Organic Gunpowder Green Tea from Hunan Xiangfeng Tea Industry Co.

On November 27th, a sample of Organic Gunpowder Green Tea (XF13112/03) was evaluated to determine if it could be used as a replacement base tea for a Moroccan Mint blend. In my undying attempts to improve quality and control over sourcing, I requested samples of various gunpowder green teas from China. This particular sample was provided by the Hunan Xiangfeng Tea Industry Co. Ltd.

Let the journey begin…

High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea Dry Leaves
High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea Dry Leaves

The dry leaves have a fairly uniform dark green color, with a few leaves have a lighter shade of green. The leaves are rolled and curled into tight and dense semi-ball forms of varying sizes and shapes. The leaves do not have the shiny and glossy look that I have seen in other gunpowder green teas, indicating that this tea was not sprayed with the substance that some people claim contains gluten. The aroma is sweet, like molasses or honey, with just a slight touch of grass. There is no smokiness to the aroma.

In an earlier post, I mentioned a woman from Fujian province that works at my favorite local Chinese restaurant. She had served me some gunpowder green tea, and had given me instructions to let it brew longer than other Chinese green teas. With her advice in mind, I decided to brew this tea at 175°F (80°C) for four minutes. I have to admit that I was quite nervous about it being bitter. Nine grams of dry leaves were used with twenty ounces of purified water.

High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea 1st Infusion
High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor with a bright yellow color and slight green tint, clear and transparent. The aroma has scents of sweet hay and light fresh grass. The body is light medium, with a subtle and refreshing feel. The taste has notes of asparagus, fresh grass, and a mild astringency. The aftertaste lingers with floral notes (dandelion). Surprisingly, despite the long brew time, I cannot say that I noticed any bitterness, and I was looking for it. Other tasting notes, there was no smokiness or nutty flavors. The longer brew time also created a slight savory effect on the taste.

High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea 2nd Infusion
High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea 2nd Infusion

I have to admit that I was worried about brewing the second infusion for four minutes again, so I cut the infusion time to two minutes, and I am glad that I did. The second infusion produced a liquor with a lighter shade of yellow-green. The aroma has a less sweet smell, and a stronger fresh grass smell. The body was lighter. The taste has notes of fresh grass, hay, a light dandelion note and lower astringency. There is an almost unnoticeable bitterness, but it feels like another thirty seconds of infusion could have ruined this infusion. Overall lighter than the first infusion, but refreshing and enjoyable.

High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea 3rd Infusion
High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea 3rd Infusion

The third infusion also used two minutes of brewing time. The liquor was similar to the second infusion, perhaps a shade lighter. The aroma has lightened, and remains grassy. The body is light. The taste has lighter notes of grass and hay, and a light dandelion aftertaste. Overall, this was a much lighter infusion. It is acceptable, but I do not intend on testing a fourth infusion.

High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea Infused Leaves
High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea Infused Leaves

The infused leaves have a uniform fresh green color. Some of the leaves are much larger than I expected, and also much larger than I have seen in other Chinese green teas. In fact, these large leaves seem like they belong in an oolong tea. Anyway, most of the leaves are fully intact, many still attached to the stem. Some are coarse plucked with two leaves and a bud, some are imperial plucked with one leaf and a bud, and some leaves are those that I mentioned earlier, large with no other leaves attached. The leaves are quite delicate, indicating that the taste may be exhausted. These infused leaves have some very nice specimens, and I am impressed by the level of unbroken leaves.

High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea Infused Large Leaves
High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea Infused Large Leaves

Overall, I really enjoyed this High Grade Gunpowder Green Tea from Hunan Xiangfeng Tea Industry Co. The taste was fresh and uplifting. Again, I am most impressed by the looks and properties of the leaves after infusion. After seeing the leaves post infusion, it is interesting to look back on the look and feel of the dry leaves. I expected the leaves to have more breakage and have been stuck together during the rolling process, but it is evident now that those larger semi-balls were actually just unexpectedly large fully intact leaves.

Having said that, I do not believe that this is a suitable base tea for a traditional Moroccan Mint blend. The lack of smoky character is the main reason I feel this way. My preferred Moroccan Mint teas have a nice mix of smoky and minty flavors, which I believe blend well together. However, with the remaining tea in this sample, I will blend some peppermint in, and do a side by side comparison with the Moroccan Mint tea that is currently being offered by my brand, Hē Chá Tea. I will post the results later this week.

 

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Next Tea Tasting Event Scheduled – 12/01/2013

I will be performing my second tea tasting event on Sunday, December 1st at Spring Street Cafe in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. Read more details at hechateablog.com

The Official Blog for Hē Chá Tea

Good News! Our second tea tasting event has been scheduled!

This event will be held at the newly opened Spring Street Cafe on Sunday, December 1st, 2013 from 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM.

The Spring Street Cafe is located at 100 E Spring Street, Zelienople, Pennsylvania, 16063. Seating is limited, and according to our last report, Spring Street Cafe is expecting thirty guests.

We are excited to showcase our new blend of Traditional Masala Chai at this event! The new blend contains 100% orthodox Assam black tea. There is no CTC (Crush Tear Curl) tea, and no flavoring added to the tea leaves. It is pure Assam black tea, hand blended with fresh Eastern spices, and imported directly from India. We just received the shipment this week! The aroma is complex and spicy, yet not overpowering. The tea liquor is a lively orange-red color. The taste is very nicely balanced…

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Confessions of a Tea Blogger TAG!

