Wednesday, February 15, 2017

White2Tea - Long Jing (February 2017 club)

I am still alive!  Unlike this time last year, I have no real dramatic reason for not posting in a while, just a combination of holidays, vacation/travel, being distracted, mild illness, and sporadic water quality crisis which I might write about later.  (Water has a huge impact on how tea tastes, and if your water tastes funny, any tea made with it might also taste funny.)

I had not planned on writing anything in particular at this time, but the February White2Tea club package was so different that I was eager to try one of the teas right away.  


As someone who loves humid stored puerh and has almost always enjoyed White2Tea's puerh selections, the company's specialty, I would typically be most excited to try the early 2000's traditional stored qingbing; however, I was VERY surprised to see two packets of Long Jing, and this is what I rushed to try first.   At the time of writing this I have yet to even open the qingbing sample (but I'm craving it now).   

This is White2Tea's first time offering a green tea.  I had some initial thoughts when I saw that the box contained Long Jing.  My tastes and preferences align very well with White2Tea's puerh offerings, and when it comes to their non-puerh offerings, I generally enjoy those other teas but can see that some of them, such as the Hot and Heavy yancha or "Hot Brandy" black/white tea, which I found just OK, are not their strongest products.  My initial expectation for the Long Jing was that it's probably not wonderful, but would be "pretty good." 

The club newsletter was a little confusing though.  The exact wording is, "Spring 2016 - This is our favorite version of the classic green tea long jing, which translates as "dragon well", from the Zhejiang province.  We will be selling this version, as well as a higher end bud heavy version in spring of 2017."  The news letter also says, "In 2017 Spring we will be offering a limited pre-order of this green tea, directly after production.  The pre-order will be first come first serve, and pre-order only (it will not be available on the site for purchase..."    I am not exactly sure how to interpret this and can't tell exactly what will be fore sale in the spring and what won't be for sale or what will be pre-order only.   But the part about the alternative "higher end bud heavy version" makes it pretty clear that this version here in the club is probably a later season harvest.  



Upon looking at the dry leaf, it is more obvious that this is not a bud heavy version and is likely from a later harvest of the season.  The dry leaf shows a lot of variation in size, shape, and color.  I also do not see an abundance of tea fuzz on the leaves or any fuzz balls in the package.  The aroma is nice though and has a good nutty smell.  

I decided to brew this in a 100ml gaiwan using about 5g and water in the 175-180F range.  My first infusion was about 15 seconds.  These are the parameters that White2Tea suggested, though there is enough tea in the club box to experiment with other parameters later (about 20g total).  

Like the dry leaf aroma, the wet leaf aroma is also nice.  The nutty characteristic is there as well as some sweetness, and it has a good green tea "salt water aroma."  I'm not sure if this is a common way to describe green tea, but the salt water scent is a pleasant aroma that I find in some Chinese green teas.  Probably a more appropriate term would be "umami."  The aroma is not grassy or bitter.  

The pale yellow liquor is lightly dotted with tea leaf trichomes (tea fuzz) and has a very soft mouthfeel during the first two infusions.  The first two infusions also had a very good creaminess and nuttieness in the flavor.  The "salt water" characteristic in the flavor also reminds me of "marine air" or fresh air at the beach with a hint of seaweed.  This is a good thing and again is probably considered umami. 

I did my third infusion slightly too long though and some bitterness overtook the creaminess and nutty sweetness.  This slightly over brewed infusion became grassy and slightly astringent which also showed up in the aftertaste.  

I was more careful with infusions 4 and 5 and was able to get the tea to return to a more pleasant brew.  These lighter infusions had less nuttiness and creaminess but instead had a crisp citrus taste, and a nice smooth feeling replaced the previous steep's astringency.  The citrus notes came through in the aftertaste for a refreshing finish.  


Examination of the wet leaf confirms that the size and shape of this particular batch is quite varying and quite rough.  It would be very interesting to compare this to the "bud heavy version" which I assume would involve earlier harvest and more careful picking.  Although this current batch is pretty rough, I was happy that the taste was not overly grassy or burnt, especially when brewed with a light hand as it can become grassy and bitter with steep times too long.  

We do not know the price of this tea yet.  I enjoyed the tea, but not enough that I would want to stock up on it unless the price were to be comparable or lower than some other green tea vendors I have tried in the past, such as Teavivre.  However, I am curious about the "bud heavy version" and the "pre-order" version which I assume will be bud heavy as well (maybe they are the same thing?  I'm still confused by the newsletter wording).  For sure though the pre-order version will be about as fresh as you can get, minus the time it will take for shipping.  With green tea, freshness is important and I wonder if this 2016 long jing may have been a bit more vibrant nearly a year ago.  If I do another Life in Teacup Long Jing pre-order this year, it would be nice to compare to the upcoming White2Green pre-order.

