Category: Tasting Teas

Tasting Notes and The Tasting Wheel – A little homemade experiment

Jin Xuan - Red Guan Yin - Wuyi Black

For a while now I’ve been fascinated about tasting notes. And the weirdness of it. Describing the flavors of tea with words as earthy, muddy, autumn forest floors, hay, asparagus… People who are not into tea yet must think you are insane.

And maybe it is a little insane indeed, deciphering teas to the point that you start comparing it with the aroma of a forest right after a summer rain. For a while I have been trying to stick to the basics when it comes to tasting notes by not comparing it with any food but describing it by the amount of bitterness, sourness, sweetness and so on. It was hard and when I saw for the first time in my life a Tea Tasting Wheel, it hypnotized me and stayed with me ever since.

The Tasting Wheel found in the tea house of Mei Leaf, London.

An example of the Tea Tasting Wheel in the tea house of Mei Leaf, London.

The Tea Tasting Wheel is build out of two circles, the first circle being the more standard description of a tea flavor, the second going into more detail. In some cases, and this one is for the geeks, there is even a third circle. A route you can follow for instance is ‘Vegetal – Grassy’ or even ‘Vegetal – Grassy – Freshly Cut Grass’. Tasting like this is a lot of fun and actually gives you the feeling you can explore and name every single element in the flavor of your tea. However, it can also restrict you. Sticking to these descriptions every time stops you from thinking a bit out of the box.

I’m a Tea Tasting Wheel kind of guy. And I wanted to compare my tasting notes with someone who is not controlled by the Tasting Wheel and see what he or she comes up with when drinking the exact same tea. Luckily, my girlfriend Janne was willing to work with me on this blog. We decided to do some unboxing of a box of samples that Thomas from Tea in the City UK kindly sent me a month ago for sampling purposes. We opened 2 Chinese and 1 Taiwanese tea and started a long afternoon session. We kept our tasting notes to ourselves, only to exchange them after we were done drinking all the teas.  

That packaging is pure class.

That packaging is pure class.

Now this is by no means a waterproof experiment or something that will change the world of tea forever. It’s no more than a fun way to see different perspectives on the same tea from two different people who taste teas in a different way.

Now, introducing to you, in the left corner: Janne! A tea drinker with a strong preference for a big mug, who, when the boyfriend is not around, illegally sneaks tea bags into the house. She accepts the fact that her boyfriend is crazy about Gong Fu Cha brewing and can be stunned by some exquisite teas, but still spills some tea on the couch once a while just to make a statement that big mugs are better.

'What on earthy am I smelling?'

‘What on earthy am I smelling?’

And, in the right corner: Jelmer! Yep, that’s me. Tea Geek on the way to becoming a Tea Freak, who can get so lost into his tasting notes that he once said the following when drinking a Liu Bao: ‘It gives me an anise feeling on the tip of my tongue. Yeah, a feeling. No it doesn’t taste like anise. It’s just the feeling. Of anise. On the tip of your tongue.’ Ridiculous snob.

You see. Snob. Ridiculous.

You see. Snob. Ridiculous.

First tea from Tea in the City UK up on the tea tray:
A Jin Xuan from Nantou in Taiwan, picked in March 2016. Usually a very creamy and floral tea.

Janne: This one is salty and feels full and round, maybe even a bit ‘rubbery’..? It reminds me of nori and oysters. I like it. The leaves are superfragrant and smell like a nice bouquet of flowers.

Jelmer: This tea for me definitely tastes more towards a Tie Guan Yin than a Jin Xuan. A lighter body, missing a bit of that milky creaminess. More vegetal with a very pleasant sweetness rather than floralness. Added note: I definitely feel the Japanese notes Janne describes in this tea as the vegetal and sweet combination makes it, weirdly enough, a bit like a Sencha in taste.

Jin Xuan

Jin Xuan

Second on the tea tray:
Red Guan Yin from Shouning in Fujian Province, China. April 2016 pluck and a special one. According to Tea in the City, Red Guan Yin is an ‘ingenious twist on the classic oolong, Tie Guan Yin’. It looks a bit like a half strip, half rolled oolong, much darker in leaf than the green Tie Guan Yin but lighter than the traditional Tie Guan Yin.

Janne: This tea seems to make an entire journey in the mouth. It starts off slightly bitter, but becomes sweeter after a few seconds. I can taste wood, and maybe a smoky hint of licorice. I also wrote down ‘coastal town in the sun’ in my notes, but I can’t really explain what that tastes like.

