114 Tasting Notes
What a well-balanced Keemun! Just the right amount of smokey/leathery richness balanced by a bright sparkle that keeps the tea from becoming too burdensome. If you had a stable of motorcyles, this would be your go-to ride, the bike that gives you a lot of riding pleasure and is always reliable. Maybe not the fastest and most exotic, but also not a heavy cruiser that you have to wrestle around. An exemplary Keemun, that (along with Upton’s Keemun Mao Feng) would be the perfect addition to anyone’s cupboard.
A recent business trip to Chicago allowed me to make my first trip to a Teavana store, a small, quiet place with no hard-selling employees, contrary to my expectations. I was drawn to this selection because of my love for golden-tipped Chinese teas and after the first sip, I knew I had made a good choice. Much of the flavor profile echoes the Yunnan rare grades I love so much, but with an alluring orange flavor that is missing from the more chocolatey, creamy, malty Yunnans. I was pleasantly surprised that a chain tea store could provide me and others with such a satisfying tea that has its own special niche among the Chinese black teas I own.
It took a lot of work for me to get something from this tea. I started with a one-minute infusion and tasted very little, so I continued on to three minutes. I found a faint sweetness and a musty, earthy taste redolent of the cedar that Verdant mentions in its tasting notes, but even then I felt I was tasting not so much a delicate tea that needs patience and dedication to tease out its complex essence (an approach that I adopt when tasting lightly oxidized Oolongs), but a cup of lightly vegetal hot water. I guess I do need to have that “wow” or “aha” moment when I drink a tea. Emily Dickinson defined poetry this way: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” I want that kind of experience when I drink tea.
Interestingly, this tea gave me a different kind of buzz than other tea. Maybe it’s all that energy packed in those buds.
Working my way through my Verdant Oolong samples and after three sessions with this tea, I have a handle on my feelings about this tea. First of all, the infused leaves are beautiful—I leave them on a white plate during the day to marvel at the size and brilliant green color with lightly bruised edges. The fragrance of the brewed tea reminds me of daylillies and cut grass and the first mouthful is nicely balanced between the vegetal (fresh steamed spinach or chard) and the floral. There’s a sweet fruity fizz that asserts itself after as few seconds—pleasantly so. This isn’t the kind of tea that is likely to have me writhing with pleasure—I tend to favor black teas and pu-erhs—but I can appreciate the unimpeachable excellence of its qualities and I defer to others who insist this is one of the best Tieguanyins available.
Incredible tea! Three infusions saw no diminution of the melting butter, baked fruit, and chestnut flavors that mix with the smoky essence to create a complex yin/yang experience. While I have always appreciated the delicacy of non-roasted, lightly-oxidized Oolongs, I tend to favor heartier teas in general and this gives me all the fruity flavors of an OOlong with the body of a smoked black tea. Like an album you fall in love with and can’t stop listening to, I can see myself pushing repeat on this tea for weeks on end.
This one took me by surprise. Maybe a bit unheralded, but from the heady camphor scent of the dry leaf to the sweet cherry flavor that establishes itself at the deepest levels, this tea might be my favorite Verdant Sheng of the three I’ve tried. I would really like to see how this sheng develops in the next few years, because right now it is delicious.
I actually found the leaf quality in my cake to be pretty good, with many large intact ones. There was a nice honey note sneaking through in early tastings with a pleasant citrus aftertaste, but all in all the tea was a bit flat and ashy, which I’m chalking up to its youth. I’ll probably put this away for a while and revisit it in a year or so.
All of the flavors are in perfect balance—earthy, smokey, fruity—an exciting and complex Pu-erh that will be awesome when aged. The dry leaf is unlike any I’ve seen in a green Pu-erh. You can tell that care was taken to preserve the flavors in the large beautiful leaves. Sweeter and more floral than I expected but balanced by a hint of fine leather and cinnamon.
I’ve been drinking both green and ripe pu-erhs for a few years but I can’t claim that I have the experience or refined tastes of the people at Verdant whose sample packs of Pu-erhs and Oolongs came in the mail yesterday. I steeped this teas using the Western method prescribed by Verdant (five 2.5 minute infusions) and while the tea is quite good for a youngish sheng, I wasn’t having the epic experience I was expecting from the tea—based on the comments of other tasters (some of whom are affiliated with Verdant). Maybe I’ve been drinking some pretty good shengs, or maybe it’s a case of having high expectations, but I didn’t have the aha moment I’ve had when drinking the best examples of other types of tea. This just didn’t outpace the other shengs I’ve had by such a degree that I would pay the steep price; while I would like to support the farmers who make this, I feel I can get a satisfying pu-erh experience for $30 a cake rather than $40 an ounce. I have enough tea for a couple more tastings, so I hope to be able to revisit this review soon.
This was one of the highlights of the last few years of tea drinking—a truly memorable cup. Like a darjeeling on steroids, fruit, sugar and herb notes were powerful without being overwhelming. The dry leaf was a thing of beauty in itself. While I’ve had a couple of ordinary teas from this fledgling estate, when they get it right, they can produce some of the best teas in the India/Nepal region.