Summer Beauty left, China Muscatel right, in all photos
I would expect these to be standard second flush range as well, but I'll not check that prior to doing review notes, and will add their descriptions here during editing. My thinking is that they have been developing some really novel oolong type (or influenced) variations, and one more round of more familiar range will help me reset a baseline before starting on those (from a number of samples provided for review). I've been more on sheng pu'er for a couple of years, although I never really stop drinking Dian Hong (Yunnan black tea), and I've tried more Thai black tea than I usually get to this year.
The "beauty" part should refer to a link with Oriental Beauty. Per my understanding there is a natural link between that and second flush Darjeeling anyway, since both pick up additional muscatel and citrus range flavors related to a similar, or potentially identical, insect biting the leaves.
The leaves of this Summer Beauty version look a little different than any Darjeeling I ever remember seeing. It looks like Oriental Beauty; more whole leaves, a good proportion of bud content, and especially the same color variations, the light tan part, dark brown, and reddish brown colors, all mixed. The scent is really sweet and fruity as well. The other looks nice not so broken, more uniformly brown, and also sweet with pronounced muscatel, but the Beauty version seems to lean more towards including both muscatel and a berry range. This should be interesting.
I'll brew them Gongfu style, letting the times run a little long to account for my most standard tea range, sheng, requiring a lighter touch, but except for planning to let these brew for around 15 seconds instead of 10 it will be the same approach.
Vendor descriptions of the teas (added after review):
I would imagine this is the "China muscatel" version, although I can't be certain:
Gopaldhara Muscatel – Special Darjeeling Black Tea
Gopaldhara Muscatel – Special Darjeeling Black Tea is a pure Darjeeling black tea made by frosted leaves at the highest elevation of Darjeeling tea plantation. This is from more than 150 years old high-quality bushes planted by the British. It is grown at the 7000 ft. of Gopaldhara Tea Estate and processed by the experts... It brews into a rich orange cup that gives abundant sweet, fruity and muscatel flavor. This special Darjeeling black tea gives mouthful and rounded taste to the pallet.
The cultivar listing "Chinese bushes" would refer to this being a variety Sinensis plant type, versus the often used AV2 cultivar (the background of which I've written about, but it's been awhile). I would imagine the other tea is this:
This is a Second Flush or finest Summer Tea prepared from high quality AV2 bushes. Summer Beauty Muscatel consists of brownish black leaves and few silver tips. It brews into an aromatic bright amber cup with a very smooth flavor without any astringency. The tea has a mouthful sweet and fruity muscatel character with a finish of honey and mango flavor. It has no astringency and is a very compelling make. It is definitely one of the best teas produced by Rohini Tea Estate.
It's interesting how close that marketing description is to my own notes. If I had read "mango" prior to tasting it I probably would have even been seconding that. Mango covers a lot of scope; I've been exploring those this year, and although there is a narrow set of flavors that matches the most distinctive mango taste they cover lots of types and range.
Summer Beauty Muscatel: that is on the incredible side, even for being a little light, as first infusions almost always are based on how I usually brew teas. Pleasant citrus range including muscatel extends a lot further than that. The citrus is also light, to me tasting most like tangerine, but covering some range. Berry notes do stand out, again a complex range of those, like very fresh blueberry, also towards raspberry.
This is the probably the closest thing I've tasted to raspberry since I've lived in Thailand, for well over a decade. Growing up my grandparents (on one side) had a giant raspberry bush; this takes me back. The other set had a giant blueberry bush, which was more like a patch, as both were; visiting both worked out for eating fruit. The first also had a pear tree and some unusually rich tasting grapes (a section of vines), and the second a golden apple tree, with strawberries and mint growing in their garden. I miss that area.
China Muscatel: much warmer; a lot of cinnamon joins the citrus in this. It includes astringency as well; I almost forgot to notice that the first did not, at all. The "Beauty" feel and range is exactly like an Oriental Beauty oolong, given the smoothness, depth, and flavor range, and lightness in tone. The astringency in this is in a nice balance, definitely not harsh, or out of proportion. Cinnamon stands out more than the muscatel (which is also a soft and complex citrus tone, but not bright like the other). I wouldn't be surprised if that's just how it works out brewing this tea Gongfu style, the aspect that gets "stripped out" the fasted, but then I also wouldn't be surprised if it hung in there as a main flavor aspect.
