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Category: Oolong

Yunnan Sourcing August 2015 Jade Box: Yunnan Green Tea and 2 Oolongs

After trying out last month’s box, I was looking forward to the Yunnan Sourcing August 2015 box. You may recall that I really liked the Tie Guan Yin they provided and that I was also pleased by their Phoenix oolong. So how do this month’s teas compare?

Certified Organic Yunnan Green Tea Spring 2015

Certified Organic by COFCC, this tea is picked in the early Spring and is from the Dali region of Western Yunnan. This is a high altitude green tea which comes from 1900 meters above sea level.

I’ve never been a big fan of Yunnan green teas, and this tea is no exception, unfortunately. This is a pretty middle-of-the-road green tea. The leaves are dark, curled little nuggets of forest green with a vegetal scent.

YS-Certified-Organic-Yunnan-Green-Tea-Spring-2015

I tried making this tea twice before reviewing, using the same temperature and amounts of leaf to water, but using different steep times: 1.5 tsp of leaf and 12 oz of water at 80°C. I steeped it once for 2 minutes and once for 3 minutes. Both times the resulting liquor was a pale greenish orange colour. While the 3 minute steep was stronger, the taste for both steeps was otherwise quite similar: vegetal, somewhat smoky, somewhat mossy.

A perfectly serviceable green tea, but otherwise uninspiring.

You can buy Certified Organic Yunnan Green Tea Spring 2015 here.

Wu Yi Shan “Bai Ji Guan” Rock Oolong Tea Spring 2015

Bai Ji Guan (aka White Cockscomb) is a classic Wu Yi varietal originating from the “Bat Cave” deep in the Wu Yi mountains.  First recorded in the Ming Dynasty it was given this name because the tops of bushes have a bright yellow-green appearance that in strong sunlight is almost white in color.

The leaves for this tea were long twists of dark woody brown with hints of khaki and green. Quite pretty! I measured out 5 grams of dry leaf into a gaiwan, rinsed the leaves for a few seconds, and did 5-6 steeps in 90°C water starting at 10 seconds and increasing the time by 10 seconds for each subsequent steep.

The dry leaves smelled bready, malty, and molasses-like — this is a flavour profile I’m quickly learning to enjoy. The wet leaf smelled smoky and fruity, like tobacco and fresh plums. All of the steeps brewed up a deep clear yellow, though the initial steeps had a greenish overtone that faded over time to show a more true yellow.

In the beginning this tea was really mild, with a neutral flavour and a slight honeyed sweetness and a mild orchid note. It didn’t smell very strongly, either. It woke up a bit on the second steep, where it smelled both of minerals and licorice and tasted more strongly of orchids, bread, and green wood. The second steep also had a grassy note at the back of my mouth.

After the second steep, the leaf lightened in colour and looked almost like army camouflage!

YS-Certified-Organic-Yunnan-Green-Tea-Spring-2015

The third steep had a strong mineral smell (like wet granite or flagstones) and my tongue started to tingle. The tingling wasn’t quite astringent, but there was a chemical sensation to it. Over subsequent steps, this sensation spread all across the back of my tongue. The fourth steep continued to have that weird chemical/alkaline note — on the fifth steep I realized it reminded me of dish soap. Weird! Why do I keep tasting cleaning products in my tea?!

This tea tasted pretty consistent across 6 steeps, though I do wish it had tasted more like bread and molasses. The final steep resulted in dryness at the back of my throat, and I still got mineral/orchid/chemical notes.

You can buy Wu Yi Shan “Bai Ji Guan” Rock Oolong Tea  Spring 2015 here.

Spring 2015 Light Roast Premium Tie Guan Yin Anxi Oolong Tea

This lightly roasted tea is made from Premium Grade Anxi Tie Guan Yin from Gan De village.  The tea was roasted for about 6 hours at a low temperature of about 50C.  This light roasting gives the Tie Guan Yin a softer almost sweet taste to it.

After last month’s revelatory spring Tie Guan Yin, I was really excited about this tea. Luckily, it didn’t disappoint. The big difference is in the leaves. Last month’s TGY had leaves that were a beautiful emerald green. This month’s TGY has leaves that are a darker, more muted green. However, they unfurl in the same lovely, crinkly way.

