Origins Tea is a new Canadian tea company focusing on high quality teas from Taiwan. If you frequent the /r/tea subreddit, you may remember a post early this past summer from a nice guy named James offering up free samples to interested tea drinkers. Since that time, James has sent out tons of samples to several enthusiasts to develop his lineup of teas based on their reactions/reviews. I was lucky enough to be one of those enthusiasts, so I've been tasting a lot of Taiwanese teas over the past few months! It was a really fun process ranking tea samples and offering my opinion as to which teas I thought were great and which were not (rest assured, none of the "losers" made it into Origins' lineup!). It definitely exposed me to some new types of teas, so I'm thankful to have been part of the process.
Today I'm sharing my reviews of the black teas that really stood out to me as being top-notch. They're all impressive offerings with complexity in both aroma and flavor. Its hard to go wrong with any of these, but if you need help deciding on one tea over another, hopefully this set of reviews will help you out.
FYI, I was not paid for reviews or anything, I was just sent tea. I've chosen to make this post because I like writing about good tea. I did volunteer my tasting notes and some photographs to James at Origins, so you might see some similarity between what you see here and what you see on their website, but I'm not an employee or getting any kick backs. I just like interacting positively with other positive members of the tea community!
So, on to the tea!
Shan Cha - Wild Taiwanese Black Tea (4.5g/100mL @90*C)
This "wild" tea has a long, thin, stringy appearance when dry, along with a sweet and slightly floral and spiced fragrance off the leaves (hints of cinnamon sugar… or cinnamon raisin bread). Rinsing the leaves brings out many layers of complexity, with strong fruity aroma taking the lead, with some cinnamon toast-like notes falling to the background. There's also a round floral edge to the fragrance. Aspects of the aroma remind me of Chinese Qimen black teas as well as a few interesting experimental black teas from south Asia made from oolong cultivars.
Steeps of this tea produce a dark golden brown liquor that smells delicious, like cinnamon toast (crunch?!), complementing the spiced, floral, and fruited leaf fragrance. The rounded fruit tone reminds me of a nut liquor (like almond or something?). This is definitely a very unique tea. The brew has a full and slick mouthfeel, and tastes fruity and semi-sweet with retronasal notes focused on sweet cinnamon (without the spicy sensation usually associated with cinnamon). The brew is also slightly savory, spiced and floral top notes are accented by dried fruit flavors and aromas. The savory elements reminiscent of tippy Yunnan black teas, the fruited elements of Qimen black teas, and the floral and fruity elements of a particular Indonesian black tea from this year (Toba Wangi Golden Needle via What-Cha). The retronasal aroma is strong in later steeps, with the background character (cherry juice? Dried cherries?) creeping forward more and more. The bottom of the dry cup smells intoxicating with buttery cinnamon.
Overall, this is a very unique black tea that takes a few unexpected twists and turns with its unique flavor and fragrance. Its hard to imagine that anyone would find this tea unpleasant, as it has nothing but pleasant character. This tea really excels in combining an intriguing atypical fragrance with a very smooth flavor profile. It also is deceptively subtle, with a layered profile that rewards attention, and is understated such that it is likely approachable to those that are turned off by, for example, overly strong floral or fruited character. I can see myself going back to this tea over and over.
Assam - Taiwanese Black Tea (4.5g/100mL @90*C)
A Taiwanese Assamica... what a fruit bomb! You can tell right off the fragrance of the beautiful, large, and whole dry leaves what you're in for: potent savory-sweet fragrance mixture with a layer of dark dried fruit somewhere between raisins and sun dried tomato. Its very attractive and brilliant. Rinsing the tea releases intense fruity aromas that fill the room.
