Friday, March 20, 2015

Simple Loose Leaf, Sheng Cha Oolong

Simple Loose Leaf Description:
Sheng Cha is an oolong tea grown at 1,100 m elevation and is grown wild.  Sheng Cha is made from tea plants left to grow for decades in the wild, this imparts a more earthy palate to the leaf.  Look for notes of sesame seed biscuits, toast and wheat.

Sample provided by Simple Loose Leaf

My Review:
Another short break from my white tea extravaganza. Today we will be looking at a tea I had not heard of before this sample. Sheng Cha. Sounds like a raw puerh. Instead this is an oolong. It does not say as much on Simple Loose Leaf's site, but I believe this tea comes from Taiwan.

The top removed from the resealable pouch causes me to ponder what I am smelling. After a moment I decided it was like the tops of strawberries. It is more than subtle, but not enough to think scented.

Scooping out a spoon of leaf, this looks like typical tieguanyin nuggets. Mainly dark green, with lighter green highlights, and a stem that reminds me of a polliwog tail.

The nuggets look deceptively loosely packed. Turns out they are hiding some massive leaves.

My Bodum press was called into service for this session. I wanted clear glass and lots of room. The press was warm and wet as I added the leaf. The damp aroma was a lot like an American biscuit.

Simple Loose Leaf's steeping parameters offers a range on the temperature from 185 F to 200 F. I used 194 F filtered water, and the 2 minute steep as called for by Simple Loose Leaf.

While steeping the nuggets fizzed, like a carbonated beverage. Pretty cool to watch. The leaf was in constant motion. It was sloooow motion but movement none the less. The leaf slowly began to unfurl. It wasn't until after the liquor was poured into the cup that I realized just how huge the leaf actually was that was packed in those nuggets.

After the first steep most of the leaf was still only slightly relaxed. The wet steeped leaf has an aroma that has again changed. It is kind of a baked bread scent with very light touches of strawberry and apricot marmalade. Slightly stronger is the aroma of light roasting and the floral notes of oolong. It is an interesting mix.

The color of the brew is like that of white grape juice. It has a light fruity and floral scent. The taste is a little of an eye opening, "O Wow!" moment. Not because it is the most amazing tea I have ever tasted, but because of the quick succession of flavors that shoot by. I doubt I caught them all.

First, I tasted biscuit and baked bread, then fruit. Again it reminds me of strawberry tops. I have not seen any other reviews that caught this same note, so it is just for me, and I appreciate it. The next flavor to fly by is a brief moment of walnut shells. Then it settles into a fruity and floral oolong flavor. Mixed throughout I catch brief roasted notes.

It is interestingly kind of tart leaving a little tingle around the lips and gums. It is also a bit sweet. The feel is a bit milky or almost foamy. It is a very curious cup. I can't quit tasting and analyzing.

The second cup calls for 1-2 minute steep. I chose 1 1/2 minute. The flavors seem to follow the first cup pretty close with maybe a touch more tingle.

This is a cool, need to try it, tea. I have read several reviews. All of them have been positive and all of them have interpreted it differently. I expect minor differences but this is all over the place. I find that fascinating.

You can find Simple Loose Leaf, Sheng Cha Oolong here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Nannuoshan, Yin Zhen

Nannuoshan Description:
Yin Zhen is the highest grade of authentic Fujian white tea. Only young buds from selected varieties of tea plants are plucked to manufacture this traditional white tea.
The leaves are covered with white, downy hair. The taste is delicate, with a light sweetness reminiscent of ripe fruits.
Original Yin Zhen is specific to restricted areas in the Fujian province. The small production, the exclusive selection of young buds, picked only under perfect weather conditions, and meticulous withering and drying processes are responsible for its high price.

Sample provided by Nannuoshan

My Review:
The last few days have been absolutely gorgeous. We just got our first healthy taste of spring and I liked it. Reviewing and writing about tea kind of got traded for outdoor activities, especially for my favorite sport - porch sitting. Oh Yeah!

Now back to our white tea extravaganza. This is the fifth and final entry from Nannuoshan. This is an authentic Fujian Silver Needle. One of my personal favorites. White tea in general and specifically silver needle is sometimes seen as too subtle by tea drinkers who are more inclined to drink very brisk or highly flavored teas. Not me. I love getting lost in the cup, and meditating on and with it. Let's get started.

The review samples have all been 6 grams and packaged in brown paper sack looking exteriors with an aluminum/mylar liner. The label tells you only the tea and company names. The website must be used to glean brewing information.

Opening the bag, I smell the usual hay like aroma of silver needle. In this case it is fuller and resembles wine and fruit - maybe apples? Very lovely.

