897 Tasting Notes
And now everyone has gone, Rita has returned to Peru and Ben’s parents have returned to their other home in Madison. This means I have the house to myself, well for a little bit, at the beginning of November Ben’s awesome cousin and his fiance will probably be turning into housemates, which is fun. Luckily they are both really cool people, so sharing the house with them will be fine with me (not that I leave the bedroom very often, but still) plus more people to share tea with!
Today’s tea is not a tea, well it is in the whole ‘it is a thing you steep then drink’ sense, but it is not made from Camellia so technically it is not a tea, semantics! Teavivre’s Black Tartary Buckwheat Tea Whole Embryo is a fantastic little grain that can do double duty as a drink and a breakfast. Fagopyrum tataricum is a species of buckwheat, meaning it is not a gluten having grass, it is also considered to be bitterer than common buckwheat, though I have never found it so. I adore this stuff, of the various grains I have steeped Tartary Buckwheat is probably my favorite. The aroma of the kernels is delicious, it smells like peanuts, toasted wheat, honey, and…well…buckwheat! The aroma reminds me a bit of peanut butter Captain Crunch, but unlike that cereal I can enjoy it without it cutting my mouth (seriously Captain Crunch, you kill my mouth.)
Into a pretty glass teapot the kernels go, usually I have problems with this teapot’s astronomically slow pour, but since it is really hard to oversteep this stuff I was not sad about using it. After they have steeped and the kernels have softened and expanded, the aroma is very tasty, if you are a fan of cereal. Which I am. There are notes of toasted grains, honey, cereal, and definitely peanut butter. The liquid without its seedy goodness is very sweet, strong notes of peanuts and toasted wheat with a caramel and honey finish. I adore how sweet this stuff is, and how it smells like peanuts.
This time of year just calls for this kind of drink, autumn and toasted grain goes together like peanut butter and bread. Which conveniently is what this steeped kernels kinda tastes like! With a thick and smooth mouthfeel and a soothing feel, this is the best thing to drink at 4AM when your region of the world is experiencing its first freeze. The taste is wonderfully sweet, like a honey and peanut butter sandwich on a nice toasted grain heavy bread. Unlike a lot of herbal teas I found I could get more than one steep, though the later steeps require a very long steep time so the liquid is rather cool by that point. Still super tasty though when chilled! One of the best features of course is the cleanup of the buckwheat, just grab a spoon and eat a tasty midnight snack.
Ah, autumn! I am loving the weather, it is cool and crisp, the leaves are turning, and there are pumpkins everywhere. Also skulls. This Halloween skulls are super in, and I am fighting the urge to buy up every piece of interesting skull decor for my tea desk and future wedding, but it is hard! The hunt is, of course, still on for the perfect ‘spooky’ piece of teaware from the thrift stores, no luck yet!
Today’s tea will always make me think of the Tang Dynasty, mostly because of the movie Curse of the Golden Flower (or Curse of the Golden Corset as I call it) because they really had an obsession with Chrysanthemums. The movie, while beautiful, is certainly not one of my favorites…but the Tang Dynasty will always be my favorite period of Chinese history, rivaled by the Three Kingdoms Period of course. This really has nothing to do with anything, save a love of an aesthetic, so without further ado, Teavivre’s Huizhou Emperor Chrysanthemum Tea! A beautiful single blossom individually packaged, it made me feel like royalty with the presentation, it also meant that the risk of the flower being crushed into oblivion was minimal which is always nice. The aroma of the flower is very lovely and pure, as though I have a fresh chrysanthemum sitting next to me. Trying to describe the aroma is a challenge, because it smells like chrysanthemums, describing tea is easy since it almost always has notes of other things, but for some reason this particular flower has always challenged me. I will try, assuming the reader has never sniffed one, to find a comparison. There are notes of daisy, wild flowers, pollen, lettuce, white pepper, straw, and gentle almost creamy sweetness. It smells like autumn and nostalgia, a very happy smell for me.
