Red Water Oolong from T Shop in New York City

Exciting news everybody…I am now blogging directly from Taiwan! I moved to Taipei about two months ago, so sorry about the slow pace of my reviews lately. Anyways, on to the tea…

Today’s tea is the Red Water Oolong from T Shop in New York City.

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I should start by saying that T Shop is probably my favorite tea shop in all of New York City. I visited this awesome shop for the first time last June and I immediately fell in love. It is the only specialty tea shop that I have found so far in New York that is able to serve incredibly high quality tea without being overly pretentious about it. When I visited T Shop, I had a Charcoal Roasted Cui Feng and a Dong Ding that were both incredible, the very pinnacle of each of these styles of tea. I hate to sound overly dramatic, but both of these teas were probably up there in the Top 10 best teas I have had in my life.

For some reason that I don’t understand, I didn’t buy either of those teas to take home with me. Perhaps I was scared off because they were quite expensive, but I definitely regret not buying at least an ounce or two try out at home. After speaking with Theresa, the super friendly and knowledgeable owner, I decided on the Red Water Oolong to take home. Theresa and I spent a good bit of time discussing how awesome and perfect Taiwan is, so when she described this tea as a very traditional Taiwanese style tea, I couldn’t say no.

In case you are not familiar, Red Water or 红水 (Hóng Shuǐ) is a very old school style of Taiwanese oolong in which the leaves undergo a much longer oxidation process than most modern Taiwanese oolongs. From what I understand, this tea is usually made in the Lugu region, where Dong Ding is made. I’m not sure if T Shop sources their Red Water oolong from there, but I do know that this tea came from Taiwan. I wish I asked more questions while I had Theresa’s attention. Regardless, I trust her tea sourcing skills and I’m sure this tea is a great example of Hóng Shuǐ oolong.

Dry Leaf

As one would expect from a highly oxidized tea, these leaves are quite dark. There are no broken leaves or dust, even in the bottom of the bag. These leaves definitely have a strong oxidized aroma, but there is also a slight fruity aroma that smells like raisins or prunes perhaps, somewhat similar to the aroma of a Sun Moon Lake style Taiwanese black tea.

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Once I put the leaves into my warmed teapot, the more complex smells came through. A honey sweetness and slight floral quality drifted out of the teapot. The aromas were strong enough that my friend on the other side of the room asked what we were drinking.

In case you like to keep track of these sorts of things, I used 6.5 grams of tea for this review.

Teaware

I broke out my new side-handled teapot for this review. Isn’t she beautiful?

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I bought this pot from a tea ceramicist in Yingge, Taiwan, which is probably the most famous ceramics town in all of Taiwan. As a result, the town is flooded with a ton of crappy ceramics made for tourists, so you have to dig a bit to find the good stuff. Luckily I was with some good tea friends who pointed me in the right direction.

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Here’s the backside, in case you are curious. Or is it called the teapot butt? Not sure.

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This teapot was made by a Taiwanese ceramicist who studied in Japan and has a very Japanese influenced style. So I suppose this teapot is sort of a Taiwanese-Japanese fusion design?

The rest of my setup is quite minimalist, but I couldn’t bring over all of my tea equipment with me in my suitcase sadly.

Brewing

I started off the brewing with a quick five second rinse.

For the first steep, I let the tea infuse for about 35 seconds or so before decanting the tea into small cups for the three tea drinkers.

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The first steep is a bit lighter than I anticipated, so I suppose the tea is still opening up at this point. The most noticeable flavor right off the bat is definitely the heavily oxidized flavor. This tea seems to ride the delicate line between a heavily oxidized oolong and a less oxidized black tea.

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This tea really starts to shine during the second and third steeps. As you can see, the tea is significantly darker at this point, almost the color of a Keemun or Sun Moon Lake black tea. The dried fruit notes have fully developed at this point, releasing layers of raisin and plum flavors. While I find many Hóng Shuǐ oolongs to be thin and flat in the mouth, this tea has an incredible deep and rich mouthfeel. The finish is very dark and complex, with a pleasant sweet aftertaste and clean feeling that lingers in the mouth for several minutes.

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This tea is not a simple dark oolong. There are so many flavors and nuances that this tea deserves to be drunk in a quiet and focused setting in order to to appreciate the subtle flavor differences between steeps.

The later steeps (7-9) are where the sweetness of this tea really develops. Each of these later steeps finished off with a deep honey sweetness. These later steeps even have a slight floral finish, which was unexpected. I have never tasted a Hóng Shuǐ oolong that developed into more floral notes at the finish.

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I was amazed by how much life this tea has. I ended up taking the tea leaves in my to-go “grandpa style” tea tumbler after the tenth steep, since this tea definitely still has a lot to give, even though I ran out of time!

