Saturday, April 16, 2011

Teatotalers Tea Review Tally: Woohoo Wuyi

Each month, LP and I meet for brunch at Esselon Coffee in Hadley, Massachusetts in order to “collect data” in our quest to find our favorite tea on their extensive tea menu. After years of saying to each other, “Which one is the tea I love?” (to which the other responded, “I dunno. Which tea do I love?”) we finally decided to ferret out our prize once and for all by taste-testing all the teas. Therefore, LP and I can be found at Esselon one early-afternoon each month engaging in thoroughly highly scientific, thoroughly ridiculously subjective research. 

The Mildly Linear Rating System (from worst to best):

Must Flee---Sorry---Oh Gee---Good Tea---Glee---(subcategories: Glee-Teehee and Glee-Jamboree)---Yippee!

The Tea Tasting Results:

Organic Wuyi Oolong: Rating – Glee-Jamboree (Pam), Glee-Teehee (LP)
One sniff of the Wuyi Oolong and I knew just what I was smelling; however, it took LP a longer time to register.

"What IS that smell?" she said. I watched her eyes blink as her brain cycled through memories. A familiar scent. Go back. Go way back. Not that far. Ok…there.

Fearful lest she expire from frustrated mental effort, I cut to the chase, “It’s pot. Mary Jane. Weed.”

“You’re right!” LP’s face alit in recognition. “It’s a good bud.”

Wuyi smelled exactly like a green, sticky, hairy bud (not that I’ve ever smelled such a thing.) I instantly had pleasant flashbacks of sweatpants, The Talking Heads, brownies, and a room full of Smithies (not that I ever smoked a sticky bowl in college.) The flavor was quite tasty. Not at all tea-ish, but enjoyably different.

“It’s the only tea you get cottonmouth as you’re drinking!” I exclaimed.

I would definitely hang with Wuyi again. Party on, Garth.

Organic Fair Trade Pu-erh Tuo Cha:  Rating - Must flee! (both)

We had high hopes for Pu-erh Tuo Cha as our server breathily declared it to be her new favorite tea. But I could tell by the first sniff that Houston we had a problem.

“Oh, we are in the swamp land now,” LP said squinching up her nose. “Oh oh oh….” She flung her head from side to side unable to find the words. “It’s like Chinese soup.”
LP sippin' the fishy brew

“What ‘chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?!” I demanded as I grasped the tea from her and took a deep sniff. “Holy crap. It’s a Japanese fish market.”

I gamely took a cup of it before proclaiming it disgusting and undrinkable, though LP really wanted to give it a fair shot as she tried to “milk this fish” by adding creamer. To no avail. That was some nastyass tea. We seriously considered a mix up behind the tea counter. Maybe they ground up some three day-old flounder by mistake?

Pu-erh? They got it right with the first two letters: P.U.

Jasmine OolongRating – Glee-Teehee (me), Oh Gee (LP)

I am the green tea gal of the duo. LP, she’s a black tea lover. However I must insert the disclaimer that I veered from our tea sensei dominatrix’s recommendation for her #1 favorite green tea (that prize spot is reserved forEmperor’s Clouds & Mist…and with a name like that, why shouldn’t it be?) Please forgive me for I simply could not choose another tea after our tea dominatrix introduced us to Miss Jasmine Oolong with a thigh-high leather boot-flavored overture in the voice of the tea, “Hi, I’m Jasmine,” said our tea dominatrix in a husky voice. “Oh yeah, we’re drinking some tea.” (There was an unspoken “bitch” at the end of that command.)

LP was underwhelmed with this tea, but as I said she’s not a green tea fan. When questioning her tea-making approach to this tea vs. our tea dominatrix’s instruction, LP became surly, “Maybe I’m not putting enough tea in my ball, but screw her.”

Damn. If you’re reading this, tea dominatrix, I do not condone nor support such talk around tea.

