11 Tasting Notes
Ok, this is expensive tea. Almost 300€´s per kilogram. It has been handpicked only a month ago in Anxi, southern Fujian, China. It´s very exciting to think how fresh this tea really is.
I steep it at 85ºC for 2 minutes. I find myself being extra careful while handling these delicate and precious leaves. It´s a nice feeling.
Iron, metal. Rolling hills of knee high grass, It takes me up, I quite literally raise my head with the fumes. Very light yellow/green drink.There´s myriad nuances in the odour, too fine and fleeting to desribe in words. Like butterflies in dappled sunlight.
First sip:wow. First a vegetable round sweetness that changes to a rapid tingling bitterness on the tip of the tongue and frontal palate, just behind the upper front teeth. There is a great ocean somewhere nearby, although the surrounding hills don´t give a direct view of it. I´m a miner mining iron ore with old time pick-axes and shovels. The tea goes down the throat like liquid gold. There´s this big orchestra with traditional instruments playing the solid undertones, but the virtuoso solo violinist takes the whole into new soaring heights. I didn´t know tea could have this many levels and tones. Remarkable! A fresh breeze like someone opened the window.
I read it´s called “iron tieguanyin” and I really can see why, now. There´s this really special smell and taste, a tingy metal. Flint hitting steel. I feel it´s somehow heretic to say this: it´s almost like the smell of certain plastics. Very surprising but absolutely perfectly functional.
I find it a bit hard on my conscience to keep on purchasing expensive teas. I feel I really would have some more practical things that I should use that money on. But life is short. That´s one thing I´ve been thinking more and more about, and these teas really give me some comfort and meaning, so why not? I should try to find and settle on a couple of affordable basic teas as my “every day” drinks, though. I can´t drink Tie Guan Yin for breakfast every day.
Second steep. The open leaves have serrated edges and they are really dark green, is that the autumn flush´s trademark? A slightly greener liquid. The scent is more round, with a clear hint of orchids. It´s exactly the same scent as that of a zygopetalum- orchid that I have on my window. The leaves in the pot are dark green and they are opening up, they have a slight maltiness to them. The tea is like a walk in a sub-tropical garden. Humming birds and exotic fruit trees. An umami roundness rolls down the tongue. I feel very happy and peaceful. The long awaited guest has taken his overcoat off and is chatting with me in front of the fireplace, the formality is melting away.
Now I remember this smell: it´s the cow parsley that I slash down along the path as a kid.
Steep number three. The orchid is even stronger here. I´m feeling so blissful that I don´t see the point in describing the taste which is just perfectly harmonious and whole. I don´t know the particulars of Tie Guan Yin´s manufacturing process, or what makes it an wulong, but to me it´s like a perfect green tea.
I made a couple of cups of Nepal Masala yesterday, and added a teaspoon of Anhui Qimen Hong, a slightly smoky chinese black tea, and it improved to whole: the spices had been a bit overwhelming, but now the balance was very nice.
I ended up buying this chai as I was hunting to duplicate a cup of chai I recently had in a Nepalese restaurant here in Helsinki. This sounded like the closest thing, but in the end it wasn´t the same.
Anyways, this tea is beautiful. I mean it looks awesome with all those spices and what not mixed with the tea itself. I get happy just by looking at it. The dry scent is quite strong and spicy, just as you would imagine. There´s something liquor-ish, like rum or something.
I brewed this with 50/50 milk/water, and lots of honey. I boiled the tea with the water. The taste takes me back to childhood. It´s the christmas past without tasting what is normally sold as “christmas-y”. Anise is a bit over-powering for me, it takes too much space from the other players. The idea comes to mind that maybe I should add a teaspoon of some a bit smokey black tea to the mix? The taste isn´t “oriental” really, it´s more like home baked cakes and cookies. I thought there would be snow covered mountain tops, but somehow I get an image of a German christmas party with too many bright led- lights. What´s wrong with me?
But don´t get me all wrong, it´s a nice chai by all means, it´s just not what I was looking for this particular time. A good winter drink. My 10- year old daughter loves it.
Update: Yes, a little teardrop of honey worked very well after coming home from the forest.
I´ve had a bag of this for a few weeks now. I have tried to find a way to prepare this that would make it meet the legendary reputation of this tea, but have not been succesful.
I guess I should mention that my batch is of “Grade III” of this tea, which is the lowest and cheapest offered by this vendor. Hopefully that explains the poor results, and I hope to try out a better Lung Ching in the near future. But now to the tea itself:
The dry leaves have an earthy, dark, pungent aroma. After steeping they yield a pale straw- colored liquid. The drink itself is much thinner and lighter in taste than the dry smell of the leaves. There´s an unpleasant metallic note, a slight hint of roastiness. Nothing much more. I´ve tried to compensate for the lack of taste by using more leaves and/or by longer steeps, but it just made it more pungent. Don´t like. I see no reason to finish what I have left of the bag. I´m disappointed by the poor quality.
Color: dark golden amber
Dry smell: Crushed fresh birch leaves, a distant fireplace.
I´m walking along an edge of a field in late September collecting twigs for a vihta. (A vihta is a bundle of small fresh leafy birch branches bound together that you use to whack yourself in the sauna with. It gets the circulation up and gives an awesome scent.) The smell of a distant fireplace burning finds me, a warm comforting feeling.
