Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea from Teavivre

After the successful review of the Jin Xuan Milk Oolong from Teavivre, I have been highly motivated to dive in to the other samples. Although the Da Hong Pao Rock Wulong keeps calling me, the Yun Nan Dian Hong black tea is more appropriate for this early morning review.

I have to give Teavivre credit on their website. They have a very helpful amount of information, complete with reviews, for each of their teas. A link to the information they provide on this Yun Nan Dian Hong black tea is available here. I will note a few details here. This black tea is hand-made in the Fengqing region of Yunnan Province, China. According to the TeaVivre website, Fengqing is the origination point of Yunnan black teas. Below is a map of Yunnan Province, China. Image is courtesy of the TeaVivre website.

Map of Yunnan Province, China (Courtesy of TeaVivre.com)
Map of Yunnan Province, China (Courtesy of TeaVivre.com)

The appearance of abundant bright golden tips in the sample pack has me excited, so let the journey begin…

Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea Dry Leaves
Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea Dry Leaves

The dry leaves of this tea are mostly bright gold, with some dark brown to black. The leaves appear to be almost entirely buds. The few pieces that do have any additional leaves included with the bud show a fine pluck, where only the first leaf down from the bud is picked. The buds and leaves are nicely twisted. The buds are softer to the touch than most black teas. The aroma has scents of sweet hay, caramel, and a light dried fruit (raisin) scent. The aroma also has a bakey character to it.

Four grams of dry leaves were placed in an 8.5 ounce (240 ml) kyusu teapot. Filtered tap water was heated to 190°F (90°C). Leaves were infused for four minutes.

Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea 1st Infusion
Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea 1st Infusion

The first infusion had a dark orange-red color, clear and transparent. The aroma has scents of caramel, citrus, dried fruit, and lightly floral. The liquor is full-bodied, with a velvety smooth feel. The taste has notes of citrus, raisins, caramel, and light malt. The finish has notes of malt and cocoa, and the aftertaste is sweet and lingering.

Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea 2nd Infusion
Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea 2nd Infusion

The second infusion had a lighter shade of orange-red color. The aroma changed rather significantly, lightening on the citrus scents, and gaining strength on the raisin scent. There are also scents of honey, and a touch of black pepper. The taste also lightened on the citrus notes, but otherwise retained the notes of raisins, malt, and caramel. The aftertaste took a slightly floral turn, but also had the sweet notes of the first infusion in a lighter form. This change of character was very surprising in a good way. These two infusions were like two different teas, both of which were very good.

Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea 3rd Infusion
Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea 3rd Infusion

The third infusion had a bright orange color, significantly lighter than the second infusion. The aroma retained scents of raisins, honey, and black pepper. The body has lightened to medium, but retained the velvety smooth feel. The taste again lightened on the citrus notes, and notes of raisins and other fruits began to come forward. The aftertaste continues to turn to the floral side and lightened on the sweet notes. Again, this third infusion was quite different from the other two.

Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea Infused Leaves
Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea Infused Leaves

The infused leaves had a uniform copper color. The number of buds far outnumbered the fine plucked leaves with buds. Almost all buds and leaves are whole, with only a few fragments found. The aroma has scents of raisins and malt, and is an overall sweet aroma. The buds and leaves feel as though they could provide an additional infusion or two.

This Yun Nan Dian Hong black tea from TeaVivre is a very high quality tea. The aroma, color, and taste of the liquor are all very welcoming. The layers of taste that seemed to come with each infusion were very different, interesting, and all were thoroughly enjoyable. The change of tastes from citrus to raisins to other fruits was very interesting. Another TeaVivre review has been completed, and another recommendation is in order. This is certainly a tea that should be experienced. Thank you, TeaVivre, for including this tea in the samples! Highly recommended.

 

 

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Tea Spotlight: Traditional Masala Chai

Read about the Traditional Masala Chai black tea from Hē Chá Tea. No flavoring oils here, just pure, fresh spices and orthodox black tea from Assam district, India. This is the only chai that you will find in my personal collection.

The Official Blog for Hē Chá Tea

The focus of todays Hē Chá Tea Spotlight segment is our Traditional Masala Chai Black Tea.

Our Traditional Masala Chai is true to it’s name, traditional. How do we know that it’s a traditional recipe? We import this blended tea directly from Assam, India. Our source in India purchases the spices from neighboring communities and farmers. The spices are then hand-cut, and hand-blended with the famously robust black teas from the Assam district. Since the spices are purchased fresh, and much of the processing of this blend is done by hand, there is only a limited supply of this tea for export. Hē Chá Tea is very proud to be able to offer this product, and truly appreciate the relationship that we have began to build with our source in India.

This Traditional Masala Chai blend has won several awards in China and the U.K., and it is gaining international attention. In…

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Taiwan Jin Xuan Milk Oolong Tea from Teavivre

As I returned to my daily profession on Friday, after two and half days of holiday celebration, I was comforted by the gift of an attractive silver package from Teavivre. Among these samples, Da Hong Pao Rock Wulong (Wuyi, China), Jin Xuan Milk Oolong (Alishan, Taiwan), Lu An Gua Pian Green (Anhui, China), Premium Tai Ping Hou Kui Green (Anhui, China), and Yunnan Dian Hong Black (Fengqing, China). I cannot think of a more welcoming package of teas to receive.