The leaf is beautiful full young silver haired buds. The buds are so soft to the touch and so strikingly nice looking, I really did not notice the green in the leaf that is captured in the picture.

I used my clear glass teapot and half the sample (3 grams). 5 ounces of filtered water (abt 150 ml) was heated to 195 F (90 C). The steep time was 30 seconds.

Looking at the liquor in the teapot it would be easy to think 30 seconds was not enough time. The brew has almost no color. It looks a little cloudy in the picture but you'll have to trust me is was clear.

The wet leaf had a deeper almost fired scent, even though I know that is not the case. It is almost malty.

The wet leaf is now almost completely green and still very fresh looking.

The first sip is melon. It is kind of like the taste when you have eaten all the red fruit from a watermelon slice and begin to scrape into the white rind. Next I am noticing cucumber. There is no bitterness and no bite, as expected. This is slightly sweet and almost salty. It feels heavy on the tongue like it has weight. There are hints of grass and hay, as well as hints of mineral. It is also, at times, leaning towards floral. Some have called it honeysuckle. I can see this but it is faint, so don't expect it to jump out at you. It is causing some light cheek tingle.

OK, who wants another cup? I do! I do! Steep time increased to 45 seconds. The taste is similar to the first but has a deeper darker vibe to it. Especially while still hot, there is a peppery note present.

I wish I had time this afternoon to go another round, but I have to eat something, then run out the door, as I have praise band practice tonight - I play guitar. I can't be late as I have invited an awesome guitarist friend to come out and jam with us tonight.

To wrap up this review. I have tasted many silver needle white teas. This is among the top two or three I've tried. Frankly once you reach that level they get hard to pick a clear winner.

You can find Nannuoshan, Yin Zhen here. I did notice, at the I wrote this note, there were only a few 50g amounts of this year's harvest left.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Nannuoshan, Dian Yin Zhen White Tea

Nannuoshan Description:
This tea is produced in the Yunnan province, where pu’er –the most famous dark tea– comes from. Dian in Chinese is the shorter form of the word Yunnan. The rest of the name refers to the appearance of the leaves; long buds, shaped like a needle (zhen), with a pale, silver hue (Yin).

Dian Yin Zhen is produced from a different tea plant and in a totally different environment than the more famous Yin Zhen from the Fujian province. Despite the similar shape, Dian Yin Zhen has a different aroma. It is an assertive white tea with an inimitable, mellow aroma and a lingering aftertaste.

There is something curious in the taste of all Yunnan teas. White, green, black and pu'er teas, they all have a common aromatic mark, revealing their origin.
So, although white and dark teas are poles apart, you will recognize a common natural tinge in Dian Yin Zhen and pu’er: the taste of Yunnan.

Sample provided by Nannuoshan

My Review:
We are back to our continuing white tea extravaganza! The final two offerings from Nannuoshan are Silver Needle type whites. This one is from Yunnan province in China. As I begin I'm not sure if I have ever tasted a Yunnan Silver Needle. I am certain I have loved virtually every tea I have sampled from the region. I have high hopes for this one.

My first whiff from the sample bag confirms the Yunnan roots (OK leaves) of this one. It's part leather, pepper, and hay. So familiar, yet somehow very different. It's comfortable and at the same time invites exploration.

Removing the leaf, it is again familiar but different. It is obviously all buds. It looks like Silver Needle. It also looks like Yunnan Golden Tips. It is different from both in its unusual color. Neither silver nor gold, this is like downy fur covered straw.

There was some settling of the leaf, resulting in a little dust, but it remains mostly fully intact. The feel of it is so unusual. It is very soft.

I am left in a quandry before brewing. The parameters on Nannuoshan's site call for 3 grams for gaiwan brewing. I don't have a scale. If this sample is 6 grams, I should use half, yet half the sample looks light. I'm trusting that this leaf is denser than it looks and half the sample really is 3 grams.

In the clear glass teapot it goes along with water heated to 90 C (195 F). I let this steep for 30 seconds, then realized I did not know where my strainer was located. A frantic search ensued and the pour was actually at more like 40 seconds.

As I am getting ready to sniff the liquor and the wet leaf, I start catching strong odors of salmon patties coming from the kitchen. You have got to be kidding. Oh, well, my wife and the cat love stinky salmon patties. I'll adjust. What I can catch is an amplified version of the dry scent (and cat food). LOL. My bad, I did not realize it was lunch time when I started.

The liquor seemed almost colorless in the pot, but is a grayish honey color when condensed in my cup.