Jelmer: My absolute favorite. Aroma of grapefruit, buttery and creamy texture and taste. I’m getting citrusy and floral notes. Roses. Woody at the same time. The aroma when steeped is like fried raisins. It reminds me a bit of Oriental Beauty.

Red Guan Yin

Red Guan Yin

Third and last on the tea tray:
Wuyi Black. April 2016 tea from Wuyishan in Fujian. Special because it’s not an oolong but a black tea and it has none of the characteristics of the rock oolongs. Please read below our tasting notes for an explanation on why this tea didn’t work out for us.

Janne: The third and last tea is bitter. The second brew brings up some fresh notes, but it’s still not good enough to try a third cup. 

Jelmer: Turns bitter fast and has a dry finish. Overwhelming candy notes in combination with bitterness, not my favourite.

Last minute added note: I’ve been in contact with Thomas from Tea in the City about this tea after this session and he advised me to either brew it Western Style or flash brew it Gong Fu Cha style because it’s tea consisting out of tips only. When doing this tasting I’ve been brewing it Gong Fu Cha style starting with a 10-15 second steep.
I’ve had another go for it flash brewing this tea and the bitterness was gone. The candy notes were still there and are, I quote Thomas, for the real sweet tooth. Although we did mess up this tea a bit, I thought it had still some value for this blog as it was all about tasting, good or bad. But I need to emphasize that the bitterness is not one of the main characteristics of this tea. When flash brewed, it has floral, cherry and candy notes and is smooth. Have a go yourself, but pay attention on the steeping time.
It's getting late. Wuyi Black.

It’s getting late. Wuyi Black.

CONCLUSION! Or not?
You’ve come all the way to this point, so you want a conclusion. But is there any? Hmm, I myself was surprised by the fact that Janne, a non-Tea Tasting Wheel-person, still mentioned a lot of the Tasting Wheel notes. Meaning it’s maybe a more natural way of tasting than I had expected. And of course I loved the fact that a tea can give you a Coastal Town in the Sun feeling, that’s stepping out of the box!

Next to that, the only and most important conclusion that you can draw from this homemade experiment is that there is no right or wrong when it comes to tasting notes. Example: I missed a bit of the creamy and floral notes in the Jin Xuan while Janne tasted a boquet of flowers. Of course some knowledge or experience in tasting can come in handy, but mostly it’s your perspective on a tea and yours only. Your experience, the feeling a tea gives you. It’s quite a cheesy conclusion, I know, but a true one for tea lovers (I’m excluding professional tea tasters here).

I want to thank Thomas for providing samples and advise you to have a look at the website of Tea in the City to see what they have to offer. I personally recommend the Red Guan Yin as it was the most complex and surprising one for me. Coastal Town in the Sun, I’m still thinking on that! For your information: Janne had the Jin Xuan as her top favourite. Enjoy!

G'night

G’night

A rare find: Golden Green tea from a White tea variatel

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A white tea varietal, previously processed into Anji Bai Cha green tea and since a few years called Golden Sprout because of its golden leaves. Confusing right? The story
of this tea from Dutch tea seller Thee van Sander is interesting before you even start tasting.

A little educational note to begin with: Anji Bai Cha (Anji White Tea), made in green tea province Zhejiang, is a highly sought after and often pretty expensive green tea. It is a green tea because it’s processed in a similar way as other green teas, but the tea is actually from a white tea cultivar, called Bai Ye. Anji Bai Cha leaves start green when steeped but that color slowly fades and the leaves turn white, a beautiful transformation that makes a tea session even more special to me.

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White, green, or golden?

Now, until a few years ago these bushes were processed as an Anji Bai Cha as well. However, they noticed these leaves to be very yellow/gold in color.  So at the beginning of this decade the farmers started a new plantation using these odd looking plants and the last few years they slowly begin to pick and process from this new plantation.

The reason why these leaves are so golden is the soil the plants are growing in. According to Thee van Sander both the soil and water contain a lot of selenium, a trace element that works as an antioxidant as well and that has all kinds of health benefits, and on top of that makes the heavy metals in your food in case of contamination less harmful (toxic).

Although labeled as a different tea, this Golden Sprout still has lots of Anji Bai Cha characteristics. For me, drinking Anji Bai Cha requires having a completely clean tasting palate. If I would drink it after eating food that is spicy, has a thick, sweet sauce or is really salty, I wouldn’t taste any of it. Anji Bai Cha is a very light yet very complex tea. It’s not outspoken but has a lot of subtle layers that are very interesting if you are in the mood for some real taste geeking.

