January 22, 2018

Three High Mountain Oolongs from Totem Tea

My last post in 2017 was a review of a Taiwanese black tea from Totem Tea. I am kicking off 2018 on the blog with a review of three high mountain oolongs from Totem Tea. In fact, all four teas arrived in the same package but it made sense to review the oolongs separate from the black tea.

The three oolongs in question are Floral Mountain Tie Guan Yin (Ali Shan), Old World Qing Xin (Dong Ding Shan), West Peak Li Shan (Hehuan Shan) (pictured above). The mountain of origin is noted in parantheses. Each oolong was packaged in a foil lined pouch. The gram size varied but hovered around 5 grams, but the steeping parameters were the same for each tea: 150 ml, 195F, 60s initial steep with increase of one minute for each additional infusion.

Floral Mountain Tie Guan Yin

The small, tight rolled dry leaves of this oolong were dark with copper flecks. The fragrance of the leave was super floral, almost as if I had taken a deep sniff of a bowl of tropical fruit sitting on countertop in a warm room. The infused leaves were dark, still rolled, and very floral in scent. The liquor of the first infusion was bright, clear, and pale peach in color. The steam was heady with floral, warm melon, and guava notes. The taste was lightly roasted with some fruit but much less sweet than the smell indicated. The second infusion was a darker cup with much more roast. I detected spices. The tea was warming with lingering flavors. There was a pleasant drying sensation. The cooled liquor had a biting roast similar to a charred vegetable or raw species. The third infusion still had a strong roast flavor. The tea was drier and less lush. The liquor was not as dark nor as full bodied. There was a tart tail note. The fourth infusion yielded roast and raw spice especially at the top of my throat. The lingering note was of fall baking, think deep-dish apple pie. The tea was fairly smooth even with a mid-mouth astringency and tart finish. I steeped the leaves twice more but the sixth cup was thin. The fifth cup which was really the last cup, still had a strong, smooth roast flavor. There was no astringency or tartness, but there was an almost slippery, creamy texture.

Old World Qing Xin

This oolong's rolled, dark green and medium-green leaves smelled like brown sugar. The infused leaves were candy sweet, floral, and vegetal. The first infusion had a creamy texture. The light golden yellow liquor was fruity and eventual. The second infusion was juicy, medium-bodied, and all fruit. I drank the third cup so quickly that I didn't record notes. Woody and baked notes emerged in the fourth infusion along with the musk of incense, persimmon bread, and baked pecans. The fifth and final infusion had a flatter profile but the baked pecan flavor was still present especially on the mid palate.

West Peak Li Shan

Before I get into the tasting notes, I wanted to point out that this oolong seems to have double mountain provenance. It was grown on the Hehuan Mountain peak which is part of Li Shan.

The very small, tightly rolled leaves of this oolong were blue-green and emerald green in color. The leaves smelled sweet and toasted and reminded me of malted barley. The infused leaves were a brilliant green and had fragrances of sweet steamed vegetables and grains. The stems were the most pronounced in this oolong. The first infusion was lush, sweet, and vegetal with a sweet grain base note. The golden-yellow liquor of the second infusion was thick, creamy, and vegetal. There was a bitterness like tasting the inside of a stone-fruit pit. The liquor was incredibly aromatic; it filled my mouth and nose with taste and smell of crushed flower petals. The tea coated my mouth and tongue. I drank the second infusion from a small, thin cup, too, and detected a floral note. The third infusion was electric yellow but much mellower. Much of the flavor showed up in the tail note which floral as if you were eating petals. The fourth cup was over steeped by a couple of hours! Although there was bitterness to the liquor, it was not unpleasant. The tea was soft and floral otherwise.

The Takeaway

The Floral Mountain Tieguanyin is my favorite! I really like dark (more oxidized) oolongs but tend to shy away from heavily roasted teas. This tieguanyin has a lot of roast but it lets other flavors shine through. I enjoyed the woody, baked and nutty goodness of the fourth infusion of the Old World Qing Xin. I wouldn't mind a tea that delivered those notes from start to finish. As for the West Peak Li Shan, the second cup was the most complex and flavorful. It bordered on being overly strong but you could temper that with less leaf, lower temperature, and/or shorter infusion times.

Totem Tea provided the following teas for review purposes: Floral Mountain Tie Guan YinOld World Qing Xin, and West Peak Li Shan.

December 13, 2017

Totem Tea Golden Hand Taiwan Black

I must admit that when I think of the name "Golden Hand" I also think of "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey. Totem Tea named this Taiwanese tea for the "golden tips of the leaves" and because the tea is "completely handmade". Indeed, the dry leaves are dark with golden highlights. The single note of chocolate from the dry leaves is not indicative of the many notes of the liquor.

