orthodox Assam; full name HALMARI Gold GTGFOP1 Clonal
Halmari Earl Grey
I didn't get to the last two of the Halmari Assam tea samples, one their highest quality orthodox Assam black tea, and I'll try an Earl Grey along with it. As I've often repeated combined tasting makes more sense with similar teas, and these aren't that. The main point is wrapping up trying them, since I'd like to clean the slate of what I mean to get to, but comparison could turn up something interesting.
I'll try to prepare these in a hybrid style in a gaiwan, more or less in between Western and Gongfu, or probably as a light version of Gongfu style, which isn't traditional. The idea is to make small quantity infusions, adjusting for the unusual proportion as I go. It's not ideal for tasting to use an unconventional brewing approach but it's not that atypical for me. Related to informing background I've got a touch of a cold. I'll probably re-try this orthodox tea version later this week to double check how a standard Western brewing approach works out, and hopefully I can shake this cold instead of it getting worse [editing note: I'm adjusting the draft while I have a throat infection; that didn't work out].
I'll mention a little about what the orthodox tea is first. It's listed as HALMARI GOLD GTGFOP1 CLONAL. I don't keep up with those letter terms but I could swear that first "G" should be an F (which I won't explore, but the Wikipedia article on all that is a natural starting point). I looked to their description to shed light on the "clonal" part:
Leaf : Long, selectively plucked and delicately rolled leaves with a generous sprinkling of chunky golden pubescent buds. Very exclusively made only during the 2 months of second flush season...
One of our most iconic teas, the GTGFOP1 Clonal has won the North American Tea Championship is 2012,2013 and 2015.
Not much for detailed description, but winning awards is a good start. Clonal is a reference to propagating the tea by cuttings to preserve consistent genetics, versus using seeds, but I'd expect that's related to a hybrid or other selected tea plant type with characteristics they want to preserve.
I went too long on the first infusion, even though it was only for around one minute. This really is a hybrid style of brewing, in the middle between Western and Gongfu, but some people would see it as a light proportion variation of Gongfu brewing instead. Not that a brewing approach label really matters. Part of that error--preparing it a bit strong--might relate to using slightly higher water temperature than I usually tend to for black tea, close to boiling point versus down between 85-90 C instead.
These teas would be fine across any temperature range, I'd expect, still making ok brewed tea at lower temperature more typical for green tea brewing, but hot water would probably be more standard, and variation would shift aspects balance slightly. I'm often using slightly cooler water to accentuate sweeter flavors and de-emphasize astringency / feel elements, but for some that wouldn't be preferable at all, and different teas would work out differently.
first go, brewed a little strong (Earl Grey left, orthodox right)
Brewed a little strong I can only get the general range for the orthodox version; it's nice. It is normal to brew on the slightly strong side for comparison tasting, using the standard "ISO" approach, for two reasons: to set one level of parameters to use across many examples, and to help with identifying flaws in the stronger brewed version, which is said to highlight those (along with practice in trying tea made that way). Nothing negative stands out. The feel is a bit strong, and the taste is a little intense, leading towards dryness, but I'd guess this is exactly how a very good Assam brewed a little too strong should be, the right attributes in the right balance. The malt is intense but I don't think it's going to take over the tea, back in the normal balance, and even brewed strong the flavors are still quite clean.
Brewed strong the Earl Grey is also a little intense, of course. The balance of the bergamot (a type of orange essential oil) is the main thing, then after that the input from the tea itself. I'd expect it will level off nicely, related to the proportion and how they're coming across a bit strong. This won't be a bergamot-intensive version where you just can't tell what black tea is under that, although brewed strong the black tea isn't contributing lots to this flavor.
It won't be as distinctive and pronounced as the orthodox version, the black tea input, likely quite a bit more subdued. It doesn't include bud material as the orthodox version does, which would change the effect a lot. I'm not tasting anything "off" about it, but at a guess it will be a mild version of a black tea, as Assam goes, with no off flavors. That mildness might be as well, since intense malt might not pair as well with bergamot.
Prepared more typically--in one sense, at least--the orthodox version is great. There is plenty of malt but it doesn't take over the tea. A lot of nice sweetness balances that out, and there's more going on than malt. Mind you if someone didn't like malty black tea they still wouldn't like this version but if typical Assam seemed one-dimensional, a bit rough, or unsophisticated and not well-balanced this version resolves all that. The flavors-list style description is going to sound a lot like for any better Assam, I'd think, but how those elements come across, the exact expression of them, and more so how they balance is what defines this tea as being on a higher level.
