Outing: West China Tea House in Austin, TX

Sohan pouring tea

In my post on tea and travel, I mentioned that I didn’t need to pack any gongfucha essentials because if I needed my gongfucha “fix,” I could visit West China Tea House in Austin, run by the tea community great Sohan of the Tea House Ghost YouTube channel. Well, I didn’t just visit once, but twice! It’s a gorgeous space in an unassuming building off of I-35 and I had a blast.

The first visit was on a Wednesday evening, around 6pm, with a friend. We sat at the communal table, where you can have tea served by one of their tea-arts-trained staff for $5 a pot. We had Ben make us tea and he shared some of his favorites with us: the Sticky Rice Sheng Puer, the Haunted Plum 1992 Oolong, and the Ultra Violet Red Tea. The sense of community is palpable and my friend and I were able to both catch up with each other, as well as make new friends at the table. We met Sohan’s wife Lindsay and their baby, Lark, and just generally had a blast. Plus, I got to taste three new-to-me teas that I immediately turned around and ordered for my own collection so I could recreate my tea house session at home, at least in theory.

Golden Turtle oolong to start the session

The communal tea table itself bears mentioning. It is a beautiful piece in dark wood, designed by a well-known tea practitioner in California and perfect for communal gongfucha. Despite practicing gongfucha for over five years, I feel like sitting at this table truly helped me understand the essential community aspect of tea. The semi-circular ledge of the table makes it easy for the host to reach all the guests from the central seat, creating a seamless tea experience that allowed the tea to be a centerpiece or an accompaniment to conversation as the session went on.

Of course, I did not get to meet Sohan that evening, as he was teaching a class the whole time. So I had to return. I went back on a Saturday afternoon, when the tea house was quiet and Sohan had just finished an Instagram Live. We immediately sat down and were able to converse like old friends, over copious rounds of teas, from oolongs to heicha. Every session was a revelation of the style of tea, and of course included stories from Sohan about sourcing each tea. I had mentioned that I had never had a truly memorable Dancong and of course was treated to an excellent one. I felt so special, treated to teas picked just for me from Sohan’s collection.

A fascinating hei cha

And of course, we talked. We talked about tea and tea houses. We talked about history and tea culture. We talked about our children and about life in general. We talked like it was college and we were staying up drinking until the wee hours of the morning. We spent three hours drinking tea and talking and I only left to make it back to my room before an event I had that evening. I could have easily spent all day at the shop drinking tea and talking with Sohan, Bernabe, and Montsho.

I will definitely be returning to West China Tea House the next time I visit Austin, but until then, I’ll be replenishing my own collection with teas from their site to help capture that thought and care Sohan puts into choosing his teas in my own personal practice.

NB: Nothing to disclose. For information about collaborating with me, see my contact and collaboration information.

Tea Together Tuesday: How Do You Brew?

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your favorite method of brewing tea. Well, I can never waste an opportunity to wax rhapsodic about grandpa- or farmer-style brewing — also known as probably the most common way to brew tea in China. I’ve definitely talked about grandpa-style brewing in the past, both here and on my YouTube channel, but it is worth repeating.

Why is grandpa style my favorite way to brew tea? Quite simply because it’s, well, quite simple. It is the least effort to put into a cup of tea and often gives you the broadest look at the flavor profile of a tea. I’ve found notes in teas that surprised me when I brew them grandpa style.

But wait, what is grandpa-style brewing? Well, you take the tea leaves and put them in a large-ish vessel. And then you add water. And then… you drink. Yes, you will probably drink some leaves. It’s okay, they won’t hurt you. And you don’t worry about timing or even really water temperature or leaf ratio. It’s generally better to use fewer leaves because then they’re more likely to get saturated and sink as you go. But, really, if your tea becomes too unpleasantly strong, you just add more water. There are some people who think this can only be done with certain teas, but I have done it successfully with all kinds of teas.

