30 Tasting Notes
I am proud to say that this tea just got featured in Serious Eats Magazine in a write up about the unique way we go about sourcing and thinking about tea. Here is the link: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/09/verdant-tea-organic-chinese-interview-profile.html?ref=title
This is the quote from Serious Eats Editor Max Falkowitz: “Brewing a cup of Laoshan Summer Harvest Green makes the air smell like there’s biscuits in the oven, and the brewed tea feels so buttery and creamy on the tongue that it’s almost like there’s milk right in there—the beverage equivalent of trying Haagen Dazs for the first time after only eating Breyers.”
Nice description Max! I will translate it for the He family when I visit them this autumn, though they may not get the cultural reference of the ice cream :)
As an aside, I found out yesterday that Mrs. He, the woman behind Laoshan Black and Laoshan Green, is going to be having a baby in just about a month. Congrats to her and her soon-to-be child. What an intense person to be out picking tea this summer through her pregnancy. Anyways, the He family is really grateful for the success that this tea and the Laoshan black have brought them. Thanks everyone.
For some people, the first flowers unfolding, or the smell of wet earth mark for the senses the true beginning of spring. For me, it is the taste of the fresh spring harvest Tieguanyin. This one was certainly one of the most beautiful yet. The first picking we got in was very floral, sweet and tingling, light and “spring-like.” When that ran out we got a second harvest that was more creamy, more rich, and fruity, like spring edging in to summer.
Yesterday our latest shipment of tea arrived with 18 pounds of the most recent picking of Tieguanyin from early summer. We have never had the chance to try a late spring / early summer picking from this farm because last year our spring harvest lasted all the way through to autumn. This year the tea is so popular that we ordered more. I am so glad we did.
The taste of this Tieguanyin is fully within the spectrum of summer. My tasting notes include warm mist, chilled cream, sweet green beans, velvety young grass, saffron unfolding to lychee, slivered almond, amaretti cookies, amber incense, and Redwood bark. Very interesting tea with an aftertaste that builds up with a tingling sensation on the tongue over several steepings.
The exciting thing is that for the next 2-3 weeks we will have both the early spring and late spring Tieguanyin available. If you loved the early spring harvest, stock up soon, as it won’t be replaced with the same tea. If you are looking to try something new, wait for our Friday 12 noon CST release of the new Tieguanyin to be the first to try it.
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The Zhu Rong has been a wonderful companion. It came to us almost by surprise. We had gone back and forth with Weiwei and Wang Yanxin about different Dian Hong samples, and then suddenly, 15 pounds of this arrived at our doorstep with our last shipment. We were so glad to have it.
The stock has been dwindling each day, now slightly less than a pound. At first I was not going to attempt reordering this one. Some things are best left to chance, and trying to reproduce the serendipity of happenstance is not always best. But people have loved this so thoroughly, and Geoffrey has been concernedly been asking me how we would replace this when it ran out. I gave in and talked with Weiwei about finding more.
When our last shipment came yesterday, I thought this would be a simple restock. Alas, it is not the case. There is no more of the current Zhu Rong. One pound, and then it’s done. But do not despair, an equally serendipitous treasure arrived in our shipment in the Zhu Rong’s place. It is another Dian Hong with more golden buds, but very similar savory spicy flavors. It is like a cross between the Zhu Rong and the Golden Fleece or Jin Jun Mei. I love it. The tea is so exciting to have.
On Friday August 24th, at 12 noon CST, the current Zhu Rong will be discontinued and replaced by the incredible new tea, which will be named in honor of the first edition Zhu Rong. There are 12 pounds total on this edition.
The drawback of working with such small scale farmers and businesses in China is how little the editions I can bring in are. They sell out so fast! The beautiful thing is being exposed to so many nuanced complexities from so many different angles. Here’s to all the wonderful things that tea can be, and to many more wonderful harvests.
Cutting open the first 250g bag of this tea, heat-sealed at the farm just after it was picked a few weeks ago, was a burst of pure nostalgia. The aroma of the tea seemed to ‘waft’ me across the ocean towards Laoshan.