Nine Dragon Golden Needle (black) Rating – Yippee! (both)

“That’s the puppy,” LP crooned when getting a noseful of Nine Dragon Golden Needle. We loved the woody loveliness. “A buncha bancha,” said LP referring to a Japanese tea. “It’s like lickin’ a tree.” To me it tasted like a cabin in the woods, a comforting pine tree cozy cup of happiness.  Heavenly.

According to the Teavana brochure, this tea is “composed of one leaf & one bud.” Just like LP & me. A leaf and a bud.*

(*I don’t know what this means exactly, but I do know I mean it with deep and utter love and just a hint of impropriety.)

Organic Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls (green)Rating - Glee-Jamboree (both)

This tea had us at its name. LP says you have to hear this and then say the name. I know, right? You can just picture a hot scene between Jasmine Dragon and Phoenix Pearls. Bow chicka bow wow. It gets better. Here’s the description from the Esselon website: “Each pearl is made by hand rolling two leaves and a bud, and when the tea is steeped in hot water the pearls unravel.”  

Oh, yeah, we ordered that tea. Who doesn’t love a hot cup of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll?

The nose of the tea was quite wonderfully perfumy. Upon sipping, LP proclaimed the Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearl was “like a piece of gum. Sweet.” She was propelled into a memory lane of gums of her childhood as she tried to recall the name of the gum the tea provoked. Then she had some sort of gum seizure and kept saying, “Fruity fruit fruit fruit….fruity fruit fruit…Fruit Stripe gum!”

I don’t know what the h-e-double-hockeysticks she was talking about with the whole fruity Fruit Stripe gum episode. I found the tea delightful with a pleasant astringent quality. To top things off, whoever Phoenix Pearl is, she must be a real firecracker because that green tea gave me a jump-back-kiss-your-mama caffeine buzz. I was vibrating on high for hours.

Ti Kwan Yin – Iron Goddess of Mercy (oolong) -  Rating: Glee-Teehee (both)

While Miss Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearl got us thoroughly titillated, we were ripe for Ti Kwan Yin’s moniker “Iron Goddess of Mercy.” Plus it’s an oolong. (That’s what she said.) LP goes for the size queen/dominatrix thing a bit anyway, so there was no stopping her once she laid eyes on that tea.

Ti Kwan Yin starts with a comforting aroma, a nice grassy smell, with a taste that includes a lot of dimension as it seemed to broaden in your mouth. We both found it to be a solid tea. “Like a heavy chair,” said LP. “You know what I mean…a chair you really…sit…in…you can’t fall over, not that fall over…” This description was accompanied by wild gesticulations that made me fear she really would flip back in her chair at any minute. Between the XXX tea and the Iron Maiden here, we really were quite stimulated by our teas during this visit to Esselon. A thoroughly invigorating afternoon delight.

Monkey Picked Ti Kwan YinRating – Good Tea (both of us)

Onto the tea. When ordering the Monkey Picked Ti Kwan Yin, LP asked for  “Tae Kwan Do.” This joke seemed to be lobbed to an unreceptive player as the woman behind the register simply ignored our childish shoving and giggling. Hmph. Spoiler alert: Monkey Picked tea is no longer picked by monkeys. This was a great disappointment to me, as I love monkeys (though would not want to see them enslaved by evil tea farmers, so perhaps it’s for the best.) According to the Esselon website, this tea is “plucked from cliffsides typically 5000 feet or higher, is a very light roast. Ti Kwan Yin and has a bright, lemony, soft flavor.” 

The initial sniffing of the tea lead to a conclusion by LP of “spinach…wet spinach.” Upon further olfactory inspection I decided it smelled distinctly of another greenery, one which its medical uses are currently in legal dispute in California. “Liquid Mary Jane” was my final assessment, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Upon tasting, LP thought she could taste the lemony flavor, but I am certain that was purely a placebo effect brought on by reading the description of the tea.