Some of my favorite teas for grandpa-style brewing are unroasted oolongs, like this Baozhong oolong from The Steeped Leaf. I find that brewing them this way allows the full expression of creamy and fruity notes to come out, plus the leaves are bigger and less likely to get slurped up once they’ve fully unfurled. In fact, this is the method of loose-leaf tea drinking that I tend to recommend to people who are trying high-quality loose leaf teas because you probably have everything but the tea at home already.

Personally, I usually use a big mug to drink grandpa-style, but I like the aesthetics of using this vintage pressed-glass glass so you can see the leaves. And most of us have a drinking glass at home. I’ve done this with regular Ikea drinking glasses, or a novelty pint glass from a local radio station. I also use my insulated flask to bring a grandpa-style brew with me on my commute. All you need is a vessel big enough to let the leaves unfurl and still take up less than half of the volume (so you still have some liquid to drink after the leaves have absorbed it).

In professional tea tasting, grandpa-style is very similar to bowl brewing, where the leaves and water are placed in a tea bowl and sipped, often with a tasting spoon. Shiuwen of Floating Leaves Tea has said that she likes bowl-style tasting because she can get a sense of how the tea changes as it sits. I like it because I can easily make a cup of tea and just need to reheat the kettle if I need more tea and my glass has gone cold. This was actually the only way I drank tea the first few weeks after I had Elliot because we didn’t have a lot of extra time or energy for more complicated brewing.

As I mentioned before, it is also one of the more common ways to drink tea in China, either in a glass like I’ve shown, or in an insulated flask like I mentioned before. In fact, my Chinese and Korean colleagues used to tease me for actually worrying about straining out the leaves from my tea. They would chuck some tea in a mug, fill it with hot water, and put a lid on it to keep warm. Bob’s your uncle.

So while I might have an ever-increasing collection of fancy tea ware, my favorite brewing method will likely remain the humble grandpa-style cup.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

Tea Together Tuesday: Playing with Blends

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your dream tea blend with five ingredients or less. This is a topics that I’ve actually thought about for a while, so I decided to try to create my dream blend, rather than just dreaming. Blended and flavored teas can be a controversial topics among tea lovers, with some believing that tea should only be drunk pure and unflavored, but in reality, flavoring tea is something we’ve been doing for as long as we’ve been consuming tea!

So this blend has its origins in a day at work when I couldn’t decide if I wanted to have oolong or black tea. So I mixed them! I mixed an unroasted Tieguanyin with a lovely Dian Hong and found that the creamy notes of the TGY blended with the chocolate-y notes in the DH and made a lovely blend. Since then, I’ve been playing around with mixing black and oolong teas to see what combinations work well together.

Then, a little later on, Jann from Tea with Jann posted about trying a rose oolong that sounded amazing and my local tea and herb shop posted about a new raspberry rose oolong they had just gotten in. I love the combination of rose and raspberry because the heady, sweet floral nature of the rose blends beautifully with the zingy sweetness of raspberry. But I never got out to buy any AND I never managed to remember to buy the ingredients when I was at the store.

Fast forward to last month when I had grand plans of trying to make homemade macarons, only to be thwarted by my spouse’s inability to find cream of tartar at the store. So he came home with all the other ingredients, including the freeze dried raspberries that I had hoped to use for color and flavor. Well, that, along with the gorgeously fragrant rose buds in my herb cupboard meant I now had everything I needed.

But raspberry and rose are very decadent, confectionary flavors in my mind, so why not add some black tea to the oolong to bring in that chocolate note? Chocolate and raspberries are a natural combination in my mind and I know that the chocolate-y black tea and creamy, floral oolong go together.

So here we have raspberry rose blend with Baozhong oolong from The Steeped Leaf and Keemun from Storm King Teas. The first pass, I just used the tea, rose buds, and some freeze dried raspberries, but upon trying it, I decided it needed a touch of sweetness and added a half teaspoon of brown sugar. And it was amazing. The juicy tartness of the raspberries brought out the fruity tannins of the black tea while the creamy floral of the oolong both melded with the roses and smoothed out and enhanced the chocolate notes of the Keemun. It’s both very floral and would be lovely in spring, but the black tea adds a body to it that remains quite warming and cozy, perhaps for one of those chilly early spring days. And the brown sugar adds a depth of sweetness that I think fits the whole flavor profile better than white sugar or honey.

