Austin's Tea Review
Over the last week I have been blissfully enjoying four teas from Austin's Tea that were gifted to me. Founder and "Philly's Tea Monger," Zachary Austin describes the beginning of the company as happening, "while living in China and as something of a bad habit." While I see nothing bad about the habit of taking tea, I relate to this sentiment. Tea, for me, is sometimes a private pleasure, a sneaky escape and silent f@#$ off to my to-do list, if only for a few minutes. Tea is my respite, relaxation, and solace. I love the idea of it being a little rock and roll at times too and feel like Austin's Tea and I might have that in common.
Let's get to it. These are four well-made and carefully selected teas. The leaves are all attractive, grainy, and fragrant with almost no dust or broken fragments. The elegance of the packaging along with the exceptional quality of the leaves gave me the feeling of being served a favorite from a friend's private.
Before I dive into the individual teas, I need to say this: never have I encountered such accurate flavor descriptions. When I am ordering teas I definitely use the flavor notes to make my decision. By the time the teas arrive, I have completely forgotten the descriptions, so I am free to experience the teas without any preconceptions. Sometimes I am right in sync with the notes and other times not so much. With Austin's Teas I went through the same routine and was astonished when I got four out of four matches with the package notes. Let me be clear: All the credit for this should be attributed to the palette of Zachary Austin.
I tasted each of these teas over several sessions, beginning with a proper cupping. Throughout the week I put them through their paces in various brewing styles. I found each of them to
be flavorful at each session, over several
sessions, and tolerant of distracted
The Gyokuro Saemidori has classic emerald, needle-like leaves that reveal brighter green and angular, broken leaves when steeped. The liquor was a pale green that leaned a little toward blue. The tasting notes said to expect fresh zucchini, bone broth, and aged Parmesan. In my experience the flavors of salty parmesan and verdant zucchini also produced a marine taste. It was refreshing, cooling, and had a long finish that got sweeter time when on. I brewed this Gongfu style and then Western style and decided that the longer, less concentrated steeping time served these leaves best.
The Dong Ding Cui Yu Oolong moves quickly from bitter to sweet. It has a coffee-like flavor with a light touch of sugar lightly touching the surface - like organic off-brand Frosted Flakes, in a good way. There are citrus and floral elements as well. The package description suggests, "spring garden breeze, candied lemon peel, and fresh ginger." The leaves are rolled tightly and medium-brown. After one infusion, they stay mostly intact, but become much brighter green. The liquor is light, clear brown, like a champagne diamond. The package description suggests, "spring garden breeze, candied lemon peel, and fresh ginger." This is a tea that really wants to be brewed in a Yixing pot. After the proper cupping and then brewing it in a Gaiwan, I found my teapot brought out contributed a grounding to the flavors that accentuated the sweetness.
The Jin Jun Mei has wiry leaves about three-quarter inches long, chocolate brown with lots of copper tips. The leaves stay mostly intact and straight, evening out into the color of a Morgan horse. The liquor was a medium orange-red with a golden ring around the edge of the cup. The flavor was brisk and very bold with notes of sweet hay and a lovely dark stout. I also picked up a hint of slate or "river rocks." The tasting notes for this Jin Jun Mei were "Alfalfa hay, Doppelbock, and Basalt. How spot on is that?
I am not sure if I could pick a favorite of the bunch, as
they are all so wonderful, but I have the clearest and longest lasting memory of the Ruby-red Hong Yu. This tea, from the Nanton region, has leaves over an inch long that are long, dark-black, and twisted. They were quite undone after steeping and have what I thought of as a "rose punch" aroma. The liquor was a deep red at the base of the cup, almost like an Assam, and the flavor notes were once again uncannily accurate: eucalyptus, rose water, and strawberry preserves. It is the sweetest of the set and was wonderful to drink in the afternoons instead of hitting the vending machine for a treat. I brewed both of the black teas in a Gaiwan over multiple infusions.
Without a doubt I will be buying from Austin's teas again for myself and especially for gifts for tea lovers at all stages of appreciation. The quality of the leaves, care for the product, and accuracy of the descriptions help the customers make clear-eyed purchases. These are fantastic teas for anyone on any occasion.