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Unlike many darker oolongs, this Hóng Shuǐ is incredibly forgiving. If you leave it in the pot for a few seconds too long, it won’t turn bitter on you. This quality only appears in the highest quality of heavily oxidized oolong, so this tea has definitely been crafted by a true tea master. As a result, this tea is quite nice to drink as a “grandpa style” tea.

Finished Leaf

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Although these tea leaves were not quite done after this review, I made sure to snap a quick photo. I was surprised to see how long these tea leaves are. The leaves were quite curly and wrinkly, almost leathery. This texture is likely a result of the heavy oxidation and rolling process that the Hóng Shuǐ style requires.

Conclusion

Although this style of tea is not usually something that appeals to me, it really hit the spot today. I think that after only two months in Taiwan, I’ve gotten a bit burnt out by the overabundance of the more green, high mountain style oolongs. So this Hóng Shuǐ was a very nice change of pace.

Perhaps most importantly, this tea simply feels nice. My body and mind feel much better after drinking this tea.

This tea also works quite well as a “grandpa style” tea (leaves in a mug, with no filtering) as long as you don’t use too many leaves. I suggest using only eight or nine leaf balls (that sounds weird) for a typical coffee mug.

This tea sells for $18 for 2 ounces, or $40 for 5 ounces, so it is definitely on the more expensive side. T Shop is more expensive than many other tea stores online, but their teas and teawares are some of the highest quality items I have seen. I would probably save these teas for more special occasions due to the higher price, but I know that I will enjoy them immensely.

I don’t know if I will buy this tea again, since I’m usually more into roasted oolongs. But for those of you out there that really like the more heavily oxidized teas, I definitely think you should give this tea a shot. Regardless, I will likely place another order with T Shop in the future, and I will definitely visit the shop as often as possible when I am in New York City.

http://www.tshopny.com/shop/red-water

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. ~ Thich Nat Hahn

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Traditional Tie Guan Yin, Spring 2015 from Sanne Tea

Sanne Tea (pronounced “sanity” apparently) is a new company out of Michigan that focuses on selling high quality Taiwanese oolongs. Sanne Tea was generous enough to send me a few samples of their new offerings. I was really looking forward to the Traditional Tie Guan Yin from Spring 2015, so I jumped into that one first.

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Traditional Tie Guan Yin is much more oxidized and roasted than many of the greener Tie Guan Yin teas that are on the market today. These more traditional styles of Tie Guan Yin oolong are actually quite difficult to find, since most tea drinkers nowadays seem to prefer the nuclear green variety. There’s certainly nothing wrong with drinking greener Tie Guan Yin teas, but I am definitely more into the roasted and oxidized versions.

Muzha or Mucha is a district of Taipei that is known for producing traditional oolong teas (National Chengchi University is also there!). I visited Muzha last year and I was excited to go out and search for tons of roasted oolong to take home with me. Sadly, I couldn’t really find much since most of the shops seemed to sell mostly high mountain/gao shan/高山茶 tea. But then again I speak really shitty Chinese (Read: I don’t speak any Chinese) so perhaps I was looking in the wrong places.

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I finally got my hands on some Muzha Tie Guan Yin, thanks to Sanne Tea. They gave me this really adorable 10 gram sample bag. I love the cute hand-written label and brewing directions. I have a bit of a fetish for tea companies that include the origin of their tea on their packaging, so Sanne Tea definitely won me over there. Sorry for the small stain on the side, that’s my fault! I suppose I shouldn’t leave my sample bags right next to my tea table where they can get easily splashed.

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Dry Leaf

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The dry leaves look very high quality. There were no broken leaves or dust in the sample. The leaves have a definite roasted and oxidized aroma, which is a good sign.

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These dry leaves also have a notably earthy smell, almost similar to a ripe puerh. I’ve never encountered this sort of smell in a Tie Guan Yin, but I don’t think it’s a good or bad thing. Interesting!

Teaware

I used my cute new teapot for this review, since I’m still in my honeymoon stage with this pot. I used 7 grams of leaf for the review.

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Brewing

I started off the brewing cycle with a quick five second rinse. The aroma of these leaves changed completely once they were rinsed. The rinsed leaves smelled incredible. I would describe the aroma as fruity and juicy, with a notable aged aroma. This tea actually smells so similar to the 2003 Aged Green Heart Oolong that I would have a hard time telling them apart if I were blindfolded. This similarity is a bit perplexing since this Tie Guan Yin hasn’t been aged. Perhaps I am confusing the oxidized oolong smell with the aged oolong smell. Both of these teas were roasted, so maybe the roasted scent is the similarity that I am picking up on.

