Japan ~ Furyu Bancha Goishicha | Yunomi

Today I’ll be tasting yet another dark tea from Japan.

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Hello fellow tea-drinkers! I know, I haven’t been active for a really, really long time (like a few months, oof) but I promise I didn’t forget ya! I have just been super busy. In case you didn’t already know, I’m a senior in high school so these past few months have been pretty chaotic, with applying to colleges and what-not. All of that (plus adjusting back into the new year and other family occurrences) has sucked up most of my free time.

I am now finally in a place where I can relax, take some time to myself and enjoy some tea so I decided to sit down and write a proper tea review for you.

Now a few months ago I tried my first Japanese dark tea, a particularly interesting one at that called awa bancha (阿波番茶). It was from the Furyu Bancha Specialty Shop and sold through Yunomi. I was shocked by how different it was from any tea I had tasted, and I assume it’s because it was fermented through a lactic acid bacterial fermentation process, which is very uncommon with Chinese dark tea.

The tea I am trying today is a bit of a hybrid: it’s fermented with lactic acid fermentation like its cousin, awa bancha however it is also piled and cured with mold, like a Chinese dark tea (ex. fu cha).

This tea is called goishicha (番茶碁石茶). The name refers to the tea’s resemblance to the black stones of “go”, a traditional Japanese game. This tea also comes from the Furyu Bancha Specialty Shop and was sourced through Yunomi however it has its origins in the small town of Otoyo in Kochi Prefecture, located in the south-central area of Shikoku Island.

Otoyo is a quaint town of less than 5,000 people, and it is currently the only place in Japan where this tea is still actively made. The practice of making it almost died, actually however thanks to government funding it was brought back and consumption has been increasing.

Goishicha has long been a a staple of people living on the small islands in the Seto Inland Sea, the sea located in the central region in between Kyushu, Honshu, and Shikoku. They use it there to make chagayu, a rice porridge boiled in tea. 

So, with the history covered, let’s get on to the tasting! Yunomi’s directions said to brew one block of the tea for 5 minutes in 360ml of water. 

So I brought out my tried and true left-handed kyusu (which has mostly been brewing homemade hojicha lately) and I brewed it up!

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The dry blocks of goishicha are very unusual in terms of their smell. The first notes are of sweet dried fruit, like a dried apricot or plum. A punch of sourness and a hint of medicinal herbs come through, making it smell a lot like traditional Chinese preserved fruits. It ends with savory notes of soy sauce as more earthy, fungal notes creep up. I would say that the smell is similar in pungency to something like sakuraya, which are sakura (cherry blossoms) preserved in salt that I like to add to my sencha sometimes (of course the scent profile is completely different, though). 

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The steeped leaves smell quite similar to the dry leaves, with the familiar sour-sweet notes of dried fruit coming through with significant pungency. The only major difference I can detect is a noticeable lack of the earthy, woody notes I experienced in the dry leaves; it’s mostly just sourness.

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The tea itself smells quite light in contrast to the intense smells of the dry and steeped leaves. There is a light, savory soy sauce scent coupled with an earthy, vegetal smell akin to dry grass. The intense sour smell from before isn’t nearly as present here.

The flavor is quite mild and extremely smooth. At first there’s a light, lemony sourness, which is immediately balanced out by earthier notes that are reminiscent of tree bark and wet wood. Umami notes of soy sauce sneak through before the tea finishes on a light, honeyed sweetness which reminds me unusually of the tapioca balls in boba tea. There is no astringency or bitterness whatsoever, and as you drink it the sourness starts to dissipate and become less noticeable.

I decided to push this tea a little bit so I left it in the pot for some more time. This produced a sourer brew with a hint of astringency. The wet wood notes were significantly stronger than the previous, and the sweetness at the end was more pronounced.

I immediately transferred what was left in my kyusu to a glass and put it in the fridge, since Yunomi recommended drinking the tea chilled to even out the sourness. When it’s cold, the sourness does even out quite a bit and the taste rounds itself out as well. I think this would be very cooling and refreshing in the summer, but since it’s November and I’m cold I think I’ll stick to drinking it hot for now.

I quite enjoy the sourness, I think it compliments the wet wood notes very nicely. This tea is actually very similar to the awa bancha I had, but I definitely prefer this because it combines the sourness of awa bancha with the woody, earthier notes of a Chinese heicha.

