23 Tasting Notes
What the what?! Had a hankering for Earl Grey while doing groceries and thought Lipton’s “long leaf” (not full leaf, mind you, but not fannings) option might hold the best promise. Oops. I should have read the package more carefully.
In addition to the strange and unmentioned addition of marigold flowers, the fine print on the front of the box proclaims “natural bergamot flavor and other natural flavors.” The ingredients list is even less revealing, listing only “natural flavors.” But I didn’t read any of that until after having my cuppa.
It was interesting cuppa that initially held promise. Not only was there bergamot flavor (albeit not much), but it felt fresh and bright, unlike many stale mass market Earl Greys I’ve had. The bite of the black tea seemed perfectly paired with the citrus. While too thin for a traditional Earl Grey, it at least tasted good. For a brief, fleeting instant, I thought I’d found boutique loose-leaf flavor at supermarket prices.
And then it all fell apart. As the tea began to cool, it took on the smell and taste of Froot Loops. Forging on, it moved through Froot Loops to Lemon Pledge, settling on “undrinkable” by the last few sips. Now, having finished some time ago, I’m left with the taste of the smell of Play-Doh lingering on my tongue.
Whirlwind psychedelic tour of your suburbanite childhood or grossly subpar supermarket tea? You decide.
Flavors: Bergamot, Lemon Zest
Cold brewed this one overnight out of curiosity. Not bad, but it doesn’t have the same magic or subtlety of the hot brew. Much more vegetal, strong grassy tones, and that dusty punch of a stronger green.
I could have had the same result using much cheaper and less interesting tea, making this experiment feel slightly wasteful.
This is it: The last tea in my Verdant sampler. Having never had a Tieguanyin, I left this one languishing in the box for last. The other styles were familiar; this one was saved as the capstone.
Dry leaves smell like alfalfa and resemble rabbit pellets (either the kind they consume or the kind they produce). And that’s where the strangeness of this tea begins.
Having spent the last year drinking almost nothing but green teas, I expected there to be at least a hint of vegetation in my first cup. It’s almost never that a tea smells that strongly of grass and doesn’t brew up with some kind of a grassy note. But the Tieguanyin? Nothing. The initial 25 second steep yielded a cup of apricot and lime. And while I don’t enjoy apricots at all, that flavor is actually quite satisfying in the context of this tea. Perhaps I’ll go buy some apricots and see if they’re better than I remember.
A second steep at 30 seconds causes the leaves to expand to their fullest, exploding into an indistinguishable mass of greenery. The aroma while pouring off the tea is strong orchid. The flavors shift a little here; the apricot note becomes strong, punchier, briefly disappearing under a layer of heavy cream before re-emerging and mellowing out into lime and toasted graham cracker. (I avoid reading Verdant’s notes before tasting, but as weird as it sounds, it’s quite clear where they came up with “graham”. It’s impossible not to identify.) There’s an initial meatiness to the flavor profile when sipped that I can’t quite put my finger on. We’ll go with the generic “brothy” and “buttery.” Don’t care for that note, no matter how brief? Slurp and bubble. Continuing this tea’s strange complexity, that note disappears entirely when well-aerated, and orchid instead appears out of nowhere.
Unfortunately I ran out of filtered water before I could make a third cup. I’ll definitely be enjoying more of this after a trip to the store.
WITCHCRAFT! WITCHCRAFT AND MAGIC!
Opening the packet, I was greeted by the familiar smells of malt and cocoa powder. Brewing it up, I got a gorgeous copper liquid with a malty smell. Taking my first sip, it’s rich dark chocolate and malted barley. Like drinking a warm, chocolatey beer. But not at all as disgusting as that might sound. (And nothing like Guinness.)
Second steep tones down the malt while the cocoa note takes on a thicker, slightly less dark feel. A smooth cocoa at the front and the back with a little punch of chocolate syrup in the middle. Faint hint of walnut and spice.
It’s the most unique black I’ve ever tasted. Surprising, easy-drinking, creamy, and perfectly smooth, with none of the punch or astringency you’d expect from an Assam or Ceylon black.
Lazy morning. I’ve already rolled over and gone back to sleep twice. So lazy I’m totally uninterested in turning on, tuning in, and dropping out into the world of tea. But the Verdant Yunnan White Jasmine leers at me suggestively from its shipping box, one of the few remaining unopened samples.
I settle for a western brew, putting on the kettle and the Beatles’ Revolver. Opening the packet, I’m overwhelmed by the gorgeous white needles and the fantastic scent. There are even a few jasmine blossoms hanging around. Verdant recommends a teaspoon per cup. I’m not sure how one measures a teaspoon with a leaf that’s a good inch-and-a-half long, so I settle for enough to cover the bottom of my cup and a tiny bit more. Steep time is two agonizing minutes, during which I bury my face in the amazing scent coming off the brewing vessel.
Pouring the tea off into my mug, a few needles slip in. As I watch, they attach themselves to the bottom of the cup and loll around, upright and waving like kelp or fauna at the bottom of a jasmine-scented ocean. Apparently I signed up for the psychedelic experience. I rush for my phone and snap a shot of this, concerned nobody will ever believe me. Two needles break free of the surly bonds of gravity and dance about, still upright, mid-beverage. This tea ain’t right.
Undeterred by the possessed leaves, I take my first sip. Banana and hints of jasmine. I certainly wouldn’t go for a banana tea on purpose, but it’s not offensive. It just is. Clean, light, perfect for this summer morning where it’s already 97 (36) outside. The strange tea disappears down my gullet and is quickly replaced with a second steep. The banana becomes smoother and less pronounced; the jasmine becomes clearer but not overpowering. The needles do not repeat their pageantry. But with a giggle, they release a hint of cinnamon they’d been secreting away for this occasion.
Do we dare try for a third? Yes. Yes we do. Here the flavor profile gets interesting. I’m sure now I must have dropped acid and not realized it. Maybe the jasmine blossoms were laced with it. In the mouth, it’s clean jasmine. The finish seamlessly transforms from banana to cinnamon to pine to a lingering green apple.
All in all, good even with the banana notes. I’m excited to see what else this one will reveal with different brewing styles.