November 17, 2017

Tillerman Tea Wenshan Bao Zhong - Winter 2016, Spring 2017

Wenshan Baozhong is unusual among Taiwanese green oolongs in its twisted presentation. The first part of the tea's name refers to the Wen Shan range where shan translates to mountain. The second half of the tea's name, bao zhong, refers to the origin of the tea's shape. The tea historically was wrapped in paper to achieve the twisted shape. This technique is still used though it is not as widespread.

Another distinctive aspect of this tea is its "generous [floral] fragrances" (Gascoyne et al.). In my reading, I have seen the following flowers associated with baozhong: lilac, lily of the valley, gardenia, and orchid. The two Wenshan baozhongs from Tillerman Tea I drank smelled and tasted of flowers. Despite my botanophilia, I am unable to say which flower(s). The baozhongs specifically were Winter 2016 (Wong One Dashi) and Spring 2017 (Wang Han Yang). Two grams of each tea were steeped in tasting cups filled with 195F water for 3 minutes.

Winter 2016 (Wong One Dashi)

Dry leaf appearance: long, twisted, mix of olive and forest green

Dry leaf fragrance: floral, dry

Infused leaf appearance: longest leaf was 1.5 inches, choppy leaves, forest green

Liquor color: yellow, clear

Liquor taste: Floral yet savory, light broth mouthfeel but medium body; as the liquor cooled, the tea tasted like buttered toast, just as Tillerman Tea said it would

Spring 2017 (Wang Han Yang)

Dry leaf appearance: long, twisted, mix of olive and forest green

Dry leaf fragrance: very floral, creamy, toasted barley [in contrast to the Winter 2016, the bag of Spring 2017 was first opened for this tasting]

Infused leaf appearance: longest leaf was 2 inches, more whole leaves, shinier, forest green

Liquor color: green yellow, clear

Liquor taste: Bright, floral, medium body, coated mouth, vegetal (but not savory); the cooled tea tasted very green, vegetal, and headily floral

The Takeaway

The two teas are of the same style but differ by farm and by season. These two factors could account for the differences in their flavor profiles. I enjoyed drinking both teas but my favorite of the two teas as infused above is the Spring 2017 Wenshan Bao Zhong. This baozhong was featured in Tea Pairing 101: Oolong Tea. Pair it with a plum. But before you go: steep 3-4 grams of the Winter 2016 in 3-4 ounces of 195F for 30-second infusions for a highly floral liquor.

Both Wenshan baozhongs were provided for review by Tillerman Tea.

P.S. Baozhong used to be processed as a dark oolong! Read about baozhong history at TeaDB.

November 13, 2017

Rishi Tea Flight Tasting

One of my favorite sweetened matchas is made by Rishi Tea. It was long one of my indulgent purchases at Whole Foods. When I lived in Arlington, I preferred to go to the local cafe that served Rishi loose leaf tea. I've also come to know Rishi as the source for La Colombe's tea & tisane collection. And with the event I share below, I now know that they offer artisanal teas. Obviously, there are many dimensions to this 20-year old tea company. Jo was spot on in her assessment of the Rishi Tea tasting we attended in October. The tasting was an opportunity to "rediscover" the brand.

The tasting was held in the library of the International Culinary Center. I'm a huge fan of libraries so the space was immediately comforting. I looked around the room and recognized most of women there. The people at the table (the tasters) were all women. Our host was Keiko Niccolini, Director of Luxury and Brand Alignment, who prepared eleven teas across four flights. Macarons and mochi were the food accompaniments. In addition to preparing the teas, Keiko provided terroir, production, and tasting information about each tea.

The teas in the flights share either origin or cultivar. The teas in the first flight share origin (Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture). The teas in the second flight share cultivar (Sae Midori) though the cultivar listed for the matcha on the menu is Okumidori. The third flight shares cultivar (Yabukita). The fourth flight shares origin (Kyoto Prefecture).

Read on for my notes on tea.