The recommended steeping parameters are 150 mL, 195F, 30s. I steeped the entire 5+ gram sample in approximately 150mL of 205F water for 30 second infusions.

The first infusion was robust. The liquor was medium to full bodied. There was no doubt that this tea was a hong cha. It was malty, sweet, and fruity. The second infusion revealed dry, fruity chocolate notes with a tart red fruit tail note. I detected a creamy texture on the middle to the back of my tongue. There was a lingering woody taste which I identified as cedar but I think this is my default woody note in the same way that rose is my default floral note when it comes to tea tasting. The flavors did not stop there. The cooling spice effect of Ruby 18 was also present as well as a warm, wet soil taste, though clean, not funky.

I steeped this tea two more times both of which were increasingly less robust than the previous one. The third infusion retained the creamy textured tail note. The liquor tasted of a chalky, unsweetened chocolate and produced a lingering drying effect. The fourth and final infusion was floral with a rough bark taste, and a chocolate tail note.

The best of the session was the second infusion. If I steeped this tea Western style if I could extract an entire cup of second-infusion flavors?! The multi-dimensional quality of the second infusion can be explained by the fact that this tea is a new cultivar derived from Ruby 20, Ruby 12, Jin Xuan, and Is Jun Chun.

Golden Hand Taiwan Black and other samples were provided by Totem Tea.

P.S. I received several sticks of incense with my tea samples from Totem Tea. I never thought it was appropriate to be in a scented environment when drinking tea. Therefore I have been reluctant to burn the incense. However, I did pair the young sandalwood incense with the Old World Qing Xin Oolong, a tea review I will post soon.

December 05, 2017

Song Yi Tea Roast Lishan Oolong

Every time I've prepared this roast oolong, the day has been overcast and misty, if not raining. I strongly recommend it for those kind of days, but before I share my complete notes, I want to introduce the tea company. Song Yi Tea is a fourth generation tea company based in Taiwan. The original plantation located in Nantou County dates back to 1898! In addition to the Roast Lishan, Song Yi also offers Dongding, Alishan, Shanlinshi, Jinshuan, Tie Guan Yin, and Sun Moon Lake Black. Some of these teas come in straight and roast versions. I received a sample pack from Song Yi and today I review the Roast Lishan Oolong.


Steeping parameters (recommended): 1 gram per 50 mL boiling water; I steeped 3 grams in 150 mL of 212F water
Dry leaf appearance: medium tightly rolled balls, dark green to dark brown in color with visible stems
Dry leaf fragrance: custard fruit, toasted, nutty
Infused leaf appearance: large, dark leaves
Liquor color: clear, bright, amber
Infusion 1 (65 seconds): lightly toasted, nutty, fruity
Infusion 2 (55 seconds): smooth roast, nutty, fruity; infused leaves smelled like charred vegetables
Infusion 3 (65 seconds but should have been 55 seconds): subdued, heavy-feeling liquor, heavy roast, light smoke
Infusion 4 (65 seconds): lighter
Infusion 5 (75 seconds): ghost notes

I prepared this tea again steeping 5 grams in 5 ounces of 195F water with 30-second infusions. The rinsed leaves smelled like sweet roast and nuts. The first cup was light bodied, sweet and fruit. The second infusion had an upfront roast and sweet char and a lingering tart, red fruit. The third infusion still had an upfront roast but with less edge. The fruit was still present though it was ephemeral. The lasting note was woody. The fourth cup had a softer roast note. The sweet char was back but the fruit has disappeared. The woody taste was aged cedar.


I find that roast oolongs can be hit or miss. Many are over roasted. This Roast Lishan Oolong had a strong roast note but it did not dominate the many other lovely flavors. The second infusion in my first session with this oolong was outstanding! Smooth roast, nutty, fruity; infused leaves smelled like charred vegetables. However I preferred the second session with this tea. If you buy this tea, try it both ways and let me know your preference.

Roast Lishan Oolong provided by Song Yi Tea.

December 04, 2017

Tillerman Tea Organic Chingjing Gaoshan Oolong - Winter 2016, Spring 2017

In my last review, I featured two oolongs (Wenshan Bao Zhong) from Tillerman Tea from back to back seasons grown by different farmers. Today I present two oolongs -from consecutive seasons, but this time the farmer is the same: Chingjing Winter 2016 and Chingjing Spring 2017. Chingjing (Cingjing or Qingjing) is named for the mountain on which it is grown. These teas were processed from the Qing Xin cultivar by grower Yen Ching-Yu (Katie).

