26 Tasting Notes
I’ve become accustomed to drinking particular teas “grandpa style” (or “Laoshan style”?). I don’t think gs is an “official” term in the tea drinking world but I read it on a very well-written blog (whose author is also on Steepster, btw):
and decided to try it. I’ve found that I actually prefer drinking particular teas straight from my glass rather than steeping my tea in a separate infuser or my dinky little $12 ceramic yixing. Drinking good tea this way feels more natural, like I’m more connected to the process. Yes, the process of brewing the tea and focusing on the steps and being more “centered” and “in the now” but…also the connection to the farmers, the tea bushes/trees themselves. Drinking this way makes me feel like I’m the last link in the chain that started, literally, in the roots of a plant in the ground of another country on the other side of the planet. Does anyone else feel that way or think about that? Am I losing my mind? Contemplating metaphysical dualism after a few cups of good tea wreaks havoc on your existentialistic philosophy.
Anyway. I’m pretty sure this is a Wen Shan Bao Zhong (or Pouchong) Oolong. The leaves are not rolled up tightly into small, dark green and sometimes glossy nuggets like traditional Dong Ding. The tea is literal loose leaf, shards and thin twirls of dark, almost black pieces. Its an amalgamation of textures and colors that took me by surprise. Looks good, though, different than what I am used to. I’m always willing to try new things.
Little bit of peach fruitiness, the light sting of muted acidity. Then there’s that lingering sweetness on the lips, light and pleasant. Sometimes with Dong Dings, I get a thicker sweetness and less acidity. I like this better. There is more of a nuanced lightness. This is a delicate and simple tea and one I find myself passing over in my tea library because I always want to save it for later. I might have a new favorite.
Apparently, Empress Dowager’s story is pretty sad. Long story short: her decision and obligation to keep imperialism and ancient tradition active, rather than accepting the change knocking on the doors of the Forbidden City from the outside world, resulted in “not only the downfall of her dynasty, but of the entire tradition of imperial government” .
Now she has a tea that breaks typical oolong tradition named after her.
A “cv” stans for “curriculum vitae”. Its basically a resume but for all the scholastic accolades you’ve apparently acquired. Initially, I felt pretty good about writing one; seeing my name with M.S., M.A. to the right of it, like a stamp of approval for all the hard work and hard times I went through.
As I completed it, though, I didn’t feel so good. My cv doesn’t look that impressive at all. I’m not technically published: I’ve written a thesis, a 98 page atrocity of short stories, titled “Toska”, that was dedicated and tries to pay homage to my favorite writer of all-time, Richard Yates. That’s it. No journals, no articles, no academic presentations. There’s no way one of those two community colleges looking for instructors are going to hire me. Granted, I’m fresh out of the gates but looking at my professors cv’s and their pages-upon-unfair-pages of publications and books written, it makes me feel like I’m not trying hard enough. Like I’m not good enough. Like I’ve got these little stamps of approval next to my name that don’t really mean anything.
So, I need a way out of my existential meltdown. Let’s steep.
My packets of Yu Lu Yan Cha Black, Hand Picked Autumn Tieguanyin, and Autumn Harvest Laoshan are just about depleted. This tea, though, is tucked away in the corner, behind my tins and some other packets. Even though I know where it is, I like to think its hidden. I should keep it in a bomb-proof safe.
I know I’m technically not supposed to rinse this tea but I’ve done it a few times just to smell the leaves as the water is absorbed into them. It’s so beautiful and calming. Chestnut, a roasty and nutty mellowness. Like peanut butter. Little bit of smoke scratches my nose.
My mom used to make me a “Skippy” when I would come home from grade school. It was a piece of bread with peanut butter on it. The name “Skippy” doesn’t make any sense now because she used Peter Pan peanut butter because I thought Skippy tasted too sweet. Regardless of that, the only thing that made a “Skippy” a “Skippy” and not just peanut butter on bread, was that she would use the knife after spreading the peanut butter to carve out a perfectly shaped heart into the tan spread. They tasted better that way, I used to tell her.
She stopped doing that when she started getting sad. Haven’t had one since. Thought I forgot about those days. This tea brought me there.
There’s something about watching leaves change from their dry leaf appearance during the infusion that fascinates me. With this tea, the color of the dry leaf is dark and light green and they trickle over the flat little shards like shadows. For some reason I think of ripped-up old book pages. There’s a barely noticeable gloss to each leaf if the light hits it right. Once they soak in the water, all that disappears and there are big, juicy, plump, tongue-like leaves with little ridges on the edges, the colors rich and deep, fleshy green and shades of dark.