Today, I decided to start off my reviews of the Teavivre products with the Jin Xuan Milk Oolong. Pure, unflavored Jin Xuan is among my favorite varieties of Taiwanese wulongs. Any time I have an opportunity to sample this variety of wulong, I take it. Since my loose leaf tea brand, He Cha Tea, currently offers pure, unflavored Jin Xuan, it is always insightful to compare it with other brands. Thankfully, to this point, the Jin Xuan that my brand offers, which we call Mount Ali Milk Oolong, has been the best that I have tried. Thus my continuing to purchase from that source. However, I will never stop trying to find better products and good sources. It appears that Teavivre’s Jin Xuan is grown slightly north of my current source, being from the Alishan area of Nantou County. My current source is from Mei Shan Township, located in the Alishan region of Chiayi county, slightly south of Nantou County.

That being said, let’s give Teavivre a well earned fair shake. Let the journey begin…

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The dry leaves of this Jin Xuan were light to dark green in color. The leaves were in the common rolled semi-ball shape. Leaves appear to be mostly fully intact and still attached to the stem. Some leaves have no stem attached. The classic Jin Xuan aroma is present, offering scents of milk, heated butter, and some sweeter scents of brown sugar and molasses.

Four grams of dry leaves were placed in the 8.5 ounce (240 ml) kyusu teapot. Filtered tap water was heated to 205ºF (96ºC). Leaves were infused for three minutes.

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The first infusion had a light golden yellow color with a slight green tint, clear and transparent. The aroma had scents of cream, heated butter, honey, sweet vegetables, and orchids. The body was on the lighter side of medium, with the classic creamy mouth feel of Jin Xuan. The taste had notes of cream, light honey, sweet vegetables, and orchid flowers. The aftertaste had a lasting floral taste with a touch of sweet cream. The essence of flowers can be felt in the sinuses for a noteworthy duration. No doubt about it, this is a very good Jin Xuan. It is good enough to do a side by side comparison with the current Jin Xuan from He Cha Tea. The other Jin Xuans that I have tried were not even close in quality to my current product, thus never got to the side by side comparison level.  But this Teavivre Jin Xuan is definitely worthy of further evaluation. Let’s see what the second and third infusions can offer.

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The second infusion has a slightly darker shade of color to it. The aroma was quite similar to the first, with a slight lightening of the cream and butter scents. The taste balanced out nicely, lightening on the cream and making the sweet vegetable taste more apparent. Nothing negative to report on the second infusion.

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The shade of the third infusion lightened some, being more similar to the first infusion. Again, the aroma maintained much of it’s character, but lightened on the cream and butter scents, and strengthened on the sweet vegetables. The body lightened some, and the taste again lightened on the cream and the notes of sweet vegetables became more apparent. Not quite as good of a balance as the second infusion, but still a very good tasting infusion. I am still enjoying a decently long flowery essence in the sinuses.

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The infused leaves had a uniform dark earthy green color to them, with some reddish edges. Most of the leaves are fully intact, and others are large fragments. The typical Taiwanese wulong pick of the bud and three leaves is apparent. Some leaves are detached from the stems, but most are attached. There are some very nice Jin Xuan specimens in these leaves that show off the long, yet broad leaves that are characteristic of the Jin Xuan cultivar (see photo below). The leaves have a smooth, leathery feel, and are durable enough to suggest that an additional infusion or two may be expected to produce an acceptable flavor. The leaves gave off a buttery, sweet vegetable scent.

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My current studies have informed me that the popularity of the Jin Xuan cultivar is on the decline in Taiwan. It appears that it was very popular in the 1990’s in Taiwan, but the people have since moved on to new favorites. Hopefully the growing market in the U.S. will give these farmers enough incentive to keep this tasteful and unique cultivar on their farms.

To the fine people at Teavivre, this first review of your Jin Xuan Milk Oolong was a nice success! Although I always hope that the Jin Xuan that I sample is not better than my current product, I have to admit that your Jin Xuan is worthy of taking the next step and having a side by side tasting. Looks like Jin Xuan is going to be the story of my night, and that is not a complaint! Thank you very much, Teavivre, for giving me an opportunity to sample your Jin Xuan, and I am certainly excited to move on to your other samples. Cheers!

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

Pan Roasted Green Tea from Amba Estate (Plucky Teas), Sri Lanka

Today, I am going back in to my package of samples from the Ambadandegama (Amba) Estate, in the Uva province of Sri Lanka. After the high praise that the OP1 black tea from Amba earned from me in a previous review, I have been excited to get back to this box of samples.

Although the vast majority of tea production in Sri Lanka is in the form of black tea, there are certainly some high quality green teas produced on the island nation, as well. Amba Estate uses a fine pluck on all of their teas, picking only the bud and first leaf. The teas are hand-crafted, and truly artisanal in quality. Look for reviews of some of their other artisanal teas in the near future.

For more information on the Amba Estate, please visit their website at http://www.ambaestate.com.