Now I could have gongfu’d this flower, I have thrown many a chrysanthemum into a gaiwan and steeped as such, but since this one is so special I thought I would go for a clear cup and just let it float around while I sipped it. Again, talk about feeling like royalty, there is something very princess like about drinking a cup of flower. The aroma is much like the dry flower but stronger and sweeter, it lacks some of the more potent sharp notes that some yellow chrysanthemums (especially Tai Ju, which are mostly buds) have.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, chrysanthemum has quite the reputation for being a cooling herb, it is also one of the few medicinal herbs I drink not just for taste but for its usefulness, especially this time of year. I am not sure which of the chemical compounds in this flower it is (because of course the internet has conflicting info and I no longer have my books on TCM) but one of them does wonders for sore throats and as an expectorant, making it a must have around during allergy season. It also settles my stomach so I drink it after big meals or before bed, granted I am not one to recommend medical stuff since my body is super weird (and they do not help Ben’s allergies at all) but it is an interesting bit of trivia. Plus it helped me pass the time waiting for the flower to steep!
The taste and mouthfeel is fantastic! Like a chrysanthemum flower should be, the texture of the liquid is thick and slippery, coating my mouth in a nice cooling sensation, like the world’s mildest Biotene mouth spray. Honestly the texture reminds me of that as well, but with no mint to be found…which is completely fine with me! Some chrysanthemum flowers are very sweet, others are very pungent and medicinal, this one is way on the sweet spectrum. None of the sharp more medicinal qualities are really present, just the wonderfully sweet nectar of fresh golden chrysanthemum. With notes of honey, pollen, wildflowers, daisies, straw, and a lingering aftertaste of sugar.
One fantastic thing about this single flower that really struck me was how many refillings of the cup I could get before it finally faded out, it has some great resteep value going on. I got four very flavorful cups and at least three more very mild but pleasant ones. At first, when looking at the price, I thought it a bit too steep for my blood, but after seeing how much life I could get out of it I realized it was not bad at all. Plus, taste aside, part of the price does come from the spectacular presentation, it looks spectacular while steeping. I found it so lovely that when I had sucked every bit of flavor from the blossom I stuck it in a different cup of tea just to extend the visual enjoyment.
I am currently embroiled in a very heated competition, a cheesecake bake off! Granted I am really the only one counting it as a competition, my judges and competitor are all like ‘we all win’ and that is fair, but not as fun. Granted the reason I am so competitive with this particular culinary competition is the recipe is both very expensive and a real pain to make without a mixer. Spoon Fork Bacon’s Goat Cheese and Greek Yogurt Cheesecake is one of my favorite recipes ever and I seriously suggest giving it a try, just know that if you make without any form of electric mixer you are in for an arm workout!
It is a Wednesday, meaning Instagram is all a buzz with the #teawarewednesday hashtag, and for all my massive hoard of teaware I have not played along in a while, so today is celebrating the beauty of teaware! Specifically Yunomi’s Sawa Houzan: Shigaraki-yaki Shiboridashi, one of my greatest treasures. For Tanabata Yunomi had a mini contest, you wrote a wish on their website and a randomly picked winner would get a gift certificate, reminiscent of the tradition of writing wishes on strips of paper. I wished for a real Japanese Shiboridashi, made for the enjoyment of green tea, to heighten my enjoyment, and when my wish was randomly picked I immediately picked the shiboridashi that has been on my wishlist for literal years.
I love my other two shiboridashi, but they were not quite perfect for the finer grade of Japanese green tea, letting the tiny leaves slip through the grooves which were just a bit too big, causing me a bit of frustration and often a mouthful of leaves. I had debated getting a clamshell style clay one at one point, but really kept coming back to this specific shiboridashi, its coloring and graceful lines called to me. The cream and subtle salmon pinks remind me of snow reflecting the colors of sunset, and the shape reminded me of a calla lily. One of the more intriguing things about the design I gleamed from the photos was the crackling, I so love teaware that tells the store of use through the deepening dark crackles achieved over time.
It was in for a massive surprise though! This shibo crackled after its first use! A fine spiderweb of dark lines started to appear after my first session with a green tea, each session since adding deeper lines and at this point it is almost entirely covered in a webwork. This patterning matches the cracked glass decoration on the knob perfectly. Really everything about the aesthetics of this piece is perfection.
