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Ancient Forest Black Tea from Art of Tea

ancient_forestTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy: Art of Tea

Tea Description:

A specialty of the southwest province of Yunnan, this unique tea is harvested from ancient trees on the protected land of Jingmai Mangjing’s Blue Mountains. 100% organic, hand picked and sorted, this black tea steeps a rich, earthy infusion with notes of cedar and honey.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

The description of the “creamy texture and notes of amber and honey” this tea purports to provide made me particularly eager to try it. It certainly sounds divine, after all. I was even more interested when I learned that the base tea is Yunnan, as it’s one of my favourite black tea varieties. The dry leaf is relatively small compared to some I’ve tried, with no leaf over 0.5cm and some decidedly smaller. They’re mostly a uniform black-brown, but there are a few golden-flecked leaves as well. I used 1 tsp of leaf for my cup, and gave it 3 minutes in boiling water. The resulting liquor is a medium golden-brown, the scent a touch mineral and a touch spicy, with a deeper woodiness underlying.

I liked this one so much straight off that I hardly realised nearly half of it was gone before I’d even really started consciously thinking about the flavour. The first thing to say is that it really is creamy, and that’s with no additions. It has a very smooth, silky texture and an underlying richness of flavour that really makes “creamy” an appropriate word, even if it’s not quite the same creaminess I’d associate with dairy. It’s the only word for it, nonetheless. The initial flavour is a mild earthiness, a little like wet forest floor only not so pungent as that perhaps suggests. I’m reminded of an aged black or a pu’erh, although the flavour here is milder than either of those typically are. It’s definitely in the same kind of territory, though. I get a woodiness in the mid-sip; resinous and a little cedar like. It pairs really well with the underlying earthiness – it seems like they’re two flavours of a kind. The aftertaste is a touch mineral, in the way of wet rock, and is again in keeping with the damp, earthy, fresh flavours I’ve tasted so far. It’s a tea that really holds together well, and one where all the flavours are complimentary.

I enjoyed this one, and it’s a tea I’d definitely drink again if the opportunity arose. It’s flavourful and fairly unique among the teas I usually drink. Certainly an encouraging experience for my first Art of Tea!

2005 Changtai Yun Pu Zhi Dian “Top of the Clouds” Sheng Pu-erh from Crimson Lotus Tea

2005-Changtai-Yun-Pu-Zhi-DianTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Pu-erh

Where to Buy:  Crimson Lotus Tea

Tea Description:

This is a very special puerh prepared by the Yunnan Changtai Tea Industry Group. The blenders who work for Changtai are true masters of their craft. The leaves in this puerh are a blend of 15 mountains, Spring picked in 2005. The name for this cake “Yun Pu Zhi Dian” means “Top of the Clouds”. Since Yunnan means “Southern Clouds” this name has a double meaning. It refers to the heavenly experience and also that this puerh contains the best from Yunnan.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

I’ve often thought of pu-erh as a cooler weather type of tea because it’s a tea that I prefer to be served hot.  As the tea cools, I find that the flavors begin to mute and become lost.

And yes, I do drink hot tea even in the summer months, in fact, I drink more hot tea than I do iced tea in the summer months, but, I don’t drink as much hot tea in the summer as I do in the cooler months.

2005-Changtai-Yun-Pu-Zhi-Dian2So when I drink a pu-erh, I’m often reminded of the cooler days of autumn and winter, but as I sip this 2005 Changtai Yun Pu Zhi Dian “Top of the Clouds” Sheng Pu-erh from Crimson Lotus Tea, the tea seems to be evoking thoughts of late spring and early summer.

Perhaps it’s the lovely notes of fruit that develop throughout the infusions, starting off with a soft hint of apricot and in later infusions, I notice that the sweet apricot notes are accentuated with a contrasting sour note of tart apple.

Perhaps it’s the lovely background note of flower that seems to bring to mind thoughts of floral aromas filling the air in the spring.  Or maybe it’s the delicate woodsy notes and hints of vegetative earthy tones that remind me of the trees as signs of their springtime foliage begin to grow.

This tea is beautifully smooth and sweet with notes of fruit and honey.  In the earliest infusions, the fruit notes are strongest, but as I continue to steep, the honey develops and the fruit begins to wane somewhat.

Meanwhile, the woodsy notes are developing.  These aren’t musty wood notes, but clean, vibrant woodsy tones.   The tea has a sweetness to it that is balanced with the aforementioned notes of sour apple.

I’ve only just been introduced to this company – Crimson Lotus – but I am quite impressed with this tea.  They specialize in Pu-erh teas.  Those new to Pu-erh will find this a fantastic resource of teas that are good ‘starting out’ Pu-erh (and since they specialize in Pu-erh, they’ll be a great resource of knowledge for you too!)  And for those of you who are more experienced with Pu-erh, I think you’ll find that Crimson Lotus has an amazing selection of intriguing teas.

