49 Tasting Notes
First of all, thanks so much to Bonnie for greeting me with this sample, as well as a host of other samples, when we met at the Rocky Mountain Tea Festival!
I have been super busy lately, and I have not had time to review, let alone taste, any new teas for quite some time now. Today, I finally have a wealth of free time, and what better way to use it than drinking and writing about a tea from one of my favorite tea companies :)
Bonnie gave me quite a generous sample of this tea, enough for two pots, but I decided to chuck the entire sample into my little 100mL gaiwan and put it to the ultimate gongfu test. I put the water on the stove, put the leaves into the vessel, and waited for the crab eyes to start blinking at me from the bottom of the pan. When the crab eyes caught my attention, I drenched the leaves, stirred them up a bit, and took a whiff…
It smelled like green tea. There was nothing white about it. It was beany, vegetal, and earthy. The first sip confirmed my nasal sense. It tasted just like a high quality, everyday-type green tea. This is not to say that it was not delicious. It just tasted nothing like a white tea. The second steep mellowed out the balance of tannin and sweetness. Once, again, it was very delicious. The third steep was even more mellow, with a lighter body, but still nothing white about it.
This Laoshan green tea that may have been processed as a white tea is very good indeed. It upheld its freshness very well. Every steep tells a different story, or at least chapters of the same story. Maybe I will tell the story some day. It will be a story of how there is absolutely no agreement in the tea business on what a white tea should be. Every company seems to have a different definition, and these discrepancies are enabling them to produce a wealth of different flavors, looks and aromas — essentially, different teas that all parade under the name of “white.” With all these variances, I’m becoming more and more confused. If you’re reading this, maybe you could tell me: how do YOU define what a white tea is? Do you simply submit to what every company tells you, even if their white tea tastes completely green, or even almost black (as Teatulia’s white tea tastes)? Or do you, as I do, feel the need for a little more formality in the definition of “white” tea?
Flat. One-dimensional. There are only hints of what a good black tea should be.
I really want to believe in this company because of the good that they do in Bangladesh, but this is the second tea of theirs that I have tried that is lackluster and bland. Everything is right about this company except for the quality of the tea itself, save for their loose leaf white tea. Luckily, quality is a variable that can change with even slight alterations in the process. I really hope that Teatulia continues to grow in this aspect.
I’m confused. Delighted to the utmost extent, but confused nonetheless. I taste black tea maltiness, white tea fruitiness/mustiness, green tea nuttiness, and anxi oolong sweetness. Sounds amazing, right? But all of this in one cup? It makes my head spin. I think I will use this tasting note to sort out the chaos that this tea has caused in my mind and senses.
First things first. The appearance, aroma, taste, and mouthfeel resemble nothing close to a Fujian white tea made from the Da Bai Hao cultivar (many tea fanatics, myself included, believe that this is the only “true” white tea). The needles are shorter, grayer, and do not have the same mushroom smell. The brew is much darker than the pale yellow of a Fujian Bai Hao Yin Zhen brew.
And the taste? OMG, the TASTE!!! There are hints of oxidation: fresh bread, malty flavor, all indicative of a black tea. A certain saltiness tickles my taste buds, which is what Fujian white teas do. I get a hint of jasmine and umami, all of which are usually present in the highest quality oolong teas. There is even a shade of the nuttiness that characterizes a Long Jing. How on earth can a cup of tea incorporate all of the best qualities of every type of tea into itself? My mind. It’s experiencing growing pains again.
One thing is for sure. I cannot call this a white tea, not just because of the “fujian da bai hao” bunk that I believe in, but because of its inherent character. It is truly a unique tea that deserves its own category. It should be called… I don’t know… a royaltea?
Who would have known that Bangladesh would become a place that produces a high quality tea? Talk about “finding a priceless pearl in the poor.” I’m not just talking about the tea here. Teatulia is doing some amazing work on this 2,000-acre part of the world to create an infrastructure of community, equity, and sustainability. More information about this can be found on Teatulia’s website. They are really creating a goldmine in a land of rubbish, and I really hope that Teatulia’s efforts will positively affect everyone who comes in contact with the company. If they continuously produce a product of such exquisite quality as their loose leaf White Tea, and translate this quality to every product that they offer, then they will have no problem doing so.
I’m sitting at a coffee shop in Denver that I recently discovered. The ambiance is nice, and the coffee is great. Today, I decided to check out their tea menu. They had a modest offering of teas from Teatulia and the Tea Spot. I decided to try this green tea, and I was not expecting much. I opened the pot for a sight and a smell. Just as I expected, the leaves were all broken. They literally looked like the sweepings off of the table after the real tea had been processed.
The flavor of the tea was virtually the same as Celestial Seasonings’ Authentic green tea. It was highly processed to the point where the flavor was flat, leaving no trace of the good things that I associate with green tea. There was no nuttiness, vegetable, sweetness, or anything of the sort. Even astringency would not grace this cup with its undesirable presence. It does not deserve to be a loose leaf tea. It would have been much better off in a bag like its equals. That said, I am very grateful to have this cup of tea right now, and the space that I am drinking it in is very relaxed. I’m in a good mood right now.
