350 Tasting Notes

drank Golden Fleece by Verdant Tea
350 tasting notes

This isn’t so much a tasting note as it is a note to those of you who “follow” me here on Steepster.

I’ve grown frustrated with the technical problems with this site, and I’ve basically abandoned all other social networks (Facebook, G+, MySpace, Twitter, Instagram &c.) entirely. The fact that most of what is in my tea cupboard right now aren’t in the Steepster database and I can’t add them makes it very hard to know how to use or enjoy the site. I haven’t actually read tasting notes here in some months. I haven’t read them thoughtfully and consistently in well over a year.

So, I’m giving up the ghost.

I’ve decided to consolidate all my activities onto my two blogs. The one is cooking specific, and I co-author it with a friend, so that won’t change. I tend to focus on Lent-friendly experiments (useful for you vegans) as well as happy accidents and solutions to fixing failed dishes — we both try our best to infuse a fair bit of geek humor into the posts. But my primary blog is just where I spew out all my thoughts. Mostly about religion and politics (less and less of this) but also about disc golf, music, art, I’ll be posting photography there — and now also about tea that I’m drinking.

So if you want to know what’s in my cup, or on my mind, or in my eye, drop by my blog.

But I won’t be ’round these parts anymore.

(Yes, I am drinking some of the last of my golden fleece stash today.)

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gmathis

You will be missed. Thanks for letting us know your whereabouts.

Charles Thomas Draper

I have basically been scouring the internet blogs of respected tea experts. The Half Dipper, Disciple of the Tea Leaf and others. In all honesty and with no disrespect towards anyone, their honest and straight forward analysis of pure tea is what I desire in my effort to educate myself. I will definitely check your blog out because I have always enjoyed your reviews. Peace Jim

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The last month or so has had me toggling between that 1992 Menghai (notes of flood damage and deep forest loam) and the 2011 Lao Tong Zhi Old Comrades (quite sweet, a second brick of which is waiting for me in a PO Box in CA, which I can hopefully recover before too much time goes by, I’m nearly done with the first brick).

Those of you who have been reading for some time know that I have developed a great love of Yunnan golden over the past few years, and the website talks of sandalwood which is one of my favorite scents, and so it is with great anticipation that I dive into this new shu offering from the great folks at Verdant.

The dry leaf smells sweet and spicy, caramel and sandalwood indeed. But get it wet and suddenly you’re in the forgotten back room of a boot repair shop. Old leather, dust, mold and old wooden tools. Despite this, the mustiness coming off of this cup is unexpected. More like a very peaty Scotch than old leather.

This is clearly a young tea. I hope Verdant has the discipline to hide away a few cakes to put back on sale in 5-10 years time. I know I sure don’t.

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Terri HarpLady

Nice!
The women in my family (that would be me, myself & I, plus both of my grown daughters) all firmly believe that all men should smell like Sandalwood. I’ve also had this discussion with other women I know, & I like to think that it is unanimous.

Jim Marks

I currently blend sandalwood oil and frankincense oil for myself. Sometimes a hint of patchouli.

Bonnie

A Chanter that smells like church.

Jim Marks

It helps me remember where my heart is supposed to be when I’m not in the kliros.

K S

The forgotten back room sounds amazing. What is sandalwood? I have heard of it but have no frame of reference for its scent.

Terri HarpLady

KS, it is the scent that Old Spice (original) is based on, I think.
Aromas are so wonderfully engrained in us, pulling us inward, bringing out emotions, awakening memories. I can’t smell roses without feeling nurtured & childlike. My grandmother, who was the most nurturing person I’ve ever known, smelled of roses (although I didn’t make the connection until my mid 30’s during a massage).

K S

Thanks Terri. A scent I remember from years ago. You are right. Smells can instantly transport us through time.

Jim Marks

Sandalwood is a category of trees the wood from which retains its fragrance for decades after being cut — unlike most wood.

Typically when people discuss it they mean rather the essential oil which is harvested from it, rather than the wood itself.

This oil is often rendered down into an incense which is common in Buddhism, Hinduism and in some Eastern Christian settings (although frankincense and myrrh are more common).

ashmanra

When we moved in our present home, I was delighted that there was a grapevine in the backyard. When we had lived here eight months that the grapes were ripe and scenting the backyard, I remembered that as a child I got caught in a bear trap under my great aunt’s scuppernong vines, which were near the chicken house. I had completely forgotten it, until I smelled those grapes! (Not injured, don’t worry.)

Jim Marks

Sandalwood certainly isn’t the scent of the contemporary “Old Spice” (blech).

Terri HarpLady

Lol, Jim, but I think it’s in the original, probably not as an essential oil, but as a fragrance facsimile. Anyway, as essential oils go, sandalwood is wonderful, right up there with jasmine & patchouli, & rose.

Bonnie

Verdant is the only tea company that I know of that has blended frankincense with Oolong tea. (I love the blend)

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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]

Preparation
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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.

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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.

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Hesper June

Welcome home!

Bonnie

Glad you are well! Your tea stash is happy too!

Steven

Where have you been in Japan? I went there many times for work, and really enjoyed it. I have a couple of favorite conveyor sushi places (kaiten-zushi) in Shibuya I always go to while I’m there.

Jim Marks

Liz is living in Tokyo and my visit at this time didn’t allow (budget wise) for travel outside the city (transit is crushingly expensive, there). She’s a vegetarian, so we didn’t do a lot of sushi, but we did hit one of the two kaiten in her neighborhood and also a nice proper sushi bar in Akiba.

My favorite meal by far was the nabe we had in Koenji. And there’s a fantastic bar in Koenji that is my favorite bar on earth.

Steven

I know right? I’m glad I wasn’t paying for my transportation.

What’s nice about the food in Japan is no matter what price you pay, it’s always good and well presented.

I’m glad you had a good time. I can’t wait to go back.

ashmanra

Welcome back! We look forward to some tasting notes and more anecdotes!

LadyLondonderry

Welcome back, Jim! Good to read about your tea adventures at home as well as abroad!

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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.

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Bonnie

Such an interesting description! Hello friend Jim! Blessings to you as you journey (to Asia I hope). Blessed Nativity.

Jim Marks

Yes, I’m headed to Japan for a good chunk of December.

May your Nativity fasting be a blessing.

Bonnie

Oh Hooray!!!

Invader Zim

Have a great and safe trip!

LiberTEAS

Both teapots are gorgeous … my favorite is Mrs. Sheng!

LadyLondonderry

Wishing you safe travels and a happy stay in Japan, Jim!

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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.

Preparation
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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…

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Steven

I think I’ll try this one next time. Lukily, they have a shop close to where I live. I’m enjoying the 2006 Macau Scenery (also a shou) I bought a couple of weeks ago, but I’m eager to try an older shou.

Jim Marks

Will you be reviewing the ’06 Macau? I need to find a variety of affordable shu to keep seasoning this pot.

Steven

I will write a review this weekend.

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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.

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Bonnie

Hi Jim, hope you are well.

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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.

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TeaEqualsBliss

Excellent & Descriptive Review!!!! LOVE IT :)

ashmanra

I’m JELLY! :) Sounds like a blast!

Jim Marks

The second steep has calmed a bit. Deep, and thick, musty and sweet.

God I love shu pu-erh…

Bonnie

Me too!

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