Red Thunder Gold, nice looking tea
This is the autumn harvest version of the other "Gold" teas I'd reviewed before, with the first flush review here and second flush here. Those were Chinese cultivar versions of Darjeeling, AV2 clonal / plant type based teas, as this version is, with vendor information here. I never did write a research post on cultivars for Darjeeling, in spite of finding a really good reference that spelled out some details (this one: Genetic diversity and relationships among tea (Camellia sinensis) culivars...; per usual for academic papers with some interesting details but not a light read).
The last Red Thunder--a similar tea made from a different plant type--was great tea; soft, fruity, earthy, and balanced, full and bright--one of those teas where it all comes together. So I'm really looking forward to this one.
the other Red Thunder; some resemblance in the teas
Some initial context: I'll brew this tea Western style for this review. It would work just fine Gongfu style, and it might be possible to review transitions (changes across infusions) better that way, but per past experience results would be similar for both. A lot of teas work better brewed one way or the other, more typically better for Gongfu style, but black teas in general don't vary as much. I might also mention that I don't use a "straight" Western brewing approach, typically, not a "one teaspoon per cup" formula, shifting that towards the much higher tea proportion used in Gongfu brewing, but still on the "Western" side of that range.
The smell of the dry tea is really nice, full, sweet, and fruity. It would be possible to spend lots of time sniffing the tea and write a review of just the dry tea smell, but of course I won't. Fruit scents are rich, towards raisin and grape, and a little citrus, with a touch of molasses rounding out sweetness and adding some earth tone.
The brewed tea is quite nice too, a very soft, rich tea. I think it will pick up depth and complexity across another infusion--this was light, a bit fast, just to get it going--but it's interesting seeing (tasting) the previous version "Gold" characteristics already playing out differently in an autumn tea. It's smooth, "roundish," and a bit towards floral as Darjeeling range tends to go. The other Red Thunder was soft and well balanced but this is almost so soft it's in the oolong range instead of black tea range, quite smooth. But it's nothing like an oolong, related to profile, just novel as black teas go.
The tea flavors are bright, clean, and well balanced. There is so much complexity that one could tease out a good list of distinct aspects. There is one that stands out, which I'm having trouble pinning down with a description, but it really could be a set of flavors instead. I'll go a little heavier next infusion and try to spell it out.
The flavors and the way it balances is even nicer the second infusion. A trace of black tea astringency picks up, still keeping this in a very soft range, just adding body. It's not as "structured" as the other Red Thunder came across but it has a soft black tea feel to it. A trace of dryness balances the rest well.
I'm still not "getting" that one characteristic element, still not really able to say exactly what it is. A decent guess is that it's just a floral tone. On the richer side rose petals matches a trace it, but there is more to it. Part is a bright, roundish tone, sort of like chrysanthemum. It's that part that shifts it a little towards candy-like sweetness. Or pandan leaf could be a better description, although that might not be familiar to many, a sweet tropical leaf type used for food seasoning, more or less in between fruity and floral, pretty close to Fruit Loops cereal. There is more conventional cooked yam / sweet potato range as well, perhaps more common to Chinese black tea versions than Darjeelings.
Taken alone those aspects described are complex but wouldn't make for a balanced tea, but there is other range that integrates well and brings across a fuller experience. Minerals underlie that taste, back to the spring water scent perhaps even more pronounced in the Red Thunder tea. You might be thinking that spring water never tastes like all that much (except maybe in comparison tasting). I really mean it's more the scent of the spring itself, that of water rushing out of the ground in a mountain spring, a nice scent, which smells more of minerals due to those collecting there.
black tea, with oxidation backed off just a little
Another infusion shifts towards earthier range, and mineral picks up a little, with floral aspects toning down a bit. It's even better. One aspect is that trace of malt that lots of people might describe as "tastes like tea," just not coupled with a bite of astringency as in some black teas, the "briskness." The feel is interesting, not quite as full and stout as the other Red Thunder, but it balances well. It's still a little softer and lighter than even a better Dian Hong might be (Yunnan black tea), but not so far off the aspects range.
