No catch, it seems, a local-oriented shop from Ho Chi Minh City, Hatvala (or Saigon, the old name) has sought out teas you'd never expect to actually exist and sells them at good prices. It's like a dream come true. Amazing. And they sell coffee too; hard to know what to make of that. It's probably ok.
My two favorites that I've tried from them are a darker (more oxidized) oolong and a black tea--go figure. They even sell a loose shu-pu'er-style tea but it wasn't as great (interesting and decent but not amazing; maybe I'll write up why I wasn't in love with it, although someone else might be more taken with it). I've also not got around to trying the lighter oolong or the green tea I bought from them yet. Most likely it's amazing too; standard grade Vietnamese green teas are pretty good as it is; it's what they usually drink.
oolong tea! more oxidized oolong at that
No connection to the last post by the way (about ancient tree, high mountain tea from Vietnam); that was a coincidence. If by chance if some of this isn't true--for example, they're not actually claiming every leaf is from an "ancient tea tree," and some of the people making them probably weren't wearing the cool local tribe outfits--then it's still exceptional tea. These teas don't need any marketing spin related to what's ending up in the cup.
Wild Boar Black Tea:
Typical of unusual find black teas I've been finding lately it's a softer, complex black tea, with great flavors, good body and feel, and an all-around interesting character. The flavor is just a little closer to a conventional black tea than the Indonesian black I just tried (reviewed here), with a little more of the typical mineral profile and dryness of a Ceylon tea, just not that far in the same direction, perhaps a less "structured" tea, if that means anything to anyone but me.
The main flavors are earthiness, a rich range of flavors that could be described in different ways, with a focus on leather, with some nice natural sweetness and fruit, and a complexity that extends to a slight dryness but with a full body. The fruit element starts out relatively sweet, somehow right between peach and apricot, and merging into the leather / cocoa element, and transitions towards earthier and stronger leather through subsequent infusions. The mineral undertone is almost a feeling from the tea as much as a flavor element. There is almost no astringency but at the same time it's not as soft and "juicy" as the Indonesian tea was, so the character is in the middle, not "dry" either.
Somehow the tea seems to brew much longer than interesting Chinese teas that make a great first two infusions and then just disappear (of course depending on brewing technique; "gongfu" style rapid infusions would hold up for more, I'm just too lazy to go through it most of the time since most of my time is spoken for; I've got kids to chase around).
It might seem like I'm saying something negative about the tea by saying it tastes like leather, but I'm not. I mean it tastes great and it tastes like leather, at the same time. The vendor describes it as "rich malty and chocolate tastes" (see content pasted here) and that description is fine, not really wrong, it just seems a little earthier than that, and in a good way.
Normally I wouldn't even mention pricing in a review blog, and I'm not going to reference any numbers here, but this tea is very close to free related to the quality of the product. As soon as I can conjure up any excuse to place another order I'll get lots more, then promptly hide it from my wife given the ongoing level of overstock. I still haven't tried two of the teas, so it might take some time.
The next tea: Red Buffalo Oolong Tea
the marketing content
If more people read this blog I wouldn't even tell you about this tea. I bought it, it wasn't a free sample, so I could just keep it a secret, or only tell a few people.
Such nice flavor elements in it: a really pronounced cocoa taste leading into a bit of cinnamon, with a rich complexity. In their take the vendor mentioned "creamy texture..honey taste..hints of malt and chocolate" and for once it was even a little better than they made it sound, and the tea was pretty open about the chocolate (cocoa--a bit of overlap there). I've not had great luck with most rolled-style darker (more oxidized) oolongs in the past (probably just by chance) but this one was quite nice.
I suppose to some extent loving those flavor elements in tea as much as I do might make me a less serious, less enthusiastic tea enthusiast than others that really enjoy this or that of something else more. I like the nice rich feel of "greener" oolongs from Taiwan, or the many interesting ways the pu'er teas I've tried play out, but that set of flavors and the general impression just gets me. This cultivar is from Taiwan, actually (read up a little here on qingxin, although you never really get the full story on anything about tea in one web page, so maybe I'll add more about related reading another time).
Rambling on about tasting and such
Given the line of thought I've been on about flavors complexity lately I considered more closely what other tastes might be in this tea. Cocoa seemed dominant to me, and "malt" (to me) can be a single pronounced flavor element or else the way a range of earthy but sweet flavor elements can come across, or even mineral components or "dryness."
Stretching my imagination a bit the sweetness could relate to a faint orange element, or even grape, and the earthiness could be described as light wood tones, or even something like sunflower seeds. Or I could've been imagining most of that. The cocoa tone did subside a bit through infusions and tastes more like wood did emerge. After lots of infusions that became stronger, more like a balsawood, hay, or cardboard effect, a range of flavors some other black teas can extend to after ony one or two Western-style infusions.
Again somehow this tea brews more tea, more infusions, than more oxidized teas would ordinarily seem to, leading back to the question "what's that all about?" I have lots of thoughts on that but I hadn't planned to ramble them out here, but I'll cite some.
It had seemed to me that the other typically Chinese more-oxidized teas I love and have been drinking don't produce as much tea because I may have been inadvertently using less tea (the dried leaf form is different, and I don't actually weigh it). It seemed possible that this combined with the teas brewing a little faster made it seemed they brewed less, when in fact maybe not. But who knows.
more on the oolong
While I'm rambling, one possible indicator of tea quality has seemed to be how consistent and positive the different infusions are, or in other words, if the tea is still great or gets a bit strange or limited over different infusions. These two teas were still great, on and on, until you couldn't believe it. I just tried a nice Ceylon from a different source (the Tea Journeyman online shop; I reviewed a different black tea here, but not that one) and it was similar; it just kept on making consistent tea. That tea type was just a little sharper than suited my taste (more astringent, brisker, whatever) but I must admit I still loved it, just not as much as these.
In conclusion: nice teas!