When I am talking about tea to people, they ask me many of the questions that are listed below. Thanks to Nicole Martin from the TeaForMePlease blog, now I have a reason to post the answers. Now when people ask me the same questions, I can just hand them my card with my blog URL on it, and tell them to find this post! Just kidding. Anyway, thank you to Nicole for tagging me to do this confessions post. Let’s get started…

1) First, let’s start with how you were introduced & fell in love with the wonderful beverage of tea.
For the first twenty-six years of my life, tea was consumed mostly in the heavily sweetened form of canned or bottled tea (Brisk, Sobe, Arizona, etc). Arguments aside whether or not those products really count as “tea.” As for hot tea, it was only something that I drank when I was sick. That all turned around on one day. My wife had gone to the mall, and randomly decided to stop by Teavana. She purchased a bag of a flavored white tea blend (named below). I looked at the receipt. Once I regained consciousness and picked myself up off the floor, I asked her to brew a pot. For that price, this drink had better be the best liquid that ever hit my tongue. Well, I am not sure if I could give it that much credit (especially now), but I have to admit that I was surprised by how refreshing it was for a hot tea. By the time we hit the end of that bag, I was begging my wife to go to the mall. However, due to the bright and loud colors of that store, I had my wife do all the talking and purchasing, as I pretended to be the typical disinterested male who had been dragged in by his wife. Eventually, I got over that phobia, and became a regular there, spending way too much money on every visit. Thankfully for myself, I was only a Teavana nut for about eight months before seeking more exotic and interesting teas. Since then, I have not bought tea from Teavana.

2) What was the very first tea blend that you ever tried?
Teavana’s Golden Mojito White Tea. It was citrusy, minty, and light. Looking back, I still think it was my favorite product from Teavana.

3) When did you start your tea blog & what was your hope for creating it?
I started my tea blog only four months ago, in July of 2013. My initial purpose was the same as Nicole’s, I just wanted somewhere to have a record of all of the teas that I had been trying. I had began experimenting with importing teas from China, India, and Japan, so I decided to make my blog slightly different than others that I had seen. I wanted to make my blog strictly about straight, unflavored and unscented teas that I had imported. Since I was trying to find business partners to begin a tea company with, I wanted to create a more formal, objective review blog. Now that I have that business partner, I have toned down the formality ever so slightly, and tried to make the blog a little more personal.

4) List one thing most rewarding about your blog & one thing most discouraging.
I truly enjoy writing, and truly enjoy trying new styles of tea, so the blog really gives me the opportunity to do two things that I have a passion for. At the moment, just finding the time to post can be discouraging. When you have two full time jobs that you try to accomplish in the same nine hour work day window, you really just want to go home and enjoy a pot of tea, and not necessarily spend more time and energy analyzing the tea rather than feeling it and enjoying it. Having a blog, if you take it seriously, can take on the burden of feeling like a job.

5) What type of tea are you most likely to be caught sipping on?
Although it is difficult for me to pick a favorite, I would say that there are three teas that I currently drink more often than others. A Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail black tea, a Supreme Grade Ti Kwan Yin from Anxi, and an unflavored Jinxuan (milk) oolong from Alishan, Taiwan. I am also a huge fan of Nuwara Eliya black, but do not have a fresh supply at the moment, sadly. I am working on that problem, though. 🙂

6) Favourite tea latte to indulge in?
Boring answer here, none. Tea is my balance to the many bad decisions I make diet-wise.

7) Favourite treat to pair with your tea?
I usually do not eat while enjoying tea. In fact, I will not eat for a half hour or more when I plan on having tea. I like to fully appreciate the tea. If I have friends or family over, and everyone is munching while playing a game or otherwise socializing, then I will have whatever food is on the table, and accordingly will not bother brewing a pot of my better teas, for I know that no one will be fully able to enjoy it.

8) If there was one place in the World that you could explore the tea culture at, where would it be & why?
If this were a personal trip, my first stop would be Taiwan. Nothing makes me happier than getting packages of Taiwan oolong and black tea samples. I would walk into the TRES buildings and personally thank every single person who works at the place that has brought us so many awesome tea cultivars. Not to mention the mountains would be a great place to reflect on life while enjoying a true high mountain oolong. After Taiwan, based on tea culture alone, the list would be Southwest China, Japan, Southeast China, Darjeeling and Assam, Sri Lanka, and the list goes on.

9 ) Any tea time rituals you have that you’d like to share?
In one area of my basement, I have my tea area. This used to be my bar and alcohol area until my son was born. Since then, all the alcohol and related barware has been replaced with teas and teaware. When I find time, and sadly that is not as often as I would like, I will prepare a very good tea, usually a sheng puerh or the supreme grade ti kwan yin mentioned above, turn the lights down to a very low level, turn on the meditation radio channel on Pandora at a low volume, and just be still. The only movement being the lifting of my cup. It is easy to understand how the mountain mystics of China could live as they did when I feel the depth of serenity during these few moments.

10) Time of day you enjoy drinking tea the most: Morning, Noon, Night or Anytime?
All day, every day. Most enjoyably after my son has gone to bed for the night, and I can take a few minutes to relax and slowly enjoy a pot, without having to be on top of everything going on in the house.

11) What’s one thing you wish for tea in the future?
My wish for tea is that more people develop an appreciation for it. Tea is more than just another naturally occurring material that can be used to make water taste better. It is a tonic, an elixir, a magical potion that is capable of more and better effects than any other single plant on this planet. As many have said, there are no words to describe the energy that eminates from tea, but I feel it. I cannot describe it. To me, it is spiritual, and brings me peace and serenity when nothing else can.

