Solomon’s Purple White Seal of Approval

Monday, September 10, 2012

Whenever I go on impromptu tea quests, they’re usually solo. When they’re not, they’re usually my idea. This particular jaunt was not only not my idea but one triggered by a blog response. A week or so prior, I posted a bit of tea meta-fiction surrounding my tasting notes of Korean teas from Hankook. A fellow writer/editor friend – whom I’ll refer to as “K” – chimed in with a simple question.

“What are your thoughts on Korean seal tea?” she asked.

I stupidly replied with, “Are you referring to Solomon’s seal tea or…actual seal (lol)? The former is an actual Korean tisane, but I’ve never had it.”

Truth is, I actually had to look it up. Someone outside my usual tea circles had stumped me with a tisane I hadn’t heard of. Oddly enough, though, I was familiar with the Solomon’s seal plant. I learned of it when I did some cursory research on the “Seal of Solomon”, a symbol used often in anime for summoning demons.

In the biblical pseudographical text known as the Testament of Solomon, King Solomon (son of David) was given a ring by the archangel Michael. It was in the shape of a circumscribed hexagram and possessed the seal of God. The ring itself was known as the Seal of Solomon. The circled, six-pointed star has often been used in popular media as a demonic or magical summoning tool.

I have no clue how, but the name “Solomon’s seal” was also ascribed to a genus of plants called Polygonatum. The root of the P. sibiricum varietal – native to East Asia – was utilized in the herbal tisane, dubbed dungulle by Koreans. Many health properties are associated with the herb, but most are topical.

A week later, I met up with K and we journeyed to H Mart – a local Korean grocery store I mentioned in passing. I had only been there once or twice to pick up some Korean jarred “tea” for various experiments. Whether or not we would find the mysterious Solomon’s seal tisane was questionable.

We marveled at the various herbal infusions on hand in the tea aisle. Corn tea, peanut tea, pimple te-…Wait…pimple solution tea? There was actually a pimple-specific herbal infusion on display. Both of us had to snap a photo of the absurdity.

Not too long after that, K located her prey. It actually did exist – a 20ct. box of the stuff from some company called Dong Suh. I was so intrigued by it that I had to buy some for myself.

After that outing, I dropped K downtown so that I could notch off the second leg of my little tea quest. This was not on anyone’s suggestion, rather one made purely by accident. The day prior, I arrived downtown far too early for a wedding. I had three hours to kill, and decided to burn two of those at The TeaZone & Camellia Lounge.

My original “plan” had been to simply sustain myself with a bagel and decaf Earl Grey, but my dumbass perused the menu further. The moment I opened that menu, I knew I was doomed. At the top of the “White Tea” section was something I’d heard mention of but never thought I’d see. Kenyan Purple Silver Needle – the white tea version of the “Purple” varietal I had tried so long ago.

Damn it, I thought to myself.

I tried to pry a sample of the stuff from the barista, but he politely refused. I even dropped my “blog” as an excuse. That didn’t work, either. (Truthfully, it never seems to work.)

The day after – once I dropped K off – I was only a block away from TeaZone. I had no other excuse to resist my poor impulse control. I picked up an ounce.

I brewed both that night. Results:

Kenyan Purple Silver Needle White Tea

The leaves looked very much like Bai Hao Yinzhen, only smaller. Unlike the Kenyan White Whisper, the rolled leaves were nowhere near as plump or downy-firred. In appearance, it resembled a Rwandan white I tried, only lighter in color. It also bore a striking resemblance to some Ceylon Silver Tips I’d come across. As for the aroma, it was herbaceous, fresh, mildly minty with shades of unsweetened pomegranate.

The liquor brewed to a vibrant yellow, which is the minimum expectation of a good white (in my opinion). The aroma was all melons and leafy herbs – nuanced but nowhere near vegetal. Taste-wise, it could go toe-to-toe with even the most high-profile of Ceylon whites. Premium Yinzhen would give it a run for its money, but it would at least put forth a strong case. It almost tied with White Whisper in subtle excellence.

Korean Solomon’s Seal

I had to rely upon a tea bag, so the contents of it weren’t going to be the most visually striking. They were fannings; I could tell. There was an aroma, however – a roasty, nutty scent that reminded me a lot of dandelion root and/or chicory.

The liquor brewed rusted amber, pretty typical of a hearty root-based tisane. What surprised me was how closely it mimicked the aroma of…Frosted Mini-Wheats(?!). Yes, even the inherent sweetness. It’s not every day that I drink a tisane at night that smells like a breakfast cereal. The flavor deviated only slightly from the olfactory comparison, imparting a sensation similar to barley and/or buckwheat. It flirted with genmai territory but thankfully withdrew, keeping well with the realm of “good”. In short, I approved.

It had been awhile since I was caught by surprise by someone else’s tea leanings. Good to know that I can be put off my guard like that. Proof that my snobby armor can still be dented rather easily.

6 Comments

  1. Avatar of jackie jackie says:

    Of course I tried to locate the mysterious “K” but – err – that had nothing to do with a curiosity for Salomon’s tea.
    As to the tea – I haven’t had any really good tea from the local Asian stores yet. The tea offerings here are tea bags, and somewhat generic loose leaf teas lacking depth. My deduction; there’s no demand for the finer Chinese, Korean, Japanese teas by the customers frequenting the stores here.
    Neither the “pimple solution” nor the “Salomon tea” you describe would make it into my cart.
    However…the Kenyan purple silver needle white tea..that’s a totally different story. Could there be even more colors in a tea name? I didn’t even know it existed. Sounds like a great but presumably expensive (?) pick.
    As to “K” – who is this mysterious lady who inspired you? Not that I”m noisy at all.

    1. “K” will remain a mystery. ;-) For privacy’s sake.

      I agree that most of the tea provided in some of these Asian stores can be low-quality, but if you’re looking for something weird…they’re a pretty reliable bet. That’s how I was able to find mugicha for the first time.

      I guess I should’ve been more specific that it was the Kenyan purple varietal, yet I assumed it was clear. I love the two-colored name. It’s wacky. *heh*

  2. Avatar of thetearooms thetearooms says:

    This is good, Geoff.

    By the way, I find that the bouquet of a brewed liquor, say an earthier Darjeeling, often reminds me of breakfast cereals. Honey Smacks or the oaty bits in Lucky Charms, for example. But only one of these two cereals is tasty, so detecting this aroma may not be a good thing.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Mr. Tearooms. I have encountered some Ceylons that smelled like trail mix…and I agree…that was not a good thing. Quite traumatizing actually. I even encountered an Assam that smelled like Malt-o-Meal.

  3. Avatar of xavier xavier says:

    I like the idea of finding something odd in an unknown store.

    And I can find a link in your tea adventures: King Solomon…
    You have his seal and his mines. ;)

  4. I’ve been intrigued by Solomon for sometime. And ruining into strange teas in a store was how I came across Greek Mountain.

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