Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Taste Test: Silver Needle white tea from It's About Tea

It's taste taste time again, and today we have a tea that I've been looking forward to taste-testing since I started this blog...I guess it's only been a week since I started it, huh?

In any case, today's Taste Taste features probably my favourite tea ever, Silver Needle white tea. Silver Needle is named after the little white hairs that cover the leaves and float around in the brewed tea. Yes, hair in your tea. It's good hair, I swear!

Dry Leaf

Big fat buds covered in a downy fuzz greet me when I open up the bag. Silver Needle is a very attractive tea to look at, and the aroma isn't too hard on the nose, either. It's quite floral, with a slight spiciness.

Wet Leaf & Brew

I usually use cooler water to brew Silver Needle, but I've been doing some reading that indicates that using newly-boiled water isn't going to hurt the leaves any. I decide to play it safe for the first infusion and use water that's not quite boiling.

The newly infused leaves instantly turn from white to pale green and lose their downy hairs. The wet leaves smell very strongly of cooked peas and asparagus, two vegetables I'd rather not eat but are quite nice on the nose.

The first infusion is just a rinse to get the leaves woken up. The second infusion is quite pale yellow, accentuated by the mass of tiny leaf hairs floating in it. The aroma is very lightly floral...if I had to be specific, I'd say "daisies & lilacs", though I haven't smelled enough kind of flowers to really get any more involved than "floral". When tasted, I'm very pleased by the mouthfeel. It's thick without being overpoweringly so. The taste is fabulous, even if it is a bit weak. Slightly sweet and ghostly floral, it builds anticipation for the stronger infusions to come.

The third infusion reveals a very welcome strawberry note. Even using hotter water, no bitterness is present. This note continues over the next three infusions, getting sweeter each time.

Honestly, this tea probably could have lasted more than six infusions. I just didn't have the time. It always makes me happy when a tea is tougher than I am.

If you have the chance to pick up some Silver Needle, I'd say go for it. It can be pricey, but being able to get so many infusions out of it offsets the pain on the wallet. Plus, it's just plain delicious.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

No Taste Test today!

Had to run out this morning and had no time for a proper tasting.

As a quick note, though, the Tippy Orthodox Darjeeling from Upton Tea Imports is fabulous, even when brewed with very little care and sleep.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Taste Test: Fuji Sencha(?) green tea from It's About Tea

I've never had much luck with Japanese green tea, to be perfectly honest. Either the ones I buy are no good, or I just haven't figured out the brewing yet. Whatever the reason, I haven't had a great experience with any of the three Japanese greens I have. Let's see if that'll change, shall we?

Today's tea is something called "Fuji" from my local tea shop. I'm guessing it's a sencha, but no information is forthcoming besides the shop's listing it as a "Japan green tea". Anybody who reads this who is familiar with "Fuji" is free to correct me. Publicly, if needed.

Dry Leaf

The dry leaf is actually quite attractive, save from being somewhat chopped up. Nice dark green colour, and a pleasant odor of mowed grass and fresh herbs. Which herbs? I mostly got rosemary and sage notes, maybe a bit of parsley if I really snorked.

Brew and Wet Leaf

I used water that was a bit hotter than I've been using for Japanese greens before, just to see what would happen. This turns out to be a mistake, but not a fatal one.

The first brew gives a dark yellow liquor, sporting a rather thin mouthfeel that I didn't at all enjoy. There are grassy notes, but overall it's just a big cup of bitter.

The second brew (with cooler water) yielded better results, though it still wasn't great. A really big sour note, that came on suddenly and then faded just as fast, really perked up my tastebuds, though it still didn't taste good.

The third infusion, with even cooler water, was a complete surprise. It was so sweet that I almost jumped. It was as if someone had dumped a big load of brown sugar right in the tea. I wouldn't call it cloying, per se, but the sweetness definitely overpowered any other note that may have been there.

I didn't risk a fourth infusion, but maybe I should have...that sweetness was intriguing. I think I've learned my lesson about water temperature and sencha, though. I probably should have known it all along.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Taste Test: Jing-Shuen (Golden Lily) oolong from It's About Tea

Another day, another oolong. I have tons of these things. It's not a bad thing, but looking back, I wonder if I could have spent the money on teas I enjoy more. The members of the Tea Club don't seem to like them that much, either, but hey, a little tea variety never hurt anybody. Plus, I can't just write off oolongs when I've barely tasted any.