1. First Flight
Shincha Machiko
Matcha Okumidori

The Shincha Machiko was sweet and vegetal. The Matcha Okumidori was thick, rich, and gritty. A memorably good matcha. I don't think I have had such a coarsely textured matcha before.

2. Saemidoro Flight
Nishi Family Handpicked Shincha
Nishi Family Gyokuro Kirishima
Matcha Saemidori

The Matcha Saemidori was lighter than the Okumidori and creamy, too. I did not make notes on the Nishi Shincha. I could have been busy eating another macaron or mochi. The Nishi Gyokuro Kirishima was light bodied with a sweet-pea sweetness and a fruity tail note. As it cooled, the liquor was more vegetal in taste. Keiko steeped this gyokuro for 45 seconds in 170F water.

3. Yabukita Flight
Shincha Kobyashi
Nishi Family Shincha Yabukita
Gyokuro Okabe Clear Fragrance - Aobane Farm
Gyokuro Okabe Deep Aoi - Aobane Farm

The Yabukita shinchas were strikingly different from each other. The dry leaves of the Shincha Kobayashi smelled of cream and custard with a sharp note of anise. The liquor was light-bodied, bright, sweet, and vegetal. There was a lingering note of tarragon. There was much discussion at my end of the table about the anise and tarragon flavors! The Nishi Shincha Yabukita was a sharper tea with walnut skin flavor.

The Yabukita gyokuros also exhibited very different profiles. I wanted to eat sushi after drinking the Gyokuro Okabe Clear Fragrance from the Aobane Farm. This was an unfortunate state of affairs for me as I've committed to being a strict vegetarian. This desire was followed by my cheeks vibrating, puckering. I had an intensely dry mouth. On the other hand, the Gyokuro Okabe Deep Aoi was creamy! The liquor left a layer of cream on my tongue. The third sip showed a vegetal flavor. The empty cup smelled like hot sugar.

4. Kyoto Flight
Gyokuro Kyoto
Matcha Hekisui

The gyokuro in the fourth and final flight is Keiko's favorite gyokuro. Her second favorite gyokuro is the Aobane Farm's Gyokuro Okabe Clear Fragrance. The Gyokuro Kyoto was smooth, balanced, sweet on top, and vegetal at the end. The Matcha Hekisui was according to my notes, "wow!" It was meaty and mushroom. It felt like I was drinking a meal. It would pair well with a meal of red meat and/or mushrooms.

My favorites of the teas were the matchas, particularly the Matcha Okumidori, and the Yabukita gyokuros. None of my favorites were in my gift bag, but I have been enjoying the sweet pea, fruity, and slight umami flavors of the Nishi Family Gyokuro Kirishima. Did you know that Japanese green tea had such variety within the same style?

October 25, 2017

Tea Pairing 101: Oolong Tea and Fruit

There is something about drinking oolong tea that feels luxurious so it was fitting that our Tea Pairing  101: Oolong Tea edition took place in an elegant penthouse apartment in SoHo. This pairing series is a collaborative among me (Notes on Tea), Jee (Oh How Civilized), and Sara (Tea Happiness). Oolong is the third tea type we have explored. See my write-ups of White Tea and Green Tea pairings. Oolong has the widest range of tea styles among the six major tea categories. Oxidation level is a primary contributor to  the breadth within the oolong tea class. The range varies depending on the source but I have seen 10-70% and 8-85% oxidation. Within this range are two subcategories of oolong: green oolong (less oxidized, closer to green tea) and dark oolong (more oxidized, closer to black tea). Roasting oolong is an add-on process. A dark oolong can be unroasted or roasted. Now on the to pairings!


The two-level penthouse at 286 Spring Street was the location for our oolong tea pairing. My favorite features of the apartment is the high level of access to natural lighting indoors and the staggering amount of outdoor space with skyline and river views. Here is an excerpt from the listing:
The penthouse at 286 Spring street is the expertly executed vision of an iconic 1920s industrial loft conversion in Hudson Square. Sprawled among 4,729 square feet of indoor living space, and 2,735 of outdoor terrace space, this two level apartment is one of five full-floor apartments in a boutique doorman building. Spectacular light shines from all directions, with open south and west facing views allowing for terrace views of the Freedom Tower and glimpses of the Hudson River.