Since both of these are brewed a little light there will be more to add in the next round. Flavor intensity is really good in these infusions, in spite of them being brewed light, but feel and the rest will pick up as it brews while more saturated. I don't get the sense that moderating astringency would be a factor for either but dialing in an optimum for experiencing them will still apply.
I didn't get the amounts exactly identical in these, I think related to not accounting for how long and twisted the Beauty version leaves were, and some of the China version being more broken. The proportions are so close that it won't change much, and I can guess about what it did change in the notes, how that factors in. Using two different infusion times would account for that, but that gets tricky. I'll just pour out the second tea first to adjust process timing by those extra seconds.
Beauty: earthiness picks up, an underlying light malt range black tea tone. Fruit still stands out the most, by a lot. The brightest citrus and berry notes have tapered off just a little, towards warmer, richer tones and other range. That warm maltiness also leans a little towards cinnamon spice; this is pretty close to Oriental Beauty for character. There's a faint edge of astringency now that pairs with a light flavor like biting a tree bud (or flower stem, if that's easier to imagine, but it's really tree bud). Altogether it makes this a complex and pleasant experience. It covers a lot of range; I suppose it's conceivable that someone could see that as negative, but if so I couldn't relate to that opinion.
That astringency seems to show more towards then end, pairing with a trace of bitterness and mouthfeel tightening as you swallow it and just after. It's still really soft and rich, as black teas go, still balanced towards being not very astringent at all, but the bit that is there does relate to a standard Darjeeling range, it's just the proportion that's unusual, being that light.
China: astringency is stronger in this; I think that could also partly relate to being brewed slightly stronger, being based on a higher proportion. The first Beauty version is at a more ideal infusion strength for these teas. I'll try a fast infusion next time, more like what I would use for a lot of Chinese teas, and see how that goes.
I do tend to stretch out timing a bit for Dian Hong, which I do usually also brew Gongfu style. I last had one of those about two days ago; it's interesting having that close a baseline for another character. This tea has slightly more of an edge, but that's not the case for the Beauty version, which is full and rich but very soft. Dian Hong also tend to be really soft in character. I think that's because they use the trees to make sheng in the spring harvest, then pick more for a much milder summer second harvest version that they use for black tea, then back to sheng in autumn. Or maybe that's completely wrong; to be clear I'm passing on hearsay here, not well-developed knowledge. And any given tea producer could do whatever they want.
The cinnamon is still pronounced in this. I think scaling back time will drop out some astringency, without giving up much for flavor intensity, and this tea will work out better. That's the nice part about brewing Gongfu style; you tend to get 10 or more chances to dial in the infusion time that works best for the tea at that stage, along with experiencing more transition that way.
Beauty: this works really well brewed on the moderate strength side; I'm not sure why I was thinking the teas would need longer at this proportion (more than 10 seconds). All the flavor aspects tend to integrate more at this stage; it's still covering that laundry-list of flavor range, but it combines into a complex, unified experience. Complex fruit tone stands out, which could be interpreted in different ways. Mineral undertone changes, adding a touch of copper taste, but that integrates really well too. There's a rich, round feel to it. For astringency dropping back to being a faint balancing input this is just great.
It's well-synchronized, all completely integrated. It's very clean in effect, with sweetness level high but balanced. It goes without saying after all that but this is one of the best Darjeeling versions I've ever tried. That seems to almost extend past personal preference as a factor; the quality level and balance is undeniable. I guess someone could miss more astringency edge? The feel isn't thin, it just doesn't have a bite, and none of that near-bitter flavor that seems to tie to that edge.
China: this is the best it has been too; this moderate infusion strength works perfectly. To be clear I'm not "brewing these light;" when you use a very high proportion of tea to water using a very short infusion time is just standard process. These wouldn't be so different in infusion strength if I had brewed 2 grams of tea for 4 minutes, or probably for rounds of 3 and 4 minutes, "cashed out" after those two rounds. To some extent that just combines the experience of many transitions into two.