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The first steep is a nice deep orange-red color, almost amber. This color is quite standard for traditional Tie Guan Yin tea. The first flavor that I notice is the roasted note in this tea. I really enjoy the pleasant roasted character of this tea since it is very noticeable but not overpowering. The oxidation of this tea comes through quite heavily. If you are used to drinking lighter high mountain oolongs, this traditional style Tie Guan Yin might taste almost like a black tea. The sweet and floral notes come through next. The tea finishes off with a stone fruit sweetness, perhaps an apricot or peach flavor. The aftertaste of this tea is wonderful, leaving my mouth with a sweet and clean feeling for ten minutes after finishing the first cup. The sides of my tongue kept on salivating for several minutes afterwards too, which is something that I’ve never experienced with this kind of tea.

On an unrelated note, peep the cookbook in the upper right hand corner of the photo above, The Food of Taiwan: Recipes from the Beautiful Island by Cathy Erway. This is probably the best cookbook that I’ve ever owned. If you are interested in learning some Taiwanese recipes or would like to learn more about the history and culture of Taiwanese cuisine, I definitely recommend that you pick up this cookbook.

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The second steep is a bit more red. The roasted and oxidized flavors die down a bit, allowing for the floral sweetness and stone fruit flavor to come through. The mouthfeel is also a bit smoother on the second steep. I left the tea table for a few minutes after this steep, which allowed the tea to cool down a bit. When this tea cools down, it has a pleasant malty flavor that I really enjoy. Perhaps I will try this tea as a cold brewed iced tea and see how it goes.

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I kept on steeping this tea for quite a while. I think I got a total of 8 or 9 steeps from these leaves.

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The tea lightened up quite a bit as I got towards the last steeps. I still enjoyed the latter steeps, since they were more light and floral tasting. This tea really changes a lot as you resteep it. The first and second steeps taste almost like completely different teas from the six and seventh steeps.

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Finished Leaf

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These leaves are a beautiful grey-green color, and are very large and have no holes or tears. They have definitely been well taken care of during processing.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed having the opportunity to try this tea. This tea is certainly a strong example of how a traditional style Tie Guan Yin should taste. It is pretty difficult to find high quality traditional Muzha Tie Guan Yin teas, so this is definitely a special tea. With that said, the price is a bit special as well. You can buy 10 grams of this tea for $9 or 25 grams for $20. I think this is a bit out of my price range for a regular purchase, but I would definitely consider buying this tea as a special treat. Sanne Tea is a great company to support since they aim to supply pesticide-free, high quality Taiwanese oolongs. Also, to be fair, this is one of Sanne Tea’s more expensive offerings. Most of their teas are significantly cheaper.

If you purchase this tea before August 31st, you can use the code “sannetea30” to get 30% off! Sanne Tea is a great shop to supply all of your Taiwanese oolong needs (Bao Zhong, Jin Xuan, etc.) as well as a few black teas.

https://www.sannetea.com/product/traditional-tie-guan-yin-spring-2015/

“Tea. I find that both settles the stomach and concentrates the mind. Wonderful drink, tea.”-Cassandra Clare, City of Bones

Winter LiShan from Mountain Tea

I’ve seen Mountain Tea’s LiShan name-dropped a few times on Steepster and r/tea due to its abnormally cheap price. With 5 ounces going for only $25, could it actually be any good? Well, judging by the reviews on Steepster and r/tea, people seem to be quite impressed.

Mountain Tea recently started selling a Spring LiShan that created a bit of a buzz on r/tea, which reminded me that I had a box of the Winter LiShan still sitting on my tea shelf. I figured it was about time that I got around to writing about it.

LiShan is probably my favorite type of oolong tea, so I couldn’t wait to try Mountain Tea’s version. LiShan is a mountain in central Taiwan. Its name translates to “Pear Mountain,” which conjures up lovely images of pear orchards and tea fields. And from what I read online, that image is quite accurate. LiShan is home to many pear and apple orchards, which require the cool mountain temperatures in order to thrive.

This is the last Mountain Tea I have to review, so there won’t be any more in the future….sorry if I’ve been reviewing too many of their products lately! For the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing on White2Tea’s newer offerings.

I drank this tea while constructing a tea table, so pardon any messiness or sawdust.

Dry Leaf

The dry leaf looks like a standard rolled oolong. Most of the leaves were a dark grey-green color, but there are also a few bright green leaves floating around. There are a few stems thrown into the mix.

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These leaves certainly smell like high quality LiShan. They give off a very grassy and floral aroma, but with a certain richness to it that is very hard to put into words. The closest thing I can think of is perhaps a roasted nut or coconut aroma.

Teaware

I got to break in my beautiful new teapot for this review. I just got this Ruyao Triad Teapot from White2Tea.

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I’ve had my eye on this teapot for several months since I’m such a huge sucker for ruyao teapots and it matches my ruyao teacup perfectly. After gushing about this teapot to all of my tea friends, I finally received it as a gift. There is a lesson to learn here. If you drop subtle hints about a teapot long enough, somebody will buy it for you (sarcasm).

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I used 9 grams of leaf for this 150 ml teapot.

