Review by Charles Dawson Read the original Reddit post here
Like a number of others here I took advantage of iTeaworld's offer of free sample boxes to review a number of weeks ago. They arrived the other day and I've been sampling them with my inner tasting circle since then. Now that we've tried all of them I thought it time to share my thoughts.
First of all, I was very pleased that these teas were generally a noticeable step above your average specialty tea store. A few of the teas were solid but mundane, but most of them were clearly of a higher quality and a few were real surprises.
Comparing the samples to their online store prices I felt that their pricing was very reasonable in most cases, at costs that even a bargain-hunter like myself would not balk at.
As for the individual teas, first the oolongs:
Minnan Narcissus. This was the biggest surprise of the sample sets. The name suggested to me that this was a simple shui xian, most of which on the market are simple twisted-leaf roasted oolongs indistinguishable from generic da hong pao. I was dead wrong. It was intensely fruity and floral in a manner much closer to a dan cong than an average shui xian, and reading their description I discovered that this is not a shui xian proper, but an offshoot of that oolong that has become significantly different.
Best of all, this Minnan Narcissus had the exact same flavor as the very first shui xian I tasted almost two decades ago and had not found again -- I had assumed that early tea was mislabelled and was really a dan cong, but now I know it was a shui xian relative that I didn't know existed and is not common on the market. It was one of those "Ratatouille moments" where old memories were evoked by the taste with a sudden intense nostalgia. At $19.99 for 100g, this is a great deal, and my wife is encouraging me to put in an order just because of this one tea.
Tie Guanyin. One doesn't expect much from such a generic name, but this proved to be a very fresh, and very jade, Anxi TGY in the popular modern style. A step above the standard in quality and entirely pleasant. Many brews that were long lasting with a very thick mouthfeel.
Fenghuan Dancong. They don't state which kind of dan cong this is, but it doesn't taste like the ubiquitous mi lan xiang (honey orchid aroma) style. Nicely rich, good floral/plummy aroma, and a surprising number of pours from a single 3.5 gram sample pack. Seems decently priced compared to most dan congs these days.
Da Hong Pao. A solid entry with a little more complexity than the standard "I'm a roasted oolong" offering, but unexpectedly gentle and mild. Probably the most average of the four oolongs, or at least the one that stood out the least. Not at all a bad tea, just not exceptional alongside the others.
And then there was the black tea sampler box:
Yunnan Black Tea. With such a generic name I expected this to be a standard malty dian hong. Instead it was very yeasty and yammy, with a bit of graham cracker. To be frank it tasted more like a good quality zheng shan xiao zhong than a normal dian hong, which is not a bad thing even though I love dian hongs. It was very pleasant and one I would drink again regularly. Still perplexed by the very generic naming though.
Yingde Black Tea. With a name like this I expected something exceptional, but this time I found it to be more like a standard dian hong. Very solid and pleasant, but not exceptional. I may try brewing this in some other ways to see what subtleties I can draw out, as I had high hopes from the name.
Lapsang Souching. Not a smoked lapsang souchong, but interestingly it didn't taste like the unsmoked zheng shan xiao zhong versions out there either. I've had this one twice in different ways and it's a gentle, smooth, but unexceptional black tea. Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the black tea samples, or perhaps all the samples. Again, it's of solid quality, but it didn't stand out in any way to me.
Wild Souchong Black Tea. And another really, really good one to end this review on. This one is a pine-smoked tea, but not overwhelmingly strongly smoked like the low-grade lapsang souchong glutting the market. This one is well-balanced with a pleasant level of smoke while allowing the flavor of the good tea leaf base to come through. I actually found it very similar in effect and quality to some small-batch Japanese smoked teas I've had in recent years. I really enjoyed this one and would probably add it to any order I placed with iteaworld.
So that's it. These were free samples provided by iteaworld so I recognize that naturally inclines the reviewer to be more favorable, but I feel these are fair and accurate impressions of these teas. I will be holding additional sampling sessions with other tasting groups to confirm.