Sunday, June 19, 2011

Zealong Dark

The finale of the Zealong trio...

Not much to say prior to tasting, so lets dive in.

The aroma of the dry leaf is comprised of an interesting combination.
Cocoa and nutmeg are the first two scents that leave an impression.
The smell of freshly baked bread is the second aroma.
And to complete the mix (interestingly enough) is teriyaki...Now I am not saying that this tea smells like Chinese food, but what I am attempting to convey is the strikingly savory aspect of this tea. The proper diction for that aroma, in this case, just happened to be teriyaki!

The aroma of the liquor was different, to say the least.
Buttermilk was the standout smell that the liquid released. This was clean, crisp and made the tea very approachable.
The flip-side of the scents of the liquor was the hearty vegetal smell that still accompanied the tea.
I have noticed this vegetal trait in all three of the Zealong teas.

The taste of the liquor was quite heavy for the color.
It is much more vegetal, with hits of toasted pine nuts.
This is one of the first darker oolongs I have encountered that does not have a "sugary" sweetness to it. The tea is savory in all aspects.
One equivalent I can conjure up for the overall experience of this tea, is dark chocolate. I am not talking about the 60% cocoa kind. I am referring to the 72% or higher cocoa content. It is rich and tastes more like I am eating a meal than drinking a tea.

The texture is not smooth, but it is not unpleasant. It pairs nicely with the flavors presented.
This would be a fine tea to drink with a sweet desert, like dark chocolate dipped strawberries.

This tea is quite unique as far as oolongs go. I give the Zealong company props for making this tea standout among other oolongs in its class.
This tea will remain on my palate and in my memory for quite a long time!


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Zealong Aromatic

Moving down the Zealong lineup, I am confronted with our next contender:
Zealong Aromatic

This tea is a lightly roasted, Taiwanese style oolong.

Let us begin...

The dry leaf fills my nose with hints of bananas, sweet butternut squash and a mild roast.
I am assuming this is a 2010 tea, and having such a long resting period, I think, benefited the leaves, at least for my palate.

The aroma of the infusion and the resulting liquor were quite similar, almost indistinguishable.
Roasted plantain with a hint of sage and agave nectar.
The same butternut squash layer I found in the dry leaf was again evident in the infused leaf and the brew itself.

The aspect that most interests me is the banana/plantain resemblance. I have only found that in one other tea that I can remember: Taiwan WuYi.

Having a memory bank of tastes and attributing them to certain teas is a concept that interests me. I have heard that memory itself is most heavily linked to the olfactory system. Or put differently; smells trigger the memory (and recurrence of past events) faster than any other sense of the human body.

The taste is clean and light.
It possesses a cucumber taste that I normally find in Dong Ding oolongs (again my memory bank is flooding with past Dong Ding and Tung Ting tastings).
There is a subtle roasted flavor that cleanses the palate and makes way for a wonderfully delicate vegetal finish.

The roast in this tea does not detract from the overall flavor profile, but does well in adding another dimension to the tea; another layer of interest to take hold of.

This tea is well balanced and well produced, as can be seen by the infused leaf.
I did enjoy this tea better than the Pure, but that is most likely due to the fact that a roasted tea can take age with ease.

Despite my previous post, I would like to say that Zealong teas are by no means bad. I may have just been expecting more than they delivered. I feel as though the 2011 teas will be quite fantastic!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Zealong Pure

I have seen this tea at the World Tea Expo.
I have seen this tea on many blogs.
I have seen this tea on youtube.
I have seen this tea in the press.
I have seen this tea reviewed; both praised and criticized.

It was time for me to experience this tea for myself and come up with my own conclusions.
Thanks to the Teatrade marketplace (special thanks to Rachel Carter) and the Chicago Tea Garden, I was finally able to pick some up at a reasonable price, and in a nice sample pack.

The dry leaf smells of sweet corn, cabbage, sugar cane and mountain air.
There is some aroma in this tea that reminds one of a creek running through a lush forest. It does smell pure; fresh.

The tea is steeped.
The tea is poured.
The tea is sniffed.

Grass and mild cereal (grain) aromas come to mind. The liquor is clear and almost has the color of a light sencha. Though, the aroma reminds me of an Alishan. Being that the cultivar used to make the tea is Taiwanese in origin, this comes as no surprise. I suspected there to be a strong resemblance to Taiwanese made teas.

As the tea is sipped, there is a refreshing lime quality about it. The texture is mildly brothy and leaves behind a light marine taste.
The tea is grown and processed on an island off the coast of New Zealand, so taking in sea like qualities would not be unheard of.

In the second cup, the tea seems flat; lifeless. It is not bad, there is just no complexity or depth.

The third cup reveals a more balanced taste of lime and floral notes; lavender comes to mind.

