Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane


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Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby moot » Sep 8th, '09, 15:38

First, I want to thank you guys for introducing me to Floating Leaves. It's joining Jing Tea Shop, Tea Habitat, and a very few others as one of my very favorite sources for tea.

Apologies for the length of this post, but I've been thinking about Taiwanese oolongs a lot lately.

So: Taiwanese High Mountain oolong is where I came of age, with tea. It was my second love. My first love (a sort of passing crush) was the green stuff, but, 14 years ago, before the current Internet Era of Awesome Tea, the stuff I got was never that great. My second love I found in Los Angeles, 10 years ago, when I wandered into Ten Li (still around, still excellent) outside of Little Saigon and had the tea lady that ran the shop make for me, for the first time, gong fu tea, out of a well-worn yixing pot, with freshly, just-harvested, spring Taiwanese high mountain oolong. It was like a bolt through my tender young brain - I freaked out and went crazy and loved it. High mountain was what I settled on for a long time, and where I really learned to *brew*.

Anyway, I sourced it for a while from Ten Li and Atlantic Valley & Tea, both stores in Asian parts of town in Los Angeles, both great. Then I found teafromtaiwan (I think even before he had that website name), and for about 6 years, that was my high mountain supplier of choice.

The stuff from Floating Leaves is the first High Mountain that I've loved as much or more than the teafromtaiwan stuff. One of the things I love is how *distinct* the aesthetics are between the two shops. This sort of thing happens when a shop is basically run by one person, who goes wandering around the tea farms, buying what they *love*. What they are, what they love about tea, how they think tea should be, shows up in their every choice.

Both Floating Leaves and teafromtaiwan's tea selections clearly come from a particular distinctive palate, a particular sensitivity, and a particular set of choices. If I had to summarize, I'd say: teafromtaiwan's teas are a little earthier, simpler, and with more of a physical mid-punch. They tingle more, they hit you more, and they roar a little more. Floating Leaves teas are more refined, delicate, and well-defined. teafromtaiwan's stuff is like... comfort food. Melded, large, warming flavors. Floating Leaves stuff is... always so precise, and clear, with a sort of articulate high-end. Floating Leaves is crystal perfection, teafromtaiwan always has a bit of burr in the throat, an extra bit of honey. If a teafromtaiwan tea is missing anything, it tends to be from the complexity in the higher range of flavors. If Floating Leaves is missing anything, it's... you know, a touch of nice booty.

Floating Leaves tea makes me feel like I'm holding (or maybe licking) a cool, perfect jade statue. teafromtaiwan makes me feel like I just ate some caffeinated fried chicken. Floating Leaves stuff makes me feel clear, precise, like I've just skimmed across the Form of Perfect Beauty. teafromtaiwan stuff makes me feel warm and happy and fuzzy inside. This is overexaggerated, and oversimplified, but perhaps in the direction of truth.

If teafromtaiwan is Howlin' Wolf, Floating Leaves is Ella Fitzgerald.

Some tasting notes from recent Floating Leaves teas, from a recent order, while they're fresh in my mind. (All done in a gaiwan, typically 10s to 15s early brews, though the baozhongs seem to like longer infusions, a little):

2009 Spring Lishan: Smelling the dry leaves: wow, smells like asparagus! Smelling the wet leaves: jesus, it smells exactly like raw asparagus! Tasting the early brewings: jesus-wow, it tastes eerily like raw asparagus. Smelling and tasting the later brewings: man, it tastes a lot like... cooked asparagus!

Very vegetal, very clear, super-refined high end, cool and reserved, maybe missing something around the big-sweet-butt part of oolong. Shocking, eerily asparagus like, with that fresh-cut-grass thing. Will be a super-big favorite for people that really like things that taste exactly like other things. Seems to go to about 7-8 great brewings, then falls off quickly.

2009 Spring DaYuLing: I got this tea wrong at first. I thought it was *too* refined, *too* clear. I figured out that it wants more tea in the gaiwan than other oolongs. Also, I figured out I just wasn't paying enough attention. This is a *perfect* High Mountain Oolong, and perhaps the most representative of her taste, as opposed to the teafromtaiwan dude's taste. It is crystal clear, completely balanced, this sort of delicate, knit flavor that connects from the highest to the lowest taste range. It is a single, pure, glowing green thing.

The texture is my favorite, too. There's one of Imen's teas that my buddy Ira says feels like melted pearl. This has it, and has it in spades. This kind of thick, smooth, cooler-than-silk, lovely thing going on.

It just *glows*.

And it goes for a *lot* of brews.

A kind of astounding, *necessary* tea.

2009 Spring He Huan Shan: where the Lishan smells and tastes like asparagus, this smells and tastes like really good spinach. Warmer than the Lishan, with more malty sweetness and in the bottom end, less defined on top. Little astringent, little fuzzy. I don't love this, but I really appreciate it.

