Thursday, March 5, 2015

review of Golden Tips Thurbo Moonlight Darjeeling

I've been drinking a lot of really good tea lately but slacking about writing about it.  I need to catch up related to some more great Vietnamese tea and three completely different kinds from an American online source (including an Indonesian black tea--go South East Asia!) but I'll start with a short review about getting back into Darjeeling.

Tea stats:  the more interesting points:

-relatively standard brewing, although I have tweaked brewing methods for Darjeeling to offset astringency in the past

-second flush (lots to say about what that means but I won't; it relates to seasonal harvest time)

-Darjeeling black tea never really seems so black (more in text on that, but not resolved there)

-Grade:  of course all the letters indicate the grade details, a nice sounding string of description that means lots to some people, just not me (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe 1--keep Googling to really sort it out)

The tea!  Beautiful here but stunning in real life

The tea!  In different lighting

The review part:

The Darjeeling I tried reminded me of what first amazed me about this type of tea:  the range of novel flavors, the subtlety, the "wow factor."  The taste seemed typical enough of the type to me:  a grape-iness (muscatel), hinting toward citrus tones, natural sweetness, earthy elements to give complexity, great freshness and body.

In the past some examples were offset a bit by astringency that one might have loved as a counter or tended to struggle to brew around with different water temperatures and brewing times (I like softer teas so tended towards the latter), but it wasn't a factor for this tea.

I recently tried a nice white tea (bai mu dan / peony, not silver needle) that was notable for having good flavor but more so for an unusually rich body, a feel of the tea, and for the way the subtle elements combined together.  This was like that.

The vendor description of the tea is worth a look in this case:

This Moonlight summer black tea is at part the best and is characteristic of fluffy brown-black leaves with extravagant silver tips. The aroma is sweet and flowery with a bright golden liquoring cup. The flavor is extremely fruity and flushes your mouth with its presence, without any sort of astringency.

This was like that!  The flavors were a bit complex and diverse but still combined seamlessly into one continuous experience, so it hardly lent itself to me separating out a few predominant taste elements as I often tend to do.  I suppose if I had they'd have been fruity.  I agree there was no astringency to speak of, definitely a good thing per my taste, although I guess someone else could conceivably love that.

Reviewing styles, level of detail

This review has me considering again why some tea reviews contain almost no information about taste elements, just a primary description or two, and why others go on about a dozen different taste and scent elements that change over different infusions.  Of course this relates to both reviewer style and the actual teas, and perhaps more to the former.  Some teas are more complex but some reviewers are able to go into a lot more taste detail.

In a tea group discussion I've also read a critique of the more detailed flavor identification approach.  But why would someone be against describing taste elements in great detail?  It's not a criticism of the accuracy.  The general point was that to some extent taste is subjective (of course not completely; the flavors really are there), and this is only one element of tea tasting that shouldn't be emphasized over other elements:  finish (essentially "aftertaste," but that concept doesn't do the experience justice), body of tea, feel / texture, (all overlapping concepts), or even "cha qi" (feel, for lack of a decent simple concept, tied to how the tea makes you feel in addition to a direct sensory impression of the tea).

My understanding is that quality of tea definitely doesn't relate to just complexity of flavor elements, and to some extent that might not even be a primary concern.  To some extent it would depend on preference.  To some degree preferences would change over time, so that flavor might be one of the initial concerns, one that would not become unimportant, and other attributes might tend to become more desirable with continued tasting experience.  But what do I know really; I'm closer to the beginning of the process.

At any rate I wanted to cross reference another tea blog about comparable tea that goes into a lot more detail, by fellow tea blogger Kevin Craig.  He describes a different Darjeeling as such:  

the taste is dominantly floral, with notes of roses, geraniums, grapes, honey, toasted grains, hay, caramel, light wood, and light spice.

Is that a better tea?  That question makes the short list of questions not to be asked.  For a few different reasons there wouldn't be a clear answer:

-complex flavors aren't necessarily superior; a few simple flavors can be better, and "body / feel" related factors are a separate issue

-to some extent whether you describe the flavors in individual detail or not the sensation is still there.  This gets interesting though, since conscious awareness and perception in general may or may not closely link.  Here tea tasting drifts towards cognitive science.

-a separate factor like astringency can be critical, and how it relates can depend on preference and type

-preference also impacts how one likes different types of teas or teas within one type, even separate from more general grade-level issues, which may or may not relate directly to pricing


So it seems to be a good example of the type, perhaps a better tea than I'm qualified to appreciate since I've been onto other tea types for a good long time.  

Even though I haven't said a lot about it one odd part is how this relates to other black teas, which I've been drinking a lot of in the last half a year.  It's not really like them.  Per the standard definition it should be fully oxidized tea, but it hardly looks or tastes like it.  It didn't taste of malt, or cocoa, none of the rich dark wood / earthy and mineral elements common to other black teas, or common to their cousins the most oxidized oolongs. 

One aspect of the tea I already mentioned is that it reminded me of a white tea I've recently tried, related the body or feel of the tea.  The appearance is also somewhat similar since this tea is multi-colored rather than dark (see later blog review), and not just with lighter elements or "tippy." There was nothing of the grassy, or vegetal, or often slightly astringent character of conventional green teas (not all are astringent, of course, depends on the green tea), but the impression of a lively freshness was common to those.  So the tea is black but not like other typical black teas, which is actually not so uncommon for Darjeeling. 

It seems shady writing reviews that just seem like marketing content but there wasn't anything to not love about this tea, even if Darjeeling isn't a favorite for someone.  I remember the first time I ever tried Darjeeling and I was amazed at the newness of the experience, as if trying decent loose tea for the first time.  I was shocked, sort of akin to a first kiss, maybe just not quite that intense.  

I promise I'll review other tea samples and have more to say in comparison than "this tea and Darjeeling in general is quite good."  Maybe with a little more type-specific palate refresher training I'll call out another half-dozen flavor elements.

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