I have a special place in my heart for Verdant Tea. Their 5 for $5 deal for first time buyers is a great deal, especially as it comes with a $5 off your next order. I will say that I didn’t enjoy all 5 teas, but their Laoshan black sample opened my eyes to what Chinese black tea (which, by the way, is called red tea to the Chinese) can really be.
For those who’ve only ever had black tea from bags or even from most tea stores, you’re probably used to the drying, bitter, malty notes that aren’t without a charm of their own—the Indian blacks. It’s what casual-tea-drinking Americans consider the foundation of what tea is supposed to taste like. I drank and adored these teas from my first Lipton iced tea as a child, to my discovery of Twinings English breakfast with milk and sugar in my teens, to the loose leaf peachy black I discovered at Churchill’s Fine Teas in Cincinnati a year ago.
In this timeline of tea discovery, I believed that tea was tea-flavored, and if you wanted it to taste like something other than tea, you had to add flavors to it. Enter my sample of Verdant’s 2015 Autumn Laoshan black. My adventures in Chinese blacks from that point on showed me that black teas can taste malty, fruity, sinfully chocolatey, and even sweet potatoey.
Since that first sip, I’ve dedicated more than half of my precious cabinet space to discovering what black teas can really taste like. And since Verdant had a sale on all the tea from the He family, I get the perfect opportunity to compare the different Laoshan black teas. For today, I’m sticking with the 2016 regular and reserve Laoshan Black.
The Spring 2016 Laoshan black is currently going for $4.50 for 25g. For one of my favorite teas, I’d say that’s a pretty decent price. The reserve version, when it wasn’t sold out, went for $7.50 for 25g, which is quite a price hike. When these teas were released for the season, the most common question I heard was, “Is it worth the extra money to get the reserve?” That’s what today is all about.
Comparing the dry leaf, I’m not noticing too much of a difference. The leaf of the regular might be a tiny bit bigger, or maybe a tiny bit thicker on average than the reserve, but that may be because I am trying to find some discernable difference between them.
2016 Reserve Laoshan Black
The aroma of the dry leaves is stronger than the regular, sweet and chocolatey with a bit of a bread scent. I brewed about 4g in 50ml at 205ºF, ranging from 10 seconds to 3 minutes, and the color brewed into a nice dark, golden honey color that smelled of earth, yams, and chocolate. It’s a dark, seductive kind of flavor that comes up the palate and out the nose. There’s also a very slight bitterness and peppery flavor on the finish.
The cocoa and sweet potato notes are highlighted more on subsequent steeps, but caramel and honey are also introduced after steep 4. After a while, I started to lose counts of the steepings, but I got a little dark honey bread flavor toward the end.
It seems a pretty forgiving tea; even brewing at boiling and steeping for what seemed like forever only brought out darker flavors, but that’s pretty typical of a tea like this.
Looking at Verdant’s tasting notes, I feel as though they pretty accurately represented the flavor: cocoa, sweet potato, cranberry, graham cracker. I can never find fruit flavors in black tea, so I don’t find that particularly surprising.
2016 Laoshan Black
The less-often seen Pond cat has decided to join me for the rest of this tasting. She’s about five years old and is much less sociable than Milche, so don’t let the adorable triangle nose fool you. I’m the only one allowed to touch her, and she usually follows me around the house with Swim Fan-like obsession. She started off as Amelia Bedelia after my favorite childhood book series, but that morphed into Amelia Pond from Doctor Who, to finally just “Pond.”
Anyway, breathing in the dry leaf yields some differences from the Reserve. There’s the predominating aroma of cocoa, of course, but there’s an underlying sourness that reminds me of very dark brown honey wheat bread. There’s something yeasty about the smell. This aroma is reflected in the brew, as it has a bready chocolate scent.
The first steep definitely yields a less-sweet flavor, more like a gassy, yeasty dark bread with hardly any chocolate. This changes in subsequent steeps to a chocolate honey bread. Perhaps if they made a pain au chocolat out of a dark wheat flour and drizzled a bit of honey on top, that is what this would taste like. Stephen, my non-tea-drinking husband, took a sip and proclaimed that it tasted like a dark chocolate beer, so we’re pretty close in agreement.
Verdant’s tasting notes describe this tea as cocoa, malt, toasted grain, citrus, cherry, vanilla, and honey. Seems I did get some of the same things they did.
Comparing the Two Flavors
To compare the two teas, the regular is brighter colored than the reserve in terms of flavor, and less earthy. There is less chocolate, and no sweet potato in the regular brew. The brighter flavors are more like honey. The reserve brew definitely lacks the brighter flavors and goes deeper into the dark realms of sinful, dark, dark chocolate.
They were both fantastic teas, to be sure, but I preferred the reserve black. However, that difference in price tag may mean that I’ll be sticking to the regular Laoshan, or at least getting smaller batches of the reserve.