2009 Spring Farmer's Choice Baozhong: for about 3 years, I drank as much baozhong as all other teas put together (mostly from Atlantic Valley Tea, in San Gabriel, CA). This one strikes me as a little... insipid. There's a nice, pearly honey smoothness, but it sort of lacks definition or life. The aroma is similarly pleasant, but lacking.

2009 Spring Honorable Mention Baozhong: I like this more than the Farmer's choice, but not by a lot more. A little burrier and warmer, and a little more density in the aroma, but also a little simple for me.

2009 2nd Place Baozhong: certainly the best Baozhong I've ever had,
and perhaps one of my favorite teas. It's... stunning. Very
electrically alive from top to bottom, with a very gentle sweet and
just radiant highs. Delicate and so... precise. It has that white tea
light-tingle-on-the-tongue thing. It's very electrical. And it's *so* delicate, *so* precise, *so* many particular little winding clear flavors in the high end.

This one feels most like a perfect porcelain statue of a beautiful woman's face. With high cheekbones.

This made me and my buddy Ira both think of sencha. It has the same super-vegetal grassy thing going on, but where my favorite sencha is ultra-thin one-note crisp, this is kind of expanded and balanced out through everything.

Incidentally, this is almost 3 times more expensive then the previous two baozhongs, but I had to use *half as much leaf* for a satisfying brew, and, besides, the brew was this uplifting thing of pure glory.

2009 Spring Oriental Beauty: I don't know a lot about Oriental Beauty, and I've only tried this once. The first few steeps were pretty blatantly roasty, but on my way out the door to teach, I threw the half-spent leaves in a pot for a 3 minute western-style brew for my thermos, and what I got was really warm, malty, totally chill-and-drinkable thing. I see why this was all popular in Britain - it's very black-tea-plus.

2009 Taiwan Wuyi: This is one of the best values I've ever had. $5 an ounce? For stuff this good? Completely awesome! I went back before the sale ended and loaded up.

It's definitely halfway between the Taiwanese aesthetic and the mainland aesthetic. It's got the minerality, the roastiness and toastiness, but it's also got some tingling, vegetal life. It's less narrow than the mainland oolongs, it has more sweetness and citrus and bigness. Coppery and citrus-zesty. Totally great.

The first thought I had when I smelled the dry leaves was, "Wow, freshly popped buttered popcorn." Also, wet: hemp. Definitely hemp.

If mainland Wuyi is the old, skinny, wizened man of oolongs, then this is his younger, brasher, crasser, more fun-loving nephew. Or possibly niece. She may play basketball.


***
Last note: I just got a shipment in from Stephane, of Teamasters. Mostly the order was for some yixing pots, but I picked up his spring 2009 jinxuan. His blog says something like: "I hate most jinxuan, and it's cheap and crass, and mostly grown for mass-market, but if you treat it with care, you can get something special. This is special." I thought: "I hate most jinxuan too! Therefore, I must try this!"

It turns out to be completely incredible.

It's hard to describe - it's a very knit-together flavor, but it has life, it has glow, it has definition, it has warmth, it has the perfect cheekbones and the sway of the hips. It's vegetal and honey and malty and it has some burr in the throat.

I haven't had any of his other teas, but if this is an indication of his aesthetic, than he may the closest to my own particular tastes. If Floating Leaves is Ella Fitzgerald, and teafromtaiwan is Howlin' Wolf, then Stephane's stuff is somewhere in the vicinity of Sarah Vaughan, or perhaps Billie Holiday.
Last edited by moot on Sep 8th, '09, 16:10, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby moot » Sep 8th, '09, 15:51

Oh, forgot to say: the 2nd place baozhong is super evolvey-over-time - very dramatic.
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby Victoria » Sep 8th, '09, 16:01

Very nice reviews. Being fond of the exquisite taste of Shiuwen of Floating Leaves Teas, I know there will always be some stunning jewel in every harvest offering. For me of course especially the spring, where I have had some of the best teas I have ever tasted. I love that you get the "glowing green" thing. I can tell how a high mountain oolong is going to taste if it's sparkling-green-tinged-glowing yellow.

Order some Subtropical Baozhong from Stephane. And make sure you're sitting down. :wink:
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby moot » Sep 8th, '09, 16:21

Victoria wrote:Very nice reviews. Being fond of the exquisite taste of Shiuwen of Floating Leaves Teas, I know there will always be some stunning jewel in every harvest offering. For me of course especially the spring, where I have had some of the best teas I have ever tasted. I love that you get the "glowing green" thing. I can tell how a high mountain oolong is going to taste if it's sparkling-green-tinged-glowing yellow.