LP really embraced her role of tea connoisseur this month in a way that I might suggest is a wee bit cocksure. (Excuse my French.) You see, she threw around a great deal of fake tea tasting verbiage and even insisted she knew the correct way to pour tea (in a consistent, counter-clockwise manner…though I think I owe her an apology for scalding her fingers when I tried to replicate her style.) LP even felt that chewing on a leaf would be the next reasonable step in our process, which she promptly did before I could stop her (I was laughing too hard to make a proper attempt, I must confess.) But I think LP learned her lesson about the leaf tasting, impressively without losing a speck of her pseudo-connoisseurship, as she quickly spit out the leaf, pronouncing the nibble “a bitter backlash like a bad break up.” It was the alliteration that convinced me that LP needs to be taken down a leaf or two.

Bao Zhong – PouchongRating – Sorry (LP), Good Tea (Pam, referring to heavily steeped cups)
         Although we loves us our Esselon workers, they dropped the brewing ball on our Bao Zhong (pronounce “bao jong” for the record.) This tea requires a long brew time, which it did not get, and so our initial experience of it was quite negative. I thought it smelled like wet dog. LP set me straight however, “Honey, that smells like dirty sink water.” I don’t know what dirty sink water is, and I don’t ever want to know. LP continued, “You know what that smell is, if you wet a dirty sock and you run out-” I interrupted her rant. I didn’t want to know where she was going with the wet dirty sock on the run metaphor.

According to the Esselon tea guide, “Bao Zhong is considered its own class of tea, as it is the least oxidized oolong, exhibiting characteristics of both oolong and green tea. A very bright tea, vibrant in color, aroma, and flavor. Grassy, with notes of lemon, lilac, and melon. The first steeping can be overpowering in its brightness but each successive steeping mellows and softens the flavor.”         

We found it to be none of these things, unless, as LP said, “brightness means an empty, wet sock.” LP sighed upon further testing of the first cup of Bao Zhong and said (in her best Humphrey Bogart voice), “That’s not it, kid. You want me to buy you another pot of tea?” I graciously declined, touched by her courteous gallantry. LP sighed deeply, and said in a serious manner, “This is the tea critic’s life…” I nearly peed my pants laughing at her profound resignation.

And indeed there was a dampening of pants when I mistakenly spilled my first pouring of Bao Zhong. At first, we wondered if the evil Pouchong spirits were cursing us for dissing their brew. But then it became apparent that perhaps the spill was angel-sent. For the second cup of Bao Zhong tea, which had benefited from a long steepage, was a whole other…well, I guess I could say, a whole other cup of tea. As LP testified, “You went from sock to tea. And that’s a good leap.” Indeed!

I really did enjoy the well-brewed cups of Bao Zhong, finally settling on my “Good Tea” rating. LP couldn’t seem to get past her initial impression (“Brightness? It’s dim like a light bulb!”), which took her from her Monkey Picked alliteration to Bao Zhong assonance as she concluded, “The tea, the B.Z., is a sorry.” We agreed to disagree, or as LP said, “T.E.H.O.” (pronounced tea-ho), meaning “to each her own.” I think she was just calling me a ‘ho though, which I won’t even attempt to debate. In the end, we ended the friendly disagreement by quoting “Ally McBeal” with a simple “Bygones.” We invite you to take a well-brewed taste of this tea and share your own opinions with us. (Especially if you agree with me.)

Ceylon White
  Rating – Sorry (from both of us)
For details, see below.

Yin Zhen Silver Needle (white tea): Rating – Sorry (both)
Esselon only has two white teas, so we decided to test them both at our first trial. According to, white tea is the “mightiest of the teas.” What makes it so dang mighty? “Simply put, white tea is the least processed form of tea, made of beautiful silver buds and select leaves which have been steamed and dried.” LP and I are suckers for works like “mightiest” and “beautiful silver buds,” (sounds like a girl you’d want to meet, right?) so it was a no-brainer that we start with the white teas. When my tea arrived, I was momentarily flummoxed by my teapot, which refused to dispense my tea. I tipped and tipped, but the tea stubbornly remained in the pot. We were making such a ruckus the server came over to help. I may have accused her of providing me with a trick pot (Later LP said, “So what did you think, Pam, that you were being Punk'd by the servers at Esselon?!” Uh, could happen. Totally.) Somehow the server poured my tea into my cup with a humiliating amount of ease. This sent LP and I into a long bout of hysterical laughter. When we told our spouses this story, neither of them found any humor in it whatsoever.

