26 Tasting Notes
I’m tasting the spring 2017 harvest of this tea. This is going to be a short note, because this tea just didn’t work for me, which is disappointing because the smell got my hopes up.
I brewed six rounds from 10 seconds to 90 seconds
The aroma of the wet leaves is rich with smoke, peat, rum, and fresh gingerbread. The flavors in the first infusions are fruity like dragonfruit and raspberry with a somewhat unpleasant burned bread hint.
On the third infusion the burned taste is gone and I’m left with a somehow underwhelming chocolate, raspberry, and mint flavor. These are flavors I’ve loved in teas before, but something about them is just off and uninspiring in this. The upshot is there’s a pleasant tingling on my tongue at the end of the cups.
The last three steepings are all the same — sweet cream, vanilla, and burnt sugar. Again, flavors I’ve enjoyed before but they’re really flat and uninspiring in this tea.
In the future I’ll play around with leafing heavier than recommended, but right now I’m thoroughly unenthused by this tea.
Flavors: Baked Bread, Burnt, Burnt Sugar, Cream, Fruity, Mint, Peat, Raspberry, Rum, Smoke, Spices, Vanilla
To be honest, I’ve always put off writing tasting notes about laoshan black because it’s such an understandably beloved tea, but also (in my experience) so singularly chocolately there’s not much to say about it. However, I decided to embark on and record a mindful tasting the other day, and approaching the tea much more mindfully yielded something entirely more complex than what I think of loashan black being.
The session lasted a solid 9 infusions. Following a flash rinse I started with 10 seconds and additions of 4 seconds, but gradually increased in bigger increments to a final brew of 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
The aroma throughout the session was the typically strong chocolate smell of a laoshan black. However, the flavor profile started out like a mildly sweet bread mixed with chocolate. It reminded me of a chocolate chip croissant.
As the session continued I got an abundance of sweetness from honey and sugarcane notes, mixed with cinnamon and allspice. On the fourth steep I was caught off guard by a strong mint flavor at the start of the cup which faded back into the chocolate chip croissant flavor of the first infusion.
On the fifth steeping I decided to push the tea a bit more to see if I could get a round of strong chocolate flavor. I was rewarded with exactly that, but with a complimentary citrus note and a beautiful floral hit in the aromatics.
As the session ended the bitterness of the chocolate faded and I had a final cup that was sweet, creamy, and vanilla flavored. It was quite reminiscent of a ‘flat white’ from Starbucks.
This was a really great session of a tea that’s always nice to have on hand if you enjoy a luxurious chocolate flavored cup. Clearly, as this session awakened me to, there’s more than meets the eye with this tea if you’re willing to invest yourself in the brew.
Flavors: Baked Bread, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Citrus, Cream, Floral, Honey, Mint, Spicy, Sugarcane, Sweet, Vanilla
I’ve never been much of a green tea person, but I’ve been trying to sipdown some of the older teas in my cabinet and decided to give this another try. Much to my surprise I really enjoyed it!
Since I didn’t expect to enjoy it much it wasn’t a particularly mindful brew. I steeped it western style 5 different times for 30s, 30s, 45s, 60s, 90s and enjoyed some cups at home, some on the go in a travel mug.
Flavors were not nearly as vegetal as I expected based on the description of this tea. There was some snap pea flavor, but mostly I was getting a creaminess, sugar cane sweetness and a surprisingly spicy flavor on a couple of the brews. There’s a really thick mouthfeel to go along with the creamy flavor. It felt like a more mellow, grounded, and interesting version of a Milk Oolong. It made a refreshing brew for a trip to the gym and a relaxing brew for being cozy at home with a book.
I don’t drink enough green to feel qualified to rate this tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and will probably pick up more of this or try some other green teas down the road.
Flavors: Creamy, Peas, Spicy, Sugarcane, Thick
So, years ago I received a sample of Master Bi’s Jin Guan Yin from Verdant’s reserve club and it was the most singularly luxurious and cozy tea I have ever experienced. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that specific tea is not something I’ll ever taste again, but I’ve been on the hunt for something at least similar. When I saw this tea from the same varietal with a similar looking roast I just had to see if it could come close to that experience from years ago.
There’s a nice floral smell to the leaves as I open the container. The leaves are impressively intact and there’s no dust or broken leaves that get caught in my strainer.
1st, 6 sec: After a flash rinse the steam that rises is smokey and woody. The bright orange liquor adds notes of chocolate and dried fruits to the smokey aroma. There’s also something else I can’t identify — like a tropical leaf. The aroma alone is absolutely intoxicating. The flavor hits many of the same notes as the aroma, but adds in a minerality. The chocolate flavor is not harsh and bitter like some teas, it has a creaminess like milk chocolate. The mouthfeel is a bit thick and very smooth.
2nd, 10 sec: With the roast washing off slightly the minerality is coming more to the forefront, but the chocolate flavor still lingers on the tongue after the sip. This cup is no more bitter than the first, but there’s definitely a noticeable astringency to it.
