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I embarked on my tea journey when I studied abroad in China in 2008 and traveled around Taiwan that summer. I'm here to share my experiences and offer my own opinion, advice, and comments on tea.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Shan Shui Spring 2006 Winter Yinya

Parameters:
7.5 grams for a 130 ml gaiwan; 10 second rinse, 15 seconds for first three steepings, adding on 10 seconds for each additional one.

Dry Leaves
According to Brian Wright from Shan Shui Teas, in terms of varietal and processing, Yinya is essentially Baozhong tea. However, the harvest is timed differently to include the buds of the tea plant as well as the leaves. This difference gives Yinya its name, which means "silver needle." The "silver needles" are refering to the buds, which appear a silver white.
(Enlarge the photo to take a closer look.)



Tasting Notes:

So when I first steeped this tea, the first though that came to my head was, "wow this tea is floral." There is a rich bouquet with rich color. There is also a slight sweet aroma that is very intriguing. It smells like honey, but more "plant-like," if that's even possible. The light roast on the tea makes it very mellow, giving it a smooth silky finish.





Conclusion

So I've been on a bit of a "green oolong" run this month, since all the samples I bought from Brian Wright were mostly lightly roasted oolongs. I'm beginning to appreciate greener oolongs more, but unfortunately this one did not hit the sweet spot for me. It's a bit too floral for my taste. Maybe it has something to do with all the green oolongs that I've been trying, and I'm tired of it. Next time I'll be reviewing a sample of winter TGY (highly roasted!) so it'll be interesting to compare that to the spring TGY I reviewed earlier.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Premium Winter 2007 Buluomi

Parameters:
7.5 grams for an approx. 130 ml gaiwan; 10 second rinse followed by 15 seconds for first three steepings, adding on 10 seconds for each additional one.
Dry Leaf Appearance


The leaves had a dark green color. It reminded me of wuyi yancha, but with unroasted leaves. There was a very strong veggie smell that reminded me slightly of high mountain oolong leaves.






Tasting Notes:

This tea had a surprising sweet aftertaste that lingered on my tongue. Judging from the dry leaves I had expected something similar to High Mountain teas, so I was surprised by this. The tea had a very smooth finish, with a slight baked pineapple aroma to it. It was very creamy, a nice contrast to the other oolong types. The tea was very durable, and the sweetness continues even after six to seven steepings. The tea had a golden green color, with amazing clarity.



Conclusion:

The wet leaves had a very strong "plant" smell to it. It reminded me of being in a warm and humid jungle. Like the tea, I detected a slight baked pineapple aroma in the wet leaves. The wet leaves were very durable, and had a dark green color. I had originally thought that this tea would not be one of my favorites, but I actually liked this tea a lot. It's a great contrast to high mountain oolongs and it's an interesting variety of oolong. I don't think I've seen this anywhere else other then on Shan Shui Teas.

Side Note:
When sniffing for the aroma of the wet leaves, I put my nose close to the gaiwan, accidentally breathing in some hot steaming leaf into my nose! Although this should have taught me a lesson, that's the only way I can properly take in a tea's aroma




Friday, October 17, 2008

Shan Shui Premium Spring 2008 TGY

Parameters:
7g/120 ml; 10 second rinse, 15 second for the first three steepings, adding 10 seconds for each additional one.

Dry Leaf Appearance:
The tea leaves are roasted to a dark chocolate color, indicating a high level of roasting. The tea leaves were a bit crushed so this particular tea tasting had particularily flavorful steepings towards the beginning of the tasting session.



Tasting Notes:

The tea exhibited very smoky flavors, which only increased with each additional steeping. The wet leaves have a very distinct rich smell, with hints of chocolate. The liquor was very mild and mellow tasting, exuding a flavor that lingers on the tongue. The roasted nature of this tea though, might be overpowering to some people. However, the roasted nature of the tea gives me a complex character. The tea exhibits a gorgeous dark amber color, with extreme clarity.


Conclusion:

I am a big fan of this tea, which is both to be expected and surprising at the same time. It's expected because I appreciate the complex nature of roasted teas. On the other hand, however, it's surprising because I'm not a fan of TGY, but this high-roasted one changed my mind. I like to think of this tea as an easy-going tea that sips well, like a nice bourbon. I'm looking forward to trying other high-roasted TGY.

Post note:
The photos came out better this time because I discovered the "macro" function on my camera, which the manual describes should be used when shooting up close. I'm embarrassed that it's taken me this long to figure out this crucial function.







