Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Gopaldhara Red Thunder, autumn flush black Darjeeling

Following up on reviewing some nice first and second flush teas from Gopaldhara earlier, they passed on a few more samples of their Darjeeling autumn flush.

I read a mainstream article on that general type not so long ago that peaked my interest, NPR's Autumn Flush: The Best Darjeeling Tea You'll (Likely Never) Taste.  The idea was that less of this harvest category is produced, so it's harder to find.  For readers outside the US, that's National Public Radio, a resource for news and talk radio, perhaps better known for making airwave broadcast classical music available throughout the US.  Here's what they said:

Autumn flush — the last of the year — begins by the end of October, once the monsoon has withdrawn from the misty hills, the rains tapered off, and the temperatures begun to drop. The tea bushes reduce their output as they move toward hibernation. It is the shortest of the harvests, and lasts just 30 or so days.

"The liquor has a delicate yet sparkling character with a delightful flavor, distinct from both first flush and second flush with a round cup," says B.N. Mudgal, who managed for last few decades Jungpana, one of Darjeeling's most storied gardens...

Less floral and delicate than the opening flushes, autumn flavors tend to be more deeply fruity, with notes of ripe grapes and berries...   Or, as Rishi Saria, of the high-elevation Gopaldhara Tea Estate, says, "a robust cup and solid cup."

Sounds great.  Of course I've tried versions but it's easy to lose track over time, and a really good example of a tea type can make for a much different experience than one that's just roughly typical.  The Gopaldhara site describes this version as follows:

The tea is made from clonal bushes and looks blackish-red with abundant tips. It brews into a bright orange cup with excellent muscatel flavour with rich dense notes of ripe fruits. The tea gives a sweet flavour but without any astringency. The aftertaste is well-defined and long lasting and exquisite.

it smells as nice as it looks

Review section:

The dry tea scent reminds me of first discovering nicer Darjeelings some years ago, that initial amazement that a tea could have such a fruity and rich smell and taste.

The flavor profile includes plenty of fruit, in warm, soft, earthy and mineral context, very approachable and well balanced.  I'm at the tail end of having a cold and I can notice that I'm not picking up the same level of all of the aspects even as I'm tasting them.

It will be nice to give this a second tasting with follow-up notes and see how much I missed.  At least I can appreciate all the more that this tea is pleasantness and comfort distilled into a hot beverage.  It's great that the astringency is so limited there isn't that factor to brew around.  I prepared it a little stronger than I may have without a cold to help it "get through" to my muted palate, and it would still work well across a range different infusion strengths.

Flavors are interesting, difficult to completely unpack; there's a lot of complexity integrated into a continuous, balanced range.  Muscatel is one aspect, just not as pronounced as it would typically be for a second flush tea (the harvest prior to this one).  Earthiness is the next most prominent flavor range, at this stage in the brewing, a very interesting presentation of it.  It really seems to be in between a mineral-oriented earthiness and mineral, between dark wood, red sandstone, and a mild and sweet form of mineral tone.  The empty cup smells of a rich, dark honey sweetness.

On the next infusion the mineral and fruit pick up just a little, still so nice.  The mineral tone seems related to an aspect of the feel of the tea, as a mild astringency centered on your tongue that moves to the back and sides as an aftertaste.  It's not a roughness or bite, instead a pleasant level of body or structure, a fullness.

The sweetness and general feel are great, well balanced, soft as many black teas go but with a nice texture to it.  There is enough flavor complexity that someone with a good imagination could describe a long list of what is really there, expressing more about fruit, and pinning down that mineral and earth further.  The fruit aspect is warm and rich, in the range of roasted sweet potatoes.

Thai pumpkin on the left (no Japanese shown; this is in rural Thailand)

A word on pairing for this tasting, which I typically don't address:  I'm having the tea with breakfast, with a nice pumpkin pie I cooked from scratch.  Thai pumpkin is more like varieties of squash sold in the US (although pumpkin technically is a squash, per my understanding).  Japanese pumpkin--what this pie is made from--is sweeter and more orange, with a softer, smoother skin that works well for cooking.  The skin is very nice broiled in a toaster oven seasoned with a yellow curry.

her verdict:  yummy!

This tea is perfect for pairing with warm, complex fall and winter foods.  It would work well served only with bit of gingerbread, but it would stand alongside an American holiday meal just fine.  It's light and bright enough to wash your palate clean between one rich or sweet side dish and another, and it contributes it's own complexity and a different kind of flavors depth.

On the next infusion I'm noticing a nice drift into spice aspects, picking up both cinnamon and nutmeg, really a broad range.  The flavors are still clean, the general effect still bright, the feel mostly unchanged.  I might mention I'm not really brewing the tea Gongfu style, more adjusting Western brewing back a bit towards a higher proportion with slightly shorter times.  That's kind of a general preference of mine for teas that works well with, best for black teas.  It can still work well for white and green types, with some oolongs typically turning out better using a traditional Gongfu approach (Dan Cong in particular is touchy about that).

Even on the next infusion, brewing the tea out a bit, it's still nice, a good sign.  The tea thins a little, and the background astringency and feel changes due to longer brewing times.  The flavor moves from fruit and spice to more mineral, a normal transition, but it's still great as it brews through all the transitions, a nice characteristic of better teas.


I think that review did capture the essence of this tea, but I have more of the sample left to compare it to another version when I get to those.  Comparing closely related teas makes it easier to sort out minor variations in aspects, and I'll probably add a description or two to the flavors list of this one trying it once completely over that cold.  I suspect I failed to note an underlying layer, perhaps cocoa or the like, and probably at least one trace of fruit.

this smelled like snow, that day, but different in summer

It reminded me of a subject I'd recently mentioned, about growing up in rural Pennsylvania (a US state), and being exposed to a range of fascinating smells in those woods.  Oil well equipment in particular has a nice scent.  An old, broken oil barrel may still retain a rich, earthy scent, combining oil and slowly fermenting wood.  Old pipelines smell of iron-based metals, aging over decades to return to the earth that they were once a part of.

This tea isn't a close match for either of those but it definitely shares some range.  The mineral nature does remind me of an old open water well, drawing up an interesting range of minerals from deep in the ground, slowly flowing due to natural pressure.  Those minerals serve as natural multi-vitamins for deer, who stop by for sips.

This was definitely a well balanced, complex, pleasant tea.  The first and second flush teas are nice in their own way but this version really did work well according to my preferences, one of the nicest Darjeelings I've tried.  That article was right; it would be a shame to miss the experience.

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