Kalo Chia Black Tea from Nepali Tea Traders

himalayan_golden_blackTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Nepali Tea Traders

Tea Description:  

The strength and vigor of Jasbirey Village, in the foothills of Sandkaphu Peak, inspire our traditional Black Tea (Kalo Chia means black tea in Nepali). Partially rolled by hand, this traditional method produces a distinctive, nuanced cup. Kalo tea is characterized by a rich caramel flavor and a lasting gentle finish (because of its high altitude cultivation and extended oxidation process.) Many thanks to our Kickstarter supporter, Aaron Williams, who named this tea – the name means “black tea” in Nepalese.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

Oh wow … I’m loving this tea!  It’s rich and sweet with caramel-y notes, and it has a full-body and robust character.  This is the kind of tea that I LOVE to turn to for that little “pick-me-up” in the early afternoon when I need to recharge.  This tea has some vigor to it and a really delicious flavor.

This is a strong, bold tasting tea, but there is a gentle smoothness to it too.  It doesn’t have a harsh astringency.  There is some astringency toward the tail, a mild drying sensation.  But there is no bitterness.  There is no harshness.  This is the strong, suave kind of bold tea.  As I near the bottom of the cup, I start to pick up on a little more astringency.  It’s a little more dry but again … not a harsh dryness.

There are notes of cocoa and caramel, with a sweet fruit note – sweet plum.  There are woodsy, earthy notes to this as well.  It doesn’t have the same kind of kick-in-the-butt gusto that some teas have, but it has a really pleasing “chewy” sort of flavor to it that evokes thoughts of freshly baked bread.  It’s a very satisfying tea.

I steeped this for 3 minutes at 205°F, which is what I usually go with when I have leaves with golden tips.  I’m not sure exactly why, but for some reason, I want to be just a little (about 7°) gentler with the pretty golden leaves.  This produced a really flavorful cup that is something that I’d love to indulge in regularly.  It’s one of those amazing, decadent teas that make you realize just how truly incredible tea is!

Mr. He’s 1st Picking Laoshan Black Tea from Verdant Tea

Spring-2014-1st-picking-laoshan-blackTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Verdant Tea

Tea Description:

Laoshan Black is our most popular tea, and its success has encouraged Mr He of Laoshan Village to keep refining his process to make it better every year. This year, Mr. He has taken leaves normally used for his delicate and subtle early spring green tea and allowed them to roast in the sun for three days before hand processing in small one to two pound batches, yielding this incredible rich, subtle Laoshan Black experience.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

The aroma of the dry leaf knocks my socks off.  OK, so I wasn’t wearing socks, but if I was, they’d be blown off.  My feet felt the absence of the socks and felt the strong gust of wind that was there to blow the socks off the feet, but, because there was no socks, my feet just got a nice cool breeze for a few minutes, and given that it’s kind of hot outside, I’m glad that the gust wasn’t warm air.

Wow … so that was a lot “windier” than I expected to be to describe a scent that I can’t remember experiencing with a black tea in the past.  It smells like chocolate.  Like dark chocolate with a nice roast on those cacao beans.  Nice.  The chocoholic in me is happy.

This is a very special tea.  And since it is so special, I decided to consult the suggested brewing parameters on the Verdant Tea website for how to best brew this tea.  Now, this isn’t something I do often.  I don’t usually check to see how the company suggests I brew a tea, mostly because I’ve been brewing tea for a long time.  I eyeball my measurements using my bamboo scoop (the bamboo scoop that I own looks sort of like this one).

I have kind of a set “temperature” guide in my head:  for most black teas, I use boiling water.  If I’m brewing Assam, I drop the temperature to 205°F.  If I’m brewing Darjeeling, I drop the temperature to 195°F.  If I’m brewing herbal teas, including rooibos, honeybush, yerba mate and guayusa, I also set the temperature for 195°F.  Most pu-erh teas get 190°F.  If’ I’m brewing Green or Oolong teas, I use 175 – 185°F.  If I’m brewing a white or yellow tea, I use 170°F.   I don’t often stray from this mental temperature guide often.  Steep times are also follow a mental steep-time guide.

But because this is a tea that is of very limited quantities, and not one that I want to experiment a lot with because I don’t have a large quantity of this tea to experiment with, nor do I have the resources to secure myself a large quantity of the tea … because of these reasons, I decided to consult with the people who have had more experience with this tea than I.  I decided to go with the gongfu brew style (hey, what the heck!) and I now have sitting before me my first cup of this tea – the combined results of the first and second infusions, following an extremely quick 1 second rinse.

Ow!  Cup is hot.  I’m using my little Chinese teacup with no handle and made of very thin porcelain, so there’s not a lot to insulate and protect my fingers from the heat of the boiling water used to infuse this tea.

