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.