April 23, 2013
Ten years ago I was gifted a small purple box of Dimbula Ceylon black tea it was brought back from the region and was quite unremarkable in every way except that it offered a flavor that I still have not found again in a black tea. Any time I see a new/different brand or type of Ceylon tea I try it just in the off chance that it may be similar. I was at a small Middle Eastern market and saw this bright yellow box of Ceylon tea bags and decided to give it a shot since I tend to focus only on the teas of China, Japan, and India and in hopes that it might have that elusive quality from a decade ago. It didn’t.
The first brewing was extremely strong, heavy, and bitter with even just a 2 minute infusion. I realized this was meant to be high-powered and strong either to stand up to milk and sugar or other similar preparations. This would be a tea to rival a morning cup of coffee, certainly not a light and subtle drink. I then scaled way back to a 30 second infusion, this was still quite strong but more palatable. It had more of the taste of an American Lipton or Tetley tea bag. There were some malty notes peeking through as well. I backed off even more and went with a 15-20 second brew and this, for me, was the balance point. It yielded a lighter cup, but still medium to dark, and it was nicely malty and less heavy and almost no bitterness could be detected.
This is not an expensive or nuanced tea, it is a strong basic tea and it presents itself well enough in that regard. I can see how this lends itself to the more Middle Eastern style of brewing and enjoying tea and for that it definitely fits the bill.
April 21, 2013
This is a very uncommon tea that has managed to become one of my absolute favorites. The name is not quite representative of what it actually is since the Long Jing conjures up thoughts of the perennial favorite Dragonwell green tea. The Huang Pao might lead one to think of an oolong tea. The name translates to “Emperor’s Robe Dragonwell” and this is a black tea with really very little in common with either of those teas sharing its namesake. It comes only in small 3g packets and the tea is said to have been a lost art for over 300 years. Normally I am leery of tales of teas “lost” for centuries and then only recently rediscovered and recreated, it is usually less than genuine and used to add some mystique and interest to an otherwise unexciting tea. While I can’t vouch for the story of it having been lost to the sands of time and miraculously recreated hundreds of years later, I can say it is wholly unique and unlike any other tea out there.
Long Jing Huang Pao
It is a heavily fermented tea akin to Puer but with some very major differences. It is not fermented in humidity and it is processed very differently in almost every regard. Instead of the earthy and deep flavors of a quality Puer, this tea presents what I can only describe as an over-ripe almost spoiled fruity aroma and taste. That may not sound particularly enjoyable but it is incredibly successful and really comes alive on the palate with astounding complexity. The scent has a familiarity that I could not place for years and it has driven me crazy for a long time. A few months ago I was at the zoo and when I walked into the cave-like enclosure where the bats live I had a Eureeka! moment. The fruit and heat/humidity instantly registered as the exact scent I had been trying to place for so long! Again, not the most sensual thought to associate with a tea and I will admit that freely but neither are the earthy/mushroomy qualities of many highly-prized Puer teas :) It is subtle and not overpowering, more like biting into a super soft peach that is definitely over-ripe and would maybe be on the verge of being discarded in another day or two.
It is absolutely captivating to me and just a magical scent that transports me back 300 years easily with every sip.
April 21, 2013
After almost a year away I am going to try to make a go at continuing to share my journey with tea. I haven’t stopped drinking tea and my passion is still there, it is just that after over 12 years my tastes have refined and I don’t do as much experimentation as I once did. I still dabble and will try something new and different but it has slowed down. Each Spring does bring excitement and subtle variation in old favorites but that doesn’t always translate to exciting writing. I’m going to try to cover exactly what I am drinking, both the high-end and the low-end even if it is something I may have covered in the past. We’ll see how it goes!
March 19, 2012
I have been in a bit of a tea lull awaiting the new season’s first options. Last year it was all about Shincha, this year just one tea is calling my name and it is Arya Pearls from Arya Estate. I had this tea about two years ago and it has haunted me ever since my meager supply ran out.
I have been doing a lot more artwork these days, especially inks and watercolors. I occasionally post up new stuff at: http://twistedmedium.deviantart.com
In my cup has been a mixture lately of leftover Japanese greens I am trying to finish up, Bi Lo Chun, Jasmine Pearls, plain old Ceylon, and an occasional Wu Yi oolong or two. Let me know what you are drinking and looking forward to this year!
February 10, 2012
Something about this time of year always brings on a craving for a dark and bold Puerh in me. Puerh is a unique type of tea that is heavily fermented, roasted, compressed into bricks, and then usually aged like a fine wine. There is also a raw or uncooked version which is greener and has an entirely different flavor profile. I usually go for the cooked variety and I prefer the wild/large leaf versions when possible which have a slightly different taste and seem to be a bit smoother.
Puerh prices are like a stock market unto themselves and the market has been up quite a lot in recent years with some old favorites fetching hundreds of dollars now that I used to pay tens for. Luckily, I have a small stash that I have been aging and I decided it was finally time to break into the last of my most prized selection which I haven’t touched in over 5 years now. It is an Ancient Maiden Puerh that is now aged for about 7 years. It’s incredible.
