Assam English Breakfast (2014) from Steepster

englishbreakfastTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Steepster Select

Tea Description:

Assam is home to big, full bodied black teas and this is a classic from the region – a perfect cup right out of bed or for an afternoon pick me up. Our Assam Breakfast is sturdy enough to take milk but is wonderful on its own as well.

Taster’s Review:

This Assam English Breakfast from Steepster – another from their “first flush” Steepster Select box – impresses me as a remarkably smooth Assam tea.  Typically, I find Assam teas to be a very rich and hearty tea, but sometimes that rich, robust flavor teeters on the edge of harshness and can be bitter if steeped for even a few seconds too long.

Conversely, I can’t detect even a hint of bitterness with this tea.  Granted, I was careful with the steep time (I steeped it for 3 minutes).  But, even at that three minutes, I don’t notice even the slightest bitter intonation.  It is sweet, a little malty and full-flavored.  Even the astringency here is on the mild side.

That said, I don’t know that this would make a really good breakfast blend.  It’s that sturdy and almost harsh character that makes Assam a good tea for the additions of milk and honey.  This is so smooth and nicely round that I think milk and honey – or other sweetener – is not only unnecessary but would likely overwhelm the wonderful qualities of this tea.  No, I like this tea just the way it is.

It isn’t edgy the way some Assam teas can be.  Instead, I get to enjoy the rich, classic malty notes of an Assam without the sometimes bitter bite that comes with Assam.

A really good Assam!  Well done, Steepster!

2014 High Mountain Ali Shan Oolong from Tearroir

AliShan1Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Oolong

Tea Description:  

This tea was grown high in the famed Ali Shan mountain range of Taiwan.  Teas from high elevations grow slower, concentrating the flavor into the leaves and making for a rich, sophisticated brew:  some of the finest Oolong available.  

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Taster’s Review:

There are very few teas that I regard higher than an Ali Shan Oolong.  The only tea that immediately comes to mind is a yellow tea, and really, I think that my adoration for Ali Shan is right up there with a yellow tea.

As I was brewing this High Mountain Ali Shan Oolong from Tearroir, the thought that popped into my head is this:  What’s better than an Ali Shan Oolong?  A freshly harvested Ali Shan Oolong!  And that’s exactly what I have before me!  A first flush Ali Shan Oolong from 2014!


I steeped this – not surprisingly! – in my gaiwan and then I filled my Yixing mug with the first five infusions.  The fragrance of the brewed liquid reminds me of springtime at my gramma’s house when I was young.  One of the rear corners of the house was covered with a vine of honeysuckle, and when the windows were open near this vine, the breezes would pick up the scent and whisk it into the house and the house would smell faintly of honeysuckle.  To this day, it is still one of my favorite aromas ever.

The flavor is sweet and buttery/creamy.  It’s not a full-on butter flavor, nor is it entirely a milky/creamy flavor, but somewhere in between.  The texture is lighter than a “creamy” or “milky” Oolong, it’s more like a soft, velvety texture without the heavy thickness.  It doesn’t coat the palate heavily the way some Oolong teas can.

There are notes of flower and a very faint vegetal note that falls somewhere between the freshest, earliest buds of new spring grass and lightly steamed, mild veggies.  It’s a very mellow vegetative tone.

Although the aroma suggests a honeysuckle note might be experienced in the sip, I am not picking up on that in the flavor.  There is a floral tone, but it isn’t honeysuckle-esque.  It’s such a faint floral note that it’s difficult to discern the flavor.  On Steepster, it’s suggested that it’s a gardenia, but I don’t know that is quite it either.

I have to admit that I am really liking the faintness of the floral tone here.  Ordinarily, a green Oolong like this one has a very heavy floral essence to it and that’s not a bad thing, I find those floral notes enchanting!  But, it is nice to taste something a little different now and then, and I like the surprises that this Ali Shan is delivering.

This is a really special Ali Shan, and I’m so happy that I got to experience it!  Steepster Select does it again!

Castleton Estate First Flush Darjeeling 2014 from Steepster

casteltonTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Steepster Select

Tea Description:

A new first flush black tea from one of the most respected gardens in Darjeeling.  Grown from the China varietal of Camellia Sinensis, the flavors are bright and tangy with a notable balance.  Castleton teas are revered for their low astringency.

Taster’s Review:

One of the things that I love about the arrival of spring is that all the first flush teas are arriving too!  I’ve often mentioned my preference for a second flush Darjeeling over a first flush, but, this Castleton Estate First Flush Darjeeling 2014 from Steepster might just change my mind!  This is LOVELY!

First of all … very low astringency.  If you’re someone who tends to shy away from Darjeeling because they tend to be on the astringent side, this Castleton single estate might win you over.  There is some dry astringency toward the tail, but, it is very mild.  It’s like a subtle dry wine astringency.