Beyond malt a cedar or redwood like wood aspect fills in flavor depth. The taste extends into a nice citrus element at the finish, nothing like the bergamot in a flavored tea but not completely dis-similar either, maybe in the orange zest range. I'll work on pinning down another flavor aspect or two as I try a few more infusions.
lighter, a better infusion strength (Earl Grey left, orthodox right)
The Earl Grey is nice, of course with bergamot as a central flavor theme. It's hard to separate out what the black tea is like aside from that, but I guess describing the mix is more valid. Malt isn't intense, but it's there. Some degree of wood-tone also comes across. It might have sweetness and some citrus without the actual citrus added but combined it certainly does. Mineral isn't as strong as I'd expect it would be if this were above average Ceylon instead, but there is some acting as a base for the other flavors.
It works; to me it's better than typical commercial Earl Grey versions. Earl Grey isn't a page I've been on much in the past year, more so in the first half of last year, as I recall, but I can relate to it. My favorite Earl Grey version so far was from Vietnam, from Hatvala, but then it was based on a plain black tea I liked alone, and I've not tried that recently enough to compare it to this from memory.
To me this type of tea works great as something you don't need to focus on, as a breakfast tea, more than one that would excel in a comparison tasting session. The flavors balance is nice, just lacking subtlety of a better plain tea. It would go with all sorts of foods very well, with enough sweetness and fruit to offset savory foods, and enough earthiness and body to offset sweet pastry. Per my preference this tea works better drank with food than alone, even if it's something neutral like a butter cookie or biscuit, to help offset that bergamot orange tone, to reset from it while drinking. A chocolate digestive is more or less exactly what I'm talking about, on the sweeter side, like a graham cracker with chocolate. If you've never tried them life has at least one more re-affirming surprise in store for you.
the other British contribution to food, besides fish and chips (credit)
Brewed just a little stronger the orthodox version shows just a little pine-resin character, which is nice, even if it may not sound it. The actual flavor range is a bit complex; it wouldn't be wrong to describe it as relating a little to cocoa, and with minimal imagination related to some sort of fruit (tamarind?). The citrus is strong enough that would be more natural to flag. The feel is cool too; a bit on the dry side, seemingly related to that pine flavor. And as black teas go the aftertaste is quite pronounced. Surely all of this relates in part to the very high proportion of buds in the tea.
Related back to those three Dian Hong (Yunnan black teas) that I compared awhile back this is definitely closest to the buds only version (golden tips). I suppose personal preference would dictate how good a thing that is but I can at least definitely relate to this tea. I suppose my absolute favorite for an aspects set might be more like a Chinese black tea, shifted more towards cocoa, a subdued dried cherry range, with just a touch of roasted yam, and a molasses sweetness background, but this tea works well for me.
The Earl Grey is still mostly bergamot; that's really as it should be. The flavors are really clean, and the earthy complexity beyond that makes it work well. It's in the malt, cedar / redwood, touch of pine range too, but it seems a quite different black tea, the balance is completely different. It has a lot less pine going on, and probably less natural citrus, but of course that's just a guess.
I'm in a hurry today--always in a hurry; kind of how life goes these days--so I won't get through more infusions, although brewing these twice more I'd probably tease out another aspect or two, and notice how they work out for being stretched for infusion count. These might express slightly more complexity brewed Western style for more of that coming out in a three to four minute soak, it just wouldn't work to experience flavors evolving layer by layer, as a Gongfu approach allows. I'll try these teas again Western style and check in related to what turns up.
Second try, conclusion
I did try the orthodox version again brewed Western style; the results weren't so different. I brewed the tea twice using a standard light proportion and 3 1/2 minute then around five minute second steep, brewed to a typical infusion strength. The flavors range was the same: malt, cedar, pine, and citrus, with good sweetness and a bit of fruit aspect that was harder to pin down for being more subtle, per my take close to dried tamarind.
I was curious how this would seem in comparison to their other orthodox version that I reviewed and to be honest it seemed similar. Both are complex, clean flavored, and full in feel but not really astringent, both well balanced, a bit intense but moderate on malt. I would expect those similar aspects are balancing a little better in this orthodox version, that it's a little cleaner in effect (likely related to very slightly different feel and overall flavor effect), with a bit more fruit, but a difference would be clearer trying them side by side.
I actually posted a version of this before considering mentioning value, a subject bloggers tend to avoid but one I've been drifting into more lately. As in other cases of direct sourcing buying this tea from Halmari would be an incredible value related to buying anything remotely like it from a resale vendor. Don't take my word for it though; check the prices on their website and Google search similar alternatives.
I didn't do as much with describing subjective preference in this post as I sometimes do, but related to what I prefer in teas of theirs I really liked their oolong version. As I mentioned in that review post it shared some space with Darjeeling second flush teas and Oriental Beauty Taiwanese oolongs, which cover two nice and related ranges for tea aspects.
recharging to cause more trouble later