No matter how beautiful a piece of teaware is, it still needs to function or it is pointless, and no one wants that. Luckily this piece was crafted by a master potter so of course it functions beautifully! The pour is fast and even, no weird drips or messes when I am pouring. The grooves keep the majority of the leaves inside the shibo, a tiny crumb might escape but really it is immensely effective. It keeps the temperature of the leaves and water steeping even but does not hold heat too terribly well, this is great when I am drinking those delicate Japanese greens but on the few occasions I have used the shibo for other teas the tea was a little bit watery from heat loss. Honestly though complaining about that is like complaining when the screwdriver is really bad at hammering in nails, wrong tool for the job.
Since it wouldn’t be a teaware review by me if I didn’t find one thing to nitpick, this beautiful perfect treasure is a pain to clean. Specifically those grooves are a pain to clean, I feel like I need to get a specific scrub brush just to get the bits of leaves out from between them. And yes, it is somewhat hard to photograph, the bright color and crackles cause some havoc for my camera, but that is more a failing as a photographer than a failure in the teaware, it makes me sad though since it is so pretty and I want to show off how pretty it is!!
Everyone should pity Ben’s grandfather, who overheard me talking about Kansas and Tyrannosaurus rex and discovery at a family event yesterday. A local museum has the cast of the first rex skeleton ever discovered and I knew it had something to do with Kansas but couldn’t remember what and told him I would email him the details later. Turns out the discoverer was from Kansas, and I could have put that in the email and called it a day but noooo, see he asked about Paleontology and that is the most dangerous thing to ask me about. So Ben’s poor grandfather just received a massive email about all of Kansas’s Paleontological history, details about the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event (Because I will always talk about the Great Dying given the slightest chance) the best place for fossils to form and how location effects the fossil record. I have a feeling no one in Ben’s family will ever ask me about dinosaurs again, the same thing happened last time someone asked me about tea, at least I left them with a nice nugget of information!
Today’s tea is one that never sticks around in my stash very long, a long time favorite, Sun Moon Lake Tea (#18 Red Jade) this one from Golden Tea Leaf. One of the reasons this is one of my favorites is each one I have had is different, it is fascinating, you can certainly tell they are all Red Jades, but they each have some wildly different but similar note, kinda like the difference between different kinds of chocolate. Some are sassafrasy, some like cherry, some menthol, some cinnamon…it is always an adventure with this tea. Notes of cloves, dried cherries, freshly cut tomatoes, sassafras, malt, and finish of woodiness and molasses waft from the pile of leaves. It is both sharp and sweet, almost tingly in my nose, and of course I love the sassafras note. I did find the tomato note to be very surprising, I have run into many red teas that have either tomato leaves or sun dried tomatoes as a note, but this is the first time I have smelled one where it is like someone handed me a fresh from the garden just sliced Roma.
I decided since the tea is named (among many things) Red Jade to use my red rice pattern set, it seemed fitting. After the first steeping the leaves are so potent, practically exploding with intense aroma, notes of cloves, menthol, and sassafras just wash over me, it is wonderful and invigorating. After this initial flood of intense notes, gentle notes of malt and chestnut with a very gentle tomato quality greet my nose. The liquid is intense as well, strong cloves and sassafras, only a gentle sweetness with a burst of menthol in the middle and a finish of strong tomatoes, it is very strong and brisk.
On the first sip I was surprised by a burst of sweetness, this tea is usually quite sweet in taste and aroma, but with the aroma this time around being less focused on malty honey sweetness I expected the taste to be more brisk than sweet. The mouthfeel is pleasantly tingly and smooth, it seems a contradiction, but it works really well. Strong notes of sassafras and menthol at the front with a building menthol in the middle, towards the end a savory tomato note pops up and then finished with a cinnamon honey note that lingers for quite a while.
This steep has evolved into something new and exciting! Less sweet and more intense, a starting note of dark chocolate and saffron with a cardamon finish. New idea, one day make a Red Jade Masala Chai…assuming I can convince myself to add milk and sugar, the idea seems heinous. The end of this tea is where the sweetness lies, along with the cloves and sassafras, both lingering into the aftertaste. I was seriously in love with the saffron note, anytime a tea has that naturally (and not from added saffron) it immediately jumps to the top of my favorites list.