The flavor is delightfully fruity.  Notes of apricot and peach.  Sweet notes of muscat grape … yes!  Muscatel in a first flush.  Not all first flush Darjeeling teas have a strong muscatel note but this one is prominent.  And what I like is that even though this has a grape-y taste, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the astringency is low … this is like a wine without the astringent quality of a wine.  Bonus points for that.

Usually with a Darjeeling, I taste a woodsy or earthy type of flavor, but I’m not getting a lot of that with this Darjeeling.  There are hints here and there of earthy and woody notes, but mostly, this is sweet and fruity.

A really, really good first flush Darjeeling.  This one gets two enthusiastic thumbs up!

Yame Shincha #3 Green Tea from Tea Wing

YameShinchaTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Where to Buy:  Tea Wing

Tea Description:

Sourced specially for Steepster, this fresh, first flush shincha is the “beaujolais nouveau” of tea. An intoxicating, dry leaf aroma and deep emerald color leads to a grassy, sweet, and heady liquor. This is the taste of real tea.

Subscribe to Steepster Select here.

Taster’s Review:

The theme of this month’s Steepster Select box is “First Flush” – a celebration of this year’s first harvest of tea leaves!  Sounds like a good theme to me.  And this Yame Shincha #3 Green Tea from Tea Wing is the first that I’m tasting from this month’s box, and it’s absolutely lovely!

The dry leaves smell reminiscent of green vegetables.  Another reviewer on Steepster suggested that the smell of salty chicken broth and I get that too, although the chicken broth I make doesn’t really smell like this.  However, the stuff that you buy in the cartons in the grocery store, yeah I can get that comparison.  Once brewed, there is a strong vegetable smell with notes of salty kelp.

The flavor is very soothing.  It is very reminiscent of a broth, something you’d want to be sipping on if you were feeling under the weather – it tastes wonderfully nourishing, as if it nourishes the very soul.  It has a sweet and salty/savory taste to it, and there is a balance between these two.  It doesn’t taste too sweet, nor does it taste too salty or savory.

It doesn’t really taste “grassy”, although I would see how that comparison can be made.  For me, this tastes more like the “liquor” you’d find at the bottom of your steamer after steaming spinach.  Or … what I’d imagine that to taste like, as I’ve never actually scooped that up and taken a sip.  Perhaps I should sometime.

It is deliciously invigorating, and I can almost feel it replenishing me from the inside out.  Revitalizing me so that I can get the things done today that I need to get done!  It’s a great pick-me-up for the afternoon, but it’s not something that you’d want to rush through.  You don’t want a “fast” cup of tea with this, take your time and enjoy the wonderful flavor of it.  This is a first-flush green at its finest!

A really wonderful Steepster Select box this month!  If you haven’t signed up for this great subscription, you’re missing out!

Genmai-Matcha Matsujirushi Green Tea from Steepster

Genmai-matchaTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Where to Buy:  Steepster Select

Tea Description:

Sencha leaves are expertly mixed with popped brown rice and milled matcha powder. A most comforting and delicious afternoon tea. You won’t find a greener tea anywhere!

Taster’s Review:

During my years as a tea reviewer, I’ve tried several different Genmaicha with Matcha type blends like this Genmai-Matcha Matsujirushi Green Tea from Steepster.  It’s essentially a Genmaicha blend that has been dusted with Matcha powder.  As the tea brews, the Matcha mixes into the hot tea and it becomes part Genmaicha and part Matcha.

And, it surprises me to say this, but this may just be the best Genmaicha with Matcha blend I’ve yet to try.  I’m not sure why that is, perhaps it’s because the Genmaicha here has a base of Sencha leaves rather than Bancha.  I don’t know if that’s the reason, but I do know that this tastes exceptionally good!

The flavor is much of what I’d expect from a Genmaicha:  roasty-toasty and warm, but with that strong note of freshness from the green tea.  The Sencha is light and refreshing with just a hint of bitterness that contrasts with the sweetness of the rice notes as well as the sweetness from the Matcha.  It’s absolutely more sweet than bitter, with just hints of bitterness popping up around mid-sip that offer something a little different for the palate to explore.

And of course, it’s the Matcha that makes this different from your ordinary, run-of-the-mill Genmaicha.  The Matcha makes the tea a little smoother and richer.  It’s a thicker consistency, so the palate enjoys a smooth, velvet-y texture.

This is really a refreshing drink.  I drank most of it while it was hot, but since the temperatures are reaching the 90s these days, I decided to let some of it cool so that I could see how it tastes chilled.  And it makes a tasty iced beverage too.  It’s very invigorating!