In my ongoing attempt to be able to publish more reviews in an increasingly time-efficient manner, I will be shortening the second and third infusion descriptions. Essentially, I will provide the photos of the infusions, and simply note any significant differences from infusion to infusion. I am also cutting down the verbiage related to the brewing method. I will find better outlets for my more interesting written pieces. 🙂

Now, let the journey begin…

Amba Green Tea Dry Leaves
Amba Green Tea Dry Leaves

The dry leaves of this green tea have a wide range of colors, from dark green to brownish-green to black, and even some silver tips mixed in. It is obvious that this tea is pan-fired. The leaves vary in size and shape, and are rather tightly rolled. There appears to be fully intact leaves, as well as fragments, but very little crumbs or bare stems. Some leaves show the fine pluck quite well. The aroma has scents of toasted seeds, sweet hay, and sweet wood. The aroma is certainly unique, sparking my interest in how it will translate in the cup.

Five grams of dry leaves were placed in the 8.5 ounce (240 ml) Kyusu teapot. Leaves were infused in 175°F (80°C) purified water for one minute.

Amba Green Tea 1st Infusion
Amba Green Tea 1st Infusion

The liquor has a golden-yellow color, clear and transparent. The aroma has layers of sweetness, from ripe tropical fruit to brown sugar to sweet hay. Scents of toasted seeds are also present. The body is medium, with a mouth filling feel. The taste has notes of toasted seeds, sweet hay, and a slight fruitiness. There is moderate level of astringency through the aftertaste, with a slight floral note. The floral essence resonates in the sinuses for a nice duration.

Amba Green Tea 2nd Infusion
Amba Green Tea 2nd Infusion

The second infusion has lightened considerably, balancing out the flavor and lightening the astringency some. Same general aroma and taste notes.

Amba Green Tea 3rd Infusion
Amba Green Tea 3rd Infusion

Third infusion again lightened considerably. Lighter taste and aroma. Astringency remains moderate.

Amba Green Tea Infused Leaves
Amba Green Tea Infused Leaves

The infused leaves range in color from fresh green to light brown. The fine pluck method is evident in many of the leaves. There are some fully intact leaves with buds, and some fragments. There are no bare stems. The leaves carry the aroma of toasted seeds, almost toasted grains, wet hay, and a slight woodiness. The leaves feel strong enough to produce an additional infusion, although I suspect the taste would be quite light.

This Pan Roasted Green Tea is certainly one of a kind. Every aspect of this experience, from the look to the aroma to the taste were evidence of the pan roasting that this tea had been through. The aroma of the first infusion was sweeter than I expected it to be. The astringency was also stronger than I expected, but perhaps I am somehow responsible for that. I am still getting used to the kyusu, and finding the appropriate amount of tea to put in it. I am always excited to try something new, and although I am not as big of a fan of this green tea as the OP1 black tea from Amba, this is definitely a tea worth experiencing. Many thanks to Amba for sending this sample to me, and I look forward to the next review.

Guest Post: Making the Jump from Tea Drinker to Tea Server by Nicole Martin

Nicole Martin, tea writer and owner of the Tea For Me Please blog, has been generous enough to set some time aside to write a guest post for this blog. If you are familiar with tea related blogs, then certainly you have read some of Nicole’s articles before. Nicole has been tea blogging for much longer than I have, and has established an impressive reputation among the tea blogging community.

Within the past couple of months, Nicole has accepted a position at a traditional Chinese tea house in her area. Nicole’s post documents her experience in making her passion for tea more than just a personal hobby, as she is now on the other side of the retail fence, preparing and serving tea to other consumers.

After reading her post below, please remember to check out her tea blog at http://www.teaformeplease.com. Also, find her on Twitter and Instagram (@teaformeplease), as well as Facebook and LinkedIn. She regularly posts on a variety of tea topics, from tea and book reviews to tea shop experiences, and even interviews with some popular faces in the tea industry.

On to Nicole’s post…

Making the Jump from Tea Drinker to Tea Server

Tea has been an all consuming passion of mine for the last five years or so. Oddly enough, I’ve only recently made the jump to working at a local tea shop. Part of why it took me so long is that there weren’t any places that did tea the way that I wanted to. My conscience just would not allow me to push sales of german rock sugar and other unmentionables on unsuspecting shoppers. When a traditionally styled Chinese teahouse opened nearby, I jumped at the opportunity to pursue my obsession further. In my naivety I also thought that it might be easy. I had a strong retail background and plenty of tea swigging experience. What could be easier?

I soon discovered that it was not easy at all. My first few shifts left me exhausted with aching feet and burned fingertips. Although I’m fairly well versed in Chinese teas, I was at a loss for words when trying to describe the differences between them to my customers. Adapting to the shop’s recommended methods took some major adjusting as well. I had to retrain myself to pour gaiwans in a different way than I had been used to. Water temperatures, steep times and
the amount of leaf used are usually a matter of personal preference but in a work setting they become rules to be followed.