YS-Spring-2015-Light-Roast-Premium-Tie-Guan-Yin-Anxi-Oolong-Tea-leaf

While this tea is not quite as distinctive as its counterpart from last month, it’s floral, light, and quite creamy. I brewed this western-style: about 3.5 teaspoons to 3 cups water at 90°C for 2 minutes. The resulting brew was a deep, clear buttercup yellow.

What’s interesting is that I can taste the difference that the light roast has made between this month’s TGY and last month’s. This month’s tea liquid itself is darker, and I’m getting notes of hay and wood in addition to the flowery orchid/gardenia notes from last time. The cream flavour that I sensed in last month’s box has deepened and intensified into something more buttery — if I didn’t know better, I would have thought this was a milk oolong.

I actually steeped this twice: I let the leaves sit overnight and made a smaller cup of tea the next morning. The liquor was still a deep buttery yellow but the flavour was more mineral/metallic. Still a pleasant cup, though.

You can buy Spring 2015 Light Roast Premium Tie Guan Yin Anxi Oolong Tea here.

Verdict

There were actually four teas in the Yunnan Sourcing August 2015 box, an herbal tea made of dried ginseng flowers, but the smell was so weird (it smelled like broccoli!) that I decided to avoid that little adventure. My favourite of this month’s teas was the lightly roasted Tie Guan Yin. Who knew I’d go for this variety two times in a row?

White2Tea August 2015 Subscription Box: Clover Patch Oolong and 2 Da Hong Paos

Although I consider myself a tea junkie, I still don’t know a lot about oolong. My first few experiences with oolongs were positive, but didn’t really sell me on the whole thing. (Of course, I am learning to change my mind.) So I’m glad that the White2Tea August 2015 box is making me expand my palate a bit.

This month’s selection promises to veer quite off the beaten path. W2T includes a little paper in each box describing the month’s teas; since none of these ones are on the website yet (as far as I can tell), I’ve transcribed them for you.

Fresh Da Hong Pao

A special tea for the August White2Tea box. We recommend drinking this sample first out of this month’s 3 teas. Normally, vendors wait much longer to sell freshly roasted Yancha oolongs. This will likely not be a crowd favourite, though some may love it. It will be harsh and sharp with the flavour of the roast… You might notice the difference between the thrashing youth and the mellow age of the Aged DHP. This tea is for learning purposes; White2Tea does not intend to offer such a freshly roasted young DHP on our site.

I was feeling contradictory and drank the Clover Patch oolong first (see below). However, I am intrigued by the idea of doing a side-by-side comparison of two teas based on age. Let’s begin!

The Fresh DHP is made of black, gnarled nuggets of tea leaf. Dry, they smell of paper; there’s also a skunky sort of smell that reminds me of weed, unfortunately. I took about 3.8 grams of dry leaf and put them in a gaiwan. After rinsing them in 90°C water for 5 seconds, the smell deepened and the whole thing smelled fresh and wet with notes of graham cracker, blackened sugar, and burnt pie crust. The first steep was 10 seconds; the second, third, fourth, and fifth were 15, 20, 25, and 50 seconds respectively.

This didn’t taste as harsh as I was expecting. There was an orchid note there along with the note I’m learning to associate with roasted oolongs: green, wet, and sticky, like someone’s just cut into the heart of a plant and the wound is now welling with sap. There was a surprisingly soft aftertaste here like grass and orchids, along with that burnt sugar/pie crust note.

W2T-aug-2015-fresh-DHP

The second steep tasted pretty similar to the first, and the liquor was a nice amber colour. The third steep was also surprisingly smooth. However, there were signs of the tea weakening by the fourth steep — it became much lighter in colour and those burnt notes nearly disappeared. It was somewhat floral and sweet, but not enough to make for the flavours that went missing.

The fifth steep was similarly uninspiring. After that, I let it go, since it seemed like there wasn’t a lot of staying power. The spent leaves at the end hadn’t completely unfurled, but they were still a glossy black, like licorice candies.

