Quick Review: Six Borders Black Tea From Rakkasan Tea Company

As part of my attempts to evolve this blog, I have decided to begin publishing a new type of review called a “Quick Review”. The purpose is to avoid redundancy, and focus on the highlights of a particular product without spending time describing less important details. In no way is a quick review intended to imply that the product is unworthy of a full review. I have quite the supply of great teas to review, and I want to have time to give them all their spotlight. In order to do so, I need to improve my efficiency in writing reviews. Thus, the quick review will help accomplish this end.

With the necessary disclaimer being given, let’s turn our focus to the Six Borders Black Tea, offered by the Rakkasan Tea Company. Check out my Company Spotlight post on Rakkasan Tea Company to learn more about them.

You can purchase two ounces (50 grams) of this tea for USD $9.99 from the Rakkasan Tea Company website.

The leaves used to create the Six Borders Black Tea are harvested by a single family of H’mong farmers from wild tea bushes growing at an average altitude over 4,300 feet (1,300 meters) above sea level in the Yen Bai province of Vietnam. The Google map below shows the location of the Yen Bai province.

Let’s get to the review…

The dark charcoal grey to black leaves are all medium sized leaf fragments, fully oxidized, and rolled. There are a few golden bud fragments, and a few small bare stems. The aroma has scents of dark chocolate and an acidic fruity smell, which reminds me of slightly fermented cherries.

Eight grams of dry leaves were placed in an 18 ounce (530 mL) cast iron tetsubin teapot, and infused with 200°F (93°C) water for 3:00 minutes.

The liquid has a rich, amber red color. The aroma has scents of tart cherries, dark chocolate, and light malt. The body is medium, with a clean, refreshing texture. There is no bitterness, but instead a unique lightly tart quality. The taste has notes of tart cherries, dark chocolate, and light malt. The aftertaste is sweet and lightly malty.

The infused leaves have a uniform copper brown color, and carry the sweet scents of cherries and dark chocolate.

I have noticed with these wild grown Vietnamese teas, whether green or black, that they have a specific pure, clean, and refreshing quality to them. The Six Borders Black Tea certainly offers this same highlight. Additionally, the light tartness, which dovetails beautifully with the aroma and taste of cherries and dark chocolate, truly gives a unique character to this black tea. The tea liquid itself is not overpowering in taste or texture, and would be well received by those who prefer a mild black tea experience. For the reasonable price that this product is offered at by Rakkasan Tea Company, I highly recommend trying it.

Thanks again to Rakkasan Tea Company for providing this sample of Six Borders Black Tea.

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H’Mong Kings Green Tea From Rakkasan Tea Company

Today, I will be taking a look at the H’mong Kings Green Tea from Rakkasan Tea Company. You can also learn more about Rakkasan Tea Company by checking out my Company Spotlight post.

You can purchase 1.5 ounces (40 grams) of this tea for USD $11.99 from the Rakkasan Tea Company website.

This H’Mong Kings Green Tea is sourced from H’Mong wild tea farmers in the Ha Giang province of northern Vietnam. The Google map below shows the location of Ha Giang province.

The wild tea bushes harvested to make this tea are located at an altitude of about 5,200 feet (1,585 meters) above sea level, and are surrounded by forests of pine trees. The leaves are fired and dried over cast iron pans heated by burning wood.

Generally speaking, I have found most wild grown, pan fired green teas to be more similar in character to sheng (raw) puer teas, having a more complex, mineral character than the grassy, nutty, or floral characters of the more commercialized green teas. I love the mineral character, so let’s hope this tea has some of that.

As a quick sidenote, as you may have noticed, I have upgraded this site to an owned domain, and changed the theme. Any feedback, positive or negative, will be appreciated regarding the font sizes, photo sizes, color schemes, layout, etc.

