Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Signature Roasted Tie Guan Yin from Just4Tea

Class: Oolong
Origin: Anxi, Fujian province, China
Year: 2006
Vendor: Just4Tea (Product page)
Price: $17.50 (4 oz)

I have heard great things about Just4Tea's Tie Guan Yin (particularly from Alex's blog post), so I took the plunge and bought some. Let me tell you right off the bat: this is an excellent tea that competes in a price range well above its own.

Dry leaf
Just as Alex expressed in his review (linked above), I consider most Tie Guan Yin to be relatively lackluster, especially when compared to heavy-hitters like Wuyi yancha and Fenghuang dancong. This tea, however, is different; perhaps because it seems to have so much in common with Wuyi yancha.

This tea is heavily roasted, as you can see in the photo above, just like a lot of yancha. I brewed it in my TGY pot, and put in enough leaf so that the vessel would be filled when the leaves expanded. I started off with a ~20 second infusion to open up the leaves, then dropped down to ~5 seconds, and went up from there.

It tastes a bit chocolatey, a bit spicy, and sometimes fruity (though I think you need to stuff the pot to get good fruitiness); it shares a lot in common with Rou Gui. It also has some of the classic silkiness and oiliness that I love about good yancha. However, it still retains some TGY character, as Alex noted. It has a base of toasted grain flavor and the fruit flavors are more like those found in TGY than other oolongs.

Despite the high roast, this tea is not at all heavy on the fire or charcoal. I think the time that has elapsed between Alex's review and my own has done good things to this tea; it seems to be much mellower now.

Thanks are due to Alex for the recommendation; I never would have tried it otherwise. This really is a diamond in the rough!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hawaiian tea

I recently tasted two Hawaiian teas from the Onomea Tea Company, located near Hilo on the big island, courtesy of Victoria who recently visited their farm. I received two samples (very generous considering their astronomical prices) of oolong and steamed green tea. First, my notes on the oolong.

Onomea Tea Co. Oolong

Oolong dry leaf
Pictured with the dry leaf is my Hawaiian Bug Swatter; basically a mini-flip-flop on a stick. My girlfriend asked me to bring her gifts from the ABC Store, so I reluctantly obliged; this was one of the results.

The dry leaf is gorgeous; the picture does not do it justice. There are more white tips and there is a more attractive texture than is shown here. They don't smell like much at all, though there is a hint of pickled ginger aroma.

Oolong liquor
More ABC Store junk.

I brewed these by dumping the whole sample (9g) into a gaiwan and brewing with boiling water in short— around 20 seconds to start— infusions. The resultant liquor was peach-colored, and woodsy-flavored. Sadly, this tea isn't all that great, which came as a bit of a surprise after my positive experience with the steamed green (see below). It is pretty much all woodsy flavor, with moderate astringency. Someone in TeaChat noted that oolong is much more difficult to make than other teas, and it would seem that these new tea tea makers will need more experience (not that I claim to have it; oh the luxury of being a critic!) before they produce some decent oolong.

Oolong wet leaf
Evidence of this is seen in this photograph; the two leaves are very different colors, showing a large unevenness in oxidation. There could be as much as a 30% difference between these two leaves, something you almost never see in quality Chinese or Taiwanese oolongs. Variation in color on one leaf is usually fine, but when different leaves are completely different colors like this, it is not a good thing.

Onomea Tea Co. Steamed Green

Steamed green dry leaf
These dry leaves, much like the oolong, are absolutely gorgeous. When I heard Victoria mention "steamed green tea" I pictured something decidedly more sencha-like, so I was (pleasantly) surprised to see these. They smell *just* like pickled ginger, which is quite a unique aroma for an unflavored tea to have. I brewed 3g, 170-175°F in a 100mL gaiwan; steep times were 90 seconds, 140 seconds, 180 seconds (after this I stopped paying attention to timing, but got a couple more brews in before it got to the sweet-water point).

Steamed green liquor
This is a smooth, sweet, creamy tea. There is not a lot going on in the flavor or color department in the first infusion, but it soon wakes up and gives a soft pickled-ginger taste and aroma, which is really very nice. If you like the pink (or white, if it's homemade— there's a fun fact for you) stuff that comes along with your sushi, you will like this tea. Besides that, though, there still isn't a whole lot going on. I didn't think this is anything like your typical Japanese steamed green tea; it is quite unique.

Steamed green wet leaf
The amount of care that has been put into the production of this tea is obvious; the wet leaf shows that full leaves were carefully handled and processed to make this tea. These puppies are thick, pliable, and leathery; is this because the plants are so young, I wonder? Anyway, while this tea is quite interesting, I'm not sure it would replace sencha as my favorite. Still, it will be interesting to see how this tea develops as the plants age and take on some character.


Though I wasn't all that impressed with the oolong, I was surprised by the quality of the steamed green tea and the amount of love that these new tea producers have clearly folded into their products. Thank you, Victoria, for the samples; I always love trying teas from new places!