I’ve had other Dragonwell teas before. The flavor of this one is a different breed. There’s that sweetness others have written about (that sticks to my lips), there’s that mineral quality, too (in the back of my throat). I get the contrast of a creamy, nutty spread on top of toast against the hint of a sharp, rock-like bite. I don’t mean that tastes like I’m licking a rock but there’s something “rocky” and “stony” about the aftertaste in the back of my throat that makes me think of rocks underneath a faint trickle of cold water. Maybe its because of the “family’s plot of land at the heights of Shi Feng” that it has this “mountainy” taste to it. I couldn’t tell you. I can tell you that its gorgeous and calming and I feel so, so much better now.
Is this the best Dragonwell I’ve ever had? It could be. I have a lot more tea to try and buy before I can sound like I know what I’m talking about.
And even if I don’t know everything there is to know about tea, even if I don’t have 200,000 posts and am not well-known in the tea world, even if I just drink tea and write about it on a website and don’t get published in some scholarly journal for snobby intellectuals…at least I’m using my time in this life trying my best at the thing I love.
That’s all we can do, right?
The large and golden-yellow 150g cylinder says “Lotus Tea” and under it it says “Tra Huong Sen”. There’s a Asian boy playing a flute while riding an ox on the back. Found it at Lee’s Oriental Market in Rochester, NY. It was between this tea and a box of Genmaicha tea bags, where I can get anywhere. I always try new things so why not try lotus tea from Vietnam?
Looks like a green tea. Leaves are definitely chopped. Lots of stems. Doesn’t look appealing.
Pungent, thick and dirty wet leaf aroma. Almost skunky. This is not a delicate smelling leaf.
Holy bitter! And steeped for only over a minute. This is rustic. Mineral and slightly sharp, like licking sheet metal. Tates like I’m sucking water out of a dirty root I just pulled from the ground. It has a “primal” taste to it: no sweetness or artificial bull. It tastes very natural, simplistic. Took half a glass to let my tastebuds become accustomed to it and I’m still not sure how to write about this. There’s a slight flowery taste to it but the “rootiness” of it overpowers.
As I drink, I look for possible benefits of slugging this bad boy down. Aside from it possibly aiding in the: treatment of diarrhea and abdominal cramps, treatment of certain heart ailments, fighting of gastric ulcers, heavy menstruation, combat hemorrhoids, post-partum bleeding…it also, apparently, helps in treating premature ejaculation.
Hey, if it’s on the internet, it’s gotta be true.
We couldn’t decide where to eat one night so she called me and had me look up reviews of two different restaurants.
“Well,” I said, “there are mixed reviews. Some say it could be better. Others say its pretentious. They have good mashed potatoes, apparently. But the food might come out cold if its busy.”
“What’s another good review?” she asks.
I read some more and something catches my eye. I have to read it twice because I don’t understand it.
“I don’t know if this is good or bad,” I say, “Let me wrap my head around it for a second.”
I read it again. “I still don’t get it,” I say. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“What does it say?” she asks.
“It says that this restaurant is like the movie ‘Labyrinth’…just without David Bowie.”
There is a pause on her end of the line. Then she says, “That might be the greatest review of a restaurant I’ve ever heard in my life. Now we have to go.”
So we went. ‘Labyrinth’ it was not. We had a nice meal but nothing amazing. You can’t always trust reviewers/bloggers/writers, no matter how well they think they can write or how creative they think they are.
I hope Teavana didn’t discontinue this tea because it is nowhere to be found. Shame, really. This is one of my favorite teas to fall back on. I’ve got about two teaspoons left and I’m a little disheartened at the prospect of having to find another green tea that I can feel confident enough to share and call my “go to” tea. I’m going to miss this when it’s gone…or until I find the exact same tea for half the price on another website ;)
After rinsing, the wet leaves smell faintly roasted brussel sprouts with olive oil. There’s a mellow, chocolate sweetness to the odor. I love the light, vegetal sugariness, the “umami” that stays lightly on the tongue. A hint, and I mean hint of mineral acidity. Clean, sweet and calm. My intro to green teas was great beginner’s luck. I’m happy to have found/drank/tasted it, regardless of where I bought it from.
Maybe its just Mao Feng but I have a special place for this tea in my tea-soaked heart.
Other than Steepster, I found only one other “review” of this tea that I wanted to compare my notes on. Trying to find information on the Internet is sometimes like walking through a labyrinth of misinformation and not-so-clever-attempts at advertising in the form of blog posts with links in the paragraphs. You eventually learn to identify who is getting paid to subtly sell you something and who is just writing it because they really enjoy/don’t like what they are trying.