My wife and I were living in a pretty average apartment building in the city of Qingdao near Laoshan while I was conducting research on tea. Every morning before we went to teach classes on western literature and philosophy at Qingdao University, we would stop at a back alley restaurant set up outside with folding car tables and little plastic stools. There were lines down the block to get a bowl of their famous steaming homemade soymilk made from fresh picked soybeans grown on the mountains of Laoshan. This was not your average soymilk thickened with xanthan gum and artificially sweetened. No- this was pure frothed sweetness of soybean, full of hearty earthy flavor. You would pick up a basket (or plastic baggie for those on the go) of fried sticks of dough, hand stretched to order. In Qingdao, the wheat is good and fresh- so these fried “doughnuts” were some of the best. You would dip them in the steaming soymilk. The aroma of the milk, the sweet dough, and the ocean air heavy with morning mist is exactly that aroma that the tea evoked for me.
The flavor is strong and decisive, and very resilient to oversteeping. The rich, confident body of the tea reminds me of the temperament of my friends in Laoshan. The He family is kind beyond belief, but like many in Shandong province, proud, and unafraid to speak their mind. That is the tea I am drinking now.
Yet, just when I think I understand this new harvest, and its frothy sweet flavor, it shifts. There is a cooling and tingling quality like chewing fresh peppermint leaf and basil. It is as though the tea knew that it would be sipped in the summer and offered a cooling balm for the heat. Thank you Laoshan. Thank you Mr. and Mrs He. Even as I sit in Minneapolis, you have extended your hospitality, bringing me back to your home through the care you put into your tea.
The Spring 2012 harvest is finally in!
It felt like a drought here at the Verdant Tea offices to go two weeks without Laoshan Black. I hadn’t wanted to say anything in fear of jinxing this tea’s arrival, but here it is. Mr. He and Weiwei both said that it was an incredible harvest, and Weiwei does not throw around positive adjectives freely.
I could feel my heart racing in anticipation as I poured the water over these leaves and the aroma began wafting up like chocolate hibiscus. The first sip confirmed everything that Weiwei had said. This tea is creamy and luscious. It “melts” on the tongue like a homemade butter caramel, and has the floral complexities of a Big Red Robe.
Later steepings saw a movement towards the signature chocolate and barley flavor that Laoshan Black has become known for, yet the particular balance of texture, aroma and taste evoked a wonderful memory for me. The delicate sweetness of the barley, with floral vanilla bouquets reminds me of spending a week in Chapi village, Tibet to conduct interviews for a book of Tibetan folklore I was translating. The family hosting me had a traditional carved wooden house, and in the courtyard, the grandma was roasting the freshly harvested barley in giant handfuls over a fir wood fire. She smiled at me and held out a handful of barley. I took it with gratitude and started to eat it fresh. The taste is one of the flavor pinnacles of my short experience on this planet, and this tea has evoked that perfect flavor of sweet barley tempered by the right amount of fire. Beautiful!
I know that the Laoshan Black has been missed, so I am excited to be adding this tasting not and letting everyone know that it is back, while our supply from the fifteen pound harvest holds out. The extra good news is that we got much better shipping rates for this harvest and were able to bring down the price substantially, putting this tea within a feasible budget for drinking every day.
New description is up on the site: http://verdanttea.com/teas/laoshan-black/
Every language has its own great advantages. I love English- the adjectives to summon forth are some of the best I have encountered (especially for visual concepts). However, our language is a bit more limited when it comes to taste, texture and smell. This is where Chinese comes in.
I took a rainy Qingdao day (In Seattle they call it a “marine layer”, in Qingdao, they say it is misty) and sat with Wang Yanxin drinking tea. Every pu’er she pulled from her mysterious back room stacks tasted like seeing a new color for the first time. I was learning about “sticky rice” aroma, “fruit” aroma, etc in the context of pu’er all were so bracing. After drinking teas at that level, you just want to fast because it seems wrong to bulldoze the ethereal aftertastes lingering on the palate. (Usually I would give in though and stop for charcoal roasted fish and shrimp on a stick while walking home.)