The Last Word


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Georgian Old Lady

Class: Black
Origin: Ozurgeti, Georgia
Year: 2008
Vendor: Nothing But Tea (Product page)
Price: £4.65 (100g) / £0.75 (sample)

After trying and loving the Georgian Old Gentleman (also from this vendor) given to me by Mary, I ordered 100g of it and a sample of it's female counterpart, Georgian Old Lady. It is also a Georgian tea, obviously, though from a different village. This one is crafted by a woman named Natela, whose picture you can find on the product page (behind a link near the bottom).

Georgian Old Lady dry leaf
The vendor's comparison of these two teas is pretty accurate; this one does seem to have more golden buds than the Georgian Old Gentleman.

As excited as I was about Georgian tea after my first encounter with it, I was a bit disappointed by this one. The dry leaf has a floral, woodsy aroma that is lighter than that of G.O.G. I brewed it pretty much the same way I brewed it's hubby: I filled the vessel with leaf, used boiling water, and 15s steeps to start.

This is very much like a bai hao / oriental beauty, more so than G.O.G. It is woodsy in a sort of sharp herbal way that I can't really think of the right words for; if you know your bai hao or Darjeeling, you probably know what I'm talking about. It lacks the body and deep flavors of Georgian Old Gentleman, which I thought were some of the best features of that tea.

Georgian Old Lady liquor
As should be readily apparent, I do not think this is as good as the Georgian Old Gentleman. It isn't bad, but it isn't great, and it just doesn't suit my tastes. Still, it's worth trying a sample of it; Nothing But Tea gave me a generous sample considering the low cost.

Georgian Old Lady liquor reflection
On an unrelated note, I had a little fun with reflections during this session. I don't love the composition, but the effect was pretty cool.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Class: Herbal/Tisane
Origin: South Africa, I think. Read Mary's blog for more info.
Year: Who knows? Maybe a year or two of staleness wouldn't be a bad thing anyway. [You can tell where this review is going, can't you?]
Vendor: Lupicia (Product page)
Price: $4.50 (50g)

Dry Rooibos
I thought I'd swirl this into a nice pattern, but it just ended up looking like a farting dragon. Could be worse, I guess.

Alright, first off, I don't want this to be viewed as an anti-Lupicia post; I like all the teas I have had from them, and their Japanese greens in particular are quite good.

This is an I-hate-rooibos post. [Perhaps this is the wrong place to thank Eric for the sample? Seriously though, you have my thanks. Even though I didn't like it, it was something new to try and I'm glad I did!]

Tetsubin spoutAnyway, on with the notes. The dry leaf smells like NyQuil. Not necessarily a bad thing; NyQuil is soothing and helps you fall asleep when you are sick, which is all good.

I decided to steep this in my neglected tetsubin teapot which I now know has fallen into a state of disrepair; the enamel on the interior of the spout seems to be peeling off. Not a big deal, but it added to the weirdness of this whole tasting.

Infuser basketI also used an infuser basket for probably the first time in a year (or two). Man, I hate these things.

I brewed it for about 5 minutes with boiling water, using all the leaf (Stem? Grass? What the hell is this crap anyway?) you see in the picture above. I think the pot is around two cups, but I really have no idea.

The resultant tea smelled and tasted like a NyQuil bush. Imagine NyQuil in grass form, sprinkled with anise (another thing I dislike).

Rooibos liquidSo, that's the end of that. Maybe I overbrewed it, but I get the feeling I wouldn't like this stuff no matter how it is brewed. *Sigh* lesson learned, I guess! Seriously though, thanks again to Eric. Not so seriously, despite how nasty I thought this stuff was, I am still grateful for the opportunity to gauge my intestinal fortitude. :)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Tencha from Harney & Sons

Class: Green
Origin: Uji, Japan
Year: 2008
Vendor: Harney & Sons (Product page)
Price: $47.50 (100 g)

I'm not going to lie; I have been eyeing this tea since week one of my loose-leaf tea journey. My tastes may have changed since then, but it was a great pleasure to finally try this tea, courtesy of fellow TeaChatter Pentox (A.K.A. fellow blogger Eric). Thanks for the oppportunity, Eric!

Tencha dry leaf
I highly recommend clicking on this picture to get a good look at the leaf. So delicate!

Tencha is a fairly rare tea to come across (Harney & Sons say this as well, but very rarely is a vendor's claim of rarity true), as it is not produced as an end product. Rather, tencha is an intermediate step in the production of matcha. While some shade-grown tea leaf is being rolled and processed into gyokuro, the rest has its stems and veins removed, resulting in tencha, and is finally ground into matcha.

I suppose, then, it is not all too surprising that this tea smells and tastes a bit like a cross between gyokuro and matcha. The dry leaf smells mostly like gyokuro, but is not nearly as vegetal. The first few steeps were much like gyokuro, but the fourth tasted exactly like matcha, just with all the bits filtered out.