Let’s get to the review…

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H’Mong Kings Green Tea – Dry Leaves

The dry leaves vary slightly in color from pale light forest green to pale dark forest green. There are a few silver buds in the mix, as well as a bare stem or two. The leaves appear to be mostly large fragments and whole leaves detached from a stem. Some leaves are still attached to the stem, many including a bud, and show a two leaf and bud pluck. Some leaves appear to have signs of light oxidation. The leaves are hand rolled. They appear to have been well cared for during firing, as there are no obvious signs of over cooking or burning. The aroma has scents of campfire, pine wood, mineral, and fresh earth. Definitely not your typical green tea!

Four grams of dry leaves were placed in a 7 ounce (210 mL) bizen-ware kyusu teapot, and infused with 185°F (85°C) water for 2:00 minutes. 30 seconds of additional time were added to each subsequent infusion. Four quality infusions were extracted from the leaves.

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H’Mong Kings Green Tea – Liquid

The liquid has a bright, pale yellow color, clear and transparent. The aroma has dominant scents of minerals, with touches of grass and pine wood. The body is medium, with a silky, light texture. There is a very slight bitterness, and no astringency. The taste has notes of minerals, wet stones, and touches of grass and pine wood. The aftertaste carries the dominant mineral character, with a lighter touch of grass. The liquid leaves the mouth feeling clean and refreshed.

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H’Mong Kings Green Tea – Infused Leaves

The infused leaves have a mostly uniform fresh forest green color, some showing slight signs of oxidation. One or two leaves appear to have signs that bugs were feasting on them. The leaves are mostly large fragments, but there are some whole detached leaves ,and some whole leaves attached to stems that show a two leaf and bud pluck. There are one or two bare stems in the mix. These leaves seem to have a larger than normal midrib. The leaves have a soft, yet durable texture, even after four infusions. The aroma carries the scents of minerals, and touches of grass, earth, and smoke.

The H’Mong Kings Green Tea is not a typical green tea, and I mean that as a positive observation. As I had hoped for, this tea is dominated by a mineral character, with some light touches of earth, grass, and wood. This is the kind of tea I dream of taking with me on a trip into the mountains, as it really offers that “connecting with nature” energy. The appearance of the leaves certainly has the “hand-crafted” look, and is obviously watched over carefully during production. The clean and refreshing feeling that this tea leaves in the mouth is also a noteworthy feature. Overall, a very unique, revitalizing green tea that should cater to the preferences of sheng puer tea drinkers.

Many thanks to the management at Rakkasan Tea Company for providing this sample of H’Mong Kings Green Tea! Keep up the excellent work. Cheers!

Company Spotlight: Rakkasan Tea Company in Dallas, Texas

It is my sincere pleasure to introduce you to Rakkasan Tea Company, a retail and wholesale tea vendor based in Dallas, Texas, founded in 2017.

RTC Logo

Rakkasan Tea Company is not your typical retail tea vendor. The founders and team have a specific mission for their business. That mission is to help spur awareness, peace, and opportunities for economic growth in tea producing areas that have had relatively recent political and societal conflicts or war, including Vietnam, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.

The vision for this mission began with the founder, Brandon Friedman, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, who served as an infantry officer in the 101st Airborne Division. After honorably serving his country, Brandon took an interest in specialty tea. Since then, Brandon has teamed up with another veteran and Green Beret, Terrence Kamauf, and his wife Crystal Kamauf, to lead the Rakkasan Tea Company mission. These people have experienced the destruction of conflict, and now work to help reverse the long-lasting effects of war, both at home and abroad.

The origin of the term “Rakkasan” is Japanese, which translates into “parachutist”. This term is used as a nickname for a particular unit of the 101 Airborne Division. Love the name. Love the connection and significance.

The teas offered by Rakkasan Tea Company are also extraordinary, or as Rakkasan succinctly puts it, “Uncommon Tea From Uncommon Places”. Not your ordinary flavored and blended commodity teas, their products are pure, unflavored, unadulterated, high quality teas from farms who aspire to create the perfect tea experience. If you are reading this blog, you have probably experienced tea from Sri Lanka, but few of you have probably had the pleasure of drinking a tea from the Amba Estate. This estate does not produce your typical Ceylon black tea. Amba Estate teas redefine high quality Sri Lankan tea. If you haven’t tried them yet, start with the Amba Ceylon Black. Your new obsession will begin there. Don’t worry, Rakkasan offers bulk discounts!