Thanks much. Yeah, they're pretty extraordinary teas. Of all the teas listed above, I'd say the dayuling, the 2nd place baozhong, and Stephane's jinxuan are those "stunning jewels", as you say. Sort of the tea where it hits your lips, you suddenly sit upright, you can't believe you've quite tasted what you've tasted, you sip it again, and then you just get happy. I was wandering around the house with a cup of the jinxuan in my hands, just elated and sniffing and snorking and sipping and skipping around a little.

They're the ones where I immediately call up a few of my closest friends-in-tea, say, "come over tomorrow in the morning, and don't eat anything first," and they show up all sleepy-eyed and I pour them a cup and we just sit there in complete silence, sipping and nodding to ourselves.

Victoria wrote:Order some Subtropical Baozhong from Stephane. And make sure you're sitting down. :wink:


I actually did. But they're inaccessible to me right now. Los Angeles is burning, about half a mile from my house, my asthma was flaring and I was waking up in the middle of the night thinking I was dying, and managed to get the loan of a wealthy friend-of-a-friend's beach house near San Diego. Just as I was about to walk out the door, the shipment from Stephane came - but the subtropical felt really delicate, and I didn't want to subject it to any further travel, so I left it. Took the jinxuan, though, all vacuum-sealed and indestructible-brick looking. I'm *dying* to try the baozhong, but it's 3 hours drive away.

Though I have to admit, if you ever need to flee from some raging wildfires fires, and need to finish some work on your dissertation, arranging to borrow a beach house exactly 10 feet from the water with big glass windows and then bringing a ton of teas and drinking them for a few hours each morning while the sea crashes away all in front of you while you gird yourself for your day's dissertation labors... it's not a bad deal.
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby TIM » Sep 8th, '09, 16:32

moot wrote:....If Floating Leaves is Ella Fitzgerald, and teafromtaiwan is Howlin' Wolf, then Stephane's stuff is somewhere in the vicinity of Sarah Vaughan, or perhaps Billie Holiday.


Nice review moot. Hope Chet Baker, Pavarotti or even Kayagum Sanjo will be coming your way. :wink:
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby Intuit » Sep 8th, '09, 17:15

I found the 2009 Farmers Choice to be a helluva baozhong compared to a number of others that I've tried, but of course, I haven't had your long experience with this tea, Moot.

Your description of FLT Oriental Beauty is apt. I ended up brewing it longer, Western Style, and got more out of the leaf than when brewed in a gaiwan.

Why, pray tell, would I want to buy an expensive oolong that tastes like asparagus?? How is this desirable, and WHY would someone encourage the genetic development of a cultivar with so odd a flavoring?
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby shah82 » Sep 8th, '09, 20:51

I've had stephane's mid-grade OB. I am not fond of OB. I *will* pay money for a small stash of *his* OB. Just when I'm in the mood for it. Oddly enough, OB and honeybush go well together, when you want something really punk.

I love Da Yu Lings. I probably will always love it, if the one Stephane sent was at all representative. You are right to treat it with absolute *&%*&^%* care.

I also dislike Jin Xuans, but TeaMasters introduced me to it, so I already had among the best I was going to get. SiJi oolongs are really underrated as cheap green oolongs, I think. Cheap and good and easy to abuse.

Ah! Stephane also has some pretty lip-smacking rolled oolongs, from the Wuyi, to the honey roast tung ting.

I wish I could afford to really go hog wild on oolong, but I've learned that it's just too expensive to really sample, so I probably will never look very far from HouDe or TeaMasters. After all, a high-end Assam maxes out at $45 for 100gms. Darjeelings and Qimen, mebbe a bit more. You can easily go so much further than that for good oolongs...
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby Victoria » Sep 8th, '09, 21:11

Intuit wrote:Why, pray tell, would I want to buy an expensive oolong that tastes like asparagus?? How is this desirable, and WHY would someone encourage the genetic development of a cultivar with so odd a flavoring?


Trust me - I hate asparagus. To me these super fresh high mountain oolongs smell really green but don't really taste that way. Apparently to some they do. But I'm here to say if they did, I'd not be drinking them.

moot wrote:Though I have to admit, if you ever need to flee from some raging wildfires fires, and need to finish some work on your dissertation, arranging to borrow a beach house exactly 10 feet from the water with big glass windows and then bringing a ton of teas and drinking them for a few hours each morning while the sea crashes away all in front of you while you gird yourself for your day's dissertation labors... it's not a bad deal.


Yeah, nice work if you can get it.
:)
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby teaskeptic » Sep 8th, '09, 23:06

Dang, with many of these FLT teas currently on their way to my house, I feel that moot's to-the-point reviews have pretty much ruined the surprise.