Aged Da Hong Pao

This tea has calmed over the course of the last 8 years. The tea is somewhat fragmented, and the fine flavours have subsided to leave a mellow mineral tea behind. Thick body, deep content, and flowing smoothness. Retail vendors in China often sell this exact tea as 15 years according to the farmer.

The Aged DHP was a lot smoother overall than the fresh. The dry leaves were long, dark, and spindly, and they smelled like wood, cigarettes, and roastedness. I also smelled a hint of something salty at the back of my nose, like soy sauce.

After a 5-second rinse with 90°C water, the smell of the leaves deepened into cigars and charred wood, but I didn’t get the burnt sugar/burnt pie crust sensation that I got from the Fresh DHP. The first steep was 10 seconds, with subsequent steeps of 15, 20, 25, 30 and 60 seconds.

The first steep resulted in tea that was an ochre colour — much redder than the Fresh DHP. The fragrance was light, but sharper and woodier than the fresh stuff. Again, I couldn’t sense any burnt notes. This tea was definitely smoother, but there was a more alkaline aftertaste, especially on the backs and sides of my tongue.

W2T-aug-2015-aged-DHP

The second steep produced a more orange-y tea with a grassier aftertaste, but the flavour was neutral/floral overall. On the third steep I noticed fabric/linen notes.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth steeps were much like the Fresh DHP in that they were noticeably paler in both colour and flavour. The “fabric” note turned into something that reminded me of sandalwood. I kind of botched the sixth steep because I was folding some laundry — by the time I got back the water had cooled off a lot and I didn’t feel like reheating it.

What I find interesting is that White2Tea described this tea as “mineral.” I can see that, though I think what they consider “mineral” was what I was describing as flowers/sandalwood.

Clover Patch

Another Wuyi oolong, meant as an illustration of how different processing and varietals can yield wildly different teas. This tea is from older bushes, but is a modern expression from the same farmer as the DHP teas above. The tea is of a comparatively smaller and more experimental production. We purchased the remainder of this tea from the farmer and and we find it to be a very innovative tea with a fragrance that is knock you on your ass strong. (If you have ever wondered why I say Puer can not compete with the fragrance of oolong, here is your textbook example.) This tea is from early spring 2015.

Man, this tea is weird. It looks like your typical dark roasted oolong — long, spindly twists of black leaf — and it even kind of smells like it too, with a sweet, strong smell of buckwheat and burnt sugar.

I measured out 4.75 g of leaf (about half of what I had left after I shared it with my tea subscription buddy) and brewed it in a gaiwan with water starting out at 90°C. Since it was a lovely day out, I did it on the backyard porch, which probably affected the temperature of the water as the steeps continued.

First I did a 5-second rinse followed by a 10-second steep, then added 5 seconds to each subsequent steep.

The smell of the tea and the wet tea leaves was roasty and sweet like buckwheat or honey. But the taste was completely unexpected!

The first sensation was of something extremely alkaline on my tongue, like I splashed some sort of industrial chemical on it. On the back and sides of my tongue the taste became more floral, like honeysuckle or lilies, with an aftertaste like rose or osmanthus. The colour of the tea was amber like beer.

W2T-aug-2015-clover-patch

Over subsequent steeps I felt that the texture and taste on my tongue was like that of fabric: cotton, denim, linen, thickness covering my tongue. The floral honeysuckle/lily flavour was also there — there was none of the juicy, grassy sweetness that the smell of this tea promised.

Then it hit me. Industrial chemicals? Flowers? Fabric?

It tasted like the tea embodiment of a dryer sheet.

You know, those little wisps of perfumed, polymerized fabric you put into the dryer with freshly washed clothes to make them soft and non-static-cling-y.

What the fuck? I’m mystified, but also kind of horribly fascinated.

As I drank continuous steeps, I felt an astringent puckeriness not on my tongue, but on my lips, like the skin of my lips was tightening up and threatening to crack and expose the flesh underneath.

White2Tea was right when they called it “innovative” and “experimental.” And, as I said at the top, I want to expand my palate by drinking unfamiliar types of tea. But I also want my tea to taste, you know, edible — not like something I would put in with my laundry.