The taste is everything I love about Yunnan tea. Absolutely no bitterness. It has a warm earthy flavor that lingers between leather, cave mineral, slightly mushroom, and loam. It almost has a smoky presence but I am pretty sure white tea is not fired to halt oxidation. I don't know if I would call this sweet, as other reviewers have, but it certainly isn't umami.

As I sit here enjoying my cup, I realize I have experienced a similar tea before in the form of white puerh. While this one is a white tea, the similarities really are quite apparent. Yep, my love for all teas Yunnan continues.

You can find Nannuoshan, Dian Yin Zhen White Tea here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tea Ave, Tie Kwan Yin Oolong

Tea Ave Description:
The story behind Tie Kwan Yin Oolong goes something like this: Many years ago, a tea farmer from Anxi, China, discovered a tea that he took a special liking to. He named it Tie Kwan Yin, drawing from his Buddhist beliefs that the tree was a gift from the Goddess of Mercy, Kwan Yin. Fittingly, as the trees grow, they give off a pleasant aroma reminiscent of iron (tie).

Our Tie Kwan Yin Oolong is grown in Taiwan, not China, where many merchants who offer the tea source it. The terroir, or growing climate and soil conditions, of the Muzha district of Taiwan enables the trees to flourish, growing into a unique, distinctive-tasting tea. With a rich, deep flavor and a subtle bitterness, our Tie Kwan Oolong is pleasantly balanced by mellow, fruity notes, with a touch of sweetness. An opulent, distinct tea, Tie Kwan Yin is a favorite among oolong drinkers in Taiwan. 

Leaves are reddish brown and curled into balls. Tie Kwan Yin Oolong is an MOA organic tea.

Sample provided by Tea Ave

My Review:
One more oolong review before returning to our white tea extravaganza. This is the third sample from Tea Ave. The first two were excellent. Let's see if the trend continues.

This is a moderately roasted Tie Kwan Yin. It is listed as a 5 out of 10 on the roasting level while being a 5-6 on oxidation. When I opened the bag I half expected to be blown over by roasted notes. I was more than pleasantly surprised. I am also beginning to think Tea Ave is messing with me (just kidding). The roasted note is the strongest scent but I also catch fall leaves and a grape like scent. At least that is how my brains interprets the aroma.

I also was expecting the leaf to be the typical deep green shades. This one looks like a tippy black tea rolled into nuggets like an oolong. I am intrigued.

The gaiwan brewing method on the label recommends 2.5 grams of leaf for 110 ml gaiwan. I will be using a 90 ml gaiwan and the awesome aroma cup set I received from Tea Ave with the samples.

I heated the water to 200 F (95 C) and poured it into the tasting cup and then the aroma cup, to warm them, before pouring it into the gaiwan. The steep time was 3 1/2 minutes. Tea Ave recommends 3-5 minutes. That seemed long for a gaiwan but I went with it.

I used the gaiwan to fill the aroma cup, then covered it with the tasting cup. After a few moments I turned the set upside down and slowly lifted the aroma cup to fill the tasting cup.

The aroma cup is then used to catch the scent of the tea. I am not an expert at this method yet. I was mostly getting the roasted notes. I was kind of hmmm at this moment. Then I pulled the aroma cup away and immediately caught a rush of a floral bouquet. I don't know if it was from the wet leaf or the tasting cup. I just know I liked it.

The liquor is light apricot in color. Except for the leaf bits I let escape the gaiwan, the liquor is clear and bright.

The wet leaf is still partially holding onto its rolled shape. It looks like cooked spinach in the gaiwan.

In tasting, I am getting the roasted notes first and they are dark and nutty. Not at all overpowering as I feared with the long steep time. Beyond this I am getting a creamy sensation. I do not recall seeing this mentioned in any other reviews. This is not at all bitter. There is a slight bite. A sweetness runs throughout the sip. Towards the end I notice floral and fruit.

The fruit notes remind me of apricot. The floral I can't narrow down to any one primary scent. It is kind of a greenhouse scent. One thing I notice is what I am not catching, even in later cups. Normally with a Tie Kwan Yin, there is an abundance of what I have always called geranium. Other reviewers with a less favorable opinion call it latex. However you normally interpret this element, I am not detecting it here except as a very faint trace in the lingering aftertaste.

You can find Tea Ave, Tie Kwan Yin Oolong here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tea Ave, Ginger Lily Oolong

Tea Ave description:
Our Ginger Lily Oolong is prepared using the ancient method, in which the tea absorbs the flower fragrance during the baking progress, producing a scented tea that’s aromatic and flavorful without using any additives or chemicals. It’s good for you and delicious. Ginger Lily Oolong has a mild, soothing aroma.