Given that most of our customers had never even tasted loose leaf tea before, we had to find an easy to understand language to get the point across. Wine analogies quickly became a frame of reference to help them to build a basic understanding. The knowledge that I had gleaned from
doing customer service for a wine retailer certainly came in handy. Myths about tea abound so we often answer the same questions every day. Which tea is the healthiest? White tea is made from the best leaves, right? Is it true that green tea doesn’t have caffeine? It’s hard to answer these questions because most of the time there is not an easy answer, even for a tea nerd like myself.

Brewing tea for others is very different from making it for myself at home. It is nerve wracking, humbling and fascinating all at once. Of course I wanted my new place of employment to do well but I was amazed at how well a very traditional tea shop has been received. Although a few have balked at the price, most of the people who have come through leave with a newfound appreciation for tea and Chinese culture. They all seem to really enjoy the calming effect that
tea has. While they focus on what they are sipping, the troubles that they walked in with seem to melt away.

Introducing someone to a tea that they never knew existed (like raw puerh or phoenix oolong) is an incredibly satisfying experiences. While I may not make a career out of it, every day is a challenge and there is always something new to learn. I cannot wait to see where my journey
with the leaf takes me next.

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Certainly, Nicole’s experience is something that any tea hobbyist can relate to. There is probably a larger amount of incorrect or oversimplified information in the U.S. tea market than thorough and correct information. And yes, tea preparation is a very subjective activity, meaning that each person can have a totally different method of brewing and enjoying their tea, so it would be difficult to serve a tea according to the strict instruction of the business owners, as compared to years of personal experience and opinion.

Best of luck to you, Nicole, in all of your future tea and non-tea endeavors. Continue doing an excellent job of spreading the good word about tea. There is plenty of information to spread to plenty of people!

Tea Spotlight: Earl Grey Prime

The Official Blog for Hē Chá Tea

Today’s Hē Chá Tea Spotlight focuses on our truly unique Earl Grey Prime black tea.

Why do we say that our Earl Grey Prime is truly unique? We say that because Hē Chá Tea is the only brand in the United States that offers this specific blend! We are the first, and at the time of this post, only, brand in the United States to import directly from the specific tea factory located in the famous Uva region of Sri Lanka. After much time spent sampling this factory’s teas, blending various flavors of teas, and sampling again, we finally developed a perfect combination. So, when we say that this Earl Grey product is unique to Hē Chá Tea, we mean it! You will not find this exact single origin tea and blend anywhere else in the United States!

We have established the technical reasons as to why our Earl Grey Prime is truly…

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Sencha of the Wind from Kyoto Obubu Tea

Finding pleasure in Japanese green teas is somewhat of a new notion to me. Although I have had various green and black teas from Japan over the years, I cannot say that they were among my preferred varieties. That all changed in one evening about a month or so ago.

My wife was out of town, and I had just put my son to bed. The circumstances were accommodating for a quiet evening. There was no Pittsburgh Penguins hockey games on television, and nothing else that was demanding my immediate attention. Even my three year old Yorkshire Terrier was in a quiet mood. I lit all of the candles in my living room, about eight altogether. I prepared a large bowl of ceremonial grade Matcha, turned off all of the lights in the house, and slowly sipped the jade green elixir in the quiet light of the candles. It was the first time I felt truly relaxed in my own home in quite some time. Americans often forget how beautiful a truly quiet atmosphere can be. I don’t know if it was simply the atmosphere, or my tastes had changed, or a combination of everything, but that Matcha tasted perfect, and had a tranquil and uplifting essence to it. Suddenly, all I was able to think about was Japanese green teas.

Within days, I rediscovered the catalogs of Kyoto Obubu Tea that had been sitting in a file for a few months. I quickly ordered the sample packet, and waited excitedly for it to arrive. When it arrived, it was great to see the array of hoji cha varieties, sencha varieties, and even some interesting products such as the pickled yoshino cherry blossoms. The smoky roast hoji cha was first on my review list, but now it is time for a sencha.

Update 01/09/2014: Simona from Kyoto Obubu Tea sent me some interesting details of this specific Sencha of the Wind. Although the large majority of sencha teas from Japan use the Yabukita cultivar bush, Obubu uses the Zairai cultivar. The Zairai cultivar is known to have larger leaves than the Yabukita, thus explaining my original observations that the leaves of the Sencha of the Wind seemed larger than other sencha products that I have had in the past. Thank you for the information, Simona!

Let the journey begin…

Sencha of the Wind Dry leaves
Sencha of the Wind Dry leaves

The dry leaves of this Sencha of the Wind are bright to dark green in color, with yellow stems being visible. There is variation in the size of the leaves, which are all fragments. The leaves are tightly rolled. Some of these leaf fragments appear larger than other sencha leaves that I have seen before. However, they do not appear to be fully intact leaves. The leaves are very dry and quite brittle. The aroma is that of fresh grass and sweet hay. The aroma is very fresh and pleasant.

This sample was prepared using the standard method. Filtered tap water was heated to 175°F (80°C). Five grams of dry leaves were placed in an eight ounce (240 ml) kyusu teapot. The leaves were infused for one minute for the first infusion, thirty seconds for the second infusion, and one minute for the third infusion.