Rakkasan Tea Company does offer special pricing for other retail and restaurant businesses. If you are interested in working with Rakkasan, and making a difference for veterans here in the U.S. and communities abroad in war-torn areas, please contact Rakkasan to discuss pricing. Their contact information can be found on the website.

You can also follow Rakkasan Tea Company on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram.

In the near future, I will have the pleasure of reviewing the Rukeri Black Tea from Rwanda, the H’Mong Kings Green Tea from Vietnam, and the Six Borders Black Tea from Vietnam. I hope to have the review of the Rukeri Black Tea posted within a few hours.

Thank you for taking your time to learn about the Rakkasan Tea Company, and be sure to check out and experience the interesting teas on their website. Many thanks to Brandon and his team at Rakkasan for providing the above tea samples! Cheers to you, Brandon and the RTC team, and to your mission!

Heavy Roasted Tu Quy Oolong Tea from Lam Dong Province in Vietnam

Today I will be reviewing a Heavy Roasted Tu Quy Oolong Tea from the Lam Dong Province of Vietnam. I had previously completed a review of the standard Tu Quy Oolong, which you may read here.

As I had mentioned in a post yesterday, I have been experimenting with roasting various teas at home. The Tu Quy oolong sample was one of the teas selected for roasting experimentation. Altogether, this tea spent a toasty 90 minutes in the oven, with the temperature being increased gradually at specific time intervals. After roasting, the leaves were allowed a short time to cool (5 minutes), then placed in an airtight aluminum tea tin.

The previous review of the Tu Quy Oolong Tea resulted in a favorable review, so I am excited to see what characteristics will be affected by a heavy roast. The tea tin has been opened, and a remarkably sweet, inviting smell is immediately evident. Let the journey begin…

Heavy Roasted Tu Quy Oolong Tea Dry Leaves
Heavy Roasted Tu Quy Oolong Tea Dry Leaves

The dry leaves range in color from dark greenish-brown to very dark brown. The leaves are pressed in the semi-ball shape, with the average size being that of a black bean. The pluck should be three to four whole leaves intact with the stems. There are some leaves that have separated from the stems, but for the most part the leaves should be whole, with the remaining being large fragments. The leaves are very dense, with some being smooth and others rigid. The smell is incredibly sweet, with scents of brown sugar, sweet cream or butter, sweet wood, and vanilla.

Three grams of dry leaves were placed in a five ounce (150 ml) porcelain infusion cup. Purified water was heated to 205°F (96°C). The leaves were infused for 4:00 minutes.

My suggestion for at home preparation is to use three grams of dry leaves for every six to eight ounces (180 to 240 ml) of water to be used. Heat water to 195°F (90°C). Steep the leaves for 1:30 to 2:30 minutes. Expect four worthy infusions out of the same serving of leaves. Decrease steep time on the second infusion by 0:30 to 0:45 seconds, then increase by :30 seconds on subsequent infusions.

Heavy Roasted Tu Quy Oolong Tea Liquor
Heavy Roasted Tu Quy Oolong Tea Liquor

The first infusion produced a liquor with a bright, golden-yellow color, clear and transparent. The aroma has enticing scents of brown sugar, sweet cream or butter, baked apple, vanilla, and light orchid. The body is medium, with a clean, silky texture that becomes more creamy as the liquor cools. The taste has notes of baked apple, brown sugar, sweet cream or butter, honey, vanilla, and light orchid. The aftertaste carries the baked apple and orchid notes, and an impressive, lingering sweet floral essence is left on the breath.

Heavy Roasted Tu Quy Oolong Tea Infused Leaves
Heavy Roasted Tu Quy Oolong Tea Infused Leaves

The infused leaves have a uniform dark greenish-brown color. The leaves are mostly whole with stems intact, with some whole leaves detached from the stem, and some large fragments. The pluck is three to four leaves, with no visible buds. The leaves are long and broad, more closely resembling the TTES#12 (Jin Xuan) cultivar. The leaves have a leathery texture, yet tear quite easily. The smell has scents of sweet wood, brown sugar, forest floor, and light baked apple.