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In transition: from gold to white

I often do a session after a glass of water or two in the morning and before breakfast, so that I get every subtlety on my tongue. That’s what I did with this Golden Sprout too and the signature of Anji Bai Cha is all over this tea. It has those same vegetal notes with sweet hints of tropical fruit and a tiny little bit of star anise in it. It has a lingering sweetness that might be more present than in other Anji Bai Cha, but differences are hardly noticeable. I love the clear taste of this tea, which makes it extremely refreshing and suited for summer days.

Golden Sprout & Anji Bai Cha

Golden Sprout & Anji Bai Cha

Although there are many types or cultivars within a type of tea available, there is a certain group of famous tea (names) that you’ll always find in shops. But there must be so much more in China than those well-known teas. Plants of varietals grown in such small quantities that it never reaches the bigger public but always stays among the locals. Or a few bushes like these that are tucked away in the corner and produce a different taste than the rest, because of soil, sunlight, or whatever reason. There must be hundreds or thousands of teas like this and it’s nice that Sander brought some of these rare or new finds with him last year to share something new to tea lovers in Holland.

Getting the hang of this cup sniffing

Getting the hang of this cup sniffing

A day of Wuyi that broadens the tea mind

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The last couple of weeks the cliff teas from Wuyi came across my path more than ever. It’s like the cold weather has sparked everyone to drink and talk about it. In this entry I will share some very valuable experiences I’ve had the last couple of weeks that made me so much more excited about Wuyi teas.

Not like every tea, teas from the Wuyi area have the capability to warm me up rapidly, without ‘the high’ getting to your head like a Pu’er can do. It’s warming, but in a more calming than rushing way. So winter seems to be the most fitting period to drink this tea on a more regular base. Also, this time of year is when the charcoal roast applied to these teas has settled in the leaves produced in the spring of 2016. So now is the moment to first get a good glimpse of what the tea is really capable of.

All these factors are pointing me to Wuyi teas the last few weeks, but it was a meeting at a Global Tea Hut member in Amsterdam that highlighted this little Wuyi detour I’m on right now.

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Niklas is a member of the Global Tea Hut and organizes tea sessions on a regular base in Amsterdam to enjoy tea in silence, before the tea geeking starts. This was my first time attending and the tea we drank was a Liu Bao from the 1990s, a shou-like Heicha that one attendee, the only female by the way, described as very masculine. Niklas and another Global Tea Hut member present, Jing, were sharing their experiences on their travels to Wuyishan in the aftermath of the session and were telling me about this farmer family, the Huang family, that is the only farm allowed to process their teas within the Wuyi reserve. From their faces and stories I could tell the tea produced by the Huang family had to be top-notch and so I was very excited when Niklas gifted me a sample of Rou Gui produced entirely by hand by farmer Huang Xian Yi and his son.

Want to know more about Master Huang? The Essence of Tea provides more information on him on this page.

He sent me a message the day after with some links to more information on the Huang family, including a seven-chapter documentary on this farmer made by The Essence of Tea, a company selling the Huang teas. Niklas urged me to first watch the videos and then give this tea my full attention and so I did. Before sharing my thoughts on the video I have to say that drinking this Rou Gui was an experience a level or 3 higher than I’ve had so far when it comes to Wuyi teas. Such heavy round notes, dark chocolate and espresso, with a floral note to it. A sharp minerality with the charcoal nicely settled. Thick in the throat. It was hard making an end to the session and after I had decided to wrap up the session after an hour or so to take a few pictures, I had to brew it again. And again. I felt incredibly lucky getting to taste this tea. 

What contributed to the experience was the documentary on the Huang family I saw that same morning. Watching this skilled farmer make his tea and talk about the process is something I recommend to all of you. I love how farmer Huang tries to explain certain steps of the process that are simply unexplainable to us, the people not spending their whole lives on the farm processing the best Wuyi teas around. Why am I spitting water in the wok before I throw the leaves in? Because. It is the result of generations of tea making. And it works. No explanation needed.

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I have embedded the first 2 videos beneath here, but also check out the other 2 I’ve put a link to (I cannot embed those), video number 3 being my favorite because of the stage of processing and the comments farmer Huang makes. But I recommend starting with the first video and see them from the start on. This is an insight that broadens your mind and lets you appreciate the tea you’re drinking so much more. And that is the exact reason I want to head to China in spring and see with my own eyes the effort and skills needed to produce that beautiful leaf in your gaiwan every day.

And the good news is: I will be going to China. In april I’ll be spending three weeks traveling the tea lands of China and I have lots of ideas on the content I hope to make and share with you. So stay tuned, as always.