I think if I wanted to tweak this, I might try looking for dried, sweetened raspberries to see how the flavor differed, or perhaps try a bolder Qimen, like the one I got from The Sweetest Dew (which is no longer available). Blending teas and other flavors is a lot of fun! And it’s a lot like the food pairing thing, where as long as you have a vague idea of how flavors balance, you should be able to come up with something tasty. And if you don’t, try again!

So I look forward to hearing about all your blends!

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

Tea Together Tuesday: Shop Small!

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your favorite tea from a small business. Now, most of my tea comes from small businesses, but lately, I’ve been exploring Black-owned businesses on top of simply small business, and if you asked me what my favorite tea is right now, I’d say the Baozhong oolong from The Steeped Leaf Shop.

Not “favorite from a small business” or “favorite from a Black-owned business.” Favorite. Period. This tea is creamy, slightly sweet in that way that very fresh local cream is sweet, and has a gorgeous floral bouquet (it’s pronounced “boo-kay”). I’ve even started seasoning my newest Yixing pot with it even though it isn’t the right kind of tea for the clay and shape, AND I already have two clay pots that have been seasoned with oolong. But the pot loves this oolong as much as I do. I am certainly going to have to buy some more soon because it turns out an ounce doesn’t go very far, now does it?

I’ve tasted this both in porcelain and glazed clay, and in my unglazed Yixing pot. It steeps beautifully gongfu style, but I’ve also made a western-style cup and it retains its beautiful character. It doesn’t have a bite to it like some green oolongs can get when steeped too long, but it opens up into a gorgeous cup of flavor at the first short steeping. I can toss some of this into my gaiwan or pot in the morning and drink it all day as I make my way through a day that is often too hectic for a single, focused long gongfu session. And even Elliot likes it — he stole a sip the other day when it had cooled off and promptly declared it “Nummy.”

If The Steeped Leaf Shop sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote a similarly effusive post on Instagram last week for Matcha Monday about their ceremonial matcha. Wow. I’m all the more excited to try the sencha that Tammy tucked into my shipment as a free sample because so far she’s two for two with curating excellent teas.

I’ve written in the past about my frustration and suspicion of formal tea certifications, but when Tammy says she’s a certified tea specialist, I absolutely believe her, having tasted her teas. And she’s incredibly communicative and friendly, both on social media and via email. So even if your order falls victim to COVID-related shipping issues, you will know what’s going on and have utter faith in the process.

I know this sounds sponsored, but I promise it’s not. I just really like this tea. If you’re in the market for tea, I highly recommend checking her shop out. Shop small, shop Black-owned when you can, and always drink excellent tea!

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Tea Together Tuesday: My “Daily Drinker”

 

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Today starts “Tea Together Tuesday”, hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish! Each Tuesday in May, we’re writing, filming, or otherwise posting about a prompt to share our tea time with our tea community. It’s particularly important in the age of social distancing — and a reminder that we can be physically distanced without being socially isolated!

This week’s prompt is “If you could have only one tea or tisane for the rest of your life, what would it be?” Now this is an interesting prompt because, while I get into phases, where I drink a lot of the same type of tea, I don’t really have one tea, or even type of tea, that I drink every single day. But I mentioned in my video this weekend that I do have one tea that is about as close to a “daily drinker” as I get: the Bagua Shan Honey Scent oolong from Wang Family Tea. I’ve shared my tasting notes about this tea in the past, and I’ve even seasoned my Yixing pot with it.

So what is it about this tea that makes it my closest candidate for a daily drinker? Well, first of all, it’s oolong. Oolong is definitely my favorite style of tea. And while I’ve waxed rhapsodic in the past about how Da Hong Pao is my favorite tea, it does not fit as many of my moods as this tea. It’s not heavily roasted, so it doesn’t have that autumn-and-winter, sit-by-the-fire coziness that sometimes feels out of place in the warmer months. It’s oxidized, so it doesn’t have that bright, light greenness that feels too cooling in the colder months. It has a beautiful rich texture and honey flavor to it that is delightful on its own, but doesn’t clash with many flavors that I could pair with it.

