that may have had some effect, but I doubt it was entirely due to a delay between a couple of infusions. This cha qi stuff sure is mysterious.

Last Words:

Though I liked this more than the majority of the shengpu I have tried, it wasn't my favorite, especially after trying the green sample. This red sample was much more temperamental, and generally less stimulating than the green.

DTH Blue2007 Guoyan "Phoenix of Yiwu" (A.K.A. "Blue")

Dry Leaf:

This is the only sample to have survived in a (more or less) single chunk. Still not too hard to pry apart, though. The aroma is markedly different from the rest— it is very potent, full of fruity and floral fragrance, and has a bit of a twang (I don't typically use this word to describe aroma, but I lack a better way of describing it) to it.


8.0g leaf; 100mL gaiwan; filtered tap water (boiling); 8s rinse, 9s, 11s, 12s, 12s, 15s


This is definitely the sweetest-tasting sample of the three. I couldn't pick out much in the flavor, except a touch of tobacco. There was a lingering, sweet hui gan which was more intense than in the other two samples, and a consistently mild astringency. This tea also stimulated a good deal of salivation, which was pleasant.

I couldn't detect any cha qi in this sample. I didn't experience any of the sensations mentioned above. Also, while my jaw tightened up at the first signs of qi during the previous two tastings, (sort of like an early-warning device) nothing of the sort happened this time.

Last words:

I liked this tea, but not as much as the green sample I tasted first. I thought it was quite sweet and pleasant, but not all that stimulating or interesting.


Here are the three samples ranked in order of descending preference:

1. 2006 Changtai Jinzhu (Green)
2. 2007 Guoyan "Phoenix of Yiwu" (Blue)
3. 2007 Shuangjiang Mengku (Red)

Thanks again to Hobbes and Dragon Tea House for organizing and providing for this online tasting! Though my experience with puerh is still quite lacking, I am glad I participated. I'm looking forward to next time. :)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Drowning in samples

Alright, I am officially in over my head. Since receiving a package full (nearly bursting from the seams, in fact) of samples from Mr. Ankit Lochan today, and being fully aware that I will soon be receiving the Dragon Tea House samples (I don't know why it's taking so long... customs, maybe?), I have come to the realization that I will soon be completely addicted to and/or overdosed on caffeine.

I love it!

Lochan Tea ShipmentThe enormity of the amount of tea I got from Lochan Teas is almost unbelievable. Even better, it's all small samples of pretty much everything grown under the Indian sun. Here is the full list:

Lochan Muscatel Delight - Black - 2nd Flush 2007
Lochan Oolong Imperial - 2nd Flush 2007
Lochan White Imperial - 2nd Flush 2007
Margaret's Hope - Black - 2nd Flush 2006
Margaret's Hope - Black - 2nd Flush 2007
Makaibari - Imperial Vintage - Organic - Black - 2nd Flush 2007
Caselton Wiry Clonal Delight - Black - 2nd Flush 2007
Giddapahar - White - 2nd Flush 2007
Glenburn - Green - 2nd Flush 2007
Goomtee - Muscatel Delight - Organic - Black - 2nd Flush 2007
Jungpana - Muscatel Oriental - Organic - Black - 2nd Flush 2007
Glenburn - Snow Oolong - 2nd Flush 2007
Goomtee - Oolong - 2nd Flush 2006
Hattialli - Golden Bud - Assam - Black - 2nd Flush 2007
Khongea - Standard Assam - Black - 2nd Flush 2007

I will do my best to get through all of these and post about them, but I can't promise anything about how long that will take. Luckily school hasn't gotten too hectic yet, so I'll have some free time— for now. Wish me luck! :)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Glass Brewing: Lao Cong Shui Xian

LCSX Grandpa StyleAfter having pleasant results with brewing green tea grandpa style, I thought I'd try something else. I think MarshalN once mentioned brewing shui xian grandpa style on a train or plane or something, so I figured I'd give it a try with some Lao Cong Shui Xian (not having any cheaper Wuyi laying around at the moment).

