Verdant Tea is a tea retailer that works directly with individual tea farmers to source high-quality, limited-stock teas. Originally from the US, Verdant moved most of their operations to China over the summer of 2015 to provide higher-quality teas with faster turnaround times and reduced shipping rates. I’ve heard many, many good things about them through the Steepster grapevine, but I finally took advantage of their five-for-$5 sample pack for first-time customers on my birthday in September. (Happy belated birthday, me!)
I was very much looking forward to trying their teas, and this set of samples did not disappoint!
This harvest is picked in the cool autumn air after resting the plant through summer. The result is rich, fresh flavor full of the intense savory oat and cream that Laoshan is famous for. The He family’s signature green tea is fed by mountain spring water, picked by hand, and cultivated sustainably using traditional chemical-free farming techniques.
Verdant’s Laoshan Green tea is highly regarded amongst the Steepster community, but getting some freshly harvested tea for yourself is a different matter entirely. The sample I got smells so amazingly green and fresh! Like butter and green beans and cream and bread. So good!
The leaves were dark little curls of sage green with a faint powdery patina to them. I took the whole sample (about 4.75 g) and followed Verdant’s recommended instructions for gong-fu brewing: 80°C water with an initial steep of 10 seconds and an additional 4 seconds per subsequent steep.
The resulting brew was a bright yellow-green, slightly cloudy, and intensely flavourful. There was a slight sharpness to the tea that reminded me of a Japanese green, but over time that buttery smell won out. I’d say that the second and third steeps were the most flavourful, and that there was a noticeable drop in the intensity of the flavour from the fourth steep onwards. This tea was just beautiful to look at, though.
Big Red Robe
Li Xiangxi grows this tea in the Longchuan gorge of the Wuyishan National Nature Reserve, hand picking every leaf with her family and delicately roasting this tea in bamboo baskets over charcoal embers to bring out the natural minerality of the region. Li Xiangxi believes strongly in standing against the modern trend to over-roast and cover the natural flavor of the tea, making her Big Red Robe unique among its peers.
I’ve had a few Wuyi oolongs now, but this one is remarkably smooth, with a well balanced mix of natural and roasted flavours. The leaves of this one look like your typical roasted oolong: dark greenish brown, spindly and curled, and they have that lovely roasty-toasty flavour.
I followed Verdant’s instructions for western-style brewing here, and brewed the whole sample with a cup of water for 20, then 30, then 40 seconds. As time went on my water cooled down, so I didn’t make as faithful a brew as I could have.
The first steep was a deep brown and very well balanced between the flavours of the roast, earth, and wood. Very smooth. No astringency. The second steep was a bit milder, with a funky tangy taste to it, but it eventually settled down into more roastiness, this time with a fruitier undertone. The final steep of 40 seconds was the lightest in both colour and flavour, with a deep amber tint and creamy/floral notes coming to the fore. Overall, this was a remarkably smooth Wuyi oolong.
Master Zhang is proud to be sharing true Tieguanyin varietal oolong, fed by mountain spring water and grown without pesticides or fertilizers under the high mountain mist. Most Tieguanyin sold is actually Benshan or other similar varietals which lack the long drawn out aftertaste of Tieguanyin. The biodiversity of Daping and the mountain soil lend intense complexity and depth of flavor to this tea.
Ah yes, I’m learning to really appreciate TGY oolongs now. So fresh! So light! This tea is quite similar. The dry leaf looks like tight little nuggets of emerald green.
I followed Verdant’s instructions and brewed the full sample with freshly boiled water — three steeps in total, ranging from 30 to 50 seconds.
The first steep was a pale yellow and I could smell and taste the traditional TGY notes of flowers and cream. However, there was also an underlying green and fruity flavour to it that reminded me of pear. Now, I’ve never had a pear-flavoured oolong, but I can totally see the appeal.
The second steep was a bit deeper in colour, more of a buttercup yellow. It was a bit sharper and tarter, but overall it was still quite mild. My sister, who was visiting us that day, had a sip and told me that it made her think of mangoes — interesting!
