Tennessee Oolong from Steven Smith Teamaker

I purchased a box of Tennessee Oolong during my trip to Portland and the Steven Smith Teamaker shop. I didn’t know about Tennessee Oolong until Lazy Literatus informed me that it was released recently and I needed to check it out… if it was still in stock. I’ve tried a couple Steven Smith Teamaker creations, all through friends who either made the trip or were kind enough to spare a bag. I recall the Ice Cream Oolong quite fondly. I was excited to see Tennessee Oolong was still in stock when I made the pilgrimage to the headquarters.

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Tennessee Oolong was made in collaboration with Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey. This oolong was made with Spring harvest Nantou Jin Xuan oolong that was placed in a whiskey barrel and rotated each day.

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I also cringed at the price I paid – $39.99 for a 15 sachet box of 52 grams of tea, $0.75 per gram. I could have gotten some great puer for that price. I think I snagged this tea totally on novelty value and interesting pairing as I do not drink alcohol at all. I am familiar with whiskey as I do cook with it.

Dry Leaf

The box is quite nice and sturdy. However, I feel it should have come with a more airtight solution like a jar or tin, so no delicious tea smells could escape.

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I ended up finding a jar for the Tennessee Oolong for long term storage.

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Tennessee Oolong smells good! Like sweet milky oolong and booze.

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Western Style Steven Smith Teamaker’s Tennessee Oolong

I followed the instructions and steeped Tennessee Oolong western style with 190f/88c water for 3 minutes. Steeped up, Tennessee Oolong smells even more like sweet buttery milk oolong and whiskey.

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The flavor of Tennessee Oolong is incredible. It is brightly flavored, creamy buttery oolong with a slight grassy and floral quality. The whiskey flavor comes out balanced with the oolong, but not alcohol-like. I can even taste a woodsy barrel and caramel in the mix. The texture is heavy smooth and it is easy to go complete ham on this tea and guzzle like it is going out of style. The aftertaste is fleeting but is of whiskey and cream.

I did a 5 minute re-steep. The oolong got a bit sharper in notes, with more vegetal peas but still buttery milky and caramel. The whiskey flavor is still there but as a finish and aftertaste. I did a 10 minute 3rd infusion and it tasted pretty similar to the 5 minute.

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A final 20 minute infusion was light, a little buttery, sweet mineral, with a hint of whiskey. This is pretty good for western style infusions as I got no bitter or astringency.

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Gongfu Style Steven Smith Teamaker’s Tennessee Oolong

Since Tennessee Oolong re-steeped well, I figure it might do fine gongfu style. I used 1 gram to 17ml ratio, steeped in 200F water. I did not rinse to hopefully keep the scented oolong taste longer.

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First and Second Infusion: Holy buttery! Gongfu style brought out the tea more, so it blasts heavy on butter, milk first sip. The back end of the sip is strongly like whiskey and fruity. The aftertaste is whiskey and floral peaches. The body is thick like drinking butter, thicker than the western style.

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Third, Fourth, and Fifth Infusion: Slight shift as the milk oolong and whiskey combination gives off a fruity caramel flavor, like caramel covered peaches.

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Sixth and Seventh Infusion: I got a bit of dryness here, making my gums feel squeaky. The flavor dropped fast here and needs a longer infusion to get the fruity caramel notes. The whiskey note hits at the end of sip and aftertaste still.

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Eighth Infusion: I did an extended steep for 15 mins. This got astringent hard, but the flavor is milky and stewed veggies with a finish of peaches. I don’t detect whiskey.

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The leaves they used look good – a little chewed at the edges, but still full intact leaves.

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Likely the high gongfu temperature of oolong cooked this tea whereas the western style didn’t. The first 5 infusions were awesome, but after that weren’t as good, whereas the western style got 4 good infusions, though took quite a bit of time as they were very long infusions.  Likely a lower gongfu temperature would be best, but you’ll lose that crazy stick of butter body.


As much as I don’t drink liquor, dang, Steven Smith Teamaker’s Tennessee Oolong is a good tea. There is so much complexity, despite it being a flavored, plus even western style gives you amazing results. The balance of the milk oolong and whiskey is well done. I’ve had another liquor barrel tea that I felt was too overpowered in liquor to enjoy.

This is yet another tea to point to anyone who thinks flavored teas are the bottom barrel teas. If a tea maker uses quality ingredients, like Steven Smith Teamaker does, puts the time and effort into flavoring the tea, you get magic. I preferred the western style, but both methods will make a good tea.

If you love milk oolongs, caramel profiles, or whiskey, you’ll enjoy Tennessee Oolong. It does some with a hefty price tag, but in the end I am happy that I purchased Tennessee Oolong and will drink again on special occasions. This is a limited edition tea. If you like the sound of Tennessee Oolong, I’d buy it ASAP before it is gone forever.

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  • Tantrum

    I had just read the NYT story about the origins of Jack Daniels whiskey, Nathan Dearest, and Uncle Nearest 1856 Whiskey, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/15/dining/jack-daniels-whiskey-slave-nearest-green.html?_r=0 and so was delighted to see the coincidence here with your tea review. Anyone digging further might find the background on the whiskey origin – a tribute to the black slave Nathan Dearest who mentored Jack Daniels on how to make whiskey –
    really interesting reading.

  • One You tea

    Living in Portland im spoiled with numerous tea/coffee shops. Steven Smith teamaker has been a fav for a long time. Their full leaf black tea ‘Bungalow’ is fantastic. You cannot go wrong with their line of teas.