by Olivia Miller on October 10th, 2016
This year we have brought back two favourites from the Tea Club to feature in our seasonal tea range. Tara’s Offering and Spring Blossom – two exceptional Darjeelings from the Samabeong Estate. Both are First Flush, both are from the same garden; but each has its own distinctive character. Our Head of Tea Ali has done a comparative tasting of the teas for us.
If you would like to taste along, we’re offering you £5 off when you buy one each of the two Darjeelings. Use code SAMABEONG at the checkout.
One of the perks of working at a tea company is getting to taste hundreds and hundreds of different teas a year. Luckily, we work with a lot of excellent estates and farmers, so the tricky part is having too many good teas to choose from and not being able to list them all. Each tea we sell has been thoroughly evaluated and compared against other teas of its type. When tasting and comparing teas it’s not just about the taste, we have to evaluate the dry leaf, wet leaf and liquor. It’s about how it looks, smells and tastes – each tea has to have the whole package!
It is essential, when comparing teas that they are brewed in exactly the same way, so that they are on a level playing field. If you want to try this comparative tasting yourself, I brewed:
3g of tea in a 250 ml teapot at 95’C for 3 minutes (it’s best to brew it a bit stronger than usual so you can draw out all of the flavours). Read all the way to the end to find out which I preferred!
At a glance
Dry Leaf Evaluation
First we start with the dry leaf. I like to smell it when it is still in the packet: stick your nose right in and breathe in the aroma. What does it smell like? Is it sweet, savoury, smoky, woody, floral, vegetal, fruity…? Can you pick out any specifics? Then pour out some leaf out into a little container. What does it look like? What colour, shape and size are the leaves?
The aroma of the dry leaf is very sweet, exotic and fruity, like dried dates. The leaves are elegant, long and twisted; mostly dark green with some less oxidised, lighter green leaves and some silvery buds.
Spring Blossom has a cleaner, more savoury aroma than Tara’s. It’s reminiscent of a fresh wood stack. The leaves are still elegant and twisted, but they are smaller than the Tara’s Offering. There are still silvery tips and lighter green leaves, but the majority of them are a browner tone.
Wet leaf Evaluation
Next we move on to the wet leaf. Pour off the liquor into your jug or cup, then lift the lid of your teapot, gaiwan or cupping set, to your nose and inhale… all the beautiful aromas are trapped here. Once that aroma dissipates, you’re going to have to stick your nose into the pot. Again, make note of what you smell. How do the leaves look? How has the colour and shape changed? Have the leaves broken up during the brewing or have they stayed intact?
Brewing the leaves further releases those sweet aromas. The smell is very sugary with notes of vanilla and madeira cake; there are also hints of fresh hay, wild flowers and grape juice. The wet leaf is full of vibrant green tones with a few light brown leaves. They have maintained their integrity during the brewing and you see lots of slender, elegant leaves and buds.
The Spring Blossom is much more sophisticated and perfumed; it is minerally and lightly honeyed with a light apple skin fragrance – it reminds me of being in a very expensive Copenhagen interior design store. The leaves have also held up well to brewing, but are more of a darker green khaki tone.
Finally we move on to the liquor. Firstly, we need to look at the clarity and the colour- the best way to judge this is either in a glass or white ceramic and make sure you have plenty of natural light. Again, get your nose right in and inhale deeply. What do you smell? Some teas have incredibly perfumed liquor, some not so much.
Finally, we get to the taste! You are best taking it from a very small tasting cup or from a spoon (ceramic if you have it), quickly slurp a small amount of tea into your mouth (don’t worry about the sound) then hold it in there. Draw some air in through the tea like you are sucking on a straw (you’ve probably seen wine tasters do this). This aerates the tea and ensures it gets to all areas on the mouth. Then swallow, keep your mouth closed and breathe out through the nose; this allows you to taste retro-nasally. What do you taste? Is it fruity, sweet, woody, spicy etc? Can you be more specific? Also, pay attention to the mouthfeel (the texture). Is it creamy, is it thick, is it vibrant (tingly) is it astringent (drying)?
The liquor has a lovely clarity with a shiny, bright orange liquor. It doesn’t have a particularly strong aroma, it is soft and sweet, slightly fruity. The flavour is very unusual for a First Flush Darjeeling, it’s reminiscent of a Silver Needle, but identifiably a Darjeeling. The tea is sweet, juicy and full of flavours of white grape and lily. It has a notably thick mouthfeel which coats and dances around the mouth. This tea also has what the Chinese would describe as a good Hui Gan, a long lingering sweetness which clings to the back of the throat (like when you eat lots of toffees).
In terms of appearance and aroma, Spring Blossom is not that different from the Tara’s Offering, so there is nothing unusual to note here. This is really a superb example of a First Flush Darjeeling; it has a great minerality – full of flint and pebbles which leads into a soft honeyed sweetness (this tea certainly softens and sweetens as it cools). It has a very vibrant mouthfeel, with a light spicy tingle on the tip of the tongue.
I love both of the teas, they are both as good as it gets for Darjeeling. The Spring Blossom is a bright, refreshing tea; an exemplary first flush. The Tara’s Offering is more unusual, more of a treat. Ultimately it’s subjective; it’s all about what you enjoy. But if I had to pick, Tara’s my girl!
Do you want to taste along with Ali? We’re offering you £5 off when you buy one each of the two Darjeelings. Use code SAMABEONG at the checkout.