I think the one thing I would want to experiment with is whether or not it cold brews well (although, I’ve cold-brewed similar teas with great success) and to see how it pairs with alcohol (the honey aroma suggests that bourbon would be its perfect match). But ultimately, what I do with my tea is steep it in hot water and drink it. And this tea excels at being put in hot water and drunk. I’ve brewed it carefully and carelessly, and it takes fully boiling water, so there’s no need for a fancy kettle.

But perhaps the best argument for choosing this as my forever tea is that, after finishing a sample of it from Wang Family Tea, I turned around and immediately bought 75 more grams of it. For someone with a perpetually bursting tea cabinet and a tendency to never buy more than the smallest amount offered of any tea so I can have variety, that is high praise. If I ever pare down my tea cabinet to just my essentials, this will certainly be on the shelf, perhaps in its own fancy canister.

NB: The original sample of this tea was sent as a free sample with a purchase, but I have since repurchased even more. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Tuesday Tasting: Chi Lai Shan Spring Pick Oolong from Mountain Stream Teas

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I am continuing my look at high mountain Taiwanese oolongs today with the Chi Lai Shan spring pick oolong from Mountain Stream Teas (this is a conventional oolong that doesn’t seem to be available on their site anymore, but is from the same mountain as their Missed Opportunity). This one is a bit of an odd person out, as it is the only tea in my order that was not harvested in the winter season, but I wanted to try a different mountain, and this seemed to be the only tea from this mountain I could find at Mountain Stream.

I used 5g in my 120-ml gaiwan with 212F water, as with the others. I warmed the gaiwan and then smelled the warm, dry leaf, detecting aromas of green vegetables and warm spice cookies. I did not rinse the tea.

The first steeping was for thirty seconds. The liquor was very pale in color and had a light creamy floral aroma. The wet leaves had an aroma of a muddled variety of green vegetables and a sweet, creamy floral. The texture was surprisingly milky with a light green floral flavor. It is interesting because in tasting teas from these three mountains, I’ve realized that there is a stark difference in texture among milky, creamy, and buttery. It’s been fascinating to try teas that seem to exemplify each.

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The second steeping was for forty-five seconds. The dominant aroma on the leaves was nettles and the dominant flavor was nettles. This steeping tasting strongly like nettle infusion, which I dislike, so I was a bit disappointed, personally. The third steeping, for sixty seconds, also had a nettle aroma on the wet leaf, but I also smelled something lightly coconutty, almost like sunscreen. The flavor was spinach or nettles and milk, so perhaps like a light spring green soup with milk.

The fourth infusion was for seventy-five seconds. The wet leaf brought out a gardenia aroma and it had the same milky texture. The flavor started developing a vegetal brightness with some creamy floral. The fifth infusion, for ninety seconds, had a gardenia-and-coconut aroma on the wet leaves that reminded me a bit of monoi oil. Over the course of five steepings, the liquor color developed from nearly colorless to a bright chartreuse. The milky texture and green flavor persists.

On the sixth infusion, for two minutes, I noticed the aroma and flavors fading. The aroma had the same monoi aroma as the previous infusion, if lighter. At this point, I decided the tea had given its best and finished the session. So far, the primary distinction I’m seeing among the mountains I’ve been tasting has been in the texture of the tea. I’m glad that I’ve started listening to the Floating Leaves Tea Podcast and have had more education about evaluating tea by texture, rather than just taste and smell, because it is apparently an important layer of complexity.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tuesday Tasting: Alishan Snow Pick Oolong from Mountain Stream Teas

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Continuing my investigation of the different high mountain oolongs of Taiwan, today, I’m trying a snow pick Alishan from Mountain Stream. I’ve previously tasted their winter pick Alishan, and last week, I shared my notes from the snow pick Lishan, so this was an interesting exercise into both noticing the differences between winter and snow pick, and the differences between the terroir of the two mountains.