The teas from the Huang family are sold by The Essence of Tea (link). They also sell a great range of Pu’er and Liu Bao. More information on Master Huang on this page.
I have also added two links from the Mei Leaf YouTube channel down below. Don Mei cleary is in his Wuyi phase too and gives some excellent background on for instance the mystery of Da Hong Pao. Please check out those videos too and make a whole Wuyi night out of it!

The Beauty of Wuyi Yancha (pts. 1& 2) from The Essence of Tea on Vimeo.
The Beauty of Wuyi Yancha (pt. 3) from The Essence of Tea on Vimeo.

 

Link to Video 3 (Part 4&5) and Video 4 (Part 6 & 7). Link to Essence of Tea Vimeo channel

Don Mei on Da Hong Pao

Don Mei on Tie Luo Han

Mr. Chen’s Magic: Best Bug Bitten 2016

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I have been bitten by a bug that is called Best Bug Bitten 2016. Be prepared for a Taiwanese oolong flavor explosion if you dare to get your hands on this tea.

This Best Bug Bitten 2016 is made by Taiwanese grower and farmer Hau Ying Chen and really was an Instagram find for me. After I saw (extremely positive) mentions on the teas of Mr. Chen by Instagrammers like @cwarrencollins and @unytea.store (before @unyteaguy), I had to know how to get my hands on some of that ball rolled magic. I asked @cwarrencollins and he told me the only way to order was to contact Mr. Chen himself. So I did, on Facebook, and I received the list of teas and prices. Mr. Chen gave me very helpful recommendations on which top teas I had to order and so, a few days after making the PayPal payment, a full box arrived from Taiwan.

 

上架!室內萎凋

Een foto die is geplaatst door Hau Ying Chen (@hauyingchen) op

Honestly every single tea in that box is a treat. Mr. Chen’s Shan Lin Xi is by far the best I have tried in cream and complexity, his Alishan Jin Xuan is so much more than those milky notes, his Da Yu Ling offers beautiful aroma and taste that brings you to the top of a Taiwanese mountain yourself and his Mucha TGY… no words. This Best Bug Bitten 2016 is the flavor powerhouse of the five.  

Want to know more about teas bitten (or not) by bugs? Eric Scott wrote a very interesting article on the subject on the World of Tea website.

This is the most dominant outburst I have experienced in a tea so far. Even the rinse to open up the leaves is so full already. So fruity. Perfectly ripe peach that gives you enough sweet for the rest of the week. A citrus sour bitterness, similar to that of a grapefruit, that pulls the tip of your tongue a bit, before the honey comes in and coats your mouth. Especially that little citrusy bitter note is very pleasant in this tea. I can imagine some people being a bit overwhelmed by how fruity and sweet this is, but that slight grapefruit-aspect of the tea makes sure it is perfectly balanced.

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I think this tea could go on for way more brews than I can handle, and there is an interesting change noticeable in taste during the session. You definitely need to tame the full dominant flavors yourself in the first few brews, but after a while the tea does that for you. It gets more buttery, creamy, not particularly in mouthfeel but in taste, and it’s settling a bit, getting more fruit pastry-ish. This is a change that makes this tea so pleasant. First the outburst, flavors so strong you simply can’t enjoy them if they are still there 15 brews later. But then the tea, being all Charles Darwin-evolutionary, knows he needs to throw in some other elements (the cream-butter notes) to keep you hooked. And hooked I was. It’s truly incredible that this can be the result of growing and processing tea. That these flavors are natural and enhanced by a very skilled tea master.

Want to try Hau Ying Chen’s teas yourself? I highly recommend it as it is top-notch Taiwanese tea for me. Contact him through Facebook or Instagram to ask for the current list with available teas and prices.

As this really sounds like a commercial I have to add that I paid for these teas myself. I’m no tea George Clooney. Best Bug Bitten 2016. What else?

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Studying Pu’er – The Grand Sheng Pu’Er Tasting

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The last few months the amount of Pu’er cakes in my tea stash is rapidly growing, but at the beginning of my tea addiction there was no Pu’er to be found in my house. It was a hard step-in tea for me and it took some time to appreciate the diversity and complexity in Pu’er tea. At one moment I decided I had to actively learn more about Pu’er, raw ones in particular, and I placed an order at Yunnan Sourcing, a great place to get a first taste of Pu’er as they offer lots of samples. Over the last period I tried these samples as a way of studying this type of tea and I made tasting notes that I want to share with you in this Grand Sheng Pu’Er Tasting piece.

