January 2, 2010
In a recent shipment of tea from Thunderbolt tea a tiny packet tucked in amongst the Darjeelings stuck out: Arya Pearls. It was a very small and light packet and the fact that I had never heard of it intrigued me.
When I opened it I was floored! This was tea so delicate and pristine words fail it! Not rolled or processed and certainly not silver needles, this is leaf plucked and allowed to dry as-is by the sun only. Nothing more. Just huge full brittle leaves and leaves with bud in all their glory and a wonderful light green color. Photo’s will be coming because it is just necessary.
It has a briney scent almost like crab. Delicate and sweet. Upon brewing it there is almost no discernable change in water color or aroma. Really good water is a must! A slight briney and vegetal note, but very slight. The taste, however, is without a doubt, the most exquisite white tea I have ever enjoyed! I’m not a silver needle fan, and most whites don’t interest me as I’d rather have a yellow. This is like the perfect fusion of the two styles and it is magical.
Delicateness and subtlety are the names of this one, and it really shouldn’t be missed for any tea lover out of sheer uniqueness and rarity. White tea fans shouldn’t have even wasted this much time reading before ordering! 2010 is starting out to be a great year!
December 18, 2009
I apologize for the short hiatus, I’ve had some family medical issues and a couple tea shipping snafus. But now I’m sitting on about 3 kilos of various Indian Darjeelings and Assams, and an awesome shipment of Japanese Matcha and Sencha. All of that will be coming in the near future. Today, however, I figured I’d cover what’s been in my cup here at work for the past week or so: Kikoman’s Instant Tofu Miso Soup.
Unlike many instant miso soups this one eschews the small packet of actual miso paste for a powdered soup base with dehydrated green onion, wakame seaweed, and small tofu squares. I was not expecting much since this kind of seemed like the low-rent way of making an already pretty simple instant soup, surprisingly I was completely wrong. Outside of the tofu never quite achieving a proper texture (but it comes out acceptably) it rivals a very good hand-prepared soup. 2/3 cup of hot water, empty the packet, stir a bit, and done. Easy and quick, and perfect for a quick lunch that is actually very satisfying. A small bowl of rice alongside becomes a great simple meal in the Oryoki tradition.
November 20, 2009
Dry Leaf: Upon opening the packet, I was blown away. The real, discernible spices were extraordinary. The scent was amazing, and the next thoughts were “can I climb in that small packet and live for eternity?” followed by “I need more, much more, of this.” I believe there is bay leaf in the mix as well which adds a great cassia/bay scent.
Wet Leaf: The aromatics sing with cardamom (my personal favorite) edging out the cinnamon for top billing.
Brewed: This is as good as it gets in my estimation. I opted out of milk or sweetener because I wanted to experience it as it is even though the brewing directions stated to use milk and water. I will enjoy it that way next, and post the results, I just had to have this straight up. I have not strayed from the brewing guide once, but I just couldn’t help myself once I saw how amazing the spices were. Hopefully I can be forgiven :) Cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, ginger, and I’m sure more that I am missing form a symphony here that doesn’t just present a note of this or that but an entire performance with an encore. not overly spicy in a heat sort of way but very assertive and easily will stand up to milk and sweetener without losing anything.
Chai in America is generally some poorly (sadly even artificially) flavored low-grade tea buried under milk/cream and tons of sugar. Occasionally a decent cup can be had with tiny bits of actual spices mixed in. Sometimes the balance is way off and skewed too far to the spice notes and the tea is merely a vehicle to darken the water or milk. This is both Yin and Yang in perfect harmony. I have fallen in love twice in one week, first the Jungpana Imperial Muscatel and now with the Masala Chai. This will be forever stocked in my tea cupboard so long as I can obtain it in this form. Again, about as full an endorsement as I could offer any tea. This is a mood lifter, one simply could not be anything but in sheer rapture with this in their cup. Flavored tea often takes a back seat with “serious” tea drinkers, and this would be one that breaks down that wall entirely. I am a truly happy man.
November 16, 2009
#10 – Jungpana Autumn Delight
Dry Leaf: Very small bits of leaf, deep dark brown. The scent is slightly muscatel-ish and also just a bit plain malty.
Wet Leaf: Muscatel notes perk up a bit, but there is an Autumn leaf quality with a bit of a tang as well. There’s something present which is familiar but naming it escapes me on this one. Hopefully it will come to me. I can only name clay and a tang.
Brewed: This one has more of a wine-y front with a bit of the vegetal notes that I found in yesterday’s Castleton, but not so strong, and it turns into a more muscatel back end which makes a bit more appealing package. I think the Jungpana Imperial Muscatel may have ruined me for good.
There’s nothing wrong with this tea, but for me I couldn’t see choosing this over the Imperial in any instance. It has a nice depth and complexity and a whole direction of it’s own which may appeal more to others, it is certainly not very bitter and the astringency is a bit higher with more subdued muscatel characteristics so for those who any of that appeals to this is a great tea. The one thing that struck me was how two teas from one estate could be so different in scope and flavor. The other thing, that to me, is always a bit of a deal-breaker has to do with the very small leaf and broken bits… as much as I hate to admit it, I’m a sucker for nice pretty leaves. I’m even OK down to 1/4″ pieces, but once it gets much smaller than that I have a built in aversion that I rarely can get past. Again, that’s a personal thing, many could probably care less.
