52 Tasting Notes
After two previous experiences with rotten, fishy-smelling shu, this one is a welcome change. I’ve been re-steeping and sipping on this for more or less twelve hours, and it’s pretty much just mildly tea-flavored water at this point, but it is so so soothing, and has been good company to cut through all these jelly-covered breads I’ve been nibbling all day.
See, I went to a farmer’s market the other day and met this really nice guy selling homemade jellies. He treated me to samples— several heaping spoonfuls of the freshest and most flavorful jellies my tongue has ever enjoyed, and I left with four jars. Now I am spreading it on anything and everything, and sometimes the fruity-sweetness gets to be a bit much. But luckily, I have this this tea, dark and and savory and a perfect balance to the syrupy-sweetness.
I am going to seriously gain ten pounds. Off of jelly. And it will be totally worth it.
I may have spoken too soon last time when I mentioned that I was feeling a tendency towards shu pu’er, because they last couple of teas I tried were both shu, and they were hardly worth writing about. But I’ve also been doing a lot of homework on pu’er over the last several days, trying to learn all I can about it, and seems that “terrible” shu is relatively common.
From what I’ve read, shu/shou/cooked pu’er was developed in an attempt to mimic aged sheng. So it goes through a sort of speed-fermentation process to achieve this. Sometimes this goes over well, and the resulting product is ready to drink. But there’s also a chance that the fermentation goes off, and the result tastes like bad fish. Sometimes the “bad fish” shu will benefit from aging in the sense that it will sort of “air out” and the weird “off” flavors will mellow, but just how much shu pu’er benefits from aging after that is highly debated.
Really, a lot of aspects of pu’er seem to be highly debated or at least conflicting. I can already tell that reading about it is only going to get me so far… that’s why I just dropped $60 on a handful of assorted samples from puerhshop.com. Most of them are sheng, since I am honestly a little leery about shu since my last two encounters with it have ranged from “meh” to “ew,” but I realize that those off-flavors are not present in every shu, and there are certainly ones out there that I adore.
But the more research I’ve been doing, the more I’ve been intrigued by sheng. It seems that sheng holds a lot more possibility for variety than shu, and while there are certainly times when I just crave shu’s dark earthiness, I am intrigued by what’s out there in the sheng-world.
But enough rambling now, this tea. I didn’t even know I had it, and I must have gotten it in a swap or something because I’ve never ordered directly from EoT. I had a little sample amount of it stashed in an old Adagio sample tin.
This stuff actually reminds me of a white tea or maybe a green tea; rather clean and clear and crisp. A bit dry, and very easily turns harshly astringent if brewed a bit too long. I’ve read that dryness/astringency are characteristics of young sheng that subside with age, so maybe that would change with time? I suppose I won’t ever know since I only have this tiny sample size, but being such a novice to all this, I can’t help but speculate. With short steeps though, this is really a nice relaxing afternoon tea.
Looking at the leaves I’m noticing a lot of stem, like maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of the mix is stem. I’m not sure if that’s normal in a tea like this or not, but it’s an interesting note. The leaves are fairly broken, and there are a few buds mixed in with more mature leaves. The assorted shapes remind me a bit of looking into a bowl of chex mix. The color of the leaf is very nice, a sort of olive green mostly, but a few leaves are tinged with a lovely rusty reddish-brown.
Just another chronicle in my journey to understand pu’er!
So the last (and first) time I tried a milk oolong, I was put off by its “so-strong-it-must-be-artificial” milky flavor. I was still curious to try other milk oolongs, but finding one that wasn’t artificially flavored I could tell was going to be difficult, as the definition of a “milk oolong” does not seem to be set in stone. So when I noticed Teavivre had both a flavored and unflavored milk oolong, I figured hey, there’s no way the unflavored version could be flavored! I know, that sounds silly, doesn’t it.
This really is interesting, and definitely not artificial in the subtle flavor. I can honestly say it’s like nothing I’ve had before. It does have a very creamy, heavy feel to it, and is just slightly floral without being perfumey. It also has another flavor, one I can’t quite identify, but it reminds me of….a nice hotel room (I swear I have the strangest “flavor notes” ever…).
It’s good, but to be honest I probably should have picked a different tea tonight— I’m just really not feeling oolong-y. Gladly Teavivre is generous enough in their sample sizes that I have enough to try this again on another night (or three) when I can appreciate it a bit more.
Some note in the far far back of this tea reminds me of…Christmas. It kind of fades in and out and I keep losing and trying to find it again. But I think I’ve nailed it… worcestershire sauce. That must sound really strange, but the only time we ever made worcestershire-laden chex mix was during Christmas in my household; that’s what I’m reminded of.
I’m starting to understand why people might spend huge amounts of money on fancy yixing pots. Aside from the whole seasoning and making tea better over time thing, I hear they retain heat wonderfully, and with this tea, as well as the last pu’er I tried, I realized that my favorite flavors are best teased out on the first steeping immediately after the water is reboiled.