The third steep might be my favorite, ramping up the sweetness to be more like the first, so it is dripping with honey and caramelized sugar. Then of course is a rich cocoa and saffron, a nice tingly burst of cloves and sassafras in the middle with a distant wisp of tomato. The finish brings in a mellow cinnamon that lingers into the aftertaste. Of course since this is a Red Jade I am going to push this tea until there is nothing left, which came around steep seven, so it has decent longevity.
For any of my readers who are affected by or going to be affected by Hurricane Matthew, stay safe! This particular Hurricane looms heavily in my mind for two reasons, the first and most important is I have family in its path living in Charleston, luckily they are smart and evacuated to the rest of my family in PA, but before I knew they were evacuating I was obviously worried. The other reason is it reminds me of one of the more impactful events of my early life, Hurricane Hugo. I was living in Columbia, SC at the time when that beast slammed full on into the Carolinas, at the time it was the most costly hurricane to hit the US (long since been removed from the top ten) but still ranks #2 on the Hurricane Severity Index. I could tell many stories of the night Hugo hit, they are some of my most vivid early memories, but the real impact this storm (and the tornado I experienced about a month later) had was instilling a phobia of storms that lasted for YEARS. I was almost an adult before I finally broke that phobia, all those (and still) I spent studying Meteorology and eventually the phobia turned to fear, then respect, then outright love.
Today I am looking at a tea that I have not had in literal years, Tai Ping Hou Kui Green Tea, specifically one from MeiMei Fine Teas. My first time having this tea all those years ago sadly did not wow me, I thought that it was tasty but kinda boring, that I was paying the steep price for the visual appeal rather than taste (like with blooming teas) and figured I should indulge in other green teas. When MeiMei Fine Teas sent me a sample of their Tai Ping Hou Kui I was excited to give this style another chance, especially since their teas have all impressed me in the past. First off, these leaves are impressive, massively long emerald to peridot (when a rockhound tries to describe colors) green leaves with a delicate patterning of the pressing. The other TPHK (as I am not abbreviating this tea) I had was machine processed, this one is handmade, and I can tell, where the previous leaves were paler green and almost translucent, these are thicker and much more solid.
The aroma of the leaves is pretty great, light notes of green beans and asparagus, nutty sweet chestnuts and sesame with a touch of peanuts, and sweet green peas and cooked rutabaga. Like a ghost as my nose heats up the leaves, a sweet floral note arises from the leaves, it starts as peony and finishes as delicate orchids and is quite evocative of spring. I really love green teas that are vegetal and also have strong nutty tones, but delicate floral accompaniment is an extra layer of depth.
Originally I was going to brew this in my tall porcelain gaiwan I bought specifically for green tea, but I realized it would not do these leaves justice, so I went with the traditional method of brewing in a tall clear glass and pouring into a smaller glass. It is similar to grandpa style but instead of drinking from the leaves I am pouring it off, but still leaving some liquid in with the leaves. Sadly I do not have a gooseneck kettle (the only time I really want one is when I am dealing with delicate teas) and I have a very unsteady hand, so my bludgeoning pour meant a few leaf crumbs were broken off, I mention this because they were not there until I poured a deluge onto the leaves and all over my teadesk while trying to pour on the side of the cup. Oops. The aroma of the now wet leaves is green and crisp, notes of asparagus, cabbage, green beans, lima beans, spinach and peas dance with a subtle orchid and sesame notes. The liquid is light and sweet, notes of snap peas and chestnut with a hint of distant peony and cooked rutabaga.
The first steep is so crisp and green, crisp in taste and texture! It starts with notes of lettuce, water chestnuts, and bean sprouts. I have had other greens with notes of sprouts and water chestnut, but this one is the most distinct, I feel like I just bit into lightly sauteed both, still crisp and a touch raw, but with that slight cooked taste. Towards the finish notes of green bean and cooked peas, finishing a bit more savory than the start with a lingering aftertaste of alfalfa sprouts.