This one reminds me of a dark den with a roaring fire, a high-backed leather chair and a good book. Classy and comfortable.
November 12, 2009
#9 Castleton FTGFOP 1 CH SP
Dry Leaf: Dark and small pieces with hints of chocolate
Wet Leaf: Aroma is very vegetal like cooked spinach. Small broken leaf pieces of no uniformity. Peppery.
Brewed: The scent is very interesting, it’s got a tiny bit of the muscatel from some of the other Darjeelings we’ve tasted but seems much more mild and balanced with a touch of the vegetal/spinach and peppery quality of the wet leaf. The flavor is very different, and actually the vegetal notes are right up front in the flavor. It’s actually overpowered to the vegetal side for my tastes in a Darjeeling. Spinach is what I got from the wet leaf and spinach is what I get in the liquor, also a bit slippery in mouth-feel which rounds out the thought and taste. It has that deep, mineraly, peppery, leafy green quality of a spinach or kale but the scent of the cup coming up for a sip fakes you out into expecting a bit more standard Darjeeling/muscatel experience. Surprise!
This one isn’t so much in my wheelhouse, personally. I can see how some may like this departure and unique flavor, but it’s an odd combination for me and one I can’t force myself to get over or particularly enjoy. I’m actually one who swoons for the fishy notes in a good Japanese green tea, so I wouldn’t have thought my reaction would be as strong as it is in this instance. Again, before this tasting, I normally stuck with the very strong muscatel Darjeelings only, and often that meant Margaret’s Hope, so my view of the category is a bit narrow admittedly. However, this is a flavor profile I have never had before in a Darjeeling, in any capacity, so it could just be the surprise of it that has formed my opinion. I’d like to believe that but I don’t think this one will even come to grow on me. There’s a tea for everyone, this one just doesn’t bear my name.
November 10, 2009
Note: Thus far I’ve just copied my tasting notes directly as I have submitted them for the tasting, this tea requires something more. The glowing “review” I bestow upon this tea is almost not enough. This is one time where words cannot capture the real story here. This was one of those rare moments where a tea is just magical. I was almost distracted to the point where getting the thoughts from my head to the screen was impossible. There are some times where writing about a tea is so secondary to the personal enjoyment that I’d almost like to not even try to put it to words, this was one of them but I have done my best.
#8 Jungpana Imperial Muscatel 2009
Dry Leaf: Reminiscent of a good loose tobacco. Chocolate and wine notes are sort of deep and brooding. It brought to mind an Australian tobacco called Royal Port.
Wet leaf: A totally different animal, the muscatel characteristics instantly present themselves and a sort of “clean” cotton smell.
Brewed: The bouquet is actually very tame and doesn’t give up many secrets on it’s own besides the slight muscatel notes. Wow! A grape flavor that actually made me shiver. Seriously. It is like a concord grape bred with muscat, deeper and stronger without being overpowering or just perfumy, this is the real deal. There is less in the middle and finish than some others but it is just a huge peak up front and a steady decline to a fairly short finish that just draws you in for another ride. This without a doubt is one of my new favorite teas, and has unseated my long-held love for Margaret’s Hope in my top 10 list… all from one round of tasting! That is probably the best endorsement I could give any tea.
This is my first time with Jungpana Imperial Muscatel, the muscatel part was attractive to me from the name alone, and it has firmly entrenched itself on my constant stock list showing itself to be so much more. I have only had a moment like this one other time and it was the first time I had Gyokuro prepared for me expertly. It was trans-formative. This has been a very similar experience and I went into this totally blind.
A few posts ago I read where Steve had jumped the gun and tasted this one by accident, but had made a comment about how excited he had been to finally get to it properly. I fully understand why. I’m having a hard time keeping my enthusiasm inside long enough to sit and type this. He was spot-on. This is a very special tea and one that again has shown me that you have to break out of ruts and try something new to continue the journey. I would have been content to have known only Margaret’s Hope, and while not a bad thing by any means, I would never have uncovered this gem. Of this whole tasting, if this is the highlight, I can only say I am so grateful for this experience and to Lochan Tea for turning me on to an amazing tea. This is not to be missed, and in my opinion, a gold standard of the category.
November 8, 2009
#7 Thurbo FTGFOP 1 CL TPY
Dry: Oaky/smokey hint of coconut husk and fuller leaf
Wet Leaf: Nutty and vegetal while brewing. A little melon.
Brewed: coconut on the nose and then a fairly lively brew that kicks off with a pretty strong almond note that turns into coconut and a little bit of bitterness through the middle and into the finish where the bitterness quickly recedes a touch of astringency and a nutty/coconut oil finish that gently coats and stays around for a nice long time.
This is a very good tea to be sure, however this one doesn’t hit any specific chords that resonate with me personally. All of the flavors and complexities are well balanced and there is no fault found with the tea itself. I feel that this is a tea that I will revisit off and on over time and eventually could even grow into a favorite, often initial indifference from me leads to a new addition to the stable. There are wisps of muscatel hiding and swirling behind the scenes and I think that makes me just want them front and center in a cup of Margarets Hope, but often the subtleness is actually a positive and becomes more desirable than just a full-on hit.