I'm reviewing two more samples sent for review by Gopaldhara. All the others have been really exceptional, some about as good as conventional first and second flush versions seem to ever get, some really novel oolong versions.
Picking what I'm reviewing as sets randomly hasn't led to natural type-overlap themes, and again that holds up, again comparing first and second flush versions (so contrasting them?). Luckily I can review two dissimilar teas without that throwing me off, an outcome from trying to do that a few dozen times in the past. If the two (or more) versions don't share much for common ground the experience of one doesn't inform much about the other, eg. highlighting a feel difference, or minor flavor character, but it doesn't really hinder the review process either.
I'll cite the vendor descriptions for these and get straight to the review notes, since it does add up.
...Rohini is mostly the first garden to produce the first flush teas in Darjeeling. The workers carefully pluck the tea leaves while making sure that only the best shoots with eminent buds are plucked. This season the growth of Darjeeling tea is very slow and the workers could only bring in a very small quantity of leaves that are very special. The plucking of tea leaves is of such fine quality that the tea is mostly hand sorted with very fewer machinery works involved.
The tea bushes are grown and harvested at an elevation between 1500-3000 feet. The bushes are fresh as they have just come out of an extended period of remaining inactive cause of the prolonged winters of almost about 3 months from the month of November to January. The low temperature experienced during winters has given a very well defined character to the tea.
This tea is made from the best quality P-157 clones which is one of the best clones planted in Darjeeling. The dry leaves are bright green in appearance and consist of two whole leaves and a bud. The teas are very mildly oxidized and are delicately processed to induce minimal damage. All oxidation done is overnight and natural with nothing being induced vigorously.
This Darjeeling fresh First Flush Tea is very light on the palette, having a very mouthful flavor that leaves a clean note with smooth finish having an abundant flavor. The flavor is full and leaves a very pleasant and distinct aftertaste with zero astringencies. The infusion has to be kept absolutely green.
In some past reviews I've talked through typical first and second flush character but I skipped that in these notes; no need to keep going through it.
The tea is extremely full and expertly fully oxidized to extract all the flavor. It takes a lot of different processes to oxidize, without crushing and cutting the leaf. Every time you crush and cut the leaf you introduce harshness to the cup. This tea is very clean with absolute no hints of astringency and harshness. It is honey sweet with a very well rounded Muscatel finish and notes of ripe fruits. It has been the best lot in the second flush muscatel category.
It is 100% handpicked with no machinery involved. The garden workers are very careful in their plucking to make sure only the best shoots with prominent buds are plucked. The top elevation of Gopaldhara Tea Estate which stretches up to 5500-7000 Ft is planted with the best quality AV2 bushes, the most preferred clones in Darjeeling.
This Darjeeling muscatel tea is super fine to taste and has all the characteristics of a premium tea. It brews into a very bright orange and clear cup having smooth fruity taste and muscatel character. The finish is long, honey sweet & captivating. It is one of our finest second flush teas and a must try for every summer tea lovers.
I don't really make a big deal of these not including much for astringency in the notes, just enough feel to give them richness of body. Again that's because I'm doing the third or fourth review, and I've just went through all that in others. In doing dis-similar combined tea reviews I tend to narrow aspect focus down more just to flavor, usually mentioning mouthfeel and aftertaste aspects, but not much. Probably what I consciously experience of those aspects narrows in trying to take more in too, and to write it all down.
I skipped taking the dry leaf photo; strange. This is an earlier 1st and 2nd flush set.
Jethikupi: interesting for tasting like spice, like fennel seed. These are offset a lot in oxidation level, so this isn't a normal comparison of similar versions [with them being 1st and 2nd flush, as one might expect]. This is quite pleasant, although match to personal preference at this stage would relate to a take on that spice flavor. Richness and fullness fills in general character, and the flavor is complex. One light part leans towards lemon zest. Some light mineral gives it a nice base. Something like cured hay fills in some range in between, with all that integrating well.
Thor: a bit unusual. Warm tones I expected from the color, and some fruit and floral range, all present. There is a but of other earthy range that I didn't expect, towards cured tree bark. It's not bad, not musty or off, just not part of the profile that a expected, a light, sweeter, citrus range. Since these early rounds are still evolving I'll break that to more of a flavor list next time.
2, Jethikupi: evolving well; the fennel seed spice is still present but a lot of citrus kicked in. This is now mainly lemon range citrus with light floral and some fennel spice supporting that, instead of the other way around. That distinctive brightness and intensity I had expected is there. The feel even has a fullness to it, and the citrus trails a bit as aftertaste. There is no astringency to contend with; whole leaf processing seems to drop almost all that out. This doesn't have a lot of feel structure to it but the rich fullness works, versus that being a lot more edgy.
Thor: this ties together and evolves to be better too. A bit of earthy edge drops back to be a base, with sweeter tones filling in complexity. There is some citrus but it's not dominant at all, like a light blood orange tone, a milder variation of ruby grapefruit. Warm floral is along the line of rose. It seems a hint of spice joins, or maybe it's that an initial earthiness has already transitioned to warm spice. For these both shifting that much early the next round should be different too. Feel is full and pleasant, with no astringency beyond that fullness.