Weird. **shakes head**

Verdict

This set of oolongs was educational, but I don’t think I had a favourite here. However, that’s the whole point of boxes like this: to find out what you like and don’t like by trying out some tea without having a huge pile of stuff you might not want to drink afterwards. If this batch is anything to go by, I think I like Dan Cong oolongs over Da Hong Pao ones.

Tea Reviews: Yunnan Sourcing July 2015 Jade Tea Box

Yunnan Sourcing is a tea vendor based in China with a very good reputation among tea junkies for providing high-quality teas from across China and Taiwan for very reasonable prices. They also offer a variety of monthly subscription boxes. I’ve signed up for a subscription box of oolong and green teas (aka: the “jade” box) to share with a friend, and this is the first month of our joint subscription.

I’m super excited – let the tasting for the Yunnan Sourcing July 2015 box begin!

Certified Organic High Mountain Bi Luo Chun Yunnan Green Tea Spring 2015

High altitude green tea grown in the mountains of Dali Prefecture of Yunnan. This tea is processed in the traditional method of Bi Luo Chun. It is rolled and heat-dried by hand in a wok.

YS_certified_organic_high_mountain_bi_luo_chun_yunnan_green_tea_spring_2015_leafThe first tea in the jade monthly box is this Bi Luo Chun from Yunnan. I really like Bi Luo Chun teas, but it depends on where they are grown. Yunnan greens have a smoky, rubbery smell to them that I generally dislike, and, sadly, this tea is no exception.

The leaves of this tea are dark green-brown curled nuggets with a thick, vegetal scent that, in addition to the smoke/rubber note I mentioned above, smells somewhat roasted. In fact, it reminds me rather of an oolong than a green tea. Interesting.

I steeped 1.5 tsp of dry leaf in a 12oz mug with 85°C water for 2 minutes. The resulting brew was a pale orange-yellow and smelled similarly to the dry leaf — roasty, somewhat vegetal, but still smoky.

The tea tasted similarly — roasty and vegetal, with a lingering grassy aftertaste reminiscent of barley. For me, a really good Bi Luo Chun should be vegetal and buttery but also sweet. There are some I’ve had that tasted like honey, or had a natural sweetness upon the second steeping; I found no sweetness here, unfortunately. However, if you shift your conceptions and think of this as a lightly-roasted oolong, it’s not that bad!

You can buy Certified Organic High Mountain Bi Luo Chun Yunnan Green Tea Spring 2015 here.

Spring 2015 Imperial Tie Guan Yin of Anxi Oolong Tea of Fujian

This is the highest grade of Tie Guan Yin normally available. Picked in a small window of just 2 days during the spring and autumn harvest and hand-processed in small batches to achieve a high level of aroma and full Guan Yin taste! Also known as AAA Grade!

YS_imperial_tie_guan_yin_of_anxi_oolong_fujian_spring_2015_leafI’ve never considered myself a big fan of green oolongs, but if I keep on tasting teas like this, I may be a convert.

The dry leaf of this tea looks exquisite: beautiful, dark emerald green nuggets. It smells exquisite, too: lovely, floral, creamy, and fresh. You can really tell that this tea was harvested only a few months ago. Normally the floralness of green oolongs turn me off because they have a weird sort of astringency to them, but this tea is mild and light.

I brewed 1.5 tsp of the dry leaf in a 12oz mug with 90°C water for 2 minutes. The resulting liquor was pale yellow and redolent of flowers and cream. The brewed leaves unfurled into dark green crinkles that remind me of spinach. And the taste? Smooth, balanced, gentle, and floral, like I’ve got a dream in my mouth.

This has to have been one of the best teas I’ve had in ages. I couldn’t stop talking about it for at least a day afterward! So delicate, yet so smooth; intensely flavourful, but not in an obnoxious way. It’s a tea that makes me think of quiet confidence and skill. Seriously, it’s good!

You can buy Spring 2015 Imperial Tie Guan Yin of Anxi Oolong Tea of Fujian here.