This has that touch of astringency I said that someone might miss in the last sample notes, but it's very moderate, very balanced. Again it shows up more after you drink it, as an aftertaste effect, than you notice during the time the tea is in your mouth. It if was stronger it would seem like a slight dryness, and it still is close to that, but that light it seems odd referring to it as that. Cinnamon is hanging in there; this flavor range covers mostly that and non-distinct or mixed citrus range, muscatel and perhaps more like orange peel zest.
It's interesting trying this then the other, seeing how bright that comes across in comparison. That flavor is towards berry, really, but a flash of a first impression is almost towards banana instead. I don't want to overextend this point since it's a tangent, but people in the US don't really know what a flavorful banana tastes like. You're not missing that much but if you travel in South East Asia sometime you should try some other types of bananas (or in India, I'd imagine).
Referring back to the vendor description (in the editing part, after making tasting notes), mango would also work. The banana note I was talking about is not the normal light, mild, somewhat neutral flavor common to those sold in the US, more of a sweet, rich, almost bubble-gum flavor, towards a warmer range, not unlike some mango. It's hard to describe which mango since the names here don't mean a lot to me, and I keep trying different versions.
closest to an aspect in the sangkhya type, I think, in the upper middle
versions from home, growing in the yard, picked before the squirrel got them
the Beauty version is less oxidized, probably more in a normal oolong range
I'll make a few fast notes since I'm off to a yoga class, appropriate enough to be drinking Indian teas prior to that.
Beauty: a verbal description does nothing to convey how this tea really is. It's almost absurd even making these notes. Sure, I can try to isolate the parts of what I experience as a flavor list, or draw a comparison, or say things like "balanced, integrated, refined," but it wouldn't help. It's too integrated to be broken apart, too complex and refined to be captured in words. Good Taiwanese Oriental Beauty is like that too. In a limited sense it's on the basic side, refined in general character, rich in feel, and very complex in flavor, so in one sense a flavor list does it justice and in another not at all.
At some level Wuyi Yancha oolongs have an odd, very pleasant quality that I refer to as liquor like, or perfume like, meaning that those can be complex, across floral and other flavor range, similar to part of the experience of a cognac or perfume. This is a little like that, but more fruity instead of floral. I guess that's the way to describe it, to get all poetic. Maybe Geoffrey Norman should be writing this review.
China: More of the same. Again the balance really works. Again it's warmer, and across vaguely related range but into warmer citrus and more cinnamon. Astringency is almost a non-issue, although some does round out the feel. That dropping out may have related both to getting the infusion strength right and a natural transition across rounds. It has more structure, and a very light dryness shows up in aftertaste, and that's about it. It's odd how that experience seems to occur after you drink it, but then I've already said that.
Both of these have lots of rounds to go, and both may transition a good bit, but I may or may not make more notes. It's hard to get back to the same level of focus, and a lot of the story has been told already.
Later infusions: over the next couple of rounds I needed to stretch out the timing a bit to keep up infusion strength. The Beauty version seemed to pick up a nice heavier grape flavor, not so far off muscatel, but a little towards Welch's grape juice. The China version kept the hint of dryness but a lot of that earlier astringency edge dropped out. Cinnamon hung in there but citrus range stood out more in the flavors.
Both thinned a little in overall complexity, and feel range thinned, but stretching times picked up the underlying mineral tones in both. Both are still really pleasant, and will keep going beyond that, but they're dropping off.
Those are both really exceptional tea. The "Beauty" version is that little bit more exceptional, a real treat for anyone who loves the Taiwanese oolong Oriental Beauty. Of course it wasn't exactly like that, maybe in between that and a second flush Darjeeling character. For all of these teas being this good it should be very interesting and pleasant to see where the oolong processed versions ended up.
Calling this Summer Beauty version oolong would've been fair enough. I looked back at the listing description and it does say that it's semi-oxidized, it just doesn't add that extra category label. I think people take the type names too seriously anyway; as I interpret their use labels and groupings should help define the type and expectations. Being based on an AV2 cultivar and grown in Darjeeling this couldn't be identical to the Taiwanese oolong Oriental Beauty version, but it's a lot closer than I expected it to be. It doesn't make any sense to judge if a single tea version is as good as a different and separate category, but it is really good tea.