As for me, I highly recommend this Top of the Clouds Sheng!  It’s delightful!

2011 Phatty Cake Pu-erh from Mandala Tea

phattycakeTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Pu-erh

Where to Buy: Mandala Tea

Tea Description:

The material we chose is grade one leaf picked in 2006 and ripened in 2007.  The raw material is from the most remote area in Lincang and is far from cities, roads.  This makes for a very pure tea with no worries about pollution from cities.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

Confession time:  I have been putting off trying this 2011 Phatty Cake Pu-erh from Mandala Tea for a long time.  Why?  Because it’s pu-erh.  It’s all about that seemingly ingrained attitude toward pu-erh.

Fortunately, since it IS pu-erh, a little aging isn’t going to hurt it and may actually prove to be beneficial.

Since it’s a rainy night and I wanted something mellow and contemplative to sip on a night like tonight, I figured it was the right time to finally try some of this Phatty Cake!  I pried some of the material off of the cake – just enough to be about a bamboo scoop of tea leaves – and put it into the bowl of my gaiwan.  Then I heated my kettle to 190°F and did a 15 second rinse before infusing the leaves for 30 seconds.

I didn’t take this for the usual 45 second infusion because by the time we reached 30 seconds, the tea was quite dark.

This first infusion is quite nice.  Mellow.  Deep and smooth.  No astringency.  A sweet, caramel-y flavor with notes of earth.  The earthiness reminds me of mushroom and tobacco.  Now, I’v never actually tasted tobacco, but my father had a pipe at one time and the taste of this tea evokes thoughts of the aroma I remember from the pipe tobacco.  As I continue to sip, I pick up on a raisin-y quality and the sugary sweetness that goes along with the dried fruit.

My second infusion (30 second infusion) tastes a bit earthier than the first.  Definitely a stronger tobacco note.  Toward the finish, I’m picking up on a slight mineral-y note.  I am still getting that deep sweetness – but it’s more of a dry fruit sweetness than a caramel-y note this time.  I’m not getting much caramel this time around, and I miss it.

Later infusions mellowed out a little bit on the earthiness – and I was grateful for that.  I found the second cup to be a little too earthy for my liking and without the lovely caramel-y notes to accompany those earthy tones, it was a bit of a disappointment.  But my third infusion (another 30 second infusion!) had a lighter earthy note and it was sweeter with notes of molasses.  Quite nice!

I found that I liked this tea better with each infusion after the third infusion.  As I’ve already said, the second was a bit too earthy for me, but after that, I was experiencing some really delightful sweetness from this tea.  I also noticed that as those earthy flavors lightened up a little, I was able to explore some wonderful flavors, including a hint of mint!  That was a pleasant surprise!

Mandala Tea doesn’t have their Phatty Cake in Cake form, but it is currently available as a loose tea.  Mandala is a top-notch company, I recommend them highly!

1991 Da Ye Aged Oolong From Butiki Teas

DaYeAgedOolongTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Aged Oolong

Where to Buy: Butiki Teas (However it is no longer for sale)

Tea Description:

Tea Description: Our 1991 Da Ye Aged Oolong is a 22 year old spring harvested tea from Nantou, Taiwan. This rare tea is oxidized between 20-30% and charcoal roasted. Da Ye Oolong is uncommon today since this tea has a lower production volume. Our 1991 Da Ye Aged Oolong is sweeter and creamier than our 2003 Reserve Four Season Oolong. Notes of roasted chestnut, bark, fresh butter, honey suckle, and cinnamon can be detected. Due to the age of this tea, some mineral notes may also be detected. This tea has a silky mouth feel and is sweet and buttery.

Learn more about this tea on Steepster.

Taster’s Review:

This isn’t a new Butiki blend (really there aren’t any new Butiki blends anymore since the owner’s retirement and the store closed); but it is new to me. I’ve been curious about it for a long time, but I think that without Butiki closing I would have been stuck in a permanent state of “window shopping”, which is a shame because I definitely would have been missing out.

So, this tea is actually older than I am by four years! There’s something inheritantly fascinating about that, and it’s hard to wrap my head around it. Many reviews I’ve seen for this tea feature the reviewer remarking “where they were” or “what they were doing” back in 1991, but I wasn’t doing anything! My parents weren’t even married in 1991.

Lately I’ve been trying to explore straight oolongs a little more thoroughly so it’s appropriate I’m trying this one. I’ve enjoyed the straight oolong I’ve had, especially the darker/roastier ones, but my exposure has been relatively limited and it’s time to change that. The dry leaf for this one already smells quite different than oolong I’m familiar with; it has a really distinct dill smell to it! And then nuttier notes emerge as well. It’s the dill that gets me though; I’ve never heard of dill being a present flavour notes in a straight oolong before – maybe a green tea though that’s probably a bit of a stretch too. I’m already learning things!