On the whole it's nice. It seems to me the kind of tea a dedicated oolong drinker might really connect with, even though it's not that. The oxidation level may not be so far above the range where the categories switch over. Later I did get back to a side by side tasting comparison of those two Red Thunder versions, but I'll do an aside related to what the tea is before getting to that second tasting.
Vendor input on the teas
Let's start with the "Gold" version brewing instructions:
Right! Below boiling point is better, as I'd used, although it wouldn't have hurt to check that advice before the tasting. It works well to go heavy on the tea proportion too, to double that loose tea amount and brew four infusions instead. I would go a bit lighter for the first, and the fourth might drop off a little, and would require a longer brewing time. Or better yet try different approaches and decide for yourself.
I'm all about people brewing and preparing tea however they like but I wouldn't want to even think about someone adding milk to this tea. It probably would make a great iced tea, mixed with milk and sugar and poured over ice, but that's madness, a complete waste of this level of tea.
More on the Red Thunder Gold version description:
I talked a little with the plantation director about how these two teas could possess that unusual balance of great flavors complexity with astringency being so limited, with no edge or bite, just a nice structure. He said it had to do with the elevation of the tea (high), the effect of cool fall weather on the plants, and the input related to plant types. Correct processing surely also played a role. In other words, all the basic factors came together nicely.
Comparison tasting, Red Thunder versus Red Thunder Gold
Red Thunder left, Gold version right
They both share an earthy, mineral intensive range, a taste that makes perfect sense associated with fall, cooler weather. The Gold version adds a light, sweet note on top of that, one I was saying was close to floral in the last tasting. It wouldn't be wrong for someone to express it as fruit instead, to say it's like cooked yam, with a bit of raisin, some citrus, maybe even hinting towards nectarine. But it seems a touch of rich floral tone mixes in, which I focused on describing that in the first tasting since it seemed so novel. The other Red Thunder has that earthy and mineral base, just extending a bit further, with a bit of extra body and touch of dryness to it. The flavor extends to be a little deeper rather than brighter, including a touch of sun dried tomato.
On the next infusion--third or fourth; the time flies--the Gold version moves a little into a nice sweet bark spice range. Cinnamon is the best known bark spice but there are others, and this is not really familiar, maybe exactly like an existing bark spice or maybe not.
I should remember more about trying unusual tisanes over that long spell of interest, drinking those for 20 years before I even started into tea (along with wine and coffee, in stages--crazy times). In place of referencing that better here is a nice comprehensive reference on medicinal herb uses, not so much on what they taste like though, but it goes into what's out there for tisanes. Not that I'm recommending that, use as supplements, but the listings are interesting. Especially the description there for pine needles, a subject that came up in researching Christmas tea blends, but one I didn't mentioned in a post yet.
Christmas season in Bangkok, a few days ago
The other Red Thunder--not "Gold"--stays the same, with that nice sweetness, full structure, and limited astringency working well with the really complex taste range. They're so complex that varying lists of flavors could be used to describe both without any necessarily being completely wrong. On the next infusion it seems the Red Thunder did drift into a little of that same bark spice range.
I seem to be focusing on describing differences but falling short on spelling out the underlying profile for these, what they have in common. It's complex, balanced for both, with common range in wood tones with underlying mineral, a general fall-flavors theme. Extending from that the Gold version reminds me of a toasted cinnamon roll with raisin, a version of which we knew as "sticky buns" back at Penn State. There is an element in common with toasted pastry but it's not yeasty. Both teas are leveling out a little, 8 or 9 infusions in, but not giving out or going off in any way, more just thinning out.
I do tend to step back from offering my own opinion to some extent, objectively describing aspects and all that (or so it seems to me), but these are definitely some of the best Darjeelings I've ever tried. These black teas compare well against any I've tried from anywhere.