So overall this was a strange offering from White2Tea and a welcome experience.  Green tea is not their specialty, but it's nice to offer a little bit of everything, and long jing is a classic tea that I enjoy from time to time.  This long jing won't win any awards, but it's not bad at all.  Based on my first session with it, I would be happy to share this with someone who wants to try long jing for the first time or to have some on hand to sip on in the summer, assuming it will be priced mid range as well.


Link to White2Tea: http://white2tea.com/

Sunday, October 23, 2016

#21 vs #21 - Hong Yun (Taiwan Tea Crafts & Taiwan Sourcing)

Despite all the nice black teas that the White2Tea club sent this year from Fujian and Yunnan China, I still think my favorite black teas are those from the Sun Moon Lake area of Taiwan.  I have been meaning for a while to round up a bunch of samples from Taiwan Sourcing and Taiwan Tea Crafts, and thanks to some recent sales on both sites, I finally have done that.

Taiwan Sourcing and Taiwan Tea Crafts sample haul.

Although both of these vendors offer an interesting selection of Taiwanese black tea, there is definitely some overlap in their offerings.  For example, they both offer Ruby #18, which is one of the most popular Taiwanese black teas, and they each have at least one "wild" variety of Taiwanese black tea.    For this write up I am focusing on the "#21" variety that both vendors offer.

Similar to some Taiwanese black teas I have reviewed in the past, this is another one of the tea varieties developed by the Taiwanese "Tea Research and Extension Station" (TRES), and thus calling the variety "TRES #21" is an acceptable name for it.  Another official name for it is "Hong Yun" or 紅韻.  The best translation I can find of this is "Red Rhyme."  Interestingly though, Taiwan Sourcing is calling this tea "Rhythm 21."  The tea on Taiwan Tea Crafts is simply labeled "Hong Yun T-21."  TRES #21 was developed in 2008 as a cross between Keemun and a Napalese assamica from Kyang.  Many vendors that sell Hong Yun mention that it is a premium/rare/precious tea due to a growing cycle that makes planning the harvest more time sensitive than other varieties, and other challenges exist during processing which is critical to bringing out the best flavor that #21 can offer.

Today I am drinking side-by-side the Spring 2016 "Rhythm 21" from Taiwan Sourcing (TS) (a.k.a. taiwanoolongs.com) and from Taiwan Tea Crafts (TTC) the "Sun Moon Lake Premium Hong Yun T-21," specifically Lot 435 which is a summer (June) 2015 harvest.

Taiwan Tea Crafts #21 (left) and Taiwan Sourcing #21 (right)
Both versions show a similar leaf size and shape, with the TS version being slightly lighter in color.  The dry leaf of both versions smells very sweet, with the TTC reminding me of fruity red wine and the TS like that of grapefruit.

Upon hydration, the leaf aroma profile of the two teas completely flipped.   Now the grapefruit note came through more on the TTC version along with a wonderful aroma of fresh baked blueberry muffins.  The TS version had a darker aroma like that of molasses, blackberry cream soda, purple raisins, and raspberry chocolate chip ice cream.  Needless to say, the aroma of both was very very sweet.

The taste of both of these teas remained consistent with the wet leaf aroma.  Both have a very impressive natural sweetness, and the TTC version has those citrus high notes supported by a blueberry bread base and blackberry jam.  The TS hong yun has plenty of fruit berry flavors, though creamier, and has less high notes; instead a hint of spices comes through such as cinnamon, and the base notes are darker, slightly earthy and toasty.  Someone new to tea would probably have a hard time believing that these flavor notes and sweetness are naturally occurring and that no additional flavors have been added.

These flavor/aroma trends continue into the aftertaste.  The TTC aftertaste has the notable sweet grapefruit citrus note, but it also has a good heavy "black tea" base that gives it some depth and keeps the citrus characteristic from being too prominent.  It's important to note here that the "grapefruit" flavor is very sweet, not a sour grapefruit.   I found the TTC #21 aftertaste so strong and lingering that I had to wait several minutes and drink some water before I felt ready to move on to the next infusion of the TS #21.  With a clean palate, the TS #21 aftertaste again had less high notes and seemed more toasty.  Baked berry confections such as blackberry cobbler and blueberry muffins dominate but kept in balance with a hint of port-wine.

