Friday, February 10, 2006

The Yunnan Gold Quest: Three Teas Cup to Cup/Silk Road Teas, Floating Leaves, TeaSource

I am drinking this morning a TeaSource Golden Downey Tip Yunnan (recent purchase) compared cup to cup with Floating Leaves Yunnan Gold (a not-so-recent purchase, so it may not necessarily be what is currently offered, I don't know--these teas do change!).

FL=Floating Leaves

I don't tend to brew my golden Yunnan teas with any degree of precision, so each roughly 8 ounce mug probably holds a very rounded and overflowing two teaspoons of leaf, steeped for four minutes.

While steeping, the TS Yunnan has an aroma that is almost savory (a hint of smoked ham type scent), an edge that isn't found in the FL Yunnan. Once leaf is removed, the TS Yunnan backs off a bit from that savory note that was more dominant with the leaf in the cup. It is more muted now and sits behind the sweeter scent. Still, there's something not unlike a hint of brown sugar ham glaze in the TS one that is not present in the Yunnan from FL. The aroma of the Yunnan from FL has that mocha sweet combination of light maple-earth without the savory edge. It drinks with a fairly distinct level of earth along with hint of sweet and something close to a grain-like note, not quite malty.

The most obvious difference is that savory note in the Yunnan from TS. I think some would identify it as a lightly smoky characteristic, but I've experienced that, too, in Yunnan teas and this seems slightly different from just a smoky note. It's smoky in the way a brown sugar drizzled smoked ham rind might be, if you thought of that in a much more muted way than you usually experience it. It actually gives the perception that the tea is richer. I sometimes describe this brothy or savory note in a green tea as a 'nourishing' type characteristic. Something that sets the mind just on the edge of thinking soup/broth. And that isn't unlike the way this tea strikes me, even though it retains a Yunnan character. It does transfer to the taste as well as being part of the aroma. The Yunnan from TS drinks just a touch smoother as there is slightly more pungency to the cup from FL, though not distressing in and of itself.

Oddly enough, I had made these teas in two different mugs which just naturally seem to fit the character of each tea. The TS with the savory note is in a thicker Bill Campbell Northern Lights glaze pottery mug. And the feeling of the mug's thicker rim and earthy brown background with wavy aurora borealis blues is just totally in keeping with the experience of the tea itself. The FL Yunnan is in a taller white footed mug with thin texture at the wider rim, and it seems in keeping with this tea's rather different profile--a lighter and less elemental aromatic and taste which might just contain a hint of something floral. These are very different Golden Yunnan experiences, and one person might well favor one over the other. In a different tea mood, I might well have found myself crabbing about the savory note in the TS one, but this snowy morning it seems rather pleasant.

Neither tea hits me at the same level of preference I had for the In Pursuit of Tea Yunnan in times past. The last order, as I noted in a previous review, was sorely disappointing.

...and this probably now sends me back to a point of comparison to the current Silk Road Teas High Grade Yunnan Gold, which has maybe now turned into the default favorite since the IPOT favorite has fallen out of favor. (I leave out Imperial Tea Court's pricier Imperial Gold Yunnan, which tends to stand above the rest in price as well as my favor, but which isn't a daily drinking Yunnan based on the price, more's the pity).

And so...tossing a cup of Silk Road Teas (SRT) High Grade Yunnan Gold into the mix, a fairly recent purchase. It does not have the more dominant savory note that is in the TS one. It does have that light maple sap sweet note with a hint of spice and even a waft of floral scent. This tea has a rather 'fresh' character to it and is much less elemental than the TS one. The SRT Yunnan has more layers to its aroma than the FL one, and these seem to meander into the cup itself better than in the FL one. I catch more hint of the maple sap note in the SRT Yunnan Gold, not quite as much earth, and slightly less pungency. Overall, the balance just works better for me. It is a more refined tasting cup than the more elemental TS Yunnan, though the character of that latter can be pleasing in a different way as the mood strikes, I think.

Aroma on the SRT High Grade Yunnan is really coming forward now--that very distinct maple sap note (but less spice in this one) and hint of floral. Those softer characteristics are in the cup as well and do smooth it out more than the one from FL that I have on hand, giving the SRT Yunnan an overall better balance.

Now that it has cooled considerably, there is a rather puerh-like scent to the cup holding a scant amount of the elemental Yunnan from TS. This tea is a bit of a rough and tumble type character that has its own level of charm.

Right now, I am still overall favoring the SRT one while longing to have the experience of the past IPOT Yunnan.


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