Very mellow tasting.  These infusions were 15 seconds and 20 seconds, which went a little longer than the suggested 2 – 3 seconds as suggested in the brewing parameters by Verdant.  But there is still a lot of flavor to the mellow taste.

Spring-2014-1st-picking-laoshan-black2The chocolate notes are THERE and I’m loving that.  The tasting notes on the Verdant website also suggest notes of cherry and almond, and I do get a slight roasted nut flavor there that is almond-y.  A lovely combination of flavors with the prolific chocolate notes.  I taste hints of the sweet cherry notes.  This first cup is sweet and lovely.

The next two infusions proved to continue with the chocolate-y notes.  I love the roasted flavor to this cup and how that enhances the chocolate-y notes.  I’m starting to pick up on honey-like flavors and a slight caramel-y note, like a honey caramel.  Nice.  I love that while this is tea is loaded with sweet notes, it doesn’t taste too sweet.  It’s smooth and well-rounded.

Later infusions, I noticed the chocolate notes beginning to wane, replaced with a stronger nutty tone.  Imagine toasted nuts that have been drizzled with honey.

The brewing parameters suggest 15 infusions, and I might very well have gotten that many out of this measurement of leaves, but, I was quite satisfied with the eight infusions that I brewed.  By the fourth and final cup, while I was still enjoying the tea but I found myself missing the chocolate-y notes of the earlier infusions.

Then I found myself wondering how the flavors would differ if I were to experiment with this tea using the “Western” approach to brewing.  So, I decided to do just that!

I think that I actually prefer the western method of brewing for this particular tea.  The flavor is richer and more robust from the very first cup.  Still deliciously chocolate-y and tasting of roasted almonds with hints of cherry, but the flavor has more muchness to it when I brew it using the teapot rather than the gaiwan.

And brewing this way, I can still get three flavorful infusions out of this tea.  The first:  chocolate-y, rich with notes of toasted almond and sweet cherry.  The second:  a little lighter on the chocolate notes, but, still very pleasantly chocolate-y, with more enhanced nutty notes and a touch of honey.  And with the third, I was able to actually taste some notes of sarsaparilla.

This tea is awesome!  It makes me want to dance the futterwacken!

Dong Ding Oolong Tea from Eco-Cha

DongDingTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Oolong

Where to Buy:  Eco-Cha

Tea Description:

This batch of tea comes from Yong Long Village, just above Dong Ding Mountain. Yong Long is known for a rich red soil which differs from other locales in Lu Gu Township. The unique flavor of the Dong Ding Oolong produced here is attributed to this soil quality, along with the fact this region is home to the most concentrated population of the most skilled oolong tea artisans in Taiwan.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

The fragrance of the dry leaf of this Dong Ding Oolong Tea from Eco-Cha has a strong vegetative tone with hints of roasted nut.  Once brewed, the aroma becomes much more roasty-toasty with the vegetative notes becoming very faint.

And that’s what I’m tasting too.  Up front, I notice the roasted nutty taste, evoking thoughts of freshly toasted chestnuts.  I also notice a slight “coffee-like” flavor … not so much the bitterness of coffee, but the rich, roasted flavor of coffee.  This would be a great tea for the former coffee drinker who misses that “fresh roasted” flavor of coffee but doesn’t miss the caffeine jolt or the nauseating feeling that some of us experience after a cup of joe.

There is not a strong vegetative tone to this first cup (infusions 1 & 2 following the 15 second rinse) … it smells more vegetal than it tastes.  There is a smokiness to this Oolong that complements the chestnut and coffee notes, and there is a very distant “raisin-y” note here too.

The second cup (infusions 3 & 4) brought that raisin note forward, making for a sweeter cup than the first.  This cup still has notes of roasted nuts and coffee, but these two flavors are starting to meld together into a more unified taste.  As I sit here and sip on this tea, I realize what a perfect for autumn tea this Dong Ding Oolong is, because it has flavors to it that remind me of autumn.  The smoke, the chestnut, the warm notes of coffee, even the raisins are very autumnal to me.

The third cup was a bit softer in taste and texture than the second, but not by a lot.  It is still very flavorful.  The flavors are much more seamless now.  The coffee notes are less distinct.  I notice a little more of the vegetative note now, more than I tasted in the first two cups.

A very enjoyable tea.  I really like this company:  Eco-Cha.  The packaging is beautiful, and the tea is of excellent quality!  I like that they get their teas direct from the source, which means a fresher product!  This Dong Ding, for example, was harvested in May of this year, and it was hand-picked in small batches.  I like that!