Taiwan Tea Crafts #21 (left) and Taiwan Sourcing #21 (right)

Seeing the brewed leaf and liquor side-by-side shows a few differences.  The TTC leaf is slightly more red than the TS leaf which has a hint of green to it.  The TS product page does mention that the leaf is "85% oxidized."  TTC does not try to quantitate the oxidation level, but simply says that it is "high," as you would expect for a black tea.  The liquor of both teas is crystal clear, with the TTC version being what I call "deep orange" and the TS version "medium orange."  As far as liquor mouthfeel, they are similar, with TTC feeling thick and very soft, and TS feeling creamy and coating.

This is another side-by-side comparison tasting where I am not going to try to declare one of these teas a winner or loser.  The similarities of dessert-like berry sweetness in these teas indicate why I love certain Taiwanese black teas so much, and the differences I found in these teas indicate that even the same cultivar can produce slightly different teas depending on variations in, presumably, processing, harvest date/season, exact farm location, farming methods, etc.

One final difference between these two teas is the price.  Both are sold out at the time of writing this, but I will mention it anyway.  The Taiwan Tea Crafts version comes out to be 52 cents per gram up to 50g (with bulk discounts at 150g and above), and the the Taiwan Sourcing version is 30-36 cents per gram depending on the quantity up to 150g.  If buying 25g, the TTC version would be $13 and the TS version would be $9.  Depending on what flavor notes you prefer or if you have no preference, this price difference could be significant.  Unfortunately though it is hard to know for sure if the same flavor notes will be consistent season to season, and a vendor's description can only tell us so much since much of taste perception is subjective.  Both of these vendors occasionally have sales and coupon codes, but these types of teas sell out fast so if you catch them in stock, it might be a risky bet to wait for a sale to come along if you aren't lucky to catch one.  Hopefully the vendors will have these in stock again in the future.


Link to Taiwan Sourcing:  http://taiwanoolongs.com/
Link to Taiwan Tea Crafts: https://www.taiwanteacrafts.com

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Yangqing Hao - 2006 Chawangshu and 2004 Tejipin sheng puerh

There have been a lot of teas I have been wanting to write about for a while.  My indecision to pick one to write about has resulted in another long absence of any posts at all.  Then today I had one of those teas that struck me as quite amazing and I had to write some notes.  Today I had the 2006 Chawangshu raw puerh from the Taiwanese puerh boutique Yangqing Hao.

Yangqing Hao 2006 Chawangshu - Wrapper picture courtesy of my friend "Blerrp" who has split this massive 500g cake with several people, which is how I got my sample.

Like a lot of people in the west who are just now learning of Yangqing Hao, I first heard about it through TeaDB.  James, and guest contributor Grill, wrote some extensive and fairly scientific comparison notes and a report* that paint a nice profile of most of the Yangqing Hao offerings which span back to 2004.  I am also thankful for the efforts of a man named Emmett who coordinates group buys of Yangqing Hao teas to western customers since this tea is difficult to buy outside of Taiwan or China.   Emmett is not employed by Yangqing Hao nor is selling tea his full time job; he is a puerh enthusiast who recognized the high quality of Yang's teas and the limited availability of such quality teas in the western market and has been coordinating the group buys in an effort to help bring these teas to more people.

I have sampled about five different Yangqing Hao teas now and so far one consistent finding I notice is that the dry leaf aroma is very clean.  Although the area of Taiwan where these teas are stored is considered hot and humid, these teas seem to have a good balance; enough heat and humidity to allow an aged taste to start to develop within 10 years and clean enough to allow some "dry" characteristics to develop such as leather, honey, and apricot aromas.  Those are characteristics I love in semi-aged sheng.

The 2006 Chawangshu is from an area near Gua Feng Zhai.  This area is difficult to find on Google Maps, but if you find the Yunnan province of China and zoom in to the southern most prefecture, Xishuangbanna, and then look at the eastern part to find the Yiwu area of Mengla county, Chawangshu is here very close to the Laos border.

Chawangshu in southern Yunnan province of China, eastern Xishuangbann, Yiwu area.

The dry leaf shows a nice dark brown appearance and loose compression which allows the leaves to be separated with minimal breakage.  Upon hydration, the clean leathery aroma is still present and a layer of honey aroma emerges.

Yangqing Hao 2006 Chawangshu

I tasted the initial rinse of the leaves and found it to be a bit weak, so for my next infusion I added another couple seconds.  Even still the tea was not very strong.  I was beginning to have some doubts about this tea until the following infusion where I again added a couple more seconds and that is when it started to come out beautifully.  After having consumed a lot of younger raw puerh earlier this week I was still in flash-brew mode, but the age on this tea has rounded everything out and flash brewing is not necessary for getting the best extraction.  When brewed properly the liquor pours up a crystal clear vibrant orange color that almost glows in the cup.