The third steep was the mildest and palest, and was quite delicate. I let it cool, but even cold it was quite refreshing. After the third steep, the leaves still hadn’t completely unfurled but they were a gorgeous forest/emerald green.
Overall, this TGY is milder than others I’ve had, but I enjoyed its delicacy.
This brand new kind of tea is fed by sweet mountain spring water and roasted in the sun for three days before finishing to bring out rich chocolate notes. Mr. He perfected this tea as a proud reflection of the bold Shandong spirit and the perseverance of Laoshan Village. Laoshan Black is a labor of love to prove to the world how incredible teas from Northern China can be.
One thing I was looking forward to about this particular tea was comparing it to the Laoshan Green above. Same farmer, same varietal — trying the two together would be a pretty interesting way to see how different processing changes the base leaf, and exactly what flavours stay “true” to a particular varietal independent of processing.
The dry leaf of Laoshan Black looks similar in size and shape compared to the Laoshan Green – they’re both tiny, wispy curls. However, the green tea was green, and the black tea was, well, black. (Yes, I am now the mayor of Obvious City.) I took the entire sample (just over 5 grams) and steeped it 3 times according to the steeping instructions on the Verdant website.
The first steep was amazing, resulting in a pale brown brew with a thick smell of malt and cocoa powder. Cocoa city! I can sense some of the butter/grain notes of the green tea, but the flavour deepened here and became much more savoury.
The second steep was similarly malty, with an underlying bitter bite that reminded me of cocoa nibs. However, it was very smooth, with no astringency.
The third steep was very mild, and the wet leaf by now had an underlying note of raisin, which made me think of raisin bread. The tea was by now quite pale for a black tea, but still soft, savoury and delicious. I can see why people on Steepster like Laoshan black so much by now!
Qianjiazhai 2015 Sheng Brick
Master Zhou takes the utmost care to “let the leaves speak,” pressing each batch of leaves differently to bring out their best, either as a looseleaf sheng, a black tea or a pressed cake or brick of tea. This brick of tea is wild-picked in the oldest tea forest in the world, deep in the Mt Ailao national forest preserve. The leaves picked are from three to five hundred year old trees whose roots draw more nuance and complexity from the soil. This tea is stone pressed and bamboo wrapped.
I had a mild panic about this tea because it was the last one I planned to try, and I misplaced the sample — I was worried it got thrown out, but after scouring my tea cupboard (and dumping a few old teas I knew I wasn’t going to drink, as well as reorganizing my baskets, empty tins, and teaware) I found the sample buried deep within my puerh storage box. Thank god — what a catastrophe it would have been to review only 4 teas of a 5-tea set! At least I got some good cleaning done.
The dry sheng leaves were dark brown with some khaki stems and slivers of white visible. The dry leaf didn’t smell like much — just your typical “sheng” smell: a little bit of smoke, tartness, and fruit. I used the whole sample in my gaiwan and did 6.5 steeps (during the 7th steep there wasn’t enough water left in my teapot to fill the gaiwan all the way) ranging in length from 6 to 12 seconds.
Throughout every steep, the liquor was extremely light and clear, ranging from a beautiful peachy colour in the first steep to a nice pale amber in the final steep. Verdant’s website said that this tea had strong notes of plantain and lychee, but I didn’t really get that here. Instead, I got some generic apple and grass notes, with a flavour of hay coming into play around the 4th steep.
Despite the relative mildness of the flavour, the tea did have a really good, thick, mouthfeel. Not quite syrupy or creamy, but there was definitely substance to it. There was absolutely no bitterness, but the later steeps did have some astringency to them, resulting in a cottony, gauzy feeling in my mouth. They also tasted some what mineral and smoky.
By the end, the leaves still hadn’t completely unfurled, but they had increased a lot in volume. Overall, this was a pretty generic sheng for me: pleasant, but nothing that really knocked my tastebuds for a loop.
While all of the teas in this pack were good, the Laoshan Black and Laoshan Green were my favourites, with the Spring Tieguanyin behind them by a nose. Verdant’s teas are of undeniable quality and freshness, and if my cupboard weren’t already exploding with tea, I’d probably buy each of the two Laoshan teas in a heartbeat.