Sometimes I allow curiosity to get the better of me, but other times I err on the side of caution and deny myself the opportunity to try new things. As a rule of thumb, I tend to steer clear of anything that sounds too good to be true, so when Verdant Tea released a caffeine-free tisane that was supposed to taste very similar to a quality Laoshan green tea, I was highly skeptical. I was, in fact, so skeptical that I simply dismissed this new product. I couldn’t find much information on Ziziphus Jujuba, so I figured it must be one of Verdant’s patented 1000+ year old tree deals and promptly moved on with my life.
Fast forward a few months and I decided to order a bunch of samples from Verdant. When my package arrived, I sorted through the nice new packets of various Chinese black and oolong teas, curious to see what my free sample would be. It ended up being 5 grams of the Spring 2016 Wild Laoshan Gan Zao Ye. Last night, curiosity finally got the better of me and I tore into the sample. Well, it turns out that sometimes the marketing doesn’t exaggerate as much I expect it to. That was certainly the situation here.
Since I had no idea how to brew this tea, I closely followed Verdant’s gongfu guidelines. I steeped 5 grams of loose leaves in 4 ounces of 175 F water for 8 seconds. I followed this initial infusion up with 11 additional infusions, increasing the steep time by 4 seconds per infusion. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 12 seconds, 16 seconds, 20 seconds, 24 seconds, 28 seconds, 32 seconds, 36 seconds, 40 seconds, 44 seconds, 48 seconds, and 52 seconds. At this point, I would also like to add that I dropped the lid of my favorite gaiwan at the end of this session and chipped it in two places. GRRRR!!!
After a quick examination of the dry leaves, I could have sworn that this was an actual Laoshan green tea. A sniff of the dry leaves, however, revealed the difference. I noted a pronounced nutty, vegetal aroma that reminded me of walnut, toasted rice, and cooked peas. I couldn’t recall any of the Laoshan greens giving off such a nutty aroma from the get go. After infusion, the leaves emitted even stronger aromas of roasted nuts, cooked peas, and toasted rice. There was also a grainy scent reminiscent of roasted barley. The liquor produced was much darker and cloudier than I expected. In the mouth, I noted incredibly robust notes of roasted walnuts, roasted chestnuts, roasted barley, cooked peas, and toasted rice. The next three infusions produced similar results both on the nose and in the mouth. From the fifth infusion on, the roasted barley, nut, and toasted rice sensations mellowed and faded just enough to allow some other impressions to shine through the murk. I picked up on subtle aromas and flavors of wood, butter, hay, bitter chocolate, and what can only be described as vegetable broth. There was also just the slightest hint of sweetness on the back of the throat. The folks at Verdant described it as honey, but that’s not what I would call it. In fact, I have no idea how to describe it. I also noted that the color of the liquor changed substantially over the course of the session. Early infusions were dark and hazy, while the later infusions were a clear yellow-green. Even though I probably could have pushed on with at least one or two more infusions, I decided to call it quits after number twelve.
Honestly, I regret not trying this tisane sooner. I found it to be exceptional, and though part of me is annoyed by the idea of assigning an herbal tea a numerical score higher than any proper tea I have reviewed to this point, I really did find this one to be that good. Seriously, if I were able to drink this every single day, I probably would. While I would not say that this Gan Zao Ye is identical to a Laoshan green tea, I would concede that there are more than enough similarities to please or at least intrigue fans of Verdant’s Laoshan greens. Even if you are not a fan of Verdant’s Laoshan green teas, I would still encourage you to try this tisane because I would take it over any of them most days.
Flavors: Butter, Chestnut, Dark Chocolate, Hay, Peas, Roasted Barley, Toasted Rice, Vegetable Broth, Walnut, Wood