39 Tasting Notes
This is a good evening or nighttime herbal drink for me. I love the flavor of hazelnut in general, giving this blend and easy in with me. The flavor here is particularly enjoyable and warming, as is the fragrance.
My one big irritation with this blend is that the herbs are so fine it becomes a pain in the ass to infuse with anything but an ultrafine mesh strainer, which I have unfortunately yet to acquire. When infusing this blend with a more standard wire-mesh tea strainer loads of herbal particulate pass into the liquid and it becomes a somewhat pulpy experience. Cleaning the strainer afterwards has proved frustrating as well, with many grains becoming stuck in the mesh. You practically need to use a fine brush to clear the mesh completely.
Alternatively, I’ve tried infusing this tea in a gaiwan and pouring off through the small funnel strainer I use for Gongfu brewing, as that strainer has a finer mesh, but the problem then becomes the leaves pouring out of my gaiwan with the liquid and clogging up the mesh of the strainer until it’s completely blocked. Ugh!
I like this herbal blend well enough, but these frustrations in preparing it prevent me from drinking it more frequently, and from rating it any higher. Ideally, infusion should be a painless and straightforward experience, not a distracting and frustrating one. Until I get some kind of special superfine mesh strainer (or, God-forbid, empty disposable teabags!) to make brewing this blend easier, it will likely continue to be something I reach for only infrequently. That makes me kind of sad, but I’m already equipped with a good range of tea preparation utensils, and I think for an herbal blend to require the purchase of another special tool or disposable steep bags for its own sake is asking a bit too much. If this were a tea of exceptional quality, you’d be hearing a different tune, as I’m plenty willing to make special accommodations for something worthy of it. But this is neither a tea, nor an exceptionally high quality blend of herbs.
Final word: a pretty good herbal blend, with disappointing drawbacks on the preparation end.
I shared this Pu’er and Verdant Tea’s Spring Tieguanyin with a friend last Tuesday. Refer to my tasting note of the latter tea for more backstory of the context. I will begin by saying that I’ve probably tried around 18-20 pu’er teas, and to date, this Xingyang 1998 Golden Leaf Shou remains the best of them. In a broader context, among the countless teas that I’ve tried (including all types and classes), this Pu’er stands out as an exceptionally fine representative of what tea can be, and is securely established in the top 3 best teas I’ve had the good fortune and pleasure to experience. When I give a tea the highest possible mark, it means that I consider it perfect in its own right, lacking nothing, and offering an additional something that I have not encountered in another tea. I trust that “finer” teas may exist, and indeed I hope to try them; but it is with this Pu’er that I feel we’re talking about a level of quality at which the tea deserves to be assessed outside of relative considerations. Essentially, I would have to rate such a tea as being “without rank”, as it and its peers are each embodying their own unique perfection.
Before I prepared this Pu’er a week ago, five months had passed since my last experience with it. This length of time was not for any lack of love or lack of desire to brew it, but because I refuse to drink this tea by myself and feel that it is worth being reserved for special occasions. The fact that I’ve only had one ounce of it in supply has also contributed to my reluctance, though I’m planning to buy more for the future while it’s still available.
My friend had specifically requested a proper Pu’er initiation when we made arrangements to meet, as his few pervious experiences with this class of tea left a particularly unpleasant impression. He described having suffered the misfortune of tasting fishy, probably low-quality, Pu’er that was prepared with western brewing methods (no wash, 4 minute steeping). When I had told him of Gongfu brewing and what I’d learned about the appropriate treatment of Pu’er, he expressed an enthusiastic interest in trying it again.
I started preparing this tea after we’d grown sufficiently blissed-out drinking Teiguanyin for over an hour. The room was getting a bit hot so we opened the window and let the brisk night air flow into our drinking space. The previous day’s temperature had been around 90F in the afternoon, and dropped a sharp 30 degrees within a couple hours in the evening. It felt like we stood on the threshold of autumn, and the Xingyang Pu’er being prepared was the perfect tea to take us through that gate into a new season.
The first infusion after washing the tea was excellent, surprising both of us in its depth, fragrance and delectable taste. Just taking in the bouquet of that first infusion gave me goosebumps. A sweet and mild spice, slightly cinnamon-like, tree bark and freshly fallen leaves. I held the tea in my mouth for ten or more seconds per sip; its taste and feel ran through my body with the softness of a quiet stream, compelling all of my muscles to sink in relaxation. “Oh my God,” were my friend’s first words. All I could say in response was a deep and emphatic, “Yes”. Letting the aftertaste settle between sips and cups is an experience unto itself with this tea, which can unfold in interesting and exceedingly pleasant changes of character for over a minute. I remember most vividly this sparkling sensation developing after several seconds in the aftertaste, as if the awakened and stretching flavors of the tea were shaking off their 13-year sleep with a lively dance on my tongue.