Once we weren’t at risk for spewing tea through our noses, we tested our white teas. I must confess, we were both disappointed. We found the teas too delicate, thin and subtle for our crude mouths.

Bai Hao White Tip Oolong: Rating – Glee (LP), Good Tea (Pam)
This is a fun tea to order but challenging to say without sounding culturally insensitive. I enjoyed its woody bouquet. It reminded me of the cedar A-frame cabin “Up North” (northern Michigan) we had when I was a kid. This tea had “a lot going on” and seemed delicately complex. A very enjoyable scent. According to the Esselon website, Bai Hao “is also ‘tippy’ meaning a high proportion of the tea is made up of tender white buds which give the tea a soft, delicate flavor.” LP and I both like tender white buds though we prefer a more engaging and in-your-face brew. We don’t know what the f* “tippy” means, and we’re too old and ADD to really understand it at this point in the game.

Darjeeling 2nd Flush OolongRating – Glee-Jamboree (both)
         We rated this oolong as Glee-Jamboree because it was like a happy party in our mouths. (In a good way.) We both enjoyed the bouquet, which we described as “heady” (that was me) and “meaty” (that was LP.) The word “astringent” came to mind, which LP contends is a fancy-pants tea word for “bitter.” Apparently, we both like astringent teas. LP called it “winey” (not whiney, which is what she called me.) My taste buds were not in tuned for subtleness at testing time (LP claims it’s because I had wicked PMS), so I simply noted it as warm, comforting and ultimately pleasingly “tea-ish.” LP delighted in the fullness and woodiness of this Darjeeling 2nd Flush, saying she could taste it “all the way down my mouth. It’s like licking wood.” I fully concur, my only caveat being that I felt like my teeth were wearing fur coats after drinking this tea. It’s too bad the name of this tea makes me think of a stubborn poop in the toilet. Nonetheless, we would definitely order this tea again.

Darjeeling Oolong 2nd Flush – Rating: Oh Gee (LP & Pam)

We were underwhelmed and uninspired by this tea. According to the Esselon website, Darjeeling Oolong is “our one oolong from India, Darjeeling oolong bears little resemblance to any Chinese oolong. It is winy and heavy-bodied for an oolong, with flavors of toasted grains and orange zest.” According to LP and me, the tea was very light, with a little “bark taste.” That’s bark as in tree, not dog. This response prompted me to challenge, “Have you ever licked a tree?” To which she retorted, “Have you ever hugged a tree?” And I counted, “Have you ever seen a grown man naked?” (More on this topic later.)

Green Darjeeling  Rating: Sorry (LP), Oh Gee (Pam)

Yes, our theme last month was Dare to Darjeeling, so we had to sample the both the green and the oolong Darjeelings in the same sitting. Sadly, neither “ling” was the thing with the bling bling that could either make us sing, or make our bells ring ding-a-ling. I loves me some green tea, but this one was just so-so. (My taste buds belong forever to that full-bodied vixen Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearl.) I found the Green Darjeeling to have a flavor of rich foliage with a hint of licorice. While she freely admits to not being a green tea gal, LP gave it a sip and deemed it, “like licking the inside of a chimney” with an essence of “wood tar.” Needless to say, my buddy LP will not be pulling either Darjeeling out of her Christmas stocking this year.

Jade Cloud – Rating: Sorry (Pam), Must Flee (LP)

Personally, I think the name of this green tea would make a great superhero name. Jade Cloud! An Asian wonder woman whose super power is to turn into a cloud. She also can reduce sun glare on the highway. Jade Cloud to the rescue!