I tried to think of a Chinese heicha that was similar to this, and what I immediately thought of was Tibetan kang zhuan, since that heicha tends to be less earthy and more woody in flavor.

Overall, I enjoyed this tea a lot. I am definitely want to look into some more Japanese dark teas, like mimasaka bancha or batabatacha because I need to broaden my non-Chinese dark tea horizons.

Rating: 9/10
From: Furyu Bancha Specialty Shop, sourced from Yunomi.life
Otoyo Town, Kochi Prefecture, Shikoku Island, Japan

 

South Korea ~ 2015 Jangheung Joongjak Aged Tea Coins | TeasUnique

Today I’ll be trying a very interesting dark tea from South Korea.

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Hey y’all! I am back again with a very interesting tea and I’m very excited about it.

Today I am trying…

KOREAN DARK TEA!

Yes! You read it correctly. Now, if you have been following this blog and/or my instagram you will know that I am a very avid hei cha (dark tea) lover so when I found this I kind of freaked out.

Korean teas are kind of overlooked in the tea world, yet Korean tea is something I have been very interested in exploring for a long time. A vast majority of the tea that comes out of Korea (in this case, South Korea) is green tea, so this is a nice changeup.

Most of the non-puerh dark tea you can find is hei cha, or Chinese dark tea – these are the varieties like tian jian, liu an, liu bao, fu zhuan, kang zhuan, qian/shi liang, and many more. Although these constitute a lot of the dark tea market there are some dark teas available from other regions.

Pu-erh style teas from Chinese border regions like Myanmar and Laos must be classified as dark tea, since they’re not from Yunnan but they are nearly identical to pu-erh.

After those teas you get to some real interesting stuff – the dark teas of Japan and as of today, Korea. I’ve had a dark tea from Japan before and it was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted, so naturally I was very excited to see what Korea has to offer.

Dark tea has a surprisingly long history in Korea – commonly pressed into cakes, a fermented tea known as tteokcha or byeongcha was very popular in a premodern, united Korea. A very common form of tteokcha was called doncha or cheong tae jeon – small cakes with holes in the middle to look like coins.

That’s what tea I am enjoying today – cheong tae jeon. This particular tea was picked in 2015. It’s joongjak grade, which means it’s the third flush. This tea is from Jangheung County in South Jeolla Province, in the southwest of the country.

I found this interesting tea on TeasUnique, a website specializing in Korean tea. They are quite pricey ($25 for roughly 18g of tea) but you are paying for not only the tea but for the novelty of having a dark tea from Korea and the experience of brewing it, which I will get into later.

So, without further ado, on to the tasting!

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The coins arrived in a little pink bag and inside of the bag was a silver zip pouch with three little wrapped coins inside. Each coin is wrapped in white paper with Korean writing on it (both hangul and hanja) and a gold seal on top.

Upon opening the package the coins came in, I took a whiff before unwrapping one. The first thing that came to my mind was fu cha (fu brick tea), a hei cha from Hunan Province in China. It had the yeasty, slightly mushroomy scent coupled with a lightly smoky, tobacco scent very common to fu cha. The only difference is that these coins had a light, sweet, honeyed smell that reminded me of beeswax candles.

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Next I unwrapped the coin. It has a little hole in the middle and it didn’t feel super dense so I don’t believe it was super compressed (Thank goodness because I’ve injured myself several times trying to break apart overly compressed qian liang). The unwrapped coin smells a little grassier than it did with the wrapper on – it’s a little more hay-like and it reminds me of the hay I used to feed my guinea pigs as a child.

TeasUnique recommended that I roast the coin lightly for a few minutes before brewing. I was very excited at that suggestion because that meant I could use my hojiki (Japanese tea roaster) in another blog post!

Seriously though, aside from how hot the handle gets when roasting this hojiki is doing me very well. I don’t think I have had such copious amounts of hojicha in so little time before.

I was a little sad though because the coin is too big to pour through the handle of the roaster.

When I first started roasting the coin it didn’t smell like much but soon enough things got going and my entire kitchen smelled very interesting – intense notes of roasted spice (like  cinnamon) with the earthiness of ginseng, toasted nuts, and a grassy/earthy tobacco smell. It was a lot like if you were to cross hojicha and fu brick tea.