3 Jethikupi: richness ramped up, and the citrus; this is much more intense. Probably brewed a few seconds longer too, although in both cases it seemed just under 10 seconds to me. For using a much lower proportion that short timing would need to be doubled. The same flavor list in last round applies, but the proportion of those flavors is different. This is really citrus intensive now. Given that I love fruit flavor in tea best that works well for me.
You can't even notice a spice aspect in this now but it seems likely that input range gives it a complex effect. Even though it's mostly lemon citrus it doesn't come across as one dimensional. Probably that light tone of warm cured hay fills in the experience of depth too. This is relatively sweet and very clean in character, but how it all balances stands out more than any one input. It's good.
Thor: this version is more balanced across a broader range of flavor aspects. It's not the same as last round; it is shifting. A warm, sweet, rich flavor range like apple cider stands out. It's natural to try to interpret the current round in terms of the last round so it could seem like warm citrus, rich floral, and spice instead. To me it's onto apple cider range, with a trace of brown bread relating to the evolving earthier range.
This reminds me of a tea reviewer who writes long, round by round reviews, in which he seems to describe different teas each round, Mattcha's blog. I think he's focused on the opposite theme, on changes, and is mostly communicating only what is different, even though commonality runs through the infusions. It's probably both a bias towards noticing change and a communication issue. Taken for what it probably really means it seems likely to be accurate, and is interesting.
The other side of that is that imagination does come into play when reviewing teas. You need to disassociate with expectations, to some extent, and to connect experiential and analytic (verbal) parts of your experience that more typically never link. Interpretive bias never fully drops out, so you need to try to work around it instead, to make allowance for it, and factor it in.
4 Jethikupi: richness and warmth picks up; the range shifts. That fruit tone is still mostly citrus but a bit of watermelon joins that. The neutral-tone depth I've described as cured hay picks up. Seeing that as similar to crysanthemum instead would make sense, as a relatively neutral floral tone. It integrates better than it might sound, citrus, watermelon, chrysanthemum, and cured hay.
Thor: a bit more malt tone pulls this towards a more standard black tea profile. It's interesting how citrus is present but it doesn't dominate, how lots of range balances. Again feel is pleasant, and overall balance. A hint more dryness might join that malt tone but it's on the opposite extreme of being astringent.
I'll give these a slightly longer soak and leave off; my patience for writing notes is running out.
5 Jethikupi: integrating even better maybe. Mineral depth bumps up a bit brewed just a touch stronger. No negative aspects show through at all; that's nice. Citrus input, the balance, is lower but it's still a main flavor.
Thor: I could almost write a new flavor list for this, like "Matt" does in that other blog that I mentioned. A number of inputs all balance, with none standing out. It's not so different than the earlier list but the effect is different, the way it shifts to not emphasize any one or two parts. That list again: citrus (just not much of it), warm floral, touch of soft malt, some underling warm mineral, fruit. To me the fruit is more like dried mango at this point.
All in all good teas. They did brew a number of additional rounds, that was just a good place to leave off taking notes. They were not exactly what I expected, more complex and novel, not just sticking with those dominant citrus and floral tones. That's probably a good thing, Gopaldhara's tea versions including that diversity of outcomes. This description probably doesn't convey how integrated and well balanced those flavor lists came across, or how the feel contributed, but so it goes with verbal description of experiences.
I think as with the last Wuyi Yancha version I just wrote about I tend to be more blown away when I try a version within a different range again, then after reviewing some it just seems normal for one to be so exceptional. These two tea versions really could re-write what Darjeeling potential is all about for someone, but since I've reviewed a half dozen recently it's just the range that they all fall in.
They are right that whole-leaf preparation, versus the more conventional chopped leaf form, makes a huge difference. There is no "brewing around" astringency, or liking the tea in spite of that harsh edge. It would never cross anyone's mind to put milk in them. For the lower oxidation level first flush range that wouldn't even match very well, but it just wouldn't make sense for the Thor second flush version either. They are just right as they are. Probably best brewed Gong Fu style, but I would imagine these would be great prepared Western style too, it just wouldn't optimize them, per my preference.
I just saw a post about their fall harvest teas, just now released. It wasn't in this set, of course, but their Red Thunder has probably been my favorite among all their teas in the past. It's hard to say why, and really not fair to comment a lot on a tea version I've not tried from this year. People who are a fan of autumn harvest Darjeeling already know what I'm talking about though. They might give up a bit of intensity to first and second flush but they can gain even more back in complex and well-balanced character.
Their Red Thunder description is a biased take (of course) but it will pass on some idea of that:
A limited-edition Darjeeling Autumn flush produced from frosted leaves from the best clone of Darjeeling also known as AV2. It is the rarely special as not many bushes of AV2 can be found at these high peaks. Extreme cold weather conditions which in the night can touch 0 degrees at the high elevations of Gopaldhara induces special and complex flavour of ripe fruits into the tea. The tea brews into a bright orange cup with a very rich character and full rounded and dense fruity flavour. The aftertaste is very clean and sweet with a prominent finish of Honey.
a recent biking outing in a Bangkok park (rot fai, railroad park)
lots of that park is beautiful but these trees stand out as interesting
my tea circle (photo credit to Suzana)
both kids had birthdays this month (7 and 12 now); here giving alms to monks in observance