Ancient Maiden Puerh (stock photo)
I start with a 30-second “rinse” that is discarded to eliminate any potential mold or other unwanted extras. (did I mention Puerh is an entirely different animal from most standard teas? :) ) I then follow up with a brew time of around a minute for the initial brewing. I was hit with the smoothest aroma I have ever had from a Puerh! It actually had a whiff of a mango note which is something entirely new for me and this tea was carefully stored so it was not from any contamination from a flavored tea. I couldn’t wait to taste it, and I was so completely happy that the wait was worth it and produced a liquor that was every bit as mellow and smooth as the aroma hinted at! The usual darker, earthy/mushroomy notes of Puerh were heavily subdued and instead it did present as subtle fruity and sweet and carried through to the very end of the finish that had that small hit of earthiness. Wow! Then through multiple steeps the flavor really maintains and just grows softer slowly. Pretty much perfection, and as such of course I only have enough for one more brewing. I’m already dreading the day, but I’m also finding some great old leaf Puerh to put up again right now.
November 13, 2011
Rou Gui is one of those teas that didn’t wow me right away and even trying multiple types and years has never won me over… but, on a cold November evening something made me reach for it tonight and I’m so glad I did! I think a lot of my initial disappointment was due to expecting or hunting for a cinnamon flavor that is just never there. Without directly expecting cinnamon and just letting it stand on its own I was able to appreciate the tea itself for what it is, and that is an exceptional Wuyi Oolong.
Maybe it was psychological or maybe it was the brewing (in a very small glass gaiwan with a generous amount of leaf) but I had distinct hints of cinnamon! I guess you find what you are after when you aren’t looking. I’m glad I revisited this tea and I highly recommend trying some for yourself!
April 10, 2011
I just can’t wait, even though it seems like many 2011 teas are still a short time away, I’ve been snatching up any 2011 greens I can find. Wu Yi Qu Hao has been the hands-down standout so far! What an amazing tea! Opening the pouch hits you with such an intense aroma it is almost impossible to describe. For some reason it brings to mind a waxy or almost plastic smell, but not in a bad way. I later settled on the smell just being a very intense Hawthorn Berry (Haw Flakes!) and very fruity and just incredibly fresh and vibrant. Wow.
Wu Yi Qu Hao
Parallels instantly come to mind of my personal king of teas, Yellow Tea from Hou Shan, and the fact that it comes from the same rocky Wu Yi cliffs as another perennial favorite Shui Xian can’t be ignored. It is a very light, but bold and assertive, mix of fruity, nutty, and vegetal in perfect harmony. For anyone that loves subtle and light greens, this is tops!
If this is any indication of how the 2011 crop is going to be, I’m in for a great ride.
March 30, 2011
Even with the terrible tragedies in Japan, I can’t help but think of Spring without dreaming of Shincha. It seems that the weather is shaping up for a late season but there are a few places taking orders. I have had a number of inquiries and questions on the safety of this year’s crop, and honestly while I am reasonably certain it will be fine, I have some reservations in definitively saying it is 100% safe. 99% I could do, maybe, but there are a lot of factors and issues at play. I’d love to hear other’s theories and thoughts.
Now for the Erhu bit. I own a number of instruments and play none of them well, but I love music and I do love experimenting and playing terribly. I also love music. I’m entranced by the Sitar and the Erhu both. A Sitar is a tad out of my price range and would require a lifetime devotion to be even bad at, same for the Erhu but it is at least affordable. :) So I finally dove in and purchased a decent beginner/intermediate Erhu. I honestly have no real idea what I’m in for and have not played a bowed instrument before, but I love classical Chinese music and know and recognize more of them than classical Western pieces. At the least I hope to be able to play a few basic melodies and maybe use it to sample for some digital creation, at the very least it will make a lovely piece of art!
March 16, 2011
Short answer, life. Long answer, life. :) A new job has been very demanding of my time and also has cut my access to the Internet and many sites during the days. I have gotten back into making art more often, which, next to tea is a great passion of mine that has lain dormant for too long. I’ve also been busy working to bring quality teas to smaller coffee shops and even individuals with an aim towards using the proceeds to help the families that make these amazing teas available for us to enjoy. I know I’ve promised updates, and they are coming very soon.
With the recent tragedy in Japan my most anticipated time of the year for Shincha and the first Japanese greens has been barely a thought at all. I’m just hoping for the best for all those affected.
My cup continues to alternate between the stalwart favorites of Huo Shan Huang Ya (Yellow Tea), heavily fired Shui Xian (oolong), and a cast of characters including: Darjeeling, Assam, Sencha, and Feng Huang Dan Cong, among others. I received a great compressed brick of Shui Xian/Wu Yi Cliff Tea that was wholly new to me, and very good, that I hope to cover in more depth soon as well.
With Spring I hope to help teasphere bloom anew with posts and photos and great tea… as well as whatever else tickles the fancy. Thanks for hanging around!
January 17, 2011
teasphere has changed a lot and my life has as well, but I am still very devoted to tea… actually more so now! I apologize for letting the posts tail off for so long, but I hope folks are still around and still interested. I have begun working much closer with the growers and producers and offering many teas for sale in the U.S. that were previously unavailable. It is not a profit-driven venture either, but a goal of mine to actually give back to the amazing people that have created all of the awesome tea we all drink and enjoy daily. I’m always interested in the stories and culture and people behind the things I love, and too often they are easily forgotten or go unnoticed. The aim is to both bring their stories to the forefront and also give back in the form of education for the worker’s children as well as any other way that really has an impact.
I have some great information to share, and it will be forthcoming very soon. For anyone interested in the teas, a basic list can be found here: teasphere tea list