Using similar parameters as with the green tea, about 4g in 135°F water, I found this to be quite pleasant. It's not as rich as if I had brewed it "gong fu" (I use quotes because I doubt my technique could truly be called gong fu) style, but it still exhibits good fruity and chocolatey character. It is more enjoyable than plain water, to say the least.

Gaiwan Lid in GlassThe one problem I had was that unlike the Chinese green I used earlier, these leaves don't like to settle on the bottom of the glass (see above). Ingesting the occasional tea leaf doesn't bother me, but I'd rather this be a beverage and not a snack. After spending a couple of minutes looking for a solution, I found that one of my gaiwan lids fits almost perfectly in the mouth of the glass. At first I thought I was clever, until I realized this is nothing more than an extra-tall (Venti? Grande? I don't speak Starbucks) gaiwan. Carrying this contraption around campus would probably attract some strange looks from passers-by, but it works fine at my desk. :)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

90's Select Aged Nantou Oolong

Aged Nantou PicturesClass: Oolong
Origin: Nantou county, Taiwan
Year: 1990's
Vendor: Hou De Asian Art (Product Page)
Price: ...oops, forgot to note this...
Verdict: 4.5/10

The label reads:

"A unique aged Formosa oolong that had been roasted for an extremely long time, usually taking months, following a unique roasting-quenching up-and-down pattern. Once finished, they were stored into jars for aging. No more re-roasting or drying is needed. Surprisingly warm character and smooth liquor. Slightly acid taste balances well with a licorice-like sweetness. Very good brewing strength."

Unlike the previous aged oolong I reviewed, this has undergone a different type of aging. While the 1980's Baozhong was periodically re-roasted every now and then as part of the aging process, this tea was roasted for months (!) and then stored, never to be roasted again.

The dry leaves show that this tea was once in the rolled-shape, though time seems to have shaken it up a bit. It seems a bit strange that this tea isn't completely black, considering it was roasted for months (again, !). I guess this just means it was a long, slow roast, though I can't eliminate the possibility that the aging has had some influence on the color's boldness.

The dry leaf reminds me of a breakfast pastry. In my ever-so-eloquent notes I wrote, "Chocolate, coffee, cream, cereal, honey. A pastry-like smell. Not very strong, but pleasant."

More Aged Nantou PicturesHaving previously brewed this with 5g of leaf in a 100mL gaiwan, I opted to change methods and use more leaf (6.1g) and a smaller Yixing pot (about 80-90mL) to see if I could squeeze out any more flavor. As you can see, the leaves filled the entire pot when wet. This is important because it means I couldn't have added any more leaf.

Why is that so important? This tea didn't have much strength at all, even when the teapot is packed with leaf and infusion times are stretched. There was very little body throughout, and a similar amount of flavor. What was there was good, but unsatisfying.

My notes are as follows:

Filtered tap water, just off the boil. Rinse, 18s, 31s, 28s, 31s, 33s

1: Wenxiangbei is light brown sugar, with a spicy cinnamon note. Liquor has a nice sweet/cinnamon aftertaste and hui gan, but that's about it. Not a lot of flavor except for a soft roast note and some honey. Almost no body. Watery.

2: Stronger roast flavor this time, though perhaps it is slightly overbrewed. The honey flavor is predominant, except for the harshness of the roast.

3: A slight bit of the classic aged, fruity character of aged oolong is found in the wenxiangbei. The fruit is hard to pin down... raisins, maybe? The same is found in the liquor. It's a strange flavor... it has the characteristic aged taste, but without anything to accompany it except some roast flavor. I guess the honey noted earlier isn't strong enough to compete.

4: Same as last time, but less flavorful.

5: Same as previous.

I wonder, is this tea just past its prime? Did it go stale? Would another roast reawaken it at all? Perhaps I'll save some for when I work up the courage to try roasting tea again. I've only tried it once before, and let's just say I ended up with some very expensive charcoal. For now, though, I would rate this tea a 4.5/10.