Tong Tian Xiang Phoenix Mountain Dancong from Verdant Tea

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Oolong

Where to Buy:  Verdant Tea

Tea Description:

This Dancong offers a full and engaging tasting experience.  In early steepings, a crisp mineral or stone quality dominates the texture with a rosewood quality on the sides of the palate.  Soon, a mouth-watering juicy note of apricot makes an entrance and continues to build up a thicker body for the tea.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

I have tried Dancong teas in the past, but I don’t think I’ve tasted one quite like this one.

The first two steepings produced a flavor that is very mineral-y, I can almost feel the minerals on my tongue!  This experience was a little jarring – ok, quite jarring – because I found myself having very little to say about those early sips except for the taste and texture of mineral.  As I continue to sip, I notice fruit tones – yes, apricot, just as the description suggests.

These first steepings are thinner than I expected from an Oolong, but that is not meant to sound like a bad thing, because I find the texture to be quite interesting, especially the almost grain-y kind of feel on the tongue.  The flavor is light but it teases the palate with flavors to come:  more sweet, juicy apricot, hints of wood, and a honey-esque sweetness that slowly develops in the background and then begins to wash over the palate with every sip.

With the third and fourth steepings, the mineral texture and taste remained, but it had softened somewhat, allowing for the apricot notes to shine through more distinctly.  The sip starts off soft, almost silky, and soon develops a mouthfeel that reminds me a little bit of a Darjeeling tea with its light, crisp quality and dry, somewhat astringent finish.  Even with the astringency, I find these steepings to be remarkably soothing, especially at the start with its silky soft (it’s almost fluffy!) presentation.

Later infusions become softer in texture.  The mineral-y taste and texture is but a memory, and now I have a tea that is much more like an “Oolong.”  That is, much more like what I might expect from an Oolong.  The flavor is sweet and slightly creamy.  I notice hints of spice and wood which meld together in a taste that I want to describe as “wilderness” – it is as if I can actually taste the “wild” in this wild-picked tea.

Quite remarkable, really, this tea.  But really, as Verdant has proven itself to offer nothing but the best, I expected nothing less!

Laoshan Village Chai from Verdant Tea

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Verdant Tea

Tea Description:

Chai is a wonderful thing.  When the spices and tea are just right, there is something alchemical about the flavors with or without milk and honey.  We set out to build a better chai, starting with the tea.  We use our chocolatey, malty Laoshan Village black tea as the base, and build up from there with traditional additions like cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and peppercorn.  We found that it wasn’t quite rich enough as a simple chai, so we added burdock root for a graham cracker sweetness, fennel for a lingering aftertaste, elderberry to deepen the flavors and finally, saffron strands to make the whole concoction perfectly smooth and creamy.

Ingredients:  Laoshan Black Tea, Ginger, Cinnamon, Clove, Fennel, Cardamom Seeds, Cardamom Pods, Elderberry, Peppercorn, Burdock, Saffron.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

As I’ve mentioned before, I love chai and while I’ve tasted and reviewed many really wonderful chai blends, I don’t think I’ve found one that lives up to my Masterpiece Chai.  And while this Laoshan Village Chai from Verdant Tea is REALLY good, I can’t really compare it to my Masterpiece Chai because they are really two very different chai blends.

As with any chai, though, it is important to consider the base tea.  And Verdant Tea used their Laoshan Black tea which I previously reviewed, and in my opinion that makes a big difference in the brewed cup.  The flavor is rich and malty and even has hints of chocolate-y notes in the background and these notes add so much to the overall cup.

The “usual” spices – cinnamon, clove, ginger and cardamom – are all present and are balanced quite well here.  Also sometimes found in chai blends are pepper and fennel; Verdant added some of these spices to this chai as well.  These spices make up a delicious base of spices that bring to mind many of the usual terms that I use to describe chai:  spicy, sweet, tangy, and zesty.

But Verdant Tea was not content to stop with just the “usual” and added a few other interesting spices such as burdock root and saffron.  And WOW what a difference these two spices make.  The burdock root gives it a sweetness and a sort of “bread-y” depth.  Together with the ginger, it gives a flavor that is a bit like gingerbread.

The saffron adds such a distinct flavor to this as well as an amazing aroma.  Savory bitterness but also a delightful sweetness and hint of spice that you don’t typically experience with a chai … except for those that might include saffron.

I absolutely LOVE the way the spices come together here.  It is spicy, but not what I’d call super-spicy or spicy-hot.  Instead, it is more of a savory spicy flavor with medium heat.  This is more flavorful than it is spicy … if that makes sense.  This is a chai I’d recommend to someone looking for a fairly warm but not too spicy chai – one with a good balance of spices that keeps the taste buds actively exploring.  This is also a chai I’d recommend to foodies because of the diversity of flavor to the cup.

Superb!  Very well done, Verdant Tea!