Next, TeasUnique said bring 1 liter of water to a boil, add the coin, and boil it for 7-10 minutes (I ended up boiling it for 10).

When I was boiling the tea, a dominant scent coming off the pot was a toasted grain smell, very reminiscent of roasted barley tea (called mugicha in Japan and boricha in Korea).

What’s weird though is that when I poured the tea out after 10 minutes the bottom of the pan smelled like cooked sugar – kind of like cotton candy.

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The steeped leaves however definitely smell a lot like the hojicha/fu cha cross smell of the roasted leaves. Lots of intense, roasted nutty notes dominate with the earthy-grassy scent of tobacco.

I was confused yet again upon smelling the tea because it smelled almost nothing like the steeped leaves – it smelled like barley tea.

And it tastes like it too! It’s rather light but it has quite a pronounced flavor of roasted barley. There are some slight differences though – there is some subtle fruitiness lingering in the back of the throat, along with a malty, chocolatey flavor. Just like the dark tea I tried from Japan, this is unlike any tea (I’m talking true tea here, not herbal teas like barley) I’ve ever had before.

I do enjoy it a lot – it’s a nice change up from other teas and it’s actually quite mild and smooth considering what you have to go through to brew it. I definitely think that the roasting/boiling process though is the most fun part of this and if you’re looking to try a tea that’s more novel and unusual I would definitely recommend this.

Rating: 9/10 (an extra point because I got to use my hojiki)
From: TeasUnique
Jangheung County, South Jeolla Province, South Korea

Japan ~ Furyu Awa Bancha | Yunomi

Today I’ll be tasting awa bancha, a dark tea from Japan.

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Hello all! Sorry I’ve been MIA for a while, finals have been coming up and I was studying like craaazzyy.

Anyways, I’m back with another tea review and I’m very excited, since I will be tasting a dark (post-fermented) tea from Japan.

I’ve seen several Japanese dark teas around so I bought a few (reviews coming soon) and this is one of them. This particular dark tea is called awa bancha (阿波晩茶).

Awa bancha is produced traditionally in Tokushima Prefecture, on the eastern side of the island of Shikoku. This tea was produced there but sourced from a tea shop (Furyu Bancha Specialty Shop) in Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu.

So what sets this tea apart from, say, a Chinese dark tea? Well, it’s all about the fermentation. While Chinese teas are piled to encourage fermentation by mold (very noticeable in something like a Fu brick tea), this dark tea is fermented with lactic acid fermentation, like the processing of milk into yogurt.

It’s quite mundane in it’s production, however. Mature leaves are picked, the leaves are rubbed by hand or through a machine, and then they are left in a bucket to ferment.

So, let’s get on to the tasting. I brewed this tea up in a 360ml kyusu pot with boiling water.

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The dry leaves are giant, and they almost remind me of dry leaves you would see walking in a forest here in New York. They smell a little earthy but mostly tangy and slightly fruity, like dried hibiscus tea. There are slight floral notes reminiscent of rose. Now that I think about it, the fruity scent is a lot like umeboshi (pickled plums).

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The steeped leaves smell like nothing I’ve ever smelled before. There are light, wet leaf notes along with an umami scent of soy sauce. There is also a distinguishable toasted rice scent throughout.

The tea has the distinctive umeboshi scent of the dry leaves however it mostly smells like wet leaves. The smell, unusually, reminds me a lot of aged white tea (particularly the aged shou mei I recently reviewed).

Upon tasting the tea, the first flavor is a soft, subtle taste of wet forest floor. There is a little sweetness along with light notes of vanilla. It ends on a distinctive sourness which is a little unusual but not overpowering or anything. It’s quite crisp and fresh and has a very light, watery texture. Overall, it tastes kind of like if sour plum was added to an aged shou mei. I steeped it again and it tasted very similar, but the earthy notes became a little more pronounced and a subtle, piney flavor really enhanced the umeboshi notes I was getting.

Overall, this is a very interesting tea. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever had but since it’s so bizarre I would love to explore some more Japanese dark teas. I’ve also seen some Korean dark tea out there so I will definitely be snagging some of that to review in the next month or two.