That being said, if someone read the review I found on Jade Dragon to me when I was looking for a green tea to try, I would buy as much as I could based on this review alone:
“Perhaps the best choice. Is it essential to have info. We propose that the Teavana Jade Dragon Mao Feng Loose-Leaf Green Tea. It is a thing to be utilized as nicely. I am utilizing it now. It functions very nicely . Teavana Jade Dragon Mao Feng Loose-Leaf Green Tea to use as much, you can not skip it. Because the best thing. It is very likely. You ought to be utilized. The easy to use. I also use Teavana Jade Dragon Mao Feng Loose-Leaf Green Tea. It is amazing. The course is right for you. Perhaps I could use it. It functions nicely. I would recommend that you use. Then you will like it.”
…just without David Bowie.
“Natural flavors” does not constitute “pear”. Whatever, I’m picky about what’s on the back of the box. I don’t even taste pear, anyway.
I’ll only drink this one iced. It’s refreshing when its cold and reminds me of a Dark ‘n Stormy (Gosling’s dark rum, Gosling’s or Saranac ginger beer, ginger and lime simple syrup, wedge of lime). If you haven’t tried one, please do. I might just try and make one with this tea.
If you drink this warm, there’s something about it that’s off-putting. The ginger is too faint and there’s too much emphasis lemongrass. Its got a bergamot intensity when it should be crisp and clean. Ginger is light and has a zing to it, its not oily and deep, like this tea makes it. Hence, why I ice it; it calms down and is sweet and clean.
I stand in front of the kitchen sink, looking out the window. There aren’t any leaves on the trees anymore. The branches look frail and longing, like thin, sad fingers reaching for something it will never touch. It starts to get pretty gloomy in Upstate New York around this time of year. The sky turns the color of ash and everything loses its color, becomes muted against the cold snow that is about to fall. The weather gets to me a little more than most people. I start to get those “winter blues” around this time of year. It doesn’t last long but it affects me. I think this year is going to be different, though. I’m drawing my comic again (after a five year hiatus), I’m in better health and shape, and I have two new things in my life that I admire, appreciate, and am a better person for knowing them. Tea and…well. Someone who I like to share my time with…and my tea.
Its a lazy Saturday. Nothing going on. Wind pants and a hoodie. Ray LaMontagne playing in the background. Tea me.
Just a little splash of warm water and swirl for 10 seconds then discard. I let it sit with the cover closed for a bit so all those aromas dance and breathe. Open the lid and-
Oh. Wow. What is THIS. Thick and heavy wheatgrass, woods. Chocolate. Its like I’m driving past a big, open field at sunset with the windows down, red and orange and warm in the sky. I smell fresh cream, cold milk. This, right here, this is why I buy Verdant. This is why I drink tea.
I smell the leaves again after steeping for the first infusion to see the difference. The slightest hint of smoke mixed with creamy, faint dark chocolate. Its grassier, sweeter this time. Artichoke and wet spinach.
The color is a sweet, light yellow, like dry, brittle hay.
Sip. I always drink my tea too hot because I get too excited. I’ve burned my tongue and the roof of my mouth and ruined my palate for an hour or so. If my mug is steaming at all, I let it rest. Flavors start to reveal themselves when the steam subsides (to me, anyway. Others might not agree). There’s, I don’t know, there’s not a “watery” but a calming mouthfeel, like a cooling numb on my tongue. Its soft. I can’t even really put it into words…which is pathetic because I have a Masters in creative writing (money well spent, Ryan). Its almost like menthol but not at all, its sweet like sugar and smooth like the sound of cornstalk leaves whispering against each other at night. What is going on in my mouth. Its a little grassy but its so light and clean. I feel like I can taste the air where this grew.
Second infusion. That sweetness is more pronounced, in the forefront. I don’t get it. Is this umami? Am i tasting something I shouldn’t or other people don’t? If so, I don’t care. Its so nice and different. I’ve never experienced this “coating” before. There’s that campfire smoke wayyyy back there and the cocoa is fading away but my god man, that mouthfeel. Am I crazy or do other people get this? This lingering, calming sweetness that stays in your mouth like a good kiss.
Wonderful. Really, really wonderful. “Iron Goddess of Mercy” has me groveling at her feet. I’m really lucky to be experiencing this.
Ya know…there are other people who have infinite more posts/reviews on this site who readers trust and follow. I know I’m not a tea expert or master blender. I’m just some guy in Rochester, NY, staring out his kitchen window, happy that I have a new appreciation for life after it went to shit a while back. Tea is a big part of my new attitude. This website, too. And whoever reads my silly words. I’m not trying to be sappy but sometimes you just have to tell the people who affect you that they do.