Tuesday, October 14, 2008

2007 Hou De Spring Ta Tung "Si Cha" Oolong

Wow, I haven't reviewed a tea in a really long time. I've been busy with schoolwork and just this weekend I traveled to New York City to visit some friends. I actually have tasting notes for different teas already, and I'm just getting around to the first one now. Anyway, to the actual review...

2007 Spring Tai-Tung "Si Cha" Oolong
Parameters:
9 grams/120 ml teapot; 10 second rinse, 15 second for first three steepings, add 10 seconds for each additional steeping
Dry Leaf Appearance:



The leaves had a very dark color to it, and there was a strong roasted aroma that made was very delicious. The tea was roasted very well, and it showed all the characteristics of a tea that was handpicked.



Tasting Notes:

The roasting gives the tea a very pronounced fruity. I detected subtle plum flavors, along with some peachiness. It had a very silk smooth taste, which was very mellow. However, at the same time there was a slight tartness to the tea which I enjoyed. It ook a while for the tea's flavor to fully awaken, and I had to experiment with the parameters before getting it right. For me at least, the flavors seemed to "peak" during the third steeping. All in all, there is a certain richness and orchid floriness.

Conclusion:

I wasn't a big fan of this tea, although after reading about in on the website I was really excited and perhaps had inflated expectations. I would say that I enjoyed this tea, but I probably wouldn't try it again on my own. The flavors were good, but it wasn't the kind of "bold" tea that I thought it was, which is what I usually enjoy. Don't let this discourage you from trying it out though, it's more that this particular tea was "incompatible" with my preferences and tastes.

Post Notes:
I'll be posting up a review of a 2008 Summer Wenshan Baihao from Shan Shui teas that I tried out a few days ago. I also have some tasting notes from a Black tea I just tried out from Plucker's Pick (too many teas in my life!). Looking for a yixing for black tea if anyone is willing to help out...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Water Quality

It's my firm belief that a tea tastes just as good (or badly) as the water the tea leaves are brewed with. I recall a particular moment in tea-history when I, having run out of bottled water, used plain old tap water to brew some Da Hong Pao. It was a bad idea as I noticed an "off" aroma wafting from the liquor, and as I took the teacup to my mouth I noticed a reflective film on top of the tea.

It was nasty.

I immediately threw away the brew and leaves, because I was so disgusted with the foul concoction. Luckily a few days after the incident my Brita filter finally arrived so I could go back to brewing tea. This should serve an important lesson in the role water plays.

Alot of other blogs have already chronicaled the advantages or disadvantages of using what kind of water, so I won't bother talking about that. I am, however, more interested in the more minute aspects of water. It's too expensive to buy imported water, so I want to see if I can "recreate" the different variables of water without having to pay the price.

Hard Water vs. Soft Water
Hard Water is usually better for oolong and black teas, whereas greens could benefit from softer water. There are water softeners out there that you can use to soften water. As a predominantly oolong drinker, I'm more interesting in making water harder.


Bamboo Charcoal
Bamboo charcoal provides a cheaper alternative to Brita filters for making water taste better; however, bamboo charcoal has the tendency to make water harder, so be careful when using this with green teas. But the harder water that results from using bamboo charcoal is favorable towards oolongs.



Gypsum Powder

This is gypsum powder, the stuff that you find in baby powder (I think) and in most chem laboratories. This stuff can also make water become harder, but I've only discussed this with some of my science-oriented friends. I don't know how much you would add, or where you can buy safe gypsum that could be consumable. When I return home I'll make sure to run some experiments to verify everything.


Ceramic Pot

In the same way that ceramic teapots affect the flavor of the tea, so can ceramic pots affect the taste of water. When I visited Yingge, Taiwan I came across Lin's Ceramic Studio. I saw some ceramic pots made out of purion, which the sales people said made the water taste better. Being a little skeptical I actually had a taste of the water and I can say it really made a tremendous difference. I would've bought the ceramic pot except that I had no space in my luggage. At home I boil water in a ceramic kettle like this one, and it really makes the tea taste better, especially with oolongs. I feel that the porous nature of the kettle enriches the water with various minerals that make the water taste better as well as harder at the same time.

*Added*
Magnet
That's right, a magnet. Now this comes from my mom, who passes her water through a magnetized filter, which somehow makes the water better for you. What does this do with tea? I frankly don't know. Tieguanyin has a magnetized Korean mug that is supposedly good for your health. Will it help tea taste better? Maybe. But when I go home I'll be eager to test this out. If it does make tea taste better then I'll have to apologize to my mom for making fun of her for "magnetizing" water.