Thanks so much to Angel and Teavivre for these samples! They took a little while to get here, but in perfect condition. Teavivre is, in my opinion, well worth the wait.
I’ve never had a black pearl tea – the only pearls I’ve ever had are the small jasmine ones. I went for that little sample packet first. Upon opening it, I was surprised by how large the pearls are, and how tightly packed. They’re mostly a dark mahogany color with little striations of a lighter yellow, sort of like pine. I suppose trees are on my mind today – it was Red Pine Forest day with my preschoolers at camp. They very much enjoyed building “mouse houses” in the dips between the tree roots!
Tea! The dry leaf smell immediately conjures up something musty and dark. There’s almost a hazelnut to it, but there’s something more than that. It sort of reminds me of walking through a darkened barn, with the scents of hay and leather hanging thickly in the air, the rustle of horses and cows as they shift about and flick their tails to ward off the flies.
Never having had a black dragon pearl this big before, I think I overdid it – I put three pearls in my little tasting cup and steeped for around 15 seconds the first time. The wet leaves have such a distinctive smell – it’s the same scent as of the dry leaf, but sharper, finer, more present. It’s not as muted. I read recently that the human nose works best in warm, damp conditions… I can definitely see that here! I don’t smell so much of the hazelnut connection as I do something burnt… not badly burnt, but deliberately charred. I can’t think of what, though. Chestnuts at Christmas? Macadamia nuts? There’s more than a little bit of dark chocolate in here too, and some notes of currant. Chocolate covered nuts? It’s bothering me that I can’t put my finger on it, especially because it’s so distinctive and I just know that there’s a name for it.
The liquor of the first steep is a warm golden-red in the white porcelain tasting bowl. I notice immediately how smooth the mouthfeel is. There’s almost no astringency or drying, and it leaves a sweet aftertaste on the tongue. The scent I identified in the scent is extraordinarily present in the taste. Usually I have a hard time distinguishing exactly what something is going to taste like based on the smell, especially straight teas (It’s much easier for me to approximate the flavors of spicy chais or fruity herbals) but there’s a direct link to the taste of the tea all the way back to the smell of the dry leaf.
Second steep, and as I pour the water into the cup it immediately blossoms a deep red. The pearls have mostly unrolled and are like spider legs climbing up the side of the cup. The liquor is a deep red-brown color. Definitely overdid it with the pearls – the first thing that hits my tongue is a strong astringency. It actually helps define the flavors I was missing earlier – it almost reminds me of a graham cracker. That coupled with the chocolate notes and the astringency in this steep – it’s like a warm summer night, all your friends sitting around a firepit, roasting marshmallows on sticks, the smoke blowing through the breeze and stinging your eyes when it’s aimed in your direction.
Possibly the best black tea I’ve ever tried!
I’m steeping three pearls now, Western Style for three minutes. It’s just as good, and I’m even getting notes of butter in the middle of it. Incredible! This tea just keeps on giving!