Lochan Tea Tasting – #11 Indian Masala Chai Blend

November 20, 2009

Dry Leaf: Upon opening the packet, I was blown away. The real, discernible spices were extraordinary. The scent was amazing, and the next thoughts were “can I climb in that small packet and live for eternity?” followed by “I need more, much more, of this.” I believe there is bay leaf in the mix as well which adds a great cassia/bay scent.

Wet Leaf: The aromatics sing with cardamom (my personal favorite) edging out the cinnamon for top billing.

Brewed: This is as good as it gets in my estimation. I opted out of milk or sweetener because I wanted to experience it as it is even though the brewing directions stated to use milk and water. I will enjoy it that way next, and post the results, I just had to have this straight up. I have not strayed from the brewing guide once, but I just couldn’t help myself once I saw how amazing the spices were. Hopefully I can be forgiven :) Cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, ginger, and I’m sure more that I am missing form a symphony here that doesn’t just present a note of this or that but an entire performance with an encore. not overly spicy in a heat sort of way but very assertive and easily will stand up to milk and sweetener without losing anything.

Chai in America is generally some poorly (sadly even artificially) flavored low-grade tea buried under milk/cream and tons of sugar. Occasionally a decent cup can be had with tiny bits of actual spices mixed in. Sometimes the balance is way off and skewed too far to the spice notes and the tea is merely a vehicle to darken the water or milk. This is both Yin and Yang in perfect harmony. I have fallen in love twice in one week, first the Jungpana Imperial Muscatel and now with the Masala Chai. This will be forever stocked in my tea cupboard so long as I can obtain it in this form. Again, about as full an endorsement as I could offer any tea. This is a mood lifter, one simply could not be anything but in sheer rapture with this in their cup. Flavored tea often takes a back seat with “serious” tea drinkers, and this would be one that breaks down that wall entirely. I am a truly happy man.

Lochan Tea Tasting – #10 – Jungpana Autumn Delight 2009

November 16, 2009

#10 – Jungpana Autumn Delight

Dry Leaf: Very small bits of leaf, deep dark brown. The scent is slightly muscatel-ish and also just a bit plain malty.

Wet Leaf: Muscatel notes perk up a bit, but there is an Autumn leaf quality with a bit of a tang as well. There’s something present which is familiar but naming it escapes me on this one. Hopefully it will come to me. I can only name clay and a tang.

Brewed: This one has more of a wine-y front with a bit of the vegetal notes that I found in yesterday’s Castleton, but not so strong, and it turns into a more muscatel back end which makes a bit more appealing package. I think the Jungpana Imperial Muscatel may have ruined me for good.

There’s nothing wrong with this tea, but for me I couldn’t see choosing this over the Imperial in any instance. It has a nice depth and complexity and a whole direction of it’s own which may appeal more to others, it is certainly not very bitter and the astringency is a bit higher with more subdued muscatel characteristics so for those who any of that appeals to this is a great tea. The one thing that struck me was how two teas from one estate could be so different in scope and flavor. The other thing, that to me, is always a bit of a deal-breaker has to do with the very small leaf and broken bits… as much as I hate to admit it, I’m a sucker for nice pretty leaves. I’m even OK down to 1/4″ pieces, but once it gets much smaller than that I have a built in aversion that I rarely can get past. Again, that’s a personal thing, many could probably care less.

This one reminds me of a dark den with a roaring fire, a high-backed leather chair and a good book. Classy and comfortable.

Lochan Tea Tasting – #9 Castleton FTGFOP 1 CH SP 2009

November 12, 2009

#9 Castleton FTGFOP 1 CH SP

Dry Leaf: Dark and small pieces with hints of chocolate

Wet Leaf: Aroma is very vegetal like cooked spinach. Small broken leaf pieces of no uniformity. Peppery.

Brewed: The scent is very interesting, it’s got a tiny bit of the muscatel from some of the other Darjeelings we’ve tasted but seems much more mild and balanced with a touch of the vegetal/spinach and peppery quality of the wet leaf. The flavor is very different, and actually the vegetal notes are right up front in the flavor. It’s actually overpowered to the vegetal side for my tastes in a Darjeeling. Spinach is what I got from the wet leaf and spinach is what I get in the liquor, also a bit slippery in mouth-feel which rounds out the thought and taste. It has that deep, mineraly, peppery, leafy green quality of a spinach or kale but the scent of the cup coming up for a sip fakes you out into expecting a bit more standard Darjeeling/muscatel experience. Surprise!

This one isn’t so much in my wheelhouse, personally. I can see how some may like this departure and unique flavor, but it’s an odd combination for me and one I can’t force myself to get over or particularly enjoy. I’m actually one who swoons for the fishy notes in a good Japanese green tea, so I wouldn’t have thought my reaction would be as strong as it is in this instance. Again, before this tasting, I normally stuck with the very strong muscatel Darjeelings only, and often that meant Margaret’s Hope, so my view of the category is a bit narrow admittedly. However, this is a flavor profile I have never had before in a Darjeeling, in any capacity, so it could just be the surprise of it that has formed my opinion. I’d like to believe that but I don’t think this one will even come to grow on me. There’s a tea for everyone, this one just doesn’t bear my name.

Lochan Tea Tasting – #8 Jungpana Imperial Muscatel 2009

November 10, 2009

Note: Thus far I’ve just copied my tasting notes directly as I have submitted them for the tasting, this tea requires something more. The glowing “review” I bestow upon this tea is almost not enough. This is one time where words cannot capture the real story here. This was one of those rare moments where a tea is just magical. I was almost distracted to the point where getting the thoughts from my head to the screen was impossible. There are some times where writing about a tea is so secondary to the personal enjoyment that I’d almost like to not even try to put it to words, this was one of them but I have done my best.