Steeping this tea produces a light brown liquor with a fragrance of a sweet tomato pastry with toasty-buttery-fruity combination. The flavor is a pleasant surprise with a very flavorful, very smooth, remarkably sweet, and highly aromatic flavor. The hot leaves have a scent that almost reminds me of a cooked maple-brown sugar glazed baked sweet potato, or a sweet honey-maple-malt baked sweet potato... something along those lines. This tea really marries the sweet and savory well with its sweet, buttery, and yammy characters. The mouthfeel is substantial, with a thick feeling and lingering/coating quality that helps the retronasal aromatics stick around for quite some time. In later steeps, the aromatics bring forward the savory/umami character while retaining the fruit notes and distinct sweetness of flavor.
There are aspects of this tea that remind me of a GABA-processed black tea, and other elements that are reminiscent of a more traditional Assamica black tea, but these are just superficial comparisons, as this is quite unique. It's an exciting and very interesting black tea that is clearly high quality and goes in a unique direction. It also opens up quite a bit and changes character subtly over the steeps. Quite moreish!
Yu Chi Hong Yun - Taiwanese Black Tea (4.5g/100mL @90*C)
Made from the relatively new TTES 21 cultivar, a 2008 hybrid of a Qimen tea cultivar and a Nepali Assamica, Origins brings to the table a very intriguing black tea. The dry leaves scream "Taiwanese" in appearance with the long, thin-but-stout matte black appearance, quite similar to the Assamic discussed above. The dry fragrance has a faint floral note, but doesn't reveal too much. Once hit with water for rinsing, though, the aroma shows its face with a strong introduction of a complex bouquet of floral top notes on a platform of honey and Qimen-esque fruit... but describing this in these terms doesn’t really do this justice, as the aromatic components are gracefully unified. Its floral, fruity, herbal, minty, and fruity, but goes beyond the typical... this is one of those teas you can sit around huffing your gaiwan all day. These aroma highlights read like a high quality dark Taiwanese-style oolong, but a more classic malt character is recognizable coming off the rinse water. showing off the depth and complexity of this tea.
Brews of this tea produce a classic dark brown liquor with a fragrance similar to a Qimen black, but as soon as the brew hits your tongue, a blast of complex sparkling florals and grape-like fruit fragrances erupt and linger for minutes. What I particularly enjoy about this tea is that it has the huge complex and intense aromatic character of an oolong with the satisfying depth and rounded mouthfeel of a classic Chinese black tea. It is also an interesting tea to brew gong fu style, as it evolves aromatically quite a bit through the many steepings it holds up to: floral notes evolve over the first 4-5 brews taking a back seat to the fruitier and maltier character in the last few steeps.
All in all, this is an impressive black tea that carries a show-stopping aroma without sacrificing flavor, smoothness or mouthfeel, making it very unique and satisfying. With genetic roots in China and Nepal, and clear terroir and/or processing influence from Taiwan, this tea should be approachable to a wide variety of tea drinkers.
Golden Dragon - Taiwanese "Tippy" Black Tea
The long black leaves, with the occasional small golden fuzzy tip, have a strong and attractive dry fragrance defined by sweet floral and dried fruit notes. Rinsing the tea produces an intense and complex aroma that is savory, sweet, fruity and floral. There are allusions to olive oil and sweet sun-dried tomatoes, but these fragrances swirl directly into brighter fruit and floral notes. Its quite stunning... a very beautiful black tea aroma that I find myself captivated by (another one that induces excess gaiwan huffing). The rinse water is dark and has a heavy malty aroma accented by fruity/floral fragrances.
Tea produced from these leaves is dark golden and has an aroma that is dominantly malty and fruity, but with a complex layer of subtle fragrances that define the uniqueness of this tea. This tea is firmly rooted in classic malty black tea characteristics, with its heavy body and bold flavor profile, but this is far more refined with extremely smooth flavor, potent sweetness, and strongly defined dried fruit and terpene-like floral flavors/aromas. Its extremely easy to drink due to the pleasant smoothness and sweetness, and the fruits and flowers make it seem a bit like candy making it even more chug-able.