This tea came as a free sample in my last tea order. It’s a 2017 raw pu-erh and I had it with breakfast. At first I thought, “hm, this is maybe a little too mild—this tea is almost water.” But then I realized I still had my water heater set to green tea temperature. I popped it up to 208° F, brewed, waited, and…
Still extremely mild. Almost tasteless. So naturally, I started wondering if it was COVID. Did I have symptoms? No, not other than not being able to taste much of a tea I’d never had before. But I could taste and smell everything else in my breakfast, and so I figured it probably wasn’t that.
Finally, as the meal wound up, as I was just about to conclude that maybe this tea was too mild for me, I asked myself a vitally important question: was it the breakfast?
You see, I’ve been eating natto at breakfast fairly regularly.
If you don’t know what natto is, it’s a fermented soybean product. No, not like soy sauce. No, not like miso. A different fermented soybean product. Natto is small, whole soybeans fermented with a particular enzyme, and the resulting food is extremely high in protein, fiber, probiotics, and a number of vitamins and minerals. Natto is also high in Vitamin K2, and natto consumption has been shown to have a strong correlation with decreased osteoporosis and better bone density, and since I’m at the age where I have to worry about those things, I’ve been making an effort to include it regularly in my diet.
There’s another thing you should know about natto: it is an extremely acquired taste. The texture is slimy: when you take it out of the carton, you stir it vigorously until the slime turns into slimy threads. The taste is—how shall we say it—aggressive. The smell is somewhat stinky, depending on the kind of natto you get. This is definitely not for everyone.
As it happens, I love natto, in part because I love food that I have to work for, and the act of mixing vigorously makes me happy. Plain natto would probably not be my first choice, although I’ve eaten natto long enough now that I’d probably be okay with it. But natto with a little soy sauce and sesame oil, especially mixed with rice, with a little roasted seaweed on top? Mmmmm.
To take this back to the tea: I ate natto; I drank tea. It turns out that the aggressive flavor of the natto was masking the somewhat milder taste of the tea.
So I had a few slices of Asian pear as a palate cleanser, and tried the tea again. And lo and behold, I could taste the tea!
This tea is sweet and mild like a delicate bloom, giving way to a bloom of more intense roughness after the first sip. This one is probably best enjoyed on its own, and not with stinky breakfast fermented beans or cheese.