Saturday, April 22, 2017

Gopaldhara Moondrop First Flush Darjeeling White Tea

I'm finally getting my palate back after a rough couple of weeks with a throat infection, so what better way to celebrate than with first flush Darjeeling.  It might even help me re-calibrate.

Tea Background, Gopaldhara Moondrop First Flush Darjeeling White

What to say, it's a first flush Darjeeling.  It doesn't show up on their website, but then they also sell teas through resellers, and there are plenty of versions there.  A random vendor selling it describes it as a black tea, raising the typical problem with sorting Darjeeling first flush into categories.

It seems closer to a green tea than a black tea, and really more like a white.  I spoke with the estate manager about that by message and he passed on more background, which gets a bit complicated related to the processing steps.  It's essentially a white tea that's been oxidized a bit, but not enough for it to seem anything like a black tea.  There's more I could add but as well to get on with review instead.


The tea looks like a first flush white tea.  The leaves are small, a little mixed between broken and whole, with a good number of tips.  The initial scent and taste is bright, fresh, and sweet, just what one would expect.  

This flavor profile is familiar from both Darjeeling and better Nepal white teas, but still not so easy to describe.  The total effect extends well beyond a flavors list, and even that part isn't so simple.  It's all right there to taste, but quite complex, even though it comes across as one element, in a sense.  I suppose a bright, light floral tone might be the starting point, the main range, but it also has a citrusy fruit character, quite bright, like the spray from an orange peel when you bend it, or maybe brighter, a tangerine instead.  The rest of the complexity extends into other range, not vegetal in the sense of spinach, bell peppers, or anything remotely like that, but something light and sweet in that general direction.  

Since the first infusion was fast and light I'll keep trying to pin it all down on the next few.  It would be typical to brew this tea Western style, and it would work well that way.  Out of habit and due to preference I'm preparing it Gongfu style instead, just not using the flash infusions or heavy proportion I might for some other types.  Really some teas--like a sheng, or dan cong--would tend to do well brewed very lightly, not using a high proportion or longer times, with longer being relative, towards a minute instead of 10 to 20 seconds.

I just prepared a unique compressed shai hong (sun dried Yunnan black tea) brewed on the stronger side, heavy on proportion, with a bit longer times, and I might make shou that way, if I don't feel like having it prepared lighter just then.  This tea works well brewed lighter or stronger, or maybe best somewhere in the middle, towards lighter since it doesn't need extra infusion strength to be flavorful, to bring the same effect across.

On the next infusion the warmed-up leaves really come to life.  A tea friend just compared this general style of tea to drinking perfume, in a good sense, related to that overall brightness, aromatic nature, and intensity.  That was related to me sharing some Nepal white tea, which is in this general range.  That tea might give up just a little in brightness and freshness to this Darjeeling version, but it's still a good general range to be in.

not so oxidized, a little

The aspect range and term "aromatic" complicates considerations a little past flavors, per my experience it's used in Chinese tea descriptions to contrast scent-intensive teas with flavor intensive character.  This tea covers both.  It strikes a good balance, coming across as simple in nature in one way and complex in others.

Reducing it to a flavors list is still not so simple though.  I'll stick with it tasting floral, but not the heavier floral ranges I've been running across lately in other tea types.  It's definitely not astringent, at all, but there is a bit of dryness and very light edge that reminds me of a light wood tone, more like tasting a fresh and sweet tree bud than the sense I usually use that description in.  But who tastes tree buds, really.

To bring that back to the range of foods that aspect, that feel element, could be like a light, fresh sprout used to make a spring garden mix salad, something sweet and that you almost feel just a little rather than taste it.  Or maybe like a light version of an edible flower, but not an orchid, even lighter.  The citrus is pronounced, maybe towards lemon from tangerine zest, or even lemongrass (not citrus, really, but not far off).