Once again, I used 5g in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan, with water at 212F (one of my kettles is set to Fahrenheit and the other to Celsius). I warmed the gaiwan and smelled the warm, dry leaf, noticing a light creamy floral aroma. I did not rinse the tea.

The first infusion was for thirty seconds. The wet leaves smelled of sweet floral, like an orchid or lily. The liquor was a pale straw color, like sauvignon blanc wine and had a very light floral aroma. The mouthfeel was buttery, like drawn butter with bright green flavors and a little retronasal floral.

The second infusion was for forty-five seconds. The wet leaves had a more pronounced floral aroma with a bit of green veg. The liquor was slightly greener in color and had a more pronounced floral aroma. The texture was more buttered spinach with a floral and vegetal flavor. The overall feeling of the infusion was more savory than sweet.

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The third infusion was for a minute. The wet leaves had a very slight honey aroma underneath the same floral and vegetal notes as before. The liquor had aromas of lily and cannabis. The flavor and texture were pure buttered vegetables: spinach and asparagus.

The fourth infusion was for seventy-five seconds. It was on this infusion that I noticed I was feeling sleepy. It was the evening when I tasted this tea, but normally, I feel more awake after drinking several gongfu infusions. The wet leaves smelled of vegetables with a touch of honey. The liquor had a sweet floral aroma, perhaps violet. The buttered vegetable flavor persists and the buttery texture now feels slightly mineral as well.

The fifth infusion, for ninety seconds, was lighter in both flavor and aroma, but the buttery mouthfeel was largely present. By the sixth infusion, for two minutes, it was apparent the tea was done.

I was fascinated that I was able to start this tasting at 6:30 in the evening and still fell asleep easily around 9. At this point, I hypothesize that the most distinct difference among the mountains will be the mouthfeel of each tea, though it is striking that the sweetness of the snow pick Lishan was not as apparent in the Alishan. It’s worth noting that I noticed the same buttered spinach notes and mouthfeel in the winter pick Alishan from Mountain Stream. I’m curious to continue this exploration.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tuesday Tasting: Snow Pick Pear Mountain Oolong from Mountain Stream Teas

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Recently, I decided to place a biggish order from my two favorite shops for Taiwanese teas in an effort to expand my knowledge of Taiwanese high mountain oolongs. So over the next few weeks, Tasting Tuesday will focus on the different teas I chose. This week, I’m starting with Mountain Stream Teas’ Snow Pick Pear Mountain (Lishan), which is both a new mountain for me, and my first experience with snow-picked tea.

I used 5 grams in a 120-ml porcelain gaiwan with 99C water. After warming the gaiwan, I warmed the leaf and the aroma of the warm, dry leaf gave off aromas of freshly baked sugar cookies. I went right into steeping with no rinse.

The first infusion was for thirty seconds. The wet leaves smelled powerfully vegetal and also had a strong honey aroma. The liquor was a bright green-yellow with no aroma. The flavor was very light, but the mouthfeel was creamy, smooth, and full. There was a faint vegetal sweetness and a distinctly sweet aftertaste. As I sipped on it, the flavor developed bright juiciness and a creamy floral aftertaste.

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The second steeping was for forty-five seconds. The wet leaf smelled of spinach and honey and the liquor smelled similar. It was the same color as the first steeping. It had a bright vegetal tartness on the first sip, with the texture of tea with cream and honey in it. There was a light wildflower honey sweetness and a floral aftertaste. I could also get a lot of floral from the retronasal aroma.

The third steeping was for a minute. The wet leaves still had a green and honey aroma. The texture took on a more savory quality, almost like soup, with a light sweetness. I was reminded of a cream soup of sweet fresh spring vegetables, or fresh peas in cream. It had what I called “that classic oolong florality” in the aftertaste.

The fourth steeping was for a minute and fifteen seconds and yielded the same silky smooth texture and same aromas. By the fifth steeping, for a minute and a half, I noticed the aroma fading, though the flavors were the same. The sixth and seventh steepings were both for two minutes each. I steeped a eighth time for two and a half minutes and a ninth time for three minutes. Over the course of these steepings, I noticed the flavors and aromas staying mostly the same, with varying levels of intensity. The bright, juicy, honey flavor and aroma was the dominant note, with a beautiful creamy mouthfeel. After nine steepings, I could tell this tea had more to give, so I tossed the leaves into a mug and continued to sip it grandpa-style throughout the rest of the day.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in reading why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.