Ginger Lily Oolong is sweet and smooth with a light body. Ginger Lily blossoms from Taiwan are blended with high mountain oolong tea (Alishan Jin Xuan) to yield a tea that has an earthy oolong taste with a light, sweet ginger finish with pleasing honey notes. A lovely, approachable, refreshing tea. Call it summer in a cup.

Sample provided by Tea Ave

My Review:
Today we are taking a short break from our white tea extravaganza to review an oolong.  I want to start by apologizing to Tea Ave for taking so long to get back to their samples. They have not complained, but it has been a month since my first review of Tea Ave. They are a new company operating out of Canada. The sample package they mailed out to several of us for review is more than generous.

The 9 gram sample came packaged in a resealable C-3PO gold colored foil bag with a clear back. The label on this things packs a ton of options for brewing parameters.

Opening the sample I smell biscuits, oats, and a little roasting. This is Alishan. Why do I smell biscuits and oats? Interesting. The roasting level is listed as a 1 on a scale from 0-10. Light but noticeable.

The leaf is rolled into typical green oolong nuggets with a tan stem exposed. I would say the leaf color in reality is darker than the picture appears on my computer screen. It is a more uniform deep green, in natural light, to my eyes.

I used half the sample (about 4.5 grams) in my clear glass teapot. Tea Ave calls for 8 grams of leaf with 130 ml of water (about 4 ounces). I know how I like my oolongs, and for me that is way too much leaf. I would normally use about 3 grams but decided to go heavier as a compromise.

I used about 150 ml of 100 C water (5 ounces and 212 F). The steep was 30 seconds per the gaiwan brewing method listed on the label.

The leaf gently moved about the water as it slowly unfurled. The leaf nearly filled the water. It was graceful to watch. I highly recommend a clear brewing vessel so you don't miss the show.

Pouring the clear honey colored liquor created two distinct aromas. The first is the wet leaf. It has a very noticeable roasted scent. I am not a fan of highly roasted tea so this stands out to me. It is lightly roasted but I notice anyway. The second aroma is from the liquor itself. Yes, this is Alishan. What a lovely floral aroma. Sweet and flowery. I can't wait for this to cool.

While the cup is cooling I poured the wet leaf out on a plate. It is a lot of huge leaf and it isn't even completely relaxed. For me, I made the right call in reducing the leaf.

Finally I get to taste. Oh, this is lovely. It is more subtle than I expected. Up front there is a wave of floral typical of better quality Taiwan high mountain oolong. Yet, it is more because it is delicately enhanced by the ginger lily fragrance that was absorbed during processing. To me it is different than what I normally associate with ginger. It isn't spicy or hot. It is sweet.

The sip continues as this becomes quite milky in taste and feel. It is followed by just a touch of the roasting note. It gives it a nutty flavor. It really works here.

The aftertaste swirls and transitions through all the wonderful flavors found in the sip. I love Tea Ave's description of this as, "summer in a cup." It's just what I'm looking for today. This will steep 3-4 times (at least) and I intend to find out.

You can find Tea Ave, Ginger Lily Oolong here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Nannuoshan, Bai Mu Dan 2008

Nannuoshan Description:
This aged Bai Mu Dan, produced in 2008, is three years older than our regular Bai Mu Dan. The difference is clear. The leaves are darker, as the tea changed during storage. Bai Mu Dan 2008 is mature, more intense and lingering; a full-bodied white tea, pleasantly sweet.

Sample provided by Nannuoshan

My Review:
Continuing with this month's white tea extravaganza, this is the third of my samples from Nannuoshan. Today's tea is different from the Bai Mu Dan reviewed here yesterday as this one is aged. I see tea conversations often where someone will comment they drink their white tea samples first because it will go bad fast, or something similar. Many of the tea companies I talk with tell me something quite different. White tea, like Puerh, often improves with age.

Somewhere back in the past I was told white tea often peaks at about 7-8 years. If this is true, then this tea is at its prime. I'm looking forward to finding out.

Cutting off the sample top, I now catch a complex blending of scents. This is at once, leafy and deeply earthy. There is a touch of sour mixed with sweet. I also catch the fragrance of hay with floral overtones.

The leaf is very dark compared to their other, and younger, Bai Mu Dan offering. It looks more mature and sturdy.  The silver buds are covered in fine downy hair. The leaves have only a slight hint of green. Mostly they are darker shades of brown, looking more like black tea at this point.

I used half the 6 gram sample and my clear glass teapot for this session. 5 ounces of filtered water were heated to 195 F. My first steep was 30 seconds.