2005 Mengku Wild Arbor ‘Zheng Shan Da Ye’
A 2005 spring tea to start with. It has earthy, tobacco notes with hints of spiced apricot. But it’s the mouthfeel that makes this tea interesting. The liquor is thick and sweet, but your tongue gets bitter, sour (citrus) and salty notes as well. It’s not my favorite, but it’s a pleasant, warm and soft tea for your regular Pu’er session and it is fairly priced (58 dollar for the cake, 6 for a 25 gram sample). (link)

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2015 Hai Lang Hao ‘Gao Shan Chen Yu’ Yi Wu Shan
I loved this tea –  plucked in 2012, pressed three years later – and especially the third, fourth and fifth brew. It started off light but the delicate dried fruit aroma revealed what this tea was capable of. It was a fresh tea with a soft liquor and it turned a bit more savory and more spicy with every brew, with some nutmeg notes coming up in the back. The leaves were full and beautiful and I was surprised when I saw the pricetag after drinking this, 25 dollar for the whole cake. (link)

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2015 Spring ‘Da Xue Shan’ Wild Arbor
This tea is all about the aftertaste for me. I haven’t had a young Pu’er with such a strong aftertaste yet. Even if I would eat a pound of blue cheese after drinking a cup of this young raw Pu’er I’m sure I would still taste the tea in all its glory in my mouth. When brewed for a short time, this tea has almost no bitterness in it. But it can turn quite quickly to a bitter and astringent brew, so steep carefully and it will give you back a lot of that yumyumdeliciousness. The best brews were just so powerful and overwhelming in delight. Sweet, fruity, citrusy, full-bodied and soft, with a bit of grassiness in it. Not much young Pu’er sharpness. It can be a difficult one to tame this one, but it’s worth the wrestle. (link)

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2003 Tai Lin Yi Wu Mountain
The oldest in the order and only the thought that this tea was plucked about thirteen years ago makes this a special tea session already. It’s not too heavy which I like, because this way the more subtle notes become ‘tastable’. From brew one it reminds me of mushrooms with earthy and vegetal notes. In some brews, which were a little longer, it became spicy at the end and it left a bit of cardamom taste in the mouth. Some astringency but definitely not too much, as with the tobacco-ish notes: smoky but not too smoky. The liquor is thick, round and smooth. Nice balance after all. Now teadrunk. Out. (link)

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2006 Guoyan High Mountain Yu Le Gu Shu
This Guoyan tea and me had a bit of a rough start. When opening the sample I discovered a huge hair sticking out of the piece, and when breaking open the cake I found 5 more tucked in between the pressed leaves. After a lot of UUUHL and YAIKS I googled on this phenomenon and read that it is more common, so I gave it a big rinse and forgot about the hairs. The aroma after rinsing was of ripe fruit, but the taste of the first few brews was more spicy and creamy mushroom. Totally autumn for me. It had the texture of a light broth.

As I hadn’t eaten yet before starting the tea session, I got a bit tea drunk too soon and I decided to get some rice out of the ricecooker and ate it with some eggs, spring onion and peanuts with chilipaste from the wok. After this quick meal the more ripe apricot notes with smoky tones came up in the tea, followed by the glorious comeback of the creamy mushroom. Somehow this tea works, it’s ripened but still young and perfectly balanced. Smooth with no big surprises, and definitely a perfect daily drinker for a fair price (30 dollars a cake). (link)

2009 Lao Ban Zhang Ancient Tree
Next on the tea tray: the Lao Ban Zhang 2009 from 400-500 year old tea trees. Now I’m no puhead as I said, but I know vaguely that this mountain is considered one of the best places for Pu’Er tea, and that the depth and minerally rich notes on ancient tea trees is considered as one of the best as well. So this one MUST be good.  The rinse was pretty overwhelming already, with a full ripeness peach and apricot aroma, but in the first brews that is not noticeable in the taste. Actually this was quite the slow starter, the first brews were pretty clear and bright in liquor and taste. In brew three there is a very sharp note to the tea, very spicy, and I taste hints of nutmeg and clove.

So throughout the whole session the liquor stays pretty thin, not a very thick soup. It must be one of the most compressed teas in this sample tasting as it took 8 brews for the chunks to completely fall apart in the tea, pretty incredible. So far: spicy, thin liquor, with the fruitiness coming up. But the most remarkable thing in this tea is the fire in it. My oh my. It puts you on alert and at the same time lets you wiggle wiggle. I think I know what they mean with a lot of Qi in a tea now. By the time your head spins like crazy, the tea sweetens up a lot and your throat is coated with a juicy, sweet, apricot peachy liquor.