Rating: 8/10
From: Yunomi Tea
Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku Island, Japan

China ~ 1980s Chong Shi Cha (Insect Feces Tea) | Chawang Shop

Today I’ll be reviewing an interesting dark tea from Guangxi made from insect feces.

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Hello all! I am back once again with a tea review and this one is incredible.

I was doing a little research about heicha since I love it so much and I came across something called “chong shi cha”, which directly translates to worm tea or worm dropping tea.

Yes, you read that right.

This tea is made with insect feces.

As soon as I read that I became very interested and I searched around until I found it on Chawang Shop. They had two (one from Sichuan and one from Guangxi) but the Sichuan was sold out.

The one I was able to buy was made in the 1980s by an ethnic minority group in Guangxi and was commonly exported to Hong Kong, Macau, and populations of overseas Chinese (ex. Singapore and Malaysia) due to its supposed health benefits.

The method of making this tea is very interesting – medicinal herbs and old tea leaves are put in a bamboo basket and left to ferment. The scent of the fermenting tea and herbs attracts insects, which lay their eggs in the basket. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the leaves and leave their droppings in the basket.

The droppings are taken out and sun-dried, and then fried with tea leaves and honey to finalize it for consumption.

Now, I’ve never eaten feces before (nor have I ever wanted to) but this tea was too interesting for me to not buy it. So I ordered it and in a few weeks I received it and immediately got my gaiwan ready to taste it.

As recommended by Chawang Shop, I steeped a few grams of it with 100 degrees Celsius water.

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The dry leaves (or I guess droppings in this case) are very, very small and pellet-shaped. They are even smaller than CTC black teas. The droppings smell very, very earthy and almost exactly like a lake – intense notes of soil and a very present mineral quality of wet rocks. It’s actually kind of nostalgic for me since it reminds me of swimming in lakes as a kid.

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The steeped leaves droppings smell like an old, dusty garage (I know, it sounds great). Very intense rocky notes are present with a little smokiness and a slight hint of leather.

The tea itself smells a lot like the dry droppings – it’s got that intense wet shale and soil scent that is almost exactly like lake water.

The taste of the tea, though, is very interesting. The first steep is full of intense shale flavors and at first it is a lot like drinking lake water, but I can definitely taste some other, more herby flavors that I assume are from the medicinal herbs put into the basket during production. There are hints of spice like clove and cinnamon with a subtle note of camphor. There is a very light note of sandalwood as well. A second steep was much darker (I may have brewed it too long) and it looked almost exactly like a shou pu-erh. The flavor was similar to the first steep but there were some more pronounced woody notes than in the first steep.

Overall, I actually did like this tea however it was a little intense (I think I would use less leaf and shorter steep times next time). Chawang Shop recommends adding a little of this tea to your liu bao which I personally think is a great idea and that’s probably what I will do with the rest of it.

I think this tea tastes a lot like a liu bao as well and it’s actually quite smooth and cooling. I would definitely recommend trying this, because it’s probably one of the most unusual teas out there and it actually tastes quite nice.

Rating: 10/10 (an extra point for being very novel and fun)
From: Chawang Shop
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China

China ~ 1992 Tibetan Kang Brick Tea | Yunnan Sourcing

Today I’ll be reviewing a Tibetan kang brick tea from Guizhou, China.

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Hello! Today I am back with a classic tea review, and this particular review will be quite interesting (at least for me) since I’m tasting a heicha that I’ve never had before.

As you may know, heichas (dark teas) are some of my favorite teas. I find their methods of processing and archaic nature fascinating, and I’m always looking for new varieties to taste.

I’ve had my fair share of Chinese dark tea, as well – I frequently drink fu cha (fu brick tea) and liu bao is my favorite tea of all time. Pu-erh, of course, is in its own category entirely.

Anyways, today’s tea is a kang zhuan cha, or Tibetan brick tea.

Tibetan brick tea originates in the Chinese Tang dynasty, where tea had recently become popular for recreational consumption. A vast majority of teas were compressed for an ease of transport. These compressed bricks were sometimes used as currency on the Silk Road, and they were transported West via yak on caravans.