Brewing

I started out brewing this tea at 190° F. The first steep is a light buttery yellow color with a touch of green.

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The upfront taste is light and extremely floral, somewhat similar to a Jin Xuan milk oolong. However, the herbal notes take over quite quickly and begin to dominate. The mouthfeel is very thick and pleasant, which is a feature that I really enjoy in high mountain oolongs.

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The aftertaste is very sweet and floral, and left my mouth feeling clean and refreshed.

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The second steep is a bit lighter in color. The mouthfeel is still very thick, but the flavor profile changes. The herbal flavor fades away and is replaced by a sweet and fruity flavor, perhaps pineapple as other reviewers have mentioned.

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I think I left the third steep to sit a bit too long, so it came out noticeably darker. This tea is still very pleasant when oversteeped.

I continued to drink this tea for about 7 or 8 infusions, so it can certainly last through a longer tea tasting session. After finishing this session, I felt extremely relaxed and calmed, perhaps even more so than I usually do after sitting down to drink tea. That’s a good sign I suppose!

Finished Leaf

The finished leaves were very large and full. It looks like there are more stems than I noticed before, so perhaps they were curled into the balls.

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Conclusion

This LiShan may not be quite as good as the super duper top-notch stuff you can find in high-end Taiwanese tea stores, but it is still a wonderful tea. I would definitely recommend grabbing a bag of this from Mountain Tea. As far as the quality to price ratio goes, you can’t do much better than this LiShan.

I am elated to have found this tea, because I can now drink quality LiShan on a regular basis without breaking the bank. This tea is cheap enough that I can drink it regularly without feeling guilty about the ridiculous amount of money I spend on tea every year. With 5 ounces of this tea only going for $25, I wouldn’t pass it up. I will definitely be buying this tea again, and I can’t wait to try the Spring LiShan to see how it compares.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing on White2Tea’s newer offerings. It’s been a while since I’ve tried any new and interesting puerh teas, so I am looking forward to it!

http://mountaintea.com/collections/green-oolong/products/lishan-winter-1

Some people will tell you there is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea.~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Medium Roast Dong Ding Oolong Special Reserve from Mountain Tea

I bought this Dong Ding since it was relatively well-regarded online, and it was reasonably priced enough that I could share it with the small Tea Club that I run. Plus, I’ve had very positive experiences with Mountain Tea so far. I didn’t have super high expectations for this tea, since I figured that a decent Dong Ding would cost at least double this. But I was pleasantly surprised!

This particular tea is a bit unique in the sense that some people may not consider it a true Dong Ding due to its origin. Technically speaking, Dong Ding or Tung Ting teas should come from the area around Dong Ding Mountain in Lugu, which is in Nantou County, Taiwan. TeaVivre published this lovely map that shows the location of Lugu.

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However, this offering from Mountain Tea was grown outside of the traditional Dong Ding region. According to Mountain Tea’s website, “Dong Ding is both a famous mountain and a style of tea preparation; the golden ratio of fermentation to roast to which it owes its fame is elusive and difficult to master with consistency.” I have never heard this before, but I suppose I’ll allow it. In general, I’m more concerned with the taste of the tea than with tradition.

This tea is grown at an elevation of 1400 meters above sea level, which is actually a little bit higher than many of the mountains in the usual Dong Ding region. This tea was made using QingXin leaves.

Dry Leaf

These leaves are very tightly rolled into lovely grey-green balls. The leaf structure is very consistent. There area a few stems in the mix, which seems to be the case with most Dong Ding teas that I encounter.

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The dry leaf smells very similar to most Dong Ding oolongs…pleasantly roasty, robust yet not overpowering. To me, this tea has aromas of yeast or bread, toasted grain, wood, and a slight sweet and caramelized fruit or sugar scent. There is still a touch of a green, unroasted tea smell.

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Teaware

I used a 110 mL gaiwan and 6.5 grams of leaf for this review. All of the infusions were completed with 93˚C/200˚F water.

Brewing

The first steep came out a transparent golden yellow color. The predominant flavor of this tea is the strong roasted taste. I wouldn’t say that this Dong Ding tastes over-roasted, but it is definitely a noticeable part of the flavor.

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Once the roasted taste passes over the palate, a bright citrus taste comes through. I would describe it as a sour lemon note. This tea actually tastes somewhat similar to a GABA treated oolong, since GABA treated teas tend to have a slight sour taste. This sour character is not particularly pleasant or unpleasant, it’s just sort of…there. There is also a noticeable spicy flavor in this tea, perhaps cinnamon or clove.

The mouthfeel is quite thick and viscous, while the sour character leaves behind a light dryness.

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The second infusion is a bit darker, sort of a dark golden yellow that almost fades into orange. In this steep, the bright citrus flavor dies down quite a bit. A vegetal taste and aroma develops and replaces the citrus note. The spice flavors are much lighter as well.