Phoenix Village “Da Wu Ye” Dan Cong Oolong Tea Spring 2015

“Da Wu Ye” known as Big Black Leaf grows almost exclusively in Phoenix Village in the Wu Dong Mountains of Guangdong. Da Wu Ye is a medium leaf varietal and natural hybrid of local “Ya Shi Xiang” bushes and “Shui Xian” varietal.

YS_phoenix_village_da_wu_ye_dan_cong_oolong_spring_2015_wet_leafThe dry leaf of this tea was long, spindly and dark brown, like little twigs or spider legs, and had a lovely autumnal, roasty smell like corn or barley. Unlike the other two teas in this box, I decided to steep it multiple times in a gaiwan rather than do a single western-style steep. I did a 5-second rinse with 90°C water, then 5 steeps of increasing length, starting at 15 seconds and ending at 30 seconds.

The tea from the first steep was amber like beer and had a thick, soupy mouthfeel with a grassy aftertaste. I think I also smelled some orchid in the cup. The aftertaste was sharp, slightly bitter, and had a fresh greenness at its heart, like the inner flesh of a plant’s stem.

The second steep tasted and looked very similar to the first, although it added some astringency that wasn’t there before. The third steep was 20 seconds, and at the front of the first sip I tasted a sweetness that reminded me of smoke, molasses, and baked beans. Weird, but cool!

In contrast to the previous steeps, the fourth steep produced tea that was a deep buttercup yellow in colour, and it had a mineral  note to it, as well as a tartness that reminded me of chewing on the skin of fresh plums. The mineral taste made another appearance in the fifth and final steep, and so did that molasses/baked beans flavour from the third steep. Interesting! I’d love to try similar oolongs in the future.

You can buy Phoenix Village “Da Wu Ye” Dan Cong Oolong Tea Spring 2015 here.

Verdict

I could take or leave the Bi Luo Chun, but I did enjoy the Dan Cong oolong once I had a chance to play with it. However, the clear winner was the Anxi Tie Guan Yin oolong. That shit was literally redemptive. I’d buy more of it in a heartbeat, though I’m worried it will have spoiled me for other green oolongs!

Tea Reviews: Irie, Soul Good, and Jubilee from Tea Leaf Co

About Tea Leaf Co

tea_leaf_coTea Leaf Co is a Toronto-based tea retailer. All their teas are certified organic by Ecocert Canada and the USDA. Most (but not all) of their teas come in sample-sized pouches of 20g. Shipping is free for orders $49, but as a bonus, shipping is a flat rate of $3 if you buy only sample sizes. I purchased three samples for review and they arrived in my mailbox in Toronto in less than a week.

You can buy from Tea Leaf Co online at www.tealeafco.com.

Irie — Coconut Chai

The first thing that will strike you about this blend is the smooth aroma of coconut which permeates the infusion, and flutters amongst the other Chai spices, without overwhelming, imparting that delicious smooth coconut flavor. The sweet notes of citrus come out at the mid point of the flavor development while the cardamom sweetness lingers towards the end… a masterful performance.

Ingredients: Black tea, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, orange peel, black pepper, coconut shreds, natural essences.

tea_leaf_co_irie_dryWhen I first opened the package of Irie tea, I immediately smelled the spices and the orange peel, but I didn’t smell much coconut at first. However, I could definitely see big flakes of coconut in the dry leaf, along with flecks of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and orange peel. The leaf was just lovely to look at. Eventually, I did notice the smell of coconut, but it was light and faint at the back of my nose near my soft palate.

I brewed 3 tsp in my 3-cup teapot with 100°C water for 3-4 minutes and added a dollop of agave nectar. The resulting brew was a clear amber that was lighter than I expected. The smell was a very fine balance of coconut, orange, and spices.

tea_leaf_co_irie_pourThe first taste on the tip of my tongue was of sharp spices, which eventually faded to smoothness. After that, the strongest two spice flavours were ginger and cardamom, with coconut becoming a light flavour on the back of my tongue. This was a really smooth chai with a good balance of flavours. However, I do wish that the base tea had been stronger, as it was really light.