The infusions that followed provoked powerful and evocative stirrings in our imaginations. My friend was overcome with recollections of early childhood: “Cedar crates next to the house of the kindest old woman, who was my neighbor in Japan. I was four years old and wandered into her yard.” I recalled the experience of jumping into piles of oak leaves and watching the clouds pass overhead, then being followed by the smell of oak on my clothes for the rest of the day. We remarked on this particularly powerful evocative quality of the tea. It was not just evoking memories, it was opening doors to insight, as well as forming new deep stores for remembering our present experience and experiences to come. This is a contemplative tea par excellence. My friend suggested it would be a great companion to creative work, as in composing music or poetry.
After a number of infusions, it came up that I hadn’t brewed this tea for five months, and I mentioned that it seemed to me to have grown better even in that relatively short time. My friend was surprised to hear that I could drink this tea so infrequently in light of how amazingly good it is. It was at this point I told him that I will not drink this tea alone. I explained that, for my part, I felt like drinking this tea without a companion to share it with would be selfish and wasteful. Not to judge others who would or do drink this alone, I’m just remarking on my own experience with it. To drink this Pu’er by myself, for me, would come with a feeling that I’m failing to serve the tea, in every sense of that word. I consider the opportunity to partake of a tea this good as a great privilege and a gift; and the only way I can completely express my gratitude for that is by sharing it with others.
My friend and I proceeded to enjoy this Pu’er and it’s fascinating profile changes for well over an hour, and it was far from spent when we ended. This particular session was a peak experience with tea for me, and for my friend it was something akin to a conversion experience. Of the drinking sessions I’ve had with this tea, this one was definitely the best to date. I whole-heartedly recommend this tea, and would suggest setting aside some unhurried time to brew this with good company and your undivided attention.
Had a friend over for dinner last night. We prepared a basic Tuscan-style tomato suase with garlic, chopped nuts and shrimp, alongside some sauteed red bell peppers and zucchini, and a simple salad dressed with fresh squeezed lemon juice and olive oil. Super delicious meal, and I am grateful to have a friend so talented in the culinary arts. We washed it down with DIY lemon soda (just squeezed lemon into a glass and added plain carbonated water); an excellent palette cleanser.
As my friend so kindly conceived, purchased and prepared the better part of the meal described, and had expressed a sincere enthusiasm to experience some Gongfu tea drinking for the first time, I decided that the best expression of my gratitude would be to treat his generosity and interest to the two finest teas in my cupboard. The first of those teas was this Spring Tieguanyin, and the second was my Xingyang 1998 Golden Leaf Pu’er. I will write a separate tasting note for the latter, as I’ve yet to review it here.
As for the Spring Tieguanyin, before and during my preparations to serve it, I hyped it to the skies for my friend. He’s a newcomer to this way of appreciating tea, but definitely has a good frame of reference for understanding it from experience with fine wine tasting and his culinary adventures. The moment I opened the vacuum sealed package and let him smell the leaves, he was just about knocked out from the beauty of the fragrance. We drank four infusions in bliss, and the tea was better than even I had remembered from the numerous occasions I’d had it before. How is this possible? I imagine that the feedback and reflection generated when a host shares his tea with a truly and fully appreciative drinking companion enhances the whole experience.
After a good number of infusions, I confided in my friend that when I was praising this tea to the heavens for him, I had a faint worry at the back of my mind, “Will it really be as good as I say it is?”, but then when we got to drinking it the tea inevitably outstripped my praise by a length that I wasn’t prepared for. My friend concurred, saying, “This tea is 120% of what you said it was.” Drinking the next infusion, he expressed to me a very deeply felt gratitude for my providing him the opportunity to be introduced to this manner of tea drinking and tea culture. He said that he had felt for a long time in his life that an experience like this existed and was somewhere available in this world; and that it was something he’s been looking for, but previously found no access to. My friend went on to characterize this first exposure to Gongfu style tea drinking as a life-changing experience for him. I can’t explain how grateful and happy it made me feel to have some part in precipitating an experience like that for another person.