#8 Jungpana Imperial Muscatel 2009

Dry Leaf: Reminiscent of a good loose tobacco. Chocolate and wine notes are sort of deep and brooding. It brought to mind an Australian tobacco called Royal Port.

Wet leaf: A totally different animal, the muscatel characteristics instantly present themselves and a sort of “clean” cotton smell.

Brewed: The bouquet is actually very tame and doesn’t give up many secrets on it’s own besides the slight muscatel notes. Wow! A grape flavor that actually made me shiver. Seriously. It is like a concord grape bred with muscat, deeper and stronger without being overpowering or just perfumy, this is the real deal. There is less in the middle and finish than some others but it is just a huge peak up front and a steady decline to a fairly short finish that just draws you in for another ride. This without a doubt is one of my new favorite teas, and has unseated my long-held love for Margaret’s Hope in my top 10 list… all from one round of tasting! That is probably the best endorsement I could give any tea.

This is my first time with Jungpana Imperial Muscatel, the muscatel part was attractive to me from the name alone, and it has firmly entrenched itself on my constant stock list showing itself to be so much more. I have only had a moment like this one other time and it was the first time I had Gyokuro prepared for me expertly. It was trans-formative. This has been a very similar experience and I went into this totally blind.

A few posts ago I read where Steve had jumped the gun and tasted this one by accident, but had made a comment about how excited he had been to finally get to it properly. I fully understand why. I’m having a hard time keeping my enthusiasm inside long enough to sit and type this. He was spot-on. This is a very special tea and one that again has shown me that you have to break out of ruts and try something new to continue the journey. I would have been content to have known only Margaret’s Hope, and while not a bad thing by any means, I would never have uncovered this gem. Of this whole tasting, if this is the highlight, I can only say I am so grateful for this experience and to Lochan Tea for turning me on to an amazing tea. This is not to be missed, and in my opinion, a gold standard of the category.

Lochan Tea Tasting – #7 Thurbo FTGFOP 1 CL TPY 2009

November 8, 2009

#7 Thurbo FTGFOP 1 CL TPY

Dry: Oaky/smokey hint of coconut husk and fuller leaf

Wet Leaf: Nutty and vegetal while brewing. A little melon.

Brewed: coconut on the nose and then a fairly lively brew that kicks off with a pretty strong almond note that turns into coconut and a little bit of bitterness through the middle and into the finish where the bitterness quickly recedes a touch of astringency and a nutty/coconut oil finish that gently coats and stays around for a nice long time.

This is a very good tea to be sure, however this one doesn’t hit any specific chords that resonate with me personally. All of the flavors and complexities are well balanced and there is no fault found with the tea itself. I feel that this is a tea that I will revisit off and on over time and eventually could even grow into a favorite, often initial indifference from me leads to a new addition to the stable. There are wisps of muscatel hiding and swirling behind the scenes and I think that makes me just want them front and center in a cup of Margarets Hope, but often the subtleness is actually a positive and becomes more desirable than just a full-on hit.

Lochan Tea Tasting – #6 Margarets Hope Muscatel

November 7, 2009

#6 Margarets Hope Muscatel

Dry Leaf: Not much to look at but the aroma of a nice moscato wine is amazing.

Wet Leaf: Again, no beauty pageant winner but now that wonderful moscato has transmuted into a rich Canadian ice wine.

Brewed: A tawny liquor produces a tea that can stand up to the finest wines of the world. Muscat forward, muscat mid, and muscat long after. It also rivals any perfume I’ve ever encountered for sheer intoxicating scent. There’s a slight hint of anise or black licorice buried deep in there which adds even more allure.

This is one of teas from the grouping that sings to me, and that I was looking forward to like coming home to an old friend. I often bypass the Darjeelings and many black teas in favor of more delicate and subtle teas like yellows, light greens, senchas, and gyokuros, but the muscat quality of this one is what makes me return a few times each year no matter what season or mood. It’s everything I want in a Darjeeling. I once had a Mlesna brand teabag which was actually “ice wine” flavored Ceylon and it struck me how all the added flavorings in the world can’t get you anywhere near the natural flavor of this tea. It’s magical and it is, and will firmly remain, in my own personal top 10 teas. I can’t speak highly enough of this tea, and it is a pleasure I hope any tea drinker experiences again and again.

Lochan Tea Tasting – #5 Harmutty Golden Paw, 2009 Second Flush

November 6, 2009

#5 Harmutty Golden Paw, 2009 Second Flush

Dry Leaf: Straw

Wet Leaf: Spice, Vegetal, and Sharp

Brewed: Warm honey on the nose and up front in the taste, smooth malt, and a fairly quick finish of a bit of tannin/bitter but soft enough that the initial flavors carry through to the close.

With a similar dry leaf scent as the Hattialli from yesterday, this one changes quite drastically from the wet leaf smell onward. I’m not sure I would be able to instantly peg this as an Assam by taste alone. It goes from honey to malt to a bit of tannins/bitterness but not unpleasantly so, and then to a fairly short finish which is a wrap-up of everything that came before in one. I really enjoy this tea and it is pretty straightforward but it does it’s thing in a nice neat package that has just enough complexity to make another sip appealing. It doesn’t strike me as a tea that you would sit and ponder deep thoughts over a long finish, but not every tea has to be. Efficient, fulfilling, and brisk.