123 Tasting Notes
Obviously, we’re dealing with a much different Yunnan black tea than the plethora of “golden” blacks with their rich caramel, and cocoa flavors—so much so that this tea seems more like a blueberry oolong: fruity, unassertive, with a kind of effervescence I find in herbal teas. I like it, but I place it alongside those teas (whites, yabaos) whose subtlety (not unlike a difficult poem) requires dedicated attention to unlock its flavors. If you drink a cup while working or reading you might very well forget you’ve had anything at all.
I had been searching for a good aged Oolong and I’m glad I found this excellent tea. Like a great roasted fruit compote, this tea has a great depth of peach and plum flavors. The roasting burnishes the sweetness with a nice bit of autmunal smoke, perfect for this crisp fall day. By the way, Stacy is a pleasure to do business with and added some great samples to my order, including a rarefied Keemun that wasn’t even on the web site yet. I’m giving the other teas I ordered from her a few tries before reviewing them, but they are all quality teas.
Okay, so I hate the appropriation of the word “artisan” by marketers to suggest that a product was made by hand in some remote workshop by a wizened old master who is the final link to some disappearing skill. It’s a sandwich for God’s sake! I am, however, a sucker for the word “ancient” when used to describe pu-erh tea.
It reminds me of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner: mellowed with age, but with an inner intensity. You see this old man at a wedding; he seems inconsequential. You’re prepared to be dismissive until he starts to tell his tale and you realize what he has to say is wise, mythic, elemental.
Okay, so maybe this raw/green pu-erh is not mythic, but it does have a mellow, sweet, round feel that suggests the ancient leaf. But be prepared, the energy packed in these leaves is like the intensity of the Mariner’s gaze. It had me up half the night singing Springsteen songs in preparation for a concert tomorrow night in Boston.
This has been growing on me, maybe because I have begun to appreciate the subtleties of Oolongs over the past year. In any case, this tea has a more syrupy mouth feel than I remember, but the sweetness is nicely balanced by the roasted flavor—a nice complement to the Thai green curry I had for dinner.
Okay, first a Mea Culpa: Other than green pu erhs, I don’t do multiple steepings of teas. Yes, I’m an unrefined westerner, but here’s my reasoning:
1. I don’t have time. I’m lucky to be able to steep a cup of tea and drink it while chasing my two boys, 4 and 2, around the house/yard/street, etc.
2. The interaction between caffeine and flavor in tea is as important to me as the interaction between alcohol and flavor in beer. I don’t see the point of drinking tea once the caffeine is gone, in the same way I don’t see the point of non-alcoholic beer.
3. I don’t necessarily feel that tea “reveals” different flavors over the course of multiple steepings. To me it just seems weaker and less interesting.
4. Tea is an inexpensive luxury. I don’t feel compelled to extract every drop of tea essence from the leaves. My wife spends more on wine in two months than I do in a year on tea. I just spent $250 for a little hose for my motorcycle. And don’t get me started on the price of “artisan” meats and cheeses, local produce, or the price of books.
So maybe some day I’ll change, but for now most of my tasting notes are based on a single steep.
I found it odd that this was classified as a white tea, as it seemed more of a hybrid between a dragon well green and a white. It’s pleasant and light, and I was gratified that I detected the almond/vanilla flavor mentioned in the description. I don’t often notice the sometimes esoteric flavors attributed to teas. Anyway, while this tea is definitely not in my wheelhouse, I’m thankful to the folks at Verdant for letting me try it. It’s a nice summer tea that went well with pushing my four year old down the street on his new pedal bike.
I feel like I can now consider myself an official steepsterite after having a cup of this notorious tea. I think the tasting notes have covered every nuance (chocolate, check; raisins, check), though I haven’t seen a mention of the ocean effect—deep inside there I feel waves of superclean seawater washing over my tongue. It’s a very smooth tea with a pleasant fruity aftertaste and a powerful kick. I don’t think I can genuflect at the altar of the Laoshan black to the extent that others have, but I can bow. A solid 88-90, definitely among the better Chinese black teas I’ve tasted.
Being a lover of Yunnan black teas, I was excited to try this. I brew all black teas western-style and this one I let go for about 4 minutes without any resulting bitterness. The dry leaf smell reminded me of the cookies you can buy at the Italian bakeries in the North End of Boston, while the wet leaves had a powerful aroma of marijuana. The flavor is quite satisfying: medium bodied with a powerful baked apple essence and flourishes of chocolate and mocha. I would put this on par with a top level Golden Monkey in terms of flavor and body but not quite as awe-inspiring as the best Dian Hongs I’ve tasted.
Last year’s Castleton second flush was one of my favorite teas ever, so I had high expectations for this one. I’ve been careful brewing first flush darjeelings, using water under the boiling point and not letting the tea oversteep. Still, with this cup, there was some bitterness and the muscatel and floral notes were a little subdued, even with my penchant for using a hefty amount of leaf. Overall, it’s a nice, gardern variety first flush, but it didn’t impress me like the Thurbo and the Sungma did.