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By the third steep, this tea fades into a simple lightly roasted oolong. The brew is very refreshing and pleasant. This tea has plenty of life to it, and I can tell that it will last through several infusions. The citrus and spice notes have died down and are now just a light accent, letting the vegetal roasted oolong flavors shine through.

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The fourth infusion has a similar flavor, but the mouthfeel changes noticeably. The fourth infusion is where this tea really starts to “thin out” and go down easily.

I continued drinking this tea for a few more infusions, but nothing noticeable changed after the fourth steep.

Finished Leaf

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The finished leaves were quite beautiful. About half of them turn a dark grey-green color, while the remaining leaves turn a dark purple. These leaves are very large and full, with no dust or broken leaves.

Conclusion

This tea is perhaps not quite as deep or complex as a really top notch Dong Ding oolong, but it is still very good and definitely a great value. I will probably buy this tea again in the future, if that’s any indication of quality. For newcomers to the Taiwanese oolong world, this tea can offer a nice introduction to Dong Ding style oolong tea.

This oolong is incredibly cheap, at only $18 for 5 ounces. If you prefer to buy tea in smaller quantities, you can also buy 2 ounces for $9. This tea is cheap enough that I have been using it as my go-to office tea for drinking “grandpa style.” I don’t usually use super high end teas for drinking in the office, since I would rather save the best teas for when I can really relax and enjoy them in a long gongfu session. But this tea is also good enough that I like to drink it gongfu style as well. It’s pretty tough to find teas that are good enough to drink gongfu style and cheap enough to drink “grandpa style,” so this tea is a winner in my book!

I think that Mountain Tea is a pretty great company. Their prices are a lot better than most competitors, and they still offer very high quality teas. The Mountain Tea website is also very well designed and easy to navigate.

“If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

http://mountaintea.com/products/medium-roast-dong-ding-special-reserve

Malawi Livingstone Twist & Dry Oolong from What-Cha

I ordered this Malawi Livingstone Twist & Dry Oolong after I had my first conversation with Alistair, the owner of What-Cha. We had a lengthy chat on Reddit and he highly recommended this interesting oolong. I had to order it, especially after learning that it was from Malawi.

Malawi is a rather unusual place to grow oolong tea. Even though I’m quite a geography nerd, I had a bit of a hard time picturing where Malawi is.

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Malawi is in East Africa, not too far from Kenya, which is the third largest producer of tea in the world. Perhaps there is some sort of connection between the Kenyan tea industry and the burgeoning tea industry in Malawi. If anyone out there knows more about the history of tea in Malawi, please inform me!

This tea is from Satemwa Tea Estate, which is in Thyolo in the Shire Highlands of Southern Malawi. The estate is located about an hour south of Blantyre, one of Malawi’s largest cities.

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The What-Cha website describes this tea as “possessing a brilliant tropical fruit taste combined with a well defined malt finish.” Satemwa named this tea after the Scottish explorer David Livingstone, who had a huge impact on the history of Malawi.

I don’t normally mention anything about packaging, but I really enjoyed What-Cha’s packaging. Each bag has a label that contains the name of the tea farm, the date the tea was harvested, and the “best by” date. This tea was harvested on March 20th, 2015, so this is a very recent harvest.

Sorry if the lighting on these photos is not so great. I am currently at home in Connecticut, so I did my tea tasting outside on this really neat table that my family has. I had a great time drinking tea with Buddha.

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Dry Leaf

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These leaves are really interesting. They are not very consistent in color, with some brown-purple leaves and some very bright green leaves. The structure of these leaves is also quite varied. Most of the leaves are long twisted leaves, somewhat similar to a Wuyi style oolong. A few of the leaves are rolled into small balls, like a rolled style oolong.

This inconsistency in color and leaf structure is not necessarily a bad thing. I wonder what sort of processing method Satemwa uses to get the tea leaves to look like this. Regardless, the leaves certainly appear to be very high quality.

The aroma coming off of these leaves was incredible. The first time that I opened this bag, my friend across the room commented on how nice the smell was. I would describe the smell as tropical fruit and grape. There is also a very raisin-like scent. The tropical fruit scent is so intense that this almost smells like a flavored tea. The smell is very familiar, but I can’t quite pinpoint it…perhaps lychees? Very pleasant! This is probably the best smelling tea I’ve had in a long time.

Teaware

I used a 110 mL gaiwan and 7g of leaf for this review.

Brewed Tea

I started out brewing this tea at 190° F, or roughly 88° C. The directions for this tea said that rinsing was not necessary, so I went right ahead and started brewing. The first steep came out a dark golden-yellow color. I also thought the color was slightly purple, but perhaps that was just my imagination since the leaves were purple.

