Saturday, July 2, 2016

Toba Wangi (Indonesian) gold needle black and green needle teas

These two teas from Toba Wangi (an Indonesian tea producer) are the last to review from them, and more amazing stuff.  They're not really so connected that review in a combined post adds much, but that's also part of trying to write shorter reviews, to squeeze them down to a manageable summary.  There are common threads in all these teas, just exhibited in vastly different ways in the different styles, and some of that should come across in these descriptions.  Getting right to it then.

Gold Needle black tea

This tea reminds me of lots of better examples of Chinese black teas.  The taste is complex, not just related to there being layers of flavors to list out, but with a nice overall effect of lots of aspects coming together.  It's just one more example of why black teas are one of my favorite types, with a lot more range and complexity to them than they seem to get credit for.

Basic flavors:  dark cherry, malt, earthy tones, towards dark woods or leather.  Under those there is a mineral aspect that integrates well with the rest, not one that's easy to describe, probably related to the mineral rich volcanic soil the plants grew in.  There is another sweet fruit element that really ties back to Chinese black teas I've tried, maybe closest to yam, and a hint of cinnamon as well.  Lots going on with this tea!

To me such teas work really well or aren't so great based on the balance, how the sweetness and astringency play out, how the different flavors come together,  how clean the effect is.  This tea is soft and clean tasting, (using a var. Sinensis, Si Ji Chun / Four Seasons, I think it is), and it matches that general profile type, as much as the unprocessed plant type input relates to one.  One other favorite, a Thai Jin Xuan based black tea, had a little more of floral sweetness and fruit, but this tea compares really favorably to any other black tea I've tried. Surely part of that is my own preference for this particular style, not just about black teas but related to this type of version.

There is something going on with this tea that's hard to describe, a unique feel that overlaps with a taste range, sort of common with Jin Jun Mei and better than average unsmoked Lapsang Souchong I've been drinking lately (with a comparison post on those here, and more struggling to pin down the most subtle aspects).  There's a bit of flavor aspect range in common, but also feel, a type of dryness.

For me at least, when I first tried better Jin Jun Mei I sort of liked it, then that distinctive profile later really clicked and I really craved it. Related to the Lapsang Souchong that dark earth, mineral, and malt is common, with other flavors and the feel varying.  That tea works really well when brewed to a lighter balance point, somehow really making perfect sense at one level.  This Gold Needle black tea seems relatively flexible, working well at at a broad range of different strengths, but there probably is an ideal balance point that careful brewing would identify.  That would differ for different people, so it's nice the tea works well across a range or brewed strengths like that.

I've been drinking one other Toba Wangi black tea lately, an Assamica tea type, and it's interesting noting differences in them.  They have a lot in common, but this tea comes across as less earthy, and slightly different in terms of astringency, both with quite different flavor profiles.  Both are softer black teas, so this element gives them a full feel, nothing like "bitterness," which of course is really a flavor, not an accurate description of astringency, which relates to feel.  I really love Sinensis based black teas--var. Sinensis, of course--but I could imagine someone with different natural preferences going the other way, or I guess not even liking black teas so much.  But one would have to try better versions like this one to really know, since this is worlds away from Lipton.

Green tea needle leaves

The dry leaves look unusual, long and twisted, but that is sort of Galung's signature style for tea processing.  Needle is in both names, and all the teas look a bit like Dan Cong to me, maybe this one more than most.  Per Galung his tea making style draws on various influences but more from Wuyishan versions instead (with more about that in an interview with him here).  The dry tea smell is earthy, floral, and vegetal and rich, lots going on with this tea.

The first taste confirms it's a green tea, but a good bit different than any green tea I've ever tried.  It's quite rich in feel, with a good bit of depth, too much going on to take in withing just a few sips.  It's just what I expected from them.  I'll start with a list of tastes, or just start there,  since such an approach wouldn't do description justice.

A sweetness stands out, a taste similar to fruit, probably closer to orchid range, which carries over and changes form from similar elements in the Wu Mei oolong and White Beauty.  It's a little like the bubble gum flavor in those classic pink cube-presented brands.  It's better than that, cleaner and more complex,  but that gives a range.  Or maybe just saying the honey orchid, similar to one Dan Cong aspect, already covers that more accurately.

This is really an example where a tea tastes exactly like one thing, but it's easy to not place it at first, since it's not a common aspect:  toasted coconut.  I tried a flavored tea from the Monsoon tea shop once (in Chiang Mai, Thailand) that was quite similar,  but in this case that flavor is natural.

Beyond that mineral tones stand out more than vegetal, but there are lots of flavors layered together.  The tea is quite soft, with limited astringency, nothing towards bitterness.  I've been drinking a little Taiwanese oolong lately and this tea gives up some fullness of feel compared to that style, but it's not thin.  It actually compares favorably related to that "feel" aspect when compared the last Dan Cong I tried (which I didn't write about).

Green teas are not my favorite but this one bypasses any reservations I have over some of the typical aspects, the grassiness and such.  In a sense it fulfills the potential a Wonosari plantation tea had but didn't fully exemplify,  drawing out some comparable flavors (mineral tones and sweetness, apparently regionally related) without the flaws (eg.  not as clean in effect, a bit softer).  Brewed a little stronger the body picks up more and astringency is experienced as a slight roughness, but the general impression is that the tea is easy to  brew and doesn't require special preparation to offset anything.  One shouldn't brew it too strong, and of course it's a given to use well below boiling point water for all green teas, but that's it.

The only negative one might experience is that it's still a green  tea, so a preference against the type, but as with their other teas it doesn't work to pigeonhole it as a characteristic type.  Other green teas can show that sweetness, or express a floral range, and complexity,  and avoid astringency,  but I've never tried one that accomplishes all that in a similar way, and the character is distinctly Indonesian.  To me it even shows some oolong character related to the way some of those aspects come across, it's just that that fresh "greenness" shows it to be a green tea.

Both are awesome teas, better than just good examples of standard black and green types, distinctive and unique.

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