It’s funny, because I generally prefer to brew most teas at a lower than suggested temp. A lot of this is probably because I spent an extensive amount of my tea-life drinking Japanese greens, which are so easily destroyed by too-hot water. That, and I have an higher-than-normal aversion to astringency/dryness, which hotter water tends to bring out in most teas. But as I’m trying more sorts of pu’er, I’m learning how wonderful higher temps can be in pulling out those shy, complex flavors.
Right now my water setup isn’t exactly ideal— my water is boiled in my fancy electric water heater in the bathroom, then goes from that into a preheated thermos which I take to the desk for my tea session. Meaning the first pour is maybe just under 200 degrees (the best steeping in the case of this tea), and as the thermos sits there losing heat, the water gets progressively cooler until it’s empty and I have to go refill it with freshly boiled water again. I can’t exactly haul my water heater out to my desk… and I’d just rather not have tea sessions in my bathroom. I look forward to the day that I have a kitchen to cook (and make tea) in.
I have a confession to make though, I specifically brewed up a sheng today because I’ve noticed that the last several shengs I’ve tried have been very effective in eliciting a tea-high euphoria, and I have been under so much stress that I guess I wanted something a little more than a standard relaxing session. I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t floored either— the euphoria is pretty manageable. I think it’s more effective on an empty stomach.
I may be a bit of an addict. Over the past several days my gaiwan and little fish cup haven’t left my desk; I only dump out old leaves to replace them with new ones. Meh. I need to clean out my tea inventory anyway; that way I’ll feel less guilty when I go to order new tea!
Last of this. Sadness. Just a quick note to myself that this is wonderful and I should totally order more (but it’s going to take many, many months of careful budgeting before I can place the massive order to Verdant Tea that I really want…)
There’s something heavier, more substantial to this TGY than I’m used to— After reading the description, I think maybe I’ve just never had good autumn TGY. Buttery and creamy is an accurate way to describe this. I actually didn’t find it especially floral, I mean, no more than usual for a TGY. But I tend to prefer grassy to floral anyway.
It’s not raining today, but it’s the kind of day I like to put on some storm-sound mp3s and just relax with a fine tea, perhaps while idly browsing some tea-themed forums or blogs. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon before having to go in to work for a late closing shift.
I’m getting to where I’ve tried more than a few pu’ers now, and I feel like it’s a getting a little redundant to say one tastes “earthy” because, well, every pu’er I’ve had has held that characteristic. It’s like saying peppermint tea tastes minty. Pu’er experts of steepster, is this an accurate judgement?
But this one, under the obvious earthiness, holds some note I’m not sure I’ve tasted before… I kind of want to say.. mineral, maybe? It reminds me of what water might taste like if I was taking a hike in the woods and stopped to drink from a stream… just very fresh and cool and yet… rugged and natural, outdoorsy, like fresh air. I know those aren’t generally words used to describe tea, but I’m trying here.
In my, still admittedly novice, experiences with pu’er, between shu and sheng, shu is growing on me much faster. Maybe it’s just that dark earthiness… shu seems more… soil and fall leaves to me, whilst sheng tastes more like spring saplings, still earthy, but more woody and less soil-y. And I just really dig that “forest floor” quality in all of the shu that I’ve tried.
I know, it sounds like I’m talking about drinking trees, but trust me when I say I mean this in the best way possible.
I’m looking at the leaves now and noticing that these are some resilient little nuggets. I’m about 7-8 post-rinse steeps in and they’re still clinging together in their little clusters. Some of them are significantly darker than others— I wonder why this is? Maybe some of them were on the outside of the piles while they were aging while others were at the center? I have so much to learn about pu’er (and so little money!)
Mmm, I’ll also note that the “river water” note as I’m now calling it, seems to emerge best when the water is at it’s hottest— I just reboiled the water and that bright, clean note is now stronger than ever. I really love it. I just wish my tea-vocabulary could describe it.
Ooh, just caught a berry note. Delightful. This is now a hike-in-the-woods-and-drink-from-a-stream-and-eat-a-handful-of-wild-blackberries tea. All the adventure, none of the risk of snakebites, bee stings, or stumbling over a root and spraining an ankle.
I’m noticing the darker nuggets seem to be much more stubborn to open and separate than the lighter colored ones. Maybe the darker ones are more compact? At least they’ve all sunk now; for the longest time one of the darkest nuggets insisted on floating on the surface of the water as it steeped.
I’ve just now come up with a new term for that river-water taste/feel: rocky. Or maybe going back to mineral would be more accurate. I can’t say I’ve ever picked up a rock and sucked on it, not since I was a child at least, but I expect water rushing over lots of little river-pebbles might tasted something like this.
I love how shu just seems to last forever and ever. The only downside to that is that I can’t just have a quick morning session before work without feeling like I’m wasting several steepings. This is definitely a slow, unwinding evening sort of tea. I really would love more evenings like this.
