Monday, September 7, 2009

Cherry, cherry, in your tree

So here's one of those finds. Check the photo — looks like a cup of hot water, eh? Believe me, it doesn't taste like it. It's a cup of cherry cobbler. From yo mama.

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of sitting for a tasting of some teas from Rodrick Markus' Rare Tea Cellar (not to be confused with the Rare Tea Co.). Rod poured several things in a sunlit dining room at the swank NoMI restaurant in Chicago's Park Hyatt, including a white (!) pu-erh. I took home a few samples, which I just now steeped for an afternoon delight.

Markus is one of those guys. If it's weird and really rare — and expensive — he'll find it and try it. "If I saw a $30 donut," he told me for an upcoming interview for the Sun-Times, "I'd try it." He had native Wisconsin ginseng. He had crazy herbals. He had, ahem, a white pu-erh!

He also had a few things I snagged some samples of for myself. Like the Sakura Dream — it's just cherry blossoms. Moist, pink Japanese cherry blossoms, "preserved in blossom essence." Steep them for about a minute, you get an aroma of cherry cobbler in the oven — and a taste to match. The liquor is completely clear, except for a slight oily sheen, and it tastes like it smells — of a tart, yeasty cobbler made with just-overripe cherries. If you've ever had brandied fruit over a slice of pound cake, bingo! Pour that in a glass, and that's what you've got here. Pretty amazing, I must say.

In the regular tea department, I sampled a couple of other RTC gems. His Emperor's Tencha ("rare ceremonial grade green tea") is, no doubt, a fine green tea, but I think I botched the water temperature, poured it too hot. I got a sickly brownish-gold color, but a fine taste at first ... of chocolate, to my surprise. But it fell apart pretty quickly in the cup and just tasted woody.

The Emperor's White Darjeeling ("Himalayan Silver Needle"), however, is grade-A awesome. It reeks of cirtus and vanilla, even some of the same cherry blossom notes described above, and it's pretty dark for a white tea. The flavor is out-of-this-orchard — a cheerful assault of florals and fruit and vanilla beans snatched from some forbidden equatorial isle. In my notes, I'm almost ashamed to point out that I scribbled, "Tea? What tea? Tasting clouds!" I never said I always escaped hyperbole.


  1. Thomas, did Marcus say anything about how he expects the white pu-erh to age?

  2. Your description of the White Darjeeling convinces me how much you loved it. But how about the white Pu-erh? Is there any way we can hear about that? --Spirituality of Tea

  3. He didn't mention much about the aging of the pu-erh. It's made it 20 years thus far, and the pieces were delightful, light, not densely packed like most pu-erh — it was like a rice cake. And, to some degree, tasted like one. The fermented taste was there, but much lighter and, if this doesn't sound absurd, fresher. I'd really like to see how this ages. I'd like to taste it every year. As a rule. As a profession.