More than all that it's freshness that stands out.  All this sounds almost exactly like the last first flush Darjeeling white I reviewed, doesn't it?  I wouldn't get bored with some degree of repetition, in the tasting, I mean, although I suppose writing the same thing or reading it repeating would get old.  Case in point:  the next infusion didn't shift aspects much, and it's probably better that it didn't.

A bit more depth and warmness may be filling in, lighter floral brightness subsiding a little to make way for a richer complexity, but it's not that different.  On the infusion after that it actually moves towards spice a little instead, close to nutmeg, warming up even more.

A lot of infusions in, maybe at six or so, I let it brew a little longer, and that one element comes across more as pine instead of citrus zest or wood sap tone.  It's possible that would've been a good description all along, and I'm just now doing the matching, but seems likely the transition had something to do with it, that the flavor shifted there.  I like pine needle tea, having reviewed it here, but I don't think everyone would.  The tea keeps on brewing, producing lots of infusions.

I never put pictures of me in this

I suppose as with any tea not everyone would like this one as much as I do.  I tend to especially connect with a range of black teas and oolongs, and most of the range whites too, even though they're completely different.  First flush Darjeelings and fresh Longjing stand out as favorites outside the most typical range of teas I like, and this works as an example of that.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Blind tasting Teasenz Shai Hong, compressed sundried Yunnan black tea

This is an interesting tea, something new to me.  In with samples sent by Teasenz I found a compressed tea labeled as shai hong.  Since I like the idea of blind tasting I didn't check what it was, which I'll retain in this write-up, the unfolding of working that out, and in the end I'll circle back to a full description.

Review (edited original tasting notes)

The labeling only says "shai hong," which doesn't ring a bell.  It didn't seem to be pu'er, so I'm guessing some other version of a hei cha.  [Of course later it turned out to just be compressed black tea.]

what it isn't

The dry scent is sweet, raisiny, with a dark appearance to the pressed leaves.  It doesn't look like pu'er, or at least any pu'er that I've tried, it's compressed differently.  I suppose it's more like I'd expect bamboo pu'er to look, which I've never got around to trying.  It looks like brick weed.  It would probably be better if that reference didn't ring a bell, really.

The brewed tea is nice, sweet and a bit rich.  Raisin - like character stands out, just a bit more complex, but along that same line.  It's a really soft tea, closer to a mild black in character than a pu'er, even a shou.  Complexity relates to subdued earthy tones, just nowhere near as intense as shou pu'er, no leather and tar and the rest, mostly raisin / date.  I recently tried a shou mei cake and it's not as mild and subtle as that, but then few teas are.

On the next infusion the fruit stays heavy, a bit off the typical raisin profile, but still close.  A woodiness starts to emerge, in an odd range, like balsa wood.  It's still clean flavored with good sweetness so that works well.  Along with that just a trace of malt picks up, a mild version of the type found in Ceylon or Assam black teas.  The feel changes, picking up a little more structure and hint of dryness, which may only seem like dryness through comparison since the tea was completely soft before.  The concept of astringency doesn't even come up.

brewed strong a deep dark red

This tea seems to have been opening up for the first four infusions.  It gains intensity, even using moderate infusion times (about a half minute, but then I went heavy on proportion).  It's just a little closer to a standard black tea type, but still sweeter and softer.  Mineral had been ramping up, providing a solid base context in this infusion.

Of course it would be possible to drink this prepared lightly, perhaps more standard.  Trying a flash infusion worked a little better. The fruit falls into a nicer balance brewed lightly, and the tea still has plenty going on.  It's not as if it's necessary to brew around some aspects though.  It would probably suit different people better prepared differently, and for this tea I'd probably vary that based on my mood.

It's amazing that the tea isn't really fading much about seven infusions in, brewed strong, even at a heavy version of Gongfu proportion.  If anything the aspects balance has improved, although it didn't transition that much, just a little.