Soul Good — Apple Cider Oolong

A perfect cup of all natural apple cider to warm you up this autumn and winter.

Ingredients: Oolong tea, apple pieces, ginger, natural essences.

Soul Good apple cider oolongWhen I first opened the package of Soul Good tea, I smelled a powdery smell that I couldn’t quite place. It reminded me of potpourri or baby powder but not in a bad way — it was soft and sweet rather than dry or chalky. I could smell the ginger and the apple on top of the powder, creating an interesting flavour profile — not quite reminiscent of apple cider, but definitely fruity and spicy.

The dry leaf consists of white flecks of dried ginger, brown pieces of dried apple, and dark, curled nuggets of oolong tea. I don’t know enough about oolong to be able to identify what’s being used here, but based on the floral smell and the dark green colour of the nuggets, I’m guessing that it’s either unroasted or only lightly roasted.

tea_leaf_co_soul_good_brewI brewed the 1.5-2 teaspoons of dry leaf in 1 1/2 cups of water at 85°C for 3-4 minutes. The resulting brew was a pale orange yellow, and the dry leaf had clearly expanded a lot in the filter bag.

The brewed smell was quite similar to the dried smell: sweet, soft, fruity, powdery. I added a spoonful of agave nectar (too much, I realized in retrospect) to the cup, which helped bring the flavour forward. The apple was gentle and appeared mostly on the back of my tongue. The ginger was there if I squinted, but it wasn’t that strong.

Although this tea is billed as an apple cider oolong, I wasn’t really getting the depth of flavour that I would expect from a cider. I think this is because of the blend’s use of green oolong. I bet it would pack a greater punch if a more heavily-roasted oolong were used for the base.

Jubilee — Mango Green Rooibos

This organic herbal tea blend is an exciting combination of herbs and spices. It embodies the smells and flavors of the carnival season and piques all of your senses creating an experience that walks a fine line between excitement and relaxing escape.The carnival culture of Brazil and the Caribbean stem from African traditions, since Africans has an ancient tradition of parading and moving in circles through villages wearing masks and costumes.

Ingredients: Green rooibos, rose petals, mango pieces, calendula, orange peel, apple pieces, natural essences.

Jubilee mango green rooibosThe dry leaf for Jubilee was a mix of rose petals, calendula petals, green rooibos, and mango pieces. The smell was like ripe, juicy mango edging into overripeness. In the back, contributing to that overripe smell was the rose, adding a bit of tartness, and the calendula, adding a bit of floral peachiness.

I brewed 8 tsp of the dry leaf in my iced tea pitcher — I boiled one litre of water, added a squeeze of agave nectar, and let it sit for 5 minutes before topping the pitcher up with another litre of cool water and chucking the entire pitcher into the fridge to cool. I let it sit for about 8 hours before pouring out a glass to taste.

tea_leaf_co_jubilee_brewThe liquor was a bright sunny orange, and the dominant flavours were of mango and rose. Again, the flavour itself was very light on the tongue. Almost too light, actually — I worry I may have understeeped this.

Verdict

My favourite tea of this set was Irie because it had a very finely balanced blend of spices. I have some masala chais in my cupboard that taste like a cinnamon stick and others that are pretty much nothing but ginger, and this one sits right in the middle. Plus, the hint of coconut and orange provides depth.

The Jubilee iced tea was good, but I think I wimped out on the leaf and didn’t add enough sugar. I think I’ll use the rest of the sample for a single pitcher and see how that fares. I’m quite happy with my choices, though; Tea Leaf Co. has more blends to try, and many of them look very promising.

One Final Note: Great Service and Branding

One final thing I’d like to note about Tea Leaf Co is how solid their branding is. Their site is bright and easy to navigate, their colour scheme and typography are clear and distinct, and the quality of their packaging is apparent when looked at up-close.

On top of that, their customer service is top-notch: the owner, Stephanie, mailed my package almost immediately after it was ordered even though she was very busy dealing with many things at once, and the tea was delivered wrapped in a beautiful layer of colourful tissue paper. The package also contained a handwritten thank-you note that included a custom coupon code for future orders.

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