Between mouthfeel, taste, aftertaste, and overall experience, this tea performs very well in all aspects and none of those areas are lacking or showing any significant flaws.  The mouthfeel is very thick, almost syrupy.  It's a tea you nearly feel the need to chew when you take a sip.  It has a coating effect and leaves a pleasant layer of taste behind on the mouth and tongue.  A  nice level of astringency creates a good active feeling on the sides of the tongue without being drying.

The clean leathery notes from the aroma come through in the taste accompanied by a slight earthy and talc/chalk taste, in a good way.  An herbal component of the flavor balances well with the sweet apricot fruitiness.  In the very late steeps it starts to get an interesting leafy flavor-- not like steamed spinach or fallen autumn leaves, but fresh tree leaves.

This leaf taste is interesting because of the tea age and level of fermentation and oxidation of these leaves.  The age taste dominated throughout the entire session until the end when I pushed the steeps hard which is when the fresher leaf taste appeared.  This perhaps is why I like sheng around the 10 year age so much because there's still a hint of youthful leaf that adds a bit of complexity.  Another interesting observation about the Chawangshu leaf is that the leaves and stems are very hearty and thick.  I believe this is possibly an indication of old arbor slower growing trees.

Yangqing Hao 2006 Chawangshu

The leather flavors continue in the aftertaste and the tea provides a wonderful delayed hui gan.  In the middle infusions the aftertaste becomes a bit menthol-like and has an nice cooling effect in the throat.  This contrasts to a slightly warming feeling that I get deeper down.  This is a great tea to enjoy slowly and calmly as it provides a relaxing experience.  There are no sudden dropoffs with this tea and it continues to provide a very generous amount of steeps all day long.  I easily ran my 1.7L kettle dry with this 5g session using an 85ml gaiwan.

Yangqing Hao 2006 Chawangshu



To try to get a little more perspective on this tea I had a meal and then later in the day I decided to brew the 2004 Yangqing Hao Tejipin raw puerh.  The material for the Tejipin is also from the Yiwu area, though it is unclear exactly where, which is not a bad thing.  It's common to see a lot of teas that claim to be from one specific village or even one specific group of trees, but often a really great tea will be made from a blend of various places near an area or even among several different areas, and characteristics from each area can add various qualities to the overall brew.

Yangqing Hao 2004 Tejipin

The 2004 Tejipin dry leaf aroma is similar to the 2006 Changawangshu, but it is slightly more earthy.  Could this be due to an extra two years of age or is it a characteristic of the leaf?  The wet leaf aroma again is similar to Chawangshu, but the Tejipin leaf aroma has a bit more tartness to it.

The additional tartness follows into the taste as well.  Tejipin has some leather characteristics in the taste, but is a bit more earthy and slightly acidic.  Wood flavors are present, but not of the cedar variety that I prefer.  Despite the tartness, it does have a certain creamy characteristic to it too which keeps it balanced.

When comparing the mouthfeel of Tejipin to Chawangshu, the differences are quite apparent, but difficult to say if I prefer one over the other.  The Tejipin is creamier, and the Chawangshu is thicker.  The Chawangshu coats the entire mouth, but the Tejipin seems to coat more on the top of the tongue.  While the Chawangshu had noticeable activity on the sides of the tongue, it lacked much activity in the back of the throat; the Tejipin has a very active feel on the back of the tongue and in the throat but nowhere else.  It seems that the mouthfeel of these two teas are like two similar adjacent puzzle pieces that fit well together without much overlap, but each piece alone is large enough to show its own satisfying picture.

The energy found from drinking Tejipin is very deep reaching into the body, deeper so than the Chawangshu and has less of an upper cooling effect to balance the deeper warming nature of the tea.

Yangqing Hao 2004 Tejipin

One possibly significant difference I see between the Tejipin and the Chawangshu is the leaf characteristics.  The Tejipin seems to be comprised of smaller leaves and an abundance of small buds, which seemed to be less numerous in the Chawangshu.  Of course it's possible that these 5g sessions that I had today of each tea may not be representative of the entire composition of the cake, but a higher ratio of the Tejipin leaf just seems a to be taken from a bit younger parts of the tea plant, though I cannot conclude anything about the overall age of those tea trees.

After these very enjoyable sessions with these two Yangqing Hao teas today I wanted to get some notes and thoughts down and share them.  Though I do admit that with teas this good I would really do them more justice if I had several more sessions with them beyond this.  This write-up today is more of a first impressions summary.  Although both of these are wonderful, if I were shopping for a full cake and only buying one, I would buy the 2006 Chawangshu.  But so far I have found a few other Yangqing Hao offerings also very good, and I'm curious and hopeful to eventually try a few more.


