Mini Yunnan Toucha Mix from Teasenz – Reflection on Scent and Memory

I am far from an expert, but I’ve always been both intimidated and entranced by pu erh tea.  The tea comes packed in cakes and wrapped in decorative papers, and you might even have a tea pick especially for breaking up these tightly packed leaves. There’s a proper way to brew and taste pu erh, and all kinds of special teapots and accessories.  There’s something inherently magical about having the right tools for an ancient ritual.  With the Mini Yunnan Toucha mix sampler from Teasenz, I could give the whole thing a try at my kitchen table.

I’ve brewed enough bad cups of pu erh tea to know that it’s worth following the instructions.  For this sampler I used the following process for each: 20 second awakening rinse (pour off the liquid), 5-10 second brews following.  I only did three brews for each tea, though a good pu erh session would have many more.  I only used a small piece of each tea cake for my taste-test– I would not recommend throwing the whole thing in your teapot, no matter how small and cute the tea cake is.

For instructions I found helpful, I recommend Teasenz advice on using this sampler and White2Tea’s guide on on brewing pu erh at home.

I’m going to use the same naming convention that Teasenz used on its website, referring to the teas by the color ink on their wrappings.

First up was the brown wrapper tea.  This smelled like what I typically associate with pu erh: wet hay, earth, and old leather.  If you’re new to pu erh, these flavors may take a little getting used to.  Feel free to shorten your steep times to as little as 1 to 3 seconds if anything gets too intense.  This tea very much smelled like the outdoors after the rain, with notes of wet mulch and damp leaves.  I mention all these wet adjectives because there was definitely a sense of age or plant decay in the smell and taste.

The mouthfeel of pu erh is worth noticing, known for being exceedingly smooth, some might even describe it as creamy.  Black teas can be bitter or have a strong astringent bite, but no such sensation was present in the brown wrapper tea.  By the second and third steep, I continued to notice wet garden flavors, with more mineral tones like mushroom or beets or kale, especially on the aftertaste.  The wet hay fragrance remained throughout, coming on the strongest when first brewed and dissipating slightly as the tea cooled.

Next was the red wrapper tea, in a cube shape.  This tea felt similar to the brown wrapper, with notes of wet earth and grass.  However there was a bit of brightness in the red tea that wasn’t present in the brown, maybe citrus or orange, a touch of something tart. The second steep had more of this brightness, like lemongrass, along with the typical pu erh wet hay flavors.  By the third steep, the citrus verged to more of a bright pine note.  If the brown wrapper tea was a deciduous woods full of wet, autumn leaves, then this red wrapper tea was a damp, evergreen forest with crushed hemlock needles and pine resin.

After the brown and red teas, the blue wrapper tea was quite a departure.  As soon as I rinsed the leaves, I was hit with a striking popcorn scent.  According to Teasnez, this “sticky rice” flavor is a staple of certain pu erh teas.  My boyfriend was walking by the room at this point and said it smelled like Fritos corn chips!  As for the taste, this tea still had the expected wet grass notes, but the brew was more savory, like a soup broth.  The plant-like flavors were a little different than the brown and red tea cakes, this time tasting more like corn or celery.  As I tried more steeps with this tea, the sticky rice note became more mellow, and the damp earth and corn husk flavors were more prevalent, smelling more like an autumn cornfield maze.

Finally we get to the yellow wrapped tea.  This is a different type of pu erh tea entirely.  The brown, red, and blue wrapper teas were all pu erh shou tea.  The yellow wrapped tea is a pu ehr sheng.  Shou tea is fermented prior to packaging, while sheng teas are packaged “raw” and age in the package over time. This yellow wrapped sheng tea occupied a flavor profile somewhere between the wet earth flavors of the brown wrapper tea, and the toasty rice notes of the blue wrapper tea.  The yellow wrapper tea had flavors like starchy baked bread and old paper alongside the damp grass tones. This tea had the most variation between steeps, the second steep having flavors that reminded me of black licorice or roasted nuts, and the third steep brightening up to more of a celery and sweetgrass blend.