I could imagine some people not liking the character for it not being more subtle or refined but I do like it.  It's a basic style of tea in terms of character but a unique version of that as aspects go, in between other types.  The next question:  what is it?  The character resembles black teas but that may only be due to overlap, and it might not be made in exactly the same way.  It must be oxidized but it seems possible a light form of fermentation played a role.  It's odd that it came out so clean in effect if so, but I suppose stranger things have happened.

General impression, second tasting notes

brewed lighter; good both ways, just different

I don't feel like the notes really captured my general impression of this tea.  It was nice the way the aspects worked together.  It brewed lots of infusions, staying really positive and pleasant for an absurd count of those, getting on towards 15 or so.  I expect that by dialing in the right temperature, proportion, and timing one could get even better results out of it.  It worked well across a range of different parameters though, definitely not a tea you need to be careful to get good results from.

Tasting a tea completely blindly, not even knowing the general type, is a funny thing.  I've tried parts of unlabeled, left-over samples before and ran across pleasant surprises but this was different.  The experience of the unknown cleared up as soon as I tried those, for the most part.  Per the review notes I would have went with "variation of black," which it was, but not knowing was odd.

It was complex in a way that was hard to get a handle on.  I'll condense a second set tasting notes from two weeks later--just now--to make that point clearer.

The tea is interesting, nice.  Some of the sweetness and richness of better black tea is there, along with good complexity, mineral under earth with lots going on.  I'm picking up a little metal but I think that's just related to a mild throat infection that's back, a near permanent condition for me now.  A more imaginative tea reviewer could just keep on naming different flavors as description, and accurately so.

One part reminds me of toasted pastry, another fruit, but so heavy and complex it would  have to be a mixed fruit jam.  The way minerals layer in is interesting; maybe that part is like volcanic soil.  Some of the interesting earthiness is out towards leather or even crude oil, just nothing like shou pu'er where those might be primary elements.  It has a nice thick feel too, thick in an interesting sense.  That fruit aspect may have been similar to dried persimmon instead of raisin, with some of the other complexity hinting towards spice range, just not cinnamon or something familiar.  All that works well; it's still clean and balanced.  Putting those aspects in some order would be a challenge.  It's not just about relative strength, also interesting how those combine.

Vendor's take, other input

I might start by mentioning that I did order this tea before publishing a review of it.  That might make more sense after reading about how little of it the vendor has to sell, with the other part about what it is here.:

'Pu Erh Shai Hong' or 'Tai He Tian Cha'

Sun-dried black tea, also known as 'shai hong' is made based on a different processing method than mainstream black teas. Most black teas are made letting the leaves wither, followed by rolling and fermentation. Only the last step is different. The most common way is to roast the black tea leaves to stop the fermentation. However, as the name already reveals, for a sun-dried black tea, the fermentation is stopped by drying the leaves in the sun (as it's done for pu erh).
Because tea types are classified based on their processing method, a sun dried black tea can also be considered a type between black and pu erh tea. This is why it's not strange that sun dried black are also known as 'pu erh shai hong (普洱晒红).  The after taste of a Shai Hong is sweet and because it originates from Tai He, it's also known as 'Tai He Sweet Tea' or 'Tai He Tian Cha' (太和甜茶).

I wasn't completely guessing that out in review.  The tea struck me as close enough to a Dian Hong, but I didn't make the full connection to the sun-drying step.  That's even though I tried a sun-dried Dian Hong from Farmerleaf not too long ago, reviewed here.  The other difference is that it's a compressed tea.  They go on to describe more about the character:

The taste was really interesting and was 'confusing' because we couldn't really place it. The first sip told me it was the aroma of a Yunnan black tea, but then the after taste was kind of like a ripe sheng pu erh [presumably meaning aged sheng, not the way everyone uses those concepts].  The texture was indeed thicker as the grower told us, something that also reminded us of a shou pu erh. The smoothness is amazing and probably due to the 2 years of aging. We also noted that the aging allowed us to brew the leaves up to 9 brews, which is pretty amazing for a black tea. The aging seems to result in more yield. 