Thank you again, Nicole, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this. It has given me a chance to reflect on my past, present, and future with tea. Cheers!

TAG! I select Brenna from Seattle Coffee Gear to participate in this chain. @seacoffeegear

Thank you for taking your time to read this review. Please leave a comment and start a discussion.

Teas to Expand Your Palate – A Guest Post by Brenna Ciummo

It seems that the more I talk to people about loose leaf tea, the more often they ask a question similar to “What teas can I try that will help me understand the difference between the various types?” I can tell people for hours the differences between black and green teas, sheng and shu puerh teas, or the various levels of oxidation in oolong teas that make them so vastly different, but until people actually look at and experience the various types and styles of tea for themselves, they really have little to no idea what I am rambling about.

Thankfully, a new acquaintance of mine, Brenna Ciummo of Seattle Coffee Gear, offered to write a guest post with her suggestions on some diverse teas to expand your palate. Let’s see which teas Brenna suggests sampling to expand your palate further in to the vast world of tea tastes.

blueberry rooibos, cinnamon plum, ginger puerh, jasmine pearl and a cup of ginger puerh
blueberry rooibos, cinnamon plum, ginger puerh, jasmine pearl and a cup of ginger puerh

Teas to Expand Your Palate

You may have heard it is “tea time in America.” As tea is increasing in popularity and more and more tea shops are popping up around the country, it is an exciting time for tea enthusiasts. However, with a flood of new teas on the market, this can be a confusing time as well.  With so many teas out there to taste, where do you start? Or, if you like one type of tea, how do you know what other teas you will enjoy?

The simplest answer is to expand your palate and just start tasting new teas. While there is nothing wrong with having a “go-to” tea, it can also be fun to try sampling a variety of teas since they all have unique flavors. Who knows, you may even find a new favorite. If you’re looking for a place to start, try a few of the following teas; some are more traditional, while others are more exotic.

  • Oolong: Since oolong teas are only partly oxidized, they are often not as bitter (generally they have a sweeter taste with fruity or floral flavors). This makes oolongs a great introductory tea for developing your palate.
  • Milk Oolong: This unique tea is famous for its sweet milky taste and creamy, smooth texture. Some people even describe this tea as smelling and tasting like butter. If you enjoy sweet or floral teas, this is a good option for you.
  • White Peony: Along with Silver Needle, White Peony is one of the most popular white teas. If you haven’t tried a white tea before, White Peony’s mild and sweet flavor make it a good tea to start with.
  • African White Bud: A rare white tea from Kenya, this tea is much sweeter than most white teas, with no astringency. African White Bud has a floral flavor with hints of vanilla and lemon, making it a good choice for people who don’t like the grassier flavors sometimes found in white teas.
  • Huang Ya Cha: This Chinese yellow tea is sweet with a nuttier flavor and tends to have characteristics of both white and green teas, as it falls between the two categories. Authentic yellow teas are produced in limited quantities, making them very rare. If you get the chance to taste one, be sure to try it.
  • Sencha: This smooth green tea is rich in body with a brothy mouth feel. The tea’s strong seaweed and vegetal taste make it ideal for people who like “green” flavors.
  • Jasmine Pearl:  This green tea is made out of tender green leaves and buds that are hand rolled into small balls to form “pearls” and then scented with jasmine flowers. The flowers give the tea a sweet, floral taste with no bitterness. Jasmine Pearl tea also doesn’t have the seaweed flavor some green teas have, which often causes people to be turned off by them.
  • Darjeeling 1st Flush: Darjeeling teas are often referred to as the “the champagne of teas,” and first flush Darjeelings are the cream of the crop. The black tea has a bit of a bite, and a muscatel flavor with hints of honey or sweet florals.
  • Lapsang Souchong: This black tea is scented with pinewood smoke during it’s processing, giving it a definite smokey or “campfire” flavor. Since most people have a strong reaction to Lapsang Souchong and either love or hate it, it is a fun tea to experiment with and see which category you fall into.
  • Puerh (Pu’er): This post-fermented tea has a rich body and an earthy taste and smell. The robustness of this tea is great for those who are also coffee drinkers.

When sampling different teas, it is important to use all your senses to get the full experience. Note the color, smell, mouth feel and the flavor notes of each tea. When describing each aspect of the tea, try to be as specific as possible so that you remember one tea from the next. Some people jot down their thoughts in a journal so they have a record they can reference.

Since there can be quite a range of flavors, try several different grades to ensure you get a sense of each tea before you pass judgment on a certain type. For instance, when it comes to white tea, some people may find they dislike the grassy flavor of Silver Needle, but really enjoy the more floral White Peony. It’s also a good idea to try sampling teas from different regions and flushes as well, as these teas will all have different flavor profiles.

Since trying a number of different teas can become pricey, one of the best ways to do so is through samplers. That way, if you aren’t a fan of the tea, you aren’t stuck with a container full of tea you don’t enjoy, and if you’ve found a new favorite you can always purchase more to increase your supply.  If you are still not sure where to start, try checking out review sites such as this one, so you can get an idea of what other tea connoisseurs like and don’t like. Expanding your tea palate should be fun, not stressful. It is a chance to play around with different flavors and to explore teas you may have never heard of before. So sit back, relax and enjoy a cup of tea.

