China Fujian Cinnamon ‘Rou Gui’ Wuyi Rock Oolong from What-Cha

FujianCinnamon1Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Oolong

Where to Buy:  What-Cha

Tea Description:

Rou Gui has a great cinnamon taste combined with a thick texture and sweet taste.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

I love Rou Gui and the reviews I’ve read for What-Chas have all be positive so I thought it was about time I bought some to try for myself. Usually, I like to do Gong Fu sessions with Rou Gui and I’m sure I’ll try this that way eventually, but when I showed this to my mom what she said was that it smelled like it’d be good cold; and since she so rarely weighs in on how I prepare the teas I share with her I decided to honor her suggestion and make my inaugural tasting a cold brew.

I have to say, this was definitely an interesting blend to me. One of the things I most like about drinking Rou Gui Gong Fu is the progression of flavours and drinking a cold brew with an extended six or seven hour steep time really makes that progression of flavour blur together. So, I tasted qualities I think I normally would have in the first few steeps of a Gong Fu session as well as ones I probably only would have noticed in the last few infusions.

FujianCinnamon2The most obvious taste was, of course, the sweet flavour of cinnamon. I find ‘cinnamon’ has such a varied flavour; it can be spicy like you’d find in Chai or very drying (have you ever done the cinnamon challenge?) or it can have this lovely pastry/baking sweetness. Of all the ways cinnamon can express itself, I definitely get the latter example here.

Other dominant flavours are honey, wood, leather, and floral notes. Maybe just a hint of cream as well. It’s a weird contrast between bold flavour notes and delicate ones too; the overall affect is a medium bodied, smooth tea with a very rich, thick mouthfeel and clean taste with a pleasant, lingering finish. One of the nice things about cold brewing this is that I got to skip the more ashy/char notes and biting astringency that usually accompany the first few infusions of a Rou Gui; but I still got leathery, wood notes! No additives are necessary. In fact, they’d probably detract from the taste more than anything else.

If there’s one thing I’d have liked to see which I didn’t it’s more of a fruity note – but maybe that’ll come out more when I inevitably Gong Fu this.

Taiwanese Lapsang Souchong Black from Butiki

Taiwanese Lapsang SouchongTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy: Butiki (However it’s no longer for sale)

Tea Description:

Our Taiwanese Lapsang Souchong originates from Taipei County in Taiwan and is grown at approximately 1,300 feet above sea level. While it isn’t nearly as common today, Taiwan has a long tradition of smoking teas. Local evergreen wood is utilized to smoke this Assam varietal, which results in a sweet yet smoky flavor. Smoked bacon, oak, and dark chocolate notes are prominent, while licorice notes are more subtle. This Lapsang Souchong is smoky without being overwhelming and finishes sweet. Our Taiwanese Lapsang Souchong is full-bodied, smooth, and complex.

Learn more about this tea on Steepster.

Taster’s Review:

Firstly I definitely would not call myself a fan of Lapsang Souchong; I own one flavoured/mixed blend that uses it as an ingredient that I find pretty good but every other time I’ve had it I’ve personally found the smoke/ash tones present to be rather harsh and unpleasant. So, I honestly still can’t believe that I actually requested a Lapsang sample; but it all boils down to seeing a Steepster review that mentioned this being sweeter and softer than your typical LS; and so my curiousity was peaked, and I had to try it afterall.

The dry leaf has, like one should expect from Lapsang, a strong smell that’s definitely very smokey but there are also strong notes of leather and wood as well that round it out and make it seem a little more interesting and less intimidating. It seems rather “manly” to me, despite a general smooth – dare I say “silky”, quality. I get the impression there’ll be no “grit” here. Honestly the leaf didn’t smell as offensive as I was anticipating! Already I’m very impressed and hopefull.

I cut my steep time a little short; I was worried about the tea getting too strong. After a few very trepedatious sips I started to take larger ones, and before I knew it I was practically slurping it back! This is alarmingly delicious! Like I observed with the dry leaf this is rather smokey, though not as much as the dry leaf will have you believe. There’s also a leather-like quality to it and the taste of oak – just like is mentioned in the tea’s description and which I also observed from the smell.

Most interestingly, I’m also getting a rather jammy quality that makes the whole cup softer, though still full in flavour, and more agreeable. Plus, it levels out the ratio of sweet and savory flavours in the blend which makes it feel more well rounded and balanced. I would describe the jam note as very stonefruit-y, leaning towards black cherries perhaps? This is the first Lapsang I’ve ever had that hasn’t assaulted me with harsh notes of tabacco or ash, essentially making me feel like I’ve just licked an ashtray. On that point alone I call this a success!