As soon as our tea is served, we typically delight in examining and sniffing the leaves. Sticking her nose into Jade Cloud (ok, that sounds really wrong), LP wrinkled her nose and gagged, “Autumn leaves draining in a sewage ditch.” To me, they just smelled like leaves. “You know, it’s pretty funny,” I said. “That after all these tea taste tests, we somehow still seem surprised when tea smells like wet leaves.” We riffed on how we would write a movie review: “It was like an image being reflected…on a screen!” We are masters of taking delight in the obvious.

Still, I sniffed my Jade Cloud leaves like a bloodhound on a scent. It took me a while to identify the flavor, but once I did I knew it when I heard myself say it. Mango. A taste confirmed definite fruity undertones. LP concurred, “Yup. There’s fruit in dem hills.” All in all, my superhero tea was nothing to write home about, and left me wearing “teeth sweaters” after the pot was dry.

Jade Oolong – Rating: Sorry (LP), Oh Gee (Pam)

While last month was all about Darjeeling, our theme for this month was Jade, so LP got the oolong, as she is wont to do. She also popped for our shared order of sausage as a pre-birthday gesture with the promise, “You can always count on me to give you some sausage.” Yes, that turned me on. Perhaps encouraged by her saucy sausage sweet talk, I later – and less subtly – produced an edible erection in my sausage while trying to cut it. Looking at it wistlessly (as opposed to wistfully since erections are not her cup of tea, so to speak), LP reflected how long it had been since she’s seen a grown man naked.

As we are both wont to do, we stuck our noses eagerly into her leaves. Jade Oolong offered up a yummy leafy (what I surprise!) smell, “like wet leaves but a happier memory.” LP sniffed her tea with a purpose. “Hmmm,” she inhaled before stating, “Definite woodland hobbit smell.” Though when I asked if she had ever smelled a woodland hobbit, LP demurred coyly. Unfortunately, the taste did not provide as much depth as its nose. We found Jade Oolong to be a mild manner tea with a singular hind note that I characterized as “a little chewy on the back end.” So LP tried to help out her Jade Oolong by first pouring sweetener and milk into it. Trying to bolster the teas confidence, she claimed it “carries sugar and milk well.” Thus I contend that if you really just want warm sugar and milk, Jade Oolong is the tea for you.

Finally, LP made a daring effort to “buff up this 98 pound weakling” of a tea by pouring the leaves directly into the pot. Yes, we were drinking outside the box now. Sadly, our dashing deed did not do much for our tea’s disposition. Happily, I almost fell out of my chair laughing when LP returned to the table, red-faced with shame, when the bitter barista gave her freewheeling leaves a snobby sneer when she asked for a water refill.

Pam and LP making comedy together
About your teatotalers:  

LP is a married mother of two adorable doggies (one of whom is my nephew, the poodle.) LP grew up in the Upper West Side (Manhattan, duh) where she acquired many city smarts that fail to do her any good whatsoever in western Massachusetts. She no longer, however, thinks carrots grow on trees. To know LP is to love her, especially if you are a child, a small animal or me. She is funny, wise, and truthful. Also, when she was twelve, she was in a Movie of the Week (“The War Between the Tates”). LP is the best BFF in the world. We both agree that we couldn’t love each other more than we do already, but we remain ever open to the possibility.

I am a married mother of two people who are taller than me. We are a homeschooling family. I like to teach. I like to write. I love to perform, especially comedy and super-especially improv comedy. LP and I have been performing improv comedy together for over seven years in our troupe The Ha-Ha’s (formerly The Ha-Ha Sisterhood).

1 comment:

  1. I also find a lot of white teas to be too delicate to the point of being boring. If you want a bolder white tea which also happens to be quite inexpensive, I'd recommend shou mei.

    Darjeeling Oolong is also an odd beast. I have found that these teas can be among the pickiest teas, in terms of how they like to be brewed. I find a lot of them are harsh unless you brew them with water well below boiling point--which is odd because few tea companies seem to recommend that--but that's been my experience.

    I also was amused by your oolong that smelled like weed...I've definitely tried a number of these. They are actually quite delicious, IMHO. (No, I do not smoke, but I do like the smell.)

    This was a rather amusing post and I would not mind reading more of the same, in case you choose to review teas again!