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This tea tastes much “darker” than I expected, almost like a black tea. The mouthfeel is brisk and thirst quenching. This Malawi oolong seems to ride the delicate line in between dark oolong and light black tea, quite similar to a Taiwanese style Oriental Beauty or Dongfang Meiren.

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The immediate taste of this tea is not as fruity as I expected, and is more like a standard dark oolong or black tea. The aftertaste is where the fruit notes really come out. The aftertaste is super fruity and long lasting. My mouth tasted like I just chewed a piece of fruit flavored chewing gum for about 15 minutes after I finished the tea.

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The second steep came out a similar color, but the flavor was quite lacking. I could feel the flavors dying out a bit, so I tried brewing this tea at a higher temperature. I upped the temperature to 200° F, or roughly 93° C. I tend to like my oolongs steeped a little hotter anyways, so I figured this was worth a shot.

This higher temperature worked out quite well for the third steep. The fruit flavor kind of died out by this point, but the oolong flavor still came through quite well. The aftertaste is still a bit fruity, but nothing like the first steep.

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I gave the tea one more steep to see if it had anything left. The fourth steep was certainly pleasant and drinkable, but most of the flavor was gone.

Since the flavor of this tea definitely peaked in the first two steeps, I thought that it might work better in a Western-style steeping. I used a sort of improvised Western-style technique using my cha hai and a filter, which worked surprisingly well. My suspicions were correct. This tea definitely works better with a Western-style brewing technique (larger ratio of water to leaves and more steeping time).

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I tried this tea again the next day as an iced tea. The tropical fruit flavors were especially pleasant in an iced tea. I will definitely make this again.

Finished Leaf

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The finished leaves were quite varied with some larger purple leaves and some medium sized green leaves.

Conclusion

The Malawi Livingstone Twist & Dry Oolong is definitely a unique tea. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it. With that said, it definitely works better brewed as a Western-style tea rather than steeped in a gaiwan. This tea is a bit like the Juicy Fruit gum that all of us Americans know well…the flavor is amazing, but short-lived.

With that said, this tea is really interesting and I am very glad that I tried it. This tea is definitely worth trying since it is very unique and from a rather unusual origin. The price is also reasonable, at $6.90 for 50 grams or 1.76 ounces. This works out to just under $4 per ounce, and the price gets even cheaper if you buy in larger quantities.

What-Cha is a great company with a wide selection of teas. It seems like Alistair focuses on sourcing teas from unusual regions such as Malawi, Thailand, Russia, and Georgia. What-Cha also has incredible customers service. Alistair is a regular on the r/tea subreddit, where he answers tons of questions and shares his tea knowledge. He even extended his oolong sale for an extra day just so that I could place my order!

I ordered several teas from What-Cha, so I’ll be reviewing a few more in the coming weeks.


Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world. ~T’ien Yi-heng

http://what-cha.com/oolong-tea/malawi-livingstones-twist-dry-oolong-tea/

2003 Aged Green Heart Oolong from Mountain Tea and What-Cha

2003 Aged Green Heart Oolong from Mountain Tea and What-Cha

The 2003 Aged Green Heart Oolong came to my attention after some of my reddit buddies on r/tea messaged me about six months ago and raved about how delicious and nuanced this tea is. I kept this information in the back of my mind, where it lay dormant for several months. Then I saw the results of the 2014 North American Tea Championship and saw that this tea won 2nd Place in the Aged/Baked Oolong category. I’m not entirely sure how reliable these results are, but I figured that this tea was probably worth a shot regardless. I’m a huge fan of aged oolongs, especially ones with bolder flavors and a nice mouthfeel.

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This oolong is from Wushe in Nantou, Taiwan. It has been stored in Taiwan since 2003 and has been roasted every two or three years to remove any accumulated moisture. The elevation of the Wushe tea garden is 1500 meters, or about 5000 feet. I suppose that this tea would qualify as a “high mountain” oolong, although it was not advertised as such. The site described this as 30% oxidized, so this tea belongs on the greener end of the oolong spectrum.

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The What-Cha website also mentions that this tea comes from the Qing Xin varietal of the Camellia sinensis tea plant. Qing Xin is one of the most common varietals of Taiwanese tea. Although the varietal is nothing too out of the ordinary, I appreciate that the website gives out this information.

Dry Leaf

The leaves looked typical of a rolled style Taiwanese oolong. The color was very interesting, a sort of dark green-brown thanks to the aging and roasting process. The dry leaves are very full and unbroken, which is a good sign. The stems are still on many of the leaf segments, which is a bit unusual.

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These leaves simply smell incredible. This is definitely one of the best smelling teas I have come across in a very long time. The primary aroma is of roasted nuts and freshly baked bread, very “roasty” and almost yeasty. The background aroma is very herb-like and malty. The Mountain Tea website also picked up on the herbal aroma, describing it as an “enticing herbal fragrance, including thyme and dried basil, finishing with a hint of something malty.” There is a certain brightness to the aroma that I can’t quite describe, but it certainly made me want to continue smelling this tea for a very long time.