3rd, 14 sec: There’s a wonderful rum cherry scent the the liquor that I keep searching for in the flavor, but I can’t find it in there.
4th, 18 sec: The leaves and the liquor are gaining a pleasant medicinal herb smell. This steeping I can taste the cherry I’d been smelling, creating a delightful cherry chocolate flavor. As the tea cools there’s a refreshing soft minerality that makes me think that maybe this tea could be just as refreshing an iced tea for the summer as it is warming and cozy when brewed hot in the winter.
5th, 22 sec: This is the first steeping where I feel like I can taste a bit of the tropical leaf smell I caught early on. It’s unexpected but not unpleasant.
6th, 26 sec: I ended up letting this one get quite cool and got more of the very refreshing minerality and medicinal herb flavor that becomes more apparent at the lower temperatures.
7th, 30 sec: The tea is starting to fade now. It’s not an unpleasant cup by any means, but definitely becoming more shallow. The soft minerality remains and there’s a bit of a stir fried vegetable flavor showing up.
I could give this a couple more long steeps and get a couple pleasant, average cups of tea but the uniqueness is definitely gone by this point of the session. This tea hits all the right buttons for me. The whole experience, from dry leaf to taste is wonderful throughout and it has something for every mood. If you want something simple, warming and cozy you can focus on the luxuriously smooth chocolate and fruit flavors. If you want refreshing there’s the minerality and cooling medicinal herbs. And if you want a tea that lets you explore a myriad of flavors and complexity throughout a gongfu session there’s a lot on offer from this well balanced roast.
Usually when I kick off a gongfu session in the morning of my work from home day I’ll slowly work through it over the course of 3 or 4 hours, but I couldn’t wait to taste more of this tea and raced through this session of the course of an hour and a half. Does this tea live up to my memory of Master Bi’s version? Not quite, but it’s a damn good cup.
Flavors: Cherry, Chocolate, Creamy, Fruity, Medicinal, Mineral, Rum, Smoke, Tropical, Vegetables, Wood
These mini tuochas were the perfect portable shu for me to bring to work, to avoid needing to break a cake at my desk. The wrapper indicates that this tea is from Haiwan tea factory. As is fairly typical with tuochas the leaves are very tightly compressed, so I started this tea off with a 20 second rinse and 5 minutes to rest and loosen.
1st, 15 sec: The mini tu is still tightly compressed and the liquor is a golden yellow. Aroma of the wet leaves is earthy but the mouthfeel is cooling and numbing to match the strongly spearmint flavor of the liquor. Maybe there’s a hint of rose, but that could just because I expect there to be. The second steeping is much the same, but with slightly more body as the leaves begin to break apart.
3rd, 10 sec: Tuo is starting to break apart. Liquor has a wonderful sweetbread smell and tastes like pear with some mint still on the back on the sip
4th, 10 sec: Tea is waking up now. Nice full bodied mouthfeel that coats the tongue and leaves your mouth watering. A little astringent, but not bad. Aroma is fruity, but the flavor is all clove and mint with only a hint of fruit this time. As it cools it gets earthy and peppery.
5th, 20 sec: This tea doesn’t have much staying power. I basically got one strong steep once it opening and now it’s already fading. This steeping is fruity and minty once again.
6th, 1 min: The fruit flavor has been succeeded by a brown sugar taste this round. Still an echo of mint as the sip fades.
I’ll be honest — minty isn’t really what I’m looking for when I drink a shu. It was a pleasant and cooling tea, but a bit shallow and not quite my style. That combined with how short a session of this tea lasts for makes this a very middle of the road shu for me.
Flavors: Brown Sugar, Clove, Earth, Fruity, Mint, Pear, Peppercorn
This tea has never been a big favorite of mine. Shortly after Verdant first started selling this tea I bought 4 oz based on their tasting notes alone and I’ve still got most of the bag left these many years later. It’s not a bad tea by any means, just a little flat to me. It’s got some honey sweetness, some malted grain, and a little hint of smoke and minerality.
However, I had such a fun time brewing this tea today. I finally got my gongfu setup at work finished, so I got to share a session of this with my tea appreciating coworkers and it was a treat to share gongfu tea with someone for once. It turned out that while this black tea underwhelmed me somewhat it was an eye opening treat for people who think black tea means British breakfast. It was also one of the only times where I went without scale or timer and simply let the tea speak to me, and it was by far the best session I’ve ever had with this tea. A lesson I’ll remember for the future: don’t get so caught up on the process you forsake being present to make the best cup of tea you know how!
Flavors: Honey, Malt, Mineral, Smoke
1st, 5 sec: Really strong honey aroma and taste (I suspect from the honeysuckle). It pairs nicely with the clean earthy flavor of the shu underneath. After a couple sips the cha qi really took me aback, to the point that I had to just sit back and relax into it. Very heady and consuming feeling, with tingling from my head down through the rest of my body.