*Part 2 of TeaDB's Yangqing Hao tasting report: https://teadb.org/the-cult-of-yang/

Link to Emmett's group guy page which lists several of Yangqing Hao's teas: http://www.yangqinghao.com/

Monday, July 25, 2016

Xinyang Maojian Green Tea from Chayotea.com

Today I have a green tea that Robert James Coons of Chayo Tea/Daoist Meditation picked up during his most recent trip to Asia.  This is Xinyang Maojian green tea from Henan province of China.  Although this tea often appears on lists of “famous Chinese teas,” this is actually the first time I have heard of it, so it is unique to me. Chayo sold this tea as part of a special "Teas of Summer" sale (which is still available at the time of writing this).

Chayo Tea - Spring 2016 Xinyang Maojian green tea
The dry leaf is very thin wispy strands of small leaves and the dry leaf aroma is very intense and unlike any other green tea I have encountered.  It almost reminds me of the freshly processed Fujian black tea from the White2Tea club a couple months ago, as I’m noticing a hint of smoke, like BBQ smoke almost, and it’s quite good.  Robert said that this tea is pretty strong and that a little bit goes a long way, so I have measured out 3g to use in a 120ml gaiwan.  Water temperature is 175F, and first infusion is around 30-40s.

Chayo Tea - Spring 2016 Xinyang Maojian green tea
The wet leaf aroma is just as amazing as the dry leaf aroma and makes it obvious how fresh this tea is.  The smoky note is still present, but the green tea umami characteristics also come out.

The flavor is a bit more complex than the aroma.  Intense green tea floral notes balance out the smokiness on top of a base of sweet creamy cashew nuts.  Perhaps the most impressive feature of this tea though is the wonderful intense floral aftertaste and how long it seems to linger after each sip.  

Chayo Tea - Spring 2016 Xinyang Maojian green tea
I don’t often pick up on some of the body-response properties of teas, but Robert mentioned that this is a good tea to drink in the summer, and I definitely did notice a cooling effect of this tea.

In addition to 25g of the Xinyang Maojian green tea, the "Teas of Summer" package also included three Da Song Chrysanthemum flowers. These Chrysanthemums were grown in Kaifeng, also in Henan, China which is an area with a long history of growing Chrysanthemum flowers, especially during the Song dynasty. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaifeng#Chrysanthemums)


Da Song Chrysanthemum from Kaifeng, Henan, China.
These flowers are quite nice looking and preserved whole and carefully packaged in individual plastic trays to protect them during transport. I brewed the Chrysanthemum in a glass teapot so I could hold it up to the light and look through the bottom of the glass to see the beautiful flower suspended in the water.


Da Song Chrysanthemum from Kaifeng, Henan, China.
The Da Song Chrysanthemum liquor is a pale yellow, similar to the Xinyang Maojin green tea liquor. The flavor is much more gentle than some other Chrysanthemums I have had before-- the taste of some types of Chrysanthemums sometimes reminds me of plastic, but thankfully this one did not have that characteristic. It has a slight peppery/spicy note to it, but balanced with a really nice floral sweetness.


Da Song Chrysanthemum from Kaifeng, Henan, China.

I am very pleased with this "Teas of Summer" set that Robert brought back from Henan, China. At $12, which includes shipping, the quality to price ratio is pretty high and makes this one of my favorite spring tea purchases of this year.

Link to Chayo Tea/Daoist Meditation: http://daoistmeditation.com/shop/
Link to "Teas of Summer" - http://daoistmeditation.com/product/teas-of-summer-sale-mao-jian-and-great-song-dynasty-chrystanthemum/

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Spring Long Jing (Dragon Well) Green Tea

Today I am drinking Long Jing (Dragonwell) green tea from two different vendors. I have Teavivre’s “Organic Superfine” Long Jing and Life in Teacup’s “Da Fo” Long Jing.  I’ll go ahead and say from the start that these two Long Jings are not in the same price tier which should be considered if comparing them.   The Teavivre Oraganic Superfine version is $13.90/50g and the Life in Teacup Da Fo is $22/50g.    Teavivre does offer several other versions at various price points, including one called “Organic Nonpareil Ming Qian” which is $21.90/50g which might be a better comparison since it was harvested in late March like the Da Fo.  Teavivre’s highest priced Long Jing is their “Organic Nonpareil She Qian” which is $34/50g.   Likewise, Life in Teacup has a premium version called “Shi Feng” priced at $56/50g.