So thanks Steepster, Verdant, and anyone reading. This whole experience of drinking tea, thinking about it, writing it down…appreciating it. I don’t know. It feels good to feel this good again.
We usually hang out on this night. I mean, I see her other nights, later on in the week but tonight is, well, in my mind tonight is our night. Its usually a movie, one that I think she should watch or vice versa. She always sits to my right on the couch. Sometimes she’s lying down, curled up in a ball of comfy sweatpants and a big hoodie. Sometimes she puts her feet under my leg because her feet get cold. Sometimes I think about telling her all those things I want to say but can’t. Won’t. Shouldn’t.
Yet, here I am, lying on my back, computer propped up against my thigh which is crossed over the other, a mug of tea resting on my chest just under my nose. Here I am, inhaling Jasmine Silver Needle as my fingers flutter around the keyboard. Here I am, alone with my tea.
Not that big of a deal, really. She’s sick; a legitimate excuse. I just wanted to see her tonight, that’s all. Its fine. Gave me an excuse to write about tea.
Its was too late to drink a green or an oolong so I pulled my neglected little Jasmine SN pouch out. I’ve been avoiding it for a reason: I know I won’t dig it as much as most people do. It just doesn’t make any sense to me to mess with my SN taste I like so much.
Actually, its kind of cool, the exactness of the process. The leaves have to be plucked in April and then stored until August, which is the time the jasmine is harvested. The jasmine has to be picked at twilight because that’s when the flower buds begin to open up. After three hours of resting, they’ve opened the entire way and their temperature has cooled enough to be mixed with the tea. There’s more behind it, how many layers, how many times fresh jasmine flowers can be added, etc. but I won’t bore you (if I haven’t already).
The color. Its got that SN color I adore. I steeped for shorter than recommended because, well, that’s what I do: the color is lighter and the taste cleaner. Faint, golden yellow with the slightest, I mean slightest, tinge of peach. Its not pink or orange. There’s just a dark-peach hue that is barely recognizable.
There’s that hushed, almost muted woodiness that I look for in SN. But the jasmine adds another layer of airiness to an already feathery, soft mouthfeel…and I don’t know if I like it. The jasmine doesn’t linger and it doesn’t overpower. It doesn’t do anything wrong. In fact, its great. Its really great. Its damn near beautiful. This is a smooth, light, clean, refreshing up of tea. Its calming and just tastes nice. I just don’t care for it. I get it. I do. I can see why people love this stuff. Its a great tea. Just not for me.
Its actually one of the few teas that I can say is the perfect cup for enjoying alone.
Just wish I wasn’t doing it.
From now on, when someone is going to ask me when I discovered tea, I’m not going to tell them about the first time I had a cup of Silver Needle or a smooth Oolong or even when I walked into Teavana and started asking questions and walked out feeling like I had reinvented myself and started walking down a new path in life. No, it won’t be any of those.
I’ll tell them that I discovered what tea truly is on the day I opened my pouch of my 2012 Autumn Laoshan Green and inhaled the aroma. That was the moment I realized what tea can be, what I had been missing out on, when everything I thought I knew about what tea was shifted. That was the day everything changed.
If that sounds intense, that’s because it is. I’ve never had an experience like I did when I saw the handwritten note from David, thanking me for my order, making a personal connection that I didn’t expect. Not when I smelled the dry leaves, when I caught a whiff of the leaves steeping, when I saw the most delicate, beautiful liquor the color of the first stages of oxidized apple flesh, like a fading memory you don’t want to forget. I’ve never seen a color like that.
The leaves smell like dark chocolate and earth. There’s a bright sugary smell mixed with pumpkin and cedar. Its sweet but heavy but delicate. It smells like a contradiction that makes sense.
The wet leaves emit farm fields. Not dry dirt and twigs, like I smelled in my first Pu-erh, but real soil, actual dark earth, musty and deep and gorgeous. Its like I could smell the farm where this was growing. I’ve never been transported somewhere I’ve never been through my sense of smell. My memories have been triggered by shampoo or perfume that makes my heart hurt for the ones I’ve loved and lost but (and this is going to sound crazy but I don’t care) I had this image of somewhere that probably doesn’t exist of a tea farm, of hands picking the leaves off the plant. There was a connection, a transcendant experience that I thought was just a figure of speech (“the smell whisked me away to…”) that I’ve never had. It was like I was on drugs for a moment.
