As whined about previously
, Floating Leaves
has run out of last year’s supply of (sob!) my favorite tea. This, of course, was not unexpected. Tea is produced from an annual harvest, and tea purveyors purchase limited amounts each year. We want fresh, flavorful leaves, and part of the wonderful experience of tea drinking comes from the changes in leaf from region to region and harvest to harvest. Still, my favorite tea had a particular aroma that I continue to crave, a flavor that woke me up in the mornings, that held steadfast through my sleepy bumbling fingers and tendency toward oversteeping, and that always elicited an “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” with the first sip.
Floating Leaves has replenished their stock with a new Yunnan Gold after an annual buying trip. While excellent, the new tea doesn’t have the deep cocoa character that I so loved. I have enough left of last year’s yunnan gold for about two small potfuls, but those are being saved for some day that needs a special boost.
I fully intend to replace my old favorite with a new one. To that end, I’ve been ordering small amounts (and occasionally not-so-small amounts) of golden yunnan teas. A side benefit to all of this tasting is that I’ve learned quite a bit about the overall characteristics and the range of golden yunnans. Perhaps most importantly, I’m coming to recognize the two different ends to the flavor spectrum – my terms for these are “vegetable” and “cocoa.” Both can have an earthy foundation with a fern/moss underlying the tea, and often there's a good bite of pepper in the aftertaste, but an overtone pulls them in one distinct direction or the other.
Vegetable: The “vegetable” taste is not usually to my liking, although I suspect it is desirable to others. There’s a sort of cabbage or asparagus flavor that comes through, both in aroma and flavor. Those are favorite foods of mine, so it’s a bit surprising that I don’t like that taste in the tea. It’s possible this flavor just combines in a bad way with the water here in the verdant Pacific Northwest. I’ve noticed that the flavor diminishes when using a brita filter rather than straight tap water, and that certain times of the year tend to bring (what is to me) undesirable flavor to the forefront. However, it’s not just the water, for I can usually smell the vegetable aroma on the dry leaves before brewing.
Cocoa: The other end is what I identify as having notes of unsweetened cocoa (like the powdered cocoa used in baking). The height of perfection is when this cocoa combines with pepper. It produces what others refer to as a smoky maple flavor, but for me it is more familiar as the smooth sauce of a Mexican mole. The cocoa-pepper-mole is the special flavor that wakes me up and gets me going in the morning.
Comparison of 7 Golden Yunnans
This comparison only includes teas newly sampled in the past month, so there are a few good golden yunnans not listed here (most notably those from TeaSpring and TeaSource). There are also many good tea shops I have yet to try. If you have a suggestion for a wonderful golden yunnan with cocoa-maple-mole overtones, please post a comment!
My criteria: The leaf should be thin, strong, with a quick twist that gives it a needle-like appearance. Leaves are gold, not just black with a few gold tips. The teas I most often prefer have leaves that are quite long. They fluff together with other leaves, and there's an airy, spongy feeling in the fingers when holding a pinch of them together. Often, the leaf is downey and accompanied by a dust or powder that coats the inside of the tea container. This powder is what I think of as “cocoa,” and it produces a wonderful aroma when first opening a packet or canister. The liquid should be a clear, strong gold (with just a hint of verdigris when milk is added). And, yes, I personally want the tea to hold up to a splash of milk, since I like milk in my morning cuppa. Occasionally, however, this a late night comfort drink for me, which means that my perfect golden yunnan should also hold up to the 30-second decaffeinating process.
Preparation: boiling water, one big heaping tablespoon of tea brewed for 3 minutes in a small Chatsford. Each tea was sampled on at least two different occasions.
In Pursuit of Tea's Royal Yunnan, new batch, and it seems to be just a bit different from what I purchased in Febuary. So far, this is the one with the best dusting of cocoa, although it’s not quite as nice as last year’s Floating Leaves’. I do like the sweet tones to this tea, sort of a honey or maybe maple flavor that is very appealing. This is great with milk.
Floating Leaves’ Yunnan Gold, now that I’m not all disappointed in the lack of heavy “cocoa powder” dusting the leaves, I'm finding this is a very good tea, with many of the elements I seek in a golden yunnan. There’s just a tiny hint of pepper, it’s got the sweet quality that I expect, and it has an almost smoky aroma that sortofkindofalmostbutnotquite fools me into thinking of the cocoa powder of the previous batch. As it cools in the cup, the pepper aftertaste really strengthens. This and the IPOT tea are the ones I'm most likely to grab in the morning.
Adagio, Yunnan Gold, on the earthy end – no cocoa or peppery tones really (just a really subtle hint in the aftertaste). This tea needs more leaf in the pot than I gave the first time around. Once I got the amount right, I found that it’s good basic tea that holds up very well to de-caffing. A side note about Adagio – amazingly fast shipment, less than 48 hours from order to being at my door!
Jing Tea, Yunnan Gold, the fragrance is of late summer, indeed it reminds me of the smell of a mowed hayfield drying in the sun. After the first time, I increased the steeping time to 4 minutes and added a pinch more leaves to the pot. I wanted it to be stronger, but perhaps that isn't really what it needs. I'm still experimenting because the secret to this tea isn't unlocked for me yet, but so far my impressions are of drying grass and meadows and hay. No cocoa in evidence, but no vegetable hints either. Oh, and there's a pronounced peppery finish.
Te Tea, Yunnan Golden Supreme: smaller leaf, cocoa aroma in the dust but the notes don’t come through with brewing. There is a solid earthiness that develops more strongly as the tea cools. There’s just a hint of pepper. I prefer this to their Golden Needle Supreme.
Te Tea, Golden Needle Supreme, There's a nice hint of cocoa powder with the dry leaf, but oddly, this one ends up with a vegetable taste. It brewed up much differently than I expected. As it cools, a peppery aftertaste emerges quite strongly. I find it to have a very delicate flavor, and it’s perhaps a bit lackluster for me. Better without milk. Not good decaffed.
Imperial Tea Court, Yunnan Gold, I really want to like this tea; in fact, I fully expected to love it. Unfortunately, although I’ve tried it several times, it is just not my preferred aroma and flavor. This is a vegetable-tasting tea – could smell that strong asparagus scent as soon as opening the bag, and I actually cussed in frustration. So, now I have some really expensive tea that someone else is sure to love. Time for me to find a friend with oppposite tastes, so we can hand-off teas to each other!
Standard Disclaimer: Just a customer, not employed by any of these companies.