Friday, November 20, 2009
Very generously, my friends at Aura Teas sent me a variety of teas from their private stash of samples, which they are not (at least at this time) offering to the public. Amazing to have such an opportunity! Today I am tasting something called Jian Meng green tea.
I'm sitting in a Panera for work purposes, and enjoying the free Wi-Fi. My hosts are very kindly offering me all the free hot water I can drink, and they've been exclaiming over the wonderful aromas of the teas I've been steeping here today. The JINGtea Tea-iere is a novelty that, once they understood the purpose of it, has been surprisingly excited about seeing. Who knows? Perhaps Panera home office will get a call about offering high-quality teas to their customers, rather than the stuff they currently offer.
I've never heard of this tea, nor can I find references to it online, except that the term, Jian Meng, is apparently been used as to describe a Chinese pu-erh brick. Other than that: nada. So let's dive in.
The leaves are a pale green, fairly small leaf, and this sample has no small amount of broken leaf, but no stemminess. Beautifully fragrant leaves-- have I mentioned how much I love the highly fragrant greens? The aroma coming from the wet leaves is seriously intoxicating. I'm happy I'm sitting in an out-of-the-way corner at Panera, so fellow customers won't think I'm dangerously bizarre for sniffing my JINGtea Tea-iere, in which I steeped the leaves for three minutes with steaming, filtered water. Perhaps it's all the muscatel Darjeeling speaking, which I've been drinking lately, but there's a grape quality to the aroma: a fruity-floral, rather than vegetal, thing going on.
The liquor is a tawny gold, almost an orange, and it is highly fragrant, as well (which is not always the case). The Jian Meng is quite light on the tongue, with a bright quality that nevertheless doesn't have a particularly long-lasting aftertaste. I can taste a flavor rather like chestnuts, a touch of citrus fruit; and that umami that all the kids go on about nowadays, which makes me think of mushrooms, and well-seared steaks, and rich French onion soup. (Which is rather an odd thing to think about when drinking a lightly crisp, bracing green tea, but there you have it.)
Initially, though, there is a sharp bite to each sip (at least, while the tea is quite hot), accompanied by a lovely, drying mouthfeel that I find arresting. The dry mouthfeel continues on, even after the initial sharp flavor of the tea too-quickly dissipates.
In my experience, the Jian Meng's enjoyment seems mostly bound up in its beautiful aroma and it's substantial mouthfeel. The flavor, unfortunately, seems to die off too quickly after sipping, but for the umami, which I mostly experience almost by inference.
It's admittedly a bit odd, discussing a tea that is not in wide circulation and which I am unlikely to experience again, because I can make no recommendations to buy or not for an unavailable item. Nevertheless, how enjoyable to break open something I've never heard of and which is its own unique delight, with its own character and personality. What a pleasure!
As a side note: When I can find more information about this vintage tea from Aura Teas, I will add it here as an addendum.
(The above image is also an item of uncertain provenance: Maybe Jackson Pollack's "Number 1, 1950.")