I placed the leaves into a warmed gaiwan and was amazed by the amplified smell. All of the previous aromas were still there, but a very pleasant fruity, grape-like smell developed. This tea has every smell that you could possibly want in an aged oolong…simply incredible!

Teaware

I used 6 grams of leaf for my gaiwan that is just a bit over 100 mL. It looks a lot larger than it is because the walls are very thick. I put 3.5 grams of leaf into my 70 mL Yixing pot.

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I decided to brew this tea two ways. I really wanted to break out my adorable Yixing pot that I use for greener aged oolongs. I bought this guy from a tea master in Taiwan. I don’t get around to using it much, but it brings back great memories every time I see it on my tea shelf. I also used a gaiwan in order to give a fair taste test, since Yixing pots can affect the flavor of certain teas.

Brewed Tea

I started out brewing this tea with a few shorter 15 second or so steeps, and then moved up to a few minutes per steep by the end of the session. I played around with the water temperature a bit. The Mountain Tea Site said to use 95 °C/203° F water, while the What-Cha site suggested 85° C/185° F. I leaned towards the side of Mountain Tea on this one, since this tea is from their company. I didn’t find a huge difference either way, although I slightly preferred the hotter water. I used 93° C/200° F water for this taste test, so your own experience with this tea may be slightly different if you use a different water temperature.

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I gave the tea a quick rinse and then started with the brewing. The first steep came out a beautiful golden color with a slight orange-red tint. After this first steep, I looked at the leaves in the gaiwan and noticed that they were barely even open yet. Perhaps aging tea makes the leaves more resistant to opening?

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The first and second steeps were very fruity and malty. The fruity character is more like a dried fruit taste. I would describe the taste most accurately as nutty and raisin-like, with a background taste of charcoal. The little hint of smoke or charcoal on the back of the palate really adds a lot to the character of this tea.

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The mouthfeel of this tea is very smooth and thick, almost buttery. I could feel the sides of my mouth being coated with the strong flavors of this tea.

This tea really excels in the aftertaste category. The aftertaste is extremely long lasting, and very smooth and malty. There is also a very noticeable lingering sweetness present. I could still taste this tea in my mouth 30 minutes after finishing a cup.

The third and fourth steeps were much sweeter tasting, which was a nice surprise. The “juicy” thirst-quenching attributes of this tea came out in these steeps as well. The flavor is much brighter and an interesting sharp and tangy note developed. I would describe this as lemon or citrus fruit perhaps. The herbal notes in this tea were quite noticeable in these steeps as well. The thyme and basil sort of flavors really play quite nicely with the dried fruit taste.

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The later steeps were very different. The dried fruit notes almost disappeared, and the charcoal and smoke flavors became much more apparent. At this stage, the tea tastes almost like the later steeps of a heavily baked oolong such as a Muzha Tieguanyin. I finished this session after about nine or ten steeps, so this tea can certainly handle quite a few infusions.

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After this tea session, I went for a run in the beautiful Maine spring (hooray, over 60° F for once). During my run, I kept on noticing the smoky raisin taste still in my mouth. This aftertaste just keeps on going and going…

Finished Leaf

The finished leaves were a bit darker than I expected. They were very curly and twisted still, even after all nine or ten steeps. They never really opened up fully into large flat leaves like oolongs normally do, but I suppose that is probably because the tea has been aged for quite a while. The stems on these leaves are very long and coiled as well.

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Conclusion

This is one of the very best aged oolongs I have had, especially for the price. This tea is not even very expensive. On Mountain Tea, you can buy 2 ounces for $16, which is a little pricy. But if you are willing to buy in bulk (and you will want to), it’s not too bad. Mountain Tea also sells 5 ounces for $35 and 10.5 ounces for $60.

On What-Cha, 50 grams/1.76 ounces in $10.50, 100 grams/3.5 ounces is $19.53, and 250 grams/8.8 ounces is $45.68.

I give a lot of favorable reviews on this blog, but I don’t often repurchase the same teas again and again. However, I just placed an order for 250 grams/8.8 ounces of this tea, so obviously I enjoyed it! In order for me to buy that much of any tea, I have to really be in love with it. I can’t stop thinking about how I just bought this tea at barely over $5 per ounce. I feel like I’m stealing. If I could pay more money to Mountain Tea/What-Cha for this tea, I would…and that’s coming from me, one of the cheapest people you will ever come across.

Go out and buy this tea now, before the rest of the online tea community finds out and buys it all! It also might be fun to buy some of this tea and play around with aging it for longer.