Brenna Ciummo is a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear and enjoys sharing her knowledge of all things coffee and tea. An avid tea drinker, she is always on the hunt for new teas to try. 

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Thank you, Brenna, for your suggestions. I do not recall trying the African White Bud, but I can assure you that I will be looking for it soon. If I would be able to add one suggestion, in an attempt to provide one extra level of palate expansion, it would be an orthodox Assam black tea. Although not a personal favorite of mine, tasting the Camellia Sinensis Assamica teas as compared to the standard Chinese Sinensis Sinensis teas is an important part of understanding differences in the various teas. I also believe that it is quite easy to understand, taste, and feel the difference in an Assam black tea compared to black teas from China, Sri Lanka, or the Darjeeling or Nilgiri regions of India.

Excellent post, Brenna. Thank you again for your time and effort, and I hope to be able to post more of your thoughts on tea in the future. Thanks to everyone for reading. You may see more of Brenna’s work at http://www.seattlecoffeegear.com/learn. Cheers!

 

Organic Roasted Oolong from Easy Tea Hard Choice

Here is another sample from Easy Tea Hard Choice, so you know it’s going to be good. This sample is an Organic Roasted Oolong from Mingjiang, Taiwan.

Sadly, I do not have much information available on this specific tea. However, simply reading the name has me excited. Two words is all that it takes, “Roasted” and “Oolong” and that is all the information I need!

The sample packet has been opened, and a smell of toasted seeds and brown sugar are hitting me. Let the journey begin…

Organic Roasted Oolong Dry Leaves
Organic Roasted Oolong Dry Leaves

The dry leaves of this Organic Roasted Oolong range in color from light and dark green to dark grown. The leaves are in a hand rolled semi-ball shape. The leaves appear fully intact and most are still attached to the stem. There are some crumbs from the roasting process, but not many. The aroma is very attractive, with scents of roasted grains or seeds, brown sugar, and honey. This is an aroma that stays in your memory. It is simply amazing.

The standard preparation method was used for this sample. Purified water was heated to a boil. Fifteen grams of dry leaves were placed in a 34 ounce (1L) glass teapot. The leaves were infused for one minute, then the liquor strained into a separate decanter.

Organic Roasted Oolong 1st Infusion
Organic Roasted Oolong 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor with a lively bright pale yellow color, clear and transparent. The aroma had scents of roasted grains, honey, and brown sugar, very similar to the aroma of the dry leaves. The body is medium, with a velvety, almost creamy feel. The taste had notes of honey, roasted seeds, and a very light fruity character. The aftertaste was very floral, with a lingering taste of honeysuckle.

Organic Roasted Oolong 2nd Infusion
Organic Roasted Oolong 2nd Infusion

The second infusion produced a liquor with a darker, yet still lively bright yellow color. The aroma maintains the honey, brown sugar, and roasted seed scents. The body remains medium. The feel is not quite as creamy. The taste has lightened on the honey notes, and the fruity flavor is gone. Notes of earthiness and a more vegetal character have set in, with the strong floral aftertaste remaining. The difference between the taste of this infusion and the first infusion is interesting. Other than the floral aftertaste, this infusion had a much different character.

Organic Roasted Oolong 3rd Infusion
Organic Roasted Oolong 3rd Infusion

The third infusion produced a liquor with a similar color as the second infusion, a lively bright yellow, perhaps a shade lighter. Medium body. The aroma still maintains a pleasant scent of honey, brown sugar, and roasted seeds. The taste has changed once again, with floral notes having become more prevalent throughout the taste, instead of just dominating the aftertaste. Honey notes are still present, as well as some very light vegetal and earthiness. This is a very nicely balanced and layered taste. I like this infusion better than the second. I would be interested to try a fourth, but I do not have the time, unfortunately, today to drink another pot.

Organic Roasted Oolong Infused Leaves
Organic Roasted Oolong Infused Leaves

The infused leaves display some variation in the color, ranging from darker green to purple-brown. As is common with the Taiwanese oolongs that I have experienced, the pluck is quite coarse, with some stems have up to four leaves still attached. Most of the leaves have reddish-brown edges. Some leaves appear to have insect bite marks, which helps describe the honey notes in the aroma and taste. Almost all of the leaves are fully intact, with very few fragments. Most of the leaves have not fully expanded, suggesting that another infusion or two is possible. The aroma maintains a lightly roasted seed character, but mainly is a sweet wet leaf smell.

Two aspects of this tea most impressed me. First, the aroma of the dry leaves. I cannot remember smelling such a perfectly layered, sweet and roasty scent in my life. It was incredible. I hope I never forget that smell, and I hope to refresh my memory in the future. Second, the difference in tastes from infusion to infusion. I feel like I had three different types of oolong in all three pots. The second pot was a bit earthy and vegetal, perhaps I should have cut down the infusion time by fifteen or twenty seconds. As it cooled, the taste was more pleasant, however. Overall, I really enjoyed the smell and taste of this tea. The roasted pumpkin seed and brown sugar smell perfectly counteracted the conditions in Pittsburgh today. I shared some of this tea with others in my office who usually think that oolong tea tastes like vegetable water, and even they enjoyed it, either for the smell or the taste. Another great tea, as usual, from Easy Tea Hard Choice.

Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea from Vicony Teas

Today, after about nine months of owning a kilogram of this great black tea, did I finally realize that I never actually did a review on it. The Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea was among the first three teas that I had directly imported from China earlier this year. As I began to build an interest in the process of importing tea, I came across Vicony Teas. I remember the first time I opened the PDF catalog from Vicony. I expected a few pages of a basic list. Instead, they had twenty or thirty pages of products, with organic certifications noted, origin information, and even a photo provided for every tea. In the second PDF catalog, they included hyperlinks to webpages with complete information on every tea, from cultivar, to processing technique, to historical information, and photos of the dry leaf, liquor, and wet leaf. To this point, almost a year later, I have yet to find a company that provides the treasure of content on each product that comes even close to Vicony Teas. They have done a phenomenal job in that respect. And did I mention that they have about thirty pages worth of products?!

This golden snail black tea was, and still is, unlike any other black tea that I have come across. As the name suggests, and anyone that I have ever showed the dry leaves to has confirmed, the shape of these leaves truly do resemble a snail. The leaves are rolled into nice spirals, similar to that of a Bi Luo Chun green tea. The dry leaves also have a downy soft feel to them, almost like a white tea. This is a beautifully colored tea, with bright golden tips.

Why have I waited so long to review this tea!? Let the journey begin…

Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea Dry Leaves
Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea Dry Leaves

As mentioned above, the dry leaves of this Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail black tea are mostly gold in color, with some dark brown to black leaves. The leaves are uniformly rolled into the shape of a snail. There is absolutely no breakage or crumbs, all the leaves are fully intact and rolled. The leaves have a soft, downy-like feel to them, lacking the hard and dry feel of most other black tea. The aroma is reminiscent of sweet hay, with slight notes of dried fruit and malt/caramel. According to Vicony’s information, these leaves are from the Fengqing large leaf cultivar, and are grown/processed in Fengqing, Yunnan Province, China.

The standard preparation method was used for this tasting. Purified water was heated to 205°F (96°C). Fifteen grams of dry tea leaves were placed in a thirty-four ounce (1L) glass teapot. The leaves were infused for 2 minutes, then the liquor strained into a separate decanter.

Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea 1st Infusion
Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor with a dark amber color (dark orange-red). The liquor was translucent, but not transparent. The aroma was malty and slightly spicy of pepper. The liquor has a full body, with a very smooth feel. The taste is malty, mellow, and very slightly spicy (pepper). There is very little to no bitterness or astringency whatsoever. The aftertaste is mild, with a light taste of sweet hay. There is no need for milk or sugar in this tea. It is very tasteful, yet mild, as it is.

Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea 2nd Infusion
Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea 2nd Infusion

The second infusion produced a liquor with a very slightly darker shade of amber (dark orange-red). Again the liquor was translucent, not transparent. The aroma remains malty and a little more spicy (pepper) than the first infusion. The liquor retains a full body and smooth feel. The taste remains malty, mellow, and slightly spicy (pepper). Again the presence of bitterness or astringency is almost non-existent. The aftertaste remains light, and tastes of sweet hay. The second infusion was just as tasteful and heavy as the first, and I do not see the third losing much character.

Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea 3rd Infusion
Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea 3rd Infusion

The third infusion produced a liquor with a color that is slightly lighter than the first infusion, but overall remains a dark amber color. The liquor remains translucent, but not transparent. The aroma has lightened some, but remains malty and slightly spicy. The body remains full, yet lighter, and smooth. The taste has also lightened some, remaining malty, mellow, and slightly spicy. The aftertaste is light, and is taking on a somewhat floral taste. This third infusion is surprisingly tasteful for a black tea, and I have no doubt that a fourth and maybe a fifth infusion could produce an acceptable flavor.

Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea Infused Leaves
Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea Infused Leaves

The infused leaves are a uniform copper color. Most leaves display a fine pluck of two leaves and a bud, while some display the “imperial pluck” of one leaf and the bud. The leaves display fine downy like hairs on them. The size of the leaf is larger than that of other Chinese teas, indicating the Fengqing large leaf cultivar. There is an abundance of buds. There is very little breakage or crumbs. The vast majority of the leaves are fully intact and still attached to the stem. The aroma of the leaves is malty and pleasant. The leaves have a surprising level of structural durability, suggesting that additional infusions are possible.

This Supreme Yunnan Golden Snail Black Tea continues to be one of my favorite black teas. Every aspect of this tea is unique, from the look and feel of the dry leaves, to the beautiful color and smooth, mellow taste of the liquor, to the fully intact and larger than normal infused leaves. There is a reason that I am almost completely finished with this kilogram of tea, while some other large purchases are at risk of not being consumed before their shelf life expires. I recommend this black tea again and again, and many of my friends and family are always requesting a pot of this tea when they know I have it around. It is a classic. Do not let the unusual look of the dry leaves turn you off, or else you will be missing out on a great tea experience. Thank you for the excellent tea, and the plethora of information on your website, Vicony. I look forward to making many more orders from you in the future.

First Official Tasting Event on 11/06/2013

Please take a moment to read the blog post covering the first official tea tasting event for my new brand, Hē Chá Tea. We were very happy and encouraged by the results!

The Official Blog for Hē Chá Tea

We are happy to say that our first official tea tasting event was a great success! The tasting was conducted on Wednesday, November 6th of 2013, at the Beaver Falls Coffee and Tea Company in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

The room that the tasting was conducted in was literally packed with guests, some who had to stand while enjoying the entire presentation. There was a nice distribution of age groups, with guests ranging in age from late teens to mid sixties. We also had a nearly equal mix of both men and women, with a slight edge to men. There is a tea for every taste, regardless of age or gender. The guests at this tasting proved it!