I feel the need to revisit (and re-rate) this tea after having received brewing advice on it. It seems my love for packing the gaiwan doesn’t have the best results when it comes to teas like this!
So I scaled back from 4g/90ml to 2.3g (well, I planned on trying 2g, but the leaves were in this nice little 2.3g chunk and I wasn’t sure how I was going to break that apart without damaging the leaves, so I went with it).
I can certainly say that with the lesser leaf, the sharp astringency that put me off last time is pretty much gone. I have to compensate with slightly longer steep times, which took me a bit to adjust to, but the results are very pleasing.
I will start by saying that I don’t know what this is, but this incredibly relaxing “tea-high” mental fog seems to come especially strong with this tea— I noted it was especially strong last time I tried it too. Not sure if it’s coincidence or something special in this particular tea, but it’s a factor I can’t ignore.
Nuttiness is a factor I’ve really come to love in teas, as well as this woody/earthiness I’ve only just been introduced to since wading around in the shores of pu’er (okay, that’s a strange mental image). I get a bit of a spicy aftertaste now that I didn’t get before; that’s really very pleasing. The later steeps still remind me a lot of Cream of Wheat (I was totally obsessed with that stuff when I was a kid). Overall I think it’s a very nice comfort tea.
I just went to Verdant Tea’s site to check the pricing on this stuff, and it’s 13.50 an ounce, ouch. Good as this stuff is, I’m not sure the experience is worth that much to me, personally. Although an ounce would go a long way, especially using 2g per session, I would rather spend on something I haven’t tried already.
It’s funny how I am much more than willing to pay a lot for samples of tea I have never tried than for larger amounts of tea I already know I like. Maybe that’s just the sign of a greener tea-drinker; maybe years later after I’ve got a pretty good handle on what most teas from major growing regions taste like, I’ll settle a little and be more than happy to buy entire cakes of stuff like this. But right now, the prospect of a brand new tea experience is worth more of my tea-budget than a repeat of something I know I love.
But back on the topic of the actual tea, I want to thank Geoffrey for the brewing suggestion; go easy on the leaf amount, especially if you’re super-sensitive to astringency as I am, heh. It really improved my enjoyment of this tea!
So this stuff makes a pretty good ice-pop!
Brewed this up pretty strong (20g to 4 cups) and sweetened with 1/4c sugar, froze into some ice-pop molds… very satisfying and refreshing. Might brew it stronger next time though, since the tastebuds tend to numb when eating frozen treats. I also don’t like super-sweet stuff, so if you want to try it, you might find yourself adding more sugar. I’m thinking of cutting it back further next time.
Not the conventional way to enjoy tea, but hey, it’s July in central Texas; some days hot tea is not going to cut it! I wonder what other teas might be good frozen?
I need to write more. Boo.
So after the leaves from a mystery-origin (Protip: don’t label tea tins with post-its) TKY were spent, I brewed up some of this, and in contrast to the TKY, this tasted much bolder and very fruity….the fruitiness especially got my attention… golden raisins and white peaches come to mind. I actually enjoyed it more than the TKY, which I found strange, since this tea is much older and lower-quality than the TKY I was drinking. This leads me to a few possible conclusions:
- The mystery TKY I was enjoying before this is actually older/lower grade than I believed, and was just a bad comparison. I’ll be honest in that I was very passively enjoying the TKY while working on a project and wasn’t especially paying a lot of attention to it.
- I have had so much TKY lately that I am burned out on it or it just tastes standard to me, and it was nice to have something different in an oolong.
- This tea has been sitting around so long (seriously, I think I’ve had this little tin for three years) that it magically developed new flavor characteristics with time. Kind of unlikely, I think (at least, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of green oolongs aging well), but I won’t rule it out.
I mean, I’ll be honest, I never thought of this as an amazing tea. I’m pretty sure that this is leftover from a sampler from years ago when I was beginning my tea-tasting journey; I guess in that early phase of trying every tea possible this one fell by the wayside in that awkward category of, “good, but there are better”. So it became a “mixer,” something I would occasionally add a few leaves of to my morning mug-worthy blacks for some extra richness, but not something I considered taking the time to gaiwan-brew. Once I lumped it into that category, it kind of stayed there for years, and I think my tastes have since changed. Honestly, the only reason I decided to brew it is because I only had a tiny bit left, and I’m trying to finish off all my little bits. But this tea really surprised me. I’m a little sad it’s gone.
I don’t think I will order this again (I might, just to settle the nagging theory that it was the age that brought out the best of it), sadly the flavor faded after only a few short steeps but I definitely want to investigate other huang jin oolongs now.
When I was first exploring the tea-world, I guess I latched onto TKY as “BEST OOLONG EVER” and made the mistake of shunning other perfectly good oolongs such as this. Discoveries like this kind of make me kick myself over missed opportunities, but at the same time are pretty exciting; I feel like a tea-newbie all over again!