The sip. Its buttery smooth, butterscotch, cool melon, honey, pear, faint vanilla, warm cedar, calm spinach and fresh leaf. Its milky and smooth and light and my god I don’t deserve this. I can’t believe I have this. This is what tea is.
I needed this. I’ve been tearing myself up over her and why she won’t catch on and see that I’m worth it. I keep telling myself that “all I need are books and tea…and someone to share them with me” and I want to believe that its her.
Anyway, this tea couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I found new bands (“Green or Blue” and “City and Colour”) that are helping me through this, the leaves are melting their colors down the trees, and I finally got my diploma in the mail, making my second Masters officially irrelevant ;)
This is the tea that allowed me to redefine what tea is to myself. Thank you David and everyone at Verdant. You’ve got a customer for life.
She sits at her kitchen table, about to take her fist sip of Della Terra’s S’mores that I made for her. I’m sitting across the table. It’s cold outside in the darkness and wants to snow. Billie Holiday plays in the background. We’re just sitting and talking, tea the only thing between us. Maybe there’s more. I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m just happy in this moment.
She tries the S’mores and loves it. She’s smiling over the steam rising from the cup. Tells me its awesome. I smile back. She takes another sip.
“I brought this,” picking up a plastic bag with various tea pouches I got in the mail from Jas-eTEa, “because I’m really excited to open them and smell them and maybe try one. With you.”
We open them all, the 2010 and 2011 Liu An Gua Pian and the 2011 Bi Luo Chun (Green Snail Spring). I ask her if she smells certain notes and tones in each. I shake some small, fragile leaves from the Green Snail pouch in my hand and we look at it and I talk about the pan-frying and how each leaf is rolled in the tea makers palm to give it it’s twisted “snail-like” appearance. Then I tell her how it was originally called Xia Sha Ren Xiang, which meant “fragrance to cause fear and trembling” and then how it was changed to “Green Snail Spring” because the Emperor didn’t think it sounded fit for royalty. She’s listening but not saying anything.
“I’m geeking out again. You can tell me to stop talking about tea whenever-”
“Stop,” she says and smiles, “I like it. Keep going.”
I put just over 2 oz of the dry leaves in my ingenuiTEA tea maker. I let it sit for a few seconds and ask her to smell them. There’s a lightness their odor, a dry flower or plant smell. Its quiet. Herbaceous but not heavy.
“This is my favorite part. Remember that smell,” I say. I turn around and pour some warm water in. I wait about 10 seconds. Discard it. I give it back to her. “Check this out.”
She smells it. Her eyes light up and she looks at me, says “Whaaaaaat…” and smells again, “that’s cool! That smells amazing.”
It does. It really does. Its my favorite part about the tea sharing experience. I don’t care if I’m not supposed to do it or if it’s not proper technique for this style; it works on everyone that I try it on. I call it “waking them up”. This particular tea has smooth, milky and dark chocolate notes when it first wakes up from its little pouch-bed. There’s wet and clean cedar, maybe oak, there’s heavy cream. Some smooth smoke but not much. She’s right, it is cool.
“It says I’m supposed to steep for three minutes,” I say, “but I’m not going to. I like my green teas on the lighter side. It makes a more delicate cup, a little harder to pick up on the nuances of everything going on. Makes me work harder.” I explain that I pour just a little shot into my cup halfway through the recommended steep time to get the initial flavors. Then, if I need or want to, I take the chance and let it steep more or drink the rest right there. Renegade tea drinker, I know.
I steep. I sip. This is what I love about green tea. The color isn’t lime or neon-green like people think it should be. My initial, brief steep has the slightest tint to the water that looks calm and inviting. There’s a very quiet fruit aroma mixed with a nutty-ness and a floral undertone. It’s very vegetal when its warm and (obviously) calms down as it cools. There’s the cooked greens initial taste (asparagus, spinach), then just the smallest bite from a mineral background but its welcome. Balanced it the keyword here. Nothing is overpowering and nothing is too little. The taste lingers like a light, calm sweetness. Not downy or cottony like I’ve had in other greens, it just sits nicely. Maybe not the best tea to give to someone who is trying green tea for the first time but definitely one to give when they’ve got some in their cupboard.
I’ve read that the beauty of tea is the experience of it. The sounds around you, the smells, the mindset you have before, during, and after. It’s what you associate in your mind with it and what you choose to ignore with it.
Tea is appreciating the moment and the beauty of what is in front of you.
She sits across from me, her hands wrapped around her mug. She looks at me and looks away. She smiles and sips.
Couldn’t agree more.