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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
November 5, 2009
#4 Hattialli Golden Bud, 2009 Second Flush
Dry Leaf: Assam, no mistaking it. A deep darker straw/hay scent.
Wet Leaf: Assam, malty and bold. A hint of a sour.
Brewed: Assertive flavor up front of Assam which has a lot happening in the middle, they flash by quickly so it will take more than one tasting to peg this one. That’s a good thing, I like a challenge and something that makes me come back a few times before giving up it’s secrets.
I’m not normally one for Assam outside of maybe with some raw sugar when I’m at a cafe and nothing else really speaks to me. I was surprised by this one, the smell of the leaf seems to scream standard Assam, but one sip of the richly dark liquor reveals that there are a few layers to dig through before the old standby Assam notes finally show up. They do go by quickly, as I’ve stated, so one could happily drink this at just face value and be perfectly happy with the fairly bold, slightly honey sweet, tiny touch bitter and astringent tea. But with a little attention it has more to offer. Thoughts of a favorite wine, or a satisfying meal, conjure up but can’t be caught. I could see this as a good vessel for some sugar and milk, but not to mask anything or to tame an unruly or overly strong cup but more in harmony with the actual nature of the tea itself. It’s soft but bold enough to demand notice.
November 4, 2009
#3 Korakundha FOP 2009 Second Flush
Dry Leaf: Raisin and not a whole lot else.
Wet Leaf: Strangely enough, spinach.
Brewed: Very mild, almost like a Ceylon/Dimbula. Very faint fruity notes but not anywhere near pronounced enough to specify. Straightforward but wholly enjoyable black tea.
I don’t want to short this tea by such a brief overview but these are my tasting notes, as-is. It’s a bright cup of tea that does one thing and does it well, no massive complexities, no super long finish or standout notes. It’s grown at one of the highest elevations I believe and the wiry partial leaves look like they have eeked out an existence high up in some tougher climes. It is slightly sweet throughout and I can’t see it benefiting from any additional sweetener, and it is a touch too mild to really stand up to a shot of milk… neither of these are routine additions for me but I thought it may help those who do enjoy it.