Personally, I find the smells and tastes of pu ehr tea to be memory-inducing, reminding me of playing and exploring as a kid.  The scents of damp paper or old leather are akin to going into an undisturbed attic, and the damp earth scents make me think about playing in neighbors’ barns or crawling under the porch for hide-and-seek, while the wet leaves flavors make me think of walking in the woods after the rain.  The flavors of these aged tea leaves provide me with a strong sense of nostalgia and history.

Or maybe I’m just waxing poetic here, and I’ve just brewed one too many cups of tea for one afternoon. Either way, I highly recommend this sampler as a great way to experiment with pu ehr tea and its traditions.


Here’s the scoop!

Leaf Type: Pu erh
Where to Buy: Teasenz

teasenzlogoDescription:

If you are new to pu erh tea and have yet to discover the different types of aromas it offers, then this mini tuocha tea mix is the right place to start. Reap the weight loss benefits of this pu erh while enjoying the diverse mix of flavors that ensure you will never get bored.

Learn even more about this tea and tea company here!

Traditional Black Tea from Rington’s Premium English Teas

traditionalTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Rington’s Premium English Teas

Tea Description:

The perfect every day tea, rich and refreshing. From our ‘Original Blends’ family of teas. Two cup tea bags. Gas-flushed. 2 x 50 tea bags.

Our Traditional Blend contains some of the best teas produced from around the world, selected predominantly from our long standing relationships with family businesses in East Africa and India. Our expert tea blenders taste and choose each individual tea that goes into the blend, ensuring you always receive that unique, refreshing and lasting flavour that makes Ringtons Traditional our most popular blend.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

Traditional Black is a bagged tea from Ringtons, a UK tea company. At first glance, it looks like a typical bagged black tea. It’s in a square paper bag, and is about half full with finely shredded leaf. The scent is typical “black tea”. I used one bag for my cup, and gave it 3.5 minutes in boiling water. It brewed up to a fairly dark golden-brown, so I added a splash of milk.

To taste, this one is a malt monster! It’s deliciously sweet in that thick, syrupy, almost molasses-like way that really malty teas can be. It’s certainly sweet enough that I’d never personally consider adding sugar, and I do have a sweet tooth. The mid sip has beautiful milk chocolate notes, not over-strong, but definitely there. It’s rare to find that in a bagged tea, I’ve found, so I think this definitely speaks to the quality of the teas used in this blend. The cup as a whole is deliciously creamy (probably the milk helps this a little, but even so) and very smooth. My only slight reservation is that it’s a little tannic – my teeth feel kind of furry after a couple of sips, and it’s certainly a strong, hearty blend – so it’s perhaps not one to drink on a completely empty stomach. On the whole, though, it’s a delight to drink, and a serious challenger to my normal “everyday” tea.

 

Traditional Black Tea from Rington’s Premium English Teas

traditionalTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Rington’s Premium English Teas

Tea Description:

“Our Traditional Tea Blend contains some of the best teas produced from around the world, selected predominantly from our long standing relationships with family businesses in East Africa and India. Our expert tea blenders taste and choose each individual tea that goes into the blend, ensuring you always receive that unique, refreshing and lasting flavour that makes Ringtons Traditional our most popular blend in the US.”

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

Since I’ve returned from my trip to the UK, I have been on a bender with Breakfast Blend teas. I am obsessed with them, always choosing them from my tea cabinet over high price single estate teas. They have reminded me of the gorgeous comfort they bring when it is 45 degrees and raining sideways for days on end. I love the kinds of teas that can hold up to that type of weather, like a stout umbrella. Yesterday, I received a sample of a few of Rington’s teas in the mail and couldn’t have been more pleased….so guess what’s in my cup this morning?

Rington’s Traditional English Breakfast is a bagged tea, which as far as convenience goes, can’t be beat. On first sip, the dark amber brown liquid give a lovely mouthful of the flavors that should come with a breakfast blend….the first is a toasty baked grain note from the Kenyan tea, then the round maltiness and a touch of citrus that the Assam brings to the blend. There is a bit of astringency here from the Assam, but nothing that another sip won’t easily fix. If you have a penchant to add a bit of milk to your tea, there is no problem here. This tea’s full bodied flavor profile supports even the milkiest tea drinkers!