It seems that the heavy roasting of the Tu Quy Oolong brought out some very positive qualities that were not felt in the standard product. The baked apple, more powerful sweet cream, and vanilla qualities were not noted in the review of the standard Tu Quy. The roasted version is definitely sweeter, less vegetal, and has a remarkably clean, silky, and creamy texture. The leaves last an easy four infusions, with the fourth being lighter, but still enjoyable. I can say without any doubt that I prefer the heavily roasted version of the Tu Quy better than the standard. This result will certainly inspire me to continue experimentation with roasting.

Don’t forget to check out The Tea Journeyman Shop and take advantage of the closing sale prices from now until the planned closing date of April 15th.

Phu Tho Green Tea from Phu Tho Province in Vietnam

Just when I thought I had finished reviewing all of the interesting teas that arrived in the sample package from Vietnam months ago, my reorganization of samples overturned the most expensive price per kilogram green tea that I had not previously noticed at all. Today’s review will focus on the Phu Tho Green Tea.

Phu Tho Province is located in the center of northern Vietnam. Beautiful photos from the province show mist covered and steep hillsides covered in tea bushes. However, this province is among the poorest in Vietnam, with the lowest incomes being about USD $6 per month for each worker in a given household. That is unbelievable. Reading a stat like this makes me feel sick that I have ever complained about my income, even given the obvious and drastic differences in economies and cost-of-living between rural Vietnam to urban Pittsburgh.

Anyway, tea growing is a very important aspect of the economy of the Phu Tho Province. Being located in a subtropical monsoon region, this is a perfect place to grow quality tea.

The sample packet has been opened, and one can easily recognize that this is hand-rolled tea. Let the journey begin…

Phu Tho Green Tea Dry Leaves
Phu Tho Green Tea Dry Leaves

The dry leaves have a green to dark green color, with a nice amount of dry silver buds. The leaves are mostly whole, with some being large fragments. Pluck shows two leaves and a bud, many with the stem intact. The leaves are hand rolled, with an impressive level of precision and uniformity. There are no bare stems in the mix. The buds are silver, but do not have any tangible downy-like hairs. The smell has scents of roses, sweet grass, and lighter scents of smoke and toasted nuts.

Three grams of dry leaves were placed in a five ounce (150 ml) porcelain infusion cup. Purified water was heated to 175°F (75°C). The leaves were infused for 3:00 minutes.

My suggestion for at home preparation is to use three grams of dry leaves for every six to eight ounces (180 to 240 ml) of water to be used. Heat water to 175°F (75°C). Steep the leaves for a maximum of 2:00 minutes. Expect three quality infusions out of the same serving of leaves.

Phu Tho Green Tea Infusion
Phu Tho Green Tea Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor with a light golden-yellow color with a slight jade tint, clear and transparent. The aroma has notes of sweet grass, toasted nuts, roses, mineral (metal iron), and light smoke. The body surprisingly is a hearty medium, with a full, round texture. There is an intermediate level of astringency. The taste has notes of grass, roses, toasted nuts, mineral (metal iron), light smoke, light wood, and light asparagus as the liquor cools. The aftertaste carries the grass and mineral notes, slowly developing into a rose essence.

Phu Tho Green Tea Infused Leaves
Phu Tho Green Tea Infused Leaves

The infused leaves have a uniform fresh forest green color, with the stems being a greenish-brown. There is an impressive number of whole leaves and buds with stems intact. The remainder of the leaves are all large fragments. The leaves are long and fairly narrow, with the longest leaf measuring under 1.5 inches (38 mm). The leaves have fine sawtooth-like edges, and a smooth, soft, fine texture. The smell has scents of roses, sweet grass, toasted nuts, mineral, and steamed vegetable.