When Wang Yanxin brewed up this Yiwu, I can say in earnest that tasting it felt like being reunited with an important part of myself that had gone missing. She described the flavor as “zhang.” Apparently, zhang is a flavor used to describe the cooling sensation and herbaceous complexity that a wild picked pu’er picks up when growing in a forest with cedar or fir trees. It is a certain sensation in the back of the throat and tongue that is almost electric in its tingling cooling qualities. This taste felt like being reunited with my home town, my childhood heroes, my best friends.
I love zhang. I seek it out in everything now. Fine gin, birch beer, juniper berries, some kinds of tulsi. Zhang feels like pure energy melting on the tongue. This brick of yiwu was the first tea to give me that. It is what inspired me to understand that tea is more than flavor, texture, or aroma- it is energy, memory recall, connection to the land, and a synergy of all these put together.
Why do I leave a tasting note on this tea after so long? Because I am so excited to share the fact that Wang Yanxin agreed to get me a later 2004 pressing from the same workshop, and the 12 cakes I could import have arrived. Last time we were able to secure a few bricks of Yiwu, they sold out in 1 week and a half, so I am very excited to offer these up again. I hope you enjoy this tea as much as I do: http://verdanttea.com/teas/stone-pressed-yiwu-wild-arbor-sheng/
Wang Yanxin did it- She actually acquired several more pounds of the Golden Fleece from her friends who wild-pick this tea in Yunnan. I didn’t want to breathe a word about it until the package made it to Minneapolis, I opened all the bags and tasted to be sure, but I can say that the Golden Fleece is back. It was somewhat mind-boggling to see the whole last batch sell out in one hour, so I hope that my work to convince Wang Yanxin to part with more than a pound this time will allow more people to try this tea.
Wang Yanxin is such an interesting character. Getting tea from her is not as simple as ordering it. She will allude to a tea that you never knew that she had, dangling it out like a test. If I ask to buy the tea, it is suddenly gone, ‘sold out.’ Only through a discussion of flavor texture and aftertaste will Wang Yanxin decide whether or not to part with teas like this. She wants to know that it is going to be appreciated and cared for. She wants to see the tea leaves advancing the tea culture. On the occasions that I can convey appreciation appropriately, we end up with tea like the Golden Fleece, Artisan Revival Sheng and Yiwu.
She is not trying to be temperamental. Indeed, her desire is to inspire people all over the world to fall in love with tea, and through it gain a respect for the leaf and a humility towards others. She wants small farmers to gain recognition for their tea without the pomp and glitter of brand name pu’er workshops. She is an idealist, but a fierce and practical one. The Golden Fleece is an incredible tea in that the majority of its complexity lies in texture and aftertaste, two elements of the tea experience that are underrated. In the west we tend to prize flavor above all else. Yet flavor is only a fraction of what tea has to offer. Golden Fleece gives so much in flavor, but so much more in texture, and sensation. Wang Yanxin is sometimes concerned about whether the merits of a tea like this will be noticed.
Thanks to support from so many friends on Steepster, so many intelligent and thoughtful tasting notes, and such a positive and humble attitude towards tea, I have material to translate and share with Wang Yanxin, making her more and more comfortable releasing teas like this.
The Golden Fleece will be available on our website Friday May 18th at 12 noon CST, along with an entirely new black tea offering, the Zhu Rong Yunnan Black, named after a dagger-wielding warrior queen of Yunnan. I hope that both teas are enjoyed thoroughly.
When spring comes, my family is thinking about flip-flops, patio furniture, fresh produce, and walks around the lake. I am thinking of Laoshan, of Mr. and Mrs. He and the wafting aroma of piles of fresh spring buds drying and being curled. I am thinking of the cool morning mist that requires you to wear a jacket in the village, and of the crystal clear spring where the kids play on the weekends.
