Review of Zhu Xiang Ji brand Yu Lei dark tea

AromaFlavorValueTotal
10 of 105 of 54 of 595 of 100
OutstandingExcellentGood Value

If you could brew the experience of sitting in a lush pine forest after a light rain, with a distant, vague scent of wood fire smoke on the air, this would be it. This tea has a clean, dark, wet earth note that underlies a pine note with an almost menthol-like quality to it, and a touch of smoke that comes in at times. It's very good-tasting, the quality is consistent, and the tea is hard to brew wrong.

I had good results with 8g-10g of tea in a 110ml gaiwan using 100ºC water. The leaves don't expand much but they do take up a good amount of room, so you may prefer a slightly larger gaiwan.

The dry leaves are black and nearly black, twisted, and have more of a clean scent than any dark tea or pu-erh that I've ever encountered. They separate easily enough from the log, but some bits stick together. Watch out for the occasional strip of plastic that was probably left behind from a woven tarp used during the processing. It's not a huge issue, but who wants to brew tea from bits of plastic if it can be avoided?

The wet leaves are pitch black and have a pine scent with a lightly menthol note and a dark, clean, wet earth note underlying it. There's barely any trace of smoke, though it comes and goes and isn't too prominent in this tea.

I rinsed for 10s and then brewed for 20s (I made increments of 10s then when it became weaker, I increased the increments). The tea has a delicious pine note to it that's mouthwatering, reminiscent of the quality that good roasted kyobancha has — that mouthwatering sweetness. Though, this seems to come from the pine note. There is a clean, dark, wet earth note underlying it but it's more in the background of the brew itself.

Overall, I'd consider this a great find. It's delicious, I've found it reliable, and it's much cleaner-tasting than any other black tea or pu-erh that I've tried. The effect that it has is strongly relaxing and even, reminiscent of the best pu-erh teas I've had. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this. The only caution I'd give to those who are interested in trying it is that despite its delicious taste and lack of suspect notes, it can be a bit abrasive on the mouth and throat after a while. I don't know why this is, maybe it's because of the processing. So, take care to enjoy this in moderation.

UPDATE: I wanted to note that different batches can vary in their effect and flavor. I had one that I believe was from 2010 and another from 2011 and the difference was more significant than other varieties of tea. So, if you are considering ordering some of this, I'd recommend to order one unit of it first (I haven't seen it in anything smaller than one 200g bamboo-wrapped log), then order more if you like the effect and flavor. Also, be sure to verify that the dates are the same. (The date is listed clearly on the paper wrapper, so it won't be a problem for either you or a seller to check what it is.)

ANOTHER UPDATE: I had purchased some of these logs and some of them sat around for six months to a year. The effect they had definitely evened out from the time I first tried them to after that time. So, if you get one of these and they have an unpleasant effect, give them time. I've found that they actually calm down more quickly than other varieties of dark tea. I've had pu-erh be problematic even after years, but this was a pleasantly short wait for delicious tea.

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