The Pho Tho Green Tea is definitely the best overall quality green tea that I have tried from Vietnam. The quality of production was well above and beyond that of the six or seven other green teas from Vietnam that were included in the sample box. The taste was very consistent through three infusions. In fact, I enjoyed the second and third infusions more than the first. The taste seemed to come to a nice balance in the second and third infusions. The mineral (metal iron) taste was interesting, and I cannot say that I was ever able to pick out the exact metal that I have tasted, but this was definitely iron. Perhaps cast iron pans are used during production? This was the closest thing to “artisan” tea that I have found in the box of samples from Vietnam.

Suoi Giang Special Green Tea from Yen Bai Province in Vietnam

It is generally accepted that the tea bush originated in the areas of southwest China (Yunnan), northwest Vietnam (Tay Bac), and northeast Laos (Phongsaly). To this day, these areas are known for the old tea trees that naturally flourish in the forests. Suoi Giang rests in the northern mountains of Yen Bai Province in Vietnam. This area also has an impressive forest that holds many old (and presumably wild) tea trees.

The natural environment in Suoi Giang is so perfect for the tea trees that the people who manage and watch the tea trees in the this forest need to do nothing more than add natural manure to maintain the trees. No irrigation and no shading is required. Yet, the clean and natural green teas that are produced using these old tea trees is still relatively unknown to Western tea drinkers. The reason is a shortage of workers to pick the leaves, and certainly not the quality of the teas themselves.

Let’s give some due fair analysis and respect to the work of nature in caring for the tea trees in Suoi Giang, and the Hmong workers who pluck these clean tea leaves. The sample packet has been opened, and an earthy, clean aroma is filling the air. Let the journey begin…

Suoi Giang Special Green Tea Dry Leaves
Suoi Giang Special Green Tea Dry Leaves

The dry leaves have a light to dark faded green color. The pluck is two leaves and a very small bud. The leaves consist of large fragments, and presumably many whole leaves with the stem intact. The leaves appear to be larger in size than most more common green teas. There are also a few bare stems of considerable size and thickness, like a matchstick. The leaves are rolled, and many are curled. The leaves are very dry, and crack easily and cleanly. The aroma has scents of light grass, light brown sugar, light earth, and very light dried fruit.

Three grams of dry leaves were placed in a porcelain tea infusion cup. Purified water was heated to 185°F (80°C). The leaves were infused for 3:00 minutes.

My suggestion for at home brewing is to use three grams of dry leaves for every 6 to 8 ounces (180 to 240 ml) of water to be used. Heat water to 175°F (75°C). Steep the leaves for 1:30 minutes.

Suoi Giang Special Green Tea Infusion
Suoi Giang Special Green Tea Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor with a golden-yellow color with a slight greenish tint, clear and transparent. The aroma had scents of grass, mineral (earth), light dried fruit, and light wet wood. The body was medium, with a round texture. The taste had notes of mineral (wet stone), grass, light marine, light wood, and very light flowers. The aftertaste is a combination of grass and mineral, and a flowery essence is left on the breath. All things considered, this Suoi Giang green tea reminds me of a sheng pu’er tea more than a typical green tea.

Suoi Giang Special Green Tea Infused Leaves
Suoi Giang Special Green Tea Infused Leaves

The wet leaves have a uniform fresh forest green color. Some leaves show signs of tea mosquito attacks, with small round black marks. The leaves are all large fragments or whole leaves. The larger leaves measure 2.5 to 3 inches (63 to 76 mm) in length. The pluck is two leaves and a very small bud. There are a few bare stems in the mix. The leaves have a soft, smooth texture. The aroma has scents of mineral, grass, earth, and light flowers.

Of the green teas that I have tried from the various regions of Vietnam, I will say that this has been among the best. The fact that it reminds me more of a sheng pu’er than a typical green tea has much to do with that opinion. The taste is clean and natural, with a dominant mineral character. The leaves also withstood three infusions that all produced very good quality cups. The price of this tea is relatively low at the moment, which makes it a great time to find and try it! Unfortunately, I cannot find a tea shop via Google search in North America that offers this tea. If someone knows of one, let me know and I will revise this posting with the shop’s website address.

