Song Zhong Dan Cong –

September 25, 2007

Another Dan Cong from teaspring is on the docket today, this time the Song Zhong. I’ll throw out my first and lingering thought of this tea: Snapple Peach Tea. If you have ever had a Snapple peach iced tea then you will be able to know the flavor here. Sure, the tea is much better quality and has some nice notes of its own, and there are no peach/apple juice additions, or even corn syrup… but it is all there. I’d venture to guess if you iced this tea down, and blind taste tested it next to the Snapple the only thing that would distinguish them is the less harsh sweetness and the great tea base. This isn’t meant as a slight either, it is pretty remarkable that all of that flavor, sweetness, and character comes from just a plain roasted leaf. Truly remarkable.

It is much less subtle than the Feng Huang, and for some that is what they want… a nice punch of flavor and character. I, personally, care for the more subdued nature of the Feng Huang as I like to hunt and search as I drink. It is very nice though, and I have plans of trying this as an iced tea. I’d drink it occasionally as a change of pace but probably not much more than that. Well worth a try for fans of the fruity notes of Dan Cong’s… or those who enjoy a Snapple peach tea. Next up is the final tea from this order, Shui Xian, then it is on to other vendors and teas.

Feng Huang Dan Cong –

September 19, 2007

I have a love affair with the lychee, on par with my love of haw, and I have always been horribly disappointed in the many teas flavored with this fruit. Many times it is artificial, or too strong, or not even close to the point that it is disgustingly flowery or just flat-out terrible. I never understand why. The actual flavor of lychee is so nice and subtle and earthy and just seems like a natural fit for tea. Feng Huang Dan Cong always has an association with a fruity flavor; Peach, Longan, Lychee, etc. Some of the lower quality Feng Huang’s I’ve had were artificially flavored, and some of the better quality ones never brought out that longan/lychee flavor for me but were very enjoyable. I threw a 25g packet of Teaspring’s offering into my last order because I’m always willing to try again. I’ve hit the jackpot with this one!

The dry leaf and initial scent I got from brewing was very floral, which had been the case with some previous experiences. The first sip, however, proved much different. My first reaction was peach, but as I sipped and explored it, and through subsequent brewings, I can definitely say it is very close to longan/lychee. There is a bit of floral TGY flavor in there though in the initial hit, but the finish and lingering flavor is certainly fruit. A very nice and subtle flavor that is the perfect balance of flavor, a balance one could never attain through flavorings or artificial means. Each sip offers a new flavor or hint and it bounces between a perfectly ripe peach and an earthy, sweet longan and many areas in between. If I had my way, the initial floral note would be much less pronounced, but that is just my personal taste and preference and about the only thing I could knock.

The leaf is very nice and long, in thin tight spirals which unfurl fully in multiple steepings. The flavor is fairly complex but in a good way which doesn’t overwhelm but instead intrigues and draws you in to each sip and breath. I’m a happy man with this one, and the price is very reasonable to ensure a much larger purchase than 25g is in my near future. I have even earmarked one of my Yixing, that has been waiting in the wings, for this tea.

Tai Ping Hou Kui –

September 17, 2007

The final green from my most recent order is Tai Ping Hou Kui. TPHK is a very long flat-pressed leaf that is very different from many teas of any type. The initial hit from the smell of the dry leaf is strange, it’s hard to really put a finger on. My best single description is vegetal. But there is much more in there, almost too much to properly separate the smells out for accurate description. My first brewing followed suit and I was actually unsure of anything.

It didn’t help that I used my little glass teapot that I bought for artistic teas, which doesn’t get much use by me. I used it so I could get the long leaves into the post without disturbing them. The teapot has a thin rim of plastic and a plastic lid with a huge stainless-steel mesh basket that would allow you to fill the entire teapot with leaf if you wanted to. Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t allow two materials near my tea brewing: Metal and Plastic. I only went with this teapot because the “plastic” is actually nylon and it was highly recommended by a close friend.

The reason for that aside about the teapot was that I thought I could taste plastic in the first and second brewing, and it put me off. I switched over to a larger gaiwan of mine and the flavor persisted even with new leaf. I realized that the flavor was not that of plastic but some sort of roasted flavor from the tea. Now, I’m not sure if just the thought of the plastic taste tainted my view right off the bat, but it took me about 7 or 8 brewings to get past it… and that is why it took me this long to cover it. I’m still on the fence with this one. Again, yes, it is a highly prized and unique tea, but is it a favorite or an amazing standout? Not quite. I’d take my Huo Mountain Yellow or Teaspring’s Bi Lo Chun in a heartbeat over it. I do get the nutty and slightly sweet flavors but I do not ever experience the flowery notes they describe on their site. It is a complex flavor though and varies wildly based on the brewing so I’m not ruling out that I may get it to appear yet. I’ve found that a medium amount of leaf with a bit hotter water than normal for greens is my personal sweet spot. Just as in the initial smell, there is a lot going on with this tea, and that may appeal to many but for me it is just too much to really enjoy. It’s kind of like a treasure hunt where you could almost taste anything you can think of during each sip; charcoal, plastic, nut, sweet, sour, citrus, and what may be the strangest notion I’ve ever had with tea: Roast Beef. Yep. Roast beef. I have had this thought on more than one occasion while drinking this tea and while it may seem farcical I promise you it is there.