Wow; this is surprisingly more complex than I was expecting. Even upon my first few initial sips I was registering such a large variety of flavours it was almost a little overwhelming; they all tie in quite well to one another though. It seems like the general backdrop of flavours is a combination of soaked/damp wood and moss. Very earthy, and very natural. On top of the general taste, which carries throughout the sip, was a lovely arrangement of roasty and nutty flavours, with a very slight and enjoyable dryness. The combination of all of these things is coming together to remind me of petrichor.

For those who don’t know; petrichor is the smell of rain on dry earth. It’s my absolute favourite smell in the world and I’ve been looking for a tea that accurately conveys it for as long as I can remember; this does the job better than anything else I’ve tried. Lastly, this tea finishes with a sweet dill note that tickles at back of my throat. I’m liking how the dill plays into all of this by adding a bit of a different feeling as well as a unique taste!

My second steep was good too; many of the flavours I observed with the first cup were still there but in different levels. I found the wood flavour was less pronounced as well as the dry nuttiness, but the moss was a little more accentuated. The dill was also a lot more strong; instead of just tasting it in the finish I was tasting it in the body of the sip as well. I also registered a very subtle floral note and some richer mineral notes.

Unfortunately because of a prior commitment in the day I didn’t have time to continue with additional steeps; but I’d love to find a day to dedicate solely to this tea because it’s strange, and wonderful and very complex and I’m so smitten with it!

It’ll be hard to get your hands on this tea now; but if you find yourself with the chance to try it I definitely recommend doing so!

Menghai Shou Pu-erh Third Grade (2008) from Wymm Tea

MenghaiShou3rdTea Information:

Leaf Type:  Pu-erh

Where to Buy:  Wymm Tea

Tea Description:

This shu pu-erh brews with a rich and honey flavor and long-lasting jasmine rice aroma. Small buds from high mountains in Menghai County, located in west of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, are picked to make the tea in 2008. Pu-erh tea has the potential to ferment over time, and this tea has been post-fermented for 6 years since production. Post-fermentation gives the tea vibrant flavours and richer aroma as well as deep wine colour.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

WynnTeasPresentation1I was so excited when I received my package from Wymm Tea!  What a fun presentation I received from them!  They sent me four samples of Pu-erh and they were all nestled in this really cute carton.  I really love it when a tea company puts thought into their packaging like this.  It’s a little like getting a gift in the mail.  And the only thing that’s just as much fun as getting tea in the mail is getting a gift in the mail – when the two are combined – we’re talking Pure Tea Joy!

And it may surprise you to hear that the tea inside that carton is also eliciting joy from me too!  Yep, it’s pu-erh, and yep … it’s making me happy!  Each of the samples was wrapped in rice paper (I love rice paper) and it was like a little gift inside each rice paper bundle!

Menghai Shou Third Grade
Menghai Shou Third Grade (2008)

I’m really enjoying this Menghai Shou Pu-erh Third Grade (2008) from Wymm Tea.  My first two infusions were very mellow – mild tasting with very little earthiness (I like that a lot!) but with a deep, lovely flavor that evoked thoughts of molasses.  I also pick up on some slight woodsy/earthy notes that remind me of a walk through the woods after a rain.  (There are a lot of places up here in the Pacific Northwest that offer that kind of experience!)

These first two cups disappeared so quickly, that I’m having to write most of this from the memory of them.

My third cup has a stronger flavor than the first two.  It’s a very mellow tasting tea with a very delicate earthiness to the flavor.  The earthiness slowly emerges with this tea and I like that.  I’m not being hit over the head with a strong, earthy flavor.

I taste notes of jasmine rice (a favorite staple in this house).  The texture is smooth and there is no astringency.  No bitterness.  It’s sweet, molasses-y, with hints of rice.  I’m not tasting any briny, fishy or other ‘odd’ undesirable flavors that sometimes are tasted with Pu-erh – this is the GOOD stuff.

I find that with each new cup of this tea – the flavor gets deeper with a more developed sweetness.  I never encounter any bitterness or strong, off-putting flavors.  Just a lovely, mild, remarkably smooth tea experience.

And, just in case you’re wondering what the different “grades” mean, according to the website:

First grade contains the smallest leaves while seventh grade contains the largest leaves. There is marginal difference in the taste; first grade has a slightly stronger and woodier flavour, while the seventh grade has a milder and sweeter flavour. The third and fifth grades fall in between of the first and seventh grade.

And if this tea is something “in between a stronger/woodier flavor and the sweet/mild flavor, then I’m in for a real treat when I get to the seventh grade tea!

A really lovely, delightful ancient tree pu-erh – I highly recommend it!