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cdh

New year, new teas. Tasting through an assortment.

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The other week I was poking around on Aliexpress for tea, and I came across an appealing looking assortment of samples.  30something varieties for somewhere around $7.50.  Seemed it was worth the risk.  It finally arrived.  I intend to taste my way through these and share my notes here.

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Sample 1:  This says it is a Tie Guan Yin, and smells and tastes the part.  This is about an 8g sample, so it presents 3 or 4 chances at brewing this.  My first yields a tasty, if undistinguished oolong.  This is a medium-roasted example, I'd say... not the floral brilliant green aromas of the very low roasted, but not the toasty woodsy well-roasted types... somewhere between the two.    2g of this in a yixing pot with 185F water needs a rinse to open up the tightly balled up leaves.  Not a very strong aroma, but definitely in the style.  In the cup the green-oolong flavor predominates, with woodsy notes around the edges.  Not a huge length of flavor... no lingering aftertaste after a couple of minutes.  Better than the commodity grade TKY that you can get in a can at Ten Ren.... but there's much better out there in the world.  

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OK.  Sample 1 was good for 4 infusions in the yixing pot, then petered out.  Aroma and flavor are a bit diffuse, but certainly hinting at where this style of oolongs can go. Perhaps tomorrow I'll try a more gongfu style of preparation and see if that can amp up the intensity, or if this particular batch is just more muted.

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OK.  Going gongfu on this tea was the right decision.  It's gone from nondescript when prepared in a more western fashion to amazing when prepared gongfu style.  3g of tea, water at 190-195, maybe 50-60ml of water, infusions of 20-30 seconds.  This brings out both body and flavors that just didn't appear yesterday. (also must say that I recharged my water softener between yesterday and today as well, so my water has changed too). 

 

Today I'm getting long lingering tropical fruit nuances, and that side-of-the-tongue sweetness that lingers.  Wow is this a completely different experience.  Gongfu is easy enough to accomplish... I'm just using a strainer basket in the bottom of a cup, and I lift it out after the desired infusion time has passed.  So far I'm a 10 second rinse and 2 30 second infusions in, and I get the sense that it is still improving. 

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Sample 2: A nice jasmine tea.  Green leaves, jasmine flowers, lots of jasmine aroma, very little green tea bitterness or astringency when brewed in my gongfu-esque strainer basket with 190F water and 30 second infusions.

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Posted (edited)

Sample 3 was a Da Hong Pao.  One of the red packets... didn't bother to photograph it before tossing it in the trash.    Brewed with western ratios (2g to 12 ounces water at 190F for 3-4 minutes), it was disappointing, emphasizing a bitter smokiness that made me wonder if the tea leaves were processed in a room full of chain smokers.  Brewed gongfu style (2.6g to 3 or 4 ounces water at 190F for 30 seconds), it is really lively and vibrant, with only a little smoky acridness on the very edges, which just gets pushed out of the way by the rich plummy flavor that seems to dominate the mid palate and aftertaste.  The finish is a nice roasty-woodsy Bai Hao Oolong kind of thing, but it fades and the plummy aftertaste takes back over for a long lingering finish. 


Edited by cdh (log)
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So far it seems like a great value-for-money package!

 

 

 

Teo

 

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Yes, definitely a very fine deal.  I am guessing that these samples are more for a Chinese domestic market than for export, since most of them have little to any non-Chinese writing on them.  The quality level so far has been pretty high.

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Sample 4 is interesting.  Fantastic floral aroma... someplace between peonies and gardenias.  2.4g in the gongfu apparatus emphasizes the aroma, but makes a "flabby" cup of tea. There is just no sharpness to offset or highlight the aroma.  I wonder what I could do to make the tea display more balance... I've got enough leaves for 2 more tries...

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Bumping the water up to 200F at infusion 4 helped with the balance issues. Still a bit flabby, but better.  Maybe 205 next infusion.

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Sample 5 is a pearl jasmine type tea. Pointing Google Translate at the packet made for some amusement... "green tea" "cloud flavor" "vicissitudes of years" came through... no real hints that it was jasmine.  Google Translate seems like it would be a great Oracle of Delphi in this situation... mumbling barely comprehensible stuff that foreshadows upcoming events.  I treated it like other display teas and brewed it in a 12 oz batch with water at 185F.  Very nice brewed this way.  Strong jasmine aroma, over a high quality green tea.  Very nice mouthfeel and long long aftertaste.   More of a middle-palate green flavor rather than the really sweet pearl jasmines that are out there. But still very pleasant.

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Edited by cdh (log)
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I hope I am not 'hijacking' this thread - but clearly, Chris, you have a vast knowledge of tea and perhaps you can offer a few suggestions -

 

I have always grown many herbs for tea (Lemon verbena, lemon grass, mints, bergamot, etc) and enjoy White, Green and Black teas - but I do not have much experience with the latter three, besides packaged teas available from the store.