Needless to say, my friend there became a fully fledged lover of tea, excited to explore the great world of experience it provides… And that was before we even tried the exceptional Xingyang Pu’er! Concluding my note on the Tieguanyin, I will say that we continued to drink infusion after infusion of it for a good hour and a half. I have no idea how many infusions we had, but its flavor was merely settling, and hardly at the point of diminishing, before it felt like the right time to move on. I put the leaves aside in a container for later use, as I’m confident they will continue to produce good infusions for a while yet.
A tasting note on our experience with the Xingyang Pu’er is to come. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to have access to teas of this quality!
Drinking this again as I write. On my second infusion brewed Gongfu style. Used only two teaspoons of leaves this time, and it’s a dramatically improved experience! I echo the malty and smooth comments. Regarding the very pleasant malt aspect in particular, I feel like this tea accomplishes what most Assam tea has been vainly struggling to achieve. This Laoshan black is so much smoother than most of the black teas I’ve tried, both Chinese and Indian. Only Golden Needle teas are its match and potential challenger in that regard. For me it has a vivid caramel quality in its taste; a very smooth high-quality caramel, not the cheap sticky stuff. Dulce de Leche comes to mind. The tea leaves themselves have a fragrance very similar to extra-dark chocolate, and I find this chocolate hint presenting itself more as a flirtation in the aftertaste, beguiling me to come back for repeated infusions. For a black tea, I am thoroughly pleased with this. It is indeed quite nearly ideal, as my first impression of it suggested. This tea just makes me happy, and I know that I will be returning to it frequently. What better praise can be given?
Final word, I think 2 teaspoons for Gongfu brewing is excellent, though perhaps it could stand just a bit more strength. I definitely overdid the leaf quantity last time (in my initial note), probably by an order of 2 or 2.5 (4 teaspoons perhaps). It’s hard to eyeball 5 grams when everything weighs differently! By comparison, that encounter with this tea was a bitter disappointment, and I’m happy to have gained awareness of the mistake I made there.
Brewed this again last night in my gaiwan. I had left it alone for months. My first attempt at brewing it didn’t go very well, but I’m now certain that the method I used at that time was wrong for this tea. Verdant’s steeping notes for Sheng Pu-er generally prescribe 7 grams of leaves for Gongfu brewing, and I think I must have missed the note that for this Farmer’s Cooperative tea a pretty big exception to the general rule is suggested. For this tea, no more than 1 teaspoon of leaves is prescribed for Gongfu brewing. It seems like too little when you’re looking at it, but these leaves are apparently loaded with flavor. Verdant also suggests that you wash the tea twice before drinking any of it, and I think that definitely makes a difference. Following these guidelines last night, I found the Farmer’s Cooperative deeply satisfying.
This is the tea I remember impressing me when I initially tried it at Verdant Tea’s first pu-er tasting. I love the slight numbing sensation that it produces in the mouth, somewhat like menthol in its effect. Probably had around six infusions before I had to leave the apartment, so I haven’t even reached the peak of its profile yet. It’s still in the gaiwan and I plan to drink more as the day progresses.
Nothing else of detail to say at the moment, except that this is really an excellent tea! I’m glad I learned how to properly prepare it because the first time I tried (using too many leaves) I thought the tea was not so good. I was preferring to drink Verdant’s Golden Strand Shou while I neglected this one, perhaps only because I was preparing that one right and this one wrong. But then they’re two different classes of pu-er, and really suited to two different moods, so I’m not making a direct comparison. I’ll have to return to the Golden Strand as well at some point and post some notes on that one. For a Sheng Pu-er, the Farmer’s Cooperative has come back into my sight, restored to the great appreciation it deserves. This is a tea worth giving your attention to.
Brewed this again just now. The lingering aftertaste is heavenly, as was the fragrance of the first cup I poured. This time I steeped for 1.5 minutes and the result is exactly what I desired. I can imagine how this state might be just a bit too light for some people, but for my tastes it’s perfect. I love this green! Planning to continue experimenting with steep time to gain perspective, as I may want it stronger in a different mood. Off to steep the leaves again. Great tea to start the day!
I was very impressed with this surprising new green offered by Verdant Tea when I had my initial chance to try it at Verdant’s last tasting. I’ve now brewed it at home twice. The first time was last Saturday night around 9:00pm when I needed a tea fix with special and very specific parameters: something light and enlivening, but also calming and cleansing.