I'm afraid of those lower end baozhongs now. We shall see, I suppose.
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby Tead Off » Sep 8th, '09, 23:40

Moot, great post! This is really the 1st time I've heard any of the posters here singing the praises of Taiwan Oolongs, which I feel are neglected on this board probably because many of the tea sellers focus on more traditional Chinese (mainland) teas like Wuyi and TGY's and Puerh. But Taiwan gaoshan tea is in a class by itself maybe due to the soil conditions and elevation of the mountains in Taiwan.

Interestingly enough, I could substitute a lot of what you say about Floating Leaves teas to teafromtaiwan's teas. I have not tried FLT because I live in Asia and its easy for me to order from tft. But, the one element that puts tft in the top category for me is many of their offerings are organically grown. They don't list this on the website because they are not certified. But, if you ask Ross, he will send you the list.

I also like the fact that Stephane and tft are right there, wandering around, talking, tasting, and, developing bonds with the small farm growers.

Lastly, the Wu Ling and Long Feng Xia from tft might be my favorites along with DYL. The Wu Ling is great value. All of them are organic.
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby Victoria » Sep 9th, '09, 09:26

Tead Off wrote:Moot, great post! This is really the 1st time I've heard any of the posters here singing the praises of Taiwan Oolongs, which I feel are neglected on this board probably because many of the tea sellers focus on more traditional Chinese (mainland) teas like Wuyi and TGY's and Puerh. But Taiwan gaoshan tea is in a class by itself maybe due to the soil conditions and elevation of the mountains in Taiwan.


That statement makes me sad. :(
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby tenuki » Sep 9th, '09, 23:59

hmn, two of my favorite vendors, FLT and Stephane.

Stephane's teas to me tend to be more exploratory. FLT on the other hand presents top shelf 'standards' plus interesting sidelines' (like the taiwanese wu yi). Both are great.

I've had maybe 5 or 6 of Stephane's baozhongs and they all were great teas, but not necessarily representative of 'standard baozhong'. One was from young bushes, one had a strange forrest note, another some interesting but slightly weird high notes, ect. All of them were great on their own, but none of them would win a baozhong contest.

On the other hand Shuiwen's 2nd place and honorable mention baozhongs come sealed in authenticated containers straight from medaling in the pinling township baozhong competion. Her 2nd place is probably as close to a 'standard baozhong' ( as judged by baozhong producers at the heart of baozhong country) as you are going to get here in the US.

That said, I like the subtropical forest from stephane the best, and am really glad to have tasted all the variety from him. I usually get the farmers choice from FLT, which has usually been made for the competition but didn't win. The 'standard baozhongs' are greener than I usually like, but are still quite good.

anyway, sorry for the ramble, just thinking a bit about the comparision.
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby Tead Off » Sep 11th, '09, 11:42

I had dinner with some friends who are high level Taiwan tea people. They told me the damage from the typhoon is very bad in some areas. Some farms are gone along with the growers. We should probably expect a price hike this fall/winter as there won't be as much tea available. It might be wise to stock up a bit on your favorites. :(
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby teaskeptic » Sep 11th, '09, 17:33

moot wrote:2009 Spring Farmer's Choice Baozhong: for about 3 years, I drank as much baozhong as all other teas put together (mostly from Atlantic Valley Tea, in San Gabriel, CA). This one strikes me as a little... insipid. There's a nice, pearly honey smoothness, but it sort of lacks definition or life. The aroma is similarly pleasant, but lacking.


I have tasted this tea twice now. I think "insipid" is a bit harsh. Very harsh, actually. I've had insipid Taiwanese teas before, and this ain't that. On the other hand, I think it is merely an OK baozhong.
I don't really have any bad things to say about it.. No bitterness, easy to brew, and last about as long as I would expect. I just find it to be a bit lacking. The flavor teases, but seems to fall short. I would probably say that I have enjoyed any of Stephane's baozhongs more than this one. Too bad I wimped out and didn't order the second place BZ.

Actually, I would say pretty much the exact same things about the other FLT tea I've had, the 2009 ShanLinXi. I just want more out of it. It seems to lack some of the brightness that I am used to, at least in the early infusions.

I've had both of these teas twice so far. The second time I used longer infusion times, and that seemed to help. I am almost tempted to say that some freshness has been lost somehow, as if the packages the teas came in seem to be not doing a good enough job. Maybe my opinions will change soon, once I drink them some more. Two sessions are usually not enough.
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Re: Floating Leaves, teafromtaiwan, and Stephane

Postby tingjunkie » Sep 12th, '09, 23:52

moot wrote: If Floating Leaves is Ella Fitzgerald, and teafromtaiwan is Howlin' Wolf, then Stephane's stuff is somewhere in the vicinity of Sarah Vaughan, or perhaps Billie Holiday.


Ha, I'm only using musicians to describe tea from now on! :D Good stuff.

If anyone finds some late '70s Lee "Scratch" Perry tea, please let me know... I'm pretty sure that would be some kind of smokey, heavy pu'er with serious fruit reverb notes!
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