30 Tasting Notes
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.
The edges of all the trees are brushed with red and orange. I can see the wind trickling through the leaves, each branch nods slowly and calmly. There’s no better sound than a Fall breeze whispering through the leaves of an open window.
Well, maybe one other sound. But she’s not going to call and I won’t hear her voice, so a calm breeze, an open window and tea is going to get me through this.
The large leaves of this look similar to potpourri for some reason. There’s an airiness to the smell, faint and clean. Its sweet and soft.
My third steep warranted this write up. Initially, I was surprised at how little there was to the liquor itself. It was delicate to the point of me questioning if I had screwed something up. I read some other reviews and decided to have a few more cups. Glad I did. The floral sweetness comes out as the leaves expand and release their delicacy. There’s a woodsy note to ponder on but its not overpowering. It’s not too much of anything. In fact, I’m starting to appreciate white teas for what they don’t do.
This tea is shy. Its whispering. Maybe a little too soft for me but I like what its saying.
I know you purists out there will probably tell me its faux pas to put this up but its tea.
I’m not an energy drink guy. Tea is my energy drink. The big, bright cans packed with B12 and crazy ingredients that I can’t pronounce don’t do it for me in anyway. I know people who swear by them and drink 3 in a day. Good luck with your blood pressure, if so.
Anyway, if you’re like me, this might be the answer for a tasty boost or jump to your step. The taste is strange for an “energy drink” because it isn’t extreme. Most drinks you slug from a can have a potent mouthfeel of intense, unnatural flavor. Not this bad boy. It tastes like pear juice with a bit of lemon and ginger. But it’s white and black tea, so it’s really delicate and subtle. Really impressed with how nice and simple it tasted.
My legs were definitely the first to feel the effect of the “energy” harnessed in the can. Not that I had the jitters or any sort of uneasiness but I could feel them getting antsy as I started my project (putting up a huge 80ft tent with friends…not just sitting at a desk), hence why I drank it. The only negative thing I can think of is that it left my mouth a little dry after a while. Maybe you’ll see what I mean. Maybe not.
Will I drink it again? Eh. I won’t seek it out for a regular drink but I know if I have something to do that will require me to stay awake, exert a lot of energy for an extended amount of time or need to perk up before a long haul, I will look for this instead of Monster or Amp or whatever those things are. Check it out if you see it at the store. I’m glad I did.
Picked this up at Wegmans in Penfield, NY. Stored properly in a large, airtight metal bin. Labeled as a Wegmans brand yet Ito En’s products match word-for-word every tea on the shelf in the store. Strange.
Listening to Bon Iver, thinking about a girl who probably isn’t thinking about me. It’s ok. It happens. Tea to the rescue.
Mildly grassy but not “liquified grass clippings”. Minimal vegetal tone at first but it disappears. The mouthfeel is light and the lingering but subtle creaminess that rests on the pallet is quiet and calming. It’s like the volume for the taste is set at 4 and the aftertaste slowly turns the dial back down to 1. A relaxed, midday tea, possibly a good choice for those trying green tea for the first time who want a little smoother endnote. Me? I’m just happy to sit here and let this nice and subdued tea do it’s quiet little thing that it does so well.