Now tastewise this tea is definitely recommended with all those spicy fruity notes and the beautifully bright liquor. Value for money? Mwah. I wouldn’t spend a 170 dollars on a 250 gram cake of this particular tea. It’s just not that much more special than the cakes above, which can be picked up for 30, 40 dollars. (link)

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2006 Lao Ban Zhang
We end on a high note as this Lao Ban Zhang enters the tea tray as the last tea in this tasting. Two LBZ in a row and what a difference! Before I go into details I have to say this is my favorite Pu’er so far. It’s just incredible how many things are going on in the brews and it is so, so good. So, aroma, just like the LBZ before, is very much like ripe fruit. Unlike the 2009, the 2006 actually tastes like that as well. From brew 1 it is very fruity, citrus fruit and apricots, and very sweet in combination with savory.

This tea has the perfect body texture. It is very thick and the taste stays in your throat for a long time. During the session all kinds of notes come up: the tea gets spicy, earthy, smoky, fruity, sweet and savory, at the same time or one by one. Two brews are never the same. There is some saltiness coming up once in a while, which is very pleasant in combination with the sweetness. No bitter notes at all. This is a tea in it’s prime. And it’s only 400 dollars a cake! (Kiddin’). About the ‘only’. Not the 400 dollars. It is, actually, 400 dollars. But then again, it’s so, so good. (link)

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Ranking
1. 2006 Lao Ban Zhang
2. 2015 Spring ‘Da Xue Shan’ Wild Arbor
3. 2003 Tai Lin Yi Wu Mountain
4. 2015 Hai Lang Hao ‘Gao Shan Chen Yu’ Yi Wu Shan
5. 2009 Lao Ban Zhang Ancient Tree
6. 2006 Guoyan High Mountain Yu Le Gu Shu
7. 2005 Mengku Wild Arbor ‘Zheng Shan Da Ye’

From 1995 to 2016: the wait for Lao Chin Shin is over

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This year I celebrated Christmas for the 26th time in my life. The tea I review today celebrated (sitting in a bag doing nothing) its 21th Christmas. And its last. No way I can keep my hands off this tasty Thailand Lao Chin Shin from 1995 for another year!

1995. 1995! Let that sink in for a minute. This tea made me wonder what I did back in 1995. I asked my mom and she said straight away: ‘Going to school for the first year’, to add right after that: ‘And drink tea with milk and sugar! That’s it.’ I’m sure my life was a bit more than that as a 5-year-old. Practicing my David Beckham-like free-kick on the streets. And playing this dubious game called ‘Oorlogje’ (‘War’) in which you would seek cover in the gardens of neighborhood houses, come out, point your finger at one of your friends like a rifle and say ‘ke-deng-ke-deng-ke-deng’.
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The good actors among my friends surrendered or dramatically died. The tough guys ran away like they weren’t just sieved by 50 bullets of my imaginary machine gun. Now that I think about it this game becomes stranger and stranger. Was it just boys being boys, or did the Dutch government prepare us for years of foreign war missions to come introducing these weird kind of children’s games? Ah well. Fact is that I decided my ‘ke-deng-ke-deng’ wouldn’t do anyone good in this world, so before I turned 8 I left the imaginary army for good.
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So what does this all have to do with tea? Nothing, really. Nothing but the fact that in that year, 1995, when I was running around being little Rambo, there was a tea plucker on the slopes of a mountain in the Chiang Rai region in northern Thailand, plucking these exact leaves that I have reunited with water now, 21 years (!) later. This Lao Chin Shin is from a company called Tea Side, which specializes in teas from the Golden Triangle. When receiving the package of samples I wasn’t all too sure at first. If it’s not from Taiwan, Japan or China… But I tried a few of the samples so far and they are surprisingly good. Some, like the Myanmar Roanji oolong, are real quality teas.
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But the Thai 1995 Chin Shin, the type of oolong often found and grown in Taiwan nowadays, really stood out. This tea is all spiced apple to me.  And cherries. Really fruity, but not in the sweet, peachy way. It’s darker, heavier, fuller, more complex. Fruits mixed with chocolate. The chocolate is very present in the aroma and more subtle in taste. It has a pretty thick liquor in your throat and during the tea session more spices come out. Clove, cardamom. It gives off a typical aged oolong taste, but it seems more alive and more fresh than most I had so far. I have written PORT very large in my tea tasting book. Yes, it is quite similar to a port in terms of fruity notes. A port-like dessert wine you would serve at Christmas with chocolate. But this tea offers both the dessert wine and the chocolate in one sip. Note that for Christmas 2017!