Tencha liquor
As far as parameters go, I brewed this for minute-long infusions until that wasn't enough, at which point I doubled it. I used 5g of tea in around 5oz of water. I tried 150°F first, but that was too high and resulted in that nasty, overbrewed gyokuro taste. 135°F was the sweet spot for me, giving a lovely, sweet, candy-like liquor. And this is coming from a guy who really doesn't like gyokuro.

Another note: it's fairly obvious, once you try to brew it, why this is not intended to be a final product. It is a huge pain in the ass to submerge all those light n' fluffy leaves; I resorted to prodding and stirring them with the end of my thermometer, which couldn't have helped the taste. Quoting Salsero once again, "It makes me feel like I am drowning a puppy, ‘cause it just won’t go under by itself." [Try blaming that one on someone else. ;)]

Tea setup
Anyway, I'm just rambling now, so let me conclude. This was a very interesting tea, and tasting it helps one understand the connection between gyokuro and matcha. It tastes quite good too, but I'm not sure it tastes good enough compared to a quality sencha or gyokuro to make me want to buy a huge tin all for myself. Thanks so much for the sample, Eric!

Eric's notes on this tea can be found here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Meet _______, my new friend.

I just picked up my first houseplant today. It's a jade plant, and it's just a baby right now, but it should grow into that pot if I don't kill it first.

Jade plant
On that note, I thought I'd ask you all to help me name him (Yes, it's a him. My girlfriend and I decided to give it a male name so she doesn't get jealous of how much time I spend with it). I thought I'd go with the name of a mythological figure who is either prophesied to die or dies despite the best intentions/precautions/etc., as I expect this poor little plant to share the same fate.

The two names I am considering at the moment are Acrisius (thanks Mary), an ancient Greek king accidentally killed by a discus thrown by his grandson, and Baldr, a Norse god killed by an arrow made of mistletoe (the only thing that could harm him) that Loki, another god, tricked Baldr's brother Höðr into shooting him with.

Let me know if you like one or the other better, or if you have any other ideas because frankly, neither of these names is all that pleasing to the ear. Thanks!

[Edit: I found a couple others that could work. They don't strictly fit with the theme I was going for, but they are funny nonetheless. One is Mallory, which in old French apparently means "ill-omened." The other is Erysichthon, another ancient Greek king who, due to his insatiable hunger (thanks to Aethon, the god of famine), ate himself. Charming, eh?]

Monday, September 01, 2008

Good things come in small plastic bags...

Presents from VL
No, not drugs, something much more innocuous (but still very much appreciated): six photo prints and three shu puerh samples from VL. Also included was an envelope containing the teas' identities, which I was not to open until after I finished tasting.

Dry leaf
From left to right: sample A (2007 Menghai 0532), B (2005 Menghai Golden Needle White Lotus), and C (2006 Menghai Li Li Xiang).

Sample A, which I now know by its preferred name of 2007 Menghai 0532, was quite nice. It was dark, though I think I used too much leaf; I haven't brewed puerh in a while, so I'm not exactly at the top of my game.

Still, it tasted surprisingly light and fruity for such a dark, opaque tea. There is very little off-flavor to speak of: almost no pond, and no "industrial" taste. It is malty, sweet, and delicious if brewed right, and has good oiliness and mouth-feel. It also lasted quite some time, though again probably due to my inept over-stuffing of the gaiwan.

Sample liquors
Clockwise from the left: Sample C / 2006 Menghai Li Li Xiang, Sample A / 2007 Menghai 0532, and Sample B / 2005 Menghai Golden Needle White Lotus.

Sample B, the 2005 Menghai Golden Needle White Lotus, was my favorite of the three. It was lighter (reddish-brown, not dark brown like the others), had good clarity, and tasted much more like aged sheng than most shu. It had a clean woodsy flavor (like a "forest after rain" as I recently saw Salsero put it), and no off-flavors at all. It also had a lovely minty/cooling hui gan, and lasted a number of infusions.

Sample C, the 2006 Menghai Li Li Xiang, was probably my least favorite of the three, but it was still quite good for shu, if my memory serves me. This was also a pretty dark brew, though I am certain I used too much leaf this time— far too much. I pulled out a good half-gaiwan full, which fortunately had only been brewed once or twice, and the tea improved dramatically.

Samples revealed
It was sweet and "soupy," for lack of a better word. It was also woodsy and had a nice hui gan, though not as clean or as nice as what sample B offered. It wasn't pondy at all, but perhaps a bit salty/marshy... still, that description doesn't do it justice, as it was not an unpleasant flavor at all. Looking back a few days later, I want to use "savory" or "umami" to describe it, but I can't be certain. The tea seemed to be a little muddled, not very crisp, though this improved as the flavors diluted in later infusions.

Thanks again to VL for the prints and the samples!