Oh my that is so smooth! Where the first steep was crisp, this steep is buttery and smooth. Blending notes of cooked spinach and cooked bean spouts with green bean and chestnut, I feel as though I am drinking the liquid form of a wonderful stir fry with a side of roasted chestnuts for dessert. The finish is a blend of cooked collards and cooked peas with a hint of starchy lima beans, the aftertaste is a delicate rain water on peony blossom that does not last too terribly long and has an almost effervescent quality.
This next steep is like a blend of the other two but with added fun, the crisp flavor notes of the first and the smooth mouthfeel of the second. It starts with sweet and crisp snap peas, water chestnut, and squash blossoms. Then it moves to cooked peas, bean sprouts, sweet chestnuts, and a gentle orchid note that blooms into the aftertaste. One of the best things about this tea is its longevity, usually a lot of greens kinda piddle out at steep three, but not this one, I sat and refilled it a good six times before I was too full of tea. Gongfu is hard when you are solo-ing a large amount!! I am so glad I gave this style tea another try, totally worth it.
Crazy game update time! Yesterday I woke up early, as Ben was leaving it caused me to become awake enough to have to go to the bathroom (tea drinkers woes) and I saw my phone was blinking up a storm, the Minecraft update had arrived…and my desire to go back to sleep left. New blocks and banners make my builder self happy (though so bummed about no purpur blocks, I neeeeed them) and the Chinese Mashup Pack was beautiful, but with almost all the really thematic textures it makes my world look so tacky so I didn’t buy it. Tempting though for a new world full of Chinese builds, but I have enough to do on Ramble, even if it does mean no Jianshi zombies. Later that night, unable to sleep, my phone starts blinking like crazy…apparently Ark Primitive+ got a massive much needed update to fix the enormity of bugs, so I keep bouncing between Minecraft and Ark and that is more or less my life right now!!
It is probably well known by now that I have a ‘thing’ for purple tea, and it is not just because it gives me a reason to shout ANTHOCYANIN like a battle cry, there is something about this flavonoid pigment that subtly alters the taste to a way that makes my brain happy. It is no shock that many of my favorite foods and flowers (and edible flowers) are loaded with Anthocyanin, so of course teas with high levels of Anthocycanin have to be tried. And they do taste different than their less purple associates, no matter how it is processed, I once tried a Kenyan Silver Needle and a Kenyan Purple Silver Needle from the same farm and year, and yep, definitely a difference in taste, so it is not just a visual difference. This all leads up to today’s tea from Bitterleaf Teas, Dragon Blood 2015 Spring Lin Cang Zi Juan Raw Purple Tea. Zi Juan (which is one of the names for Purple Tea, along with Zi Ya, and Zi Cha) can be processed like any tea (ones processed like a Hong Cha are a personal favorite) and this one is processed similar to a Sheng Puerh, similar enough that I brew it like I would a young sheng. Before brewing though, I need to give the beautiful dark leaves a good sniffing, and I am greeted with a smorgasbord of notes! Grilled eggplants, fresh sage and oregano, distant almost perfectly ripe peaches, basil, lettuce, and cooked tomatoes. It smells like a veggie kebab straight off the grill on a summer day, I want to eat the leaves, it is so savory and that slight sweet edge from the peach note is delectable.
After the rinse and first steep, the aroma of the leaves is fascinating, it is malty yet meaty, savory and sweet, green and smoky, fun times! Notes of sage, grilled eggplant, lettuce, gentle pine wood campfire after rain, pine greenwood, and a touch of camphor lift off the wet leaves. The liquid is light, a buttery blend of eggplant (man I really want Baba Ghanoush now) with fresh sage and a touch of peach skin and peach leaves. Like the dry leaves the peach note is just short of being perfectly ripe so it has that crispness and not just intense sweetness that a perfect ripe peach has, I am Southern and the ripeness of peaches is very important, clearly.