This is not a complicated tea, but that is exactly the point. A great breakfast blend from the UK has just a few jobs to do. One is have enough flavor to stand up to breakfast, whether that be a full cooked breakfast of eggs, sausages, baked beans (etc.) or a bowl of oatmeal. The second job is to stoke up that inner sunshine so that the chilly sideways rain and the mood it brings is held at bey. Rington’s Traditional English breakfast does both with aplomb….and of course, I’m going back for a second cup.

Kris Grey Black Tea from Ette Tea

Kris_GreyTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Ette Tea

Tea Description:

Shaded as the quintessential earl grey, Kris Grey (Blend no. 050) is a western classic brew fortified with south east asian ingredients.

Kris Grey is a blend of black tea, javanese vanilla beans, blue corn flower, bluepea flower, bergamot oil & edible silver dust.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

My second blend from Ette Tea!

So, I’m not the biggest Earl Grey fan; not that I dislike it, but I just don’t crave it often either. Under normal circumstances I probably wouldn’t have gone for this one – but who can resist sample sizes and the idea of sparkly silver tea? And really, the dry leaf is stunning! It’s covered in this really fine, gorgeous silver dust. So pretty!

Steeped up I’m not going to lie; I’m a little disappointed. The tea is still gorgeous and sparkly, but it’s not as dramatic as I’d have thought given the amount of noticeable glimmer in the dry leaf. Maybe about the same amount of sparkle as DT’s Gitter & Gold blend that people like to ooh and aah over.

The taste is solid though; it’s a good EG with a medium level of citrusy bergamot and silky smooth black base. I feel like a little bit more of vanilla would have really sent this one sky rocketing though. As it stands I can hardly taste the vanilla at all, but as is it’s just fine too. People who really love EG should definitely take a closer look at this because while it isn’t mind blowing, it’s got a really taditional taste with that fun sparkly element that makes it different from the average EG you can get at any store.

So for me, it’s a step down from Pandan Chiffon (which set the bar very high) but still not a flop! Definitely excited to try my next tea from this company!

Traditional Black Tea from Rington’s Premium English Teas

traditionalTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Rington’s Premium English Teas

Tea Description:

Our Traditional Blend contains some of the best teas produced from around the world, selected predominantly from our long standing relationships with family businesses in East Africa and India. Our expert tea blenders taste and choose each individual tea that goes into the blend, ensuring you always receive that unique, refreshing and lasting flavour that makes Ringtons Traditional our most popular blend.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

Of the different teas that I’ve tried thus far from Rington’s Premium English Teas, I think that this Traditional Black Tea blend might be my favorite.  Yes, it’s a bagged tea.  Yes, I prefer loose leaf over bagged varieties.  But occasionally, I’ll find a bagged tea that’s decent.  Sure, I’d still rather drink loose leaf, but when I do find a bagged tea that’s worthwhile, I’m going to say so.

And after having tried the one loose leaf offering from Rington’s the other day, I must admit that I’m finding this one – a bagged tea – more enjoyable than their loose leaf variety.

Why?

Because this tea is smoother.  It is richer and more rounded.  There’s less astringency.  Put simply, I’m finding this variety from Rington’s to be more satisfying than their loose leaf blend.  Now, if this Traditional blend were offered loose leaf, I’d be one very happy sipper!

The sip starts out sweet.  I taste delicate notes of honeyed caramel.  The tea has a robust character – it has a nice, satisfying round flavor.  A little earthy, a little flowery, and a little fruity.  It’s very smooth with no bitterness and very little astringency.  Very, very little astringency – as in virtually none.  I like that.

This tea tastes great hot and it also tastes really good as it cools.  I had finished about half the cup and then I needed to step away and came back to a cold cup of tea – and it still tasted really great.  It doesn’t need any additives to taste good – it just does.

It’s one of those types of tea that you want to keep on hand when you just want a no-fuss cup of tea.