Sencha of the Wind 1st Infusion
Sencha of the Wind 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor with a light jade green color. The liquor had a haze to it, and was translucent. The aroma had scents of fresh cut grass, sweet hay, and, although it seems out of place, I thought I detected a slight black pepper scent. The table on which the cup sat was clean, and I do not use black pepper often at home. Anyway, perhaps I misread another scent. The liquor had a medium body, with a savory (umami) feel. The taste had notes of sweet hay, fresh cut grass, and a moderate astringency. The aftertaste was sweet hay, with a lingering flowery essence left on the breath. This first infusion certainly had the umami character that good Japanese green teas are famous for.

Sencha of the Wind 2nd Infusion
Sencha of the Wind 2nd Infusion

The second infusion produced a liquor with darker shade of jade green than the first infusion. The liquor was slightly less hazey. The aroma retain scents of sweet hay and fresh cut grass, and I am still picking up a slight black pepper scent. The body has lightened some, and the savory feel (umami) has also lightened. The taste retains notes of sweet hay, fresh cut grass, and a moderate astringency. The aftertaste has lightened, but the flowery essence on the breath is more noticeable. Besides the lightening in the body and umami, the taste and aroma were nearly as good as the first infusion.

Sencha of the Wind 3rd Infusion
Sencha of the Wind 3rd Infusion

The third infusion produced a liquor with a shade of jade green very similar to the first infusion. Again, the haze in the liquor lightened, but was still present. The aroma retains scents of sweet hay and fresh cut grass, but the black pepper scent has lightened significantly. The body has lightened some again, and the savory (umami) feel has lightened. The taste retains notes of sweet hay and fresh cut grass, and the astringency has leveled off. The aftertaste is light and refreshing, with the pleasant flowery essence retaining its strength.

Sencha of the Wind Infused Leaves
Sencha of the Wind Infused Leaves

The infused leaves are a uniform fresh green color, with yellow-green stems. There is variation in the size and shape of the leaf fragments, but I do have to say that these fragments are larger than other varieties of sencha that I have had before. There are no fully intact leaves, all fragments. The leaves are delicate, but I am confident that they can provide one or two additional infusions. The aroma is very fresh, and has a scent of sweet hay and sweet wet grass. The aroma is very pleasant.

I did infuse these leaves two additional times. The fourth infusion was still quite tasteful, but the fifth was rather weak. Regardless, getting four infusions out of a sencha is commendable.

After waiting patiently to have a fresh Japanese green tea, this Sencha of the Wind was quite satisfying. The aroma was very fresh, although the black pepper scent is unexplainable, not that it took anything away from the overall aroma. The taste of the first infusion had the umami feel that truly makes Japanese green teas special. This tea had a very refreshing and hydrating effect to it. I truly enjoyed this tea, and I look forward to having an opportunity to compare two or three sencha varieties side by side in order to understand the more subtle differences between them. Thank you, Kyoto Obubu, for your efforts in producing such teas.

OP1 Artisanal Ceylon Black Tea from Amba Estate

UPDATE: The Amba Estate Hand-Rolled GF OP1 Black Tea is now available at The Tea Journeyman Shop! Click Here to view and purchase this masterfully crafted Ceylon tea from the Uva Province of Sri Lanka.

About two weeks ago, I received a beautiful package of samples from the Amba Estate. The Amba Estate is one of the few, if not only, estates in Sri Lanka that produces very high quality, hand plucked and hand processed, artisanal quality teas. Considering the fact that my favorite black teas already come from Sri Lanka, I have been very excited to open one of these artisanal black tea samples from Amba Estate.

Sadly, I did not have a brewing vessel that I felt was appropriate for the sample weight. Admittedly, I drink more tea than I probably should, because most of the teapots in my collection are rather large (30 to 40 ounces). With the holidays coming up, I decided to invest in a nice, smaller, traditional Japanese Mogake Tokoname Kyusu. It holds about eight and a half ounces (240 ml) of liquid. I primed the pot in boiling green tea, let it dry overnight, and now it is ready for use.

What better way to welcome the Kyusu into my home than to offer it a tea that I have been waiting to experience for weeks. The sample pack of the OP1 from Amba Estate has been opened, and a beautiful aroma of dried fruits, honey, and sweet hay have hit me, as I see nicely rolled, whole leaves in the pack.

Let the journey begin…

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The dry leaves of the OP1 are a uniform dark brown to black in color, with some golden tips present. The leaves are gently rolled. There appears to be some fully intact leaves, as well as tips and some fragments. No bare stems are noticeable. These leaves are certainly longer (leggy) than other OP1s and OPAs from Sri Lanka that I have experienced. The aroma is magnificent, having strong scents of dried apricots, raisins, sweet hay, and a touch of honey. The aroma is complex, sweet, and definitely on a higher level than anything I have smelled from Sri Lanka. That is really surprising to me, as many of my favorite black teas (Nuwara Eliya OP1, Uva OP1), whose aromas I find very attractive and high quality to begin with, are not on the same level as this tea.

The standard method of preparation was used for this sample. Filtered tap water was heated to 212ºF (100ºC). Three grams of dry tea leaves were placed in the eight and a half ounce (240 ml) Mogake Tokoname Kyusu. The teapot was filled about 2/3 of the way with water, about five ounces (140 ml). The leaves were infused for two minutes, with fifteen seconds being added to each infusion.