I had slept for most of the day due to sleeplessness the previous night and a brief illness that washed over me in the late afternoon and broke in the evening. My body was feeling pretty good after I ate something and then arranged to attend a social dance, as my body was indicating a need to move. The Jing Shan struck me as the most suitable tea I had for the circumstances.
I brewed it in the traditional Jingshan style indicated by the steeping notes that came with my purchase. Heated water to 175F, poured 6-7oz into my small glass serving pitcher, and sprinkled just under 1 tablespoon of leaves on top. Really fun and beautiful to watch these leaves dance! Many of them float vertically. I waited a minute or so and took in the very fine fragrance of this tea. Then I started pouring off the tea by stages into one of my 2oz drinking cups, holding back the leaves with a spoon. First cup was very light, crisp, and refreshing. Where the first cup was a suggestion of what the flavor would become, the second cup was its perfect assertion. It called for my full attention without any sharpness, but rather with a certain equanimity that compels one to listen closely. Sinking into this flavor there’s a pleasant sensation that the tea is offering some kind of compliment you can’t help but smile at. The best comparison I can draw to it is eating a ripe sugarsnap pea pod that you’ve pulled fresh off the plant. There is also a subtle quality of the ocean in this, which strikes me as giving it more kinship to a good gyokuro than to other Chinese green teas. I took my sweet time enjoying those first two cups, and by the time I came to the dregs with my third cup the strength of the tea (about 2oz of water steeping a tablespoon of leaves for 5+ minutes) was nearing the edge of my preferred intensity. Still plenty good, but not the ideal of that second cup. The Jingshan style steeping would have you just drink the tea straight out of the glass that the leaves are in, letting it grow stronger as you drink it. For my part, I found that I would’ve rather liked this tea to maintain the state of that second cup from beginning to end.
Which leads me to describe the second brewing of Jing Shan I made this afternoon, and enjoyed moments ago. This time I decided to follow the Jingshan style steeping method to a point, but try to capture a full 8 ounces of the tea in the ideal state I described above. So I poured the hot water in a glass tumbler and added the outlined tablespoon of Jing Shan on top, timing it to steep for two minutes. Then I poured the tea through a strainer into my serving pitcher. The results were indeed excellent, and quite close to what I desired to achieve. In this brewing I tasted more clearly the note of asparagus mentioned by others, and found it delectable. I think for future brewing I will experiment with steep time until I land directly on the quality of that perfect cup I had in the first brewing, trying 1.5 and 2.5 minutes to gain some perspective. On another note, I steeped the leaves from this brewing a second time in the same way that I’ve just described, and am happy to report that the result remained very good. The flavor didn’t diminish much. I’m sure this tea could deliver a nice third steeping as well, but I’ve yet to try. At some point I will need to try preparing this tea Gongfu style through multiple infusions in a gaiwan, just to get a more comprehensive sense of it’s profile. Perhaps I will post results of these future experiments at a later time.
Absolutely love it! I’ve tried this Tieguanyin on four different occasions now. First two times a friend brewed it to share, third time I brewed it for myself to drink throughout the day, and the fourth time I brewed it to share with a friend. Each time it’s been brewed Gongfu style. This last brewing I kept the leaves in my gaiwan from almost three days and kept infusing until the flavor started to dissipate, which was likely over 25 infusions, but I lost count. The friend I shared this with on Sunday, who is only mildly interested in tea, was very impressed and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have about 1.75 ounces of this Tieguanyin remaining, and I’m definitely feeling that I must purchase a greater stock before it’s all bought up. My experiences with this tea have instilled in me an unshakable faith that the person who sources Verdant’s Teiguanyin knows what they’re doing, and make me look forward to future offerings of similar quality. If Tieguanyin gets better than this, I can’t imagine it, but would no doubt welcome the possibility. For the time being, this tea from what must have been an exceptionally good harvest is available until it’s gone. . . . and the thought of that makes me anxious to buy more.
Drinking this presently as a day-starter before breakfast . Brewing it Gongfu style in my gaiwan. First couple infusions were more intense than I remember from my last experience with it. Perhaps I used too many leaves this time. In any case, it’s mellowing out nicely on the third infusion. Quite delicious. Fourth infusion is even better, and nearer to what I remember from the first time I tried it. I’ll have to experiment further with the quantity of leaves to reach it’s sweet spot. My initial impression of this tea at a Verdant Tea tasting was that it offered what I would consider a nearly ideal black tea experience. I’ll probably write a follow-up note the next time I brew this to round out the picture.