Here are these two teas at a glance:

TeavivreLife in Teacup
NameOrganic SuperfineDa Fo
LocationZhejiang Province, Hangzhou prefecture, Lin'an County (Tianmu Mountain)Zhejiang Province, Shaoxing prefecture, Xinchang County
Leaf CultivarJiu KengLong Jing #43
Harvest DateApril 10, 2016March 17, 2016
Price per 50g$13.90$22




A look at the dry leaf shows that the Life in Teacup Da Fo Long Jing leaves have a more uniform and smaller appearance than the Organic Superfine Long Jing.  The Organic Superfine leaf is a darker green.  Both teas have a good amount of "fuzz" which is common with younger buds and early harvests.  The aroma of the leaves is slightly different.  Organic Superfine is nuttier than the Da Fo leaves which have a lighter and slightly floral aroma.

Teavivre 2016 Organic Superfine Long Jing (left) and Life in Teacup 2016 Da Fo Long Jing (right)
An abundance of green tea fuzz balls in the Teavivre 2016 Organic Superfine Long Jing package.  Post edit: More about these can be found here: Tea Trekker: What Is Tea Leaf Fuzz?
After hydrating the leaves with the first infusion, the wet leaf aroma is quite different between the two.  The Organic Superfine from Teavivre has a umami seawater aroma, and the Life in Teacup Da Fo has a distinct asparagus with black pepper aroma.  The liquor of the Da Fo is slightly lighter in color, but both are very pale yellow.

Teavivre 2016 Organic Superfine Long Jing (top) and Life in Teacup 2016 Da Fo Long Jing (bottom)
The flavor of these two Long Jing teas is pretty different.  The Teavivre Superfine Organic starts out nutty with a good dose of umami and a nice perfumy aftertaste.  It is a very strong flavor despite such a light looking liquor.  By the third infusion I noticed some grassy notes as well.

The Life in Teacup Da Fo flavor was much lighter, slightly buttery, and had a hint of a green bean taste.  Throughout the infusions I noticed a very interesting peppery flavor.  Umami is present, but balanced with some floral notes and a good sweetness at first which gives way to stronger umami in the later (fourth) infusion.

Back-to-back, the Da Fo is a much lighter delicate flavor than then Organic Superfine and seems more balanced.    The Organic Superfine seemed easy to get bitter when pushed, but the Da Fo never got bitter, only trading sweetness for more umami flavor.  Where the Organic Superfine had a nice nutty flavor note, the Da Fo had an unusual black pepper flavor note which was actually more pleasant than it might sound.

The hydrated leaves again show more variance in the Organic Superfine leaf shape/size where as the Da Fo has smaller leaves that are more uniform.  A lot of this difference is due to both the cultivar difference and also the earlier harvest time of the Da Fo.  These difference are also likely responsible for differences in the flavor.

Teavivre 2016 Organic Superfine Long Jing

Life in Teacup 2016 Da Fo Long Jing
Both of these teas work well brewed straight in a glass "grandpa" style.  Due to the strength of the Organic Superfine, it's better to error on the side of less leaf than too much or expect the first few sips to possibly be bitter.  The later additions of water will show a nicer balance and the strength of these leaves help it last a long time when brewed this way.  Interestingly this method did not give me the umami flavors as much, but the nutty flavors were still there.  I actually bought the Teavivre Organic Superfine Long Jing for the purpose of drinking this way.

Teavivre 2016 Organic Superfine Long Jing
It is not my goal to say that one of these is better than the other.  I find that each one has strengths and weakness, and I would be in the mood for each one at different times.  The Da Fo is a much more delicate brew that can be appreciated more in a more focused session, and the Organic Superfine was capable of producing a nice bold full flavored green tea experience.


Link to Teavivre Organic Superfine Long Jing: http://www.teavivre.com/organic-long-jing-green-tea/
Link to Life in Teacup: http://www.lifeinteacup.com/

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Boston Teawrights - Tea Processing in the Comfort of Your Own Home!

Boston Teawrights is a company that distributes freshly harvested raw Camellia sinensis tea leaves for do-it-yourself at-home processing.  They refer to someone who crafts their own tea as a “teawright” like someone who crafts a play would be a “playwright.” 

This write-up is from a fall harvest that I received in November 2015 and processed at that time.  I am just now finishing this write-up about it because I wanted to let my processed tea rest for a few months to make sure the taste was stable.

My tea shipment came in an unusual foil padded envelope, and inside was a large typical looking Taiwanese tea package.  Boston Teawrights do not go into detail about how they keep the tea from drastically deteriorating during shipping, but if I had to guess I would think that the bag has probably been flushed with something like nitrogen to limit oxidation of the leaves, and they suggest that you can refrigerate the unopened bag for a week or two if you cannot get to the processing right away.  When you place an order, you are in a way making a pre-order, and the leaves will only ship when the farm is ready to do a harvest.