Tasting Tuesday: 2008 Da Hong Pao from Old Ways Tea

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Let me tell you a secret: I don’t really enjoy writing down tasting notes. I find it removes me from the experience of a tea and interrupts my enjoyment. But the exercise is an important one to be able to converse intelligently among many in the tea community, so I practice it at least once a week. Yet, my dislike means that often I end up taking notes on teas that I feel more of an academic interest in for these weekly posts, rather than a tea that I find truly exciting.

Well, the other week, I went live with Ezra, known as @the_god_of_tea on Instagram, and had this aged Da Hong Pao and I found it so interesting that I rather regretted that our conversation was so engaging that I barely paid it its proper attention. So I resolved to take notes to share with everyone, and perhaps see if I can make an attempt to quantify what I found so compelling about it. As I’ve said before, Da Hong Pao is one of my favorite teas, from a variety that has quickly become my favorite among teas, yancha. Now, I realize that modern Da Hong Pao is rarely plucked from the original mother tree, and that it is most often blended from different yanchas, particularly Shui Xian and Rou Gui, but as I have tried most of the yancha varieties, I find that Da Hong Pao is most often the one that just has the certain special something that I enjoy. I find it reminds me of fresh cookies or brown sugar cake, a lovely warm comforting flavor.

I brewed this tea in my Chaozhou clay pot, which holds about 80ml of water. I used half a packet of tea from Old Ways, which is about 4g. I brewed at 99C. I warmed the pot and warmed the leaves and was able to detect aromas of leather and wood from the warm, dry leaf. I did not rinse, choosing instead to jump right into brewing.

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The first infusion went for ten seconds. The wet leaves gave off aromas of warm cinnamon coffee with cream. The liquor was a rich mahogany color and had a rich mouthfeel with nutty and creamy flavors. I was reminded of nothing so much as hazelnut tuiles with caramel and coffee buttercream. There was a faint leathery aftertaste.

The second steeping, for fifteen seconds, yielded aromas of cream, honey, nuts, and leather on the wet leaves. The flavor developed a slight tannic bite with a sour aftertaste that I found enjoyable, but with a rich roasted, leathery flavor underneath, and perhaps a slight undertone of sweat. It is a very sensual tea and fills the mouth and facial cavity. I was reminded of how Shuiwen from Floating Leaves Tea calls teas “puffy” and I think it might be something like that.

The third steeping was also for fifteen seconds. The roast aroma came through more on the wet leaf. The mouthfeel was pure coffee and cream, with an ever so slightly lighter colored liquor, perhaps cherrywood rather than mahogany. The flavor still had a pleasant tannic bitterness on the tip of the tongue and a sourness under the tongue that reminded me of the lightly roasted coffee from our favorite artisan roaster. The lingering flavor was coffee with cream.

The fourth steeping was for twenty seconds and yielded aromas of roast and wood on the wet leaves. After that, I simply forgot to take notes on the flavors. The body feel and experience of this tea was languid, like a cat stretched out on a velvet settee. I resumed my attention for the fifth steeping, which I let go for forty seconds. I noticed the wet leaves taking on the “wet paper” aroma that I notice as yanchas start to fade. The flavor, however, was still surprisingly bright and warm.

The sixth and seventh steepings both went for a minute each. The sixth yielded a honey-floral aroma on the wet leaves and flavor that seemed to be a mellowed amalgam of the flavors of the previous steepings, with a brightness that reminded me of a citrusy black tea cutting through it. The seventh aroma continued to fade, but with a surprising sweetness that came through as the other flavors dulled.