Today's oolong is Jing-Shuen, of the Formosa persuasion. I think all the oolongs I have are Formosa, actually. Boy howdy, variety!

Dry Leaf

Small, dark green rolled leaves. A bit shiner and greener than the Dong Ding. There's a baked bread aroma, and like a lot of these oolongs, a faint nutty aroma as well.

Brew & Wet Leaf

At the first touch of hot water, the leaves unfurl into their lovely original shape, along with some stems for good measure. You really get a feel for tea as a plant from teas like this.

The wet leaves smell "baked", like rye bread or honey bran bread. It's delightful!

The second infusion produces a honey yellow liquor, and the honey feel doesn't stop with the colour: the aroma also smacks of Winnie-the-Pooh's favourite food. When sipped, the mouthfeel reveals itself as fairly thick and clingy, again reminding me of honey. No surprise that the predominate taste is...honey! There's no sourness like in the Dong Ding, and I find that this tea goes down a bit easier.

Sadly, though, later infusions don't bring out anything special. The honey taste vanishes by the fourth infusion, being replaced by a progressive bitterness. The brew is pretty undrinkable by the sixth infusion.

Overall, I was disappointed at how short a life this tea really had. The honey taste was a welcome surprise, and I would have liked to have had it stick around longer. It was a good time while it lasted.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Taste Test: Dong Ding oolong from It's About Tea

Before I forget, I have to mention that It's About Tea is the name of the locally-owned tea shop in the city where I live. There's another tea outlet, David's Tea, in the mall, but it's a chain and I really don't trust them to know anything.

Anywho! Today's taste test is of an oolong (partially oxidized) tea that I remember having quite an affection for when I first bought it. Let's see if it still impresses!

Dong Ding is a Formosa oolong, Formosa being the old name for Taiwan. The trees that are used to grow Dong Ding were originally transplanted to Taiwan from the Wuyi Mountains in mainland China, another rather famous tea area we'll be getting to eventually.

Dry Leaf

Somewhat large, dark green rolled leaves. The smell is quite nutty with a hint of roasted pumpkin, something I definitely don't remember being there before (and believe me, I've roasted a few pumpkins in my day). Nice aroma, overall.

Brew & Wet Leaf

I've decided I'm going to brew all my oolongs with boiling water now. Research tells me that this is the way to go. Plus, I hate weak tea, and would rather something be overbrewed than under.

So the kettle comes to a boil and I pour the water over the leaves, leave it for about two seconds, then decant. A good hot rinse is good for rolled oolongs like this, since it helps to open up the leaves. Plus, the first infusion (when the leaves are still rolled up) wouldn't taste very good, anyways, hence the decanting.

The second infusion lasts about 30 seconds or so. The liquor is a pale green, with a slightly golden hue, as well. It smells vaguely nutty, but has more of a forest-floor or cooked-vegetable character than anything else. A sip reveals a thick mouthfeel, focusing on the very tip of the tongue. It's not amazing, but it's not bad either. Taste wise, it's kind of sour...reminds me of green apples or raw rhubarb. There is a kind of mineral astringency as well. I quite like the sourness, actually, though some people would probably be turned off by it.

The third infusion is a bit longer than the second. It smells a bit more sweet than the second, and most of the nuttiness is gone, replaced by a stronger cooked green vegetable scent. When tasted, I noticed that the mouthfeel was quite a bit thinner than before, and the mineral astringency was more pronounced. There was also a kind of Brussels sprout greenness which I didn't at all enjoy, but that's probably because I think Brussels sprouts are the Devil. That enjoyable sourness is still there, though.

The fourth and fifth infusions reveal nothing else, and the tea becomes progressively more bland, even when steeped for over three minutes with boiling water. It is nice to note, however, that the tea never became overpoweringly bitter, even towards the end.

