334 Tasting Notes
I had this again today, and while I love the flavor, it stands as a great lesson in understanding great tea.
Compared to the golden fleece, the flavor here is certainly comparable. Maybe even better, depending on which notes you prefer.
But flavor isn’t everything and in every other way, the golden fleece shines far and away superior. More complex mouth feel and texture and length of finish and all those things we forget until they aren’t there.
I have to confess that, lately, the early steepings of sheng have been very overwhelming for me. I find myself kind of wincing through them to get to the more accessible steepings that come later.
This seems like the wrong attitude to have when enjoying a 2004.
That being said. This liqueur actually seems to mellow just by allowing it to rest in the cup for a few moments.
The resinous tang of rosemary is here, and there are suggestions of softer, warmer things to come in later steeps (I’m on #3 now).
I am hesitant to rate this tea until I’ve prepared it on more than one occasion. I find the more tea I drink, the less comfortable I get with the whole numeric system idea.
I’m always amazed at green teas that are so sharply, deeply, assertively vegetal as wet leaf but which produce thick, soft cups.
This is one of those teas.
Suger snap peas. Fresh from a garden, not the store. Maybe just a bit over-ripe, a bit of the sugar has gone bitter, but that’s what makes them nutritious, right?
The color of this liqueur is fantastic in my pale green gaiwan with the emerald koi around the edges.
The wet leaf here actually has a very similar aroma to the golden fleece, but sharper. You know this is going to be black tea, not red.
My wife just handed me a square of Theo 70% chocolate with orange and I’m trying to get that off my palate more thoroughly before I start insisting that this tea has notes of bitter cacoa and orange zest ;-)
That being said, the two pair remarkably well. This tea lacks the long, lingering sweetness of the dian hong, but it has a thick mouth feel and does linger, although not nearly as long.
This is a truly excellent black tea. Something like a fig reduction over lamb — a risk, too easily off the rails but so fantastic if the balance is just right.
I suspect this is a tea that can very easily be mis-steeped.
I think the best thing I can do is compare this with the Yunnan Rare Grade leaf distributed by Upton Teas that I’ve been drinking for the past few months.
Everything about that tea is huge and bold and fruity sweetness.
By contrast, the golden fleece is more refined. Yes, the dry leaf aroma is big, and I’ve already waxed very poetic about the wet leaf. But at the same time, the actual notes themselves aren’t as … sticky.
Instead of syrupy sweet roasted fruit, this is more of the kind of caramel scents you get off a toasted bread that awakens the sugars in the bread or fresh baked honey top bread.
Molasses instead of honey.
The cup is also more refined. There is no astringency whatsoever. But rather than this making the cup sweeter, it somehow stretches that sweetness out rather than over the course of 5 to 20 seconds, more like 5 to 20 minutes. The flavors from the cup have been rolling around my mouth all morning even though I’m only on my fifth steeping after about two and a half hours.
Unlike other Yunnan gold, this tea retains more of the kind of roasted, toasted flavor one gets from the leaf into the cup. But again, very subtle.
The key with this tea really is the way it lingers. Be sure to only drink this when you have the time to let it stay with you and to be present with it.
I guess I’ll be the first civilian foolish enough to talk about this tea.
As soon as you unseal the bag and get that heady aroma that’s been trapped in there, you know you’re in for something different.
I actually got out a kitchen scale, weighed my gaiwan, and then weighed in David’s recommended gram of leaf per fluid ounce of the vessel.
Uncharacteristic of myself, I even gave the leaves a rinse so that I could ensure the first steeping I drank came off “awake” leaves.
The aroma off the wet leaves will leave you speechless. It is like that sensation you get when you walk into a humidor. I don’t mean the tea smells like cigars, although, to some extent I think perhaps it does, what I mean is that there is a particular physical sensation that goes beyond smell, when you walk into the damp, close, still, thickly scented air of a humidor. And smelling this tea leaf once wet, is like that.
With the first steep I understand what Geoffrey and David have been describing in terms of texture. Drinking this tea reminds me of the sensation one gets in the mouth after engaging in wuji qigong for the better part of an hour. There is at the same time a thickness of the mouth but your mouth is watering at the same time. I’ve now been typing, and taking a conference call, and haven’t sipped the tea for perhaps ten minutes and my sinuses are still registering all the aromas and tingling sensations and my mouth is still watering and thick.
I can actually feel the small heavenly circle flowing rapidly and if I were to stand up and correct my posture, I suspect the grand heavenly circle would open up almost immediately.
My ears are ringing.
I actually need to wait a few steeps to even begin using adjectives to describe the aromas off the leaf or the cup or the flavors from the liqueur. Neither my mouth nor my brain are entirely awake right now and I know that strictly speaking neither is this tea. So, expect a follow up later today with all kinds of pretentious wine tasting words in it.
I’m cheating, I really have nothing new to say about this tea, but I just received my box from Verdant which includes GOLDEN FLEECE. When I saw the lengthy, lamenting review that all the original leaf was sold out I was kind of crushed and annoyed. Why write such a review for a tea no one can ever have? I know it wasn’t the intent to rub our noses in it, but my ego wanted to take it that way. So, imagine my shock when David did a YouTube tutorial on how to steep this tea! Are they really this cruel I wondered?
So I went and checked the site and lo and behold, they have it in stock! Of course, I immediately ordered some, and now it has arrived.
But I already was steeping my yunnan gold when the box arrived, so a proper tasting will have to wait.
In a recent video with a sheng pu-erh, David of Verdant Teas recommended using less leaf with a sheng than one would use with other teas. This surprised me. Most everyone, especially the hard core yixing people, are all about cramming as much leaf into the pot as they can.
So, I decided to try this leaf again using about half of what I’d been using in the past.
I am now wishing I had my order from Verdant back so I could steep the Farmer’s Coop sheng this way instead of how I did.
Steeped this way, most people wouldn’t find, at least this particular, sheng tea all that unusual. Most of the notes here are similar to lighter black teas, oolongs or Darjeeling type teas. Almost all the wooly, wild, sharp notes I tend to associate with sheng are gone.
After a weekend of excessively rich meals (Teala’s seafood enchiladas, Backstreet Cafe’s lamb chops, Hugo’s Mexican brunch…) with the in-laws I feel in desperate need to get back to basics. This calls for many cups of pu-erh.
As much as I know about, appreciate in, and enjoy partaking of fine foods, I have to say that as I age, I find myself more interested in knowing about them and talking about them and less interested in actually eating them. Indulging leaves me feeling at the same time soft and stiff.
Many cups of shu will get me back to feeling firm and limber in a day or two.