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The first infusion produced a liquor with a beautiful, bright, and lively orange color, with a glowing golden ring. The liquor was clear and transparent. The aroma was incredibly sweet and complex, boasting scents of papaya, apricot, toffee, sweet potato, and very light mint and citrus scents. The liquor had a medium to full body, with a mouth filling and uplifting feel. The taste had strong notes of papaya, thick honey, black licorice, apricot, and the classic slight briskness that Uva teas are known for. The aftertaste had a black licorice note, with a menthol effect. A cooling sensation came over the mouth as I inhaled. This is an incredible tea, like nothing I have ever experienced before. Who wants to go in on a few kilos of this with me?! It is worth every penny.

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The second infusion produced a liquor with a very slightly lighter shade of bright orange, with a golden ring. The color retains it’s lively, beautiful color. The aroma remained very powerful, with scents of papaya, sweet potato, black licorice, toffee, and a slight mint scent. The body remains medium to full. The taste has balanced itself slightly, but certainly lost no quality between infusions. Notes of papaya, black licorice, thick honey, apricot, with a menthol effect in the aftertaste. The briskness has dissipated some, but this fact had no negative effect on the overall taste. This second infusion was just as good as the first, if not better due to the balance. I am honestly overwhelmed by this tea.

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The third infusion again was slightly lighter in color than the second infusion, but retains a bright orange color with a golden ring. The aroma can be felt the second that it is poured from the pot, and is just incredible. The scents continue to be strong on the papaya, apricot, sweet potato, black licorice, and slight mint. There is very little dissipation in the quality of the aroma between the second and third infusions. The body has lightened to medium, but maintains the mouth filling and uplifting feel. The taste remains very high quality, with notes of papaya, apricot, black licorice, thick honey, and some citrus coming through. There is no noticeabe astringency or briskness to this infusion. I think this tea can produce yet another infusion or two before it is exhausted.

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The infused leaves of the OP1 have a uniform copper color. There are some fully intact leaves, quite a few tips, and some large fragments. There are very few stems, but none are completely bare. The leaves maintain some structural integrity, suggesting that an additional infusion or two may produce a good flavor. The aroma is very sweet, maintaining a papaya, citrus, black licorice, and toffee smell. These are definitely the best smelling infused leaves that I have ever experienced. These are also the best looking infused leaves from Sri Lanka that I have seen.

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To say that I am impressed with this tea does not even scratch the surface of my strong feelings for it. Amazed is not even close. There is no word that holds a positive connotation that can describe how I feel about this tea. As far as black teas are concerned, this is number one to me, followed by the Red Rhythm from Taiwan. The aroma is intoxicating, the color is truly beautiful and lively, the tea has an uplifting energy to it. The taste is overwhelming. To most people, I think they would have a very hard time believing that this is not somehow flavored during production, but it is not! If you think Sri Lanka produces some good black teas, try this out and be ready to say that Sri Lanka makes some of the best black tea in the world. If you want to try this tea, I think our friends at Tealet Teas have some in their subscription boxes right now. Otherwise, I am able to order directly from Amba Estate. If you trust my word, live in the U.S., and are interested in ordering some of this tea, please message me. I will be happy to contribute towards getting a few kilos of this. You will be incredibly satisfied with your purchase.

Thank you to a very helpful woman, Beverly Wainwright, from Amba Estate. Beverly reached out to me to introduce me to the teas from Amba, and I am so grateful to have had an opportunity to try such a first class tea. Beverly, I cannot thank you enough for contacting me. By the way, Amba is one of the few estates in Sri Lanka to produce coffee, as well. Maybe I will have a friend of mine, a coffee roaster and entrepreneur, submit a guest post with a review of the Amba Estate coffee. My wife absolutely loved the “big bean” product. Anyway, thank you again, Beverly, and please continue the good work at Amba. I will be singing praises to it! 🙂 Cheers!

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

Jin Jun Mei Black Tea from Lin Farm

Another exciting day, and another package of excellent and authentic Chinese tea from the Lin Family in Anxi County, Fujian Province, China. I have raved about the high quality Ti Kuan Yin that comes from the Lin family farm. In fact, that is the only Ti Kuan Yin that I buy for my personal supply, as I have not cared for most of the other Ti Kuan Yin oolongs that I have tried. The point being, the Lin family farm produces some exceptional quality teas.

In recent weeks, I have read a few articles regarding the blossoming popularity in China of a particular black tea, Jin Jun Mei. Despite the fact that it has only been developed in the past decade, Jin Jun Mei has gained popularity like no other black tea in China’s history. Having this tea name so freshly in my memory, I was excited to see a sample of it listed on the packing slip with my most recent purchase of Ti Kuan Yin from the Lins. It seems that the Lins have a family member in Wuyi County who produces some very good teas, including Jin Jun Mei and Rou Gui black tea. Reading of it’s popularity in China, I am interested to see what all of the excitement is about.

That being said, let the journey begin..