Tu Quy Oolong Tea from Lam Dong Province in Vietnam

Today’s review focuses on the Tu Quy Oolong Tea sourced from Phuang Nam in Lam Dong Province of Vietnam. It is one of two primary oolong teas produced at Phuang Nam, the other being Thuy Ngoc Oolong Tea. According to my research, tea bushes destined to be processed into oolong tea were first brought to Vietnam in or around 1992. These bushes now cover a wide area of the southern highlands of Vietnam, particularly the Lam Dong Province. The Vietnam oolong producers follow the guidelines of Taiwan oolong producers, including equipment imported from Taiwan, and pay very close attention to using non-chemical fertilizers.

Let the journey begin…

Tu Quy Oolong Tea Dry Leaves
Tu Quy Oolong Tea Dry Leaves

The dry leaves have a light forest green to dark forest green color. The leaves are shaped into dense semi-balls. The leaves appear to be mostly whole, many having stems attached. The size of the semi-balls suggest a three to four leaf pluck. There are no bare stems in the mix, and a low amount of crumbs. The aroma has scents of brown sugar and cinnamon.

Five grams of dry leaves were placed in a 9.4 ounce (280 ml) Tokoname kyusu teapot. Purified spring water was heated to 195°F (90°C). The leaves were infused for 2:00 minutes for the first infusion, 1:15 minutes for the second, and 1:30 minutes for the third.

Tu Quy Oolong Tea 1st Infusion
Tu Quy Oolong Tea 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor with a light, greenish yellow color, perfectly clear and transparent, with a few fine particles in the cup. The aroma had light scents of brown sugar, sweet cream, and very light flowers. The body was medium, with a velvety, almost creamy texture. The taste had light notes of brown sugar, citrus, sweet cream, flowers, and a very light cooked vegetable hint. The aftertaste was sweet, and a pleasant flowery essence was left on the breath.

Tu Quy Oolong Tea 2nd Infusion
Tu Quy Oolong Tea 2nd Infusion

The second infusion produced a liquor with a brighter, bolder shade of golden yellow color. The aroma strengthened slightly, retaining the dominant scents of brown sugar, sweet cream, and light flowers. The body and texture maintained their medium and velvety texture. The taste also strengthened slightly, and retained the notes of brown sugar, sweet cream, flowers, and citrus. The vegetable taste was nearly non-existent, and I believe it could have been avoided all together in the first infusion by cutting the infusion time by 15 to 30 seconds. The aftertaste remained sweet, and the flowery essence maintained it’s strength.

Tu Quy Oolong Tea 3rd Infusion
Tu Quy Oolong Tea 3rd Infusion

The third infusion produced a liquor with a very similar shade to the first infusion, having a light greenish-yellow color. The aroma lightened some, but retained the general scents of brown sugar, sweet cream, and flowers. The body and texture thinned some from the second infusion, but remain medium and velvety. The taste also lightened, but retained the same notes as previous infusions. The aftertaste remains sweet, and the flowery essence thinned some, but was still strong enough to be enjoyed. I believe these leaves could provide at least one to two additional infusions of acceptable quality.

Tu Quy Oolong Tea Infused Leaves
Tu Quy Oolong Tea Infused Leaves

The infused leaves have a uniform forest green color, some displaying moderate levels of oxidation around the edges. The leaves are fairly broad, and display many characteristics of the Jin Xuan (TTES 12) cultivar, which would also explain the creamy aroma, texture, and taste. The leaves are mostly whole, with the remainder being large fragments. Most leaves are attached to stems, which display a three to five leaf pluck. Some stems are quite long, measuring about 3 to 4 inches (75 – 100 mm). The leaves have a smooth, wet leathery feel, and maintain a respectable amount of structural integrity. The aroma has scents of sweet cream, brown sugar, and very light flowers.

Of the four or five oolongs from Vietnam that I have tried so far, this Tu Quy Oolong Tea was in the top three. The aromas and tastes were consistent and enjoyable through three infusions. Although this product is not quite at the level of high quality oolongs from Taiwan, China, or even Thailand, the more competitive price could allow the oolongs from Vietnam to find a stable place in the market.

Please take a moment to check out my tea shop at http://www.teajourneymanshop.com. Cheers!