These bricks are still consumed in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and Ladakh as a beverage and as a source of nutrients, as the tea is often combined with freshly-churned yak butter to make po cha (or suja in Bhutan).

Most Tibetan bricks of today are produced in the city of Ya’an in western Sichuan Province and moved West for the Tibetan market, however this particular tea was produced in a smaller tea factory in Guizhou.

These bricks were stored in a family home in Tibet for over 10 years, where they’ve slowly been aging since 1992.

So, with the backstory covered, let’s move on to the tasting!

As usual, I brewed this tea in a 150ml gaiwan at 200 degrees Fahrenheit. I gave it a quick two rinses first and then began steeping it regularly. (Also you may notice a slight change in scenery in the pictures since I had this tea session outside).

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The dry leaves of this tea don’t smell like much, which is quite contrary to what I was expecting. I was expecting a strong, earthy punch like a fu cha. The scent is rather subtle and it possesses a slight earthiness (analogous to dry soil) along with an interesting twist of sweet vanilla and honey.

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The steeped leaves smell much more intense – very earthy (yet not grassy like a fu cha). The scent is a lot like wet tree bark with light vanilla undertones yet again.

The tea itself smells lightly woodsy and is reminiscent of an aged white tea.

The first steep after the rinses was quite light in flavor. The first taste is a smooth, woody flavor distinctly reminiscent of wet tree bark. A subtle sweetness comes through in the back with a vanilla undertone. There is a slight mineral component as well, with notes of wet sedimentary rock such as shale giving the tea a crisp, clean finish. A second steep emphasizes the notes of wet bark even more, introducing a stronger flavor and a slight textural change (it becomes a little crisper and more analogous to water). There is a slight aftertaste present here that reminds me of an old garage on a rainy day. Further steeps round out those wet rock flavors as the tea becomes a little more delicate and tastes a lot like fresh mountain spring water – full of bright crispness with a noticeable note of earth at the end. The flavor, to me, is a lot like an aged shoumei white tea.

Overall, this is a very interesting tea (and I mean that in a good way). It’s got the earthiness of a liu bao with the vanilla undertones of an aged shou mei, which I think is a lovely combination. I will definitely look into purchasing an entire brick of this because although it is $80 it is 450g which will last me a while.

Rating: 9/10
From: Yunnan Sourcing
Processed in Guizhou Province, Stored in Xizang (Tibet) Autonomous Region, China

China ~ 2002 Aged Wild Liu Bao Tea | Yunnan Sourcing

Today I’m reviewing a liu bao dark tea from Guangxi Province in China.

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Hey everyone! I’ve been in absentia for the past week and a half since I’ve had to work a lot and travel to see family however I’m back reviewing another tea. I’m very excited for this one as well because it’s a liu bao tea.

Liu bao, if you don’t know already, is a variety of hei cha (dark tea) produced in Guangxi Province of China. Liu bao starts off as a black tea, however it is fermented throughout its aging process and then packed into baskets so it can be transported and sold.

According to livingtea.net, liu bao experienced a huge increase in consumption during the 1980s when massive quantities of the tea were sent to Malaysia for the Chinese immigrant workers. Only recently has liu bao had a major resurgence.

Now, my favorite type of tea is hei cha and you may not know this but my favorite type of hei cha is liu bao. I discovered liu bao tea when I was first exploring the world of dark tea and I’ve loved it ever since.

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The dry leaves are mostly whole and there are definitely some noticeable stems and twigs in the mix. As soon as I smelled the leaves, the first thing that came to mind was that of beets. Not the sweet scent you would associate with cooked beets but the earthy, soil-like scent of fresh beets. There are also slight vegetal notes that are reminiscent of sweet corn and a damp leaf scent that is commonly found in wet logs.

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The steeped leaves smell quite different – the soil notes of the dry leaves are transformed into a damp, mineral scent that is almost exactly like wet shale rock. It smells a lot like an underground root cellar, with damp soil scents present as well. There are even noticeable hints of leather and a touch of smoke.

The tea, when brewed, smells dark and woody like wet wood and has the earthy scent of fresh root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and beets.