Much thanks to David and Verdant Tea for this sample.
I have tried one other Huang Zhi Xiang Dan Cong, and it was from Seven Cups. Lately, my view of good teas has been coming from this company, but Verdant constantly challenges me to question my current perceptions that Seven Cups has created for me.
Usually, I like the Verdant offerings not as better teas (tieguanyins are an exception), but just in a different way. It is the same here.
When I think of a Huang Zhi Xiang (also known as Yellow Sprig) wulong, I think bright, bright, bright, medium body, EXTREMELY fruity, with just enough tannin to add a nice punch in the aftertaste. This Yellow Sprig wulong is much smoother than what I am used to. There is also a lot less dominance of some flavors over others. In other words the flavors are more balanced and a little shy. This is not the “in your face” Dan Cong that I am used to, not only from Seven Cups, but also from other tea companies like Ku Cha. Its flavors are balanced with a medium roast (especially in the first few steepings), mellowed out passion fruit and mango (becoming more and more prominent in later steepings), and even a hint of mushroom and asparagus.
I am very surprised at the complexity of this Dan Cong Wulong tea. I am a bit disappointed that it is not more fruity, but this is only because my other favorite Yellow Sprig wulong is so fruity, it might as well be juice. I am also disappointed that the flavor is not so strong, since I have come to expect strong, “in your face,” flavors from a Dan Cong wulong.
Personal disappointments and expectations aside, this is a wonderful when seen apart from everything else. The relatively whole leaves and lack of bitterness indicate a master of the craft of making a good wulong tea. The aroma and balance of flavors are simply amazing. I definitely look forward to trying out other Dan Cong Wulongs from Verdant Tea.
When I first see the picture of this tea, I am suspicious of the dark green color of the leaves. This usually means a late harvest time that will yield a bitter, unpleasant brew. Still, I want to give Verdant green tea a chance, so I add this one to my cart, which already has the Autumn 2011 and Spring 2012 tieguanyins.
When I receive the bag, I let it sit on my shelf, expecting nothing special. During the tea’s quarantine, I decide to e-mail David and ask about its harvest time and picking standard. He tells me that it was handpicked during the autumn. This response enhances my suspicions about the quality of this tea. I have never heard of an autumn-picked green tea. The best green teas I have tried are picked within a two-week period between March and April.
When I finally get around to opening the bag, the tea leaves greet me with strong, sweet, vegetable aromas. I spoon about a tablespoon into a wine glass. I am surprised to see that the leaves are very long, longer than a standard dragonwell green tea. I pour 180 degree water over the leaves, which immediately release a strong vegetal aroma that is extremely pleasant. I take my first sip. My palate is greeted with a nice, medium-light body. The flavors astound me. I get notes of lightly steamed broccoli and peas, maybe a bit of cooked cabbage. Very nice. I let the leaves steep a little longer, maybe five minutes or so. I blow the leaves away and take another couple of sips. The flavors get stronger. I notice other notes, kind of like unripe mango or melon, just without the sourness. There is no hint of bitterness. Okay, David, what are you playing at? A green tea, harvested in autumn, steeping for ten, twenty minutes, and not even getting bitter? My entire perception of what goes into a good green tea is completely turned up-side-down.
Now for the second steep. Will it retain its flavor? I am pleased to notice a very high ratio of whole leaves to broken leaves, about 90% plus. This shows me the intense care that goes into the processing of this tea. Another testament to the strict attention to the wholeness of the leaves is that the brew shows absolutely no sign of cloudiness. It glows with a brilliance that I rarely see, even in a good green tea. The flavor is still there in the second steep. The balance between sweet and savory is enhanced, if not entirely different, from the first steeping. There is still no sign of bitterness.
David has confirmed many of my perceptions of what goes into a good green tea. The leaves should be whole. The brew should never go bitter. It should also have a clear brilliance to it. However, some of my perceptions have been trumped. A good green tea can be picked in the autumn, not just early spring. It can be dark green and still yield a wonderful flavor.
I have tasted scores of green teas since the inception of my tea obsession almost three years ago. I hold this Dragonwell-style Laoshan green in my top five, up there with Seven Cups’ Meng Ding Sweet Dew and Shi Feng Long Jing. It is by far one of the best green teas out there. You should buy it now before the demand causes the prices to go up!
I am very busy lately, and a total of two days pass until I am able to get back to this pot of exquisite tea.
Steepings 6 through 10, 2 to 8 minutes. The flavors have digressed significantly over the two days, probably because I am stupid enough to leave wet leaves out for so long. Nonetheless, I still get flavors of melon and sweet vegetables, and not even the slightest hint of bitterness. I am immensely pleased with this tea experience, and as soon as I get my next paycheck, I will be placing my next, bigger, order with Verdant.