The tasting began with an introduction by the founder, Kevin Craig. Kevin told the Hē Chá Tea story, then elaborated on his feelings in regard to the meaning of tea. In contrast to coffee…

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Mount Chilai Original Oolong from Easy Tea Hard Choice

Today’s tea tasting journey will focus on the Mount Chilai Original Oolong from Easy Tea Hard Choice Co. Ltd. As the name suggests, this tea is grown and hand-picked in the infamous Chilai Mountains in Hualien County, Taiwan. Tea artisan Mr. Lee Ming Zheng put much effort into this tea, and based on the look and smell of the dry leaves, his efforts paid off! The sample pack is open, and a somewhat familiar scent is present. My first thought is the possibility that this tea could have been from the Jinxuan cultivar (TTES 12). I have asked the founder of Easy Tea Hard Choice to confirm whether or not this tea is Jinxuan, and if not, to let me know which cultivar this tea is from, because I am very interested in learning more about it.

Update 11/08/2013: Lawrence from Easy Tea Hard Choice has confirmed with the tea artisan, Mr. Zheng, that the cultivar for this tea is not the Jinxuan cultivar (TTES 12), but is the Chin Shin cultivar. Lawrence suggested to look at the infused leaves to differentiate between the two cultivars. Accordinging to Lawrence, “The tea leaf of Chin Shin Oolong is thinner and longer than what of Jinxuan (much bigger and more rounded).” Thank you very much, Lawrence, for verifying the cultivar and providing additional information on this product.

Let the journey begin…

Mount Chilai Original Oolong Dry Leaves
Mount Chilai Original Oolong Dry Leaves

The dry leaves of this oolong are green to dark green in color, indicating a lower oxidation percentage. The leaves are nicely hand-rolled, semi-ball shape. Size of the rolled leaves range from that of a corn kernel to a black bean. Many of the rolled leaves still have the stem attached. Leaves appear to fully intact, with few fragments or crumbs. The aroma of the leaf is sweet cream, very similar to Jinxuan (milk) oolong.

This sample was infused using the parameters for preparation that were provided on the sample packet. I decided to use these parameters instead of my usual oolong infusion technique. I had no time for tea yesterday, so I am making up for it today. Forty ounces of purified spring water were heated to a boil (212°F, 100°C). The entire sample packet, about 20 grams, of dry tea leaves were placed in the glass teapot. The leaves were infused for 1 minute and 10 seconds, then strained into a separate decanter.

Mount Chilai Original Oolong 1st Infusion Pot
Mount Chilai Original Oolong 1st Infusion Pot
Mount Chilai Original Oolong 1st Infusion Cup
Mount Chilai Original Oolong 1st Infusion Cup

The first infusion produced one of the brightest shades of yellow that I have ever seen in a tea. The liquor was truly vibrant, clear, and transparent. The aroma is a mix of sweet cream and floral (honeysuckle). The body is on the low side of medium, with a velvety smooth mouthfeel. The taste is almost entirely floral (honeysuckle), with some slight notes of sweet cream and mineral. The aftertaste is light and pleasant, and develops into a sweet, almost fruity (peach) taste as it trails off.

Mount Chilai Original Oolong 2nd Infusion Cup
Mount Chilai Original Oolong 2nd Infusion Cup

The second infusion uses a slightly lower steep time of 35 seconds, which turned into about 50 seconds after finishing the straining process. The liquor again was a vibrant bright yellow color, with no noticeable difference from the first infusion, despite the shorter steep time. The aroma maintained the sweet cream aroma, with the floral scent becoming slightly stronger than the first infusion. The body remains low-medium. The taste has changed some, remaining floral (honeysuckle), and slightly vegetal, with notes of mineral. Aftertaste remains light and lingering of honeysuckle and peach.

Mount Chilai Original Oolong 3rd Infusion Cup
Mount Chilai Original Oolong 3rd Infusion Cup

The third infusion used a steep time of 1 minute and 10 seconds. The liquor retained the bright, vibrant yellow of the first and second infusions, again with almost no difference in color. The aroma also maintained a sweet cream and floral scent, with a touch of wood. The body remains low-medium. The taste has lightened and changed some, but remains floral and vegetal (asparagus), with slight mineral notes. Aftertaste remains light, with less linger, and tastes of honeysuckle and peach. The vegetal taste strengthened, giving this infusion a different dynamic than the previous infusions. The taste is strong enough to lead me to believe that a fourth, and maybe even a fifth infusion may produce an acceptable flavor.

Mount Chilai Original Oolong Infused Leaf Specimen
Mount Chilai Original Oolong Infused Leaf Specimen

And it’s official! The Mount Chilai Original Oolong from Mr. Lee Ming Zheng has the best looking post-infused leaves that I have ever seen in any tea. Honestly, 99% of these leaves are fully intact and still attached to the stem. The pluck is four leaves and a tiny bud. There are very, very few broken leaves. This is an amazing display of artisanal leaf processing! The leaves are perfectly uniform fleshy dark green in color. There is very little sign of oxidation, with only some of the leaves displaying reddish edges. The longest leaf is well over two inches. Obviously, there are many thick stems. Some of the leaves are not completed opened, and there is a decent amount of durability to most of the leaves, suggesting that at least one or two additional infusions are possible. The aroma is fresh wet leaves, with a slight touch of wood and flowers. Absolutely amazing display of effort and art.

