348 Tasting Notes
I had a bit of this on Saturday while running around like a crazy person and also half-dead from a severe sinus infection. I can’t claim that I actually tasted it at all. But no worries, I have more and will be able to provide notes soon.
I really want to be talking about the ‘92 Menghai that I had yesterday and the ’05 Haiwan I’m drinking right now, but the “add a tea” functionality is failing hard, so they will have to wait until the technical gremlins subside.
Meanwhile, please stand by [cue Girl from Ipanema]
So, I’d finally recovered my health in the wake of my travels to Japan when a business trip to New England during a flu epidemic (not to mention the usual winter concerns of simple head colds and sinus infections caused by forced hot air heat) took my health away again.
But, in the midst of all this chaos I did get my hands on a couple of bricks of this shu. It is true that one of them is being broken up into an unglazed ceramic canister for more aging, but the other will be consumed in the short term. Having tasted a bit of it yesterday, even if I’d intended to store them both away, I don’t think I could at this point.
As much as there isn’t nearly as much of a wide bell curve in flavor profile for shu as there is for sheng, it is always gratifying to taste a shu that reminds you they aren’t entirely the same as one another, either.
This cup was at the same time much darker, much mustier and yet over all much softer than the shu that has been my daily drinker for some years now (Upton’s “celestial tribute”). In a way that I can’t entirely put my finger on, this softer profile allows the cup to “open up” and something more than the usual wet cave stone and forest loam begin to come out.
Be aware this brick is tightly packed and you will want something better than a paring knife to pick it apart.
Well, I’m back from my long trip to Japan — where I didn’t drink nearly as much tea as you might think. Meals in Tokyo are pretty Westernized, it turns out, even when having fairly traditional foods. I had to ask for tea almost everywhere we went, and with the exception of one conveyor sushi bar and one soba shop, none of it was at all remarkable. But, I did drink a lot of matcha in Liz’s apartment trying to keep warm.
I was unable to read steepster while I was away, so if something important happened to you I should know about and missed, please get in touch.
So here I am back in Houston where we’ve been having some unusually cold weather (for Houston) and so I have tea in my hand pretty much any time I’m awake.
This experimental option from Verdant has been a lot of fun, so far. I’m on my second day of gongfu steeping sessions and enjoying the leaf very much.
Somewhere between the rich, chocolate extravagance of Laoshan black and the pleasant bite of Wuyi oolong, this tea has a complex flavor profile and a thick, full mouth feel.
Even early steepings don’t come off as dark you expect them to, given the look of the dry and wet leaf (and the enormous aroma they offer), but that is not to say what you find in your cup is either thin or subtle. The chocolate and malt definitely dominate the cup, but there is more to the picture, here. Unsalted cashews. Orange zest. Buckwheat honey.
This is a cold, rainy day tea if ever there was one.
This is a crisp, sunny Winter day tea if ever there was one.
But I also suspect it would be fabulous as an iced tea in the Summer’s heat.
I have had very little “new” tea lately, if you have been curious about my conspicuous absence. I am preparing for a long trip abroad and between wanting to avoid leaving a cabinet full of leaf that is slowly going stale while I am away and wanting to save money, I have been using up a lot of existing stock, and have been avoiding purchasing anything new.
My great joys lately has been not only my 230ml Mr. Chen yixing (http://camellia-sinensis.com/en/teapot/theiere-de-m-chen-ch-3) which I have been using for sweet shu and Yunnan golden, but also my newest, teensy, tiny 150ml black clay Mrs. Sheng yixing (http://camellia-sinensis.com/en/teapot/theiere-de-mme-sheng-sg-8) which I use to steep lapsang souchong — it seems fitting to me to put this moody, smokey tea into a black clay pot. Someday the clay will look and smell like a well loved briarwood pipe.
But, I ran short of shu pu-erh with a few weeks to go before my trip, so I decided I needed something special to see me through the last days and I grabbed a couple of ounces of this leaf from Verdant.
This is a significantly mustier tea than the shu I tend to keep around as daily drinking leaf.
The dry leaf has a sharp, leather/jerky kind of aroma to it.
The wet leaf has the smell of a rotten log, just broken open to the air, with the tang of an old steel sink an aged cabin.
The cup itself is dusty and mineral. Well water from deep in a cavern. The rich, spongey loam of the deep forest.
And yet, this cup is very gentle. For a first steep I find myself seeking out these notes, not trying to climb out from under them. I hope this doesn’t prelude to only achieving a small handful of steeps with this leaf.
Update in a few hours.
A friend ordered several ceramic storage vessels and two yixing (one of which was the one she gave to me) from Camellia Sinensis and they included a sample of this tea with her order.
I am out of practice with Chinese green teas…
The cup was pale yellow and had a gentle roasted note amongst all the fresh, green flavors. None of the deep, bass note green flavors one finds in a shaded tea or a dragon well, but gentle, sunny meadow flavors.
It is, I think, sadly, the wrong time of year, even in Houston, for this kind of cup. I could see this being a fantastic way to wake up in Spring, however, which is when this tea is first harvested.
I am working my way through this leaf much faster than I intended, but I am enjoying it so much I simply cannot help but keep drinking it.
If I have any complaint it is that it gives up far too few steeps. Despite my yixing’s young age, with each day’s use my other teas provide more and more steeps with each round, and yet this leaf still struggles to make a full ten — let alone reach for fifteen or more as great pu-erh often does.
I can’t help but wonder if such old leaf requires an old yixing to support it.
I suspect I need to content myself with younger leaf until my pot has become venerable enough to be worthy of such a tea as this.
At least it will be easier on the wallet in the meantime…
I had a full session of steepings with this tea yesterday, and I’m beginning another of them now.
The sweet, chocolate of the dry leaf is a shock and pleasant surprise every time I open the tin.
Even more surprising is how this sweet leaf instantly transforms into a musty, loamy, verdant forest floor as soon as it hydrates. My yixing right now smells like Dogtown Wood (outside Gloucester) Massachusetts in early November.
No surprise then that the cup itself mystically fuses the two. Porcini ravioli followed by cannoli with chocolate shavings. A walk through wet Autumnal leaves with a mug of cocoa. Debussy on a cloudy day.
I feel like I have finally made it “to the big time”. I’m drinking 20 year aged shu from a proper yixing.
The dry leaf smells of cocoa and applewood smoke and old leather.
The wet leaf smells of cavern water.
The liqueur is a roller coaster ride of sweetness, camphor, cave walls and bonfire. The mouthfeel is relentless and lingers for minutes after each sip.
The dry leaf here smells of cherries and chocolate (not cacao or cocoa, but chocolate).
The wet leaf smells of roasted potato skins and corn husks.
The cup is… thick and buttery with flavors of flan and oak.
The more of these teas I drink, the less I want to drink anything else.
(Gaiwan to gaiwan technique, generous leaf, instantaneous steep times)