This tea has been an enigma from the first opening, it has taken me from plastic to roast beef and all points in between (of which there are quite a few). I’d say I got my money’s worth just in the adventure with this one. Would I place it in my personal 10 famous teas? No. Would I ever crave it? No. Can I understand the allure? No. But it is interesting, unique, very different, and a great singular experience? Yep.

Huang Shan Mao Feng –

September 11, 2007

OK, just so everyone doesn’t think I only write glowing reviews or that I somehow never hit on a dud… I give you my view on Huang Shan Mao Feng. Also, I do realize I may be committing a massive sin by daring to disparage one of the 10 famous teas, but I’ve never been one to let other’s opinions or awards to cloud my judgment. I will also say that I have much more experimentation in store before I render this verdict final. The jasmine oolong I got from Kam Man has worn out of my favor and I believe that over time I’ve found there to be some sort of chemical in there that has totally put me off, so I’m never afraid to revisit or go back on previous reviews. My now strange love of Kudingcha is another. I swore up and down that this bitter holly leaf was unfit for even my worst enemies… and now I get cravings for it every now and then, so Huang Shan Mao Feng may still win my favor yet.

I guess my main issue is the light flavor. I didn’t find it overly complex or outstanding in any way that would wow me. It was thin, light, clear, very slightly sweet, and a bit nutty. I have been a bit sick so maybe my taste buds aren’t at their peak. I tried the brewing suggestions on the teaspring site, and it didn’t change much for me. I’m also left confused by the customer reviews of this tea. The site claims it is a “strong” flavor, yet most customer reviews use and reuse the term “delicate” and “light.” Then there is the fact that almost every review is different, some claim it worthy of six stars, some say good, some say very good, some say bitter… it covers the spectrum almost as if each person was tasting a different tea. When I see this kind of disparity in a highly-rated tea I tend to believe what is actually happening is that many people bought into a supposed “top” tea and feel that it *has* to be good since it is one of China’s top 10. I mean, it’s sort of expensive, 4.6 out of 5 rating, one of the 10 famous Chinese teas, etc. how could someone dare to say otherwise?

I think I just did.

UPDATE: After some more brewing and playing with temperature and amount of leaf, I have finally come across something a bit more noteworthy. Hotter water than I’d normally use for a green and more leaf in my gaiwan produces much more sweetness and the orchid notes. Now it’s a strange creature in that to smell the leaf dry brings a ton of roasted and nutty notes, but the brew is anything but! Basically, it still follows with my first diagnosis but just intensified. The sweetness lingers for a very long time in the middle to back of the tongue after drinking, which is nice. I still do not see much more to it than sweet orchid water, but at least that is a step up from what I got during my first trials. It seems like a tea that could be good every now and then, but certainly not a steady diet of it. A nice novelty and the chameleon-like quality is about it for me.

Bi Lo chun –

September 10, 2007

I’ve been under the weather lately but nothing was going to stop me from breaking into my new stash from I started with the Bi Lo Chun. It is much lighter green than the photo on their site and it more closely resembles their photo of the Dong Ting Bi Lo Chun (I’ll post a photo later). My taste buds aren’t at their peak since I’m sick but I could tell that even teaspring’s most inexpensive BLC was exceptional. It’s taste is everything you think of with BLC: clear, sweet, and slightly vegetal with a tiny hint of nuttiness… I hate the term “nutty” as it is a turnoff for me with tea, but I guess it is the closest approximation to the flavor. In any event it is very subtle almost non-existent.

The tiny package weighs in at 50g of the dense little “snails” and is a bargain for under $5! This is has replaced all other BLC on my list and will be in constant supply both at home and work as a daily drinker. It’s that good. I have had better, but at much more of a premium and truthfully this hits every base at a much more reasonable cost. My only regret is that I didn’t bring some to work to enjoy here, that will be resolved tomorrow :)

Post Office Nazis

September 7, 2007

I’ve been awaiting my package from with a nice assortment of mid to high-grade teas for about 7 days only to come home to a “We Missed You” slip from the post office. The card stated I could sign the back and leave it in my mailbox to allow them to leave the package, so I did. I also (thankfully) called to ensure they were going to attempt to redeliver it today before the weekend, which is when the fun started…

I was informed that it was a registered package and that they refused to leave it even with the signed release. I explained that the card stated nothing about that. They then seemed to give in, but then he quickly pulled back his offer because the package was in Chinese and he couldn’t tell what was in it. I explained to him that that had to be the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. He then went back to his hard line on being personally present and signing for it… and now he was insisting that it be opened there at the office before I could take it. I then explained that if he opened it and damaged/broke any of the tea I would become his worst nightmare. Luckily I had a dentist appointment today (well, not so luckily as I now have my first cavities, yay) so I had a few spare minutes. When I stopped in they brought the box up and then forced me to open it. So I did, even though I was not happy about it, and they then decided to tell me how unimportant such a package is and how stupid it was that I would have tea shipped to me from China rather than going to the grocery store like they did. Oh, what a chuckle they had. Ugh. They then made me sign three forms, and tried to make me pay for the “inspection” which I quickly denied to do since I was holding the package and I left. What a great government resource, hopefully email and competition will continue to ruin them and cut into those “meager” wages of $15-40/hour they receive from my paycheck.

The only upside to this day so far is that once it is over I’ll have all weekend to enjoy the tea and post up the findings! Stay Tuned!