Jin Jun Mei Dry Leaves
Jin Jun Mei Dry Leaves

The dry leaves of this Jin Jun Mei are a uniform dark brown-black color, with an abundance of gold tips. The leaves are fairly short in length, and twisted. They appear to be small leaves or buds, and few stems. The aroma is sweet (malt, molasses), with a touch of spice (cinnamon), and an attractive bakey tone.

This sample was prepared using the standard method. Purified water was heated to 212°F (100°C). Three grams of dry leaves were placed into a professional tasting cup holding about three ounces (100 ml). The leaves were infused for fifteen seconds, with ten seconds added to each additional infusion.

Jin Jun Mei 1st Infusion
Jin Jun Mei 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a beautiful bright amber color, perfectly clear and transparent. The aroma was sweet (malt), with a slight floral (orchid) scent. This liquor has a full bodied, mouth filling taste. The taste is sweet (malt), floral (orchid) and had a fruity acidity to it (pineapple?). Floral (orchid) notes are felt in the finish. There was a very mild astringency. Very tasteful and sweet, despite the short suggested infusion time. I am beginning to understand it’s appeal.

Jin Jun Mei 2nd Infusion
Jin Jun Mei 2nd Infusion

The second infusion (25 seconds) produced a slightly darker shade of amber than the 1st infusion. The aroma lost no strength or character, remaining sweet and slightly floral. Body remains full, with a mouth filling taste. The taste remains sweet, floral, and slight fruity, with a floral finish. The fruity acidity did dissipate some in this second infusion, leaving the malt taste more dominant. Astringency remains mild, but noticeable. I like the short infusion times, as they produce great tasting teas, and the leaves should be able to produce quite a few infusions.

Jin Jun Mei 3rd Infusion
Jin Jun Mei 3rd Infusion

The third infusion (35 seconds) produced a liquor more similar to the first infusion, slightly lighter shade of amber than the second infusion. Aroma is less strong on the sweet (malt) scent, and more dominant in the floral (orchid) scent. The body remains full, with a mouth filling taste. The taste also lightened on the sweet (malt) note, and is more dominant on the floral (orchid) note, with the fruity acidity (pineapple) still light, but noticeable. The floral (orchid) finish and aftertaste remain. The astringency has dissipated some. I found this third infusion to have the best balance out of the three infusions. It has a perfect blend of sweet and floral scents and tastes. Very high quality third infusion.

Jin Jun Mei Infused Leaves
Jin Jun Mei Infused Leaves

The infused leaves of the Jin Jun Mei have a uniform brown color. The leaves consist of some fragments and a good number of buds. A few stems are present. The leaves still have some structural integrity, indicating that additional infusions can produce an acceptable flavor. The aroma of the infused leaves retain the sweet (malt) and floral (orchid) aromas. These leaves definitely have some taste left to give.

Although I do not have a photo, I did have time to make a fourth infusion. The color remained a nice shade of amber, not much lighter than the third infusion. The aroma lightened on the sweet (malt) scent, but the floral (orchid) scent persisted, and even a fruity scent can be felt. The body lightened some, but is still medium-full. The taste reflected the aroma, lightening on the sweet (malt) note, and maintaining a very pleasant floral (orchid) note, with the fruity note remaining. The aftertaste is still floral and lingering, indicating the quality of the tea.

To get four solid infusions out of a black tea is very impressive. Not only did I get four solid infusions, but I am strongly confident that one, two, or even three more is a reasonable expectation of this tea. The trick with this tea is the infusion time. I admit that my first tasting of this tea had a two minute infusion time, and the results, although not bad, were not nearly as good as the results with the short infusion time. I tried the shorter time, and the difference in aroma and taste were vast. This tea had a very nice balance of tastes, and the layering of tastes from infusion to infusion was very impressive. Assuming this is an authentic Jin Jun Mei from Tongmu village, then I can understand the excitement and popularity of this tea. Thank you, Linda, for your generosity in providing this excellent sample to me. Another impressive produce from the Lin family.

 

Makaibari Estate, Darjeeling – First Flush Versus Autumn Flush Teas

Today, I decided to take a slightly different angle on reviews. Rather than focus on the characteristics of one tea over multiple infusions, I decided to focus on the difference between a Darjeeling First Flush tea and an Autumn Flush tea. Both of these teas are from the same estate in Darjeeling, India, the Makaibari Estate.

As far as I know, these two teas are from the same bushes, same altitudes, and receive the same general processing techniques (please email me and correct me if I am wrong on this). Therefore, the primary difference between these two teas is one thing, the season in which they are harvested. The first flush is harvested in the Spring after the hibernation period has ended, and the Autumn flush is harvested in the Autumn before the next hibernation period sets in.