Mount Chilai Original Oolong Infused Leaves in Cup
Mount Chilai Original Oolong Infused Leaves in Cup

At this point, you probably think I am being paid by Easy Tea Hard Choice to post extremely positive reviews on every product that I review. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, aside from taking advantage of the promotional deals on sample pricing, I have paid for these samples, and the price has been worth every penny! I have the founder, Lawrence Lai, email me to let me know when new samples are available, just because I have loved every product that I have ordered from them, and I am always excited to see new products added. I am imploring you, please go to http://eztea-tw.com and order some of these samples! Any of them are great choices, ordering all of them is an even better choice! If I had more money, and my basement was not overstocked with tea as it is, I would be ordering kilos at a time. I am not exaggerating!

From start to finish, this Mount Chilai Original Oolong was just outstanding. The dry leaves looked nice, and had a delicious sweet cream aroma. The color of the liquor literally brightened my day. The smell and taste of the liquor had an uplifting effect, with an aftertaste that I wish left a permanent taste (thankfully it lingers quite long anyway). Three excellent tasting infusions, with more to give. The most perfect infused leaves that I have ever witnessed. Start to finish, this tea left me dumbfounded. Now I am sad, because my pot is almost empty. Mr. Lai and Mr. Zheng, thank you both very much for introducing me to this tea. I am eternally grateful, and am honestly considering to order a kilo for personal consumption. Excellent, excellent, excellent…

Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 CH SPL EX1 1st Flush 2013 from Lochan Teas

After an extremely busy three weeks of tea package labeling, canister filling, performing training sessions, and a week of cupping exercises for my most recent World Tea Academy course, I finally have a moment on a Monday morning to do a tea review. Today felt like a Darjeeling day, and what better package of samples to choose out of than that from Lochan Tea?

On November 4th of 2013, my journey through the world of tea tasting took me to the Giddapahar Tea Garden, near Kurseong in the Darjeeling area of India. This sample of Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 1st Flush 2013 was provided by Lochan Tea.

According to the Lochan Tea website, Giddapahar is a garden in Darjeeling with an elevation above 4,800 feet above sea level. Also known as “Eagle’s Cliff”, the small tea estate is family owned. The estate grows nothing but Chinese tea bushes. Like other Darjeeling teas, this tea is processed using the very hard wither, which gives it the large variation in dry leaf colors.

The sample packet has been opened, and the familiar and inviting smells of fruit and honey are emanating from the colorful dry leaves. Let the journey begin…

Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 1st Fl 2013 Dry Leaves
Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 1st Fl 2013 Dry Leaves

The dry leaves of this tea have a wide variety of colors, ranging from fresh green to red to dark brown and black. The leaves also vary in their size and shape. The leaves appear to very lightly curled and twisted. The leaves are mostly large fragments, with an occasional full leaf being present. There are no crumbs. The aroma of the dry leaves is very sweet, with notes of honey, fruit (muscatel grapes), and a touch of cocoa or chocolate. The aroma is complex, layered, and truly amazing.

The standard method of preparation was used for this sample. Purified water was heated to 200°F (96°C). The entire sample packet (15 grams) was placed into a 24 ounce (700 ml) ceramic teapot. The leaves were infused for 2 minutes, then strained into a separate decanter.

Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 1st Fl 2013 1st Infusion
Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 1st Fl 2013 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor with a golden yellow color, clear and transparent. The aroma was floral, sweet of honey, and fruity of muscatel grapes. The body is medium, with a juicy and lush mouthfeel. The taste is floral (jasmine), sweet (honey), fruity (muscatel grape), with a slight note of wood or earth. The aftertaste is light and refreshing, with a jasmine taste. The last time I had a first flush that I enjoyed this much was the Gopaldhara Wonder Tea 1st Flush EX SPL 2013. These teas are absolutely exquisite.

Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 1st Fl 2013 2nd Infusion
Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 1st Fl 2013 2nd Infusion

As with every Darjeeling that I have had, the second infusion was lighter in every way than the first infusion. That being said, the aroma and flavor remained rich and tasteful. The notes of muscatel grapes dominated the taste of this second infusion. I had no problem finishing this pot of tea.

Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 1st Fl 2013 3rd Infusion
Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 1st Fl 2013 3rd Infusion

The third infusion was lighter than the second infusion in all aspects, but surprisingly fuller overall than I expected. A fourth infusion seems highly unlikely, as expected from this style of tea. The taste of jasmine dominated the taste of this third infusion.

Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 1st Fl 2013 Infused Leaves
Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 1st Fl 2013 Infused Leaves

The infused leaves displayed the usual variation in green to brown colors that are characteristic of Darjeeling first flush teas. The leaves varied in size and shape, with more leaves being fulled intact than I originally expected. The size of the fully intact leaves confirmed that these leaves are from the pure China tea bush. The majority of leaves were fragments, with an occasional stem.  The leaves were fairly delicate, indicating that they are nearly exhausted of taste. The aroma is slightly floral and sweet, with the obvious smell being fresh wet leaves.

This Giddapahar SFTGFOP1 CH SPL EX1 1st Flush 2013 was in the top three Darjeeling first flush teas that I have had so far. The taste was complex and layered, yet delicate. This tea was beautiful in every aspect, from the dry leaves to the bright liquor, the aroma, the taste, everything was truly exquisite. It is a perfect example of what Darjeeling first flush teas are meant to be. There is no question as to why these teas are sought by connoisseurs all over the world. As always, thank you to the Lochan family and Lochan Tea Limited for giving me the opportunity to sample this amazing tea. I always know that a good review is coming when I choose one of Lochan’s sample packets.