The 286 Spring Street, PH apartment is listed with Compass and is being represented by Elizabeth Schwartz.


The oolongs we chose varied by country and oxidation level. The Tillerman Tea Wenshan Bao Zhong Spring 2017 (top) is the greenest oolong and the only one from Taiwan, specifically Pinglin in New Taipei City. The T Shop NY Tie Guan Yin (middle) is a roasted, dark oolong.  The Seven Cups Xiao Hong Pao (Little Red Robe) Spring 2017 (bottom) is a wuyi oolong from Fujian Province produced from cultivar No. 204 (Xiao Hong Pao). We paired each tea with slices of Asian pear, persimmon, plum. We purchased all the fruit. We also served honeycomb with the fruit which was sourced from Andrew's Honey at the Union Square Greenmarket.


We infused 3 grams of each tea for 2 minutes in professional tasting sets. Water temperature by vendor specification. In the case of the Xiao Hong Pao we infused the tea at two different temperatures but here I only report on the hotter steep.

Wenshan Bao Zhong

This green oolong is composed of inch-long, twisted leaves in shades of olive and forest green. The fragrance of the dry leaves was flowery which was pronounced in the infused leaves. A vegetal note was also present in the infused leaves. The yellow liquor was also floral and vegetal. The medium-bodied tea had a buttery texture.

This many-flavored oolong was topped off with the tart skin of the plum and complemented by its sweet flesh. The mild-flavored pear allowed the tea to shine. The persimmon & tea combination was exponentially sweet.

Tie Guan Yin

The tightly rolled, dark leaves of this tie guan yin smelled of fresh walnut and dried cherry. The infused leaves struck us as smelling like kukicha with twiggy, roasted, and chicory aromas. The amber liquor had a smooth mouthfeel with notes of chocolate and chicory.

The plum and pear were not successful partners with this oolong. On the other hand, the persimmon's sweetness rounded out the roasted edge of this tie guan yin.

Xiao Hong Pao

Variably-sized, dark, twisted leaves bursted with a myriad of aromas: chocolate, sweet, roast, and cream. The infused leaves did not fully unfurl. Their bouquet was sweet and fruity with scents of roasted winter squashes. The copper red liquor was full-bodied with very roasted notes and noticeable bitterness. (This tea steeped at 200F was very smooth.)

Despite the robustness of the liquor, the pear managed to cleanse the palate of all flavor. The persimmon's beautiful sweetness was an advantage here as it tamed the bitterness. The plum also performed well.


I didn't mention the honeycomb in the pairing notes because the tea and fruit were the main characters. However, honey-soaked fruit worked well with all the oolongs! If you are not prepared to let your fruit mellow in honeycomb, I recommend persimmon (we used Fuyu but a very ripe Hachiya would be very good) with darker oolongs as well as with oolongs that are roasted. A refreshing combination is pear (we used Asian) & green oolong. I think a creamy-fleshed pear such as an Anjou would complement greener oolongs. Don't forget to read Tea Pairing 101: Oolong Tea by Jee and Tea Pairing 101: Oolong Tea and Fruit by Sara. With the just-arrived cooler weather, we are ready to tackle black tea in the next edition of Tea Pairing 101.

Thank you to our partners who made this tasting possible:
Venue: Elizabeth Schwartz of Compass
Tea Companies: Tillerman Tea, T Shop NY, and Seven Cups

Curious about our studies? We are enrolled in the tea sommelier course at the International Tea Education Institute. Use NOTESONTEA10 when you register for any course.

P.S. Craving more tea pairings? Read White Tea and French Cheese and Green Tea and Mochi.