Pretty much what I experienced, with that aging potentially filling in some of the gap in how it arrived at that character.  All in all it's a nice tea, which made for an interesting tasting experience.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reviewing two Doi Inthanon Thai teas

Doi Inthanon producer introduction

Not so long ago I reviewed an oolong from Doi Inthanon, a Thai tea producer outside of Chiang Mai.  It generally never comes up but I discussed experimenting with re-roasting that tea, and the character change was interesting.  This vendor page provides background on the small farming operation, which produces #12 Jin Xuan and #17 Ruan Zhi tea types, imported plant types from Taiwan typically used for oolong production in Thailand.  This post will review two more teas from them, provided by the vendor for review.

I like the idea of a small new tea producer extending production into a place it hasn't been before.  I hope to see their business and product offerings expand in the future.

plantation; plants growing (photo credit)

This earlier post goes into the background on that second plant type, identifying that #17 cultivar is Bai Lu.  Ruan Zhi (or Luan Zhi, an alternate spelling) is a different plant type.  That's a common naming issue here, with #17 and Ruan Zhi typically associated.  I guess to some extent it doesn't matter if it's really Ruan Zhi or Bai Lu improperly identified, although the #17 part seems likely to be accurate, so that it probably really is Bai Lu.

Related to Jin Xuan (#12) there's more on cultivars from Taiwan in this post, which mentions this reference table source (which doesn't itself include plant names, at least in this part):

Taiwan TTES / TRES cultivar table (reference source)

The other parts in that reference about landraces (original native plant strains) and plant types related to tea that aren't Camellia Sinensis (variety Sinensis or Assamica), or "wild" tea plant types, are even more interesting than these hybrid descriptions, but completely off the subject here.

These teas I'm reviewing were both nice, comparing well with other Thai teas I've tried.  That may or may not generally come across in the descriptions, with the broader issue being that "nice" spans a lot of different range.  Thai teas in general are not as refined and well-made as better versions from Taiwan and China.  Even related to teas sourced from those countries it makes a difference what a tea is, and what it's being sold as.  Moderately priced teas described as ordinary versions naturally wouldn't be judged against the same expectations and standards as versions costing twice as much, or perhaps a lot more, sold instead as higher quality level, difficult to find teas.  Thai types in general are more in the range of everyday teas, and they never command those higher price levels, at least not that I've seen.

Thai tea cultivation and production has only been going on for the past 30 years or so, so it's natural they are behind those older traditions at the higher levels.  Of course there are plenty of exceptions to that local industry history range; this post on an old-tree pu'er-like tea from Myanmar touches on the earlier tradition that may go back to prior to 200 BC, and that may have extended into the North of Thailand.

To some extent growing location, cultivation variables, and plant age are all factors in final tea quality, along with plant types used and lots of other inputs, but I think we will see Thai teas improve rapidly over the next decade related mostly to processing technique improvements.  Or maybe not.  Thai loose tea consumers are generally not as selective as Western tea-enthusiast consumers, some of whom are actively researching product options from around the world, so it is possible that the status quo will continue.  Of course there are well-informed Thai tea enthusiasts out there, they just seem to be a limited minority, perhaps even more so than in the US.  At least the current Thai teas are quite reasonable, in terms of being of quality and sold at low cost, with the first described related to these two examples.

Green tea review

The tea looks a bit dark, with twisted leaves, curled into circles.  It reminds me a little of Bi Luo Chun, a Chinese green tea type.  I don't end up drinking much of that, mainly because I like green tea the least of any category.  Longjing / Dragonwell works better for me since it tends to taste less like vegetables than others, not grassy, like seaweed or bell pepper or whatever else.

The dry tea scent is rich, a little vegetal with some mineral, but also with a touch of buttered popcorn, an interesting inclusion.  The taste is mineral and floral intensive, a sweet, heavy type of floral I really can't place.  It works well enough.  I don't really know what the plant type is, but they claim to grow only #12 and #17, Jin Xuan and Bai Lu, and that floral tone isn't typical of any other Thai teas I've tried based on those, which add up to a lot at this point.