2nd, 15 sec: Now that the initial hit of the honeysuckle has been washed out there’s the aroma I’ve come to expect from xingyang shu — a very pleasant clean mustiness like an old book with a bit of a wet forest smell mixed in. The honey smell from the first brew has turned into a crisp apple. This steeping numbs my mouth a bit and I’m getting an even stronger cha qi. I slightly oversteeped this round, so there’s more bitterness than I’d like but there’s still a pleasant earthiness
3rd, 10 sec: I can tell from the smell it was a good idea to turn down the time. The musty aroma has a sweetness to it this time. There’s a perfect balance to me between bitter earthiness and sweet honeycrisp apple. Nice continuing head high from the cha qi.
4th, 10 sec: Very similar to the third, but a bit lighter.
5th, 10 sec: The earthiness has taken a backseat to the apple and fruit flavors.
6th, 17 sec: I wouldn’t describe previous rounds as “creamy”, but this one definitely is. It’s still fruity but there’s more to it this time, some vanilla and maybe a hint of clove on the back of the tongue.
7th, 32 sec: Getting a nice poundcake flavor this time.
8th, 47 sec: There’s some citrus coming out now, making a lemon poundcake vibe.
I think I’m going to leave it there, but this has been a really nice tea. The honeysuckle only lasts for the first steeping, but the interplay between it and the puerh is really fun for that one time. The flavor after that doesn’t knock your socks off, but the feeling of it is really wonderful. I don’t know if I was just in the right place to receive it or if this tea is special in this regard, but the cha qi was really amazing. It faded a bit as the session went on, but even on steep 8 I’m still feeling it. My wife even commented on how happy I seem — it really brightened my day.
Flavors: Apple, Cake, Citrus, Creamy, Dark Bittersweet, Earth, Fruity, Honey, Musty
Just getting around to this steepster select (RIP) sample from probably 2013 or 2014.
1st, 2 min:
The aromatics of this tea are as beautiful as you’d expect from a green oolong. Floral and creamy with a front of lavender that fades to sweet cream as the tea cools. The flavor is really striking. Floral with a rather sweet vanilla flavor. As I keep sipping the vanilla adds notes of cardamom and a very gentle cinnamon.
This tea is a little too singularly sweet to be something I would drink regularly, but it’s a nice treat, perhaps as a desert tea.
2nd, 2 min 30 sec:
By the end of this steeping the leaves have really unfurled and are lovely whole leaves with light visible bruising. I’m very happy this round is less startlingly sweet than the first. The vanilla flavor has faded a bit and has left a nice combination of florals and cardamom/cinnamon. This pairing with less of the sweet vanilla is much more to my liking.
3rd, 3 min:
The spices are starting to fade and I’m left with just the florals. Definitely not an unpleasant cup, but I think thats my sign that this session is done.
Flavors: Cardamon, Cinnamon, Cream, Floral, Sweet, Vanilla
I’ve been rekindling my tea love and unearthing some of the long owned teas I have in the back of my cabinet. I started with some solid favorite genres of mine like roasted oolong and shu puerhs, but I want to see if maybe I can appreciate sheng in a way I couldn’t before. Finishing off this reserve club sample seems like as good a way to do it as any.
5 sec wash
1st steep, 5 sec: The wet leaf smells like what I tend to not like in sheng flavors — bitter vegetables, but there’s a smoky smell hiding behind it. The liquor smells much more promising. A bit doughy, sweet, and a hint of the hay in the back. The flavor is a surprisingly pleasant combination of baking spices and hay. The mouthfeel is delightfully thick and mouthwatering without being too astringent.
2nd, 7 sec: The smell is smokey and the flavor is quite bitter and vegetal. Very astringent. Maybe I overcooked this round? This is what I think of sheng tasting like and why I’ve never been able to get into it. I dumped this cup.
3rd, 7 sec: Still vegetal but a bit more mellow and with a little bit of sweet dough flavor hiding in there.
4th, 7 sec: Mildly vegetal, but not getting much depth beyond that. Perhaps my tastebuds are just not calibrated to appreciate sheng.
5th, 9sec: I’m getting something a little fruity here like wine grapes, but it gets quickly overwhelmed by the vegetal flavors again.
Well, I think I’m going to admit defeat with this tea. I had hoped that many years after my last sheng experience I’d have gotten to a point where I could appreciate them, but at least with this particular tea there was still not a lot there for me to enjoy.
Flavors: Fruity, Hay, Spicy, Vegetal
I’m not sure what has happened between me and this tea, but I don’t think it tastes much like my initial impression. I remember when I initially drank this almost a year ago thinking it tasted overwhelmingly like olive oil and italian herbs, and I really didn’t like it.
However, I recently brought it to work for a sipdown and I’ve been really digging it. First steeping has a bit of that vegetal olive oil/herb flavor on the back of the sip, but primary the flavor is one of nuts and caramel. Later steepings bring on wine grapes and baking spices and there’s this really great interplay of sweet/savory/spicy elements. The aroma has a wonderful black currant scent (although I don’t taste it).
I’m loving this tea at work. It’s bold enough to wake me up when I have my first steep in the morning and warm/smooth/mellow enough to be a relaxing respite as the day continues.