I asked Weiwei, who maintains our relationship with the farmers while I am away, to bring gifts to the He family and see how the new harvest was going. The news I got was a bit nerve-wracking. This year was an extremely cold spring, which delayed the harvest significantly. I was told that very little tea was being picked early on. Weiwei suggested that we offer the He family far more than usual for the crop since they got so little in the first weeks of spring. Of course, we were happy to do so.
The drawback of the cold spring meant a pricier green, along with a tiny shipment of only eight pounds of this precious leaf until later in the month. However, the benefit became clear as soon as I cut open the first vacuum-sealed bag. The fragrance was thick, heady and overwhelmingly fresh. It truly smelled like being on the farm in Laoshan village.
Steeped up, this Laoshan early spring harvest is unlike ones I have tasted before. I expected an exquisitely sweet flavor, but I couldn’t have anticipated the thick creamy body, or the nuance of the sugar snap pea flavor. It actually makes perfect sense when you think about it. Colder spring and slower harvest means smaller leaf that has spent less energy growing. Less energy to put out big leaves early on means more sugar and nutrients stored in the leaf contributing to the rich flavor.
I am so honored that the He family is willing to part with this crop and trusts us to represent it well. Mr. and Mrs. He pass on their thanks for all the support and kind words that I translate from comments left here on Steepster. Indeed, the enthusiasm here is one part of what drives their commitment to innovating, improving their Laoshan green and Laoshan Black every season.
May everyone enjoy this tea. I hope the fresh smell, the tender leaf, and rich flavor evoke for others even a small part of this village that I miss so dearly.
To set the scene, yesterday in Minneapolis was perfectly sunny, just hot enough to make you move a bit more slowly than usual. Humidity was hanging in the air, and the smell of grass and new flowers was wafting in the windows. The fan was on low with a soothing hum in the background. That is when the last box of our spring shipment arrived at the door, and we cut it open to see those vacuum sealed shining gold bags of Tieguanyin.
We had ordered enough Spring Tieguanyin to last a few months, or so we thought when our last batch came in. It sold out in two weeks and we had to rush ship the freshest picking of Tieguanyin in this week. The sensible side of me thought, “this batch will surely taste like the last one,” but the trained taster knew that a few weeks difference in picking time can make a huge difference in flavor. Luckily Weiwei never lets us down with Tieguanyin, so we were not nervous at all to cut open the first bag.
The aroma of creme brulee, saffron, lilac, and flaky pastry burst forth from the bag. Oh, yes, this was something different entirely. The first steeping was juicy, and had the fruity tones of goji berry. There was a tingling spearmint sweetness on the tongue. This was an exciting tea!
That is where it took a sharp turn towards rich and creamy. It really tasted like a saffron and almond laced rice pudding reduced on the stovetop for hours. It was silky and completely enveloping. If the last batch was the essence of a sunny spring day, then this is a later spring day in the afternoon right after a heavy downpour of rain with steam rising off the grass and flowers.
As soon as the orchid flavors, the sweet parsley green notes, the mango juiciness and the vanilla came in, we were in real trouble. It was the first time since college that I had an overwhelming desire to play hooky, ditch work for the day and go pick flowers along the Mississippi River. Seriously- be careful with this one. I was so close to skipping off with a bag of this tea in hand, pulling my wife from work for a “family emergency” and taking off. The tea just does that to you.
Luckily, I came back to my senses despite my strong desire not to. Why, you ask? Because I wanted to get this tea, and the new spring greens up on the site so that I can share the experience around. It wouldn’t be fair to hoard this tea ll to myself, as much as I might want to. I would rather see other people connect with the tea instead.
All the support for our Tieguanyin here on Steepster has really shaped the way that Weiwei sources it. I pass on all the compliments, and she feels more honor-bound to follow up with an even more stunning tea each season. I am not always sure why the farmers part with tea like this, but I am more than pleased to share the tasting experience.