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Although very powerful, don’t take the whole day off for this tea. It doesn’t have much stamina. Brew 7 is pretty much it. But the previous brews are strong, outspoken, with the tea developing into a more nutty structure while it keeps pumping those cherry and spiced apple notes on your tongue.

Now keep in mind if you session this tea to make it all a bit more special. Every step that you took the last 21 years. Every milestone in your life. This tea was there. Somewhere. Waiting. For you. Getting tastier by the day. For you. Isn’t that what love is?

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Play with the rules of tea making – Hot Brandy

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Tea has never been as hip as with White2Tea. Brilliant (mostly Pu’er) cake wrapping, tea names and, most importantly, brilliant teas. And now they let you be part of an experiment. Hot Brandy, a blended black and white tea cake, has seen the light this year and it’s worth playing around with yourself.

Maybe I’m a bit of a romantic but I imagine White2Tea to be the Sillicon Valley of tea. Where there are no bad ideas and nothing, really nothing, is impossible.  Just a creative bunch of people doing whatever comes up in their minds that morning. Days consisting of brainstorming and experimenting. Failing and succeeding. Playing with the rules of tea making.
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Every time I drink a White2Tea tea I am extremely curious about the tea maker. How must he feel, each day the White2Tea  guys walk in with another crazy idea. He shakes his head out of disbelieve. What is the problem with these people? Then he starts working on the idea and delivers an extremely fine product. Yes, this is all fiction in my head, but I like to think this was the case in the making of Hot Brandy.
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Black & White
Hot Brandy is a tea made of both black and white tea, sundried leaves pressed in one cake. Now, when you combine a black and white tea, of course the black tea will be the dominant, in-your-face-tea of the two, while the white tea is a more subtle and gentle one. More hidden flavors you have to extract just by having a clear palette and by being able to enjoy delicate notes. So how do the two work together?

That’s the fun part of this tea: it actually just works. The typical Dian Hong citrus, honey and liquorice notes from the black tea, tempered by the mellow, lingering, sugarcane sweetness of the white tea. You’ll get the Dian Hong in your face and then, while enjoying, you’ll discover an extra dimension because in the white tea that follows. It’s a new taste, and it’s good.
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But the best part of the Hot Brandy for me is the extremely thick soup. Be prepared to lick out your cup as you’ll not be able to get the last drop out by pouring. I have a bit of a sore throat these days because of the dry, cold weather, but this tea was so juicy that it was wrapping my throat like a warm, comfortable blanket. I drank the same leaves in the afternoon, evening and the next morning and it was still giving off all the flavors you want, even getting a bit more nutty, fruity and honeylike, with that sugarcane sweetness slowly fading.

As with almost every tea from White2Tea it’s all about the aging and I can’t imagine how this tea will develop. Will the black tea overpower the white tea and how will they affect each other? Nobody, even not White2Tea, knows how that’s gonna work out. 
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A Rioja red wine and chocolate Da Hong Pao

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I like a Wuyi oolong because it sparks a bit of a fire in me. A little energy boost. I suspect it’s the mineral ‘rock taste’, a very distinctive taste for Wuyi teas. A late night session with a Mei Leaf’s Da Hong Pao, also called Empress Oolong by this Londen-based teahouse, was a memorable one.

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A little shout out to the leaves to begin with. With some Wuyi teas I find it hard to appreciate the beauty of the dry leaves, but the changing of color to dark brown-green when wet is absolutely beautiful. This tea looked extremely delicious in wet AND dry state, as you see on the picture above. Elegant in a very dark roasty way.

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I had some Wuyi teas before. They were called ‘high quality’, but it was not from sellers that I trust to sell high quality. So trying this Da Hong Pao brought me to a next level of Wuyi tea. There is a hint of charcoal in it but it wasn’t overwhelming. And this was the biggest difference with my previous, less impressing, Wuyi experiences: those teas gave a bit too much of that charcoal profile. One Rou Gui was so bad that I thought it was put on the barbecue for an hour or two before ending up in my gaiwan. Well, you need to have some bad experiences to appreciate quality, I guess.

Next to the ‘mineral’ energy it gave me and the subtle, gentle charcoal hints, this Da Hong Pao offers heavy red fruit notes, like a Rioja red wine, and combines it with very pleasant cacao hints. Red wine and chocolate, perfect! But wait, it’s getting even better with an almond sweetness and peachy aftertaste. Oh yes, this tea just can’t go wrong.