Upon opening the bag, the leaves inside did have some signs of slight withering and bruising, what Boston Teawrights refers to as “storage wither,” but the edges were still mostly crisp and the leaf veins were green.  They had a slightly leathery texture and some were shiny while some were more of a matte surface.  When I first opened the bag, the leaves had a strange plastic-like and spinach aroma, but after a few minutes they began to smell more like fresh cut grass.

Pretty neat to have leaves that were still on the bushes halfway around the world just a week prior.

Deciding how to process the leaves can be a difficult choice.  Boston Teawrights gives a few steps on their website for processing as green tea or black tea, and searching around Google did provide some more information, but I had a hard time finding any fully detailed step-by-step instructions, so some improvisation may be necessary if you want to stray from the Boston Teawrights guides.  Since this was my first time trying this out, I probably should have stuck to the guides on the website, but I ended up trying a few other steps along the way, which may have been a bad idea.



I first let the leaves wilt.  This is a common step for processing black tea, oolong, or white tea. (see the chart on this Wiki page about tea processing.)  It’s hard for someone without experience to know how long the wilting process should take.  Factors such as ambient temperature and humidity will have an effect on this process, though I am not sure to what extent.  I decided that I wanted to try to make an oolong.  I watched some videos online** of tea producers in China, and I noticed that they would often shake and toss the leaves while they were wilting, so I did this as well.  Active enzymes within the leaves will cause the leaves to oxidize during this time, and the shaking and tossing of the leaves will slightly bruise the leaves which will promote faster oxidization.  The leaf edges and veins start to take on a red color.

Before and After wilting and some oxidization.  This took place over night.  The aroma became very pleasant during this time.

After this point is where I likely messed up my batch of leaves.  Boston Teawrights suggests rolling the leaves after wilting, allowing more oxidization as needed, and then they describe a process of heating the leaves in an oven at 225F for 5-10 minutes which will halt all enzymatic activity and stop oxidization, increase fragrance, etc.  This heating step is often referred to as the “kill green” step.  When making green tea, you would do a kill green step before any oxidation has occurred which will keep the leaves green after drying them.   Instead of doing this kill green step in the oven though, I tried to replicate what I saw the Chinese tea makers do in the videos I watched. They did this step in a hot wok.  I tried heating the leaves in a wok on the stove, but unfortunately I believe I got the leaves too hot and nearly burnt them.

Note the small batch to the left.  I did not heat those in a wok like the main batch.  Main batch has been twisted/rolled and ready to dry.
 The final step is to dry the leaves in a barely warm oven -- 140F.  They suggest that this may take 40-60 minutes or more depending on how much water content the leaves have.  I believe I may have over-done this step too because my leaves ended up very light weight and brittle.

In the end, I’m not exactly sure what kind of tea I ended up creating.  The leaves looks pretty, but don’t look like typical oolongs or black teas.  If anything, the color is similar to some white teas.  The dry aroma reminded me of sweet orange rind, peach, autumn leaves, but also had a burnt smell.  Oops.



I brewed my leaves in a gaiwan using my typical 5g/95ml ratio.  I experimented with water temperatures, and they handled boiling water fine without getting bitter.  The brewed tea has an initial spicy (slightly peppery) flavor note and then a very nice honey-like sweet finish.  The main flavor notes are that of autumn leaves and peaches, but also that unfortunate burnt leaf flavor which has too much weight in the flavor for me to be able to drink this tea with enjoyment.  In general it is similar to a white tea, but slightly charred.  Another bad thing about my tea is that the overall flavor is very light-- there is no intensity at all even with boiling water and longer brew times.  The aftertatse is also very weak.  I tend to regard good strong aftertaste as being a sign of a good tea, so this is not impressive at all.  I believe I simply had too much heat when processing these leaves. 

White tea?  Black tea?  Oolong?  Hard to tell.

Interestingly I did have a very small second batch of leaves-- these were the leaves that fell off my tray during the wilting process and I did not do any additional wok frying or rolling of these leaves.  I just scooped them up and placed them in the warm oven to dry.  This second batch was only about 3g of leaf and I decided to brew it all in a gaiwain in one session.  This small batch, though similar in flavor profile to the first batch, tastes much cleaner since it did not get burned, and the aftertaste is a bit stronger.  It reminds me of a white tea even more than the first batch.

Small side-batch that didn't get burnt.  Ended up similar to a white tea.

Overall this was a really fun experience and I’m glad I had the chance to do this even if my tea did not turn out wonderful.  I have talked with several people who have also processed their own tea from Boston Teawrights, two people who had the same batch as me last November, and they managed to get much better results making green tea, white tea, black tea, and even oolong.  I will definitely consider trying this again some time, and I'll be sure to get some tips from my friends next time!