The flavors are clean, the feel is nice, and it's not  really astringent.  The mineral element reminds me of that really uniform Vietnamese green tea flavor range, which really already works well without this tea's floral aspect included.  I suppose it would depend on preference if the floral element is positive factor or not.  It's heavy and sweet enough that it's not far from osmanthus, but maybe not a perfect match for that, probably off a bit in a way I'm not remembering.

In later infusions more light wood tone and rich earthy profile comes out, towards that popcorn or toasted rice, just not completely getting there. The floral and mineral both drop off some to make space for that.  A different read on that slightly biting fresh wood tone is that the flavor is green bell pepper instead, and once you think of it the tea tastes a lot more like bell pepper than freshly cut wood.  This tea brews lots of infusions, passing through infusions in the mostly mineral and floral range to get to that warmer and earthier range, and isn't finished once it does.

I like the tea, in spite of not loving the general type.  There's a freshness to green teas you don't get in the other types.  It's comparable to aspects found in lighter oolongs, just to a different extent and placed in a different context.

Luan Tze / Ruan Zhi / Bai Lu / #17 review

Initially I wasn't sure of the type but this tea is a version of oolong.  It's not processed just like Taiwanese oolongs, not rolled into balls, likely with some other processing differences indicated by the character differences.  This tea plant type is typically made into an oolong (Luan Zhi / Ruan Zhi, which per the earlier description is probably actually Bai Lu).  The description on the package I don't have in digital form or I could automatically translate it, but sorting it as a version of oolong is a good enough start.

The tea comes across a bit like a green tea, not completely unusual for lightly oxidized oolongs, since the oxidation boundary range isn't so different.  It's rich and floral, so not like vegetal or grassy types of green tea.  That richness is normal for oolong range, but those tend to drift further into buttery or even fuller in feel, and a little softer, although this isn't particularly astringent.  The color is slightly golden yellow, still normal for a light oolong.

It would be nice if I could pin down that flower, what the flavor is similar to, perhaps as I'd imagine a violet (been awhile since living where those grow), or again perhaps not that far from osmanthus.  Light mineral complexity fills in context below that.   There's just a touch of bitterness, something I'd expect more from a sheng, but it would likely be much stronger if it was one.

That might sound terrible, a bitter tea sort of in character range between green tea and light oolong (except maybe to young sheng drinkers), but it balances well enough.  It's light and there are other aspects to balance it, a good bit of flavors complexity, sweetness, and richness.

It smooths out a lot the third or fourth infusions in, fuller in flavor and losing some of the initial edge.  I suppose this would be a good place to mention that I brewed the tea gongfu style, although Western brewing might not turn out so differently.  It seems like regardless of proportion--the main difference in the approaches--backing off the temperature to between normal green and oolong ranges might keep the tea on the softer side.  Brewing it relatively lightly could support the same end.  It's not that it's very astringent, but there is some, and a touch of bitterness to offset.

The flavors range mellows further into more of a light woodiness on the fifth infusion, with that bitter / slightly sour edge faded to the scent of split fresh wood.  That might be something like birch, although my memory of wood scents has also faded a bit.  The sweetness helps round out those tones; along with the floral, now lighter, it all balances well enough.

different colors

The tea is interesting.  It doesn't really express that soft, rich range common to Thai oolongs, in between that and a typical green tea character instead, but it works for what it is.

Teas sold as Thai #17 based oolongs tend to be a little less buttery than Jin Xuan, with a touch more complexity, some even extending into a light spice effect.  Thai oolongs can be a little floral but typically not nearly as pronounced as that aspect in this version.  It's conceivable that this second is an infused tea, flavored with flowers, maybe osmanthus since that's not unheard of here, but since it's in a range that still could be natural I'd guess that it is.