In a future post, when I have a little more time to focus, I intend on doing a side-by-side-by-side comparison that will include all three flushes, First, Second, and Autumn, from the same estate in the Darjeeling area of India, the Jungpana Estate. For now, let’s get back to the comparison at hand, the Makaibari Estate First Flush versus Autumn Flush. Let the journey begin…

First Flush (Left), Autumn Flush (Right), Dry Leaves
First Flush (Left), Autumn Flush (Right), Dry Leaves
Makaibari Estate First Flush Dry Leaves
Makaibari Estate First Flush Dry Leaves
Makaibari Estate Autumn Flush Dry Leaves
Makaibari Estate Autumn Flush Dry Leaves

As you can see in the comparison photos, there is very little difference between the first and autumn flush teas in the appearance of the dry leaves. Both have leaves with a variety of colors ranging from green to red to dark brown. If anything, the Autumn flush leaves look a little brighter in color, perhaps an indication of it’s freshness compared to the Spring Flush which is about six months old. Both teas have leaves with a high level of variation in size and shape, with some stems visible. All leaves are fragments, none are fully intact.

The difference in the aromas, on the other hand, is profound! The First Flush is very floral and sweet (dried fruit, grape). The Autumn Flush is sweet also, but more like molasses and brown sugar. I found the Autumn Flush to also have a spicy scent to it, almost like cinnamon. I was truly intrigued by the difference in the aromas. Two opposing forms of sweetness. What’s most interesting to me is that the aromas seem to represent the familiar aromas of their respective seasons. The first flush had strong floral notes, representing the smell of flowers in the spring. The autumn flush was sweet and spicy, representing the food and drinks that come with the Autumn and winter holidays.

Both of these samples were prepared using the same parameters. Purified water was heated to 200°F (96°C). Nine grams of each tea were placed in separate twenty ounce (570 ml) teapots. The leaves were infused for two minutes and thirty seconds, then strained into separate decanters.

First Flush (Left), Autumn Flush (Right)
First Flush (Left), Autumn Flush (Right)
Makaibari Estate First Flush Liquor
Makaibari Estate First Flush Liquor
Makaibari Estate Autumn Flush Liquor
Makaibari Estate Autumn Flush Liquor

Before preparing these teas, I expected the Autumn Flush to have a darker color than the First Flush. To my surprise, it was quite the opposite result. The First Flush had a dark gold color with a reddish tint. The Autumn Flush had a lighter shade of golden-yellow with a bronze tint. Both liquors were clear and transparent. The aromas were very different again. The First Flush had a strongly floral (roses?), and delicate with a light scent of fruit (grape). The Autumn Flush had a spicy, sweet, and floral aroma. The dynamics of the aromas were completely different. I was also surprised by the fact that I found the First Flush to have a fuller body and feel than the Autumn Flush. Both had medium bodies, but the Autumn Flush felt slightly lighter overall. The tastes were also quite different, but did share one character, a floral (jasmine) note. The First Flush had a very strong jasmine floral flavor and aftertaste. The Autumn Flush also had a jasmine floral note (not nearly as strong as First Flush), but also had a slight spice (cinnamon) note. The Autumn Flush had a sweet (molasses and brown sugar) aftertaste that did not linger as long as the First Flush aftertaste.

We read and hear about how some people can feel the energy of the tea. Honestly, until this session, I had a hard time feeling and understanding this concept. I can tell you, with pure sincerity, that I was able to feel the difference in the energies between these two teas. It was an amazing realization for me. The First Flush had a cool, delicate, and almost quiet energy to it. It felt like an energy that would exist in cool weather months (the hibernation period). As the first harvest of the new year, the First Flush teas have been storing energy during the cold hibernation months, and I could feel that energy in the tea.  The Autumn Flush had a warm, bright, and loud energy to it. This energy felt like that which exists in warmer months, when nature is lively, enjoying the sun and warmth before the cold sets in. This experience has me truly excited to do the next comparison that will include a second flush, just to feel and compare the energy of that flush as well.

First Flush (Left), Autumn Flush (Right), Infused Leaves
First Flush (Left), Autumn Flush (Right), Infused Leaves
Makaibari Estate First Flush Infused Leaves
Makaibari Estate First Flush Infused Leaves
Makaibari Estate Autumn Flush Infused Leaves
Makaibari Estate Autumn Flush Infused Leaves

The infused leaves of these teas were again very similar in appearance, with a wide range of colors, and little uniformity in size and shape of the leaf fragments, with some stems. The Autumn Flush leaves appeared slightly brighter and fresher in color. The aromas were quite different, with the First Flush having a fragrant scent of jasmine and a light scent of grape. The Autumn Flush also had a floral scent, but I would not identify it as jasmine, and also had a touch of spice to it. Again, these two aromas were surprisingly different.

In the end, I cannot say that I have developed a clear preference for one flush over the other in this case. I am slightly overwhelmed by my experience with the differing energies of these teas, and it has made it difficult to say that one is better than the other. What is amazing to me is how much of a difference is caused simply by the season of the year that the tea is harvested during. It seems so insignificant of a variable, and yet it is, in reality, so powerful of a factor. I can honestly say that this was among the most impressive learning experiences with tea that I have had to this point, and it has certainly opened the doors of opportunity for much more interesting review and comparison posts.

Another thank you to the Lochan Family from Lochan Teas Limited for providing these samples to me, and always keeping me updated on their fresh products. I really enjoy working with and learning from them. They have been excellent guides to me in my tea tasting journey through the world of Darjeeling (and some Assam) teas. Thanks again, Lochans! Cheers!