|"A seemingly-finicky tea that may be tricky to eek multiple infusions out of, and may possibly be greatly altered by the slightest fluctuations in temperature or steeping time. But when you catch it right, this is perhaps the tastiest cup of tea ever."|
Golden Monkey Paw derives its name from the shape of the tea leaves/buds. A mixture of mahogany-brown leaves and golden blonde tan leaves - all relatively uniform in size and shape - that appear shriveled and curled, indeed like a monkey's paw... or at least his/her fingers. Its origin is the Wuyi mountains in the Fujian province of China -- perhaps most notably the location of prized oolong teas like Big Red Robe. The leaves are hand-picked to retain their monkey paw shape, and then steamed, dried, and fermented. The dried leaves have a wonderful aroma - a dry, woody scent with inherent sweetness. It's also reminiscent of a damp, earthen cave.
On CTH's recommendation, I brought the water just below boiling and steeped for just under 2 minutes. My initial reaction was that it sounded like too short of a steeping, but from first sip to last, this cup was delicious perfection. Extremely robust on flavor, like a Yunnan gold tea taken to the tenth power. But let's back up a bit. The liquor brewed up to a nice reddish tea hue -- thus (as expounded on by many others) the term "red tea" as is more common in the orient, but what we ignorant westerners call "black tea". The flavor is really like no other - it's got a supreme bold unique flavor, not unlike a Yunnan gold, but also something special behind it to give it that "extreme" edge -- like the next level. My sampling of this tea here was first thing in the morning, and it seems like a perfect time to enjoy this tea. However, as I'm thinking about it, this would be equally enjoyable (if not more so) later in the morning, or after lunch, or around 4 PM, or just before stepping out to the bar late in the evening. In other words, this is a great anytime-tea.
Believing that a second infusion couldn't possibly hold up to a scant 1:50, I kept it going for about 2:20. The liquor this time was a bright (if semi-unclear) gold, coppery color. My suspicions were (presumably) correct - the second infusion here is nowhere near as satisfactory as the first. The aroma is faint, but the presence is still there. The taste is significantly weaker, but still retains the general flavor. Considering how weak this cup is -- not unpleasant at all, just extremely diluted -- I don't think I would bother with a second infusion here (nor, obviously, a third). This seems a shame, as I know of some other Golden Monkey teas that stand up to multiple infusions, and I'm not sure why this one does not seem to.
I moved on to experiment further -- if I reduced the steeping time on the first cup, would enough flavor be left in the leaves for a second steeping? Let's find out!
Oddly enough, a 1:30 first infusion (at slightly lower temperature) was not quite up to snuff. I would have expected maybe a tiny notch down from the big bold flavors of the first cup, but this time cup #1 is somewhere between the first two. It is definitely a very good cup, but not nearly as satisfying as the first. I think hitting closer to the 2 minute mark, and getting that temperature right up close to the boiling point is key for the unique flavors within.
For infusion #2 with these leaves, I tried just that - just-boiling water at a full 2 minutes (or maybe 10 second over). This cup was more flavorful than the first, but had a noted astringency and slight bitterness in the aftertaste which was not present (or very noticeable) in any of the prior cups.
A strange and intriguing set of results with mixing up various parameters. In short, I would definitely recommend sticking with the 2 minute brew and just-under-boiling water, as this produced one of the most sublime cups of tea I've tasted in quite some time. The lack of diversity (at least in producing a satisfying cup) beyond that point is somewhat disappointing, but the superiority of that one perfect cup outweighs any negatives beyond that point.
— To purchase California Tea House Golden Monkey Paw, or for more specific information on ingredients or the story behind this particular tea, click here to go directly to the manufacturer's web site.
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