 

Would you be able to perhaps offer some suggestions that one might be able to acquire via amazon (unless you believe far better can be found elsewhere)?

 

Many thanks in advance.

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Any and all are more than welcome to jump in and chat in this thread... it wasn't intended to be just me.  Hijack away like you're all DB Coopers!

 

As to getting more tea education, the best thing is to taste your way through as many teas as you can.  The zillion subvarieties of the Camelia Sinensis plant produce an amazing range of flavors... perhaps even broader than all of the herbal concoctions out there that also call themselves "tea".  A long time ago Adagio Tea did a "Tea Horizons" monthly tea club where they'd send 4 or 5 little samples of tea... they sent some really interesting and off the wall stuff. It was a fantastic way to broaden the palate and get an understanding of all the things tea can do.  Since that isn't a thing anymore, I still would recommend sampling broadly, rather than buying quarter pounds of  a few things.  Adagio's ordering system still does sample sizes...  though they're not nearly as good a deal as the old club used to be. 

 

Upton Tea is another spot with a very wide range of teas that also does sample sizes in the same size range as what I'm working through in this thread... enough to make 2 or 3 infusion sets.  If you look in this forum, you'll spot other tea tasting threads where tea merchants like Norbu have been kind enough to spot a few of us samples in return for a good online discussion of the teas... They'd certainly be worth checking out. 

 

Amazon seems less fruitful, I'd say.  Amazon seems to deal in mass marketed brands, and for tea, being an annual crop with variations like vintages of wine, there's usually not enough of anything particularly interesting to make it worth investing in serious branding.  So what you're likely to find there is less likely to be interesting. 

 

This particular set of samples came from exploring the tea offerings on Aliexpress, the direct to consumer arm of Alibaba, the giant Chinese ecommerce entity that has been in the news (and from which I've also been ordering things like LED light strips and wi-fi connected electrical switches).  The thought to look there came upon me when I heard somebody say the old aphorism "what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?"  And it struck me that looking in China for tea was an eminently sensible thing to do and the internet made it possible... and so this thread came to be.

 

As you'll have observed upthread, some teas keep on going and going... a really good oolong or a pu erh can make 2+ liters of tea from a 2-3 gram dose of leaf.  That is usually a property of Chinese made teas, most notably greens and oolongs... Indian made teas are almost all black, and most black teas seem to be good for 1 or maybe 2 steepings most of the time.  So when you go shopping for samples, 6-10 grams of tea is usually enough for you to get a sense of whether the particular tea and the style are to your liking. 

 

If you happen to live someplace with a real live tea shop, I heartily advise you to pay them a visit.  I have very fond memories of going into Philadelphia in the late 1990s to visit the House of Tea and its character of a proprietor, Nathaniel Lit... he was polymath sort of guy... Architect, circus clown, pastry chef, married into some dynastic money...  a guy with lots of great stories to tell, and somebody who'd say "You wanna smell something that will knock your socks off?"... and produce a great tin of some tea I'd never heard of before, the fragrance of which would be irresistible. And I'd end up leaving shocked at the idea that I'd just spent $15 or $20 per ounce for some tea... but they were worth it. 


Edited by cdh (log)
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Thank you for the most detailed response, Chris.

 

Prior to your response I perused amazon.ca (Living in Toronto, Canada) for 'Loose tea' and stumbled upon a few which sounded somewhat interesting to my fairly uneducated tea-mind; any thoughts on:

 

https://www.amazon.ca/Goddess-Mercy-Oolong-Loose-Organic/dp/B01B0CJ0J8/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1484087877&sr=8-7&keywords=loose+tea

 

https://www.amazon.ca/Leaves-HARVEST-Shipped-Ethical-16-ounce/dp/B00VFYPIDO/ref=sr_1_14?ie=UTF8&qid=1484087877&sr=8-14&keywords=loose+tea

 

https://www.amazon.ca/Darjeeling-Himalayas-Certified-Unblended-Plantations/dp/B00VFYPG1S/ref=sr_1_22?ie=UTF8&qid=1484087877&sr=8-22-spons&keywords=loose+tea&psc=1

 

https://www.amazon.ca/Organic-White-Silver-Needle-Loose/dp/B00LOGFLUI/ref=sr_1_39?ie=UTF8&qid=1484088113&sr=8-39&keywords=loose+tea

 

Just to name a few -

 

As you suggested however; I am going to venture out to a tea house (there are many in this city as we have an amazingly diverse population and a huge Asian community) and perhaps sample some first hand - at the same time also get a lesson on how to best brew said teas.

 

Thanks again.

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Hmmm... I'd say that ordering any of those Amazon things would be locking yourself into a long term relationship with that particular tea without getting to know it first.  I can't think of any Canadian tea shops that do sample sizes... the one that came to mind, teatrader.com in Alberta, does not... but it shouldn't be too onerous to order from abroad... or is it?  I have little idea what sorts of tariffs and trade restrictions Canada likes to impose on itself.