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Tea Battle: Roasted vs Unroasted Zhu Ye Qing

Are you ready to RUMBLEEEEEE! In this battle: roasted Zhu Ye Qing versus unroasted Zhu Ye Qing from Thee van Sander. How different can those two be, I hear you think. Well, VERY different! Let’s fight.

Zhu Ye Qing is a tea from Sichuan province, from the mountain Emei to be exact, and the difference between this roasted and unroasted version lies, of course, in the process of making the tea. Where most Zhu Ye Qing is roasted in a wok to make the tea softer, Thee van Sander offers the chance to taste the unroasted version as well (with the warning that unroasted Zhu Ye Qing might not be so good for the stomach, I had no problems in case you are worried now).

Roasted Zhu Ye Qing

I started off with the roasted Zhu Ye Qing, a tea picked on March 8 2016. This is early in the plucking season, which is why the buds were very small and tender. The leaves were even in color and shape and the first brew revealed a very sweet, slightly vegetal and little fruity, melon aroma. The taste was rich and present, even sweeter than the aroma, and the vegetal tones were there as well. The bright taste gave a feeling of spring. It was thirst-quenching and was round and soft in the mouth. The more brews, the sweeter it got.

Yes, this was a very good start of this battle and I couldn’t imagine the unroasted Zhu Ye Qing to top this. But in a way… it did.

The Unroasted (left) and Roasted (right) Zhu Ye Qing

The Unroasted (left) and Roasted (right) Zhu Ye Qing

The unroasted Zhu Ye Qing was much different than the roasted one. Actually, it could have been another green tea. And that made this comparison so interesting for me: how every step in the process of making tea could be of such great influence on the taste.

Unroasted Zhu Ye Qing

This tea was picked in March as well, but a bit later then his roasted brother and you can see that clearly when looking at the leaves. The unroasted Zhu Ye Qing had a bigger bud, and the first leaf was much looser. The aroma of the unroasted Zhu Ye Qing was very vegetal, exactly like spinach. It tasted more like a raw leaf, with still a lot of sweetness in it, but this time on the background, with vegetal tones dominating. This tea had a lot of character for me.

The Unroasted Zhu Ye Qing

The Unroasted Zhu Ye Qing

And the winner is…

Of course there are no winners or losers (blabla), but this tea session the unroasted Zhu Ye Qing was the real surprise for me. I think the sweet, roasted Zhu Ye Qing is more like a high quality day to day tea. It always works, every part of the day, every moment. The unroasted Zhu Ye Qing was newer to me, flavors I never tasted before. It made me alert from the first smell to the last sip. So, based on the performances of the teas that day, the unroasted Zhu Ye Qing was the winner for me. Needless to say, both were very delicious teas and what really stood out as well were the tiny little buds of the roasted Zhu Ye Qing, really young and fresh!

See you at the next battle!

Feng Qing Xiang Gui Dian Hong – a world class love story

Feng Qing Xiang Gui Dian Hong tasting time! In fact I brewed this tea a few times before writing down my tasting notes and the colder the weather got, the better this tea got.

I ordered this black/red tea (you can discuss on that) from Yunnan Sourcing not long after the spring pluck of 2016 was being released in the online store. It was my first Yunnan tea besides Pu’er and it grabbed me instantly. But I felt I wasn’t drinking this at the right time of year. Maybe the biggest sign for that was a session in the middle of summer while it was 30 degrees Celcius outside. After drinking this Dian Hong my shirt was soaking wet. Honestly I never felt so hot inside my body. I decided to wait for autumn to arrive to really test the capabilities of this tea.

A picture taken during the summer, before the sweat-outbreak

A picture taken during the summer session, before the sweat-outbreak

What I love about this tea is what it gives the eye. A beautiful coppery brown autumn color in a thick, juicy liquor. That thickness is visible on the white gong fu cha utensils I have. You can never empty your cup completely because there is always some thick smooth juices staying behind in the teaware. Truly beautiful, as are the leaves. Mouthwatering buds everywhere you look.

Juicy buds.

That’s juicy.

The taste of this tea is strong and makes me think of liquorice with cacao, honey, citrus and hay notes, while reminding me of an autumn forest hike on a wet floor covered with leaves. It has an incredible stamina, brewing so many times that your tummy will say NO before even coming close to the end of this tea.

If not convinced by my review, check out this comment on Feng Qing Xiang Gui Dian Hong on the Yunnan Sourcing website that made me want to order this tea back in spring. I just loved the story of  the long desire for a tea you once tried and never were able to find again. And then, that moment that you are reunited and it brings back all the memories of your previous journeys – a world class tea love story.