This tea starts out nectar sweet, like an immense burst of flower nectar that takes you by surprise, it then changes into something else and depending on what steep it is can be either vegetal notes of lettuce and bok choy or bitter hops. This then turns into the part of the tea that was one of my favorites, grilled eggplants! I hated eggplant when I was a kid, nowI love them, especially when they have been grilled and have that touch of smokiness to them. The finish of the first couple steeps all have a peculiar hard to nail down finish, it is not quite malty, not quite savory, not quite salty…it flits around between different notes at lighting speed that when I finally feel like I know what it is the taste has drifted off to something else, it reminds me a bit of the way Kimchi dances around from note to note at a rapid speed, though it tastes nothing like Kimchi except savory and a bit like cooked cabbage. The mouthfeel starts thick and stays thick, almost oily, coating my mouth like a non-Newtonian solid. I enjoyed the first part of this session so much I drew a little heart in my notebook next to it.
Let it be known that steep four, five, and six had me floating on an eggplant like cloud. Seriously I was so happy and floaty that I think I am going to drink this tea next time I have to do public speaking…I might not make any sense though since I am pretty sure this tea makes me super tea stoned. Even though this tea’s qi is super powerful, its effects were pleasant, not the ants crawling under my skin sensation some powerful qi can hit me with. There is more to the middle steeps than a qi that makes me float off into another realm, there is the grilled eggplant note that sticks around til the very end, a gentle sweet sugar cane note, a rain on slate and copper note with a finish of bok choy. Like the earlier steeps this one is thick and oily but finishes with a subtle lightness that matches the floaty feel of the tea.
The end is near, the final three steeps bring in notes of sugar cane, distant grilled eggplants (until the very last steep, steep ten, where it is gone) and a blend of mineral and copper. There are fleeting notes of bok choy and peaches, but they float away quickly, at times having me wonder if I dreamed them. This was quite the enjoyable session, one that lifted my spirits and made me feel relaxed and blissfully without pain, something someone with Fibromyalgia doesn’t get much of. I am saving the rest of my sample for extra pain or stress filled days and hope to get a cake for later, as I am very curious to see how this one ages.
Guys, it has become fuzzy robe and fluffy blanket season and I am soooo hype!! As it is very well known (really, I never shut-up about it) I loathe the heat, each year it seems to affect me more and my threshold for tolerance drops. All the week the weather has been highs in the mid-70s and lows in the 50s, meaning my windows have not closed. I love the crisp air at night, and it the cooler day air means I can get away with wearing shorts and a sports-bra with a fuzzy robe over it, because stylish! Accuweather says we are going to have another mild winter, which is sad, but maybe I can just leave my windows open all year and never open the heat vent.
Since I am moving into the season of darker teas, I need to get these warmer weather evoking teas reviewed! So, today I am looking at Floating Leaves Tea 2016 Baozhong – Farmer’s Choice, part of the 2016 Baozhong Sampler. Harvested back in May in PingLin, Taiwan, and made from the oh so popular Qing Xin varietal. The aroma of these fluffy leaves (I never tire of looking at Baozhong, such vivid leaves) is sweet and green, a perfect balance of lilac and honeysuckle nectar with herbaceous notes of thyme and sage. It has a very gentle nuttiness adding to the sweetness and a touch of toasted nori seaweed at the finish.
I brewed this tea in my much neglected silver dragon gaiwan, it is a problem with having so much teaware. The aroma of the leaves, which are even more emerald vibrant, is wonderfully late spring in its notes. Lilacs and honeysuckle dance with thyme and sage, but there is a creeping note of lily that starts light and increases with each sniff giving a gentle spice quality. I have a serious weakness for spicy lilies, so much so that they are probably going to be the flowers I use in my wedding. The liquid has wonderfully sweet notes of honeysuckle nectar, peony blossoms, lilacs, and a gentle note of sage and lilies with a finish of sesame seeds.
When I smell and taste a Baozhong and get a balanced blend of green and floral, I know I can settle in for a long session. So many Baozhongs I have interacted with are in the mindset of live fast and die young, and they are almost always dominated by strong flowers and no real depth. This one, however, does have depth! Notes of lilac and honeysuckle blend with gentle thyme and the herb savory (which is more green and herbaceous than actually savory, but it is often used in savory dishes so here we are) The end brings in notes of honey covered sesame seeds and a touch of chestnut with a crisp touch of zucchini in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel is light and gentle, with an Oolong’s signature butteriness, just not as intense as say a Shan Lin Xi.