~”There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

http://what-cha.com/oolong-tea/taiwan-2003-aged-green-heart-oolong-tea/

http://mountaintea.com/collections/competition-grade/products/aged-green-heart-oolong-2003

2009 Yong Pin Hao Menghai Qi Zi Bing 901 Shou Puerh

I’ve had this ripe puerh cake sitting around for a while, so I figured I should get around to reviewing it before I finish it off. I purchased this puerh cake at Tea Trekker in Northampton, Massachusetts during my marathon seven hour drive from Syracuse, New York to Portland, Maine. I had just ordered three or four new cakes online, but I couldn’t pass up a well-reviewed, cheap shou. I was also kind of wrapped up in the novel experience of being able to buy puerh tea in a physical tea shop instead of just on the internet. I later found the same cake for a lot cheaper on Yunnan Sourcing, so perhaps the whole buying tea in a store thing is a bit overrated.

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This cake is from Yong Pin Hao Yi Wu Tea Factory, which I had never heard of before purchasing this cake. As you could probably guess, the factory is located in Yi Wu, Mengla County, Xishuangbanna Prefecture, Yunnan Province, China (phew!).

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Xishuangbanna is all the way in the south of Yunnan Province, right up against the border with Laos and Myanmar/Burma. Yi Wu is in the northeastern part of Xishuangbanna.

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I couldn’t find much interesting information about Yong Pin Hao online, but I did discover that Yong Pin Hao has been producing puerh tea since the early 2000’s, a relative newcomer to the Yunnan puerh scene. The cake is comprised of 2008 leaves, and was pressed in 2009.

Dry Leaf

I used about nine grams of leaves for this review. This puerh cake was lightly compressed and very easy to break into pieces. Like most shou puerhs, the leaves are predominately dark brown or black. Some of the leaves have some really neat golden hairs.

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The smell is a bit odd here. It’s not that this puerh smells bad, it’s just completely devoid of any aroma whatsoever. At least there is no yucky fishy/funky/bad puerh smell.

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The back of the cake seemed to have a lot more of the gold colored leaves.

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Teaware

I broke out my shou puerh Yixing pot from Yingge, Taiwan for this session. I decided to be a bit minimalist and go without the tea table for this review. I was locked out of my dorm room, so I was left with nothing but my lovely tea towel from Yunnan Sourcing. Check out the Ancient Tea Horse Road design!

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Brewed Tea

I started off with a ten second rinse to open up the leaves, and then moved to quick ten second steeps.

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The first steep was a nice light brown with a red tint. The most noticeable aspect of this tea is the very light fermentation. This does not taste like most generic “budget” puerhs since it is much lighter in color and flavor. The camphor notes are also very strong and in your face, which I really enjoyed. Oddly enough, I’m not entirely sure what camphor is or why it is a common flavor note in puerh teas, but I have tasted enough puerhs that I can recognize it. The camphor flavor is really hard to describe, just like the muscatel note in Darjeeling teas.

The second steep tasted similar, but was a bit darker since the leaves opened up a bit more.

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If you can imagine the typical shou puerh taste, but just lightened up a bit, then you have the general idea of how the tea tastes. This tea has a really nice thirst-quenching, “juicy” quality to it. Perhaps this is a result of the lighter fermentation. The mouthfeel is very smooth and thick, almost coffee-like, even with shorter steeping times.

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This puerh is definitely more nuanced and subtle that most budget level shou puerhs out there. I got a lovely ten or so infusions out of the leaves.

Finished Leaf

The finished leaves were pretty generic, nothing too interesting. The leaves were quite varied, with some full sized leaves and some leaves that were tiny and broken up. Judging by the leaf appearance, this is not a super high quality puerh, but it certainly gets the job done when I am craving a ripe puerh.

Conclusion

This tea might not wow you with its complexity, but it is a solid “daily drinker” shou puerh. It is definitely a step above most of the $20-$30 shous I have tried. One reviewer on Yunnan Sourcing describes this tea as “the standard of affordable quality shu.” I would definitely agree with that statement. I’m not sure if I would buy this tea again, but I’m certainly happy that I purchased it.

I found the notable light fermentation of this tea to be quite pleasant and unique, and it certainly fulfills the shou puerh craving that I often get late at night. For some reason, ripe puerhs don’t seem to affect my sleep as much as other teas, even though they do contain a sizable amount of caffeine.

After looking through my reviews so far, I have also noticed that I seem to be much more picky with my sheng puerh tastes. Budget sheng puerhs can often be quite terrible, but cheaper shou puerhs seem to be more consistent across the board. Perhaps by shou puerh palate is not as refined. Luckily I have plenty more puerh cakes to work with!

~“I am in no way interested in immortality, but only in the taste of tea.” ― Lu T’ung (Chinese tea poet)

http://yunnansourcing.com/en/yongpinhaoyiwuteafactory/1747-2009-yong-pin-hao-menghai-qi-zi-bing-901-ripe-pu-erh-tea-cake.html

http://www.teatrekker.com/menghai-old-tea-tree-pu-erh-beeng-cha