Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Tillerman Tea: Dong Ding Roasted Oolong Spring vs Winter, A Tea Comparison

SNOW!!!! Yeah, it is snowing, and I am so excited! I think spending my first fifteen years in Georgia will always mean that snow is a magical thing worthy of extreme happiness, even after spending about ten years in Pennsylvania where there was plenty of snow. I never get sick of it. Snow aside, I think I need to change the blog schedule again, three days a week is not cutting it (and not just because my desk is covered in 'to review' tea) I find myself wanting to write more. Not sure if it means weekends get blogs or I just give myself two floating days for when I feel inspired to ramble, any preferences those who read?

Today's blog is going to be a little different, instead of my usual looking at a single tea, I am going to do a side-by-side comparison between two teas from Tillerman Tea. What makes this special is they are a pair of roasted Dong Ding Oolongs, both from this year and the same farmer, but one is a spring harvest and the other is the winter harvest. It would be criminal to not break out my tiny gaiwans and compare these two directly. The first thing to do is examine the leaves with my nose, the spring leaves are very sweet and nutty with notes of toasted peanuts, caramel, and a subtle distant floral note. Amusingly the combination of peanuts and caramels remind me a bit of peanut brittle candy, which is nothing short of mouthwatering. The winter leaves are nutty and rich, with notes of walnut, molasses, toasted barley, and a starchy finish. It is still sweet, though not as sweet as the spring leaves, and the starchy finish reminds me a bit of seed cake that is freshly baked. Luckily I do not have to pick a favorite, they are both similar, easy to identify as a Dong Ding that has been roasted, but the subtle differences between the two seasons is very fascinating.

I want to give a shoutout to my tea-friend who bestowed this pair of tiny 65ml gaiwans on me, they have become such useful tools, I am tempted to get more for comparisons like this. After the initial steep, the aroma of the spring leaves is very nutty, like a sweet nut cake made from walnuts and peanuts with a gentle touch of caramelized sugar. The winter leaves' aroma really surprised me, notes of roasted nuts with brown sugar and a sweet note of dried sweet cherries. I ended up sitting with my nose in the gaiwan for a long time, the cherry note was wonderful and really made me want to go to the store and get cherries. The liquid of the spring harvest is wonderfully sweet and nutty, with a roasted grain undertone and finish of freshly toasted bread. For the winter's liquid I get a nose full of sweetness, honey drizzled toast and a touch of cherries with a strong walnut finish. I found that the winter was a touch sweeter and the spring had a more roasty toasty quality.

First steep time! The spring greeted me with a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel with a touch (I really mean just a touch) of dryness at the finish. The taste is iconic roasted Dong Ding, notes of toasted barley and freshly toasted bread blend with gentle walnut and brown sugar. It has a long lasting brown sugar aftertaste, the combination of bread and brown sugar notes with walnuts made me think of one of my favorite types of specialty bread. The winter harvest is rich and smooth, with a little thickness coating the mouth. I found this tea to be a bit heavier roasted in taste, strong notes of toasted walnuts and rye with brown sugar and a hint of cherry at the finish. Apart from the sweet brown sugar and cherry finish, this one was more rich and nutty than sweet, feeling more autumnal in quality.

On to the next steep! The leaves have opened up a good bit now, so the flavors are much stronger. The spring tea is fascinating, it starts with strong roasted walnuts and toasted bread, complete with a sweet yeasty undertone, The middle of the taste has a strong roasted grain (barley, wheat, and rye) with a slight spinach quality that gives an interesting depth to the roast. The finish is sweet walnut and brown sugar, like a toffee dessert that lingers in the mouth. The winter tea is bringing the starchy bread, it tastes just like freshly toasted cherry walnut bread, like uncannily like it. It always cracks me up when a tea tastes identical to a food! The finish is a distant autumn leaf pile with lingering walnut, both spring and winter have a pleasantly thick and smooth mouthfeel.

Both these teas stuck around for many more steeps, getting ten steeps for the spring and nine for the winter. I found overall the winter was sweeter, the fruity quality fading away at steep four and mostly being replaced with brown sugar and walnuts, it stayed solid in those notes and just slowly faded over time. The spring harvest was a little more of a mouth adventure, the spinach note fading and being replaced with distant floral and buttery sweetness, of course with a strong roasted grain and toasted bread quality. I loved both of them and I am really not sure I could pick a favorite, at the time I would say winter but in hindsight maybe spring, clearly it is going to depend on what mood I am in at the time.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

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