After a good long break for a trip back to the States, and doing some writing on teas from there, I'm getting back to a sample from Farmerleaf, the Jing Mai / Yunnan local tea producer and vendor. The last black tea from them (a similar version, also an autumn tea) was just great, as I'd expect this to be (with their description of it here, along with an explanation of the versions differences). They mention in that description that like pu'er this tea will improve with age, up to three years or so. That's not something I'll be confirming with this sample but the reasonable pricing of this tea does lend itself to buying enough to drink some and also set some aside.
The tea is heavy on tips, with a typical cocoa rich sweet dry scent that implies a lot of earthy complexity.
The initial taste is nice. The cocoa does show through, and sweetness, with just a hint of dryness in place of where an edgier astringency would be in some other black teas. It's malty, with complexity that would list out as lots of aspects. I went a little quick on the first infusion and drawing that out will allow for describing them better.
I'm brewing the tea in a gaiwan, a switch from more typically brewing similar black teas in a Western approach context, but shifted towards Gongfu parameters, so in a hybrid style, upping the proportion of tea to water and dropping infusion times. But that probably ends up in a relatively similar place, related to these results. It would be interesting to compare this tasting with results from true Western style brewing, using a 3 minute or so infusion time with a much lower proportion of tea to water. Using a Gongfu approach the tea prepares a lot of infusions, more than a half dozen.
Brewed to a more typical infusion strength the dry edge comes across more like astringency, but the tea is still soft, so it's still more a structure to the feel than a bite (or "briskness;" you get the idea).
Malt and cocoa stand out. That dryness is paired with a range of tastes in between minerals and earthiness, so autumn forest floor and mountain-spring mineral tones cover that (although already that's an interpretation).
It's a bit of a tangent, but that last aspect reminds me of something I've mentioned before, the mineral scent from natural flowing artesian wells back home in Pennsylvania, the scent of the minerals (rocks) being dissolved and carried to the surface. What is an artesian well, one might ask:
PA deer's version of a multi-vitamin
Back home I'd expect that to be sandstone, since the Appalachians are very old uplifted lands that must have been a sea floor at some point, given that the rock is mostly sandstone. Of course I can't guess about rock or mineral types that have influenced this tea. Back to tea review though.
Some rich fruit comes across, date and cooked yam, which isn't so far from sweet potato, and plenty of malt. The profile hints toward spice but doesn't quite lead to clear aspects from that range. It's hard to go beyond that; the minerals, autumn-leaf / light wood scent, and fruit tones cover most of it. The cocoa of the dry scent doesn't stand out as a main taste aspect but joins into the rest of the complexity.
Another infusion in that dryness lets up and the tea takes on a nice juicy feel. The fruit stays pronounced, if a bit subtle, an underlying layer of complexity, and the mineral tones shift a little more towards spice.
It's hard to really describe the way the autumn leaf / forest floor and light wood tone fills in a main aspect. I've just said what it is, in terms of naming a label, but somehow that doesn't really capture it. It seems continuous with a malt tone that is more typically paired with dryer, astringent black teas based on Assamica plant types, which often have a good bit more edge.
I like the tea. There was a time I preferred variety Sinensis based black teas for being softer, fruitier, even sweeter, with a bit less earthiness range, but really nice versions of Yunnan / Assamica based blacks don't share in the flaws or limitations that might go along with that range. They can also be soft, sweet, malty, and earthy, at the same time exhibiting plenty of fruit and complexity in a nice balance, as this tea does.
It's quite clean; there are no off flavors or muddled effect that detract, another part of that general equation. I just tried a Taiwanese black tea--a number of times, since I bought plenty in Taipei, but I only mentioned how it was in passing in this post on shopping for tea--that shows how much those types can share in common, and what separates them. It's hard for me to say which I liked better of these versions, this tea, or the last from Farmerleaf, or the Taiwanese black I've been drinking, since all were quite nice, just different. Side-by-side tasting enables a finer level of judgment but I'll probably try that at some point with the two different similar Taiwanese black teas I brought back from Taipei instead.