The second steep brings out more of the lily spicy, as well as a stronger honeysuckle quality, which I found very enjoyable. There are notes of thyme and savory, and even a gentle note of sweet snap pea adding to the crispness, these add a more summery quality to a tea that evokes springtime and blooming flowers. Towards the end there is a gentle note of basil which was awesome and blends surprisingly well with the finish of honeyed sesame seeds. The mouthfeel is similar to the first but more of it, and the aftertaste of zucchini and lilacs last even longer.
For the third steep I noticed an increase in the flowery notes as well as sweetness, at this point the green and herbaceous notes have faded to a wisp at the very end. Like walking in a late spring garden with blooming lilacs and succulent honeysuckles with a gentle bloom of spiced lilies. The aftertaste is a lingering lily sweetness with just a touch of nuttiness. This is one of the more green Baozhongs I have had and I loved it, combining the notes of fresh herbs and freshly blooming flowers is enchanting and evocative of a season which has now long passed.
So, the other day I reported on a bit of Minecraft news that excited me, a beautiful looking Chinese Mythology mash-up pack, but it seems that the day after the pack comes out a big update will come out. I have been waiting for this update for so long, finally Purpur blocks and a new End! Of course I might have to redo my epic ‘Temple of Remembered Starlight’ build at the End (poor Endermen will need a new house) but it might be worth it to see the new End ships and castles.
Today I am looking at another Sheng from Denong Tea, their 2016 Early Spring Sweet Clarity Raw Pu-erh, made from Xishuangbanna arbor material harvested early spring of this year. If this tea is anything like the other Shengs I have had from them I am in for a treat, their 2015 Xishuangbanna was my favorite so I am excited. The aroma of the leaves is reminiscent of the way the air smells in the mountains after a summer rain storm, a bit green and wet, a bit mineral, and very crisp and clean. There are notes of gentle freshly cut hay, fresh spinach, daisies, and apples, the notes are subtle while being very aromatic.
Giving the tea a rinse and first steep, the aroma of the leaves takes a turn for the fruity! Where there was a gentle apple note in the dry leaves, the wet ones bring out stronger apples and fresh pears. There are also notes of wet hay, rain water, mineral, and an undertone of buttery spinach at the finish. The aroma of the liquid is very light, notes of gentle apple and pear with a sweet daisy and hay quality at the finish.
The session starts out surprisingly thick, it feels as though my mouth has been coated with golden pear juice, though not sticky, just that same fruit juice thickness. And of course speaking of fruit the first several steeps are very fruity and sweet! Notes of apples and pears (I am thinking specifically Gala Apples and Asian Pears) with a gentle building hay and honey note. The entire first three steeps have this distant interesting daisy note, specifically a note that I taste with my nose since it does not have the taste of daisy. The interplay between nose and mouth can be hard to explain sometimes!
The middle steeps, which were steep four through eight, have a difference from the beginning steeps by being a touch bitter. The bitterness is one of raw spinach, and as bitterness in Sheng goes it is very mild, especially considering it is not accompanied by a dry mouth that often comes with bitterness. The note of pear is not as strong as previously, but the apple note is still going strong, as is the hay and an aftertaste of honey. The mouthfeel is still thick and pleasantly juicy, so far I am finding this to be a very refreshing and easy Sheng. Any body feel it is giving me is light and feathery, making me feel mellow and relaxed. I find myself more and more drawn to Sheng with a mellow Qi rather than a very strong one, since usually I find the stronger effects to be rather uncomfortable, so if you want a tea that kicks you in the face with Qi this one not so much.
I kept this tea going until steep twelve, the finishing steeps rivaling the beginning steeps for my favorite, the thick mouth combined with wildflower honey sweetness along with a slowly fading apple, crisp spring water, and a distant field of wildflowers make for a wonderful finish. As it reaches the end of its life the mineral quality of the spring water taste becomes the aftertaste and lingers along with a slight honey sweetness. The website for this tea says it is perfect to sip on a quiet afternoon, and they are not wrong, the mellow and relaxing quality makes it a great accompaniment to an afternoon of doing nothing.