Moss. Freshness of a tiny forest spring. A little honey. Earthy. Has robustness without being heavy or harsh. Is there some imaginary dish made from oven-baked wood chips marinated in honey? Makes me think how much I need to spend more time in the nature, walk in forests. Comforting sweet scent, like a small gathering of good friends.
I tend to start sipping tea too early, I burn my tongue this time as well. In a couple of hours I´ll be on my way to have a new tattoo. It´s gonna be a picture of Ariadne from the Greek myth of the Minotaur. She was the princess who gave Theseus, the hero who went into the labyrinth to kill the beast, a ball of linen thread, by which he was able to find his way out after completing his gruesome task. Symbolically, off course, the maze is your own mind, and the Minotaur is just the reflection of everything you fear in yourself, the dark side, if you will. You must make the perilous journey down to the center of the labyrinth and conquer that shadow monster, it´s the only way to become whole, undivided. And after that you must still find your way out. In that part I hope Ariadne will help me.
There´s something royal to the taste of this tea; it´s not a peasant tea by any means. A masculine taste. A chinese courtyard in times long past, with someone roasting almonds on an open fire. Swords being sharpened. Large sacks of rice. There´s a war about to start. If I was made to march in to a battle with a spear in my hand I would like to drink this tea before that, it would give me the courage to die valiantly (which in reality is of course BS, there´s nothing courageous or valiant about war).
A very complex but balanced tea. Something that lingers in your mind even after the taste has disappeared from your mouth. My first oolong, BTW. I sit here very satisfied, not overly buzzing from energy, but quite concentrated and ready to take on the day.
OK, here goes my first ever pu´erh tea. I´ve read and heard probably too much about it in advance, my expectations are waiting for something mythical in proportions.
The liquid is black, like coffee. It smells of that barnyard everybody mentions, but there´s also dead rotting hay killed by the first frost, autumn leaves, bare fields. My 8- year old son takes a sniff and he says: “Sauna.” That´s it. An old finnish country sauna.
Taste is sharp and dry. Dry in the sense that there is absolutely no sweetness in it. In some strange way the taste IS the smell of this tea. They are identical; this tea has no other taste than it´s scent. Doesn´t make sense, but that´s how I feel. Very much like black coffee but without any after taste.
Now there it was, my pu´erh virginity. I´m not sure what happened or what I think of it, it all happened and was over so fast. I´m sure I´ll be getting back for more, but for now I´ll have to give it the yellow face.
“A high quality first green tea of the year from the famous tea area Shizuoka. The young and tender leaves have a fruity aroma. A very delicate and sweet sencha from Otsuka, the multiple prize winning company for best tea of Japan.”
Color of liquid: light yellowish green, with small particles of leaf dust swirling around. Beautiful.
I take a sip and close my eyes: grassy summer slopes with the sea visible from the hills, sun shining gently on top of everything, a warm slight breeze keeping the air fresh. I´m taking a nap beneath a giant lemon tree. There are no worries here. Soft but light. Umami.
I went to get some new teas today and battled my way through late- autumn Helsinki. The wind was so bitter I was sure my face would just fly off any minute. Somehow I made it back home and this tea was the first one I prepared of the batch of six I brought home with me. I´m happy I chose this nice Japanese wonder.
Sitting here after the first cup I feel acutely present in this moment. Being present is perhaps the only thing a human should strive for in this life. It is painfully difficult, though. Or maybe it´s more like that not being present in the moment is what is actually painful? Or running away from the pain that is present… I lost it.
Steep number 2: Only 20 seconds at 70 C. A lot darker mossy green and cloudy liquid. A conifer forest. Dash of citrus, a little spinach, not too much to make it vegetabley (?). The taste: now we are definitely in a moist shadowy forest, with moss covered logs and stones. Shiitake mushrooms. It´s that umami taste of sweetness without being sugary. A remarkable change between steepings. I´m starting to feel really pretty high with all the caffeine, L- theanine, antioxidants and what not.
A lot of the plants that are native to Japan also grow somewhat well here in Finland. I have a rare dwarf form of the Japanese rhododendron, for example, growing in my yard. Unfortunately the prettiest Japanese tree, the Acer palmatum, or Japanese maple is too tender to grow here. I´ve killed three of them being stubborn and just trying to plant them against what I know is inevitable. There´s something in Japanese plants that is very special; they look “Japanese” no matter where you grow them…
Steep no 3. 40 sec at 70 C. Gets more fruity and lemony. The flavors are mellowing out, comfortable and round. I´m a bit disappointed that the greatness stopped here, maybe a little bit short? But those first two cups were really special, so I won´t complain.
A very straight-forward tea. Dry leaves smell of apricot, leather and a hint of smokiness. Taste is sharp and strong, a little bit of orange on the background. Packs a punch so works well as a wake-up tea in the mornings.
The dry aroma consists of rum, Madeira wine, plums and tarred wood. Taste is strong and sharp, somewhat dry. I taste leather, pine needles, smoke and tar. A good afternoon drink on a cold day. Would probably work with sugar or honey.