The forth cup brings sweet water and ghostly vegetal tastes that drift off just as fast as they presented themselves.

This tea feels hollow.
This tea is, if I do say so, too "pure."

I enjoy a tea that has some roughness to it. This tea is too clean.

I feel that the tea lacks a unique character. It is trying to be something that it is not. It is made as a copy of its predecessors in Taiwan, but is lacking that character.
It is not individual, as it should be. There is promise for New Zealand to produce fine tea, but only if the tea is allowed to take in the character and qualities of the land.
Every tea needs a name, and this one has no basis for identity.
It is shallow.

The one thing that this tea brings with it that stays with me for a long while is the unique Cha qi. It is cooling in nature, and moves one's mind into a state of tranquility and relaxation. Minor perspiration and the sensation of being lightheaded is calming and almost puts me to sleep.

This tea is not by any means bad, it is just overpriced and lacking uniqueness.
One cannot become something which one cannot be.

Matt's review here.


Monday, June 6, 2011

A Learning Experience; American Hao

After work, I usually pick myself back up with a lengthy tea session.

This is always one of the highlights of my day, but today's session threw me a bit of a curve.

I joyfully pried a few chunks of leaf off my American Hao cake, dumped them into my designated shengpu pot and began the therapeutic brewing process.

The rinse water was discarded and the first infusion poured. I was awaiting the wonderful attributes of this tea to envelope my taste buds once again...

But alas, this was not what the tea had in store for me today.
Instead, I was confronted with a sour infusion lacking depth, aroma and complexity.

I quickly discarded the infusion and continued in my normal fashion, thinking that it may have just been the wrong amount of time or the wrong temperature.
The second infusion swirled in my cup, awaiting the first sip.

Again, the same lackluster, uninviting flavor pronounced itself once more.
This, I thought, cannot be right.

I waited and pondered my brewing parameters.
Did I use too much leaf...?
Was the water too hot? Too cool?
Did I not pour the water correctly?
Was my Brita not doing its job properly...?

Nothing made sense. The way I brewed this tea was the way in which I had always brewed it, and it has always turned out beautifully.

I can only suspect that it is the fault of the yixing. I do not know what else it could have possibly been.
I brewed the tea in a porcelain gaiwan and it emitted the wonderful notes that I have always noticed in this tea.

But how could that be? A yixing teapot is supposed to enhance the brew, not present negative qualities...

Perhaps the teapot needs a cleaning, although, I do not have any desire to destroy the lovely patina that is building up. This pot has deep sentimental value and I would not want to destroy what I have worked so hard to make.
I even made a different shengpu the other day and the pot performed just fine.
I am utterly confused, but there has been a lesson taught here today...

Tea is mysterious.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

WenShan BaoZhong

Once again, Lawrence extends his kindness to me.
This Baozhong is from Naive tea, a company which many of you know I hold in high regard.
Superb quality tea and wonderful customer satisfaction; both of which lead to a successful tea business.

On a hot (and extremely humid) summer day, I felt it necessary to break the seal on this tea, because baozhongs usually have the incredible ability to cool ones body.

The dry leaves are not uniform in shape or color, but the incongruity makes up the beautiful bouquet.
The dry leaf smells fresh and creamy.
The light vegetal flavor reminds me distinctly of snow peas.
There was also a light sweetness which brought vanilla to mind.
One curious characteristic was this teas lack of a floral aroma. Baozhongs' aroma usually penetrate a room with floral scents, but this tea seemed to lack that.
I find this a bit relieving, as vanilla and snow peas sound more enticing.

The liquor presented an aroma that was heavily reminiscent of pine. Herbaceous scents followed, and a honey sweetness topped it off.

The color was clean and bright.
A great start to a session, no doubt.

As my taste buds embraced the liquid, I instantly thought "pure." This tea was quite pure, fresh and clean.

The taste reminded me of the crisp crunch of a fresh vegetable, right out of a homegrown garden.
This garden freshness was paired with a beautiful, milky sweetness.
The creamy/milky characteristic is perhaps one of the reasons that I savor baozhong teas. A smooth tea hits the spot every time in my book.

A mint like coolness appears in the throat once the tea is ingested. I can feel it all the way to my stomach it seems (even now, which is about half-hour after this session)!

There is no astringency whatsoever, and the taste is quite good.
Each successive brew brings its fair share of milky sweet, vegetal goodness.
The aftertaste lingers for a long while after the tea is consumed. It is a pleasant reminder that one has enjoyed such a wonderful tea.

This baozhong seems to be more traditional in the sense that it is focused more on olfactory pleasure rather than palate pleasure, but this is not at all negative. I enjoy the variety, quite plainly!

This is a beautiful example of a prime baozhong!
Thank you, Lawrence, for all the generosity you have bestowed on me!