October 24, 2017

Teavivre Organic Jinhao Golden Tip Black Tea

In yesterday's review of Teavivre's Huo Shan Huang Ya, I mentioned my inexperience with yellow tea. By contrast, I have drunken many black teas, or hong cha to use my burgeoning tea terminology. Black tea is known as red tea or hong cha in China. Today's tea is a hong cha: Jinhao Golden Tip Black Tea, Organic from Teavivre. This black tea is a June 2016 harvest of the Bai Hao cultivar from the Yaming garden in Longlin County, Baise City, Guangxi, China. The "golden tip" refers to the golden color of fully-oxidized buds. Jianhao Golden Tip is not a dian hong which is a subcategory of hong cha produced from tea grown in Yunnan Province; dian translates to Yunnan and hong translates to red (tea). I believe a distinguishing factor between dian hong and other golden tip teas is the amount of buds in the tea, with the highest quality dian hong composed of either 100% buds and/or buds & 1-leaf.

Infusion parameters per the package: 195 F, 3-5 minutes; I used the entire 4.5 gram sample in 10 ounces of water

Dry leaf appearance: twisted leaves with golden, hairy buds and brown and black leaves of at least 1 inch and up to 2 inches

Dry leaf fragrance: cocoa, wood, dry, sweet, red fruit

Infusion 1 (3 minutes): camphor note, dry, red fruit, smooth, creamy with some pleasant astringency, medium-bodied

Infusion 2 (4 minutes): spicy, cinnamon, crystalized ginger

Infusion 3 (5 minutes): most of the flavors extracted in first two steeps

Infused leaves: woody fragrance with dark chocolate followed by honey

Jinhao Golden Tip is a bold, aromatic tea. The cocoa and fruit were my favorite notes in this tea. This black tea would make an excellent choice for a breakfast tea, and please don't add milk. It would also fare well iced as the fruity flavor and creamy texture increased as the liquor cooled.

Samples of Organic Jinhao Golden Tip Black Tea were provided by Teavivre.

October 23, 2017

Teavivre Huo Shan Huang Ya Yellow Tea

Neither have I drunk or reviewed many yellow teas. This year I can count on one hand the number of yellow teas I have drunk. One was Anhui Yellow prepared by Sebastian of In Pursuit of Tea. The other is the tea of today's review: Huo Shan Huang Ya Yellow Tea from Teavivre. This yellow tea was harvested in April 2017 from the Cheng De Tea Garden in Taiyang Village, Huo Shan County, Liu’an City, Anhui Province. Isn't it great when tea companies provide the provenance information for their teas?!

Infusion parameters per the package: 185 F, 5-8 minutes; I used the entire 4.5 gram sample

Dry leaf appearance: straight, strip leaves with hairy buds, olive and forest green color

Dry leaf fragrance: very sweet

Infusion 1 (5 minutes): sweet, lush, full-bodied, pale yellow/gold liquor throughout

Infusion 2 (6 minutes): similar flavor profile and body as in the first steep

Infusion 3 (8 minutes): sweet, lighter bodied, floral

Infused leaves: yellower leaves than in the dry state; the plucking styles are more visible (one bud with one leaf and one bud with two unopened leaves)

Yellow tea is an underrepresented category on this blog and in my tea experience. However, I feel comfortable recommending this tea. I enjoyed its long lasting sweetness and the emergence of a floral note in the third steep. I used a Western brewing method so you might be able to extend your session and uncover more flavors if you prepare this tea in a gongfu manner. One more thing: this tea is known for its chestnut flavor. I did not detect chestnut but cooked chestnuts are sweet and buttery so perhaps the sweet taste and lush texture I experienced in the first and second infusions are my approximation of chestnut.

Samples of Huo Shan Huang Ya Yellow Tea were provided by Teavivre.

P.S. About the naming protocol: Huo Shan denotes the county (Shan means mountain) and Huang Ya denotes that the tea is a yellow tea, so to write Huang Ya Yellow Tea is redundant.
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