The suggested parameters for both teas were 6 grams per 100 mL at 195F for 40 seconds or 3-5 grams in 8 ounces for 90 seconds. I averaged the instructions and used 3 grams in 6 ounces of 195F water starting with a 3-minute steep.


Dry leaf appearance: small, tight (in comparison to the Spring 2017) balls of varying shades of green with visible stems
Dry leaf fragrance: sweet, buttery, corn silk
Infused leaf appearance: large leaves
Liquor color: yellow
Infusion 1 (3 minutes): buttery, savory
Infusion 2 (3 minutes, 30 seconds): buttery, savory herb like tarragon
Infusion 3 (4 minutes): ghost note of butter

If you steep 3 grams of the this tea in 100 mL for 30-second infusions, you get buttery notes for three steeps. Extend the fourth infusion for 30 seconds to get a floral character like a tea with blended with cornflower.


Dry leaf appearance: larger and looser (in comparison to the Winter 2016) balls of varying shades of green with visible stems
Dry leaf fragrance: sweet, buttery
Infused leaf appearance: large leaves
Liquor color: gold
Infusion 1 (3 minutes): buttery with a floral center, light to medium bodied, lightly conifer scented steam
Infusion 2 (3 minutes, 30 seconds): depth of flavors with a lingering coniferous note in the back of the mouth on the cheeks
Infusion 3 (4 minutes): floral, fruity (cantaloupe), lingering dryness


Another pair of enjoyable oolongs from Tillerman Tea. Playing around with steeping parameters will reveal different components of each tea. I honestly don't have a preference between the two. I can say that my favorite infusion of the Winter 2016 was the second one. That tarragon note! This tea pairs well with a pesto sandwich, by the way. My favorite infusion of the Spring 217 was the third one. I really enjoyed floral and fruit layers. Yes, pair this tea with cantaloupe. I did.

Both Chingjing Gaoshan Oolongs provided by Tillerman Tea.

November 27, 2017

Three Gifts for Tea Drinkers

It's Cyber Monday so you might be expecting the items here to be discounted but they are not. Regardless, they are worthy of your consideration. The Japanese green tea assortment would delight a new or a seasoned tea drinker. The tea case is a smart solution for traveling with tea and tea ware. Finally, the personalized tea subscription delivers your favorite tea types and flavors.

Ippodo Tea Assortment of 3 Green Teas | Ippodo Tea

The sage green box contains three small tins of Gokujo Genmaicha (20g), Matcha Horai-no-mukashi (20g), and Kuki Hojicha (10g). There is also a guide to preparing these teas. The 3-tea assortment is branded as an "entry level set" but long-time Japanese green teas drinkers would like these teas, too. The flavor profile of each tea is fairly classic. The Genmeicha is nutty and toasted, the Hojicha is darkly sweet and roasted, and the Matcha is rich and creamy. You can purchase the gift set here.

The Take Flight "Tea" Case | The Tea Lover's Archives

Darlene Meyers Perry describes her tea case as: "It's like my Amex, I never leave home without it!" I am tempted to do the same. I travelled with my case on an overnight trip and it was suitable for my needs. I filled the two food-safe tins with tea and stored them in the upper compartment along with the adorable tea scoop. In the lower compartment, I stashed a cup and a small gaiwan. It was a tight fit with both tins and the gaiwan so next time I will pre-measure my tea into sachets. The Take Flight "Tea" Case is available for purchase here.

Sips by™ Subscription Box | Sips by™

You can be fairly confident that your monthly tea box from Sips by™ will contain only teas you want to drink. I tested the service this year by ordering a box in September and in October. I was satisfied with all but one of the items included in my boxes. Sips by™ uses an algorithm to fill each subscriber's box based on a survey with questions about your tea type, flavor, and caffeine preferences, weekly tea consumption, and steeping tools. The company works with established and upcoming brands, and are constantly adding new partners. Here's a list of the eight teas I received over the course of two months: Dark Roast Yaupon Tea (Lost Pines Yaupon), Green Tip (Teabook), Ruby Oolong (Rishi), Temple Gunpowder (Zhi Tea), Silver Needle (Teabook), Clover Patch (White 2 Tea), Alishan Oolong (Terroir Tea Merchant), and Sencha (Yunomi). You can update your preferences at any time. Create your profile here.

Treat yourself or a fellow tea lover to any (or all) of these products!

The following were provided for review purposes: Assortment of 3 Green Teas (Ippodo Tea) and The Take Flight "Tea" Case (The Tea Lovers Archive).
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