119 Tasting Notes
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.
Sweet, mellow, pleasant, with a taste that reminds me of sweet brown rice. Like a movie you watch and enjoy but slips into anonymity after a few months, I don’t think there’s anything about this tea that will nestle deep in the recesses of my memory, but it’s proving to be a nice companion as I wind down my work week and look forward to welcoming my lovely wife and two wonderful little boys home.
I would have to compare this tea to one of those hard rock ballads that start out slow and sweet and then build to an emotional crescendo (“Stairway to Heaven” would be the archetype). In the first flush of adolescence, at those high school dances, these songs struck the perfect balance—the slow dance at the beginning and the air guitar at the end. The honey and tropical fruit flavors explode in the back of the mouth. I can’t imagine a better first flush experience.
As I get older, I find that one of my big challenges is to hold on to the ability to get excited by the little events and experiences in life that are the links in the chain of happiness. Having young children helps because you get to see the first flush of the world through their eyes. But I often find that my reaction to events is more muted than it was when, for example, I first read the short stories of Andre Dubus or first heard Bob Dylan wafting up to my attic bedroom from my parents’ turntable.
My discovery of tea has been the catalyst for some of my present-day stimulating moments and none more transfixing than drinking this Jun Mee from Upton. It’s listed as a Keemun and has the same general flavor profile (chocolate, red wine), but it’s more nuanced and delicate than most Keemuns I’ve tried. And because the Keemun qualities are not as pronounced, other amazing flavors come into play, notably an amalgam of spice that reminds me of cardamom, coriander pods, nutmeg, and cinammon.
Yes, this tea is expensive, but if you really love black teas from China as I do, you’ll want to try this. Even at $45 for 50 grams, you’re only looking at a few bucks per cup.
I’m sure a lot of women I know (and some men) will not be able to relate to what I’m about to say, but I’m always looking for the holy grail of shoes, one pair I can wear for most occasions—work, a night out, at home in the country and city. I guess this is a quest that spans many areas of life: skiers want one pair of skis that will excel in powder, ice, moguls, and trees; motorcyclists want one bike that can go touring, race through the back roads, or putt around town. It is this impulse in humans that is the genesis of the Desert Island list (what is the one book/album/food/famous person you would take to a desert island?)
Now I know it would be heresy to suggest that there is only one tea that would satisfy all tastes, but there are those teas that I regularly turn to when I’m not in the mood for something specialized. A good mid-priced Assam or Ceylon, or now, this Yunnan from Upton, back in stock due to popular demand. It’s fancy enough for an elegant night out (chocolate and fruit) but unpretentious enough for a trip to the corner pub (malty, frothy, cherry pipe tobacco).
I wish I had found this earlier, but I guess I was too busy being wooed by the flashier golden-tipped Yunnans I love so much. But as every romantic comedy has taught us, sometimes the best partner is the guy or girl next door who has unobtrusively been there the whole time.