The tea is silky and smooth in texture, which is common to aged hei cha. It tastes first of a vegetal flavor akin to cooked corn, which is then followed by earthy flavors of a forest floor with wet wood notes being very prominent. There are light, piney and rosemary notes that shine through a little as well. It ends on a mineral, wet shale flavor much like the smell of the steeped leaves. Further steeps bring out the earthy and mineral notes even more and it begins to taste almost like fresh spring water – with a distinct crispness along with the soil, mineral flavor that you would get from a lake fed by groundwater.

Overall, This is an amazing tea, and probably the best liu bao I’ve had. It’s flavor evokes memories of the lakes, streams, and forests of where I grew up here in Upstate NY and I absolutely adore it. This will be a fantastic addition to my tea collection and I’m going to search for even older liu bao teas to see how the flavor changes with age.

Rating: 10/10
From: Yunnan Sourcing
Wuzhou County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China

Myanmar ~ 2014 Sen Zhi Kui Kokang Raw Dark Tea | What-Cha

Today I’ll be reviewing a 2014 raw dark tea from the Kokang region of Myanmar’s Shan State.

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It’s still snowing here in the middle of nowhere, so I’ve just been hiding inside, reading books, and of course drinking tea so it’s a perfect time to do a tea review.

Today’s review is of my favorite type of tea in the world: heicha.

Heicha (or dark tea) is the classification of post-fermented teas that encompasses the widely-known pu-erh tea but there is a lot more out there that is so intriguing to me because of how unusual it is.

Pu-erh is fantastic in its own right, but what I love about heicha is how complex it is, how unusual it is – there are dark teas from all over Asia and even Africa and they all taste completely different. I love finding new dark tea from different countries and trying new things like Japanese goishicha or dark tea from Yunnan’s border regions like Laos and Myanmar.

Hence the tea I shall review today.

Today’s tea is a 2014 raw dark tea from the Kokang region of Myanmar’s Shan State (the country’s biggest tea producing region). Kokang is a largely Chinese region as it used to be a part of China, and the Chinese people living there have brought their tea making traditions with them. This tea is made in the style of pu-erh, however it cannot be classified as such because it is not from Yunnan Province.

I got this tea as a sample from What-Cha, but I’ve also seen it on Yunnan Sourcing (however Yunnan Sourcing identifies it as a pu-erh).

I wish I knew what farm or tea plantation produced this tea because I love having that knowledge and feeling a little closer to who made my tea, but otherwise I’m super excited to try this.

For this tea, I brewed the first steep at 190 degrees and slowly increased the temperature upon each steep.

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The dry leaves smell dark, woodsy, and very earthy – much like the smell of a forest after it rains.

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The steeped leaves smell a lot like the dry leaves, but a little stronger and more vegetal notes come out. There are some light, sweet, and woodsy notes along with a distinctive grassy, nutty scent that I associate with Chinese green teas.

The smell of the brewed tea definitely retains the light, sweet, and woodsy scent of the leaves but it lacks the vegetal, green tea-like scent I noticed before. The aroma is very much like damp leaves or hay.

The taste of the tea is a subtle, earthy flavor that transitions into a quite vegetal taste that reminds me a lot of Kashmiri green tea. It’s a little smoky and has the slightest note of astringency but it isn’t drying at all. The flavor is significantly reminiscent of wet leaves or hay. The aftertaste of the tea is very subtle, and has some of the woodsy flavors of a shou pu-erh tea along with the vegetal flavors of a green tea. As I re-steeped it, it gradually lost flavor but the flavor did shift to become a lot lighter and sweeter, and it lost some of its earthy flavors and retained the wet hay flavor I mentioned before.

Overall, this is quite an unusual tea, and I did not expect to get green tea notes from this at all. It’s a very interesting dark tea, and the novelty of it being from Myanmar is also pretty cool. As far as heicha goes, this is a very solid tea and I would definitely consider buying a full bing of this if I had extra money to spend.

Now that I think about it this tea tastes remarkably similar to a tea I found at a Burmese grocery store about a year ago – that tea had no labels so I didn’t know what kind of tea it was and the store owner just told me it was “sun-dried tea”. The wet hay flavor in that was very much the same as the wet hay flavor in this tea. I’m definitely going to go back to that market, order another sample of this heicha, and do a comparison because I believe that tea I tried a year ago may have been a dark tea.

Rating: 8/10
From: What-Cha
Kokang Region, Shan State, Myanmar