Overall this is just a very agreeable tea; it perfectly conveys what Lapsang teas are all about – the smokiness of it, while maintaining a softness and uniqueness. It’s very sad Butiki is closed because, while I previously thought it unthinkable I’d ever want to stock a straight Lapsang tea, this is one I could see myself drinking often and would want around!

I recommend this one to people experienced with Lapsang who want to try something just a little different, but I especially recommend it to Lapsang virgins or people who, like me, have been turned off by the intensity of other Lapsang Souchong teas they’ve tried! This one is, dare I say it, perfect.

Four Leaves Ripe Pu’er from Mandala Tea

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Pu’er

Where to Buy:  Mandala Tea 

Tea Description:

We are proud to offer our very own blend of ripe pu’er tea!  We (and our customers) are very happy with the finished product.  While we love this tea now, we can hardly wait to see what 2 or 3 more years of aging will bring to the flavor of this tea!

Also available in a 250gram cake!

The four leaves used in our ripe tea are from the Jinggu Tea Factory in Simao.  The Jinggu tea factory used to be part of the CNNP state-owned tea factories.  They started fermenting Pu’er in the mid-70’s and was the third factory ever to produce ripe pu’er!

The leaf used was spring picked and processed in 2009 and is quite ready for enjoying now.  We chose the material and pressed the blend in April of 2010.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

One thing I love about Mandala, other than their excellent quality of tea, is their 5.00 shipping! Its just something note worthy as I know when I am considering trying a new tea company their shipping rates do matter. Also Garret at Mandala is one of the most guanine people I have ever spoken with. He takes time with people. That is something we need more of these days.

Four Leaves Ripe Pu’er is a loose leaf pu’er which for those of you starting your pu’er journey may find a little less intimidating. However you can also get it in a cake as well, which is a condensed version of the tea. Steeping instructions are right on the packaging.

I always give my pu’er an initial rise, okay not always but most always anyway. With this tea I did do an initial rinse.

The initial aromas from this tea when steeped are fruity, and leather. There is a sweetness lurking behind these initial aroma notes.

This tea has a crisp bright mouthful, which surprised me as I was expecting something more rich and earthier from the aroma of leather. The flavor of leather is there but the sip is thinner than I anticipated, thin but not lacking flavor!

The sweet berry note is also noticeable.

One note that jumped out at me that took me completely by surprise was a buttered toast flavor! I swoon at anything buttery!

Now don’t get me wrong, this is absolutely an earthy tea, pu’er as a rule is earthy but the other notes bring forth a delightful cheery cup.

I really feel this would make for a good starer pu’er although maybe not a for your very first pu’er. This would be like a level 2 pu’er. Perhaps starting with something flavored first then working up to this.

On the flip side it is not as complex or mature as many pu’er so for the more advanced pu’er drinkers this may not be as exciting.

There is room for growth in this tea but it is young and as much time yet to develop. It does however have a wonderful starting point and if you are one to buy and store pu’er for later drinking I would absolutely recommend grabbing a cake of this!

Sichuan Caravan from Verdant Tea

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Pu’er

Where to Buy:  Verdant Tea

Tea Description:

A perfectly integrated blend with Yanxin’s Reserve ’04 pu’er, elderberry and spice that spans the whole flavor spectrum. . . .

We love pu’er for its multi-dimensional complexity. One of the most interesting and often overlooked elements of the pu’er experience is the vaguely numbing and tingling sensation that fine pu’er leaves in the aftertaste. Our goal with this blend was to highlight this textural quality of great shu pu’er, while at the same time creating a warming, rich and perfectly integrated taste experience.

We start with the incredible Yanxin’s Reserve ’04 Shu Nuggets. This tea is known for its pastry-like dessert flavors, and its smooth sweet aftertaste. We build on that richness with one of our favorite ingredients to pair with shu pu’er, dried elderberries. The dark sweetness of the elderberries brings out the natural berry qualities of the pu’er itself, and lingers on the sides of the tongue.

Next we draw out the pastry sweetness of the pu’er with a touch of licorice root, which helps highlight and blend the sweet spice of ginger root. Ginger starts to emphasize the tingling texture of this fine pu’er, but on its own, it doesn’t push quite far enough. That is why we added a touch of Sichuan peppercorn to round out this tea and make it whole. Sichuan peppercorn has a uniquely numbing flavor that elevates this blend to a new level. Taken as a whole, no one flavor stands out above the others. They work together smoothly to emphasize everything warm and satisfying that we love about shu pu’er.

NOTES:

elderberry

sichuan pepper

ginger

licorice

Learn more about this tea here. 