Giddy from all the caffeine on an empty stomach, I took one of infused leaves and popped it into my mouth to chew on it. It actually didn't taste horrible. Then again, I also like eating peanut shells, so what do I know?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Not Really A Taste Test: Lu An Gua Pian (Melon Seed) green tea from TeaTrekker

Behold my favourite green tea: Lu An Gua Pian, one the the Chinese Famous Teas. I only had enough left from my sample to make a really weak infusion this morning, but even when brewed weak, this tea is amazing. It tastes like a whole garden of vegetals, freshly mown grass (in a good way), with this incredible sweetness pervading the whole thing.

Here's a picture of the leaves floating in my glass oolong pot (from Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco)

There should be a lot more leaves in there, but the sample size was just a little bit under what would be needed to brew three cups, and I had already made two before I started this whole blog adventure.

Anyways, I'll do a full, real taste test when I scrape together the money to buy more of this work of art.

Taste Test: Yellow Bud yellow tea from It's About Tea

I'm going to be upfront with you and say that I'm not particularly experienced with tea tasting as of yet. I mean, I drink the darn stuff every day, but as far as really serious flavour analysis goes, I'm a bit green.

I hope to change that, though, and these Taste Tests are going to be my training. If you are a beginner teahead like me, these posts will (hopefully) help you out in your own tasting adventures, as well. Let's all learn together, shall we?

Today's tea is interesting for a few reasons:

1) It's a yellow tea, which is probably the least known of the six tea types.

2) It was very much an impulse buy (a very pricey impulse buy).

3) Only one people of the six or so regulars in my tea club had any strong feelings about it one way or the other.

It's very odd, at least to me, to have a tea that looks and tastes so weird arouse no opinion whatsoever. The one person it seemed to get to excitedly exclaimed "That's so interesting!", but that was about the only reaction the tea got. Everybody else was just kind of "meh".

So I shelved the Yellow Bud for awhile, and promptly forgot about it until I was scanning TeaChat and noticed a thread about being disappointed with yellow tea. One of the suggestions made was to use hotter water when brewing the tea to try and wring more out more flavour. "Why the hell not try it?" I thought to myself.

So that's what I did this morning. Up until now, I've always treated the Yellow Bud like a green or white tea: never even thinking of bringing boiling water near it. Today I decided to hell with it, and let the kettle reach a good boil before infusing the leaves. I also used a lot more leaf than I normally would, because why not go for broke on a so-far underwhelming tea?

One of the things I had noticed about Yellow Bud before today was a weird salty butter note, not unpleasant, but definitely unexpected. I tried not to have any expectations going into this session, but I really REALLY wanted to taste that butteriness again. Unfortunately, I didn't.

What I DID taste was a more floral, woody cup, with the barest hint of sweetness on the back of my teeth. It wasn't nearly as smooth and vegetal as the Lu An Gua Pian green tea I had after it, and it wasn't as sweet and fruity as the Silver Needle white tea which I am so fond of. It was just kind of in the middle, having elements of white and green tea without doing any of them particularly well. Even the mouthfeel was insubstantial, vanishing from my tongue like a ghost without leaving anything behind. Five infusions, and not one of them was interesting.

Somewhere out there is a yellow tea that will rock my socks; of that there is no question. And it's unfair to write off a whole genre of tea based off of a few tastings of but one member of that genre. But for now, I think I'll be keeping this tea in the closet when the Tea Clubbers come to visit. It just doesn't have anything to say.

*I was going to post some pictures of the brew here, but none of them really turned out that well. Sorry 'bout that. I'll use my actual photo camera next time, instead of my video camera

Sunday, May 22, 2011


One great thing about blogging about tea is the wealth of punny post titles you can wring out of the word "tea". It's a great thing about doing anything with tea in general. Hell, Adagio's entire teapot line is based off of puns.

Anyways, I digress. The topic of this post is something that I'm sure all fledgling teaheads know about, and that is the worried feeling that you're "doing it all wrong."

Just imagine it: you've just bought a sample of some outrageously expensive tea. Sure, you've brewed a quite a bit of leaf in your short time as a tea enthusiast, but this is your first time with a big league, masterpiece tea. Like a rookie stepping up for his first time at bat, you make sure that all your equipment is in order. Gaiwan pre-warmed, timer set, variable-temperature kettle set correctly. All the variables have been accounted for; the rest is up to you.