This results in a liquor that is clear with only a light tinting of yellow. The leaf remained mostly on the top of the water during the steep. After emptying the teapot, the leaves can be seen as chocolate brown and cinnamon.

The aroma is very suggestive of a black tea. Along with the leafy and peony floral notes, I detect a healthy dose of malt.

The taste is really hard for me to identify. It is very much different than the dry or wet aromas suggest. There is a green leafy note up front, followed by maybe a touch of ginger without the heat. After this it turns a mellow mineral, followed by the mystery taste. It isn't potato but reminds me of that kind of starchy goodness when you bite into a raw potato. I am thinking maybe water chestnut, but not really. What is that familiar flavor?

This seems to pack a lot of cha qi. After one cup, I feel warm and fuzzy, very mellow, yet very focused. Must have more.

Second cup, also at 30 seconds, had a plum aroma as I poured. The taste continues where the first cup left off. There is the addition of a peppery spice note up front. This one is also much more floral. It isn't an upfront fragrance overdose. This is a pleasant peony taste.

The Nannuoshan Bai Mu Dan teas have the distinction of being the first white peony teas I ever tried where I understood the peony reference.

Cup  three was steeped for 45 seconds. Weird, it is back to having a malty aroma with a much lighter plum note. This tastes much like the second, except the spicy note is much less pronounced. The plum that I caught in the aroma is also drifting in to the taste.  

This is very different than a more youthful white peony. I am not catching melon or cucumber like I normally find, and I don't mind. The flavors that are present are complex and changing. This is a white tea and therefore the taste is far more subtle than found in flavored or breakfast teas. If you are a white tea enthusiast, this is a slightly different and yet very good one to try.

You can find Nannuoshan, Bai Mu Dan 2008 here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Nannuoshan, Bai Mu Dan

Nannuoshan Description:
Bai Mu Dan is the second grade of authentic Fujian white tea. Buds and the first open leaf of the tea plant are plucked together to produce it. Yin Zhen, the first grade, is made with buds only.
Bai Mu Dan is processed as carefully as Yin Zhen, but the withering phase is longer and the leaves more oxidized.
Bai Mu Dan has a fuller body and more intense taste than Yin Zhen; it is less delicate, yet characterize by the natural, light sweetness typical of prime Fujian white tea.

Sample provided by Nannuoshan

My Review:
The second of five Nannuoshan white teas to be reviewed as part of my white tea extravaganza! Bai Mu Dan is more commonly known as White Peony. When done well, Bai Mu Dan is an excellent tea. A little more boisterous in flavor than silver needle, it is still considered a subtle sip when compared to most green and black teas.

This came as a 6 gram sample. Which is sufficient for one pot of tea or a couple gaiwan sessions.

Opening the bag, I catch sweet and slightly sour notes of fresh cut hay.

Removing 3 grams of leaf for examination, I am impressed with what I see. The leaf ranges from light green to olive, while the buds are silvery and covered in fine downy hair.

Today I put aside my gaiwan. I think I can get better control using my press with my hybrid mug method. I hear the scoffing from some of you. I will be using gaiwan parameters just the same.

So, into the press goes the leaf along with water heated to 194 F (90 C). The first steep is a quick 30 seconds.

The result is a very light yellow liquor. The tiny fuzzy hairs are seen throughout the mug. Once the tea cools for a moment the fuzz all settles to the bottom leaving an otherwise clear brew.

The wet leaf I had to sniff more than once. I wanted to make sure it was not my imagination. What I am experiencing is our side yard when I was maybe 10. Mom had peony bushes that had big red blooms. This leaf scent matches my memory as close as any I have experienced.

The wet leaf itself is now almost all green. In the mix can be seen whole buds, some attached to a single intact leaf. As in the dry leaf there are some broken pieces.

Sipping I get a light melon/cucumber taste. There is some amount of floral notes that are more in the background. The longer I sip the more I pick up on the slightly sweet hay noted in the dry leaf aroma. It is not at all bitter but is slightly drying.

This is a very good cup of tea but I'm curious to see if it can be improved upon by lengthening the steep time. The website says to use 45 seconds for the second cup. I am going to go 1 1/2 minutes.

The mug is a much darker golden color with a green tint. The flavor seems to match the first cup but far more intense. It is accompanied by a peppery spice note at the front of the sip. I catch fleeting glimpses of fruit. It seems to jump back out of range before I can fully lock in on it and identify exactly what type fruit.

What the longer steep proved to me is that it will change what you taste. Turns out I found the more subtle short steep to be more to my liking. Never be afraid to experiment with the parameters.

You can find Nannuoshan, Bai Mu Dan here.