Taster’s Review:

Verdant once again impresses with a blend that is masterfully created. I hesitated to order a sample of this because I do not like licorice, not even a little. However I love elderberry, love pu’er, and throughly enjoy anything with any kind of pepper in the blend. I had never heard of sichuan pepper  so I was intrigued. Also it is getting cool in my area of the world, and anything that sounds remotely like chai is on my mind.

Also I know that often when tea is blended masterfully, as Verdant always does, some of the ingredients we often would shy away from do not come across on the palate as they would in their straight from. So I took a risk, although I knew it was a small one, that I may not enjoy this tea, and got the sample anyway. I could not be more pleased that I did!

As with any pu’er you get multiple flavorful steepings and this truly is a tea to sit down and take your time with.

What I love most about this tea is the leathery aspect. It is reminiscent of a historical library with old leather bound books in abundance. The elderberry is so present with a tart yet sweet existence that sneaks out now and then delighting the tongue with its ripe sweet flavor. The mouthfeel is creamy and thick. The pepper gives the perfect amount of “bite” without hiding the other flavors beneath it. Of course the pu’er allows for a sweetness of its own and that trademark earthiness that I love so much. There is a marked presence of ginger so if you are not one who enjoys a ginger flavor this may be the one thing that would dissuade you from trying this tea. However I have had many teas with ginger as a flavor element and none, so far, have been up to par with the quality of this ginger.

The ginger does not overwhelm the cup but rather says “yes I am here” politely with each sip. So perfectly blended is this cup that it is easy to pick out each element, forgetting the others, for a while, but then they meld together perfectly in a balanced unifying harmony. So the individual ingredients are the melody, the balance of the blend itself is the harmony, with the chorus being the huge smile on my face after every sip. Nowhere did I taste licorice as an individual component however perhaps I did not want to. Perhaps it is just as the tea description says: “Next we draw out the pastry sweetness of the pu’er with a touch of licorice root, which helps highlight and blend the sweet spice of ginger root.” Perhaps this is in fact why I feel that ginger does not overwhelm. When a master blender is given the same ingredients as a not so experienced blender the end result can be quite different. So licorice does not take on a single note of its own but rather tames the ginger from being too strong of an element. That is exactly what I get in my own tasting of this tea.

I no longer partake in drinking alcohol however I would compare this tea to a fine liquor such as a single malt scotch, or a fine brandy perhaps. I can envision myself sitting in a Victorian library, on a chaise lounge, curled up with a great book, bound in leather of course, (the book, not me), and a cup of this elegant tea.

2003 Reserve Four Seasons Oolong from Butiki Teas

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Oolong

Where to Buy:  Butiki Teas

Tea Description:

Our aged oolong is sourced from the Dong Ding tea growing region of Nantou County in Taiwan and was harvested in the spring of 2003. The varietal is Si Ji Chuan also known as Four Season. Our aged oolong was crafted by blend master Chen Pei Wen and is re-roasted every 2-3 years to minimize moisture content. 2003 Reserve Four Season Oolong is a rich full-bodied silky tea. The charcoal-colored leaves of this smooth oolong produce notes of honey suckle, bark, and grass and has a natural sweetness with no astringency present. This tea is also low in caffeine.

Ingredients: Taiwanese Oolong Tea

Recommended Brew Time: 4 minutes
Recommended Amount: 1 1/2 teaspoons of tea for 8oz of water
Recommended Temperature: 180 F

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

As soon as I took my first sip of this tea I knew I needed to order more of it right away, and I did!

This has such a depth to it, it would make a wonderful substitute for coffee. The flavor does in fact have some coffee notes so if you are trying to convert anyone, give this a try!

The dry leaf is tightly rolled nuggets of well roasted oolong. It is one of the darker oolongs I have ever laid eyes on. The aroma is reminiscent of a campfire, or an old library, slightly musty, with a hint of leather.

When you drink this tea some of the notes you may find, like I did are, leather, dried leaves, tree bark, carob, rock mineral, coffee, brown sugar, and cream.

The after taste is quite deep and full, with a very fine roasted coffee bean flavor. Yet it is no where near bitter or astringent!

I am a huge oolong fan but have never experienced an oolong quite like this.

The only down side, if there is one, is that it has a lower caffeine content. So if you are trying to please a coffee drinker they may not get the jolt they desire. However as a tea drinker who used to love her coffee, I am in love with this oolong! It reminds me of what I used to appreciate so much in finer coffee yet it has plenty of caffeine for my late morning tea!

Now, if you are not a person who ever enjoyed a good coffee, don’t fear, this is a complex tea that deserves appreciation for its multiple layers of extraordinary flavors!

I find this tea to be very autumnal – it makes me feel like running out and jumping into a pile of leaves. With the change of season coming in my area, being able to do this is not too far off! As people begin to stoke their fireplaces I will be savoring this tea until the last snowfall!