As you watch the leaves slowly open up and colour the water, you think to yourself "did I screw this up? Water too hot? Gaiwan too large?", and so on.

The timer goes off. You decant the liquor and take a deep smell of the wet leaves. So far, so good. Then you sniff the liquor...once, twice...then, finally, you sip. The results are...disappointing. Instead of the "sweet plum and floral notes" the website described, you get a big, tin cup of blah. You do a few more infusions, and you get more of the same.

You sigh. Guess you messed it up. What a waste.

Now, I've gone through several of those moments in my admittedly brief career as a teahead. They can be quite defeating, especially if I'm brewing tea for a few people and I KNOW that it's a great tea, but I mess up the brewing and I end up serving a sub-par tea to my dear club members. Tea is supposed to be a relaxing, calming experience, but the anxieties that come along with brewing high-quality leaf can ruin the fun of tea drinking.

So how can the beginning tea enthusiast get over all this? Well, just remember a few key things and your mind will be put a little bit more at ease:

1) Expectations

Having expectations is probably the worst thing you can do when tasting a tea for the first time. Yes, the website or tea shop will tell you what the tea tastes like, but it's really only a vague guide. Not only that, but as a beginner, your palate is not going to be refined enough to pick out every single note. Lots of the best teas are very subtle and complex, and aren't going to be hitting you over the head with "plum" or "raisin" or whatever flavours. So try not to go in with any pre-determined ideas of what you're going to get; just let the tea be what it is.

Of course, if you've payed through the nose for a tea, it should probably not taste like swill. Even if you aren't getting all the flavour notes, it should still taste good.

2) Personal Preferences

This might seem sort of obvious, but it's worth saying anyways: you aren't going to like everything. Even if you've read over and over again that Da Hong Pao is the best oolong out there, but if you don't like it, then it'll never be the best oolong for you, even if you brew it perfectly. It's good to have an open mind about trying new flavours, but there's no point in wasting time and money pursuing something you don't want to drink.

3) There's Help Out There

Let's say you brewed a tea and you like it, but you don't think you're getting the most out of it. You can taste what kind of tea it COULD be, but it's not there yet. If you've tried all the variables and it's still not working out, it might be time to ask somebody a bit more experienced. The forums at TeaChat are probably the best place to start. Don't worry about coming across as dumb; most people who are into tea ask a question (or many questions) about brewing at some point. At the very least, it gives you something new to try.

4) Some Tea Just Sucks

Yeah, it's true; not every batch of $600 per pound Da Hong Pao is going to be worth the money. Generally with tea you get what you pay for, but there are still bum deals out there, and some vendors will charge through the nose for product that has a "name value" but really isn't very good at all. It's important to listen to what the tea community has to say about a vendor (especially online ones) before taking the plunge. If the vendor offers sample sizes, try those first. Don't beat yourself up if you work and work and all you have to show for it is a cup of stuff you don't want to drink. Chances are, if you've put in the time and effort, it's the tea's fault, not yours.

5) It's Just Tea, Jeez

This is what it comes down to in the end. Tea is cheap. Very cheap. As James Norwood Pratt stated once, "no luxury is cheaper than tea", and he's right. Tea is far cheaper than alcohol or coffee, and there's more of it than anybody can be expected to drink in a lifetime. It might not SEEM cheap when if you're spending 45 bucks a cake of pu-erh or 100 grams of Silver Needle, but that cake and those 100 grams are going to give you more value for your money than any other foodstuff (if only because you can steep both of those teas multiple times). Don't fret over messing up one brew or seventy, because there's always more good tea out there for you get right later. Just enjoy the ups and downs and learn from the screw ups.

This video makes some good points about brewing, though I don't really like its tone:

What's This? A Tea Blog? No way!

Yes way! Gonna be posting reviews, y'all, plus musings and pictures and all that good stuff that you teaheads like to see.

Now, hopefully I'll be updating this fairly often, and I probably will, since I buy a new tea about once a week and have about 30 backed up as review material.

So let there be light! And tea!