Review: Mellow Monk Crimson Grove

Black Tea, Japanese Tea, Mellow Monk Add comments
Sophie’s Teaview Snapshot
Thumbs up!"Delicious plum and berry notes are intermingled with hints of caramelized sugar, malt and toasted bread... This is a deeply satisfying cup thanks to it's full-bodied yet light flavour profile. "
Sophie’s Teaview: 8.7/10
Other Teaviews: Geoff gave it 9.5/10, Vanessa gave it 9/10, Dan gave it 7.8/10, Jamie gave it 9/10, Katie gave it 8.1/10
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This rare black Japanese tea uses lightly fermented leaves from the same varietals used to make sencha. It's described as being smokey, brisk and lightly sweet. Japan's foray into the industrial production of black tea was relatively short-lived. Between the end of the 19th century and the end of WWI, it was one of the top producers of black tea in the world. However India, Sri Lanka and Kenya quickly took over the market, being able to harvest more at a lower cost. Unable to compete, Japan's market turned to providing green tea for local consumption instead. Today very little evidence remains of the Japanese kocha or black tea tradition. All that to say that I feel quite privileged to be able to sample this rather special tea. At a glance, the leaves look like those of any generic loose Assam or Ceylon tea. The lightly twisted, espresso-coloured threads are sprinkled with a few lighter-coloured twigs. To the nose, the dry leaves smell incredibly sweet and tart, almost like sour cherry candies. This certainly bodes well!

Since I'd never brewed a black Japanese tea before, I was careful to follow Mellow Monk's recommendations. I brewed a level teaspoonful of leaves in 8 ounces of boiling water for 2 minutes. The dark amber brew has a lightly malty aroma. Again, this seems fairly typical for a black tea. The flavour is entirely another story however. Delicious plum and berry notes are intermingled with hints of caramelized sugar, malt and toasted bread. There is also a touch of thirst-quenching, almost lemony astringency to the finish. I wasn't able to pick out any of the promised smoke flavour but it is certainly brisk and sweet. There is no bitterness whatsoever, the whole affair being silky smooth throughout. I found this first cup deeply satisfying, thanks to its full-bodied yet light flavour profile.

A second one minute-long infusion reveals a cup dominated by a light vegetal sweetness reminiscent of winter squash. There is also a tasty cinnamon toast element present. This steep is much more delicate than the first. Although I did enjoy it, it was a bit lacking in depth of flavour. I expected more from these leaves upon re-brewing.

Left to my own devices, I would use a bit more leaf and steep for half a minute more to get more depth and weight to the infusions. Otherwise this tea is quite an exciting discovery. Like in a dream where familiar elements are recognizable but take on new meanings, Crimson Grove provides a new perspective on black tea. Well worth a splurge!

— To purchase Mellow Monk Crimson Grove, 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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