I steeped the tea for an eighth time for two minutes and was rewarded with a cup of tea that, while faded in flavor, color, and aroma, still managed to be enjoyable and warming, beyond a mere cup of tinted hot water. And it lacked the wet paper/pasta water flavor I get at the end of a session of other yanchas. The ninth steeping, for three minutes, showed that the tea was well and truly done. It still might have been nice steeped grandpa style, as I often do with my yanchas, but the main session was over and I was confident there would be no new tasting notes.

I think this tasting quantified the enjoyment I got from this tea in a strange way, in that it showed that it is somewhat unquantifiable. If anything, it is likely the complexity of flavors that draws me to Da Hong Pao, particularly aged Da Hong Pao. That leathery undertone in the flavor and aroma draws in a poetic part of myself. Indeed, I believe this is one of the longest tasting posts I’ve written, at least in recent weeks. And I still maintain that my first impression of any Da Hong Pao I’ve tasted is freshly baked brown sugar cookies, fresh from the oven, which is perhaps more of an emotional association than anything else. I’m curious to try the 2000 Da Hong Pao to see if the further aging will change my impression of the tea in general, particularly since it will be the oldest Da Hong Pao I will have tried thusfar.

NB: Nothing to declare. If you are interested in why I switched from tea reviews to tasting notes, read the explanation in this post. If you are interested in collaborating me or contacting me to offer my notes for your tea, please read my contact and collaboration information.

 

Tasting Tuesday: Bagua Shan Honey Scent Oolong from Wang Family Tea

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Recently, I decided on an impulse to purchase a little Yixing clay pot from Ching Ching Cha in Georgetown. After some trial and error, which I will expand upon on Thursday, I decided that the tea it liked best was this Bagua Shan honey oolong from Wang Family Tea. I first ordered from Wang Family Teas late last year. I simply asked a contact their if they’d be willing to suggest 3-4 teas from their stock to get started with, and I bought those. They also sent me a sample of this oolong as well. Well, this one turned out to be my favorite so far, so when I sat down to do a tasting for this week, I decided that it was time to take some notes to see if I could quantify what I liked so much.

I used 6g of leaf in a 120-ml pot with 99C water. I decided to follow their steeping instructions for the first three steepings, and then see how it went from there. After warming my pot, I got aromas of honey and white florals from the warm dry leaf. After a brief rinse, the wet leaves smelled of sweet florals with a hint of incense.

The first steeping was for fifty-five seconds. The wet leaves smelled of honey and apricot with a bit of roasted hazelnut. The liquor was a golden honey color with aromas of honey and almond. It had a medium-thick mouthfeel, like diluted syrup, with perfume-y floral flavors that reminded me of orange blossom. The cup aroma was honey and nuts.

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The second steeping was for forty-five seconds. The wet leaves smelled of honey and cannabis. The liquor was a slightly darker color and smelled of honey and tobacco. The mouthfeel was ever so slightly drier, but still medium-thick and smooth, with a slight astringency and a sweet honey aftertaste. It reminded me of an apricot pastry with vanilla cream and a honey glaze, like a danish.

The third steeping was for fifty-five seconds again, after which I noticed aromas of honey, cream, vanilla, and antique furniture on the leaves and honey and vanilla aromas on the liquor. It had a sweet almond blossom honey flavor, and was reminiscent of a baked good.

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After those first three steepings, I continued with three more steepings for a minute each. After the fourth steeping, I noticed that the leaf aroma was lighter, while the flavor felt mellower, but still sweet. There was something botanical like linden or orange blossom on the flavor underneath the honey. I also noticed a pleasant body warmth at this point. The fifth steeping still yielded that light honey aroma, which got sweeter and less floral as is faded, and still had a nice honey flavor. On the sixth steeping, I noticed the flavor and aroma fading, but still having some sweetness and a buttery note.

To finish off this tea, I actually put the spent leaves into a travel flask and brewed them grandpa-style for rehearsal. It was a lovely restorative for a late evening, with remnants of the honey and floral flavors, and a bit more astringency coming through as they sat.

NB: The original sample of this tea was sent as a free sample with a purchase, but I have since repurchased even more. If you’re interested in reading why I’ve stopped reviewing teas, in favor of tasting notes, please read this post. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.