I owe Grand Tea an apology, it has taken me forever to drink the sample of the Raw Pu-erh Cake- Simao 1998, and my reason is a little silly. I liked the 1999 Simao, but something that that tea and this one had in common is the smell triggered something in my brain to avoid it. Now don’t get me wrong, I liked the smell, but everything in my brain screamed ‘do not put this in your mouth’ which is an odd reaction for me (what with my strange compulsion to taste non-food things) but it happens sometimes. Usually my reaction to mushrooms (the common Agaricus bisporus, aka button mushrooms, portobello, and cremini is the main culprit) is like this, I had to retrain my brain to recognize them as food, same with yogurt and blue cheese. I decided to let the sample rest for a while before digging in, to see if the more swampy quality would mellow out. I love swamps, have spent large portions of my life playing in them, but swamp water is a microbial nightmare so maybe that is why my brain freaks out.
The minute I stuck my nose in the sample I knew I had made the right call. The aroma was not one of Swamp Thing’s basement, instead it smelled a LOT like beets. Juicy, freshly cut and slightly sweet while being rooty and earthy beets. I swear it smells so much like I just ripped a beet out of the earth, brushed the soil off, and took a bite. There is a faint note of old books and wet soil and wood, but it takes a serious backseat to the beet note. Can you tell I am really excited by the beets?
Into my baby gaiwan the compressed leaves go. When I first opened this sample months ago it had a bit of fuzz on it, said fuzz has vanished, now the leaves are dark and compressed, and could sneakily pass for a shou for those not in the know. I hit the leaves with boiling water for a rinse and gave it a flash steep for steep number one, and the aroma of the leaves is pretty fantastic. It is a blend of gentle fresh mushrooms, wet mushroom soil, a very distant note of woodsmoke, wet slate, and of course lots of beet goodness. The aroma of the liquid is sweet and earthy, with notes of mineral, beets, and a light medicinal camphor quality.
The first couple of steeps are pure undiluted beet goodness. Earthy and rooty with an intense sweetness that starts light and sugary at the first steep and is intensely sweet by the the third steep, it is like drinking a sugar beet, or a beet covered in beet sugar. The first steep is pretty much all beet all the time, but the second and third steep bring out notes of wet soil and a bit of a medicinal valerian root bitterness and wet wood. As for physical reactions, the mouthfeel is pretty light, a slight dryness at the back of the throat and sides of the mouth, and a bit of a heaviness in my limbs. One odd thing I noticed is I got a strange pressure feeling in my belly, like I had a massive burp stuck under my lower esophageal sphincter and pushing on my diaphragm. It was not necessarily uncomfortable, just weird.
On to the next several steeps, usually this would be steep four through six, but it is actually all the way through steep ten, since that is when I noticed any real change. The sweetness of the first several steeps is still present, intensely sweet beet and sugar blend with wet wood and a bit of a bitter dry cocoa, like I ate a brownie and found a pocket of unmixed cocoa powder (yes this has happened, I haven’t always been a decent baker.) The sweetness reaches its peak at steep five and stays at the same level until steep ten, with underlying shifting notes of wet wood, medicinal herbs (specifically valerian and sweet wormwood) and a bit of wet leather. The mouthfeel is light, no real intense textures except a bit of dryness at the back of the throat and sides of the mouth, creeping up the tongue as well in later steeps. That pressure in my stomach has bloomed into vague nausea and I am starting to get really hot and dizzy, but I had been battling with insomnia and my Fibromyalgia flaring up so it could be unrelated, but since these effects didn’t show up until I was drinking this tea I feel it is safe to at the very least mention it.
I went fifteen steeps with this tea, and it didn’t seemed to be finished, though by steep ten it was starting to fade, just fade very VERY slowly. I could have probably pushed this tea at least couple more steeps, but honestly I was starting to get bored. I liked the notes present in this tea, especially the beet (which was the dominant) but just because I like beets doesn’t mean I want to eat an entire bushel of them in one sitting. Even though this tea was not terribly nuanced I found myself enjoying it, I think this would be a good introductory tea for someone who wants to experience a Sheng with a bit of age on it…or someone who really likes beets!