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I also recommend something like Upton Tea or similar that allows you to buy dinky sample sizes - it is a much better way to sample teas than being stuck with large amounts of stuff you don't like. A local tea shop that actually has loose tea in bulk (as the good ones usually do) should let you buy similarly small amounts so you can sample at home and then come back for more of the ones you like. (Brewing at home is important, especially for more delicately flavored teas, as features like the water you use also come into play - you don't want to buy a lot of something that tastes good at the tea shop where they have a fussy water filtration system but that tastes not exciting at all at home using your bottle water or pitcher filter or whatever.)

 

I also find an electric kettle is very useful - they are handy imo anyway, but the fancier ones now have temperature settings so it is easier to brew the more sensitive teas that don't like a full boil - you don't have to boil and then wait until it cools and hope you don't get distracted so it gets too cold, that sort of thing.

 

My personal favorite general purpose pot for loose tea is a Chatsford style one (Upton makes their own now, something about quality issues with the proper Chatsford ones) with the large nylon mesh strainer. It allows plenty of room for the tea leaves to open up (which can be an issue with infusers) and doesn't add any funny flavors and is easy to clean. But everyone has personal preferences on that point. :)

 

Don't forget also to keep your pot warm if you make more than one cup's worth at a time - you can get various tea cozies, but a tea towel wrapped around neatly also works, anything to keep the heat in (after you have removed the leaves - only certain tea preparations call for stewing the leaves a long time) so you don't have to worry about the tea going cold while you enjoy the first cup. Tea tends to lose flavors if you reheat it.

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Upton says $13.60 flat rate charge to Canada and no mention of duties, although I'm sure they could tell you how it works in more detail if you contact them - I've found them quite helpful.

 

I also like that (at least last time I ordered) you could add a custom note to the label on your tea. So if I order a couple of samples thinking to try them with a particular meal or preparation, I can have a note of that put right on the label so that when it arrives I know what the heck I ordered it for. :D

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Within Canada there should be limited to no taxes - in terms of 'import duties' -

 

I will check out teatrader.com; thanks.

 

 

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If I recall rightly, teatrader habitually throws random little samples in with orders...  perhaps if you called them up and asked for a sampling assortment, they'd be amenable.  Nothing on the website says that, but I'd not be surprised if they'd happily do it. This is bringing to mind their "assam with vanilla pieces" or something like that, which was my absolute favorite not-all-tea tea for a couple of years back in the 1990s.  I think I was introduced to that by a sample thrown in with an order of something else from them.

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Good to know.

 

Finally hooked up with the owner of Chinese Tea Canada and got a fantastic variety of samples.

 

Currently enjoying some Peony White tea - on it's second brew, very floral and perfumed, with some definite sweetness.

 

Oh this is going to become an expensive hobby! :)

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On 1/10/2017 at 10:25 PM, cdh said:

If I recall rightly, teatrader habitually throws random little samples in with orders...  perhaps if you called them up and asked for a sampling assortment, they'd be amenable.  Nothing on the website says that, but I'd not be surprised if they'd happily do it. This is bringing to mind their "assam with vanilla pieces" or something like that, which was my absolute favorite not-all-tea tea for a couple of years back in the 1990s.  I think I was introduced to that by a sample thrown in with an order of something else from them.

 

Upton Tea Creme Earl Grey (or some such similar name) was my go-to through college. Held up well in a thermos mug with sugar and milk, and had a 'food' sweet taste so it helped get me going in the mornings without being too heavy. (I can't do breakfast when I wake up, but college lectures on an empty stomach are also no fun. Nice big mug of milky sweetened tea got me through until mid-morning when my stomach decided to wake up.)

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Sample 6:  This is a black tea... Smells a bit woodsy (figure that for a description of dried leaves!) with hints of smoke.  Leaves are wiry with some tips in there.  Smells and tastes like a good Keemun... I wonder if it is. 

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Onto some Oolong...

 

Red Heart Oolong (one of 3 Oolong's in my taste test pack) to be exact -

 

A nice mild overall aroma and flavour - somewhat earthy, but subdued, a slight bit of background sweetness but not near as much as the aforementioned white.  I am thinking that a longer brew (5 seconds was suggested for the first) might help with this.  Very enjoyable none the less.

 

 

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Revisiting what is left of sample 4 (the purple packet) today at higher temps and in a more gongfu style.  Brewing 4g of this to about 150ml of water right off the boil reveals this must be the stuff called "milk oolong", because it has a real dairy/dulce de leche kind of overtone on top of the floral aromas now.  This stuff was really wasted brewing at lower temperatures.  It is fantastic brewed like this.

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I would suggest you to try eating some walnuts when drinking milk oolong, I love this pairing.

 

 

 

Teo

 

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