Gourmet Tea at the Capital Grille in Pittsburgh

As part of the celebration of my wife and my fourth anniversary, we decided to have a high end night on the town in Pittsburgh. The plan was to hit the Capital Grille on Fifth Avenue for dinner, followed by a performance of symphonies by Russian composers Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff at Heinz Hall. Being an admirer of classical music, not only because there is much skill involved, but also because there are no lyrics to ruin it like much of today’s music, and the fact that my wife is from Moldova (former Soviet satellite), we are always looking out for good symphonies to experience. If the composers are Russian, then she gets just as excited as I do.

But let’s get to the point. Yes, the food from Capital Grille was very good. With the price point that the restaurant demands, the food better be good, so that should not be surprising. The scotch was great, and a perfect compliment to the steak. However, I did not see any tea listed on the main menu. This was disappointing, as I had no time during the afternoon to enjoy any tea.

My wife asked for a dessert menu, and I intended on asking if they had any hot tea. I expected them to have the typical display box of six Tazo teabag selections, at best. To my surprise, listed on the dessert menu, was a short list of “gourmet” teas. My first thought was “Why is this on the dessert menu? I would have skipped the scotch and gone right for the tea had I known they had something decent.” See the photo below for a semi-blurry, but legible picture of this short tea list.

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Four teas, three if you disqualify the chamomile selection for not technically being tea, but certainly better than the Tazo that was expected. My second thought, as I perused the list, was “Hmm, Earl Grey, from a single estate in Sri Lanka. Maybe I should ask which estate it is from, just to see if they can answer that.” I decided on the Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty) oolong, as the time was about 7:30 PM, and it’s my time of day for oolong or green tea. My wife ordered her dessert drink, and I ordered the Bai Hao, with the intention of asking about the estate in Sri Lanka that the Earl Grey is sourced from. However, the waiter did not even realize that I was ordering tea when I asked for Bai Hao, and he looked at the menu to see which tea was the oolong. At that point, I decided it was not even worth the time to ask about the Earl Grey.

The tea arrived quickly. The waiter, simply doing his job and knowing little about the tea, poured me a small cup. At this point, the tea sachet holding the Bai Hao could not have been in that water for more than a minute. My wife reminded me that it would be rude and weird for me to pour the tea from the cup back in to the pot to allow for my preferred brewing time. The tea sachet was pulled from the pot at what I estimated to be about two and a half minutes. The sachet was generously filled with Bai Hao. Being the considerate husband that I am (right, Alinushka?), I waited for my wife’s after dinner drink to arrive. I smelled the tea, and it was missing some of the obvious fruit aromas that are typical of Bai Hao. The honey aroma was there, but the fruit was lacking.

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Pouring Myself Some Bai Hao Oolong at Capital Grille

Perhaps I am being overly critical. The tea was good, much better than I expected to have. I thoroughly enjoyed two pots worth of the Bai Hao. As we were preparing to leave, I was having an internal argument whether or not to open the sachet to inspect the leaves. Two reasons were feeding my desire to inspect. First, the lack of fruit aromas and taste. Second, the shape of the sachet was inconsistent with the open leaf twisted style of Bai Hao that I am familiar with. The tea in the sachet appeared to be expanding like a semi-ball oolong might. What do you think I did? We were seated at a table that was literally in the middle of this very upscale restaurant. Did I take the chance of looking like a child playing with his food in this nice restaurant?

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You better believe I did! I opened that sachet, dumped every last leaf on the saucer, and proceeded to do my usual leaf by leaf inspection. My findings were inconclusive, however. The restaurants lighting was very dim, and it was difficult to determine the color of the edges of the leaf. The leaves were all large fragments. I did not find any fully intact leaves. The leaves did appear to be semi-ball style oolong since it took some unrolling and unfolding to view the entirety of the leaves. Some of the leaves did show signs of possible bug feeding (small holes in the middle), which is indicative of a Bai Hao style of oolong, but certainly not definitive evidence. The size and shape of the leaves convinced me that these leaves were most likely from Taiwan, as described on the menu, but whether this tea was truly Bai Hao, I have my concerns. Next time, if there is one, I will ask the waiter to not place the sachet in the water prior to bringing it to the table. Then it’s time for a dry leaf inspection.

Overall, I do thank the Capital Grille for offering loose leaf tea, however short the list may be. I was quite satisfied with the two pots of oolong. It was pleasant to see that an upscale restaurant in Pittsburgh values the quality of tea that they offer. In fact, it made me wonder how many of the nicer restaurants offer such teas at all. It also gave my wife a good excuse to suggest going to upscale restaurants more often. I agreed with her, and I hope to make this a series of posts analyzing the tea menus and quality at the nicer restaurants in Pittsburgh.

As a lover of tea, it is certainly my hope to see more and more businesses offering better quality tea. The Capital Grille exceeded my expectation simply by offering loose leaf tea at all, and the fact that I would have enjoyed any of the four on their menu tells me that someone inside that company does know something about teas. I left a business card with a note saying that I would be reviewing the tea on my website, and thanking them for offering loose leaf tea. I doubt that the waiter or busser passed that note on, but if they did, and someone from the Capital Grille is seeing this post, then thank you again for offering gourmet teas. Please excuse the knit-picking above. I will gladly recommend your restaurant for the food, the scotch, and the tea. Cheers!

Thank you for taking your time to read this review. Please leave a comment and start a discussion.