“But [the company] had to go on and on, long after they were sick for the sight of the sun and of the sky, and longed for the feel of wind on their faces. There was no movement of air down under the forest-roof, and it was everlastingly still and dark and stuffy. [… Bilbo] felt that he was being slowly suffocated.”
J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”
Today’s Tea Time brings us to one of Middle-Earth’s creepiest realms. Home of the wizard Radagast The Brown and the Woodland Elves, Mirkwood was once known as Greenwood the Great – until it fell under the Necromancer’s shadow. So, when Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield’s Dwarf company arrive at Mirkwood during The Hobbit, the once lush and thriving forest is crawling with giant spiders and decaying from dark magic.
Despite its ambiance, Mirkwood has enchanted readers for generations. Now, thanks to Whispering Pines Tea Company, tea lovers can drink a cup in its honor. Mirkwood also has the privilege of being the first pu-erh tea reviewed for Tea Time. What is pu-erh tea (pronounced “poo-err”)? And, how does it reflect this distinct and beloved part of Middle-Earth? Journey on to find out.
Whispering Pines’ Description: “Straight out of the deep forests of Middle Earth comes an old recipe by Radagast himself, delivered to Whispering Pines by a team of Rhosgobel Rabbits. Mirkwood is a blend of the famed 2013 Ontario 1357 Shou Pu-erh and highly sought-after morel mushrooms, hand cut and blended to perfection… A unique blend that pushes the boundaries of body and depth in a simple tea infusion, I highly recommend drinking Mirkwood in a big thermos on a hike through your favorite woodlands!”
Ingredients: Chinese Shou Pu-erh tea and hand-cut morel mushrooms
Steeping Instructions: Use 1 teaspoon for every 8 oz of water. Heat water to boiling (205 degrees Fahrenheit / 96 degrees Celsius) and steep for 3 minutes. Add 1 minute for each additional brew.
Multiple Brews?: Yes, about 3
Bagged or Loose Leaf?: Loose leaf
Caffeine Level: High
Pu-erh looks like black tea, doesn’t it? That’s because it is black tea, a specific kind from China that’s aged and fermented through a similar process to wine and bread fermentation. As a result, pu-erh tends to be richer and more complex than a typical black tea, with flavor profiles that range from mineral and earthy to camphor and molasses. And like oolongs, it can be re-steeped several times without losing much flavor or texture.
So, when I opened my Mirkwood packet, what I saw didn’t surprise me. The black-brown pu-erh leaves resemble short, stubby twigs, while the minced mushroom pieces offer contrast with their beige-gray color and dried, membranous texture. The aroma is a different story. It smells strongly of mushrooms, with hints of woods, earth, and butter. I’m not a big fan of mushrooms – and I’ve never tried them steeped in tea before – but there’s something oddly comforting about Mirkwood so far.
For Cup #1 of Mirkwood, I brew 1 teaspoon of leaves in boiling water for 3 minutes. Wow – this tea brews up dark! It’s mahogany or umber in color, so brown that it’s nearly black. The aroma hasn’t changed much; it reminds me mostly of mushrooms sautéed in butter. Taste-wise, it’s earthy and brothy, with notes of smoke, soy sauce, and walnuts along with the mushroom flavor. Very savory, with a creamy texture and a lingering, pleasantly oaky aftertaste. Definitely unique compared to other teas I’ve had before.
Mirkwood surprises me again when I re-steep it for Cup #2. As soon as I pour in the water, the leaves immediately turn it auburn (reddish brown). I’ve never seen tea leaves infuse so quickly! After 4 minutes, the liquid turns dark brown, perhaps a shade lighter than Cup #1’s color. The flavor profile is very much the same as Cup #1’s. In fact, I can’t detect a weakening in the texture or taste. Cup #3 (5 minutes) holds up equally as well. I bet the leaves could last another 2 or 3 steeps before the flavors peter out.
It’s worth noting that while Mirkwood sounds like a robust tea, it’s actually quite comforting. Other tea reviewers have described it as “soupy” or “umami” (which is Japanese for “pleasantly savory taste”), and I agree with them. It’s not overly strong, and never verges on astringent or bitter. But it’s flavorful and soothing the way a warm drink or bowl of soup or stew would be on a cold, rainy day.
Now, if it only it would chase away those nasty Mirkwood spiders, too…
I admit that I wasn’t expecting to like Mirkwood from Whispering Pines. However, this savory blend of pu-erh and dried mushrooms grew on me the more I drank it. It’s smooth and mellow, with a complex palette of outdoorsy flavors that fits the famous Middle-Earth forest well. So, take a page out of Bilbo’s journey, and be brave by trying Mirkwood. It may be an acquired taste, but you might like it more than you’d expect.
Grade: 8 / 10
- Tea Drinkers Who: Like black or pu-erh teas, or mushroom flavors
- Time of Day and Year: Late mornings (after breakfast) in autumn or winter
- Possible Book Pairings: Apart from The Hobbit, Mirkwood would go well with The Children of Húrin, one of the more desolate stories from Tolkien’s Middle-Earth legendarium. Other wilderness-centric or haunting stories that come to mind include Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, and N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.
You can purchase Mirkwood Tea directly from Whispering Pines Tea Company here.
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In addition to being a tea enthusiast, Sara Letourneau is an avid reader and a writer who… well, enjoys writing! Currently she’s working on a novel, and she writes book reviews and articles on the craft of writing. She’s also a published poet with works available in various print and online publications. Visit Sara at her personal blog, Facebook, or Twitter.
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