Oh, the things this tea does to your mouth!! It’s scandalous.
I’ll admit, I really loved Verdant’s spring harvest from 2011, and I was nervous that nothing would be able to compare. Luckily, my fears were totally and completely unnecessary. I am very excited for folks to try this TGY (especially if they tried the Spring), because 1) it’s awesome and everyone needs to try it and 2) it can teach so much about TGY’s in general.
When judging a TGY, there are three general things I look at: flavor, texture (mouth feel), and aftertaste. Flavor is pretty clear- you look for something with levels of complexity beyond a general sweet and floral taste. You can actually find several green oolongs outside of China that have very interesting, lovely, complex flavors- but they stop at just that.
This TGY is full of delicious flavor. Both of Verdant’s TGY’s are excellent and extreme examples of classic Spring flavor and classic autumn flavor. They typify the flavor profiles. Basically, a Spring Iron Goddess of Mercy tastes more like spring.. very floral, creamy, with a sweetness like white or rock sugar. Autumn Iron Goddess of Mercy is more robust.. usually very buttery, with hints of nuttiness and.. well- I can really only describe it as an “autumnal” flavor. This TGY has the autumn profile in spades (more on that in a bit).
The elements that really put a green oolong (or really any kind of tea) into a higher class are texture/mouth feel and aftertaste. Textures can include creaminess or astringency/dryness.. sometimes, you can get a ringing or vibrating texture (like Verdant’s Big Red Robe). Other times, the texture is more like the feeling of linen in sunshine or paper (all Yunnan teas tend have this for me). This TGY does something really really awesome. My whole mouth starts tingling and pulsing… each sip I take seems to prime and prepare my mouth for the next- the texture feels like my old tongue is being stripped away to reveal a fresh, new tongue that positively aches for more and more of the brew. It’s fantastic; you just have to experience it for yourself. For this reason, this is definitely a tea to try in a dedicated way, without other strong (food) flavors muddying or taking over.
And then.. there’s aftertaste. This is the real final test for TGY’s with me. Sometimes, the things that separate good green oolongs from GREAT ones seem like small things on the surface, but once you’ve tasted and recognized those things, you’ll never be able to drink oolongs and judge their quality in the same way again. The main culprit here (besides bitterness of course) that bogs down other teas is.. lemon. If there’s lemon in the aftertaste of the tea, it’s a sign of lower quality. (Now, this is not to say the oolong can’t be a thoroughly enjoyable brew.. it will just never reach the extreme heights that green oolongs can be for me; also, if you don’t brew TGY gong-fu style over many small steepings, this lemon taste will probably not make an appearance). It’s no fatal, unforgivable flaw- it’s just a weakness I’ve noticed over the years. Here’s another place to watch for lemon-y-ness: try letting the leaves rest for an hour or so, and then come back to them. If it’s a lower quality TGY, you will notice a strong lemon flavor.
This TGY has note a trace of lemon. Instead, it’s got other really exciting things: Kaffir lime, for one (like it’s Spring cousin before it).. also the creamy sweetness of perfectly roasted marshmallows! If you steep this tea out even half-way, you will notice the aftertaste lingering literally all day in your mouth. It was so strong and delicious the other day, it was almost unbearable- I didn’t want to go another moment without more amazing tea! I ended up brewing the Jing shan green from Verdant.. mmm mmm MMm, that’s a winning combo.
All of this rambling, and I haven’t even gotten to the main flavors of this tea! How I go on sometimes..
Upon first brewing the leaves, I put my nose up to the gaiwan to inhale the steam.. My technical notes for the aroma were “[I want to] stay in thissmell forever..” I am so looking forward to brewing this tea up when the snow is really coming down here in Minnesota. Then I won’t need to go outside and drive over to the St. Paul Como Conservatory and sit in the orchid and tropical flower rooms.. I can just have the experience right at home in my gaiwan.
The smell of the first brewed liquid reminded me of extremely sweet candy and grapes or grape skins. The flavors.. so good, so autumny. Initial steepings yielded leafy spinach and greens married beautifully to something peppery and spicy and buttery. Something also reminded me of the Song Yang White we’d tried earlier in the evening. The next steepings were very fruity (pit fruits) with saffron, with just a bit of Yabao sparkle. Even still, that great “green” taste was still right in the heart of the flavor. My scribbles go on and on. There was a texture that made me imagine water and stones from inside a clean, magical wishing well. There was a flavor that felt bronzed, just like the great red color that burnishes the bruised edges of green TGY. As others have already noted, there was peach- lots of peach! Particularly the flavor of peach skin and the flavor you get from the aftertaste of eating a juicy ripe peach. Orange flavors and grapes, and of course flowers!
Enough of my ramblings. I clearly really enjoyed this tea. No messing around with “99” scores and whatnot, what’s the point?
Go out and try this tea. If you give it just a little bit of time and attention, you’ll have an amazing time. This is especially true if you can round up some friends to try this with you- conversation helps immensely (as does seeing everyone’s goofy, conspiratorial grins).
Corollary conclusion: Autumn and Spring TGY’s a very different creatures, each with their own special aspects to be enjoyed. I hope that folks can get as excited about the new harvests of this tea as they do about Spring Japanese green xin cha. There’s so much to be excited for with each season. Plus, I’m tired of teahouses across America just offering one TGY that stays the same throughout the year. It’s like they’re saying TGY has only one flavor! It just doesn’t make any sense to squeeze all that TGY can be down into one, simplified experience (usually a more boring spring).
What do you all think about that?