Link to Boston Teawrights: http://bostonteawrights.com/

** One fun channel on YouTube to see tea processing is that of Tea Drunk from NYC.  Also, you can find some nice videos of yancha processing made by Essence of Tea

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Yunnan Sourcing - 2014 Wu Dong Shan Dan Cong - (Tea From Friends)

One type of oolong that I have very little experience with are the Dan Cong oolongs, aka Phoenix oolongs from China's Guangdong province.  I have been saying for a while that I would like to try more Dan Cong, and my good tea friends sent me this 2014 Wu Dong Shan dan cong, which is sold by Yunnan Sourcing.

Yunnan Sourcing 2014 Wu Dong Shan Dan Cong Oolong

The more I shop around for Dan Cong oolongs, the more I notice that they can have a range of oxidization and roast levels.  Although I don't have much to compare it to, this one has some fairly dark leaves, but still a bit of green showing, so I'm assuming that it falls in the middle of the spectrum.  It looks similar to Wuyi yancha, but the aroma is a bit more floral and has some grape notes.

Yunnan Sourcing 2014 Wu Dong Shan Dan Cong Oolong and Noir Dragon cup

The weather was perfect today so I decided to have this session outside.  I had about 7g of this tea in my gift box and decided to put all of it in my 120ml gaiwan.  I'm also using my new Noir Dragon cup I bought last month after falling in love with this new textured glaze technique they have been using.

I have heard that Dan Cong oolong can be a tricky tea to brew correctly.  Apparently it can take on a very bitter taste if not brewed carefully.  I have experienced this with one other Dan Cong before and the bitterness was almost a very offensive metallic taste that lingers in the mouth long enough to ruin the entire session.  I can see why someone might get frustrated with Dan Cong oolong if they are consistently getting that flavor out of it.  After doing a little bit of research and asking around, I found a few different techniques and tips.  I ended up going with water near boiling, which seems a bit counter-intuitive when trying to avoid bitterness, but I kept the duration of the first several infusions to flash-brew speed--water in and tea out without any stopping or waiting.  I also discarded the first two infusions (i.e. I did two rinses) as suggested by a friend on Reddit.  Someone also suggested pouring the water into the gaiwan off to the side of the gaiwan and letting it rise up around the leaves rather than pouring directly on top of the leaves.  I'm not sure if that makes a difference or not, but I decided to follow that tip as well.

Yunnan Sourcing 2014 Wu Dong Shan Dan Cong Oolong in Noir Dragon cup.

The brewing technique research paid off-- the tea came out perfect!  It has a crystal clear golden orange liquor with nice thickness and fruity/floral aroma.  The wet leaf actually smells a lot like a young sheng puerh, but a bit sweeter.  The wet leaf also shows that this tea is actually much lighter oxidized than you might expect from the dry leaf, but the golden orange liquor shows that it's definitely not a "green" style oolong which might produce a more yellow liquor.  I have heard that some of the higher oxidized/roasted Dan Congs can produce a color that is almost purple, though I have not experienced that yet.

Although Yunnan Sourcing sells this Dan Cong under the name "Wu Dong Shan Dan Cong," it may also be considered a "Mi Lan Xiang" Dan Cong, which means "Honey and Orchid Fragrance."  That description is very accurate for the flavor of this tea.  The overall flavor profile is very floral and it has a honey sweetness.  Interestingly though, I also find that it has a slight sweet smokiness similar to some young sheng, and it also has a very refreshing fruity flavor.  Drinking this tea outside on a beautiful spring day was an excellent idea.

I hesitated to mention this, but something about the natural sweetness of this tea and the fruity/floral characteristics combine to create a really interesting flavor that reminds me a lot of grape flavored Kool-Aid.  That may be a stretch of the imagination for some, but grape Kool-Aid instantly entered my mind when I tasted this tea.  That confirms even further that drinking this tea outside on a nice spring day is a great way to enjoy this tea, and I am very glad I had this experience.  I would like to continue to get to know this type of oolong, and I would not be surprised if Dan Cong oolongs end up being one of my favorite types of oolong at some point in the future, but they might have a hard time surpassing the warm dark fruit characteristics that I love in a good Wuyi yancha.  Perhaps I will drink Yancha in the fall and winter, and Dan Cong in the spring and summer.


Link to Wu Dong Shan Dan Cong on Yunnan Sourcing: http://yunnansourcing.com/en/dan-cong-oolongs/2930-2014-spring-wu-dong-shan-dan-cong-premium-oolong-tea-.html